They say the Candy Man can do anything. He can sprinkle a sunrise with dew; he can take tomorrow and dip it in a dream, but what they don’t tell you is that the Candy Man can also steal your soul and turn it into a mind twisting confection.
Yeah, I wouldn’t have believed it either, not until ten years ago when I won that cursed golden ticket. I’d thought all my dreams had come true! My family was being taken care of and I was learning how to be a chocolatier from the genius behind Fizzy Lifting drink, the Everlasting Gobstopper and the gum that was a complete meal.
I didn’t learn the truth for six years.
Saying Willy was eccentric was a monumental understatement, but then most genius’ are. I was taking the Wonkivator to the Nut Room to check on the last batch of pecans we’d received but by accident I pushed two of the buttons at the same time; that simple slip of the finger would change my life.
I was whisked off to a part of the factory I’d never seen. It was the opposite of everything else I’d seen, in place of the bright colors was black and gray, making me feel like I’d stepped into an old movie I didn’t have a script for. I walked down the monochromatic hallway, the length of which was unbroken by a single door, it simply felt like a funnel leading me toward the unknown and I thought for sure the pounding of my heart would echo against the slick walls.
Reaching the partially open door at the end of the long hallway I peered through the narrow opening and couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Willy had three children, no older then 5, sitting at a tiny table and he was having a tea party with them. A miniature tea set was arranged on the table alongside pastries, cakes and cookies which the children were gobbling up as fast as they could get their hands on them, stuffing them into their chocolate smeared mouths.
As I watched he took one little girl by the hand and led her toward a small machine that sat in the far corner, the black metal of it nearly lost in the shadows. I couldn’t hear what he was saying to her but with a nod she stepped up onto a box he had at the base of the contraption and bent forward to look into the brass eyepiece, much like the ones you find on a nickelodeon.
Willy started turning a small crank on the side of the machine with one hand, the other hand pressed to the back of her head to hold her in place. With a pop and crackle sound the machine came to life, whirring and buzzing and after only a few moments the machine gave one last popping sound just as the little girl’s body went limp. Willy stepped on a pedal hidden in the floor and a trap door opened under her feet, dropping her into a chute that I was certain led to the incinerator.
I was too shocked to move. To scream. To do anything more than continue to stare.
The two remaining children remained oblivious, far more interested in the sweets they were given than in wondering about their missing friend. Reaching down Willy plucked a piece of candy from a slot just under the small crank, holding it up to the light and smiling at it a moment before popping it into his mouth.
He shuddered when the confection hit his tongue, rising up on his toes and spinning around in pirouettes with unrestrained giggling… like a little girl. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, couldn’t believe that Willy was stealing children’s essence, their souls, and I guessed that this was how he’d remained ageless. I suspected too that this was also where his ideas for new candy came from, after all nothing is more creative than the unshackled imagination of a child.
When he turned and started skipping toward the two remaining children I knew I had to stop him, I had to save them, and with a sudden yell I burst through the door and ran at him. I think I had hoped that being filled with a little girl’s essence he wouldn’t be able to react and process events like an adult; I was wrong.
Willy turned and his polluted gaze pinned me, almost stopping me in my tracks with the sinister intention behind his eyes but I barreled onward, dropping my shoulder to ram into him but he stepped to the side and instead of taking him down I experienced a painful encounter with the wall. I fell backward and my head connected with the floor, soundly ringing my bell, and even when I felt Willy grab me I couldn’t react.
I could feel myself being dragged across the room and felt the cold press of the brass eyepiece against my face and still I couldn’t get my limbs to respond. I felt the machine pulling at me, pulling and sucking the very essence of me out through my eyes and my energy and spirit surged through the inner workings of the machine. I spun, twirled, was mixed and beaten, pulled and pushed until I finally came to rest.
Willy’s fingers grabbed me, holding me up and I found myself looking back at him through the spun sugar wall of a piece of hard candy. I could see my body lying at his feet and watched as he opened the trap door and let it fall into the incinerator, now he could make up any story he wanted to explain to my parents why I wasn’t ever coming back. Shit.
As he sat me on the top of the machine to give me a full view of the room his voice was eerily calm, chiding me, “You can just stay here now and watch, Charlie, that’s what you get for being naughty.”