“YEAH!” cried the Disney characters, whooping and cheering around them. Even Grumpy couldn’t stop himself from smiling.
“Get on the phone with every Disney park around the world,” he ordered Doc. “Tell them how to bring those sons of bitches down!”
It wasn’t long before celebrations had broken out all around the world. In Africa, the children sang, raising their spears in triumph, while in the Middle East, the snake charmers played their pungis for the people, who took off their turbans and danced around the pyramids, relieved that the “It’s a Small World” ride had been spared. “It’s a small world after all!” they sang. “It’s a small world after all! It’s a small world after all! It’s a small, small world!”
As their incessant singing reached the unconscious Howie’s ears, he began to stir, mumbling, “It’s not small… I’m not small…”
AJ looked down at him. “Wake up, D!” he snapped, and Howie startled awake.
“What’d I miss?” He looked around. “Howie doin’ with the Misfit Fans?”
“They’re gone,” AJ said shortly. “So is Brian.”
“What?!” Howie gasped.
AJ blinked back tears. “B-Rok used his magic basketball to blow up the spaceship. He sacrificed himself to save the world… just like that damn pandaskunk did two years ago.”
“Wow…” Howie shook his head sadly, his eyes filling with tears. “And… what about Nick and Kevin?”
“They’re still circling around, hoping to see some sign of life… but there’s no way Brian could have survived that blast, unless you believe in miracles.”
Howie frowned at AJ. “Now don’t go saying that. The search is not over yet. There’s… there’s always hope! Miracles happen most every day, to people like you and me. But don’t expect a miracle, unless you help make it to be…”
“Hey, wait!” Before Howie could break out in song, Nick’s voice suddenly crackled through the Bluetooth piece in each of the Backstreet Boys’ ears. “I think I see something down there!”
Howie gasped. “You see?!” he said to AJ. “It’s a miracle!”
They took off running through trees, toward the Wylee trailer, where Nick and Kevin had just landed. It was there that they saw a familiar silhouette emerge out of the smoky haze surrounding the burning wreckage of the spaceship.
“BRIAN!” Nick ran towards Brian, nearly knocking his best friend down as he threw himself into his arms.
“Great shot, cuz; that was one in a million!” exclaimed Kevin, clapping his hand down on Brian’s shoulder, as AJ and Howie hurried over and wrapped their arms around him as well, enveloping Brian in a big group hug. As their five amulets came together once more, their powers were restored.
“Strength!” shouted Kevin, punching his fist into the air.
“Air!” shouted Brian, doing a double backflip as he bounced off the ground.
“Aim!” shouted AJ, pointing his laser guns at the fallen spaceship.
“Nunchucks!” shouted Nick, whipping his favorite ninja weapon out of his belt.
“Imagination!” shouted Howie, waggling his spirit fingers in front of his face.
“GOOOO BACKSTREET!” they chanted all together. “By our powers combined, we are… the BACKSTREET BOYS!”
That was when the celebrating Disney characters started to sing a different song.
“Backstreet Boys, they’re our heroes!
Gonna make the Misfit Fans all zeroes.
With their powers magnified,
They’re fighting on the planet’s side.”
“Backstreet Boys, they’re our heroes!
Gonna make the Misfit Fans all zeroes.
Gonna help us clear the skies
Of bad girls who troll and terrorize.”
“You’ll pay for this, Backstreet Boys!” shouted Audrey out the side window of her spaceship as she blasted off into outer space, on her way back to the Planet of Misfit Fans.
The Backstreet Boys just looked at each other and laughed. Then they launched into this rap verse, like they’d been rehearsing it all along.
“We’re the Backstreet Boys! We think we’re really crunk!
‘Cause we just saved Christmas with a pandaskunk!
Whack jobs who attack us have got to pay!
That’s why Princess Kujo has gone away!”
“The rabies is hers!” shouted Nick, pointing at the fly-infested corpse of a Saint Bernard that was slowly rotting on the sidewalk.
“Thank God!” Brian agreed.
“Brian…” AJ shook his head in disbelief. “How the hell did you make it out alive?”
Brian grinned. “Same reason Nick didn’t get rabies.” He pulled up the hood of his high/low cowl neck top. “I was wearing Wylee!”
Whether it was really the love in his wife’s clothing that had saved him or just luck, they would never know, but the Backstreet Boys were sure of one thing: they had a lot to celebrate that Christmas!
“Merry Christmas, Frick,” said Nick cheesily, slinging his arm around Brian’s neck.
“Merry Christmas to you, too, Frack,” Brian replied, matching Nick’s cheesy grin. “Didn’t we promise Santa we’d save Christmas and give presents to the whole world?”
Nick smiled. “Yeah, I guess we did. But… we’re still gonna deliver the gifts in the Wylee trailer, aren’t we?”
Brian looked at his watch. “We’ll never make it all around the world by morning, but better late than never, right?”
“Right! Let’s just say that, this year, Santa’s running on Backstreet Time!”
They both laughed.
“Come on,” said Brian, “let’s go find Petunia and see if she’s feeling up to flying.”
They walked back to the Wylee trailer, but when they opened the door, the pandaskunk wasn’t there. “Where’d she go?” asked Nick in a panic.
“I don’t know!” Brian was baffled. “I left her in here during the battle…”
But unbeknownst to them, Petunia had gone back into the woods, where her father’s body had been laid to rest. While Bambi, Thumper, and the other woodland critters were celebrating with the rest of the Disney characters, Petunia had built a funeral pyre for Flower. When Brian and Nick found her, she was standing alone in front of it, watching his body burn.
They approached her slowly, coming up alongside her. “Are you okay, Petunia?” Brian asked, putting his hand on her back so he could stroke her thick, black-and-white fur.
Though her gaze never left the flickering flames, the pandaskunk smiled sadly and nodded, her striped tail held high. She knew now that she was not alone. For across the fire, four ghostly figures stood, smiling at her. Her mother PopoZao’s eyes shone with pride. On her right side, her father Flower waved, looking much friendlier than he ever had in life. Next to him was her brother from another mother, Patches, his skunk tail wagging cheerfully. And finally, on the far left stood a tall, slender, young man with wavy hair that he wore long, past his jawline. He was wearing a red suit trimmed with white fur.
When Nick followed Petunia’s gaze through the fire, his mouth fell open. “SANTA?!”
Petunia jumped in surprise when Nick shouted; she hadn’t thought anyone could see the apparitions but her.
Nick turned to her in shock. “That can’t be Santa Claus… can it?” he asked, pointing at the figure on the far left. When Petunia nodded, he shook his head in disbelief. “Weird. Young Santa looks a lot like… Hayden Christensen.”
And then, all of a sudden, a horrible truth occurred to him.
“Wait!” he cried. “If that’s Santa, then that must mean… SANTA CLAUS IS DEAD?!” Nick let out a wail like a wounded animal and buried his face in his hands. “I KILLED SANTA!” he sobbed.
Brian and Petunia exchanged guilty looks. With everything else that had happened, they hadn’t gotten the chance to fill Nick in on their conversation with Patches about Santa and the Sorcerer’s Stone. “Nick, no… it wasn’t your fault. He was nine hundred years old…” Brian started gently, but Nick shook his head.
“NO!” he cried, suddenly looking up. “It can’t be! I gave them my blood so they could make an antidote! Why didn’t it work?!”
Before Brian or Petunia could say anything, Nick took out his phone and started punching at it furiously. In a matter of seconds, he was on the phone with Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
“Hello?” said Nick. “My name is Nick Carter, and I’m calling to find out why my blood didn’t work to save Santa Claus. How could you have let him die?!”
“Oh, Mr. Carter! We’ve been trying to reach you for a few weeks now!” said the surprised-sounding receptionist on the other end of the line. “The contact information you gave us was apparently incorrect.”
“Oh… yeah… well, sometimes I write down fake phone numbers and stuff so fans won’t start bugging me,” Nick admitted sheepishly. “What were you trying to call me about?”
“Well, there was a problem with the blood sample you provided, which prevented us from being able to use it. We run all donated blood through a rigorous testing process before giving it to a patient, and I’m afraid something rather serious came up in your test results.”
“Really?” Nick’s heart started to pound. “What is it?”
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Mr. Carter, but your blood tested positive for HIV. You are-”
“What?!” Nick gasped. “Are you sure??”
Nick dropped his phone and clenched his hands into fists. Throwing his head back, he raised his fists and cursed at the sky. “GOD DAMN IT, HOWIE!!!”