A/N: Disney owns all of the characters and places mentioned in this story, with the exception of a few certain people that will come into play later.
This story owes part of its origin to the No Doubt song, "Tragic Kingdom." I recommend it to any Disney fan. It's very chilling, and echoes the frustrations Disney fans feel. The story was also inspired by a petition that was going around online not long ago to save the attraction mentioned here.
This is a work in progress, more of an experiment really. Reviews are very much appreciated and I hope everyone who reads this finds it entertaining.
Oh, and the apple joke was a gag WerecatBoy and I came up with a short time ago. We had two different versions of it, and thought both were too funny not to use. His riff on it can be found in his story "Life With a Sleeping Beauty."
Welcome to the Tragic Kingdom
A thin veil of fog rolled over the stone pathway of Liberty Square, creating the perfect atmosphere for the colonial village. Soon, the smell of cooking fish would waft out of the Columbia Harbor House, the Haunted Mansion would open its gates, and the Hall of Presidents would introduce guests to the leaders of the free world. All was a hue of blue in the pre sunrise light. Those who had worked the nightshift, painters and sweepers, had gone home, and the morning crew had yet to arrive.
It was that brief, magical time in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom when all was peaceful and quiet, without a soul around.
Not your average human soul, anyway.
A black hearse buggy leisurely rolled out onto the street, past the toppled birdbath surrounded by roses in front of the Mansion, and through the iron gates and by the brick columns. Clip-clop, clip-clop went the horse's hooves along an all too familiar path. The driver, a wiry, transparent and blue man in a top hat and long coat, flicked the reins, urging an invisible horse onward.
Beside the driver sat a slender man, wearing a dark gray tuxedo with a blue bow tie. His dark brown hair was combed to the side neatly. Sideburns went down to his cheekbones, but those usually went unnoticed thanks to piercing bright blue eyes. He had a much healthier complexion than the coachman. He actually looked alive.
The truth was though, both were dead, and yet, had never been living, breathing men.
A closer look at the two revealed that they didn't look exactly real. Something about their features was exaggerated slightly. The coachman's eyes were too big, for example. But it was the suit-wearing gentleman who was the more visually interesting one. Although he had a realistic skin tone, he was the least human looking of the two. To be blunt, he looked like a cartoon character, albeit a very well drawn one who had been painted with oils.
Any fan of The Haunted Mansion would have recognized him instantly.
This man was Master George Gracey, the gentleman seen in the morphing portrait above the foyer's fireplace. He was Master Gracey not because he had been formally given the title by the Disney Imagineers. He hadn't. The name came from the fans and cast members. It was actually found on a gravestone by the ride's queue. Originally, it had been intended as a tribute to Yale Gracey, an Imagineer responsible for many of the major special effects found in the ride. Like standing dominoes in a line with the first one tapped, assumptions tumbled in a chain reaction. Fans began making the connection that the master was the man in the portrait, and that the man in the portrait had hanged himself, and that the man who had hanged himself was the Ghost Host giving the tour. It made sense in its own odd little way.
The name George, seen on one of the stretching gallery's paintings, contributed. (The fan-loved story was that the woman sitting on the grave was the young master's mother, a psychotic woman who had murdered her husband--the mustached bust labeled 'George'.) People seemed to like the idea that Master Gracey was named after his father. It was easier than trying to come up with a whole new name. This became such a widespread belief by so many fans that it created his identity. That belief, combined with the attitude and voice of the Ghost Host, and the painting, helped form who he was.
Disney Magic worked in mysterious ways, especially on the park's Characters. Their creators (Master Gracey liked to think of them more like parents), mixed with the love and belief of the fans, gave them life.
With this life came a responsibility. Certain Characters were given the task of overseeing their respective lands within the park. They made sure things were in order. Back when the Magic Kingdom first opened, they had more say in how things were run. Daily, they talked with the Imagineers, telling them about what it was like to perform for the guests. From the Imagineers, they learned about imagination and creativity. The Characters soon developed more distinct personalities and, much to the surprise of their creators, started having true emotions.
Nowadays, it seemed as if the Characters weren't consulted about anything. Rides were demolished and added into the parks without so much as a word to them. Were the current cast members and Imagineers afraid of them? Or did they just not care? Did they just see them as another bunch of audio animatronics, unfeeling robots whose sole purpose was performing for paying customers?
Well, that was going to change!
"Where we goin', boss?" a hoarse voice asked.
"The castle," George mumbled. Eyes wide, he did a double take. Sitting on the roof of the hearse were three men, the Mansion's iconic hitchhiking ghosts.
The coachman groaned. "Not you three again!"
"You know Georgie," said Ezra, the skeletal spook in the derby, "you should know by now to--"
"BEWARE OF HITCHHIKING GHOSTS! BWAH HA HA HA!" Gus, the short, bearded dwarf cackled.
"So," Phineas, the plump phantom with the carpetbag queried, "what's this trip for?"
The master quirked an eyebrow. "To be honest, I'm not sure. It's something important though. All of the Kingdom's representatives are going to be there." His pale pink lips curled up into a smirk. "Mark my words, a disquieting metamorphosis is in the atmosphere, gentlemen."
"Huh?" Gus looked confused.
After searching through his bag, Phineas found a dictionary. Flipping back and forth through the pages, he clarified, "Change is a-comin' and it might not be good."
Crossing his arms, Ezra scoffed. "Not good for who?"
Cryptic as usual, Gracey murmured, "We shall see, won't we?"
Upon entering the meeting, Gracey was quick to spot his friends and fellow Magic Kingdom representatives. Henry Bear waved a clawed paw at him. A heavily accented "Hola!" was squawked by Jose the parrot, perched quite comfortably on the back of an ornate chair. The only other human present, the Carousel of Progress's father figure John, gave the ghost a respective nod. George pulled out a seat and sat at the round table.
"Good morning, gentlemen," Liberty Square's spokesman greeted the others. "And I see our two most lovely members are tardy," he chuckled.
John smirked back. "Well, you know how women can be sometimes: Fashionably late."
Henry, old fashioned as always, growled softly and chided, "Now now boys, mind your manners!"
No sooner than the Country Bear scolded the men, the heavy oak door creaked open and two sets of light footsteps daintily entered the chamber.
"Ah, there's our bonita senoritas right now," the parrot announced with a whistle.
Smiling, the others turned to look as Snow White and Cinderella walked in. Elegant as they had always been, they wore their iconic dresses. These two women were the last two representatives. Snow White watched over Fantasyland and the nearby Toon Town Fair. With her castle overseeing it all, the entire park was Cinderella's domain. It was easy to think of her as a governor while the others were merely mayors.
Wings spread, Jose bowed in his own birdy way. The others stood and bent at the waist, showing their respect for the two princesses. Cinderella curtseyed in return. Snow fervently waved a hand, her face breaking out into a wide grin.
With a chastising glare, Cinderella bumped her with an elbow and hissed, "You're a princess. Act like one."
Scowling, the younger girl replied, "I've been a princess a lot longer than you. So there." Unable to hold it back, she grinned playfully again and winked. Cinderella couldn't help but smirk back. But as they took their seats, her expression changed to one of somberness. The men noticed it and slowly sat down, apprehensive of what was about to transpire.
Cinderella folded her white-gloved hands and took a deep breath. Then she twiddled her thumbs, trying to think how she should tell her news. It wasn't going to be easy.
Her thoughts were interrupted as Henry spoke up. "If any of y'all are hungry, we've got a basket of fruit here." Pointing a claw, he gestured to the ignored assortment in the center of the table.
"Oh, how lovely!" gushed Snow, reaching forward to take a helping. Blindly, she dug her hand in and pulled out a ruby red…
"APPLE!" she shrieked. She flung the fruit back into the basket and wiped her hand roughly on her dress. "Can't get clean! Can't get clean!" she wheezed.
"Quick," commanded Cindy. "Where's your bag?"
"Here!" Snow White pulled a small, brown paper bag out of a pocket and put it to her lips. The bag expanding and contracting with her sharp breathing, she hyperventilated for a few more moments before calming down. Her hands were shaking as she put the bag away and she looked even whiter than usual. "S-s-sorry, everyone. You'd think I would have gotten over that by now." She hung her head in shame.
With a sympathetic pat on the shoulder, Cindy comforted her. "It's all right, sweetie. We understand. Now," she turned to the others. They looked as if they were trying very hard not to chuckle as they quietly coughed into their fists; or in Jose's case, wing. "I've been wrestling with this news quite a bit, but I'm not sure how to put it. To be blunt—"
"WHOA!" A figure came shouting and spinning through the thankfully open window, swinging from a rope of unknown origin. Letting go, he somersaulted once, and then crash-landed on the table. He tumbled and then slid off and hit the floor. Instantly springing back up, he stood, posing with his hands on his hips and wearing the fruit basket like a hat. Noticing everyone staring at him in bewilderment, he quickly threw off the basket and then struck the pose again, grinning like a cat.
"Oh no," John groaned, rubbing his temples. "Not you!"
"That's right!" the crasher proclaimed. "Captain Jack Sparrow!" He took off his pointed hat and bowed. "And I've come to commandeer this committee, savvy?" Sword in hand, he pointed it at the general assembly. "Ya see, I've got some changes I want to see done."
Cinderella arched an eyebrow. "Like what?"
"Like…" He flopped into the seat Jose was perched on, his legs dangling over the armrest. "I want to be the rep…rep..reprah…"
"Representative," George pronounced slowly with a roll of his azure eyes.
"Aye, that. I want to be the republican for Adventure Land!" he declared.
Glaring at him, Jose squawked loudly and ruffled his feathers. "No deal, senor! It is bad enough they stick those two show stealing jerks in my show and take my song! If you think you're stealing my job, you're loco!"
"Agreed," drawled Henry. "Now, if that's all you wanted Mr. Sparrow, then you should skedaddle outta here. We have important business to attend to."
"Captain Jack Sparrow!" the pirate corrected. "Now," he curled his beaded trail of beard around his index finger lazily, "in the case that you doubt my ability to lead, head, or otherwise control this fine section of the park, I've got a petition. One thousand signatures, mates." He reached down into his coat pocket and took out a sheet of rolled up parchment. Dramatically, he flicked it, flinging his fist back and knocking Jose off the chair, and sending the poor parrot into a flapping, screeching frenzy.
"I've got a list of names!" Jack sang, waving the paper. "I've got a list of names!"
Cindy snatched it from his grasp, ignoring his protests. "Hmm… Well, this does look official, doesn't it?" She smiled and winked at the others. "That appears to be one thousand names, all right. But there's a problem, Captain."
Chuckling nervously, he asked, "And what would that be, love?"
"It appears your own name has been signed at least two dozen times. And 'Captain' has been misspelled in several instances. Every other signature is just from some girl named Ashley."
He grinned sheepishly. "She's the president of me fan club."
"That's nice." She held the paper with both hands, each side pinched between thumb and forefinger. Then to Jack's horror, she tore it down the middle. "Come back when you have a real case, Captain Sparrow."
"Fine!" he huffed indignantly and sulked. Then he suddenly perked up. "Perhaps you two bonnie lasses would like to join me for a cup of tea."
He was slapped in stereo, each ear receiving a stinging blow from the princesses. "I didn't deserve that." Pushing himself up from the chair, he meandered to the window. "Well, I know when I'm not wanted!" Stepping up onto the stone ledge he proclaimed, "Just remember: This is the day you almost negotiated with Captain Jack—"
Gracey shut the window.
The cry was followed by a splash as he landed in the moat.
"Well, that takes care of one problem." Chortling, the Ghost Host once again took his seat. "Are you all right, Jose?"
"Si!" He had flown back up onto his perch, disheveled but otherwise fine. "It's going to take a lot more than that to get rid of this old bird."
Cinderella smiled kindly. "We are a resilient bunch, aren't we?" But the smile soon turned downward and became a frown. Sighing, she turned her soulful blue eyes to the others. "I'm afraid I had to call this meeting to tell you some bad news." She bit her bottom lip. Her throat was beginning to tighten. Any moment now she knew tears would fill her eyes. "The Carousel of Progress is going to be demolished."
Silence. Complete and total silence answered her. The others stared, not knowing what to say. They were in shock!
John's jaw fell slack as noises that weren't quite words burbled in his throat. Trembling, he was finally able to shout, "WHAT?! But how can they? It's the only one in existence! It's the only attraction with Walt's name on it!"
"I know." Cindy couldn't meet his gaze. "I'm so sorry, John."
"Where did you even hear this?" he moaned, hoping it was just some sick rumor.
From somewhere near the ceiling, a little voice squeaked, "We tell Cinderelly! Me and Gus-Gus sawr it all." Two brown clothed mice, one in a red shirt the other in yellow, raced across the ceiling rafter and ran down the side of the wall beam. Landing on the table, Gus and Jaq began to recite their tale.
"We was in office, big big office!" the skinny mouse exclaimed, spreading his little arms wide. "Looking for cheese. Big men in suits—" Here Gus imitated an important businessman, puffing out his chubby chest and looking stern—"they start talkin', so me and Gus-Gus hide!" They crouched down. "But we risson! Suit men say, 'Not much people in Carousel! We smash it, make big ride! Put store in exit!'" Shuffling a slippered foot sadly, he added, "When they go, we rush to tell Cinderelly right away."
"Oh no!" Snow White exclaimed. "What are we going to do? We can't just let this happen!"
"I don't know," the blond princess answered wearily. "I never thought this would happen. They should know by now how something like this upsets the guests."
"The guests?!" screamed John. "What about me? What about my family?! What about the legacy?! We're the only ride that actually inspires the message for people to have hope for the future and what lies ahead!"
Henry sighed. "They don't have any respect for us anymore." Brow furrowed thoughtfully, he asked, "What if we confront them?"
"They'll shut us all down," growled Gracey.
"What about the fans?" asked Jose. "Surely, they'll protest."
The bear shook his shaggy head. "That never works. You know that first hand. But we've got to think of somethin'."
From inside it's a small world, the clock chimed, its toy soldiers stepping out to dance as the smiling white face rolled from side to side. It was a quarter past six.
"People will be out in the streets soon," Cinderella explained, knowing everyone knew the routine by heart. "We'll get together again tonight. For now, we're adjourned."
Without a word, they stood and dejectedly filed out. Snow White dabbled her eyes with a handkerchief. Cinderella blinked away the tears. Henry and Jose exchanged sad looks. As the others went to their attractions, John lingered behind, gazing out at Tomorrow Land.
"There's a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of everyday…"
George stood behind his old friend, listening to him sing softly. He didn't know what to say. It felt unreal. Looking back at the hearse, he motioned for his driver and the hitchhikers to wait. They had been playing cards, oblivious to the horrific news.
"John?" Gracey asked tentatively. Perhaps it was wrong to invade his privacy, but he would feel worse if he just left him. "John, there could be some hope. Nothing is set in stone, except for the epitaphs." He tried to smile, but he couldn't muster it.
"Did you ever know Walt, George?"
Taken aback by the odd question, the ghost quickly said, "No, not really. He died before the Haunted Mansion was finished." Everyone knew that, but he didn't remind John. He just waited for him to speak again.
Shoving his hands into his pockets, the Character sighed and slowly nodded. "He was a good man. Progress, that's what he believed in. Things should improve and change, all to make life better. I remember clear back to the opening day at the World's Fair, seeing all of those people and teaching them about the wonders of technology. Man, were they amazed. There had never been anything like my show before." He smiled, seeing the memory in his mind's eye. "After the fair was over, then it was on to Disneyland. Not long later, we were uprooted and taken east, and we've been here ever since.
"Walt's gone, but his dreams live on in the hearts of young and old alike. Despite what mistakes have been made, the lesson of progress has never faltered. It's what drives this place on. Well, progress, Dole Whips, and stuffed animals." His chuckle was hollow and humorless. "It would be hypocritical of me to protest this. After all, it's in the name of progress, and how can I argue against that? Maybe it's just my time to go. It would be progressive to remove my show and replace it with something more popular. That's the way the world works."
George frowned. "But it's wrong to just—"
"No. It's not wrong. It's progress, Gracey. Progress."
George watched him walk away. This was wrong. Deep down he knew it was wrong.
He stepped up onto the hearse's bench, greeting the others curtly. It must have been the intense scowl on his face that kept the others quiet. Usually they would be begging to hear the news. He couldn't tell them yet, not until he got the swirling thoughts in his mind to stop long enough to let him think clearly. He didn't know what to do. But something would have to be done. Something drastic.