The bell above the door jangled softly as Timothy entered the shop. He stood by the doorway, uncertain. The place was empty, not a customer or employee in sight, and stepping in from all the busyness and noise of the city made the sudden silence seem jarring.
It was an old-fashioned sort of candy store, all gleaming brass and polished wood, and tall shelves loaded with jars of treats. A few large light bulbs dangled down from the ceiling above, their coils glowing a baleful orange, but the stingy illumination they provided only seemed to deepen the shadows cloaking the shop’s interior. The quiet was unsettlingly absolute.
“H-hello?” Timothy called out.
“Hello, young man,” came a voice from his left, so close that he yelped in surprise. There was an old man standing behind the counter. He was gaunt and deeply wrinkled, with only a few wisps of white hair still clinging to his liver-spotted scalp. But his eyes were sharp and clever. They gleamed a pale gray as he smiled down at Timothy. “Goodness! A bit jumpy, are we?”
“Sorry,” Timothy mumbled. He peered behind the old man, looking for the staff doorway he had appeared from, but saw only shelves of candy. The old man’s smile widened. “Can I help you with something? We’re not yet open to the public, I’m afraid.”
“I got this in the mail,” Timothy said, rummaging around in his backpack and pulling out an envelope.
“Oh? Well then, let’s have a look.” The shopkeeper took the envelope from Timothy and produced a magnifying glass from beneath the counter. The glass made his pale eye bulge grotesquely as he inspected the envelope and its contents.
It had been addressed to Timothy specifically, which was exciting; only his parents ever got any mail. There was no return address and he hadn’t recognized the spidery handwriting, but he’d torn it open to find a small black card with letters of golden foil:
The bearer is granted VIP ACCESS to
Croft’s Wondrous Confections
and one FREE item of their choosing!
On the back was an address. Timothy had looked it up and taken a bus here after school.
“Ah!” exclaimed the old man, “You must be young Timothy Mullins! Our VIP.”
“Yes,” the boy said. “Did I win a contest or something?”
“Oh. Then why me?”
“Why not?” the old man said with a wink. Then he strode out from behind the counter and gave a theatrical bow.
“Welcome, young sir, to Croft’s Wondrous Confections! I am Ignatius Croft, owner and proprietor. You have been granted a special invitation to my emporium of delights before we open to the general public, and you may leave with any one item, free of charge, to commemorate your visit!” With a flourish, he spread his arms to indicate the darkened shelves surrounding him.
Timothy’s eyes widened. “Anything I want?”
“Whatever you wish, dear boy! Take a look around.”
He tried to scan the shelves, but the dim light made it hard to see. A jar full of colorful spheres to his right caught his attention, and he walked over to take a closer look, but nothing in the shop seemed to be labeled.
“What are these?” Timothy asked.
“I wouldn’t recommend one of those,” said Mr. Croft. “They’re unstoppable jawbreakers.”
“Like they last forever?”
“Yes, they do,” Mr. Croft said, “but that’s not where the name comes from. They’re unstoppable because once you start sucking on one, you can’t stop until you’ve finished it.”
“But they last forever,” Timothy said.
“Precisely,” said the old man.
“Oh,” the boy said, warily. “I’ll keep looking.”
He wandered past the shelves and peered into the innumerable jars. Some of the candy looked a little familiar, but most of it did not. It was all strange shapes and colors; some of it didn’t even look edible. One jar was filled with glistening sludge that started bubbling when he got too close. Timothy thought he saw something squirming in another. He hurried past it. Mr. Croft said nothing as he browsed, merely smiled and watched.
He noticed a jar filled with something like blue popcorn and pointed to it. “What about these?”
“Forget-me puffs,” Mr. Croft replied. “Lavender and blueberry flavored. Quite tasty. Each mouthful causes someone you love very much to forget you ever existed.”
Timothy jerked his hand away from the jar. “Why would anyone want those?”
Mr. Croft shrugged. “One never knows. Could come in handy sometime. And as I said, they’re quite tasty.”
The young boy looked around the store, uneasy. “Maybe I could just get a Snickers bar or something?” he said.
Mr. Croft arched an eyebrow. “I carry nothing so vulgar. All of my wares are hand-crafted and unique. I’m sure you’ll find something to your taste.” Timothy wasn’t sure he wanted anything at all from this shop, but he spotted a jar on the wall behind the old man filled with milky white sugar-coated gummies and pointed to it. “Just some gumdrops then, please.”
“Ah,” said Mr. Croft, gliding behind the counter and plucking one from the jar. “Not gumdrops, but glue drops! My most delicious creation by far, which is just as well, since it’s the last thing you’ll ever eat.”
“What do you mean?” asked Timothy.
“They glue your mouth shut, of course.”
Timothy frowned. “For how long?”
“Permanently,” said Mr. Croft. He smiled down at the boy, gray eyes unblinking.
Timothy shifted nervously, glancing toward the door. “Actually, I’m not very hungry. And it’s getting kind of late. Thank you very much, but I think I should get home.”
“So soon?” Mr. Croft said, looking wounded. “But you’ve only just arrived! I can’t have one of my VIPs leaving empty-handed.” He tapped his chin thoughtfully for a moment, then snapped his fingers. “I think I have just the thing. If there are any left…” He bent down and started rummaging around beneath the counter.
Timothy edged towards the door. “Really, I’m fine-”
“Ah!” said Mr. Croft, popping back up, “Here’s one! My very first creation. A magic chocolate drop.” He held up a tiny ball of chocolate in a clear plastic wrapper.
“Magic chocolate drop?” Timothy asked. “What does it do?”
Mr. Croft crooked his finger to draw the boy closer, then whispered conspiratorially. “It gives you magical powers."
Timothy looked uncertain. “What sort of magical powers?”
Mr. Croft shrugged. “I never know! It’s different from person to person, you see. But it’s always something wondrous.”
“I don’t know…” the boy said.
“You’ve come all this way,” Mr. Croft said. “Do you really want to go home with nothing? Or do you want to experience the extraordinary?”
Timothy glanced at the door, then back at the chocolate drop in the shopkeeper's outstretched hand. “It’s not going to do something awful, is it?”
Mr. Croft chuckled. “No, dear boy. Go on, have a taste.”
Timothy hesitated, biting his lip. Then he reached out and took the candy, unwrapped it carefully, and popped it in his mouth. It was very nice, actually. Rich and sweet and creamy.
“Quite the opposite, in fact,” Mr. Croft continued as the boy chewed. “You’re going to become part of something wonderful.”
There was something scratchy in Timothy’s throat. He coughed a bit to clear it.
“All of my creations come from very special ingredients,” Mr. Croft said. “Ingredients I stumbled upon quite by accident after creating those very chocolate drops.”
The scratchy feeling was getting worse. Timothy kept coughing, and he felt something dislodge in his throat. Hacking, he spat a gob of grainy white sludge to the ground.
“Sugar!” cried Mr. Croft. “How delightful.”
Timothy’s hacking coughs turned to retching as he fell to all fours, vomiting handfuls of sparkling white sugar onto the ground, his eyes wide with fear.
He couldn’t stop.
He couldn’t breathe.
He saw his fingers begin to dissolve into powder and tried to scream.
“It’s different from person to person, as I mentioned,” the old man said, watching from behind the counter as Timothy’s terror-stricken features melted and ran down his face like sand.
And then, finally, all was quiet.
Mr. Croft walked over from behind the counter and knelt to sweep the mound of sugar on the ground into a small sack, his pale gray eyes glittering.
“Now, young Timothy. What wonders shall I create with you?”
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A bit gruesome for my tastes but very effective story, Jordan. You do an excellent job describing the store. I could visualize it well. The sweets were creepy (but very creative) and I had a sense of foreboding and worry for Timothy. I felt sad for his demise. I don't have any negative thing to say about the story only that the story effectively produced negative feelings in me. So it worked. The feel of the story would be totally different if Timothy had been a spoiled brat. Then we'd be happy to see him dissolve (but not into sugar). ...
Thank you for your kind words! And I tend to gravitate towards the dark and fantastical, so sorry if this ended up being more gruesome than you'd like. The point was definitely to make Timothy likable; otherwise, it would read more like a parable. And sometimes terrible things happen to good people - it's possible that was even Croft's goal :)
I understand. It's just not the typical Hollywood happy ending I'm used to. But then I need to break out of that mindset. Your story is horror after all.
Great story, Jordan. I was legitimately sick to my stomach reading the ending. (Which, congrats, means your story succeeded because it made the reader feel something, even if the feeling was negative.) This was well-written and kept me guessing how it was going to end. Needless to say, didn't see that one coming. And the ending line was excellent. Thanks for sharing this.
Thanks very much! And congrats on making the shortlist :)