As long as Autumn could remember, she feared witches, and none captured her imagination more than Grimhilde, the creepy old lady with dark eyes and long nose featured in the classic Disney film, Snow White.
When Autumn was five, she visited Disneyland and rode an attraction, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, where she first encountered Grimhilde.
For weeks after the ride, Autumn refused to enter a bathroom or closet or any dark space alone, fearing a witch might lurk in the corner. Autumn’s anxiety over Grimhilde took such hold over her that her mother, Lauren, needed to remind Autumn regularly it was all make-believe.
“There are no witches in the world,” Lauren said, “just little girls with active imaginations.”
Autumn wasn’t convinced, however, and only with the distraction of friends and fun that came from kindergarten did she manage to put aside her fear, at least for a while.
On a fine summer day after finishing kindergarten, Autumn returned to Disneyland. In the year since her last visit to the “Happiest Place on Earth,” she had grown taller, able to ride the park’s roller coasters.
Autumn rode Space Mountain for the first time, thrilled by its speed, loops and turns. After making rounds on other big kid rides, she decided to return to Snow White’s Scary Adventures, ready to confront Grimhilde.
Arriving at the attraction, Autumn clasped her mother’s hand and waited in line for her turn to board the carriage that would bring her face-to-face with the witch. Finally, she stepped into the carriage and curled up next to her mother; the safety bar clamped down on them firmly.
The carriage lurched forward, and Autumn and her mother approached two large doors that swung open. After passing a pleasant, pink room occupied by the Seven Dwarves, the carriage made its way through a mine shaft, littered with glistening green gems, and finally entered a castle through a dark corridor.
The corridor led to a room.
There, Autumn spotted the Evil Queen, who faced the Magic Mirror. Through the mirror’s reflection, Autumn saw the Evil Queen’s stern face, pointy crown and purple robe.
“Magic Mirror on the wall,” the Evil Queen said, “through this disguise … I will fool them all!”
The Evil Queen turned toward Autumn, arms outstretched, transformed into Grimhilde.
“Ahhhhhhhh!” Autumn screamed.
From the witch’s mouth, fire spewed and flames licked Autumn’s face. Autumn clung to her mother, eyes shut, ready to feel her cheeks burn.
But she felt nothing, except fear; then, suddenly, the carriage stopped.
“That’s strange,” Lauren said. “There must be some technical difficulty … I’m sure we’ll be moving again soon.”
Lauren nudged her daughter.
“It’s okay, Autumn,” she said. “Look up.”
Autumn peeked and noticed the witch’s eyes peering into hers, but no flames licked Autumn’s face; that was just her imagination. In fact, the creature that loomed before Autumn was frozen.
“It’s not alive,” Lauren said. “It’s just a machine, see? On standby. There’s nothing to be afraid of, my dear.”
“You were right, Mom!” Autumn said. “Witches are not real!”
Autumn again clung to her mother, this time out of joy. After she hugged Lauren, the ride continued, and so did Autumn’s life.
As the little girl returned to Disneyland from time to time, eventually as a woman with a family of her own, she realized she preferred Space Mountain over Snow White’s Scary Adventures.
Although Autumn knew Grimhilde was not real, witches still frightened her more than roller coasters.