It'd been 5 days since the accident; the memory was to be burned into the minds of 13-year old Dipper and Mabel Pines for the rest of their lives. The school here was drawing to a close, and they were preparing for their middle-school graduation ceremony.
It'd been a harrowing year for the young brother and sister, their last year before high school. Dipper and Mabel had few friends in their hometown of Piedmont, California, for they'd always been considered… eccentric. Between Dipper's love of mystery and science-fiction and his sister's bubbly personality and colorful hand-knitted attire, the rest of the school could easily label them has freaks and outcasts. Although, there was one place where they were not only accepted for their eccentricity, but welcomed…
More than anything, they looked forward to their return to that place. But first, they had to go through graduation; Dipper for one couldn't understand why they were made to wear the usual getup with the cap and gown, or what they were receiving diplomas for. They still had 5 more years of school to go before their real graduation, and neither Dipper nor his sister felt as though they'd accomplished much in the past 7 years of attending public school.
Their parents told them to just roll with it. Their mother and father- Filbrick and Darlene Pines- were eager to see their children graduate and move on to high school. Dipper remembered his mother, camera at the ready, eager to capture every moment as she watched her babies take their next step on the path to adulthood.
She would never get the chance.
Dipper and Mabel stood in line with the rest of their classmates, waiting for their names to be called so they could receive their diplomas. The ceremony began, and Mabel was the first to sense that something was wrong; she scanned the auditorium… there was no sign of her mom or her dad in the rows of seats.
She tugged on Dipper's sleeve and whispered to him; "Where are they?" When Dipper raised a quizzical eyebrow, she mouthed the words "mom and dad". Dipper looked around, and saw no sign of them. He looked back to his sister, and shrugged.
Then, before either of their names could be called, a teacher came up onto the stage, scooting around the back of the row of students. The twins didn't notice her until she tapped Dipper on the shoulder, and asked him to come with her, beckoning Mabel as well. Confused, they stepped out of line and followed her out the back of the auditorium.
They were taken to the Principal's office, where they were told to take a seat. Shortly after, Principal Hartman walked in- a tall, imposing man, balding with a large grey mustache, and known for being very strict. The Pines twins didn't like him; he was one of the staff who often told them to "just act normal" when they complained about the bullying they endured each day.
He looked rather grim when he walked in, taking a seat at his desk, clasping his hands together, and hanging his head.
"I'm not sure how to best tell you this, but, well… it's about your parents," he began.
"Mom and dad?" Mabel replied. "What about them? Where are they?"
The old man took a deep breath before he spoke. "Well… I'm afraid there's been an accident."
Everything that came after was a blur. Something about a car crash. Mabel breaking down, sobbing. Dipper staring at the man across the desk in disbelief, who for once appeared to have a tiny sliver of sympathy in his cold steel-grey eyes.
"I'm sorry… I hate to be the one to have to tell you this, but… your parents- they're gone."
And that was that.
Dipper and Mabel never received their diplomas. They did away with the blue caps and gowns, and were driven down to the hospital. Their mother and father were still on life support when they arrived- lying in bed, heavily bandaged, kept breathing only by the machines.
Mabel walked up to their mom's bedside, and took her hand in hers, and she felt how cold it was. Tears ran down her cheeks as she begged her mother to wake up, to no avail. They were given only a few minutes to say goodbye… and then Dipper had to put an arm around his crying sister, guiding her away from the bedside before the plug was finally pulled.
After that, they were escorted home; the brother and sister were allowed some time to pack their personal belongings before they were to be taken to child services.
Dipper grabbed all his books, video games and board games that he often played with his sister, and an old shoebox labeled "Top Secret" full of personal mementoes from the previous summer. Mabel packed all of her hand-knitted sweaters and stuffed animals, the grappling hook Grunkle Stan had give her last summer, along with her scrapbook- which she stared at intently for a moment before stuffing it in her bag. Lastly, she fetched her pet pig Waddles, who was tied up out back. Dipper knew what his sister was thinking- there was only one place left for them to go.
Unfortunately, child services didn't see it that way. When the bureaucratic agent asked what other relatives they had, they gave him the first name that came to mind.
"Our Grun- err, our Great Uncle, Stanley Pines. He has a house in the woods; a town called Gravity Falls, in Oregon," Dipper told the man. The agent checked his computer, all the while muttering under his breath; "Let's see… Stanley Pines… Stanley Pines… now, where the heck are you…"
"Oh!" He said. "Here we are, let's see… Stanley Pines, Age 70, 618 Gopher Road, Gravity Falls, Oregon- is that right?" The officer asked.
"Yeah, that's him!" Mabel affirmed; her eyes were still red and puffy, it being that they'd only left the hospital a few hours ago- but for the first time since they'd received the terrible news, she sounded hopeful.
"I don't know, little lady…" said the child services officer. "Your Great-Uncle has an extensive criminal history." He scrolled down with his mouse as he said this, scanning Grunkle Stan's long record. "Half of this, I've never even… wait; what on earth is 'Llamacide'? And… 'burglbezzelment, I don't think I've…"
"Does any of that even matter?" Dipper asserted. "He's the only family we have left!"
"Your only family?" The officer repeated. "What about this- Sherman Pines; he's your grandfather, isn't he-"
"No!" The twins shouted simultaneously. Dipper and Mabel hated their Grandpa Shermy… and he hated them. He hated all children, really, but he especially disliked Dipper and Mabel for the same reason as everyone else; they weren't "normal" by his definition. His dislike of them had only intensified since Dipper and Mabel's parents had allowed them to spend the previous summer, along with Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas in Gravity Falls with his "dirty, no-good swindler of a brother".
"Well, I'm afraid I can't send you to your uncle- not with his background," the officer said unsympathetically. Dipper and Mabel exchanged horrified glances- Mabel was beginning to tear up again. If they were sent to live with Shermy, not only would the rest of their teen years be heck on earth, but they'd never see Grunkle Stan or Gravity Falls again.
"Wait a minute," Dipper said, an idea suddenly popping into his head. "What about our other Great Uncle; Stanford Pines?"
Dipper and Mabel had dodged a bullet that day. In hindsight, they probably should never have mentioned Stan; as much as they loved him, it should've been obvious that he would never be allowed to become their legal guardian.
The government really didn't give him enough credit, given all he'd done for Dipper and Mabel… but then, they didn't know what transpired in Gravity Falls the previous summer.
The days following the deaths of their parents were a blur. Great Uncle Ford couldn't come to get them himself, but he paid for a bus to take them back to Gravity Falls. They spent most of the bus ride flipping through their old family photo album and Mabel's scrapbook, not talking. Neither of them wanted to think about what had just transpired. Every time they came close to the topic, a painful knot formed in Dipper's chest as he tried to hold back tears, while Mabel would break down sobbing.
By afternoon the next day, the bus had pulled up in front of their Great Uncle's house- the Mystery Shack. It looked just as it had the last time they'd seen it, barely holding itself together, with the "S" from the Mystery Shack sign lying halfway down the roof so the sign read "Mystery Hack".
Stan was waiting for them on the front lawn, dressed in his usual "Mr. Mystery" getup.
"Grunkle Stan!" The twins greeted enthusiastically once off the bus, both running forward to throw themselves into their Grunkle's arms. He embraced the two of them as the two teenagers flung their arms around his neck.
"It's good to see you kids," Stan said to them. "I heard what happened… I'm sorry about your folks."
At the mention of their parents, Dipper felt his chest tighten again and Mabel choked out a sob.
"Don't worry; everything's gonna be fine," Stan consoled. "Come on inside; I had Soos set up your old bedroom in the attic."
When Dipper and Mabel stepped in the front door, they were greeted by a chorus of "Welcome Home!"; assembled there in the hall were most of their friends and family; their best friend Soos, his girlfriend Melody, Mabel's girlfriends Candy and Grenda, and their new guardian- Stan's brother Ford.
Mabel dropped her bags and rushed over to Candy and Grenda almost immediately, enveloping her friends in a fierce hug. Dipper bumped his fist with Soos, who greeted him with a customary "Welcome back, dude."
But someone was missing. Dipper looked around, and when he saw no sign of her, he asked Grunkle Stan; "Where's Wendy? Is she here?"
When Mabel heard this, she pulled away from Candy and Grenda, suddenly concerned for her brother… were they about to receive more bad news?
"Actually, Manly Dan took his kids and moved upstate," Soos answered. "I think they had a run-in with some eyeball bats in the woods at around Christmas… after that, he didn't think it was safe in Gravity Falls anymore."
"So- wait, Wendy's… gone? Dipper asked. The tears he'd been trying to hold back for the past several days were threatening to spill over as he took in this latest news. Broken-hearted, he collapsed against the wall, bent his head, and began to cry silently.
"Oh, Dipper…" Mabel said to her brother, moving over to place a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Hey, guys?" Said a familiar voice. "What's going on? Are they here yet-"
Dipper looked up in surprise; it was her… Wendy. She was wearing only her pajamas, and her hair was damp and smelled of shampoo, like she'd just gotten out of the shower. She took one look around the room before her eyes settled on Dipper.
"Wendy…" breathed Dipper. He stood up from his spot on the floor and ran into her arms; she bent down to catch him, cradling his head against her shoulder.
"Oh dude, that's right!" Said Soos, slapping himself on the forehead. "I forgot Wendy moved into the Mystery Shack after her dad left… I've been having problems with short-term memory lately…"
Dipper paid him no attention, wiping away his tears before burying his face in Wendy's damp red hair.
"I missed you," he whispered to her. Wendy smiled, running her hand under his cap and through her best friend's tousled brown hair.
I missed you, too," Wendy replied. "I see you're still wearing my hat."
"He hasn't taken it off in six months," Mabel chimed in. Dipper blushed in embarrassment.
"Are you guys okay?" Wendy asked. "Stan told me what happened…"
Once again, Dipper and Mabel said nothing. Stan knelt down beside Mabel and laid a comforting arm on her shoulder, while Dipper tightened his arms around his crush, who responded in kind, patting him on the back in sympathy.
"Everything's going to be okay," Stanley repeated. "Now, why don't you kids head upstairs and unpack?"
"Wendy and I planned throwing you guys a 'welcome home' party," said Melody. "We ordered a cake for dessert, and we can get started on cooking dinner while you guys settle in… okay?"
"Yeah, thank goodness we finally have someone around here who can cook!" Stan laughed, trying to inject some humor into the situation… but his niece and nephew still looked somber as they carried their bags upstairs, followed closely by Waddles.
"Poor dudes," said Soos. "I thought they'd be happier once they got back."
"They just lost their parents, Soos," Wendy reminded him. "I know what that feels like… I went through the same thing when my mom died."
"They'll be fine," said Stan dismissively. "Just give 'em some time."
The welcome home party Wendy and Melody planned for the twins ended up being a quiet affair. Dipper and Mabel didn't eat much, despite the dinner table being overflowing with all their favorite things- a mouth-watering seasoned chicken, mashed potatoes, apple butter, fluffy cheddar biscuits, and several bottles of Pitt Cola- and for dessert, strawberry ice cream and a large chocolate cake with icing that spelled out "Welcome Home, Dipper & Mabel" with candy decorations in the shape of a pine-tree and shooting star.
Dipper sat as close as possible to Wendy, who kept a comforting arm around his shoulder while urging him to eat something. Soos and Melody tried several times to cheer up Mabel, Soos by trying to be his usual goofy, loveable self, Melody by informing Mabel that she and Soos were engaged. Mabel's only reply was quiet "congratulations". The twins end up leaving the table having barely touched anything, each leaving behind a quarter-finished slice of "Welcome Home!" cake and insisting they weren't hungry.
It wasn't that Dipper and Mabel weren't happy to see Grunkle Stan, and Ford, and all their friends… but the pain of having lost their parents was still fresh, weighing down on their hearts and minds, crushing any happiness they would've felt upon returning to Gravity Falls. They'd been looking forward to coming back all year, crossing off the days on their calendar until the next summer… but now that they were here, the feeling was bittersweet.
They went to bed that in their attic bedroom without another word. Mabel stopped to put up photos of herself, her brother, and her parents on the wall before putting out the old gas lamp.
Neither of them got much sleep that night.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" Soos cried out to a crowd of the enthusiastic tourists. They were out in the woods, just beyond the front lawn of the Mystery Shack, as Soos guided them towards the Shack's most popular attraction.
"Since you have arrived in Gravity Falls, you may have heard many strange and frightful tales," Soos began, his audience hanging on his every word. "Tales of an evil triangular demon who once haunted people's dreams, and sought to bring about the end of the world by making their nightmares into reality!"
"What if I were to tell you dudes… that those aren't just stories?" Soos asked his enthralled entourage. "There is more truth to that myth that you might believe- such that the mayor has banned all in Gravity Falls of speaking of it!"
"Ladies and gentlemen, behold- the eternal Nightmare Demon! Bill Cipher!" Soos exclaimed.
Bill's physical form, now little more than a lump of stone, was exactly where it'd come to rest after the end of Weirdmageddon, half-buried in the soil of the forest floor, his hand outstretched from the last deal he'd ever made. It could easily pass for a statue, a hoax- but as always, the tourists loved it, snapping pictures of Bill's immobile form with disposable cameras.
"How was this unholy abomination defeated?" Asked one elderly man, who wore a star of David around his neck.
"Oh, it was actually my old boss and his niece and nephew who beat him!" Soos told the man proudly. "They're like… the heroes of everyone in Gravity Falls."
"I heard that Stan Pines tricked the demon into his mind so that he could be destroyed with a memory-ray!" Said another man.
"It's all true, dawg," Soos insisted. "Step up, and you can have your picture taken with the villain himself for a dollar! No, wait- ten dollars! A hundred dollars!"
The tourists immediately whipped out wads of cash, disregarding Soos' ridiculous pricing for a chance to have their picture taken with an actual demon. Watching all this unfold from the porch of the Mystery Shack was Stan, with Ford beside him on the couch.
"You know," Stan began. "Truth be told, I wasn't sure Soos could handle this job. But now I see I underestimated him big time- he's a gosh-darn natural!"
"I'll never understand how you've managed to sell all this phony junk for over 30 years," Ford replied.
"Eh… people in this country will buy anything," Stan retorted. "Speaking of which; when can we get that dinosaur exhibit up and running?"
"Just as soon as I make sure it's all safe," Ford answered. "I recently watched a movie about a dinosaur theme park from the 80s; given what I've seen, we should take as many precautions as we possibly can."
"You should ask the kids to help you with that," Stan suggested. "Those two knuckleheads are the ones who found those lizards in the first place!"
Ford's expression turned somber. "I've tried, but… they haven't come out of their room since they got here," Ford told his brother.
It was true; Dipper and Mabel had been in Gravity Falls for 3 days. Three days, and they'd barely said a word since the first night, preferring to stay cooped up in their room all day. Occasionally, one of them would catch the twins sitting under the trees outside alone, flipping through an old photo album and talking amongst themselves.
Stan was starting to feel a little distraught over the whole thing; the twinkle was gone from his niece's eyes, and even Dipper wasn't going out looking for adventure anymore. The only person he talked to besides Mabel was Wendy, and the red-haired teen said that even she was having trouble getting through to him.
"You know, I tried to show Dipper my new journal," said Ford; he held up a book similar to the ones he'd kept before, only the gold six-fingered handprint on the front bore a number "4", and the book itself was bigger than the others.
"I told him I'd compiled all my old research, and recorded our findings in the Arctic Ocean- I wanted to show him what we found… but, he said he wasn't interested," Ford elaborated.
"That doesn't sound like Dipper at all," Stan observed, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "You know, Mabel hasn't knitted any new sweaters since she got here? It used to be she made a new one every day."
"Well, they've suffered a terrible loss," Ford acknowledged.
Stan took a long drought from his can of Pitt Cola. "So… how did you deal with it, when mom and dad died?" Stanley asked his brother.
"I didn't," Ford replied. "Dad was convinced I was wasting my talent when I decided to come out to Gravity Falls… and when he and mom passed, I was already up my neck in my, uh… problems, with Bill."
"So, I guess you never went to their funeral?" Ford asked.
"Are you kidding me!?" Stan replied angrily. "After dad kicked me out of the house? After he called me a loser? I didn't want to see that old codger again!"
As Stan and Ford went on to abuse their late father, Dipper and Mabel managed to slip quietly out of the Mystery Shack through the gift shop. Wendy was running the counter again while Melody had taken Soos' old job of handyman… or rather, handywoman. As they neared the door, Wendy stopped them, and asked where they were going.
"We're just going for a walk," Dipper told her. "We'll be back later."
"Are you guys okay?" Wendy asked, feeling concerned for her friends. "You guys haven't been yourselves since you got here."
"We just need to be alone, Wendy," Mabel said to her. Before Wendy could inquire further, Mabel and her brother stepped out the door- Wendy took notice of Mabel carrying what looked like an old photo album under her arm.
It tore Wendy up inside, seeing her best friends like this. She knew what they were going through all to well- her mother's death when she was 8 had shaken her to the core, but she'd managed to get through it with support from her dad. Dipper and Mabel still had people that cared about them, but those people couldn't do anything for them when the twins were constantly pushing them away.
What began as a warm, sunny day for the town of Gravity Falls seemed to change the instant Dipper and Mabel stepped outside- the sun disappeared as clouds rolled in, casting a shadow over the woods, turning the skies a bleak grey color. It was almost as if the weather outside was changing to reflect how they felt on the inside.
It was good they dressed warmly, as the temperature dropped with the sudden change in the climate- Dipper had taken to wearing a blue-and-white T-shirt with a pine-tree on the front, similar to his old hat. Over that, he wore a burgundy heavy coat, khaki cargo pants, and of course Wendy's logging cap, which she'd given him last summer. Mabel simply wore black tights and sneakers in addition to her usual blue-violet skirt and shooting star sweater.
After walking through the woods a short while, they found a quiet place a good distance from the Mystery Shack to sit down. From there, they picked out the most comfortable-looking tree they could find, and sat down in the soft dirt between the roots.
"Dad always wanted to take us camping in the woods, remember?" Mabel said to her brother. "Mom never wanted to go, though… she was never the outdoorsy-type."
Dipper smiled weakly at the memory; there was one time, when they were 10, that Filbrick Pines had almost convinced their mom to go on a camping trip over Spring Break. As expected, mom went completely nuts, stocking up on all the bug repellent she could get her hands on, a field first-aid kit, a woodland survival guide, GPS tracker, and for some reason a stun gun. Feeling that they could no longer enjoy a trip to the great outdoors with his wife in hysterics, dad decided it would be more fun for everyone if they just camped out in the backyard.
Mabel was flipping through the old picture album, becoming lost in their family memories. Before Gravity Falls, Dipper and Mabel's best times had been when they were at home with just their parents. Halloween and Christmas were usually their favorite times of the year; though not Thanksgiving, since mom and dad always invited Shermy and mom's brother and sister-in-law, who shared the grandfather's opinion that Dipper and Mabel were "not normal". Coincidentally, those two had died in a car accident as well just a few years ago- mom's brother had always had a reputation for being a careless driver.
Served him right, Dipper thought bitterly. Mom had argued with her brother right before the accident; on Thanksgiving Day, in 4th grade. Their uncle had decided to make the twin's abnormality a topic of conversation over dinner, and mom took offense at some of his "suggestions"… like putting them in therapy.
Mabel had even save a picture of the incident… of mom punching her brother in the jaw. It was right after that he'd stormed out the door in anger, driven off with his wife, and gotten both of them killed.
As if she could sense what he was thinking, Mabel leaned over to show him the album; and there it was, a picture of their mom caught mid-swing just as her fist made contact with her stuck-up brothers face. The look in his eyes as their mother knocked one of his teeth out- it was just too priceless; both siblings burst out laughing at the sight.
"Those were the good old days," said Dipper, taking the album from his sister and flipping through it himself. Looking at the pictures, Dipper and Mabel recalled their best memories with their parents- having a snowball fight on their annual Christmas vacation, the one time they glued a wig to Grandpa Shermy's head while he was sleeping (it'd been their dad's idea), graduating elementary school, trips to the playground when they were little… Dipper couldn't help but shed a tear as he looked at a picture of his mother pushing him on the swing when he was 6-years old, knowing that he would never see her again.
"You know…" Mabel began in a hoarse voice. "… all this time, I've been looking forward to coming back to Gravity Falls? But now… I'm not sure if I would've wanted to come, if it meant mom and dad could still be here."
"It's not like it would've made much of a difference," said Dipper in an attempt to console her. But he knew what she was feeling; before the end of the school year, he and his sister had begged their parents to let them spend the whole summer in Gravity Falls again. Mom and dad were against it; they wanted to spend the summer together this time, as a family. Dad was going about his plans for an epic cross-country road trip… but it was not to be, either way. Dipper and Mabel wanted to go back to Gravity Falls; Dipper was especially excited to see Wendy again.
In the end, the parents agreed that they would let their children spend another summer in Gravity Falls, while they went on a vacation by themselves. Dad seemed a bit let-down by this turn of events; when asked about his aborted plans for the road trip of a lifetime, he'd simply replied "maybe next summer". But now there would be no "next summer"… not for him or their mother. Thus, a bit of guilt stacked with grief, sorrow, and depression on the teetering pile of emotions the twins were sitting on. Maybe it was karma, repayment for their selfishness that lost their mother and father... the thought only made them feel worse.
It was becoming too much for them to bear. Dipper had an idea on how they could make things better, but he wasn't sure if it was the best one.
"Do we really want to spend the rest of our summer like this?" He asked. "Sitting alone in the woods, feeling sorry for ourselves?"
"No, but…" Mabel began, a solitary tear falling down her cheek. "…I just want mom and dad back. I wished they could've come with us. Then we could spend the summer together; us, mom and dad, Grunkle Stan, and our friends. We could've been like one big family."
"Well, we can't do that anymore, Mabel," Dipper asserted. "They're gone, and… no amount of wishing is going to bring them back."
It was then that Mabel noticed Dipper fishing around in his backpack, from which he pulled out a familiar object; one of McGucket's memory guns. A tool created by the inventor so that one may forget their bad memories, move on with their lives as though they'd never happened. She immediately knew what Dipper was about to suggest.
"No," Mabel said firmly.
"Are you sure?" Dipper asked. "You wouldn't have to feel any more pain. It would all seem like just a bad dream-"
"I don't want to forget!" Mabel insisted, holding up their family album. "I can't, I… I don't want to forget them."
"You're sure?" Dipper asked again. Mabel nodded, to which responded in kind, tossing the memory gun back in his backpack. It was a stupid idea, anyway; the only way it could work was if they erased all their memories of their parents, which included their entire childhood. That was something neither of them wanted to lose. Dipper wasn't sure why he'd suggested it in the first place.
There was a rumbling in the distance, and the twins felt a few small rain-drops fall on their heads; a sign of an impending thunderstorm. They decided to head back to the Mystery Shack before they got caught out in the rain. Dipper stood up from his spot on the ground first, dusting off some of the dirt and pine needles that settled on his clothes before doing the same for Mabel.
The two walked back home, traversing a small creek on the way back. Unbeknownst to Dipper, Mabel had stowed their family album in his open backpack. When they tried crossing the creek by using a log as an improvised bridge, Dipper slipped on the wet log, and Mabel caught him. Once she was sure he was alright, the continued on- neither of them noticed the family album fall from Dipper's open pack and into the creek.
The album, along with all the compiled memories of Dipper and Mabel's parents and their childhood, was whisked away downstream, never to be seen again.