This ten-chapter novella is the third in a trilogy, the first two being Stranger Things: The College Years and Stranger Things: The New Generation, both of which should be read beforehand. They 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, World’s End — Chapter One:
Friday, May 22, 2037
William Byers woke, cold. He had heard the howls, and though they could have been part of his dream, he doubted it. The demo-dogs were out in droves lately.
He sat up in bed slowly. His joints ached and his piles were inflamed. Reaching up his crack, he scratched vigorously. Between the heart attack he had last year, and the ass attacks he suffered every night, he felt his sixty-six years with a regularity that made him question his worth to the Hawkins Colony. If not for his veteran knowledge of the Upside Down, he would surely be regarded as deadwood. He was frail and couldn’t handle field work. Wall patrol was out of the question; he was no combatant. The greenhouses, maybe; he could assist Minnie there if he had to. But there was no cause for worry. His place in the Colony was writ for life. He had suffered for Hawkins more than anyone alive — abducted, possessed, and almost killed rescuing enslaved children. His reward was the leadership of the Colony, a truly thankless task that required him to chair the council and make decisions that never pleased everyone. Dustin Henderson and Steve Harrington were also on the council, for saving the town against repeated depredations of the shadow world. Until two years ago, Lucas Sinclair was a member too. Will sighed, thinking of Lucas. This would be a hard day for Mike.
He put on a pair of socks before walking down the hall. Spring was half over, and it was freezing. He cursed the new weather patterns, longing for the days when May didn’t feel like March. Before the Pockets opened. And for the time before that, when no one took the idea of Armageddon seriously. For that matter, William Byers wished he were still living before Donald J. Trump entered the White House, whereupon everything went to hell. His years of life between 1971-2016 seemed an age of purity. America had been majestic, even at its worst. He remembered savoring life and dreaming big. That itself was now a dream. America was a wasteland: a nuclear wasteland on the coasts, a shadow wasteland in between. And the shadow was growing.
He passed Mike’s door and looked in on him. His nephew was asleep and gently snoring; a lucky kid, all things considered. He lived with his uncle in the most spacious house in the Colony, and had virtually no responsibilities. That would have to change in another year. When you turned thirteen, you had to start pulling your weight.
Today Mike was turning twelve for his third time. He was one of five kids in a community of two hundred fifty-two, the other four being an infant born last month, a three-year old toddler, an eight-year old mute, and a fifteen-year old who fancied herself beyond her years. It was a raw deal. Mike desperately needed a friend.
In the main room Will pulled water from a bucket and killed the dryness in his throat. Moonlight filtered through the window, and showed the time of 3:10 AM on the wall clock. He stood and listened. Within minutes, raw howls decimated the night silence. The demo-dogs were near; maybe even a full grown demogorgon in the pack. He would hear gunfire shortly. Steve Harrington was one of the patrollers tonight, and Will always felt good when Steve was on the wall. The man was in his seventies, but he was the Colony’s best shooter.
Will sat on his recliner and closed his eyes; he had to sit before lying down again, or his back would rebel. Considering all his ailments, he was amazed he had survived this long — six whole years — at Ground Zero. He supposed that his Peace Corps experience helped. Botswana had been home for two years, and he had loved every day of it, hardly missing the comforts of running water and electricity. But he had been in his prime then; his early to mid-twenties. And he had signed on for a limited duration. The American Wasteland was here to stay. He had given up on El, or just about. She was a broken shell.
Since the pounding of the nukes ten years ago, Jane Hopper had been a raving lunatic. Tormented by the guilt of her son’s reverse aging, the nuclear wipe-outs had triggered her complete meltdown and full dependency on others. Mike was two years old (for his third time), and once again she had relinquished him to the care of Lucas and Raquel Sinclair. They were all back in Hawkins, the home of their childhoods, having moved from Oregon to avoid the coastal calamity. They had heeded the rumors, unlike most American citizens. On July 4, 2027, those other citizens paid the price. As they waved flags celebrating their nation’s independence, the United States became the overnight home of a new kind of independence — the kind you made anywhere you could stand, fight and hold your ground.
There had been some recovery since the radiation cleared in 2030, but living on the seaboards was like being in the wild west. The midwest was drastically worse, and the true wasteland now, with only the tiniest fractions of people remaining to rough it out. On September 11, 2031, “traveling gates”, called Pockets, had materialized across half the state of Indiana, blooming out in a radius from the town of Hawkins. Nuclear survivors who had fled the coasts suddenly found themselves in a worse situation. Hordes of vile creatures — demo-dogs, demogorgons, aboleths, shriekers, and more — emerged from clouds of toxic atmosphere, which appeared out of nowhere and stayed for days before vanishing and reappearing miles away. Families were torn apart and eaten in their homes. Indiana became a no-man’s land.
The Pockets had multiplied like fruit-fly nests, and the shadow holocaust expanded by a radius of a hundred miles every year. Now there were twenty-one states under constant attacks from the Upside-Down: most of the midwest, some of the east, and much of the south. It was impossible to survive in any of those states without fortified protection; and few people wanted to stay and join a Colony. The way Will saw it, they should get used to it. At the rate the Pockets were expanding, by 2042, America would be Upside Down in all states from the east coast to the Rockies. By 2048, all of continental America would require walled Colonies. Alaska and Hawaii alone would remain free; pale vestiges of a superpower brought to its knees.
The nuclear holocaust had been devastating, but the shadow holocaust spelled the world’s end. It was set on a course to swamp the globe.
A premonition made Will open his eyes. Someone is here. In my home. Watching me. He looked through the moonlit darkness, his heart quickening. That made no sense. There were no intruders in the Colony. There were two hundred fifty two residents, and they all got along. The Council hadn’t needed to appoint any police force beyond the patrollers managed by a competent chief. Then Will saw who it was, standing by the hallway from the bedrooms, and he started breathing again.
“You move like a ghost,” he said to Mike.
“You don’t,” said his nephew. “Can’t you get a cup of water without banging everything?”
“I want to stay home today. For my birthday.”
Nice try. “You know the deal, Mike. Every month. Especially on your birthday.”
“It’s a waste of time.”
Maybe. But you’re the only chance she’s got. “The e-pod will be here at the crack of dawn. Be ready for it. You want to stay up now, and I’ll cook an early breakfast?”
“No, I’m going back –”
Gunshots exploded outside, and they both jumped. Someone yelled, far away. Then another shout, followed by a steady round of gunfire. Silence for a few seconds; then more shots. Finally it stopped. The alarm hadn’t been sounded, which meant the threat was neutralized. Courtesy of Steve Harrington and his crew.
Mike came over and sat next to his uncle.
Will ruffled his hair. “Change your mind?”
Mike shrugged. “I won’t be able to sleep now.”
“It’s your birthday, kid. What do you want?”
“Pancakes. And ham and eggs, and toast.”
“Okay, your majesty. We won’t have anything left for lunch after that, but it’s your day.” He stood up, lit the wall lantern, and went to the kitchen. “Promise me you’ll be ready when the lab guys get here?” he called, banging pots and pans as he began preparing St. Michael’s feast.
“Whatever,” mumbled Mike, promptly falling asleep on the couch after all.
Mike ignored the question. He was never ready to see his mother.
They were at the Hawkins Lab, five miles from the Colony, one mile from the town that was now a graveyard under the shadow. They had been picked up and driven there as usual, in the lab’s e-pod. Such rides were an unheard of privilege in the post-apocalypse. E-pods were the old governmental cars powered by small nuclear reactors, functioning as both air and ground craft. The lab scientists had negotiated with New York for two of them, and they guarded their prizes zealously. Air transport was a priceless commodity anywhere, but especially in the shadow wasteland, where a pack of demo-dogs could pulverize most ground vehicles in minutes, and outrun them under fifty miles an hour. Ground cars were notoriously unreliable anyway; most of them ran on alcohol.
Will and Mike got special treatment for a reason, and that reason was behind the door they were approaching on the second floor. The woman inside was broken; if she could be made whole again, America might have a fighting chance.
The lab had been reopened four years ago in a last-ditch effort to save the country: to find a solution to the Pockets, which were generated by the Gate at the bottom of the lab. No one knew how this Gate had been created, or by whom; it was thought to predate the Pockets by about a year. The scientists were led by Dr. Mark Reardon, and their progress had been negligible. Reardon believed the only real solution was the woman being cared for; she had dealt with shadow gates in the past, and worse. The only thing that ever penetrated her insanity was the boy at Will’s side.
“Be positive,” said Will, knowing that Mike would go through this ritual with the usual sullenness. He could see a retort jumping into his throat, but before his nephew could say anything, a scream stung the air.
It was Eleven’s voice, raw and heinous. It was impossible that anyone could scream like that and be remotely sane. It was the screech of a soul in relentless pain.
Before the scream ended, Will was dragging Mike toward the bedroom door.
Mike squirmed and broke his uncle’s grip, flinging him off. “No! I’m not going in there!”
Will seized him again. “You are going in there. You’re the only one who can reach her. Mike, she’s your mother.”
Mike said nothing, hurling defiance with his eyes.
“Come on,” said Will, pushing Mike through the door.
Inside, Jane Hopper’s bedroom was almost completely bare. The doctors kept it this way to minimize clean-up duty. The medication she received blocked her telekinetic powers, but occasionally the medication wasn’t strong enough, or it came too late. There were pictures on the stand near her bed: the first showed her and her boyfriend Mike Wheeler when they were fifteen, on Christmas Eve. The second showed Mike Wheeler alone, closer to twenty, without his eyes, sitting and playing guitar. The third showed her in her late thirties, matronly looking, and next to her son — a Mike Hopper slightly older than the incarnation now at Will’s side. The fourth showed Jane in her fifties; she looked strained holding her “second” baby, the same Mike, at six months old.
The Jane Hopper who sat propped up on pillows couldn’t be recognized from those memories. She was a parody of her former self; a grotesque distortion. Her nightgown hung in tatters. She stared at her visitors with rabid eyes. Fury clenched her face, and whimpers moaned in her throat. Will knew they were safe from her tantrums because of the injections she received. The drugs didn’t affect her power; they acted on her mind so she couldn’t use it. Safety hardly mattered to Will. The sight of her tore him apart regardless.
“Hi El,” he said softly.
She let out a scream savage enough to tear a lung.
At Will’s side, Mike tried to back out of the room. Will stopped him. “Go on,” he said. “Talk to her. Go, Mike.”
Mike slowly walked over and sat on the bed next to his mother. “Hi, mom.”
His mother slowly registered his presence. Her face of fury turned on him.
“Take her hand, Mike,” said Will.
Mike took her right hand. “It’s okay, mom. It’s me. Mike.”
“Mike?” Her damaged voice crawled like an injured thing between her lips. The rage on her face began to dissolve.
“Yeah. It’s me and Uncle Will.”
“Oh, Mike.” Tears spilled from her eyes. She fumbled for him, leaned over and hugged him, and moaned into his shoulder. Mike looked like he wished he were miles away.
Will cleared his throat. “Mike turned twelve today, El. It’s his birthday.”
It was the wrong thing to say. She stopped murmuring and looked up at Will with fierce distrust. She clung to Mike and spoke in his ear: “He’s poisoning you. Against me.”
Mike rolled his eyes. “Mom –”
Abruptly his mother grabbed him by the shoulders and violently shook him back and forth. Her face burned with fury again. “I’m your mother, and he’s not! He’s not! He’s NOT, do you understand!”
Mike was being whiplashed to and fro, and he yelled at his mother to stop.
Will almost intervened but gave it another few seconds. Usually her bouts of rage against Mike didn’t last any longer than that. She stopped shaking him and clutched him to her breast. “You’re going to stay with me,” she panted. “I spoke to the doctors, and you’re going to live here, so we can be family again.” She started weeping. “With me. You want that, right?”
Say yes. Lie to her. Show a mercy. But Will already knew Mike was going for honesty.
“I can’t, mom. You need to get well first. Then you can come to the Colony.”
Agony filled his mother’s eyes, and then without transition she slapped his face. Will moved to intervene.
Mike broke free of his mother’s grip as Will got to him, but she immediately snatched him back, with a grip that was ferociously strong for her sixty-six years. “Don’t contradict me!” she shouted in Mike’s face. “I’m your mother, and he’s not. He’s NOT, NOT!!”
“Let go of me!” yelled Mike.
Will gently grabbed her wrists. “Let him go, El.”
She snarled and bent over Will’s arm, sinking her teeth into his wrist. He yelled, more from the shock of her biting him — she had never done that before — than from the pain, though it was excruciating.
Two lab workers entered the room. Jane Hopper backed up against her pillows and screeched, threatening to kill anyone who touched her. The lab workers were as gentle as they could be in restraining her. She fought like a demented lioness and hurled obscenities at them, spit flying from her mouth.
Will was shaken. “Let’s go, Mike,” he said, but Mike was already at the door.
“Mike!” his mother wailed. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, Mike! Come back! No! NO! NO! DON’T LEAVE ME!” She was sobbing and kicking at the lab professionals. “Don’t leave me… please!”
As they both left the room, Jane’s shrieks ripped from her abused throat. Will’s heart sank. She was only getting worse.
“I hate her!” Mike yelled for about the sixth time when they were back home.
Will was doing his best to control his temper. He seldom lost it. But Mike had been outright impossible since his mother’s episode that morning. He had yelled at Dr. Reardon as they left the lab, and shouted at Will on the drive home. The drivers in the e-pod’s front seat had kept quiet with poker faces, and Will had marveled at their professionalism.
“I can’t control the way you feel, Mike, but don’t ever let me hear you say that you hate your mother. Your mom is the most amazing person I’ve ever known. And I expect better behavior from you in front of others.”
“You can’t tell me what to do.”
Will sighed. “Yes I can.”
“You’re not the boss of me. Uncle Luc was.”
“That’s right. He was. Now I am. And I dare say I give you a lot more leeway and freedom than Uncle Luc ever did.” Will was conveniently omitting the fact that he sort of had do be lenient with Mike. His nephew didn’t respect him as a parental figure. Lucas Sinclair had disciplined the hell out of Mike and been loved for it. Whenever Will tried such measures, the results were risible. There was a reason he had never had kids.
“Your mother deserves respect.”
“She’s a hag!”
“Stop it, Mike. She hurts. She’s trapped in an inner hell. You know she’s not herself. She raised you. Twice.”
“Uncle Luc raised me.”
Jesus. Will knew that Mike had complicated memories of his previous two lives. He certainly remembered them, but parts of them seemed unreal; like dreams or pictures in a book, he said. But surely he remembered his mother’s unflagging love and commitment to him. She had done everything for him, and saved him from an eternity of black hell in the Upside Down. In the process, however, she had caused him to age backwards. Then he had to start life all over again.
“Your Uncle Luc was a great man. Don’t let his greatness diminish your mother’s.”
“She stinks. She’s hysterical.”
“She can’t help –”
“I’m not going there to see her anymore!”
“Listen to me!”
“Just because she can make tornadoes doesn’t make her special!”
“Will you please calm down?”
Mike only got more furious. “She’s a shitty mom! I never had a mother!”
“Shut up, I said!”
Mike burst into tears, and Will cursed himself. He couldn’t recall the last time he had yelled at anyone like that. Probably years ago. Maybe decades. Lamely, he put his hand on Mike’s shoulder to apologize.
“Don’t touch me!” shouted Mike.
Will should have let him go, but he was angry again — angry at all the yelling, and tired from being up so early. He shook Mike and told him to shut up, grow up, and stop acting the child. Forgetting of course that he was still a child. Mike told him to let go. Will wouldn’t let go. A stream of twelve-year old F-bombs filled the room. Will still held him firm. Suddenly Mike stopped struggling, and closed his eyes.
Without warning, Will felt smashed by a wave of burning coldness. He couldn’t see or hear a thing. An awful sense of deja vu hit him, as if this had happened before. He felt caught, paralyzed, on a landscape of contradictions: freezing incineration; searing numbness; a vacuum that permitted no life, and yet couldn’t kill, because there was no moment to the next, during which life could cease to be. Mike was somehow doing this to him.
Then — it felt like only a second later, but also many years — Will was suddenly right again, his senses registering everything they should. He was still holding Mike, but they were far outside the house, at least a hundred feet away. He let his nephew go. What the hell had just happened?
“What did you do?” Will demanded. In his first life Mike had possessed an amazing power over time. In his second life that power had taken on a mind of its own and shrunk him down to infancy. In this life he had shown no evidence of that power at all. Or had he?
Mike didn’t answer, and he started walking away, around their house to the back.
“Hey,” said Will, confused, following him. “I asked you something.”
“You’re not the boss of me,” said Mike as he kept walking. He was cutting around other buildings and heading towards the Colony’s recreational field.
“Where are you going?”
They came to a hill overlooking the play field, and Mike stopped next to a tree. He looked down at the two people using the field — an adult and a child playing frisbee — then sat against the tree.
Will looked down at the frisbee throwers, and gasped in shock. He wasn’t seeing right. He started walking down the hill to get a better look.
“No,” said Mike. “Stay under the tree with me.”
Something in Mike’s tone compelled obedience. Will stopped, but he didn’t take his eyes off the impossible figures below, shouting and laughing as they threw the frisbee. One of them was his good friend Lucas Sinclair. The other was Mike Hopper himself.
Lucas had been killed two years ago by a demogorgon. Mike was up on this hill right next to him. Neither of them could be down there.
“Uncle Luc was my father,” said Mike. “You’re not my boss.” He put his head on his knees and broke down sobbing.
Next Chapter: Tempus Itinerantur