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It had been hot all day-it was generally agreed later that that third week of July was the hottest of an exceptionally hot summer-and the thunderheads began to build up around four in the afternoon, purple-black and colossal, pregnant with rain, loaded with lightnings. People went about their errands quickly and a little uneasily, with one eye always cocked at the sky. Most agreed it would rain good and hard by dinnertime, washing some of the thick humidity out of the ear. Derry's parks and playgrounds, underpopulated all summer, were totally deserted that evening by six. The rain had still not fallen, and the "swings hung moveless and shadeless in a light that was a queer flat yellow. Thunder rumbled thickly-that, a barking dog, and the low mutter of traffic on Outer Main Street were the only sounds that drifted in through Eddie's window until the Losers came.

Bill was first, followed by Richie. Beverly and Stan followed them, then Mike Ben came last. He looked excruciatingly uncomfortable in a white trurtleneck sweater.

They came to his bed, solemn. Not even Richie was smiling.

Their faces, Eddie thought, fascinated. Jeezum-crow, their faces!

He was seeing in them what his mother had seen in him that afternoon: that odd combination of power and helplessness. The yellow stormlight lay on their skins, making their faces seem ghost-like, distant, shadowy.

We're passing over, Eddie thought. Passing over into something new-we're on the border. But what's on the other side? Where are we going? Where?

"H-h-Hello, Eh-Eh-Eddie," Bill said. "How you d-d-doin?"

"Okay, Big Bill," Eddie said, and tried to smile.

"Had a day yesterday, I guess," Mike said. Thunder rumbled behind his voice. Neither the overhead light nor the bedside lamp was on in Eddie's room, and all of them seemed to fade in and out of the bruised light. Eddie thought of that light all over Derry right now, lying long and still across McCarron Park, falling through the holes in the roof of the Kissing Bridge in smudged lackadaisical rays, making the Kenduskeag look like smoky glass as ifcut its broad shallow path through the Barrens; he thought of seesaws standing at dead angles behind Derry Elementary as the thunderheads piled up and up; he thought of this thundery yellow light, and the stillness, as if the whole town had fallen asleep... or died.

"Yes," he said. "It was a big day."

"My f-folks are g-going out to a muh-muh-movie the night a-a-after n-next," Bill said. "When the p-pic-hictures change. We're g-going to m-make them then. The suh-suh-suh-"

"Silver balls," Richie said.

"I thought-"

"It's better this way," Ben said quietly. "I still think we could have made the bullets, but thinking isn't good enough. If we were grownups-"

"Oh yeah, the world would be peachy if we were grownups," Beverly said. "Grownups can make anything they want, can't they? Grownups can do anything they want, and it always comes out right." She laughed, a jagged nervous sound. "Bill wants me to shoot It. Can you feature that, Eddie? Just call me Beverly Oakley."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Eddie said, but he thought he did-he was getting some kind of picture, anyway.

Ben explained. They would melt down one of his silver dollars and make two silver balls a little smaller than ball-bearings. And then, if there really was a werewolf residing at 29 Neibolt Street, Beverly would put a silver ball into Its head with Bill's Bullseye slingshot. Goodbye werewolf. And if they were right about one creature who wore many faces, goodbye It.

There must have been some sort of expression on Eddie's face, because Richie laughed and nodded.

"I know how you feel, man. I thought Bill must have lost his few remaining marbles when he started talking about using his slingshot instead of his dad's gun. But this afternoon-" He stopped and cleared his throat. This afternoon after your ma blew us out of the water was how he had been about to start, and that obviously wouldn't do. "This afternoon we went down to the dump. Bill brought his Bullseye. Look." From his back pocket Richie took a flattened can which had once held Del Monte pineapple chunks. There was a ragged hole about two inches in diameter through the middle of it. "Beverly did that with a rock, from twenty feet away. Looks like a.38 to me. De Trashmouth was convinced. And when de Trashmouth is convinced, de Trashmouth is convinced."

"Killing cans is one thing," Beverly said. "If it was something else... something alive... Bill, you should be the one. Really."

"N-no," Bill said. "We a-a-all t-took turns. You suh-suh-saw how it w-w-went."

"How did it go?" Eddie asked.

Bill explained, slowly and haltingly, while Beverly looked out the window with her lips pressed so tightly together they were white. She was, for reasons she could not explain even to herself, more than afraid: she was deeply embarrassed by what had happened today. On the way over here tonight she had argued again, passionately, that they try to make the bullets after all... not because she was any more sure than Bill or Richie that they would actually work when the time came, but because-if something did happen out at that house-the weapon would be in


someone else's hands.

But facts were facts. They had each taken ten rocks each and shot the Bullseye at ten cans set up twenty feet away. Richie had gotten one out of ten (and his one hit was really only a nick), Ben had gotten two, Bill four, Mike five.

Beverly, shooting almost casually and appearing to aim not at all, had banged nine of the ten cans dead center. The tenth fell over when the rock she fired bounced off the rim.

"But first w-w-w-we g-gotta make the uh-uh-ammo."

"Night after next? I should be out by then," Eddie said. His mother would protest that... but he didn't think she would protest too much. Not after this afternoon.

"Does your arm hurt?" Beverly asked. She was wearing a pink dress (not the dress he had seen in his dream; perhaps she had worn that this afternoon, when Ma sent them away) on which she had appliqued small flowers. And silk or nylon hose; she looked very adult but also somehow very childlike, like a girl playing dress-up. Her expression was dreamy and distant. Eddie thought: I bet that's how she looks when she's sleeping.

"Not too much," he said.

They talked for awhile, their voices punctuated by thunder. Eddie did not ask them about what had happened when they came to the hospital earlier that day, and none of them mentioned it. Richie took out his yo-yo, made it sleep once or twice, then put it back.

Conversation lagged, and in one of the pauses there was a brief click that made Eddie look around. Bill had something in his hand, and for a moment Eddie felt his heart speed up in alarm. For that brief moment he thought it was a knife. But then Stan turned on the room's overhead, dispelling the gloom, and he saw it was only a ballpoint pen. In the light they all looked natural again, real, only his friends.

"I thought we ought to sign your cast," Bill said. His eyes met Eddie's squarely.

But that's not it, Eddie thought with sudden and alarming clarity. It's a contract. It's a contract, Big Bill, isn't it, or the closest we'll ever get to one. He was frightened... and then ashamed and angry at himself. If he had broken his arm before this summer, who would have signed the cast? Anyone besides his mother, and perhaps Dr Handor? His aunts in Haven?

These were his friends, and his mother was wrong: they weren't bad friends. Maybe, he thought, there aren't any such things as good friends or bad friends-maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you're hurt and who kelp you feel not so lonely. Maybe they're always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for, too, if that's what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.

"Okay," Eddie said, a little hoarsely. "Okay, that'd be real good, Big Bill."

So Bill leaned solemnly over his bed and wrote his name on the hillocky plaster of Paris that encased Eddie's mending arm, the letters large and looping. Richie signed with a flourish. Ben's handwriting was as narrow as he was wide, the letters slanting backward. They looked ready to fall over at the slightest push. Mike Hanlon's writing was large and awkward because he was lefthanded and the angle was bad for him. He signed above Eddie's elbow and circled his name. When Beverly bent over him, he could smell some light flowery perfume on her. She signed in a round Palmer-method script. Stan came last, and wrote his name in tight-packed little letters by Eddie's wrist.

They all stepped back then, as if aware of what they had done. Outside, thunder muttered heavily again. Lightning washed the hospital's wooden exterior in brief stuttering light.

That's it?" Eddie asked.

Bill nodded. "C-C-Come oh-oh-over to my h-house a-after suh-hupper day a-a-after t-tomorrow if you c-c-can, o-okay?"

Eddie nodded, and the subject was closed.

There was another period of desultory, almost aimless conversation. Some of it was about the dominant topic in Derry that July-the trial of Richard Macklin for the bludgeon-murder of his stepson Dorsey, and the disappearance of Dorsey's older brother, Eddie Corcoran. Macklin would not break down and confess, weeping, on the witness stand for another two days, but the Losers were in agreement that Macklin probably had nothing to do with Eddie's disappearance. The boy had either run away... or It had gotten him.

They left around quarter of seven, and the rain still had not fallen. It continued to threaten until long after Eddie's ma had come, made her visit, and gone home again (she had been horrified at the signatures on Eddie's cast, and even more horrified at his determination to leave the hospital the following day-she had been envisioning a stay of a week or more in absolute quiet, so that the ends of the break could "set together," as she said).

Eventually the stormclouds broke apart and drifted away. Not so much as a drop of rain had fallen in Derry. The humidity remained, and people slept on porches and on lawns and in sleeping bags in back fields that night.

The rain came the next day, not long after Beverly saw something terrible happen to Patrick Hockstetter.



When he finishes, Eddie pours himself another drink with a hand not completely steady. He looks at Beverly and says, "You saw It, didn't you? You saw It take Patrick Hockstetter the day after you all signed my cast."

The others lean forward.

Beverly pushes her hair back in a reddish cloud. Beneath it her face looks extraordinarily pale. She fumbles a fresh cigarette out of her pack-the last one-and flicks her Bic. She can't seem to guide the flame to the tip of her cigarette. After a moment Bill holds her wrist lightly but firmly and puts the flame where it's supposed to go. Beverly looks at him gratefully and exhales a cloud of bluish-gray smoke.

"Yeah," she says. "I saw that happen."

She shivers.

"He was cruh-cruh-crazy," Bill says, and thinks: Just the fact that Henry let a flako like Patrick Hockstetter hang around as that summer wore on... that says something, doesn't it? Either that Henry was losing some of his charm, some of his attraction, or that Henry's own craziness had progressed far enough so that the Hockstetter kid seemed okay to him. Both came to the same thing-Henry's increasing... what? degeneration? Is that the word? Yes, in light of what happened to him, where he ended up, I think it is.

There's something else to support the idea, too, Bill thinks, but as yet he can only remember it vaguely. He and Richie and Beverly had been down at Tracker Brothers-early August by then, and the summer-school that had kept Henry out of their hair for most of the summer was just about to end-and hadn't Victor Criss approached them? A very frightened Victor Criss? Yes, that had happened. Things had been rapidly approaching the end by then, and Bill thinks now that every kid in Derry had sensed it-the Losers and Henry's group most of all. But that had been later.

"Oh yeah you got that right," Beverly says flatly. "Patrick Hockstetter was crazy. None of the girls would sit in front of him in school. You'd be sitting there, doing your arithmetic or writing a story or a composition, and all at once you'd feel this hand... almost as light as a feather, but warm and sweaty. Meaty." She swallows, and there is a small click in her throat. The others watch her solemnly from around the table. "You'd feel it on your side, or maybe on your breast. Not that any of us had much in the way of breasts back then. But Patrick didn't seem to care about that.

"You'd feel that... that touch, and you'd jerk away from it, and turn around, and there Patrick would be, grinning with those big rubbery lips. He had a pencil-box-"

"Full of flies," Richie says suddenly. "sure. He'd kill em with this green ruler he had and then put em in his pencil-box. I even remember what it looked like-red, with a wavy white plastic cover that slid open and closed."

Eddie is nodding.

"You'd jerk away and he'd grin and then maybe he'd open his pencil-box so you could see the dead flies inside," Beverly says. "And the worst thing-the horrible thing-was the way he'd smile and never say anything. Mrs Douglas knew. Greta Bowie told on him, and I think Sally Mueller said something once, too. But... I think Mrs Douglas was scared of him, too."

Ben has rocked back on the rear legs of his chair, and his hands are laced behind his neck. She still cannot believe how lean he is. "I'm pretty sure you're right," he says.

"Wh-What h-happened to h-h-him, Beverly?" Bill asks.

She swallows again, trying to fight off the nightmarish power of what she saw that day in the Barrens, her roller skates tied together and hung over her shoulder, one knee a stinging net of pain from a fall she had taken on Saint Crispin's Lane, another of the short tree-lined streets that dead-ended where the land fell (and still falls) sharply into the Barrens. She remembers (oh these memories, when they come, are so clear and so powerful) that she was wearing a pair of denim shorts-really too short, they came only to just below the hem of her panties. She had become more conscious of her body over the last year-over the last six months, actually, as it began to curve and become more womanly. The mirror was one reason for this heightened consciousness, of course, but not the main one; the main one was that her father seemed even sharper just lately, more apt to use his slapping hand or even his fists. He seemed restless, almost caged, and she was more and more nervous when she was around him, more and more on her mark. It was as if there was a smell they made between them, a smell that wasn't there when she was in the apartment alone, one that had never been there when they were in it together-not until this summer. And when Mom was gone it was worse. If there was a smell, some smell, then he knew it too, maybe, because Bev saw less and less of him as the hot weather wore on, partly because of his summer bowling league, partly because he was helping his friend Joe Tammerly fix cars... but she suspects it was partly that smell, the one they made between them, neither of them meaning to but making it just the same, as helpless to stop it as either was helpless to stop sweating in July.

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