This nine-chapter novella is the first of two stories set in between the periods of Stranger Things: The College Years and Stranger Things: The New Generation. I advise reading those stories, as well as the third in that trilogy, Stranger Things: World’s End, before reading this one, which is supplementary and does not involve the Upside Down. Like the Upside Down trilogy, it’s a work of fan fiction based on the Stranger Things TV series. I do not profit from these stories and they are not canon. 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 the stories down.
The Witch of Yamhill County — Chapter Six
It was a wrap-around winter scene, extending for more than two hundred feet along four walls making a square. People in fur hats and heavy coats. A Russian landscape of cruel seasons. The murals made Hopper glad he lived where he did. He prayed that he’d still be living in Oregon by tomorrow morning. This hut was a death trap, and the walls were closing in. There could be no more endings like Travis and Marya.
“I don’t know, these souls don’t seem lost to me. Just cold. What do you think?” He was trying to make her laugh.
Leigh ignored him. She hadn’t spoken since they left Marya at the tree. He understood. Leigh Davis was a great kid who wanted to fix pain where she saw it. Aunt Ingrid would remain in the shell of multiple sclerosis, but only because her niece couldn’t stand by and do nothing for those suffering in front of her. Leigh would be a terrific doctor someday. For now she was a frustrated fourteen-year old who craved justice on all sides of the equation.
She was sitting on a bench against the wall of the gallery’s interior. They were in the exterior corridor, looking at the murals without really seeing them. Their failures is what they saw. They had passed through another vortex on the far side of the orchard; the one Marya said led to the room of lost souls, which was an art gallery. There was another vortex close to it, but Marya had told them to avoid that one at all costs: it lead to the stasis chambers, which contained beasts so deadly that even Baba Yaga feared to unleash them. Hopper didn’t need to be told twice. The stasis chambers weren’t the way to Sara anyway.
Dash came out of the inner gallery. He was ahead as usual. “It’s more interesting in here,” he said. “Creepier too.” He went back in.
Hopper called after him: “Be careful!” He looked at Leigh. “I better get in there and watch over Dash the Rash.”
Leigh said nothing.
“Look, kid, I’m sorry about Marya.” And for your aunt. “But it was her choice. Making the other choice for her wouldn’t have done her good. Believe me, I know how things go for kids like that.” He was stupid to preach like this. She would just keep hating him for it. He turned to follow Dash into the inner gallery.
He turned back. She was still sitting on the corridor bench, looking at the murals and not him. But she had given him something, at least.
“Still friends?” he asked.
At that moment he wanted more than anything to adopt her. He had taken in Jane at the same age. Jane who was an adult now, and who treated him like the kid in their relationship. Here he was, on a quest to save a girl named after his first daughter, and falling for a girl whose passion reminded him of his second. He was a cliche.
“Okay,” he said. “Wait here if you want. I’m going to check this room and make sure we’re not missing anything important. Then we’ll move on. As soon as we find Sara, I’m getting you guys out of here.” Leigh had found what she came for, only to give it up. And she had lost a good friend.
He walked into the inner section and main room of the art gallery. Like the outer corridor it displayed life-sized artwork around the walls. These were paintings, however, not murals, and there was something at once sinister about them. They all looked the same. And they added up to what could only be described as a virtual mausoleum. Each painting showed someone pale as chalk and lying down, eyes closed and arms folded. They’re corpses, thought Hopper. Seven of them. Three other paintings were black: empty portraits, as if the artist had never got around to finishing the collection.
“See what I mean?” asked Dash. “Creepy.”
The statues in the middle of the room were even creepier: nine of them standing in three rows of three. These at least showed variety. One statue was a daemon, which Hopper recognized from the library book he had browsed (a “yagno-daemon”, if he remembered right). Another was a night hag; then a swamp hag; a giant troll; a beautiful woman who looked like an elf; an angry-looking dwarf; another daemon (he forgot which kind); a young girl; and a figure in an executioner’s hood.
“So who are the lost souls?” He was asking himself more than Dash. “The paintings or the statues?”
“Neither,” said Dash. “Baba Yaga’s the lost soul. She’s fucking dead when she comes back.”
I’ll have you out of here by then. Hopper examined the yagno-daemon. It was a horrible lopsided creature with two unequal arms, one man sized, the other so big it reached the floor. Its teeth were long and sharp enough to shred metal. The figure in the executioner’s hood looked somehow even more frightening.
He was jolted by a shout from Dash. He was running up to one of the paintings. Only a few minutes ago it had been a portrait of empty blackness. Now there was someone painted. Hopper hurried up next to him, and his testicles froze. No. Dear God, no.
The painting showed Leigh Davis. But she wasn’t pale, nor dead or asleep. Her eyes were wide open in stark terror. Her mouth blasted a silent scream. It was the portrait of a girl being brutally terrorized.
Hopper and Dash screamed Leigh’s name and raced into the outside corridor, with their guns drawn. The mural hall was vacant. Leigh wasn’t on the resting bench anymore.
“Leigh!” they shouted again, looking up and down the hall. Hopper ran one way around the square corridor, and Dash the other way, until they met again. Leigh was gone.
“Back to the doors,” said Hopper.
They returned to the doors along one of the mural walls. There were two plus a pair of double doors in an alcove between them. They had come through one of the singular doors out of the vortex from the orchard. The other one presumably led to the baths. The double doors in the alcove had been wide open when they arrived, and it had seemed to show another room that was part of the art gallery.
Those double doors had now vanished. They weren’t closed; they were just gone. The back of the alcove was a smooth wall that showed no sign of any doors having been there.
Hopper pounded on the wall and shouted Leigh’s name, while Dash tried the other door. Hopper looked for any crack or crevice where the double doors had been. Leigh must have gone through the open doors, and then something terrible must have occurred.
Dash came out of the door to the baths, furious. “She’s not in there,” he said. “It’s just a pool with some giant frogs. Where is she, sheriff? What do we do?”
Hopper knew right then this would be the worst day of his life since Mike Wheeler died. God, don’t take her from me. Don’t you take her from me. He had been the stupidest fool, allowing himself to be muscled by these kids.
He ran back into the inner gallery, and to the painting of Leigh. The portrait had changed: the terror on Leigh’s face had increased dramatically. Wherever she really was, she was being hurt and violated in some unspeakable way.
Hopper tried tearing the painting off the wall. It wouldn’t budge; it was welded in, probably with magic. He brandished his gun and told Dash to step way back. Dash had his own pistol drawn. Hopper aimed at another painting and pulled the trigger. The bullet embedded itself in the portrait which otherwise remained intact. The depiction of the corpse didn’t change. Triggered by the gunshot, Dash went wild and fired his Glock, stupidly, at a statue. The bullet ricocheted dangerously.
Hopper hardly noticed. He let his gun fall to the floor and clasped his hands around the portrait of Leigh. He ran his hands over her and cried her name, asking her to speak. It was a repeat of Travis. She was somewhere else, but dying right in front of him; and there was nothing he could do.
Dash ran out into the corridor again, shouting madly for Leigh. Hopper kept pleading at the painting. Then her portrait shifted, and changed again. And Hopper felt a part of himself die.
Leigh Davis now lay with her eyes closed and arms folded. She was white as chalk like the others, in an indescribable damnation.
Hopper fell to his knees and wept. He barely registered Dash’s reentry. The kid screamed in denial when he saw the painting of Leigh. He ran up to Hopper and shoved the Glock in his face, demanding the sheriff do something to save his friend.
Go ahead and shoot me, kid. Do it.
Dash’s hands shook as they held the gun to Hopper’s head. He came close to pulling the trigger. Then he screamed Baba Yaga’s name and bolted from the inner gallery.
Hopper picked his Smith & Wesson off the floor. He would have shot himself then, if not for Dashiell Nyberg and Sara Schwartz. They still needed saving.
He was jolted by distant gunfire. Dash’s Glock.
He ran back to the doors, hearing more gunfire, and opened the one to the baths. He leaped through ready to fire, and swore at what greeted him.
The room was indeed a bath, and currently a bloodbath. And the blood ran green.
The green spattered the walls and a floor that went a hundred feet long and wide. The walls formed a mosaic depicting sea creatures too awful to contemplate. The pool was sixty feet long. Streams of water arched into it from the floor at both ends, rippling the surface. Clusters of spheres hovered towards the ceiling, filling the room with pale green light, and illuminating the carnage within.
The carnage came from Dash. He was shooting frogs with vindictive fury: giant frogs the size of dogs. Four of them lay dead around the pool. Six others were closing in on the kid. They looked intent and unafraid, but Hopper wasn’t sure how they attacked. Their feet weren’t clawed, so they probably relied on biting. However aggressive they were, he was sure that Dash had initiated the conflict. Enraged over Leigh and Travis, he had burst into the room and indiscriminately opened fire. He wanted blood for his friends, and didn’t care who paid the price.
The Glock went off again, and a fifth frog went down. Its brains flew into the pool, and separated on the water’s surface. The five remaining frogs jumped sideways and back, reflexively trying to confuse Dash. The kid swore F-bombs and promised they would all die.
Hopper fired his Smith & Wesson, bringing down another one. The frogs jumped again, registering Hopper as a new threat. They re-positioned themselves to face both him and Dash as best they could.
Dash fired again. And missed. One of the frogs pounced at him with frightening swiftness. Hopper shot and killed the frog mid-air.
Down to three, Dash was feeling his oats. He waved the Glock, taunting the trio. Hopper saw that was a mistake. The frogs were down and desperate. One of them bounded high into the air. Dash raised his gun high, but too late. Hopper fired at it and missed. The frog came straight down on Dash, smashing him to the ground. The Glock spun across the floor, near the edge of the pool. Dash screamed as the frog squatted on top of him and leaned into his face.
Hopper didn’t dare shoot the frog for fear of hitting Dash. He shot a frog that was coming for him instead. It fell and died in its own mess. The frog that was not on Dash looked indecisive, and then turned and leaped into the pool. It vanished to the bottom. That left the one frog, on Dash.
“Get off me!” screamed Dash. The frog’s mouth was almost touching his face now. Hopper’s bowels nearly unloaded. From the frog’s lips dripped a glistening saliva that looked like poison.
“Turn your face away!” yelled Hopper, running towards Dash.
Turning would have done Dash no good. The frog’s saliva fell in a huge glob, covering his forehead and eyes. Immediately, Dash began convulsing. The skin of his face and neck turned green as Hopper reached him, put his gun against the frog’s head, and pulled the trigger. The frog’s brains blew everywhere. He kicked the corpse over and knelt over Dash. Green apple. The kid needs a green apple. Hopper had picked a yellow and blue apple, both for Mike. Dash had chosen orange and indigo, for people he knew. None of those colors would do anything against poison. Jesus God, what have I done tonight?
Dash’s color was going from green to grey. His throat was the size of a chimney; he was wheezing, and blood was seeping out his eyes. For the third time that night, Hopper could only watch as a kid under his protection died in agony.
He held Dash’s hand, but avoided touching anywhere near his face. Dash’s body thrashed against the floor as he stopped taking in air. In less than another minute, he was dead. I failed them all. My badge is a farce.
He held Dash’s corpse for another minute, and then opened the kid’s pack. He removed the orange and indigo apples and transferred them to Leigh’s pack, as well as a sixteen-round clip the kid had been packing as a spare for the Glock. Then he picked the Glock up off the floor and put that into Leigh’s pack as well. When he called on Dash’s parents to tell them how he failed their child, he would give them the orange and indigo apples and tell them who Dash wanted to have them. It was the pitifully least he could do.
His own six-shooter was empty. He had fired a bullet in the art gallery, and then five more in this room. He reloaded it, taking six rounds from the magazine at his belt. He went over to the pool and peered into it, pointing the gun down. There was no sign of the frog that had jumped in. The water was pale green and bubbly, and gave off warmth. Hopper didn’t want to know what kind of beings bathed in the pool. He guessed it was toxic to humans.
There was a noise behind him, and he spun around, expecting the frog. Nothing was there — except for an archway he had missed at the end of the room. He got closer, holding his gun tightly. It looked like there was a room with a smaller bath inside; he could hear water bubbling furiously. He got up close and looked inside.
It was a jacuzzi giving off plenty of steam. There were shelves of towels and bathing suits against the wall, for the convenience of anyone using either the jacuzzi or the pool in the main room. The tub was fifteen feet long; the water was supplied by underwater jets that shot up greenish water that looked foul. Sitting in the pool was a swamp hag. Her side was to the entrance and her eyes were closed, but Hopper knew she was aware of his presence. He stepped inside the room.
The hag’s eyes opened and she turned slowly to face him. Hopper almost pulled the trigger. She reminded him of the bathtub ghost in The Shining. He would have traded this night for a full week’s stay in the Overlook. The most dreadful hotel in cinematic history had nothing on Baba Yaga’s Hut. And the hag looking at him now was no ghost.
“Smells,” she croaked, smiling. “Smells of death in there. Did the whelp die in your arms?”
Hopper stood motionless, ready to fire.
The hag stood up; a thoroughly nauseating nude. “Did he chew the pain well?”
Hopper tightened his grip on the Smith & Wesson.
Her voice rose. “Did he swallow it whole? Did he ask for more? Did he say how useless you are? Did he –“
Hopper put two bullets in the hag’s face. As she fell dead under the bubbling water, he shot her again. Just for good measure. And because it made him feel good. Then he went back out into the main bath area.
It was getting too close to midnight. He had to find Sara and get out of here. There were two other doors besides the one he and Dash had come through. One of them was black, like the black door in the library: Baba Yaga’s rooms. The other was pink; it was on the the other side of the pool.
Little Dove. Sara.
He crossed to the pink door, and went through.
Next Chapter: Little Dove
(Previous Chapter: The Prismatic Tree)