He cocked his head back once and saw the mad sprawl of the stars. There were no constellations he recognised, and he looked away again, disturbed.
– Pet Sematary, Stephen King
now you've got soup in the laundry bag / now you've got strings, you're gonna lose your rag / you're gettin' in a fight / then it ain't so groovy when you're screaming in the night / let me out of this cheap 'B' movie
– ‘Headlong’, Queen
You can live with fear, I think, Stan would have said if he could. Maybe not forever, but for a long, long time. It’s offense, you can’t maybe live with, because it opens up a crack inside your thinking, and if you look down into it you see there are live things down there, and they have little yellow eyes that don’t blink, and there’s a stink down in that dark, and after a while you think maybe there’s a whole other universe down there, a universe in which a square moon rises in the sky, and the stars laugh in cold voices, and some of the triangles have four sides, and some have five, and some of them have five raised to the fifth power of sides. In this universe there might grow roses which sing.
– IT, Stephen King
But her husband was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw. If he could only find it before the thing outside got in. A perfect fusillade of knocks reverberated through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as his wife put it down in the passage against the door. He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment he found the monkey's paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.
– 'The Monkey's Paw', W. W. Jacobs
Sometimes, in the dream, Ellie walks away from the path. And as she does so the invisible hands that make up the path, that push her onwards, begin to lift her, up, up, above the steady rise of the path, above the gate of the Pet Sematary, above the deadfall, above the trees that close on the mouth of the Swamp, above the mist that eats the light and hides the steps of that other. She can see him, usually. The mist bundles and cramps around his shoulders, as if it too knows to get the hell out of the way. Can mist go mad? Can stones and earth? Can they decay and twist, rotting and lost, and spiral down towards evil? Down into the eye of a cairn. Ellie thinks maybe they can.
She looks up and up, throwing her head back against the night sky. It is as though someone has opened a gateway that encompasses the whole horizon; a door that opened and leaked out a night blacker than any she has ever stepped into. There are no stars, no glow from Venus or Mars. She doesn’t think this sky knows where Venus and Mars are.
As though drawn down by a gentle hand, Ellie turns her eyes back to the path. Lumbering through the mist, as though reflected from the alien sky, are pinpoints of his figure — the ridge of a shoulder, the three dots that curve around into a horn, the knobs of the spine. Together they add up to the only constellation in this place that she recognises. She thinks he made them while walking the path, that they are the places he stopped, where paths met, where Rubicons were crossed. To go back now would be as tedious as going over.
All at once, as though dropped by the night sky in which she has been suspended, Ellie is back on the path, hands and knees and her lungs filling up with the cold ground mist that covers the creature’s wake.
It is usually at this point that she looks up, still on her knees, and meets its eyes.
Sometimes his eyes are yellow and mad, glittering through the mudlight; and sometimes his eyes are her father’s eyes; and sometimes she can’t tell the difference.
– Say hi, Oz. How you doin, old pal?
His – Its – smile is deliberate, ponderous. She doesn’t think she sees a man-like intelligence there, but she thinks it is greater than a beast’s.
— Come and see me, Ellie. I have stories to tell you. You always loved to hear stories.
— I’ve heard all your stories already.
The smile turns itself a little wider, more teeth. The eyes half-lid themselves, as though in anticipation of a great and inevitable pleasure.
— You think you know the answer. But the answer isn’t not to listen, Ellie.
What would happen, she wonders, if she went there? She has no one in particular she wants to bring back to life, except the usual suspects – all gone now and decayed if not to dust then something almost as final. To bad memories and illusions.
So what would happen?
If she went there — took her own bones and flesh to that place and lay down there for the night, curled into a spiral, what would happen?
— Come and see, Ellie.
She has never seen the place, in life or in dreams. She has never gotten to the end of the path.
Sometimes she thinks she would like to see it, see the sky from the top of the mesa.
No words, but a low, gurgling laugh, parts the mist before her eyes …
She wakes and takes a breath, her eyes still closed, because she knows what she will see. At the bottom of her bed, his colours just visible in the foggy pre-dawn light, Church is curled up. There is mud on his paws and something that might also be mud on his whiskers; Ellie isn’t going to check. His eyes flick open.
His mouth opens in what might be a yawn. She sees his tiny, savage teeth. No sound comes from him, but a little gasp of air. The smell hits her instantly but she doesn’t flinch.
“You don’t talk anymore, Church. It’s a shame.”
It isn’t possible for a cat to grin, not really. A goat can look smug, a horse gentle, a cat superior, but of all the domesticated creatures, only the dog can really grin. Yet Church is grinning, of course, his teeth white and shocking in a mouth suddenly much too wide. His ears twitch, in a way they never used to — cats can’t twitch their ears! Ellie sees that they are growing, twisting, down towards Church’s too wide jaw. The delicate skin of the cat’s ears is being turned, like wood on a lathe. She can see the blood vessels pop and start to soak through the flesh and the thin fur. The blood makes a twirl, a pattern, in the horns, in the goat horns that have grown down under Church’s chin. Like a barber’s pole, Ellie thinks, with wild laughter filling up her throat — bone and blood, bone and blood and —
She wakes up, again. For real this time. The laughing / screaming is still there in her mouth. She swallows it down.
There had been a morning when there were muddy pawprints at the end of the bed, and pine needles piercing the quilt. But not this morning.
She sits up, pulls the quilt straight, smooths it over with her hands; feels nothing but what she should feel. She folds the quilt back carefully and checks the sheets; nothing there either. She swings her legs out of bed and examines her feet; all clear. She stands up and fluffs the pillows, being careful not to put her fingers underneath them until she has lifted them up from the bed. The bedhead is empty of anything except a few dust bunnies. Once it had not been, and the scars from the bite marks on her fingers – the index and middle fingers on both hands – are still there. But if she makes the experiment, she feels, with reasonable certainty, that she will be safe.
Dawn has touched the horizon, though not the rooftops of her part of Derry, Maine.
Ellie Creed lights her lamp and gets out her book, and passes the next few hours wakeful, but not afraid.
At first she didn’t remember anything at all.
Her grandparents, who had lost in the space of about a week, not only one of their grandchildren but their remaining daughter and their son-in-law (and the cat, Ellie thinks, don’t forget about Church! you never met him, but boy, I bet you woulda liked him grandpa!) plus the little matter of their other grandchild’s possibly lost-in-action sanity, did their best. Little as she was, Ellie had known perfectly well that her father and her grandfather hated each other for mysterious reasons, though both men had been adept at, if not keeping that truth from her, at least not letting it affect their own relationships with her. She had understood her grandpa as a rich man – rich in every sense: his voice was velvety, his clothes finely made, his house well-appointed, his generosity towards his grandchildren unstinting. It had been her grandfather who held her tight after he had given her the news she already knew – the news that she had told them twelve hours before – and promised her that she wasn’t alone.
She kept waking up having forgotten. She kept having the same fall out of the high tops of dark trees into swampy earth — crash, splish splash, Ellie fell down into her bath — feeling the clammy air in her throat, stuffed in to keep the scream from leaking out.
At first she wakes up in the regular hospital. A little later she wakes up in a private room. A little while after that in an even more private room across the street from the regular hospital where everyone wears white and gives her pills to swallow and not enough water to swallow them with so she chokes up soggy pills along with the screams and the orderlies have to pat her back and tell her lies. Her grandfather took her away from that place and gave her a room in his house, and dresses and bicycles and lollipops, because it seemed the right thing to do. But he also gave her a quiet place — his study at times of night too late for little girls, and his clumsy embrace when she wandered in with unrecognisable constellations in her eyes.
She still saw them both, every other weekend until she was seventeen. Meetings where they were all a little too kind to each other and she got to watch the life fade out of her grandparents. Every month they both seemed paler: the double contrasts of her grandpa’s beard and eyebrows losing their power; her grandmother disappearing behind her twinsets and pearls like a Hitchcock movie where someone had inexplicably turned the colour saturation down to almost nothing.
Her grandmother had cried on the day that they decided — between the three of them, in Irwin’s study with the green library lamp on the desk — that Ellie should go to a foster family. They all cried. But her grandmother cried so much that Ellie was afraid (in a distant, numb way) that she would die of it.
They were old, and they hadn’t seen the path. Not the path that counted, anyway. Oh they knew paths, sure, but they were leafy ones that ran through suburbs and up the front steps of banks and opera houses and they had kept their eyes closed during the scary parts, and Ellie was pretty sure that meant they didn’t understand, not really.
For a while, when she was little, Ellie cared a great deal about choosing, and keeping to, the correct path. It seemed only a matter of survival, an obvious precaution that her parents (her father) had failed to take. This much she remembered but not much more.
As a child she had been good at history, at science, at math – at the disciplines aimed at working out what the true story is. No one had smiled and ruffled her hair and said it was her father’s side coming out in her, because it would not have been appropriate to say such a thing. Not appropriate perhaps, but it would have been true. Separating out the fiction from the omen, leaving only the dark shining warning nestling in her palm to be held up to the light and watched closely, in case it twitched.
She doesn’t know what happened to the house that wouldn’t have been paid off until she was seventeen. She assumes the bank took it back and sold it on. She often wonders, going down into sleep, if she should go there and warn whoever is living there now, or at least explain – explain as much as she can. Her psychiatrist says this is an understandable impulse, but not a wise one. Ellie shrugs as if it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t, really. It’s easy enough to get the Maine papers and check the news items for anything about the tragic death of a whole family on the edge of Ludlow. There hasn’t been anything; not yet. It was waiting, that was all. Waiting for the right person to come calling.
Ellie at seven years old: is mostly empty space into which successions of influences continue to fall.
Ellie at ten years old: a thin carapace of knowledges protect her from the things she no longer wants to know anything about. She only wakes up in a wet patch about once in a month now, instead of half the nights. Finally a big girl. When the dreams press too close she recites the first twenty-five elements of the Periodic table and lights a light.
Ellie at thirteen years old: a creature of notebooks and ink and crumpled sleeves. She thinks if she can write it down. If she can capture all the facts, if she can have them in her head like prayers, then nothing could hurt her.
Ellie at seventeen: a girl with great distances caught in her eyes. The young men of her acquaintance find her attractive, but slightly frightening. She seems to have visited places of which they have no understanding. Ellie herself doesn’t notice. She is looking somewhere else.
She is better off than most orphans, care of the legacy from Irwin and Dory which could only have come to her. She can afford a pretty okay little apartment as well as pay her own, out-of-state tuition at the University of Maine. She buys a little car — it’s a shitheap but it gets her where she needs to go.
She doesn’t mean to go back to Maine, not really. Chicago had been her home in the before and she had thought and believed that it continue to be her home in the after. Grade school in a place where the sidewalks were dirty with the feet of thousands of children, instead of the assorted kids of maybe twenty-five families in a twenty-five mile radius; concerts in Grant Park when she was a little older and supporting the Bears instead of the Red Sox; the smell of the lake surprising her in the morning when she seemed almost to have forgotten it was there at all; growing up to go to U of Chicago, and looking no further than that.
But the skies are bigger and harder in Chicago. She misses the small paths that she knew and the more manageable skies of northern Maine. Not Ludlow, maybe, but somewhere close.
Bangor, though only sizeable by Maine standards, is too big; Haven, too small. She flirts with the idea of Portland, because of the sea, mostly, because of the small anxiety in the back of her mind that she might need to smell the sea sometimes, to come back to herself in a strange place. But when she actually goes to Portland and smells the ocean, she knows it’s not quite right. This is not the place.
The right place, it seems, is the mid-sized town of Derry. When she walks up Main Street she seems to feel the air move aside for her and close behind, like a warm hand on her back, ushering her into the home place.
The Derry Public Library, nestling near the bottom of Up-Mile Hill, surprises her. A glint of sunlight off the odd glass corridor that connects the older building which stands, stately, here out on the sidewalk, and the newer one, which is lower and humbler, and somehow more welcoming. Ellie nearly walks in the entrance to what she realises, looking up, is the Children’s part of the public library in this town, instead of the main door at the top of its small but imposing set of steps, all of which are worn down in the centre by the footsteps of what Ellie supposes must be many generations.
Inside the main library is hushed and a little cold. As in all libraries of her experience (she has forgotten, or refuses remember, the bright little room, not much more than a cupboard in actuality, that was the library of her kindergarten class in Ludlow) the lighting is too low, and entering the main foyer is a little like walking into a memory, dim and uncertain. There are large windows high up in the walls, almost at the level of the vaulted ceiling, but they can only cast a fraction of the rainy day in fall light belonging to the day outside.
And yet, though she is unconsciously pulling her hoodie closer around her and starting to squint a little to accustom herself to the light, Ellie feels at home at once.
In a neglected corner of the library, up to the top near the reserved stacks and the books on gardening and accountancy, there is a noticeboard. On the noticeboard there is an advertisement. It says, “Help wanted: library assistant: reasonable rates!”
Michael Hanlon, the head librarian of the Derry public library, is a softly spoken African-American man in what Ellie thinks are probably his early fifties. She calculates his age, as she with does all older men she meets, in comparison to what her father’s would have been. The result of the calculation is getting increasingly difficult to believe. Mr Hanlon’s hair is grey at the temples, and the skin surrounding his eyes crackle-glazed with lines. And yet he is the same age as her father would have been; about the same, if.
“I hope you weren’t misled by the use of the word ‘reasonable’ on the advert, Miss Creed,” Mr Hanlon says, with a smile. “I did want to be a little more honest but it was pointed out to me that it might not be entirely politic.”
Ellie grins. “Honestly, I’d just like a job, Mr Hanlon. I’m new to town, but I really like your library.”
Hanlon smiles a tight smile, as you might expect from a proud father. “I’m pleased that you do. It’s only a little place, but we provide a service. Have you any library experience?”
Sensing that an honest answer won’t ultimately affect the outcome of this interview, Ellie says, “No. Only in using them. I’m a student up at U of Maine.”
“Uh huh,” Mike says. “Well, you’ll know your way around a catalogue and, I hope I’m not being indiscreet here —“ (Ellie thinks it sounds like he could give a shit whether he is indiscreet or not) “But you appear to have the ability to present a friendly face and to speak in complete sentences. This is less common than you might imagine.”
Ellie laughs, can’t help it. Mike grins back.
Holding out his hand he says, “If you’d like the position and it’s queenly five and a quarter bucks an hour, Ms Creed, I think you’d fit right in.”
Ellie shakes, and that’s that.
She doesn’t need the job, but would be happy to have it; she doesn’t need the money, but she gets the feeling that the books might come in useful. She thinks that Mike — he asks her to call him Mike just as soon as they have shaken on the job — knows that feeling too. When, on the first night that she takes the closing shift, he finds her at the big reading room tables with a miscellaneous collection of Maine histories around her, all he says is,
“Looking for something in particular?”
Ellie smiles. “Nothing much.”
“Heavy stuff for bedtime reading. Studying up on your new place? I don’t know how we compare to Chicago.”
“I … well, we lived here, in Maine, I mean, for a little while, when I was younger.”
“Upstate from here. Ludlow?”
“I know it. Or rather, I know of it. Never had the pleasure myself.”
As if given a compliment she is too well-bred to completely accept Ellie says, “It’s just a little place.”
“But little places have a big pull,” Mike says, smiling. It ought to be a question, but it isn’t one.
Ellie smiles back. “I guess so.”
Mike nods again. “Well, I have a little experience with researching little places. I’m sure you’re perfectly capable — you did say History major, didn’t you?”
“That’s right,” Ellie says.
“Sure. But if you need a little help, or if you find anything … anything you want to talk over, my door’s open.”
Ellie suppresses the frown that threatens to pass over her face. “That’s great, thank you.”
Mike Hanlon nods again, as though sealing a contract the terms of which he has not shared with Ellie. He makes for the door, but before he passes her completely, lays a gentle, tentative hand on her shoulder, and gives it a brief squeeze.
“Don’t stay up too late, kid.”
She would wonder later if she had said too much. She had basically given Mr Hanlon all the data points he needed to work out who she was, and what was her history, and maybe that would be too much, maybe Mr Hanlon wouldn’t want the survivors of such ghoulish events working at his library.
But that was before Ellie really came to know Derry.
Nothing much happened, for a while.
Studying some days and working at the library others and realising that she never understood before what it was like to really need money, because orphans aren’t always dressed in rags. She makes a friend, Cynthia Barrie. Cyn is three inches taller than Ellie, three years older but somehow seeming more, pretty in an ordinary kind of way, and always broke. She pulls shifts at the Red Apple in town and manages — Ellie still doesn’t really know how — to bike back and forth to school. She specialises in the history of the Native American tribes in Maine and carries around a book where she keeps the notes she hopes will one day add up to a graduate thesis. They talk about their work and about small town politics and about the customers they serve and the change of the seasons, the way the leaves tell the fortunes of the seasons. Ellie remembers these auguries, dimly, as though she last saw them in a dream; Cynthia, who grew up in Florida despite her Yankee heritage, still hasn’t gotten over them.
Sometimes they talk about fathers, directly or by proxy. And sometimes they go to movies together and avoid all that worn-out shit. And sometimes they do a little of both:
“The thing about prophecies,” Cynthia says with not a little disgust in her voice as they walk out of the student production of Oedipus the King in which their friend Lorrie, a sweet English major who didn’t deserve what the last two hours have done to her, “Is that they usually become self-fulfilling. That’s what I can’t bear about that kind of play. It just all seems so stupid and inevitable. I mean, did you ever know anyone who behaved like that?”
“But don’t you think it’s just a device for showing us how life actually works? You never see the tragedy coming, you know?”
“Even when an actual soothsayer has walked up to you, clapped his palm to your forehead and said ‘Dead by sunrise!’?”
“You don’t see the warnings coming either,” Ellie says, smiling. “They come in disguise.”
Cyn shakes her head. “See, that’s just cheating.”
Sometimes, Ellie still dreams. She doesn’t dream of Church much anymore, or the thing with the yellow eyes. She doesn’t dream about muddy, stupid hands fumbling with the clasp of her father’s black doctor’s bag. She doesn’t dream about the shock of her father’s prematurely white hair disappearing over a deadfall. She doesn’t dream about the last time she saw her mother — a memory she thinks (believes) is a true one, though that day and night’s reality was twisted and rotting by it’s end, when she woke up in a bed that wasn’t hers and knew that they were all dead — her mother with her hair all out of sorts over her forehead and grandma’s hastily packed tote bag in one hand, and knowing she wouldn’t ever see her mother again. No way, big sister.
In Derry the dreams fade, or are replaced with other stories. If she dreams these stories — strange battles that were over and done before she came to this place — she doesn’t remember them.
But in the late spring of the year Ellie turns twenty, fifteen years after the spring that took her brother, she begins to dream about a path. A path she knows — remembers, though she never actually completed its course herself.
Through the grass in the back field, goldenrod catching at her heels.
Up behind the house and to the rise, the Penobscot valley in the distance.
The path widening and narrowing, little pebbles working their way out of the way of her heels, her small feet, her childish feet racing ahead.
Looming ahead North ludlow woods, hulking and dark, the foliage pressed up close like people huddling out of the rain under ragged black umbrellas. It makes her think of Bilbo Baggins, lost in Mirkwood, looking for a tree he can climb, just for one glimpse of the sun.
On goes the path, curling ahead, out of sight. And here’s where she remembers that she is glad she is not from Massachusetts and will not be chased by the moose and realises that her sneakers are being slowly consumed by the thick grey mud that rests in puddles all across the path.
But up ahead, at the top of the next hill, appears a clattering archway made of weathered boards and rusted scrap. Pet Sematary. Her feet in their ancient Keds glide under the threshold and all at once she is walking among the little garden that the graves have made, her toes hitting hammered tin and scratched slate. The names leap up at her. But the names are wrong. Not Smucky here by her foot but Ramses II — he was obediant; General Patton (Our! Good! Dog!) has made way for Winston Churchill, whose grave is littered with tiny green flowers that seem — Ellie bends to touch them, and then recoils — to be made of scraps of Hefty bag with beads of blood blooming at their centre. Turning aside from this, tears in her eyes, she barks her shin on a piece of slate on which is written in bright red paint not Biffer’s last salute but GAGE WILLIAM CREED: flyin’ kites with Oz the Gweat and Tewwible.
Ellie’s cry seems to spin her around like a slap to the face. She is clutching at her mouth, sour tears stinging her eyes. Without knowing where she is walking she follows the spiral around into the dusty part of the sematary, where hundred year old parrots sleep with desiccated hamsters. One of these venerable monuments gets in the way of Ellie’s stumbling feet and down she goes with a bang — more than a barked shin this time, her right ankle explodes with pain. She screams, but it is just a little thing: a last exhalation before she gives up. She closes her eyes tight and hopes to wake.
“No, no, that just won’t do, Ellie.”
I’m dreaming this. This is just a dream. I’m in Derry. I’m hundreds of miles from Ludlow.
“Well, that may be true, dear, but it doesn’t really signify.”
I’m in my bed in Derry. This is a dream.
“It is a dream. But it isn’t just a dream. Open up your eyes, Ellie. I want to show you something.”
She expects the Wendigo and the hugeness of its rotten grin, its bile-yellow eyes, the chasm-deep echo of its chuckle. But it is not there. There is bright sunlight behind the deadfall and the trees are whispering to her. Not songs about madness and death, but just ordinary songs about spring in Maine. She can smell goldenrod and new grass. She can hear the lazy buzzing of flies and, in the far distance, the drone of a truck.
“Open up, Eileen.”
She opens her eyes. Blinks. Still daylight, warm on her face, drying the tears. She is facing the deadfall now, the entrance to the Pet Sematary, and the garden of graves, at her back. The fallen branches are a bleached white, blazingly bright in the sun. The sight of them hurts her eyes and she squints away from the sight. So, rubbing her eyes, it takes her a moment to realise that he is there.
Sitting on top of the deadfall, cross-legged and grinning, is a man. He is wearing a jean jacket with a yellow pin on the left lapel.
Who is he? At first she thinks it is Paxcow — Pascow — but (he’s not missing half his head) it can’t be Pascow because the man is wearing jeans, not red shorts, and this man is fair not dark, his skin running red across the bridge of his nose, not tanned like Victor Pascow. As Ellie continues to stare, the man gives her a little wave.
No, not sitting on top of the deadfall — he is hovering just above it, a finger’s width and no more. His legs are neatly crossed over thin air.
Just a dream, this is just a dream. Don’t freak out.
“Yes, please do avoid that if possible. Freak outs can get so messy. Well,” he says, breaking into a tooth-cracking grin, “I guess you would know that.”
He draws his hand up from where it was lying in his lap. Ellie’s eyes seem compelled to go with it: they follow the path of his fingers as they sweep around and end, with a flourish, directing her gaze towards a modest monument, sandstone, with meticulously etched lettering:
In Memory Of Louis Creed Who Finally Learnt What The Third Wish Is For
He chuckles. “Sorry, my little joke. I’m sure you’ll be able to figure it out. Maybe later, when you’re a little less … upset.”
“Just a dream …”
He shakes his head. “You see, Ellie, you’re not in Maine anymore. Nowhere near Kansas. The walls of this place are a little on the thin side. See if you can hear the roses singing.”
“If you listen, you might be able to hear them.”
“I don’t understand you.”
“We’ve heard all about you, Ellie. We are interested in your progress.”
“I’m … I work in a library!” is all she can think to say.
As though she has said nothing at all, the man continues, “You might not quite have noticed, but Derry isn’t like most places. I suppose you might not have noticed because you have a touch of that strangeness in you — just a fingernail’s worth, perhaps. And Derry’s much quieter than it used to be.” He gives up a loud sigh at this, as though the fact of Derry’s quietness of late has been a matter of personal affront to him, like a businessman who has just missed a last-minute flight.
“Anyway!” he says, unfolding his impossible legs and floating upwards, then downwards, cycling the air underneath his cowboy boots until, like Dorothy and the Scarecrow, he has made landfall. Ellie looks down at the earth underneath his feet.
“No, no scorch marks. No dead flowers. I’m a perfectly ordinary guy, Ellie. I want to help you.”
“Help me with what?”
“You have talents, my dear. Do you think these dreams are just an unfortunate byproduct of those unpleasant things that happened around you when you were younger? No!” he holds his hands up again, and, again, she is powerless not to follow them. He claps his hands together — crack! — and then draws his palms away from each other slowly. Between them she sees a representation of the path she is crouching on now, but in darkness, under moonlight. Over the deadfall the path stretches, free for the moment of the ground mist that usually covers its tracks. The path goes on for what looks like miles, up to a massive mesa that lies silent under stars she does not recognise. On top of that place, among the exploded cairns and soured earth, stands an ordinary-looking, wooden framed door, slightly ajar. From behind it, a rosy glow.
“Do you see it?”
“That’s right. Through that door, Ellie — all you’ve ever really wanted. Answers. The secrets of this place, and the other places like it, the secret doors to the universe. You can find the things you always needed, Ellie. I know it’s no good to promise you fame and riches — as you have already wisely pointed out, you work in a library!” A little titter at this. “But I know there are some things you do still want. And you wouldn’t have to do much for them, not really. You’d enjoy the work, Ellie. I promise you that.”
“Very important work. Very important work for which we need very important talents. Talents like yours, Ellie.”
“I … I don’t have talents!”
“Ah, but you do, dear. You have been to other worlds in your mind. You have followed paths in the footsteps of others. You have the gift, the two-handed gift, of prophecy.”
“Derry is a special place, Ellie. That’s why you were drawn here. For a reason.”
“No reason! Just perfectly ordinary things — school and work and …”
“To be closer to that place?” he says, throwing a hand carelessly behind him.
“You were touched too, Ellie. No one gets out alive.”
“I thought you wanted to help me!”
“I do, I do,” he says, crooningly. “
“You’re … you’re him, you must be … the Wendigo. Or how else … how could you know —“
“Well, I’m not him. But shapeshifting is something of a tradition here in Derry. Ask your friends about it, Ellie. Ask Mike Hanlon if he remembers the werewolf.”
As he finishes saying this, Ellie looks up at him and begins to see his chin and nose start to elongate, as though they were pulling taffy. His teeth, the canines, pop over his lips, which are now red, almost bloody with redness. His muzzle — that’s what it is now — starts to darken with coarse hair. He begins to laugh and howl and laugh and Ellie begins to scream and scream.
The bedsheets are soaked with sweat when she wakes, but there are no surprises waiting under her pillow. Dawn is rising. She sits up and watches it come.
Later, at the library.
“Mike,” she begins, cautiously.
“Do you remember …” She sighs. “When I started on here, well, you said … you said you had some experience in researching Maine’s history.”
“For my sins. Though you won’t find me in the card catalogue. I guess you already figured that out for yourself.”
“I’ve been researching Derry’s history, specifically, for a while now. God, it must be nearly twenty years now since I started on it. Just one of those things, I guess — my dad was an amateur historian and he got me interested. The rest I stumbled into all on my own.”
“A book?” Ellie asks.
Mike shrugs. “A something. A collection of … memories? Don’t suppose I’ve actually looked at my notes for a fair while now. I don’t remember … I don’t remember why I stopped. Too busy here, probably.”
Unable to hide her disappointment, Ellie says, “So it’s really a history of Derry?”
“It is a history of Derry, but I’ve wandered around in my researches. That’s hard to avoid — as you must know, Ellie. I reckon I’ve got a folder-full of notes on Maine in general, as well as Derry in particular. I’m sure I could get you started, if there’s something you have in mind.”
“You remember … You know I lived in Ludlow when I was a little kid.”
“I remember you mentioned that, yes.”
“We … we were happy there for a while. But my brother, my little brother, Gage, was run over by a truck and … well, I guess that’s what happens when a child dies, the family … sort of just spirals away into nothing. Nothing good.”
Mike nods. “I think that can be true.”
“My father, he sent us — my mom and me — back to Chicago, where we’d lived before we moved to Maine. He stayed.”
“He stayed and … I suppose, I suppose he went crazy.”
Watching her closely, Mike Hanlon only says, “Yes,” again.
She looks at him. “You know the story, Mike, I know you do.”
He smiles at her, then reaches across the table and lays one of his hands over hers where they are folded on the tabletop.
“I was head librarian right here back then in ’83. I laid the papers out back then just like I do now. I was doing my own researches, so I always read the locals closely. I remember the story. I remember wondering what would become of the little girl in the story. Getting left behind that way, I remember that I hoped she would find her way, safely.”
Ellie gives a little, hopeless grin. “I guess she did.”
“I think you turned out just fine, honey.”
Ellie smiles at him. Then asks, “Mike, what was your history of Derry really about?”
“I don’t know what you mean, Ellie.”
“The disappearance of the colonists. The Bradley gang. What happened at the Kitchener Ironworks.”
“You’ve been doing your own reading.”
“Yes, the murders.”
“What’s wrong with Derry, Mike? Is it the same thing that’s was wrong with Ludlow? Tell me, if you know. I have to be sure.”
“I don’t know, Ellie. I don’t remember. I think I don’t remember because it’s better not to remember. I think remembering would be a one-way ticket to Juniper Hill. Don’t you think that?”
“I don’t know,” Ellie says, shaking her head and trying to blink back the tears that are already falling on the worn surface of the library’s work table. “I don’t know.”
That night to Cynthia’s for a little party — Cyn’s got a new, better, job down in Bangor, and the beers are out and the cake and the stupid paper streamers. Ellie would rather be here than in her own place, but she would also rather it was just her and Cyn. Like old times.
Ellie doesn’t much care for Cynthia’s boyfriend, who goes by the unlikely name of Randy Farnon and wears a jean jacket in the depths of Derry winter. There is always a yellow smiley face pin on the left lapel of the jacket; looking at this pin often makes Ellie feel, if not actually nauseous, like she’s just gone over a steep hill at sixty mph in a car with poor suspension. Sometimes Randy’s friends come around Cyn’s place; Ellie doesn’t much care for them either: men and women alike they are shifty and rat-eyed, and strike her as people who don’t believe in bathing more than twice a week. They wear the kind of suits Ellie thought had gone out with the Berlin Wall, complete with power shoulder pads and brogues with those stupid tassels over the laces.
That night, all of them quite drunk, one of these friends of Randy’s cuddles up to Ellie on the sofa and starts talking about girls with special talents, and roses that sing. Ellie just about makes it to the bathroom in time for the vomit to go down the toilet instead of down her party dress.
She drove until the morning and by about nine o’clock, there she was. Across the road that she drives down, the Crandall’s place stands. Just about. The fire damage has never been repaired and, fifteen years later, the house has become derelict — a haunted place with ivy growing down the porch. On the other side of the road, her own house. The house that, in a different world, would have been hers. There is no one at home, she’s pretty sure of that. There are no lights in the house, no car on the drive, no toys in the yard. She does not know — cannot know — whether this is by coincidence, or by design. She figures it doesn’t matter.
Across the lawn and up the path, up and up, pulling her sneakers up out of the mud with every other step.
In daylight the deadfall is an obviously deadly structure. Bleached, brittle and undeniably treacherous. And yet she sails up it in her loose-tied sneakers, as though up an escalator at Sears. She looks over her shoulder as she gets to the top and notes, for a second, that the view is still beautiful, that the Penobscot is still glistening, that the field before the house is dotted with golden flowers. Then, over she goes.
Though she has never walked this path with her actual feet, she knows the way: Paxcow took her there, Jud Crandall took her there, her daddy took her there, and the Wendigo met her there, where she always knew she would end up.
The mesa is a rough place, almost clear of any form of life but grim, crawling weeds and the shadows of the woods that resume at the rise of the hill to the north. The light is different here, thinner, like a wash of purple watercolour over a landscape; the herald of an epic thunderstorm.
In the centre of the mesa, a door.
She stands and waits, arms crossed. There is nothing in the woods that concerns her. Nothing she hasn’t met before. Eventually, as though popping out to yell “BOO!” at a surprise party, he pokes his head out through the door.
“Oh Eileen, you came. How wonderful.” He chuckles, he gurgles, like blood down a drain.
“I’m here. Say your piece.”
His grin spreads slowly, exposing wolfish teeth to the incongruent light. He looks at her, consideringly, head tweaked to one side.
“I see you talked to Mikey. I’d ask you to give him my best but, well. Anyway. We’ll let you know all the details once we have the formalities out of the way. It’s just a small thing, going through. Not — I won’t lie to you — an entirely pleasant journey, but a quick one.”
He throws the door wide open. She notices how long his fingernails are. How clawlike.
“Ellie Creed, come on down!”
Through the door he beckons her, his enchanting hands shaping the air in front of her face, conducting her gaze.
Ellie smiles. Shakes her head.
“No,” she says. “No. Forgetting is surviving. Answers don’t save you. And the third wish is the one that undoes the damage of other two. I already have a job. I don’t want to go with you.”
The door rattles on its invisible hinges. His face rattles right along with it. Ellie grins; he opens his mouth for a long scream (“Kill you! You can’t refuse me! You can’t do thiiiiii—"). And she slams the door on it. The door shakes, coughs up a last little rain of dust (it settles on the floor and then melts, just like a first snowfall) and then disappears.
They found her in the evening, the little troupe of kids who had come up to the pet sematary to bury little Jimmy Granger’s spaniel, Hoffa. The lady was crying but laughing at the same time. Carrie Wilson sat with her and held her hand while the boys did the burying, and then they helped her back down the path.