Endless Night (Chapter 2)

This nine-chapter Stranger Things novel is the long-awaited prequel that takes place before five other stories, which should be read in the following order: The College Years, The New Generation, World’s End, The Witch of Yamhill County and The Black Rose of Newberg. These are all works of fan fiction based on the Stranger Things TV series, from which I do not profit. 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.

This prequel serves as an alternate season 4. It assumes the events portrayed in TV seasons 1-3, except that it was Joyce Byers who died in the Battle of Starcourt, while Jim Hopper survived to continue raising Eleven. William and Jonathan Byers stayed in Hawkins, and their Aunt Ruth came to live with them and assume guardianship of Will. Also: Karen Wheeler had an affair with Billy Hargrove before his possession, and she aided and abetted him in abducting people for the Mind Flayer, though she did not become one of the flayed.

                                             Endless Night — Chapter Two

                                          MLK

“He’s in trouble,” said Will.

“I see that,” said Mike.

It was the new kid from Boston, scholarly and full of nerd vibes. That was bad enough. Worse was his ethnicity. His family had immigrated from India and brought more wealth than Wall Street. That had sealed his fate upon arrival. This was Hawkins High in the ’80s.

“Should we do something?” asked Will.

“By ‘we’, do you mean me?” Mike cursed himself as soon as he said it.

Will’s face flushed. “I just meant –”

“It’s okay,” said Mike.

Together they watched the spectacle unfold. Mike felt shitty when he lost his patience with Will, but he was tired of taking point on bailing out every bully victim. Nothing for it. This would get ugly fast. Seth didn’t usually do this when Mike and his friends were around. But Vijay Agarwal was an outsider. He didn’t belong. He had lived in America for only three years; citizenship was a distant country. Surely the underdog heroics of Mike Wheeler didn’t extend to a filthy rich Hindu who mocked the American dream by his unwanted presence.

Seth never learned. He and his three stooges had the kid surrounded; a cowardly four-on-one. Neither Mike nor Will could make out what was being said, but the quartet was threatening Vijay in some way, and no matter how petty the threats, Seth Manor would be dispensing them like a death sentence. One of his stooges, a low-IQ mule named Alex Heft, barked something and shot out his arm. Vijay’s books flew from his hands. Folders scattered and fell open. Vijay’s homework assignments were whisked away by freezing winds; he’d never get them back. The bullies roared laughter. Mike marveled that cowards were so entertained. He felt more sorry for them than for Vijay Agarwal.

Then Seth seized Vijay by the front of his jacket, got in his face, and snarled whatever threats made him feel big and superior.

“Seth, lay off!” shouted Mike. “You want those hands broken?”

The schoolyard went silent. Those who hadn’t been watching were watching now. Mike cursed himself. First his mother, now Seth. Next he’d be threatening the headmaster. He heard footsteps behind him, and turned to see Lucas, Max, and Dustin. They had been inside the school talking to one of Max’s friends who hated being outside in the cold. He had backup now… just in case. Forty feet away, Seth looked at them all, uncertain. He still held Vijay, but with far less confidence.

“Let him go!” repeated Mike. “If I come over there, you’re all going home sick.”

The bullies never admitted it, but they lived in fear of Mike Wheeler and his faggoty-ass friends. The Nerd Lords of Hawkins High — Mike Wheeler, Lucas Sinclair, Max Mayfield, Dustin Henderson, and William Byers — could be mighty unpleasant if you crossed them. Wheeler especially was treated as armed and dangerous. He had a secret girlfriend: a witch who lived in the shadows, lifted automobiles, and exploded people from the inside out. Lucas’ girlfriend, one of the nerds herself, had been the stepsister of Billy Hargrove. Billy was a legend in the eyes of Seth Manor. Any relation of his had to be treated with caution. The Nerd Lords were given wide berth.

But Seth didn’t let go of his captive. “Mind your business, Wheeler! This timber nigger doesn’t concern you.”

Mike stifled a laugh. This clown didn’t know the difference between a Native American Indian and an Asian Indian. He closed the distance between him and Seth.

Seth got agitated. “I said blow off, Wheeler!”

“Yeah!” yelled Alex, waving his fists in the air like a moron.

Mike kept advancing. Seth never learned. He was like Billy: boorish, racist, and thoroughly boring. The thought of Billy put Mike on tilt. Dead for a year and a half now, Mike still saw him everywhere: at home on the face of his mother; at school on the face of idiot-ass Seth Manor.

“Walk away, Seth,” said Mike. “And you can live longer.”

“I’m scared,” said Seth, who actually did sound a bit scared.

Mike lost it. “You’re too stupid to be scared, you piece of shit! You want to keep this up? You want to provoke me?” He was going overboard but couldn’t help it. He was still fuming about his mother. And the worm that he saw or didn’t see. “It’s not smart to piss someone off who’s seen a lot of death. You may find yourself there.”

Students gasped. Threats like this didn’t sound facetious. Especially coming from someone like Mike Wheeler. Crowds of students were watching the altercation now. Mike knew his friends would be mad, especially Lucas.

“You threatening us, Wheeler?” asked Liam. Of the three stooges, he had the most vicious temper.

“You catch on fast,” said Mike.

“Forget it,” said Seth, letting his victim go. Vijay backed away, flashing Mike a look of gratitude.

“Smart move,” said Mike.

Seth exploded. “What’s wrong with you, Wheeler? You like timber niggers? Coming here on visas, stealing our parents’ jobs?”

Mike didn’t answer. He stared back at Seth. Next to him, Alex looked constipated. Liam was ready to charge. And Ross — whose face had more acne than a solar system had stars — pursed his lips as if tasting poison. Finally, Seth turned and motioned them all away. They walked off.

Vijay was shaken. “Thank you,” he said.

Mike nodded. “You should stick around friends.”

“I don’t have any friends,” said Vijay. He didn’t sound sorry for himself, just matter-of-fact. “I’ve only been here since the new year.” He began picking up his books. Most of his homework was long gone by now, carried off the school grounds by 15 mph winds. He retrieved what he could, and then headed into the school building.

Mike turned and walked back.

“That was laying it on thick,” said Lucas.

“Shut up,” said Mike, in no mood for it.

“What crawled up your ass?” asked Max.

“Those assholes did,” said Mike. “Or were you paying attention?”

“The assholes crawled up Mike’s asshole,” said Dustin.

“We have to report them,” said Lucas.

“Just forget it,” said Mike.

Lucas got angry. “What do you mean, forget it?”

“They might look for that kid later and do something to him,” said Max.

“His name’s Vijay,” said Mike. “And they won’t.”

“I don’t know,” said Will. “Seth seems to have it out for him.”

“And he called him a timber nigger,” said Lucas, waxing wroth.

“Seth is a dipshit,” said Dustin. “Vijay’s not a timber nigger. Timber niggers are Native Americans.”

“Stop using that expression,” said Lucas.

“You just did!”

“Not in the same way!”

“I don’t see what your problem is,” said Dustin. “You’re not a timber nigger, or any kind of Indian. Why are you so bent out of shape?”

“Shut up, for Christ’s sake!”

“Where does the expression come from?” asked Will.

“Who cares?” said Lucas. “We don’t need to hear the n-word at all, especially on this day. Of all days.”

“Lucas, I swear to God, don’t start again,” said Dustin.

“Don’t start what?” asked Mike.

“He’s been on a crusade about Martin Luther King Day,” said Dustin. “I had to listen to it last night when I was over his house. I’d rather not hear it again.”

Lucas had every intention of repeating his tirades. “We shouldn’t be in school today. Everyone around us gets Martin Luther King Day off. Indiana sucks.”

It was true. All of Indiana’s neighbors were MLK progressives. To the west, Illinois had adopted the holiday in ’73, the first state to ever do so. On the southern border, Kentucky followed suit in ’74. To the east, Ohio passed their bill in ’75. And in the north, Michigan did so in ’77. These states had legalized MLK Day at least ten years ago — long before the federal holiday took effect in ’86 — and many of the schools in those states had been closing for just as long. With the federal holiday in place since last year, more states were joining the cause, though sometimes kicking and screaming, and not least in Indiana.

Governor Robert Orr (Dustin called him “Governor Whore”) had moved heaven and earth to get legislators on board, over the bilious objections of one Senator Chairman Richard Shank. Shank had initially refused to even allow a hearing on an MLK holiday. A compromise was reached last March: the bill passed as a temporary measure, allowing Indiana the holiday for two years; at the end of 1988, the bill would expire and legislators would have to start over again if they wanted to make MLK Day a permanent state holiday.

Which made the whole thing a farce. Indiana had legalized a holiday for a limited duration and little benefit. Most state offices were open today; the few employees who were off didn’t get paid. And every single school in every district in all counties was open. There were states in the deep south that took the day more seriously than Indiana. As of this year, in fact, only ten states in the union didn’t honor MLK Day. Indiana may as well have been an eleventh.

They listened as Lucas sermonized on the subject. Like Dustin, Max had apparently heard a lot of this already too. “Indiana’s a different world than California,” she said.

“No kidding,” said Lucas. “When did California legalize MLK Day?” Mike was sure that Max had already told him.

“’82,” said Max.

“And you got the day off from school,” said Lucas.

“My school was closed,” affirmed Max, “but in those early years most California schools stayed open for the holiday.”

“Even though it was state law?” asked Will.

“State law affects state employees,” said Max. “School closings are usually decided by the individual school districts.”

“Our governor could do it,” said Lucas.

“Governor Whore?” asked Dustin.

“Will you stop calling him that?” said Lucas. “The governor’s the one doing everything he can. But he should do more. He should issue executive orders every year, until our law makers and school boards join the rest of the world.”

“‘More from Governor Whore’ could be our slogan,” suggested Dustin.

“Does it really matter?” asked Will. “I mean, who needs a day off in the middle of January?” They looked at him as if he had been repossessed by the Shadow Monster. “We just had Christmas and New Year’s. It’s the longest holiday stretch of the year.”

“Why don’t you go to class,” said Lucas.

“Yeah Will,” said Dustin. “There’s no such thing as too many days off.”

“So now you do want the day off!” said Lucas.

“I always want a day off,” said Dustin. “But they should bring back Lincoln’s birthday. He freed the slaves. There’s your holiday for the black cause.”

Lucas bristled at this. “We need a black man for the black cause. What’s your problem with Dr. King?”

“I love Martin Luther King. But we’re never going to see schools close for him in the redneck state of Indiana. Not even with Governor Whore behind us.”

Mike had heard enough. He had his own reasons for wanting the day off. He and El were already halfway through their two-week honeymoon, and he had every intention of making it count. He didn’t give two shits about Martin Luther King. He just wanted time alone with El, mostly in bed.

“Quit your bitching, both of you,” he said.

“People better start bitching louder,” said Lucas. “What’s your problem with Dr. King?”

Mike refused to be baited. He was the lone Republican in the group now that Lucas’s parents had switched parties. The Sinclairs had been inching towards Democrat since the start of Reagan’s second term, and the explosion of the Iran-Contra fiasco on the day before Thanksgiving made it a done deal. They announced their conversion while feasting on Karen Wheeler’s turkey; it didn’t sit well with their hosts. If you lived on Maple Street, you were a Republican; pure and simple. Dustin, Will, and Max were smugly elated. Ma Henderson and Aunt Ruth were feral Democrats, and Max’s mother leaned that way too; Lucas had scored points as a yuppie gone rogue. Mike hardly cared. For all his lip-service to Reagan, he was apolitical. He wasn’t subject to being disillusioned. If Lucas wanted to rant about Republican evils, let him knock himself out.

“You guys want the day off?” he asked. “Take it off.”

“What?” said Lucas.

“You heard me.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Will.

“It’s what I’m doing.” Mike had just made his decision. “Taking the day off. Going home, right now. You guys in or out?”

They thought he was crazy.

“Well, enjoy yourselves –”

“Mr. Wheeler?”

They all turned. The deputy headmaster stood over them, his face vowing reprimands.

Mike swore to himself. Since when did Mr. Carol patrol the grounds like a grade-school monitor?

“You and your friends come with me.”

 

” ‘It is not smart to piss someone off who’s seen a lot of death. You may find yourself there.’ ” Mr. Carol looked up from his notepad. “And you said this within earshot of nearly half the student body.”

They were seated in his office. The dressing down was severe, coming from Mr. Carol. Unlike his boss Mr. Ogden, the deputy was widely admired. He was a firm disciplinarian, but not petty; he stood up for the weak and went hard after bullies; he didn’t over-punish, or at least not usually. Mike had always liked Mr. Carol.

“Seth is a bully,” said Mike. “I was standing up for Vijay.”

“As far as I can tell, Mr. Wheeler, you bullied the bully. Maybe you think you’re better than everyone else and above censure.”

Mike said nothing. This was absurd. Seth and his friends should have been the ones sitting here.

Mr. Carol turned his gaze on Lucas. “Mr. Sinclair? You’re his best friend. Am I to assume you stood by and did nothing to diffuse this witless pissing match?”

“Hey, I’m not his keeper,” said Lucas.

“What did you say to me?”

“Well, I’m not,” said Lucas. “But for the record, I approve what Mike did.” He paused and considered. “Entirely,” he lied.

Mike chewed back a smile.

“You’ll be entirely without letters of recommendation when you apply for colleges in two years,” said Carol. “I’ll be sure of it.”

“I’ll take my chances,” said Lucas, shocked by the nasty threat.

Carol turned on his next victim. “Mr. Byers?”

Will sat up. “Yes?”

“Don’t ‘yes’ me,” said Carol.

“Yes, sir… I mean…”

“Were you a fly on the wall, or did you offer Michael any counsel on the behavior of mature sophomores?” The deputy paused. “Or perhaps you encouraged Mike.”

That was grossly unfair. Will had urged Mike to help Vijay, but Mr. Carol was acting as if Will had incited violence. And how the hell did the deputy know exactly what was said out there? Did he have spies in the schoolyard?

“I said we should do something to help Vijay,” said Will. “He was being –”

The deputy waved his hand in dismissal. “Mr. Henderson?”

“Sir!”

“What about you?”

“What about me, sir!”

Carol’s eyes glinted with anger. “Stand up, Mr. Henderson.”

“Yes sir!” Dustin stood at attention and gave a perfectionist Nazi salute. A mistake.

“You aspire high, Mr. Henderson, which brings you low. Get down where you belong, on the floor, and give me fifty push ups. On your knuckles. Do it now.”

Dustin gaped. “Are you serious?” Another mistake.

The deputy suddenly surged forward in his seat and snapped, “What are you waiting for, you little shit?”

The kids stared appalled. Dustin almost said something but then thought better of it. He got down and began his knuckle push ups.

“Now. Miss Mayfield.” Carol had resumed his composure as if nothing happened.

“I have nothing to say,” retorted Max. She sat with her arms folded.

“Of course you don’t,” said Carol. “You have nothing of value to contribute. To this school or to yourself. You know how to skateboard. I’ll give you that.”

Max was outraged but didn’t reply. Lucas looked ready to tear the deputy’s head off.

Mike wasn’t sitting still any more. “What are you going to do about Seth?”

“Absolutely nothing,” said Mr. Carol. “Not that it’s your concern.”

“This is bullshit!” said Mike.

“Get out of my office, Mr. Wheeler. All of you.” He looked down. “And get up, Mr. Henderson. Your vain struggles against the floor aren’t helping.”

Dustin got up, winded. He began massaging his knuckles.

The deputy glared at them. “I know about you all, and I don’t care who you think you are, or what you’ve done in this town. It’s a new year. Ride your high horses again, and I’ll be there to knock you off. Go to class.”

They filed out of his office, furious. Mike sensed hidden threats. It’s a new year. What the hell did that mean?

 

One thing you could say about Vijay Agarwal. He didn’t let the shitheads grind him down. He was back the next day as if nothing had happened, walking by Seth and Co. with complete indifference. Mike decided he liked the kid. He was a freshman, but that was okay. He was from Boston, but had brought none of the uppity condescension you learned to expect from an east-coast transplant. He was unassuming; comfortable in his skin. Given its color that went a long way.

He came over to Mike before the bell rang for first class.

“Hey dude,” said Mike. He noticed an issue of Dragon magazine stuck in between Vijay’s books.

“Hi Mike. I know I’m only a freshman, but can I sit with you guys at lunch?”

“Uh, yeah. That’s cool.” He was sure the others wouldn’t mind. “You play D&D?”

“Yeah, but not since I moved here. I don’t know anyone. Do you play?”

A sore subject. “Not anymore, no,” said Mike.

“I’ve got the killer module to end all modules,” said Vijay. “I mean, aside from Tomb of Horrors.”

“Dude, you haven’t seen a killer module until you play The Dancing Hut.”

Vijay frowned. “Never heard of it.”

“You get Dragon.

“For two years now.”

“Oh. The Dancing Hut is from ’84,” said Mike, remembering the pain of that year too well. “You should back order the issue. It’s a Dragon classic.”

“I will. What’s it about?”

“A witch named Baba Yaga. She terrorizes countrysides, eats kids, and is practically invincible.” Baba Yaga’s Hut had been their last major campaign, in April 1984. For Mike it summoned a host of destructive memories. It was the year of Eleven’s exile — presumed dead or lost in some other dimension — and Mike had taken his anger out on anyone convenient. Accordingly, he had orchestrated a campaign so sick and nihilistic it pushed the bounds of decency. He punished his friends in the game as he felt punished in life. In Baba Yaga’s Hut, Dustin died; Will was turned to glass; Lucas barely escaped. They failed their mission entirely. Mike was immensely satisfied, though it hadn’t improved his disposition in the least.

“Sounds awesome,” said Vijay. “But here, breeze through this.” He handed Mike a module from his pack.

Mike gasped at the cover and title: Southern Mirkwood: Haunt of the Necromancer. He couldn’t believe what he was holding. It was a campaign module set in Middle-Earth. Middle-frigging-Earth. Tolkien’s world had actually been been made into a role-playing game. And this was Southern Mirkwood, the domain of Sauron long before he moved to Mordor.

“Where did you get this?” demanded Mike.

“The Boston comic store carries all the Middle-Earth modules.”

“There are more?” asked Mike.

“Loads,” said Vijay. “There’s a module for Angmar — you know, the Witch King — and Isengard, and Shelob’s Lair, and Goblin-Town, and Moria –”

“Are you shitting me?” said Mike.

“Who’s shitting who?” It was Dustin. Lucas and Will were behind him.

“Look, you guys,” said Mike, showing them Southern Mirkwood. “They make D&D modules for Middle-Earth now.”

“No way,” said Dustin, swiping the module from Mike’s hands.

“They aren’t actually D&D modules,” said Vijay. “It’s a different role-playing system. But you can adapt them to D&D. I do all the time.”

“Yeah, it’s not a TSR product,” said Dustin. “Some company I’ve never heard of. ICE.”

“Iron Crown Enterprises,” said Vijay. “But Rotten Gargoyle doesn’t carry any ICE products.” Rotten Gargoyle was the gaming store in Hawkins. In their middle-school days they had made weekly trips.

“The manager should be raped,” said Dustin. “I’m going to go in and bitch at — Hey! The copyright date is 1983. This thing has been out for years.”

“The first Middle-Earth module was released in ’82,” said Vijay. “Angmar, I think. The latest is Lorien. I got it for Christmas.”

“That pisses me off,” said Dustin. “We could have had a blast with these things.”

“Why don’t you guys still play?” said Vijay. “I know adults who play D&D. We should have a game sometime.”

“That’s a great idea,” said Will, looking at Mike.

Mike felt awkward. Vijay had made him realize how much he missed D&D, but this was troubled history. Mike had ridiculed Will for not growing out of the game. God, I was an asshole that summer.

He decided to un-asshole himself. “Yeah. It’s a great idea. Let’s do it.”

“Why not?” agreed Lucas, who had also teased Will on that rainy day in July. “It should be fun. We’ll get Max and El to play too.”

“Oh-ho, you rebel,” said Dustin.

“Girls?” asked Vijay, frowning.

“You have a problem with girls?” said Lucas.

Vijay paused. “No,” he said. “But they don’t usually play D&D.”

“They will with us,” said Mike. “You’ll dungeon master?”

“Yeah, absolutely.” said Vijay. “I’ve run Southern Mirkwood before, with my Boston friends. It’s insane.”

Lucas looked at Mike. “Tonight at your house?”

“Tomorrow night,” said Mike. “We’ll have the house to ourselves.” On Wednesday night, Holly would be sleeping over with a friend from school (and whose parents she found vastly more pleasant than her own), and Ted and Karen Wheeler would be out for dinner and a movie.

“Works for me,” said Dustin.

“I’ll pick everyone up,” said Lucas. He had been driving since turning sixteen in December. His father had splashed big last week, buying Lucas a Mazda MX-6. “Where do you live, Vijay?”

His home was in Loch Nora, of course, with the rest of the filthy rich. Vijay gave his address. “Thanks so much for inviting me, you guys. I’ll make it a great campaign.”

“You better, dude,” said Mike. “Or next time we let Seth eat you alive.”

“We should get an early start since it’s a school night,” said Lucas. “I’ll start picking everyone up at 4:30 and we can eat when we get to Mike’s.”

“Yeah, I’ll make some sandwiches and shit,” said Mike. “And we’ve got lots of snack food for during the game.”

“I’ll bring bags of M&Ms,” said Vijay. “My dad bought a whole bunch when he went to Indianapolis over the week-end.”

“Sweet,” said Dustin.

“It’ll be like old times,” said Will.

If any of them had known how catastrophically right Will was, they would have told Vijay to stay home and tear the Southern Mirkwood module to shreds.

 

That night Mike relived memories another way. Through music, the purest of pastimes.

He watched the tapes record as Depeche Mode’s rhythms filled the room. Two tapes: one for him, one for El, though she didn’t know it yet. The soundtrack of their life. A life that began on a rainy night, when she emerged from Mirkwood — their Mirkwood Forest — wide-eyed and bald-headed. Sometimes he wanted to shave her head again, to recapture that first fire. The lead song on his cassette mix would have to do instead.

He leaned back over on his desk, and decorated the cassette covers with loops and swirls. He smiled, imagining her reaction to the songs.

It was hard being without her, even for one night. But they had agreed she would sleep over Max’s on the Tuesdays and Fridays of Hopper’s vacation. Max was El’s best friend, after all, and El was supposed to be staying there anyway. And her absence was a window of opportunity. Oddly enough, it was Lucas’s diatribe yesterday about Martin Luther King Day that inspired Mike to make the soundtrack.

The songs were twelve. Side B was recording now. Depeche Mode; the singer’s voice, without peer. The vinyl played; the cassettes spooled in the dual tape deck. The equalizers were modulated to a sacred pitch — Mike killed to protect his frequency settings — and the music sounded immortal. Mike wanted to be a musician someday; a guitar player. He’d start his own rock band.

He finished his sketchy designs and looked at the cases. He had listed the tracks in groups of three:

Side A

1. Space Age Love Song, A Flock of Seagulls
2. Louise, Clan of Xymox
3. Every Breath You Take, The Police

4. Baba O’Riley, The Who
5. In Between Days, The Cure
6. Best Adventures, Thinkman

Side B

7. Here is the House, Depeche Mode
8. Temptation, New Order
9. There is a Light That Never Goes Out, The Smiths

10. Par Avion, Mike and the Mechanics
11. Bring on the Dancing Horses, Echo and the Bunnymen
12. MLK, U2

The first trilogy represented his middle school years. “Space Age Love Song” summoned how hard he had fallen for El that first week, even if his twelve-year old self had to move mountains to admit it. “Louise” covered his year of depression following her presumed death. The song was released only last November; when Mike had heard it he relived her self-sacrifice to the demogorgon (“my heart used to beat, now it only weeps; and I shiver, I quiver, into these strangest things”). It was the cathartic juice before the sinister romance of “Every Breath You Take”, their reunion song after that miserable year, and which they had danced to at the Snowball of ’84.

The momentous Summer of Love in ’85 got a trilogy to itself. “Baba O’Riley” was self-explanatory. Mike and his friends had entered a teenage wasteland that July, weighed down by growing pains. “In Between Days” played on similar themes (“yesterday I got so old it made me want to cry”), and his fervent need for El (“come back, come back, don’t walk away”) during their first breakup, when she had dumped him at Hopper’s engineering. He cursed Hopper, remembering. And “Best Adventures” was the suitable farewell to all their childhood glories.

Next was his “passion” trilogy; of love, dance, and death. It represented his first year at high school, and led with “Here is the House”, the song he was listening to now. It was from Depeche Mode’s incredible Black Celebration album, and to Mike it educed mutual surrender and the rising passion he and El had felt for each other during his freshman year. “Temptation” was an eight-minute redundancy that he couldn’t help dancing to. As for the Smiths song, it was gloomy and depressing like all Smiths songs, but uplifting too: by ’86 Mike was having dreams of dying by El’s side (“such a heavenly way to die”) in heroic fantasies.

Then came December, when the life went out of Eleven. “Par Avion” was the song for that (“here comes the night”), a slow haunting piece that also played to Mike’s stepping up sexual pressures on El, after months of chafing at their frustrations (“I’ve been waiting here for so long”). They rewarded themselves on Christmas Eve, losing their virginity to “Bring on the Dancing Horses”. His favorite song now obviously. He had no idea what the horses were and had given up trying to understand the lyrics. All he knew is that it was compulsive; the psychedelic rhythms got in his blood; and the lyrics, while enigmatic, spoke to a raw primal need; sex most of all.

The cap off went to U2’s lullaby “MLK”, his shout-out to Lucas and one of the best final songs on any album. A song, come to think of it, that was perfect to drift off to after making love. He would put that to the test when she was back tomorrow. But he also used this song to anticipate U2’s new album. It was called The Joshua Tree, and Rolling Stone had announced its March release. Mike couldn’t wait for it.

He paused the recordings when the song ended, removed Black Celebration, and put on the New Order single. As it played and recorded, Mike danced in his room. He danced for all he had — his girlfriend, his home, his friends. And for the gift of life, after all the blackness they had survived.

 

In bed later, he tossed and turned, closed his eyes, aching for the companionship he had grown used to over the past week. When sleep came it was thin, and lit by the crudely wild dreams of fifteen year old boys; dreams where lust and love came together as one. Where El moved her hands all over him, kissed him hotly, begged him to shoot inside her, made him promise to never leave her.

I’ll never leave you, he vowed, hammering her. Never.

She cried his name, ecstatic, and then her cries tapered off into something like anguish.

What’s wrong? He worked for a climax that wouldn’t come. Through the fury of his thrusts, he saw that she was crying now. El? He panicked and thrust harder. Am I hurting you? He should be stopping, not doubling down, but he had lost control. The dream was branching into rivers of unyielding currents.

Mike, she whimpered. I didn’t want this. Don’t me mad. Please.

He felt the rush of waves over him. Water that wasn’t wet; liquid he could breathe. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. El became less tangible in his arms. He cried out panic stricken.

She began dissolving in his embrace. He was inside her still — a frustrated exclamation point going nowhere — and she was going, leaving him by some unexplained cruelty.

El, no! I said I wouldn’t leave you! I promised! But he had it wrong. She was leaving him.

His panic exploded. EL!

Please, she repeated… and then she was gone.

He screamed and screamed and lashed out, tearing apart the grey mists of his dream. EL, WHERE ARE YOU?! He cried the question over and over.

Then he was answered, out of the blackness. Not by her — but by a face of aqueous evil that swamped his vision and blotted out mind and purpose. A face so horrid it could petrify air and rock. Mike thought of the shadow worm… and knew this was the face of its master.

In a voice as bleak as the grave it spoke: I see you.

Mike Wheeler sat up in bed and screamed. A few moments more, and the terror of that face would have killed him. He began to cry. The dream had been far too real.

Then he heard movement in the hallway. He had woken his parents. He tried to stop crying. The door slowly opened.

“I’m all right, mom. I just had a freaky dream –”

A figure entered the room that was not his mother. Nor his father. Nor any human being under the sun. It was over six feet tall, draped in a robe with tall neck frill, and adorned with a necklace of tiny skulls. Its head was the aquatic obscenity that Mike had just escaped. It uttered something harsh and alien, and advanced toward the bed…

And Mike Wheeler sat up in that same bed and screamed again — and kept screaming until his mother flew into the room, and he knew for certain this time that he had woken up for real.

 

Next Chapter: In the Depths of Dol Guldur

(Previous Chapter: Forgive Us Our Debts)

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