I’ve had this idea for a short story for a while, and I’m just going to pound out the rough draft right here. Here goes.
Perry the Pecan Panda was really Mike the Part-Time Employee. He had taken the job as the Peppy Pecans mascot after being laid off from his position at the Ice Cream Palace. According to his former manager, Mike didn’t have what it took to make their mascot, Izzy the Ice Cream Sandwich, “sexy.” He was to be replaced by the manager’s new girlfriend, Layna. Layna had previously worked as Sassy Strawberry Swirl, Cotton Candy Cate, and the controversial Fuckable Fig Fairy. She had a reputation for obtaining repeat customers.
Mike had to jump through a lot of hoops to land the Pecan Panda gig. His sister-in-law knew the cashier, and after putting in a good word for him, Mike had to undergo an initial interview, an audition, a callback, another interview, and a background check. After 2 months of preparation, he was in; presumably because no else was willing to put in so much time for a minimum wage job.
Peppy Pecans was situated in Manic Mountain, a mainstream amusement park known for its insanely high roller coasters. The pecan stand was actually located right across from the entrance to the most talked-about ride, The Grave Digger. A coffin-shaped car drags riders up 32 stories and drops them at a 95 degree angle, twisting around the track at 80 miles per hour. Critics call the ride unsafe, as it uses minimal restraints to give thrill seekers the extra edge, but the park claims there have yet to be any accidents.
Mike took one last drag off his cigarette before stamping it into the pavement. He entered the back of the Peppy Pecans shack and flicked on the lights. A saggy plush panda suit hung from a strained coat hook on the wall. Made of heavy foam rubber and copious amounts of fake fur, the thing weighed a good 40 lbs, with the giant head weighing another 6 or 7 lbs. This costume made a mockery of antiperspirant, so Mike never bothered to apply any.
After wrestling on the bulky costume, he attempted to zip up the back, knowing that it was futile. Vernon, the overlord of Peppy Pecans, had specifically had the costume tailored so that it was virtually impossible to get on and off unaided. He didn’t want people taking breaks before their shift was over, thus trapping the wearer in the suit for 5 and half hours. Same went for the head; once slid on, it was hooked onto the back of the suit, with fasteners so small even a second person often had trouble with it.
“Hey Mike,” Staci appeared from around the corner. She already had her cashier’s uniform and visor on. Mike noticed that the bands in her braces matched the uniform’s colors. He thought about asking her if she did that on purpose, but his introverted nature took over, and he just nodded and mumbled some form of greeting. She walked up behind him and started zipping up the back of his costume.
“Vernon’s not coming in today,” she mentioned as she fought with the zipper. “Something about his basement being flooded. He called and left a message like an hour ago.”
“Huh,” Mike said. Vernon was more likely to murder a small family before missing a day of work. The basement thing sounded like an excuse for something else.
Staci finally worked the zipper all the way up. “Okay, let’s get the head on.”
Mike maneuvered into the panda’s noggin, and adjusted it the best he could to line up the eye holes. He felt Staci struggle with the hooks in the back, cursing each time the clasp slipped out of her fingers.
“Shit! I hate this stupid thing.” Suddenly he felt her hands on his shoulders. “Dude, let’s just skip connecting the head today. Vernon’s not here, so who cares?”
Mike turned around to face her. He smiled, but then sheepishly remembered that she couldn’t see his face. Staci reached up and squeezed his panda nose. Being shy and notoriously oblivious, he wasn’t sure if she was flirting with him or just being friendly. He froze like a deer in headlights.
There they were, two twenty-somethings sharing a moment in a nut shack. Perry the Pecan Panda and Staci the Cute Girl Mike Thought About All Summer. She still had her hand resting on Mike’s panda arm, as he stood there trying to muster up something to say. Sweat dripped down his back. Staci tilted her head and gave him a coy little smile. She opened her mouth to say something. Mike’s heart pounded nervously.
An electronic alarm sounded. Staci rolled her eyes. The moment was broken. Time to work. Even with Vernon physically absent, he had annoying reminders in place to run a tight ship.
They started to their stations. Just as Mike was about to start his patrol, Staci grabbed his paw. He turned toward her. “Go get ’em, Perry,” She winked and slid on a pair of sunglasses. Mike saw the reflection of the chubby panda in her shades. He gave her a thumbs-up.
Grinning like he’d just won a million dollars, he waddled along his assigned path, flailing his arms to direct people to Peppy Pecans.
Not fifteen minutes into his shift, he saw Vernon storming towards him. He was a short, ill-tempered man with a thick Indian accent. His fake tan made him look like an orange leprechaun.
“Where is your nut sack?!” Vernon was in a rage.
“Oh! Um…” Mike had forgotten to grab the sample of pecans to pass out to visitors. It was a fairly new concept that Vernon’s wife had pushed on him to try; Vernon had been resistant to give out free product, but caved when his wife started squawking at him in front of customers.
Mike started to head back to the nut shack when Vernon grabbed his arm. He cocked his head. “Why is your head so wobbly? Did Susie forget to fasten it?” He whirled Mike around and hastily connected the head to the body. “Goddamn kids so fuckeen lazy! Had to break Susie’s fuckeen sunglasses! How many times do I tell her ‘No sunglasses! We no club!’ Fuckeen ridiculous!”
He spun Mike back around and poked his finger in his chest. “I take one day off and find you with a wobbly head and no nuts! What is the matter with you? I coming back in two hour to check on you! Now go get your nuts! No break today!!”
Back at the nut shack, Mike found Staci swamped at the register. He reached behind the counter and fished out a bag of salted pecans. Doing a little dance, he scored smiles from waiting customers and passed out samples. He caught Staci smiling at him at one point, which gave him confidence to try out a new dance move.
Break dancing was a personal hobby of Mike’s, and he had perfected several moves as Izzy the Ice Cream Sandwich back at the Ice Cream Palace. He had been hesitant to try them as Perry the Pecan Panda, as this costume was a good 30 pounds heavier than he was used to.
He started out doing the Moon Walk to grab people’s attention and get them cheering. He then transitioned to the Robot. Then the Arm Wave. A small crowd had gathered, clapping and laughing.
Finally, he got into position for the Worm. Down on his stomach, he could barely feel the hardness of the ground through all the thick padding in the panda’s belly. He kicked his feet up. He kicked again. Using all his strength, he kicked hard and tensed his abs. Nothing. The suit was too heavy. He looked like a fish flopping around on land. A different kind of laughter came from the crowd. Mocking laughter. Mike struggled to see if Staci was watching, but couldn’t move his big panda head in her direction.
He tried to stand, but realized he didn’t have enough leverage to hoist himself up. Struggling to push himself from the ground, the laughter continued. A small boy ran up and kicked him in the side. Someone threw nuts at him. “Pecan Perry pecan’t get up!” More laughter.
Finally, an elderly man helped Mike up. Even he was trying hard to contain his laughter. Mike glanced over at Staci, but she was busy talking to someone. He squinted through his panda eye holes. It was her ex-boyfriend, Evan. Mike sighed, and went back to his route, pride bruised, spirit crushed.
Time crawled by. Mike had meandered around his assigned path, drawing unwanted attention from visitors who had heard about his performance. He knew this job required a sense of humor, but it was a particularly hot day, and his patience was shot.
Realizing he was out of nuts, he started to head back towards the nut shack. it was nearly in sight when he heard a scream. Looking around, he saw people pointing up at the Grave Digger coaster. Mike craned his neck and saw someone dangling from the track a good 10 stories up coming down the first hill.
Mike scanned the area to see if anyone was rushing to the victim’s aid. No one moved; families just stared up in horror. “Call for help!” he yelled. It came out very muffled, and got no response. “Hey!” He glanced up again. The victim was clinging on for dear life, legs flailing wildly. He realized no one else was going to act, so he ran up to the woman closest to him and frantically tried to get her to help him out of his costume.
“Help me out of my suit!” He exclaimed, motioning to the back zipper. The woman stared at him, completely confused. “Help me! There’s a zipper in the back! Unzip me!” She finally seemed to understand what he was asking and attempted to free him from his panda prison.
Mike stared helplessly up at the victim hanging and crying for help as the woman tugged and pulled at the stubborn back zipper.
“Oh fuck it!” Mike tore away from the frustrated woman and ran towards the coaster. He pushed past the people in line, knocking down teenagers and spilling drinks on feet. As he approached the ride operator at the gate, he pointed up at the person hanging from the rail. The operator cursed and started dialing on his phone. Mike squeezed past him and finally reached the foot of the coaster. He squinted upwards towards the screams, hesitated for a moment, then started climbing.
Adrenaline gave Mike a healthy boost, and he hardly noticed the first 10 feet of climbing. His paws had individual fingers and rubber padding, so he was able to get a decent grip on the coaster’s beams. About 2 stories up, he started to feel the gravity of the panda suit. His bulbous head bumped a crossbeam more than once, jarring him and causing him to lose confidence in his foothold. The victim’s cries pushed him on.
When Mike was around 7 stories up, he began to wonder if he had made a huge mistake. His limbs were rubbery. Sweat blurred his already poor vision. He blinked hard and glanced up. The victim was a young boy. “Please! Help me!”
Mike gritted his teeth and continued climbing. Each grasp was unsure, every step upwards burned fiercely in his calves. He began to feel light-headed.
Finally, he was close enough to reach the kid. “Grab on to me!” He hoarsely rasped. The boy didn’t appear to understand him, and continued crying. Mike cleared his throat and yelled,”Grab on to my costume!!”
Slowly, the boy shakily reached out with one hand, then brought it back to the rail. “I ca-a-an’t!”
Mike adjusted his footing on a slanted beam. Fortunately, his small eye holes did not permit him the ability to look down, because if he had, he probably would have shit his pants.
“You can do it, kid. Just grab on!” He reached out his paw.
The boy sniffled and reached out to Mike. He grabbed onto the shoulder of his costume, and Mike hugged him to his torso.
“Listen,” he huffed,”I need both hands to climb down. I need to you to hold on to me as tight as you can, okay?”
“Okay,” the boy sobbed. Mike took a deep breath and started down.
Mike’s hopes that the climb down would be easier were soon dashed. The added weight of the child increased the rubbery feeling in his limbs, and it was difficult to see where he was stepping. More than once he slipped and caught himself, increasing his lightheadedness and the boy’s whimpering. He had no idea how far away he was from the ground. He was beginning to feel a sense overwhelming dread creep in. He knew he couldn’t make it. He barely made it to the child, and he had a feeling that he hadn’t even climbed down halfway.
He thought he heard chanting. His paw slipped from its grip and he caught himself. The chanting stopped for a moment and he heard a collective gasp. He continued downwards and heard the chanting become more clear.
“Per-ry! Per-ry! Per-ry!”
They were chanting for him. A crowd of people down below were chanting for Perry the Pecan Panda.
Mike was filled with hope once again. He took a deep breath and slowly climbed, foot after foot, gripping each bar tightly before moving down. He was doing it. He was going to save this kid. No one had asked him to, he just did it.
“Per-ry! Per-ry! Per-ry!”
His mouth felt like cotton. Sweat drenched every part of his body. He felt like he was outside his body, his arms and legs numb.
It was Staci. He heard her. She was watching. He felt a weak smile break across his face. She cared.
Then Mike’s leg cramped.
His entire calf stiffened and he lost his footing. His weak grasp broke away from the steel beam. He was falling backwards.
Panic briefly clenched Mike’s mind. Then he hit the ground.
He waited for pain. He waited for darkness. He felt nothing. A few beats later, he realized that he had been closer to the ground than he had realized. They had only fallen maybe 5 feet. The padded suit acted like a safety mat.
“Daddy!” The kid pushed off of him and ran towards the crowd, which had fallen silent when he slipped. A few moments later, they burst into applause and cheering.
“He did it!”
“He saved the kid!”
“Perry’s a hero!”
People rushed around him, faces flush with excitement. Mike was too exhausted to move.
“Are you okay, son?”
“Someone call an ambulance!”
Staci pushed her way through the crowd and knelt down at his side.
“Mike, that was amazing! I can’t believe you climbed up there! And in the fucking panda suit!”
Mike chuckled inaudibly and right before passing out, uttered,”Let Vernon know that I found my nuts.”