Written by: Matt Molgaard
In the ranks of modern short fiction, Stephen King’s highly praised tale The Raft sits near the top. In fact, the story also earned a cinematic transfer as a segment in the second Creepshow film; the greatest segment to be showcased between both original Creepshow films, might I add.
There’s a reason the Raft struck such a nerve with readers as well as viewers: it’s a story that works the angle of a strangely plausible scenario, and it accurately captures the essence of reckless youth. Now, the characters, well, they’re something extremely special that elevate this one far beyond expectation.
These personalities are developed in amazing fashion, as each player boasts traits unique to one another. Deke is the hunky jock, fearless on all levels and openly promiscuous. Randy is an ideal nerd who looks, from the onset, to be the guaranteed survivor (the savvy smart kid always lives, right?). LaVerne is the crowd wrecker, flaunting her shit with pride, distancing herself from her supposed “date” Randy, while creating a wedge between herself and Rachel, who arrives at the deserted lake as Deke’s lady before LaVerne’s aggressive advances toward Deke lead to a sudden change of heart for Rachel, who’s not about to put up with Deke’s inclination to infidelity.
I can’t really praise this crew enough. These are characters you can relate with. They’re characters that you may well have actually even met in your time (I’ve known a few Deke’s, Randy’s and LaVerne’s in my time). That’s the level of connectivity King creates. Dare I say, these are four of the most noteworthy characters that the imagination of Stephen King has ever birthed? Yes, I do dare say that, and I stand firmly behind that opinion.
The cast of characters here already separates The Raft from about 90 percent of other shorts. These characters truly do breathe on the page, and whether you love them or hate them, you won’t forget them for a second.
The story itself could be labeled a “bare bones” affair. This group of four hit Cascade Lake to wave goodbye to Indian Summer: one final swim to the raft as the weather begins to bite. But there’s an awkward mass floating about the water. Confused initially as an oil slick, this black, gooey mass proves to be anything but. This floating death trap not only detects the presence of humans, it eats them alive, melting away the flesh from bone.
King tells it in quite graphic fashion, and while a lumpy black mass floating on a lake may not sound like a strong enough selling point for a horror tale, it is, and then some. This thing is terrifying, and the tension that mounts as these four stranded friends attempt to devise a plan to get back to shore, flesh still affixed, is a strain on the mind. It’s easy to conjure white knuckles clutching these pages so tight.
A brilliant setup, an outstanding group of characters and one damn brutal climax push The Raft into the lines of genius. Of all the short stories Stephen King has written over the last (near) 40 years, this is inarguably a top five tale. Read the story, watch the Creepshow 2 segment and, well, enjoy: you can’t lose either way. Unless you somehow find yourself stuck on Cascade Lake.