“Hi, Mum! Hi, Pop!” Mike squeaks as he hops from the screen onto the table. “Look at me! I’m the first boy sent by television!”
Mrs. Teavee shrieks. “You’re an inch tall! Oh, my sweet boy!”
“Sweet?” Grandpa Joe whispers to me. “He blew Violet to bits!”
True, Mike did chuck his flinty Everlasting Gobstopper at the ballooning, purple Violet, popping her and splattering blueberry juice, sugary blood, and bile all over the Inventing Room. But Violet was hardly a sweetie. She was, after all, the one who had shoved Veruca into a mob of vicious, mutant squirrels and happily snapped her gum as the gnawed Princess of Nuts slid down the garbage chute. Of course, Veruca herself had previously kicked Augustus squarely in his generous lederhosen, dumping him into the churning chocolate river that led to his being swirled into fudge. (I regret ever having eaten a morsel manufactured in this place.)
Yet I find it difficult to condemn my fellow contestants for their assorted cruelties. Our sadistic host, who at present is suppressing snickers as he unapologetically consoles Mrs. Teavee, lured us all like Hansels and Gretels into this gingerbread house of horrors. If anyone here lacks sweetness, it is Mr. Willy Wonka, demon chocolatier. When this bloody contest concludes and I claim my prize, I will personally see to it that he receives his just desserts.
We were five ticket-holders this morning; now the remaining lone obstacle separating me from my prize has been greatly, er, reduced — to the size of a gummy bear, in fact. The humane thing would be to put wee Mike out of his misery. At least this is how I rationalize the heinous crime I am about to commit.
I reach into my tattered pocket and silently commend myself for having scooped up some of the treats I found behind the door marked EXPLODING CANDY FOR YOUR ENEMIES. I select a weapon disguised as a tiny yellow butter mint. It ought to be sufficient to take out a target so small.
“Go on, Charlie, finish the job,” Grandpa Joe says, nudging me with his bony elbow. “Then it’s one last moralistic Oompa-Loompa song and we’ve won.”
I nod, bracing myself for the blast, and lob the mint.
From the January/February 2012 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.