A few weeks ago, my sister and I went to Disney World. After riding It’s a Small World three times (she loves it, ugh) and waiting 2 hours in line for the Seven Dwarves Mine Train, we hit up the Haunted Mansion.
Since it was ten minutes till close, it was only us and some teenage couple on the ride.
“They’re making out back there,” Megan complained, as wet smacks filled the darkness. “Ugh. I can hear them.”
“Yeah, and did you see their matching skull tattoos? So tacky.”
She laughed. “Kids these days, am I right?”
The Doom Buggy rolled into the hall. Carved doors lined the walls, green light spilling out through the cracks. Clank! Clank! The knockers twitched, and the doors creaked and buckled, as if holding something within.
And then the Doom Buggy stopped.
“We are experiencing technical difficulties,” the automated voice said through the speakers.
“Ugh,” Megan groaned. “This is the most boring part of the ride.”
“I know,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest. “Such chintzy special effects, too – I mean, doors and knocking sounds, wow, they really broke the budget –”
I turned around.
“That door! It’s open!” she said excitedly, pointing behind us.
I leaned out of the Doom Buggy. In the darkness behind us, one of the doors was hanging open, spilling green light into the hallway. An eerie moaning sound filled the air, barely audible above the clanks and knocks. “Okay, now that’s cool. Is that new?”
“Too bad we already passed it,” I said, turning back around. “I bet they have some really cool animatronic in there, or something.”
But we didn’t have time to get a better look. With a series of clunks, the ride jolted forward, and we wheeled out of the hallway.
We rolled into the séance room. Eerie flute music filled the air, wafting out to us across the darkness. Madame Leota’s face glowed from the crystal ball, looking out at all of us. “Serpents and spiders, tail of a rat,” she said in her soft, ethereal voice. “Call in the spirits, wherever they’re at!”
Megan tugged on my sleeve. “Amanda?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
I followed her gaze. She was looking across the crystal ball, at the other Doom Buggies. In the ghastly white light, I could see them, and –
They were all empty.
“The teenagers,” I said, fear flooding my body. “They’re gone.”
Before I could take a second look, we swung out of the séance room. The buggy climbed through the darkness, up into the hallway overlooking the ballroom. A slow waltz echoed up to us, played by a ghost organist in the room below. Little translucent skulls floated out of the top, fading into the darkness.
“Are you sure they were sitting behind us?” Megan whispered. “Weren’t they sitting in front of us?”
“Or maybe they got out of the buggy.”
“Why would they do that?”
“To have sex?”
“Ew, Amanda, that’s gross –”
We jolted to a stop.
“We are experiencing technical difficulties,” the same, automated voice rang out through the speakers.
“At least we get a good view, this time,” I said, watching the ghosts twirl in dance below. “This is the best scene in the whole ride. And –”
Megan jumped. “What was that?” she said, her voice quavering.
“Probably just the machinery.”
But I was scared, too. I took a deep breath, and averted my gaze downwards, trying to focus on the ballroom below. It really is the best scene in the ride; six couples waltz to a creepy tune played by an organist –
My heart stopped.
There weren’t six.
There were seven.
And then I saw it. One of the couples was twirling slightly off-beat, sticking out from the rest. And on each one’s arm –
Was a skull tattoo.
“It’s them – the ghosts –” Megan started.
“They aren’t ghosts,” I said, the terror of realization kicking in. “You know how this is done, right? The Pepper’s ghost illusion – the ghosts are reflections in the glass, of animatronics in a hidden room –”
“This is not the time for Disney Trivia, Amanda –”
“We’re not seeing ghosts,” I said. “We’re seeing reflections. Of them. Or –” My voice caught in my throat. “Or their bodies.”
Clunk. The sound echoed off the dark walls, louder this time.
I peered out the side of the Doom Buggy. All I could see was the hallway and the train of empty buggies snaking back into the darkness. Megan clung to my arm, her ragged breaths pulsing in my ear.
And then –
The buggy lurched forward.
We rolled through the attic, then into the graveyard. Fake stars dotted the purple sky. Beyond the iron gates, a haunting melody wafted towards us. Grim grinning ghosts – about to socialize, the chorus sung. Animatronics of ghosts – glowing eerie greens and purples from the blacklights – twitched and lurched among the tombstones, accompanied by clicks and thumps.
The Doom Buggy rolled past the iron gates.
And then –
It halted to a stop.
“We have to get out of here,” I said. I shook the safety bar; it rattled, but didn’t budge.
“What?! Are you insane?”
“We can’t just wait for it to get us!” I yelled. I squeezed out from underneath the bar, and then extended a leg towards the floor.
“Please remain in the Doom Buggy at all times,” the speakers boomed.
Megan looked at me with wide eyes.
“We have to go! Megan, come on!”
That same terrible, metallic sound. But it was louder, now, coming from the edge of the graveyard. I stared at the shifting shadows, the mess of purple and green; and I realized that there was a gap in the colors.
A black shadow.
Megan leapt out of the buggy. We ran as fast as we could, carefully winding between the tombstones. Past a band of ghosts playing music, past two ghosts on a see-saw, past a ghostly tea party. The music got louder, drowning our hurried footsteps, our panting breaths, and the resounding clunks.
Her voice was barely audible above the chanting tune.
“Why’d they stop?”
I looked up. The band of ghosts had suddenly stopped trumpeting, drumming. The see-saw had stopped teetering. The tea-party ghosts had set down their cups.
They were all still.
And every eye was on us.
“Run!” I screamed.
It was all a blur of purple and blue, eerie glows and still eyes. We ran as fast as we could, as the clunks got louder and louder. We didn’t stop until we were out of the ride, huffing and puffing in the damp Florida air.
I grabbed the nearest cast member I could find. “There’s something wrong,” I huffed. “Something wrong with the ride. We were just on it – and –”
She looked back at me, sweetly. “Don’t worry, everything will be fine. What ride did you say it was?”
“The Haunted Mansion.”
“Oh, that’s not possible,” she replied, in the same sickeningly sweet tone of voice.
“We had to close it down earlier because of a malfunction,” she said.
“You mean –”
“Nobody’s been allowed on the ride since 9 o’clock.”