Tuesday, December 13, 1983

Eleven was used to waking up in darkness.

Her room at the lab was dark when she was supposed to sleep and bright when she was supposed to be awake. She was kept deep within the lab, at the center of a windowless maze, so day and night were meaningless concepts to her. Her life consisted of a seemingly arbitrary and never ending pattern of lights on and lights off.

"Scared, Papa," she had told him, wanting so desperately for him to leave her something to occupy her in his absence other than the thoughts in her head.

"Come now, Eleven. There's nothing to be afraid of," his voice not unkind, but it was not at all sympathetic either. Papa was not one to humor foolishness.

"You see that camera?" he pointed to the black circular security camera mounted in the corner of her room. "That camera allows me to see you, even when it's dark. Nothing can hurt you because your Papa is always watching. Always."

"Yes, Papa."

After she ran away from Mike's house, she tried to sleep in the daytime as much as possible. It was colder at night, so she needed to keep moving to stay warm enough. And it was easier to move about undetected in the dark. It was not at all unusual for Eleven to fall asleep in the mid-day sun and awake to find the stars were already out.

But this morning was different. It wasn't the darkness, it was the darkness accompanied by a growling sort of sound and before she fully remembered where she was, she thought perhaps she'd been discovered by an animal. And then she felt the starchy stiffness of cheap cotton sheets around her and her eyes adjusted to the small slice of sunlight that fought it's way through the thick curtains and she realized: it wasn't an animal, it was the big sleeping man taking up two chairs spanning the floor in front of the door and the window so that no one could get in without his knowing. Or out, for that matter.

The man had a name, but what was it? She scoured her memory and came up blank.

She took advantage of the opportunity to observe him without him knowing. He looked younger than Papa but also more rough. He had a gun like the soldiers, but he wasn't neat and precise like they were. The man was much more messy. His hair needed cutting. His hands were calloused and browned. His fingernails were rough and had dirt under them. He wore a blue braided string around one wrist and a watch on the other.

He woke suddenly as though he was startled to find himself asleep. Perhaps he had intended to stay awake the whole night. Eleven closed her eyes and pretended to be sleeping, not sure if the man would be angry at her for staring. She listened closely to the sound of him pulling back the curtain for a quick peek before snapping it shut. He tied his books and buttoned up his top shirt that he had laid over a chair the night before. Then he walked into the bathroom and switched on the light which also turned on a fan. She couldn't hear him over the noise of the fan which meant he couldn't hear her.

Eleven looked at the door. The locks were on her side of the door, so she could let herself out and be gone before he realized. It occurred to her that she wasn't wearing any clothes and although she'd escaped from the lab wearing only a thin gown, returning to the snowy woods with nothing but a bare feet and a bed sheet was suicide. She would have to trust the man. At least for now.

"Eleven?" He called to her gently as he walked out of the bathroom leaving the light on behind him to illuminate the motel room. "Time to wake up, kid. We want to get out of here before anyone else is up and about."

Eleven peered out of her cocoon giving no indication that she'd been awake for some time or that she'd understood anything he had said. She caught sight of his name on his shirt before he covered it with his coat. Hopper. Now she remembered Mike and her friends calling him that.

"Your clothes are dry," he continued, somewhat uncomfortable carrying on an entirely one sided conversation. He laid out the dress, socks and blue flannel shirt on the bed next to her and dropped her shoes on the floor below. "I'm going to get you a couple more things to eat while you get dressed. I have a key so I can let myself back in, alright?"

He looked at her long enough that she assumed he wanted an answer. "Yes." It was barely more than a whisper, but it earned her a smile. Papa also liked it when she agreed with him.

She dressed quickly and was tying her shoes when Hopper returned. "Ok, kid, looks like breakfast this morning is gonna be juice and Twinkies." He held out a bottle of orange liquid and a packet of yellow oblong cakes. "You can eat these in the car, but we need to get on our way."

Eleven took what he was offering and slipped the items into her coat pocket. Hopper opened the door and looked around the parking lot before waiving for her to follow him.

"Sit in the back on the floor so no one can see you through the windows, alright?"

She nodded and climbed into the vehicle. It was warmer than outside, but much colder than the motel room, so she shivered slightly and wrapped her coat tightly around her. Hopper noticed and retrieved a blanket from the back of the Blazer. "Emergency supplies," he explained and handed it to her. Again, he gave he a reassuring smile and again, she just stared blankly back at him.

He walked around the vehicle to get into his own seat where he settled in a bit before he took up his radio and talked to someone on his radio about not coming into work today. The disembodied voice seemed annoyed.

From her vantage point, it was impossible for Eleven to tell where they were driving. She closed her eyes and tried to see if she could feel a proximity to Mike. She could not.

"You doing ok back there?" Hopper asked her looking in the rear view mirror.

"Yes," Eleven responded automatically, assuming it was expected. And then, just to test the waters she added, "Is Mike...doing ok?"

"Yeah, kid. He's safe. He's come to the station a couple times asking if I have any new information about you. Thing is though, we can't let him know about you. Not yet. The bad men are still watching him. But once they're not watching him anymore, then we can tell him, okay?"

She nodded. It was disappointing to not be able to see Mike, but not surprising. She'd run away from his house for essentially the same reason.

"Will? Doing ok?" She repeated the simple sentence now that she understood it's meaning.

"Me and his mom, we got to him just in time. He's still kind of sick, but he's getting better. We never would have found him without you. You saved him, you know that?" Hopper smiled at her through the rear view mirror. Eleven didn't respond, but instead opted to stare up at the small patch of sky visible through the car windows before mustering up the courage to ask the most frightening question.

"Papa?"

Hopper's face darkened at the mention of Papa and Eleven braced herself for his anger. "He's gone, El. That monster..the demogorgon you kids called it? It got him. He can't hurt you anymore." And just like that the anger was gone. Maybe he wasn't angry at her. Maybe he was angry at Papa. Perhaps they were enemies and that's why he was helping her.

Mike was safe. Will was safe. But Papa is always watching. Always. She wasn't convinced even death could stop him.

.

.

.

The car jostled back and forth as it left paved road behind and eventually came to a stop.

"We've got to walk a bit from here," Hopper told her as he turned back toward her. Eleven simply stared. If there was ever anyone who met the definition of shell shocked, she was it.

They picked their way through the woods, concentrating on not tripping over fallen branches or unexpectedly deep patches of snow. After several minutes the cabin finally came into view. Old, worn, slightly sagging, but also remote, familiar and safe.

The door protested as Hopper forced it open and he kicked the doorframe to knock the snow from his boots. Eleven copied him, not really understanding why other than hoping to gain his approval.

"My granddad used to live here long time ago," Hopper explained as they both looked around the cabin. It was dusty and filled with cobwebs. "I mainly just use it for storage now."

There were many boxes stored in the cabin and Hopper eyed the one labeled "Sara."

All the doubts about his ability to keep Eleven safe came rushing back to him but now there was something new. "Lot of history here," Hopper continued his monologue. He hid Sara's box and in that moment he couldn't have said if it was to hide Sara from Eleven or the other way around. He was not trying to replace Sara, he told himself even though it did nothing to mitigate his sense of guilt.

"So, uh...what do you think?" He asked her, hoping to get some sort of reaction from her. Even an acknowledgement would help. "It's a work-in-progress. It takes a little imagination, but once we fix it up, its gonna be nice. Real nice."

Still nothing but a blank stare. He realized she had no idea why he'd brought her here or what his intentions were. "This is your new home."

Eleven turned and looked at him and it was the most engaged she'd been since she'd asked him if Mike and Will were ok.

"Home," she confirmed.

Cleaning up the cabin was a process. It was messy and disorganized, and even once it was picked up and swept, it was still rough and lived in. Eleven thought that the cabin was a lot like Hopper himself.

"C'mere, kid, I need to show you something," Hopper said, waiving her over to him. "This is a radio. You've seen this kind before, right?"

"Yes."

"Ok, well I don't want you talking on it because anyone with a radio close enough or powerful enough can hear it. We can use code, alright? Just keep it simple so no one will understand if they overhear it."

"You won't be here?" Eleven was not used to being left alone. Alone in her room or in the dark room or in the bath, but even when she couldn't see them, there was always someone on the other side of the door. Always watching. Always.

"Yeah I'll be here, but I've got work and I need to keep things looking normal. After I put locks on the door, I've gotta go into town to get us some groceries," Hopper told her, not really understanding her confusion.

Hopper watched a change come over Eleven's face, but had no way of knowing it was the disappointing realization that she was, yet again, in captivity. He assumed that she was anxious about being left alone and tried to reassure her. "I won't be long and here..." Hopper scanned the cabin looking for something to occupy her time. He spotted a jigsaw puzzle that he hoped was at least mostly complete. "...you can work on this while I'm gone. It'll give you something to do."

"What is it?"

"It's a puzzle. You see these little pieces all have a part of the big picture on them. If you fit them together correctly, then they'll match it." When she showed no signs of understanding, Hopper took the box over to the small table near the kitchen. "I'll show you."

He started separating the border pieces until he found a few that fit together. "You keep working on it, I'm going to get the locks put on the door and then when I get back from the store, you can show me how far you've gotten."

Eleven wasn't quite sure the purpose of the task Hopper had set her, but that wasn't unusual for her. Papa gave her a lot of tasks that she didn't understand. "Yes," she answered simply and he smiled in confirmation. She would complete the picture, she would learn the code, she would even sweep correctly. She would do her best to please him and keep him happy until she could see Mike again.

There was something off about the whole exchange, although Hopper couldn't put his finger on it. He wrote it off to Eleven's obvious trauma and figured it would simply get better with time. In any case, he had more pressing things to do like reinforcing the door. He gathered his cordless drill and the assortment of hardware he'd found while cleaning the cabin and set to work, oblivious to the furtive glances Eleven was casting his way as she tried to figure out why he was putting the locks on the inside of the door where only she could undo them.

"Ok, kid," he told her as he stepped back to inspect his work. "That's gonna have to work for now. I'll be gone about an hour or two. Lock the door behind me and don't let anyone in other than me, ok? Use the radio if you need anything."

After Hopper left, Eleven sat for a time considering her options. Unlike that morning, she had her clothes and her coat. She could just walk out that door and disappear into the woods. But what if he was watching to catch her disobeying him and he only prete to leave as some sort of a test.

She lifted just the very edge of the curtain covering the nearest window, daring Hopper to catch her. Nothing happened.

She walked to a stack of boxes Hopper had told her to not worry about, flipped open a lid at random and looked through the stack of papers in the box, none of which made any sense to her. Nothing happened.

She turned her attention to the door. Or more specifically, the locks. Eleven contemplated The Ultimate Act of Defiance. If Hopper was watching her, surely he wouldn't let her just open the locks. Eleven slid the first lock open, then the second, then the third. Nothing happened.

Maybe Hopper wasn't watching after all. Maybe he really was hiding her from the Bad Men and not keeping her captive for himself. Maybe he was telling the truth about Mike and taking her to see him once the Bad Men were no longer looking for her.

But just in case, she would finish the picture like he told her to.