Stranger Things: The College Years (Chapter 3)

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 Three:

                           At the Home of Mr. Clarke

The migration from Shed Byers to Castle Byers went fine, and they collapsed in their sleeping bags. Everyone rose at sunrise except Mike, who slept like the dead. They kept trying to wake him, but he only snarled and hardly opened his eyes. Will wondered if he was exhausted from recent events, or if he needed more sleep routinely now because he had gone through death.

They took turns watching over him that morning. Will went back home early before his aunt rose, and made breakfast for her before she left for work. He returned to the fort and relieved Dustin, who went home to check on Ma Henderson, who had been seeing a podiatrist since June. Lucas ran some errands.

By around noon they were all back, and Dustin had meals from Burger King. “Two whoppers for Mike,” he said, “if Sleeping Beauty ever wakes up.”

“We need a plan,” said Lucas, biting into his bacon double-cheese.

“I was thinking,” said Will. “What about Mr. Clarke?”

“You want to bring Mike to our old science teacher?” asked Lucas.

“I can’t think of anyone else I’d trust with this,” said Will. He cursed Jim Hopper for living in Oregon now. They needed him.

Dustin approved Will’s suggestion. “But we can’t just bring Mike over to his house. He’s a murderer, and we’re all accessories. We have to explain everything to Mr. Clarke first.”

“He won’t be home now,” said Lucas. “I think he works at the library during the summer until mid-afternoons.”

“We’ll go see him at four,” said Dustin.

“And hang around here until then?” asked Lucas.

“I don’t know. Does he ever wake up?” They looked down at Mike, who was snoring, his face locked in a grimace that implied bad dreams.

“At least it’s a nice day,” said Lucas.

In fact, the day was remarkably cool: a near perfect seventy as opposed to the eighties weather of the past few weeks. It was refreshing, but Will feared an intrusion from the Upside Down. He likes it cold. He shuddered, remembering the Mind Flayer inside him. They had finally dealt with that creature once and for all. But the Illithid had gotten away, and it was worse than the Mind Flayer. It had secreted an essence so cold that its presence effected the local weather. In January 1987 the creature had caused the temps in Hawkins to drop from an already -3 degrees to -18. Today was about fifteen degrees cooler than yesterday. On top of Mike showing up, Will didn’t like the coincidence. For now he held his peace.

Mike finally woke up at two o’clock. He was just as foul-tempered as the night before, though he allowed Will to feed him.

 

Lights were on in the house. Will’s pulse quickened. He suddenly wasn’t sure about telling Mr. Clarke. When he saw only one car in the driveway, he felt marginally better. Mr. Clarke had been on-and-off with his lady friend Jen. She would have been a problem.

Dustin killed the Mazda’s engine. “Are we sure about this?”

“No,” said Will. “But we’re doing it. Let me lead.”

“You’re the one who found him,” said Dustin.

When they knocked on the front door, it opened to the sight of Mr. Clarke in a stained apron, and the sound of rock music — World Party’s Goodbye Jumbo — booming from another room. Clarke was clearly surprised. “Well, well. Are these my prodigies from the past?”

“Hey, Mr. Clarke,” they replied.

“How nice to see you boys. I hope you don’t want to leave college and come back to middle school.”

“Your AV Club was the only good thing about Hawkins Middle,” said Dustin. “You couldn’t pay me to set foot in there again. Nice beard, by the way. But we need to speak to you about something majorly critical.”

Clarke looked them over. “I have spaghetti cooking. You hungry?”

“Always. But –”

Will took control. “I know this is weird of us, stopping by with no warning, but we really do need to talk to you about something important.”

“By all means.” Their former teacher waved them inside. “Go sit in the living room, and turn down the music. I’ll put the food on simmer.”

“Never figured you for World Party,” said Dustin. “Great album.”

 

It was a song about traveling the world with some kind of message, and opening oneself to hurt. Dustin knew the lyrics. Will had no use for such sentiments at the moment. There was enough pain and hurt in the real world. Right in one’s hometown, as it turned out. He shut off the stereo.

“Check out the CD collection,” said Dustin. “We should take Mr. Clarke to the next Depeche Mode concert.”

“Okay, guys!” Clarke came in with three bottles. “Have a seat, have a Coke.”

They took the drinks and sat. Dustin was direct: “My lord, this is going to be a shock.”

“Okay,” Clarke smiled. “Shock me.”

Will shifted in the couch. “We need to be clear about this.”

Clarke raised an eyebrow.

“This can’t — I mean, can’t — go any further than the walls of this house.”

“This sounds serious.”

“It’s going to blow your mind,” said Dustin.

“We found Mike,” said Will.

“Mike who?”

The boys stared at their former teacher. “Mike,” said Will. “Our Mike.”

Clarke blinked. “Mike Wheeler?”

“Yes.”

Clarke looked at them carefully. “You… found his body.”

“We found his fucking body, all right,” said Dustin, “in stronger shape than any of ours.”

“This isn’t a joke,” said Will. “I found Mike outside my house last night. Apparently he’s been in the Upside Down all this time — the Shadow Dimension — and didn’t die like we thought. Like, three and a half years, he’s been there. He’s a mess. We don’t know how he got back to this side. To Hawkins. He’s really strong now. But he can’t talk.”

“He can growl,” said Dustin. “And make weird noises. Maybe it’s some critter language of the Upside Down. Or maybe –”

“Okay, stop,” said Clarke. “This better not be a joke. Where is he now?”

“At my place. I mean, Castle Byers.”

“Castle Byers?”

“My old fort in the woods. My aunt never goes there. Lucas is with him.”

“Can we take you there now?” asked Dustin. “Or after you eat?”

Clarke looked at them hard. “What is it you boys want me to do?”

“We need to understand this. We can’t just tell everyone Mike is alive. All things considered — the way he is — they’d lock him up like a lab rat. Can you look at Mike and tell us what you think?”

“Dustin, if what you’re saying is true, then Mike needs professional help — medical and psychiatric examination.”

“That’s a negative, my lord. For reasons stated.”

“I’m not a trauma specialist.”

“No,” said Dustin, “but you were right about the Shadow Dimension when we trying to find Will.” Mr. Clarke was one of few people who knew the real story about Hawkins Lab, and their own roles in defeating the cycles of threats from the Upside Down. The first of those four cycles had started on November 6, 1983, and the last (by far the worst) had ended on January 25, 1987. Dustin was referring to the first year: after Will’s supposed funeral, Clarke had explained the logic of the Shadow Dimension to the other boys. He had no clue at the time how right he was.

“Mike has been in the Upside Down all this time,” said Will. “Like me, but he was captured by something worse than a demogorgon or even the Mind Flayer. It’s that creature Eleven sealed away but couldn’t kill.” Will didn’t like naming the Illithid. “We knew it was ultra-powerful but didn’t know it could raise the dead.”

“Well,” said Clarke, digesting all of this. “Why don’t you bring Michael over here, and we’ll see if we can figure this out together.”

“Can we do that?” asked Dustin.

“Could he stay the night if necessary?”

Clarke held up a hand. “One thing at a time, Will.”

“Hold on, there’s more,” said Dustin.

“Of course there is,” said Clarke. “There can’t be an end to a story like this.”

Dustin looked at Will. “You explain.”

It stands or falls here. “Mike is the one who strangled those kids,” said Will, letting that sink in. “That makes us accessories, I think. We don’t want you involved if that bothers you.”

Clarke blinked. “If that bothers me? Considering the bigger picture, worrying about being an accessory seems silly. Mike doesn’t seem to be in control of himself, based on what you tell me. And if there’s a portal that’s been opened from the shadow realm, then Hawkins is in trouble again.”

“Yeah,” said Dustin, “but the Upside Down is a closed issue. Hawkins has been normal for almost four years now. The guy we really need is Hopper. He’d believe us. But he’s out in planet Oregon, and his replacement is a joke.” Sheriff Nye was in fact worse than a joke. He believed the important part of his job was pulling over drivers who exceeded the speed limit by five miles an hour. “No one is going to believe that Mike should be absolved because of an alien from the shadow realm. And we’re not kids anymore. We could all go to prison.”

“Mike won’t just be a lab rat,” added Will. “He’ll be a criminal lab rat.”

Clarke nodded. “I see what you’re saying. But I know Mike Wheeler isn’t a killer.”

“He is now,” said Will miserably.

“Why don’t you guys bring him over.”

Dustin was on his feet. “Stay here, Will, I’ll go get them. Hey, Mr. Clarke, Mike is going to love your spaghetti. You should see the way he eats now. Like the goddest damnedest hog.”

“God only knows what he’s been eating in the Upside Down,” said Will.

 

“So where are you all studying now?” asked Clarke. He and Will were still in the living room, and Will was working on a second Coke.

“I’m at Grinnell.”

Clarke approved. “Grinnell is an excellent school.”

“Yeah, it’s awesome.”

“Chemistry major?”

“Yeah,” Will smiled.

“I always told you.”

“Well, I always knew. Dustin’s at MIT on a scholarship, and Lucas is at Tufts.”

“Still joined at the hip,” said Clarke.

“All three of us were supposed to go to Massachusetts. Williams was my first choice. It’s a three-hour drive to Tufts and MIT, but it still would have been cool.”

“Williams rejected you?”

“My aunt rejected Williams.” He didn’t want to relive her absurdities. “But I’m glad it turned out this way. I never want to leave Grinnell.”

“And let me guess: Lucas is biology, and Dustin either physics or engineering.”

“Biochemistry for Lucas, and yeah, Dustin’s engineering. Electrical.”

“I’m sure Lucas has a full plate. The bio-chem major is a demanding one.”

Will’s walkie-talkie blared to life.

Clarke stood up. “I’ll check on dinner while you get that.”

Will picked up the walkie-talkie. “Yeah?”

“We’re on our way. Over.” It was Lucas.

“How is he? Over.”

“I thought he was going to kill me. Over.”

“Mr. Clarke has dinner ready for us. Over.”

“Dustin told me and it’s a good thing. Will, he ate a pile of dirt. I couldn’t stop him. He would have killed me if I tried. He seriously ate handfuls of dirt that he ripped from the ground around your fort. Over.”

Jesus, Mike. What did that thing do to you? “Okay,” Will said, upset. “Just get him here. We’ll work this out. Over.”

“He could also use a shower. That sponge bath didn’t do much. Over.”

Will begged to differ. Without that sponge bath, they would have all surely passed out at Mike’s feet. But Lucas was right; Mike still needed a proper cleansing. “I’m sure we can do that here. Is he okay riding in the car? Over.”

“I’m in the back seat with him and he looks pissed. The only way we could get him in was to keep saying your name. ‘Will’ seems to calm him down. What did you ever do? Over.”

“Nothing. Like I said before, he just snapped and felt bad for some reason when he attacked me. I didn’t do a thing. Over.”

“We’ll be there in a few. Over and out.”

 

Mr. Clarke’s spaghetti was the best Will had ever had, but it was a nightmare to watch Mike tear through it. Halfway through the meal, half of his dinner was either on the floor or his lap. Spaghetti sauce plastered his face and his hands. His silverware lay untouched. With his fist he shoved red drenched noodles into his bottomless maw, and scowled at everyone across the table as they watched him.

“You guys need to be thinking of a plan,” Mr. Clarke was saying. “Michael is welcome to stay here — under your supervision, Will — but there’s obviously nothing I can do for him.”

“I think we know perfectly well what our next step is,” said Will. “We need El.”

Dustin’s look said that Will was a moron. “El is the last person we want to put in front of Godzilla Mike.”

Lucas concurred. “She nearly killed him breaking up with him, and then did kill him when she couldn’t save him.”

Lucas wasn’t being fair on that second point, but they all knew what he meant. The first point was more straightforward. Eleven had broken up with Mike because her father got a transfer to the west coast. Hopper had inherited the estate of a deceased cousin in Oregon, and so had applied for a job there. In December, 1986 he was accepted as the Sheriff of Yamhill County and expected to start his duties in April. He had urged his daughter to break up with Mike as soon as possible. To make the parting in April less painful, he said. El had refused to break Mike’s heart over the Christmas holiday. Instead she chose a disastrous occasion: the week in late January that Hawkins was almost destroyed by a shadow invasion.

“I know that,” said Will. “But she might be the only one who can actually reach him. She meant everything to him. Besides, she’s the only one who can fight the Illithid.”

“Whoa, Will. She killed the worm. The Illithid can’t come back.” The twin shadow worms had been the minions and steeds of the Illithid, able to flip across dimensions without requiring a Gate. But their ability to flip had depended on mutual existence. By destroying one of them, El had neutralized the threat of the other, and stranded the Illithid in the Upside Down.

“Yeah, and there can’t be another Gate,” said Dustin. “I mean, no way.” There had been two Gates: one created by Eleven in 1983, which she closed the following year, and a second one opened mysteriously in 1985, which El had closed right after Billy Hargrove killed Joyce Byers.

“Mike is here now”, said Will. “I don’t know how he crossed back over, but if that thing tracks him –”

“I think we’d know it by now,” said Dustin. “Meaning we wouldn’t know anything, because we’d be dead.”

“Did you notice it got colder today?” asked Will.

“What you mean? It’s not cold. It’s been nice.”

“It hasn’t been this cool for weeks. Hawkins turned colder when the Illithid appeared that winter. Today it’s been at least ten degrees cooler than yesterday, maybe fifteen. The same kind of drop as before.”

Lucas was skeptical. “You’re reaching.”

“I’m not so sure,” said Dustin.

“Seriously?” asked Lucas.

“Well, I think Will has a point. I agree that bringing El here could send Mike over the edge. But we might need her. And if we need her, man, we need her. No one else can take on that thing. If it’s back.”

“Should I call her now?” asked Will.

“You have her number?” Lucas was astonished.

“She gave it to me in a letter she wrote soon after moving.” He had read that letter so many times he had its entire contents memorized. “I hope it hasn’t changed.”

 

Next Chapter: Jane Air

(Previous Chapter: Unhallowed Reunion)

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