Authors: Ridley Pearson
Disney After Dark
Cave of the Dark Wind
Escape from the Carnivale
Peter and the Secret of Rundoon
Peter and the Shadow Thieves
Peter and the Starcatchers
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Illustration on page vi by Greg Call
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IGHTNING FLASHED ON THE HORIZON
. A breeze swirled around the Cast Members. The air tasted dusty, almost bitter, with electrical charge.
Finn Whitman, one of five kids on top of the final parade float, pointed to the far gate where the Magic Kingdom’s DHI-Day parade was to pass through, where five
clothing to theirs, stood waiting.
DHI stood for Disney Host Interactive or Daylight Hologram Imaging—depending on whom you asked—a recent addition to the Magic Kingdom that offered the holograms of five teenage kids as Park hosts. The five kids who had auditioned for those roles were typically forbidden to enter the Magic Kingdom. But tonight was special: it was a DHI celebration.
Finn sensed trouble coming, wondering if it had to do with the electronic illusions waiting by the gate.
“How weird is that?” he said, seeing himself as a hologram not thirty yards away. The Finn Whitman standing by the gate looked no different from himself, except for a slight sparkle, a glow, when viewed from a certain angle.
“It gives me the weebies,” said Charlene, regarding her identical, though electronically projected, twin. She too wore a cheerleader’s outfit; she too had her blond hair pulled back severely into a ponytail, not a hair out of place; she too looked slightly embarrassed to have the body of a young woman, instead of a girl. Charlene was an athlete and champion gymnast and had clearly been recruited as a Disney Host for her clean, cheerleader looks and her uncanny physical ability. She was good with people and could make friends with anyone. Most kids at school were jealous of her—but the other DHIs appreciated the skills and abilities she brought to the team.
The hologram of Charlene stood next to the hologram of Finn, but the software had all five holograms in
, making them look more like glowing mannequins than kids. They awaited the start of the parade with the patience of the robots they were.
“We’ve been here before
them,” said Willa, “but never
“I was, once,” corrected Finn. “Only the one time, and I was being chased by Security. I have to admit, it was plenty strange to see myself guiding some guests while I was also running for my life.”
“What’s that?” asked Philby, pointing up at the rise behind the tall boundary fence inside the Magic Kingdom.
“Cinderella Castle,” answered Charlene.
“No, the gray balloon,” Philby said. “It’s massive.”
“Looks like a weather balloon,” said Terry Maybeck, who seemed to stand more than a head taller than all of them. An African American, Maybeck currently wore his hair in dreads, making him look older than the others.
The swarming clouds suddenly swallowed the large balloon.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Philby. “You don’t release a weather balloon in an electrical storm unless you’re Ben Franklin.”
“Not our problem,” said Maybeck. “All we’ve got to do is ride the float and wave to the guests. Let’s stick with the program.”
At that moment, music started and the first float moved toward the open gate. The five holograms came to life, as if a switch had been thrown. They formed a line at the front of the parade, waving to the bushes, as if guests were waving back.
“Sometimes our DHIs look
,” Willa said.
“Sometimes?” Philby said sarcastically.
“They paid us well,” Maybeck reminded them, “and we got Gold Fastpasses for our families. We’ve got nothing to complain about.”
“And they’re having a parade to celebrate our DHIs returning to the Kingdom,” Finn said, “and we get to be part of it. Things could be worse.”
“Who here doesn’t miss the way it used to be?
they patched the source code?” Maybeck met eyes with each of them.
Finn had been the first to “cross over” during his sleep: to wake up as his own hologram in the Magic Kingdom. Initially it had seemed impossible, but encounters with pirates and witches had made him reconsider what was real and what was make-believe. Soon, all five kids had come to the same realization: when they went to sleep at night they awoke
the Magic Kingdom as their DHI holograms. In reality, it had not been a corruption in the software’s source code but the ingenious work of a veteran Disney Imagineer named Wayne, who had needed their help. But no one at Disney knew this other than them, so recently programmers had inserted a software patch to correct “the problem.”
None of them knew if Wayne could, or would, undo it, allowing them to return to the Magic Kingdom as nighttime holograms. But all of them secretly hoped he would.