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The Witches of Eastwick

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S t e p h e n



This book is gratefully dedicated to my children. My mother and my wife taught me how to be a man. My children taught me how to be free.

NAOMI RACHEL KING, at fourteen;



Kids, fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists.


'This old town been home long as I remember This town gonna be here long after I'm gone. East side west side take a close look 'round her You been down but you're still in my bones.'

- The Michael Stanley Band

'Old friend, what are you looking for?

After those many years abroad you come

With images you tended

Under foreign skies

Far away from your own land.'

- George Seferis

'Out of the blue and into the black.'

- Neil Young



'They begin!

The perfections are sharpened

The flower spreads its colored petals

wide in the sun

But the tongue of the bee

misses them

They sink back into the loam

crying out

- you may call it a cry

that creeps over them, a shiver

as they wilt and disappear . . . . '

- William Carlos Williams,


"Born down in a dead man's town"

- Bruce Springsteen

C H A P T E R 1

After the Flood (1957)


The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years - if it ever did end - began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.

The boat bobbed, listed, righted itself again, dived bravely through treacherous whirlpools, and continued on its way down Witcham Street toward the traffic light which marked the intersection of Witcham and Jackson. The three vertical lenses on all sides of the traffic light were dark this afternoon in the fall of 1957, and the houses were all dark, too. There had been steady rain for a week now, and two days ago the winds had come as well. Most sections of Derry had lost their power then, and it was ; not back on yet.

A small boy in a yellow slicker and red galoshes ran cheerfully along beside the newspaper boat. The rain had not stopped, but it was finally slackening. It tapped on the yellow hood of the boy's slicker, sounding to his ears like rain on a shed roof . . . a comfortable, almost cozy sound. The boy in the yellow slicker was George Denbrough. He was six. His brother, William, known to most of the kids at Derry Elementary School (and even to the teachers, who would never have used the nickname to his face) as Stuttering Bill, was at home, hacking out the last of a nasty case of influenza. In that autumn of 1957, eight months before the real horrors began and twenty-eight years before the final showdown, Stuttering Bill was ten years old.

Bill had made the boat beside which George now ran. He had made it sitting up in bed, his back propped against a pile of pillows, while their mother played Für Elise on the piano in the parlor and rain swept restlessly against his bedroom window.

About three-quarters of the way down the block as one headed toward the intersection and the dead traffic light, Witcham Street was blocked to motor traffic by smudgepots and four orange sawhorses. Stencilled across each of the horses was DERRY DEPT. OF PUBLIC WORKS. Beyond them, the rain had spilled out of gutters clogged with branches and rocks and big sticky piles of autumn leaves. The water had first pried fingerholds in the paving and then snatched whole greedy handfuls - all of this by the third day of the rains. By noon of the fourth day, big chunks of the street's surface were boating through the intersection of Jackson and Witcham like miniature white-water rafts. By that time, many people in Derry had begun to make nervous jokes about arks. The Public Works Department had managed to keep Jackson Street open, but Witcham was impassable from the sawhorses all the way to the center of town.

But, everyone agreed, the worst was over. The Kenduskeag Stream had crested just below its banks in the Barrens and bare inches below the concrete sides of the Canal which channelled it tightly as it passed through downtown. Right now a gang of men - Zack Denbrough, George's and Bill's father, among them - were removing the sandbags they had thrown up the day before with such panicky haste. Yesterday overflow and expensive flood damage had seemed almost inevitable. God knew it had happened before - the flooding in 1931 had been a disaster which had cost millions of dollars and almost two dozen lives. That was a long time ago, but there were still enough people around who remembered it to scare the rest. One of the flood victims had been found twenty-five miles east, in Bucksport. The fish had eaten this unfortunate gentleman's eyes, three of his fingers, his penis, and most of his left foot. Clutched in what remained of his hands had been a Ford steering wheel.

Now, though, the river was receding, and when the new Bangor Hydro dam went in upstream, the river would cease to be a threat. Or so said Zack Denbrough, who worked for Bangor Hydroelectric. As for the rest - well, future floods could take care of themselves. The thing was to get through this one, to get the power back on, and then to forget it. In Derry such forgetting of tragedy and disaster was almost an art, as Bill Denbrough would come to discover in the course of time.

George paused just beyond the sawhorses at the edge of a deep ravine that had been cut through the tar surface of Witcham Street. This ravine ran on an almost exact diagonal. It ended on the far side of the street, roughly forty feet farther down the hill from where he now stood, on the right. He laughed aloud - the sound of solitary, childish glee a bright runner in that gray afternoon - as a vagary of the flowing water took his paper boat into a scale-model rapids which had been formed by the break in the tar. The urgent water had cut a channel which ran along the diagonal, and so his boat travelled from one side of Witcham Street to the other, the current carrying it so fast that George had to sprint to keep up with it. Water sprayed out from beneath his galoshes in muddy sheets. Their buckles made a jolly jingling as George Denbrough ran toward his strange death. And the feeling which filled him at that moment was clear and simple love for his brother Bill . . . love and a touch of regret that Bill couldn't be here to see this and be a part of it. Of course he would try to describe it to Bill when he got home, but he knew he wouldn't be able to make Bill see it, the way Bill would have been able to make him see it if their positions had been reversed. Bill was good at reading and writing, but even at his age George was wise enough to know that wasn't the only reason why Bill got all A's on his report cards, or why his teachers liked his compositions so well. Telling was only part of it. Bill was good at seeing.

The boat nearly whistled along the diagonal channel, just a page torn from the Classified section of the Derry News, but now George imagined it as a FT boat in a war movie, like the ones he sometimes saw down at the Derry Theater with Bill at Saturday matinees. A war picture with John Wayne fighting the Japs. The prow of the newspaper boat threw sprays of water to either side as it rushed along, and then it reached the gutter on the left side of Witcham Street. A fresh streamlet rushed over the break in the tar at this point, creating a fairly large whirlpool, and it seemed to him that the boat must be swamped and capsize. It leaned alarmingly, and then George cheered as it righted itself, turned, and went racing on down toward the intersection. George sprinted to catch up. Over his head, a grim gust of October wind rattled the trees, now almost completely unburdened of their freight of colored leaves by the storm, which had been this year a reaper of the most ruthless sort.


Sitting up in bed, his cheeks still flushed with heat (but his fever, like the Kenduskeag, finally receding), Bill had finished the boat - but when George reached for it, Bill held it out of reach. 'N-Now get me the p-p-paraffin.'

'What's that? Where is it?'

'It's on the cellar shuh-shuh-shelf as you go d-downstairs,' Bill said. 'In a box that says Guh-Guh-hulf . . . Gulf. Bring that to me, and a knife, and a b-bowl. And a puh-pack of muh-muh-matches.'

George had gone obediently to get these things. He could hear his mother playing the piano, not Für Elise now but something else he didn't like so well - something that sounded dry and fussy; he could hear rain flicking steadily against the kitchen windows. These were comfortable sounds, but the thought of the cellar was not a bit comfortable. He did not like the cellar, and he did not like going down the cellar stairs, because he always imagined there was something down there in the dark. That was silly, of course, his father said so and his mother said so and, even more important, Bill said so, but still -

He did not even like opening the door to flick on the light because he always had the idea - this was so exquisitely stupid he didn't dare tell anyone - that while he was feeling for the light switch, some horrible clawed paw would settle lightly over his wrist . . . and then jerk him down into the darkness that smelled of dirt and wet and dim rotted vegetables.

Stupid! There were no things with claws, all hairy and full of killing spite. Every now and then someone went crazy and killed a lot of people - sometimes Chet Huntley told about such things on the evening news - and of course there were Commies, but there was no weirdo monster living down in their cellar. Still, this idea lingered. In those interminable moments while he was groping for the switch with his right hand (his left arm curled around the doorjamb in a deathgrip), that cellar smell seemed to intensify until it filled the world. Smells of dirt and wet and long-gone vegetables would merge into one unmistakable ineluctable smell, the smell of the monster, the apotheosis of all monsters. It was the smell of something for which he had no name: the smell of It, crouched and lurking and ready to spring. A creature which would eat anything but which was especially hungry for boymeat.

He had opened the door that morning and had groped interminably for the switch, holding the jamb in his usual deathgrip, his eyes squinched shut, the tip of his tongue poked from the corner of his mouth like an agonized rootlet searching for water in a place of drought. Funny? Sure! You betcha! Lookit you, Georgie! Georgie's scared of the dark! What a baby! The sound of the piano came from what his father called the living room and what his mother called the parlor. It sounded like music from another world, far away, the way talk and laughter on a summer-crowded beach must sound to an exhausted swimmer who struggles with the undertow.

His fingers found the switch! Ah!

They snapped it -

- and nothing. No light.

Oh, cripes! The power!

George snatched his arm back as if from a basket filled with snakes. He stepped back from the open cellar door, his heart hurrying in his chest. The power was out, of course - he had forgotten the power was out. Jeezly-crow! What now? Go back and tell Bill he couldn't get the box of paraffin because the power was out and he was afraid that something might get him as he stood on the cellar stairs, something that wasn't a Commie or a mass murderer but a creature much worse than either? That it would simply slither part of its rotted self up between the stair risers and grab his ankle? That would go over big, wouldn't it? Others might laugh at such a fancy, but Bill wouldn't laugh. Bill would be mad. Bill would say, 'Grow up, Georgie . . . do you want this boat or not?'

As if this thought were his cue, Bill called from his bedroom: 'Did you d-d-die out there, Juh-Georgie?'

'No, I'm gettin it, Bill,' George called back at once. He rubbed at his arms, trying to make the guilty gooseflesh disappear and be smooth skin again. 'I just stopped to get a drink of water.'

'Well, h-hurry up!'

So he walked down the four steps to the cellar shelf, his heart a warm, beating hammer in his throat, the hair on the nape of his neck standing at attention, his eyes hot, his hands cold, sure that at any moment the cellar door would swing shut on its own, closing off the white light falling through the kitchen windows, and then he would hear It, something worse than all the Commies and murderers in the world, worse than the Japs, worse than Attila the Hun, worse than the somethings in a hundred horror movies. It, growling deeply - he would hear the growl in those lunatic seconds before it pounced on him and unzipped his guts.

The cellar-smell was worse than ever today, because of the flood. Their house was high on Witcham Street, near the crest of the hill, and they had escaped the worst of it, but there was still standing water down there that had seeped in through the old rock foundations. The smell was low and unpleasant, making you want to take only the shallowest breaths.

George sifted through the junk on the shelf as fast as he could - old cans of Kiwi shoepolish and shoepolish rags, a broken kerosene lamp, two mostly empty bottles of Windex, an old flat can of Turtle wax. For some reason this can struck him, and he spent nearly thirty seconds looking at the turtle on the lid with a kind of hypnotic wonder. Then he tossed it back . . . and here it was at last, a square box with the word GULF on it.

George snatched it and ran up the stairs as fast as he could, suddenly aware that his shirttail was out and suddenly sure that his shirttail would be his undoing: the thing in the cellar would allow him to get almost all the way out, and then it would grab the tail of his shirt and snatch him back and -

He reached the kitchen and swept the door shut behind him. It banged gustily. He leaned back against it with his eyes closed, sweat popped out on his arms and forehead, the box of paraffin gripped tightly in one hand.

The piano had come to a stop, and his mom's voice floated to him: 'Georgie, can't you slam that door a little harder next time? Maybe you could break some of the plates in the Welsh dresser, if you really tried.'

'Sorry, Mom,' he called back.

'Georgie, you waste,' Bill said from his bedroom. He pitched his voice low so their mother would not hear.

George snickered a little. His fear was already gone; it had slipped away from him as easily as a nightmare slips away from a man who awakes, cold-skinned and gasping, from its grip; who feels his body and stares at his surroundings to make sure that none of it ever happened and who then begins at once to forget it. Half is gone by the time his feet hit the floor; three-quarters of it by the time he emerges from the shower and begins to towel off; all of it by the time he finishes his breakfast. All gone . . . until the next time, when, in the grip of the nightmare, all fears will be remembered.

That turtle, George thought, going to the counter drawer where the matches were kept. Where did I see a turtle like that before?

But no answer came, and he dismissed the question.

He got a pack of matches from the drawer, a knife from the rack (holding the sharp edge studiously away from his body, as his dad had taught him), and a small bowl from the Welsh dresser in the dining room. Then he went back into Bill's room.

'W-What an a-hole you are, Juh-Georgie,' Bill said, amiably enough, and pushed back some of the sick-stuff on his nighttable: an empty glass, a pitcher of water, Kleenex, books, a bottle of Vicks VapoRub - the smell of which Bill would associate all his life with thick, phlegmy chests and snotty noses. The old Philco radio was there, too, playing not Chopin or Bach but a Little Richard tune . . . very softly, however, so softly that Little Richard was robbed of all his raw and elemental power. Their mother, who had studied classical piano at Juilliard, hated rock and roll. She did not merely dislike it; she abominated it.

'I'm no a-hole,' George said, sitting on the edge of Bill's bed and putting the things he had gathered on the nighttable.

'Yes you are,' Bill said. 'Nothing but a great big brown a-hole, that's you.'

George tried to imagine a kid who was nothing but a great big a-hole on legs and began to giggle.

'Your a-hole is bigger than Augusta,' Bill said, beginning to giggle, too.

'Four a-hole is bigger than the whole state,' George replied. This broke both boys up for nearly two minutes.

There followed a whispered conversation of the sort which means very little to anyone save small boys: accusations of who was the biggest a-hole, who had the biggest a-hole, which a-hole was the brownest, and so on. Finally Bill said one of the forbidden words - he accused George of being a big brown shitty a-hole - and they both got laughing hard. Bill's laughter turned into a coughing fit. As it finally began to taper off (by then Bill's face had gone a plummy shade which George regarded with some alarm), the piano stopped again. They both looked in the direction of the parlor, listening for the piano-bench to scrape back, listening for their mother's impatient footsteps. Bill buried his mouth in the crook of his elbow, stifling the last of the coughs, pointing at the pitcher at the same time. George poured him a glass of water, which he drank off.

The piano began once more - Für Elise again. Stuttering Bill never forgot that piece, and even many years later it never failed to bring gooseflesh to his arms and back; his heart would drop and he would remember: My mother was playing that the day Georgie died.

'You gonna cough anymore, Bill?'


Bill pulled a Kleenex from the box, made a rumbling sound in his chest, spat phlegm into the tissue, screwed it up, and tossed it into the wastebasket by his bed, which was filled with similar twists of tissue. Then he opened the box of paraffin and dropped a waxy cube of the stuff into his palm. George watched him closely, but without speaking or questioning. Bill didn't like George talking to him while he did stuff, but George had learned that if he just kept his mouth shut, Bill would usually explain what he was doing.

Bill used the knife to cut off a small piece of the paraffin cube. He put the piece in the bowl, then struck a match and put it on top of the paraffin. The two boys watched the small yellow flame as the dying wind drove rain against the window in occasional spatters.

'Got to waterproof the boat or it'll just get wet and sink,' Bill said. When he was with George, his stutter was light - sometimes he didn't stutter at all. In school, however, it could become so bad that talking became impossible for him. Communication would cease and Bill's schoolmates would look somewhere else while Bill clutched the sides of his desk, his face growing almost as red as his hair, his eyes squeezed into slits as he tried to winch some word out of his stubborn throat. Sometimes - most times - the word would come. Other times it simply refused. He had been hit by a car when he was three and knocked into the side of a building; he had remained unconscious for seven hours. Mom said it was that accident which had caused the stutter. George sometimes got the feeling that his dad - and Bill himself - was not so sure.

The piece of paraffin in the bowl was almost entirely melted.

The match-flame guttered lower, growing blue as it hugged the cardboard stick, and then it went out. Bill dipped his finger into the liquid, jerked it out with a faint hiss. He smiled apologetically at George. 'Hot,' he said. After a few seconds he dipped his finger in again and began to smear the wax along the sides of the boat, where it quickly dried to a milky haze.

'Can I do some?' George asked.

'Okay. Just don't get any on the blankets or Mom'll kill you.'

George dipped his finger into the paraffin, which was now very warm but no longer hot, and began to spread it along the other side of the boat.

'Don't put on so much, you a-hole!' Bill said. 'You want to sink it on its m-maiden cruise?'

'I'm sorry.'

'That's all right. Just g-go easy.'

George finished the other side, then held the boat in his hands. It felt a little heavier, but not much. 'Too cool,' he said. 'I'm gonna go out and sail it.'

'Yeah, you do that,' Bill said. He suddenly looked tired - tired and still not very well.

'I wish you could come,' George said. He really did. Bill sometimes got bossy after awhile, but he always had the coolest ideas and he hardly ever hit. 'It's your boat, really.'

'She,' Bill said. 'You call boats sh-she.'

'She, then.'

'I wish I could come, too,' Bill said glumly.

'Well . . . ' George shifted from one foot to the other, the boat in his hands.

'You put on your rain-stuff,' Bill said, 'or you'll wind up with the fluh-hu like me. Probably catch it anyway, from my juh-germs.'

'Thanks, Bill. It's a neat boat.' And he did something he hadn't done for a long time, something Bill never forgot: he leaned over and kissed his brother's cheek.

'You'll catch it for sure now, you a-hole,' Bill said, but he seemed cheered up all the same. He smiled at George. 'Put all this stuff back, too. Or Mom'll have a b-bird.'

'Sure.' He gathered up the waterproofing equipment and crossed the room, the boat perched precariously on top of the paraffin box, which was sitting askew in the little bowl.

'Juh juh-Georgie?'

George turned back to look at his brother.

'Be c-careful.'

'Sure.' His brow creased a little. That was something your mom said, not your big brother. It was as strange as him giving Bill a kiss. 'Sure I will.'

He went out. Bill never saw him again.


Now here he was, chasing his boat down the left side of Witcham Street. He was running fast but the water was running faster and his boat was pulling ahead. He heard a deepening roar and saw that fifty yards farther down the hill the water in the gutter was cascading into a stormdrain that was still open. Ii was a long dark semicircle cut into the curbing, and as George watched, a stripped branch, its bark as dark and glistening as sealskin, shot into the stormdrain's maw. It hung up there for a moment and then slipped down inside. That was where his boat was headed.

'Oh shit and Shinola!' he yelled, dismayed.

He put on speed, and for a moment he thought he would catch the boat. Then one of his feet slipped and he went sprawling, skinning one knee and crying out in pain. From his new pavement-level perspective he watched his boat swing around twice, momentarily caught in another whirlpool, and then disappear.

'Shit and Shinola!' he yelled again, and slammed his fist down on the pavement. That hurt too, and he began to cry a little. What a stupid way to lose the boat!

He got up and walked over to the stormdrain. He dropped to his knees and peered in. The water made a dank hollow sound as it fell into the darkness. It was a spooky sound. It reminded him of -

'Huh!' The sound was jerked out of him as if on a string, and he recoiled.

There were yellow eyes in there: the sort of eyes he had always imagined but never actually seen down in the basement. It's an animal, he thought incoherently, that's all it is, some animal, maybe a housecat that got stuck down in there -

Still, he was ready to run - would run in a second or two, when his mental switchboard had dealt with the shock those two shiny yellow eyes had given him. He felt the rough surface of the macadam under his fingers, and the thin sheet of cold water flowing around them. He saw himself getting up and backing away, and that was when a voice - a perfectly reasonable and rather pleasant voice - spoke to him from inside the stormdrain.

'Hi, Georgie,' it said.

George blinked and looked again. He could barely credit what he saw; it was like something from a made-up story, or a movie where you know the animals will talk and dance. If he had been ten years older, he would not have believed what he was seeing, but he was not sixteen. He was six.

There was a clown in the stormdrain. The light in there was far from good, but it was good enough so that George Denbrough was sure of what he was seeing. It was a clown, like in the circus or on TV. In fact he looked like a cross between Bozo and Clarabell, who talked by honking his (or was it her? - George was never really sure of the gender) horn on Howdy Doody Saturday mornings - Buffalo Bob was just about the only one who could understand Clarabell, and that always cracked George up. The face of the clown in the stormdrain was white, there were funny tufts of red hair on either side of his bald head, and there was a big clown-smile painted over his mouth. If George had been inhabiting a later year, he would have surely thought of Ronald McDonald before Bozo or Clarabell.

The clown held a bunch of balloons, all colors, like gorgeous ripe fruit in one hand.

In the other he held George's newspaper boat.

'Want your boat, Georgie?' The clown smiled.

George smiled back. He couldn't help it; it was the kind of smile you just had to answer. 'I sure do,' he said.

The clown laughed. '"I sure do." That's good! That's very good! And how about a balloon?'

'Well . . . sure!' He reached forward . . . and then drew his hand reluctantly back. 'I'm not supposed to take stuff from strangers. My dad said so.'

'Very wise of your dad,' the clown in the stormdrain said, smiling. How, George wondered, could I have thought his eyes were yellow? They were a bright, dancing blue, the color of his mom's eyes, and Bill's. 'Very wise indeed. Therefore I will introduce myself. I, Georgie, am Mr Bob Gray, also known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Pennywise, meet George Denbrough. George, meet Pennywise. And now we know each other. I'm not a stranger to you, and you're not a stranger to me. Kee-rect?'

George giggled. 'I guess so.' He reached forward again . . . and drew his hand back again. 'How did you get down there?'

'Storm just bleeeew me away,' Pennywise the Dancing Clown said. 'It blew the whole circus away. Can you smell the circus, Georgie?'

George leaned forward. Suddenly he could smell peanuts! Hot roasted peanuts! And vinegar! The white kind you put on your french fries through a hole in the cap! He could smell cotton candy and frying doughboys and the faint but thunderous odor of wild-animal shit. He could smell the cheery aroma of midway sawdust. And yet . . .

And yet under it all was the smell of flood and decomposing leaves and dark stormdrain shadows. That smell was wet and rotten. The cellar-smell.

But the other smells were stronger.

'You bet I can smell it,' he said.

'Want your boat, Georgie?' Pennywise asked. 'I only repeat myself because you really do not seem that eager.' He held it up, smiling. He was wearing a baggy silk suit with great big orange buttons. A bright tie, electric-blue, flopped down his front, and on his hands were big white gloves, like the kind Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck always wore.

'Yes, sure,' George said, looking into the stormdrain.

'And a balloon? I've got red and green and yellow and blue . . . . '

'Do they float?'

'Float?' The clown's grin widened. 'Oh yes, indeed they do. They float! And there's cotton candy . . . . '

George reached.

The clown seized his arm.

And George saw the clown's face change.

What he saw then was terrible enough to make his worst imaginings of the thing in the cellar look like sweet dreams; what he saw destroyed his sanity in one clawing stroke.

'They float,' the thing in the drain crooned in a clotted, chuckling voice. It held George's arm in its thick and wormy grip, it pulled George toward that terrible darkness where the water rushed and roared and bellowed as it bore its cargo of storm debris toward the sea. George craned his neck away from that final blackness and began to scream into the rain, to scream mindlessly into the white autumn sky which curved above Derry on that day in the fall of 1957. His screams were shrill and piercing, and all up and down Witcham Street people came to then - windows or boiled out onto their porches.

'They float,' it growled, 'they float, Georgie, and when you're down here with me, you'll float, too - '

George's shoulder socked against the cement of the curb and Dave Gardener, who had stayed home from his job at The Shoeboat that day because of the flood, saw only a small boy in a yellow rain-slicker, a small boy who was screaming and writhing in the gutter with muddy water surfing over his face and making his screams sound bubbly.

'Everything down here floats,' that chuckling, rotten voice whispered, and suddenly there was a ripping noise and a flaring sheet of agony, and George Denbrough knew no more.

Dave Gardener was the first to get there, and although he arrived only forty-five seconds after the first scream, George Denbrough was already dead. Gardener grabbed him by the back of the slicker, pulled him into the street . . . and began to scream himself as George's body turned over in his hands. The left side of George's slicker was now bright red. Blood flowed into the stormdrain from the tattered hole where the left arm had been. A knob of bone, horribly bright, peeked through the torn cloth.

The boy's eyes stared up into the white sky, and as Dave staggered away toward the others already running pell-mell down the street, they began to fill up with rain.


Somewhere below, in the stormdrain that was already filled nearly to capacity with runoff (there could have been no one down there, the County Sheriff would later exclaim to a Derry News reporter with a frustrated fury so great it was almost agony; Hercules himself would have been swept away in that driving current), George's newspaper boat shot onward through nighted chambers and long concrete hallways that roared and chimed with water. For awhile it ran neck-and-neck with a dead chicken that floated with its yellowy, reptilian toes pointed at the dripping ceiling; then, at some junction east of town, the chicken was swept off to the left while George's boat went straight.

An hour later, while George's mother was being sedated in the Emergency Room at Derry Home Hospital and while Stuttering Bill sat stunned and white and silent in his bed, listening to his father sob hoarsely in the parlor where his mother had been playing Für Elise when George went out, the boat shot out through a concrete loophole like a bullet exiting the muzzle of a gun and ran at speed down a sluiceway and into an unnamed stream. When it joined the boiling, swollen Penobscot River twenty minutes later, the first rifts of blue had begun to show in the sky overhead. The storm was over.

The boat dipped and swayed and sometimes took on water, but it did not sink; the two brothers had waterproofed it well. I do not know where it finally fetched up, if ever it did; perhaps it reached the sea and sails there forever, like a magic boat in a fairytale. All I know is that it was still afloat and still running on the breast of the flood when it passed the incorporated town limits of Derry, Maine, and there it passes out of this tale forever.

C H A P T E R 2

After the Festival (1984)


The reason Adrian was wearing the hat, his sobbing boyfriend would later tell the police, was because he had won it at the Pitch Til U Win stall on the Bassey Park fairgrounds just six days before his death. He was proud of it.

'He was wearing it because he loved this shitty little town!' the boyfriend, Don Hagarty, screamed at the cops.

'Now, now - there's no need for that sort of language,' Officer Harold Gardener told Hagarty. Harold Gardener was one of Dave Gardener's our sons. On the day his father had discovered the lifeless, one-armed body of George Denbrough, Harold Gardener had been five. On this day, almost twenty-seven years later, he was thirty-two and balding. Harold Gardener recognized the reality of Don Hagarty's grief and pain, and at the same time found it impossible to take seriously. This man - if you want to call him a man - was wearing lipstick and satin pants so tight you could almost read the wrinkles in his cock. Grief or no grief, pain or no pain, he was, after all, just a queer. Like his friend, the late Adrian Mellon.

'Let's go through it again,' Harold's partner, Jeffrey Reeves, said. 'The two of you came out of the Falcon and turned toward the Canal. Then what?'

'How many times do I have to tell you idiots?' Hagarty was still screaming. 'They killed him! They pushed him over the side! Just another day in Macho City for them!' Don Hagarty began to cry.

'One more time,' Reeves repeated patiently. 'You came out of the Falcon. Then what?'


In an interrogation room just down the hall, two Derry cops were speaking with Steve Dubay, seventeen; in the Clerk of Probate's office upstairs, two more were questioning John 'Webby' Garton, eighteen; and in the Chief of Police's office on the fifth floor, Chief Andrew Rademacher and Assistant District Attorney Tom Boutillier were questioning fifteen-year-old Christopher Unwin. Unwin, who wore faded jeans, a grease-smeared tee-shirt, and blocky engineer boots, was weeping. Rademacher and Boutillier had taken him because they had quite accurately assessed him as the weak link in the chain.

'Let's go through it again,' Boutillier said in this office just as Jeffrey Reeves was saying the same thing two floors down.

'We didn't mean to kill him,' Unwin blubbered. 'It was the hat. We couldn't believe he was still wearing the hat after, you know, after what Webby said the first time. And I guess we wanted to scare him.'

'For what he said,' Chief Rademacher interjected.


'To John Garton, on the afternoon of the 17th.'

'Yes, to Webby.' Unwin burst into fresh tears. 'But we tried to save him when we saw he was in trouble . . . at least me and Stevie Dubay did . . . we didn't mean to kill him!'

'Come on, Chris, don't shit us,' Boutillier said. 'You threw the little queer into the Canal.'

'Yes, but - '

'And the three of you came in to make a clean breast of things. Chief Rademacher and I appreciate that, don't we, Andy?'

'You bet. It takes a man to own up to what he did, Chris.'

'So don't fuck yourself up by lying now. You meant to throw him over the minute you saw him and his fag buddy coming out of the Falcon, didn't you?'

'No!' Chris Unwin protested vehemently.

Boutillier took a pack of Marlboros from his shirt pocket and stuck one in his mouth. He offered the pack to Unwin. 'Cigarette?'

Unwin took one. Boutillier had to chase the tip with a match in order to give him a light because of the way Unwin's mouth was trembling.

'But when you saw he was wearing the hat?' Rademacher asked.

Unwin dragged deep, lowered his head so that his greasy hair fell in his eyes, and jetted smoke from his nose, which was littered with blackheads.

'Yeah,' he said, almost too softly to be heard.

Boutillier leaned forward, brown eyes gleaming. His face was predatory but his voice was gentle. 'What, Chris?'

'I said yes. I guess so. To throw him in. But not to kill him.' He looked up at them, face frantic and miserable and still unable to comprehend the stupendous changes which had taken place in his life since he left the house to take in the last night of Derry's Canal Days Festival with two of his buddies at seven-thirty the previous evening. 'Not to kill him!' he repeated. 'And that guy under the bridge . . . I still don't know who he was.'

'What guy was that?' Rademacher asked, but without much interest. They had heard this part before as well, and neither of them believed it - sooner or later men accused of murder almost always drag out that mysterious other guy. Boutillier even had a name for it: he called it the 'One-Armed Man Syndrome,' after that old TV series The Fugitive.

'The guy in the clown suit,' Chris Unwin said, and shivered. 'The guy with the balloons.'


The Canal Days Festival, which ran from July 15th to July 21st, had been a rousing success, most Derry residents agreed: a great thing for the city's morale, image . . . and pocketbook. The week-long festival was pegged to mark the centenary of the opening of the Canal which ran through the middle of downtown. It had been the Canal which had fully opened Derry to the lumber trade in the years 1884 to 1910; it had been the Canal which had birthed Derry's boom years.

The town was spruced up from east to west and north to south. Potholes which some residents swore hadn't been patched for ten years or more were neatly filled with hottop and rolled smooth. The town buildings were refurbished on the inside, repainted on the outside. The worst of the graffiti in Bassey Park - much of it coolly logical anti-gay statements such as KILL ALL QUEERS and AIDS FROM GOD YOU HELLHOUND HOMOS!! - was sanded off the benches and wooden walls of the little covered walkway over the Canal known as the Kissing Bridge.

A Canal Days Museum was installed in three empty store-fronts downtown, and filled with exhibits by Michael Hanlon, a local librarian and amateur historian. The town's oldest families loaned freely of their almost priceless treasures, and during the week of the festival nearly forty thousand visitors paid a quarter each to look at eating-house menus from the 1890s, loggers' bitts, axes, and peaveys from the 1880s, children's toys from the 1920s, and over two thousand photographs and nine reels of movie film of life as it had been in Derry over the last hundred years.

The museum was sponsored by the Derry Ladies' Society, which vetoed some of Hanlon's proposed exhibits (such as the notorious tramp-chair from the 1930s) and photographs (such as those of the Bradley Gang after the notorious shoot-out). But all agreed it was a great success, and no one really wanted to see those gory old things anyway. It was so much better to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, as the old song said.

There was a huge striped refreshment tent in Derry Park, and band concerts there every night. In Bassey Park there was a carnival with rides by Smokey's Greater Shows and games run by local townfolk. A special tram-car circled the historic sections of the town every hour on the hour and ended up at this gaudy and amiable money-machine.

It was here that Adrian Mellon won the hat which would get him killed, the paper top-hat with the flower and the band which said I ? DERRY!


'I'm tired,' John 'Webby' Garton said. Like his two friends, he was dressed in unconscious imitation of Bruce Springsteen, although if asked he would probably call Springsteen a wimp or a fagola and would instead profess admiration for such 'bitchin' heavy-metal groups as Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, or Judas Priest. The sleeves of his plain blue tee-shirt were torn off, showing his heavily muscled arms. His thick brown hair fell over one eye - this touch was more John Cougar Mellencamp than Springsteen. There were blue tattoos on his arms - arcane symbols which looked as if they had been drawn by a child. 'I don't want to talk no more.'

'Just tell us about Tuesday afternoon at the fair,' Paul Hughes said. Hughes was tired and shocked and dismayed by this whole sordid business. He thought again and again that it was as if Derry Canal Days ended with one final event which everyone had somehow known about but which no one had quite dared to put down on the Daily Program of Events. If they had, it would have looked like this:

Saturday, 9:00 P.M.: Final band concert featuring the Derry High School Band and the Barber Shop Mello-Men.

Saturday, 10:00 P.M.: Giant fireworks show.

Saturday, 10:35 P.M.: Ritual sacrifice of Adrian Mellon officially ends Canal Days.

'Fuck the fair,' Webby replied.

'Just what you said to Mellon and what he said to you.'

'Oh Christ.' Webby rolled his eyes.

'Come on, Webby,' Hughes's partner said.

Webby Garton rolled his eyes and began again.


Garton saw the two of them, Mellon and Hagarty, mincing along with their arms about each other's waists and giggling like a couple of girls. At first he actually thought they were a couple of girls. Then he recognized Mellon, who had been pointed out to him before. As he looked, he saw Mellon turn to Hagarty . . . and they kissed briefly.

'Oh, man, I'm gonna barf!' Webby cried, disgusted.

Chris Unwin and Steve Dubay were with him. When Webby pointed out Mellon, Steve Dubay said he thought the other fag was named Don somebody, and that he'd picked up a kid from Derry High hitching and then tried to put a few moves on him.

Mellon and Hagarty began to move toward the three boys again, walking away from the Pitch Til U Win and toward the carny's exit. Webby Garton would later tell Officers Hughes and Conley that his 'civic pride' had been wounded by seeing a fucking faggot wearing a hat which said I LOVE DERRY. It was a silly thing, that hat - a paper imitation of a top hat with a great big flower sticking up from the top and nodding about in every direction. The silliness of the hat apparently wounded Webby's civic pride even more.

As Mellon and Hagarty passed, each with his arm linked about the other's waist, Webby Garton yelled out: 'I ought to make you eat that hat, you fucking ass-bandit!'

Mellon turned toward Garton, fluttered his eyes flirtatiously, and said: 'If you want something to eat, hon, I can find something much tastier than my hat.'

At this point Webby Garton decided he was going to rearrange the faggot's face. In the geography of Mellon's face, mountains would rise and continents would drift. Nobody suggested he sucked the root. Nobody.

He started toward Mellon. Mellon's friend Hagarty, alarmed, attempted to pull Mellon away, but Mellon stood his ground, smiling. Garton would later tell Officers Hughes and Conley that he was pretty sure Mellon was high on something. So he was, Hagarty would agree when this idea was passed on to him by Officers Gardener and Reeves. He was high on two fried doughboys smeared with honey, on the carnival, on the whole day. He had been consequently unable to recognize the real menace which Webby Garton represented.

'But that was Adrian,' Don said, using a tissue to wipe his eyes and smearing the spangled eyeshadow he was wearing. 'He didn't have much in the way of protective coloration. He was one of those fools who think things really are going to turn out all right.'

He might have been badly hurt there and then if Garton hadn't felt something tap his elbow. It was a nightstick. He turned his head to see Officer Frank Machen, another member of Derry's Finest.

'Never mind, little buddy,' Machen told Garton. 'Mind your business and leave those little gay boyos alone. Have some fun.'

'Did you hear what he called me?' Garton asked body. He was now joined by Unwin and Dubay - the two of them, smelling trouble, tried to urge Garton on up the midway, but Garton shrugged them away, would have turned on them with his fists if they had persisted. His masculinity had borne an insult which he felt must be avenged. Nobody suggested he sucked the root. Nobody.

'I don't believe he called you anything,' Machen replied. 'And you spoke to him first, I believe. Now move on, sonny. I don't want to have to tell you again.'

'He called me a queer!'

'Are you worried you might be, then?' Machen asked, seeming to be honestly interested, and Garton flushed a deep ugly red.

During this exchange, Hagarty was trying with increasing desperation to pull Adrian Mellon away from the scene. Now, at last, Mellon was going.

'Ta-ta, love!' Adrian called cheekily over his shoulder.

'Shut up, candy-ass,' Machen said. 'Get out of here.'

Garton made a lunge at Mellon, and Machen grabbed him.

'I can run you in, my friend,' Machen said, 'and the way you're acting, it might not be such a bad idea.'

'Next time I see you I'm gonna hurt you!' Garton bellowed after the departing pair, and heads turned to stare at him. 'And if you're wearing that hat, I'm gonna kill you! This town don't need no faggots like you!'

Without turning, Mellon waggled the fingers of his left hand - the nails were painted cerise - and put an extra little wiggle in his walk. Garton lunged again.

'One more word or one more move and in you go,' Machen said mildly. 'Trust me, my boy, for I mean exactly what I say.'

'Come on, Webby,' Chris Unwin said uneasily. 'Mellow out.'

'You like guys like that?' Webby asked Machen, ignoring Chris and Steve completely. 'Huh?'

'About the bum-punchers I'm neutral,' Machen said. 'What I'm really in favor of is peace and quiet, and you are upsetting what I like, pizza face. Now do you want to go a round with me or what?'

'Come on, Webby,' Steve Dubay said quietly. 'Let's go get some hot dogs.'

Webby went, straightening his shirt with exaggerated moves and brushing the hair out of his eyes. Machen, who also gave a statement on the morning following Adrian Mellon's death, said: 'The last thing I heard him say as him and his buddies walked off was, "Next time I see him he's going to be in serious hurt."'


'Please, I got to talk to my mother,' Steve Dubay said for the third time. 'I've got to get her to mellow out my stepfather, or there is going to be one hell of a punching-match when I get home.'

'In a little while,' Officer Charles Avarino told him. Both Avarino and his partner, Barney Morrison, knew that Steve Dubay would not be going home tonight and maybe not for many nights to come. The boy did not seem to realize just how heavy this particular bust was, and Avarino would not be surprised when he learned, later on, that Dubay had left school at age sixteen. At that time he had still been in Water Street Junior High. His IQ was 68, according to the Wechsler he had taken during one of his three trips through the seventh grade.

'Tell us what happened when you saw Mellon coming out of the Falcon,' Morrison invited.

'No, man, I better not.'

'Well, why not?' Avarino asked.

'I already talked too much, maybe.'

'You came in to talk,' Avarino said. 'Isn't that right?'

'Well . . . yeah . . . but . . . '

'Listen,' Morrison said warmly, sitting down next to Dubay and shooting him a cigarette. 'You think me and Chick here like fags?'

'I don't know - '

'Do we look like we like fags?'

'No, but . . . '

'We're your friends, Steve-o,' Morrison said solemnly. 'And believe me, you and Chris and Webby need all the friends you can get just about now. Because tomorrow every bleeding heart in this town is going to be screaming for you guys's blood.'

Steve Dubay looked dimly alarmed. Avarino, who could almost read this hairbag's pussy little mind, suspected he was thinking about his stepfather again. And although Avarino had no liking for Derry's small gay community - like every other cop on the force, he would enjoy seeing the Falcon shut up forever - he would have been delighted to drive Dubay home himself. He would, in fact, have been delighted to hold Dubay's arms while Dubay's stepfather beat the creep to oatmeal. Avarino did not like gays, but this did not mean he believed they should be tortured and murdered. Mellon had been savaged. When they brought him up from under the Canal bridge, his eyes had been open, bulging with terror. And this guy here had absolutely no idea of what he had helped do.

'We didn't mean to hurt 'im,' Steve repeated. This was his fall-back position when he became even slightly confused.

'That's why you want to get out front with us,' Avarino said earnestly. 'Get the true facts of the matter out in front, and this maybe won't amount to a pisshole in the snow. Isn't that right, Barney?'

'As rain,' Morrison agreed.

'One more time, what do you say?' Avarino coaxed.

'Well . . . ' Steve said, and then, slowly, began to talk.


When the Falcon was opened in 1973, Elmer Curtie thought his clientele would consist mostly of bus-riders - the terminal next door serviced three different lines: Trailways, Greyhound, and Aroostook County. What he failed to realize was how many of the passengers who ride buses are women or families with small children in tow. Many of the others kept their bottles in brown bags and never got off the bus at all. Those who did were usually soldiers or sailors who wanted no more than a quick beer or two - you couldn't very well go on a bender during a ten-minute rest-stop.

Curtie had begun to realize some of these home truths by 1977, but by then it was too late: he was up to his tits in bills and there was no way that he could see out of the red ink. The idea of burning the place down for the insurance occurred to him, but unless he hired a professional to torch it, he supposed he would be caught . . . and he had no idea where professional arsonists hung out, anyway.

He decided in February of that year that he would give it until July 4th; if things didn't look as if they were turning around by then, he would simply walk next door, get on a 'hound, and see how things looked down in Florida.

But in the next five months, an amazing quiet sort of prosperity came to the bar, which was painted black and gold inside and decorated with stuffed birds (Elmer Curtie's brother had been an amateur taxidermist who specialized in birds, and Elmer had inherited the stuff when he died). Suddenly, instead of drawing sixty beers and pouring maybe twenty drinks a night, Elmer was drawing eighty beers and pouring a hundred drinks . . . a hundred and twenty . . . sometimes a hundred and sixty.

His clientele was young, polite, almost exclusively male. Many of them dressed outrageously, but those were years when outrageous dress was still almost the norm, and Elmer Curtie did not realize that his patrons were just about almost exclusively gay until 1981 or so. If Derry residents had heard him say this, they would have laughed and said that Elmer Curtie must think they had all been born yesterday - but his claim was perfectly true. Like the man with the cheating wife, he was practically the last to know . . . and by the time he did, he didn't care. The bar was making money, and while there were four other bars in Derry which turned a profit, the Falcon was the only one where rambunctious patrons did not regularly demolish the whole place. There were no women to fight over, for one thing, and these men, fags or not, seemed to have learned a secret of getting along with each other which their heterosexual counterparts did not know.

Once he became aware of the sexual preference of his regulars, he seemed to hear lurid stories about the Falcon everywhere - these stories had been circulating for years, but until '81 Curtie simply hadn't heard them. The most enthusiastic tellers of these tales, he came to realize, were men who wouldn't be dragged into the Falcon with a chainfall for fear all the muscles would go out of their wrists, or something. Yet they seemed privy to all sorts of information.

According to the stories, you could go in there any night and see men close-dancing, rubbing their cocks together right out on the dancefloor; men french-kissing at the bar; men getting blow jobs in the bathrooms. There was supposedly a room out back where you went if you wanted to spend a little time on the Tower of Power - there was a big old fellow in a Nazi uniform back there who kept his arm greased most of the way to the shoulder and who would be happy to take care of you.

In fact, none of these things was true. When folks with a thirst did come in from the bus station for a beer or a highball, they sensed nothing out of the ordinary in the Falcon at all - there were a lot of guys, sure, but that was no different from thousands of workingmen's bars all across the country. The clientele was gay, but gay was not a synonym for stupid. If they wanted a little outrageousness, they went to Portland. If they wanted a lot of outrageousness - Ramrod-style outrageousness or Peck's Big Boy-style outrageousness - they went down to New York or Boston. Derry was small, Derry was provincial, and Derry's small gay community understood the shadow under which it existed quite well.

Don Hagarty had been coming into the Falcon for two or three years on the night in March of 1984 when he first showed up with Adrian Mellon. Before then, Hagarty had been the sort who plays the field, rarely showing up with the same escort half a dozen times. But by late April it had become obvious even to Elmer Curtie, who cared very little about such things, that Hagarty and Mellon had a steady thing going.

Hagarty was a draftsman with an engineering firm in Bangor. Adrian Mellon was a freelance writer who published anywhere and everywhere he could - airline magazines, confession magazines, regional magazines, Sunday supplements, sex-letter magazines. He had been working on a novel, but maybe that wasn't serious - he had been working on it since his third year of college, and that had been twelve years ago.

He had come to Derry to write a piece about the Canal - he was on assignment from New England Byways, a glossy bi-monthly that was published in Concord. Adrian Mellon had taken the assignment because he could squeeze Byways for three weeks' worth of expense money, including a nice room at the Derry Town House, and gather all the material he needed for the piece in maybe five days. During the other two weeks he could gather enough material for maybe four other regional pieces.

But during that three-week period he met Don Hagarty, and instead of going back to Portland when his three weeks on the cuff were over, he found himself a small apartment on Kossuth Lane. He lived there for only six weeks. Then he moved in with Don Hagarty.


That summer, Hagarty told Harold Gardener and Jeff Reeves, was the happiest summer of his life - he should have been on the lookout, he said; he should have known that God only puts a rug under guys like him in order to jerk it out from under their feet.

The only shadow, he said, was Adrian's extravagantly partisan reaction to Derry. He had a tee-shirt which said MAINE AIN'T BAD BUT DERRY'S GREAT! He had a Derry Tigers high-school jacket. And of course there was the hat. He claimed to find the atmosphere vital and creatively invigorating. Perhaps there was something to this: he had taken his languishing novel out of the trunk for the first time in nearly a year.

'Was he really working on it, then?' Gardener asked Hagarty, not really caring but wanting to keep Hagarty primed.

'Yes - he was busting pages. He said it might be a terrible novel, but it was no longer going to be a terrible unfinished novel. He expected to finish it by his birthday, in October. Of course, he didn't know what Derry was really like. He thought he did, but he hadn't been here long enough to get a whiff of the real Derry. I kept trying to tell him, but he wouldn't listen.'

'And what's Derry really like, Don?' Reeves asked.

'It's a lot like a dead strumpet with maggots squirming out of her cooze,' Don Hagarty said.

The two cops stared in silent amazement.

'It's a bad place,' Hagarty said. 'It's a sewer. You mean you two guys don't know that? You two guys have lived here all of your lives and you don't know that?'

Neither of them answered. After a little while, Hagarty went on.


Until Adrian Mellon entered his life, Don had been planning to leave Derry. He had been there for three years, mostly because he had agreed to a long-term lease on an apartment with the world's most fantastic river-view, but now the lease was almost up and Don was glad. No more long commute back and forth to Bangor. No more weird vibes - in Derry, he once told Adrian, it always felt like thirteen o'clock. Adrian might think Derry was a great place, but it scared Don. It was not just the town's tightly homophobic attitude, an attitude as clearly expressed by the town's preachers as by the graffiti in Bassey Park, but that was one thing he had been able to put his finger on. Adrian had laughed.

'Don, every town in America has a contingent that hates the gayfolk,' he said. 'Don't tell me you don't know that. This is, after all, the era of Ronnie Moron and Phyllis Housefly.'

'Come down to Bassey Park with me," Don had replied, after seeing that Adrian really meant what he was saying - and what he was really saying was that Derry was no worse than any other fair-sized town in the hinterlands. 'I want to show you something, my love.'

They drove to Bassey Park - this had been in mid-June, about a month before Adrian's murder, Hagarty told the cops. He took Adrian into the dark, vaguely unpleasant-smelling shadows of the Kissing Bridge. He pointed out one of the graffiti. Adrian had to strike a match and hold it below the writing in order to read it.


'I know how people feel about gays,' Don said quietly. 'I got beaten up at a truck-stop in Dayton when I was a teenager; some fellows in Portland set my shoes on fire outside of a sandwich shop while this fat-assed old cop sat inside his cruiser and laughed. I've seen a lot . . . but I've never seen anything quite like this. Look over here. Check it out.'


'Whoever writes these little homilies has got a case of the deep-down crazies. I'd feel better if I thought it was just one person, one isolated sickie, but . . . ' Don swept his arm vaguely down the length of the Kissing Bridge. 'There's a lot of this stuff . . . and I just don't think one person did it all. That's why I want to leave Derry, Ade. Too many places and too many people seem to have the deep-down crazies.'

'Well, wait until I finish my novel, okay? Please? October, I promise, no later. The air's better here.'

'He didn't know it was the water he was going to have to watch out for,' Don Hagarty said bitterly.


Tom Boutillier and Chief Rademacher leaned forward, neither of them speaking. Chris Unwin sat with his head down, talking monotonously to the floor. This was the part they wanted to hear; this was the part that was going to send at least two of these assholes to Thomaston.

'The fair wasn't no good,' Unwin said. 'They was already takin down all the bitchin rides, you know, like the Devil Dish and the Parachute Drop. They already had a sign on the Bumper Cars that said "closed." Wasn't nothing open but baby rides. So we went down by the games and Webby saw the Pitch Til U Win and he paid fifty cents and he seen that hat the queer was wearing and he pitched at that, but he kept missing it, and every time he missed he got more in a bad mood, you know? And Steve - he's the guy who usually goes around saying mellow out, like mellow out this and mellow out that and why don't you fuckin mellow out, you know? Only he was in a real piss-up-a-rope mood because he took this pill, you know? I don't know what kind of a pill. A red pill. Maybe it was even legal. But he keeps after Webby until I thought Webby was gonna hit him, you know. He goes. You can't even win that queer's hat. You must be really wasted if you can't even win that queer's hat. So finally the lady gives im a prize even though the ring wasn't over it, cause I think she wanted to get rid of us. I don't know. Maybe she didn't. But I think she did. It was this noise-maker thing, you know? You blow it and it puffs up and unrolls and makes a noise like a fart, you know? I used to have one of those. I got it for Halloween or New Year's or some fuckin holiday, I thought it was pretty good, only I lost it. Or maybe somebody hawked it out of my pocket in the fuckin playyard at school, you know? So then the fair's closin and we're walkin out and Steve's still on Webby about not bein able to win that queer's hat, you know, and Webby ain't sayin much, and I know that's a bad sign but I was pretty 'faced, you know? So I knew I ought to like change the subject only I couldn't think of no subject, you know? So when we get into the parkin lot Steve says, Where you want to go? Home? And Webby goes, Let's cruise by the Falcon first and see if that queer's around.'

Boutillier and Rademacher exchanged a glance. Boutillier raised a single finger and tapped it against his cheek: although this doofus in the engineer boots didn't know it, he was now talking about first-degree murder.

'So I goes no, I gotta get home, and Webby goes, You scared to go by that queer-bar? And I go, Fuck no! And Steve's still high or something, and he says, Let's go grease some queermeat! Let's go grease some queermeat! Let's go grease . . . '


The timing was just right enough so that things worked out wrong for everyone. Adrian Mellon and Don Hagarty came out of the Falcon after two beers, walked up past the bus station, and then linked hands. Neither of them thought about it; it was just something they did. It was ten-twenty. They reached the corner and turned left.

The Kissing Bridge was almost half a mile upriver from here; they meant to cross Main Street Bridge, which was much less picturesque. The Kenduskeag was summer-low, no more than four feet of water sliding listlessly around the concrete pilings.

When the Duster drew abreast of them (Steve Dubay had spotted the two of them coming out of the Falcon and gleefully pointed them out), they were on the edge of the span.

'Cut in! Cut in!' Webby Garton screamed. The two men had just passed under a streetlight and he had spotted the fact that they were holding hands. This infuriated him . . . but not as much as the hat infuriated him. The big paper flower was nodding crazily this way and that. 'Cut in, goddammit!'

And Steve did.

Chris Unwin would deny active participation in what followed, but Don Hagarty told a different story. He said that Garton was out of the car almost before it stopped, and that the other two quickly followed. There was talk. Not good talk. There was no attempt at flippancy or false coquetry on Adrian's part this night; he recognized that they were in a lot of trouble.

'Give me that hat,' Garton said. 'Give it to me, queer.'

'If I do, will you leave us alone?' Adrian was wheezing with fright, almost crying, looking from Unwin to Dubay to Garton with terrified eyes.

'Just give me the fucker!'

Adrian handed it over. Garton produced a switchknife from the left front pocket of his jeans and cut it into two pieces. He rubbed the pieces against the seat of his jeans. Then he dropped them to his feet and stomped them.

Don Hagarty backed away a little while their attention was divided between Adrian and the hat - he was looking, he said, for a cop.

'Now will you let us al - ' Adrian Mellon began, and that was when Garton punched him in the face, driving him back against the waist-high pedestrian railing of the bridge. Adrian screamed, clapping his hands to his mouth. Blood poured through his fingers.

'Ade!' Hagarty cried, and ran forward again. Dubay tripped him. Garton booted him in the stomach, knocking him off the sidewalk and into the roadway. A car passed. Hagarty rose to his knees and screamed at it. It didn't slow. The driver, he told Gardener and Reeves, never even looked around.

'Shut up, queer!' Dubay said, and kicked him in the side of the face. Hagarty fell on his side in the gutter, semiconscious.

A few moments later he heard a voice - Chris Unwin's - telling him to get away before he got what his friend was getting. In his own statement Unwin verified giving this warning.

Hagarty could hear thudding blows and the sound of his lover screaming. Adrian sounded like a rabbit in a snare, he told the police. Hagarty crawled back toward the intersection and the bright lights of the bus station, and when he was a distance away he turned back to look.

Adrian Mellon, who stood about five-five and might have weighed a hundred and thirty-five pounds soaking wet, was being pushed from Garton to Dubay to Unwin in a kind of triple play. His body jittered and flopped like the body of a rag doll. They were punching him, pummelling him, ripping at his clothes. As he watched, he said, Garton punched Adrian in the crotch. Adrian's hair hung in his face. Blood poured out of his mouth and soaked his shirt. Webby Garton wore two heavy rings on his right hand: one was a Derry High School ring, the other one he had made in shop class - an intertwined brass DB stood out three inches from this latter. The letters stood for the Dead Bugs, a metal band he particularly admired. The rings had torn Adrian's upper lip open and shattered three of his upper teeth at the gum line.

'Help!' Hagarty shrieked. 'Help! Help! They're killing him! Help!'

The buildings of Main Street loomed dark and secret. No one came to help - not even from the one white island of light which marked the bus station, and Hagarty did not see how that could be: there were people in there. He had seen them when he and Ade walked past. Would none of them come to help? None at all?


'Help,' a very small voice whispered from Don Hagarty's left . . . and then there was a giggle.

'Bum's rush!' Garton was yelling now . . . yelling and laughing. All three of them, Hagarty told Gardener and Reeves, had been laughing while they beat Adrian up. 'Bum's rush! Over the side!'

'Bum's rush! Bum's rush! Bum's rush!' Dubay chanted, laughing.

'Help,' the small voice said again, and although the voice was grave, that little giggle followed again - it was like the voice of a child who cannot help itself.

Hagarty looked down and saw the clown - and it was at this point that Gardener and Reeves began to discount everything that Hagarty said, because the rest was the raving of a lunatic. Later, however, Harold Gardener found himself wondering. Later, when he found that the Unwin boy had also seen a clown - or said he had - he began to have second thoughts. His partner either never had them or would never admit to them.

The clown, Hagarty said, looked like a cross between Ronald McDonald and that old TV clown, Bozo - or so he thought at first. It was the wild tufts of orange hair that brought such comparisons to mind. But later consideration had caused him to think the clown really looked like neither. The smile painted over the white pancake was red, not orange, and the eyes were a weird shiny silver. Contact lenses, perhaps . . . but a part of him thought then and continued to think that maybe that silver had been the real color of those eyes. He wore a baggy suit with big orange-pompom buttons; on his hands were cartoon gloves.

'If you need help, Don,' the clown said, 'help yourself to a balloon.'

And it offered the bunch it held in one hand.

'They float,' the clown said. 'Down here we all float; pretty soon your friend will float too.'


'This clown called you by name,' Jeff Reeves said in a totally expressionless voice. He looked over Hagarty's bent head at Harold Gardener, and one eye drew down in a wink.

'Yes,' Hagarty said, not looking up. 'I know how it sounds.'


'So then you threw him over,' Boutillier said. 'Bum's rush." 'Not me!' Unwin said, looking up. He flicked the hair out of his eyes with one hand and stared at them urgently. 'When I saw they really meant to do it, I tried to pull Steve away, because I knew the guy might get banged up . . . . It was like ten feet to the water . . . . '

It was twenty-three. One of Chief Rademacher's patrolmen had already measured.

'But it was like he was crazy. The two of them kept yelling "Bum's rush! Bum's rush!" and they picked him up. Webby had him under the arms and Steve had him by the seat of the pants, and . . . and . . . '


When Hagarty saw what they were doing, he rushed back toward them, screaming 'No! No! No!' at the top of his voice.

Chris Unwin pushed him backward and Hagarty landed in a teeth-rattling heap on the sidewalk. 'Do you want to go over, too?' he whispered. 'You run, baby!'

They threw Adrian Mellon over the bridge and into the water then. Hagarty heard the splash.

'Let's get out of here,' Steve Dubay said. He and Webby were backing toward the car.

Chris Unwin went to the railing and looked over. He saw Hagarty first, sliding and clawing his way down the weedy, trash-littered embankment to the water. Then he saw the clown. The clown was dragging Adrian out on the far side with one arm; its balloons were in its other hand. Adrian was dripping wet, choking, moaning. The clown twisted its head and grinned up at Chris. Chris said he saw its shining silver eyes and its bared teeth - great big teeth, he said.

'Like the lion in the circus, man,' he said. 'I mean, they were that big.'

Then, he said, he saw the clown shove one of Adrian Mellon's arms back so it lay over his head.

Then what, Chris?' Boutillier said. He was bored with this part. Fairy tales had bored him since the age of eight on.

'I dunno,' Chris said. 'That was when Steve grabbed me and hauled me into the car. But . . . I think it bit into his armpit.' He looked up at them again, uncertain now. 'I think that's what it did. Bit into his armpit.

'Like it wanted to eat him, man. Like it wanted to eat his heart.'


No, Hagarty said when he was presented with Chris Unwin's story in the form of questions. The clown did not drag Ade up on the far bank, at least not that he saw - and he would grant that he had been something less than a disinterested observer by that point; by that point he had been out of his fucking mind.

The clown, he said, was standing near the far bank with Adrian's dripping body clutched in its arms. Ade's right arm was stuck stiffly out behind the clown's head, and the clown's face was indeed in Ade's right armpit, but it was not biting: it was smiling. Hagarty could see it looking out from beneath Ade's arm and smiling.

The clown's arms tightened, and Hagarty heard ribs splinter.

Ade shrieked.

'Float with us, Don,' the clown said out of its grinning red mouth, and then pointed with one of its white-gloved hands under the bridge.

Balloons floated against the underside of the bridge - not a dozen or a dozen dozens but thousands, red and blue and green and yellow, and printed on the side of each was I LOVE DERRY!


'Well now, that surely does sound like a lot of balloons,' Reeves said, and

tipped Harold Gardener another wink.

'I know how it sounds,' Hagarty reiterated in the same dreary voice.

'You saw those balloons,' Gardener said.

Don Hagarty slowly held his hands up in front of his face. 'I saw them as clearly as I can see my own fingers at this moment. Thousands of them. You couldn't even see the underside of the bridge - there were too many of them. They were rippling a little, and sort of bouncing up and down. There was a sound. A funny low squealing noise. That was their sides rubbing together. And strings. There was a forest of white strings hanging down. They looked like white strands of spiderweb. The clown took Ade under there. I could see its suit brushing through those strings. Ade was making awful choking sounds. I started after him . . . and the clown looked back. I saw its eyes, and all at once I understood who it was.'

'Who was it, Don?' Harold Gardener asked softly.

'It was Derry,' Don Hagarty said. 'It was this town.'

'And what did you do then?' It was Reeves.

'I ran, you dumb shit,' Hagarty said, and burst into tears.


Harold Gardener kept his peace until November 13th, the day before John Garton and Steven Dubay were to go on trial in Derry District Court for the murder of Adrian Mellon. Then he went to see Tom Boutillier. He wanted to talk about the clown. Boutillier didn't - but when he saw Gardener might do something stupid without a little guidance, he did.

There was no clown, Harold. The only clowns out that night were those three kids. You know that as well as I do.'

'We have two witnesses - '

'Oh, that's crap. Unwin decided to bring on the One-Armed Man, as in "We didn't kill the poor little faggot, it was the one-armed man," as soon as he understood he'd really gotten his buns into some hot water this time. Hagarty was hysterical. He stood by and watched those kids murder his best friend. It wouldn't have surprised me if he'd seen flying saucers.'

But Boutillier knew better. Gardener could see it in his eyes, and the Assistant DA's ducking and dodging irritated him.

'Come on,' he said. 'We're talking about independent witnesses here. Don't bullshit me.'

'Oh, you want to talk bullshit? Are you telling me you believe there was a vampire clown under the Main Street Bridge? Because that's my idea of bullshit.'

'No, not exactly, but - '

'Or that Hagarty saw a billion balloons under there, each imprinted with exactly the same thing as what was written on his lover's hat? Because that is also my idea of bullshit.'

'No, but - '

'Then why are you bothering with this?'

'Stop cross-examining me!' Gardener roared. 'They both described it the same and neither knew what the other one was saying!'

Boutillier had been sitting at his desk, playing with a pencil. Now he put the pencil down, got up, and walked over to Harold Gardener. Boutillier was five inches shorter, but Gardener retreated a step before the man's anger.

'Do you want us to lose this case, Harold?'

'No. Of course n - '

'Do you want those running sores to walk free?'


'Okay. Good. Since we both agree on the basics, I'll tell you exactly what I think. Yes, there was probably a man under the bridge that night. Maybe he was even wearing a clown suit, although I've dealt with enough witnesses to guess maybe it was just a stewbum or a transient wearing a bunch of cast-off clothes. I think he was probably down there scrounging for dropped change or roadmeat - half a burger someone chucked over the side, or maybe the crumbs from the bottom of a Frito bag. Their eyes did the rest, Harold. Now is that possible?'

'I don't know,' Harold said. He wanted to be convinced, but given the exact tally of the two descriptions . . . no. He didn't think it was possible.

'Here's the bottom line. I don't care if it was Kinko the Klown or a guy in an Uncle Sam suit on stilts or Hubert the Happy Homo. If we introduce this fellow into the case, their lawyer is going to be on it before you can say "Jack Robinson". He's going to say those two little innocent lambs out there with their fresh haircuts and new suits didn't do anything but toss that gay fellow Mellon over the side of the bridge for a joke. He'll point out that Mellon was still alive after he took the fall; they have Hagarty's testimony as well as Unwin's for that.

'His clients didn't commit murder, oh no! It was a psycho in a clown suit. If we introduce this, that's going to happen and you know it.'

'Unwin's going to tell that story anyhow.'

'But Hagarty isn't,' Boutillier said. 'Because he understands. Without Hagarty, who's going to believe Unwin?'

'Well, there's us,' Harold Gardener said with a bitterness that surprised even himself, 'but I guess we're not telling.'

'Oh, give me a break!' Boutillier roared, throwing up his hands. 'They killed him! They didn't just throw him over the side - Garton had a switchblade. Mellon was stabbed seven times, including once in the left lung and twice in the testicles. The wounds match the blade. Four of his ribs were broken - Dubay did that, bear-hugging him. He was bitten, all right. There were bites on his arms, his left cheek, his neck. I think that was Unwin and Garton, although we've only got one clear match, and that one's probably not clear enough to stand up in court. And so all right, there was a big chunk of meat gone from his right armpit, so what? One of them really liked to bite. Probably even got himself a pretty good bone-on while he was doing it. I'm betting Garton, although we'll never prove it. And Mellon's earlobe was gone.'

Boutillier stopped, glaring at Harold.

'If we let in this clown story we'll never bring it home to them. Do you want that?'

'No, I told you.'

'The guy was a fruit, but he wasn't hurting anyone,' Boutillier said. 'So hi-ho-the-dairy-o, along come these three pusholes in their engineer boots and they steal his life. I'm going to put them in the slam, my friend, and if I hear they got their puckery little assholes cored down there at Thomaston, I'm gonna send them cards saying I hope whoever did it had AIDS.'

Very fiery, Gardener thought. And the convictions will also look very good on your record when you run for the top spot in two years.

But he left without saying more, because he also wanted to see them put away.


John Webber Garton was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to ten to twenty years in Thomaston State Prison.

Steven Bishoff Dubay was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to fifteen years in Shawshank State Prison.

Christopher Philip Unwin was tried separately as a juvenile and convicted of second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to six months at the South Windham Boys' Training Facility, sentence suspended.

At the time of this writing, all three sentences are under appeal; Garton and Dubay may be seen on any given day girl-watching or playing Penny Pitch in Bassey Park, not far from where Mellon's torn body was found floating against one of the pilings of the Main Street Bridge.

Don Hagarty and Chris Unwin have left town.

At the major trial - that of Garton and Dubay - no one mentioned a clown.

C H A P T E R 3

Six Phone Calls (1985)


Stanley Uris Takes a Bath

Patricia Uris later told her mother she should have known something was wrong. She should have known it, she said, because Stanley never took baths in the early evening. He showered early each morning and sometimes soaked late at night (with a magazine in one hand and a cold beer in the other), but baths at 7:00 P.M. were not his style.

And then there was the thing about the books. It should have delighted him; instead, in some obscure way she did not understand, it seemed to have upset and depressed him. About three months before that terrible night, Stanley had discovered that a childhood friend of his had turned out to be a writer - not a real writer, Patricia told her mother, but a novelist. The name on the books was William Denbrough, but Stanley had sometimes called him Stuttering Bill. He had worked his way through almost all of the man's books; had, in fact, been reading the last on the night of the bath - the night of May 28th, 1985. Patty herself had picked up one of the earlier ones, out of curiosity. She had put it down after just three chapters.

It had not just been a novel, she told her mother later; it had been a horrorbook. She said it just that way, all one word, the way she would have said sexbook. Patty was a sweet, kind woman, but not terribly articulate - she had wanted to tell her mother how much that book had frightened her and why it had upset her, but had not been able. 'It was full of monsters,' she said. 'Full of monsters chasing after little children. There were killings, and . . . I don't know . . . bad feelings and hurt. Stuff like that.' It had, in fact, struck her as almost pornographic; that was the word which kept eluding her, probably because she had never in her life spoken it, although she knew what it meant. But Stan felt as if he'd rediscovered one of his childhood chums . . . . He talked about writing to him, but I knew he wouldn't . . . I knew those stories made him feel bad, too . . . and . . . and . . . '

And then Patty Uris began to cry.

That night, lacking roughly six months of being twenty-eight years from the day in 1957 when George Denbrough had met Pennywise the Clown, Stanley and Patty had been sitting in the den of their home in a suburb of Atlanta. The TV was on. Patty was sitting in the love-seat in front of it, dividing her attention between a pile of sewing and her favorite game-show, Family Feud. She simply adored Richard Dawson and thought the watch-chain he always wore was terribly sexy, although wild horses would not have drawn this admission out of her. She also liked the show because she almost always got the most popular answers (there were no right answers on Family Feud, exactly; only the most popular ones). She had once asked Stan why the questions that seemed so easy to her usually seemed so hard to the families on the show. 'It's probably a lot tougher when you're up there under those lights,' Stanley had replied, and it seemed to her that a shadow had drifted over his face. 'Everything's a lot tougher when it's for real. That's when you choke. When it's for real.'

That was probably very true, she decided. Stanley had really fine insights into human nature sometimes. Much finer, she considered, than his old friend William Denbrough, who had gotten rich writing a bunch of horrorbooks which appealed to people's baser natures.

Not that the Urises were doing so badly themselves! The suburb where they lived was a fine one, and the home which they had purchased for $87,000 in 1979 would probably now sell quickly and painlessly for $165,000 - not that she wanted to sell, but such things were good to know. She sometimes drove back from the Fox Run Mall in her Volvo (Stanley drove a Mercedes diesel - teasing him, she called it Sedanley) and saw her house, set tastefully back behind low yew hedges, and thought: Who lives there? Why, I do! Mrs Stanley Uris does! This was not an entirely happy thought; mixed with it was a pride so fierce that it sometimes made her feel a bit ill. Once upon a time, you see, there had been a lonely eighteen-year-old girl named Patricia Blum who had been refused entry to the after-prom party that was held at the country club in the upstate town of Glointon, New York. She had been refused admission, of course, because her last name rhymed with plum. That was her, just a skinny little kike plum, 1967 that had been, and such discrimination was against the law, of course, har-de-har-har-har, and besides, it was all over now. Except that for part of her it was never going to be over. Part of her would always be walking back to the car with Michael Rosenblatt, listening to the crushed gravel under her pumps and his rented formal shoes, back to his father's car, which Michael had borrowed for the evening, and which he had spent the afternoon waxing. Part of her would always be walking next to Michael in his rented white dinner jacket - how it had glimmered in the soft spring night! She had been in a pale green evening gown which her mother declared made her look like a mermaid, and the idea of a kike mermaid was pretty funny, har-de-har-har-har. They had walked with their heads up and she had not wept - not then - but she had understood they weren't walking back, no, not really; what they had been doing was slinking back, slinking, rhymes with stinking, both of them feeling more Jewish than they had ever felt in their lives, feeling like pawnbrokers, feeling like cattle-car riders, feeling oily, long-nosed, sallow-skinned; feeling like mockies sheenies kikes; wanting to feel angry and not being able to feel angry, the anger came only later, when it didn't matter. At that moment she had only been able to feel ashamed, had only been able to ache. And then someone had laughed. A high shrill tittering laugh like a fast run of notes on a piano, and in the car she had been able to weep, oh you bet, here is the kike mermaid whose name rhymes with plum just weeping away like crazy. Mike Rosenblatt had put a clumsy, comforting hand on the back of her neck and she had twisted away from it, feeling ashamed, feeling dirty, feeling Jewish.

The house set so tastefully back behind the yew hedges made that better . . . but not all better. The hurt and shame were still there, and not even being accepted in this quiet, sleekly well-to-do neighborhood could quite make that endless walk with the sound of grating stones beneath their shoes stop happening. Not even being members of this country club, where the maitre d' always greeted them with a quietly respectful 'Good evening, Mr and Mrs Uris.' She would come home, cradled in her 1984 Volvo, and she would look at her house sitting on its expanse of green lawn, and she would often - all too often, she supposed - think of that shrill titter. And she would hope that the girl who had tittered was living in a shitty tract house with a goy husband who beat her, that she had been pregnant three times and had miscarried each time, that her husband cheated on her with diseased women, that she had slipped discs and fallen arches and cysts on her dirty tittering tongue.

She would hate herself for these thoughts, these uncharitable thoughts, and promise to do better - to stop drinking these bitter gall-and-wormwood cocktails. Months would go by when she did not think such thoughts. She would think: Maybe all of that is finally past me. I am not that girl of eighteen anymore. I am a woman of thirty-six; the girl who heard the endless click and grate of those driveway stones, the girl who twisted away from Mike Rosenblatt's hand when he tried to comfort her because it was a Jewish hand, was half a life ago. That silly little mermaid is dead. I can forget her now and just be myself. Okay. Good. Great. But then she would be somewhere - at the supermarket, maybe - and she would hear sudden tittering laughter from the next aisle and her back would prickle, her nipples would go hard and hurtful, her hands would tighten on the bar of the shopping cart or just on each other, and she would think: Someone just told someone else that I'm Jewish, that I'm nothing but a bignose mockie kike, that Stanley's nothing but a bignose mockie kike, he's an accountant, sure, Jews are good with numbers, we let them into the country club, we had to, back in 1981 when that bignose mockie gynecologist won his suit, but we laugh at them, we laugh and laugh and laugh. Or she would simply hear the phantom click and grate of stones and think Mermaid! Mermaid!

Then the hate and shame would come flooding back like a migraine headache and she would despair not only for herself but for the whole human race. Werewolves. The book by Denbrough - the one she had tried to read and then put aside - was about werewolves. Werewolves, shit. What did a man like that know about werewolves?

Most of the time, however, she felt better than that - felt she was better than that. She loved her man, she loved her house, and she was usually able to love her life and herself. Things were good. They had not always been that way, of course - were things ever? When she accepted Stanley's engagement ring, her parents had been both angry and unhappy. She had met him at a sorority party. He had come over to her school from New York State University, where he was a scholarship student. They had been introduced by a mutual friend, and by the time the evening was over, she suspected that she loved him. By the mid-term break, she was sure. When spring came around and Stanley offered her a small diamond ring with a daisy pushed through it, she had accepted it.

In the end, in spite of their qualms, her parents had accepted it as well. There was little else they could do, although Stanley Uris would soon be sallying forth into a job-market glutted with young accountants - and when he went into that jungle, he would do so with no family finances to backstop him, and with their only daughter as his hostage to fortune. But Patty was twenty-two, a woman now, and would herself soon graduate with a BA.

'I'll be supporting that four-eyed son of a bitch for the rest of my life,' Patty had heard her father say one night. Her mother and father had gone out for dinner, and her father had drunk a little too much.

'Shh, she'll hear you,' Ruth Blum said.

Patty had lain awake that night until long after midnight, dry-eyed, alternately hot and cold, hating them both. She had spent the next two years trying to get rid of that hate; there was too much hate inside her already. Sometimes when she looked into the mirror she could see the things it was doing to her face, the fine lines it was drawing there. That was a battle she won. Stanley had helped her.

His own parents had been equally concerned about the marriage. They did not, of course, believe their Stanley was destined for a life of squalor and poverty, but they thought 'the kids were being hasty.' Donald Uris and Andrea Bertoly had themselves married in their early twenties, but they seemed to have forgotten the fact.

Only Stanley had seemed sure of himself, confident of the future, unconcerned with the pitfalls their parents saw strewn all about 'the kids.' And in the end it was his confidence rather than their fears which had been justified. In July of 1972, with the ink barely dry on her diploma, Patty had landed a job teaching shorthand and business English in Traynor, a small town forty miles south of Atlanta. When she thought of how she had come by that job, it always struck her as a little - well, eerie. She had made a list of forty possibles from the ads in the teachers' journals, then had written forty letters over five nights - eight each evening - requesting further information on the job, and an application for each. Twenty-two replies indicated that the positions had been filled. In other cases, a more detailed explanation of the skills needed made it clear she wasn't in the running; applying would only be a waste of her time and theirs. She had finished with a dozen possibles. Each looked as likely as any other. Stanley had come in while she was puzzling over them and wondering if she could possibly manage to fill out a dozen teaching applications without going totally bonkers. He looked at the strew of papers on the table and then tapped the letter from the Traynor Superintendent of Schools, a letter which to her looked no more or less encouraging than any of the others.

'There,' he said.

She looked up at him, startled by the simple certainty in his voice. 'Do you know something about Georgia that I don't?'

'Nope. Only time I was ever there was at the movies.'

She looked at him, an eyebrow cocked.

'Gone with the Wind. Vivien Leigh. Clark Gable. "I will think about it tomorrow, for tomorrow is anothah day." Do I sound like I come from the South, Patty?'

'Yes. South Bronx. If you don't know anything about Georgia and you've never been there, then why - '

'Because it's right.'

'You can't know that, Stanley.'

'Sure I can,' he said simply. 'I do.' Looking at him, she had seen he wasn't joking: he really meant it. She had felt a ripple of unease go up her back.

'How do you know?'

He had been smiling a little. Now the smile faltered, and for a moment he had seemed puzzled. His eyes had darkened, as if he looked inward, consulting some interior device which ticked and whirred correctly but which, ultimately, he understood no more than the average man understands the workings of the watch on his wrist.

'The turtle couldn't help us,' he said suddenly. He said that quite clearly. She heard it. That inward look - that look of surprised musing - was still on his face, and it was starting to scare her.

'Stanley? What are you talking about? Stanley?

He jerked. She had been eating peaches as she went over the applications, and his hand struck the dish. It fell on the floor and broke. His eyes seemed to clear.

'Oh, shit! I'm sorry.'

'It's all right. Stanley - what were you talking about?'

'I forget,' he said. 'But I think we ought to think Georgia, baby-love.'

'But - '

'Trust me,' he said, so she did.

Her interview had gone smashingly. She had known she had the job when she got on the train back to New York. The head of the Business Department had taken an instant liking to Patty, and she to him; she had almost heard the click. The confirming letter had come a week later. The Traynor Consolidated School Department could offer her $9,200 and a probationary contract.

'You are going to starve,' Herbert Blum said when his daughter told him she intended to take the job. 'And you will be hot while you starve.'

'Fiddle-dee-dee, Scarlett,' Stanley said when she told him what her father had said. She had been furious, near tears, but now she began to giggle, and Stanley swept her into his arms.

Hot they had been; starved they had not. They were married on August 19th, 1972. Patty Uris had gone to her marriage bed a virgin. She had slipped naked between cool sheets at a resort hotel in the Poconos, her mood turbulent and stormy - lightning-flares of wanting and delicious lust, dark clouds of fright. When Stanley slid into bed beside her, ropy with muscle, his penis an exclamation point rising from gingery pubic hair, she had whispered: 'Don't hurt me, dear.'

'I will never hurt you,' he said as he took her in his arms, and it was a promise he had kept faithfully until May 27th, 1985 - the night of the bath.

Her teaching had gone well. Stanley got a job driving a bakery truck for one hundred dollars a week. In November of that year, when the Traynor Flats Shopping Center opened, he got a job with the H & R Block office out there for a hundred and fifty. Their combined income was then $17,000 a year - this seemed a king's ransom to them, in those days when gas sold for thirty-five cents a gallon and a loaf of white bread could be had for a nickel less than that. In March 1973, with no fuss and no fanfare, Patty Uris had thrown away her birth-control pills.

In 1975 Stanley quit H & R Block and opened his own business. All four in-laws agreed that this was a foolhardy move. Not that Stanley should not have his own business - God forbid he should not have his own business! But it was too early, all of them agreed, and it put too much of the financial burden on Patty. ('At least until the pisher knocks her up,' Herbert Blum told his brother morosely after a night of drinking in the kitchen, 'and then I'll be expected to carry them.') The consensus of in-law opinion on the matter was that a man should not even think about going into business for himself until he had reached a more serene and mature age - seventy-eight, say.

Again, Stanley seemed almost preternaturally confident. He was young, personable, bright, apt. He had made contacts working for Block. All of these things were givens. But he could not have known that Corridor Video, a pioneer in the nascent videotape business, was about to settle on a huge patch of farmed-out land less than ten miles from the suburb to which the Urises had eventually moved in 1979, nor could he have known that Corridor would be in the market for an independent marketing survey less than a year after its move to Traynor. Even if Stan had been privy to some of this information, he surely could not have believed they would give the job to a young, bespectacled Jew who also happened to be a damyankee - a Jew with an easy grin, a hipshot way of walking, a taste for bell-bottomed jeans on his days off, and the last ghosts of his adolescent acne still on his face. Yet they had. They had. And it seemed that Stan had known it all along.

His work for CV led to an offer of a full-time position with the company - starting salary, $30,000 a year.

'And that really is only the start,' Stanley told Patty in bed that night. 'They are going to grow like corn in August, my dear. If no one blows up the world in the next ten years or so, they are going to be right up there on the big board along with Kodak and Sony and RCA.'

'So what are you going to do?' she asked, already knowing.

'I am going to tell them what a pleasure it was to do business with them,' he said, and laughed, and drew her close, and kissed her. Moments later he mounted her, and there were climaxes - one, two, and three, like bright rockets going off in a night sky . . . but there was no baby.

His work with Corridor Video had brought him into contact with some of Atlanta's richest and most powerful men - and they were both astonished to find that these men were mostly okay. In them they found a degree of acceptance and broad-minded kindliness that was almost unknown in the North. Patty remembered Stanley once writing home to his mother and father: The best rich men in America live in Atlanta, Georgia. I am going to help make some of them richer, and they are going to make me richer, and no one is going to own me except my wife, Patricia, and since I already own her, I guess that is safe enough.

By the time they moved from Traynor, Stanley was incorporated and employed six people. In 1983 their income had entered unknown territory - territory of which Patty had heard only the dimmest rumors. This was the fabled land of six FIGURES. And it had all happened with the casual ease of slipping into a pair of sneakers on Saturday morning. This sometimes frightened her. Once she had made an uneasy joke about deals with the devil. Stanley had laughed until he almost choked, but to her it hadn't seemed that funny, and she supposed it never would.

The turtle couldn't help us.

Sometimes, for no reason at all, she would wake up with this thought in her mind like the last fragment of an otherwise forgotten dream, and she would turn to Stanley, needing to touch him, needing to make sure he was still there.

It was a good life - there was no wild drinking, no outside sex, no drugs, no boredom, no bitter arguments about what to do next. There was only a single cloud. It was her mother who first mentioned the presence of this cloud. That her mother would be the one to finally do so seemed, in retrospect, preordained. It finally came out as a question in one of Ruth Slum's letters. She wrote Patty once a week, and that particular letter had arrived in the early fall of 1979. It came forwarded from the old Traynor address and Patty read it in a living room filled with cardboard liquor-store cartons from which spilled their possessions, looking forlorn and uprooted and dispossessed.

In most ways it was the usual Ruth Blum Letter from Home: four closely written blue pages, each one headed JUST A NOTE FROM RUTH. Her scrawl was nearly illegible, and Stanley had once complained he could not read a single word his mother-in-law wrote. 'Why would you want to?' Patty had responded.

This one was full of Mom's usual brand of news; for Ruth Blum recollection was a broad delta, spreading out from the moving point of the now in an ever-widening fan of interlocking relationships. Many of the people of whom her mother wrote were beginning to fade in Patty's memory like photographs in an old album, but to Ruth all of them remained fresh. Her concerns for their health and her curiosity about their various doings never seemed to wane, and her prognoses were unfailingly dire. Her father was still having too many stomach-aches. He was sure it was just dyspepsia; the idea that he might have an ulcer, she wrote, would not cross his mind until he actually began coughing up blood and probably not even then. You know your father, dear - he works like a mule, and he also thinks like one sometimes, God should forgive me for saying so. Randi Harlengen had gotten her tubes tied, they took cysts as big as golf-balls out of her ovaries, no malignancy, thank God, but twenty-seven ovarian cysts, could you die! It was the water in New York City, she was quite sure of that - the city air was dirty, too, but she was convinced it was the water that really got to you after awhile. It built up deposits inside a person. She doubted if Patty knew how often she had thanked God that 'you kids' were out in the country, where both air and water - but particularly the water - were healthier (to Ruth all of the South, including Atlanta and Birmingham, was the country). Aunt Margaret was feuding with the power company again. Stella Flanagan had gotten married again, some people never learned. Richie Huber had been fired again.

And in the middle of this chatty - and often catty - outpouring, in the middle of a paragraph, a propos of nothing which had gone before or which came after, Ruth Blum had casually asked the Dreaded Question: 'So when are you and Stan going to make us grandparents? We're all ready to start spoiling him (or her) rotten. And in case you hadn't noticed, Patsy, we're not getting any younger.' And then on to the Bruckner girl from down the block who had been sent home from school because she was wearing no bra and a blouse that you could see right through.

Feeling low and homesick for their old place in Traynor, feeling unsure and more than a little afraid of what might be ahead, Patty had gone into what was to become their bedroom and had lain down upon the mattress (the box spring was still out in the garage, and the mattress, lying all by itself on the big carpetless floor, looked like an artifact cast up on a strange yellow beach). She put her head in her arms and lay there weeping for nearly twenty minutes. She supposed that cry had been coming anyway. Her mother's letter had just brought it on sooner, the way dust hurries the tickle in your nose into a sneeze.

Stanley wanted kids. She wanted kids. They were as compatible on that subject as they were on their enjoyment of Woody Alien's films, their more or less regular attendance at synagogue, their political leanings, their dislike of marijuana, a hundred other things both great and small. There had been an extra room in the Traynor house, which they had split evenly down the middle. On the left he had a desk for working and a chair for reading; on the right she had a sewing machine and a cardtable where she did jigsaw puzzles. There had been an agreement between them about that room so strong they rarely spoke of it - it was simply there, like their noses or the wedding rings on their left hands. Someday that room would belong to Andy or to Jenny. But where was that child? The sewing machine and the baskets of fabric and the cardtable and the desk and the La-Z-Boy all kept their places, seeming each month to solidify their holds on their respective positions in the room and to further establish their legitimacy. So she thought, although she never could quite crystallize the thought; like the word pornographic, it was a concept that danced just beyond her ability to quantify.