Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom – Day 54 of 61

Chapter 9

Lil’s parents went into their jars with little ceremony. I saw them just before they went in, when they stopped in at Lil’s and my place to kiss her goodbye and wish her well.

Tom and I stood awkwardly to the side while Lil and her mother held an achingly chipper and polite farewell.

“So,” I said to Tom. “Deadheading.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Yup. Took the backup this morning.”

Before coming to see their daughter, they’d taken their backups. When they woke, this event — everything following the backup — would never have happened for them.

God, they were bastards.

“When are you coming back?” I asked, keeping my castmember face on, carefully hiding away the disgust.

‘We’ll be sampling monthly, just getting a digest dumped to us. When things look interesting enough, we’ll come on back.” He waggled a finger at me. “I’ll be keeping an eye on you and Lillian — you treat her right, you hear?”

“We’re sure going to miss you two around here,” I said.

He pishtoshed and said, “You won’t even notice we’re gone. This is your world now — we’re just getting out of the way for a while, letting you-all take a run at it. We wouldn’t be going down if we didn’t have faith in you two.”

Lil and her mom kissed one last time. Her mother was more affectionate than I’d ever seen her, even to the point of tearing up a little. Here in this moment of vanishing consciousness, she could be whomever she wanted, knowing that it wouldn’t matter the next time she awoke.

“Julius,” she said, taking my hands, squeezing them. “You’ve got some wonderful times ahead of you — between Lil and the Park, you’re going to have a tremendous experience, I just know it.” She was infinitely serene and compassionate, and I knew it didn’t count.

Still smiling, they got into their runabout and drove away to get the lethal injections, to become disembodied consciousnesses, to lose their last moments with their darling daughter.

They were not happy to be returned from the dead. Their new bodies were impossibly young, pubescent and hormonal and doleful and kitted out in the latest trendy styles. In the company of Kim and her pals, they made a solid mass of irate adolescence.

“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Rita asked, shoving me hard in the chest. I stumbled back into my carefully scattered dust, raising a cloud.

Rita came after me, but Tom held her back. “Julius, go away. Your actions are totally indefensible. Keep your mouth shut and go away.”

I held up a hand, tried to wave away his words, opened my mouth to speak.

“Don’t say a word,” he said. “Leave. Now.”

Don’t stay here and don’t come back. Ever,” Kim said, an evil look on her face.

“No,” I said. “No goddamn it no. You’re going to hear me out, and then I’m going to get Lil and her people and they’re going to back me up. That’s not negotiable.”

We stared at each other across the dim parlor. Debra made a twiddling motion and the lights came up full and harsh. The expertly crafted gloom went away and it was just a dusty room with a fake fireplace.

“Let him speak,” Debra said. Rita folded her arms and glared.

“I did some really awful things,” I said, keeping my head up, keeping my eyes on them. “I can’t excuse them, and I don’t ask you to forgive them. But that doesn’t change the fact that we’ve put our hearts and souls into this place, and it’s not right to take it from us. Can’t we have one constant corner of the world, one bit frozen in time for the people who love it that way? Why does your success mean our failure?

“Can’t you see that we’re carrying on your work? That we’re tending a legacy you left us?”

“Are you through?” Rita asked.

I nodded.

“This place is not a historical preserve, Julius, it’s a ride. If you don’t understand that, you’re in the wrong place. It’s not my goddamn fault that you decided that your stupidity was on my behalf, and it doesn’t make it any less stupid. All you’ve done is confirm my worst fears.”

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