Mario's Existential Nightmare
by: Jason Tandro
World 1-1: Inversion
The alarm rings with a familiar and shrill electronic whine. The red digits spell out the time, and the world around them slowly comes into focus. Then moments later the world is a blur again and Mario is hunched over the edge of his bed, expelling the memories of the previous night in a decidedly physical form.
He wipes his mouth and drags himself to the small bathroom around the corner from his room. The florescent bulb flickers on with an irritating buzz. He took a small moment to thank his slum lord for the water – the only free thing in the entire city – and turned on the spicket. A small lukewarm stream bubbled out just enough to get Mario's hands slightly damp before it cut out. He'd forgotten they were working on the water main this morning. He used what little was there to clean his mouth before taking a bit of hair of the dog and polishing it off with some mouthwash.
He took down the medicine cabinet and saw with a bit of comfort the small ziplock baggie sitting in the roughly carved hole. There were still a few left. He shoved the cabinet back in place and started to piece himself back together. Red collar shirt, denim overalls, work gloves that used to be white but were now stained an unattractive and altogether indescribable color. And of course, the red baseball cap with the logo for his homegrown plumbing company.
He looked at himself in the mirror one last time. With a bitter mockery of the tagline for his first television commerical, back when he still had dreams, he said with arms outstretched.
"It's-a me, Mario!"
"Mario Brothers Plumbing, how can I help you?"
Daisy's cheery voice was the honey to Mario's vinegar. She got them customers, and he fixed their problems. Occasionally he was helped by his little brother, Luigi. The kid was a bit of a screw up, but his heart was in the right place.
Daisy ended her call and turned to Mario. "Didn't have time to shave today, Mr. Saltare?"
Mario cringed slightly, but replied simply without facing her. "Water main broke. I'm gonna use the john."
He shut himself in to the small employee bathroom and set to work finishing the morning's futile labor. He shaved away most of his five o'clock shadow with a straight razor, though it wasn't his best work – it was a dry shave after all. He took another gargle of mouthwash and straightened his brown hair. It wasn't great, and he thought he saw a grey hair but it would all look okay under the cap anyways.
When he stepped out he saw his brother, clean-shaven except for the trademark Saltare mustache. He was young, lean and by the way he was drowning in Daisy's lips still quite good-looking.
"Morning, Mario," Luigi said, with a nervous sort of smile.
"Hmmm," Mario grunted in greeting. "We got one, Daisy?"
Daisy nodded. "Snake-job for a Mr. Kirby. He's on Avenue A."
"What the guy can't figure out how to use a damned plunger," Mario groaned. "Half my customers are idiots, and the other half are rich idiots."
"Well they keep us in business, bro. You want me to take it?" Luigi asked.
Mario knew Luigi was trying to be helpful and he decided he may as well let the kid do some work.
"Yeah, you take it, I'll wait for the next one," Mario said. He tossed Luigi the keys to their service van. "And pick me up a coffee on the way back."
"Sure thing!" Luigi said, before heading out the side door into the garage.
Daisy sat at her desk, fiddling with a small wind-up tinker toy shaped like a bomb – a novelty gift from some vendor who sold drain cleaner. The clock ticked away. The sound of the industrial AC whirred noisily. The world was so god damned loud.
"I'm going into the office," Mario said. "Let me know when Luigi gets back, would ya?"
"Sure thing, boss," Daisy said with a nod.
The office was little more than a closet with a desk in it. There was still a shelf overhead but the rack had been removed. Mario could fit in it and maybe one other person, if they hunched over slightly. It didn't matter. Mario was the only one ever in here and the small space suited him well enough.
He pulled out the baggie and reached inside, grabbing the small foul looking fungi. A simple morning, things would be better sooner. He leaned back in his chair and waited for reality to fade.
Mario awoke on a patch of soft green grass, his head still leaning against the green warp pipe he'd fell asleep next to.
"Hey, Mario!" Luigi shouted as he ran over towards him. "What are you doing sleeping out here on such a nice day?"
Mario looked around. It was a nice day. Blue skies, puffy white clouds. The sun shining brightly on the Mushroom Kingdom. He saw his house up ahead. Of course it was his house. He and Luigi shared it, a small brick structure with a modest yard; though Luigi often said that the entirety of the Donut Plains were their backyard.
"I don't remember coming out here," Mario said honestly, taking off his bright red cap and scratching his head slightly.
"You just need something to eat, come here and let me put some lunch on, eh Mario?" Luigi laughed, patting his brother on the back. "Better yet, let's go to Toad's Place. He'll get you fixed right up."
A sudden flash of memories coursed through Mario's head. Toad, a small squat mushroom person with a bright white and red stalk for a head. He wore a blue vest and puffy white pants, often obscured by his chef's apron. While there were many like him in the world, Toad was special. He was a good friend of the Mario brothers. But why was all this coming back to him now? Why was he recalling things that he'd known his entire life? It was as if something was siphoning away his memories; or perhaps pulling them out of his mind only to let go and have them bounce back into place.
His head started to hurt again and he wondered if he hadn't gone to sleep of his own accord. They walked down the path of the Donut Plains towards the unimaginatively named Toadville. It was named not for their friend Toad, but rather one of his forebears, the adventurer Captain Toad who settled the wilds beyond the Toadstool Castle. In his time he had called the land "Dinosaur Land", named for the unique reptilian inhabitants of the land. With the settling of the land by the royal family in those days, it had all become part of the Mushroom Kingdom. Donut Plains was at the southern-most tip of the kingdom, and it was where Mario and Luigi had enjoyed a fair degree of peace and quiet in these turbulent times.
"Did you hear?" Asked one of the diner patrons as the brothers walked in. "They say Bowser has declared war on the Mushroom Kingdom."
"I wonder what Princess Peach is gonna do about it?" Asked another. "I heard Bowser lives far to the north of the kingdom across the Dark Sea. How will he even get here."
"Well," said Toad, always in the know. "If you believe the rumors, Bowser supposedly has a huge fleet of ships that can fly on the air."
"Oh nonsense," The first patron scoffed "Ships that float on water, sure, but flying machines?"
"Well, it's just a rumor," Toad shrugged. He turned to the brothers, finally noticing them. "Mario! Luigi! Take a seat anywhere you like I'll be right with you! Just the usual today?"
"You betcha, Toad!" Luigi called cheerily.
The two sat down at a booth and within moments Toad was bringing out two large plates of spaghetti and garlic bread with some chopped mushrooms and meatballs. The plate smelled heavenly and Mario only just realized now how hungry he was.
"You're a master chef, Toad!" Luigi gave him a thumbs up as he reached for his fork.
Luigi then gave Mario a nod. It took him a second to realize he was waiting for him to pull out payment. Mario reached into his overalls and pulled out several gold coins and handed ten of them to Toad. This was their ritual for lunch, almost every other day they were in here. Koopa Coins. He'd forgotten everything about them. The gold coins, mined by the tribe of Koopa and used as currency for... why? Why was everything he'd ever known slipping away from him.
"Mario? Are you alright?" Luigi asked.
"I don't... I don't feel so..."
"Mario!" Luigi smacked Mario's face lightly. He looked down and saw the coffee in front of him in a small plastic cup, and beside it was their meal, each of them were eating a modest grilled cheese sandwich.
"Hey, Mario, if you're gonna puke it up, at least do it outside, or you might hurt my feelings," Toad laughed.
Mario turned to see Toad, the balding old fat chef wearing an apron. He clearly didn't bother to shave this morning either, at least properly. There was a bit of an edge to him sure, like everybody who grew up in the city, but Toad was a good guy. One of Mario and Luigi's oldest – and only – friends.
"How did we get here?" Mario asked, looking around the dive that could only be charitably described as a diner. Smoke hung in the air, the sound of a jukebox and the sights of neon lighting assaulted Mario's senses.
"You... said you wanted to go to Toad's place. You seemed kind of out of it, thought you were hungry or something," Luigi said. "Hey, you need to see a doctor or something?"
Mario shook his head as the world began to right itself. This was what he remembered, every waking moment of it. "Uh... yeah. I mean no, no, I'm fine. Just one of those mornings I guess."
A sudden moment of panic overtook Mario.
"You came into the office?" Mario asked.
Luigi shook his head. "No, you were hanging out front with daisy. You seemed in really good mood at the time. Mario, you're scaring me here."
"I didn't sleep good, I think I've just been... sort of fading in and out you know," Mario knew it was a weak excuse. He began to panic then for something else entirely, but a quick search of his overalls pockets abated his fears. His grubby hands met the plastic wrap. All was right with the world for now.
"We can take our meal to go, let's get back to the shop, alright bro?" Luigi said, standing up and putting their sandwiches in a box that Toad had brought over sometime in the eternity between the last words he had spoken. Mario stood up and looked over his shoulder.
There was a piece of garlic bread sitting on the edge of his plate.
"Luigi, did you forget some texas toast or something?" Mario asked.
Luigi walked back over to the plate. He looked down at the garlic bread and then back to Mario. There was a strange expression on his face. An unreadable mask between confusion and annoyance.
"Let's go back to shop, Mario. Don't worry about it," he said, walking past his brother.
Mario stood for a moment but eventually he turned and followed Luigi.
"Yeah Bowser Airlines," came the voice of some drunken patron. "Everybody knows some mob boss runs that shit show."
"You really wanna run your mouth?" Asked another in a borderline threatening tone. "This is a bad city to say stupid shit in."
Flying machines, Mario thought for a moment. He turned back to the table and the garlic bread was gone.