(JUNE 22nd to JUNE 26th)
This Twin Road Trip business makes the trip way more exciting. They can’t play “what’s under the bus seat,” but they can blast ABBA’s Greatest Hits and sing along at pitchy top volume, they can stop to pee or grab McDonald’s whenever, and Mabel can talk as loud as she wants without old ladies and greasy rural college boys glaring at her.
“Don’t go wasting your emotion, lay all your love on meeeee!” they both sing with gusto, both of their mouths filled with fries.
“We should do that again for Snap Chat,” says Mabel after she swallows and Dipper stops choking.
“The moment’s over,” says Dipper. “And I almost died.”
“Come on, do it for the vine,” Mabel presses.
“I thought you wanted to do it for Snap Chat.”
“God, you are so literal,” she sighs, leaning back in her seat and stretching her arms wide. “And booo-ring.” She opens her phone to Snap Chat and takes a picture of her pouting severely, Dipper driving visible in the corner. “THIS RIDE WITH DIPSHIT IS GETTING BOOO-RINNGGGG,” she says aloud as she captions it. “Sleeping emoji.”
“Okay, I’m not boring, I’m driving. And trying to, like, stay on the road and keep my ungrateful sister alive. Also, don’t take pictures of me, especially not ones you’re going to send to people.”
Dipper doesn’t know Mabel’s already sent out a video of him singing and dancing along to Love Shack as he drives. He probably won’t know for a few days; he barely ever checks his phone, like some kind of cave person.
“Totally not what you said when we were jamming to Dancing Queen,” Mabel says.
“Well, you’ve gotta make an exception for Dancing Queen,” Dipper shrugs.
“See, that’s how I feel about Whip My Hair, and you had to yell at me like a big meanie.” She adopts an exaggeratedly crackly voice, which sounds more like thirteen year old Dipper than current Dipper, but whatever, it’s still funny to remember he used to sound like that. “‘Mabel, your hair is too long! Mabel, those are my eyeballs! Mabel, the road! Mabel, we might hit pedestrians or whatever!’”
“I am sorry that my respect for human life is too boring for you.”
“Speaking of human life,” says Mabel, “We haven’t seen any for literally five hundred years, we must be almost there.”
“Literally?” says Dipper.
“Yes, literally, have you heard of the evolution of language? Words belong to the people, bro.”
“What are you even talking about?” Dipper asks, but Mabel doesn’t bother to further explain, because it’s not her fault he’s a stupid boy who properly capitalizes and punctuates texts, and because she gets a text from Wendy Corduroy.
dude, it says. i am not liking one of these new counselor choices and i get the feeling ur gonna hate it more than me.
uh oh… Mabel texts back. spill.
The last time she heard from Wendy was a “CLASSIC” on the video of Dipper about an hour ago, so whatever it is must be brand new information.
ur gonna have to take it up with grunkle because i had no idea and neither did soos, i asked and he can’t lie worth shit, Wendy responds.
ok… Mabel types back, bouncing her legs with impatience. WHO IS IT?
“What’s up?” says Dipper.
“Wendy’s sending you her love and kisses.”
“Shut up,” Dipper scowls. “I’m not twelve anymore. Did you notice that, as a human who shares my birthday?”
Mabel’s phone buzzes before she can give him a witty comeback about being super defensive for no reason.
we have a northwest situation, mabel, says the text. don’t shoot the messenger.
Mabel doesn’t want to believe it, but there she is when they arrive at Camp Pine Bluff — Pacifica Northwest, with her smug mug and her shiny blonde hair and her purple hiking boots that probably cost a jillion dollars for no reason, standing there on the porch of the Mystery Shack, the central camp building. The laces on her boots sparkle. Mabel doesn’t have sparkly boots. That is so not fair.
Pacifica Northwest is Mabel’s enemy. Arch-nemesis. Rival. Whatever. The point is, Pacifica is always trying to beat Mabel at stuff. First, it was the end of summer Party Queen. Then it was mini golf at a field trip, when mini golf is totally Mabel’s thing. And then it just never stopped. Who can make the most lanyards or do the most complicated stitch. Who can win capture the flag. Who can do better at the relay race. Who can do the best counselor makeover. Who can beat the Mega Death Trap on the ropes course first. Every year, every time Mabel succeeds at anything, there’s Pacifica, ready to make into a thing.
“Do you see her boots?” Mabel hisses as Dipper parks the car outside the Mystery Shack.
“Um.” Dipper peers over the dashboard and squints as he pulls the keys out of the ignition. “Yep. Are you trying to talk shit about her outfit with me?”
“Does that seem like me?” says Mabel. “No. What I’m saying is — how unfair! I bet they cost her, like, the cost of our whole house!”
“Yeah,” says Dipper. “But you’re Mabel Pines. You could DIY those for cheap and they’d look better.”
Dipper has a fine point. Mabel did dye her sneakers to make a cool rainbow situation, and make her own mermaid sweater (because she’s gonna be in charge of the cabin named Mermaid this summer!), and make the seashell bracelet, earrings, and hair bow she’s wearing to compliment it. Mabel loves a good theme. And also a good rainbow.
“You are so right,” says Mabel, pulling down the visor to check out her reflection. “I’m amazing.”
“Glad to be of service,” says Dipper, shaking his head at her. He’s smiling fondly. He fumbles around in the backseat and pulls out his Camp Pine Bluff cap, pulling it firmly over his hair. “Ready to say hi to your best friend Pacifica?” he says.
“So ready,” says Mabel, shoving open the passenger door.
She nearly takes out a guy walking past.
“Ohmigosh, sorry!” Mabel says, scrambling out of the car to apologize, or more just leaping at him, which is probably scarier than the door coming at him was.
The guy blinks. He’s super tall and skinny and his hair is nuts, sticking up all over the place. “Um, it’s okay,” he says with a little sideways smile, sticking his hands in the front pocket of his red hoodie.
“I totally didn’t mean to try to murder you,” says Mabel as Dipper laughs at her.
“I figured,” the guy says. He looks at her hair bow and mermaid sweater. “You don’t, uh, look murderous.”
“Welllll, that’s debatable,” says Mabel. “So, like — who are you?”
“‘Who are you?’” says Dipper, getting out of the car himself. “That doesn’t seem like the right way to introduce yourself.”
“Yeah, yeah,” says Mabel, waving dismissively in his direction as he makes his way around the car to join the conversation. “I’m Mabel and this is the uglier twin, Dipper! Doesn’t that suck, being a twin and then, like, your twin is beautiful and you’re ugly? People feel so bad for him. What I meant was I’ve been going here since I was twelve and I’ve never met you, so what’s your name?”
“I’m — ” the boy starts, but he gets interrupted by the lifeguard, Courtney Babcock. She’s Wendy’s age, a recent college grad and a curvy former cheerleader, and she butts right into the conversation like anybody asked her. (Okay, Mabel likes Courtney, but also Courtney likes Pacifica, which is a really big error in judgement that Mabel’s not feeling generous about right now.)
“Hey, oh my god, speak of the devil!” Courtney says, clapping her hands together excitedly. “Guys, this is my baby brother!”
Well, that’s out of left field. Or right field. Middle field? Whatever that baseball thing is. The point is, Mabel never would have guessed bubbly blonde Courtney was related to this quiet kid with enormous dark eyebrows.
“Stan needed some more help this summer, right,” Courtney continues, “And I was like, oh my god, I have to get Norman out here. He’s, like, so into paranormal crap and whatever! I was like, Norman, you have to meet the Pines twins, they’re your age, you guys will so get along.”
“Yeah,” says Courtney’s little brother, looking a little deflated by his sister’s chatter. His cheeks are flushed. “I’m Norman.”
“I just said that, silly,” says Courtney, reaching up to ruffle his hair. “Ugh, I used to be so much taller than this kid, can you believe it? Anyway, I’m gonna go find Wendy, you should talk to these guys about the undead or something.”
She leaves Norman standing there in an awkward silence. Mabel watches her go. At some point, Pacifica seems to have left the porch. Mabel wonders where she went, a little peeved that her rehearsed greeting/take-down might not happen as she planned.
“So,” says Dipper, smiling and shrugging. He puts his hands in his pockets, mirroring Norman’s posture. “The undead?”
Norman blinks. “Yeah, uh,” says Norman. “How about those undead.”
Mabel and Dipper laugh, and the tension starts to dissipate.
“I like zombie movies,” Norman offers, back to that little smile.
“Totally,” says Dipper. “I mean, me too.”
“They’re alright,” says Mabel. “As long as they’re not claymation. My kind of zombies are the kind of zombies that can be destroyed by three part harmony.”
“What’s wrong with claymation?” asks Norman. “And I’ve never heard of three part harmony fearing zombies. Might have made life easier — for, um, people in The Walking Dead, you know.”
“Ugh, claymation’s, like, the devil,” says Mabel. “So creepy. And yeah, Dipper and Grunkle Stan and I totally — ”
Dipper elbows Mabel in the side. “ — read about three part harmony fearing zombies in a book,” he finishes.
“Ooh,” says Mabel. “Twinning!”
“What?” says Dipper.
“You finished my sentence.” She touches him reverently. “Our relationship is so special.” She doesn’t know why Dipper, who loves to share the mysteries of Gravity Falls with anyone who will listen, doesn’t want to tell this kid who likes zombies that there are real zombies around (maybe Courtney even told him about it! She was there, right?!), but she decides to play along and ask him later. However much she likes to joke about their “twin sense” that’s totally fake, she knows she really has learned to read Dipper better than anyone else over the years, and he’s learned to read her best, too.
“Um, I like those old cheesy claymation monsters,” says Norman, apparently deciding to sidestep the zombie thing.
“Me, too,” Dipper says, looking relieved. “So does Grunkle Stan — I mean, you know, our Great Uncle. The one who owns the camp.”
“I know,” says Norman. “I mean, Courtney told me you’re related to Stan.”
“Yeah,” says Dipper. “Stan’s got, like, a ton of those old monster movies. On VHS, you know, like, this is the dark ages out here. But we could have a movie night.”
“Yeah, um,” says Norman. “Okay.” His big ears have gone all pink.
Mabel decides it’s cute how shy he is and she’s going to make him a bestie. His sister might think Pacifica Northwest is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but this Norman guy seems far more sensible.
When the twins enter the Mystery Shack with Norman, they find Soos slapping the faulty vending machine. Soos is pretty much Stan’s right hand man. He trains the CITs and does a bunch of maintenance work, too. “Hey, dudes!” he says, lighting up when he sees them. The soda he was going for finally falls with a clunk, but he leaves it for a hug.
“And you’ve gotta be new,” Soos says to Norman. “I mean, I said that to Tambry a couple years ago when actually she’d been here forever, but I know you’re new.”
“Yeah,” says Norman. “I’m new. I’m Courtney’s brother.”
“Oh, yeah, yeah, I know Courtney,” says Soos. “You might not wanna go in the break room yet because she and Wendy are still, like, reuniting, if you know what I mean.”
“Aw, I love love!” says Mabel, grabbing Soos’ soda out of the vending machine as she heads for the break room. “Thanks for the soda, Soos.”
She ignores Soos’ surprised stuttering and cracks open the Pitt Cola that seems to exist nowhere but Gravity Falls — she thought it was an Oregon thing, at first, but she met a girl from Oregon at college this year who had no clue it even existed. “Where are my gay girls at!” Mabel yells, jumping into the ugly break room and pumping the fist that isn’t holding her soda.
Mabel likes boys and girls and literally anyone else. She came to this conclusion senior year of high school, when she got her heart majorly broken by the world’s prettiest cheerleader. It was never a big crisis for her. It just seemed natural. This giant heart has room for anyone, she told Dipper.
Wendy and Courtney are indeed canoodling on the couch, but they’re not the only ones there — Robbie is sulking against the wall, Tambry is texting from an armchair, and Pacifica Northwest is looking at Mabel like she just yelled “FUCK PACIFICA NORTHWEST SO MUCH!,” which is totally not even close to what she said. Mabel barely even says “fuck.”
“Um, what are you looking at?” says Mabel, which is totally not the great greeting/take-down she was going for.
“Nothing much,” Pacifica sneers, and instead of stomping out of the room like Mabel always does when she’s mad, she just walks briskly out with her head up, like the snob she is.
“We are in for some kinda summer,” says Wendy, extracting herself from Courtney for long enough to smack Mabel on the shoulder in greeting. “Dude, you totally look older.” Wendy, on the other hand, looks just like she always does, in Mabel’s opinion, except she’s shaved part of her long red hair.
“Rockin’ the alternative lifestyle haircut,” says Mabel, patting the undercut gently. “Ooh, soft.”
Wendy snorts. “Thanks,” she says. “Man! It’s so good to see you. Where’s the Little Dipper?”
“Um — with Courtney’s brother, I guess. Where is Grunkle Stan? I have a bone to pick with a senior citizen.”
“Courtney seemed to think her brother would like Dipper,” says Wendy.
Mabel is too distracted to read anything into that. “Okay,” she says. “Yeah. The undead, or something. But where is my most decrepit and used-to-be-favorite relative?”
“What’d Dipper do now?”
Mabel turns around to find Stan in the doorway, looking as old and strange as ever — weird hat, suit like they’re not in the middle of the wilderness, permanent five o’clock shadow.
“Um, nice try,” says Mabel. She points dramatically. “But it is you who have betrayed me — nay, the entire Pines family. It is you who will be burned off the tapestry of our family tree!”
“I don’t know anything about a tapestry,” says Stan, frowning.
“Why did you hire Pacifica Northwest?” says Mabel, throwing up her arms and cutting to the chase.
Stan shrugs. “I needed somebody. You think I’ve got hundreds of applicants to this place lined up? This place is a shit hole.”
“Ugh, Grunkle Stan, no it’s not,” says Mabel. “Surely there was somebody other than Pacifica!”
“Listen,” says Stan. “Do you think I don’t hate the Northwests? If I don’t give you breaks this year Pacifica will sue or something. I’m gonna have to deal with that now. If I had any other option, I would have gone for it. Nobody wants to work in Gravity Falls, Mabel. I’ll rig Party Queen so you win, okay? Does that make up for it?”
“I don’t want to win anything because you rigged it!” says Mabel. “We have been over this so many times. Besides, I’m not a camper anymore, I can’t win Party Queen.”
“I’ll let you rig something so I win,” says Dipper, entering the room with Soos and Norman.
“Too bad, offer’s closed,” says Stan. “Who’s the huge guy?”
Norman blinks. He looks around as though wondering if he is “the huge guy,” which is fair, as Mabel doesn’t think he’s exactly huge, just really tall. A really tall toothpick. “Me?” he says tentatively. “I’m, um, Courtney’s brother.”
“Oh, yeah, I met you, didn’t I,” says Stan, but he doesn’t really say it like a question, his tone flat and dismissive.
“You did,” says Norman, and Mabel can detect that little bit of sass in there, even if nobody else can. She beams at him. He just kind of looks bemused-like at her.
“Yeah, thanks for being desperate enough to work for me,” says Stan. “I’ll give you guys the run down in a minute, just let me go find my eye patch.”
When he leaves, Norman says tentatively, “It didn’t look like he — needed an eye patch?”
“Welcome to Camp Pine Bluff!” Mabel cheers.
Mabel is delighted to show him the ropes. Grunkle Stan’s rundown and tour are woefully lacking, especially in all the unspoken rules of cabin decoration, cabin time ideas, games for downtime, camp songs, and basically anything useful.
At the arts and crafts shack, of which Mabel is in charge this summer, Mabel explains the whole deal where they decorate the cabin door with the names of their campers, hunting for construction paper, glitter glue, and sea themed stickers for her Mermaid girls, so excited to finally be doing this. “We’re gonna need to do a supply run,” she says, finding the glitter supply woefully low. “I know I’m the only one who’s gonna keep this place up, Grunkle Stan does not understand the importance of crafts to a summer camp. What activity are you leading, by the way?”
Norman is sitting at one of the picnic tables on the porch, smiling slightly while he listens to her chatter. “I’m doing creative writing,” he says.
“Ooh, a writer, Courtney’s right, you’re gonna get along with Dipper, he does the newspaper,” says Mabel. Dipper is off catching up with Wendy somewhere, Mabel thinks, as usual caring far less about the actual fun parts of camp than he should.
Norman’s ears get really pink again. “I, uh, actually I’m gonna go to school for film this fall,” he says. “But yeah I write — scripts. And I did pretty well with writing in school.”
“Nice,” says Mabel. She’s already explained to Norman that she’s the arts and crafts girl and made most of her clothes and accessories and can start and continue pretty much every lanyard stitch you could ever imagine. “You’re Ghost boy, right?”
Norman blinks rapidly. “What?” he says, his voice reflecting all the tension that’s suddenly pulled his body up straight. His hand, which has been cupping his chin as he listens to Mabel, elbow on the table, drops to the wood surface.
Mabel frowns. “Your cabin,” she says. “You’re Ghost cabin this year, right?”
“Oh,” says Norman, and he seems to deflate. He lets out a breathy laugh. “Yeah. Ghost cabin.” He snorts and runs fingers straight up through his ridiculous hair.
“Something wrong?” says Mabel.
“No,” says Norman.
“K, good!” says Mabel. She doesn’t 100% believe him, but obviously he doesn’t want to talk about it, so, whatever. They’ll save that for when they’re closer. “So I was asking because I just found the Halloween stickers and there’s a bunch of ghosts.” She drops the sticker sheets onto the table in front of Norman. “Plus here’s some white and black paper, and some ghost stencils, and these glow in the dark googly eyes which are really cool, and also there’s glow in the dark paint somewhere!”
Norman hesitates for a moment, then says, “Cool.”
Mabel is so focused for a while on making beautiful glittering pastel seashells for her campers and bopping around to the radio that she doesn’t realize at first Norman isn’t using the stencils — he’s just drawing these super cool ghosts by hand. It’s when he’s cut them out and is coating them with a thin layer of green glow in the dark paint, and Mabel has started writing MISHKA in block letters on a pastel yellow seashell, that she sees.
“Oh, man, you’re like an artist, too!” she says.
“Um,” says Norman. “I mean.” He laughs. “I like to draw.”
“Those are so cool, I love them!”
“They’re very cool,” says Pacifica Northwest, and Mabel jumps about a mile into the air, because since when was Pacifica anywhere nearby? But there she is, standing at the steps of the porch, looking down at their handiwork.
“Thanks,” says Norman, but Mabel is so annoyed. Pacifica is seeing her work! Pacifica is totally going to try to out-craft her.
“Here for decoration supplies?” says Mabel lightly.
“Yes, I am,” says Pacifica, cutting her eyes at Mabel like Mabel’s supposed to feel so threatened by that stupid high school Queen Bee look. Please, they’re in college now.
“What cabin do you have this year?” Mabel asks.
“Witch,” says Pacifica.
Mabel snorts. She can’t help it. Norman is giving her a funny look, like he’s trying to figure this out.
Pacifica rolls her eyes. Mabel finally places that she’s switched her straight bangs to side bangs, and it makes her face look softer. She wonders if that’s disappointing to Pacifica, since her faces seem even less threatening now. “So, I guess you’re, like, in charge of this place? Do I need to ask your permission for supplies now?” Pacifica asks.
Mabel wants to say “yes,” she really does, but she’s Mabel Pines, so she says, “Take what you need. Whenever.”
Pacifica huffs loudly and goes to rummage through the supplies, grabbing green and black and brown paper and then standing on tip toe to look through the other stuff. Somehow, she always looks angrier when Mabel can’t help but give in to her true nature and be nice.
It isn’t until she leaves, nose in the air, that Norman speaks again. “So…what’s the deal with her?” he asks. Pacifica’s now a safe distance away, disappearing in the direction of the mess hall.
“We’re rivals,” Mabel says airily, writing the last name, JENNY, on a light pink seashell.
“Rivals,” Norman repeats.
“It wasn’t my choice,” she says, flipping her long hair behind her head. “I tried to be nice to her when I met her, we were like twelve, but she always has to try to beat me at stuff, it’s so annoying.”
“Courtney had a lot of nice things to say about her,” says Norman.
“Well, you know, everybody has errors in judgment,” says Mabel, shrugging.
Norman wrinkles his bushy eyebrows but doesn’t say anything else.
Seized suddenly with one of her biggest fears, Mabel says, “I’m not a mean person. I swear.”
“I don’t think you’re a mean person,” says Norman, and Mabel beams.
“We’re gonna be friends,” Mabel says, patting him on the hand.
“I see that you’ve decided that,” says Norman, but he’s smiling back at her.
Turns out it’s extra hard when there are no kids and Dipper’s just lying in the counselor’s bed of an empty cabin, listening to the bugs and bats outside and looking at the stripes of moonlight on the cabin floor, knowing the only other people in this clearing are Mabel and the new guy.
It’s not like the Group 2 cabins are particularly far away from main camp or the Mystery Shack. If Dipper wanted to go bug Grunkle Stan, he’d just have to grab his flashlight and walk about five minutes down the road through the woods. And if he wanted to bug Mabel, he’d walk across the tiny clearing and knock on the door of Mermaid cabin, which she’s already marked as classic Mabel, all glittery and pastel, after not even one full day in Gravity Falls.
It’s just, when you’re used to suburbia and college dorms, the middle of the woods is a very strange thing. Dipper loves the middle of the woods. He even loves strange things, quite a bit. But when you’ve been having a lot of weird nightmares featuring strange woods and loneliness lately, they’re not very conducive to sleep.
He rolls over in bed and looks at the four empty sets of bunk beds that will be filled with nine and ten year old boys and their stuff on Sunday. He wants to work at camp, really, he’s happy to have the responsibility — but he’s getting nervous about being in charge of kids. The live-in part of his CIT experience went fine, but he wasn’t the one person in charge, then. He tailed Lee, who is now far away in Group 4.
Dipper smashes his face into his pillow. Anxiety, anxiety, anxiety. Ever since he started college last fall, it’s been a constant buzzing in the background. Okay, if he’s honest with himself, it’s been a buzzing in the background since — forever. It just seems to have amplified since leaving home.
“Oh,” a voice says outside the cabin. “Hello.”
Dipper jumps and falls out of bed.
From his new spot on the floor, his eyes cautiously roam the cabin, but nobody and nothing is there — that he can see, anyway. He’s had weird enough experiences here to know that just because he can’t see something doesn’t mean nothing’s there.
He tries to do the anxiety breathing thing Mabel looked up for him, something about breathing in 1, 2, 3, 4 and then out 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, but it’s never really been helpful.
Dipper wonders if he’s actually asleep.
He almost convinces himself he was hearing things, that maybe he’s dreaming, that maybe he’s having an anxiety breakdown, but then the voice, which he now, thank God, recognizes as Norman’s, speaks again, quietly but clearly.
“I’m sorry about that,” he says, gently.
“Uh,” says Dipper. Is Norman, like — in the cabin?
Then Norman continues, clearly outside, tone like a therapist, “No, I really am. I hate having people intrude on my space, and I can’t imagine how it must feel after that kind of decision.”
Okay, he seems to be having a conversation with someone who isn’t Dipper, but weirdly, Dipper can’t hear anyone else. If anyone else is out there, it should be Mabel, and he knows Mabel is incapable of whispering at a normal volume, let alone an amazingly silent one.
“I know,” Norman says. “But at least there’s the night. The night is nice.”
Dipper can’t help it. He’s too curious. He fishes around for his flashlight, which he knows is somewhere on his shelf, trying not to creak as he stands.
He can’t see anything outside the screen windows but the faint glow of the paper ghosts on Norman’s cabin door.
“That’s something I can try to help with,” Norman says, and Dipper squints in the forest dark, trying to locate any people shapes. “I can’t send them away, but I can try to keep them quiet, at least at night.”
Even with his ear pressed to the window screen, Dipper can’t hear a response, but Norman seems to, because he appears to answer — “Be big and threatening. Tire them out during the day.”
Dipper carefully slips his sneakers on, tip toes to the door, and slowly, slowly pushes the thin cabin door open.
Norman laughs, and Dipper freezes. “You’d be surprised,” says Norman.
Even with the door open, Dipper heard nothing in the way of a response. Is this kid just talking to himself?
He tries to lean closer to listen harder than ever — and promptly trips over the rock on the little cabin porch, there to be used as a doorstop when needed. Bang, creak, thump, Dipper falls right down the three steps and into the dirt.
There’s rustling by Norman’s cabin, and a flashlight turns on. “Hello?” Norman says, in a totally different tone of voice from the calm, quiet one he’s been using.
“Shoot,” says Dipper, though without much feeling. By eighteen he’s used to being caught doing stupid things, enough to fairly quickly respond with resignation.
“Dipper?” says Norman tentatively. There’s a few crunching footsteps, and then Norman, faintly lit up by his flashlight, is staring down at Dipper, still sprawled on the forest floor. “Are you okay?”
“Just humiliated,” says Dipper, sitting up and brushing dirt off his back, and then, because he can’t keep things from coming out of his mouth, “Are you okay? Who are you talking to?”
Norman just looks down at him for a few minutes, a funny, resigned look on his face. He sighs.
Dipper stares at him, waiting.
“Well,” says Norman. He crosses his arms along his chest, then seems to think better of it due to his flashlight waving around and uncrosses them. “I blew it already, I guess.”
“Um,” says Dipper. “Blew what?”
“Here,” says Norman, reaching a hand out.
Dipper looks at the long-fingered hand for a moment before realizing what he’s supposed to do and taking it. Norman helps him up.
“Is someone else out here?” Dipper asks, brushing more dirt from his pants.
Norman looks around the clearing. “He’s gone,” he says. “You scared him off, I think. Or annoyed him off.” He blinks. “Uh, not that you’re annoying, just. He was pretty grouchy.”
Dipper doesn’t know how to respond.
“I’m sorry if I woke you,” Norman offers.
“You didn’t,” says Dipper. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“It’s hard in the woods,” says Norman. “I’m used to the suburbs, I think. My suburbs. They’re pretty loud at night. Cars and stuff.”
“Yeah,” says Dipper. “Um…okay, but…who was here?”
“Courtney says you’re into the supernatural,” says Norman, thoughtful eyes combing over Dipper. Dipper realizes he’s wearing his Remember Roswell t-shirt to bed and feels self conscious despite Norman’s zombie pajama pants.
He hugs himself in the night time chill. “Right.” He has no clue where this conversation is going — it keeps bouncing all over the place. “Wait, was it something supernatural?” He perks up, then gets nervous. “Wait, was it gnomes? Were the gnomes over here?”
“Gnomes?” says Norman. “No.” Dipper regrets the way his voice sped up at the thought of gnomes, but now Norman is smiling. “Here, do you want to talk in one of our cabins?” he says. “I don’t want to wake Mabel.”
“She sleeps like the dead,” says Dipper, and Norman’s smile flickers. “But come on in.”
There are no lights in the cabins, so Dipper and Norman stand their flashlights up between them, so they’re lit up ghost story style. Dipper realizes his knee is bleeding and grabs the first aid kid from beside his bed. “Okay,” he says as he wipes his knee up, “Tell me about the supernatural.”
“I’m used to people not believing me,” Norman admits.
The words and the tone of Norman’s voice, fragile and sincere, strikes a chord with Dipper, and he feels his body relax. “Same here,” he says. He reaches for the Band-Aids. “Lay it on me. Wait.” He frowns. “You’re not actually gnomes, are you?”
Norman blinks. “Gnomes? Plural?”
“It’s, uh — Mabel had — has? — this ex-boyfriend — the thing is his name was Norman.”
“And…he was multiple gnomes?” says Norman.
“Actually, yes,” says Dipper. “In disguise.”
Norman bursts out laughing.
“Hey,” says Dipper. “That’s not fair, I’m open to hearing your thing!”
“I don’t think you’re lying,” says Norman. “It’s just — absurd. I mean, Courtney told me things were pretty absurd here, but that’s just…it’s something.”
“It absolutely is,” Dipper agrees, finally ripping open a band-aid, content that Norman doesn’t think he’s making this up. “I thought he was a vampire, which would have been cooler and possibly even more believable, incredibly, but nope.” He smooths the band-aid over the cut on his knee. “I mean, probably it also would have been worse for Mabel, so there’s that.”
“Probably,” says Norman. “Well, I’m not multiple gnomes in disguise. I swear it.” He reaches out with a pinky.
Dipper blinks, then tentatively reaches out to wrap his pinky around Norman’s.
“Right,” says Norman, withdrawing his hand pretty quickly. “Sorry, that was probably weird. Courtney and I always pinky swear. Very middle school girl. Sorry.” He stares hard at his lap.
“Mabel pinky swears a lot,” says Dipper, shrugging. “Less weird than a bunch of gnomes in disguise.”
“How about less weird than talking to ghosts?” says Norman, looking right back up at Dipper, then deciding, apparently, it’s too much for him and looking down again.
It takes a moment for this to sink in.
“Ghosts?” says Dipper, eyes widening.
“That’s, um,” says Norman. “Yeah. My thing.”
“You talk to ghosts?” says Dipper. He thinks his eyes are possibly bugging right out of his head.
“I see them,” says Norman, still majorly avoiding eye contact. “I talk to them, if they want to talk.”
“Dude,” says Dipper. “So you’re like — you’ve got the sixth sense.”
“I guess,” says Norman.
“Have you ever had an actual Sixth Sense situation, like, you thought someone was real — well, not real, alive, I guess, and then — well, I guess that would probably be a sensitive topic if you did, sorry man, that was rude, wasn’t it — ”
“No, I haven’t had that,” says Norman, and he finally, tentatively, looks up. “It’s a silly concept, honestly. Ghosts don’t look like living people.”
“Man, you know what ghosts look like,” Dipper says. “What do they look like?”
“Um,” says Norman. “I mean, kind of like living people. But they’ve got this tinge to them — kind of green. They’re people, or animals, or whatever, but you know pretty much right away they’re not living. And a lot of times they’ll have whatever wound that caused them to die, if that’s their deal, so that’s a pretty obvious sign.”
“There are animal ghosts around?”
“Yeah, tons,” says Norman. “Around here particularly. A lot of them are kind of gross. Prey, you know.”
“Man, definitive proof of animal ghosts! Did you know people debate about that? Whether or not animals have spirits or could be ghosts? You should write, like, a paper. A parapsychology paper or something. Did you know there’s a journal of parapsychology? What are you studying?”
Norman blinks, then smiles. “I didn’t know there was a journal of parapsychology,” he says.
“There is,” says Dipper.
“I wonder how much of it is real and how much of it is bullshit,” Norman says thoughtfully. “Either way, I don’t think I could write a paper like that. You can’t just throw around personal anecdotes and circumstantial evidence and call it an academic paper. I don’t know how I’d get, like, actual direct scientific proof, which is, like, the real problem in parapsychology as a field anyway — believe me, I’ve spent plenty of time wondering how to prove I can do this.”
Dipper is overwhelmed.
His first thought is “marry me,” which is a terrible and stupid thought for a boy who has literally just met another teenage boy. He settles on the incredibly articulate, “Wow. Geez.” He clears his throat and asks, “Really, what are you studying?”
“Film,” Norman laughs. “Not actually a degree for writing academic papers, unless you’re coming from, like, a — film studies point of view. Not that I don’t think that’s interesting, I’m just more interested in actually making movies.”
“That’s cool, though!” says Dipper. “I’m doing journalism.” He thinks about telling Norman about his dream of being a paranormal investigator/editor in chief of an actual credible newspaper about paranormal stuff, but he chickens out and says instead, “Man. So you’re like. An actual medium.”
“Yeah,” says Norman. “That’s the technical term, I guess. But it always makes me think of, like, weird spiritual TV personalities who are like, yes, your spirit relatives are here from heaven!, as though any ghost could tell them about if heaven’s real or not. Ghosts are tied to earth.”
“Yeah, that type of mediumship is the stuff that gives you guys a bad name, I’d guess,” says Dipper. “Man, are there a lot of human ghosts here at camp? You were talking to one before, right? Who was that?”
“He didn’t give me a name,” says Norman. He has gone from nervous to a muted but obvious pleasure at Dipper’s enthusiasm. “He was pretty old when he died. Definitely from a really long time ago. Said he was here before the camp and all the kids are ruining his peace. He stayed because he loved the woods so much. But no, actually, that’s the first ghost that’s talked to me. I think I saw a few by the lake — teenagers, maybe. But they were far away. I don’t think they noticed me.”
“Do you think they drowned?” Dipper asks.
“Um, probably,” says Norman, squirming. “They were all wet, I could tell that much. Sorry, I — I don’t really like to talk about that part.”
“Of course, of course,” says Dipper. “Sorry.”
There is a silence, in which Dipper continues to digest this information about his new friend, and Norman picks at a hole in his pajama pants, which are covered in zombie faces with wide open mouths.
“So — I’d think zombie movies and stuff would be kind of stupid to you,” says Dipper.
“No,” says Norman. “I like them. I like that campiness. I’ve seen zombies in real life, and I know you have, too. Courtney told me. You didn’t have to pretend, before.”
Dipper doesn’t even know why he did pretend. It was just — something about Norman looking at him expectantly filled him with a strange sense of self-consciousness. He didn’t seem intimidating. He just seemed — Dipper doesn’t know. Like somebody to impress, maybe. This feeling has increased.
“Yeah,” says Dipper. “I’ve fought zombies.”
Ugh — okay, overkill. Now he sounds like a tool. And all he did was sing.
“I — me, too, sort of. I had to save them.” Norman shrugs. “I don’t know why I like the fake stuff, still. I like the idea of telling the dead’s stories. I guess before when I said — I mean, I just don’t like to talk lightly about how they all died because — usually it was pretty bad for them, if they’re still here. It’s not the concept of death, or anything, that bothers me. I mean, I’ve been able to see the dead since I was little. My grandma still lives in my house, and she’s been dead for years. I talk to her all the time. Death isn’t — so much scary, as — I don’t like to talk about the really bad experiences people have had, the reasons why they’re disturbed, unless they give me permission. I like to talk to them about it. I like to help. I just don’t think it’s my place to tell everybody all about it like it’s a spectacle, unless they ask. Unless it’s gonna be important to talk about.”
Norman clears his throat. His ears have turned red; Dipper can tell even in the weird light of the flashlights. “Anyway,” he says. “Yeah.”
“That’s, uh.” Dipper also clears his throat. He thinks of Norman’s therapist tone when he was talking to the ghost before — I like to talk to them about it. I like to help. “That’s really cool of you, I think.”
“Mm,” says Norman, ears even redder. “I mean, uh, thanks?”
“Yeah,” says Dipper, which makes no sense at all as a response.
After a painful, ridiculous minute of avoided eye contact, Dipper clears his throat again and says, “I want to hear your zombie story. Apparently Courtney told you mine.”
“Well, that’s Courtney’s version,” says Norman. “I’m sure she has a version of mine, too.”
“Well, I wanna hear yours,” says Dipper, bringing his knees up to his chest and settling in for storytelling.
The zombie story isn’t where it ends. Dipper tells his zombie story, too, but that’s only one of the stories of this weird place where Norman will now be spending his summer, and he’s got to be adequately prepared, right? Before long, Dipper’s got The Journal out — the journal he found during his first year at Camp Pine Bluff, detailing all kinds of supernatural creatures and occurrences in the area — and Norman’s talking about the ghosts in his home town of Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts, ghost friends and ghost acquaintances and the mean ghosts that hang out near his friend Neil’s house.
As it becomes more and more obvious Dipper is not bluffing and absolutely one hundred percent believes him, the tension leaves Norman’s body, and he listens to stories with wide, interested eyes and genuine laughter, and the more this happens the more Dipper gets comfortable. His voice gets louder and faster, and his arms fly all over the place as he explains the time with the shrinking crystals, and the monster in the lake, and the body switching carpet, and how stupid his experience with the manatours was.
They don’t go to sleep until the birds are already awake, but Dipper is so tired and so content that it isn’t hard to pass out once Norman’s returned to his own cabin, birds yelling in the background or not. For the first time in a while, he has a dreamless sleep.
It’s barely ten o’clock when Mabel comes bursting through Dipper’s door and a familiar combination of thumping and snorting follows her. Mabel is copying their dad’s obnoxious method of waking them up for high school, yelling with faux bugle playing fingers, “DUH! DUH DUH DUH! DUH DUH DUH DUH DUH DUH DUHHHHH, TIIIIIIME TO GET UP!”
Dipper groans loudly and pulls his pillow over his head.
“No time for sleep when the star of the show has arrived!” Mabel yells, whipping off Dipper’s blankets. “Heeeeeeere’s Waddles!,” and without further ado, Mabel drops her pet pig onto Dipper’s bed.
“Holy shit, Mabel!” Dipper says, throwing his pillow off his face and coming face to face with a snorting, rapidly sniffing pig nose. What Dipper is sniffing is not pleasant. “How can you even still lift him?” Waddles has gotten pretty big since Mabel won him at a fair years ago. During the school year, Waddles lives with Old Man McGucket, a Gravity Falls local and friend of Stan’s, because Grunkle Stan’s not going to do it, and neither are Dipper and Mabel’s parents. Mabel has been talking incessantly about reuniting with Waddles, and right now she looks like she’s going to shoot through the roof with joy.
“Don’t talk about him like he’s not here, say hello,” says Mabel. She’s already dressed in a t-shirt covered in sunflowers and neon green leggings, and her ponytail swings back and forth as she jumps up and down on the balls of her feet. Her hands are pressed against her cheeks, rounded with a huge smile.
Dipper sighs, unable to keep his fondness for his sister at bay. “Hello, Waddles,” he says, patting the pig’s smelly head.
“He’s looking so handsome, isn’t he,” Mabel says fondly, throwing herself onto the bed and kissing Waddles’ head a few times in a row. Waddles keeps on snuffling. “You, on the other hand, look like doo-doo, did you sleep at all?”
“Thanks to you, no,” says Dipper.
“You can’t sleep until noon at camp,” says Mabel. “You might as well get used to it. Ten is late for camp.”
“Yeah, yeah,” says Dipper.
Mabel drags Waddles off the bed. “I wonder if Norman’s awake. He should meet Waddles.” Waddles starts sniffing all around the cabin floor.
“Don’t wake Norman up,” says Dipper. “You don’t know him like that.”
“Not yet!” says Mabel.
“He was up late, too,” Dipper insists.
“How do you know?” Mabel asks, putting her hands on her hips. Dipper thinks there is no reason for Mabel’s Interrogation Stance.
“We were talking,” says Dipper. “Neither of us could sleep. I showed him the journal.”
“You showed him the journal?” Mabel throws herself back down onto the bed. “Dude, I thought you didn’t wanna tell him about the zombies or anything, you were being so weird.”
“Yeah, I don’t know,” says Dipper. “Turns out he was into it.” He doesn’t say anything about ghosts. He figures that’s Norman’s thing to share.
“Well, duh, Courtney said he’d get along with you,” says Mabel. “She’s not your best friend or anything but she knows you’re a giant weirdo. You don’t exactly keep it hidden.”
“As opposed to you, the picture of normal,” says Dipper, watching Mabel notice that Waddles appears to be stuck under one of the bunk beds and jump down to start pulling him free.
“Ya dumb pig!” says Mabel. “And you, Waddles, you’re silly, too.” She gets him free and kisses his head again, then bursts out laughing. “Phew, I crack myself up,” she sighs, lying back on the floor. Waddles snuffles around her stomach.
“You sure do,” says Dipper, admitting defeat and dragging himself out of bed.
When they get to the mess hall, there are a surprising number of people already up and having their breakfasts. Mabel’s already eaten, but she comes with Dipper anyway, Waddles trailing after her. Dipper doesn’t even try to tell her not to bring her pig into the mess hall; he knows it’s a lost cause.
After Dipper grabs some cereal, he realizes the most surprising thing — Norman is one of the people who’s already up, sitting with his sister and a mug of coffee in his hands. He looks extra pale, and the bags under his eyes look extra dark. Dipper wonders if it’s really that obvious how tired he looks — he’s used to Mabel being hyperbolic, and he didn’t really pay much attention to the mirror when he went to the bathroom this morning.
“Oh, hey, guys!” Courtney calls, waving the twins over. Norman jumps and shoots her a quick, frustrated glance. “Norman was just telling me how welcoming you guys have been,” she says when Mabel runs over, Dipper trailing after her, Waddles’ little legs working to keep up with them. “You’re so sweet, I knew you’d get along.”
“Is that a pig?” says Norman, before Dipper has to say anything embarrassing.
“A pig?” Mabel gasps. “Well — yes, I mean, he is a pig, but — not just any pig! This is Waddles! He’s my best friend!”
“You have a pig,” says Norman.
“I sure do!” says Mabel. “Isn’t he the sweetest?”
Waddles sniffs at Norman’s feet.
Norman laughs. “Yeah,” he says. “Definitely.”
“Good thing Pacifica’s not here, she hates when I bring Waddles into the mess hall,” says Mabel. “One time she mentioned the B word in his presence.” She lowers her voice. “B-A-C-O-N,” she spells, for clarification. “Waddles is Jewish.”
Dipper sighs. Mabel gets so weird about Pacifica Northwest. He thought, finally, that Pacifica wouldn’t be here, and Mabel would focus on being Mabel instead of being great at things so Pacifica will be impressed. Mabel says she doesn’t want to impress Pacifica, she wants to beat Pacifica, but Dipper’s not sure there’s much of a difference there in this particular situation.
“That’s my cue to head out, probably,” says Courtney. “I’ve got some boat house cleaning to do. You guys hang.” She blows Norman a kiss and heads over to drop her breakfast tray at the kitchen.
“Mabel,” says Dipper as he sits, “I’m Jewish, and I eat bacon.”
“Well I’m Jewish and I don’t,” says Mabel. “But okay, you got me, it’s for Waddles reasons.” She plops down in the now vacant chair next to Norman. “Soooo, I heard Dipper showed you his journal last night.”
“Oh,” says Norman. “Yeah, he did.” He smiles at Dipper and says, “He also told me about your ex-gnomes-boyfriend.”
“Oh my god,” says Mabel, punching Dipper in the arm. “That’s an embarrassing story, Dipper.”
“He wanted to make sure I wasn’t also a bunch of gnomes pretending to be a human named Norman,” Norman assures her.
“Just lookin’ out for you,” says Dipper.
“Okay, I guess that’s fair,” says Mabel. “You never know how I’m gonna get around Normans.” She winks.
Norman’s laugh at this is not like his real laugh, Dipper notices — it’s a nervous laugh, directed down at his mug of coffee.
Dipper looks between Mabel and Norman and gets a funny, squiggly feeling in the pit of his stomach, like — no, something about that is weird. He doesn’t want Mabel to get one of her wild summer crushes on Norman. He doesn’t know why, since Norman seems so cool — he can talk to ghosts — but he is pretty sure he doesn’t want that to happen.
“Tough crowd,” says Mabel. “Sorry, I’m just kidding.”
“Oh, it’s okay,” says Norman. “I’m just.” He looks around the mess hall, his eyes landing on Wendy, who is making use of the waffle iron. “Mm, you know Courtney’s…it kind of runs in the family, I guess.”
Dipper doesn’t get it, but Mabel says, “OOOOOH! Oh my god, no, me too!”
“Oh!” says Norman. “Oh.”
“Well, I’m pansexual,” says Mabel. “Technically. But I’m not really crushing on you, promise. Geeze, I just met you! Isn’t he silly, Waddles?”
Waddles snuffles from the ground, where he is eating people’s dropped garbage.
“Yeah, that’s totally something that has historically prevented your crushes,” says Dipper, and then he registers what Norman’s part in this conversation is. Oh. Oh. Courtney’s like Mabel. Right.
He remembers his impulse to say “marry me” last night and feels his face heating up like a total and complete chump.
“Shut up,” says Mabel. “So, like, just guys or…? Okay, oh my god, you don’t have to answer that, sorry. I am so nosy!”
“No, it’s okay,” says Norman. He looks a lot calmer, his shoulders slumped in relief, his small smile back on his face. “Just guys.”
“Right on,” says Mabel. “Unfortunately it doesn’t run in our family, Dipper is just a boring old straight dude.”
“Ah,” says Norman.
Dipper is suddenly seized with the worry that Norman’s going to think he cares about this, like, in a bad way, especially since he’s blushing like a fucking tomato based idiot. “Yeah,” says Dipper, smiling at him, maybe overdoing it a little, but whatever. “I’m the boring one.”
“Too bad,” says Norman, and then he’s blushing violently too. “I mean, uh, I meant — that’s too bad for you. Being so boring.”
“Yeah, it is,” says Dipper, and he feels the back of his neck getting all hot along with his face. Great. This is great and not awkward at all. “I am. Super boring.”
Mabel raises her eyebrows. “Yikes,” she says. “Anyway, I promised I’d teach you camp songs today, Norman! When do you wanna meet for that?”
Dipper leaves the dining hall feeling incredibly embarrassed, which is stupid, because he’s never had a problem with anybody being gay before, even dudes who may potentially like him. Mabel has like three million gay friends of all sorts of genders, from college and from online. It is really, really stupid that he should feel weird about bonding all last night with a cool guy who happens to be gay. It makes no sense.
When Mabel and Norman go off to learn camp songs, Dipper ends up passing out in his cabin, still exhausted from the night before.
Not for the first time, he dreams of a voice laughing in the forest. He’s looking around the Group 2 clearing, trying to find its source, but his search is fruitless. Every time he tries to look harder, it seems to get darker and darker in the woods. “I can’t see anything!” he yells, frustrated.
“But I can,” says a voice. “And I’m watching.”
Dipper wakes up drenched in sweat. It isn’t even that hot outside yet.
“What the fuck,” he groans, pressing his fists against his closed, smarting eyes.
Rainy days are not an unusual happenstance at Camp Pine Bluff. Mabel likes them because they’re cozy — because there are only a certain number of warm and dry places to be when it’s raining on the camp grounds, and everyone is kind of forced to experience the joy of togetherness.
At least, Mabel usually likes them. The Pacifica Northwest factor makes things a little different.
Okay, it’s not like she’s really doing anything. She’s just sitting there by the window of the break room with her purple iPod and her earbuds in, looking more casual and normal than Mabel’s ever seen her in leggings and a t-shirt. She’s being far less conspicuous than Wendy, who’s in a fight with the vending machine again, or stupid Gideon, the assistant Stan makes do all the hard things and who is currently monologuing to a trapped Dipper about his weird career goals, or Mabel herself, who is just finishing another round of the Weenie Man song with Candy and Grenda.
But — she’s there. She’s just there, being Pacifica, making Mabel feel like — well — Mabel does not often feel insecure, and Pacifica’s one of the only people to bring that ugly feeling crawling to the surface.
“Hot dog, I love that Weenie maa-aa-aan!” Mabel finishes, louder than strictly necessary, and says to Norman, “Got it?”
“Got it,” says Norman. He is sitting next to the bookshelf filled with creepy movies on VHS, examining Grunkle Stan’s collection of zombie flicks, recorded episodes of Ancient Aliens, and the dreaded claymation stuff as Mabel, Candy, and Grenda sing songs and make the first of many, many lanyards this summer. “But I don’t think I’ll ever actually sing it.”
“It’s your job to sing it now,” says Mabel, threading hot pink through sparkly clear in the box stitch. “Camp Pine Bluff wants to marry the Weenie Man. What will your kids think if you don’t want to marry the Weenie Man?”
“They’ll accept that their father has moved on.”
“But they liked him so much!” says Mabel. “All the free weenies! You’re going to let down the children of divorce again?”
“They’ll understand that the weenie stand business is not, um.” Norman turns a tape over to look at the back. The front is covered in zombies with blood dripping out of their mouths. Gross. “You know, entirely lucrative in the twenty-first century.”
“Oh, so what’s what you care about, is it,” says Grenda, who, like Mabel, and along with Candy, has taken an instant liking to Norman. Grenda runs drama classes at camp, and she talks like it. “The money. Is that why you left their real dad?”
“Who is their real dad, anyway?” asks Candy, taking a close look at her finished blue and green zipper stitch. Candy will be teaching archery this year, and she does everything with the laser focus required of it.
“I’m taking that one to my grave,” says Norman solemnly, slipping the tape back on the shelf and going for another.
“I bet you killed him for his money,” says Grenda.
Norman makes a zipping motion over his mouth with his free hand, the Nearly Almost Dead But Not Quite tape in the other.
“A trifling friend indeed,” says Mabel. “The Weenie Man doesn’t know this right now, what with his broken heart and junk, but he’s getting off easy.”
With Candy and Grenda occupied trying to find the perfect colors for Candy’s next lanyard, Mabel lowers to a whisper and voices something that’s been bothering her. “Norman? I’m sorry if, um — you felt like you had to come out yesterday,” she says. “Sometimes I just say things. Without really thinking. I worried I made you feel like you had to say something.”
“Oh!” says Norman. His ears, which Mabel is quickly learning are some tell-tale body parts, are only slightly pink this time. “It’s okay. I mean, uh.” He stares hard at the tape. “I figured it would be okay here, with Courtney and Wendy and everything. And I thought it might be good to, um. To practice for college. I mean, I thought college might be a good place to just — not worry about people knowing.”
“Totally,” says Mabel. “New starts! I get it.” She pats him on the knee, as it is the closest body part to her, and says, “I’m glad it was okay.”
Norman looks at his knee, then up at Mabel’s face, then starts laughing.
“What?” Mabel says.
“What’s so funny?” Grenda demands, looking up from the bin of lanyard thread.
“Nothing,” says Norman, shaking his head and turning back to the shelf.
“Well, now you’ve got us interested!” says Candy, crawling back over with her newly selected pink and yellow thread.
“I just think you’re funny,” says Norman. “In a good way,” he adds quickly.
“Is there a bad way to be funny?” Mabel asks.
“Mm, I think so, but it’s not the way you’re funny,” says Norman. “Also — Courtney is always joking that girls love me.”
“I bet they do,” says Mabel. “It’s the ears.”
Norman covers his face, and it takes Mabel a moment to realize he is laughing, the hardest she’s yet seen, his shoulders shaking.
“Oh my god, what? I’m not trying to be funny here, Norman. I am being dead serious about those ears. It’s the sole reason I’m trying so hard to befriend you.”
“I agree,” says Grenda. “It’s the ears.”
“One hundred percent,” says Candy.
“Courtney says,” says Norman, peeking out from behind his fingers, “I appear non-threatening.”
“Do you only appear non-threatening?” says Mabel.
“To girls? No. I think I am fairly — non-threatening. Okay, not fairly — incredibly. Incredibly non-threatening.”
“What, ‘to girls,’ but you’re threatening to everyone else?”
“God. No.” Now the tell-tale ears go redder. “Absolutely not. I’m going to — remove myself from this conversation and get back to the movies.”
“Our new friend, Non-Threatening Norman,” says Mabel. “Yes, alliteration occasion! I realize that isn’t alliteration but I couldn’t think of a good ‘A’ word so I just went with a rhyme instead.”
“Hmm, I don’t know,” says Candy.
“I think it needs improvement,” Grenda agrees.
“I’m doing my best!” Mabel insists.
“It’s not a true rhyme,” says Candy.
“You’re not a true rhyme,” says Mabel.
“You’re not wrong,” says Candy.
“Oh, wicked,” says Norman, and they turn to see him whipping another tape off the shelf. “Plague Street Part II!”
“Plague street?” Mabel repeats, wrinkling her nose. She looks at Grenda and Candy, who look equally mystified and kinda grossed out.
“Part II,” says Norman, like that means anything to her. “It’s — ”
“The best one,” Dipper’s voice comes to join Norman’s as he finishes his sentence. He flops down next to them. Gideon seems to have moved on to his next victim — Soos, from the looks of it. “Part I, the effects are too bad,” Dipper continues. “Part III, they’re too good.”
“Part II’s just right,” says Norman, and Dipper holds up his hand for a high five, which Norman tentatively returns.
“Okay, so you guys are like the goldilocks of plagues,” says Mabel. “Cool. I think Candy and Grenda and I will go somewhere where we’re not discussing — ” She looks over Norman’s shoulder at the back of the case. “‘The triumphant return of the zombifying flesh eating virus that terrorized LA.’”
“Speak for yourself!” says Grenda.
“This time it’s terrorizing New York,” Dipper offers. “Come on, you should watch with us.”
“Dipper,” says Mabel. “You know that I cant handle weird medical stuff in horror movies. That’s the number two no-no after claymation. I want nothing to do with this virus.”
“Your loss,” says Dipper.
Of course, they put it on the communal TV like anybody else really wants to watch people slowly morph into zombies due to a weird flesh eating virus. Well, some people do, apparently — Grenda stays behind as Mabel and Candy drift into the camp store to find Smile Dip, their favorite of the weird, camp only candies, and Mabel can hear Wendy yelling, “Aw, dude, look at his eyeball!”
Weirdos. (She thinks this with great fondness.)
“Do you think we’ll ever find the expired stuff again?” says Candy wistfully as she checks the dates on backs of packages behind the counter. The expired Smile Dip was an experience.
“Bound to,” says Mabel. She is sitting on the counter and digging through a top drawer. “It’s been here long enough. Keep looking for that golden candy, Candy.”
“It looks like we’re running low on Blue Raspberry,” says Candy.
“Pass ‘em over,” says Mabel. “We’ll tell everybody else the Blue Raspberry’s no more.”
“Your Grunkle has been really formative for you,” Candy comments, slipping a pile of Blue Raspberry Smile Dip over the counter like somebody making a drug transaction.
“He’s a good man,” says Mabel, stuffing the pockets of her raincoat and jeans full of the packets.
Just as she’s shoving the last packets into her bra, Pacifica walks out of the break room and into the store.
“Um…” says Mabel, hastily adjusting her lumpy bra. “My boobs just look like this?”
Candy covers her face in obvious secondhand embarrassment.
Pacifica blinks, then sneers. “That movie’s disgusting,” she says, like she expects Mabel to fight her on it.
Mabel is glad she’s decided to just bypass the boob thing.
“That’s why I left,” says Mabel. “Dipper has terrible taste.”
“You can say that again,” says Pacifica.
“Hey,” says Mabel, and part of her knows this is totally unfair, since she started it. “Only I’m allowed to make fun of Dipper’s taste. Or Dipper’s anything.”
Pacifica rolls her eyes. “How sweet,” she says. “I can’t believe I’m stuck with you people all summer.” She looks pointedly at Mabel’s Blue Raspberry boobs. Okay, maybe she’s not bypassing the whole thing.
“Okay,” says Mabel. “But why are you ‘stuck’ with us all summer? It’s not like you need the money.”
Pacifica’s eyes flash and her face goes all hard, and it’s not like she’s been sweet and bubbly at any time in this exchange, but this is when Mabel knows she’s actually touched a nerve. “None,” she says, enunciating sharply, “Of your fucking business.”
“Geez,” says Mabel. “It was just a question.”
Pacifica crosses her arms. “Yeah, okay,” she says. “Just a friendly fucking question.”
“I’m a friendly fucking person!” says Mabel.
She realizes how loudly she said that when the next room goes totally quiet, except for the sound of — Mabel’s not sure, but someone’s definitely dying, and gruesomely. Candy winces.
“Whatever, Mabel,” says Pacifica, and she stomps out in the rain with her unfairly cute polka dotted umbrella.
“Whatever, Mabel!” Mabel mocks, waving her arms in exasperation, and packets of Smile Dip fall out of her sleeves.
“Um,” says Dipper reassuringly, flipping a page in The Journal from his spot on the floor. The rain has slowed to a trickle in the space before dinner time, and when it seemed like it was going to be chill quiet time for everybody, Mabel and Dipper naturally gravitated to each other. Dipper’s presence is always a comfort, especially after their year apart at college, and Mabel knows Dipper feels the same way about her, whether he’d say it out loud or not. “You’re the least mean person I know, Mabel. It’s not your fault if Pacifica Northwest is a total bitch.”
“Dipper,” Mabel says sharply, flipping over to glare at him. “You know I don’t like the b word.” Waddles snorts, seeming to agree.
“I’m sorry, okay, but some people just — ”
“Nope,” says Mabel. She holds up a finger. “Nope. Sssh. No people. Especially not from no man.”
“Fine, fine, you’re right,” says Dipper. “But do you hear yourself right now? You have, like, zero bad bones in your body, Mabel. She’s got some kind of problem and I don’t know why she’s taking it out on you, but you don’t deserve it.”
“Aw,” says Mabel, and she reaches over, teetering a bit at the edge of the bed, to pat him on the head. “What a big sweetie.”
“Don’t make a joke out of my sincerity,” says Dipper.
“It’s not a joke, I am serious about your sweetness, sweetie.” Mabel inches back onto her flat mattress and dumps more of her stolen goods into her mouth. Not a bad bone in her body. It’s so true. “I’m also pretty sure you’ve read that whole book six hundred times.”
“Probably more,” says Dipper earnestly. “But I was thinking…”
“Uh oh,” says Mabel. Waddles flops down for a nap. He obviously isn’t into intrigue.
“Shut up,” says Dipper. “Did you take Norman to the bunker when you were showing him around?”
“No way,” says Mabel, patting Waddles’ fat back as he settles in. “That’s your thing.”
“It’s our thing,” Dipper insists. “And Wendy’s and Soos’.”
“Yeah,” says Mabel. She kicks her legs idly in the air. “Soooo, I wouldn’t just show him without asking you.”
“I think we should show him,” says Dipper.
Honestly, Mabel’s surprised. Yeah, she was surprised when Dipper didn’t seem to want to tell Norman everything about the mysteries of Gravity Falls and Camp Pine Bluff, but the bunker? The top secret bunker out in the woods? That’s different. That’s the biggest 180 she’s ever seen.
“Really?” says Mabel. “You think he’s a bunker guy?”
For no good reason Mabel can see, Dipper gets all splotchy in the face. “What’s that supposed to mean, a bunker guy?”
“Watch your blood pressure, Dip, it’s just that we met him two days ago. And the bunker’s serious business.”
“Okay, A,” says Dipper. “You were all over him in the Mystery Shack, Ms. We Met Him Two Days Ago and B, I know how serious it is. I usually have to remind you how serious it is. I’m extremely serious, Mabel. I’m a serious guy.”
“Believe me, I know this about you,” says Mabel. “I like to call it ‘pooping on the party,’ generally. And exsqueeze me, ‘all over him?’ I’ll have you know we were discussing his ears. And he already told us he’s gay, blockhead.”
Dipper rolls his eyes. “I just think Norman could be an asset to our team, okay?”
Mabel narrows her eyes, halting the kicking of her legs. “What do you know that I don’t know?”
There is a moment in which only Waddles’ snores fill the cabin.
“Uh — nothing?” Dipper’s right eyebrow shoots up twitchily like it does when he’s getting all anxious and trying to hide it, and he majorly avoids eye contact. “Why would I know something you don’t know? Why would you say that?”
God, Dipper is a terrible liar. It makes Mabel want to pat him gently on the head and tell him to go back to reading, she’ll take care of the grunt work.
“Okay, don’t poop yourself,” says Mabel. “If it’s a secret of Norman’s or something you don’t have to rat him out.”
Dipper glares at her, then buries himself back in the journal.
“So I guess that late night heart to heart was really something,” says Mabel.
Dipper moves the journal further up his face so she can see nothing but the birthmark on his forehead.
“You’re a weird dude, Dipper Pines.”
“So I’ve heard,” Dipper mumbles.
“You know I say it with deep love and camaraderie,” says Mabel, patting Waddles’ head as he lets out a particularly loud snore. She tilts her head to get a look at Dipper’s watch. “It’s probably time to head to dinner.” She leaps off the bed and grabs her rainbow striped poncho off the coat hooks by the door. She has an actual rain coat, with daisies on it and everything, but she really likes the look of ponchos. It’s like wearing a slippery blanket! “I hear there’ll be Stancakes!”
They’ve been through every ridiculous training in ice breakers, games, first aid, and camp procedure that Gideon wanted to put them through (Stan hoists this kind of thing onto Gideon all the time), and now they have one last day of freedom before there are kids everywhere. Kids whose parents are putting their safety in Dipper’s hands. No pressure or anything.
Dipper, in accordance with usual adventuring procedure, brings his backpack stuffed with supplies — smart phone that barely works in the woods, portable charger, walkie talkie with the other in Stan’s office as if he’ll ever actually be listening for it, journal, first aid kit, ice packs, notebook and various pens, Oregon forest guide book, encyclopedia of the paranormal, compass, official camp map, unofficial Dipper Pines camp map, sunscreen, bug spray, super strength insecticide, mini metal detector, telescope, kaleidoscope, flashlight, garlic, salt, garlic salt, disposable cameras, digital camera, extra sweatshirt, extra socks, extra underwear, post-it notes, a heat blanket, and some snacks.
Mabel and Norman show up in shorts and t-shirts with their phones in their pockets.
“We’re taking, like, a twenty minute hike,” Mabel tells Norman. “Thirty minutes tops.”
Dipper isn’t embarrassed. He means it when he responds gravely, “Gravity Falls isn’t an ordinary place, and we don’t know everything about the bunker by a long shot. Anything could happen. Did you at least put on bug spray? There are ticks in the long grass!”
He has a feeling they’re humoring him when they put on the bug spray, but whatever — now they’re safe. Safer, anyway.
On the way there, Dipper further explains the bunker to Norman, who before the outing only got a vague idea that they wanted to show him something mysterious in the woods. “It’s like somebody was preparing for the apocalypse or something,” says Dipper as they head past the archery range. “There’s like sixty years worth of supplies — non-perishable foods, water bottles, all this weird stuff we haven’t even figured out the point of. There’s even old computers and stuff, but we can’t get them on.”
“How did you find it?” asks Norman.
“There’s something in the journal about it,” says Dipper. “Here, this is where the real trail ends — Mabel and I have our own path marked.” He gestures for Norman to follow them into the trees. Mabel is already ahead, making a game out of jumping from rock to rock. Norman is tall enough to have to duck under a branch Dipper didn’t even have to think of avoiding. “A while back, me and Mabel and Wendy and Soos decided to see if we could actually find it,” Dipper continues, “And it took a few summers, but we did. We think it probably belongs to the author — whoever wrote the journal.”
“Dipper wants to marry the author,” Mabel supplies helpfully. Karma makes her land badly on a rock, stumble, and scrape her knee. “Man down!” she yells, flopping dramatically down onto the forest floor. For some who cares a lot about clothes, Mabel has very little regard for how dirty they get. “Dipper, you got band-aids in that thing?”
“Isn’t it great that someone came prepared?” he says, shoving the bag off his shoulder to get Mabel a band-aid from the first aid kit.
“Ugh, of course they’re plain,” says Mabel as he dangles one over her still prone form.
“What did you want?” asks Dipper. “Disney princesses?”
“Um, yes?” says Mabel, like he’s crazy.
“Anyway,” says Dipper as Mabel sits up and grabs the band-aid from him. “I have a deep respect for the author. There’s so much in this book. It must have taken a lifetime of dedication to solving mysteries. I would love to find out who he was.”
“Hey, watch out, Scooby Doo, you don’t know that it’s a he,” says Mabel as she slaps the band-aid on. “Could be a she, or a they, or anything, really!”
“Whoever it is,” Dipper concedes. “I have a lot respect for them and their work.”
“I think it’s cool,” says Norman.
“I think it’s cool, too,” says Mabel as they get going again. “I wasn’t saying otherwise. I was just saying the author could be anybody, and Dipper has a crush on them.”
“Respect,” Dipper repeats, irritable. “Anyway, the bunker’s the closest thing we’ve got to the author, so every once and a while we come back and check it out. Or I do, anyway. I can usually get somebody to come with.”
“Usually me,” says Mabel.
“Usually Mabel,” says Dipper. “At this point I feel like we may have exhausted its information resources, but…” He trails off. He was going to say, ‘I wanted you to see it,’ but the moment before it comes out it seems weird. He remembers Mabel asking if he thought Norman was “a bunker guy” and for no good reason it makes his face feel hot.
Over the past few days, Dipper has learned from movie marathons and a couple more late night chats that A) Norman’s taste in horror movies is great (with the exception of Zombie Babies From Outer Space, because why would there be human zombies in outer space, even if they are babies? Especially if they’re babies?) B) Norman knows enough interesting, exclusive stuff about ghosts to write a few books and C) Norman owns the same encyclopedia of the paranormal and has memorized plenty of facts from it. Dipper has never met anyone outside of fairly anonymous online message boards who will consider the possibility of Sasquatch existence.
So, 1. Norman is a really cool guy who Dipper just generally wants to hang out with, and 2. Dipper doesn’t want Norman to think he’s using him if he brings up the possibility of bunker ghosts.
Author ghosts, specifically.
“But maybe there’s something I can see?” Norman says lightly.
Dipper can’t analyze his tone or his facial expression.
“Well…” says Dipper. “If you’re okay with that.”
“He agreed to come with,” says Mabel obliviously. “I’m sure he’s fine with being a fresh pair of eyes.”
Norman shrugs. “I am,” he says, sounding pretty sincere.
Dipper smiles, and Norman smiles back.
Norman walks into a low hanging branch.
“Man down part two!” Mabel yells. “Who let this bunch of fools walk through the woods?”
“Are you okay?” Dipper asks, already shucking off his bag for first aid supplies.
“I think I’m gonna make it,” says Norman dryly, tapping his forehead gingerly.
“I think it’s just a scratch,” says Dipper, peering up at his face and into his eyes, noting that they are A) focused and normal looking and B) blue. “Just let us know if you’re feeling weird, okay?”
“Will do,” says Norman. “But I think it’s just my pride.”
“When you two are done staring into each other’s eyes, we’re actually here,” says Mabel. Dipper whips around to see her pointing at the branch they’ve marked with the blue ribbon Mabel was wearing in her hair the day they first found the bunker. He doesn’t care about the stupid comment; he’s too excited at the prospect of new evidence.
He tries not to get too excited at the thought of Author Ghost.
“Do the honors, Mabel!” he says, and Mabel grabs onto the tree with the ease of someone who’s spent a lifetime climbing them, pulling herself up to the lever disguised as a branch sporting her blue ribbon.
“Ready Freddy?” she says, and once Dipper’s assured that neither he nor Norman are standing in the wrong place, she pulls on the lever.
The ground opens up, revealing a spiral staircase heading down, down, down into darkness.
Dipper enjoys watching Norman’s surprise.
“Pretty sweet, right?” says Dipper.
Norman nods, but his brow his furrowed.
“You okay, Norman?” says Mabel.
“Yeah,” says Norman, shaking his head as though trying to dislodge something. “I’m fine.”
Dipper wonders if he’s not quite telling the truth, but he doesn’t know how to ask, or what to think. Maybe he’s getting ghostly vibes. Is that a thing? Dipper doesn’t know how to ask if that’s a thing, especially with Mabel right here.
“Gentlemen first!” Mabel says cheerfully, and she gestures for Dipper and Norman to go.
Norman doesn’t say much as they climb down the stairs and start checking out the bunker, but Dipper can’t seem to stop talking. As Mabel skips around humming to herself, Dipper points out the old computers, the technology they don’t understand, the containers that might have once held experiments or some form of life. He shows Norman the shelves filled with nonperishables, a dirty old mattress, a door they can’t open, babbling the whole time about the theories he’s come up with about all this stuff and what the author has said in The Journal about the place.
And Norman listens. He doesn’t look at Dipper like he’s going to ask Grunkle Stan later if Dipper needs to see someone. (Which like, maybe he does, but not because of this.) He doesn’t get distracted like Mabel. He nods thoughtfully. His eyes don’t stray from Dipper’s face or from what he’s talking about. He asks questions. He gets down on his knees in front of one of the big broken tubes and says, “You know what this reminds me of? Plague Street Part III — where they’re experimenting on the immunes?”
“Exactly!” Dipper says, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet.
Norman frowns. “I really hope whatever’s going on here isn’t disease related. Zombies is far as I go when it comes to, um — supernatural communicable diseases.”
“Okay, like, I agree,” says Mabel, shuddering, “But if that’s your opinion how is it you’re all about a franchise called Plague Street?”
“I don’t care about it in theory,” says Norman. “But I don’t think I’m exactly comfortable with it in practice.”
“Hmm,” says Mabel. “Okay, I mean — I guess I get that. Like, I love unicorns in theory, but in practice they’re kind of rude.”
This time Norman only looks bewildered at Mabel’s — Mabel-ness — for a second. He slips easily into a calm, “Yeah, exactly.” He makes eye contact with Dipper and gives him a tiny, conspiratorial kind of smile. “Plagues would be kind of rude in practice.”
Mabel narrows her eyes. “Are you making fun of me?” she demands.
“Why would I do that?” Norman asks innocently. He walks over to one of the computer-like machines and says, “This looks like an arcade game.” He experimentally jabs at a dusty button. Unsurprisingly, nothing happens. “I’m the master of Fight Fighters.”
“Um…” says Dipper.
“Them’s fighting words,” says Mabel.
“There’s an arcade in town,” says Dipper. “One weekend we can see who’s really the master.”
Norman snorts. “If you feel up to getting beat.” He moves on to the next machine, running his fingers over the blank screen.
They linger in the bunker for a long time — longer than they normally would. Dipper tells himself he’s just letting Norman thoroughly check everything out, but he knows in his heart he’s still hoping for a ghost appearance.
But nothing out of the ordinary happens. The bunker’s still dusty and kind of smelly. Nothing’s moved. And Norman takes everything in without speaking to thin air once.
“Okay, I know this is new to Norman and all,” Mabel says finally, “But dudes, I’m hungry. We’ve been here for my whole life.” She has deposited herself onto an old office chair and is wheeling slowly in circles.
“You’ve been alive for surprisingly less time than me, as my twin,” says Dipper.
“Eh,” says Mabel. “You’ve had better.”
“Better what, twins?”
“Better jokes,” Mabel clarifies, putting one rainbow sneaker onto the keyboard in front of her and launching the rolling chair across the floor. “Wheeeee! I want my lunch!”
Dipper looks at Norman, and Norman shrugs. “I’m getting hungry, too,” he admits, and he looks at his feet and not at Dipper like he’s feeling bad. “I, uh — this place seems pretty deserted.”
“Well, duh, were we really expecting to find the author this time?” Mabel asks as she wheels herself slowly back to the keyboard, presumably for another launch.
Dipper ignores her and attempts to do the same with his disappointment. “That’s okay,” he says.
When they get back to the mess hall to grab lunch and Mabel runs off to join Candy and Grenda, Norman says, “I know you were really hoping I’d be able to help.” He is still looking at his shoes instead of Dipper as they wait in line for food.
“You did help,” says Dipper as he spoons tomato soup into a bowl for his grilled cheese.
Norman burrows his brow, stopping before he grabs his own sandwich with the provided tongs. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” says Dipper. “You actually care. I mean, Mabel kind of cares, because I care, but like…” He watches his sister gasp and jump up and down excitedly at something Grenda has said. “She’s Mabel. She gets bored easily. And she makes fun of me. It’s helpful to have someone, you know — not make fun of me.”
Norman grins, then goes back to getting his food, his ears inexplicably red. “Well that’s, um. Well, I’m glad. Er — ditto.”
It takes Dipper forever to fall asleep that night, his nerves over the impending arrival of children getting to him. When he finally does, he has a relatively normal dream — finally — about eating grilled cheese with Norman.
“So what did you think of the bunker?” Dipper asks.
Norman opens his mouth and instead of his voice out comes another — an eerie, echoing, familiar voice. “What did I think of it?” he says, cackling. “I think you need to start minding your own damn business, Pine Tree.”
Dipper wakes up in a cold sweat again.
At least he made it to daybreak this time. Weak sunshine pokes into his cabin windows, and the birds are twittering.
At least, he thinks that until he remembers today’s the day. Camp Pine Bluff is officially beginning.