Sometimes ideas get stuck in a writer's head. This certainly must have been the case with the short story "Night Surf," a gorgeous little nugget, which reads like a small vignette from the first 35 pages of The Stand, showing a more lowkey, personal side of the Captain Trips virus on a few 20-somethings who don't end up part of the greater saga of The Stand.
Though "Night Surf" was published in the University of Maine journal Ubris in 1969, most Stephen King fans weren't likely to read it until almost a decade later when it was included in 1978's Night Shift, the same year as the original unedited version of The Stand. It's fair to assume that revisiting an old classic might have rekindled King's interest in the larger story of Captain Trips. Or maybe King simply couldn't shake the story and it just took a decade to work it all out. He has, after-all written at length about the massive writer's block that kept him from finishing The Stand.
Regardless, the two stories overlap beautifully. Since The Stand is concerned with the continental, epic battle between good and evil, the book gives us only a few small moments showing the impact of most of the world’s population suddenly disappearing. “Night Surf” treats fans of The Stand to just that sort of brief glimpse. It’s beautifully written, using the imagery of the surf coming in and going out as a melancholy backdrop to the events of the story, which are, admittedly as bleak and spare as the sandswept landscape setting. .
It may be short, but all the drama of The Stand is still present here. The core of the story focuses on a group of survivors burning to death a man who is clearly infected with the Trips virus. Some in the group are fine with it, cynically certain they’ve done the right thing in a post-Tripps world. They claim survival is the key. Others aren’t so certain murder is acceptable, even with death ruling the day. King manages the conflict with subtlety; this is after-all a small group of people who don’t know each other well. They’re unlikely to duke it out over ethical issues when they aren’t even certain whether they’re the last people on earth or not. He’d need a bigger stage to play out the morality tale he’s so clearly interested in, but on its own “Night Surf” shows just enough to get the brain working, and leave the reader wanting to see more of this world.
Fortunately for Constant Readers, we wouldn’t have to wait all that long.