The Woman with the Cipher Tattoo

The Woman with the Cipher Tattoo

Thirteen-year-old Dipper and Mabel are back in Gravity Falls for their second summer, but straight off the bus and right off the bat, Dipper runs into what seems like a classic mystery just crying out for the boy detective - what? Oh, Mabel says I should add "and his beautiful assistant." However, in this particular town, nothing is really what it seems...

published on July 259 reads 9 readers 0 not completed
Chapter 1.

Back Again

From the Journals of Dipper Pines:
Saturday, June 15, aboard the eastbound Speedy Beaver Bus:
        After more than nine months away from Gravity Falls, I am at last returnintco-

"Mabel!" Dipper said, exasperated. "Stop joggling my arm!"
"You didn't say I'm returning, too, Bro-Bro!" Mabel wailed. "Where's the love?"
From the seat behind them came a deep grunt. The driver yelled all the way back: "Keep the pig quiet!"
"See?" Mabel said. "You're troubling Waddles' sensitive nature, too. Or is it Waddles's? Did we have that in English class? Maybe I should write a letter to the Board of Education."
"You do that," Dipper said. He reached in his pocket. "Here's a pen and a pad."
"First," Mabel said, "a portrait of Waddles!" Tongue sticking out, she started to sketch her pig.
Dipper sighed, crossing out the last word he had written, and began again:        XXXXXXXXXXX returning to continue my investigations into the weird, the unexplained, and the mysterious. What new challenges await? Only time will tell.

He closed the notebook and looked past Mabel and out the window. The hilly countryside of middle Oregon seemed to drift past beneath a blue sky dotted with white clouds, like - he shuddered a little - like lambs marching 'round the daisies. Mabel was humming happily, adding glasses and a fez to her sketch of the pig, which honestly looked a bit more like Grunkle Stan than Waddles.
'Grunkle Stan' Dipper thought. He and Grunkle Ford had set off the previous fall to explore some strange anomalies in the north Pacific. They'd sent Christmas cards from Nikolski, Alaska. The cards had been mailed on November 29 and had arrived in Piedmont, California, on December 27. Since then, nothing. Mabel wasn't worried - "He'll be there, or my name isn't Magilicuddy Q. Frogmurder," she'd insist when he had mentioned his doubts. But she was always an optimist.
'At least Wendy will be there,' Dipper assured himself. Once he'd received his cell phone from his parents - a belated thirteenth-birthday present - the two of them had texted constantly, and she'd sent him some very, very romantic postcards. Well, not romantic exactly. More like - "Friendly," Dipper murmured under his breath. Yeah. Friendly postcards. But at least she'd caught him up on all the important news in Gravity Falls: Thompson had made himself a furry belt from a roadkill possum, but found it attracted zombies and had to get rid of it. Robbie and Tambry had been busted in class for kissing during school hours and had to spend a week in after-school detention. Together in the same room. "Torture, right?" Wendy had texted, adding a winking smiley-face emoji. All the big news like that.
Other than these bulletins, Gravity Falls seemed to be wobbling along the same as it always did, with a little weirdness popping up now and again - a band of gnomes raiding trash cans here, a talking squirrel racing through town while squeaking, "Doom to the hunters! DOOOOM I SAY! Got any nuts?" there. A little girl's stuffed rabbit got into the fridge late one night and ate all the strawberry jam and leftover half of pizza, leaving behind a note: "NO MORE ANCHOVIZES!" They knew it was the rabbit because the little girl herself could spell 'anchovies'.
Just a normal abnormal year in Gravity Falls...
Dipper yawned. They've been on the bus for sixteen hours and they'd started the previous night at ten, so hopefully they'd arrive in Gravity Falls sometime around one in the afternoon. Only another ninety minutes were left, but Dipper hadn't slept very much the night before. Settling in, he pulled down the lumberjack hat that Wendy had traded for his old pine tree baseball cap. Dipper took a few deep breaths and dozed off.
It seemed to him he'd just closed his eyes for a moment when Mabel's sharp elbow suddenly hit his ribs. "Huh? Whazzit?" he muttered.
"We're here!" Mabel squealed. "Look, there's the Shack!"
Dipper rubbed his bleary eyes, and his heart took a leap. "There's Wendy! And, and Soos! And - Grunkle Stan! He's there, too!"
"Yup," Mabel replied happily. "Just call me M. Q. Frogmurder from now on, Dipsydoo."
They and the pig were the last remaining passengers. The bus driver pulled in and announced, "All out for Gravity Falls."
Mabel led the way, Waddles took the middle, and all of the aisle, and Dipper brought up the rear, struggling with his suitcase, plus Mabel's extra case of sweaters for every occasion. He said as he passed the driver, "Hope the pig wasn't any trouble."
"I've seen worse, kid," the driver told him. "Have a fun summer. See you in August."
Mabel had already bounded off the bus, dropped her luggage, and had thrown herself into Grunkle Stan's arms. "Hi ya knuckleheads!" Stan said, chuckling. "Hey, I missed you sweetie!" Then he glanced at Dipper, and his grin split into a bellow of laughter. "Dipper! You've had a growth spurt. Mostly in your face!"
Soos was laughing, too. "Good look for you, dawg!" Soos said, taking his suitcases.
Wendy also couldn't help laughing, but she said, "Somethin' tells me you fell asleep just before you got here dude."
"Uh - how did you know?"
"Here," Mabel said, opening her purse and taking out a mini makeup mirror. "I improved you."
Dipper stared at his reflection. Mabel had used him as a sketchpad, giving him bushy black eyebrows like Grunkle Stan's, round eyeglasses, a curly black mustache, and a triangular soul patch. "Mabel!"
"It'll wash off, Dip," Wendy said. "Or it'll wear off, if it doesn't. Maybe by the end of July."
"It'll come off," Dipper said grimly. "Even if I have to use sandpaper!"

From the Journals of Dipper Pines:
                                Grunkle Stan and Grunkle Ford are taking us out for dinner tonight, and Soos, his new wife Melody, and Wendy are all coming along. Ford helped me out with my face... "decorations." He found some hand sanitizer that got most of it off, then followed that up with vinegar. Now everything's gone, but the place where the mustache was is sort of pink. Mabel says I should moisturize. So I told her she should soak her head.
Soos has the attic ready for us. Grunkle Ford wondered if we should still be sharing a room, now that we're thirteen. I assured him it would not be a problem, but Soos rigged a wire and a hanging curtain that separates the attic into two narrow rooms - I have one side, Mabel the other. I think Mom and Dad would be fine with that; I just wish Waddles would stay on Mabel's side.
While we were hanging the wire and the curtain, Soos told me that he's worried about Fiddleford McGucket. Fiddleford's pretty rich from selling all sorts of patents to the government and to the industry, and he has the whole Northwest Mansion to live in and build his lab in - "But he's not happy, dude," Soos told me. "When he kinda recovered after the whole Bill Cipher thing, about the first thing he tried to do was get back together with his son Tate, but Tate won't have anything to do with him. I think the old dude's pretty close to being clinically depressed, to tell you the truth. Maybe Mr. Pines and other Mr. Pines can help. They're staying there as his house guests for the summer."
So I found Grunkle Ford a little later and asked him if there was anything we could do to help. I mean, Fiddleford stuck by our side during Weirdmageddon, and his Shacktron either took out Bill's minions or kept them occupied while we got into the Fearamid. We owe him something.
Ford sighed and told me, "Dipper, I wish there was something we could do, because I feel responsible. My Portal was the reason for Fiddleford's nervous breakdown that started his whole slide into madness - and then what happened afterward drove a wedge between him and his son that lasted for many years."
"What happened afterward?" I asked him.
He shrugged. "I don't know. Remember, for most of that time, I was trapped in alternate dimensions. I remember when Tate was born and then later seeing him as a little toddler, but that was before all the trouble. Perhaps Stanley knows more."
That was when I realized that this was a mystery - and I, Dipper Pines, was back on the case! I had witnesses to interview.
Wendy was first on list. Unfortunately, she couldn't tell me much. "I dunno, Dip. He was always Old Man McGucket, the crazy coot, as far back as I can remember. I didn't even, like, know that Tate was his son until a couple of years ago."
I couldn't concentrate. She was wearing my old pine tree cap. So I got my nerve up and asked in my manliest voice, "Uh, Wendy? I love that hat of yours. You, uh, you wanna trade back? Just for the summer? And then before I have to go back to California in August, we could, uh-"
"Way ahead of you dude," she said, grinning. She swept off the lumberjack hat and swapped with me before I could even move. But then before she put the cap on, she stopped and said, "Seriously, now, Dip, am I gonna get boy cooties from this cap?"
"Absolutely one hundred per cent not," I assured her. "Teen cooties if anything. Remember, I'm technically a teen now."
"Cool," she said. "You might've picked up some lumberjack girl cooties from mine, though."
"If they're yours, I'd love to have 'em," I told her without thinking.
She made a face. "Aw, Dip! Man, we gotta work on your pickup lines!"
So that gave me something to look forward to.
Then I tackled Grunkle Stan. "Sure, whattaya want to know?" he asked when I brought up the subject of Fiddleford and his son.
"What's between them?" I asked.
"Ahh, it's family trouble," Grunkle Stan said. He'd been touring the Shack, admiring all the little changes Soos had made in the months since he'd been in charge. Stan settled down in his old TV chair with a sigh. "My butt thanks you, my old friend," he said to the chair. "Good to be back again. That idiot Soos has added all kinds of exhibits - which is good, 'cause he's fleecin' the other idiots like there's no tomorrow! Hah! Now, where were we?"
"The problem with Fiddleford and Tate McGucket," I reminded him.
"Aw, that. Yeah. Well, Ford's probably told you that Fiddleford helped him with the Portal and then got seriously freaked out by it. He invented that mind-wiper thing to help him forget. After him and Ford split up their partnership, Fiddleford opened an electronics shop in town here."
"Still here?"
"Naw, long gone. McGucket's already met and married a local gal, Maya Tate, and I think their son was born before the accident with the Portal. Anyhow, between the freak-out and the constant brain-wiping, Fiddleford started to go off the tracks. I mean so far off the tracks, he couldn't even hear the train whistles any longer, ya know? His business went bankrupt, he an' Maya had epic arguments, and then she separated from him. He built this flying pterodactyl to take out his frustrations, and it kinda got out of hand. There used to be a big stone tower on the top of Mount Treacherous that was kind of a tourist attraction. The pterodactyl ate it."
"Ate a stone tower?"
"You should see what it kept dropping over the town. Think a seagull takin' a dump on your shoulder is bad? Wait'll a flying monstrosity passes a small boulder right overhead! Anyway, everyone in town finally got together and managed to take the thing down. But that must've been the last straw. Maya McGucket left town one night and never came back."
"How'd she leave?" I asked. "Bus? Car?"
"Dunno, you'd have to ask someone else that. Anyway, she left young Tate behind - he was, I guess, maybe six? DHS came and inspected and declared that Fiddleford wasn't in any shape to be a parent, so they fostered Tate out to D.D Granger and his wife. D.D was a park ranger, see. Tate looked up to him as his dad when he was growing up. Fiddleford seemed to forget about him most of the time - just when he caught sight of Tate, he'd remember he had a son. I dunno how many times the old coot tried to make up with Tate, but Tate won't have any of it. He blames Fiddleford for his mother's death."
"Wait, what? She's dead?"
"Everyone assumes. I'm not sure, but I think after she'd been missing for seven years, the Grangers had declared her legally dead. Which I'm gonna be if I don't get dinner soon. Let's roll Dipper! Chow time!"
Dinner was - well, really good, and I enjoyed being there with everybody, and I got to sit next to Wendy. But I was holding in a sense of rising excitement. A missing woman. A family torn apart.
This was a case all right. A case for Dipper Pines, boy detredkja

"Mabel!"
"And his beautiful assistant!"
Dipper struck through the messed up word and wrote: "...boy XXXXXXXXX detective, and his beautiful but wacked-out assistant Mabel."
"Is that okay?" he asked.
Mabel read what he'd written. "Wacked-out? I'll take that as a compliment! Bom-bom-bommmm!"
"Then get on your side of the room and go to sleep. We're gonna hit the bricks tomorrow!"
"Why? What'd they ever do to us?"
"Mabel!"
"Sheesh! Good night already!"
Dipper tucked his Journal under his pillow, laid down, and muttered, "I'm too excited to sleep."
But he'd had a long, mostly sleepless bus ride, he was full of good food, and the attic room felt more like home than his own room back in Piedmont did. And before he knew it, he was deep in dreams full of adventure and monsters and - for some reason - Wendy Corduroy, who smiled at him beautifully.
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