Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom – Day 20 of 61

Lil was sacked out on the couch, and complained feebly when I tried to rouse her, so I covered her with a blanket and went back to bed, alone.

I woke disoriented and crabby, without my customary morning jolt of endorphin. Vivid dreams of death and destruction slipped away as I sat up. I preferred to let my subconscious do its own thing, so I’d long ago programmed my systems to keep me asleep during REM cycles except in emergencies. The dream left a foul taste in my mind as I staggered into the kitchen, where Lil was fixing coffee.

“Why didn’t you wake me up last night? I’m one big ache from sleeping on the couch,” Lil said as I stumbled in.

She had the perky, jaunty quality of someone who could instruct her nervous system to manufacture endorphin and adrenaline at will. I felt like punching the wall.

“You wouldn’t get up,” I said, and slopped coffee in the general direction of a mug, then scalded my tongue with it.

“And why are you up so late? I was hoping you would cover a shift for me — the merch ideas are really coming together and I wanted to hit the Imagineering shop and try some prototyping.”

“Can’t.” I foraged a slice of bread with cheese and noticed a crumby plate in the sink. Dan had already eaten and gone, apparently.

“Really?” she said, and my blood started to boil in earnest. I slammed Dan’s plate into the dishwasher and shoved bread into my maw.

“Yes. Really. It’s your shift — fucking work it or call in sick.”

Lil reeled. Normally, I was the soul of sweetness in the morning, when I was hormonally enhanced, anyway. “What’s wrong, honey?” she said, going into helpful castmember mode. Now I wanted to hit something besides the wall.

“Just leave me alone, all right? Go fiddle with fucking merch. I’ve got real work to do — in case you haven’t noticed, Debra’s about to eat you and your little band of plucky adventurers and pick her teeth with the bones. For God’s sake, Lil, don’t you ever get fucking angry about anything? Don’t you have any goddamned passion?”

Lil whitened and I felt a sinking feeling in my gut. It was the worst thing I could possibly have said.

Lil and I met three years before, at a barbecue that some friends of her parents threw, a kind of castmember mixer. She’d been just 19 — apparent and real — and had a bubbly, flirty vibe that made me dismiss her, at first, as just another airhead castmember.

Her parents — Tom and Rita — on the other hand, were fascinating people, members of the original ad-hoc that had seized power in Walt Disney World, wresting control from a gang of wealthy former shareholders who’d been operating it as their private preserve. Rita was apparent 20 or so, but she radiated a maturity and a fiery devotion to the Park that threw her daughter’s superficiality into sharp relief.

They throbbed with Whuffie, Whuffie beyond measure, beyond use. In a world where even a zeroed-out Whuffie loser could eat, sleep, travel and access the net without hassle, their wealth was more than sufficient to repeatedly access the piffling few scarce things left on earth over and over.

The conversation turned to the first day, when she and her pals had used a cutting torch on the turnstiles and poured in, wearing homemade costumes and name tags. They infiltrated the shops, the control centers, the rides, first by the hundred, then, as the hot July day ticked by, by the thousand. The shareholders’ lackeys — who worked the Park for the chance to be a part of the magic, even if they had no control over the management decisions — put up a token resistance. Before the day was out, though, the majority had thrown in their lots with the raiders, handing over security codes and pitching in.

“But we knew the shareholders wouldn’t give in as easy as that,” Lil’s mother said, sipping her lemonade. “We kept the Park running 24/7 for the next two weeks, never giving the shareholders a chance to fight back without doing it in front of the guests. We’d prearranged with a couple of airline ad-hocs to add extra routes to Orlando and the guests came pouring in.” She smiled, remembering the moment, and her features in repose were Lil’s almost identically. It was only when she was talking that her face changed, muscles tugging it into an expression decades older than the face that bore it.

“I spent most of the time running the merch stand at Madame Leota’s outside the Mansion, gladhanding the guests while hissing nasties back and forth with the shareholders who kept trying to shove me out. I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor of the utilidor, with a couple dozen others, in three hour shifts. That was when I met this asshole” — she chucked her husband on the shoulder — “he’d gotten the wrong sleeping bag by mistake and wouldn’t budge when I came down to crash. I just crawled in next to him and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Lil rolled her eyes and made gagging noises. “Jesus, Rita, no one needs to hear about that part of it.”

Tom patted her arm. “Lil, you’re an adult — if you can’t stomach hearing about your parents’ courtship, you can either sit somewhere else or grin and bear it. But you don’t get to dictate the topic of conversation.”

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