Ford lay in his tent, his mind racing at the speed of light. Thoughts of all sorts flooded him, but one, the most recent one refused to leave him.
He felt awful. How could he have said such things to her? Mabel had told him a simple goofy joke. A joke that she and Dipper would always laugh over. They were twins after all. Siblings make fun of each other and annoy each other so much that they grow numb to it all. It's a sibling thing that only the other would get. And Ford for sure hadn't. He could barely remember the last time he and Stan had joked like that.
He had called her things she wasn't. Unintelligent, a bragger and even wished she had been the one laying in the hospital instead of Dipper. He did not know how he could mend his relationship with Mabel now. He might have done so in the past with the whole apprenticeship thing. But not this time. He had hurt her too much.
As Ford was thinking this, a beeping noise went off. It was the thermometer. He had been told by the doctors to check his temperature every 2 hours to make sure everything was okay. It had now been 5 hours since he last checked it. In all the excitement and joy he had felt journeying with Mabel, he had forgotten.
Ford pulled the thermometer out and looked at the results. Up until now he was used to seeing the same old normal level of 98F or 99F, so he thought it'd be the same. His eyes widened when he saw the temperature reading this time.
It was dropping. Ford knew what this meant. His immune system was losing the fight. At this stage he knew that the right option was to turn back, fast and get to the hospital. But they were so close, they had to keep going. If his immune system could hold off the virus this long, it could keep it at bay until they got what they were looking for. But time was now running out. If he was going to get that herb, he needed to try and get some ground covered right now in the middle of the night.
But what about Mabel? She was still heartbroken, sitting in her tent perhaps. Ford knew he could not avoid the confrontation any longer. He wanted to wait until the morning but he knew he may not have a chance if his health started to fail. He had to make up with Mabel. It was now or never.
He got up, thankfully he did not feel dizzy. He was in the early stages after all. He began to walk towards Mabel's tent. But something didn't seem right. The zipper on the entrance was wide open. Ford approached the tent and looked in. To his shock, Mabel was not in it. Neither were any of her belongings.
"Mabel," he yelled. Ford grew even more concerned. Did Mabel run away? Heartbroken about how he had yelled at her? Or did something else happen?
He could not even begin to imagine that. But he had to look for her. She could be in danger. He ran back to his tent and grabbed his bag. He knew it contained items he may need. He then raced off into the woods.
"Mabel! Mabel are you out there? It's Ford. I'm sorry. Just please come back," he yelled. But it was hopeless. All he heard was the distant sounds of crickets chirping.
Ford sat down on a log. He had been searching and calling for Mabel for over 15 minutes now. The fact his immunity to the virus was diminishing was the least of his worries right now. He didn't care if Mabel never spoke to him again, he just wanted her back. He wished he had brought a map too. It may have helped him.
It then hit Ford. He opened his bag and pulled out a mini tablet like device. As a Christmas present, Ford had given Mabel a pair of star shaped earrings. She always wore them whenever the two of them travelled together. Often just on trips to the supermarket. But Mabel loved wearing them because he had hand built them for her and she wanted to show Ford how much she appreciated the gift and his company.
What she didn't know was that inside of them was a mini tracking device. At the push of a button on his tablet, Ford could activate a distress signal and it would pinpoint Mabel's location anywhere on Earth, so long as she was either in possession of or wearing those earrings.
Ford switched the device on and sure enough in mere seconds it had pinpointed Mabel's location. To his relief, the signal was not too far away. He raced off in the direction of it. But his relief soon turned to panic when he broke through the wooded area and into the clearing the signal was coming from.
He saw Mabel, clinging to a branch high up on a tree. Below her was a very large black bear. It was scratching and even banging the tree, trying to knock her down.
"Mabel," Ford yelled.
Mabel looked over to him. Ford could see the fear in her eyes. It made him fear for her life too.
"Grunkle Ford. Help," she yelled. The bear growled and scratched the tree more aggressively.
"Hang on sweetie, I'll save you I promise," Ford yelled.
Mabel nodded her head, agreeing to let Ford help her in any way he could. But what could he do? The bear was obviously very angry. If he attempted to get near, he knew the bear might attack him. But if he did nothing, the bear might shack the tree enough that Mabel could fall. And breaking a few bones would be the least of her worries then.
Ford then had an idea. He just hoped Mabel would later forgive him. He reached into his bag and pulled out one of his guns.
Mabel looked on in horror, "Grunkle Ford, no! Don't shoot him," she yelled. Even when her life was at stake, Mabel still cared for other beings, even ones that wanted to harm her.
But Ford was in control. The bear got spooked by the sound of Mabel's screams. He soon caught eye of Ford and started to come after him. Ford wasted no time and before Mabel could say anything….
Mabel watched in terror as the bear fell to the ground seconds after Ford fired at it. With the bear now no longer a threat, Ford approached Mabel who was beyond terrified looking up on the tree.
"Mabel, it's safe now. You can come down," Ford said.
"How could you have killed that bear Grunkle Ford? After everything I told you. And…and I'm scared Grunkle Ford! I don't wanna hurt myself getting down," Mabel yelled.
"Then jump. I'll catch you," Ford said.
"No! I'm more scared of that. Wha…what if you miss," Mabel responded.
Ford looked up at her, "Mabel sweetie, I know you're scared and I know you and I are not right now on the best of terms. But please believe me when I tell you that everything will be okay. You just have to trust me. I'll catch you. I promise," he said.
Mabel still looked at him with a nervous expression, but she knew deep in her heart that Ford would never harm her on purpose. With that in mind, she closed her eyes, let go of the branch and fell into the waiting arms of her great uncle below.
She was shaking in fear, her hands we're freezing cold and Ford even felt her tears stream down as she broke down in his arms. Nearly being killed by a bear is an extremely traumatic experience for a seasoned hiker, let alone a little girl.
Eventually Mabel grew the courage to ask. She looked up at Ford, "so, is that bear dead," she said.
"No. He's not dead pumpkin," Ford replied.
"Bu…. but you shot him! I saw him fall and…"
Ford showed Mabel the gun he had used. It was not that type of gun, "Tranquilizer dart gun. Enough to knock out a full-grown bear like that one. He'll be out cold for a while, but he's okay. Don't worry Mabel, it's going to be okay," said Ford.
Mabel teared up as she looked at her great uncle with eyes filled with relief and regret, "I'm so, so sorry for running away like that Grunkle Ford. You warned me about the forest and not to leave your side, but I still did," she said tearfully.
"No Mabel, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for lashing out and yelling at you like that. You we're only joking with me and I let myself take it personally. I should have known that you of all people would never make fun of someone and mean it. I'm the one who should be sorry, not you," Ford said.
Mabel smiled, "Hey, I guess we both have something to be sorry to each other about. You know, me and Dipper apologize to each other with what we call an awkward sibling hug," she responded.
"How about an awkward niece and great uncle hug," replied Ford.
"I think that will work perfectly," said Mabel.
With that said, the two of them hugged. And for the first time in a long time, Ford felt as if everything in his life was perfect once again. He knew that was not true, his brother and nephew we're still laying in hospital, their lives at stake, but he had Mabel back. And Mabel had him back.
"Let's get back to the campsite now," Ford said.
Mabel nodded. She fell asleep in Ford's arms as he carried her back to camp. He wanted to set out right now to give them more of a chance to reach the summit, but he knew after that ordeal, both of them, especially Mabel needed their rest.
He just hoped fate would let him finish this mission before the inevitable happened.