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 Seven
It was a nightmare bedroom for a seven-year old girl. And utterly silent.
Baba Yaga certainly didn’t stint on space. There was over ten thousand square feet of room to enjoy. Nor on amenities. The bed against the far wall looked more rich and inviting than anything Hopper’s daughters had ever slept in. It was plush and made perfectly, with pink sheets and blankets. A child’s writing desk and stool were close by, painted white with pink trim. On top of the desk were a pitcher of milk, a bowl of nuts, and a plate of chocolates. A washbasin and towels had been provided underneath. A deep cushioned couch worth thousands of dollars stood against the left wall.
The problem was the supplementary decor. Shelves were filled with stuffed animals — but not the expected teddy bears and puppies. There was a dragon, a tarantula, a gremlin, a harpy, and at least a dozen more frightening creatures Hopper couldn’t put a name to. Light came from wall lanterns made of pink skulls. The eyes radiated a soft light and reminded Hopper of the circle outside that had nearly killed him. The couch was crawling with huge locusts — mutated locusts with mean human-looking faces and scorpion tails. Worst of all was the bed’s headboard: the demonic face of a witch glowing green; the face of a child’s worst nightmare.
Sara Schwartz had spent two full nights in this stew of horrors, and tonight was the third. She was probably scarred for life. But where was she now?
Over on the right wall, Hopper noticed stairs going up. It looked like the only way out of the room, aside from the door he had just come through. He refused to think anymore about the baths. He had failed Dash miserably, just as he’d failed Travis and Leigh. He would rescue Sara, but he allowed himself no thoughts of self-redemption. Tomorrow he would turn in his badge and gun.
He called out softly: “Sara?”
No answer. The pink skulls shimmered, as if containing a wicked secret.
He called her name again. As a servant she was probably kept busy doing chores in other rooms of the hut. But at 10:50 PM? What kind of sleeping schedule did the witch have her on?
He surveyed the stuffed animals. The dragon was fearsome. He picked it up, and smoke came out the dragon’s nostrils. Hopper put it down in disgust. He tried a black tiger sort of creature with rabid eyes. As soon as he touched it, he heard a savage growling inside his head. He dropped the toy and backed away, appalled.
When he got to the couch he smacked a locust. His hand went through it, and the human-faced insect kept crawling. He grabbed at more locusts and seized only air. It was an illusion. An extremely revolting one.
On the desk he examined the treats. The pitcher was cold; the girl’s milk was kept fresh by magic. The nuts looked chewy, and the chocolates divine. Hopper realized how hungry he was, but he didn’t give in.
His next move was the stairs. They could lead to an upper level of the bedroom. Halfway across the room he heard a noise and stopped. He turned around holding his gun. His mind wasn’t playing tricks; he had definitely heard a thudding somewhere. But there was no one in sight, and nowhere in the room to hide. Except…
Stepping closer to the far wall, he lowered himself to the floor, and checked under the bed.
A pair of frightened eyes looked back at him.
As soon as she was spotted, Sara Schwartz backed further under the bed and screamed: “Mama!”
Hopper grabbed for her, piling on protestations. It was okay, he was a sheriff, he had come to get her and bring her home. The girl screeched and tried pulling from his grip. She kept crying for “mama”, obviously referring to the witch as Marya had. Hopper dragged her out screaming. If the witch had shown up right then, Hopper would have raped her with a broomstick. After everything tonight and now this, he had seen more crimes against children than horrors from the Upside Down. Sara Schwartz might be the rare favorite who avoided being served on a dinner plate, but she was terrorized out of her mind. And he didn’t forget Marya. If the “little doves” enjoyed special status, that status could be revoked on a whim. The witch wouldn’t kill them outright, but she was happy to turn them into retarded animals.
He lifted the girl up and held her in his arms, trying his best to calm her down. Finally she hushed.
“Are you Sara Schwartz?” He knew she was, from Abby’s photo.
“Well, I’m Jim Hopper. The Sheriff of Yamhill County. I’m here to take you back to Bellevue. To your home.”
“I can’t,” said Sara. “I have to serve the Mama for a year.”
“The Mama’s a bad person who had no right to take you.”
“She takes care of me,” said Sara. “And gives me nuts and sweets.”
Hopper looked over at the shelves. “She gives you toys too. How do you like those?”
Sara wouldn’t look at them. “I don’t like the toys.”
“Is that why you sleep under the bed?”
“Well, you shouldn’t have to sleep under your own bed.”
“This room scares me.”
No shit. Toys that smoked and growled. Nightlights of skulls. Illusions of insects with ugly heads and poison tails. And the most hideous face in the world looming over the bed. Mike and his friends would have loved this shit, maybe even at age seven. But not a little girl all alone.
“What does the Mama make you do here?” he asked.
“I cook the meals, and weave, and do laundry. I have to polish the silver, and beat the carpets, and scrub the floors. And then –”
“She makes you do all of that?”
“Yeah. It’s a lot of work.”
“What kind of meals do you cook?” Bread and cabbage soup was one thing. Seven and eight-year old human beings was quite another.
“Did you cook a pot of cabbage soup earlier this evening?”
“Yes.” She looked bashful and proud.
“Who was it for?”
“The guests, if they want any. And for the Mama, when she gets home. She comes back at midnight. I’m supposed to let the soup simmer. And I baked bread too.”
“I saw that,” he said. “You did a great job.”
She beamed and looked down, embarrassed.
“But you didn’t have to cook any… meat?”
“Not so far. The Mama cooks her own meat. She likes her meat done just right.”
I’ll bet she does. At least Sara wasn’t made to participate in killing her own kind. “You miss your mom and sister, right?”
“I miss Abby, but not mom so much. She doesn’t really like me.”
Wasn’t that the truth. But still: “She’s got to be better than your new mama.”
“Well… I like the Mama, even though she scares me. She takes care of me. And calls me ‘little dove’.”
Hopper would have loved nothing more than to “take care” of Baba Yaga — by beating the shit out of her for all she had done to the kids of his county. He didn’t give a damn about his own life anymore. He would have to come back to the hut anyway, as Baba Yaga would surely be returning with another kidnapped child. But first he had to get Sara out of here.
“If I take you home with me now, will you agree to come?”
She chewed her fingernail. “I guess. I like the Mama, but she gives me too much work. And my room scares me.”
“I should think. Now where do those stairs go?”
“To the work rooms. That’s where I work, most of the time.”
He pulled out the map. From Sara’s room it looked like the quickest way to leave the hut was through areas he had not been to: the work rooms, meeting hall, observatory, and throne room. The throne room connected with the dining hall where he and the kids had started. On the other hand, he had no idea what lurked inside all these rooms. Backtracking through the rooms he had already been through might be the safer plan, though not as fast. He made a decision.
“Okay,” he said, putting the map away. “You stay next to me, and get behind me whenever I say. We’re going to these work rooms of yours.”
They went up the stairwell to a small square room with four doors. Hopper asked Sara what was behind them.
“That room is the loom,” she said. “That one is food sorting. That one’s laundry. And that one has the cleaning material I use to clean other places in the hut.”
“Which of these rooms leads to the prison?”
“Prison?” she asked.
“Yeah. According to this map I have, the work rooms connect to the prison.”
“I don’t know anything about a prison. I’m not allowed to go everywhere.”
Hopper wasn’t going to waste time looking for the prison if it was too well hidden. It would have to wait for his return trip with reinforcements. He looked at his watch: 10:58.
He chose a random door and opened it. Mechanical sounds rumbled as they went inside. Hopper saw two looms and a spinning wheel, all madly at work. Bags of uncarded wool were stacked in a corner heap. Hopper’s jaw dropped. The looms and wheel were being operated by dozens of mice. The rodents were dashing about with brightly colored threads in their mouths, weaving them in and out.
A few of the mice paused at the intrusion, and one of them came up to greet Sara.
“Hi Isaak,” she said, delighted.
“Hello mistress,” said the mouse in a Russian accent. “We weren’t expecting you until tomorrow.”
“I have a guest,” said Sara. “And I couldn’t sleep. This is Sheriff Hopper.”
The mouse nodded but didn’t speak to Hopper. “The coat will be ready tomorrow, mistress. You shouldn’t worry.”
“Oh, I’m not,” said Sara. “I’m just showing my friend around.”
The mouse inclined his head, and then raced back to work with the others.
Hopper was amused by the talking animals, but also confused. “I thought you did the sewing.”
Sara smiled as if she were supremely clever. “The mice offered to help with the workload if I bring them fresh bread and jam. The Mama only feeds them stale crusts. It was the same deal they had with the girl before me. The Mama gives me too much work. I have to hire help.”
“What does the Mama think about this little arrangement?” asked Hopper.
“I don’t think she cares. She just wants the work done. They’re making a coat at this loom, and a sweater at that one. The Mama wants them for guests she’s having next week.”
“Are mice doing the work in the other rooms too?”
“Oh, no. Sparrows help me in the food sorting room. The birds pick the pebbles out of the grain, and twigs out of the berries. And I give them wool for their nests. But all the laundry and cleaning I have to do myself.”
“You’re good, kid.” Hopper didn’t see a door in this room. The work rooms were supposed to connect to the meeting hall as well as the prison. Sara didn’t know about the prison. There was probably a secret door to it that was hard to find. He asked her about the meeting hall.
That she knew. “You get there from the food sorting room.”
“Let’s go,” he said, and then paused. The looms and spinning wheel had come to an abrupt halt. The mice had stopped their work, and were looking past Hopper and Sara at the doorway. Hopper turned. And Sara screamed.
Standing in the doorway was a rotting daemon whose gaze had a dreadful effect on Hopper. His body felt petrified and could barely move. The entity was dark and eldritch and thoroughly evil. The mice bolted and vanished into the walls. Sara stood behind Hopper, clutching his waist. And then Hopper froze completely, in thrall to some hideous spell. The creature intoned something and glided towards him, with its arm outstretched.
No. Jesus, no. He had no idea what this thing was, only that if it touched him, he was over and done.
When the touch came, it was an arctic indictment. Hopper’s life flashed before him in a snapshot of failures: his ex-wife Diane; his daughter Sara; his son-in-law equivalent Mike Wheeler; his wards Travis Mitchell, Leigh Davis, Dashiell Nyberg, and Sara Schwartz. He deserved to suffer worse than all of them combined.
Fine, you bastard. Do your worst.
He prayed for torment as he fell into a cold blackness.
He woke thirsty and feeble, unable to remember his name. Bright light assaulted him from everywhere. The walls, the floor, and the ceiling projected a radiance too strong to focus on anything. Where was he, and who was he?
The answer to the first question came by squinting and blinking to minimize the radiant onslaught. He saw that he was on the floor of a cell. There was a plain wooden bed with straw ticking close by. His captor had ignored it and dumped him on the floor — or he had fallen off the bed while unconscious. Close to the bed was a font of water; near that a metal slop bucket for bodily waste. It was a prison cell, no question.
The word prison brought him back, answering his second question. He was Jim Hopper: a policeman on a hopeless mission to save kids who couldn’t be saved. He was in a hut that couldn’t exist but did, and that couldn’t possibly be so dangerous and yet was. His gun was gone, and so was Dash’s; Leigh’s pack was gone, and with it four precious apples.
But he still had his watch. It read 11:42. He had been out for about a half hour. The creature’s spell had paralyzed him, flooded him with despair, and then made him sleep long enough to get him jailed securely. All he felt now was weakness and an insatiable thirst; his muscles had been sapped of half their strength; his body too dehydrated. Defying his enfeeblement, he forced himself to stand, holding the edges of the font. The water in it was dirty. He put his face in and drank anyway. It helped, but the creature’s spell cut too deep; his thirst needed more than water to be quenched. He wondered how the foul being had found him.
It was the baths. He and Dash had made it a war zone and left enough gore to fill the pool. If the creature had found the frog slaughter, it would have begun searching for intruders around the bath area.
The light gave him a blinding headache but he made himself focus. A glass door taunted him a few feet away. He knew right away the glass was unbreakable; it probably had magic woven into every fiber. He pounded against it anyway. It had the texture of steel. He tried seeing through the glass. The tint was smoky, bur he could make out a corridor with other glass doors lining the hall: more prison cells. He pounded on the glass again, hurting his hands and not caring, screaming Baba Yaga’s name and useless threats. She would be back very soon now. He was going to die, and that was just. But he would defy that stinking witch until the moment he expired.
After minutes of his pounding and screaming, a face appeared on the other side of the glass. It was the horrid face of his captor. Hopper’s bladder let go. He knew this creature could kill him just by touch, if it wanted to. The glass door slid open. Hopper jumped back as the entity stepped into the cell. It smiled and raised its arms.
Hopper protested: “No! I just want to see Baba Yaga! Let me see that fucking bitch when she gets back! Can you do that for me, you ugly worthless shit-face?”
The creature’s smile widened. A bolt of blue shot from its fingertips, engulfing Hopper in electric agony. He went flying against the cell wall and crashed to the floor, encased in azure lightning. He howled and begged for mercy. The creature reined in the lightning, and waited as Hopper threw up bile.
Hopper looked up at his tormentor. He was sweating and drooled spit, numb from electric shock. “That wasn’t nice.” He spoke like a drunkard; his tongue felt hardly there. “You joyless motherfucker. Do you shoot bolts of lightning up Baba Yaga to make her cum? Or do you just fire them up your own ass?” He started laughing maniacally at his stupid crude joke.
Blue lightning blasted him again, and Hopper curled up on the floor wailing. His screams became piteous until the creature relented.
There were no further insults from Hopper. He was reduced to pure submission and pleaded like a child. The creature listened, and then smiled a third time. The electric blue came again; Hopper was dying under his captor’s pleasure.
At his next reprieve he inched towards the slop bucket. He grabbed it, intending to hurl it, knowing it was futile. He couldn’t lift it anyway; he was that weak. He heard the breaking of glass, and knew the creature was preparing to escalate his torments with something worse than lightning. He pushed the bucket away and cried, ready to beg for clemency. He turned to look up at his captor — and then froze in outrage. It was the ultimate cruelty, a knife through his heart, a mockery of what was most precious to him. A glamor to taunt him before the final blow.
Then the glamor touched him, and spoke: “Dad?”
He looked again. His captor lay against the cell wall, dead. The glass of the prison door was strewn across the floor in a million pieces. She who was standing over him was not the creature draped in some teasing illusion. She was real.
Except that was impossible. There was no way she could be real; no way she could be here. He accepted the fictions, unable to shoulder reality. She was here; he willed it to be so. She was bruised, battered, and her face swamped with blood — but by God, she was leaning over him, to help him. To save him. His daughter. Jane.
Next Chapter: The Witch of Yamhill County
(Previous Chapter: Lost Souls)