Fiddleford McGucket buttons his coat against the wind and tries to decide how much he wants to forget.
The streets are nearly deserted. He keeps his eyes on the ground and recites physics formulae in his head, because it’s the most he can do right now, until he reaches the place where he’s almost sure that he stored his invention.
Maybe he wishes he’d never heard of the portal to another world. When he thinks about the not-sky on the other side, about the thing that turned itself inside out eye-first and then began to feed… his hands itch with the need to grab either the handle of the memory gun or a handful of his hair.
Maybe he wishes he’d never heard of Gravity Falls. This little town’s got its share of wonders, but it also has more than its share of horrors. Even if he doesn’t recall what most of them looked like (or felt like, or smelled like), he’s aware of the empty spaces inside his own skull where they used to be. Part of him would rather it all be gone than just some of it. He can go home to his family and pretend like he never left them.
There have even been moments, since he walked out of the lab, when he wishes he’d never heard of…
As he turns a corner, Fiddleford almost collides with a figure in a long overcoat. When he realizes who it is, he forces, “Let me pass,” through the unexpected tightness in his throat.
“I need to talk to you,” Stanford insists. His hair is windblown, his shoulders are slumped, and his eyes are downcast.
“I got nothing to say to you now.”
“Please, Fidds. Something has changed. I know that I was a fool, that I wanted to… no, please don’t walk away!”
Fiddleford reminds himself that, if he wants to un-hear any of this later, he can. He slows his pace and lets Stanford catch up with him.
“Thank you,” Stanford says, with the same sincerity that filled his voice whenever Fiddleford agreed to another expedition (to find… what, exactly?) or another late night. “After our test put you in danger, I realized that I had wanted to change the world so badly, that I ignored what was right in front of me.”
“Yeah, I think we can both agree on that.”
“Do you remember our final semester, when I was getting ready to present my thesis, and I almost walked out the door with my shirt on inside out?”
Fiddleford doesn’t smile, but for the first time in days, or maybe weeks, he feels like he could. “I practically had to grab you by the collar, to get you to come back.”
“You fixed my tie for me and everything,” Stanford says, and Fiddleford can hear the tiniest hint of an answering smile in his voice, but then it sobers again. “This is so much bigger than that, bigger than you can understand…”
“You’re in some kind of trouble.” He’s been in trouble for a long time, Fiddleford realizes, and an image flashes into his head without reason or context: he collapsed in one of his meditation circles, nearly knocked over a candle, and I ran over to him, smelled the blood on his face before I saw it, begged him to take his hands away so I could see his eye…
Stanford’s next words bring them back to the present: “We’re all in trouble. Fiddleford, I’m sorry.”
“You are?” Fiddleford asks cautiously, slowing to a stop. His eye… There are a few reasons why Stanford might not want to look him in the eye right now, but none of them should make Fiddleford’s heart speed up, or make him feel like screaming.
“Very.” Stanford is silent for just a moment. “I’m sorry that you’re such a coward.”
Fiddleford sways on his feet. “Beg pardon?” Hadn’t he worried, on the worst days, that his friend thought exactly that about him?
“I’m sorry,” Stanford continues, and now he’s definitely smiling, “that you’re content with your pathetic little house, your pathetic little family…”
“You take that back!”
“…and your pathetic human life of tinkering with three-dimensional twentieth-century machinery. I’m sorry that the minute you saw something bigger and grander, you ran away crying.”
“How dare you talk to me that way?” Fiddleford exclaims. His anger is real, but there’s a nameless, formless fear underneath it.
“I’m sorry that anything out of the ordinary makes you fry your brain,” Stanford sneers, his voice rising almost hysterically, “and the only way you could hold onto your friend was to zap his memories, too!”
All the old excuses rise unbidden to the surface of Fiddleford’s mind: I erased my own memories because it was the only way I could make myself stay. I erased yours so your doubts wouldn’t get in the way of our work. I needed to fix it. I needed to make it better.
Before he can say any of this, Stanford seizes his arm and almost shrieks, “I’m sorry that your mind is so limited that it takes so little to break it!” He raises his head, to show the slit pupils in his eyes.
“Who are you?” Fiddleford gasps, even though he almost knows. Not a shape-shifter, not an illusion… “Where the heck is Stanford?”
“Fast asleep, and dreaming delicious dreams. He doesn’t even understand what he’s set in motion. I’d tell you what I’ll do to him if you don’t stay out of our way, but I don’t think it matters what people tell you anymore!”
If those familiar six-fingered hands weren’t clamped onto his arms, Fiddleford thinks he’d collapse. He’s seen that slit pupil staring at him from statues and scrolls and stained glass in the basement study, he’s seen it in each of Stanford’s eyes on a night that he wiped away afterward, and he’s seen it beyond the portal, at the center of roiling flesh and waving limbs, a monster’s only feature besides a tooth-lined mouth that chewed and slurped.
“He was pretty interested to see what you hid from him,” the thing that isn’t Stanford says. “But he was keeping secrets from you, too. I was with him before you got to town, Fiddlesticks, and I’ll be here after you’re gone, one way or another.”
No matter how this creature has stolen his friend’s face and voice and memories, Fiddleford is suddenly filled with icy black terror at the thought of spending one more minute in its presence. He wrenches free, and then he’s running, like he’s being chased by beasts that he can no longer name.
A voice insists, from the back of his mind, that he needs to stay and try to help Stanford. He hushes that voice, because he knows exactly what put him in this mess to begin with. Even so, with every footfall, he hates himself more.
He wishes that he’d never heard of the portal, wishes that he’d never heard of Gravity Falls, and right now, he wishes that he’d never heard of Stanford Pines.
With every footfall, Fiddleford is a step closer to making that wish come true.