Ford had taken to checking the statue, deep in the forest, to make sure it stayed undisturbed.
At first it had been every so often. Once or twice a month.
It was the first thing he did when they returned home from their travels.
And when he was home, it began to be every other week without fail.
Then every week.
Then every day.
Then twice a day.
It was always the same. Gray, still, untouched.
No grass grew beneath it. No moss grew on it. No dust settled on its sharp angular surfaces.
Occasionally he noticed that someone had tried to damage or vandalize it. But it was never chipped or discolored in any way. Paint just didn't stick to it. It never broke. Never changed.
Nobody said he was becoming obsessed.
Not to him anyway.
He began to spend much more time out in the forest, near the statue.
He filled an entire journal with observations, results of tests, sketches, thoughts.
Nobody wanted to say Ford was losing his mind. That he cared more about the statue in the forest than he did about himself.
They just watched and hoped, and loved him and prayed he'd lose interest.
After all, it was just a statue.
It wasn't the first night he'd spent in the forest.
It wasn't even the tenth night.
Ford awoke in the middle of the night and he wasn't entirely sure why.
That night was the new moon so there wasn't much light outside, let alone deep in the trees.
Yet there was. Somehow, there was a low, misty light in the small clearing he'd laid his sleeping bag in. It floated around him and the statue like a soft, glowing haze.
He sat up and slowly made his way towards the statue.
It was an odd white glow, not yellow or blue as he would have expected.
Frowning, he reached out to run a finger along the edge of the triangle that was still visible above the ground.
A slight tingle went through his arm. He frowned.
Grabbing his journal, he quickly jotted down a few comments:
It seems I was right in watching the statue. I think~
A low rumble rolled through the forest. The leaves and needles on the trees shook with a soft rustling. The tremor that went through the ground was barely perceptible but it was significant enough for a forest in the middle of rural Oregon.
Ford got to his feet, looking warily around. He shone his flashlight into the dark trees, looking for any other strange signs or movement.
Another rumble shook the ground, much stronger this time. It was enough to make the man stumble and his full weight slammed into the statue. Reaching out to steady himself, his hand found the strange, thin arm and his fingers wrapped around the extended hand.
Over the entire time he'd been watching the statue, he'd never touched its hand. He was far too paranoid to even attempt it.
He yanked his arm back as he hit the ground, the hard, unmoving stone of the statue digging into his shoulder. He grunted, rubbing his shoulder. Sitting back, he glared at the half-buried triangle.
Silence filled the little clearing.
He looked at his hand. Aside from being scratched up and now bruised, Ford didn't feel any different.
"Listen Sixer, that thing's just a weird-lookin' rock in the middle of the forest. Watchin' it isn't going to do anything. It's not gonna move."
He frowned, getting to his feet and looking around for his journal.
I touched the hand and nothing happened. Could it be I was wrong?
Frowning, Ford reached out, once again, to touch the cold, stone hand.
He's gone, Ford wrote, hand shaking slightly as the depth of the truth finally sunk in. He's really gone.
He touched the statue again. Ran his hands over the sides, the angles. He traced every groove, every element. He stared at it.
He stared at it.
He shook his head.
"No," he told it. "You can't be gone. This... can't be the way it all ends."
The glowing mist in the depths of the forest simply floated, moving around the clearing as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Stunned, exhausted, Ford dropped to his knees in front of the statue.
With a deep breath, his shoulders slumped and he dropped his head into his hands.
He felt so tired. So mentally drained.
It had been what... a couple of years since that fateful summer and even more since he'd been a young, enthusiastic scientist, eager to explore the chaotic craziness of this little town. So long ago.
It was really over, then. All of it.
He just couldn't believe it. He... missed... it. All of it.
"Bill," Ford said in a low voice.
The 'game' they'd played for years had been so much a part of who he was, who he became. All of it.
He felt almost as though he were mourning the death of a friend.
No, not just a friend.
He had memories of Bill... good memories... and it was those that he clung to on nights when thinking of home and Stanley only brought more pain. The demon had been a companion, a friend, an inspiration in those first days. He'd known exactly how to catch Ford's attention. He'd created a human form that enticed, drew him in, created a relationship that was passionate as well as inspirational. And everything was a game. Friendly, provocative, seductive, violent, angry, passionate. It was the best and longest chess game he'd ever played with anyone.
And he'd won.
Funny, it didn't feel like winning.
Ford looked up.
"I miss you."
He reached out to touch the frozen, outstretched hand...
Sooner or later, Stanford Pines, you're going to make a mistake. And when you do... I'll be there.