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The Great Escape

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Kamchatka, USSR

November 10, 1985


Hopper had made up a routine for himself after his third week in the cell and now he scratched a little tick mark on the wall, as he sat up from his sleeping mat with a groan. That was after the third time they’d given him a good going over, drilling him on the subject of the gate before apparently deciding they needed more information before they’d even know what to ask him. Something like that. He wasn’t actually sure. He still didn’t speak Russian, and that’s what they spoke when talking to each other and not to him. He’d picked up a few phrases here and there. He was pretty sure he knew the word for “food” and “question” and “doctor,” but only when he heard them. He wouldn’t have been able to repeat them for love or money.

After the third time he’d been shoved back into his roomy cell (he was a Very Important Prisoner and thus deserving of both a blanket and a little more space than most), Hopper had realized he’d been moping a little too much.

His flank was badly bruised, and a tooth was loose. He felt like he’d been run over by a truck. He’d been living on small portions of food three times a day for the last four months or so, since waking up to find himself in Russia rather than, well, dead or in the Upside Down. He still had no idea what had happened exactly. He had a theory that both he and the Soviets had disappeared through a gap in the Gate after Joyce had blown the device and they’d taken him with them and they’d come out into the Upside Down. He suspected there was some other Gate from there they’d known about all along. But he didn’t remember. He also suspected they’d erased a few memories somehow or else something natural had busted his brain up. He’d lost a few weeks at least. He remembered Joyce’s beautiful face, her big sad eyes disbelieving. Then...suddenly it was August, he was told, and he was a prisoner in Kamchatka, eating cold, gritty swill and either sweating bullets or freezing to death. He’d scratched those tick marks on the wall to keep track of the days after hearing that first date in August. 

The tick marks were perhaps the first part of that routine he’d cut out for himself.

He marked the day and then he got up and stretched. He’d never been too great with exercise. But there was little else to do in this place. He’d lost a chunk of weight already, eating small portions of food he hated. He’d lost so much weight he hardly recognized himself. He wasn’t skeletal. In fact, he looked more like he had just a few years ago, long before he’d gotten fat and happy while looking after El. But he had nightmares sometimes that he was wasting away; becoming too lean like those demogorgon sons of bitches. So now he stretched and then he followed a strict regimen of jogging in place, jumping jacks, push-ups, crunches, and pull-ups from a pipe suspended over his head in the cell. If he’d had a belt, he could have hung himself from that pipe. Instead, he was wearing the standard-issue elastic waist gray pants and shirt they’d given him, his canvas shoes not keeping his feet very warm this far into November and this close to the Arctic. But he had never considered hanging himself, or not seriously. He had not been there in Kamchatka nearly long enough for something like that. He still dreamed of a way out. Because there was El to get back to, and there was Joyce. Not that he knew how they’d faired. But he had to believe they were safe. It was all he had to hold on to now.

“Goddamn…” His muttered obscenities that echoed in the cell as he ran in place, working himself up into a sweat. The prisoners were rounded up for showers every four days. Jim’s shower was private (VIP and all). “Goddamn it to hell…” He switched to jumping jacks. He wasn’t wheezing at all when he went through his little exercise routine now. He’d improved a lot already. His muscles felt a little tighter than they had. That was something.

He was pretty sure the Soviets had one of those monsters; one of those demogorgons. He didn’t know Russian, but he’d heard prisoners scream and he’d just had a feeling...He’d heard a word over and over that was almost like the word for “man” with something else added to it. He wondered if it was “monster.”

It was a theory he’d come to believe anyway.

The guards had given him a few other things, at least for passing the time. He was issued a pack of cards to play with, and sometimes he got a newspaper in English that was always weeks old and came out of Moscow. It all read like propaganda. He wasn’t even sure what to believe from it, but it was something anyway.

They gave him cigarettes and books of matches with the understanding that if he started a fire in his cell, it was only going to kill him in the most agonizing way possible. There was one guard who was friendlier than the others. More lenient. That was Sergei. Sergei usually supplied the cigarettes. Jim hoarded them like gold and smoked just a few drags at a time. He had a nice stock of them now. He didn’t even know what he was saving them all for at this point. Every couple of weeks, they took him out to the yard, which was awful and freezing but still outdoors. He liked to smoke there.

After his exercises, the guards brought his breakfast, sliding it through a slot in the wall on a tray. It was bad, in that it didn’t taste like anything and at first had been almost inedible. It was, at best, lukewarm. Sometimes there was potato in it. It was sometimes thick and sometimes watery and always lumpy. He had never tasted meat, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t meat in it. He tried not to think too much about the ingredients. He’d become used to it by now anyway. Eating it was still a chore, but he could hold the stuff down well enough.

After his exercises, Hopper folded his blanket and laid it on the floor and sat on it, his back straight against the wall as he laid out cards for solitaire. He played five different types of solitaire. It was part of his routine. He’d play two games of each type. He tried to solve every single game no matter how long it took before going to the next. But sometimes you just got stuck in solitaire. Sometimes you were trapped. Trapped like a rat.

The first time he had found himself stuck on a game of solitaire, he’d screamed like a child and thrown his cards around and curled up in a ball and sobbed. He’d felt ridiculous after that. It had only happened the one time. After that, he promised himself; no more fits. He was a man. He’d act like one.

The solitaire often took up a sizeable chunk of the day. Some games were harder than others. He’d get stuck and try to work through his mental song catalog while he strategized.

Today’s musical selection began with “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” He sang and thought of when he’d dance for El and she’d shake her head and laugh at him and they’d play Sorry together. He thought of when he’d go to Joyce’s place just to shoot the shit and they’d smoke and listen to Dylan. It made his heart hurt, but the memories were little treasures. Sometimes he thought back to entire days in Hawkins trying to remember every little detail as well as he remembered the lyrics to his songs.

“Goddammit,” he muttered again now as he bit his lip, regarding the line of cards. He wanted to get to the eight of clubs but-

The startling jangle of keys outside his door made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. It was not yet time for lunch and it wasn’t shower day so they must want to interrogate him again, he thought. They hadn’t gotten very rough on him yet, or at least not bone saw rough, but it had come close. He was considered too important for that, but it could change. He wasn’t actually important. He wasn’t important at all. He was the chief of police from a podunk town in Indiana and he had no powers like El and nothing at all to-


That was him, he thought, as they opened the door. Against his own will, he scooted back into the corner, as if he had a choice in the matter if they wanted to take him. He narrowed his eyes, readying himself for a fight he would lose.

But instead, they completely ignored him. They had a man between them who looked half-conscious. They were dragging him inside. He wore the prison-issue clothes and his greasy, blonde curly hair was cut around his shoulders. Hopper couldn’t see his face. 

Hopper said, “What-”

One of the guards snapped at him in Russian. Jim had no idea what he’d said. They set the guy down in the opposite corner. The cell was big enough that there were about seven feet between them. The guy was slumped over in the opposite direction as if he couldn’t keep himself up. He looked like he was sleeping.

“Sedative,” he was pretty sure a guard had said.

The two guards looked at each other and laughed before leaving, shutting the door with the thundering slam that always worked on Hopper’s nerves.

“Nice to see you too,” Jim muttered.

The prison in Kamchatka was a political one. At least that was the impression Jim got. It had top-secret types like him; people who were definitely not supposed to be there. But it also had some political prisoners. That meant the place was packed. It was also massive. Jim was tucked away in a dark and obscure corner of the place. He could see why they’d stick another prisoner in with him.

This introduced an entirely new element into his carefully cultivated routine.

On the other hand, if the guy was American...that could be useful.

When the guards had gone, Jim abandoned his game of solitaire for the first time in three weeks and scooted over to the slumped figure in his baggy, olive green canvas tunic.

“Hey,” Jim said, in a louder voice than he had used since bursting out into “All Along the Watchtower” several days ago, having won his final solitaire game. He coughed, his throat too dry in the chill. He cleared the frog and took a breath. “Hey!” He said again. “Hey, buddy. Are you American? Amerikanskiy?”

The figure didn’t move. He had slumped all the way over, one arm across his eyes. 

Jim took the risk of gently tugging on the arm. “Hey…” 

The figure jerked suddenly and screamed as if in terrible pain and then he was awake and scrambling away from Jim on the floor, breathless and wide-eyed. Whatever sedative they’d given him had a strange effect on him. Usually, they wore off gradually. But this guy, this boy, Jim thought, was very awake suddenly and staring at him with his intense light blue eyes. 

“What in the hell,” Jim murmured as he stared into the eyes of Billy Hargrove. “ the hell?”

Billy Hargrove blinked at him, still slightly breathless and, in a raspy voice as disused as his own said, “Chief Hopper?”