“Well that's... new.” I said, lost for words.
The Wonderful World of Wonka, had changed a lot since I was last in Eastbrook. Once upon a time it had been a small room full of second hand memorabilia, a replica of Roald Dahl's writing desk and a small theatre next door that played the film on loop.
What stood here now was a world apart. The entrance was a scaled down replica of the factory entrance from the film, made, apparently, out of fibreglass. On the way in, visitors would sit in a boat on a small track and go down a kaleidoscopic tunnel.
We'd had a little more than we were expecting to last night, and were both feeling a little hung over, half cut, and light-headed. I was struggling to believe what I was looking at.
“I'm struggling to believe what I'm looking at,” I said.
“How big did you say this place was supposed to be?” Trisha said, equally in awe.
“Just a couple of rooms.”
“This looks like more than a couple of rooms.”
In wonder we shuffled forwards, past a sign that said, “Pay on way out.” A bit of an odd business practice, but I didn't think much of it. We stepped into the little boat/carriage and began our journey.
What we would go on to experience was like a wonderland, especially for a small northern town like Eastbrook. Part of the exhibit was a recreation of the factory, with conveyor belts and anamatronic workers. The other part was a pretty extensive exhibition on the history and inspiration of the book, as well as prototype works in progress from both the book and the film.
We were still dizzy as we traversed a small gallery themed around the book's various covers. Despite our giddiness, I turned the conversation towards something that was bothering me.
“So what was the deal between you and Brian last night?” I suddenly paused nervously. “I mean, if you don't mind me asking. It's just he seemed pretty wound up about it.”
Trisha sighed wearily. “I forgot to thank you for cutting in when you did. It could have got ugly.”
“So... what was he going on about? Vision quest?”
Trisha rubbed the bridge of her nose and sighed again. “What happened was that a group of us had met up in Salisbury. One of the group was a girl that Brian was...” she paused a moment, unsure how to continue. “He wasn't quite into her, I guess, is the best way of putting it. They were getting along well and she was interested in him. But from what I gather he felt he wanted more time to get to know her before taking the relationship further.”
“Right, okay?” I said, feeling rather foolish. I hadn't expected this story to get so personal, but at the same time, I felt a little privileged that me and Trisha had bonded so quickly that she felt comfortable telling me this.
“What happened was somebody spiked Brian's drink, and he and this girl ended up sleeping together. Nobody knows who did it, but it sort of soured their relationship before it even got started. I think Brian's never really got over it and made up this spirit journey story as some kind of coping mechanism.”
“Wow,” I said, genuinely sympathetic towards Brian. I'd known a fair share of awkward relationships myself. “So he went to America?”
She nodded, there was a sadness in her eyes now, like a measure of guilt. “He goes there every year, hangs out on a reservation and smokes peyote. It's sad really.”
I didn't know what to say.
“I shouldn't joke about it, but I just can't help myself. I suppose that might be my own comping mechanism of sorts.”
I put a hand carefully on her shoulder. “Thanks for telling me that. I really appreciate you opening up to me.”
Her smile had returned as though it had never left. “No problems. I'm not the kind of girl to keep secrets.” She started to walk further down the room, shorty getting to a sharp turn. “Oh, it's the gift shop. Looks like we've got to the end.”
“Didn't they say something about paying here?”
“I think so.”
We walked up to the till, which was designed to look like an old movie theatre box office. From behind the curtain emerged a robust looking woman in a blue blouse. She reminded me of a school dinner lady.
“Did you all enjoy the exhibits?” she asked cheerfully. I detected a slight Scottish accent.
“Yeah it was fantastic,” I answered.
“Really amazing,” Trisha agreed.
“When did they overhaul the place like this?” I asked. “I used to come here as a kid and back then it was tiny.”
“Ohh it's got to be just over a year now,” the woman said, accepting the notes we handed under the glass window. “It's grown very popular, not like the old days at all.” Handing us our change, she leaned forward. A cryptic and cheeky smile on her face. “And it's set to get even bigger.”
I leaned closer to the glass to accept the change. “Even bigger?”
“Don't spread this around,” she said, and slid two plain blue tickets along the counter. “There's a Great Glass Elevator exhibit opening soon.”
“No!” both me and Trisha said in delighted disbelief.
“They're doing a secret showing tonight. Invite only. Get here for around seven and you'll be in for a treat.”
Me and Trisha turned to each other.
“Well we have to don't we?” she said.
We were sitting in a scruffy, run down coffee shop not far from the train station. I would have liked to have taken Trisha to a nicer place, but my budget was getting close to minus figures at this point.
“What time is it?” asked Trisha.
I checked my phone. “Half three.”
“Aggh! I'm too excited.”
“Calm down,” I said, laughing. “It might turn out to be rubbish, you never know.”
She sighed, and slumped into her chair. I picked up the rather chipped teacup and took a sip of weak Earl Gray.
“Gimme your number,” she said, holding out her hand.
I spat a little of my tea back out in shock. “I'm sorry?”
“Well we can't not stay in touch after this weekend can we?”
My heart skipped a beat. “I guess not.” I ripped a piece from a nearby napkin and pulled out a promotional pen that I had acquired at some point during the con. Quickly, but carefully, I wrote my number onto the raggedy bit of paper and handed it over to her.
Trisha looked at it and smiled, before shoving it in her back pocket.
“We definitely should do something some time...” I said, nervously. “Maybe meet up for drinks or something?”
We smiled, silently, at each other for a few moments. Those moments felt like they lasted forever, and at the same time, lasted no time at all.
“Why wait?” Trisha said, nodding to the door. “Let's go, I'll get in the first round.”
Going from hungover to mildly drunk is easier than breathing. After killing a few hours in the pub, and resoundingly killing my wallet, we wandered, confident and giddy, back towards the Wonka Museum.
The entrance to the museum was all shut down, and there was little sign of life. Carefully we made our way down a back alley. It was darker than I expected for this time of year, and the faint security lights guiding our way reminded me more of Christmas time.
An unassuming fire escape door sat open. This had to be it, since there was no indication anyone else was still around. We entered through the back, and found the lady from gift shop desk happily waiting for us.
“You made it!” she said, beaming with glee. “I recognise you from earlier, but I'll have to see those tickets all the same.”
We handed her those plain clear tickets, and she tore them in two, giving half back to us and stuffing the other in a small satchel that hung over her shoulder.
“You're the first to arrive,” she said. “It'll be a sneak peak at the exhibit first, then a few complimentary drinks with members of staff to let us know how you found it.
We nodded. “Sounds good.” Trisha said.
“Just follow this corner down till you get to the elevator entrance.” She held up her hand and pointed to a pair of very medicinal looking double doors. “You can't miss it.”
We followed her instructions. After getting through the doors, we could see across the way was a large looking staff elevator. The front had been decked out much like the rest of the museum. It was blue and tinted, just like the one from the book, but to more modern audiences, it probably looked more like The Tardis.
We pressed the button and the doors opened. Inside, the walls of the elevator were covered in flat screen TV's, projecting a rendition of what was supposed to be the factory's launch area. It was all very immersive.
We both leaned back against a cushioned part of the wall that was likely designed for that purpose. For a few moments we didn't say anything, just smiled in an early drunken haze.
It was Trisha who spoke first. “It looks great. I'm glad we decided to do this.”
“I'm glad I could do this with you.” I just sort of blurted out.
Part of my brain tried to get me to back-peddle, but here and now, and with a little Dutch courage, I felt like I could do anything.
“Trisha...” I paused, looking her in the eyes. “I need to tell you something.”
Suddenly the doors creaked open and a bustle of new visitors streamed into the lift. I cursed my luck, as the mostly middle aged group warbled and babbled amongst each other.
To my surprise, however, as the elevator filled, Trisha squeezed up against me. As we backed into a corner, she lay her back onto my chest, her backside between my legs.
Nobody in the lift seemed to notice, or if they did they pretended not to.
My breathes shortened, and I could feel heat radiating from her blushing face. Nervously, but with care, I let her body lean into mine.
She turned and looked softly at me. “You wanted to tell me something?”
Her lips were inches away from mine now. I was blushing too. Any concern of what the others in the lift might think evaporated once I felt her breath on my skin.
I leaned in.
My mobile phone was vibrating. The harsh buzz sounded methodically between rhythmic thumps that sounded familiar.
I rubbed my eyes, and took in my surroundings.
I was slumped, uncomfortably across two train seats. My neck ached, having been lurched over a metal hand rail. I rose, and rubbed it with my hand.
I looked around. The carriage was half full, and the conductor looked over at me suspiciously.
Out of the windows was nothing but blackness. At first I thought it was night, but looking at my watch I realised that it was still morning. I must have been in a tunnel.
The phone was still vibrating.
I pulled it out of my coat pocket, and answered.
“Jack?” the voice asked.
“I'm sorry?” I mumbled, still half asleep.
I heard the voice talking with someone on the other end of the line. “Keith, sorry. Is that Keith.”
“Yeah,” I answered, confused. I didn't recognise the voice. It was sharp, and sort of rose in pitch as the end of each word. The accent wasn't quite southern, but it wasn't quite northern either.
“It's Luke. Are you okay?” He said.
“Luke?” I asked. I didn't know a Luke. It took me a few moments to realise who it was.
“Luke Bains,” he replied. “Trisha asked me to see if you were okay.”
Suddenly the memories all came flooding back. I felt a flutter in the pit of my stomach.
I struggled to pull myself up vertical. My head felt as though it was chained to the floor. “What happened?” was the only question I could muster.
“Someone must have spiked your drink. Trisha said you'd passed out last night. I was coming to pick her up to take her back to Aughton, but she didn't want to leave you on your own.”
I rubbed my eyes again. I couldn't remember any of this.
“Eventually we got you to your feet. I wanted to take you to a hospital, but Trisha said your train was a set booking, and didn't have any more money left on you for another ticket. We got you to the train on time, and asked the conductor to keep an eye on you.”
I didn't say anything. This whole thing felt off. I searched my memory for the last thing I could remember. I was in the great glass elevator, we were close. My lips were moving to hers.
Nothing, everything else was a black void.
I wondered why it was Luke telling me all this. “Is Trisha there?” I asked.
“Yeah, she's sitting right here.”
“Can you put her on?” I asked, somewhat aggressively. “I'd like to speak to her.”
“Sure,” he replied nervously. “Sure.”
There was a pause, then I heard the line pick back up again.
“Hello,” came Trisha's recognisable voice.
“Hi,” I said, calmly.
“Hi,” she repeated back to me.
“What happened?” I asked.
“What Luke told you,” she said, softly. “We were out for a few drinks, you got spiked and passed out.”
There was something unusual about the way she was talking. It was nervous, soft, subdued. It was as though there was something she wanted to say, but couldn't.
“Okay,” I said, resigned. “Well I had a great weekend. Thanks for looking after me.”
“Sure,” she said, simply. “I enjoyed it too.”
I paused, expecting her to say something else. Anything. Nothing came.
“Okay, well, bye I guess.”
Suddenly Luke came back on the phone. “Well mate, I'm glad you had a good weekend anyway. I hope this didn't ruin it for you.”
I didn't know what to say. “Thanks.”
“I'm sorry I couldn't make it. Trisha said she had a really great time with you and you seem like a really fun guy. We really should organise another meet up some time. I'd really like a get together.”
“Yeah, sounds good,” I said, on autopilot.
“Well, we've got your number. So we'll let you know and stay in touch.”
My fist tightened at 'we'.
“Stay safe pal, see you soon.”
“Thanks, see ya'.”
The call ended. For a final time, I scanned my memory to try and recall anything from last night, but it was no use. I felt like I was had just been told a joke with no punchline.
I sighed, slumping back into the seat. A sharp pain hit me in the side, and I rolled over to see what it was. Slightly crumpled, I pulled out the comic that Trisha had given me the first day of the con.
I looked at the drawing of the character on the front. The likeness was still uncanny, but where previously I felt a fondness, now was a bitterness instead.
I threw the comic in the bin opposite my seat. I closed my eyes and went back to sleep.