It was Petunia’s voice. Desperate to see what was happening, Brian opened his eyes by a millimeter.
Flower the Skunk seemed to be getting to his feet. Petunia knelt beside him, helping him up. Something had happened when he had hit Brian with the Killing Curse. Had he, too, collapsed? It seemed like it. And where was Voldemort? When Flower stumbled and fell over again, Brian caught sight of the back of his head. Where there had once been a snakelike, white face, there was only a white stripe of fur. Voldemort had vanished, leaving Flower for dead.
Becoming more aware of the fire alarm ringing repeatedly in the background, Brian pulled himself painfully onto his hands and knees. “Petunia,” he said, as he slowly climbed to his feet. “I think they’re evacuating the castle. We need to get out of here.”
Petunia nodded. “Come on, Father,” she said, crouching down next to the fallen skunk. “Climb onto my back.”
Flower shook his head. “No… leave me.”
“But you’ll die!”
“Nothing can stop that now,” said Flower, taking a ragged breath. Brian could hear the air rattling around in his lungs and knew he wasn’t long for this world. Whatever Voldemort had done to leave his animal host, it was killing him.
Petunia seemed to recognize it, too. “You’re going to be… just fine,” she tried to reassure her father, but her voice shook as she said it.
The faintest trace of a smile appeared on the skunk’s face. “Liar.”
Petunia shook her head. “I won’t leave you!”
Flower stretched out on the floor, making himself more comfortable. “Petunia,” he whispered. “Help me take… this mask off…”
Petunia cocked her head to the side in confusion. “You’re wearing a mask?”
“I was involved in a… horrific forest fire… in my youth.” He was wheezing worse than ever. “Just for once… let me look on you with… my own eyes.”
With shaking paws, Petunia took hold of the sides of his oversized head and lifted it off his body. Underneath, Flower’s face was badly burnt, his former features hardly distinguishable through the melted mass of gray flesh, bald except for a few sparse patches of black and white fur.
For a few moments, the dying skunk just gazed up at his offspring. Then, struggling for breath, he said, “Now… go… my daughter. Leave me.”
“No,” said Petunia, shaking her head stubbornly again. “You’re coming with me. I won’t leave you here; I’ve got to save you!”
“You already have… Petunia. Patches was right. Tell your brother… he was right.” Flower was slurring his words now and hardly making sense. How could he have known what Patches had said? Brian wasn’t surprised to see his big blue eyes slowly shut, as his head slumped toward the floor.
“Father…” whispered Petunia. “I won’t leave you.”
But Flower was already gone.
Brian wished he could give his pandaskunk friend a few moments alone with her father, but there wasn’t time. “Petunia?” he said gently. “We’ve gotta go. We can bring your dad’s body with us, but we have to get out of the castle. Come on.”
Silently, Petunia nodded. Brian gently scooped up the dead skunk and draped it across her back, then climbed on behind it. The “magic” Wylee scarf whipped in his face as Petunia soared up the stairwell and out an upstairs window. But once the flying pandaskunk hit the open air, a gust of wind caught the scarf and blew it clean off her.
“The magic scarf!” Brian gasped, as he watched his wife’s creation flutter away.
Petunia turned her head to look back at him, her eyes wide with panic. All of a sudden, they began to plummet.
“Petunia! Come on, fly! Flap that tail!” Brian begged, as the ground grew closer. “The magic scarf was just a gag! You can fly! Honest, you can! Hurry! Please!”
They were a fraction of a second from splatting onto the pavement when Petunia finally pumped her puffy tail, giving them the upward thrust needed to pull out of the dive at the last possible moment. The pandaskunk sailed through the sky, putting distance between them and Sleeping Beauty Castle, which was suddenly bathed in an eerie, pink light.
Seconds later, the castle exploded.
Brian could feel a wave of overwhelming heat and looked back over his shoulder to see a massive fireball shooting toward them. “Must go faster, must go faster!” he urged Petunia, squeezing the scruff of her neck as he clung tight to her fur. The pandaskunk pumped her tail harder, putting on a fresh burst of speed. Out of the fire, she flew, dodging the flames that singed the tip of her tail, diving to avoid the smoke that stung her eyes.
Suddenly, Brian became aware of the sound of his own name being shouted from somewhere down below. He looked down and saw Nick, waving frantically at him. Tapping Petunia’s shoulder, he pointed, and the pandaskunk started to descend. He could feel the heat of the fire growing more and more intense as it gained on them and knew they could not outfly it much longer. Finally, a few feet from the ground, he rolled off of Petunia’s back and let himself fall.
“BRIAN!” Throwing an arm around him, Nick pulled him down, and they flattened their bodies against the pavement, as the smoke poured over them.
The next day dawned hazy and cool. As the early morning sun’s weak rays filtered through the fog, casting its golden light across the land, the full extent of the devastation to Disneyland was finally revealed. Sleeping Beauty Castle lay in smoldering ruins, and most of the attractions found in nearby Fantasyland had been destroyed.
“God, this is just depressing,” said AJ, looking down at the sad remnants of the Dumbo ride. Most of the flying elephants had been reduced to mangled hunks of metal, their trunks twisted, big ears bent.
He and Kevin had long since sent their families home, anxious to get their wives and children out of harm’s way, but the Boys themselves had stayed through the night to help with the search and recovery efforts. There were a lot of injured people and Disney characters and still more dead bodies lying beneath the rubble. And above it all, the spaceship still loomed, seemingly dormant for now, but not for long.
“We’ve got to do something,” Nick insisted, still desperate to save Christmas. “We’ve gotta find a way to take that thing down!”
Kevin raised his eyebrows. “Don’t you think we should leave that up to… oh, I dunno… the military, maybe?”
“Do you see any military planes around?” Nick retorted, throwing his arms into the air. “We’ve got the power to stop this - and save Christmas!”
Kevin snorted. “What power? We’re singers in a boyband.”
Rolling his eyes, Nick reached into the front pocket of his fur-lined Wylee hoodie and pulled out a bejeweled pendant on a long, gold chain. “Maybe you’ve forgotten all about the amulets Zanell gave us, old man, but I sure as hell haven’t. Who’s with me?” He looked around at his other bandmates, silently challenging them to argue.
“I’m with you, bro,” Brian replied with a grin and whipped out his wallet, opening the Wylee-embossed leather to reveal the amulet tucked safely inside.
“Hell yeah!” enthused AJ, reaching for his own amulet, which was hanging on the silver chain he wore with his pants.
They all looked expectantly at Kevin. Slowly and sheepishly, the eldest Backstreet Boy opened his hand to reveal his amulet, which he’d apparently had all along. “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this,” he said with a heavy sigh. “It’s been a long time since we saved the world from Queen Sinissta.”
“And now our planet faces a new threat,” said Nick nobly. “We must once again wear our amulets around our necks and use them against the aliens. When our five powers combine, we are unstoppable. We are... Backstreet.”
And now for some back story:
Our world was in peril.
Zanell, a communications officer from the planet Zophacia, could no longer sit by and watch as her merciless ruler, Queen Sinissta, invaded another innocent planet. She gave five magic amulets to five special Boys:
KEVIN, from Lexington, Kentucky, with the power of super strength.
From Orlando, Florida… HOWIE, with the power of mental illusion.
From West Palm Beach… AJ, with the power of marksmanship.
Also from Lexington… BRIAN, with the power of jumping really high!
And from Tampa… NICK, with the power of… making things work! Ooh, and also some mad martial arts skills! Yeah, that’s right! Nick gets TWO powers, for he is THE CHOSEN ONE.
When the five (six?) powers combine, they form Earth’s greatest boyband: THE BACKSTREET BOYS.
“Go BACKSTREET!” shouted the Boys, their amulets colliding as they chest bumped.
“But wait,” said Brian in confusion as he looked down at himself. “Something’s wrong. Where are our cool costumes? Last time we used these, we started changing as soon as we put the amulets around our necks.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Nick frowned. “I’m still wearing this ugly Wylee outfit. And I don’t feel that tingling sensation…”
Kevin shook his head. “I don’t feel super strong yet.”
“It’s ‘cause we’re missing one of the amulets,” said AJ. “We need Howie!”
The other three boys sighed. But just when the situation was beginning to seem desperate again, they heard a familiar voice behind them.
“Did somebody say ‘Howie D’?”
They turned in shock to see Howie himself striding toward them, a big, goofy grin on his face.
“Howie doin’, guys?” he asked, hugging each of them. His hug with Nick lasted a little longer than the rest, but no one else seemed to notice. “When I heard Disneyland was destroyed, I thought the worst… especially when none of you would answer my texts!”
Nick, Brian, AJ, and Kevin exchanged guilty looks. “Sorry, bro. We were a little preoccupied here,” said AJ, pointing to the heap of rubble where the castle had once stood.
Howie shrugged. “It’s alright. I understand. From what I’ve heard, Disney World doesn’t look a whole lot better.”
“Is your family okay?” asked Kevin.
Howie nodded. “As soon as we saw the spaceship and realized what was happening, I put them on a plane to New Jersey to stay with Leigh’s folks, while I booked the next flight here. I barely made it off the ground before they took out Cinderella’s castle. I could see the fireball from the air.”
“Wow,” said Brian softly. “You’re lucky, man. And Leigh and the kids made it safely to Jersey?”
“Yeah, I talked to her when I landed. They’re freaked out, but fine otherwise. So what’s the plan here?” He looked around. “I see you’re wearing your amulets. I’ve got mine, too.” He slipped his on around his neck. “I thought we might need them.”
“See?” shouted Nick triumphantly. “We’re already starting to transform! Now that we’re united, our powers will work!” He looked down at himself, relieved to see that his hideous Wylee costume was covered by badass, black body armor. The other Boys had also changed: Kevin was wearing similar suit of red armor, AJ had on his brown trench coat, Howie was cloaked in blue, and Brian wore… a blue vest with gray shorts. Well, not all of their superhero costumes could be as cool as Nick’s. His even came with ninja weapons! And nifty goggles! “Now we just need a plan!” Nick said happily, whipping his nunchucks around absently.
“Watch it there, ‘Ninchuck Nick,’” said Kevin, taking a wary step back.
“I’ve got it!” AJ suddenly exclaimed. “We need to attack them in the air, right? So we’ll use some of the pixie dust Nick stole from Tinker Bell on these Dumbo elephants to make them fly! No, hear me out, guys,” he insisted, when the others looked at him skeptically. “Here’s how it will work: Brian can use his jumping ability to grab the undamaged ones that are still stuck up high and bring them down, then Kevin can use his super strength to rip them off the arms of the ride. Then Howie will use his powers of mental illusion to imagine the elephants’ trunks are missile-launchers, and I’ll load them with ammo from my laser guns. And then Nick can use his power to make things work to… make them work!”
Kevin frowned, his brows furrowing. “That’s either incredibly clever or completely crazy… I can’t tell which.”
“It’ll work!” Nick guaranteed with a grin. “I’ll make it work.”
“Now that’s Howie do it!” Howie agreed cheesily.
“Howie… stop,” said AJ. “Brian, you in?”
“You bet!” replied Brian.
“Alright, then. On three. One… two… three…”
“BACKSTREET!” they chanted again, then broke apart to carry out AJ’s plan.
“How many Dumbos do we need?” asked Brian, as he bounced off the ground to bring down the first elephant. “Who’s all gonna fly these things?”
“I think only those of us with flight experience should,” said Kevin. “Which would be… me.”
“And me!” cried Nick.
Kevin raised his eyebrows.
“I played a pilot in Kill Speed, remember? Dolla dolla bill, yo!”
“But wasn’t that just a prop plane? You didn’t actually fly it…”
“So? I’ve played enough video games to know how!” Nick insisted. “And I did have my own rocketship, remember?”
“Kevin, he was going to fly the Wylee trailer around the world,” Brian pointed out.
Kevin sighed. “Fine. Whatever. Go ahead and fly the damn Dumbo. But if you crash and burn, don’t blame me.”
“I’ll blame Brian,” said Nick happily. “Everything’s always his fault now.”
“Everything except for infecting Santa with Nick Plague,” Brian was quick to counter. “That one’s on you.”
Nick’s face fell. “Oh yeah…”
“Well, now’s not the time to dwell on it,” said Kevin quickly, clapping his hands together. Now that they had a plan in motion, he was eager to keep things moving. “Okay, so we’ll need one more elephant for Nick.”
“Well, what about the rest of us?” asked AJ. “What are we supposed to do?”
“It would be a good idea for some of us to stay on the ground, in case the aliens come down to fight once we start attacking their ship. AJ, you and Howie can lead the ground force. Use Howie’s illusion skills to arm yourselves and anyone else you can find with more laser guns. And Brian, we’ll also need a pair of eyes to oversee the entire operation. Why don’t you hop up on the Wylee trailer and use your jumping power to see what’s going on in the air and on the ground? That way, you can give us commands.”
Brian blinked. “So… you want me to bounce up and down on top of the Wylee trailer and watch the action?” he asked slowly.
“That’s right. And hey, if the aliens attack, you can leap into the air and knock them right out of the sky with your magic basketball!” Kevin demonstrated with a quick jump shot.
Brian sighed. Sometimes it felt like he’d drawn the short straw when it came to powers. But what choice did he have? “Okay,” he agreed. As he trudged off toward the Wylee trailer with the basketball that had appeared in his arms when he’d put on his amulet, it occurred to him that the other guys were putting themselves in real danger, especially Nick and Kevin. He would feel better about their plan if he knew they had some kind of protection. Seeing the logo of his wife’s company gleam off the side of the trailer, Brian was struck with sudden inspiration. He hurried into the trailer, rummaged through the piles of presents still waiting to be delivered, and ran back to the Boys with a wad of fabric clutched in his first.
“Guys, wait!” he called, as Kevin and Nick were climbing into their elephants. “Will you do me one favor? Will you please… wear one of these?” He thrust a Wylee scarf at each of them.
Nick’s lip curled with disgust, while Kevin just looked confused. “One of Leighanne’s scarves?” he asked. “Why?”
“Because Leighanne probably put him up to it, that’s why!” Nick shouted before Brian could answer. “I swear, that bitch has got his balls shoved inside one of her handbags so that she can carry them around with her and control him even when she’s not anywhere near him - which is hardly ever! What’s her agenda this time, Brian? Is she trying to sell her accessories to aliens now?”
“Nick, stop! For God’s sake, shut up and listen!” snapped Brian. “This has nothing to do with Leighanne. This is me giving you this scarf because I love you, bro, and I hope it will help keep you safe.” The same way my Wylee clothes shielded me, he added silently, rubbing the place where the Killing Curse had struck him. He knew better than to say this out loud, knew Nick would never understand. He hadn’t been there. But Brian hoped he would at least wear the scarf.
“Oh, my bad. I forgot - plaid is impenetrable to lasers!” said Nick sarcastically, but he put the scarf on anyway, tucking the ends into his body armor. Kevin did the same.
Brian, impressed with Nick’s use of the word “impenetrable,” smiled. “Thanks, guys. Good luck,” he added, as he went to give scarves to Howie and AJ. He hoped it wouldn’t be the last time he saw his friends alive.