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  • Writer's pictureCharles Zitta

Season of Shadows (Chapter 13 - The Invitation)



It was early morning, the sun was peeking over Tomorrowland—warm, golden rays, highlighted the quiet walkways and buildings of the unopened park. The sounds of singing birds in nearby trees cascaded through the still, October air—a sound rarely heard during the busy hours of the Magic Kingdom park.

A custodial worker dressed in all white approached the Crystal Palace. To the immediate left of the entryway stairs stood a single green umbrella. Laying down his broom and scoop, the cast member casually checked the perimeter through his mirrored sunglasses for unexpected passerby’s. All clear. Grabbing hold of the umbrella pole, he twisted it counter clockwise. There was a CLICK. Pulling down, the umbrella pole sank a foot into the ground. Again, another CLICK. Then he pulled the pole up to its original position. A final CLICK was followed by the humming sound of a motor—a four foot circle surrounding the pole began sinking into the ground, transforming into a spiral staircase which descended into nothingness.

Immediately, the custodial worker followed the stairway down—round and round, deeper and deeper into a dimly lit vertical tunnel made visible by the purple flame torches that were sparsely spaced along the descending wall. Darkness greeted him at the bottom of the stairway—which was well below the familiar utilidors of the Magic Kingdom. The cast member slowly crept forward, unable to see. Three steps, six steps, then twelve. On his twelfth step, he felt a tingle in his left foot, which traveled up his leg and throughout his body. By some form of mysterious magic, the darkness gave way to light as the man stepped into a fifteen foot octangular room with a hearty fire burning in its center. Surrounding the fire pit were eight, black cushioned chairs—all with a large cursive E embroidered with scarlet red stitching into its back. Shadows from the chairs were cast against the stone, perimeter walls, which were windowless and cool to the touch. The only sound to be heard was the popping and cracking of the fire. Large, vertical paintings, with Baroque-styled frames, hung from seven of the walls. Five of the paintings eerily portrayed each of the Dark Thorns, one honored the Shadow Queen—seated on a jeweled throne, and the seventh was a stormy composition of Captain Plank at the wheel of a pirate ship. On the eighth wall hung a tall, framed mirror. There was no sign of a doorway.

Looking around and studying the walls, the cast member was unable to come up with a solution as to how, and where, he had entered the mysterious room. Shaking his head clear of thought, he hit the W on his belt buckle, transforming into Captain Plank.

“Where she be?” he mumbled to himself. “Just like a Dark Thorn, I tell ya, always want’n to make a dramatic entrance.”

Bored with nothing to do but wait, the captain sat down and threw his feet up to rest on the lip of the fire pit, staring into the flames. Wondering when Elontra was going to show.

Ten minutes had passed, the piratical captain was losing his patients, as he rambled to himself, “For the love of mermaids, she knows we have a meet’n. If it were me that was run’n late, she’d have me hide lashed for sure. I tell ya, if she don’t show soon, I’m gonna—”

“Your gonna what, Captain?”

Plank, startled by Elontra’s voice, fell backwards—hitting the ground with a loud THUNK, he awkwardly scrambled to his feet—picking up the chair in the process.

The Dark Thorn slowly walked around the room, seating herself to face the captain from across the fire pit. “I understand you have a plan involving our two little friends?”

Captain Plank, still out of sorts, tried to regain his composure, humiliated by what had just happened. As he sat back in his chair—straightening up his hair and sun glasses, he said in a temperamental voice, “For Pete’s sake, lady, you shouldn’t be sneak’n up on me blind side like that. You know I only gots one good eye, to begin with.”

“Hmmm,” Elontra said with a smirk. “I didn’t mean to frighten you, Captain.”

“And what is it with all these paintings? Ya don’t need big paintings in a room as small as this.”

“They represent different portals to different places, my friend,” replied the Dark Thorn. “Something you already know, if you would relax and clear the angry thoughts from your mind.”

“Angry? Who said I’m angry?” said the captain, breathing heavy as he stared into the fire through his steamed up sunglasses.

It was rare that a Thorn captain ever stood up against their superiors, for fear of the consequences it may generate. However, Plank had completely gone off the deep end, losing all sense of who he was speaking to.

Quickly, he was reminded of his place in the bigger scheme of things.

Dark Thorn Elontra clapped her long, bony hands together, shouting out, “Flames of doom, rise up, and fill the room!”

The fire in the pit changed from golden yellow to bright green—shooting upwards, it mushroomed off the ceiling, turning back down the perimeter walls—completely surrounding Elontra and Plank.

“Are you bloody kid’n me mate?” said the captain.

“I thought you could use a little…persuasive help,” Elontra calmly replied.

Planks one good eye, still hidden behind sunglasses, was wide as a saucer. His brow, soaked from perspiration. “Help? Why I—”

The captain caught himself. Finally coming to his senses, he leaned back and melted into his chair.

“Feeling better, Captain?” said Elontra.

“Yes…I mean, of course, dark leader—heh-heh.”

“Good,” Elontra replied, “one more second of that ranting and I would have had to turn you to stone, or freeze you like a block of ice—anything to shut that unpleasant trap of yours from which you frequently attempt to speak out of.”

Plank giggled nervously—knowing the Dark Thorn’s words rang true.

“Shall we start from the beginning?” asked Elontra—though it was really meant as a rhetorical question.

Plank half-nodded, unsure if he should, or should not, respond.

“Excellent,” said the Dark Thorn. “As I was saying, I understand you have a plan set in place for our two little friends? A plan to get them to the party tonight?”

The captain, still intimidated by the surrounding flames, hesitated, then stuttered out, “Ye…Yes, ma’am. Me and the fellas came up with a pretty good idea last night over dinner, while we was watching them two boys at the Liberty Tree Tavern, like you told us to do.”

“Oh, right,” Elontra said, and how did that go? Any…suspicious activity?”

“As far as meetings with their Patron friends? No, me and me spies didn’t see anything of that nature.”

“So no contact with the Patrons? No mention of a search for the third Kingdom Crystal?”

“Not one word,” Plank replied.

“Hmmmm?” said Elontra, deep in thought.

“But, there was somethin’ rather strange that did come up.”

“Really?” What was that, Captain?”

“Well, me and me spies, Jolly and Smith, was all sitting around the table, enjoying our meal and think’n up a plan for them two brats, when a big wind stirred up and began to blow like the dickens.”

“Really? Were you able to identify the source of the wind?” said Elontra.

“It appeared to have been stirred up by a lady sit’n not far from the boys,” replied Plank.

“Was she alone?”

“No, there was an older lady dining with ‘er. Very strange, those two were. And the way the younger of the two was staring at them boys…it was like she was pull’n ‘em into a hypnotic trans of sorts.”

“A hypnotic trans?” said Elontra.

“Yeah, like she was talk’n to ‘em by using her mind, cause her lips weren’t mov’n at all.”

“Interesting,” said the Dark Thorn. “And you said it was two ladies?”

“Yes, one was a little bit older than the other,” said the captain. “Stranger still, everything around us turned dark, blocking our view of both the ladies and them boys. Then, when it cleared, them ladies had vanished—POOF! It’s like they disappeared into thin air.”

“And the boys?” asked Elontra.

“Oh, they was still sit’n with their parents finish’n up their meal. Funny thing was, their parents, and for that matter, everyone one else that was in the Liberty Tree Tavern, acted as if nothin’ had happened,” said Plank, wearing a look of confusion.
 The captain’s words confirmed what Elontra had been thinking all along. The outsider and his brother had experienced their first confrontation with the almighty Queen, without even knowing it.

Plank stared through the flames, wondering what thoughts were running through his dark leader’s mind. Then he said, “What is it, Elontra? Is it something I needs ta be concerned with?”

“At this time, no,” said the Dark Thorn. “You have done well, Captain. However, it seems we have gotten side-tracked from our true purpose for this meeting. So if you will…explain to me your plans to lure the boys to the Halloween party tonight in the Magic Kingdom.”

“Oh…yes, right,” said Plank. “As I was beginning to say before we gots off the subject, me and the fellas came up with a pretty good idea to get them boys to the Magic Kingdom tonight. We’re gonna pretend we’re cast members and give them free tickets to the party.”

Elontra sat up, alert to the captain’s words—a reaction that was usually hard-earned by those who worked beneath the Dark Thorns. “That’s a brilliant idea, Plank.”

The captain donned a greasy smile, proud to have gotten such a reaction, then said, “ I know, isn’t it great? I mean, have ya ever known anyone to turn down somethin’ free? I know I haven’t.”

“Yes, it appears you have devised a fail-proof plan, Captain,” said Elontra.

“You bet I have,” said Plank,” his head filled with ego.

“When will this take place?” asked Elontra.

“What? When will what take place?” said Plank.

The Dark Thorn turned away from the captain, beside herself from the captain’s ignorant reply. Then she said, “The tickets for the Halloween party, you fool. When do you and your men plan to present them to the boys and their family?”

“Oh, heh-heh, right…the tickets,” Plank replied in a humiliated tone. “Let’s see, uhhhh, yep, now I gots it. Based on what we heard them boys and their parents discuss’n last night at Liberty Tree Tavern, it looks like they’ll be headed to Epcot today. I had a reliable source check their Epcot dinner reservations, and it appears they don’t have anything set for tonight. So we plan on present’n them with special tickets, allowing them to have dinner for four at the Biergarten Restaurant, then head over to the Magic Kingdom for the Halloween party.”

“And again, when will that be?” asked Elontra, rolling her large, black eyes.

“Our plan is to surprise ‘em while they be eat’n lunch this afternoon.”

“Very well,” said Elontra. “Notify me once it is done.”

The Dark Thorn clapped her skinny, blue hands, the flame’s returned to golden yellow and receded back into the pit.

Looking around the room and not seeing a clear way to exit, the captain scratched his head, then asked, “Uh, how do I gets outta here, madam of darkness?”

“Use that painting,” said Elontra, pointing to the painting of Plank himself.

“How is that?” said the confused captain.

“With a raised finger, the Dark Thorn flicked her right hand towards one of the paintings—the frame illuminated bright yellow, with magical sparks of white, as the painted canvas of Captain Plank faded away, creating an open dream dot portal.”

“Thank you, dark leader,” said Plank, as he stood up from his chair.

Elontra quietly nodded. It was the captain’s queue to leave.

The captain stepped through the tall portal frame, instantly vanishing.


******


The two captains stood in front of the restrooms, tucked away just passed Journey Into Imagination with Figment. Their spies kept guard some forty feet back, as Fibs and Plank discussed their devious plan.

“You have the tickets, Plank?” said Captain Fibs.

“Of course I do, mate,” said Plank—pulling the tickets out of his shorts pocket and showing them to Fibs.

“Those look very convincing," said Fibs, "authentic and all that.”

“Aye, matey,” replied Captain Plank. “Some of me best crewmen had ‘em made up special for me. I have to admit, they do look pretty good. The boys and their parents won’t suspect a thing.”

“So where are they eating lunch?” asked Fibs.

“Don’t know yet, said Plank, “but I’m sure we be finding out soon enough. I mean, you do have your crew tailing ‘em don’t cha Fibsy? I mean, after all, this is your park.”

“Like cat’s on a mouse,” said Fibs.”

“Good. Once we knows where they be dining for lunch, me and my two spies will be putt’n on a show, if ya knows what I mean,” Plank said with a wink.

The two captains broke into hysterical laughter, overjoyed by what laid ahead that evening for the chosen outsider and his brother.


******


This was a great idea for lunch, Dad,” said Michael, who was always game for tacos.

“La Cantina de San Angel has always been a lunch favorite of mine,” his father replied.

“It’s the perfect place to stop before diving into World Showcase,” their mother added.

“Yeah, and the food is awesome,” said Charlie, as he plowed through a mountain of tasty nachos.

“Really? I would have never known,” said Mr. Z.

“What?” said Charlie, pausing, as nacho cheese dripped down the corner of his mouth.

Charlie’s family shared a good laugh at the expense of their son’s love for nachos.


******


Dressed in their best pirate slops to promote the Halloween party, Captain Plank and his spies spotted the Zastawits family under the covered eating area overlooking the World Showcase Lagoon. It was ideal, Charlie and Michael had never met Plank, Jolly or Smith before, and the pirate costumes, paired with their piratical way with words, made it the perfect cover for Plank and his men.

“Ready boys?” said the captain, as he removed his sunglasses and pulled down a black eye patch to conceal his battle scar.

“Aye Cap’n,” said Smith, “it be time to set them kids on course for disaster.”

“Well said,” replied Captain Plank. “Here we go gentlemen. Be on your best behavior, we don’t wants ta be ruining things for later this even’n, if ya knows what I mean.”


******


Mom, heads up,” Charlie said jokingly with a nod towards the three approaching cast members, “it looks like trouble is headed this way.”

His mother turned, looking over her left shoulder with a smile. “Oh dear, what shall we do?”

Everyone laughed, including Plank, Jolly and Smith, who now stood table-side next to Charlie and his family.

Plank placed a hand on the shoulder of each boy, then said, “Avast there, matey’s. If ye be look’n for adventure, then look no further.”

“Adventure? What kind of adventure?” said Michael, his interest peaked.

“Four tickets worth, young lad,” said Plank. “You and your family have been selected ta join us tonight for a spooktacular time at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in the Magic Kingdom. What say ye to that mateys?”

“Halloween Party?” said Charlie. What kind of Halloween party?”

“The best kind matey, said Jolly.”

“Aye lad, me fellow pirate here be speak’n the truth,” said Plank. “There be ghosts, pirates, Disney villains, parades, special fireworks, candy and things.”

The boy’s eyes lit up.

Seeing her boy’s reactions, their mother said, “That sounds like a lot of fun, and as you can tell, it looks like our boys are all for it, but I do have a few questions.”

“Fire away, ma’am,” said Plank.

“How do we get into the party? What time does it start? And should we have dinner before we go to the party?”

“Aye, them’s be good questions, ma’am, questions I’d be much obliged to answer for ye,” said Plank. “We have here, four official tickets. The party officially begins at 7pm, but as you’ll see on your tickets, you can come a little early if you feel inclined to do so.”
 “Terrific,” she replied, “and what about dinner? Should we eat before we go to the party?”

“That there be the best part, ma’am,” said Plank. “Ya see, with these tickets, you are free ta visit the Biergarten Restaurant and fill yer bellies anytime between now and when ya decides ta head over to the Magic Kingdom for the Halloween party. All you need ta do is show ‘em the tickets.”

“As usual, it sounds like Disney has thought of everything,” said Mr. Z.

“Aye, that we have mate,” said Plank. “We do our best to bring happiness to all those who come to visit this magical place.”

“Hmmm? I’m not sure our boys would want to go?” their mom said jokingly.

“Are you kidding mom?” said Charlie. “Of course we want to go.”

“Please mom,” said Michael, sporting his best sad puppy eyes.

“Well, it looks to me like ya have yer answer,” said Plank, as he pulled the tickets from his vest pocket and handed them to their mother.

“Thank you, Mr.? I’m sorry, I don’t believe you told us your name?” said Mrs. Z.

“Oh, sorry, miss, I plumb forgot. You can call me Captain Joe, and this here is me two best shipmates, High Seas Harry and Mr. Barnacles.”

“Well, Captain Joe, High Seas Harry and Mr, Barnacles, we thank you for your generosity, and look forward to tonight,” she replied. “Boys, you should thank the kind captain and his shipmates for their generosity.”

Plank held up his hand, then said, “No thanks required, ma’am. It’s all part of the fun. We hope you and your family have a wonderful time.”

“I know one thing, her boys ain’t gonna be hav’n a wonderful time,” Jolly whispered to Smith.

“What was that Mr. Barnacles?” asked Mrs. Z.

Plank gave Jolly a look of displeasure.

“Oh, it was nothing ma’am. I was just tell’n me mate here that yer boys were gonna have the time of their lives tonight,” said Jolly in a nervous tone.

Trying to cover up for Jolly’s blunder, Plank quickly added, “I can attest to that, ma’am. It’s gonna be a night your boys will never forget.”

“Thank you so much, Captain Joe.”

“Our pleasure, ma’am,” said Plank. “You and your family have a magical day.”

The captain tipped his tricorn hat and the three pirates exited the restaurant.


******


Three tables over, another conversation was taking place.

“Did you hear that?” said Ben. “Those pirates gave Charlie and his family tickets to tonight's Halloween party.”

“I did,” replied Alfred.

“Yeah, me too,” added Clara.

“I guess lunch is over? Should we get back and tell Frank?” said Ben—his back facing the Zastawits table, so not to be recognized by the boys.

“Immediately,” said Alfred. “I have a feeling that something bad is about to happen to those two youngsters.”

“Something bad? Like what?” Asked Clara.

“We need to find Frank as quickly as possible. Something happened to me the other night,” said Alfred. “Something that I should have told you about days ago. Dag nab it! I hope it’s not too late.”


******


Tucked away in a quiet nook behind the Stave Church in the Norway pavilion stood the statue of female runner Grete Waitz, an inspirational role model to her people. It was here, behind the church, that Captain Plank and his men activated their wristbands and passed through a dream dot. On the other side, hidden in a nearby shadow of WONDER’S Magic Kingdom, Dark Thorn Elontra stood waiting within her shadow realm castle.

“So, what news have you to tell me,” said Elontra.

Jolly and Smith tried to avoid eye contact with the Dark Thorn’s stone-cold stare, while Plank replied, “The tickets have been delivered, dark leader.”

“Good work, Captain. Your job here is done. Return to your liar and stand by for further orders. Your assistance may be required later on this evening.”

“Yes, Elontra,” Plank replied.

The captain and his spies turned and started walking towards the exit portal.

“Would ya get a load of this place,” whispered Jolly. “I wouldn’t bring me own worst enemies here.”

“And why is it always bleed’n night time in shadow realms?” added Smith. “It’s a little on the creepy side if ya ask me.”

“Shhh,” the captain whispered, “She might hear ya.”

“What was that, Captain?” Elontra said, now some twenty feet behind Plank and his two spies.

The captain stopped and turned. “Uh, nothin’ ma’am. We was uh…we was just making small talk, that’s all,” he said with nervous tone—waiting for a reply from his leader.

“Ugh, idiotic Thorns,” Elontra mumbled under her breath. “ Very well, move along, Captain.”

Plank and his men turned and continued walking until they reached the portal. Setting their wristbands for their secret liar, they stepped forward and vanished through the dream dot at the end of the room—reappearing in the real Magic Kingdom, where the mid-day sun was shining brightly.

The Dark Thorn turned and walked to the diamond-patterned window in her shadow realm castle, taking in the cryptic view of the cold, eternal night—made eerily visible by the pale, blue moon beaming down from above.

A secret doorway on the left side of the room—seamlessly hidden within shelves filled with books on spells, curses and potions, creaked open. Emerging from the darkness beyond the open door, stepped the Shadow Queen.

“They are gone, your majesty,” said Elontra.

The Queen quietly walked up to the window and stood beside her faithful servant of darkness. Her well-sculpted face, crystal green eyes and golden crown with a red rose jewel were highlighted by the moon rays shining through the glass, as she peered out into the endless night. “And the boys?”

“Their family has been given tickets to the Halloween party. The chosen outsider and his brother will be in the Magic Kingdom tonight, as you requested,” said the Dark Thorn.

The Queen released a subdued chuckle. “Well done, Elontra.”

“Thank you, my Queen.”

“Everything is falling into place, just as I had planned.”

“Indeed it has, your majesty,” replied the Dark Thorn.

The Queen turned toward Elontra, who continued to stoically stare out the window, and said, “Tonight, with the help of a new friend and two young victims of distraction, the map will be ours.”


© 2024 Charles E. Zitta. Charles E. Zitta and Disney and the Wonder Within blog novels are in no way part of,  endorsed or authorized by, or affiliated with the Walt Disney Company or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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