The Raft (short story)
|Genre(s)||Horror short story|
|Published in||Gallery (1st release),|
|Media type||Print (Periodical & Paperback)|
Four college students – Randy, Deke, Rachel, and LaVerne – swim to a wooden raft on a remote Pennsylvania lake to celebrate the end of summer. Randy notices a mysterious oil slick-like substance floating on the surface that appears to chase the girls as they reach the raft. Deke and LaVerne ridicule Randy's suspicions until Rachel remarks on the beautiful bands of colors on the slick's surface and touches it. The oil slick pulls her into the water, coats her, and dissolves her alive. The horrified trio are helplessly forced to watch her die.
After the initial panic, the three contemplate their next action. They realize they are trapped by what is apparently some unknown slime mold-like creature that is waiting to devour whoever enters the water. Swimming past the creature is impossible, as it moves too fast. Nobody else knows where they were going, making rescue impossible. Their only hope is to wait and see if it leaves. The creature's iridescent surface hypnotizes and disorients them into almost falling off the raft, but they avoid this by quickly looking away. After a while, the creature squeezes under the raft. As Deke prepares to jump into the lake to swim to the shore, the creature oozes up through two boards and grabs him by his foot. After his leg vanishes, Deke dies from blood loss. Randy and LaVerne watch helplessly as his corpse is slowly pulled through the crack and devoured. LaVerne faints, and Randy fights to maintain his sanity. Randy contemplates swimming to shore while the creature eats Deke but finds he cannot do so without sacrificing LaVerne.
After LaVerne regains consciousness, Randy and LaVerne take turns watching the creature. They also take turns sitting and standing, allowing brief moments of rest for one while the other watches for when it goes under the raft. At night, LaVerne convinces Randy that they should sit, watch it together, and keep each other warm. The two have sex, and LaVerne's hair falls over the side of the raft. Before Randy can pull LaVerne up, the creature tangles itself in her hair and flows over her head, melting her face. Unable to save LaVerne, he kicks her over the side of the raft in a panic, quickening her death.
As morning comes, Randy fantasizes about rescue, suffering from extreme fatigue. Eventually, the creature flows under the raft every time Randy tries to sit down, forcing him to remain permanently standing. Randy finally breaks down and gives up, acknowledging the hopelessness of the situation. After night comes, Randy turns to the creature and contemplates that the creature's colors will take the pain out of being consumed. Randy does not look away as the creature shimmers hues at him.
The bulk of the story is faithful to the short story, but the ending was changed for the film. As soon as the creature takes LaVerne, Randy makes a swim for shore and is quickly pursued. Crawling out to apparent safety a few feet from the water's edge, he yells "I beat you!", but the creature becomes a wave, throwing itself up on the shore, and engulfs him. As the creature quietly slides back down into the lake, the screen pans over a no-swimming sign that also features a warning, which was hidden in overgrown reeds, near the now-abandoned Camaro.
In the intro to the story in The Twilight Zone Magazine and in afterword to the book Skeleton Crew, King relates an anecdote about the story's possible 1969 publication in Adam magazine in different form, under the title "The Float". A short time after the story was accepted, King was arrested in the town of Orono, Maine, for removing traffic cones from the street after one of them had damaged his car. He was unable to pay the fine and was about to be jailed when the payment check for "The Float" arrived, an event King referred to as asking to "have someone send you a real Get Out of Jail Free card." Despite receiving payment, King has never located a copy of the magazine with the published story in it.