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  • Writer's pictureCharles Zitta

Season of Shadows (Chapter 27 - The Task at Hand)



“Caw-caw-caw.”

“Easy, buddy. We don’t want to alarm our guests,” one of nine hundred and ninety nine ghosts said to the crow.

“No, we just want to petrify them,” said another.

“Yes, the queen did say we could do that,” said a third ghost.

“Shhh, I think they’re here.”


******

Michael and Midnight had worked their way past the skeleton-filled dungeon and up the stairway to a trap door which opened into the evil queen’s castle.

Michael slowly pushed up on the wooden door. He peaked into the potion room. “All Clear,” he whispered.

“Go up,” said Midnight.

Upon entering the room they took in a familiar setting from the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs movie. There was a shelf of web-coated books covering everything from black magic, poisons and astrology, to witchcraft and sorcery on the wall. Burning candles throughout the cluttered room highlighted an assortment of chemistry glassware, ceramic bottles, a skeleton scale, skulls, a globe, and a large iron cauldron for mixing potions, poisons and such. But it was the red book sitting open on a wooden podium that caught their attention.

“The book, it’s opened to a pedlar’s disguise potion,” said the boy.

Midnight leapt up on an adjacent counter to take a closer look. Then he said to his friend, “Keep your eyes open. Evil may be lurking nearby.”

“You mean—”

“Yes…Snow White’s evil stepmother has transformed into a wicked old hag with intentions to do us harm.”

“But how would she have known we were coming?” Michael asked.

Suddenly, a yellow-eyed crow jumped from a nook in the wall and flew out the door. Disappearing up the spiraled stairway into the castle.

“The bird. The bird told her we were coming,” said Midnight. “Quick, we need to catch him before he gives our position away.”

“It’s too late for that kitty,” said a ghost, emerging through the wall.

Another ghost squeezed out of a potion bottle. Then three popped out of the poison-filled cauldron. Everywhere they looked, more ghosts appeared, until the potion room was overflowing with spirited spirits.

“Run, Michael!” yelled the cat. Shooting out the door, he sprinted past a skeleton shackled to the wall, then a pack of rats, up-up-up into the castle—the boy following close behind.


******


The ghosts took off after the cat and his friend. More joined in, appearing out of nowhere, they made their way into the castle. Some cut through walls, some through floors. Others spun round the large chandeliers above. Nine hundred and ninety nine ghosts were having a ball, as they spooked and tormented the boy and his big black cat.

“Hey there, kitty, you’d better run faster, cause me and my ghostly buddies are about to take you somewhere I know you don’t want to go.”

Michael and Midnight leapt up onto the long dining room table, trying to gain an advantage. But it was no use.

Two hundred ghosts swirled around the table, as a hundred more covered the air above. Another hundred poured out of the massive fireplace at the east end, while two hundred more rose up out of the floor and began to dance. The massive dining room of the eerie Snow White attraction castle was none like they had seen before.

“There’s nowhere to run,” said the boy. “Everywhere we go, ghosts, ghosts, and more ghosts.”

“Quick, jump on my back,” Midnight said.

“You might be a big cat, but…wait, when did you change into a panther?”

“No time for questions, my boy, climb aboard.”

Michael mounted the panther and grabbed hold of his thick, black fur.

The mighty cat darted off in a sprint towards the west end of the hundred foot table.

Ghosts randomly popped up though the tabletop, heckled from their chairs, or swooped down from above. All screeching and howling. All in an attempt to halt the panther and his friend.

The sprinting panther did not flinch. He continued to barrel down the table towards the open door at the west end of the room.

“Almost there,” said the boy.

Midnight leaped into the air, his front paws fully extended, thinking to himself, we made it.

SLAM! The two large doors closed.

It was too late for adjustments. The panther and boy were airborne. “Hang on,” said Midnight. Adapting adequately in midair as cats can, he pushed off the doors with all four paws, shooting into another direction. He darted left, then right, then left again—all in an attempt to avoid being caught by ghosts swirling chains around like rodeo cowboys.

A crack of thunder rumbled the table, walls and chandeliers.

A gust of wind blew out from the fireplace, extinguishing the flames, as it rushed across the room.

There was a loud cackle.

The fireplace reignited with flames of chartreuse and yellow.

Dropping down out of thin air, the wicked pedlar landed on the center of the table with a loud THUD! Her big round eyes scanned the room, seeking her prey. “Ahhh, there you are, kitty. We’ve come for the boy. Give him to us and you can go free.”

Midnight jumped back onto the table and stared the witch down to show he was not intimidated.

Ghosts surrounding the table rattled their chains, tormenting the cat.

“Never, the panther replied.”

Michael tightened his grip on Midnight’s fur, as he studied the old-hag pedlar. At first glance she appeared life-like. As the young boy looked closer he could tell she was not human at all, but instead, a highly functional animatronic. Her skin had a sheen, and her movements at times, rigid and jerky. Listening closely, he could hear mechanisms moving inside of her.

“What are you staring at, boy?” said the witch. “Do I frighten you? I sure hope so.”

“He’s not afraid of you,” Midnight replied.

The old hag cackled. “He should be. Get them!”

The ghosts cast their heavy-chain shackles at the Panther.

Midnight leaped into the air and hit the ground running. With a burst of speed, he busted through the large wooden doors at the west end, breaking free into a long hallway lined with tainted armor suits.

The spirit-infested suits jumped from their standing positions, jabbing their spears and chopping with axes, trying to slow down the elusive panther and his rider.

In full sprint, Midnight turned left into the castle entryway and headed up an enormous stairway, bounding four to six stairs at a time.

CLICK, CLANK, CLICK-CLICK, CLANK!

Five ghosts dressed in nineteenth century garb had managed to snag the mighty panther and his rider. All four legs of the beast were brought to a sudden halt as the young boy was pulled from his back. The ghosts raised Michael upwards, against his will, towards a large chandelier, where he helplessly dangled—kicking and screaming.

Midnight tried to bite himself free of the chains, but the thick steel would not give.

The ghosts laughed and giggled, as the panther struggled to get free.

Using all his strength, the mighty feline attempted to climb the stairs—pulling the four ghosts along with him.

Two of the spirits wrapped their chains around the left banister, while the other two used the right—holding the large cat just long enough for the witch to blow a handful of dark-magic dust into his face

Midnight breathed in the noxious dust, putting him instantly to sleep.

“Hey, what did you do to him? Let me down from here,” Michael shouted from the chandelier above.

The witch turned to him and shouted back, “As you wish.” She snapped her long, boney fingers, releasing the boy from his chains. Instantly, he fell and was swept away by a river of ghosts.

“Hey, let me go. I need to help my friend. Put me down, I said.”

Ignoring the boy’s demands, the ruckus ghosts, passed through a wall with Michael in hand, elevating into the dark sky above the Shadow Kingdom courtyard.


******

The full moon shown brightly over the twisted structure the White-Shadow queen now called home. There, on the castle balcony, she stood. Silently waiting. Waiting for the prisoner to arrive.

Sounds of Grim Grinning Ghosts began to echo through the cool, dark air.

The queen’s eyes lit up with eager anticipation.

One of her knight henchmen pointed towards the cloudy, moon-lit sky and spoke in low-pitched tone, “I see them your majesty. Just beyond the carrousel of chaos.”

Like a transparent river in the sky, hundreds of ghosts flowed down from above, carrying with them a reluctant child who had no means of escape.

“Put me down, I said.”

“You want down, we’ll give ya down,” one of the ghosts shouted.

The spirited bunch flew over the castle’s rear balcony. Swooping down, they released the boy—sending him tumbling up next to the translucent queen dressed in white. Her identity cloaked by long, flowing hair and high color cape. “Rise before me,” she said, admiring the gruesome horizon.

“No way,” said Michael.

“Rise or I shall make you rise.”

“Not going to do it.”

The queen glared down at the boy with her electric-green eyes, then raised her arms high, dragon-head staff in hand. Staring into the ominous sky above she recited, “Clouds of darkness, thick and strong, in the tower he shall right his wrong.”

The stormy clouds began to spiral. A giant snake-like cloud grew out from its core and extended downwards towards the boy. It curled around his body and tightened its grip. Carrying Michael back up into the sky, the snake coiled around the highest tower of the queen’s castle, dumping the boy through a window, into a room with no door, nor stairway leading up to it.

The young boy stumbled across the tower room floor. Regaining his footing, he ran back to the window—demanding to be released. Unfortunately, his voice was confined by dark magic and did not carry beyond the walls of the isolated tower.

The evil queen glanced up at the boy and smirked. Phase one of her plan was complete.

******

The White-Shadow Queen looked over the courtyard from her rear balcony and called to her Dark Thorns, “By the powers of shadow and darkness within, come to me now, so the hunt may begin.” She raised her staff to the sky. A bolt of lighting shot from its illuminated, dragon eyes and spread across the clouds.

One by one, five lightning strikes hit the balcony, leaving behind a Dark Thorn.

The queen turned round to her soulless leaders and said, “We have the brother. It’s time to flush out the chosen one.” “I know where he is,” replied Elontra.

“Yes, I know you do,” answered the queen.

“The orange fairy has taken him and the others underground. Beneath the shack in the enchanted garden.”

“I know exactly how to deal with the fairy and her pitiful friends,” said the queen. Turning to look over the balcony, she put her fingers to mouth and let loose an eerie whistle.

There was a rumbling of galloping hooves in the distance, muffled by the castle walls. The sound grew louder and louder. Six horses burst out into the courtyard from underneath the balcony where they stood.

The queen and her evil crew leapt over the balcony railing and onto the galloping stallions, who never lost stride, carrying their riders northbound to wreak havoc.


******


There was a knock at the tiny door.

“Who is it?” Abigale cautiously asked.

“Open the door for heaven’s sake, it’s me, Abby. Frank.”

“Ohhh, Frank Wellington, of course. I should have recognized your voice. The fairy opened the door, letting Frank and Alexios in.

The wise old Patron and his owl friend were coughing and covered in soot.

“What happened to you two?” asked the fairy.

“What? You didn’t know?” Frank replied. “Your garden?”

“What about my garden?” said Abigale.

“Do you like burnt toast?” Alexios said.

“Burnt toast?” The orange fairy paused for a second. The happy expression on her face began to melt away.

“That’s right, my dear,” said Frank. “Your precious garden has been burnt to a crisp.”

“We tried to salvage what we could,” added the owl, “but it was no use.

“The flames spread too quickly for us to keep up,” said Frank.

Abigale quietly walked over and sat on a mushroom stool, thinking.

KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK!

Everyone in the room looked to the door.

“I’ll get it,” said Charlie. The boy walked up to the door and said, “Who is it?”

“A frazzled friend. Please…let me in.”

Charlie looked towards Frank for advice.

“Sounds like Midnight,” said the old Patron.

The young boy opened the door. Before him stood a familiar feline friend, only his body looked overcome with exhaustion, his hair and whiskers a mess, and his eyes watery and sad.

Midnight slowly walked past Charlie, who asked where his brother was. The cat did not reply, as he sat on the floor near Frank.

“What is it, my friend? Where is Michael?” asked Frank.

“The ghosts,” said the cat.

“The ghosts?” said Frank.

“The ghosts. They…carried him away.”

“Away to where?” Charlie pleaded.

“I…I don’t know. I…I was barely able to escape the witch and her ghostly friends myself.”

“We have to find him,” said Charlie. “Frank, this is my brother we’re talking about.”

“I know, my boy,” the wise Patron replied. “But we need to be smart about it.”

“Smart? Smart? There’s no time to be smart. I need to go find my brother.”

“We will, young man. But first we need to know where he is,” said Jolly.

“Isn’t that the whole point of looking? To find out where he is?”

“Yes, it is,” said Alexios. “But we have to be cautious, young squire. We need not risk everything just yet.”

Charlie was puzzled by the owl’s comment.

“Alexios is right,” Frank added. “We need to send out a search team to find young Michael.”

“I’ll go,” said the boy.

“I’m afraid you need to stay here, Charlie. There’s a chance we may never find your brother. So we’re not going to risk your parents loosing both children in the same week,” said Frank. The old man could tell what he said had upset his young friend. But a look of sincerity calmed the boy down.

“So who do you suggest for the search team?” asked Charlie.

“Alexios and I should go.”

“But Frank, you just got here,” said Abigale, concerned that he and the owl were not rested enough for such a task.

“It only makes sense the two of us go,” replied Frank. “Abby, you need to stay back, protect the others, and help the mayor build a new army. I have a feeling we’re going to need it.”

“What about me, Frank? I’m sure I would prove beneficial in your search for Michael,” said the cat.

“It’s a noble gesture, but you should rest, my friend. We need you healthy for whatever comes next.”

“Well, before you go, why don’t you freshen up a bit while I whip together a wonderful meal for all of us to share,” said Abigale.

“Frank grinned, “That would be nice.”


© 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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