Richie pushes his glasses up on his nose. The gesture feels familiar, though he has worn contact lenses for twenty years. He is listening to Mike’s story about the bird at the Ironworks. Mike also reminds the others of how the photo from Will Hanlon’s album had moved. Richie feels an exhilarating energy in the room and thinks of how it is a better high than cocaine. He thinks that it is the energy that one draws on in childhood, which slowly dissipates in adulthood.
Richie feels like his younger self again. Like Bill, he too understands how adulthood often robs people of the ability to become excited or to find pleasure and entertainment in the imagination. To recover this loss, Richie has used drugs, but the artificial high still does not equal the feeling he was able to generate naturally in his youth.
Meanwhile, the adult version of the Losers’ Club continues to knock back their individual preferences for booze. Eddie is drinking gin-and-prune juice, Bill drinks bourbon, Mike opens another beer, and Beverly finishes her third screwdriver. Eddie breaks the silence that has overtaken the group and asks if It knows much about what they are doing in this moment. Ben reminds him that It was there a short while ago. Bill agrees that this means It knows what they are up to.
The adults use alcohol to desensitize themselves and to make it easier to listen to each other’s stories. Eddie’s strange cocktail reflects his willingness to partake with the others but also references his hypochondria—because prune juice helps with constipation and arthritis. Ben and Bill know that It is aware of their meeting in the library.
Suddenly, Richie half-stands, gropes for the table, then falls back into his chair. His eyes are burning. He suddenly understands why the memories have come back one at a time. If they came back all at once, it would have been like aiming “a psychological shotgun blast” at his temple. Richie then remembers he and Mike seeing It come in the “smoke-hole,” and Richie attributes the memory to the burning in his eyes. Richie recalls feeling it for the first time after Mike called him in California. Richie wonders if it is psychological but Mike thinks the sensation is as real as the balloons and the head in the icebox, or the dead body of Tony Tracker that Eddie saw earlier.
Richie believes that his eyes are burning, and so the sensation becomes real. This feel is connected to the memory of being in the smoke-hole, and also to Richie’s fear of losing his eyesight. Mike’s assurance encourages Richie to believe in the things that are happening to him so that he can use these sensations as access points to his memories.
Richie recalls the story of the smoke-hole. He remembers that it occurred four or five days after Mike brought Will Hanlon’s photo album down to the Barrens. The clubhouse is done by this time. Ben has read about smoke-holes and shares the idea with the group. Richie pinpoints the day as July 17th, two days after the body of Jimmy Cullum is discovered and a day after Mr. Nell comes down to the Barrens again and sits right on the clubhouse without realizing that it’s there. He questions them carefully about Cullum, but there is not much that they have to tell him. In the present, Beverly prompts Richie to get to the core of his story, but he is figuring out where he should start.
Richie goes over the details of the day in an effort to jog his memory. He mentions the photo album and the clubhouse because they are relevant to the story, despite Beverly’s wish that he get to the point. The smoke-hole takes them through the history of Derry, which they began to explore with the album. The completion of the clubhouse is important because it is the space where they gather to engage in the ritual.
Richie recalls Bill riding him to Kansas Street on Silver and stowing the bike under the little bridge there. Richie asks when Bill is going to tell everyone else—everyone except for him and Ben—about his plan to create silver bullets. Bill says that he won’t talk about it today, and Richie rightly suspects that Bill has second thoughts about the plan working. The boys cross to a clearing. Suddenly, a piece of ground about ten inches long by three inches wide swings up, and eyes look out of the blackness. They belong to Eddie, who says, “Who’s that trip-trapping on my bridge?” Richie Tozier goes into one of his voices—Pancho Vanilla. This routine sends Beverly and Ben, who is sitting next to her, go into a fit of giggles. Beverly prompts Ben to let them in and Bill and Richie drop through the hatch, which Ben closes again.
The bridge on Kansas Street is the place where Henry tried to carve his name into Ben’s stomach. King’s mention of the bridge and Richie’s casual reference to the fairy tale “Three Billy Goats Gruff” remind the reader of the fairy tale’s relation to the children’s real and imagined fears. The silver bike and the silver bullet are the only modes of defense that they can imagine for fighting It, and this suggests that they will be successful—what is imagined becomes real when it comes to It. The sight of eyes looking up from the darkness underground is also reminiscent of Its eyes staring back at George from the sewer.
Bill asks what has been going on, and Eddie prompts Ben to tell Bill and Richie “the story” and see what they think. Ben, Beverly says, was telling a story about an “Indian ceremony,” which she thinks would be bad for Eddie’s asthma. Eddie calls it the “smoke-hole ceremony.” Ben then talks about the book he borrowed from the library—Ghosts of the Great Plains—which discusses how indigenous people from the Plains engaged in smoke ceremonies as part of their religion. However, the ceremonies were also competitions to see who could stand the smoke long enough to have visions. The visions were then supposed to tell the tribe what to do to solve a collective problem.
The children collect information about legends and rituals from all over the world, which give remedies for how to deal with the supernatural and dispel evil. Though some of them were raised in particular faiths—Richie is Methodist, and Stan is Jewish—the rituals in those faiths only give them the tools to avoid and reject an evil like It, not to understand Its nature or how to combat It. Western faiths also often advocate personal introspection, whereas the smoke-hole ritual emphasizes collective effort.
Bill thinks that the smoke-hole ceremony is a good idea. Richie thinks that, if anyone has a vision, it will be Bill. Ben thinks that it’s worth trying, though it may only work for Indians. He says that he has a hatchet, and they all help him cut some green wood. It takes an hour for them to cut four or five armfuls of branches. Beverly and Richie go to the bank of the Kenduskeag and collect stones. Richie then tells Beverly that she cannot participate in the ceremony because she is a girl. This makes her indignant, but Bill reasons that someone has to stay above ground in case anything goes wrong. Beverly asks why Eddie can’t do it, given his asthma, but no one responds. She realizes that they don’t they want her to participate because she’s a girl. Instead of crying, as Richie expects, she explodes in anger and curses all of them. Bill relents and asks who will stay out of the clubhouse. Beverly suggests that they draw matches.
Richie figures that Bill is akin to “the chief” or the shaman of their group. The boys think that to ensure the purity of their ritual—in which only men would have participated—they have to exclude Beverly. Beverly then asserts her equality with members of the group in a way that she never would at home with her father. While she accepts her father’s prejudices about her, such as being afraid of spiders, she refuses to accept those of the Losers’ Club. Her knowledge that they have all had similar experiences means that her participation is as valid as anyone’s.
Beverly takes out a book of matches. She lights a match and burns it out before adding it with six others. She then says that the person to draw the burnt match will be the one to stay outside of the clubhouse. They all pick a match and tell Beverly how much they love her. When none of them pulls a burnt match, Beverly thinks that she will be the one to stay out after all. However, she, too, draws an unburnt match. When they accuse her of cheating, she shows them the faint mark of soot from where she burned the single match-head. Bill reasons that they all have to go down. When Eddie asks what will happen if they all pass out, Bill reasons that they will not, if Beverly is telling the truth about the matches. When Stanley asks how Bill knows this, but Bill says that he simply does.
This is the only instance in the novel in which the group wonders if Beverly is telling them the truth. Despite the litany of eerie experiences they have had, they also quietly think that she may be tricking them (they know her to be good at tricks) so that she can participate in the ceremony. Bill figures that, if Beverly is telling the truth about the matches, it is a sign that the entire group is supposed to participate in the smoke-hole ceremony. Maybe some supernatural power other than It is at work too.
Ben and Richie go down first, and the others hand down the rocks one by one. For kindling, Mike offers his tattered Archie comic book. They light a flame and watch it blaze up. The clubhouse begins to fill up with smoke. Ben is the first to complain about the smoke, and Richie suggests that he leave. Stan, however, is the first to leave. Ben moves over to fill the space that Stan has vacated, and Mike throws more sticks on the smoky fire. Then, Ben gets up and leaves. Eddie and Beverly are next. Bill begins to cough and can’t stop. Richie encourages him to leave, so as not to kill himself. Mike and Richie are now the only ones left. Mike throws more sticks on the fire. Not to be outdone, Richie throws some on, too.
The smoke-hole ceremony ends up being a test of wills. Eddie lasts for an unusually long time, which is proof that Mr. Keene’s later assessment that he does not have asthma is likely true. Beverly also outlasts many of the boys, proving that she was able to handle the challenge as well if not better than some of them. Richie and Mike try to outdo each other by throwing more kindling on the fire. The ceremony also seems to be a kind of adolescent test of strength.
Mike asks Richie how he is feeling. Richie says that he almost feels “good” and Mike asks if Richie has been having “funny thoughts.” Richie tilts his head back and feels that he is drifting away, like a balloon. Bill’s voice calls down, asking if the guys are all right. Richie hears the voice as distant but still disturbing and asks Bill to be quiet. The clubhouse suddenly feels bigger than ever. Richie holds his hand out to Mike. It seems as though Mike is on the other side of an enormous room. Richie notices that the vision is happening, and he is beginning to float.
Mike and Richie are beginning to hallucinate, which is the purpose of the ceremony. Richie’s feeling of floating like a balloon is an inversion of the clown’s invitation to float with the dead. Here, the floating sensation seems to be the result of an expansion of consciousness.
Mike and Richie notice that they are no longer inside of the clubhouse but in the Barrens. However, the Barrens look different—lusher and greener. The air is hot and misty and not quite like Maine air in the summer. There is a flapping noise overhead and a group of bats flies by. They are the biggest bats that Richie has ever seen and he is frightened for a moment. Then, he remembers that there is no need to be scared, for it is only a vision. Mike and Richie move toward the sound of water from the river. In the “thick knee-high groundmist,” Richie cannot tell if his feet touch the ground. Birds flock across the sky, “squalling harshly.” The boys are in the Barrens as they had been thousands of years ago. They see dinosaurs and saber-toothed tigers. It feels now as though they are going back millions of years.
Mike and Richie have returned to the Barrens during a prehistoric time. The “bats” that Richie thinks he sees are probably pterodactyls. The climate is different because they have entered a different period in the Earth’s history. The feeling of tumbling back into history is both disorienting and fun for them. Unlike the feelings that they get from going back in time as adults—anxiety and dread—as children they are fascinated by a vision of a world about that they have only read about or seen in movies.
Suddenly, they hear “a tuneless, soulless sound.” Richie turns his head up toward the sky, where it is coming from. The sound takes on a voice that builds to “a shattering crescendo of sound.” The clouds in the west bloom with red fire. Richie recognizes a spaceship and thinks that, whatever came down so long ago must have come from another star or another galaxy. There is then an explosion. Richie senses It. Mike drags Richie to his feet and they run along the banks of the Kenduskeag during this vision. Richie is dimly aware of the fact that they are not running alone—animals seem to be with them, recognizing the arrival of an alien presence. Then, Richie begins to cough and call for Mike.
The vision of It strongly suggests that It has come from outer space. Incidentally, there was also a popular 1950s schlock horror film entitled It Came from Outer Space. King seems to be using the motif to explain Its origins, though the boys cannot figure out from where in the universe It came. They know from the explosion and the presence of fire that Its presence is violent and harmful. Both the boys and the animals run away because they can intuit Its ability to cause mortal harm.
Richie’s eyes flutter open and Beverly is kneeling beside him, wiping his mouth with a handkerchief. The others stand behind her, looking “solemn and scared.” The side of Richie’s face hurts a lot and he tries to talk but can only croak. Richie asks if Beverly slapped him and she says she did; it was the only thing she knew to do. He also asks if he threw up and Beverly nods. Richie gets to his feet but is unsure if he is going to faint. Bill says that he and Ben pulled Richie and Mike Hanlon out of the clubhouse. Ben says it was very smoky inside the clubhouse and that the group became even more scared when they heard how much Richie and Mike were screaming. More strangely, the screams sounded far away. Ben and Bill also mention how much bigger the clubhouse looked.
Richie learns that his experience of the clubhouse expanding was not merely a hallucination. Richie has no memory of being brought back to reality, and his voice is gone from the smoke inhalation. Ben pulls Richie and Mike out of the clubhouse because he is the only one who is strong enough to do so before the boys risked dying of asphyxiation. The sight of the other kids’ “solemn and scared” faces alerts Richie to the importance of what happened.
Beverly asks if Richie really had a vision, like in Ben’s book. Richie says that, if he did, he does not wish to have another. Richie then asks Beverly for a cigarette, and tells the group about the feeling of going back in time and seeing the Kenduskeag turn “wild.” Mike talks about how they saw It come out of the sky, in something like a spaceship. Mike and Richie had the sense, during their vision. that It was bad.
Richie and Mike recall their vision to the group, confirming that the smoke-hole ceremony is real. There is a sense of disconnect between the experience of going back to a prehistoric era and seeing a spaceship, as King also blends genres and delves into science fiction. It could be a creature of advanced intelligence.
Mike goes on to reason that It has always been there, since the beginning of time. He thinks that It may have been using the sewers, waiting for the ice to melt and people to come. Richie adds that this may be why It uses sewers and drains—as “regular freeways.” Stanley asks the two if they saw what It looks like and they shake their heads. Eddie wonders if they can beat a thing like that, but no one answers.