Stranger Things: The New Generation (Chapter 8)

This eight-chapter novella is a sequel to Stranger Things: The College Years, which should be read beforehand. Both are works of fan fiction based on the Stranger Things TV series. I do not profit from them and they are not part of the official Stranger Things canon. They are stories that came to me as I imagined the Stranger Things characters well after the period of the television seasons. There is plenty of Stranger Things fiction to be found online (see here), but if I learn that the Duffer Brothers do not appreciate fan fiction of their work, or if they order a cease-and-desist, I will gladly pull these stories down.

                          Stranger Things, The New Generation — Chapter Eight:

                              Retro Incendium

She let Mike finish school that year, but he would not return to Marshall in September. By then his body would be shrinking with a vengeance. Jane remembered how he had shot up over five inches between his thirteenth and fifteenth years. When summer came, he was well back into that biological time frame. There was no way he could pass for a junior in the fall. People would catch on.

Tobias and Mike made the best of that summer, and Jane savored their friendship, knowing it couldn’t last. She would later look back on that summer of 2010 as the last time her son knew happiness.

In the fall she started “home schooling” Mike and minimizing his contact with the outside. The residents of Tibbetts Street who had known him were all dead, so that simplified things in the neighborhood. She forbade Mike to linger on the porch and lawn. Only the Sinclairs and Tobias Powell entered her home, and of course members of the Hawkins Club when they flew out to visit.

Medical appointments would have been an insurmountable problem, but Will the Wise bailed her out. His old doctor from the Hawkins Lab, Sam Owens, had connections in Portland and was able to hook Mike up with a physician who kept his condition secret. Jane was indebted to Dr. Owens and surprised the man was still alive; he was almost ninety now. He had engineered her secret adoption by Jim Hopper in 1984. She never dreamed he would still be protecting her in the twenty-first century.

Mike took all of this amazingly in stride for the first two years. After that things got bad. Fast.

 

The spring of 2012 was the worst period. Mike’s voice warbled and he hit puberty in the reverse direction, snared once again on the trajectory of childhood. He was almost twelve: May 22 would be his thirteenth birthday, and thus his last day as a thirteen year old. He grounded himself in denial and resisted his hormonal impulses, insisting he was a teenager in his thoughts and actions. It was like trying to become a character from a novel or film. The background was there; he certainly remembered his teenage experiences. But they felt illusory and out of reach.

Tobias came to visit around this time. In two weeks he was graduating from Franklin High School. Marshall had closed in 2011, in an attempt to consolidate the city’s resources into fewer and bigger high schools. It was a narrow decision made by the school board (4-3), with the result that Marshall’s students were spread to Madison and Franklin. Tobias ended up at the latter and hated it; Mike was glad to have missed the whole mess.

Even so, it wasn’t right. Mike should have been at Franklin now, graduating with Tobias, sharing their experiences together, looking forward to the senior prom, and then to college in the fall. Tobias had been accepted at Columbia. Since their first year at Marshall, he and Mike had dreamed of attending Columbia together. They would conquer New York and move mountains.

Mike was eating lunch in the kitchen when Tobias arrived. Jane went to the front door and let him in. He was eighteen; a man now.

“Hi, Miss Hopper.” Tobias looked brittle. “Is this a bad time?”

It’s always bad. “No, of course not. Come in. Mike’s in the kitchen.”

“Mom?” Mike chirped. He had come to see who it was. “Hey! Tobias!” He ran and put his arms around his friend, who was now much taller than he. It used to be vice-versa.

Tobias returned the hug rigidly. “How’s it going, Mike?” These visits had become visibly difficult for him.

“Awesome. I got to show you my new comics.”

Tobias forced a smile. “Okay. Great.”

“I mean, if you want to see.”

“Sure.”

“Let’s go in the living room,” said Jane. “Can I get you something?”

“No, no, I’m fine.”

“Mom made roast beef sandwiches.”

“Really, I’m okay.”

“Do I want your opinion?” he asked, laughing. “Or did I get that right?”

Tobias nodded.

Mike punched his arm lightly. “You need to give me a response.”

Tobias forced one: “Then I’ll whip it out of you!”

Mike laughed.

In the living room they sat down in comfortable chairs. “So wow, you’re graduating in a few weeks,” said Mike.

“Oh yeah. Bye-bye Franklin High.”

“Yeah. I’m glad I wasn’t around when Marshall closed. I liked it. But I don’t know. I remember liking it, but I don’t really miss school that much. I mean, I miss you.” He looked down at his shoes, unsure of what to say.

Jane stood up. “You know what, I’ll let you guys talk. I’ll be outside if you need anything.”

Tobias looked grateful. “Thanks, Miss Hopper.”

Jane sat on the front porch while Tobias and her son talked for almost an hour. Toward the end she heard Mike shouting. She closed her eyes. She had dreaded this day. She heard Mike yell again, and then his feet pounding up the stairs. Tobias came and found her on the porch. His eyes were wet.

“Miss Hopper… I’m not going to see Mike anymore. I’ve been trying my best, but I can’t do it anymore. He and I are getting too different now.”

“I understand. You don’t have to explain.”

“Well, I tried explaining it to Mike, and of course he’s really upset.”

“So are you.”

He wiped his eyes. “He’s a kid again. About the age we were when we first met. We don’t… connect anymore.”

He broke down then, and Jane held him as he cried. “You were a great friend to him, Tobias.”

“He fucking hates me now.”

She had sworn to herself that she wouldn’t be angry with Tobias when this day came. Mike desperately needed a friend, but by now that was too much to ask of Tobias. He was an adult going to college. Mike had the age and maturity of a seventh-grader.

Tobias said good-bye, and Jane wished him the best. She never saw him again.

 

The next downslide was in November 2016, when a tycoon named Donald Trump crushed everyone’s expectations and was elected the forty-fifth president of the United States. Mike was a diminished eight year old, and was flabbergasted to see his two uncles suddenly united in fervent opposition to the new president. The Hawkins Club gathering in early December was worlds apart from the one seven years ago. For Jane, that was the only good thing about the ascendance of Donald J. Trump: it made Lucas and Dustin tight again.

Naturally, Dustin couldn’t resist a few parting blows at the lame duck. Like many outraged voters, he blamed Trump’s victory on Obama’s complete failure to address the plight of the middle class, not to mention his own black tribe. Lucas, in a rare gracious moment, conceded that President Christ Obama was hardly that after all. Jane could see Mike struggling to make sense of it all, but he was no longer equipped to digest politics. All he knew is that his Uncle Luc and Uncle Dustin were best friends again.

By summer he had winnowed down to a seven-year old, and it was at that point Mike started to lose his memories. Not lose, precisely; he remembered being older, taller, going to school, and his best friend Tobias who permanently unfriended him. He remembered liking books and movies that were scary, and couldn’t understand why. He remembered the War of the Uncles. But it was all turning dim and feeling like a dream. By August he disputed the reality of his memories. Jane got her first unpleasant taste of this development as they ate breakfast one morning:

“Mom?” he had asked.

“Yes?”

“Was Grandpa Jim ever real?”

“Was he ever real?”

“Yeah, or was he just one of the stories you read to me?”

She stared at him, upset by the question. “Mike, we have photos of Grandpa in the living room. You see them every day. You’re saying that you can’t remember Grandpa?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking.”

“All those times he came over for dinner? When he took you hiking and rafting? When he died in the hospital?”

“Sort of. But none of it seems real.” He frowned. “I forgot about those photos.” Abruptly he left the table and ran into the living room. When he came back, he was crying hard, and holding the picture of the three of them — Mike, her father, and herself — in her favorite family portrait. “I don’t understand things anymore, mom,” he sobbed.

She took him in her arms. “I’m sorry, honey; I’m sorry.” She felt utterly helpless as he kept crying. Since that cursed Halloween night, he had lived half his life backwards, and she was no closer to finding a solution to his regressive condition. Retro incendium. Dustin’s words haunted her. Burning backwards.

 

In 2021, the kids from Hawkins — Jane Hopper, Lucas Sinclair, Dustin Henderson, and William Byers — each turned fifty years old. It was a terrible year for their milestone, marred by national crises that heralded worse disasters. In February, President Trump put a complete stop on the immigration of all non-white peoples to America. Then, in September and December, two appalling decisions were reached on the Supreme Court.

The first was Carlson v. Dale, which overturned Roe v. Wade. The outrage spawned movements that made Antifa look pacifist. Violence shook the streets. Jane despised abortion, and would not have aborted Mike even to save her life. Were it not for her friends and father, she would have grown up to be a virulent anti-abortionist. Thanks to them (all men, interestingly) she understood why the issue was ethically challenging, and she had come to accept a woman’s right to choose. Now, after forty-nine years, that right had been torpedoed at the whim of six justices.

Lucas and Dustin couldn’t contain their fury. Lucas had two daughters, and Dustin’s daughter Olivia had had an abortion when she was a teenager. Carlson v. Dale, piled on top of the other Trump-era sins, was the last straw. They told Jane they had joined an underground support network for women who needed abortions. Jane didn’t want the details. She supported Lucas and Dustin and respected the movement, but she couldn’t be involved. Her personal revulsion for abortion was too strong.

The second decision was Trump v. Hennessey. In another 6-3 vote — and in an unprecedented display of judiciary arrogance, not to mention stupidity — the court declared the 22nd Amendment unconstitutional.  That amendment had gone into effect after Franklin Delano Roosevelt served four terms as president, and limited a president to serving two. According to the majority opinionsuch an amendment violated the intentions of Constitutional Framers like James Madison, who had intended longer appointments for presidents. To bar any qualified individual from running for president, regardless of the number of terms already served, cut the heart out of popular sovereignty. That principle, wrote the majority, was sacred: the People of the United States were the only source of governmental power; they, and they alone, were authorized to determine how many terms a president could serve; and they determined that in the voting booth.

The People of the United States, for their part, went ballistic. Jurists went insane. The Supreme Court had no authority to declare a constitutional amendment unconstitutional. It was an amendment. It was constitutional by definition. The only way to overturn an amendment was to repeal it through Congress. Aside from even this, the logic of the majority was risible. Whatever James Madison and other Framers had initially thought, they had ultimately rejected long-term service for fear of making a presidential monarchy — which was the precise goal of Donald Trump and his stooges on the court.

For all the public outrage, it seemed likely that Trump would get his third term. He had won the election of 2020 by a wider margin that the one he stole in 2016. The more enemies he made, the more his constituency snowballed. The country was more polarized than it had been during the Civil War. Unless the Democrats could produce a strong charismatic, Trump’s victory in 2024 looked like a slam dunk. He was reaching the disaffected and promising them gold; when he dumped shit on them instead, they praised him to the stars. Jane remembered Dustin saying that all presidential elections since John F. Kennedy were won by the most charismatic candidate. Party, policies, and even sanity were ultimately irrelevant; people were suckers for charisma. That would be the only way to oust Trump: by stirring the masses with as many thunderous speeches and glowing promises.

Mike was four to three and a half years old during those horrible months, and for the first time Jane was glad of her son’s affliction. He was young enough now not to understand anything beyond playing with toys and being entertained by company. That was suitable: she didn’t want him aware of Donald Trump’s America.

 

Her relief didn’t last. By the fall of 2023, Jane Hopper was having a nervous breakdown. She insisted to herself that she had it under control, until her body gave up on her. She was playing with Mike when it happened.

“No!” he said, grabbing her fingers. He was down to twenty months, and psychologically still in his terrible twos. He knew about thirty words, his favorite being the negative he was now shouting.

“No! No!” He was hitting her chest with his tiny hands.

“Come on, honey,” said Jane, trying to settle him on her lap and keep the panic attack at bay. She had them all the time now; the meds prescribed by Dr. Archambault hardly helped.

“Nooooo,” Mike was enjoying himself, trying to wiggle free. She tugged him down firm, and then her grip slipped. His sideways motion sent him to the floor on his little behind. She gasped, fearing an injury, and then saw that he was laughing and okay. She reached down to pick him up — and fell to her knees. Her breath wasn’t coming back. Oh God. She closed her eyes and tried to rein in the attack. Her body was sweating, and her arms shook as she pressed her hands against the floor to keep kneeling. Dimly she was aware of Mike pelting her with “no’s” and “mommy’s”, as he leaped around her laughing. She needed help. Lucas.

Her cell was in the kitchen. Standing up was out of the question. She lay down on her side and tried breathing slowly. Mike’s face appeared over hers, curious now. “Mommy?”

She held out a weak hand. “Here, honey.” He came into her arms and she cuddled him, as if to galvanize herself by soaking up his infant energy. Her tremors multiplied. Call Lucas for me, Mike. Use your iPhone. Absurd. She hadn’t allowed Mike an iPhone for years now. He could barely talk. Her chest tightened, and her vision swam. Breathe. Breathe, damn it. Come on.

Somehow she did and kept from passing out. Mike had wiggled free again, and was all around her, though not quite as entertained. He didn’t like seeing mommy stretched out on the floor. Nor, for that matter, did she.

She was finally able to push herself up when the worst of it faded. Then she stumbled into the kitchen and dialed Lucas, crying over what she had to ask of him.

 

Jane faded in and out; in to perform her necessaries, out to abstain from a reality which had become too cruel. She had lost the two people who meant everything to her. There was no one left who could reach her.

More than twenty months ago, she had relinquished Mike to Lucas and Raquel, begging them to adopt her son for the remainder of his infancy. She couldn’t watch him grow any smaller, and she couldn’t take care of herself, let alone him. In his final twelve months they fed him formula, and gave him the love and attention she could no longer provide. Another black mark in her catalog of failures. She had committed herself to the care of Mike’s doctor, Dan Archambault, who diagnosed her with an extreme anxiety disorder and recurring schizophrenia. Only strong sedation could get her to sleep. Dr. Archambault paid her house visits, appointed two nurses who rotated over her 24/7, and had Sam Owens from Hawkins foot the expensive bill. Jane’s panic attacks increased, and she lashed out in bolts of fury. When she dreamed, it was usually of Mike shriveling into a mangled fetus. Screams and crashes could be heard coming from the house on 74th Avenue and Tibbetts Street. The nurses routinely cleaned up after telekinetic tornadoes.

Lucas or Raquel, sometimes both, brought Mike over occasionally, so she could hold him for a while. They timed the visits to coincide with her more sedated periods. Those visits stopped after May 22. Jane’s instructions had been firm: after Mike’s “zero” birthday, she did not want to see him anymore. Lucas and Raquel were to continue caring for him until he was unable to survive outside a womb.

Was it days since Mike’s birthday, weeks, or months? Jane couldn’t say, and it didn’t matter. He was dead; and so was she.

“Miss Hopper?”

She opened her eyes. She had been dreaming of fetal compost heaps in the Upside Down. It was a recurring nightmare. She swam in a mountain of aborted and miscarried pre-infants. She dug through their corpses screaming for Mike. She never found him.

“Good morning, Miss Hopper.”

Dr. Archambault. He was at the foot of her bed. Why did he bother her anymore?

“I have some startling news.”

She was empty and broken. It was nothing newsworthy.

“We’ve been monitoring your son very closely.”

Her son was dead. So was she.

“By now it’s clear that he’s no longer aging backwards.”

Of course not; the dead don’t age.

“He’s aging forwards again. Normally.”

The words made a rift, distorting her sense of what was what. No. The doctor was tricking her, manipulating her mind, as doctors had been doing since her birth in the lab.

“Your friends are here, Miss Hopper.”

“El?” Lucas came in and sat on the edge of her bed. “Hey there.” He took her hand. “We think Mike is in the clear. He’s put on weight since May 22 and getting more feisty. He’s not dying. It seems like he’s going to grow up again.”

Her zone began to crumble.

“Will is here too.”

William Byers appeared next to Lucas. He was carrying something in his arms. “Hey El,” he said. “He’s okay. See? He’s going to be okay.”

When Jane saw her baby, alive and cooing, her edifice collapsed. All the pain and rage of the past fifteen years poured out in tears and anguish. She took Mike from Will — daring the gods to punish her anymore — and clutched him to her breast, repeating his name over and over.

And as Jane cradled her son, Lucas and Will feared for her future. She had raised Mike twice, up fifteen and a half years, and then back down again. The tail ends of those cycles had each nearly killed her. It was unlikely she could handle a third round. She was fifty-four years old, strung out, and barely sane. No one had any idea if Mike was still subject to his time-power in some way, or even why he had started to age normally again.

Worries would come later. For now, healing was needed — the healing of love and friendship. The room filled with both, and Mike Hopper burped happily, feeling every bit of it.

 

Read about Mike Hopper’s new trials in the third novella, Stranger Things: World’s End. (Coming soon.)

(Previous Chapter: The War of the Uncles)

Advertisements

Stranger Things: The New Generation (Chapter 7)

This eight-chapter novella is a sequel to Stranger Things: The College Years, which should be read beforehand. Both are works of fan fiction based on the Stranger Things TV series. I do not profit from them and they are not part of the official Stranger Things canon. They are stories that came to me as I imagined the Stranger Things characters well after the period of the television seasons. There is plenty of Stranger Things fiction to be found online (see here), but if I learn that the Duffer Brothers do not appreciate fan fiction of their work, or if they order a cease-and-desist, I will gladly pull these stories down.

                        Stranger Things, The New Generation — Chapter Seven:

                         The War of the Uncles

Everyone cried terrorism. National Security shut down Tibbetts Street for two weeks, denying survivors their homes. Those lucky few, including Jane and Mike, were rigorously interrogated, and found clean of ill intent. Most of the residents had simply vanished. The Llaza’s appetite left no remains. Survivors described horrors that kept the CIA swarming over Portland. Jane’s story was simple, superficially true, and profoundly false: she had come home late to find her son and his best friend hunkering in fear; she had called her friend Lucas, who had come; they had called the police when their cell phones worked again. As for Dominic Bragdon, who lived many streets down, he and his friends were presumed to have been trick-or-treating on Tibbetts when the horror struck.

During the two-week shut down, Jane and Mike moved in with the Sinclairs. Lucas’s apartment wasn’t huge, but it had a guest room for Mike, while Jane took over little Audrey’s bedroom. This was to the initial outrage of elder sister Shannon, who had to double up with Audrey, though she quickly relented; she loved Aunt Jane as much as Audrey did.

For Jane, staying in the apartment raised grim shades. She and Mike Wheeler had lived three floors below, when the complex was called Ione Plaza. Only last year the name had changed to the Vue Apartments. Glitzy renovations couldn’t suppress Mike Wheeler’s ghost. She saw him at nights, sitting in little Audrey’s chair; heard the melodies of his guitar notes; felt the crushing weight of his eyeless stare that accused her of killing their son. He was the only thing I left you, El. She pleaded with him. No! I tried, Mike! I tried to save him! Her boyfriend’s face of judgment transformed into her son’s look of innocence, growing eyes that were identical to hers, and then burning white, igniting him like the head of a match. You saved me, mom! His voice scraped insistently, rising higher. You saved me! He was shrieking, and his face began to melt.

Jane screamed and woke up. Sweat drenched her shirt and little Audrey’s blankets. It was a little after midnight. A door down the hall opened, and Raquel was by her side in seconds.

“Your nightmares are scaring me, El.” Raquel had long ago swapped out Jane for El. Years of Saturday night visits made her family.

“I’ll be fine,” Jane lied. She wouldn’t be fine for a long time. The Llaza was the worst adversary she had faced from the Upside Down. The day after Halloween, Mike had described it to her in repulsive detail:

“I knew everything about it because I was the monster. I had its mind and memories. I knew every single thing about it. It had a trillion-year lifespan. When I attacked it with my fire, all I did was push it thousands of years into its adult stage.”

“And it made you do that?” she had asked. “Forced you to make it grow?”

“The next day it would have made me fill another street. Eventually that thing would have become the entire state of Oregon.”

“Michael, how on earth did it give you a new power?”

“It didn’t, it only changed what was there. Like, it shifted the framework of my mind so that my time power was way more severe. It was in its larva stage — or what we think of as a larva — when it traveled through the internet and preyed on peoples’ fears. It got inside texts and images that people love, to scare them and break their will. So it could dominate them. And fuck with their minds in other ways.”

“But it needed someone like you to come in to our world.”

“Well yeah, that’s why we haven’t heard stories about streets being taken over until last night.”

She rubbed his head and kissed him. “You’re one of a kind.”

“Not anymore.”

“And you’re sure about that?”

“When your power hit mine, it killed it. It’s gone, completely. I can’t even fugit people. I’ve tried.”

She couldn’t tell if he was disappointed or relieved, but she guessed more of the latter. “I killed a lot of people when I was young, Mike. Even younger than you. I’ll never judge you for what you did to those four boys. Your secret’s safe.”

“But what I was saying about the Llaza. It terrorized people through their computers. I remember all those people from its memories. Thousands of them. It was doing that for like a decade, ever since the internet became popular. It liked to possess family photos. It did that a lot. It broke people — made them crazy. It broke me.” But it had also needed him. Oh, Mike.

“I guess it sensed that Ellen Page meant more to you than your own mother.” She was teasing. Sort of.

He didn’t want to talk about that. “Well, it’s dead. Because of you. Badass mom.”

“I thought I ended up killing you.”

“Naw,” he said. “You’re too badass for that.”

No, she thought now, as Raquel held her in Audrey’s bed. Not badass. Just lucky. In her battle with the Llaza, she hadn’t had time to even think how her power might interact with her son’s. She was just trying to fend off the vile creature; to shield Mike from it, and to keep his own power from destroying her. She could have easily killed Mike, and it was a miracle she hadn’t. I saw him burn.

 

It was the second week of December and an early Christmas at the home of Jane Hopper. Assembled with her and Mike were the official members of the Hawkins Club: Lucas Sinclair, Dustin Henderson, William Byers, and Nancy Wheeler-Perry. Sheriff Jim Hopper of Yamhill County used to be a part of these gatherings until his loss to cancer two years ago.

Foodwise, it was also a late Thanksgiving. Platters of turkey, stuffing, greens, and turnips were passed around the table, repeating the menu everyone had gorged on two weeks earlier. This was how the Hawkins Club did it, so everyone could spend the actual two holidays with their families: Lucas in downtown Portland, with Raquel and his daughters; Dustin in Boston, with his wife Lynn and son and daughter, Rafe and Olivia; Nancy in Springfield Virginia, with her husband Craig and daughter Drew; and Will in Hawkins with his mother, the ever Jolly Joyce. Will, who lived in Fishers, was the only Hawkins Club member who still visited Hawkins. The town had too many ghosts for the others, and far too much pain for Jane.

“Score!” shouted Dustin. He and Mike were throwing ice cubes across the table, into each others water glasses. A long standing tradition.

“What are you doing these days, Dustin?” asked Nancy. “Besides annoying everyone?”

“Pissing people off is my top priority. But I’m still the senior software engineer at MIT.” His alma mater.

“Are you going to annoy Uncle Luc about Obama?” prodded Mike. Jane shot him a look of daggers, which he ignored.

“Obama annoys the piss out of me,” said Dustin. “And what he did last week was galling.”

Mike was smiling. “Yeah, Uncle Luc, what do you think about Obama’s decision to send all those troops to Afghanistan?”

“I think,” said Lucas, “that someone is being too obvious in trying to turn this family party into Afghanistan.”

“Mike,” said Jane.

He wouldn’t take the warning. “This is important, mom. Everyone’s talking about it at school. We’re supposed to be stopping the war, and Obama’s revving up. He’s doing exactly what Johnson did to escalate Vietnam.” He looked over at his Uncle Dustin expectantly. Jane seethed, knowing Mike didn’t give a righteous damn about the war in the Middle-East, much less about Vietnam. He just wanted a shitstorm at the dinner table.

Dustin laughed. “Our son of a bitch president is doing exactly as I predicted from day one. But I have a feeling your mom doesn’t want to walk this road.”

“Please,” said Jane. “Can we not talk politics?”

“They have a right to discuss their opinions,” said Mike. He belched and asked for the gravy.

“But maybe we should talk about something your mom can enjoy too,” said Nancy, passing the bowl.

“And me,” said Will.

“Hey, Captain Librarian,” said Lucas. “Why don’t you try taking an interest in politics for a change. Crack some of those books in your 300s section. But I agree with El and Nancy. We’re not repeating the Fourth of July.”

“And I agree with Lucas,” said Dustin. “It’s a waste of time to obsess our dipshit president.”

“He’s not a dipshit!” said Lucas, taking the bait, and slamming his glass down on the table. “He got a shitty hand dealt to him by George Dipshit Bush!”

Dustin laughed again. “I’m sure that if President Christ Obama committed mass genocide, you’d excuse it on grounds of the shitty hand dealt to him by his predecessor. It’s the oldest line of partisan horseshit, Lucas, and you’re a better person than that. Or at least you used to be.”

Lucas couldn’t control his rage. “Obama’s done more good in a single year than Dubya did in eight!”

“Really? How?”

Lucas flared: “First of all –”

“Yeah, I know he saved the Endangered Species Act. Good for him. A lot of presidents have done a few good things and still ended up shitty presidents.”

“He’s left a lot to be desired,” put in Will, trying to mediate, “but I wouldn’t call him shitty.”

Mike was loving this, and just warming up. “You really think he’s a shitty president, Uncle Dustin?”

“Your Uncle Dustin,” said Lucas, “is living proof of the adage that for a black man to succeed, he has to be pure as the goddamn snow.”

“And there we have it,” said Dustin. “When people like you are cornered with the facts about Obama, you play the trump card of your stinking black ass.”

There was a stunned silence. Even Mike was aghast.

Lucas finally spoke. “Say that to me again, asshole.”

Dustin leaned forward and enunciated. “I said, ‘The-Trump-Card-Of-Your-Stinking-Black-Ass’.”

Lucas threw back his chair and stood up. Jane had never seen him so livid.

“Guys,” she said. “Come on. That’s enough.”

“Not a chance, El,” said Lucas, not taking his eyes off Dustin. “Don’t ever throw race at me, Henderson. My esteem for Obama is completely color blind. It’s ear-fucking relevant. But it’s obviously relevant to those who over-criticize him.”

“And you’re full of shit, Sinclair. Most of Obama’s critics –”

“Dustin, please,” said Jane.

“– are bang on the money, and you know damn good and well I’m no racist. Obama is factually a lame-ass piece of shit. In all the ways that matter, he’s Dubya with a black skin — which fools people like you. He’s educated and he can speak — which also hoodwinks people like you. And he throws us bones here and there — again, duping you unbelievable blasted idiots.”

“This is my fault,” said Mike, suddenly hating the War of the Uncles.

“Yes, it is,” said Nancy.

Jane made a decision. “I’m ruling this subject off limits. I’m not watching you guys ruin your friendship over petty feuds.” She had seen it happen before, with her father and Mike Wheeler.

“El is right,” said Dustin, playing the penitent. “I was in the wrong, and I apologize to everyone. I shouldn’t have spoken truth to Uncle Lucas. He needs his fantasies.”

Jesus, Dustin,” said Will.

Lucas was grabbing his coat. “You know what? Enjoy yourselves. I don’t need to listen to this shit.”

“Lucas, you’re not going anywhere,” said Jane.

“That’s exactly what I’m doing, El.”

“Don’t go, Uncle Luc.”

“Shut up, Mike! Be satisfied with the outcome you obviously wanted!”

Jane was shocked. She had never heard Lucas yell at her son like that. He was the only person she allowed to discipline Mike, and even in his angry moments, he had never been nasty with Mike before this. Mike was equally shocked, and speechless.

Lucas stormed out. Jane swept the table with a look of a hurricane. No one dared say a thing. “Mike,” she said quietly. “Go upstairs and wait for me.”

“What?!”

“Go!”

He swore an F-bomb, piled more turkey and stuffing on his plate, and stomped upstairs. If he was being banished, he wouldn’t go hungry.

Jane went outside and chased Lucas to his car.

Lucas was already inside, and rolled down the driver’s window. “El, I’m sorry I yelled at Mike. He’s not the one I was mad at.”

“He’s the one I’m mad at! He did exactly what I told him not to do. And you’re leaving because of it.”

He smiled. “Kids.”

“Lucas, please. Leave if you have to, but don’t hate Dustin –”

“El, don’t worry. Dustin’s my best friend and always will be. He and I just have to work out an understanding about how and where we discuss politics.”

“I’ve never seen you so mad. You reminded me of my father. And my old Mike.”

“Yeah, well, go easy on Mike junior. He got to me, but he’s just a teenager. Dustin was being a major asshole.”

She hugged him through the window. “Why is politics so ugly?”

Lucas laughed, putting the car in reverse. “I’m still a card carrying Democrat. Dustin shredded his card last spring. We’ll be political foes forever.”

He would be proven seriously wrong about that in another seven years, when a business clown and very dangerous demagogue won the 2016 presidential election.

 

It was a mild winter that passed in Portland, with the lowest snowfall seen in eight years. Tibbetts remained a ghost street. Buyers were bewaring, given the unresolved mysteries of Halloween night. Jane realized she missed the bustle, as she and Mike sat on their porch in early March, playing No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em. They gambled with petty change. She finally cleaned him out, with a full house over his straight.

“Holy shit, dude, the way you played that.”

“You thought I was bluffing?”

“I knew you weren’t bluffing — you can’t bluff for shit, mom — but I thought you had a set, not a full fucking house.”

“Thanks for the confidence. And tone down the language a bit.”

“Whatever dude.”

“And you’re back to that?”

“What?”

“Calling me ‘dude’? I thought we passed that stage.” She had finally got him and Tobias to stop calling her “dude” last summer.

“You are a dude. You’re a badass dude. I never realized how awesome you are before you kicked ass. Last Halloween. You and Uncle Luc always told me about the Upside Down but I kinda wondered. Seemed silly. But you rock.”

She smiled. “I’m glad I meet your approval.”

“Yeah, you’re cool.”

Then she frowned. “Have you been feeling okay lately?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“You look a bit pale.” She touched his forehead. There was no fever, and on closer scrutiny he didn’t really look that pale. “I guess I’m wrong.”

“I feel a hundred percent. You worry too much, dude.”

“Yeah, dude,” she mocked.

 

That night at 2:15 AM, Jane woke and sat straight up in bed, wild-eyed, heart pounding. She knew what was wrong with her son. She sat immobile and erect for at least five minutes, going over it in her head, trying to convince herself she was a fool. She wasn’t. Terror crawled inside her. Don’t do this to me, God. Don’t.

She got out of bed and walked down the hall to Mike’s room. Violating her rule of privacy, she opened his door without knocking. The hallway light spilled in and showed him sound asleep on his stomach. She stared at him, torn. Part of her wanted to go back to bed and pretend she had a lively imagination. The other part of her acted. She sat on the bed and gently shook him awake: “Mike.”

He moaned and turned over. “Mom?”

“Get up, please. I need you to come with me.”

“What? What’s wrong? It’s… fuck, it’s two in the morning.”

“Do as I say. Now.”

He sat up, still half asleep. She grabbed his hand and pulled him off the bed. “Come on.”

“Where! Where are we going?”

“Just downstairs,” she said.

He was getting pissed, and demanded an explanation as she dragged him downstairs to the kitchen. She threw on the lights and stared at the pillar with pencil marks. She felt sick. She positioned Mike against the pillar and told him to stand up straight.

“What do you mean, I’m standing up!”

“Stand up straight, I said.”

“I am!”

She pushed his head up against the pillar, next to the pencil marks.

“You’re measuring me? Are you insane?”

She stared and saw exactly what she expected. His head didn’t clear the latest pencil mark.

“Mom?”

He had grown almost half an inch shorter.

She looked at his face and realized her earlier mistake. He wasn’t pale, exactly; his face was just… smoother, babier.

He was aging backwards.

She broke down crying then, as Mike, scared out of his mind, kept asking her what the hell was wrong.

 

“Merlin Sickness,” said Dustin’s voice over the conference phone.

“What?” asked Lucas.

“If you tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll kill you and you’ll thank me later.”

Jane and Lucas were sitting in Lucas’s office at the Fish and Wildlife Station. They had met here to use his conference phone, and both Dustin and Will were on the line, calling from their homes in Boston and Fishers.

“I’m a biologist,” said Lucas, “and I’ve never heard of Merlin Sickness.”

“Hyperion, hello? You never read Dan Simmons’ series?”

“Oh yeah,” came Will’s voice. “I read those. The first two books anyway. When I was in Botswana. It was that girl archaeologist –”

“Rachel Weintraub,” said Dustin. “She goes to planet Hyperion to study the Time Tombs, which everyone avoids like the plague, and she gets worse than any plague. This creature called the Shrike touches her, and her body starts aging backwards.”

“How is she saved?” asked Lucas. “Or is she?”

“If you mean cured, no, she isn’t,” said Dustin. “She keeps aging backwards until she reaches her first moment as a newborn child, at which point her father hands her to the Shrike in desperation, as a sacrificial offering. From that point she gets a certain salvation, depending on your point of view.”

“This doesn’t help, Dustin,” said Lucas.

“It was a scary concept in a sci-fic novel,” said Will. “I remember being more terrified by Hyperion than by most horror novels. But Mike has something different from the Merlin Sickness. Rachel didn’t just age backwards, she lost her memories too.”

“Yeah,” said Dustin. “A day’s worth of memories every night she went to sleep, plus all her memories of everything that happened since she was touched by the Shrike. In other words, she woke up every morning with her memories in the exact state they were in when she was that age before. Her parents had to explain to their poor daughter what happened to her, from scratch every day — why they were so old and things weren’t as they should be.”

“That story was heartbreaking,” said Will. “But Mike has been retaining all his memories at least.”

“You don’t think this is breaking me apart?” asked Jane.

“That’s not what I meant, El.”

“He’s going to ‘grow’ into a baby in fifteen years, and then, what, die, when he shrinks into a fetus?”

“We’ll work this out, El,” said Lucas.

“There’s nothing to work out, Lucas! He’s aging backwards, just like we age forwards. It’s unstoppable.”

“Not necessarily,” said Dustin. “Mike lost his power, but how do we know he can’t get it back? If he can, maybe he can stop this reverse-aging.”

“That’s just it, Dustin. He never lost his power. We were mistaken.” I was mistaken. Badly. “His power isn’t gone. It’s still being used. It’s streaming constantly, everywhere in his body. That’s why he’s growing backwards.”

“How do you know this, El?” asked Lucas.

“Because all the clues were right in front of me. When I shielded Mike from that fucking creature” (she heard them all gasp; they had never heard her use an F-bomb) “I continued using my power against it, but in a kind of reverse — to push it away from Mike, instead of wrapping and compressing it. But he was being forced to use his own power, and my shield, which kept the Llaza out, also kept his fire inside. Mike flamed himself.” She had seen him burn; heard him scream in the black void.

“He told me he was fine.” You saved me, mom. You saved me. She hadn’t saved him. She had put him on a stony backroad to hell. “He didn’t realize his power was still in motion, working backwards on him.” Because of me. I killed my own son. “None of us could tell, because he’s aging downwards at the normal rate. It took me four months to catch on.”

“But if that’s true,” said Will, “then it’s a reason to believe something can be done. You’re saying his power is working. It just needs to be shut off.”

“He’s tried, Will,” said Jane. “He’s tried six hundred and eighty ways to Sunday.” It was now four days since Jane had measured Mike. During those days, she had kept Mike home from school and forced him to try reaching into himself. He couldn’t feel a thing. The special spaces in his mind for tempus fugit and real-world aging were either closed or gone.

“I’m thinking more about you,” said Will. “If you helped caused the problem, maybe you’re the one who can fix it.”

“No way,” said Jane. “You don’t think I’ve thought of that? I was acting on instinct, in the heat of battle. I hardly understood what I was doing. And I was only acting against the Llaza. I had no time to think about how it might affect Mike. If I tried ‘fixing’ his power, for all I know, I could turn him into a fetus or a skeleton in seconds.”

“Well shit,” said Dustin.

“El is right,” said Lucas. “If there’s any way out of this, it has to come from Mike. He has the intuitions to guide his own abilities.”

“Except that he doesn’t,” repeated Jane. “He’s a blank slate now. He says there’s nothing in his mind to work with. It’s like whatever I did triggered a reversal, but it also made his mind a faucet that can’t be adjusted or turned off.”

“Retro incendium,” said Dustin.

“What?” asked Jane and Will at the same time.

“Retro incendium. Latin for ‘burning backwards’. That’s what Mike’s doing. Burning backwards.”

“Thanks for that Dustin,” said Lucas. “How do we stop him from burning backwards?”

No one had any ideas. They promised to keep brainstorming and stay in touch, and then hung up.

“El,” said Lucas, taking her hand, “we’re not giving up here.”

Jane hardly heard him. Her heart felt like ash. She was going to “raise” her son all over again, until she was cradling him and he needed formula to survive. She had done the math already: Mike’s birthday was supposed to be next month: April 11. Instead of turning sixteen, he would be almost fifteen again. From the point of Halloween, 2009, he had been fifteen and a half years old — fifteen years and 203 days, to be precise. He would age down to exactly fifteen years on May 22, which would become his new “birthday”, in effect. That meant on May 22, 2025 he would be an infant at the point he was born from her womb. What would happen then? She wasn’t counting on a stupid miracle like the one in that novel Dustin mentioned.

If there were gods controlling fate, Jane wanted nothing to do with them. She had lost Mike Wheeler to the Upside Down’s evil. She saved him from the Illithid, but the creature had ruined him so deeply that it killed him anyway. Now she was going to lose Mike junior because she had ruined him by saving him from the Llaza.

“El,” Lucas repeated.

“I can’t Lucas,” she whispered.

“What?”

“I can’t do this.”

“Come here.” He held her in his office for a long time.

 

Next Chapter: Retro Incendium

(Previous Chapter: The Llaza)

Stranger Things: The New Generation (Chapter 6)

This eight-chapter novella is a sequel to Stranger Things: The College Years, which should be read beforehand. Both are works of fan fiction based on the Stranger Things TV series. I do not profit from them and they are not part of the official Stranger Things canon. They are stories that came to me as I imagined the Stranger Things characters well after the period of the television seasons. There is plenty of Stranger Things fiction to be found online (see here), but if I learn that the Duffer Brothers do not appreciate fan fiction of their work, or if they order a cease-and-desist, I will gladly pull these stories down.

                         Stranger Things, The New Generation — Chapter Six:

                                   The Llaza

When Jane turned on to Tibbetts and saw the Upside Down atmosphere, she slammed on the brakes. She hadn’t seen those floating particles in over twenty years.

She looked down the street, paralyzed. Mike. Their house was two blocks down, and the Upside Down appeared to extend well beyond that point. She held her breath and opened the car door, stepping out to look. Except for the idling of her engine, Tibbetts Street was utterly silent. Stars shone in the sky, but their illumination barely penetrated the shadowy atmosphere congealing over the homes.

She had to get to Mike. It couldn’t be a coincidence that he was having so many problems right as something like this happened. She knew that he had lied to her — about the “bat” on his window that made him scream, and the “stranger” who almost killed him — and she cursed herself for respecting his privacy.

She got back in the car and looked at the clock: 9:49 PM. That could mean anything. Mike had said that Ashlee’s party would go until 11:00 o’clock, and she knew that he milked Halloween for all its worth. She prayed he was still there.

A scream pierced the neighborhood silence, and Jane threw open the car door again, peering through the motes and shadows. She couldn’t see anyone. She was about to get back in, when a figure lurched on a front lawn. She squinted. It was a woman staggering towards the street; Jane called to her. When the woman saw her, her eyes widened and she lumbered toward Jane as fast as she could. From behind her, a shadowy mass protruded from the house, reaching for her. The woman barely evaded being snatched when the ground vanished beneath her, and she was swallowed. Jane heard a guttural belch, and a sequence of muddy slurping noises. The earth had just eaten this woman alive.

Her heart thundering, she opened the car door and grabbed the cell from her purse. She knew she was breathing Upside-Down air and hardly cared. It was unpleasant to inhale, but apparently not toxic. Her father had vomited from being trapped down in tunnels bored by the Shadow Monster, but his body hadn’t paid any prices otherwise. It was cigarettes that had finally killed him, and she cursed him for not taking better care of himself. She could use her father right now. She dialed Mike’s cell phone number.

After the sixth ring there was a click, and her son’s voice spoke the usual: “I’m either in class, listening to music, or beating off. Do it at the beep. If it’s important.”

The beep came. “Mike it’s me. Call right away. If you’re at Ashlee’s, stay there. Don’t come home, I’ll pick you up. Call me back. I need to know you’re all right. Don’t ignore this message.”

She hung up and dialed Lucas’s landline, watching the street in all directions.

His wife answered. “Miss us already?”

“Raquel, is Lucas there?”

“Honey, what’s wrong?” Raquel didn’t like the way Jane sounded.

“Can you please get him?” said Jane. “It’s an emergency.”

She heard Raquel yell for Lucas, and to hurry his ass.

Lucas was there in seconds: “El?” he said. “What’s up?”

“You need to come over fast.”

“What happened?”

“My street is a graveyard.” She saw Mike dead and banished the thought. Please. Not my son. Please. It occurred to her that he was the same age as his father when he was killed by the Illithid.

“God, no! There was a shooter?”

“No, it’s the Upside Down. I’m not kidding. I’m at the west end of Tibbetts at 71st.” She and Mike lived two blocks down, at the junction of Tibbetts Street and 74th Avenue. Tibbetts extended for a half a mile between 71st and 82nd, and for all Jane knew, the entire strip was under siege from the Shadow World. “It looks the Upside Down is covering all the homes on Tibbetts. I just saw the ground open and eat a woman alive.”

“Whoa! If I didn’t know that you never tell sick jokes, I’d say this is a pretty sick Halloween joke, El.”

“Not a joke. I have to get inside my house and look for Mike.” Please. Not him.

“No, no! Wait for me, I’m leaving right now. You said you’re at 71st?”

It was a twenty minute drive from his apartment on the west side of Portland to where she was now. She wasn’t waiting twenty minutes. “In case you forgot, I’m not defenseless.”

At that moment Lucas didn’t care that Jane Hopper was one of the most powerful people on earth. He swore. “You’re saying the entire street is taken over? That everyone is dead?” She heard Raquel gasp in shock.

“It looks that way,” said Jane. “Maybe some people alive, like that woman, but they won’t be for long. Like I said, I can’t tell how far it goes –”

“I’m calling the police and coming over.”

“Don’t call them yet. I think whatever is on this street can easily kill people with guns. If I can deal with whatever it is, it will save lives.”

“Jesus. Did you try Mike on his cell?”

“Yes. He didn’t answer.” She insisted to herself that was a good sign. If he was still at Ashlee’s, he probably wouldn’t answer. If he was home he probably would. Unless of course he was dead.

“I’ll meet you at your home. I’m taking my cell, and you call me if I need to know anything — and call me as soon as you find Mike.”

“I’ll look for you.”

She hung up and put the car in drive, rolling past the block of houses on both sides of Tibbetts, and then crossing 73rd Avenue. She had to avoid a car turned on its side in the intersection. There was no sign of anyone in the car, or around the homes. The same was true for the next block. Her house came into view at the intersection of 74th, and she pulled into the driveway. Killing the ignition, she got out and stared.

There was no question her home was the primary source of the Upside Down pollution. Shadows and dusty twinkles poured out the windows and front door, most of which had been thrown open wide. Her rage began to build. If Mike had been harmed in the slightest, she would wreak a devastation that made the transformation on this street look like afternoon tea. She ran to the front door, yelling Mike’s name. To her shock, a figure appeared in the doorway, and she leaped up the steps to confront him.

It was Tobias. He was hysterical.

“Tobias! Where’s Mike?”

He couldn’t answer. In her four years of knowing him, she had never seen Tobias Powell shed a single tear. She knew what his tears meant now and refused to accept it.

“Tobias!” She shook him. “Where is he?” He continued crying, unable to speak, and she took him in her arms, looking around the downstairs area inside her home. Motes and shadows swam in the air, and the walls were smoky and black. The floors and ceiling had undergone a similar transubstantiation.

“Look at me,” she said. “Is he dead?”

He nodded miserably.

Her heart felt like an abyss. “Where?”

“In… the wall.”

The wall? “What do you mean? What wall?”

“Upstairs. In his bedroom.”

She steeled herself. “Show me.”

 

Staring at the impression of her son, Jane thought of Han Solo in those movies Mike Wheeler liked. Like Han, Mike Hopper was “frozen” into the wall above his bed. From around his sculpted impression poured a heavy concentration of shadow atmosphere. The floor was a mess; his computer had exploded into a thousand fragments.

“Be careful,” Tobias urged. “When I was up here before, something made an awful noise and came out of the ceiling at me. I ran downstairs, and you showed up after that.”

“Tobias, what happened here? What did you guys do?” It sounded accusatory, but seeing Mike like this made her feel angry and helpless.

“I wasn’t here. I don’t know what he did.”

“What do you mean you weren’t here?”

“I only came over when he called me but I couldn’t hear anything — some kind of interference. It was a messed up night, Miss Hopper.” He explained their aborted trip to Ashlee’s, and what Mike did in the park. Halfway through — when he got to the part of Mike kicking Dom in the balls — he was interrupted by a cavernous belching that spat from the floor. They froze and waited. Tobias resumed in hushed tones. When he finished his story, he looked at her nervously, clearly worried that she would call him a liar. He had just described her son murdering four people.

Jane believed every word of Tobias’s lurid tale, and she was certain that Mike’s newly acquired power was related somehow to this nightmare on Tibbetts Street. It was the reason he was frozen inside his bedroom wall. She had to get him out and was clueless how to proceed.

Without warning, the belching spat another alien obscenity, this time from the wall next to Mike. And from the Upside Down came a being of vacuous death.

It poured out of the wall, expanding, and then swept upward until it dwarfed her and Tobias and nearly filled the space of the bedroom. It was still part of the wall, like the black mass that had stretched out to snatch the fleeing woman and then devoured her underground. Whatever this monster was, it was omnipresent. Its skin was every house it had infected on the street; it was the ground, and the street itself. The shadow before her was a small part of it. The thing could manifest anywhere on the street, probably in many places at once, and somehow it was grounded in Mike. She saw Tobias flee the bedroom; there was nowhere to flee.

She realized that fighting the shadow would be useless. It was a drop in a swamp that needed full eradication. She had no idea how to achieve the impossible. She did what came to mind, and hurled her telekinetic forces at the shadow, more as a probe than a weapon, riding the waves with her consciousness in order to feel what the creature felt, to tease out its vitals and where it was weakest.

Almost at once, her power swept her into a flood of possibility. Her consciousness took her places she had never been. She felt as long as Tibbetts Street, as high as the homes on each side of it. She tasted the street’s tar, and felt the creaking in the wood of the houses. Motes flowed in and around her, glittering in her flesh, and extended for half a mile. Below her, in the ground, animals and critters scurried, cowering from the creature’s toxic presence. Mike had made the creature so mighty that it had brought the Upside Down to Tibbets Street. It was the Upside Down on Tibbetts Street, or more precisely, it was its infrastructure.

Without giving herself a chance to think about what she was doing, Jane locked her power with the creature’s — and then audaciously called it into herself, accepting the foul entity as her personal flesh.

At first the sheer pain and horror of it excruciated her. Its power was atrocious beyond belief, and she knew its name as she welcomed it: the Llaza. It ate into her vitals, flooding her veins with blackness. But desperate need drove her, and she hurled her forces in a way she had never done before, by attacking her own self, in her cells where the Llaza now fed and thrived. It was a strange battle, weird and horrible, waged within the confines of her flesh. The Llaza wasn’t discrete like the Demogorgon, the Shadow Monster, or the Illithid. It was a hunger that fed like a parasite. She could have fired her telekinetic blasts all night down the street, in every house, pounding away at manifestations of the creature everywhere while hardly damaging it at all. This way she struck at the roots of its parasitic existence.

In the void she saw Mike’s shattered soul as if it were limned in light. She felt his frozen tissues and poisoned bloodstream as if they were incused on her flesh. He was disastrously paralyzed but still alive. His heart limped at a rate so slow that he would have died without the life support of the creature. It needed him; so he could be saved. She clung to that thought like a thousand prayers.

Fury exalted her and carried her beyond her limits. As she sent surges of her power through herself, the Llaza responded with its own flares of power, and they tore inside her like a volcanic rupture. The clash of powers was too immense, and she almost died from it. Pain detonated in her skull, and a freezing agony that was the Upside Down’s signature yowled through the atoms of her flesh. She had to stop, or she would kill herself, long before doing enough damage to the Llaza. Then without thinking, she tried something else. Instead of assaulting the blackness within her, she seized the vile essence, wrapped it within spools of her power, and used her mental power to squeeze it down to size.

Somehow her intuitions paid off. Instead of blowing the creature apart within herself, she choked the life out of it, nullified it, and sent in spilling back outward in a lifeless cloud. Or at least a part of it; it was like the segment of a colossal snake. She had just destroyed a segment that straddled a block of homes somewhere between 77th and 78th Avenues. There was much more of it. The Llaza was huge, thanks to Mike; half a mile long — the whole street of Tibbetts.

She drew in another random segment of the creature and wrapped it around her telekinetic will. It was a hideously painful process; she never knew pain could be this thorough. She saw in her mind that she was now in a region close to 73rd Avenue. With a shock she saw Lucas there, and almost dropped her concentration. He was helping a little girl whose right arm had been torn off, trying to make a bandage with his shirt, and yelling furiously into his cell phone. The girl was losing too much blood. Jane reached out through the omnipresence she had carved for herself, caressing the fatigue out of Lucas, weaving her telekinesis in the girl’s wound to staunch the blood flow. As she did this, her control faltered; the Llaza roared in her veins, surging for freedom. She punished it, and herself, with furious inward blasts, keeping it jailed within her flesh. She barely withstood the shock. Then, as before, she spooled her power around it, smothering its essence on this part of the street. Six homes were freed. Inhaling air like it was her salvation, she readied for more.

She lost track of time as she proceeded down the street like this — the street that had merged with her flesh. Physically she was still in Mike’s bedroom; mentally she had transcended herself. She broke the Llaza apart, bit by hideous bit, rescuing anyone she could in passing. She couldn’t save everyone; at least a dozen people died — in their homes, on the street — and half were kids. Most of the residents on Tibbetts had already died anyway, before she arrived.

When she had liberated two-thirds of the street, the Llaza got desperate and went after Mike. His impression in the wall lit up in a blazing whiteness, and in her mind Jane could hear him begging the creature for life and freedom. With horror she realized the Llaza was trying to summon his power against her. To turn him against his mother. If that happened, she would wither in seconds, like Dominic Bragdon and his friends.

She tried shouting through the creature she was a part of, and thus him. Mike! Can you hear me!

Mom? His terrified voice came from a void.

Mike! She called through the black ether. I’m here! Can you see me? I’m getting you out! 

I can’t… see anything… I don’t remember… what seeing is.

I’m coming, Mike! Just hold on, I swear I’m coming! 

Mike screamed inside her head then, as the Llaza forced his power. A white blast ripped out of the wall and she barely dodged it by falling on the floor. She had no time to think; another blast would come in seconds, and from the way Tobias had described it, if it touched her, she would fry into a skeleton.

Relying on split-second intuition, she looped her power around Mike, holding back his fire as the Llaza tried hurling it at her again. She repeated what she had been doing, but in a kind of reverse, spooling a protective shield around her son as she pushed outwards against the Llaza’s suffocating essence. But Mike didn’t understand. In his ethereal dementia, he thought she was attacking him, and unleashed a torrent of white flame. Her shield protected her — but not him. Argent rebounded and filled Mike Hopper’s every atom. He burned like a star; screamed so the universe could hear.

So did the Llaza.

Tibbets Street convulsed as if pounded by an earthquake. The tremors tore through Jane’s arms and legs, throwing her to the floor as she spasmed and yelled Mike’s name. And with a sickening grossness, the Llaza — what remained of it — belched Mike Hopper out of the bedroom wall. Whatever she had caused to happen to him, it had tormented the creature beyond endurance. That torment ripped through Jane as well, and she lay on the floor in an agony that was nauseating. She saw Mike, unfrozen, kneeling on the floor, trying to stand. She couldn’t believe he was alive. She had just seen him burn with incandescent fatality. Her skin felt pulled in all directions. She was dying the Llaza’s death.

With a last effort she tried severing her connection to it to save herself. I’m sorry, Mike. She blacked out.

 

When she woke, Mike was kneeling over her. “Mom? Please. Say something.”

Her tongue felt like cement; her eyelids were mountains; and her upper lip red from a violent nosebleed. “Mike,” she croaked.

“Hey,” he said. He was smiling through tears and holding her hand. “You’re back.”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I hurt you.”

“No, mom. You saved me. You saved me.”

It was a line from her past. From her other Mike. In 1983 she had kept him from smashing his body against the water of the quarry. Years later he had jumped off a bridge anyway. Her life was a series of ultimate failures. “I saw what I did,” she said. “Your fire burned you up. Because of me.”

“But it didn’t age me, mom. Something you did stopped that. You saved me.”

She had no use for consolation. She wanted nothing she didn’t earn. “Come here,” she said, and hugged him.

Footsteps pounded up the stairs. Lucas burst into the room with Tobias behind him.

“El!” said Lucas. Tobias cried out Mike’s name at the same time.

She could barely stay awake. Mike’s power hadn’t touched her, but she felt a thousand years old after what she had just done. The aftertastes of the Llaza scalded her tongue and throat.

“El,” said Lucas, kneeling over her next to Mike. “Holy shit — what you did. I don’t even know what you did. But it’s gone now. The Upside Down is gone. People are dead, but the homes aren’t possessed by that blackness anymore. The danger’s over. It’s over, El. You did great.”

“No,” she said, tears spilling. “I didn’t.”

“What are you saying?” demanded Lucas.

“She’s blaming herself for not doing enough,” said Mike.

No. That’s not it.

“I keep telling her she saved me, but she thinks I’m not okay.”

You aren’t. I saw you burn.

“You were awesome, mom, don’t you see?”

I was always too hard on you. You were right to call me names.

“Get her feet, Mike.” She felt her shoulders being lifted. “Let’s get her downstairs. Tobias, call the police.”

Mike and Lucas carried her out the room. “We got you, mom. You’ll be okay.”

I saw you burn.

 

Next Chapter: The War of the Uncles

(Previous Chapter: Regenesis)

Stranger Things: The New Generation (Chapter 5)

This eight-chapter novella is a sequel to Stranger Things: The College Years, which should be read beforehand. Both are works of fan fiction based on the Stranger Things TV series. I do not profit from them and they are not part of the official Stranger Things canon. They are stories that came to me as I imagined the Stranger Things characters well after the period of the television seasons. There is plenty of Stranger Things fiction to be found online (see here), but if I learn that the Duffer Brothers do not appreciate fan fiction of their work, or if they order a cease-and-desist, I will gladly pull these stories down.

                         Stranger Things, The New Generation — Chapter Five:

                                   Regenesis

Mike stared at his computer screen. He hadn’t turned it on since Hayley Stark became Gomer Pyle. But he needed answers, and he didn’t know where else to find them.

Because of the screensaver virus, or whatever it was, his ability to manipulate time had increased dramatically. Instead of causing the illusion of tempus fugit, he was now really making time accelerate, and at a rate so off the scales he had become a living weapon. He had no idea if he could discipline that power, though he obviously hadn’t tried; he had exulted in it and given it free rein.

He turned on the Mac and jumped at the chime. He was all nerves and sick. How long did the body strain under guilt of murder? He knew he wouldn’t sleep tonight.

The operating system loaded and his desktop appeared. He held his breath. A scene from Hard Candy filled the screen, picking up where the cycle left off. After the next two would come the Juno screenshots. He stood without moving, waiting. The next image displayed normally. As long as you watch it, nothing will happen. It’s only when you turn your back that shit happens. Just like in the movies.

He deliberately turned away, looking for a diversion. He realized he was still in his costume and started removing it; a reminder of his appalling crime. He felt like a combat soldier thrown on the battlefield for the first time. Reality was unforgiving. But he had enjoyed killing those guys too. There was no denying the conflict of biology: an aversion to killing members of his own species, offset by millennia of evolution that bred murder and ferocity into the collective gene pool. DNA made everyone Elric.

Oh God.

He rushed for the trash bin, and barely made it time to throw up what little garbage remained in his gut. He wished his grandfather were alive. Sheriff Jim Hopper of Yamhill County had died in 2007 from lung cancer. He had been an unshakable pillar, and that’s what Mike needed right now. For all his independence and teen bravado, he was a kid scared out of his mind.

He thought of Laurie Strode’s vomiting episodes in Halloween II. Like Mike she had killed to save herself, and as a result had devolved into a bipolar mess of sickness and nightmares. At that moment Mike wished he had never been born with a special power. He cursed his mother’s genes and blamed her entirely.

When the nausea passed he wiped his mouth, and then hurriedly shot a look over at the computer. The Juno scenes were cycling now, and the current one looked as it should. Juno was sitting cross-legged on her bed, gabbing into her hamburger phone.

As if on cue, his iPhone rang. He dug it out. “What?” he said.

“When I want your opinion,” said Tobias. That he could obsess after a night like this was incredible.

“You think this shit is funny?”

“You okay?” asked Tobias.

“I’m throwing up and I can’t stop shaking. Oh, fuck.” He started crying and tried to get it under control.

“Hey man, listen. Listen, Mike! You want me to come over? I should have followed you home.”

“No, no… it’s okay. I just need to lie down. And I need sleeping pills.”

“You don’t sound good. I’ll come over –”

“No, just come in the morning. First thing.” Thank the gods of justice tomorrow was Sunday and no school.

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. I just wanted to check in.”

“See you tomorrow.”

“When I want your opinion?”

Mike hung up and tossed the cell on his bed. He needed a Coke to settle his stomach and wash the barf taste away. He stood to go to the kitchen — and had a heart attack when he saw his screensaver.

He would have screamed at the top of his lungs if he hadn’t been so panic stricken from the events at the park. He coughed out ragged gasps and clutched his heart. This is killing me.

His favorite Juno scene blazed with the perversion that contorted it. Ellen was in her red sweatshirt, her stomach the size of a planet — her ninth month of pregnancy from the final act of the film. She should have been smiling crookedly, in her whimsical Juno-like way, but instead she was smiling like the Joker. Fierce vindictive joy splashed her face from ear to ear, promising catastrophe on any who made the mistake of looking at her. Mike tried looking away: it was like swimming in quicksand; the more effort he expended, the more he drowned in Ellen’s rapture.

Her visage ballooned and filled his inner mind. Mike braced himself for the usual headache; what came was a mental force of such weight that nearly ruptured his eardrums. Ellen’s gaze overwhelmed him, demanding submission to her will. A stirring began in the new region of his mind that he had opened tonight in the fight with Dom. No, he thought, suddenly terrified.

Ellen’s pupils swelled into wells of blackness, and devoured the last fragments of his will. He tried yelling for help — not that anyone could hear him — but his voice was useless. Inside the prison of his mind, Ellen’s face was twenty times larger and infinitely more manic. He cowered under the weight of her obscene joy, dreading whatever secret she was about to disclose.

Release me.

It was a voice of knives, grating inside his head. Release her? He’s the one who needed release. The stirring in his mind thickened, and it felt like Dom all over again.

Feed.

The voice was barely Ellen’s, permeated with a thousand hysterias and gutturals from the grave. Terror filled his bloodstream, as power accumulated behind his eyes. It was impossible he could survive what was happening to him.

Feed me.

White argent blew uncontrollably from his eyes, smashing his computer to smithereens. And from the explosion poured a blackness so foul it stung Mike’s nose like acidic gas.

The blackness was shaped like a colossal python, except that an open hole existed where its head should be: a huge mouth funneling down into the serpentine body. The blackness reared, towering over him, and the hole began to expand before Mike’s eyes. Its diameter lengthened to almost three feet.

His paralysis broke and he screamed, letting loose with more fire, this time intentionally. He would age this vile creature into oblivion. Silvery fire impacted the blackness, and the python howled, in a chorus of hellish voices. He rained more fire, willing the creature’s destruction.

And watched appalled, as the blackness grew before his eyes, amassing strength.

Instinctively, he threw more power at it, giving all that he had, until the creature’s words came back to him. Feed me, it had said. Horrified, Mike tried stopping his flow of power. It kept gushing from his eyes. He strained in defiance. His argent kept pouring — making the creature stronger, not weaker. The snaky blackness reared again, aiming to lash out at him.

Mike dove for his cell phone on the edge of his bed, and grabbed it as the creature closed over his feet and tore him backwards. He sprawled on the floor, almost dropping the phone, and felt the obscene mouth start to slide up his legs. It was devouring him like a real python, and he was going to die.

Mike pushed buttons madly, heard no ring, then frantically dialed Tobias’s number again. This time it rang. “Pick up, Tobias!” he screamed into the phone.

Tobias finally picked up, on the fourth ring: “I was flogging myself, you mean interrupting machine –”

“TOBIAS! IT’S KILLING ME!”

“– and when I want your opinion, I’ll fuck you up the ass for it.” Tobias wasn’t hearing him for some reason.

Mike felt his torso being squeezed and smothered, and head would be next. He shouted again, knowing it was absurdly useless: “TOBIAS, HELP! IT’S SWALLOWING ME!”

The creature’s voice poured through his body in reply:

We are here.

Mike’s head went under, then his extended arms. His phone fell to the floor, with Tobias’s voice barking questions from it. The cellar-voice from hell reverberated through Mike:

You. Me. Us.

Mike gurgled in darkness, swamped by bilious fluids. He was being ingested alive.

Feed me. Feed us.

Without volition, Mike erupted like a volcano, filling the creature with his mad white fire. He felt the serpentine body expanding hugely, giving him more room, and realized he could breathe again. Dark air began to whoosh around him, tainted by gleaming motes. But he was still immobile. He had become part of the creature, fused to it, as it kept growing and expanding on the strength of his fire. He protested feebly: No.

Yes.

The blackness surged through every pore of Mike’s body, then outwards through his home, co-opting the walls, ceiling, floor, inner plumbing — everything. It burrowed through the ground, merging with the front and back yards. It tunneled down the road, taking over more homes. Tibbets Street became a demesne of shadows and twinkling motes, and its residents died in minutes, as extensions of the creature erupted out of walls and floors wherever it needed to.

Mike saw all of this first-hand; experienced it directly as his consciousness merged with the creature’s. He realized that it had a name: the Llaza. A plane of origin: the Shadow; the Upside Down. Its history cascaded into Mike’s awareness, centuries of terror spilling into fifteen years of innocence.

The shock was too much. Mike faded from self-knowledge. As his flame went out, his final thought was trying to remember what his mother looked like.

 

Next Chapter: The Llaza

(Previous Chapter: Mike of Melnibone)

Stranger Things: The New Generation (Chapter 4)

This eight-chapter novella is a sequel to Stranger Things: The College Years, which should be read beforehand. Both are works of fan fiction based on the Stranger Things TV series. I do not profit from them and they are not part of the official Stranger Things canon. They are stories that came to me as I imagined the Stranger Things characters well after the period of the television seasons. There is plenty of Stranger Things fiction to be found online (see here), but if I learn that the Duffer Brothers do not appreciate fan fiction of their work, or if they order a cease-and-desist, I will gladly pull these stories down.

                         Stranger Things, The New Generation — Chapter Four:

                            Mike of Melnibone

He got up Saturday morning, determined he would not let Dom’s assault ruin the best night of the year. Halloween was his; Elric his best costume ever. The crimson eyes and albino makeup would mask his black eye. He was going to have fun. Mike knew that Dom and his friends wouldn’t be at Ashlee’s. They wouldn’t be seen around people like her.

He still hurt and had to be delicate cleaning himself in the shower. Putting on clothes wasn’t fun either. But nothing was fractured. He dipped into the Elric makeup and spread the whiteness over his black eye. Not perfect: the mirror showed hints of the bruise, but it was hard to tell from a distance. Mike’s fury returned, looking at himself. He needed a strategy for dealing with Dom.

He dialed Tobias, who answered on the usual fourth: “When I want your opinion?”

“I’ll piss in your eyes. Denny’s in fifteen. I’ll be showing up with a shiner, so don’t cream yourself.”

Tobias paused. “Dom?”

“Of course.”

“You couldn’t use your power?”

“I’ll explain when I see you. I want my breakfast on the table when I get there.” Tobias’s house was closer to Denny’s.

“Sieg heil!”

Mike hung up and went down the stairs. “I’m leaving, mom!” he called out. He hadn’t spoken to her since she slapped him. Right under his black eye. He seethed reliving it.

“Wait.” She was already there, patrolling the front door area.

“What do you want?”

“I’m sorry I hit you. I shouldn’t have done that.”

“No, you shouldn’t have, you cunt.” He felt awful as soon as he said the word.

She was unfazed. His father had called her worse in his crippled years. “Fine. You can say what you want about me. Call me anything. I mean that. But I swear, Mike, I won’t hear you trash your father. If you do it again, you’ll regret it. I won’t hit you — that was wrong. But you’ll wish I had.”

“You remember I was almost killed yesterday, right?”

“I know that,” she snapped. “I want to help you and you’re not letting me.”

“I have to meet Tobias.”

“Can I at least hug you before you go?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “I love you,” she said, holding him.

He couldn’t help staying pissed at her. “Yeah. Can I leave now?”

She released him. “Go ahead. But let’s be clear. You lied yesterday. That was no stranger who attacked you — No, don’t lie to me again. I’m not stupid. If you won’t tell me what’s going on, I’m sure you have your reasons and they’re all bad. That’s your choice.”

“Gee, thanks.” He walked out the door.

 

Mike and Tobias ate like kings. Especially Mike, who had skipped dinner the night before. He had two omelettes instead of one, two sides of bacon, four slices of toast, sausage on top of that, and a Danish pastry to make it all stick.

They were rehashing Halloween II, Rob Zombie’s latest. If Whip It! was Mike Hopper’s film pick of 2009, Halloween II was Tobias’s. In Tobias’s fringe opinion, it was the best entry in the Halloween franchise. He and Mike had argued about it in August when they came out of the premiere. Mike remembered the debate like it was yesterday:

“No way, dude,” said Mike. “Not even a contest.”

“It buries the other films,” declared Tobias. “It’s the Halloween film I always wanted.”

“It buries all the stupid sequels, sure.” Had there been seven of those? Mike had lost count. “But not the Carpenter classic.”

“Yes it does.”

“And I think Zombie’s remake of that classic was better than this remake.”

“That shows why you’re clueless. This was not a remake. Don’t you remember the first Halloween II?”

“I repressed it from memory,” said Mike.

“Exactly. It sucked balls. But you liked this film.”

“Well yeah, Zombie always does a good job. He can make lemonade from anything.”

“But that’s just it. This film wasn’t a remake of that lemon. Zombie only remade the Carpenter classic. For the sequel, the studio told him to ignore the original Halloween II and do whatever he damn well pleased. And that’s what we just saw. His Halloween II is a masterpiece.”

“I don’t know, dude. It was good, but not that good. The classic is supreme.”

“The classic hasn’t aged well. The high school girls look like ladies in their late twenties — because that’s what they were back then. Except for Jamie Almighty Lee Curtis. Carpenter was a genius for his time, but Halloween is a bit boring by today’s standards.”

“Blasphemy.”

“As for Zombie’s remake of Carpenter, it was good — and slightly better than Carpenter’s, go ahead and cry blasphemy again — but it was trying to be too many things at once.”

“Now you’re a fucking critic. No wonder you talk out your ass.”

“You saw it with me, dude. Zombie’s Halloween was a prequel, a remake, and a Rob Zombie film, and those don’t mix well. What we just saw tonight was pure Rob Zombie.”

“I thought the dream Michael kept having of his mother and the horse was stupid,” said Mike.

“Don’t be dense. This Halloween II did everything sequels should do but never have the balls to do. How many slashers show the serious trauma caused by serial killers? Laurie was a fucking mess in this film. It was searing. Emotionally. A character film and a horror piece, and like I say, name me a single slasher that can match that.”

“Laurie was a mess because of her shrink. That bitch probably had more to do with Laurie’s fucked up mental state than Michael Myers.”

“You’re the one passing gas now.”

“Whatever, dude.”

“Come on, didn’t you love Loomis?”

Mike laughed. “Zombie got creative there. What an asshole.”

“He stole the show!”

Mike had to admit that Dr. Loomis was an immensely entertaining part of Rob Zombie’s Halloween II. The iconic psychiatrist had devolved into a vain celebrity who no longer gave a professional damn about Michael Myers or his victim Laurie Strode. He attended promotional events for his ridiculous book, scolded audiences who didn’t worship him, and viciously insulted his publicist for offering kind but unwanted opinions.

That last was an ongoing problem. For the past two months, Tobias had overused his favorite Loomis insult to the point that Mike had forgotten its original context. “When I want your opinion,” Loomis had fired, “I’ll beat it out of you.” Tobias had made a question and answer game out of the insult, and Mike had to be the constant creative one in supplying alternative response phrases. By now he had come up with at least eighty variations of “I’ll beat it out of you”. Of course, when Tobias used the insult on anyone other than Mike, he supplied the variations himself, and extremely vulgar ones at that. He had a vulgarity planned for everyone at Ashlee’s.

The waiter brought their bill, and by then Mike had conceded most of Tobias’s points. Zombie’s unusual sequel had grown on him since he downloaded a bootleg and watched it again. It also struck him that Halloween II was incredibly violent. Not banally or gratuitously; it was shot so effectively that you couldn’t help flinching with every vicious plunge of Michael Myers’ blade. That resonated in the wake of his own ass-whipping at the hands of Dom. Mike felt a superstitious dread: that his outing tonight would be marked by an act of extraordinary violence.

 

“Hallowed ground,” said Tobias.

“Yeah,” said Mike, taking in the night. He loved this place.

They were at Mount Tabor Park, where they had stopped on the way to Ashlee’s. Their first Halloween together had ended here in the wildest of parties conceivable to twelve-year olds, thrown by the rebel students of Mount Tabor Middle. There had been pot, fireworks, and wrestling matches in costume. Mike thought nothing could ever top the excitement of that night. He was about to be proven dead wrong.

A branch snapped, and they looked over to see four costumed figures approaching them. They got closer, and Mike and Tobias recognized them. No.

“Hey, shitheads,” said Dom. He was Jack Sparrow, from Pirates of the Caribbean. That figured. All three Pirates movies were terrible. The other three costumes weren’t much better, though Darrel’s was the most inspired. He was the insane Nazi dentist from Marathon Man. Curtis was a lame version of Dracula, and Todd a generic zombie.

Mike was eyeing Dom’s pirate sword, which looked real. He wasn’t going to have a repeat of yesterday afternoon.

“I wouldn’t have recognized you, Hopper, but we followed you from your house. Your boyfriend is a dead give away. Doesn’t look like he even has a costume.”

“Who are you supposed to be, Powell?” asked Darrel. “The albino’s whore?”

Todd laughed uproariously.

“Dom, we’re not doing this again,” said Mike, as Dom got up in his face: the pirate bearding the Melnibonean. Even through his terror, Mike was disgusted. The real Elric would have carved up Jack Sparrow in seconds.

“Oh, we’re not?” asked Dom.

“No!”

“Well, whatever you say, your fucking majesty. Do all of you white niggers think you’re so high and goddamn mighty?”

“Anyone of every race is superior to you, Dom,” said Tobias calmly. “You’re fit for one thing only: to clean the shit out of our cracks with your foul tongue.”

Dom’s friends gasped. Dom kept staring at Mike for a moment, and then slowly turned his head to Tobias. “You know, Powell, you have a pretty foul tongue yourself. I think I’ll do you a favor, and cut it out for you.” He drew his sword — which was very real indeed.

“Yeah!” hollered Todd.

But Mike was already moving. He knew he was being suicidal, but he was still boiling with rage over his black eye and branded stomach. Dom’s attention was focused squarely on Tobias, and Mike was able to deliver a mean and hard kick to his balls. Dom fell to the ground, hissing through his teeth. The other three watched, stunned.

Mike dashed for his life. “Run, Tobias!” he yelled. But he didn’t get far when he heard a scream, and stopped and looked back.

Darrel and Curtis had Tobias pinned on the ground. “Get back here, Hopper!” called Darrel. “Right now!”

Mike felt sick as he walked back. “Let him go, Darrel.”

“I don’t think so. Dom has business with him. Right, Dom?”

Dom’s scrotum was slowly recovering, and he hauled himself to his feet. His face shouted murder. “My business is with the white nigger. You keep that fucking Jew on the ground.”

“Leave him alone, Dom!” shouted Tobias. Darrel kicked his leg.

Mike had to try summoning his power. It was almost two days, since early yesterday morning, that Hayley had torn his mind asunder. Maybe that meant the wall in his mind was gone, or at least weakened. He doubted it, but he had to try. He began concentrating.

Dom charged him, raising his sword. Mike drew Stormbringer, for all the good it would do. Dom’s sword would break his plastic plaything in half with a single cut.

The sight of Stormbringer at least stopped Dom for the moment. “Is that a toy sword, faggot?”

Panicking, Mike summoned the fugit, feeling the swarm fill his head. He pressed and found the wall still there, blocking his ability to translate the buzzing abstraction into anything useful.

Tobias shouted at him, and he barely jumped back in time as Dom’s sword slashed through the air where his head had been. Mike lost his balance but remained standing. He gave another mental push, but in his panic he pushed into the wrong region of his mind.

A wave of vertigo slapped him. Something was shifting inside his head, and seemed to split it down the middle. He dropped Stormbringer and fell to his knees, groaning. Dom’s friends laughed, and Dom shouted something in mockery. Mike had never felt pain this torturous. He could only hold his head and moan, wishing that Dom would hurry up and chop off his head to end his misery. His brain felt like bladed gears working at cross-purposes, or tectonic plates being violently realigned. Then the pain faded, and the wall was suddenly gone — no, not gone; broken down, rather, and reconfigured for a new purpose.

“Mike!” cried Tobias.

Dom’s sword swung in a vicious arc, cutting into Mike’s forehead as he knelt on the ground. Blood splashed, and Mike’s head was again in searing agony.

Roaring applause came from Dom’s friends. They cheered for more. Tobias swore at Dom, demanding that he stop. He tried moving towards Mike, but Darrel and Todd held him down. Mike looked up at Dom with burning fury, as blood poured down his face. Combined with his red Elric eyes, it made for an unnerving sight. Dom looked suddenly uncertain. Mike felt just the opposite. He pushed again — into the new region of his mind that had just opened.

A blast of white flame exploded from Mike’s eyes. He screamed at what he unleashed. And what Tobias saw he never forgot.

The flame shot out and engulfed Dominic Bragdon, turning him into a human torch. But he didn’t burn. The fire did something else entirely. Dom began transforming, and in fifteen seconds looked like a thirty-year old man. He dropped his sword and cried out: “What’s happening to me!” Tobias and the others gaped as Dom’s life played out before their eyes. He turned forty, then fifty. Mike yelled triumphantly, and kept fire pouring from his eyes. Dom’s hair sprouted long and grey. In another set of seconds his skin was spotted and leathery, stretching until it cracked and split. “Help me, somebody,” he croaked, sounding nothing at all like Dom. The skeletal avatar fell to its brittle knees, and its eyeballs shrank back into the skull. Hideously, it looked up at Mike with a silent plea. There was no mercy from that corner. Mike reined in his power until only beads of white flame were dropping from his eyes, like tears. He stooped to pick up Stormbringer. Full of incandescent rage, he swung the sword at Dom’s face. The skull exploded into dust, and the plastic sword was left stunningly intact. The rest of Dom’s skeleton collapsed into dust underneath his clothes.

Utter silence hung in the park. Mike looked down. He had just killed Dominic Bragdon. By a means no one would believe.

“No, no, shit, no.” It was Curtis.

Except for those who had just witnessed it.

“Tobias,” said Mike steadily, “Come over here now.”

Tobias was next to Darrel, rooted in shock.

“Move!” yelled Mike.

Tobias snapped into action, understanding. He moved away from the trio and joined Mike, who surveyed them with grim purpose.

“Hey! No!” said Darrel, clearly about to shit his pants. “Come on, Hopper!”

“Jesus, don’t… don’t kill us, man!” said Todd. “Please!

Curtis bolted — but not fast enough.

Ignoring his instincts that rebelled against cold-blooded murder, Mike tapped the new window in his mind. White flame gushed from his eyes and swept over Darrel, Curtis, and Todd. They tried to run, but the argent held them firm as pillars. They begged for their lives as they withered into ancient men, and like Dom collapsed into bones and dust. But it was very different this time for Mike. This time he wasn’t fighting in self-defense. He was committing mass murder, so that no one could spread tales of his dreadful power. He truly had become Elric: a figure of devastation with a strained moral compass.

He realized Tobias was saying his name. He was looking at Mike in reverence.

 

They burned the dusty clothes in a vacated parking lot. The fire roared, and Tobias embraced Mike under the stars. “Do you realize what I witnessed tonight? Elric of Melnibone killed the worst assholes of Marshall High. With sword and sorcery. Right in front of my eyes.”

“Yeah, I was there.”

“It was beautiful, dude. What you did reminds me of this youtube clip I saw of someone who had taken a photo of himself every day for almost thirty years, and then made a slideshow of the pictures. The clip took fifteen minutes to watch, so you could literally watch this guy age thirty years in fifteen minutes. You aged those bastards centuries in less than two fucking minutes.”

“Tobias.”

“What, man?”

“I’m sick. I killed four people.”

“You had to,” said Tobias without hesitation. “Dom completely deserved it, and there’s no way you could have let the others go. The world’s a better place without them.”

Mike rationally agreed, but his body objected. He fell on his knees and threw up again, as he had back in the park. He and Tobias had sworn a pact of secrecy, and to act as if nothing had happened after they burned the clothes. But Mike wasn’t going to Ashlee’s. He needed to be alone and was going straight home. His mother would be at Uncle Luc’s for at least another two or three hours, and for this he was grateful. When she saw the gash in his forehead, she would suffocate him with questions. Hopefully he could treat the wound tonight and disguise the worst of it tomorrow. Right now he was wearing a makeshift bandana torn from Tobias’s shirt.

Tobias said he was going to put in a brief appearance at Ashlee’s. Mike couldn’t believe it.

“Dude, I’ve been waiting since August to be Loomis, and it’s happening. You got to be Elric tonight — really, I mean. I’m going to be Loomis, and that demands a huge audience.”

“I’m sure you had a script planned for everyone. But you need to skip it.”

“I think not.”

“Then think again. You show up without me, everyone knows you and I stick together like glue. When the hunt begins for these four, people will remember I wasn’t with you. I’ll be a suspect.” Not that he was worried about being incriminated. The bullies of Marshall High were dust; their bodies may as well have vanished from the earth. But he didn’t want any interrogations.

“I see your point.” Tobias was crestfallen.

“Just go home and chill. We had enough tonight for twenty Halloweens.”

“See you tomorrow?”

“Yeah, come over in the morning,” said Mike.

“When I want your opinion?”

“I’ll age it out of you, motherfucker.”

“Ja wohl!” Tobias held out for a high five.

Mike could only shake his head.

 

Next Chapter: Regenesis

(Previous Chapter: D is for God)

Stranger Things: The New Generation (Chapter 3)

This eight-chapter novella is a sequel to Stranger Things: The College Years, which should be read beforehand. Both are works of fan fiction based on the Stranger Things TV series. I do not profit from them and they are not part of the official Stranger Things canon. They are stories that came to me as I imagined the Stranger Things characters well after the period of the television seasons. There is plenty of Stranger Things fiction to be found online (see here), but if I learn that the Duffer Brothers do not appreciate fan fiction of their work, or if they order a cease-and-desist, I will gladly pull these stories down.

                        Stranger Things, The New Generation — Chapter Three:

                                   D is for God

Mike turned on his computer and watched the screen. It turned grey, and the apple chime sounded. “Don’t you dare,” he whispered.

It was 4:38 AM, and he had just risen from bed. He hadn’t logged on since Tobias came over the morning before. The Ellen virus (as he thought of it) had scared him so badly that he could hardly look at his computer last night. This morning he had to see.

The grey apple shimmered as the operating system loaded. “Don’t you fucking dare,” he repeated.

The desktop appeared, and with it the scene from Hard Candy where he and Tobias had left off. The image looked normal, if “normal” could describe any scene from Hard Candy. Hayley had Jeff strapped to a chair and was threatening to pour bleach down his throat. He would have to watch the film again. It was at this scene he had fallen hard in love with Ellen Page.

He realized he was hard, partly from thinking of Ellen, but also because he hadn’t masturbated in two days. Since Wednesday night his nerves had been too preoccupied for a good jerk-off. He got on the bed to beat off before his morning shower.

His computer sounded a boing!, and he yelped. Tucking his cock back in his sweatpants, he flashed a guilty look towards the door, and then the computer screen. The next Hard Candy image had cycled, and it looked fine. The boing! had come from his Yahoo Instant Messenger, which was up and flashing on the right side of the screen. Who the hell would be messaging him this early? He used Yahoo mostly to chat with Tobias, and Tobias was never up this early.

The message was from someone he didn’t know: &%#!$*@yahoo.com. The username glowed yellow in his menu, which meant that he had accepted this user as a friend at some point. Which he most certainly had not. He enlarged the window so that it filled his screen, and stared at the message:

— Do you know what she did?

He frowned, not understanding. Do I know what she did? “She” presumably referred to Ellen Page, or Bliss Cavender, or whoever had perverted Bliss’s persona on his screen. He thought for a moment, and then typed back:

— wtf are you???

He intended ambiguity with the acronym, so that “w” could stand for who as much as what. Mike didn’t know who or what he was dealing with. He saw under the message window that &%#!$* was typing a response. It came in seconds:

— You’re going to die up here.

His testicles froze at the threat. This had to be a messed up joke. He thought of Tobias again, but this wasn’t his style, let alone his time of day. Who had the hacking skills to force-friend him? Sweat broke out over his body. He read the threat again, and decided to roll with it. He typed:

— maybe u can die in bed with me. 🙂

&%#!$* was already responding furiously. The message came:

— I make the questions, and I do the answers!

This was getting old fast. He closed the discussion:

— removing u from my friends. bye

In the space of a few clicks, he unfriended &%#!$*. Make your questions and answers now, bitch.

As if in answer, &%#!$* reappeared in his friends list seconds after being removed. The circle next to the username glowed yellow, mocking his inability to get rid of it.

Furious, Mike closed Yahoo messenger — and got slammed by the picture waiting on his screen. It almost broke his sanity.

Gomer Pyle

It was a perversion of Hayley Stark that made her Hard Candy psychosis seem mild. Unlike the endearing Bliss, the character of Hayley already came with nasty looks. Mike had chosen plenty of those looks for his screensaver. What displayed on his screen now was something else entirely. Hayley looked possessed. She was in her black tank top against the blue-grey background of Jeff Kohlver’s kitchen, just like in the film. But she had traded in righteous fury for the cruel insanity of the Kubrick stare. Mike had seen many of Stanley Kubrick’s films, and this was Ellen Page as if she had been directed by Kubrick, in a tight close-up shot, looking up with her eyes while keeping her head angled down. She was Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange; Jack Torrance in The Shining; and Gomer Pyle in Full Metal Jacket.

And she was grinning exactly like Gomer Pyle.

He felt his bladder empty, soaking his sweatpants. Tearing his gaze from the evil distortion, he scrambled for the computer’s back switch, but the pain came like an avalanche, before his finger could find the button. It was a blinding pain, worse than Wednesday night’s episode. He had never been this invasively attacked in his own home.

He found the button and held it down for a long time, already knowing it was in vain. He repeated his Wednesday night abortion, and pulled the plug.

 

Later that day, when he was walking home from school, it hit him. The messages sent by &%#!$* were lines from The Exorcist. He had seen the movie two years ago when his Uncle Will visited. His other uncles called him “Will the Wise”. He lived in Fishers, Indiana, where he served as the deputy director of the town’s public library. The Exorcist was Uncle Will’s favorite movie, which Mike found surprising. Uncle Will had been possessed by an awful creature at the age of thirteen and almost killed by it.

The first message from &%#!$* was the question, “Do you know what she did?” It’s what the demon asked Regan’s mother after forcing the girl to masturbate with a crucifix, which was by far the most shocking thing Mike had ever seen in a film. The second message was, “You’re going to die up here.” In the movie the demon said, “You’re going to die up there,” to a young astronaut who was attending Chris McNeil’s party. The demon had been predicting the astronaut’s death in space. By “up here“, what had &%#!$* meant? That Mike would soon die in his own bedroom?

He couldn’t recall the reference for the last message — “I make the questions, and I do the answers” — and had to Google it on his iPhone. He found it. In the movie Regan explains to her mother how she uses a Ouija board: that she makes the questions, and “Captain Howdy” (the demon) makes the answers. Mike had no idea what &%#!$* meant by making both the questions and the answers. Did that imply some kind of mighty omnipotence?

He took a shortcut through an alley between Bush and Rhone. When he got home, he was going to call Uncle Will. He should have done that yesterday instead of pestering Uncle Luc. They called him Will the Wise for good reason.

He thought he heard a sound, and stopped to look behind. He often used this shortcut, though his mother had warned him about alleys. He was about to find out why.

“Faggot.” Dominic Bragdon stepped out from behind a dumpster.

Shit. He didn’t have time for this. “Maybe you’re the faggot, Dom. You’ve been obsessed with me, and now you’re waiting in alleys where no one can find us.” Dom must have somehow learned of Mike’s route home, and gotten ahead of him after school.

Dom looked hard at him as he circled around Mike. “That’s right, Hopper. No one will find us here.”

Mike felt uneasy. “Get lost, Dom.”

“There’s something off about you, Hopper.”

If you only knew.

Dom had moved around so that Mike was now cornered against the alley dumpster. “We never seem to finish our little talks,” he said, closing in.

“Not much to say,” said Mike, and began concentrating.

Dom was watching him closely and decided he didn’t care for that look of concentration. He pounced instantly.

Mike was caught off guard. He jumped sideways, barely evading Dom, and cursed his complacency. He should have tapped his fugit power the moment he saw Dom.

Dom came at him again. Mike tripped dodging him, and landed on his ass, spraining his left ankle. He desperately looked around. He had never cried for help against bullies, because he hadn’t needed to. Dom had finally caught on to him. He needed just a few moments to concentrate. He jumped to his feet, scrambling backwards — and slammed into the dumpster he had forgotten about. There was no escape, and certainly no way around Dom.

Dom swung at his head and Mike barely avoided a hard fist. He was badly frightened. This psychopath wasn’t messing around. Dom launched himself, and Mike yelled, taking the full weight on his sprained ankle in order to kick at Dom with his other foot — a pathetic effort. Dom grabbed his foot and yanked hard, sending Mike down on his ass again. He pulled Mike to his feet.

“You piece of shit, Hopper,” he snarled.

Mike spat in his face.

Dom slammed his fist into Mike’s stomach, and Mike folded to his knees, pulverized. He couldn’t breathe. Dom pulled him up again, spun him around, and threw him. Mike’s head banged against the dumpster, and he sprawled on his hands and knees, scraping both. He tried yelling for help but his throat had forgotten how to inhale. Dom delivered a kick to his left eye, connecting both solidly and wetly. Terror gave Mike his voice back, and he screamed for help so loudly that everyone in the city should have come running.

No one came at all.

Dom grabbed him by the hair. “We’re alone, faggot,” he said, reaching into his back pocket. When Mike saw the knife, he screamed again. It was a Kissing Crane Stiletto, and the blade looked vicious.

“LET ME GO!” Mike bawled.

Dom pressed the tip of the knife into Mike’s neck, drawing blood. “I’ll let you go, as soon as I give you my autograph.”

Mike went limp and gave up all physical resistance. Instead he gathered his will and concentrated fiercely. He knew he needed tranquility, but that was impossible. His mind was a sea of pain. If he couldn’t pull this off, he was in big trouble. He summoned his power and the usual swarm filled his head. But there was that mental wall again, and it was more resistant than it had been yesterday in the cafeteria. He was aware of Dom pulling up his shirt. With renewed fury, he pushed against the wall. Nothing: the swarm buzzed and thundered against the inside of his head, hungry for release. Dom was saying something and grinning; then he held up the blade and repeated whatever asshole question was gratifying him so much. Mike ignored him and pushed again. Lifting a school bus would have been easier. Hayley had betrayed him, taking whatever Bliss had done to the next level. He pushed… pushed… pushed

… and then screamed as pain tore his stomach. The Kissing Crane went into his gut like a tub of butter, and blood ran everywhere. His power abruptly ceased; the swarm vanished. Dom cut straight down, from the top of Mike’s stomach to his hip. Then he made a curving arc, connecting the top part of the cut to the bottom. Blood flew again. It was the letter “D”. Like the crazy guy in that Stephen King novel, Dom had carved his initial into Mike’s stomach.

“SOMEBODY HELP ME!!”

Dom threw Mike over on his stomach and mashed his face into the pavement. “No one’s helping you, ass-wipe! And if you tell anyone I did this, I’ll use this blade to feed you your heart! Do you hear me?”

Mike was crying hysterically, utterly terrified for his life.

Dom yanked him up by the hair and put the knife to his throat. “I said, do you hear me?”

“YES!”

He threw Mike down and stood up. “Good. You have my autograph. That’s ‘D’ for ‘God’. Not ‘G’ for ‘God’. It’s the last letter that matters. Shitheads never get that.”

Mike stayed on the ground, sobbing uncontrollably.

“I’m your God, Hopper. You sound like a fucking sow.”

He walked off.

 

His mother was dicing peppers when he walked in. She gasped and put down the knife. “What happened?”

Mike ignored her and moved towards the hallway leading to the bathroom. She cut him off and grabbed his shoulders, staring at him. “Oh my God,” she said. He didn’t want to see himself in the mirror.

“I’m okay, mom,” he said in a broken voice.

“Sit down.”

“I need to use the bathroom.”

“Don’t walk away from me, Mike! Sit down.”

Angry tears came, and he tried to get around her. She touched his shoulder, and he felt a gentle force push him down onto a kitchen chair. His fury exploded: “Don’t do that to me!” he shouted.

She pulled up his blood-stained shirt. He wrestled with her, and swore at her when she used her power again to overcome him. She saw the “D” carved into his stomach, and her face grew furious. “Michael, who did this?”

He started crying again. He had never been assaulted like this, let alone maimed, and he always thought his power could protect him. It shamed him to be like this in front of his mother, and the fact that she had used her own power against him added insult to injury.

She pulled up another chair and held him as he cried, and apologized for humiliating him. Then she got a wet cloth and rubbing alcohol out of the cabinets, and started cleaning his bruised and bloody areas. When he calmed down, he gave a very censored account of what happened. Instead of Dom being his attacker, it was a complete stranger. If he identified his assailant, his mother would call the police, and he didn’t want that. The bite of the law would only escalate Dom’s rage. Nor did he want his mother fighting his battles in any case; not battles like this.

“So you have no idea who it was?” she persisted.

“No. I shouldn’t have provoked him.”

“No, you shouldn’t have. But what about your power? Are you sure it was being blocked, or was it just that you couldn’t concentrate because you were threatened?”

“I’m sure, mom.”

“Did you try using it after the attack?”

“Yes,” he lied. “I tried it coming home. There’s some kind of wall in my mind that’s blocking me all of a sudden. Did that ever happen with you?”

She thought. “No, not exactly. Sometimes I had a hard time calling up my power, but that was more an emotional problem. There was never anything in my head blocking it.”

“Well, I don’t understand it.” He wasn’t about to explain Ellen either. His mother wouldn’t understand his screensaver infestation any more than he or Tobias did. And Ellen was his private world. She was off limits to his mother’s scrutiny. When she had raced up the stairs Wednesday night to find out why he screamed, he gave her a bullshit explanation involving a bat perched outside on his window. “I want to go shower.”

“Mike, you’re shutting me out. You’ve been doing that a lot lately.”

He knew that his father had made an art of shutting her out. “Yeah, well, don’t worry, I’m not going to be like Dad.”

She went rigid. “What did you say?” Her tone signaled that he was on thin ice.

At the moment he was tone deaf. “I’m not going to be a shitty pathetic victim. I won’t turn into a mess.”

“Don’t talk to me about your father like that.”

“I just meant –”

She slapped his face. Hard. He gaped at her wide-eyed. “I know what you meant and you can keep quiet. You have no idea what it is to be a victim, Michael. Your father and I were prisoners for a long time. And he was tortured — beyond anything you can imagine. I’m telling you I want you to be careful so you don’t end up in the hospital or dead. It’s that simple. Don’t take the high ground with me when you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She was angry — but so was he. He had been branded; his gut was marked. She could cut him some goddamn slack. “Piss off,” he said hoarsely, standing up.

“We’ll be eating in an hour.”

“Save it,” he retorted. “I’m not eating your dinner tonight.”

“Mike!”

He went upstairs and didn’t come down until next morning.

 

Next Chapter: Mike of Melnibone

(Previous Chapter: Tempus Fugit)

Stranger Things: The New Generation (Chapter 2)

This eight-chapter novella is a sequel to Stranger Things: The College Years, which should be read beforehand. Both are works of fan fiction based on the Stranger Things TV series. I do not profit from them and they are not part of the official Stranger Things canon. They are stories that came to me as I imagined the Stranger Things characters well after the period of the television seasons. There is plenty of Stranger Things fiction to be found online (see here), but if I learn that the Duffer Brothers do not appreciate fan fiction of their work, or if they order a cease-and-desist, I will gladly pull these stories down.

                         Stranger Things, The New Generation — Chapter Two:

                                Tempus Fugit

“You must jack off to Ellen Page every day.”

“Shut up.” Mike resented Tobias’s remark, precisely because he did jack off to Ellen Page every day.

“Which one was it?” Tobias was in his desk chair, and Mike was looking over his shoulder at the contents of the screensaver folder.

“That one.”

“This one?” Tobias pointed with the mouse.

“Yes!”

“Okay. I’m opening it.” Tobias double-clicked.

The Whip It! image filled the screen as it should have. Ellen was gentle Bliss Cavender again.

“Maybe the screensaver program triggers it somehow.”

“I don’t know, Mike. That’s not usually how viruses work.”

“Well, try it anyway!”

Tobias started the screensaver, with the offending JPEG set to rotate as the first image. He set the images to change every five seconds instead of five minutes, because they had to get to school. “If I didn’t know you better, I’d say you were on crack and imagined it.”

“I’m not on anything and I know what I saw.”

The screenshot displayed normally.

“You’re fantasies of this girl are messing with you.”

“Bullshit,” Mike whispered. The scene faded after a five seconds, and the next Whip It! image took its place.

They waited and watched the change of scenes. He and Tobias usually met at the corner of 79th Avenue and Tibbetts on their walk to school, but he had called Tobias this morning and told him to come over after his breakfast. He had kept his computer off since Ellen terrorized him last night, and refused to turn it back on until Tobias arrived.

The images cycled normally. Tobias made small-talk: “You know Ellen Page is gay, right?”

“Shut up.”

“I’m serious.”

“No she’s not.”

“Uh, yeah, she is.”

“Where did you hear that?”

“I didn’t hear it anywhere. It’s as clear as day.”

“You’re fucked in the head.”

“She’s a closet lez, and has no more interest in your cock than any other guy’s.” Mike knew Tobias was just trying to piss him off, and it was working given his frame of mind. He was still scared by what the screensaver had done.

The images turned to Hard Candy, and they too displayed without any signs of corruption.

“It all looks fine to me, dude. Want me to trash the JPEG anyway?”

“Yeah.” Just to be safe. But Mike knew that wasn’t the problem. The JPEG wasn’t corrupted. It had been corrupted by… something… but it was fine now. As crazy as that sounded.

Tobias went into the folder and trashed it, and they left for school.

 

Later that day they sat in the cafeteria, enjoying as much lunch as they could tolerate. Mike ate half his pork pie, toyed with his greens, and decided he’d had enough.

“I’m done,” he said.

“Hold on.” Tobias shoved his tray aside and took out his iPhone. “I want to sit for a few.”

“You want to play WordFu.”

Tobias began playing the game he had been addicted to for months. Kung-fu noises brayed from the cell as he hurried to make words of the letters that tumbled on the screen. He glanced at Mike. “What are you waiting for?”

“Play with yourself,” said Mike. They often engaged in WordFu competitions on their iPhones, but today it was the last thing on Mike’s mind. Instead he browsed forums where people complained about weird hacking problems involving JPEG files.

“Yuppies.” The jeer came from the next table.

Tobias didn’t look up. “When I want your opinion, Kate, I’ll smack it out of you.” Mike and Tobias were among the few kids at Marshall High who had iPhones. Most students had the standard fare: Blackberries, Razrs, Nokias. Mike was confident that iPhones would rule the new decade.

“iPhones suck,” said Kate, as if reading his mind.

Tobias let out a huge fart. Kate gagged and swore at him, though one of her friends laughed. But when the fumes lingered, they all got up and went to another table.

“You clear a place out, dude,” said Mike. He breathed through his mouth. When Tobias let loose, it was low tide at a swamp.

“Hopper.” A shadow fell over him, and he looked up to see Dominic Bragdon with his three usuals in tow: Darrel, Curtis, and Todd. All four were staring at him, and Mike felt his stomach tighten. “Move,” said Dom. “We want this table.” What they actually wanted was to pick a fight.

“Sit somewhere else,” said Mike. A stupid thing to say, but he wasn’t quite as scared as he should have been. After what Ellen did to him last night, bullies seemed a minor annoyance.

What did you say, Hopper?”

“He said your balls stink and your mouth is an unwiped shithole,” said Tobias without looking up from WordFu.

The four heads turned on Tobias. At other tables, kids looked on nervously.

“You’re dead, Powell,” said Curtis.

“He’s fucking dead, all right,” said Dom, moving around the table to stand over Tobias. “Give me that stupid phone.”

WordFu spat out its clacking noises, as if mocking Dom’s demand. Tobias ignored Dom completely.

“Did you hear me, shithead?” Dom was about to take this to the next level.

Mike sighed. He knew what he had to do. Reaching inward, he summoned his extraordinary power.

It began as usual, like a swarm of bees inside his head that thrummed until the din and pressure demanded release. His power seemed sluggish today. He pushed harder with his mind, but there was a mental wall he’d never come up against. Be calm, his mother’s voice reminded him. It was the key to control. He cleared his thoughts, and heaved again inside his head. The barrier resisted. He pushed again. The wall finally collapsed, and with a firm thought, Mike morphed the swarm-energy into a silent invisible flare — and threw it at Dom and his friends.

The effect was amusing as always.

“Whoa,” said Dom, looking around the cafeteria. “Why are we here?”

“We’re late,” said Curtis. “C’mon.”

Darrel looked like he had forgotten an appointment, and ran off.

Todd looked confused (though to be fair, that was his natural state of mind), and followed Dom out the cafeteria.

Kids at the other tables went back to their lunches, looking puzzled, some of them clearly disappointed there would be no bloodbath.

Tobias put away his iPhone. “I was worried there for a second.”

“I choked,” said Mike, lying. He hadn’t choked. Something had intruded in his psyche. He’d barely knocked down that wall in time to move Dom and his friends along. He wondered about his splitting headache last night. Was someone — whoever was behind the screensaver incident — interfering with his power? That made no sense. The only ones who knew of his power were his mother, his three uncles, and Tobias.

His power was the illusion of tempus fugit “time flying” — which he had discovered at the age of seven. When Mike “fugited” people (his Uncle Dustin had coined the word), one minute seemed like an hour; a half hour seemed like a day. Usually Mike used his fugit power on people he wished to avoid. Just two weeks ago he had gone to the public library and found Dom and his bullies loitering by the front doors; he had conveniently moved them along, as he had done just now. In his more vindictive moods, he could torment those who had no escape. So in history class one day, he had fugited Curtis, who kept looking at the clock furiously, wondering why the last five minutes of class seemed literally like five hours. Curtis had exploded from his seat and cut off Mr. Schubert’s lecture, demanding to know why they were being kept in class long after school ended. The teacher had rewarded Curtis with a week’s worth of detentions.

Mike’s power had recently become more unpredictable. Last spring he had fugited a poor loser who wanted to hang around him and Tobias. He was a nice kid but never showered, and he liked shitty top-40 music. The damn kid wouldn’t leave them alone, and one day after school Mike fugited him. The next day Mike learned that he had done more than just cause the kid to go home. The kid’s body had decided it needed six times the amount of food normally consumed in a day over the next three hours, and so he had gorged himself on nearly half the contents of his refrigerator, and more still from the pantry. That act of gluttony put him in the hospital. Mike still felt terrible about it.

Then there were the two girls at the movie. They had been seated directly behind him and Tobias during Inglourious Basterds, and they wouldn’t shut their yaps. Talking during a movie was bad; talking during a Quentin Tarantino movie was a capital offense. Mike had casually turned around and whispered the line just delivered on screen to the girl fleeing the Nazi, “Au revoir, Shoshanna!”, and fugited the stupid loudmouths. Instead of getting the urge to leave, the girls’ bodies thought they desperately needed sleep, and they passed out in their seats. Which was fine and well — that certainly shut them up. But they didn’t start school in September, and they still hadn’t returned to class. Tobias had done his detective work and discovered that since that August night at the movies, the girls’ sleep at home had been plagued by nightmares so severe they had suffered nervous breakdowns.

Since that incident Mike had used his power sparingly and only on the purist assholes. Like Dom and his thugs. He couldn’t care less if he put them in the hospital or ruined them with anxiety.

“Never seen you choke before,” said Tobias. “The park after school?”

“Not today,” said Mike. “I’m visiting my Uncle Luc.”

“Uncle Awesome.” Tobias thought it cool that Mike’s closest relative after his mother was an African American. Even if not by blood.

“Yeah.” Mike looked at the cafeteria clock. “Shit. Time for class.”

Tobias raised his eyebrows. “When I want your opinion?”

“Oh, fuck off,” said Mike.

 

After school Mike headed northeast to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Station. It was a little over a mile from Marshall High, about the same walking distance to his home in the other direction. The walk refreshed him after boring classes and bullies in between.

Visiting his uncle always brightened his mood; he adored the man. Lucas Sinclair was one of his mother’s closest friends from childhood, and he had moved out to Portland when Mike was a toddler, after receiving his graduate degree at Yale. He had become something of a surrogate father to Mike, though he had a wife and kids of his own. Mike hoped that Uncle Luc was in the office today. If he was out doing field work, then this walk was for exercise.

He reached the station in twenty minutes, went inside and down the hall. The door on the left was open, and sure enough his uncle was at his computer entering data. When he saw Mike, he swiveled in his chair.

“Mike, my man! Is it that late in the day?” His uncle had a mutilated left ear, thanks to Mike’s father. The sight of it, as always, stirred complicated feelings for the father he never knew.

“Hey,” said Mike, dropping in the chair in front of the desk. “What trouble are you causing?”

“I’m compiling all the proof we need.”

Mike looked at him. “Yeah?”

“What we talked about last time you were here?”

“Oh. What was that?”

Uncle Luc sighed. “The marbled murrelet, genius?”

“Oh yeah. It’s going extinct.”

“It’s a threatened species, but those bastards made a petition last year to delist it, unless we could prove it still needs protection. That’s what I’ve been doing since then. I’ll be presenting my case in a couple months.”

“You’re badass, Uncle Luc. Saving the marbled murrelet. Sweet name for a species.”

“And you know what species, right?”

“Yeah.” Mike had forgotten. “It’s a frog.”

“Jesus.” Uncle Luc was disgusted. “I’m sure you must process at least some of what I tell you. Maybe the more simple stuff, like how to put a clean greeting on your cell phone — one that doesn’t ask for a blowjob.”

“Mom made me change that one.”

“I should say so,” said Uncle Luc.

Lucas Sinclair was an endangered species biologist who had raised fifty shades of hell during the years of the Bush administration. When President Obama restored protections for endangered species last March, it had been largely thanks to Uncle Luc’s lobbying efforts. In Uncle Luc’s opinion, George W. Bush was the worst president in history. That was hardly controversial; many people could list plenty of reasons why. But they usually omitted what Uncle Luc considered to be one of Dubya’s most egregious offenses: his last-minute torpedoing of the Endangered Species Act. Thanks to Bush last December, agencies with little or no wildlife expertise had been authorized to make decisions that could spell the death of endangered animals.

President Christ Obama — or PCO, as Mike teasingly referred to him, when he was around Uncle Luc — had reversed that decision in March and preserved the integrity of the Endangered Species Act. Uncle Luc had received a personal letter of commendation from Obama, and that letter had cemented his status as the messiah come again in Uncle Luc’s eyes. It had also ignited a political war between Uncle Luc and Mike’s east-coast uncle, Dustin Henderson. Uncle Dustin was not impressed with President Christ Obama. When the Hawkins Club gathered at the Hoppers last summer to celebrate the Fourth, the barbecue had become a battleground. Mike, his mother, Uncle Will, and Nancy Wheeler-Perry could hardly get in a word edgewise as Uncle Luc and Uncle Dustin flamed each other across the picnic table. Uncle Dustin, as usual, had the upper hand: Obama was a war hawk like Bush, and in some ways already worse. He was a fiscal moron, also like Dubya. He clearly had no designs on ending the drug war, and African Americans like Uncle Luc were stupid to think otherwise. Uncle Luc waxed wroth. President Christ Obama was not to be dissed. He fired back at Uncle Dustin — more on the strength of the four beers he had swilled than any reasoned argument. It was the loudest and nastiest holiday Mike had ever experienced; it was the best holiday of his life.

His uncles’ war entertained him like that ’70s sitcom All in the Family, and gratified him on the basest level. He played his uncles against each other, egged them on, and reveled in their discord. The War of the Uncles, as he called it, was still being waged by the end of October, though it had turned cold: Uncle Luc and Uncle Dustin stayed on their respective coasts, and relied on covert attacks and passive-aggressive comments in their texts. Mike wanted a return to open warfare. He asked if Uncle Dustin was coming out for Thanksmas, as they called their early December celebrations.

“You’re asking me?” said Uncle Luc. “He usually stays at your place.”

“I don’t think mom wants him out here with you. The Battle of the Fourth left a foul taste in her mouth.”

“Well, there’s your answer. Maybe Uncle Dustin should keep his distance for a while.”

“It’s such bullshit. People take politics too seriously.”

Uncle Luc frowned. “Is that why you thrive so much on those of us who do take politics seriously?”

“He’d better come out. He’s family, just like you.”

“He’s my best friend, Mike. I certainly have no objections to him visiting. But for a family holiday, maybe not. Until he gets used to our president.”

“Well… he shouldn’t have to show respect for someone just so people won’t get pissed off.”

“Are you trying to piss me off? Is this why you walked over here? To rattle my chain about Uncle Dustin?”

Mike paused. “Not really.”

“Good. Tell me what you did come over here for. I’ve got reams of data that need entering.”

He didn’t tell him about Ellen. He still couldn’t believe his screensaver had done what it did. But he described the incident with Dom in the cafeteria.

“You’ve never had problems using your power?”

“Never. Ever since I realized I could do it years ago, it flows whenever I want it to, basically.”

“Have you had any head injuries — falling down, or anything?”

“No.”

“I’ve no idea, Mike. You should be talking to your mother about this. She understands this stuff.”

“No, I don’t want her to know. Not yet at least. Please don’t tell her on Saturday.” His mother and Uncle Luc had dinner every Saturday night, alternating between his house and hers. This Saturday was at his place, with his family, over on the west side of the city. Halloween night.

“You have trouble talking to her.” It wasn’t a question.

“She’s too invasive. She hounds the shit out of me.”

“Mothers tend to be like that. My lips are sealed for now. But don’t sit on it too long, okay?”

“Yeah.”

 

Next Chapter: D is for God

(Previous Chapter: Elric and Ellen)