Stanley Nero’s Day at Disneyland
The overwhelming smell of fat, mixed with incoherent screaming and shouts knocked him straight into wide eyed consciousness.
Stanley Nero nearly toppled over with fright at the sudden onslaught on his senses. For several seconds he couldn’t see anything but sharp, vivid colors and dark shadowy patches lurking in corners.
The noise was almost unbearable.
His fight-or-flight instincts kicked in and he pushed his arms out, shoving a growing shape with a crooked grin away forcefully, before taking off into the crowd of shrieking, writhing figures.
He got about two steps before he smacked into something hard and toppled to the floor.
Something resembling a foot kicked at him, but it never managed to connect with its target (his ribs) as something – or someone grabbed the back of his shirt and yanked him up, effectively choking him.
Stanley shouted in surprise and pain, but it came out rather pathetic, quickly swallowed by the noise around him.
“Leave me alone!”
Whoever was holding him punched his shoulder hard.
“Stanley, you massive idiot.” The voice came again, sounding only all too familiar.
“….Alice?” Stanley’s eyes widened.
“Who else would it be? Man, what happened, did someone slip something into your drink?” Alice let go of his shirt (no - he realized he was wearing his old hoodie) and crossed her arms over her chest with annoyance, but he could easily see her amusement at his bewildered flailing.
Stanley pulled his hoodie straight.
Alice raised her eyebrows. “Do you want to go home or what?”
“…” Instead of answering, he just stood and stared at her. Her hair was up in a messy bun she used to have, and she was dressed in the whole just-rolled-out-of-bed look that she was so fond of, always spending hours perfecting alone it in her room.
Her cheeks were flushed and the excitement of their location left no space for concern for her younger brother’s odd behavior; she looked and acted every bit like the Alice he used to know, yet every fiber of him screamed that it couldn’t be her.
Not after everything.
Several seconds passed and Alice grew tired of waiting for a response. She reached for Stanley’s wrist and grabbed it tightly, rolling her eyes when he winced.
“Too bad, we’re not going home until I’ve conned someone out of their money – or possibly gotten a cute girl’s number, either one is fine~”
She began dragging him across the room and he realized where they were.
The yelling was still incoherent, but it was mixed with laughter and arcade music.
Bodies – no, people pushed around them, some with their families, others with partners, most of them in the Nero siblings’ age groups.
It was an old Bowling and Arcade Center in their hometown, the hotspot for teens (and sometimes families) during the weekend.
Besides having the biggest bowling alley, arcades, and even a small movie theater, it had a wide variety of food and snacks. You could get everything from pancakes, to pizza, burgers and sundaes, and while the quality of the food was debatable, that never seemed to stop anyone.
They always – had always spent their weekends here, with friends or alone.
Alice dragged him through the noisy crowd, until they found a quieter, less populated corner by the popcorn machine. To their right was the entrance to the cinema.
“I still have about fifteen dollars, how much have you got?”
“Alice, listen to me.”
“I’m listening,” she said offhandedly and pulled out her phone.
His slightly frightened confusion melted into annoyance. He stepped to her and plucked it out of her hand.
“Hey, quit it!”
Stanley held it out of reach. “Stop being a bitch for a second and listen to me.”
She glared at him, but didn’t attempt to get her phone back with force, even though Stanley knew she was all too capable.
“What? What’s your problem?”
“I- something’s not right. I’m- no, we’re not supposed to be here.”
“It’s Friday, Stanley, mom and dad know we’re out here. Honestly, did someone drug you? I’m never going to hear the end of it with mom if you got roofied. Idiot.”
“…don’t you remember anything?” He tried again, sounding desperate.
She gave him another look.
“Maybe you’re in a dreeeeam, Stanley. Maybe everything you thought to be real was just a very, very bad dream.” Her voice was cruel, mocking. He instinctively shuddered and took a step away from her.
Alice reached for her phone again, but he held it close against his chest.
“It wasn’t- it couldn’t have been a dream. It- it was too vivid. Too….horrifying.” My mind couldn’t have imagined up the actual agony I felt.
“So, what? Who cares whether it was a dream or not. You’re here now, aren’t you? With your big sister, in our favorite place in the world.”
“Do you want to go back?”
“Then what is it?”
“This is another trick of theirs. Of yours! I want to get out of here, whatever fake illusion this is, and I want to go back to the actual Arcade center with the real you.”
She sighed. Her irritation was gone now, replaced by a slight pitying look. “Stanley, I am real. I’m as real as they come. Which might not mean much, but-”
She stepped to him and he winced again. But she only placed her hands on his shoulders, and looked him straight in the eyes, with a rare kind expression he hadn’t seen on her in years. Decades?
“Why do you want to ruin everything? We’re here to have fun, to forget about whatever lurks in the Outside and to pretend for these few hours, just like everyone else here, that things are okay. But we can stay for as long as we want to. Days, even weeks. Don’t ruin it by trying to figure out what is and isn’t reality. That doesn’t matter.”
“…what about Maelle?”
Alice fell silent. Her grip tightened on Stanley’s shoulders and suddenly he was scared that he overstepped and made her mad. But the softness in her eyes didn’t fade.
“Don’t worry about her.” Alice said simply, and offered no further explanation.
She squeezed his shoulders once, then let him go and stepped back. “Now. I dare you to come watch Child’s Play with me. I bet you can’t make it to the end without running out of the room~”
Alice grinned and the moment was gone. Stanley let his worry go with it and allowed himself to smile a bit. “If I win, you have to try Sarah’s horrible Roadkill Sandwich. With extra ketchup.”
She shoved him hard and grabbed back her phone while he was distracted with not crashing into the wall.
“What sort of popcorn would you like?” Alice called over her shoulder as she rushed towards the ticket booth.
“Anything but caramel. I’m sick of caramel.” He retorted, seeing her smirk.
“Yeah? Me too. Let’s get cheese flavored.”
On his twentieth birthday, Stanley Nero was not trapped in literal Hell, possessed by demons or tormented by the shell of what had once been his sister, but safe and sound in bed, no longer starved or afraid for his sanity.
And on her twenty fifth birthday, the once doomed Alice was not spending it a husk of herself, roaming the silent Office where the only thing that remained of the people she lost were dried bloodspots on the carpet.
She was surrounded by her family, loved ones the Alice of this dimension had abandoned in exchange for something dark and evil.
From the moment she and Stanley had returned back to reality, their bond had strengthened immediately as survivors of rare trauma. Their parents welcomed them back, happy and content, their minds muffled, kept from remembering the sleepless nights they had cried over their dead children.
But it’s what Stanley wanted, and what she wanted as well.
Their reunion was homely, warm. There wasn’t a lot of screaming, sobbing, nor did they spend their first week back on solid ground being questioned by doctors, police officers and whoever else had been involved in their family’s case.
A goodbye gift from the Acolyte, they knew, who had somehow manipulated those around them into giving them a quiet welcome home.
Though, it wasn’t a gift out of kindness or pity. There was an underlying threat.
You have your happy ending, now if you know what’s good for you, you’ll stick with it. We don’t want you back.
And even though the formerly doomed Alice had sometimes caught Stanley (now her brother and hers alone) crying himself to sleep, ashamed of leaving his original Alice behind to perish in her insanity; even when it took him a while to stop calling her his other sister or – ‘the other Alice’ – they loved each other as dearly as a brother and sister could.
Their shared secrets gave them halt with one another.
Stanley graduated school with the pride of his family; Alice moved into a university that was much closer to home, so she and Stanley could both work on their higher education, never too far from each other.
And aside from their modified bodies and occasional glimpses of malevolent spirits eyeing them in the passing (spies from the Acolyte or demons who recognize Stanley, they never found out; thankfully both parties kept their respective distances) life was pretty much normal.
Perfectly normal, actually.
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