Children had power within them the likes of which anything in a stage of maturity could not possess. While physically diminished, the secret kernel within them had the potential to create and destroy worlds. The Turtle knew this. Oh, but they knew it well. They admired children in the way that human beings admired the sight of animals in their element—a sort of doting superiority. Bless their little hearts, but they hadn’t any idea what magic lay within them! Of course, The Turtle knew full well that children were recipients of the worst kind of tragedy in that adults tended to try and hammer any and all of that potential out of them. This abuse was usually done in ignorance, although more and more adults were prone to being willing participants in such cruelty. The Turtle supposed it was due to their own turmoil at having left those endless summer nights of childhood behind without truly tapping into their full potential.
And yet humans sought to recapture that secret something through the thing they created. Child heroes litter folklore, fiction and human media like stars in the Milky Way. Called to action, these pint-size adventurers overcame disaster and calamity while the more capable adults tended to be utterly useless. It was charming, and also somewhat bittersweet in that the tales ended with the juvenile heroes gaining something in the end.
That was not always the case. In fact, it was more unusual for a child in crisis to receive something other than trauma.
Like the Children of Derry.
Pausing in its infinite swim through all that was, would, or ever be, The Turtle felt a pang. It had grown fonder of those warriors than any other called to action. Certainly they could have been a mere speck in the vast tapestry of existence; yet they’d fought bravely against a terror not even the storytellers could conjure up in their worst nightmares. They had fought Nightmare itself, and vanquished that horrid spider bitch back from whence she’d come. True, many of them had fulfilled that bucolic penchant for gaining some reward in the end...but two of them had not.
Perhaps The Turtle wouldn’t have cared so much if such loss didn’t play right into the clutches of that appalling apocalyptic arachnid. She’d seen the potential of children and not only been frightened out of her witless wits by it, but believed she could sustain herself. She’d been allowed to tarry too long, and it was only thanks to the Derry Children that she’d met her maker in the end. But she’d still won out in taking the life of one along the seven, and devastating another.
The Turtle shook their great head. It wouldn’t do. Not at all. Even if The Spider whore was scattered farther than oblivion, she still had scored a killing victory point. That could not be allowed to stand.
Flexing its flippers, The Turtle breathed in across space, time and potential. They found the remains of the man who had been Eddie Kapsbrak. At first, the spirit of him stilled, and why shouldn’t he? Why be disturbed in final rest? But The Turtle showed him, with gentleness that surprised themselves, that there was stay one waiting. He didn’t have to, not if he didn’t want too. But he could go back and live the way the rest of them did...in peace and friendship. He wouldn’t have to be too brave this time, because there was nothing there to terrify him or anyone else. Not in the way he once had been.
The spirit hesitated. Just when The Turtle thought he would depart, he gave the smallest of acquiescences. And so The Turtle embraced him in its gargantuan flippers. It cradled him, turning him gently this way and that, forming something tangible from celestial essence. Ivory formed from light and energy, and very soon, something in the shape of an egg was held delicately in The Turtle’s grasp. It was practically a mote of dust compared to the size of its creator, but it was nonetheless significant in that it held a life.
A smile spread across The Turtle’s face. It could just picture The Spider, gnashing her venomous mandibles and stomping her many feet in rage. This wasn’t fair! This was cheating. The Turtle almost snorted at the idea. Why penalize creation when The Spider had been allowed to destroy for so many endless centuries? Besides, it wasn’t as if this were a great tear in the fabric of reality. All The Turtle wanted to do was give back to the children who’d eliminated an enemy that they themselves could not.
Go, said The Turtle, it’s voice soft as a spring breeze. Be born again...be happy...do not waste this gift. Then it brushed the egg from it, and watched as it soared through the infinite towards the home it had been torn from.
Richie had taken to walking along the beach. The ocean wasn’t the fungal ponds and lakes of Derry, so the presence of water didn’t fill him with dread or dismay. The ocean was an ever-churning thing, filled with mysterious life that mankind would never know the full scope of. Each crash of the tide drowned the thoughts that had been threatening to suck him under these many months.
The others would be worried. Hell, they were always worried. They called and messaged almost daily, and while it touched Richie deeply, it also put him in the most terrifying position of having people actually pay attention. Oh, he’d sought it out in childhood and well into adulthood. Every verbal barb, smartass remark and comeback would have given anyone cause to assume that Trashmouth Tozier thirsted for the eyes and ears of others. But it had all been nothing more than carefully crafted second-skin. He’d wanted people to pay attention to the dry borderline asshole he’d been al his life so that they wouldn’t see what lay beneath.
Now, in the grips of grief, he couldn’t stand their attention. They’d seen the real him—that soft, squishy thing that needed love he’d never possess. Their constant coddling, while extremely touching, chafed. There was nothing any of them could do. Nothing he could do. Eddie was gone. No amount of soothing words could change that. No amount of booze, pills, cigarettes or grief support group meetings would bring him back.
So, Richie had taken to the beach; walking had cleared his head. Walking was action. He could appreciate the beauty of the sand and the little creatures that scuttled among rocks and tide pools. He rather fancied the mental image of himself as an old man—the hermit of the seaside whom children would point at and adults would avoid.
There were times when he thought about walking into the surf—filling his pockets with rocks and pulling a Virginia Woolf. Fitting, given that they both occupied a spot on the Rainbow Connection. But at least she’d had someone to love; to hold and cherish and understand; to eat oatmeal with in the morning and complain about the weather. Richie had lost that person. He’d been too chickenshit to be out with the truth, even after he’d left the ass-backwardsness of Derry. Would it have been so hard to spit it out? To tell Eddie and everyone else the truth? Compared to that John Wayne Gacy fucker with the dryder body, being Kinsey six gay and proud of it was nothing. But no. Richie had been too frightened after all.
Tonight was another dent in the soles of his shoes. Another handful of meaningless hours spent running the tide until he’d go home for his now customary three hours of shut eye. Then he’d wake up, eat food that tastes like rocks, and do it all over again until something broke. Until he either gave up or died.
It had grown dark earlier than usual—a late September storm had rolled in from the Pacific. Richie pulled his jacket a little tighter around him, and hiked down the rocks towards the shoreline. Each time the tide crept to the sand only to shy away, he imagined it speaking his name: “Riiiiicccchhh...iiiieeeee...riiiiccchh....iiiieee...”
Richie paused, his shoes on solid sand. No, he wasn’t imagining it. The waves were calling to him. Narrowing his eyes, he stood motionless. He hadn’t counted on succumbing to insanity among his list of things to free him from the pain of losing Eddie, but he supposed it wasn’t an entirely unappealing option. He wouldn’t be able to miss Eddie so much if he was locked in the psychiatric wing of Shawshank.
A ghostly moon appeared between the arch of clouds rolling over the horizon. Richie frowned. The light cast from the pale yellow gibbous threw the towering cumulonimbuses into stark relief. He imagined some immense sea turtle—the highest clouds forming a shell with no end, the tapered end of them its healed head, and the moon a half-closed eye. But this was nuts. He was only looking for familiar shapes in nature; only hearing his name repeated in ambient noise because he was deprived of sleep and...and...
Something white flashed at the corner of his vision. Looking out to the ocean, he caught the sight of something oblong and white as an elephant tusk. It landed on the sand, several feet away from the pull of the crashing tide. Richie took a few steps forward...and then reminded himself that this was all unusual in the extreme, and hadn’t he learned by now that when things got this odd to call for backup?
Yet there was something about this...something in the atmosphere of it that didn’t scare him. He felt like a little kid—well, what he imagined a little kid who hadn’t grown up in the epic shithole of Derry would have felt like—following a white rabbit of curiosity towards some exciting adventure. What could this mean? The sand still felt solid under his feet; the wind was biting at his face. Sea spray soaked through his jacket the nearer he got to the shore. So this was real. This was happening. No doubt about it.
The thing that had come ashore was an egg, tall as a fully grown man and wide as a dining table. Richie watched, feeling a great need to touch it.
A crack formed at the rounded end of the egg. The noise of it sounded like a tree branch snapping. Still Richie stood, heart beating hard. He wanted to reach out, and yet he still felt a strange sense of self-preservation after all this time. There could be anything in there...
The sea continued to sing to him, only as the crack in the egg widened and white chips of shell fell to the sand, Richie realized that it wasn’t the ocean at all: whatever was in that egg was calling to him. And not with the call of the ocean, lost in the waves and made of open wind, but in a voice—a calling, panting, desperate voice.
A hand shot through the now gaping hole in the egg, and still Richie didn’t move. Not because he was afraid but because he wouldn’t dare believe it.
It’s the clown, he told himself, shaking his head and squeezing his eyes shut. It’s just that fucking clown...
But they’d killed that bitch. All of them, together, had squeezed its black heart to a pulp. The very air in the world had felt lighter after its defeat. And the air around him now, while pulsing with some kind of arcane energy, didn’t fee threatening. It felt nurturing, protective...parental.
Richie looked to the clouds. A wisp of cirrus drifted over the half-moon. It looked as if the turtle shape were blinking at him, giving him permission—saying that it was alright, that this wasn’t a trick in the least.
Legs shaking like melting ice, Richie stumbled towards the egg. More bits of shell were littering the beach. The voice inside was still calling, panting and grunting in its—no, his—efforts to break free. The part of Richie still tethered to survival told him there was every and all likeliness that whatever was in there could rip off his arm, but he found he didn’t care much anymore. He almost wanted whatever was in there to eat him alive, the way he should have. That was what love did, didn’t it? Devour you?
The hole in the egg was the size of a sewer opening. Richie could see by the light of that watchful moon a pair of bare arms tearing at the shell. The smell of sweat and salt permeated the air, and still Richie didn’t back away. He knelt in the sand, knees sinking a few inches, and began to rip at the sharp bits of shell. The edges tore into his palms, but he did not care. Blood for life; blood for birth. He tore and tore, throwing the detritus over his shoulder, feeling as if he would pass out from the amount of blood rushing to his head.
The man broke free when there was just enough for him to do so. He was covered in sweat, his skin flushed, his dark hair plastered to his forehead. He stared, eyes confused for a moment, almost like a newborn despite being just as fully grown as he was when he’d been taken.
Then he saw Richie, and the smile on his face could have brought Death to its knees.
Words caught in Richie’s throat. He knelt, dumbstruck and disbelieving in the sand, unable to fully correlate the contents of his mind.
Eddie’s voice...his face...his scent...but it couldn’t be, because Eddie had died in Richie’s arms. Richie wrapped his arms around himself, overwhelmed.
A hand, solid and warm touched the side of his face.
“I won’t,” Richie said, shaking his head. “I won’t believe...it can’t be...you’re just that fucking thing again...”
“No.” Eddie sounded almost beseeching. “No, Richie, it’s not that at all.”
Richie opened his eyes. Eddie had crawled out of the egg. He was completely naked, his skin shining with sweat. How long had he been in there? How had he gotten there in the first place? Richie looked to the sky again, but the clouds had shifted, and that massive turtle had become nothing more than run-of-the-mill nature.
He looked at Eddie—because of course it was Eddie. Nothing evil could look so plaintive, so needful. He was completely free of the scars he’d been left with—on his face and chest. He was just Eddie, plain and simple, come back to life. Richie had no idea how, and he didn’t much care.
He lowered his head and let the tears come like the waters of a flood. His entire body shook, and Eddie shuffled across the sand and held him close.
“It’s okay, Richie. It’s okay. I’ve got you this time.”
The tide drew closer, pulling fragments of shell back into the water with it. The waves carried the egg away a moment later, leaving Eddie and Richie together on the beach. Only when the surf spread under Richie’s knees did he pull himself together. He looked into Eddie’s face—as earnest and generous as it always had been.
With a brave stab at a smile, Richie get to his feet, and helped Eddie up.
“Let’s go,” he said, nodding back at the world above the beach.
Eddie nodded. Then, clearing his throat he said, “Yeah, but maybe give me your coat? I’m freezing my nuts off and I don’t think people would be too happy to see you walking down the street with me buck ass naked.”
Richie wanted to say something witty. Hell, he wanted to say something at all. But for once in his life, he was rendered utterly speechless. He slipped his jacket off, and pulled it around Eddie’s shoulders. It was long enough to reach his knees. Anyone who saw them would still have questions. But at the moment, Richie didn’t give any fucks whatsoever.
Eddie held a hand out.
Richie nodded. “Y-yeah. Home.”
And together, they walked up the rocks, away from the ocean, and towards what they should have had all along—a life together.