The curse on the Magee family was a town best-kept secret, not everyone believed in it but most everyone had heard the stories, it was hard not to. Old Elmore Magee was a crackpot believed best to be ignored, he left their house very rarely and almost completely neglected his daughter, she grew up ignoring what was running through her veins until she could marry away and never have to think about her bloodline again. She wasn’t the first with Magee blood to hide behind the family name of a man, they didn’t want to be implicated in the crazy. As soon as the only daughter of Elmore married away from her connection to his last name the town grew silent with the rumours.
It was known that Elmore was crazy, and it was known that many years had plagued their family with a curse that turned him so. But they also knew that his daughter wasn’t crazy, that maybe this was just an excuse for his actions. A preferable explanation to a complete change in behaviour than the idea that maybe he was just completely crackers.
It was hard to pinpoint the exact reasoning behind it all and rumours fell to the back of the Hawkins gossip mill, his daughter and his granddaughter lost their connection to his name and there were little but memories to tie them back there. The Magee curse became a tale told on Halloween and at campfire storytimes, there was no truth, no fact, no evidence. They only had the words of people older than them. Claims that Elmore could speak to the dead, that there was no other reasoning, he couldn’t have known that much about her husband without speaking to him and he had been dead ten years. It was a sick joke with the looming threat that maybe, maybe he was telling the truth, and that’s what scared them most.
Celeste Logan never believed in its truth, her mother, Leila, never believed her father’s tales. She couldn’t believe that her father really spoke to the dead, it was too crazy to even consider. If she played off the tales like they weren’t truth maybe she wouldn’t be as victimised as she was at school. She was just the kid of the freak. Leila didn’t want her daughter to go through the same issues, she’d vowed never to have a male child, she made Celeste promise too. The words were angry and manic, seven-year-old Celeste didn’t understand why her mother was so adamant that a male baby was bad.
She’d been struck faint when she’d been handed the little boy, her husband, Ford, had smiled proudly down at her for giving him a son. She couldn’t help but worry after her mother's words.
Crazy Leila’s words, crazy Leila who had told her that a little boy was devil incarnate, but who could look at this little boy and think any evil of him. But then again, crazy Leila had also thrown herself off Sattler Quarry when Celeste was seventeen.
Celeste couldn’t bear to think evil of her newborn son, the way her husband regarded him like he hung the moon only. It was calming, knowing that her husband knew nothing of the rumours that plagued her family, what was thought of about those men of the Magee line. But her little boy wasn’t going to be known as a Magee, he wouldn’t hear all those slurs about their kind, they wouldn’t get that. He would grow up taken care of, he wouldn’t need to worry, that is what she would do for him, he wouldn’t need to know about the wrongness of their ancestry.
Her little Steve wouldn’t need to worry, they’d keep him taken care of, he’d grow up well.
The first time that it became known that Steve was different than the other kids his age was when his imaginary friends became people they knew of. He spoke frequently with someone who used to live in their house, Celeste wanted to blow it off like it was nothing but something inside of her felt wrong. Ford had shaken his head and dragged his son away from his ‘friend’, no boy of his was going to play pretend when he could be toughening up outside in the world.
Steve had thought nothing of his friends, he spoke to everyone he came across even if they were shocked to be interacting with him. He was eight when he realised not everyone could be seen by everyone else. Some people, only Steve could see, and that only made it more exciting.
He knew that there were four people his parents couldn’t see that were in his house, there was a little boy down the street that was always sad, three people in the school and a whole number more around Hawkins.
He was ten when he learnt not to talk to anyone about those people he could see. His mom had wanted to know who he was talking to at the park, why he no longer asked to meet friends when he went out. His mother had slapped him, he’d looked up at her his eyes wide, he was so confused. She’d dragged him home from that park, the same way Ford had dragged him away from his friends in the house when he was younger. Ford wanted him outside and away from his imaginary friends inside and now Celeste didn’t want him outside. He didn’t understand what he was doing wrong.
His dad had taken him to the side after that day, no son of his was going to be weak, no son of his was going to be a freak and no son of his was going to be alone. He’d be popular, he would make a name for himself. Steve Harrington wouldn’t be the kid who spoke to ghosts, he’d be king of the school and his dad was going to make sure that happened for both of their sakes.
Steve learnt to hide his differences even as he aged his ability began to increase. He could sense when someone was close to death and how they were feeling because of it, he could speak to the dead in his sleep, he could speak to them awake, he could even speak to them in his mind. He didn’t have to be near them to speak to them, and he could find them wherever they were.
He felt sadness in waves, those who died in pain, those who died peacefully, those who died angrily, those who died happily, they all wanted to be alive still. That was something they all shared, no one Steve had met wanted to be dead even if he did. Their lives seemed so much simpler than his own, and yet from what they’d told him they all seemed to have had better lives than he. Steve was dealing with parents who didn’t believe in him, the complete absence of love that lived on in a house so bare. They didn’t believe in him so he wouldn’t believe in them.
They told him they wouldn’t be gone long when he was eleven, apparently, that meant a three-month-long trip with no one checking in on their son. They told him the trip would be as long as it took but it wouldn’t be long when he was thirteen, his mom came home after a month but was gone again in a week, his dad didn’t come home for another three.
Steve learnt to take care of himself, he could cook, he could clean and he wouldn’t make a mess. Without his parents he could talk to the ones they wouldn’t let him talk to when they were around, a woman who had lived there before the persons before them taught him how to make a mean lasagna that he could make once and then divide up and live on for a week without having to cook more. She was a brilliant cook with the mind of a sponge, she didn’t need much to get him cooking and he didn’t need many ingredients to do it.
He somehow managed to be completely self-sufficient, he learnt it over the course of those seven years he was periodically left more and more alone. He didn’t enjoy the silence but you didn’t have to worry about that when you could speak to the dead. People no longer questioned the absence, their answers were often found in the pamphlets that circled the Harrington business, their work available wherever you needed them and that often meant they couldn’t be back for parent-teacher business. Steve was almost certain none of his teachers had ever even met his parents even in passing, but even so, he hardly knew his parents either so he didn’t expect for his teachers to know them instead.
The first time Steve had even thought about someone else potentially having abilities like his own was when his father insisted he gets checked out. He didn’t like the idea that his son could be mentally inept but he also rather it would be him to find out if his son was wrong in the head rather than someone else trying to tell him instead.
The doctors had told him that his son was fine, that ten-year-old Steve just had an overactive imagination and that was common in children that grew up with no siblings. But that experience didn’t end there, his father had a friend in a lab that was working on looking at the brain waves in children or that was what his father told him. The lab had been quiet, but they’d wanted to know about the people Steve could speak to, the people he could see.
The ghosts of children told him to keep quiet, nothing good would come out of him talking to them. His dad had first seemed frustrated that he’d gone this far with his son to find out if Steve was telling the truth, but then he was smug, no son of his was a freak that was a certainty. And if it took him scaring the attention-seeking behaviour away then that’s what he would do.
Steve had been left in that lab for a day, he had his own bed in his own room with a locked door. He didn’t like it, he wanted to go home where the people were familiar and they knew him and they cared about him, they cared about him more than the people who called themselves his parents did.
The people here were sickly, and they were young, they were pained and they were scared. They’d been tortured here, they’d been broken and hurt and scared and Steve just wanted to go home.
They showed him their happy memories there, the days before they were seen as just objects, the days when their numbers were names rather than subject titles. The days when they were allowed to play with one another when they could make sure the others were safe when they weren’t just projects.
Steve traced their numbers with his finger, the bumps of ink jarring against his senses, the tears pooling on his shirt.
He met ONE and TWO that day, FIVE he would meet later on, the others he only hoped got out, he didn’t want for them what had happened to their siblings. He wanted them safe and he’d tried to promise them that, but they didn’t see anyone helping them any time soon. He wept for them every night. He’d seen faces while he was there, they were younger than him, and they were stuck. They were prisoners and his dad had finally come to let him out of this prison, he could escape and they weren’t allowed too. He felt sick to his very core and it hurt.
They wouldn’t let him promise to help, but if he ever could he would.
Sometimes all of this was a curse to him, he couldn’t be unaware of all the wrong happening in town. He knew when people were dying and they could tell him what had happened to them, he knew that Hawkins Lab was doing child experiments, he knew that there was a child-murdering rapist that lived in the woods, he knew that the railway had been shut down because too many people committed suicide. It was bleak to know what was happening in Hawkins, he couldn’t ignore any of this. He was a font of all knowledge and he couldn’t tell anyone about any of it because they would think he was crazy. His parents thought he was crazy and in response to that, they had not been home for longer than a week in four years.
He was alone in Hawkins, alone in the world everyone saw, his friends were two people who enjoyed getting drunk with him even if he maintained his sobriety in favour of making sure no one else died that he would end up talking to later. They didn’t really know him, they didn’t know that he could see dead people, they didn’t know that his parents didn’t trust him, they didn’t know that his dad sent him to a place that experiments on children just to find out if he really was what they thought he was.
He tried to mask the pain in pretence, he pretended to be the image his dad had crafted for him, he pretended to be the teenager that Tommy and Carol thought he was and he pretended to be the man that Nancy Wheeler wanted him to be. All of his insides hurt because of his actions but he couldn’t pretend. He didn’t need questioning about all of this, he had enough of that growing up, he knew who he was and who he would also be but he also knew who he had to be to get through his life alive. He couldn’t bear to end up in some lab getting tested for being a freak like ONE and TWO and FIVE, he’d promised to do what he could to protect them not to join them.
It was when little Will Byers disappeared that the first crack in his crafted facade appeared. He’d have a hard time trying to fix that before anyone saw.