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“Hih-hih-he th-thrusts hi-his fi-fi-fi-FUCK!”

He slumps back against the sewer wall, his chest heaving. Outside the tunnel, he can hear Bowers and his goons shouting for him – mock-stuttering their threats and cackling. Hyenas on the hunt. Bill bites his lip and tries to breathe more slowly; tries not to think of the knife Bowers had been holding and the way his eyes had looked as he loomed over him. He tries not to think of the pain, even though his whole arm is stinging like crazy and blood’s soaked into his shirt.

His friends got away. He tells himself that that’s the important thing; that he ran too far and too fast for Bowers and his band of idiots to find him; that they won’t look in the sewer for him anyway, they’ll get bored and –

A shriek of feral laughter echoes outside. Bill slides deeper into the dark.

“Hih-hih-he –“

Cold water sloshes around his legs, soaking everything from the knee down. It stinks enough to make him gag, but he’d rather stink than get caught so he presses on. He keeps a hand to the tunnel wall for balance. His heart’s still pounding and his breath’s still coming in short, desperate gasps, and every so often he has to pause as dark spots threaten to overwhelm him.

Fuck Bowers, anyway. Fuck him and Criss and Belch and everyone in town who watched them run riot and did nothing about it.

He goes deeper and deeper until the tunnel forks. He leans hard against the wall, panting and shaking, and he glances back over his shoulder at the daylight. It’s so bright – he wants nothing more than to go back out there and bask in the sun; enjoy his damn weekend with his friends before fall comes and Eddie gets stuck indoors to ‘protect him from the cold weather’. He can still hear laughter and taunting voices, but they’re obscured now by the sound of water and dripping and his own harsh breathing.

Bill closes his eyes.

“Hih-he thruh-usts his f-fih-fists against th-the p-p-p-posts and st-st-stuh-st-“

He takes a deep breath – as deep as he can without wanting to puke – and holds it until his chest aches. He exhales slowly, counting up from one. By the time he hits ten he feels weak and deflated like an old balloon, but he takes another breath in. Deeper this time. Slower. He exhales. Better.

“He th-thrusts his-“

A splash. Outside the tunnel. He’s not far enough into the sewer to be hidden if Bowers and his gang are in the river and he knows it. Panic seizes him – for a moment, he can’t breathe again and he shrinks back against the wall. Another splash. A laugh.

He gasps for air and, in a split second, makes a decision. He can’t be caught; he can’t let that happen. He looks at the fork in the tunnel and – a split-second choice – turns left. He walks and walks into the cold and the dark, trying to be as quiet as possible so that he won’t be followed. He thinks he hears someone calling his name, but he ignores it. Keeps going. Memorises every twist and turn he takes until the sewer widens and the pipe opens up into a –

A room. He blinks as weak sunlight filters down into a room filled with trash. Abandoned toys and bicycles and rags of clothing all mounded up into a huge pile. He follows the light up and up, to grimy windows far above. It’s cold here. And creepy. The tower of junk looks almost deliberate, but why anyone would build something like that – and why here - he has no idea.

He exits the tunnel into the room and slides sideways along the wall, trying to keep as far from the pile of stuff as he can. It feels wrong. Wrong like Hockstetter’s smile and that look Bowers gets when he’s hunting. His arm throbs and his lungs ache and this whole thing is turning into the worst day of his life – and that’s even without the creeping sensation of his hair beginning to stand on end and the horrible, sinking knowledge that he isn’t alone down here. He – he doesn’t know how he knows that, but he does.

He looks back at the dark tunnel he just emerged from and sees nothing but darkness. He knows he can leave – that two lefts, a right, another two lefts and then a slight rise and another right will take him back out into the light – but he knows that if he leaves then Bowers will catch him. Probably.

The probably is enough motivation to stay down here for a while. Bowers likes the chase well enough, but not for too long, and Bill knows that if he’s found now then it’ll be worse than if he’d just stuck around and let Bowers carve him up in the first place. He creeps further away from the entrance to the tunnel and lets his gaze drift over the pile of junk. He picks out a baseball bat and a baby’s stroller; a jack-in-the-box that hangs limp and sinister over the edge of its box, watching him with a painted eye. He sees a circus trailer buried near the bottom – faded letters proclaim it the home of Pennywise the Dancing Clown and chipped red-and-white paint is all that’s left of what was probably once a face.

The door to the trailer is slightly open. From what he can see, it’s dry in there, and the cold water and the muck that’s sunk into his clothes is beginning to make him shiver. He glances back at the tunnel. Nothing. He peers around the room again. For all that he can feel something else down here with him, he can’t see it. Whatever it is. All he can see is water and grey concrete and a huge pile of years’ worth of crap, and he’s so damn tired.

He creeps forward, towards the trailer. He curls his fingers around the door and looks back, again, at the entrance to the tunnel. He can’t see, not really, but something seems to move in the darkness. Fucking Bowers followed him in here, he thinks, and he pulls open the door to the trailer and folds himself inside.

It feels like an eternity. He crouches there in the trailer with the door cracked open just enough for him to see. There is movement in the tunnel. Bowers and Criss and Belch emerge from the darkness and Bill shrinks further back into his hiding place. He holds his breath as he hears them talking – they exchange snarls and curses and Bowers kicks at something, sending up a spray of filthy water as he rants. His knife cuts through the air, flashing silver in the dim light. Dark spots are beginning to creep in on Bill’s vision again, but he doesn’t dare breathe. Not now. Not with them so close.

He’s so afraid, but as he watches them, he can feel his fear turn into a brilliant burning anger. He hates them. He hates all of them. He hates them so much that he half-wishes that they’d get lost and die down here so that the town wouldn’t have to deal with them anymore.

His lungs are screaming in agony and he covers his mouth with a trembling hand, exhaling as slowly and quietly into his palm as he can. He feels dizzy. He can’t tear his eyes away from Bowers and his gang, from the knife that – at the tip – is still red with his blood. His legs are beginning to cramp. He doesn’t move. He breathes in softly and out again, still covering his mouth. Bowers is snarling something, blaming Bill for running away by the sound of it.

“Weak little pansy shit-head, gonna fucking CUT HIM!”

Bowers shouts the last of it. Bill cringes as his voice echoes, and then freezes as, behind him, he feels something move.

He’d thought, when he’d slipped into the trailer, that it was empty. It was dark and cool, and its interior stretched back into impenetrable shadow, but he hadn’t seen anything. Hadn’t sensed anything either, beyond that same prickling sensation that he’d been feeling since he entered the sewer.

Air shifts behind him, unnaturally cold against his skin. He forces himself to look away from Bowers and to look deeper into the trailer instead. Something moves again, barely illuminated by the light creeping in through the crack in the door. A long, slender leg twitches into the light. It’s black and covered with barbs, and it’s longer than Bill’s whole body. Behind it, eyes open. They gleam in the dark – orange and red and blue – so many of them, and so angry. The – the – spider – it has to be a spider, even though Bill knows that it isn’t; that spiders don’t get that big; that spiders don’t move that way because they have less legs and way less tentacles – it has to be a spider. And it, whatever kind of spider it is, has seen him.

It heard Bowers’ shout. It’s furious now that it’s awake, and it’s hungry.

Bill is frozen as it shifts and stretches. A mouth opens – unfolds – in the dark and he glimpses hundreds, thousands of teeth silhouetted against dancing light as the thing yawns and stretches. He can feel it, he realises. A curious brush of alien awareness on the inside of his skull. There’s intelligence gleaming in its many eyes, and as he looks back into them, he thinks he can see those lights again. He thinks he can see a different shape moving, flickering in time to strange, piping music.

He shudders and blinks and whimpers when he hears Bowers’ voice again. Closer this time.

“Time to come out, B-B-B-Billy.”

Just outside the door.

He turns his head away from the spider-thing and looks up into a single blue eye peering down at him. The edge of Bowers’ smile is as sharp as his knife, and Billy shoves himself backwards, deeper into the trailer. His back slams up against the sharp barbs on the spider’s leg and he feels his back cut open, but he doesn’t care. He prefers the thing in here to Bowers out there.

A brush against his mind again. Curiosity. Amusement. Feelings that aren’t his own and that he knows come from an older, darker mind than his own. He closes his eyes and shoves back – a jumble of his earlier terror and hatred – and he feels the thing move. He feels it shift. Feels a hand on his shoulder and when he opens his eyes and looks down, he sees a white glove curved over the top of his bloodstained sleeve.

It’s the only glimpse he gets before Bowers opens the door; the only glimpse before Bowers screams.

Screams. Shouting. Splashing.

Bill sits in the dark of the trailer with his eyes shut and his hands clapped over his ears; it doesn’t block out the sound, but it makes him feel better. Slightly. He sits and he shivers and he bites his lips to stop himself from screaming along with the boys outside.

He’s never heard Bowers scream before. At least, not before he’d opened the trailer door and seen the thing that their chase had disturbed. Bill tries not to think of unnatural movements in the darkness, or of the gloved hand that had curled cold and heavy over his shoulder, but he can’t seem to stop himself. That alien awareness that he’d felt before is still present in the back of his mind. He can feel the creature’s bloodlust. Feel its exhilaration and its exhaustion; it, like Bowers, enjoys the chase, but unlike Bowers this thing would much rather be asleep. Bill – he doesn’t know how – gets the impression that the thing is awake too early somehow. That some sort of cycle has been interrupted.

The screams cut off. The sudden silence is horrible: it sends Bill’s stomach plummeting and makes his chest tighten painfully. On the other side of the door, he hears an odd noise: a wet tearing noise that ends with a crunch. Another crunch, and another, and a rhythmic splashing that tells him that whatever brushed past him to leave the trailer is now returning to it.

He hears the door open and he flinches back. He can feel the awareness curling and probing around his own thoughts – can feel more amusement and curiosity that aren’t his own. He opens his eyes and lifts his head from where he had been resting his forehead against his knees. In the low light he can see tattered silver clothing buttoned with faded orange pompoms. A white-gloved hand is curled around the door of the trailer. It, whatever it is, is wearing a clown costume. He swallows nervously. He’s not afraid of clowns in general – he actually thinks they’re quite funny – but he knows that this clown is something he should be afraid of.

He looks up.

A white-painted face is peering down at him. Fingers are poking out of its red-painted mouth, and blood is streaked down its chin and on the ruff of its costume. Copper-red hair is brushed back from its face and red stripes curve like the markings of a cheetah – up its cheeks and over its glowing orange eyes. The clown smiles at him, eyes flickering to blue, and the fingers poking from its mouth shift and threaten to fall. There’s a split second where Bill thinks that they will before it tips its head back in a quick motion and snaps them back into its mouth. There’s a crunch as the clown bites down on them, snapping bone and cartilage between its teeth. When it looks back down at Bill, a fresh stream of blood is oozing down its chin.

Bill feels sick. But at the same time, he can’t help but feel happy that Bowers isn’t going to be holding a knife again any time soon – that the wound on his arm is going to be the last injury that Bowers gave another kid. He’s…satisfied, somehow, and even though he knows he shouldn’t be, he can’t help it.

The clown gives another eerie smile. The blue shine to its eyes seems almost friendly, although the ancient presence Bill can still feel rifling through his thoughts doesn’t seem entirely aware of what friendship is. Bill offers it memories: Eddie and Richie and Stan; happy, sunlit days in the Barrens and shared lunches at school; Georgie and his gap-toothed smile and his love of photography. The clown silently tilts its head in response and opens the trailer door wider.

Behind it, there’s blood in the water, dispersing out in heavy red tendrils. Bowers’ knife is visible: it’s jammed into the eye of a soft toy bear, and Bill knows that he’d recognise it anywhere. He looks back up at the clown’s face just in time for it to brush past him.

He smells it this time, as it passes. It smells of the dank wetness of a basement and the musty, mouldering things within it; it smells of blood and, bizarrely, faintly of the circus – wet and copper overlaid with the sickly scent of popcorn and cotton candy. He turns as it walks past him; watches as it vanishes into the shadows of the trailer and settles once more in the dark. He watches blue eyes blink open as its form ripples outwards, folding and bending in a way that cannot be human – and isn’t very much like a spider, either.

“A-ah,” he starts to speak, but his stutter clamps down on the words trying to escape him. He can feel the weight of its attention on him. He shifts. He forces himself to breathe. “A-re y-yuh-you g-going t-tuh eat m-me t-tuh-too?”

The part of him that’s used to scorn – the part that’s used to his father's derision and the way bullies taunt and teachers roll their eyes – the part that tells him he probably shouldn’t talk to anyone, ever, expects some form of mockery. He’s slightly surprised not to receive any.

“No,” the thing says. Its voice hisses and clicks from its inhuman jaws, accompanied by the flickering of light as its mouth opens. It sounds oddly high-pitched for something of the creature’s size, and Bill has the oddest thought that it’s trying not to seem threatening.

“Wuh-wuh-wuh-why?” Bill asks.

“Do you want me to?” the creature asks back.

Bill, sure he can be seen even in the dark, shakes his head. The being shifts in response. Its presence in his mind radiates tiredness and a similar sort of satisfaction to Bill’s own. It was woken up unexpectedly, but has been fed. And Bill – Bill realises with a start that he isn’t afraid. The creature is horrifying, yes, but he doesn’t fear it.

Its eyes flicker orange, just for a brief moment, but they soon return to blue and what little of it Bill can see seems to relax.

It will sleep again, he thinks – and then realises that the thought isn’t entirely his own. The creature is telling him somehow. Telling him and nudging at him to leave now; his purpose has been served. He brought tribute in the form of Bowers and his gang.

He reaches behind him and pushes the trailer door open, stumbling back into the dim light. He catches sight of something horrible in the darkness – something towering and impossible – before a thin black leg covered with hard spines and chitinous shell reaches forward and snaps the door shut behind him.

Bill forgets. He dreams sometimes, of a shape he can’t look at and a voice that echoes in his head as it makes his ears bleed; he never remembers them. The scar on his arm fades and the cuts on his back heal, and he doesn’t remember at all until the October of the following year when Georgie returns home, dripping wet, with a newspaper boat and a triumphant grin.

“I lost it for a second, Bill, but the clown in the sewer gave it back,” he says, bouncing slightly on the end of Bill’s bed. “He said to tell you he’s awake now and that you can visit again if you want. Is there really a circus down there, Bill? Bill? Are you okay?”

Bill stares at him in silence, his mouth hanging open as memories force their way back in. He can picture it: silver suit and orange hair, and a full red mouth twisted into a sharp-toothed smile. He can feel the weight of its hand on his shoulder; smell it.

He shudders.

He smiles.

“Th-thanks for t-telling me, Georgie,” he says.

The next day, Patrick Hockstetter goes missing.

 

I understand now why
Children and the dead are abandoned: heaven is a cult
Of the irrational. In my glazed-over eyes, your body
Found an ally -