Her children were elated to learn their mother was the new night manager at a candy factory. The operation was a new one in town, having refitted a shuttered brewery along the river to make gasified, sugary treats. This meant Stacy Jones would work while her children slept, but the opportunity to provide for her family was too great to pass.
Although ownership acquired the brewery and secondhand equipment rather cheap, Stacy was keenly aware that her employers desired to immediately return a profit from their meager investment. Her office was a mess of inventory forms and purchase orders. The main floor of the facility was a haphazard jumble of equipment, supplies, and completed confections.
While she expected a quiet night of paperwork inside her office, her first shift took an inauspicious turn. Just before midnight, an explosion of some short ruptured several pressurized tanks near the back of the facility. Stacy rushed from her office to assess the situation. She heard confused shouting as a sudden wave of flames jumped over stored sacks of sugar.
Stacy mulled the possible sources of the calamity. As far as potential causes of the blaze and explosion were concerned, the gas canisters and human error topped her list. Unfortunately, she had little time to process her suspicions.
Alarms sounded as the antiquated sprinkler system sputtered to life. Stacy ran toward the back of the main floor, hoping to usher the other employees to safety. She stumbled over the form of Dennis Hosmer. Stacy regained her footing and pulled the man off the ground.
Dennis sported an impressive, purple knot on his forehead. He clumsily put one arm around Stacy.
“Something caught me right in the head,” Dennis groaned. “A pipe or gauge.”
Stacy struggled forward toward the emergency exit at the rear of the facility. The sprinkler system played out, and the flames appeared to race her toward the door. She punched the door open with all the strength she could muster. She and Dennis collapsed onto the ballast of the railroad track that ran directly between the factory and the Huxascotch River.
Stacy positioned Dennis off the rails and turned back toward the facility. Her eyes focused on the door just as another explosion blew out the three massive windows along the back wall of the factory. She shielded her face from a rain of glass shards as an entire vat of liquefied sugar and pallets of completed product tumbled through the new openings and onto the rails. The entire area outside the back of the factory was now peppered with sticky metallic equipment and entire crates of candy. She was grateful that Dennis was spared the brunt of this new blast.
“What about the others?” Dennis asked over the roar of the newly ignited inferno inside. He tried to stand but collapsed backward.
Stacy didn’t have time to respond. She charged back into the building. Hissing gas and encroaching flames immediately greeted her.
There were three other employees in the factory that night, and Stacy Jones rescued each one.
She pulled Bernie Davis, an elderly man well past the age of retirement, from under several sacks of sugar. Bernie had fallen and couldn’t get up. His age, weight, and the multiple sacks contributed to his inability to escape.
She supported Paula Hughes as both women hurried outside where Dennis and Bernie waited. Paula had serious burns and her uniform was coated in blue raspberry flavoring. Otherwise, Stacy could see that the woman was in no worse condition than the others.
Stacy dragged the unconscious Eunice Jacobs from the floor near a ruptured vat of boiling water. Eunice was in bad shape, but Stacy believed that proper medicinal care would afford Eunice a reasonable recovery.
Stacy lowered the unconscious woman onto the gravel next to Bernie and Paula. Stacy sighed as a new explosion rocketed piping from another vat, pallets of product, and entire cases of vinegar into the chilly night. The aroma of blue raspberry mixed with smoke and formed a scented haze over the group.
“Is everyone okay?” Stacy asked.
“Yes,” Paula said. “I’m burned, but I’ll be okay.”
“I’m fine,” Dennis replied. He had returned to his feet, but he rubbed the discolored mass on his forehead as he spoke.
“I think Eunice will be okay,” Stacy said. “She’s in bad shape, but I think she’ll be okay.”
Bernie didn’t say anything. He seemed distracted. His eyes searched the night along the river.
“I hope,” Dennis said. His voice was challenged by a distant sound.
Stacy wondered if fire trucks were approaching to battle the flames. She heard the sound a second time. A light appeared in the darkness. As the sound emerged from the distance a third time, Stacy realized that the light and sound were connected.
A locomotive was approaching. Pools of light from a nearby glassworks illuminated the approaching freight train.
“Come on,” Stacy said to Dennis. “We need to get everyone away from the tracks!”
Stacy helped Paula to her feet. Dennis slipped his arms under Eunice’s shoulders and lifted the unconscious woman off the gravel. Stacy was weary of getting too close to the candy factory, and there wasn’t much space between the tracks and the blown out windows of the rear wall. A blue, sugary mixture was seeping over the ruined window frames.
“We just need to get out of the way,” Stacy said to Paula. The other woman seemed alarmed. Dennis lowered Eunice back to the ground.
“I think we have bigger problems,” Dennis woefully observed. “Look at the debris on the tracks. The locomotive is going kick all of that up. We need to get farther away.”
Dennis made a good point. A loud burst from the horn of the lead locomotive seemed to affirm his statement. Bricks, crates, sacks, and scraps of equipment littered the rails. A few pieces of the shattered vats were quite large.
“Carry Eunice,” Stacy directed. “I’ll get Paula and Bern. We need to get down to the river.”
Dennis scooped Eunice back into his arms. Eunice seemed to rouse with this new movement as Dennis crossed the tracks back toward the river.
“What happened?” She stammered.
“You’re okay,” Dennis replied. “I’ll explain in a minute.”
Stacy followed close behind, guiding Paula over the gravel.
Bernie hadn’t moved. He sat in the same spot near the rails. Stacy started to speak to him, but the shrill of the brakes from the locomotive canceled out her voice.
“Pop,” Bernie muttered. He turned and looked back at Stacy. “That train is hauling pop.”
Although that specific term was falling out of use, Stacy understood what Bernie was saying. Stacy looked down the tracks, beyond the cone of light at the front of the freight train. A familiar red and white pattern appeared on several railcars.
“Oh my god!” Stacy gasped. The freight was hauling soft drinks from a nearby bottling plant. Thousands and thousands of gallons of soda were careening toward a ruined carbonated candy factory.
“Run!” Stacy shouted to Paula. The blue raspberry flavored woman stumbled forward, as Stacy turned to help Bernie. The old man moved slowly, even with the locomotive plainly visible.
Dennis had already managed to get Eunice a few yards out into the slowly flowing Huxascotch River. Paula set a foot into the cold water just as the locomotive struck the first piece of debris.
“Jump!” Stacy screamed. She pushed the old man forward and dove into the water. A deep percussion sound followed her. The slowing locomotive had struck one of the ruptured vats. Subsequent railcars skipped the tracks and ripped through the ballast toward the back of the factory. A fantastic, fizzing, popping, boiling explosion ensued.
Stacy poked her head above the water and rubbed her eyes clear of blue foam floating on the surface. Dennis, Paula, Eunice, and Bernie emerged soon after.
“Unbelievable,” Stacy muttered. The fizzing foam covered everything in sight. She could hear members of the railroad crew shouting to each other in disbelief.
“You know what?” Dennis asked.
“What?” Stacy responded.
“When you were pulling me out of the factory, all I could think was that the explosion and fire were part one massive insurance scam.”
“Someone is going to be in a lot of trouble,” he continued. “Especially the Food and Drug Administration. This isn’t supposed to actually happen.” Dennis whipped some of the blue foam around in the water.
“Definitely not,” Stacy said with a sigh of relief.
“I really hate blue raspberry candy,” Bernie offered. The old man spoke for everyone.
S.S. Sanderson (@SSSanderson2) us an amateur author from that special place in America where Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia all meet. Otherwise, he lives a life that looks better on paper.