I Am The Doorway
1970’s “Graveyard Shift” and 1971’s “I Am The Doorway” kicked of an impressive multi-year run for Stephen King in the men’s magazine Cavalier. Fully half of the short story collection Night Shift is taken from past Cavalier publications. Aside from the money he earned from these stories, it’s clear that King grew in confidence as well. With a reliable place to air his short fiction, and a degree of editorial feedback, one can see the depth of his stories start to develop. Between 1970 and 1975, Cavalier published 9 short stories by the Master of Horror, starting with “Graveyard Shift” and ending with “The Lawnmower Man,” with fully 5 of the 9 later turned into movies of varying quality. That’s a surprising amount of firepower to come from a single, relatively small publication.
“I Am The Doorway” is not King’s best short by far, but it is noteworthy because it’s one of his first direct dives into science fiction AND body horror. He would do a better job with both of these genres with his short-lived work under the pseudonym Richard Bachman (in particular The Running Man and The Long Walk in sci-fi, and Thinner in body horror), but for a departure from form “I Am The Doorway” is a solid start.
The story is relatively simple: an ex-astronaut and his friend chat about the astronaut’s voyage to Venus. Eventually the discussion turns to a bizarre affliction the astronaut believes he brought back with him. He unwraps his hands to reveal alien eyes on his fingers and palms.
This whole sequence reminded me of the cliff side philosophical discussions of Rémy Marathe and Hugh Steeply in Infinite Jest. Just two characters engaged in conversation engrossing enough to drive the narrative. But once the eyeballs are out, and the astronaut reveals they may have directed him to murder a young man, the body horror tension starts to build. In a Jekyll and Hyde turn, it becomes clear there are two entities here, and the winner will likely be decided in blood.
The ending is suitably downbeat and violent for a King story, and while it ties up the narrative with a nice bow, it hardly ranks in the top half of King climaxes. “I Am The Doorway” is decidedly middle-tier King, but it has the dubious distinction of providing Constant Readers with one of the best known and recognizable images of the King canon: a single hand, wrapped in gauze, peppered with unsettling eyeballs.