The last thing Billy Hargrove remembered was laying on the ground at Star Court Mall with Max crouched next to him, tears streaming down her face. He hadn’t meant for it all to play out like this. Sure, he’d had some unresolved anger thanks to how their dad treated her compared to him, but he knew that wasn’t her fault, even if he had lashed out at her like it was. But he never intended to actually hurt her or anyone like he had. He had tried fighting it, but whatever that thing was, it had such a tight hold on him that he barely had any moments of clarity.
That night in the mall, he was sure that it was over. He always thought it would be his own recklessness that would take him out, not some creature pulled out of the worst horror movie imaginable. As soon as it closed in on him, he knew he was done for. So why was he now staring up at the murky sky above? He shot up with a gasp, hands gripping his chest for the hole he anticipated finding there, only to find solid muscle. He looked down to see that his wife beater was stained with deep red and black, but when he lifted it, there was no mark left behind. “What the…” How was that possible? The creature… it had killed him, hadn’t it? If that were true, then why did it still feel like his heart was beating?
Slowly, he pushed off of the rocky ground beneath him, legs shaky. Wherever he was, it was certainly not Hawkins, Indiana. The terrain was rocky, with clouded skies and thunder booming in the distance. It wasn’t the only loud sound in the distance. Something else was here, it’s loud bellowing roar carrying across the wind. His heart jumped in his chest as he cautiously turned towards the sound to see something raising above the boulders no further away than the length of the Hawkins High basketball court. He didn’t wait to see how big it was, scrambling behind the nearest rock large enough to hide him. He knew he had made a lot of mistakes in the last several years, but was this what he deserved as punishment? His own voice rang out in his head, ‘Maybe.’
Months passed by, or so Billy assumed. It was difficult to track time here, wherever here was. With all that he had seen, his best guess was that he had died that night at the mall, and this was his own personal hell. Sometimes he saw glimpses of light or happier moments. Sometimes he saw his mom, or Max. Sometimes he woke to the halls of Hawkins High. But most of the time, he was surrounded by bleak mountains and the creatures that lived amongst them, running as far as his legs would carry him. Occasionally, one of the creatures caught up to him and it was all he could do to get away.
Today was one of those days.
He found himself on the edge of a cliff, sneakers barely on solid ground. In front of him stood one of the creatures, looming over him with a menacing grimace. “COME ON!” He shouted at it, tired of running and scraping by. All of the fear and desperation had built up, festering into a boiling point. “COME ON!!” He repeated. Finally, it lunged towards him. He threw himself to the ground, tucking himself as out of the way as he could, causing the monster to fly over the cliff’s edge. For a moment, he thought he was in the clear, but then he felt it clasp onto his leg, dragging him backwards. He screamed and kicked at it as hard as he could, managing to knock it off just as he hung over the ledge. His hands scrambled to grab hold on the ground, barely managing to pull himself onto solid ground. For a moment, he just laid still, trying to catch his breath, before he let out a scream of frustration and celebration mixed into one as he heard the body of the creature hit the ground below.
When he opened his eyes again, he was no longer on the edge of the cliff, instead surrounded by the halls of Hawkins High.