The entire thing started with cereal. Or, really, just the realization that they had run out of Stan's favorite cereal.
"Urrrgh," Stan declared melodramatically. His head thunked against the table as he dropped the empty box to the ground, and moaned like he'd suffered too grievous a wound so early in the morning for him to be able to cope with the rest of the day.
Ford, sitting at the table with a notepad, raised his head from scribbling notes to look at his brother for a moment. Upon taking stock of his condition and concluding that no, Stan was not going to die that very moment, despite the agonized sounds indicating otherwise, Ford returned to jotting down notes and nibbling on toast.
"Grauntie Mabel said we'll go shopping later this week," Ford informed his brother. Said grauntie would have probably told Stanley as much herself, had she been at breakfast, but she had stormed out early in the morning, quoting some sort of old lady emergency. Knowing Mabel, that probably meant one of her friends had some kind of interpersonal problem that Mabel decided she was the only one qualified to solve. Ford suspected the only reason Grauntie Mabel pretended to be a psychic on TV was because she wanted an excuse to meddle with people's relationships. Certainly it wasn't the fact that she'd been married seven times that qualified her to give advice to every forlorn soul that called in to her show.
"But I wanted cereal now!" Stan protested. He crossed his arms on the table, cradling his head and pulling a sad face at Ford, trying to convey how utterly dejected he was that his planned early-morning sugar rush wasn't going to happen.
Ford straightened his glasses, his expression turning thoughtful the way it did when he was deep into problem-solving mode, and after a few moments of consideration, he offered a solution.
"I think I saw some boxes in Mabel's pantry," Ford said. "She might have cereal."
Stan perked up almost instantly, grinning widely at his brother--and perhaps also at the prospect of rifling through the old lady's pantry. Grauntie Mabel had some amazing stuff lying around the house, and even if nothing was going to be as interesting as the basement they stumbled into during their first week in Gravity Falls, sometimes they'd still find something fun for the day among Mabel's discarded possessions.
The pantry in question ended up having a bevy of unusual and dubiously-edible goods. Ford posited that the hard candy that old people were always handing out to children manifested of its own accord once people reached a certain age, and the huge bowl of the stuff they found on one of the higher shelves seemed to confirm it. But they mostly stumbled across a great deal of canned, Cold War-era goods, which the twins proceeded to stack into a fortress in the kitchen.
Stan was so taken with this task, he nearly forgot he hadn't had breakfast, until Ford emerged from the very back of the pantry with a dusty old cardboard box.
"I found this old cereal, but I can't seem to find the expiration date anywhere," Ford was saying, before Stan snatched the box and ripped it open anyway.
Stan upended the box over his mouth, and a great deal of cereal poured into his mouth, but an even greater deal poured all around him, falling to the wooden floor with a patter.
"'s still gooh," Stan said as he chewed with his mouth open, and Ford scrunched his nose at the mess. Unable to cope with the sight of his brother gorging himself on dry cereal like an unhinged hamster, he inspected the now empty box.
The cereal--called Schmebu-Luck-E-Os for reasons Ford couldn't discern--had the picture of a cross-eyed gnome on the front, giving thumbs up to a bowl of the eponymous cereal while grinning. Ford had no idea why anyone would choose gnomes as a mascot for cereal, though when he flipped the box over to see where it was produced, he noticed the cereal packing plant's address was Gravity Falls, Oregon.
This intrigued Ford. Locally produced? Could the gnomes have some significance? Were gnomes even real? He would have to go to the basement and see if he could find any tape that made mention of gnomes or cereal. Surely if there was something significant about either of these things, the Guide to the Unexplained would have something on it.
He had scarcely watched even a fraction of the videotheque's contents, and had taken to writing up notes and an index to document its contents, but sometimes the labels on the tapes were less than elucidating. Some were straightforward, especially the earlier ones marked things like 'Fairies' or 'The Woodpecker Code', but it seemed over time that the Filmmaker had become increasingly careless--by the point where the labels became sloppy, nigh-illegible scrawls, titles like 'Bad tuesday' or 'that thing' had started cropping up. The very last tape, mostly static and unconnected, flickering images, was labeled only 'BEWARE', though the way it was written it looked more like 'BEWARB'.
And then there were the empty gaps in the shelves, where tapes had obviously been removed--
Ford was interrupted from this train of thought by Stanley coughing loudly and punching his own chest as he choked.
"I'll get you something to drink," Ford said, jumping to his feet.
But Stan shook his head and grabbed Ford's hand to stop him, and then, just like a cat presenting its owner with a hairball, Stan spat out something large and metallic, that clunked against the ground.
Ford stared for a moment at the object, before crouching down to take a closer look.
Unless he was missing his guess, it was a decoder ring.
"Hold on," Ford said, turning over the cereal box to where he'd spotted a curious detail.
Printed on the back, squashed between the ingredients list and the cereal packing plant's address, was a string of seemingly-nonsensical letters that Ford had initially dismissed as a printing error.
"It's a code!" Ford declared breathlessly, picking up the decoder ring, and using Stanely's own shirt to wipe off the drool before taking a closer look at it.
Stan tolerated this treatment with only minor grumbling, and then crowded close as well to look at the ring.
"Whoa," Stan said, then picked up an entire handful of cereal from the floor and stuffed it in his mouth.
If the entire thing had also ended with cereal, it would have provided a satisfying bookend to the entire adventure.
They would have followed the clues to the closed down cereal factory, unraveled the mystery of the sentient cereal monster which still roamed the defunct building, and gone home a bit bruised, a bit battered, and resigned to Grauntie Mabel's glitter pancakes for breakfast for the rest of the summer, because there was no way even Stanley was ever going to touch another bowl of cereal for as long as he lived.
But then Ford found the tape, tucked in the former supervisor's office at the cereal factory.
It was one of the Guide to the Unexplained tapes--it had to be. The handwriting on the label matched that of the Filmmaker, and though each character was clear and distinct, the title was just as opaque as the latter entries in the series.
It seemed to say 46'/.
And that was probably the point where everything went just a bit sideways.