“Ugh, my stomach’s all rumbly and grumbly inside,” Mabel groaned as she flopped down in the grass in front of the Mystery Shack. “Do you think Grunkle Stan will let us order pizza?”
Her words went in one of Dipper’s ears and out the other as he buried his nose in the journal, squinting as he tried to make out the text in the one intact corner of a mostly torn-out page…
My assistant took…
to me beaming an…
his anxiety. H…
“Mabel, we’ve got to get inside!” he gasped. “I have a magnifying glass in my room, I might be able to make out a couple more letters…”
Mabel sat straight up. “There’s a break in the case?”
“There sure is!” Dipper took off running for the Shack, stomach churning with the thrill of a new discovery. “I can’t believe I never noticed this…”
He threw open the door and barreled straight into Stan, who grunted with surprise as Dipper’s head struck him in the stomach. He recovered quickly, looking from Dipper, to Mabel, and then to the journal in Dipper’s hands, all while wearing a disapproving glare.
“There you two are. I’ve been meaning to have a chat with ya, you see?”
“Sorry, Grunkle Stan,” Dipper told him as he caught his breath, “but there’s something I really need to investigate as soon as I can! We can talk after —”
He started to head towards the stairs, but lighting fast, Stan blocked his way with reflexes that were just plain unfair for a man in his sixties to still have. He crossed his arms as his scowl intensified, and nodded in the direction of the Shack’s public wing.
“I want to see you in my office now — both of you, but especially Dipper.”
Mabel shot a Dipper a confused look, which he read loud and clear as: Do you know what we did?
He shrugged and shook his head. I’m as lost as you are.
Stan coughed, and tapped a non-existent watch on his wrist. “I said now, didn’t I? Not an hour from now?”
He stormed past the twins and began to walk towards his office, and Dipper supposed they had no choice but to follow him.
When they reached the office, Stan motioned for them to sit down, and from behind his desk pulled out a large, flat object, covered in newspaper articles and yellow string held in place by thumbtacks. At the top, two pieces of cardboard spelled out a titular question:
WHO IS THE AUTHOR?
“What the — hey, that’s mine! What were you doing in our room?”
“I was going,” Stan told him, “to fix the window you two keep hitting golf balls through, because — and I dunno if this is news to you or not — this is, after all, my house. But here I find this thing, straight out of an awful alien movie —”
“What’s the problem with it? Some of us are visual thinkers, okay? All I want is to investigate a few —”
“Dipper, what’s the one thing you promised me you’d stop doing this summer?”
Dipper sighed. “Go looking for trouble with the Journal.”
“This investigating —” Stan waved a hand at the board. “Is what I call looking for trouble.”
“Look, Grunkle Stan,” Dipper began, “I’m sorry about that promise, but… can’t you just trust me — trust both of us a little more? We’re going to be teenagers in barely a month, and we know how to look out for each other!”
Mabel nodded her agreement, and Dipper went on: “I know the Journal has some dangerous stuff in it, but even though it gets us into… dangerous situations sometimes, it gets us out of them, too!”
“Yeah, like with the zombies!” Mabel chimed in. “Sure, it kinda caused that problem, but also it fixed it!”
“Please, Grunkle Stan,” Dipper begged. “I’ll stop looking for monsters and artifacts and all the really dangerous stuff, but you’ve got to let us keep looking for the Author. We’re getting so close, and the Journal will keep us safe, I promise —”
“Did it keep the guy who wrote it safe?”
A hush fell over the room, like no one had quite been ready for what Stan had just blurted out — Stan himself included.
“What do you mean?” Mabel finally asked.
“I did skim through the thing, you know.” Stan crossed his arms and fixed his gaze below Dipper’s eyes, on the golden hand emblem splayed across the journal’s cover.
“I saw how it started, with a smart — maybe kinda eccentric, but a smart, mostly rational guy doing serious, smart-guy research. Drawing pictures of the new monsters he found, sleuthing out a mystery or two. Not too different from what you’re doing right now, really.”
He took a deep breath, still not meeting Dipper’s eyes.
“And I saw how the thing ended, too — rambling about secret codes and being watched and saving the world or losing his life in the process. Either he went off the deep end, or there really was someone after him… but either way, what happened wasn’t good, and now? Now, your Author’s gone.”
“He can’t be gone for good,” Dipper replied automatically. “He’s got to still be out there, and I’m going to find him —”
Stan raised a hand in the air, palm facing Dipper. “Stop. Just — stop.”
He was silent for a moment, before letting out a long, slow sign. “Dipper, I’m sorry. I know I sound like I’m mad at you — and I am, but that’s because I can’t bear to imagine you getting hurt. I don’t want whatever happened to — to this ‘Author’ happening to you.”
He turned towards the bulletin board and unpinned the paper at the center — the one showing the dark silhouette with the question mark, its head circled in bright blue ink for emphasis.
“This man set off just like you, trying to solve all the mysteries of this messed up town. And just like you, he was too curious to mind his own business — maybe he read too many detective stories as a kid, too. But at the end of the day —”
Stan slapped the silhouette down on his desk.
“He just ended up as another mystery himself. Just a case to be cracked, just a thumbtack on a bulletin board of conspiracies. Not a real person with a name, not a person with a family —”
Stan froze mid-rant, and then slowly lowered his arms to his sides.
“I just — what I’m trying to say is — Dipper, Mabel, I don’t want you kids to become mysteries this summer like the Author did. I want you to become teenagers. I just want you to not go missing, to not wind up dead, before you reach your birthday and head home — and if I’m being completely honest, some days? Like when the zombies attacked? I’ve been real scared that you weren’t gonna make it. That the unknown fate of Dipper and Mabel Pines was just gonna be a mystery that well-meaning nerds obsess over a couple decades down the line. And I — I dunno what I’d do with myself if I let that happen to you two.”
He finally met Dipper’s eyes. “I know you’re too stubborn to really let go of that journal and give up on finding the Author,” he said. “Trust me, I know. But can you at least try and learn from his mistakes?”
“I’ll be as careful as I can next time,” Dipper answered.
“I hope you mean it,” Stan told him, already having turned his back on his way out the door.
Dipper did mean it — mostly.
Stan was especially cautious on his way to the basement that night, triple-checking that the kids were asleep and that the gift shop was empty before he punched the code into the vending machine as should have been routine. He winced at the six-fingered handprints on the dusty walls of the passageway — how they’d survived thirty years undisturbed, he wasn’t sure — and contemplated just wiping them away once and for all, despite knowing he could never seriously bring himself to do it.
He can’t be gone for good. He’s got to still be out there, and I’m going to find him —
He sat down at his desk and retrieved the first two journals from his bookshelf — the ones that he’d checked with a blacklight a few nights ago, only to find warnings of cataclysmic destruction and a desperate plea to never to activate the portal again.
I know you’re too stubborn to really let go of that journal and give up on finding the Author.
The portal’s hum faint yet ominous like the distant roar of an impending storm, he leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes.
“Stanley, you goddamn hypocrite.”