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. "I can hear them. Ugh."
"Did you see their matching skull tattoos? So edgy."
The Doom Buggy rolled into the hall of doors. (If you're unfamiliar with the ride, here's a video of it. Note that I did not take this video.) 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. 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 –"
"That door," she said excitedly, pointing behind us. "It's open!"
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. "Okay, now that's cool. Is that new?"
"Too bad we already passed it," I said, turning back around. "They probably have some really cool animatronic in there or something."
The ride jolted forward.
We rolled into the séance room. Madame Leota's face glowed from the crystal ball, looking out at all of us.
"Blair?" Megan said, her voice quaking.
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, my voice hoarse. "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.
"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, that's –"
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.
Megan jumped. "What was that?" she said, her voice quavering.
"Probably just the machinery," I said.
But I was scared, too. I took a deep breath, and tried 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, Blair –"
"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.
Megan grabbed my arm. 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.
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. Animatronics of ghosts – glowing eerie greens and purples from the blacklights – twitched and lurched among the tombstones.
The Doom Buggy rolled past the iron gates.
And then –
It halted to a stop.
"We have to get out of here," I said, standing up.
"What?! Are you insane?"
"We can't just wait for it to get us!" I yelled. I looped one leg over the safety bar.
"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!"
It was louder, now, from the edge of the graveyard.
She nodded and 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.
"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."
"That's impossible," she replied, in the same sickeningly sweet tone of voice.
"We had to close it down early because of a malfunction," she said.
"You mean –"
"Nobody's been allowed on the ride since 9 o'clock."