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 Seven:
One thing Mike Wheeler was sure of. There was more to Other Mike than met the eye.
He didn’t think he was a bad kid, by any means, far less a creature from the Upside Down; he had discarded that initial theory almost immediately. Other Mike had proven himself, and suffered for it with a vengeance. He was about to suffer again now. He emanated nothing but the best intentions, and after all, he was his own other self. It was true that parallel selves were sometimes so different as to be morally opposite — the Brigadier’s double on Doctor Who was a sadistic fascist — but Mike suspected those were rare exceptions. Other Mike Wheeler was too much like Mike Wheeler to be nefarious, and everything he had said seemed legit.
It’s what he didn’t say that was so troubling. He was wrenched by the loss of his friends, unable to grieve properly, and yet went on saving the world. Mike Wheeler could only aspire to be that strong, and he was frankly suspicious of those who were. The death of any one of his friends — Lucas, Dustin, Will, Eleven — would have shattered him into desolation and uselessness. He could not have sickened himself on a selfless quest so soon afterwards.
Then there were the schizo vibes. Other Mike was implausibly wise for his age, and yet emotionally fraught and hypersensitive. Mike had named him Gandalf, but the more he thought about it, his parallel self seemed to be a combination of Gandalf and the good half of Gollum. If there was a “Stinker” side to Other Mike, it would astound Mike Wheeler. But he was hiding something just the same, and whatever it was, it hurt — hurt so deeply that Mike seriously wondered if he welcomed illness as a masochistic means of purging his pain.
When they jumped to the lab, Mike experienced the same void of contradictions he had felt when they were whisked out of the junkyard. One moment didn’t lead to the next; time itself was a contradiction. In that instant or eternity, he floated inside himself like a spectator, inhabiting a frozen fireground unrelieved in all directions that were one. He was there for a split second; he was there for a billion years. Then he returned to the reality his flesh was made for, and he saw his friends appear around him.
“Christ,” said Dustin. “That In-Between is a trip.”
They emerged in a room the size of his home basement, and empty aside from a few cabinets nailed into the wall. A door with a glass window led to a hallway. Other Mike had said he was bringing them to a room on the third floor, far from the lower level, and hopefully from any chance of someone being close by. The room felt strangely warm for an abandoned building in the month of December. Had the lab been left heated when it was evacuated? Mike thought that seemed unlikely.
“It’s scary,” said Lucas. “You don’t breathe in the In-Between. It feels like you’re holding your breath for the rest of your life.”
Other Mike was already going into convulsions. Mike held him while Lucas and Dustin threw together a make-shift bed from the blankets and pillow.
“Try to be quiet, Mike,” said Mike Wheeler. “Like you said, we don’t know for sure how abandoned this place is.”
Being quiet would be difficult. Other Mike was going into an epileptic seizure.
“Shit!” said Lucas, and the boys restrained him as best they could. It took twenty minutes for the fit to pass. When it was over, Eleven held his hand. He moaned as fever raced through him.
“He’d better be right about the shorter duration,” said Dustin, already exhausted.
“Even ten hours is way too long,” said Mike Wheeler.
They had brought plenty of water bottles from the motel, which they had purchased from the soda machine, as well as some snack foods — not that Other Mike would be eating anything for a while. After checking out of the motel at 8:00 AM, they had retrieved their bikes from the motel storage. Prior to checkout, Dustin had managed to smuggle out the pillow and blankets to the storage without being noticed. Everything had translated with them: their bikes, Lucas’s backpack, and Other Mike’s pouch.
“We’ll do this just like we planned,” said Mike. “One person stays with him. Lucas, that should be you; he really likes you. Dustin and I will take El down to the Gate so she can kill this guy.”
“You want to do this right away?” asked Dustin.
“I want to get this over with,” said Mike. He looked at El. Like everyone else, she had dressed back into the clothes from their world. Other Mike had advised this since he would be taking them back to their world right after they finished. Mike didn’t see how it really mattered. “Ready, El?”
“Yes.” She seemed resolved to kill the Bad Man described by Other Mike.
He went over to Other Mike’s pouch and got out the folder, pulling out the maps of the lab, and looking again at the sketch of Charles Morgred.
“He looks like Charles Manson,” said Dustin.
“He’s going to look dead in a few minutes,” said Mike.
“Well,” said Dustin, “let’s do this.”
“And remember to walk quietly, you guys,” said Lucas.
“We don’t have your ranger abilities,” said Dustin.
The lab flooring would work in their favor. It was smooth and hard, and they all wore sneakers.
“And don’t yap,” said Lucas. “And don’t use any elevators.”
“We know, Lucas,” said Mike. “We’re not stupid.”
He left the room with Dustin and Eleven. From the third floor they needed to get to the underground on the opposite wing. They walked the long distance on the third level, and then came to a stairwell that according to the map led to the underground. They paused, listening, and then descended the stairwell as if it were a gullet into peril.
Mike sweated on the way down. He was finally going to see this Gate that had caused Hawkins so much pain. Back in his world there had been a funeral for Will. Everyone thought he had died. Mike had thought that too when he saw a kid’s body dragged from the quarry. He had lashed out at Eleven that night, and thought he hated her. But then she showed him that Will was alive. He had been in love with her ever since, but unable to tell his friends that. He had told Other Mike in the Blue Falcon. His other self understood; he had loved his own version of Eleven, and lost her. Mike hoped that their strike against Morgred would give him peace.
They came to the ground level and he hunched, fearing that Morgred had posted other men around the lab, ready to pounce. But nothing happened. They passed the ground level and kept going down. The bottom of the stairwell put them close to their destination. Other Mike’s map showed the Gate in a room behind a set of double doors. If those doors were locked or bolted, El would have to blast them open, and they would lose the element of surprise.
They had brought the flashlight from Lucas’s pack but didn’t need it. The underground hallway was lit, which indicated that someone was down here. Once the hall was behind them, they stopped at the corner. Mike peered around it before motioning Dustin and El to follow. The double doors were about a hundred feet down the hall. They drew close and stopped when they saw that one of them was propped open.
“Stay here,” Mike whispered softy. “I’m going to look inside.”
“Do it kneeling,” Dustin hissed. “Keep your head low as possible.”
Eleven grabbed his arm. “Be careful, Mike.”
He tried to look calm. “Yeah. Just be ready.”
Mike slipped down the hall, aligning himself with the closed door to conceal his approach. As he reached the door, he dropped to his knees, and peeked into the room. His eyes widened at what he saw.
The room was a giant cavern. It had been set up as a make-shift lab, and there was a man sitting at one of the tables with his back to Mike. There were devices hooked up on the table, with notes and paper scattered everywhere. The man was writing, and looking up occasionally at the devices. To the left was a cot with a sleeping bag draped over it. A few household items and food were set on a table next to the cot. The man was living out of this room.
Mike hardly noticed any of that. It was the far wall that sent fear through his bowels. There was no mistaking the Gate: huge, organic, and obscene. It echoed with faint murmurings from the Upside Down. Its snakelike tissues spread from the ceiling to the floor, and covered half of the wall. There was no toxic air; no sign of any floating particles that Other Mike had warned about. Apparently the Gate was contained enough at this point to prevent atmospheric spillage. But that wouldn’t stop willful creatures from coming through. How could anyone dare sleep in this place?
Mike looked at the man in the lab coat. With his back facing the door, it was unclear if he was Morgred. Mike stayed on his knees, willing the man to turn his head. Minutes passed. Mike cursed under his breath. Then, as he prepared to retreat in frustration, the man at the table stood up and walked to the table covered with household items, pouring himself coffee from a carafe. As he returned to the work table, Mike got a clear look at his face.
He looked nothing like the sketch in Other Mike’s folder.
The man sat down again, and Mike backed away from the doors, returning to El and Dustin.
“Is he there?” whispered Dustin.
Mike shook his head, and motioned for them to leave.
They hurriedly retraced their steps to the stairwell and up to the third floor, where they stopped in the hallway.
“There’s a guy in there,” said Mike. “Some scientist in a lab coat. But he looks nothing like the sketch. He’s older and nearly bald. His face is completely different.”
“Well, shit,” said Dustin.
“We can’t have El kill someone we’re not sure about,” said Mike.
El was all eyes. “Not… bad?” she asked.
“We don’t know, El,” said Mike.
“Maybe this guy works with Morgred, like a lab assistant,” said Dustin.
“Then where’s Morgred?”
“I don’t know.”
“He could be somewhere else in the lab,” said Mike.
Dustin was thinking about something. “Okay, listen. We need to find a room with windows to the outside.”
“What for?” asked Mike.
Dustin started walking down a smaller hall that left the main one. “Just look for any room that has windows. I want to see something.”
They found a lounge at the end of the small hallway, with windows overlooking the lab grounds. Dustin rushed over and looked out. “Shit,” he said. “Look guys.”
Mike and El looked out, and Mike wondered what Dustin’s problem was. Then he saw it. “There’s no snow anywhere,” he said. Which reminded him how warm it was.
“Exactly,” said Dustin. “And do you guys hear any power running?”
Mike shook his head; El gaped at him, not following.
“No,” said Dustin, “this building isn’t being heated. But it’s warm in here. Even though it was freezing when we got up this morning. It’s been cold and there’s been snow on the ground every day we’ve been in this alternate world. Which means –”
“We’re not in the same world anymore,” finished Mike. “We jumped universes again.”
“That’s right,” said Dustin. “We’re no longer in Other Mike’s world.”
“It makes no sense,” said Mike. “He said we were jumping within the same world. To stop Morgred.”
“Then Other Mike made a serious miscalculation when he jumped. Either that, or he’s playing us.”
“I think we’re being played in some game of his.”
“That’s crazy, Dustin.”
“I don’t know, Mike, there’s something off about that kid. I think there’s a lot he’s not telling us.”
“He just bungled the jump,” said Mike. “It makes perfect sense. It’s why Morgred isn’t down there. We got lost in the translation, and jumped to another world by mistake.”
Dustin was shaking his head. “Then why is he sick? He told us that his sickness is caused only by return trips to his world, or, to a smaller degree, movement within his world. If this is another world — which it sure as hell looks like — then according to him, he shouldn’t be sick at all. Just like ours: he didn’t get sick when he came to get us.”
Mike had no answer. “I don’t know. But he’s not bad. He wants to save people. He risks himself for it. He could be dying in the room with Lucas right now.”
“I’m not saying he’s a bad person,” said Dustin.
El spoke up. “Not bad.” She was upset by Dustin’s accusations.
“I’m not saying he is, El,” Dustin repeated.
“Let’s get back to Lucas,” said Mike. “Tell him what we saw down there.”
“Yeah,” said Dustin. “And what we saw outside.”
“He’s full of shit, Mike,” said Lucas.
“No he’s not!” said Mike.
“He is,” said Lucas, “and I think you’re willfully blind.”
He, Lucas, and Dustin were in a room across the hall from the one they had arrived in. El was tending to Other Mike. She had rushed over to him immediately when they got back, and insisted on caring for him. Dustin’s suspicions had made her angry, and she wanted no part of any conspiracy against Other Mike.
Nor did Mike Wheeler. “Lucas, this is how you treated Eleven,” said Mike. “You don’t trust people.”
“It’s not the same thing,” said Lucas. “I mistrusted El for the wrong reasons, and I admit that. I was jealous of you two. We have good reasons to wonder about Other Mike. Dustin is right: it doesn’t add up.”
“I like the kid too, Mike,” said Dustin. “But he needs to come clean. I don’t want to be part of a hit squad if I’m being duped.”
“I haven’t even told you guys what happened while you were gone,” said Lucas.
“What happened?” said Mike.
“Other Mike had a vomiting fit.”
“Yeah, he has those,” said Mike. “I cleaned up after two of them in the motel.”
“After he finished throwing up, he said something to me.”
Lucas paused, shaking his head.
“He said, ‘Don’t leave me, Uncle Luc.'”
Mike and Dustin looked at him as if he had two heads.
“He called me ‘Uncle Luc’,” said Lucas.
“That’s mental,” said Dustin.
“That’s a fever of a hundred and five,” retorted Mike. “He’s delirious, Lucas.”
“I don’t know, Mike,” said Lucas. “That’s a pretty specific kind of weirdness.”
“Yeah,” said Dustin, “and he did hug you last night, after Return of the King.”
“Are you both retarded? You’re his best friend, Lucas. My best friend. His version of you was killed. And you think getting a hug and being called ‘uncle’ when he’s out of his mind means he can’t be trusted?”
“Maybe it’s nothing,” said Lucas. “I’m just trying to put every piece of weirdness together, and it only gets messier. You and Dustin say the guy downstairs doesn’t fit the sketch. The weather proves that we’ve hopped across worlds again. Other Mike says he’s been to a lot of alternate worlds. Maybe in one of these worlds, Lucas Sinclair is Mike Wheeler’s uncle. Which sounds ridiculous.”
“When his sickness passes,” said Dustin, “he’ll have to answer our questions.”
“Lots of them,” said Lucas.
Mike suddenly wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answers.
They took turns napping throughout the day. While at least one of them nursed Other Mike, another kept watch down the hall. Mike doubted the man downstairs would have any reason to come up to the third level, but he took no chances. He kept himself, Lucas, and Dustin on a rotation guard duty.
At one point Other Mike’s color went so bad that Mike feared he really was dying. Dustin thought he looked green; Lucas said grey. Mike saw both colors. They debated his hue, and Other Mike begged for death. They hated seeing him like this. Eleven laid down on the make-shift bed with him and held him, sponging his face, giving him sips of water when he could swallow.
Finally his sickness passed in the evening. It had lasted ten hours, as he predicted. He was starving, and they fed him food and snacks they had brought from the motel. After that, Eleven took over watch duty in the hall, as the boys confronted him with their questions. She wanted no part of the interrogation, and it was just as well. His reaction shouted guilt: he was defensive, cagey, and entirely unconvincing in his responses.
“Just tell us,” said Mike Wheeler. “Are we in another parallel universe? Different from yours and ours?”
Mike Hopper nodded miserably.
“Shit,” said Dustin.
“Why did you lie to us?” asked Lucas.
“I’m sorry,” said Other Mike. “But Morgred needs to be stopped. This world needs saving. I was a stranger to you all, and I had to convince you. I thought if you knew this mission wasn’t for the benefit of my world, you might not agree to help.”
“So all that business of our other selves dying in your world was bullshit?” asked Lucas.
“No, that’s the truth. The demogorgon killed you all, except me, when we broke into the lab to rescue Will. But there’s nothing more to be done in my world. There’s no mad scientist trying to create Pockets there, like there is in this world.”
“Then why didn’t you bring us from our world to this one right away?” asked Dustin.
“Because… I wanted to spend time with you guys. I had just lost my friends. And I don’t know if there’s a Blue Falcon motel in this world, with a manager who bends rules for kids.”
Maybe, thought Mike. But that left other questions unanswered.
“Here’s another thing I don’t get,” said Dustin. “You keep saying you can get us back to our world with no time lost.”
“I can,” said Other Mike. “I’d never put Will at risk.”
“But if worlds run in parallel, how do you do that?” asked Dustin. “Are you saying you can travel to other worlds at any point in time in those worlds?”
“And if that’s the case,” said Lucas, “why did we have to wait three days to come to this world?”
Other Mike looked uncomfortable. “When… I travel to another world, my body remembers the entry point, and I can later travel back to that same entry point and time, or to the parallel time. But… I can’t just select any point in time. And I can never go to a future point. That’s why we had to wait the three days to come here.”
Mike thought he fumbled too much through that answer. And it left something else unexplained. “Then why did you get sick coming here?” he asked. “You’re not supposed to get sick at all when you go to other worlds. You were fine when you came to ours.”
“I… I don’t know exactly. Every world affects me differently. Some make me sick, and others don’t.”
“That’s bullshit,” said Lucas. “You knew it would be ten hours. On the nose.”
“I’ve… been to this world before.”
He was still lying. Lucas was right. Whatever Other Mike was hiding, he was going through extremely convoluted lengths to do so. Why would he risk himself for another universe after losing all the friends in his own? His fits of illness were life-threatening. Mike couldn’t make sense of it.
Frustrated and angry, he pulled out the sketch of Morgred — or whatever the hell the drawing was. “Where exactly did you get this sketch?” he demanded.
He could tell that Other Mike was hurt by his tone. “It’s from a reliable source.”
“That’s not good enough!” said Mike.
“Why should we trust you,” said Lucas, “if you won’t come clean with us? Friends don’t lie, Mike. It’s cardinal law with us.”
Other Mike stared at the floor.
“Jesus!” said Lucas, throwing up his hands. “Here’s another question. When you were sick, you called me ‘Uncle Luc’.”
Other Mike looked up at Lucas, clearly startled.
That’s a guilty reaction if I ever saw one. Mike suddenly questioned everything about his other self. Even allowing for the infinite variations across parallel worlds, Mike couldn’t fathom a scenario in which Lucas Sinclair was his own uncle.
“Any reason why you would call me that?” asked Lucas.
“No… I was sick… I don’t why I said that.”
“You’re full of shit,” said Lucas.
“Okay,” said Dustin. “Time out guys. Let’s try to keep this friendly.” He took the sketch from Mike Wheeler. “If this is from a reliable source, as you say, then where is this guy? He’s not the man downstairs tampering with the Gate.”
“I don’t know,” said Other Mike. He looked genuinely troubled by this fact.
“Well,” said Dustin. “Then what do you think we should do?”
“We need to go down there and talk to him,” said Other Mike. “Get him to talk. Ask him if he knows Charles Morgred. And be sure that El is prepared to kill him at a moment’s notice, if he’s working with Morgred.”
“What if we decide not to help you?” asked Dustin. “Will you take us back to our world?”
“If you won’t help me,” said Other Mike, “I’ll have to deal with this by myself. Then I’ll take you back. But I really need El.”
“Then you’re on your own,” said Lucas. “Without any of us. Especially El.”
“No.” The voice came from the doorway.
The boys turned their heads. It was Eleven, and she was furious. She had probably been listening there for a while. They watched her as she walked over to Other Mike, put her hand on his shoulder, signaling that he had her support.
“Oh boy,” said Dustin.
“Jesus,” said Lucas. “You shouldn’t protect him like this, El. He’s not your boyfriend.” He looked at Mike, expecting the real boyfriend to take action.
Mike hated this. “El, I don’t like this any more than you. But we really have no idea what we’re involved with here.”
Eleven didn’t budge. “I’m helping him,” she said.
Mike swore, realizing they had little choice but to see this through. He made a decision, and told them all to get ready. Lucas loudly objected, and Mike shot him down. He had made his decision, and that was the end of it.
“And who made you our dictator?” asked Lucas.
“I did,” snapped Mike. “So deal with it. He’s my other self, not yours. We’re doing this thing.”
“Okay, boss,” said Dustin. “How are we doing this thing?”
Mike Wheeler considered. And then he told them exactly how they were going to proceed.
Next Chapter: Time Fire
(Previous Chapter: Mother Child)