Notes; I'm rating this C for creepy. While working on my WIP I fancied writing something about a much darker incarnation of Wonka. This started life as a five-hundred word drabble. Yeah.

Labyrinth

By Nina Wyndia

The factory was a labyrinth. To Charlie, it might have been a palace of delights, but for Mrs Bucket it was something far more dangerous. She couldn't fathom it. Every expedition led to being intrinsically lost in it. Corridors she thought she knew moved. Rooms ended up in entirely different places. She knew it was absurd, but sometimes she got the feeling there was something about the factory that was sentient. Just like the man himself who ran it, she couldn't figure it out. Because from the beginning, there was something about both Willy Wonka and his factory that just didn't smell right.

Call it mother's intuition.

Let's begin with the man. Charming, pleasant and childlike. That was the impression he left on the Bucket family, who, upon moving in, found themselves spellbound. But there was something, even then, that should have given the game away—because no one is that childlike. And because despite the childish behaviour, there was sometimes—passing in a flash— something cunning and adult in those eyes. He was deceptively childlike, luring the Buckets into a false sense of security, made himself 'one of the boys.' Before long Mrs Bucket would catch herself saying things like, "Now run along and play, you two!" and "What've you kids been up today?" Only later stopping and thinking, because there was something that wasn't quite right about that.

Her intuition niggled at her, nagged at her, did what intuition was supposed to do and though she tried to wave it away—'What a load of silliness! Willy is a lovely man!'- continued to niggle and nag, until gingerly, she mentioned her worries to her family.

Mrs Bucket was not a confrontational woman. She did not do things the Jeremy Kyle way, did not want to bring on extended cousins, DNA tests and lie machines. Instead, when, after dinner one day, Charlie had left to brainstorm ideas with Wonka, she carefully, after consideration, brought it up.

As she went round the bed collecting bowls with a clatter and clank; "I've been thinking, about Willy. Doesn't it seem like there's something odd about him?"

Throwing himself down on the settee, grabbing his book, Mr Bucket said, "Odd? I think there's a lot odd about him," he laughed. "But you've always known that."

"No… not odd then. Something off, perhaps."

But already, Willy Wonka had started to use his magic to worm his way into the Bucket household's heart.

"Off?" said her husband.

"Off?" said Grandpa Joe and Grandpa George, and Grandma Josephine.

"'What? Who left the stove on?" said Grandma Georgina.

Mrs Bucket was beginning to feel a little flustered. "I just meant…"

There was a strange tension in the room, so thick you could cut it up and serve it on a plate. Mr Bucket dissipated it with a laugh.

"You're worrying too much dear. He's a little strange, yes, but think about how long he's been alone in this factory with only those little midgets for company for. It'd drive anyone loopy."

The Bucket family had yet to get used to the company of the strange Oompa-loompas and their eerie silences and sudden songs.

Silently and swiftly, Mrs Bucket went on collecting the crockery. When she took Grandpa Joe's plate, he said proudly, "He's an eccentric genius."

When she took Grandpa George's plate, he said, "Alright, he's completely round the bend, but aren't we all?"

As she took Grandma Josephine's, "You're just thinking too hard, darling."

And lastly, "What's that? That candyman? Lives on the top of the hill. No one knows a thing about him!"

Mrs Bucket put all her aggravation into attacking the dishes with fairy washing up liquid. It was a frustrating night, when Grandma Georgina made more sense than anyone else.

Frustrating, but understandable. Mrs Bucket couldn't quite put her finger on what was wrong herself. She felt annoyed with herself for bringing it up, puzzled by the reaction she had got. She was quite entitled to voice her concerns! If concerns were the right word for it.

Mrs Bucket's thoughts went round and round, and didn't go anywhere.

Meanwhile, Wonka continued to flatter. He was a master flatterer. He made each and every one of the Buckets feel like they were his favourite Bucket, played up the childish ruse till just weeks after moving into the factory, they embraced him like a second son. And each time he flattered, he took Charlie a little further away from them. Clicking in on his platform heels with his disarming smile, exclaiming, "What is that that smells so delicious? Why Mrs B, you're a bona fide angel in the kitchen!" And then winding up with, "By the way, you don't mind if I borrow Charlie for a few extra hours this evening, do you?" To Grandma Josephine, "Why, you don't look a day over seventy! I bet the only reason you won't get out of that bed is because you're shy about showing off those lovely legs of yours." When he was met by humble giggles, "Oh, and I came by to say Charlie and I'll be working late tonight, so don't wait up!"

Every visit was an excitable, "Charlie and I—" and a "Is it a alright if I…?" a "Hope it's cool if—" Sometimes, not even waiting for an answer, vanishing with a, "Kay. Cool. See you later alligators!"

His visits with Charlie grew sparser. When they came to visit during the day, Wonka would always have a friendly hand on the boy's back. When they made their goodbyes, he used it like a handle to guide him to the door.

But that was the thing that flummoxed Mrs Bucket, made her hesitate. Charlie seemed fine. More than fine; he smiled everyday, everyday was happier than he'd ever been. When Charlie and his mentor were in the same room together, the boy looked at him as though the sun couldn't shine any brighter. And when he came home, exhausted at night, it was Mr Wonka this, Mr Wonka that!

Nobody else seemed to find anything unusual about this. Probably because they themselves were Willy this, Willy that!

Mrs Bucket was starting to wonder if she'd been wrong this whole time, and it was she that had the problem. Was she being selfish? Did she just not want to share her son?

But though Charlie looked happy, seemed happy, would happily answer any questions about what he's been doing with Mr Wonka, Mrs Bucket couldn't help but notice a new guardedness in his eyes when he did so. Charlie had always been a shy, polite boy, but he also always worn his heart on his sleeve. This was new for her son, and Mrs Bucket instinctively knew that it was not good.

Mrs Bucket washed the dishes with a certain ferocity these days. She often felt an overpowering helplessness she could not pin point. This was because she had consciously put aside her intuition, but subconsciously, could not, because you can't unknow the things you know; it doesn't work like that.

The factory was huge, but Mrs Bucket's world was never smaller.

She would have liked to be able to check up on Charlie. See how he was doing, bring him snacks and ask him about his day. Something any mother of a ten-year old boy would be able to do. Something that had stopped completely, since the family had moved into the factory. The Buckets never left the chocolate room. This had never been enforced by anyone. If it were a rule, it was an unwritten one. It was simply because of this; the factory was a maze. In the early days, any straying out of the room led to the particular Bucket/s being completely lost. And though the factory was constantly teeming with the tiny Oompa-loompas, curiously, they seemed to vanish whenever the Buckets needed them. Eventually, hours later, hungry and completely fed up, they would be rescued by Wonka himself. He would stride along whistling and twirling his candy cane, and each time, find the unlucky lost Bucket by accident. His mouth opening in a little O of surprise, he'd look absolutely delighted to see them, pat whoever it was on the arm and say, "Lost again, eh? Don't worry; you'll get used to it in the end!" Then, he'd escort them directly home, wittering about whatever project he and Charlie, he and Charlie, he and Charlie had been working on.

Charlie didn't go out of the factory very often now.

He didn't spend as much time with his family either. They laughed and joked together as normal, but more and more often there were times when Charlie would look straight through them.

Then, when one of the rare mornings Wonka still ate breakfast with the Buckets he complimented the cooking, the curtains, the carpets. Then he said, "Oh ya, I was meaning to ask. Charlie and I were thinkin' it might be more convenient if we moved his bedroom just a teency way into the factory. Y'know, so it'd be easier for him after working late nights and he just wants to put his noggin down somewhere. He could still come back other evenings, and we'd visit everyday of course." Before Mrs Bucket could open her mouth, "Alright? Awesome."

He rose to leave, but Mrs Bucket finally big down the frog in her throat and said, "Actually, Willy, I'm not sure that's such a good idea."

Everybody glared at her as though she was being a terrible nuisance to Mr Wonka. Except for Charlie, who continued to stare at Wonka, fixedly, as though he had found Buddha.

No, no, no.

There was something terribly, terribly wrong here.

"Willy, Charlie is still very young," she said. Her voice was stronger now. "I wouldn't feel comfortable with him sleeping in some strange part of the factory."

For an instant, Mrs Bucket thought she saw something like hatred flash in Wonka's eyes. Then she blinked, and it was gone. He deflated his cheeks like a balloon, looking like a child deprived of something. He threw his hands up in defeat, sighed and smiled. "Oh well!" he said. "I only thought it might make it easier for him." –Rather snidely—"He is going to inherit this all day."

"It would be lonely for him," Mrs Bucket said, bluntly.

"No it wouldn't," Wonka retorted. "His bedroom would be right across the hall from mine."

As far as Mrs Bucket niggling intuition was concerned, this was one good reason why Charlie shouldn't move.

She said, "Mister Wonka, he's not moving."

But Wonka just turned round briskly in his seat to look at Charlie. The boy beamed at him. He said, "You've been very quiet, Charlie my boy. What do you think about this?"

That dirty underhanded, weaselling—thought Mrs Bucket.

It was like Wonka had clicked his fingers. Charlie's eyelashes flicked up and he finally looked at his family in the room. Shyly, he said, "Well, Mr Wonka's right and it would have been a lot more convenient. But if you don't want me to go Mum, then—"

It's as though he's under his spell, thought Mrs Bucket.

Just then, Mr Bucket piped in, "Dear, I think you ought to reconsider. We'll all still be under the same roof, after all! And who knows, maybe some independence will be good for him."

"Yes, let him go!" said Grandpa Joe.

"Yes, let him go!" said Grandma Josephine.

"Yes, let him go!" said Grandpa George.

It's as though they're all under his spell, thought Mrs Bucket. Her hands began to tremble in her lap.

Wonka rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Well, that settles it!" he exclaimed. "It's six to one Charlie flies the nest. Unless you want to cast your vote Georgina?"

"Who are you?" asked Grandma Georgina.

"I'm not going to count that one either way," said Wonka. He stood up briskly. "We've got a lot of things to do today Charlie m'boy, so you better start packing—" He put his arm round him as they headed towards the door. Mrs Bucket quickly stood.

"Mr Wonka, wait," she said, but the words weren't strong, she was not strong any more. They wilted as they left her lips.

Wonka turned on his heel in a fierce motion. When he smiled at her, displaying those perfectly white incisors, it was less like a smile, and more like a bearing of his teeth.

"Yes?" he said.

How had she never noticed it before now? When she first met Wonka, she thought he was a harmless fruitloop. How had she missed that this man—this candy coated sugared man of dreams—was terrifying!

"Listen, I don't think… I don't want—"

"All we want," Wonka said firmly, still smiling his awful smile, "is Charlie's happiness. Yes?"

Mrs Bucket couldn't reply. She was transfixed as his tongue darted, snakelike, over the ridge of his white teeth. "And that—" he said, "we agree on." The parting glance he threw her was triumphant, and deeply malicious. He spun back round to the door, his hair swooshing over his shoulder, and they were gone.

Her husband was annoyed at her for the rest of the day for kicking up such a fuss.

"Charlie is his heir," he said. "He's never going to find such a good opportunity again! So we have to do what we can to help Willy."

Yes, thought Mrs Bucket, but that doesn't mean we have to hand Charlie over on a silver platter, and garnish him ourselves. But she didn't say it. The words had got stuck in her throat again.

Before, she had always been able to say exactly what she wanted to her husband.

That night, Charlie's possessions disappeared without anyone touching them.

Charlie didn't' visit as often as she said he would, either.

Everyday at first, but soon, more like once a week. And every visit, more distant, his eyes looking further and further through them. Mrs Bucket felt so guilty about backing down that now, it was a struggle for her to even open her mouth.

She just wanted a chance to talk with her son, but now Wonka and Charlie were a set, never one without the other. And each visit, Wonka's arm scooping round her son's shoulders, taking him further and further away from her. Wonka's demeanour towards her had changed, now too. There was no more "Pretty lady," no more "Angel in the kitchen," no more of his "pretty dresses," and "What pretty hair, Mrs B!" Instead, he was chilly towards her. Their interactions were positively icy. But never rude; he never insulted her again. She wished he would. She wanted proof before she confronted the man. As if was, the family treated her as though she were the instigator. She began to doubt herself, to wonder if she was making too much out of this. Wonka exploited her hesitation, and Mrs Bucket did nothing.

For a whole week, she was unable to say a single word. Nobody noticed.

She was thinking back to her girlhood. She and Mr Bucket had had never been the rowdiest, loudest couple in town, but when she was a girl she'd barely been able to say a word. She had so much to say, so many people she wanted to say them too, but the words became lodged in her throat. She could still see herself in the dance hall in the dress it took her days and days to make. She was aged fourteen, hunched into herself, unable to say a word all night. It got easier as she got older, and by the time she met her husband she was just able to string a conversation together. Unlike the other boys, he didn't talk over the top of her. He waited for her, patiently, until she was able to say what she wanted to say and finally, after many years, be the person she really was.

Mrs Bucket hated the girl she used to be. So much so that she forgot her. Being a wife and a mother helped her put the shy girl aside, into a box out of reach. But now, with her husband distant and her son vanishing, she was starting to remember being Betty again.

That evening, the whole house was brimming with anticipation. Mrs Bucket was mopping the floor, and as she moved round the house this was what she saw;

Grandpa George, combing his hair. (What was left of it.)

Grandpa Joe, ironing his best shirt.

Grandma Josephine, fussing over what brooch she should wear.

Her husband, shining his shoes.

Mrs Bucket struggled, and said, "You're going to be able to see your face in those in a minute."

Mr Bucket smiled at her. He was in a very good mood, and he put down the brush and leant up to kiss her. Mrs Bucket felt relieved he'd stopped acting so strangely.

"What's going on?" she laughed.

"Oh, Willy said he'd pop over later," Mr Bucket said eagerly.

Mrs Bucket's relief punctured like a tyre.

"Just Willy? Not Charlie too?" she asked.

For one bizarre moment, Mr Bucket's face was absolutely blank. For one moment, it was as though he couldn't remember who 'Charlie' was. Then all the muscles in his face went slack. He pulled his mouth up into a smile. "Of course. Charlie too."

The only one unaffected by the furore was Grandma Georgina. While the rest of the house buffed, polished and scrubbed, she sat up in bed singing nursery rhymes to herself, badly. Her voice creaked like an old sign in the wind.

"The Sandman's coming in his train of cars
With moonbeam windows and with wheels of stars
So hush you little ones and have no fear
The man-in-the-moon he is the engineer."

Though her mother was as senile as an old cabbage, Mrs Bucket felt like she was her only ally. She sat down on the side of the bed and said, "Mum, I don't know what to do. I feel like Charlie's drifting away from us. I feel as though we're losing him!"

"The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?
He'll sit in a barn and keep himself warm
and hide his head under his wing, poor thing."

"I feel like there's nothing I can do to stop it," said Mrs Bucket.

"There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children she didn't know what to do!
So she gave them some broth without any bread,
And she whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed!"

"What can I possibly say?" Mrs Bucket said, hands tightened into balls.

Then, Grandma Georgina smiled. She said, "Dear, if you don't say anything, how can you expect anyone to hear you?"

She had to do something.

Charlie and Wonka visited that night, as the man had promised he would. All of a sudden, now she was looking for changes in her son, she noticed exactly how much she had missed when she had had her blinders on. When, for example, had he stopped wearing his own clothes and started wearing miniatures of the chocolatier's own? He looked like a mini-Wonka, with a plum top and tails number, and even his own gloves. The only thing missing was the hat, because, all things aside, Wonka was still the boss. Mrs Bucket found it intensely disturbing. He almost didn't look like her Charlie.

But, was he really her Charlie anymore?

He sat differently, with one leg crossed over the other. He behaved differently. She was horrified to spot several new expressions that belonged to the candymaker himself. He laughed differently. Not like himself, but with a high unnatural giggle. It was as though Charlie was disappearing, and soon all that would be left would be Wonka's heir.

She had let this go on for far too long.

Wonka was twittering excitedly about his new flavours of gum. The other Buckets were sat around him like courtiers at the king's table. Of course, Charlie was his right hand man.

Mrs Bucket took a seat beside her son.

"Peas, Mr Bucket?" she asked. Before he could reply, she ladled him a big scoop of peas.

"Peas, Josephine?"

"Well-"

She gave her peas.

"Peas, Willy?"

Wonka's lip curled at the sight of the green vegetables. For that, she gave him an extra large scoop.

"Charlie?" she asked. She saw now, what an obvious struggle it was to tear his eyes away from his mentor.

"Sure. Thanks Mum," he said, but it was still a little distant.

Wonka was in the middle of telling a story, the rest of the Buckets riveted. "And then Charlie got the great idea to use shoe leather, but—" Charlie turned back to look at him, beaming.

"Charlie, I was thinking. I haven't even seen your new room," Mrs Bucket said. Charlie reluctantly tore himself away again. "You have to tell me what it's like," she continued.

Too quick for anyone else to notice, Wonka shot her a deeply irritated glance.

A little of the old Charlie returned in his enthusiasm. He said, "Mum, it's amazing. I've got this huge bed with posts and curtains and everything, and a chest-of-draws you could fit fifty pairs of pants—"

"And then it all boiled up, and it… I mean—" He kept looking over at the mother and son, distracted.

"And then what, Mr Wonka?" said Grandpa Joe, on the edge of his seat.

"You'll have to show me sometime," smiled Mrs Bucket.

"Show you?" said Charlie, like he'd never thought of it.

"Sure. We can go after dinner," she said.

He beamed back. "I can show you my wardrobe; you can fit seven people inside, or forty Ooompa-Loompas!"

Wonka, increasingly distracted; "And then it, ah—" glancing over at Charlie.

"Yes?" encouraged Grandma Josephine.

"It, ah," lamely, "exploded." He turned very briskly. "Are you sure that's a good idea? We wouldn't want you to, ah, get lost again, would we? Ha- ha!"

Mrs Bucket was quite sure there was a thinly-veiled threat in there, but she didn't care. If Willy Wonka could play this game, she could too.

"I wouldn't get lose, I'd have our little adventurer to show me the way, wouldn't I Charlie?"

"Yep!" said Charlie.

"Well then," Wonka said, even more briskly, "I'll come along too."

"Oh, I wouldn't want to distract you from your work Willy. You're always saying how busy you are."

"I can spare a few minutes, I'm sure." Something in his voice straining.

"Willy, it's really OK."

Wonka laughed; "Ha-ha-ha!" Then said, "No, it's not."

"Yes," said Mrs Bucket pleasantly, "it really is."

Charlie's head followed the two of them like a tennis match. They were both wearing lovely smiles, and both of them looked like they'd like to kill the other.

Finally, Wonka admitted defeat. He stood rather curtly, putting his hat on, said, "Very well. It's not like I don't have work to do," –grabbing his cane— "especially if," casting Charlie such an upset look the boy's face fell instantly, "I'm going to be doing it on my own." He slammed the door behind him.

Charlie looked as though he was going to cry. Mrs Bucket was beside him in an instant. She knelt at his side, pulling him into an embrace. He reacted stiffly, and then hugged her tight.

"Mum, I made Mr Wonka-" a hiccup, "mad."

Mrs Bucket hadn't hugged her son in such a long time. She stroked his hair. "Shh, shh," she said. "Don't worry about Willy; he's just being an old grumpy boots." She leant forward to smell his hair. Since he was born, Charlie had always smelled wonderful, like sunshine and fresh air.

She almost recoiled. He had a new scent, one so strong it almost buried his completely; it was a sweet sickly smell, like too-rich chocolate.

"B-but," the boy hiccuped, "I've been trying so hard to get him to like me."

"Of course he likes you," Mrs Bucket said. Maybe too much, something whispered in her ear. She wiped away the tears pooling under his eyes with her thumb. "Now, what do you think he'd say if he saw you blubbering like this?"

Charlie laughed through his tears. "He'd say I was being silly!"

She planted a kiss on his forehead. "Now, why don't you show me this amazing room you've told me so much about?"

Charlie began to brighten a little. "It's really great. I can't wait till you see how big it is!"

Mrs Bucket straightened up. She surveyed the rest of her family. They were gaping at her and Charlie, as though waking from a trance.

Charlie's room was a long way through the factory. He called for the elevator and they stepped inside. Reaching up onto the tips of his toes, he pressed the button that read Beneath. The elevator shot off like a rocket.

"Whenever I call for the elevator, it never seems to come," Mrs Bucket said, rather wryly.

"Really? That's odd. I should tell Mr Wonka about it."

"It's alright," said Mrs Bucket. "I'm pretty sure he already knows."

The elevator took a particularly violent slantways turn. They were thrown- Oof!- against the glass.

"The elevator sure seems like it's in a bad mood today!" Charlie said, sounding absolutely delighted. Mrs Bucket herself was feeling vaguely queasy.

The elevator had moods. Mrs Bucket's thought returned to her, that there was something about the factory that was alive, much like a limb of the man who had built it. As though it was squeezing her and her family, like a germ it wanted out of its system.

The elevator made another sudden turn, and plummeted downwards, into the bowels of the factory. The sticky humidity increased, as though they were coming closer to the hot centre of the earth.

They came to an abrupt stop. Mrs Bucket felt as though she'd left her stomach somewhere up above. A ding, and the elevator doors swooshed open.

They were in a strange underground corridor, nothing like anything she'd seen in the factory before. It was permeated with a hot rawness, like rich peat. The air felt charged, and on the stone walls strange shapes and spirals like Aztec symbols skipped from the corner of her eye. The corridor seemed to stretch on forever, but there were only two doors. Half-hidden underneath leafy earth-smelling vines, facing one another, one was marked C, and the other, W.

The air, charged with something that smelled like magic, was overbearing. It occurred to Mrs Bucket that they were so deep into the factory that lost, you would never find your way out. But more importantly; anything could happen here, and nobody would ever find out.

Yet Charlie danced down the corridor in a half-skip, calling over his shoulder, "Isn't it great?" It wasn't perhaps the word she'd use.

More disturbingly; Charlie's door didn't have a handle. He placed his small hand on an an imprinted handprint, and it clicked open.

"Very James Bond," she said.

"That's where Mr Wonka got the idea from," Charlie twittered. "So no burglars or sneaky spies can get in. Amazing, right?"

Again, perhaps not the words she'd use. How would anyone get this deep into the factory, let alone to steal something, was beyond her. The awful suspicion that had lain in her gut for weeks was now tangling her insides into knots. When Charlie opened the door, she blinked. It was certainly big.

Charlie's room was bigger than the whole Bucket house put together. The bed was luxurious four poster, with baby blue drapes spangled with silver stars. The ceiling had been painted with rainbows, dragons, unicorns, and all sorts of strange creatures she'd never seen before, soaring overhead. And Charlie was the boy she knew and loved again as he got his mother to stand in his massive wardrobe (She was more shocked by the amount of new outfits that hung on the railing. They were as whimsical and flamboyant as Wonka's himself. She even saw a few designed to match his.) He showed her strange murals and artefacts, relics of dark countries she'd never heard of. Primitive musical instruments from Loompa Land and spear and arrowheads from Oonga Boonga, a vase from Bonga Wonga. In the huge room, Charlie's small possessions seemed even smaller, and almost disappeared. There was his old book bag, hung on a hook in the corner. His collection of Wonka bar wrappers, carefully tacked to the wall. A high shelf with his small, battered collection of books; C.S Lewis; Lewis Caroll; Dr Seuss. They were dwarfed by the magnificent leather-bound books with gold lettering beside them.

When Charlie had showed her everything he wanted to show her, he spun on his heel and asked, shyly, "So, what do you think?"

"It's very nice," said Mrs Bucket. But there was something else... "So many interesting things. It's like you've got your own museum!"

That was it, exactly. It felt like a museum. It had little of the boy himself, no little personal touches. He still held it all in awe, like he hadn't been living there for weeks. Yes, that was the niggling feeling! It didn't feel lived in.

Mrs Bucket sat down on the edge of the perfectly neat bed. Charlie threw himself down onto it. "It's like a trampoline!" he said.

"I'm impressed. It's so tidy in here. You've even made your bed."

"Oh no," he said, snuggling into his pillow. "I could never clean all this by myself. The cleaning crew comes round every evening at eight."

Something Mrs Bucket might not have mentioned to you; the time was six 'o clock.

Mrs Bucket felt like she was going to be violently sick.

If the way the boy went rigid was any indication, it seemed as though what had occurred to his mother had hit him too. His head snapped up to look at her. He might have been learning his mentor's trade, but he could not yet lie like him.

She said very slowly, "Charlie... you didn't sleep here last night, did you?"

The look that flashed through her young's son's wide, deer in the headlights eyes, confirmed her deepest suspicions. It was one of guilt, and something like fear.

Mrs Bucket's hands were trembling; her insides were a mess, her stomach all swirled up and knotted, but she still managed to speak calmly. She said, "Charlie, I want you to gather up your things, and then go back to the house and wait for me there."

Charlie's pupils had dilated with fear. But what was he afraid of? The discovery? Wonka? Her? It was all mixed up in his eyes, but for an instant she thought she saw something like relief.

"Where is Mr Wonka?" she asked.

Charlie's hands were all twisted together. His latex gloves squeaked. He whispered, "What are you going to do to him?"

"We're going to have a very frank, adult discussion."

A new emotion entered her; overpowering, corrosive anger.

Charlie twisted his hands tighter. His gloves squeaked louder.

"Charlie, I need you to tell me."

It was hard, but she lowered her voice. Asking gently, "Charlie, please."

It burst from him; "He'll be in the Tantrum Room. He always goes there when we have an argument."

The fact that Wonka had a tantrum room would have once seemed 'cute' and 'charming' to her. Now, it was just more proof that this child-man was a lunatic. But there was something else Charlie had said-

"You have arguments?" This was news to her. As far as the Buckets knew, the mentor-heir relationship had always been peaches and cream.

Wringing his heads even more nervously; "Sometimes, when I don't want to do what he wants me to..." he trailed off, frightened as Mrs Bucket stood violently, and started grabbing books and belongings and stuffing them into his bag. He slipped off the end of the bed, his face conveying the overpowering need to explain, to make his mother understand...

"Mum, you don't understand. Mr Wonka is my friend. I love him. I really do. And- and I've been trying so hard to get him to like me. I want so badly to be a good heir. But sometimes he wants me to do things that I... I..."

For a moment, all the anger in Mrs Bucket faded. It was replaced by love. Seeing Charlie standing there, awkwardly, folded into himself, tears swimming in his eyes, she dropped the book bag and clasped him in her embrace. She wished she could hold him forever and keep him safe in her arms.

She said, "If he makes you do things you don't want to do, he doesn't love you. That's not what love is Charlie."

She heard him sniffling against her shoulder. He said, his voice muffled, "We're going to have to move out of the factory, aren't we Mum?"

She stroked his hair and said, "Yes darling."

When Charlie's hiccups subsided, he pulled back from the embrace, said in a voice that was small and sad, "I'll take you to him."

Charlie picked up his book bag and slugged it over his shoulder. The elevator came instantly, and Charlie pressed the button that read Tantrum Room.

"What are you going to say to him?" Charlie asked, still in his very teency Charlie voice.

Mrs Bucket had no idea what she was going to say. What were you supposed to say, when someone you respected and trusted- even invited into your family- broke that trust so irrevocably?

Mostly, Mrs Bucket was angry. Mostly, at the chocolatier, but also at herself. Because what had happened to her son was her fault too, for standing back and letting it happen.

Mrs Bucket didn't have a clue what she was going to say. All she knew was that somehow, she had to make things right.

She said, "Gosh, I don't know."

Charlie peeked up at her from under his eyelashes. "I was sure you were going to be angry with me," he said.

"Now with you Charlie. It's Mr Wonka I'm angry at. That, and disappointed. I thought moving here would be good for our family. I thought we had made a friend for life with Willy. I thought he was just lonely."

Thoughtfully Charlie said, "I think he still is."

Mrs Bucket bit her tongue. One of the feelings she didn't have for the man was sympathy.

The elevator came to a standstill in the tantrum room. Mrs Bucket stepped out.

"Straight back to the house," she said firmly. They looked at one another. He nodded. The elevator closed and zipped up. Mrs Bucket watched as her sons shoes disappeared from view.

She turned to face the tantrum room. She couldn't see Wonka, yet, but she could hear a strange beeping sound, almost like a heart monitor. Which was odd, because the tantrum room was a child's playroom. The walls and roof were a blue sky with fluffy clouds. The floor was strewn with cushions and toys. Hobby horses, toy aeroplanes, a mountain of blocks. Stuffed toys had been hugged to death and thrown aside. Dolls with German braids stared with blank beads for eyes.

Except, the scene was one of utter devastation. Teddy bears had been decapitated. Hobby horses, smashed. A layer of gruesome fluff rested on the carpet like snow and someone had popped the eyes of a stuffed polar bear.

This 'someone' of course, could only be one person.

"Nurse, I need a scalpel."

Utterly disturbed, Mrs Bucket followed the voice from across the room. She moved very carefully, stepping over the squeaky dog bone and peering over the giant mountain of cushions, till she was able to see Wonka's back. He was stood at what looked to be a full-size operating table. More bizarrely, he was wearing a long white doctor's coat, surgical gloves, and a mask. Several tiny Oompa-Loompas, their faces as blank as the dolls, were dressed up as nurses. They stood up a stepladder to examine the patient; namely, a large fluffy teddy bear.

Wonka took the offered scalpel and leant over the bear. He said, "I'm now making an incision into the lower abdomen." Carefully, he cut it open. "I'm now attempting to look for the source of the problem." He stuck his hand inside like Jack and his plum pudding pie, and pulled out a rubber chicken.

He put his hands on his hips. "You really gotta watch what you eat next time," he said, tossing the chicken over his shoulder. The little men giggled sycophantically.

He said, "I'm now going to close the incision," leaning down over the bear, before- suddenly, violently, he stabbed with his scalpel. Again, and again, as though caught by some terrible passion, his face twisted in rage, stabbing straight into the bear's gut. Mrs Bucket jumped out of her skin. She stumbled back, catching her foot on a toy car, which slipped. She went flying, landed with a thump on the ground. Flat on her back, she was momentarily stunned, struggling to clear the stars from her eyes. When her vision cleared, the first thing she saw was Wonka's face, close to hers, grinning like a cheshire cat, his scalpel in hand. She scrambled back.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle ya," Wonka said, grinning embarrassedly. "It's just, yah startled me."

"But you- what were you...?"

He coughed. "Open heart bear surgery." Then he stared intensely at her. "So, yuh gonna get up or not?"

Mrs Bucket quickly got up. Her eyes followed the scalpel in his hand.

"So do what do I owe the pleasure?" he asked, opening his hands like oysters.

She said, "I'd appreciate it if you'd stop waving that thing around."

"Oh! This?" As though he had no idea he had it, Wonka clicked his fingers and passed the scalpel on to the Oompa-Loompa. He knelt down to whisper, "And, uh, go wheel George round the back room. I'll finish him off later."

The man was a lunatic. As Mrs Bucket watched him, her rage mounted. This was the man who had- who with his hands had-

"Everything okay Mrs B? Yer face is going red."

She said, very quietly, because if she didn't speak in a whisper she'd be shouting, "No, I'm not okay. I know everything."

Silence, as deep and piercing as the ocean.

Then Wonka asked, very lightly, very coolly, "Ah, know what, exactly?"

"You know what, Willy."

"I'm not sure I do."

"I'm not going to play games with you," she said.

His whole demeanour changed. The smile slid from his face. The twinkle faded from his eye. He frosted over. His eyes were shark eyes and there was no warmth in him whatsoever. He said, "Fine, let's not play games."

He strode to a plush armchair and pulled off his surgeon's jacket, swung it over the seat. More onion than man, he had another jacket, purple and gold pinstripes, underneath. As he did this, he spoke; "I hope you know how difficult you've made things for me." As he snapped off his surgical gloves; "Charlie was supposed to win the competition and move into the factory. Alone. But then he had to insist you all came with him. A rag tag bunch of snooping eyes and fingers, all prodding and poking places where they shouldn't." His face twisted into a childish grimace. He folded the gloves, tossed them onto the chair.

Mrs Bucket said, her voice thick with anger, but twanging with the tremor of betrayal; "Why? Why would you do something like this?"

He turned to her on his heel, teeth as sharp as a panther's. "Why?" he said. "Because I can."

His long slinking strides towards her were a predatory animal's. "I don't understand why you aren't like the others. Why won't you forget? It would be so much easier for you, you know."

Mrs Bucket stepped back. Her heart was pounding, but she spat the words at him, "You're sick. You're disgusting! How could you even..."

"How could you?" he said. He slammed his hand up on the wall, had her pinned against it. She flinched. "You figured out what was going on long ago, little Mrs B. And you didn't do a thing to stop me. As a mother, surely that's a crime even worse than my own. So I ask you again, how could you?"

Mrs Bucket was not a confrontational woman. She did not do things the Jeremy Kyle way, did not want to bring on extended cousins, DNA tests, lie machines. But, she still punched Wonka in the face.

He was shockingly fragile. Her fist met his jaw with little resistance. He reeled back, cradling his face. Said, in a tone of utter disbelief, "You hit me."

She encroached on him. Said, her voice hard, "You will never hurt Charlie again. You'll never so much as lay a single finger on him. Mister Wonka, we're leaving."

She turned and left him there, standing dumbstruck, and walked towards the elevator. She had thought that hitting Wonka, hurting him, as he had hurt her son, would make her feel better. It hadn't. If anything, it made her feel worse. She felt grief rise like bile to her throat. She swallowed it down. There were things that had to be done. She had to make sure Charlie was safe. They had to get out of this terrible, awful place.

"Ahem," Wonka coughed.

Mrs Bucket paused, and turned. "What?"

He seemed to have recovered from her blow. His finger raised in polite suggestion, he said, "It's just, I'm not sure I can let you leave. In fact, I'm thinking I might stop you."

She wasn't afraid of him now. She threw at him, "You and what army?"

"Well," he dithered, before shooting, point blank, "this one."

Something had her by the hem of her skirt. Before she could find out what it was, the ground surged up to meet her. Two dozen tiny Oompa-Loompas had hold of her, and were carrying her off.

Wonka's laughing, upside down face said, "I must bid you adieu now, Mrs Bucket! I have many things to do, people to see. I'd see you out myself, but I just don't have time. However! - I'm sure you'll be able to find the exit yourself."

The grip of the tiny people was astonishing. She struggled and thrashed, and cried, "You won't get away with this Wonka! I'll call the police."

He laughed. The metronome of his heels as he kept pace with them. "Go ahead! If you think it'll help."

"I'll call the army!" she said.

Only the high, unnatural gurgle of his laugh.

"Charlie will look for me."

His face, suddenly close to hers. He said, slowly, letting each word sink in like the slide of a knife, "My dear woman, in a few more days time Charlie won't even remember who you are."

The world was tipped sideways, and Mrs Bucket was falling. The smooth, cold metal of a chute.

"Bon voyage, Betty! Farewell! Adieu! TTFN!"

Mrs Bucket screamed the whole way down.

Wonka slammed the chute with a sigh. It read, Broken Toys. He wiped a mock tear from his eye and to his small companions and sung, "Parting is such sweet sorrow."

They nodded in unison, like they understood completely. Then, with professional briskness, Wonka swept on his coat, rubbed his hands together. "Let's continue on with the operation then, shall we?"

The factory was a labyrinth. To Charlie, it might have been a palace of delights, but for Mrs Bucket it was something far more dangerous. She couldn't fathom it. Every expedition led to being intrinsically lost in it. Corridors she thought she knew moved. Rooms ended up in entirely different places. She knew it was absurd, but sometimes she got the feeling there was something about the factory that was sentient. Just like the man himself who ran it, she couldn't figure it out. Because from the beginning, there was something about both Willy Wonka and his factory that just didn't smell right.

Call it mother's intuition.

And that's all.