Stranger Things: World’s End (Chapter 9)

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 Nine

                                        The Hag

Jane sat up in bed. Old fears and guilts threatened to rebury her, but she defied them. She cried Mike’s name, and clung to his memory like a talisman.

I need you to save the world.

She didn’t feel like a savior. It was all she could do to save herself.

Sanity had bridged the link forged by her son; her madness had been rooted out by his fire; she had been healed by the vitality of her past self. But the things which had made her deranged were already back, beating on the doors. With mountains of will she denied them entry. She would not be pulled back into the hell Mike had lifted her from. He was gone now, forever. Whatever it took, she would prove worthy of that redemption.

She tried to blink away tears, as memories filled a gap she hadn’t known existed. How could she have forgotten those days spent with her two Mikes? She had danced with one of them and nursed the other. How could memories of Middle-Earth be suppressed? She and the boys had become a fellowship; they had named her Galadriel. The showdown at the lab should, by rights, have scarred her for life. There had been a bullet with her name on it, and her son took it; died for it. He was dying right now in the past. She croaked his name again, for the tenth or twentieth time.

Stop your bleating.

Scorn was her only self-discipline. She wanted nothing more than to lie down and weep for eternity. But grief would have to come later. Mike’s final instructions — given to her moments ago, six years ago, or fifty-four years ago, depending on how you looked at it — propelled her into action. She swung her legs off the bed and readied herself for her friends. They wouldn’t hear this easily.

Moving to the door, she glanced in the wall mirror, and the sight of her face stopped her. It was a raw, wounded visage, a barely recognizable stranger. She had become a wasted hag; a traitor to her best dreams.

Swallowing bile, she marched to the door and pounded on it. When her caretakers arrived, she asked them to please find William Byers, Tobias Powell, and Dustin Henderson and then bring them to her. Surprised by her coherency and politeness, they told her to wait, and locked the door again. Fifteen minutes later, footsteps pounded down the hall, and the door banged open. Will and Dustin flew into the room, wild-eyed.

“Do you know if he’s okay, El?” asked Dustin frantically. “Did we succeed?”

By “we”, she knew he meant their younger selves from 1983.

“He’s gone,” said Jane. It was all she could do to keep her composure.

Will couldn’t. He fell to his knees crying.

Dustin looked ready to kill someone. “Dead?”

She nodded.

“The Pockets are still out there,” said Dustin. “So I’m guessing that none of us got to avenge Mike and kill that son of a bitch.”

“It wasn’t Morgred,” said Jane. “It was another man.” Sort of.

“It’s my fault,” cried Will.

“No, Will,” said Jane.

“How do you know what happened, El?” asked Dustin. “We could always remember up to the point he was supposed to take us from the junkyard.” By “we”, he meant Mike Wheeler, Lucas, himself, and her. Since that day in 1983, the four of them had lived with strange alternating memories of the van chase — sometimes there was a second Mike with them, and sometimes not. “But none of us could remember anything after that. Including you.”

“Listen to me,” she said. She had no idea how her son had retroactively affected their memories of the van chase and junkyard discussion in such a bizarre way. All she knew was that for her, he had unlocked the hidden memories which had followed those events; the memories they had forgotten when he returned them to the junkyard. “I’m going to tell you everything. Get up, Will. Both of you sit on the bed. This will take a while. Where’s Tobias?”

“He stayed for two days,” said Will. “Then he had to go back to New York.”

“Steve went back to the Colony on the same day,” said Dustin. “We had all given up by then. We thought the mission would take a day at the most, and probably less. But Will refused to leave, and I stayed with him.”

“What day is this?” asked Jane.

“The sixth,” said Will. “Mike left on Monday morning, and now it’s Saturday noon.” Jane thought Will probably would have stuck around the lab for sixty days waiting for Mike’s return.

“Yes,” said Jane. They had spent five and a half days in Mike’s past and their future. “Now listen, please, without interrupting. I’m going to tell you everything that happened. Will, you were in the Upside Down for all of this. Dustin, you lived through it, but you’ll never remember. Whenever Mike traveled with people, and then returned them to their present, they forgot everything about the trip. That’s what happened to us.” But now I remember. His fire showed me.

They listened as she told everything. For Will’s benefit, she clarified the van chase — their “sometimes memories” of two Mike Wheelers — which they had long ago written off as a hallucination from the Upside Down. The rest of her story was fresh drama: the surreal wish fulfillment of a desperate and lonely kid. A kid who wanted to taste friendship and magic in a world worth living in. Who had known the torture awaiting him at home, and paid for it in advance. And who had died causing the devastation he had tried to prevent.

By the time she was finished, all three of them were crying. Will renewed his self-blame; he should never have agreed to Tobias’s idea.

“No, Will,” said Jane. “You did right. So did Tobias. Mike wanted you both to know that. He found peace in the past. His last days were the happiest he knew since his first life. He met most of us, and became our friends. And he reached me. I’m better now.” He healed me. My son healed me from across time. And apparently in both timelines: the original one he came from and this new one he created by traveling into the past. Somehow in his infinite state, he had bridged the two timelines, so that his mother would suffer no more in either — and could save the world in both. A byproduct of this merging was the confusion of memory; alternating recollections of events that happened differently in the timelines. He had done things science had no room for. She would rather he be alive; she would rather he be okay than her sanity. But she would not cheapen his sacrifice by diminishing his miracle.

“El, you have no idea how glad I am that you’re well again,” said Dustin. “Really. But Mike was trying to save the country. From an Upside Down holocaust. He caused that holocaust, and the world still needs saving.”

“Just what is it you think that I do?” said Jane.

Dustin looked at her guardedly. “Do you mean what I think you mean?” She could tell he was doubtful, and Will too. She was emaciated and infirm. Healed, yes, but far from fully recovered.

“You know exactly what I mean.” She let it sink in. “I’m due for my medication in three hours. You’re not going to let them give it to me.”

Their eyes flickered with hope.

I’m ready, Mike.

“Instead you’re going to get Dr. Reardon,” she said. “And then all of you are going to show me this fucking Gate.”

To do what must be done.

Will and Dustin looked at each other, then back at her in awe.

“Yes, El,” they said in unison.

 

Calamity crouched in the cavern where her son died. Six years ago, technically, but for her it was fifty-four; she had been a child out of time. And yet it also felt like only hours ago when she relived the past. Whatever the timetable, Lassiter had shot her son, and she had squeezed his brains with more force than her constitution could carry. The room knew violence, and it was about to know a lot more.

For all her resolve, Jane felt small and lost, that she had no right to be here. She was raw with fear and self-coercion, and had been useless for far too long. Only the thought of Mike kept her facing down the obscenity in front of her. Her skin crawled at the sight of it. The Gate had sacs, four of them, which ballooned and deflated like human lungs — moaning on the inhale, hissing as they teleported their offspring, the Pockets, out into the world. Mike had created this thrice damned thing trying to stop it: the source of the shadow wasteland.

And there was more: something on the other side of the Gate, lurking in wrath. The Upside Down was prepared to defend itself.

She had taken no chances and told Dr. Reardon to vacate the lab. She didn’t want any of his people in the building, let alone this room, when she began her assault. Will and Dustin were outside too, and none too happy about it. Too bad. Her orders were non-negotiable. No one would die for her, today or ever again.

The shadow behind the Gate shifted, and Jane’s bowels turned to water as a tentacled mass pushed through. It was an aboleth: a small one, but still twenty feet long. It yowled and flailed its gross appendages, intent on tearing her apart. The Gate stayed open following its passage, and the air went dark with gleaming motes. Jane leveled her arm and began concentrating. Her power had been squandered for years on bed trays, orderlies, and profane nightmares; she was ready to atone for that waste.

It came slowly, as if it had forgotten its purpose. She deflected the creature’s swipes, but only barely. The aboleth lashed out again. Then the spores took action in a way that Jane had never seen. They swirled like a fermenting galaxy around her head, breaking her concentration and will. Her outpouring faltered. Telekinetic pulses bubbled through her, but the aboleth wasn’t impressed. She was choking, just as she had choked in the showdown of 1984, unable to find the key that would unlock her paralysis. Her father had been with her then. Flanking her like a guardian angel, Jim Hopper had gunned down demo-dogs on all sides as she confronted both the Shadow Monster and the first Gate. Had that really been fifty-three years ago? She’d been a kid. Now she was a hag. She still wanted her father at her side.

The motes whirled faster. The Gate’s tendrils rippled and hissed, and its sacs ballooned as if gloating. Then the aboleth trumpeted, and with horror Jane saw more shadows marshaling behind the Gate. It looked like a full fledged army: demo-dogs, demogorgons, and shriekers. The shadow had sensed her threat, and responded with an act of war. In moments, the fate of the world would be writ on her failure.

Help me, Kali. Her muscles trembled as she willed her lab sister to speak from the grave.

The shade of Kali seemed to fill her mind. Use your anger, Jane. It was her old lesson by the train car. Your real anger.

I am angry.

Not enough. Think of your son. And all the years you lost, hiding, instead of being there for him.

Jane felt hit in the stomach. Hiding? How dare Kali say that! It wasn’t really Kali of course — the shade was a figment onto which Jane was projecting her unresolved guilt — but it may as well have been. Jane’s rage escalated.

You lay in bed like a sow. Kali poured out accusations. Wallowing in despair. Screaming like a hag. You set up your son to fail.

Shut your shitty mouth! Jane could have torn her lab sister to pieces.

You retreated in denial from the world. You failed Mike Wheeler, failed your son, and ruined them both.

Jane’s scream was so ear-splitting it goosed the aboleth. The creature slid back wetly, raised its limbs in a protective arc — and let out a war cry taken up by the horde. Ire roared in Jane’s veins. She raised her arms forward, daring the vile creatures to come through. Each was an incarnation of Kali, to be pulverized into rancid mud.

Mom. It was Mike’s face now; Kali was gone. Focus on the Gate. I need you to save the world. Please.

Through her broiling rage, she saw the trap. If she used up her strength on the shadow army, she would be too spent to take on the Gate. Mike had healed her mind, but she was weeks away from solid health; maybe even months. But she had no choice. At that moment the army came through.

Throwing caution to craziness, Jane accepted a new danger. She went on the defensive, shielding herself with a wall of force from the demo-dogs that leaped on her, allowing the full horde to rush through the gap. Then she spread her arms like a crucifixion, and summoned a shock wave from hell.

An earthquake ripped through the lab, splitting it asunder. Bestial shrieks tore the air. Jane barely remained standing as power shot from every pore of her skin, shaking the ground and striving to claim the sky. She watched, both horrified and thrilled, as the building started to collapse. If any of Reardon’s people were still inside, they would be dead in seconds; punched to pulp by rock and ruin. Is this angry enough for you, bitch? But Kali was long gone. Jane was alone in her mind craving murder, and she would become her own collateral.

She howled like a madwoman as the Hawkins Lab caved in on her. Without thinking, she deflected the cascade of wreckage that would have flattened her to jelly. Collisions battered her bones as pillars over ten and twenty feet tall shattered against the shield of her telekinetic waves and rebounded in belts of rubble. Her arms felt like a miner’s after splitting stone. She shrugged off the pain; denied her exhaustion; cursed her lab sister with vulgarities she had never used. There was nothing that could touch her. Nothing at all.

The creatures of the Upside Down were pounded to death: thirty-two demo-dogs and three demogorgons smashed and broken under tons of weight. The aboleth too; its size counted for nothing against the crushing barrage. The four shriekers had burst; noxious pus flowed from their corpses. Jane gagged at the sudden stench of it, and then threw it off, breathing arrogantly. Nothing could touch her. She welcomed anything to try.

She was sealed underground, buried in the collapse. She didn’t care. Her wall of force had kept a ten-foot radius clean of stone and rubble, including the area around the Gate. It moaned through its cycles of contractions, unaffected by the carnage. She couldn’t afford to pause. The shock wave had drained her, but she had to close the doorway before more vileness came through. Ignoring her headache and gushing nose, she aimed herself at the Gate — and was slapped to the floor before she could muster any more power.

Enraged, she tried getting up, but it felt like a giant hand was pressing her into the ground. She realized the Gate was sentient. Mike’s power had invested it with reproductive ability, but also an intelligence that was self-preserving. It could draw on defensive measures. Bring it on. Whatever you have, I have more. Countering the portal’s might with her own, she pushed back and braced herself on her knees.

The Gate replied with an invisible kick to the side of her head, and she fell face down, almost losing consciousness. Blood ran from her left ear. This back-and-forth would kill her. Through bloodshot eyes she saw the Gate’s tendrils slither and sensed another strike coming. She had to finish this. The motes spun in mockery. Grunting, she looked up from her position on the floor and gave full rein to hatred and abhorrence.

She had never assembled so much hate; never known she had this much to feed on. She recalled her reflection in the mirror and accepted the rotten image on her own terms. Screaming like a hag, Kali had said, taunting her. Her lab sister didn’t know the half of it. Jane was a hag all right. She was Hag Hopper — and the Upside Down would fear her as such.

Particles circled her head but she ignored them. From her prone position on the floor, she reached out and hurled oblivion. The portal groaned like a walrus; she yelled back at it. The Gate roared back; she bellowed twice as loud. The interstice of the portal shook; she did not. Entombed in darkness and ruin, Jane the Hag faced down the door that was killing the world. Her first beam of power exploded one of the sacs, and the Gate puked out a yellow liquid. Jane took out a second sac. It spat another glob and moaned sickly, as if drowning in phlegm. Then she sat up on her ass and extended both arms. The other pair of sacs burst under twin beams of fury. Amber viscosity drenched the floor. With a final effort, she twisted in her force, using all she had. Today you die, cow. And die it did: the dimensional passage closed with an ethereal thud, rocking the cavern and indeed the world. Nothing of its signature remained. It may as well have never been there.

Jane crumpled on the floor, too abused to feel victorious. Her head felt like an anvil; her bones were a blaze of hurt. She bled from her nose and bled from her ear. She wanted Mike; needed out of this tomb. Turning over on her back, she surveyed the ceiling. Mike was gone. A pencil-thin ray of sunlight peeked through her prison. Using just enough power, she opened a rescue tunnel and shouted for help. Blades scraped her throat as she coughed up dust, bile, and foul air. Bitch. She couldn’t stop hating Kali, and it had to stop. When she heard the voices above — one of them was Dustin’s — she closed her eyes and let herself go.

But the hate followed, and in the darkness she gave herself to, Jane cried for her son and ripped everyone else to pieces.

 

They found her like that, bloody and battered, surely not alive. Yet she was, and mostly intact. Only her right arm was fractured. She would need care and bed rest, but Jane the Hag wasn’t dying any time soon.

The world’s victory was an invisible one. The shadow stopped expanding; the Midwest and South stayed a death zone. Millions of creatures prowled with few people to fight them. The Colonies would need walls for a long time. Jane worked miracles, but she couldn’t purge twenty states of what was already there. She was the Hag, not the Huntress; and she had fought her last against the shadow. It was for others to unmake the wasteland.

Her triumph had been different in 1984, when by closing the first Gate she had killed everything stranded in Hawkins. The demo-dogs were ruled by a hive mind back then, and their lives depended on the telepathic link to their master. Thanks to Jane, supremacist entities like the Shadow Monster and the Illithid were now extinct. She had slain them, and the Upside Down’s inhabitants had evolved autonomously. Praise be to Jane, they no longer needed a leash to their home world to survive in another. Whenever Jane won, she lost: three steps forward, thirty backward.

Mark Reardon didn’t count the backward steps. Not even the destruction of his own research. His ward had done what he hoped she could do, and what his team of scientists had vainly sought as alternative measures. She had vanquished a two-headed dragon: the Gate which produced the Pockets, and the lab which sourced the Gates. It was good that the lab was gone. In a display of deferential gratitude Reardon left the Colony a priceless gift: one of the lab’s e-pods. He and his team left for New York.

In the Colony Jane was worshiped. The Council appointed her Co-Chair with Will Byers, and they presided jointly over a community of renewed purpose. She was the Hag: loved and feared, an instant legend. Her moniker had been forged in the fires of the underground battle, and spread by the Council members who attended her recovery. All five had been present in the Colony’s hospice: William Byers, Dustin Henderson, Steve Harrington, Betty Hews, and Ruth Strohmeyer. This was two days after she had been pulled from the lab’s rubble.

“Don’t sit up, El,” Will had said. “If it’s too early to talk, we can come back.”

“I can talk,” said Jane from her pillows. Her body still felt like a truck had rolled over it.

The Council members sang her praises and told her the world was indebted to her. Jane had no use for platitudes and said so, drawing an awkward silence.

Dustin finally broke it. “That earthquake, El. Did the Gate do that, or was it something else from the Upside Down?”

“Neither. It was me.” They gaped at her. “I was about to be jumped on by an army of every shadow creature I’ve ever seen. It was the only way I could think of killing them all at once.”

“Are you fucking serious?” asked Steve.

“You… deliberately brought down the lab on yourself?” asked Ruth.

Dustin laughed. “I don’t know why anything you do surprises me, El. What’s your encore? A tsunami from Lake Michigan?”

“I was desperate,” she lied. The truth was that she had been reckless and wholly unafraid. Nothing could have stopped her from exceeding her limits.

“How did you close the Gate?” asked Will.

As she did before. By bleeding and breaking inside. “I showed it the Hag,” she said.

“The hag?” asked Betty.

It was who she was now. Eleven was overdue for retirement; a lab rat and prisoner. Mike had liberated her — from madness, guilt, and a longstanding sense of inadequacy. The Hag would never flinch from self-scrutiny; she would devour her own fears and shit out the remainder.

“El,” said Will when she didn’t answer Betty. “Did you just call yourself a hag?”

“The Hag,” she corrected him.

They didn’t know what to say, and Will looked concerned. “El, you’re not a hag,” he said. “That’s not what I see when I look at you.”

“Then open your fucking eyes, Will.” She laughed maniacally then, sounding like a hag caricature. Then her laughter became something more sad, and she cried as she laughed, everything finally catching up. Will and Dustin reached over the bed and hugged her.

Jane Hopper was thus immortalized. The Council decided it loved the Hag and voted her in as a sixth seat. She presided with Will as Co-Chair, but in practice she became a goddess; the patron deity of Hawkins. She resented that but was powerless to stop it. The Colonists glorified her. They reclaimed the word “hag” following her lead. It wasn’t theirs to reclaim — they weren’t “hags” any more than men were “bitches” and white people “niggers” — but they did so anyway, and on this point actually with Jane’s blessing. She hated being a divine celebrity. If people insisted on worshiping her, they could bloody well do it honestly.

 

Next Chapter: Death and All Her Friends

(Previous Chapter: Time Fire)

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