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 Five:
He rose and fell from consciousness. His body was a spreadsheet of pain, on scheduled rhythms of torture. When he was awake, he could hear the air sob in and out of his lungs, as if his sickness had decimated his respiratory system. By degrees he believed he was going to die.
Somehow they had gotten him to the Blue Falcon motel. It was all a blur. Sometime that day or that night — time itself was a blur — his convulsions caused him to fall off the bed. He barely felt himself hit the floor; his body was in too much pain to register the fall. He lay face down, unable to turn over. Like a pinned insect he struggled, then collapsed in resignation. He felt himself lifted and placed back in bed. Minutes later, or hours later; it was the same eternity of torment.
Dreams swirled into his unconsciousness, making him lash out and cry. He relived his mother slapping him at the lab, shaking him back and forth, screaming into his face. Now he had effectively killed her, by wresting her and the others from their proper place in time with little hope of return. He could not time travel during these fits of illness, and hardly expected to survive a brutally protracted episode. Faces filled his tormented vision: his father, Mike Wheeler; his mother, Eleven; his uncles, Lucas Sinclair and Dustin Henderson. In dreams they screamed at him, punched him, and called him a traitor — Lucas especially. Mike pleaded for Uncle Luc’s forgiveness; implored his father to not kill himself; cried Uncle Dustin’s pardon; and begged his mother to get well. They hovered over him, merciless, like avatars dressed in violence. Please, Mike cried to them all. I wanted you to be my friends.
Later, he woke, to see himself leaning over him. His clothes were soaked with sweat and the blankets too. His eyes bled tears against a soft light coming from somewhere. His doppleganger was saying something to him, shaking him gently. He tried to decipher the noise, but it was like trying to hear underwater. He made an effort to sit up, and immediately fell into convulsions. His heels drummed the bed mattress; his fingers ripped at the blanket; a spasm racked his body, arching his back into an impossible position. He would have screamed if his throat had allowed it, but he was seized by lockjaw. Tiny gasps huffed through his teeth like shreds of pain. More faces swam into his vision — an almost-bald girl, two boys next to his mirror-image — and then all four faces morphed into the heads of demo-dogs. The heads shot open like flowers full of teeth, and tore into Mike’s body, feasting on the innards that spilled from him. Beaten, he gave himself willingly to the afterlife.
Much later, the afterlife spat him back. He was being held by someone as he leaned over a plastic bin, emptying the contents of his stomach. His body was shaking and his gut kept heaving. The floor beneath him was spinning. More vomit came — too much, it seemed. “Mike!” the person holding him yelled. “He’s throwing up blood!” Someone called from another room: “Stay with him, Dustin!” His stomach rebelled some more, then barely settled. He heard feet pound into the room, and then hands were lifting him into bed again. A different set of hands wiped a cloth over his face. Faces whirled above him in a dizzying ellipse, and he heard himself crying, begging, please, please, let me die. As he faded from the agony, a voice that sounded like his own trailed him into sleep: “Hang in there, Other Mike. We’re not leaving you.”
Mercifully, he was out for those last few hours. His body had been too smashed by the illness to acknowledge its torments any longer. When he finally woke, it was dark outside. He was in a king-size bed, and there was the soft light on a table at the far side of the room. Someone slept on a chair at the table, under blankets: his father, Mike Wheeler.
He sat up, shaking off the stupor of his ordeal that must have been a day and a half. He couldn’t believe he was alive. To his left a digital clock displayed the time of 6:42 AM. That would make it Friday morning. They had arrived on Wednesday at 3:00 PM. What had his new friends been doing for a day and a half, besides nursing him?
There was a water jug on the stand next to the clock. He was parched and drank deeply. A bowl of fruit sat behind the jug, and he grabbed it, shoving down the mixture of grapes and strawberries. It was always the same: when the time illness passed, it passed one hundred percent, flooding him with thirst and appetite. At that moment, the fruit and water tasted like the best thing he ever had. He could take on a full course breakfast next.
He had woken his father, who looked exhausted. Mike Hopper could only imagine what he had put these kids through.
“You scared the shit out of us. We thought you were dying a few times.”
Yeah. I was hoping it would happen. “It was a bad attack; really bad. Thanks for watching over me. Are we at The Blue Falcon?”
“Yeah,” said Mike Wheeler. “You were right about Mr. Farrow. He must really like kids.”
“He really likes cash,” said Mike Hopper.
“You have a shitload of it in that bag. How come I’m not rich?”
Mike Hopper shrugged and smiled.
“So this sickness. It happens to you every time you go between worlds?”
“Not always.” He had to fudge here. “Going to other worlds, like yours, is usually no problem. It’s the return trip to my world that triggers the illness.”
“You should have been in a hospital. If we weren’t fugitives — we assumed that you’re a fugitive too — we would have taken you to the hospital, or at least home.”
“I’m glad you didn’t. You don’t want to go near our homes.”
“We did go to our homes,” said his father.
“What?” He almost shat his pants.
“We took turns watching you, and biked to our homes. Don’t worry, we were careful. But they’re not our homes. There were no government people around them, and we don’t even recognize the people who live there. Where’s my home — I mean, your home — the Wheeler residence in this world?”
Mike Hopper felt a trickle of unease. There was only one home to worry about. Not the Wheeler residence: his grandparents Ted and Karen had long vacated their house; Grandma was dead from alcoholism, and Grandpa had bought a condo. Nor the Sinclair’s: Lucas’s parents had left Indiana for the warmer climate of New Mexico. As for Dustin’s mother, she had never moved, but she died in her seventies only a few years before 2023. There was no chance these kids would stumble across any of their future families. Will’s aunt, however, was still alive and living in the same house she had inherited from Joyce Byers in 1985. If his parents and uncles had biked over there, and seen an eighty-three year old Ruth Garrett…
“I live in a different part of Hawkins than you do. And we have to stay away from my home, believe me. The government people are all over the place. I’m a fugitive like you guys are. We have to avoid all our homes — Lucas’s, Dustin’s, and Will’s. They’re all dead in my world, but the government guys are grilling their parents.” This stream of lies came out effortlessly.
“We didn’t try the house where our Will lives,” said Mike Wheeler.
Glad to hear. That could have given up the game. “He probably lives somewhere different too. The point is, the government is on to all of us, in both worlds.”
Mike Wheeler looked uncomfortable. “Can I ask you something?”
Mike Hopper nodded. “Yeah.”
“Do you miss your Eleven?”
Mike Hopper swallowed. “Uh, yeah. She was… really cool.”
“Yeah. I like my Eleven a lot. I think I love her actually — but don’t tell Lucas and Dustin that. I don’t want her to die. Or my friends.”
He suddenly hated the lies he had told. “Well, don’t worry. Things happen differently across parallel worlds. None of you are tied to the fate of your other selves.”
Mike Wheeler seemed to feel better. “Did you keep your Eleven in the basement? I kept her four days in my cellar without my parents or sister ever knowing.”
Mike Hopper laughed. “Yeah, that worked for me too. Parents are stupid,” he said, and then winced inwardly. Present company excluded.
“But how did everyone get killed except you?”
“It’s a long story,” said Mike Hopper. “We got into the lab and rescued Will from the Upside Down.” He paused, improvising. “Here in my world, Lucas didn’t get pissed off and go off on his own. We never got separated. So I got us all inside the lab, and Eleven got us to the Gate. We rescued Will from the Upside Down, but the demogorgon chased us. It killed all of us except for me. And it killed most of the lab personnel. The lab’s abandoned now.”
“Shit,” said Mike Wheeler.
“That’s why I need your help. I can’t do this alone.”
“How did you get inside the lab?” asked his father.
“Like I did with you guys.”
“What do you mean? You can teleport over distance — within the same universe?”
“Over short distances,” he half-lied. “That’s how I escaped the lab too, after everyone else was killed.”
“Jesus. You’re incredible. You really are a wizard. How can you do it though? Especially travel to alternate worlds. In the books and movies, that’s supposed to be, like, next to impossible.”
“I have a genetic mutation. They’re common in this world.”
“Seriously, like the X-Men? I’m going to come live here with you.” His next observation strayed into worrisome territory. “You know, your whole calendar is different here. We got a newspaper in the motel lounge yesterday. It said the year is 2023.”
“Yeah,” said Mike Hopper, prepared for this one. “Historians in my world figured the birth of Christ is off by forty years. In your world it’s only four years. And our calendar goes by the adjusted date. So there’s a forty year calendar difference between our worlds.”
“And it’s December, not November. Three days to Christmas, speaking of Christ. There are Christmas trees everywhere.”
“Calendars almost never line up across parallel worlds. It’s the people who run parallel to each other, and are usually the same age; but calendars are man-made and depend on historical circumstances.” He hoped that string of bullshit sounded impressive.
“And people talk on portable phones. You guys are advanced. Dustin was right, it’s so much the same, but so different too.”
“Yeah,” said Mike Hopper. Forty years in someone’s future did pass for a rather convincing alternate world.
“So, how exactly do you need our help?”
He returned to more truthful territory. “The Gate. In another few days, a man named Charles Morgred will arrive at the abandoned lab from out of state. He plans on doing something to the Gate that will wipe out all of America, not just Hawkins.”
“Morgred? Sounds like that traitor in the King Arthur legends.”
“Whatever, this guy figured out a way to make the Gate reproduce other gates on a massive scale — hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, eventually millions. These smaller gates look like clouds and are called Pockets, and they’ll spread out from Indiana all over the country. They appear and disappear the next day, or a few days later, and never in the same place twice. Creatures from the Upside Down come out of the Pockets wherever they show up. Eventually they’ll take over the whole country.”
“That’s insane,” said Mike Wheeler. “How do you know about this guy?”
“Because his plan succeeds in another alternate universe,” said Mike Hopper, back to half-truths. “I’ve been to that one, and seen what his other self does.”
“Well, how do we stop him?”
“Eleven,” said Mike Hopper.
Mike Wheeler raised his eyebrows.
“If she’s like my Eleven was, hasn’t she killed people already? Not to mention whoever was in that van, probably.”
“Well, yeah, but… this is a little more cold-blooded.”
“I know, I don’t like assassination either. But it’s either this guy or millions of innocent people.”
“We’ll have to ask her,” said Mike Wheeler. “We’re not going to make her do anything.”
“Of course,” said Mike Hopper.
“Morgred.” His father pulled his blankets back up, ready for more shut-eye. “Anyone with a name like that probably deserves to die.”
“Hey, Mike,” said Mike Hopper.
“I know you’re tired, but I need more than this fruit. I’m starving.” He wanted a breakfast that could feed giants. “Omelettes, sausage, hash browns, toast. And like, now.”
Mike Wheeler smiled. “You’re definitely feeling better. I’ll wake Dustin up. He does the food runs. We had to use a lot of your cash — I hope that’s all right.”
Mike Hopper said that was perfectly fine.
Dustin was enraged. “Those assholes forgot the syrup!”
“Never mind, Dustin.” Lucas was helping him set out the food on the pitifully small table in the motel room. They were in the second bedroom, the one they had all used while at least one of them was nursing Other Mike. The boys had given the bed to Eleven while they graciously took the floor.
“What do you mean, never mind? El needs syrup for her Eggos.”
“She never has syrup with Eggos,” said Mike Wheeler. “She likes them plain.” They had bought a whole stash of Eggos at a grocery store on the night they arrived.
“She’s only tried them plain, you retard. When you were smuggling her Eggos to your basement, you had to pocket them dry.” He yanked out the napkins at the bottom of the take-out bags, swore some more, and then upended the bags over the table. “I specifically ordered blueberry syrup, goddammit!”
“Dustin,” said Eleven. She was in a sweatshirt and jeans she had stolen from JC Penney. “It’s okay.” They were all dressed in extra clothes Eleven had stolen for them, in a replay of her Eggo theft from the grocery store only hours before they were chased by the vans. That was definitely part of the family stories.
“It’s not okay for me, El. Waffles are wasted without syrup.”
Mike Hopper didn’t care about the waffles. He was swallowing just about every other breakfast item known to humankind. He thought he was in heaven. He remembered eating like this in previous lives, but the memories were fog. The spartan diets of the post-apocalypse were all he really knew.
“So how are we going to spend the weekend?” asked Lucas. They were all on board with Mission Morgred, and Eleven seemed fine with the idea of killing this man, who Mike Wheeler had described as the “baddest of the bad men”. But Mike Hopper had told them all that Morgred would arrive on Monday. That meant three days of waiting around.
“We can see a movie,” said Mike Hopper.
“Moovy?” asked Eleven.
“That’s a great idea,” said Mike Wheeler. “Special effects in this world must be awesome.”
“What is moovy?” asked Eleven.
“A movie is a story you watch on a big screen,” said Mike Wheeler. “Remember my television? It’s like that, only much bigger.”
“And you watch it in a big place filled with seats,” said Mike Hopper. “And you pay money to see them.” These too were a distant memory. There were no movies or theaters in the shadow wastelands. Even if you had old DVDs, they were as useful as frisbees, with no electricity for computers and playing devices.
“You have more than enough money,” said Lucas. “We could spend all day at the movies; all three days.”
His mother still looked confused.
“You’ll see when we get there, El,” said Mike Hopper, enjoying his mother’s nickname. He still couldn’t get over her shaved head. It made her look adorable.
Dustin got up from the table and grabbed the copy of The Hawkins Post he had brought in earlier. That made Mike Hopper nervous. He had explained the year 2023, but he didn’t want a scrutiny of local or worldly news. Things could look increasingly suspicious. Dustin found the movie section right away. Mike Hopper could have saved him the trouble.
“Let’s see… a couple of shitty romances… a stupid kid’s film… a horror film called Bladehead, we might want to see that… Prince of Foxes, I don’t know, it looks like a historical thriller…” He sat up straight. “Excuse me, The Fellowship of the Ring?” His mouth hung open.
“There’s a Lord of the Rings movie in this world?” asked Mike Wheeler, forgetting his breakfast.
“Holy fucking shit,” said Dustin. “It says this is part of a 20th anniversary screening of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Fellowship is tonight, The Two Towers is tomorrow night, and Return of the King Sunday night.” He read more. “It’s Return of the King‘s anniversary — released in 2003, I guess — but they’re showing all three of them.”
“Calm down, you guys,” said Lucas. “It’s probably some stupid animated version like the one that came out five years ago.”
“No,” said Mike Hopper. “We had Bakshi too, and Peter Jackson is nothing like that. He was a horror film director before he made Lord of the Rings. Trust me, these films are super intense.”
“You’ve seen them?” asked Mike Wheeler. He had left his chair and was looking over Dustin’s shoulder.
“Yeah, but not in the theater. They came out before I was born, obviously. For the 20th anniversary, they’re showing the trilogy all across America, over the Christmas weekend.”
This was another half-truth. It was true that The Fellowship of the Ring had been released in late December of 2001, followed by The Two Towers in the same month of 2002; and then The Return of the King in 2003. It was true that Mike Hopper had missed all of those theatrical outings, but not because he hadn’t been born yet. He had been too young for them. He first saw the films the following year in 2004, when he was ten years old, and he had watched the extended DVDs all in a single day. It was one of the best days of his life, seeing the best story of all time done justice in eleven hours. But he had always wanted to see Jackson’s films in the theater, on a huge screen with strong surround sound.
Thanks to his reverse aging, he had missed the golden opportunity of 2023. Right now, as he sat in Hawkins eating breakfast with his parents and uncles from 1983, he was a seventeen-month toddler in Portland Oregon under guardianship of a much older Uncle Lucas, thanks to his crazy homebound mother. The Mike Hopper on the west coast knew nothing about the 20th anniversary screening of The Lord of the Rings. He would learn about it from Uncle Luc when he started growing again.
This was the reason for his detour. Before killing Morgred, he wanted them all to see The Lord of the Rings. To color their act of saving the world in bold hues; to lend their mission a drama of epic proportions; and to taste pure magic at the age of twelve, when magic was still in reach. He had known nothing of magic or friendship in his current life.
“So you want to see it again?” asked Mike Wheeler.
“Oh yeah. I want to see it again. Just wait until you guys see it. It’s going to blow your minds.”
And blow their minds it did. The theater alone did that; it felt all space age, with flashing lights and digital displays. The snack prices were off the scales. The trailers were intense, almost like mini-movies with thundering music. Then the room went dark and the hush descended. The screen went dark. An ethereal voice that was Galadriel’s poured over the audience. And for the next three hours, Mike Hopper and the kids from 1983 forgot who and where they were. They were spellbound by the Shire; terrified by the Nazgul; overawed by Rivendell; exhilarated by the Balrog, and brought to tears by Gandalf’s fall; weirdly unnerved by the dark forest of Lothlorien; and completely overwhelmed by the breaking of the fellowship. Frodo and Sam looked across Mordor, grateful for each other on the hopeless road ahead. A haunting score played over the credits. The kids sat through it without saying a word. They were the last to leave.
Outside in the parking lot, his father faced him. “I can’t believe what we just watched. That wasn’t a movie. That was Middle-Earth come to life. It was awesome.” Mike Wheeler hugged him.
“Yeah,” said Mike Hopper, choked up by his father’s affection. “On a big screen it’s pretty unbelievable.” He was glad he had chosen Wednesday rather than Friday as his entry point. His plan had been to spend a full day with his parents and uncles before seeing the films, but his sickness had killed that idea. Had he chosen to arrive today, his illness would have caused them to miss the first and second movies.
“How can a movie like that even be made?” asked Lucas. “How can a Balrog look that real? Our world is pathetic.”
“It buries Conan the Barbarian,” said Dustin. “Last year we were saying nothing could top that movie. The giant snake in Conan is a toy compared to the Balrog.”
“We all need Middle-Earth names,” said Mike Wheeler. “Other Mike is obviously Gandalf because of his wizard powers, and El, you’re Galadriel for the same reason.”
“Remember the beautiful elf?” asked Lucas. “By the fountain in the dark woods?”
“Holy shit, that was one of the best scenes,” said Dustin. “When she got all possessed and tempted by the Ring, and started roaring, I was cowering in my goddamn seat!”
“Yeah,” said Mike Wheeler, “and it’s nothing like you imagine from the book. Lothlorien was creepy in this movie. It was better than the book. How is that even possible?”
Eleven clearly didn’t understand a word the boys were saying, but she was loving it all the same.
“Did you like it, El?” asked Mike Hopper. She had sat next to Mike Wheeler in the theater, and he had noticed them holding hands through most of the movie.
She nodded, smiling. “Yes.”
“Arwen’s gallop to the Ford was my favorite scene,” said Lucas. “I can’t believe the way they shot her evasive action with the Nazgul on top of her like that.”
“Since you like Arwen,” said Mike Wheeler, “you’re Aragorn.”
“The ranger, as always,” said Dustin.
“I can live with that,” said Lucas. “They got the perfect actor to play that role. Who is he?”
Dustin made a preemptive strike. “Before you assign me anyone I’ll regret, I’m taking Gimli. He completely rocked. When he found Balin’s grave in Moria… wow.”
“Perfect,” said Mike Wheeler. “That leaves me.”
“Yeah, who are you?” asked Lucas.
“Frodo,” said Mike Hopper. They all looked at him.
“Yeah?” asked Mike Wheeler. “Why do you say?”
Mike Hopper weighed his reply. “Frodo was a natural leader. The other hobbits looked up to him. He had the darkest road to take. No one else could do it for him. And he was bound to fail. The Ring beat him in the end.”
They all looked at him, stupefied. Mike Wheeler looked nonplussed.
Mike Hopper laughed. “I’m messing with you. Just the first part: Frodo was the leader, and you’re a good one.”
Mike smiled. “Okay, I’ll take Frodo. But I don’t know, you have that actor’s eyes more than I do.”
“We actually have to wait for tomorrow night to see The Two Towers?”
“It gives us time in between to talk about the films,” said Mike Hopper.
“I just wish Will could see these with us,” said Lucas. “Listen, Other Mike, after we stop Morgred, you need to come help us find Will in our world. You’re part of us now.”
“Totally,” said Dustin.
“Lucas is right,” said Mike Wheeler. “You lost all your friends. You don’t have a party anymore, so you need to join ours. This is our Fellowship. The five of us. And it will be six, when we find Will.”
It was a tempting proposition. If not for all the ways that could change or erase his own past, and mess with theirs, Mike Hopper would have been on board. There was nothing in his own time worth returning to.
“Which Lord of the Rings character is Will?” asked Lucas.
“Who do you think, stupid?” said Mike Wheeler. “Will the Wise? He’s Samwise.”
“Yeah,” put in Mike Hopper. “Will is a great Samwise.”
Mike Wheeler put his arm around him. “I know you’re Gandalf and way older than me. But you’re also my brother. Okay?”
Mike Hopper could only nod. Way older. If he only knew.
“We need to celebrate guys,” said Dustin. “It’s Christmas weekend, and we just saw the best movie ever made.”
“Mike?” said Mike Wheeler. “Can you take us to dinner somewhere expensive?”
Mike Hopper’s smile was a clear answer.
Next Chapter: Mother Child
(Previous Chapter: Deep Burn)