The story opens with a MURDER at a COLLEGE: two of the most terrifying things in existence. The murder takes place at a time called “strawberry spring”: a warm phase in an otherwise-cold winter. This lends the college a foggy, near-mystical effect that appeals to our unnamed narrator. The (first) murdered girl is named Gale Cerman, and the whole campus gets caught up in the morbid excitement that her death creates. The police come and add to the excitement, which culminates in the arrest of Cerman’s boyfriend. Later, the narrator has a headache andx goes for a walk. The next day, Cerman’s boyfriend is released, as another murder was committed while he was in jail. This time, the students are less excited and more suspicious/scared, which is increased by the fact that no arrest is made. Emotions reach hysterics when a boy is found unconscious and presumed a murder victim, but in reality just had the flu. Time continues and creative rumors surrounding the murders begin the spread; the unknown murderer is christened “Spingheel Jack” after a fellow murderer Dr. John Hawkins, plus the fact that there were no footprints around the wet ground of the crime scene. Investigation into the murders continues, with no success. The narrator reflects on the murders both alone and with his roommate, who comments that he sometimes wonders about he narrator. The narrator goes for another walk, and the next morning another woman is found dead, after which the campus goes “slightly mad.” Another arrest is made, but the man is once again released after yet another murder takes place while he is in jail. Spring break is moved up, and all the students leave nervously. That night, the temperature drops, the strawberry spring ends, and the murders stop (for now…). The narrator graduates, gets married, gets a job, and has a kid. He doesn’t think of Spingheel Jack until another strawberry spring occurs, and another murder appears in the newspaper. His wife questions where he was the night before, and is distraught because she thinks he’s cheating. The narrator can genuinely not remember, but suspects that he is Spingheel Jack.
What Makes It Worthy of Your Time?
First of all, it’s Stephen King writing something short, which is like a blue moon. Secondly, it’s a really interesting twist on the classic unreliable narrator: normally a narrator A) knows they’ve been lying to us the whole time, or B) is unreliable due to something like drunkenness or mental illness, which they can’t control, but that we, as readers, are aware of. Here, the particular kind of unreliability is one in which our narrator discovers his unreliability alongside the reader. (What did y’all think of this? Did it make our narrator more likeable? Or was it kinda meh?) The story also has a supernatural feel that is typical of Stephen King, no matter what he writes. The titular strawberry spring has both a beautiful and dangerous feel to it. The narrator’s fascination with this setting— viewed separately from his murderous episodes in conjunction with the weather— can provide an example of the human fascination with the dark and deadly; the students’ initial responses to the murders also support this. Originally, before reality sets in, every student seems to be caught up in that glee that is often associated with gore; eventually all of them, the narrator included, simmer down a bit and get more anxious. So the warmth of the weather contrasts with the DARKNESS in ourselves…
What Can We Steal Like the Dirty Thieves We Are?
In this story, the strawberry spring setting parallels— and is almost a physical representation of— the narrator’s murderous phases. Stephen King likes his supernatural stuff, so we might be able to even go so far as to say that he was possessed! Or maybe we won’t do that. Either way, having the physical setting parallel the character is always a neat trick— but instead of always having it be raining when a character’s sad, we can put a King-esque twist on it. One would think a strawberry spring would be positive— who doesn’t love spring?— but the way it’s incorporated into the story, it takes on a sinister tone. I love me some sinister tones.
You can also give your setting mystical or supernatural qualities without explicitly making it a fantasy story. The close association between the murders, the narrator, and the strawberry spring has a supernatural possession edge to it without ever explicitly stating any magic. When you mix the mystical stuff with the mysterious, you can’t really go wrong (I take that back you definitely can but I believe in y’all).