June 10, 1986
Steve Harrington read the directions for the new white noise machine his mother had bought him. He wasn’t sure if light static, trickling brook, or Amazon rain forest would quiet his mind, but it was worth a try. Anything was worth a try at this point. It was going on two weeks of nightmares now, and Steve was more than over it. He hadn’t had nightmares this bad in months, not since the incidents at Mooregrove Manor had been fresh memories in his brain and fresh scars on his body. Since January, he’d thrown himself into school, and the nightmares had turned into regular school dreams and that recurring dream he had about the talking zebra.
Steve hadn’t even had nightmares during finals week, which was shocking. The talking zebra had gotten a little aggressive and snarky, but he’d been anticipating much worse given the level of stress he’d felt. Now he was successfully on the other side of his first semester and the entire summer stretched before him. He had time to spend with friends. The Byers were moving back in two days, and they’d be living with the Harringtons temporarily. Dustin was coming over for a week before he left for camp. The pressure was off. Things were good. So why now was he having terrible nightmares about never ending hallways, closed rooms, and Lillian? Those were the worst dreams, the ones where Lillian was sad, or mad, the ones where she accused Steve of damning her to an eternity of torture and agony. And Steve knew, he knew Lillian was in a better place now. He felt it with every fiber of his being, but he couldn’t convince his mind of that between the hours of midnight and seven a.m. Then there were the dreams where he could hear Dustin crying or calling for help and Steve was never able to find him in the labyrinth of never-ending doors that led to nowhere.
Maybe he was having these dreams because he didn’t have enough to occupy his mind? Maybe he should get a hobby or a summer job? No, his parents didn’t want him working, afraid of the stress that might cause, funny enough. He was taking a few summer classes, but they didn’t start until after the Fourth of July. Maybe the dreams would stop then? Steve couldn’t wait that long, and he didn’t have time to psychoanalyze all of this. He was beyond exhausted. He’d tried the over the counter options, but they’d just made it worse. He’d slept, yeah, but the dreams had been twice as horrific, and he hadn’t been able to wake himself up from them. He hadn’t felt any better the next day. He’d also tried bourbon, which had not set well with the microwave popcorn. He’d tried meditation. He’d even let Robin practice acupuncture. Nada.
His mother had finally taken pity on the baggy, black circles under his eyes and presented him with the white noise machine. Steve was skeptical, but he figured it couldn’t hurt. He selected light static and rested his head against his pillow. It wasn’t a distracting noise, just neutral. He’d give it thirty minutes and then switch to trickling brook if this didn’t work. Steve looked at the clock by his bed. 10:00 p.m., Dustin would make fun of him for going to bed so early, call him an old man. Steve from this time last year would have done the same, but he’d aged considerably since then. With a huff, Steve closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on the noise. He didn’t think this was going to work. In an hour or two he’d be sitting bolt upright, heart racing and head reeling from another trip to somewhere awful. There was no way a sound machine was going to change that.
“You’re a mess,” his brain told him. “You need help.”
“Shut up,” he whispered back. “Maybe I do need help,” Steve thought to himself just before he drifted off.
Well, this was new, Steve stood or slept corrected. He’d never been here in any of his dream wanderings, wherever here was. What even was here? Steve looked around the dark, open space. The black and endless aspects of it felt familiar, but this was still different. This wasn’t Mooregrove Manor. This was- nowhere?
Steve slowly began to walk around the space. The ground beneath his feet looked like water, like it flowed, which was weird. It didn’t feel like water. He wasn’t getting wet. He paused for a moment to think about how much liquid he had to drink before bed. “This better not be a pee dream,” he muttered. At least he hadn’t set the machine to trickling brook.
Steve kept walking, but nothing about the scenery changed. He didn’t feel trapped, though. A chair might have been nice, or a couch, but this place was okay. It wasn’t scary. It just was. Maybe this was the aesthetic equivalent of static? He could live with that, if it meant he got some sleep.
“Hello!” Steve called out, even though he knew no one would answer. His voice didn’t even echo. Weird. “Jessie is a friend, yeah. I know he's been a good friend of mine,” he sang into the void. “But lately something's changed that ain't hard to define. Jessie's got himself a girl and I want to make her mine.” The space didn’t have the same acoustics as his shower, but there was no one here to criticize. “Okay.” Steve shrugged. “It is what it is.”
An hour or so later, Steve was jogging around the space. He really didn’t know what time it was. Like, that concept didn’t exist here, but calisthenics did. Even if he was sleeping, Steve had to have something to do. He wasn’t going to sit on the weird, water ground, so he might as well get some exercise in, or was it mind exercise? He didn’t know, but he should probably do more actual jogging during the day, when he was awake. Exercise might improve his sleep troubles.
Steve stopped to stretch it out a little. Was he really planning an exercise routine in some giant void? “What is your life?” he wondered aloud.
“Steve?” The voice came out of nowhere. Steve jolted and whirled around in the direction of the sound. There was Eleven, right behind him. Why was she there? Where had she come from? She looked as confused as he did. “Steve?” she asked again.
“El?” he managed to ask in return.
She reached out for him with an uncertain hand. Steve’s eyes flew open and he sat upright in his bed, his heart pounding. The clock on his dresser read two a.m. That part was familiar, as was his current state of panic. Steve took a deep breath and ran his hand through his hair. He felt a strange sensation on his face and reached down under his noise. There was blood under his nose. It had run down his chin and gotten on his shirt. “Shit.” Steve didn’t want to think about what that meant now. He turned the white noise machine off with a bang of his fist and got out of bed to find a tissue.