The Raft
by Stephen King

Narrated by Frank Muller

 

It was forty miles from Horlicks University in Pittsburgh to Cascade Lake, and although dark comes early to that part of the world in October and although they didn't get going until six o'clock, there was still a little light in the sky when they got there. They had come in Deke's Camaro. Deke didn't waste any time when he was sober. After a couple of beers, he made that Camero walk and talk.

 

He had hardly brought the car to a stop at the pole fence between the parking lot and the beach before he was out and pulling off his shirt. His eyes were scanning the water for the raft.

 

Randy got out of the shotgun seat, a little reluctantly. This had been his idea, true enough, but he had never expected Deke to take it seriously. The girls were moving around in the back seat, getting ready to get out.

 

Deke's eyes scanned the water restlessly, side to side (sniper's eyes, Randy thought uncomfortably), and then fixed on a point.

 

"It's there!" he shouted, slapping the hood of the Camero. "Just like you said, Randy! Hot damn! Last one in's a rotten egg—"

 

"Deke—" Randy began, resetting his glasses on his nose, but that was all he bothered with, because Deke was vaulting the fence and running down the beach, not looking back at Randy or Rachel or LaVerne, only looking out at the raft, which was anchored about fifty yards out on the lake.

 

Randy looked around, as if to apologize to the girls for getting them into this, but they were looking at Deke—Rachel looking at him was all right, Rachel was Deke's girl, but LaVerne was looking at him too and Randy felt a hot momentary spark of jealousy that got him moving.

 

He peeled off his own sweatshirt, dropped it beside Deke's, and hopped the fence.

 

"Randy!" LaVerne called, and he only pulled his arm forward through the gray twilit October air in a come-on gesture, hating himself a little for doing it—she was unsure now, perhaps ready to cry it off. The idea of an October swim in the deserted lake wasn't just part of a comfortable, well-lighted bull-session in the apartment he and Deke shared anymore. He liked her, but Deke was stronger. And damned if she didn't have the hots for Deke, and damned if it wasn't irritating, Deke unbuckled his jeans, still running, and pushed them off his lean hips. He somehow got out of them all the way without stopping, a feat Randy could not have duplicated in a thousand years. Deke ran on, now only wearing bikini briefs, the muscles in his back and buttocks working gorgeously. Randy was more than aware of his own skinny shanks as he dropped his Levi's and clumsily shook them free of his feet—with Deke it was ballet, with him burlesque.

 

Deke hit the water and bellowed, "Cold! Mother of Jesus!" Randy hesitated, but only in his mind, where things took longer—that water's forty-five degrees, fifty at most, his mind told him. Your heart could stop. He was pre-med, he knew that was true... but in the physical world he didn't hesitate at all. He leaped it, and for a moment his heart did stop, or seemed to; his breath clogged in his throat and he had to force a gasp of air into his lungs as all his submerged skin went numb. This is crazy, he thought, and then: But it was your idea, Pancho. He began to stroke after Deke.

 

The two girls looked at each other for a moment. LaVerne shrugged and grinned. "If they can, we can," she said, stripping off her Lacrosse shirt to reveal an almost transparent bra.

 

"Aren't girls supposed to have an extra layer of fat?" Then she was over the fence and running for the water, unbuttoning her cords. After a moment Rachel followed her, much as Randy had followed Deke.

 

The girls had come over to the apartment at mid-afternoon—on Tuesdays a one-o'clock was the latest class any of them had. Deke's monthly allotment had come in—one of the football-mad alums (the players called them "angels") saw that he got two hundred a month in cash—and there was a case of beer in the fridge and a new Night Ranger album on Randy's battered stereo. The four of them set about getting pleasantly oiled. After a while the talk had turned to the end of the long Indian summer they had been enjoying. The radio was predicting flurries for Wednesday. LaVerne had advanced the opinion that weathermen predicting snow flurries in October should be shot, and no one had disagreed.

 

Rachel said that summers had seemed to last forever when she was a girl, but now that she was an adult ("a doddering senile nineteen," Deke joked, and she kicked his ankle), they got shorter every year. "It seemed like I spent my life out at Cascade Lake," she said, crossing the decayed kitchen linoleum to the icebox. She peered in, found an Iron City Light hiding behind a stack of blue Tupperware storage boxes (the one in the middle contained some nearly prehistoric chili which was now thickly festooned with mold—Randy was a good student and Deke was a good football player, but neither of them was worth a fart in a noisemaker when it came to housekeeping), and appropriated it. "I can still remember the first time I managed to swim all the way out to the raft. I stayed there for damn near two hours, scared to swim back." She sat down next to Deke, who put an arm around her. She smiled, remembering, and Randy suddenly thought she looked like someone famous or semi-famous. He couldn't quite place the resemblance. It would come to him later, under less pleasant circumstances.

 

"Finally my brother had to swim out and tow me back on an inner tube. God, he was mad. And I had a sunburn like you wouldn't believe."

 

"The raft's still out there," Randy said, mostly to say something. He was aware that LaVerne had been looking at Deke again; just lately it seemed like she looked at Deke a lot.

 

But now she looked at him. "It's almost Halloween, Randy. Cascade Beach has been closed since Labor Day."

 

"Raft's probably still out there, though," Randy said. "We were on the other side of the lake on a geology field trip about three weeks ago and I saw it then. It looked like..." He shrugged. "... a little bit of summer that somebody forgot to clean up and put away in the closet until next year." He thought they would laugh at that, but no one did—not even Deke.

 

"Just because it was there last year doesn't mean it's still there," LaVerne said.

 

"I mentioned it to a guy," Randy said, finishing his own beer. "Billy DeLois, do you remember him, Deke?" Deke nodded. "Played second string until he got hurt."

 

"Yeah, I guess so. Anyway, he comes from out that way, and he said the guys who own the beach never take it in until the lake's almost ready to freeze. Just lazy—at least, that's what he said. He said that some year they'd wait too long audit would get ice-locked." He fell silent, remembering how the raft had looked, anchored out there on the lake—a square of bright white wood in all that bright blue autumn water. He remembered how the sound of the barrels under it—that buoyant clunk-clunk sound—had drifted up to them. The sound was soft, but sounds carried well on the still air around the lake. There had been that sound and the sound of crows squabbling over the remnants of some fanner's harvested garden.

 

"Snow tomorrow," Rachel said, getting up as Deke's hand wandered almost absently down to the upper swell of her breast. She went to the window and looked out. "What a bummer."

 

"I'll tell you what," Randy said, "let's go on out to Cascade Lake. We'll swim out to the raft, say good-bye to summer, and then swim back." If he hadn't been half-loaded he never would have made the suggestion, and he certainly didn't expect anyone to take it seriously. But Deke jumped on it.

 

"All right! Awesome, Pancho! Fooking awesome!" LaVerne jumped and spilled her beer. But she smiled—the smile made Randy a little uneasy. "Let's do it!"

 

"Deke, you're crazy," Rachel said, also smiling—but her smile looked a little tentative, a little worried.

 

"No, I'm going to do it," Deke said, going for his coat, and with a mixture of dismay and excitement, Randy noted Deke's grin—reckless and a little crazy. The two of them had been rooming together for three years now—the Jock and the Brain, Cisco and Pancho, Batman and Robin—and Randy recognized that grin. Deke wasn't kidding; he meant to do it. In his head he was already halfway there.

 

Forget it, Cisco—not me. The words rose to his lips, but before he could say them LaVerne was on her feet, the same cheerful, loony look in her own eyes (or maybe it was just too much beer). "I'm up for it!"

 

"Then let's go!" Deke looked at Randy. "Whatchoo say, Pancho?" He had looked at Rachel for a moment then, and saw something almost frantic in her eyes —as far as he himself was concerned, Deke and LaVerne could go out to Cascade Lake together and plow the back forty all night; he would not be delighted with the knowledge that they were boffing each other's brains out, yet neither would he be surprised. But that look in the other girl's eyes, that haunted look—

 

"Ohhh, Ceesco!" Randy cried.

 

"Ohhhh, Pancho!" Deke cried back, delighted.

 

They slapped palms.

 

Randy was halfway to the raft when he saw the black patch on the water. It was beyond the raft and to the left of it, more out toward the middle of the lake. Five minutes later the light would have failed too much for him to tell it was anything more than a shadow... if he had seen it at all. Oil slick? he thought, still pulling hard through the water, faintly aware of the girls splashing behind him. But what would an oil slick be doing on an October-deserted lake? And it was oddly circular, small, surely no more than five feet in diameter—"Whoooo!" Deke shouted again, and Randy looked toward him. Deke was climbing the ladder on the side of the raft, shaking off water like a dog. "Howya doon, Pancho?"

 

"Okay!" he called back, pulling harder. It really wasn't as bad as he had thought it might be, not once you got in and got moving. His body tingled with warmth and now his motor was in overdrive. He could feel his heart putting out good revs, heating him from the inside out. His folks had a place on Cape Cod, and the water there was worse than this in mid-July.

 

"You think it's bad now, Pancho, wait'll you get out!" Deke yelled gleefully. He was hopping up and down, making the raft rock, rubbing his body. Randy forgot about the oil slick until his hands actually grasped the rough, white-painted wood of the ladder on the shore side.

 

Then he saw it again. It was a little closer. A round dark patch on the water, like a big mole, rising and falling on the mild waves. When he had first seen it the patch had been maybe forty yards from the raft. Now it was only half that distance.

 

How can that be? How— Then he came out of the water and the cold air bit his skin, bit it even harder than the water had when he first dived in. “Ohhhhhh, shit!" He yelled, laughing, shivering in his Jockey shorts.

 

"Pancho, you ees some kine of beeg asshole," Deke said happily. He pulled Randy up.

 

"Cold enough for you? You sober yet?"

 

"I'm sober! I'm-sober!" He began to jump around as Deke had done, clapping his arms across his chest and stomach in an X. They turned to look at the girls.

 

Rachel had pulled ahead of LaVerne, who was doing something that looked like a dog paddle performed by a dog with bad instincts.

 

"You ladies okay?" Deke bellowed.

 

"Go to hell, Macho City!" LaVerne called, and Deke broke up again.

 

Randy glanced to the side and saw that odd dark circular patch was even closer—ten yards now, and still coming. It floated on the water, round and regular, like the top of a large steel drum, but the limber way it rode the swells made it clear that it was not the surface of a solid object. Fear, directionless but powerful, suddenly seized him.

 

"Swim!" he shouted at the girls, and bent down to grasp Rachel's hand as she reached the ladder. He hauled her up. She bumped her knee hard—he heard the thud clearly

 

"Ow! Hey! What—" LaVerne was still ten feet away. Randy glanced to the side again and saw the round thing nuzzle the offside of the raft. The thing was as dark as oil, but he was sure it wasn't oil—too dark, too thick, too even.

 

"Randy, that hurt! What are you doing, being fun—"

 

"LaVerne! Swim!" Now it wasn't just fear; now it was terror.

 

LaVerne looked up, maybe not hearing the terror but at least hearing the urgency. She looked puzzled but she dog-paddled faster, closing the distance to the ladder. "Randy, what's wrong with you?" Deke asked. Randy looked to the side again and saw the thing fold itself around the raft's square corner. For a moment it looked like a Pac-Man image with its mouth open to eat electronic cookies. Then it slipped all the way around the corner and began to slide along the raft, one of its edges now straight.

 

"Help me get her up!" Randy grunted to Deke, and reached for her hand. "Quick!" Deke shrugged good-naturedly and reached for LaVerne's other hand. They pulled her up and onto the raft's board surface bare seconds before the black thing slid by the ladder, its sides dimpling as it slipped past the ladder's uprights.

 

"Randy, have you gone crazy?" LaVerne was out of breath, a little frightened. Her nipples were clearly visible through the bra. They stood out in cold hard points.

 

"That thing," Randy said, pointing. "Deke? What is it?" Deke spotted it. It had reached the left-hand corner of the raft. It drifted off a little to one side, reassuming its round shape. It simply floated there. The four of them looked at it.

 

 

 

 

 

"Oil slick, I guess," Deke said.

 

"You really racked my knee," Rachel said, glancing at the dark thing on the water and then back at Randy. "You—"

 

"It's not an oil slick," Randy said. "Did you ever see a round oil slick? That thing looks like a checker."

 

"I never saw an oil slick at all," Deke replied. He was talking to Randy but he was looking at LaVerne. LaVerne's panties were almost as transparent as her bra, the delta of her sex sculpted neatly in silk, each buttock a taut crescent. "I don't even believe in them. I'm from Missouri."

 

"I'm going to bruise," Rachel said, but the anger had gone out of her voice. She had seen Deke looking at LaVerne. "God, I'm cold," LaVerne said. She shivered prettily. "It went for the girls," Randy said. "Come on, Pancho. I thought you said you got sober." "It went for the girls," he repeated stubbornly, and thought: No one knows we're here. No one at all.

 

"Have you ever seen an oil slick, Pancho?" He had put his arm around LaVerne's bare shoulders in the same almost-absent way that he had touched Rachel's breast earlier that day. He wasn't touching LaVerne's breast—not yet, anyway—but his hand was close. Randy found he didn't care much, one way or another. That black, circular patch on the water. He cared about that.

 

"I saw one on the Cape, four years ago," he said. "We all pulled birds out of the surf and tried to clean them off—"

 

"Ecological, Pancho," Deke said approvingly. "Mucho ecological, I theenk." Randy said, "It was just this big, sticky mess all over the water. In streaks and big smears.

 

It didn't look like that. It wasn't, you know, compact." It looked like an accident,, he wanted to say. That thing doesn't look like an accident; it looks like it's on purpose.

 

"I want to go back now," Rachel said. She was still looking at Deke and LaVerne. Randy saw dull hurt in her face. He doubted if she knew it showed.

 

"So go," LaVerne said. There was a look on her face—the clarity of absolute triumph, Randy thought, and if the thought seemed pretentious, it also seemed exactly right. The expression was not aimed precisely at Rachel... but neither was LaVerne trying to hide it from the other girl.

 

She moved a step closer to Deke; a step was all there was. Now their hips touched lightly.

 

For one brief moment Randy's attention passed from the thing floating on the water and focused on LaVerne with an almost exquisite hate. Although he had never hit a girl, in that one moment he could have hit her with real pleasure. Not because he loved her (he had been a little infatuated with her, yes, and more than a little horny for her, yes, and a lot jealous when she had begun to come on to Deke back at the apartment, oh yes, but he wouldn't have brought a girl he actually loved within fifteen miles of Deke in the first place), but because he knew that expression on Rachel's face—how that expression felt inside.

 

"I'm afraid," Rachel said.

 

"Of an oil slick?" LaVerne asked incredulously, and then laughed. The urge to hit her swept over Randy again—to just swing a big roundhouse open-handed blow through the air, to wipe that look of half-assed hauteur from her face and leave a mark on her cheek that would bruise in the shape of a hand.

 

"Let's see you swim back, then," Randy said.

 

LaVerne smiled indulgently at him. "I'm not ready to go," she said, as if explaining to a child. She looked up at the sky, then at Deke. "I want to watch the stars come out." Rachel was a short girl, pretty, but in a gamine, slightly insecure way that made Randy think of New York girls—you saw them hurrying to work in the morning, wearing their smartly tailored skirts with slits in the front or up one side, wearing that same look of slightly neurotic prettiness. Rachel's eyes always sparkled, but it was hard to tell if it was good cheer that lent them that lively look or just free-floating anxiety.

 

Deke's tastes usually ran more to tall girls with dark hair and sleepy sloe eyes, and Randy saw it was now over between Deke and Rachel—whatever there had been, something simple and maybe a little boring on his part, something deep' and complicated and probably painful on hers. It was over, so cleanly and suddenly that Randy almost heard the snap: a sound like dry kindling broken over a knee.

 

He was a shy boy, but he moved to Rachel now and put an arm around her. She glanced up at him briefly, her face unhappy but grateful for his gesture, and he was glad he had improved the situation for her a little. That similarity bobbed into his mind again. Something in her face, her looks— He first associated it with TV game shows, then with commercials for crackers or wafers or some damn thing. It came to him then—she looked like Sandy Duncan, the actress who had played in the revival of Peter Pan on Broadway.

 

"What is that thing?" she asked. "Randy? What is it?"

 

"I don't know." He glanced at Deke and saw Deke looking at him with that familiar smile that was more loving familiarity than contempt... but the contempt was there, too. Maybe Deke didn't even know it, but it was. The expression said Here goes ole worry-wan Randy, pissing in his duties again. It was supposed to make Randy mumble an addition—It's probably nothing. Don't worry about it, It'll go away. Something like that. He didn't. Let Deke smile. The black patch on the water scared him. That was the truth.

 

Rachel stepped away from Randy and knelt prettily on the comer of the raft closest to the thing, and for a moment she triggered an even clearer memory-association: the girl on the White Rock labels. Sandy Duncan on the White Rock labels, his mind amended. Her hair, a closecropped, slightly coarse blond, lay wetly against her finely shaped skull. He could see goosebumps on her shoulder blades above the white band of her bra.

 

"Don't fall in, Rache," LaVerne said with bright malice.

 

"Quit it, LaVerne," Deke said, still smiling.

 

Randy looked from them, standing in the middle of the raft with their arms loosely around each other's waists, hips touching lightly, and back at Rachel. Alarm raced down his spine and out through his nerves like fire. The black patch had halved the distance between it and the corner of the raft where Rachel was kneeling and looking at it. It had been six or eight feet away before. Now the distance was three feet or less. And he saw a strange look in her eyes, a round blankness that seemed queerly like the round blankness of the thing in the water.

 

Now it's Sandy Duncan sitting on a White Rock label and pretending to be hypnotized by the rich delicious flavor of Nabisco Honey Grahams, he thought idiotically, feeling his heart speed up as it had in the water, and he called out, "Get away from there, Rachel!" Then everything happened very fast—things happened with the rapidity of fireworks going off. And yet he saw and heard each thing with perfect, hellish clarity. Each thing seemed caught in its own little capsule.

 

LaVerne laughed—on the quad in a bright afternoon hour it might have sounded like any college girl's laugh, but out here in the growing dark it sounded like the arid cackle of a witch making magic in a pot.

 

"Rachel, maybe you better get b—" Deke said, but she interrupted him, almost surely for the first time in her life, and indubitably for the last.

 

"It has colors!" she cried in a voice of utter, trembling wonder. Her eyes stared at the black patch on the water with blank rapture, and for just a moment Randy thought he saw what she was talking about—colors, yeah, colors, swirling in rich, inward-turning spirals. Then they were gone, and there was only dull, lusterless black again. "Such beautiful colors!"

 

"Rachel!" She reached for it—out and down—her white arm, marbled with gooseflesh, her hand, held out to it, meaning to touch; he saw she had bitten her nails ragged.

 

"Ra—" He sensed the raft tilt in the water as Deke moved toward them. He reached for Rachel at the same time, meaning to pull her back, dimly aware that he didn't want Deke to be the one to do it.

 

Then Rachel's hand touched the water—her forefinger only, sending out one delicate ripple in a ring—and the black patch surged over it. Randy heard her gasp in air, and suddenly the blankness left her eyes. What replaced it was agony.

 

The black, viscous substance ran up her arm like mud... and under it, Randy saw her skin dissolving. She opened her mouth and screamed. At the same moment she began to tilt outward.

 

She waved her other hand blindly at Randy and he grabbed for it. Their fingers brushed. Her eyes met his, and she still looked hellishly like Sandy Duncan. Then she fell outward and splashed into the water.

 

The black thing flowed over the spot where she had landed.

 

"What happened?" LaVerne was screaming behind them. "What happened? Did she fall in? What happened to her?" Randy made as if to dive in after her and Deke pushed him backwards with casual force.

 

"No," he said in a frightened voice that was utterly unlike Deke.

 

All three of them saw her flail to the surface. Her arms came up, waving—no, not arms.

 

One arm. The other was covered with a black membrane that hung in flaps and folds from something red and knitted with tendons, something that looked a little like a rolled roast of beef.

 

"Help!" Rachel screamed. Her eyes glared at them, away from them, at them, away—her eyes were like lanterns being waved aimlessly in the dark. She beat the water into a froth. “Help it hurts please help it hurts IT HURTS IT HURRRRR—" Randy had fallen when Deke pushed him. Now he got up from the boards of the raft and stumbled forward again, unable to ignore that voice. He tried to jump in and Deke grabbed him, wrapping his big arms around Randy's thin chest.

 

"No, she's dead," he whispered harshly. "Christ, can't you see that? She's dead, Pancho." Thick blackness suddenly poured across Rachel's face like a drape, and her screams were first muffled and then cut off entirely. Now the black stuff seemed to bind her in crisscrossing ropes. Randy could see it sinking into her like acid, and when her jugular vein gave way in a dark, pumping jet, he saw the thing send out a pseudopod after the escaping blood.

 

He could not believe what he was seeing, could not understand it... but there was no doubt, no sensation of losing his mind, no belief that he was dreaming or hallucinating.

 

LaVerne was screaming. Randy turned to look at her just in time to see her slap a hand melodramatically over her eyes like a silent movie heroine. He thought he would laugh and tell her this, but found he could not make a sound.

 

He looked back at Rachel. Rachel was almost not there anymore.

 

Her struggles had weakened to the point where they were really no more than spasms.

 

The blackness oozed over her—bigger now, Randy thought, it's bigger, no question about it— with mute, muscular power. He saw her hand beat at it; saw the hand become stuck, as if in molasses or on flypaper; saw it consumed. Now there was a sense of her form only, not in the water but in the black thing, not turning but being turned, the form becoming less recognizable, a white flash—bone, he thought sickly, and turned away, vomiting helplessly over the side of the raft.

 

LaVerne was still screaming. Then there was a dull whap! and she stopped screaming and began to snivel.

 

He hit her, Randy thought. / was going to do that, remember?

 

He stepped back, wiping his mouth, feeling weak and ill. And scared. So scared he could think with only one tiny wedge of his mind. Soon he would begin to scream himself. Then Deke would have to slap him, Deke wouldn't panic, oh no, Deke was hero material for sure. You gotta be a football hero... to get along with the beautiful girls, his mind sang cheerfully. Then he could hear Deke talking to him, and he looked up at the sky, trying to clear his head, trying desperately to put away the vision of Rachel's form becoming blobbish and inhuman as that black thing ate her, not wanting Deke to slap him the way he had slapped LaVerne.

 

He looked up at the sky and saw the first stars shining up there—the shape of the Dipper already clear as the last white light faded out of the west. It was nearly seven-thirty.

 

"Oh Ceeesco," he managed. "We are in beeg trouble thees time, I theeenk."

 

"What-is it?" His hand fell on Randy's shoulder, gripping and twisting painfully. "It ate her, did you see that? It ate her, it fucking ate her up! What is it?"

 

"I don't know. Didn't you hear me before?"

 

"You're supposed to know, you're a fucking brain-ball, you take all the fucking science courses!" Now Deke was almost screaming himself, and that helped Randy get a little more control.

 

"There's nothing like that in any science book I ever read," Randy told him. "The last time I saw anything like that was the Halloween Shock-Show down at the Rialto when I was twelve." The thing had regained its round shape now. It floated on the water ten feet from the raft.

 

"It's bigger," LaVerne moaned.

 

When Randy had first seen it, he had guessed its diameter at about five feet. Now it had to be at least eight feet across.

 

"It's bigger because it ate Rachel!" LaVeme cried, and began to scream again.

 

"Stop that or I'm going to break your jaw," Deke said, and she stopped—not all at once, but winding down the way a record does when somebody turns off the juice without taking the needle off the disc. Her eyes were huge things.

 

Deke looked back at Randy. "You all right, Pancho?"

 

"I don't know. I guess so."

 

"My man." Deke tried to smile, and Randy saw with some alarm that he was succeeding—was some part of Deke enjoying this? "You don't have any idea at all what it might be?" Randy shook his head. Maybe it was an oil slick, after all... or had been, until something had happened to it. Maybe cosmic rays had hit it in a certain way. Or maybe Arthur Godfrey had pissed atomic Bisquick all over it, who knew? Who could know?

 

"Can we swim past it, do you think?" Deke persisted, shaking Randy's shoulder.

 

"No!" LaVerne shrieked.

 

"Stop it or I'm gonna smoke you, LaVerne," Deke said, raising his voice again. "I'm not kidding."

 

"You saw how fast it took Rachel," Randy said.

 

"Maybe it was hungry then," Deke answered. "But maybe now it's full." Randy thought of Rachel kneeling there on the corner of the raft, so still and pretty in her bra and panties, and felt his gorge rise again.

 

"You try it," he said to Deke.

 

Deke grinned humorlessly. "Oh Pancho."

 

"Oh Ceesco."

 

"I want to go home," LaVerne said in a furtive whisper. "Okay?" Neither of them replied.

 

"So we wait for it to go away," Deke said. "It came, it'll go away."

 

"Maybe," Randy said.

 

Deke looked at him, his face full of a fierce concentration in the gloom. "Maybe? What's this maybe shit?"

 

"We came, and it came. I saw it come—like it smelled us. If it's full, like you say, it'll go.

 

I guess. If it still wants chow—" He shrugged.

 

Deke stood thoughtfully, head bent. His short hair was still dripping a little.

 

"We wait," he said. "Let it eat fish." Fifteen minutes passed. They didn't talk. It got colder. It was maybe fifty degrees and all three of them were in their underwear. After the first ten minutes, Randy could hear the brisk, intermittent clickety-click of his teeth. LaVerne had tried to move next to Deke, but he pushed her away—gently but firmly enough.

 

"Let me be for now," he said.

 

So she sat down, arms crossed over her breasts, hands cupping her elbows, shivering. She looked at Randy, her eyes telling him he could come back, put his arm around her, it was okay now.

 

He looked away instead, back at the dark circle on the water. It just floated there, not coming any closer, but not going away, either. He looked toward the shore and there was the beach, a ghostly white crescent that seemed to float. The trees behind it made a dark, bulking horizon line. He thought he could see Deke's Camaro, but he wasn't sure.

 

"We just picked up and went," Deke said.

 

"That's right," Randy said.

 

"Didn't tell anyone."

 

"No."

 

"So no one knows we're here."

 

"No."

 

"Stop it!" LaVerne shouted. "Stop it, you're scaring me!"

 

"Shut your pie-hole," Deke said absently, and Randy laughed in spite of himself—no matter how many times Deke said that, it always slew him. "If we have to spend the night out here, we do. Somebody'11 hear us yelling tomorrow. We're hardly in the middle of the Australian Outback, are we, Randy?" Randy said nothing. "Are we?"

 

"You know where we are," Randy said. "You know as well as I do. We turned off Route 41, we came up eight miles of back road—"

 

"Cottages every fifty feet—"

 

"Summer cottages. This is October. They're empty, the whole bucking funch of them. We got here and you had to drive around the damn gate, NO TRESPASSING signs every fifty feet—"

 

"So? A caretaker—" Deke was sounding a little pissed now, a little off-balance. A little scared? For the first time tonight, for the first time this month, this year, maybe for the first time in his whole life? Now there was an awesome thought—Deke loses his fear-cherry. Randy was not sure it was happening, but he thought maybe it was... and he took a perverse pleasure in it.

 

"Nothing to steal, nothing to vandalize," he said. "If there's a caretaker, he probably pops by here on a bimonthly basis."

 

"Hunters—"

 

"Next month, yeah," Randy said, and shut his mouth with a snap. He had also succeeded in scaring himself.

 

"Maybe it'll leave us alone," LaVerne said. Her lips made a pathetic, loose little smile.

 

"Maybe it'll just... you know... leave us alone." Deke said, "Maybe pigs will—" "It's moving," Randy said.

 

LaVerne leaped to her feet. Deke came to where Randy was and for a moment the raft tilted, scaring Randy's heart into a gallop and making LaVerne scream again. Then Deke stepped back a little and the raft stabilized, with the left front corner (as they faced the shoreline) dipped down slightly more than the rest of the raft.

 

It came with an oily, frightening speed, and as it did, Randy saw the colors Rachel had seen—fantastic reds and yellows and blues spiraling across an ebony surface like limp plastic or dark, lithe Naugahyde. It rose and fell with the waves and that changed the colors, made them swirl and blend. Randy realized he was going to fall over, fall right into it, he could feel himself tilting out— With the last of his strength he brought his right fist up into his own nose—the gesture of a man stifling a cough, only a little high and a lot hard. His nose flared with pain, he felt blood run warmly down his face, and then he was able to step back, crying out:

 

"Don't look at it! Deke! Don't look right at it, the colors make you loopy!"

 

 

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