It all started when Lumberjack Princess knocked on Dipper's door. He swung it open, and there she was. The most beautiful princess in the world. Red hair, funny-looking hat, green flannel, brown boots...
Dipper shook his head, focusing, and realized the Princess was afraid. "The castle is missing!" she exclaimed.
"WHAT?!" shouted Mabel from the living room. She ran up to where Dipper and the Princess were standing, slapping her hands to her face. "How does an entire castle go missing!"
"I think the bigger question is, who would do such a thing?" said Dipper.
Mabel inhaled deeply, then yelled what she'd shouted a million times before, whenever they had a mystery on their hands. "IT'S A MMMMYYSTERYYY!"
"Actually," said Lumberjack Princess, without so much as a smile on her face, "I already know who took the castle."
Dipper gasped. "Who?"
Lumberjack Princess narrowed her eyes dramatically. "Ghost Tree Man."
Mabel and Dipper exchanged a look.
"...who's Ghost Tree Man?" Dipper asked.
Lumberjack Princess cracked her knuckles. "I'll just have to tell you about him, then." Flashing them a grin, she stepped off of the treehouse's front porch, and entered the treehouse itself.
In the Woods Kingdom, practically everyone lived in treehouses. Tall trees, short trees, apartment trees, trees connected by rickety rope bridges... parkouring across the treetops was debatably one of the most fun parts of living in the Woods Kingdom. Everything was in a treehouse, except for the Woods Castle. It was a huge log cabin, with a tree-filled garden on the roof. Lumberjack Princess had the power to grow trees rapidly, so she liked to practice chopping down trees with her ax up there, then tossing them over the side of the roof into her stack of lumber, which anyone could use to build a treehouse from.
Dipper and Mabel's living room looked like a glitter-glue monster had run inside and thrown up all over it. Mabel insisted that's not what happened, but Dipper had seen tell-tale claw marks, and he knew better. The couch was plain, but the pillows sitting on it were covered in glittering sequins. When they walked over to the couch, Mabel grabbed a sequin pillow and sat on the floor with it.
Lumberjack Princess sat down on the couch beside Dipper, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees, and her face propped in her hands. "Here is the story of Ghost Tree Man. The oldest, wisest, smartest, strongest tree in the Alive Trees Forest used to rule over all the other trees. He was known as Tree King. But then one day, a herd of ghosts passed through the kingdom."
"What kind of ghosts?" asked Dipper, captivated by the tale. Lumberjack Princess was very good at telling ghost stories.
"All kinds of ghosts!" the Princess said with a flourish. "Tree ghosts, bug ghosts, human ghosts, candy ghosts..."
"That's a lot of ghosts!" Mabel commented.
"I know, right!" Lumberjack Princess replied. "Anyway, these ghosts passed through the Tree Kingdom, and asked to stay for the night. Tree King allowed it, and they slept in all the trees' branches. Except for one."
"Was it a... bad guy ghost?" Mabel asked.
"It was a bad guy ghost!" Lumberjack Princess confirmed. Both Mabel and Dipper gasped, and the Princess laughed. "Relax guys, it only gets worse!"
She cleared her throat. "So the bad guy ghost was traveling with friendly ghosts as a disguise, right? And he was super careful to make sure he was the only one who slept in Tree King's branches that night. While everyone else was sleeping, bad guy ghost whispered in Tree King's ear.... let me iiiiiinnnn.... and Tree King whispered in his sleep.... okaaaay..."
"No!" Dipper and Mabel said in unison, horrified.
"Yes!" Lumberjack Princess said, wiggling her fingers in the air dramatically. "The bad guy ghost possessed Tree King, and Tree King never. woke. up."
After a shocked silence, Dipper spoke up first. "W-what happened next?"
Lumberjack Princess raised her eyebrows. "Are you sure you wanna know? Well, in the morning, the bad guy ghost used his ghost powers to tear Tree King's legs out of the ground, roots and everything! And he started to walk out of the Tree Kingdom. And walked. And walked. And walked. And nobody stopped him. They all thought Tree King was out for a stroll, until a few days later, when they realized he was never coming back."
"But... why did the ghost do it?" Mabel asked.
"No one knows! But we do know this: Ghost Tree Man steals castles, and smashes them into little tiny pieces, destroying kingdoms just like he destroyed Tree Kingdom by taking their king away from them."
Mabel and Dipper leapt to their feet. "We've gotta stop him before he smashes up your castle!"
Lumberjack princess grinned. "That's the spirit! And uh, can I stay here until you guys defeat him? I don't really have a house right now."
Mabel and Dipper exchanged a look.
"Yes!" Dipper said quickly.
"But no snooping around our rooms! And no sneaking food from the fridge!"
"-Except for the waffles on the middle shelf!" Dipper added.
"-But leave some for us!"
Lumberjack Princess made finger-guns at them. "You got it! I'll be the best guest you've ever had. I won't even chop anything with my ax, even though your table looks like it could be cut down a couple inches."
Mabel narrowed her eyes, pointing at Lumberjack Princess before shutting the front door behind herself and Dipper. "You'd better not."
She and Dipper climbed down the ladder to the forest floor, and began their crime-solving, bad guy butt-kicking, mystery-twins adventure.
Mabel skipped as she followed the trail of the ghost's footprints. Each footprint was wide enough to act as a shallow kiddie-pool, and looked tangly, like roots and branches.
Dipper was hunched over and speculative as he walked beside her, face scrunched up in thought.
Mabel stretched her arm out several feet and flicked Dipper in the face. "If you make that face any longer, it'll get stuck like that!"
"Like this?" Dipper looked at her, making the silliest face he could.
Mabel laughed. "No, like this." She made her silliest face, which was totally unfair in Dipper's opinion, because she had shapeshifting powers, and was objectively capable of much sillier faces, as he had mentioned on many occasions.
This time, Dipper simply giggled. Then his face became serious again. "No one knows who we're talking about. You'd think a giant tree ghost would be easily spotted..."
Mabel shrugged. "Maybe he's invisible."
"Mabel!" Dipper exclaimed. "That's it!"
She hopped from one footprint to the next, beaming. "High five!"
She outstretched her arm again, and Dipper high-fived it. "Mystery Twins!" they said together.
"But how will we catch an invisible ghost?" Mabel mused.
Dipper frowned, deep in thought. "Hmm... wait a minute. I think I remember something about this in Ford's Book of Magic. To catch a ghost, you just need a blacklight. They glow in blacklight, like lasertag paint."
Mabel tripped, then contorted her body into a flip and landed on her feet. "Where will we get a blacklight? This is the Woods Kingdom, not the Robot Kingdom."
They walked along, considering the problem.
"Well, let's follow these footprints for now," Dipper said at last. "If we went all the way to the Robot Kingdom, it might be too late."
It wasn't long before they got into the darkest, spookiest part of the woods. It was always night time here, and monstrous creatures howled at the stars. Sometimes you could catch gleaming yellow eyes shining back at you in the dark. It wasn't too dark, though, with all the millions of stars twinkling down, so Dipper and Mabel walked without any lights to guide their way.
"Ugh, I knew Tree Ghost Man would end up here," Dipper complained.
Mabel shivered. "Why do all the bad guys end up in the dark part of the woods?"
"RAWR!" hissed a booming voice from directly behind them.
Dipper and Mabel screamed, clinging to each other in terror.
"Hahaha!" two hands grabbed them on their shoulders, and Mabel whirled around, ready for a fight.
"Whoa, whoa," said none-other than Stanley the Vampire. "It's just me! You shoulda' seen your faces!"
Dipper and Mabel scowled at him.
"It's not funny," Dipper grumbled. "We're busy-"
"Looking for Ghost Tree Man? I know," said Stanley, smirking at them with sharp teeth. He was wearing his usual white tank top and jeans, with his hair slicked back and a gold chain necklace around his neck.
"Well, can you help us, or are you just going to interrupt me the whole time?" Dipper snapped.
"Dunno," Stanley said, casually floating along as they walked. "Why should I help you?"
"So that the Woods Castle doesn't get destroyed!" Dipper said in exasperation.
"Oh, is that what Ghost Tree Man was doing with that?" Stanley raised his eyebrows teasingly. "I saw him walking here a minute ago. He was holding it under one arm. Lots of stuff falling outta the windows. A couple people screaming. It was hilarious."
Mabel stared at him, hands on her hips. "So you saw Ghost Tree Man, and you didn't do anything about it?!"
"Hey," Stanley said with a shrug. "I'm not a hero like you guys-"
"Wait!" Dipper cried. "You saw Ghost Tree Man? But we thought he's invisible!"
"Oh, he's definitely invisible," Stanley remarked, examining his nails. "I can just see ghosts, no matter what their ghosty powers are."
There was a silence.
Then Dipper said, "you have to help us find him!"
Stanley pretended to consider it, tapping his chin. "Uhhh... no thanks. Sounds like a lotta work for a lotta nothing."
"But if you don't... uh... we won't be your friends anymore!" Mabel countered.
"Ha!" Stanley snorted. "You guys think you're my friends?"
Dipper and Mabel frowned. Then Mabel stretched her neck over to where Dipper was walking, so they could confer privately.
"What can we offer him?" Mabel whispered.
Dipper sighed in annoyance. "We shouldn't have to offer him anything! He's a total bad guy."
Mabel lifted an eyebrow.
"But... we need his help," Dipper conceded. "Uh... maybe there's something in my backpack..."
He shuffled his bag around so that it was against his front instead of his back, then unzipped it.
"Whatcha whisperin' about over here?" Stanley was suddenly very close to them, looking into Dipper's bag.
"Hey!" Dipper turned away from Stanley. "Don't look in my bag! That stuff is private!"
A grin crept over Stanley's face. "Private, huh? Whatcha got in there, your secret diary?"
"No!!" Dipper exclaimed, clutching his backpack and running away from the vampire.
Stanley cackled gleefully, pouncing on Dipper. He fell face-first into one of Ghost Tree Man's footprints, and both of them were splattered with a totally unruly amount of mud.
"Stop it!" Dipper cried, before hacking and spitting to get the mud out of his mouth. He rolled to the side, caking Stanley in almost as much mud as he had on his face.
Stanley used his fangs to slice the straps of Dipper's backpack, ripping it away from him triumphantly. Then he wrinkled his nose, spitting the mud out of his mouth as well.
"Hey!" Mabel shouted, punching Stanley in the nose. He scowled and leapt backwards, making a scary vampire face at her.
Wiping his hands off on his pants, Stanley opened the backpack, and immediately froze.
That's when Mabel came rushing at him, kicking him squarely in the stomach. He flew backwards, releasing the backpack and slamming into a nearby tree.
"Ka-POW!" Mabel exclaimed, stretching out an arm to help Dipper stand up. "Mystery Twiiiins!"
Stanley groaned, pulling himself to his feet and massaging his back. Then he gave Dipper a genuinely furious look. "That's my book!"
Dipper was about to run for it, then stopped short, almost slipping back into the mud. He wiped most of the mud off his face as he said emphatically, "what?"
"Ford's Guide to Magic. That's my book!!"
"whoa, whoa, whoa, you wrote that?" Mabel said, dumbstruck. "I thought whoever wrote it must've been dead for, like, a billion years!"
Stanley paused, looking calculating. "Yeah, I wrote it! I've been looking for that book for centuries! Why do you have it?"
Dipper reached to hold his backpack tighter to his chest, then realized he didn't have it. Mabel tossed it over to him, and he held it tightly. "I found it in my dad's room a really long time ago. And I don't believe you!"
Stanley threw up his scary vampire face. "IT'S MINE!"
"No way!" Dipper retorted. "Your name's not even on it! It says Ford, not Stanley."
Stanley opened his mouth to argue, then sighed. "Ok fine, I didn't write it. But it's totally mine, so give it back!!"
Dipper pursed his lips. "Hmmmmm."
He looked at Mabel, winking, and she caught on. "HmmmmmMMMMmmmmmmMmm," she said after him.
"Maaaybe if you help us find Tree Ghost Man, and fight him, then we'll let you look at the book," said Dipper.
"What?!" Stanley clenched his fists. "I-"
He paused, looking back and forth from Dipper to Mabel. "That's a lot to ask for one peek at a book that you don't even own."
"It's not a peek," Dipper told him, smirking. "It's a whole read! You can read the whoooole book, and if you can prove it's yours, then maybe we'll consider giving it back to you, at a later date. But it's totally not yours."
Stanley glowered at them so hard that any sane person would've handed over the book out of fear for their life. But after a few seconds... through gritted teeth... he said, "Fine. I'll help you with your stupid ghost hunt. But you have to pinky promise."
Dipper and Mabel cheered, high-fiving again. Then they turned to Stanley with extremely serious expressions, holding out their pinkies.
Stanley shook on it with both of them at once. "Then it's a deal."
Stanley's companionship wasn't so bad. Even if he was a bad guy, and even if he'd tried to rob them not too long ago. From what little they'd seen of Stanley the Vampire, they had to admit that he was extremely cool.
Nothing unruffled him. The part where Tree Ghost Man had whispered their deepest, darkest fears in their ears? He had looked bored, if anything. And when they'd gotten close enough to attack Ghost Tree Man? He'd pointed it out like a hiker pointing out a particular type of plant.
After that, he'd flashed a grin at the twins, leapt into the air, and proceeded to fight Tree Ghost Man with his own bare hands. Dipper and Mabel joined her not long afterwards, using her cues to figure out where Ghost Tree Man was standing.
"Put back the Woods Castle!" Mabel hollered.
"Yeah!" Dipper cried, pummeling what looked like thin air, but felt like tree bark. He wondered if it was maybe hurting his hands more than it was hurting the ghost, but there was nothing else to do. He hadn't thought to bring an ax or anything. "Put it back nicely or we won't stop punching you!"
Ethereal laughter rang out from high above. "This castle is mine! I need it to start my new kingdom!"
"What kingdom?" Mabel shouted. "The stupid-butt kingdom?"
With a howl of laughter, she and Dipper high-fived again. Dipper didn't even need to look to know she was offering her hand for the 'five. This was just how things were, in the heat of battle.
Stanley was the one who laid the final blow. With a hiss, he spread his mouth wide open and bit into the trunk. Almost immediately, the tree became visible, and stopped moving. Not only that, but the Woods Castle appeared, and plummeted towards the earth.
"Hahaha!" Stanley gloated, pointing in what must have been the direction of the ghost. "You can run, but you can't hiiide! I'll suck your soul right out of your face!"
"Stanley!" Dipper and Mabel shouted in unison.
He turned his head, but didn't seem to have heard them. "What the-?"
The Woods Castle abruptly stopped falling, and hovered in the air, a few meters from the ground.
Stanley narrowed his eyes. "You think you can get outta this that easily? Ha!" He flew through the air, but the newly-possessed castle was faster.
After pursuing for a few seconds, Stanley turned around. "Well, looks like you're gonna need a new castle."
Dipper and Mabel needed a moment to process the turn of events.
"So Ghost Tree Man.... is Ghost Tree Castle now?" Mabel said incredulously.
"Actually," said Dipper, "wouldn't it be Ghost Castle Man?"
"Yeah, but he doesn't walk, he floats, he doesn't look like a man anymo-"
"AAAAH!" screamed a booming voice from high above.
The twins stopped in their tracks, gaping at the sight before them. The no-longer-possessed tree was trembling and swaying, with leaves dropping off in spades.
Stanley jumped at the scream, startled into falling more quickly to the ground. When he landed, he furrowed his brow. "What's wrong with him?"
The tree screamed again, and Mabel ran up to it, pressing her ear against its trunk. "I think he's in pain!"
"Is he... sleeping?" Dipper ventured.
"I don't know!" Mabel turned to them, face filled with concern. "We've gotta help him!"
"What about the Woods Castle?" Dipper gestured vaguely at the sky. "We've gotta get it back for Lumberjack Princess! And for the Woods Kingdom! It's haunted now!"
"Heh," Stanley said, inching towards Dipper as casually as possible. "I guess you could call it the Haunted Castle, now."
"No, we're not calling it that!" Dipper said fiercely. "We're gonna punch the ghost out of it, and bring it back down to the ground, and- and-"
"Look kid, that thing would've been way too heavy for me to lift." Stanley's calm demeanor was suddenly a lot less cool, and a lot more annoying. "The ghost did us a favor. If it hadn't possessed it, the castle would've been toast."
The tree screamed again, and its cry of pain echoed across the entire kingdom.
"Guys, come on!" Mabel whined. "We can get the castle after we help Tree King!"
Dipper and Stanley exchanged a long look. Finally, Dipper leapt away from Stanley, shouting "NOT UNTIL YOU HELP US HELP THE TREE KING!"
Stanley crossed his arms. "You pinkie promised, Dipper."
"Oh yeah? Well- uh- you didn't defeat the bad guy ghost! He got away!"
"You said I just had to help you find him, and fight him. I did both of those things! Now hand over the book." the vampire leaned so close to Dipper that their foreheads touched, and Dipper leaned backwards, his face betraying his fear.
"Okay, okay! Fine! Here's the book!" Dipper fished it out of his backpack. "But you have to promise to bring it back in... two days!"
Stanley snorted. "Is that how long it took you to finish reading it? I'm gonna need at least a week."
"But I use it all the time!" Dipper protested. "You can have it for three days."
"Five. Final offer, or I'm takin' this outta your hands right now, and you'll never see it again."
Dipper held out his pinkie finger. "Deal. Five days, and it better be back on my doorstep."
Stanley shook on it. "Oh, I'll bring it back safe and sound. But I'm gonna prove this belongs to me fair and square, and then you'll be begging me to borrow the book!"
Dipper thrust his hand out, and Stanley snatched it from him, transformed into a bat, and flew away into the night. The last Dipper saw of it was the gleam of its golden clasp against the red leather cover, and a reflection of the moon on the six-fingered hand glued to the front.
When he'd left, Mabel growled contemptuously. "I can't believe he just left us, when Tree King needs our help!"
"Yeah, well I can believe it," Dipper said in a similar tone of voice. "I can't believe I just handed that book over to him."
The Tree King's gnarled branches drooped low to the ground for a moment, swiping across the landscape and scraping Mabel on the cheek. Another deafening scream rang out, making the ground shake.
"What do we do?!" Mabel yelled. Their ears were still ringing.
"I don't know!" Dipper replied, moving his fingers to his ears in case there was another scream.
Mabel looked up at him. "I don't think Tree King is awake! Let's try to wake him up!"
They tried everything they could think of, but to no avail. After a few minutes, it was clear that they'd need outside help for this one. So the twins headed back to the sunny afternoon of the regular forest, up to their treehouse, and back into the living room. They had some questions for Lumberjack Princess. And some bad news.
Lumberjack Princess stood up straighter and stopped sniffling when she heard that Tree King was back. She was even more alarmed when they said it looked like he was in pain. "When you're possessed by a ghost, you don't remember anything that happened. That means you're asleep the whole time. And bad guy ghosts usually give their hosts nightmares! He must be having a really bad one!"
"I guess it would be hard to wake up after so many years of being possessed," Mabel mused. "But how do we wake him up?"
"It won't be easy," Lumberjack Princess said with a grimace. "There's only one person around here who could take away such a powerful nightmare."
The room went silent.
They all knew that they were all thinking the same thing, but none of them dared to say it. They needed the help of the Sandman, one of the most powerful and terrifying people in all of Ooo. Controller of dreams, giver of nightmares, and king of sleep. His land was the worst of any land Dipper and Mabel had ever stepped into. Everything felt like walking through a dream, complete with nonsensical landscapes that looped back around for eternity, characters who were dangerously unpredictable, and the Sandman himself... an individual who was worse than evil -- he was smart, too. You never knew what was real or not real, or who was watching you, when you ventured into the Land of Dreams.
Dipper shuddered. "There's got to be another way."
Lumberjack Princess's forehead creased with worry lines. "I hope you're right."