The Witch of Yamhill County (Chapter 2)

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 Two

                                Circle of Death

The forest held its breath. Summer air tensed, and the hut crouched in defense behind a circle of skulls. There were no legs that Hopper could see; so much for fairy tales. But he hated the look of those skulls.

There were about sixty of them: supported on stakes five feet tall, evenly spaced seven or eight feet apart, circling the Hut at a radius of eighty feet. They grinned with the long canine teeth of vampires, and promised harm on any who would dare pass.

Hopper felt for his gun, disgusted with himself for being spooked by Halloween gimmicks. He had been to the Upside Down and back, and fought far worse than old hags and scare props. But it was over five years since his last Hawkins battle. He was out of his element and wished Jane were here. I’m the sheriff and I want my daughter beside me. He was growing pathetic.

It had taken him two and a half hours to find the hut since he left the main road of Bellevue Hopewell. Betty’s map had been accurate, as far as it went. But it had left Hopper a lot to cover on foot. He had finally found this clear-cut after being led down dead-end roads and paths to nowhere. It was a ten-minute forest walk from where he had left his car, at the end of a dirt trail so treacherous that it almost upended his four-wheel drive.

Steeling himself, he walked between two of the stakes. He almost filled his pants when voices shouted at him from both sides:

“Turn a-round-a-round!”

The skulls were barking in coarse Russian accents, and talking out of sync so that one skull repeated over the other. They had swiveled on their stakes and were looking straight at Hopper, following his movement. He surveyed the other skulls in the circle, but they hadn’t moved or spoken. Only the two he passed between.

From hell the voices grated again: “Back-ack! You cannot pass-not pass!”

Hopper was trying not to show fear. If these voices were trick audio recordings, they were convincing. Smelling his own sweat, he kept walking past the skulls.

As soon as he set foot inside the circle, he heard a crackling sound behind him. He spun around with his gun ready, and his day got much worse. Twin jets of flame poured out of the skull mouths and slammed into him with the rancor of burning coals. He screamed and fired off a gunshot as best he could. One of the skulls shattered. Then pain filled him everywhere. He dropped the gun as fire raced over his torso and down his arms. He was going to burn alive.

He dropped and rolled, pounding his arms and chest as he tumbled. That act saved him from another blast of flame, which shot through the space where his head had been. He kept rolling, away from the stakes and deeper into the clearing. It was working; the fire on him was being smothered. He kept rolling. Another blast pounded the grass near his foot. He could smell burnt hair on his chest, but the flames finally went out. He rolled a few feet more, then leaped to his feet, backing away from the stakes. He was surprised by what he saw.

He was about twenty feet into the circle; a quarter of the distance to the hut. The other skull he had passed was rotating back to face the forest again. Either it was giving up on him, or he had passed beyond its range of fire. Of the other skull he had blasted, only bits remained on the stake. If he hadn’t destroyed it he’d still be burning. He couldn’t have dodged two of them.

He looked around the circle. None of the other skulls had come alive. The hut sat more than fifty feet away. He was going in there, by God, to save Sara Schwartz, and any of the other missing kids. Hopper wondered about that. It was a small hut, no more than fifteen feet wide; tight quarters for even two people to share. He was seriously revising his opinion of the old woman now. She was clearly dangerous and homicidal. She would pay for trying to burn him alive.

But he didn’t have his gun; it had fallen on the ground near one of the skull-stakes. The one he hadn’t shot, of course. He started walking back to get it.

When he got within ten feet of the perimeter, the skull began revolving toward him again. Hopper backed off. The skull stopped, and then turned back to face the forest. Fuck this shit. He made a rash decision.

He ran for his gun, looking down at it all the way, but feeling the skull’s revolution with every leap forward. He was being stupid, but he needed his piece. He dove spreadeagled, and grabbed the gun as a sheet of flame barely missed him and scorched the earth. Hopper flipped over on his back and saw the skull gloating down on him. He took aim. Smile now, shitbrain. 

The shitbrain exploded; the skull would smile no more. Hopper got up, on full alert. He thought he had heard someone yell from the woods. Or was it just the explosion?

“Who’s out there?” he yelled, holding his gun steady. Had he been followed? Or did the old crone have other tricks up her sleeve? “I’m a police officer! Show yourself, and put your hands in the air!”

Nothing from the forest but silence. Hopper waited a full minute before convincing himself he was mistaken. He turned and walked back towards the hut, glaring at it as he approached. The old bitch had probably been watching him all along and laughing. Hopper was sickened to think of Sarah caged inside with a homicidal hag.

He frowned as he got closer. There wasn’t even a window he could see. Just a door and a small chimney poking out the top. As he closed half the distance — almost forty feet away — he raised his pistol and pointed at the door as he walked. “Anyone inside the hut!” he shouted. “Come out with –”

His bladder unloaded at what happened next. The hut was suddenly towering thirty feet in the air, and spinning as it leaped in every direction. Unbelieving, Hopper saw the chicken legs: two feet thick and twelve feet long, with claws that could shred a lion. The legs had unfolded from underneath the hut’s resting position; it was now every bit the running hut of Yamhill gossip. The clawed feet were fearsome, stamping the ground every half second, and shaking the earth with the force of a T-Rex. Hopper had never pissed himself before while on duty. He had drastically underestimated the old woman.

“STOP!” he bellowed, aiming his gun at the shack. “I’M SHERIFF JIM HOPPER, YAMHILL COUNTY! MAKE THE HUT STOP AND COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!”

Apparently Baba Yaga wasn’t in an obliging mood. The hut lunged in his direction — and kept coming.

“Shit!” Hopper wasn’t about to unload fire. If Sara was inside, he could kill her. He turned and ran for his goddamn life. Which was a second thing he had never done as a cop. The crone had emasculated him into a pissing coward.

The chicken legs pounded and Hopper ran harder. There was no way he could outrun this thing; he was praying that once he was outside the circle, the hut would go back to rest. The stakes were less than twenty feet away, but it looked like twenty miles. Jesus fucking shit, what a stupid dead shit I am…

The hut was so close behind it sounded like a stampede. Hopper almost added feces to the mess in his pants. He was about to be crushed and shredded by claws larger than he was. He ran towards the two stakes whose skulls he had destroyed; he had a feeling they were about to be avenged. Miraculously, Hopper ran between them. He made himself stop and turn around.

The hut was no longer chasing him. Fifteen feet away from the stakes it had resumed its dance, shucking sideways, stamping backwards, forwards, while spinning like an amusement-park ride. He caught his breath. He had to get back to his vehicle and call for backup — he was thinking the entire Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office police force plus a few hundred military troops — but if the hut fled the area, he’d have a search mission on his hand. Nothing for it. He was useless here alone. If the hut ran away, he was powerless to stop it.

But he lingered to see what it would do next, or if the old woman would show herself. The door stayed shut. The hut danced gleefully, as if putting on a stage performance. By now Sara and any other kids must have been throwing up from motion sickness. Then the hut started skipping back to the circle’s center. It squatted down and folded its monstrous legs underneath: once again an ordinary log cabin, at a safe distance.

Stay there, bitch. I’ll be back with an army.

But that would be after nightfall. He checked his watch: 7:04 PM. Sunset was less than an hour away.

In ten minutes he backtracked through the woods to the dirt road where he parked his car. He opened the driver’s door and popped the trunk lid. First things first: he needed out of his burnt shirt and his soaked pants. He seethed, still unable to believe that he had pissed himself.

He removed his travel pack from the trunk and took out the pair of jeans, flannel shirt, and underwear that had been inside for months. He looked around the area to be sure he was alone, and then stripped out of his clothes. He’d need a new shirt for his sheriff’s outfit. He started putting on the clean set of clothes.

A branch snapped to his left, and he swore, caught half naked. Someone was in the woods after all. Was he being followed? He yanked up his pants without zipping them, grabbed his gun, and pointed at the trees. “Who’s there?” No answer. “Show yourself, I’m a police officer!” His car testified to that, even if his clothes no longer did.

More branches snapped, and a kid poked his head around the cover of a tree. No: two kids. There was a girl behind the next tree. She stepped out slowly. “Don’t shoot us!” The boy came too. And then another boy emerged from behind a boulder. Three kids, wearing backpacks, spying on him. They looked about fourteen years old.

Kids or not, Hopper’s guard was up. For all he knew they were forest pixies who could spit fire. Today anything was possible. “You kids put your hands where I can see them! And start walking towards me — slowly.”

“Yeah, okay,” said the first boy. “Chill out man, we’re coming.” The kids walked out of the woods with raised hands.

“Stand over here,” said Hopper, pointing his gun at the end of the dirt road.

They came onto level ground and he holstered his gun. Zipped up his pants too, as if it mattered. They’d seen him in all his glory. “Who are you kids?”

“We’re from Bellevue,” said the girl.

“Give me your names.”

“I’m Leigh. Leigh Davis.”

“Travis Mitchell,” said the first boy he’d spotted.

“Dash,” said the other boy. He looked like pure trouble.

“Dash?” said Hopper. “Is that a nickname?”

“It’s my name,” said Dash.

“It’s short for Dashiell,” put in Travis.

Hopper ignored Travis. “You have a last name?” he asked Dash.

“Yeah.”

Hopper waited. Dash looked at him.

“I’ll tell you what,” said Hopper. “I’ll put you in my trunk.”

“Answer him, Dash, and don’t be an asshole,” said Leigh.

“Nyberg,” said Dash.

Dashiell Nyberg. Travis Mitchell. Leigh Davis. Hopper looked them over. “You want to tell me what you kids are doing out in these woods?”

“Watching you get naked,” said Dash. “You got a beer gut.” Travis smacked the back of his head.

Leigh took control. “We didn’t mean to spy, or, you know, invade your privacy.”

“You were spying on me all along,” said Hopper. “I heard one of you shout when I shot the skull.”

They looked guilty.

“You were out there, right?” asked Hopper. “Near the circle?”

“It was me that shouted,” said Travis. “I didn’t think you’d shoot in time.”

“I can’t believe you got to your gun without being fried,” said Dash. “Then shoot a bullseye lying on your back. You got skills, man.”

“Yeah, well guess what?” said Hopper. “Cops are trained. It’s what we do. Why are you here? What do you know about that circle?”

Leigh looked at Travis and Dash, a question in her eyes. The boys paused and then nodded, evidently coming to some pre-arranged agreement.

“We want to get inside the hut,” said Leigh.

Honestly, kids were the same everywhere. “Oh yeah? You think you’re superheroes?”

“No, but –”

“You’re all going home,” said Hopper. “I’m calling for reinforcements. Things are going to get ugly here.” He started towards his car door.

“No!” said Leigh.

Hopper looked back at her. “What?”

“Don’t you want to hear what we know about that hut?” asked Travis.

“Yeah, I do. And believe me, you’re going to tell me. After I make a few calls.”

“Please don’t do that, sheriff!” said Leigh.

“Hear us out, man,” said Travis.

“I need reinforcements now. There’s a girl stuck in that hut with an old lady who’s dangerous. A lot more dangerous than I thought when I came here. There may be other kids too. This lady has been taking kids from their homes every night this past week.” The circle had overturned his opinion that the kid-snatcher and the old lady who bought Sara were different people. “God knows what she’s done to them.”

“Of course,” said Travis. “But reinforcements won’t help.”

“Why not?”

“That hut is magical, man,” said Dash. “Bullets and bombs won’t do shit against it.”

Hopper wasn’t about to scoff after what he’d just seen. He didn’t believe in magic, but he knew about other-worldly powers; he’d fought them in Indiana. “How do you kids know so much about the hut?” he asked, putting off his call for the moment. “Tell me how you know about this place.”

“We met a girl who lives inside,” said Leigh.

“A girl who lives inside the hut?”

“Yes.”

“One of the kidnapped girls?”

“No.” said Leigh. “The granddaughter. Of the old lady.”

The bitch had a granddaughter? Hopper wondered again how many people were crammed inside that damned hovel.

“We ran into her at Bernards,” continued Leigh. “It’s the local farm up Highway 18.”

“I know Bernards,” said Hopper. The farmstead was located a mile northeast of Bellevue. From where they were now it was northwest, and about the same distance of a mile. Since 1975 Michael and Christine Bernard had sold the best produce in Yamhill County. Their fresh cider was also to die for. Hopper drove all the way down to Bernards every month, especially for jam.

“We go there a lot,” said Leigh. The farm would have been about a twenty-minute walk from Bellevue. “We saw the little girl there, buying veggies –”

“When was this?” asked Hopper.

“Two days ago. Thursday morning. She dropped a pouch. Dash picked it up, and we looked through it before giving it back to her.”

“Why did you look through her pouch?” asked Hopper.

“We weren’t going to steal from her,” said Leigh. “It was funny looking.”

“Like snakeskin,” said Travis. “Really hard snakeskin. Red and yellow.”

“And it felt warm,” said Dash. “That was weird. It was like it gave off its own heat.”

She was weird,” continued Leigh. “None of the locals had seen her before. She wasn’t with a parent or guardian. She was this seven-year old girl, maybe eight, all alone, and she seemed nervous and fidgety. We were… you know, curious.”

“Okay,” said Hopper. “So what was in the pouch?”

“Some money — and we didn’t steal any! But it was a lot for a little girl. Almost two hundred bucks in twenties, fives, and ones. And a cloth with a poem on it.”

“A cloth with a poem,” repeated Hopper.

“And a few snacks, most of them half-eaten. It was gross. Anyway, we gave the pouch back to her and asked her who she was. She said her name was Marya, and that she didn’t have a last name.”

“I mean, who doesn’t have a last name?” asked Travis.

“And who has a name like Marya?” asked Dash.

“Sounds Russian,” said Hopper.

“We don’t need Russians,” said Dash. Travis smacked his head again.

“We asked who her parents were,” said Leigh, “and she said she didn’t have parents, just a grandma who takes care of her in the woods. These woods here. Marya called her ‘Mama Yaga’ and said they lived in a hut together. When she said that, we thought of the rumors this week — about the hut that ran around on legs — and asked her if she knew anything about it.”

“And?” asked Hopper.

“Marya said she wasn’t supposed to talk about it.”

“But she did,” said Dash. “Leigh can get any kid to talk.”

“I felt sorry for her,” said Leigh. “She seemed lonely and unhappy living in the woods with only a grandma.”

“That grandma is a dangerously crazy woman,” said Hopper. “You saw it in the circle. She calls herself Baba Yaga, but we don’t know who she really is.”

“Wait a minute,” said Travis. “Isn’t Baba Yaga a famous witch?”

“I don’t know,” said Hopper. “Is she?”

“Yeah,” said Travis. “From an old fairy tale. Russian, I think.”

“Fucking Russians,” said Dash. “I knew it. This is a communist invasion, I’m telling you.”

“Will you shut up,” said Travis. “The Russians aren’t commies anymore. For like eight months now.”

“Nuh-uh,” said Dash. “My dad says that’s bullshit. Even when the Berlin Wall came down, that was just part of a grand communist plot to make us let our guard down.”

“Oh my God,” said Leigh. “Don’t listen to him, sheriff. To make a long story short, Marya told us a lot of things about the hut. Like the only two skulls you can go between without getting fried. And how to make the hut stop moving and get the door open. And things inside the hut you wouldn’t believe — all these treasures. There’s a tree we want to find — well, I want to find it. Marya called it The Prismatic Tree. There are seven different colors of apples on the tree, and each color has different healing properties. There’s a library, an observatory, baths and swimming pools –”

“You believed all this crap?” asked Hopper. “That hut is a small room. It’s only fifteen feet wide.”

“But that’s just it,” said Leigh. “It’s not that way on the inside. Marya said there are twenty main room areas, and most of them are huge. We want to see inside, and find the Prismatic Tree. My Aunt Ingrid has multiple sclerosis, and one of the apples from this tree can heal her.”

“Even if this is true,” said Hopper, “which it obviously isn’t, you kids think Baba Yaga is going to let you wander through her hut and take whatever you want?”

“Marya said that Mama Yaga — I mean, Baba Yaga — leaves the hut every night at sunset, and doesn’t come back until midnight.”

“That must be when she steals the little kids,” said Dash.

“But Marya wouldn’t confirm anything like that,” said Leigh. “She was very protective of her grandma and resented our questions about kidnappings.”

“Hold on,” said Hopper. “How does the old lady get around far and wide to steal kids, without the hut?” asked Hopper.

“Well,” said Travis. “In the Russian fable, I think Baba Yaga has a flying cauldron.”

Hopper’s eyes narrowed. Even after what he’d just seen, this was sounding ridiculous. Especially what Leigh was saying about the hut’s interior. It was too off the scales. But he assumed it for sake of argument. That would mean, what? That the old woman had used the hut to move around on Monday and Tuesday, until she found a place to nest? He supposed that flying cauldrons were harder to spot than thirty-feet high mobile homes. It also confirmed what Hopper had suspected: that this woman, or witch, was a new presence in Yamhill County. She had been living in the forest clearing only since Wednesday, and it had taken her time to find it.

“So you’ve been waiting here for sundown,” he said to the kids. “Why didn’t you do this last night, or even the night before? Didn’t you say you saw the girl Thursday?”

“We planned for tonight,” said Leigh. “It took us all of yesterday just to find this place, based on what we could learn from Marya. And Dash had plans with his family last night anyway. Tonight our parents think we’re sleeping over at another friend’s.”

“And you want me to not do my job so that you can indulge fantasies of stealing from a witch?”

“No,” said Leigh. “We want you to help us steal from the witch.”

“Say again?”

Travis spoke up. “Sheriff, you want to get inside the hut as much as we do. You won’t be able to do that with all the cops in Yamhill County — you’ll just get people killed. We know how to get inside.”

“Then tell me right now,” demanded Hopper.

“Fuck you, man,” said Dash.

“We can help each other,” said Leigh. “Marya said the rooms can be incredibly dangerous. We’re just kids. You’re an adult and a sheriff. You’re armed.”

If Hopper had been another man, he would have called for backup right then, and had these kids sent straight home. But he was from Hawkins, Indiana, and he had seen things, and beaten them, with the help of kids like these. Travis was saying that all the lawful manpower he could summon would be useless, and Hopper believed that after his episode in the circle.

“Okay,” he said. “We’ll try this. But I’ll say this once.” He got up close to them and looked down. “If you’re lying to me about anything, I’ll throw you all in juvenile detention.” But he knew they weren’t.

 

Next Chapter: The Dancing Hut

(Previous Chapter: Sara)

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The Witch of Yamhill County (Chapter 1)

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 One

                                          Sara

 

Saturday, August 29, 1992

Jim Hopper hadn’t thought of Sara in days. And he resented the mess that was reminding him of her now.

He ran a red light thinking of her, without running the blue lights on top of his car. A horn blared to his right. He looked, and saw an angry face behind a windshield, hollering what had to be obscenities against presumptuous law officials. Hopper ignored him and sped on. Toward his redemption, if such a thing existed.

He had just left the sheriff’s office in McMinnville after a disturbing phone call. He was driving down to Bellevue now, and for the first time in this lousy shit-stained week, Hopper thought he might get some real answers.

A panic was over Yamhill County, and things that shouldn’t be. Kids stolen from their beds. Tales of a hut that ran on legs. The latter were fairy tales, surely. But the kids were really gone. He prayed he could find them before it was too late — and before parents called for his resignation, or even his blood.

The roll call ran through his head, for what must have been the fiftieth time: On Monday night, Krissa Monroe, a seven-year old girl from Amity, went to bed, and was missing by sunrise; she was reported to the sheriff’s office by her hysterical parents. On Tuesday night, Paul and Julie Gallagher, twin eight-year old siblings from Bellevue, vanished from their beds; they too were phoned in the next morning. On Wednesday night, Michelle Chase, a seven-year old girl, disappeared the same way; she was from McMinnville, but had been visiting her aunt and uncle in Amity. Nothing happened on Thursday night; no reports from beleaguered parents on Friday morning. Then, on Friday night, Jordan Wood, a seven-year old boy from Amity, vanished; the call came in only five hours ago, from his parents who were late sleepers on Saturday.

Each child, seven or eight years old, had been been stolen (it was presumed) from one of two towns in southern Yamhill: Amity or Bellevue. There had been no ransom calls, and that was bad. Kidnappers who were in it for extortion usually got caught. Hopper feared the fouler strain of kidnappers: those in the business of trafficking and exploitation. That was a more damaging crime, and the criminals were harder to catch.

Then came the phone call Hopper had just concluded in his office. Something had happened on Thursday night after all. How this event related to those of the other nights was difficult to guess.

The call was from a teenage girl named Abigail Schwartz. She lived with her mother and young sister in Bellevue. The younger sister had been taken on Thursday night. Not stolen, like the other kids; but sold, apparently, by her own mother, to an old woman who needed a cleaning servant. Hopper couldn’t believe his ears. The woman had paid Abigail’s mother in gold — and a lot of it — for a contract of one year’s service. This woman, according to Abigail, lived in a remote hut somewhere between Bellevue and Amity. Which raised questions about the sightings of a “hut on legs” earlier in the week. The mother’s name was Betty Schwartz. Abigail didn’t like what her mother had done, and had finally rebelled today, by calling the sheriff’s office. Betty was only finding out about this now, as Hopper sped down Route 18 to question them both.

If Betty Schwartz was the kind of mother who would sell her seven-year old daughter into servitude, Hopper had a fair idea how she would react to her sixteen-year old daughter ratting her out to the police. It was a twelve-minute drive from McMinnville to Bellevue. By the time Hopper got there, Betty should be in a state. Hopper would feed her to the dogs if he didn’t get the answers he wanted.

It was the younger sister’s name that had him out of sorts. Sara Schwartz was the same age Sara Hopper had been when she was taken. Taken by cancer, and whatever forces saw fit to punish Jim and Diane Hopper for having a child who gave them happiness. He didn’t need this shit right now. The case was upsetting enough without ghosts coming back to splay open his wounds.

He soon arrived in Bellevue and found the Schwartz home right away. He got out of the sheriff’s car and looked over the place. It was a run-down sty that shouted poverty and distress. The car in the driveway belonged in a junkyard. He walked up to the front door and knocked on it.

In less than two seconds, a frightened teenager opened the door.

“Abigail Schwartz?” he asked.

“Yes. Hi. Come in.” She held the door open nervously, and Hopper came in, removing his hat. He was in a living room smelling of sweat and cigarette smoke. Hopper had been smoking too much lately. And because he did, he resented the habit in others.

A frail woman in her thirties was there standing: Betty Schwartz. One look at her, and Hopper knew the type. She was ready for battle and armed with excuses.

Hopper was ready too. “Betty Schwartz?”

“That’s me,” stated Betty, throwing down the gauntlet. She wore faded jeans with holes, and a shirt with coffee stains. She was all bones and little flesh. Her lean jaw was thrust out pugnaciously, daring the sheriff to fault her in some way.

“I’m Sheriff Jim Hopper. Abigail tells me that you sold your younger daughter to an old woman.” Hopper couldn’t say Sara’s name.

“Abigail misspoke,” said Betty, glaring at her eldest. “I loaned Sara. For a year. I would never sell my own daughter. You better watch what you say about people, sheriff. And I’ll make sure Abby gets her facts straight.”

“Why did you ‘loan’ Sara for a year?”

“It was a contract,” said Betty, “We agreed, the old lady and I. She would take on Sara for a year and train her as a house servant.”

“Who is this woman?” Hopper wasn’t expecting a real answer. On the phone Abigail had said the woman called herself Baba Yaga. It sounded like a moniker, and there was no one listed in the county database by that name.

“Her name is Baba Yaga,” said Betty.

“Does that sound like a real name to you?” asked Hopper.

“It’s what she said. Don’t get smart with me!”

“And she paid you? For giving her Sara?”

“For loaning her Sara. We had a contract. We both consented.”

Jesus. “And she paid you in gold?”

“Yes.” Betty looked wary.

“Can I see the gold, please?”

“You can’t take any of it from me. It’s mine by consensual agreement.”

“Ma’am, you have to show me the gold. Now.”

Betty paused, indecisive, and then looked at Abby. “Get the sack,” she told her daughter. “On my counter.”

Abby rushed to do as she was told, disappearing into a bedroom. Betty didn’t take her eyes off Hopper.

“Ms. Schwartz, what’s your relationship to this woman, Baba Yaga?”

“Nothing,” she snapped. “I never knew her before Thursday night. She lives a couple miles east of town, in the woods somewhere.”

“Why would you give your daughter to a complete stranger?”

“I told you I didn’t give her away! I sent her to live with the old lady, so that she could learn a skill. I was doing both Sara and the old lady a favor.”

You were doing yourself a favor, you shrew. “Abby said on the phone that Baba Yaga was intimidating. That her face was deformed and scary for a child to look at.”

“Abby’s young,” retorted Betty. “And prejudiced against old people. The poor lady could barely walk. She had a walking stick. Are you a bigot too?” Hopper ignored the sally. He thought that Betty had looked scared for a moment, despite her defense of the old woman.

Abigail came back into the living room, carrying a heavy sack of coins. She handed it to Hopper, who set it down on the coffee table he was next to. He looked inside. The sack was full of gold coins the size of nickels. On the phone Abigail had said a thousand. “This is a thousand gold pieces?” he asked Betty.

“It’s what we agreed on,” said Betty, standing hostilely over him.

Hopper knew gold. A case he had worked on months ago required him to research the conversion rates to U.S. dollars. The quantity of gold in this sack was worth at least $60,000, possibly as much as $70,000. For a single, low income woman like Betty Schwartz, that was more than four years worth of income. Judging from the sty she lived in, the cheap clothes she and Abby wore, and the broken down car outside, Betty couldn’t be bringing in more than $12,000 a year. The gold explained a lot, granted — but only if you were a heartless parent.

He stood up. “I still don’t understand why you would send your daughter away for a whole year, under the care of someone you know nothing about. Haven’t you heard about the kids who went missing this week? They were all the same age as Sara.”

“Well, I heard about that,” said Betty. “Everyone has. But those kids disappeared. Everyone thinks they were abducted from their beds. What does that have to do with an ugly old lady who just needs a cleaning girl?”

“To not see your daughter for a whole year?” said Hopper, shaking his head.

“No!” said Betty. “That wasn’t the deal.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Didn’t Abby tell you? Baba Yaga said that Abby and I could come and visit Sara on the last day of every month, starting September.”

“I didn’t mention that part over the phone,” said Abby. “It’s true, sheriff. The old lady gave us visiting rights.”

Visiting rights. It was a prison sentence. “So… what then? You know where she lives?”

“Sort of,” said Abby. “You go out –”

“Keep your mouth shut while I’m talking,” snapped Betty. “The lady gave us a map that shows where her hut is.”

“Give me this map,” said Hopper.

Betty looked furious, then nodded at Abigail. The girl went into the kitchen, and then came back holding a brown fold-out. She gave it to Hopper.

He looked at it. A circle labelled “The Hut” was plotted a couple of miles east from Bellevue, in a secluded forest. It was vague and imprecise. Hopper thought of the dramatic reports his office had received earlier in the week. A local farmer claimed that on Monday night he saw a “running hut” off the main road of Bellevue Hopewell. The road ran for six miles connecting Bellevue to Amity, and the farmer saw the hut closer to the Bellevue end. It was a small log cabin, he said, raised high on giant legs that were racing on the ground parallel to the road. The farmer was a chronic drunk, and no one took him seriously. Then a married couple saw the same thing on Tuesday night. They had been driving home to Amity, returning from a vacation in Sheridan.

“Did the woman say anything about her hut being a mobile home?” He knew the question sounded stupid.

“A mobile hut?” asked Betty. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“But she did make a sick joke about it,” said Abby.

“What joke?” asked Hopper.

“She said that we were welcome to see Sara, but to beware when we visit, because her hut ‘swallows people like the night’. Then she laughed.”

“A harmless joke,” said Betty.

“How did Baba Yaga get here?” asked Hopper.

“What?” said Betty.

“You said she needed a walking stick. Did someone drive her to your home? And then take her and Sara back to the hut?”

“She said she had her own transport,” said Betty.

“But we never saw it,” said Abby. “There was no car or taxi cab in our driveway. When she left with Sara, she went around to the side of our house. I went out to follow them, but I when I turned the corner they were both gone. It was really weird. It… freaked me out.”

“Do either of you have a photo of Sara that I can borrow?” he asked. The living room showed no signs of any family photos.

“I have one,” said Abby. She went to her room, and came back with a wallet sized photo of a little girl. Hopper took it, looked at it; his heart twisted, and he fell in love. The girl was absolutely adorable. Different hair: Sara Hopper had been blond; Sara Schwartz had hair like the night. But she was just as precious.

“Listen to me,” said Hopper, folding the map into his pocket, and putting the photo in his wallet. He looked at Betty. “Abby obviously didn’t like your little deal with this old lady. She did the right thing by calling us. You’d best not punish her for it. I’m going to get your daughter back. How do you feel about that?”

“I… I don’t know!” said Betty. “The lady was a bit creepy, but she seemed okay.”

“What you did was stupid and grossly irresponsible.”

“But I get to keep the gold, right?” asked Betty. “It’s mine.”

“It’s certainly not yours,” said Hopper. “That gold is probably stolen. And you obtained it unlawfully.”

“No, sir! It was a contract! We both agreed to it.”

“Your contract was illegal. You’ll be lucky if you don’t do jail time for selling your child.”

I said I didn’t sell her, you piece of shit! I gave her to a guardian. The old lady. For one year. I would never give my children away.”

You would for the right price. “Ms. Schwartz,” he said. “I’m taking the gold.”

“No! He’s a thief, Abby, call the police!” Betty Schwartz stood in front of the table shaking a fist at Hopper, daring him to lay a hand on “her” gold. She looked absurd: a scrawny 5′ 5″ woman, defying a meaty sheriff who was 6′ 3″.

Hopper said nothing. He took a single step towards Betty Schwartz, and stared down at her with a look that promised ovens of hell if she didn’t wise up. At that moment he wanted to break every visible bone in her wraith-thin body. Some people had no right to be parents.

Whatever Betty Schwartz saw in Hopper’s eyes unsettled her. She stepped out of Hopper’s way and started to cry. He took the sack of gold.

Abigail had remained still all this time, barely breathing. He could only imagine what was in store for the poor girl once he left. “Thanks for calling,” he said to Abby. “You’re a good sister, and you did the right thing.” Abigail nodded. She was starting to cry too, but out of fear for Sara, and embarrassment for her terrible mother.

Hopper reached the door and turned around. Betty Schwartz was on her knees, weeping over her lost fortune. “Listen to me carefully,” he said to her. “I’m going to get your daughter back. And once she’s back here safe, I’m going to be paying this home frequent visits, to make sure that you’re at least pretending to be a decent mother to both Sara and Abby. Do you hear me?”

Betty Schwartz went on crying. Hopper left without another word.

 

The map was vague but it was a start. It looked like Baba Yaga — or whoever the old woman really was — was hiding out in the woods near Deer Creek. The hut was two miles east of Bellevue, which was just a two or three minute drive along the main road. Then it was a mile north off the main road. How long it would take to find the hut along that stretch depended on how far the dirt roads extended, and how far deep into the forest the old woman was. Hopper would probably have to do some searching on foot; though maybe not much. If the map were reasonably accurate, it narrowed down his search window considerably.

Before starting the car, he looked at Sara’s photo again. Then he looked at the sack he had put in the shotgun seat. That’s a shit-ton of gold. Who lives in a hovel out in the middle of nowhere, and has that kind of money to spend on a cleaning servant?

He spun out of the driveway, and headed east on Bellevue Hopewell. It had been a while since he had driven this road, and the area reminded him of Hawkins. When he had taken the job five years ago, he had been struck by how much of his native state was embedded in his new turf. Half the towns in Yamhill County were town names in Indiana: Lafayette, Sheridan, Dayton, Amity, Dundee. Lafayette he could understand: it was founded by a nineteenth-century pioneer who had previously lived in Lafayette, Indiana. The pioneer had named it accordingly for the hero of the American Revolution. But the other four had no traces to Indiana, as far as Hopper knew. What were the odds? It was as if Hopper hadn’t truly left Indiana; like he was put in charge of an Indiana annex transplanted to the west coast. Yamhill County felt his. He had been fated to come out here.

His daughter, of course, had words for that. Jane would have taken his “fate” and shoved it a mile up his ass for all it had done her. Thinking of her made him feel worse. She turned twenty-one this year, and she was long past being the kid he still called her.

His transfer to Oregon in 1987 had required Jane to ditch the boy she loved — who had meant the world to her. Every boy had his heart broken at some point, but Mike Wheeler’s had been torn and shredded and fed back to him. Days later, he had sacrificed himself for the town of Hawkins, in an act that was either brave, stupid, or suicidal, depending on your point of view. Hopper thought it was probably all three — not that anyone cared what he thought. Mike’s reward was a prolonged nightmare: a shadow creature killed him, brought him back to life, and then ruined him plenty more. No one even knew Mike was alive again, trapped in a hell where he was tortured as a sacred privilege. Since that awful turn of events, Hopper had made a certain peace with his daughter. But she had never really forgiven him, or herself.

Then came Mike’s return from the Upside Down, and the renewed hostilities. That was two years ago. Mike had somehow escaped and crossed back into Hawkins, unable to speak, able only to harm those he loved. His friends had done what they could for him; Jane had flown back to Hawkins, without so much as telling Hopper a bloody thing. He couldn’t blame her. Then she had killed the creature called the Illithid, and Mike got his humanity back. But he was broken; horribly. His eyes were gone, his leg crippled. And he was so psychologically scarred from three and a half years of torture that he needed constant care. Jane had given him that; she had brought him back to Portland, got him walking again, and had provided for him ever since. She loved him, after all.

Hopper, for his part, footed the bills. He paid their rent, in effect supporting Mike as much as Jane. He gave them what they asked for. And mountains of grief on top. He hated himself for that. Mike was a good person, and Jane deserved a Nobel prize for her loyalty and love. But Hopper was a territorial father, who thought his daughter deserved the best life had on hand. Mike’s condition, both physical and mental, restricted her. It had come to blows over the screaming-match Christmas of 1990, and ever since then, Jim Hopper was banned from Jane and Mike’s apartment. He still had to pay most of their rent. He didn’t object. It was the penance he deserved.

Abruptly, he pulled to the side of the road and stopped the car. He sighed, looking at the car phone. He almost started up again, and then picked up the receiver. And dialed her number. It rang and he checked his watch. It was almost four o’clock.

“Hello?”

“Hey kid.”

“Dad. Hi.” She sounded neither happy nor unhappy to hear him. Which was typical.

“Yeah, uh… I was calling, because, you know, we usually get together for Labor Day. So what you do say I drive up on Monday and take you out for lunch. Wherever you want.”

“That’s nice,” she said. “But you’re a week early.”

“What?”

“Monday’s the 31st. Labor Day is the Monday after.”

“Oh. Shit.” He couldn’t even keep his calendar straight. “Okay, then how about it? Whenever the stupid day is?”

“Yeah, sounds fine.”

“I’ll try and be pleasant.”

“How are you these days?”

“Oh, I’ve had a shitty week. Kids are missing. They’re being stolen. Or sold. Or both.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Every night since Monday there’s been a child gone missing. From one of two towns. Amity or Bellevue. Except for Thursday night. But I just found out there was a child taken on Thursday night too.” Sara. “But she wasn’t stolen, like the others. She was sold by her own mother.”

“Sold?”

“To an old woman, who calls herself Baba Yaga.”

“Baba Yaga? It sounds like a monster.”

“Yeah, it gets weirder. Earlier in the week people reported seeing a house that was running around on giant legs.”

There was a long pause. “Okay, you can stop.”

“No, really. I’m dead serious.

“It’s a prank, Dad.”

“One guy was a drunk, so we didn’t take him seriously. But the next night a married couple saw it, driving back from their vacation. Or claimed they saw it. A moving hut.”

“A moving hut.”

“On legs. And now I have a rough idea where this shack is supposed to be. The woman who sold her daughter told me.”

“So what are you going to do?” asked Jane.

“What else? I’m going out to East-Jesus nowhere, to find this hut that supposedly runs around on giant legs, and swallows people like the night.”

“You have Tim with you?”

Tim was one of his deputies. “No, he’s tied up in Dayton. And I’m about to send others to interview the parents of the kids who were abducted. I want to find out if the parents were ever approached by this Baba Yaga and asked to sell their children. None of them mentioned anything like that, but I want to be sure.”

“Shouldn’t you have backup? Baba Yaga sounds dangerous.”

“No, she’s just an old lady who can barely stand. I seriously doubt she’s the one breaking and entering into homes and stealing kids. Otherwise she would have done that with Sara Schwartz. Instead she bargained and paid her mother a lot of money. My theory is that someone strong and capable — maybe even two people — are stealing the kids, and trying to sell them to Baba Yaga, since she has a lot of money. If that’s the case, maybe some of these kids, or all of them, are at the hut with her and Sarah.”

“You know what you’re doing, I guess.”

“I’m going to find out soon enough.” It was true that Hopper wasn’t worried about taking on a feeble old hag alone. But he didn’t tell Jane the other reason he was forsaking protocol. He was already treating Sara Schwartz as a personal mission. He was smitten by her, and didn’t want to share her rescue with anyone.

“You’re getting paid to have too much fun,” said Jane.

“I’m not getting paid enough,” he retorted. Which wasn’t true at all. Jim Hopper of Yamhill County had a handsome salary. But he had to whine; he had lost way too much sleep this week over the missing kids.

Suddenly there was a loud crash over the phone, followed by a profusion of male swearing. It sounded like a whole drawer of cooking utensils went over the floor.

Jane swore at whatever was going on. “Mike, Jesus Christ!”

From another room, Mike shouted back: “Fucking drawer wouldn’t open! And I cut myself, you bitch! Get me a band-aid, now!”

“Dad, I have to go.”

“Yeah, I can tell. Does he always treat you like that?” He bit his tongue as soon as he said it. Here it comes.

She paused for a long moment. Then her venom poured through the phone: “You don’t ever talk about him to me. Ever. Do you understand?”

“Yeah. Sorry.” He was pretty sure that Labor Day lunch had just been revoked.

“El! Get off the goddamn phone! Now!” Mike was slamming things around in the kitchen.

“Bye, Dad. And be careful.”

“An old hag in a mobile shack? What’s to worry about?” He hung up.

If Jim Hopper had known how much there was to worry about, he would have chosen a very different course of action that evening. He was heading straight into disaster; and many would pay the price for it.

 

Next Chapter: Circle of Death

Season Three’s D&D Creature

There are three candidates for the season-3 Stranger Things creature, as explained helpfully in this youtube video. All of course derive from D&D.

The Otyugh is perhaps the most likely suspect. The creature is capable of limited telepathy, which would allow it to communicate with the Shadow Monster. But also its bite transmits a disease known as filth fever, which may explain the rotten sore on Billy’s arm and what we know will be his increased dementia this season.

The Gibbering Mouther is a swirling mass of mouths and appendages — an eldritch horror fully in line with creatures like demogorgons and the Shadow Monster.

The Tarrasque is the least similar in appearance (it’s a bit too spiny), but it’s still pretty close, and with its powers to cause fear and swallow people whole, it would make a suitable big bad in Stranger Things.

It could also be that the Duffer Brothers intended an amalgam of all three creatures, and will have their own name for it.

Stranger Things Timeline: 1983-2038

Someone requested a timeline of events for my Stranger Things fanfiction. I aim to please. The first three novellas (set in 1990, 2009, and 2037) comprise a trilogy which I have already published. The Hopper stories (set in 1992 and 1997) will come later this month. Here’s everything laid out across fifty-five years, to keep the chronology straight — full of spoilers, of course. The timeline is meant to be read by those who have read the generational trilogy, though not necessarily the Hopper stories.

Timeline

1983 TV Season 1.

1984 TV Season 2.

1985 TV Season 3.

1986 TV Season 4.

1987 Death of Mike Wheeler in January. He is resurrected and enslaved for three and a half years in the Upside Down. Hopper and Jane move to Newberg, Oregon in April. Hopper assumes his
new position as Sheriff of Yamhill County.

1990 The College Years (Story #1). Mike returns from the Upside Down in August, unable to speak and able to only harm his friends. Jane flies back to Hawkins and kills the Illithid, after it tears out Mike’s eyes and cripples his leg. Mike moves out to Oregon with Jane. Jane moves out of Hopper’s home in Newberg, and Hopper sets up her and Mike in an apartment in downtown Portland.

1991 By March, Jane has rehabilitated Mike so that he is functionally blind, and can walk with a limp. He starts playing guitar, and in the fall joins a band, playing at strip clubs.

1992 The Witch of Yamhill County (Story #4). Children are abducted in the towns of Amity and Bellevue. Hopper enters Baba Yaga’s Hut with three teenagers to look for the children.

1993 Mike Wheeler kills himself shortly after Lucas, Dustin, and Will graduate from college. Jane moves back into her father’s home in Newberg. Three months later, in November, Jane, Lucas, Dustin, and Will gather in Newberg to celebrate Mike’s memory. At the end of November, Will assumes his Peace Corps position in Botswana.

1994 Birth of Mike Hopper in the spring.

1995 In December, Will returns from his Peace Corps service in Botswana.

1996 Jane and Mike Junior move out of Hopper’s home. Hopper buys a house for them on Tibbetts Street in Southeast Portland. Jane will live here for thirty years, until 2026. In Hawkins, Will suffers severe depression readjusting to American culture.

1997 The Black Rose of Newberg (Story #5). Lucas and Raquel Sinclair move out to Portland in July. They move into the downtown apartment complex Jane and Mike Wheeler had occupied between 1990-1993. In September, Lucas assumes his new position as an Endangered Species Biologist. The Black Rose Killer terrorizes Newberg. Hopper asks Jane to help him catch the killer.

2000 Dustin becomes senior software engineer at MIT.

2001 In second grade, Mike Hopper discovers his power of tempus fugit, which makes people experience time flying when it’s really not.

2003 Will becomes Deputy Director of the Fishers Public Library in Indiana.

2006 In seventh grade, Mike Hopper meets Tobias Powell. They become best friends.

2007 Death of Jim Hopper at 66, from lung cancer.

2009 The New Generation (Story #2). Mike Hopper and Tobias are high school sophomores. Through the internet, the Llaza latches on to Mike’s time powers. It devours and absorbs Mike to grow millions of years old and become an advanced shadow creature that takes over all of Tibbetts Street, killing most of the residents. Jane kills the Llaza and rescues Mike, but in doing so triggers a change in his time powers which causes him to age backwards.

2012 Mike is twelve, aging backwards. Tobias is now eighteen and ends their friendship.

2016 Donald Trump elected president. Mike is eight, aging backwards.

2020 Donald Trump elected president for a second term. Mike is four, aging backwards.

2021 The Hawkins “kids” (Jane, Lucas, Dustin, and Will) turn 50 years old. Trump’s second term takes an ugly turn: Roe v. Wade overturned by The Supreme Court. The 22nd Amendment
overturned by the Supreme Court. All non-whites are banned from immigrating to America.

2023 In the fall, Jane has a nervous breakdown. Mike is twenty months old, aging backwards. Lucas and Raquel assume guardianship of Mike, at Jane’s request. Jane is homebound and under medical care.

2024 Donald Trump elected president for a third term. Mike is less than one year old, aging backwards.

2025 Mike Hopper turns “zero” years old on May 22. He does not die, but starts aging forward again, and Jane’s sanity returns.

2026 Fearing rumors of seaboard attacks, Jane and Mike and the Sinclairs leave Oregon and return to their hometown of Hawkins. Dustin leaves the east coast and comes to Hawkins. Mike is one year old, for his third time. Death of Joyce Byers, 86, on Christmas Eve.

2027 Trump unleashes Armageddon on July 4. He is 81, in failing health, and not counting on a fourth term. Russia demolishes America’s east and west coasts. Citizens are told that Iran bombed the east coast and North Korea bombed the west. Death of Trump, who kills himself in a suicidal self-destruct of Washington D.C. Mike is two, for his third time.

2030 The radiation has cleared on the seaboards, but those areas remain a no-man’s land like the Wild West. A new Gate appears under the old Hawkins Lab. Mike is five, for his third time.

2031 On September 11, the new Gate under the Hawkins Lab starts generating Pockets, which appear in Hawkins, and begin radiating outwards, turning America into a shadow wasteland. Creatures from the Upside Down pour out of the Pockets, and kill people who are unable to protect themselves. The people of the Midwest begin construction of the walled Colonies. Jane starts to lose her sanity again. Mike is six, for his third time.

2032 Birth of the Hawkins Colony. Jane deteriorates further. Mike is seven, for his third time.

2033 The Hawkins Lab is reopened by scientists led by Dr. Reardon, in a last-ditch effort to save America and find a solution to the Pockets. Jane is brought from the Colony to the Lab, where she is cared for and monitored. Reardon hopes for her return to sanity, that she might close the Gate. Mike is eight, for his third time.

2035 Death of Lucas Sinclair. He is devoured by a demogorgon as he defends the walls of the Colony. Shortly after Lucas’s death, Mike Hopper discovers that he can time travel. Mike is ten, for his third time.

2037 World’s End (Story #3). The Pockets have taken over a circumference encompassing nineteen states in the Midwest and South. Mike is twelve, for his third time. Will, Tobias, and Dr. Reardon hatch a plan to save the world, by sending Mike back in time with Dustin and Steve. They will travel to the year 2031 and kill Morgred, the man responsible for creating the Pockets. Mike alters the plan drastically and leaves Dustin and Steve in the present, traveling back in time alone, and making two major detours. First he goes to 1983, and picks up the twelve-year old versions of his parents and uncles. Then he brings them to 2021, where he bonds closely with them and becomes their friend. Then they travel to 2031, where Morgred shoots Mike. Eleven kills Morgred. Mike kills a demogorgon coming through the Gate and saves Lucas, but by hurling his time powers at the Gate, it is Mike Hopper who creates the Pockets, not Morgred. In Mike’s dying state, he is able to reach his mother across time and heal her sanity. Mike returns his young parents and uncles to 1983, and then dies. In the present, Jane destroys the Gate, and all Pockets disappear from the Midwest, though many creatures from the Upside Down are left behind, plaguing America.

2038 Death of Will Byers, at 67, from multiple organ failure.

Eleven and the Void (How she enters it, and what she can do)

In the novel I am currently working on, Eleven is required to enter the Void on multiple occasions. I realized that I needed to get a handle on the “rules” of the Void, and this is what I came up with. I invite anyone to speculate more about the Void or offer any insights. It’s an underdeveloped concept in Stranger Things, though I suspect we’ll see Eleven expand its horizons in the upcoming third season.

According to the canon, the Void is the black expanse of nothingness that represents Eleven’s mind while she is using her psychic power to connect with people. In the first season, set in 1983, she could only enter the Void easily while immersing herself in a bath, or a sensory deprivation tank. She first did this in flashbacks, to spy on Russian agents for Dr. Brenner. Then she used a makeshift bath to locate Will and Barb in the Upside Down. But she didn’t always need a bath. Before finding Barb and Will, she entered the Void to communicate with Will by using the high-powered radio at the Hawkins school. She couldn’t see him this way, but she could channel Will so that she and the boys could hear him screaming for help, and so that his mother could both see and hear him at home (where he was in the same space as his mother, but in the shadow dimension).

By the following season, the year of her cabin exile in 1984, Eleven’s psychic skills had improved so that a bath was no longer necessary. She was able to enter the Void simply by shielding her eyes with a bandana and resting in close proximity to the white noise of a TV or radio. This was how she “visited” Mike all year around, though he couldn’t see her (and could only vaguely hear her sometimes). It was also how she located and tracked her mother, then communicated with her mother telepathically while in her presence, then located the old Lab doctor she and Kali intended to kill. In two cases, she didn’t even need the bandana and TV/radio. She was able to check in on her father and Mike back in Hawkins just by concentrating. She was also able to locate and track Kali to Chicago without the bandana and white noise, by concentrating on the vision of the young Kali she had received telepathically from Terry Ives.

All of this can be represented in the following table:

Person Sought
Requirements for Eleven to Connect in the Void
What Eleven does in the Void
Season & Episode
Will AV Club Radio Channels Will, audibly to herself and the boys, and also visibly to Joyce at home, who is in the same “space” as Will 1, 4
Russian Agent Bath; photo of the Russian agent Locates the agent and listens in on his conversation [flashback] 1, 5
Barb & Will Bath Locates Barb (dead) and Will (in Castle Byers) 1, 7
Mike Bandana/TV Visits Mike throughout the year, tries to communicate with him; Mike cannot see her, and sometimes only vaguely hears her 2, 2
Terry Ives Bandana/Radio; photo of Terry Locates and tracks her mother to Larrabee Road 2, 4
Terry Ives Bandana/TV; sitting right next to Terry Communicates telepathically with her mother and gets a vision of the chain of events that pushed Terry into a catatonic state 2, 5
Kali Photo of Kali (fails at first attempt with the bandana and TV in conjunction with the photo; succeeds at second attempt with only the photo, mostly by concentrating on the vision of young Kali that El got telepathically from Terry Ives) Locates and tracks Kali to Chicago 2, 7
Lab Doctor Bandana/Radio; photo of the doctor Locates and tracks the lab doctor to his home 2, 7
Hopper and Mike Nothing (aside from concentration) Sees and hears what is happening to Hopper and Mike back home in Hawkins 2, 7

 

Basically this table can be summed up in two “rules”:

  • In order to connect to someone in the Void, Eleven must either have seen the person physically, or be holding a photo of the person.
  • The more familiar the person, and the more experience she has acquired entering the Void, the less likely Eleven will need to rely on devices such as baths and bandanas/radios.

Also, the Void is sparse in what it shows. Sometimes a bit of furniture — and in Will’s case, Fort Byers — but otherwise Eleven doesn’t see much of the surrounding details of whomever she is spying on. And certainly no other people. In the last case, Mike is struggling to get past lab guards, but Eleven only sees Mike.

But is the Void really only accessible to Eleven, or is it a shared psychic space?

The canon insists on the former, but there is the problem of the Demogorgon. She came across the Demogorgon in the Void without looking for it, or even knowing that it existed. The intrusion of the demogorgon could imply that the Void is a shared psychic plane of existence.

Also: Can Eleven use the Void only to connect to living beings?

Or could she use the Void to find out what is happening at a particular place, instead of what is happening with a particular person? She hasn’t done this yet in the series, but I don’t know why she couldn’t if she needed to.

Baba Yaga’s Hut in The Witch of Yamhill County

In writing my novel The Witch of Yamhill County, I adapted Baba Yaga and her mobile hut from two D&D modules: The Dancing Hut (1984), written by Roger Moore and published in Dragon Magazine #83, and The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga (1995), written by Lisa Smedman and published as an official TSR module. Each has its strengths. For adventure hooks, the hut’s exterior, and Baba Yaga herself, I have always hewed closer to Moore; for the hut’s interior, I followed much of Smedman’s design, which provides more detail of the hut’s rooms, and also some of the most creative encounters and traps I’ve seen in any module. And of course I added my own warped ideas.

In my novel, the Dancing Hut becomes the punishing ground for Sheriff Jim Hopper (of Stranger Things), when he tries to solve the mystery of children who are disappearing in his county. I will post the chapters of that story later on. But for now, and for D&D players who have never experienced the thrills and pains of Baba Yaga, I’ll provide an overview of the Hut. DMs should obtain the Moore and Smedman versions and adapt them to suit their needs.

The Nature of the Hut

The Dancing Hut is Baba Yaga’s mobile fortress: on the outside it’s a small cabin fifteen feet high and wide, on the inside it’s over a thousand times larger and with many rooms. It doesn’t impress on first appearance if it’s resting on the ground; the legs are immobile and folded underneath into a two-foot deep crawlspace. When it’s moving, however, the legs make it tower almost thirty feet in the air, as the Hut “dances” and spins about rapidly. The Hut will make about one revolution every six or seven seconds, with the feet stamping the ground every half second. It’s very difficult to get inside the Hut without either knowing the password, critically wounding the giant legs, or using very strong psychic power.

Baba Yaga never keeps her Hut in a single place for too long. Typically she stays one to four months before moving on, sometimes even less, but rarely more. She moves across worlds and to different worlds all the time. She usually picks an isolated region in a forest or swamp, and then proceeds to terrorize the locals by kidnapping children, and/or sending out her apocalyptic horsemen to wreak havoc. Sometimes she’s on a quest to find some lost relic or artifact, and doesn’t waste time terrorizing anyone.

Adventure Hooks (The Plot)

The Dancing Hut may fit any number of ways into a D&D campaign. Here are some hooks that I like:

1. Rescue Operation. Baba Yaga is raiding a local area for children to eat. After sunset she steals into homes and kidnaps children from their beds, and brings them back to her Hut to cook them for a midnight supper. Player characters are charged with saving kids, and driving Baba Yaga away from the region.

2. Magic Fruit. Baba Yaga has many magical items, but one artifact in particular is legendary: the Prismatic Tree of Nadežda Chilik. The apples from this tree are rumored to have extraordinary healing power. Apples of all seven rainbow colors grow on the tree, and each color has a different healing power. Player characters are charged with obtaining fruit from this miraculous tree, if it indeed exists inside the Hut.

3. The Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The mythical beings of Revelation 6:2-8 have been bringing strife, bloodshed, starvation, and death to a local region, and they are seen leaving and returning to the Hut. Baba Yaga is using the horsemen (first white, then red, then black, then pale green) to terrorize people and lay waste to a particular region. Player characters are charged with entering the Hut, and either slaying the mythical horsemen, or at least banishing them to another plane where they cannot harm anyone local anymore.

— Note: In many of the Russian legends, horses of white, red, and black color are reported riding around the area of Baba Yaga’s hut, and it is often supposed that these horses represent different times of the day: the white rider being morning, a red rider being afternoon, and the black rider being night. This is false, and doesn’t account for the pale green rider who is seldom seen.

4. Death to Baba Yaga. Extremely high-level characters may wish to try the near impossible task of killing Baba Yaga and/or seizing control of the Dancing Hut. Needless to say, this mission would be for PCs of very high level; at least 15th.

These hooks aren’t mutually exclusive, and a campaign could involve more than one plot.

There are many encounter areas inside the Hut, and I’ll provide three examples that I adapted from Smedman’s version: the Kitchen, the Orchard, and the Baths. I should note in particular that the Prismatic Tree of Nadežda Chilik (in the Orchard) is my own creation.

The Kitchen

1. Freezer. The hallway from the Dining Hall leads to a meat locker that is kept magically cold at 0 degrees. Animal carcasses — sheep, cow, pig, chicken — hang from a number of large hooks in the ceiling. When player characters first enter, they see a sickening illusion of themselves hanging dead on the hooks. Touching their own carcass dispels the illusion.

2. Kitchen. The kitchen proper has two large tables, wooden stools, and a huge stove. Between 6:00 PM and midnight cabbage soup is simmering in a pot on top of the stove and loves of fresh bread lie cooling on the tables. The servant girl Sara makes the bread and soup at 5:00 PM every day, for guests to come in and help themselves in the evening hours. Between midnight and 1:00 AM, Baba Yaga is here cooking and eating children (usually human or elf).

Kitchen implements hang from pegs or lie on shelves. Each table also holds roasting pans, and on one of the tables is a metal pole with a hook in one end and scorched cloth padding on the handle. There are large buckets next to the stove with the skeletal remains of 1d6+2 children. The children were seven or eight years old when Baba Yaga cooked them for supper.

The stove is cast iron and has a front shaped like a dragon’s face. It fills the room with warmth; a roaring fire is visible behind the glass window set into the “mouth” of the stove. The stove is heated by a contained field of red dragon breath capable of inflicting 6d10+3 points of damage. The fire is completely contained inside the stove and will not spill out through either door. Behind the fire, a normal-sized metal door can be seen, if someone is looking carefully. The door leads to the Library. In order to reach the door, the metal pole on the table is required. The hook is used to snag a lever inside of the stove, which stops the fire for 10 rounds, allowing anyone to crawl through in that interval of time.

3. Refrigerator. The fridge is kept magically cool at 35 degrees. It is lined with food supplies to last months: shelves of produce, sacks of grain and rice, tons of butter and jam, rows of wine bottles and porter beer. There is a whole shelf for Absolut vodka in all fruit flavors.

4. Dimensional Trap. The door opposite the stove is dimensionally folded to give access to the intestines of the first person who opens it. This magic cannot be dispelled. The “corridor” it opens onto appears to be a twisting hallway with walls of a soft, red material and a floor that is knee-deep in putrid sludge. The intestine leads gradually upward from the door for 200 feet. It eventually reaches the stomach, a “cavern” filled with a “lake” of digestive juices that smells of vomit.

Any damage done to the walls of the “corridor” affects the victim who opened the door (for example, a fireball cast into the corridor would explode inside the victim). There are warnings, however. As soon as any object or being touches the corridor, the victim will feel mild stomach cramps. If the victim tries to enter the corridor, he or she will feel some kind of invisible barrier and cannot pass through. If the victim is pulled through by someone (which requires that someone to make a successful bend bars/lift gates roll), or pulled through by two or more people (with a combined strength of at least 26), then the victim is turned inside out (dimensionally folded) from being forced inside his or her own body. Blood and guts splay everywhere, and the victim dies at once. The door swings shut and anyone inside the corridor is transported back in the kitchen. The next person to open the door begins the sequence again.

Note: once the door is shut, there is nothing behind it. So if someone opens the door, and others go down the intestinal corridor, and the door is shut before they come back, they will never return to the kitchen unless the door is again opened (by the same victim) from the kitchen side. They will be trapped inside the victim’s intestines/stomach and can otherwise only escape by being cut out of the poor victim, who would probably die from that; and of course those rescued will be miniature sized — just a couple inches tall. If the door is opened from the kitchen side by someone else, that person now becomes a potentially new victim, if anyone decides to proceed down his intestine/stomach, or worse, pull the new victim inside his or her own body. Etc.

The Orchard

This area is an orchard with apple trees and a two-foot deep stream of cream. The first five feet of each bank of the stream is made of pudding; anyone stepping into it sinks to a depth of six inches. There are scattered bushes and rounded boulders. The area is enclosed by a ring of hurricane-force winds that have three times the power of a gust of wind spell. The air inside the orchard itself is still. Anyone venturing into these winds is hurled back 1d4x10 feet, and suffers appropriate falling damage. The winds also form a “ceiling” 50 feet above the orchard.

At three points in this swirling mass of wind, a distinct vortex can be seen. One leads to the Guest Rooms, another to the Lost Souls Art Gallery, and another to the Stasis Chambers. They deposit anyone stepping into them through a doorway into those areas.

The cream stream and pudding banks are perfectly edible. The fourteen apple trees are normal, and bear either red or golden fruit that is non-magical.

The Prismatic Tree. Next to the bank of the stream stands The Prismatic Tree of Nadežda Chilik, one of the most powerful magical creations in the universe. It towers to a height of 40 feet, and has over 100 apples growing on it: between 15-18 (1d4+14) of each of the seven colors of the rainbow. The apples have extraordinary healing power and carry permanent side benefits. It is intolerant of greed, however, allowing any person to pick only two of its apples for the duration of that person’s life. If anyone picks a third apple (or more), the mere touch of the apple inflicts the person with its toxic power, which is the reverse of its healing power. There is no saving throw against the toxic power, and that apple is forever cursed, so that anyone else who touches or eats it will receive the toxic power as well. (A remove curse cast by someone at least 9th level will make the apple safe to touch and eat.)

 

Apple Color Healing Power (from eating)
Side Benefit (also from eating)
Toxic Power (from touching)
Red Cures all physical injuries/scars Provides heat resistance (temps up to 110 degrees feel like room temp) Causes serious wounds, bleeding, and scars (10-40 hp of damage)
Orange Regenerates lost limbs Provides energy (only 1/2 the normal amount of sleep required) Causes the loss of an arm (50%) or leg (50%)
Yellow Cures blindness/deafness Provides virility (tireless sexual performance every 4 hours) Causes blindness (50%) or deafness (50%)
Green Cures all diseases/poisons Provides nourishment (only 1/3 the normal amount of food required) Causes smallpox
Blue Removes fear/panic/anxiety Provides cold resistance (temps down to -10 degrees feel like room temp) Causes relentless fear and anxiety
Indigo Cures insanity/hysteria Gives ESP (ability to read people’s thoughts) Causes homicidal mania (50%) or suicidal mania (50%)
Violet Removes curses Fluency in all Slavic tongues, and the ability to understand any language Causes shapechange

In addition to the healing powers and side benefits, apples of all colors dispel exhaustion, restoring stamina and curing all weakness and fatigue.

The other inhabitant of the garden is Marya, the servant girl who preceded Sara. Marya disobeyed Baba Yaga, by telling outsiders various secrets of the Hut. As a result, she has been polymorphed into a talking hedgehog.

— Marya (Hedgehog): AC 8; HD 1/2; hp 2; #AT nil; Dmg nil; AL LN.

Though Baba Yaga eats kids all the time, she would never kill a child whom she took on as a special servant of the Hut (for fear of being cursed by the gods). Instead she imprisoned Marya in a condition where the girl will at least be happy. Marya does not want to leave the orchard or be changed back into a human being. Her life as a human was cruel, and in the orchard she has no responsibilities, and can eat pudding and cream anytime she wants. She was not given hedgehog claws, because Baba Yaga does not want her climbing trees and eating any apples. She has existed on a diet of insects and pudding and cream, and is disgustingly fat.

Baths

1. Main Bath. The walls of the large pool room show a mosaic depicting sea creatures too horrible to contemplate. The centerpiece of the room is its pool, 30 x 60 feet. A cluster of five glowing spheres, illuminated with continual light spells and held in place by a levitate effect, hovers a few feet above the surface of the pool, filling the room with a soft light. A black door that is wizard locked leads to Baba Yaga’s rooms. A pink door leads to the Little Dove’s (Sara’s) room.

At both ends of the pool, five streams of pale green water emerge from the floor and arc into the pool, rippling its surface. The water is 96 degrees. It is also toxic to humanoids (human, elves, dwarves, etc.), since the giant frogs use it, and their venom drips into the water. A humanoid bathing in the water will find it comfortable and soothing, but runs a 20% per turn of needing to save vs. poison or be infected with frog venom (see below). Most of Baba Yaga’s guests (hags, daemons, etc.) are immune to poison and enjoy the baths with no fears.

Lounging around (and sometimes swimming in) the pool are the ten giant frogs. They will attack anyone who show hostile intent, or bother any peaceful guests using the pools. The frogs’ saliva excretes a deadly poison that is fatal in a single round, unless a save vs. poison is made. Even if the save is made, the poison will kill in 1-6 turns without a poison remedy.

— Giant Frog (10): AC 6; HD 5; hp 25 each; #AT 1; Dmg 1-6; AL N; SA poison.

2. Jacuzzi. The smaller room is lined with shelves crammed with rolled-up towels and bathing suits. The jacuzzi is 15 x 7 foot long tub, with foul green water being propelled from jets on the floor of the tub. The water bubbles at 104 degrees. There is a 60% Maroosia the swamp hag will be here, instead of the Guest Rooms. She is nasty and will taunt PCs in any number of foul ways.

— Maroosia (Swamp Hag): AC -2; HD 9; hp 41; #AT 2; Dmg 1-2+6/1-2+6; AL NE; SA spells, change self ability; SD surprised only on a 1.

 

Reading Roundup: 2018

Here are the best books I read this year. I didn’t read as much as I wanted to (I wrote a novel this year), which is why there are only six picks instead of my usual ten.

1. The History of Jihad, Robert Spencer. Deciding between the Stranger Things book (#2) and this one was tough, but it has to be this one. First because Robert Spencer gets way more flak than he deserves, and second because The History of Jihad is the first of its kind. I have been astonished that there has been no comprehensive book on the Islamic jihad analogous to such works on the Christian crusades. Spencer’s book is the resource we’ve needed for a long time, covering all jihad theaters for the past 1400 years since the prophet and warlord exemplar Muhammad. Spencer relies heavily on primary sources and the words of contemporary witnesses, so the reader gets a good impression of how it was to experience Islamic holy war. Jihadists have always been candid about their religious motives — it is now, and has always been, a Muslim’s holy duty to subjugate infidels under the rule of Islamic law, regardless of how many Muslims actually take up that imperative — but people in the 21st century have denied this and grasped at every wrong explanation. Studies have proven that there is no correlation between Islamic terrorism and poverty, and jihad isn’t “just” terrorism in any case. It’s legitimized terrorism backed by core Islamic teachings. It’s to Islam as the Passover is to Judaism, and as the Eucharist is to Christianity, and as meditation is to Buddhism. That may be hard to accept but it is a fact. Spencer’s book will educate honest inquirers, and be dismissed as bigoted by the hard left — and even by those who should know better. It’s an important book, and I reviewed it by each chapter here.

2. Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down, Gina McIntyre. Behind-the-scenes books often recycle information you can easily get online, but trust me, if you’re a Stranger Things fan, you’ll treasure this book for all sorts of surprising details, let alone the stunning art and photos. Don’t let the shabby appearance fool you; it isn’t real. The book is made to look beat up and worn. (I was fooled when I opened my mail package, and I almost had a conniption.) There are profiles of all the characters, presented creatively. The boys are described on D&D character sheets, while El, Hopper, and Joyce get CIA files. We see how the Duffer Brothers brought Stranger Things to life, their plans for alternate storylines that got scrapped, and other nuggets of information. There is a Morse Code decoder included, which is an exact replica of the one Eleven uses with Hopper in season 2. And you get real use out of it, because throughout the book there is hidden code which provides hints of things to come in season 3. By far my favorite inclusion, however, is the 11″x15″ topographical map of Hawkins, which I blogged here.

3. God’s Court and Courtiers in the Book of the Watchers, Philip Esler. Esler is always a great read, and his most recent effort feels downright epic, especially if you love the Enoch myths as I do. The focus is on the Book of the Watchers (I Enoch 1-36), for which the dominant stream interprets heaven in terms of the Jerusalem temple, and for which Esler finds no basis at all. When Israelite authors around this time wished to present heaven as a temple, they did exactly that. In the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and the Testament of Levi, heaven is the temple, God is in the holy of holies, and the angels are priests who sing God’s praises and offer fragrant sacrifices. One looks in vain to find any of these elements in I Enoch 1-36 — even if everyone sees them anyway. God’s Court and Courtiers in the Book of the Watchers is, then, a shot across the bow of a considerable body of scholarship. Its thesis is that heaven is understood in terms of a royal court, in which the king (God) is surrounded by his courtiers (the angels). While some scholars make occasional references to the Enochic heaven as a court, the idea is never taken that seriously, and it’s way eclipsed by the supposed idea that heaven is a temple in which the angels are understood to be priests instead of courtiers. Esler refutes that by first examining the angels (their duties, access rights, and mediation techniques), then the Watchers (their “defilement”, “great sin”, and their justice), and then finally the architecture of God’s abode. What becomes clear is that the temple metaphor is non-existent, and the court metaphor so obvious that how did it take this long for us to see? Full review here.

4. Free Speech on Campus, Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman. There is a certain adage this book seems built around: “Prepare students for the road, not the road for the students.” It sounds elementary, but college campuses are among the last places today you can be guaranteed a free exchanges of ideas. The majority position of students (58% of them, in 2017) is that they should not be exposed to ideas that offend them — an embarrassing repudiation of what academia has always stood for. Students are supposed to be stung, disturbed, upset, and thus provoked to reassess their current beliefs — and change the ones they cannot defend. And as the authors of this book make clear, those offensive ideas must include even hate speech. It’s illegal for public universities to ban hate speech, and private colleges should follow suit on this. The problem with “hate speech” is that it’s a catch-all label for shutting down unpopular views that aren’t hateful at all, like the toxic nature of Islam, theories of psychobiology, etc. Academic inquiry doesn’t care about student feelings, nor should it. Free Speech on Campus is the book to help make great thinkers again, indeed to help prepare students for the road, rather than the road for them. I wish it were required reading of every college freshman. I reviewed the chapters here, here, here, and here.

5. When Christians Were Jews, Paula Fredriksen. She was made to write a book like this. It builds on her earlier work and explains how a sect of apocalyptic Jews, who thought they were history’s last generation, grew into a Gentile church that became history’s first Christians. It’s vintage Fredriksen, and timely given that it came out the same month the Pittsburgh shooter opened fire in a synagogue. There are many books on Christian origins, but not all of them very good, and this has the right starting point (a la Sanders and Allison): Christianity was sort of a mistake that should never have been, growing out of a movement of Jews who thought the world was about to end. When the end repeatedly failed to come, the movement became more Gentile-inclusive and grounded in the present. The messianic prophet Jesus morphed into a divine being; the idea of his second coming was forged out of failed hopes. Today we understand Christianity as a universal religion distinct from Judaism, but that wasn’t firmly in place until four decades after Jesus’ death, especially after the destruction of the Jewish temple — the definitive proof of divine displeasure. The anti-Semitism of the New Testament is anachronistic, the first generation of “Christians” Jewish to the core. Hardly controversial, but this background doesn’t reach enough of the laity. In view of our current political climate, I hope the book helps.

6. Eleven Presidents, Ivan Eland. This book isn’t partisan and is certainly no respecter of persons. But it does hit Republicans hard for their misleading image as so-called “small government” executives, while shining the spotlight on two surprising Democrats (Carter and Clinton) who did a rather damn good job against expectations. Opposing historians who tend to favor U.S. presidents based on their popular appeal and charisma, Eland focuses on their actual policies, assessing the presidents since World War I who either genuinely believed in, or claimed to be for (a) military restraint abroad, (b) fiscal responsibility at home, and (c) liberty and freedom for all. That’s nine Republicans and two Democrats, and of those eleven, only five pass the test: Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. (Though Eland acknowledges that Clinton is a mixed bag.) It is refreshing to see Harding and Carter get the praise they deserve, while Reagan is taken down. As Eland shows, Reagan has become the Republican equivalent of FDR, enshrined in myths that have made him a near demigod. If we’re ever again going to enjoy eras of prosperity at home, peace with our neighbors abroad, and a climate where individual liberties and freedoms are valued for all peoples, then the five good presidents should be our inspiration.