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"You're not gonna get buried alive," Ben said. "And if you are, just suck your damn old aspirator until someone pulls you out."


This struck Stanley Uris as deliciously funny. He leaned back on his elbow, his head turned up to the sky, and laughed until Eddie kicked his shin and told him to shut up.


"Luck," Mike said finally. "I think any no-hitter's more luck than skill."


"M-M-Me t-too," Bill said. Mike waited to see if there was more, but Bill seemed satisfied. He lay down again, laced his hands behind his head again, and went back to studying the clouds as they floated by.


"What are you guys up to?" Mike asked, looking at the square of strings pegged just above the ground


"Oh, this is Haystack's big idea of the week," Richie said. "Last time he flooded out the Barrens and that was pretty good, but this one's a real dinner-winner. This is Dig Your Own Clubhouse Month. Next month-"


"Y-You don't nuh-nuh-need to put B-B-B-Ben d-duh-hown," Bill said, still looking at the sky. "It's going to be guh-guh-good."


"God's sake, Bill, I was just kidding."


"Suh-Sometimes you k-k-kid too much, Rih-Richie."


Richie accepted the rebuke silently.


"I still don't get it," Mike said.


"Well, it's pretty simple," Ben said. "They wanted a treehouse, and we could do that, but people have a bad habit of breaking their bones when they fall out of treehouses-"


"Kookie... Kookie... lend me your bones," Stan said, and laughed again while" the others looked at him, puzzled. Stan did not have much sense of humor, and the bit he did have was sort of peculiar.


"You ees goin loco, senhorr," Richie said. "Eees the heat an the cucarachas, I theenk."


"Anyway," Ben said, "what we'll do is dig down about five feet in the square I pegged out there. We can't go much deeper than that or we'll hit groundwater, I guess. It's pretty close to the surface down here. Then we'll shore up the sides just to make sure they don't cave in." He looked significantly at Eddie here, but Eddie was worried.


"Then what?" Mike asked, interested.


"We'll cap off the top."


"Huh?"


"Put boards over the top of the hole. We can put in a trapdoor or something so we can get in and out, even windows if we want-"


"We'll need some hih-hih-hinges," Bill said, still looking at the clouds.


"We can get those at Reynolds Hardware," Ben said.


"Y-You guh-guh-guys have your a-a-allowances," Bill said.


"I've got five dollars," Beverly said. "I saved it up from babysitting."


Richie immediately began to crawl toward her on his hands and knees. "I love you, Bevvie," he said, making dog's eyes at her. "Will you marry me? We'll live in a pine-studded bungalow-"


"A what'?" Beverly asked, while Ben watched them with an odd mixture of anxiety, amusement, and concentration.


"A bung-studded pinealow," Richie said. "Five bucks is enough, sweetie, you


and me and baby makes three-"


Beverly laughed and blushed and moved away from him.


"We sh-share the e-expenses," Bill said. "That's why we got a club."


"So after we cap the hole with boards," Ben went on, "we put down this heavy-duty glue-Tangle-Track, they call it-and put the sods back on. Maybe sprinkle it with pine needles. We could be down there and people-people like Henry Bowers-could walk right over us and not even know we were there."


"You thought of that?" Mike said. "Jeez, that's great!"


Ben smiled. It was his turn to blush.


Bill sat up suddenly and looked at Mike. "You w-w-want to heh-help?"


"Well... sure," Mike said. That'd be fun."


A look passed among the others-Mike felt it as well as saw it. There are seven of us here, Mike thought, and for no reason at all he shivered.


"When are you going to break ground?"


"P-P-hretty s-soon," Bill said, and Mike knew-knew-that it wasn't just Ben's underground clubhouse Bill was talking about. Ben knew it, too. So did Richie, Beverly, and Eddie. Stan Uris had stopped smiling; "W-We're g-gonna start this pruh-huh-hoject pretty suh-suh-soon."


There was a pause then, and Mike was suddenly aware of two things: they wanted to say something, tell him something... and he was not entirely sure he wanted to hear it. Ben had picked up a stick and was doodling aimlessly in the dirt, his hair hiding his face. Richie was gnawing at his already ragged fingernails. Only Bill was looking directly at Mike.


"Is something wrong?" Mike asked uneasily.


Speaking very slowly, Bill said: "W-W-We're a cluh-club. Y-You can be in the club if you w-w-want, but y-y-you have to kee-keep our see-see-secrets."


"You mean, like the clubhouse?" Mike asked, now more uneasy than ever. "Well, sure-"


"We've got another secret, kid," Richie said, still not looking at Mike. "And Big Bill says we've got something more important to do this summer than digging underground clubhouses."


"He's right, too," Ben added.


There was a sudden, whistling gasp. Mike jumped. It was only Eddie, blasting off. Eddie looked at Mike apologetically, shrugged, and then nodded.


"Well," Mike said finally, "don't keep me in suspense. Tell me."


Bill was looking at the others. "I-Is there a-a-anyone who d-doesn't want him in the cluh-club?"


No one spoke or raised a hand.


"W-Who wants to t-tell?" Bill asked.


There was another long pause, and this time Bill didn't break it. At last Beverly sighed and looked up at Mike.


"The kids who have been killed," she said. "We know who's been doing it, and it's not human."


3


They told him, one by one: the clown on the ice, the leper under the porch, the blood and voices from the drain, the dead boys in the Standpipe. Richie told about what had happened when he and Bill went back to Neibolt Street, and Bill spoke last, telling about the school photo that had moved, and the picture he had stuck his hand into. He finished by explaining that it had killed his brother Georgie, and that the Losers" Club was dedicated to killing the monster... whatever the monster really was.


Mike thought later, going home that night, that he should have listened with disbelief mounting into horror and finally run away as fast as he could, not looking back, convinced either that he was being put on by a bunch of white kids who didn't like black folks or that he was in the presence of six authentic lunatics who had in some way caught their lunacy from each other, the way everyone in the same class could catch a particularly virulent cold.


But he didn't run, because in spite of the horror, he felt a strange sense of comfort. Comfort and something else, something more elemental: a feeling of coming home. There are seven of us here, he thought again as Bill finally finished speaking.


He opened his mouth, not sure of what he was going to say.


"I've seen the clown," he said.:


"What?" Richie and Stan asked together, and Beverly turned her head so quickly that her pony-tail flipped from her left shoulder to her right.


"I saw him on the Fourth," Mike said slowly, speaking to Bill mostly. Bill's eyes, sharp and utterly concentrated, were on his, demanding that he go on. "Yes, on the Fourth of July... " He trailed off momentarily, thinking: But I knew him. I knew him because that wasn't the first time I saw him. And it wasn't the first time I saw something... something wrong.


He thought of the bird then, the first time he'd really allowed himself to think of it-except in nightmares-since May. He had thought he was going crazy. It was a relief to find out he wasn't crazy... but it was still a scary relief. He wet his lips.


"Go on," Bev said impatiently. "Hurry up."


"Well, the thing is, I was in the parade. I-"


"I saw you," Eddie said. "You were playing the saxophone."


"Well, it's actually a trombone," Mike said. "I play with the Neibolt Church School Band. Anyway, I saw the clown. He was handing out balloons to kids on the three-way corner downtown. He was just like Ben and Bill said. Silver suit, orange buttons, white makeup on his face, big red smile. I don't know if it was lipstick or make-up, but it looked like blood."


The others were nodding, excited now, but Bill only went on looking at Mike closely. "O-O-Orange tufts of h-h-hair?" he asked Mike, making them unconsciously over his own head with his fingers.


Mike nodded.


"Seeing him like that... it scared me. And while I was looking at him, he turned around and waved at me, like he'd read my mind, or my feelings, or whatever you call it. And that... like, scared me worse. I didn't know why then, but he scared me so bad for a couple of seconds I couldn't play my "bone anymore. All the spit in my mouth dried up and I felt... " He glanced briefly at Beverly. He remembered it all so clearly now, how the sun had suddenly seemed intolerably dazzling on the brass of his horn and the chrome of the cars, the music too loud, the sky too blue. The clown had raised one white-gloved hand (the other was full of balloon strings) and had waved slowly back and forth, his bloody grin too red and too wide, a scream turned upside-down. He remembered how the flesh of his testicles had begun to crawl, how his bowels had suddenly felt all loose and hot, as if he might suddenly drop a casual load of shit into his pants. But he couldn't say any of that in front of Beverly. You didn't say stuff like that in front of girls, even if they were the sort of girls you could say things like "bitch" and "bastard" in front of. "... I felt scared," he finished, feeling that was too weak, but not knowing how to say the rest. But they were nodding as if they understood, and he felt an indescribable relief wash through him. Somehow that clown looking at him, smiling his red smile, his white-gloved hand penduluming slowly back and forth... that had been worse than having Henry Bowers and the rest after him. Ever so much worse.


"Then we were past," Mike went on. "We marched up Main Street Hill. And I saw him again, handing out balloons to kids. Except a lot of them didn't want to take them. Some of the little ones were crying. I couldn't figure out how he could have gotten up there so fast. I thought to myself that there must be two of them, you know, both of them dressed the same way. A team. But then he turned around and waved to me again and I knew it was him. It was the same man."


"He's not a man," Richie said, and Beverly shuddered. Bill put his arm around her for a moment and she looked at him gratefully.


"He waved to me... and then he winked. Like we had a secret. Or like... like maybe he knew I'd recognized him."


Bill dropped his arm from Beverly's shoulders. "You reh-reh-rehrecognized him?"


"I think so," Mike said. "I have to check something before I say it's for sure. My father's got some pictures... He collects them... Listen, you guys play down here a lot, don't you?"


"Sure," Ben said. "That's why we're building a clubhouse."


Mike nodded. "I'll check and see if I'm right. If I am, I can bring the pictures."


"O-O-Old pic-pictures?" Bill asked.


"Yes."


"W-W-What else?" Bill asked.


Mike opened his mouth and then closed it again. He looked around at them uncertainly and then said, "You'd think I was crazy. Crazy or lying."


"D-Do y-y-you th-think we're cruh-cruh-crazy?"


Mike shook his head.


"You bet we're not," Eddie said. "I got a lot wrong with me, but I'm not bughouse. I don't think."


"No," Mike said. "I don't think you're crazy."


"Well, we-we won't th-think you're cruh-cruh... nuts, e-e-either," Bill said.


Mike looked them all over, cleared his throat, and said: "I saw a bird. Couple, three months ago. I saw a bird."


Stan Uris looked at Mike. "What kind of a bird?"


Speaking more reluctantly than ever Mike said: "It looked like a sparrow, sort of, but it also looked like a robin. It had an orange chest."


"Well, what's so special about a bird?" Ben asked. "There are lots of birds in Derry." But he felt uneasy, and looking at Stan, he felt sure that Stan was remembering what had happened in the Standpipe, and how he had somehow stopped it from happening by shouting out the names of birds. But he forgot all about that and everything else when Mike spoke again.


"This bird was bigger than a housetrailer," he said.


He looked at their shocked, amazed faces. He waited for their laughter, but none came. Stan looked as if someone had clipped him with a brick. His face had gone so pale it was the color of muted November sunlight.


"I swear it's true," Mike said. "It was a giant bird, like one of those birds in the monster-movies that are supposed to be prehistoric."


"Yeah, like in The Giant Claw," Richie said. He thought the bird in that had been sort of fake-looking, but by the time it got to New York he had still been excited enough to spill his popcorn over the balcony railing at the Aladdin. Foxy Foxworth would have kicked him out, but the movie was over by then anyway. Sometimes you got the shit kicked out of you, but as Big Bill said, sometimes you won one, too.


"But it didn't look prehistoric," Mike said. "And it didn't look like one of those whatdoyoucallums the Greeks and Romans made up stories about-"


"Ruh-Ruh-Rocs?" Bill suggested.


"Right, I guess so. It wasn't like those, either. It was just like a combination robin and sparrow. The two most common birds you see." He laughed a little wildly.


"W-W-Where-" Bill began.


"Tell us," Beverly said simply, and after a moment to collect his thoughts, Mike did. And telling it, watching their faces grow concerned and scared but not disbelieving or derisive, he felt an incredible weight lift from his chest. Like Ben with his mummy or Eddie with his leper and Stan with the drowned boys, he had seen a thing that would have driven an adult insane, not just with terror but with the walloping force of an unreality too great to be explained away or, lacking any rational explanation, simply ignored. Elijah's face had been burned black by the light of God's love, or so Mike had read; but Elijah had been an old man when it happened, and maybe that made a difference. Hadn't one of those other Bible fellows, this one little more than a kid, actually wrestled an angel to a draw?

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