Roads were dangerous places to linger, even for a savvy individual like the Multi-Bear, who understood things like traffic patterns and the fearful nature of man. Even so, he made his way to the bus stop, waved goodbye to Dipper Pines and his sister, stood keeping watch as the bus vanished into the trees.
They were good children. They had been good friends. They had made the summer interesting. But autumn waited for no bear, and he had business to attend to.
Gnomes went tumbling with the gentle roll of his shoulders (a bear’s motions were big, even his most careful) and vanished into the woods with only a few curses and a lingering scent of cheap cologne to mark their trails. The Multi-Bear bore a straight path back through the woods, many heads’ nostrils flaring to bring in 360° SurroundSmell: wet leaves, the succulent, fungal scent of snails and slugs sliding through the underbrush, sweet berries, woody mushrooms, lingering paths of game animals - Multi-Bear sneezed. One of his heads had picked up Axe body spray, probably from Jeff. That gnome was a mistake.
He didn’t stop to forage. He’d spent precious time in the thick of Bill Cipher’s town takeover that should have been spent fattening up. Oregon’s mild winters wouldn’t force him into true hibernation, but mountain nights were cold, BABBA didn’t warm the cave, and he’d still want to have extra bulk stacked on his usual. He knew of one person who’d have fats, sugars, and carbohydrates to share, and he hadn’t seen her for all of Weirdmageddon, which made him worry.
The dim light was easy on the eyes and the Hand Witch was not hard to find. She laid dramatically on her bright new duvet, hair spread around her head like a mess of lightning. Her mouth moved, not shaping words but yawping miserably into the cave, its structure reflecting the sound, distorting it, casting it out over the mountainside. Multi-Bear flattened every single one of his ears and crept across the cave floor, taking care that his two-inch dagger claws didn’t snag woven rugs or throw pillows, that he didn’t knock over a floor lamp or step on a stray hand. The hands scuttled with no direction; sometimes it was really to everyone’s detriment that the Hand Witch worked with appendages totally lacking in brains. Still, the ringleader (the hand with rings on every finger) got the idea, and gestured towards its brethren to part the sea. Multi-Bear made the last of the way to his friend without any hands underfoot.
“Handy,” Multi-Bear said when his nose lifted above the edge of the bed and he could smell her salty tears. “Whatever’s got you so worked up? What’s the matter?”
But he could guess already.
“Ooooh,” she cried, “Oooooh! Multy, where have you been?! It’s been days… alone! All alone! This fate is too cruel to be real and what have I done to deserve it?”
He reared up on his haunches and reached with his enormous, hairy arms to sweep her into an embrace, which she went along with easily, about as heavy as a garbage bag full of dry leaves. Her chin found its way between two heads and drove into his shoulder. She clasped her arms around as much of him as she could hold, letting out a piercing wail. Only years of friendship gave him the strength to endure the point-blank howling. Flattened ears did nothing.
“Endure it, my friend! You must bear this burden, as we all carry a unique weight through our unique lives…”
As he’d hoped this drove her to shove back from him. “Bear it? Really, Multy, that pun is such low-hanging fruit!”
But it had broken the howling. One semi-sentient head extended its long tongue and licked her face from chin to eyebrow.
“Perhaps you should take punitive measures,” Multi-Bear suggested, letting her playfully slap his shoulder. “What happened?”
“Curse college! Curse classes, curse campus, curse associates of arts. Curse sparkling eyes, cleft chins, space pants, and butts that look out of this world! He’s left me, Multy!”
“He’s left me with just his e-mail, and his cell phone number, and a promise to be back next summer! What kind of person just does that, Multy? Just walks into an old witch’s life and lights up her days and then waltzes out with only modern appliances and a stash of artisan yogurt and his contact information for comfort? Who needs an associate of arts? He could make his yogurt and sell it at the swap meet with me!”
“He made yogurt?”
“The best yogurt I’ve ever tasted! Rich, creamy, smooth as my new 700-count sheets - did I tell you about the new sheets?”
“Well, the sheets are fantastic, and so was Thad’s artisan yogurt!”
“There, there,” Multi-Bear said, and repeated himself several times after as Handy fell apart in his arms, letting out several tearing screams that would no doubt have sent passers-by sprinting if there were any around. Actually the prognosis sounded good - Handy’s beaus didn’t tend to leave contact information when they left, and instead fled without a word, or with a hastily penned note apologizing because she was so kind to take them in really but they had families who’d miss them, they just knew it. On one memorable occasion the potential life partner had engraved a note reading DON’T FOLLOW ME with their fingernails into the cave stone. Their name was no longer spoken in the cave.
None of the good signs would make a difference to Handy, so he didn’t bring them up.
When she calmed, they relocated to her new matched armchair footrest combo set. Handy sat on the footrest and Multi-Bear stood behind her, beginning the arduous work of combing out her mire of long hair. His claws made good enough hair picks to start, with the occasional impenetrable snarl that he’d isolate, then extract, and which the roaming hands would chase like kittens before tossing it out of the cave. He caught her up on everything he knew had happened during Bill Cipher’s Weirdmageddon.
“I didn’t see you there,” Multi-Bear said, once he’d filled her in on the general course of events. “Did you escape the weirdness waves?”
“Yeees. I saw the world around the town change. Living architecture, waterfalls changing into waterrises, rivers changing to blood! He had one of pus, too. And one of molten gold!”
“That sounds like him.” Multi-Bear shook his head. Not that they’d ever met, but Bill had been a notorious entity in cryptid circles and everyone had an opinion on him. “Gaudy, no sense of scale.”
“Well, it sounds like we won’t have to worry about him anymore! Billy Sly finally overreached. Gravity Falls is our town now.”
“And the gnomes’, and the Manotaurs’…”
“Psssht.” Many hands flapped dismissively. The combined breeze blew her hair around; Multi-Bear picked off a strand stuck on one of his noses. “They’ve got nothing. Nothing on us!”
“The Pines twins senior will be leaving town soon. Stanford Pines reports he’s detected weirdness spikes across the globe -”
“Wait, the Pines twins senior? That hunky grunkle has a twin? Woo-woo! I can’t believe they’re escaping town without me getting a look at them!”
“Remember Thad, Handy.”
“Thad. Thad. Of course. But he’s gone, and there’s no harm in looking, right?” Handy craned up at him, wiggled her eyebrows and they moved up and down like dueling caterpillars.
“Well, I suppose not.” His dear friend needed a guard to save her from her own wandering heart. Multi-Bear let out a sigh. “Anyway, what’s important is they are leaving to hunt down further strange incidents, I assume to make sure that whatever happens, the resonant strangeness frequency of the world isn’t matched -”
“I know, I know! Sympathetic vibrations, magnified strange occurrences, world torn apart by weirdness… but what does that have to do with us, Multy? Unless...” She traced a finger across her chin. “You’re concerned that a weirdness event might appear right on top of us.”
“Gravity Falls would be the place for it, if it must happen anywhere. The town accommodates oddities well, and most likely we’d be fine, but…”
“Yes, yes… vigilance. I understand.”
Hand Witch was a terror when it came to romance, but she did know her stuff when it came to magical incidents. Multi-Bear dropped the subject, content she’d have it in mind from now on.
Untangling done, they relocated to Handy’s new lounge table, hands creeping and combing and braiding her hair nicely at last. She broke out a sample of Thad’s yogurt for him and his third head eagerly lapped at it while they chatted. It was like eating a clear spring day, silky and refreshing, with marionberry puree swirled in. Every cell let out a pleased ahhh as the precious nutrients and fat cycled into his body.
“Yes, anyway, I stayed with the Pines family while Weirdmageddon was in progress. Did you know the boy also likes BABBA? So nice to make a friend with common interests.”
Nostalgic! Those nights in the shack, weirdness slopping around outside, cozy inside, sleeping with two small humans pressed to his chest. It was a terrible time to long for, but there it was. Mabel and Dipper Pines had stood on his shoulders light as a cats, and their Grunkle had groaned into a fusty pillow as Multi-Bear dealt a soothing shiatsu massage onto his upper back. He had never felt so happy and accepted (there had even been a lasting, if uneasy, truce with the Manotaurs stranded in town!), and it had been sweet.
Multi-Bear had begun his life as one insentient bear. The first time a bear had died within a certain vicinity of Gravity Falls - he and Handy had sorted this out early on in their acquaintance - his second head had started to grow, and the third, and the next and so on, as more bears within that radius died. They’d never yet figured out the exact limits. These days there weren’t many other bears in the area, especially now that Multi-Bear was big and held down a large territory; it was infrequent that he grew new heads now.
The bodies decomposed, but the souls of all those other bears condensed into his body, making it a palimpsest of sorts. Theoretically he could have been a creature of terror, a center of ursine life force. He wore evidence of their lives as his appendages. Only the topmost head, the crown head, could speak or properly think like a human, but his secondary heads granted him the wealth of information from their senses and near-enough 360° vision that he wouldn’t complain.
“Do you think I should keep my hands in the game? I mean, Thad’s pretty good looking, you know… and his campus is probably full of sweet little floozies who’d love to steal him away from an old hand witch like me!” Handy just would circle back to these topics ad infinitum, until something equally emotionally inveigling grabbed her, and she was also still talking: “I don’t wear the latest styles, and I live in a cave, and I am a bit older than him…”
“Perhaps you should discuss the possibility of an open relationship,” Multi-Bear offered, wishing she wouldn’t refer to other women as floozies. “That’s a done thing now. Sometimes.”
His mind was beginning to wander. It was a problem for the world at large, that Handy was an old woman with hands for feet who stole other people’s hands and came across as somewhat intimidatingly desperate for companionship, Multy could admit that about his friend. It was also a problem for most regular people that he was a seven-foot grizzly with heads numbering that many plus one thrown in for a bonus. But what did it matter that he was more phylactery than lich, that he couldn’t wear clothes because nothing but the most bespoke tailoring fit and who had the money for that, that people were “intimidated” by the fact that he could “engulf their heads in his mouth” and then “engulf the rest of their limbs with his other mouths”? Wasn’t the identity he had built and chosen for himself more important, what he should be judged by if someone were to judge? A bear who loved BABBA! A bear who was a good friend! A bear who’d learned shiatsu!
“I can’t stand that you do this to yourself, Handy.” He spoke without thinking but from the heart. “Ask him, or don’t, but have faith in your choices! And if he commits to you, have faith in him. I’ll be here if he lets you down.”
“Multy!” Her rheumy old eyes wetted right away. She extended a hand and covered his claws with her own. “Do you mean it? I know I shouldn’t ask you that. You’ve never let me down.”
“I won’t start.” Her calluses were as thick as the leather one his paw-pads. He flexed his claws against her relatively human flesh, thinking fondly of her uglinesses and his. He could hardly wait for next summer.
“I came to see you,” he admitted, “But I really must think more about foraging now.”
“Oh, let me help you! They sell butter at the farmer’s market. How much butter can I rip out of their greedy dairy farmer hands for you?”
He knew she’d be all right.
No, not an afghan. An afghand.
“See you soon, darling,” Multy said, scratching his belly, reaching into the deep, plush fur so he rolled over on his back and groaned.
Multi-Bear opened seven eyes. All over his head, gazing blearily in all directions. On the cave roof he saw enormous almond-shaped insects fluoresce brightly, tiger orange with black slits bisecting their carapaces.
The insects narrowed into nothing and widened again. They blinked.
Eyes, they were eyes. Multi-Bear let out a groan. His irregular cave roof hosted many strange shadows; some of them deeper and stranger than usual, flowing like black mercury. A nightmare? Handy looked down at him and scratched his chest.
“Easy does it, Multy. Only a few months to go!”
She didn’t sense anything. Was it a nightmare? He pulled the afghand around himself, a sweaty warmth with damp palms infusing him, and his brain and biology wandered into the quagmire of dreams again.
Her hair smelled like old lady’s powder when he buried three noses in it, following the burying up with two sneezes. “Handy,” he grumbled, wishing for a mug of chamomile tea silky with honey. “I’ve had so many dreams.”
Strange, unsettling dreams, in the way of things like that. A dream of sitting at the cave front could make him break into an icy sweat, because of the dream’s awareness that something was coming. Something terrifying.
Handy put her thumb against one of his noses. The attached head grumbled and swept out its tongue and she pulled her hands back.
“I’ve felt something strange too,” she said, after a moment. “Something that wouldn’t show itself. Something fleeting. It’s not aggressive, at least not yet! Now that you’re up we should get to work on finding it.”
“I’m starving.” He rolled onto his feet, clasping her in his arms still and shambling towards the daylight. “I require fortification. I require coffee… tea… BABBA…”
Waking from hibernation was always slow, but the world was still present and that reassured him. The unnerving sense that had rolled in with the dreams melted like fog under a high sun under the soothing light of mundanity, and by the time he’d eaten his first post-hibernal meal, Googled BABBA to check for any news on Handy’s laptop, and navigated to a playlist of BABBA’s finest and set it rolling, he felt only a little uneasy.
It went without saying the Manotaurs would never admit to noticing strange nightmares.
Bill Cipher had been a dream demon. It made the incidents more worrying.
Whatever the source of the oddness was, it was elusive. There was no smell or sound to it, no new tracks to trace. Not only elusive: it was subtle. Since waking from hibernation, Multi-Bear had not even had a dream strange enough that he’d attribute it to an outside force.
“Perhaps it fled, knowing it was detected,” he suggested to Handy.
“Maybe so. Or we could have been imagining things.” She spread her hands.
It was possible.
April passed. Handy and Multi-Bear pored over a series of Thad’s e-mails. The man himself didn’t show, but an e-mail arrived mid-May, informing Handy that:
Multi-Bear held her while she cried and privately swore he would go find the man himself if Thad was a no-show in July. Otherwise, Multi-Bear was waiting for another summer start date. Waiting and not-waiting, trying his best not to think about it - a continuously refreshed e-mail inbox (Handy) never turned up the message one wanted.
Handy my candy im off to costa rica to catch some sick waves and detox myself in the glassy blue waters of cahuita!!! girl I will see you in the sweet heat of mid july eat your yogurt chin up dont wait up sea breeze kisses 4 ya xo😘💏🌴🥥🌊🏄♂️🌊🏄♀️🌊🐠🌊🌴🍹🎉🎊🥳😍😎💋🍆👀💦
The day arrived when a young voice cried “Hwurgh!” and a youthful arm was flung up over the jutting cliff that made the cave’s front doorstep.
Multi-Bear had borrowed Handy’s laptop to watch cat videos. He hurried out to haul their visitor over the cliff edge before anything disastrous could happen. To his surprise, he fished up Mabel Pines instead of her brother.
“Mabel, my dear,” Multi-Bear said, setting her down on her feet and flicking sticky strands of hair back from where they were stuck to her face. She was carrying - oh, my - a thoroughly Bezazzled machete in a loose grip at her side. At least it wasn’t bloodied. “Not that I wouldn’t be overjoyed to see any of the Pines family, but - are you alone?”
“Yep! It’s Mabel time!” She raised her blade in a flourish and peeped up at him through her bangs. “Oh jeezy creezy, that’s not, uhh, a problem is it? Uh, Dipper and Grunkle Ford are doing some special family bonding, and I decided to be supportive by getting out of their hair, doing my own thing! You get it?”
Metal glinted in her nervous smile: still with the braces.
“Who is it, Multy?!” Handy shouted from the cave.
“It’s Mabel Pines!” he called back, offering Mabel a paw, which she took. Her face was sunburnt, elbows were skinned, her knees were bright red - she was wearing wrist bands, leg warmers, a mud-splattered but still visibly neon tank top and shorts! Goodness. “Mabel, you aren’t dressed for the conditions.”
“I’m proving myself! Mabel and Mab-chette can handle anything.”
“It’s a pun for my little guy here!” The machete waved demonstratively under several of his noses; Multi-Bear leaned back. “I’d just call it Ma-chette but no one would be able to tell it was a pun then.”
“I respect that call.”
Multi-Bear tugged her hand, ushering her into the cave; Mabel strode in, pulling her hand out of his, propping it on her hip, and regarding the place.
“Beautiful! Just like I remember! Ooh, are the thumbs up throw pillows new?”
“Mabel! Darling!” Handy flew at her, arms outstretched, and locked the girl into an embrace. “No, ah! You’re a sight for an old witch’s eyes! Let me look at you!” She put her gnarled hands on Mabel’s shoulders and pushed her back.
“Woah-ha-ho, thanks, this is a lot, since we just met once, and you stole Grunkle Stan’s hands that time, but this is fine!” Mabel received the hug with all the expertise of a girl who’d never met a grandma she didn’t like. The Mabchete was maneuvered neatly out of the way, and glittered cheerily.
“You’re looking very 80s today, Mabel,” Multi-Bear said.
“Ha ha, thanks! I’m experimenting with some new looks. New for me. I didn’t time travel back in time and start any electro pop trends or anything like that!”
“I am sure if you had, we would all be better off.” He gently put his paws on Mabel’s shoulders and drew her out of Handy’s grasp, steering her towards the lounge table. “Handy - I know Mabel would love to try Thad’s yogurt.”
“Oh dear! It’s true, your life will be changed when you try this yogurt!”
“I can’t wait for my life to be changed! Who’s Thad?”
“He was this hunky hiker, who popped his sweet head over the cliff just after you left last summer! Ooh la la, girl! If you could’ve seen him!” Handy flopped into a the third chair, leaning back theatrically; a couple hands nestling in her hair dropped to her shoulders and fanned her for effect.
“Uuuuh, is this yogurt okay? To eat? If he made it last summer?”
“Oh, it’s perfectly fine! Well, I fermented a bit of it, just for me. But I put a hand geas on it to keep it fresh and it’s been lasting perfectly well!”
“A hand geas can do that?”
“Mabel, sweetie - what can’t a hand geas do?”
“Woah.” Mabel looked starry-eyed. “I don’t think I know enough about hand magic!”
She remained as effervescent as she’d been last summer, a flicker of light in the sweaty innards of the Mystery Shack as they rushed to prepare Shacktron.
Did Stanley Pines know she was here? Multi-Bear could not decide if her Grunkle would ever let his pumpkin just wander into the hills alone like this. On the one hand: Dipper and Mabel had gotten into all sorts of trouble sans adult supervision last summer. On the other hand: they’d always had each other.
He couldn’t ask. Mabel had thrown herself on their doorstep in need of a bolthole. She was a cub yet, at the moment with a smile as unhindered as the snowmelt. He couldn’t bear to think of it running dry.
At least twelve hands scurried out, spoons and yogurt in… hand. It was awkward for them to carry things so one hand had to hold the load and balance its back on the back of another hand scurrying beneath it. When they were near enough more hands formed a teetering tower up to the table, and the hands that had carried the yogurt passed it to the lowest hand in the tower and up the chain it went. Multi Bear pushed a yogurt and spoon in front of everyone, since it seemed the hands had done enough work.
“You definitely don’t know enough about hand magic,” Handy said with cheer. “It’s a poorly-studied art these days! If only more people knew about the power they’d be able to handle with enough study, they’d be more interested!”
“Well color me interested, Hand Witch! I want to learn more about hand magic, and what you guys have been up to all winter without me, and how things went with Thad, and everything that went down in Gravity Falls, and hey, if you met Thad, why isn’t he here? I want to meet him!”
“Break an old witch’s heart, he went back to school in the fall. He claims he’ll return… in July.” Handy hung her head, peeled back the foil covering her yogurt.
“What?! But that’s like,” Mabel leaned back in her chair, casting her eyes up and opening them very wide, “Foreverrrrr.”
Handy sucked on her spoon with the aura of a jaded elder tossing back a shot of brandy. “Girl,” she declared, “I knowwwww!”
The yogurts had a swirl of passionfruit going through. Where Thad (the absolute madman) could have found that, in rural Oregon, when he only went as far as the swap meet, was anyone’s guess.
“So, uhhh,” Mabel said, between gobbling down yogurt with a will, clicking the spoon against her teeth. “Since Dipper and Ford are out doing their own thing, I figured, the best thing to do is get out on my own and have my own adventure! We’re twins but we don’t have to do everything together? And I know Dipper will appreciate me giving him, y’know, bonding time with Grunkle Ford where I’m not distracting them? And I thought, next summer, what could possibly be more helpful with their weirdness research than getting a whole lot weirder myself? And I thought, who do I know who’s super weird around here? Oh, yeah! The lady with the hands! The lady who does hand magic! Maybe you really could pass on some secretssss to lil’ ol’ Mabel? I was serious!”
For some reason Handy looked at him. Mabel also looked at him. Multi-Bear flattened his ears in mild consternation.
“Don’t look at me. It’s not my place to arbitrate between you.” Really, since it came down to one person’s decision: “Handy?”
“Hmmm!” She tipped back in her chair and tapped a finger against her chin. “Hmmm. Well, you have potential if anyone does, dear! But it is a tall order. The arts of hand witchery don’t come easy, you know! How many hangnails have you treated? Ever dug out an ingrown fingernail? It’s not pretty, I’ll tell you now!”
“Well, I don’t know about that, but Grunkle Stan got a really nasty ingrown hair on his chest after I tried to dress him up for Grenda last summer, and he couldn’t look at it, so I had to pop it.”
Handy gave her a beady-eyed look, nodding slowly. “Potential… like I said. It’s settled! Tomorrow we journey...” She spread her arms dramatically, and every hand in the room spread out dramatically to reinforce her drama, “to the Enthusichasm!”
“The Enthusichasm,” Mabel gasped, “Wow! What’s that like?”
“Oh, you’ll find out, my pretty. Mee-hee-hee-hee-hee! Youuuu’ll find out!”
“Wow.” Mabel gazed at Handy with shining eyes. “I am intimidated. That was super Wicked Witch of the West!”
“Oooh, you think so?” Handy primped her hair. “She’s such a bombshell!”
“If you’re spending the night,” Multi-Bear broke in, “We must prepare someplace for you to sleep, Mabel.”
“Aww, this is gonna be great!” Mabel slurped the last of her yogurt, then stood and raised the spoon a la a smaller, less green Statue Of Liberty. “Sleepover! We can do each others’ hair and nails and talk about boys all night long!”
“Girl! You’re talking to the manicure queen!”
“Indeed she is,” Multi-Bear murmured. “You are in capable… hands.”
Handy wasn’t really set up to host, but Multi-Bear collected every free pillow in the cave and that made enough of a nest. While Handy dug out the Parcheesi board and queued up a playlist of the 2010’s greatest pop hits, and Mabel did a series of hand and wrist stretches to prepare herself for the braiding, nail-painting gauntlet that laid ahead, Multi-Bear scrounged up a piece of paper and a ballpoint pen and scratched out a message to Stanley and Stanford.
Your niece Mabel is safe with us. HW and I have observed a weirdness spike in the vicinity of her cave. Stan, you remember from last summer - the hands. Your expertise may be needed.
The ringleader took the letter and, with an entourage of four other beefy hands with prominent knuckles (good for throwing punches) set off at a brisk scurry down the slope.
Mabel braided hair and painted fingernails, and the Hand Witch manicured, long into the night. Much carousing was done over stolen cases of Pitt Soda! Stovetop popcorn was consumed! Multi-Bear spread out his claws and allowed Handy and Mabel to paint them in a succession of dazzling stripes, rainbow colors. Strains of BABBA echoed into the fathomless night.
“The only thing that could make this better is if Candy and Grenda were here!” Mabel cried, and then got quiet, looking down at her newly lime-green and pink nails.
“Invite them up!” Hand Witch suggested, “I’ll train you all in hand witchery!”
Multi-Bear blew on his painted claws and put a paw on Mabel’s back, careful not to wet her hair with nail polish.
It was past late and into early when they went to bed at last. Handy’s snores whistled in the cave reassuringly and Multi-Bear curled around Mabel where she rolled into her comforter on a mound of pillows. No nightmares were had that night.
Well, it was actually a canyon, not too far a hike away. It was an excellent place for picnics and fun times because of its heady good vibes: the rocky walls scrambled, refracted, and echoed back any noise of good cheer and fun, sometimes adding a spontaneous giggle or whoop of its own. Mabel demonstrated its powers by letting out a giddy eeeeeeeeeee, which then bounced away eeeee eeeee eeeee eeeee, coming back like a boomerang once Handy, Multi-Bear, and Mabel thought it was gone: eeeee eeeee EEEEE.
There was also a clear, deep stream running through the Enthusichasm, adding a laughing voice to the proceedings and a source of greenery and birdsong. Multi-Bear pointed out a small diving bird flirting in and out of the water to Mabel. “See that? It’s a dipper.”
“No it’s not, Dipper’s out with Fooord!” She laughed and pulled at his elbow. “It’s round and cute and where a bird shouldn’t be, just like him.”
Chatting and laughing and trailed by a cavalcade of free roaming hands, they ventured far enough back to find the source: a wide pool, shallow at one end, deep towards the canyon wall. A waterfall tumbled down to replenish the pool. A few stomach-faced ducks plied the waters, most likely pushed out of more regular duckish haunts by non-Gravity-Falls issue face-faced ducks.
Multi-Bear swung the boombox off his shoulders and started up some BABBA. The upbeat pop music must have been to the Enthusichasm’s liking, because the refrain was picked up in a jiffy and became a cascade of crooning voices and bouncing beat, one repetition setting off another and another and another like a line of dominoes tipping.
“Alright, Mabel Pines!” Handy hopped up on a boulder and struck a pose, one hip thrust out. “Do you know why we’re here?”
“Am I gonna have to sit under the waterfall and let it pour down on my head and meditate? Omigosh!”
“Maybe! But that’s not even close to all of it!” Buh-boom, Handy thrust out her other hip and pointed to the sky. “We’re here… for your training montage!”
“EEEEEEEEEEE!” Mabel crouched down, made run-run motions with her arms, sprinted in place. “I’m ready!”
eee eee eee harmonized with the BABBA echoing through the canyon.
Multi-Bear hastily found a boulder to sit on.
“You’d better hope you’re ready, kid! This is it - your test of mettle! It’s not about whether you’re good enough!”
“Not about whether you’re brave enough!”
“No! No! Noooo!” Mabel screamed enthusiastically, breaking into a brief set of headbangs.
“What it’s really about,” Handy roared, “What it really comes down to is… do! You! Want! It! BAD! Enough!”
Multi-Bear’s view narrowed down. He was merely a claw on the boom box’s skip button, passing any down-tempo beats by. Mabel Pines raised her arms over her head and did a quick pirouette, stopping herself with one foot out, hands on her hips. Handy leapt off the boulder and landed crouched on one knee in front of her.
“Your education begins now!”
The Hand Witch turned herself upside-down and caught herself in a handstand. She paraded around with ease, long hand-toes wiggling in the air.
Mabel did a handstand too. She toppled over after a couple of seconds.
“Hmmm!” Not promising. In the next challenge she fared better: the Hand Witch braced herself, palms facing Mabel, and nodded. Mabel came at her, throwing a flurry of punches into Handy’s cupped hands with such ferocity that the witch actually stepped back.
Mabel assumed the same stance, and Handy threw a couple blows at her. Unluckily for Mabel, the witch was only part of the challenge, and first one, then two, three, five at once, of Handy’s familiar hands hurled themselves into the fray. “Urgh,” Mabel cried, but rallied: “It’s just like ping-pong! My hands are the paddles!” Hands flew as she whacked them back.
Handy nodded in approval. “Not bad!”
Mabel and Handy played a game of pattycake. At first it looked normal, but their hands landed and glanced off each other quicker and quicker, til their motions blurred. It had to hurt, with how many punches Mabel had blocked, but she kept with it. “Impressive endurance!” Multi-Bear shouted and Mabel flashed a grin without breaking pace.
“Don’t underestimate my playground-hand-game skills!” she said, panting, with Handy eased off her for a break.
“That sounds like a request for more of a challenge to me!” Handy cackled, rubbing her hands together.
“Bring it on!”
“If you say so.” Handy snapped her fingers and the patty-cake was on again, only this time, her hands joined in. It was a repeating fractal, a kaleidoscope of hands, surging and rushing in to slap palms, brush backs of hands against each other. They had no thighs to slap so in those parts they slammed other hands waiting below them. Mabel started to go red in the face and puff, but she was still giving it her all.
“Don’t overdo it, Mabel!” Multi-Bear called. In response her patty-caking only got faster and more frantic. The echoes of playground chants mingled with the BABBA, mingled with the clap of hands, surged and deluged like a flash flood around the players.
Power lived in all these things: repetitive motion, sound waves, chants, impacts. The Enthusichasm faded away from their shared experience, not gone but desaturated. Around Mabel, Handy, and Multi-Bear, a halo band of darkness sprang into existence - or became more evident from its slow setup. Crowded within that dark were those same almond-shaped orange eyes that Multi-Bear had seen so clearly months ago when he briefly woke up from his hibernation.
Muffled exclamations broke from Mabel and Handy, and Multi-Bear let out one of his own, though they sounded very far away - further than they should have sounded. The halos began to widen, and also to spin, so quickly the eyes melted into a stream of orange that alternated with the darkness of the halo.
Before he lost consciousness Multi-Bear saw briefly and with paper cutout clarity the silhouette of a bird spreading its wings before his eyes, wings filled with eyes of their own that blinked and stared at him. With the vision, no sense of malice but a feeling of home-grown profound terror. Quicker the halo spun, wider it grew, til it was the Enthusichasm and the waking world that shattered. Multi-Bear was falling, or sinking, into someplace very bright that smelled of baked goods and hot glue, that had its own tinny background music echoing good cheer -
He lost consciousness. He was gone.
It’s a lovely morning in Mabeland, and you are a perspicacious Ducktective.
• have a sniff of the brandy stashed in your bottom desk drawer
• smoke a cigarette and contemplate this benighted town
• admire your plumage in mirror
• put off paying office rent
• meet with client
• admire client’s gams
You have no hands, so pouring a drink is a tall order. Using your sturdy bill, you pull open the desk drawer and wrestle the cork free of the brandy. Then you open your beak above the bottle’s mouth and have a literal sniff of it.
• have a sniff of the brandy stashed in your bottom desk drawer
Your sense of smell isn’t very good, because you are a bird.
If pouring a drink is a problem, striking a match or starting up a lighter is even more of one. You chew on an unlit cigarette you find in your drawer instead and contemplate Mabeland.
• smoke a cigarette and contemplate this benighted town
It’s a sugary town, sweetness concealing the rot beneath. Brightly lit, not to illuminate but to blind. The place is a nightmare and could very well be born from some rotten demon’s hungover party fantasy.
Buff, brown and green - you’re looking good. It’s a shame a fine specimen of duckhood like you can’t find a nice hen to settle down with. Have a clutch of eggs. Leave this hard-boiled life behind.
• admire your plumage in mirror
Wait - you squint. Isn’t something a bit off? Ducktective has white plumage… but you are Ducktective… and here you are. Buff, brown, and green. You don’t have time to ruminate on this too much, because…
Knock, knock. Uh oh, it’s your landlord, come about the rent. He’s a nasty-looking customer, a floating dolphin with a furry, adorable kitten head where a dolphin head should be and long, furry tentacles optimized for hugging (and strangulation) where a regular dolphin would have pectoral fins. These elements are a travesty against nature and shouldn’t be blended, but, ho ho! That’s Mabeland for you!
• put off paying office rent
He backs you into a corner and in a series of mews demands to know when you’ll be handing over that rent check. No, no check now. He wants it in cold, hard cash.
You promise him you’ll have it for sure when you finish the next case. The situation might escalate, but...
Knock, knock. A bear strides in, but not just any bear. He has eight (from a count at first glance) heads, is at least that many feet tall, and he’s filling out a business suit very nicely.
• meet with new client
This must be your latest client. He comes over and puts a paw on your landlord’s shoulder. “Excuse me for interrupting,” and you could butter toast off that diction, “But the detective and I have matters to discuss.”
Your landlord doesn’t want to get into it with this guy. He lets out a threatening growl or two, but he leaves.
It’s undeniable: for a bear he’s got good gams.
• admire client’s gams
Wait. Wait… something feels funny… something is wrong here…
The client catches you in his hairy arms and lowers you to the floor. “Ducktective,” he says, concerned. “Can you hear me?”
You can hear him alright. But with much regret, you realize you have to give up the reins here. This isn’t your story, really - you just have a bit part in it. Letting your eyes sink closed, you add an item to your to-do list and strike it off just as quickly…
• hand the story back to its proper narrator
Multi-Bear removed his hand from supporting the duck’s shoulder and took hold of his beak, joggling Ducktective back and forth by the bill and then laying him all the way down. Did Ducktective need CPR? How did one give CPR to a duck? What was happening?
“I came to you because you’re the best detective in Mabeland.” According to Mabel, who was sure Ducktective would be here. Of course, she was the sole creator of Mabeland now, so here Ducktective was. “If you’re ill or injured, I’ll do my best to help!”
Ducktective didn’t wear clothes, except for his jaunty detective hat. It was easy to see, as well as smell, the absence of blood on his feathers. Multi-Bear lowered all heads and gave a more thorough sniffing. Ducktective smelled stressed, but he wasn’t injured at all.
Multi-Bear sat back and wondered what to do. He’d come here because Mabeland’s reconstruction of one of the finest deductive minds on television would probably be able to help with their problem in some way. Now he’d have to tell Mabel, who was so afraid that Bill was back she wouldn’t come closer to town than the outskirts, that her hope had spontaneously fallen into a coma.
Multi-Bear, energized, shook the duck. “Wake up!”
With sad quacking and the kick of webbed feet, Ducktective returned to life. “Eerrgh,” he groaned, shading a wing over his eyes and glancing around the office. “I don’t know what came over me - take your hands off me, man! I’m awake!”
When they were installed at the desk, and Multi-Bear had poured them both a little brandy, they got to business. “I’m not in reality your client,” Multi-Bear admitted straightaway. “I’m here on behalf of another… a name you might recognize… the name of a girl named… Mabel?”
Once he had a bit of liquor in him and had some room to settle, Ducktective was as cool and quick on the draw as television portrayed him. “I only know of one Mabel, and she…” The duck’s eyes narrowed. “Has been missing for at least a year. Or maybe it’s more like we’ve been missing from her. Is that the Mabel you mean?”
Multi-Bear’s claws dug furrows into the desktop. “Whether or not that’s the Mabel I mean depends on whether or not you can be trusted.”
Ducktective took the last of his brandy in a shot and slammed the glass on his desk. “I’m Mabel’s man. I can’t prove that to you except on my word. Can I see her?”
“I’ll take you to her,” Multi-Bear agreed. Then he leaned over the desk, all eight of his heads letting their jaws loose, tongues roll. “But if you’re misleading me…”
“There’s no need for that.”
Ducktective had no packing to do. Multi-Bear led the way.
In an unoccupied house Mabel and Handy were killing time.
“Pew pew pew!” Glitter bombs shot from Mabel’s fingertips and burst with sparkles of light and gouts of glitter, illuminating the windows from street view. Multi-Bear let himself and Ducktective in without trouble, except for Mabel rising and finger-gunning at them.
“Put ‘em up - AHH! Ducktective! Ducktective!” She hurled herself at the oversized bird and Ducktective found himself with a wingful of girl.
“Stop that,” he grumbled, but after a moment cleared his throat and brushed his wing over her back. “Don’t cry, I hate it when children get me all sticky.”
Mabel separated herself from the embrace after a couple more seconds. “A rough exterior, but with a soft spot for kids he’d never express - just like on the show!”
The neglected soda fountain in the front room had gone unloved for too long and only dispensed sad, uncarbonated Mountain Dew, but Mabel leaned on the edge anyway and gestured to the lurid green streams. “Drinks, anyone?”
“Not for me,” Multi-Bear admitted, and “No, no,” grumbled Ducktective. Handy burst out of the dining room.
“I’ll have a cup! Ooh, who is this? The famous Ducktective? So pleased to meet you, handsome! You’re a little more brown and green than usual!” She captured a wingtip and smooched the primary feathers adoringly.
“Off model, I know,” Ducktective harrumphed, making his way past her to sit at the table. “I couldn’t tell you why. Have you been reading much alternate universe fanfiction, Mabel?”
“Like only a little, little bit,” Mabel said, inching her fingers apart. She took a seat across from Ducktective and some of the strain that had appeared on her since her arrival in Mabeland vanished; she beamed, starry-eyed, at the television hero. Ducktective preened.
“There’s no time for frivolities,,” Multi-Bear said, taking a seat as well. “We’ve brought you here because Mabel concluded you were the most likely inhabitant who’d be able to express an understanding of this world in words.”
“Mabel made it, we’re here as guests,” Handy said, whirling back in with a glass of Mountain Dew at hand. “We’ve already tried riding for the edge and puncturing it, since according to Mabel it’s what worked last time!”
“So I am the interlocutor for Mabel’s psyche.” A cheerful gleam lit up Ducktective’s eye. He loved nothing so much as being the smartest bird in the room. “I’m honored, Mayor Mabel.”
“Oh don’t call me that! It’s been so long… and, y’know, I didn’t leave in the best of circumstances…” Mabel twirled some hair around her finger, sucking it into her mouth and chewing on it with an expression of consternation.
“I’d say we’ve been bereft without you, but I’m not sure we’ve been.”
“I thought this might be the case!” Handy let out a cackle, picking at her chin. “Bill Cipher might have constructed that bubble for Mabel to manipulate, and granted it consciousness outside of her capabilities at the time - but Mabel was the source of Mabeland, isn’t that right?”
“Correct,” Ducktective said with a nod. “Without outside influence or more thought than you have given us - not that we blame you, Mabel - we lack the dimensionality we had when Bill’s dire magic granted us twisted life.”
“I do like Mabeland,” Mabel admitted, “in, umm, smaller doses than I got back in Weirdmageddon. Anyway, it’s cool that I could make a world, but I don’t want to make it - I wanna break us out of it. Besides, if we’re here, does that mean,” her voice dropped to a whisper, “you-know-who is back?”
“Nope!” Handy thumped the table and sipped her Mountain Dew. “Billy boy was one inhabitant of the mindscape, but he’s not the only one. Now that the pointer finger has been chopped off, the others will work to fill in the gap!”
Mabel looked at Ducktective. In spite of the fact that he effectively was her, she seemed reassured when the duck nodded in confirmation.
“That leaves us with a pivotal question,” Multi-Bear said. “What must we do to break out now?”
In the normal case of things, if someone was “stuck” in the Mindscape, all they’d have to do was wait to wake up. A skilled dreamer would never be stuck, as they could wake themselves. Mabel had started building lucid dreaming muscles last summer, during her forays into the Mindscape and stay in Bill’s dream bubble, but she admitted that she’d tried to wake herself from the dream and couldn’t.
“I propose a third party could hold you in the dream, counteracting your ability to wake yourself,” Ductective offered, and Handy rolled her eyes.
“That’s what I would have said! Mabel, why is this duck doing the talking when you’ve got me, Hand Witch, expert, by your side? Hmm?”
“It’s for a second opinion!”
“Mabel, we should have told you when you arrived,” Multi-Bear interrupted. “During my hibernation my dreams were influenced by a foreign presence, which I detected briefly when I woke as well. Your Grunkles left Gravity Falls to pursue anomalies around the world. I propose that in the wake of Weirdmageddon, one such anomaly surfaced closer to home.”
“So some Bill Cipher wannabe has us in its grip!”
Ducktective offered a sage nod, which Handy and Multi-Bear returned. “A sound hypothesis.”
“Well, you know what…” Mabel leapt from her chair onto the table and aimed a one-two punch in the air. “Dipper and I beat Bill in the Mindscape once last summer! Dipper’s not here, but this thing isn’t Bill, and I have you guys - if we fight, we’ll kick its butt!”
“That’s my girl, taking the Manotaur by the horns!” Handy said cheerfully. “I’m game. I can deploy at least fifteen hundred hands to assist me in punching! Lemme at it!”
Ducktective raised a cautious wing. “But you still have to find the creature.”
Handy interjected. “If the anomaly is holding us in the dream, it can probably see through everything in the dream!”
Multi-Bear looked at Ducktective. Mabel looked at Ducktective. All three of the waking world people looked at Ducktective.
Ducktective raised a defensive wing. “Now, you can’t be thinking -”
Multi-Bear was the first one over the table to tackle him to the ground, probably for the best as he weighed more than Handy and Mabel combined and would have crushed them both. As it was they followed in less than a second. With Multi-Bear’s arms around his body and Handy and Mabel each pinning a wing, there wasn’t much room for Ducktective to move, but he quacked and flailed as best he could. “I say! This is no way to treat the brains of the operation!”
“Show yourself, anomaly!” Multi-Bear demanded.
“Show us your true face, before we roast you up and have a nice, crunchy duck dinner,” threatened Handy. An indignant gasp from Mabel put paid to that suggestion. “Mabel - no - I mean, we could eat it, it wouldn’t really hurt it-!”
Mabel’s distraction had loosed a wing and Ducktective took that moment to thrash.
Mabel tumbled away with a yelp. Both Multi-Bear and Handy loosened their pin in distraction. Multi-Bear turned back to Ducktective with a shout when he realized the trick but already it was - spreading - open -
Ducktective was no longer a duck. Ducktective’s visage clung to the expanse of what folded open before them briefly - the snout of the wolf protruding out from the benign mask of the sheep - and then was quickly gone. No longer Ducktective, but also never properly Ducktective in the first place. A facade all along.
The anomaly bloomed out like an oil spill. By now Multi-Bear recognized that darkness and was expecting the crowd of eyes that flared open at them, but it was only now that he saw there was a shape of it, like a spreading skirt or a peacock’s tail, and a wingspan also crowded with eyes. It was bird-shaped.
“All right, all right, put the kitten fists away, that means you, Mabel Pines!” The anomaly floated without moving its wings or tail, though hundreds of eyes rolled. “You caught me. You got me. I’m the F̵̡̱͙̳̱̪̭̼͊̀̑͌̈͛͋͋̈́̑R̸̜̻̰͔̼͚̪̙͍̗͇͓̰̠͆̆̉̓̆̎͛I̵͕̞͐͋͠G̴̛̤̻̞̰̖̲̩̺͇͌͊̐͂̒͗͑͒̒̌͛̄̕ͅḦ̵͔̰́̍̽̒̇̍͂̓̍̎̋̀̂̕Ṭ̶͍̦̩̐͘E̶̛̖͈̫͓͇̪͚͍̯͐̋̈̔ͅͅN̴̹̾́̇̀̅̋̇̐̈̎̎̈̓͋͝G̵̢̧̢̛̮̰̹̯̊̾̀̈̏̐̚A̸̭͋̂̄̂̒̚L̸̨̺̱̟̗̦̯̜̱̺͙̝̠̘̎͌̉̏̎̾̈́̈́̒̚̕Ē̷̪̹̗͎͉̰͓͑̓̽̚͠.”
The three of them faltered where they stood. All of Multi-Bear’s ears popped. “The what?” Mabel called.
“Stop doing that, that thing! Use your indoors voice!” Mabel stumbled dizzily, then shook her head hard. Multi-Bear clutched at his primary head but it wasn’t bad the second time around.
Handy raised her hands, and simply attacked. The roof of their safe house was torn away with an enormous crunch by one Godzilla-sized hand simply wrenching it off. Around the monster a blizzard of smaller hands churned. They buzzed in every direction and then found common purpose; each one clenched into a fist and then soared in a parabolic arc down towards the FRIGHTENGALE.
Thuds and a distorted voice yelling. The FRIGHTENGALE shot upward like a bottle rocket in an attempt to get out of range. “Ah-ha, that’s right!” Handy shook her fists at the creature taking evasive maneuvers. “Don’t mess with the Hand-Witch!”
Mabel was sitting on the floor and Multi-Bear offered her a hand up. She seemed disoriented but was shaking it quickly.
“Let’s chase it! I can’t believe that big bird killed Ducktective. We’ve gotta avenge our fallen!”
“Let’s pluck and roast it!” Handy slammed one fist into the other, and then raised her hands, conjuring a throne attached to expansive handlike wings (or winglike hands?) on either side.
“I forgot that the Mindscape could be so fun,” Mabel exclaimed, before clapping her hands twice, loud popping claps that produced a whirlwind of glitter. A gorgeous white pegasus with rainbow wings, mane, tail, and unicorn horns reared from the center of it.
“I can fly, I’m magic, and I’m totally chill and devoted to you, Mabel!” the pegasus cried. “Unlike some other uncool unicorns we both know but won’t mention by name!”
Multi-Bear thought about it and a simple flying carpet patterned with bees and ferns unrolled beneath him.
They gave chase. It was all a dream but the rush of cold air felt very real, as did zooming around with nothing but a layer of cloth protecting him from the fall; Multi-Bear decided he hated flying. Handy’s flock was holding down the battle quite admirably, harrying FRIGHTENGALE back and forth above the air of the town, and a trickle of Mabeland residents was drifting up to join the fray; “I see Bubble Bear!” Mabel cried at one point, “Hey, Bubble Bear!”
The bear in question waved before returning to bombarding FRIGHTENGALE with bubbles. Giggling butterflies with dazzling wings hit FRIGHTENGALE with rainbow beams. Mabel laughed and when they were close enough, pointed dramatically at FRIGHTENGALE and shot a firework out of her fingertip. It burst all over the birdlike creature in heart-shaped pink and purple sparks.
Multi-Bear waited til his flying carpet lifted him over their foe, and then simply dropped onto it from above.
FRIGHTENGALE felt like a lot of things at once. Leathery, oily, soft, cool. It wasn’t quite three-dimensional, but it was certainly enough for Multi-Bear to land a punch in a nearby eye, which squinted shut in agitation and then blooped below the surface of the body to shelter. Multi-Bear clutched on with his claws, knowing that if he fell he could imagine himself caught and be safe, but instinctively unwilling to risk it. He only moved when the surface he clung to seemed horizontal enough to be safe, scrambling to find another eye to punch.
They were moving up, he could tell by how he felt heavier. Disembodied hands thudded into FRIGHTENGALE’s body around him, though all avoided striking Multi-Bear. He hit another eye. They had stopped rising and FRIGHTENGALE’s form extended towards the horizon like it was its own small planet. Strains of music, a dire song, began to echo from the anomalous creature. They struck a counterpoint against Mabeland’s natural soundtrack, bleak, discordant notes that induced headache.
FRIGHTENGALE. Of course it would be able to sing.
Mabeland vanished. Mabel and Hand Witch stood against FRIGHTENGALE, Multi-Bear clasped in a clawed hand it had grown for hostage-clasping purposes.
“Alright, enough. T̵͔̰̘̻̟͚̟̼̳̜̺̭̙̈́̓̉̽h̵̡̧̙̬̮͉̖̤̯̍̽͌͌͊͊̋͘͘͜͜ạ̶̢̨̺̤̘̦͍̲̥̞̃̆̽͛͗̍̓͆͂̓͛̏̏͠ţ̶̥̪̦̹͚̻̗̹̮̂͗̈́̉̆̏̀͆̒͐̈́̕̕͝'̶̢̻̲͉̟̘̟͉̯̻͈̳̳͎̄̂̋̐̉͛̂̎̒̄̽̂s̴͈̭̟͓̈́͆̇ͅ ̷̭͇̟̯̱̙͂̇̌̄͘ȩ̴̧̗̺̠̟͚̖̻̪̱̣̦͎̈́̂̃̇͛͂͐͌n̸̛͔͎͙̟̭̱̻̄̍͗̈́͊̒̔̔̚ǫ̴̢̰̩͎̰̹̼̭͍̺̹̩̩͆͗̈́̆͝ͅų̶͙̻̫̯̬͚́̽̐͊͜͝g̶̤̪͙̭͊̚͝ͅh̸̨͎͈̻͖̩̏̃̈̓͛͛͊. Stop hitting F̵̳̤͖̪̹͕̳̤̲̱͗͋̃͗͗̈̑͋͒Ř̵̨͚͍͖͍͍͎̥̺̰̖͚̳̝̾͜͝I̸͍͈̯͒̈́̈́̀̑͒̔̏̽̄̊̃̓͂͝G̷̡̧͙̘̱͔̜̿̄̑̐̑̚͠H̸̨̛̛̫͉͙̭̙̦͖̽̊̈͊͗̑͋͌́͝͠T̴̟͙̘̻̦̘͉͗̐̍̓́̽͑͂͛̌̊̽͊̚͜͝Ė̵̝̣̳̓̏N̴̛͖͙̠͉̯͎̹̬̮̰̰͇͖̜̈́̈̏͜G̶̲̠̒̏͗͒͂Ą̸̧̡̠͕̘̮̪͔͚̮̫̠͕͖̋̐̒L̴͓̠̞͚͍͉̯̼͉̳̳͇̋͒̈́͑̃̐E̶̲̺̪̗̥̞̮̘̰̪̔̑͂̔̌͋̈́͘!”
“We’ll stop hitting when you put our friend down,” Mabel declared. Handy folded her arms and nodded.
“What she said! Give it up, you overgrown song turkey!”
Multi-Bear found himself sliding down that feathered/smooth/glassy/oiled surface. He tumbled to the “ground” and made a hurried way on all fours over to his companions, standing with the group in a protective posture.
Plangent notes reverberated from FRIGHTENGALE’s surface. They contained frequencies that made his ears flatten and tears rise up in Mabel’s eyes, that made tooth enamel and bones vibrate. Handy covered her ears.
“I didn’t do anything to you! I was being cool, I knew you guys would put up a fight after the last guy you met. I just wanted to hang out.”
“You hung around for months without introducing yourself or saying hi,” Handy snapped.
“You trapped us in my dream, didn’t you? You were blocking me from just waking up! There’s nothing cool about that.”
“Also,” Multi-Bear chipped in, “what happened to Ducktective?”
“Nothing! I was Ducktective from the beginning. Shortly after the beginning. Ducktective was a dream construct of something you saw on TV. He’s not an actual person.” FRIGHTENGALE scoffed. “Where do you think all his input about the Mindscape came from?”
“Hey, don’t go getting a big head!” Mabel shook her finger. “Hand Witch knows her stuff. Everything you said about the Mindscape, she could say twice and better.”
“What is it that you actually want?” Multi-Bear asked.
There was a long pause. FRIGHTENGALE did not have feet, but it seemed to shuffle awkwardly nevertheless.
“Oooh,” Handy said. “Ooooh! I get it! I think somebody,” she prodded Mabel with her elbow, “might want to hang out with us.”
“Whaaat! But this is like the worst way of making new friends I’ve ever seen in my life. And I know Pacifica.”
“I don’t want to make friends,” FRIGHTENGALE said defensively. “I want to consolidate a power base against other Nightmare Realm dwellers that might have broken through into this world!”
“Whew, this is so much better than I expected.” Mabel wiped her brow. “I thought, like, whaaat, maybe we have to sing a perfect three-point harmony to defeat this guy, except I don’t know if we’re at a level we can pull it off yet, you guys! And then I thought, we have to erase Grunkle Stan’s memory again! And that was horrible the first time, I don’t know how many more times I can handle microwaving his brain.”
“Yes, let us avoid microwaving anyone’s brain,” Multi-Bear said, just so it was out there, a dislike of microwaving brains, on the table. “But how can we be sure you are trustworthy, FRIGHTENGALE? You were not forthright with us from the beginning.”
“I’ve got this one,” Handy cackled. “I can deploy a geas… to keep things in hand!”
“I’ve heard so much about this,” Mabel cheered. “Can’t wait to see it in action! Hand geas! Hand geas!”
“Hold onto your hands, kiddo!” Handy shouted, raising her own hands above her head, splaying her fingers out. Magic that worked anywhere else would work just as well in the Mindscape, where what could be accomplished depended on will and creativity. Multi-Bear crouched next to Mabel, wrapping his arms around her in case anything untoward happened; one or two chins bumped against her head. Mabel hugged him back.
Handy’s chant began with her voice alone. As she chanted, belching and snarling out the geas in witchspeak, other voices began to layer over and under hers, harmonics to rival those of FRIGHTENGALE. Hand witchery expressed itself as control over the flesh of others, enough to remove limbs without hurting the bearer, reanimate them as independent workers to a certain extent, and stick them back on willy nilly as the witch wished, but that control of flesh began with control of the spirit: the essence of a geas.
The so-helpful flock of hands arrived, in ones and twos and then in a back, like a seethe of hands spidering towards FRIGHTENGALE. They gripped each others’ wrists and stood up as a stalk, then wove themselves into a lasso and flung themselves to yoke the anomalous being’s neck. FRIGHTENGALE squawked as they were forced to bow their head. Mabel stiffened.
“It’s being bound, not hurt,” Multi-Bear said in her ear. “Don’t worry for its health.”
A binding was necessary, at least for now. An unpredictable anomaly couldn’t be allowed to run wild.
One lasso was joined by another, then a third, forth, and fifth. FRIGHTENGALE began shrinking, body rounding, becoming more dimensional, recognizably duck-shaped. Rather than depthless dark, it was colored in shades of brown and shining green. The chains of hands no longer appeared as hands, but chains, shining and etched with runes, glowing brighter and brighter as Handy drove the magic on. She spoke faster and faster, every voice entwined in hers increasing its pace and volume alongside her, until finally she was shouting and the glowing chains let out one last burst of blinding light, the last sight any of them grasped as the dream shattered.
“Mmmmgh,” Mabel groaned beside him. Multi-Bear turned over and gave her a sniffing, four noses poking into crook of neck, back, shoulder. Sweaty, stressed, and tired, but unhurt.
Footsteps pattered over the ground and Handy crouched down next to them both. An enormous grin split her face. “Hoo! That was a piece of work, wasn’t it, Multy?”
“Indeed.” He gathered Mabel into one arm, picked up the boombox with his free paw. “That’s enough of a training montage to start us out, isn’t it?”
“I think so. We did good, Multy!” She slapped his arm. “That’ll show the Pines twins they aren’t the only anomaly-busters in town. Let’s find Frightengale.”
On cue, a pwak pwak interrupted their gathering. Multi-Bear looked down.
It was a stomach-faced duck. Green, brown, and buff. The face was fixed so it was awkward for the bird to look up at them, but it was giving its best effort to the position.
“Oh,” Handy exclaimed, “ooooh! It wasn’t just the three of us who got caught in your dream, was it? Hahaha! Aren’t you just the cutest?”
She scooped the duck into her arms. Mabel sat up in the crook of Multi-Bear’s elbow. “Euuh… oh my goodness. That poor duck is scrambled!”
“They’re a Gravity Falls exclusive subspecies!” Handy laughed. She seemed energetic, with no lingering ill effects from the dream, and tickled the duck under its bill as she set off down the cabin. “Are you in there, Frightengale? Quack once for yes!”
“Pwak,” said Frightengale. Some internal organs spilled out of its open mouth.
Mabel let out a bleeech. “You’ve created an abomination, Hand Witch!”
“Now, now. These ducks do this normally! That said, creating abominations is what witchcraft is all about! You just witnessed your first big piece of spellwork, kiddo. Greatness will surely follow!” Handy helpfully poked Frightengale’s organs back in. “Anyway, try telepathy, Frightengale!”
After a moment, Frightengale’s voice echoed into their brains. This body doesn’t work very well. What have you done to me?
“Unless I miss my guess, you didn’t just catch us in your dream-snare. You caught this little guy too!” Handy petted the feathered back as she chattered. “That was why Ducktective was off model. The duck was dreaming with us, and when Multi-Bear went looking for Ducktective, he found the stomach-faced duck, along with you! You’re bound to it for now, but behave yourself and I’ll think about letting you off the geas.”
“What’s it like sharing a brain with a duck?” Mabel asked.
I strongly want to eat corn and paddle in shallow water.
“Classic,” Mabel laughed. Then she sat back in Multi-Bear’s arms, eyes sinking closed. He slowed his pace, fell back from Handy and Frightengale.
“How are you feeling?”
“Like last summer never stopped! We just finished an adventure and I hardly got here… but I think I wanna go home for a couple days.”
“I’ll take you down the mountain tomorrow.”
“Is that okay?”
“Don’t be concerned, Mabel. Handy will understand.” If she didn’t, Multi-Bear knew he could talk her around. They had made a new friend, or rather bound a new unfathomable being temporarily to a mortal vessel, and Multi-Bear was confident that would help lessen any sting of Mabel needing a few day’s break after being, however briefly, trapped in a dream again.
“Are you feeling well otherwise?” he asked Mabel. “I must admit, I’ve been anticipating you and Dipper’s return almost since you left.”
“Now I know that Gravity Falls is just like I left it!” She seemed tired, but her smile was bright. “It feels great to be back for more adventures!”
“That’s the spirit,” Multi-Bear said, encouraging. To him it seemed like the summer was off to a strong start, and if it ended anything like how it began, would be full of as many adventures as the last.