09 Sep The Dark Side of the Mouse
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"The Dark Side of the Mouse"Written by Emily C. Burch
Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
Part 1 – The Happiest Place on Earth (Abby’s Story)
My name is Abby, and I work in the Happiest Place on Earth.
Well, properly, I work in the Starbucks in the middle of Epcot. Day in and day out, I get to deal with impatient, rabid Disney families and the occasional inebriated college students, dying to get their caffeine fixes. And all the while, I get to do it with the energy of a Disney princess moonlighting as a barista. It’s not terrible, but trying to keep a cheery smile on my face and a certain pep in my step gets difficult sometimes. Especially lately.
You see, I’m one of the newest hires. So I get tasked with all of the worst jobs, like running the huge bags of latte-saturated trash to the underground trash compactor, opening most days and closing most others, and the occasional odd job. What would turn out to be one of the scariest days of my life started like that, as an odd job. I dreaded it, sure, but it was innocent enough, right? The job was unusual right away, since it wasn’t in my area. Hell, it wasn’t even in Epcot at all. Back in the day, Disney used to operate a water park called River Country. Some of you Redditors will undoubtedly remember it fondly – as you should. The whole idea of the place was that it was supposed to look “natural,” so they built a bunch of realistic-looking rock formations and tried to blend into the wildlife as much as possible. They took the theme even farther by connecting the pools to the adjacent Bay Lake – basically damming it off. The bottoms of all of the “pools” were sandy like a natural body of water, and the water was all filtered from the lake. It was a genius idea, and the park was a success ever since it opened in the 1970s.
In 2001, the park closed for good. Disney gave a lot of reasons why, but the real one was simple; they had a death on their conscience. Growing up in Florida like me, you hear a lot of talk about the “brain-eating bacteria” that live in the water. These are naegleria folweri, bacteria that live in warm freshwater. They can get to your brain through your nose and cause a fatal infection. Here in Florida, a kid will die of it every ten years or so, and it’ll be all over the news. Of course, it doesn’t put you off jumping into the lakes and rivers. Your parents just tell you to hold your nose shut like all the other kids and bam – no naegleria fowleri for you. As it turns out, Disney’s filtration system wasn’t enough to get everything out. The water in River Country, pumped in from Bay Lake, was contaminated with naegleria fowleri, and it took the life of an 11-year-old boy. After the fatal flaw of River Country’s design was uncovered, it was shut down. Rather than demolish it, Disney decided to abandon it. Everything still stands today, intact and eerie, slowly but surely being overtaken by nature.
How do I play into this? Well, as if the story of River Country isn’t foreboding enough, all the lights and music still run at the place. I’ve heard a lot of reasons for it, everything from “preserving the remaining magic” to the notion that the light and sound system is shared with some of the resorts. Whatever the reason, someone has to go out and change those lightbulbs when they go out. Last night, one went out – and that lucky soul that was to replace it was yours truly.
It certainly wasn’t an assignment worth protesting, but I also wasn’t looking forward to it. With the latest marathon running through the parks, the day was swamped. By the time I was able to grab the lightbulb and trek out to River Country, it was twilight and my shift was nearly over. It was a real shock moving from all the laughter and smiles and exuberance that encompass all of the rest of Disney to this place of dead silence and emptiness.
The place lived up to my expectations, at first. Nature had made some serious progress on taking everything over. The water was murky and green, calm at the surface but with god knows what beneath it. Branches began to grow over the water slides. The beach area was no more. A sign stood at the entrance, cheerfully announcing the park was closed. The light bulb I was to change was located past the employee area, at the back of the park. As I walked, I kicked aside branches, brambles, and the occasional yellow ticket, nearly ground into the dust by now. A stray inner tube sat off to my right in the woods, covered in pollen and mostly deflated.
By now, the sun was drawing close to the horizon. If I didn’t get the job done soon, visibility would become an issue. I picked up my pace, but couldn’t help but to shiver as I sped past the pool where that boy had caught his fatal infection. I was starting to grow uneasy, and it was starting to affect me. Every time I turned, I would see a shadow. At first, it just looked like people. Then children. Then, Disney characters. I swear I saw a familiar mouse staring out at me from deep in the trees, but it was too dark to tell. But my mind had to be playing tricks on me, right?
Finally, I reached the employee hut. As I walked beyond it, I saw a glimpse of color behind the dusty window. Stopping dead, my heart starting to race, I debated turning around. The wind was picking up, and leaves were rustling all around me. Goosebumps rose up all over my skin. I decided against it, and speed-walked to the only dark lightbulb on the property. Just as I was about to breathe a sigh of relief, the previously-dead lightbulb began to flicker. My heart nearly stopped, but I stepped forward anyway. Now, the light turned on and stayed bright. I took another few steps, then stopped in my tracks. Now, all of the rest of the lights in the park were flickering. In shock and fear, I dropped the lightbulb I’d been carrying and it shattered on the ground. As the hairs on the back of my neck rose, I swear I heard something. And don’t laugh, but dammit if it didn’t sound like Goofy in the background. I know, it sounds insane. But when you spend as much time around the characters as I do… I knew his voice, and his laugh. I would’ve recognized it anywhere. And I heard it echo through that place. The next second, all I could hear was my breath as I turned and ran. I tried to stop myself from looking through that window as I raced by, but I couldn’t – and what I saw haunts me to this day. Goofy was behind the glass, dressed in his silly swimsuit with his inner tube. Tick maroon blood was dried all over his black and white outfit, caked in his fur. Moss covered part of him, dust the rest. The employee hut was filling with water as he stood there, banging on the glass, smiling a wicked smile. I can still hear the sick thumping sound of his fists on the window when I try to sleep. Thump, thump, thump. I could see the fur on Goofy’s costume getting wet, see the water starting to turn red, see the movement that meant he was anything but animatronic. Just as I realized just how real he was, the glass window shattered and the fowl lake water spilled out. Goofy stood there, laughing and laughing and laughing, starting to crawl through the window. I turned to run, but I felt cold, slimy hands on my shoulders, holding me back. Whispers were coming from all around me, including from in my own head. The next thing I knew, my head hit the ground.
When I came to, it was pitch black and I was sitting in the first aid area of Epcot, surrounded by co-workers. Of course, they wouldn’t tell me anything. Heat exhaustion, they said. Passed out at River Country, they said. Found by maintenance, they said. But I knew what I saw. I could hear the laughter ringing in my ears, and feel the sticky, toxic lake water fermenting on my work clothes. I could still feel the clammy hands on my skin. Please believe me, Reddit. No one else does, and I have to go back to work soon.
My name is Abby, and I’m scared of what else The Mouse might have in store for me.
Part 2 – The Dark Side of the Mouse (The Cast Member’s Story)
Ever since the “incident” with Abby happened, all of us Disney cast members have been on edge. None of us want to work the night shift. Whispers seem to call from the shadows when we do. It’s a little harder to keep up the plastic smiles, knowing what happened to one of us. But most of all, the anger at the higher-ups is constantly buzzing around the parks. Of course, the news of what happened spread quickly, and so the administration knew about it immediately. They hadn’t said anything about it yet, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they would before the tensions came to a head.
When they told Abby she had to go back, she threw a fit. She screamed, she cried, and she had a panic attack, but it didn’t matter. They had told her to change the lightbulb, and change the lightbulb she would. She begged and pleaded, and demanded to know why maintenance wouldn’t do it. It was a good point, of course. But all they would say is that the newest cast members have to go through some grunt work – in a world where grunt work is the stuff they can’t get anyone who knows any better to do.
Abby told them that sounded an awful lot like workplace bullying, and threatened to go to the authorities. It wouldn’t have mattered if she did, since they’d throw her case out the second she mentioned her ghostly Goofy. But Disney threatened to fire her nonetheless, and that was the end of that matter. So when she got sent back out to the remains of River Country, she asked me to go with her. Of course, it was flattering, but more than that, I remembered the errands they’d sent me on when I first took the job. After everything I’d been through, I couldn’t help but to go with her.
We left right after my shift. I didn’t even have time to change out of my Naveen outfit, so I ventured into the twilight dressed like a valiant prince – which was exactly the opposite of how I felt. Abby started to get really anxious as soon as we got close. She walked so close to me our skin touched, and I could feel her shake. As we approached the entrance to the abandoned park, I could see the rush of goosebumps rise on her skin. As much as my own heart was pounding, I led her into the park. Immediately, I noticed that all of the lights were out.
“Okay, there must be something wrong with the circuit. We can’t do all of it, we’ll have to get maintenance,” I said with relief. A smile crept onto my lips despite the eerie, silent night. “I want to see the employee hut,” Abby said, her voice suddenly determined and angry. Before I could say anything, a huge laugh echoed throughout the park. It wasn’t Goofy, like I was expecting, but Mickey, and it sent a huge chill down my spine. It was so loud, it sounded like it was being pumped in from speakers, and it echoed and echoed until I was sure I would hear it in my own head forever. As it happened, Abby screamed. Before I knew it, she ran into the darkness in terror. Great.
I couldn’t leave without her, so I went against everything my body was telling me and ventured in further – towards the employee hut. Just like Abby had said, the glass on the window was shattered. Murky water had risen high in the hut, and was lapping at the window. In it floated little white fragments that looked like bone. In the corner, bouncing against the wall with the flow of the water, was a plastic character eyeball. Against the window pressed a white-gloved hand, completely detached from the rest of the costume. There was nothing there to keep it in place, but it stayed as if someone were pressing hard to get out. My stomach lurched. As I turned away, Abby was in my face. I flinched hard at what I saw, choking back a scream. As I stood there, frozen, the image of her standing there burned itself into my mind. Had it not been for the little blonde wisps of hair peeking out, I wouldn’t have been able to identify her. Her head was encased in an ancient, rotting Mickey Mouse character head, and her body reeked of lake water. Patches of moss-covered the oversized Mickey ears. Lake water was dripping from every inch of the fur that remained. Fur was missing in patches everywhere. It looked like a huge bite had been taken out of the mouse’s jaw. The left eye area was completely ripped away, down to the mesh, but I couldn’t see anything but blackness behind it. And she stood there, unmoving, the mouse head sat crooked and off-center. Abby began to tilt her head to the left, and as she did, a trickle of blood began to make its way down her neck. The wooded park was silent except for the sound of her heavy, ragged breathing. Then, a deep, rasping voice began to project from the mouse head.
“Help us,” it hissed.
And then, I’m ashamed to say, I turned and ran. In my struggle to get away, I tripped over one of the artificial rocks and fell hard. My hands and knees were all of the sudden slippery with blood that couldn’t have been my own. I could hear clumsy, heavy footsteps approaching me, completely unlike anything Abby could’ve made. I turned around just to see the demented Mickey fall, seconds before I felt it hit me. The weight was crushing. The only thing I could think09 to do was to pry the Mickey head off of Abby’s body. As soon as I began to try, a guttural hissing sound came from within. Rabid foam began to pour from under the costume head as I pulled and pulled. Finally, the head collapsed in my hands, as though it was made of cardboard. My heart pounding, I moved the broken parts away from Abby’s face.
Her skin was white and clammy, burning hot to the touch. But that wasn’t the reason I screamed. Lying there unmoving and unaware, Abby’s eyes were wide open. Her mouth was frozen in a huge, artificial smile. By all accounts, she looked dead, but I could feel her pulse beating irregularly under my fingertips. And so I carried her out of there, leaving the lightbulb and the broken Mickey costume behind me. All the way to the car, she giggled. Never once did she blink, just giggle and giggle just like the Mickey characters do all day. Right before we arrived at the hospital, she went completely silent. What came out of her mouth next made my heart stop.
Something’s going on here, and someone has to believe me. Her name was Abby, and I’m not sure if we’ll ever get her back.
Part 3 – Under the Surface
I swear to God, this is why we don’t send the new kids to do my job. It’s common knowledge that Disney employees go through a hazing process when they’re first hired. They get stuck doing some simple maintenance jobs, usually in the creepiest parts of the parks or resorts. It’s supposed to be fun, you know? It’s supposed to bring us all together. Of course, everyone knew it was bound to be a disaster – except, it wasn’t. For a long time, things were actually going okay. The new kids thought it was a fun little joke. And then little whats-her-face came along. Amy? Amilea?
…. Abby. That’s her.
Then she got scared out at River Country, and everyone else got a little spooked. Okay, something a little creepy might have happened. Everyone was ready to move on with their lives. But then the bosses made her go back – maybe to show her there was nothing to fear, maybe for something more sinister. In any case, it’s not my job to speculate, it’s my job to fix the things everyone else screws up. Anyways, then she dragged David out there with her, and when they came back, Abby wasn’t quite right. David said he had thought she was dying when he found her, which was easy to believe. When she came back to work, she was a ghost of herself.
Pale, wide-eyed, mascara always smeared, fake smile plastered in place.
She looked no more real than the animatronics. And she wouldn’t speak to anyone but guests. She even ignored David. But she showed up every day nonetheless, stiff and frozen. But the worst thing was her walk. After her return, it was jerky… staggering…. like a marionette. Or some shit you’d see in one of those freaky video games, you know? It wasn’t natural. And it definitely wasn’t human.
No one seemed to notice but me.
A few days after she came back to work, the bosses finally gave the original job to maintenance: Change the lightbulb, and check out River Country. Make sure there’s nothing there that needs to be… disposed of. After all, if anything got out to the public, it would be disastrous. And we couldn’t have that.
And that’s how Jim and I found ourselves standing in the middle of the swampy, humid remains of River Country.
First of all, the place might look scary at night, but during the daytime, it’s just pathetic. The water is gross and green, the buildings are falling apart, and the local wildlife is taking over everything. Gross, yeah. Scary? Maybe to a 22-year-old Starbucks girl, but I’ve seen worse. Especially at Disney.
Finding the lightbulb took five minutes. The glass was shattered on the ground in a circle around the light-post. Each piece was almost identical – a sharp little glass triangle. A few, though, had drops of blood on the surface.
“Uh, Max,” Jim suddenly spoke up. “Is that blood fresh?”
But it couldn’t have been, because no one had been here for days. It must have been Abby’s or David’s dried blood from tripping and falling, or something else entirely.
“Nah, there’s no way. Let’s just change this bulb and get out.”
“Uh, yeah. I’m going to go look around while you do that. Two birds with one stone, you know?” Jim proposed, clearly nervous.
I shut my eyes and sighed.
“Sure. Don’t fall in. And Jim, stop bein’ a wuss.”
“Yeah, of course, Max.”
And then he wandered off, leaving me to work in peace. The lightbulb took just a moment to change, but bagging up all of the glass took me a few minutes. It seemed like every time I turned around, more glass appeared. And over time, more and more of it seemed to be bloody. The shards I was holding began to drip, leaving red smears across my palms. Not blood, right? It couldn’t be blood.
As I crouched with a hand full of glass, I heard thundering footsteps and my name being yelled. In my surprise, I clenched my fist and drove the glass into my flesh. The pain was immediate, intense, and aching.
“I FOUND HER! MAX, I FOUND HER!”
I heard the sound echoing through the park and the woods and my head. Jim was screaming it over and over, from somewhere deeper in the park.
“I found her,” Jim said, breathless, as he approached, staggering and twitching. “I found her I found her I found her I found her-“
“What’s the matter with you?” I yelled. “Stop!”
His face was white, his eyes wide. He looked almost like Abby, but without that eerie smile. Gasping for air, he wouldn’t stop saying it.
“IfoundherIfoundherIfoundherIfoundherIfoundher,” he wheezed, as though in a trance. Even as he struggled for breath, he didn’t blink. He didn’t bend over. He didn’t show any signs of obvious distress besides the gasps, and it was freaking me out. At any rate, I couldn’t even hear myself think over his little message being repeated over and over and over.
“Show me, then!” I finally yelled over Jim.
Still whispering under his breath, he walked over to me, stiff as a board. He took my hand, which I immediately tried to pull away. But his grip was like a vice. A cold, clammy vice. Jim led me, slowly, through the park in a zig zag. The pace felt like a funeral march, but our path was going nowhere. Suddenly, Jim broke into a run, nearly pulling my arm out of its socket in the process. He ran with me, emitting a guttural screech, until we reached the main pool.
“I found her,” he growled, pointing into the depths, still latched onto my hand.
“Jim, I can’t see-”
“I FOUND HER!” he bellowed.
Slowly, I crouched down, taking him with me. As I peered into the depths, I saw what looked like a shadow. As my eyes probed the murk, I started to realize what he meant. The shadow at the bottom of the pool was Abby.
“Jim, who’s going to work,” I whispered hoarsely, “if this is Abby?”
I turned to look at my coworker, who was fixated on me, smiling a frozen, artificial grin.
🔔 More stories from author: Emily C. Burch
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