The Location and Map of Hawkins Finally Revealed

Stranger Things fans have been speculating the location of Hawkins, Indiana, for a long time, but they need speculate no more. The official companion book Worlds Turned Upside Down provides the answer. The book includes an 11″x15″ map of Hawkins, and at the bottom shows the town’s location in Indiana. It’s is in the northeastern part of the state, about halfway between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. I plugged it on the following map in red.

 

 

That just so happens to be where I situated Hawkins in my fanfiction trilogy: about an hour and a half drive northeast from Indianapolis. (See this chapter in particular.) It’s interesting that most fans favored either a northwestern or southwestern location. (See this Reddit discussion.)

As for the map itself, the only online screenshot I could find was this one. Even when you click to enlarge, it’s poor resolution, and you can’t read the street names. Only the lab stands out, a half mile southwest of the town. But the 11″x15″ fold-up shows all the streets clearly, the middle and high schools, the library, police station, Sattler’s Quarry, the Starcourt Mall (which will feature big time in season 3), the yuppie district of Loch Nora, and many other places. The map doesn’t indicate the homes of individual characters, like the Wheeler residence, the Byers residence, etc., but I took the liberty of putting those in, using red circles and blue labels; and other places, like the junkyard, Meldvald’s Store, and the place where Will was initially attacked by the Demogorgon.

 

 

World’s Turned Upside Down was released the day before Halloween, but it’s a perfect Christmas gift for anyone who hasn’t obtained it yet. I recommend it highly. City Book Review review and Fanbase Press provide more details.

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Stranger Things: World’s End (Chapter 4)

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 Four:

                                    Deep Burn

Mike Hopper shot out of the air, barely staying on the bike as it hit pavement. He had propelled himself out of the In-Between, instinctively trying to evade Uncle Dustin. Which was unnecessary; no one was chasing him. His plan had worked. Acting casually had taken everyone off guard, even Dr. Reardon. But it had been very close: Uncle Dustin had almost grabbed him when he disappeared.

He skidded on the road, and righted himself with his feet. Wherever he had emerged, it was a quiet neighborhood. And deep in the past. Far deeper than he’d ever gone. He was somewhere in Hawkins on the afternoon of November 12, 1983 — a time he had chosen with anorexic precision.

As he scanned his surroundings, he could scarcely credit his eyes. He was in a fantasy world; a world out of his own past that he had convinced himself was a dream. Homes lined the streets, with lawns lush and verdant. Healthy trees stood everywhere; artifacts of a bygone age. There were automobiles, at least one, sometimes two, for every home. People walked outside without any concerns of safety, unguarded by walls and patrollers. He remembered life like this — had lived life like this —  but only as a drama; the memories seemed contrived.

The sight of the lab loomed over a distant treeline, and Mike did a calculation. He chose a street that he was sure led to the home of his father. The Wheeler residence.

Mike had never had any intention of taking Uncle Dustin or Steve back to kill Morgred. He was going to save the world on his own terms. His childhood had become a straightjacket of isolation. He was forty-three, but only technically. Adults served him condescension as if it were gourmet. The adults who had meant everything to him were either gone, broken, or undeserving. Perhaps adults were the problem.

He had burned deep in order to recruit his parents and uncles when they were exactly his age: a twelve-year old hit squad for Mission Morgred. Uncle Dustin would be part of it after all. According to Mike’s family stories, it was during the week of November 6-12, 1983, that his father and two uncles had met his mother, and together they had all moved heaven and earth to rescue Uncle Will from the Upside Down. On the last day, late into the night of the 12th, his mother had vanished after killing the first demogorgon the world had ever seen. Mike wanted them all as a team to stop Morgred. He had chosen the final day of their time together, right before his mother vanished. By that point they had become close and comfortable with each other, and — if the family tales didn’t embellish — his mother had flipped a van that was chasing them.

Mike wanted to see that. He needed his mother at the height of her power, and all of them at the height of their friendship. He wouldn’t need a gun with Killer Mom at his side, supported by her best friends. Mission Morgred would be in good hands. For this cause he had burned deep in the past to meet his young sires.

Or at least, that was his formal reason. His other reasons were more complex.

As he zoomed along the street, another biker shot out from a side road at breakneck speed. It was a kid, and Mike gasped when he got a look at him.

The kid was African American, and wearing an orange-red jacket and a bandana. He was screaming into a device strapped to the helm of his bike. Mike remembered the stories: Uncle Luc had separated from his parents and Uncle Dustin in order to spy on the lab, and then raced back to warn them as the lab thugs descended on them. These were the days when the lab was run by vicious assholes. This kid, like himself, had just come from the direction of the lab. It had to be Lucas Sinclair.

Mike pumped his legs, racing to catch up with Lucas. He saw him turn down another side street, and followed him at a distance that Mike tried to close.

Within seconds Lucas saw Mike ride up alongside him, and his head snapped to the side in a double-take. “How did you get here?” he yelled. “I thought you were at Cornwalis!”

“Just go!” shouted Mike.

They both sped ahead, and Lucas kept flashing looks at Mike. “Why aren’t you with Dustin!” he bellowed.

That put it beyond doubt. “Where are we going?” shouted Mike, ignoring the question.

“Elm and Cherry!” cried Lucas.

“Okay!”

Lucas kept looking over at him as they rode. Do I look the same? He had always been told he looked exactly like his father, except for his eyes, and he had seen enough photos of Mike Wheeler confirming that. But then his clothes probably looked completely wrong. Judging from Lucas, eighties dress was planets away from the post-apocalyptic attire of the thirties.

“Where did you get that monster bike?” yelled Lucas.

There was that too. “Just keep going!” shouted Mike.

Mike followed Lucas’s lead as they flew down roads and around corners, until they finally came to Elm and Cherry. Lucas braked — and two other kids on bikes came flying into the road. They had come from a side path that cut between a nest of homes. No; it was three kids, not two: a boy with a shaved head was riding double on one of them. They skidded to a halt, and Mike almost plowed into the pair riding double. His heart lurched as he saw his clone — his father, of course, Mike Wheeler — gawk at him in undiluted shock. The short kid with the shaved head peered over his shoulder, all eyes.

Dustin was looking up and down the road. “I think we lost them,” he said. Then he saw two Mike Wheelers, and his jaw fell to the ground. “What the hell?”

Lucas was unable to stop his head from swiveling back and forth between the two Mikes.

Mike Wheeler found his voice: “Who is THIS?” he shouted in outrage, before all hell broke loose.

Tires screeched from up the road, as three vans tore around the corner and came barreling down on them all.

“Go, go, go!” shouted Mike Wheeler.

They rode their bikes as fast as they could.

“Faster, faster!” his father kept yelling.

But they couldn’t outpace these vans; dashing between house paths onto other roads was their only hope, and there wasn’t one nearby. Mike was nonplussed by this turn of events. Where was his goddamn mother?

His bowels almost burst as another van tore around the corner — this one straight ahead of them. Sandwiched from both ends, the kids screamed as they hurtled towards the newcomer who was about to turn them into roadkill. Mike cursed his uncles for their bald-faced lies. No one was going to flip this van into the air.

He heard a whooshing noise and a deep thump, and suddenly the van was flying upended over their heads. The kids looked skyward and then backward as their bikes sailed on. With a deafening crash, the van smashed upside down on the road behind them, likely killing whoever was inside. The other three vans screeched to a halt to avoid the collision. Grim looking men exited the vehicles, watching the kids as they rode away.

The kids couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed. Mike couldn’t either, but only because his mother was nowhere in sight. He looked at the kid with the shaved head, clinging to his father on the back of his bike. Mike’s eyes widened. The kid was wearing a dress and had a nosebleed. The truth hit him: this tiny shaved thing was his mother: Jane Hopper, before she knew her name was Jane and was adopted by Sheriff Jim Hopper. Eleven, or El, is what the boys called her, and had continued to call her for the rest of their lives. He felt relief: they were all here.

They rode on, putting as much distance as possible between themselves and the lab goons. The junkyard was the next stop, according to the family stories. The kids would hide out in a bus as government agents searched for them in a chopper, and until Sheriff Hopper came to rescue them. Mike intended to interrupt that timeline of events.

As soon as they got to the junkyard, he would explain who he was and why he was here — his carefully prepared version of it, that is — and, if they agreed, he would whisk them all to the future to deal with Morgred. With a bit of a detour along the way.

They came to the abandoned junkyard, and got off their bikes. Eleven knelt on the ground, exhausted from what she had done.

Dustin was sputtering, looking at Eleven in near worship. “Did — did you all see that?”

“No Dustin,” retorted Mike Wheeler. “We missed it.” He turned a murderous glare on his clone. “More important is, do you all see THAT?”

Everyone stared at Mike Hopper. Here we go.

“Yeah, I see it,” said Dustin. “He came with Lucas.”

Lucas protested immediately. “I thought he was you,” he said to Mike Wheeler. “When I left the lab, he was suddenly following me.”

“When you left the lab,” said Mike Wheeler, making the word an indictment. He faced his clone: “How did they make you?”

Oh God. “Guys, no one made me. I’m not with those men who chased us.”

“When I got to the fence surrounding the lab,” said Lucas, “I confirmed the Gate had to be inside. It’s where our compasses point, on all sides of the fence. No question. They could be making clones inside there too, for all we know.”

“Maybe not clones,” said Dustin. “They would need samples of Mike’s DNA to make a clone. More likely, this is a shadow version of Mike. Maybe there are people in the Upside Down after all. Dark versions of ourselves.”

That’s quite enough of this. “No,” said Mike Hopper. “I’m not from the Upside Down.”

“Shut up,” said Mike Wheeler. “You came from the lab, where the Gate is. At the same time we were chased by all those lab people.”

Lucas was nodding. “He’s an infiltrator.”

“No I’m not!” said Mike Hopper, “Jesus, do I look like a shadow creature? I’m not your enemy.” He looked over at his mother. She was still on the ground, exhausted.

“Who are you then?” demanded his father.

Mike had carefully rehearsed his answer to this question. The truth was out of the question. None of these twelve-year old kids was prepared to accept that Mike and Eleven were his parents, least of all Mom and Dad themselves. Nor did he want to be seen as anyone’s child or nephew; he wanted the friendship of these kids, not their stewardship. No, he was not Mike Hopper from the future; he was Mike Wheeler from an alternate universe.

“I’m you,” he said to Mike Wheeler, “from a parallel world.”

“What?” said Mike Wheeler, incredulous.

“Alternate dimensions!” shouted Dustin. “I knew it.”

“Shut up, Dustin,” said Lucas, and then came right up to Mike Hopper: “You expect us to believe that?”

Mike didn’t like hostility from his Uncle Luc. “Why do you think I look just like him? Only slightly different. There are small differences across parallel universes. Sometimes big ones too, but mostly just small ones.”

“Yeah, your eyes are different,” said Dustin. “You’ve got girls’ eyes.”

“Why are you here?” asked Mike Wheeler.

“It’s… hard to explain all at once. There’s a big problem in my world,” said Mike Hopper.

“A major disaster?” asked Dustin. “Threatening your world?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Oh boy,” said Dustin, grinning. “Like the Doctor Who story Inferno.”

Seriously. Even at the age of twelve, his Uncle Dustin had analogies at hand for everything. Mike hadn’t counted on any initial support from the group, but Dustin was already wetting himself with enthusiasm.

His mother had risen, and now came over to him. Mike’s heart quickened and he almost panicked. She looked absurd in that dress and long white socks. But her eyes were eternal; beautiful, really; they never changed.

Neither did his. He prayed the similarities weren’t glaring, but Dustin had already called them out as girls’ eyes, and they seemed to be precisely what his mother was interested in. She was staring into them as she reached up to touch his face.

“El, no!” It was his father, pulling her back. “Don’t touch him. We don’t know if he’s telling the truth.”

“What, you don’t think he’s from another world?” asked Dustin. “If not, then your parents have been hiding your identical twin for a long time.”

“I’m sure he’s from another world,” retorted Mike Wheeler. “But not the one he says. You’re telling me that Will is captured by a creature from the shadow world, and then someone appears out of the blue from another different world?”

“I can take you there,” said Mike Hopper.

“What?” said Mike Wheeler.

“To my world. It’s why I came here. To get you guys — Eleven, especially — to help save my world.”

“Then you’re shit out of luck,” said Lucas. “We’re trying to save someone else right now in our own world. Our friend.”

“I know,” said Mike Hopper. “You’re trying to find Will. Don’t worry, I can get you back here. At the exact moment we leave from. Even if we spend days in my world. You won’t lose any time here at all.” He hoped they wouldn’t examine this point too closely.

They were evidently troubled by other points.

“Hold on,” said Mike Wheeler. “You’re dealing with the same problem in your world? Finding Will? And you’re what, leeching off us in our world?”

“In my world, it’s a much bigger and different threat, and you’re all dead. Not just Will, but also Lucas, Dustin, and Eleven. I need your help. Especially Eleven’s.” He had rationalized this self-serving lie on grounds that it didn’t ultimately matter. Once he brought them back here, they wouldn’t remember a thing. The important thing was to get them on board with killing Morgred. And with trusting him; accepting him.

“That is sort of like what happens in Inferno,” admitted Dustin. “In the alternate world, the threats are magnified.”

“How so?” asked Lucas.

“The lava from the earth’s core explodes much earlier, and worse things happen to the good guys who try to prevent it. The bad guys are way nastier too.”

“You’d be saving the lives of a lot of Americans,” said Mike Hopper. “In my world the Upside Down is a massive problem. It’s so bad it’s off the scales.” That last was certainly true. “And I promise I can get you right back here, with no time lost. Your Will won’t suffer for this mission at all.” That was also true. Provided, of course, that none of them got killed on this mission, and that he was alive to bring them back. He had no worries about that. Morgred should be the easy part of his plan.

“I’m in,” said Dustin.

“Really?” said Lucas.

“I believe what he says and what he promises us. This is our chance to see a parallel world. A parallel world, guys.”

Mike Wheeler looked at Mike Hopper for a long time. “If you’re messing with us, I swear I’ll feed you to the demogorgon myself. But fine. I’m in too.”

“I guess I’m outvoted,” said Lucas.

“Not necessarily,” said Mike Hopper. “Doesn’t she get a vote?”

“Don’t tell us how we vote,” snapped Mike Wheeler, no doubt furious because he was just about to ask Eleven. He turned to her. “El?”

They all looked at her. She was staring at Mike Hopper intently. Finally she said, “Yes.”

“Great,” said Dustin. “So how do you travel between worlds? Do you have a machine somewhere?”

“No. Just hold onto your bikes, and hold on to me. I’ll do the rest.”

“Seriously?” said Lucas. “Are you a wizard?”

“Just get this over with,” said Mike Wheeler. “I want to see it actually work.”

“Hold on,” said Lucas.

“Quit stalling, Lucas,” said Dustin.

“I’m not stalling. We need to resolve something.” He looked contrite as he turned to Eleven. “What you did for us back there, when we were being chased, was terrific. I mean, it was really awesome. All those times I called you a traitor? I was wrong.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

Mike Hopper had no clue where this was coming from. Traitor? The family stories had never mentioned Uncle Luc calling his mother a traitor. Uncle Luc had always treated her like gold.

Whatever it was about, he could see that Lucas’s apology meant a lot to his mother. “Friends don’t lie,” she said to Lucas. “I’m sorry too.”

“Me too,” said Mike Wheeler, putting his hand out, and confounding Mike Hopper even more. Lucas shook Mike Wheeler’s hand, and the two friends beamed at each other over a chasm now bridged.

Friends don’t lie.

Friends indeed. Mike Hopper hadn’t had a real friend since Tobias. And he had lied plenty throughout this little charade, mixing his lies with just enough spoken truths and inner rationalizations to keep his conscience clear. That was probably a low bar in the present company.

“Are we ready then?” asked Dustin. “Other Mike? Can we call you that?”

Mike Hopper — Other Mike — told everyone to grab their bikes in one hand, and hold on fast to him with another. They did so. He took a deep breath, wondering how this would go. He had to make it work. A rush of fiery cold went through him and filled the flesh of his new friends. He hoped they would be his new friends. It was why he had done all of this.

The In-Between assaulted him with the usual paradoxes: an agonizing sense of deja vu; a brutal freeze that scorched like a sun; a split second that went on for thousands of years. At the end of that eternity that was no time at all, Mike and his sires materialized.

It was the same junkyard filled with different junk. It was colder, and there was snow on the ground — about two inches worth. They would need warmer clothes. He had brought them to the afternoon of Wednesday, December 22, 2021, years before either apocalypse tore America apart.

“Holy shit!” said Dustin, looking around.

“That felt weird,” said Mike Wheeler.

Lucas swore. “It’s freezing here. Does winter come early in your world?”

Eleven stared around the junkyard in wonder.

Mike Hopper’s reaction was different. It was a reaction he had suffered many times before, but was certainly not expecting at this point. Vertigo washed through his head, sending him to the ground. His body was already shaking, fever flooding his veins. No, he pleaded. This isn’t right. He only got sick when he came back to the present.

“Hey!” said Mike Wheeler. “Other Mike! What’s wrong?”

Mike Hopper looked up at them all, and did a mental calculation. “Listen to me,” he said through chattering teeth. “Please. You’ll need to take care of me. I’m going to be very sick. Sometimes the travel between worlds does this to me.”

“What! You didn’t say anything about that!”

No shit, Sherlock. I’m just as surprised as you. He wanted to scream. He only got sick when he came back.

Then he saw his error. He had come back — partially, in a sense.

Eleven was kneeling over him, her eyes filled with worry. He needed a mother, all right. He had known that the return trip might well kill him, and had made his peace with that. But he had drastically misunderstood the nature of his time sickness. It wasn’t triggered by a return to the present per se. It was triggered, apparently, by any movement forward in time towards that present. By traveling from 1983 to 2021, he had brought on a time sickness of thirty-eight hours. A bit less than what he had been counting on for the trip back home, but still a monstrous duration — one whole day plus fourteen hours.

“Please,” he repeated, his body shaking. “Get me to The Blue Falcon.” The Hawkins motel would have been his next suggested destination anyway. “The manager there will let kids rent a room, if we have cash.” And if he doesn’t think we’re delinquents. And assuming his Uncle Will’s stories about Mr. Farrow were accurate.

“We don’t have cash!” said Mike Wheeler.

Mike Hopper fumbled for his pouch, still draped over his shoulder. His hands were shaking too badly. “Open it,” he told his father. “See the brown bag inside.”

Mike Wheeler opened the pouch, dug around the snacks, water bottle, and folder, and found the paper bag. He opened it. “Holy shit, you guys! Other Mike is loaded. There must be thousands of dollars here.” Mike had taken the cash from Uncle Will’s storage. Cash was useless in the post-apocalypse, kept for nostalgia, or perhaps a dim hope that it would one day be useful again.

He shuddered and moaned in the snow. His parents and uncles knelt over him, babbling, excited. He had brought them to the year 2021, ten years earlier than his target destination. He had a reason for this detour. Now he might not live for that reason, let alone continue on to kill Morgred in 2031. He could die before doing anything meaningful.

 

Next Chapter: Fellowship

(Previous Chapter: Mission Morgred)

Stranger Things: World’s End (Chapter 3)

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 Three:

                              Mission Morgred

“You’re saying,” said Will, “that Mike told you he could time travel? And that he told you this yesterday? And that you should come here today at precisely this time to get the full details?”

They had fetched Mike and called him back inside. He was just as surprised at what Dr. Reardon was saying.

“Yes. Mike said all of that to me while you were both in the room with his mother. He was in two places at the same time.”

“But that’s not possible,” said Mike.

Reardon raised his eyebrows. “You’re the one who told me it was possible.”

“No, I mean, I couldn’t have time-traveled from the Colony all the way to the Lab.”

Will clarified: “Mike can only travel distances up to two miles when he time travels. Your lab is five miles from our Colony.”

“I’m not saying his future self was at the lab. His future self was at the Colony, calling me on your radio. Your personal home radio. He said he had traveled from 1:15 PM on Saturday, and that I was sitting at this table with you guys after your lunch, telling him to go back in time and tell me this.” They looked at the wall clock: it was 1:12 PM.

Tobias laughed. “We’re in a Doctor Who story.”

“Okay.” Will stood up. “Let’s do this, Mike.”

“Do what?”

“You need to go back in time to yesterday, when we were both visiting your mother at the lab, and then use our house radio here to contact Dr. Reardon at the lab.” He smiled. “You have to convince him that you can time travel, and tell him to come see us the next day at this time, so that he can sit here and tell you that you went back in time to tell him that you can time travel.”

“Fuck you, you’re making my head hurt.”

Tobias laughed again.

“The important thing is to tell Dr. Reardon that you can time travel, and that we’ll explain everything when he gets here, and that we have an idea to propose.”

“What idea?” asked Mike.

“Don’t mention any of this in your radio call. It involves going back in time a little further than you’re used to going. Don’t worry, we’re not going to make you do anything you don’t want. And we wouldn’t risk your health unless it were important. We just have an idea we want to discuss, and you’ll be part of that discussion.”

“Yesterday you were telling me not to mess with time at all. You changed your mind?”

It bothered Will that he couldn’t remember being in the past with Mike only yesterday. “What we’re thinking about might save not only Lucas but the whole country from a shadow slaughter.”

Mike was fully alert. “So… I should do this radio thing now?”

“It’s time,” said Will. And I want to see this with my own goddamn eyes. By now he almost completely believed that Mike could do what he claimed. Almost.

Mike stood in the middle of the main room. “I’ll be back in a few.”

“When will we see you again?” asked Reardon.

“However long you and I chat on the radio,” said Mike.

Mike looked straight ahead, over all of them seated at the table, and relaxed his body. For about ten seconds he resembled someone under hypnosis. Then, abruptly, he vanished.

They stared at the space he had occupied.

“Wow,” said Reardon.

Will had seen many things in his life that filled pages of the impossible. The sight of a kid disappearing into thin air on his own effort was by far the most amazing. Simple, and truly amazing.

“God, I love that kid,” said Tobias. “He was a better friend than I ever deserved.”

“He’s quite special,” said Will. And broken. Like his mother.

Reardon was at a loss for words. “Well, you sold me. Just what idea do you have in mind? Where do you want to send Michael?”

“Tobias has an idea. One that I agree is worth considering.”

“Oh?”

Will leaned forward on the table and faced the doctor squarely. “What do you know about a man named Charles Morgred?”

 

“Why didn’t you ever tell me this?” Will had always counted on Dr. Reardon for full disclosure in these things. The survival of the Colony depended on it.

“It was no big deal, as I saw it, Will.”

“We agreed no secrets between us.”

“Of course,” said Reardon. “But in this case, it didn’t matter. Morgred was dead. He did what he did, and there was nothing to do about him. And I didn’t want your people to know, because I needed their faith in us. If the Colony knew that a scientist created the Pockets, your folks might never have trusted us.”

He had a point. When Reardon and his crew showed up four years ago, it wasn’t instant kumbaya. It had taken months to establish a solid relationship between the Colony and the lab.

“Morgred was quite a character,” said Tobias. “I saw him preaching on the streets once. Complete lunatic.”

They had moved outside to enjoy the sun and low-sixties breeze. It was a nice view: Will’s house overlooked the fields sloping down slightly on the Colony’s east side.

“So you guys want me to shoot Morgred?” asked Mike.

“Uh, that’s a firm negative, as your Uncle Dustin would say,” said Will. “You take me back, and I’ll do it.”

“That’s also a negative,” said Reardon.

“Excuse me?”

“Will, you had a heart attack last year. You’re not going on an assassin’s mission.”

Thank you, Doctor, for the concern. But Mike is my responsibility. I’ll do this thing.”

“You certainly won’t do this thing,” said Tobias. “It’s not just your heart condition, Will. You’re a puny lightweight — no offense. If it ever came to physical blows, you wouldn’t stand a chance. I remember Morgred being pretty big. I’ll kill the piece of shit.”

“No!” shouted Mike. “I’m not taking Tobias!”

“What’s wrong with Tobias?” asked Reardon. “He would have been my suggestion. Especially since it’s his idea.”

“He unfriended me. I’m not taking him.”

“What?”

“Oh Mike, please,” said Tobias. “Can you put that aside just for now? We’re trying to save the world.”

“Shut up!” said Mike.

Reardon was shaking his head, lost. Will made a motion with his hand. Let it pass.

“I can kill Morgred myself,” said Mike. “I know how to use a gun.”

“Not a chance, Mike,” said Will. It was true that Mike could handle a gun just fine. Lucas had trained him on a shotgun when he was nine. In the wastelands, guns were a defensive necessity, for kids even more. Every home in the Colony had at least one firearm if not three, in case the wall patrollers failed their duty — or in the extremely unlikely event that a Pocket appeared inside the walls of a Colony, which was everyone’s worst nightmare. Kids had to be gun trained, no question. But not to kill in cold blood. In his first life, Mike had murdered four bullies when he was fifteen and a half. Will had no intention of making him an assassin at the age of twelve.

“Don’t worry,” said Reardon. “I’ve got this covered. Any of my security guys could do this mission in their sleep.”

“No,” said Will, making a decision. “The Hawkins Colony should be represented. If you guys won’t let me, I’ll send Dustin Henderson. He’ll be happy to agree.”

“Works for me,” said Reardon. “But I think you should send two guys, to be safe. You can take two adults, Mike?”

Mike nodded.

Tobias was about to volunteer himself again, but Will cut him off. “I’ve got a perfect second candidate too. Our best shooter. Steve Harrington.”

Neither Tobias nor Reardon objected.

“Is that acceptable to you, Mike?” asked Will.

Mike’s expression was hard to gauge. He looked annoyed but also tense, as if he were concealing a strange excitement. “Yeah. Fine.”

“You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,” said Will. “You’ll be more sick than you’ve ever been when you get back. Six hours straight.” When Mike had returned from his time-jump a little while ago, Tobias and Dr. Reardon got a horrifying dose of that time sickness: Mike had convulsed like an epileptic and collapsed on the floor. But that was just for ten seconds. Time traveling a day into the past was a drop in the ocean. Going back six years was more like Lake Superior.

Mike didn’t hesitate. “I can handle it.”

“So when do we do this?” asked Tobias.

“How about in a couple of days?” said Dr. Reardon. “I have some equipment I want to assemble and try using to measure Mike’s departure. Theoretically the device is supposed to measure time differentials, and I want to see if Mike leaves any recordable energy readings when he disappears. Anything we can do to study this properly.”

“Monday then?” asked Will. “I’ll talk to Dustin and Steve.”

“Remember,” said Tobias, “we don’t know for sure that Morgred created the Pockets. He could have been a lying sack of shit. But the odds are he did. And if the Pockets were man-made, we can easily undo them. Take the man out.”

“You remember what he looked like, you said?” asked Reardon. “Why don’t you follow me back to the lab, and work with us for the next two days. We’ll come up with a sketch of Morgred and give it to Will’s guys.”

Tobias agreed. “I’ll radio my folks in New York and let them know I’m staying an extra few days.”

“We’ll also prepare layouts of the lab, so that Dustin and Steve know where to find the Gate. It’s on the underground level, but in a different area from the first Gate back in the ’80s. We’d rather not take you into the room. We have it locked under barriers of protection, because the Gate has been so unstable ever since it started generating Pockets. We only go in there on rare occasions.”

Will had been invited on one of those rare occasions, when he first brought Eleven to the lab. Reardon had tried to persuade her to close the Gate, as she had closed the first one back in 1984. The sight of it had simply increased her fury. Will, for his part, had been crushed by the Gate’s presence. It was a clamoring obscenity that inhaled to twice its size, and exhaled Pockets somewhere out in the wastelands. He was glad he had left little Mike back at the Colony that day. The Gate had given him nightmares for a long time afterward.

Anyone who would engineer a dimensional portal like that had no business living, decided Will. Pacifism be damned.

 

Monday morning dawned, and Tobias arrived on schedule. They all piled into the beetle. It seated up to eight passengers besides the driver, and so Will, Dustin, Steve, and Mike had each row to himself. Despite the gravity of what lay ahead of them, they felt like kids. Riding a beetle in the post-apocalypse was like a ride at Disney World before it got nuked to smithereens.

“Look at this thing,” said Dustin, buckling in. “Whose balls do you lick, Tobias?”

“How reliable are the solar cells?” asked Steve. “I’ve heard stories.”

“Don’t worry,” said Tobias. “I always recharge them long before they need to be.”

“Can you circle the Colony a few times before going to the lab?” asked Dustin. “If we succeed today, we may never see home again.”

Aboleth

They lifted off and the view of the Colony fell below them. Dustin was right. If their mission succeeded, this could be their last view. Will was already feeling nostalgic, and unexpectedly proud in what they had accomplished here. The Colony was rough living, but it was still home. All morning he had second-guessed their plan. Where would he end up in life if they stopped the Upside Down invasion? There was nothing for it; it had to be done; the whole country would fall otherwise.

Tobias circled the Colony three times, and then shot out towards the lab. They all looked out their windows at the lands below, a death territory where no one lived or walked, save the desperate and the stupid. The usuals swarmed like ants: demo-dogs racing over the ground, pouring into abandoned buildings; shriekers with blade-like teeth, hiccuping acid; trees that had turned purple-black and shot slime that caused rotting disease on the spot. Halfway to the lab, they saw an aboleth: a thirty-foot long monstrosity that was devouring some kind of feast — whether unfortunate travelers, vegetation, or some other creature from the Upside Down. The diet of the aboleth was accommodating.

Then they saw a Pocket: a dark purple cloud shimmering with orange light, hovering a few feet above the ground. The Pocket vomited a horde of demo-dogs as they flew over.

Mike ignored the horror show. As the adults stared outside, he opened his pouch, and took out a fantasy novel: The Seven Altars of Dusarra. Habits died hard. Will knew that Mike had never traveled anywhere without a book in his previous lives, when travel was actually an option. Like the others, Mike had also packed some food — sandwich, fruit, and some snack foods — in case they didn’t find Morgred right away. Frankly, it looked like he had packed more than was necessary.

Will had decided not to inform the Colony about their dramatic plan. It would either succeed or fail. If it succeeded, they could all live in a different world with far more hope, and share it with many more loved ones. They might have lived different lives for the past six years, and been none the wiser for it.

If they failed, then nothing changed.

 

At the lab they were escorted to the main console room, where they were greeted by Reardon. He had a folder with a sketch of Morgred and maps of the lab. Dustin and Steve, for their parts, each packed a handgun, and Steve also had a hunting knife at his belt.

“Who’s going to do the dirty deed?” asked Tobias.

“We flipped for it,” said Dustin. “Steve has the honor. I’m the backup. As if we’ll need it.”

“Don’t get cocky,” said Will. He sat on a bench near the doorway. He had trouble standing for long periods. Sitting was also a challenge because of his piles, but it was usually the lesser of two evils. Today it was a tough call.

Reardon appraised Steve. “Are you using the gun or the knife?” he joked.

“Oh, the knife, of course,” said Steve. “I like it up close and personal.”

Suddenly a figure appeared in the middle of the room, and they all gasped. It was Mike. Looking identical to the Mike already standing with them.

“Hey guys. It’s just me. From fifteen minutes in the future. Dr. Reardon wants to take some test readings.”

“That’s trippy, Mike,” said Dustin.

Reardon looked at future Mike, pleased. “Thank you, Mike.” Then he looked at present Mike, standing next to Will. “Remember everything he says. In fifteen minutes you’re going back in time to say all of this to us.”

To Will, Mike looked like he had just been goosed.

“Okay, I’m going back now,” said future Mike.

“Thank you for your help, Mike,” said Dr. Reardon.

“Sure.” Future Mike walked out the door of the console room.

Reardon looked puzzled. “Where’s he going? Why didn’t he just vanish back?”

“Give him some privacy, dude,” said present Mike.

“Well.” The doctor went over to the console on the far side of the room, set down his folder, and flipped a switch. Lights blinked along the console, like Christmas ornaments. He lifted a rectangular device from a shelf and plugged it into the console. Then he took a seat and called to them from across the room. “This equipment isn’t exactly state of the art,” he said, “and I need to keep pumping this box lever even after it charges, or I’ll have to start over again. Once it charges, Mike — in about fifteen minutes — can you go back in time to do what you just did?”

“Yeah,” called Mike.

“What exactly does that machine do?” asked Steve.

“It measures energy from time displacements. Theoretically, anyway. I want to see if Mike leaves recordable emissions when he travels.”

When the time came, Mike stood at the floor’s center, and went back in time.

“Holy shit,” said Steve.

“He’s his mother’s son,” said Dustin.

“It works,” said Reardon. “The relay shows a fifteen-minute displacement.”

“This was worth waiting seventy years of my life for,” said Steve. “A blast to the past.”

“But remember,” said Reardon, “you and Dustin won’t remember anything about your mission when you come back. We’re relying on Mike to report what happens. And that’s assuming we’re all here, which we may not be. If you succeed in changing the past this dramatically, our lives could be evolving very differently. It depends on which theory you follow about time streams — is there only one time stream, or many alternate streams running in parallel?”

“Do you have an opinion?” asked Dustin.

The doctor smiled. “I have an opinion about everything under the sun. Most of them turn out to be gas.”

In a few minutes, the door opened, and Mike came in. He had returned from the past. He was wheeling a bicycle.

“What’s that for?” asked Dustin.

“We may need bikes,” said Mike. “If we have to leave the lab area or chase after this guy.”

They all stared at him.

“That’s… unlikely,” said Steve.

“It’s also added weight, Mike,” said Will.

“Bikes are only fifteen pounds,” said Mike. “I can still take us back.” He moved the bike to the center of the floor. “They’re bringing both of yours behind me.” Will knew the security team sometimes used bikes around the lab grounds. Mike had apparently asked their permission to use some.

“Who’s bringing ours?” asked Dustin, going to the door and opening it. The hall was empty.

“They’re not far behind.” Mike wheeled his bike to the center of the floor. Everyone stared.

“What’s going on?” called Reardon.

Things began to happen fast. Mike put down his kickstand, left his bike in the center of the floor, and joined Reardon at the console. He casually took the folder from him, thanked him, and returned to the bike. Reardon sputtered, saying the folder should go to Dustin or Steve, but he kept his hand on the relay pump. Mike told Dustin and Steve to hurry up, and sat on his bike. He released the kickstand… and began to concentrate.

Will jumped up from the bench. “No!” he yelled. “Somebody stop him!”

Dustin whirled at the doorway, staring at Mike.

“He has the folder!” said Reardon, who couldn’t leave the control panel.

Dustin’s eyes widened. “Mike, goddamn it, don’t you fucking dare!” He ran to Mike, but it was too late. Mike and the bicycle vanished.

“Son of a bitch!” shouted Dustin, waving his arms in the air where Mike had just been. “Son of a mother-fucking bitch!”

“He planned to trick us all along,” said Will.

Steve was incredulous. “Did he just go back to try and take out Morgred alone? Without a gun?”

Will swore. “He certainly doesn’t have a gun.” Will had made sure of that before they left home, checking Mike’s pouch for any stowaway pistols. All the household guns had stayed behind: the Remington shotgun in Will’s bedroom; the Winchester rifle in Mike’s; and the Glock handgun in the study desk. What on earth was Mike doing?

“Holy shit.” It was Reardon. His hands were on the relay, and he was staring at the readings, dumbfounded.

“Why would he do something that stupid?” said Dustin.

“I can’t believe this,” repeated Reardon.

“Can’t believe what?” demanded Will, looking at the doctor. “Did he do it? Is he back six years?”

“September 11, 2031?” said Tobias.

“Uh. No.”

“No, what?” said Dustin.

“According to this, he went a lot deeper than six years.”

“What?” said Will. “How deeper?”

“Like… ten times deeper. Or close to it. Yeah. Fifty-four years ago. Mike went back to 1983. November 12, 1983.” He looked up from the relay. “Why the hell would he do that?”

No one answered. They were all poleaxed.

“Oh my God,” said Dustin.

“What is it?” asked Will.

“Oh my God,” Dustin repeated.

“Dustin!” snapped Will. “Do you have something to say, or what?”

“Yeah, I’ve got something to say. I know what Mike is doing.”

“What? How?”

“Because I remember it. Sometimes. Jesus, that’s what was going on.” He seemed to disbelieve his own words.

“Dustin,” said Tobias. “Help us out here. Please.”

Dustin shook his head, clearly at a loss to explain himself. Then he did. He told the others what Mike was trying to do. They listened to him, aghast.

At the end of Dustin’s explanation, everyone looked horrified. Will was on the verge of breaking down. Mike. Jesus, why would you do this? But then he thought he knew the answer.

Not that it mattered. Even if Mike returned from the mission he had so massively deviated from, he would face a time sickness that lasted fifty-four hours. Over two whole days. It would probably kill him. Mike obviously knew that.

“Jesus,” said Tobias, as they all stared at the empty space Mike had vanished from.

 

Next Chapter: Deep Burn

(Previous Chapter: Tempus Itinerantur)

Stranger Things: World’s End (Chapter 2)

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:

                           Tempus Intinerantur

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.”

“Years? Months?”

“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.”

“Pardon?”

“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.”

“Why not?”

He shrugged.

“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.”

“No kidding.”

“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.”

Mike shrugged.

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.”

“Yeah.”

 

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.”

Tobias did.

 

“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.”

“Why?”

“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.”

“How so?”

“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 volunteering?”

“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)

Stranger Things: World’s End (Chapter 1)

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 One:

                                  Wasteland

Friday, May 22, 2037

William Byers woke, cold. He had heard the howls, and though they could have been part of his dream, he doubted it. The demo-dogs were out in droves lately.

He sat up in bed slowly. His joints ached and his piles were inflamed. Reaching up his crack, he scratched vigorously. Between the heart attack he had last year, and the ass attacks he suffered every night, he felt his sixty-six years with a regularity that made him question his worth to the Hawkins Colony. If not for his veteran knowledge of the Upside Down, he would surely be regarded as deadwood. He was frail and couldn’t handle field work. Wall patrol was out of the question; he was no combatant. The greenhouses, maybe; he could assist Minnie there if he had to. But there was no cause for worry. His place in the Colony was writ for life. He had suffered for Hawkins more than anyone alive — abducted, possessed, and almost killed rescuing enslaved children. His reward was the leadership of the Colony, a truly thankless task that required him to chair the council and make decisions that never pleased everyone. Dustin Henderson and Steve Harrington were also on the council, for saving the town against repeated depredations of the shadow world. Until two years ago, Lucas Sinclair was a member too. Will sighed, thinking of Lucas. This would be a hard day for Mike.

He put on a pair of socks before walking down the hall. Spring was half over, and it was freezing. He cursed the new weather patterns, longing for the days when May didn’t feel like March. Before the Pockets opened. And for the time before that, when no one took the idea of Armageddon seriously. For that matter, William Byers wished he were still living before Donald J. Trump entered the White House, whereupon everything went to hell. His years of life between 1971-2016 seemed an age of purity. America had been majestic, even at its worst. He remembered savoring life and dreaming big. That itself was now a dream. America was a wasteland: a nuclear wasteland on the coasts, a shadow wasteland in between. And the shadow was growing.

He passed Mike’s door and looked in on him. His nephew was asleep and gently snoring; a lucky kid, all things considered. He lived with his uncle in the most spacious house in the Colony, and had virtually no responsibilities. That would have to change in another year. When you turned thirteen, you had to start pulling your weight.

Today Mike was turning twelve for his third time. He was one of five kids in a community of two hundred fifty-two, the other four being an infant born last month, a three-year old toddler, an eight-year old mute, and a fifteen-year old who fancied herself beyond her years. It was a raw deal. Mike desperately needed a friend.

In the main room Will pulled water from a bucket and killed the dryness in his throat. Moonlight filtered through the window, and showed the time of 3:10 AM on the wall clock. He stood and listened. Within minutes, raw howls decimated the night silence. The demo-dogs were near; maybe even a full grown demogorgon in the pack. He would hear gunfire shortly. Steve Harrington was one of the patrollers tonight, and Will always felt good when Steve was on the wall. The man was in his seventies, but he was the Colony’s best shooter.

Will sat on his recliner and closed his eyes; he had to sit before lying down again, or his back would rebel. Considering all his ailments, he was amazed he had survived this long — six whole years — at Ground Zero. He supposed that his Peace Corps experience helped. Botswana had been home for two years, and he had loved every day of it, hardly missing the comforts of running water and electricity. But he had been in his prime then; his early to mid-twenties. And he had signed on for a limited duration. The American Wasteland was here to stay. He had given up on Eleven, or just about. She was a broken shell.

Since the pounding of the nukes ten years ago, Jane Hopper had been a raving lunatic. Tormented by the guilt of her son’s reverse aging, the nuclear wipe-outs had triggered her complete meltdown and full dependency on others. Mike was two years old (for his third time), and once again she had relinquished him to the care of Lucas and Raquel Sinclair. They were all living in Hawkins, the home of their childhoods, having moved from Oregon to avoid the coastal calamity. They had heeded the rumors, unlike most American citizens. On July 4, 2027, those other citizens paid the price. As they waved flags celebrating their nation’s independence, the United States became the overnight home of a new kind of independence — the kind you made anywhere you could stand, fight and hold your ground.

There had been some recovery since the radiation cleared in 2030, but living on the seaboards was like being in the wild west. The midwest was drastically worse — the true wasteland now, with only the tiniest fractions of people remaining to rough it out. On September 11, 2031, “traveling gates”, called Pockets, had materialized across half the state of Indiana, blooming out in a radius from the town of Hawkins. Nuclear survivors who had fled the coasts suddenly found themselves in a worse situation. Hordes of vile creatures — demo-dogs, demogorgons, aboleths, shriekers, and more — emerged from clouds of toxic atmosphere, which appeared out of nowhere and stayed for days before vanishing and reappearing miles away. Families were torn apart and eaten in their homes. Indiana became a no-man’s land.

The Pockets had multiplied like fruit-fly nests, and the shadow holocaust expanded by a radius of a hundred miles every year. Now there were twenty-one states under constant attacks from the Upside-Down: most of the midwest and much of the south. It was impossible to survive in any of those states without fortified protection; and few people wanted to stay and join a Colony. The way Will saw it, they should damn well get used to it. At the rate the Pockets were expanding, by 2042, America would be Upside Down in all states from the east coast to the Rockies. By 2048, all of continental America would require walled Colonies. Alaska and Hawaii alone would remain free; pale vestiges of a superpower brought to its knees.

The nuclear holocaust had been devastating, but the shadow holocaust spelled the world’s end. It was set on a course to swamp the globe.

A premonition made Will open his eyes. Someone is here. In my home. Watching me. He looked through the moonlit darkness, his heart quickening. That made no sense. There were no intruders in the Colony. There were two hundred fifty two residents, and they all got along. The Council hadn’t needed to appoint any police force beyond the patrollers managed by a competent chief. Then Will saw who it was, standing by the hallway from the bedrooms, and he started breathing again.

“You move like a ghost,” he said to Mike.

“You don’t,” said his nephew. “Can’t you get a cup of water without banging everything?”

“I’m clumsy.”

“I want to stay home today. For my birthday.”

Nice try. “You know the deal, Mike. Every month. Especially on your birthday.”

“It’s a waste of time.”

Maybe. But you’re the only chance she’s got. “The e-pod will be here at the crack of dawn. Be ready for it. You want to stay up now, and I’ll cook an early breakfast?”

“No, I’m going back –”

Gunshots exploded outside, and they both jumped. Someone yelled, far away. Then another shout, followed by a steady round of gunfire. Silence for a few seconds; then more shots. Finally it stopped. The alarm hadn’t been sounded, which meant the threat was neutralized. Courtesy of Steve Harrington and his crew.

Mike came over and sat next to his uncle.

Will ruffled his hair. “Change your mind?”

Mike shrugged. “I won’t be able to sleep now.”

“It’s your birthday, kid. What do you want?”

“Pancakes. And ham and eggs, and toast.”

“Okay, your majesty. We won’t have anything left for lunch after that, but it’s your day.” He stood up, lit the wall lantern, and went to the kitchen. “Promise me you’ll be ready when the lab guys get here?” he called, banging pots and pans as he began preparing St. Michael’s feast.

“Whatever,” mumbled Mike, promptly falling asleep on the couch after all.

 

“Ready?”

Mike ignored the question. He was never ready to see his mother.

They were at the Hawkins Lab, five miles from the Colony, one mile from the town that was now a graveyard under the shadow. They had been picked up and driven there as usual, in the lab’s e-pod. Such rides were an unheard of privilege in the post-apocalypse. E-pods were the old governmental cars powered by small nuclear reactors, functioning as both air and ground craft. The lab scientists had negotiated with New York for two of them, and they guarded their prizes zealously. Air transport was a priceless commodity anywhere, but especially in the shadow wasteland, where a pack of demo-dogs could pulverize most ground vehicles in minutes, and outrun them under fifty miles an hour. Ground cars were notoriously unreliable anyway; most of them ran on alcohol.

Will and Mike got special treatment for a reason, and that reason was behind the door they were approaching on the second floor. The woman inside was broken; if she could be made whole again, America might have a fighting chance.

The lab had been reopened four years ago in a last-ditch effort to save the country: to find a solution to the Pockets, which were generated by the Gate at the bottom of the lab. No one knew how this Gate had been created, or by whom; it was thought to predate the Pockets by about a year. The scientists were led by Dr. Mark Reardon, and their progress had been negligible. Reardon believed the only real solution was the woman being cared for; she had dealt with shadow gates in the past, and worse. The only thing that ever penetrated her insanity was the boy at Will’s side.

“Be positive,” said Will, knowing that Mike would go through this ritual with the usual sullenness. He could see a retort jumping into his throat, but before his nephew could say anything, a scream stung the air.

It was Eleven’s voice, raw and heinous. It was impossible that anyone could scream like that and be remotely sane. It was the screech of a soul in relentless pain.

Before the scream ended, Will was dragging Mike toward the bedroom door.

Mike squirmed and broke his uncle’s grip, flinging him off. “No! I’m not going in there!”

Will seized him again. “You are going in there. You’re the only one who can reach her. Mike, she’s your mother.”

Mike said nothing, hurling defiance with his eyes.

“Come on,” said Will, pushing Mike through the door.

Inside, Jane Hopper’s bedroom was almost completely bare. The doctors kept it this way to minimize clean-up duty. The medication she received blocked her telekinetic powers, but occasionally the medication wasn’t strong enough, or it came too late. There were pictures on the stand near her bed: the first showed her and her boyfriend Mike Wheeler when they were fifteen, on Christmas Eve. The second showed Mike Wheeler alone, closer to twenty, without his eyes, sitting and playing guitar. The third showed her in her late thirties, matronly looking, and next to her son — a Mike Hopper slightly older than the incarnation now at Will’s side. The fourth showed Jane in her fifties; she looked strained holding her “second” baby, the same Mike, at six months old.

The Jane Hopper who sat propped up on pillows couldn’t be recognized from those memories. She was a parody of her former self; a grotesque distortion. Her nightgown hung in tatters. She stared at her visitors with rabid eyes. Fury clenched her face, and whimpers moaned in her throat. Will knew they were safe from her tantrums because of the injections she received. The drugs didn’t affect her power; they acted on her mind so she couldn’t use it. Safety hardly mattered to Will. The sight of her tore him apart regardless.

“Hi El,” he said softly.

She let out a scream savage enough to tear a lung.

At Will’s side, Mike tried to back out of the room. Will stopped him. “Go on,” he said. “Talk to her. Go, Mike.”

Mike slowly walked over and sat on the bed next to his mother. “Hi, mom.”

His mother slowly registered his presence. Her face of fury turned on him.

“Take her hand, Mike,” said Will.

Mike took her right hand. “It’s okay, mom. It’s me. Mike.”

“Mike?” Her damaged voice crawled like an injured thing between her lips. The rage on her face began to dissolve.

“Yeah. It’s me and Uncle Will.”

“Oh, Mike.” Tears spilled from her eyes. She fumbled for him, leaned over and hugged him, and moaned into his shoulder. Mike looked like he wished he were miles away.

Will cleared his throat. “Mike turned twelve today, El. It’s his birthday.”

It was the wrong thing to say. She stopped murmuring and looked up at Will with fierce distrust. She clung to Mike and spoke in his ear: “He’s poisoning you. Against me.”

Mike rolled his eyes. “Mom –”

Abruptly his mother grabbed him by the shoulders and violently shook him back and forth. Her face burned with fury again. “I’m your mother, and he’s not! He’s not! He’s NOT, do you understand!”

Mike was being whiplashed to and fro, and he yelled at his mother to stop.

Will almost intervened but gave it another few seconds. Usually her bouts of rage against Mike didn’t last any longer than that. She stopped shaking him and clutched him to her breast. “You’re going to stay with me,” she panted. “I spoke to the doctors, and you’re going to live here, so we can be family again.” She started weeping. “With me. You want that, right?”

Say yes. Lie to her. Show a mercy. But Will already knew Mike was going for honesty.

“I can’t, mom. You need to get well first. Then you can come to the Colony.”

Agony filled his mother’s eyes, and then without transition she slapped his face. Will moved to intervene.

Mike broke free of his mother’s grip as Will got to him, but she immediately snatched him back, with a grip that was ferociously strong for her sixty-six years. “Don’t contradict me!” she shouted in Mike’s face. “I’m your mother, and he’s not. He’s NOT, NOT!!”

“Let go of me!” yelled Mike.

Will gently grabbed her wrists. “Let him go, El.”

She snarled and bent over Will’s arm, sinking her teeth into his wrist. He yelled, more from the shock of her biting him — she had never done that before — than from the pain, though it was excruciating.

Two lab workers entered the room. Jane Hopper backed up against her pillows and screeched, threatening to kill anyone who touched her. The lab workers were as gentle as they could be in restraining her. She fought like a demented lioness and hurled obscenities at them, spit flying from her mouth.

Will was shaken. “Let’s go, Mike,” he said, but Mike was already at the door.

“Mike!” his mother wailed. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, Mike! Come back! No! NO! NO! DON’T LEAVE ME!” She was sobbing and kicking at the lab professionals. “Don’t leave me… please!”

As they both left the room, Jane’s shrieks ripped from her abused throat. Will’s heart sank. She was only getting worse.

 

“I hate her!” Mike yelled for about the sixth time when they were back home.

Will was doing his best to control his temper. He seldom lost it. But Mike had been outright impossible since his mother’s episode that morning. He had yelled at Dr. Reardon as they left the lab, and shouted at Will on the drive home. The drivers in the e-pod’s front seat had kept quiet with poker faces, and Will had marveled at their professionalism.

“I can’t control the way you feel, Mike, but don’t ever let me hear you say that you hate your mother. Your mom is the most amazing person I’ve ever known. And I expect better behavior from you in front of others.”

“You can’t tell me what to do.”

Will sighed. “Yes I can.”

“You’re not the boss of me. Uncle Luc was.”

“That’s right. He was. Now I am. And I dare say I give you a lot more leeway and freedom than Uncle Luc ever did.” Will was conveniently omitting the fact that he sort of had do be lenient with Mike. His nephew didn’t respect him as a parental figure. Lucas Sinclair had disciplined the hell out of Mike and been loved for it. Whenever Will tried such measures, the results were risible. There was a reason he had never had kids.

“Your mother deserves respect.”

“She’s a hag!”

“Stop it, Mike. She hurts. She’s trapped in an inner hell. You know she’s not herself. She raised you. Twice.”

“Uncle Luc raised me.”

Jesus. Will knew that Mike had complicated memories of his previous two lives. He certainly remembered them, but parts of them seemed unreal; like dreams or pictures in a book, he said. But surely he remembered his mother’s unflagging love and commitment to him. She had done everything for him, and saved him from an eternity of black hell in the Upside Down. In the process, however, she had caused him to age backwards. Then he had to start life all over again.

“Your Uncle Luc was a great man. Don’t let his greatness diminish your mother’s.”

“She stinks. She’s hysterical.”

“She can’t help –”

“I’m not going there to see her anymore!”

“Listen to me!”

“Just because she can make tornadoes doesn’t make her special!”

“Will you please calm down?”

Mike only got more furious. “She’s a shitty mom! I never had a mother!”

“Shut up, I said!”

Mike burst into tears, and Will cursed himself. He couldn’t recall the last time he had yelled at anyone like that. Probably years ago. Maybe decades. Lamely, he put his hand on Mike’s shoulder to apologize.

“Don’t touch me!” shouted Mike.

Will should have let him go, but he was angry again — angry at all the yelling, and tired from being up so early. He shook Mike and told him to shut up, grow up, and stop acting the child. Forgetting of course that he was still a child. Mike told him to let go. Will wouldn’t let go. A stream of twelve-year old F-bombs filled the room. Will still held him firm. Suddenly Mike stopped struggling, and closed his eyes.

Without warning, Will felt smashed by a wave of burning coldness. He couldn’t see or hear a thing. An awful sense of deja vu hit him, as if this had happened before. He felt caught, paralyzed, on a landscape of contradictions: freezing incineration; searing numbness; a vacuum that permitted no life, and yet couldn’t kill, because there was no moment to the next, during which life could cease to be. Mike was somehow doing this to him.

Then — it felt like only a second later, but also many years — Will was suddenly right again, his senses registering everything they should. He was still holding Mike, but they were far outside the house, at least a hundred feet away. He let his nephew go. What the hell had just happened?

“What did you do?” Will demanded. In his first life Mike had possessed an amazing power over time. In his second life that power had taken on a mind of its own and shrunk him down to infancy. In this life he had shown no evidence of that power at all. Or had he?

Mike didn’t answer, and he started walking away, around their house to the back.

“Hey,” said Will, confused, following him. “I asked you something.”

“You’re not the boss of me,” said Mike as he kept walking. He was cutting around other buildings and heading towards the Colony’s recreational field.

“Where are you going?”

“You’ll see.”

They came to a hill overlooking the play field, and Mike stopped next to a tree. He looked down at the two people using the field — an adult and a child playing frisbee — then sat against the tree.

Will looked down at the frisbee throwers, and gasped in shock. He wasn’t seeing right. He started walking down the hill to get a better look.

“No,” said Mike. “Stay under the tree with me.”

Something in Mike’s tone compelled obedience. Will stopped, but he didn’t take his eyes off the impossible figures below, shouting and laughing as they threw the frisbee. One of them was his good friend Lucas Sinclair. The other was Mike Hopper himself.

Lucas had been killed two years ago by a demogorgon. Mike was up on this hill right next to him. Neither of them could be down there.

“Uncle Luc was my father,” said Mike. “You’re not my boss.” He put his head on his knees and broke down sobbing.

 

Next Chapter: Tempus Itinerantur

What readers are saying about World’s End

Here’s what readers are saying about my novella World’s End. Thanks everyone, for your praise and enthusiasm. I never dreamed you would be as moved as I was in writing the story.

“I read parts of World’s End during my work hours. That’s how much I couldn’t put it down.” (Stephanie Gatley)

“Fan fiction can be awful, especially when the only fan it satisfies is its author. With World’s End, Loren has reached way beyond his own tastes, and tells a story with broad appeal. Stranger Things, indeed.” (Greg Wright)

“How many times have you reached the end of an emotionally intense book or movie and felt bereft? You’re not ready to let go. You need to know what happens to your friends. You miss them. Loren brings them all back with a vengeance. And the story goes on.” (Tina Lozeau)

“Honestly one of the best time travel stories I’ve read – and I’ve read many.” (Taheem Kazmi)

“Loren transports us into the world of Stranger Things so vividly, that you may as well be reading the Duffer Brothers’ next screenplay.  He is a master at including the best cultural references from the eras, and weaving in an interesting plot that keeps you staring at the last page after you’ve finished.  It sucks you in hard and then kills your soul in all the right ways fanfiction should.  Definitely a must read for any Stranger Things fan.” (Kylie Hargrove)

“A thrilling story that is actually superior to the plot of the TV series’ season two.” (Matt Bertrand)

“Eleven has suffered so much throughout Loren’s trilogy, and worst of all in World’s End. What her son manages to do for her in the end made me cry.” (Darren Hughes)

“Fans of Stranger Things will be pleased to reconnect with their favorite characters, as they grapple with the traumas they experienced in the first two seasons of the show while facing a series of increasingly terrifying foes from the Upside Down. The books are satisfying in both building upon the previous stories and introducing new challenges for our heroes to battle. Do not expect to be always uplifted by the outcomes, but do expect a compelling narrative along the way.” (Bill Noble)

I will start posting the chapters to World’s End tomorrow, one each day from December 16-25.

Twenty Great Religious Films

Better understood as a list of religiously themed films, since “religious films” have a reputation for poor design and cheesy acting in favor of pushing dogma. There is excellent cinema that explores religiosity without necessarily advocating for it, and here they are, in my view: twenty great religious — or religiously themed, or spiritual — films of all time.

(Note: this expands on a previous list of ten.)

Image result for seventh seal dance of death
1. The Seventh Seal. Ingmar Bergman, 1957. If there was only one religious film I could save, it would be this. It sounds boring when described (a knight plays chess with Death), but it’s the knight’s journey around the game’s intervals, through a land struck by plague and fanaticism, and his attempts to penetrate God’s mysteries, that drive the story. It opens with the citation of Revelation 8:1: “When he broke open the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour”. Bergman was obsessed with the silence of God in the world (see also entries 11-13 on this list), and in The Seventh Seal he ties that theme with mortality, existential dread, and apocalyptic fears. It’s set in the 14th century, as the crusades were becoming obsolete, and when modern anxieties queried even more basic aspects of the Christian faith. For example, in his futile quest for meaning, the knight’s best reach comes by enjoying a simple meal of wild strawberries and milk in the countryside with a peasant man and wife. The strawberries meal seems to contrast with the ritualized Eucharist liturgy. There’s also huge entertainment in The Seventh Seal — bar brawls, apocalyptic tirades, insult contests, self-mutilation, and a witch-burning to top it off — that the theological side helpings make it one of the most balanced arthouse films I know. The final scene (above image) is my favorite frame from any film: the Dance of Death. If it is indeed this nihilistic dance that awaits us all, at least Bergman allows us to enjoy some comforts and unexpected epiphanies, and through a great cast of characters, before we get there.

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2. The Tree of Life. Terrence Malick, 2011. This meditation on suffering was inspired by the book of Job, in which God replies to his servant’s anguish not by having the courtesy to answer the question, but by hubristically displaying His creation: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. (Job 38:4) This is what the 20-minute cosmos sequence is about, a stunning Big-Bang/evolution snapshot that makes the viewer feel humbled by celestial mysteries. While it didn’t exactly make me feel better about the problem of theodicy (why the innocent suffer), the amazing visual canvass with Lacrimosa playing over it (you can watch the sequence here) helps put the matter in perspective in a way that words off the scriptural page can hardly match. Our tragedies look admittedly small in the grand scheme of things. Basically, Malick takes an American Catholic family of the 1950s and frames them within this macrocosm of evolution, and also within a dialectic of nature vs. grace: “Grace doesn’t try to please itself. It accepts being slighted, insults, and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself, to get others to please it too, and to find reasons to be unhappy.” What’s interesting is that grace emerges in this film not as something which contradicts nature (even if it is its conceptual opposite), but rather something inherently part of it, or complementing it, or mutating from it. The film ends on a spiritual apocalypse that could move an atheist: the yearning for reunion in some form of afterlife, even if that’s a fantasy we cling to in order to cope with our losses.

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3. There Will Be Blood. Paul Anderson, 2007. This blistering attack on the prosperity gospel was almost enough to make me renounce my capitalist convictions. Set in 1911, it’s about a man’s rise from poverty (a miner) to riches (an oilman), and his relationship with a young pastor who offers faith-healing and hypocrisy to those who dare the doors of his grim church. Daniel is a mean and hateful man, who has no friends and just wants to become filthy rich. The pastor is Eli, who is just as greedy but doesn’t want to get his hands dirty; Daniel scorns religion but has no problems using it as a means to an end. The middle and final scenes define this relationship. In the first, Daniel arrives at the Church of the Third Revelation and suffers a humiliating baptism which involves him screaming his confessions at the congregation and Eli slapping his face: “You will never be saved if you reject the blood,” warns Eli, a statement loaded with irony since there is plenty of real blood on Daniel’s hands. The final scene sixteen years later reverses the humiliation. Eli has become a failure and needs money, and Daniel (now an obscenely rich drunk and more mean-spirited than ever) says he will give Eli money if his admits that he’s a false prophet and God is a fiction. Eli confesses this, and Daniel finishes his revenge by clubbing him to death. Blood spills from everywhere throughout this film — from the land (oil), people, and the Lamb Himself — and critics are right to call it a masterpiece of rare vision. It’s about greed and evangelism eating each others tails.

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4. The Exorcist. William Friedkin, 1973. As my favorite film of all time it was difficult to rank on its strength as a religious film, but the fourth slot feels about right. As a horror film it’s the best ever made; as a religious film it’s a treatise on the mystery of faith. Friedkin describes it thus: “Life is such a gift and and yet a mystery, and I don’t think we make movies about that stuff anymore. If you believe that the world is a dark and evil place, that’s what you will take out of The Exorcist. But if you believe that there is a force of good in the world that is forever combating evil, sometimes winning victories over evil, but never an ultimate victory — if you believe as I do that that’s the case, then you will take that away from The Exorcist.” You can make a case for the historical Jesus being an exorcist more than anything else. If his teachings and parables have endured famously, his healings and exorcisms are probably what made people listen to him in the first place. However, some of the people Jesus exorcised may have been just mentally ill, even if understood to be possessed. This film inverts the assumption. All the doctors and shrinks insist that Regan is mentally ill after the somatic causes are ruled out. Even the priest Father Karras believes this, and it’s only after the most harrowing confrontations in Regan’s bedroom that he finds his faith again, under instruction of the elder exorcist. It took an agnostic director like William Friedkin to make a film about faith this compelling, let alone so terrifying.

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5. Love Exposure. Sion Sono, 2009. To celebrate sexual deviance in a context of religious dogma is a bold strike, and Love Exposure pushes more envelopes than South Park and Borat combined. It’s a four-hour sprawl of religious guilt, sexual frustration, family feuds, industrial pornography, and peek-a-panty photography — the last involving street boys who look up girls’ skirts while camouflaging their camera shots with hilarious martial-arts acrobatics. It’s impossible to summarize without sounding ludicrous, but be assured that critics and audiences love it. I fell absolutely in love with Yu and his quest for the right girl — his “Virgin Mary” as it were. He’s a genuinely good kid, but driven by the need to sin in retaliation against his repressive father, a Catholic priest who treats him horribly in the confessional booth. On the street he finds his dream girl, Yoko, who unfortunately despises men, and yet falls in love with Yu anyway because she thinks he’s a woman since he’s dressed in drag (again: it all sounds too absurd to make time for, but trust me, it works). Things get even crazier when another girl, Koike, comes between them and manipulates them in psychotic ways. While Yu is a product of religious repression, Koike is the product of religious abuse (repeatedly raped by her father until she castrated him) and a destructive sociopath. I felt like these characters were my family by the end of four hours (which seemed more like two and a half), and for all the absurdist comedy, the message about Catholic dogma, new wave cults, and the ultimate nobility of perversion is a very serious one.

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6. Silence. Martin Scorsese, 2017. Scorsese’s occasional forays into religion — The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Kundun (1997) — have been so bad that I set my expectations low for this one, but he finally hit a home run. Silence is as good as his gangster films, and a special treat for someone like myself who loves Shogun. That novel is set in 1600, in the middle of Japan’s “Christian century” (1543-1635), and portrays the complex history of the Portuguese Jesuit missionaries. Oda Nobunaga had welcomed them in 1568 in order to obtain guns and cannons for his military campaigns (though he was also genuinely impressed by the rigors of Jesuit life, while despising the hypocrisies of the Buddhist clergy); Toyotomi Hideyoshi was the next unifier who loathed Christians, issuing an edict to expel them in 1587, and then crucifying a whole bunch of them in 1597; with the ascension of Ieysu Tokugawa and the establishment of his shogunate in 1600 (to last until 1868), attitudes towards Christians became ambivalent, until finally in 1635 Christianity was banned and inquisitorial methods were devised to root out practicing Catholics. It is this “post-Christian” period in the late 1630s that Silence draws us into, and Scorsese is just as good as Clavell in resisting sides. The film is no more a liberal critique of western colonial power than it is a Mel-Gibson-like glorification of Christian martyrdom. The priests are decent and have treated the peasants with dignity in a feudal state that was hostile to the poor; yet their work for God incited massacre. Like Clavell, Scorsese shows courageous people going under the sword of honor and shame, and essentially reaped what they sowed.

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7. Seven. David Fincher, 1995. I realize I’m being cute by putting this at the seventh slot, but I wouldn’t rank it lower than ninth in any case, so it may as well go here. Seven is a mainstream masterpiece that continues to feed my fascination with Christian sins and the contrapasso punishments of Dante’s Inferno. What elevates it above greatness to masterpiece is the way John Doe wins in the end. “The box” has become an icon of our collective mindset almost like “Rosebud”. That comparison may sound absurd, but I do believe that Seven is as perfect a film as Citizen Kane. There’s nothing to fault here: the atmosphere (always either dark or raining), the scoring (the prologue’s Nine Inch Nails song, and the library scene’s Air on the G-String in particular), the casting (Morgan Freeman’s and Kevin Spacey’s best roles), and above all for its dramatic tunnel into the depths of hell and the meticulously crafted climax, all of which combine to suggest a hopeless world, an ugly humanity, but with enough heroes like Somerset and Mills who for their flaws are willing to fight on regardless.

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8. Doubt. Patrick Shanley, 2008. When a liberal priest is accused of having an erotic interest in one of his altar boys, one nun becomes convinced of his innocence while another is certain otherwise. We aren’t sure what to believe or how to feel, because the evidence is murky and the priest a sympathetic character. He’s progressive for the year 1964, while the inquisitorial nun (Sister Aloysius, above image) laments Vatican II. The pivotal scene is the conversation between Aloysius and the boy’s mother, who basically tells the nun to just let the priest have his way with her son, in a jaw-dropping and surprisingly compelling argument, given her limited options as an African-American woman of the time period. She isn’t wild about her son’s friendship with the priest, but thinks it’s a refuge from life at home under a violently abusive father, who hates and beats the boy for “his nature” (apparently the boy’s gay orientation is being signaled at an early age). That’s a hard idea in our world today which pathologizes eroticism between adults and youths, and that is part of Doubt’s challenge. It’s easy to like the priest for many reasons, not least his fantastic sermons — the opening one on doubt (being “a bond as creative and sustaining as certainty”) and the middle one on gossip (which skewers the two nuns wonderfully).

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9. Jesus of Montreal. Denys Arcand, 1989. This reinvention of the passion play is a critique of orthodox Christianity but fires especially on secularist evils — fame, the media, and the contempt actors suffer in the commercial industry. It takes place in ’80s Montreal where a Catholic priest hires a talented actor to direct the annual passion play, but he wants him to get creative and rework the stations of the cross for a more modern consumption. The priest gets more than he bargained for. Using the latest of biblical scholarship, the actor (Daniel) casts himself as Jesus and with four other actors turns out a passion play in which Jesus is an illegitimate bastard sired by a Roman soldier, and less interested in making people feel good than terrifying them with lines from the Abomination of Desolation (Mark 13). The priest is outraged and does his damnedest to stop the project, but Daniel and his group persist and continue to draw crowds. Not only that, but Daniel’s personal life begins to strangely mimic Jesus’, especially in two pivotal scenes. The first summons the moneylenders in the temple, when an actress auditions for a TV commercial and is told to remove her clothes simply because the casting director wants to humiliate her. Daniel bounds to his feet and tells her to leave, and then overturns the lights, cameras, and tables. The second scene comes at the end, where Daniel delivers an incredibly haunting version of the Markan Apocalypse before collapsing on the subway station. Most Jesus films are lame; Jesus of Montreal is genius — the best Jesus film of all time.

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10. Mother! Darren Aronofsky, 2017. If you don’t like being offended on the deepest levels, then you should probably avoid Mother! at all costs. On the surface it portrays a man and woman in a countryside home, where the woman suffers intrusions from guests who gratify her husband’s ego. The intrusions get increasingly outrageous, until hell literally breaks loose. The indoor house becomes a battlefield of crazed strangers who commit unspeakable acts, and in the end seize the woman’s newborn infant, rip it apart into dozens of pieces, and eat it as if it were a sacrificial lamb. This batshit craziness is an allegory every step of the way: Before God created humanity, there was paradise, represented by the house. Jennifer Lawrence is Gaia, or Mother Earth, who defends the living organism that is the house (we see mouths appear in the floor, flesh gurgling in the toilet, etc.). She is baffled as to why people disrespect her home. Javier Bardem is God, her husband, who is a writer (a “creator”). Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer are the Adam and Eve equivalents who invade the house of Mother’s perfect world, and the writer’s study (the Garden of Eden), which holds God’s perfect crystal (the forbidden fruit). Their unruly children are the Cain and Abel analogs, and the former kills the latter right in front of Mother who is aghast. The writer eventually acquires multitudes of fans who swarm into the house (feeding God’s need for worship). The intruders keep sitting on Mother’s sink, causing the pipes to burst and bringing about the Flood. God finally impregnates Mother, who gives birth to the messiah, who is adulated, seized, ripped apart, and eaten. She snaps at long last and attacks the crowd in fury (nature’s wrath). Mother! is the one of the angriest films I’ve ever seen, about humanity’s abuse of the Earth which prompts Her retaliation.

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11-13. The “Silence of God” Trilogy. Ingmar Bergman, 1961-63. It was a guarantee that Bergman would have multiple slots on this list. His “Silence of God” trilogy is sometimes called the “Faith Trilogy”, but that’s rather misleading considering that Bergman is always about the impotence of faith. Each film stands on its own, but it’s helpful to watch them sequentially as they escalate the riddle of God’s existence: from the spiritual frustration suggesting God as sinister (Through a Glass Darkly), to the anger questioning his existence (Winter Light), to finally accepting there are no answers, though the search for answers remains important (The Silence). The first is a character examination of incest and psychological breakdown; it was my first Bergman film and I fell in love with Harriet Anderson (above image) completely. The second is a theological interrogation that shows a pastor, furious at God’s indifference, breaking his own “silence” towards the kindest woman with an avalanche of brutality. The third carries the theme of silence to its symbolic extreme, with non-communication pervading every level: two sisters stay at a grotesque hotel and retreat into their own silences/dysfunctions of sexual promiscuity and alcoholism. It adds up to a brilliant symphony which reflects Bergman’s evolution away from a doubtful Christianity. All the more ironic is that his secular humanism became even more doubtful, and I find myself revisiting these chamber pieces to get a handle on my own schizophrenic tensions between religion and humanism.


14. First Reformed. Paul Schrader, 2018. Less a remake of Winter Light (the twelfth slot, above) and more a spin-off, it nonetheless follows Bergman to a tee in refusing to answer the questions it raises and bruises us as we search for meaning in a world going to hell. In Winter Light the parishioner killed himself over the fear of nuclear war. In First Reformed the suicide is caused by the specter of environmental catastrophe. In the wake of this, the priest is so shaken that he finds himself drawn to martyring himself. Schrader brings the theme of God’s silence into the modern era, making Bergman themes accessible without compromising them. It asks what happens when you build your life on the premise of God’s existence, and then God turns out to be silent, his Son’s teachings impotent in a world of environmental devastation, corporate power, disease, torn relationships, and ruined dreams. At no point does First Reformed pander to the mainstream by sacrificing its artistic vision. And when Schrader goes for the jugular, it’s in ways that surprise; the final scene still blows my mind. My only reservation is the sequence that replays Tomas’s cruel treatment of Marta in Winter Light, which went on for a patient ten minutes, but here is zipped through in the blink of an eye. Aside from that, First Reformed is the rare remake/spin-off of a mighty classic that has every right to exist, and it grows on you with subsequent viewings.

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15. Thirst. Park Chan-wook, 2009. Spiritual on the basest level, Thirst is about the purity of desire — the desire for sex and blood, but also for something more elusive, like a supernal righteousness or sinfulness. It’s about two vampire lovers who deal with their needs on opposite ends of the moral compass. The priest is a good man who becomes a vampire at the start of the film, by accident. Having volunteered to be injected with a trial vaccine for a rotting disease, he dies in the trial, but unlike the other guinea pigs he comes back to life; one of the transfusions has turned him into a vampire. Only fresh blood can stop the return of his skin boils, but he does all he can to avoid killing people, mostly by sneaking through hospitals and slurping the intravenous tubes of comatose patients. But when he turns a woman he falls in love with — the wife of his best friend, whom they both end up murdering — it’s not long before she brings out the worst in him. The film explores the duality between blood-feeding as a sacrament, and its Satanic counterpart which revels in the glory of the hunt. Few vampire films explore the suffocating pain of being a vampire, and those that try usually leave much to be desired (like Interview with the Vampire). Thirst succeeds in this largely because of its religious framework.


16. Of Gods and Men. Xavier Beauvois, 2010. I was only vaguely familiar with the true account behind this film before watching it. In 1996 a group of French Cistercian monks in Algeria were taken hostage by Islamic jihadists and then beheaded. They could have easily avoided their fate and returned to France, and some of them wished to do just that, but as a group they elected to stay and minister to the surrounding Muslim villagers who were coming under fire — girls getting killed on buses for refusing to wear the hijab, others getting their throats slit for various violations of sharia law. The film maintains an extraordinary sense of detachment as the monks wrestle with their faith and their conscience. They have no interest in converting anyone to Catholicism, only following Jesus’s dictum to help the oppressed even if that means martyrdom; which in the end, of course, it does. The contrast between Jesus’s injunctions (to help the poor and dispossessed at whatever cost to oneself) and Muhammad’s (slay unbelievers) isn’t the point of the film; Beauvois is no triumphalist preacher. But the contrast emerges just the same, and if that’s not politically correct, it’s certainly accurate. Christians continue to be killed like this throughout the Muslim world. It’s noteworthy that while both the peaceful Muslims villagers and jihadis cite the Qur’an, it’s the peaceful ones who paraphrase or generalize without precision, and the jihadis who recognize specific texts; indeed one of them finishes a quotation carelessly parroted at them.

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17. The Witch. Robert Eggers, 2016. This horror film was misleadingly marketed to give the impression of a mainstream effort with loud bangs and cheap thrills. It’s far better than that, and I think a religious film primarily, as the characters obsess God and their purity of purpose. Set in 1630s Colonial America (interestingly, the same period of Scorsese’s Silence), decades before the Salem Witch trials, the story tells of a Puritan family who leave their plantation and settle miles away in isolation from other people. This forest border happens to be the home of a witch, who wastes no time lashing out at them, first by snatching their newborn infant under a game of peek-a-boo and stabbing it to death, and eventually by possessing the 11-year old son who dies screaming a prayer by John Winthrop (one of the Puritan founders of New England) in near orgasmic ecstasy. Not being familiar with the writings of Winthrop, I thought this was some kind of pagan perversion of a Christian prayer, given the erotic overtones (which I should have known better as derived from the Song of Songs). The boy is still in thrall to the witch’s possession at this point, but it’s not clear how much, and it’s scary. He dies after shouting this litany, and it’s pretty much heads or tails whether he’s saved or damned. The film doesn’t exactly choose sides between Christian zeal and pagan blood rites. If there’s any moral contrast, it’s between the misery and liberation of the eldest daughter, who is falsely accused by her family for being a witch, and then in the end becomes one. There is much to admire in the Puritan zeal, and much not to, as it turns out.

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18. Palindromes. Todd Solondz, 2005. This satire on abortion plays no favorites, and you will feel painfully skewered by it whether you’re for life or choice. It tells of a thirteen-year old girl (Aviva) who is forced against her will to have an abortion by her mother, who advances the most pathetic reasons to have the abortion, clearly robbing her daughter of the “choice” she claims to espouse. Aviva runs away from home, and eventually joins a Christian communal family whose patriarch kills abortion doctors. Some of the ballsiest scenes are found at the Christian home, where physically and mentally disabled kids shuck and jive to Jesus songs, and are cared for under the genuine but perverse love of Mama Sunshine. The film suggests that both anti- and pro-abortionists wind up in the same morass of contradictions, regardless of their starting point — like palindromes, which are words reading the same backward as forward. I’m also intrigued by the film’s secondary message, a parable for the book of Ecclesiastes, that there is “nothing new under the sun”. The key dialogue for this comes at the end from the character of Mark, when he tells Aviva: “People always end up the way they started out. No one ever changes. They think they do but they don’t. If you’re the depressed type now that’s the way you’ll always be. If you’re the mindless happy type now, that’s the way you’ll be when you grow up. There’s no freewill. Ultimately, we’re all just robots programmed abritrarily by nature’s genetic code. We hope or despair because of the way we’ve been programmed. Genes and randomness, that’s all there is and none of it matters.” Well, there you have it.

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19. Shadowlands. Richard Attenborough, 1993. To make a film about C.S. Lewis runs the risk of evangelizing as the man himself did, but Attenborough tells a professional biography, and one that is utterly heartbreaking. I’m not usually fond of romances in which one of the pair gets bad news from the doctor and ends up dying in horrendous agony, but Shadowlands filters the tragedy through the lens of a famous theologian who had written so much on the necessity of human suffering. Confronted with it personally, he finds himself mocked by his own wisdom. Before meeting Joy Gresham, C.S. Lewis had always been confident about the purpose of pain and suffering: “It’s God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world,” he thunders in his lectures, when we first see him. The idea is that pain and suffering is God’s way of perfecting people and enabling them to learn from cruel experience — to grow up, in other words. The problem is that Lewis never really experienced pain and suffering. He had an easy life in his academic tower, teaching students who near worshiped him for his fame. When Joy gets cancer, it virtually emasculates him. Shadowlands is a tearjerker, but without a sliver of cheap melodrama; a brutal look at how a Christian theologian was broken by his own lessons.

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20. Noah. Darren Aronofsky, 2014. Before the allegorical Mother! came Aronofsky’s literal adaptation of a biblical narrative, and the story I’ve always wanted to see made into a mighty epic. In some ways Noah is a boilerplate blockbuster, but I love it to pieces for the way it reinterprets the flood through Gnostic and Judeo-Christian filters almost impartially. And if it channels Lord of the Rings grandiosity, that works too, because the first eleven chapters of Genesis are complete myth — the same sort of mythic pre-history that Tolkien intended by Middle-Earth. So when we see giant rock creatures (the Watchers) and bits of magic here and there, it somehow makes the story of Gen 6-9 seem as it should. It’s a sweeping epic, but a grim one that doesn’t soft-peddle God’s act of genocide. Noah and his family are commissioned to preserve the animal creation while humanity is wiped out — because people, in God’s eyes, deserve nothing less. Noah turns homicidal like his Creator, as he plans to murder his daughter-in-law’s babies. Don’t listen to complaints that the theme of divine vengeance has been anachronistically aligned with pagan environmentalism or vegetarianism. If Christians knew their bibles, they would know that a significant amount of “environmentalism” can be derived from scripture; and if we’re going to be proper fundies, we would acknowledge that God didn’t add meat to the human diet until after the flood (Gen 9:3). Noah isn’t pro-environmental in any true modern sense, though it can resonate with some viewers on that level. It is a dark chapter of the bible come to life, with a great realization of the Ark and epic battle scene that rivals Peter Jackson’s Ents. But it also forces the hard issues of Job, the Saul and David stories, and the apocalypse of Revelation.