He couldn't take it any more. Disney! The laughs, the fun, the noise. How to make it stop? Of course! Use the time machine. Go back and stop Walt Disney from creating Mickey Mouse. Without Mickey, there would be no Disneyland, no Disney films, no Disney...
It all started with the theft of a mouse.
As Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks worked in a backroom of Walt's studio to create the first Mickey Mouse animated cartoons in 1928, a most unwelcome visitor from the next century swiped Mickey from under their noses, dismantling the Disney empire before it ever took shape.
He didn't count on Walt Disney following him into the future to get his mouse—and his life—back.
Scott Madden's inventive book of Disney time travel is a non-stop thrill ride of adventure, and an alternate history of a world in which there is no Mickey Mouse.
From the base of the knoll, the rise looked a great deal higher than it actually was. In fact, a topographical map of the area would probably make no differentiation between it and the surrounding landscape. The grass blanketing the slope was an otherworldly green, knee-high and pliable, and it swayed hypnotically at the whim of a strong cross-breeze.
Moving slowly up the knoll was a single figure, a dark, spindly silhouette tramping through the grass with not the slightest bit of urgency. That is not to say the individual walked at a leisurely pace, for there was something about his carriage that suggested some deep anxiety. Maybe it was the mop-top hair flopping side to side in the breeze, or the measured paces as though he feared covering too much ground with a single step. Or perhaps it was the lack of movement in the neck, suggesting his gaze was up the rise and nowhere else. He was determined to get to the top, that was certain. He was just in no hurry to get there.
Above, the crisp azure sky arched over the crest of the knoll, the stark contrast of the clashing colors as perfect as the hand-crafted masterpiece of some devoted cartographer. Some playful bluebirds zipped across the slope, performing loopity loops between zigs and zags, and the buzzing of myriad insects rose up gradually, like an expectant crowd urging the man on.
He drew near the top, and within his next few steps must see, at last, what awaited him on the other side. He paused and cleared his throat; looked in every direction but behind him. Then, drawing a deep breath, he pressed on.
Scott lives in the suburbs of Chicago with his wife and their nine-year-old black lab. A medieval knight by trade, Scott is a skilled horseman and avid sportsman. He is the author of the novel Thunder Island, the first volume in a series of swashbuckling tales of pirates and dinosaurs, and The Sorcerer’s Brother, a biography of Roy O. Disney. You can learn more about his work and his upcoming projects at ScottMMadden.com.
You can never have too much Disney, right? Well, you can. And if you're Professor Peter McLarsen, you can have a lot too much Disney. And a plan for doing something about it.
The den in the townhouse was an awful, awful mess. It served as a home office, though that term would imply some type of order. Instead, the room appeared as though some natural disaster had whipped through, devastating but gracious enough to leave the ceiling and walls intact. There was a desk somewhere, buried beneath leaning mountains of manila folders and loose papers. A swivel chair with one broken armrest was mostly concealed by a heap of oft-flipped-through scientific journals and worn-out books.
Light flooded in through a large west-facing window and splashed across grid-lined graphs, diagrams, and assorted esoteric sketches on the wall that looked like something out of a science-fiction novel. A large print of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man took up the wall space above a shoulder-high bookcase, each shelf bowed down by leather-bound volumes and magazines stacked every which way.
Of all the adornments on the wall, one item stood out—a three by three-and-a-half foot poster hung askew amongst the diagrams. The corners curled in toward each other, and the sheen of the laminate had long ago worn off, leaving a piece that appeared as vintage as it did out of place in the cluttered office. The image was of a sterile-looking maze, white-walled and full of switchbacks and dead ends. Two monstrous rats—red-eyed and foamy-mouthed—made their way toward the center of the labyrinth. Standing in the very center, lost, confused, and well aware of the evil vermin bearing down on him, was Mickey Mouse. His white-gloved hands reached out to the fourth wall in supplication.
In the center of the office was a tall, broad-shouldered figure, clad entirely in black and sitting upon an old leather ottoman. He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, his clenched fists pressed to his temples as the sinews of his forearms looked on the verge of rupturing the flesh. A keen ear would have noticed that he was speaking to himself, repeating the same few words and numbers over and over again as though struggling to concentrate.
Through a partially open sliding door was the living room in which a television functioned on full blast. A powerful female soprano, backed by a rousing tune, belted out a song that ping-ponged off the walls, flitted in through the office door, and stabbed into the man’s ears for the umpteenth time that weekend. He attempted to work things out by speaking aloud while doing his best to block out the music, but to no avail. His ruminations were eventually drowned out, lost to oblivion, and he could finally take no more.
Professor Peter McLarsen jumped up so quickly that the breeze upset some pages on the desk, and in his haste to leave the room, he banged his knee against the door frame. By the time he’d reached the television and turned it off, he’d cracked his elbow on the newel post at the bottom of the stairs and tripped over a pink back-pack lying in the middle of the living room floor. With the music cut off, he sat back on his heels and took a deep breath.
A gentle rattle startled him. He turned abruptly toward the couch, certain he was about to hear the protestations of his daughter. Instead, he saw that Zoey had fallen asleep, her face shielded by a curtain of golden curls. She was snoring, dreaming deeply. He rested his forehead in his hand, unable to quash the lingering notes of that sickeningly sweet song in his head.
McLarsen tried to think of something else—the last article he’d read in Scientific Weekly, the opening sentence of his master’s thesis, two plus two—but he couldn’t focus with the echoes of that damn song throbbing behind his eyes. He rose and stomped back and forth across the living room, jabbing his fingers in his ears as though that might help. Instead, rising up through the thunderous rumble in his plugged ears, was his own inner voice. In mocking tones, it repeated over and over, the words “Let it go.”
It was in this moment that McLarsen made a decision, and the immediate mitigation of the pulsating in his skull left little doubt that it was the right one. With a hand on each side of the doorway, he leaned into his den and glared at the poster of Mickey Mouse. A crooked grin took shape on the professor’s face, and for a moment his cold, brown eyes met the bulging cartoon orbs. The rats seemed somehow closer, having caught the scent of the animated pest and pushed their frenzied pace. In a moment of pure madness, McLarsen thought he saw them lunge, teeth bared, upon the helpless mouse, and he leaned back to laugh when...
“Daddy?” asked a meek voice, the speaker tugging at the bottom of his shirt.
Zoey had woken up. She was rubbing her eyes and yawning when he turned and dropped to a knee beside her.
“What is it, honey?” He gently pushed her hair back behind her ears.
“Can I have macaroni and cheese?”
She didn’t wait for an answer, but took her seat on the couch and flipped the television back on with the remote. That song picked up exactly where it had left off, and he trudged—his rigid shoulders on level with his ears—into the kitchen to make the girl some dinner.
The next week was busy, least of all due to the fact that summer break had ended and students had returned to campus for the fall semester. In his spare time, McLarsen remained in his laboratory located in the university’s science building, working on a personal project that occupied his mind as much as his time. Janitors and overnight security guards wondered what he was up to, but as all his work was done in a small room only accessible through the laboratory, they could only guess at its purpose.
When Friday afternoon rolled around, McLarsen looked haggard and unkempt. Oily stains on his brown tweed jacket did not go unnoticed by students and faculty, nor did the tangled mass of unwashed hair atop his head. A scientist, academician, and engineer, Professor McLarsen was tall and stout, though his prominent boxer’s chin threw the dimensions of his face all out of proportion. Though not exactly long, his hair was not short. Like most simple day-to-day activities, he put off trips to the barber in order to keep at his work. As was his custom, he wore all dark colors, a dark brown tweed suit coat over a black button-down shirt, and corduroy slacks. The good professor had once upon a time been a rising star in the field of physics. But like many brilliant men and women that make a living investigating the inner workings of an increasingly complex world, the professor’s own personal endeavors began to consume him. He spent more time at his own projects and much less on practical things that can secure a good teacher his tenure. His behavior was described by those most fond of him as somewhat eccentric, but by outside observers he was more often referred to as a cracked nut.
The fact that his long-standing personal obsession was time travel did little to improve his reputation. Even more off-putting was the fact that, though most of his peers employed the term “implausible” when discussing time travel, the professor had the audacity to declare that it was, in fact, probable. And so he found himself going into the last year of his contract with no immediate plans for the future, a dilemma that bothered him not the slightest bit.
His five o’clock shadow had progressed to a salt-and-pepper beard, and his vacant stare whenever strolling about the campus had many questioning his sanity. This week had started out particularly stressful, the professor having come to a fateful decision the previous Saturday while spending time with his daughter. As happens with most hastily made decisions, however, the urgency of his own had subsided over the course of a few days. By Thursday, he was second-guessing himself, looking forward to Saturday afternoon, when Zoey’s mother would drop her off again. On Friday, in a relatively good mood, he had cut his students loose early to enjoy the weekend. He was surprised by the grumbling as they filed out.
Sara, his teaching assistant, was soon the only individual remaining besides him. She was putting some papers in order on an island counter McLarsen generally used as his podium. As was her practice, she began speaking to him in a stream-of-consciousness kind of way that was generally efficient, but sometimes hard to follow.
“There were two absentees today, and three arrived late…John Rathbone was fifteen minutes late and slept most of class, not surprised after the party at North Hall last night…got all the homework assignments here, everyone that arrived, on time or late, turned theirs in…oh, and by the way, Professor, there’s some big-ass looking thing in the back room there that looks like an upended phone booth. Professor Herd’s been sniffing around and complained to the dean…I think the dean might want to get in there at some point just to make sure it’s not, like, some nuclear weapon or something.”
She chuckled to herself, but froze when she saw the look on McLarsen’s face.
“Everything okay, Professor?”
“Professor Herd saw it?” McLarsen asked rather abruptly.
“I guess so,” she replied. “But he doesn’t know what it is. Nobody does. Not even me.” The professor breathed a sigh of relief and picked up a pen that had been dropped on the floor. When he stood up, Sara was staring intently at him.
“What is it?”
“Aren’t you even going to tell me what it is? I am your teacher’s aide.” The professor smiled and wagged his finger at her before changing the subject.
“Why was the class in such a bad mood?” he asked.
“Well, I think most students are used to less homework the first week of the semester.”
“Other professors don’t give homework?”
“They do,” Sara answered, her single braid slinging around like a rope when she turned her head. “But nobody wants ten pages of advanced physics problems the second day of class.”
“I have to gauge the knowledge of my students, Sara. And if that means cutting into the free time Rathbone would use listening to music, drinking, and who knows what else, I’m just fine with that.”
“Mm-hmm,” she replied, shuffling through the stack of papers she held. She shook them toward McLarsen. “And a pop quiz on the second day?”
“Are the students upset I gave it? Or are you upset you have to grade them?” When Sara bit her lip and exhaled sharply through her nose, he grinned and gestured for her to be off.
“Is it that you care that much about learning, Professor? Or are you just opposed to fun?”
McLarsen laughed. Sara was in her second year as his assistant, and they had developed a friendly rapport. When she remained at the door, awaiting an answer, he sighed.
“Sara,” he said, suddenly curious to ask her a question, “if you had a time machine, and you could travel anywhere in time…what would you do?”
“Is that what that thing in the back room is?” she asked, mockingly. “A time machine?”
McLarsen forced a laugh, shaking his head.
“What would you do?” he repeated.
“I’d probably go visit my younger self and tell her not to go to college. Tell her to get some credit cards and run up $80,000 in debt living on a beach in Jamaica instead.”
“Fair enough,” McLarsen replied, entertained.
“What about you, Professor? What would you do?”
“I’d visit some of the great moments in history. Maybe I’d peek through a window and watch Einstein contemplating his theory of relativity, or Niels Bohr making breakthroughs with the atom. Maybe I could be there when Marie Curie first explained radioactivity…though I’d have to watch that from a distance.”
“So if you had the power to travel through time, you’d go back and watch other scientists work? Wow, Professor, that’s good fun,” she said, the sarcasm thick in her voice.
He shrugged and tried to smile, embarrassed for some reason.
“And no,” he said after a moment. “To answer your question, I’m not averse to my students enjoying themselves. But when all is said and done, they’re here to learn, are they not? It should be difficult.”
“I like getting good grades. My parents love it. But I’ve come to realize that college is more of an experience than anything else. Learning is just part of it.”
“If I’d had that mindset, Sara, I wouldn’t be here teaching now, would I?”
“Oh my god,” she whined through clenched teeth. “I don’t know what happened once upon a time, Professor, that turned you into Captain Bringdown. But let it go.”
With that, she spun and hurried out the door. There are three-word phrases that can change lives and alter futures, but in McLarsen’s case, there was none so powerful and well-timed as the one she’d just used. Let it go. The phrase reminded him that the very next day his daughter would arrive, and she’d want to watch—over and over—all of those corny, irritating Disney movies. More importantly, it reminded him that he had it within his power to stop the madness. Gone were visions of Einstein, Bohr, and Curie, and the red that suddenly flooded his vision was as deep and unmistakable as a certain cartoon mouse’s shorts. The decision that had faded gradually over the course of the week came back now, full force, and spiked his determination. With his jaw clenched and his eyes unblinking, he disappeared into the tiny back room to get to work.
Continued in "The Mouse Thief"!
Walt and Ub and Wilfred were so close, so close to releasing the very first Mickey Mouse cartoon, and setting the foundations for the Disney empire. And then suddenly it went all so very wrong.
Wilfred Jackson was a fresh-faced, well-groomed young man that had started at the studio only a week before. He’d been relegated to the bottom of the animation hierarchy, cleaning the paint off used celluloids that would be utilized again. Yet each day was filled with the excitement of learning something new, and this warm, spring Monday promised to be no different.
It was on April 30, 1928, that he knocked on the door to the storage room in the back corner of Walt’s studio on Hyperion Avenue. When it was opened from the inside by his new boss, Jackson stepped in and closed the door behind him. A worried aspect took over his visage when he noticed Walt shuffling around the drawings on the animators’ table. He changed the order of a couple, another he crumpled up and tossed into a wastebasket. Jackson groaned so that only he could hear it. Ub isn’t going to like this. The young man shifted his weight from one foot to the other, glancing quickly at the sole window in the cramped little room. The shades were not entirely closed and allowed in a narrow slice of light. It was the only illumination apart from a single electric bulb hanging in the center of the room. Clearing his throat, the young man stepped forward.
“It seems that all your animators are late, Mr. Disney,” he suggested, gesturing towards the clock hanging above the desk. It read 9:03 am. “If you’d like, I could do some…”
“It’s Walt, Jack. Walt. Got that? Mr. Disney lives in Oregon with my mother. And the animators are not late. They’re gone. Mintz took all of ’em, Jack, and he took Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, too! He took everything except you, Ub Iwerks, and a few others.” Walt Disney rose to his full height, shooting his hips forward with his hands on the small of his back. With dark, liberally slicked-backed hair and piercing eyes, he looked down his hawk nose at his young employee, who was now nodding his head as though he’d figured out some pesky riddle.
“So that’s why the guys took all their stuff home after work Saturday. I thought they just didn’t trust each other.”
“Well, they shouldn’t trust each other, now should they? If they betrayed me, they’ll betray each other. And they’ll stab Mintz in the back, too! But forget about them, Jack,” Disney added with a dismissive wave. He picked up the stack of drawings and began rifling through them again. “We don’t need them, and we don’t need Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Mickey’s the thing. We’re gonna give the people a kind of character they’ve never seen before. Brave, scrappy, suave…a pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of guy!” He went quiet for a moment as he examined one of the drawings. The mouse had certainly begun to come to life on the pages.
Jackson sniffed and coughed. The smell of smoke hung heavy in the air. He looked at the drawings as his boss shuffled through them one by one. He was about to comment when Walt spun around, his eyes twinkling.
“Say, Jack, what about this? Mickey sees a picture of Lindbergh hanging on the wall. He notices Lucky Lindy’s hair, you see. So Mickey tossles his own hair and puts on that same charming smile.” Walt pantomimed the action as he described it. “Yeah, that’d work, don’t you think?”
“That sound’s great, Mr. Dis—uh, Walt.”
“Of course it’ll work, and if we can…”
A creaking sound from the window suddenly drew their attention. Walt paused, breathless. Along with his brother Roy and Ub Iwerks, he had been working on Mickey in top secret for several weeks now, out of sight of the traitorous, soon-to-depart animators. They had used this storage room as their headquarters, keeping it locked at all times so that only they could get in with the key. Ub drew feverishly, churning out as many as six or seven hundred drawings a day—an astounding feat to say the least. At night, Walt brought the drawings home, where a makeshift office had been set up in his garage. There his wife, Lillian, his sister-in-law, Hazel, and Roy’s wife, Edna, inked and painted the drawings onto the celluloids so that they could be filmed.
The process was exceptionally secretive, since several of the defecting animators were still working at the studio to finish a few Oswald cartoons. Even Jackson knew very little about the mouse. It was of utmost importance that other studios not catch wind of the idea. Especially that weasel, Mintz, at Universal, who had nearly single-handedly destroyed Walt’s studio. One of Walt’s greatest fears was a spy.
He glared toward the window, one eyebrow arched. When the noise went unrepeated, he turned his attention back to the drawings. He still held them in his hand when Ub burst through the door.
The Dutchman was average-sized, with penetrating eyes and a pencil mustache to rival that of Disney. His short to mid-length hair perpetually looked as though he’d just stepped out of a wind tunnel, his posture indicative of a man who spent hours a day hunched over his work. He held out a stack of papers, shaking them wildly in front of him. But when he saw Walt holding the drawings that had been perfectly ordered on his table, his face flushed red and he forgot all about the items in his hand.
“Walt, I had those in order. They were timed out perfectly.”
“But it works better this way, Ub, have a look. Doesn’t this work better, Jack?”
Jackson shrugged and backed away.
“I’ve asked you before, Walt, not to disturb my table,” Ub lamented as he snatched back his drawings and set to reordering them. Walt went quiet, content to let the other have his way for now. When the man stopped suddenly a moment later and turned back, Walt didn’t know how to interpret the look on his face. They had quite a history together, Walt and Ub, going back to their late teens in Kansas City. They’d worked together, started a business and watched it flounder together, survived near bouts with starvation and the latest plundering of the studio’s talent. But Walt had never seen the look of despair that now came over his friend’s face.
“What is it, Ub?”
“You can forget about Mickey anyway, Walt. We can’t do it.”
“Like hell we can’t, you’ve drawn half the cartoon already.”
“It’s been done!”
“What do you mean it’s been done? That’s not possible.”
Even as Walt objected he took the papers that Ub shoved into his hand. He stared at the top sheet incredulously, the skin of his youthful face melting as though he’d suddenly gotten sick.
“I found it on the doorstep when I came in. Somebody’s already done the mouse, Walt. Even named it Mickey.”
Sure enough, the papers Walt now held composed a short, black-and-white comic strip. The star was none other than Mickey Mouse, the character he and Ub had created together in secret. There he was, alive on the paper, with his mischievous grin and the ears that looked perfectly circular from any angle. This Mickey was more pear-shaped than the way Ub drew him, and he wore large shoes that anchored him to the ground, but there was no mistaking his mouse. By flipping through the stack between thumb and forefinger, Walt was able to watch the animated Mickey strutting across the page, elbows pumping and chest out proud as he smiled up at him. There was no background and no other characters, but something sinister was coming to life on the bottom of the page.
It was script, spelling out a message. Walt’s shoulders sank in on themselves as he leaned expectantly forward over the stack. The first word in the script was M-I-C-K-E-Y. Mickey what? He continued to flip. The next word was I-S. Mickey is…Mickey is what?
Flipping faster now, the mouse picked up his pace. Walt was dismayed, not just at seeing his own pirated character cavorting across the pages, but at the fluidity of the mouse’s movements. Even the masterful animation of Ub, who drew with precision and skill to rival any of the New York boys, could not compare to the perfection of these drawings. Each one was a work of art, crisp and complete, edifyingly perfect. As the third and final word began to take shape, Mickey stopped and did a dramatic turn, placing his white-gloved fists firmly on his hips. Ub never put gloves on you. This observation was forgotten as the animated Mickey shattered the fourth wall, pointing up at him with his face scrunched up in intimidating fashion. The last word continued to scroll to its completion as Walt flipped.
He reached the last page, and he gripped it so tightly it nearly tore off in his fingers. The final pose was an angry Mickey, still pointing up at him—threatening him! Written in perfect block script beneath the mouse was the phrase, “MICKEY IS MINE!”
Disney felt sick. All the blood drained from his face as he stared down at his erstwhile creation. This was far worse than the betrayal of Mintz and his former animators. It was like a piece of himself had been stolen.
“Did you tell anybody about the mouse, Ub?” The Dutchman was hurt by the suggestion, and his silence was enough to assure Walt. “You, Jack?”
“Hell, it wasn’t me or Roy. We need to talk to the others. Get Les and Johnny in here, maybe it was one of them.”
“They didn’t know anything about Mickey, Walt,” Ub reminded him. Walt’s top was about to blow.
“Then it can only mean one thing,” he growled, pacing the small room, “Mintz had a spy here. And that side-winding son of a bitch has now got the jump on Mickey Mouse.”
“What’ll we do, Walt?”
“What can we do, Ub? If they’ve got him, they’ve got him. If this comic is already out, there’s no sense making a Mickey cartoon, is there? Nobody’ll believe we created him.” Walt clenched the back of one of the chairs to steady himself. Ub and Jackson could hear the wood groan beneath his sinewy grip.
“There’s more to it, Walt,” Ub added, taking a seat and slouching in the chair. Walt rested his chin on his fist as he looked at his friend.
“Did you notice,” Ub gulped, “how good the animation is?” He couldn’t look Walt in the eye.
“It’s pretty damn good.”
“It’s better than good, Walt. It’s perfect.” Walt didn’t want to agree out loud, but he knew Ub was right.
“What of it, Ub?”
“I can’t draw like that. Up until a moment ago, I didn’t think any human being could. But if Mintz—or whoever stole Mickey—has got an artist with the talent to draw cartoons like that…” Still, he could not look Walt in the eye.
“We’re doomed,” Jackson gasped, finishing the other’s thought. There was a long silence during which the three occasionally exchanged a look of despair. It was Walt that finally broke the mood, clearing his throat.
“Well, boys, we’re in a tough spot. But let’s not give up just yet. It takes a deeper pile of shit than this to make a Disney throw in the towel.”
“Well, Walt…” Ub began quietly. His confidence had been shaken to the core, but he was made of some pretty tough stuff, too. “I’ve been thinking about this other idea…a cartoon about a frog.”
“Oh, not the frog again, Ub,” Walt groaned. “We’ve been over this. There’s nothing lovable about a frog.”
“A frog is better than nothing, Walt, unless you wanna try another cat.”
With a sigh of resignation, Walt headed for the door. His hand was just touching the knob when they heard another creak from the direction of the window.
“What the hell was that?” Walt snapped.
A shadow suddenly dodged away from the strip of light, and Walt’s eyes widened as he tore open the door. As he hurried out, he ran chest-to-chest into his brother, Roy. Soon to turn thirty-five with thinning hair and eyes that appeared just a touch too close together, he was a couple of inches shorter than Walt.
“Where’s the fire, kid?” he asked, but Walt pushed him aside and hurried out, his shoes squeaking on the tile. An instant later, his head popped back around the corner.
“You three stay here and get to work on a new character,” he ordered. There was more squeaking, then his head appeared once more. He added very adamantly, “No frogs!”
Walt reached the outside of the window thirty seconds later. There was nobody there, nor did there seem to be anybody in or by the shed out back. There were footprints leading off toward the knoll to the north of the studio. He was about to follow them when the sunlight reflected off something on the ground. Lying there amongst the tangled weeds and dirt was a tiny rectangular object. It was two inches wide and four long, only millimeters thick with what appeared to be a glass screen.
“What is this?” he wondered, though nobody was there to answer. He brushed it off and shook it like a baby’s rattle. The glass screen lit up with a photograph of—of him! It was him, Walt Disney, mussing his hair, like he had done moments ago to demonstrate the Lindbergh scene to Jackson. How in the world? Somebody must have taken the picture through the window, through the narrow space left open by the shades. But what a photo! Walt had never seen anything like it. His image was incredibly clear on the screen, its only distortions those caused by the dirty window pane and narrow field of vision. He was still marveling at the wondrous object when he heard somebody cry out in pain to the north.
Forgetting the strange object for the moment, Walt ran as quickly as he could toward the knoll. When he reached the top, slick with sweat, he had a view of the other side. The ground sloped away, covered in gently swaying long-grass that led down to level ground two hundred yards away. There, the bottom butted up against a grove of pine trees. A man, clad all in black, was hurrying down the rise. His black pants were smeared with green on the left leg—he must have fallen and cried out.
“Hey, you!” Walt hollered, but the man showed no signs of slowing. In fact, he fell again, rolling down the hill like a boulder. When he came to a stop at the bottom, the man stood and began digging frantically through what looked like a pile of mulch. Walt put the strange object in his pocket and started down the hill. Something told him he must catch this fellow.
Walt was only halfway down the slope when he noticed a large, metallic object revealed from the pile in which the man was digging. It was a shiny, brick-shaped metal contraption, adorned with blinking red lights and solid yellows. It was perhaps large enough to hold two people lying down, but he had only a brief moment to examine it as he hurried on. He was more perplexed when the top of the thing opened like the folding door of a closet and the man jumped inside, closing it behind him.
Walt came to a stop and froze. It felt like the very air around him was alive. A sound too low to hear pulsated through the ground and into his feet. A shrill whistle made him cover his ears. In that instant, a blinding flash erupted from the metal contraption. Walt fell onto the seat of his pants with his hands out in front to ward off the brightness. There was a sound like a whip-crack, an incredible gust of hot air, and then in an instant all went silent as the grave. When he sat up and blinked away the light, the object was gone. Where it had been was nothing but scorched earth. Steam rose from the patch of grass now scarred with griddle-marks.
Walt rose slowly to his feet and approached the ground where the object had been. The steam had a sharp odor, like an electrical fire. Well, this beat anything he had ever seen. What could light up like that and then disappear from sight? A thousand questions were running through his mind. He tried somehow to connect them all to the supposed spy, but it didn’t add up. Mintz might be a clever thief, but he didn’t have the ability to create an effect like this. Nobody did!
With a last look at the site, Walt turned toward the studio. It occurred to him that he still had the strange, small rectangular object in his pocket. He carefully took it out to examine it. The screen was still bright, but his photograph was gone. In its place there now was a collection of several tiny and varied icons. One of the icons at the top right looked like a calendar. Looking closer, yes indeed, it was a calendar. And the date printed on it was…
This can’t be right. He shook the object, wondering if it was broken. But sure enough, when he looked again, that impossible date was still there. He read it aloud as insects chirped in the tall grass, “September first, twenty-eighteen.” That’s ninety years in the future.
Walt’s right eyebrow shot up as a new thought occurred to him. He glanced from the tiny object to the charred grass. He pictured the animation Ub had found—the flawless drawing of Mickey, almost too perfect to be real. What was passing through his mind was something strange…something impossible. But if there was any man or woman alive who could fathom the impossible, that person was Walt Disney.
Continued in "The Mouse Thief"!