Title: "Where I Came From"
Author: The Island Hopper, Charlie begins to have second thoughts about his new role as an heir…
Author's Notes: I wrote this in about an hour while trying to cure writer's block for another story I'm currently working on. I had been reading some other Wonka-fics and I dunno, I guess I wanted to try my hand at it. I honestly don't know nor care if its any good or not. But I love the book and the old movie, and so this made for a good writing exercise. Hope you enjoy.
Charlie didn't stop running until he had reached the place that had haunted his dreams since he moved into the Wonka Factory – his dilapidated home on the edge of the city. These four walls had watched Charlie grow from an infant into a ten, nearly eleven, year old boy and had only said goodbye to him a few years previous when he left his life of poverty behind for the glamorous lodgings at the Factory. It harkened back to different times that were not necessarily easier, but perhaps simpler than his present life as the heir to the largest and most famous chocolate factory in the world. Charlie collapsed, exhausted and panting, onto what used to be their back garden. A few sprouts of the tomato and bean plants which had been planted to give the poverty-stricken family just a little more food were starting to fruit, and Charlie resisted the urge to pick them right away and shove them into his mouth as he used to when he had been so near starvation on these very grounds. He had thought that the house would appear smaller or more run-down if he ever came back but he found neither of these things to be the case; actually, it was quite the opposite – the house still looked exactly like what it was. His home.
Charlie dried his tears on the back of his sleeve and leaned against the cracked mortar of the house. The sun had fully set now and the moon began to shine down on him. He couldn't imagine how many times he had sat in this exact spot, dreaming and wishing for a better life. Strange; now he had that life, and his home was the only place he had dreamed of coming back to in all the time he'd been away. It had been almost three full years since he'd set his eyes on this house, or even on this side of town, and he was both relieved and slightly disappointed that nothing seemed to have changed without him around. The house appeared to still be uninhabited, and for all Charlie knew it was probably condemned. Huge cracks ran up the side of the house, and chunks of mortar were beginning to flake away from the structure. No doubt it would simply be a ruin in a couple of years; a mound of dirt, wood and concrete, a forgotten vestige of the most important place of Charlie Bucket's young life. Tears began to flow anew at this image in his mind's eye, and he looked hungrily around him, as if emblazoning all images into his memory so as to never forget where he came from. The small wooden fence, which had never done its job to keep foxes and raccoons out of the garden, leant as apathetically towards the ground as it always had. The leaves on large elm tree at the edge of the small, tangled garden whispered in the cool night breeze like a storyteller imparting secrets of the past to all who would listen. Charlie felt as though if he touched anything, it would shatter like glass; his past was as fragile as the bone china he ate off of every night of the week.
His father had planted the bean and tomato plants the spring after a particularly hungry winter, claiming that if they could keep the little plants alive they might never go quite so hungry again. He had used the last fifteen cents the family had to buy the small, wooden looking seeds from a vendor on the street. "Maybe it will be like Jack and the Beanstalk," Charlie remembered his father saying down to him and smiling. "Perhaps a huge stalk will grow, right there in our back garden, and stretch higher than the heavens!"
"What would we do if it did that?" six year old Charlie asked, looking up at his father with wide eyes.
"We'll climb it! We'll climb it as high as it can go, and we won't stop until we reach the top! There we'll meet a giant who will invite us into his castle in the clouds, and Charlie, it will be full of the most wonderful food you can imagine! He'll sit us down at a table that will groan under the weight of all the food! There will be sausages, and hot fresh bread, and any kind of pie you can think of…"
"Will they have chocolate?"
"Chocolate! Lord, yes, the giant will have chocolate! And he'll say to us, 'Eat up boys, it's yours for the taking!' And then when we're so full we swear we can't move, you know what we'll do then, Charlie?"
"What? What?" Charlie hopped up and down excitedly.
"We'll gather up all the food we can carry and we'll take it back down the stalk with us, and we'll bring it to your mother and your grandparents so that they can share in the feast, too! And they'll lift us up on their shoulders and shout for us, and cheer for our good deed! Because you know what, Charlie?"
"You can never forget where you came from," his father said, looking down at him seriously. "And you can't ever forgot the people and the places that love you more than life itself. It wouldn't be right. Always remember where you came from, Charlie. No matter where you end up. No matter where you find yourself. Your home will always wait for you, and the people you love will wait for you too."
Memories fading back into the recesses of his mind, Charlie fought off another round of tears for his lost father. The plants had not altogether solved the problem of hunger for the Bucket family, but his father had made a wise investment – despite the plants' small size and strength, they always managed to produce vegetables that were both delicious and plentiful. He looked at the small stalks now, neglected and forgotten, and felt as though he'd broken a promise to his father for failing to overlook that which had kept him fed through many a hard fall and winter.
The ground's moisture was beginning to chill Charlie's backside, and so he took a few old pots half-buried in the garden and overturned them to sit on. He wrapped his arms around himself for a bit more warmth but for the most part was able to ignore it; plenty of cold times had hardened Charlie's nerves to be able to withstand almost anything. Physical endurance had never been a problem for the boy, but memories and emotions were more difficult to wrangle.
"Charlie?" a distant voice called.
Charlie fidgeted slightly but responded quickly, "Back here, Mr. Wonka. Behind the house."
He heard footsteps carefully making their way through the brush that separated the back garden from the front street and looked up a moment later to find Mr. Wonka standing in front of him with a concerned look on his face. It wasn't often that Mr. Wonka ventured beyond the gates of the Wonka Factory – he had very little need to, after all – but on occasion he would do it if he felt something in the outside world demanded his presence. He never left without disguise, of course, and tonight he was dressed as a typical countryman, with an unassuming brown suit, green vest, and a beat-up golf hat pulled far down on his head to hide his give-away blue eyes. Mr. Wonka's usual attire would never do on a stealth mission to find a runaway heir.
"So there you are," he said, sitting down on the planting pot next to Charlie.
"Yeah, here I am," Charlie answered slowly, not looking over at his mentor.
Mr. Wonka took off his hat and hung it over his knee, drinking in the sight of the unkempt garden where they sat. It had been a long time since he'd come face to face with the kind of untamed nature that stared at you through your soul, not demanding to be liked. The purple vine that was choking the elm tree to death gleamed in the late-night dew, almost seeming to mock the very tree it was robbing life from. Tangles and piles of unidentified plants gave the impression of an army marching towards the defenseless house that had to know its days were numbered. Nature had not met a house yet who was immune to her power, and this poor house would not put up a fight. Almost to remind himself it was still there, Mr. Wonka leaned back until his back met with the mortar of the ancient house.
"Why did you come for me?"
Charlie's voice pierced the silent night air and made Mr. Wonka jump slightly. "I was worried," he answered simply.
"I'm sorry I ran," Charlie said quietly, looking at his hands.
"Don't be," Mr. Wonka replied. "Something's bothering you, Charlie, and has been for a very long time. Sometimes we need to sort things out for ourselves in solitude. And sometimes we need to talk with someone. I came to see which you needed."
"I don't know if either will help," Charlie said in a shaking voice.
"Then how about this. You tell me why you ran out of the factory almost six hours ago, and I'll tell you whether its purely your business or if there's something I can do to help."
"How long have you been looking for me?"
"I've been wandering around town for about two hours," Mr. Wonka answered. "When you didn't show up for dinner, your mother began to get worried. I promised her I wouldn't come back until I found you."
"You spent two hours doing nothing but looking for me?" Charlie asked in disbelief, looking over at his mentor. Mr. Wonka's time was more than precious, and asking him to take two hours out of his life to devote entirely to one activity simply wasn't done. "I mean, haven't you got more important things to do?"
"When no one knows where you are, and its dark outside, looking for you becomes the most important thing to do," explained Mr. Wonka. "If it's solitude you want, I can respect that. I'll leave. But it gets cold at night, Charlie."
Charlie didn't need to look Mr. Wonka in the eye to know what he was doing. Never one eloquent with emotion, Mr. Wonka often masked his feelings behind more sensible statements; Charlie had learned that anything that sounded reasonable coming from Mr. Wonka was his way of trying to convey an emotion, because in general, Mr. Wonka was the least sensible person on earth. Charlie smiled slightly, always secretly thrilled to be on the receiving end of a compliment like Mr. Wonka's sincere concern. "I'm fine, Mr. Wonka. But you can stay if you want. I guess you deserve an explanation." He sighed. "I'm just…having second doubts about this whole thing."
"What 'whole thing'?"
"About you giving me the factory." Charlie bit his lip, knowing an emotional outpouring was on the tip of his tongue. "Maybe it wasn't me you should have picked. That's all."
"What do you mean?"
"There's no way I can…that I can…" Charlie's voice caught in his throat and he fought back tears as fiercely as he could. He took a shaky breath and said, "This is where I came from, Mr. Wonka. This is my house, and my garden. That's our tree, and our bean plants. This is where I grew up."
Mr. Wonka took in his surroundings with a new appreciation. He knew very little about Charlie's past. Of course, he knew Charlie had come from a poor background, but he hadn't realized it had been this…desperate. The house looked as if it would cave in at any second and couldn't keep out a chill if it tried. Mr. Wonka sighed. "I'm sorry, Charlie. I didn't know."
"My dad planted those over there," Charlie said, pointing to the bean and tomato plants. "He planted them so we'd always have a little food, even if we didn't have money." Charlie put his face in his hands. "I'm not qualified for this, Mr. Wonka. I'm nowhere near as brilliant as you are, and I can never hope to be. I can't take your factory if I can't live up to your name. This is where I came from. This is what I know. I know nothing about what it takes to run Wonka's."
Mr. Wonka smiled in a relieved way. "Oh, so that's what all this is about," he said softly. "Charlie, I don't expect you to be me. I expect you to do your best. Your best will more than suffice. You don't think I'm a fool, do you?"
"Oh, no, sir…"
"Then you must have faith that I wouldn't pick a fool to carry on the most important place in my life. It is my life's work, and I'm leaving it to you because I know you can do it. Understand?"
"But my plants – " Charlie said, pointing again to the plants. "The plants are dying. My father always taught me to remember where I was from and who and what took care of me. And they're dying. If I can't even take care of plants…if I let something that important just wither away…how I can run a factory?"
Mr. Wonka eyed the sad plants carefully. "They're not dying, Charlie. They just need a little help. Someone to have faith in them. Someone to take care of them and help them to be the best they can be. This is where they came from too, Charlie, and they look like survivors to me, just like you are a survivor of all of this," he said, waving his hand around the area to emphasize his point. Mr. Wonka silently stood up and, taking the planting pot that he'd been sitting on, turned it right side up and began to fill it with loose dirt from the yard. Charlie watched until he saw Mr. Wonka's intentions, then got up to help him.
Together they carefully dug up both the bean plant and the tomato plant and placed them gently into the planting pots, patting the dirt around them as though they were tucking the plants in for the night. "Your father was right, Charlie," Mr. Wonka said, adding a few last fistfuls of dirt. "Never forget where you came from. But he forgot to tell you something else, too. Something equally as important."
Mr. Wonka and Charlie lifted the pots and began to meander slowly back to the factory.
"He forgot to tell you that, in life, to always remember where you're going, too…"