Bunhead - Short Fiction
Updated: Oct 10, 2021
I was once the most famous icon in fast food, now I’m climbing out of a dumpster for my big comeback, my meat flesh rejuvenated despite the maggots, flies, and atrocious stench. Moments ago I was nothing but a memory lingering on a foul breeze. But then I saw him, and my hatred somehow brought me back to life.
I peer through the restaurant window at him. The new mascot. The bastard. Why did they choose him? A fat old man with a grey beard and a red and white suit. Carrying a sack of presents, bribing the children. Why is it okay for him to pander to the children? After thirty years, I got fired and erased from pop culture because people claimed I was marketing to kids. I mean, of course I was appealing to the kids; that’s what kept me alive. I lived for those smiling faces at birthday parties, their mouths overflowing with burgers and fries. There was something magical about those days. All these years I’ve thought about getting one more chance to prove myself to the youth. One more opportunity to show the children that fast food magic can still exist.
Snowflakes trickle from the December sky as I slop across the parking lot, flies buzzing around my flesh. The building is missing its bright, fun colors. The muted greys look modern, like a doctor’s office. Preparing the kids early for a mundane world instead of entrancing them with the wonders of childhood. I was the face of this place for thirty years, helped build this fast food empire, and now I don’t even recognize it. I see myself in the reflection of the glass and I barely even recognize myself. I look like I spent an hour in the microwave. As I enter the restaurant, chunks of my hand stick to the door handle. My burger-bun head shifts a bit, all the fixings dripping out of my jaw, leaving a trail of ketchup and mustard behind me. I’m still wearing my rotting white, red, and yellow basketball jersey, shorts, and sneakers with high white socks. See, I was trying to inspire kids to be healthy through physical exercise. It wasn’t my fault their parents let them get fat and lazy. It wasn’t my fault the restaurant’s food was horrible for their health.
I enter the building, which is playing some obnoxious music I don’t recognize. I hear the sound of children, but the thing that gives me strength—their laughter—is missing. Perhaps, if I can recapture it, their laughter might lead to my big comeback. I try to look around but my pickle eyes are slipping down my face. I readjust them with my beefy fingers. I see the kids swarming around this new mascot. I feel the ketchup boiling in my veins.
My shins buckle, meat sliding across the floor, but I correct myself and keep walking. I hear a scream, some hushed chatter amongst the children as they all notice me. Someone drops a giant plastic cup and cola and ice scatter everywhere across the floor. I lurch past the counter, my onion teeth chattering, trying to speak, trying to tell them not to be scared… but all that comes out is garbled nonsense.
I come face to face with the new mascot, the man in the big red suit with the obviously fake beard. I get an idea. I know what is always entertaining, a little bit of playful violence. My all-beef hands slip around the new mascot’s throat. He struggles, but he’s old and I’m angry that he stole my job. Soon his head rips from his shoulders, a fountain of blood spraying everywhere, coating a small boy and his twenty-piece nuggets in human ketchup.
The fat mascot’s body drops to the floor. Finally, I retake my place as the rightful mascot of this establishment. I look towards the children who are staring at me with terrified faces. I need to really drive this gag home, make them understand why I’m cool. I remember I’m a basketball player, so I spin the old man’s head in my hands, take a step forward, and jump-shot his noggin into the trash. Swish. I turn towards the kids and smile with outstretched arms and take a bow.
I just want the children to laugh again, I’ll settle for a few giggles. But it’s only screams and chaos. I frown, and my tomato tongue slithers out and slops to the floor. I slide into a booth as everyone flees the building in a panic.
“Well, I’ll be good Goddamned, is that old Bunhead?” I hear a familiar voice from the past and see Aretha approaching. I haven’t seen her since the glory days when she was the Shift Manager and I was on top of the world, signing autographs in Playland. She’s older now, grey, her dark skin sags off her bones, but she still moves swiftly, full of wit and swagger, glasses hanging off her nose. She’s wearing a Store Manager name tag. She steps carefully over some pools of blood and ice and sits down across from me in the booth.
I hear sirens approaching in the distance as she lights up two cigarettes and hands me one. I try to smoke but my fingers crumble like taco meat and the cigarette drops to the table. She puffs and looks me over with her bright green eyes.
“Jesus Christ,” she whispers to herself and shakes her head.
I try to speak, “Just want them to laugh—” but my onion teeth spill onto my lap, and all that comes out after that is a weak hiss. But somehow Aretha sees the pain and confusion in my eyes.
“Ah, you’re better off anyway, Bun,” she says, takes a drag, and casually looks out the window at the stream of cop cars swarming outside. The hysterical people in the parking lot, pointing at us in the booth. “Things changed. Kids nowadays, they already got everything. A burger, fries, and a little toy can’t compete with an iPhone and a Playstation. Spoiled little shits.”
I feel one of my pickles slip and hear it slap on the table. I can barely see now out of my one eye.
"Jesus, Bun, you look like shit,” she says and takes another, longer drag. “Ah, I hate to say it, but maybe our time’s up. Kids don’t need entertainment from fast food anymore. Maybe we should just accept it and bow out gracefully.” Aretha stubs out her cigarette on the table and slides out of the booth. She looks at me sincerely for a moment. “But it was good to see ya, Bun,” she says and heads for the back. She doesn’t want to be here when the cops enter.
I try to get off the seat but collapse. Grease seeps out of my pores and slicks the floor, so I can’t get to my feet. I hear the door chime and the boots stomp across the tile. I hear confusion, disbelief, and fear as the officers look at this horror show.
I raise what’s left of my bunhead, trying to speak. “Just—want—them to laugh–”
They open fire and a moment later I’m a sloppy joe spread across the restaurant floor and all the magic is officially gone.
Artwork by Martin Trafford