A small back stage area had been set up behind the movie screen, mostly as a place for the technical crew to set up their emergency equipment. The severe modernity of the beeping, flashing equipment shattered the illusion of the ethereal spider's nest outside, letting Bill clear his head enough to get his notes together.
But then again, it was all too easy to imagine a cartoon-ish, white gloved hand opening the curtain and two silver-dollar eyes glinting back at him from the darkness. A goofy red nose. A grin of yellow, pointed teeth.
"Let's go, Bill! This is your big show! Your starring role!" Milton wheedled.
"Right," Bill managed. He forced himself to walk onstage.
The sheer number of people in the audience was intimidating and overwhelming. Bill's past movies had been much more small-time and mainly presented at film festivals where the number of viewers was limited. Now, with a sea of expectant eyes locked on him, he was sure to flounder hopelessly. The fact that he barely remembered the film he was supposed to have directed wasn't helping matters.
Instead, Bill was surprised with the confident ease from which he was able to read the speech. His voice sounded cadenced, smooth, charming. People in the audience laughed at his joked and nodded sympathetically at his anecdotes. Soon he was hardly looking at the note cards. Words sprang into his head as easily as type on paper when he was caught up in authority inspiration.
Everything was going just fine until he noticed the clown in the audience.
"Howya doin', Billy-boy?" The clown- Pennywise; he knew in his heart, though his brain hoped desperately that this was all some vivid hallucination- let out a manic bray of laughter. A bucket of popcorn was balanced on the knees of Pennywise's pantaloons, striped carnival-bright. Through some horrified compulsion of observation, he noticed that roaches and fat black flies crawled and chilled and buzzed over the butter-yellow puffs.
"Well, go on ahead, Buh- Buh- Buh- Bill. They're all waiting for ya," Pennywise cackled.
"And an amazing cast of actors…" Bill said in a faint, shaking voice.
"Hey, Bill," a voice whispered conspiratorially from the seat in the audience that Pennywise had been sitting in. "Remember me?"
Bill felt his gaze being dragged down to the audience against his will. He saw Eddie sitting there- Eddie who had been blankly absent from his memory mere days after his death. One arm was draped over the pop corn bucket. Roaches wriggled through his frog-belly-white fingers. The other arm was just a crude stump of meat and splintered bone dripping congealed black gore down the front of his faded sport-coat. His timid face was curled into a grotesque, malevolent grim he would have never worn in life.
"I remember you, Bill," Eddie half-choked, half-gurgled- the sound of words being spat from a long dead pair of lungs. "And you know, I've had a long time to think things over while I've been down here. You know what I found out? It's all your fault. Yessiree, Bill, you're the grand prizewinner in the 'Who Killed Eddie Kaspbrak Competition!' Step on up, Bill. We'll have a GRAND OLD TIME!"
"No…" Bill whispered, holding onto the podium for support like a drowning man to a piece of driftwood. "Eddie, please…"
People in the audience were stirring uncomfortably, but Bill didn't notice. His gaze was frozen on the chair, where his brother George was seated. His face was so bloated and decayed as to be barely recognizable, but it was him, friends and neighbors, yessiree, IT was Georgie.
"What's behind door number one, Billy?" Georgie shrieked in a voice that was at once childish and piping, yet filled with an ageless malice. "Who's that floating facedown in the canal? Is it little Doris Cochocan? Is it Rebecca Hunlon? Is it me? No, it's you, Bill! You're gonna find out how we all floooaaat down here!"
Georgie cackled, a brainless, unhinged insane expression of glee. He laughed so hard that popcorn flew into the air, send glittering black beetles flying. One huge cockroach, the size of a mouse, landed dead center on Bill's note card and stared up at him with tiny, ink-black eyes.
"Tell all your friends, Bill! Tell them there's room for everyone! You'll all get a chance to floooaaat!"
Again, Georgie dragged out that syllable in a wheedle-y, rattling, waterlogged screech. Another sound joined it, and Bill realized it was the sound of his own voice screaming. A hand clamped on his shoulder. Bill whirled around fully expecting to see Pennywise the Clown, with his face greasy with oil paint and his red mouth stretched in the cannibal grin.
What he saw was Milton, visibly quivering with fear and humiliation. It was then that Bill saw the looks of horrified awkwardness- the look of someone who had just been told an immensely inappropriate joke and was unsure how to react- plastered on the faces of the patrons in the audience.
"Suh- suh- sorry," Bill choked out. He shoved the note cards into Milton's fumbling hands. "I r- r- r- really cuh- han't stay."
And leaving the bewildered Milton standing stock-still on the stage, still holding his note cards, Bill bolted from the stage.