When Claire and her little sister Annie visit Walt Disney World with their parents and wish Mom and Dad would disappear, that's exactly what happens. But now they're stuck forever in a bizarre version of the park, where the cast members and the characters are deadly, and the goal is staying alive.
Trapped in the theme park, Claire tries desperately to remove a MagicBand that suddenly glows red and has imprisoned her in a hellish alternate reality Disney World. She finds others wearing the same MagicBands, some of whom have been there since the park opened in 1971. The MagicBands provide for everything, except a way out.
The thrill of living in Disney World quickly fades as Claire discovers that the rides literally are to die for: the pirates in Pirates are murderous, the ghosts in Haunted Mansion are restless, and a brutish Injun Joe stalks Tom Sawyer Island. Even the Hall of Presidents wants her dead.
With a small group of friends, Claire races to locate the key that will unlock her black MagicBand and break the spell. But to get that key, they must brave the most dangerous attraction of all: Cinderella Castle, where they find not friendly mice and fairies but demons, zombies, and an evil as old as time.
Randall P. Girdner: Amazing human being. Teacher. Artist. Village Idiot. The author of this book wrote several other books. Sometimes, he writes movies (though none have ever been made). He has lived in many places around the world, including Dhaka, Shanghai, Accra, Toronto, Vancouver, Phoenix, Kissimmee, and Tahlequah. He is accompanied on his epic, transformative journey by Tracey, Harper, and Abbey. More information about him can be found at gracelandwest.com.
When Claire and her sister's MagicBands malfunction, a friendly but creepy cast member offers to exchange them for limited edition black bands that glow red. That can't be a good thing...
“Is this your first time at Disney World?” the woman asked. I looked at her name tag as we walked toward Guest Relations and saw that her name was Lucretia.
“No,” I said. “We’ve been here several times.”
“And we’ve never had trouble getting into the parks,” Annie said, sounding indignant and confused at the same time.
“Well, there’s a first time for everything, isn’t there?” Lucretia said. “This shouldn’t be any trouble. Let’s just go into this office space over here.”
This was odd. I could clearly see the Guest Relations booths to our right, with a small line leading up to the windows. That was where we should have been going, but Lucretia wanted to take us into one of the buildings behind them. If this was a real-life situation, I would have screamed STRANGER DANGER! and run screaming from someone who wanted to take me away from my parents, but we weren’t in the Real World anymore. We were at Disney World, and at Disney World, you did stupid things because this was the Most Magical Place on Earth. Going backstage with a stranger at Disney World was a bonus, not something to fear, so I had zero qualms about going behind the scenes with Lucretia.
But I should have. I should have realized that this woman was way too strange to be a part of the Disney Magic, but I was too absorbed in myself. I was not thinking, This is not normal. I was thinking, Geez, this is SO typical of my life right now that I have to be embarrassed like this.
The office that Lucretia brought us to was not very Disney-esque at all. It was cold and white and slightly dirty. It looked more like an industrial space that had, at one time or another, stored janitor equipment that had scuffed the walls over the years. The space had an old metal office desk and a heavy swivel chair behind it. On the wall behind the desk was a calendar, old and yellowed, announcing the opening of Epcot. Epcot opened in 1982. Surely, they would have put up a new calendar on the wall after, what…thirty years?
Bad show, Disney, I thought. Bad show.
Lucretia sat down on the chair behind an ancient computer, one of those 80s computers where the monitors were huge and bulky and the screens only displayed black-and-green letters. “Let’s just type in your names and see what’s happening here, shall we?” she said and she typed a few things into the computer with her long, clicky fingernails.
I was about to tell her my name, but she was already typing. She appeared to know my name already and I wondered whether my MagicBand had information about me stored inside of it. But when could she have seen that information? There wasn’t anywhere she could have seen it.
“Okay, Claire and Annie Williams,” Lucretia said. “I’ve got your file right here.”
“Our file?” I asked.
“Well, you’re a frequent Disney guest,” she said. “As a company, we always think it’s a good idea to keep tabs on the comings and goings of people at the park, so that we can offer a more magical experience for everyone involved.”
“If that’s the case,” Annie said, “why isn’t there an ice cream sundae waiting on me in my room every night when I get home?”
“That’s a really good question,” Lucretia said. “I’ll look into that and see what we can do.”
A very satisfied look of astonishment fell over my sister’s face, but I felt weird. This whole thing was weird.
“So, this is your…last visit to the Disney parks?” Lucretia asked.
This stopped me in my tracks. “Last visit?” I asked.
“Well, it says here on your file that you really didn’t want to come here with your family this time,” Lucretia said, reading from the screen. “It says that you would rather be anywhere else in the world than here at the parks with your family.”
My mouth fell open and I was speechless. How could she have known that?
“How could she know that?” Annie said, looking at me.
I looked at Annie and I’m sure my eyes were wide open with shock.
“I wouldn’t act like you’re the innocent little lamb, Annie,” Lucretia said. “You’ve thought the same thing about your parents.”
Much like mine, Annie’s mouth fell open, but she said nothing.
“What’s going on here?” I asked. “How would you know these things?”
“Well, this is Disney World,” Lucretia said. “A place where all your dreams come true. We solve problems like yours on a regular basis.” She began click-clacking on the keyboard again, pressed the enter key four times in a row (and a bit too harshly), then smiled at us in a very condescending way. “Ladies, I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that your problem is solved in more ways than you could ever imagine,” she said, reaching into a desk drawer to pull out two new MagicBands. “These new bands should make all of those little problems go away.”
The bands were different. The ones we had were white. These were black, and the Mickey Mouse symbol on them was upside-down. I turned the band over and the Mickey Mouse symbol was still upside-down. No matter which way I turned the band, the Mickey Mouse symbol was always the wrong way. I thought that I was seeing things.
“Just slip those on your wrist and you should have no trouble getting into the parks at all,” Lucretia said. “I’ll just take your old Magic Bands, if you don’t mind.” She extended her bony white hand and I got a good look at how long her black fingernails actually were. They were almost like claws.
Feeling incredibly strange, Annie and I passed our bands across the desk to Lucretia and slipped the new bands onto our wrists.
“If either of you have any trouble over the next few days,” she said, “please feel free to ask for Lucretia at Guest Relations, and I or one of my colleagues will be more than happy to assist you.”
We sat there for a second, staring at her in an awkward way, before she began glancing from the door to us and back again, indicating that it was time for us to go. She had an incredibly fake smile on her face, and soon her head began jerking toward the door, subtly at first, but then more forcefully, indicating that she was done with us. Annie and I rose from our seats and backed toward the door. Lucretia didn’t move the entire time, staring at us with that mannequin smile, as her eyes darted from us to the door.
Just before we left the room, she said, “Have a magical day!”
Continued in "Ghosts in the Magic Kingdom"!
The ghosts in this Haunted Mansion are not happy haunts; they're hungry, hateful haunts, and in Claire they see a new soul to possess.
We waded our way through the crowd, and like before, no one seemed to pay any attention. Then we found ourselves outside of the spooky doors that stood closed at the front of the line, where people waited to walk into the first room of the mansion. “Look,” Frieda said, growing serious, “there’s a few things you’ve gotta know about this ride.”
“What?” Annie said. “That it’s awesome?”
“No,” Frieda said, looking down at the band on her wrist. “These MagicBands…they kind of change the rides a little bit.”
The other kids snickered, as though they knew what she was talking about.
“Change the ride?” I asked. “How could it change the ride?”
“Well, it’s a suspension of disbelief thing. You know when you ride the Haunted Mansion and you can see how everything works? You know how you can see the wires or the mirrors and what-not?”
“What about it?”
“Yeah, that’s real life,” Ty said. “Once you have these MagicBands on, all that real life stuff goes out the window.”
“I don’t get it,” Annie said.
“Let’s just say that things get a little bit more real when you wear these things,” Frieda said. “This could be the wrong ride to take you on first, but since it’s your favorite…”
“I still don’t get it.”
“Just wait. You’ll see.”
“And whatever you do,” Sally said, “don’t panic. You’ll be okay.”
Don’t panic? I thought. This was just a ride. It was Disney World. Why in the world would I panic riding the Haunted Mansion? The mysteries with these kids just kept getting deeper and deeper. I exchanged a look with Annie and as I did, the doors to the Mansion opened.
I wasn’t at all prepared for what I saw.
Every time that I had been here in the past, the cast member at the door was dressed just like a cast member should be dressed for the ride. They wore a forest green maid or butler’s outfit and they had a faux-scary look about them with a cheesy scowl. They would say, “Kindly drag your bodies through the door…” or something like that, and the happy crowds would shuffle through the front doors into a waiting room, while the cheesy/creepy organ music played in the background. It was all good fun.
Yet that wasn’t what greeted us as the doors opened this time. When the doors flew open, it was not a living, breathing cast member with rosy-pink cheeks and a wink-wink-nudge-nudge demeanor. No, the person that pushed open the doors was dead.
You have to understand exactly what I am saying here.
The person was dead.
Maybe they were a zombie or something. Maybe they were a vampire with too much blood sucked out of their body. I don’t know how to describe it, exactly, but the person at the door of the Haunted Mansion was clearly not alive.
The outfit was the same dark green butler’s uniform (though it looked torn and frayed, as if he had been dragged behind a car for a few miles), but everything else was different. This cast member’s skin was shriveled up on his body and looked pale grey. Every indentation on the person’s face was dark and collapsed, as if they’d been starving for weeks or that all of the goopy stuff inside had gone away. His eyes were sunk back into their sockets and what could be seen of them was pale yellow, the irises retreated back to a single, tiny, black dot in the center. His uniform hung off of his bones and his hands were skeletal.
I was startled, but no one else batted an eye.
I kept expecting the usual line at the beginning of the ride (“Kindly drag your bodies…”), but this guy didn’t say that. Instead, he simply gurgled and moaned. He stood there, holding the doors open, waiting for us to walk inside.
I edged my way past him, the last of the group to enter, eyeing him apprehensively and keeping a safe distance as I went inside. That was when I noticed that we were the only people entering the mansion.
I looked behind me and saw the people in line milling about as usual. They didn’t make a move to follow us inside. They didn’t stare at the undead figure that had opened the doors. They didn’t gripe or grumble that they had to wait even longer. They simply stood there, as if we weren’t there at all, and as I was looking at them, our host zombie pushed the doors closed, staying outside with the others and watching me as the entrance was shut.
“That was cool,” Annie said.
“It gets cooler,” Ty replied.
How could Annie have been so clueless? This wasn’t normal. It wasn’t normal at all. The guy who just let us into the Haunted Mansion was actually dead!
I had to have had a massive look of panic on my face, because Frieda sidled up beside me and said, “You okay?”
“It’s just… He was… I don’t…” was all that would come out of my mouth.
“Remember what I told you,” she said, smiling. “The rides are a bit different when you have these black MagicBands.”
“Just wait. It gets better.”
We were in the dark foyer of the Haunted Mansion now, where a fireplace stood on one side, flanked by two sets of heavy, oak doors. When we had been there previously, the fireplace was empty, but on this night, there was a roaring fire. I could feel the heat from the flames and it cast the room in an otherworldly, flickering glow. Above the fireplace was a portrait of an old man who seemed to be aging as I looked at it. This was no different than what had been there previously, but the effect was much more intense. The man aged, then died, then turned into a skeleton.
As I stared at the skeleton, it turned its head and began to look directly at me. That was when the ride’s narration kicked in. “When hinges creak in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls…” The voice was the same, but it was the skeleton that was saying it. Its jaw flapped open with each word and it motioned with its bony hands as it did.
Suddenly, the skeleton began to crawl out of the portrait.
It grabbed the edges of the frame at first, pulling itself forward as it spoke. Then, it poked its bare skull through the frame and began inching its way forward, its arms reaching down to brace itself on the top of the fireplace.
“Whoa,” Annie said.
I looked around at the rest of the group and everyone was smiling, listening to the skeleton as it delivered its spiel. I wasn’t smiling, though. Maybe I was a big chicken. Maybe I was not really buying into the joy of having a private Haunted Mansion experience. Or maybe, just maybe, I was completely unnerved, because the skeleton was focused on one thing and one thing only: me.
He continued his spiel, climbing down the fireplace, creaking as he leaned on the mantle, the sound of his bones scraping together. Frieda and the others opened up a path for him as he reached the floor and walked through the group, where he looked at me as he finished his monologue. He then told us how he was our “ghost host” and that we should move into the next room and kindly watch our step.
One set of the doorways flanking the fireplace opened up and everyone began to shuffle into the next room. When I tried to follow them, the skeleton stepped into my path. I tried to walk around him, but he kept blocking my way, staring at me with his ghoulish grin, silent and foreboding.
Continued in "Ghosts in the Magic Kingdom"!