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 Two:
Will’s mind was reeling, unable to accept what was clear as day. He was in the past, perhaps by two years: the version of Mike throwing frisbee looked about ten. Which meant that Mike’s special powers over time were still alive.
Since Mike’s “second birth”, they had all believed those powers had gone away or been somehow neutralized. But he had just demonstrated the mightiest power of all. A power that was dreamed in science and dramatized in fiction. Time travel. The ultimate wild card.
Mike was crying from his soul. Will said his name, and sat down next to him, taking care to stay hidden. How long had his nephew been living with this power, all alone? Had Lucas known? In his first life, his mother had helped steer him through the hazards and frustrations of a psychic ability. His uncles and best friend had known about it too, including Will. But tempus fugit was nothing like time travel. Intervening in the past could rip apart the fabric of history, or create alternate histories — or both — depending on which book you read.
“Mike,” he repeated. “Talk to me. How long have you been able to do this?”
Mike looked up, wiping his eyes. “A while.”
“After Uncle Luc died, is when I found out. By accident.”
Two years then. They were probably watching Lucas during his last weeks on earth. Maybe even days.
“And you never told me,” said Will.
“I told you.”
“I showed you once before, just like now. Over a year ago, I took you back in time to another day Uncle Luc and I were playing down there.”
“You must have me confused with someone else.”
“No. You forget it all when I take you back. To the present.”
Say what? “I forget it all? You’re saying that when we get back, I won’t remember seeing you and Uncle Luc playing down there?”
Mike shook his head.
“I won’t remember this conversation with you?”
He shook his head again, watching the scene below.
Will stared at his nephew. If that was true, this was wasted talk.
He tried another tack. “Why did you bring me here? What do you want me to see?” It’s obvious, you fool. He wants you to see that you’re a worthless pile of shit compared to the infallible Uncle Luc.
Mike remained silent.
“Mike, help me out here. Please. Can you explain all of this to me, when we get back to our present? That you can time travel?”
“I’m not sure I want you to know.”
“It’s a big weight to carry alone.”
“I can’t stop Armageddon, so don’t bother saying it,” said Mike.
Will felt a wave of guilt. Mike had practically read his mind. “I wouldn’t try to make you do anything like that. But do you mean that you can’t do something like that, or you won’t?”
“I can only go back to the same place I leave from, give or take a couple of miles. So I can’t take an assassin back in time to, like, the private rooms of the White House so he can shoot Donald Trump. I leave from Hawkins, I arrive at Hawkins.”
“I see. It’s too bad we don’t know if Donald Trump ever paid a visit to Hawkins in the distant past.”
“There’s another problem.”
“Only one?” joked Will.
“Coming back makes me sick. Remember all those ‘short flu’ episodes you thought I was having?”
“Are you serious?” Those had been horrible. “Time travel makes you sick enough to kill you?” Will had feared for Mike’s life on those occasions. Three times this past year, Mike had been slammed with sudden fevers that escalated as high as 105. They made him delirious, pulverized him with chills, and produced nauseating vertigo. Fevers that high were a splinter’s width away from brain damage. But then, after only two or three hours in each case, Mike was suddenly well again. The sickness evaporated in seconds. Will had called them “short flu” strains, and couldn’t make sense of the fact that Mike was the only one in the Colony who ever got them. Now he knew why.
“It’s a reaction I have. I don’t know, to cope with the strain of time travel. I guess. I worked it out. It’s an hour of sickness for every year I go back. Remember in February, when I got sick for three hours instead of two? It’s because I went back three years. When I first traveled by accident, I only went back a few months — about four I think — and I got sick for like fifteen or twenty minutes. You were at a Council meeting and never knew. The point is, the further back I go –”
“The more likely you could die.” Will cringed to think of Mike suffering bouts of that illness for any longer than a few hours. People died from flu strains that strong. He suddenly felt bad for Mike. He missed his Uncle Luc so badly that he was willing to suffer torture to revisit the past.
“What I’m saying is,” said Mike, “I’d have to want something really badly to go back deep in time.”
“Three years is the furthest I’ve gone.”
From the field below, younger Mike shouted as the frisbee sailed way over his head. He laughed and chased after it, and Lucas watched him go.
Will looked at Mike. “You don’t ever interact with them do you?”
Mike didn’t answer.
“Jesus, Mike –”
“No, I never do that. I know changing the past can cause shitstorms.”
“But you think about it all the time. Warning Uncle Luc. To save his life.”
Will was actually astonished that Mike hadn’t tried this already. But his nephew continued to surprise him. He was ruled by a twelve-year old psychology, but somewhere in his mind his forty-three years weighed consequences. And he was a fan of science fiction, just like Will. Some of the time-travel plots from his favorite novels would make anyone think twice before selfishly altering the past. He sensed that Mike had brought him here to get his permission to intervene, without directly asking him; to effectively make the decision his. Mike was about to be disappointed.
“Mike, I’d like to save other people in this Colony who died protecting us — Matt, Rhonda, Clive. They were important too.”
His nephew stared down at the field.
“You have no idea how much I miss Uncle Luc. He was a best friend. Only your father was ever closer to me. I wish he were still alive. But I don’t think this is the answer.”
Mike wiped his face on his sleeve. “I knew you’d say that.”
“I know I’m not Uncle Luc, and that you don’t really like me — no, don’t worry, let’s be honest — and I accept that.” The lie came easy enough in the context of the discussion. He was more hurt by Mike’s rejection of him than he cared to admit. “But I love you Mike, and I try to do right by you.” God, this was sounding lame. He wasn’t good with kids. For the millionth time, he wished that Dustin had adopted Mike after Lucas died. But Dustin had adopted the stray girl Kira in the year the Pockets appeared; her parents had been killed in their home while she was at a friend’s house. And Lucas’s wife Raquel lived with her daughters in New Mexico. Lucas had stayed in Hawkins out of commitment to Mike and El. He had been the world to Mike.
“I miss him,” cried Mike.
“I know.” Will hugged him, and they sat in silence, watching himself and Lucas replay the past. Now the younger Mike was shouting wildly and running down the field, daring his uncle to throw a strong lead. Will realized the simple truth: Mike’s happiness had died with Lucas Sinclair. The child down on that field was long gone. Mike hardly ever smiled anymore.
“How long do you play down there?” he finally asked Mike.
“A bit longer. We should probably go now.” Mike stood up. He looked like he had come to a decision. “Let’s go to our house. We won’t run into you, because you’re doing grain inventory on the south side.”
“Why go to the house? Shouldn’t we get back?” said Will.
“You want to know all of this. When we get back to our time, I’ll tell you that I can time travel. But you won’t believe me without proof.”
Will rose beside him, then ducked quickly behind the tree again. Fifty feet away to their left, two Colony members were walking home from work. He knew them — everyone knew each other in the Colony — and he and Mike stayed hidden until they passed from sight.
“Okay, let’s go.” They started walking. “What kind of proof do you have in mind?”
“We go into our house and get a piece of paper, and you write down what I tell you: how I time travel, all the rules for time travel that I’ve figured out — what I can do, what I can’t do. You write all of it down on the piece of paper. We take the paper back to our time, so when you see your handwriting, you’ll know I’m not messing with you.”
Will supposed it was a good idea. He had no idea how he would react to being told all of this once he’d forgotten it. “Lead the way, boss. You’re going to be really sick when we get back.”
“And you’ll think I have the short flu again.”
“Until you explain everything to me.”
The following day, Will prepared for another invidious ordeal. Tobias Powell was coming to visit. Mike’s best friend from an eternity ago. They were were no longer friends at all, thanks to Tobias. He wanted to rectify that.
He was coming from New York; an impossible trip for most people. Will hadn’t seen him since the pre-Trump days, during his visits to Oregon, when Tobias and Mike had been teenagers. Now Tobias was forty-three. So was Mike, technically. Realistically and practically, he was twelve, for the third time in his life. The first time he had met Tobias and they became best friends. The second time he had been aging backwards; Tobias turned eighteen and had put an end to their friendship after straining to maintain it. The breakup tore them apart, but Mike especially. Now, more than twenty-four years later, another pivotal encounter was about to take place between Tobias and a twelve-year old Mike Hopper. Will had no idea that morning how critical this visit would be. Tobias was simply coming out for closure — to make amends for hurting Mike — and he thought Mike’s twelfth birthday was a suitable time for that.
Will had told him to come the day after, believing that a visit with Mike’s mother was enough for one day. That had turned out to be a colossal understatement, given the fireworks from that visit, followed by Mike’s violent illness when they got home. Followed by tall tales explaining that sickness. Will wasn’t sure he believed them. Tobias probably would.
Tobias arrived shortly before noon, descending from the air. The wall patrollers had been instructed to expect him and hold their fire. When Will opened his front door, he was thunderstruck by the vehicle parked next to his home. It was a beetle.
He knew in advance that Tobias would be coming in one, but he was still unprepared: they were a rare and awesome spectacle — rarer than even the old governmental e-pods, and the ultimate transport in America. There were probably less than two hundred in the whole country, available only to ultra-privileged. Tobias’s status in the New York governance would have to be impressive for him to be granted the use of one. Shaped like giant beetles, large enough to carry eight passengers comfortably (eleven with a tight squeeze), they could fly as easily as glide over land on a cushion of air. Of course, in the post-apocalypse most drivers flew if they had half a brain. Driving a beetle on the ground was an invitation to attack and plunder, if you didn’t keep moving fast. They were powered by solar energy cells that needed frequent recharging, supposedly after seventy-two hours of use, but they were notoriously unreliable. Sometimes they supplied closer to sixty hours of power. Will had heard rumors of a beetle that crashed in the Rockies because of faulty cells.
“Hey! William Goddamn Byers!” A man exited the driver’s door, waving to him. He opened a panel on the side that exposed the energy cells to sunlight, and then came over to Will, smiling. Tobias looked good; strong and healthy.
“Hi Tobias.” They embraced.
“How are you, man? You still look like a librarian.”
“That’s part of my role here,” Will admitted. The Colony had a library, though hardly anyone used it. People were busy in the fields or patrolling the walls. The library only existed at Will’s insistence, and as the Council’s chairman he got his wish.
“You’re a bit thin, but then you always were. You eating well?”
“We get by. How’s New York?”
“Shitty,” said Tobias. “Don’t believe the lies that it’s the best place to live. It’s a perilous shithole like everywhere else.”
“I don’t know,” said Will. “It can’t be as bad as the wastelands.”
“The whole country’s a fucking wasteland, my friend. Even the parts that were spared.”
One of the most curious aspects of the nuclear attacks is that they had pounded every square mile of the east and west coasts, except for the areas of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey — the regions around New York City, in other words. The city that any enemy would have made a number one strike priority. Instead, Iran had demolished the entire east except the New York area. The reason for this — as even morons had deduced — was that Iran didn’t really nuke the east, any more than North Korea did the west. Both countries had had the long-range capabilities by 2027, but they could not have withstood a retaliation from a superpower like the United States. Certainly not long enough to keep blowing up America until eighteen states — one hundred and twenty-four million Americans — were completely destroyed.
No, it had been America’s ally Russia that demolished the seaboards. Russia had done this at the request of Donald Trump, who then scapegoated Iran and North Korea. As insane as that sounded.
Trump had been eighty-one and in failing health, and not counting on a fourth term. Drowning in narcissism and megalomania, and fed up with those who hated him, he set on a course to destroy his own nation. As he saw it, America had lost the right to exist. Putin’s successor Yerik Ulanov became the means to that necessary end. Trump begged the Russian president to launch missiles against the east and west states — but to spare New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, in order to preserve the sacred region around Trump Tower.
Trump had blamed North Korea and Iran, claiming they were in league. Both America and Russia fired back on North Korea, annihilating the country completely. Then they fired on Iran, as well as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, for good measure. Trump then blew up Washington D.C. in a suicidal nuclear self-destruct. But not before paying a final visit to Trump Tower. He had given a tour of the tower to a crowd of people who would still give him the time of day; pontificating in the atrium, pouring sentimental tears to his daft audience, as millions of Americans were being blown apart, or left to die on the slow road of radiation poisoning.
“Trump Tower is rubble, right?” asked Will.
“You bet your ass it is. And still being used as an open latrine. People take pride in baring their asses for all to see, and leaving their shit on the place.”
Will laughed. “Not surprised.”
“On July 4th there’s going to be a parade around those shit-stones. There will be a Trump mascot, and the paraders — each and every one of them — will take turns ass-raping it before tearing it apart and throwing it in a bonfire.”
“I’m glad I won’t be there.”
“New Yorkers have done it every year since 2030.”
“I trust the person in the mascot gets out before being roasted.”
Tobias laughed. “Yeah. It’s clever how they orchestrate that. Bunch of magicians.”
“Well, why don’t you come in. Mike’s inside.”
“Thanks.” Tobias looked apprehensive. “So this visit is okay with him? I was — oh.”
Tobias broke off what he was about to say. Mike was standing in the front doorway.
“Hey,” said Tobias. “Look who’s here.”
Mike was silent.
Tobias waited longer, and then cleared his throat. “You look the same as when we last saw each other.”
“Yeah,” said Mike with the force of a bullet. “You unfriended me.”
“I know,” said Tobias. “It was the worst thing I ever did, Mike. I’m sorry.”
Mike looked at him, saying nothing.
“I wish I could take it back, Mike. I hate myself for it.”
Mike was making shapes in the ground with his foot. “Friends are stupid anyway. I don’t want any.”
“Is it okay with you that I’m here?”
“I guess. I don’t care.”
Tobias looked at Will, who just shook his head.
Mike turned around and went back inside.
“Sorry,” said Will. “As I said over the radio, this may be a wasted trip for you.”
“No, no, it’s okay,” said Tobias, visibly holding back tears. “I don’t blame him at all. Jesus. It’s amazing seeing him after all this time — the same age I last saw him. I’m glad I didn’t bring a present. I had one, but then I thought it would seem lame.”
Will agreed. Mike wasn’t the sort of kid to be mollified by artificial gifts. What he needed was the gift of friendship. But his defenses were too entrenched. He had been abandoned by the people he needed most. They had gone where he couldn’t follow — Tobias to college, his mother to the asylum, and Uncle Luc to the grave. He wouldn’t make the mistake of trusting anyone again.
“Come on,” said Will. “We’ll see what lunch can do. I hope you like chicken liver.”
“And you believe him?” asked Tobias.
“Do you?” returned Will. They had finished lunch, and Mike was outside playing.
“I don’t know. Time travel. That’s pretty insane.”
“And I don’t see why I shouldn’t remember it, if he can. It sounds too convenient. Like he’s messing with me, or coming up with some batshit crazy explanation for his flu episodes.”
“But that’s not like him.”
“Since his Uncle Luc died, he’s resented me. We had a really bad fight yesterday, after visiting his mother. This might be a game he’s playing for sympathy.”
“But that is your writing.” Will had shown him the piece of paper titled “Rules for Mike’s time travel ability”, with a list of six items underneath.
“Well… it looks like it.”
Tobias read the paper again:
Rules for Mike’s time travel ability:
- can take up to about 500 pounds with him
- can only travel into the past, not the future
- gets sick upon return, one hour for every year into the past
- whoever he takes with him loses all memories of the time travel upon return
- can vary his entry point by about 2 miles (10,000 feet), but cannot distance travel any more than that
- when he returns, the amount of time spent in the past is the amount of time elapsed in the present
“I think this is easy enough to resolve,” said Tobias. “Tell Mike to travel back a couple days. When you see him vanish and come back again, you’ll know he’s telling the truth.”
“If it’s true, it will make him sick. I keep thinking he’s going to have brain damage from those fevers, or even die.”
“I said just a couple of days. That should only make him sick for, what? According to this, only a minute.”
“Don’t worry. Believe me, I intend to put this to the test. But I want to give him a few days. Yesterday was hard on both of us.”
“You know,” said Tobias, putting down the paper, “I actually think he is telling the truth.”
“Because it makes sense. When I knew Mike, he had the power to make time seem like it was passing faster than it really was. On other people. We called it fugiting. You know, ‘tempus fugit’; ‘time flying’. Then that awful creature from the Upside Down got into his head and changed his ability, so that he could really make time pass inside of people, and accelerate their aging. Then that backfired on him, he aged in reverse with no control over it.”
“I know all this,” said Will.
“Yeah, but put it all together. Mike has always had some of kind of power over time. Fugiting was about perception. The aging power was real. This time travel ability he’s describing — that you apparently wrote down here — blends the two. People who travel with him have an altered perception when they get back; they can’t remember anything. But something dramatic really happened. The difference is that now Mike can make people pass through time, instead of making time pass through people.”
Will thought about it, twirling his coffee mug. “Jesus.”
“There is a sort of logic to it.”
“You may be right.”
“As for getting sick, that makes sense too. His mother pays a similar price for using her powers. Mike’s sickness is more severe, but then time travel is a much stronger power.”
Will nodded. “Time travel. Everyone’s dream.”
“It sure is. With a shitload of potential.”
“Well, if Mike can take other people with him –”
“Two adults, or four or five kids, at most. He has a weight limit. I already know what you’re thinking, Tobias. We can’t stop Armageddon. It’s the first thing that came to my mind — both times, according to Mike; he said we talked about it in the past, and then yesterday, back in the present, when he explained everything to me again.”
“I wasn’t thinking about the nukes.”
“We can’t stop the shadow apocalypse either. We can’t destroy or close the Gate before it started producing the Pockets, because we don’t know how that can be done. The doctors have tried everything at the lab, and they’re still trying. If we can’t do it in the present, we can’t do it in the past. Only Eleven could do that, and she’s unreachable.”
“I wasn’t thinking about destroying the Gate,” said Tobias. “I was thinking of taking the more obvious approach, unless you’re too squeamish for it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Killing the asshole who tampered with the Gate. The guy who created the Pockets.”
“You lost me. Someone from our world created the Pockets? What makes you think that?”
“You didn’t know that?” Tobias sounded a bit surprised.
“No,” said Will. “How do you know that?”
“You’re saying you’ve never heard of Charles Morgred?”
The name meant nothing to Will.
“Well, that’s… curious. He was a scientist from New York, who had somehow become aware of a new Gate in the old Hawkins Lab. For years he was trying to figure out a way to multiply dimensional portholes, and he finally found a way to do it. That was in 2031, when the Pockets started opening in Indiana. Right after Morgred opened them, he came back to New York bragging about it. He started a cult promising the end times, and he was assassinated not too long after. Of course, most people thought he was full of shit and just trying to take credit for the shadow invasion, like a typical cult psycho. But I rather doubt that. He was a scientist, and people did confirm that he made a trip out to Hawkins a few days before the Pockets opened on September 11. People always wondered about the coincidence of the 9/11 date, but it wasn’t a coincidence at all. Morgred chose the date deliberately, to make a pattern for his religious prophecies. I know all about him because I live in New York. His cult was an obnoxious problem for us. You never heard about any of this?”
“No,” said Will. In the post-apocalyptic world, communication was a farce, especially over long distances. There was radio, but the Colonies kept mostly to themselves. “A cult fanatic in New York certainly isn’t the kind of thing we’d ever hear about, even if his claims were true.”
“I understand that. But I guarantee that your scientist friends at the lab know of Morgred. The New York officials radioed the Hawkins Lab back when this was going on. I guess I’m just surprised they never told you about him.”
“That is curious,” admitted Will.
“Anyway. All Mike would have to do is take an adult back with him, to say, the day right before the Pockets opened, wait by the Gate, and boom” — Tobias pointed his hand like a gun — “problem solved.”
“You bet your hemorrhoids I’m volunteering. I don’t like the idea of fucking with time, but the Upside Down won’t fade away like the radiation did. It’s expanding and getting stronger, and always will. In another decade all of America will be a slaughter ground like the midwest. That’s worth going back in time to undo.”
“I tend to agree. We’d have to coordinate something like that with Dr. Reardon. Of course, that means I’d have to tell him about Mike’s ability.”
“I can fly us to the lab this afternoon –”
They were interrupted by a pounding on the front door. “Mr. Byers?” It sounded like Adam, one of the wall patrollers.
Will swore. “This must be important.” He got up from the table and opened the door. Adam was there, and someone else, much to Will’s shock: Mark Reardon. The lab scientists almost never came to the Colony, and only on important business that required using the facility’s e-pod.
“Sorry to interrupt you, Will,” said Adam. “But Dr. Reardon says you’re expecting him?”
Will frowned. “Mark? Did we talk about a visit yesterday and I forgot?”
The scientist looked anxious and excited. “Uh no, Will. But you do want to see me about something, right?”
Tobias shifted in his seat at the table, curious.
Will’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t understand. What would I want to see you about?”
“Mike’s time travel ability? And something he can apparently do for all of us?”
Will stared at him, dumbfounded.
“If I could come in, Will,” said Dr. Reardon, “I’ll explain.”
Next Chapter: Mission Morgred
(Previous Chapter: Wasteland)