Stranger Things: World’s End (Chapter 10)

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 Ten

                       Death and all Her Friends

It was Christmas morning and a divine snowfall. Wet flakes the size of moth balls tumbled through still air and silence. Jane watched it through the window over her bed, and remembered a time when holidays were special. Her best Christmas of all, in a future now past. Here in the Colony the day was like most others, though with less work and larger suppers.

She rolled away from the window and slipped her arms around Will. He was snoring. “Merry Christmas,” she whispered in his ear. His grunting continued. He wouldn’t wake for another hour at least. She got up to make tea.

They had been living together since she saved the world, and sleeping together for almost as long. It had felt like a million sins at first. Since Mike Wheeler’s suicide forty-four years earlier, Jane hadn’t been with a single man. Not out of rigid loyalty. She simply couldn’t conceive herself in intimate terms apart from Mike, and she never wanted Mike Junior to have a stepfather. Her son’s death had changed that. Mike-less for the first time since Mike Senior’s return from the grave, she needed to be made whole again, and wholeness could only come from Will Byers. His needs were just as severe. He didn’t move around well, nor could he remain stationary without bodily rebellion: his piles objected when he sat; his joints dissented when he stood. His heart was still weak, and his kidneys were a problem too. He needed frequent naps. When Jane held him, that went a long way toward the same relief.

His needs hardly included sex anyway. They had made love three times since July, and she doubted there would be a fourth. Since his college years, William Byers hadn’t slept with a single woman. Not because he was gay (he hadn’t slept with men either); he was asexual. Stale relationships had driven home the truth: sexual intimacy couldn’t interest him. He beat off when he had the rare urge and was content to be single. But without Mike Junior he wasn’t good at taking care of himself. He missed his nephew terribly and had loved him more than he realized. It was inevitable that he would ask his mother to fill the void. She would have volunteered anyway.

In short, Mike Hopper’s death had guaranteed the union of his mother and Will Byers.

She put on her slippers and robe, shaking off the chill. Not a biting chill; it was a pleasant and natural cold, unlike the arctic assaults of winters past. The Pockets were gone, and weather patterns had stabilized.

“When’s Dustin coming over?”

She looked back, surprised to see him awake. His color wasn’t so good. She straightened the blanket over him, covering his feet. “He and Kira will be here for lunch and stay through dinner.”

He mumbled something inaudible. His eyes were already shut again.

She leaned over and kissed his cheek.

 

Later that morning, there was a knock on the door. She was making Will’s breakfast, and eating most of it out of the frying pan. He usually consumed a fraction of what he asked for. Greasy bacon scalded her tongue, and she swore a vile obscenity. The knock came again.

“Coming!” she yelled crossly. She rinsed her hands in the water pail and cursed again. Some of these Colonists couldn’t take a shit without supervision. She opened the door, and was shocked to see a crowd: many of her neighbors, and Donuil, the Colony’s craftsman.

“Merry Christmas, Jane,” they all said, with reverence she had never gotten used to. They looked picturesque in the snowfall, like carolers ready to sing. If they tried that, she would cut them off at the shins. She couldn’t abide well-wishers, and was in no mood for hollow cheer.

“Same to you,” she said, trying to feel charitable.

“We’re sorry to bother you,” said Donuil. “We just want to give you and Will a present.” He extended his hands.

She was about to protest, and then gasped at what Donuil held forth. It was a bust of her and Will, and it staggered her. The likenesses were extraordinary. Speechless, she took it in her hands. Will looked every bit the scholar, sitting the Council Chair, and she the Hag, standing beside him, with her hand on his shoulder. She was fierce and wild looking, but stately and grand. It was stunning to see herself, an emaciated crone, rendered so impossibly dignified.

“This is incredible,” said Jane, finally looking up. Donuil was a celebrated artisan but he had clearly outdone himself. “Thank you, Donuil. Thank you so much. Thank you all for coming.”

They saw how moved she was and were glad.

“Will we see you and Will at the Hall tonight?” her neighbor Barbara asked. There would be a communal supper there, even some dancing.

“Probably not. Will’s still laid up.”

“Well, happy holiday, Jane.” Everyone echoed Barbara.

“Thanks again. All of you.” Their gift had humbled her beyond expression.

 

The following September, Will died. His organs had finally shut down. Jane woke on that morning of the fourteenth to hug a stiffening corpse, and she stayed in bed holding it for a long time. Then she sent a neighbor to fetch Dustin, who arranged to have Will’s body moved to the burial ground. Dustin stayed with her all day. It was a bad one for her. People she loved kept dying.

That evening she sat in her living room holding the bust Donuil had made for her, marveling afresh at the depiction of Will. A classical sculptor couldn’t have done better. This was Will the Wise, preserved for posterity with detail more compelling than in any photograph.

Will, sweetheart. You should have lived longer.

There was certainly no natural reason Will Byers shouldn’t have lived eighty or even ninety years. His mother had died at eighty-five, and his senior brother was still somewhere in Europe. His genes had been top-notch; his vices non-existent; his diet healthy; his body lean and thin; his mental outlook positive. But there were the Upside Down traumas from childhood. The Demogorgon had planted a seed inside him, the Shadow Monster had been inside him, and each had left its mark. Of this Jane had no doubt: it was the shadow world that had taken Will to an early grave. It had destroyed Mike Wheeler through torture, ripped Lucas Sinclair to pieces, and shut down Will Byers through disease.

The day after the funeral — a solemn affair that venerated Will as a near saint — she went through his desk and took out the special accounting book he had once shown her. It was a ledger, but Will hadn’t used it for financial purposes. It was his private record of the twelve-member Hawkins Club, written in pencil. There were currently six names on the first page listing the deceased, and six on the second showing those who were either alive or unknown. On the first page, Jane added Will’s information to the bottom:

The Hawkins Club, Deceased

Name Year of Death
Age at Death Place of Death Cause of Death
Michael Wheeler January, 1987;       July, 1993 15 years; 22 years Hawkins, Indiana; Portland, Oregon Illithid Attack; Suicide
Jim Hopper April, 2007 66 years Newberg, Oregon Lung Cancer
Joyce Byers December, 2026 85 years Hawkins, Indiana Stroke
Max Mayfield July, 2027 56 years Sunnyvale, California Nuclear Bombing
Lucas Sinclair August, 2035 64 years Hawkins Colony, Indiana Demogorgon Attack
Michael Hopper May, 2037 (September, 2031) 12 years (43) Hawkins Lab, Indiana Gunshot
William Byers September, 2038 67 years Hawkins Colony, Indiana Multiple Organ Failure

It struck Jane that both of her Mikes had lived three lives: a normal one followed by a hideous one, and then a third life only moderately better than the second. Mike Wheeler had been killed at the age of fifteen and a half, and then resurrected to relish slavery and torture in the Upside Down. He was “liberated” from this hell at the age of nineteen by his girlfriend, only to fall on the slow road to suicide. Her son’s story seemed analogous: he too was effectively “killed” at the age of fifteen and a half, when his body started reverse-aging down to infancy; hitting his zero birthday, he rebounded into a third life, aging forward again until he died saving her. Mike Wheeler had been resurrected, broken, and left to recover from the impossible. Their son had been retracted, diminished, and then shoved back onto the highway of life to repeat its trials. Small wonder she had gone insane. She hadn’t deserved to outlive them.

On the next page, she erased Will’s information, and stared at the remaining five names.

The Hawkins Club, Alive or Unknown

Name Year of Birth Location
Steve Harrington 1967 Hawkins Colony, Indiana
Jonathan Byers (?) 1967 Germany (?)
Nancy Wheeler-Perry (?) 1968 Springfield Colony, Virginia (?)
Dustin Henderson 1971 Hawkins Colony, Indiana
Jane Hopper 1971 Hawkins Colony, Indiana

She wondered about Nancy and Jonathan. They had long fallen out of contact with Hawkins, and if Nancy were still alive, she could only have been miserable. Virginia was a double wasteland. The nukes had annihilated it, and then the shadow had turned it Upside Down. As for Jonathan, his fate in Europe was a mystery.

Her eyes watered and she had to close the ledger. Seeing the roll call brought home how fleeting friendship was. Life was over before you knew it, and the precious years faded behind the mists. She wanted nothing more at that moment than to go back to the room at The Blue Falcon and eat breakfast with her friends; to hear the boys yell about blueberry syrup and The Lord of the Rings; to dance with both of her Mikes in the barroom of The Glass Steeple. She would have traded her soul for her son’s time-travel ability, so she could go back decades and carve out a niche for herself in a gilded past. How would she go on from here?

“El?”

She turned and saw Dustin standing in the doorway. She set the ledger on the desk. “Dustin. Hi.” She was expecting this visit, for missing the morning Council meeting.

“Are you okay?”

She forced a laugh. “What does that even mean?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Every day is bad.”

“Do you want to be alone?”

“No. I want to ask you something.”

“Oh.” He got nervous. “Please don’t ask me to marry you or live with you.”

She blinked. “I won’t ask you to marry me or live with me.”

“Well, shit. That was stupid of me. I didn’t mean to assume, or presume. I just meant that I could never be good enough for you. Like Mike and Will.”

“I can’t lead the Colony, Dustin.”

He looked alarmed now. “Are you serious? You are the leader now. We need the Hag.”

“No.” She couldn’t take the hero worship anymore. “I want you to fill the Chair.”

“Oh, I’ll fill it, for a couple of weeks. That’s what I was coming to say. You need bereavement time. But you’re not resigning. It’ll kill morale if you step down.”

“They’ll get over it.”

“El.” He looked at her plaintively. “There’s no getting over the Hag. No is the answer. You’re not quitting.”

“I’m sorry, Dustin, but I am. You could run the Council in your sleep. You’ll be fine.”

“What will you do?”

“Nothing. I just want to live in this house alone.” Every Colony member was supposed to contribute in some way, but she knew she wouldn’t have to. She was the Hag; the Colony’s deity and the world’s savior. She had paid her debts in full under the lab. But thinking of Donuil’s bust, and Will’s ledger, there was actually something she wanted, needed, to do. Something that would keep her busy for a while.

“Well… no one’s going to tell you what to do. You’re the Hag.”

“I’ll announce my resignation at the next meeting.”

“Your mind’s made up?” asked Dustin.

“Yes.”

“We’re still having dinner with you, every Thursday and Sunday.” He meant himself and Kira. “You’re not shutting me out, El.”

“Of course, silly. I’d make you both come if you didn’t.” She loved seeing Kira. Children were the jewels of the wasteland; a reminder of what was good in life.

They said good-bye and she closed the door, taking a deep breath. The idea had come to her as she spoke with Dustin. There was only one antidote to Will’s ledger of death: to make her friends live again.

She would write her life story.

It was laughable of course. She was no writer and could hardly construct a compelling sentence. But damned if she wouldn’t try. Her friends, her father, Joyce, and her son deserved to be remembered beyond oral anecdotes that were doomed to fade. Aside from Dustin, she was the only one left who could do them justice.

Nearly trembling, she went over to Will’s desk and opened the drawer containing a stash of notebooks. She took one and grabbed a pencil from the pen cup holder. Armed with lead and memories, she opened to the first page. Its blankness confronted her like a demand; she realized she had no idea how to start. She had so many stories to tell but no direction. She wondered how writers wrote. It was harder than it looked. Surely she could put down an opening paragraph. She looked at the page for a long time.

Finally she closed the notebook, put her head on the desk and cried. She was nothing. Just a killing machine made in a lab. She wished she were twelve again, when being nothing was excusable. She wanted to meet Mike Wheeler all over and feel good about herself for the first time. The night in his basement had been the start of her life. She remembered the rain, the hard rain, as hard as she was crying now, when the boys found her. Mike had given her fresh clothes, tucked her into bed under his table-fort, and smiled — her first smile of friendship. Maybe we can call you El. Short for Eleven. Her heart had swelled…

She sat up straight. That was it.

Wiping her eyes furiously, she reopened the notebook, daring the page to paralyze her again. She pressed the pencil down and wrote the words: I discovered friendship in the home of a stranger. She read it over, many times, until she convinced herself she liked it. Her story had a beginning.

She applied the pencil again, writing, erasing, crossing out, but never allowing herself to pause beyond moments. She was on fire now. Here it comes, Mike. My story; yours; Will’s; Lucas’s; Dustin’s; our son’s. I’ll get it right. I promise.

Clutching her memories like artifacts, Jane wrote and wrote, bringing her friends and family back to life.

 

                                                                     THE END

(Previous Chapter: The Hag)

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