Stranger Things: The New Generation (Chapter 8)

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 Eight:

                              Retro Incendium

She let Mike finish school that year, but he would not return to Marshall in September. By then his body would be shrinking with a vengeance. Jane remembered how he had shot up over five inches between his thirteenth and fifteenth years. When summer came, he was well back into that biological time frame. There was no way he could pass for a junior in the fall. People would catch on.

Tobias and Mike made the best of that summer, and Jane savored their friendship, knowing it couldn’t last. She would later look back on that summer of 2010 as the last time her son knew happiness.

In the fall she started “home schooling” Mike and minimizing his contact with the outside. The residents of Tibbetts Street who had known him were all dead, so that simplified things in the neighborhood. She forbade Mike to linger on the porch and lawn. Only the Sinclairs and Tobias Powell entered her home, and of course members of the Hawkins Club when they flew out to visit.

Medical appointments would have been an insurmountable problem, but Will the Wise bailed her out. His old doctor from the Hawkins Lab, Sam Owens, had connections in Portland and was able to hook Mike up with a physician who kept his condition secret. Jane was indebted to Dr. Owens and surprised the man was still alive; he was almost ninety now. He had engineered her secret adoption by Jim Hopper in 1984. She never dreamed he would still be protecting her in the twenty-first century.

Mike took all of this amazingly in stride for the first two years. After that things got bad. Fast.

 

The spring of 2012 was the worst period. Mike’s voice warbled and he hit puberty in the reverse direction, snared once again on the trajectory of childhood. He was almost twelve: May 22 would be his thirteenth birthday, and thus his last day as a thirteen year old. He grounded himself in denial and resisted his hormonal impulses, insisting he was a teenager in his thoughts and actions. It was like trying to become a character from a novel or film. The background was there; he certainly remembered his teenage experiences. But they felt illusory and out of reach.

Tobias came to visit around this time. In two weeks he was graduating from Franklin High School. Marshall had closed in 2011, in an attempt to consolidate the city’s resources into fewer and bigger high schools. It was a narrow decision made by the school board (4-3), with the result that Marshall’s students were spread to Madison and Franklin. Tobias ended up at the latter and hated it; Mike was glad to have missed the whole mess.

Even so, it wasn’t right. Mike should have been at Franklin now, graduating with Tobias, sharing their experiences together, looking forward to the senior prom, and then to college in the fall. Tobias had been accepted at Columbia. Since their first year at Marshall, he and Mike had dreamed of attending Columbia together. They would conquer New York and move mountains.

Mike was eating lunch in the kitchen when Tobias arrived. Jane went to the front door and let him in. He was eighteen; a man now.

“Hi, Miss Hopper.” Tobias looked brittle. “Is this a bad time?”

It’s always bad. “No, of course not. Come in. Mike’s in the kitchen.”

“Mom?” Mike chirped. He had come to see who it was. “Hey! Tobias!” He ran and put his arms around his friend, who was now much taller than he. It used to be vice-versa.

Tobias returned the hug rigidly. “How’s it going, Mike?” These visits had become visibly difficult for him.

“Awesome. I got to show you my new comics.”

Tobias forced a smile. “Okay. Great.”

“I mean, if you want to see.”

“Sure.”

“Let’s go in the living room,” said Jane. “Can I get you something?”

“No, no, I’m fine.”

“Mom made roast beef sandwiches.”

“Really, I’m okay.”

“Do I want your opinion?” he asked, laughing. “Or did I get that right?”

Tobias nodded.

Mike punched his arm lightly. “You need to give me a response.”

Tobias forced one: “Then I’ll whip it out of you!”

Mike laughed.

In the living room they sat down in comfortable chairs. “So wow, you’re graduating in a few weeks,” said Mike.

“Oh yeah. Bye-bye Franklin High.”

“Yeah. I’m glad I wasn’t around when Marshall closed. I liked it. But I don’t know. I remember liking it, but I don’t really miss school that much. I mean, I miss you.” He looked down at his shoes, unsure of what to say.

Jane stood up. “You know what, I’ll let you guys talk. I’ll be outside if you need anything.”

Tobias looked grateful. “Thanks, Miss Hopper.”

Jane sat on the front porch while Tobias and her son talked for almost an hour. Toward the end she heard Mike shouting. She closed her eyes. She had dreaded this day. She heard Mike yell again, and then his feet pounding up the stairs. Tobias came and found her on the porch. His eyes were wet.

“Miss Hopper… I’m not going to see Mike anymore. I’ve been trying my best, but I can’t do it anymore. He and I are getting too different now.”

“I understand. You don’t have to explain.”

“Well, I tried explaining it to Mike, and of course he’s really upset.”

“So are you.”

He wiped his eyes. “He’s a kid again. About the age we were when we first met. We don’t… connect anymore.”

He broke down then, and Jane held him as he cried. “You were a great friend to him, Tobias.”

“He fucking hates me now.”

She had sworn to herself that she wouldn’t be angry with Tobias when this day came. Mike desperately needed a friend, but by now that was too much to ask of Tobias. He was an adult going to college. Mike had the age and maturity of a seventh-grader.

Tobias said good-bye, and Jane wished him the best. She never saw him again.

 

The next downslide was in November 2016, when a tycoon named Donald Trump crushed everyone’s expectations and was elected the forty-fifth president of the United States. Mike was a diminished eight year old, and was flabbergasted to see his two uncles suddenly united in fervent opposition to the new president. The Hawkins Club gathering in early December was worlds apart from the one seven years ago. For Jane, that was the only good thing about the ascendance of Donald J. Trump: it made Lucas and Dustin tight again.

Naturally, Dustin couldn’t resist a few parting blows at the lame duck. Like many outraged voters, he blamed Trump’s victory on Obama’s complete failure to address the plight of the middle class, not to mention his own black tribe. Lucas, in a rare gracious moment, conceded that President Christ Obama was hardly that after all. Jane could see Mike struggling to make sense of it all, but he was no longer equipped to digest politics. All he knew is that his Uncle Luc and Uncle Dustin were best friends again.

By summer he had winnowed down to a seven-year old, and it was at that point Mike started to lose his memories. Not lose, precisely; he remembered being older, taller, going to school, and his best friend Tobias who permanently unfriended him. He remembered liking books and movies that were scary, and couldn’t understand why. He remembered the War of the Uncles. But it was all turning dim and feeling like a dream. By August he disputed the reality of his memories. Jane got her first unpleasant taste of this development as they ate breakfast one morning:

“Mom?” he had asked.

“Yes?”

“Was Grandpa Jim ever real?”

“Was he ever real?”

“Yeah, or was he just one of the stories you read to me?”

She stared at him, upset by the question. “Mike, we have photos of Grandpa in the living room. You see them every day. You’re saying that you can’t remember Grandpa?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking.”

“All those times he came over for dinner? When he took you hiking and rafting? When he died in the hospital?”

“Sort of. But none of it seems real.” He frowned. “I forgot about those photos.” Abruptly he left the table and ran into the living room. When he came back, he was crying hard, and holding the picture of the three of them — Mike, her father, and herself — in her favorite family portrait. “I don’t understand things anymore, mom,” he sobbed.

She took him in her arms. “I’m sorry, honey; I’m sorry.” She felt utterly helpless as he kept crying. Since that cursed Halloween night, he had lived half his life backwards, and she was no closer to finding a solution to his regressive condition. Retro incendium. Dustin’s words haunted her. Burning backwards.

 

In 2021, the kids from Hawkins — Jane Hopper, Lucas Sinclair, Dustin Henderson, and William Byers — turned fifty years old. It was a terrible year for their milestone, marred by national crises that heralded worse disasters. For one, America was still in a pandemic throttle. Between March and December of 2020, the novel coronavirus Covid-19 had killed 335,000 Americans (for a total of 1,800,000 people worldwide), and with the onset of winter the virus was feeling its oats again. Donald Trump ate the blame and lost his second term; his successor Joe Biden began doing everything humanly possible to ensure Trump’s return to the White House in 2025. Biden was, in Dustin’s words, a “worthless pile of shit”, taking up the torch for Obama and America straight back into foreign debacles — starting by pulling out of Afghanistan in the most disastrous way conceivable. Lucas was a wiser man now and gave Dustin no argument, washing his hands at long last of the two-party system. Then, in the following year, two appalling decisions were reached on the Supreme Court.

The first was Carlson v. Dale, which overturned Roe v. Wade. The outrage spawned movements that made Antifa look pacifist. Violence shook the streets. Jane despised abortion, and would not have aborted Mike even to save her life. Were it not for her friends and father, she would have grown up to be a virulent anti-abortionist. Thanks to them (all men, interestingly) she understood why the issue was ethically challenging, and she had come to accept a woman’s right to choose. Now, after forty-nine years, that right had been torpedoed at the whim of five justices: Clarence Thomas (who wrote for the majority), John Roberts (whose flip-flopping on abortion issues had made him impossible to predict), Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanagh, and Amy Coney Barrett. The appointment of Barrett to replace Ruth Ginsburg had sealed Roe’s fate. A separate (and reluctant) concurrence was penned by Neil Gorsuch. Liberal justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor dissented, lamenting the shame of a nation.

Lucas and Dustin couldn’t contain their fury. Lucas had two daughters, and Dustin’s daughter Olivia had had an abortion when she was a teenager. Carlson v. Dale was unacceptable. They told Jane they had joined an underground support network for women who needed abortions. Jane didn’t want the details. She supported Lucas and Dustin and respected the movement, but she couldn’t be involved. Her personal revulsion for abortion was too strong.

The second decision was Trump v. United States. In another 5-4 vote — and in an unprecedented display of judiciary arrogance — the court declared the 22nd Amendment unconstitutional. That amendment had gone into effect after Franklin Delano Roosevelt served four terms as president, and limited a president to serving two. In early 2020 Trump had asked the Supreme Court to repeal the 22nd Amendment, determined to remain in the White House for three terms if not four. Covid killed his chance for reelection, but the Court heard the case on its merits anyway. Two days after ruling on Carlson v. Dale, the justices announced their decision.

According to the majority, the 22nd amendment violated the intentions of Constitutional Framers like James Madison, who had intended longer appointments for presidents. To bar any qualified individual from running for president, regardless of the number of terms already served, cut the heart out of popular sovereignty. That principle, wrote Alito for the majority, was sacred: the People of the United States were the only source of governmental power; they, and they alone, were authorized to determine how many terms a president could serve; and they determined that in the voting booth.

The People of the United States, for their part, went ballistic. Jurists went insane. The Supreme Court had no authority to declare a constitutional amendment unconstitutional. It was an amendment. It was constitutional by definition. The only way to overturn an amendment was to repeal it through Congress. Aside from even this, the logic of the majority was risible. Whatever James Madison and other Framers had initially thought, they had ultimately rejected long-term service for fear of making a presidential monarchy — Trump’s obvious goal before Biden’s ascendance.

That ascendance gave Trump a comeback as predictable as a Covid resurgence. He had sailed into the White House on the wave of Obama’s sins, and Biden replayed Obama to a fault. Joe Biden ignored the middle class as it was squeezed out of existence. He marshaled troops and deposed tyrants; Islamic jihadists obliged his overtures with the usual bloodbaths. He crusaded against marijuana, and with gasbag sanctimony persuaded three states (Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina) to reverse their decriminalization laws, and two states (Michigan and Colorado) to roll back legalization completely. He expanded the surveillance state — well beyond the elastic limit of the Fourth Amendment. He waged war, and waged it more, until by 2024 Trump’s rebound was a guarantee. Donald J. blazed the expected campaign trail, reaching the disaffected and promising them gold. He would dump shit on them instead, but knew from experience that he’d be praised to the stars for doing so. Jane remembered Dustin saying that all presidential elections since John F. Kennedy were won by the most charismatic candidate, no matter how transparently awful he was. Party, policies, and even sanity were ultimately irrelevant; people were suckers for charisma, even the blustering kind. The only way to oust Trump in the ’24 election would be to stir the masses with as many thunderous speeches and glowing promises. The Democrats had none to offer, and fate was writ: Trump would become the second U.S. president (after Grover Cleveland) to win a non-consecutive second term. Thanks to the Supreme Court he could also get a third.

Mike was four years old during Biden’s first year, and for the first time Jane was glad of her son’s affliction. He was young enough now not to understand much beyond playing with toys and being entertained by company. That was suitable: she didn’t want him aware of how plague, war, and moribund politics had shattered the face of America.

 

Her relief didn’t last. By the fall of 2023, Jane Hopper was having a nervous breakdown. She insisted to herself that she had it under control, until her body gave up on her. She was playing with Mike when it happened.

“No!” he said, grabbing her fingers. He was down to twenty months, and psychologically still in his terrible twos. He knew about thirty words, his favorite being the negative he was now shouting.

“No! No!” He was hitting her chest with his tiny hands.

“Come on, honey,” said Jane, trying to settle him on her lap and keep the panic attack at bay. She had them all the time now; the meds prescribed by Dr. Archambault hardly helped.

“Nooooo,” Mike was enjoying himself, trying to wiggle free. She tugged him down firm, and then her grip slipped. His sideways motion sent him to the floor on his little behind. She gasped, fearing an injury, and then saw that he was laughing and okay. She reached down to pick him up — and fell to her knees. Her breath wasn’t coming back. Oh God. She closed her eyes and tried to rein in the attack. Her body was sweating, and her arms shook as she pressed her hands against the floor to keep kneeling. Dimly she was aware of Mike pelting her with “no’s” and “mommy’s”, as he leaped around her laughing. She needed help. Lucas.

Her cell was in the kitchen. Standing up was out of the question. She lay down on her side and tried breathing slowly. Mike’s face appeared over hers, curious now. “Mommy?”

She held out a weak hand. “Here, honey.” He came into her arms and she cuddled him, as if to galvanize herself by soaking up his infant energy. Her tremors multiplied. Call Lucas for me, Mike. Use your iPhone. Absurd. She hadn’t allowed Mike an iPhone for years now. He could barely talk. Her chest tightened, and her vision swam. Breathe. Breathe, damn it. Come on.

Somehow she did and kept from passing out. Mike had wiggled free again, and was all around her, though not quite as entertained. He didn’t like seeing mommy stretched out on the floor. Nor, for that matter, did she.

She was finally able to push herself up when the worst of it faded. Then she stumbled into the kitchen and dialed Lucas, crying over what she had to ask of him.

 

Jane faded in and out; in to perform her necessaries, out to abstain from a reality which had become too cruel. She had lost the two people who meant everything to her. There was no one left who could reach her.

Twenty months ago she had relinquished Mike to Lucas and Raquel, begging them to adopt her son for the remainder of his infancy. She couldn’t watch him grow any smaller, and she couldn’t take care of herself, let alone him. In his final twelve months they fed him formula, and gave him the love and attention she could no longer provide. Another black mark in her catalog of failures. She had committed herself to the care of Mike’s doctor, Dan Archambault, who diagnosed her with an extreme anxiety disorder and recurring schizophrenia. Only strong sedation could get her to sleep. Dr. Archambault paid her house visits, appointed two nurses who rotated over her 24/7, and had Sam Owens from Hawkins foot the expensive bill. Jane’s panic attacks increased, and she lashed out in bolts of fury. When she dreamed, it was usually of Mike shriveling into a mangled fetus. Screams and crashes could be heard coming from the house on 74th Avenue and Tibbetts Street. The nurses routinely cleaned up after telekinetic tornadoes.

Lucas or Raquel, sometimes both, brought Mike over occasionally, so she could hold him for a while. They timed the visits to coincide with her more sedated periods. Those visits stopped after May 22. Jane’s instructions had been firm: after Mike’s “zero” birthday, she did not want to see him anymore. Lucas and Raquel were to continue caring for him until he was unable to survive outside a womb.

Was it days since Mike’s birthday, weeks, or months? Jane couldn’t say, and it didn’t matter. He was dead; and so was she.

“Miss Hopper?”

She opened her eyes. She had been dreaming of fetal compost heaps in the Upside Down. It was a recurring nightmare. She swam in a mountain of aborted and miscarried pre-infants. She dug through their corpses screaming for Mike. She never found him.

“Good morning, Miss Hopper.”

Dr. Archambault. He was at the foot of her bed. Why did he bother her anymore?

“I have some startling news.”

She was empty and broken. It was nothing newsworthy.

“We’ve been monitoring your son very closely.”

Her son was dead. So was she.

“By now it’s clear that he’s no longer aging backwards.”

Of course not; the dead don’t age.

“He’s aging forwards again. Normally.”

The words made a rift, distorting her sense of what was what. No. The doctor was tricking her, manipulating her mind, as doctors had been doing since her birth in the lab.

“Your friends are here, Miss Hopper.”

“El?” Lucas came in and sat on the edge of her bed. “Hey there.” He took her hand. “We think Mike is in the clear. He’s put on weight since May 22 and getting more feisty. He’s not dying. It seems like he’s going to grow up again.”

Her zone began to crumble.

“Will is here too.”

William Byers appeared next to Lucas. He was carrying something in his arms. “Hey El,” he said. “He’s okay. See? He’s going to be okay.”

When Jane saw her baby, alive and cooing, her edifice collapsed. All the pain and rage of the past fifteen years poured out in tears and anguish. She took Mike from Will — daring the gods to punish her anymore — and clutched him to her breast, repeating his name over and over.

And as Jane cradled her son, Lucas and Will feared for her future. She had raised Mike twice, up fifteen and a half years, and then back down again. The tail ends of those cycles had each nearly killed her. It was unlikely she could handle a third round. She was fifty-four years old, strung out, and barely sane. No one had any idea if Mike was still subject to his time-power in some way, or even why he had started to age normally again.

Worries would come later. For now, healing was needed — the healing of love and friendship. The room filled with both, and Mike Hopper burped happily, feeling every bit of it.

 

Read about Mike Hopper’s new trials in the third novella, Stranger Things: World’s End.

(Previous Chapter: The War of the Uncles)

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