Braden, Kaleb, and Kelly shivered as the three of them touched down softly in Main Street, USA. It was eerie to see it all lit up, even though no one was around. Braden expected security or at least a cleanup crew around, but there was absolutely nobody in the park, it seemed. They faced down the long street that led to the rest of the park, with the exit at their backs. Even though they had landed, the three of them seemed to be reluctant to let go of one another. Braden's left hand clasped Kaleb's firmly, his right hand gripping Kelly's just as securely. Peter landed lightly somewhere nearby.
“It’s like a ghost town.” Kaleb breathed softly, his breath coming out in a mist. They had not realized it was so cold, and Braden and Kaleb were internally thanking Kelly for reminding them to change into their normal street clothes. If they had been in their pajamas, they would be damn near freezing themselves to death.
“Tell me about it.” Braden replied back in a near-whisper, his breath also coming out looking like mist. He peered down the stretch of Main Street that lay just ahead of them. The castle was mysteriously lit, but there were no voices, no sounds to indicate a technical crew being responsible for it.
“Well the park is supposed to be closed.” Kelly reminded them. "But I find the lack of security or maitenance to be a bit unsettling, don't you? But we do know that we're supposed to be the only non-employees around right now."
“Then who’s that?” Kaleb objected, pointing off to the left. They saw a small boy standing by the fire station, a balloon in hand. He was wearing a striped shirt and shorts, plus a baseball cap that looked too big on him. He was smiling for some reason, holding a red balloon.
“Hey, are you lost?” Kelly asked the boy. He just smiled at them creepily. No response. A chill went up Braden's spine. There was something sinister about the smile on that kid.
“Something’s not right.” Braden whispered to them, feeling a tingling sensation on the back of his neck. Still gripping Kaleb and Kelly’s hands, he turned on the spot and his eyes widened with fear at what he saw waiting for them from behind.
A row of children, each with a colored balloon, watched them. They were all smiling with the same creepy and robotic smile that the boy by the fire station wore. The three of them gripped hands more tightly and Braden distinctly began to feel like a gazelle caught in the crossfire of a pride of lions.
“Look, Peter!” Kelly gasped. Three of the children stood by the entrance of the building where The Disneyland Story presenting Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was located. Peter was being held by three of the children, whose arms had stretched round and round Peter like taffy. Peter mouthed the word “run”.
Kaleb reacted instantly, stepping forward. As soon as he did, the boy in front of the fire station let go of his balloon. It popped, and a child’s voice echoed through the air though none of the children's mouths were open.
“Intruders.” the voice said in a chilling child's voice. The other children began to let go of their balloons, and the childish cries of “Intruders!” echoed through the air as they approached.
“Run!” Braden shouted at the top of his lungs, but Kaleb was already darting down the street. The three of them turned and ran down Main Street. Braden turned to look as he ran and saw the children running behind them.
“Keep going!” Kaleb shouted as Braden caught Kelly by the hand, the pair of them sprinting along behind Kaleb. They were quickly approaching Cinderella Castle and they now noticed the statue of Walt Disney and Mickey. There was a strong feeling about them like the statue was protected, so they all ran for it. The three of them clambered over the small railing that encircled the statue. They backed up, seeing the children advancing. Braden turned to look at the statues of Mickey and Walt.
“Help us!” Braden cried at them, desperation lacing his voice.
“Already on it, Braden.” a familiar high-pitched voice said. The three of them turned and saw the real Mickey Mouse behind them. He had a small rod with an orb of light at the end of it. They watched him fire it at one child. The child flew backwards as though she had been catapulted, then disappeared in a cloud of darkness.
“You three better find a house to hole up in.” Mickey squeaked benevolently. “I trust you know where I can always be found during the day, Braden.”
Braden nodded vigorously at the mouse and he took hold of Kaleb and Kelly's hands once more, helping them over the railing and off into the night. Braden tugged them towards the castle and though wary, they ran with him, sprinting into an eerily dark Fantasyland. They did not stop until they reached It's a Small World. Braden gesticulated for the other two to join him in a huddle near the ride.
“Where exactly are we going?” Kelly said in a near-gasp. The three of them were panting from the run and looking around anxiously as they desperately tried catching their breaths.
“Well, Mickey said to go where he can always be found during the day. No matter what, he’s always in his house when I go to Disneyland.” Braden responded, exhausted.
“Where’s his house then, mate?” Kaleb panted as he turned to make sure they weren't being followed.
“Toontown. It’s just ahead.” Braden replied, recalling all the visits made to the mouse's house in Toontown since childhood. He could get them there blindfolded and in his sleep if he needed to.
“You know what I noticed?” Kaleb whispered as they passed It’s a Small World together, peering at the arch to Toontown that lay just ahead.
“What?” Kelly whispered back, squeezing Braden's hand a little tighter and causing his ears to redden.
“I don’t think I've ever held someone’s hand for so long.” Kaleb mused, looking down at their hands. “I dunno how to explain it...it just feels safer this way.”
“Yeah.” Braden replied mysteriously. “I feel that too. Like if I let go of you two, I might lose my way.”
“I feel it too.” Kelly pitched in. “Thankfully there’s only three of us, right? I can’t see any more of us being able to all hold hands and walk.”
“The chosen number.” Kaleb added, grinning. “Lucky three.”
“It’s like it was meant to be.” Braden chimed in, smiling at the two of them. They stopped in front of the arch leading to Toontown. Toontown was dark and it looked like there was no one there, but none of them could be sure. The children-monsters had been a terrible surprise, after all.
“This is it.” Braden sighed as he peered around the perimeter. “I don’t know what’s ahead, but we have to be ready for anything.”
“Let’s just make right for Mickey’s place. I don’t feel right.” Kaleb shuddered visibly. "I think those monsters are heading our way. I feel it."
“Not to mention the fact that we don’t have a way to defend ourselves.” Kelly added, frowning at them. “But do you think Mickey will have gotten there before we did? He can't have outstripped us. A different way or some passage, if anything.”
“Mickey can do anything. He’s the King, remember?” Braden chirped enthusiastically. His love and admiration for Mickey Mouse knew little to no bounds, especially after having played Kingdom Hearts. He saw Mickey as a hero and he'd be damned if Mickey wasn't waiting for them right now.
“He must have loads of cool powers.” Kaleb added ardently, nodding in agreement. They all suddenly stopped and Kelly pressed a finger to her mouth. They could distantly hear whispering child voices that grew closer and closer. A petrifying chill ran up Braden's spine and he slung his arms around Kaleb and Kelly, almost protectively.
“They’re coming. We need to go.” Kelly whispered urgently, squeezing Braden's hand rather tightly and making his ears redden once more.
“Right. Everyone hold on.” Braden murmured back, and they all gripped each other’s hands a bit tighter. The three of them then walked through the arch and into Toontown, arms slung around each others' shoulders.
During the day, Toontown was a bustling center for tourists, full of perfect picture sets and crammed with characters ready to sign autograph books. At nighttime, it was completely dark and absent of life, with even the more cartoony buildings having a shadowy and sinister look to them. Braden nodded at Mickey's house, a beautiful yellow one that seemed to stand out from the others in an odd sort of way. The child whispers were growing louder and louder all the while, so they quietly traipsed over to Mickey's House. The door silently swung open, as though an invisible man was holding it wide open for them.
“creepy.” Kaleb shivered as they stopped short of it. "After everything that's happened so far, I can't help but feel like we're going to be caged in."
“We've got to go in. That arch is the only way out of Toontown.” Braden whispered back urgently. "The child-monsters are closing in too quickly for us to slip out now. We might find a secret way out of some kind inside his house, but we have to go, now!"
Braden ushered Kaleb and Kelly in ahead of him before shutting the door quietly, but firmly. The curtains were already closed and the furniture inside was colorful and whimsical, strange to the eye after the bizarre and frightening things the three of them had already witnessed. A staircase near the entrance was blocked off, but there was a note on the blocky television set. Kaleb reached it first and read:
“Dear Braden Young, Kaleb Aubrey, and Kelly Rose.” he said, and the three of them shared a significant look. “By the time you read this, the Darklings will be waiting outside of my house for you. There is only one way I can be sure that the three of you will make it out of this jam. Follow the notes deep into my house. I will meet you at the end and give you each something valuable for your quest.”
“Follow the notes.” Kelly repeated, immediately peering around for another slip of paper.
“Seems easy enough.” Kaleb replied in a low whisper, straightening up.
They all immediately took on lower whispers as the sounds of eerie child voices rang in the square beyond Mickey’s door. They were definitely cornered now. Kelly ducked down on the floor and returned to them with another slip of paper. Braden and Kaleb looked at her expectantly, so she read:
“If the Darklings are darkness, then we are the light. Turn out the lights.”
“How are we going to find notes in the dark?” Braden queried. There was a sudden booming noise on the front door that rattled the walls, like something was trying to come in.
“Don’t know, but we need to turn them out fast.” Kelly urged. The three of them crept around, shutting off lamps and light switches. The booming on the front door vanished. Kaleb tried to risk a glance through the curtains, but Kelly pulled him back and hissed angrily at him.
They groped through the darkness, finding their way back to the TV. By that time, their night vision had improved, and Braden gently pushed open a door. It was the laundry room. He heard Kaleb let out a whoop.
“What is it?” Braden asked, squinting through the darkness.
“Look, there’s a panel on the wall that’s all shiny.” Kaleb whispered, awestruck. Braden squinted and looked at the wall, but couldn't see anything particularly appealing or extraordinary about the wall from where he stood.
“I don’t see anything.” Kelly whispered back.
“Me neither.” Braden added, still squinting at the wall Kaleb now pointed to. He watched Kaleb walk slowly over to the wall, mystified. The Australian boy outstretched his arm and lightly pressed his hand against the wall. The three of them recoiled when the wall slid open to reveal a thin passage, kicking up tiny dirt clods.
“Guess you got the magic touch, eh?” Braden chuckled. Through the dark, he could see Kaleb grin at him. They found themselves treading down a long wooden passage, which eventually led into Mickey’s backyard. There, they found a note that read “Keep going!” so they did. The vegetables looked as though they were dying, and Pluto was not in his dog house. They drew their breaths and headed into what appeared to be a barn, and crept into what seemed to be a home movie theatre from there. A note on the floor told them “Just ahead.”
There was a door at the end of the theater. Braden placed his hand on the door, and opened it.
Mickey Mouse waited for them. The mouse looked quite calm and he ushered them in, shutting the door behind them. There were wrapped parcels on a nearby surface. Some of the parcels looked rather large, while others seemed quite small.
“Your majesty, nice to m-” Braden started, but he was cut off.
“Aw, shucks, just call me Mickey.” the mouse replied. Braden bowed his head a little.
“My apologies, Mickey.” Braden corrected. “But what’s going on?”
“Those children you saw were Darklings, in one of their many forms.” Mickey explained sagely. “The Darklings in their true form look like human silhouettes, but they have learned how to shapeshift. They can even impersonate characters, so be careful.”
“Where did they come from?” Kaleb asked, resting against a surface.
“That’s a good question, Kaleb.” Mickey chirped in a whisper. “The Darklings are born from negative energy. Disneyland is a place of positive energy and light, so the Villains had to have been working on this for a long time now. Every time a little boy or girl cries on a ride, it’s usually because the Villains scared them for the negative energy they can absorb from their fear. Fear can attract a lot of Darklings.”
“Why are the Villains upset about the heroes getting all the attention?” Kelly asked, peering at Mickey. “Isn’t that how things are supposed to be?”
“Well yes.” Mickey admitted. “But they also got angry because in our universe, the good always win. Light can conquer darkness. And I guess they got tired of losing the battle.” Mickey said.
“How are we supposed to help?” Braden asked, eyes determined.
“Well, you need to help all of the characters get back to their locations. And then, we need to look for Walt’s clues.” Mickey replied.
“Walt left clues?” Kaleb asked. “To what?”
“He left some clues throughout Disneyland on how to defeat the darkness. Only those who are pure of heart can get to them, since they are put in some very secretive locations.” Mickey explained.
“How are we going to do that if the Darklings are trying to get to us?” Kelly asked.
“Right! Someone very special left you all a gift.” Mickey recalled. He handed one of the parcels to Kelly. The three of them exchanged a look as Kelly unwrapped the package, revealing a walkie-talkie like device and what looked like a small white gun. She gasped.
“What is it?” Kaleb asked. She held up a slip of paper. Braden offered his hand and she gave it to him to read.
“For you, Miss Kelly Rose, I present the Character Caller. With it, you will be able to get in contact with the delightful characters here and aid them. I also present to you, the King’s Flare, so you may call for help when it is needed and so that you can rally the troops. It might even be useful as a weapon in a pinch! From Mr. Walt Disney!” Braden read, awed. The three of them gazed at the signature on the bottom of the slip of paper.
"It's legit?" Kaleb asked, popping in beside Braden to examine the letter.
“That’s his signature. I’d know it anywhere.” Braden, the Disney connoisseur of the group, confirmed. “Walt Disney gave this to you.”
“All right, here’s one for you, Kaleb.” Mickey said, handing Kaleb something heavy. Kaleb slowly unwrapped the gift, as though enchanted. There was a bright gleam, and Kaleb gazed as he unwrapped a beautiful black and red shield with a Mickey emblem on it. Kaleb unwrapped a second package and a powerful gleam made it known that Kaleb had unwrapped a sword. Kaleb picked up a slip of paper that had been tucked in with it.
“For you, Mr. Kaleb Aubrey, I give the Disney Shield, so that you may protect your loved ones.” Kaleb read. “And the Disney Sword. Have no fear in using it, for it can only fell your foes. From Mr. Walt Disney.”
The two watched intently as Braden received a much lighter package from Mickey. Braden nervously began opening it, and he saw two smaller objects in front of him. One seemed to be a high-tech looking watch. The other was a brush. Hand shaking, he picked up the card and read:
“To Mr. Braden Young, I present the Data Medium Device (DMD for short). Though you know many of the ins and outs of Disneyland, this watch gives you the power to find even the most hidden of locations, granted that you have Mr. Aubrey’s help seeing them. Your other gift is none other than my very own Disney Brush. The Disney Brush is made of the pens I used to create new wonderful worlds, yes, even my first pen. Your creative mind matches the imagination needed by the wielder of such a brush. Use it well. Mr. Walt Disney.” Braden read.
“Wicked, that’s got his pens in it?” Kaleb asked, examining the brush. Braden nodded and picked it up, suddenly feeling an instant warmth in his hand, like the brush was pleased to be held by him. Braden felt an immediate attachment to the brush and it felt as though all the world had opened for him.
“Now that you three have inherited your gifts, I think it’s time we got you out of here. If you see a slip of paper with the emblem on it, pick it up. It’s a message from someone important.” Mickey said.
He led the trio through another doorway to the street. The childlike Darklings presently swarmed the front of Mickey’s house. The three of them turned to look at Mickey.
“Thank you.” Braden said in a hushed voice, extremely grateful.
“Yes Mickey, thank you.” Kelly chimed in as she examined the Character Caller before tucking it away safely.
“For everything.” Kaleb added as he examined his new blade.
“Don’t worry, we’ll meet again.” Mickey said with a wink, before he turned and went inside. The three of them faced the children at Mickey’s door, who had not noticed the trio a short distance away.
“Should we make quick work of them?” Kaleb asked, brandishing his sword and looking eager to give it a try. His eyes followed the metallic gleam of the blade all the way down to the base.
“Oh honestly Kaleb, I think Mickey wouldn't want us to go seeking trouble.” Kelly replied back hurriedly. “We've got to go find Walt’s clues and help characters. We can't be waging war on all fronts, even if we do have things to fight with.”
“Yeah, but they’re gonna bother our mate Mickey.” Kaleb argued back, gesturing towards his house, surrounded by the childlike Darklings.
“We could try using our n-” Braden began, but something wrapped around him and yanked him to the ground. Kaleb and Kelly turned and saw one of the children Darklings had crept up on them, and was now constricting Braden with its arms, which had stretched around the young man and were now constricting him.
"What in the world are you doing?" Kelly cried as Kaleb lifted the sword for a swing. "What if you end up chopping Braden's arm off?"
"It'll only fell foes, the letter said!" Kaleb shouted back as he brought it down on the arms of the child Darkling. It sliced the arms of the Darklings clean off, bouncing off of Braden with the impact of a foam toy. The Darkling was screaming, a sound that was horrifyingly close to a real child's scream as it flailed around, arms chopped off. Braden sat there for a moment, tousle-haired and wild-eyed before climbing to his feet. The other Darklings were advancing on them, fast. The twenty or so that had congregated outside of Mickey's House were now turning to them and they found kids on all sides, soon enough.
“Let’s fight.” Braden growled as a response. He pulled out the Disney Brush and uncertainly drew some flickering flames. Much to his surprise, the child Darklings howled as they were suddenly engulfed in flame as Kaleb cut down four of them, leaving many of the others to scatter.
"Go through!" Kaleb shouted and Braden rushed through the gap Kaleb had created with Kelly, making sure the Australian made it through, too. The three of them began to run for the Toontown arch, but were being pursued.
“Braden, stop them from getting to us!” Kelly cried as the child Darklings began to gain on them.
Braden nodded and came to a stop, swishing the brush in midair to form what looked like a square, but was a solid brick wall, blocking off the Toontown entrance. Just as he'd envisioned it, the aforementioned brick wall dropped between Braden's party and the Darklings. He slid the Disney Brush into his pocket as Kaleb strapped his sword and shield to his back so he could run. With that, the three of them took off, Kaleb and Kelly's hands finding Braden's without any effort as they ran. There was a horrible howling noice from behind them as a few mechanic wolf-creatures with sharp, gnashing, nasty teeth appeared.
“We need to get out of here.” Kaleb panted as they supported one another and ran. “We can’t fight those things and we sure as hell can't outstrip them for much longer!”
“We’ll fly.” Kelly cried suddenly.
“Brilliant idea!” Braden cried. “Think happy things, everyone!”
The three of them continued to run, slowly rising in the air before they kicked off of the ground together, hard. The jaws of one of the mechanic wolves snapped on the heel of Braden's jeans, barely missing his ankle. He swung his leg around frantically, trying to remove the creature from him when Kelly kicked it hard in the snout and it fell with a robotic whine, shattering into a million pieces of scrap metal below them.
"Wicked." Kaleb breathed appreciatively and Braden flushed a little bit as Kelly smiled at him, pleased that she had been able to execute such a well-aimed kick.
The three of them landed in Tomorrowland, among the darkened futuristic-looking buildings. A light went on and in the spotlight stood a small Asian boy, peering at them. He was wearing a red baseball cap, a white shirt with red sleeves, shorts, and white sneakers. He was eyeing them curiously.
"Oi! Who are you?" Kaleb called out to the boy. The boy merely smirked.
"I can't say much." the boy replied back calmly. "But if you will head to Space Mountain, you'll find the King has left you an agent."
“An agent?” Braden questioned. He and the others turned to shoot each other mystified looks, but when Kaleb was about to address the boy again, he had vanished.
“Do you know where Space Mountain is, mate?” Kaleb asked, turning to face Braden. Braden nodded fervently and took the hands of Kaleb and Kelly once more. They kept close to one another as they traveled through the darkness. They approached Space Mountain and quickly found what they were looking for.
What looked like a couple of robots or armored figures strode ahead, dragging what looked like a crying little boy. The three turned to one another, as though trying to decide if it was a trap or not. The little kid certainly didn't seem like he was going down without a fight, and he kicked and screamed at them furiously, despite being so small and unarmed.
Before they could formulate a proper response to the situation, Kaleb raced over, sword drawn. Two of the robotic figures let go of the kid to take on Kaleb, so Braden entered the fray, Disney Brush tingling warmly in his hand as he went. One of the robotic figures remained, roughly handling the small boy and they watched as a blast of light sent it flying backward, a hole in its chest. Kelly had used the King's Flare to shoot what looked like white-hot flames at the robotic figure. The small kid, seeing she was helping him, ran to her.
Kaleb took the confusion to his advantage, bringing the sword down on one of the robotic figures. An arm was cleanly sliced off, like a hot knife slicing through butter. Sparks shot wildly from the maw that had been his arm as Kaleb deftly hacked off the other arm. Kaleb then shot Braden a wink and Braden knew what he had to do.
Braden aimed the brush at the robotic figure and drew a frantic spiral. Immediately, it was as though a whirlwind appeared, for the robot was being spun in circles, leaving a wild shower of sparks in all directions. Kaleb's brow furrowed in focus for a moment before the Australian swung at the robot, cutting the head cleanly off. It spiraled through the air, raining sparks down on them before both the head and the rest of the robot exploded in a shower of colorful sparks. Braden drew a lightning bolt over the other robot and watched as the electric overload it experienced caused the same colorful explosion.
He aimed the brush at the robot figure and began to draw a spiral. Immediately, it was as though a whirlwind appeared, for the robot spun in circles, showering sparks in all directions. Kaleb focused for a moment, then swung at the robot and cut the head off. It spiraled through the air, raining down sparks before both the head and rest of the robot exploded in a shower of colorful sparks. Braden drew a lightning bolt over the other robot, and watched as the electricity overloaded it and it exploded into the same sparks.
Putting their weapons away, Kaleb and Braden high-fived each other and they turned to the kid, who stood in front of Kelly. He had brown hair and brown eyes, clad in an orange shirt, royal blue pants, and white light-up sneakers. Kaleb drew his sword again, almost suspicious.
“Who are you?” Kaleb asked then, his voice deepening for the moment as he examined the kid.
The kid stared at the two young men with wide eyes, backing up closer towards Kelly.
“He’s asking you a question.” Braden added helpfully. The kid looked terrified as he eyed Kaleb's sword and Braden.
“Your name, kid!” Kaleb yelled. "We can't have any more of those creatures with us!"
“Tony!” the boy yelled, bewildered. “Have you seen my Mom and Dad?!”