“And that’s what we hope to achieve at the International Institute of Oddology!” Fiddleford concludes, clicking off the slideshow and motioning for the teacher to turn on the lights. The seventh-graders applaud with varying degrees of enthusiasm. “Any questions?”
The first few questions are predictable: “What’s the weirdest dimension you’ve ever seen?” (Fiddleford still thinks that would be the Two-Dimensional Dimension, no matter what Stanford argues.) “Is there a world where everything is made of chocolate?” (Not that he knows of.) A couple of students want to know where they can get their hands on extra-dimensional weaponry, and start eagerly discussing what they plan to do with it, until their teacher clears her throat.
“Who was the coolest person you ever met while you were traveling?” a boy in the back row asks.
“Well, she had seven eyes, and psychic powers,” Fiddleford replies, “and she lived on top of a mountain.” He reckons that she also saved his best friend’s mind from a demon, but that’s not his story to tell. “If she ever decides to pay us a visit, I’ll let y’all know.”
A girl with jet-black hair and glasses raises her hand. “My name is Candy Chiu, and I've heard that there are unicorns living somewhere in the forest. How can I…” Her friend, who is sitting at the next desk over, clears her throat loudly. “I’m sorry, Grenda. How can we meet them?”
“You might not want to do that,” Fiddleford tells her. “Unicorns don’t have much use for humans.”
Candy’s face falls. “Not even if you are pure of heart?”
“That ain’t for me to judge.” Fiddleford hears a sharp little snicker, and surveys the room for its source. “Miss Northwest, did you want to ask me something?” He’s pretty sure Pacifica Northwest is going to say something or other about her parents’ money: either about how much of it has funded local scientific research, or how local scientific research can help them to pile up more of it.
“As a matter of fact, I do.” Pacifica tosses her hair. “I bought an amulet at a street fair that was supposed to ward off nightm –” She catches herself in the middle of the word. “Anyway, it didn’t work, and I couldn’t even get my money back! If I brought it to you, could you find out what’s wrong with it?”
Fiddleford inhales and exhales slowly. That family surely does try his patience sometimes. “You can read our literature on materials that are known to prevent… er, difficulties like yours,” he says. “Truth is, there are plenty of charlatans ready to cash in on ordinary folks’ beliefs, even in Gravity Falls… maybe especially here. Nobody likes being tricked, but it can happen to anyone.” Pacifica opens her mouth to protest, and he says, “Next question,” in the same firm tone that he once used to shepherd his son upstairs at bedtime.
“How old do I have to be before I can work at the Institute of Oddology?” Grenda asks.
A lot of children, of different ages, genders, and backgrounds, have asked variations on this question. Fiddleford has welcomed it every time, whether it came from Stanford’s grandnephew or from the young folk who spend most of his presentations shooting make-believe magnet guns at each other. “We offer internships to high school students,” he says, “though you probably won’t be visiting any other dimensions until you’ve gotten yourself a college degree, at minimum. Different departments require different academic backgrounds, but whether or not you’re sure what you want to do, what matters most is that you’re curious and brave and willing to work hard. Next?” Only one student raises her hand this time, so he nods at her. “Miss Chiu, did you have another question?”
“When you were twelve,” Candy asks, “did you know that this was what you wanted to do?”
Fiddleford smiles. “Well, I always did love to build things. I had no idea where that love would take me.” He couldn’t have guessed that it would lead him into the Oregon woods and the orbit of Stanford Pines’ ambition, to monsters and terror and chaos, to memories and relationships lost and then found again. He has yet to visit a parallel world where their portal connected to the Nightmare Realm and to disaster, and sometimes isn’t sure that he wants to visit that world, even in the interest of science. “But I’m pretty satisfied with how things have turned out.”