Editor’s Note: This is a new story from our new staff member, The Janitor. Unlike other staff members on , The Janitor is not one of my alter egos. The Janitor is another, real, live human being. We’ve hit the big time.
The Candy Man Can
by The Janitor
I stood in front of the entrance to the famous Wonka Chocolate Factory. Clutching my invitation I peered through the wrought iron gates wondering what was expected of me. Before I could speculate the gates opened noiselessly. Feeling awkward, I stepped into the vast courtyard as I admired the tall monolithic smokestacks of the factory.
“You must be William.” Startled by the unexpected voice, I turned around to see the man I was looking for. Willy Wonka leaned against the wall just on the inside of the gate. Dressed in a purple suit with over-long coat tails, a top hat, and idly swinging a cane, he was exactly how I imagined him.
“You must be Willy Wonka,” I said. “Am I early?” I looked around the courtyard. “Was I the only one invited?”
“You are the only one who came,” he said as he walked toward me with an outstretched hand. Shaking hands, I noticed he leaned on his cane more than I expected, I remember him being light on his feet in the movie.
“Come,” he said suddenly. “Let me show you my life’s work.” Thinking of nothing else to say I followed the enigmatic inventor, wondering what lay in store for me inside.The lights dimmed as he led me through corridor after corridor. I knew our ultimate destination was the room with the chocolate river, and the rolling hills of grass and trees all made of candy. It was the most memorable scene from the movie. Finally we stopped in front of a nondescript door. Wonka turned to me and said, “We stand here on the threshold, do you still wish to enter?”
Surprised by the question and not knowing what else to say, I answered, “Yes, I do.” He opened the door and we stepped into a vast auditorium, a vast and almost empty auditorium. Stunned, I looked around the warehouse, for that’s what it now looked like, wondering if this was one of Wonka’s infamous tricks. We stood in silence for at least a minute.
When I was about to ask one of the many questions on my mind Wonka suddenly came to life saying, “I’ve been inspected. You know how it goes, a little health and safety here, a little insensitivity training there.” He tapped his cane on the ground in what I discerned to be mild frustration.
“The chocolate river?” I asked.
“The candy grass?”
“Environmental impact,” Wonka said without emotion.
“The candy cane trees?” I implored.
“Still have one.” Wonka said, pointing with his cane. Indeed, a single, drooping candy cane tree stood in the middle of the room. I walked up to the metal fence that surrounded it. “I was told it was too dangerous.” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “Can’t let people near trees these days, you know because…” his voice trailed off.
“Where are the Oompa Loompas?” I asked unable to take my eyes off the sad looking tree.
Wonka laughed mirthlessly, “Apparently it is offensive to let them work for an honest living.” I detected a note of sadness in his voice now.
We stood together looking at the tree until finally I asked, “Is there anything left?”
Wonka took I deep breath and looked at me, “I did keep one thing from them, the latest invention of mine.”
“What is it?” I asked eagerly.
Wonka drew out a small, ornate wooden box and opened it. Inside, lying in a bed of purple velvet, were two pieces of candy corn. “These,” he said with some pride, “are candy corn that tell the time.” I stood looking at the small pieces of candy for what must have been several minutes.
“Mr. Wonka?” I asked tentatively, “I don’t see how they tell the time.”
“They don’t until you eat them,” he said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“One for me, and one for you,” he said, taking one and offering the box to me. Still unclear on how these would tell the time, I took my piece of candy.
“Together,” Wonka said, a note of unexpected gravity in his voice. “Now!”
I bit down on the candy corn and pain erupted in my temples, somewhere between a brain freeze and a headache as I stumbled backwards, closing my eyes and clutching my forehead. But as quickly as the pain appeared it vanished, and I was left with a pleasant, sweet aftertaste. I opened my eyes and was startled to find I was no longer in Willy Wonka’s factory. I stood in a desolate landscape dotted with the occasional struggling tree or bush. Several minutes passed as I looked dumbfounded at the alien panorama before me.
“The future time.” Wonka said behind me. I turned around to see him leaning against a large stone pillar. “They tell the future time.” Looking at him now I saw not the whimsical magician of children’s delights, but an old man bent over a walking stick, his face, aged and careworn, strained with worries and burdens.
“It’s all gone now,” he continued. “They’ve taken everything.”
“Everything?” I asked hesitantly. “I understand why they wanted to take things like Augustus Gloop and the Oompa Loompas. But why did they take the good things too?” I paused for a moment then my anger flared. “No, it was all good! The children from your story, they weren’t created out of hatred.” I paused collecting my thoughts, “It was love. Love for children, warning them, to not eat too much candy, to not be entitled, but most importantly to follow Charlie’s example of honesty and gratitude.”
Wonka pierced me with his gaze and I fell silent.
He started speaking in a slow, measured rhythm as if he too was holding back anger. “They can’t abide the evil things because they are reminded of themselves. The last thing someone who is ugly on the inside wants is to see is that ugliness reflected.” Wonka stared off toward the horizon and continued, “They can’t tolerate the good. Those who are ugly on the inside can’t make good things. They become exceedingly jealous of those who can, and that jealousy and anger is transferred to the object itself. To put it simply,” Wonka said straightening himself up, “they will destroy everything that reminds them of who they are, and they will destroy everything that reminds them of who we are.”
We stood in silence, the time stretching by. Finally I asked dejectedly, “What do we do?”
Wonka looked at the pile of rubble in front of him and said softly, “We build it up again.” With a sudden burst of energy he threw his cane in the air. I watched as it shot into the piercingly blue sky. “We build it up again!” he said again almost shouting. He nimbly leaped to the top of the pile of rubble, surveying the desolation before him.
“I’ll build the factory again,” he said, deftly catching the cane as it returned to earth. “But not the way it was, it will be better. 10 times better, 100 times better. They said my chocolate river was a drowning hazard, I’ll make a chocolate lake open to the public all year round. I’ll plant a whole forest of candy cane trees. I’ll hire back every single Oompa Loompa I can find,” he laughed gleefully. “This time the toffee won’t just make you float, it will let you fly!” At this last statement he spread his arms out wide like a circus ring leader, only he addressed an invisible crowd. He descended the pile of rubble in one jump. “And I’ll make candy corn that tells the time, our time,” he said as an afterthought.
“But how, how can you do all this?” I said still reeling from Wonka’s sudden transformation. He walked upright and resolute, he no longer leaned on his cane but twirled it like a baton, and his eye twinkled with a childlike joy. “After everything they’ve done, after everything…”
“How?!” he said cutting me off. He wheeled around and grabbed me by the shoulders. “Don’t you remember William?” his eyes searched my face. “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of the dream.”
“I-I don’t think I understand,” I stammered.
“That’s okay,” he said, loosening his grip on my shoulder. “That’s okay,” he said again, almost to himself. Patting me on the back he continued, “I’ll explain it to you when we get there.” He pulled a small parcel out of his inner coat pocket. “In the meantime,” he added, handing it to me, “have some chocolate.”
2023 The Inmate, The Asylum