This is, obviously, a work of fan fiction. The character “Erik” is my own; all other characters are property of Stephen King.
At first it sounded like a Redhill Crane.
I was taking a walk one hot summer afternoon in the woods outside my apartment complex. I had finished reading Stephen King’s novel It a few hours earlier, wondering what to make of this lengthy, thought-provoking book, when I heard it. I left the gravel road and headed into the scrub pine.
The sound, I discovered, was Little Richard playing on an antique radio. As I got closer, I also heard high-pitched voices and a shovel scraping the dirt. For a moment, I wondered if I were about to stumble on some mobsters burying a corpse in the woods.
I tripped over a thick root poking out of the dirt. After brushing the dirt off my pants, I saw a pair of eyes staring at me through black, horn-rimmed glasses. Behind the eyes — and the young boy they belonged to — I could see five figures, all of them the same height.
Kids. Not mobsters. Kids.
“Whaya doin’ in this place, boya?” The boy said, in a bad imitation Irish accent.
I heard another scrape of the shovel, after which a stream of dirt landed in a growing pile behind the other kids. Who could be digging so far down in Florida without drowning in the mud? I wondered. Then I noticed that the trees weren’t scrub pine, but maple and hickory. The ground beneath my feet was dry.
“Hi,” one of the other kids said, a boy so skinny he might fall over if I breathed too hard. His hand clutched an aspirator. “You’re not from Derry, are you?”
“No,” I said, and I noticed that my voice was high and cracking. My clothes had changed too: I wore a black shirt with Einstein’s face on the front and blue corduroy pants. I felt long, curly locks bounce against my forehead, like the Weird Al haircut I had when I was 11 years old. At the moment, I didn’t think it was strange at all to have regressed so.
Behind them, a boy climbed out of the hole. He looked about twice the size of the skinny, sickly one, his sweatshirt hiding most of his body. He waved to me tentatively, still gasping for breath from the climb up.
“I’m B-B-Bill,” said one of the other boys, the tallest by a few inches, with a head of red hair. “D-D-D-Do you c-c-come here often?”
“No,” I said. I didn’t know where “where” was. “I’m not from around here. Why are you digging a hole?”
“It’s for our clubhouse,” the fat boy said, smiling.
“Why would you put a clubhouse in the ground?”
The children all looked at one another, before the redheaded boy named Bill spoke again. “Because i-i-i-i-it feels like d-d-d-the right thing to d-d-do.”
Then I knew exactly why they were digging it. These were the Losers, the kids who played in the Barrens one summer in Derry, Maine in 1957. They were digging a clubhouse because the ground was calling to them. They were digging because something
monstrous hid beneath the streets of Derry.
I noticed the fat boy panting again. He kept glancing at the redheaded girl, the one with a shiner over her left eye and a slingshot in her back pocket. “Can I give you a hand?” I asked him.
He nodded, too exhausted to speak.
The fat boy and I took turns digging through the rest of the afternoon as 1950’s rock and roll played on the antique radio. I had read about them in King’s prose: Mike, the quick, observant, African-American boy who grew up to be the town librarian; Eddie, the sickly, asthmatic one under the strain of maternal smothering; Stan, the prim Jewish young ornithologist; Beverly, the battered girl who likes a good smoke; Richie, the class clown with a gift for voices; Ben, the overweight, lovesick young engineer; Bill, the stuttering, mourning leader. But even a book as long as 1,100 pages isn’t long enough to make these kids real beyond their broad-strokes characterizations.
The Losers weren’t only drawn together by destiny. They each suffered loss, misery, ostracization, humiliation. The book isn’t about the killer clown but childhood trauma, about finding the strength to grow up with pain, to confront it as an adult and move on. Even if there were no supernatural child-eating clown, these kids would still be friends in a place like Derry. I know; I was part of my own gang of Losers growing up in rural Tennessee, among the theater and SCA nerds who didn’t care much for bible-thumping or school pep rallies.
I guessed that the Losers would meet It, the monster under the town, in a month or two. I tried to warn them, to say that they were too young, that they could defeat it in another twenty-seven years, but I found that I couldn’t talk about their future. I wasn’t in the book, after all, so I could have no effect on the narrative.
But as we finished digging that day, and Ben offered his chubby hand to me to climb out of the hole, I did think of something.
“I gotta get home,” Mike said. “I need to practice tuba tonight.”
“Okay, g-g-guys,” Bill said. “Nice m-m-m-meeting you, Erik. You staying in Derry long?”
“No, I don’t think so,” I said, shuffling my feet. “Nice meeting you guys.”
The Losers departed the Barrens. I noticed Ben watching as Bill and Beverly, holding hands, headed back to town. I knew that look on his face.
“Ben,” I said, “you ever heard about the fable of Solomon?”
Ben’s brow furrowed. “That sounds more like Mike’s department. I don’t read the Bible much.”
“It’s not in there,” I said. “One day, he asked his trusted advisors to write the simplest, most powerful sentence there is. One of them came back with just four words: ‘this, too, shall pass.’”
Ben shrugged. “So?”
“Well, just remember it. You might need it someday.” How could I tell Ben — or any of them — that things would get better? I knew they would (except for two of them), but it hurt to see how much they would suffer that summer, and how much more after they made a promise and left Derry for a generation. It was all I could say to this fat kid, who would one day lose his weight, gain his confidence, and grow into the world-class architect King wrote about. Ben, above all, stuck with me most.
“I gotta go,” he said. “Nice meeting you.”
“Goodbye,” I said.
I emerged from the northeastern woods into the Florida swamp, restored to adulthood. Derry doesn’t just exist in Maine. There are Derrys in Tennessee, Washington state, Florida, New York. Not all kids find the Losers. I was surprised I found the original Losers at all.