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Burn What's Left of This

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The coastal city of Portland, Maine was rather empty this early on a fall morning, in fact, It was still pitch dark. Despite that, or more, because of that, a young man sat in his parked, broken-down AMC Eagle. Behind a pair of orange-tinted sunglasses, he observed fishermen work their laborious occupation of what he assumed was merely relocating sea life.

 

Something drew the man to harbour, maybe more so the ocean or that specific part of it. Regardless, he trusted that force well enough to stalk it so early in the morning. 

 

Out of habit, he lit a cigarette, quick enough as to not distract him from whatever he assumed he was waiting for. After taking a puff from it, his attention ended up locking on a group of workers peering over the dock. He closed his eyes. They seemed confused. Shocked? Perhaps frightened?

 

The man promptly 'fixed' his well-kept and heavily sprayed caramel brown hair before nearly tearing off the car door as he swung it open. As he stepped out, the sound of his black heeled-boots echoed throughout the sleeping city. He put his cigarette back in between his lips before straightening up his black trench coat as he left the close vicinity of his car. He didn't bother closing the door, as he planned for his next action to be swift. 

 

While making an approach to the harbor, the young man straightened out his driving gloves and reached into his coat pocket. Although his presence would've been made more apparent by the relationship between his boots and the concrete in which he walked on, the workers were still too occupied with whatever they were looking at. He absentmindedly pushed passed a drunk couple, looking straight ahead despite the vulgar comments thrown his way.

 

As he got closer, he began to hear the muttering of the workers, "Look. There's another one over there." One of them gestured towards something floating atop the surface of the water. It was dark so the man wasn't quite sure if they were able to fully make out what it was. 

 

Before he had the capacity to be noticed yet, he bent down and dipped the tips of his fingers on his free hand into the cold, dark ocean water. He could see everything . Now, he just needed to look for the source of concern. He knew it was here.

 

There was something dark. Most things down there were dead. 

 

There were dead seagulls. Dozens of them. They floated to the surface one by one, possibly getting lighter, like a weight that was originally holding them down there was being lifted off of them. Yes, there was definitely something dark. It was a familiar sort of dark. A familiar sort of evil. 

 

"Hey, kid!" A worker shouted, attracting the attention of his co-workers. 

 

The young man was hardly startled. He stood up, flicked the water off his hand, and then wiped the thick, crimson liquid slowly dripping out of one of his nostrils. He kept his other hand shoved in his pocket the whole time. 

 

"Can we help you?" The same worker snarled.

 

"I'm not dealing with some stupid teen. Get him outta here!" Another worker shouted. 

 

"You wouldn't mind if I borrowed one of them?" The young man's tone remained flat with an ever so subtle hint of snark. 

 

The two workers who spoke to him previously shared looks of confusion with each other before the overtly 'buff' one glared at the perpetrator.

 

"No?" The young man asked, making small steps towards them. 

 

"What're ya even talking about, kid? Get outta here, we're busy." 

 

"I'm afraid I wasn't asking you." The young man sighed and placed his free hand on the worker's shoulder. 

 

"You're a long way from home, aren't 'cha, Brit?" Another working stepped out of the group and rolled up his sleeves.

 

"There's no need for violence, really. Just give me one of them birds over there and we can assure each other nothing happened."

 

"You know what's going on here?"

 

The young man stood there for a moment before eventually jerking his hand out of his coat pocket, now armed with a handgun. He pointed it dead center at the worker's face, causing the victim to freeze in fear as his eyes slowly crossed to look at the barrel in front of him. 


It was November and Hawkins, Indiana was bustling with people shopping for the holidays, albeit early. The occasional snow would sprinkle amongst the town, though nothing too significant. It had only been two months into the school year which didn't help the widespread seasonal depression nor did the gloomy atmosphere. Everyone seemed to be on edge about something right about this time of year. 

 

Hawkins almost looked comparable to the end of the world, maybe even the Upside Down, according to the exaggerated opinion of Mike Wheeler's. It was cold and damp and the occasional snow fall resembled that of spores. With the Byers gone, it felt like a massive hole opened up where their house used to be. The house was still there, of course, it's just that the new family that moved in annoyed the living hell out of Mike. Not for any particular reason other than, 'they were supposed to be the Byers.' Just looking at them prompted the freshman to become nauseous. 

 

Mike passed their house on the way to the arcade that day. He peddled as fast as he possibly could manage while simultaneously glaring at it until it was behind him. 

 

After Mike pulled up last to the arcade, he hopped off his bike and let it fall against cement. He didn't pay mind to its well-being. For one thing, he was late and secondly, he wasn't even interested in being there in the first place. The Party hadn't been to the arcade in maybe a year since the incid ent at Starcourt. Everyone was excited to bring back old memories, that is, with the exception of Mike Wheeler and his emotional teenage baggage.

 

The Party scrounged around for spare quarters  and Lucas even mowed the lawns of various elderly neighbors, everyone except Mike, who, as a minimum effort, "borrowed" spare change from Nancy. 

 

Mike pushed through the glass doors and into a colorful, noisy, and crowded space full of kids and teens alike trying their best to maybe win top spot on whatever they were playing. Mike used to take joy in getting the highest score in Phoenix or Galaga while Duck Hunt was always something he'd avoid at all costs. 

 

Mike absentmindedly pushed passed people as he kept an eye out for his friends. Just as he surmised, he caught them gathered around the Dig Dug machine. 

 

"Hey-" Mike started, as he walked up behind them. 

 

"Godda- Son of a bitch!" Dustin exclaimed, bashing his fists on the machine before sighing and turning around to face Mike. Lucas and Max gave him looks of disapproval as well. 

 

"What?" Mike darted his eyes around the faces of each Party member. 

 

"What- Mike . You messed me up also you're late." Dustin turned back around and promptly inserted another quarter into the machine. 

 

"Sorry…" Mike mumbled under his breath. "I forgot it was today."

 

"Whatever, man. Just play the game." Lucas rolled his eyes and turned back around to look at Dustin's progress. 

 

"Dustin's just mad cause he still can't beat my high score." Max flashed Mike a reassuring smirk. 

 

"Y'know, Max, I really don't need your attitude right now." Dustin scolded, talking quickly while he kept his focus on the screen. 

 

Lucas whacked Dustin's arm lightly and gave him a glance that told him to back off as Max got a laugh at the boy's expense. Max's long orange hair whipped around she turned to watch Dustin keep playing. 

 

The rest of the time spent locked up in there with his friends was rather enjoyable. It reminded him of old times sake, just without Will . Mike had acted standoffish since the Byers left, sure, but he found himself pleasantly surprised by the experience. He always did like going, anyway. 

 

Dustin left early to see Steve at his new job and now everyone else was preparing to go home. Mike stumbled around trying to pick up the bike he had oh so carelessly thrown to the ground.  Max approached him on her skateboard, gliding around him seemingly effortlessly, her fire-like hair blowing in the winter breeze. She always made it look so easy. Not that he was jealous or anything, but when he first met her, he was taken aback since he didn't realize girls did things like that. He was still in the process of getting over that. 

 

She kept glancing back and forth at him; Mike did as well. At this point, he came to the conclusion that she wanted to say something. 

 

"Can I help you?" Mike lifted an eyebrow. 

 

"Maybe." Max nodded, tightening her bottom lip.

 

"Yeah… and?" Mike grunted, finally pulling the heavy bike upright. 

 

"You can't even lift that thing, it's sad." Max scoffed.

 

" Yeah… and ?" Mike repeated, now following her movement with an annoyed glare.

 

Max sighed. "El called. Said she wants to talk to you." 

 

"What? Why doesn't she just call me then?" Mike narrowed his eyes.

 

"Doesn't matter, Wheeler. You don't call her." Max raised her eyebrows, forming a condescending facial expression, the kind Mike hated more than anything, the kind his parents would give him when they were excited to chew him out.d

 

"I know. It's just awkward." Mike mumbled. "Tell her to call me when you get home, ok?" In a hurry, he hopped on his bike in an attempt to leave. 

 

"Um, no." Max shook her head, stepping off her board. 

 

Mike sighed and rolled his eyes. Max was Max. He knew he couldn't tell her what to do, no matter how hard he tried. Mike wanted so badly to argue with her, however, his energy level wasn't nearly sufficient enough, nor was his argument strong either. He wanted to call El and he'd tried to before. Everytime, he hung up before she answered the phone. That probably annoyed the Byers' to no end; no doubt they kept their phone off the wall merely due to him 

 

Max didn't know this, however. Max wouldn't know this and Mike wasn't going to tell her. 

 

Out of his quivering lips, Mike muttered the one word that would dare come out, "Please?" 

 

Max walked over with a smirk tugging at her lips. She placed a hand on his shoulder, "Since you were so polite, Mike Wheeler, I'll do it." 

 

Mike didn't show it, but he felt a sudden wave of relief wash over him. 

 

" But ." Max started, causing Mike's entire demeanor to shift. "You're still a douche." Mike sighed and watched her zoom off into Hawkins. 

 

Max hadn't forgiven him for how he treated El that summer. El had, but Max didn't. Mike didn't understand. El had forgiven him, so why didn't Max? He assumed it was one of those girl things that he still couldn't wrap his head around. He didn't really mean it when he said girls were a different species, well , he did then, but not now. That statement was the easiest for him to get across that he didn't understand them. He wanted to, but despite their complaints of insensitivity, he felt like they still blocked him out. Mike came to the realization that he may never understand them, no matter how badly he wanted to. 

 

It took him a while, but he considered Max to be a friend and he didn't want to understand her as a girl, but instead as his friend. She wouldn't let him though. 

 

"Hey, man." Lucas sighed, creeping up behind Mike on his bike. 

 

" Yes , Lucas?" Mike muttered, peddling slowly. 

 

"I was wondering if you wanted to come over… just so we can maybe… call Will or something." Lucas sensed the built up frustration in Mike and therefore wandered through his sentence awkwardly. "You down?"

 

Mike slowly turned his head to meet Lucas and though it wasn't as genuine as he would've liked, he flashed his friend a smile. "Sure?" 

 

Lucas slapped him on the shoulder and looked off into the distance. "Race back to my house. Winner gets a comic." Lucas then smirked and immediately started pedaling faster. 

 

"Hey!" Mike screamed. "You didn't say go!" Mike frantically began peddling, nearly falling over in the process. 

 

That was probably the most fun he'd had in months. The wind blowing in his hair as he watched Lucas inevitably beat him, but it didn't matter because, for a minute, he was more focused on pedaling as fast as he could rather than El or Will or Max. For a minute he had nothing to worry about. Perhaps it was Lucas's plan all along? To make him forget. Either way, he appreciated it. 

 

When the two pulled into Lucas's driveway, Mike gazed at his friend's house. It was a lot bigger than he remembered. Everyone mostly hung out in Mike's basement so he hadn't been to either Lucas or Dustin's houses in what felt like forever. 

 

"I'll take your X-Men." Lucas wrapped his arm around Mike's shoulders and let him in. 

 

They locked themselves in Lucas's room in order to avoid his parents, and most of all, Erica, who hadn't missed a chance to berate them as soon as they walked in. 

 

"What about Dustin?" It dawned on Mike that he wanted all his friends to be here.

 

"What about him? He's prolly with Steve and that other girl." Lucas explained.

 

"Well, I mean… I feel bad for leaving him out." 

 

"C'mon, man. Dustin already went off to hang with Steve and that other chick." Lucas sighed.

 

"Yeah, but-"

 

"Yeah, but-" Lucas mocked. He smirked, expecting Mike to be finished. 

 

Mike huffed, dropping his shoulders. Truth was, Mike was truly angered. Hawkins was, after all, a bleak and dreary shell of its former glory. The Upside Down, that lab, it felt like they took everything from him and no one else seemed to care. They were all strangely smiley and airheaded. 

 

The two boys sat leaned up against the front of Lucas's bed. The mattress was rendered uninhabitable due to all the comics and novels spread out on top. Precariously, they selected out of the incomprehensible piles stacked on Lucas's mattress while picking at the open box of cereal squished in between them. Mike was relaxed, but not content. He wanted to feel the rush of wind through his hair as he peddled after Lucas again. He wanted to forget again. 

 


El locked herself in her room for hours on end. By her logic, she had nothing else to do but that. She explored Delamin on her own and occasionally Portland when Joyce or Jonathan would take her. She liked to go out and explore new places, but that came at the expense of loneliness. She didn't know the Byers all that well. Will seemed standoffish and refused to speak more than a few words to her while Jonathan and Joyce were always busy. 

 

El sat there, staring at the teddy bear Will let her keep for herself. She focused intently on it, trying to remember everything she was taught at the lab. She tried channeling every negative emotion she had like Kali taught her to do, but to no avail. Her powers were gone, possibly for good to. Mike had been optimistic, therefore she was too, but that optimism started to fade after weeks of fruitless effort. Still, El persisted. 

El tried one more time. She stared down the stuffed toy, reaching her hand out as if to grab at it. She thought about all the times when her powers were at their most powerful, like when she found Will in the Upside Down, flipped a van, moved an entire train car, threw a demogorogon back and forth against a wall. Nothing sufficed. She tried to think of what hurt her: Dr. Brenner, her mother's vegetative state, leaving Hawkins, the death of her one true father figure. Nothing happened. 

El was promptly interrupted by a knock on her door, startling her. She jerked her head over to see Will standing behind the three inches of open door. She figured he didn't even have to knock if the door was already open, but she wasn't going to point it out. The boy perplexed her sometimes. 

She climbed to her feet and met Will face-to-face in the doorway. He looked stiff, perhaps upset about something? 

Gingerly, Will parted his lips to tell her that Mike and Lucas were calling and they wanted to talk to her as well. El smiled, contrasting Will's distressed presentation. 

Will was always happy when he got calls from Hawkins. El was unsure as to why he looked so down, especially today. El didn't have to attend school so she didn't know what happened to Will everytime he went in. She knew as much about school as people would care to tell her. She understood it was a place for learning. Max told her it was boring and that she was lucky she didn't have to go. Mike brought her to the dance that one time, but El surmised that wasn't what school was like all the time. On the other hand, Dustin said he found science class fascinating. Nancy was supposedly good at school, whatever that meant. 

Will, though, she wasn't sure about. He hardly ever spoke to her unless prompted. She truly didn't understand him as a human being, much less her pretend brother. Joyce and Jonathan were nice, but El wasn't exactly comfortable calling the Byers family yet. Supposedly, it was a last-minute decision to take El with them, but everyone agreed it was for the best.

Maybe not Will, though. That's what El assumed. 

El and Will sat in the living room with the phone pressed up against El's ear. Will patiently waited for his turn to talk. 

Mike's muffled voice cams through. El smiled, the noise's soft vibrations tickling her ear everytime Mike spoke. She liked hearing his voice again. 

"Sorry I haven't been calling you. I-It's just been awkward and I wasn't sure how to talk to you and Max might tell you to call me later or she might not I don't know-" Mike spoke quickly, stumbling through his words. 

"Mike." El giggled 

Mike let out an audible sigh from the other end. "I miss you. It's kinda boring here without you."

"Same." El mumbled, practically snuggling the phone. 

"U-umm. Good..." Mike trailed off. "So does that mean we're good now?"

"Good... now?" El repeated, furrowing her brow and narrowing her eyes slightly.

"Yeah. It means you're not mad at me, right?" Mike explained. 

"I'm not mad at you." Still a little confused, El shook her head. 

"Great, you guys are done!" Lucas interrupted. 

"Lucas, shut up!" Mike exclaimed. It was hard to tell, but it sounded like the two of them were wrestling for ownership of the phone. El couldn't help but stifle a laugh. Having control for a short time, Mike said, "Anyway, El, I'm still... sorry. I'll talk to you myself later, but somebody cant fucking wait, apparently!" 

El smiled and nodded. "I miss you." 

"I miss you too." Mike sighed. 

El handed the phone over to Will, who finally smiled at hearing the enthusiastic voices of his friends. El watched the conversation unfold. She couldn't quite hear what Mike and Lucas were saying, but Will's replies gave her half the context. They talked for a while about school on both ends, about how annoying their teachers were. El learned that Jonathan was working as a journalist in Portland. El wasn't sure exactly what he did before that moment, she just knew he carried around a camera and followed Nancy around a lot. 

After the two parties mutually hung up, Will's facial expression sunk again. El stood up. "Why do you look sad?"

Will turned to look at her like she'd said something ten times more outlandish. "What?"

"Why are you sad?" El raised her voice more that time. 

"I-I'm fine. It's nothing." Will mumbled, rubbing the back of neck and staring at his feet. 

"Will-" El started, vaguely reaching her hand out. 

"It's ok, El." El sensed the frustration in his voice and decided to cease communication for the time being. Will shuffled into his room and slammed the door hard enough to make El flinch from the living room over. 


"Mmm! That was so good!" Mike shouted, pacing back and forth Lucas's room. 

"Yeah, man, that was too easy." Lucas scoffed.

"She, like, totally wasn't still pissed at all." Mike sighed with relief, possibly the most he's had in a good while. 

"Well, no shit, it's been four months. Also this is El we're talking about, not Max." Lucas rolled his eyes, skimming through another comic.

"So you know what this means, Lucas?" Mike grabbed his friend by his upper arms and looked him in the eye, maybe a little too close judging by Lucas's face. Mike didn't care though, he knew now that he was in the clear. 

"No...?"

"It means Max won't be up my ass about it anymore..." Mike trailed off his sentence at the first realization that he just insulted one of his best friend's girlfriend. Sometimes he forgot they were still dating. One, because Max broke up with him constantly and, two, Lucas treats her more like a friend when they're all together. 

"Yeah, I don't want Max near your ass either... trust me." Lucas slowly removed Mike's hands. 

"Also, El isn't mad at me, we're still friends, and-" 

"Hey, nerds! Shut the heck up!" Erica shouted from behind the door. 

"Erica, screw off!" Lucas sighed. 

"It's hard when you guys are that loud!" She continued arguing. "Also, dad says you have to get the damn shovels out the basement." 

Lucas sighed once more and gave Mike a look that said "you're going to help me with this."

 

 

 




Chapter Text

"So you're telling me some Paul Reynolds look-alike. Threatened you so that he could  snatch a seagull outta the water, or what?" A police woman asked the fisherman, her feet planted on top of the desk. 

 

"Yeah! Exactly, like that Reynolds guy!" The fisherman exclaimed. He was shaking and sweating profusely, clutching a handkerchief that he used to wipe away at his face every so often. 

 

"Yeah and, y'know what, actually, I just got word that Frank Maudsley was just charged on account of stealing puppies from the nearby pound." She said, flatly, lighting a cigarette. 

 

"Ma'am, you don't understand. He-he…" The worker demonstrated what he was about to say by making his hand into gun and pointed it at his forehead, "He went like this to my buddy. Ma'am, we were scared shitless."

 

"Language, Rob." She muttered, smirking. 

 

"C'mon! You can't at least open an investigation for the sake of the fish?! Ma'am, you've lived here long, haven't ya? You know that dock is our livelihood, right?" Now frustrated, the worker frantically spoke with his hands. "I can't afford to get put out of a job right now. I've got a wife! I've got kids!" 

 

"I have kids too." The woman groaned. "Sucks, doesn't it?" She chuckled to herself.

 

"Ma'am, I am at my limit. I need this job. Please." At this point, he was practically begging her. 

 

"I'm just screwing with you, Rob." The woman stifled a laugh. "I'll see what I can do. Maybe if it's serious I'll get the press on this whole situation, how does that sound?"




Mike and Lucas walked absentmindedly into the basement. It was dark, cold, and smelled like their highschool locker room down, there. The stairs squeaked with every step. 

 

By the time they found the light, Lucas was already looking for shovels. Mike looked around as well, exploring the depths of the Sinclair household. There were shelves lined with Lucas's old toys, his father's tools, and items that belonged to older generations respectively. 

 

Mike turned a corner and was greeted by the furnace, a lone spider crawling down the wall, and boxes piled on top of eachother. The air was musty and, despite the use of a heater, the temperature seemed to drop immediately upon entering. Mike felt uneasy. He reassured himself that it was that kind of unease that one convinced themselves in accordance to their surroundings. Like, if someone was standing in the dark and they just looked into the blackness for a while. They would feel uneasy. The basement was cold and dark, so Mike felt uneasy. It was that simple. 

 

Still, Mike hugged himself, tugging at his oversized sweatshirt sleeves. Not because he was scared, but because he was cold. Of course, if it were because he was scared, he wouldn't still be wandering through Lucas's foreign basement. 

 

Mike turned to walk back around to where his friend was. In doing so, he slowly spun around on his heels. His ankles tangled together and while walking, he stumbled around on the slippery cement  floor. Mike, now fifteen and in the midst of puberty, was often described as a "gangly mess of limbs" and that mixed with his total height of 5'9, he stumbled around as if he were constantly tripping over things that weren't there. 

 

"Mike!" Lucas shouted.

 

Startled, Mike tripped into the other room. Lucas, now holding the snow shovel he was looking for, flung his arms in the air and back down again. "What are you doing?"

 

Mike rubbed the back of his neck and pressed his lips together. "Nothing." Mike darted his eyes to the right and shook his head. He didn't have anything to hide, really, it's just that the atmosphere of the basement scared him. Maybe not scared per say, but for lack of a better term, scared was his excuse. Basements were a common fear, or so he assumed. They were made to seem scary in horror movies anyway. Then again, Lucas seemed fine so Mike didn't see the point in explaining.

 

"Why is it so cold down here?" Mike shivered. 

 

"It's not." Lucas stated, bluntly. 

 

"Yeah it is." 

 

"No it's not."

 

" Yeah- how do you not-"

 

"Hey, nerds!" Erica shouted. Lucas groaned as the door swung open to reveal Erica standing at the top of the stairs. "Why are you taking so damn long?" 

 

"Mind your damn business." Lucas pointed the shovel at her and motioned for her to move. 

 

Mike checked his watch: 7:30. It was a school night, too. His parents  probably expected him back at this point. However, Mike would rather deal with Erica than his family at the moment. 

 

Lucas started back upstairs and so did Mike when he re-oriented himself. He mostly ignored the sibling rivalry, blocking it out.


 

Snap

 

Jonathan took yet another shot of a group of seagull corpses all floating around the same spot in the water. Their beaks were stuck open, their pupils dilated and feathers turned a noxious black and brown. 

 

"Oil spill, right?" The police woman standing next to Jonathan scoffed, lighting a cigarette. 

 

 It resembled one, in a way, but from what he'd seen, that hardly added up at all other than the discoloration. Regardless, Jonathan shrugged and went back to observing the scene. As a newly-hired journalist and photographer at the local press, he didn't want to start throwing around theories until more of the story opened up. The last time that happened, he got fired. Granted, it was mostly Nancy's idea, but Jonathan had, in almost every way, ended up going along with it in the end.

 

The harbor was closed that day, and probably more days to come. The phenomenon of seagulls suddenly appearing dead in the ocean without any kind of clear external force was enough to scare both the police and hundreds of workers stationed there respectively. However, the press was more than overjoyed about the incident. More interesting problems meant more interesting stories, which meant more readers and more readers meant more income.

 

Well, the issue concerned the police, just not the chief of police, who was clearly far more interested in making fun of the situation and people involved in it rather than actually helping out. She stood over Jonathan, which made him rather uncomfortable as he was trying to do his job, but it wasn't his place to complain. Dorothy Avolio was her name, supposedly, or as everyone else called her: ma'am . She reminded Jonathan of Hopper, just without  heart or the determination to solve a case. Or anything that made him a good person, for that matter.

 

Jonathan felt a tap on his shoulder. The workers were really the one guiding him around and pointing out the abnormalities. Another coworker and police officer were there writing things down as well. 

 

The worker, a distressed man who looked as if he were going to break down any minute lead Jonathan to a massive net full of fish. They two were nearly coated pitch black, their pupils dilated. The mass of fish gave off a putrid smell that made Jonathan flinch and almost gag upon stepping into their vicinity. He held his breath as the fisherman told him about how they became that way overnight. 

 

It was odd, not just for the obvious reasons, but because it seemed like disturbing occurrences followed the Byers everywhere they went. Jonathan didn't want to think of the worst, but if he had to guess, this was something really disturbed. Could it have been entirely natural? Maybe, but that didn't mean Jonathan wasn't conditioned to assume the worst no matter what.

 

The entire thing just gave him the creeps, again, not for the obvious reasons. Everytime he looked one of the dead things in the eye, a sense of unease washed over him. He even went as far as to compare it to what he felt before the rat situation that summer was "sorted out." 




Mike and Lucas had gone back to what they were doing for the most part. Mike's eyes skimmed the colorful, gaudy pages of the comic he was lent. The illustrations almost reminded him of Will's, but he didn't want to think about that right now. There were quite a few things he didn't want to think about, in fact. His family, for one thing was pressing on him to not only get a job, but also hounded him about every little thing they possibly could while showering Nancy with praise. He didn't want to think about anything that happened that summer or prior to it, either. Thoughts of the basement also tried to take control, but Mike refused to let himself be bothered by it further. It was just human instinct to be uneased by it, obviously.

 

"Shouldn't you call your parents, or what?" Lucas turned his head, still stuffing cereal in his mouth. 

 

"What?" Mike just didn't want his parents to be mentioned. He just wanted there to be a silent long-distance agreement between he and them that he could stay the night. 

 

"I mean, it's pretty fucking dark out. You don't want to go home now ." Mike expected Lucas to follow that up with 'unless you're not a pussy' or something. However, today was one of those occasions in which Lucas wasn't either complaining about something stupid Mike did or constantly teasing him. 

 

Mike nodded. He knew he could bike home, yet chose to brush off that detail. They used to bike home late all the time. Lucas knew this too, but like Mike, refused to acknowledge it. 



Mike had the Sinclair's contact his family for him that night. Thankfully, he was permitted to stay.

 

Mike 'slept' on the floor, except he wasn't sleeping. Not at all. He gave up trying hours ago and instead just stared at the ceiling while listening to Lucas's tenacious snoring. He could've sworn that kid could fall asleep anywhere humanly possible, and sometimes impossible.

 

The room was cold, nearly freezing. Mike had wrapped himself in as many blankets Lucas cared to supply him with, granted it wasn't a lot. 

 

He sunk all the way into the warm nest he had made himself and checked his watch:

 

12:00

 

Mike sighed audibly and mashed his face into the soft, warm material. It was his only barrier separating him from the meat locker that was Lucas's room. Mike speculated it was because he was on the floor and the heating just broke or something. Nobody else seemed bothered by it. Still, he'd rather be here than at home, and the mere thought that he'd have to go home after school tomorrow almost haunted him. 

 

Mike hesitantly removed his shivering hand from the mess of blankets and pulled on Lucas's arm, which dangled off the side of the bed. Lucas, still asleep snorted and nearly flung his arm into Mike's face. 

 

After the third-or-so try, Lucas's eyes snapped open as he quickly pulled his arm away. " What ?!" His tone was stern. 

 

"I can't sleep." Mike admitted. 

 

Lucas rolled his eyes. "Ok, little Mikey. Do you need me to read you a bedtime story?" 

 

"No, Lucas-"

 

"It's like midnight right now."

 

"Lucas-"

 

" Go. To sleep ." Lucas shoved Mike back down into the mess of blankets on the floor. 

 

For a good moment, it was silent. Now both of them lay unable to fall asleep. Lucas sighed. 

 

"Why is it so fucking cold in here?" Mike whispered. 

 

"It's not." Lucas groaned.

 

"It is." 

 

"You sure you're not sick or some shit?" Lucas, now with a hint of concern in his voice, turned his head to look at Mike. 

 

"I'm not." That was a lie. Mike wasn't entirely sure he wasn't sick, or at least getting sick. Then again, he wasn't presenting any symptoms other than chills. He felt fine, for the most part except it was really fucking cold. 

 

Lucas dropped down to where Mike was sitting upwards, still wrapped up to his neck in a cotton embrace. He felt the air around them: under the bed, by the window. Mike didn't know what he was trying to accomplish considering the lack of ventilation anywhere near him. 

 

Lucas turned around and stood up. He exhaled, looking around the room. He thought for a good few seconds before exiting the room. Mike's confused glance followed Lucas out into the hallway until he was out of sight. 

 

Assuming Lucas just left to check the heating or something equally as innocuous, Mike relaxed. He slumped, leaning against the wall.

 

It only took a mere few seconds for something to startled Mike. He heard a loud, booming noise coming from outside. Mike swiftly, although with a hint of fear and hesitation, leapt up, despite the cold. He stared out the window, his eyes darting back and forth across the Sinclair's front yard. 

 

Nothing. 

 

He pressed his nose against the glass. Whenever he let out a breath, he would cover it in a layer of condensation. Now, his heart was racing. He was alone and paranoid. Meanwhile, Lucas was alone somewhere else. 

 

He heard the sound again. It was closer this time. 

 

Mike slowly backed away from the window, nearly tripping on the discarded pile of blankets. 

 

This time, he heard the sound of footsteps. They were fast and muffled by the carpeted floors outside Lucas's bedroom. Mike jumped when Lucas burst back in, slamming his hands on the door frame. 

 

"Dude!" Lucas exclaimed. 

 

Mike spun around and met Lucas's face of unadulterated terror. He was sweating and out of breath, trembling as words tried to escape his lips. 

 

"You-you need to come see this…" 

 

Mike nodded and Lucas darted back out into the hallway. They were quick about it, but cautious about waking up everyone else.  Mike, especially since he trusted Lucas's intuition for the time being. 

 

Mike could see every sharp exhale that whisked out of his mouth. It was even colder downstairs. Mike hugged himself as he bolted after his friend. The floor was practically frozen to the touch. It was like walking on ice that wasn't slippery. 

 

Lucas brought them to the basement entrance. The door was already swung open. Mike stared down into the dark void. Before he had time to register what he could or couldn't see, Lucas was already halfway down the stairs. 

 

"Lucas-!" Mike choked on the frozen air. 

 

Lucas stopped. "C'mon, man!" 

 

Mike noticed the genuine pleading and desperation in his friend's voice. Without thinking twice, Mike followed him. 

 

Lucas lead him around a corner. Mike couldn't believe what he was seeing, or what he wasn't seeing or what he wasn't supposed to be seeing. 

 

Lucas looked at Mike, who stared at the pulsing orange membrane attached to the wall. Mike's eyes were locked wide open. He stood there in infinite horror. 

 

Mike forgot about the cold. He was scared. He was furious. He may have even felt a few tears fall down his numb, pale face. 

 

It was all supposed to go away. It wasn't supposed to be here: not the thinly veiled entrance nor the sticky white fungus growing around it. 

 

The boys were soon interrupted by the appearance of noise coming from upstairs. Their heads darted towards the stairs and back at the entrance. Lucas's parents? Erica? 

 

Mike, and Lucas even more, prayed to every god in existence that nobody would come down there with them. The other Sinclair's knew nothing about the Upside Down and while Erica was no stranger to life-threatening situations, there was no way they were getting a fifth grader involved. 

 

The noise stopped. 

 

Then it grew louder. 

 

And closer. 

 

And ever closer. 

 

The floorboards upstairs were breaking. They snapped one by one as the noise grew clearer. It wasn't human, that was for sure. It wasn't human and it was destructive. 

 

Lucas tip-toed over to the other side of the room, keeping his gaze locked on the stairs at all times.

 

Lucas stood in front of a way decorated in various tools. A few could very easily be used as weapons. Lucas shifted his position, his foot sliding across the concrete floor until it hit the crease of the wall. His eyes left the stairs as he landed a firm grasp on most deadly utensil available at the moment. 

 

His breath hitched as he slowly pulled a hatchet from the wall, as quietly as he could. Mike held his breath. Lucas inhaled.

 

The stairs were obliterated. 

 

The boys immediately jumped into action. Mike jumped and backed up into the wall while Lucas brandished the hatchet, backing up in front of Mike.

 

They were trapped. 

 

It was too dark to see everything clearly, still, there was an obvious mass of something pulling itself back up. It wasn't massive, nor was it particularly loud, like the boys assumed. Instead its frame was lanky, and besides desperately trying to pull itself from the wooden shrapnel, it didn't make any noise.

 

Eventually, it stepped out of the mess it had gotten itself into. The floor cracked underneath the mass of whatever it was. It started off slowly, sniffing around. 

 

The boys stood still, holding their breath as to not break and ounce of silence. Mike pressed his eyes shut. It wasn't real. He was dreaming. He did everything to convince himself they were ok. That was until Mike felt the sensation of cold breath brush against his face. He kept his eyes closed. 

 

It happened again.

 

He couldn't wake up.

 

Now it was consistent. 

 

Still keeping himself entity frozen in place, Mike cringed as he gingerly opened one eye. It wasn't entirely clear at first, but then he saw teeth. Sharp teeth. They hovered a mere centimeters over his skin. He then caught a glimpse of long raven black hair overlapping the set of teeth, both covered in thick saliva. 

 

Drool dripped onto the floor. Then his shoe. Mike's pupils turned to slits as he stared into the gaping mouth of his assailant. He didn't dare move, not an inch. 

 

Mike's opened eye moved over to his right. Something brushed across his face. It stayed there: a hand with long, spindly fingers and gray, rotting skin. Its nails nearly pierced his flesh. Mike twitched, trying to keep his unrelenting shivering at bay. 

 

He stood like that for what felt like forever, only for the hand to move under his jaw and wrap around his slim neck. The hand squeezed. Instantly, he could feel his breath hitch and the skin tighten around his throat. 

 

Lucas screamed. For a second, the most crucial second of the day, the something was distracted. It loosened its grip on Mike and turned to Lucas. Before it had time to react, Lucas swung at it with an impressive amount of vigor. 

 

The hatchet buried itself in its shoulder. So far, in fact, that it took Lucas longer to pull it out. Thick, dark crimson blood spilled out onto the floor. 

 

Lucas promptly shoved Mike into a heap of cardboard boxes.  He swung at its neck, this time just barely missing. The something grabbed the wooden handle and pulled Lucas closer to it. Its grip was much stronger than anticipated for its spindly frame. Lucas fought for dear life, trying to pull himself away. 

 

Mike climbed to his feet. He kicked the something around the midsection, causing it to stumble and let go of Lucas. Mike caught his friend mid fall and grabbed onto his shoulder. 

 

It didn't take long for it to spring back up and lunge at both the boy's at once. At the last minute, they separated themselves to different sides of the room, leaving it swatting at air. However, it immediately ran to Mike, slamming him up against the wall before he had time to react. 

 

"Mike!" Lucas shouted, ready to run at it again. 

 

Before Lucas got the chance, however, the something sunk its teeth into Mike's shoulder. Mike let out a silent scream as he tightened his eyes shut. That might've been the worst pain he'd felt all year, physically anyways. 

 

The something lingered on Mike's shoulder, possibly sucking in the blood. 

 

"Die, you son of bitch!" The hatchet landed dead center into its skull. It writhed in pain, dropping Mike to the floor. 

 

Still, by some 'miracle' it wasn't dead. Lucas had to pry the hatchet out of its head again, causing some of the blood splash on him. Lucas ran around the something and bent down to Mike's level, pulling him up by the arm. Mike's other arm sustained some serious damage: blood stained his sweatshirt and he winced in pain whenever he moved it even a little. 

 

Lucas draped Mike around his shoulder, escorting the both of them to the opposing side of the room. 

 

The something slowly regained its footing. This time, its appearance was made clear enough, despite the darkness. It seemed to be wearing some kind of heavily blood and dirt stained bathrobe.  

 

It started out slowly again. It moved towards the two, utterly terrified boys. Then it moved faster, cornering them. Mike's back made sudden contact with the wall directly next to the entrance. Lucas looked back and forth between it and the entrance. 

 

It suddenly lunged at them again. In a last minute effort to get them out of there, Lucas moved in front of the entrance. As soon as it was about to make contact, Lucas kicked it, pushing them through the thin membrane and out of their dimension. 

 

Mike broke Lucas's fall into the sticky, fungus and vine coated ground. They were outside the Sinclair's house, just not really. At the very least they got away. Not that they were at all safe, not in any way, but they got away. 

 

Lucas let out a sigh of momentary relief before rolling off of Mike. They couldn't just stay like that. They had to keep moving. Somewhere. 

 

Lucas was the first to stand, eventually helping an injured Mike to his feet as well. Mike put pressure on his wound. It hurt like hell, but the gash was easily contained by his hand. 

 

The two tried to orient themselves with their surroundings. Somehow, to Mike, it wasn't nearly as cold as the house. Lucas, however, was shivering. The air contained a putrid smell. What exactly it smelled like, was ambiguous, but it was terrible nonetheless. Spores fell from the sky like some sick excuse for the snow they knew back home. Everything was wet and sticky; every time they so much as leaned to one side, they'd hear a disconcerting sploshing sound. 

 

The two were ill-prepared, to say the least. It was just Lucas, a hatchet, and an injured Mike. Both of them were too shocked to utter a single word. 

 

This was where Will was, scared and alone for weeks on end. Now they were ones trapped in the foul, rotting world that was The Upside Down. Now they were the helpless ones. 

 

So thoroughly helpless.

 

A set of gangly fingers wrapped around the entrance's frame, followed by a matching face displaying a set of sharp teeth. It started crawling through to their side.

Chapter Text

The autumn air nipped at Viktor Stalkowski's pale, scraped skin. Threads of gray smoke weaved into the air from the cigarette stored between his chapped lips. His large, square glasses made his tired eyes far more prominent than they would be otherwise.

 

The high school sophomore leaned on the brick wall behind his school. It was early in the morning so he knew nobody would be around under normal circumstances. However, that didn't stop his nerves from acting up every time he heard a noise. 

 

The weather that day was dismal. The boy desperately wanted the dark gray blanket covering the sky to just rain instead of taunting him like that. As usual, the occasional seagull would land and, essentially, do nothing. They always looked somewhat unsettling, like they were watching him or something. Then again, he might've still been intoxicated from the night before. Probably , actually. Yes , actually, it felt like everyone was looking at him. 

 

Viktor checked his watch:

 

8:30

 

Five minutes until everyone would start showing up. 

Despite not being done with it, the sophomore dropped his cigarette and squished it into the rough tar with his heel. He watched as the layers of paper and nicotine blended into mush. It almost hurt.

 

Five more minutes passed. Then six. Then seven. Now he was one in many students loitering around Delamin High. Out of an awkwardness-induced impulse, Viktor scratched the slowly growing dirty-blonde hair that crept down the back of his neck. 

 

He checked his watch again. 

8:40 .

 

Viktor shoved his hands into the pockets of his windbreaker and absentmindedly turned a corner. 

 

His breath hitched as he was suddenly embraced and almost lifted off his feet. His lungs felt as if they were to give out as a pair of arms squeezed his small frame. 

 

"Boo!" His feet were fully planted on the ground as soon as he was set free. 

 

Viktor straightened out his glasses as his eyes met Emiline Willson's dark brown ones. Her short, fiery red hair was dirty and tied up with a garish scrunchie. Her face was caked in dirt. She wasn't wearing makeup that day either.  In fact, it looked as if she'd bathed in sewer water just before arriving. Her bare legs were covered thigh-to-calf in bruises as well. 

 

Emiline wore shorts even in the ball-busting cold temperatures that Maine had to offer. She wore nothing that could even so much as combat the cold; only an oversized button down shirt that she tucked into her shorts. 

 

"You smell disgusting." Viktor gagged and turned away, covering his nose. 

 

"Well, yeah." She stifled a laugh. "Y'know, Tori Nielson."

 

"What about her?" Viktor sighed. 

 

Emiline smirked. "Bitch called me a slut so I pushed her. Then , she had to make it into a cat fight so…" She flung her arms into the air. 

 

"Christ, Emiline. Is she ok?" 

 

"Nah. She went crying back to her rich, drunk dad."

 

"You're a fucking sociopath." Vitkor groaned, turning to leave. 

 

"Hey, asshole." She grabbed his shoulder and turned him back around. She looked at him as if expecting a certain response. 

 

"What?"

 

"Y'know." 

 

"No?" 

 

She sighed. "Oh my god. You're so oblivinous sometimes, it hurts." 

 

"You mean oblivious ." Viktor furrowed a brow.

 

Emiline groaned, and, in an overly dramatic manner grabbed his forearm and bent down on one knee. "Yes, Viktor Salkowski, my lord and savior and love of my life. You're so right and I'm just a stupid, stupid girl." 

 

Viktor stared at her, trying to pry his arm away. To no avail. Emiline was always leagues stronger than him. She could carry him across the state if she wanted to. The boy's slim, bony arms practically blew in the wind. Plus, she was tall enough on him to rest her chin on the top of his head. However, that wasn't something the boy wanted to admit bothered him. 

 

She jumped back to her feet, keeping a firm grip on his wrist. "Can you help me with English again?" She smiled. 

 

"Magic word?" Vitkor kept a flat expression.

 

Emiline bat her eyelashes and moved her hands down his own. She pursed her lips, " Please…? "

 

"Shut up." Viktor pulled his arm away, nearly stumbling backwards. 

 

Emiline began laughing hysterically. She ran up to him and wrapped an arm around him, much to the boy's dismay. "No, but seriously though-"

 

"Yep. I got it." Viktor, now agitated, covered his face again to mask the persistent stench of gray water. 

 

The bell rang and Emiline practically dragged Viktor through the school's entrance. To be precise, their entrance. The library was quieter, usually empty and so sneaking in late after lunch when needed wouldn't be a problem. The kids who did spend time there were too quiet to say anything anyway. 


After school, Viktor sat cross-legged with only his jacket separating him from the damp grass. It was cold with just his sweater, but he managed to persist nonetheless. The boy focused intently on the same homework he would be helping his friend with. 

 

"Are you almost done?" Emiline whined. She waded through the water surrounding the entrance to a sewer pipe lodged in between a couple trees.

 

"Are you almost done splashing around in piss and shit water?" Viktor looked up and glared at her, still fiddling with his pencil. 

Emiline rolled her eyes. Viktor continued, "Because that's what that is. Have fun picking up some fucked-up parasite-" 

 

"Why don't you splash around in some piss and shit water every once and awhile? Might get in your system and make you less of a buzzkill, huh?" Emiline smirked.

 

Viktor kept his mouth shut and settled his attention back to their homework. Meanwhile, Emiline ignored her friend's warning and krept further into the pipe. The more water and floating garbage she waded through, the darker it got. She expected it to stop eventually—maybe get narrower. 

 

The girl kept her focus directly in front of her, staring into a pitch black void. It didn't take long for everything else to be caked in darkness as well. Eventually, she couldn't see below her own waist. 

 

Emiline's foot collided with something—something big. Before she had time to react in any way, she stumbled into the water on her hands and knees. The water was suspiciously a lot colder than expected. Immediately, she jumped back up in order to observe whatever tripped her. It was hard to see in the darkness, but its form was relatively visible. It had hair? Fur, actually. Upon closer examination, the mass of fur had a snout, ears, and a collar to boot.

 

It was an animal, a dog to be precise.

 




Will stared at his bedroom door from between his legs. He sat on his bed, hugging his knees. He almost dreaded the sound of footsteps growing closer. He really wasn't in the mood for anyone to bother him right now. 

 

Will pressed his eyes shut, hoping that the sound might go away. It didn't matter if it was his mom, Jonathan, or even El. He just wanted to be alone. Well, he didn't want to be alone, but as a result of that failing, he now wanted to be alone. He didn't want Mike, Dustin, or Lucas to call. Maybe if he curled up in his room forever, he wouldn't have to think about it. 

 

Someone knocked on the door, almost startling the boy. He knew it was coming, but the door was loud enough to warrant a certain response.

 

"What?" Will spoke. His tone was a lot harsher than he intended it to be.

 

"Sorry." El's hushed voice could be heard from behind the wooden barrier. 

 

Scared of having hurt her feelings, Will sighed and sprang up from the bed, wiping away the tears starting to fill up on his eyelids. He opened the door quickly to see El halfway down the hall. She turned at the sound of the door hitting the wall. 

 

"Yeah?" Will called out. 

 

El frowned and practically ran over to him. She still carried that teddy bear he gave her.  More like, let her have. He didn't want it anymore so it just kind of automatically became hers by default. Her hair was braided too, probably by his mom. She looked half her age.

 

"They haven't called." El looked down. 

 

"It's probably just school, El." Will muttered. 

 

"Why?" El looked confused. 

 

Will kept having to remind himself that she didn't quite understand school as a concept entirely. She seemed to just assume that because Will was home that meant everyone was done with school for the day. Homework, studying, and doing anything else after school was foreign to her and he didn't know how to explain all of it. 

 

"Just wait a little bit. I-I'm sure they'll call again in a few hours." Will scratched his head. 

 

El smiled. "I'll tell you when they call then." 

 

Before she could turn around to leave, Will exclaimed, "N-no!" 

 

Her smile faded almost immediately, "Why not?"

 

"B-because…" 

 

El stared at him, awaiting an answer. It took Will a good minute to think of an excuse, especially one that she could understand.

 

"Because I need to do homework." Will mumbled. "I don't want to be distracted." He smiled awkwardly. "B-but you can call him if you want. Mike's number should be written down somewhere."

 

"Ok." El nodded. 

 

Will could sense her confusion and suspicion, yet El stopped asking questions. She left him alone and went to go sit by the phone in the living room. 

 




"Mike, this is Dustin. Do you copy?" Dustin, frustrated, yelled into the walkie-talkie. 

 

"He's not picking up?" Steve asked, still preoccupied with sorting new video releases. It was half-hearted though. In reality, Dustin had been at this for what could've been an hour. 

 

Robin and Steve sat on the front counter of FamilyVideo while Dustin paced back and forth, frantically speaking into the oversized device. The shelves were stocked with colorful VHS covers, which excited Dustin for a short time. He wanted to tell the Party about possibly watching a movie together, but nobody picked up.

 

It was obvious Max just didn't want to answer, but Lucas and Mike were completely radio silent. The constant static from every channel he scrolled through pierced his ears. 

 

"No…" Dustin sighed, shoving the antenna back down. 

 

"Well that sucks." Steve said. 

 

"Yes, yes it does indeed suck." Dustin raised his voice. "They tell me they felt bad about leaving me out and then do this shit." 

 

"How about you just watch something with us?" Robin shrugged.

 

Steve leaned over and whispered in her ear. "Woah, woah, I thought we were having our thing tonight?" 

 

"Steve." Robin gestured the distressed freshman. She looked back at the pile of VHS tapes she was sorting through previously. One thing caught her eye. "Ooh. This might be cool." The cover of the media she held up was adorned with a woman dressed in black. She had long, golden hair that flowed through the intergalactic backdrop. The title read: Galaxy Express 999 . It looked to be a cartoon of some sort. 

 

"It's a cartoon." Steve side-eyed the copy. 

 

"So?" Robin argued. 

 

" So , we're too old for that shit." Steve complained. 

 

"Well too bad." Robin turned back to Dustin who still frantically tried contacting his friends. "Hey, strange child friend!" She waved the cartoon over her head. 

 

Dustin looked up, still agitated, but that glimmer of hope prompted him to smile with excitement. It was the kind of excitement that Steve couldn't refuse either.


Joyce Byers sat at the kitchen table looking over various job articles. She held a cigarette between her middle and index finger, taking the occasional huff every few minutes. 

 

She had taken a job at a convenience store nearby, but her income just barely managed to  cover the expenses needed. It paid even less than her job in Hawkins, in fact. 

 

Soon, she would be interrupted by both a knock on the door and Will looking through the fridge. El still stared at the phone placed on the table next to the couch. 

 

Joyce scrambled to answer the door without a hint that she was stressed out in any way. They weren't expecting anyone—Jonathan wasn't supposed to be home for another few hours. Besides, he'd be able to let himself in. 

 

The woman forced a smile and opened the door. Joyce was almost startled by the appearance of the girl standing outside. She was covered in dirt, bruises, and bandaids. This girl's smile looked even faker than Joyce's own. 

 

"Hi!" The girl exclaimed. She held her hands together behind her back and batted her eyelashes. "You wouldn't happen to be Ms. Byers would you?" The girl slowly pulled a dog collar from her windbreaker pocket. It didn't take long for Joyce to notice the jacket belonged to the boy shivering in a sweater down the steps and the collar belonged to none other than the Byers's deceased dog. Her heart sank. 

 

Joyce stared at the collar in the girl's hand for a long minute before taking it. None of this made any sense. The collar was their dog's, but it was inscribed with their new address on the back. 

 

"Oh…" Joyce's fake smile trembled. 

 

"I'm sorry about your dog, Ms." The girl looked down at her feet. Joyce could tell for a fact she was just acting, but kept up her own act as well. 

 

"W-where did you find this?" Joyce turned her head. 

 

The girl gestured down the street. "We found it on your dog down in the woods—in the sewer." 

 

"I'm sorry, what?" 

 

"Yes, ma'am." 

 

Joyce took another moment to think before nodding her head. "Y-yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much." She exhaled as soon as she shut the door. 

 

Will, curious, glanced out the window. He only caught a few words of that conversation total. Unfortunately for him, he locked eyes with a blonde bespectacled boy whose cheeks were covered in bandaids. The boy darted his eyes around until he pressed his thumb against his nose and wiggled his fingers at him. The boy's expression was flat and awkward. After the encounter, the boy's friend shoved the jacket into his arms. She huffed, crossed her arms, and walked ahead of him. 

 

Will turned to see his mom leaning against the door, clutching a collar in one hand and clasping her nose in the other. She stared at the floor, not blinking nor muttering a word. 

 

"Mom?" Will spoke up. 

 

"Y-yes, honey?" Joyce gasped. 

 

"Who was it?" Will eyed the collar in his mom's hand. 

 

"I-I don't know." Joyce tried holding back uncomfortable laughter. "I honestly couldn't say. I'm so- so dumbfounded right now."

 

"What happened?" Concern grew in Will's voice as he stepped closer. 

 

El got up from the couch too and started observing the situation. Joyce silently handed Will the muddied object. 


Meanwhile, Viktor and Emiline trekked back home. "Didn't get anything for it?" 

 

"Nope." Emiline sighed, throwing her arms up. "You still wanna go to my place?"

 

"Sure." Viktor shrugged.


"Lucas, do you copy? This is Dustin. Over." Even on the car ride to the Harrington residence, Dustin refused to give in. The young adults were forced to listen to it for a long, painful ten minutes. " Lucas ! This is Dustin. Do . You . Copy ?" 

 

"Dustin, buddy. Just give it up already." Steve groaned, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel.

 

Dustin huffed and slumped down in the back seat. "I feel like something's up."

 

Robin leaned over her seat. "Don't worry about it. I'm sure they're just… busy." 

 

The car pulled into Steve's driveway. It wasn't his per say. The guy hardly owned anything of his own, but his parents were constantly away so he practically owned the house anyway. 

 

The sun started to set and his mother would be wondering where he was, but Dustin didn't care about that. He just wanted everyone to hang out like they used to. Spending time with Steve and Robin always managed to take his mind off his problems, but never fixed them. Sure, Steve could give good advice, but on very limited topics, Suzie being one of them—probably the only one, know that he thought about it.

 

Once they had the TV on, the tape inserted, and all got situated with snacks, Dustin tried to focus on the cartoon. The story was actually rather interesting. It was in Japanese, Dustin assumed, but there were gaudy subtitles acid washed in front of the screen, something Steve commented his confusion on. 

 

"Dude, these Asians. They're on some shit, I swear." Steve mumbles, shoving popcorn in his mouth. 

 

Robin laughed, followed by Dustin. The three continued enjoying themselves and cracking jokes. The movie, which turned out to be quite enjoyable after all, was over too quickly. It was only 5:00, but the sun had already set and darkness blanketed the sky. 

 

As the credit started to roll, Dustin looked over to the walkie-talkie he set on coffee table. The movie only distracted him for the amount of time it went on for. He almost reached for it, but Steve gave him a look that told him off. Dustin continued to stare at it, however. Why couldn't they just answer him? The arcade yesterday was the first time they'd hung out in weeks. Just one more time this week couldn't possibly be too hard, could it? Maybe they were busy. Maybe he was just self-conscious. Still, it was hard not to overthink. 

 

Dustin was halfway through shoving the last handful of popcorn into his mouth before the device emitted sudden, ear bleeding static. Dustin jumped, almost spitting the junk food out on to the Harrington's expensive carpeted floor. 

 

"Dustin? Can you hear me?" Max's voice was scratchy and almost difficult to hear, but it most certainly was her. 

 

Dustin grabbed the device and held it up to his ear. "Yes! This is Dustin. Over." 

 

Max sighed at her friend's use of language, but spoke anyway. "Have they called?" 

 

"No. Over." Dustin answered, stern. 

 

"Well that's great." Max remarked. Now Robin and Steve gathered next to him.

 

"You don't know what they're doing either? Over." 

 

"No. They never tell me anything. That's why I called you, obviously."

 

"You're in luck, Madmax. They don't tell me shit either… Over…" 

 

Max sighed. "I'll try calling one of their houses or something, I don't know. They haven't replied at all ." 

 

"I know. Over."

 

"Also, stop saying that crap. It's weird." Max signed off. 

 

"I-It's over and out." Dustin muttered into the empty device. 

 

Dustin looked to Steve. 

 

Then Robin.