The Old Man’s Candy

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I never should have taken the old man’s candy.

“But Joseph,” he said, “it’s so juicy and sweet.”

He popped one in his mouth. Chewed. Swallowed. Well, my eight-year-old brain reasoned, if he could eat it, so could I.

I took one from his outstretched hand, examined the brown paper wrapper with interest, and asked, “What is it? I’ve never seen this brand before.”

His lips curled into a toadstool smile.

“Ah, Joseph, the candy you hold in your hand is one of a kind. I make it myself for special boys and girls like you. Go on, try it.”

I did. It was delicious.

An exotic rainbow of fruity flavors burst across the surface of my tongue—the invigorating tang of lemons and oranges, the elysian sweetness of strawberries and blueberries, all accented by flavors I’d never encountered before and haven’t encountered elsewhere since.

Yes, it was delicious, and from that day forward, I was hooked.

It seemed I couldn’t go for more than a few hours before my craving reached an agonizing climax. My body would ache and burn with need, as if someone had thrown me into a fire, and I would have no choice but to return to the old man’s house for more.

“Of course, Joseph. I’d love to give you more.” He flashed me his signature toadstool smile, an expression I would come to loathe. “But if I do something for you, you have to promise to do something for me.”

“Anything,” I breathed, and when he pulled three more candies from his pocket, I lunged.

“These are for tomorrow. There’s one for breakfast, one for lunch, and one for after dinner.”

He gave me a fourth to take the edge off, and all at once the longing vanished.

“Come back tomorrow, and I’ll give you your first assignment.”

That was how my life in the underground started.

At first, I was given simple jobs, like delivering packages or relaying messages. Easy enough to accomplish behind my parents’s backs, and I was always rewarded with more candy. Then I grew older, more capable, and the nature of my assignments changed. Sometimes I would steal, sometimes I would spy. I was exposed to a whole other world, to the dark and seedy underbelly of humanity. They were people who’d slipped through the cracks. Desperate people. Powerful people. Dangerous people.

By the age of twelve, I’d had enough.

“I can’t do it anymore,” I told the old man.

He just smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and said he understood.

“If you want more candy,” he said, closing the door behind me, “you know where to find me.”

I was on his doorstep the following day.

It’s been thirty years, and I’ve done a lot more for the old man than steal or spy. At first I found it odd that he could survive so long. Then I thought about it some more, and I decided it wasn’t odd at all. I lay awake at night, watching the moon-limned shadows dance across the ceiling, and I ponder with manic obsession what I’ll do when he’s gone and the candy finally runs out.

“You’re mine, Joseph,” he said to me once, and he was right.

I am his, now and forever.

Author: Jeff Coleman

Jeff Coleman is a writer who finds himself drawn to the dark and the mysterious, and to all the extraordinary things that regularly hide in the shadow of ordinary life.

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