You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, a fantasy adventure novel available at Barnes and Noble Online.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cotton Candy World-

Thomas Horton Henderson III was a man proud of his heritage. A fifth generation confectioner and purveyor of sweets and treats to the people of the venerable town of Boston, Massachusetts. His father had retired some years ago, leaving the family business to Thomas and his brother William.

Thomas continued to run the family storefront business. William had studied science, with advanced degrees in chemistry and food science. They both held positions on the board of directors of the major corporation, but preferred the hands-on of making candy and other treats to simply the management of a business. Others were better suited to those tasks and had been brought on-board for that purpose.

This day in the store should have been a day like any other. Thomas liked to arrive early and get things started. He always began with warming the kettle corn kettle, and then got the cotton candy machine going. It was the original machine, purchased in the distant past by a previous Henderson and in constant operation since. It required a bit of tinkering these days to keep it going, but Thomas didn't mind.

At least he didn't until this morning. He started the machine, and it seemed to be running fine. He made up the morning batch of cotton candy, and hung the finished cones of sugary goodness up to be bagged and made ready for sale. After all, a business called Cotton Candy World had to have cotton candy to sell. Everything seemed fine until he determined that he was done spinning the magical confection and tried to turn off the machine.

He flipped the switch. It kept spinning. He flipped it on, then off. It kept spinning. It was nearly out of sugar, but the cloudy substance kept spinning out into the big bowl. He started collecting the spinnings onto cones as he contemplated what to do. He had quite an addition to the morning's scheduled production before he noticed that the cotton did not appear much like candy.

Thomas examined the most recent cotton candy cone. The spun material had a metallic sheen. He pulled at it and found it felt like metal. He leaned over and examined the central unit where spinning took place. There was obvious erosion to the metal components. He could hear the internal parts, such as there were, grinding a bit.

"Perhaps the old girl is going to cash it in. Buy the farm. This may be the end." he muttered as he played with the switch again. Nothing. It kept spinning. Then a horrible screech, and the sound of mechanical parts rending themselves into scrap. He looked into the bowl. The spinning was still going on.

Grabbing another paper cone, Thomas gathered some of the most recent product. Other metals and plastic were spun into the cotton fibers around the cone. He was perplexed, going on frightened.

"Time to call William." he said aloud to himself. He did so. "William? Yes, Thomas. There's something wrong with the cotton candy machine. Yes, I know I have repaired it for decades. This is strange. Something is really, really wrong. Can you come over?"

Thomas continued to gather the spinnings from the machine that continued to work in spite of no longer having any works to work with. The mess of broken bits at the center of the machine continued to erode as the vortex grew to consume them. A half hour later William arrived.

William examined the spinnings that were definitely not cotton candy. They were cotton steel and cotton copper, a bit of cotton Bakelite from the older components and some cotton plastic and rubber from the newer replacement bits that had been added over time. He looked into the bowl and watched the spinning vortex in the middle. He played with the switch.

"Did you try unplugging it?" he asked. Thomas looked sheepish and did so. The vortex continued to spin.

The two brothers sat near the machine, thinking and wondering what to do with the strange thing sitting in the middle of the room. Employees arrived and were apprised of the situation. Thomas decided that the store would open, but for the first time in decades the Cotton Candy World would not be selling cotton candy.

If any metal or other contaminants had entered into the cotton candy made that day it could be a huge liability to the business. No, there would be no cotton candy this day. The store opened and went about normal business, working around the brothers and their strange anomaly sitting in the back room.

"We need to move it, while it is small." Thomas said.


More thinking, then some phone calls. A dump truck full of sand arrived at the rear loading dock. The brothers and the truck driver, a friend named Mack Elroy, loaded the anomaly into the back of the truck and nested it into the sand. The three men drove the spinning vortex out to an old quarry, parking the truck in an isolated area. They then sat on the sides of the dump bed and watched the spinning vortex continue to expand and consume the metal bowl. The vortex was now eight inches across.

Periodically Thomas would use some of the paper cones he had brought with him to sweep the spun metal from the eroding bowl away from the vortex. He didn't know if it was necessary, but it gave him something to do.

"What could we do with this?" William asked. "It seems like it could be useful, but we don't really know much about it."

"It would be great for processing scrap metal." said Mack. "Or used for demolition. Or processing recyclable materials that could be spun out and made into thread or yarn."

"I wonder if it could be some kind of energy source?" speculated William. "Can we contain it?"

"Maybe we should just dump it out, bury it and walk away." Thomas mumbled. He didn't like the responsibility. He didn't like the impact it was having on his day. He cherished the regularity of running the shop.

"I don't think that would work." said William. "That probably wouldn't stop it, and eventually it would get big and be out of control. Not that we control it right now." He looked at the vortex slowly spinning out the metal of the cotton candy machine's big bowl. William began punching keys on his calculator.

"There's got to be some way to make money with this thing." said Mack. "What happens when it finishes spinning out the bowl and gets to the sand?"

He and Thomas contemplated that idea, as William continued to calculate. Finally Mack felt the need to do something. He grabbed the shovel that was part of the trucks kit and began shoveling sand into the bowl.

"Hey, stop that!" said Thomas. Mack continued.

"Actually, that may be a good idea." said William, looking up from his calculator. "That way it will work mostly on the sand, leaving the bowl intact to contain the spinnings. I don't think it can hurt anything to add some sand."

Thomas shrugged, then reached out with one of his paper cones and began gathering the spun sand. "Looks a bit like fiberglass. More brittle, but similar."

"Got it." said William. "Good news first. If it progresses in a linear fashion, it will probably remain within the bowl as long as we feed it and pull off the spinnings."

"That will give us time to figure out how to make some money with it." Mack said. "I would hate to just have to give it over to the government. No profit in that, and who knows what they would do with it."

Thomas used another paper cone to begin collecting more spun sand. The first cone he had tossed over the side of the truck. "What's the bad news?" he asked.

"Well, if the progression is non-linear, we have no idea how much time we have." William answered. "However, ultimately it would be a big problem. Cotton Candy World would be more than the name of a business."

Thomas sighed, threw the paper cone of spun sand away, and started on another one. "Having the fate of the world in my hands is a bit more than I had planned for when I opened up the shop this morning." he said, turning the paper cone slowly at the edge of the vortex.

A confectioner's life shouldn't be so hard.