Original Short Story

The Mouse Over My Shoulder by Me (Arrow McRoberts)

Huh-ha! That’s a pretty swell cartoon you’ve got started there,” Mickey Mouse complimented jovially as he gently somersaulted into existence from behind my head.

I jumped, and my tablet pen flew from my hand.

“Oh, no. Not you again. I thought I had this under control,” I moaned and rubbed at my cheekbones.

“Aw, don’t be disappointed!” Mickey said with that encouraging upward/sideways punch in front of the chest motion. “You always love having me around when you’re creating something fantastic.”

“And that’s how it happened, doctor,” I finished three days later.

I was sitting at the front corner of the chaise, because reclining properly in it wouldn’t allow me to jiggle my legs and wring my hands comfortably. I hadn’t even glanced around to look at this new psychiatrist’s office; I’d only been concerned with getting an appointment, getting seen, and getting help as soon as possible.

“I know this all sounds like it came up out of nowhere, but it truly did! I haven’t seen any of them in years.”

Dr. Wert leaned forward in his chair, flipping back and rereading some of his notes.

“You said you made it through four years of art school, two years of an apprenticeship, and have been working in your new position at the animation studio for about three months now?”

He briskly returned to his current page.

“And not a single incident in all that time?”

I nodded fast, my eyes locked to the nicely lacquered floor between my feet.

The doctor reached up to gently comb his fingers through his full head of soft gray hair. Finally, he placed his pen back into his suit jacket pocket.

“And are there any characters here with us right now?”

With a slightly indignant scowl, I threw my wide, staring eyes back up to the doctor.

“It looks like the fucking Wubulous World of Walt Disney in here.”

Before Dr. Wert could correct my use of the wrong “W” word, I hit him with the stinger.

“’Wubulous’ because there’s a single Sneech right over near the door,” I said, pointing.

I knew I’d lucked into exactly the right doctor when he didn’t react with any sort of shock or incredulity at all. He simply gave a short “Huh” and noted that Dr. Seuss had sent a visitor today.

“Now, I’d like you to tell me: Why do you think that these visions of cartoon characters you have are so terrible?”

I scoffed and rolled my head around a bit.

“Well, they’re not normal, are they?”

The nearly stern-faced and eternally even Dr. Wert almost chuckled.

“Not in everyone’s life, I would think. But how is it any different than imaging a loved one that you lost alongside you. Fantasizing about them seeing things with you, talking to you, or spending just time with you?”

I spit out the fingernail I’d just chewed off.

“People do that?” I asked with immense skepticism.

The doctor nodded. “It’s even recommended by many as a key form of grief therapy.”

I felt a little taken aback.

I fumbled for an answer, but none arrived that session.

“Hey, you’re back!” my boss, Darin, said warmly.

He was the very first person I saw walking back into the studio another week later.

“Yeah,” I replied a bit breathlessly. I was subconsciously terrified that Darin could somehow sense Elliot the Dragon goofily ducking out of the elevator in the center of the lobby as clearly as I could see him.

“I was told you needed all your sick time off for a personal crisis.” He looked honestly concerned from the bottom of his heart. “Are you in a little bit better place now?”

He wouldn’t be asking that if he could see Panchito Pistoles flying suave circles around his head.

“A little bit better,” I answered honestly.

“Ho-boy! Is that what you’re going to be working on?” Mickey asked enthusiastically. The mouse was standing on Darin’s forearm. He was inquiring after the fully color character sheets my boss was gently cradling between his hands. “It’s beautiful. You’ll do great!”

Darin smiled at me graciously, but there was still a sheen of worry to his gaze.

“Well, good. And, seriously, if you need more time off, you can take as much as you need, no questions asked.” He looked a little hesitant to say his next piece, but forded on anyway. “You’ve been with me for two and a half years now – after being my apprentice, you were a first-stringer in helping me form this company.”

After another awkward facial cringe, my boss and mentor gently placed his hand on my shoulder. “Seriously, you need anything at all, you’ve got it.”

Panchito joined up with José Carioca, and the two started walking behind one of the editorial team leads in an exaggerated mockery of his stride.

“Thank you,” I replied, trying hard not to let my eyes follow the brightly colored birds. “I’ll keep that at the front of my mind.”

“Have you ever considered imagining Walt Disney alongside of his creations?” Dr. Wert asked.

I pulled my pale, strained face up out of my hands. My thumbs brushed against the new hollows below my cheekbones.

“What on earth for?” I rasped, exhausted.

The doctor gave me a one-shouldered shrug.

“Well, it was the next treatment option that occurred to me. Since I refuse to approve any of the extreme measures that you’ve requested, and you’re clearly not in a place to consider my management alternatives, I figured we should try and work within the current situation. If you conjure up the image of ol’ Uncle Walt, the father and founder of all the things that you see, he might be able to give you some direction on how to wrangle the animated chaos.”

I was stuck in a still frame of disbelief. I made a few huffing noises but couldn’t find any objections to blur out.

He shrugged again, this time with the other shoulder.

“This is the best compromise I could find between our two concrete stances. If you’re still dead-set on your extreme measures, go see someone else.”

“As much as your ‘true acceptance’ bullshit is pissing me off, I’m –” I stopped myself before I blurted out the truth. “You seem to be an okay guy, doc.”

He deadpanned back at me, “I’m the only psychotherapist with a Ph.D within a hundred miles.”

I tossed my jaw back and forth a few times. It took a ton of effort to keep the “Yeah, duh,” out of my jolted eyebrows. As I felt myself getting more jittery by the second, I relented.

“Alright, doc. Put me under.”

His eye twitched, and something like a sneer was attempting to curl his lips.

“I don’t do hypnotism. I’m not some sort of scam artist. I’m a doctor.”

I rolled my eyes and laid back on the couch regardless.

“But I don’t mind attempting to guide you through some mental exercises,” Dr. Wert finished, the tight tone loosening from his voice.

Once I was comfortable with my position on the couch and the darkness behind my eyes, I folded my hands over my stomach and gasped in a semi-deep breath.

“First, let’s make a map of the room. What creations do you see where, and what are they doing?”

I raised my eyelids for only a second, but the scene at the foot of the couch hadn’t changed.

“I see the dance scene from Robin Hood at the end of the couch.”

“Happening just like in the movie?” the doctor asked.

“Uh-huh,” I mumbled, comparing the choreography from the sequence with what I’d seen.

“How many of the characters are there?”

“Mostly the main characters. And then that band of little kids is watching and clapping from your desk.”

“Now, forget any of the rest of the characters that might be in this room.

“Add in Walt Disney. Make him very realistic. Flesh and blood, just like you and me.

“What’s he doing?”

It took a few minutes for me to get a good solid picture of Uncle Walt formed. Finally, there he was in black and white, just like the old TV show. He had his back to me, but I could instantly tell what he was doing. He had one hand in his pants pocket, the other cradled his gently smoking pipe. And he was studying the Robin Hood characters with rapt fascination.

“He’s watching them. No…”

I knew immediately to correct myself.

“He’s learning them. The way they grin and laugh. The dance steps they know and how they behave around their partners. And he’s just standing there, happily taking it all in.”

I couldn’t hear Dr. Wert’s pen over the repeating strains of the song, but his voice came through loud and clear.

“Do you think he’s done this before?”

My lip started to quiver. I had no idea why.

“All the time,” I breathed. “He looks like he’s completely at home. So comfortable and joyful.

“Like this is where he belongs…”

“G’morning!”

I slapped my animation partner on the back as I rounded the gigantic, two-sided desk that we shared. His graphic pen slipped, and he left a beautiful ugly line all over the arm of his character who was mid-punch.

“Good grief,” Russ groaned. “If we still used massive pads of paper, that would be an hour of work ruined.”

I laughed.

“Then aren’t you glad this isn’t the 1940s?”

He mock-laughed back at me, pressed undo, and continued on right from where he’d been disrupted.

I chuckled again, plopping down in my own ergonomic chair. My computer screen immediately came alive.

“Hey, howdy!” Vanellope Von Schweetz greeted me. “You’ve got, like, a ton of e-mails, and your stuff for the day is in the shared folder. C’mon, hop to it!”

That never gets annoying,” Russ commented.

“Yeah, well, she doesn’t like you either,” I replied.

“Yeah, Russ. Why don’tcha shut up already?” Vanellope yelled over her shoulder into the depths of the screen. She giggled and glitched down into her standby size in the corner of the screen.

I pulled up my e-mail, ready to get to work. Then, I paused.

“You know, I haven’t played Dress Up in my special Vanellope widget for a long time…”

Russ put his pen down, gripping his eyes in his smear-proof gloved hand.

“Oh, please, no.”

I only giggled and opened my daily assignment. A bit of pipe smoke drifted down into the air in front of me. “Glory Days” Walt Disney, in full human color, leaned down right beside me.

“Ah, another scene for a song, I see. Wonderful.” He spoke softly, always trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. “And they want more of your designs for the t-shirt line.”

Walt straightened up and took a small pull from his pipe.

“I wonder if we know anyone who could help us with a dynamic action pose…”

I grinned.

“Hey, Russ? If I wanted to show our character in the middle of a fight scene doing some sort of awesome fighting move, what might you recommend?”

Russ threw his pen behind his ear and immediately started rambling about what he’d done in a few of his most recent shots.

A ripple of warmth encircled me as Baymax smooshed me in a toasty hug. While Russ continued to gesticulate excitedly, I stole a glance up at Walt. He was listening intently and puffing away. A famous cartoon mouse settled down on his shoulder to revel in the story Russ was describing.

Our boss’s wife trotted quickly past heading out of the office, clearly on an important work mission. She was followed by twin Siamese cats who were humming some sort of song, swaying in time, and acting like if they couldn’t be hurried if their lives depended on it. Pongo looked up from underneath the receptionist’s desk, but Perdita nudged him, and they fell back to sleep. Dumbo came in for a landing out past the front door; Maui the demi-god was there to greet him.

Looked like things were going to be just as crazy as always around here, but now we were in charge, and I knew just how to handle all of it.

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