By sunrise, Flower’s body was surrounded by mourners and… well, flowers. Meanwhile, poor Petunia was exhausted. She hadn’t slept all night. Leaving her father under the supervision of his friends and seven solemn dwarves, the pandaskunk slipped away to find a quiet place to curl up and close her eyes for awhile. All she wanted to do was sleep, if only so she could forget what had happened.
But sleep didn’t come easily to the sad pandaskunk. It seemed like she had just shut her eyes when she heard a scurrying sound in the bushes. With a start, she opened her eyes to find two strange creatures staring at her curiously. “You okay, kid?” the smaller one asked.
“I guess so,” said Petunia sadly, referring only to her physical condition. Aside from some singed fur on the tip of her tail, the pandaskunk had escaped the explosion mostly unscathed. Yet her heart ached for the father she had hardly known. Not in the mood for conversation, she pulled herself painfully to her feet and padded off in search of a more private place to nap.
“Hey, where you going?”
“Nowhere,” said Petunia shortly as she walked away, her tail hanging limply between her legs.
“Gee,” she heard the smaller animal say to his companion. “She looks blue.”
“I’d say more black and white…” replied the big one.
“No, no, no. I mean she’s depressed.”
“Oh.” Petunia heard heavy footsteps approaching. “Hey, what’s wrong?” asked the larger of the two animals as he came up alongside her.
“I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Good,” said the smaller one, as he joined the other two. “We don’t wanna hear about it.”
“Come on, Timon!” whispered his companion. To Petunia, he asked, “Anything we can do?”
Petunia sighed. “Not unless you can change the past.”
“You know, kid, in times like this, my buddy Timon here says, ‘You gotta put your behind in the past!’”
“No, no, no, Pumbaa!” cried Timon, waving his arms. “Amateur. Lie down before you hurt yourself.” His friend, Pumbaa, sank to the ground, looking disgruntled. To Petunia, Timon said, “It’s ‘You gotta put your past behind ya.’ Look, kid. Bad things happen, and you can’t do anything about it, right?”
“Right,” replied Petunia glumly.
“Wrong! When the world turns its back on you, you turn your back on the world.”
Petunia frowned. “Well, that’s not what I was taught.”
“Then maybe you need a new lesson! Repeat after me: Hakuna Matata.”
“Ha-KU-na… Ma-TA-ta,” enunciated Pumbaa. “It means ‘no worries.’”
“Hakuna Matata,” sang Timon, “What a wonderful phrase!”
“Hakuna Matata,” Pumbaa joined in. “Ain’t no passin’ craze!”
“It means no worries… for the rest of your days…” Timon went on, oblivious to the fact that Petunia had started to walk away again. The pandaskunk just wasn’t in the mood for a song, but her new pals went on singing in harmony anyway. “It’s our problem-free… philosophy… Hakuna Matata!”
Meanwhile, Backstreet Boys were preparing to engage the aliens in battle.
“All wings, report in,” said Brian from his position atop the Wylee trailer, testing his Bluetooth headset.
“Dumbo 1, standing by,” Kevin replied from his flying elephant.
“Dumbo 2, standing by,” said Nick, pulling up alongside Kevin. As the haze cleared, he saw the alien spaceship looming straight ahead of him, even more massive than it had appeared from the ground. “Holy god…”
“Lock and load!” exclaimed Kevin, with more confidence than Nick felt.
“Roger that,” replied Brian from the ground. “Fire at will.”
“Dumbo 1, fire!” shouted Kevin as he launched his first laser missile.
“Dumbo 2, fire!” Nick echoed, firing as well. He and Kevin hung back and watched as the twin jets of light followed a trajectory straight toward the spaceship. But seconds before their lasers should have struck it, they saw two bursts of pink light ripple over the surface of the ship, like wavelets from a pebble being dropped into water.
Watching, Brian frowned. “Did they not get through?”
When the pink light faded away, Nick could see there had been no damage done to the ship. “No,” he said with disappointment. “They must have some kind of protective shield over their hull.”
“We should have seen this coming,” said Kevin. “Dumbos, pull up!”
As he and Nick swooped up and over the spaceship to avoid hitting the side of it, smaller spacecrafts suddenly started to emerge from inside it. The alien spacecrafts fired at the two flying elephants, pelting them with pink laser bullets.
“Oh no, you did not shoot that pink shit at me!” cried Kevin, swerving to avoid the onslaught.
“I got ya covered, Big Daddy,” Nick replied, coming up behind him to shoot at his attacker. But Nick’s laser bullets seemed to be swallowed up by the small alien ship, disintegrating into the bright pink aura that swelled around the ship. “Damn! They got shields, too!”
“Let’s go, Nick,” he heard Kevin say as he flew away. “Move, Nick, move!”
Nick looked over his shoulder and saw another spacecraft following him. “They’re on me like white on rice, Big Daddy.”
“Get out of there, guys!” Brian ordered from the ground. “Abort mission!”
“Let’s push it, Nick!” shouted Kevin. “We gotta go! We gotta go!”
Nick accelerated, but behind him, the alien ship quickly caught up. “I can’t shake ‘em! I can’t shake ‘em!”
“Yes, you can! Just the way I showed you,” Kevin coached him. “Let’s go!”
But Nick knew there was no way he was going to be able to outfly an alien spacecraft in an elephant. He was going to have to outsmart them instead. “Check me out, Kev. I’m gonna try something.”
“Man, don’t do nothin’ stupid over there,” Kevin warned.
Nick grinned. “You know me.”
“That’s what I’m talking about!”
Nick just laughed as he leaned forward, forcing his Dumbo to take a dramatic dive.
“Nick! Nick!” cried Kevin, as he watched Nick’s elephant suddenly plummet. “What are you doing??”
Nick couldn’t respond; his jaw was clenched tightly as he tried to concentrate on not crashing into the ground. He could hear the alien craft gaining on him and saw one of its laser bullets go shooting right by him.
“Nick, he’s closing on you!”
The alien ship fired again, and this time, the shot struck one of the elephant’s large ears, throwing it off balance.
“Nicky!” Kevin screamed, as Nick’s Dumbo tipped to one side, leaving a trail of smoke behind it as it spiraled toward the ground. The alien ship was still shooting at it. Then, all of a sudden, there was an explosion, and both Nick and the alien ship disappeared into a cloud of smoke and dust. “Nicky, NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”
Petunia flopped down on the side of a small reflecting pool, too tired to walk any further. Resting her chin on the edge of the pool, she gazed absently into the water, where she caught sight of her rippling reflection. Again, her own sad panda face reminded her of her mother’s.
“You said you’d always be there for me,” she whispered. A tear trickled slowly down her cheek and splashed into the water, distorting the reflection. “But you’re not. And it’s all my fault.”
“I’m sorry… sweetie,” she could hear her mother saying, as she struggled to stay conscious. “I was just… trying to… protect you.”
Petunia sighed and wrapped her long, fluffy tail around herself, wrinkling her nose at the stench of burnt fur. That which had cursed her was her only source of comfort now that both of her parents were gone. There was no one left to protect her. The orphaned pandaskunk knew then that she was on her own.
“Maybe it’s for the best,” she muttered cynically to herself. “Putting my trust in others… letting myself love… it only leads to more pain. If I have no one in my life, then I have nothing left to lose.”
Another explosion shook the ground underneath her, sending water sloshing over the sides of the pool and onto Petunia, but the pandaskunk hardly reacted. More people were probably dead now. She wanted no part of it.
At the sound of her name, she looked up and saw a cloud of smoke rising from somewhere on the other side of the park. With a sigh, she put her head back down on her paws and had just close her eyes, when she heard it again.
The voice was a painfully familiar one. “Mother?” Petunia opened her eyes and looked up again to see the smoke shifting to form the silhouette of a bear. Out of the cloud, her mother emerged, her familiar features slowly taking shape. “Mother!”
“Petunia,” her voice echoed from the sky. “You’ve been so brave.”
“We are so… proud of you,” said a second voice, and Petunia gasped as Flower’s ghostly face appeared over her mother’s shoulder.
“Father!” The tears were pouring from Petunia’s eyes now, matting the fur on her face. “I didn’t want you to die. Either of you. I’m sorry…”
“I am sorry too,” said Flower. “Sorry I will never know you… Sorry I wasn’t a better father. I never told Patches how proud I was of him in life. I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.”
Petunia smiled through the tears and snot dripping from her snout.
“Petunia,” said PopoZao, “You must not give up. You must help the Backstreet Boys save Christmas.”
“But how can I go back?” Petunia shook her head sadly. “I… I tried to help them, but it’s just too hard! It’s too hard to keep losing the ones I love! Why does it always have to be me?”
“Remember who you are,” said Flower. “You are our daughter and the only pandaskunk left who can save Christmas. Remember who you are…”
“No!” Petunia cried, as her parents started to ascend back into the cloud. “Please! Don’t leave me!”
“Father!” Petunia began to chase after the cloud of smoke.
“Mother! Don’t go, Mother! Don’t go!”
Desperately, Petunia followed the smoke across the park, passing the sad ruins of rides, climbing over collapsed concession stands. Finally, she found the source of the smoke: a fiery crash in front of the former Sleeping Beauty castle, where she was forced to face her fear of losing someone she loved all over again.
“No,” whispered Petunia. “Not this time!”
That was when the pandaskunk went charging forward, into the fray.