Stranger Things: World’s End (Chapter 4)

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 Four:

                                    Deep Burn

Mike Hopper shot out of the air, barely staying on the bike as it hit pavement. He had propelled himself out of the In-Between, instinctively trying to evade Uncle Dustin. Which was unnecessary; no one was chasing him. His plan had worked. Acting casually had taken everyone off guard, even Dr. Reardon. But it had been very close: Uncle Dustin had almost grabbed him when he disappeared.

He skidded on the road, and righted himself with his feet. Wherever he had emerged, it was a quiet neighborhood. And deep in the past. Far deeper than he’d ever gone. He was somewhere in Hawkins on the afternoon of November 12, 1983 — a time he had chosen with anorexic precision.

As he scanned his surroundings, he could scarcely credit his eyes. He was in a fantasy world; a world out of his own past that he had convinced himself was a dream. Homes lined the streets, with lawns lush and verdant. Healthy trees stood everywhere; artifacts of a bygone age. There were automobiles, at least one, sometimes two, for every home. People walked outside without any concerns of safety, unguarded by walls and patrollers. He remembered life like this — had lived life like this —  but only as a drama; the memories seemed contrived.

The sight of the lab loomed over a distant treeline, and Mike did a calculation. He chose a street that he was sure led to the home of his father. The Wheeler residence.

Mike had never had any intention of taking Uncle Dustin or Steve back to kill Morgred. He was going to save the world on his own terms. His childhood had become a straightjacket of isolation. He was forty-three, but only technically. Adults served him condescension as if it were gourmet. The adults who had meant everything to him were either gone, broken, or undeserving. Perhaps adults were the problem.

He had burned deep in order to recruit his parents and uncles when they were exactly his age: a twelve-year old hit squad for Mission Morgred. Uncle Dustin would be part of it after all. According to Mike’s family stories, it was during the week of November 6-12, 1983, that his father and two uncles had met his mother, and together they had all moved heaven and earth to rescue Uncle Will from the Upside Down. On the last day, late into the night of the 12th, his mother had vanished after killing the first demogorgon the world had ever seen. Mike wanted them all as a team to stop Morgred. He had chosen the final day of their time together, right before his mother vanished. By that point they had become close and comfortable with each other, and — if the family tales didn’t embellish — his mother had flipped a van that was chasing them.

Mike wanted to see that. He needed his mother at the height of her power, and all of them at the height of their friendship. He wouldn’t need a gun with Killer Mom at his side, supported by her best friends. Mission Morgred would be in good hands. For this cause he had burned deep in the past to meet his young sires.

Or at least, that was his formal reason. His other reasons were more complex.

As he zoomed along the street, another biker shot out from a side road at breakneck speed. It was a kid, and Mike gasped when he got a look at him.

The kid was African American, and wearing an orange-red jacket and a bandana. He was screaming into a device strapped to the helm of his bike. Mike remembered the stories: Uncle Luc had separated from his parents and Uncle Dustin in order to spy on the lab, and then raced back to warn them as the lab thugs descended on them. These were the days when the lab was run by vicious assholes. This kid, like himself, had just come from the direction of the lab. It had to be Lucas Sinclair.

Mike pumped his legs, racing to catch up with Lucas. He saw him turn down another side street, and followed him at a distance that Mike tried to close.

Within seconds Lucas saw Mike ride up alongside him, and his head snapped to the side in a double-take. “How did you get here?” he yelled. “I thought you were at Cornwalis!”

“Just go!” shouted Mike.

They both sped ahead, and Lucas kept flashing looks at Mike. “Why aren’t you with Dustin!” he bellowed.

That put it beyond doubt. “Where are we going?” shouted Mike, ignoring the question.

“Elm and Cherry!” cried Lucas.

“Okay!”

Lucas kept looking over at him as they rode. Do I look the same? He had always been told he looked exactly like his father, except for his eyes, and he had seen enough photos of Mike Wheeler confirming that. But then his clothes probably looked completely wrong. Judging from Lucas, eighties dress was planets away from the post-apocalyptic attire of the thirties.

“Where did you get that monster bike?” yelled Lucas.

There was that too. “Just keep going!” shouted Mike.

Mike followed Lucas’s lead as they flew down roads and around corners, until they finally came to Elm and Cherry. Lucas braked — and two other kids on bikes came flying into the road. They had come from a side path that cut between a nest of homes. No; it was three kids, not two: a boy with a shaved head was riding double on one of them. They skidded to a halt, and Mike almost plowed into the pair riding double. His heart lurched as he saw his clone — his father, of course, Mike Wheeler — gawk at him in undiluted shock. The short kid with the shaved head peered over his shoulder, all eyes.

Dustin was looking up and down the road. “I think we lost them,” he said. Then he saw two Mike Wheelers, and his jaw fell to the ground. “What the hell?”

Lucas was unable to stop his head from swiveling back and forth between the two Mikes.

Mike Wheeler found his voice: “Who is THIS?” he shouted in outrage, before all hell broke loose.

Tires screeched from up the road, as three vans tore around the corner and came barreling down on them all.

“Go, go, go!” shouted Mike Wheeler.

They rode their bikes as fast as they could.

“Faster, faster!” his father kept yelling.

But they couldn’t outpace these vans; dashing between house paths onto other roads was their only hope, and there wasn’t one nearby. Mike was nonplussed by this turn of events. Where was his goddamn mother?

His bowels almost burst as another van tore around the corner — this one straight ahead of them. Sandwiched from both ends, the kids screamed as they hurtled towards the newcomer who was about to turn them into roadkill. Mike cursed his uncles for their bald-faced lies. No one was going to flip this van into the air.

He heard a whooshing noise and a deep thump, and suddenly the van was flying upended over their heads. The kids looked skyward and then backward as their bikes sailed on. With a deafening crash, the van smashed upside down on the road behind them, likely killing whoever was inside. The other three vans screeched to a halt to avoid the collision. Grim looking men exited the vehicles, watching the kids as they rode away.

The kids couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed. Mike couldn’t either, but only because his mother was nowhere in sight. He looked at the kid with the shaved head, clinging to his father on the back of his bike. Mike’s eyes widened. The kid was wearing a dress and had a nosebleed. The truth hit him: this tiny shaved thing was his mother: Jane Hopper, before she knew her name was Jane and was adopted by Sheriff Jim Hopper. Eleven, or El, is what the boys called her, and had continued to call her for the rest of their lives. He felt relief: they were all here.

They rode on, putting as much distance as possible between themselves and the lab goons. The junkyard was the next stop, according to the family stories. The kids would hide out in a bus as government agents searched for them in a chopper, and until Sheriff Hopper came to rescue them. Mike intended to interrupt that timeline of events.

As soon as they got to the junkyard, he would explain who he was and why he was here — his carefully prepared version of it, that is — and, if they agreed, he would whisk them all to the future to deal with Morgred. With a bit of a detour along the way.

They came to the abandoned junkyard, and got off their bikes. Eleven knelt on the ground, exhausted from what she had done.

Dustin was sputtering, looking at Eleven in near worship. “Did — did you all see that?”

“No Dustin,” retorted Mike Wheeler. “We missed it.” He turned a murderous glare on his clone. “More important is, do you all see THAT?”

Everyone stared at Mike Hopper. Here we go.

“Yeah, I see it,” said Dustin. “He came with Lucas.”

Lucas protested immediately. “I thought he was you,” he said to Mike Wheeler. “When I left the lab, he was suddenly following me.”

“When you left the lab,” said Mike Wheeler, making the word an indictment. He faced his clone: “How did they make you?”

Oh God. “Guys, no one made me. I’m not with those men who chased us.”

“When I got to the fence surrounding the lab,” said Lucas, “I confirmed the Gate had to be inside. It’s where our compasses point, on all sides of the fence. No question. They could be making clones inside there too, for all we know.”

“Maybe not clones,” said Dustin. “They would need samples of Mike’s DNA to make a clone. More likely, this is a shadow version of Mike. Maybe there are people in the Upside Down after all. Dark versions of ourselves.”

That’s quite enough of this. “No,” said Mike Hopper. “I’m not from the Upside Down.”

“Shut up,” said Mike Wheeler. “You came from the lab, where the Gate is. At the same time we were chased by all those lab people.”

Lucas was nodding. “He’s an infiltrator.”

“No I’m not!” said Mike Hopper, “Jesus, do I look like a shadow creature? I’m not your enemy.” He looked over at his mother. She was still on the ground, exhausted.

“Who are you then?” demanded his father.

Mike had carefully rehearsed his answer to this question. The truth was out of the question. None of these twelve-year old kids was prepared to accept that Mike and Eleven were his parents, least of all Mom and Dad themselves. Nor did he want to be seen as anyone’s child or nephew; he wanted the friendship of these kids, not their stewardship. No, he was not Mike Hopper from the future; he was Mike Wheeler from an alternate universe.

“I’m you,” he said to Mike Wheeler, “from a parallel world.”

“What?” said Mike Wheeler, incredulous.

“Alternate dimensions!” shouted Dustin. “I knew it.”

“Shut up, Dustin,” said Lucas, and then came right up to Mike Hopper: “You expect us to believe that?”

Mike didn’t like hostility from his Uncle Luc. “Why do you think I look just like him? Only slightly different. There are small differences across parallel universes. Sometimes big ones too, but mostly just small ones.”

“Yeah, your eyes are different,” said Dustin. “You’ve got girls’ eyes.”

“Why are you here?” asked Mike Wheeler.

“It’s… hard to explain all at once. There’s a big problem in my world,” said Mike Hopper.

“A major disaster?” asked Dustin. “Threatening your world?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Oh boy,” said Dustin, grinning. “Like the Doctor Who story Inferno.”

Seriously. Even at the age of twelve, his Uncle Dustin had analogies at hand for everything. Mike hadn’t counted on any initial support from the group, but Dustin was already wetting himself with enthusiasm.

His mother had risen, and now came over to him. Mike’s heart quickened and he almost panicked. She looked absurd in that dress and long white socks. But her eyes were eternal; beautiful, really; they never changed.

Neither did his. He prayed the similarities weren’t glaring, but Dustin had already called them out as girls’ eyes, and they seemed to be precisely what his mother was interested in. She was staring into them as she reached up to touch his face.

“El, no!” It was his father, pulling her back. “Don’t touch him. We don’t know if he’s telling the truth.”

“What, you don’t think he’s from another world?” asked Dustin. “If not, then your parents have been hiding your identical twin for a long time.”

“I’m sure he’s from another world,” retorted Mike Wheeler. “But not the one he says. You’re telling me that Will is captured by a creature from the shadow world, and then someone appears out of the blue from another different world?”

“I can take you there,” said Mike Hopper.

“What?” said Mike Wheeler.

“To my world. It’s why I came here. To get you guys — Eleven, especially — to help save my world.”

“Then you’re shit out of luck,” said Lucas. “We’re trying to save someone else right now in our own world. Our friend.”

“I know,” said Mike Hopper. “You’re trying to find Will. Don’t worry, I can get you back here. At the exact moment we leave from. Even if we spend days in my world. You won’t lose any time here at all.” He hoped they wouldn’t examine this point too closely.

They were evidently troubled by other points.

“Hold on,” said Mike Wheeler. “You’re dealing with the same problem in your world? Finding Will? And you’re what, leeching off us in our world?”

“In my world, it’s a much bigger and different threat, and you’re all dead. Not just Will, but also Lucas, Dustin, and Eleven. I need your help. Especially Eleven’s.” He had rationalized this self-serving lie on grounds that it didn’t ultimately matter. Once he brought them back here, they wouldn’t remember a thing. The important thing was to get them on board with killing Morgred. And with trusting him; accepting him.

“That is sort of like what happens in Inferno,” admitted Dustin. “In the alternate world, the threats are magnified.”

“How so?” asked Lucas.

“The lava from the earth’s core explodes much earlier, and worse things happen to the good guys who try to prevent it. The bad guys are way nastier too.”

“You’d be saving the lives of a lot of Americans,” said Mike Hopper. “In my world the Upside Down is a massive problem. It’s so bad it’s off the scales.” That last was certainly true. “And I promise I can get you right back here, with no time lost. Your Will won’t suffer for this mission at all.” That was also true. Provided, of course, that none of them got killed on this mission, and that he was alive to bring them back. He had no worries about that. Morgred should be the easy part of his plan.

“I’m in,” said Dustin.

“Really?” said Lucas.

“I believe what he says and what he promises us. This is our chance to see a parallel world. A parallel world, guys.”

Mike Wheeler looked at Mike Hopper for a long time. “If you’re messing with us, I swear I’ll feed you to the demogorgon myself. But fine. I’m in too.”

“I guess I’m outvoted,” said Lucas.

“Not necessarily,” said Mike Hopper. “Doesn’t she get a vote?”

“Don’t tell us how we vote,” snapped Mike Wheeler, no doubt furious because he was just about to ask Eleven. He turned to her. “El?”

They all looked at her. She was staring at Mike Hopper intently. Finally she said, “Yes.”

“Great,” said Dustin. “So how do you travel between worlds? Do you have a machine somewhere?”

“No. Just hold onto your bikes, and hold on to me. I’ll do the rest.”

“Seriously?” said Lucas. “Are you a wizard?”

“Just get this over with,” said Mike Wheeler. “I want to see it actually work.”

“Hold on,” said Lucas.

“Quit stalling, Lucas,” said Dustin.

“I’m not stalling. We need to resolve something.” He looked contrite as he turned to Eleven. “What you did for us back there, when we were being chased, was terrific. I mean, it was really awesome. All those times I called you a traitor? I was wrong.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

Mike Hopper had no clue where this was coming from. Traitor? The family stories had never mentioned Uncle Luc calling his mother a traitor. Uncle Luc had always treated her like gold.

Whatever it was about, he could see that Lucas’s apology meant a lot to his mother. “Friends don’t lie,” she said to Lucas. “I’m sorry too.”

“Me too,” said Mike Wheeler, putting his hand out, and confounding Mike Hopper even more. Lucas shook Mike Wheeler’s hand, and the two friends beamed at each other over a chasm now bridged.

Friends don’t lie.

Friends indeed. Mike Hopper hadn’t had a real friend since Tobias. And he had lied plenty throughout this little charade, mixing his lies with just enough spoken truths and inner rationalizations to keep his conscience clear. That was probably a low bar in the present company.

“Are we ready then?” asked Dustin. “Other Mike? Can we call you that?”

Mike Hopper — Other Mike — told everyone to grab their bikes in one hand, and hold on fast to him with another. They did so. He took a deep breath, wondering how this would go. He had to make it work. A rush of fiery cold went through him and filled the flesh of his new friends. He hoped they would be his new friends. It was why he had done all of this.

The In-Between assaulted him with the usual paradoxes: an agonizing sense of deja vu; a brutal freeze that scorched like a sun; a split second that went on for thousands of years. At the end of that eternity that was no time at all, Mike and his sires materialized.

It was the same junkyard filled with different junk. It was colder, and there was snow on the ground — about two inches worth. They would need warmer clothes. He had brought them to the afternoon of Wednesday, December 22, 2021, years before either apocalypse tore America apart.

“Holy shit!” said Dustin, looking around.

“That felt weird,” said Mike Wheeler.

Lucas swore. “It’s freezing here. Does winter come early in your world?”

Eleven stared around the junkyard in wonder.

Mike Hopper’s reaction was different. It was a reaction he had suffered many times before, but was certainly not expecting at this point. Vertigo washed through his head, sending him to the ground. His body was already shaking, fever flooding his veins. No, he pleaded. This isn’t right. He only got sick when he came back to the present.

“Hey!” said Mike Wheeler. “Other Mike! What’s wrong?”

Mike Hopper looked up at them all, and did a mental calculation. “Listen to me,” he said through chattering teeth. “Please. You’ll need to take care of me. I’m going to be very sick. Sometimes the travel between worlds does this to me.”

“What! You didn’t say anything about that!”

No shit, Sherlock. I’m just as surprised as you. He wanted to scream. He only got sick when he came back.

Then he saw his error. He had come back — partially, in a sense.

Eleven was kneeling over him, her eyes filled with worry. He needed a mother, all right. He had known that the return trip might well kill him, and had made his peace with that. But he had drastically misunderstood the nature of his time sickness. It wasn’t triggered by a return to the present per se. It was triggered, apparently, by any movement forward in time towards that present. By traveling from 1983 to 2021, he had brought on a time sickness of thirty-eight hours. A bit less than what he had been counting on for the trip back home, but still a monstrous duration — one whole day plus fourteen hours.

“Please,” he repeated, his body shaking. “Get me to The Blue Falcon.” The Hawkins motel would have been his next suggested destination anyway. “The manager there will let kids rent a room, if we have cash.” And if he doesn’t think we’re delinquents. And assuming his Uncle Will’s stories about Mr. Farrow were accurate.

“We don’t have cash!” said Mike Wheeler.

Mike Hopper fumbled for his pouch, still draped over his shoulder. His hands were shaking too badly. “Open it,” he told his father. “See the brown bag inside.”

Mike Wheeler opened the pouch, dug around the snacks, water bottle, and folder, and found the paper bag. He opened it. “Holy shit, you guys! Other Mike is loaded. There must be thousands of dollars here.” Mike had taken the cash from Uncle Will’s storage. Cash was useless in the post-apocalypse, kept for nostalgia, or perhaps a dim hope that it would one day be useful again.

He shuddered and moaned in the snow. His parents and uncles knelt over him, babbling, excited. He had brought them to the year 2021, ten years earlier than his target destination. He had a reason for this detour. Now he might not live for that reason, let alone continue on to kill Morgred in 2031. He could die before doing anything meaningful.

 

Next Chapter: Fellowship

(Previous Chapter: Mission Morgred)

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