The Candy Man
The Candy Man
They stepped from the lip of the concrete drain into the ditch. Encroaching dusk sent shadows flitting between naked trees. No thief creeping from cover to cover could avoid detection in their barrenness. Buildings loomed in the feeble glow of a desolate street lamp. Their doorways became darkened places where the homeless slept.
Except tonight. Tonight an unseen wind clamped a ghostly hand on the city sending the street denizens into the missions to make their beds.
Cocking her head, Jenna noted the absence of pesky rats
“Come, Charlie.” She pulled her companion onward. “Looks like Peters was right. Ain’t gonna be a night fit for sleepin’ out.”
“Why not? We can stay in our culvert. Can’t we?” He put his fingers to his lips and blew harshly. “It’s too cold to go out tonight.”
Looking first right and then left she hurried them across the road. “You want to die?” She grabbed him and shoved him forward. “That’s why. You stay here tonight you die tonight. And tomorrow the headlines shout, ‘bum found frozen in culvert.’ You stay here tonight. You die tonight. Simple as that.”
Just ahead of them the ghostly lamp beckoned safety. A pool of brightness in the enveloping blackness, it rushed them on. “We got to get someplace inside tonight, Charlie.”
“But we’ve slept out in weather like this before. Didn’t kill us then.” Hunched down in his hole-filled coat, he dutifully trudged along. “Honestly, Jenna, I don’t see what all the fuss is. Why you always hafta listen to Peters for?”
“Look around you, my boy.” She sighed, the safety of the light pole finally reached. “Peters says on nights like this Reaper takes on many disguises. Best be on the alert and let nothing creep up on you.” Nothing could creep up on her. Not even Reaper could steal her life-breath away from her now. Since she could see what approached, Reaper would keep away. It was dangerous only when she couldn’t see what was coming. There was safety in the light of the street lamp.
They couldn’t stay there forever. The cold wind would quickly cause a numbing sleepiness to invade even the brightest of minds much less her foggy old brain. And this invasion would open the door for Reaper to enter and gather her into his legion.
Shivering, she peered into the murkiness ahead. The wane moonlight, mingling with the feeble light, falling snow, and blackness threw their shadows against the street. Huge, twisted, and lumbering they appeared puppet-like. Unnaturally stretched, they cast a menacing echo as they tottered on the brink of the cold eternal darkness of the abandoned road.
‘Come follow me.’ The road whispered. ‘I will lead you away from security and make you cringe on the edge of plunder. I hold marauders’ treasure of hidden terrors just for you.’
The wind sent tendrils of air dancing around and down her spine. Their stone cold grip felt like a breath of death rustling nearby. She pulled her bags closer as though they could ward off the evil presence lurking in darkened doorways.
“Jenna?” Charlie’s soft whisper crashed the silence engulfing them.
“What?” She hurried. Her body was bent nearly parallel to the road. Her head was tilted, dangling from her neck like the bait at the end of a fisherman’s rod. Not daring to look up for what would greet her. She skirted a broken crate. Her pants brushed against a trash bin.
“You think we might find someplace warm in one of those buildings?” He asked, stuffing his hands into his pockets.
They reached a second streetlight. Safe again. Time to catch her breath. Jenna’s black eyes darted from side-to-side like a rat. Peering anxiously, seeking predators, they lingered briefly on every shadow.
“Dunno. Gotta find a place though. We’d best hurry, too. Night’s comin’ on full now.”
“Might be, we could even find us something to eat if we’re lucky.” His smile looked like a frightened child’s grimace.
Jenna could feel her heart speeding up. Reaper was coming. He could be waiting in the shadows. He wasn’t far that was for certain. She could tell by the stillness of the night around her. She knew by the way her heart seemed to pause and then pound furiously. Soon it would caper out of control and become louder than the night’s silence.
“How about the old bakery?” Charlie offered. “Ain’t no one been there since it closed. Could be we’ll even find a bit of donut to wash away our hunger.”
“You and eatin’. It’s all you ever think about. ‘Sides, even if we was to find a bit of donut, it’d more’n likely be hard like a rock and growed over with dead mold by now.” Jenna turned to stare at the bakery.
Sprouts of long dead weeds poked through newly fallen snow. The pavement beyond the padlocked fence cast broken bits of asphalt under a white blanket. At a glance she could tell the front windows were boarded against vagrants. A narrow service alley, however, might yield an unbarred window. “I dunno, Charlie. Peters always claimed Old Man Reaper haunted this old bakery.”
“Oh, c’mon, Jenna!” Charlie rubbed his hands together. “I’m cold.”
“Oh, all right. Worth a shot, I guess.” Setting her bags down, “Give me a boost up.”
“How am I supposed to get over?” Charlie asked, kneeling and cupping his hands.
“You’re young. Climb the fence.”
Jenna landed on the hard, snow covered pavement. Rising, she stood nervously listening to the loud clanking of the fence as Charlie scampered up and over. The dull thud of his landing and accompanying curses gave a welcome liveliness to the stilled parking lot.
She could feel the eyes of Reaper upon her. Reaper was waiting for her to make just one wrong move. “Peters, I hope you’re wrong about the Candy Man.”
“Who’s the Candy Man?”
“Old Man Reaper. Peters says years ago Reaper posed as the baker and put poison into the cookies and candies made in this bakery. He killed about a dozen children on Halloween.”
“I remember that story,” Charlie nodded. “It wasn’t Reaper. Cops said the baker had a nervous breakdown and went crazy.”
“That’s what the cops say. But street people know differently. It was Old Man Reaper.”
“I suppose Peters says so,” Charlie said, snooping near the building.
“You believe what you want, Charlie Matthews. When you’re as old as me, you won’t scoff at what folks like Peters says.”
“C’mon, Jenna. There’s a cracked open door over here!” Charlie beckoned excitedly, “C’mon! C’mon!”
Hanging back, peeking through the crack. “I dunno, Charlie. Looks mighty dark in there. Peters says on nights like this you can hear the kids screaming as they die from the poison.”
“Jenna, enough of what Peters says already.”
“Yes, Charlie. You got any matches?”
“What for?” He frowned. “Just flip on the light switch.”
“Electricity’s probably turned off, silly. Need matches,” she said, patting her pockets. “So we can make a fire.”
“This enough?” He offered the five remaining matches he carried.
“They’ll do just fine.” Striking the match, she guarded the feeble flame with the palm of her hand.
Edging inside, she noticed a thick layer of dust covering the floor. “Ain’t nobody been in here since just after they closed the place down.”
“Kinda ghostly in here.” Charlie clutched Jenna’s elbow.
“Give me some of that newspaper over there. Hope it ain’t too wet to catch fire.”
Minutes later they had a small fire going. Jenna stretched her legs in front of it. She kept it fed from a pile of newspapers left by beggars long since gone. “Looks like this bakery ain’t been as abandoned as you thought, Charlie.” She rubbed her hands in front of the flames. “Now we gotta find some more stuff to keep it going through the night.” The fire licked inviting fingers ceiling-ward as it gobbled the newspapers she fed it. “See if you can find some broken furniture that got left behind, will ya, Charlie?”
“I’m cold too, Jenna. Can’t I stay here with you?”
“You could stay here, but then I’d have to go out there. And I’m an old woman.”
“Okay,” he sighed. “I’ll go. If I get lost, it’s all your fault.”
Jenna watched as he disappeared. He’d once told her he was retarded but she’d never expected him to be so child-like. A pang of guilt stole through her. She shouldn’t have sent him off by himself. “Charlie,” Jenna smiled. “Won’t you ever grow up?” She sighed. “No. I guess you won’t, will you?”
She sat hunched forward. The warmth from the fire seeped into her tired old bones. The heat brought a flush to her time wrinkled face. Minutes ticked away slowly. “Hope he hasn’t gotten lost.” She stood, searching the dark doorway, listening for his footsteps.
“Charlie?” She whispered, taking a step nearer the door and away from the safety of the fire. Thoughts of the Candy Man lingered in her mind.
The door looked to be a mile away. It’s yawning mouth gaping blackness in a toothless grin. “C’mon, Charlie, answer me!”
She stepped into the hall and was swallowed by the darkness. Fumbling, she scratched a match against the wall.
What’s that sound?
“Jenna,” the whisper drifted toward her.
“Charlie?” Turning, she felt the hairs on her neck stiffen. “That you?”
Finger branches reached forward from the match light. “Jenna,” he sighed. “Come along with me.”
“Charlie, don’t do this to me.” She hurried after him, afraid. “You know my heart ain’t too good.” The match flame bit her fingers as it chewed its way toward the end of the paper stick.
She struck another. Ahead, in the flickering glow, she saw his shadow rounding a corner. She stooped and scooped a handful of newspapers. Holding the match between her teeth, she twisted the papers into a crude torch and touched the match to their tip. As the flames of her last match ate the paper, she scooped snow and patted it around the cone of the torch.
“That’ll make you last awhile.” As she straightened, she saw the ghost white trail of footprints.
“I’m waitin’, Jenna,” he whispered. A velvety soft whisper, send chills down her spine through her heart and up into her throat.
“Coming, Charlie. Coming.” She rushed headlong down the hall, mindful of the torch lest it extinguish and leave her in the darkness.
The room she entered around the corner struck her as a huge cave. Beyond the circle of light were huge shapes. As she approached the center of the room, she saw it was the main kitchen. Giant mixers stood encased in cobwebs as they waited for the baker that never came. Vast sinks patiently sat hoping to feel the coolness of water cascading down their drains. And a clock perched on the wall; it’s hands frozen forever at noon or midnight.
Tip-toeing, Jenna whispered, “Charlie?” Fear choked her heart. “Charlie, please don’t play games with me. You know the Candy Man is waitin’ to get his hands on me.” She paused, “And you.”
Peering into the room she stepped forward. A shadow movement caught her eye and she turned to face the left corner.
“Charlie? Now is not the time to play hide-n-seek with me.”
She could not hear any response. The room was as silent as a tomb.
Clutching the ragged edges of her coat in one hand, she raised the torch higher. It’s feeble flame cast ominous fingers of light toward the corner, barely touching on a lumpy object against the wall.
“C’mon, Charlie. I’m tired of this game of yours. Come on out now.”
Peering anxiously, she stepped ever nearer. Still there was no movement. “Drat you, Charlie!” Shaking her head, “Okay, how’s it go? All ye, all ye out in free? That it?”
Still the lumpy shape did not move. Jenna took yet another step forward. “Come out here, right now!”
The tin man watched from up ahead while the wolf lay sleeping. The moon had risen high in the midnight sky as Reaper came up creeping.
She reached the corner. Charlie lay curled on the floor facing the walls. “C’mon, Charlie. No fair sleepin’ like that. You was supposed to be gathering more fuel for the fire.”
She gently shook him and turned him toward her. “You’re kinda cold, Charlie.” She patted the buttons on his coat and tucked the collar up. “C’mon, wake up.” She shook him. His hand dropped from his stomach to the floor.
A frozen cookie fell from his hand as Jenna leaped backward. Her hand pressed to her lips in an effort to stifle the scream that would not come.
“Candy Man!” She cried as she scrabbled away from the body of her dead companion. Stumbling to her feet, she ran toward the door. Skidding through the door she cast a glance over her shoulder. A single red eye glared back at her. “Candy Man!”
A cold wind blasted her back toward the kitchen as she burst through double doors into the blackness of the night outside. With one arm outstretched and groping, the other curved around to keep the wind from her eyes. She crawled toward the fence.
“Jenna,” the wind crooned around her, “Jenna.”
Breathless, she slumped against the fence, keeping her gaze upon the bakery doors. “You ain’t gonna get me, Candy Man!”
Adrenalin rushing through her withered bones, she scampered up and over the fence like a child of ten. Icy tendrils of death caressed her neck; pearl-white goblin teeth nipped her heels as she dropped heavily to the ground.
Up ahead the street lamp beckoned. Safety was within reach if she could but keep ahead of Candy Man she could beat the Reaper yet.
Only thirty more feet to go. “Careful, Jenna. You don’t want to fall down now,” she sobbed as her feet slid in different directions.
Twenty feet now to the lamplight. Twenty feet to safety. The wind seemed to pick up the chant as it hurled newspapers, and crumpled vending machine cups dropped by thoughtless people in motion throughout the day.
Ten feet to the friendly pale yellow of the light. Five feet to the security of non-blackness. Lunging forward, she grabbed the street lamp. “I got you! I made it!” She sobbed.
Tears stinging her eyes, breath coming in ragged gasps, she fled onward. Her blood ran cold through now prominent blue veins and her heart lurched maddeningly as she ran headlong toward the safety of the street lamp further on. Surely safety would gather her into its arms once she reached the further light.
Onward and onward, she ran. From light to light she fled. And always close behind her came the whisper, “Jenna. ”