“And without further ado, I’d like to get straight to the heart of today’s press conference. Lottie the Fainting Goat is throwing her name into the ring for Jasper City Mayor in this year’s elections!”
That was my cue. I stiffened my limbs inside the heavy goat costume and flopped onto my side to the gathered crowd’s thunderous applause.
Tucker French, the CEO of Thrill Burger, smiled down at me. I winked even though I knew he couldn’t see my expression through the huge foam head. My security detail helped me stand back up.
“Lottie’s been a familiar face around Jasper City for such a long time, she’s practically an institution. Don’t you agree, folks?”
The audience cheered with more enthusiasm than I thought reasonable for a fast food mascot. I’m not sure what I expected to happen, exactly. Maybe some laughter and some good-natured applause. But when Tucker had the caterers wheel out a massive “Lottie for Mayor” cake, the crowd went absolutely wild.
My Lottie training kicked in, and I immediately stiffened up and careened to the floor again. This did nothing to quell the crowd’s enthusiasm. I heard people shouting “Lottie for Mayor!” mixed with “Mayor Peterson sucks!”
My security detail assisted me while the media bombarded us with questions about the announcement. As their questions continued, I began to suspect that they didn’t realize today was April 1st.
“Is Lottie even eligible to run?”
Tucker fielded the questions with bewildered amusement. “Well, she’s been around for 19 years, and you only have to be 18 to run for office.”
“What’s Lottie’s stance on road maintenance?”
Tucker looked at me. I could barely see him through the foam head’s eye holes and through the sweat running down my face. It was hot enough outside but near unbearable in this head. I gave a thumbs up.
“She’s for it, folks!”
And just like that, I was - or rather, Lottie was - officially in the race for Mayor of Jasper City.
When the press conference was finally over, Tucker ushered me back into the Thrill Burger building where I was finally able to take the foam head off.
“Ugh, people do not understand the concept of an April Fool’s joke.” I plopped Lottie’s head on a nearby chair and wiped the sweat from my brow. “When are you going to tell them?”
Something about the sparkle in Tucker’s eye made my stomach twist.
“What if we go with it?” he asked. “We could do this. Lottie could actually beat Mayor Peterson this year.”
“Lottie is a goat mascot. She’s not even a real person!”
“She’s real in the hearts and minds of Jasper City, and that’s enough.”
“I don’t think that’s true from a legal perspective. I guess you could try, but I can’t be in this suit forever.”
“But you’re the best Lottie we’ve ever had, Ella! Please, please do this.”
“It doesn’t feel right.”
Tucker’s eyes lit up. “What if Thrill Burger pays for your college tuition?”
“Are you bribing me?”
I stood in the office, a sweaty mess, and thought about spending the rest of the spring and summer in the Lottie costume. There was no way Lottie would actually win, and I could go to college on Thrill Burger’s dime in the fall.
“Alright, Tucker,” I said, squaring my shoulders. “Count me in.”
Until I graduated in May, I was a high school student by day and a fainting goat in the evenings and on weekends. I was convinced the fervor for Lottie as a mayoral candidate would have died down, but it was still going strong by mid-June.
One particularly warm and sunny day, Tucker dropped a plastic tub filled with envelopes in front of me as I was peeling off the Lottie suit.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Campaign donations. Look, Lottie-”
“My name is Ella.”
“Yes, right.” Tucker furrowed his brow. “Ella. This has gone way further than I meant. You must know that.”
“Yeah, I kinda figured.”
“But listen, it’s great publicity. Our sales are through the roof!” His eyes locked pleadingly on mine.
“What are you asking me to do, exactly?”
“Just keep going until the election.” He pointed to the tub packed with letters of support and checks for shocking amounts of money.
While I was tempted, I stood my ground. “Tucker, no. You need to come clean that this was all a joke. You don’t really think people will vote for Lottie, do you? It’s a cute idea, but we need to be realistic.”
“If that’s what you think, then there’s no harm in continuing. Lottie can gracefully accept her loss, you can go to college like you planned, and I can keep rolling in the good publicity and profits.”
I looked over at the Lottie head with its dead-eyed smile and sighed. “Once classes start, I’ll have to go back to evenings and weekends only.”
“Sure, sure. And sometimes mid-afternoon press conferences and special appearances, of course.”
“As long as they don’t interfere with school. I mean it.”
“You can always look for someone else to wear the Lottie suit, you know.”
Tucker grimaced. “No, not this late in the campaign. People are familiar with your mannerisms now.”
“Mannerisms? The only thing I do as Lottie is fall over.”
“Well, that, and your height and build. Ella, you are Lottie whether you like it or not. Thrill Burger can’t do this without you.”
I silently cursed Tucker for having bribed me with tuition money; it didn’t leave me much room to negotiate. My ability to say no wasn’t very strong anyway, and it predictably failed me then.
The time leading up to election day passed in a blur. Once classes at the university began, I felt like I was back in high school. Student by day, mayoral candidate and burger mascot on the evenings and weekends. I was strong enough now to get up on my own after a famous Lottie fainting spell, but Tucker insisted that I keep my security detail around at each appearance.
The love for Lottie had not died down like I had expected - and admittedly, had hoped - it would. Lottie was polling well according to the local media, and every time I appeared in the fuzzy costume, crowds gathered.
On election day, I stood up on stage with Tucker and the Thrill Burger campaign manager. A crowd of Lottie supporters milled around the venue we had booked for the event, chatting merrily, eating snacks, and occasionally shouting “Lottie for Mayor!” We all watched the big screen as votes for Lottie trickled in compared to the deluge of votes for Mayor Peterson.
I was ready to go backstage and take the Lottie head off for what would hopefully be the last time, but Tucker gave a shake of his head. The poll numbers were almost in and finalized.
The crowd took a collective breath and exhaled as Mayor Peterson was declared the winner.
I grinned with relief inside the foam head. The crowd was oddly silent for a moment.
Then a lone man in the back called out, “Mayor Peterson stole the election from Lottie!”
Another voice in the crowd joined in. “Lottie is the true mayor of Jasper City!”
The group began to cheer and shout, but the cheers soon turned angry and dangerous. I whipped my head around to look at Tucker and gestured for him to do something to quell the rising cacophony.
He shrugged then grinned. “Down with Mayor Peterson!” he cried.
The people in the crowd surged towards the exit door as one body, grabbing chairs from tables and heavy serving dishes from the buffet line.
“Take back Jasper City! Lottie for Mayor!”
I could hear glass breaking and angry shouts as the crowd made their way out of the building and turned towards downtown and City Hall.
With fear heavy in my heart, I bolted towards the back stage room to shed my costume and return to my anonymity before things progressed too far. Tucker, backed by my security detail, blocked my exit.
“We’ve come so far, Lottie. What’s a little longer?”
Outside, the city burned.