Nickelan hit the water with his eyes wide open. The water was cold, but Nickelan was colder, chilled to the bone, as he sank to the basin bottom towards the drain. His limbs were frozen. He couldn’t move. The toilet drain was like an agape mouth and Nickelan a piece of meat on a fork being fed into it.
The sight of the drain emptied Nickelan’s head of all thought. He forgot about his parents, about the Makas’ swift ransacking of Kid City, even about why he pushed himself into the belly of this personal beast. All Nickelan could do was watch the drain draw closer.
Then he heard something. It was Springo. The voice of his friend shook Nickelan from his stupor.
“Nickelan, can you hear me?” Springo asked. “I did as you asked. Where are you?”
“Springo,” Nickelan said. “Do you have the soap?”
“Do I have soap?” Springo said as if setting up a punch line. “I took every bar I could find at home, all the soap from my relatives’ bathrooms, I even emptied out the custodian’s closet.” Springo was in the school’s restroom. “Well, huh, what do you think?”
“Flush them down the toilet,” Nickelan ordered. “Flush them all!”
Nickelan felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. “Who’s your friend?” Baber Groan asked, a carpet of air bubbles rolling over the rows of sharp teeth as he spoke. “Why don’t you ask him to join us? He’d make a good slave. Or maybe I should go get him? What do you think, Nickelan?”
Nickelan reached back with his fist and, with all the speed that the resistance of the water would allow, hit Baber Groan in the mouth.
Baber Groan didn’t move, except his face, which broadened into a scornful smile. The water around his face swirled with ribbons of crimson, which made Baber Groan look even more fiendish. But Nickelan had hurt the Maka. He bleeds. Only Baber Groan wasn’t bleeding. Nickelan felt a sting on his knuckles and saw that the blood was his.
The red water turned lighter, pink, and Nickelan thought he was passing out. Yet, he wasn’t lightheaded. He wasn’t even scared. Nickelan was determined. He was going to wipe that disrespectful grin off of Baber Groan’s ugly face. So, if he wasn’t about to faint, why was everything getting so white and hazy?
It was the soap. Springo was feeding the bars of soap into the toilet as fast as he could and they were traveling the intricate pipeline underground and popping out in the giant toilet at the center of the ravaged Kid City.
Nickelan reached into the sudsy water and pulled out a slippery bar of soap. He held it in his hand like a weapon, for indeed to the Makas it was just that. Baber Groan, seeing the soap in Nickelan’s hand, was no longer smiling.
“Let’s be reasonable,” Baber Groan said, swimming away from Nickelan. “Maybe I was a little rash when I said I’d have to rough you up a bit. I said it to keep face. A Maka’s got to be tough, you know. They were just empty words!”
As Baber Groan retreated, the toilet water got soapier and swallowed him up in a wave of glistening bubbles.
Now it was Nickelan’s turn to drop his hand on Baber Groan’s shoulder. With his other hand he brandished the bar of soap, aiming it for the Maka’s toothy mouth.
“I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap,” Nickelan said. He had always wanted to say that.
“Don’t do that!” Baber Groan whined. “I didn’t say anything bad!”
Nickelan almost felt sorry for Baber Groan. Almost, but not quite, and he shoved the bar of soap into Baber Groan’s mouth and deep down his gagging throat. The Maka pushed Nickelan away with his powerful legs, but it was too late. Baber Groan had swallowed the soap.
Watching as he was swept away into a cloud of sudsy water, Nickelan saw Baber Groan clutching at his tense throat. His tongue looked fat and white, but it wasn’t his tongue. Rather it was the soap, pouring out from Baber Groan’s mouth like he was a broken washing machine. Behind the intensity of the white wash was Baber Groan’s equally intense face, though Nickelan could now only see his dark eyes. They were filled with terror as he disappeared into the bubbly brew.
The scrubbing bubbles from the soap wiped clean all but whiteout blindness obscuring the toilet. Nickelan floated in the foamy water, suspended in disbelief as much as soapy water. He had defeated Baber Groan, the most feared of the fearful Makas. Maybe there was some truth to all this Redeemer stuff, he thought.
Just as Nickelan was relishing his victory his head hit the hard bottom of the toilet basin. He was being sucked down into the toilet drain. There was nothing to grab hold of and what he could touch was slippery with soap.
“Springo!” Nickelan cried.
“I’m here, Nickelan,” Springo said, though Nickelan couldn’t see him anymore through the fog of lathering cleanser. “Don’t worry. I’ve got plenty of soap. I’m starting to pour some liquid dishwashing soap down the toilet. I got laundry detergent, too. Wow. The school bathroom never looked cleaner. What’s this?”
Springo felt something soft and organic as he shoved yet more soap down the toilet drain. It was a hand, Nickelan’s hand.
“I got you,” Springo said, pulling Nickelan through the toilet bowl and into the school’s restroom. Looking at Nickelan’s hand in his own, Springo commented: “Your fingernails look so clean. I can’t wait to see the rest of you.” Nickelan’s whole arm was now sticking out from the school’s toilet bowl.
“You look like one of those zombies I saw crawling out from its grave in that Creature Feature I was watching last night,” Springo observed. “But a lot cleaner. Imagine, Nickelan Wand clean. Wait until I show you off. The kids won’t believe it.”
“No!” Nickelan shouted. His voice gurgled in the toilet drain. “Let go of me! Stop pulling! I’m not ready to leave yet!”
“Your arm is slippery,” Springo said, not hearing Nickelan’s plea. “All that soap. The cure is worse than the disease, huh? I can’t get a grip on you.” Springo took Nickelan’s arm in both hands and braced himself with his feet firmly planted on the base of the toilet bowl. He then pulled with all his might.
The toilet broke, sending Springo and pieces of porcelain riding a flood of soapy toilet water over the floor of the school’s bathroom. When Springo finally came to a stop beneath one of the sinks mounted in a row on a wall across the room, he looked in his empty hands. Nickelan was gone.
Rebounding from Springo’s lost grasp, Nickelan shot upwards, out from the drain and to the surface of the giant toilet bowl. He was back in Kid City, but Kid City wasn’t back to normal.
Nickelan gasped for air as he broke the surface, but instead of a lungful of oxygen he got a mouthful of soapy bubbles. The suds made the toilet a fluffy volcano. They rose high in the air and then rolled over the toilet lip like white lava, which spread over Kid City with ruinous effect. The suds incapacitated the Makas, but didn’t stop there.
Making his way carefully onto the slippery lip of the toilet, Nickelan wiped a section of the wall of sudsy bubbles away so he could see. The window in the lather gave him a panoramic view of the newly cleaned Kid City.
After laying waste to the Maka invaders the soap kept on going. It engulfed Kid City with its overpowering purity. The streets were washed clean of all candy toppings, the caramel pavement swept away, the sidewalks sparkling no longer with hard candy but cleanliness. The gingerbread houses, soggy from the soapsud assault, collapsed under their wet weight and were washed away. Kid City had been cleansed of everything that made it Kid City, except the kids. They, however, were changed as well.
The kids of Kid City no longer looked like the kids of Kid City. They looked clean. The years of dirt and grime had washed off in mere minutes. The kids of Kid City had gone from nightmares to dreamboats that looked as if they were about to set sail for such exotic ports as family reunions, graduations, even weddings—they’d make their parents proud at any special occasion or gathering. In fact, the only parents present in Kid City, Mr. and Mrs. Wand, looked exceedingly proud. They also looked exceedingly presentable, the soapy wash having given their ratty attire a good laundering. Their clothing even appeared freshly pressed. They were staring up at the toilet on which their son was standing and they were smiling.
“I said you needed a bath,” Mr. Wand said. “Now, look at you, clean and smelling like a rose. At least you look as if you smell like a rose, of course I can’t smell you from down here.”
“What your father is trying to say,” Mrs. Wand interrupted, “is that you look wonderful. I’m glad to have my boy back. Come down here so I can give you a great big hug.”
“Don’t call me boy,” Nickelan said. “I’m not a boy. I’m the Redeemer.”
“Redeemer? More like the Destroyer!” Gelsomina said. She looked beautiful, scrubbed clean of all the dirt that stained her pretty face, her hair now silky and crashing off her head in shiny waves. “Look what you’ve done!”
Nickelan looked. It wasn’t so bad.
Fischel and his dragon flew up to the toilet lip where Nickelan stood. “Hop on,” Fischel said, miraculously unscathed. As the dragon began its slow descent, Nickelan looked over the newly cleaned Kid City that so disgusted Gelsomina.
It was true that most of the edible structures were inhabitable, that the city was wiped clean like a slate, but that slate was ripe with potential, as Nickelan saw it. There was a fresh smell that filled the air as Nickelan set foot back on the ground. It was pleasant, like the lemon scent that filled his classroom when he came to school after being away the weekend. Then Nickelan remembered Springo. He’d dumped the school’s custodial supplies down the toilet and busted that same toilet trying to pull Nickelan up from the drain. He hoped his friend wouldn’t get into much trouble, but then he had his own problems.
“You’ve ruined everything!” Gelsomina said, marching aggressively up to Nickelan. “I ought to punch you right on the nose.”
Nickelan hugged Gelsomina tightly. “It’s good to have you back,” he said, smiling.
“Don’t touch me,” Gelsomina replied icily.
“I can’t say I like what you did to the place,” said Selwyn Harris, his hands still tied behind his back, as he looked up at the giant toilet overflowing with suds where his Presidential Palace used to stand. “The place did need a bathroom, though I would have chosen one of more appropriate scale.”
“Selwyn!” Nickelan ran up to his friend. Despite the dubious motivation of Selwyn Harris, Nickelan considered him a friend. “Let me help you,” Nickelan said, untying Selwyn’s bonds.
“That’s my prisoner!” Gelsomina protested.
“Gelsomina,” Fischel said, coming up to his former leader and speaking in a voice that sounded too small for his large body. “Gelsomina, it’s over. There’s no more war, no more prisoners.” He placed a gentle arm around her slight shoulder and tried to make her see the facts in front of her angry eyes.
“Your companion is correct,” said Baber Groan. The Maka looked as clean and shiny as everyone and everything else in Kid City, but the soap seemed to have washed him from the inside out as well. His manner was polite and the threat of violence that used to cling to Baber Groan, and all the Makas, was gone. “Our partnership is officially dissolved as of this moment.”
“Your partnership?” Nickelan asked.
“Yes,” Gelsomina answered. “I’m a double-agent, a spy for the Makas. Really a triple-agent, as I never would completely betray my oath to protect Kid City. But then, what is Kid City if it’s run by a grown-up? A lie! So I had the Makas kidnap Nickelan’s parents and bring them here, to expose the lie. I knew that Selwyn was President and I knew that he was fabricating the lie of a Redeemer to keep the kids ignorant. He fed us cookies and malted shakes and we just did whatever he wanted. Candy is the opiate of the people! Now you see his lies, now that it’s too late. Kid City is no more.”
“That is not true,” Baber Groan said calmly. “The Makas will no longer threaten your borders. We have been defeated by the superior force of Nickelan Wand, the Redeemer—”
“Superior?” Maka Mickey said. “Nickelan? Boss, did you get your sense lost in the wash? What are you talking about? I can beat that scrawny brat any day of the week!”
“I said, Nickelan’s superior force.” Baber Groan turned to Maka Mickey, exposing a hint of his former rage. “Anyone who can defeat me and my army is obviously gifted with a supernatural strength and power beyond the scope of our capabilities. I respect the Redeemer of Kid City and order that diplomatic ties between our two cities commence immediately.”
“Ooh, ooh.” Baby Booba raised his hand and eagerly waited to get called on. “Please make me ambassador. Please! Please! Please!”
Selwyn Harris smiled. Gelsomina Gillespie frowned. Nickelan Wand looked confused. Enemies were now friends. Friends were now enemies. Nickelan just had to accept it as par for the crazy course of life underground.
“Nickelan,” Mr. Wand said, “I’m glad all your friends have made up and are getting along, but it’s late and time that we go.”
This was the moment Nickelan had been looking forward to. He had saved his family and was victorious in battle with the Makas who had wanted to enslave him. He had fought his way to Kid City and had built a giant toilet that with a simple flush could transport him and his parents back to the surface world. It was all over. He could go home, see Springo again and enjoy the simple pleasures such as fighting with his parents over bathtime.
“I’m not coming,” Nickelan told his father. “I’m staying here. This is where I belong. This is where I’m needed.”
“Nickelan,” his mother said, “you will listen to your father.”
“This isn’t home, Mother,” Nickelan said, “you can’t tell me what to do here. This is Kid City.”
“And you’re addressing the President of Kid City,” Selwyn Harris said. “Please show President Nickelan Wand the respect that he deserves.”
The assembled crowd was stilled in stunned silence. All eyes volleyed from Selwyn to Nickelan and back again. It was Selwyn who finally spoke.
“Gelsomina is right,” Selwyn said. “Kid City can’t be run by a grown-up. I think after today the person who must lead Kid City is obvious, even to you, Gelsomina. There is much rebuilding to do. We need a kid with vision, a kid that can unite Thunder World, Kid City and the Lands Between. Who here among us was able to get the dinosaurs, the dragons, the pirates and the kids of Kid City united to fight a common enemy? Whether you believe it or not, Nickelan, you are the Redeemer.”