Stranger Things: The College Years (Chapter 1)

This eight-chapter novella is a work of fan fiction based on the Stranger Things TV series. I do not profit from it and it is not part of the official Stranger Things canon. It’s a story that came to me as I imagined the kids in their college years, well after the period of the television seasons. There is a lot 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 the story down.

The stories assume the events portrayed in TV seasons 1-3, except that it was Joyce Byers who died in the Battle of Starcourt, while Jim Hopper survived to continue raising Eleven. William and Jonathan Byers stayed in Hawkins, and their Aunt Ruth came to live with them and assume guardianship of Will. Also: Karen Wheeler did have an affair with Billy Hargrove before his possession, and she aided and abetted him in abducting people for the Mind Flayer.

                              Stranger Things, The College Years — Chapter One:

                                  Will the Wiser

Monday, August 6, 1990

William Byers loved his aunt, but by August he was ready to shoot her. He couldn’t wait to get back to school. And the new crisis in Hawkins wasn’t helping matters.

It was a miracle he could attend a college of his choice. Grinnell had been a victory of sorts. Ruth Garrett had forbidden him any school that wasn’t in a state bordering Indiana, and preferably in Indiana itself. He had set his sights on New England, like Lucas and Dustin, and would have settled for New York, like Jonathan, but those far-flung territories were simply out of bounds. In the seventh grade he had been snatched and imprisoned in another world. The following year he had been possessed and nearly killed. The next summer his mother was killed by the same possessor. In high school the horrors had continued, and after the sophomore-year tragedy (he still couldn’t bear to think about Mike Wheeler), his aunt’s helicopter insanity hit a record high. She was worse than Joyce Byers had ever been, and that was saying something. Only a few months later, it was time for junior-year college visits, and Aunt Ruth had issued her edict: no college beyond a six-hour drive from Hawkins.

Will had been enraged by the humiliation and unfairness of it all, and astonished that his aunt could be so backwards. If she had the common sense God gave geese, he pointed out, she should be happy with him putting as many miles as possible between himself and Hawkins. He was going to New England, and that was that. Stunned by his rebellion, Ruth Garrett had shouted him down until he cried. She didn’t want to hear anything approaching the realm of common sense. For all she knew, there were shadow monsters lurking in the distant colonies of New England, preying on students from afar. Williams College — Will’s dream school — was out of the question, as were Middlebury and Bowdoin. Will renewed his objections. Aunt Ruth shot him down again. He stormed out of the house and stayed overnight with Lucas, who smuggled him upstairs without his parents knowing. For that disappearing act, the Hawkins Police Department suffered the unbridled hysteria of Ruth Garrett. Will was grounded for a month.

In the end she had felt bad, and amended her fiat when Will became fixated on Grinnell. He fell in love with the place reading the brochure. Iowa was only two states over from Indiana, and this allowed Aunt Ruth the mental leeway to compromise and feel better about herself. Will was accepted early decision the following year, in December 1988, and in August 1989 he arrived in Iowa, to start the first chapter in his life out from the under the suffocating wing of Joyce Byers’ sister.

Independence was liberating, but made it hard readjusting when he came home for breaks. He started resenting his summer vacation around the middle of June, before summer even began, and now there was the town crisis, to which his aunt had responded by treating him like he was twelve again. On Saturday two high-school juniors were found strangled in the woods off Mirkwood Road. They had been been having sex, and the esteemed Hawkins Police judged they were killed for that very reason: they were gay. Tony Morrow and Jake Taplitz had been openly gay — a dangerous thing for a Hawkins student to be. Ruth Garrett considered herself an enlightened liberal, but she was practical above all. She had always harbored fears that Will was gay, based on the bullying he had taken for being sensitive and shy. Aunt Ruth had no problems with gay people — as long as her younger nephew wasn’t one of them. She saw his face on Tony and Jake when she read the Hawkins Post. He would too easily end up like them.

It made for exasperating dinner conversation. Last night was bad. Tonight was worse. Her diatribes about school bullies segued into inquires about Grinnell students.

“Aunt Ruth, we don’t know that Tony and Jake were killed by classmates. And Grinnell is a liberal arts college. When people say homophobic things, they’re the ones who tend to get in trouble.”

“You have to dumb down for your aunt. What’s ‘homophobic’?”

“Fear of homosexuality. People who don’t like gays and make fun of them. Or discriminate against them.”

“Oh.” She dumped salad on her plate. “Right.”

“There’s low tolerance for that at Grinnell. It’s gay friendly.” He tore into his pork roast. This was the one good thing about coming home: his aunt’s cooking. It had been the best part of his adoption in the fall of ’85, which he had otherwise resented. His mother had been a good cook, but Aunt Ruth was in another league entirely.

She looked at him. “Really?”

“Yeah. There was a guy who used the term ‘ass-bandit’ in class, and people got pissed, including the professor.” At Hawkins High, students had used all the faggot euphemisms with impunity. Probably still did.

Aunt Ruth shook her head. “I obviously need to relearn the English language. But I’d rather not know what an ‘ass-bandit’ is.”

Will smothered a laugh. For some reason he found it funny when his aunt used rude expressions she didn’t understand.

“Is Chloe back from France yet?”

This was his aunt’s way of being coy. By bringing up Chloe out of context, she was fishing for some assurance that her nephew was interested in the female sex.

“Chloe’s a pain the ass.” More dismissive than he meant to sound, but Chloe was a pain in the ass, and their friendship had declined since they had gone their separate ways to college. In his aunt’s fantasy, Will would someday marry this nubile cutie he had taken to the senior prom. “I think she gets back next week.”

“She’s nice,” Aunt Ruth insisted. “Invite her over before you vacate my nest again.”

He’d rather eat his own spleen than have Chloe over. He focused on his baked potato.

“I’ll cook her the shepherd’s pie recipe she likes, then you guys can catch a movie together.”

He suddenly liked his aunt’s idea. The Exorcist III was hitting theaters in a week or so. That would give Chloe nightmares, and the thought pleased him. He couldn’t wait to see it. The Exorcist II had been the worst sequel ever made, but according to advanced reviews, William Peter Blatty — the man himself — had directed the third film. It was based on his novel Legion, which was the actual written sequel to The Exorcist. Will had read Legion at college last year. It had scared him shitless. The Exorcist III was his number-one priority before returning to Grinnell, and he told his aunt so.

Aunt Ruth looked at him as if he had lost his mind. “Will, what’s wrong with you?”

Why do I say things? “Why do you think something’s wrong?”

“You know why! Look, I know you’re an adult and you watch whatever the hell you want, and to hell with your adoptive aunt. But those Exorcist movies, don’t they hit close to home?”

Of course they did. That was a big part of why he was drawn to them. In the fall of 1984, Will had been given the equivalent of an exorcism by his mother, brother, and Nancy Wheeler. They had almost killed him driving the Mind Flayer out of him. He still had nightmares about it. Watching The Exorcist brought him back to that horrible night in Hopper’s cabin. But it was also strangely therapeutic. He had a hard time explaining how, and his aunt would never understand. He made a stab at an explanation: “Dr. Owens always said that I should face my traumatic experiences, not ignore them. The Exorcist helped me understand what the Mind Flayer did — what possession really does to a person.”

She considered that. “Okay. And you think that understanding your possession has been good for you?”

“Well, yeah, I mean, for a while I thought there was something wrong with me. I wondered — no, listen, Aunt Ruth — I wondered why it chose me. But I realized I was no different from the girl Regan. Demons and shadow monsters like to rip people up for no special reason. Especially innocent people. Or young people. I didn’t get that until watching the movie.”

“Will, I always told you there was nothing wrong with you.”

“I know that, but you’re my aunt. You’d say that anyway.”

She went back to her food. “You know I trust you. I just worry about you obsessing that stuff. Didn’t you see another terrible movie last week, with Lucas and Dustin?”

Flatliners?” he said. “That was an awesome movie, but a lot of people hated it. We loved it. I think it’ll be a classic someday. It’s about these medical students who try to have near-death experiences. They stop each other’s hearts and use their — what, defibrillators? — to bring them back to life. They want to see the afterlife, which turns out to be pretty nasty when it follows them back.”

“‘Flatliners’,” she said, and he realized that had been another wrong thing to say. “You really know how to pour it on.” The year before his exorcism, Will had flatlined in the Upside Down. His mother and Sheriff Hopper had barely resuscitated him.

It was funny how the horror films this summer were straight out of his own playbook. He hoped that wasn’t an omen.

 

That night he dug out his Dungeons & Dragons material. He had agreed to run a campaign for the college gaming club in September, and it had to be beginners level. He grabbed the essentials from his box — the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual — and then surveyed his collection of adventure modules. The Keep on the Borderlands. Negative. Everyone knew that one. The Village of Hommlet. Great setting, but he could never come up with a good plot for it. The Lost City. Loads of memories there. He opened it… and those memories came pouring out. He, Lucas, and Dustin fighting for their characters’ lives, shouting over each other, as Mike assumed the role of the Zargonite priest, casting an earthquake spell that brought the underground city crashing down on them. Lucas’s character had died. It was one of Mike Wheeler’s most legendary performances as a dungeon master, and a terrific adventure that lasted two days. They had slept over Dustin’s house for the week-end.

Will realized his eyes were wet. Thoughts of Mike always caught him off guard.

He closed The Lost City and got hold of himself. He needed a virgin module, something he’d never got around to using. He pulled out The Secret of Bone Hill. That one might do. It had a cover art piece portraying a lady-wizard blasting a skeletal creature. Like Eleven —

He heard a noise to his right and looked up. Had something hit his window? It sounded like it. He got up and went to the window. He had a sudden feeling of being watched. He tried looking out the glass, but the bedroom light made that hard. He killed the light.

Someone was right outside, staring in at him.

Will stiffened and jumped backward, his heart slamming in his chest. He fell down and knocked over the box of gaming material. Dice rolled everywhere. He swore and looked up frantically at the window. The figure was gone. Thoughts of the town killer filled his imagination.

He got up and forced himself back to the window, leaving the light off. He fully expected Michael Myers to come crashing through and bury a knife in his neck. He surveyed the backyard. Nothing. He looked right, towards the tool shed; left, along the path to the front lawn. Still nothing. He hadn’t imagined this. He was about to turn away — and then snapped his head sideways as he caught movement along the outside wall. The intruder was close against the house and moving slowly around to the front yard.

Will bolted from his room, and down the hallway to the front door, mindless of the dangers. For four years in a row he had faced terrors from the Upside Down, and he wasn’t about to be intimidated by a nighttime prowler. Prowlers can kill. And there’s a killer in town. He paused, his heart racing. Knowing he was being very stupid, he threw open the door.

Moonlight flooded the front lawn, and he saw the figure turn the corner. Fear mixed with anger, and he marched out to confront Michael Myers. “Hey!” he called, trying to sound casual and strong. “Do you know you’re trespassing?” The intruder stopped. “You need to leave, sir. This is private –”

Will gasped in unbelief. The moonlight shone on the prowler’s face, and it was the face of someone long dead. Not Michael Myers. Michael —

Jesus.

— Wheeler.

Mike.

Mike Wheeler had been killed three and a half years ago. Will had held his corpse, screamed at the gods, and sobbed his lungs out as the killer gloated not ten feet away. Yet there was no denying the person standing in front of him right now. It was his friend Mike.

 

Next Chapter: Unhallowed Reunion.

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