"Okay, I've got it. Come on."
Ben turned around himself and began to wriggle through the window. He should have forseen what happened next; it was really inevitable. He got stuck. His fanny bound up against the rectangular cellar window and he couldn't go in any further. He started to pull himself out and realized, horrified, that he could do it, but was very apt to yank his pants-and perhaps his underpants as well-down to his knees when he did. And there he would be, with his extremely large ass practically in his beloved's face.
"Hurry up!" Eddie said.
Ben pushed grimly with both hands. For a moment he still couldn't move, and then his butt popped through the window-hole. His bluejeans dragged painfully up into his crotch, squashing his balls. The top of the window rucked his shin all the way up to his shoulderblades. Now his gut was stuck.
"Suck in, Haystack," Richie said, giggling hysterically. "You better suck in or we'll have to send Mike after his dad's chainfall to pull you out again."
"Beep-beep, Richie," Ben said through gritted teeth. He sucked his belly in as much as he could. He had never really realized just how big his stupid stomach was until this supremely embarrassing moment. He moved a little further, then stopped again.
He turned his head as far as he could, fighting panic and claustrophobia. His face had gone a bright sweaty red. The sour smell of the leaves was heavy in his nostrils, cloying. "Bill! Can you guys pull me?"
He felt Bill grasp one of his ankles, Beverly the other. He sucked his belly in as far as he could. A moment later he came tumbling through the window. Bill grabbed him. Both of them almost fell over. Ben couldn't look at Bev. He had never in his life been as embarrassed as he was at that moment.
"Y-Y-You okay, m-m-man?"
Bill laughed shakily. Beverly joined him, and then Ben was able to laugh a little too, although it would be years before he could see anything remotely funny in what had happened.
"Hey!" Richie called down. "Eddie needs help, okay?"
"O-O-Okay." Bill and Ben took up positions below the window. Eddie came through on his back. Bill got his legs just above the knees.
"Watch what you're doing," Eddie said in a querulous, nervous voice. "I'm ticklish."
"Ramon ees plenny teekeleesh, senhorr," Richie's voice called down.
Ben got Eddie around the waist, trying to keep his hand away from the cast and the sling. The two of them manhandled Eddie through the cellar window like a corpse. Eddie cried out once, but that was all.
"Yeah," Eddie said, "okay. No big deal." But large drops of sweat stood out on his forehead and he was breathing in quick rasps. His eyes darted around the cellar.
Bill stepped back again. Beverly stood near him, now holding the Bullseye by the shaft and the cup, ready to fire if necessary. Her eyes swept the cellar constantly. Richie came through next, followed by Stan and Mike. Both of the latter moved with a smooth grace that Ben deeply envied. Then they were all down, down in the cellar where Bill and Richie had seen It only a month before.
The room was dim, but not dark. Dusky light shafted in through the windows and pooled on the dirt floor. The cellar seemed very big to Ben, almost too big, as if he were witnessing an optical illusion of some sort. Dusty rafters crisscrossed overhead. The furnace-pipes were rusty. Some sort of duty white cloth hung from the water-pipes in dirty strings and strands. The smell was down here too. A dirty yellow smell. Ben thought: It's here, all right. Oh yeah.
Bill started toward the stairs. The others fell in behind him. He halted at their foot and glanced underneath. He reached under with one foot and kick-pawed something out. They looked at it wordlessly. It was a white clown-glove, now streaked with dirt and dust.
"Uh-uh-upstairs," he said.
They went up and emerged into a dirty kitchen. One plain straight-backed chair stood marooned in the center of the humped hillocky linoleum. That was it for furniture. There were empty liquor bottles in one corner. Ben could see others in the pantry. He could smell booze-wine, mostly-and old stale cigarettes. Those smells were dominant, but that other smell was there, too. It was getting stronger all the time.
Beverly went to the cupboards and opened one of them. She screamed piercingly as a blackish-brown Norway rat tumbled out almost into her face. It struck the counter with a plop and glared around at them with its black eyes. Still screaming, Beverly raised the Bullseye and pulled the sling back.
"NO!" Bill roared.
She turned her pale terrified face toward him. Then she nodded and relaxed her arm, the silver ball unfired-but Ben thought she had been very, very close. She backed up slowly, ran into Ben, jumped. He put an arm around her, tight.
The rat scurried down the length of the counter, jumped to the floor, ran into the pantry, and was gone.
"It wanted me to shoot at it," Beverly said in a faint voice. "Use up half of our ammunition on it."
"Yes," Bill said. "It's l-l-like the FBI training r-range at Quh-Quh-Quantico, in a w-w-way. They seh-send y-you down this f-f-hake street and p-pop up tuh-hargets. If you shuh-shoot any honest citizens ih-instead of just cruh-crooks, you l-lose puh-hoints."
"I can't do this, Bill," she said. "I'll mess it up. Here. You." She held the Bullseye out, but Bill shook his head.
"You h-h-have to, B-Beverly."
There was a mewling from another cupboard.
Richie walked toward it.
"Don't get too close!" Stan barked. "It might-"
Richie looked inside and an expression of sick disgust crossed his face. He slammed the cupboard shut with a bang that produced a dead echo in the empty house.
"A litter." Richie sounded ill. "Biggest litter I ever saw... anyone ever saw, probably." He rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth. There's hundreds of them in there." He looked at them, his mouth twitching a little on one side. "Their tails... they were all tangled up, Bill. Knotted together." He grimaced. "Like snakes."
They looked at the cupboard door. The mewling was muffled but still audible. Rats, Ben thought, looking at Bill's white face and, over Bill's shoulder, Mike's ashy-gray one. Everyone's ascared of rats. It knows it, too.
"C-C-Come on," Bill said. "H-Here on Nuh-Nuh-Neibolt Street, the f-f-fun just neh-hever stops."
They went down the front hall. Here the unlovely smells of rotting plaster and old urine were intermixed. They were able to look out at the street through dirty panes of glass and see their bikes. Bev's and Ben's were heeled over on their kickstands. Bill's leaned against a stunted maple tree. To Ben the bikes looked a thousand miles away, like things seen through the wrong end of a telescope. The deserted street with its casual patchings of asphalt, the faded humid sky, the steady ding-ding-ding of a locomotive running on a siding... these things seemed like dreams to him, hallucinations. What was real was this squalid hallway with its stinks and shadows.
There was a shatter of broken brown glass in one corner-Rheingold bottles.
In the other corner, wet and swelled, was a digest-sized girlybook. The woman on the cover was bent over a chair, her skirt up in the back to show the tops of her fishnet hose and her black panties. The picture did not look particularly sexy to Ben, nor did it embarrass him that Beverly had also glanced at it. Moisture had yellowed the woman's skin and moisture had humped the cover in ripples that became wrinkles on her face. Her salacious wink had become the leer of a dead whore.
(Years later, as Ben recounted this, Bev suddenly cried out, startling all of them-they were not so much listening to the story as reliving it. "It was her!" Bev yelled. "Mrs Kersh! It was her!")
As Ben looked, the young/old crone on the girlybook cover winked at him. She wiggled her fanny in an obscene come-on.
Cold all over, yet sweating, Ben looked away.
Bill pushed open a door on the left and they followed him into a vaultlike room that might once have been a parlor. A crumpled pair of green pants was hung over the light-fixture which depended from the ceiling. Like the cellar, this room seemed much too big to Ben, almost as long as a freight-car. Much too long for a house as small as this one had appeared from the outside -
Oh, but that was outside, a new voice spoke inside his mind. It was a jocular, squealing voice, and Ben realized with sudden numbing certainty that he was hearing Pennywise Itself; Pennywise was speaking to him on some crazy mental radio. Outside, things always look smaller than they really are, don't they, Ben?
"Go away," he whispered.
Richie turned to look at him, his face still strained and pale. "You say something?"
Ben shook his head. The voice was gone. That was an important thing, a good thing. Yet
he had understood. This house was a special place, a kind of station, one of the places in Derry, one of the many, perhaps, from which It was able to find its way into the overworld. This stinking rotted house where everything was somehow wrong. It wasn't just that it seemed too big; the angles were wrong, the perspective crazy. Ben was standing just inside the door between the parlor and the hallway and the others were moving away from him across a space that now looked almost as big as Bassey Park... but as they moved away, they seemed to grow larger instead of smaller. The floor seemed to slope, and -
Mike turned. "Ben!" he called, and Ben saw alarm on his face. "Catch up! We're losing you!" He could barely hear the last word. It trailed away as if the others were being swept off on a fast train.
Suddenly terrified, he began to run. The door behind him swept shut with a muffled bang. He screamed... and something seemed to sweep through the air just behind him, ruffling his shirt. He looked back but there was nothing there. That did not change his belief, however, that something had been.
He caught up with the others. He was panting, out of breath, and would have sworn he had run half a mile at least... but when he looked back, the parlor's far wall was not ten feet away.
Mike grasped his shoulder hard enough to hurt.
"You scared me, man," he said. Richie, Stan, and Eddie were looking at Mike questioningly. "He looked small," Mike said. "Like he was a mile away."
Bill looked back.
"We gotta make sure everybody stays close," Ben panted. "This place... it's like the funhouse in a carnival, or something. We'll get lost. I think It wants us to get lost. To get separated."
Bill looked at him for a moment, lips thin. "All right," he said. "We a-all stay cluh-cluh-hose. No s-s-stragglers."
They nodded back, frightened, clustered outside the hall door. Stan's hand groped at the bird-book in his back pocket. Eddie was holding his aspirator in one hand, crunching it, loosening up, then crunching it again, like a ninety-eight-pound weakling trying to build up his muscles with a tennis ball.
Bill opened the door and here was another, narrower hall. The wallpaper, which showed runners of roses and elves wearing green caps, was falling away from the spongy plaster in draggling leaves. Yellow waterstains spread in senile rings on the ceiling overhead. A scummy wash of light fell through a dirty window at the end of the hall.
Abruptly the corridor seemed to elongate. The ceiling rose and then began to diminish above them like some weird rocket. The doors grew with the ceiling, pulled up like taffy. The faces of the elves grew long and became alien, their eyes bleeding black holes.
Stan shrieked and clapped his hands to his eyes.
"Ih-Ih-hit's not ruh-ruh-ruh-REAL!" Bill screamed.
"It is!" Stan screamed back, his small closed fists plugging his eyes. "It's real, you know it is, God, I'm going crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy -
'Wuh-wuh-WATCH!" Bill bellowed at Stan, at all of them, and Ben, his head reeling, watched as Bill bent down, coiled, and suddenly flung himself upward. His closed left fist struck nothing, nothing at all, but there was a heavy crr-rack! sound. Plaster dust puffed from a place where there was no longer any ceiling... and then there was. The hallway was just a hallway again, narrow, low-ceilinged, dirty. But the walls no longer stretched up into forever. There was only Bill, looking at them and nursing his bleeding hand, which was floury with plaster-dust. Overhead was the clear mark his fist had made in the soft plaster of the ceiling.
"N-N-Not ruh-ruh-real," he said to Stan, to all of them. "Just a f-f-false f-fuh-face. Like a Huh-Huh-Huh-Halloween muh-muh-hask."
"To you, maybe," Stan said dully. His face was shocked and horrified. He looked around as if no longer sure where he was. Looking at him, smelling the sour reek coming out of his pores, Ben, who had been overjoyed at Bill's victory, got scared all over again. Stan was close to cracking up. Soon he would go into hysterics, begin to scream, perhaps, and what would happen then?
"To you," Stan said again. "But if I'd tried that, nothing would have happened. Because... you've got your brother, Bill, but I don't have anything." He looked around-first back toward the parlor, which had taken on a somber brown atmosphere, so thick and smoggy they could barely see the door through which they had entered it, to this hall, which was bright but somehow dark, somehow filthy, somehow utterly mad. Elves capered on the decaying wallpaper under runners of roses. Sun glared on the panes of the window at the end of the hall, and Ben knew that if they went down there they would see dead flies... more broken glass... and then what? The floorboards spreading apart, spilling them into a dead darkness where grasping fingers waited to catch them? Stan was right, God, why had they come into Its lair with nothing but their two stupid silver slugs and a fucking slingshot?
He saw Stan's panic leap from one of them to the next to the next-like a grassfire driven by a hot wind, it widened in Eddie's eyes, dropped Bev's mouth into a wounded gasp, made Richie push his glasses up with both hands and stare around as if followed from close behind by a fiend.
They trembled on the brink of flight, Bill's warning to stay together almost forgotten. They were listening to gale-force panicwinds blowing between their ears. As if in a dream Ben heard Miss Davies, the assistant librarian, reading to the little ones: Who is that trip-trapping on my bridge? And he saw them, the little ones, the babies, leaning forward, their faces still and solemn, their eyes reflecting the eternal fascination of the fairy-story: would the monster be bested... or would It feed?
"I don't have anything!" Stan Uris wailed, and he seemed very small, almost small enough to slip through one of the cracks in the hallway's plank flooring like a human letter. "You got your brother, man, but I don't have anything?