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  • Writer's pictureCharles Zitta

Season of Shadows (Chapter 8 - Hidden in the Hut)

Updated: Mar 11



It was a late October morning, Charlie and his family exited the Magical Express and entered the Wilderness Lodge. Looking up, all four members of the Zastawits family admired the enormity of the rustic, eight-story lobby, taking in all that the Great American Northwest had to offer. There were massive totem poles, gigantic log supports, and a towering fireplace— made from a variety of stones, which climbed up a corner of the lobby and through the roof. Giant, western themed light fixtures, with silhouettes of buffalo and Native Americans on horseback, glowed softly from high above. The floors were done in northwestern patterns of wood and stone, upon which lay many colorfully designed area rugs and countless arrangements of sturdy, wooden furniture.

After a quick check-in, Charlie and Michael, now respectively thirteen and eleven, pleaded with their parents to use the Copper Creek Springs pool, being the beach days of summer had long since passed in Michigan. Their parents happily obliged.

While the boys splashed and swam around the pool, Mr. and Mrs. Z enjoyed a refreshing beverage, and with child-like enthusiasm, discussed their plans for the rest of the day. Little did they know, an unusual offer was to come shortly after.

Dripping of pool water, wrapped in towels, the kid’s jaws shook like nutcrackers on caffeine, as they followed their parents to the elevators, ready for warm showers and a change of clothes.

The second floor button illuminated…then third…then the fourth. There was a subtle BING and the doors opened. Charlie and his family hustled to their room—the boys, still shaking from their swim. Their father touched his magic band to the lock, then opened the door—a sheet of yellow parchment paper laying on the floor caught Charlie’s eye.

His mother saw the paper as well. She picked it up, immediately reading the hand-written contents. A smile came across her face. “Listen to this,” she said, brushing back her hair. “You and your family have been chosen to join us today for a late afternoon of fun and adventure in Pandora. Please present this letter at the entry gates of Animal Kingdom park upon your arrival. Sincerely, Benjamin Glimmer, Manager of Magical Things.


******


Approaching the Animal Kingdom entry gates, Charlie and his family were greeted by a cast member dressed in festive attire. It was a pleasant lady of African descent, her hair tied up in a bun and wrapped by a ribbon of many colors. Her smile was infectious, her eyes, welcoming, and her personality, everything Disney could ever ask for from a cast member.

“Welcome, on this lovely day, to the Animal Kingdom. My name is Shana, how may I be of assistance to you?”

Charlie’s mother removed the letter from her purse and showed it to the cast member. “We found this letter in our room today,” she handed the letter to Shana, “and are wondering who we need to talk to?”

“Oh, don’t you worry none about that, I know exactly who you need to speak with,” said Shana.

Mrs. Z smiled, as did the rest of the family. “You do? Well, that is wonderful.”

“Of course it is misses,” said the cast member—still smiling.

Charlie and his family all focused on Shana with great anticipation in their eyes.

“The gentleman standing next to the gift store entrance can help you well,” said Shana, pointing.

“The one in the bright yellow shirt and colorful hat?” asked Charlie.

“Yes, that is him, young man. My, you are a smart one, now aren’t you?” said the cast member.

“Thank youuu…” Charlie’s mother paused, as she located the cast member’s name tag. “Shana.”

“You are very welcome,” said Shana, “now go, go before you miss him.”

Charlie and his family took the cast member’s queue and quickly marched over to the man in the bright yellow shirt, standing near the Garden Gate Gifts entrance.

“We were told you may be able to help us with the letter we found under our door earlier today?” said Mrs. Z.

“Yes, of course. I am Rashidi. May I see the letter?”

Charlie’s mother handed the letter to the cast member.

“Aha. Yes, very good,” said Rashidi. “Wait here one moment, please.” The cast member walked over and spoke with a female cast member who was tending to other guests, then returned. “Please, follow me.”

The smiling cast member led the way, as Charlie and his family followed along through the jungle-like pathways of the Oasis—the entryway to Discovery Island, hub of the Animal Kingdom park. Near the end of the Oasis they came upon two large scarlet macaws perched atop a man-made tree trunk with multiple branch stubs, draped with thick/heavy rope. The left bird turned and spoke to the chosen outsider.

“I hope you remembered the ring, Charlie, rawwwk. You will need to use it soon, rawwwk.”

The young teenager did a double take, looking at the bird, then back at his family. No one except him had heard the bird speak.

Charlie’s parents and brother continued to follow Rashidi towards a suspension bridge, which led into a dark, cave-like structure.

The chosen outsider purposely slowed down, putting distance between him and the others. He turned back towards the macaws, feeling his right hand index finger with his thumb. The ring was still there.

Earlier that morning Charlie had slipped on the lion crest ring before he and his family left for Walt Disney World. However, as Frank had explained, when worn for ordinary use, like roaming the parks, the ring would remain invisible. Only when utilized for moments of WONDER, would the ring activate and become visible. This, was to be one of those moments.

“Follow Rashidi, he will show you the way, rawwwk,” said the macaw on the right.

“Rawwwwk, yeah, follow the man in the bright yellow shirt,” said the second bird.

“Thank you,” Charlie said, as he nodded, then marched off to catch the others.

While approaching the cave, he passed under a square, golden pathway lamp, hanging from the bridge support beam above.

The lion crest ring appeared on Charlie’s finger as the pathway lamp illuminated, growing brighter every second.

Entering the cave, the pathway somehow grew longer. Darkness surrounded the teenage boy, his parents and Rashidi disappeared around the corner to the right. As Charlie made the turn, his brother’s silhouette awaited, backed by the brilliant, amber glow of another pathway lamp.

“A voice whispered for me to wait here until you caught up,” said Michael. His face was cloaked by darkness. “It almost sounded like—”

“Like someone we know?” said Charlie, as he looked down at the ring around his finger, now shining bright, violet blue.

“Yeah.”

“I heard it too. Look!” said Charlie, pointing beyond his brother. “Mom? Dad?”

Michael turned around, following his brother’s queue. He and his brother watched, as their parents and the friendly cast member, Rashidi, continued on—fading into the brilliance of the pathway lamp’s light.

Charlie sensed something was wrong. He took off in a full sprint towards the golden light, grabbing his brother along the way. As they passed through the radiant beams, everything changed.


******


One dimension had been split into two by the light of the lamp. The left dimension sent Charlie and Michael to WONDER, while the right took their parents and Rashidi to a magical place where the day would be remembered as if nothing unusual had happened—a parallel dimension of WONDER, where normal memories are created and experienced by those unaware of the magic which surrounds them. In short, it was a memory knot dimension utilized by Patrons, such as Rashidi, when needed.


******


The bright light cleared … Charlie and Michael found themselves standing before a vast jungle, full of lush, colorful flora and giant vine-covered, smoke-topped mountains, which appeared to be suspended in air. It was WONDER’S simulated world of Pandora. Sounds of wildlife, like none they had heard before, surrounded them—pouring over their senses with indescribable feeling.

“I had heard from some of the other kids at school that Pandora was amazing, but this, this is much more than that,” said Charlie.

“Yeah, way more,” said Michael.

The boys looked left, right, up, down—any direction they could, taking in the unfamiliar world in which they had entered.

“Listen,” said Charlie, “can you hear that?”

“Hear what?” said Michael.

“That voice,” said Charlie. “It’s the same voice we heard just before Mom and Dad disappeared into the bright light.”

“Now I hear it,” said Michael. “it sounds like—”

“Like Oteza?”

Michael went silent, focusing all his attention on the faint voice in the distance. “Yeaaah. Yes. That’s it, Charlie. It is Oteza! But where is she, and what is she saying?”

The boys stop speaking, listening intently to what the faint voice in the distance was saying.

“Use your instincts, boys. You must trust your feelings, then act upon them, if you are to find what you seek,” said the faint, female voice—echoing through the lush jungle.

Charlie and Michael pressed on, climbing over, under and around plant life they had never seen before—tuning out the unusual wildlife sounds bombarding their senses, as they continued on towards the familiar voice in the distance.

Breaking into a small clearing, a small hut came into view. It was a trading post. Much more authentic, and much smaller than the Windtraders gift shop that existed in the real park. The roof was constructed of giant, lush-green leaves, the hand carved sign hanging above the door simply read, WELCOME—while below it, in very small letters, the copy read, AND GOOD LUCK.

The boys entered the small hut, both, confused after reading the entryway sign.

They were greeted by a female cast member. “Welcome to the hut, I am—”

She was interrupted by the mysterious voice, which now had grown stronger.

“Gooood. Very good, boys. Now, all you have to do is find me.”

Charlie, Michael and the cast member all looked at each other.

“I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” said Charlie, confidently smirking.

“Peace of cake,” added Michael.

“Well, I’m not so sure about that,” said the cast member, “you see—”

Suddenly, everything inside the hut multiplied, divided and grew exponentially is size. Easily expanding the floor space to a hundred times its original square footage. One aisle turned to six, six to twelve. Sections of the hut shifted and turned, as the aisles became maze-like and covered in wild, jungle overgrowth. The concrete floor disintegrated, leaving nothing but dirt. Waterfalls erupted out of the walls in random places—creating ponds, and streams throughout. The hut’s interior was now an extension of the jungle outside. But unlike outside, there was no sky and merchandise was scattered throughout the rich, unusual flora.

Charlie and his brother were perplexed by what they were seeing. This was WONDER, and the boys had just been given a reminder.

“Well, I guess now you can see that finding your friend may be a little more challenging than you had planned,” said the cast member. Would you boys like a map of the hut to help make things easier?”

“No thank you,” said Charlie, “ I think we will be able to manage without it.”

“Well, OK then. If you need any assistance, or change your mind about the map, just give me a shout, I will be more than happy to help,” said Julie. She turned and quickly tended to simulated guests in other areas of the hut.

“Why didn’t you get a map doofus?” said Michael, not happy with his brother’s decision.

“Because, pea-brain, I’ve got this.” Charlie held up his right hand, showing Michael the ring on his finger—still glowing softly.

“Where did you get that?” said Michael, with a look of surprise.

“Frank gave it to me,” said Charlie.

“What? How?”

“It’s not important,” said Charlie, extending his arm outwards. Making a fist, he aimed the ring on his finger towards the center of the hut interior. Immediately, everything turned brown, except for one quadrant of the interior jungle. Way back near the left, rear corner of the hut, a section of rich green flora remained.

“That’s where we need to look.”

“Well done,” said Michael.

******


A half hour had passed, Charlie and Michael were both breathing heavy, and sweating profusely—exhausted from fighting their way through the thick, brown jungle.

“You…should…have…gotten a map from Julie,” said Michael, bent over, his hands on his knees.

“I know—I know,” his brother replied while wiping the sweat from his brow with his left forearm.

“So it’s not as easy as you had hoped, aye boys?”

“Oteza?” said Charlie.

“Yes, it’s me. Again. I thought by now you would have surely found me.”

“Me too,” said Charlie. “So how much longer until we reach the green area of the jungle?”

“Not too much further,” she replied.

“How much is ‘not too much’”, said Michael, his patients running thin.

“That depends on how determined you are,” the walking stick replied.

“I’d say at the moment we are pretty darn determined,” said Charlie.

“Good, said Oteza, “then keep pushing forward until you reach the rich flora.”

“And you’ll be waiting for us when we get there?” asked Charlie.

“Not exactly,” replied Oteza. “You see, I’m kind of buried under the dirt, so you’ll have to look for a marker left behind by Raphael.”

“Raphael left you here?”

“Yes, Charlie, and in order to find me, you will need to find the marker.”

“What kind of marker is it?” asked Michael.

“I’m not quite sure, Michael, Raphael never told me.”

The boys looked at each other, then continued on, both frustrated with Oteza’s lack of information.

Minutes later they reached the lush, green section of the jungle.

“OK, Oteza, we’re close now,” said Charlie.

“That is good to hear,” she replied, “now find the marker and you will find me.”

“Is there any more you can tell us?” asked Charlie, “Anything at all?”

“Not really,” replied Oteza. “All I can say is, good luck, and please hurry, cause I’m getting bored sitting here in the dark.”

The boys rolled their eyes.

“Got it,” Charlie replied. “And don’t worry, we’ll get there … eventually … I hope.”

The brothers began their search for the marker. The rich growth covered a good five acres, much more than they had imagined.

“This is taking forever, Charlie, why don’t you go left and I’ll go right, that way we can cover more ground.”

“I don’t think so, Michael, “if we split up, we might spend an entire day trying to find each other.”

“Good point,” replied Michael. “So now what?”

“Just keep looking,” said Charlie, “something has to turn up sooner or later.” At least I hope it does, he thought to himself, as they battled through the thick, green foliage.


******


Just when they were about the give up and tempers flared, Michael spotted something rather peculiar. One of the trees on the outer perimeter of a small, clearing in the jungle had a face carved into it. It was a playful face of an older, hefty fellow, who’s large, expressive eyes were looking to the right.

Michael stopped in mid argument and pointed to the carving. “Look, Charlie.”

Charlie turned, spotting the jolly man’s face. “What is he looking at?” The teenager followed the man’s eyes. There was another carving of a face on a tree. This time it was a woman, her face squished up, as if she had no teeth. Her big bug eyes were also looking right.

“What’s she looking at? asked Michael, who turned, only to find yet another funny face. This time a young, chubby boy who’s lips were puckered, and cheeks puffed up, like he was holding his breath. He too, was looking right.

“Would you look at that, Michael,” said Charlie, pointing to yet another carving. This time it was a dog, his ears raised high, tongue sticking out, and large saucer eyes, which also were looking right.

The dogs eyes led the boys back to the first tree carving of the jolly man.

“Looks like we’re in the right spot,” said Charlie. “The four carvings in the trees form a perfect square. So my guess is, Oteza must be hidden within the area defined by the funny faces.”

“Right,” his brother replied, “ and it is pretty obvious the faces were created by Raphael.”

“Without question,” replied Charlie.

“You’re getting warmer,” said Oteza, I can hear you walking about.”

“So you’re beneath us?” asked Charlie.

“I do recall telling you I was buried in the dirt, did I not?”

“Uh, I guess you did,” the boy replied.

“So start kicking around the dirt. You must be close,” said Oteza.

Charlie pointed to one side of the area defined by the carved faces. “Michael, you start at that side of the square, and I’ll start on this side. We’ll work towards each other. Surely, that will lead us to the stick.”

“Stick?” said Oteza. Pleaaase, you know I’m so much more than just a stick.”

“Yeah, we know,” Michael replied.”

The boys took action, kicking up the soft dirt with their shoes and digging in with their hands. Both worked systematically back and forth, covering every square inch of the area, until finally, they met at the center, where Michael made a discovery.

“I think I have something, Charlie.”

“Really? What is it?”

“It feels like a handle…yes, it’s a handle.”

Charlie turned around to look. “Maybe it’s a hidden trap door? Can you pull up on it?”

Michael dug out more of the dirt around the handle, allowing himself room to get a good grip with both hands. The young boy pulled as hard as he could, grunting in the process. No luck.

“Lets dig out more around the handle to see if there actually is a door attached to it,” said Charlie.

“Good idea,” Michael replied, panting from his efforts of pulling on the handle.

The two boys made quick work of the loose dirt around the handle, digging out a good three foot square area. Unfortunately, there was no door that they could see.

“Hmm?” said Charlie, “that’s odd. A handle with no door?”

“It has to be attached to something,” his brother said, “cause it sure doesn’t want to move.”

“Right,” said Charlie, “let’s see if I can get it to budge.” Being a little older, and stronger, then his brother, Charlie squatted down and grabbed onto the handle with both hands.

The teenager gave the handle a good tug. Nothing.

“Boy, it really doesn’t want to move, does it?”

“I told you so,” said Michael, chuckling.

Charlie released his grip, stood, then rubbed his hands together. “Lets try this again.”

The chosen outsider gripped the handle once more, but this time the ring on his finger started to glow. Charlie tugged again—the strain of his efforts showed in his arms, shoulders and neck, as he pulled with all his might.

The ring grew brighter—a burst of light shot out of it, up the boy’s arms, and through his body, which now shined brightly like a purple sun.

Michael, standing directly in front of his brother, shielded his eyes from the light.

With one last mighty tug, the handle surrendered its hold—the handle now in his hands, as the boy hit the ground with a mighty THUD. A gaping hole opened up beneath him and his brother, sending them, and a large mass of dirt, free falling into darkness.

“Charlieeeeeee!”

“Michaeeeeel!”

“UGH!—UGH!”

They hit the ground simultaneously—which flexed, catching the boys without harm.

“What is this?” said Michael, a net built out of vine and giant jungle leaves?” Who built this?”

“Who cares,” said Charlie, “at least it helped with our fall.”

While the boys climbed off the false floor net and back onto their feet, the walking stick spoke again. “Raphael built it.”
 The room was dim, lit only by a small oil lamp dangling in the corner, making it hard to see.

Charlie and Michael scanned the area, searching for their friend.

“Oteza? Where…where are you?” said Charlie.

It was a large room, full of ancient artifacts, maps, and things, all of which, looked as though they had not been touched for quite some time—covered in dust and dirt from the ground above that had just fallen with the boys. Running along two of the walls were book shelves populated with vases, wrapped in ancient script and imagery, dusty old books and small, odd looking, sculptures of creatures unknown to the real world. A high profile desk sat in a corner opposite the lamp. It was covered with piles of parchment paper, a feather quill pen a bottle of ink and an old wax candle that looked as though it had not burned in ages. The papers on the desk were full of notes, detailed drawings and diagrams, describing things unfamiliar to both Charlie and Michael.

“Over here, under the lamp,” said Oteza.

Charlie turned and spotted his dear friend, nestled amongst a cluster of large, rolled up maps, an umbrella, and three additional walking sticks that were all resting in a corner.

“Now I see you,” Charlie said. He walked around the false floor that had caught them and carefully picked up Oteza. “I missed you.”

“I missed you as well,” she said.

“OK—OK, now can we please get out of here?” said Michael.

Oteza gave the young boy a look. “It’s nice to see you too, Michael.”

“I’m sorry,” said Michael, “I just want to get out of this room. It’s making me feel a little creeped out.”

“Yeah, Oteza, so why did Raphael leave you in a place like this anyway?” said Charlie.

“For two reasons,” she replied. “First, he was called away to help the Patrons with a new project and needed to leave me somewhere safe that only you could find using the ring. Secondly, it had to be somewhere near a dream dot that could quickly transport us to where we need to go next.”

“So how is Raphael and all our other friends from the Watchmaker’s realm? I really did miss them once we left last year,” said Charlie.

“All are safe and miss you as well, Charlie,” said Oteza, including Raphael’s cats, Ticky and Tocky, Sassyfran the little wood maiden—I know you had a thing for her, Provo the mouse, Featherwink the frog and, last but not least, Neve the snow fairy.”

“Really? That’s good to hear,” said Charlie. “Especially after all we went through together last year.”

“Well, safe for now,” replied Oteza in a cautious tone.

“What does that mean, ‘safe for now’?” said Charlie with a look of concern.

“Right now, it means they are safe from the dark forces of FOTO, which obviously you are aware of. But that is changing…every day, and is why we are headed to see Frank now that you are here.”

Charlie and Michael exchanged looks of concern.

“Anyway, worrying won’t change a thing,” Oteza said, attempting to regain the boy’s attention. “Right now, our goal is to meet up with Frank.”

“Frank?” Charlie shook his head clear. “You’re right, we need to see Frank. Where is the dream dot?”

“The frog totem poll over in the corner by the chair,” said Oteza.

“Got it,” replied Charlie.

The boys walked to the poll, as Charlie’s ring began to spark and illuminate once more. Both boys touched the poll with a free hand, while the chosen outsider held onto Oteza with his other hand.

The purple glow from the ring grew brighter and brighter, expanding, then engulfing the boys and Oteza. Sparkling trails, led by small masses of concentrated light, traveled faster and faster around the outer perimeter of the glowing mass. A sudden burst of brilliant light shot out of the ring, filling the room, then … nothing. They were gone.


© 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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