The Altitude of Sinking DreamsEnthusiasm was high, even for a Disney cruise.  That everybody was having a great time went without saying, but any great time that went without saying had yet to meet brand standards, so declarations were broadcast from top-deck speakers every 33 minutes accompanied by modest explosions of confetti. There was something for everyone to celebrate. Skies were blue, slides were slippery, and the seafood buffet was so superior, it yielded spontaneous standing ovations. Seasickness was way down, ancillary purchases were way up, and not a single crying child had drowned—or vice versa. Mood swelled to the height of the clouds. But oh where did these clouds come from?

And without warning, the ship was swept into a sudden storm—wind and waves and driving rain. The captain and his crew lost sight of land. Instruments went dead. Dead motors groaned. The great beast, the leviathan of buoyant luxury, the steely white hope slipped from radar. The clouds parted at last and the sea fell silent.

Within the hour, helicopters filled with insurance adjusters were circling the area, eyes scanning the surface of the water, ears perked for the sound of emergency responders sobbing any quantifiable information into emergency dispatch channels so that the right numbers could be crunched. An order was placed for 3200 Pixar-themed caskets.

Then—a miracle. The ship reappeared. Not in the Bahamas, not in the Keys. Not up the coast or back at port. Not out to sea or under it. The Disney Dream was found wedged in a river gorge high in the Andes Mountains, listing badly to its port side, which faced a valley of treetops far below.

The captain got on the public address system and urged everybody to stay on board until they had gathered better information on why this was nothing at all to be worried about. But then, sometime after the announcement but before the confetti had finished collecting along the port side railing, the captain fell against the rocks. Had he jumped? Others fell too, one about every 33 minutes. Those among the fallen who survived their internal injuries were burned by the sun and pinned down by dehydration before the bug bites finished them off for good. The passengers who remained could do little more than watch death unfold from 1600 double-occupancy port-side windows. In this floating hellscape wives turned on husbands, husbands turned on transistor radios, and no one turned on the nannies, but even so a few got pregnant.

Meanwhile the starboard side of the ship, which faced the mountain, had dammed the river up entirely. Downstream, Andean villages watched their lifeline dry up in the space of an hour. The villages debated who they should curse—frowning gods or smiling missionaries or enemies or each other. They formed search parties and sent them up the mountain to find out who brought this fate upon them, and to possibly rectify the situation with intimidation and crude weapons. When they came upon the ship, 18 stories of steel stretching from one wall of the gorge to the other, they dropped to their knees in awe, not knowing what to think, afraid to venture any further. Trapped passengers waved signs from every balcony they had made from glitter and glue. The signs read HELP. The villagers set up camp to weigh their options.

By morning, the passengers ran out of Mickey Mouse pancakes and the lifeboats started lowering in the direction of the rocks like spiders on strings. Only then did the helicopters arrive. There were many daring rescues of grandmothers in white shorts. After the last passenger was taken up, the insurance adjusters declared it all a total loss and their helicopter, the last of the helicopters, blades flagellating the thin mountain air, flew away. The vultures parted at last and the mountain fell silent.

The Andeans rushed aboard a Heaven they had never known, the answer to every one of their prayers. They went and gathered their families and brought them back, and once on board they ravaged the seafood buffet and drank pool water and defecated in the lower intestines of the water slide and they all got very sick and lay dying in grand staterooms watching DVDs and eating shrink-wrapped snacks, still crying out their thank-yous to the gods of the white people. The gods must have heard, because up in the bridge of the ship word came by way of the fax machine. It was the white people. They had more yet to give, in the form of 3200 Pixar-themed caskets available today only at deep deep discount.

Photo used under CC.