Brian and Nick stared at the rapidly darkening sky, watching as angry-looking clouds seemed to smother the sun. At first, it seemed like a storm was rolling in, and Brian was reminded of the strange way the sky looked before a tornado. Nick thought of a hurricane, then a solar eclipse, as an immense shadow crept slowly over the parking lot. Even as the Wylee trailer began to rattle and shake with air turbulence, they knew this was no storm, nor quake. This was something entirely different, something neither of them had ever experienced before.
Then, emerging suddenly through the smoky pink clouds, a massive, metallic object began to materialize, and Brian realized Nick had been right all along.
It was a spaceship.
“My God,” said Brian in a low voice, looking up as the ship rumbled right over their heads. “We’ve gotta get back on the ground. We’ve gotta warn the guys!”
He pulled on the scarf reins, guiding Petunia safely to the ground. They landed in front of the statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse, where they’d planned to meet Kevin and AJ after finding Tinker Bell. But only Kevin had made it back. He stood there with his wife and sons, staring up at the sky with his mouth wide open, same as everyone else around him. All over the park, strollers were slamming into each other, pushed by panicked mothers who suddenly stopped to stare. Other people were starting to run, screaming, toward the exit.
“Where’s AJ?” Nick asked Kevin, as he and Brian scrambled out of the trailer.
“He… he and Rochelle took Ava into the castle!” exclaimed Kevin, pointing toward the tall turrets.
Nick and Brian looked at each other. The spaceship seemed to be settling right over Sleeping Beauty Castle. “We have to get them out of there!” cried Nick.
“I’ll go,” Brian volunteered. Unhitching Petunia from the trailer, he hopped onto her back. “Let’s go, Petunia! Up, up, and away!” With his arms wrapped tightly around the pandaskunk’s neck and the wind in his face, Brian flew all the way to the top of the castle. Petunia let him off on the biggest balcony at the front of the castle, and they ran inside. They found two staircases, one that spiraled up to the turrets, the other that led downward, toward the dungeons. “I’ll go up; you go down,” Brian directed Petunia, pointing to the second staircase. “Find AJ and his family and get them out of here!”
Petunia nodded her furry head and scampered down the stairs. The soft, pink light gradually darkened, taking on an eerie greenish cast the further down she went. At the bottom of the staircase, the pandaskunk passed through a doorway and found herself in a small, dimly-lit chamber. In the center of the room glowed a cauldron that was sitting above a small fire, bubbling with a toxic-looking potion and sending up clouds of gray-green smoke. Petunia squinted as the smoke stung her eyes. It was hard to see through the thick haze, but on the other side of the room, she suddenly spotted something that made her heart give a hopeful leap.
Darting around the fire, she bounded happily toward the familiar pandaskunk, whose face stared back at her through a small window in the wall on the far side of the room. “Mother?” whispered Petunia, her eyes filling with tears as she pressed her paw against the glass. On the other side, her mother brought her paw up to meet Petunia’s at the same time, her own eyes sparkling with happy tears. It had been so long since the two had seen each other. After what had happened at the San Diego Zoo, Petunia had thought she would never see her mother again. She blinked back tears, trying to erase the bad memory, but as soon as she closed her eyes, she saw her mother slumped on the ground, her side heaving as she struggled to take what Petunia thought had been her last breaths…
“I’m sorry… sweetie,” said PopoZao, looking up at her daughter with her sad panda eyes. “I was just… trying to… protect you.”
“I know, Mama.” Petunia smiled through her tears, as she thought of all the times her mother had tried to shelter her from the other pandas’ ruthless taunting. “You always have.”
But that time, it wasn’t another panda picking on the baby pandaskunk. It was a boy. He had crawled over the fence that surrounded the panda paddock on a dare from his friends, who, laughing wildly, were snapping pictures of the boy as he struck silly poses with the strange-looking little panda, pulling its long, puffy tail around his neck like a boa. Petunia let out a yelp of pain as her tail was pulled, which was enough to bring Mama Bear barreling over.
The boy backed away slowly as PopoZao rose up on her hind legs, towering over him with her teeth bared, but it wasn’t fast enough for her. She took an angry swipe at him, and the boy screamed as her claws ripped through his t-shirt and sank into his skin. He tried to run, but she chased him and soon had him cornered. When the police arrived on the scene, he was cowering in the fetal position, covering his head with his arms, as the mother panda mauled him half to death. They had no choice but to shoot her.
But the officer’s aim was off, and rather than hitting her in the head and ending her life instantly, the bullet embedded itself in the back of PopoZao’s neck, severing her spinal cord. The panda collapsed immediately, unable to continue her attack, but she was still alive when Petunia approached her. The police stood back, allowing the young pandaskunk to spend a few minutes alone with her mother so she could say goodbye before the zookeepers came to put her in a cage in the Panda Research Center, where they would spend the next two years running all sorts of genetic tests on her.
“Does it hurt, Mama?” the baby pandaskunk asked.
“I don’t feel much,” PopoZao replied.
This was probably true, due to the damage to her spinal cord, but even as she lay dying, the mother panda did everything she could to protect her daughter from the pain of the world.
“Good.” Petunia reached out and put her tiny paw atop her mother’s, hoping to give her some comfort in her final moments, the way her mother always had when she was hurting.
She would never forget her mother’s last words - words of advice, of course, whispered right before the connections in her brain finished firing and she fell unconscious.
“Petunia, I want you to… to play games. It’s okay… to be silly… just as long as it doesn’t look like you’re about to attack the zoo guests…”
“I will,” promised Petunia.
“And tell Brian…” The panda mother gasped for breath, her eyes glazing over. “See. Tell him to see. And tell AJ to… swing away…” The words slurred from her muzzle as her eyes drifted shut, and her head slumped onto her paw.
“Mama?” Petunia shook her mother’s massive shoulder. “Mama, what does that mean? Who are Brian and AJ??”
But it was too late.
“What did you mean when you said ‘swing away,’ Mama?” Petunia asked, hoping to finally get an answer to a question that had been puzzling her for some time. “I know who Brian and AJ are now, but what did you want them to see?”
As she spoke, she saw her mother’s mouth moving at the same time. And that was when she realized the truth: she was looking not through a window, but into a mirror. Her mother’s face was merely her own reflection. With a sad sigh, the pandaskunk slowly turned away from the wall, feeling the pain of her mother’s death as if it were fresh.
“Devastating, isn’t it, to lose a loved one?”
Startled, Petunia looked up suddenly to see a small, dark figure emerge from the shadows.
“Yes,” sighed the stranger, “I can imagine it must be especially difficult to lose a parent, particularly for one so young. Yet it is a fate most Disney characters will suffer at some point or another. One of my best friends lost his mother when he was a boy, too. She was shot to death as well.”
Petunia shook her head in confusion. “I’m sorry. That’s very sad, but… I think you may have mistaken me with someone else. I’m not a Disney character.”
“Your father was a Disney character. That makes you a half-blood Disney princess.”
Petunia frowned. “But my father didn’t make Disney movies. I never actually got to meet him, but my mother told me he lived in a different zoo.”
“No… I am your father.”
Petunia’s mouth dropped open in shock, as the shadowy figure stepped slowly into the light. She found herself face to face with a skunk, who was wearing a bejeweled turban.
“Oh, do you like my turban?” asked the skunk, putting his paw atop his head. “I borrowed it from my friend Aladdin.”
Petunia blinked, still stunned by the skunk’s revelation. “You’re my… father?”
“Unfortunately, yes. My name is Flower,” said the skunk. “My semen was accidentally sent to the San Diego Zoo and used to inseminate your mother, instead of my wife, as it was intended. She got your would-be panda father’s sperm by mistake and died giving birth to your… brother, for lack of a better word.”
“You mean Patches!” gasped Petunia, who had been told the tale of Patches the Flying Pandaskunk by me during her stay at our condo.
Flower grimaced. “Yes, that’s right. You see, I, too, know what it’s like to lose members of my family. First my wife… then my son.”
“I’m sorry,” Petunia said again.
“No need to apologize. I’ve found a way to bring them back.” Flower reached up to his turban and removed the large jewel from the front, revealing it to be a reddish stone. As he held it up, it sparkled in the firelight, sending flecks of scarlet dancing across the stone walls of the dungeon. “This is the Resurrection Stone. All I need to do is add it to the magic potion I have prepared, and my wife and son will rise again.”
Petunia frowned. “Wouldn’t that mean making a… zombie pandaskunk?”
“So?” Flower snapped. “I’m desperate. You, of all creatures, should understand. Wouldn’t you do anything to bring your mother back from the dead?”
Petunia swallowed hard and didn’t answer.
She watched as Flower used a mortar and pestle to crush a small part of the stone into powder, which he then carried over to the cauldron and poured in to his potion. The bubbling liquid turned crimson and started to send out fiery sparks, as bright red steam began to rise from its surface. It cast a reddish glow on Flower’s face as he leaned over the cauldron, peering eagerly inside.
But after a few moments, when nothing happened, his face fell with disappointment. “Sometimes I find it hard to follow my master’s instructions,” he admitted. “He is a great wizard, and I am weak.”
“Your master?” asked Petunia.
Patches nodded. “Lord Voldemort - you know, from Harry Potter? I met him at Universal Studios when I traveled to Orlando to visit my friends at Walt Disney World. Bambi and Thumper thought I was spending too much time alone. But now I’m never alone…” He shivered suddenly, then swore under his breath. “I don’t understand. What else must I do? How does it work? Help me, Master!”
And to Petunia’s horror, a voice answered, and the voice seemed to come from Flower itself. “Use the pandaskunk…”
Flower looked up, his eyes flashing red. “Yes… I see. I’ve forgotten a step. Petunia - come here! Now!”
His tone of voice made Petunia tremble, but she took a tentative step toward her father.
Flower reached out and took her paw. “Blood of the daughter,” the skunk growled, baring his teeth, “forcibly taken… you will resurrect my family!”
Petunia realized what Flower was about to do a second before it happened, but she could do nothing to prevent it; he was holding her paw too tightly. Struggling, she saw the sharp tips of his teeth shining in the firelight as he sank them into her skin. She felt the pointed fangs penetrate the biggest pad on her paw and blood seeping down into her fur. Flower, panting, produced a glass vial and held it to Petunia’s bite, so that a dribble of blood fell into it.
He skulked back to the cauldron with Petunia’s blood. He poured it inside. The liquid within turned, instantly, a blinding white. “It is ready, Master.”
“Now…” said the high, cold voice that had come from Flower. “Bring some to me.”
Petrified, Petunia watched as Flower filled the vial with potion. Then he reached up and unwrapped his turban. What was going on? The turban fell away. Flower’s head looked strangely oversized, even without it. Then he turned slowly on the spot.
Petunia would have screamed, but she couldn’t make a sound. Where there should have been a back to Flower’s head, there was a face, the most terrible face Petunia had ever seen. It was chalk white with glaring red eyes and slits for nostrils, like a snake.
“Pandaskunk…” it whispered.
Petunia tried to take a step backwards, but her legs wouldn’t move.
“See what I have become?” the face said. “Mere shadow and vapor… I have form only when I can share another’s body… but there have always been those willing to let me into their hearts and minds. Once I drink the Elixir of Life produced from the Philosopher’s Stone, I will be able to create a body of my own once again. Now, Flower… give me my elixir.”
“Wait… Philosopher’s Stone?” repeated Flower, sounding puzzled.
The face rolled its red eyes. “Or Sorcerer’s Stone, as you ignorant fools in the States know it.”
“But… you said this was the Resurrection Stone!” Flower protested, holding up the gleaming red stone from his turban. “You said it would bring back my family!”
“First, you must resurrect me. Then you and I shall find the real Resurrection Stone, along with the Elder Wand and the Cloak of Invisibility. Together, we will become the Masters of Death.”
“Don’t do it, Dad!” Petunia shouted. She still wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, but she knew it wouldn’t be wise to let her father feed that face with the potion.
Flower sighed and shook his head. “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side. I must obey my master.” With a shaking paw, he raised the vial of potion and reached around to the back of his head. The face’s snakelike features contorted, its tongue sticking out as it tried to catch a few drops of the elixir Flower was clumsily trying to tip down its throat.
“Stop, fool, or you’ll spill it all!” the face finally shouted in frustration. Fixing its red eyes upon Petunia, it said, “You… pandaskunk… give me my potion.”
Petunia shook her head, taking a step backward.
“Don’t be a fool,” snarled the face. “Join me, and together, we will conquer death.”
Petunia sprang toward the doorway, but Voldemort screamed, “SEIZE HER!” and the next second, Petunia felt Flower’s paw close around hers. At once, needle-sharp pains seared across her paw, as his claws dug into her skin. She yelled, struggling with all her might, and to her surprise, Flower let go of her. The pain in her paw lessened. She looked around wildly to see where her father had gone, and saw him hunched in pain, looking at the pads of his own paw - they were blistering before his eyes.
“Seize her! SEIZE HER!” shrieked Voldemort again, and Flower lunged, knocking Petunia clean off her hind feet, both paws around her neck.
“Master, I cannot hold her!” he howled with agony. “My paws! My paws!”
And Flower, though pinning Petunia to the ground with his hindquarters, let go of her neck and stared, bewildered, at his own paws. Petunia could see that they looked burned, raw, red, and shiny.
“Then kill her, fool, and be done!” screeched Voldemort.
Flower raised his claws to perform a deadly curse, but Petunia, by instinct, reached up and grabbed her father’s furry face.
Flower ran away from her, his face blistering, too, and then Petunia knew: her father couldn’t touch her hairy skin, not without suffering terrible pain. Her only chance was to keep hold of him, keep him in enough pain to stop him from killing her.
Petunia jumped to her feet, caught Flower by the tail, and hung on as tight as she could. Flower screamed and tried to throw her off, and as he did, he unleashed a spray of potent-smelling liquid from his anal scent glands. Petunia gagged and choked, suffocated and blinded by the cloud of toxic fumes. She couldn’t see. She could only hear her father’s terrible shrieks and Voldemort’s yells of, “KILL HER! KILL HER!” and then another voice, maybe in Petunia’s own head, crying, “Petunia! Petunia!”
She felt Flower’s tail wrenched from her grasp, knew all was lost, and fell into blackness… down… down… down…
Up at the top of the castle, Brian had found AJ, Rochelle, and Ava in one of the towers, staring at a tableau of Sleeping Beauty along with the other tourists who were still blissfully unaware of the alien spacecraft hovering over their heads.
“AJ!” he cried. “Oh, thank God I found you guys.”
“Hey, Rok, what’s up? Did you and Nick find Tinker Bell and get some pixie dust?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t matter now. We’ve gotta get out of here and go somewhere safe! An alien spaceship has just entered our atmosphere, and it’s centered itself right over the castle! We could be in danger!”
AJ snorted. “Did Nick put you up to this? I gotta hand it to you, Rok, you’re a way better actor than he is. He can never keep a straight face.”
“I’m dead serious!” Brian insisted. “Do you see this?” He pointed to his chin. “This is my serious face!”
“AJ, I think he’s for real,” said Rochelle, looking uncertainly at Brian.
“I swear to God, I’m telling the truth,” added Brian, “and you guys know I wouldn’t lie about swearing to God. It’s a sin!”
AJ and Rochelle looked at each other, then down at their daughter. “Okay,” AJ said finally. “Let’s get outta here, and you can show us this spaceship of yours.”
“Yes… yes, I’ll show you. Come on!”
Brian led them back downstairs to the main entrance of the castle. There, he suddenly stopped. “Aren’t you coming?” asked AJ.
Brian hesitated. “I… I have to find Petunia. She went downstairs to look for you. I’ll go get her, and then we’ll be right behind you. Go on without us and tell the other guys we’re on our way. They’re waiting at the Walt Disney statue.”
“Are you sure? We could go with you,” AJ offered, but Brian shook his head.
“No, that’s alright. Go ahead. I’ll catch up with you guys soon.”
AJ shrugged. “Okay, man, whatever.” He put his hand on Rochelle’s shoulder, and they walked out of the castle with Ava in tow, while Brian turned and raced down the stairs that led to the dungeon.
Suddenly, he heard a thud, followed by a scream. He stopped on the landing, listening. Someone was definitely down there. More than one, by the sound of it. He could hear them shouting at each other.
“Seize her! SEIZE HER!”
“Master, I cannot hold her! My paws! My paws!”
“Then kill her, fool, and be done!”
Brian knew he was about to enter a dangerous situation, but he could not stand by and let the two men kill whoever it was they were talking about. He had tiptoed down a few more steps when he saw light ahead. Staying close to the wall, he stood off to the side of an open doorway at the bottom of the stairs, out of sight, and cautiously peeked inside.
A fire burned in the middle of the chamber, and its flickering light fell over the fight taking place a few feet away on the floor. Petunia was tussling with a skunk Brian recognized as Flower, her biological father. But there was a white face embedded in the back of Flower’s head, and when it spoke, Brian recognized it, too, and a chill ran down his spine.
“KILL HER! KILL HER!”
Knowing he had not a moment to spare, Brian burst through the doorway, shouting, “Petunia! Petunia!” just as the pandaskunk passed out. Pulling his tail out from between her paws, Flower turned, so that Brian found himself looking into the red eyes of the face on the back of his head. His own eyes began to water as the skunk smell invaded his nostrils, but he saw the mouth move and heard the high, cold voice say, “Kill the spare.”
Then, as Flower turned back toward him, there was a flash of green light, and everything was gone.