I always wonder what the story would be like if the DHIs had been made for Disneyland instead; that Disneyland in Anaheim was getting the holographic treatment first. Due to a change in scene, the characters would surely change, wouldn't they? With the character change in mind, here’s how I imagined the Disneyland Kingdom Keepers to be. All credit goes to Ridley Pearson, one of my favorite authors and creator of the Kingdom Keepers series this is based on. The idea is his, I just made up my own characters and decided to explore this wonderful world of his.
Braden blinked as he found himself sitting near the statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse, his intense blue eyes scanning the immediate area. What was happening? Hadn't he just gone to sleep? He looked down at his body and noticed he was wearing the black t-shirt and blue sport shorts he always wore to bed, and felt thankful he wore a shirt tonight. The biggest question currently on his mind, was “How?”. How had he ended up in Disneyland in his pajamas? The wind ruffled his thick brown hair as he pondered this mystery.
He stood, noticing his body was glowing. That was pretty strange. Braden pinched himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming and flinched when nothing happened after the pinch. He was truly in Disneyland in the middle of the night, wearing only his pajamas. He gingerly got to his feet and noticed that he was being watched. An older man stood not far from where he was.
“What’s happening?” Braden asked him. The old man said nothing as he approached. He was kind of tall and thin, with glasses. Braden suddenly froze where he stood. Was that...Peter Pan? Braden watched as the red-haired Neverland boy crossed from Tomorrowland into Fantasyland, taking the route down beside the Matterhorn. This was too unreal.
“Ah, so it worked.” the old man said, stepping closer to inspect Braden. “I had hoped it would. Now to see how well the others cross over.” He examined Braden a little more closely, and the boy backed up. He figured he could easily overpower the old man if it came to blows, but knew it wouldn't, and he was a gentle boy anyways. Well...somewhat. He used to play football at his school - quarterback, in fact - before he gave it up to perform a job for Disney.
“Do you see anything?” the old man asked, catching the look in Braden’s eye as the boy watched Donald Duck waddling into Adventureland. The old man was suspicious at once, and turned to look.
“...Was that Donald Duck?” Braden asked. “The real Donald Duck?” It sounded perfectly stupid to him, but that had not looked like a Donald costume. It looked...real. Braden decided he must be dreaming. This was too bizarre, too unreal.
“You saw him?” the old man cried, looking almost overjoyed. Braden nodded, dumbfounded. The old man pulled out a black fob that looked like a garage door opener. There was a bright button on it, and Braden eyed the device, almost equally as suspicious.
“That’s enough for tonight.” the old man said, and he pressed the button. Braden suddenly found himself leaping up in bed, wearing the same clothes. Was it a dream? Could it have been? Braden shook his head, still sitting up. That had felt strangely real...almost freaky.
...And yet, he wanted it to happen again.
“Sounds like a pretty weird dream to me.” said Matt Levoff as Braden walked down the hall, his bag slung over his shoulder. The two boys were on the way to Kaufman’s Algebra 2 class. Algebra 2 was a class that Braden absolutely despised, and he usually got by in the class with Matt’s help. They were tagged along with by Conner Collins, a short boy with thick dark hair. Conner wore a look of perpetual apathy and had his red hoodie pulled up. Of all the kids in the school, this was who Braden chose to be around. Football players high-fived him down the hall as he passed, ignoring the two social outcasts on either side of him.
He had been a social outcast when he was younger. That’s when Braden had befriended Matt and Conner, back when he was just a kid with ADHD and not a football player or DHI. But once he got into football, he climbed up quickly with his stellar performance as a quarterback. He had been good enough to be moved to Varsity last year as a Sophomore, impressing many after a quiet Freshman year. He remained loyal to Matt and Conner, even after he had blown up due to becoming a DHI.
He had been asked to be a DHI, a holographic guide for Disneyland. Braden had been a big Disney fan as a kid, and with his mother’s insistence...he decided to give it a try. It had been a strange experience, where they asked him to dress as casually as possible. He'd then headed down to a studio located somewhere in the backstage area, where they made him wear a green stretchy uniform and borrowed the jeans, Nikes, black Mickey Mouse t-shirt, and Chicago Bears Letterman jacket that he had picked just for the occasion. He had done poses and spoke for them and it took two months until they had completed his DHI, and he was stunned to see that they had edited his clothes on him.
He had met with the other DHIs then. The first to show up after him had been a red-haired Australian guy named Callan that was only slightly older than Braden. He was the one to note the sensors in the clothing that traced their movement, and discussed it as they sat. Callan, to Braden’s knowledge, seemed to know a lot about how that kind of technology worked. They were joined by four others; Andrea Fitzgerald, a blond cheerleader-type that looked like a model; Kelly Huntington, a beautiful but sensible girl; Malik Warner, a black boy that was extremely intelligent; and Jack McClure, a brown-haired boy with a big grin and a sense of humor.
“We’re Disney’s melting pot of kids.” Malik said, leaning back in his chair with a confident air about him. He was relaxing in a chair, wearing jeans and a black Dragon Ball Z t-shirt with Piccolo on it. There was something in Malik’s drawl and the way he looked at people that hinted at his vast intelligence. He was probably the youngest of them now, only around thirteen years old, but they could hardly tell. He spoke like he was at least around their age. Most of them were nearly sixteen years old, and Braden was pleased to learn he was the second oldest in the group, technically, only behind the almost-seventeen year old Callan.
It had been a week since he had last met with the other DHI kids. He was desperate by now to know what was going on, to see if any of the others had the same experience he did, but his request to get a phone number, email, or school was refused swiftly. He would have to find them himself. He had enlisted the aid of Matt and Conner in order to find the others.
It was during Kaufman’s that Matt coughed and dropped his pencil. Braden ducked down to get it, noticing it had rolled under his desk and he heard Matt’s voice in his ear, whispering for him to look at the link sent in his email. They had all been doing work on their tablets and Conner had let him copy. Kaufman had called an immediate study session since the class finished early. Braden reached for his tablet but Matt jabbed him and shook his head. Braden knew what this meant. He’d need access to an outside computer.
“Mr. Kaufman, I don’t feel well.” Braden said, paling as he stood up. Kaufman was enough to intimidate any student that despised Math, what with his sharp looks and ferociousness towards slackers. He scaled Braden up and decided he looked sick, merely grunting and jerking his hand at the hall pass. Braden thanked him, grabbed his bag, and hurried out of the classroom. Now he needed to find a computer. This was taking place during seventh period, and Braden supposed that this meant he could sneak his own laptop out and ditch the rest of class. Kaufman never checked to make sure his students reached their destinations, but Braden knew he would send someone along in a few minutes to collect the hall pass. He held his breath and watched Kaufman’s door. Class was almost half-over. He suddenly got a text on his phone from Matt, assuring him to leave the pass in the first stall near the door in the closest bathroom. Braden almost skipped over to the bathroom and placed the pass on the coat hook inside the stall before exiting and sliding out one of the side doors.
Braden usually never skipped class, but finding the other DHI kids was crucial right now. He pulled out his laptop and powered it up, opening up his Gmail. He found a message there from Matt that had a YouTube link. He distanced himself from the school, in a hiding place behind an electrical box and he slid down behind it, opening the message and immediately seeing what Matt had found. It linked to a YouTube channel...Malik’s YouTube channel.
Braden left a short message behind for Malik that wouldn't give away too much if found by someone else and he quickly shut down his laptop and packed it away. It was crucial to get out of here before the bullies came out, so he quickly jogged to the bus stop and made it just in time for his bus line, the only student there. The adults paid him no mind, though a lady with a small child towards the back smiled at him, possibly knowing he was the DHI, Braden. As soon as the bus went to his stop, he hurried off and headed the last two blocks home. It began to rain, so he sped into the house at top speed.
It was only when he was safely in his room that he powered the laptop back on, plugging it into its AC adapter unit. He had a private message on YouTube and found Malik’s Skype username provided for him. He quickly opened up his own Skype account and immediately got a call from Malik, so he turned on the webcam and mic set.
“Yo.” Malik said, appearing on the screen before him. He could see that Malik was in his own room too, likely already out of school. “What is it you've got to tell me?”
“I can’t say it without the others.” Braden sighed. “I don’t feel like repeating myself. Can you help me find them?” Malik looked exasperated about having to wait, but he clicked away at his computer. A few moments later, Andrea popped up in the screen.
“I literally just put my stuff down. What do you guys need?” Andrea asked. The bright pink walls of her room looked vivid and vibrant in contrast to the very plain walls behind Braden and Malik. Braden’s was plastered with sports posters, while Malik had a Dragon Ball Z poster and a corkboard with notes stuck all over it. Andrea’s hair was slightly damp.
“Can you help us bring the other three in here?” Braden asked. Andrea nodded and a fourth blank screen came up. There was no answer on the other line. Andrea, undaunted, tried again. Kelly answered this time and she looked surprised to see the others there, while Braden searched Callan on Skype by name and easily located him, sending him an invite to the video chat.
“I can’t find that Jack kid.” Malik said, sitting back in his office chair, exasperated. “Does he even have a Skype?”
“I don’t know.” Andrea replied as Callan entered. “I only added Kelly up until this point. You’re lucky we’re all holed up indoors from the rain and practice-free. So how do we get a hold of Jack?” She reclined in her chair.
“I happen to have exchanged phone numbers with him on the last day modeling.” Callan said in his accent, which Braden enjoyed listening to. “I’ll ask him to get Skype and join.” Callan stepped out of the room for a minute while the rest of them waited idly; Braden admiring a football, Kelly reading a book, Malik looking something up, and Andrea brushing her hair. When Callan came back in the room, he was beaming.
“We’re go.” the Australian said, and a sixth window popped up. There was moment’s delay before Jack appeared, his hair a bit windswept. The others smiled and greeted him before Malik got right to the point.
“So what is it you have to tell us, Braden?” he asked. The others murmured; some of them hadn't known that the meeting was conducted for business and not for social purposes. There was a scraping and squeaking of chairs as they all drew closer to listen. Braden nervously pulled in a breath like it was a fishing net.
“Have any of you had...strange dreams?” Braden asked. “Dreams of being in Disneyland at night, wearing your pajamas?” Much to his surprise, most of them nodded or gave a verbal confirmation. They all looked at each other, shocked. A twinge of mystery and suspicion had brightened their eyes.
“What does this mean?” Kelly asked. “I mean...how is it that we've all had the same dream? It’s just not logically possible.” She examined each of their faces closely, as though making sure none of them were lying. She leaned back in her seat, satisfied with the sincerity in their eyes.
“We’ll just have to see. Tonight, can all of you manage to be asleep by nine?” Braden asked. They stared at him, blinking. It was a strange request.
“Are you serious?” Malik asked, and the others turned their eyes towards him.
“Yes, I am.” Braden said. “I’ll see you guys tonight, if this works.”
Braden slipped into his bedroom with relative ease, claiming he was tired. His mother knew well enough that he had been getting very little sleep lately. No alibi was necessary. The only thing he had to do now was fall asleep. He put on a black t-shirt and his Chicago Bears shorts and settled into bed.
Braden straightened up and felt a slight chill, like a breeze was coursing through him. He blinked tiredly and looked around. He was in Disneyland, but this time he was waiting for the others. He had done it. He was pleased to be wearing clothes of his choice now, but regretted wearing shorts over jeans. He slowly stood, eyes darting around the hub at the end of Main Street, U.S.A.
A shape materialized before him, the semi-holographic body of a blonde girl in a light lavender shirt and black shorts. The girl opened her eyes curiously and looked at Braden. Her eyes immediately widened and she climbed to her feet. She had not put on shoes or socks before bed, unlike Braden.
“Braden? Is that you?” Andrea Fitzgerald asked “What’s going on? Why are we inside Disneyland?” The sporty blonde peered around the hub with clear excitement on her face. There was a tentative silence as Braden wondered what to say.
“I’ll explain when the others get here.” Braden said quickly as another sleeping outline materialized in front of them. A second later, a sleeping Malik appeared in a t-shirt and jeans, but no sneakers. He had remembered to wear socks though and he sat up abruptly, shocked. He then noticed he was in Disneyland and almost jumped, cursing loudly out of surprise. Callan was the next to appear, clad in a navy blue shirt and black shorts. He was followed by a tousle-haired Jack in blue pinstripe pajamas and a surprised Kelly in pink Minnie Mouse pajamas.
“We've crossed over.” Braden said the moment Jack had adjusted. “We’re our DHIs now, at least partially. I don’t know why we aren't fully DHIs. Maybe it doesn't work that way.” Malik stood up boldly. He walked over and reached to touch the railing around the statue of Walt Disney and Mickey. His dark hand ran along part of the cold fence, and he marveled at the feeling of it. Andrea's curiosity grew, and she joined Malik in feeling the railing around the statue. Meanwhile, Jack had turned towards Kelly and touched her shoulder. She turned to Jack, surprised as Jack's own eyes widened, having felt the soft pink fabric. The glow around them was faint.
"Are those pirates?" Malik asked, and they all spun around. Coming from the entrance to Frontierland came a troop of clunking pirates that Braden recognized as being from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Braden's mind became a whirlwind of Disney tales and knowledge. The pirates definitely belonged to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but what business did they have outside of their ride? They weren't characters that roamed the park, to his knowledge. A particularly scraggly-looking model pointed at them and hooted and the troupe suddenly made for the group of DHI kids. Malik turned and shot Braden a look that asked "What now?"
"These guys look like trouble." Braden said. "How do we get out of here?" His eyes spun around, his mind mentally overlooking the park map he had memorized so carefully. They were in the hub right now, and therefore at one of the best areas to flee in. The whole park was open for escape from here.
"I say we make a go for Tomorrowland. It's right here, and we can get into Fantasyland from there." Kelly whispered back. Braden nodded to the others and on his whisper, the six kids rocketed into Tomorrowland, the pirates shouting along behind them as they ran into the futuristic side of the park. The kids paid no mind to their loud pursuers as they made several sharp turns, all of them following Braden as they dashed down the path that connected to Fantasyland, heading for the collection of rides that lay behind the majestic castle that loomed in view. As they ran around the carousel, Braden could tell their pursuers were definitely the Audio-Animatronic pirates from the ride. Their limited movement had caused them to be left behind by the sprinting pack of teenagers. Braden led them under the castle, and to his surprise, he saw the old man from the night before, waving them over.
"It's me, Harris." the old man said as Braden beckoned his group to follow him over to where the man stood. Harris, so that was his name. Braden finally knew what to call him. Harris' eyes widened as he noticed they were panting.
"Some pirates from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride were chasing us." Braden panted. "Mind telling us what's going on here?" He was a bundle of nerves, unsure of just how far the pirates were behind, not knowing what other dangers waited for him and the others. He wanted to move. Harris looked stunned from the revelation, but calmly motioned for the kids to follow him. He led them down the path the pirates had come from, into Frontierland. He moved quickly, which suited Braden's urgent stride just fine. The kids peered at the approaching Rivers of America. It looked beautiful, like a pane of black glass that reflected the bright spray of stars overhead that shone like tiny beacons in the night. They were heading towards the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
"What gives?" Malik asked suddenly. "We're trying to get away from the pirates, not walk right into their zone." The young African-American boy looked more suspicious than any of them. He eyed the area ahead, clearly reluctant to move any closer to the ride.
"Ever heard of Club 33?" Harris asked, and Braden's head snapped up from where he had been examining the ground for tracks. He knew Club 33, that was Walt Disney's private club. He now knew where they were going, and any place that Walt had ever been to in the park had to be sacred, had to be protected. Walt Disney was quite possibly Braden's biggest influence, his biggest inspiration. He looked up to Walt, revered the man for the empire he had built and the storytelling he did. Braden had read everything he could about Walt Disney and the Disney amusement parks that currently existed; anything Disney was within his interests. His knowledge of Club 33 only skimmed the surface of his hidden stores of information.
"I do." Braden said, and the others all turned to look at him. He flushed a bit, embarrassed. Harris smiled at him, a kindly sort of "I knew you would" smile that brightened his eyes. "Walt's private club." Harris said.
"It's quite safe. This is where we'll be, so I can tell you all what's going on and what you need to do." The old man whipped out some keys and unlocked the door to one of the places Braden had wanted to see most in the park. The six teenagers shuffled inside and Harris peered around the door once before shutting and locking it. They didn't go as deep into the club as Braden would have liked, but he felt honored just being in there. Harris motioned for them to sit and they sat; Braden and Jack immediately sitting and Malik and Callan being the last two to sit, albeit reluctantly.
"As you can see, you are all your DHIs." Harris said. "I'm the one responsible for you crossing over into this form at night. Something is going terribly wrong in the parks, and we need your help."
"How can we help?" Braden asked kindly. Now that he had gotten over his excitement at getting to be in Club 33, a chill overtook him upon hearing Harris' words. Something wrong in the parks, something that wasn't supposed to happen. He knew it was bad. Disney was always on top of their game. If something was wrong that required a bunch of holographic kids to fix, then it was something so badly wrong, so terribly wrong that Disney couldn't just work their magic to make it disappear. It seemed to unreal to him now, to be sitting in Club 33 with a bunch of other teens in their pajamas, only one of them over the age of fifteen.
"You saw the characters last night, Braden." Harris said. "When the park is closed, Walt wanted it to be so the characters can have the park for themselves. They're alive, you know. They're real, so very real."
"How is that possible?" Callan asked, tugging the collar of his t-shirt. "They're characters, they can't be real."
"They're as real as any of us. They just weren't made the same way." Harris explained patiently, adjusting his glasses. "The problem here, as young Malik may already be speculating, is coming from some of our...less heroic characters."
"The villains." Jack said in a light and almost dreamy sounding voice. All of them gave a small shudder. It was too creepy, Braden thought as his arm brushed against Jack's shoulder.
"Exactly." Harris confirmed. "They don't like losing all the time, and having the park be so centered around what is good. The children admire the characters like Mickey, like Peter Pan, like Jack Sparrow. They don't care for the evil queens and witches so much."
"So it's a matter of influence and control, isn't it?" Malik asked perceptively. "They don't want to lose, so they've got to get rid of the heroes and take over. It's a power game."
"You're correct in making that assumption, young man." Harris said. "We believe the power is exactly what they're after. They were created to be power-hungry and revel in having such power, weren't they? To triumph over what is good is their natural goal."
"So where do we start?" Andrea asked, clearly eager to dive right into whatever mission Harris had for them. The old man smiled as though he had expected her to say that.
"We're looking for something important." Harris whispered. He leaned closer to them. "The to-scale replica of Mickey's wand. That's what we're looking for. We have only four clues though. Fire, water, wind, and air. The four elements. That's all we know."
"The rides." Braden said, standing up. They all jumped then as loud voices rang from outside. Harris motioned for them to be quiet and he pulled out the small black fob. Before Braden could protest, he pressed the button and it felt like Braden was whirled backwards, landing in his bed at home.