Greg’s declaration went unheard as Wirt examined their surroundings. Trees, trees, and more trees. With every twist and turn their bluebird friend led them to, the forest appeared to double - no, triple - in size. He hunched his shoulders up as he tripped on yet another root sticking up from the ground. Ralph Waldo Emerson didn’t know what he was talking about. There was no way a single acorn could create all of this.
“How much farther is it to the ferry that’ll take us to Adelaide’s?” Wirt asked as Beatrice paused her flight to perch on a low branch. “And what are we gonna do about the two cents?”
Her feathers ruffled a bit as she scowled at him. “What is this? Twenty questions? We’ll get there when we get there.”
Wirt took a step back, holding his hands up in a sort of placating gesture. “Hey, I’m just curious. I mean, we’ve been walking a while and-”
“Wirt? I’m hungry.” Greg tugged on his cape. “And so’s Captain Kirk.”
“Shh! Greg, I’m talking, don’t interrupt,” Wirt replied, swatting Greg’s hand away.
“No, nobody’s talking. We’re walking. Now get a move on, you two.” With that said, Beatrice flew on ahead of them once again.
“But-” Wirt cut himself off, his brow furrowing in concern.
He’d thought that after their escapade at Endicott’s, he and Beatrice would actually start to get along, after sharing their deep, dark secrets. It was still odd to envision her as having been human once, but it did make sense - as much as anything made sense around here. Though, her giving him the cold shoulder didn’t really make much sense to him at all. Like, it was literally the cold shoulder. She hadn’t stopped flying to take a break on his shoulder - or even Greg’s tea kettle - since they’d left the giant mansion.
Maybe she really did secretly think that his secrets were horrific and she didn’t want anything to do with him anymore. Maybe she was laughing at him internally, laughing at his poetry and his clarinet and his fondness for interior design-
“Wirt! Did I say stand around like a dunce, or did I say get a move on?” Beatrice called back to him.
He frowned, but started walking again anyway. “Hold your horses, I’m coming.”
“Speaking of horses,” Greg piped up, hopping after him on one foot. “I’m so hungry, I could eat a whole horse! Can we get some food soon?”
“You just ate at Endicott’s, Greg,” Wirt reminded him.
“That was a long time ago.”
“No it wasn’t.”
“Yes it was!”
Wirt pressed his fingers to his temples. “Look, I don’t want to fight about this right now. Can you just wait a bit longer? We’ll find you some food when we get to the ferry.”
Greg rubbed his chin thoughtfully, back to walking like a normal person as he considered his offer. “Okay, Wirt. I don’t want to fight either. I just want a snack.”
He sighed heavily. “I know.”
They caught up with Beatrice fairly quickly. She was waiting for them at a fork in the trees, though she didn’t look as impatient as Wirt thought she’d be. She perked up when they approached, then fluttered down to be at Wirt’s eye level.
“All we have to do is go left here and this path will take us right to the ferry,” she told him. “As far as the two cents go, well… we can worry about that later. For now we’ll just keep moving. After all, the sooner we get to the ferry, the closer you are to going home.”
Her smile wasn’t very reassuring. Wirt still couldn’t shake the feeling that she was judging him just a bit. He nodded and the two of them started going left. They’d only gone a few steps before Beatrice turned around and stopped. Wirt blinked, he hadn’t done or said anything- oh. Greg wasn’t with them. Again.
“Greg, come on, we’re going this way,” Beatrice called out to his younger brother - his younger half-brother, half - and flew over to him.
“But I hear something!” Greg replied proudly, wandering in the opposite direction they were supposed to go. “I think it’s a pig!”
“What?” Wirt raised an eyebrow as he reluctantly went after him. “Greg, why would there be a pig wandering around in the middle of the woods?”
“Why wouldn’t there be?” he asked back, the frog on top of his tea kettle hat croaking as if agreeing with him.
Before Wirt could grab him, Greg disappeared into some bushes. He and Beatrice groaned, exchanging exasperated glances before going after him. Luckily he hadn’t wandered far. Wirt found him crouched down peeking through the leaves of a bush.
“Greg, come on,” Wirt hissed, not sure why he felt the need to keep his voice hushed as he grabbed a strap of Greg’s overalls.
“Shh!” The six-year-old shushed him and Wirt bristled.
“You shh,” he replied, turning his head away when Greg tried to cover his mouth with his hand.
Beatrice landed on his head and pecked him. “Both of you be quiet and listen. Greg’s right, there’s someone over there.”
Wirt rubbed the top of his head, then knelt down beside Greg as the three of them and the frog checked out their surroundings. Maybe it was that woodsman again, maybe he’d been following them, stalking them. He shivered, gut twisting at the idea. Tightening his grip on Greg’s overall strap, he hesitantly took a closer look at who - or what - was beyond the bushes.
“It is a pig!” Greg whispered delightedly. “I told you, Wirt!”
Indeed it was a pig, but that wasn’t all he spied in the clearing. Two children were with it, a boy and a girl. Immediately he thought of the story of Hansel and Gretel, what with it being the woods and all, but upon closer inspection he noticed that they were dressed pretty modern-like. The first modern-like people he’d seen since getting lost here, actually. Maybe they were lost, too? They started speaking again, so Wirt furrowed his brow as he listened closely.
The boy paced, rapidly turning the pages of an old book. A six-fingered hand lay across the front, the number three clear. “I... I don't know, Mabel. It just has to be in here somewhere!”
“Maybe the author's never been here. Right, Waddles?” The pig the girl lifted grunted and she laughed. “You got that right!”
“Of course he's been here!” A little frantic now, he settled himself onto a nearby rock and continued to flick through pages. A ball cap with a pine tree emblem on it was removed so his arm could swipe across his sweaty brow. It revealed a cowlick atop his head which perfectly matched that of the girl's.
“What iiiiiiiif it's in one of the other books?” Mabel proposed and the boy rolled off the rock with a miserable groan. What seemed to be his fraternal twin laughed at him.
He rolled over, gazing skyward. It was difficult to see anything through the mass of trees. He'd thought he'd been through every inch of the Gravity Falls woods, but he and Mabel had found someplace that was decidedly new and different. Even the colors seemed paler than they normally did and he frowned at his sister's neon green sweater. At least it had been neon. Now it and the heart-eyed kitten seemed pastel. He removed his hat again, frowning at the blue and white cap. At least that had always been pastel.
“But if this part of the woods isn't in the journal, how are we supposed to find the way back?”
“Don't worry, Dipper. We have Detective Waddles here to help solve the case of wherever the heck we are!” She laughed, rubbing her cheek against the pink, rounded one of her pet. A frog’s croak had her gasping. “Waddles, what are you saying?!”
“Pigs don’t croak,” her brother muttered, but his book was quickly tucked away as if the unseen frog would jump out and take it. They’d seen stranger things over the summer, though, so he wouldn’t put it past Gravity Falls to have some mutant frog leaping out at them.
Another ribbit had him jolting, the actual appearance of a small frog having him cry out in terror. Mabel cooed at it. “Hey, there!”
“Captain Kirk! Come back!” Greg burst out from the bushes after him, the tea kettle falling off his head as he stumbled over and grabbed him. “You’re gonna blow our cover!”
Still in hiding, both Beatrice and Wirt facepalmed themselves. “You already did,” they hissed in unison.
“People!” Dipper yelped, He hopped to his feet, brushing off his vest. “Oh, man, am I glad to see other people. Listen, do you know the way back to-”
Mabel grinned, letting Waddles down so he could perform his namesake, getting closer to the frog. He oinked at it, then at Greg. “I knew you’d understand, Waddles.”
“What?” Dipper asked again.
“There are people and a frog! You can’t forget about the frog, Dipper, geeze.” She waved, her smile full of braces and aimed at the younger boy. “Sorry about my brother. He forgets to not be rude.”
“I’m not rude.”
Mabel stooped down and whispered earnestly to the boy, “He’s rude.”
Greg hugged Captain Kirk tightly, just in case the pig wanted to eat him for dinner because maybe that was a thing pigs did, as he grinned at the girl. “That’s okay, I have a rude brother, too! He’s hiding over there in that bush!”
When he pointed right at Wirt, he flushed and immediately stood up to go to him before he said anything else terrible. “Don’t listen to him, he’s lying. I’m not rude and I wasn’t hiding- I mean, we weren’t hiding, you see it- it was all Greg’s idea. He wanted to see the pig.”
“Yeah!” Greg easily agreed, pointing to Waddles. “Is he your pig?”
“He sure is! I won him at the fair.” She cocked her head to the side, considering her pig. “Then again, Waddles is very much his own person. Maybe he doesn’t really belong to anyone at all.”
Dipper shook his head. “The short answer is, yes, he’s our pig. Her pig. Can you guys just-”
“Oh, hey, what’s this?!” Mabel plucked up the tea kettle Greg had dropped, turning it this way and that to properly study every inch. Laughing, she settled it atop the boy’s head and took a few steps back. She lifted her hands, forming a square with her fingers, and contemplated him through the hole she made. “Hmm... Perfect!”
“Mabel, why would you do that?”
“He looks like an elephant, duh. Why wouldn’t I do it?”
“Yeah, this is my elephant costume!” he told Dipper, then pointed to the spout. “See my trunk?” He proceeded to make what was supposed to sound like elephant sounds until Wirt clapped his hand over his mouth.
“Okay, Greg, I think they get it. You can stop breaking everyone’s eardrums now,” he told him as Beatrice flew over to perch on top of the kettle.
“Are you two clowns finished over here now or what?” she asked Wirt.
Wirt’s cheeks colored and he puffed up his cheeks while Greg answered. “I’m not a clown, I just said I’m an elephant. And Wirt’s a-”
“No, yeah, we’re done. We’re going. Sorry to bother you kids. We’ll just leave now. Yeah.” Wirt cleared his throat, gaze bouncing between the boy and girl, then he turned on his heel to start walking back the way they’d came.
“Wait, hang on!” Dipper scrambled in front of them, holding his palms out. “You guys are real, actual people. And a... a talking bird?”
“And a frog!” Mabel reminded him.
“Anyway, my sister and I haven’t seen actual people since we arrived in... Wherever we are. We’re just trying to get home. So if you could tell us the way out of these woods, that would be awesome.”
“Um.” Wirt rubbed the back of his neck, glancing away from the kid in front of him. His story sounded too familiar. “Well… you see, it’s um- it’s kind of a funny story… no, what am I saying? It’s not funny. I don’t know the way out of the woods. We’re trying to find out ourselves.”
He debated telling him about Adelaide, but Beatrice was only taking them there because she owed them a favor. What if Adelaide wasn’t so keen on helping everybody who happened by her house in the pasture? Would she refuse to help them if there were too many of them there? He looked to the bluebird for help, but she seemed to be deep in thought as well, probably considering the same things.
Still… she called Adelaide the “Good Woman of the Woods” and wouldn’t a good woman want to help any and all lost kids? Not that he was a kid, he was a teenager thank you very much. Pursing his lips, he nodded to himself and looked the boy in the eyes.
“We’re on our way to see Adelaide of the Pasture. She’s um… she’s this good woman of the woods and supposedly she can help us get home. So, you could try there? If you’re looking for options. I don’t know.” Wirt shrugged.
Mabel, who had finally stopped laughing with Waddles, finally had something click in her mind. Boy. Older boy. She was at his side, arms wrapped around one of his, before his shrug could be completed. “I have the best idea!”
“We’ll go together!”
“Wh-what?” Wirt blinked at the newest addition to his arm, then looked to Beatrice for her opinion. “I-I don’t know…”
“Yeah!” Greg latched onto Wirt’s other arm, letting go of Captain Kirk so he could properly introduce himself to Waddles, the pig no longer deemed a threat. “Let’s go together! It’ll be way more fun with seven!”
“But-” Wirt started, only to be cut off by Beatrice.
“Yeah, we should go together,” she piped up, flying up to land on his shoulder. “That’s a great idea. The more the merrier.”
“What?” Wirt narrowed his eyes as he tried to shake Greg off.
Dipper’s own “What?” echoed him. He held up a hand, putting on his best I-know-everything face. “We don’t exactly need to go together. Since you know where she is, you can just give us directions. Mabel and I can find our way, no problem.”
“But Dipper!” Mabel protested, still very much attached to the teenager. She let go with one hand to gesture meaningfully. “Waddles just made a new friend. You don’t want to tear him away from the opportunity to become besties with a frog, do you?”
“Actually, I have no problem doing that.” He pointed finger-guns at them, trying his best to be cool. “Just tell us where we’re going, and we’ll head in that direction.”
Wirt snorted at the kid’s really sad attempt to be cool. How old were these guys anyway? Ten? Eleven? Was it even legal for him to - in good conscious - send two kids and a pig into the forest alone based off of the rather vague directions they had? Well, yeah, it was probably legal, but was it the right thing to do? He hummed to himself, glancing down at his feet, only for his attention to be caught by his half-brother. Greg had let go of him and had taken to picking wild mushrooms from the dirt. Wirt wrinkled his nose. His hands were getting filthy. Ugh, he already didn’t want to be playing babysitter for one kid, was he really considering adding to more kids and a pig to his watch?
Beatrice answered that question for him. “If it was as simple as giving you directions, then of course we would,” she told Dipper. “But it’s not easy to get to Adelaide’s. Without a guide, I’m not so sure you’d be able to find your way. I mean, you’re here in the first place because you got lost, right? What’s to say you won’t get lost again?”
“We did not get lost,” Dipper disagreed. “We just...” He didn’t quite know what had happened, and thinking of it bothered him.
“Dipper, Dipper, Dipper.” Mabel sighed, shaking her head. “It’s okay. We all know you didn’t mean to get us lost in this big, weird forest.”
“We did not get lost! We just... got a little... turned around. Somewhere.” He shook his head fiercely. “Not lost.”
“Okay.” Beatrice shrugged, then left her perch on Wirt’s shoulder to fly over and land on Dipper’s hat. “If you say so. If you want directions though, it’s going to cost you.”
Wirt raised an eyebrow and tilted his head. “Beatrice, these are kids.”
“Hey! We’re not kids! We’re teenagers. Technically. Almost.” Dipper sighed, recognizing a losing battle. He really just wanted to get back to the Mystery Shack before night fell. Who knew what happened in this place after dark? “Alright. What’ll it cost us?”
“Two cents,” the bluebird replied.
“Oh, hey, I have a nickel!” Mabel finally released Wirt’s arm, digging in the pocket of her skirt to retrieve the silver coin. She held it high with a triumphant sound. “Two cents each, oh yeah! And a little something extra just for you.” She grabbed Wirt’s hand, dropping the coin onto his palm with a wink.
“Uh… thanks?” Wirt stared at the nickel.
“I have a mushroom!” Greg piped up, brandishing a goldenrod toadstool.
He hurried around to Wirt’s other side, where Mabel was, and followed her example by taking her hand and putting the mushroom in it. He grinned up at her, then pulled more out of his overalls. These were offered to her as well.
“And here’s some extra!”
Mabel giggled, holding the bundle of mushrooms in her arms. “Thanks!”
“Greg, stop it,” Wirt told him, then examined the nickel, holding it up to Beatrice. “Will this work?”
“No, it has to be two pennies.”
Dipper sighed and dug in his pockets, eventually producing two shiny pennies. “Here. Why do you need two pennies?”
“For the ferry that will take us to Adelaide’s,” she replied, snatching the two coins with her talons. “I hope you have two more. Just on the other side of those bushes there’s a fork in the road. Head left and that path will take you right to the river where the ferry docks. It’s only stop is where you need to get off. Then Adelaide’s house is only a few minutes away through the pasture.”
“Uh...” Dipper patted his pockets, coming up empty. “Mabel, do you have- Mabel? Mabel!” He looked around, but his twin and the so-called elephant were gone. “Oh, great.”
“What-” Beatrice turned to see for herself and felt the urge to slap herself in the face yet again. “Jiminy Cricket! Wirt! Why weren’t you watching them?”
“Mm-mm-mm.” He frowned and shrugged. “They can’t have gone far. They just wandered off after that pig.” He waved his hand in the general direction they’d gone off in.
“Can't have gone far?” Dipper echoed. “No offense, but you don't know my sister that well. They could be anywhere.”
“Yeah, well… Greg has little legs. He really can’t go very far.” Yet this did feel like the twentieth time he’d run off since they ended up here. “So, unless your sister has the habit of abandoning little kids in the woods, then they’re probably nearby. And fine. Maybe.”
“Wow, Wirt. You should really take up motivational speaking as a possible career move. You sound so convincing,” Beatrice drawled.
“Really?” His shoulders straightened and he smiled a little.
“No, not really!” She dropped the two pennies on his head, making him scramble to catch them before they fell. “Now come on, let’s go find your brother. Again.”
“And my sister,” Dipper reminded them, huffing a bit as he strode ahead of them.
His sister wasn’t quite as far as Dipper had imagined, but farther than Wirt had. Greg, it seemed, was the perfect riding size for Waddles and when Captain Kirk - who, Greg said, didn’t quite have an official name yet - had hopped off, the chase had begun!
Mabel laughed, deftly avoiding tripping over a tree root as she goaded the pig along with tasty mushrooms. “Come on, buddy, we’re on a mission!”
“What’s the mission, General Mabel?” Greg asked, delighting in the actual piggy-back ride he was getting.
“Weeell...” Pleased to have someone hanging on her words, she fed Waddles a mushroom, letting him swallow before offering the next treat. “First, we’ll have to save Captain Kirk from whatever dastardly thing has his mind captive. Like... whoa! And then we’ll have to wait for the guys to catch up to us because they obviously can’t keep up. We should give them a brief interlude so they can gain some ground.”
She snatched him up, thrilled to have someone younger and malleable and so friggin’ eager, and twirled in a circle before depositing him back onto Waddles. “And we’re off again!”
“Whoa! Yeah!” Greg cheered, throwing his arms in the air as Waddles waddled along. “I think I like interludes. But do you think Captain Kirk is gonna be okay? He’s never run away from me before- well, I haven’t had him that long, but for the time I have had him he’s never run away. Maybe he doesn’t like mushrooms.”
“Then we’d better let General Waddles eat his full, Corporal Greg. Then he’ll come back and be catchable for sure!” She let the pig gobble another, but there were plenty more filling her pockets to be fed to the hungry animal. She snorted out a laugh when he licked her hand, then scratched behind his ears.
Greg giggled as he followed suit, taking more mushrooms out of his pants to feed to Waddles. He’d fed a pig before at a petting zoo once, along with a goat and a donkey and a sheep and a chinchilla, but he’d never fed one while getting a ride from it. And Waddles seemed like a friendly pig. He gave him a big hug, but a croak in the distance had him perking up.
“The frog alarm!” Greg gasped as he rolled off of Waddles’s back and scampered on ahead of them. “Dr. McCoy is in trouble!”
Mabel only laughed at the abrupt name change. “General Waddles, watch our post!” she ordered and dumped a pile of mushroom on the floor for him to eat. Far more like the child she ran after than the pre-teen she was supposed to be, the sweatered girl followed the boy.
Dipper found Waddles first, his relief immediately drowned out by worry. His twin and Greg were as gone as the mushrooms the pig steadily chomped. “Well, at least we know they were here.”
Wirt groaned, eyeing the last of the pile of mushrooms. “Great,” he muttered, then glanced around them as he cupped his hand around his mouth. “Greg? Come on, Greg, this isn’t hide-and-seek! We need to get going so we can see Adelaide!”
“You know, this wouldn’t have happened if you’d just found him a snack earlier,” Beatrice told him.
“What?” Wirt frowned at her. “You were flying way ahead of us! I didn’t have time to stop and get him something to eat. Besides, like I told him earlier, there’s no way he was actually hungry. Not after that meal at Endicott’s. This is just Greg trying to ruin my life like he always does. Running off after frogs. Pfft.”
Dipper sighed, ready to either break them up or join in unhelpful arguing, but a croak caught his attention and the outcry of his twin was easily recognizable. “Mabel?! Mabel!” He ran towards the sound, holding down his ballcap. He grabbed his sister, who was clinging to Greg and Dr. McCoy. “What happened? Are you okay? Are- Waahh!” he shouted, a large frog leaping over his head.
When he turned, his jaw dropped. “Whoa.”
“What’s going on?” Wirt ran up behind them, Beatrice flying close behind.
Greg and the twins were staring at something in complete horror, so Wirt followed their gaze to see what had them so transfixed. His eyes rounded and he paled considerably as he found them to be face-to-face with a giant fly. Not like a house fly, or even a horse fly, no. It was literally a giant fly. Bigger than a horse. Maybe even bigger than a house! Like a one-story house, maybe.
He cringed as the fly’s weird tongue lolled out and caught the frog that had hopped over Dipper’s head, then swallowed it down. Well, wasn’t that ironic? Wirt yelped as it turned to look at them, it’s weird, bug eyes honing in on the little boy in front. The frog. It wanted Greg’s frog.
“Dr. McCoy, stay still!” Greg told him, squeezing the wiggling frog tightly. “He’s gonna see you!”
“I know!” Mabel pushed the boy at her brother. “Hold them!”
“Because we need a disguise.” Mabel pulled her sweater off her head in a rare move, quickly tying it around the frog’s wide neck like a cape. “Hm. How’s that?”
“Mabel, we don’t have time for this!” Dipper pushed Greg and Dr. McCoy back to his twin and pulled his book from his vest. He flipped through it, muttering under his breath, hoping beyond hope that this creature and the way to defeat it would be inside.
“A-ha!” He flipped the book over, pointing triumphantly at the page, where a sketched version of the giant fly lived. “I knew the author had been here!”
Mabel bounced, her terror over the situation rather neatly eliminated. “What’s it say? What’s it say?”
“Let’s see... ‘Found in The Unknown-’ gee, real helpful. ‘Found in The Unknown, the Frog Fly uses its unusual tongue to snatch up unsuspecting frogs. I cannot say for certain, but it seems to be using some sort of sonar to attract any frogs in the vicinity towards it. It also seems to attack people, and-’ blahblahblah. Huh.”
Dipper rubbed his chin, continuing to scour the page for a way to defeat the creature. “I wonder why he hasn’t tried to eat-”
“Run run run run run!” Wirt shrieked, shoving at the twins to move before darting to the nearest bush for cover as the fly made a beeline right for them, thin tongue lolling from wherever its mouth was supposed to be.
Mabel huffed. “Way to go, Dipper.”
“What? I didn’t do anything,” he muttered. “Do any of you have a blacklight so I can see the invisible ink on this page?”
“A blacklight?” Wirt gaped at him incredulously. “Why would we have a blacklight? We’re in the middle of the woods! And what is that book? How did it know what that thing was?”
“It’s a magic book!” Greg guessed, eyes lighting up as he looked at Dipper. “Can it turn me into a magical tiger?”
“What? No! It’s not a magic book. It’s just a journal.”
“Written by a mystery man and full of mysteries!” Mabel wiggled her fingers to emphasize the point and to make Greg laugh. “That’s why we’re the Mystery Twins! High five, bro!”
“High five, Greg!”
“Okay!” Greg slapped his palm to hers, still keeping a tight hold of Dr. McCoy with his other arm. “Does that make us Mystery Twins now?”
“No, Greg, it makes you two kids who just gave each other high-fives.” Wirt rolled his eyes, then focused on the task at hand. “But seriously, where did you get that book and are there more of them?”
“Wirt! Priorities!” Beatrice hissed at him.
“What? You can’t tell me that it wouldn’t be just a little bit helpful to have an actual guidebook to this place,” he pointed out.
“Well, they’re kind of a secret, so...” Dipper closed the journal, tucking it back into his vest. “Mabel, get your sweater off the frog. That’s gross.”
“You’re gross.” She stuck her tongue out at him, but pulled the sweater back on anyway. “So what now? We need to get away from the Frog Fly or-” She gasped suddenly, shooting to her feet. “Waddles!” she squeaked and fled the bushes.
“Mabel!” Dipper yelled, too late in his attempt to snatch her back. “We’re in hiding!” He shouted again when a long tongue flicked just over his head. “Let’s go!”
“What?” Wirt gaped at him, and had been pretty set on staying put right where they were until that tongue disturbed their hiding place. “Okay! Okay!”
As they ran from the bush after Mabel, the Frog Fly charged once again. Beatrice flew on ahead and not for the first time did Wirt envy her wings. She might not even be in any danger! That book said the Frog Fly ate frogs and people. It didn’t say anything about bluebirds.
He jumped when the tongue knocked his red cone hat right off his head. “Greg!” he shouted as he scooped it up. “Just give that thing the frog and maybe it’ll leave us alone!”
“What?” Greg stopped running to stare at him, shocked by the mere thought of leaving him behind. “But he’s our lucky frog!”
“Greg!” It took him a moment to actually decide what to do, but the thought of explaining to his mom that he let Greg get eaten by a giant frog-and-people-eating fly sent him back to grab and drag him along. “Fine, keep him! I don’t care, just keep running!”
“Aye aye, Captain Wirt!” Greg darted ahead happily, relieved that the situation involving their frog had been resolved.
“I really need a blacklight!” Dipper didn’t catch up to his sister until she had Waddles scooped up, hugging him around his stomach. He bent over, hands clapped to his knees as he panted. “Mabel... What are you doing?”
“We can’t leave Waddles behind, Dipper! It’s Waddles!”
“But the... Oh, no. Run!”
The twins bolted, Mabel slowing enough to keep up with Wirt. Despite the speed her legs were going, she managed to bat her lashes at him. “This is kind of crazy, right? You, me, running from the same monster? I sense a connection!” she sing-songed, then whispered, “Think about it,” before catching back up to Greg. “Hiya, Corporal! Hiya, bluebird!”
“Hi, General Mabel! Did you find Waddles okay?” he asked, despite the pig being in her arms.
“Save the small talk for later, Greg,” Beatrice told him, then swerved sharply. “This way! Maybe we can lose it in that cave over there!”
“Cave?” Wirt paled. “I-I don’t know, Beatrice-”
“Would you rather be lunch for a fly?”
“A cave! Awesome!” Since no one else was going to, Mabel grabbed Greg’s hand, the pair holding their animals more like footballs.
The group scrambled into the cave, diving behind a large boulder. Dipper peeked out, taking note of Wirt’s too-high hat and pushing it down, and watched the monster fly right by. He leaned against the boulder and slid slowly down. “Phew.”
“Dipper, I was thinking. Are we in the part of the woods behind the Mystery Shack?”
“Think about it!” Mabel lifted to her knees, hands waving dramatically with Waddles left to lie on the cave floor and snort at the still-squirming frog. “We always go to the side or to the front. Did we go to the back this time?”
“I-I don’t...” He removed his hat, rubbing a hand against his head. “Probably, but that doesn’t matter right now. How are we getting to that ferry with a Frog Fly on the loose?”
“If we had a giant fly swatter, we could swat that giant fly right out of the sky!” Greg mimed whacking an invisible bug.
Wirt snorted. “Oh, yeah, great idea, Greg, except we don’t have a giant fly swatter, do we?”
“We could build one!” Mabel decided.
“No. No, we can’t.”
A croak had two of the three boys jolting, but Dr. McCoy seemed to have settled down enough to let Greg leave him atop his tea kettle. Mabel gave him a pat. “I guess the Frog Fly’s far enough away now!”
“We could try and make a break for it,” Beatrice suggested, shrugging with her wings. “Who knows, maybe we’d all make it in one piece.”
“Maybe? No, no, nuh-uh.” Wirt shook his head, crossing his arms across his chest. “We’re not leaving this cave until we have a plan. A solid plan.” He turned his attention to Dipper. “You’re sure that you can’t find out anything about how to stop that thing without a blacklight?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.” Dipper scooted out from behind the boulder, retrieving his journal so he could read by the natural light and still not leave the safety of their hideout. Even if the monster bug could see them, it was too large to fit.
Its tongue, though, could cause some problems. “Bleh.” He opened the journal, muttering to himself as he scoured the page. He’d read the entire thing, cover to cover, so it was odd to not have seen this page. But Gravity Falls wasn’t exactly known for its normalcy. It did bother him, though, more than he’d like to admit, that he didn’t recognize this page and he didn’t recognize these people. It was an insane town, but still a small one.
Maybe Mabel was right and they had gone through a different part of the forest. There could have been something that had altered their physical location or simply their perception of space. Had they stumbled into a portal of some sort?
The thoughts were dizzying and not altogether helpful, so he shook his head and frowned at the book.
His twin, meanwhile, had also left the safety of the boulder. Her mission, though, was to explore the depths of their hidey-hole with her trusty - “Grappling hook!” she announced, holding the object aloft.
“Whoa! Are you a secret agent spy?” Greg asked, thoroughly impressed while Wirt and Beatrice simply stared at the odd display.
“Nope! Grappling hooks just come in handy.” Mabel grinned, then popped out the bottom of her tool to retrieve some extra rope. She tied it into a careful knot, then slipped it around the frog’s stomach. “There! It’s pretty loose now, but it should tighten up if he gets distracted by big monsters and tries to hop away again.” She offered the lead to the boy before happily skipping away to shoot her grappling hook skyward to hopefully latch onto something that would lift her closer to the cave’s ceiling.
“Wow! Wirt, look! I’ve got a leash for Dr. McCoy!” Greg waved the rope at the older boy.
“That’s great, Greg,” he replied dryly. “Just go off with that girl- Maple?”
“Mabel,” Greg corrected.
“Mabel, right. Go play with her and stay out of trouble.”
Wirt waved him away, approaching the opening of the cave to take a peek outside. There was no giant fly in sight, but he wasn’t about to try and make a break for it based on that alone. It could be watching, waiting for them in the trees. A vigilant cloud of ominous darkness plotting their untimely demise...
“I wouldn’t go too far. It says here that once the fly has your scent, it’s almost impossible to avoid it again. If it comes back now, we can go further into the cave for safety,” Dipper warned, nose in his book. He didn’t even blink as his sister let out a whoop, Greg’s answering exclamation enough clue that she was well on her way towards the natural ceiling. “Maybe Beatrice could be our lookout. It doesn’t say anything about the fly eating birds.”
But what about birds that were actually people? Wirt shuffled further back in the cave, crossing his arms over his chest. He exchanged glances with Beatrice who shrugged, then flew a little ways out of the cave. She hovered there for a minute or two and when nothing happened she circled back towards them.
“Fine, fine. I’ll be the lookout. But that doesn’t mean I’ll actually warn you if that thing comes back. If you guys don’t find a way out of this cave, don’t think I won’t ditch you,” she told them, but mostly addressed Wirt.
“Oh, thanks a lot,” Wirt grumbled. “What about the bluebird rules and owing us a favor?”
“The bluebird rules are more like guidelines.” She waved off with a wing. “Besides, I’m sure there’s an exception somewhere for giant, creepy-eyed bugs.”
When she flew off, Dipper frowned at Wirt. “And she’s supposed to be your friend?”
“We’re uh… well, we didn’t really start out as friends. I mean, we sort of helped her out of a bush and then she owed us a favor, so decided to show us the way to Adelaide’s,” he replied, wringing his hands together, unable to help the twinge in his gut that sided with Dipper, whispering, Yeah, Wirt, I thought you were friends. “A-anyway, it doesn’t really matter whether or not we’re friends. I just want to get out of these woods as fast as possible and get home in one piece. I’ve had enough of these magical, fairytale adventures. I’m done.”
He tucked his arms back under his cape, shoulders hunched as he tried to believe the words coming out of his own mouth. While he did want to go home, what was waiting for him there? Despite their rocky beginning and the odd tension between them now, Beatrice was the closest thing he had as a friend. It wasn’t hard to talk to her- well, it was hard to talk to her about personal stuff, but when it came to other non-personal things it wasn’t so bad. He couldn’t talk to anyone so easily back home except for Greg and he didn’t count.
“Magical, fairytale adventures?” Dipper waved a hand. “Frog Fly isn’t even the weirdest thing I’ve seen this week. It’s almost the biggest, but totally not the weirdest.” He flipped through his book, not finding anything more useful on the page. He needed a blacklight, or at least something that would mimic the effects of one. Maybe there would be more information on another page.
“So how long have you and Greg been here?”
Wirt shrugged. “I don’t know. Four days? I think it’s been four days. And I didn’t say the frog fly was the weirdest thing I’ve seen here.” He defended, nose scrunching. “I mean, I’m travelling with a talking bluebird who’s taking me and my half-brother to ‘Adelaide of the Pasture, the Good Woman of the Woods.’ If that isn’t weird enough to be something out of a fairytale, I don’t know what is. And it’s led us to more weird things like a town full of walking, talking skeletons, some school that specializes in teaching animals, and The Beast who apparently turns people into trees and uses them for oil in a lantern.”
A loud noise had his gaze wandering over to their respective siblings. He raised an eyebrow up as he watched the girl twin let Greg have a turn to lift himself to the ceiling of the cave with the grappling hook. Wirt briefly wondered if that was the sort of reckless thing he was supposed to keep Greg from doing, but figured the twelve-year-old had everything under control. Maybe. He just wanted a break. He didn’t ask to get saddled with Greg on top of everything else he had to deal with.
“Then there’s Greg who thinks he’s an elephant… or a magical tiger or whatever,” he sighed, then turned back to face Dipper and asked, “What about you? How long have you and… Mabel been here?”
The list didn't surprise him. He'd seen zombies back home, after all, among other mystical beings. Talk of skeletons was creepy, yes, but not the worst he’d heard.
Dipper pulled off his cap, running a hand through his hair as he considered. How long had they been there? Four days seemed like an eternity, and he wasn’t altogether pleased to hear the teen’s uncertainty. “A couple hours, maybe? I don't think it's been long enough for Grunkle Stan to start worrying about us.” He, too, turned to look at their siblings. He nearly called out to his twin to stop her from letting the kid - what was he, five? six? - handle a grappling hook. But she caught him when he lowered himself again, her grin wide, and held him tight as they traveled upwards a third time.
How bad would it be if the kid got upset and started crying or something? He may have, sort of, been a kid himself, but the thought had him shuddering. That was a million times more terrifying than the thought of skeletons walking around.
“What’s your name, by the way?” He pulled the hat back on, offering a slight smile. “We’re stuck in a cave until we can think of a plan to get to the ferry and I’m pretty sure you know mine by now, so it’s only fair.”
Wirt blinked, taken aback by the inquiry. “O-oh. Right. Sorry, I didn’t even- I mean, it didn’t occur to me to- Wirt. My name’s Wirt.”
“Cool. Dipper. Again. Well, Dipper Pines. Oh, here.” He opened the journal again, shifting so Wirt could see it as well. “See, there’s nothing I can see here that will help us, so I think our best shot is getting to the ferry. I just don't know where we go from here. The whole running for our lives thing threw me off.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Wirt rubbed his head as he peered at the pages of the book. He had to admit, for something that appeared to have been created by hand, the sketches and diagrams were really well done. “We were on the path for the ferry before we ran into you guys, but I have no idea where we are in relation to it now.”
“Maybe Beatrice knows. It would be really helpful if we could just-” Dipper broke off, staring at the page he’d idly turned. It wasn’t an entrance to a secret bunker as it had been earlier, but a schoolhouse. A school for animals? “What on earth...?” He picked up the journal. “This isn’t right.”
“What do you mean? There’s totally a school for animals here. It’s run by some lady called Langtree. We were just there. The animals all wear little outfits and play musical instruments and stuff,” Wirt pointed out, admiring the accuracy that this mysterious “author” had portrayed the school.
Dipper gaped at Wirt for a moment before shaking his head. The book’s accuracy didn’t surprise him, but the contents did. “That’s not what I mean. This wasn’t here before! Mabel!” he called. “The bunker’s gone! The author’s hideout!”
“Woo! Goodbye, shapeshifter!” his sister cheered, dropping to the ground and tucking her grappling hook away.
“No, it’s gone from the journal! The pages are changing!”
She skipped over, immediately scooping off Wirt’s hat and placing it on her own head. She rested her chin on his head instead. “Oh, Dipper, the pages don’t change.”
“They are!” he insisted, flipping through pages almost desperately. Not every page was different, but they were changing - some right before his eyes. “Talking horses, skeletons in pumpkins, a beast, a woodsman - What is this?!”
“It’s all stuff we’ve seen in The Unknown,” Wirt noted, caught between examining the pages of the book and trying to subtly shake Mabel from his head. “Your book’s never done something like this before?”
“No, the pages never change. It’s full of the mysteries of Gravity Falls. Not... Not this!” The male twin began to pace, flipping through his journal.
Mabel patted Wirt’s side. “Don’t worry about him. He’s just panicking because this could be completely bad for all of us. No big deal.”
“What if we never figure out who the author is because the pages are changing?! Ah! The minotaur page is gone! I need to know about manly minotaurs, not throwing rocks at bluebirds! Who would throw a rock at a stupid bluebird?!”
Wirt kept his lips tightly sealed on that subject in particular as he edged away from Mabel’s hand. “Minotaurs? Seriously, where are you guys from? Ancient Greece?”
“I saw a minotaur once!” Greg volunteered as he wandered over, Dr. McCoy tied to his front with the rope.
“Greg, for the last time, that wasn’t a minotaur. It was a regular bull. In a field at a ranch where bulls are supposed to be,” Wirt replied.
“You don’t know that.”
“Yes I-! Ugh. Just be quiet and go count rocks or something. We’re… we’re talking about important, serious things here and you’re not helping,” he told him, rolling his eyes while Greg puffed up his cheeks and tried to cross his arms - which ultimately failed because the frog was in the way.
“I can be serious,” he pointed out.
“You don’t have to be serious to talk about serious things! There’s nothing wrong with being silly! Right, Dipper?”
“Uh-huh. Yeah, sure.” What was an Auntie Whispers and why did she look like a man crossed with an owl? A creepy, bug-eyed owl. Dipper shuddered and turned the page. “Anyway, we saw Minotaurs in the forest. I saw them. I don’t know what Mabel was doing. But there are plenty of weird things in the woods around Gravity Falls.”
He went to the mouth of the cave, staring out at the leaves on the trees. This simply wasn’t their woods. He spun back around. “Gravity Falls, Oregon. Ever heard of it? Probably not because it’s a stupid little town in the middle of nothing and only, like, ten people live there.”
Mabel began counting on her fingers, brow furrowed. That seemed like a low number.
“But that’s where we were! And now we’re not! We’re in The Unknown. Oh, man. Where are we?!”
“Oregon? How the heck did you guys get here from Oregon?” Wirt used Mabel’s distraction to get to his feet, snatching his hat back in the process to cover the unsightly hat hair he had to be sporting. “Wait, why are there minotaurs in Oregon!”
“Maybe they want to buy things and not have any sales tax!” Greg offered.
“Because Gravity Falls is crazy and this is crazy! And, frankly, I’m sick and-” Dipper stopped abruptly. “Are you guys not from Oregon?”
“No.” Wirt raised an eyebrow. “Last I checked we were in Massachusetts.”
“Hunting for frogs!” Greg added, only to have his mouth covered by Wirt’s hand as he was shushed. “You shh!”
“Massachusetts? But how? We don’t live on the east coast no matter what time of year it is.” Dipper rubbed his hands over his face, his frustration clear. They were from two opposite sides of the States, had been there for very different amounts of time, his book was changing before his eyes, and every time he tried to remember how exactly they’d ended up there, he would get an ache between his eyes. Heavy and distracting, keeping him on the edge of knowledge. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“It’s a mystery! Perfect!” Mabel darted off, scooped up Waddles, and darted back. “Detective Waddles and the Mystery Twins are on it! And our new partners, junior detectives Wirt and Greg!”
“What? Junior detective?” Wirt crossed his arms, unable to help being a little bit insulted by the title.
“Can Dr. McCoy be a junior detective, too?” Greg asked, patting the frog’s stomach.
“Don’t worry, Wirt!” Mabel batted her lashes at him. “I’m sure you can work your way up to partner in no time.” She turned her attention to the younger boy, smiling and ignoring her brother as he paced and muttered to himself. “I think that’s up to Waddles! What do you think?” She set the pig down. He sniffed the frog’s stomach, then grunted and Mabel cheered. “A third junior detective has been added to the ranks!”
Dr. McCoy croaked as Greg cheered. With a snort, Wirt diverted his attention back to what appeared to be the slightly saner twin. Well, sane was definitely debatable as he watched Dipper pace. How did he not live on the east coast though? Did he and Greg walk through some sort of magical portal to this place that had multiple doorways? To multiple states, apparently. Like Oregon.
“Hey, so-?” Wirt started, only to be cut off by a scream from outside of the cave. “Beatrice!”
He ran for the mouth of the cave, Greg right on his tail, when the bluebird collided with his face. “To the back of the cave! Move it!” she squawked as she bounced off and back into the air. “Wirt! Greg! Now!”
A loud buzzing sound increased in volume, getting closer as the frog fly burst through the trees, zooming right towards them. Wirt yelped as the fly’s tongue shot out - right for Greg and the frog - and just barely snatched the strap of his overalls to yank him out of the way. He dragged him behind him as they followed Beatrice deeper into the cave, gesturing for the twins to do the same.
Mabel grabbed Dipper’s hand or he grabbed hers - it was difficult to tell even for them as they ran for the back of the cave. They were all looking behind them, watching the monster’s tongue jettison through the cave opening he was too big to fit inside, and none saw the slope.
They skidded down, falling into sheer darkness that enveloped them all.
So how about that episode, guys?
For this fic, we're planning on keeping the updates on Mondays and Fridays! So expect chapters three and four next week. Hope you're all enjoying this so far!
“Ugh… what-?” Wirt rubbed his head as a groggy sort of sound escaped him.
He was sprawled out on his stomach on the hard ground, a heavy weight pressing on his back. For a second he panicked. Oh no, he’d been pinned by a rock - no, a boulder! - and there was no one possibly strong enough to push it off of him without damaging him in some way. Squishing his internal organs or breaking the bones of his arms or-
His brief bout of panic ended as he felt the assumed boulder move of its own volition. Actually, wiggle was the better word for it. Wirt breathed a sigh of relief, letting his cheek rest on the ground once again. It was just his heavy-as-a-boulder half-brother. Wirt reasoned that he must have fallen on him when the ground had disappeared beneath their feet-
Right, they’d been running from the Frog Fly!
Wirt rolled over and sat up quickly, dislodging Greg from his back to which the kid responded with a small “oof!” The way they’d come from was dark, darker than any night he’d ever lay witness to. Masquerading its existence by the cover of shadow, choosing the void as its guise. Deep, fathomless, and-
And this wasn’t helping, at all. Wirt frowned to himself in the dark, squinting as if that would make shapes any clearer. He could sort of make out a steep slope, where they must’ve fallen, then his heart sped up as he realized one member of their team would not have given in to gravity’s demands.
“Beatrice?” he called out. “Beatrice!”
“I’m right here, Wirt,” she sighed heavily from somewhere in the cave, close-by at least.
“Oh,” he breathed, then took stock of himself. He already knew Greg was with them, so that left... “Dipper? Mabel?”
Both twins groaned in unison. “Get off, Mabel.”
“Where’s Waddles?!” There was an oink and the girl sighed her relief.
“Everybody okay?” Dipper asked. “No broken bones, concussions, all that?”
Greg gasped sharply, catching Wirt’s attention in an instant. “What? What is it? What’s wrong?”
“The rest of my mushrooms got squished!” he lamented.
Wirt smacked his hand to his face. Well, at least he didn’t have any injuries that he needed to explain to their mom once they got home. Getting his pulse to calm down, he glared in the direction he assumed Greg to be in based off of his voice.
“Greg, no one cares about your mushrooms, okay? We’re talking about real problems!”
“But it is a real problem!” Greg protested. “I’m still hungry!”
“We have bigger things to worry about than you being hungry,” Wirt replied, feeling around in the dark to make sure he didn’t bump into anything as he stood up straight. “Like figuring out if there’s another way out of here. Something tells me we’re not getting back out the way we came.”
“I’m not climbing that,” Dipper agreed.
There was a crack, a dull green glow growing brighter as Mabel shook a little stick. “Told you these would come in handy!”
“I’d rather have a flashlight.” But he took the glowstick she handed him.
She cracked another one and offered it to Wirt. “Now we can see each other. Pretty great, right?”
“Yeah!” Wirt blinked in surprise, glowsticks being one of the last things he expected to see while lost in The Unknown. Though, this was coming from the girl who had her own grappling hook. “Thanks.”
“Great! Now that you’ve all recovered from your little tumble into a big, dark hole and can see - sort of - we can get going. There’s a tunnel that branches off over here. If there’s any way out of this cave it’ll be through there.” Beatrice fluttered over to perch on Wirt’s shoulder and pointed with her wing.
“Woohoo!” Mabel started to skip ahead, but scooped up Greg and placed him on Waddles’s back. “There. If anyone can find us some food, it’ll be Waddles. Just stick close, junior detective.”
Dipper shook his head, quickly moving ahead to lead the group. He kept his glowstick lifted. “At least there’s no way for that monster to follow us down here.”
“Yeah, but what if there are other monsters down here. Bigger and scarier and hungrier than that one.” Beatrice grinned, her wings curving like claws.
Wirt stiffened. “Stop it, Beatrice.”
“What are you scared?” she cackled.
“No,” he hissed back, but held his glowstick out a little further to get a better look around him.
“We’ll be fine. Mabel and I’ve gone through worse.”
“You’ve still got the journal, right? With it changing pages, we’ll be unstoppable! Mystery Twins!” The female twin cracked a third glowstick, handing it to Greg.
Greg held onto it with both hands, letting Dr. McCoy get a good look at it as he craned his neck back. “Hey, Wirt? Can we be the Mystery Brothers?” he asked.
“No,” Wirt replied, passing Greg and the pig to fall into step with Dipper.
The boy sighed when they hit a fork in the odd path. “Okay. I don’t really think splitting up is the best- Mabel!”
His sister was laughing as she threw two more glowsticks - how many had she brought?! - down both paths. “Huh. Neither of them seem that scary,” she mused, but then the squeaking began from the right path. The squeaking became screeching, louder as a black mass flew towards them and drove them all, running again, down the left path. “It’s just a bunch of bats!” Mabel called, laughing even as she ran.
“You are the worst!” Dipper accused, holding his hat down as they fled.
The bats followed them, passing by overhead in one large, dark cloud. They knocked Wirt’s cone hat right off his head and he stumbled to retrieve it from the ground. Hunkering down, he watched as they continued their flight down the tunnel. Eventually the stream of bats ended, with Greg hopping off Waddles to dash after them, flapping his arms as he made his own squeaky bat noises.
“That was fun!” he declared, bumping right into Dipper. “Let’s do it again!”
“Someone needs to put a leash on that girl,” Beatrice muttered, huddling down on Wirt’s shoulder. “I say first chance we get, we ditch these guys.”
“What? No, we’re not ditching them. They gave us glowsticks and they have a book that has everything about The Unknown in it. We could use their help,” Wirt defended quietly, fixing his hat atop his head.
“We don’t need some magic book to get around here. We were doing just fine before we ran into them. Better even,” she hissed back.
“I don’t care. We’re not just gonna leave these guys alone in the woods.”
“They can take care of themselves just fine!”
“What are you guys whispering about?” Greg asked.
Wirt bristled as the kid appeared right underneath his cape and quickly backed away from him. “It’s none of your business, Greg,” he retorted, then lifted his glowstick to check out what was in this left tunnel. “Hopefully the bats went this way because there’s a way out at the end of it. Come on. Let’s keep going.”
“I think they went this way because they’re secretly vampires!” Greg put in his two cents. “And Dracula’s house is at the end of this tunnel!”
“I’ve met a vampire,” Mabel remarked idly and only laughed when her brother lightly shoved her.
“The vampire page is one of the one’s that’s gone, so we’re not going to see any here,” he argued. “Mabel, do you think you can be just a little more careful? This isn’t home.”
“Yeah, yeah.” She scrambled ahead, but not before snagging Greg and twirling him about. “We need some music,” she decided, waltzing down the tunnel with the boy. “Know any good songs?”
“Yeah!” Greg chirped, holding onto her with a giggle. “I wrote one! Want to hear it?”
“Oh boy,” Beatrice and Wirt sighed collectively.
Dipper rolled his eyes, falling into step with the teenager and the bird. He didn’t know much about the bird, as she hadn’t exactly talked to him, but he kind of liked Wirt. He was in the weirdest outfit, but he didn’t seem altogether weird. It was nice to have someone relatively calm around. Being in this predicament with Mabel alone would’ve probably been unbearable.
“Oh!” Greg started off, brandishing his glowstick like a conductor’s baton. “We’re going to the pasture to meet Adelaide and ask her if she has a way to send us back where we came from!”
As Greg continued to sing, Wirt shook his head, then glanced to Dipper apologetically. “Sorry about… that.” He waved his hand in Greg’s general direction. “Once he gets going he doesn’t really… stop.”
By the second turn of the chorus, Mabel joined in. “Adelaide! Adelaide! Come and join the Adelaide parade!”
Dipper sighed. “I’m used to it.”
“Does being her twin make it any easier?” Wirt asked, arching an eyebrow at the girl’s exuberance and obvious delight in singing along with Greg. “To stomach things like this, I mean.”
Dipper was, for a moment, genuinely baffled by the question. “Being twins doesn’t really have anything to do with it. I mean, yeah, we fight sometimes, but she’s my sister. I still, you know, love her and all that.”
A little mortified by the admission, he looked back at their siblings. Mabel was rubbing her cheek to Greg’s as exuberantly as she tended to do with her pig. “Okay, so she’s silly and impulsive - no one’s going to deny that, least of all me, but I wouldn’t change things. Enough people make her feel bad about being different that I don’t want to be one of them. And now I’m rambling and that’s completely uncool. I’m gonna go see what’s at the end of the tunnel. Yep.”
Dipper quickly made a break for it, evading his sister as she finally set Greg back onto his feet. He wasn’t too much shorter than she was, but she still delighted in being able to hold him and hug. For all her excitement and jubilance, there was a part of her that knew something wasn’t quite right. But if she could keep the little boy in high spirits, then hers would definitely stay just as high.
And Dipper was making a friend in his weird, dumb boy way, so that helped too! “That was a pretty great song.”
“Thank you!” Greg bowed, his frog croaking with alarm when he bent over too far, so he straightened up fairly quickly. “And thanks for singing with me. When I first made it up, it had more parts to it, but Wirt and Beatrice wouldn’t sing it with me. I don’t think Wirt likes my songs very much.” The six-year-old appeared thoughtful as he glanced down at his feet, kicking at stray pebble in his path.
To make it a game Mabel kicked it back, smiling again. “Of course he likes it! He’s just being a serious brother. Dipper does that too when there’s a problem. But that’s why we’re here, right? To make them smile and to sing songs! He may not always act like he likes them, but at least you know he loves you.”
Dipper ran back into the tunnel, waving his glowstick. “Wirt! Mabel! Guys! I found the best thing!”
“A giant bowl of soup?” Greg asked, waving his arms in his excitement. “With those little crackers?”
“What? No. But we won’t need the glowsticks through here.”
Mabel groaned her disappointment, but was curious enough to skip after her brother and find out what the fuss was about.
Further in the tunnel, the walls were lit with a soft, purplish glow. Clusters of mushrooms were the source of the light, each one pulsing with the energy. Wirt gasped, hunching up instinctively as he looked around at the almost alien-like things, while Greg ran over to the closest one.
“More mushrooms!” he cheered, the frog croaking at his discovery.
“Greg, don’t eat them. We don’t know what they are exactly,” Wirt told him, trying his best to keep his distance from them.
“They might be in the journal,” Dipper mused, pulling out the book. He scooted closer to the mysterious mushrooms to see the words by, tucking a glowstick between his teeth for good measure as he began flipping through pages.
After a moment, he made a startled sound and looked from the mushrooms in his book to the mushrooms pulsating and then back again. The glowstick was spit out. “Blacklights! I can see the invisible ink!”
“Dipper, does it say anything about whether or not we can eat them? I’m hungry, and I know Waddles is too.” She was having to hold her pig to keep him from gobbling them whole and wasn’t altogether pleased about having to keep her pet away from something he so clearly wanted.
“But the ink-”
“Hungry pig! And sister! And Greg!”
“Ugh.” He studied the page again, fingers itching to return to the Frog Fly and see just how to defeat it. “Okay, yeah, they’re edible when cooked. We need to build a fire somehow, I guess. Happy now?”
“Greg. He said when they’re cooked.” Wirt narrowed his eyes and stared at him until the boy closed his mouth and took two big steps away from them. “Besides, we’ve got more important things to do right now, like see what the pages in Dipper’s book have to say about where we are.”
“Or even more important than reading that book,” Beatrice added, tone light as she left Wirt’s shoulder to rest on Greg’s kettle, “is finding a way out of here. Does that book have a map? Or anything useful?”
Dipper frowned at her, feeling a little defensive. The journal had gotten them out of plenty of trouble before. It had a ton of use. But he couldn’t deny the need of a map in the middle of a dark cave. “It has a map, but it’s... Well, it was Gravity Falls. It might be this place now. I can- Mabel!”
“Nope!” She tucked the book she’d snatched into her pocket. “We should make a fire!”
“Fire, food, then a map. Come on, Dipper, we haven’t eaten since-” Her eyes crossed as she tried to remember and Dipper’s own head began to ache as he did the same.
“Okay, okay. It’s been a while. And I guess some actual light in here wouldn’t be that bad.” He tugged at the brim of his hat. “So that’s the plan. Anyone have any matches?”
“Greg and I’ll find some rocks and sticks or something.”
“Roots, probably. We can start a fire like Grunkle Stan showed us if nothing else.”
Decision made, the twins very used to taking charge in situations - one more than the other, of course - Mabel skipped over to Greg. “We’re on a mission! A food mission!”
“Yeah! Food mission!” Greg cheered, then untied his frog from around him so he could hop around if he wanted to. “Come on, Dr. McCoy! We’ve got a fire to make and things to burn!”
“You’re not going to be in charge of burning anything,” Wirt informed him, unable to suppress a shudder at the mental image of Greg with any sort of flame. “Just find some rocks or something. Something that won’t put the rest of us in any danger.”
“I’ve already got a rock, Wirt,” Greg replied as he opened his little satchel and pulled out the funny-faced rock, then pitched his voice low as he held it up in front of his face.
“And that’s a rock fact.”
“No, Greg. No rock facts.”
Greg lowered it with a small frown, but it passed quickly as he looked over to Mabel. “Hey, Mabel! Do you want to hear some rock facts while we’re on our mission?”
“Sure!” She laughed, tracing the painted-on face. “Where’d you get this?”
“I got it when I was helping Old Lady Daniels rake some leaves.” He smiled brightly. “I also got some candy, but I ran out after a dog ate my whole candy trail that I left so we could find our way back from the mill. That’s not a rock fact though. Um…” Greg tapped his chin as he thought real hard for one. “Oh! Did you know that carrots actually help your hearing instead of your eyesight and that’s why rabbits have such big ears? It’s a rock fact!”
“I’ve got one!” Mabel took his head, leading him down the path to find loose rocks and roots. “Did you know that saying the Pledge of Allegiance backwards will give you wizard powers?”
Dipper rolled his eyes, giving Waddles a pat when the pig wandered over to curl up and fall asleep. He didn’t exactly have a place in this plan, and he would’ve been glad had Mabel left his book instead of walking off with it. He felt weird without it, itchy. “So, uh, we’re going to see Adelaide? What’s she like?”
Wirt blinked, then crossed his arms as he shuffled his feet a little. “I… um… I don’t know. Beatrice?” He glanced around for the bluebird’s assistance.
“Calm down, Wirt,” she sighed, flying over to them as she’d given up on her perch with Greg as soon as he took out the rock facts rock. “Jeez Louise. You know, for being the non-bird out of the two of us, you sure know how to get your feathers all ruffled.”
With a huff, Wirt slumped against the tunnel wall and slid down until he was sitting on the other side of the pig. “Just tell us more about what Adelaide can do for us. I mean, I get that she’s this good woman of the woods… pasture… whatever…”
“Well, yeah. She’s just a magical lady and knows pretty much everything there is to know about this place, so she’ll… she’ll know what to do to get you guys home. At least, that’s what I’ve heard. I mean, it’s not like I’ve actually met her. Do you think I’d still be a bluebird if I’d met her?” Beatrice extended her wings, examining them closely.
“Right.” Wirt shrugged sheepishly. “Sorry.”
“Wait. Still? Are you not, like, always a bluebird?”
“It’s a curse,” Beatrice confirmed. “On my entire family.”
“Yeah, Beatrice was heading to Adelaide to reverse the curse when Greg and I found her in a bush and helped her out. Then she offered to show us the way to Adelaide’s as a favor,” Wirt added, then his brow furrowed. “Wait, do the bluebird rules still apply if you’re not actually a bluebird?”
“There are no bluebird rules, Wirt,” she grumbled. “It’s just- you know, you helped me so now I help you.”
“Just normal decency then. Cool.” So maybe the bluebird wasn’t as bad as Dipper had thought. He tugged a pen out of his pocket, clicking it idly. “Okay. So the plan is to get to the ferry and then get to Adelaide’s - or it was until a big monster decided to eat you guys. And Mabel and I.”
Frowning, he clasped his hands behind his back and paced in front of Wirt. Though not quite as silly as his sister, Dipper had just as much animation in him. He was still twelve, still very much a kid, and still just as prone to motion.
“It puts a pretty obvious kink in the plan - that and getting stuck in this cave thing - but the plan’s still basically the same with a few more steps. Get out of the cave, avoid the Frog Fly, try and find the ferry again, then get to Adelaide. And then she’ll make sure we get home. Maybe.”
He stopped pacing to point at Beatrice. “Does she expect anything in return? Like a favor for a favor? Money? Anything?”
“Um. Nope. No, she’s so difficult to find that the reward for getting to her is… you know, having your wish granted, or whatever it is you want. Just don’t tell Greg about the wish thing, he might blow it on that magical tiger kick he’s been on.” She lowered her voice, glancing over her shoulder to make sure the youngest member of their group and the twin girl hadn’t returned.
“Okay. How do you know how to find her? If you haven’t met her yet, I mean. Do you have a map for... whatever’s across the ferry or what?”
“What is this? The Spanish Inquisition?” Beatrice flew up into Dipper’s face. “Look, all I know is what I’ve heard from other people. They’ve all said the same thing. Once the ferry docks, her house isn’t too far. It pretty much takes us right to the pasture where she lives. I figure from there she shouldn’t be too hard to find. Cheese and crackers, you’re full of questions.”
“Hey, come on, Beatrice. They’re not- they’re not bad questions,” Wirt piped up. “I mean, I’m curious, too.”
“Yeah, well, curiosity killed the cat,” she retorted, landing on the ground in front of him.
Wirt pursed his lips around the ‘satisfaction brought him back’ and stayed silent, hunkered down under his cape.
How could her house be hard to find when it was right on a path after the ferry docked? Dipper wanted to ask, but she didn’t seem keen on answering him. There was also the chance that if he pestered her too much, she’d leave them behind. He sighed, then slumped down to sit beside Wirt. He tugged the bill of his hat low over his eyes. “I just want to get Mabel home, okay? And me. You’re our only lead, so... Sorry.”
“Apology accepted,” Beatrice replied, then hopped up, startled when Wirt nudged her with his foot. “What?”
“You apologize, too. You didn’t need to go off like that. It’s not easy being lost. And I know it’s not easy being cursed to be a bluebird either, but come on. Just… I don’t know. Just try to get along?”
She hummed, eyeing him carefully for a moment before turning to look at Dipper. “Fine. I’m sorry for snapping. It hasn’t been an easy past couple of days, but you have every right to ask questions. Just… don’t worry so much. You and your sister will get home.”
He swallowed, rubbing the back of his neck. He flicked a glance up at Wirt, a little surprised. He hadn’t exactly come off as authoritative thus far. “Thanks.” More questions began flooding his mind as the unease passed, but he bit them back. It was quiet in the cave, though the mushrooms seemed to be creating a melody. His fingers itched for the journal so he could learn about them, but he kept his chin on his needs and just listened. His eyes closed, only for a moment, and-
“Dipper? Come on, kid.”
His eyes sprang open and he leapt to his feet, looking around wildly for a moment. “Wha-?” Dad? He looked down at Wirt, cupping his elbows in embarrassment at the bewildered stare he was receiving. “Sorry. I thought- Never mind. I’m gonna... go find Mabel and Greg.”
He jammed his hands into his pockets and quickly walked off, careening into his sister. She laughed as the bundle of roots and sticks she’d managed to track down with her little helper fell. “Way to go.”
He studied his sister, lifting a shaky hand to rub the back of his neck again. She seemed real, looked and sounded like she was there. But his dad’s voice rang in his ears still. His parents, though, weren’t in Gravity Falls and surely couldn’t be in The Unknown. “Yeah. Sorry.”
“Aw, it’s okay.” Greg reached up and gave his arm a pat before stooping down to grab the roots that had fallen. “It’s no use crying over spilled milk. That’s what the old people say.”
“Is that another rock fact?” Mabel teased, stooping down to help as well. “You ready to start a fire, Dipper?”
“Can I have the journal back, Mabel?”
She looked up to remind him that he would get it back after food, but she recognized stress on her brother well. “Sure!” She tugged it out of her pocket and passed it over. “You okay, Dipper?”
“I’m fine,” he lied, putting the book in his vest. “Let’s get this fire started so we can get back to going home.” For the moment, he could push his father’s voice out of his mind and focus on the task at hand. Kindling was collected in his arms as well before he lead them back to Wirt and Beatrice. “You got some smooth stones?”
“Greg found two perfect ones. Didn’t you?”
“Mmhm!” Greg plucked them out of his satchel to show them off. “Will these work, Dipper?”
He shifted his bundle under one arm to take the offered stones. “Yeah. They’re perfect since we don’t have matches or a lighter or anything. Our Grunkle Stan took us on this really misguided camping trip a while ago and showed us how to start a fire with stones like this. And then we were chased by a giant bat thing.”
Each twin flanked the boy as they made it back. “Okay, so we want to make a ring of rocks on the ground first, away from anything it could catch a hold of. Wirt, you wanna help?”
“Oh, um… yeah, sure.” He sat up straighter, wringing his hands together as he eyed the supplies they brought back. “How uh… how big should the rock circle be?”
Greg perked up as Wirt joined them, eager as he pushed a pile of them towards him. “As big as an elephant!”
“Somehow I don’t think it needs to be that big,” Beatrice snorted with amusement.
“That depends on the elephant,” Dipper replied and grinned at his twin.
She caught on immediately and rummaged in her pocket. “Chalk! Lay down, Greg!” She giggled, snapping the chalk in half so she and her brother could draw a circle around the boy. “Big as an elephant!”
“Yeah!” The twins high-fived and got to work, surrounding the circle they’d drawn with rocks and then filling it with the dry kindling Mabel and Greg had collected. “You still got those stones, Greg?”
“Uh-huh!” He nodded, clutching one stone in each hand. “Can I make the fire?”
“Uh.” Dipper glanced at Wirt, but the startled fear was a pretty good indication of “no.” He held out his hand for the stones. “Probably not this time. You should help Mabel collect mushrooms since that’s the whole reason we’re sitting around.”
“But I want to watch!” his sister protested.
“Ugh. Fine!” She sighed dramatically, but swept Greg up when his hands were free of the rocks. “Let’s find the biggest mushroom ever!”
“Bigger than Mr. Spock?” Greg gasped, pointing at the frog who hopped after them, then pointed at Waddes. “Bigger than Waddles?”
Wirt watched them go with a slight smile, shaking his head as the six-year-old continued to list even more things the mushrooms could be bigger than. “Thanks for giving him that distraction. I don’t think Greg plus fire is something we want to have to deal with.”
“Yeah. It’s not that hard to find one. Kind of been dealing with that my whole life with Mabel. It’s all about redirection,” he explained, swiveling his entire body to convey the point. Then he shrugged, hunkering down to crack the rocks together. Sparks began to fly off the smooth stones, Dipper bouncing a little in place as he struck again and again, waiting for the one spark that would start a blaze. “And sometimes it’s about just joining in. There’s no law against having fun, and Mabel’s silliness has saved us more than once.”
“Hm.” Wirt pursed his lips, captivated by the spark as he catalogued this technique away in the back of his mind, in case they needed it again, being in the woods and all. “Well, Greg’s ridiculousness just seems to get us into trouble more often than not,” he mumbled, kneeling on the ground. “He’s always trying to butt into my life, dragging me into things… like I don’t have enough going on without adding keeping an eye on him to the mix. I wouldn’t exactly call it fun.”
Dipper’s brow furrowed, hands pausing as he considered. He glanced at Wirt, comparing him to the cashier at the Mystery Shack and his former crush - Wendy. She had several younger brothers she tended to regard with disdain, but he knew she’d do anything for them anyway. Then he considered himself and Mabel, thinking of all the things she’d dragged him into over the years. And then he surprised himself.
“That’s what siblings do. I mean, my journal? It’s a huge mystery and it’s taken up pretty much our whole summer. Mabel doesn’t care about the mystery part of it like I do, but she comes with me on almost everything I try to do to find the author or to fight Gideon or... or basically everything. But she comes with me, sometimes without me having to ask, because she wants to just hang out.
“You’re, what, fifteen? You’ve only got three more years or something until you’re off to college, and then you’ll never see him. I don’t even want to think about leaving Mabel behind for college. Who’ll I complain to or rant to? No one understands you as well as a sibling, whether you’re twins or have a big age gap. Nobody else knows about how the rules your parents make suck or any of that. I wouldn’t trade her for anything, and I don’t think - at least I kind of hope - that you don’t want to trade Greg.
“Anyway, sorry, rambling again when you seriously can’t care about my- oh! Oh, oh! Shoot, what next?!” Dipper turned from serious to child in a flash as a spark finally caught and the flames began to crackle. He blew on the little flame, waving his hat at it until it could catch properly and spread. He jumped up. “Woo!”
“Wow, look at that! You actually are capable of being useful!” Beatrice praised, settling down to warm her wings by the fire.
Wirt managed a small chuckle at Dipper’s exuberance, but his face fell while the bluebird preened and he had to avert his gaze, focusing on the stones surrounding the fire. The stones that had been placed in a circle as big as an “elephant.” His brow creased as he picked at the hem of his cape.
“Nah, don’t apologize for rambling. It’s… I dunno… refreshing? To hear someone else’s perspective. It’s just… I guess it’s one thing to feel that way when you’re actually real siblings. Greg and I aren’t- I mean, we are, but we’re not. It’s uh…”
“Good grief.” Beatrice rolled her eyes. “Just spit it out, Wirt!”
He tensed up and couldn’t help glaring at her just a bit. “We’re only related through my mom. She remarried, then had Greg with my step-dad and… and he doesn’t get me. I wouldn’t trade him for anything, I mean… of course not, he’s here and there’s nothing I can do about that now, but he doesn’t understand me. How could he? He’s got this perfect little life where everything’s apple pie and frog hunts and happily ever after, but that’s not how the world works! Sometimes there is no happily ever after. Sometimes the story just ends.”
“Well, yeah. The world’s full of that. People saying you’re not trying hard enough when you are. People saying you’re imagining things or that you don’t know any better.” Dipper stared hard into the flames, his brow creasing as he searched for something clever to say. This teenager was definitely different from most of the ones he’d seen in Gravity Falls. But he could only speak from experience.
“There are people who think they’re better than you because they have a talent that you don’t or because they have more things than you do. There are always nay-sayers and just a whole lot of bad. I don’t think being a half-sibling has anything to do with it because Greg’s six or something - why would he care if you’re not full blood-related? And you can’t, not really.” That just seemed wrong. He didn’t know their dynamic well since Mabel had largely been encompassing the boy’s attention, but it still didn’t sit right with him.
“And maybe he drags you into things all the time so he can share his apple pie and frog hunts and whatever else. You can’t always look at the bad things or you’ll completely lose track of the stuff that’s actually kind of cool.”
“Dipper!” Mabel called. “We picked enough mushrooms to eat for days!”
For crying out loud. “We’re not staying in this cave for days, Mabel!”
“Wirt! Wirt, check out all the mushrooms we found!” Greg darted from Mabel’s side to run right up to him, shoving the mushrooms into his face. “I picked these for you! See this one? I think it looks like a waffle. Or a trumpet.”
While Greg squinted at the lumpy mushroom in question, turning it this way and that, Wirt watched him carefully, searching for any kind of… trick or lie to the kid’s demeanor. If he was secretly laughing at him, judging him, working to make his life miserable. Wirt almost wanted to slap himself as he reeled back, conscious of the way Beatrice was observing him. Greg may not be his… full-blooded brother, but the kid didn’t have a malicious bone in his body. If he did end up ruining his life - and ruin was a bit of an exaggeration - then at least he knew it wasn’t on purpose. It wasn’t with ill-intent.
“Wirt?” Waving the mushroom in front of his face, Greg peered at him. “What are you thinking about so hard?”
He shook his head. “It’s nothing, Greg.”
“Oh. Well, do you want your mushrooms?” he asked, offering the handful to him yet again.
“Yeah. Thanks.” He cupped his palms together to catch the mushrooms as Greg poured them in for him.
“And here.” Mabel passed out long sticks, some of them oddly shaped. “Since we don’t have a pot or anything, Greg and I managed to find these too!”
She pushed a mushroom onto the end of hers, grimacing at it. “I hope these aren’t super gross.”
With a laugh, Dipper opened the journal and began to scan the page on mushrooms. The fire blocked out much of the natural light of the mushrooms, but the invisible ink still appeared dimly on the page. “They taste like... ribbon candy and have the texture of marshmallows. Weird.”
“Awesome!” Mabel wasted no time sticking her first mushroom over the flame. “How do we know when they’re- cool!” She laughed when her mushroom almost immediately lost its glow and turned into a rather ordinary looking brown mushroom.
She nudged her brother, breaking the piece in half. She held out one half to the bluebird. “Here, Beatrice. Since you can’t hold the stick by yourself and all.”
“Oh. Thanks.” Beatrice hopped closer to Mabel and took the piece of mushroom with her talon. She pecked at it with her beak, making sure it wasn’t too hot before nibbling on it. Wow. That book was not kidding when it said these things were super sweet. “Hey, Wirt, make sure Greg doesn’t eat too many of these. I don’t even want to think about the kind of sugar rush these might induce.”
She blinked as she looked over at him, his expression identical to Greg’s as they both glanced her way with mouths already full of them. She smirked and Wirt glared. “What?” he asked, indignant even with his words muffled by mushrooms.
“Nothing, you weirdo. Don’t choke.”
Mabel tossed her other half to Waddles, who had wandered over, intrigued by the smell of food. The next one was split between both pig and frog, then her brother finally broke one in half for them to share. Her first bite was met with a blink, as was Dipper’s, and then they grinned at each other. “This. Is. Amazing!”
He laughed, bumping their shoulders together. “Don’t eat so many that you make yourself sick,” he cautioned, but she joyfully loaded five on her stick. They were split between the animals - including Beatrice - before she took some for herself.
“I think we’re going to need more.”
“Me and Mr. Spock will go grab some!” Greg volunteered after feeding three to his trusty frog, then hopped to his feet and started running.
“Don’t-! Uh…” Wirt hesitated, swallowing down a big chunk of mushroom and pushed his fist against his chest. “Don’t wander off too far!”
“Aye aye, Captain Wirt!” Greg paused to salute him, then scooped up Mr. Spock into his arms and set him on his tea kettle before resuming his mission, his chipper voice fading the further he got. “Cave Log: Cave Day One. Mr. Spock and I searched for mushrooms that tasted like candy!”
Mabel tapped Waddles and, though he was loathe to leave the smell of food, the pig oinked and waddled right after the boy. She ate a few more mushrooms as silence settled over the group of four, but when Dipper pulled out his journal, she slid it away from him.
“Shh!” She huddled closer to him, keeping the journal closed so she could keep her twin’s attention. “Can we, uh - these mushrooms sure are great, right?”
Her laugh was soft and a little strained, but Dipper still rolled his eyes. She was even trying to be quiet, but the exuberant girl wasn’t exactly known for her silence. He wasn’t either, but he did like to think he was more capable of whispering than she was. “What’s wrong, Mabel?”
“Nothing,” she sighed, sliding the book back and forth across the cave floor.
Dipper grimaced, thinking of more tears appearing in the leather binding. “Seriously. What is it?”
“Seriously?” he repeated, earning a small smile from her.
It faded quickly. “Not the normal kind, Dipper. But...”
When she popped a whole mushroom in her mouth, he sighed and took his journal back. But he didn’t open it, pushing her shoulder with his palm instead. “We’re going to make it home, Mabel.”
“I know,” she mumbled, but with her mouth full it came out more like “Uh knuh.”
“I know you know, but you’re still worried and that’s just weird. We’ve been through stuff like this all summer, right?”
“But this is different, Dipper! You know it is. I even thought I heard-” She stuffed another mushroom in her mouth.
He frowned. “I thought I did too.”
“Dad.” He turned a little to better face her. “I know it’s different. I know this place is... It’s The Unknown, but we’ll get back to Gravity Falls and we’ll be alright. Mystery twins, right?”
She grinned, bumping her fist to his when he offered. “Mystery twins.”
“Plus, we’re not alone. They’re not Soos and Wendy, but Wirt’s smart - he’s got to be to have gotten through some of the weird things I’ve seen on the new pages - and Greg’s like you.”
“I know, but he said they’ve been here for days. I don’t want to be here for days, Dipper. Even Grunkle Stan would start to worry if we were gone for days. And Grenda and Candy! I’ll miss so many sleepovers!”
“We won’t be,” he promised, cutting off her rising voice and panic. “We’ve got us, the journal, and a plan.”
“And the guys and Beatrice and Waddles and Mr. Spock.”
“Mabel, I’m not going to list every asset we’ve got. It’d take ages.”
“Don’t worry. I took care of it.” She grinned at him. “Your tongue’s blue.”
“What?” He stuck out his tongue, crossing his eyes to stare at it, and could see a faint glow. “Oh, man.”
“Scrapbookortunity!” she cheered, pulling a camera out of her seemingly bottomless pockets. But then she stilled, staring at the unfamiliar device. “Wait, this isn’t my camera.”
“It’s not disposable,” Dipper agreed and they bent their heads together to study the pink digital camera. It was littered with stickers and glitter and, when Mabel turned it on to check the gallery, the first picture was Dipper reaching out to presumably take it away. The next picture was one of her, posing in front of a bathroom mirror. “Okay, I guess it is yours.”
“But... When did I get it?”
“I don’t know.”
Rather than fret over it because she was simply finished fretting, Mabel lifted the camera and snapped a picture of her brother. “Ah!”
Laughing now, she leapt to her feet and spun to take a shot of Wirt and Beatrice. “I have to show Greg!” But she stopped and flicked the bill of her brother’s hat. “Thanks, Dipper.”
“Go away. I can’t believe my tongue’s blue.”
Her laugh echoed in the cave, and Dipper rolled his eyes, getting to his feet to wander away from the fire and closer to untouched mushrooms. They were delicious, but he was full and there was reading to do.
“You’re going to make yourself sick,” Beatrice was telling Wirt, the bluebird pleased by the amount she’d eaten and had settled down to relax on one of the warm rocks.
Wirt rolled his eyes, popping a final mushroom into his mouth. “I’m not gonna get sick. I know my limits.”
“Uh-huh. Right.” Her amusement shone while he chewed determinedly, then she rolled her eyes and glanced over at the remaining twin. “So, are these mushrooms enlightening you to the invisible secrets in your book?”
“Yeah. The mushroom’s turn your tongue blue in the dark, but it’s temporary and it’ll return to normal soon.” He was against the wall. “And... That’s weird.” He reached up and flicked one, only gaping when a tune began to play. It wafted through the air, other mushrooms picking up the melody.
He could hear Mabel and Greg making up a mushroom song as they made their way back, so smiled and stuck his nose back into the journal. “The ferry we’re headed to has frogs on it,” he revealed, then flipped another page. The monster. They needed to know how to evade or defeat the Frog Fly, He wished for the Mystery Shack golf cart. It’s inexplicable speed would’ve been a great help.
“Frog Fly, Frog Fly... Okay. Two things, guys! It hides away at night in... in caves. Oh, boy. And it can’t cross moving water.”
“Great, so it probably lives here.” Wirt shuddered. “Anyone remember what time it might’ve been when we ducked in here?”
“Yeah, because I was totally paying attention to where the sun was in the sky as we were running for our lives.” Beatrice waved her wing at him. “Wirt, don’t worry about that just yet. It was still bright out, I’m sure we have hours of daylight left. Focus on the good news. Frog Fly hates moving water? We’re heading to a river. Our problem is pretty much solved.”
“What problem?” Greg asked, he and Mabel finally close enough to rejoin the conversation. “The clarinet and poetry problem?”
Wirt tensed, then settled into a glower. “No. The Frog Fly problem.”
“What clarinet and poetry problem?” Mabel wondered. She nudged Greg closer to his brother, then snapped a picture of the pair of them even though one looked far more mortified than the other.
“Wirt’s clarinet and poetry problem!” Greg replied, spearing a few more mushrooms to roast over the fire. “He made a tape of poetry and clarinet to give to Sara the Bee and we were trying to get it back.”
“Greg! Shh! Stop talking!”
“You shh!” Greg held his finger up to his lips as he mimicked his brother’s narrow-eyed expression.
Her crush seemed to have vanished as quickly as it had come on, so Mabel only laughed. It was hard to hold onto a crush when he was dressed like one of the creepy gnomes who wanted her as their queen. “Poetry is so romantic!”
Dipper rolled his eyes, Wirt losing a couple of points in his book. Not for the poetry, but... “You’re a musician? Man, girls always like musicians.”
“Not the clarinet!” Wirt blurted out, cheeks burning as he hunched up. “Have you ever met someone whose favorite instrument is the clarinet? And-and I’m not a musician. I hardly even play.”
“He’s really good though! I think he should join the marching band ‘cause then he’ll get to play even more and get to see Sara more!” Greg exclaimed, inspecting his mushrooms carefully. “Wirt, are they done yet?”
“No, give it another turn,” he told him, then shook his head. “And just stop with the marching band thing already! Okay?”
“He thinks it’s some deep dark secret,” Beatrice informed the twins. “The clarinet and the poetry.”
“Why?” Dipper wondered, looking up from the journal. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Yeah!” Mabel agreed and flipped her hair. She only laughed when the attempt to look cool only ended in her hair just batting her in the face. “I’m pretty artistic, too. You should be proud of it, Wirt!”
Wirt rubbed at his head, mussing up his hair and hat some as he looked away. “It’s… it’s nothing. I just don’t like people to know. And it’s nothing against the arts or- or artistic people. I mean, it’s great that you’re artistic, Mabel, but I’m not and I would just like for this to be dropped now. Please. Let’s go back to talking about getting out of here. That’s what’s important right now. And Greg, you can’t eat all of those at once. You’re gonna get sick.”
The boy blinked, pausing just before he closed his lips around the four mushrooms he had skewered on his stick. “I’m not gonna get sick,” he declared, pointing to himself. “I know my limits.” Then he crammed all four into his mouth and placed his hands on his hips in triumph.
Wirt could only stare at him for a minute, both parts horrified and intrigued. How had he known that he’d said the same exact thing minutes before when he hadn’t even been there? And how was it that he had a seemingly bottomless pit for a stomach?
“Right, getting out. Maps.” Dipper flipped through the journal while Mabel took a picture of a very puffy-cheeked Greg, making sure pouting Wirt was in the background of the shot.
“A-ha! A map!” Dipper jumped up, unfolding the loose map. “Oh, man, you’ve got to be kidding me. We went the wrong way.”
“To the bat cave!” Mabel shouted, grabbing Greg’s hands and twirling him around.
“Da-na-na-na-na-na-na-na! Bat cave!” Greg sing-songed, laughing as he was spun.
Wirt shook his head and got up to go over to Dipper and check out the map for himself. Beatrice joined him, landing on the bill of the boy twin’s cap. It took a minute for Wirt to orient himself with the map, but after a moment or two of squinting at it, he was on the same page.
“Well, to be fair, it wasn’t like we wanted to run head first into a bunch of bats.” His brow furrowed as he glanced back down the way they’d been going. “Wonder why they didn’t try to get out.”
“Maybe they live down there or like eating these mushrooms or something. Who cares as long as we have a way out.” Beatrice pointed to Greg and Mabel. “Lead the way, you two.”
“Wow! We get to lead!” Greg beamed up at his new best friend, then bowed, pitching his voice a tiny bit deeper. “After you, m’lady!”
She curtsied. “Thank you, m’sir.”
“There’s no such thing as ‘m’sir,’” Dipper pointed out. Mabel stuck out her very blue tongue at him.
“Adelaide!” she started to sing, snagging Greg’s hand. “Oh, Adelaide!”
When Greg started to sing with her, Dipper sighed and put the journal away. The map was thrust at Wirt. “Forget it,” he decided and caught up to join them, grabbing Greg’s free hand. Mabel laughed when he sang the next line.
Greg lit up and stopped singing to cheer and bounce, delighted by his decision to join them. He looked over his shoulder, back at Wirt, anticipation shining all over his face, but Wirt only pursed his lips and shook his head. The disappointment only lasted a beat, because Greg only had two hands after all and both were taken. Plus, it was hard to be disappointed when he had two singing partners, a pig, and a frog.
“Mabel! Mabel, you sing the high part now, and Dipper can sing the really high part!”
“What? Not going to join in?” Beatrice abandoned Dipper’s hat in favor of Wirt’s shoulder again when the singing began.
“Nah. They’re having their fun.” Wirt waved it off, clinging to the map and trying not to think about the fact that he’d never seen - or at least noticed - Greg look disappointed. He had to be imagining it. Projecting things. That was a thing people did.
“You know a proper three part harmony can defeat zombies?” Mabel and Dipper both lifted Greg when Waddles trotted over, setting the boy on the pig’s back again. “Way to go, Waddles!” He grunted, unaffected when the frog jumped onto his back.
Dipper laughed, giving the youngest kid’s hand a squeeze before letting him go. “Do we have any extra mushrooms? I don’t know if we’ll run across anymore, and their light’s definitely useful.”
“Greg has some in his trunk.” Mabel didn’t let his hand go, but tossed her camera to her twin. “Take our picture! We’re adorable!”
He snapped the photograph without protest, but didn’t give the camera back. He’d had enough of the flash going off and spotting his vision. “Dipper!”
“No way, Mabel.”
“You’re such a brat,” she accused, but she was grinning and gave Greg a wink, as if her amusement was their secret.
“Yeah!” Greg agreed, eager to be in on the secret. It didn’t take long for him to turn to Dipper though and hold his hand out. “Can I see the camera?” he asked.
“Sure. Just be careful with it,” he cautioned since he knew his sister wouldn’t. As they left the glow of the mushrooms, he pulled the glowstick out of his pocket and clamped it between his teeth as he retrieved and opened the journal once again. There were bound to be new mysteries ahead, and he was eager to discover them.
Greg happily took a picture of Dipper’s concentrated expression, then turned around on Waddles to take one of Wirt and Beatrice. “Work it! Give me your best angle!” he told them.
Wirt arched an eyebrow while he and Beatrice declined simultaneously. “No.”
“You’re beautiful!” he continued to praise, snapping another picture as his big brother hurried ahead of them to be in front of the flash. “Okay. Bye!”
Waving at Wirt’s back, Greg paused his picture taking to admire the camera. It was lovely, Mabel sure had a keen eye for decorating. From all the stickers he could count that peppered the case, she was clearly a sticker expert. Greg smiled up at her as he turned the camera around and around in his hands.
“I like your stickers. I have lots of stickers, too, but I left them at home. I should’ve brought them though, ‘cause you can never be too sure when you’ll need a good sticker. I like to leave them on Wirt’s door sometimes, in case he ever needs one, but they never stick for long. It’s okay though, because I always get more! What’s your favorite kind of sticker?”
“Let’s see...” Rather than humoring him, Mabel was genuinely invested in the question as they rounded the corner and made their way down the tunnel they’d fled from before. “Oh, it’s so hard to choose! There are the realistic animal ones, the cute animal ones, the ones with words, the ones with words and animals, other pictures, glitter-” She paused. “Glitter! It’s the ones with glitter.” She laughed. “Why didn’t I see it before?
“Here!” She dug in her pocket, producing a small book of stickers that was happily tucked into Greg’s overalls. “I always have a ton on hand. It’s sort of necessary when you’re an arts and crafts master, and you can never have too many.”
Dipper rolled his eyes, only hearing part of the conversation. He tucked the glowstick partially under his cap. “Hey, Mabel, come look at this.”
“Okay!” She ruffled Greg’s hair, bounding to her brother to see what had caught his attention. It had been a while, part of her knew, since he had been able to glean new information from the journal. The rest of her was very used to it. “Is that a pig playing a tuba?!”
“And wearing pants. It’s a school, I guess. Wirt said they stopped by.”
“Yeah! It’s where we had potatoes and molasses!” Greg piped up, amusing himself by tossing the camera in the air while the twins huddled around the journal. “Oh potatoes and molasses,” he started to sing. “If you want some, oh just ask us- whoops.”
He missed catching the camera as it came down at the end of the first line. It bounced from his hands and clattered to the floor of the cave, skittering along it in the dark, out of the ring of light from the glowsticks and mushrooms. Greg gasped, eyes rounding as he lost sight of it. Oh no, Dipper told him to be careful with it. And it wasn’t even his, it was Mabel’s! She was going to be so mad. Or upset. Just like Wirt was when he’d lost his tape for Sara.
Well, maybe not just like that. Greg couldn’t see Mabel acting anything like Wirt, or Wirt acting anything like Mabel, but that wasn’t the point. The point was he didn’t want her to be upset because he lost the camera. And he didn’t want Dipper to think he couldn’t be trusted with things. Greg pushed his tea kettle forward on his head. It was up to him to rescue it.
Mr. Spock looked at him in alarm as he slid off of Waddles’s back, croaking nervously. Greg gave him a firm pat on the head and one of the glowing mushrooms from his kettle, then set off in search of the camera. It was sparkly and glittery, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find, he figured. He heard another croak, Mr. Spock hopping over to him in earnest, holding the mushroom in his mouth.
“Oh, you want to help me look?” Greg grinned at the trusty, lucky frog. “You’re right, Mr. Spock. It is easier to see with a light- oh, look! There it is! We found it!”
In the purplish glow of the mushroom, Greg could just barely make out the shine and sparkle of the camera. It was lower than he was, the cave went down into even more caves, and looked to be balanced on a dark ledge. Boy, was he lucky. Just an inch or two further and it probably would’ve fallen right into that deep dark hole! With a laugh, he hurried over to it, heedless of his frog’s warnings.
“Cave Log: Day- whoa!”
“Hey, Greg, do you want to see what- Greg?” The twins looked up just in time to see the boy fall into the darkness. “Greg!” Dipper yelped and darted over, snapping the journal shut.
Mabel was hot on his heels and quickly dropped a fresh glowstick. It didn’t fall far, thankfully, which meant the boy hadn’t either. They could both make out his shoes. “Greg, are you okay?”
“Yeah!” His cheerful voice echoed a bit, then he wiggled around so he could be in the light of the glowstick and waved up at them. “I’m better than a frog on a log!”
Mabel dropped down to her belly, wiggling forward to reach for him. “Come on. We need to catch up to Wirt and Beatrice.”
“In a minute. I have to get your camera first,” Greg told her before leaving the glow to inch his way closer to the precariously perched item in question.
As he crouched down and eased his way over to the edge, dirt and small pebbles crumbled away from the part he was on. It felt unsteady beneath his feet, but Greg just lowered into a crawl, thinking it would help keep his balance. He reached out for the camera, but it was still too far, just a little out of his grasp. He hummed to himself, frowning at his short arms. If only he was a magical tiger. With extendo claws. Then he could reach the camera without a problem.
“It’s okay. Dipper can get it!”
Annoyance overrode the worry. “What? Why me?”
“Shh! Greg, just- Greg!” she squeaked when he scooted out just a little too far and he fell with the camera out of reach. She scrambled down, but her brother latched onto the collar of her sweater. “Dipper!”
“Oh, man, oh, man. Greg? You okay?”
There was a beat of silence, no answer aside from the occasional patter of tiny rocks on each other. Mr. Spock croaked in earnest, wide eyes glancing from the darkness to the twins, but the frog visibly relaxed when Greg grunted softly from somewhere below them. He was alright, though that did depend on one’s definition of alright.
“Yeah!” Greg called up to Dipper, dangling from the side of the cave wall with one hand as he kicked with his feet to try and get enough leverage to pull himself up to safety. “But I don’t think I can get back up.” If he used both hands, maybe, but that wasn’t an option. He clutched the camera tightly in the hand not clinging to the small ledge. “I saved the camera though!”
Dipper huffed, but released his sister’s sweater. “Be careful.”
“What? Pfft. Of course I’ll be careful.” She laid on her belly again, inching forward on the uneven ground and snatched up the glowstick she’d already thrown as she crept forward in the dark. She felt a hand encircle her ankle and glanced back. Her twin gave her a thumbs-up with his free hand and she peeked over the edge.
Oh, no. The crevice he’d latched onto was further than her arms could reach, and she stretched as far as she could without toppling right over the edge. “Dipper! I can’t reach him!” She inched just that much further, holding her breath as rubble slid and just couldn’t go farther. But she just couldn’t grab him. “It’s okay if you let go of the camera to try and get a better hold,” she assured him. “I don’t even remember where I got it. Just- just try and reach me, okay? Come on, Greg.”
Dipper looped an arm around Waddles when the pig nudged him, leaned out as far as he could while keeping a hold of his sister in case she did something completely stupid like- “Whoops!”
She waved a hand back at him to reassure, grunting in her effort to reach the dangling boy. “I dropped the glowstick.” And it was falling and falling and falling. When darkness swallowed it, she swallowed nervous spit. Oh. Oh, boy, they were high up. “Come on, Greg.”
“No, I can’t let go of it.” Greg shook his head, brow creased with determination as he kicked harder, even though that did nothing. “You let me see it and Dipper told me to be careful and I can’t lose it like I did Wirt’s tape ‘cause he never got it back and I don’t want you to never get this back and be upset, too.”
It sounded reasonable enough and made sense in his head, but he was starting to slip and couldn’t hold on very well with just the one hand. And it was a really, really far fall for the glowstick. Greg looked at the camera, then the ledge, then the camera again. He tried to lift it up high enough for Mabel to reach it, but couldn’t see very well in the dark.
“Can you reach the camera, Mabel?” he asked.
Her fingertips just brushed the wrist strap, so she took a hold of it only to free Greg’s hand, and tossed it behind her so she could return to trying to grab Greg. Dipper winced when it fell somewhere behind him, fairly certain that it was broken. “Mabel, if you can’t get him, climb back up here. I can get Wirt. His arms are longer.”
“We’re not leaving him alone, Dipper! I’ve almost got him!” She didn’t. She really didn’t, but she couldn’t bring herself to stop trying. “Camera secure, junior detective. Now come on! You can get up to the ledge, right?” She couldn’t see it, but he had to be holding something. “Take my hand, Greg! We’ve got a ferry to catch!”
Holding on tightly with both hands now, Greg tried to pull himself up a little more. He had to do his part to reach Mabel, too. She sounded really scared and it was starting to make him feel a little scared. Only a little though. If he fell down to the very bottom of the cave, then it would take ages to get all the way back up to her and Dipper and Wirt and Beatrice and Waddles and Captain Picard and that wouldn’t be very fun to do all alone. He could hear his poor frog croaking for him, so he opened his mouth to let him know that everything was going to be alright, but that wasn’t what ended up coming out as he lost his grip with one arm and swung dangerously on the other.
“Ah!” he yelped, more out of surprise than anything, but it got his frog moving.
Leaving him in the care of the twins, Captain Picard hopped after Wirt and Beatrice. Dipper was right, the older boy had a slight advantage in height and limb length that the twins just didn’t, and Greg didn’t have much time for them to figure out something else before he lost his grip completely. Luckily, Wirt and Beatrice hadn’t gotten far.
The pair of them seemed to have realized that they lost more than half of their party, so were waiting a little further down the cave. Wirt was attempting to fold the map into a crane, but failing spectacularly at it, while Beatrice flew in lazy circles overhead.
“Jeez Louise, what’s taking them so long?” she complained.
“They probably just got distracted by some rocks or something. I’m sure Dipper’s handling it. He’s a reasonable guy,” Wirt replied as the frog let out a loud ribbit, catching both of their attentions. “See? Look, Greg’s frog is here. They can’t be far behind.”
Except he couldn’t see them - any of them. The frog - whatever Star Trek character the six-year-old had dubbed him now - was alone. Wirt narrowed his eyes. Greg had been pretty adamant on carrying that frog everywhere, or running after him at the very least. The frog croaked, then started hopping back the way he’d came, looking over his shoulder at him.
“I think he wants you to follow him,” Beatrice remarked as she landed on his shoulder.
Wirt glanced sidelong at her. “What? Are you the frog whisperer now?” But something didn’t feel quite right.
Stomach churning a bit, unsettled, Wirt folded up the map properly and started after the frog. The bluebird on his shoulder sighed and settled down for a moment, but as Dipper and Mabel’s voices became clearer, ringing with urgency, she flew on ahead as he picked up the pace. Taking out his own glowstick to see better, Wirt shone it towards them, confused when Dipper was the only one remotely visible to him.
“Guys? What’s going on?” he asked.
“Oh, thank god. Come here, you’re tall. Mabel! Mabel, let’s go!”
“Mabel!” Dipper let go of Waddles, both twins yelping when they skidded forward without the pig’s anchoring weight, but he grabbed his sister’s ankles and pulled.
“Mabel?” Greg whimpered.
“Greg!” she shouted. “It’s okay, Greg!”
“Mabel- ow! Stop fighting me and let Wirt get him! Stop-! Ow!”
“Mabel, don’t go!” Greg pleaded, the reality of being alone and stuck in the dark striking him like lightning. “I can climb better! I can do anything if I set my mind to it!” But his arms weren’t working and there wasn’t enough space for his fingers to grab onto, especially when bits of the wall kept breaking off to hit him in the face. “Pleh, pfft.” He spat as he blinked the dust out of his eyes. He couldn’t even rub them because he needed to hold on.
“Greg!” Wirt called down to him, his voice pitched a little higher than usual, like when he was freaking out.
“Oh, wow, okay.” A glowing light - one of the mushrooms - came closer to him, and Greg saw that it was Beatrice who’d flown down to check on him, eyeing the part of the wall that he was clinging to. “Just hold on a little bit longer, Greg. You can do that, right?”
“Uh huh,” he agreed, even though his fingers hurt.
“Good. Wirt’s gonna come get you in just a second. Just keep hanging on,” she told him.
“Okay.” But he didn’t like when she left, just like Mabel, and went right back up where he couldn’t get to.
Beatrice landed right in front of Wirt as he was lowering himself to reach down over the edge. “Whatever he’s holding onto isn’t going to hold much longer,” she hissed to him and the twins. “So get a move on, Wirt!”
“O-okay! I am!” he replied, shaking as his pulse skyrocketed.
Dipper finally pinned his sister’s arms to her sides. “You’re going to scare Greg,” he said quietly. “So cut it out. What’s wrong with you?”
“I don’t-” It wasn’t as far a fall as the bottomless pit had been, but it was still far and she could see the ground. She curled into a ball as it rushed to her, screaming for her brother as their fingers entwined and the world went black. “I don’t know, Dipper! He just can’t fall!” She burst into tears, startling her twin.
“Whoa! Wait, don’t do that- He’ll be fine, okay?” He didn’t argue when she hugged him, though the tight squeeze made it hard to breathe. He watched Wirt crawl to the ledge and only then did he wriggle out from his sister’s grasp, transferring her teary hold to Waddles.
Though he probably didn’t need it, Dipper latched onto the teenager’s ankles. “We don’t need you both falling, right?”
Wirt let out a shaky breath, relieved to have some sort of anchor, even if it came in the form of a twelve-year-old. “Thanks. Okay. I can do this.” Dangling almost upside down over a seemingly endless pit… that his half-brother was also dangling over on ground less steady and stable than his. “I’m coming, Greg! Just- I’m almost…”
He felt around in the dark, emptiness the only thing his fingers were grappling at for the longest time and what if he already fell? His heart constricted and his head spun as his breathing picked up, harsh and fast, and no. No, he couldn’t have fallen. He couldn’t have let that happen, he was supposed to be the older brother, he was supposed to be watching him!
His fingers brushed against something metal. The tea kettle. Wirt gasped with relief and knocked on it lightly, feeling the way it tipped back as Greg looked up at him. “Wirt?”
“Hey, Greg.” He forced a smile, stretching his arm out a little farther so he could latch onto Greg’s. “It’s okay. I’ve got you. Just hold onto me with your other hand, too, okay? Then I’m gonna pull you up. So don’t be scared.”
“I’m not scared,” he replied, but he didn’t let go of the ledge just yet and seemed to hesitate.
“Greg?” Wirt waited a moment, then wiggled a bit further down, grateful for the grip around his ankles. “Can you move your other arm? Are- are you hurt?”
“No, I’m okay,” he replied, but he didn’t sound okay. “You’re not gonna leave me down here, right Wirt?”
“Of course not! No, never,” he blurted, baffled by the kid’s question. “I’d never leave you someplace like this. In a weird cave, clinging to a cliff- yeah, no, just. I’m not gonna leave you, Greg.”
He felt Beatrice fly over his shoulder and down, the glow of the blacklight mushroom illuminating Greg enough that Wirt could see the relief on his face, both from his words and being able to see him clearly. He could also see him enough that he could grab onto his waist to pull him up more. Greg let go of the wall and closed his fist around a chunk of fabric from Wirt’s shirt as the older brother hefted him up. Greg wrapped his arms around his shoulders when he was close enough, while he held on tightly with one arm and attempted to inch his way back up with the other.
“He’s got him,” Beatrice informed Dipper and Mabel, following the brothers with the mushroom. “He’s okay.”
Mabel sprang up, legs a little shaky, but she had to see for herself and ran over. She grabbed a fistful of Wirt’s cape as her brother did the same, releasing his ankles to help him get back up. The danger wasn’t over until they were all huddled away from the ledge, Dipper holding Mabel’s surprisingly unbroken camera since she was busy. Though her hands itched to hold him and make sure he was really and truly alright, Mabel let Greg stay in Wirt’s lap and petted his back. Her tears were wiped away, her braces glittering in a half-smile as she did her best to look reassuring rather than distraught. Where was her optimism, for crying out loud?
Dipper let his head fall back against the wall, as breathless as if he’d run for his life. Again. “Wow.”
Wirt smiled weakly at him, arms shaking still as he held on for just a little bit longer, just to be sure, but then Greg leaned back quickly to stare him in the face with awe. “Wow is right!” he declared. “Wirt! You were just like Spiderman!”
“I- I was?” He blinked, then shook his head. “Nah, Greg, you were the one who was more like Spiderman. I mean, you held onto that wall like a champ.”
“I did, didn’t I?” Greg placed his hands on his hips, grinning proudly. “We’re both Spiderman! Mabel! Did you see? Did Waddles?” He turned around to face her, holding his arms out to her.
She wasted no time reaching back, cuddling him in her own lap. “Waddles and I are very impressed. You didn’t even lose your trunk! Best elephant ever!” She knew what would be important for him to hear because Dipper had been right - Greg was like her. “Thanks for saving my camera. I’ve got to keep all my pictures of you guys for when I get home.”
She shivered. Her entire side seemed to ache, her tongue full of a strange metallic taste she decided to blame on the mushrooms they’d eaten and her braces. “I’m glad you’re okay more, though. Mystery friends stick together.” She offered her hand for a fistbump.
“Mystery friends!” Greg echoed, bumping back. “Thanks for trying to save me, Mabel. I’ll be more careful with things like your camera next time.” He promised with the childish notion that he would be able to keep such a promise.
Wirt sighed and took off his hat so he could rake his fingers through his hair. Yeah, it would be nice if things like that didn’t happen again. Because how was he going to explain losing Greg over the side of a cliff to his mom or step-dad? He paused in thought, brow creasing slightly. That wasn’t the first thought that occurred to him though, in the heat of the moment. No, his first fear had simply been for Greg. How would he live with himself if something had happened to him?
It was disconcerting to say the least. “Greg, you have to promise to stick close to me or Mabel or Dipper from now on, got it? Don’t just go running off on your own.”
“Got it.” Greg flashed him the a-okay sign with his thumb and index finger, then scooped up Captain Picard into his arms for a big hug.
Mabel laughed, finally sounding like herself again. “Don’t worry, Wirt! Dipper’ll keep a better eye on him for sure!”
She laughed again, picking Greg up as she stood. “So which way out of the cave?”
Her twin sighed. “Can I see the map?”
Wirt pulled it out from his pocket and handed it over to him. “We were heading in the right direction it seems.” He shrugged a little, then tucked his arms back under his cape.
“Okay.” He cleared his throat, looking from the Wirt to the map and back again. “Hey, uh... sorry. I mean... We only took our eyes off him for a second and he was just gone.”
Wirt blinked, then waved his hands frantically in front of him. “No! No, don’t even worry about it! It’s not like he’s your little brother. It was… I should’ve been watching him. And Greg’s a handful. He runs off a lot. Like all the time.”
“It’s kind of different when you leave him with other people?” But Dipper took it as “apology accepted” and shrugged. “I’m glad you came back, though. I’ve never seen Mabel like that before.”
“O-oh?” Wirt rubbed the back of his neck and glanced over at their respective siblings. Greg had his rock facts rock out again and was listing off several of his all-time favorite rock facts while she doted on him. “Yeah. Is she okay?” he asked, turning back to Dipper. “I mean, she looks okay. Now. But she sounded really upset.”
“I don’t know. I’ll have to ask her about it, but we should start heading back out.” He pushed the bill of his hat up. “Mabel, glowstick!” He caught the one she tossed, cracking it himself. “How many do you have left?”
“Good to know,” he mumbled, studying the map. “I wonder if it’ll change. Once we’re outside the cave, I mean. With everything else, it wouldn’t surprise me that much.” He got to his feet and offered a smile. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Right,” Wirt agreed, then glanced around for their bluebird friend. “Beatrice?”
She’d settled on Greg’s kettle for the time being, despite his jabbering and immediate desire to start singing as they resumed walking, so Wirt quieted and hid his smirk as he fell into step beside Mabel. Abrasive as she may be, Beatrice couldn’t hide that she had a soft side, he noted. Even if she couldn’t do much as a bluebird, like physically stop Greg from doing something reckless or ridiculous, she’d still sit with him. Singing and all. It was nice to see, to know, that they had someone on their side. Multiple someones, for that matter.
“Hey, umm… thanks for staying with Greg when he was in trouble,” he spoke up, glancing at Mabel. “And for trying to save him.”
She looked up, smiling, then smiled wider when it was Dipper who swept him up and tucked him and the frog safely on Waddles’s back. “Why wouldn’t I? I love him! I know he’s not my brother, but he’s yours. You clearly need him. Good thing your frog went to get you, though. Longer arms save the day!” She punched her hands into the air, then laughed as she caught up with her twin and the rest.
“How much further, Dipper?”
“Not much unless we keep stopping.”
“And then we’ll all get on the ferry boat to go see Adelaide, right?” Greg piped up, flopping down on top of Waddles to hug him.
“That’s the plan, Greg,” Beatrice murmured, though she sounded a little hesitant, Wirt couldn’t help but notice. “That’s the plan.”
“Well, I like our plan! Plans are good!” Greg replied. “And that’s a rock fact!”
Dipper smacked his fist to his palm. “Anything can be accomplished with a good plan. Oh! I wonder if Adelaide’s in the journal! The ferry is already.” Excited by the prospect, Dipper pulled the book from his vest and started to flip pages.
The bluebird fluttered her wings nervously, craning her head down while Greg started singing his Adelaide Parade song again, albeit quieter than all the other times he sang it in case there was exciting news about the star of his song. Beatrice eyed the journal warily, watching each flip of the page with a keen eye. There was a chance that there wasn’t anything on Adelaide in that book, but that wasn’t a chance she was willing to take. About to leave her perch on Greg, to cause some sort of distraction, Wirt inadvertently saved her by opening his beautiful, prone-to-rambling mouth.
“Hey, does it say anything about whether or not the ferry can take nickels?” Wirt inquired, feeling around his pockets with a furrowed brow. “I mean, we’ve still gotta figure out how to pay for all of us to get on and you only had the two pennies, right Dipper?”
“I forgot about that.” Dipper changed from searching the pages to flipping right where he needed. “Greg, do you still have mushrooms under the tea kettle?”
“You bet I do, Admiral Dipper!” Greg waited for Beatrice to move before lifting up his trunk and plucking a mushroom from inside. “Here you go, sir!”
“Thanks.” He sent his sister a sidelong glance, smug at being the Admiral. It put him at the same rank as his sister’s title of General, but since they were heading towards a boat, he decided to outrank her. Despite her sticking her tongue out at him. He made a face at her so she would laugh, still put off by her earlier tears.
“Let’s see... Frogs don’t like the taste of nickels? They like copper pennies. Weird.”
“Frogs have a very particular diet,” Greg put in matter-of-factly. “They like pennies because pennies are lucky! Just like finding a frog! Especially when it’s the last frog of the season. Like this guy.” With a satisfied grin, he patted Captain Picard on the head. “He’s our lucky frog!”
“I don’t know about that,” Wirt murmured to himself, giving up on searching his pockets for the pennies for now as he ruminated on that.
It seemed like they’d been nothing but lost since finding that frog, but then he thought on how the frog had gone to him and led him back to Greg just in time, with a sort of sentience almost. He frowned a little as he considered the strangeness of it. As off-putting as the idea was, it actually didn’t seem that far-fetched given everything else they’d seen. Maybe the frog was from this odd place and somehow ended up…
Where had they found him, again?
“He’s very smart,” Mabel praised, petting the animal’s head when Greg held him up. “Like Waddles!” He grunted his understanding, so she scratched behind his ears. “He wasn’t the last pig of the season - I won him in a fair Grunkle Stan held! It was the happiest moment of my life,” she sighed.
“That whole day was the worst,” Dipper muttered, gazing at the pictures of frogs in their fine attire. This seemed almost too bizarre, even by Gravity Falls standards. They ate pennies, wore clothes, and... played music? He shook his head, satisfied with his new knowledge, and resumed searching for Adelaide.
Mabel’s gasp distracted him. The frog was attempting to hop away again, the leash pulled tight around his belly. “Oh, man.”
“Oh no!” Greg held tight to the leash. “Fight the power, Captain Picard!”
Wirt hurried over and picked the frog up, tucking him under his arm in case Greg let go of the leash. “It’s nearby! What do we do? I mean, is the river close enough that we could make a break for it?”
“Make it or break it, Wirt. That’s the spirit,” Greg supplied unhelpfully.
The twins looked to Beatrice, though Dipper was quick to retrieve the map. “We’re not even at the exit yet. The Frog Fly’s probably just flying by and he’ll be gone in...” Suddenly, their tunnel seemed even darker than it had before. A long tongue shot out close enough that Dipper felt a breeze against his cheek. “Or, you know, it’s in the cave!”
“We’ll just have to take it out.” Greg punched his fist into his palm. “Give it the ol’ kickeroo!”
“Greg, that thing is as big as a house, we’re not going to fight it,” Wirt retorted, pressing against the cave wall in anticipation of the fly’s tongue coming back a second time. “Beatrice! Go see how far away it is. Maybe there’s a way around it?”
She scowled at him, but took to the air regardless. “I doubt it, but I’ll see what’s up. Just know that if anything happens to me, I’m haunting you jokers for the rest of your lives.”
“Noted.” Wirt nodded hurriedly.
Dipper opened the map and dropped down, splaying it on the ground. “Okay. The tunnel it’s in connects to the exit - here - and to another tunnel that reaches another exit over here.” He pointed at both, frowning. “The first’s one’s the closest option, but we won’t know which one’s safest until Beatrice gets back. And that’s it.” He sat back on his heels, settling his hands on his hips. “Those are the only two exits unless we want to keep wandering the place forever.”
“Yeah, no. I take back every bad thought I had about the trees earlier. I would much rather wander around the forest where there’s sun and fresh air than in this cave.” Wirt shuddered, wringing his hands together.
While they waited, the Frog Fly’s tongue did not make an encore appearance. At least not until Beatrice returned. She flew straight for them as it pursued her, and she landed on the map less than gracefully. Shaking herself off, she gestured with her wing further down the tunnel as the tongue retracted.
“Okay. So, one of the tunnels- uh… that one.” She pointed to the one farthest from them with her beak. “That tunnel gets smaller, it looks like. Too small for the fly to fit. It’s hovering over there though. Like it’s trying to guard both exits or something. It could chase us right out of the bigger one and then we’d be back where we started, but there’s no way it’ll fit through the smaller tunnel. Not unless it has shrinking powers, too.”
“Not that I read.” Dipper cupped his own chin, eyes narrowing as he considered their options. They were slim ones. It didn’t take him long, though, used to coming up with plans. He dug out his pen again and began writing directly on the map.
“Okay, so we have someone lure the Frog Fly down the narrower tunnel until it gets itself stuck. And then they go out the longer way since the monster would be blocking their way. Everybody else runs out the closer entrance and we meet back up at the further one. It’s pretty simple, but I don’t think complicated would work with what resources we have.”
“Makes sense to me,” Beatrice remarked.
“Oh! Can I lure the Frog Fly down the tunnel?” Greg asked, raising his hand while Wirt sputtered and gaped at him.
“No! No, you can’t!” he told him.
Greg placed his hands on his hips, less than impressed with his response. “I was asking the Admiral, Captain.”
“The answer’s no from me too, Greg.”
“Aw, beans.” Greg crossed his arms and sulked for all of two seconds before his interest in the plan reigned. “Who’s gonna be bait for the fly then?”
“I will!” Mabel volunteered.
“No.” Dipper didn’t want her to go after she’d so recently been upset. “Someone else can go.”
She placed a hand on her hip, the other waving. “Why not? I’m older.”
Dipper’s cheeks burned. “By five minutes! It doesn’t count!”
“And I’m taller!”
He gasped. “By a millimeter and you said you weren’t going to bring that up anymore!”
“And I have a grappling hook!”
“It doesn’t take a genius to use a grappling hook. It probably won’t even come in handy.”
Mabel jabbed her thumb against her chest as if she hadn’t heard him, chin lifted stubbornly. “So I’m going to be bait.”
“I- Wha-? No! You can’t even read maps right. You’d get lost.”
She huffed. “Who, then?”
Dipper frowned, tapping his pen on the map. Beatrice couldn’t as the monster wasn’t altogether interested in her. Greg was too young, Mabel was out. Wirt could, but Dipper wasn’t sure if he would be willing to separate from Greg after the Cliff Adventure. Finally, he sighed. “I guess I’ll do it. It was my plan, and I won’t need the map.”
He folded it and offered it to the teenager. “Here. Whether it changes once you’re outside or not, you should still be able to see the exit I’ll come out at.”
“Okay. Are you sure?” Wirt reached out to take the map, but he hesitated.
Sure, he didn’t exactly want to volunteer to be bait - he needed to look out for Greg, because who knew what other kinds of trouble he’d get into on his own and, well, he really didn’t want to be chased by a giant fly again. But that didn’t mean he felt all that okay sending a twelve-year-old in his place. No matter how capable that twelve-year-old seemed.
“Well... No,” he admitted, but firmly straightened his hat. “But I’m going anyway, so take the map and let’s go.”
Wirt let out a shaky breath, but took the map nonetheless. “Right. Come on, Greg. Stay close to me and Mabel.”
“And Waddles,” Greg reminded him. “And Beatrice.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll stick close to you, Greg.” The bluebird told him, flying up to sit on his elephant trunk.
“Do you want my grappling hook?” Mabel offered, following her twin closer to the exit. Both peered out of the tunnel, Dipper feeling pricks of envy. He could, very literally, see the light at the end of the tunnel. But he’d be heading towards the dark part. “Or I can go instead.”
“We run from things all the time,” he pointed at, trying to reassure them both. He pulled out his glowstick and, swallowing, stepped out before his twin could stop him. “Hey!” he called out. “Frog Fly... thing! Come here!” The glowstick was waved madly, the boy jumping up and down,
But the moment the monster turned towards him, tongue shooting out, he yelped and dodged. “This was a bad idea,” he muttered and fled down the narrow side. “Go!” Dipper waved back at his sister and she beckoned to the others.
Wirt and Greg followed her lead, though the older boy easily erased the distance between them thanks to his longer strides. He couldn’t help glancing back over his shoulder though, shuddering as the Frog Fly barrelled after Dipper, relentless in his pursuit. They just had to focus on getting out of the cave and around to the other exit. Dipper would be fine, he was a capable kid.
“Run run run! Run run run!” Greg chanted as he grabbed Mabel’s hand.
“Come on! We’re almost there!” Beatrice hissed, flying ahead to show them the way.
Mabel swept up Waddles to help her pig run a little faster, tucking him under her arm like a football as she clung to Greg. This was a far more fun kind of danger than dangling from a ledge was, so she was laughing as the exit became visible.
When the Frog Fly started to turn, intrigued by the noise it heard, Dipper smacked a hand to his brow. Maybe he should’ve added, “Guys, be quiet while you’re escaping” to the plan!
“Hey!” he shouted and threw the first thing he could think of - his glowstick - at it’s head. It bounced off harmlessly, but the monster immediately turned on him again. “Yes!” he cheered, jumping up. The thing’s tongue knocked off his hat. Oh. Right, he remembered, snatching his hat back up. Running! He spun around, running blind now without his light source. He really should’ve found something else to throw.
He met the wall with full force, knocking himself back. When the floor began to rattle beneath him, he was only somewhat certain it wasn’t the concussion he’d likely just given himself. But then the monster let out a sound that sounded more annoyed than terrifying. Dipper jumped anyway, patting his pockets in search of any source of light. His hands met Mabel’s camera and, with a sigh of relief, he held it up and pointed it in what he hoped was the right direction.
The flash illuminated the monster for only a moment, but Dipper could make out it’s trapped state on the screen when he looked down. “Yes! It worked! Woo!” The ground continued to rumble, though, the Frog Fly trying furiously to free itself from the tight squeeze. The boy grinned at it, lifting the camera again to snap another picture. He jolted when, in this picture, the tongue was out of its mouth. It went just over his head.
“Okay, time for the next step of the plan,” he decided and started to run down the tunnel towards the secondary exit. When he was out of the beast’s reach, it bellowed loudly enough to shake the ground again. Dipper smacked himself against the wall, only able to listen as stalactites fell to the ground. This hadn’t been part of the plan. When one fell dangerously close, shattering, Dipper turned his head away from the sound and squeezed his eyes shut. He cried out as he felt something slice his cheek, but didn’t stick around. He couldn’t see or do anything about the damage at that point. The main priority was getting away. Far, far away.
Clutching the camera to his chest, using a brighter picture on the display screen to illuminate his path at least a little bit, he inched his way along the wall until, finally, he could resume running. It didn’t matter if he beat the others to his exit or not, he just wanted to get out. Dark, terrifying, awful- “Whoa!”
Dipper stood at a gap, arms flailing as he attempted to keep his balance. “Falling - also not part of the plan!” He fell back instead of forward, luckily, but rubbed his bruised derriere as he stood and sought a crossway. It took a few minutes and it wasn’t exactly sturdy, but he made it. Mabel probably would’ve jumped it, he thought, and regretted not taking the offered grappling hook.
Then again, it probably would’ve latched onto a rickety stalactite with his luck. He kept going, only putting the camera away when he could see natural light. “Some exit,” he grumbled, squatting down to get a good look at the tiny space. A snapped picture revealed that it had been bigger at one time, but the tiny crawl space was all that hadn’t been caved in. He wasn’t exactly thrilled with the way it looked either. Rocks threatened to tumble into the little gap at the slightest provocation.
Sighing, he chucked his hat through the gap. If the others couldn’t see it, Waddles would likely be able to sniff it out. It ran the risk of it being eaten, but he’d get a new hat from the Mystery Shack.
“This is the worst plan,” he decided and wondered how he was going to get out without getting crushed.
Outside, picking their way around the sloped, rocky edge of the cave, Wirt led them to where Dipper should have been able to come out. He knew it was the longer way, they’d all seen it on the map, but it took them a while to make it from their exit to his and they should’ve seen some sign of it or him by now, right? He expressed this worry to the others in the group.
“Give him a minute or two, Wirt. Cheese and crackers, it’s not easy trying to get around that thing, you know that,” Beatrice replied. “The opening should be just a little bit further ahead of us.”
Waddles veered right, pulling Mabel along since she still had a hold of Greg’s hand. With him thoroughly enjoying his piggyback ride, she hadn’t been willing to take him off her poor pig. Once they were home, he’d get a king’s breakfast!
She laughed. “Way to go, Detective Waddles! On the case!”
“Hat ho!” Greg declared suddenly, pointing over Waddles’ head.
Wirt blinked at him. “What?”
“You know, like ‘land ho?’ I said hat ho because there’s a hat in front of us,” he explained.
Mabel grinned, scooping it up before Waddles could chew on it. She dropped it onto her head, turning the bill sideways. “Word.” She flashed peace signs with her hands, crossing her arms as she pointed downwards.
There was an audible slap, Dipper smacking his hand to his brow from behind the mostly rock wall. Well, they’d found him. “Mabel, I know what you’re doing. Stop it.”
“Wow! Dipper, I didn’t know you could shapeshift into a rock! Do you have rock facts, too?” Greg asked, hopping off Waddles to pat at the rock wall in front of them.
When even his light touch caused the wall to tremor, Mabel scooped him up. She tilted far enough to the side that her hair swept the ground, and blinked at the opening. Dipper’s hat fell off her head. “What’d you do?”
“Me?! It was like this when I-!” Dipper frowned at the rock wall. “Okay, so my plan has a small kink in it. But there’s still space to get out. I just was... waiting for you guys.”
Wirt narrowed his eyes as he inspected the very… precarious arrangement of rocks and dirt keeping Dipper inside the cave. “Are you sure? This doesn’t look all that stable… I mean, you’d have to wiggle a lot to get out and that might cause a cave-in? Maybe. We should find something to brace the opening. That won’t cause it to crumble apart the second we wedge it in,” he piped up, setting the frog down on the ground. When he tried to hop towards the cave, Wirt looped the end of the rope around Greg’s wrist for him to hold onto and keep the frog in place.
“Right, but I have no idea what we could use. I don’t know what’s out there with you guys, but I have nothing.”
“Maybe if we yanked him out really fast?” Mabel suggested, setting Greg on his feet.
“Why not?” Beatrice inquired. “Mabel or Wirt could probably get most of you out safely.”
“They key word is ‘most,’ and I’d really prefer if the keyword was ‘all.’”
Mabel knelt down in front of the opening and waved at her twin. Tongue caught between her teeth, she measured the opening by holding her hands apart at either side, then compared that to the sides of her waist, roughly estimating the size of his vest. “Give me your vest. You won’t fit with it on.”
His compliance came with an eye roll, but he was very careful when he slid the article through. Mabel pulled it on for the fun of it, scooping his hat back up and jumping to her feet. “I am the alpha twin!” she announced, spinning in a circle.
“Mabel!” he snapped, both twins jolting when the rocks trembled. “Mabel!” he repeated, far quieter.
“Now it’s your turn.” She did her best to be absolutely serious, but the silly inevitably took over. “I’ll save most of you.”
“No. Come on! Think of something better. What resources do we have?”
“I have my elephant trunk,” Greg took off his tea kettle and held it out with one hand, gripping the rope for Captain Picard with the other.
“Okay. Do we have useful resources?”
“What if we just pulled out all the rocks?” Mabel wondered, sashaying to the blocked exit. “Some of them aren’t that big.”
“What if we pull the wrong one and make the entire thing come down?” Wirt returned, smacking himself in the face a few times to try and get his mind whirring. They didn’t really have any useful resources at their disposal… “Wait, maybe… Greg, let me see the kettle?”
The younger boy lit up and handed it over happily. Turning it around in his hands a few times, Wirt pushed it in a little to gauge how malleable it was. It was sturdy, and solid metal. Like throwing a kink in a gear, it might be enough to wedge in to keep enough of the rocks from falling. If timed right. Wirt held the kettle up to the rocks around the tiny mouth of the cave, searching for a good place to cram it in while allowing them to move a big enough chunk to give Dipper room to climb out.
“Okay, Mabel, we’re going to have to move at almost the same time, but if you take that rock there,” Wirt pointed at one at chest level, “then I’ll wedge the kettle in up there to keep those rocks from caving in. The handle and the spout should keep it anchored in place long enough for Dipper to get out.” The keyword was should, but Wirt swallowed down that doubt. “What do you think?”
Mabel caught her tongue between her teeth, considering. “I can do that. Dipper?”
“I don’t know, Mabel. I can’t see what he’s talking about.” He sighed and flopped onto his back. If those rocks were going to crush him, he wasn’t going out facedown in the dirt. “Wirt, if you really think it’ll work...”
Wirt opened his mouth to reply, but found whatever he wanted to say dried out and evaporating right off his tongue. Did he think it would work? Well, logically speaking, it looked like it would. There were always risks to things, right? This was just… risking the life of a twelve-year-old kid. It wasn’t like it was for nothing though, he really couldn’t get out any other way. The situation gave a whole new meaning to being caught between a rock and a hard place. On one end there was a possibility of being crushed by rocks, on the other was the even more likely possibility of getting eaten by a giant Frog Fly.
“Wirt?” Beatrice landed on his shoulder, eyeing him carefully, and his hands trembled as he realized everyone was staring at him, waiting for him to mess up-
“Y-yeah,” he squeaked, voice breaking because he had absolutely no control over that particular embarrassment, even before puberty, then cleared his throat. “Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Just… just don’t take your time with getting out. Or, I mean, be careful, but try to keep moving, is what I’m saying.”
“Don’t worry, Dipper! Wirt always comes up with really good plans!” Greg stepped up to reassure him. “It’s why he’s the leader!”
Dipper was normally the leader, but he kept that quiet. His latest plan had put him in this predicament, though at least he’d managed to successfully ensare the Frog Fly. Frogs everywhere would croak his praises, he thought bitterly. “Then do it. Just tell me when I can start moving.”
“Okay.” Wirt nodded, turning the kettle about in his hands again as he took a deep breath. “Okay. Mabel, get ready and then on my count, we’ll make the swap. Beatrice? Can you…?” He shrugged a little and she left his shoulder.
“Got it,” she replied, taking to hovering in the air behind Wirt and Mabel.
Mabel grasped the rock a little more firmly than necessary, Dipper holding his breath as the wall trembled. “Mabel, be careful!”
“You shh! Your big mouth’s going to knock over the whole wall!”
“You come out here and do this part, then!”
Mabel considered that for a moment, head cocking to the side. “Oh. Right. Okay, I’m ready, Wirt!”
“I’m going to die,” Dipper mumbled. “I’m going to die under a bunch of rocks.”
“Both of you shh. Neither of you are making this any easier.” Wirt glared at the two of them. Well, at one of them and the other through a wall of rock, but the sentiment was there. “Just… just try and trust us, Dipper. Alright. One, two… three!”
The swap was a little messy, Mabel overeager and Wirt’s nerves vibrating from him in waves, but it seemed decidedly sturdier with the bulbish tea kettle lodged in. There was a pause while all waited for the miniscule entrance to collapse entirely, but when nothing of the sort occurred Mabel threw her hands in the air and spun in place. “And the Alpha Twin saves the day!”
“You’re not the alpha twin,” Dipper argued, and very carefully scooted back. His shoulders were a hair’s breadth from brushing either side he was terrified of breathing too hard lest his chest hit the top. Oh, man. Oh, man. Oh, man. Oh, man.
Mabel straightened the hat she still wore. “My outfit says I’m the Alpha Twin. Fashion doesn’t lie, Dipper.”
He inched out, the exit nearly as long as he was tall, legs pushing until his arms could get some kind of grip. “It’s not fashion. You’re just being silly.”
“Well, yeah.” She laughed, content with her role. Time and time again her silliness had been proven useful. Her amusement faded a bit as she watched him, fear eating away at it. Was his cheek cut? He hadn’t said his cheek was cut. And he looked so small, scooting out from the big pile. “Why are you getting out like that?”
“I can’t exactly walk out, Mabel!” Every bit of him was screaming to clamor back into the tunnel or go faster out. Looking up at the rocks seemed like a poor idea in hindsight, but seeing the ceiling - as it were - was vital. Please don’t let me die.
Please don’t let him die. “It would’ve been faster the other way.”
He stopped to glare at her, not quite far enough to lift himself up, but far enough that he could dig his elbows into the ground and pull that way. His knees no longer had enough room to bend. “Why don’t you try this?”
“I can’t! You’re in the way!”
He threw his hands up, or back, rather, and groaned. “Stop-!”
“Uh oh! Frog on the loose!” Greg, with his arms full of a squirming Captain Picard now, watched as a stray, regular ol’ frog hopped past him, heading right for Dipper. “Wirt, grab him!”
Wirt nearly tripped over his own feet in his haste to spin around, his attention having been fully captivated by the occasional tremble of the tea kettle and the rocks bearing down on it. He didn’t know what he would try to do if it suddenly gave way - it wasn’t like he could brace the rocks with his hands, he wasn’t anywhere near strong enough. Apparently, he also wasn’t anywhere near quick enough to catch the frog before it leapt past him, arms closing around air. He gaped, watching as Beatrice flew at the frog, wings outstretched to try and scare the frog off course, but the call of the Frog Fly was too strong. It smacked into her, then wiggled its way into the cave alongside Dipper.
“Dipper!” Mabel shouted, her first instinct to get to him and drag him out. She tripped over the very rock she’d swapped for the tea kettle, hitting her knees hard, and heard the rocks beginning to tumble even before she had time to look up. “Dipper!” she wailed again, voice an octave higher.
He tried to throw his hands up to cover his face, as if it would protect him somehow, but someone else latched onto him and yanked. Dipper’s landing was a lot softer than he’d expected it to be, but he also wasn’t entirely certain that he hadn’t just died under a miniature mountain of rocks. With a strangled scream trapped in his throat, breaths coming out as spasmed wheezes, he grasped at the closest thing. Fingers curled into fabric, his face burying itself against the same.
The person Dipper clung to was pretty certain his heart had stopped somewhere during the past five seconds. Yep. Yes, he was pretty sure of that.
Wirt stared ahead of him at the now sealed off entrance, where the kid in his arms had literally just been and would have been crushed, erased from existence in the blink of an eye and scattered to the winds, alive only in memory as a poor imitation of a person. He wasn’t sure how he’d done it. How he’d grabbed him in time. He just… had. Wirt felt Greg and Mabel hovering around them, unsure if they were saying anything for the ringing in his ears, but realizing they were there, watching, kicked his heart back into gear and he let out a long, shaky breath.
“You’re…” Wirt patted Dipper’s back, awkward in his attempt to comfort - he didn’t comfort, no one came to him for things like life or death, what was he even doing? “You’re okay. Oh my gosh.”
His ears were ringing, so he wasn’t entirely certain he’d heard right. Degree by degree, he started to relax but still clung to Wirt’s shirt. He tensed anew when he felt something drop onto his head, but sighed in relief when it was only his hat. He leaned back, hands uncurling slowly so he could straighten the cap properly. That was much better. He always had his hat, right?
He scrubbed his hands to his face, wincing when he rubbed his cut a little too firmly, and quickly dropped them. He looked up at the teenager, eyes still wide and wildly afraid. “Whoa,” he breathed.
“Oh, wow.” Wirt blinked, then glanced down at his own hands, wringing them together to stop the trembling. How had he been able to grab anything that fast with his arms so shaky? “You- you are okay, right? I mean, nothing fell on you or clipped you or- you’ve got… on your face, was that-?” He pointed to his own cheek, words failing him.
“What? Not- St-st-st-” He stopped himself, backing up and getting to his feet to pace away. “Stalactites fell because the monster- One fell kind of close and- I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.”
Mabel took off Dipper’s vest to return it to him when he wasn’t crazy, then threw her arms around Wirt. She rocked, giving him a tight squeeze. “Thank you,” she whispered, then darted to her brother. She grabbed his arm, ignoring his full body spaz, and threw her arms around him as well.
“Stop. Stop. I’m fine. I didn’t almost die. I’m fine. I’m fine.” She ignored him, holding on until his legs simply gave out, and then sat with him on the ground. His hat was knocked askew when he buried his face against her shoulder, shivering. Mabel rested her cheek against it and just held on.
Eventually, the shivers stopped and he could breathe again. “I almost died.”
He leaned away from his twin. “Whoa.” She giggled, relieved to be able to do so, and flicked his cap. “Don’t laugh!” he exclaimed, straightening the bill, but grinned. Both stood, though Mabel skipped over to the rubble to retrieve Greg’s tea kettle and Dipper went to pick up his vest. He swatted at it, dust and dirt having accumulated on the puffy fabric, and pulled it on.
With it and his cap back on, he finally felt normal enough to look at Wirt. His mortification was easy enough to spot, color flooding his face. He’d clung to him like a baby. Oh, no. “So, uh, that wasn’t part of the plan.”
Wirt folded his arms over his chest and looked away, easily just as flustered as he fidgeted where he’d chosen to stand. “No. No it wasn’t. I- I’m so sorry, Dipper. I thought it would hold and instead my idea nearly killed you. It was stupid.”
“But, Wirt, you saved him. You saved the day twice today!” Greg pointed out, tugging on Wirt’s cape.
“No, I didn’t- just- Greg, stay out of this. You don’t even know the seriousness of what just happened.”
“I know that Dipper almost got turned into a pancake because of those rocks, but didn’t because you saved him. You’re not just like Spiderman, you’re like Superman, too! Like in that movie where Lois Lane gets buried under all that dirt, except you didn’t have to fly around the world to turn back time and-”
“I’m not like Superman!” Wirt snapped. “And I’m not like Spiderman. I’m not like anybody, I’m just a guy. I just want to be a regular guy, Greg, so stop trying to put me on a pedestal and just be quiet. For once in your life, can you please just be quiet?”
Greg quieted, holding onto Captain Picard tightly with two arms even though the frog was no longer affected by the Frog Fly thanks to the cave-in. Wirt almost felt guilty for turning on Greg, almost a complete one hundred and eighty degree turn from when he’d pulled him out of the cave, too. Hero. Right, he wasn’t a hero. He wasn’t anything close. A hero wouldn’t have walked off without their six-year-old brother, half or not, and let him fall off the edge of some cliff. A hero wouldn’t have let a twelve-year-old act as bait for a massive, human-eating fly and nearly kill himself in the process just because he was too scared to do it himself. Heroes weren’t cowards. Heroes didn’t endanger people. Sure, he hadn’t accounted for the frog that inevitably caused the cave-in, but he should’ve been paying attention. Or Mabel should’ve. Or Beatrice. Or Greg even! No one had been watching for variables and it could’ve cost some poor kid his life. So no, he wasn’t a hero. And he didn’t feel completely guilty because Greg didn’t even take what he said to heart anyway. He never did. Things just bounced off him, like he was made of rubber, while Wirt just crumbled under the weight.
“Sure thing, brother o’ mine! I’ll be nice and quiet about you being a hero so I won’t disturb your secret identity,” Greg promised, missing the point completely.
“Fine. Do whatever you want.” Wirt refused to look at him, choosing instead to stare at the floor. “Once you’re feeling up to it, we can start heading for Adelaide’s again,” he addressed Dipper, hunching up under his cape.
“Wirt-” Beatrice started, flying over to him. “Wirt, come on, don’t get all moody on us.”
“I thought you were in a hurry to get to Adelaide’s. You should be happy we’re getting a move on.” Wirt lifted his head to fix Beatrice with an oddly cold stare.
The bluebird struggled for something to say to that, but came up with nothing and landed on Greg’s kettle, back in its rightful place atop his head. Cheeks puffed up, she pointedly avoided his gaze, keeping her wings tucked in tight. Greg tried to look up to see her, but couldn’t do a very good job of it with her on his head, then looked at Wirt, but he’d taken to leaning against a tree, sulking to himself like he tended to do. For a second, Greg could’ve sworn he saw one of the tree roots grow right out of the ground, closing in on his brother, but then he blinked and it was gone. It was just a normal tree, no sneaky roots to be found at all.
Mabel poked her brother, who was just staring in surprise at the outburst. Wirt seemed just as shaken as he had been, but he didn’t have - or chose to ignore who he did have - someone to cling to and shake. The twins had an argument, successfully whispering as it largely consisted of gestures and pointing.
Dipper finally rolled his eyes and passed over the journal. “And here’s your camera too. Just... Show him the ferry, I guess. He’ll probably like the pictures of it.”
Mabel grinned and twirled to Greg and Beatrice, beaming at them both. “Come on. Waddles has the right idea!” She took the boy’s hand and led him to the pig, who had decided to nap in the shade. Mabel pulled Greg into her lap, opening the journal and thumbing through it. She didn’t know all the pages like he did, so it would take her a little bit to find it, especially since she stopped at every page Greg gasped at.
Dipper watched them for a minute, then jammed his hands into pockets and strode towards the teenager. His head dropped as he made it closer, nervous. Just what did Mabel expect him to say? He hadn’t understood the outburst. He didn’t agree with it, either, and arguing at least came easy to him.
He glanced up, glad the hat shadowed most of his discomfort. “Okay, so, I don’t actually know if you’re going to pay attention to this since you’re doing the... teenager thing. Wendy does this sometimes, too, and it’s...” Already off track. Dipper sighed, pushing up the bill of his hat and frowned. At least he seemed to have Wirt’s attention. “It wasn’t your plan. That wall was a lot sturdier than it was before. It would’ve fallen a lot faster with that stupid frog if it hadn’t been there, and then-” He didn’t want to say it.
“I would’ve died, yeah,” he pushed out after a steadying breath. “I mean... If you don’t want to think of yourself a hero, that’s fine. Whatever. And - I don’t know - you’re starting to look guilty and that’s just dumb. It was my plan to go down the tunnel. I’ve had monsters chase me tons of times, and I always get away. You probably haven’t - at least not before this place. And if you’d gone instead of me, you’d still be sitting behind that wall. No way you could’ve fit through that hole.
“So... Look. Don’t argue about it. Just- You saved my life, and that’s really awesome. So thanks.” The hands he’d been gesturing wildly with during his stupid speech were jammed back into his pockets. “That was... Thanks.”
Still huddled under his cape, Wirt glanced down at the grass as he scuffed the toe of one of his mismatched shoes against the ground. The kid had a point. He wouldn’t have fit if it were him that had stayed behind instead. But that wasn’t the point. With all the what-ifs racing through his head, in the end it still should’ve been him to have taken up the burden. He may not be related to the twins by any means, but he was still the elder child and The Woodsman’s words still rattled him. His burden to bear.
With a sigh, Wirt nodded and looked to Dipper. “You don’t have to thank me,” he told him, trying to lighten his tone some to keep his feelings to himself. “It’s not like I was just going to stand there and let a bunch of rocks fall on you.”
“Yeah, well, you wouldn't. I know people who would've. Back home... Mabel and I have enemies. Not like 'oh, we're twelve and bullies suck' but people actively trying to kill us.” He thought a moment. “Okay, Gideon's mostly trying to kill me, but Bill Cipher's trying to kill everyone.
“This got complicated.” He tugged off his hat. No wonder people talked over him back home all the time. “Quick point: grabbing me like you did? Not easy. Letting me die? Really easy. Way to make the tough choices. Okay? Okay. Stop doing the-” He gestured to Wirt with his hat before tugging it back on. “The teen thing.”
“Teen thing? This isn’t a-” Wirt cut himself off, huffing defensively as he considered it a minute. “Okay, maybe it’s a little bit of a teen thing... just something for you to look forward to in, what? A year? Provided that none of those guys you just mentioned actually kill you.”
“Less than a year,” he readily pointed out, aging himself as quickly as possible. “Almost technically a teen. And there's no way Gideon'll ever manage it. He's rich, but he lost his journal and he's only ten. Bill Cipher, though... Still working on that. But I've got my journal and Mabel, so we'll be fine.”
He decided against explaining that Cipher was sort of completely a demon. They may have just been chased around by a Frog Fly, but this was The Unknown and that was home. “So I was kind of wondering. You and Greg are normal, right? Why the... gnome thing?”
“I’m not a gnome,” Wirt grumbled, hunching his shoulders up. “It’s- I dunno. It’s just some dumb Halloween costume I put together so I could go to the football game. I don’t even know what I was trying to be. It looked cool at the time. Greg was supposed to be a ghost or something, but he decided last minute on the elephant thing and stole our mom’s tea kettle. Gotta admit it makes sense though. In a weird way.” His lips had quirked up into a sort of half-smile as he explained Greg’s costume, but as his brow furrowed they slanted back down. “I don’t know if I’d group him in with normal.”
“I think of Mabel as normal most of the time, so-” Halloween. He jerked back, a puppet on a string. Halloween? No. No, Summerween. But that had already passed.
It was June! No. Bill Cipher showed up halfway through summer. Gideon had lost his journal midway through summer. July, then? But-
Dipper spun. “Mabel! Mabel, what's today?!”
She looked up from the knitting she was doing, arms still around Greg while the bluebird and frog had taken to perusing the journal. “It's... Um? I don't really remember. What's the big deal, Dipper?”
He spun again, staring at Wirt. “Were we even in Gravity Falls?” he whispered. He spun back to his sister, arms waving. “Were we even in Gravity Falls?!”
“What d'you mean?” she asked, bewildered.
“I mean it's not summer! We weren't there at all. We were home!” He darted over, scooping up the book as Beatrice quickly hopped away from it, and flipped through the pages. He didn’t think to question her presence on the book, too wrapped up in discovery. “No wonder the journal’s acting up! We're at our boring, normal home where nothing ever happens! Maybe we brought some of the town home with us,” he mused, then snapped his fingers. “Quick! What do you last remember before we ended up here?”
“Um...” She pressed her fingers to her temples, rubbing. “Walking home with you because we got kicked off the bus because Waddles tried to eat a girl's scarf.” The pig oinked.
“Right, I remember that.” Dipper frowned at his sister, pacing. “And after we left the bus, we started walking. And then…”
“We were here!”
“How?! We're missing something!” Hyped on discovery, Dipper started flipping through pages as if the book would tell him. “What-?”
Hey! I've had enough! You kids are... You're nothing but trouble, got it? You can't even stay in one piece at home.
For a moment, each twin was in simple agony. Pure, blinding, agony.
Then Waddles squealed and it was gone. Dipper's cheek stung a little, but that was recent. He touched the cut, fingertips stained red. Oh, man.
“Let's get going.” He spun to Beatrice. “If Adelaide can just explain what The Unknown is exactly, I think I'll be able to piece this together.”
“Is there anything to really explain about The Unknown?” Beatrice questioned, still a bit taken aback by the twins’ behaviors - or realizations, rather. “I mean, it’s a weird place full of weird people.”
“So’s Gravity Falls. We’re used to that. But this place is different. I know it is. I just have to figure out exactly how.”
Mabel tucked her knitting away for later, getting both herself and Greg to their feet. She had her own theory, but it was crazy. Too bad crazy was part of her everyday vocabulary. Still, she kept it to herself for the time being. She knew better than anyone that Dipper needed to figure things out for himself.
She smiled at the youngest of their group and really kind of hoped she was wrong. Because what could have happened to these three - Captain Picard or whatever the frog’s current name was included - to bring them into The Unknown? She was very certain that what had happened to her, Dipper, and Waddles wasn’t the most cheerful of scenarios, though the details were still very fuzzy.
“I think I’m going to put an elephant on this sweater. I’d make one with a gnome on it for Wirt, but then the forest gnomes would think I was flirting with them and yuck!”
“You could put a pilgrim,” Greg offered. “At the place with all the people, they said that Wirt was The Pilgrim! And not the Thanksgiving kind, but the adventurer kind.”
She had no idea what that would look like, but laughed and captured his hand. Inspiration would come, she knew. “Pilgrims are a lot better than gnomes.”
“Pretty much everything is better than gnomes,” Dipper pointed out, tucking his journal away. “Wirt, do you still have the map? Did it even change when you left the cave?”
“Oh, uh… yeah.” Wirt took the map back out and unfolded it, handing it over to Dipper. “I mean, a little. Enough so I could see where the exit we came out of was in relation to your exit.”
“Can I see the map?” Greg asked.
“It’s Dipper’s turn to see the map,” Wirt replied. “You can see it when he’s done. If he lets you.”
Dipper didn’t miss the sighed, “aw, beans,” and laughed. They were on the right track to being home, he just knew it, and it had bolstered his mood considerably. “Come on, Greg, you can look at it with me.”
Mabel let his hand go so he could scamper over and Dipper knelt down, spreading the map out on the ground. As they watched, the space shifted. They could see the river now, further than it had been before their adventures in the cave, but still close enough to reach. “Beatrice, is this it? It just says ‘the docks.’”
Beatrice hopped over, following the trail etched on the map with her eyes. “Yeah, that looks about right. It’s the right river, in any case, so even if those aren’t the right docks it would still be a good place to start.”
“Yeah. That makes sense,” Wirt agreed, glancing around at the surrounding trees for the right direction that coincided with what they were seeing on the map. “We should get there before the sun goes down.”
“Woo!” Mabel cheered. The frog croaked at her, so she stooped down and untied the rope from around him. “Freedom!”
Dipper glanced back, eyes rolling. “Come on, Mabel. Let’s go!”
“I want one picture. This might be my last chance, Dipper!” She held up her camera, remembered receiving it for her birthday and spending the rest of the day bedazzling it. “It has a timer,” she reminded him. “I’ll put it on this rock-”
“I’ve had enough of rocks.”
“-and press this,” she continued, ignoring him, “and picture time!” She ran over to them, sweeping Greg up and pressing their cheeks together. “Smile!”
“No.” She playfully kicked at her brother, and he bit back his grin. “Fine. Wirt has to smile too.”
“Wha- what?” Wirt edged away slightly, hands held up in front of him defensively. “No, no, you don’t want me in the picture-”
“Wirt, get in there.” Beatrice flew up to his face and made to peck at him, herding him back over to the twins and Greg. “And smile! Come on, I know you’ve got it in you. You’ve got a great smile.”
“Beatrice!” Wirt complained, his ears and cheeks burning as he settled in place.
“I’m not taking you to Adelaide’s unless you smile,” was all she responded with.
He huffed, crossing his arms under his cape as she settled on his shoulder, but glanced at the sparkly, pink camera and managed a small smile anyway.
“Aw, you can do better than that, Wirt! I’ve seen you!” Greg told him, laughing from how Mabel squished their cheeks. “Give a real smile!”
“You give a real smile,” Wirt muttered under his breath.
“No, you!” Greg eyed him sternly and on any other day it would’ve annoyed him or shocked him or anything other than make his lips quirk up just a bit, but genuinely enough to appease the six-year-old.
Dipper got to his feet quickly, unsure just how much time he had before the flash went off. There wasn’t enough time to put the map away, so he was still holding it when the picture took, but that suited him fine. At least he was beside his sister and grinning - they were going home.
“Are you happy now?” Dipper asked her, and she twirled with Greg.
“Yeah.” She set Greg down, bolting for her camera so she could see the picture. It was perfect! Her and Dipper, Greg between them, Wirt standing behind them with a sweet little smile - if he didn’t look so much like a gnome, her crush may have lasted a little longer - and Beatrice on his shoulder. She hadn’t noticed, but Waddles had trotted over with the frog perched on his head. All of them, safe and sound. Except not.
She looked at her brother, watched him double-check the map before folding it and tucking it within the pages of the journal again. Though she didn’t know how, she knew they were all hurting and hurting bad. Was that what they had to remember before they could go home? Or was remembering what would keep them there? As much as she tried not to admit it, Dipper was smarter with these things. Her thoughts ran to the silly - the disjointed paths and patterns what suited her - and her brother was linear. He could make sense of this, she was sure, him and that journal.
Maybe it would be better if she gave him a nudge this time.
The boys walked off, Beatrice flying ahead of them, complaining that they were slower than any black turtle she’d ever seen. But Greg waited for her with their pets, eyes big and wide and full of hope. He was so sweet, like a cinnamon roll. She giggled, tucking her camera away and ran up to sweep him up again, swinging him in for a tight hug.
“We’ll all be home soon,” she promised and felt his nod against her neck.
“Mabel!” Dipper called, a sudden realization dawning. “We’re thirteen! Technically teens! Yes!” Mabel only laughed into Greg’s ear.
SCRAPBOOKORTUNITY. That is all.
“I’m not scared.”
Dipper rolled his eyes, walking on the correct side of the road so he could see oncoming traffic. It was a little difficult to be on that side with a cliff right beyond the guardrail, but it was the legal side for pedestrians. It didn’t matter that this road tended to be deserted. Where did he want to be when a car came by? On the side his sister walked on, unable to see it? Or right where he was and perfectly able to see?
Even Waddles was with him, so he grinned down at the pig, forgiving him for chewing on Patricia McLane’s scarf and getting them kicked off the bus. It was her own fault for wearing one that looked like carrots.
“Then why won’t you come over here? This is the right side of the road for pedestrians. There’s even a lined walkway!”
She stuck her tongue out at him, her satchel bright pink. The unicorn on it was hand-sewn, and normally she felt pride when she looked at her work. But now she frowned at the white animal and then across the street at her brother and pig. How could Waddles betray her?!
“I’m not scared,” she insisted, flipped her hair. It was easier to ignore the cliff while they were on the bus. She was pretty careful in her seating choices, and Dipper never minded since they always kept the same spot. He was all-for assigned seating, and wasn’t fond about the school bus’s lack of rules. But now that they were walking, it was more obvious. And when a car sped by, she jumped and her twin laughed at her. Ugh. “Cut it out, Dipper.”
“Just come over here, okay?”
“You come over here!”
He lifted the phone he’d gotten for his birthday - teenagers got smartphones - and snapped a picture of her with the camera app. “Check out Mabel,” he said, thumbs tapping the bottom of the screen as though he was sending a text. “Scared of nothing.”
“Dipper!” Caught between being wanted to be seen as a scaredy-cat and wanting to prove to herself that she could overcome her fears, Mabel steeled herself and ran across the street. “Give me that!” she demanded, reaching for the phone.
He held her back with one hand, the other holding the phone out of reach as he laughed. “No way!”
She shouted his name again, tickling him when he still refused. His yelp was satisfying, but then he backed into a break in the guardrail. He tripped over it and the phone fell to the asphalt as the boy fell back. “Mabel!”
“Dipper!” she shouted, reaching out to grab him. But she tripped over Waddles, sending the pig under the guardrail and herself right over it. She scrambled for her grappling hook, but it was in her bag. It was back up there, and she could only stare towards the sky through the hair whipping wildly around her face.
She didn’t want to look down, but her brother was below her. He reached for her and she reached back, tears flooding her eyes. “We’ll be okay!” he promised. It wasn’t as far a fall as the bottomless pit had been, but it was still far and she could see the ground. She curled into a ball as it rushed to her, screaming for her brother as their fingers entwined and the world went black.
When light dawned again, they were wandering through the woods. Dipper had his face in the journal and they felt twelve again. Laughing, Mabel poked his cheek and laughed as she raced ahead to see what these woods had in store today.
He looked up, losing focus on keeping in step with Wirt. He was used to being in the lead, but the teenager seemed rather keen on bringing up the rear. Unsure why that was, he stayed back with him. It was a bit difficult to match the steps of longer legs, having to hop now and again to keep up. It was worth it to hear some of the mumbled poetry Wirt would spout when he forgot Dipper was there.
But then he’d catch Dipper staring, avert his gaze, and the mumbles about trees and fields and some girl named Sara would stop. Some of it was probably really bad, but Dipper’s reading leant itself more towards mystery novels than verse and prose.
Plus, he was really starting to get the point of following behind. Harder to leap in front to defend and protect, but easier to see the ones who needed that defense. It was nice.
“Are we almost there?” Mabel whispered.
“Uh.” He retrieved the map, unfolding the overworked paper. “Looks like it. Why?”
When she closed her eyes, she could hear a heart monitor, and the mumblings of loved ones. She was afraid she was going to end up leaving without her brother after all. Mabel smiled. “Oh, you know, just wondering.”
His eyes narrowed, easily seeing the lie. She was awful at it. “What’s wrong, Mabel?”
“What?! Wrong?! Nothing!”
“Don’t lie to me, Mabel.”
“No one here is lieing to you,” she insisted, but her gesture was aimed at Greg rather than herself.
Eyes rolling, Dipper pushed the map at Wirt and sped up to catch his sister. He dragged her away, though tried to stay close enough to the half-brothers.
Wirt tilted his head to the side, their little squabble enough to capture his attention from the inner poetry of his mind. Beatrice - who’d been content enough on his shoulder - seemed to be shaken out of whatever thoughts she’d been ruminating on so quietly as well and left to stretch her wings out. Watching as Greg took to following after Dipper and Mabel, Wirt sped up a bit and grabbed him by the strap of his overalls.
“But I want to hear the secret,” he explained.
“Just… give them some space for a second, Greg. They need to talk about… twin things. Probably,” Wirt made up on the spot.
Greg seemed to accept it. “Oh. I wish I had a twin. Do you think President George Washington would be my twin?”
“What?” Wirt stared at him, then understood when Greg lifted up the frog. “Oh… wait, I thought you were going for a Star Trek theme?”
“I changed my mind. History is the way of the future.”
Glad that Wirt had distracted Greg, Dipper bumped his shoulder into his twin’s. “What is it, Mabel?”
“It’s... Did you hear Grunkle Stan earlier?”
“Well...” He dropped his gaze, rubbing the back of his neck. “Yeah. I mean- yeah. But it didn’t make sense. Mom and dad? Yeah. We were in California, not Oregon. Grunkle Stan wouldn’t leave the Shack without a good reason.”
“I think something bad happening to his favorite niece and nephew would be a pretty good reason,” she prompted, and wasn’t disappointed when Dipper looked up, his eyes a little wide and a little afraid. “Something bad happened. We need to remember what. I think. What happened to us, Dipper? What were we doing?”
“We were walking home from school, and we... we got lost. That’s all.”
“I’m ready to go home!” she shouted, tears springing to her eyes so suddenly that he took an automatic step towards her to comfort. She pushed at him. “I can’t go without you, Dipper!”
“Stop. Cut it out, Mabel.” He glanced at the half-brothers, Wirt confused and Greg worried. Oh, man. “Mabel! Mabel, stop it. Really.”
“Where’s your stupid phone, Dipper?”
“What? I don’t have a-”
“The one you got for your birthday! I got this!” Her camera was waved in the air. “And you got that dumb phone. Where is it?”
“I don’t have it, okay? I don’t know- I-I just don’t have it.”
“Because it’s back up on the stupid-” He stopped and his ears started to ring, and then beep, beep, beep, beep.
“Come on. Just get up, will ya? I know you wanna get back to the Mystery Shack and all since we all know I’m the greatest uncle ever, but you can’t sleep eighth grade away.”
Dipper pulled off his hat slowly. “It’s back up on the cliff,” he whispered, “with our backpacks. And...” More pieces began to fell into place, and he grabbed her hand in both of his. “I wasn’t going to send it! That stupid picture. I wasn’t even actually typing a text to anyone. I just wanted you to stop being so weird.”
“I wasn’t being weird.”
“Yes, you were! It was just like...” He quieted again, mind whirring. “No wonder you were so scared when you thought Greg was going to fall. I still don’t get why you wouldn’t just come to my side of the road.”
She ducked her head, rubbing her arm, and mumbled something.
“The sound of tights?” he repeated.
Mabel sighed. “I’m scared of heights.”
“What? Since when?”
She threw her hands up, pacing away from him, and then back. “Grunkle Stan was afraid of heights, and I decided to make him face his fears by tricking him into climbing up to the water tower. But then it fell. Grunkle Stan was cured, somehow, which is great! It really is! He faced his fears and beat them. But the ground rushed up so fast. It was so fast. I didn’t want to go to your side of the road because I was scared. And then... And then I pushed you off. I pushed Waddles off too. It’s all my fault, Dipper.”
“No, hey, no. Listen, Mabel, it wasn’t. You were scared, okay, and I made fun of you. It was my fault too. You didn’t push me anyway. I just fell. It was an accident, and there’s no way you would’ve pushed Waddles.”
“I tripped over him and he fell off, and then I fell.”
“So it was accident all around. I mean, we were both being jerks.”
Mabel nodded, and this time she didn’t push Dipper away. She threw her arms around him and squeezed tight. Until Dipper said, “But I don’t think we should go home yet.”
She leaned back. “But everyone’s worried!”
He hushed her, turning away from Greg and Wirt entirely. The twins huddled together, dropped even the pretense of walking while they spoke. “We have to tell them how to get home. Somehow. It should be somewhere in the journal. The pages are still changing. I mean, the map stretches out the more we walk. The author wouldn’t come here without writing down the way out. I’m not leaving these guys without giving them something.”
He pulled the book out of his vest pocket, frowning at the six-fingered hand. “Let’s get to the ferry at least. That should give me enough time to find the answers for them. They’ve been in here longer than we have.”
She bit her lip, turning around to look at Greg. Wirt still had a hold of him, keeping him from coming over. Oh, she wanted to hug him so badly because now she knew for sure - something bad had happened to him and to Wirt. Were they in a Massachusetts hospital, like she and Dipper were in a Californian one? Had they fallen like they had, or was it something worse?
“Okay,” she agreed. “You’re right. I just don’t want to scare Greg.”
“I won’t. I’ll tell Wirt. He’ll be able to figure it out.” Dipper opened the journal, scanning pages carefully with Mabel reading with him until Beatrice flew between them, her patience at its end.
“So. Did the two of you sort out whatever it was that inspired this little pit stop?” The bluebird glanced from one twin to the other. “We do have a ferry to catch.”
The Pines looked at one another, one thoughtful and the other grinning. Dipper shrugged, using his finger to mark his place in the journal rather than closing it entirely. They made a conscious decision, together, to stay in The Unknown. “I guess.”
Feeling a million times better, Mabel darted over to Greg and swept him into a tight hug. When she squeezed her eyes shut, the steady beeping and voices were a comfort. She’d be with them soon, her and her brother. “When does the ferry leave?”
“A little before sunset,” Dipper replied, lifting his head. He couldn’t see the sun very well for the trees, but the shadows were growing longer. “We shouldn’t be that far now, though.”
Beatrice landed on a nearby branch, tensing as she glanced at the shadows as well. “Good. That’s good. Let’s keep going then.”
With that said, she took off once again, leaving the others to follow her lead. Wirt’s brow furrowed as he watched. Everyone was starting to act weird. Still, with them being so close to Adelaide’s, he couldn’t really let it get to him. The sooner they got to Adelaide’s, the sooner they got out of this place and things would go back to normal. He glanced over at the way Mabel cuddled Greg. Yeah, back to normal.
A shudder ran up and down Wirt’s spine. Unfortunately back to normal also meant back to absolute humiliation at the hands of a mixtape and Jason Funderberker. Darn that Jason Funderberker.
Dipper rejoined them, attention more on the journal since he’d reopened it. If they only had until they reached the ferry, he had to find something. He waved at Wirt, not bothering to look up. “Don’t let me fall behind, okay? I’ve got to find something.”
Wirt slowed down a little to fall in step with him. “What are you looking for? More information on the ferry or Adelaide?”
“Yes.” Dipper looked up, blinked. “Oh, wait, that was two things. No. Mabel and I figured something out, and I’m trying to find it. In case that doesn’t pan out - which it will, it has to - I’ll keep looking for the Adelaide page too.”
“Oh. Um… okay.”
Wirt tried to let it go at that, hadn’t he just told Greg to give them space so they could discuss twin things? But still, curiosity niggled in his mind, especially since whatever the two of them had figured out had something to do with The Unknown or Dipper wouldn’t be scanning the pages of his journal the way he was. And if it had something to do with The Unknown, well, Wirt couldn’t deny that he wanted as much knowledge of this place on his side as possible. If it meant avoiding more surprises like The Woodsman, the monster dog, and the Frog Fly. Not to mention The Beast.
Maybe he could bring it up casually? How was he supposed to bring it up casually? “I didn’t know there was anything that needed to be figured out, since we’re… you know, on the road to Adelaide’s and… nothing’s… nothing’s try to eat us at the moment…” Well, certainly not like that. Wirt wanted to smack himself in the face.
“When you’re solving a puzzle, you don’t just look at the little pieces, You look at the whole picture.” Admittedly, there were a lot of little pieces of The Unknown, a lot of distractions. Considering the very likely possibility that they were in some sort of Limbo, that could be the point. The more things to look at and to consider, the less likely you were to want to go home. Maybe that was why it was so easy for him and Mabel to spot the differences - they were used to the distractions of the paranormal. Greg and Wirt weren’t.
He dog-eared the page he was on, closing the book to try and explain in his words what was happening to them without completely freaking the teenager out - “hey, you could be dead or dying back in Massachusetts” - just didn’t seem like it would work.
“So... What were you and Greg doing before you got here?”
Wirt sighed, hanging his head. “Trying to get my tape back from Sara before she and Jason Funderberker listened to it and laughed and laughed and…ugh. Jason Funderberker. He’s the total package. He’s got his whole act together. I-” He bit down on his lip when he started getting carried away. “A-anyway. That’s what we were trying to do, but then we climbed over this wall in the cemetery and…” His brow furrowed. “And then we went for a walk and got lost in the woods… I guess.”
“Okay, but...” There was a gap in there. Had they fallen off the wall? Had there even been a wall? Dipper rubbed his free hand over his face. This was the worst. Were there woods in their town? There were in Gravity Falls, but none between school and their house back home. He didn’t know what part of Massachusetts Greg and Wirt were from, though, so who knew if they were surrounded by woods there?
Puzzles, he thought. It’s all about the puzzles and sometimes you had to ask questions to get all the pieces. “But where-” He bumped into Mabel, the journal dropping to the ground. “Hey!”
She looked back at him. “It’s a steamboat.”
“Wha-?” They were there. Already?! Dipper paled, looking passed his sister. It was there, right there through the trees. A steamboat with a line of smartly dressed frogs waiting to board. He thumped his fist against his chest twice. That hadn’t been enough time to do anything to let Wirt know kind of how to get home, let alone find information in the journal. “Oh, man.”
“Great!” The confusion as he’d been trying to piece together how he’d gotten from the wall in the cemetery to the middle of the woods was wiped off his face as a huge grin spread across his cheeks. “We’re almost home! Come on!”
He took the lead, eager to board and bridge yet another gap in the array of chasms that seemed so set on dragging him down into the dark, dizzying depths reserved for the misguided, the forgotten, the lost. No, that would not be his fate. Not when his salvation came in the form of a riverboat bursting with vibrant colors and vibrant- frogs. Frogs, well, he had to expect a little more nonsense at this point, didn’t he?
It was surprising to find that only Greg was following him though. “Guys?”
“Uh...” Mabel pushed Dipper forward and he spun around, shrugging and flailing his hands. “I didn’t have time!”
“Time for what?” Wirt arched an eyebrow, glancing between the two of them.
The ferry whistled, last call for boarding most likely, and Wirt and Greg both looked to it. They were so close and who knew when it would come back. It could be in an hour or it could be a day from now or a week! If this was the only way to Adelaide’s he was not going to miss that boat and have to wait an entire week to get home. Wirt shoved his hand into his pocket, where he’d placed the pennies Dipper had given them, only to find it empty. Quickly he checked the other one. Empty as well.
“Oh no. No, no, no, no, where are they?” Wirt frantically patted himself down, despite knowing that it was fruitless, there wasn’t anywhere else on him that they could be.
“Where are what?” Greg asked.
“The pennies! The pennies are gone! They were in my pocket and- they must have fallen out somewhere. Oh no. No, why is this happening?” He grabbed at his hair, gaze quickly scanning the ground in case they’d fallen somewhere remotely close to them.
Beatrice fluttered over to them. “Well, guess we’ll just have to retrace our steps and go look for them, since you can’t get on without the two cent fee.”
“We don’t have time for that! The ferry’s going to leave!” Wirt flapped his arms in the ferry’s direction.
“We’ll just catch the next one.”
“I don’t want to catch the next one.” Wirt smacked the heel of his palm against his forehead, closing his eyes tightly as he inhaled deeply. “We’ll… we’ll sneak on. I mean, they do it in movies. And books. We’ll be stowaways.”
“Wirt,” Beatrice warned.
“I’m not waiting when the ferry’s right there, Beatrice! I want to go home!”
“I want to go home, too,” Greg piped up, siding with his brother in attempt to get Wirt to relax. It was easier to relax when somebody agreed with you, at least that’s what the younger boy figured. “And so does George Washington.” Now their team had three people. “What about you, Mabel? Dipper? Want to be on our sneaky team?”
“Well, uh... The thing is- Oh, man.” Dipper ducked his head, rubbing the back of his neck. “How do I-?”
“We’re not getting on the ferry!” Mabel exclaimed, then blew out a relieved breath. “Wow, that feels good. Secrets are hard. Good thing- Oh, Greg, don’t be upset!” She ran over, sweeping him up. “I’ve got this one!” she called and sped away with him and his frog to whisper all the encouraging words she had at her disposal.
“Wait! Don’t leave me with- I mean-” Dipper gestured at Wirt and Beatrice desperately, bouncing on his toes, but his sister was gone. “I don’t- know... what I’m doing here...”
He pressed his hands to his face, muttering under his breath. He had to think, he had to get it out. He wasn’t some idiot kid - he was technically a teen and he was pretty smart, right? Yeah. Of course he was. Oh, man. “Mabel and I know the way home,” he blurted. “Ugh, no, that came out wrong. We know our way home. We know- we think- Agh!”
“What…?” Wirt blinked, narrowing his eyes while Beatrice’s widened, then took a step towards Dipper. “You found a way home? To your home? That’s… okay, well, that’s great. I mean, it’s Oregon and Oregon is way far from Massachusetts, but at least we’d be in the right, regular, normal world, yeah? If you’d let us borrow your phone, I’ll just call my mom and explain everything. So, how do we get out of here?”
“That’s the thing, man. It’s not that easy.” Dipper tugged off his hat, trying and failing at a smile. “Mabel and I know how to get us home. Not... not you guys.” He took a step forward of his own. “Not that we don’t want to know! I mean, Mabel’s really- She doesn’t want you and Greg to be here, and neither do I.
“But we weren’t in Oregon and it... it wasn’t Halloween. We’re in California, and it’s November already. I don’t know exactly what this place is, Wirt, but it’s not... It’s just not where we should be, and I know - I don’t know how, but I do - that if we get on that ferry with you guys, we’re never getting home.
“You need to do what you think is right, though. Get on the ferry, keep going to Adelaide, maybe she can explain it to you better since I couldn’t find the exact answer in the dumb journal.”
Of course it was November already, so many days had passed. It was the third or the fourth, right? Something like that, but Wirt’s mind had trouble processing it because he had more pressing matters to be considering.
“If getting on the ferry means you’ll never get home, how can you be sure that we won’t either?” His voice shook a little, he had to swallow past the lump in his throat before he could clear it because he wasn’t going to get upset in front of a twelve-year-old - well, anymore than he already had. “What’s wrong with the ferry?”
“Nothing! Nothing for you. Listen, listen, I can’t- Man, I knew I wouldn’t be able to explain this! I wanted to find it in the journal so you’d get it.” Dipper marched over. “Just trust me, okay? I know this sounds really crazy, and I know if we just leave, that’s... This is so wrong. We shouldn’t just go. Maybe we should just...” He closed his eyes, burying his face in his hands, and shuddered as he heard the steady beeping falter.
He wouldn’t get home if he made this choice, but leaving them behind was just as wrong. This may have been his last chance, but it wasn’t Wirt’s and it wasn’t Greg’s.
“What’d I spend the entire summer trying to teach you, kid? When the world fights, you fight back. Now fight a little harder!”
Oh, man. Grunkle Stan. He sounded scared.
Dipper swallowed hard, looking back up at Wirt. It was quite literally the choice of his life, and it was impossible. His lips thinned, though, because Wirt had saved his life. He had to return the favor. He had to.
“Look, I can... I play the tuba,” he blurted. “It’s way worse than the clarinet, okay? I like the sousaphone more since it’s portable, but I’m only in concert band so I have to deal with the stupid tuba most of the time. I, um,” What else would make Wirt trust him? “I’m fourth chair out of four because I didn’t practice enough this summer, but I was busy. A-and I was listening to you muttering your poetry, and I like it. You’re good at thinking of stuff off the top of your head, and you’re going to need that to get home.
“And you will! You’ve got to!” Wirt was just staring at him, so he bounced a little and broke his absolute number one rule. “Dipper’s not my real name. It’s a nickname because of my stupid birthmark.” He pushed up his bangs, displaying the little dipper constellation, and immediately flipped his hat back on to hide the embarrassing secret away. “Don’t tell anybody you saw that, and- and- I’ll stay!”
Something snapped inside him and he clutched his chest. Oh, god, he wasn’t going home. “I’ll stay. I’ll stay with you and Greg, and I’ll try to figure this out better so I can help you get home. Mabel... Mabel’ll be fine without me. I’ll let her and Waddles go home, and I’ll stick around. Okay?”
His voice broke and the tears started, streaming unnoticed down his face. “I can’t leave you guys without the answer. There is one. I know it. It’s all just a puzzle. So I’ll s-stay.”
Wirt held his hands up, palms out placatingly as he gaped helplessly at the kid in front of him. “H-hey, don’t- It’s… Why does it have to be right now? What’s so urgent now? Can’t you just leave whenever you want?”
Clearly they couldn’t or Dipper wouldn’t be so upset over it right now. He wouldn’t be making this into a whole big… thing. He didn’t know what kind of a thing, but it was important. He knew that much. Part of him, and he was a little disgusted by that part of him, told him to accept his offer despite how terribly Dipper wanted to go home with his sister. Wirt didn’t want to be left behind. He was always the one left behind. It was Dipper’s choice to go or not to go.
Luckily, for Dipper and Mabel at any rate, that part wasn’t the one that won the battle. Wirt sagged as he watched him cry, breaking down right in front of him. Hesitantly, he placed his hands on his shoulders and gave him a small squeeze.
“It’s okay. You don’t have to stay,” he told him. “You should go home with Mabel. And Waddles. You’re not… it’s not your responsibility to get Greg and I home. It’s ours. Mine. Besides, you’ve got that fourth chair to be getting back to. Tuba’s pretty cool, even if it’s no sousaphone. And you can get your book back to normal. You’ve got way more mysteries and puzzles to solve that are way more exciting than this place. I mean, get out while you can, right? That’s… that’s what I’d do. I may not be as good at solving puzzles and figuring out mysteries, but I can do crosswords,” he joked, trying for a smile. “I’ll figure out something. Go to Adelaide and see what she has to say. We’ll get the answer somehow. Don’t worry about us.”
“No, that’s not- That’s not what Mabel and I do. We don’t just leave. We’re the Mystery Twins, man. We fix things. I just need more time.” But it was borrowed. He knew it, could feel it. Everything was closing in on him. He wiped his eyes, hating himself for the tears. But he was dying, and it was kind of a big deal. “This is so lame.”
“You don’t have to fix this. I mean, it’s not your guys’ faults that Greg and I ended up here. If there’s some, weird, magical revelation that we’re supposed to have in order to find our way home, then I’m sure Adelaide will point us in the right direction. It’s definitely lame, I mean, I didn’t think we’d be saying goodbye already, but hey, if you’re ever in Massachusetts, look us up.” Wirt glanced down at his feet, then took a deep breath and pulled Dipper into an awkward sort of hug. “It’s… it’s not on you, Dipper. I mean it. You don’t have to fix this.”
“Don’t- Don’t say that if you don’t mean it.” He didn’t care if it was awkward or weird. Dipper latched onto him. “This is a big deal. It’s a huge deal. You’ll know why when you get home, but... I don’t want to leave you guys here.”
Wirt gulped and the fact that it was a huge deal sent a terrifying shiver down his spine. “I mean it. I do,” he assured him nonetheless, even if his voice squeaked a bit. “Go home, Dipper. While you still can.”
“Dipper! Dipper, Mabel! This isn’t funny! Don’t do this to me!”
He shuddered, clinging to him for just another minute. They couldn’t go anymore than they could stay. “Okay. Okay, Wirt. Just...”
He jolted a bit when something brushed his leg, but it was only Waddles, holding the journal between his teeth. “Aw, come on, don’t get drool on it.”
Waddles grunted around it, dropping it and nudging it open with his snout. Dipper dropped down to rescue it from being eaten, but his hands stilled. “Oh. Oh, it’s here. Waddles, how-?” The pig smiled at him and Dipper blinked. Man, this place was weird.
“Okay. Okay. We’re going, but I can- I can give you this. ‘The way home i-is unknown.’” He shivered, but pressed on. His ears were starting to ring. Time was almost up.
“Dipper!” Mabel called. “Dipper, come on!”
“‘It’s different for each traveler lost in these woods. Experiences, memories, time - it’s all an illusion in the realest of ways. You will know how to get home when it’s time. You only need to follow the path you already see.’ Man, that’s almost useless.”
He bit his lip, digging his heels in when his sister grabbed his arm, and broke his second number one rule. He tore out the page and dug out his pen. “Dipper and Mabel Pines. Gravity Falls, Oregon. We’ll be there again this summer. We’ll be there. I promise. You look us up. We’re getting out first, so you look us up.”
He held out the page. “I’m gonna need that back, okay? So... Look us up, and give it back.”
Wirt took it, blinking uncertainly. “O-okay. Yeah. Yes, of course. I’ll look you up. And- and give this back to you. Promise.”
The frog ferry whistled again, startling Wirt into taking a few steps backwards. He nearly tripped over Greg and his frog, the two of them watching the twins and waving. At first glance, Greg seemed happy enough, or at least not disturbed at the way their newfound friends were leaving, and Wirt didn’t really have time to examine that any closer. He seemed fine, which was enough.
“Get home safe? I guess? And I’ll see you this summer. Yeah.” Wirt nodded, then felt a tug on his cape.
“Wirt, the ferry!” Greg pointed. “We’ve gotta go get on the ferry and find Adelaide!”
“I know, I’m coming, Greg. Just hang on a second, okay? Don’t you want to say goodbye to Admiral Dipper and General Mabel?”
Greg clenched his hand tighter in Wirt’s cape and lowered his head a little, the sadness shining through for just a moment, and Wirt was reminded of how young he was and what he’d asked him in the cave, making sure he wouldn’t leave him. Wirt bristled. What did Greg know of being left alone? He didn’t. He couldn’t know.
“I already said bye,” his little brother mumbled.
Why now? Why was Greg choosing now to have emotions other than happy and annoying? Wirt watched him for a second, then sighed. “Well… did your frog say goodbye?” he asked, cringing as if the frog really cared whether or not farewells were exchanged.
Greg’s eyes widened and he looked right at his frog before looking back at Wirt. “I don’t think he did!”
“Then let him say goodbye,” Wirt told him, giving him another opportunity to feel at peace with this strange separation.
“Okay. Mabel, wait! George Washington didn’t say goodbye yet!” Greg yelled as he darted over to her, even if the extra volume wasn’t at all necessary given that she was right there. “Dipper, you too! George Washington likes you and your hat!”
Dipper’s laugh was a little strained. They had to go. They had to go now. “Mabel-”
“We’ll make time,” she whispered and swept up the frog for a careful hug. “Goodbye, Mr. President! You’ll have the best time on that boat, I just know it!” He was quickly handed to Dipper, who just eyed him uncomfortably before setting him down.
Grinning, Greg gave Dipper a quick hug, squeezing him tightly. “Bye, Dipper! See you in summer!”
Dipper knelt down. He didn’t know how his sister was faring, but even his vision was starting to fade as his body struggled to wake up. But he took the time to smile for real. “You’ve got it, Greg. We’ll see you. I’ve got faith in you and your brother. You guys’ll get home in no time.”
Mabel laughed, plucking Greg up when Dipper rose again. She twirled him as she had a dozen times over since meeting him, purposefully moving closer to Wirt. She pressed her brow to his smaller one, the tears she’d been fighting pooling in the corners of her eyes. She held them back still. “When we see you this summer, we’re going to go on all kinds of adventures,” she promised. “We’re best friends now, okay? Mystery Best Friends!”
“Mystery Best Friends!” Greg repeated with a cheer, giving her his best smile so she wouldn’t have to be so sad. “Okay. And it’s okay if you and Dipper go on lots of mystery adventures before me and Wirt see you again, just save the best ones for us.” Greg threw his arms around her and gave her the best hug he could manage while being carried. “I love you, Mabel. Thanks for being my friend.”
“I love you too, my little cinnamon roll.” She pressed a kiss to his cheek and made herself pass him to Wirt. She wanted so badly to stay with them, to get them home, but she could hear blurry oinking and knew Waddles was already home. “You guys will be a-okay. I know it.” She joined her twin quickly, the two of them entangling their fingers.
They nodded in unison, but there was one more thing for Dipper to do. “Beatrice, make sure they get home. Get them to Adelaide’s.”
He couldn’t hear if she responded, he and his sister bolting. There simply wasn’t anymore time, the two of them winking out of The Unknown just as they cleared the trees and vanished from sight,
With his arms awkwardly full of Greg - he wasn’t used to carrying him anymore - Wirt stared after the path the twins had taken. His vision blurred a bit, from tears, from allergies, yeah that was all, but he blinked them back and ignored the sudden, icy grip of fear around his heart. Of doubt. What if we don’t ever get out of here? What if we don’t find the answer?
“Wirt?” Greg piped up, poking his cheek.
He blinked out of his reverie. “What? What is it, Greg?”
“Is summer a really long time from now?”
It was. They were only just coming into November, so yes, it was a long time. Longer than either of them would like. “No. It’s not that long,” he told him. “It’ll be summer before you know it.”
“Oh. Good.” Greg relaxed, smiling brightly, then wiggled and kicked his way out of Wirt’s hold so the older brother nearly dropped him. “Now come on, Wirt! Adelaide’s a-waiting! You too, Beatrice!”
“Yeah.” Wirt glanced back at where Dipper and Mabel had gone, tempted to follow them - just to see where they were going and if maybe there was a way back for them there, too.
As the ferry called for the final passengers to board for the last time, he turned his back to the forest and headed for the river. Perched on her branch, the bluebird watched the twin empty spaces alongside the two brothers and the guilt settled heavy in her stomach. Make sure they get home. Get them to Adelaide’s.
She wasn’t taking them to Adelaide’s. Not if they could still get home another way.
“I’m coming! Hold your horses, Wirt!”
She landed on his shoulder and the three of them plus a frog embarked on the next chapter of their journey.
Next up is the epilogue! It will tie up any loose ends that this has created for our favorite Mystery Twins and Unknown Brothers. Thank you everyone who's been reading and enjoying this! This has been a fun insert into the chapters of Over the Garden Wall and we definitely enjoyed writing it! (and the universe that this inevitably spawned in its wake.)
Dipper gasped, jerking in place as his eyes flew open. There was something on his face and he tugged at it, but a hand held it right back down. He stared up, tears instantly blinding his vision when he saw who it was. Grunkle Stan. They were home. They’d made it home.
“Breathe, you little idiot!”
Dipper gasped more than breathed, grasping for his uncle’s sleeve. They’d been fine before leaving, but now everything was an explosion of pain. He tried to move his leg, wheezing in pain. “Grunkle- Grunkle Stan-!”
The old man sank heavily into a chair by what he abruptly realized was a hospital bed, and the beeping that had been steadily fading was going wild. Doctors and nurses surrounded him and the bed beside his. He could see his parents there, and knew it was Mabel’s. His dad was holding a squealing, distraught Waddles.
They were home. They’d really made it home.
“Grunkle Stan,” he wheezed, turning his head to get rid of the oxygen mask and struggle against the pain. “We- It was an accident.” Man, talking was a lot harder and so was staying awake. His eyes started to close again, and his uncle pushed the mask right back over his mouth.
“We know, kid. Just breathe,”
“She’s awake!” their mom shouted. “Oh, Mabel, baby- Dipper? Is Dipper-?”
“He’s awake too. Now cut out the screaming.” Grunkle Stan looked down at his nephew, and Dipper didn’t miss the sheen of tears. He didn’t miss them, but he could hardly believe them. “Women, you know?”
Dipper nodded, but his sobs - a shattered mix of relief and anguish of leaving their friends behind - made it hard to breathe properly. He fell asleep soon enough, his sister’s, “Dipper we made it!” the last thing he heard.
When they next awoke, it was only their family and two surprising faces. The pain wasn’t as jolting, cushioned by medication in their IV bags. “Wendy? Soos?”
“Hey, you jerk.” Wendy punched him in the shoulder, but the playful hit was light as a feather.
“Dudes!” Soos didn’t know which bed to stand by, switching back and forth between the twins. “Oh, boy. This is so cool, but don’t do that again. That was terrifying, okay?”
He looked at his parents, the two of them slumped together in two chairs, fast asleep. Mabel laughed breathlessly, cradling her arm close to her chest. Dipper blinked at the sling, feeling his eyes well. “Don’t worry, Soos! We’re okay now! Right, Dipper?”
He nodded, too tired to be embarrassed when fresh tears spilled down his cheeks. His entire left side hurt, his broken leg hurt, and his mind was struggling with emotional trauma. “Y-yeah. We’re okay, Mabel. We’re okay, and everything’s going to be okay. Everything.”
Only she understood, their eyes meeting across the room. “Everyone,” she clarified, and he hoped so. He hoped beyond anything before that the two half-brothers were on the right path.
He wiped his arm across his eyes. “So... so what happened exactly?”
“Oh, man, you don’t know?” Wendy spun a chair around, straddling it as she sat down. “Okay. So this dude was driving by and saw Mabel trip and fall off the cliff, right, and used your phone to call for help. It’s a pretty cool phone, by the way.”
“Yeah.” He let out a shuddered breath, attempting a smile. “Where’s our stuff? Where’s the journal?”
“Don’t tell me you’re still carrying that thing around.” Grunkle Stan walked in with a styrofoam cup of coffee.
He laughed, his heart aching. “Always. It’s lucky. For us, at least.”
“Everyone,” Mabel repeated, and was just as relieved as Dipper when Soos picked up and handed over their bags. Mabel stared at the unicorn pattern on hers and started to bawl. Their parents jerked awake and were instantly with each twin, yawning through their reassurances. Dipper opened the book and let his tears fall onto familiar pages.
There wasn’t a school for animals. There wasn’t a tavern. There wasn’t an intertwined mansion with tea companies. There were manly minotaurs and zombies and ghosts and gnomes and-
He stared at the place the gnomes page normally was, but it was gone. He’d torn it out and given it to Wirt. He had it. He really had the page. “Mabel, it’s gone,” he announced and her smile, brighter with hope even as it was through tears, was worth the confused stares from everyone else.
Mabel waited until night had fallen, the end of visiting hours leaving her and Dipper alone before scrambling to her twin’s bed. She’d had to drag over the IV pole with her, the clatter of its wheels what had alerted him to her imminent presence. He looked up from the journal, not sure now if he was pleased or disappointed that the pages had returned to normal. They’d only been there a short time, but he knew the pages would have been interesting had he been given more time to read them.
He sighed, the sheen of sweat on her face a clear indication of pain. He gave a grunt of his own when he scooted over, giving her room even as he asked, “What are you doing, Mabel?”
She climbed under the blankets with him, moving awkwardly to avoid jarring her broken arm, ignoring his grimace when she bumped his leg, and held up her digital camera. It was pink and sparkly, covered with glitter and stickers. “Look,” she whispered, and brought up the gallery.
As Dipper watched each and every image click by, his eyes grew wider. “The pictures...”
“They came through!” She grinned at the final picture, the one with them all crowded together despite Wirt and Dipper’s protests. It would be the main part of her scrapbook. Center stage.
She let her head rest against her brother’s. “I wonder how much a plane ticket to Massachusetts is.”
“Way too much.” They didn’t even know which part of the state they would need to go to. They didn’t even, he realized, know their last names. Dipper shook his head, brow furrowing as a loose paper caught his eye. He tugged it out of the journal. As he read it, he began to tense. The ease he’d felt upon realizing that Wirt had a piece of the journal that gave a clue how to get home was shredded.
According to this, Adelaide was not a good woman of the woods.
What had they done? How could they have left them? He should’ve tried harder to find this page when he’d had the chance. What if they never got home? What if- “Oh, man.”
“Don’t worry, Dipper!” Ever optimistic, Mabel held her camera up to her cheek and fell back, intent on sleeping right there after their adventures in The Unknown. It didn’t help that crossing even their small hispital room in the pediatrics ward had been exhausting. While she’d felt fine in bed, lying down and zoning on pain killers, actually moving had made her dizzy and weak. It was worth it, though, to have proof of them right there. “They’ll be fine. Wirt worries a lot, like you, but they’ll get out. We did.”
“Yeah.” Though it was totally uncool and he would never own up to it later, Dipper laid back as well and didn’t push his twin out of bed. He’d said he had faith in them, and he did. He squeezed his eyes shut. He had to. “Yeah, we did.”
He smiled. “‘Night, Mabel.”
Thank you everyone for reading this lovely, little fic of ours! We hope you enjoyed it! Our intention was to insert Dipper and Mabel as seamlessly in the chapters of Over the Garden Wall as possible and that the rest of Wirt and Greg's journey happens as we were shown in the series.
For those of you who do want to see the Mystery Twins and Unknown Brothers reunite in the summer, we will be posting chapter one of the sequel on Monday and continuing the Monday & Friday update schedule for that fic as well. It's much longer - 15 chapters plus an epilogue - but it's already finished aside from some touch-ups in editing, so keep on the look out for that.
Thanks again for reading!