The Candy Factory
A Cautionary Tale of Cultural Evolution and Redemption
by Steve Miller
written sometime in the late 1960s or early 70s
Once upon a time, in a beautiful land not very far away, there lived a group of children that always played together. Their parents were wise, kind and indulgent and allowed the children to do as they pleased.
One day the children took a hike. They entered a deep forest and came, after a while, to a clearing. At the far end of the clearing they saw a large building – larger than any they had seen before. They ran excitedly across the clearing to the building and looked at the sign affixed above the main doorway. “Candy Factory”, it said. These children, however, didn’t know what candy was. In their life with their parents and relatives they ate only freshly killed game and the daily harvest of wild nuts, fruits and vegetables. They drank pure clear water from the streams, and for sweets they gathered honey.
Being curious and in awe of such a magnificent building the children tried the main door but found it locked. So they searched for another entrance, and found a barred window, slightly ajar. They boosted the lightest one up who, with a little effort, was able to push the window fully open, and one by one they squeezed through the bars and dropped to the floor.
As their vision adjusted to the dark interior their eyes widened. In the vast room, gleaming machines lay before them. Signs hung over the various sections: “Raw Materials”, “Mixing”, “Baking” and so on. Hanging from the ceiling over the Master Control section were the candy recipes, painted in glittering letters on huge boards. Even in the gloom the signs dazzled the eye.
The children ran to the Master Control section. The board held banks of switches. The one marked “Fast Forward” was larger than the rest and centrally-positioned. One child stood before it, fascinated. And then, impulsively, he flipped the switch. Lights went on everywhere, including powerful spots focused, from all sides, on the recipes. Then the gleaming stainless steel machines came to life. The children were thrilled, and could hardly wait to make candy. Nothing they had ever known prepared them for this. One could hardly blame them for what followed.
Sometime later the children had mastered the production of candy. They were assigned to teams, and they worked shifts, so that the production would never halt. They slept on the floor in corners. And of course, they ate candy, lots of candy – whenever and as much as they wanted. They hardly ever thought of home or their parents. All they thought about was candy.
Occasionally they quarreled, where they never had before, but since there was candy for all they were easily reconciled. And, they began to get fat.
On a Friday, promptly at 9 AM, the executives assembled in the conference area. Stern, jowled and heavy, they sat in a circle, sighing and grunting. They didn’t look like children anymore. They began their meeting as usual with an invocation to candy. Then the Chairman cleared his throat and remarked that they might as well get down to business. He turned to the Chief of the Raw Materials section. The Chief rose gravely and acknowledged that what had been rumored was now confirmed. The workers in his section had been scraping the bottoms of several barrels lately and, after a hasty survey, he was reluctantly obliged to report that raw materials were running out. A murmur ran through the assembled. Some protested, saying that that was clearly impossible, that there had always been so much raw materials. Some suggested that perhaps a group of conspirators had been stealing raw materials. Uneasy glances were exchanged. A committee was formed to investigate and report back.
Not long afterward, during a lull in the fighting, one of the children deserted his area. He didn’t really know what it was he sought, but he risked stern discipline nevertheless – being docked his ration of candy, or worse. This child, called Misfit by the others, found himself standing below an inconspicuous grimy little window. Looking up he could just make out the shadows cast upon the window by the bars outside. Memories beckoned. How long had it been since he squeezed through those bars and entered the Candy Factory? How long had it been since he last saw the sun? How long since he’d drunk clear water from a stream – not the candy water that he and the others now fought over so bitterly? Not so long ago, really, but so much had happened since! More than anything now he wanted to see the world he and the others had left behind. He rolled an empty raw materials barrel to below the window and climbed up. He pushed open the window and pressed his fat cheeks against the bars. He was practically blinded by the brightness outside and, rubbing his eyes, he heard the songs of birds, felt the wind on his brow, smelled the flowers in the fields. “I want to return,” he cried out to himself and then, his hands grasping the bars, he suddenly realized he couldn’t. He couldn’t even begin to squeeze through the bars. He was too fat. And then he cried aloud.
Children came running. “We can’t get out. We can’t go home. We’re too fat to get out,” he screamed. They pulled him down and roughed him up a little.
“Who cares?” someone said. “There’s no candy out there. Here’s where the candy is.”
“Candy is the most important thing in life,” others said. “All that stuff we had before, that was kid stuff. Candy is grown up stuff.”
“Besides,” yet others said, “for better or worse we can’t do without candy. There’s no turning back. Candy is all that counts now. We’ll just have to try to bring peace to the candy factory and figure out how to make candy in new ways.”
They all agreed that that was realistic, and that it didn’t do anyone any good to get sentimental over the way they lived before they had entered the Candy Factory. And so, in a moment of rare accord, the leaders of both sides decreed that no one was ever to look out that window again, and they hanged Misfit from the bars of the window to press home the point.
The Great war continued. Supplies of candy were getting desperately low despite rationing, but something new was quietly taking place, much to the concern of the leaders. It was being whispered that there were children who dared climb past the bones of Misfit to steal a glance out of the window. It was said that children talked about Misfit, and remembered his last words: “You can give up candy,” he had said. “That’s the only way you can ever go home. And home is better than candy.”
Though the leaders tried to suppress this kind of talk, and hanged other children from the bars of the window when they were caught, the movement yet grew. Some of the Misfits (some children now secretly called themselves that) began to throw away their candy, in an attempt to lose weight. They would stuff pillows into their shirts to look fat, but when they were caught they would be force-fed candy. “A good child is a fat child.” the leaders said.
One day it came to pass – the Misfits overcame. They stopped fighting and they stopped the others from fighting. Then, those children that were left sat down beneath the window in a circle and joined hands. They vowed that no one would break the circle until all had become skinny enough to squeeze back through the bars. And then would all go home.
It wasn’t easy. Many struggled and screamed, saying they couldn’t break the candy habit. But the strength of the whole prevailed and no one was allowed to rise. After not too long a time they were all skinny again. And though thin, they didn’t look quite like children anymore. There was something different in their gaze.
They rose slowly and then, one by one, squeezed through the bars – this time looking back, so that they might better know to what it was they were returning.