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 Nine
The Fruit that Heals
“Come on, kid, stay with me. Jane.” Her father almost never used her name. “Wake up.”
She opened her eyes. It was like lifting Mount Hood. Every movement was an agony, and it hurt to breathe. Her arm that wasn’t there shouted at her, demanding redress. She looked around.
They were outside, under a night sky. By the circle of skulls glowing their filthy decay. Her father was holding an orange in front of her. “Dad,” she croaked, barely audible. “I’m done. Just save Sara. And make sure Mike is taken care of.”
“You are not done, do you hear me? Sara’s already better, thanks to one of these. So am I. Now it’s your turn. I got us outside, but you need to eat this before we go on.” He put the fruit to her mouth. It was an apple, she realized, not an orange; but it looked like no apple she’d ever seen. She humored her father and took a weak bite.
She was wide awake at once. It was a massive adrenaline shot without the kick. The juices hit her tongue, and her mouth felt electric. She couldn’t believe what she was tasting. Fruit this refreshing and sweet didn’t exist. She sat up straighter and took the apple from her father’s hand, needing no more coaxing. She ate greedily, biting off more than she could chew. It was so good she was crying — literally the best thing she had ever eaten. Her exhaustion had vaporized. The pain was still there, but it was pushed to the periphery. Life itself raced through her system and took control.
“Slow down,” said her father, stroking her head. “Chew it up good. It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
Jane paused to catch up, her mouth so full she could only nod. She was down to the core in no time; except there was no core. The center of the apple was no different from the rest of it. She shoved the remainder into her mouth, savoring it while it lasted. She wanted another one; hell, she wanted ten more of these apples. She moved to stand up.
“Hold on,” said her father.
“Let me up, Dad.”
“Just wait. Something should happen now.”
Something should happen? It had happened all right. Jane Hopper wanted to live again. Then something did happen: her shoulder flared painfully, and there was movement inside the wound. Jane cried out, revolted. Her father told her to watch.
A stub of bone and flesh crawled out of Jane’s shoulder — a gross appendage that resembled a huge worm. Then it expanded and took on form. Jane gasped and watched it grow. It shot out, winding, and bent at a new elbow. It protracted further into the length of an arm. A hand materialized at the end, blooming like a star. The fingers wiggled, testing their new livelihood, and Jane realized she was the one moving them. She had a new arm working at full capacity.
“Jesus,” her father breathed. “It really worked.”
Her arm was completely indistinguishable from the old. Jane wondered if she had really woken up. Limbs didn’t regenerate.
“She’s all well again?” It was a girl, speaking behind her.
“Yeah,” said Hopper. “She’s going to be fine.”
Jane turned and saw Sara Schwartz. The girl was standing calmly, with no sign of madness or hysteria. A sadness weighed on her, but she seemed strangely at peace, which was impossible; her family had just been murdered.
“I’m sorry, Sara,” said Jane.
“So am I,” said Sara. “I loved them. Well, I loved Abby. Mom was mean. But the sheriff is going to take care of me now.” Of course he was. This girl would be Sara Hopper by the beginning of fall.
“It was a horrible thing for you to go through,” said Jane. “I wish I could have saved them.”
“I wanted to die,” said Sara. “But I ate an apple too.”
“Hers was indigo,” said Hopper. “There was a tree inside the hut, with special apples. Each color has its own healing power. Orange grows back missing limbs. Indigo cures madness and mental stress. It calms the mind.”
“It was good,” said Sara. “Your dad ate an apple too.”
Jane looked at him. “You ate one?”
“I ate two. Now listen to me.” He took another apple from the pack. It was the bright yellow of the sun. “This is the last one. It’s for Mike.” She stared. Mike? “It heals blindness. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know if it will work on someone who doesn’t have eyes anymore. But it’s worth a shot. I know I’m not supposed to talk about him to you –”
“Just listen. The blue apple was for him too. Blue is the cure for fear — for anxiety and terror. But I had to eat that one. Whatever the witch did to me, I would have been screaming for the rest of my life. I’m sorry. I wanted Mike to have it. So his nightmares would stop. So he’d start feeling safe again.” He looked miserable.
She reached out and hugged him. “I’m glad you ate it.”
They held each other under the night sky, at peace with each other — a peace they hadn’t had in years. Sara came over and embraced them both. Jane remembered this from long ago: at the quarry, Dustin embosoming her and Mike.
“I was going to try saving the kid,” said Jane, letting go.
“The kid you said she stole tonight. I was going to send you and Sara home, while I went to the kitchen. Then the throne room happened.”
“I don’t think there was another kid tonight,” he said.
“Because Baba Yaga took Sara’s family instead. When she took Sara on Thursday, no other kid went missing that night.”
“Well, that’s something, at least,” said Jane.
“But I’m only guessing,” said her father. “For all I know she did take another kid. I have to go back and make sure. You and Sara are safe now. Take her in your car and get out of here.”
“No! You are not going back inside that Hut!”
“The witch is dead, and I’m only going as far as the kitchen.”
“No way,” said Jane. “I’ll do this. You take Sara and get out of here.”
“Look, I don’t care if you’re the powerful one. This is my job, and I screwed up my job so royally tonight that I can’t even stomach the sight of my badge. I’m going to have to tell three different parents that I let their kids die. I’m going to do this –”
A loud crash made them jump. It came from the circle’s center. They all stood and looked out at the Hut.
“No!” shouted Jane. “That’s impossible! You fucking bitch!”
A hundred feet away, the Hut’s door was open. A figure stumbled in the doorway and stepped out. It was Baba Yaga. She had her head on backwards, and staggered about as if dazed. Then she saw the unholy trio at the edge of her circle: the little dove; the rescuing pig; the vicious cunt. She let out a caterwaul so piercing they had to cover their ears. Then she wobbled, turned around, and lurched back inside the Hut.
“This nightmare isn’t over,” said Hopper.
“The Mama’s still alive,” said Sarah. “What’s going to happen now?”
The Hut answered her question. When the door shut, it leaped up on its legs, spinning and stamping a different dance than the one either Jane or her father had seen. Suddenly the air shimmered, and the Hut appeared hazy and out of focus. The skulls flickered, their ghost light wavering. There was a hum that got louder and louder. It hit a crescendo; and the Circle of Death vanished. The clearing was empty. The Hut had taken its dance elsewhere.
Jane was shaking. That’s right, you bitch. And don’t you dare come back.
Baba Yaga had staked a claim on Yamhill County and failed. The witch knew terror now, thanks to Jane. She had come close to being killed; the closest in centuries.
The nightmare was over after all. For Yamhill County at least.
But her father had guessed wrong. On Sunday morning, the parents of Amy Olson reported their daughter missing. Bellevue was an uproar. On top of little Amy gone, the Schwartz family had vanished, along with three teenagers. The Schwartz car was in the driveway, but no one could find Betty or her daughters. It was opined loudly that Betty Schwartz, loved by no one, was behind the kidnappings. Her reputation preceded her: she was a penny-pinching shrew, and had probably colluded with a sleazy ex boyfriend to extort money by the foulest means. Abigail, no doubt, had been forced to participate in her mother’s rapacious schemes. Those schemes had gone awry somehow; Betty and Abigail and the sleazy ex were on their way to the east coast. The ex had killed the kids; it was known that Betty dated psychopaths. Poor Sara had been abandoned; it was rumored that the sheriff’s office was taking care of her.
The gossip mills carried more truth than usual. Betty Schwartz was indeed a greedy bitch who had partaken in juvenile harm, though in the opposite way supposed: by selling her own daughter. She had nothing to do with the other kids, who had — each and every one by now — been shat out the ass of a terrible witch. But fairy tales wouldn’t sell in Yamhill County. Sheriff Hopper gave the gossip whores what they craved: easy answers. Their story became the official one. Betty and Abigail were the villains. The sheriff and two other people were the only ones who knew they were actually dead.
As for the three teenagers — Travis Mitchell, Leigh Davis, and Dashiell Nyberg — they were presumed dead. Somehow these close friends had witnessed the abduction of Amy Olson, and become liabilities. Betty and her ex had disposed of them accordingly.
Up in Portland, Jane Hopper rose that morning, feeling brighter and better than the residents of southern Yamhill. This surprised her for a few reasons. First was the time she rose. It was a little before seven o’clock. She had slept for only four hours and wasn’t tired at all. Last night’s ordeal should have left her a zombie.
She had returned home a little after 2:30 AM. Nicki had been snoring on the couch, and Jane didn’t wake her. Mike was trying to sleep in their bedroom, and he shot up the instant Jane came in. He pummeled her with questions; she parried with lies. The people of Yamhill had been spinning tales, she said. The only witch of Yamhill County was a grasping shrew who had fled to the east coast. Jane would never tell Mike the truth about Baba Yaga and the Dancing Hut. His own horrors were debilitating enough, and in recent months he had shown suicidal tendencies. Thank God he was blind; her face still had blood on it. She fed him the lies, showered, and fell into bed with him. Her took her furiously as he always did, and then they both fell asleep.
Now she was cooking breakfast for them. The yellow apple would be part of his. She felt good — for the first time in a long time; for herself and for Mike. She was wide awake on minimal sleep, probably because of the orange apple. The yellow one lay on the kitchen counter. She kept looking at it, and almost cut herself dicing tomatoes for Mike’s omelette. He was finishing his shower. Jane thought of her father, and wished he could have picked another blue apple. Sight would go a long way to restoring Mike as a person, but it was the fear that was ruining him.
He came in from the bathroom, in a t-shirt and shorts. Barefoot of course. She could smell the apple fragrance from his shampoo. A fitting omen.
“Is that bitch gone yet?” he asked, sitting down at their kitchen table.
She put a mug of coffee in front of him. “Thankfully yes, since you can only call her names.” Nicki had left before they got up.
“She was a pain in the ass last night,” he said. “I don’t know why you like her.”
The subject of Nicki Racine was wasted conversation on Mike. Jane eyed the apple next to her on the counter. It was impossibly bright: the purest yellow she had ever seen. “I brought you back something,” she said. “From Bernards.”
“They’re open at night?” he asked, sipping his coffee.
Shit. Of course not. “No, they were apples that… I mean, Dad had a bag of them in his car.”
“I eat my Honeycrisps, El.” His tone was plain: he wouldn’t eat anything that came from her father.
She took the yellow apple and put it in front of him. “Eat it, while your omelette is cooking.”
“I eat my apple after breakfast.”
“Eat it now,” she said. “I want to see your reaction.”
“No. I’ll wait.”
“Humor me, or you’re not getting your omelette.”
“Bitch.” He picked up the apple and bit into it.
She watched him carefully, her heart pounding.
His reaction copied hers from the night before. He was bowled over. “Wow! What kind is it?”
“What kind does it taste like?” she asked.
“It’s good!” he said with his mouth full. “It’s not a Honeycrisp. Or Pink Lady.” Those were his favorites, and the kind she bought for him. There was a bag of Honeycrisps in their fridge right now.
“It’s a yellow apple,” she said. “I don’t know what kind. Like I said, Dad got them from Bernards.”
“Well, you have to find out what kind!” He kept taking bites before he could finish swallowing. “Its not Golden Delicious, that’s for sure. Jesus, it’s good.”
“Glad you like it.” She came over and ran her fingers through his hair. Please. See again.
“Shit,” he muttered. He was already at the core and upset. “That was really good. Like, the best apple I ever had.”
“I think you can eat the core too. I don’t see any seeds.”
He crammed the rest into his mouth. “You’re right!” he sprayed juice with his mouth full. “I want another one, El!”
Jane wanted to shout: Do you feel any different? Can you see?
“Give me another!” he repeated.
“It’s the only one,” she said. “If you want another apple, it’ll have to be a Honeycrisp.”
“I don’t want a Honeycrisp!”
“Calm down, Mike.” It should be working by now. By this point her new arm had begun growing. She sat on his knees. “How do you feel?”
His craters stared back. “I feel like another one of those apples. Why didn’t you bring more?”
Her heart sank. If that apple could heal blindness, it apparently needed a pair of eyes to work the healing on. Oh, Mike. She hugged him.
“El,” he said, prying her off him. “You need to go to Bernards today, and buy a few bags of those.”
She got up and went to the stove, brushing tears from her eyes. She added whipped eggs to the pan of frying vegetables.
Mike shouted at her: “Did you hear me, El?”
“Jesus, yes!” She slammed the spatula down. “Yes, Your Majesty Michael!”
“Don’t give me attitude, El.” He stood and came over to her, putting his arms around her. “You’re too big for your britches.”
“Shut up and sit down while — what are you doing?”
He was feeling her up and down, is what he was doing. He had stopped his bitching and clearly wanted something else. He spun her around to face him and began kissing her roughly. She felt the hardness in his pants. Are you kidding me? We just fucked after 3:00 this morning. Mike had a wildly unrestrained libido, and she liked that; their savage tumbles — in bed, on the bedroom floor, on the living room floor, even on the outside balcony — slaked a deep thirst inside her. But she was making breakfast. And he was far too stimulated after spending himself a few hours ago.
“Mike, seriously?” He kneaded her breasts and pushed his tongue into her mouth. Then, abruptly, he spun her again, and shoved her onto the kitchen floor face down. He started yanking her pants off. “Jesus! Will you lay off, your omelette is going to burn — HEY!!!” She turned her head sideways to yell up at him. He was about to ass-fuck her. “What have we talked about? Get the lube if you’re going to do it that way!”
“It’s in the bedroom, El,” he panted in her ear. “Come on, you can take it without the lube.”
She had taken it without the lube once, and screamed so that the next-door neighbors could hear. Mike had gotten wildly off on it. She enjoyed anal sex, but lube was rather essential. “No,” she said, shifting beneath him, and looking sideways and upwards at her desk over in the living room. “There’s an unopened box in my top drawer.”
Mike had no intentions of getting said box. He was not about to be inconvenienced, and certainly not cheated from his sex.
For Christ’s sake. If Mike Wheeler’s girlfriend had been anyone other than Jane Hopper, he would have been a certified rapist by now. Years of torture in the Upside Down had made him primitive in some ways. From her position on the kitchen floor, she pointed her arm into the living room, at the desk drawer. It popped open; a small rectangular box drifted into the air and then flew straight into her outreached hand. “Here!” she said, reaching backwards to hand him the lube. “Use it!”
She heard him tear open the box impatiently, and pop the tube cap. He lathered himself up, and then he was deep inside her before she registered the force of his entry. She gasped as he proceeded to sodomize her right under his burning omelette. Oh my great fucking God. She was seeing stars. The pain was a piercing ecstasy, and it felt like heaven. She loved being pounded like this; loved the animal that was Mike Wheeler. Was the apple responsible for his sexual explosion? Her apple had given her an adrenaline surge last night, but nothing like this.
Ten minutes later he was still going strong. “Mike,” she moaned, though she really didn’t want him to stop. She looked up at the stove, and used her power to turn the burner off. The omelette would be blackening by now. “I’ll have to make you a new omelette,” she said feebly. Oh, fuck breakfast.
Mike agreed: his girlfriend was his breakfast right now. He took her for ten minutes more.
“I’m sorry, kid,” said her father. “Without eyes, I guess there was nothing to cure.”
“Yeah.” She was on the phone with him. It was much later in the day, and Mike was taking his afternoon nap.
“I failed everyone last night.”
“Stop it, Dad. You didn’t fail me. Or Sara.” She didn’t want to ask him about the families of those kids he was with last night. His visits to their parents must have demolished him. “Please tell me you didn’t turn in your badge.”
“I almost did.”
“Don’t worry, I’m going to hang on. For Sara.” She knew his job paid well, and as sheriff he could pull strings for a quick adoption.
“Good. But about those apples. Do they do anything besides heal?”
There was a long pause. “Oh. Yeah. The side benefits.”
“Side benefits?” she asked.
“I forgot about those,” said her father. “There’s a special benefit for each apple color, besides the way it heals.”
“What are these ‘benefits’?”
“Oh, they’re like… I think the red apple I ate is supposed to make me resistant to heat. Hold on, let me get the list.”
She waited. Resistant to heat. Where the hell did these apples come from?
He was back. “Here we go. So yeah, the red apple makes me heat resistant. ‘Temps up to 110 degrees feel like room temperature.’ It’s true. I was wondering why it felt so cool in my hot office today.”
“What about the orange?” she asked.
“It provides energy. Wow. You’re supposed to need only half the normal amount of sleep. Is that true?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. I slept only four hours last night.”
“From now on, your days are longer than the rest of ours. You have more life to enjoy.”
It was true. She would have tons of extra time on her hands now. “And the yellow?”
“That one… Oh. Well.”
“What?” Just say it.
“Has Mike been any different?”
“He’s supposed to be extra virile. It says ‘tireless sexual performance every four hours’.”
Every four hours?
Her father sounded amused. “Good thing you’ll be sleeping less.”
“So instead of Mike getting his sight back, he’s a sex machine.”
“I hope I didn’t make things worse.”
“No, I mean… It’s great.” And it was. But if Mike thought he was fucking her every four hours, every day, he was in for some serious disappointment. Jane Hopper was a horn dog, but not always, and not quite that often.
“I’m also resistant to cold,” he said. “Thanks to the blue apple. ‘Temps down to minus 10 degrees feel like room temperature’.”
“You can live outside all year round,” she said.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I’m looking at the indigo. Sara’s apple. It says ESP ability.”
“What’s ESP?” she asked.
“It’s means reading people’s thoughts. Sara’s already done that to me a couple of times. Last night and this morning. I thought it was just a weird coincidence.”
“You’re going to have to watch what you think around her.”
“No kidding. Jesus. She’s going to be a psychic, like you.”
“I’m glad I can’t read thoughts.” Jane didn’t want to know anyone’s innermost feelings. If they were like hers, they could be embarrassing. And ugly.
“Yeah. I’m not sure I want a little girl inside my head.”
“I’ve got to go now. Mike’s getting up.”
“Okay, well… have fun.” He sounded amused.
“Shut up,” she said, hanging up.
That night, Mike woke screaming. It was a bad episode. Jane held him until he settled down.
“He was inside our home, El.” Shaking, crying.
“Shh.” She stroked his head. “I’ll never let anything hurt you.”
“He was opening my chest, and filling it with… stuff. Living stuff. From the Upside Down.”
She rested her cheek against his. “He can’t get you anymore. I killed him.”
“But he’s there.”
She would have given her left arm all over again, if Mike could eat a blue apple.
It took him half an hour to quiet and start drifting. Jane was getting back to sleep too, and then Mike spoke unexpectedly:
“I want to start treating you better.”
Here we go. “Yeah, I think we’ve been here before.”
“I know, I say it all the time. But I want to get better. And stop yelling at you all the time. You take so much shit from me.” He was terrified of losing her.
She kissed him. “I’m not going anywhere.”
He kissed her back. “Can we do it now?”
“Since when do you bother asking?”
“Well… I’m asking.”
That won’t last. The only reason for his courtesy was the nightmare he was getting over.
“You pick this time,” he said, assuming her consent after all. “Front or back?”
She sighed. “Front.” She had come to bed only an hour ago, at 2:00 AM. Her new sleep schedule. This would be their fifth fuck since Mike ate the yellow apple that morning. Twice she had taken it up the ass, and that was enough sodomy for one day, thank you. Jane had been very accommodating, feeling awful about Mike’s blindness not being cured. Not that he knew anything about that; nor did he seem surprised about his ultra-inflamed libido. He was a walking hormone anyway. But he would have to work on disciplining these new urges. She had sleepless nights and sore days ahead of her.
He got on top of her, spread her legs, settled himself inside — and was off like a jackrabbit. And as he fucked her brains out for twenty minutes straight, Jane thought of Baba Yaga and the Dancing Hut; and the tree of colored apples. And wondered where they were now.
Follow Hopper and Eleven’s next outing in The Black Rose of Newberg.
(Previous Chapter: The Witch of Yamhill County)