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 Six:
Eleven tried feeling like that mighty elf-lady as she followed the boys into The Glass Steeple. The restaurant was jam packed because of the holiday weekend. Surrounded by people high on celebration, El didn’t feel like the elf-lady at all.
It wasn’t a question of power. After all the things she had done, especially after flipping a van, El believed she could hold her own against the Ring Lords of Middle-Earth. The grey and white wizards had thrown each other around with their staffs; she could do that without a staff. But that elf-lady was pretty, and despite Mike’s assurances, El knew that she wasn’t.
She had saved him from a foolish jump into that quarry. He owed his life to her, and he liked her, and so he told her she was pretty. It made her feel good, but she wasn’t fooled. Most people saw her as a freak — even that nice man at the diner who had fed her ice cream. Benny, she remembered his name. The first man she had met who wasn’t a bad man. In a place sort of like The Glass Steeple.
Despite the crowds, she and the boys were seated within minutes, next to a tree covered with lights and colored balls. A waiter set them water glasses and handed out reading material she couldn’t make sense of.
“That’s a menu, El,” said Mike Wheeler. He sat next to her. “I’ll help you order.”
“Sky’s the limit, Other Mike?” asked Dustin. “If so, I’m getting a Lobster Napoleon. With extra herbed potatoes.”
“You’re a hog,” said Lucas.
“Get whatever you guys want,” said Other Mike.
Other Mike troubled her. He was quiet and more serious than the other boys, but that wasn’t it; she was quiet and serious too. He seemed sad rather, as if sadness lay at the heart of him, much as he tried to conceal it. Dustin was defined by his humor, Lucas by his skepticism, and Mike Wheeler by his empathy. Other Mike seemed to live by a nameless sorrow that he had carried for far too long. She wanted to talk to him more, but her Mike might not like that. Mike Wheeler had become territorial with her.
He had held her hand during the movie, and that made her happy. She had feelings for Mike Wheeler that she couldn’t explain or understand, for lack of experience. There had been no other kids at the lab for many years. She could never go back there, and was prepared to do anything to avoid it.
Mike shared his menu with her. “I’m getting a filet mignon. But there are other good dishes here.” He rattled off a list of entrees, and did his best to describe their contents.
She didn’t understand most of it. “Do they have Eggos?”
“Ew, no. That’s breakfast junk. You need to expand your horizons.”
“I’ll get the same as you,” she said.
“Two filet steaks, then. And you get a baked potato or french fries.”
Lucas settled on a pork tenderloin filled with stuffing, and Other Mike chose garlic shrimp with asparagus. Dustin, of course, demanded the lobster special with heaping piles of side dishes. The waiter took their orders and disappeared, and Eleven listened as the boys went on about the movie. It was all they discussed. Other Mike soaked up their joy and returned it manifold. He was different when he was happy; animated and alive, like Mike Wheeler. She liked seeing him like that.
The restaurant thronged with joy, and it dawned on Eleven that she had never been around this many people having so much fun. It was a perfect Christmas season; her first one that meant anything. When their meals came, they were garnished so beautifully that she almost didn’t want to eat her food and ruin the design. On her and Mike’s plates was a leafy dark green that Mike called kale, and which he said should not be eaten, though she could eat the sliced tomatoes and orange pieces on top. Her baked potato was cut open to accommodate ribbons of sour cream topped by sprigs of parsley. Her salad was so colorful she wanted a picture of it, by one of those “smart phones” that were popular in this world. When she began eating, she was glad that Mike had helped her choose. Filet mignon with A1 sauce, she decided, was a close second to Eggos.
By the end of their feast, the boys had each listed their five favorite scenes from the movie, in descending order of greatness. The lists had been strenuously debated and defended without compromise, and the number ones were non-negotiable. For Mike Wheeler, it was Frodo getting stabbed on the hill: “the Black Riders in their true form made me shit”. For Lucas, it was the race to the ford: “the best horse chase of all time”. Dustin lauded the cave troll attack in Balin’s tomb: “seriously guys, in that battle every Fellowship member shined”. For Other Mike, it had to be the breaking of the fellowship: “it’s what life is about — friendship, sacrifice, and separation”. They muddled over that one. Other Mike seemed a bit beyond his years, perhaps too much; like Gandalf indeed.
Eleven couldn’t list five favorite scenes, but the boys forced her to defend a number one. They were obviously expecting a Galadriel scene from her — and she did love the elf-lady — but her favorite was the old hobbit’s birthday party. She loved the Shire, loved the hobbit holes, loved Bilbo, and that was that. The boys applauded her choice.
She looked over into another room, where people were behaving like hobbits — dancing, laughing, and drinking. Dustin called it the barroom. It was just like Bilbo’s party in there. The song that was blaring was extremely catchy, and it made her want to get up and dance too; except she knew she would look silly.
Apparently Other Mike wanted to see her look silly. “Mike?” he asked.
“Yeah?” said Mike Wheeler.
“You should dance with Eleven.”
“Shut up,” said Mike Wheeler, turning red.
El blushed too, but she liked the attention.
“At the next slow song,” said Other Mike. “Come on, it’s Christmas weekend.” To Eleven he looked very serious about what he was proposing.
“I second Other Mike,” said Lucas. “I want to see you guys on the floor.”
“Stop it,” said Mike Wheeler.
“No stopping us,” said Dustin. “You’re stopping yourself. What do you say, El?”
Mike Wheeler looked at her, clearly nervous.
She looked at the dancers in the other room, and then back at the boys. “I… I don’t know how to dance.”
Dustin laughed. “Neither does Mike. He’s a goddamn clutz. I guarantee you’ll pick it up faster than he does.”
“Shut up, Dustin,” said Mike Wheeler, his face still burning. He turned to her. “Don’t listen to them, El.”
“Mike,” said Lucas. “Seriously? After everything this week? Dance with the girl.”
“Kids aren’t allowed in the barroom,” said Mike Wheeler.
“A feeble protest, Wheeler,” said Dustin. “No one’s going to throw two kids off the dance floor, if you avoid the bar.”
“We’ll stop them if they try,” said Other Mike, all earnest.
Mike Wheeler rolled his eyes, and then turned to her. “El… do you want to dance with me?”
Lucas gave a thumbs up. Other Mike was nodding. Dustin raised his eyebrows, a clear demand.
She said yes, feeling confident with Mike at her side, and he took her hand. As he led her into the other room, neither of them saw Lucas and Dustin giggling like imps, and Other Mike brushing away a tear.
She and Mike reached the floor as a new song began. It was a stirring melody sung by a female lead; El liked her voice. Mike took her hands and set them on his shoulder, and then he put his arms around her waist. How was she supposed to move?
Like so. It came naturally, and they found themselves slow-dancing with as much confidence as the surrounding adults. Many of them smiled at her and Mike, enjoying the sight of kids on the dance floor. The chorus kicked in, and to El it sounded haunting and sad:
We wrote our names along the bathroom walls…
Graffitiing our hearts across the stalls…
I’ve been waiting for my whole life to grow old…
And now we never will, never will…
As she and Mike swayed, she saw that Other Mike had come into the room, and was watching them by the entry. Lucas and Dustin were out at the table, laughing at each other. Other Mike looked terribly alone, and El wished that he could join their dance. But she knew her Mike wouldn’t like the idea. She gave what little she could, smiling at Other Mike over Mike Wheeler’s shoulder. He smiled back, looking more alone than before.
“Mike, El. Come on,” said Lucas. He, Dustin, and Other Mike had their coats on, and were on their way out.
She and Mike Wheeler had come back to the table for desert — chocolate fudge sundaes for all — and then returned to the barroom for another dance.
“Yeah, we’re coming!” Mike called. He kept his arms around her, and looked like he was working up the courage for something. “El?”
“I guess we had our first date tonight.”
The word meant nothing to her. “What is ‘date’?”
“It’s when two people who like each other, you know, do things together. Like go to a movie, and then dance. Like we did.”
“Like friends?” she asked.
“No, not like friends. More than friends.” He looked at her as if expecting something.
“More?” She didn’t follow.
“I don’t know.” He looked suddenly deflated. “Maybe it’s stupid.”
She needed to understand this. “Mike.”
“Friends don’t lie.”
“Well, people who date each other, really like each other, and sometimes at the end of the date, they… you know.”
She didn’t know.
He pondered his next thought, then made a decision. He leaned forward, kissing her lips.
Shocked, she pulled back, inhaling as if starved for breath. She gaped at Mike Wheeler, not knowing what to say or do. He smiled gently at her, giving her time to process, and in moments she smiled back. Having his mouth on hers had been weird and a bit gross… but also kind of nice.
“Come on,” he said, taking her hand. “The others are — Hey!”
Other Mike had come back and was watching them. Her Mike lashed out at him: “You like spying on people?”
“No,” he said. “Sorry. I was just… Lucas and Dustin are waiting.”
“Yeah, well they can wait longer,” snapped Mike.
“Mike,” said Eleven. “Be nice.”
“Whatever. Let’s go.”
On Saturday the 23rd they slept in until well after 10:00 AM. Between the late festive dinner and two previous days of nursing Other Mike around the clock, fatigue had finally pounded them. They had a gluttonous brunch, and then the boys spent the entire day anticipating the second movie, rehashing the first one all over again. Then they all biked to the theater for another 4:00 PM trip to Middle-Earth.
The Two Towers was breathtaking, no question, but El didn’t like it as much as The Fellowship of the Ring. The battle at the end went on too long. The boys loved the battle, but had different reservations. Apparently the movie makers had taken strong liberties with the book, and not always for the better.
“Helm’s Deep was a bust,” Dustin was saying as they rode back to the motel.
“It wasn’t that bad,” said Lucas.
“Yes it was. The elves had no business participating. It was cheesy. And so was the elf who did belong there.” Dustin was furious over the scene in which Legolas had used his shield to slide down a staircase in the thick of battle. He had sworn at the movie screen while other kids in the theater cheered.
“I liked the darker Faramir,” said Other Mike, biking close behind. “Tolkien’s Faramir was kind of boring.”
“Faramir was well played,” allowed Dustin. “But the whole Osgiliath detour with Frodo and Sam was stupid.”
All the boys agreed on that.
Eleven liked the talking tree and bug-eyed creature the best, and she said so.
“El’s right,” said Mike Wheeler. “Treebeard and Gollum stole the show.”
Other Mike’s favorite scene was the vision of Arwen’s future. “When she was crying over Aragorn’s dead body, then wandering in the woods all alone, with no other elves around. It was so heartbreaking.”
“The price of love,” said Dustin. “She made the wrong choice. She should have stayed with the elves and set sail.”
“Racist,” said Lucas.
“Ass-lick,” said Dustin.
“But anyway,” said Other Mike, “if you read the appendices in Tolkien’s books, that’s where they took Elrond’s dialogue from. When he speaks over the vision.”
“It was a good scene,” admitted Mike Wheeler to his twin. “But dude, you’re depressing.”
“No, what’s depressing was no Shelob,” said Lucas. “I was waiting for the spider battle, not a stupid Osgiliath scene.”
“You’ll get Shelob tomorrow,” promised Other Mike. “And everything else.”
Everything else turned out to be something else: an epic so tragic it was biblical; the best Christmas Eve of their lives. The first movie had staggered them, but The Return of the King was peerless. El thought she had been thrown into an actual war, and it terrified her. Black riders swooped down from dizzying heights over the White City. Enormous elephants crushed the city’s defenders under their heels. At one point a boulder came flying out of the screen, and the boys screamed, throwing themselves back in their seats. El believed it was a real boulder and reacted instinctively, throwing her power at it to save herself and the boys from being smashed to a pulp. Theater employees would later notice a gash in the screen.
But it was the last forty-five minutes that had them in tears: Aragorn’s desperate charge on the Black Gate; Sam carrying Frodo up the mountain; Frodo broken by the Ring’s power; Sam crying for Rose as the mountain lava closed in; the eagle rescue; Aragorn bowing to the hobbits at his coronation; and finally, the sailing of the ships, and Frodo’s good-bye. El didn’t like that parting. She was distraught by Frodo’s pain and Sam’s anguish. She felt that stories deserved happier endings.
The boys tried explaining it to her back at the motel, but she didn’t understand, and couldn’t fathom why they loved something so much that made them cry. Other Mike had a delayed reaction to the ship sailing, and a rather startling one. As Mike Wheeler struggled to convey why the elves had to leave Middle-Earth, Other Mike reached over to Lucas, gave him a huge hug, and wouldn’t let go.
“Whoa.” Lucas was taken aback. “Other Mike. Are you okay?”
He said nothing and wouldn’t let go of Lucas.
“Uh, that’s awkward,” said Mike Wheeler.
Lucas pried Other Mike from him. “Hey, what’s up, man?”
Other Mike was crying. El realized how hard their company must be on him. In this world, they had all been killed by the demogorgon, and yet here they all were, except for Will. His new friends; the same and yet not.
“Sorry,” he said in a choked voice. “The movie got to me.”
But El thought the movie was a trigger for something else. Lucas was Mike Wheeler’s best friend. The other Lucas who got killed in this world had obviously been Other Mike’s best friend too.
“It’s okay, Mike,” said Mike Wheeler. “I was crying at the Grey Havens too. And remember, you’re part of our Fellowship now. You can come and live with us in our world, if you want.”
“I don’t know,” said Dustin. “Maybe we should move to this world. Our other parents need replacement kids. The technology here is incredible. If we go back, we’ll never see Lord of the Rings again.”
“One thing at a time,” said Lucas. “We’re still fugitives, remember? In both worlds. We need to kill Morgred tomorrow, and then get back and find Will.”
“El?” said Mike Wheeler. “You’re still sure about this?”
She could kill a Bad Man. She knew the pain and hurt they caused. “Yes.”
“Speaking of Morgred,” said Dustin, “Can we see that sketch of him again? We should probably look over the lab layouts too.”
Other Mike produced them from his pouch. “Morgred is supposed to arrive tomorrow, so I’ll get us there in the morning. I’ll be sick again, but for not as long.”
Mike Wheeler frowned. “I thought you said it was return trips to your world that caused the sickness.”
“Those are the worst. But travel within my own world does it too. I should be sick for about eight hours, instead of a whole day and a half.”
Lucas was puzzled. “You said the lab is abandoned now, because the demogorgon killed everyone. Why don’t we just ride over, and save you getting sick?”
“We’d never get in. It’s been locked down, and there may be government agents outside. The only way inside is to teleport. We’ll take a pillow and blankets from this room, so I can have something to rest on. We should also get some water bottles and snack foods from down the hall, since we’ll be inside the lab at least until I recover.”
El was looking at the map of the lab. The Gate wasn’t where she expected it to be. It was on the proper underground level, but in a different room. She couldn’t remember its exact location. She had escaped the lab right after opening the Gate, and parts of the building had blown apart in pure chaos. But she was sure the focal point had been far from the region marked on the map. She said this to Other Mike.
“There are always differences like that across parallel worlds,” he said. “Don’t worry, El, these layouts are accurate.”
“Yeah,” said Dustin. “Like Other Mike has his weird eyes. You know, they actually kind of look like your eyes, El.”
El thought that Other Mike looked irritated by that remark.
“I wish I could have seen my other self,” said Lucas.
“Me too, “said Dustin. “Was Other Dustin fatter than me, or thinner?”
“Shut up Dustin,” said Mike Wheeler. “That’s not appropriate. Your other self died.”
“Sorry,” said Dustin, looking at Other Mike. “Anyway, we should go to bed now. We’ve got our own Mount Doom ahead of us tomorrow.”
Next Chapter: Father Child
(Previous Chapter: Fellowship)