Page 107

She lit one, a tiny yellow flare in the gloom. "darn thing probably won't catch anyway," she said in a slightly uneven voice, and touched a light to the paper in several places. When the matchflame got close to her fingers, she tossed it into the center.

The flames blazed up yellow, crackling, throwing their faces into sharp relief, and in that moment Richie had no trouble believing Ben's Indian story, and he thought it must have been like this back in those old days when the idea of white men was still no more than a rumor or a tall tale to those Indians who followed buffalo herds so big they could cover the earth from horizon to horizon, herds so big that their passing shook the ground like an earthquake. In that moment Richie could picture those Indians, Kiowas or Pawnees or whatever they were, down in their smoke-hole, knee to knee and shoulder to shoulder, watching as the flames guttered and sank into the green wood like hot sores, listening to the faint and steady ssssss of sap oozing out of the damp wood, waiting for the vision to descend.

Yeah. Sitting here now he could believe it all... and looking at their somber faces as they studied the flames and the charring pages of Mike's Archie funny book, he could see that they believed it, too.

The branches were catching. The clubhouse began to fill up with smoke. Some of it, white as cotton smoke-signals in a Saturday-matinee movie starring Randolph Scott or Audie Murphy, escaped from the smoke-hole. But with no moving air outside to create a draft, most of it stayed below. It had an acrid bite that made eyes sting and throats throb. Richie heard Eddie cough twice-a flat sound like dry boards being whacked together-and then fall silent again. He shouldn't be down here, he thought... but something else apparently felt otherwise.

Bill tossed another handful of green twigs on the smoldering fire and asked in a thin voice that was not much like his usual speaking voice: "Anyone having a-any vih-vih-visions?"

"Visions of getting out of here," Stan Uris said. Beverly laughed at this, but her laughter turned into a fit of coughing and choking.

Richie leaned his head back against the wall and looked up at the smoke-hole-a thin rectangle of mellow white light. He thought about the Paul Bunyan statue that day in March... but that had only been a mirage, a hallucination, a


"Smoke's killin me," Ben said. "Whoo!"

"So leave," Richie murmured, not taking his eyes off the smoke-hole. He felt as if he was getting a handle on this. He felt as if he had lost ten pounds. And he sure as shit felt as if the clubhouse had gotten bigger. Damn straight on that last. He had been sitting with Ben Hanscom's fat right leg squashed against his left one and Bill Denbrough's bony left shoulder socked into his right arm. Now he was touching neither of them. He glanced lazily to his right and left to verify that his perception was true, and it was. Ben was a foot or so to his left. On his right, Bill was even farther away.

"Place is bigger, friends and neighbors," he said. He took a deeper breath and coughed hard. It hurt, hurt deep in his chest, the way a cough hurt when you had the flu or the grippe or something. For awhile he thought it would never pass; that he would just go on coughing until they had to pull him out. If they still can, he thought, but the thought was really too dim to be frightening.

Then Bill was pounding him on the back, and the coughing fit passed.

"You don't know you don't always," Richie said. He was looking at the smoke-hole again instead of at Bill. How bright it seemed! When he closed his eyes he could still see the rectangle, floating there in the dark, but bright green instead of bright white.

"Whuh-whuh-what do you m-mean?" Bill asked.

"Stutter." He paused, aware that someone else was coughing but not sure who it was. "You ought to do the Voices, not me, Big Bill. You-"

The coughing got louder. Suddenly the clubhouse was flooded with daylight, so sudden and so bright Richie had to squint against it. He could just make out Stan Uris, climbing and clawing his way out.

"Sorry," Stan managed, through his spasmodic coughing. "sorry, can't-"

"It's all right," Richie heard himself say. "You doan need no stinkin" batches." His voice sounded as if it were coming from a different body.

The trapdoor slammed shut a moment later, but enough fresh air had come in to clear his head a little. Before Ben moved over a little to fill the space Stan had vacated, Richie became aware of Ben's leg again, pressing his. How had he gotten the idea that the clubhouse had gotten bigger?

Mike Hanlon threw more sticks on the smoky fire. Richie resumed taking shallow breaths and looking up at the smoke-hole. He had no sense of real time passing, but he was vaguely aware that, in addition to the smoke, the clubhouse was getting good and hot.

He looked around, looked at his friends. They were hard to see, half-swallowed in shadowsmoke and still white summerlight. Bev's head was tilted back against a piece of shoring, her hands on her knees, her eyes closed, tears trickling down her cheeks toward her earlobes. Bill was sitting cross-legged, his chin on his chest. Ben was-

But suddenly Ben was getting to his feet, pushing the trapdoor open again.

"There goes Ben," Mike said. He was sitting Indian-fashion directly across from Richie, his eyes as red as a weasel's.

Comparative coolness struck them again. The air freshened as smoke swirled up through the trap. Ben was coughing and dry-retching. He pulled himself out with Stan's help, and before either of them could close the trapdoor, Eddie was staggering to his feet, his face a deadly pale except for the bruised-looking patches under his eyes and traced just below his cheekbones. His thin chest was hitching up and down in quick, shallow spasms. He groped weakly for the edge of the escape hatch and would have fallen if Ben had not grabbed

hand and Stan the other.

"Sorry," Eddie managed in a squeaky little whisper, and then they hauled him up. The trapdoor banged down again.

There was a long, quiet period. The smoke built up until it was a thick still fog in the clubhouse. Looks like a pea-souper to me, Watson, Richie thought, and for a moment he imagined himself as Sherlock Holmes (a Holmes who looked a great deal like Basil Rathbone and who was totally black and white), moving purposefully along Baker Street; Moriarty was somewhere near, a hansom cab awaited, and the game was afoot.

The thought was amazingly clear, amazingly solid. It seemed almost to have weight, as if it were not a little pocket-daydream of the sort he had all the time (batting cleanup for the Bosox, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, and there it goes, it's up... ITS GONE! Home run, Tozier... and that breaks the Babe's record!), but something that was almost real.

There was still enough of the wiseacre in him to think that if all he was getting out of this was a vision of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, then the whole idea of visions was pretty overrated.

Except of course it isn't Moriarty that's out there. It's out there-some It-and It's real. It-

Then the trapdoor opened again and Beverly was struggling her way out, coughing dryly, one hand cupped over her mouth. Ben got one hand and Stan grabbed her under the other arm. Half-pulled, half-scrambling under her own power, she was up and gone.

"Ih-Ih-It i-is bi-higger," Bill said.

Richie looked around. He saw the circle of stones with the fire smoldering within, fuming out clouds of smoke. Across the way he saw Mike sitting cross-legged like a totem carved from mahogany, staring at him through the fire with his smoke-reddened eyes. Except Mike was better than twenty yards away, and Bill was even farther away, on Richie's right. The underground clubhouse was now at least the size of a ballroom.

"Doesn't matter," Mike said. "It's gonna come pretty quick. Somethin is."

"Y-Y-Yeah," Bill said. "But I... I... I-"

He began to cough. He tried to control it, but the cough worsened, a dry rattling. Dimly Richie saw Bill stumble to his feet, lunge for the trapdoor, and shove it open.

"Guh-Guh-Good luh-luh-luh-"

And then he was gone, dragged up by the others.

"Looks like it's you and me, ole Mikey," Richie said, and then he began to cough himself. "I thought for sure that it would be Bill-"

The cough worsened. He doubled over, hacking dryly, unable to get his breath. His head was thudding-whacking-like a turnip filled with blood. His eyes teared behind his glasses.

From far away, he heard Mike saying: "Go on up if you have to, Richie. Don't go flippy. Don't kill yourself."

He raised a hand toward Mike and flapped it at him

(no stinkin batches)

in a negative gesture. Little by little he began to get the coughing under control again. Mike was right; something was going to happen, and soon. He wanted to still be here when it did.

He tilted his head back and looked up at the smoke-hole again. The coughing fit had left him feeling light-headed, and now he seemed to be floating on a cushion of air. It was a pleasant feeling. He took shallow breaths and thought: Someday I'm going to be a rock-and-roll star. That's it, yes. I'll be famous. I'll make records and albums and movies. I'll have a black sportcoat and white shoes and a yellow Cadillac. And when I come back to Derry, they'll all eat their hearts out, even Bowers. I wear glasses, but what the fuck? Buddy Holly wears glasses. I'll bop till I'm blue and dance till Fm black. I'll be the first rock-and-roll star to ever come from Maine. I'll -

The thought drifted away. It didn't matter. He found that now he didn't need to take shallow breaths. His lungs had adapted. He could breathe as much smoke as he wanted. Maybe he was from Venus.

Mike threw more sticks on the fire. Not to be outdone, Richie tossed on another handful himself.

"How you feeling, Rich?" Mike asked.

Richie smiled. "Better. Good, almost. You?"

Mike nodded and smiled back. "I feel okay. Have you been having some funny thoughts?"

"Yeah. Thought I was Sherlock Holmes for a minute there. Then I thought I could dance like the Dovells. Your eyes are so red you wouldn't believe it, you know it?"

"Yours too. Just a coupla weasels in the pen, that's what we are."



"You wanna say all right?"

"All right. You wanna say you got the word?"

"I got it, Mikey."

"Yeah, okay."

They grinned at each other and then Richie let his head tilt back against the wall again and looked up at the smoke-hole. Shortly he began to drift away. No... not away. Up. He was drifting up. Like

(float down here we all)

a balloon.

"Yuh-yuh-you g-g-guys all ri-right?"

Bill's voice, coming down through the smoke-hole. Coming from Venus. Worried. Richie felt himself thud back down inside himself.

"All right," he heard his voice, distant, irritated. "All right, we said all right, be quiet, Bill, let us get the word, we wanna say we got the



The clubhouse was bigger than ever, floored now in some polished wood. The smoke was fog-thick and it was hard to see the fire. That floor! Jesus-come-please-us! It was as big as a ballroom floor in an MGM musical extravaganza. Mike looked at him from the other side, a shape almost lost in the fog.

You coming, ale Mikey?

Right here with you, Richie.

You still want to say all right?

Yeah... but hold my hand... can you catch hold?

I think so.

Richie held his hand out, and although Mike was on the far side of this enormous room he felt those strong brown fingers close over his wrist. Oh and that was good, that was a good touch-good to find desire in comfort, to find comfort in desire, to find substance in smoke and smoke in substance -

He tilted his head back and looked at the smoke-hole, so white and wee. It was farther up now. Miles up. Venusian skylight.

It was happening. He began to float. Come on then, he thought, and began to rise faster through the smoke, the fog, the mist, whatever it was.


They weren't inside anymore.

The two of them were standing together in the middle of the Barrens, and it was nearly dusk.

It was the Barrens, he knew that, but everything was different. The foliage was lusher, deeper, savagely fragrant. There were plants he had never seen before, and Richie realized some of the things he had first taken for trees were really giant ferns. There was the sound of running water, but it was much louder than it should have been-this water sounded not like the leisurely flow of the Kenduskeag Stream but more the way he imagined the Colorado River would sound as it cut its way through the Grand Canyon.

It was hot, too. Not that it didn't get hot in Maine during the summer, and humid enough so that sometimes you felt sticky just lying in your bed at night, but this was more heat and more humidity than he had ever felt in his whole life. A low mist, smoky and thick, lay in the hollows of the land and crept around the boys" legs. It had a thin acrid smell like burning green wood.

He and Mike began to move toward the sound of the running water without speaking, pushing their way through the strange foliage. Thick ropy lianas lay between some of the trees like spidery hammocks, and once Richie heard something go crashing off through the underbrush. It sounded bigger than a deer.

He stopped long enough to look around, turning in a circle, studying the horizon. He knew where the Standpipe's thick white cylinder should have been, but it wasn't there. Neither was the railroad trestle going over to the trainyards at the end of Neibolt Street or the Old Cape housing development-low bluffs and red sandstone outcroppings of rock bulged out of thick stands of giant fern and pine trees where the Old Cape should have been.

There was a flapping noise overhead. The boys ducked as a squadron of bats flapped by. They were the biggest bats Richie had ever seen, and for a moment he was more terrified than he had been even when Bill was trying to get Silver rolling and he had heard the werewolf closing in on them from behind. The stillness and the alienness of this land were both terrible, but its awful familiarity was somehow worse.

No need to be scared, he told himself. Remember that this is just a dream, or a vision, or whatever you want to call it. Me and ole Mikey are really back in the clubhouse, goofed up on smoke. Pretty soon Big Bill is gonna get noivous from the soivice because we're not answering anymore, and he and Ben will come down and haul us out. It's just like Conway Twitty says-only make-believe.

But he could see how one of the bats" wings was so ragged the hazy sun shone through it, and when they passed beneath one of the giant ferns he could see a fat yellow caterpillar trundling across a wide green frond, leaving its shadow behind it. There were tiny black mites jumping and sizzling on the caterpillar's body. If this was a dream, it was the clearest one he had ever had.

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