14 August 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: Upon a Time

In the early days of the Gazette, and I mean early as in our first year, I tried out a new concept, creating stories out of characters or little details that interested me. I only ever ran three stories, as they didn’t seem to land with many of the readers back then. This was before the Kingdom Keepers series of books and the Disney Kingdoms comics from Marvel. It was my attempt to marry my love of the stories that Imagineers had created with my desire to write some fiction. I’m presenting all three stories here for the first time, but let me give you a little background on what detail in the parks inspired each before we start.
Bayer and Quinn: Screenwriters was taken for a simple nameplate on a mailbox in the Echo Lake area of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Specifically, on the mailboxes found outside the Echo Lake Apartments between 50’s Prime-Time Dine-In and Hollywood & Vine.
Unlocking the Spark is, unsurprisingly, about the Dreamfinder and his journey into imagination. This was the most well-known character that I felt vast potential for story that had never been explored. I clearly wasn’t the only one who thought so as he would be featured in two of the Disney Kingdom series at Marvel. I also tried to throw in some clever nods to those behind the attraction.
The Fate of the Fateless Fiona was my first story attempt, and came from the name of a missing boat at the Jungle Cruise. This was before the Society of Explorers and Adventurers really took off in the state parks, but there was enough lore about certain characters, not to mention jokes from well-traveled skippers to work in here.
I’d love to go back and polish these up, make edits to things I find cringeworthy, and add a few more entries into the collection. For now, however, I present them in their original form. As I said when these first started, “You can call these stories dramatizations, fan fiction, or down right tawdry rubbish,” and that still holds true. Whatever you call them though, I hope you enjoy them.

Bayer and Quinn: Screenwriters
The dust in the room sat so still and thick that it was a wonder that the sunlight could even squeeze through the broken blinds at all. The curtains had fallen into a heap on the floor long ago, and there the still sat. The cushions on the couch had become so worn that a bag of cotton balls would have better suited any occupant of the sofa; even the chairs and desks had lost their varnish, though this last sign of decay was lost beneath the common sign of neglect, dust.

Two men sat in the dilapidated chairs at the dilapidated desks. Their collective gazes alternated between staring at the yellowed sheets of blank paper before them, jammed haphazardly into the typewriter, (one of which, consequently, was missing the ‘E,’ while the other had lost its ‘S’) and then back to the man on the opposite side of the desk. This routine was occasionally broken by a loud gulp of water quenching a cracked throat or a smack of gum, but never by the click of a single key of the typewriter. This lack of productivity explained the declining state of the offices of Beyer and Quinn, Screenwriters.
“What if we tried adapting something rather than writing something new,” offered Burt Beyer.

“Adapt? We’ve been down this road before,” Ernie Quinn sighed as he used his head to signal towards the bookshelves. Overlooking the obvious unkempt order in which the books had been kept, there were a staggering amount of books to work through.

“Yeah, but what if we find something new, something that hasn’t been done before, a book we haven’t read?”

“If you’ve got ants in your pants, then do us both a favor and go for a walk to the library, but I guarantee you there ain’t nothing there we ain’t already though of,” Quinn quipped before returning his attention back to the blank paper, as if it held some secret.

“You know what, I think I will,” Beyer said as he got up from his chair. He threw on his brown blazer hastily, pulled his fedora, complete with inky smudges, down firmly on his head, and closed the door behind him. He made his way down from the second floor and began monotonous trek around Echo Lake.

“Hey, Book boy! Make sure you check the mail on your way back in. We may finally get that big offer we’ve been waiting for!” Quinn shouted from the window. He didn’t wait for a response before he closed the window, laughing. Beyer waved him of and turned back to the sidewalk in front of him.

Beyer made his way over to the library, where he studied the stacks intently. He randomly opened the card catalog hoping to find a muse in whatever card he happened upon, he consulted with the librarian, and he even sought the advice and recommended reading lists of visitors who seemed to be in the library as often as he was, most of whom were screenwriters as well, and most of whom were uninspired to help another struggling writer. Not having any luck, but thankful for the time away from Quinn’s delightful disposition, he decided to head for the park.

A vendor was selling bags of breadcrumbs for the local indigenous fowl, pigeons, and Beyer decided someone, somewhere needed a break, and bought a bag. The way he saw it, his generosity would bring some happiness to the vendor and the birds, and two for one wasn’t bad. Besides, doing good things had a way of coming back around. All the benches were occupied, but he meandered over to a bench by the lake with only one gentleman sitting on it.

“May I sit here?”

“Oh, by all means,” came the response from behind the newspaper.

As he tossed the crumbs to the crowd of pigeons that had made their way to Beyer’s feet, he aimlessly looked around for something, anything to motivate him. There was a girl sleeping on a bench whose boyfriend was leaning over to kiss her and wake her up, a little girl walking a dog who’s fur, in the evening light, appeared blue, and a cat chasing another dog, this one had a string of sausages trailing from his mouth, but none of this could ever make a story he and Quinn could sell.

Suddenly, he became aware that the buzzing sound in his ears was the man sitting next to him. Embarrassed, he stuttered an apology and asked if he didn’t mind repeating himself.

“Quite alright. I asked what you thought of this year’s Academy winners. Quite the eclectic bunch, eh?”

“Oh, oh, yes they are,” replied Beyer who, truth be told, had not even paid attention this year. Someone had won for screenwriting, and all he knew was that it wasn’t him. He continued talking with the gentleman, Henry was his name, for several more minutes. The conversation ran from entertainment to world politics to the diet of ‘tramps,’ or homeless dogs.

“Well, Burt, I am afraid I must be going,” Henry said as he folded his newspaper, placed it under his arm, and stood up. It was then that Beyer became aware of what this very worldly individual was wearing, an over-sized brown fedora, a khaki shirt, and deep brown work pants. This was not the attire of an educated man, which Henry most certainly was.

“Henry, before you go, what do you do for a living? That is, if you don’t mind my asking.”

“Not at all, I am a studio stunt man.”

“A stunt man? But you know so much and seem so well spoken,” Beyer’s shock was thinly veiled.

“True, but man may not live by brains alone,” explained Henry, who turned to go with a tip of his hat.

This conversation, and realization, had sent Beyer reeling. He sat for a long while thinking over what he had learned from Henry, and slowly a story began to form. Up he jumped and made a dash straight back for the office. He blew by the mailboxes, there wouldn’t be any mail anyway, and besides, the lock had been rusted shut for months now. Up he ran to the corner office, number 201, and straight over to Quinn’s desk, he hadn’t even stopped to shut the door or hang up his hat and coat.

“I’ve got it! I have the perfect story!” he exclaimed.

“Oh yeah, bookworm, what’s this perfect story? I don’t see no book any where?”

“No, no, no, I didn’t find anything in the library. I found it right outside the window here, down in the park.”

“Well, out with it then,” Quinn was beginning to lose his patience.

“It’s about this professor, see. He teaches archeology or paleontology or something like that. And he is a good guy, well educated, well spoken, right, but half of the time he is digging up ancient tombs or idols or dinosaurs or something. And when he is searching for these things he always finds a girl to fall in love with and he always ends up in these nasty situations because someone else wants exactly what he’s after. And,… and,… and, yeah, that’s it. What do you think?”

“There ain’t no stuffy professor that is ever going to get beautiful women to fall for them, especially if they’ve been digging around in the dirt all day long. This has got to be the most dimwitted idea you have every come up with Burt!”

“Quiet down over there,” came the muffled yell from the wall, along with repeated thuds.

“Sorry, Mrs. Zovich!” Beyer shouted back.

By now the sun had set and the lamps had begun to turn on outside. Quinn walked over to the door and drew up his coat.

“If you’ll excuse me professor, I’m heading home. Maybe I’ll dream us up some magic fairytale this evening. How about that?” Quinn asked while shutting the door.

Beyer waited until he heard Quinn hit the bottom of the stairs before he mumbled, “I bet it would have made millions.”

Unlocking the Spark
“The mind holds many secrets, many of these secrets are still a mystery to us,” the line was delivered with no emotion and immediately fell flat. The solemn and slouched man behind the podium brushed his reddish curls away from his eyes, and continued his lecture to a disinterested crowd, “Perhaps one day we will truly understand what our minds our capable of.”

Satisfied that he was preparing his Psychology students for the real world, where the tedious nature of science reigned, Dean Finder trudged back to his office. An eager student squirmed his way through the crowded hallways, trying to catch up to Dean Finder. “Dean Finder, Dean Finder,” he shouted out over the bustling crowds.

With a sluggish turn of his head Finder saw Billy Barty racing down the hall towards him, and he gave a deep sigh. Billy had been a thorn in his side since he had entered his classroom. His insistence that the true secret to the brain was its ability to imagine both practical and impractical ideas gnawed at Dean Finder, who knew that the untapped potential of the mind’s memory was the true riddle worthy of exploration.

“Dean Finder,” Billy gasped when he reached Finder, as he tried to catch his breath. “Dean Finder, I was just reading this article by Dr. McCann, and he says that…,” Billy’s ramblings were his trademark, but Finder was in no mood to humor the young man today, and abruptly cut him short.

“Billy, Dr. McCann is a quack, and his works should be taken as such,” he snapped in his typical dull pronunciation, and he continued his steady retreat to his office, leaving the boy stunned and stationary in the middle of the hall.

That night a terrible storm whipped up, filled with lightning and all the other elements that fill the various tales of fright. But Finder was not concerned and, in fact, went to bed early. But, just as he was beginning to nod off into a dream, his doorbell rang. He ignored it and rolled over. The bell chimed again, and then a third time. Grumbling, he got out of bed and began to stumble towards the door, without turning on a light. As he shuffled across the floor, Finder began to build up static electricity which, as any good man of science would know, has to find a way to discharge. As he reached for the doorknob the static found its release, and created an arc of electricity, shocking the Dean.

“What a spark,” he whispered, truly flabbergasted.

When he opened the door, there was no one there. Logically, he had taken too long to get to the door, and the person had left. But somewhere, deep within the secret places of his mind, the spark was skipping around, causing Finder to wonder if, just perhaps, there had ever been someone there at all, or that perhaps, just perhaps, instead of driving away, they flew away. These ideas, along with many others, continued to fumble through the Dean’s brain all through the night as he slept.

The next morning, Dean Finder decided he had bigger and better things to do than sit inside a stuffy lecture hall, and so he called in sick. His assistant, so shocked that the Dean had called in sick, continued to call his house throughout the day, to make sure he was still alive. Throughout the day, Finder had been reading, everything from Jules Verne to Dr. McCann, and sketching hurriedly. Finally, he could no longer contain his amusement, “Ho he ho, my dear girl, I am fine. I am simply…, I am simply…, well, I am creating creations!”

For the next several days he continued this process, but, not wanting to abandon his students, he sent articles along to his assistant to pass out to his class. There was never a mention of an exam, nor a date for when the students should finish reading these articles. Though these questions were raised, first by the students, then his assistant, and later the school itself, there was never a satisfactory answer, only gibberish about “marvelous new ideas.” The number of students attending class began to dwindle until, one day, only Billy showed up to class. Even Dean Finder’s assistant had stopped coming to class.

Billy decided it was time to check on Dean Finder, and more importantly, find out what had ignited his new view of the mind. He had heard rumblings of strange things going on near Finder’s house, but dismissed the reports, as any parent would dismiss their child’s account of the odd occurrences at the old spooky house on the hill. But, as he approached, he began to believe there was some truth to the reports he had been hearing. There, in the field beside Dean Finder’s house, was an excitable man, dashing about a contraption that was strapped to some sort of hot air balloon, laughing all the while. This man could have been Dean Finder, if not for the beard, purple suit, and all around pleasant nature.

As he drew closer towards the field, the man turned to greet him, “Hello there, Billy. It is so wonderful to see you,” spouted the purple clad man.

“Dean Finder?” question Billy hesitantly.

“Oh, heh ho ho, no no no no no, that name is far too plain! Please, call me the Dreamfinder,” he chuckled.

“Dream, finder,” Billy’s statement hinted at more of a question, as he was becoming more baffled, “What are you doing here?”

“Why, I am creating and searching, using my imagination!” he said with a twinkle in his eye, a twinkle usually reserved for paintings of Santa Claus.

“But Professor, I mean Dreamfinder, you said work on the imagination was garbage. You, you, you…,” Billy was at once, for the first time in his life, speechless.

“Billy, my boy, it was you who gave me the inspiration, that glimmer of something more. And I should thank you for it,” Dreamfinder said as he patted Billy on the shoulder, “Now then, I should be off.”

“Off, but wait! Dean, Dreamfinder, where are you going? What is this thing?” Billy’s uncertainty had been replaced with amazement.

“This is my creation, a dirigible if you will. I call it the Dream Vehicle, and this back here,” he said motioning to the large bulging sack connected to the rear, “is the Idea Bag. It is amazing what you can create with discarded ideas, innovative concepts, and a little digging.” To be honest, Billy thought the ‘Dream Vehicle’ looked more like a collection from the dumpster. He was sure there were pieces of a phonograph, portholes from some sailing vessel, old netting, a propeller, some oars, and a pressure cooker, and all of it seemed to be continually changing colors.

The Dreamfinder climbed up and into a chair mounted at the front of the device and began running his hands over the control panel. Slowly, and with much commotion, the Dream Vehicle began to lift into the sky. Racing towards the hovering craft, and shouting over the noise, Billy called to the Dreamfinder, “But where are you going?”

“Nowhere, everywhere, on a flight of fancy. I am going to search for anything that sparks the imagination and collect those ideas in the Idea Bag,” and with that he began humming a little tune to himself, slowly rising up into the air until he was a speck, and then gone.

Billy stood in the space that the Dream Vehicle had been occupying only minutes before, unable to move. Slowly, a smile filled with child-like wonder crept across his face, and he began to walk home, always looking to the sky and the stars beyond.

The Fate of the Fateless Fiona
If there was a difference between the water and the air above it, it was that the water was probably cooler. The hot air was thick and slow, filled with enough moisture that you could almost jump into the air and swim through it. Then again, the river was full of leeches, lots and lots of leeches. Oh, and of course, the crocodiles. As these sluggish thoughts about a sluggish day wandered through the mind of Al, he and his ship slowly crawled up to the docks. The canopy of the Fateless Fiona hung limp, much like her skipper and his gawky frame, as there wasn’t so much as a breeze to flap the tattered cover.

Al surveyed his new “crew” as the riverboat came to a halt and thudded against the dock. There were five in all, a mother, father, and their daughter, and a teenage couple who cared less about seeing the scenery and more about staring at each other. None of the new passengers looked like they had ever spent a day on the river, you could tell that much just by how they were dressed: jeans, tee shirts, sundresses, all of it was totally inappropriate to be cruising through the jungle. With a heavy sigh, and a stale smile plastered across his face, Al latched the boat to the dock and began assisting the passengers aboard. The family decided on seats close to the front, while the preoccupied teens sat at the very back. 

Al brought in the rope, and started the motor, as they slowly limped away from the dock. He turned back, gave the dock a cheerless glance, and waved at it, with the kind of help he had available on this trip, if there was any trouble, he wondered if he would ever see it again.

“Excuuuse me,” a little voice squeaked from behind Al, as his shirt was being tugged on at the same time, “is this boat safe?”

Al turned in time to see the little girl’s mother stifle a chuckle. He kneeled down and smiled his most comforting, if false, smile, “Well,… what’s your name?”

“Ann, Ann Fellen,” she said as she straightened up her back proudly.

“Well Ann, I am your skipper, Al Belaite, an’ I promise you that the Fiona here is as safe as any boat on the water. In fact, I’m so sure that we’re safe that if we run into any trouble you can be the skipper.”

Ann beamed and return to her parents, squeezing between them to find a spot where she could reach out and dip her hands in the water.

“You might want to be careful there Ann, we have a crocodile name Old Smiley ‘round here and he’s always looking for a hand out.”

“HO, ho,” came the animated response from Ann’s father as she withdrew her hand from the water. He was a heavy man with a deep brow that made him appear as if he were continually frowning; either that or he was continually frowning. Ann’s mother, who now held her daughter as close as possible, and as far from the water as she could, was a slender woman who was so pale it was as if she had never stepped outside a day in her life. B.N. Eaton and Emma Boylen had clearly only brought their daughter on such an outing after her pleading and begging had become too much to bear.

Almost as soon as they rounded the first bend in the river, the fat dark clouds that had been hanging in the sky all day opened up and let loose a downpour. The passengers, who had been scattered around the deck, all scurried their way to the very center of the deck.

“Huh,” noted Al, “the rainy season seems has come early this year.”

“Really,” bellowed B.N. “when does it usually start?”

“Oh, not until later on. After all, it only rains here 365 days a year,” Al stated matter-of-factly, leaving B.N., and the rest of the travelers, puzzled.

“Does this mean I’m the skipper now?” Ann inquired.

Days went by, and the rains continued to fall. Sometimes they were so heavy that they blotted out every glimpse of light and the guests couldn’t tell if it was day or night. Ann continued to see this as a wonderful experience, sticking her tongue out to catch the fat drops of summer rain, pooling water in her cupped hands to throw at her parents or Al, and, once, she even tried to fill a bucket with water so that she could wash her doll, Ilene. Unfortunately, the bucket became too heavy for her to hold and it fell into the river, flowing rapidly behind the boat, before sinking to the bottom of the river.

Other passengers, like Ms. Betty Dont and her boyfriend, Albert Knot, were not having such a grand old time. It became routine that every morning Betty would complain about what the rain was doing to her hair, while Albert would scamper about trying to convince her that her hair was lovely, and that, “surely this rains will stop soon,” after which he would look over at Al, who could only shake his head apologetically, as if to say, “the rains are here to stay.”

This practice went on for weeks until, suddenly, they cruised out of the rain late one morning. Looking back, they could all see the wall of rain behind them, yet, in front of them, everything gave the appearance of a lush and dry jungle. So shocked were the Fiona’s occupants that they all ran to the boat’s railing and looked straight up, as if surely the rains would begin falling again any second. But, just as quickly as the rains had started falling, they were gone, along with the cool weather they had brought with them. Thus began a new tradition, one where all of the passengers, excluding Ann, lay around exhausted and extremely bored.

One afternoon, Al excitedly called out, “Oh, wow, there’s something you don’t see everyday!”

“Quick my darling, come and see,” shouted Albert. Slowly, like the sloths that usually moved along in the trees above the river, the adults made their way towards Al and Ann.

“What are we looking at, that puny little waterfall we are about to pass behind?” blustered R.N.

“Oh, that’s not jus’ any old waterfall Mr. Eaton, that is Schweitzer Falls.”

“Ah, isn’t that the waterfall that was named after that famous explorer?” questioned R.N.

“That’s the one, named after Dr. Albert Falls. An’ with these rains we were having, they have caused the falls to run at a hundred and fifty percent of normal giving us a very special view,” Al said in earnest awe.

“What, what view is so special?” whined Betty, as she nudged Albert, who covered her head with the paper he had just been reading without a second thought.

“Why, the backside of water.”

Betty and Albert looked blankly at one another, and then looked blankly over at B.N. and Emma, who had just finished looking at each other blankly. Ann, meanwhile, beamed and scrunched up her eyes so she could squint better to take in the full beauty of the backside of water.

On the other side of the falls the Fiona happened upon a herd of elephants bathing in the flooded river. Aside from a few giant butterflies, this was the first time any of the passengers had seen any wildlife during the entire trip. The wonder that had filled Ann and Al at Schweitzer Falls now filled everyone aboard.

“Are they… naked?” Ann whispered with a hiss at Al.

“Ha! No Ann, don’t worry. See, look, they are all wearin’ their trunks,” Al responded as he pointed towards a rather elated elephant who seemed to be spraying himself and his fellow elephants with water from his trunk.

Suddenly a big elephant took notice of the boat, and her occupants, and began taking aim at them. Water splashed along the side of the boat, causing her to shudder and jerk back and forth. The elephant filled his trunk a second time and continued to squirt water at the Fiona, which repeated the rocking and went further off course. With a third spray the elephant was able to drive the boat out of the river, over a small cluster of jagged rocks, and onto the shore. With the boat no longer moving, the elephant lost interest and moved out of the other side of the river and back into the jungle, along with the rest of his herd.

Al, shaking his head and looking around shouts, “Is everyone alright?”

“Yes, we’re quite well over here,” B.N. answered as he picked up Ann and Emma clutched his arm.

“Alright, Alright,…” shrieked Betty, “do you see how much mud I am covered in? Alright!”

“Why, just think of it as a mineral mud bath, my darling,” was the trembling response from Albert. “I am sure it is filled with all sorts of nourishing vitamins and minerals, right Al?” he said with a quiver in his voice as he turned to Al.

“Oh, yeah, the animal dung that makes up these river banks is full of all sorts of hearty minerals. How do you think these plants get to be so big?” Came the absent reply from Al, as he climbed up the embankment to survey the river and jungle, ignoring Betty’s wild screams that followed.

“Do you think we can get the boat back in the river?” R.N. asked, still huddled with his family, and also ignoring Betty’s antics.

“Nope. She’s takin’ on too much water to do us much good now. But don’t worry another ship will be along shortly,” Al stated with some certainty, as he climbed down and rejoined the group.

“How can you be so sure of that?” wondered Albert.

“Simple, I can hear their radio down the river.”

“Radio?” Albert questioned further.

“Of course, can’t you hear those drums getting closer?”

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