"Summer is coming, and you must know that is when your job, our job, is the most important," a firm voice came from inside the meeting room.
She sighed as she opened the door carefully. She just arrived for her first day of work, and she was already late.
She entered the room, searching desperately for a place to seat. Warm blue eyes set on her as a radiant smile urged her to seat next to a good looking blonde girl. She returned the smile and sat down, relieved.
"Hey," the girl greeted her quietly. "You must be the new Aurora. You're lucky Walter didn't notice you."
"Yes, thank you," she answered gratefully in a jerky breath.
She reported her interest on the assembly she was now a part of. They were all here.
Next to her new friend, Lady Tremaine was looking haughtily at the boss, as if he were nothing more than a street rat. Right behind her, Ariel was gently smoothing her red hair and gave her a shy smile which she gave back, almost on instinct. Next to the Little Mermaid was Snow White, silently eating a red apple, eyes scanning the room nervously, as if afraid to get caught, while on her left, the Evil Queen was staring at her step-daughter with pure exasperation. On the other side of the large room stood Cruella De Vil, in all her furs and diamonds glory, getting a cigarette out of her little black bag while talking cheerfully to Ursula, also called the sea witch, who was delicately putting some lipstick on her full red lips.
Yes, they were all there. She also spotted her boyfriend, a few ranks behind her. As soon as his gaze met hers, he winked at her. She smiled, but her smile soon faded away as her attention was caught by a dark slender figure standing still, leaning against the white wall, at the back of the room.
Deep dark eyes locked with hers. That endless gaze filled with nothingness sent a chilling shiver down her spine. She quickly averted her gaze, but not fast enought not to see the strange woman smirk slightly.
"So," the boss kept talking, "you are all allowed to spend the nights inside the park, I bet you all know where your quarters are already. But since there are new recruits this season, I'll just remind you that Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and your — well, let's say — movie companions, as our most important staff, you all live in Sleeping Beauty's castle."
She widened her eyes. Was it possible for all those people to stay in the Castle together?
"Just so you don't forget the main rules of the park," Walter announced with a authoritative voice. "Princes and princesses must always smile and hug, while villains must always look fearful and threatening, not the contrary. Remember children must know who is bad and who is good. Moreover, you must never leave your room without your outfit on, for children must always recognize you, in any place, at any time. You must never get them confused. And as a consequence, you must always be faithful to your own character, so no mistakes. I don't want to see Alice taking some cocaine, Mulan drinking rum, nor Elsa eating a cheeseburger! If you wanna do whatever you want, you can do it out of my sight and far away from the kids, is that clear?"
Some "yes" made themselves heard, while the others simply nodded.
She looked above her shoulder. The horned shape hidden in the darkness didn't even flinch.
"Don't ever forget children are kings and queens here. This is their land, their haven. If they ask you something, don't think, just do it. Don't you ever forget that: everything you do, you do it for them."
Lady Tremaine rolled her eyes in a show of cold detachment, which caused her blonde friend to giggle.
"Oh!" The heavy tall man was about to exit the room. "I almost forgot! You must always call each other by your character's name. I don't wanna hear Flynn Rider calling Rapunzel Jennifer in front of the children! A mistake is easy to make. So you shall do as we always did here, that is to say, never say your real name to your colleagues. By doing so, we are sure no real names slip into conversations and no child will ever have his dream crushed."
"Really?" She wondered aloud, as if for herself. "Is this really necessary?" She turned towards her new friend.
"Yes," the pretty blonde answered. "It has always been like that, so I guess it's because it has avoided a lot of trouble."
"Maybe you're right."
"Don't forget: breakfast at 9am in the self room. You must be ready at 10 for the gates opening and then you're free to wander in the park and meet the kids all morning. Princesses at the Princess Pavillon and all the others in your respective land. Speaking of that, Jasmine!"
All eyes turned towards a stunning Arabian woman sitting at the far left of the room. She raised blasé eyes towards Walter as she arched a defiant eyebrow.
"I'm done hearing that you've been hanging about Discoverland, in the company of Buzz Lightyear. I don't think Rex needs you to navigate the ship in Star Tours. I'm sure he can manage on his own."
The dark-haired girl only shrugged nonchalantly while smoothing her long black braid, her dark gaze lost on her thighs. Megara, who was sitting next to her, elbowed her and murmured something into her ear, smirk firmly anchored onto her face. Jasmine did not look at her, but her plump lips stretched into a mischievous smile addressed at empty space. However, Walter did not grant any more attention to two rebel princesses, for he had already carried on to another matter.
"Parade scheduled at 3pm, so please be at the meeting point at 2:45."
"Where is the meeting point?" Aurora leant to the side, eyebrows slightly furrowed.
"Don't worry, I'll show you. It's near Fantasyland," her new friend-to-be reassured her.
"Now pack your bags and go to your rooms. Be ready for the Parade this afternoon. So, dear princes and princesses, have a nice stay in our magical world! Thank you for your attention," the dark-haired man raised his hand towards the assembly and without another word, left the room.
A great hubbub took over the place as everyone stood and left the place in small groups.
She left the meeting room, following the rush, when she felt a presence right next to her.
"I'm Cinderella, by the way. It's good to meet a new princess." The girl winked at her.
"Well, it is nice to meet you too, Cinderella. As you must know, I am Aurora," she replied with a smile.
"Great! Now I shall lead you to your new home. Come with me, Sleeping Beauty," Cinderella took her arm gracefully and drew her towards the huge golden and pink entry of Disneyland park.
Aurora followed her new friend through the Main Street full of souvenir shops still closed. They crossed the Center Plaza and its colourful flowerbeds and they finally reached Sleeping Beauty's Castle. They went through endless narrow stairs and corridors until they arrived in one last dark corridor which had only six doors.
"Here we are." Cinderella claimed gesturing at the first door on the left. "So here is your room, the one right in front of yours is Phillip's, the two next to the prince's are the fairies' ones, just like the one on the other side at the end of the hallway, but I believe the fairies don't really stay here – well, I don't know, to be honest – and the one next to yours belongs to Maleficent."
"Fine," Aurora said absently, suddenly staring at the room door next to hers with curiosity, for no apparent reason. "And where is yours?"
"Oh, if you need anything, I'll be on the floor above."
"Thank you, Cinderella. I must say I would be lost without your help."
"No problem, dear," her friend put her hand on her arm gently, "this is my pleasure. Oh, before I forget, I must tell you something. Please, be careful."
Aurora frowned as she saw Cinderella quickly looking around and bending towards her, as if to be sure that no one was spying on them, nor listening to their conversation.
"Don't bother Maleficent. She is a strange woman, no one really understands her here. And she can show, well... rather unexpected and ruthless reactions to a single trivial word or action. So try to stay away from her, as far as possible."
Aurora tilted her head to the side in bewilderment. Maleficent was only playing a role, like everyone else here. So whoever she might be in real life, she wasn't really mean, surely. Or was she?
"Okay." She agreed despite her confusion. "And how can I find the meeting point for the Parade?"
"Oh, right! I almost forgot about that, too. Listen, there's a map of the park on your room's desk. The place where we all meet is marked with a blue cross, the administrative and staff's quarters — where we've been for Walter's speech — are near the park entry, it's marked with a red cross. Everything is written on the map, and if you have any question, don't worry," Cinderella grasped a pen and a piece of paper in her small bag and wrote something quickly. "I give you my number, and you can visit me in my room whenever you want. Here, take it," she gave her the paper.
"Thank you," Aurora took it and nodded cheerfully. "I'll see you at the parade, then."
"Of course." Cinderella replied joyfully from the staircase before she vanished into the dark.
Still smiling, Aurora opened her bedroom's door and got inside, closing the door behind her. It was small, but warm and comfy. In front of the door was a tiny window frow which she could see the Center Plaza and the Main Street leading straight towards the immense golden gates. Judging by the view which spread right before her, she thought her room must be situated in one of the small towers near the highest. On the right side of the window stood a single bed covered by blue sheets. She sat on the bed, testing its softness. At the opposite of the room was a square table, a chair and a closet, all made of light wood.
She sighed, and lay down, feeling still the tiredness caused by the trip. She came to Paris from the far East, after all, and the train journey had been long and exhausting. But she knew she had a lot of things to do, so she clang to the little strength she had left in her body and stood up a few seconds later. She started to organise her affairs and put all her personal things in the cupboard.
When she had finished, she put on her princess blue dress, necklace and golden crown and left the cosiness of her room, much too early for her taste.
That is when the real work begins.
She was quite worried about how to behave in the middle of all those innocent minds, but she guessed she will have to get used to it and try and act naturally.
She opened the door and she instantly froze. A black frightening shape was slowly moving towards her, as if floating in the air. That illusion was probably due to the endless black cloak that fell to the ground on every side of the tall woman.
"Well, well. Quite a glittering appearance you make, Princess Aurora." A low voice said with a hint of amusement. "Here you are. My new... enemy, sleeping in the room right next to mine. How quaint."
Aurora looked up to meet twinkling black eyes.
"Uh, I— Yes, I am the new Aurora." She swallowed thickly. She didn't know why nor how this woman's presence could be so overwhelming even though she was only playing a role, but she couldn't help but feel a little bit scared now that she was around her, so close. She could feel her gaze upon her, as if she was being observed with cold precision, and scanned from tip to toe. As if Maleficent could see right through her clothes, right through her skull and into her soul...
If she were not so sure everyone here was masquerading as a Disney character, she would say that woman was indeed the real Maleficent. Her black and purple robes, her horned headdress were perfectly designed and her smooth skin thoroughly painted in a slight shade of green, as if it were its natural colour — which, at this very moment, Aurora was almost ready to believe.
Maleficent was now right in front of her, their bodies separated by one single ridiculous meter, and yet she seemed to keep getting closer and closer, as if she couldn't get enough of her presence. That was both exhilarating and terrifying. Her dark eyes never stopped staring at her, an odd, intriguing gleam crossing those bottomless pupils. Suddenly, the red lips pursed into a smirk as Maleficent bent towards her.
"Very well, then," a green thin hand reached towards her, "I must say I feel quite delighted to finally meet you, Princess Aurora."
Aurora looked at that hand blankly for a few seconds before she shook it slightly.
"The pleasure is all mine, Madam..." She interrupted herself, hesitant.
Maleficent leant even closer, staring right into Aurora's eyes. "Maleficent," she corrected her.
"Maleficent." Aurora repeated in a breath, looking down in both shyness and concealed apprehension.
Strangely, neither of them chose to disentangle their hand from the other's, so they stayed still, hand in hand, looking at each other in tense silence.
After a short yet awkward while, Aurora cleared up her throat and slowly withdrew her hand, almost reluctantly, secretly hoping the older woman would prevent her from doing so. Maleficent did not.
"I heard your princess friend told you about my..." The dark woman stopped to let a warm chuckle out. "Peculiar behaviour." She said, never parting with her teasing tone.
Aurora startled at that, not expecting such straightforwardness. "Oh," she sputtered, "I am sorry, I... I think she didn't really mean..."
"Oh, please!" Maleficent cut her off, waving her elegant hand dismissively. "Spare me your attempts at pacify, princess. I do not give a damn about what people may think of me."
The young girl glared at her, baffled. "But then, why... why are you—"
"Why am I telling you that?" The frightening woman supplied in a mocking tone. "Well, let us say... I am merely warning you." She smiled mirthlessly. "You see, the thing is, your friend is right, and you better not stand in my way, Sleeping Beauty."
Aurora kept staring at the older woman, a glow of fear and shock making her blue eyes shine vividly.
"My, my," the fairy laughed again. "Don't look at me like that, princess. I am not going to cast a spell on you. Well, at least not literally, obviously."
The Sleeping Beauty widened her eyes, feeling more and more uncomfortable as Maleficent spoke. The dark woman smiled coldy and slowly got round the younger woman, placing herself right next to her. She loomed over her, pulling away a stray of golden hair from the innocent face.
"Do not worry, sweet Aurora," she whispered smoothly into her ear, causing the princess to shiver uncontrollably. "As far as you let me sleep in peace, no harm will come to you."
Aurora's body froze, and she found herself prisoner of an invisible cage of ice, unable to perform the slightest gesture.
"I suppose you know the importance that I attach to slumber," Maleficent continued, her voice coming back to its neutral coldness.
The princess could do nothing but nod, for she was not sure if her mouth could form words at the moment. Suddenly, she felt an icy hand cupping her chin, forcing her to turn her head to the side and lock her gaze with Maleficent's dark one.
"Well, I must say Walter did achieve a great job with you." She added, tilting her head to the side in a parody of amazement.
Aurora frowned in incomprehension.
Maleficent continued, as if she had noticed Aurora's disbelief and intended to clear her thoughts.
"You are far prettier than the former one."
Aurora could feel her breath upon her skin, which caused her blood to freeze in her veins and at the same time, condense into her cheeks in a shameful blush.
Finally, Maleficent looked away deadly slowly, almost unwillingly, and let go of her chin. She pulled back, looking down at the scepter she held in her right hand.
"Thank... thank you," Princess Aurora struggled to articulate. She didn't dare to look up at the older woman yet, for she knew that would be her undoing.
What was this woman playing at? What did she want? What—
The sound of a soft wrinkling of fabric pulled her out of her reflections and she looked up to see Maleficent walking away towards the stairs.
Did she hear me or...
"I bet I will see you at the Parade this afternoon," the wicked fairy simply declared while turning her back on Aurora. "If you look for me, I shall be right behind you and your beloved prince, like all Disney villains." She disappeared into the shadowed staircase, leaving Aurora disturbingly puzzled.
She was sure she had heard Maleficent sighing. Why? Was she tired of playing the villain? Being the woman people feared? Being the one making children cry and run away? Being the cause of all nightmares?
Aurora went down the stairs in silence and got out of the Castle, making her way towards the Center Plaza where she had to deal with little girls and little boys whose eyes were overwhelmed with wonder and worship.
As she watched a group of small girls running towards her shouting and screaming her name, all dressed up as different Disney princesses, a well-known voice came from behind her.
"Hello, love." She froze at the nickname she always hated, without ever admitting so. "I see the job I found you suits you just fine."
She clenched her fists, trying to suppress a growl that would not really be worthy of the delicate princess she was pretending to incarnate as she turned around to face the only person she did not want to see.
Contrary to the general thinking, boyfriends were not always lovely.