Dipper hadn’t been lying when he told his sister he was going to the arcade. He’d walked all the way there and had even gone inside. If those two teens hadn’t said anything he would have spent the next half hour there, but they had. They had called out when he was at the change machine and asked him a question, reminding Dipper of something he’d been trying to push out of his head for the past few days.
Dipper was now walking along the sidewalk across town with his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground. He didn’t want to think about the arcade or what had been said to him. He didn’t want to think about that morning or the night before, or the day before that. He didn’t want to think about anything. Unfortunately, when someone uses their brain as constantly as Dipper, it becomes almost impossible to turn off. His mind continued to wander to places he didn’t want, and he thought about the past few days over and over. He rubbed the hair beneath his cap furiously.
His eyes were still locked on the ground as he walked, and he didn’t pay attention to anything happening around him. That is, until he found his own small, midday shadow suddenly being engulfed by another. Dipper felt his heart lurch forward into his ribs. Whatever the shadow belonged to, it was big, with inhumanly sharp angles in its shoulders and head.
Dipper whipped around to face it, but found nothing. The street behind him was empty except for a woman taping up posters on the side of one of the buildings. She gave him an odd, suspicious look and then returned to her work.
Dipper bit his lip and turned back, continuing down the road at a much quicker rate. This was ridiculous. He wasn’t crazy…was he? Dipper shook his head as he reached the next intersection and looked up at the street names.
“Oh,” he found himself saying aloud. This was the road he had directed the freeloader down. Mike, he mentally corrected himself. Just because freaky things were going on didn’t mean he had to be rude to the guy who was probably nicer than 80% of the people in Gravity Falls, even if he had arrived by unexplained means. Of course, all of that might just be a front. Dipper told his paranoia to shut up.
He considered walking down that road for a moment. “To do what?” he asked himself. Tell someone that he thought he was being stalked by some enigmatic monster? Dipper shook his head. No. He had to confess, the thing didn’t seem to show up as much when he was around other people. That and Dipper had a feeling that Mike wouldn’t ask him too many questions if he didn’t want to talk about it.
Dipper chewed his lip a little as he turned onto the adjacent road, but he never found out if going to the mechanic’s would have been a good idea or not. A few buildings down, there was a small bookstore. Its front door opened just as he reached it, and the man who was exiting saw him and waved with a friendly smile. Dipper was fairly certain he had seen him somewhere recently, so he smiled and waved back awkwardly. A second before the man spoke to him, Dipper remembered where, but it was too late.
“So, Dipper, chase any imaginary goblins lately?” asked the man. He hadn’t been as blunt as the teenagers at the arcade, but Dipper immediately forgot all about the mechanic’s.
He knew he was about to respond with something he would regret, so Dipper turned back towards the main road. He could hear the guy laughing and saying something about it being a joke, but that didn’t help his nerves. He kept his head lowered and pulled the brim of his hat down to hide the feverish color spreading across his face until he had rounded the corner.
Dipper didn’t lift his eyes from the sidewalk until he was a number of blocks away from the book store. To his surprise, he found himself rather close to the crafting shop they had left Mabel at. He didn’t really want to talk to anyone right now, not even his own sister, but there wasn’t anywhere else he could see himself going.
Dipper was aware he was coming back early. He probably hadn’t been gone more than fifteen minutes, but when he got closer to the store, he noticed that Mabel was already outside waiting. She held a bulging paper bag in her arms and was nodding her head to some non-existent tune. Dipper didn’t make any motion to grab her attention, but she noticed him anyway. She grinned and waved enthusiastically as she called out his name. It was a little ridiculous considering they weren’t even one building apart, and Dipper found himself beginning to smile. Then he stopped.
From the alley behind her there emerged a shadow; a long, rippling shadow whose end proceeded to split into five sharp points. If Dipper’s heart had been jumping into his ribcage before, it was now leaping out of his chest.
“Mabel!” He nearly tripped over his own feet as he broke into a run.
As Mabel stared at him, her arm still up in the air, and the hand began to close. Its fingers bent with the curve of her neck.
Mabel turned her head. The arm melted away where her eyes were about to pass over it, until it had vanished completely. She stood still for a moment.
“What is-” she began before Dipper pushed her out towards the road.
“Dipper?” Mabel found herself looking at the back of his head as he stood between her and the empty, shaded alleyway.
“Stay out in the street!” he told her, frantically scanning the area between the buildings, “I think it sticks to darker places.”
“Dipper,” she repeated with a hint of annoyance.
“I knew we shouldn’t have come into town today.”
Dipper turned to look at his sister. He expected her to be mad at him, but her expression looked more saddened than anything else. There was irritation there, yet also concern. Without a word, she took him by the wrist and led him over to the sunlit side of the store, off of the street and away from bystanders. There she stopped, shifting her purchases in her arms and sighing.
“Is this about that shadow monster thing again?” she asked.
“…It was right behind you,” muttered Dipper.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said, brushing off his comment, “Look-”
“I’m serious!” he shouted, not caring what looks they got.
“Come on, Dipper! You’ve been at this for four days now! You need to chill already!”
“And what, just let us get killed by some supernatural ghost thing?” He pointed at her accusingly. “And what’s with you? You believed me at first, why is now so different?”
“I thought it was a joke!” Mabel shot back, “I thought you were trying to mess with Grunkle Stan! It was kind of fun at first, but now you’re really starting to scare me, Dipper!” The anger in her eyes had all but vanished. She really did look genuinely worried. Still, he wasn’t going to let guilt beat out what he knew he saw.
“I’m not crazy.”
“I never said you were!” she said desperately, “I just-…I don’t know, maybe you’ve been reading that book too much. I mean, you’ve got your nose in it all the time.”
Dipper unconsciously touched his jacket. He could feel the hard spine of the novel underneath. He pressed his lips together and dropped his hand. Then he turned and walked away.
“Dipper?” he heard her call after him, but he continued down the road, “Dipper, we have to wait for Mike!”
He didn’t stop. He didn’t care. If the one person he thought he could trust in Gravity Falls didn’t believe him, why should he bother?