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O Captain, My Captain

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18th December 2009

It had been planned in advance that Bill return to Derry to visit his parents on that specific Friday of December. He wrapped up in his warmest coat and packed a small bag to last him until Monday then him drove to Maine, listening to whatever was on the radio. It was an uneventful drive; Audra called three times about the script, asking if he had finished it yet and his answer was still ‘no’. She still couldn’t believe it had taken him years to finish his first novel, and that it would probably take years to complete this one. Her third call was to ask why he didn’t invite her to his parent’s house (‘We’re married, Bill. And I’ve never met your parents. That doesn’t sound right, does it? Does it? They didn’t even come to our wedding! Did they disown you or something?’)

Bill had replied ‘They were busy that day’ and hung up. He ignored the following three calls and exhaled a breath of relief when she didn’t call a fourth.

His marriage with Audra wasn’t necessarily fragile; he adored her for her passion and her ambition, and her kindness. Her beauty came from within, his inner writer would say and does say. But when he looked at her, he saw a ghost of someone he didn’t really remember and it left a bitter taste in his mouth. He wonders if, when he first met her, he tasted that same bitterness. If so, why did he stay with her? The bitterness tasted like nerves. It made it almost hard to face her, and even harder to admit that his parents just hadn’t been given an invitation.

Maybe that made him an asshole.

He turned the radio off after Audra’s sixth call, and drove in silence until he reached Derry, then switched on the news, that droned on and on about oncoming rainy weather over the weekend that would surely disappoint the children hoping for snow. He passed streets he should remember and people he might’ve known, he drove over a bridge he might’ve kissed someone on if they’d wanted to, and a house that looked like it housed nightmares. But they were all vague thoughts, like his instinct going ‘that there, you know it’ but that was it. No sudden, vivid memories. Just a sense, a tingle then nothing.

As said earlier, it was pre-planned that Bill turn up on this specific Friday of December, which made it all the odder to find his parent’s home vacant. His father’s car was gone from the garage and the front door was locked when he tried the handle, so he opened it with his key and had planned to settle in before they got home. He’d done it before, they surely wouldn’t mind.

For a while, Bill had explored the house. It had been a few years since he came to visit, but he didn’t know why he was still shaken over the fact that Georgie’s room looked like it hadn’t been touched since the day he died. A thick layer of dust coated his toys, the Lego turtle on the desk, his duvet. Bill left the bedroom before he got choked up, leaving his bag in the room that used to be his before continuing. He saw his dad had made a note of his visit on the calendar in the kitchen and smiled to himself.

Bill found his mother in the bathroom. The door had been slightly ajar, and just the sight of the loo made his bladder ache, so he made a beeline for it. His desperation faded when he opened the door. He stumbled backwards in shock when his eyes met his mother’s pale, limp form in the tub, her own eyes vacant and glassy.

“Fu-Fuck!” He had choked out, too frantic to be able to question the stutter he didn’t recall having “Mom!” scrambling to his knees by the tub and grasping her face in his hands, staring into her eyes, hoping to see a shred of life in them but there was nothing. He pressed a finger to her pulse but it was still and she was dead.

-

23rd December 2009

It is a cold welcome home.

Bill had called someone whilst holding his mother’s body tightly, managing to speak clearly despite his despair and stutter and soon, his mother was torn from his arms and put inside a body bag, and he was being told to prepare for the funeral. Funeral. That felt a little bit too real to him. He’d already been to a few funerals, his brother’s, his granddad’s and his great aunt Mildred’s. He had never been in charge of funeral preparations for those, he just turned up and grieved, but his father begged him to take charge and he said he would.

As he said, it was a cold welcome home.

Despite the note in the calendar, his mother slit her wrists; did she remember that he was turning up that day? Did she want him to come back to his childhood home seeing her in the bathtub, dead? Despite the note in the calendar, his father begs his only remaining son to be the adult and take charge of his mother’s funeral preparations.

“I-Is it cold in here, or is that just m-me?” Bill stammers from the rickety chair he’s seated on, fiddling with his trembling fingers. The funeral director sends him a blank look, then hobbled over to his desk and let out a dusty wheeze as he lowered himself into his chair. He’s the kind of man who loomed over others in an accidentally intimidating way, with skin like leather and tiny eyes hidden with thick frames balanced on the bridge of his nose. His suit is too big in some places and too small in others. His presence, for some reason, unnerves Bill. Perhaps because he’s the man who will arrange his mother being put in the ground.

“It’s always cold in Derry, Mr Denbrough.” The funeral director says quietly. It makes Bill curious. He remembers warm summers, swimming in warm water in just his briefs, bathing in the sun. He shrugs it off. “Shall we get on with this?”

“I-I thought we already had.” Bill replies, eyeing the pile of clothes folded in his lap. He chose his mother’s favourite blouse and skirt to bring, so she would look smart and proper, as she always preferred “My mom left a fu-funeral plan behind.” Inwardly, he feels gratitude that he wasn’t placed as the executor. No matter how much his father wanted to place all the responsibility on his shoulders, he had a few responsibilities of his own to get done.

“Yes, she did. It’s fairly detailed so this shouldn’t be too taxing.” The funeral director hums, massaging his loose skinned chin “I understand that this will be difficult. After what you went through.”

Bill swallows thickly, feeling his rough throat contract at the man’s uncharacteristic sympathy. “It’s fine.” He says, voice catching a bit at the end. The funeral director lets out another hum and proceeds to ask for the death certificate, and asked questions about her social security number, birth and death dates, and the place of death. Bill stammers through it, wondering how his parents survived this for Georgie.

“Moving on. Will the deceased be buried or entombed?”

“Buh-Buried.” Bill tells him “She always s-said she wanted to ‘be-become one with nature’ or something like th-that.”

“I’m assuming that means the deceased will not be cremated, then? Or have her body donated to someone or to science?”

“No.” Bill says “She never fa-favoured things like that. Her body was hers and th-that was that.”

“I see.” The funeral director jots something down in his yellow notepad. The questions came one after the other without thought, without time for Bill to process them and his foggy, hazy brain comes up with something to answer his questions. His lips just mouth the words, his voice just says it without understanding their meaning.

Will you hold a traditional funeral with the casket present or would you prefer a memorial service? Where would you like the ceremony held? Should the deceased be embalmed? What type of music and readings would you prefer? Who will participate (clergy, pallbearers, speakers)? Will there be a procession?

Traditional. He chokes up at her reason being that she wanted people to be able to properly say goodbye if they didn’t get a chance. Mother had chosen a nearby church for the ceremony to take place, as she had been an avid church goer. No. Mother favoured classical music, and had said that she specifically wanted Fur Elise played when Bill read out John 14:1-3. He didn’t know that verse, he’d have to memorise it for the funeral. Yes, to all. Yes.

“We can have a break, if you wish, Mr Denbrough.” The funeral director says gently, fluffy white eyebrows furrowing at Bill’s detached responses “Stop for you to gather your thoughts, perhaps some coffee, if you so wish.”

“N-No.” Bill murmurs “I’d ra-rather get this over with.”

He estimates the amount of people who will turn up to the funeral, all of her siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, godparents, Bill’s father, Bill himself, and Mike. He vaguely remembered the home-schooled boy, who worked on his grandfather’s farm and got hassled by a boy with a mullet. Bill doesn’t know if he should be invited to his mother’s funeral. He manages to come up with a budget, his mother set beside some money for this, and his father agreed to pay for half of the money as well, so they can afford an extravagant funeral for a once-extravagant woman. He decides for it to be soon, sometime in January so he doesn’t have to fret or dwell for too long. He doesn’t want to stay in Derry forever after all.

The meeting lasts much too long for Bill’s liking; he wants it to be over so he can find the nearest bar in this shithole of a town, or maybe hunt down that Mike guy, just – anything to stay away from that damned house. His father is acting as though Sharon Denbrough is merely on holiday, not dead and cries in the night like Bill can’t hear him. It’s tragic; it brings back neglectful, sorrowful memories of his childhood that he isn’t surprised he repressed.

Once he chose a casket, and adds the last few remaining pieces of information, he pays the funeral director and leaves the funeral home. He gets in his car and sits in it for a moment. It’s almost like he’s forgotten how to drive, but his brain clears and he blinks, starting the engine and reversing out of the parking lot and down the street. He drives until he feels lost, surrounded by trees and a cliffside over hanging a large crater of water. He recognises it, and climbs out of the car, sliding between the barriers barring it off from pedestrians. Bill feels like this place held meaning once.

“Is i-it normal to fo-forget your childhood?” He asks aloud, hoping some deity will reply and give him answers. “Wa-Was it because of my pa-parents? Georgie?” In a sense, he thinks that is exactly why he repressed his childhood; just like how he vaguely remembers that rotting house and that bridge and that Mike, he vaguely remembers grief and being exceptionally touch-starved as a child. Your baby brother dying and your parents neglecting you was enough to repress your memories. Surely. Surely? The conclusion feels incomplete to Bill.

This place is rather good for avoiding his parent’s house, where his father tracks the halls like a ghost, talking to a woman who is no longer there and calls for his sons who are both absent. Bill puts in his Spice Girls CD, smirking to himself when Track 1 starts belting out the lyrics to ‘Wannabe’. When this song was released, he was close to obsessed. Idly, he starts mumbling along with the song as he pulls out a cigarette from the pack he discarded under his passenger seat a while back. He lights it.

Like the news said, the sky is white and it’s drizzling; the kind of rain that soaks you to the bone without you even realising it. His cigarette is wet and sags slightly, making it hard to smoke but he doesn’t mind. He always liked smoking when it was cold out, though he never let Audra in on that fact since she was never fond of the habit.

Track 1 becomes Track 2 and cigarette number 1 becomes cigarette number 2 and so forth. He relishes in the inhale that makes his throat burn. It takes him a while to realise he’s crying and that the rain is concealing the tears seeping from his eyes. His trembling fingers hold onto the cigarette tighter, like it might chain him to reality and not drag him back to the moment they were pressed to his dead mother’s pulse. He has come to terms with the fact that she was now dead and would stay dead, but it still hurts. Even though she fell into depression and left him in the dust, he feels an anguish that is achingly familiar to him.

Bill sobs, clutching at his arms in a hug that isn’t comforting. The mournful part of him wishes Audra was there to comfort him. The stubborn part of him is glad he’s alone to lick his wounds in private. He wouldn’t say that he is exactly torn at the loss of his mother, since he had held a secret bitterness for both parents most of his adolescent years and through to adulthood, but he cries for the fact that she felt she had to take her life, because he had to hold her corpse, for he has to do all of this because his father is too broken to do it.

He was once a leader. He remembers naïve optimism and being steadfast and brave to the point of recklessness but he can’t for the life of him find that within himself now. He feels fragile and weak and stupid. All his regrets clambering up on him all at once. Its like he is falling into a hole and nobody is there to help him out of it.

The next sob catches in his throat, wet eyes dropping to something red and round peaking from over the cliffside. The CD, by now, has restarted from the beginning, playing Wannabe too loudly, making it ring in his ears. Without taking his eyes off the red object, he turns the music off and climbs through the barriers once more, slowly enhancing on it as if it’ll disappear if he looks away. It bobs where it is, brushing against the cliffside rocks; it emits a rubbery noise that makes Bill frown in confusion.

He falls to his knees, hands grasping at the cliffs edge to peer over the side and he lets out a baffled noise when he sees a balloon stuck in a branch jutting out from the rocks. The thin string is tied around the branch; at first, he believes its just caught but when he looks closer, he realises that the string is actually tied intricately around the branch, finished off with a nicely done bow. The balloon spins around in the wind, the raindrops beating against it’s rubber to reveal the print on it that says: I ♥ Derry.

“W-What?” Bill mutters, sitting back up on his heels. Had a child lost it? No, that’s silly. The only way for it to have gotten there would be if a child, swimming down below, had let go of the balloon but why would a swimming child bring a balloon into the water? He supposes children are odd and would do that, but it seems strange to him. Not to mention that the string is tied so intricately, so purposefully. Maybe someone died on this cliffside and that was in memory of them? Sure, people usually left flowers or something, but Derry was a strange town. It made sense to him, he thought as he leant forwards again, he hardly remembered this town, so it wouldn’t be unbelievable if someone died here and he didn’t remember-

The balloon suddenly pops, startling a gasp out of Bill. His fingers skid against the rocks and his chest hits the cliffside; with all grip gone, he slides forwards, skin scraping roughly against the sharp edge and he tumbles off the side of the cliff, leaving nothing but a still-burning cigarette butt in his wake.

He screams all the way down, it tears out of this throat painfully and is immediately cut off when his body hits the water, slamming into it so hard that it feels like concrete, making his body cry out in pain but his lungs are filled with water instead of smoke and down here, nobody can hear him, so far out, nobody can save him so he has to save himself but he can’t swim upwards, his foot is caught on something and it’s not a turtle or a root. In his panic, he fumbles and his phone that is in his pockets falls down to the bottom of the quarry. His clothes are soaked and heavy and drag him further down, his scrambling and thrashing don’t aid him in any sense, but he can’t act thoughtfully, he’s sinking, he can’t breathe and there’s something around his ankle-

With all his remaining strength, his kicks out and his foot comes into contact with something solid, that falls away with the force of his kick and Bill is released and can finally emerge to the surface of the water. He lunges up, gasping when he can finally inhale air, hair matted and face as pale as a ghost, heart beating too fast in his chest. In panic of whatever was in the water with him, he swims as fast as he can out of the water and pulls himself onto the muddy side-line, gagging on water until it flows from his throat and onto the floor. He vomits, eyes watering, nose dribbling until there’s nothing left and he collapses onto his back, chest heaving.

Jesus Christ, what was that? Had he seriously just fallen from the cliff because a dumb balloon burst? Was he really that jittery? Well, he is unnerved from the recent events so probably, but…What had grabbed him in the water? It felt like something had tied itself around his ankle, holding him down but what could it have been? He doesn’t know, and all of the possible answers are swimming around his head, not satisfying him whatsoever.

With a grunt, he heaves himself onto his elbows, climbing to his feet unsteadily. He decides he’s had enough of nature and will head back to his father’s house now, but when he looks up to the cliffside, he sees a man standing there. He’s dark skinned, wearing winter clothing and stares over at him. Bill feels a shiver go up his spine.

Bill makes his way back to the cliff, walking slowly whilst his hand massages his throat. He’s still pretty freaked out from what just happened, and feels on edge about the man waiting for him up the cliff; today just really wasn’t his day, was it? First, he goes to a meeting planning his mother’s funeral, has a mental breakdown whilst avoiding his father, then falls off a cliff and nearly drowns and now a stranger is waiting for him, and he doesn’t know what he wants. Who the fuck did he piss off to warrant this?

He slams the car door shut to let the stranger know he’s arrived, making the man spin on his heels to face him. They have a staring contest for a split second, a jolt of familiarity goes through Bill the same time as the man says “Bill?”

Bill blinks, and the name comes to him. This is the boy he remembered, the one who stayed in Derry. “You Mike?” He asks gruffly, throat still sore.

The man – Mike – hurries forwards, through the barriers to the car, face set in confusion “Don’t you remember me?”

“I do, ki-kind of.” Bill shrugs “What’re you doing here? Ki-Kind of a remote place to just vis-visit.”

“I could say the same to you, stranger.” Mike replies fondly, shoving his hands in his pockets “You’re soaked man, what happened?”

Bill flushes in embarrassment “I fuh-fell off the cliff.”

“How’d you manage that?”

“Don’t s-sound too concerned.” Bill scoffs dryly, feeling an involuntary smile drag over his face “A balloon was stuck o-on the cliff, and it buh-burst. Got sp-spooked and fell off, I guess.”

“A…Balloon?” Mike trails off, swallowing “There’s no balloon there, Bill.”

“There was.” Bill says defensively “Maybe it f-fell off when I fell.” It sounds weak to him even as he says it, but there’s no other reasonable explanation.

Mike hums, but drops it, looking thoughtful “So, what brings you back to Derry, Bill? It hasn’t been twenty-seven years yet, you know.”

“Huh?” Bill furrows his brows “What does that mean?”

“Nothing. Go on.”

“Uh, okay, well.” Bill decides to leave it, even if he’s curious as to what he meant “My mother c-committed suicide a fuh-few days ago.”

Mike’s face twists in shock and sympathy, coming closer to Bill to grasp his shoulder with a beefy hand “Fuck, Bill. I’m so sorry.” Images of porcelain skin and red-stained ceramic flash in his mind “You okay?”

“What do you think?”

“Sorry. That was a dumb question.” Mike scratches the nape of his neck “When’s her funeral?”

“January 11th. I’m st-staying until then. Planning it an-and all.” Bill fingers out another cigarette and offers Mike one, he looks conflicted but takes on anyway and lets Bill light it for him. He takes a deep inhale “H-How long has it b-been?”

“Since what?” Mike asks.

“Since we last saw e-each other.”

“Oh, uh, probably twenty-ish years?” Mikes huffs out a humourless laugh “Everyone was so determined to leave this shitty town. I can’t blame them.”

“Ev-Everyone?”

“You know, the Loser's Club.” Mike doesn’t sound baffled by Bill’s lack of memory, but seems melancholic all the same. Bill takes a puff of his cigarette, unsure what to say. He can remember some faces and some names, but overall, they escape him. The name of the club makes his heart hurt, but he feels a lack of connection and an harrowing connection as well. He can’t describe it even to himself. It’s like he wants to cling to their memory and push it away all at the same time.

“W-Why’d you st-stay?” Bill asks “If ev-everyone left, why’d you stay be-behind?”

Mike laughs again “I had to. Or…I felt I couldn’t leave. I have a duty to this shithole. I have something I promised I’d do.”

“You’ll r-rot away here, Mike.” Bill sighs, standing up from where he was hunched in the backseat and pulls his jacket tighter around himself “I-I should go. I’m getting pretty c-cold.”

“Yeah.” Mike nods, dropping his cigarette butt on the ground and stepping on it. Mike’s car is parked by Bill’s, but he’s sure he can get out without causing any damage. Bill sidesteps the man, but jolts when he grasps Bill’s bicep, bringing the two of them closer. His breath is warm on Bill’s face as he says “Be careful, alright?”

“S-Sure.” Bill stammers and gets into his car. He waves back half-heartedly when Mike does and reverses down the one-car-width road, and leaves the ghost of a memory behind at the cliffside. He doesn’t know if he should’ve kept by Mike’s side, just to cling to those memories that make him feel both agony and elation, or if he should run, run before he remembers things he must have repressed for a reason.

Bill drives away and he doesn’t look back.

Chapter Text

10th January 2010

Each day is foggy in Derry. Bill can hardly recall the day before, or the day before that; they all mesh together into one splat, until they become nothing at all. He feels like he’s walking in a dream, replying absently to his father when he says something, and ignoring him when he starts talking shit. He plans the funeral and goes back to the funeral home when they call to clarify something about the obituary. On Christmas Day, he lays in bed and it meshes with every other day. He can feel his sanity slowly leaving him the longer he’s in this damn town. Chills crawl up his neck, as if there’s a presence in the room despite the fact that he’s alone.

His paranoia makes him want to be busy, but he can’t do anything productive in this house. When he cooks breakfast for his father, he picks at his food and leaves most of it behind and it makes Bill feel worse than before. He tries to write some of his newest novel but what he writes is crappy and half-hearted. He goes on walks but he feels like he’s being watched and goes back to his parents-father’s house. Though, he doesn’t feel safer surrounded by walls. If anything, he feels closed in; trapped.

Bill goes grocery shopping. It’s just an excuse to leave and do something but he buys a bit too much for the two of them. He visits a florist and buys bouquet of red and white roses and he knows his father will want to bring some, even if you usually send flowers to a funeral in advance instead of bring them with you. He sits in his car with the bouquet on the passenger’s seat, smoking out of the window as the rain patters softly on the windows. He doesn’t want to go back yet, even if he’s got frozen goods thawing and roses wilting in his car.

The cigarette in his limp hand burns, and he hisses when he feels heat on his fingers; instinctively dropping it to the wet floor. Irrational fury boils in his chest but he beats it down, hand grabbing for another cigarette but the pack he’d discarded on the floor was empty. “For fuh-fucks sake.” He curses, he’d only bought another back a few days ago. This was why he never picked up this habit – not properly, at least.

With a sigh, he gets out his car and heads in the direction of Centre Street Drug Store to pick up a new pack of cigarettes and maybe some aspirin for his thumping headache. The bell jingles when he walks inside, the blinding white walls make his aching eyes burn, but the feeling brings a wave of nostalgia over him. His fingers trail over the bandages and disinfectant bottles as if they held meaning once. Bill picks out a pack of aspirin.

The man behind the desk reminds him of a hunched, mole-rat, eyes tiny behind his thick frames, smile tight and disturbing. His face is creased with wrinkles, making him look a bit too old to still be alive. “I recognise you.” The man says when he approaches, lips pursing.

“I u-used to live here.” Bill replies “When I was a ki-kid.”

“It’ll come to me.” The man tells him “What do you need? Anti-wrinkle cream? Always best to start young or you end up looking like me.” He wheezes out a hoarse laugh, patting the counter with a fragile looking hand.

“Aha, I-I see.” Bill stammers awkwardly, eyeing the man’s tag that reads: ‘Mr. Keene’. The name rings a bell. He must’ve come in here when he was younger; though Bill was inwardly impressed that the man was still alive “Cuh-could I get a p-pack of Marlboro as well, puh-please.”

Mr Keene nods his head, muttering 'filthy habit' as he throws a pack of cigarettes on the counter beside his aspirin and taps on the till “$12.09, if you will,” He says, taking Bill’s money when he hands it over and shoves it into the till.

“Th-Thanks.” Bill nods, shoving both items into his pockets and turning on his heel to leave when Mr Keene starts to talk again.

“I’ve got it.” He says, leaning forwards over the counter as if to inspect Bill more intently “You’re the Denbrough boy, the alive one that is. It’s been two decades since you stepped foot in this town, boy. It’s a wonder you came back at all.”

Bill inhales sharply, and licks his dry lips “Y-Yes, well, it’s nice t-to see you again Mr K-Keene.” He manages, before nodding his head quickly and heads out of the drug store, lighting a cigarette the minute his face meets the cold air outside.

He drives to the library, deciding to do some light reading before heading back. He’s been meaning to research blood oaths for his newest novel anyway. The parking lot is pretty much vacant so he can choose any spot he wants (right in the centre) and walks into the empty library, eyes drawing over the shelves of books and the glass boxes full of strange, interesting items. His footsteps echo in the dimly-lit, quiet room, the creaking floorboards groaning beneath his boots.

“Huh-Hello?” Bill calls when he sees the place is completely and utterly empty, not even a librarian is lingering. He knew Derry was weird but this is getting ridiculous. He’s on edge by how much of a ghost town Derry feels to him, like it's bloodless, all of the colour and life has been suctioned out of the town's roots. He's impatient enough to consider stealing a book instead of waiting for a librarian who probably won't turn up, when he hears footsteps hurrying from nearby, and someone walks out from a doorway.

“Mike?”

“Bill! Funny to seeing you here!” Mike smiles, pulling Bill into his arms in a hug he wasn’t expecting. The warmth from his body makes his heart stutter in his chest. They’re both smiling when they pull away “What brings you about, Big Bill?”

“Nothing r-really.” Bill replies “I-I didn’t know you were th-the librarian, when di-did that happen?”

“A few years back, I took over.” Mike explains “I live just upstairs. It’s a bit messy and quiet around here, but it’s not too bad.”

“At least i-it’s a short trip to work.”

“Ain’t that the truth.”

They end up sitting in Mike’s flat above the library, drinking glasses of water whilst they talk. Bill can’t help his wandering eyes, staring at the piles upon piles of books on the large wooden desk in the middle of the room, on the myriad of notebooks thrown around the room and the computer set up by the window. Whatever Mike feels he has a duty to, he’s certainly been doing his research.

He questions him about it “What are a-all the books for?”

“Don’t you know?” He asks casually, side-eyeing him.

Bill feels like he does know. He remembers something that happened in that summer on 1988 to 1989, something daunting and scary and not of the normal sort. He suddenly remembers standing on the doorstep of that rotting house and staring up at posters of missing children taped to streetlamps and brick walls. He remembers being afraid that summer, of all of them being afraid together and that was what saved them-

“Bill?”

He jerks from his thoughts quickly “There’s some-something up with this town.” He stutters, rubbing his forearms with his hands as if a chill went through the room “I-I feel like there’s someone breathing d-down my neck. Don’t y-you?”

“Sometimes.” Mike sighs, leaning back into the wall “Don’t be so nervous, Bill. It’s just a bit of paranoia. Besides, the funeral’s tomorrow, isn’t it? Maybe it's giving you jitters.”

Bill knows a change in subject when he hears it, even though he wants to question him. He knows Mike knows something, but he's brushing it off, making excuses and he just doesn't know why. He doesn't understand what's going on and it's making him feel worse. Nevertheless, he drops it. “Yes. I’m leaving the next day. Audra’s been calling.” He adds, as an explanation.

“Audra?”

“My w-wife.”

“Ah, I didn’t know you were married.” Mike says, surprised “Congratulations, man. When was the wedding?”

“2001, we had a winter wedding. Audra favours the cold.” He thinks of Audra and her auburn hair, her pale skin that glowed in moonlight. He loves her with all his heart, he will be by her side in sickness or in health, as he vowed, but he preferred summer, the heat and the warmth. Maybe she liked him because he feels cold to the touch. Maybe he’s just being angsty for the sake of being angsty. It makes him chuckle to himself “You got a g-girl, Mike?”

“Married to my work,” Mike pats a nearby book, grinning crookedly at him “I need to get going soon. I’ve got the farm to maintain still, after Pa passed away, I inherited it.”

“A-Ah, sorry to k-keep you.” Bill says as he stands up, brushing off his jeans “I, uh, I-I can’t imagine you sl-slaughtering sheep and stacking up hay bales.”

The look Mike sends him make him quieten down, scuffing his feet. It’s a deadly look, stone cold and flat - Bill would never say it was defeated, it was anything but. It is a look that screams 'survival', and 'resilience'. “That doesn’t bother me much anymore.” He tells him “It’s a tough world, Bill. I raise what I love and then kill what I love.”

Bill licks his chapped lips, averting his eyes. Friendly, loving, empathetic Mike became this tactile, deadly man, but for what reason? What happened? Bill wants to know and feels like he should know, but perhaps that isn’t his place anymore. He left Derry as easily as the others, and is leaving again soon without hesitation, or thought to keeping in touch. He has no right to pry, but he wishes he could have stopped whatever happened just so Mike didn’t have to adapt to fear.

“Tough world.” Bill echoes quietly.

-

11th January 2010

Zack Denbrough is in tears the day of the funeral, fighting Bill when he tries to help him put on his suit and digging his fingers into Bill shoulder’s as he weeps “We can’t go yet, Bill.” His father begs into his shoulder, tears seeping into the fabric of his blazer “We have to wait for Sharon.”

“Mom’s d-dead, dad.” He says tiredly “Please. Get y-your suit on.”

“Don’t say things like that.”

“Yuh-you were the one who told me to stop b-being d-d-delusional once.” Bill shoots back, eyebrow twitching “Mom’s dead, and we’re going to her funeral. Now, guh-get your suit on.” He hears his dad sniffling as he scuffles his way over to his bed, and Bill feels like an asshole. Maybe he should have said that she was meeting them there. It isn't exactly a lie. He feels a headache pulsing between his temples, making him head to the bathroom to pop an aspirin or two then goes back to his room so he can collapse onto his own bed, head between his knees, and tries not to think, then continues tying his tie.

Once he’s ready, he coaxes his trembling father into his car. Before he drives to the church, he offers him a tissue and a sip of rum from a flask he keeps in his car. He takes them both with a blank expression, fake barely twisting at the flavour of rum, then relaxes into his seat, clutching onto the bouquet of flowers he’s holding. They drive in silence.

They turn up early; Bill talks with the Pastor about the service as other cars arrive then goes to greet them, with sombre smiles and sad handshakes, bitter apologies about her death and tearful hugs from family members he hardly remembered. He leads them all inside and they walk single file over to the open casket. His mother, to a stranger, looks divine in her blouse and skirt, heels polished, hair coiffed and lipstick a beautiful red shade. But to Bill, she looks dead. She’s too pale and too still, when once she was warm and could never stop moving, whether it was playing the piano or twirling around the house; she adored liveliness, many years ago. He supposes she was also an absolutist; it was one thing or another, with her.

“Say your goodbyes,” The pastor says gently “This is a time for closure.”

He nods jerkily, and thinks that now, his mother can reunite with her lost child. With Georgie. That’s surely a good thing. The loss and the lack of closure is what did her in, is what led her to suicide, and as much as it hurts, she can be with the child she so desperately missed.

“Sleep well.” Bills murmurs, fingers just brushing her folded hands before he walks away to allow his father his goodbyes. The man looks at her for a small moment, before joining Bill who takes a seat at the front. A distant cousin who has lived in Australia for the past ten years sits with them. She clasps his hands between hers as she repents his mother’s suicide and calls her an astounding woman when they were young. Bill can’t agree more.

The Pastor knew his mother in her prime, so his speech about re-joining God after death and remembering her as she was is good, kind and thoughtful. All the stories of her in church are melancholic to him now; how Sharon used to play the piano on Sundays whilst young Bill toddles between the pews. How her voice sounded like bells ringing, or angels singing, echoing all around the church and blessing them all. Bill’s father is a mess throughout the whole thing, leaning into Bill who in turn, gives him a tissue and wraps an arm around his shoulders comfortingly.

“And now, her son, Bill, will come up to the front to say a few words.” The Pastor says, beckoning Bill to the front and waiting patiently as Bill unfolds the bible passage he’d scribbled down from his pocket, hands shaking. His legs feel wobbly as he makes his way over behind the podium. He idly thinks it a bit cruel to ask your stuttering son to do your eulogy.

Nerves make his throat go dry. Seeing all of these people, family or not, staring at him, waiting for him to make a heart-wrenching speech about how much he loved his mother, how much he will miss her, made him feel nauseous. He is just reading a bible passage and that's it; does that make him detached and unemotional? Such expectations made bile crawl up his throat. It is times like these that he cannot be truthful, so he swallows his nerves like he would at a book reading, fingering out the creases of the paper.

“Muh-Mother chose a passage to be read.” He says into the microphone “She wanted u-us to know wh-what she felt in her heart. It’s John 14-1-3.” His eyes can the words and without meaning to, he imagines his mother in her prime, opening one of the Lord’s many doors and finding Georgie there, in his yellow raincoat and wellies, holding a paper boat as he runs into her arms. He imagines them coming together once again and feels comforted. He feels touched and weepy - despite not being especially religious - at the passage she specifically chose because she too, hoped to meet Georgie again, to become reacquainted.

Bill coughs into his fist, clearing his tightening throat “Do not let y-your hearts be troubled.” Bill reads slowly “You buh-believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that w-were not so, would I have told you that I-I am going there to prepare a place for you?” His eyes look over at the room, but his sombre gaze suddenly freezes.

There is a balloon.

A little red balloon, just…floating by the doorway. It’s staying right by the door as if someone is holding the string, but nobody’s there. There is no print on this balloon, unlike the one he saw at the quarry, but is just completely blank. He wants to ignore it, pretend it means nothing, act like one of the younger children brought it with them and just now let go of it, but he knows it’s a lie. Little Michelle and Kevin didn’t bring any balloons, they came bare handed, moping because they thought funerals were sad.

“Bill…” His dad’s weeping voice brings him back. Zack is staring at his son with glassy eyes, pleading for him to continue. He knows that look, that desperation. That look screams that if Bill can’t collect himself right now, then Zack never will.

Hurriedly, he continues, voice hoarse “And-And if I go and prepare a-a place for you, I will come ba-back and take you to be wi-with me that you also muh-may be where I am.”

The room bow their heads when he finishes, ignoring how he is panting from the speech, and how tear tracks trail down his cheeks as he collects himself again and lifts his eyes off the sheet of paper in front of him. He never needed it in the first place. He memorised the whole passage.

Good job he did that, he thinks to himself, because that means he could keep his eyes on the balloon.

Bill moves from the podium, taking his time to walk back to the pew but with each step he takes, the balloon moves further back. Like a magnetic charge and they’re opposites. Without thinking, Bill tests the theory out and takes a step back. The balloon doesn’t move. It knows he’s thinking-

“You’re alright, William.” His cousin says, clutching at his bicep. It takes him a moment to realise she’s standing up, holding him tightly as if trying to calm him down. Holding him close like he’s breaking and needs to be held together “It’s all alright. It’s hard now, but it will get better. I promise, Will.” Will. William. She always called him that, even when they were children and she pulled his hair and he stole her dolls.

“Th-Thank you.” He smiles shakily, eyeing the balloon over her shoulder “I-I think I need a moment outside.”

“Of course.” She murmurs “Take as long as you need.”

He leaves. Enhancing on the balloon slowly, each step feels like it’ll lead him somewhere with answers, with an explanation to this mess. As if a balloon could explain why his mother killed herself, why his father had to suffer, why Mike stayed, why he barely remembered his strange hometown, but it couldn’t do that. It was rubber full of air. Nothing.

But he still feels…entranced, by it. How it floats backwards, like the wind is swaying it gently, leading Bill away from the church and down the street, past shrubbery and trees and houses. He doesn’t dare reach for the string, not even when it whips that way and this way, practically begging for him to take a hold of it.

He was once a leader, but now he is being led.

The balloon floats through the town, past the drug store and the florists, down into the forest by the kissing bridge; his suit isn’t flexible enough for him to head carefully down the steep hill so he nearly trips and falls on his ass but he manages to keep up, stomping over the mud and the sticks and twigs as he follows it, hands muddying and nails chipping when he clutches to tree trunks for balance.

A part of him wonders if this balloon is trying to help him. It leads him to places he once knew and lets him see them and experience them with his new eyes, then continues on its way to wherever it’s leading him. His sanity must surely have left him by now, if he truly believes a balloon is sentient and wants to show him something. But this balloon twists and turns like it has a purpose, like it can think and Bill follows blindly.

“Wh-Where…?” He trails off as the cold breeze picks up, making his eyes dry and burn and his skin ache. His suit, as inflexible as it is, is also not good for the cold that January brings. He can hardly feel the cold, though. He swears he can almost feel warmth and sunlight heating up his skin. The balloon wavers where it floats, and continues on, over a lake riddled with rocks acting as stepping stones, then over the grassy mounds that tickle at his legs, and over to a large sewage exit. Dark water trickles from the huge pipe into a filthy, freezing stream. Ice covers the wet surface.

Bill stares, stopping in his tracks. The balloon continues into the pipe but stops once it’s in, as if it’s waiting for him but his feet don’t want to lift and he can’t bring himself to wade over that frozen stream, cracking the ice and getting soaked in that filthy water, climbing into the sewers to follow a balloon. It feels too far, it feels like he shouldn’t go inside.

“Why here?” Bill asks, feeling foolish.

The balloon shakes where it stopped in the pipe, then the wind picks up again and it drifts further down until the vibrant red that glowed in the whiteness of the outdoors, is enveloped in darkness and is gone. Bill feels sick. He abandoned his mother’s funeral, for what? For a balloon? His father will never forgive him. His cousin might feel she was guilty in his abandonment by not attempting to make him stay. He swallows down sour saliva but stays frozen where he is, hands turning blue in the cold he can hardly feel.

The nausea in his stomach turns to lead, heavy and sickening when he hears something. He hears the water inside the pipe sloshing, as if…

“Billy?”

Without thinking, Bill’s feet surge forwards, slamming onto the thin ice of the stream and shattering, making him sink down into the mud but he doesn’t care. He hoists himself into the pipe and squints, heart palpitating, throat dry. “Georgie?” He exclaims, wading further in with a desperation he hasn’t felt in a number of years “Georgie, ar-are you-” A gasp catches in his throat when his eyesight adapts to the darkness. It’s him, in his tiny yellow raincoat and wellies, with his curly hair and baby blues...but his arm is gone and he’s coated in brown, dried blood. His remaining hand holds onto the red balloon he had followed. “Georgie.” He whimpers pathetically, eyes blurring.

“It’s cold down here Billy.” Georgie sniffs “I want to go home. I want to not hurt anymore.”

“I know, Georgie, I know. I’m sorry. I’m-I'm so sorry.” He weeps, forcing a wobbly smile onto his face as he gets nearer, walking slowly as if afraid to spook the young boy, like he may dash off if started. It brings a fresh wave of tears on, his face is so young, so childlike but he looks older than Bill, so marred by pain and death. “I’m h-here now, I’ll warm you up.”

“Can’t you take the pain away?” Georgie looks at him with his wide, baby blue eyes, filled with unshed tears.

“I-I can’t.” He says hoarsely “H-How are you-”

“I never left, Billy. I can’t leave.” Bill is reminded of Mike, who never left, who feels like he can’t leave and clutches at his chest with the agony that suddenly shoots through his chest.

“You died.” Bill states slowly “Y-You-You can’t be here. You died. I went to your funeral. How are you here?”

“You never really die in Derry, Bill.” Georgie giggles. It looks wrong on his face, like his eyes don’t fully believe the laughter and his grin is so forced that it looks almost painful. Bill wants nothing more than to comfort him, hold him in his arms and never let him go. “Maybe mommy will float here soon.”

Bill’s breath shortens, and his heart speeds up in his chest “Mom?” He repeats “W…What do yuh-you mean?”

But Georgie says nothing, he merely giggles again and turns on his heel, dashing into the darkness. Bill doesn’t know what to think, all he can compute is that Georgie who was dead is here now and he’s running straight into danger. He knows something, so Bill follows, shouting his long-dead baby brother’s name, uncaring of the filthy water, all the piss and shit that is covering his suit and runs.

"You wanted us to be together again, didn't you, Billy?" Georgie's voice echoes through the tunnels from every possible direction; from the left, the right, forward, behind, below and above. He doesn't know which way to turn; it makes him frantic with desperation and clumsy with worry. Bill runs and he runs, eyes unaccustomed to the darkness that thickens quickly without the light from outside. He slams into walls he didn’t know were there and slips on so many foul things he doesn't dare label. He doesn’t care, though he can vaguely remember someone who might’ve shrieked at his actions but he can’t care at the memory he recalls, not now.

And he runs and he runs, until he falls and all he can think is that falling has happened one too many times in his visit to Derry.

Chapter Text

????????

There is so very little one can think of when falling.

It’s like when you wake up with your heart racing because you dreamt you were falling but you never hit the ground. Some say that if you do hit the ground in your dream, you die in real life, but that’s never been proven. It’s a popular myth.

Bill isn’t dreaming, but he doesn’t hit the ground.

Instead, he stops falling entirely, and is enveloped in a sense of comfort. There is softness surrounding him, like pillows straight out of an airing cupboard; it reminds him of comfortable humidity after a cold day, or returning to the womb; a place you feel safe and warm. The feeling is so bizarre in the setting that he can’t even question it, only relax back into it.

You’re a lucky one, young Denbrough. It almost got to you.

The voice shrouds him like a safety blanket, but it doesn't stop the questions. It? Bill thinks right before thinking that he doesn’t feel so lucky.

Yes. My brother.

Bill startles slightly. Could Maturin hear his thoughts? He should be shocked, but the recent events are starting to making him think that Derry was never a normal place at all. “H-Hello?” He tries.

Welcome back. You have had a rough run, boy. I’m glad I located you in time or all would be lost.

“Wh-Who are you?” Bill asks hoarsely.

I am Maturin, a guardian, a spectator. We have been acquainted once before but I see my brother’s wily tricks are still affecting you.

“What? Acquainted? Tricks? What d-do you mean?”

It has a grip on Derry like no other, It makes those inhabiting the town blind to the horrors It causes. It has blinded you, boy, and stolen your memories.

“It? Did some-someone do s-something to me?” Bill begs “I don’t re-remember a-anything! My friends, M-Mi-Mike, Derry, nuh-nothing!”

You will. I vow that you will remember it all.

“I need to know.” Bill grits out “S-Something’s not right. G-G-Georgie-”

-is dead in this world, yes. It killed your brother. And if you stay in this world, It will kill Stanley Uris and Eddie Kapsbrak when you all return twenty-seven years after 1989.

Bill’s eyes water “B-But that’s only seven y-years from now. They’ll only be y-y-young-Please, yuh-you gotta tell me, what is It?” Maturin is quiet, and unresponsive “TELL ME!” Bill roars, fighting against the warmth holding him but it doesn’t budge, it sways like a mother would sway a crying child. He’s not sure whether to feel comforted or patronised but falls limp in its hold; hot, angry tears dripping down onto his cheeks “I-I don’t even remember them.”

But you feel despair anyway. You all are connected through a blood oath, but also through love. You may remember more if you look at your palm.

“Palm?” Bill croaks. Through the bleary greyness that surrounds him, he manages to hold up both palms to see what Maturin was talking about. On one palm, there is a small, almost invisible scar trailing diagonally across the skin. He realises that it’s been burning since he returned to Derry on the 23rd of December. How did he never notice?

The memory is a fickle thing, even before it is tampered with.

“What is It?” Bill pleads “I-I need to know! I-If it killed Georgie, and will ki-kill my friends. Maybe I can st-stop it!”

It is an ancient being born from the same dimension as my own. It is a glamour; therefore, it changes forms to fit what its victim is most afraid of and feeds off of that fear.

Clown.

A sudden, painful ringing begins to ache between Bill’s temples. He sees flashing images of a clown, with stupid red hair and giant, dumb shoes and the thoughts – no, memories – make Bill angry. He feels pulsating fury roll in his veins at the laughter that rings in his skull, of It’s voice; gravelly, boisterous, stupid-

You are still unwavering, young Denbrough. Do you remember what It became for you?

Bill digs his nails into his head when all he can think of is: basement, basement, basement and says “G-Georgie. I-I lied to him and he died. He died b-b-because of me-”

You lied and he died, yes. But it was never a fault of yours that he died. Everything that occurred and will occur is not on your conscience.

“B-But you said…’if I stay in this world…’”

Indeed. You are the only Loser I have been in direct contact with, child. I only provide when I am needed, you needed me then and you need me now.

The ache grows; he sees montages of bikes in a road and a bloodied fat boy needing first aid, he sees a beautiful girl with a sombre face, there’s a house full of monsters where a boy broke his arm, he remembers punching a friend out of anger and cleaning a red room, no, a bathroom full of iron-

“What’s h-h-happening?!” Bill cries as he is bombarded by memories.

It no longer has a grasp on you. Not in this place. I am here to give you a choice. A very difficult choice.

“What?” Bill barks, closing himself around his head as if it may stop the terrible pain. It feels like he’s about to explode, as if he’s full of too much and his body can’t handle it, as if he’s a balloon overblown.

This timeline has been corrupted. It has been marred by your return to Derry, as the day you walked into the Barrens, you were going to die.

“Die?” Bill echoes tightly “Was I-It supposed to kill me?”

Yes. It lured you in and caught you in it’s net. But he and I, we hold similar powers, even if we used them in drastically different ways. I created a dimension before It killed you, where only you and I exist.

“Buh-But...”

But if you return to your dimension, you will be killed, and the Losers will not stand a chance.

“O-Oh God.” Bill groans, clutching at his stomach when it rolls painfully “Wh-What now? I-I-I can’t let them die, Maturin-Not because I-I-”

And that is where your decision-making skills will have to come in. I am far more powerful than my brother is, although I am far less likely to tamper with the world than he is. When I decide to tamper with reality and life itself, it is always for a good reason.

“Tuh-Tell me.” Bill chokes out.

You have the choice to return to your time in 2010, and be killed by It, or I can send you back to Derry, 1988. With your memories intact, though they may take a while to fully return. You would need them.

Bill’s heart stutters in his chest. “What?” He says in disbelief “Y-You can…send me back? To…To do what? I thought th-the only thing that disrupted my reality wuh-was my death?”

Everything is linked. You must think of the bigger picture, young boy. Your mother’s suicide occurred due to the depression and grief she fell into after Georgie’s death, and her funeral is what made you stay in Derry and die. In the world you were in, that was a fixed moment in reality that cannot be changed.

His heartbeat echoes in his ears “So…I can save G-G-Georgie?”

That will prevent his, yours and your mother’s death.

“O-Oh my God.” Bill breathes “I-I can save him, and everything will be alright! Georgie c-can grow up and live and m-mom and dad won’t s-suffer and leave me b-b-behind! Mom won’t kill herself, God, Maturin, I-I’ll do it, I’ll g-go back and-” Elation becomes suspicion, and his excited rambling trails off “…What am I-I forgetting, Maturin?”

…Saving George Denbrough will fix multiple things in the universe, yes. But it will also alter it. The more you change, the less you know, after all. If you did choose to go back to 1988, then you will have a lot of responsibility on your young shoulders, and I wonder if it is too much.

“We fought the clown, didn’t we?” Bill says “We-We were just kids.”

I know.

Bill licks his lips, eyebrows furrowing. So much has happened in so little time, or so it seems. He’s apparently in an alternate dimension with a guardian who wants him to go back in time to what, fight a killer clown?

“Can’t we just…not get involved?” Bill queries “Or is it in-inevitable?”

Unfortunately, it is fixed.

“You keep saying that buh-but why us?” Bill asks quietly, face sombre “Why us, of all people? Why a bunch of thirteen-year olds? What did we do that lured it in and targeted us? Was it Georgie? Wuh-Was it because all I could do was s-s-search for him?”

You gain nothing from asking that question.

“But it’s a valid question!” Bill shouts angrily “We were kids. We had nobody but each other, and if I go back, it’ll be the same! Every adult is useless, we were clueless most of the time, why is it destined that a bunch of children have to fight this ancient, evil monster?!”

I cannot explain Its fixations, but it fixated on you and your friends. Perhaps saving Georgie will save you the pain my brother caused you, or perhaps It will see something inside you that makes It curious. Perhaps a lot of things, boy.

“Well, if saving G-G-Georgie doesn’t stop it, then what can I d-do? We fought the clown once but we didn’t kill it! Or…” Bill pauses for a moment, face contemplative. The silence is heavy “Could we?” He asks abruptly “Kill it in 1988? Or is there something im-important about waiting twenty-seven y-years before doing it?”

That may not be possible. Mike Hanlon studies for many years on how to kill It, the Ritual of Chud was unsuccessful, however he goes far and beyond to uncover Its secrets. The things it never wanted others to know. You do not know how the final fight goes.

“But I can find out.” Bill tries “You can t-tell me, can’t you? If we kuh-kill it then, then we don’t have to wait and dr-dread.”

Your bravery always did become recklessness. Be wise, be diligent. Do not be arrogant, young Denbrough. It will no doubt be your downfall.

“Is it so much to ask that our lives not be riddled with shit like this?” Bill demands “I want us to be happy! To not have this hanging over our heads our entire lives! I’m not afraid of that fucking clown and I don’t care if you are!”

And you never stuttered once.

Bill pants, and grapples at the air he’s shrouded in “Because I’m not scared, Maturin.” He says breathlessly.

Good. That will make you stronger.

And, suddenly, the warm air he’s enveloped in suddenly halts in it’s comforting sway. It stops, and he’s surrounded by a sickly-sweet air that quickly becomes heavy and thick and cloggy that smells rotten and fills his mouth until he can’t breathe. He thinks it might be dirt, as if he’s being buried alive but the air around him is moving, sentient, like it knows it’s killing him but will not stop. He thrashes, but it holds him down, fighting back against him. The air wiggles into his nostrils and ears, making the pulsing headache become an agonising migraine that rips into his skull and tears at his brain as he begins to suffocate.

He opens his mouth, which in retrospect, is a stupid thing to do but he can’t even scream.

As he inhales, the blackness overtaking his mind transforms. It flashes white splotches until his entire vision blinding and he’s staring up at the beaming sun, the sky bluer than ever above him, surrounded by…friends and laughter and the dropped jaws of boys at the sight of a half-unclothed girl. Bill himself can feel the remnants of his nervous heart in his chest. It feels less like living a memory, but more like submitting himself to sensations; smelling a familiar scent, or hearing a ghost of a noise, or tasting the sweet nostalgia that is the past.

The scene changes to rain in October, yellow bolts out of the corner of his eye and thunder claps – it sounds like a scream. It changes; Fur Elise plays in the background; he’s sitting by the piano but the tune is wrong and it fades out slowly when his mother stops playing and just sits there. It changes; the squealing of bikes, a heavy, hollow feeling in his chest, desperation, horror, fear, fury – flashlights blinding in the dark, a one-armed raincoat, facing a group whilst being offered a deal, the smell of grass and iron, a stinging pain in his palm-

His body convulses when the thick air shoves itself down his throat, further and further until he can do nothing but submit to it, all the while at the mercy of so many overflowing emotions – he remembers but he doesn’t, he remembers the hot ache he felt when these people were hurt, he remembers the love and the tears he shed. He wants to love them again, to save them from the horrors they saw and to do that…

Bill submits himself, and allows reality to swallow him whole.

Chapter Text

15th October 1988

When his eyes open, he’s already vomiting.

His eyes burn as bile shoots up his throat and onto his scratchy duvet, it pools between his legs and just the sight of it makes him feel that much worse. He coughs once it’s over, spits into the puddle since why not, it’s already there and looks around, confused. His vision is blurry, but even through tears he can see this is not is bedroom with Audra. This is-

Bill stammers out gibberish as his head spins around the room so quickly he feels lightheaded, but he can’t care. There’re his notebooks piled on his desk chair, full to the brim with anecdotes and memories and dreams, his childhood duvet cover that always scratched at his skin, his card games are stashed under his bed, and when he looks at the desk, he sees thick paper and a tub of Gulf Wax resting under the beam of the light.

It’s then he realises his hands are still sticky with wax, and that Georgie is running down the flooding road.

When someone knows something is going to happen, they feel a sharp sensation in their chest, weighty and painful as they try to stop whatever’s going to happen as fast as they can. Bill, though still completely out of it and terrified that Maturin had gone through with it, lurched from his bed, ignoring the pool of vomit entirely and sprints out of his bedroom in his pyjamas, tripping down the steps loud enough for the gentle piano to falter (Fur Elise, oh dear god) and a familiar voice to call his name just as he slams open the door.

“Billy? What’s going on? Don’t you dare step a foot outside, young man!”

He stands there, staring at the form of his mother approaching. She’s…beautiful. So beautiful. So warm skinned and alive, in her pretty dresses, with her curly up-dos. Bill feels his throat contract but he can’t stop. He can’t so he stumbles out of the house with her calling for him. The sound of her voice is enough to comfort him, even as he runs down the road, barefoot.

He spots Georgie crouched by the sewers and he feels a stab of terror. Maturin promised his memories and threw them at him like they wouldn’t hurt. He knows everything again, and now, he isn’t afraid of the clown. No. Bill won’t be afraid again. Bill skids when he comes near and wraps his arms around his brother, yanking him backwards from the sewers and stumbling.

“Billy!” Georgie cried. That voice made Bill cry, tears dripping from his eyes but the older boy didn’t relent in his cold stare at the monster in the sewers. All he could see were two pinpricks glinting in the darkness, but he knew it was there. He knew it was watching and was about to tear his brother’s fucking arm off with its teeth.

“You stay away from him.” Bill sneers with all the hate he can muster. No fear, just pure, unadulterated detestation “You stupid clown.”

“Stupid clown?” That recognisable voice echoes from the darkness “Stuuupid? But Little buddy, that’ll hurt my feeeeelings…”

“Billy?” Georgie whispers.

“Don’t be afraid of it,” Bill says, holding his brother closer, tighter “Look, it’s afraid of us. It’s hiding like the coward it is.” He glares at it, daring it, challenging it to deny that it was hiding because that’s all it did. Hide. It hid from the adults by influencing them to turn a blind eye, it hid its true form from everyone it approached, all it did was hide and hide and hide.

“I’m not hiding down here!” It cheers, though perhaps such a voice would sound cheerful and jolly to a child, all Bill could hear was the drool slobbering from its lips and that crazy note to its voice. “I found Georgie’s boat and I was just going to give it back because…Bill’s gonna kill you if you lose it, right Georgie?”

“I didn’t mean to!” Georgie’s lip tremble.

“It’s just a boat. It doesn’t matter.” Bill says.

“Doesn’t it? He can make you another boat but it’ll never be this boat, will it, Georgie?” It breathes deeply, arm stretching out of the sewers to reveal the boat Bill had just made decades ago, brand new and in the grasp of that monster. Neither boy reach for it. Georgie’s arms are wrapped around Bill’s neck, too busy to take it but Bill just stares, and walks away.

Georgie complains, looking over Bill’s shoulder “But Billy, the boat-”

“I’ll make another. I’ll make you hundreds of boats.” Bill says, holding onto him tightly, just to feel that he was real in his arms. Just to know that he saved him. The turtle had offered a second chance and he saved Georgie, he won’t have to suffer the agony of being taken, Bill won’t have to suffer the neglect of his mournful parents, he had done it. “I’ll make you too many boats to count, that boat wasn’t special.”

“You promise you’re not mad?” Georgie asks quietly.

“I promise.” Bill says as they approach their home. Their mother stands in the doorway, arms crossed and lips pursed, but allowed them inside to get out of their soaked clothes before scolding Bill.

“Silly boy, you’re already sick and then you go out in the pouring rain? In just your pyjama’s? Without shoes? My God, you have no sense!” She fusses, and Bill allows her to. It had been years since his mother cared about him, since she worried over his wet hair or his health. The depression she sunk into left her a hollow shell of a woman, it left his father a short-tempered man. It was a bad mix; her never-ending sadness left little patience in his father and caused a few one-sided arguments between them and no good attention left for Bill.

“I actually feel a lot better now.” Bill says, swallowing down the guilt that he had lied about how ill he was that day, just so he didn’t have to play with Georgie in the rain. His mother looks down at him sceptically, raising the towel again “I promise.”

“Well. Never do that again young man, you scared me half to death!” She exclaimed “Now come here, your feet are bleeding everywhere.”

A disbelieving laugh escapes his lips before he slowly walks forwards and embraces her in a hug. She hugs him back, full of warmth and love that he has sorely missed. He feels moisture fill his eyes that track down his cheeks and into her dress. “Oh Billy,” She soothes him, stroking his hair at the nape of his neck “Whatever’s the matter? I’m not that angry. I’m glad you brought Georgie in; I didn’t realise how heavy the rain was.”

“It’s no-not that.” He sniffs slightly, smiling so widely though she couldn’t see “I just-I-I love you.”

“I love you too, Billy.” She says softly, pulling back to kiss his forehead “Now let me clean your feet, they look so sore! Why don’t you also have a bath before dinner? It might make you get warm quicker.”

“Okay, mom.” He says, and let her clean the blood off his torn up feet. She hisses when the antiseptic goes into the bleeding cuts but he barely flinches, watching her face with glistening eyes. He thinks of her corpse, and tries to relate it with this living, breathing, woman now and can’t. He won’t.

Once she’s done, and she’s wrapped them in bandages, she hugs him again and wanders into the kitchen to switch on the radio. He makes his way upstairs slowly, wondering how Georgie’s survival would change everything. He won’t be so driven by grief, but probably by desperation. Desperation to save all those he came back for. Whilst he’d saved Georgie from Its grasp today, who was to say It wouldn’t get him another time? The more he changes, the less he knows, as Maturin said.

“Shit.” He hisses to himself. He needs to protect Georgie when he wasn’t there, but how? He has to warn him about It, he never mentioned the clown in his haste to leave.

Bill knocks on Georgie’s door, walking inside after a second and kneels by the boy on the carpet, smiling at the game he was playing with the Lego turtle and the soldier “H-Hey Georgie. C-Can I ask you some-something?”

“Sure, Billy.” Georgie smiles, making the turtle fly high above the toy soldier.

“Th-That Clown, do you remember it?” A single, shy nod from the boy “He scared you right?”

Another nod “But you said not to be scared, ‘cause he’s just a stupid clown and he was hiding, like a coward!” Georgie adds.

“Exactly.” Bill grins “But if you see it again, or anything weird like a red balloon, or something just not normal, you need to run.”

“Even if it’s my favourite?” Georgie doesn’t sound fond of the idea.

“Even if it’s your favourite.” Bill says sternly “That clown might just be a cowardly clown, but he’s not nice. He’s mean and he’ll try to trick you into going with him, but you don’t want to do that, right?”

“Not really, he acted…weird.” Georgie says “I’ll do it Bill, I promise.”

“You promise?” Bill pushes.

“Yeah!” Georgie sticks out his pinky with a toothy grin, giggling when Bill sags with relief and hooks his pinky in Georgie’s. It feels like a promise, something that shouldn’t be broken. He hopes it will be enough.

That night, he had a warm bath that soothed his bones – after whatever Maturin did to him, he felt awful, like he had been wrung dry and beaten with an inch of his life. He had a hot dinner with his family that he nearly cried during when his father joined them, making jokes and laughing because it had been so long since his father had laughed instead of yelled, or joked instead of cried. He laughed at his dad’s shitty joke, and then slid the fork off the table and into his pocket. After all that, he went to his room and made another boat, he folded the paper and wrote ‘S.S Elmer’ on the side. The S.S Georgie felt too spoilt for him.

“I won’t lose this one Bill, I swear it!” Georgie beams, holding it high above his head.

“I-It doesn’t ma-matter if you do.” Bill says “If you do, I’ll make another one and make it even more special. But, if you want to play outside with it tomorrow, I have to go with you.”

“Because of the clown?”

“Be-Because of the cl-clown.” Bill nods, feeling a bit more secure now that Georgie truly got the message to avoid that thing “It’s g-getting late, Georgie. Time for bed.” He comments, looking down at his watch then at the boy sitting cross legged on his bed.

“Can’t I sleep here?” Georgie whines.

“S-Sure.” Bill doesn’t ask questions. He doesn’t know if it was because he is afraid of the clown, despite Bill saying he shouldn’t be, or if it is just because he wants to be close to him after having to stay away for a while due to Bill’s sickness. Nevertheless, Bill gets under the new covers (as the other had been spoilt) and lets Georgie curl up beside him, clutching onto his new pyjama top tightly until his fingers loosened and he falls asleep.

But Bill can’t sleep, unable to allow it to fall over him. He feels painfully on edge, clutching tightly to the fork in his hand as he peers around the dark room. It’s odd, but he could feel it. He can feel the air change from empty to full, and there It is, prowling in the corner where the darkness thickens, eyes glinting in the moonlight shining between the blinds.

He says nothing, just glares at Its silhouette, and it’s glaring eyes and holds onto the fork tighter. He wonders what It will do if he sinks the fork into Its eye and pulls. A morbid thought, but he feels righteous thinking it.

“Still not scared, Little buddy?” It sings mockingly “You will be.” Its voice pitches high into a giggle that makes his ears ring, then down so low that it would have given the old Bill whiplash, but he’s too stern, too determined now to even blink. Too careful to miss anything.

Still, Bill says nothing. Words would be wasted on It, and they’re supposed to be precious.

“Who’s the coward now, Billy?” It teases, almost attempting amiable chatter, which makes Bill feel sick to his stomach. How many kids did he trick using kindness and friendliness? “What happened to the big, brave brother who stole from me?” Suddenly, Its close enough to smell. It smells of shit, the blackwater from the sewers must’ve seeped into this entity, or maybe it’s Its natural scent.

Its gloved finger strokes down George’s cheek delicately, and Bill sees red.

He stabs the fork into Its forearm, digging in hard when It jerks, he pushes until the whole fork head is buried in Its arm then let’s go of it, allowing it to stumble further away as he pulls his sleeping brother closer protectively. “Don’t.” Bill hisses through clenched teeth “Touch. Him.”

“Such a worry wart, Billy. That’ll get you, little buddy.” It groans, and then is gone.

As an act of strong will and challenge, Bill doesn’t turn his lamp on and lays there in the dark until light shines brightly into the room, the silence breaks by the singing of the birds. He looks around the room, now brightly lit and spots the fork lying on the ground by the corner, stainless, but bent.