Once there was a little girl who was all alone in the woods.
“Don’t you think it’s strange?” Nancy asked. The wind from the open window whipped her hair around her face as she turned to look at Steve.
“What?” said Steve, his fingers tapping out a beat on the steering wheel, listening more to the music than to her.
“I said, don’t you think it’s strange,” Nancy said, “that El is gone, and we’re all just going about our lives. Like it never happened.” She looked away, out the window.
Steve turned off the radio. “I wish you wouldn’t get down on yourself like this,” he said.
“I’m just - she saved us all. You, me. My brother. And now she’s - “
Steve put a warm hand on her shoulder. “You did so much to help her. More than any of us.”
Nancy shrugged, attempting nonchalance. “Not enough.”
She was cold, and scared, and it was dark.
Nancy dreamed about Barb. She watched her wander, terrified and alone, for what felt like days. Eventually, of course, the monster cornered her. Nancy tried to look away, but then abruptly she was Barb, the thing looming over her. She tried to scream, but nothing came out of her mouth; she tried to run, but her limbs were leaden and unresponsive. Then a roar from the monster, a swipe of its paw - and a slash of agony lit up her nerves. And then there were things moving, crawling under her skin and down her throat and -
She woke, choking on nonexistent slime, tangled in her sheets and soaked with cold sweat.
It was dark in her room, the kind of dark where the shadows seemed to pulsate and loom. Nancy switched on the light in a hurry, and the darkness receded back into hiding.
“God,” Nancy said, her voice rasping in her throat.
She left the light on. After a little while, her nerves calmed enough for her to doze back off.
She didn’t dream of Barb again that night. She fell instead into a disjointed dream of running through trees, running through houses, running, running, hiding. Fragmented images of dark woods and a moonless, starless sky flashed past, and Nancy shivered with cold under her blankets.
But it turned out she wasn’t alone. There was something chasing her, and she had no one to protect her.
“Can I talk to you, Mrs. Byers?” Nancy said.
“Nancy, honey,” Mrs. Byers smiled. “Come on in. And call me Joyce, please.”
It was hard, now, to see in Mrs. Byers - in Joyce that steely determination that had gotten her through Will’s disappearance. The tired, ragged look was gone from her face, the hard, fierce look in her eyes mostly buried.
Nancy sat on the couch and stared at her feet. She locked her hands together to keep from fidgeting.
“Now, what is it?” Joyce said, sitting down.
Nancy opened her mouth and then closed it. Then she tightened her hands around each other and said in a rush, “Mrs - Joyce, do you ever wonder about Eleven?”
Joyce smiled sadly. “Of course I do. Of course. She did so much to help me find my boy. I just...wish I could have helped her more.”
Nancy nodded. “Me too,” she whispered. Then she said, without really knowing she was going to, “I don’t think she’s dead. I think - I think she’s out there. Somewhere.”
Joyce bit her lip. Nancy said, before Joyce could say anything, “I don’t want to - I know you just got your family back. I just - I don’t know who else to talk to.”
But she was strong, and smart. She knew how to hide. And she knew how to fight.
“I’m sorry,” Nancy said. “Steve thinks I can’t move on and - I don’t know. Maybe he’s right. But I don’t think he is. I think she’s out there and she needs our help, and - I know you know what it’s like - “ she cut herself off.
“To have people think you’re crazy?” Joyce finished for her.
“I’m sorry,” Nancy said again, and stood, making for the door. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have, I should - ‘
“Hey,” Joyce said behind her, her voice soft. “Hey, it’s alright. I’m not mad. You’re right.”
Nancy said nothing, but stopped walking.
“I did just get Will back. I was so scared, and he was so alone.”
“I know,” Nancy said, her voice coming out choked. There was a long moment of silence.
“I believe you, Nancy,” Joyce said.
Nancy turned to face her, heart leaping with hope. “What?”
“I believe you,” said Joyce, “and I’m going to help you find her.”
Nancy took a breath. Her face was wet with tears, she realized. Joyce stood and wrapped her arms around Nancy.
“We’re not gonna leave her there,” she said, her voice soft in Nancy’s ear. “We’ll get her out, you hear me? We’ll get her out.” She pulled back and cupped Nancy's face with one hand. "I won't leave her there."
The monster had killed many other people. It was taking its time hunting her; it didn't know how strong she was.
Nancy dreamed again that night. She dreamed she was running, running, running. The woods were closing in around her, branches whipping her face as she ran.
Finally she stopped. She stood, and she breathed, and she turned around. And there it was.
I see you, Nancy said, her voice strong and clear, and the thing roared.
I see you, she said again, and I’m coming for you. It was moving towards her, slow, the impact of its steps loud. She laughed, and it was like a bell ringing out into the night. You think I’m afraid of you? she said, you think I’m afraid? I’m not alone anymore. And neither is she.
She took a step towards it, and it moved - away from her.
The dream spun away, and then Nancy saw Eleven. She was shivering in the husk of a dead fallen tree, looking at the empty sky.
Eleven, Nancy said. Eleven didn’t react. Eleven! El!
El sat bolt upright, looking around. Nancy reached for her, and saw that her own hand was almost translucent.
We’re going to get you out of here, El, Nancy said.
And she woke up.
And there was something else the monster didn’t know, something even the little girl didn’t know: she had friends. And they were coming to get her.