Stanford blinked a few times when he woke up. He didn’t know where he was, but it was definitely pretty dark. And there was… rocking. He was rocking back and forth, slowly. He panicked for a minute and breathed deep to keep himself calm, like he was facing the security system of the alien ship in Gravity Falls. It wouldn’t do to panic. He looked. He couldn’t see a thing. With a start, he realized his glasses were missing. He raised his hand slowly to confirm, and that was right. Then he listened. He could hear… water… and creaking.
But it wasn’t the water or creaking, or the fact that his body was laying on a hard mattress, even, that brought him back from the nightmare realm flashback to the present. It was snoring. And only one person could possibly snore like that: Stanley Pines. Suddenly he smiled, remembering exactly where he was.
When they were young, everyone in their family said they snored exactly alike, but Ford never believed it, and still didn’t. Stan snored like an angry bear- the one with several heads that lived in Gravity Falls, naturally. A regular bear would have payed good money to have such a menacing case of tissue vibration. Ford smiled and sat up, his six-fingered hands searching for his glasses and pulling back the covers at the same time. “Stanley,” He said quietly.
There was a sound like a crab gargling water while doing the Macarena, then more snoring. “Stanley.” Ford said, louder this time, and he located his glasses and put them on. Now to find the lamp. “Stanley!”
“Damn it! Stanley, wake up! I can’t find the lamp!”
“It’s inside the genie.”
“Are you awake?”
“God, is that you? Cause if it is, first, I just wanna say, that wasn’t my fault with the-“
“Stanley, it’s Ford, I can’t find the lamp for god’s sake.”
“Oh, I thought you were someone else.” There was a chuckle, then “And speaking of, let there be light.”
Stanley was grinning groggily at him, his head hanging down from the bunk above. The light source was on the shelf above, where Stanley kept his… magazines… and just where Ford had told him a thousand times that it shouldn’t go. It could fall while it was lit and set the whole boat on fire! But Ford didn’t have a chance to correct his brother this time. Stanley picked up the lamp and climbed down the bunk’s ladder. Then he stretched (Ford winced as firecrackers went off in his back) and groaned, and went right out the door in his shorts and white shirt.
Ford followed when he’d gotten dressed. He’d had nightmares about the other realms, and he’d forgotten that they’d weighed anchor the night before on a small island. He drew the curtain and looked out the tiny round window in the cabin on a bright and sunny day, breathing salty air as he put on his shirt. When he was fully dressed, he stepped out onto the deck and faced the sun, driving the nightmares from his mind.
It truly was beautiful out here. The island looked like postcards he’d seen of Hawaii, and the sun was so bright he had to squint against it’s warm light. The water was near transparent for several feet down.
It took Ford a few minutes to realise that Stan was talking to him. He took coffee from his brother’s hand. It wasn’t great coffee, but it had been a necessity for him in the morning for many years now. He’d missed it a lot when…
He tuned into Stan’s chatter, mostly to avoid thinking along that track “-saw some pretty nice babes on the beach over there. Want to stir up the locals?” He was joking, Ford thought, but only a little. Stan had laid their map right across the tiny table and was playing with the protractor.
“I think we’d better stick to the mission at hand.” Ford replied. He wondered if Stan had really seen people here, though.
“Geez- always so serious.” Stanley said, rolling his eyes, but when he turned back to the map, Ford could see his eyes were bright with adventure.
Ford sat opposite him and took out his calculations. It had been a long ride here, but they were doing something that interested his brother very much. Looking for gold.
It had all started on a deserted island much less welcoming than the one they were on. None of the places they were going could be considered tourist traps, but this place looked like every horror movie setting Ford had seen. The trees were drooping over, dead, and the place was barren and lifeless, but they’d decided to check it out because that’s what adventures do, and also because their compass had suddenly reversed itself completely. It took him a few minutes to figure it out because Stan was navigating, and generally when he started hitting things and yelling about how they were malfunctioning, it was Stan making them malfunction in the first place. At any rate, when he took it, he could see it had broken in a different way. He was sure that that was north, and this was east… the sun had been setting at the time, so he decided to do some basic tests for anomalies, and one had turned up on that island.
Stan’s protests of visiting such a dreary place quickly turned to interest as they discovered the entire island’s bottom was man-made. They went down an easily found hatch to discover an abandoned growth project. Ford got the computers and lights working. Apparently it was designed to grow plants seen on tropical islands, probably as a tourism project, though Ford had also thought it could be a potential offset to Climate Change. However, the project had failed when the crew was ran out of food. Ford wasn’t sure where their recovery mission was, but he documented his findings in a book labeled “4” and tested the crew for various diseases. Many of them had committed suicide by the look of things, and Stan was clearly affected by the grizzly scene. He walked aimlessly through corridors, a depressed silence handing over him as Ford worked.
When he made a sudden whooping noise and ran back, Ford went straight for the gun, but Stan was ecstatic. He grabbed Ford’s arm and pulled him along. “Ford, you gotta see this! You’ve got to see this!”
They entered a second chamber, the doors of which had been pried open. Ford gaped. There was a blank space cleared on the floor, and above it, a singular opening to the sky above. Rays of light shown through, alighting on a treasure map. “Wait…” Ford said, holding Stan back. The hairs on the back of his neck were tingling and he sensed trouble.
“For what?” Stan exclaimed “The FBI? This one’s pretty clear cut-“
“No, it isn’t. Look around, Stanley. This is the store room. Where’s the food? Why would anyone leave a map here? There’s no boat, and no supplies.”
Stanley stood cross-armed as Ford worked on various parts of the room, checking for traps. He found nothing, but insisted on removing the map himself, in case it triggered something.
Carefully, he reached out and took it up. Dust flurried up and he coughed, then everything was very still. Nothing happened.
“Are you done, Poindexter?” Stan asked, rolling his eyes.
“It doesn’t seem to be a trap…” Then Ford stepped forward and brought the map back to Stan. It was incredibility detailed, mapping at least twenty islands in the general area, and there was an x on one of them. It folded out into twelve rungs, bending sideways and up and down, so it could be carried on the person, perhaps about the size of a Mystery Shack pamphlet, but thicker. Stan danced up and down in excitement, and after about thirty seconds, Ford could be persuaded to join him. They’d finally found what Stan had always longed for. Ford finished his research there (rushed by Stanley) radioed a distress call from the island, and boarded the Stan-O-War II.
They’d spent the night, and the next day they sailed in circles for a while, until it became too confusing with no compass and just the sun as company, which was hiding behind the clouds most of the day. After nightfall, Ford located the Polaris for guidance instead, and they made it out of whatever insane Bermuda’s triangle they’d sailed into. He marked the spot in his journal.
They’d arrived on the island late the previous night, and this time they were sure. They’d made some stop-offs for food and because they were honestly lost. There was no north on the map, even in invisible ink, and it took some decoding from the back side, which they inadvertently found while fighting over the position and direction in which the map should lay. They taped the map back together after their fight and tried again. This time Ford was sure because he was sure his calculations were correct.
Ford drifted back to the present, where Stan was drinking his coffee and looking out at the sea. Ford’s eyes rested on the beach for a minute, then he sat up a little. “Stanley…” He whispered.
“Did those beautiful local women you mentioned see you?”
“What?” Stan turned around and was greeted with the same sight as his brother. There were several beautiful women, a good deal of their dark skin showing, including naked breasts. Ford detached this information culturally and jotted it down, with an accompanying sketch or one man and one woman, later on. But Stanley of course did the first thing that came to his mind. He waved. “Hey there ladies!” He yelled, then whispered to Ford out of the corner of his mouth “They’re back!”
“With reinforcements.” Ford said, standing slowly. There were five women, and twice as many men following them, spears in hand. “Let’s see if they’re friendly.”
“Yeah!” Stanley said. Ford didn’t bother to try and explain, but he was sure that he and Stan were thinking different things.
“Hello.” He called to the natives. One of them yelled something back, and it didn’t sound promising. “Perhaps French.” Ford tried about a dozen languages while Stanley gave the women goo-goo eyes from over the deck, but they didn’t seem to recognise anything. They did a lot of yelling back at them, though. “I’m going down.” Ford said eventually.
He sounded frustrated, but all Stan said was “Yeah, yeah” in a dreamy voice. Ford disembarked.
“Greetings… I’m Stanford Pines.” He said to one of the locals as they posed menacingly. He picked the man with the biggest hat for the job, but it was actually a woman that stepped forward. She studied him as he did motions. “I’m Ford. Ford.”
“Ford.” She repeated, pointing at him.
“Yes!” He said, nodding. She looked confused, but then repeated his motion.
“Nemnitalli” she said again.
“Nemnitalli,” Ford repeated. Then, slowly, he offered her his hand.
“You’re flirting with the ugliest one!” Came Stan’s frustrated scream.
Many of the native people had backed up as Ford offered to shake, but the woman put out her hand similarly. Ford grasped it and shook up and down and she smiled in amusement. She turned to her people and shook her head, saying something in their native language. Some of them inched closer. It was then that she realized the anomaly- maybe the feel, or maybe she saw it. She bent down to study his hands, and he splayed his fingers so she would see all six on both hands. This caused quite a riot for a minute, and Ford could all but feel Stan’s eyes on the back of his coat, tense and waiting for the moment he had to step in for defence. But it never came. After a few minutes the natives either decided he was human, or a god, and they went back to trying to communicate.
“Ford.” Nemnitalli said again, and patted his shoulder twice.
“You started with a handshake- oh my god…” Stanly groaned from the ship.
Then he saw Ford turn around and wave at him. “Stan, come down here!”
“Right!” Stan said, happy to comply, and jumped from the boat himself.
When Stanford turned back, Nemnitalli patted his shoulder twice again. She smiled at him. When he didn’t do anything, she took his hand and brought it up to her own shoulder slowly. “Nemnitalli.” She urged. “Dwe Dwe.”
Ford’s eyes grew wide as comprehension dawned. He patted her shoulder twice. The people all around seemed to relax. “Hello.” He said, waving.
“Dwe Dwe!” She said, waving back.
“Stan, we’re making contact. Look, this is their handshake.”
But Stan was surprisingly ahead of him. He patted the woman’s shoulder hard and said “Dwe Dwe!” in a jovial voice. The tension broke completely and everyone laughed. She returned the favour twice as hard as he had, leaving him nursing bruises on his right shoulder. One by one, the native people came up and introduced themselves, some of the less shy trying for “Hello,” which sounded much more like “heello.” The twins returned greetings, Stan eyeing all the ladies on the beach. A few of them laughed when his eyebrows went up and down, and soon everyone was copying Stan and giggling. He took it well, or maybe he didn’t really realise it was a joke at all.
Soon the two of them were pulled along by the villagers to a small clearing with fires and huts. “Isn’t this the whole shabang!” Stan said, immediately relaxing on a log that was thrown down near the fire. It was lit already and they were cooking boar meet. Ford didn’t sit, but he had to smile when he saw the girls falling over each other. They at least seemed to think that Stan was hilarious.
Ford made arrangements to meet with the local shaman, and they swapped stories as best as they could through the language barrier as Ford designed and sketched blueprints for a machine that would someday do the translations for them. When he went back out, his brother was surrounded by beautiful island women. He seemed only slightly disappointed that they were pleating flowers into his hair. This reminded Ford of Mabel, and for a minute he was overwhelmed with nostalgia and longing. He took out his water-proof case and gazed for a minute at the picture of Dipper and his sister, Waddles barely making the frame. Then he snuck it back in his inner pocket and joined Stan shyly on the log bench. The women, and several men, began touching his skin and hair immediately- a very uncomfortable experience. Seeing him seize up, Stan nudged him in the ribs. “I can’t keep the men’s hands off me! Woah! See? They are seriously touchy-“
“Perhaps they’ve never seen white skin like ours.” Ford suggested, but it didn’t stop him from feeling general discomfort at being poked and prodded. Stan seemed to be taking it well, as if it were a minor annoyance, but for him it was psychological. Being touched had always been iffy for anyone except Stan, but his distrust of practically everything that moved had made it increasingly more so over the years. Now it was all he could do to stay perfectly still and let the probing hands explore. It was over soon enough, and the men trotted off while the women taunted Stan for his obvious flirtatiousness. After all, as a member of the same species, it was pretty clear what he was after.
They ate what was offered, learning key phrases like “thank you,” as they went. Stan was dragged off somewhere in the middle of it all and Ford set his watch, timing how long his absence was in case he had to go looking for his brother. He tried not to be so mistrustful, but it was difficult. Eventually he lay down, half his body on a log, resting his head on his arms as he listened to a chanting music. He closed his eyes just for a few minutes…
“What’s the MATTER, “ Said a cold, mocking voice. “Didn’t think you’d seen the LAST OF ME, DID YOU?” Images swam into and out of focus: waterfalls going upside down, sucked in by a swirling vortex. Monsters. Mountain men walking by themselves, red eyes glowing. A vast thrown, grey, made from… from…
A triangle with a cold laugh, taunting, ready to squeeze the tiny humans in his arms- “INY MEENY MINEY-“
He woke with a start. HIs alarm was ringing and everyone had stopped singing, entranced by the strange device. He turned it off hurriedly, looking around. Stan wasn’t there, which meant that he was still out and Ford had to go looking for him. He stood up. “Urenia suu.” He said, which he thought probably was meant as an apology. Some of the people were standing up and pointing at his watch. He wasn’t sure how to feel about this. It had been fine earlier but now-
Damn those nightmares! Damn you, Bill! He thought angrily. He must had fallen into a fitful sleep and now he wondered if he’d been making a fuss while dreaming. Once when he had just returned, he was laying down on the ground waiting to spring a trap when he fell asleep on the spot. He remembered Dipper waking him nervously- whether he was anxious because he was facing the author he idolised or because of the thrashing, he didn’t know. But Dipper had said he was screaming. Naturally he had scared his prey, a fairy, away. And he had only gotten worse since- He couldn’t, right now. He couldn’t think of the torture Bill had subjected him to. He needed to stop panicking and find Stan.
But with a slight crash of trees, Stan emerged from the bushes, half naked himself, and with company. “Ford, are you alright?”
“Yes- yes, I was just about to come and look for you.”
“You don’t look so good-“
“I’m fine, Stan. I’m fine.”
But Stan refused to hear it. “Uhhhh…” He said to the surprised crowd “We… want… to … sleep… now.” Ford groaned. He was using the horrible, loud, talking to Asian tourists voice, which had always irritated Ford. He made an act of sleeping with his hands and snoring. Some of the villagers giggled, and a few women stepped forward and took Stanley’s hands, dragging him along. “Wait, what- hey!”
But they led him to a small hut, which seemed barren accept for a few grass blankets and leaves thrown down. When Ford joined him, he realized they would put them up for the night. “Oh, thank you! Bedee!”
“Oh, it’s for us?”
“Beedee- no, Bedee! What-whatever.” He said, giving up on pronunciation.
“Bedee.” Ford whispered.
“Bedee!” Stan practically yelled, and a few of the women laughed at him. Stan didn’t seem to mind. He crawled inside and rolled around a little. “Sheesh. It ain't the ritz.”
“I’m glad they can’t understand you.” Ford mumbled, and with many wishes for a good night, a cloth was draw over the hut door and chanting music resumed. After a long pause where Ford stared into the darkness, reliving some horrific torture of Bill’s in his mind while trying desperately not to think about him at all, Stan’s voice cut through the darkness.
“You oughta get some sleep there, Poindexter.”
Ford sighed. “Yes.” He said, turning to the side, but he made no effort for sleep at all. He just stared at the wall of the hut, eyes wide open in the darkness. Just as he began to wonder if Stan could sense that he wasn’t actually sleeping, his brother started singing.
“Primadona girl… all I ever wanted was the world…I can’t help… if I need it all? The prima donna life, the rise and fall…”
Ford rolled back the opposite way to stare at Stanley, who was now humming quietly. “Stan, what the hell are you doing?”
“I’m singing!” Stan said defensively. “What’s it sound like?”
Anything but singing is what it sounds like. “But why?”
“I’m gonna sing you to sleep. So if you don’t want to hear my singing you better start sleeping, Poindexter.”
Ford chuckled, “Okay, okay.” Comforted by his twin’s strange behaviour, he closed his eyes, listening to the off-key, gruff humming. For a while, there was peace.
“Bill, please don’t-“
There was another shock, this time much worse. It seemed to last for an eternity, but when it stopped Bill’s voice was still there. “Don’t try and beg me NOW, Sixer. We all gotta do what- WELL, NOT WHAT WE’VE GOTTA DO, REALLY, more like what we WANNA do, am I RIGHT?”
He fought the chains, but they seemed to be turning to nothing all around him, or perhaps they were giving more leeway. But why-? Then he was awake, and Stan was screaming something at him.
“Stanley! Bill!” He said, panicked. The flashlight switched right on and Stanley gazed around the small room with it, his expression tense and terrified. All there was was grass and dirt and clay. Then Stanley looked back at his brother. Ford sighed. “I’m sorry.” He groaned. “Just a nightmare.”
“A nightmare about Bill isn’t always a nightmare…” Stan said gruffly, crossing his arms and making the beam of the flashlight turn suddenly to the right.
“Stan…” Ford said in warning, seeing movement where the beam was. The tent flap was opened tentatively and the woman from the beach, Nemnitalli, peeked in. She looked worried. A few of the villagers were behind her and many had retrieved their sticks.
“Oh. Hey guys. Sorry. My brother here had a kind of…” He pointed to Ford, to his own head, then made a comically monstrous face. A few of them nodded.
“Jiantumtum dwii.” Said the woman.
“A nightmare.” Ford said. He drew the moon and stars in the dirt, then a monster’s face to follow. They seemed to understand. “I’m sorry.” Then he repeated it in what he thought was their way, “Shiritanti.”
Many of them shook their heads. A few said something back. A little girl came and put a flower by his hand, then, struck by sudden curiousity, touched his sixth finger there. She looked up deer-eyed to see if she had upset him, but he laughed gently at her. She seemed encouraged, and she looked carefully at his hand before her mother called her out. She retreated with a backwards smile at him. As soon as the curtain was closed, Stan took up the conversation again.
“Are you sure?”
Ford sighed. “Yes.” He said with finality. “It was like a flashback of being there… in the… the pyramid.”
“Hmph.” Was Stan’s only reaction. Then he switched off the flashlight and Ford could hear him lay back down. “Stanford, look… I’m not much one for shrinks, but maybe you should consider one.”
Ford laughed humourlessly. “And then what? Tell them how I was enslaved by a powerful triangle wearing a top-hat?”
“I see your point.”
“I’m not even capable of sharing the things we see every day, let alone a completely backwards and singular event like that one.”
“I got it, I got it.”
“I’m sorry I keep waking you.”
“I’m sorry you keep waking yourself!”
“I just need more time to work through this.”
With nothing more to say, they both drifted off into fitful slumbers.
The next day, Stanley woke up grouchy and complaining of back pain, but helped himself to food. On Ford’s insistence, they foraged and hunted with the villagers, to make up for what they had eaten. Ford was mostly sneaking pictures of Stan in war makeup hunting boars on his camera phone. He had intentions to send everything to Dipper once they hit so-called civilisation, and now had a complete collection of Stanley in various outfits doing ridiculous things.
Then they shook hands with the friendly people and said their goodbyes. Ford wrote down everything he had learned and decided that he would have to check the archives online when he got to a computer to see if anyone had ever encountered this village before. Assuming they ever made it out of the compass labyrinth. But he felt fairly confident in this one.
If they had shown anyone where they were going, they might have been warned to stay away.
Stan was watching Ford surreptitiously throughout the day as they chopped away at trees with machetes. He hoped he wasn’t being too obvious, as he was taking point, having the better strength of the two in the first place, but every time he looked back Ford had his head stuck in his journal, jotting down some new fact he had remembered, correcting and crossing out passages, and adding various undiscovered insects and fungi to the list of things to study. Anything of real worth he would have to write that night by candlelight with invisible ink, Stan knew, but it helped that Ford didn’t pay much attention to him. It helped Stan pay more attention to Ford. And he was worried. Very worried.
The prospect of Bill was one thing, but Ford seemed sure that it wasn’t really him. Besides, sometimes he could catch pieces of conversation if he hung around. He’d always said Ford talked in his sleep, and he really did, even if he hadn’t believed it as a child. He thought it was likely that the nightmares were flashbacks. Some were worse than others, but all of them were hideous, he was sure. Sometimes he dreamed about the world of nightmares Stan had pulled him from after he’d accidentally done the sending in the first place. But most of them were about Bill. Stan didn’t even want to think about what that insane shape had done to his brother.
There wasn’t much for it, though. He’d held back on asking about therapy, letting Ford believe he didn’t know about the nightmares, but he wished there was something he could do. He’d thought about offering to listen, but besides being unsure what he could even offer from that, he wasn’t sure Ford was willing to talk about it, and he wasn’t sure he had the stones to hear him out. So he watched. In waking hours he seemed fine, though. Tired, but fine. If only Stanley could have entered Stanford’s dream like Bill had, he could punch the terrors and monsters until they never came back to bother his family again. It made him wonder how his surely emotionally scared kids were doing back in California.
They broke for lunch when the sun got too hot, and Ford caught some bugs in jars that made Stan shiver while they munched on previously cooked boar and some pineapples, which was a fantastic combination as far as Stan was concerned. When Ford’s back was turned, Stan took the opportunity to take out his wallet. It didn’t have much in it these days other than pictures, and on the very top where his ID used to sit was one of his family, minus Ford. It was himself, Soos, Dipper, Mable, and Wendy. His foot was claiming a rock and Soos was waving straight ahead. Dipper, the idiot, was standing like he was a man already- ready for adventure, which always made Stan chuckle. Wendy was relaxing on a nearby rock like the lazy slacker she was, and his pumpkin pie, Mabel, was standing sweetly with both hands behind her back, braces in full view.
“Me too.” Ford said quietly, and Stan’s eyes shot up. He shoved the picture out of sight, but he’d already been caught in the act.
“What?” He demanded.
“I miss them too.” Ford said simply, popping some pineapple slices in his mouth.
“What kind of bug is that?” Stan asked, though he wasn’t interested at all. Perhaps Ford let him get away with it, or perhaps he was more interested in discussing his frankly gross capture, because he launched into an explanation about how this beetle was capable of projectile vomiting poisonous sap that it took from trees and stored for self-defence. Stan wondered if it would have been more comfortable and less disquieting to talk about his feelings instead.
After lunch they continued in the same way, Stan chopping and Ford mapping and making interesting discoveries. Though it was a small island, they didn’t reach the center until near the evening, and then Ford insisted that they make camp. Stan could smell gold in the air, but Ford convinced him he’d enjoy it better with a good night’s rest.
“What about you?” Stan said without thinking, which was his usual way. “You gonna sleep?”
Ford pretended to be messing about with something in his pocket so he didn’t have to look at Stan. “If I can.” He said stiffly.
“I could knock you out.” Came the offhand threat, but it had no real fire.
“I don’t think I could find it in myself to appreciate that.” Ford replied dryly. They set up the tent.
Whether from exhaustion or sheer age, Stan collapsed immediately onto his sleeping bag and fell asleep. Ford lay awake for a while, trying to convince his own hyper-vigilant mind to drop the paranoia and let himself fall asleep. Eventually it happened, and all he remembered until daylight was darkness. And not the bad kind.
The next morning Stan wasn’t such a grump. He still complained that the hard ground made his back ache, but he had a permanent smile that he alway wore when money was incoming. He ate with gusto and talked non-stop about meaningless things as Ford wrote. Ford had to admit he felt much more refreshed than he had in days, himself. He must have finally had a full night’s sleep, and Stan wasn’t talking like he’d heard Ford’s nightmares voiced all night.
Despite his own assistance when they were young that he didn’t talk in his sleep, that it was Stan who did that, he knew now that he didn’t so much talk as scream. But now he couldn’t admit it. It felt like admitting that his dreams had more sway over him than he wished. Of course, Stan also talked in his sleep. Mostly about gorgeous women, though. Ford tried not to listen and had even invested in ear plugs from a young age.
After breakfast, Stanley stood up and stretched, his back cracking. “Oh! OH! Did you hear that?”
“At first I thought it was a tree snapping in half.” Ford joked.
Stanley chuckled. “Feels good, though.” He said, rubbing the spot. “Okay, I’m ready.” He collected the things strewn out around the camp and packed them haphazardly into his giant backpack before clipping it on. Ford carefully set each specimen into his duffle, each bottle fitting into a space cut out of styrofoam packaging, and shouldered it. Then they set off, Stan with renewed vigour, slicing the trees away. But they hadn’t gone twenty paces when they stepped into a circular clearing with a grass floor. “Oh-ho!” Stan said giddily.
“Careful of traps.” Warned Ford, then he set about trying to trigger a few with stones. After a couple were thrown, Stan got the picture and started throwing rocks around at random. It occasionally accomplished the same thing Ford was trying to do, but nothing was rigged. Eventually he stepped onto the grass carefully, and the sound it made was like his boot had hit wood. He cleared it with his feet as Stan grinned like an idiot behind him. There was indeed wood below their feet. “Clear the-“ The wood here had clearly been left out in the rain and sun equally. As they cleared it, they could see that it was crinkled either with age or pattern.
“Way ahead of you!” Stan dropped his bag- Ford was sure he heard something shatter- and they started to brush away the grass and carry it in heaps to the edge of the jungle. When it was almost clear, Ford started to investigate the cracks, looking for a trap door. Stan was walking over a section repeatedly as he cleared, and after a few passes he stopped. He looked down and tapped his foot. Then he walked a few paces backwards and tapped again. Ford knew he was onto something, because Stan’s strangest behaviour, despite evidence to the contrary, always had a reason. It wasn’t necessarily reasonable, but it had a reason. Stan walked back and forth for a while, tapping with his foot like some strange samba dance. Ford smiled, knowing if Mabel had been there, she’d have recorded it and put it to music. Thinking it might not be too late, he reached for the camera phone, hoping the charge from his machine had held, but then he saw Stan’s hand drop to it’s lowest point and do a motion like ‘come here,’ and he forgot about it. Ford stood and went over.
Stan tapped the wood with his foot, put two hands up, index fingers pointing to the sky, then stepped back and tapped again. “Do you hear that?” He whispered.
Ford tried again as Stan repeated his motion, seeing if he could tune his ear to what Stanley was hearing, but he just couldn’t. “No, but I’m sure you’re right.” He said with conviction. He dropped down and they cleared the remaining brush, blowing and running gloves over the wood.
“Shit! Splinter.” Stan complained, pulling a shard of wood out of his hand.
Then Ford found the almost invisible seem of the trap door. He looked up into his brother’s eyes, which were shinning with excitement. It would have taken Ford days to find it alone.
They each traced the outline. It was a large door, plain wood to match the surrounding, and uneven in pattern just like the wood on all sides. Absolutely nothing made it stand out. It was about the size for both of them to go down if they could get it open, but nothing seemed to work.
Stan tried standing and stomping on all sides, throwing a crowbar into the cracks (he bent it out of frustration near the end of that try), and even throwing his bag at it (though Ford thought that was probably out of anger rather than an actual attempt). Even as Stan tried with all his physical attributes to get in, Ford was applying all of his mental faculties to the problem.
In the space of a few minutes, Ford had walked the edge were it met the forest surrounding, scrutinised the door as Stan threw various things at it, and even tested the wood in a beaker. All he found out was that whatever this place was, there was no digging under the wood, and it was just plain old wood. The first conclusion came from a throughout investigation of the edges, which drug under about a foot. He stuck a small shovel down there and confirmed this. It was the opposite of helpful. The other conclusion came from his beakers, and basically told him nothing. He also searched for a trigger or release, but there was no sign of one. As the heat of the day hit, he knew he’d have to try to get Stan out of the sun at least temporarily, or they’d exhaust their water supply. Already he was drinking more than Ford was totally comfortable with.
Luckily Ford thought of a solution for both at once. Remembering that he’d once hidden his journal in a fake tree, and how easily Dipper had found it, he looked around to the shade-covered jungle-like brush. “Stanley,” he called, putting a little too much effort into it, perhaps, because Stanley gave him a strange look, “The trees! There could be a trigger in the trees.”
Stanley crossed his arms over his chest, his look clearly saying what he was thinking, but he said it anyway “You’re gotta be shitting me.”
“No, I’m serious.” Ford said honestly. “Listen, when I was hiding the journals, I put one inside of a tree that I hollowed out.”
“HA! Dipper found that thing in a tree?!” Stan taunted, then he thought about it and repeated it angrily “HE FOUND THAT THING IN A TREE? I searched for that for years!” He grumbled.
“If we tap the trees, we could find a trigger.”
“Yeah but that sounds boring.” Stan said, rolling his eyes. “I”ll let you so the boring stuff, I’ma keep throwing things at this.”
“Maybe I could do it, but I can’t hear what you can hear, Stan.” Ford said irritably, but he hoped he’d pumped just enough flattery into his words to convinced his hard-headed partner into joining him in the shade.
A few seconds passed, then Stan grinned. “Yeah, I guess I do have better ears than you.” He went to sit in the trees next to Ford, where he leaned against one and listened to him tapping various parts of the tree for a while, but the next time he looked over, Ford saw he had fallen asleep. “Stan!” He said, quietly, but in surprise. Stan grunted.
“We can rest-“
“Nope. I got it. I just gotta sit up.”
“Alright.” Ford said uncertainly. His thoughts drifted back to sleep as he tapped trees randomly and Stan relaxed on the floor, drinking sips of water and snacking on trail mix. Ford hoped that he hadn’t been keeping Stan awake at night, but he knew it would have woken him up nightly if Stan had been screaming and talking to crazed geometric shapes in his sleep. He was thinking along these lines even an hour later, except this time trying to solve it. He’d had a metal plate erected in his own head to keep Bill out. How could he keep out his nightmares?
“What?” Ford said, jumping. He’d forgotten what he was even doing.
“I said stop, Poindexter. And come back to earth while you’re at it” Stan said with a smirk, “You were right. And here I thought,” He stood up with a grunt “you were just trying to get me to sit in the shade.”
“Sometimes you can accomplish two goals in one.” Ford looked around. He’d been unaware for some time about what or why he was doing, and that Stan was following him around the trees at all. But now Stan tapped the tree Ford was at, then the one next door. Ford stared at him blankly.
“I really can’t-“
“Are you serious! You can’t hear that?”
“My hand to the deity of your choice… it’s deft to my ears.”
“Fine. Move it, Poindexter.” Stan took a step back and, before Ford could stop him, planted his foot hard into the wood. It didn’t work, of course. He jumped and danced around, cursing at the top of his lungs, but it took his mind a little wile to catch up with his mouth, so it sounded something like this: “Oh holy guacamole, pigs in a basket- SHIT MOTHER FUCKER!”
Ford laughed, then ran his fingers over the trees, trying to find a hidden door. It wasn’t long until his fingers alighted on something and he pressed in. It popped open and both of them squeezed together to peer inside. “We should be wary in case-“
Stan reached in and slammed the button inside hard.
“That’s a trap.” Ford finished lamely. But all that happened was the trap door was dislodged with a sound like all four doors on a car closing in synchronisation.
“HA!” Stan said proudly. They both stood up, Ford brushing the dirt off of his cloak, and walked towards it. “I guess we should beware of giant spiders now!” Stan joked, looking down the hatch. Just as Ford was joining him, a spider larger than both of them squeezed through the opening and trampled over Stan to rush into the forest.
Ford looked down at Stan with a raised eyebrow, then said “Are you hurt?”
“I hate being right.” Was all Stan said, then Ford helped him up. They both looked down together this time, Stan barely peeking over the edge, clearly sacrificing Ford over himself this time.
“It looks clear.”
“Throw a smoke bomb.” Stan suggested.
“I don’t have any smoke bombs, Stanley. And you mean a flare, which we shouldn’t waste. We only have one since you thought they were fireworks.” Ford said almost without emotion, then he spotted the ladder down and began to mount it.
“Oh, hey, wait a minute, Sixer, you aren’t going down there, are you?” Ford paused, hating the nickname, even if it had been Stan’s first. He swallowed the shame and hate it made him feel with the bile and took a deep breath, reminding himself that he wasn’t talking with his captor and tormenter.
“I thought this is what we were here for. I thought there was treasure down there.” Ford said manipulatively, trying for the same tone that Dipper used with Mabel to get his way.
“I hate you sometimes.” But Stan started down the ladder after Ford, flipping on the flashlight. Occasionally he peered down the hole with the torch, but, like the bottomless pit, it didn’t seem to have an end. Stan reminded himself that the bottomless pit just spit everything back up, but it still gave him the creeps to stare into pure darkness, so he stopped doing it. They climbed for at least ten minutes by Ford’s count, but to Stan it felt much longer. They didn’t realized they’d reached the bottom until Ford landed on something flat. “My god, it’s pitch black down here.”
“What?” Stan said, then he moved the flashlight around and checked out the bottom “Is this the bottom?”
“Yes, it is.” They both looked around, Stan putting both feet down. “Here, there’s a hatch.” He tried to open it by himself as Stan scratched his ass behind him, but it was impossible. Alone, anyway. “Stanley, help me.” He said, his voice straining with the effort of turning it.
This choice of words, even in a circumstances that were clearly not life-threatening, moved Stan into immediate action. He grasped the wheel and turned it with all his might, opening it single-handedly. The door sprung free from the lock as Ford looked at him curiously.
“Oh.. uh…” Stan scratched the back of his head. “I ugh… must not know my own strength.” There was an awkward silence, then Stan moved into the next room. “What are we waiting for?” Ford didn’t move, that is, until Stan peeked his head in. “Ugh… maybe you should see this…”
“What is it?” Ford said, suddenly business. He jumped through the door and pushed past Stan. The room was lined with computers, just like the metal island they had found before, but this one was truly deserted. Not even the dead were here. “Another one.” Ford said.
“And another one of these things.” Stanley said, pointing at the second wheel that must open into another room. Without waiting, he rashly grabbed the handle and turned it with all his strength.
“Yes, I need to be careful.” Stan said sarcastically. “I have to… to…” And that was all that was said. They let the door swing open by itself. All they could see inside was gleaming piles of metal, and when Stan shone his flashlight over the top of it, he nearly wet himself with excitement. “It’s.. gold.” He whispered. “IT’S GOLD!”
“Stan, wait!” Ford said, but his brother had already launched himself into the room and headfirst into a pile of gold and jewels.
“Ow.” He said. For a few seconds, Ford thought that everything was okay. Then the door begun to shut between them abruptly. “Shit!” He heard Stan say, at the same time as Ford swore himself. Ford launched himself toward the door but by the time he reached it it had closed, nearly taking off one of his fingers with it. The lights turned on suddenly around Ford, blinding him.
“Stanley!” He shouted. But he couldn’t hear any response over the whirl of the computers coming on. When his eyes adjusted, he could see something was blinking on the screen- a red dot, moving fast through the water offshore and to the island. His stomach clenched and he felt like he’d gone off a waterfall unexpectedly. He heard a banging on the other side of the wall. “STAN!” He rushed to the door, listening hard. What he heard prompted a despairing whisper of “oh my god..”
“Water’s filling the room! Ford! Ford!”
“I’m coming, Stan!” He shouted, even though he had no way of getting in. He searched frantically around the room, trying not to think of his brother drowning in the room akin. He started to tear the computers apart, opening compartments and throwing pieces together with whatever he could find.
Stanley hadn’t noticed the flooding immediately, because he was standing on a pile of gold listening to the sound of the door, trying to find the unlocking mechanism. He was unusually good with doors. But then he heard Ford scream on the other side. “FORD?” He shouted back, but all he could hear was the sound of rushing water. Then he felt it, and looked down. He swore again and called out. Now he was continuing his work with the door, but the room must have been smaller than it looked, or else the water was coming in fast. He used the slippery mess to help him move a pile of gold and got a face-full of water for his trouble. Standing on top of the bigger pile of gold, he tried to open the door again. He could hear some action on the other side of the room but decided to try to ignore it. He wasn’t any good to Ford dead.
But the water was washing him off of his island soon. The door was nearly covered when he abandoned his attempt and, panicking, slipping and sliding, he alighted on a higher pile of jewels. He kept climbing, seeking higher and higher ground as he searched with his flashlight for the source of the water. He finally found it, pouring in like crazy from the top section of the wall, all around. The slits in the wall were like vents. He couldn’t have fit through them. Whoever concocted this death trap had wanted to make damn sure that their victim never escaped. He was as high as he could climb now and out of ideas. All he could do was pray that Ford found a way through.
On the other side Stanford was frantically trying to find a way to light the blowtorch he was making. He rummaged through their bags and found gas, but there was no lighter among his things. He went to Stan’s and found what he needed, and, hands quiet steady in the face of peril, he lit the device. He started at the top of the door, sure that the huge room couldn’t be covered by now. But he froze momentarily when water immediately started to rush through. Cursing, he worked around the seam of the door where the wall was thinnest. His invention was powerful, but he was running out of time that a fire would have to be maintained against the water flow. He used the pressure to his advantage, choosing where to weaken the hold of the metal meticulously and driving the blowtorch there, until it was just loose enough that the water began to rush through, seeking the lowest ground; and finally, the door simply snapped off. He thought he heard Stan’s voice over the rush of the water. He struggled to get himself out of the way of the metal that came screaming away from the wall all at once. Then he swam to the top. He was completely soaked and had let go of the blowtorch. For the sake of staying afloat, he also struggled out of his coat.
Stanley saw the water and the light of the blue flame, squinting into the darkness, and he stuck the flashlight in his mouth and secured everything he could. Then, without even pausing for a pocketful of gold, he dived under and swam for the hole with all his might. He made it through and swam to the top, which was becoming less and less by the second.
Ford saw the flashlight, turned to the side, coming towards him at top speed. “Thord” He heard his brother call.
“Ith rushin’ in thrum the top of za wall!”
Ford looked up but everything inside this room was lit up, and there were no vents. Still, they were running out of space for air. “Follow me!” He screamed, and they both took deep breaths and dived down. Abandoning their supplies, they swam for the other door. It was locked tight and they had to return to the top of the room, which was scarcely the top anymore.
“What are we gonna do?!” Stan cried frantically.
“We have to go back. It’s the only way!”
“The vents are tiny!”
“We’re running out of options!”
They dived again and this time Ford managed to grab his bag and coat on the way down and take it up into the next room with them. Stan grabbed the bag from him to release some of his weight, for which Ford was thankful. The gold was too far below for them to stand, but there was perhaps six feet of air above the water still, this camber being much larger. Stanford started to pull things out of his bag as Stan held the flashlight up. They paddled with their legs to stay afloat, but it was difficult with their huge duffle supported between them.
Ford could tell Stan was starting to loose his wits. He was releasing a stream of cursing under his breath as Ford threw things from his bag. Finally he found what he was looking for- a metal case with an insignia on it, and nothing else. He pulled his metal grappler out of his coat pocket next. “Hold onto me, Stan!” He said, then, with Stan clutching his waist desperately, they flew towards the roof, where they stuck to the metal. Ford put Stan’s hand over the trigger. “Don’t let got of this and hold onto me.” He instructed. Stan didn’t argue, hoping with all his might that Ford had something clever up his sleeve.
Then Ford placed both hands on the case and twisted with all his strength, until, with a hiss, it opened. He tossed the case, holding the element in his hand. Stan caught a glimpse of it: a pill-shaped black capsule with a ring of buttons around it. Each button was coloured differently and had a symbol such as ice, fire, and three squiggly lines, a few triangles that screamed “radioactive” into Stan’s brain, and a tree. He took a deep breath as Ford pressing the fire, the tree, the lighting bolt, and the radioactive buttons on the side deftly, and let it slide into the water near the edge where water was pouring from. “We have to get as far from here as we can!” He said. Then he took a deep breath as Stan released the trigger and they dropped into the water. Without waiting for instruction, Stan aimed the gun at the opposite wall, underwater, and they both breathed out as they shot underwater towards the second room’s door. They were already through it when the heard a sound like a falling glacier- thunder, but a thousand times louder. Ford pointed up and Stan released and pointed back to their previous position. They couldn’t take second breaths, but at least the going was quick. They were above the water again in a fews seconds, through the air left was barely enough to sustain them.
They gasped for a minute, but the water was pouring down over their heads now. The vents were enlarged enough, but there was no way to swim against the currant. Ford held on tight as Stan pointed the gun again, and, with a fresh gulp of the barely remaining air, they traveled through the vent and to the opposite end of whatever was driving it. They alighted on something metal and Stan shown the flashlight onto it. It appeared to be a round disc, and the water was rushing around it. The twins pushed hard against it and it yielded, nearly pushing them back into the previous chamber. Stan held onto a nearby wall with the gun as they watched the metal plate slip away. Then, feeling light-headed with lack of air, they pointed the gun again. Nothing happened.
Ford shook his head to indicate there was no metal ahead and began to move forward against the currant. They swam with everything they had left up, up, up until they could see light. When they surfaced they didn’t do anything but breath heavily and try to stay afloat in the stunning sunlight for several minutes. Then they swam slowly to shore and Ford struggled onto the rocks, helping Stan pull himself up as well. They coughed and lay there panting in the sun for a minute.
Finally, Stan started to laugh, and, relief washing over them both, they lay there laughing and coughing in unison until they had no energy. At that point they both passed out, and it was a few hours before they woke up.