Title: Quite Frankly
Author: The Island Hopper
Summary: Being around candy too long might make you weird – so what was the pre-book-and-movie-Wonka like? A glance into the night of the factory's closing.
Author's Notes: Written as a diversion to another story I'm writing which will be unleashed upon the masses in a day or two. I wanted to explore what a younger Wonka might have been like. No traumatizing my readers, though if you are a grammar-tense freak, you might flinch a couple of times. Ignore it, and enjoy.
Quite frankly, I don't care if I ever see this place again.
When I think about all of the time, energy and dare I say it – labors of love – I put into this factory, I suppose some people might tell me that I should have seen this coming, but to tell you the truth, jealousy was the last thing I expected from my fellow candymakers. Put it down to my age if you'd like, but somehow I never realized how ruthless some people can be. Imagine it – spies! Right here in front of me, right in my office – since I did most of my own hiring – sitting in the seat across from me, phony smiles pasted on their dogged faces, lying right to me! Of all the nerve.
Most of the lights had already been shut off in all of the rooms and only the pale illumination of the embedded lights in the hallways guided the way back to my office. It was sort of spooky, and it occurred to me that I'd never actually been completely alone in the factory before. With this thought fresh in my mind, I raced – in the most dignified way possible, of course – back to my office and slammed the door shut behind me. Through the pale light cascading from the window, I discovered that this must have been the first time I had stepped foot into my office since making the decision to close my factory. I wouldn't consider myself a volatile man, but we all have our limits, and I had been pushed too far.
Everything that had been on the walls – awards, promotional posters, newspaper clippings – had been ripped from the walls and smashed to the floor, creating a carpet of glass shards. Apparently I'd taken one of these shards and torn through the upholstery of every carefully crafted chair in the office. I looked down to my gloved hands to find that, indeed, there were some rips in the leather of my gloves. Balling my fists a bit, I was silently thankful that I'd bought the best gloves money could buy. If I hadn't, I might be without skin on my palms at the moment. Not that it mattered. The only thing these hands could do well was to make chocolate, and, as I had learned in the past twenty four hours, this meant nothing if my ideas were constantly stolen right out from beneath my nose. How dare those bastards take away the only thing I was good at.
I painstakingly made my way across the ill-lit office and tried to switch on the lights, only to find that the main power source to the offices had been shut off too. Shoot. I guess I didn't plan ahead very well. I took a tentative step forward and heard something crunch beneath me. Looking down, I saw the remnants of a frame and a letter it had held. I plucked the letter from underneath the avalanche of broken glass and made my way gingerly to the big mahogany desk, sitting down warily on the tattered fabric of what used to be my office chair.
Tears instantly came to my eyes but I willed them away. It was a letter that my mentor in Bavaria had sent to me upon hearing that I'd opened my own factory. Every great chocolatier had to have a mentor – he'd taught me that – and it was a great day, the letter said, when the student became the master. "Some master," I muttered, laying the aged letter on the surface of my desk. "Wonder what he'd say if he saw me like this." I wasn't very old, but I suddenly felt ancient. My office, my factory, and my life were in shambles. No one, not even me, could deny that now.
I sat in the darkened office for an indeterminate amount of time before I realized if I stayed in the factory one second longer, I would go insane. I knew this moment would come and had prepared for it. I grabbed the lone, battered bag from the corner which consisted of the entirety of the earthly possessions I felt I could not live without. I'd bought the WWI-era Doughboy bag from a crooked antique dealer in Papeete last summer when it still faithfully held the gas mask that had protected its bearer from German poison gas raids in Europe nearly three-quarters of a century earlier. How the bag had made it all the way to Tahiti, I'll probably never know; my imagination liked to fancy that perhaps its previous owner had been a bit of a wanderer like myself. The gas mask had been a present to some children in the distant Marquesas. I smiled a bit as I exited my factory for the last time and realized the gas mask was perhaps the only vestige of modern war the idyllic islands had ever seen. When the children asked me what the gas mask had been used for, I responded simply "Hauhau" – "not very nice things." It was something I felt I knew a lot about.
The night was cold and the wind unforgiving. Just as I'd asked, the last thing a group of workers had done before they left the factory forever was to bolt the entrance gates and draw two large chains across the bars. Shoot. There was that 'planning ahead' thing again. Looking desperately around, I realized I'd just have to scale the gates if I didn't want to spend the rest of eternity here. I knew not building a back entrance was going to come back and bite me in the bum one day.
I latched onto the steel bars and drew myself upwards, hoping no wandering policeman spotted me. About halfway up, I realized I must have been eating far more of my own candy than I should have been; I was completely winded. Resting for a few seconds until a large crash in a nearby alleyway elicited a girlish yelp from me, I practically shot the rest of the way up, though being very careful in climbing over the spiked top of the gates – I may have been a lot of things, but I was still a man, with all the anatomy entailed therein – and slid my way down the other side. Leaning forward and catching my breath, I was relieved to find that the streets seemed to be deserted and that the crash which had so helpfully aided in my climbing was produced by nothing more frightening than a stray cat jumping off of a garbage can.
I threw one last look behind me at the monstrous factory, now completely dark and oddly silent as the machines had stopped churning for the first time since its opening, and began to meander aimlessly down the street, feeling quite sorry for myself. Here I was, not yet middle-aged, having been an enormous success and an even bigger failure, with one measly bag bouncing along side of me, without my factory and without my purpose, with nowhere to go but anywhere. I somehow wasn't surprised to soon find myself on Cherry Street, where the whole fiasco of my career had started, right there in the little shop on the corner which was now a used electronics store. I halted my slow walk and stared listlessly at the flickering images of the dozen or so TVs in the window. Not surprisingly, the late-night news was showing clips of my various press conferences held over the years. How apt, I thought to myself. The end of my chocolatiering career was happening on a screen in the place that was my beginning.
"To what do you attribute the great success of Wonka's Chocolates?" one weasel-faced reporter asked me.
"Agriculture, of course. If those clever prehistoric farmers of the Fertile Crescent hadn't realized about ten thousand years ago that food was a whole lot easier to grow than it was to catch, explosive population growth could not have happened. If explosive population growth had not happened, not as many people would be alive to buy Wonka's chocolates. And, of course, once a person realizes that Wonka's are a lot better than any other candy, their natural instinct is to buy what tastes best. What tastes best probably is the best, and when billions of people figure this out, our sales become what they are. That's called 'natural selection.'"
Yeah, I chuckled to myself. That was a pretty good answer, really. I stuck my hands in my pockets and smiled smugly. All things considered, I was pretty darn good looking on TV.
"No it's not," one particularly cocky young reporter piped up. "Natural selection applies to biological habitats and the species therein. I'm pretty sure Darwin didn't have chocolate in mind when he wrote Origin of Species."
I shot the reporter a strained grin. "Did you know that serfdom is still technically legal in England? True, it tragically fell out of favor after the Peasant Revolt of 1381, but just knowing it is still employable should strike terror into the hearts of people like you who have nothing better to do than bother people like me. Now be gone, churl! A'fore I hand you a scythe and bid you till something."
The scene ended there and switched back to a droll-faced anchorman who was apparently telling the entire world of Wonka's end. My end. I watched in silence as he read several financial statistics – apparently success to his kind of people was only measured in currency – and ended the piece with an emotionless, "No one has seen him since." The screen then flipped to a toilet bowl cleaner commercial and I sighed. So that was it, then? No fanfare, no accolades, not even an apology. Just a piece on the evening news and a few clips of times that I'd ticked off reporters. Typical. I found myself wondering why I had tried so hard to make people in the world happy; if this was how they treated news of espionage and destruction of the secrets that made them so happy, why did I still care so much, and why were hot tears streaming down my cheeks?
"You all right, there?" a voice called out behind me. Startled, I swiveled around to find an old man pushing a cart of garbage looking at me curiously.
"Yeah," I managed to choke, wiping the tears from my cheeks. Dad always told me boys don't cry no matter what, I reminded myself with all the sternness I could muster at the moment. "I'm fine. Just…that toilet cleaner commercial…reminded me of something I used to…love."
The man nodded knowingly. "There's nothing more beautiful than a toilet when you really need one, I know it."
Strange as this response was, I found myself nodding thoughtfully, my melancholy taking over. "Yeah," I sighed. I couldn't believe I was agreeing with him. Or something. "You're right."
Nodding again and waving a bit, the man wandered away and I leaned against the cold brick wall of the store. I found my mind drifting back to the last big factory party I'd held for all of my workers on the roof of the best hotel in town, and to something my date and I had had a conversation – albeit a short one – about. Over the years I'd noticed that I'd become more reclusive, but I had found that for the most part, I genuinely liked my workers and didn't mind spending an evening or two with them every year, listening to their quaint domestic worries and humorous stories about life in my factory. Though, I had resented that they'd had wheely-chair races down the hallway on corporate time – without inviting me.
"You need to get out more," Eleanor had said to me that night as I sipped daintily on my second glass of mulled wine. Being a lightweight, two was about my limit, and I was quickly becoming less coherent. I remembered I'd thrown her a somewhat contemptuous glance, thinking that I'd only had dinner with her twice and thus she wasn't qualified to tell me what I should and should not do with my life quite yet, though the giving of unwanted advice never seemed to bother women.
"I'm here, aren't I? I'm out," I'd argued.
"You know what I mean," she'd said. I opened my somewhat inebriated mouth to say something, but she cut me off by saying, "I'm only telling you because I worry about you, you know. I really think you're becoming anti-social. Factory insurance pays for testing, after all."
I'm not sure if it was my intoxicated state that made me agree to this or if it was just to shut the woman up (methinks it was the latter), but I found myself the next morning sitting in front of a couple of counselors. My head still hurt, and I was inwardly marveling at the fact that so many of my workers had drunk themselves stupid the night before and still managed to straggle through the factory gates that morning (though, granted, they were looking considerably more wobbly than they normally did), and I put up with the idiotic questions from the two gits in front of me until they started asking me about sexual urges and all that disgusting stuff before I finally shooed them out of my office for good. People like that thought nothing of skimming a nice profit off the whole of human misery, but I, for one, wanted no part of it. I told Eleanor if she wanted to get out more, she could darn well do it alone.
Watching my breath crystallize in front of me, I got to thinking that reclusion wasn't altogether a bad thing. After all, eccentric is just a word coined by those who want to be left alone to practice their craft without having to deal with the kind of people who wouldn't and couldn't ever understand Art. It's a 'Convenient Excuse' word, possibly the best of them all. If all people were after in this world was money and fame, I'd rather be a recluse. Then at least I wouldn't have to stain my existence with people like them.
It was me against the world and it was time to get out of there. I wanted to travel to places I'd never been, and where no one had ever heard of me. Quite frankly, if the people want to forget about me, let them. If they didn't appreciate my candies, fine. I'd leave, and I'd never come back. I'd done it before. No one said it was easy and I'd be the first to admit it doesn't heal a broken heart, but I'd been beaten, not defeated, and there is a difference. Rather than go insane I'd search for new purposes out in the world; I'd bring back tastes and smells and magic the whole world had never seen. The name of Wonka had not been conquered, it had merely been reminded that there are evil people in the world and I, being the clever, dashing chocolatier I was born to be, would get myself out of this tight spot because that's what I did best. Candy was candy and candy was not my problem – people were. Quite frankly, I could not hold my chocolate responsible for the parasitic idiots in this world, and I owed it to myself and anyone I'd ever made happy with my creations to go out and do better – and be better – than I ever had been before.
Quite frankly, I was looking forward to it.