Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom – Day 27 of 61

The Haunted Mansion was experiencing a major empty spell: the Snow Crash Spectacular parade had just swept through Liberty Square en route to Fantasyland, dragging hordes of guests along with it, dancing to the JapRap sounds of the comical Sushi-K and aping the movements of the brave Hiro Protagonist. When they blew out, Liberty Square was a ghost town, and I grabbed the opportunity to ride the Mansion five times in a row, walking on every time.

The way I tell it to Lil, I noticed her and then I noticed the Mansion, but to tell the truth it was the other way around.

The first couple rides through, I was just glad of the aggressive air conditioning and the delicious sensation of sweat drying on my skin. But on the third pass, I started to notice just how goddamn cool the thing was. There wasn’t a single bit of tech more advanced than a film-loop projector in the whole place, but it was all so cunningly contrived that the illusion of a haunted house was perfect: the ghosts that whirled through the ballroom were ghosts, three-dimensional and ethereal and phantasmic. The ghosts that sang in comical tableaux through the graveyard were equally convincing, genuinely witty and simultaneously creepy.

My fourth pass through, I noticed the detail, the hostile eyes worked into the wallpaper’s pattern, the motif repeated in the molding, the chandeliers, the photo gallery. I began to pick out the words to “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” the song that is repeated throughout the ride, whether in sinister organ-tones repeating the main theme troppo troppo or the spritely singing of the four musical busts in the graveyard.

It’s a catchy tune, one that I hummed on my fifth pass through, this time noticing that the overaggressive AC was, actually, mysterious chills that blew through the rooms as wandering spirits made their presence felt. By the time I debarked for the fifth time, I was whistling the tune with jazzy improvisations in a mixed-up tempo.

That’s when Lil and I ran into each other. She was picking up a discarded ice-cream wrapper — I’d seen a dozen castmembers picking up trash that day, seen it so frequently that I’d started doing it myself. She grinned slyly at me as I debarked into the fried-food-and-disinfectant perfume of the Park, hands in pockets, thoroughly pleased with myself for having so completely experienced a really fine hunk of art.

I smiled back at her, because it was only natural that one of the Whuffie-kings who were privileged to tend this bit of heavenly entertainment should notice how thoroughly I was enjoying her work.

“That’s really, really Bitchun,” I said to her, admiring the titanic mountains of Whuffie my HUD attributed to her.

She was in character, and not supposed to be cheerful, but castmembers of her generation can’t help but be friendly. She compromised between ghastly demeanor and her natural sweet spirit, and leered a grin at me, thumped through a zombie’s curtsey, and moaned “Thank you — we do try to keep it spirited.”

I groaned appreciatively, and started to notice just how very cute she was, this little button of a girl with her rotting maid’s uniform and her feather-shedding duster. She was just so clean and scrubbed and happy about everything, she radiated it and made me want to pinch her cheeks — either set.

The moment was on me, and so I said, “When do they let you ghouls off? I’d love to take you out for a Zombie or a Bloody Mary.”

Which led to more horrifying banter, and to my taking her out for a couple at the Adventurer’s Club, learning her age in the process and losing my nerve, telling myself that there was nothing we could possibly have to say to each other across a century-wide gap.

While I tell Lil that I noticed her first and the Mansion second, the reverse is indeed true. But it’s also true — and I never told her this — that the thing I love best about the Mansion is:

It’s where I met her.

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