“Lea-Lea!! Time to wake up!”
Aleah rubbed her eyes, realizing it was 5:00AM.
“Ugh, Andrew!!” She yelled. “Not this again!!” She buried herself back under the covers.
“Wake up!!” He pulled them off of her.
“Stop it!! I don’t have work until 8:30!” She shouted.
“Don’t care, it’s time to get out of bed!!”
She groaned, before slipping out of bed, and leaving the room. She went to the bathroom to take a shower.
When she was done, she got dressed, and left the apartment.
As she walked, she noticed a building that wasn’t there before. It had safety tape blocking the entrances, as if it was recently built. On a tall sign read Happy’s Humble Burger Barn , written in red neon lights.
She thought for a moment. Maybe it’ll open later on. She could go there for her lunch break. She was incredibly hungry.
She stopped walking, realizing that she was in front of the restaurant. Curious, she peeked through the windows.
There were statues of various animals on each entrance; a cow with a blonde bob on top of its head, a pig in a t-shirt and a baseball cap, a chicken with sunglasses, a salmon with a weird hat, and a man in a farmer’s outfit.
She leaned forward, trying to sneak a peek at the menu, but it was too far to see. Not wanting to breach the tape, she walked away.
A few hours later, she went back to Happy’s Humble Burger Farm.
She looked at the menu, before looking at the employee. She put some money down.
“Could I have a Happy’s Deluxe?” She asked.
“What else would you want with that?” They asked, and she thought for a moment.
“A soda and a cookie.” She smiled. “I’m not particularly picky about what kind of drink it is.”
They nodded, and she moved to the pickup station.
It took two minutes before she got her bag. She sat down, and started eating.
She looked up, seeing the cow stare back at her.
It must be weird to see people eat burgers if you’re a cow , She thought. Maybe I should comfort he r.
She giggled to herself. She knew the statue couldn’t move, or probably even see.
Once she finished her (admittedly small) lunch, she got up and exited the restaurant, passing the salmon. That exit was the closest to her way back to work.
She saw Andrew standing there, with a smirk on his face, and her heart dropped.
“No no no no no no no no,” She whispered, running into the building, seeing her boss sitting at an empty table. He gestured for her to sit down, so she did.
It felt like an hour, but the conversation they had was only 4 to 10 minutes. She packed her stuff, and left for home.
She slammed her door shut, then proceeded to cry. She curled up on the floor, and didn’t get up.
She woke up when she heard the mail slot open, and something plop on the floor. She stood up, fearfully opening the door, and peeked out.
There was a letter on the floor. She quietly walked towards it, picked it up, and ran back inside her room. She locked the door, and opened the letter.
“Need the money? Come to Happy’s Humble Burger Farm!! We’re hiring only the best to keep our customers HAPPY, so if you think you’ve got what it takes, come on down at these specific dates!! Go on, call us!!”
Her eyes landed on hiring. Maybe she could get something simple, like being a cashier…again.
She heard Andrew enter the apartment, and she hid the letter under her bag. He knocked on the bedroom door.
“Lea-Lea, open up.” He called. “I have a very important meeting tomorrow. I expect you’ll be here before I come back next week, right?”
She unlocked the door, and he came inside. He laid onto the bed, and fell asleep. She changed into her pajamas, and also went to bed.
She watched Andrew leave the parking lot to his father’s business. When he was out of sight, she called the phone number, and set up her interview.
“When do you want to come?”
“Um, now, actually.” She said. “I was…laid off from work yesterday. I really need this job.”
The person on the other end laughed.
“Please, my boyfriend won’t let me leave unless he’s out of town. He’ll be here next week, but I don’t know when. If not now, then how about tomorrow?” Her voice was shaking.
“Alright. I’ll schedule you for tomorrow at 8 o’clock. Be there, okay?”
“Yes, thank you.” She sighed in relief, and then hung up the phone.
She was about to get everything ready, when she heard her phone ringing again. It was Andrew.
She answered it.
“Lea-Lea, how are you doing?”
“Please stop calling me that. Just ask me how I’m doing.” She whimpered.
“Well, I’m assuming you’re lonely,” He chuckled.
“Trust me, I’m perfectly fine.” She said.
“Well, don’t get too lonely. You know what will happen if you do.”
She hung up, and continued to get ready.
The next day, she got up at 7:20AM. She slipped out of bed, dressed in the outfit she planned, and walked outside, letter in hand.
She entered the restaurant, and sat down across from the boss.
She swallowed her fear, and the interview began.
After an hour, she felt a little better. She was told to wait for a few days. She hoped it wasn’t long, she didn’t want Andrew to try and get her fired again.
She could probably just…tell them, right?
“Um, do you mind if I get some lunch? I haven’t eaten yet.”
“You’re still a valued customer, so sure. I’ll get us some Happy’s Deluxes and drinks.” The boss stood up, and left.
She noticed a few workers entering for their shifts. One of them spotted her, and walked over.
“Hey, are you Aleah Sanders? I’m the one who took your call.” They said.
“Um, yeah. What’s your name?” She asked.
“I’m Michelle Davidson. Nice to meet you.” She stuck her hand out, and the two shook on it. “Lucky you, being so close to the restaurant.”
Aleah stood up, and nodded. “Yeah, just a few blocks away from my apartment. Can I ask something?”
“Yup, anything you want!”
“Are you related to Andrew Davidson?” She asked. “I’m…his girlfriend.”
“I don’t talk to him anymore.” She said. “He’s such a pain in the ass. Someone like that should be outcasted, or even beaten up!!”
“That’s kind of violent,” She whimpered.
“It’s true.” She retorted. “That’s why I moved away and decided to work here. I was hired on the spot because they were desperate for more workers. Hopefully they hire you, too. It’s actually pretty fun.”
Aleah smiled, before cupping her face in her hands.
The boss came back with two burgers in his hands. He handed one to her, and she took it.
She unwrapped the tinfoil around it, and sat back down to eat.
On Wednesday, she was ecstatic.
She had gotten the job! She put her work clothes on, and quickly ran downstairs to start her first day at work.
Once she entered, she took a good look at the menu. She took out her notepad, wrote them down, and looked towards the statues.
The salmon’s crooked smile and pose made her chuckle, as if he was waving to her. She walked over and patted its shoulder.
“Wish me luck, buddy.”
The salmon didn’t move.
She thought it was silly to think that talking to it would give her luck, but it did give her a form of comfort.
“Aleah!!” She turned to see Michelle walk up to her. “I see you’re getting acquainted with Sammy.”
“That’s his name?” She asked.
“Yeah, he’s a mean ol’ thing. Full name’s Sammy The Surly Salmon.”
She turned and chuckled. “He just looks really cranky to me. I’m sure there’s something good about him.”
“He’s a part of the Barnyard Buds, so that’s something.” Michelle said. “Anything else, I don’t know. But you can find out for yourself!”
“Okay, so we’re kind of switching roles because of the new hires.” Michelle snapped her fingers. “You’ll be working the grill and oven. Don’t worry, it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. I suggest putting the cookies and hot pies in the oven first before doing anything with the meat.”
Aleah pulled out her notepad and started writing it down.
“There’s three types of patties: Happy’s Deluxe, Poppin’ Pork, and Fantastic Fowl. They’re easy to cook, but sometimes the pork patties jump from the grill once they’re placed on, so use the spatula to keep them still.” She twirled her fingers and pointed to the menu.
“If anyone needs help, they’ll ask you. I'll give you the lightning round for the others. Fries and salmon nuggs aren’t put in the same fryer. You can only fill one soft drink at a time, shakes too. Make sure you get the order right to keep those customers happy. You got it, buddy?”
Aleah showed her the notepad, written with all the notes she gave her, and gave a thumbs up.
“Good!! Now let’s get those fryers running and make those customers happy!!” She gave her a gentle shove towards the kitchen. “Make sure you don’t mess up!! Tyler really REALLY hates it when someone does it. I think it’s because of his previous job.”
She nodded quickly, before putting her notepad away.
An older-looking man was at the grill, staring down into its reflection. He turned to look at her, and she quickly looked away.
“New hire?” She heard, and she turned to face him. She nodded sheepishly. “First day?”
“Y-yeah.” She replied.
He gestured for her to come closer, and she did.
“Don’t make a mistake, okay? If you do, there’s no going back. She’ll chase you around like a lion chasing a gazelle until you feed her what she wants. It’s hard to shake her off, so don’t mess up, okay?”
She nodded. “Michelle told me you didn’t like them, but…”
“But what?” He asked.
“Who…exactly are you talking about?”
He pointed to the cow statue. “See that? That’s Happy. Happy The Humble Heifer.”
“Humble? That doesn’t sound too bad.” She smiled.
“Humble, heroic, it’s all a lie.” He said. “There might’ve been a time where Happy was one of those things, but those times have passed. She’s vile, malicious, cruel. I’ve seen her break her back from the many times she’s tried to kill me. I’ve been forced to feed her countless times after I’ve made a mistake. She’s awful. She wants everyone to be happy and can and will do cheap tactics to make sure of it. None of the foul freaks are friendly. This whole place is a fucking circus act!!”
She tilted her head. By doing this, she accidentally saw a small, square scar embedded in his head.
She decided not to question it.
“So, I guess you haven’t been treated well at your previous job.”
“I’ve worked at this franchise for weeks, and yet I can memorize each and every single pattern they do.” He growled.
She sighed, and went to the cash register.
The older man peeked over her shoulder, possibly to read the orders.
Their first one: Happy’s Deluxe (No pickles), fries, salmon nuggets, hot pie.
Before she could blink, he rushed towards the walk-in freezer, she followed, and saw he had already gotten a Happy’s Deluxe patty. She grabbed a hot pie (or should we call it a cold pie?) and a bag of fries. She threw the pie in, closed it, then poured the bag into the fryer.
The man rushed in and dumped the salmon nuggets in the next fryer. Aleah rushed to prepare the bun.
In her haste, she grabbed some pickles. The man noticed and gently grabbed her arm.
A thousand thoughts rushed through her head, but he simply took the pickles from her hand. He let her go, before throwing them in the trash can. She sighed in relief, and the patty was placed. The top bun was placed, and the man grabbed it, putting it in the bag.
Aleah went to the oven, took out the hot pie, and put it in the bag as well.
Then the two pulled out the baskets and poured the fries and salmon nuggets onto a tray. They put them in small boxes, put them in the bag, and closed it.
Aleah gave the customer the bag, and they left happily.
This continued until Michelle entered the kitchen.
“Can someone help with moving the supply boxes inside?”
The older man gently nudged Aleah, who raised her hand.
She ran over, and the two girls started moving them.
“That was Tyler?!” She asked.
“Yup. Mad, isn’t he?” Michelle put the boxes on the shelf.
“I wouldn’t say mad, I’d say overworked.” She said quietly. “He doesn’t want to make mistakes because he thinks we’d get hurt.”
“You mean “The statue of Happy will come to life and chase you around ‘til your DEAD” mistake?” She asked. “I told you; Crazy!!’ She pointed to her head and spun her finger around.
“I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.” Aleah said. “He’s a great guy, actually.”
“You got me there.” She chuckled.
They put the boxes away, and they continued their work.
A few hours later, Aleah’s shift was over. She was given a big hug by Michelle when she came out from the walk-in freezer.
“You did it!! A perfect first day!!” She laughed. “I had the worst first day when I came here. I’ll have to tell you all about it!!” She stopped hugging her, and started bouncing on her toes. “Told ya you were gonna love it here!!”
Tyler walked over and patted her shoulder. “Good work.”
“Thanks,” She chuckled. “You too. I’ve never seen someone so…fast before. It was cool.”
“It is?” He pointed to himself. She nodded.
“Thank you all so much. I really needed this job. I think I’m gonna like it here.”
Tyler smiled, and patted her head. “I sure hope so.”
And so, after a few weeks, she had gotten used to her new job. She had gotten into the habit of tapping Sammy’s shoulder for good luck, and most of the time she’d pass a day with no problem.
The only thing she had to worry about was Andrew finding out about it.
She wouldn’t leave until she saw the car drive away. When it was out of her sight, she would put on her clothes and walk to work.
Then, she would tap Sammy on the shoulder and say something to him. She would clock in and do her shifts with Tyler and Michelle, and would complete it with time to spare. If she brought money, she would get something for lunch.
She could safely say that this place was her home.
One day, during her shift, she happened to look up. Her heart dropped when her eyes landed on the next customer. Andrew was staring right at her, with that same smirk he always had when he caught her.
Everything that could possibly happen at this point rushed through her head: He’s going to go to the manager and lie about me. He’s going to call me over and tell me to quit. He’s going to yell at me. He’s going to do everything in his power to keep me in that damn apartment.
Tyler tapped her shoulder, and she snapped out of it.
“You should probably take a break. I’ll handle it from here.”
She nodded, and quickly ran outside. She slid to the floor and held back tears.
Michelle came out, and sat next to her. “Everything okay?”
“Why is Andrew here?” She whimpered. “I hid it so well…now he's gonna…”
Michelle patted her shoulder. “I’ll tell the boss about it. How about you do the cleaning after everyone leaves?”
She nodded softly.
Aleah had waited until she was sure Andrew was gone. She left the janitor’s closet with a bucket and a mop, and started cleaning the floors.
She started humming to herself, before going to place a wet floor sign. When she came back, she put in the middle of the room before continuing.
“Lea-Lea, what are you doing?”
She stopped in her tracks, gripping the mop’s handle as if it was the only thing keeping her standing. If she wasn’t, she’d probably fall down due to the slippery floor and Andrew.
He never left.
He tricked her.
“I thought I told you to stay home.” He came closer. “Why are you here?”
“Because you got me fired.” She whispered.
“I did it for your benefit.” He said. “You looked stressed.”
“Because you found out,” She retorted. “You said if I didn’t quit, you’d get them to fire me.”
He smiled. “So, Lea-Lea, let’s see. Do you want to make this harder than it has to be, or are you gonna listen?”
“Please…I like this job.” She whimpered.
“Come on, we both know this isn’t going to work out for you.”
She couldn’t stop shaking. She wanted to call out for Michelle, Tyler, anyone, but if she did, then…
Well, she didn’t need to, because Michelle came out, holding a broom. She walked over to Andrew and poked him in the back with its handle. He looked over, and she did it again, this time in his gut.
“Michy, why would you do that?” He asked.
“Stop with the Michy shit, you know exactly why I did it.” She pointed the edge of the handle to his forehead. “Leave Aleah alone, or I’m callin’ the boss.”
He pouted, and then she smacked his head. “I said, LEAVE!! It’s already closing time, so you shouldn’t be here anyway!”
He rubbed his head, but Michelle raising the broom again made him dash to the entrance—he fell flat on his face, with Sammy right next to him.
He got up, and ran straight towards his car. When he went inside, he slammed the door shut and drove off in a hurry.
Once he was gone, Aleah fell to the floor and let out a loud sob.
“I don’t want to go back, he’s gonna be waiting for me and…”
Michelle gripped her shoulder. “You can stay with me for the meantime. I won’t tell him.”
She looked up, and hugged her.
Andrew stopped the car when he saw the shadow of one of the mascots in his peripheral vision.
He squinted, but he couldn't see any details. He shrugged, and continued driving.
He drove into the apartment’s driveway, and waited. He wanted to catch Aleah walking back home so they could…talk.
That’s right. Talk.
He gripped the steering wheel, waiting for her shadow to start creeping up towards the building, waiting for her to walk up to the building, waiting to honk the horn and see her face when she saw the car…
He was pulled back into reality when he heard something pop. He turned to see someone run off into the nearby alleyway, with a knife shining in their hand.
Against his better judgment, he opened the door to see one of his tires had popped. And in a rage, he followed after the figure—He had just gotten that car two weeks ago!!
He ran, screaming bloody nonsense at the culprit, before stopping to look around. He realized he had gotten lost, and had probably missed Aleah returning home. He grumbled, turning around.
He pulled out his phone, and turned on the flashlight. But before he could start walking, he heard something shuffle behind him.
He slowly turned around, and flashed the flashlight towards the sound.
There was a flash of red, before he dropped to the floor, the phone falling out of his hand.
He tried pushing the figure off of him, but it grabbed his neck, and started punching him.
In turn, Andrew tried kicking them, but it was no use. The figure, now known to be someone in a salmon costume, continued to beat him senseless. He also tried punching him, but he couldn’t feel his arms.
Soon, he was tired of screaming. In fact, he was tired of everything. He started crying, and then everything went black.
“Yeah, he’s been hospitalized.” Michelle put her hands in her coat pocket. “Beaten to a pulp. Poor bastard.” She chuckled.
“That’s kind of harsh…” Aleah whimpered. “I mean, he was beaten within an inch of his life, and just after he left the restaurant…”
Michelle pouted. “I can already think of what he’s gonna say. “Oh Lea-Lea, can we make up? I can barely move, and I want you to help meeeee!!” You know, like a liar when he’s caught.”
She sat up, before turning to see Sammy’s hands covered in something red. She walked over, with the cleaning supplies in her hands.
“Alright buddy, let’s get those hands washed. You gotta stay clean for the customers.” She started scrubbing them, and she swore she heard him laughing. She looked up, but he was still stiff as a statue.
She continued, noticing a small button on his neck. Out of curiosity, she pressed it.
“Listen kid: you better start swimming with the fishes, or you’ll be stuck sleeping with ‘em.”
She chuckled. He really was surly, but she thought it was more endearing than anything. She pressed it again.
“You ever tried sleeping with seaweed for a blanket? Didn’t think so.”
She did it again.
“You escaped from the barn, you can escape this too, buds.”
She really did enjoy listening to him. It was like hearing bits and pieces from cartoons.
“Don’t drown on me kid. Keep swimming!”
She did it one more time.
“You reap what you sow, you city slicker.”
She stopped in her tracks. City slicker? That’s what Andrew would usually call people he didn’t like. She shook it off, thinking it was just a coincidence, and continued washing his hands. When she was done, she tapped his shoulder.
“I hope Andrew doesn’t come back after he heals. I love it here.” She smiled. “I think you wouldn’t like him, either.”
Michelle jumped over the counter, and ran the bell.
“Oh, I gotta go now,” she gently bowed, and ran over to the kitchen.
She never noticed Sammy’s eyes turn to look at her, and his usual grumpy frown curl up into a smile.