Stranger Things: The College Years (Chapter 2)

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 story assumes the events portrayed in TV seasons 1-2. I was a bit unhappy with season 3, not least for the silly comedy. In my imagination of the summer of 1985, Joyce Byers died fighting the Mind Flayer; there were no Russians under a mall; Eleven defeated the Mind Flayer once and for all; 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 had an affair with Billy Hargrove, and she aided and abetted him in abducting people for the Mind Flayer until he was killed by the creature. Jim Hopper did engineer a break-up between Eleven and Mike, but not in the silly way portrayed in season 3.

                            Stranger Things, The College Years — Chapter Two:

                           Unhallowed Reunion

He looked like he had crawled from a grave.

“Mike?”

And smelled like it.

“Jesus, is that you?”

Mike had aged appropriately, looking every bit of nineteen years he should be by now. He should be dead, is what he should be. And there was no mistaking the tall and gangly frame. On that terrible January night in 1987 he had stood 5′ 10″. He was still the same, possibly a half an inch more. But he resembled a ghoul. His mouth was drooling and his face was filthy, as if he’d been eating dirt and leaves. He stank to high hell. Curiously, he had no facial hair, and Will doubted that he had been shaving. Shockingly, he wore the same clothes he’d been wearing the day he was killed; but they were torn and grimy, too short for him, and barely recognizable.

“It’s me. Will.” Christ, this isn’t happening. “You know me, right?”

Mike didn’t speak. He looked wary and hostile.

Will came up to him, and Mike actually snarled. “Hey. It’s okay.” Will reached out to embrace him. Mike went stiff and his face contorted, either in anger or some unnamed frustration. He made a soft keening noise. “Yeah, it’s me,” said Will, hugging his friend fiercely. “I got you.” Tears stung his eyes, from emotion as much as Mike’s hideous smell. He’s been bathing in a sewer.

He let go of Mike and looked him over. He was dreaming this. “Can you talk to me? I saw you die.” I watched that thing kill you and couldn’t stop it. I’m so sorry. “Where have you been? What happened?” Mike bared his teeth and made a horrible noise. He sounded like a rabid dog. Whether he couldn’t speak or understand what he was being asked, Will couldn’t say. He recalled a Halloween night from so long ago it seemed a distant country; a night that had precipitated the worst trials of his life. His body had slipped between worlds, and the Mind Flayer — so huge it blotted out the sky — had terrorized him through the streets of Hawkins. Mike had found him cowering behind a building, and had somehow managed to pull him back from the Upside Down. I’m going to get you home, Mike had promised. And he had done that, giving up a night of trick-or-treating (his favorite time of year) so that Will wouldn’t be alone. Mike had done anything for him.

Will wanted to return the favor. But he had no intention of bringing Mike to Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler until he had a dim notion as to what was going on. Mike was officially dead. Will had seen him die. He had held his battered corpse, praying it wasn’t so, as Eleven screamed Mike’s name and pounded vainly against his killer with psychic forces. Lucas, Dustin, and Max had been there. The matter was beyond doubt: Mike Wheeler had no business standing here right now. He’d been given a funeral. That sort of thing had happened to Will, but his own “death” had lasted a week. Mike had been gone three and a half years. He existed only in memories. His family and friends had moved on, or as best they could.

Of course, there had been no body for the funeral; but no one doubted Mike’s passing. The Illithid’s thrall had surprised them, pouncing out of nowhere and tearing Mike’s corpse from Will’s grasp. It had dashed away before they could react — to feed on the cadaver, they assumed. Eleven could have stopped the thrall, but she had left in pursuit of the Illithid, her heart set on murder. She had taken the bait, and left the boys vulnerable. But the thrall hadn’t attacked any of them; it had only taken Mike’s corpse. Presumably back to the Upside Down, since no trace of Mike was ever found.

Instead of feeding on it, had the thrall given the corpse to its master for some other purpose? Did the Illithid have powers of resurrection?

A car passed by, down at the end of the driveway, and Will felt suddenly exposed. He didn’t want anyone seeing Mike.

“Come on,” he said, taking Mike’s hand. Mike flinched, but he let Will guide him. They retreated to the backyard where Mike had just come from, and down to the tool shed. It was the only place Will could think of putting him for now. His aunt hardly ever went in there. He prayed she was still sound asleep. Tomorrow he’d call Lucas and Dustin.

He opened the shed door. “I’ll stay with you –”

The breath was knocked out of him as he was slammed into the shack wall by what felt like the Hulk. His lips mashed against the wood and ate splinters. Then he was flipped around and thrown down on his back. He saw stars. Surely his back had broken. Through the cloud of his agony he realized it was Mike attacking him, but that wasn’t right. Mike was his friend and not nearly this strong.

Mike didn’t look like a friend. His eyes blazed with rage. He growled something ragged and then was on top of Will, throttling him as spit flew from his filthy mouth. He was strong; impossibly so. Will grabbed his hands and tried prying them off his neck, but those hands may as well have been steel. They squeezed Will’s neck like a rubber toy. Agony spiked through his head and his body thrashed in pain. He’s killing me. Mike Wheeler is alive, and I’m about to die. He began to fade and he thought of Jonathan. He’d never see his brother again.

Then the crisis broke. His neck was suddenly free. Relief poured through him as the pain receded, leaving him limp and gasping on the ground. He turned over and retched. He could hear someone sobbing, and he wondered who had miraculously come to his rescue. It felt like he was in a movie. He looked over toward the noise but saw only Mike, kneeling a few feet away, hunched over and crying. Evidently he had stopped his own attack.

Will crawled over to him, trying to catch his breath. His throat felt like fire. He called Mike’s name, and his friend looked up at him distraught. Through his tears Mike seemed to register something. His eyes carried an appeal. He touched Will’s cheek and caressed it, looking lost. Then he started wailing.

“Be quiet!” Will hissed, clamping his hand over Mike’s mouth. He braced himself for another attack, but Mike mercifully calmed down. Let’s try again. Will let go of his mouth and pointed at the shed door. “We need to get inside, okay? Hide out for a bit? If anyone sees you, there’s going to be a shitstorm.” Mike grunted. Will needed better than that. “Can we do that? You won’t strangle me again?” He began guiding him toward the door, and Mike was compliant. Will began to feel better about the situation.

Then he felt suddenly sick.

You won’t strangle —

Tony Morrow and Jake Taplitz had been strangled. The town killer wasn’t some bigoted skinhead. It was Mike Wheeler returned from the dead.

Forget tomorrow. He was calling Lucas and Dustin now.

 

“Like Re-Animator,” said Dustin.

“Re-what?” asked Lucas.

“You got to be fucking kidding me. You didn’t see that movie?”

“Just explain.”

“I saw it,” said Will. He and Jonathan had bought the VHS four years ago, and their aunt had been appalled at what she saw on the TV screen as she walked by. It was the scene of the re-animated corpse carrying its own decapitated head, and using its tongue to rape the girl Megan strapped naked on a table. Will had cursed the fate that sent parental figures strolling by at the most embarrassingly obscene moments. Ruth Garrett respected her nephews’ passion for horror films, but that scene had rubbed her the wrong way; she had shot Jonathan a disapproving look before leaving. Jonathan had turned to Will and shrugged: What can you do? Will had smiled back.

He wasn’t smiling now. He didn’t like Dustin’s analogy of Re-Animator. For one, those corpses came back to life in hideously disfigured zombie states. Mike didn’t look anything like that. He drooled a bit, he was filthy and stank, but he wasn’t bad looking; he didn’t have tumors protruding from his flesh, nor was he bleeding out his orifices. The revenants in Re-Animator had also been primitive unemotional beasts. Mike was still human under his savage exterior.

“You’re forgetting Megan’s father,” said Dustin.

“What?” said Will, exasperated now.

“The girl’s father. The dean of the university. He was killed and then re-animated into a zombie, but at the last minute he turned and fought the other zombies to save his daughter. Sounds like how you describe Mike feeling sorry all of a sudden for kicking your ass.”

“He almost killed me, Dustin. And I still don’t see the comparison. Megan’s father remembered her on some level, sure, but it was a residual instinct, nothing more. Mike is still in there somewhere. He’s just been… I don’t know, smothered, somehow.”

“I think you’re projecting onto Mike what happened to you,” said Lucas.

“No, I’m not saying he’s possessed.” And he was sure of it. This wasn’t The Exorcist. This wasn’t the Mind Flayer. And yet…

“Then what is he?” asked Dustin.

“How should I know? I only found him tonight.”

Lucas got on the floor next to Mike, who had just finished a can of Orange Crush. The soda hadn’t improved his disposition.

Will was nervous. “Be careful, Lucas.”

Lucas and Dustin had arrived an hour ago in Lucas’s car, and left the Mazda parked far down the driveway on the side of the road, so as not to wake Will’s aunt. They came straight to the shed as Will had instructed on the walkie-talkie. Seeing Mike — alive, hostile, and mute — had reduced them to tears on the spot. When they hugged him, he grimaced as if he were being condemned. But when they displayed the food they brought, Mike’s eyes lit up zealously. In short time he had shoved down two leftover hamburgers from Dustin’s fridge, a giant bag of corn chips, and a full pint of blueberries. After this repast came the unpleasant task of removing Mike’s clothes. He had roared in outrage when Lucas attempted this, and only after patient coaxing would he allow Will to do the job. Will had gagged and almost thrown up as the clothes dating to their sophomore year in high school were finally peeled off. Then he had gasped in outrage: there were old scars covering Mike’s torso, as if something had long ago raked its talons down from his chest to his stomach. They all agreed the Illithid was the likely culprit. Will sponged Mike down with water bottles and towels provided by Dustin, and then assisted him into fresh clothes from Lucas’s wardrobe. In the end Mike was a new man. But he showed no sign of good will to either Lucas or Dustin.

Lucas gently took his hand. Mike growled. Lucas glanced up at Will. “Is there anything he understands?”

“I don’t think so. He didn’t seem to process anything I said to him.”

Dustin suggested: “Maybe the Shadow Plane eats away your intelligence if you’re there too long.”

“I’m not sure intelligence is the issue,” said Will.

“I don’t know,” said Dustin. “He looks pretty dense.”

“He’s traumatized, Dustin,” said Will.

“Yeah. But he’s –”

Mike stood and bared his teeth at Dustin, making a noise that was barely human.

Dustin stepped back. “Holy shit. What did I say?”

“You said he was dense,” said Lucas.

“I said he looked dense.”

“He looks pissed now!”

“Well then I take it back.”

Jesus. “If he breaks you in half, Dustin, it’s on you.” At this point, Will almost welcomed the spectacle.

“I thought you were the genius who said he couldn’t understand anything. How is this ‘on me’?”

“We don’t know what he understands.”

“It could be your tone that set him off,” said Lucas. “Or maybe he thinks you’re ass-ugly.”

“Funny,” said Dustin. He turned to Mike: “Is that it, Mike? I’m not handsome enough for you?”

Mike had the expression of someone choking on gravel.

“Christ, he must be constipated. How often does one shit in the Upside Down?”

“Can you be serious for a second!”

“I am serious, Lucas! And I’m the only one coming up with reasonable theories here.”

Mike was getting more agitated — twitching now.

“Okay, relax, bud,” said Dustin. “I’m trying here. Work with me. How are you alive again? Was it the Illithid?”

“The Illithid has resurrection powers,” said Will. He was sure of it. “How else do we explain this?”

“How about the obvious?” asked Lucas. “Maybe Mike never died. He could have gone into a coma or something.”

“Coma, my ass,” said Will. “I was holding him, Lucas. And you saw. The way he hit that tree.”

“Just so you guys know, we’re making a shitload of noise right now,” said Dustin.

“We can’t stay here,” agreed Will. He kept expecting his aunt to come storming in at any moment.

“What about Castle Byers?” asked Lucas. “Your old fort? No one will find us way back there.”

“Is it still standing?” asked Dustin.

Will hadn’t been inside his fort in ages. “It’s there but a bit run down. One side of it’s half gone. It’s a good enough shelter anyway, if it’s not raining.”

“Let’s go then,” said Dustin. “We brought extra sleeping bags, so you don’t have to go inside your house and make noise.”

“And we have more sandwiches too,” said Lucas.

Those at least would keep Mike happy. “I guess we can use the fort for one night. But I don’t want Mike sleeping outside any more than that.”

“I think,” said Lucas, “he’s been sleeping in worse places than ‘outside’ for a long time now.”

 

Next Chapter: At the Home of Mr. Clarke

(Previous Chapter: Will the Wiser)

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