Stanford blinked a few times when he woke up. He didn’t know where he was, but it was definitely pretty dark. And there was… rocking. He was rocking back and forth, slowly. He panicked for a minute and breathed deep to keep himself calm, like he was facing the security system of the alien ship in Gravity Falls. It wouldn’t do to panic. He looked. He couldn’t see a thing. With a start, he realized his glasses were missing. He raised his hand slowly to confirm, and that was right. Then he listened. He could hear… water… and creaking.
But it wasn’t the water or creaking, or the fact that his body was laying on a hard mattress, even, that brought him back from the nightmare realm flashback to the present. It was snoring. And only one person could possibly snore like that: Stanley Pines. Suddenly he smiled, remembering exactly where he was.
When they were young, everyone in their family said they snored exactly alike, but Ford never believed it, and still didn’t. Stan snored like an angry bear- the one with several heads that lived in Gravity Falls, naturally. A regular bear would have payed good money to have such a menacing case of tissue vibration. Ford smiled and sat up, his six-fingered hands searching for his glasses and pulling back the covers at the same time. “Stanley,” He said quietly.
There was a sound like a crab gargling water while doing the Macarena, then more snoring. “Stanley.” Ford said, louder this time, and he located his glasses and put them on. Now to find the lamp. “Stanley!”
“Damn it! Stanley, wake up! I can’t find the lamp!”
“It’s inside the genie.”
“Are you awake?”
“God, is that you? Cause if it is, first, I just wanna say, that wasn’t my fault with the-“
“Stanley, it’s Ford, I can’t find the lamp for god’s sake.”
“Oh, I thought you were someone else.” There was a chuckle, then “And speaking of, let there be light.”
Stanley was grinning groggily at him, his head hanging down from the bunk above. The light source was on the shelf above, where Stanley kept his… magazines… and just where Ford had told him a thousand times that it shouldn’t go. It could fall while it was lit and set the whole boat on fire! But Ford didn’t have a chance to correct his brother this time. Stanley picked up the lamp and climbed down the bunk’s ladder. Then he stretched (Ford winced as firecrackers went off in his back) and groaned, and went right out the door in his shorts and white shirt.
Ford followed when he’d gotten dressed. He’d had nightmares about the other realms, and he’d forgotten that they’d weighed anchor the night before on a small island. He drew the curtain and looked out the tiny round window in the cabin on a bright and sunny day, breathing salty air as he put on his shirt. When he was fully dressed, he stepped out onto the deck and faced the sun, driving the nightmares from his mind.
It truly was beautiful out here. The island looked like postcards he’d seen of Hawaii, and the sun was so bright he had to squint against it’s warm light. The water was near transparent for several feet down.
It took Ford a few minutes to realise that Stan was talking to him. He took coffee from his brother’s hand. It wasn’t great coffee, but it had been a necessity for him in the morning for many years now. He’d missed it a lot when…
He tuned into Stan’s chatter, mostly to avoid thinking along that track “-saw some pretty nice babes on the beach over there. Want to stir up the locals?” He was joking, Ford thought, but only a little. Stan had laid their map right across the tiny table and was playing with the protractor.
“I think we’d better stick to the mission at hand.” Ford replied. He wondered if Stan had really seen people here, though.
“Geez- always so serious.” Stanley said, rolling his eyes, but when he turned back to the map, Ford could see his eyes were bright with adventure.
Ford sat opposite him and took out his calculations. It had been a long ride here, but they were doing something that interested his brother very much. Looking for gold.
It had all started on a deserted island much less welcoming than the one they were on. None of the places they were going could be considered tourist traps, but this place looked like every horror movie setting Ford had seen. The trees were drooping over, dead, and the place was barren and lifeless, but they’d decided to check it out because that’s what adventures do, and also because their compass had suddenly reversed itself completely. It took him a few minutes to figure it out because Stan was navigating, and generally when he started hitting things and yelling about how they were malfunctioning, it was Stan making them malfunction in the first place. At any rate, when he took it, he could see it had broken in a different way. He was sure that that was north, and this was east… the sun had been setting at the time, so he decided to do some basic tests for anomalies, and one had turned up on that island.
Stan’s protests of visiting such a dreary place quickly turned to interest as they discovered the entire island’s bottom was man-made. They went down an easily found hatch to discover an abandoned growth project. Ford got the computers and lights working. Apparently it was designed to grow plants seen on tropical islands, probably as a tourism project, though Ford had also thought it could be a potential offset to Climate Change. However, the project had failed when the crew was ran out of food. Ford wasn’t sure where their recovery mission was, but he documented his findings in a book labeled “4” and tested the crew for various diseases. Many of them had committed suicide by the look of things, and Stan was clearly affected by the grizzly scene. He walked aimlessly through corridors, a depressed silence handing over him as Ford worked.
When he made a sudden whooping noise and ran back, Ford went straight for the gun, but Stan was ecstatic. He grabbed Ford’s arm and pulled him along. “Ford, you gotta see this! You’ve got to see this!”
They entered a second chamber, the doors of which had been pried open. Ford gaped. There was a blank space cleared on the floor, and above it, a singular opening to the sky above. Rays of light shown through, alighting on a treasure map. “Wait…” Ford said, holding Stan back. The hairs on the back of his neck were tingling and he sensed trouble.
“For what?” Stan exclaimed “The FBI? This one’s pretty clear cut-“
“No, it isn’t. Look around, Stanley. This is the store room. Where’s the food? Why would anyone leave a map here? There’s no boat, and no supplies.”
Stanley stood cross-armed as Ford worked on various parts of the room, checking for traps. He found nothing, but insisted on removing the map himself, in case it triggered something.
Carefully, he reached out and took it up. Dust flurried up and he coughed, then everything was very still. Nothing happened.
“Are you done, Poindexter?” Stan asked, rolling his eyes.
“It doesn’t seem to be a trap…” Then Ford stepped forward and brought the map back to Stan. It was incredibility detailed, mapping at least twenty islands in the general area, and there was an x on one of them. It folded out into twelve rungs, bending sideways and up and down, so it could be carried on the person, perhaps about the size of a Mystery Shack pamphlet, but thicker. Stan danced up and down in excitement, and after about thirty seconds, Ford could be persuaded to join him. They’d finally found what Stan had always longed for. Ford finished his research there (rushed by Stanley) radioed a distress call from the island, and boarded the Stan-O-War II.
They’d spent the night, and the next day they sailed in circles for a while, until it became too confusing with no compass and just the sun as company, which was hiding behind the clouds most of the day. After nightfall, Ford located the Polaris for guidance instead, and they made it out of whatever insane Bermuda’s triangle they’d sailed into. He marked the spot in his journal.
They’d arrived on the island late the previous night, and this time they were sure. They’d made some stop-offs for food and because they were honestly lost. There was no north on the map, even in invisible ink, and it took some decoding from the back side, which they inadvertently found while fighting over the position and direction in which the map should lay. They taped the map back together after their fight and tried again. This time Ford was sure because he was sure his calculations were correct.
Ford drifted back to the present, where Stan was drinking his coffee and looking out at the sea. Ford’s eyes rested on the beach for a minute, then he sat up a little. “Stanley…” He whispered.
“Did those beautiful local women you mentioned see you?”
“What?” Stan turned around and was greeted with the same sight as his brother. There were several beautiful women, a good deal of their dark skin showing, including naked breasts. Ford detached this information culturally and jotted it down, with an accompanying sketch or one man and one woman, later on. But Stanley of course did the first thing that came to his mind. He waved. “Hey there ladies!” He yelled, then whispered to Ford out of the corner of his mouth “They’re back!”
“With reinforcements.” Ford said, standing slowly. There were five women, and twice as many men following them, spears in hand. “Let’s see if they’re friendly.”
“Yeah!” Stanley said. Ford didn’t bother to try and explain, but he was sure that he and Stan were thinking different things.
“Hello.” He called to the natives. One of them yelled something back, and it didn’t sound promising. “Perhaps French.” Ford tried about a dozen languages while Stanley gave the women goo-goo eyes from over the deck, but they didn’t seem to recognise anything. They did a lot of yelling back at them, though. “I’m going down.” Ford said eventually.
He sounded frustrated, but all Stan said was “Yeah, yeah” in a dreamy voice. Ford disembarked.
“Greetings… I’m Stanford Pines.” He said to one of the locals as they posed menacingly. He picked the man with the biggest hat for the job, but it was actually a woman that stepped forward. She studied him as he did motions. “I’m Ford. Ford.”
“Ford.” She repeated, pointing at him.
“Yes!” He said, nodding. She looked confused, but then repeated his motion.
“Nemnitalli” she said again.
“Nemnitalli,” Ford repeated. Then, slowly, he offered her his hand.
“You’re flirting with the ugliest one!” Came Stan’s frustrated scream.
Many of the native people had backed up as Ford offered to shake, but the woman put out her hand similarly. Ford grasped it and shook up and down and she smiled in amusement. She turned to her people and shook her head, saying something in their native language. Some of them inched closer. It was then that she realized the anomaly- maybe the feel, or maybe she saw it. She bent down to study his hands, and he splayed his fingers so she would see all six on both hands. This caused quite a riot for a minute, and Ford could all but feel Stan’s eyes on the back of his coat, tense and waiting for the moment he had to step in for defence. But it never came. After a few minutes the natives either decided he was human, or a god, and they went back to trying to communicate.
“Ford.” Nemnitalli said again, and patted his shoulder twice.
“You started with a handshake- oh my god…” Stanly groaned from the ship.
Then he saw Ford turn around and wave at him. “Stan, come down here!”
“Right!” Stan said, happy to comply, and jumped from the boat himself.
When Stanford turned back, Nemnitalli patted his shoulder twice again. She smiled at him. When he didn’t do anything, she took his hand and brought it up to her own shoulder slowly. “Nemnitalli.” She urged. “Dwe Dwe.”
Ford’s eyes grew wide as comprehension dawned. He patted her shoulder twice. The people all around seemed to relax. “Hello.” He said, waving.
“Dwe Dwe!” She said, waving back.
“Stan, we’re making contact. Look, this is their handshake.”
But Stan was surprisingly ahead of him. He patted the woman’s shoulder hard and said “Dwe Dwe!” in a jovial voice. The tension broke completely and everyone laughed. She returned the favour twice as hard as he had, leaving him nursing bruises on his right shoulder. One by one, the native people came up and introduced themselves, some of the less shy trying for “Hello,” which sounded much more like “heello.” The twins returned greetings, Stan eyeing all the ladies on the beach. A few of them laughed when his eyebrows went up and down, and soon everyone was copying Stan and giggling. He took it well, or maybe he didn’t really realise it was a joke at all.
Soon the two of them were pulled along by the villagers to a small clearing with fires and huts. “Isn’t this the whole shabang!” Stan said, immediately relaxing on a log that was thrown down near the fire. It was lit already and they were cooking boar meet. Ford didn’t sit, but he had to smile when he saw the girls falling over each other. They at least seemed to think that Stan was hilarious.
Ford made arrangements to meet with the local shaman, and they swapped stories as best as they could through the language barrier as Ford designed and sketched blueprints for a machine that would someday do the translations for them. When he went back out, his brother was surrounded by beautiful island women. He seemed only slightly disappointed that they were pleating flowers into his hair. This reminded Ford of Mabel, and for a minute he was overwhelmed with nostalgia and longing. He took out his water-proof case and gazed for a minute at the picture of Dipper and his sister, Waddles barely making the frame. Then he snuck it back in his inner pocket and joined Stan shyly on the log bench. The women, and several men, began touching his skin and hair immediately- a very uncomfortable experience. Seeing him seize up, Stan nudged him in the ribs. “I can’t keep the men’s hands off me! Woah! See? They are seriously touchy-“
“Perhaps they’ve never seen white skin like ours.” Ford suggested, but it didn’t stop him from feeling general discomfort at being poked and prodded. Stan seemed to be taking it well, as if it were a minor annoyance, but for him it was psychological. Being touched had always been iffy for anyone except Stan, but his distrust of practically everything that moved had made it increasingly more so over the years. Now it was all he could do to stay perfectly still and let the probing hands explore. It was over soon enough, and the men trotted off while the women taunted Stan for his obvious flirtatiousness. After all, as a member of the same species, it was pretty clear what he was after.
They ate what was offered, learning key phrases like “thank you,” as they went. Stan was dragged off somewhere in the middle of it all and Ford set his watch, timing how long his absence was in case he had to go looking for his brother. He tried not to be so mistrustful, but it was difficult. Eventually he lay down, half his body on a log, resting his head on his arms as he listened to a chanting music. He closed his eyes just for a few minutes…
“What’s the MATTER, “ Said a cold, mocking voice. “Didn’t think you’d seen the LAST OF ME, DID YOU?” Images swam into and out of focus: waterfalls going upside down, sucked in by a swirling vortex. Monsters. Mountain men walking by themselves, red eyes glowing. A vast thrown, grey, made from… from…
A triangle with a cold laugh, taunting, ready to squeeze the tiny humans in his arms- “INY MEENY MINEY-“
He woke with a start. HIs alarm was ringing and everyone had stopped singing, entranced by the strange device. He turned it off hurriedly, looking around. Stan wasn’t there, which meant that he was still out and Ford had to go looking for him. He stood up. “Urenia suu.” He said, which he thought probably was meant as an apology. Some of the people were standing up and pointing at his watch. He wasn’t sure how to feel about this. It had been fine earlier but now-
Damn those nightmares! Damn you, Bill! He thought angrily. He must had fallen into a fitful sleep and now he wondered if he’d been making a fuss while dreaming. Once when he had just returned, he was laying down on the ground waiting to spring a trap when he fell asleep on the spot. He remembered Dipper waking him nervously- whether he was anxious because he was facing the author he idolised or because of the thrashing, he didn’t know. But Dipper had said he was screaming. Naturally he had scared his prey, a fairy, away. And he had only gotten worse since- He couldn’t, right now. He couldn’t think of the torture Bill had subjected him to. He needed to stop panicking and find Stan.
But with a slight crash of trees, Stan emerged from the bushes, half naked himself, and with company. “Ford, are you alright?”
“Yes- yes, I was just about to come and look for you.”
“You don’t look so good-“
“I’m fine, Stan. I’m fine.”
But Stan refused to hear it. “Uhhhh…” He said to the surprised crowd “We… want… to … sleep… now.” Ford groaned. He was using the horrible, loud, talking to Asian tourists voice, which had always irritated Ford. He made an act of sleeping with his hands and snoring. Some of the villagers giggled, and a few women stepped forward and took Stanley’s hands, dragging him along. “Wait, what- hey!”
But they led him to a small hut, which seemed barren accept for a few grass blankets and leaves thrown down. When Ford joined him, he realized they would put them up for the night. “Oh, thank you! Bedee!”
“Oh, it’s for us?”
“Beedee- no, Bedee! What-whatever.” He said, giving up on pronunciation.
“Bedee.” Ford whispered.
“Bedee!” Stan practically yelled, and a few of the women laughed at him. Stan didn’t seem to mind. He crawled inside and rolled around a little. “Sheesh. It ain't the ritz.”
“I’m glad they can’t understand you.” Ford mumbled, and with many wishes for a good night, a cloth was draw over the hut door and chanting music resumed. After a long pause where Ford stared into the darkness, reliving some horrific torture of Bill’s in his mind while trying desperately not to think about him at all, Stan’s voice cut through the darkness.
“You oughta get some sleep there, Poindexter.”
Ford sighed. “Yes.” He said, turning to the side, but he made no effort for sleep at all. He just stared at the wall of the hut, eyes wide open in the darkness. Just as he began to wonder if Stan could sense that he wasn’t actually sleeping, his brother started singing.
“Primadona girl… all I ever wanted was the world…I can’t help… if I need it all? The prima donna life, the rise and fall…”
Ford rolled back the opposite way to stare at Stanley, who was now humming quietly. “Stan, what the hell are you doing?”
“I’m singing!” Stan said defensively. “What’s it sound like?”
Anything but singing is what it sounds like. “But why?”
“I’m gonna sing you to sleep. So if you don’t want to hear my singing you better start sleeping, Poindexter.”
Ford chuckled, “Okay, okay.” Comforted by his twin’s strange behaviour, he closed his eyes, listening to the off-key, gruff humming. For a while, there was peace.
“Bill, please don’t-“
There was another shock, this time much worse. It seemed to last for an eternity, but when it stopped Bill’s voice was still there. “Don’t try and beg me NOW, Sixer. We all gotta do what- WELL, NOT WHAT WE’VE GOTTA DO, REALLY, more like what we WANNA do, am I RIGHT?”
He fought the chains, but they seemed to be turning to nothing all around him, or perhaps they were giving more leeway. But why-? Then he was awake, and Stan was screaming something at him.
“Stanley! Bill!” He said, panicked. The flashlight switched right on and Stanley gazed around the small room with it, his expression tense and terrified. All there was was grass and dirt and clay. Then Stanley looked back at his brother. Ford sighed. “I’m sorry.” He groaned. “Just a nightmare.”
“A nightmare about Bill isn’t always a nightmare…” Stan said gruffly, crossing his arms and making the beam of the flashlight turn suddenly to the right.
“Stan…” Ford said in warning, seeing movement where the beam was. The tent flap was opened tentatively and the woman from the beach, Nemnitalli, peeked in. She looked worried. A few of the villagers were behind her and many had retrieved their sticks.
“Oh. Hey guys. Sorry. My brother here had a kind of…” He pointed to Ford, to his own head, then made a comically monstrous face. A few of them nodded.
“Jiantumtum dwii.” Said the woman.
“A nightmare.” Ford said. He drew the moon and stars in the dirt, then a monster’s face to follow. They seemed to understand. “I’m sorry.” Then he repeated it in what he thought was their way, “Shiritanti.”
Many of them shook their heads. A few said something back. A little girl came and put a flower by his hand, then, struck by sudden curiousity, touched his sixth finger there. She looked up deer-eyed to see if she had upset him, but he laughed gently at her. She seemed encouraged, and she looked carefully at his hand before her mother called her out. She retreated with a backwards smile at him. As soon as the curtain was closed, Stan took up the conversation again.
“Are you sure?”
Ford sighed. “Yes.” He said with finality. “It was like a flashback of being there… in the… the pyramid.”
“Hmph.” Was Stan’s only reaction. Then he switched off the flashlight and Ford could hear him lay back down. “Stanford, look… I’m not much one for shrinks, but maybe you should consider one.”
Ford laughed humourlessly. “And then what? Tell them how I was enslaved by a powerful triangle wearing a top-hat?”
“I see your point.”
“I’m not even capable of sharing the things we see every day, let alone a completely backwards and singular event like that one.”
“I got it, I got it.”
“I’m sorry I keep waking you.”
“I’m sorry you keep waking yourself!”
“I just need more time to work through this.”
With nothing more to say, they both drifted off into fitful slumbers.
The next day, Stanley woke up grouchy and complaining of back pain, but helped himself to food. On Ford’s insistence, they foraged and hunted with the villagers, to make up for what they had eaten. Ford was mostly sneaking pictures of Stan in war makeup hunting boars on his camera phone. He had intentions to send everything to Dipper once they hit so-called civilisation, and now had a complete collection of Stanley in various outfits doing ridiculous things.
Then they shook hands with the friendly people and said their goodbyes. Ford wrote down everything he had learned and decided that he would have to check the archives online when he got to a computer to see if anyone had ever encountered this village before. Assuming they ever made it out of the compass labyrinth. But he felt fairly confident in this one.
If they had shown anyone where they were going, they might have been warned to stay away.
Stan was watching Ford surreptitiously throughout the day as they chopped away at trees with machetes. He hoped he wasn’t being too obvious, as he was taking point, having the better strength of the two in the first place, but every time he looked back Ford had his head stuck in his journal, jotting down some new fact he had remembered, correcting and crossing out passages, and adding various undiscovered insects and fungi to the list of things to study. Anything of real worth he would have to write that night by candlelight with invisible ink, Stan knew, but it helped that Ford didn’t pay much attention to him. It helped Stan pay more attention to Ford. And he was worried. Very worried.
The prospect of Bill was one thing, but Ford seemed sure that it wasn’t really him. Besides, sometimes he could catch pieces of conversation if he hung around. He’d always said Ford talked in his sleep, and he really did, even if he hadn’t believed it as a child. He thought it was likely that the nightmares were flashbacks. Some were worse than others, but all of them were hideous, he was sure. Sometimes he dreamed about the world of nightmares Stan had pulled him from after he’d accidentally done the sending in the first place. But most of them were about Bill. Stan didn’t even want to think about what that insane shape had done to his brother.
There wasn’t much for it, though. He’d held back on asking about therapy, letting Ford believe he didn’t know about the nightmares, but he wished there was something he could do. He’d thought about offering to listen, but besides being unsure what he could even offer from that, he wasn’t sure Ford was willing to talk about it, and he wasn’t sure he had the stones to hear him out. So he watched. In waking hours he seemed fine, though. Tired, but fine. If only Stanley could have entered Stanford’s dream like Bill had, he could punch the terrors and monsters until they never came back to bother his family again. It made him wonder how his surely emotionally scared kids were doing back in California.
They broke for lunch when the sun got too hot, and Ford caught some bugs in jars that made Stan shiver while they munched on previously cooked boar and some pineapples, which was a fantastic combination as far as Stan was concerned. When Ford’s back was turned, Stan took the opportunity to take out his wallet. It didn’t have much in it these days other than pictures, and on the very top where his ID used to sit was one of his family, minus Ford. It was himself, Soos, Dipper, Mable, and Wendy. His foot was claiming a rock and Soos was waving straight ahead. Dipper, the idiot, was standing like he was a man already- ready for adventure, which always made Stan chuckle. Wendy was relaxing on a nearby rock like the lazy slacker she was, and his pumpkin pie, Mabel, was standing sweetly with both hands behind her back, braces in full view.
“Me too.” Ford said quietly, and Stan’s eyes shot up. He shoved the picture out of sight, but he’d already been caught in the act.
“What?” He demanded.
“I miss them too.” Ford said simply, popping some pineapple slices in his mouth.
“What kind of bug is that?” Stan asked, though he wasn’t interested at all. Perhaps Ford let him get away with it, or perhaps he was more interested in discussing his frankly gross capture, because he launched into an explanation about how this beetle was capable of projectile vomiting poisonous sap that it took from trees and stored for self-defence. Stan wondered if it would have been more comfortable and less disquieting to talk about his feelings instead.
After lunch they continued in the same way, Stan chopping and Ford mapping and making interesting discoveries. Though it was a small island, they didn’t reach the center until near the evening, and then Ford insisted that they make camp. Stan could smell gold in the air, but Ford convinced him he’d enjoy it better with a good night’s rest.
“What about you?” Stan said without thinking, which was his usual way. “You gonna sleep?”
Ford pretended to be messing about with something in his pocket so he didn’t have to look at Stan. “If I can.” He said stiffly.
“I could knock you out.” Came the offhand threat, but it had no real fire.
“I don’t think I could find it in myself to appreciate that.” Ford replied dryly. They set up the tent.
Whether from exhaustion or sheer age, Stan collapsed immediately onto his sleeping bag and fell asleep. Ford lay awake for a while, trying to convince his own hyper-vigilant mind to drop the paranoia and let himself fall asleep. Eventually it happened, and all he remembered until daylight was darkness. And not the bad kind.
The next morning Stan wasn’t such a grump. He still complained that the hard ground made his back ache, but he had a permanent smile that he alway wore when money was incoming. He ate with gusto and talked non-stop about meaningless things as Ford wrote. Ford had to admit he felt much more refreshed than he had in days, himself. He must have finally had a full night’s sleep, and Stan wasn’t talking like he’d heard Ford’s nightmares voiced all night.
Despite his own assistance when they were young that he didn’t talk in his sleep, that it was Stan who did that, he knew now that he didn’t so much talk as scream. But now he couldn’t admit it. It felt like admitting that his dreams had more sway over him than he wished. Of course, Stan also talked in his sleep. Mostly about gorgeous women, though. Ford tried not to listen and had even invested in ear plugs from a young age.
After breakfast, Stanley stood up and stretched, his back cracking. “Oh! OH! Did you hear that?”
“At first I thought it was a tree snapping in half.” Ford joked.
Stanley chuckled. “Feels good, though.” He said, rubbing the spot. “Okay, I’m ready.” He collected the things strewn out around the camp and packed them haphazardly into his giant backpack before clipping it on. Ford carefully set each specimen into his duffle, each bottle fitting into a space cut out of styrofoam packaging, and shouldered it. Then they set off, Stan with renewed vigour, slicing the trees away. But they hadn’t gone twenty paces when they stepped into a circular clearing with a grass floor. “Oh-ho!” Stan said giddily.
“Careful of traps.” Warned Ford, then he set about trying to trigger a few with stones. After a couple were thrown, Stan got the picture and started throwing rocks around at random. It occasionally accomplished the same thing Ford was trying to do, but nothing was rigged. Eventually he stepped onto the grass carefully, and the sound it made was like his boot had hit wood. He cleared it with his feet as Stan grinned like an idiot behind him. There was indeed wood below their feet. “Clear the-“ The wood here had clearly been left out in the rain and sun equally. As they cleared it, they could see that it was crinkled either with age or pattern.
“Way ahead of you!” Stan dropped his bag- Ford was sure he heard something shatter- and they started to brush away the grass and carry it in heaps to the edge of the jungle. When it was almost clear, Ford started to investigate the cracks, looking for a trap door. Stan was walking over a section repeatedly as he cleared, and after a few passes he stopped. He looked down and tapped his foot. Then he walked a few paces backwards and tapped again. Ford knew he was onto something, because Stan’s strangest behaviour, despite evidence to the contrary, always had a reason. It wasn’t necessarily reasonable, but it had a reason. Stan walked back and forth for a while, tapping with his foot like some strange samba dance. Ford smiled, knowing if Mabel had been there, she’d have recorded it and put it to music. Thinking it might not be too late, he reached for the camera phone, hoping the charge from his machine had held, but then he saw Stan’s hand drop to it’s lowest point and do a motion like ‘come here,’ and he forgot about it. Ford stood and went over.
Stan tapped the wood with his foot, put two hands up, index fingers pointing to the sky, then stepped back and tapped again. “Do you hear that?” He whispered.
Ford tried again as Stan repeated his motion, seeing if he could tune his ear to what Stanley was hearing, but he just couldn’t. “No, but I’m sure you’re right.” He said with conviction. He dropped down and they cleared the remaining brush, blowing and running gloves over the wood.
“Shit! Splinter.” Stan complained, pulling a shard of wood out of his hand.
Then Ford found the almost invisible seem of the trap door. He looked up into his brother’s eyes, which were shinning with excitement. It would have taken Ford days to find it alone.
They each traced the outline. It was a large door, plain wood to match the surrounding, and uneven in pattern just like the wood on all sides. Absolutely nothing made it stand out. It was about the size for both of them to go down if they could get it open, but nothing seemed to work.
Stan tried standing and stomping on all sides, throwing a crowbar into the cracks (he bent it out of frustration near the end of that try), and even throwing his bag at it (though Ford thought that was probably out of anger rather than an actual attempt). Even as Stan tried with all his physical attributes to get in, Ford was applying all of his mental faculties to the problem.
In the space of a few minutes, Ford had walked the edge were it met the forest surrounding, scrutinised the door as Stan threw various things at it, and even tested the wood in a beaker. All he found out was that whatever this place was, there was no digging under the wood, and it was just plain old wood. The first conclusion came from a throughout investigation of the edges, which drug under about a foot. He stuck a small shovel down there and confirmed this. It was the opposite of helpful. The other conclusion came from his beakers, and basically told him nothing. He also searched for a trigger or release, but there was no sign of one. As the heat of the day hit, he knew he’d have to try to get Stan out of the sun at least temporarily, or they’d exhaust their water supply. Already he was drinking more than Ford was totally comfortable with.
Luckily Ford thought of a solution for both at once. Remembering that he’d once hidden his journal in a fake tree, and how easily Dipper had found it, he looked around to the shade-covered jungle-like brush. “Stanley,” he called, putting a little too much effort into it, perhaps, because Stanley gave him a strange look, “The trees! There could be a trigger in the trees.”
Stanley crossed his arms over his chest, his look clearly saying what he was thinking, but he said it anyway “You’re gotta be shitting me.”
“No, I’m serious.” Ford said honestly. “Listen, when I was hiding the journals, I put one inside of a tree that I hollowed out.”
“HA! Dipper found that thing in a tree?!” Stan taunted, then he thought about it and repeated it angrily “HE FOUND THAT THING IN A TREE? I searched for that for years!” He grumbled.
“If we tap the trees, we could find a trigger.”
“Yeah but that sounds boring.” Stan said, rolling his eyes. “I”ll let you so the boring stuff, I’ma keep throwing things at this.”
“Maybe I could do it, but I can’t hear what you can hear, Stan.” Ford said irritably, but he hoped he’d pumped just enough flattery into his words to convinced his hard-headed partner into joining him in the shade.
A few seconds passed, then Stan grinned. “Yeah, I guess I do have better ears than you.” He went to sit in the trees next to Ford, where he leaned against one and listened to him tapping various parts of the tree for a while, but the next time he looked over, Ford saw he had fallen asleep. “Stan!” He said, quietly, but in surprise. Stan grunted.
“We can rest-“
“Nope. I got it. I just gotta sit up.”
“Alright.” Ford said uncertainly. His thoughts drifted back to sleep as he tapped trees randomly and Stan relaxed on the floor, drinking sips of water and snacking on trail mix. Ford hoped that he hadn’t been keeping Stan awake at night, but he knew it would have woken him up nightly if Stan had been screaming and talking to crazed geometric shapes in his sleep. He was thinking along these lines even an hour later, except this time trying to solve it. He’d had a metal plate erected in his own head to keep Bill out. How could he keep out his nightmares?
“What?” Ford said, jumping. He’d forgotten what he was even doing.
“I said stop, Poindexter. And come back to earth while you’re at it” Stan said with a smirk, “You were right. And here I thought,” He stood up with a grunt “you were just trying to get me to sit in the shade.”
“Sometimes you can accomplish two goals in one.” Ford looked around. He’d been unaware for some time about what or why he was doing, and that Stan was following him around the trees at all. But now Stan tapped the tree Ford was at, then the one next door. Ford stared at him blankly.
“I really can’t-“
“Are you serious! You can’t hear that?”
“My hand to the deity of your choice… it’s deft to my ears.”
“Fine. Move it, Poindexter.” Stan took a step back and, before Ford could stop him, planted his foot hard into the wood. It didn’t work, of course. He jumped and danced around, cursing at the top of his lungs, but it took his mind a little wile to catch up with his mouth, so it sounded something like this: “Oh holy guacamole, pigs in a basket- SHIT MOTHER FUCKER!”
Ford laughed, then ran his fingers over the trees, trying to find a hidden door. It wasn’t long until his fingers alighted on something and he pressed in. It popped open and both of them squeezed together to peer inside. “We should be wary in case-“
Stan reached in and slammed the button inside hard.
“That’s a trap.” Ford finished lamely. But all that happened was the trap door was dislodged with a sound like all four doors on a car closing in synchronisation.
“HA!” Stan said proudly. They both stood up, Ford brushing the dirt off of his cloak, and walked towards it. “I guess we should beware of giant spiders now!” Stan joked, looking down the hatch. Just as Ford was joining him, a spider larger than both of them squeezed through the opening and trampled over Stan to rush into the forest.
Ford looked down at Stan with a raised eyebrow, then said “Are you hurt?”
“I hate being right.” Was all Stan said, then Ford helped him up. They both looked down together this time, Stan barely peeking over the edge, clearly sacrificing Ford over himself this time.
“It looks clear.”
“Throw a smoke bomb.” Stan suggested.
“I don’t have any smoke bombs, Stanley. And you mean a flare, which we shouldn’t waste. We only have one since you thought they were fireworks.” Ford said almost without emotion, then he spotted the ladder down and began to mount it.
“Oh, hey, wait a minute, Sixer, you aren’t going down there, are you?” Ford paused, hating the nickname, even if it had been Stan’s first. He swallowed the shame and hate it made him feel with the bile and took a deep breath, reminding himself that he wasn’t talking with his captor and tormenter.
“I thought this is what we were here for. I thought there was treasure down there.” Ford said manipulatively, trying for the same tone that Dipper used with Mabel to get his way.
“I hate you sometimes.” But Stan started down the ladder after Ford, flipping on the flashlight. Occasionally he peered down the hole with the torch, but, like the bottomless pit, it didn’t seem to have an end. Stan reminded himself that the bottomless pit just spit everything back up, but it still gave him the creeps to stare into pure darkness, so he stopped doing it. They climbed for at least ten minutes by Ford’s count, but to Stan it felt much longer. They didn’t realized they’d reached the bottom until Ford landed on something flat. “My god, it’s pitch black down here.”
“What?” Stan said, then he moved the flashlight around and checked out the bottom “Is this the bottom?”
“Yes, it is.” They both looked around, Stan putting both feet down. “Here, there’s a hatch.” He tried to open it by himself as Stan scratched his ass behind him, but it was impossible. Alone, anyway. “Stanley, help me.” He said, his voice straining with the effort of turning it.
This choice of words, even in a circumstances that were clearly not life-threatening, moved Stan into immediate action. He grasped the wheel and turned it with all his might, opening it single-handedly. The door sprung free from the lock as Ford looked at him curiously.
“Oh.. uh…” Stan scratched the back of his head. “I ugh… must not know my own strength.” There was an awkward silence, then Stan moved into the next room. “What are we waiting for?” Ford didn’t move, that is, until Stan peeked his head in. “Ugh… maybe you should see this…”
“What is it?” Ford said, suddenly business. He jumped through the door and pushed past Stan. The room was lined with computers, just like the metal island they had found before, but this one was truly deserted. Not even the dead were here. “Another one.” Ford said.
“And another one of these things.” Stanley said, pointing at the second wheel that must open into another room. Without waiting, he rashly grabbed the handle and turned it with all his strength.
“Yes, I need to be careful.” Stan said sarcastically. “I have to… to…” And that was all that was said. They let the door swing open by itself. All they could see inside was gleaming piles of metal, and when Stan shone his flashlight over the top of it, he nearly wet himself with excitement. “It’s.. gold.” He whispered. “IT’S GOLD!”
“Stan, wait!” Ford said, but his brother had already launched himself into the room and headfirst into a pile of gold and jewels.
“Ow.” He said. For a few seconds, Ford thought that everything was okay. Then the door begun to shut between them abruptly. “Shit!” He heard Stan say, at the same time as Ford swore himself. Ford launched himself toward the door but by the time he reached it it had closed, nearly taking off one of his fingers with it. The lights turned on suddenly around Ford, blinding him.
“Stanley!” He shouted. But he couldn’t hear any response over the whirl of the computers coming on. When his eyes adjusted, he could see something was blinking on the screen- a red dot, moving fast through the water offshore and to the island. His stomach clenched and he felt like he’d gone off a waterfall unexpectedly. He heard a banging on the other side of the wall. “STAN!” He rushed to the door, listening hard. What he heard prompted a despairing whisper of “oh my god..”
“Water’s filling the room! Ford! Ford!”
“I’m coming, Stan!” He shouted, even though he had no way of getting in. He searched frantically around the room, trying not to think of his brother drowning in the room akin. He started to tear the computers apart, opening compartments and throwing pieces together with whatever he could find.
Stanley hadn’t noticed the flooding immediately, because he was standing on a pile of gold listening to the sound of the door, trying to find the unlocking mechanism. He was unusually good with doors. But then he heard Ford scream on the other side. “FORD?” He shouted back, but all he could hear was the sound of rushing water. Then he felt it, and looked down. He swore again and called out. Now he was continuing his work with the door, but the room must have been smaller than it looked, or else the water was coming in fast. He used the slippery mess to help him move a pile of gold and got a face-full of water for his trouble. Standing on top of the bigger pile of gold, he tried to open the door again. He could hear some action on the other side of the room but decided to try to ignore it. He wasn’t any good to Ford dead.
But the water was washing him off of his island soon. The door was nearly covered when he abandoned his attempt and, panicking, slipping and sliding, he alighted on a higher pile of jewels. He kept climbing, seeking higher and higher ground as he searched with his flashlight for the source of the water. He finally found it, pouring in like crazy from the top section of the wall, all around. The slits in the wall were like vents. He couldn’t have fit through them. Whoever concocted this death trap had wanted to make damn sure that their victim never escaped. He was as high as he could climb now and out of ideas. All he could do was pray that Ford found a way through.
On the other side Stanford was frantically trying to find a way to light the blowtorch he was making. He rummaged through their bags and found gas, but there was no lighter among his things. He went to Stan’s and found what he needed, and, hands quiet steady in the face of peril, he lit the device. He started at the top of the door, sure that the huge room couldn’t be covered by now. But he froze momentarily when water immediately started to rush through. Cursing, he worked around the seam of the door where the wall was thinnest. His invention was powerful, but he was running out of time that a fire would have to be maintained against the water flow. He used the pressure to his advantage, choosing where to weaken the hold of the metal meticulously and driving the blowtorch there, until it was just loose enough that the water began to rush through, seeking the lowest ground; and finally, the door simply snapped off. He thought he heard Stan’s voice over the rush of the water. He struggled to get himself out of the way of the metal that came screaming away from the wall all at once. Then he swam to the top. He was completely soaked and had let go of the blowtorch. For the sake of staying afloat, he also struggled out of his coat.
Stanley saw the water and the light of the blue flame, squinting into the darkness, and he stuck the flashlight in his mouth and secured everything he could. Then, without even pausing for a pocketful of gold, he dived under and swam for the hole with all his might. He made it through and swam to the top, which was becoming less and less by the second.
Ford saw the flashlight, turned to the side, coming towards him at top speed. “Thord” He heard his brother call.
“Ith rushin’ in thrum the top of za wall!”
Ford looked up but everything inside this room was lit up, and there were no vents. Still, they were running out of space for air. “Follow me!” He screamed, and they both took deep breaths and dived down. Abandoning their supplies, they swam for the other door. It was locked tight and they had to return to the top of the room, which was scarcely the top anymore.
“What are we gonna do?!” Stan cried frantically.
“We have to go back. It’s the only way!”
“The vents are tiny!”
“We’re running out of options!”
They dived again and this time Ford managed to grab his bag and coat on the way down and take it up into the next room with them. Stan grabbed the bag from him to release some of his weight, for which Ford was thankful. The gold was too far below for them to stand, but there was perhaps six feet of air above the water still, this camber being much larger. Stanford started to pull things out of his bag as Stan held the flashlight up. They paddled with their legs to stay afloat, but it was difficult with their huge duffle supported between them.
Ford could tell Stan was starting to loose his wits. He was releasing a stream of cursing under his breath as Ford threw things from his bag. Finally he found what he was looking for- a metal case with an insignia on it, and nothing else. He pulled his metal grappler out of his coat pocket next. “Hold onto me, Stan!” He said, then, with Stan clutching his waist desperately, they flew towards the roof, where they stuck to the metal. Ford put Stan’s hand over the trigger. “Don’t let got of this and hold onto me.” He instructed. Stan didn’t argue, hoping with all his might that Ford had something clever up his sleeve.
Then Ford placed both hands on the case and twisted with all his strength, until, with a hiss, it opened. He tossed the case, holding the element in his hand. Stan caught a glimpse of it: a pill-shaped black capsule with a ring of buttons around it. Each button was coloured differently and had a symbol such as ice, fire, and three squiggly lines, a few triangles that screamed “radioactive” into Stan’s brain, and a tree. He took a deep breath as Ford pressing the fire, the tree, the lighting bolt, and the radioactive buttons on the side deftly, and let it slide into the water near the edge where water was pouring from. “We have to get as far from here as we can!” He said. Then he took a deep breath as Stan released the trigger and they dropped into the water. Without waiting for instruction, Stan aimed the gun at the opposite wall, underwater, and they both breathed out as they shot underwater towards the second room’s door. They were already through it when the heard a sound like a falling glacier- thunder, but a thousand times louder. Ford pointed up and Stan released and pointed back to their previous position. They couldn’t take second breaths, but at least the going was quick. They were above the water again in a fews seconds, through the air left was barely enough to sustain them.
They gasped for a minute, but the water was pouring down over their heads now. The vents were enlarged enough, but there was no way to swim against the currant. Ford held on tight as Stan pointed the gun again, and, with a fresh gulp of the barely remaining air, they traveled through the vent and to the opposite end of whatever was driving it. They alighted on something metal and Stan shown the flashlight onto it. It appeared to be a round disc, and the water was rushing around it. The twins pushed hard against it and it yielded, nearly pushing them back into the previous chamber. Stan held onto a nearby wall with the gun as they watched the metal plate slip away. Then, feeling light-headed with lack of air, they pointed the gun again. Nothing happened.
Ford shook his head to indicate there was no metal ahead and began to move forward against the currant. They swam with everything they had left up, up, up until they could see light. When they surfaced they didn’t do anything but breath heavily and try to stay afloat in the stunning sunlight for several minutes. Then they swam slowly to shore and Ford struggled onto the rocks, helping Stan pull himself up as well. They coughed and lay there panting in the sun for a minute.
Finally, Stan started to laugh, and, relief washing over them both, they lay there laughing and coughing in unison until they had no energy. At that point they both passed out, and it was a few hours before they woke up.
The sun hadn’t set, but there was a soft glow like the sun was on the way out that told Ford that he had certainly fallen asleep. He sat up slowly, annalyzing his body for injuries, and found himself severely dehydrated and sore from effort, but otherwise unharmed. He sighed and looked to his right, where Stan was snoring like a bear, much softer than usual. Then, with the realisation he could still hear rushing water, he turned his attention to the place they had escaped from. There had surely been a lake and a river here, but now all that could be seen was the beautiful waterfall plummeting from a small height. He looked into the basin below and saw the water was draining into several holes, each with an opened metal cap that had been dislodged so the water could fall through. Only one, surely the one they had swam out of, had no metal piece attached, and the water was pooling from it as if that chamber was completely full. He wasn’t sure what had triggered the opening of those vents, perhaps contact with the pile of gold, or contact with the doors, but he was positive it had been them. He stood and looked down at it. Even some of the other vents were starting to pool, allowing the lake to refill itself. A sudden realisation dawned: that place must be below the entire island, and they had just fallen into one of many chambers.
“What are you looking at, Poindexter?” Came a weak groan from below, and Ford knelt to examine his brother. He hadn’t even noticed that Stan had stopped snoring.
“Stanley! Are you hurt? Are you bleeding anywhere? Any broken bones?”
“Nah, I’m fine. Just tired.” Stand said, looking up at the sky with a glare instead of at Ford. Then his eyes drifted to his brother’s. “Are you?”
“Tired? Yes, absolutely.”
“Hurt, you dumbass.”
“Oh, no. I’m also alright.” Then Ford let out his hand and pulled Stanley to his feet. “Look, Stan, the waterfall flows into the base of the island. It floods several chambers, which means we missed a lot of what’s down there.”
“How tragic.” Stan said sarcastically, looking down all the same.
“We had best get some food before we decide what to do now.”
“What triggered it?” Stan asked sheepishly.
“I’m not sure. If I had to go by timing alone, I’d say it was opening the final door to the gold chamber, since that’s when the place went into lockdown. But…well, perhaps… it’s not necessarily the case.” Ford finished lamely. He was sure that Stan wasn’t fooled, but he let the topic drop anyway as Stan climbed trees for bananas and Ford started a fire to boil water from the falls. He created a makeshift pan from one of the panels that was now sticking above the water, avoiding the downward current carefully. Stan came back with fruit of six different kinds and some mushrooms which Ford put aside, claiming they simply had no idea if they were safe and no way to analyse such a thing. After all, they had lost their equipment at the bottom of the chamber.
As they were eating, Stan decided to play a million questions, which was usually more Dipper’s cup of tea. Ford had an idea that it was an apology, hanging unspoken above them, and he didn’t mind in the slightest. He wasn’t angry with Stan. He knew sometimes his brother was rash, but he had learned to move beyond that when the situation required it. His own mistakes were much more serious, and the consequences could have destroyed the earth. Stan had forgiven him.
“What was that thing you blew up the wall with?”
“Something I took back from inside the portal.” Stanford said.
“You were carrying that thing in your bag all this time?”
“I thought it might come in handy.”
“If it didn’t explode!”
“It’s well protected and only can be activated through pressing the fuses. It’s also capable of turning something to ice, setting things on fire, growing things, providing a powerful wind force, etcetera, etcetera. I thought it would be useful if we ran out of fuel specifically, or had no wind to guide us, but I think we put it to good use.”
“Damn right! We’re alive at least.”
“Stanley,” Ford said, suddenly remembering. “I’m not sure we should stick around here too long. When the shutdown occurred the power came on in the computer room, and it showed something off the coast moving fast toward the island. It was a couple of hours out, if I was to calculate speed and distance, but we’ve slept a few of those hours at the least. I’m not sure what it is because I was busy dismantling the computers to create a blowtorch to free you, but I’m positive it couldn’t be anything we’d like to see.”
“And you’re telling me this NOW?”
“I forgot! We’ve been extremely busy after all.”
They stood up and looked around for their gear automatically, before remembering that it was underwater. They sighed in unison, Ford burying a finger and a thumb on both sides of his nose as if a pressure headache was coming on. They had nothing to sleep under, no compass, and no way of knowing where they were. The best plan was to go to the ocean shore and circle around until they came to the Stan-O-War. They started the long trudge, mapping southeast as the closest beach, though the Stan-O-War was anchored almost on the opposite end of the island. But without knowing the dangers of the jungle and with no gear, it simply wasn’t safe to stay within the confines of the trees. They argued, then they headed toward the beach. It was already nightfall and they had to travel carefully, the moon and stars lighting their path. But they hadn’t gone more than a mile when there was sudden movement in the trees and the ground shook. No one had to tell Stan to hide, but he was prouder of his reaction after he saw that Ford had also taken cover. They looked at each other through the trees, each of them listening.
Then Ford put two fingers to his eyes and then out towards the beach they were headed for. Stanley looked that direction and could see lights in the distance, flickering like torches. He looked back at Ford and shrugged. What should we do? Ford signed back. Stay there. Let’s see what’s coming. Stan nodded. They waited. Eventually Ford slipped through the trees and rested by Stan’s side. They sat down in the grove, and they weren’t disappointed in their lack of courage when the group finally passed by them.
First of all, they were dressed like pirates.
Many of them worse bandanas and almost all of them had some kind of firearm. Their shirts and pants were plainclothes- loose and comfortable, and Stan knew the look of a man who didn’t mind shooting another man. Second of all, they had guns. Third, they were headed straight to the waterfall the twins had just come from.
Stan looked at Ford, who was breathing steadily, his hand resting on Stan’s shoulder and his eyes resting on the ground. In response, Ford squeezed Stan’s shoulder. Stan also looked down, hoping their light wouldn’t fall on this particular part of the trees. They were down low and they were both wearing black, and they removed their glasses quietly so the light wouldn’t glint off of them. The supposed pirates filed through on both sides, laughing and talking jovially in a language Stanley had never heard.
Only when they had passed did either of them realise they had been baiting their breath. They both took deep gulps of air, as if they'd been trapped underwater again. "They won't go that way for long, I'm sure. Their system is pretty sophisticated. When they drain the water, they’ll realise we aren’t there. I’m not sure what the trap is for, but clearly people were supposed to find it.”
Stanley appeared scared for a minute, then he stood up and looked around. Ford followed suit and soon they were moving quietly through the night to the beach. It took them about an hour to reach the place, though if they’d had their equipment and if it had been day, and if they hadn’t been trying to move quietly and avoid traps, they might have made the journey in just a quarter of the time. They had to stop frequently to reposition themselves, seeing if they were going the right direction, and twice Ford stopped them and pointed out traps that had been laid. This confirmed his fears that the group was well-versed in how to ensnare others. He kicked himself for letting Stan take the map. He’d felt it was a trap even then! Why hadn’t he trusted his instincts?
Every sound was a terror- were they being followed? Were they at being stalked by some unknown predator? At last they could hear the waves. They parted the leaves to see not just the sea, but a ship. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the Stan-O-War, of course. It looked like a kind of tanker, and they realized that must have caused the noise and small earthquake from earlier.
“Sheesh, don’t these idiots know they shouldn’t run a ship ashore except in emergencies? They have to get into a smaller boat- dumbasses!” Stanley whispered joyously. But Ford didn’t seem to think this was a laughing matter.
“It’s not idiotic. It’s a show of power! ‘Who cares if we wreck this ship,’ it says, ‘We have the manpower and the means to get another one, and we’re just crazy enough to beach it at high speed, too.’”
Stanley glared. “You’re a ray of sunshine, Sixer.”
Ford felt like saying Thanks, Bill, but he realized just in time that would be going way too far. That name was Stanley’s first, and his sarcasm had also been ever-present. Besides, there was no use taking out his mood on Stanley. They were in this together. Instead, he ignored the comment and started to head around the edge of the island through the bushes. “We can’t mount the beach, obviously. Let’s stay hidden until we’re sure that they’ve gone.” Something was pressing him in the back of his mind, but he didn’t want to worry Stanley yet. For now he just hoped the Stan-O-War was safe.
They didn’t arrive until nearly sunrise, but they didn’t dare sleep either. Stanford knew their best bet would be to get the Stan-O-War away safely, and the chances were lower every passing minute that it hadn’t been seized. It wasn’t until they arrived that they were sure it was too late. Ford peaked over the edge of the brush and gave a huge sigh. “I knew it!” He whispered fiercely.
“What?” Stanley said, coming up over his shoulder. He looked parched. They had eaten some more fruit an hour ago, but there was only so much they could do without water. He took one look at the Stan-O-War and nearly gave away their position. Ford slapped his hands over Stan’s face as he yelled “Mm mmmm!” into his palm. Then he felt Stan’s tongue and let go.
“Ugh! Stan!” Ford whispered “Did you just lick my hand? We’ve been journeying through brush all night! That’s incredibly unsanitary!” He wiped Stan’s spit on his brother’s jacket and turned his attention back to the Stan-O-War, moving deeper into the brush. By day, black was much less useful than it was by night.
“So you knew they were going to the ship and you didn’t tell me?”
“I had guessed. I hoped I was wrong, Stanley!”
The ship was completely overrun, and it was clearly the same crowd from before. They were laughing and relaxing on the side railings, and in the inner compartment. Some of them seemed to be studying the twin’s maps. As they watched, Ford was thinking of what they should do. His journal was in his coat at the bottom of the cavern, so he couldn’t write anything down, but he began to brainstorm silently while Stanley sat on the ground, growing angrier and angrier. His ship. HIS SHIP. The ship he had worked so hard for. The one thing that he had wanted most of all- a ship and his brother. Now he was about to loose one of them. Of course it could be worse. It could be Ford he was about to loose.
They both looked up when they heard twigs snapping underfoot a ways back. The peered toward the noise and stood up slowly.
“Any bright ideas, Poindexter?” Stanley asked.
“No matter where we go, they can find us, even if they have to burn the jungle to ash. I don’t know what they want with us, but they don’t seem to know we’re not the only ones on this island, and I’d sure like to keep it that way.” Ford murmured poignantly.
Stan sighed. Here they were about to die and Ford was worried about the island inhabitants. It was just so like him. Always the big hero. “I asked for bright ideas, not stupid ones.”
“Our only real chance is to get the Stan-O-War back, in any case.” Ford reasoned.
“There’s what, twenty guys up there?”
“Twenty-two.” Ford corrected automatically. Stan fought not to retaliate, and managed just barely.
“Fine. How many can you take?”
“Perhaps seven or eight, if I get lucky.”
“I don’t like these odds.”
“I like the ones where we stay much worse.”
“There.” Stanley said.
Ford whispered, “Yes, I saw it.”
There was definitely movement in the bushes off to the left, near where the first sound had come from. Someone- or perhaps something- was stalking them. Without another word between them, they both rushed onto the beach towards the ship. There were definitely people behind them, and they could hear the hurried footsteps and shouting in another language. Then Stanford was up the ramp and dodging as he went. His style was mostly evasion until he got the upper hand (which Stanley was well aware of now). He hadn’t been a fighter in his youth, but his time stuck between dimensions had shown him how to use his hands.
The pirates that had been lounging around like it was their ship stood and went for their weapons, but they had stupidly piled them in a corner on the opposite end of the ship.
And this one is our ship, Stanley thought furiously. And I know it backwards and forwards. He rushed up the ramp after Ford while his brother distracted the majority of the pirates Just as the nearest pirate figured he would engage him, Stan used the railing to leap clean over his head, where he grabbed a rope and, with a worried expression, swung to the side, kicking down the pirates rushing to Ford’s location as he went. They staggered, some of them falling into the shallow water.
When Stanley had secured a majority of the bigger guns, he got down and checked that everything was loaded. “Dumbasses!” He ridiculed, and stood to fire a few rounds into the shoulders of those nearest Ford. One of them had managed to grab his brother’s arm and was surprised to find his own arm suddenly bleeding. “Keep your hands off him!” Stan screamed, and he shot that one again just for good measure. Then he got one in the neck before he had to pitch a man overboard for trying to get the gun away from him. Finders keepers.
Ford wasn’t even looking at Stan. Besides being busy punching a pirate in the face and elbowing another in the nose, he had faith that Stan would actually hit his targets and not his brother. But though they seemed to be doing well with the pirates onboard, many more were rushing up the beach and onto the plank. Soon Ford was overcome, trying to fight off several men who were holding his limbs down. Stanley was shooting them left and right, but there were too many. Several of them stormed Stan’s corner and seized the weapons, turning them on Stan, who spat in the faces of anyone within shot. The pirates spat right back, but Stan kept struggling.
“STOP!” Came a voice from Ford’s direction, but it wasn’t Ford at all. It was one of the pirates. He was standing behind Ford, who was facing him now, his hands and feet bound by many hands. He felt like Bill had gotten ahold of him. Two of the hands, the ones of the man behind him, had been placed on both sides of his head. “You speak English?”
“Yeah, I speak it. I’m about to teach you a few words, too!” Stan spat.
“I will snap his neck.” The man said calmly. Stan stilled immediately, a fearful look in his eyes. Ford kept struggling. “Stop, or my mate over there will shoot your partner in the head.” Ford also ceased as a gun was placed to Stan’s head and cocked, but the fire didn’t leave Ford’s eyes.
The man smiled and said in a thick accent “All aboard the Stan-O-War.”
“Alright, Blondie, you got us. Now what do you want?”
“Where’s the rest of your crew?”
“Up your ass and around the corner.”
The man smiled and walked around the mapping room to face Stan. He motioned for his crew to bring him towards Ford, so the two of them could face each other. “Hold him.” He said, and twelve pairs of hands grasped him and held him down, brining him to his knees. Then the man turned to Ford. “You know, I’m a murderer, a liar, and a thief, and while many people consider these to be bad qualities, I merely find them useful. I can tell just by looking that this one,” He pointed to Stan, “is going to be a problem. He’s going to lie. He’s going to try to trick me. He’s going to con us. And he’s going to spit in my face as he does it. But you-“
Ford hocked a loogie right into the mans face. “What was that you were saying?” He asked casually.
“Woah! YOU GO, SIXER!” Stan said proudly.
The man merely smiled as he wiped the mucus from his face. His guard didn’t even budge. “Oh, you’ve got the fire, don’t get me wrong.” He said, looking at Stan now. “But you’re just not as adept as.. what is this, your brother?” Without waiting for an answer, he lunged forward and, as if he were making coffee, snapped one of Stan’s fingers.
“ST-!” Ford screamed, just barely cutting himself off as he heard Stan scream.
“Oh? Is this Stan of the Stan-O-War? Actually, I like puns. That’s very clever.” The man said in his slow voice. “But I need to know… where is the rest of the crew.” The way he spoke it was less like a question and more like a demand.
“I know this is going to sound highly unlikely, but this IS the crew.” Ford said desperately.
“I don’t like it when people lie to me. I know it’s… what’s the phrase?” He paused for a long time, then said “A double standard, yes. It’s a double standard, but still, I don’t like it.” He reached out again and put the next finger between his own, ready to break it in the next second.
“NO! Please, I’m telling the truth! How many bags did you find in your deathtrap?” The man seemed to be considering, so Ford went on. “How many sets of footprints have you seen? How many pairs of anything?! It’s just us two!”
“Shut your trap, Poindexter!” Stan grimaced.
“What a meagre meal for so much hard work.” The man replied, and the pirates nodded and voiced their agreement. “They’ll barely feed five of us.”
“W-what?” Ford questioned, sure he must have misheard.
“You’re gonna EAT US?” Stanley cried.
“Of course. Why do you think we rushed here so quickly? We don’t want our meal to be too soggy when we get here. The object is to drown you, not to moisturise you. Which, speaking of… how did you get out of there?”
“Sir!” came a call from down on the beach. The man raised one finger as if politely asking them to wait, then went to the edge of the ship.
“What is it?” There was some babble from the shore, then the man visibly shivered and said “No, leave them, of course. We have but a meagre place setting, so the crew has to each regular meat for now, but we detected some ships not far off.”
Then the man returned to look at Ford and Stan. “Only negros on the island.” He shivered again. “Not worth eating.”
“Though your racism is frankly appalling, I’m glad their lives will be spared.” Ford said calmly.
The man laughed. “Race is all there is, Stan’s brother.” But he seemed distracted. He was scrutinising Ford’s fingers. “Well, not all there is.” He glared at them. “But we only eat white meat, after all. Take them back to the ship.”
When Stan moaned and opened his eyes, he was staring at a wood roof. “Okay, Stan. Another day, another random body pain.” he said to himself, the way he always did when he first woke up at the shack. Then there was a voice by his side.
“Stanley, you’re awake!” A whisper, that of his brother.
“Ford?” It all came rushing back, and he swore, following it up with “Oh, hell, Ford! Please tell me you have a plan!”
“I have a plan not to be barbecued alive!”
“That’s what I’m saying!”
“Though not an actual plan of escape.”
“Thanks, Poindexter.” Stan grumbled, and looked around. They were both strapped down on the floor facing the ceiling, with the straps going over their bodies width-wise, pinning their arms and legs down in four fell swoops. “Any locks on these?”
“No, they’re rigged with hooks.” Ford said.
“How tight are your straps?” Stanley asked, and struggled with them for a while himself.
“I’ve already tried that. They’re too tight.”
“Mine are on pretty good, too.” Stan said, “But I’ve had worse.”
“Worse than- oh, right. Chewing your way out of the trunk of a car?” Ford said sarcastically.
“That story is true!” Stan protested, “OH, man! My finger is killing me,” he complained, then he struggled to slide one binding off of his shoulder. After about ten minutes of straining he had to rest. “Whatdoya got, Ford?”
“Nothing I can think of without any gear. Even my journal is at the bottom of that hatch! If we could get the screws up, perhaps… but we have nothing.”
“My lock pick set was in my jacket.” Stan said angrily. “Son of bitch!” They had both been stripped to undershirts and boxers which, while for Stan was fine, for Ford was quiet embarrassing.
Especially when the pirates returned a few minutes later. Neither of them fought as they were brought out, but that had something to do with a plan of Blondie’s. As soon as the pirates had entered, they said “The first officer says if you move,” he pointed to Ford, “break his finger.” he pointed to Stan. “And if you move, break his finger.” He pointed back to Ford. “I say, I break his finger, big loss! He has more than enough!” The other pirates laughed as they untied them. Stanley gritted his teeth, knowing he couldn’t defend his brother without being the cause of his pain.
Night had already fallen when they reached the deck. “Stan!” Said the blond man as they approached “and Stan’s brother.” he motioned to Ford. “Let’s see about something. I’m not personally inclined to eat a man with six fingers- might be catching-“
“Great, let him go.” Stan said automatically.
“Oh my, but we can’t do that. He knows our secrets. Besides, we have to ask the captain first. He may decide you’re a kind of god. He’s a very religious man.”
“Don’t hide behind religion to support your disgusting way of life!” Ford retaliated, but the first officer made a motion towards his soldiers, which immediately went for Stan’s next finger. “NO! NO, PLEASE!”
The blond stepped forward, giving his soldier a motion to wait. When he was nose to nose with Ford, he smiled a wicked smile and said “Mind your tongue.”
Ford’s eyes dropped to the man’s rugged boots, but he said nothing. The next moment, everyone was standing at attention. One of the men shouted something, which was repeated in English by the blond man. “Captain on deck!” He said in his thick accent.
The captain was as white as Gideon, abnormal as far as Stan was concerned, considering the sea life meant sunburns. He had no hair and was fat, which was hard for Stan and Ford to think about, due to his choice of protein. He walked up to the first officer and had a brief conversation with him in the same language the crew had mostly been speaking.
The conversation ended in English, when the first officer said “Yes, sir!” Then he turned to Ford and said with pleasure “Good news, Stan’s brother! You’re apparently a god-like entity! Your meat won’t go to waist.”
Ford looked him in the eye. “My name is Ford.” He said. At the very least he wanted to stop being called by a name that wasn’t his on his deathbed. But for some reason he also didn’t want to tell this one his full name.
The man smiled. “Why, thank you, Ford. That seems much easier than calling you Stan’s brother. Tie them.”
They were placed against the railing on their knees and tied to it, with their arms hogtied to the rail and their legs together. Both of them stared out into the black sea. “Whip.” said the first officer.
“What are they doing?” Stan asked fearfully.
Ford managed a depressed sigh before he mumbled “Some cultures believe that hurting an animal brings out the flavour of the meat. That fear…seasons the food.”
“That’s right, Ford.. that it is. Nothing like fear and pain to bring about the best flavour of any meat. Usually suffocating and drowning take care of that for us, but in your case, I think a little more is appropriate.”
“Frankly, I’m about to wet my pants. I think they already achieved seasoning.” Stan grumbled quietly.
“I wouldn’t try telling them that.” Ford said simply, before the first stroke fell.
They must have been whipped for about an hour, until their skin was raw and both of them were bleeding. Their undershirts were torn and Stan was on the verge of passing out when they were untied. Ford kept talking to him, but he had stopped responding about ten minutes ago, and Stanford was truly beginning to panic now. When they got the rope undone, Stanley hit the deck without hesitation, utterly drained of energy.
“It looks like you’re tougher than your brother, Ford.” The first officer jeered. Ford said nothing, sure it would only lead to more punishment, besides being a feather in this man’s cap to have made him angry. In response to his silence, the man kicked Stan. Ford was alerted to Stan’s consciousness by a scream as the first officer fell backwards to the ground.
Stanley hadn’t passed out at all. He had pulled the first officer down and was now throwing his boot at his head, instantly knocking the blond man out. With their leader out of the way, everything was thrown into chaos just long enough for Stan to push Ford off the ship and into the water. Ford’s surprise was nothing to the jolt of stinging pain as he was plunged into salt water. He screamed, letting out all his air, and swam to the surface to ride the tide into shore. He barely had any energy left, but the surprise of being pitched overboard by his own brother had at least woken up his sense enough that he stood up and tried to climb up the side of the ship. He fell after just a few steps and lay on the sand, utterly exhausted.
In the meantime, Stanley had run down the length of the ship and was knocking everything and everyone over that he could, rushing to the hold. He even managed to pocket a few valuables as he went, including a lighter, which is what he actually needed. Having no clothes on, the best he could do was to throw the valuable items onto the ground as soon as he’d slid down the staircase. This wasn’t the olden days, so of course there wasn’t going to be gunpowder, but this ship definitely had an engine, and that screamed: Crankcase.
Stanley didn’t have many guards to take out down here, but of course they were rushing the stairs. It wasn’t until he had already entered the crankcase and found what he was looking for that he was located by his tormenters, and then everyone backed off fast. Blondie came down and looked into the space to see Stan holding the lighter near a tiny crack. A flip of the finger, and everyone in the engine room would die screaming. Blondie laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous!” he said, “You’ll die!”
“Yeah, I will. And your ship will be permanently stranded. I guess you’ll have to eat each other.”
“We’ll eat your brother first.” The man said as if warning a child.
“My brother has twelve PHDs and sixteen awards for things he invented! He can beat the snot out of you- all he needs is a little time.”
“Your’e not going to sacrifice yourself to save your brother, are you?” The man said as if this was a disdainful waist of time for Stanley.
“HA! You don’t know us very well, so I’m gonna let that one slide.”
“If you were gonna do it, you’d have already done it.”
“Obviously I’m waiting for a miracle. Ah-ahhhh!” He put his finger on the switch because one of the minions had taken a step forward. “I said I’m waiting for a miracle, I didn’t say that I wouldn’t do it if I have to. I almost lost my brother thirty years ago and I’m not up for another round of that.”
“Well, I can assure you that you will die alone.”
“Sure you could clear the engine room, but your ship is still going dark when this crankcase goes up, and I’ll bet you don’t have enough supplies to tide your crew over.”
The man looked uncomfortable but didn’t argue. “Clear the engine room.” He murmured, just loud enough that Stan could hear it. But at that moment, a red alert went off.
“What? Impossible! What did you do?”
“I’m standing right here.” Stan said with an evil grin.
Ford had slapped some sense into himself and managed to get up the side while the crew was occupied chasing Stan. Stanley had always worked as a brilliant distraction because people tended to discount Ford whenever his brother started to cause trouble. When he reached the top, he nearly slipped back down again trying to hide from the approaching pirates. They ran right past him and down to the lower deck. Ford slipped aboard and into the operations room, where he took out the guard there with ease before he even had a chance to register that Ford was there. He took the gun and hung the strap over his shoulder. For some reason, even the weapon made him feel less exposed, but he still took the man’s jacket and pants right after he triggered the alarm. Then he tore out the panels and began building bombs from anything he could. When most of the crew was above deck again, he fired a wide spray from the doorway and then closed it and put a chair against the knob. Naturally the pirates responded with vigour.
Stan and Blondie listened hard to the chaos above, and Blondie swore. “Sounds like your crew just arrived.”
“Weren’t you listening? There is no crew. You’re getting beaten by two old men.” Stanley laughed harshly. Blondie’s fingers were clearing itching for the trigger, but it was ship suicide to shoot Stan as he was standing so close to their doom. They heard shouting down the hole, and Blondie made a frustrated noise and shouted back at them.
“I see your brother is causing trouble for us. He’s not as smart as he seems. He came back after you pitched him overboard.”
“Needing someone out of the way temporarily is not the same as needing them out of the picture permanently.” Stan said. It was getting hot, and he was still bleeding, not to mention that the broken finger on his left hand needed to be reset and to heal. Preferably he could also have some painkillers. Something strong. He wished Ford would hurry.
Just as he was making the wish, a smoke bomb went off in the room. The blond man cursed, but Stan was already out of the crankcase’s vicinity and wrestling Blondie to the floor. He took the gun and shot out both of his kneecaps. “Nothing I do helps, but still, I figure that should keep you occupied for a while, at least.” He said, then with a slight “Ha!” He climbed the stairs, cursing as his broken finger send flares of pain that made him want to pass out. Before he reached the top, a six-fingered hand was offered. “Ford, thank the stars!” He took the hand and let Ford pull him up. The first thing his brother did was give him a handful of bombs.
“Nice to see you, too.” Ford said seriously. Stan looked around at the total devastation caused by a variety of weapons. The captain was laying on the floor of his own ship howling with the rest of his crew. “I have to admit I think I might of killed a few of them.” Stan shrugged at this information, and frankly Ford didn’t seem too torn up about it.
“Yeah, well, they were gonna eat us.” He said simply.
“I suggest we make our escape before they get anymore ideas like that one.” Ford said, and they both headed down the ramp.
“Great idea! I rigged the crankcase to blow in three, two-“
The ship rocked and everything went pitch black but the stars, but they’d already made it onto the beach and were running straight into the jungle. “We needa find some water- I’m parched.”
“You’re right, we can’t go on much longer on the lack of anything we’ve had. Go to the waterfall!”
“You said it.”
They ran straight for it, but when they arrived, Ford wouldn’t let Stan sit down. “Drink, and catch your breath, but if we sit down now, I don’t think we’ll get back up.” He panted, wincing at the still bleeding pain in his back. He doubted Stanley was fairing much better. “They aren’t going to give up, which means we need to think of our next move. And I think you’re not going to like the answer.” Stan was shivering in the night air, so Ford gave him the shirt he was wearing, but kept the pants. He was too aware that Stan’s wounds were probably putting his body into shock. They needed their supplies more than ever.
Stan threw the shirt over his head, stifling his cry, and gulped some water, trying to think of where they were going to hide. Nowhere was safe. Once day hit, the pirates would be able to track them down, and they’d probably be starving by then. Then it came to him. “Hell, no!” He said.
“Keep it down, Stan.” Ford scolded, pausing from drinking. “There’s no other choice!”
“What if they have something down there to track us?”
“I thought of that, and of course they could always flood it and see how we got out the first time.”
“They took the magnet gun!”
“I know, I know.” Ford said, and he put both fingers over the sides of his nose, resting on his glasses’s lenses for a second. “But at least we’ll know if it starts to flood, and there’s still computer parts down there. If we’re lucky there might be something we can use. If they didn’t take the bags, there’s defiantly food and water, and supplies!”
“What are the chances?”
“I’m not sure. They were after us, not the gear. On the other hand, there’s no real reason not to take it either. But one thing is for sure. They won’t expect us to hide down there, and if there’s a fight, at the very least their superior numbers will be bottlenecked at the top.”
“Yeah, or they could floor us, or throw knock-out gas down the tunnel, or it’s still flooded, or-“
“If you have any other ideas, I’m happy to hear them!” Ford whispered viciously. They could now hear shouts from the beach, and perhaps this made Stan’s mind up for him.
“Fine. Okay.” He said, and though Ford could see the fear in his eyes, he climbed down the side of the waterfall. “I’m diving down to see if they corked this. If it’s not flooded, we’ll go down. If it is, we’ll have to find another way.”
“It’s a deal.” Ford said. There was a brief flashback that rose bile in his throat, but he pushed the emotions away. It wasn’t the time for dealing with Bill right now.
Stan pulled a perfect dive into the center of the small pool and swam back up a few minutes later. “They plugged it. Let’s go.”
They wanted back along their previous path, Stanford working out the directions as they went, counting and measuring directions by the stars until- thump! Their cut and bruised feet had alighted on something wood, and it was definitely the hill from before. Stan rushed into the trees and opened the same secret space, pushing the button and triggering the top off the bunker. Then they ran silently across the wood panels and made their way down the ladder. As they descended, they could hear a noise that was growing louder and louder. It was pitch black and the climb seemed twice as long as the first time to both of them. When Ford touched the bottom, he felt around a little. The door was closed again and the sound was coming from inside the door.
“Everything we could use is past here, but I’m not sure if this is the trigger or…”
“I’m not gonna die hiding in the bottom of this pitch black hole. There’s glow sticks in my bag, and we gotta open the door to do it.” Stan said bravely.
“It’s settled then.” Ford and Stan worked together to crank open the door. Everything was eerily dry when they went inside, as if they’d had a cleaning crew down there. Ford got down on his hands and knees to search the room quietly, but Stan stayed standing. He was sure that they had walked into the same trap twice, which, other than being dangerous, was just plain idiotic. He nearly had a heart attack at the soft noise Ford made next. “What?” He whispered in a panic.
“The bag is right here!” Ford said.
“I know, I know it does…” Ford whispered into the darkness, “and I’m sure it’s a trap, but we’re running out of options.”
“I know, Poindexter! You keep saying that!”
“Keep it down!”
“Stop saying that too! It’s so loud in here I’m surprised you can hear yourself thinking!”
Ford dropped the subject and reached into the bag, shifting things and taking them out. The bag was only slightly damp. Moreover, Ford was beginning to feel rather thirsty himself, considering he’d just had a drink. He found the water canteens, but they weren’t his object. He pushed them aside on the ground. The next thing he laid his hands on was like a long cylinder. He squeezed it and saw a faint glow. Pulling it out, he cracked it a few times and watched it light up.
“You found one! Great! There’s more in there.” Stan joined him on the floor and lit the other glow sticks, slowly piercing the darkness. They could see well enough now to make out the outline of the door, or lack thereof, and a small glint from the gold beyond. Stan looked away immediately, cursing his greed. Why did he always have to mess everything up?
“Why do you have glow sticks?” Ford asked curiously as he stacked the bag’s components around the floor and sorted them by catagory… this for cooking, this for eating, this for first aid…
“Oh, once we fell down that bottomless pit…”
“The one that eats non-living matter and spits back up sapient lifeforms?”
“The one that spits out people but eats things.”
“That’s what I said!” Ford said irritably. He cracked open the first aid kit, and gave Stan a ‘twirl’ signal.
“Mabel had glow sticks when we fell down there.” Stan scratched his neck, then winced. He turned around for Ford and stripped off the shirt. “Seemed like the thing to have, ever since then.”
“It’s not too bad of an idea, considering their durability.” Ford stood up. Now that he’d obtained the glowsicks, Ford took out some of the supplies, including a shot. “Stan, I’m going to give you this for the pain,” he placed a second shot at the ready “but it’s my own and it’s largely untested.”
“Great.” Stan said, rolling his eyes.
“I’ve used it on myself before and it’s rather strong. The problem is, you might go into shock. I did the first time. So, I’m leaving this one out, too. Just in case.”
“Get to it, Poindexter. I’m dying over here.”
“Okay… are you allergic to hydromorphone, Dilaudid, or any other narcotics?”
“What? What makes you think I’ve taken narcotics?” Stan said guiltily.
“It’s alright, Stanley, just be honest. Have you ever taken any?”
“No major problems?”
“No…” Stan said nervously.
“Do you have breathing problems? Stomach problems?” Ford drilled.
“Not that I … know of…” Stan said uneasily. He was feeling less safe and sure about this every second, but he didn’t have time to voice this, because Ford took a deep breath, let it out, and pushed the needle into Stan’s arm. They waited for a second, Ford’s hand on the second shot, but nothing happened except for Stan sighing.
“Oh- oh, oh… feels… good…”
“Yes. It’s highly addictive.” Ford said as if he were commenting on the weather. Then he cleaned his brother’s wounds and dressed them. He considered the broken finger. “How are you feeling?”
“Ahhhhhhh… oh man, that stuff is really nice…” Stan said.
“Fine, then.” Ford grasped the finger and reset the bone. Stan tried not to scream. “It will wear off in about an hour, but for now that should bring you down a little.” He said, wrapping the finger as best as he could, while still leaving manoeuvrability. Stan had to use a gun, probably sooner rather than later.
While Stan sat high as a kite on the floor, Ford looked around and tried to consider everything in sight a weapon. He’d gotten good at this while he was stuck between dimensions. He could see the dark shapes of the computers. Ford stood up and walked towards them, examining the buttons and dials. “Something that blond officer said has peeked my interest about this bunker. ‘Nothing like fear and pain to bring out the best flavour of meat…’ and, of course, he also said that the drowning usually did that for them.”
“You said… lotsa… culture.. said…thought that.” Stan said, scratching himself. He wanted to scratch the wounds on his back too, but refrained. He had just enough sense in him to know that he didn’t want an infection, if he survived this.
“Yes, but now that we’re here… remember I told you when the door closed I saw something moving towards the coast on this screen?”
“What if they wanted us to know that they were coming? Another dash of fear. Seasoning.”
“What about it?”
“It means that they did this before. In fact, this whole operation is pretty methodical. Maybe they’ve been doing this for some time. They set the trap, wait for someone to come to the location- perhaps thinking they’re making a new discovery,” he put his hand on his chest, “perhaps for the gold-“ he pointed to Stan, “and when they open the door, they trigger the trap and show them someone is coming to get them.”
Stan sat still for a second. Then he suddenly smacked himself. “Get to the …point, Ford.”
“Right. The point is, I’ll bet they work.”
“And that’s why I was explaining.” Ford said, suddenly bright. Then he bent down and popped the bottom. “See? I bet this is protected in some way. They want to use this trap again. Which means they want this machine to keep working. Which means-“ Suddenly the lights in the whole place went on and the computers wired to life. “YES!” Without waiting for anything else, Ford started pulling things apart again. “They fixed all the computers after I dismantled them to make the blowtorch.” Stanley looked around and saw the blowtorch in a pile near their other things.
“If it were me… I’da leave … all this… this stuff here specificially so we’d come back for it.” Stan said. He was keeping up pretty well for a drugged man, though he’d said ‘specifically’ wrong.
“Yes, perhaps. Which is why we need to be ready for them. They already know we’re here, possibly, but if we build up enough resistance… Stanley, I need you to arrange any weapons we have so you can use them quickly!”
“You got it, Sixer!” Stan began to move spare scraps of metal into a wall for cover and lined the various parts his brother was throwing together along it, receiving brief instructions on how to use everything as they went. As he sobered up, the pain returned, but he was much more clear-headed. It wasn’t long after that that they heard a sound at the top and Stan closed the hatch to the ladder hurriedly, checking that it could be opened from both sides. He took out a piece of the lock for good measure, so they wouldn’t be locked in if the chamber flooded or if the pirates wanted to trap them inside.
“It would appear we have very little time left.” Ford said, concentrating on what he was doing nevertheless.
Stan nearly dropped the last invention as Ford handed it to him, he was so nervous. By now the drug had worn off. It had been amazing stuff, but short-lived. When he’d gotten the thing lined up with the rest of the weapons, they sat behind the barrier listening. Even Stan’s nerves couldn’t stop him from eating and drinking with fervour when Ford dug into the bag and handed him trail mix, jerky they’d self-made, and some fruit that was just on the verge of going soft. And water. Stan felt like he’d never appreciated water as much as he did now. “Wait- it might be contaminated-“ Ford said.
“I’ll be the guinea pig, then, Poindexter- we gotta eat or we’re not gonna make it!” He dug in. After about thirty minutes, timed by a water-proof watch he’d invented and put in Stan’s bag some time ago, Ford also ate. In the meantime he got out some clothing, and they both dressed. He didn’t dare venture into the room with the gold to find his own bag, in case stepping inside triggered another trap. He felt like he’d taken enough risks that night. Suddenly the loud, ominous sound they had gotten used to hearing ceased. They both looked up and around, wondering what was going on. Without it, it was deathly silent.
“What are they waiting for?” Stan asked, his voice sounding unnaturally loud in the echoing cavern without the mysterious sound. It wasn’t that he was ungrateful for the time to sit down and eat, but he was feeling a bit apprehensive now that that noise was suddenly gone.
“I’m not sure.” Ford whispered back. “Maybe we imagined the noise from earlier… or perhaps they want to starve us out. If that’s the case, I say we bring the fight to them before they have the chance.”
“I’m tired.” Stan admitted.
“I know, me too. But that could also be a potential plan. They want to wait until we’re asleep.”
They waited for almost a quarter of an hour as Stan took his turn cleaning Ford’s wounds. So far he’d disregarded them because he felt that weaponising the place would be a better use of their remaining time. But after that, they still didn’t have company. Finally, Ford said “This is useless. I’m adept at staying awake. You lay down and sleep.” He gave Stan a thin, slightly damp blanket from his bag. “I’ll stay up for a few hours. Then I’ll wake you and we can switch.” And that’s what they did.
Sure enough it was a whole 24 hours before they were disturbed by noises from the shaft again. It was Stan on duty now, and they’d both been keeping time and gotten almost the same amount of sleep. Stan felt this was a mistake on their part. Why would they want them to have time to sleep and regain their strength? Ford had theorised briefly that they hadn’t actually found them yet, and Stan had to admit, though not out loud, that he was probably right. The noise from the night before could have been anything. This, though. This was defiantly feet on ladders. And he could hear voices.
He covered Ford’s mouth as he woke him up, because sometimes Ford fought or screamed when he was suddenly awoken. But this time Ford merely tapped his hand. “Sorry, I wasn’t sure-“
“What is it?” Ford asked, cutting him off. He wasn’t screaming but he was certainly alert.
There were distinctly voices outside now, though they didn’t sound as if they’d reached the bottom of the ladder yet. “Do you remember how to use all these?” Ford asked.
“I think so.” Stan said, picking up the gun from the pirate to use first.
“Stan… whatever happens…”
“I know, I know, you big sap.” He paused for a while, then said “Me too.”
Ford figured that was it. He activated one device and set it at the foot of the hatch, then scurried behind the barrier again. “That’s going to be quiet the explosion, so shield yourself well until they open the door.”
There was a few seconds of silence, then Stan nearly had a stroke when the door opened, triggering an explosion that nearly knocked the barrier he’d built down. There was screaming and then gunfire from both sides as the pirates tried to file through. The bodies were piling up, but everything Stan was doing was automatic reaction, driven entirely by fear. Throw this, cock that, shoot everything that moved. Ford was relying completely on his own experiences doing the same kind of thing as this between dimensions. His gun was gone but he’d built a more rudimentary one, and anything needed for explosives- gas, lighters, electronics, had been at hand. But despite their best efforts, they couldn’t keep it up. Sooner rather than later they were running out of ammunition.
“We need more!” Stan cried in panic as he ran out of bullets.
“Throw this as soon as the optimal number of pirates is out.” Ford said, then he adjusted his glasses. Stanley waited, though a few pirates managed to get past the pile of bodies forming at the doorway, and only threw the bomb when he felt desperate. Right after that powerful explosion rocked the bunker, there was movement to Stan’s left. Without telling Stan anything, Ford had launched himself into the fray and started to grab weapons. “FORD!” Stan yelled helplessly, but Ford didn’t bother to look his way.
Pirates began to swarm Ford, but he fought them off with a pistol and a rifle he took off one of them, knocking out one of them with the butt of the pistol, then shooting his attacker in the knee. The second one got his foot stamped on, a rifle butt to the stomach, and then to the face. Stanford began flipping safeties and tossing guns to his brother, who caught them deftly, all the while praying that Ford wouldn’t be knocked out from behind. He was watching his own back, though, and even turning occasionally to shoot pirates off the ladder. After one of them fell, things took the turn for the worse when the man reached into his jacket and pulled out a gun. Stanley didn’t have time to warn Ford, who got a bullet to the shoulder, but Ford retaliated instantly by shooting the pirate right between the eyes. The pirate collapsed, dead. “Damn it all!” Ford yelled.
There was machine gun fire down the hole and Ford cleared out, returning to Stan’s side. “I got what I could.”
“Your shoulder looks bad-“
From there on they took headshots whenever possible. “This is worse than fighting zombies!”
“I’m pretending they are zombies. It’s not a far cry, seeing as they want to eat us, after all.”
“Yeesh. You’re not wrong.” Stan admitted. “But I’m not singing to these guys!”
“Singing?” Ford asked, ducking behind the barrier. Stan joined him a second later as gunfire showered around them.
“Yeah. A three-part harmony!”
“I never even considered actually singing!” Then both of them retaliated with their own store of weapons.
“Hold your fire!” Came the command, and the pirates stopped. The twins ignored it, shooting everyone who was still in range until they took cover or lay dead. Then the voice returned. It was clearly the voice of the first officer. “Stan and Ford, perhaps we can reach an arrangement.”
“Show your face!” Ford yelled. “We’re rational people. I’m sure you’re right, and we can make an agreement between ourselves.”
The pirate with the blond hair hobbled into view, his hands supporting makeshift crutches. Just as he was opening his mouth to speak, Ford shot him square in the head. Stan popped up over to barricade to copy him, and it was satisfying. He sat down again, smiling for the first time in days. The man fell backwards, rather anticlimactically, onto the pile of bodies and dismembered limbs.
There were yells of rage from the remaining crew. They heard a booming voice give orders in the other language.
“You’re uh… surprising today, Ford.” Stan said, learning up to shoot one of the pirates. They were running low on ammo again, but by Ford’s count, the pirates were also running low on men. He felt a glimmer of hope.
“I said we were rational, not reasonable.” He told Stanley, “But even so, the most rational and reasonable thing in this situation is to shoot them all! And the only agreement we’re going to reach is that I don’t want to be eaten!”
“I wasn’t complaining.” Stan said grumpily, his eyes narrowing, though Ford wasn’t looking at him.
“Fair enough.” Ford grunted, throwing a grenade he had retrieved off one of the pirates he knocked out. There was silence after that. They braced for the sound of rushing water, but it never came. Instead something dropped down the hatch and just as they got down another explosion rocked the whole place. They felt tremors for a while after that, then all was still. “If anyone was alive over there, they’re dead now.” Ford shivered, looking at the place where an arm had landed. Stan picked it up with a cloth. Unfortunately they’d also smoked an remaining ammunition, which the twins desperately needed.
“No kidding.” He agreed just as quietly. “Lay low for a bit. Maybe we can get a bunch of them down here before we start shooting.” Stan put the arm just outside of the barrier so it looked like it was one of their own, and he dashed out for a second to quietly cut the finger off of another one. It was seriously gross, but he was handling it. He added it to the hand and examined his work, already feeling a little sick. It looked well enough like Ford. Stan looked over to his brother to show off his work and almost passed out. At the very least he turned to throw up. Ford was stitching up the bullet hole with the bullet inside, and the most he did for Stan’s reaction was say “Stan, keep it down!”
“I can’t.” Stand said, “It just came up on it’s own.”
“I mean be quiet!” He said, putting some gauze over the wound.
“Right.” Stan said miserably, looking determinedly away from Ford’s wound. After a while they heard steps on the ladder, and a few men came down just after Stan and Ford hid themselves entirely by laying down. They looked around, and one of them said something. Then they shouted to the top. Stan gave Ford a cocky smile, sure they were falling for the trick. Ford didn’t smile back, but appeared to be listening. Sure enough, many more of them were coming down the stairs. They waited until the footsteps were too close for comfort before they sat up and started shooting in unison. Ford wasn’t hit this time, but one of them grazed Stan’s ear just as he was going down. Pirates piled through, plowing over each other and trying to reach the twins, but Ford kept shooting.
“Stanley!?” He yelled, needing confirmation, since Stan had gone down as soon as the bullet hit him.
“I’m fine!” Stan said, grimacing as he sat back up. But all of the pirates had been plowed over by Ford’s gun. It was the first time Stan saw his brother truly looking like someone who had survived the end of the world. His anger was clear, and he was streaked with blood. “My god…” he said, and Ford looked at him in concern, completely transforming.
“Stan, are you alright? Wait, get down.” They both ducked just as another set of boots hit the floor. Before anything else could happen, a grenade landed between them. Both of the ran in opposite directions, and Stan got the brunt of it on his back. He double over. “STAN!” Ford shouted, giving away his position at the doorway, where the captain could see the glow stick at his neck. Another grenade flew toward him- he couldn’t see, but he heard it, and he dashed into the gold room, sliding over piles of still-wet rare metal. The bomb went off in a shower of hot and heavy melted metal. Ford scrambled further down, ditching his glow stick the second he laid eyes on his bag. He reached inside, looking for weapons, but he’d cleared most of it and let them drop to the bottom in his panic of trying to get them out while the room was flooding. There was a gun in his coat, but it, too, was scattered at the bottom here…somewhere. He heard heavy boots trudging up piles and sliding down the gold and tried to still his ragged breathing. He was terrified, and Stan hadn’t responded this time.
What was he going to do?
Another bomb landed nearby and Ford made a mad dash into the darkness, meeting whatever he met along the way, scrambling for safety. This time he barely made it behind a pile, falling right on his face, before the bomb exploded. He heard a soft and deep chuckle in response to his fear. Then there was a scream, and Ford dared to peek over the edge of the pile, though he couldn’t see anything. It wasn’t Stan’s screaming, though. The voice was unfamiliar.
Stan had cleared his head just enough that he could grab a knife from a nearby pirate. Every time the cocksure captain took a step in his combat boots, Stan could hear the echo. Before long he had pinpointed the location and was stabbing the man, punctuating the words in his sentence as the captain screamed “You-wanted-to-eat-my-brother-to-gain-his-powers-“ There was a short pause. “I used to respect that kind of thinking, for animals. But not anymore! Not enough to let you go through with it. Anyone who hurts my brother has to Go THROUGH ME!” And with that, he planted the knife squarely in the dying man’s heart.
After a beat, he stripped him of his weapons just in case, and threw them off to the side as soon as he found a lighter. He clicked it twice before it was a steady flame. “Ford?” He asked weakly into the darkness.
“Stan!” Ford was already making his way towards the light, trying not to step where smoking piles of metal lay hot on the ground. By the time he reached Stan’s position, the light had gone out and his brother had collapsed.
If this is death, it’s not so bad. AHHH never mind, I changed my mind. God this hurts- holy shit- Ford? Stanford is that you? Poindexter! Why can’t I talk?
Stanford leaned over him again. “Stanley, are you awake?”
What Stan meant to say was “Yeah, are you okay? Where are we?” But what he got out was “Mmmmm…” in a high squeaky voice. It sounded like Dipper.
“Stanley! I’m so glad you came around! Your back is pretty bad, so don’t try to sit up. Best to lie on your stomach for some time.”
“Mmmm.” His brother was right. And it turned his world right-side up. Ford was next to him, and Stanley’s neck was turned to the side. He wasn’t above Stan at all.
“You’re safe now.”
Ford had brought Stanley back to the village with extensive wounds. Naturally the Shamans had prayed over Stan, but only after Ford had done all he could with medicine, both native and from the Stan-O-War II, which he had to fetch. Over the course of the week, Stan’s condition didn’t seem to improve, so Ford made the trip back to the bay to hit the pirate ship. They were stocked with medical supplies and had apparently exhausted their army in a single attack, but Ford was glad for an escort. It was, after all, pretty creepy on the abandoned ship. With the medical supplies restocked, Stanley finally was able to make a full recovery. It was still a few days laying down in bed, but he had company in the form of beautiful and helpful women, strong men who told stories he really couldn’t understand, and young children that taught him strange new games.
Only after Ford had taken his escort and shown them the bunker did they truly understand what had happened. They tried to communicate stories, but without a comprehensive understanding of their langue, it wasn’t feasible. But they held a great feast for Ford and Stan after that, in which the brothers understood themselves to have been named great warriors. Some of the women made a tapestry of the battle, which both of them laughed at. It was way too heroic for something they’d deemed as a horrible nightmare. Strangely, Ford had had fewer of those in his dreaming moments, though.
Ford also got to understand the system by which the pirates trapped prey, and discovered the wide network of what he could only describe as gargantuan dehumidifiers in the bunker. As he’d suspected, the pirates dried the area and protected their computers from harm when necessary. The noise they had heard had been the system running to clear out the water, and the pirates hadn’t flooded it because they were incapable of running the flood system again. Most of it had been damaged by their frantic escape, including the door trigger. He studied the system, analysed the other rooms he’d previously theorised about, then disabled it. He wasn’t sure if they were working alone or in tandem with other groups, but he didn’t want it running anymore. In case it started back up, he set a few traps of his own. They’d been adept at keeping monsters out, and he was sure something similar would work for cannibal pirates.
Cannibal pirates. It sounds like fantasy. He thought. Perhaps it’s me and not Gravity Falls that causes anomalies.
After a few weeks, where Ford helped raid the pirate vessel for parts and food, most of which he helped lug back to the village, Stan could walk again without pain. He’d burned off most of his back, including the horrible imprint Ford had been responsible for. They took only what they needed to repair the Stan-O-War and set sail again. Near the end, Stan helped too, though mostly with ship repairs as Ford re-collected his specimens and chattered on about how the pirate vessel had operated. He wasn’t sure Stan was listening, because he never replied much about these subjects, but he felt like talking.
Stan responded much better to loading the treasure into a few boxes and stacking it onto the ship, though. As soon as he could be convinced, in the light of day, to go back down the hatch (finding it blessedly empty, since the villagers had burned the remains of the pirates while he’d been recovering), he tested for traps. Ford had already done this, but previous experience had taught Stan that pirates booby-trapped their treasure, and he was a bit paranoid now. Ford secretly thought this was good for him, though he constantly reminded himself that he’d made his own fair share of mistakes, and his brother had saved his life, after all. The next thing Stan did was roll around in the piles of gold. Literally.
After he realized how much this hurt, he gave it up and had the villagers help him haul a lot of it to the top of the hatch and aboard the Stan-O-War. Ford shook his head watching them, knowing they had no idea how much money they were carrying or how to use it. It felt somehow wrong taking it. They sealed the hatch and Stanley mapped everything out, vowing to return for the rest of his, and yes, he said the actual word, “booty.” Ford just went back to collecting samples.
Finally, they cast anchor and waved goodbye to the island’s inhabitants. Back aboard the Stan-O-War II on the high seas, Ford stretched, winced, and then stretched again. They’d both had the first good nights sleep in three days, and he’d woken up feeling more exhausted then usual. Both of them woken up ravenous and consumed plenty of what they’d taken off the pirate ship. That morning they’d had to restock a lot of their rations, but they couldn’t help themselves from eating so much. It felt like a gift just to be alive- as if the food tasted better and the relief of sleep more restful than it had in years. Almost every day had been like that since they came so close to death. Stan swore he’d have never survived if Ford hadn’t been pulling his soul back into his body with every bandage and every prayer.
Now Stanley was watching his brother out of the corner of his eye. He sighed and resigned himself to fate. He’d have to ask eventually, and he really did want to know the answer. But it was difficult working up the nerve. He was sure that Ford was permanently scared by this one, maybe even more so than he had been by Bill.
“How are you doing, Ford?” Stanley asked, shattering the silence. Ford didn’t seem to notice the awkwardness.
“My back is destroying my sense of focus, but otherwise-“
“I mean… I mean that…” Stanley stuttered, completely unsure how he should ask this question. Eventually he blurted it out like he always did “Have you ever killed anyone before?”
Ford thought about this “No, I haven’t… at least, not a human…but… It’s not as if they were good men. So far I’m… I’m doing alright.”
Stan’s worried expression dropped.
“Have you ever..?” Ford asked, letting the question hang.
“I don’t know if it matters so much that they weren’t good people.” Stanley said as a means of saying ‘yes.’ He winced and scratched the back of his head uncertainly.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“Who the hell would let me get away with murder?!”
“You mean to say that you never got caught?”
“I mean I went to prison for something, didn’t I? Murder in the third degree, they said. Voluntary Manslaughter. Self-Defence, that’s what it was!” Stanley banged his hand hard on the rail. There was a long pause. “Don’t tell the kids.”
“What?! Stanley I would never tell them something like that! Or the officials, either, for that matter. Of course not. And in exchange, we take this little ‘adventure’ to our graves, you understand? We did what we had to do here. No use adding any fresh nightmares to the pile. Or any fresh imprisonments. I don’t think I’m having bad dreams over this one, though.”
“You wouldn’t think.” Stanley said, sitting down, his head resting on his chin. Ford sat down across from him.
“Stanley, you know… you can tell me anything, right?’
Stan looked at his brother and smiled a little. “Yeah, Poindexter, I do.” Ford smiled back at him and laid his six fingers over his brother’s five.
And so they kept sailing. And they talked.
I hope you guys enjoyed this two-parter! It's now complete! But comments give me life and seriously make me want to write more, so if you want to fuel my addition to writing, feel free to leave a comment!