Terror in the Kingdom - Chapter One
Two metallic doors closed with a soft click, and the elevator began its rapid, three-story ascent to the top of the Astro Orbiter. Grayson Hawkes’ ride up to the attraction’s loading platform would only take a few moments, but as the doors shut and the floor beneath him began to vibrate, Hawk knew he had made an error. On a normal night in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, guests rode this elevator skyward along the gantry and were deposited into the boarding area of the Astro Orbiter. The genesis of Hawk’s mistake was in assuming this night was normal.
In recent years, Hawk had the galactic attraction—the visual centerpiece of Tomorrowland—refurbished so that now, not only did the twelve rockets rotate around the ornate ironwork of the center tower, but the planets also swirled around the outside of the attraction. The proximity of the twirling planets and moons spinning around the rockets while the open-air starships rotated in the opposite direction created the illusion of speed at a dizzying height. Guests controlled their space flights from eighty feet up in the Tomorrowland sky, while enjoying a unique and thrilling view of Magic Kingdom. To further enhance the illusion, guests now had to ride one of these two elevators up along the launchpad gantry to board their starship.
Hawk had stepped inside the elevator marked Lift B to Rocket Platform, and pushed the button that would take him to the top of Rocket Tower Plaza. But a hitch in the upward movement of the car gave way to a sudden jerk, and the lift squeaked to a halt between the second and third levels. The ride had lasted just a few moments, but it was long enough for Hawk to realize he had stepped into a trap. The unplanned stop could have been a random malfunction, yet somehow Hawk knew this was not the case. In his rushed attempt to reach the top of the Astro Orbiter, he had ignored what should have been obvious. He had ignored the possibility of danger.
Reflexively, he pressed the control buttons, but the elevator wouldn’t budge. The lights inside flickered and then went to black. For a few brief seconds, Hawk was swallowed up by darkness until an emergency light fought through the inkiness and cast an eerie jade glow across the interior of the cabin. Hawk took advantage of the illumination to start looking for a way out. The ominous sensation of being trapped inside the closed box threatened to cloud his clarity in searching for an escape.
An explosion jarred the elevator car violently and the gantry structure shuddered, driving Hawk against the floor. His ears ringing from the deafening blast, he placed a steadying hand along the wall and willed himself back to his feet. The elevator car swayed. Through the ringing he heard what sounded like a hiss of steam. A surge of smoke filled the cabin of the elevator, and waves of overheated air rushed into his lungs causing him to gasp. The temperature inside the elevator was rapidly rising, and Hawk widened his eyes to see through the smoke.
His brain screamed at him to find a way out. Now on his feet, he began mentally replaying the loop of memory he had created moments before. There was an escape hatch on the roof of the elevator. He had seen it. All he had to do now was find it. He had been in situations more dangerous than this; he just had to orient himself and get out while he was still able to think through the fog of smoke that threatened to smother him. Stretching out his arms, he jumped up off the elevator floor and hit the roof. He had guessed correctly; it retracted at his touch. Through the blinding haze, he felt his way along the wall and grasped the handrail. He lifted his foot up onto it and launched himself, his fists blasting through the escape panel. Grabbing one side of it, he gripped it tightly, swung his body away from the wall, and pulled himself up.
Thick smoke raced upward through the opening, hungrily searching for an escape, and Hawk attempted to ride it toward safety. With both hands gripped along the edge of the opened hatch he pulled his body up in the billowing flumes, through the opening. He was holding his breath, halfway through the hole when a second explosion ripped through the elevator shaft, lifting the car and tossing it back and forth like a pinball trapped between two bumpers. The violent movement tore his hands away from their precious grip on hope, and he was flung like a ragdoll through the air. His body, now covered in slick sweat, thundered onto the bottom of the car. The four-sided metallic fist that had trapped him now retightened its grip. Overhead, glowing orange flames peeked through the crawling smoke. Hot sparks rained down through the opening, and a searing pain in the back of his throat prevented him from crying out for help.
The moment he had pressed the button on the elevator, Hawk somehow knew he had miscalculated. He’d made a mistake. This was his fault. He had failed, and this time they had finally beaten him. His chest heavy, and struggling to find his next breath, Hawk closed his eyes as the heat inside the furnace he was trapped in engulfed him.