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Tape Measure of Time (or, how a little warning goes a long way)

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Glass Shard Beach, 1971

“Pines Twins to the Principal’s office, Pines Twins to the the Principal’s office,” the loudspeaker announced, causing Stan to nearly jump out of his seat in shock. For once, he hadn’t a clue what it was about. The last few months for him had been rather tame-after all, he’d only been caught pickpocketing once.

He turned to his brother, Ford. “Ah, great, what is it this time?” he muttered. Ford shrugged, but didn’t look at Stan as he walked out of the classroom. His twin had been acting distant, lately. Whenever Stan was near, Ford would seem annoyed, like he’d done something wrong. Stan wasn’t sure what it was about, but he didn’t want to ask.

Maybe he doesn’t want to spend time with you anymore. He wants to forge his own path, without you, his mind suggested.

“Shut up,” he responded, and ignored the concerned stares of his classmates as he exited the classroom.

The walk to the Principal’s office wasn’t long, but it was familiar. Stan remembered the tongue lashing he’d gotten when he drove Thistle’s car off a cliff (without him inside, of course.) He chuckled when he thought of the Principal’s red face, so choked with anger he couldn’t form a sentence.

“Stanley, this is serious,” Ford said when he noticed his laughter. When he spotted the receptionist outside the Principal’s office, he waved, trying to get her attention. When she didn’t see him, he walked up to her, saying, “The Principal wanted to see us?”

“Just you.” She pointed to Ford. Stan was a little confused at that-why send him here if she didn’t need him? But sat in the nearby chair, waving Ford off as he entered that old bastard’s office. “Oh, and Stanley, someone else wants to see you. Says he’s your uncle.”

“What?” Stan tried to remember his family tree, but he couldn’t recall any uncles. Both Ma and Pops were only children. “I don’t have an uncle.”

“Apparently, you do,” the receptionist pointed to the hallway to the left. “First room to the left; it’s empty.”

He ignored the feeling of uneasiness creeping inside him as he reached the door. He couldn’t make out the conversation Ford was having with the Principal anymore, though he could hear one word-genius. Stan swallowed as he opened the door. “Uh, hello. Anyone hear to talk to me?”

A gruff voice responded: “Jesus, I looked like that at seventeen?”

Before Stan could comment on what the hell that meant, he saw the voice’s owner. It was an old man, probably in his early sixties. He wore a snappy black suit-or, it used to look snappy, as there were several rips in the fabric. The man wore a maroon fez on top his head with some odd symbol Stan couldn’t recognize. And in his hands was a tape measure that he held with great care, as if it was something important. His face was bruised and scarred, like he’d been in a massive fight beforehand.

“Who-who are you? Why’d ya want to talk to me?” Stan gestured to the door. “Ford’s in the other room, you know.”

The man rolled his eyes. “This is the one thing Sixer would screw up. Listen, I’m not gonna beat around the bush with ya, kid. I’m you. From the future.”

A moment of dead silence. Then, Stan, trying to find any similarities to the man across from him, laughed. “You gotta be kidding me. You ain’t me, mister. That type of stuff only happens in Ford’s sci-fi books. What’re you really playin’ at?”

The man didn’t laugh. Instead, he rolled his eyes, and picked up an eight-ball cane that was leaning against a desk. “This tape measure here is a time machine. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. What do you need me to say to prove it?”

“Favorite color?”
“Red.”

“Favorite place in Glass Shard Beach?”

The man winked. “At Carla McCorkle’s place.”

He was good. “Favorite class?”

“Trick question. You hate them all.”

Stan huffed, face twisting in confusion. This guy had clearly been following him, keeping track of his actions and personality. He started to back away toward the door. If this guy believed in time travel, he might be a little messed up in the head. And that could make him dangerous.

“Failed every question, mister. Guess I gotta go now-”

“Wait!” The man grabbed his shoulder. His grip was remarkably strong for an old man, and Stan struggled to escape his hold.

“Let me go,” he squirmed, scrambling to get to the door, “please-”

“Stop,” the man said. “Wait, please.” Stan turned around, and watched him rub his eyes under his glasses. “You know you’re not as smart as Ford, and never will be. Once, when you were in third grade, you studied for a science test and came home with a B+. But since Ford got an A, no one cared. You were left behind.”

“How did you know-?”

“You’ve spent your whole life bein’ a cheating troublemaker because that’s all anyone expects of you. You want to believe you’ll go on grand adventures with Ford once you get out of this dumb town, but you know that’s not true. Ford’s starting to slip away from you, and you don’t know how to stop it.”

“Shut up,” Stan said. “Shut the hell up.”

But the man continued. “You know that you’re the dumb twin, the leech, the worthless screw up. You know you’ll spend the rest of your life in Glass Shard Beach, scraping barnacles off for the nearby taffy store. And everything you do, all the joking and stupid pranks you pull, is all to cover up how lonely you feel on the inside.”

Silence. Stan didn’t even think he was capable of creating words. He looked at the man, his wrinkled, injured face. His protective stance, like he’d fought one too many battles, but was somehow still alive. Those brown eyes, worn and tired, but still the same eyes Stan saw when he looked in the mirror every morning.

And what he said…….it was true. Stan wasn’t as stupid as some people believed. He knew what everyone thought of him. It was just easier to pretend. To act so oblivious that he didn’t know what words were whispered behind his back. Spare. Screw-up. Worthless. Leech. And deep down in his heart, he knew Ford thought the same, though he probably didn’t know it himself.

“Okay.” He whispered. “You’re me. Why are you here? What do you want?”

The man laughed, grating on Stan’s ears. It was an obvious attempt to lighten the mood. “Now you’re asking the right questions, kid. You see, Ford can be an idiot sometimes. Not like us, though. He doesn’t get people. Doesn’t know when they like him or when they’re lyin’ to him.”

That was true. Ford was perhaps the most socially awkward person Stan had met. He didn’t flow naturally around other people, aside from Stan. There seemed to be a fundamental disconnect with Ford. He could never figure out if someone loved him or hated him, though he tended to think the latter. “So what? Being bad around people doesn’t warrant a time travel trip.”

“Under normal circumstances, you’d be right. But Ford met a-being, for lack of a better term-who is more dangerous than you could imagine. He’s a dream demon named Bill Cipher, and because of him, Ford will destroy the world.”

And the man-himself-continued his story. How Ford summoned the demon, and fell for his easy flattery. How he built a portal, believing it would help humanity, but was really a gateway for Bill and his minions to enter their reality. How Stan pushed Ford inside the portal by accident, and how he’d spent thirty years trying to fix his mistake. How, when the portal opened, and Ford returned home, Bill was able to create a rift and enter their dimension, destroying everything in the galaxy in the process.

“Shit, Sixer,” he whispered. Then, he whipped around, facing his future self. “Why you didn’t stop him? There’s no way you would’ve fallen for Bill’s flattery. Not like Ford.”

His future self rubbed a hand behind his neck, looking at the white and green tiled floor instead of Stan. “Look, kid, Ford and I had-a falling out, I guess. I wasn’t there when Ford met Bill.”

That was everything Stan had feared. That he’d lose Ford, and his brother would be hurt because of it. “How did that happen? What can I do to stop it?” His voice started to rise, and Stan began to pace around the room. “There has to be something, right? Right?”

“Calm down, kid.” His future self twirled his cane around. “Don’t go near Ford’s science project. Don’t touch it, or the table it’s resting on. Just stay away from the school entirely, actually, until the science fair’s over. It’ll only be till tomorrow, so you won’t get in a ton of trouble. Not like you’d care though.”

“That’s it?” Stan asked. “All I have to do is avoid school for two days and the world’s saved?”

Future Stan rolled his eyes. “Of course not. But you won’t be able to protect Ford if you’re estranged, so just stay away from his project, okay?” He sighed, and sat down in one of the chairs in the empty classroom. It creaked under his weight, but settled. Stan realized how tired his future self was. He could only imagine what he’d been through, with the end of the world and all. “What you really need to do is go to a town called Gravity Falls, located in Oregon. It’s a hotspot for all kinda supernatural stuff. Don’t really know why. But after you graduate, move there. Build a house. And search the town for signs of Bill. I don’t know where Ford learned how to summon him, but you have to find it. And you have to destroy it.”

“And if I can’t do that?” Stan was struggling to comprehend how this was actually happening. Just an hour ago, he was in his math class, thinking of how Carla McCorkle looked in her hotpants. And now he was here, listening to his future self describe how to stop the end of the world. “What if Ford and I still have a falling out? What if I can’t find what you’re looking for, and he summons Bill anyway?”

The older Stanley rose from his seat, gripping his cane. He flicked a finger at the material of his torn jacket. “Then you stop the Portal from being built. You try to contain the threat of Bill. Get Ford to see Bill for the conman he really is. That’s why you can’t have a falling out with him. And if worse comes to worst, get some unicorn hair. It acts as a ward against Bill.”

He wasn’t even going to comment on how unicorns were apparently real. “And what am I supposed to do? I’ll probably have to redo senior year.”

Future Stan shook his head. “You got enough time to get your grades up. You know you could do well if you tried, but no one expects that of the dumb twin. Guess you’ll just have to surprise people.” There was a certain bitterness to his tone. “As for a job, that won’t be hard. You’ll realize pretty quickly that the population of Gravity Falls is a goldmine for a particular career.” He tossed Stan his cane. “Keep it. It’ll be a reminder that this actually happened, and you didn’t make it all up.”

Stan watched his future self reach for the tape measure. He grabbed the man’s hand before he could activate the machine. “In the future…...did you lose Ford?”

“Yes.” His future self said. “I lost everything.”

Stan backed away.In the future, Ford was dead. His brother, his nerdy Sixer, was gone. Lost to the world, and to Stan. And all because he couldn’t protect him. Couldn’t stop this Bill Cipher from taking everything he’d loved away. He started to sob, and furiously wiped away the tears coming out of his eyes. “No, it can’t be, not him, not my brother-”

“Don’t worry about it, kid,” his future self reassured. He moved and patted Stan’s shoulder. “Just keep your eyes open. And don’t trust anyone with yellow, slitted eyes. That means they’re possessed by Bill.” He began to pull on the tape measure. “Oh, and one more thing.”

“What?” Stan couldn’t imagine anything more shocking than what had already been said. Was his future self going to give him a hint of Bill’s powers? His weakness? How the portal operated?

His future self smiled. “Whatever you do, don’t get a mullet.” And with that, he was gone.

Stan walked out of the classroom in a trance. The receptionist blandly informed him that Ford was done talking to the Principal, and that he was to return to class immediately. Stan didn’t even respond, and walked right of the school, still clutching his future self’s cane.

Ford arrived back at the house a few hours later. “Stanley, why didn’t you return to class? That was very irresponsible, and our teacher said-”

“I don’t want to hear it, Ford!” he shouted. Dammit, he didn’t need his brother reprimanding him for his misbehavior, not when he learned that in the future, Ford would die because Stan wasn’t there when he needed him. “Ford, I’m tired. I just want to go to sleep. Leave me alone.” He collapsed on the bed in their room, and started to adjust the pillows.

“Stanley, are you alright?” his brother questioned, putting his hand against his forehead. “Are you sick? I can get Ma if you want me to.”

“No, Sixer,” he said, voice slightly muffled by the pillow. “Just leave me alone, please.”

His brother still look concerned, but let him be, exiting their room. Stan reached down and grabbed the cane hiding under his bed. He thought of a future version of Ford, alone and being manipulated by Cipher, and of his brother, his twin, being thrown into another dimension because of Stan. Because the screw up managed to screw up yet again.

He rubbed his eyes, mimicking the tired actions of his future self. He started to spin the cane, trying to see if it gave him any clues as to what he should do. He’d study and graduate this year, and move to that town, Gravity Falls. But beyond that, Stan had no idea. Where would he even start looking for signs of Bill Cipher?

“What am I going to do, Sixer?” he said, though no one could hear him. “How am I going to save you?”