Stranger Things: The New Generation (Chapter 1)

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 One:

                               Elric and Ellen

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

When Mike Hopper saw the package in his mother’s hands, he leaped from the couch.

“Is it your costume?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said, taking it from her and tearing the box open. And it was.

He lifted the black fabric out of the box and unfolded it with reverence. It was a pullover garb as dark as night, and it looked like a good fit. Pants were underneath, just as black and comfortable looking. The gauntlets followed: medieval and badass. Next came the wig — long ropy hair of pure whiteness. Then the eyes: a deep crimson, with holes to see through, and which strapped on like goggles. Finally the sword, long and black, decorated with evil-looking runes. Plastic of course, but from a distance it sure looked like steel, and it was durable and strong. And last, at the bottom, a small jar of white makeup. These were the ingredients of Elric of Melnibone. Mike couldn’t wait for Saturday.

The costume wasn’t for trick-or-treating though; Mike was getting too old for that. Last year’s outing had put that beyond doubt. He had dressed as Heath Ledger’s Joker and threatened to put smiles on the faces of parents who were handing out candy. His knife had been fake; his intentions harder to be sure about. His mother had forbidden him to trick-or-treat ever again. But he would never give up costume parties. This year he found an online retail outlet called Thulsa’s Doom, a wet dream haven of pulp fantasy. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the Elric costume.

Of all the fantasy heroes, Elric was supreme. Thanks to his Uncle Dustin, Mike understood Elric better than most kids, and why Elric used the evil sword called Stormbringer. Only evil could defeat evil in any meaningful way. At first that made no sense to Mike, and when Uncle Dustin explained more, it sailed over Mike’s head. He had been thirteen at the time, and the minds of thirteen year olds weren’t made for moral paradoxes. Uncle Dustin finally settled for an analogy with Frodo Baggins. Elric’s quest, he said, was a lot like Frodo’s. Both were for the cause of good, but other good things had to be sacrificed. Because of Frodo, the elves had to leave Middle-Earth and shut down their paradises; the magic of Rivendell and Lothlorien had depended on the One Ring’s existence. Elric was similar. Because of his mission, the Melniboneans had to pass from history. Frodo and Elric were tragic figures, said Uncle Dustin — but especially Elric, who had to destroy the earth and every person on it, so humanity could start over with a clean slate. Like Noah’s flood in the Bible.

Put that way, Mike finally understood: Elric kicked ass. He was unassailable. The world was doomed whether he won or not. His victory over chaos and evil was a sidebar; an afterthought.

That was a hero for Halloween.

Mike hefted the sword — a splendid version of Stormbringer — and imagined the hordes of chaos surrounding him. He cut left and right, and swished forward, spinning around the living room. He had to call Tobias and tell him.

“Impressive.” His mother was leaning against the wall, her arms folded.

He looked at her and stopped his sword play. “Yeah, and they got the eyes just right. Deep red, but still bright. Details like that matter.”

“Mike.”

“What?”

“Put that aside for a minute. Before I start work on dinner, dance with me.”

“What? No, mom, come on –”

She came up to him. At age fifteen and a half, he dwarfed her. “I have stuff to do.”

“Costumes and games can wait.”

“I have homework.”

“You won’t do that until tomorrow morning.”

Which was true. He rose well before sunrise and almost always did his homework after an early breakfast. He looked at her, nonplussed. “Well?”

She walked over to the living room computer and called up iTunes, opened her favorite playlist, and selected a song. Mike knew what song it would be, and it filled the living room with its dreamy, psychedelic rhythms.

She returned and took his hands. He rolled his eyes.

“No one can see you. It’s just me and you. Humor your mother.”

He did that, and they slow danced to Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Bring on the Dancing Horses”, which had been his parents’ favorite love song. On Christmas Eve 1986, they had lost their virginity to each other as the song played. Then they lost each other a month later. More accurately, he had lost her when she dumped him off a cliff. Two days after that he ended up committing a sort of heroic suicide. Mike was never sure how much he believed his mother’s stories of Hawkins and the Upside Down, but he trusted his Uncle Lucas completely, and Uncle Luc always backed up everything she said.

“Good moves,” said his mother, looking up at him.

“Yeah?”

“Your father taught me to dance like this. To our first song.” She meant “Every Breath You Take”, by the Police. Also in many of her playlists.

“Jeez. Are you trying to give me an Oedipus complex?”

She lightly swatted his cheek. “No, silly. It’s just we never see each other anymore, except at dinner time.”

Nonetheless. While he didn’t seriously think his mother was incestuous, she must have had some fleeting thoughts about the matter. All things considered.

Because except for his eyes, Mike Hopper may as well have been Mike Wheeler. He looked almost exactly like his father did at fifteen and a half, a lean 5′ 10″ with the same shaggy hair. Only his eyes shouted his mother’s gene pool. They were hyper-alert and full of curiosity. Years ago, when he was too young to know better, he thought he inherited his eyes from his mother because his father had lost his. His mother had explained that wasn’t how it worked, but he insisted on the fantasy until better educated. Like his mother, he could say a lot through those eyes without speaking. Like his father, he spoke a lot anyway.

She put her head on his shoulder and they finished the song. He had to admit it was a good one.

 

After dinner he rushed upstairs and tried on his costume. Everything was perfect. He grabbed his iPhone and dialed Tobias, who picked up after the fourth ring — always the fourth ring with Tobias.

“When I want your opinion,” said Tobias.

“I’ll pound it out of you,” replied Mike. “Dude, I am Elric reborn, check this shit out.” He snapped a photo of himself and sent it. He loved the iPhone 3GS.

“You look like an ass.”

“Still dressing as Loomis?”

“That sword is actually cool. How fragile is it?”

“I shoved it up my ass five times, and it’s still in one piece.”

“I fear you’ll upstage me.” Tobias belched into his own iPhone. “A Loomis costume doesn’t even look like a costume.”

This was disingenuous. Tobias was never upstaged by anyone. What Dr. Sam Loomis lacked in appearance, he more than made up for in savage humor, and of that Tobias had an endless supply. He would get all the attention as usual at Ashlee’s party, unless he came down with laryngitis.

They talked a bit more, and then Mike had to charge the phone.

“When I want your opinion,” intoned Tobias.

“I’ll skull-fuck it out of you,” finished Mike. “Later, shithead.”

“Die in your sleep, asswipe.”

He plugged in the iPhone’s wall charger, and then turned on his Mac. Per his evening ritual, he moved the La-Z-Boy in front of the computer, and sat back to enjoy his hopeless crush.

The desktop came up with his personally made screensaver of Ellen Page. He grabbed the novel Stormbringer off his desk and began reading it for the eighth time. As he read, he glanced up occasionally. The screensaver cycled through a slideshow of Ellen, changing pictures every five minutes. Elric and Ellen: Mike was in his heaven.

He had first seen Ellen in the indie breakout Hard Candy, in which she played the lead role of Hayley Stark, a fourteen-year old who looked more like she was twelve. In the film Hayley hooked up with an online predator, went home with him, and proceeded to castrate him on his kitchen table. Mike had fallen instantly in love with this tiny avenging tomboy, and the knowledge that she was sixteen when playing a fourteen-year old who looked twelve kept his conscience clear. He had begun to obsess Ellen Page, moving backwards to her earlier obscure roles in Canadian films like Mouth to Mouth and The Tracey Fragments. Then came the Juno craze two years ago, and Ellen was suddenly famous.

Her recent film was Whip It!, and his absolute favorite to date. It had left his local theater only a week ago, and he had seen it four times. Ellen played a shy girl who preferred roller derby to the beauty pageants shoved down her throat by a domineering mother. Mike loved the film for many reasons. Bliss Cavender was an endearing character, and a rare role for Ellen who usually came with sass and snark. The film was saturated with ’80s homages, which fed Mike’s obsession with the decade of his parents. It was an underdog sports film, and a woman’s sport, refreshingly, yet it didn’t try so hard to be feminist. Roller derby was bad-ass; the girls who played it enjoyed mashing and smashing each other, gratified by the illegal hits that penalized them as much as their hard-earned scores. The soundtrack was terrific; Mike was smitten by the scene with Bliss and her boyfriend stripping in a swimming pool to the tune of an indie ballad. He had replayed that scene in his daydreams and jerk-off fantasies ever since.

Whip It!, as far as Mike Hopper was concerned, was the film of the year, and Bliss Cavender the sports hero of the 21st century.

It was Bliss who came up now on his desktop, from a series of screenshots he had downloaded from Google images. He had added the Whip It! screenshots to his ever-growing slideshow, which contained scenes also from Hard Candy, Juno, and the Canadian TV series Regenesis. The images were set to rotate every five minutes. With about a dozen shots from Whip It!, that would give him an hour’s worth of Bliss Cavender. Then the screensaver would cycle to the Hayley Stark pics, then to Juno McGuff, and finally Lilith Sandstrom.

In the current screenshot Bliss was in her Hurl Scout uniform, which Mike found sexy as hell. It struck him that his mother was a short tomboy like Ellen, and then he banished the thought. He’d had enough incestuous intrusions for one day. He kept reading Stormbringer, and imagined himself as Elric marrying a version of Zarozinia who looked like Ellen Page.

A few minutes later, he glanced at his computer screen and frowned. What he saw wasn’t right.

The desktop image of Whip It! had changed again, but it wasn’t any screenshot he had saved to his computer. He couldn’t have; it wasn’t a scene from the movie. It looked like it, but it wasn’t. Of this he was certain: he had seen the film four times. The picture was… a distortion. And a thoroughly unpleasant one.

Ellen was still in her Hurl Scout uniform, but the angle was wrong, and she was no longer smiling. She was glaring at him — at him, through the screen — as if he had done something to seriously affront her. It was a cold angry look that hinted at malevolence, and unlike any expression capable of being summoned by Bliss Cavender. He stared at the perversion, baffled. This wasn’t possible.

He waited for the next screenshot. Ellen’s venom bored into him, and his pulse quickened. Was someone hacking him? He thought of Tobias. This could be one of his goddamn pranks. But he doubted it. Tobias’s style was crude and x-rated. If Tobias hacked his screensaver, nudes would be a guarantee, and scatological supplements a strong probability. Mike had probably downloaded some kind of trojan. He knew that JPEGs could be infected with viruses and malware.

He waited, avoiding Ellen’s gaze. Well after five minutes, the unnerving image remained.

He rose from the La-Z-Boy and sat in the desk chair, angry at the invasion of his privacy. He clicked everywhere over the desktop with the mouse, which of course did nothing. He called up the desktop manager and opened the screensaver, hoping to restart it and dispel the unholy bitch who was mocking his supreme fantasy. His face was close to the screen and he could almost feel Ellen’s malignancy pouring out. He double-clicked on the screensaver to restart it. Nothing happened. He changed the setting so the images would change every five seconds. Ellen didn’t budge; and her fury seemed to swell.

Mike’s own fury was growing. “Get off my screen, you cunt –”

Bullets of agony ricocheted through his head, and he yelled in outrage. It felt like a scalpel was dissecting his brain. He was suddenly terrified; something irrational was going on. He’d had enough. Fumbling for the mouse again, he jerked it to the upper left corner, pulled down the menu, and clicked on “shut down”. The mouse may as well have been disconnected. Ellen stayed put. If Tobias was behind this, he would pound the living shit out of him. He reached for the shutdown switch on the back of the screen.

His head cracked down the middle again, and he fell to the floor clutching his temples. He lay there wheezing, his face in the carpet, waiting a long time for the pain to recede. He was in more pain than he could ever remember. He had to get up and turn the damn computer off. None of this made sense. He pushed himself up — and froze.

The desktop image had changed again. It staggered him like the blow of a fist.

Ellen was still in her roller derby outfit, but the entire background to the scene had vanished and gone black. She was zoomed in now so that her head and shoulders filled the screen, and Mike screamed at the sight of her.

Her expression was no longer coldly malevolent. It was full of murderous rage. She looked ready to tear Mike apart. Ellen had become a vessel of toxic wrath that contradicted every aspect of her character’s being.

To Mike Hopper, that was a violation as bad as any rape.

His head exploded in agony and he was on the floor again. Moaning, he did the only thing he could. He reached for the cord and yanked it from the wall. His computer shut down just as his mother came up the stairs to find out why he had screamed.

 

Next Chapter: Tempus Fugit

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