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“Okay, so it’s definitely scary, but if you’re going for shit-your-pants scary, I think it may need some additional tweaks,” said a hesitant Oompa Loompa named Gerry. He held Wonka’s gaze, and an Everlasting Gobstopper between his fingers, and waited for a reaction.

Generally, Life at the Wonka Factory was an enigmatic mess. Pitfalls everywhere, just waiting for a casual misstep. But Gerry was one of the more sacrosanct Oompa Loompas because of his carefully selected words and actions.

Gerry learned early that no amount of Fizzy Lifting Drink will get you to the top if you criticize the boss’s ideas too harshly.

And while Mr. Wonka was an absolute freak of a human being—layers of imagination, mistrust, nostalgia, mania, purpose, paranoia, and nougat—he was also a whiz in the boardroom. Wonka was so good at running the business many forgot he was once William Wonka III, merely a beneficiary of nepotism. It was only in the last couple of years that he had gained enough confidence and industry accolades to go by Willy.

Wonka was the kind of man who could create a race of people, enslave them, teach them a language and to sing in harmony, and then elevate them to C-suite jobs, where Gerry found himself today.

As Gerry’s constructive criticism sat in the air amongst his peers, he wondered if he needed to say more, say less, or start worrying about a plunge back to custodial duties. Suddenly Wonka jolted upright, at the head of the table, “I want us to go around the table and say what kinds of things scare each of us. No wrong answers here. Just honesty.”

Gerry and the others, knew that “No wrong answers here. Just honesty,” was the classic Wonka way, a room full of edible delights, with more than a few potential dangers lurking.

“Because I want this boat ride to be as terrifying yet safe as anything could possibly be. An amalgamation of our deepest fears. If you are telling me that super speeds and flashing lights aren’t enough, what else can we add?”

Issac, the newest addition to the Oompa Loompa Executive Council, and the first seat on Wonka’s left, drew the boss’s stare first. “What about turbulence?”

Then Daphne offered, “A bone chilling wind.” Marcus added thunder claps and Rahul proposed electric eels. Wonka sat still, clearly unmoved by it all.

Looking down the line of fancy executive chairs, Gerry counted the heads and inevitable mediocre ideas, until he would have to solve the problem himself. While pondering how to Don Draper this one, Gerry passively listened as his colleagues offered up a pitiable list: guns, ninjas, werewolves, and “I also was thinking ninjas.”

Wonka’s chair swiveled five degrees with each uninspiring answer, and now faced Gerry directly.

The boss knew Gerry had more solutions within him than almost all of his advisors combined, but couldn’t just start with him every time. He’d read enough from the titans of industry to know that the best collaborations happened when everyone got a chance. They say a camel is a horse designed by a committee, but they never point out that camels are fantastically odd beings, a Wonka favorite.

Gerry knew Wonka needed a big solve and pushed his chair back, stood slowly and dramatically. “I think we’re all thinking a little too literally on this one,” he began. “While all of these ideas are tangibly scary, they don’t make sense, together, and they don’t really fit the Wonka aesthetic. This isn’t a haunted house. It’s a world of mystery and wonder.”

A smile took shape inside Wonka’s mouth, not yet strong enough to crack his stony face. “The scariest boat I could imagine would be almost motionless, tension building all around it,” Gerry said. “If I were on that boat, just waiting for the things to grab me, would be the height of my fear. By creating nothing but stress, every boat rider conjures a personalized fear. If nothing actually happens, it means any of those scaries could happen, like electric eels or ninjas.

“Keep the lights, and flash them even more, to give the sense we are moving at a high speed. Make it sound like we’re flying through the tunnel. I’m thinking screams, but make sure they echo all around us. Throw in an occasional gust of Daphne’s wind and Issac’s turbulence.” As he built the scene, Gerry had captured everyone’s full attention.

“All the while there is a speck of light at the end of the tunnel, making everyone think we’re getting closer to the end.

“But it will only flicker, it won’t grow, because we aren’t actually moving. We prey on that hope,” Gerry concluded, as Wonka’s smile enveloped his visage and the room. Gerry had the room in the palm of his small, gloved hand. An ease circulated with each Oompa Loompa, except for Trina, who was next to present and had to follow that act.

A beguiled Wonka swiveled the requisite five degrees to Trina, as tiny beads of sweat collected along her unnaturally white brows. Immediately scrapping her ideas of a simulated boat crash, Tina blurted one of the scariest things she could think of: “What about a white guy doing rhyming slam poetry?”


Josh Bard

Josh Bard is a guy. A sports guy, an ideas guy, a wise guy, a funny guy, a Boston guy, and sometimes THAT guy. Never been a Guy Fieri guy, though.

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