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Disneybound

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Jon cast a level gaze at the American sitting on the other side of the table. He was fit and clean-shaven, and he appeared to be in his early thirties. He wore a wide grin and a bright red shirt depicting Minnie Mouse posing in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Jon sighed and pressed the record button of his tape recorder.

“Statement of Theodore Nakamura – ”

“Call me Ted, please. Or Teddy, if you like. All my friends do.”

Ted Nakamura, regarding a strange phenomenon he experienced at the Haunted Mansion attraction in Disney World – ”

“Sorry, but it’s ‘Disneyland.’ Disney World is the one in Florida.”

“In Disneyland, California. Statement recorded directly from subject on May 25, 2018.”

“This is exciting! I love the detail you’ve devoted to authenticity. The tape recorder is a nice touch.”

Jon grimaced. “Statement begins.”

A hint of uncertainty crept into Ted’s smile. “I’ve never done this before. Is there a protocol? Maybe some sort of standard introduction I should start with?”

“Just tell me about the incident you came to report. You can start whenever you’re ready.”

“All right, I’ll start at the beginning.”

Ted clapped his hands on his knees and took a deep breath. Jon watched as his eyes made a brief circuit around the densely packed shelves arranged in disorderly rows at the rear of the room before finally coming to rest on one of the objects jammed between the accordion folders and cardboard boxes. He’d witnessed this process often enough that he could pinpoint the object of the man’s attention – a cloudy snow globe with a tarnished metal base. It wasn’t connected to any of the cases on file in the archives, merely something Gertrude had brought back from one of her travels on a whim.

“I guess you could say that I’m not the sort of person who would be the star of a Disney movie,” Ted began. “I’m not an orphan, and I had a happy childhood. My mother was an architect who moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles during the construction boom of the 1980s, and my father went to business school at UCLA and never left. His family is from Seattle, and they made some money in real estate in the 1990s. We’re comfortably middle class, but I went to one of the big public schools in Orange County.”

He paused, seeming to expect some sort of reaction. When it became clear that no such reaction was forthcoming, he continued.

“Even in LA, where everyone tries to stand out, high school was all about belonging to a group. I didn’t have any interest in the grandstanding of my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, and I didn’t have the looks or the talent for the student theater club, which is where a lot of kids like me spent a year or two on their way out of the closet. Mostly I kept my grades up and my head down as my circle of friends from middle school gradually went their separate ways.

“My mom worked from home, and she made sure our house had the first high-speed internet connection in my neighborhood. I don’t mind admitting that I spent a lot of time online. I posted an embarrassing number of bad stories about cartoon characters on LiveJournal, and I eventually ended up being invited to join a popular Disney fan community moderated by a friend of a friend. All the people I spoke with on the comm were strangers, at least at first, but we gradually got to know one another as we responded to each other’s posts and comments.

“Between one thing and another, we somehow managed to figure out that most of us were the same age. Oddly enough, a lot of us lived in SoCal, so we decided to meet up over the summer at Disneyland. Everyone showed up, and we had a great time. We met again the next summer, and then again after my senior year.

“Nothing bad happened, but I stopped updating my LiveJournal after that. I went to college in New York, got a job in the city, and fell out of touch with most of my online friends.

“I moved back to LA four years ago, not that I do anything glamorous. I manage the back end of a tech company’s website and intranet, mostly database stuff, but I still have an IG account. I started it just for fun, but I joined early and picked up more than a thousand followers in less than a year. Someone suggested that it would be cool for me to visit to Disneyland and post photos, so I thought, why not? Like, I love Disneyland!”

Jon cleared his throat. “And what is this ‘strange incident’ you came to report?”

“Hold your horses, I’m getting to it. It’s important that you know my background, right? What I’m trying to say is that I’d only been to Disneyland three times before. It wasn’t a major part of my life. But it was a good part of my life – that’s important.”

Jon nodded in acknowledgment. “Very well, then. Duly noted.”

“Disneyland was considered to be a little seedy when I was in high school, but it’s gotten fancy in the past ten years or so. It used to be that you could just walk in, but these days you practically have to make an itinerary. So I did some research, got a group of people together, and we went and saw the sights. Everyone wore an outfit to match the style of a character, and we took a lot of pictures. The photos were so popular that I hit 5k followers in less than 24 hours, can you believe it? Everyone and their sister is into DisneyBounding these days, but picking up that sort of following from on-location fashion photos was still a thing you could do in 2015.

“Like I said, I had a happy childhood, but no one ever paid me that sort of attention. It was such a dopamine hit, you have no idea. Or maybe you do?”

Jon grit his teeth. “Please continue with the statement.”

Ted laughed. “Pushy, aren’t you? But that’s all right. It’s weird, but I feel like I can tell you anything. Has anyone ever said that to you before?”

“You’re not the first.”

“Maybe it’s the librarian thing you’ve got going on – or archivist thing, sorry. Puts me right at ease. And I appreciate that. If there’s an adult who willingly goes to Disneyland for fun, especially someone like me, people tend to think that’s creepy. The therapist I was seeing at the time called it ‘Peter Pan Syndrome,’ of all things. I never went to another appointment with her again, but that’s beside the point. What I’m trying to say is that I kept going back to Disneyland, usually with friends but sometimes with my boyfriend, who I met on Insta. We bonded while sharing theories about the Haunted Mansion, which is… Well, it used to be my favorite ride in the park. It still is, I guess, but I can’t go on it anymore.

“It took me long enough to get here, but this is the part of my story that should interest you. The reason I like the Haunted Mansion is because it reminds me of my mother, who passed away from a heart attack while I was living in New York. It was very sudden, completely out of the blue, and I never got to say good-bye. I never cared about the Haunted Mansion when I was in high school – we all thought it was cringe for some silly teenage reason that probably involved how awkward it would be if we were in the dark with each other. It wasn’t until I visited the park again as an adult that I finally went on the ride. When I did, I had this sudden flashback to a childhood memory.

“I must have gone to Disneyland with my parents when I was young, because standing in the dark and listening to the music made me recall being on the ride with my mother. This was during the lead-up, before you get in the Doom Buggies and begin the ride proper. I remember being absolutely terrified by what I thought was an endless maze. I felt like that line, after it entered the building, lasted forever. Kids can be like that sometimes, but my memory of this is crystal clear – the corridor genuinely didn’t end. I felt like there were people all around us, there had to be, but somehow it was just me and my mother, alone in the darkness.

“And then I remember that this terrible thing appeared out of nowhere. I’m not sure how to describe it. It definitely wasn’t a person in a costume, but it was too realistic to be the projection of a cartoon, and it was talking to us in voice that sounded like laughter and crying at the same time. Like it was hurt, but it found its pain amusing. Meanwhile, the walls kept stretching, and as they got taller I started to see awful things in the gaps between the ceiling and the floor.

“My mother held my hand the whole time. She kept whispering to me: ‘It’s going to be okay. You are brave, and you are strong. Nothing in here can hurt you.’ Just that, over and over, until the ride was over.

“When we finally got out, I ran straight to my dad, who knelt down on the pavement on the other side of the gate and hugged me. He and my mother both patted my back as I cried. I was so relieved to be outside again that my tears wouldn’t stop.

“My dad seemed confused by how afraid I was. This didn’t occur to me until I started thinking about it much later, but isn’t it strange that he didn’t understand why a young child would be frightened by a scary ride?

“I moved back to LA almost immediately after my mom’s funeral, but Dad became a little distant with me. We were both grieving, and it must have seemed callous to him that I was posting shots of myself at Disneyland on social media right after Mom died. Really I just needed a break from the move, from my job, from mourning, from everything – and I guess a part of me felt like my mother would never die as long as I kept returning to that memory of her holding my hand in the Haunted Mansion.

“My dad eventually moved on and married a younger woman. She would probably be my evil stepmother if my life were a Disney movie, but she’s actually a princess, and I adore her. I spend more time with her than I do with my dad these days, but I’m trying to do better. I thought I could reconnect with him if I took him along with me on a visit to the park, but he turned down my invitation. He told me he enjoyed my photos, but that he had never been to Disneyland and had no interest in going. Too many screaming children, he said.

“That was a surprise to me, so I told him about my memory of the Haunted Mansion. While I was talking, his face went completely pale. I don’t mean that as a figure of speech – it was like all the blood had been drained from his skin.

“He insisted that he had never been to Disneyland with me and my mother, but then he told me something strange. When I was about five years old, we went to visit his family in Seattle. My grandfather had just taken on management of a property in Capitol Hill, one of the old Gothic Revival mansions that used to be common there before the neighborhood gentrified. It was an old house, almost as old as the city itself, but my grandfather was having trouble finding potential buyers. The property had been designed by the student of a famous British architect by the name of Robert Smirke, and he wanted my mother to come take a look. Do a walkthrough, point out any potential areas of interest and value, that sort of thing.

“According to my father, my mother had a bad experience in that house. She refused to talk about it with him or anyone else, and she never went back to Seattle. She took me along with her on her tour of the property, and I was apparently just as upset as she was when we came out, even though my dad says we spent less than ten minutes inside. If I thought this place was the Haunted Mansion, and if the ride at Disneyland evoked such a strong memory, it makes me wonder – what did we see in that house?

“I checked with my grandfather, and he said the property never did find a buyer. The only person who seemed seriously interested was a British woman by the name of Gertrude Robinson. Shortly after she made inquiries, the place burned down. Imagine my surprise when I ran a search and learned that this Gertrude Robinson was employed by an institute dedicated to paranormal research.

“So,” Ted concluded, meeting Jon’s eyes, “I gave you my statement. I hope it will be useful to you. I was wondering what you could tell me in return.”

“Not much, I’m afraid. As you can see, we’re still in the process of organizing our records. We’ll investigate to the best of our abilities and contact you if we learn anything.”

“I would love that, thank you. Well, you have my information so…”

“We’ll be in touch. I believe I see my assistant Melanie hovering around. She used to have a large following on social media herself. I’m sure she’d be happy to show you outside.”

“So you’re from LA,” Jon heard Melanie say as she held the door open. Ted directed his dazzling smile at her, which she returned before allowing the door to slam shut behind them.

“Statement ends,” Jon muttered as listened to their conversation growing fainter. He ended the recording and leaned back in his chair.

“Any thoughts you’d like to share, Martin?”

“Oh, I, um,” Martin stammered. “I didn’t want to interrupt the, you know. The statement.” He rubbed the back of his neck as he emerged from between the shelves.

“It’s fine, Martin. It was a relief. To know that you were listening.”

“I’m sorry, I… What? It was?”

“I’ve never been good with people like that.”

“People like… Wait, excuse me?”

“People who are so…” Jon made a vague gesture to illustrate his point. “Sunny. Bright. Content. When someone comes here to make a statement, they’re usually upset.”

“Ah, right. I can see what you mean. But he looks like he just got back from a trip to the happiest place on earth.”

“The happiest place on earth?”

“You know, Disneyland Paris.”

“Disneyland Paris? They finished construction?”

“A few decades ago, actually.”

Jon sympathized with Ted Nakamura’s father. Between the crowds and the relentless sunshine, he couldn’t imagine a more ghastly location, and by this point he considered himself something of an expert on cursed geography.

“I don’t suppose we’ll have to go there ourselves to investigate,” he said, making an attempt to smile. He failed. His muscles were still tense from the process of taking a statement, and his face felt frozen.

“Really? You… want to go to Disneyland Paris? I suppose I could come too, I mean, if it’s not…”

Jon was alarmed by how red Martin’s face was becoming. Did Martin want to go to a theme park? Jon didn’t know much about Disneyland – or Paris, for that matter – but his childhood had been unusual, to say the least. He’d never asked, but Martin’s family couldn’t have been much if he had nowhere to sleep but down here in the archives. Perhaps he could use a vacation. Perhaps they both could.

Jon turned to face his assistant. “Martin, I…”

“Did someone say Disneyland Paris?”

Jon frowned. “Does this conversation interest you, Elias?”

“I heard you were planning a trip. You really must go sometime. It’s fantastic, quite the experience. I went myself, back in 1996.”

Elias made a quick series of taps on the screen of his phone before holding it out in front of him. Jon and Martin leaned forward to get a better look.

In the photo, Elias was posing next to someone wearing a Mickey Mouse costume. He wore an aloha shirt over denim shorts, and he was grinning from ear to ear. The camera had caught him in the act of pulling a tall man with a square jaw and a severe expression into the frame. The image quality was poor, but the man seemed far too pale for the summer sunshine.

Jon’s frown deepened. “And that is…?”

“Oh, this is Peter. You’ll meet him soon enough, I’m sure.”

“Do you, um. Do you go to Disneyland often, then?” Martin asked.

“Just the once. Peter lost a bet, you see.”

“Right.” Jon couldn’t put his finger on it, but he had a bad feeling about this.

“I wouldn’t mind going back. We could all go together, make an office party of it. It would be fun. You do know what fun is, don’t you, Archivist?”

Martin’s eyes darted between Elias and Jon. “I don’t think it’s safe to…”

“Come now,” Elias interrupted. “Would you have any reason not to?”

“China.”

“Excuse me?”

“China. I need to follow up on a statement, something Gertrude was looking into before she traveled to New Zealand.”

“Excellent. I’m glad that’s settled. I’ll leave you to your preparations, then.”

“Damn it.” Jon clenched his fists on the table as Elias left. A trap had been set, and he’d walked right into it.

“Don’t feel bad,” Martin said, oddly perceptive. After everything they’d been through, Jon was coming to appreciate that about him. “At least we know that Elias is still human. He likes Disneyland, after all.”

Jon wasn’t convinced that a fondness for theme parks qualified someone as being ‘human,’ but what would he know? He had to admit that Elias was right about one thing – it would do him good to get out of the archives.

“Are you really going to China, then?”

“I suppose I am.” Jon removed his glasses and rubbed his forehead.

“I’ve always wanted to go someplace like that, somewhere far away,” Martin said, his eyes darting to the tape recorder on the table. “I’d like to hear about it. If you don’t… If you don’t mind, of course. Maybe I could, I mean, we could go out for a coffee together. After you get back.”

“All right,” Jon replied, replacing his glasses. That would be rather nice, actually. “After I get back.”