A Night in Aladdin's Palace: Based on the Events of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake
A selection of the work-in-progress novel about a young woman named Tayler who finds herself trapped in Tokyo Disney Sea for more than 30 hours.
The line for the Magical Lamp Theater show zig-zags within the Disney replicated Ottoman era courtyard, and the end of the line waits near the merry-go-round that takes up an entire side of the enclosed area. Those in the middle of the line wait near a fountain that’s adorned with four tiger statutes spurting out water from their open mouths. A cafeteria that serves curry and naan, the only food place available in little Arabia, is open for business in the corner next to the theater. Those at the front of the line wait outside the theater’s front, double doors and in a circular enclosure with a domed shaped open skyline that's intersected by the temporary, for restoration only, scaffolding. The words ‘Magical Lamp’ are lettered in gold upon the purple cloth that flaps in the air above the tented entrance, and the scaffolding jiggles every time the wind blows through the channeled corridor.
“How much longer are they going to make us wait? I’m dying here,” Tayler says.
“We are next. Just wait,” Megumi says, rubbing her hand against Tayler’s back.
A woman’s scream startles Tayler, and her eyes shoot above to the scaffolding behind her. “Aladdin?” she calls out, but no character can be seen swinging from the shaking rafters.
The crowd shuffles in two directions, some towards the entrance of the theater with the doors locked tight, and others attempt to scatter back through the bottle neck opening that leads to the courtyard. A hurried energy takes the crowd in any which way, just as fishes do in a pond when they sense feeding time is near, but can’t tell which way the hand will drop the food. A clariable rumble stops the crowd in their scurry, and everyone squats down and covers their heads with their hands. Tayler scans the top of the shaking scaffolding and to the sides of the concrete walls of the magical lamp theater, looking for that elusive street rat Aladdin. Still the screams become more frequent, feeding the urge for her to find him—where is that street rat! The walls sway from side to side, and a broken conveyer belt shifts beneath everyone’s feet. What a magnificent ride!
A tug on her sleeve and Tayler looks down, “It’s earthquake,” Megumi says.
The emergency exit door of the theater slams open onto the concrete walls, and a rather round woman dressed in puffy white pants and a fuzzy Abu hat yells out above the sitting crowd, but her commands are muffled by the screeching of clashing metal rubbing against each other and every imaginable sound made possible from moving rocks and the desperate cries of the people squatting. The worker points at Tayler, the poor girl is still standing, and makes a motion to squat like the others with her hands above her head. Another jolt of the energetic earth sends the woman staggering back against the wall of the theater. She too squats and ducks.
“Aladdin?” Tayler with her childlike disbelief, being told that Santa is not real, refuses to give up her search.
But of course, Tayler is not stupid, after all, she does hold a degree in English. She is, however, prone to slowness. In the instance following her last mutterance of, “Aladdin?” she realizes that the shaking is not part of the ride or the chill of her bones, but the very earth moving beneath her feet. It is solid yet it jellows and bops, and the scaffolding above rattles like old bones on a pirate’s flag. She drops to her knees with the palms of her hands firm against the earth. She feels the kinetic energy surge through her body like the rumbling of her father’s old Porche. It shakes her to the core.
Pressing Tayler’s face to the floor, Megumi weights her body down on Tayler’s quivering back, spreading her jacket wide she encapsulates Tayler in complete darkness. Her shivering mimics that of the earth beneath it, and she feels as if her body is going through shock. It’s a bad case of epilepsy, and she can’t control the shaking in her body as her sunglasses fog up from shallow breaths in her jacket prison.
There are no prayers in the crowd, no asking for deliverance, no praises for the Lord, and no curses for the Devil. No crying, save the only tears falling from Tayler’s eyes, and there’s a silence from their mouths. Every action from the crowd is done with the eyes, glancing up in wait for the collapse to crush them.
And then the shaking slows to an uneven wabble.
One person stands, hesitant, but he is the first and then a few more do and soon people begin speaking in Japanese, and the noise around Tayler swells the crowd. They’re all silenced when a P.A. system broadcasts a woman’s voice throughout the park. People around whisper to each other, “hidoi, hidoi.”
Tayler thinks to herself, ‘Maybe this is a mean joke.”
Hidoi is what her students would say when she teased them too much. A man’s voice follows the Japanese announcement in English, “You’ve just experienced an earthquake.”
‘ No duh. No freakin’ duh,’ Tayler yells in her head.
She scrubs the tear stained ground with her trembling hand, trying to erase her moment of weakness.
“Stand up,” Megumi commands, grabbing Tayler from underneath her arms at the armpit.
Workers exit out of the hidden doors and emergency exits and direct everyone to wait in the open courtyard. People sit around the fountain in the middle of the open area with the water still spurting out of the tiger’s mouths. With Megumi’s arm wrapped around her for support, Tayler makes her way towards the courtyard.
She wipes her dampened face from under her sunglasses, “Am I the only one that cried?” she sniffles, looking around for children of a young age.
Stepping around people already sitting on the ground, they find some space on a three foot wall that wraps around the fountain area.
Megumi pats Tayler on the back, “It’s Marion,” she says, pointing at the fountain across of them, “Remember Miki? She was Marion.”
Toddlers run about the outskirts of the tight circle of people that formed around the fountain. The older children, the ones who could have been in elementary school, play hand games to pass the time. Everyone else types, calls, or reads on their phones, as they wait for the next announcement.
Hands fidget in pockets or laps, and rub against each other for comfort in the cold and in the doubt. Tayler keeps her mind busy by playing a game with the sky, trying to find shapes in the clouds, but there is nothing up there. In the distance, one massive darkened blob bubbles out towards the park, the edges expanding in all directions.
Without looking up from her phone, Megumi mentions, “It might rain.”
Workers still dressed in their white puffy pants and Abu caps pass out transparent plastic bags, the size of a trash bag, and flattened cardboard boxes to the people sitting down.
Tayler lies down on the damp yet dry ground, staring up at the sky with her hands stretched out on the side of her. She’s got a lot of room to stretch because she’s at the edge of the protective circle.
“Sit up,” Megumi commands while she types on her phone.
“I want to feel the ground shake,” Tayler says, but Megumi’s disapproving head shake is all she needs to know that she can’t even do this.
She looks up to the sky again, keeping her mind busy from the tapping and texting and the whispering around her. A white bird of a wing span that could have stretched two computer desk lengths easy perches on the tip of a decorative needle sticking out from on top of the nipple shaped corner tower.
“It’s watching us,” Tayler says. She pokes Megumi who is texting rapidly on her phone. “See,” Tayler points at the perched bird, “it’s waiting for us to die.”
“No. That’s good sign. It means bird thinks this place safe,” Megumi says and turns her attention back to her phone.
The bird stretches its wings out in length, swooping into the air with one motion, and glides in a circle around the crowd—just as vultures do to their next meal. It flies out of sight.
It’s called Tokyo Disney Sea for a reason, and to explain this fact to Tayler, who’s asking a million questions a minute, Megumi says plainly, “There’s gonna be tsunami, maybe.”
Tayler leans her back against the wall of the fountain border, and brings her knees into her chest, packed in tight she wraps her arms around herself. She rocks side to side on her butt, humming to herself, “I’m not gonna, hm mm mm, no I’m not gonna die.”
A woman’s scream always precedes the brisk shaking of the earth. Across from Tayler, a lamp post sways from side to side. At first it’s a slow sway, like the hips of a hula girl dancing to the song “Waikiki”, but the tempo picks up and that little hula girl becomes a fiery Tahitian dancer with hips beating with violent velocity. The tree next to the dancing lamp post rains leaves upon the people below. A chandelier in the building nearest to the merry-go-round swings from side to side, and is ready to snap like an apple from a branch.
“Sit down,” Megumi commands. She herself sitting on the wall with her legs crossed and her arms folded in her lap, the end of her Blackberry sticking out.
“But, did you see that, that tree just?” Tayler jumps around on the balls of her feet, pointing in any and all directions.
She points at the tree above a young couple, and the woman sitting below whimpers into her boyfriend’s chest, digging her clenched hands into his arm with her eyes squinting shut. He covers her head with his jacket that’s hanging around his shoulder, shooting a stare of uttered annoyance at Tayler. One of the workers squatting down by the fountain stands up and yells at Tayler in Japanese.
“If I’m gonna die,” Tayler says, looking down at Megumi who has reached out her hand to grab Tayler’s wrist, “I’m gonna die standing up. I ain’t gonna die like a bitch on the ground.”
She whacks Megumi’s hand away and takes two steps back. Knees bending and eyes wide open, she’s trying to ride the ground like a wave. She giggles to herself, a nervous twitch, as the ground tosses her around.
A tinge of desperation and fear washes over the ordinarily reserved Megumi. “Please, just sit down,” she says as calmly as possible.
The adrenaline rush had blinded Tayler, but as the effect is temporary, she sees a young girl in glasses looking up through uplifted hands which form a house shape above the girl’s head. Then Tayler sees another person and then a group and then she sees a hundred or so people squatting down with their hands above their heads and their contorted faces of fear looking up at her. This time, without any coaxing, she sits down and folds her hands into her lap, and sits just as the Buddha did under the Bodhi tree. The uncertainty and yet the possibility of death reflects upon her blank face. Through her trance, she happens to notice water shooting out of the tigers’ mouth at the fountain. Instead of it being a solid stream, the shaking of the earth forces the water to splash from side to side, making it seem as if the tigers are throwing up on each other. Megumi turns her head, following the path of Tayler’s eye. The two look at each other to confirm what they are seeing, and they just giggle, holding in their vocal laughter in the back of their throats. Even in the scariest moment of their lives they find humor, which is the only thing keeping them sane at this moment. As soon as the shaking stops Tayler stands up and sits on the wall next to Megumi, and they continue to exhale remnants of their laughter into each other’s shoulder.
Hours go by until helicopters fly above the theme park and film the organized chaos below.
Megumi takes a break from tapping on her phone. “Riku says we’re on news ‘cause parking lot is flooded.”
Tayler looks around her, “Water?” She tenses up and her legs shake up and down as her heels tap the floor.
“Don’t worry. It’s liquefaction, not tsunami,” Megumi says, wrapping her arms around Tayler.
An hour or two passes and the trembling of the earth turns on and off, but compared to the earlier aftershocks, the earth now merely seems to have the bad case of the hiccups.
“I can’t tell if there’s another earthquake or if it’s my body shaking from the cold,” Tayler huffs out, her teeth not the only thing chattering in the courtyard.
“Just watch tree or lamp post,” Megumi suggests, and resumes searching with her phone for more information.
Another hour and still no word from any officials, everyone’s just sitting down in this enclosed area as the sun begins to set.
“There’s not gonna be tsunami here,” Megumi says, still scrolling down the screen of her Blackberry.
“How do you know?” Tayler glances over at Megumi’s phone.
“Cause earthquake was in Tohoku area.”
“Is that far from here?”
“Yea, far enough.” Megumi pulls up a picture off of Google, “Here, it’s
right here,” she points to the edge her screen.
“Okay, I still don’t know. Like where are we?”
Megumi points lower on the screen, “We are here. And this is where earthquake hit.”
An announcement echoes across the courtyard, and this one is only in Japanese. After it’s finished, some people exit the courtyard from the open doorway on the side near the cafeteria area, and are accompanied by members of the Disney staff.
“Why are people leaving?” Tayler stands up as she assumes that it’s time for everyone to leave the park.
“They said, If you have a car, then you can leave now.”
Tayler sits back down on the wall next to Megumi. “Well, at least they turned the Disney music off,” she chatters through her teeth, watching the last of her sunlight slip behind the towering walls of their enclosure.