It

Page 37


The water flowed smoothly and silently out of a concrete arch that was cobbled on the inside, past the place where Eddie sat, and then down to the covered wooden footbridge between Bassey Park and Derry High School. The bridge's sides and plank footing-even the beams under the roof-were covered with an intaglio of initials, phone numbers, and declarations. Declarations of love; declarations that So-and-so was willing to "suck" or "blow'; declarations that those discovered sucking or blowing would lose their foreskins or have their assholes plugged with hot tar; occasional eccentric declarations that defied definition. One that Eddie had puzzled over all this spring read SAVE RUSSIAN JEWS! COLLECT VALUABLE PRIZES!


What, exactly, did that mean? Anything? And did it matter?


Eddie didn't go into the Kissing Bridge tonight; he had no urge to cross over to the high-school side. He thought he would probably sleep in the park, maybe in the dead leaves under the bandstand, but for now it was fine just to sit here. He liked it in the park, and came often when he had to think. Sometimes there were people making out in the groves of trees which dotted the park, but Eddie left them alone and they left him alone. He had heard lurid stories in the playground at school about the queers that cruised in Bassey Park after sundown, and he accepted these stories without question, but he himself had never been bothered. The park was a peaceful place, and he thought the best part of it was right here where he was sitting. He liked it in the middle of summer, when the water was so low it chuckled over the stones and actually broke up into isolated streamlets that twisted and turned and sometimes came together again. He liked it in late March or early April, just after ice-out, when he would sometimes stand by the Canal (too cold to sit then; your ass would freeze) for an hour or more, the hood of his old parka, now two years too small for him, pulled up, his hands plunged into his pockets, unaware that his skinny body was shivering and shaking. The Canal had a terrible, irresistible power in the week or two after the ice went out. He was fascinated by the way the water boiled whitely out of the cobbled arch and roared past him, bearing sticks and branches and all manner of human trash along with it. More than once he had envisioned walking beside the Canal in March with his stepdad and giving the bastard a great big motherfucking push. He would scream and fall in, his arms pinwheeling for balance, and Eddie would stand on the concrete parapet and watch him carried off downstream, his head a black bobbing shape in the middle of the unruly whitecapped current. He would stand there, yes, and he would cup his hands around his mouth and scream: THAT WAS FOR DORSEY, YOU ROTTEN COCK-SUCKER! WHEN YOU GET DOWN TO HELL TELL THE DEVIL THE LAST THING YOU EVER HEARD WAS ME TELLING YOU TO PICK ON SOMEBODY YOUR OWN SIZE! It would never happen, of course, but it was an absolutely grand fantasy. A grand dream to dream as you sat here by the Canal, a g -


A hand closed around Eddie's foot.


He had been looking across the Canal toward the school, smiling a sleepy and rather beautiful smile as he imagined his stepfather being carried off in the violent rip of the spring runoff, being carried out of his life forever. The soft yet strong grip startled him so much that he almost lost his balance and tumbled into the Canal.


Its one of the queers the big kids are always talking about, he thought, and then he looked down. His mouth dropped open. Urine spilled hotly down his legs and stained his jeans black in the moonlight. It wasn't a queer.


It was Dorsey.


It was Dorsey as he had been buried, Dorsey in his blue blazer and gray pants, only now the blazer was in muddy tatters, Dorsey's shirt was yellow rags, Dorsey's pants clung wetly to legs as thin as broomsticks. And Dorsey's head was horribly slumped, as if it had been caved in at the back and consequently pushed up in the front.


Dorsey was grinning.


"Eddieeeee," his dead brother croaked, just like one of the dead people who were always coming back from the grave in the horror comics. Dorsey's grin widened. Yellow teeth gleamed, and somewhere way back in that darkness things seemed to be squirming.


"Eddieeee... I came to see you Eddieeeeee..."


Eddie tried to scream. Waves of gray shock rolled over him, and he had the curious sensation that he was floating. But it was not a dream; he was awake. The hand on his sneaker was as white as a trout's belly. His brother's bare feet clung somehow to the concrete. Something had bitten one of Dorsey's heels off.


"Come on down Eddieeeee..."


Eddie couldn't scream. His lungs didn't have enough ah-in them to manage a scream. He got out a curious reedy moaning sound. Anything louder seemed beyond him. That was all right. In a second or two his mind would snap and after that nothing would matter. Dorsey's hand was small but implacable. Eddie's buttocks were sliding over the concrete to the edge of the Canal.


Still making that reedy moaning sound, he reached behind himself and grabbed the concrete edging and yanked himself backward. He felt the hand slide away momentarily, heard an angry hiss, and had time to think: That's not Dorsey. I don't know what it is, but it's not Dorsey. Then adrenaline flooded his body and he was crawling away, trying to run even before he was on his feet, his breath coming in short shrieky whistles.


White hands appeared on the concrete lip of the Canal. There was a wet slapping sound. Drops of water flew upward in the moonlight from dead pallid skin. Now Dorsey's face appeared over the edge. Dim red sparks gleamed in his sunken eyes. His wet hair was plastered to his skull. Mud streaked his cheeks like warpaint.


Eddie's chest finally unlocked. He hitched in breath and turned it into a scream. He got to his feet and ran. He ran looking back over his shoulder, needing to see where Dorsey was, and as a result he ran smack into a large elm tree.


It felt as if someone-his old man, for instance-had set off a dynamite charge in his left shoulder. Stars shot and corkscrewed through his head. He fell at the base of the tree as if poleaxed, blood trickling from his left temple. He swam in the waters of semiconsciousness for perhaps ninety seconds. Then he managed to gain his feet again. A groan escaped him as he tried to raise his left arm. It didn't want to come. Felt all numb and far away. So he raised his right and rubbed his fiercely aching head.


Then he remembered why he had happened to run full-tilt into the elm tree in the first place and looked around.


There was the edge of the Canal, white as bone and straight as string in the moonlight. No sign of the thing from the Canal... if there ever had been a thing. He continued turning, working his way slowly through a complete three hundred and sixty degrees. Bassey Park was silent and as still as a black-and-white photograph. Weeping willows draggled their thin tenebrous arms, and anything could be standing, slumped and insane, within their shelter.


Eddie began to walk, trying to look everywhere at once. His sprained shoulder throbbed in painful sync with his heartbeat.


Eddieeeee, the breeze moaned through the trees, don't you want to see meeeee, Eddieeeee? He felt flabby corpse-fingers caress the side of his neck. He whirled, his hands going up. As his feet tangled together and he fell, he saw that it had only been willow-fronds moving in the breeze.


He got up again. He wanted to run but when he tried another dynamite charge went off in his shoulder and he had to stop. He knew somehow that he should be getting over his fright by now, calling himself a stupid little baby who got spooked by a reflection or maybe fell asleep without knowing it and had a bad dream. That wasn't happening, though; quite the reverse, in fact. His heart was now beating so fast he could no longer distinguish the separate thuds, and he felt sure it would soon burst in terror. He couldn't run but when he got out of the willows he did manage a limping jogtrot.


He fixed his eyes on the streetlight that marked the park's main gate. He headed in that direction, managing a little more speed, thinking: I'll make it to the light, and that's all right. I'll make it to the light, and that's all right. Bright light, no more fright, up all night, what a sight -


Something was following him.


Eddie could hear it bludgeoning its way through the willow grove. If he turned he would see it. It was gaining. He could hear its feet, a kind of shuffling, squelching stride, but he would not look back, no, he would look ahead at the light, the light was all right, he would just continue his flight to the light, and he was almost there, almost -


The smell was what made him look back. The overwhelming smell, as if fish had been left to rot in a huge pile that had become carrion-slushy in the summer heat. It was the smell of a dead ocean.


It wasn't Dorsey after him now; it was the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The thing's snout was long and pleated. Green fluid dripped from black gashes like vertical mouths in its cheeks. Its eyes were white and jellylike. Its webbed fingers were tipped with claws like razors. Its respiration was bubbly and deep, the sound of a diver with a bad regulator. As it saw Eddie looking, its green-black lips wrinkled back from huge fangs in a dead and vacant smile.


It shambled after him, dripping, and Eddie suddenly understood. It meant to take him back to the Canal, to carry him down into the dank blackness of the Canal's underground passage. To eat him there.


Eddie put on a burst of speed. The arc-sodium light at the gate drew closer. He could see its halo of bugs and moths. A truck went by, headed for Route 2, the driver working his way up through the gears, and it crossed Eddie's desperate, terrified mind that he could be drinking coffee from a paper cup and listening to a Buddy Holly tune on the radio, completely unaware that less than two hundred yards away there was a boy who might be dead in another twenty seconds.


The stink. The overwhelming stink of it. Gaining. All around him.


It was a park bench he tripped over. Some kids had casually pushed it over earlier that evening, heading toward their homes at a run to beat the curfew. Its seat poked an inch or two out of the grass, one shade of green on another, almost invisible in the moon-driven dark. The edge of the seat smacked Eddie in the shins, causing a burst of glassy, exquisite pain. His legs flipped out behind him and he thumped into the grass.


He looked behind him and saw the Creature bearing down, its white poached-egg eyes glittering, its scales dripping slime the color of seaweed, the gills up and down its bulging neck and cheeks opening and closing.


lAgr Eddie croaked. It seemed to be the only noise he could make. "Ag! Ag'Ag.'Ag!"


He crawled now, fingers hooking deep into the turf. His tongue hung out.


In the second before the Creature's fish-smelling horny hands closed around his throat, a comforting thought came to him: This is a dream; it has to be. There's no real Creature, no real Black Lagoon, and even if there was, that was in South America or the Florida Everglades or someplace like that. This is only a dream and I'll wake up in my bed or maybe in the leaves under the bandstand and I -


Then batrachian hands closed around his neck and Eddie's hoarse cries were choked off; as the Creature turned him over, the chitinous hooks which sprouted from those hands scrawled bleeding marks like calligraphy into his neck. He stared into its glowing white eyes. He felt the webs between its fingers pressing against his throat like constricting bands of living seaweed. His terror-sharpened gaze noted the fin, something like a rooster's comb and something like a hornpout's poisonous backfin, standing atop the Creature's hunched and plated head. As its hands clamped tight, shutting off his air, he was even able to see the way the white light from the arc-sodium lamp turned a smoky green as it passed through that membranous headfin.


"You're... not... real," Eddie choked, but clouds of grayness were closing in now, and he realized faintly that it was real enough, this Creature. It was, after all, killing him.


And yet some rationality remained, even until the end: as the Creature hooked its claws into the soft meat of his neck, as his carotid artery let go in a warm and painless gout that splashed the thing's reptilian plating, Eddie's hands groped at the Creature's back, feeling for a zipper. They fell away only when the Creature tore his head from his shoulders with a low satisfied grunt.


And as Eddie's picture of what It was began to fade, It began promptly to


change into something else.


4


Unable to sleep, plagued by bad dreams, a boy named Michael Hanlon rose soon after first light on the first full day of summer vacation. The light was pale, bundled up in a low, thick mist that would lift by eight o'clock, taking the wraps off a perfect summer day.


But that was for later. For now the world was all gray and rose, as silent as a cat walking on a carpet.


Mike, dressed in corduroys, a tee-shirt, and black high-topped Keds, came downstairs, ate a bowl of Wheaties (he didn't really like Wheaties but had wanted the free prize in the box-a Captain Midnight Magic Decoder Ring), then hopped on his bike and pedaled toward town, riding on the sidewalks because of the fog. The fog changed everything, made the most ordinary things like fire hydrants and stop-signs into objects of mystery-things both strange and a trifle sinister. You could hear cars but not see them, and because of the fog's odd acoustic quality, you could not tell if they were far or near until you actually saw them come rolling out of the fog with ghost-halos of moisture ringing their headlamps.


He turned right on Jackson Street, bypassing downtown, and then crossed to Main Street by way of Palmer Lane-and during his short ride down this little byway's one-block length he passed the house where he would live as an adult. He did not look at it; it was just a small two-story dwelling with a garage and a small lawn. It gave off no special vibration to the passing boy who would spend most of his adult life as its owner and only dweller.


At Main Street he turned right and rode up to Bassey Park, still wandering, simply riding and enjoying the stillness of the early day. Once inside the main gate he dismounted his bike, pushed down the kickstand, and walked toward the Canal. He was still, as far as he knew, impelled by nothing more than purest whim. Certainly it did not occur to him to think that his dreams of the night before had anything to do with his current course; he did not even remember exactly what his dreams had been-only that one had followed another until he had awakened at five o'clock, sweaty but shivering, and with the idea that he ought to eat a fast breakfast and then take a bike-ride into town.


Here in Bassey there was a smell in the fog he didn't like: a sea-smell, salty and old. He had smelled it before, of course. In the early-morning fogs you could often smell the ocean in Derry, although the coast was forty miles away. But the smell this morning seemed thicker, more vital. Almost dangerous.


Something caught his eye. He bent down and picked up a cheap two-blade pocket knife. Someone had scratched the initials EC on the side. Mike looked at it thoughtfully for a moment or two and then pocketed it. Finders keepers, losers weepers.


He glanced around. Here, near where he had found the knife, was an overturned park bench. He righted it, setting its iron footings back into the holes they had made over a period of months or years. Beyond the bench he saw a matted place in the grass... and leading away from it, two grooves. The grass was springing back up, but those grooves were still fairly clear. They went in the direction of the Canal.; And there was blood.

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