we are a team
It couldn't be a more perfect day out. The sun is bright overhead, the pines casting short shadows over the scrubby lawn of the Mystery Shack as a handful of puffy clouds move slowly by. Despite the direct light, the temperature is pretty low for a summer day, helped even further by a strong and steady breeze that ripples through the grass and makes the trees tremble as if in delight. It's exactly the kind of day that should be spent out in the valley, and that's exactly how Dipper plans on spending it.
Preferably as soon as possible, before he runs into Mabel.
She didn't sleep in her bed last night and he assumes she slept on the couch in Pacifica's room. He also assumes she's been avoiding him, though he's not positive because he's been avoiding her. He's been wavering wildly all day between regret and anger, a frustrating cycle that just makes him even more mad.
She went through boyfriends last summer like he'd gone through disposable cameras on the Gobblewonker hunt, and now he's just supposed to know that this time it's for real serious? He remembers discussing the possibility with Wendy but that had been nothing but speculation, making conversation, yeah, sure, maybe Mabel will keep the relationship and make it long distance; that could happen. But seeing Mabel so upset made him conclude that she and Brendan were over—that's what made sense. Otherwise she would have been happily texting away, right? Mabel's always cared more about the relationship than the boy. She wants to have a boyfriend; the being-a-girlfriend side of things just comes with the package. That's how she's always been (well, for one summer). Right? He's just being honest. He's not the bad guy here!
Why should he have to apologize? He's always the one who has to apologize. He's always the one who has to make things better. He doesn't even need an apology from her; why can't she just get over it?
His sole source of relief is that Pacifica is still talking to him. She had greeted him with an exceptionally neutral hello at breakfast, but since then she seems almost like her usual self. He finds this surprising, given her initial siding with Mabel, but he doesn't feel like questioning it.
"Excellent," Ford says. He and Dipper are in the backyard, crouched over a device that Ford has just stuck partially into the ground. Several wires trail out of it, connecting to the laptop in Ford's hands. "The readings match our existing baseline for this location. Go ahead and take it back out."
Dipper pulls the device from the soil, taking the opportunity to look at it more closely. It's a long tube with a few technological accents and a bevy of wires extending from the base. The device represents a big step forward in Weirdness tech, a portable and, just as importantly, automatic detector of Weirdness emissions. The as yet unnamed device receives emissions from the full spectrum band, displaying all or a portion of them in the customized software on Ford's laptop.
"I'm sure Fiddleford will be pleased that his design is working," Ford muses as he pages through the data. "The end goal is to place a network of these around the valley for wireless monitoring."
Dipper hefts the device in his hand, geeking out slightly over how much it looks like a lightsaber. "Do we have enough of them for that?"
"No, and these prototypes aren't capable of wireless broadcast. That will come with the next iteration. In the meantime, I have a different job for you." Ford pulls a folded map out of his overcoat and lets it fall open, smoothing it over one knee. "Our trip across the state should provide us with a decent baseline for general Weirdness levels outside Roadkill County. We still need to know how those numbers match up to other states and even other countries—ideally, we'll have a global average someday. Unfortunately, the last time I was outside Oregon, I didn't have the spectrum data or the calibrated equipment that I do now; ergo, we need Fiddleford to make as many of these simple detectors as possible. I'd like to send one back with you to Piedmont, and I have some other ideas for long range data collection… let me work on those for a while longer. For the time being, I think we should gather three readings for comparison with what we already have. Two will be as Weird as possible, at the very top of our theoretical range: one in the magical portion of the forest, and another at Crash Site Omega. The third should register the median for the valley, and I suspect things are a bit too Weird here at the Shack for it to work. Somewhere in town should suffice, amid normal human habitation."
"Normal?" Dipper says skeptically, thinking of the sheer breadth of eccentricity contained within that habitation.
"Normal enough for our purposes," Ford amends, rolling up the map. "Start with the Enchanted Forest. A solid hour's worth of readings will suffice for now."
Filled with new purpose, Dipper heads inside and goes straight to the attic, texting Pacifica as he walks. He steps in and is collecting his gear from its spot near the door when he feels eyes on him; he turns to see Mabel observing from her bed. Waddles is sprawled on her lap, wearing a half-knitted sweater that Mabel must be fitting him for.
"Uh… hey," Dipper mumbles. He turns back to his equipment and begins gathering it twice as fast, his canteen falling to bounce loudly across the floor.
"Going hiking, huh," Mabel says in an exceptionally neutral tone.
"Going on a mission for Ford," Dipper says in a rush, not looking at her.
He jams his canteen back into place and throws his pack over one shoulder with a rattle. He's got one foot out the door when he sees Mabel hauling her own stuff off the floor and settling it onto her back. She glares at him as she clicks the latch of her front strap together.
"Not without me you aren't!" she declares.
That makes him pause. "What?"
"Oh, I don't get to go too? This is just your mission?"
"I didn't say—…" He cuts himself off and glares at her. "Fine, you know what? Do whatever you want."
"Because that's what I'm best at?"
Gideon's words. Is that what it's come down to? Is he the Gideon in this situation?
He refuses to entertain the thought. Remaining silent, he finishes fastening the last of his gear and stamps angrily out of the attic, hoping his refusal to engage will dissuade her from following. Instead, he can hear her determined footsteps just behind him. Pacifica joins them downstairs, and the three head off into the woods.
He's so mired in the mental paradox of intently trying to ignore Mabel's presence that he's operating on autopilot, and before he realizes it, he's standing at the fork of three different paths. The Enchanted Forest is inhabited by various species, none of which seem interested in building actual roads outside of the village areas, so even the term 'paths' is generous. Really, it's just three directions which offer less resistance in the form of magical flora than the other directions. Having experienced this part of the forest more this summer than last, Dipper has become positive that the paths change from week to week, and possibly even day to day. The magical forest defies memory and cartography.
"Which way do we go?" Pacifica prompts.
"That way," Dipper and Mabel say simultaneously, each pointing to a different path.
"We want to go as far in as possible," Dipper explains to Pacifica, his way of refuting Mabel without having to address her.
Mabel doesn't have a problem talking to Dipper directly. "That way goes to the bad side, Dipper. We want to go to the middle by the druid circle."
"Then we need to go that way," Pacifica says with a clear 'duh' implicit in her posture as she points to the third path. "Don't you guys see the druid stones?"
Dipper didn't, though he does now. He clenches his jaw in silent frustration for a moment. He hasn't been paying attention and that fact is far more obvious than he wants.
"It doesn't really matter which way," he says tightly to Pacifica, but goes the way she pointed.
The Enchanted Forest is as lovely and mysterious as ever, but today it feels less like a marvel and more like an impediment. He swats away a fairy before it can bite him and tramps over some sparkling plants without pausing to look at them. There are large rocks planted around the path, unnaturally smooth and sometimes covered in carvings, a sure sign that the druid circle isn't too far away. They are approaching the approximate center of the magical woods.
"Hey, aren't we supposed to go more to the right?" Pacifica says.
"What the what now?" Mabel says.
Dipper emerges from his thoughts. "Huh?"
She pulls his compass out of his vest pocket and holds it out. "See? We're going north instead of east."
"That's… true," Dipper mumbles as he absorbs that.
"Oh, yep. We sure are," Mabel vaguely agrees.
Pacifica exhales sharply and stuffs the compass back into Dipper's vest. He thinks she sounds angry, which is weird, because it's not like she has anything to be angry about. He's the one with Mabel problems.
"So come on!" she says, gesturing towards the east.
"If we reach the clearing, I think that should be a good spot," Dipper says.
Another half hour worth of walking gets them to a clearing, and even if it's not the druid circle clearing, Dipper is prepared to settle. He knows he's not too far away from the center of the magical forest, and that's good enough for data collection. He spots a nearby rock that's the right size for sitting and shrugs off his backpack, setting it down next to the rock and kneeling to sit.
Pacifica grabs him by his vest and yanks him back into standing with surprising strength.
"Hey!" he says, frowning at her. "What are you—"
"You don't just sit on rocks around here, Dipper," she reminds him with a glare.
Behind Pacifica, Dipper sees Mabel guiltily jump back to her feet from where she just sat on a similar rock. Normally, he realizes, he wouldn't say anything, covering for her. Well, maybe he's tired of covering for her.
"Why are you getting on to me, Mabel just sat on a rock," he complains.
"Tattletale!" Mabel exclaims.
But Pacifica's glare does not change target. "How does that make you sitting on a rock without looking any better?" she asks sharply. "It's fine now because you're both being stupid?"
The frustration gnawing at Dipper's gut nearly boils over. He wants Pacifica, his girlfriend, to take his side. "The maze heart was built by someone, it's not naturally occurring," he snaps. "We don't need to check every single lousy rock."
Pacifica just crosses her arms. "Then why'd you drag Mabel into this?"
Dipper ignores her. "The sooner we get the readings the sooner we can head back."
He sticks the as-yet-unnamed instrument into the soft loam and connects it to a USB memory stick. The green LED at the end of the polished tube begins to blink, indicating that data is being transferred. He'll have to trust that it's working, at least until they can purchase a rugged laptop or tablet for the field.
"This is going to take a whole hour?" Mabel says somewhere behind him.
"You didn't have to come," he retorts.
"Then let's eat while we're waiting," Pacifica interjects before either twin can continue the argument.
Dipper doesn't have much of an appetite, but even through his pique he can see the wisdom of the suggestion. He sits on the rock (after furtively checking it first) and digs around in his backpack to extract a ham and cheese sandwich. The water in his canteen is warm and metallic, but he doesn't mind. He likes the outdoorsmanship, the feeling he gets when eating a simple sandwich with a side of lukewarm water. He's roughing it.
Well, compared to Piedmont, anyway.
He stares at the blinking light on the instrument to avoid making eye contact with Mabel. The longer he has to do it, the angrier he gets that she didn't just stay at the Shack. Great-Uncle Ford gave Dipper this mission, not Mabel. Why can't she just butt out?
"Do you feel that?" Pacifica says.
Dipper blinks, pulled from his slow stewing. "What?"
Pacifica leans over and puts one hand on a mossy lump. "The ground is humming…"
"Heh. Kinda tickles," Mabel says, squirming a bit on her rock.
By the time she says this, the vibration is apparent enough that Dipper doesn't need to touch the ground. The earth is buzzing, a hum that is quickly turning into an outright shake. The trees begin to shudder. Forest animals, including a Manotaur and a cluster of fairies, run past at the edges of the clearing.
A gnome trips over a tree root, sprawling onto the grass.
"Hey, what's going on?" Mabel yells at him.
"TIMBERWAAAAAAAAVVVEEEE!" the gnome screeches as he takes off on all fours.
Dipper goes cold. It can't be. Bill is gone, the sky isn't split, how can it—
Wait. His brain catches up to his ears: The gnome said timber-wave, not Weirdness Wave. But what the heck is a timberwave?
The ground is shaking so hard now he can barely stand. Having turned to watch the gnome sprint away, he turns back and sees that the sky is gone. In its place is an incredible wave of solid earth, the ground itself rolling as if it were water, the forest curving up and over it somehow intact. Trees go horizontal and then shoot upwards, rolling across the top and disappearing. It's like a gigantic mole beneath artificial grass, or a massive cat beneath a carpet; the ground bulges far into the air and races furiously forward, but the earth itself is unbroken, the highest part of the wave close to being perfectly vertical.
Okay, so that's a timberwave.
He doesn't have time to formulate a plan. He doesn't even have time to start running; Pacifica is within in reach and he instinctively grabs on to her as she does the same to him. His stomach lurches as the wave reaches him and he ascends with terrifying speed; from his perspective, the forest floor sinks beneath him in freefall as the world tilts sideways.
The wave is deeper than he could see from the bottom; it has thickness, and at the top is a plateau that almost looks normal if he could ignore the shaking and the way the top of the cliffs is a lot closer to being level with him. He's still terrified because he knows what must inevitably come next. The contents of his torso lodge themselves somewhere just below his throat as he tips over the crest of the wave and plunges into the valley behind it.
The sky and the earth become a single, blurred horizon as he rolls and then everything goes dark for a moment when he comes to a jarring stop.
He's still alive, which is encouraging. He groans and pushes himself up, head spinning, stomach violently protesting the move. He squeezes his eyes shut for a moment and plants both palms on the blessedly unmoving ground, waiting until the sensation of stillness centers him. Finally settled enough to move again, he opens his eyes and looks around.
The forest has been reshuffled, randomized—the clearing is gone. In its place is an entirely new plot of woods, devoid of familiar landmarks, marked by deep pockets and impossibly steep hills that jut upwards like leafy needles. It's as if the forest is made of putty and some enormous child has pressed their fingers into it randomly, making deep potholes, reaching down to pinch and pull out strands that hold their shape. Dipper sits atop a mesa with nearly vertical sides, only fifteen or so feet across at the top and probably a hundred feet high. The trees along it bend towards the earth, held in place by their deep roots.
It takes him a moment to realize that these new plateaus are not holding their shape after all; slowly, they are returning to level. The mesa is sinking… deflating. He's high enough up to see that the pits are also raising their floors, elastically returning to normal.
He hopes the wave is monodirectional, and not a ripple spreading out from a single point, perhaps with enough energy to reach the town or the Shack. The wave was headed towards the cliffs, where he imagines it will dash itself against the rocks like its aqueous brethren (or perhaps it will remain as impossible as ever, shifting its direction to undulate up and over the rock like a burrowing thing, escaping the confines of the valley).
He'll try to wrap his head around the physics later. He's stuck at the top of a slowly lowering pinnacle, he's lost his backpack, he's lost his sandwich, and, far more importantly, he's lost track of the girls.
He staggers to his feet, wincing as his knees straighten out; they seem to have taken the brunt of the impact. He notes that there is an impression in the ground in his exact size and shape, like the impact of a cartoon character. Whatever the timberwave did to the ground, its malleability may have just saved his life, or at least his bones.
"Pacifica? Mabel?" he yells.
He spins in place, noticing that he can no longer see the wave. He tries to spot the tip of the church belltower in town, but the Enchanted Forest is steeped in its usual mist, obscuring anything beyond its nebulous borders.
"I'm up here!" Pacifica suddenly yells, the sound coming from somewhere above.
Dipper looks up to see Pacifica at the only point higher than where he stands—the solitary tree planted on the pinnacle. She's straddling a tree limb with her arms wrapped around the trunk. Dipper isn't sure how the wave deposited her up there, but he's just glad she's alright.
"Is Mabel down there?" Pacifica asks.
"No!" Dipper yells back.
Again, he looks over the side of the sheer wall, but outside of the few clearings scattered around, he can't see anything besides the dense trees. He doesn't hear anything, either, which worries him even more. Being super loud is one of Mabel's specialties. Maybe he's just too high up.
A shower of pine needles alerts him to Pacifica's descent. He stands beneath the tree and helps her down the last gap where the trunk is bare. She has pine needles in her hair and her clothing is somewhat disheveled, but other than that it looks like she's okay.
"Does this happen a lot?" she asks with a surprising level of calm.
"First time. Well, for me," Dipper says distractedly. "I don't see any way down…"
Pacifica states, "Mabel has her grappling hook; she's probably looking for us."
That eases Dipper's worry slightly. With her grappling hook, Mabel is far better equipped to navigate the new landscape than he is. "Looks like we'll have to wait until she finds us, or this thing sinks all the way down."
"At least you care that she's missing," Pacifica says tartly as she neatly seats herself on a tree root.
"Don't 'what' me. You've both been useless today."
Dipper flinches at that comment, feeling the truth of it. "Yeah, well, she—"
"I don't care!" Pacifica snaps. "Your argument is stupid and you're both being stupid. Why do I have to be the one to keep the trio working? That's not what I do, Dipper! I'm not any good at it so stop making me do it!"
It's true that Pacifica isn't exactly the first person he thinks of as filling the role of peacemaker (that would probably be Soos). Yet, the more Dipper thinks about it, the more he realizes that she's the only reason they got anything done as a group today. While he and Mabel pouted and sniped at each other, she pushed them forward. The data recording is probably a bust thanks to the timberwave, true, but that's hardly her fault.
Between the shock of the danger and Pacifica's words, Dipper has been forcibly extracted from his previous state of mind, and he finds himself suddenly ashamed.
"You were amazing today," he sighs. "Sorry I was such a tool."
"Yeah, you should be sorry," Pacifica says, crossing her arms. "Now I need Mabel to apologize and maybe I'll forgive you for being a couple of butts."
Dipper figures he can look forward to Pacifica holding this over their heads for the rest of the week, at minimum (or, knowing her, the rest of their lives). "I was a total jerk to Mabel. I wasn't paying attention to her and Brandon, and… I didn't think I had to."
"Brendan," Pacifica says.
"Right, Brendan. I, uh, I knew that." Dipper shakes his head, glad he isn't talking to Mabel.
Still sitting on the tree root with the posture of royalty upon a throne, Pacifica seems satisfied with his apology, at least for now. "So now what?"
Dipper looks over the edge again; the tops of the trees are only marginally closer than they had been a minute ago. "This thing will get back to ground level eventually, we didn't see any other towers like this around. This must just happen sometimes, that gnome knew it was a timberwave… unless he made that up right then. Which he could have. It's timber, it's a wave… kind of names itself."
Pacifica is less concerned about this than he is. "Whatever. Just so long as it doesn't happen again before we find Mabel and get home."
The wave came through too fast and too dangerous for Dipper to make much in the way of scientific observations, so he makes sure to time how long it takes for the forest to return to normal. Within the first twenty minutes, the peak has lowered to what he judges to be about two-thirds of its highest state; the process quickens imperceptibly as the minutes pass, and after another twenty minutes it's down to roughly twenty or so feet high. Dipper calculates that he and Pacifica will be able to jump down within the next five minutes or so.
This proves to be unnecessary when a shout rings out from somewhere behind a nearby thicket. "DIPPER? PACIFICA? COME ON, GUYS, MY VOICE HURTS FROM YELLING! YOU'RE MAKING MY THROAT SCRATCHY!"
"Mabel!" Dipper responds, waving his arms in the air. "Over here!"
"There you are, you're okay!" Mabel comes running out of the tree line, backpack rattling and grappling hook in hand. "Aw, you got stuck on one of the tall ones? So jelly. I was in a dumb hole."
"Did you use your grappling hook to get out?" Dipper asks as Mabel sends the hook shooting up. He grabs it once it's on the ground and puts it firmly around a root.
"I tried, but the edge was just dirt and it kept being all crumbly," Mabel says. She wraps her end of the line around a nearby rock and Dipper and Pacifica climb down the sheer edge of what's left of the pinnacle.
When the three of them are reunited on stable ground, Dipper sees Pacifica giving him a meaningful glare. He sighs and approaches Mabel, waiting until she's winched the hook back to the grappling gun to speak.
"Listen, Mabel… I'm really sorry about being such a jerk. I shouldn't have said what I did, and I should have told Brendan goodbye."
"It's alright," Mabel says. But her face is hidden behind her hair as she bends over her backpack, and Dipper can't help but think there's more to be said.
"I didn't know Brendan was so important to you. If you want to take it slow and make it work, then I should have respected that. I didn't think I needed to care, which… is a real jerk move. And I'm sorry."
Mabel stands and looks at him, and he's relieved to see her expression is forgiving. "I don't know if me and Brendan can be like you and Pacifica." She shrugs. "But I want to try."
Dipper doesn't like the pressure implied in being held up as one half of an ideal couple, but now isn't the time to work through that. "And I totally support you."
"I also support you," Pacifica proclaims. "But you already knew that."
Dipper suppresses the urge to roll his eyes—Pacifica has earned her sense of superiority today. He looks around, seeing that the forest is just about returned to normal; the pinnacle where he and Pacifica had been trapped is now just a mound in the soil. The stillness following the wave is finally coming to an end, birdsong returning to the forest air.
"So… awkward sibling hug?" he asks Mabel.
"Awkward sibling hug," she affirms.
They embrace, ending it with the customary pats both verbal and physical. Pacifica watches them like she's observing a bizarre ritual display, which, to be fair, she kind of is.
Dipper steps back and clears his throat. "Well, the mission is a bust, but at least we're all okay," he says, feeling a pang for all that data lost.
"Pfft, does this look like a bust?" Mabel says. She reaches into the pocket on her sweater and pulls out Ford's device, fully intact. The green LED is still blinking, recording away despite the tumult.
"No way!" Dipper takes it from her, inspecting it. The device is a little muddy and sports a couple new dents but is otherwise intact and functioning, USB stick still firmly in place. "How?"
"He kept me company in the pit," Mabel says, reaching out to pat it fondly. "He was the only thing I had to talk to. I call him Charles."
Dipper puts the device into his backpack, making sure to cushion it well. "Good work, Mabel. Great-Uncle Ford wanted maximum Weirdness, and I bet that timberwave will give him some crazy high readings."
Flush with success and the reaffirmation of their bond, the trio head back into the woods, feet pointed towards home. The breeze is cool and the sun is still high overhead, its light scattered through the enormous trees of the magical forest, dappled against the mossy earth. Dipper keeps an eye out for more gnomes, but doesn't see any, which is disappointing. He really wants to ask if the timberwave is a regular thing.
"So are we just not going to talk about how Mabel went crazy in, like, half an hour and started talking to a tube?" Pacifica says as they cross a stream.
"His name is Charles!" Mabel yells from the other side of the water, balancing on the last rock before shore.
"I'd just let it go," Dipper advises, taking a long step to the next flat stone protruding from the water.
"What is it with her and talking to gross things," Pacifica wonders, no doubt thinking of Headsy.
Mabel objects. "Don't listen to her, Charles! You're a charming raconteur!"
Dipper just lets the absurdity of the conversation wash over him, content that the harmony between them has been restored.
We Are A Team by Ceres (Not On Label, 2019)
I took October off from writing, and then the first half of November was consumed by various pressing real-life issues, including a move. But I'm back at it now. This chapter was supposed to include a longer author's note but in the process of writing it I discovered that it was taking too long, and it's been long enough since I updated already. So that will come at a later date.