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Chocolate, Warnings, and Eternity
While Charlie loved chocolate, he had always hated the chocolate factory. It wasn’t anything the business had done—all the factory ever did was just sit there, churning out chocolate bar after chocolate bar, trucks driving away to sell them in every nook and cranny of the globe. No, it wasn’t what the chocolate factory did that was the problem—it was what it didn’t do. No one went in or out. It never hired workers. It just sat there, churning out chocolate bars behind its dirty iron gates. The biggest chocolate factory in the world. And it just sat there. And no one knew what was inside.
Passing by the monstrosity every day to and from school, Charlie would stare longingly. He could never even make out a door. Just a conveyor belt poking out of a hole in the side, dumping chocolate after chocolate after chocolate into a truck. No one ever came in, much less out.
Why? He wanted to know. Be careful what you wish for, Charlie.
Charlie had a lot of homework that night. He got home early, and although home wasn’t the ideal place to concentrate on homework, he shoved himself in a chair, and forced himself to focus on algebra. It was times like these when he wished his family of seven lived in something a little nicer than a two-room hovel. One room for Charlie and his parents, and one room for all four of his grandparents. Charlie swore to himself he’d be rich when he grew up. Then maybe he wouldn’t have to do his homework listening to Grandma Josephine complaining about her perfectly good soup. Maybe he could buy the chocolate factory.
“Charlie, boy, did you hear about the new contest that the chocolate factory is running?”
Charlie sighed. “Not now, Grandpa Joe, I’m doing my homework.”
“But Charlie, didn’t you tell me you always wanted to visit that place? I know you absolutely guzzle up their chocolate bars like they’re gold—“
“Yeah, but I don’t care about whatever happens in the factory. I mean, however they make it, I’m still going to eat it.”
“Okay, okay… but if you see a golden ticket in your chocolate bar, Charlie, you run to me and get me because we are going to go to that chocolate factory together, boy. I may be old, but I still like to have fun now and then.”
Charlie sighed. “Alright Grandpa Joe. But I really need to finish my homework.” Grandpa Joe winked.
It was raining. Charlie kicked the damp dirt on the pavement. The big chocolate factory cast a shadow all over town, so everything just seemed dark and grey and wet. Except for that little flash of silver…
What was that? Charlie bent down. A two-pound piece. Charlie never had any money. He picked it up. This was enough money to buy a chocolate bar after school today. He smiled. The wet coin felt cold in his palm, the little miracle. He clenched it tight.
Charlie marched triumphantly up to the counter. “I’ll have one Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight, please.”
The shopkeeper raised a bushy eyebrow. “You know kid, that costs money.”
Charlie beamed, shoving the two-pound piece gleefully towards the old man.
“Well, that’s a first, kid. One Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight coming right up!”
Charlie held the bar in his dirty palm like it was gold. Charlie never got chocolate. Charlie never had enough money for chocolate. That was all he thought about the whole way home. How would he eat it? Would he wolf it down, the gooey mess filling up his mouth so completely he forgot about everything else? No, he would savor it. Drop, by drop, by drop. Chocolate was a treasure.
“Grandpa Joe, guess what I found on the street today?”
“Oh Charlie, you found the Golden ticket! Yipee, my Charlie—“
“No, I didn’t.”
“I found a two-pound piece.”
“I bought a bar of chocolate—“
“And you found the Golden ticket! Now we can—“
“Grandpa, I haven’t opened the chocolate bar yet.”
“Well, Charlie, what are you waiting for?”
“I was waiting to tell you.”
Grandpa Joe could set off fireworks with all of his energy. And he was ninety-two! “Well then, let’s get right to it!”
Charlie lovingly removed the chocolate bar from his pocket. The dark red wrapper crinkled invitingly. He tore the corner, more concentrating on the candy than the possibility of a gold flash. It smelled so good…
And he tore of the wrapper hungrily, fingering the chocolate bar gently. He bit into the corner. He hadn’t eaten chocolate in so long…
“Charlie!” He looked up suddenly. Grandpa Joe was shaking his head, picking the wrapper off the worn floor. “Don’t you want to see if there’s a golden ticket inside?”
“Oh, yeah.” The chocolate was melting in Charlie’s mouth…
Grandpa Joe shook the wrapper a bit, and something slipped out, something bright. Could it be? Charlie bent down, more curious than anything. A glint of gold. It almost slipped between his fingers, but he picked it up. The Golden Ticket. Charlie Bucket won the last Golden Ticket.
“Daddy, I want a Golden ticket,” Veruca Salt proclaimed.
“Honey, what do want with that nasty old Chocolate Factory? It’s old, and falling apart, and—“
“I don’t care. I want my Golden Ticket!”
Mr. Salt sighed. True, he was a multimillionaire, but sometimes his daughter was just unreasonable. “Alright dearie, I’ll find you your Golden ticket.”
Veruca smiled triumphantly. “Good.”
It came as no surprise, then that not even two days later, the news proclaimed Mr. Salt had found his daughter a Golden Ticket by halting production at his factory completely and forcing his workers to do nothing but sit there and unwrap candy bars. The Golden Ticket challenge had found itself its first victim.
“I love chocolate,” Agustus Gloop moaned. “I never want to stop eating. Ever.” He was on his fourteenth candy bar of the day, and it was only noon. If you looked at him, all you would see was belly. That didn’t bother him, though. He wrenched the wrapper off his latest chocolate. Something shiny fell out—could it be?
And so Agustus Gloop found the second Golden Ticket.
Violet Beauregard in fact hated chocolate. She was a gum-chewer, of the finest sort. Did you know that she currently holds the world record for longest-chewed piece of gum? Thirty-seven days, nine hours, twenty-four minutes, and eighteen seconds.
It was quite by accident that she found the golden ticket. She was buying a piece of chocolate for her friend, and decided she would sneak a peek to see if there was a Golden Ticket. There was. Of course, she didn’t give the chocolate bar to her friend. Finders keepers!
Mike Teavee was simultaneously watching TV, and playing a computer shooting game. A chocolate wrapper and his Golden Ticket sat on the arm of the couch. He hardly even noticed it. A Golden Ticket? Whatever. He couldn’t miss a second of his television show.
The five young winners each stood, with their adult, outside the menacing gates of the chocolate factory. The world around seemed mysteriously lacking in color.
“I want the tour to start now,” Veruca complained.
Her father shook his head. “Patience, dear.”
She shot him a look that promptly shut him up.
The wind whistled eerily through the deserted street. The iron gates shuddered open violently.
"Does that mean we go in, Grandpa?" Charlie asked.
Agustuus Gloop hauled himself up off his bum and towards the gates. "I don't care. I want chocolate."
"No, you stupid, there's going to be a horse and carriage here to escort us into the factory," Veruca scoffed. "Obviously. Like in those movies.
Mike Teavee shot her a glare. This isn't like a princess movie. This is like a horror movie, where everyone turns into zombies at the end, and there's this big creepy old house that traps 'em all inside forever!"
Violet smacked her gum loudly.
"I just want my chocolate factory," Veruca complained.
As if to answer, a man that couldn't have been taller than Charlie's waist appeared in the gateway. "Mr. Wonka will see you now." His voice sounded creepily monotone.
Grandpa Joe seemed to be the only one truly excited. "Golly gee. Charlie, we're going into the chocolate factory! Oh, I just can't wait--"
"Shhh!" Said the little man walking them in.
The talking had been nice, Charlie realized. It had distracted him from the fact the that the gates had just clanged shut behind him, and the wind seemed to moan even louder the closer he got to the monstrosity of a building. "It's just a chocolate factory," Charlie reminded himself. But was it?
The little man lifted his hand to a rusty patch on the side of the impenetrable iron block. Charlie heard a rusty whirring of gears. A small door, barely six feet high, swung inward. It was too dark to see anything inside.
“I thought we were going to a chocolate factory, not a dungeon,” Veruca Salt complained.
The little man just waved his hand, and some low-watt, industrial lighting flickered on.
Mike Teavee smiled. “This is just like in those monster movies!”
The minimal lighting showed a flight of stairs going down, nothing more. Charlie was beginning to regret coming.
“We’ve been walking for too long,” Augustus groaned. “I want my chocolate.”
“Just one more flight of stairs,” their guide informed. He sounded tired, emotionless, like he’d just gotten out of bed or something. Veruca sighed dramatically.
The staircase ended what must have been seven stories underground in a tiny, stone-floored corridor, the walls painted a garish shade of bubble-gum pink. There were no more electric lights down here. Just torches in brackets on the walls. It was like a vampire’s castle that had been taken over by a spoiled six-year old girl. Even Veruca was silent.
You could hear a knocking coming from down the hall. Grandpa Joe squeezed Charlie’s hand tightly. “I don’t like the sound of that, Charlie.”
“I don’t either,” Charlie whispered. He squinted down the hall to try and see who was there. The lighting wasn’t spectacular.
It was a man, Charlie was sure of that. He looked almost as if he was walking with a limp, but as they mysterious man got closer, Charlie could see that the man was, in fact, incredibly old, and walked with a cane. He had a mushroom cloud of frazzled gray hair that poofed out around his sunken face like he had just stuck his head in an electrical socket. His features looked eerily crooked, like someone had taken two different people and stitched their faces together. His enormous eyes seemed sunken into his head, and his entire body was covered in a great purple coat, like the ringmasters at the circus wore. Except, this one looked ragged and dark, and full of secrets.
“Hello,” he creaked, his eyes bulging ever so slightly. “I am Mister Wonka, keeper of the chocolate factory. Welcome.”
No one said anything. The flames flickered eerily.
“So, shall we begin our tour? Wonderful!”Mr. Wonka said, in a voice that sounded anything but wonderful.
The eleven of them set off behind Mr. Wonka, who moved alarmingly fast for his age. That was, if he was the age he looked to be. Who knew, at this point.
The corridor took a number of dizzying turns, doubling back on itself, and at least three different times Charlie could have sworn that he had already walked that way already. They all looked the same, though: same flagstone floor, same nightmarishly pink walls, same torches for light. Soon Charlie realized that he had absolutely no idea where he had come from, and how he could get back there. He had to trust in old Mr. Wonka now.
The corridor ended somewhere in a tiny chamber with a large, red door marked “Chocolate River.” Augustus Gloop looked hungrier than normal, if that was possible.
“Oh my god a Chocolate River.” His eyes were wide with happiness.
“Yes,” Mr. Wonka crooned. “A chocolate river. Now, remember, this chocolate must never be touched by human hands. It must remain free of impurities. Once you take one bite---well, you don’t need to know what happens then. Let’s hope you don’t have to find out!” He cackled maniacally.
He swung open the door. Grandpa Joe had to duck to fit under it. The room was dark, filled with a deafening rushing sound. Mr. Wonka waved his hand. More low-watt industrial lighting flickered on. The door behind them slammed shut. They were all standing on a ledge maybe four feet wide that dropped into a chasm ten feet below, filled with chocolate. The smell of it was thick and cloying in the air-conditioned cavern. There was no opposite bank visible: just gigantic glass tubes that sucked the chocolate out of the endless river and carted it off to a thousand different places. Augustus stared hungrily. He bent over on his knees, at the edge of the river.
“I wouldn’t do that…” Mr. Wonka intoned in a singsongy voice.
But it was too late. Augustus Gloop stared at the endless ocean of chocolate for too long. The swirling was making him feel dizzy…
And the next thing he knew he was tumbling over the side into the chocolate. And he fell, belly and all, into the chocolate river. His head went under. And never came back up.
Mrs. Gloop was furious. “What in the name of the Holy Trinity—“
“I told them all not to touch the chocolate river,” Mr. Wonka sighed. “Shame he didn’t listen. If he’s lucky he won’t go to the slicing room, and we can fish him out of a batch of caramel from the Mixing Room. But that most likely won’t happen. Let’s keep up now! Lots to see!” He limped down the walkway on his grizzled old cane, completely unfazed by the sudden disappearance of Augustus. “Now, if you just keep to the path, we’ll all come out of this alive,” he crooned. “Just keep walking. The path ends somewhere. Though I don’t know where! Isn’t it wonderful not knowing where you’re going?”
Charlie had subconsciously bitten his fingers down to bleeding stubs. Mr. Wonka was a psychopath.
Mr. Wonka pranced out of the television room, the Oompa-Loompas carrying mini-Mike Teavee away to be stretched. Charlie was the only one left now. They were walking towards some kind of sinister-looking door painted the nastiest shade of vomit-green.
“Charlie, I don’t like this,” Grandpa Joe whispered for what must have been the fourteenth time that day.
Charlie shook his head. “I stopped being surprised when Violet turned into a blueberry and Veruca got eaten by squirrels. This place is messed up.”
“Well, Charlie, let’s not hope we’re the next to go!”
Mr. Wonka swiveled around, eyes bulging out of his head. “This, my dear friends, is the great glass elevator!”
Charlie looked around, before realizing that he and Grandpa Joe were the only two left. That couldn’t be good.
Mr. Wonka leaned crookedly on his cane. “Don’t worry, the end is near.” He tapped a panel next to the door, and Charlie could hear an ominous cranking sound. “For all of us.” He swaggered forward, just as the door slid open, revealing an interior made entirely out of glass. In a factory of garish colors, flickering fluorescent bulbs, and mysterious noises, the smooth, soundless interior seemed unnervingly out of place. But, then again, in a factory like this, it seemed to be anything goes. Charlie and Grandpa Joe stepped in behind the grizzly old Mr. Wonka. The doors slid shut. The whirrings of the factory disappeared. The great glass elevator began to steadily climb up. Everything was perfectly silent.
“So, you survived! That’s a first.”
Charlie looked up at Mr. Wonka. “What do you mean, ‘That’s a first?’”
He stared bug-eyed at the ceiling. “Surely your grandfather remembers ten years ago, when there was another Golden Ticket contest just like this one?
Grandpa Joe nodded, slowly.
“Well, let’s just say they all met the same unfortunate fates as Augustus, Violet, and Veruca…”
“So you just brought another crop of kids here to die?” Charlie had to stand on tiptoe to look Mr. Wonka in the eye. “That’s not right!”
“Oh Charlie, they didn’t die…”
“Then what happened?”
“Well, let’s just say that there are now four more Oompa-Loompas to help me make my chocolate.”
Charlie just stared. Grandpa Joe seemed to have moved beyond emotion.
“So, you’re saying that—“
“A long time go, Charlie, something awful happened here. And ever since then, no one can leave. And dying is called leaving. So, we’re all trapped here, forever, until I can find someone willing to run this place for me. Someone who knows how dangerous it is…”
The doors slid open into a small, carpeted office, whose walls were somewhere in between purple and beige.
Charlie stared up at Mr. Wonka. “You mean…?”
“Have fun with the chocolate factory, Charlie. I hope you don’t die. Oh, wait!” And he started cackling maniacally. Grandpa Joe looked very confused.
“Then what happens to me? Can I leave?”
“No, Grandpa Joe—“
“No.” Mr. Wonka turned around, head cocked to the side warily. “You’re coming with me—“
And Mr Wonka grabbed grandpa Joe’s collar, and dragged him into the still-open doors of the glass elevator. The doors whammed closed. The elevator shot up.
Grandpa Joe was gone. His family was gone. And all he had left was this horror-house of a chocolate factory. Charlie stared down at his hands. Already, they looked older. There were no windows here. Charlie would never see the sun again. What did he have? The Oompa-Loompas?
Yes, that was it. They would make the chocolate for him. They would do whatever he wanted. Charlie looked up. So, that was it. You stay here, you go mad. He had made his choice. He picked up the old purple cloak that had been a little too conveniently draped across the cold stone desk. Mr. Wonka. That would be his name form now on.