There was a serene sweetness in the air and a soft breeze that carried me up the soft, spongy path. It took me a whole two minutes to walk from the white fence at the beginning of the path to the large, ovular, translucent front door at the end of it.
I looked to the left of me as I arrived at my destination and saw what looked like a strawberry lace hanging from the underside of the porch with a sign next to it which read:
Yank for the Doodle!
I could not, for the life of me, imagine what the Doodle could be so I pulled hard on the strawberry lace. After a few seconds I saw a movement behind the front door and it swung open in front of me. In the doorway stood a man. At least, I thought it was a man. His proportions were extremely odd and he had a full face of rather ghastly makeup. His tangle of bright green hair did absolutely nothing to take the attention away from his deep blue eye shadow and his outfit was nothing short of ridiculous. He wore a black and white striped suit with a lime green shirt and a purple tie. In fact, I would say that he closely resembled a mint humbug.
“Good afternoon, my darling child,” the man said, rocking back and forth on his heels. “Welcome to the Candy-Cane House. I see that you ventured up the Victoria Path and decided to stop at the Glacier Fruit entrance. I do applaud your decision. It is definitely the route I, myself, would have taken.”
I am not ashamed to say that I was rather taken aback at the presence of this preposterous man. I moved my mouth but no sound would come out.
“My dear, do you wish to come inside?” the man enquired. “I know what they say about curiosity and cats but neither of us are cats, are we? Oh, that reminds me,” he cried aloud, “how rude of me. I do apologise. I am Mr Doodle, butler and tour guide of the Candy-Cane House on Quality Street. How do you do?”
I stared at him a little longer. He had extended his hand to shake mine. His arm was extremely long and thin. I took his hand, shook and said, “Good afternoon, Mr Doodle. Please excuse my shocked silence but I was rather taken aback by this situation. My name is Penny, Toffee Penny. I agree with you that neither of us are cats and as so it would be foolish to avoid curiosity and also, I am very well thank you, how about yourself?”
Mr Doodle quickly pulled his hand away from mine and retreated a few steps into the hallway behind him. “How am I?” he asked. “Well, nobody has ever asked me that before. I suppose I am well, thank you. I suppose I am very well indeed actually.” He looked straight at me, smiled and said, “Shall we commence the grand tour then, Miss Penny?” and extended his hand again.
I took it and entered the brightly coloured house.
The hallway was spectacular. The floor was a matte black and soft, much like tarmac in the middle of summer. I reached down and touched it.
“Excuse me, Mr Doodle,” I said.
“Yes, my dear.”
“May I ask you a question about the house?”
“Why of course, my dear. All questions are welcome, in fact, I actively encourage them. There is only one rule when asking a question, however. Please never ask why.”
“Whatever do you mean, Mr Doodle?” I asked.
“Why is such a vulgar question. Too open-ended. It’s full of possibility and lacks any refinement. I detest the question and so too does the house, so if I may, I ask you never to ask why.”
“Of course,” I replied, knowing that it would be rude to offend anybody in their home. “But may I ask what the floor is made of?”
“Of course you may,” Mr Doodle shouted with excitement, smiling and revealing a mouthful of oversized teeth, “these are the kinds of questions I adore answering. The floor is made of liquorice. In fact, it is made of the best quality liquorice you can find this side of Bassettown.”
I could hardly contain myself. “Is this entire house made of sugar then?” I asked.
“Not the entirety of it,” Mr Doodle replied. “The Dark Room is made entirely of cocoa. 100% Ecuadorian.”
I did not like the sound of that so decided not to ask about it. I hoped that it was not a destination on the tour. Mr Doodle and I continued down the hallway to a door at the end which appeared to be made entirely of salted caramel. At the door, Mr Doodle turned on the spot and said, “Now, my dear, through this door we must be careful. The floor is sticky and there will, no doubt, be traps. I ask that you follow my lead and do exactly as I say at all times. Can I rely on you to do this?”
The entire prospect of traps in a house made of sweets seemed preposterous to me but, again, I respected that this was not my house and acquiesced to Mr Doodle’s wish.
The Caramel Caverns were the largest thing I had ever seen. The golden walls were smooth to the touch and the entire place had a warm feel to it.
Mr Doodle hummed to himself as he strutted along the tunnel. “This is, in my experience, the safest way through the Caramel Caverns, or Toffee Tunnels as the inhabitants take to calling them. Barbarians.”
“Inhabitants, Mr Doodle?” I enquired.
“Yes. The children that enter the house with impure intentions never leave. They stay here and set up encampments around its many rooms. There are entire nations within these walls. These children are known as the Jelly Babies. A more unfit name there never was. They are selfish barbarians with only one goal.”
“What is that goal?”
“To lead other children astray so that they, also, must remain here with them. They have corrupted the most pure of children. Animals.” With each sentence, Mr Doodle’s expression became darker. His eyes seemed to sink slightly and his brow became lower. His smile, however, never faltered.
I wondered what an impure child must look like. I imagined sharp teeth and horns. Somebody like me but with claws and a forked tongue. I knew that this was highly unlikely and that they would just look like children but I liked to imagine them as monsters. It made their fates seem more justified.
We continued through the caverns until Mr Doodle stopped sharply in his tracks and said, “Wait.”
“What for?” I asked, deliberately avoiding the word why.
“Do you see that?” he asked, gesturing towards a shiny spot on the floor ahead of us.
“I don’t know.”
“The shiny spot,” he said with more urgency.
“Yes. Yes I do. What about it?”
“That is a runny toffee puddle,” he said. “You must not touch it. As soon as you touch it you will become stuck and it will pull you in. You will forever become one of the Jelly Babies. This is one of the traps I spoke of. Quickly. It would seem that they have anticipated us.”
Mr Doodle rushed me through the rest of the caverns, avoiding several more puddles on the way to the exit. I caught sight of what I thought was one of the Jelly Babies as he quickly hurried me into what he called the Fruit Pastille Forest. It recoiled when it saw Mr Doodle.
Once into the Fruit Pastille Forest, Mr Doodle’s demeanour seemed to change somewhat. His face appeared more gaunt in the twilight glow of the diamond covered jellies. His complexion was pale, his eyes dark and his smile seemed more menacing than warm.
“What is it that the Jelly Babies did to get here?” I asked him.
“This and that,” he replied. “They forgot the golden rules of being children mostly.”
“What are those golden rules?” I asked.
“You know the rules, my dear,” he said. “Speak only when spoken to. Be polite at all times. Never be greedy. Respect your elders…” he tailed off.
The forest seemed to be growing darker. “Mr Doodle, I must apologise but it seems to be getting quite late. I must get home before dark. My parents will begin to worry.”
“Not to worry, my dear. Not to worry,” Mr Doodle said as he bounced along the forest path. “There is an exit at the end of this very path.”
I was glad to hear it for it was getting dark and my parents always asked me to be back before the sun went down and I so hated disappointing them.
However, the path seemed to go on for quite a while. It seemed that Mr Doodle had been bouncing along beside me for an eternity. Eventually, though, we reached the door at the end of the path.
“Is this the door I must use to get home, Mr Doodle?” I asked.
“Yes, my dear. Yes it is,” Mr Doodle said with a smile and gesture towards it.
I stepped forward and opened the door. What I saw on the other side of this door, however, was not home. It was nothing like it. It was a room made entirely of dark chocolate.
I felt Mr Doodle’s hand on my back as he pushed me into the room.
“What are you doing?” I shouted, “I need to go. I need to go home.”
“Oh no.” Mr Doodle said, smiling at me with wide, mad eyes. “You forgot one of the golden rules of being a child… You must never trust a stranger.” With a mad laugh he whirled around, slamming the door shut and plunging me into darkness. From through the door I heard him cackle …and sing, “Another jelly baby in the bag.”
Third year English and Creative Writing student