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I think the Boogeyman in this story is real.So was that thing real or in his head? I couldn't tell from the story itself.
Likewise! My brain wouldn't let that one go for a long time after. I mentioned in another thread that there are about 3 short stories SK has written that disturbed the ever loving hell out of me and stayed with me a long time. I believe all of them are in Graveyard Shift. This is one.I think it was real. That story scared the bejeebers out of me.
...Welcome!...I posted this years ago but it seems to have been purged. I think the story is written as to be deliberately ambiguous, but there are definite hints that most people don't seem to pick up on. There's actually a lot of backstory and character development for Billings that no one seems to remember, people only remember the boogeyman.
The fact he sees the monster doesn't mean anything if he's crazy.
I think there are enough clues to conclude that Billings is nuts, (possibly schizophrenic) and killed the children himself. The boogeyman is a paranoid delusion.
Billings is unlikable. His views on women, black people, asians, children, homosexuals. He's basically a bigot. He discusses times when he felt like smacking his wife because she deserved it. In short, he's a bad guy.
He mentions in passing about how he got so fed up of his baby and wife crying he felt like throwing them both out a window. For most people that would be considered a figure of speech. In my opinion, its one of many subtle clues.
His backstory is one of a man forced into marriage by an unplanned pregnancy, he said he had to sacrifice his studies to do so. So immediately we know he's a man whose bright future is sabotaged by unwanted children with a woman he has no real interest in, and he felt she slept with him too quickly, so he has no respect for her. All these subtle details about Lester's attitude and his backstory are woven in seamlessly by King, but the big picture he paints is not a pretty one.
The 2nd and third children were also unplanned and he believed his wife deliberately didn't use birth control in order to tie him down. More resentment towards the wife and unwanted future child.
He tells of how he would hit his child if he didn't stop crying at bedtime. Clearly he's an abusive man already.
Billings tells of his fears of mollycoddling the child, his fear of the kid growing up bad and 'knocking some girl up' (mirroring his own life).
He tells a story about how his mother warned him of the sea and now to this day he is terrified to go in the water. This small detail is actually critical - he is a man who cannot face his fears.
There seems to be a paranoia about his children not growing up to his satisfaction "can you imagine your son? A sissy?". And a fear of them repeating his own mistakes.
Maybe a fear that could be allayed by them not growing up at all?
A lot of fear, and resentment towards his own family for a simple monster story.
"When they're that little you don't get too attached to them," this shows possible fear of attachment, another example of callousness, and another suggestion that he dispatches them young for a reason.
He has no respect for his wife, feeling that she slept with him to easily. She was not strict enough with the children, he talks with disgust at how pleased she was with the 3rd pregnancy. Perhaps killing the children was the best way to hurt her.
One particular line just seems way too obvious not to be deliberate:
"Christ, kids drive you crazy sometimes. You could kill them." - verbatim quote
The third child is a little different, he is happy, he loves the baby who resembles him. But again he suspects Rita of deliberately tampering with her birth control. They moved and then he began asking his wife if she has any fears.. she says 'no', but fear starts to creep in to his psyche nevertheless. First he says the house "feels different," his wife suggest stress at work, but his paranoia grows. He starts to hear noises and can't wait to get out of the house. This sounds like paranoid schizophrenia. There was a remission of sorts. A spell of time that seemed too good to be true, but then all his old fears began to creep back in and his madness takes over. It's not until he sees muddy stains in the house that there is any evidence of the boogeyman again. But is this real? Did he make the mess himself? Did he imagine it?
"Accidental, like the others. But Rita knew. Rita. finally. . . knew."
Knew, perhaps, that he was responsible for the deaths? Certainly she had little cause to believe a monster was responsible. Having never seen the boogeyman or any evidence of it. The other explanation; that she finally knew that Lester Billings had killed his own children is far more logical.
TLDR- Lester Billings is an abusive father, who resents and even hates his wife, his children are unwanted, he feels no attachment to them. He is plagued by fears of them growing up wrong, growing up to be like him.
He is a man who is incapable of facing his fears of raising children, so he puts an end to his fear by becoming the boogeyman and putting an end to his children.