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Am I Dreaming

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He remembered dying.  That had been the point, he was pretty sure.  He remembered the pain. It could have killed him with one hit.  But that didn't amount to enough pain for his audacity, did it? His mind, his sides, finally his chest.  All the pain amounted to dying.

But he remembered dying.  And the dead shouldn't remember.

The first time Billy had seen this place was a brief visit outside the public telephone.  There had been no warning that he was about to be transported to this hellish region. It had seemed like a nightmare, a horrible hallucination- not like a real event that his body had been forced to endure. 

Now, it seemed that original feeling wasn't far off.  Because his body was dead. He had felt every moment of agony to prove that fact.  His body was dead but the nightmare continued. It didn't need a body, only a mind.  

It was just like the telephone by the road all over again.  The blue dark world with shadows, slime, and spores. Just like before, Billy had no clue what it was.  This time, he was able to get a better look around and found that it was without doubt Hawkins. A twisted, empty, monstrous version of the stupid town, but the town none the less.  Cars, roads, houses: all where they should be. Was it some kind of mental plane? A dream world? An alternate dimension? The gigantic shadow above him when he woke up gave him no answer. Billy figured it had to be some sort of mental realm because he was alive and last he checked he had been stabbed.  Multiple times.  

The thing was right above him, floating in the polluted air amongst red storms and earning an immediate "shit!" screamed out among other embarrassing cries.  It was as bad as the mill, when he had been dragged down to a very similar looking monster that had hijacked his life.  Judging from the feelings filtering through the air, permeating it, it was that same monster, no matter if it was no longer fleshy, that was hijacking his unlife.  Those feelings had surrounded him when he was "possessed" even when he was acting on his own at the very end; those feelings would never be forgotten or unrecognizable.

So to awake, the memories of dying fresh on his mind and the cause unbearably close, in this place had him reacting the first way his inexplicably intact body decided to: run.  After tiring out in the cold, Billy stopped and rested his hands on his legs. As he panted, he glanced around frantically. He had woken up somewhere that resembled a field overgrown by some sort of moss he had never seen in the living world before, with the giant monster far above and forests around.  Now, his mind tried to catch up with his body and was in the process of panicking. The panic skyrocketed when the feeling returned. He thought he could see tendrils crawling across the ground between trees, flying in the air; all hidden in shadows, all coming towards him. Starting off again in perfectly justifiable terror, Billy bolted forward- waving against the white spores floating in the air in an effort to keep them away from his mouth and eyes.  

This time, his feet stumbled across the branches, roots, and 'moss' growths on the ground.  After a few of these false alarm stumbles, Billy slid on something beneath him and fell on the ground.  Immediately he tried to ignore the pain in his chin where he had hit it because he wanted up again right now. One arm was elbow deep in some sort of stringy clear slime that broke where the hand had landed.  The strands lay against the arm and every part of his body that had made contact with the ground was now coated in something. With another noise and wide eyes, Billy frantically pulled himself up to his feet and stared at what was beneath him.  What was coating many of the trees. What cocooned a strange round thing nearby on the ground.  

And to make matters worse, he could still feel it nearby.  Just there. Not trying to kill him.  Not trying to talk to him using his own appearance like it had the first time he had been thrown in here.  Billy didn't know why he was still alive.  

With only his killer nearby and this twisted version of an Indiana forest around him like something out of a nightmare, Billy didn't even know if he wanted to be alive.

After a while, Billy assumed it didn't matter if he wanted to be alive or not.  The monster made of shadows wanted him to be- and it got what it wanted. If it didn't...Billy still remembered the pain every stab caused as answer to that.

Why, he didn't know.  It never talked to him in the human sense of speaking.  He could feel it, like he could when it was inside him passively and not taking direct control.  Could feel its anger. Could feel its enjoyment. It seemed to exude both towards him when it would get near.  When it wasn't, the human felt like he could breathe again.  

On that matter, the less metaphorical breathing he did here was far less pleasant.  The air hurt; it was cold and felt sick- he felt perpetually nauseous breathing it.  

After breathing, eating and drinking were the next priorities of a living being.  But Billy wasn't sure if he was a living being. Not in the least because the food he could find around tasted like poison and not something meant for human consumption.  There were egg things in the forests. There were vines that wiggled until they had been smashed up enough, and after he had crushed the movement out of them he found he could not eat something that reminded him too much of the monster's tendrils that had been shoved against his mouth- nope.  Not eating those. The rest of the 'food' he could find was similar; the most edible looking of the growths in this dead world and not real human food. He was 90% sure everything he had tried to eat was actually poison and he just couldn't die from it because he had no real body to be poisoned, as his current guessing supposed.  

The horrid edibles were even worse when it was discovered they couldn't be washed down.  As far as Billy could see, there was no water or even twisted slimy version of it in here.  Creek beds were just beds. Drinking fountains didn't work. To drive the final nail in the hole, all of the places with pools in the real world had only vine covered empty basins in their place. 

He remembered how it had felt when he went to the pool- uncomfortable.  Then his frantic shower- pained. The ice bath seemed to be the only water his possessed body could get in without feeling some sort of pain and then anger.  

When he had realized there was no water here and sat down in frustrated failure, he felt the remnants of those feelings again.  These filtered in with more of that enjoyment and Billy flipped up both middle fingers at the taunting before moving to the other side of Hawkins to get away from the presence.

Billy didn't die from dehydration though; after testing this and being just as horridly alive in three days without water, he gave up on torturing himself with food he didn't need.

His theory gradually grew: he had no physical body because it had been brutalized after he had stood against the monster, his current body felt hunger, thirst, and exhaustion but could continue on with or without the cures to those natural ailments, he was somehow alive in a mirror world he shared with the monster.  His theory was eventually summed up as: this is hell. Killing him had only been part of the spiteful response to his revolution and this struggle against the twisted environment was the next part.  

He had infuriated it.  And pissing it off was not making Billy's (after?)life easier.

He remembered the monster's fleshy avatar roaring into the radio.  It was a taunt, from the human perspective at least. It was petty, in all honesty.  The thing had the fight in the bag (or would have, had circumstances gone as predicted)- taunting was just an extra jeering mockery to the humans that tried to stand against it.  Billy understood that- he gave his fair share of taunts. He mocked the weak guys that tried to stand up to him at schools and gangs, preferably after beating them up cathartically.  Should any of his "friends", the lackeys that flocked with him ( his mind thought of his unfortunate senior year spent in Hawkins, the faces of Tommy H. in all its disgusting glory and the popular whore Carol springing to mind along with some of the others he had met in basketball and parties; certainly not people he cared about but those that he spent time with- graduating at least meant getting away from those lowlifes and replacing old lackeys with acquaintances like Heather), tried to jump from him to a different "king" he would have beaten them into the ground like he had Steve Harrington- and laughed the whole time like he had for "king Steve"'s beating as well.  Kick them while they're down. That's the best way to keep up dominance and scare others from trying anything; awfully fun as well. The no-holds-barred fights were because he was no pussy.  The tauntings that followed were because he wanted to. The roar in the radio was because it wanted to. The stupidly villainous speech (read: taunt) they delivered the psychic kid in that mindscape had no purpose except to taunt.

Hell, killing him dramatically in front of all and painfully, unnecessarily slowly, all to just bring his mind into this trap with it had no real purpose but vengeful mockery.

It was pettier than him, Billy thought with a laugh.  Somehow, he had insulted it, the eldritch abomination towering multidimensional mind-controlling shadow monster, just by being, well, a human.  By remembering his mom. By wanting to protect the kid that had reminded him about her even if that kid was a friend of Max's.  

He had the vague recollection of Max, crying over him as he faded out from fatal injuries.  Why she did, he couldn't tell. It wasn't like they were close or anything. It wasn't like they loved each other or something sappy like that.  And, during those days of hell with the monster in his body, he had done things that should have kept her away but instead made him want to say those telling words, "sorry", to the crying fiery redhead.

Breaking that control- yup, that was unforgivable.  Not abducting Heather. Not forcing people to their deaths so that their body could melt into a spidery form.  A form just made for killing a kid that had stood up to the monster. Not any of that...but being his own person and making a decision to save a bit more time for that kid?  Totally unforgivable. Billy rolled his eyes and barked a mocking laugh again. The big bad monster was petty.  


The door creaked too loudly in the silent world when he found his old house.  The last time he had been here involved freezing baths and even less unpleasant things.  Now the cheap place was overgrown with the nasty moss and clear stringy slime. It was everywhere in this place.  Billy tried to ignore it as he stumbled for the corrupted bed and pulled what growth he could off it before sliding on.  He laid back on it and just stared wide eyed at the ceiling, arms fiddling before finally relaxing on top of himself (the only place marginally clean to rest them).  In the still air, his breaths rattled; they were the only sounds in the room and it put Billy on edge.  

As it turned out, he didn't need to sleep.  It seemed to confirm his guess that he really had lost his body.  That this was just some sort of figment. He didn't just not need sleep, he couldn't.  He waited on that bed for what had to have been a few days, waiting for the adrenaline to wear off and for exhaustion to force sleep.  It never happened. Whatever kept him existent here didn't want him to sleep. If his other guess, that it had been the monster he wanted nothing more than to escape from that was forcing him to "live" here, was also true than he supposed it was just another punishment.  After all, sleep had pros and cons and here the pros felt more tempting to Billy.

Sleep- Pros: rest and escape from reality.  Cons: nightmares and oversleeping.

When the world he was, so far to his knowledge, alone in was a nightmare why would dreams be a worse pain than reality?  After finally giving up, with no small amounts of resigning hysterics, he figured it made sense. Being sleepless was horrible and so far "horrible" seemed to be his entire existence here.  Speaking of...

He felt it before he saw the light flash in the distance.  The red could be seen from the window and it illuminated part of the twisted rendition of his room before it faded away.  But the feeling froze the top of his spine seconds before the signs of alien lightning started. It was back- although the thing was HUGE (an understatement even) and could no doubt reach him no matter how far he ran in this mirror world so saying "it was back" felt stupid.  From what he could tell, it could simply feel him from wherever he was- the brief respite he had was likely purposeful.  

That kid had talked to him about his mom; she had described the beach he and his mom had visited.  That child liked to hide under his covers from monsters. For a brief, sleeplessly hysterical and exhausted, moment he felt the urge to do the same.  Instead, Billy stumbled out from his room and house. He had come there to finally sleep and instead realized slowly he could not. Only once realized did the petty-iest world destroyer come back to taunt.  It was still very far away, when Billy craned his neck to look up over the roof towards the storm that heralded it. Not that distance mattered when it was both larger than any building he had seen and could crawl into any mind.

"What?  What now?  Just waiting for me to find out what else you've ruined?" he screamed up despite the terror of yelling at the very thing that had so twisted his life around.

Unsurprisingly there were no words in response.  Only its strange otherworldly noises and what seemed like very palpable anger filtering in the very air around him.

He slid to the ground, still feeling very in need of the sleep his fake body couldn't get.  Head leaned back, mouth parted, hands running through dirty thick hair that was both covered in a film that was never there before he had awoke in this place and ratted together unattractively; it was likely a picture of despair.  The monster probably got off on it. Thinking that, he tried to pull himself together under its eyeless gaze.

It was still far; Billy didn't want to be under it when it got closer but in truth he didn't seem to have much choice.  He didn't want to be here at all but there was no choice there either. In truth, he wasn't sure if he would rather be dead than alive.  Death would be the end but he wanted to escape. He wanted to escape and go back to the world without any monsters around him. He had no idea what he would do in that world, with Heather and her family and everyone else he had caused to melt shadowing his conscious and Max with her crew he had almost ran over (twice now) remembering it all.

Impossible- the feeling seemed explained by the cold infected world around him with its five limbed shadow overhead and the most overbearing of memories on hope.  Hoping for his mother to return? Hoping to surf and not be called a pussy? Hoping his dad wouldn't go through with it with that new woman and her kid? 

Hoping to go back to the real Hawkins (let alone California)?  About as likely as the first three had been.

Billy cussed a long and vocal stream of expletives at the thing in the air that was forcing that message of impossibility on him.  It probably wouldn't do him any good- acting out against the creature had been what got him into this hell in the first place. Who cared.  He was stuck here so he was sure as hell going to cuss it out because it had dragged him back into existence right after death and he had never asked for either of those statuses of mortality.

He was reminded of those words spoken by his avatar in that strange mindscape: "You let us in.  And now you are going to have to let us stay."

Amusement seemed to filter into reach at his thought.  It hadn't been his willing decision to "let us in" back at the mill.  If he still had a body that slept and dreamt, Billy knew he would never stop the haunting nightmares repeating that night.  The same kind of tendrils that "ended" his life pulling at his leg- the fleshy, slimy feeling wrapped around his calf and tighter than something so disgustingly soft should be in its grip- holding him in place- and there he had seen the creature, the mass of legs and flesh and unearthly horror in the shadows just out of plain sight- slamming onto his face---

The memory was still as vivid.  It needed no physical sleep and dreams to drag his mind into that moment and relive it all.

No.  Billy Hargrove had not willingly opened his mouth and mind to be flayed by a nightmare.  But his consent or lack of was a moot point- it didn't care if it was let in willingly or not, but it did care to stay.

So, partially in fear and hope, and partially in pure spite, Billy ran.  He may just be a pawn piece on a game board that could be picked up and toyed with in whatever way the player desired, but damned if he wasn't going to make things a little harder on the bastard.

Electronics.  It took too long to notice it, but through one time stumbling through the empty version of Hawkins it began to click.

He could mess with electronics there even when he was here.  He could turn on a radio and adjust it. He could yell into phones, although so far he never received a tangible response back so he had no way of knowing that he was actually heard.  He could affect lights by physical presence. At least, he imagined he could do all those. It sparked a bit of excitement, a bit of hope- all until he remembered his body there had gaping holes in it.  Without that body, how exactly could he get back?

Most of the times he thought that, he could feel that incessant prickle and something taunting that was somehow communicated by the thing that didn't talk (it could though since the first time he had been here it had talked to him using his own form) and he would move from his location to a different one as if it could get him away from the "voice".

He dropped by his old house once and went to Max's room.  He had nothing to say to his dad or his dad's wife but the more he thought about it the more he wanted to say more than just the word 'sorry' to the kid.  How to say anything wasn't discovered. Once he thought he heard someone but it sounded like an echo very far away. When the presence of the monster came near, he left again.  

But while he had been wandering pointlessly for however many weeks he had been stuck here, that day he felt a hint of purpose.  Body or no, there was no chance he would wait around for death in the infected forest with it hanging over him in all its petty vengeful glory.

He'd go back to Max's room.  Maybe visit the places of the others he recognized during that mall battle and try to mess with their electronics to get attention.  Billy had no plans to play the games on the monster's terms even if it felt like those were the only terms open to him now.

The Upside Down did not like to let go.  Will Byers could attest to that, although Billy was oblivious to that story.  The defiant did not get easy escape. Will had been defiant; he had ran from his monster, contacted his mother, and ultimately was rescued from the parallel world.  But the world did not let go of him. It held on to him, gestating larvae inside his young body and possessing it through the shadow monster's will.  

Billy's defiance had offered the easy escape of death and then held it out of reach.  The Upside Down had claimed him too and planned to always stay in his life.  

Will Byers still felt it- anxiety spiking down his back, centered on his neck.  Exorcism had not allowed complete release. The Upside Down never released those it had claimed.  No matter what defiance or escape they attempted.