16. "The Road Virus Heads North" (Short Story)

Original publication date: 1999
Included in: Everything’s Eventual (2002)

Like any mature, well-versed author, Stephen King is great at injecting morality and unexpected tenderness into his tales of horror and dread, which gives his work that much more accessibility for readers who aren’t quick to embrace the genre’s unsympathetic fare. Sometimes, though, King takes the gloves off and strives to do nothing other than scare your drawers off, and “The Road Virus Heads North” is a top-notch example of King at his most sinister.

The plot revolves around a horror writer (a common protagonist in King’s universe, understandably) who buys a creepy painting at a random yard sale; the painting is of a freaky-looking dude with fangs who’s behind the wheel of a car. Harmless enough, right? Sure, but then little details on the painting alter, and somehow the picture finds its way back to the main character’s home after he discards it. And it shows a bloody aftermath for the yard sale that’s confirmed on the local news. And then the man in the painting pops up in real life, ready to do homicidal work.

Lean and incredibly mean, “The Road Virus Heads North” brings cold-blooded horror with no emotional strings attached.