Within the confined walls of a dingy pizzeria restroom stood Super Mario. The washed-up Italian plumber was wrestling with one of the worst clogged toilets he had ever seen, and despite years of experience, he couldn’t bring himself to finish the job.
Mario’s reputation had nosedived in recent years. Upon discovering that he had been stealing coins from the Mushroom Kingdom, Princess Peach cut ties with the plumber. An onslaught of public shaming soon followed. Perhaps worst of all, Mario never expressed remorse for his crimes against the kingdom he once protected, nor did he ever explain the reasoning behind his thievery.
After several moments of depressing reflection, Mario reinforced his grip on his trusty plunger and continued his assault on the stubborn clog. Much to his chagrin, the toilet revolted and sprayed fecal matter all over his mustache.
“Mama Mia!” he bellowed in agony.
Nearby, Mario’s brother Luigi was fighting his own battle.
In the pizzeria’s management office, the younger Italian plumber sat across from Yoshi the Dinosaur, a former colleague who now owned and operated the self-titled ‘Yoshi’s Pizzeria.’
“Let me get this straight,” a frustrated Luigi began. “You called us in for a job with the intention of not compensating us for our services?”
“Some kid on the register made that call,” Yoshi countered. “They didn’t know any better. I thought I scrubbed your number from our books years ago.”
“Well, you didn’t,” Luigi shot back. “We came here to unclog a toilet, and we expect to be paid in full.”
“If you think I’m giving your brother a dime after what he did to the Mushroom Kingdom, you’re out of your mind.”
“Listen, my brother -”
“Save it! Luigi, you’re a great kid, but I can’t in good conscience support your business if Mario is still on the payroll!”
Aware that he was fighting a losing battle, Luigi backed off. Yoshi took a deep breath and collected himself.
“Listen, I’ll give you a free pie for your labor,” the green dinosaur bargained. “But as far as future business goes, consider this bridge burnt to a crisp.”
Luigi swallowed his pride and nodded. He eventually rose from his chair and proceeded to exit Yoshi’s office.
“Hey,” Yoshi called out. “When are you going to wise up and cut that no-good sonofabitch loose?”
At the office threshold, Luigi turned to face Yoshi.
“I can’t cut him loose. He’s my brother.”
After collecting a free pizza, Mario and Luigi entered their beat-up plumbing van and traveled back to their apartment in northern New Donk City. On the road, Luigi drove while Mario sat shotgun.
Mario reached into the van’s glove compartment and retrieved several wet wipes. He proceeded to thoroughly wipe his mustache in an attempt to free himself from the foul stench of fecal matter.
“I got blasted today,” he said in between wipes. “What kind of pizza did Yoshi give you?”
“Plain cheese,” Luigi sighed.
Mario shook his head in disgust.
“Lousy cheapskate,” he muttered. “That dinosaur was always worthless.”
Luigi nodded in agreement, though it was clear there was something more pressing on his mind.
“Mario, I think you should let me handle the business by myself from now on.”
“Luigi, we’ve been over this,” Mario groaned. “I can’t let you do all that work solo. It’s not fair to you.”
“I appreciate that, but we can’t keep up with expenses if we’re not making money.”
“Well, what do you want me to do?” Mario asked defensively. “You want me to disappear from your life? Is that it?”
“I didn’t say that!” Luigi stressed. “But you pissed off a lot of people! No one wants to hire you! We got paid with a pizza today. That ain’t right.”
“I know,” Mario admitted in defeat.
“Look, I appreciate your help, but until all this blows over -”
“It ain’t gonna blow over anytime soon,” Mario interrupted.
“Well… have you thought about apologizing to Peach?”
Mario didn’t answer.
“Of course not,” Luigi muttered. “Why’d you do it anyway? You never spent a cent of what you stole, so what was the fuckin’ point?”
“Drop it!” Mario fired back. “You wouldn’t understand!”
As the brothers continued to bicker, a plate of spaghetti violently collided against the front windshield of their plumbing van.
“LOUSY THIEF!” a random voice from outside the van shouted.
Acting instinctively, Luigi sped through an upcoming intersection to avoid further confrontation with the unknown aggressor. Upon successfully evading danger, he pounded his fist against the van’s steering wheel.
“Damn you!” Luigi shouted. “Linguine should be cherished, not weaponized!”
Out of respect for the wasted dish of Italian cuisine, Luigi performed the sign of the cross before activating the van’s wiper blades. A guilt-ridden Mario hopelessly watched on.
Mario and Luigi entered their one-room apartment, pizza in hand. Resting sprawled on a nearby couch was their friend and roommate, Toad. He greeted the brothers with a warm smile.
“If it isn’t my two favorite Italian stereotypes,” he playfully teased. “Any luck out there?”
“We got paid in pizza,” Luigi answered dejectedly. He tossed the box on a table next to the couch.
“How about you, Toad?” Mario asked. “Any luck hustling?”
“Sort of,” Toad sighed. “I sold some shrooms uptown to a couple of burnouts who weren’t too familiar with current events. Eventually, I bumped into some assholes visiting from the Mushroom Kingdom. They recognized me. Things kind of escalated from there…”
Toad trailed off, his face lost in reflection. After a few moments, he cleared his throat and forcefully produced a giant smile.
“…But I’m feeling great now!” he lied through gritted teeth.
Toad frantically opened the box of pizza and dressed it with shrooms.
“Come on, guys! Let’s ride the Rainbow Road to euphoria!”
Noticing his friend’s distress, Mario joined Toad on the couch.
“I’m sorry I got you into this mess, Toad.”
“Eh, it’s okay. I left the kingdom on my own accord. Sure, you made a mistake. But who’s to say I wouldn’t have done the same thing?”
“You wouldn’t have done the same thing,” Luigi interjected. “You’re not that stupid.”
“Fair enough,” Mario responded with a hint of aggravation. “The point is, neither of you should be taking heat for my fuck-up. But don’t worry; I’ve got a plan to get our lives back on track.”
Toad’s eyes suddenly lit up with excitement.
“Oh my god! Are you finally going to offer the princess an apology?!”
“Uh, no,” Mario replied sheepishly. “I was gonna talk to Bowser.”
“Bowser?” Luigi laughed. “You can’t be serious?”
“Yeah, I am,” Mario said matter-of-factly. “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
“Christ,” Luigi sighed. “He’s rehabilitated.”
“Bullshit,” Mario scoffed.
“It’s true!” Toad piped in. “He’s turned over a new leaf! I think he’s giving a presentation downtown at Big Bertha’s Bookstore this afternoon.”
“What do you mean by presentation?” Mario inquired.
“He essentially apologizes to anyone willing to listen,” Toad replied.
“And the majority who listen tend to retaliate with anger,” Luigi added.
Mario leaned back on the couch and pondered.
“Sounds like a nightmare. Why does he do it?”
“He probably feels guilty for all the shit he’s done and wants to change,” Luigi answered frankly.
Mario stood up from the couch and approached the apartment door.
“Maybe I can talk some sense into him,” he said before exiting.
At Big Bertha’s Bookstore, Bowser stood before a small crowd of spectators, the likes of whom appeared equal parts angry and confused.
“What drives a person to turn evil?” Bowser asked his audience. “Greed. Whether we want to admit it or not, greed comes for us all. Some of us are strong enough to overcome this selfish desire. Others are not so fortunate.”
“Eat my ass, Bowser!” an audience member taunted.
Bowser cleared his throat and shuffled his cue cards.
“I was once overwhelmed by the influence of greed,” he continued. “I spent my entire life kidnapping princesses and overthrowing kingdoms just to get a small taste of power. But my pursuit for control only brought me pain and misfortune.”
At that moment, an audience member threw their shoe at Bowser’s face. Much to their surprise, Bowser openly accepted the blow without flinching.
“I deserved that,” he said while rubbing his forehead where the shoe had collided.
The attendees collectively laughed at Bowser’s expense.
“It wasn’t until I stopped pursuing greed and started looking within that I realized the error of my ways,” Bowser concluded. “Gratitude is the most important trait of all. If you can learn to be thankful for what you have, the urge to pursue greed will diminish with time. Today, I stand before you a changed man, and I am truly sorry for my past mistakes.”
The small audience erupted with boos and jeers. Upon scanning the angry crowd, Bowser was surprised to see Mario standing off to the side. The Italian plumber could not believe what he had witnessed.
Back at the apartment, Luigi was in a state of paranoia. As he frantically paced back and forth, a spaced-out Toad observed from the comfort of the couch. Toad had just eaten his second piece of shroom-covered pizza, and unlike Luigi, was feeling pretty great.
“Luigi, you need to take it easy, man,” he suggested in a daze. “You’re going to dig a hole into the ground with those worried shoes.”
“We fought in the van earlier,” Luigi revealed in a series of deep breaths. “I told him to lie low. He didn’t take it well.”
In response to this revelation, Toad slowly blinked, which was all he really could do in his current wasted state.
“Why do you think he stole all those coins?” Luigi asked. “What drove him to do something that idiotic?”
Unsure what to say, Toad let out a disoriented grunt. Luigi sighed.
“Jesus, Bowser,” Mario expressed. “What the hell happened to you?”
The former enemies were talking just outside of Big Bertha’s Bookstore. They stood next to Mario’s plumbing van.
“The road to redemption is a long, strange journey,” Bowser answered. “The last time our paths crossed, you grabbed me by the tail and threw me off a castle tower. Today, I stand before you a changed man.”
“People seem to be taking the news well,” Mario sarcastically quipped.
“Yes, well,” Bowser stammered. “All jokes at my expense aside, how are you doing? The last I heard, you were facing the evils of greed yourself.”
“That’s actually the reason why I’m here,” Mario admitted. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I need your help.”
Bowser beamed with pride.
“Say no more, Mario. It would be an honor to help you begin your journey to redemption.”
“That’s great! I had a hunch you’d be interested in revisiting the glory days.”
Bowser looked puzzled.
“What do you mean by that exactly?”
“Well, you’d kidnap the princess, and I’d save her from your clutches, just like old times.”
Bowser was flabbergasted.
“You can’t be serious!” he exclaimed in an angry whisper. “My days of depravity are over! I have shed my sinful scales and embraced a new outlook on life!”
“Oh, come on,” Mario pushed. “This glorified apology tour ain’t your scene! Deep down, I know you still want a place at the throne.”
“Mario,” Bowser exhaled. “Saving the princess from an orchestrated kidnapping will not eradicate your past mistakes. Do you want to be rid of your current predicament? Then I suggest you start your journey to redemption by first apologizing to Princess Peach for your wrongdoing.”
“And then what?” Mario asked defensively. “Even if I apologize to her and everyone else, people will still treat me like shit. And not just me. They’ll treat my brother like shit, and they’ll treat Toad like shit. What’s the point of taking the high road when all you get is a blue shell?”
“It’s not about forgiveness,” Bowser stressed. “That only comes if and when people are willing to offer it.”
“Okay, so I ask again: what’s the goddamn point?”
“The point is you’re making an effort to be a better person. Isn’t that enough?”
“No! Not if it means continuing to be treated like crap!”
Exasperated, Mario turned away from Bowser and entered his van.
“There’s no easy fix for this, Mario,” Bowser warned. “Eventually, you’ll have to own up to your mistakes. Only then can the true healing begin.”
“Oh, shut the hell up!” Mario shouted from within his van. “No matter what you do, you’ll always be seen as a monster, so why don’t you do yourself a favor and embrace it!”
The Italian plumber stepped on the gas and peeled out of the parking lot.
Mario’s mind raced a mile a minute. He couldn’t fathom how Bowser could be so accepting of the constant harassment he received. If it meant enduring more pain, the path towardsredemption wasn’t something the plumber was interested in pursuing. However, as he drove further and further, he started to ponder the idea of apologizing to Princess Peach. Perhaps if he used just the right words, he could weasel his way out of trouble and win back her good graces, thus ending his public shaming for good.
Gripping his steering wheel, he took the only exit out of New Donk City and made his way into the Mushroom Kingdom.
By the time Mario reached the security barricade surrounding Princess Peach’s castle, it was dusk. Though he planned to enter the castle grounds peacefully, several guards refused to grant him access. As a result, Mario bulldozed his van through the barricade, eventually making his way to the castle’s drawbridge.
While standing on the roof of his vehicle to avoid an approaching swarm of guards, Mario called out to Princess Peach.
“HEY, PRINCESS!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. “IT’S-A ME, MARIO!”
After several moments, the castle’s drawbridge lowered, and Princess Peach emerged.
“Guards, stand down,” she ordered.
The castle guards slowly backed away from Mario’s van. Princess Peach folded her arms in frustrated disbelief as the Italian plumber awkwardly attempted to climb down from his vehicle’s roof.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve showing your face around here,” she stated sternly.
Mario dropped to the ground and brushed himself off.
“I realize that. Please just hear me out.”
Though hesitant, Princess Peach nodded for Mario to continue.
“The last few years have been hell. I’m just now beginning to realize the weight of my actions and, well… I’m sorry.”
Unmoved by his apology, Princess Peach rolled her eyes.
“I got an email from Bowser this afternoon,” she revealed. “He told me all about your purposed kidnapping scheme.”
This sudden revelation startled Mario.
“Hold on,” he said while waving his hands in the air. “You’re emailing Bowser?”
“Why not? He hasn’t attempted to overthrow the kingdom in years, and I respect him for embracing positive change.”
“Well, that’s just beautiful,” Mario jeered. “The sonofabitch that’s kidnapped you OVER A HUNDRED TIMES is now your new best pal!”
“We are not pals,” Princess Peach clarified. “But I see what he’s doing, and I think it’s coming from a genuine place. Therefore, he has my support.”
Mario made a gagging noise with his throat.
“You are one of the most ungrateful men I have ever met,” Princess Peach uttered under her breath.
“Ungrateful? Look who’s talking! All these years, I risked my neck to save your life and kingdom, and for what? Some lousy cake?”
“Oh, I see,” Princess Peach responded mockingly. “My cake wasn’t good enough for you, so you decided to steal my kingdom’s fortune behind my back. That seems really fair.”
Mario exhaled. He leaned his body against the front bumper of his van.
“You thought the cake was fair, huh?”
“What would you have proposed instead?” Princess Peach inquired sarcastically.
“How about a security job?” Mario answered frankly. “You knew I hated plumbing. I thought you’d eventually give me a chance after everything I did for the kingdom. But nope. No matter how many times I came to your rescue, it was back to unclogging toilets for ol’ Mario.”
Princess Peach was taken aback by Mario’s statement.
“Mario, I appreciated everything you did for me and my kingdom. Had you asked for a job, I would’ve happily given you one.”
This revelation hit Mario hard. For the first time, he realized the error of his ways.
“Peach, I messed up. I should’ve come to you and expressed my frustration. Instead, I stole your fortune. But I gave it all back, and more importantly, I am truly sorry.”
Princess Peach stared off into the distance. Noticing her silence, Mario panicked.
“I get that you’re still mad, and you have every right to be,” he stuttered. “How about this: I’ll work security at the kingdom for nothing. I’m begging you, Peach. Please find it in your heart to forgive me.”
“I can forgive you,” she eventually responded. “But I don’t want you back in my life, Mario. Not until you prove to me that you’ve changed.”
On the verge of tears, Mario tried to maintain his composure.
“But I have changed! You don’t know what it’s like out there! People want my head on a platter!”
“Perhaps with time, if you address your past mistakes, you’ll become a respected citizen again,” Princess Peach assured.
“Fat chance,” Mario responded coldly.
The mustachioed Italian abandoned the conversation and entered his plumbing van. Frustrated, Princess Peach prepared to re-enter her castle. Before leaving, Mario called out to her.
“Should anything happen to you in the future, don’t come cryingto me! I’m done playing hero for your shitty kingdom!”
“I won’t lose sleep. I’ve already found a much more appreciative replacement.”
“Oh, yeah?” Mario sneered. “Who’d you dig up? Donkey Kong?”
Princess Peach pointed to the roof of the castle. Mario glanced upward and saw the dimly-lit silhouette of a radical hedgehog.
“No!” Mario screamed in horror. “NOOOO!”
He proceeded to peel out of the castle grounds, his eyes overflowing with tears.
Back in their apartment, Luigi and Toad were seated on the couch. Toad was munching down his fourth slice of shroom-covered pizza. Luigi was far too paranoid to join in on the drug-related shenanigans.
“I think we should call somebody,” Luigi said aloud, his voice filled with anxiety.
“I don’t think that’s necessary, man,” Toad replied, stoned to oblivion. “You should calm down and have a slice.”
“Calm down?! He hasn’t been back in hours!”
“Luigi, you’re at like a ten, and I’m at a one-point-five at best. You need to get on my level, baby.”
Suddenly, there was a knock at the front entrance of the apartment. Luigi shot up from the couch and rushed to answer the door. He was surprised to see Bowser on the other side.
“Good evening,” Bowser said politely. “May I come in? I have some news regarding Mario.”
Though hesitant, Luigi stepped aside. Upon seeing Bowser, Toad offered a friendly wave.
“King Koopa in da hooooouuuseee!” he gleefully expressed.
“Yes, thank you for acknowledging my presence,” Bowser replied awkwardly before turning his attention to Luigi. “Your brother visited my presentation earlier this afternoon. He wanted me to kidnap the princess.”
“I figured,” Luigi sighed. “Do you know where he is now? Is he safe? Oh God, you didn’t eat him, did you?!”
“No, I don’t know, and absolutely not. Are you feeling okay?”
“He’s sober,” Toad interjected. “Hasn’t had a slice yet. I’ve had four!”
Bowser looked down at the nearby table to see the shroom-covered pizza.
“I see. Narcotics and pizza make for an interesting combination.”
There was an awkward silence as Bowser searched for the right words.
“Despite our history, I’m worried about your brother, Luigi. He’s not thinking straight.”
Suddenly, Bowser’s cell phone began to ring. Upon examining it, his eyes widened.
“What? What is it?” Luigi pressed.
“It’s the princess. Earlier today, I emailed her about Mario’s intent to stage a kidnapping. She says he visited her a few moments ago and made quite a scene at the castle.”
“Woah, Bowser!” Toad exclaimed. “Are you besties with the princess now?”
“Negative,” Bowser sighed. “She’s offered her support on my journey towards redemption. But we’re hardly friends.”
“Bowser, what kind of a scene did my brother make?” Luigi asked.
“He drove through some barricades and made a mess of the landscaping before taking off in a state of emotional distress.”
Exhausted, Luigi collapsed onto the couch.
“See, this is why we need to be high twenty-four-seven,” Toad expressed passionately. “I guarantee this shit never would’ve happened had Mario been day-tripping. Sobriety is the enemy.”
“Have you tried calling your brother?” Bowser asked Luigi.
“Yeah, but he won’t answer.”
“Do you know where he might be headed next?”
After some time, Luigi nodded.
“I gotta hunch.”
“Let’s hope so,” Bowser replied. “Come along. We can take my car.”
Luigi and Bowser quickly exited the apartment. Toad followed slowly behind, with the box of shroom-covered pizza in hand.
It was now midnight. Mario’s plumbing van was parked alongside a pathway leading into World 1-1. Located just outside New Donk City, this long-forgotten slice of commemorative land served an eerie presence.
Mario had been eyeing the grassy meadows from within his vehicle for the past several hours. After taking a deep breath, the distraught Italian plumber slowly exited his van. He proceeded to walk forward while carefully monitoring his steps. Eventually, he came across a bottomless pit.
Despite finally realizing the error of his ways, Mario wasn’t keen on facing the daunting road towards redemption. Instead, he wanted to take the easy way out. All he had to do was step forward, and his problems would be over.
“Here we go,” Mario whispered.
Before he could leap into the bottomless pit, a familiar voice caught him off guard.
“Hell of a way to go out,” the voice joked.
Mario turned to see his younger brother Luigi standing before him.
Alongside the road leading to World 1-1 was Bowser’s 1981 Honda Civic. Inside the vehicle, a sober Bowser sat awkwardly next to Toad, who was still riding high off the shroom-covered pizza. The pair opted to stay behind while Luigi faced his brother.
“Okay, so, what’s your deal, man?” Toad asked in a stoned cadence. “Like, are you a turtle or a dragon? I don’t mean to sound aggressive; I’m just captivated by your presence.”
“Thank you,” Bowser answered bashfully. “I’m a turtle-dragon hybrid. Eighty-five percent turtle, fifteen percent dragon.”
“What about you? What species encompasses your DNA?”
“I’m a mushroom-headed humanoid.”
The duo smiled. Suddenly, Bowser’s stomach began to rumble.
“Oh shit,” Toad exclaimed. “Are you hungry, man? I’ve got pizza. How are you with magic mushrooms?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve never partaken in hallucinogens.”
“Eh, don’t worry about it. What grows from the ground is good for the mind.”
Toad handed Bowser a slice of shroom-covered pizza. Bowser engulfed it in a matter of seconds. Afterward, he wiped his mouth and turned to face Toad.
“Toad, you’re a kind soul, and I regret harming you and your friends in the past. Should you ever be willing to forgive me for all that I have done, perhaps we can be comrades someday.”
“Bowser, we are comrades,” Toad said reassuringly with a smile. “I forgive you.”
Bowser became overwhelmed with emotion. Though some had offered him forgiveness during his long journey towards redemption, no one had ever offered their friendship. Toad was the first.
“Thank you,” he wept.
Back near the bottomless pit, Mario addressed his younger brother.
“How’d you know I’d be here?”
“You’ve got a lot of history with this place,” Luigi replied knowingly.
“That’s an understatement,” Mario quipped. “How’d you get here?”
“Bowser. He stopped by the apartment and gave us a rundown of what you’ve been up to these last few hours.”
Mario nodded. His eyes shifted towards the bottomless pit.
“It’s over for me, Luigi. There’s no use in trying to deny it.”
Luigi shook his head disapprovingly.
“Why’d you steal from the Mushroom Kingdom?”
“I felt unappreciated,” Mario admitted. “I was angry. So, I pocketed a few coins and went on my way.”
“A few,” Luigi chuckled. “Good one.”
“It was never about the dough,” Mario stressed. “No matter how much I took, it didn’t solve anything. But I felt like I was owed something, so I kept it up. Had I expressed myself to Peach, I wouldn’t be here. But it’s too late for that.”
“So what now? You jump down a hole and die with your mistakes? What about us?”
“What about us? You don’t want me in your life. I’m a burden to you and Toad. When I’m gone, you’ll be free from all the harassment. Your lives can go back to normal!”
The two brothers fell silent. Mario dropped to his knees and peered over the edge of the bottomless pit.
“I can’t keep going on like this. No one’s ever gonna give me a second chance. And I don’t deserve one.”
“Look, life ain’t easy right now,” Luigi said softly. “But no matter how bad it gets, I’m never gonna leave your corner. Ever.All I ask is that you start taking accountability for your past mistakes.”
“How does Bowser do it? So many people hate his guts, and yet he insists on addressing his fuck-ups head-on. He should realize it’s a losing battle.”
“Maybe he does. But maybe there’s a larger part of him that simply wants to be better. Maybe that’s enough.”
Mario didn’t reply. He kept his eyes focused on the bottomless pit.
“People won’t forgive you overnight,” Luigi continued. “Some may never forgive you. But you owe it to yourself to at least try. If not for yourself, do it for the people who still love you. We want you here. I want you here.”
While seated on the ground, Mario looked up to see Luigi standing over him. His younger brother’s hand was extended forward for him to grab. Mario glanced back down at the bottomless pit. Though hesitant, he eventually took Luigi’s hand, and the brothers embraced.
“You feel like going home?” Luigi asked.
“Sure,” Mario replied as he wiped away tears. “Let’s-a go.”
Torrey Kurtzner is an out-of-work writer and master of self-deprecation. Against the better judgment of his peers, he’s determined to pursue a career within the creative arts, even if it kills him. He’s on Twitter @YabbaDabbZoinks