Stranger Things: The College Years (Chapter 8)

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 Eight:

                                  Remembrance

Sunday, November 7, 1993

“Holy shit, Lucas. Did she remind you of Lunch Lady Phyllis, or what?” Dustin had stopped through the doorway, and was looking at the caterer as she left the house.

“Keep moving! I’m about to drop this thing.”

“Did she or did she not look like Lunch Lady Phyllis!”

“My fingers are breaking, you asshole!”

“Shit!”

Jane watched as they heaved the huge table into the living room and set it down where she told them.

“It’s been years since I thought of that cow,” said Dustin, catching his breath. “Remember how she hoarded all that pudding?”

“Thanks guys,” said Jane. They had carried the monstrosity up from her father’s cellar.

“Is that everything?” asked Lucas, indicating the platters and boxes of food the caterers had wheeled in.

“Yes,” said Jane. All of the Thai cuisine known in Asia seemed to be spread out before them. Appetizers of sweet and sour soup, spring rolls, kanom jeeb, and winter shrimp. Entrees of curry and rice, kra pao chicken, ginger pork, beef basil, and (for Dustin) a tamarind duck. And then her and Mike’s all-time favorite: shrimp scampi, with huge jumbo pieces bathed in spices, dipped in curry, and garnished with onions, scallion and egg.

“I think we’re ready,” said Will, emerging from the kitchen with a punch bowl of something orange-red that bubbled.

“Yeah, I think I’ll have some of that right now,” said Dustin, reaching for a cup.

“If you guys set the food out, I’ll get the photos,” said Jane.

They were gathered at Hopper’s house in Newberg to celebrate Mike. It was just the four of them, as she wanted it, and Hopper had agreed to disappear for the day. The house was theirs. She was glad Will had made it. He was leaving for Botswana in less than two weeks and had plenty to do in preparing for the Peace Corps. They had all agreed to wait a few months to honor Mike in this way, so that his suicide wouldn’t be a fresh wound. And they agreed on this day because it was their tenth anniversary. On the night before November 7, 1983, Will had disappeared from Hawkins; the following day the other boys had stumbled across Jane (Eleven, as Mike had christened her) in the pouring rain. What they had shared since then was the stuff of novels and nightmares. It demanded the closure of something better than a funeral.

Jane had been adamant that there would be no funeral in any case. Mike’s second life had been depressing enough. She would not pollute his memory with more despondency. His mother was the only objector, and a disingenuous one: Jane knew that Karen Wheeler would never again leave her house to attend anyone’s funeral. She had done so for Mike’s first death in ’87, and created a spectacle so outrageous that Hawkins residents were still shunning her. Her indignation was a posture filtered through alcoholic rage. She cursed Jane over the phone, blamed her for Mike’s suicide, and called her terrible names. Jane listened to the tirade unfazed. Mike had called her (and treated her) far worse. When it came to nasty invective, Karen Wheeler had nothing on her son returned from the dead.

It was Nancy she felt bad for. Jane wanted to include her somehow, and so in September Nancy had flown from Virginia to Oregon, leaving her three-year old daughter under the management of her husband. Nancy loved seeing her and Hopper, and she had listened as Jane spilled all the agonies and trials of the past three years. She was glad that Jane was living with her father again. After Mike’s suicide she had moved back to Newberg almost immediately. The apartment at Ione Plaza had weighed on her like molten agony. She would walk into the living room and see Mike in his chair; hear his guitar harmonies; feel him on top of her at night trying to make insistent love. Two days of that was enough; she had fled the apartment and left the moving to her father. She still couldn’t go near Ione Plaza when she visited Portland. Nancy had wept as Jane talked for hours about her brother. It had been a supportive visit for both of them.

She was determined that today would not be a misery-fest. The guys wouldn’t be a problem. It was her own inadequacies she feared.

They filled heaping portions of Thai delicacies onto plates that were far too small for their appetites. Then they sat in Hopper’s living rooms chairs, and for a few minutes at least fed their faces in silence.

“So how does this work?” asked Dustin, breaking the ice. “Are we, like, each supposed to say something? I’m not really good with speeches.”

“Lucas is,” said Will.

“Oh no,” said Lucas. “I’m not doing anything like that again.” He had given a eulogy at Mike’s funeral in ’87, that brought the house down. A great speech, but for a somber and formal occasion.

“You don’t have to say anything,” said Jane. “Or you can say anything. Whatever you want.”

She wanted the remembrance ceremony to be free-associative. Will had given her that word months ago, when she was trying to describe her intentions. No canned speeches or melodrama. The idea was to honor Mike through each others company and spontaneous conversation.

But she insisted on pictures. On the buffet table were five photos of Mike positioned between the food trays. The first was an AV Club shot of the four boys in seventh grade. Their smiles hurled enthusiasm, and they looked ready to clobber the world with new ideas. She was in the second photo, in a blue dress and red sash, next to the boys in their coats and ties: the Snow Ball of ’84. Lucas’s old girlfriend Max was in that shot too. The third showed the six of them again, from the riotous summer of ’85. Jonathan had taken that picture. The fourth was just her and Mike, on Christmas of ’86. The last one she had taken in the fall of ’92: it was Mike sitting in his apartment chair playing guitar, his eyes barren craters. He looked pained, thoughtful, and precious. It was her favorite picture of him.

“Well,” said Dustin, “I think it merits notice that Mike was a dungeon-master god. No one could run a campaign like he did.”

“He always did anything for me,” said Will. “He made me a priority, no matter how it inconvenienced him.”

“It’s funny how friendships are,” said Lucas. “The best times he and I had were yelling and insulting each other. You can really reach people that way. When I see my ear in the mirror, sometimes I laugh actually.”

Jane cleared her throat. “He made me feel safe. I never knew what that felt like until I lived in his basement. And then years later, right before he died the first time. I stayed in his house again, and we were sleeping together, and his mother had it out for me… He protected me from her…” And you stabbed him in the back for it, by breaking up with him, right under his roof. Already she was losing it, and reached for a kleenex. Then she heard someone gasp.

It was Dustin: “Jesus, El, are you pregnant?”

Their heads swiveled. She had planned to tell them but wondered if they’d first notice. Reaching for the tissues had exposed the small mound in her stomach.

She blushed. “Yes.”

They were flabbergasted. “But… you said a long time ago that’s impossible for you.”

“It’s what the doctors told me.” The year after Hopper adopted her, she had had a physical and other medical tests, and was told that she could never have children. She had been born with special powers, apparently at the cost of other things.

“So the doctors were wrong?” asked Will.

“They weren’t wrong.”

“Is it his?” asked Lucas, his jaws still on the floor. “Is it Mike’s?”

“He’s the only one I’ve ever been with.”

Will was stupefied. “But how?”

“And hadn’t you guys been shagging for a long time anyway?” Dustin caught himself. “I mean… sorry, El… but I mean you were both living out here for almost three years. Why did… this… take so long?”

Jane had resolved to tell them the truth. She didn’t want to. They were here to celebrate the best about Mike Wheeler, not his worst. But they deserved to know. When Mike had lost his job and the band, he had begun his headlong hurtle into self-destruction. Days became hell in their apartment, the nights even worse. It came to a head on the Fourth of July. They had fought the entire holiday and ended as they often did on these occasions, in bed making wrathful love. It was the only way they could obtain any solace from the hurt. But this time Mike crossed a line: he had struck her. When he climaxed he punched her face, and she instinctively reacted by summoning her powers to restrain him. For the first time in her life, Jane Hopper had a bloody nose for two reasons at once. She had had words with Mike, then, that brought him low. She understood that his life was hell, but he could not hit her, ever again. She would not accept it. She was pissed off in the extreme, and if he couldn’t discipline his rage, then he would lose her.

Mike had cried and piled on apologies. He hated himself for punching her. He swore overtures and vowed to move out if there was a next time. She believed him entirely. He was appalled by how far he had fallen. But that self-recognition had only fueled his downward spiral, and at the end of the month he slashed his wrists; days later he jumped.

The week after that is when Jane had started feeling sick. She was nauseous, her breasts felt weird, and her period was late… but that couldn’t mean what it seemed. The doctors had been emphatic: her ovaries were as useless as the proverbial tits on a boar. She checked into a clinic and was told she was pregnant. She was stunned. She told her father who couldn’t make sense of it. Doctors knew their business when they pronounced girls barren. Then she wondered about something. The clinic nurse said she conceived during early July. She did the math, and remembered the night of the Fourth.

There wasn’t a doubt in Jane’s mind that her pregnancy owed to the flare of her powers when Mike hit her. She had no idea why, or how she could affect her biology that way. She didn’t know if she was permanently fertile, or if another trigger during intercourse would be required for a future child. Right now she didn’t care. For now she was carrying Mike Wheeler’s child, and that miracle was all that mattered.

The boys were still speechless by the end. They were happy for her, but visibly upset at how Mike had devolved and by what he had done.

Will cleared his throat. “Do you know if it’s a boy or girl?”

“I want to be surprised. But if it’s a boy, I’m naming him Mike. If it’s a girl, Terry.”

“Well, shit.” Lucas wiped his eyes. “Mike lives on.”

“Fuckin’-A”, breathed Dustin.

“I want you guys out here when Mike or Terry is born. I mean, except you, Will — I know you can’t leave your Peace Corps post — but Lucas and Dustin, please try.”

Lucas and Dustin looked at each other, surprised, and nodded, not knowing what to say. This was unmapped territory for them.

“Both of you will be in the room with me, while it’s happening.”

Dustin choked on his duck. “You want us inside the hospital room, the holy of holies, while you’re pumping out baby Mike?”

“Or Terry,” said Will.

Lucas said it would be an honor, and he would be sure that he — and Dustin — made it out here.

And with that bit of news the tension vanished. Their party became an unrestrained gabfest. They yelled over each other to be heard — even Jane. They hardly brought up Mike; they didn’t have to. They felt him in their fellowship and love for each other. It was just how Jane wanted him to be remembered.

Later in the afternoon, Lucas was resting on the couch. “Hey, Dustin,” he said. “Look.” He was pointing at Hopper’s fish tank, where a tadpole-like fish wiggled and dashed. “It’s Dart!”

Dustin laughed. “Hell, yeah!”

They all laughed.

Unsure about her future, but feeling good about it for once, Jane glowed in the company of her best friends.

 

Read about Eleven’s future in the sequel novella, Stranger Things: The New Generation.

(Previous Chapter: That Which is Broken)

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