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I spent almost four months looking for Otto.
He went missing shortly after the old chocolate factory began operating again. Allegedly – according to the reports, at least – there was an “incident” during a tour of the factory he went on. He fell into a stream of highly viscous chocolate, and was taken down to a separate part of the factory by the undertow. That was when my first bit of suspicion arose. It’s a common misconception that a rip current can drag someone under water and down a stream. It doesn’t work that way.
Otto was retrieved by some factory workers in a separate room from where the incident occurred. Besides being covered in liquid gold, he appeared to be in perfect health. His mother verified this, as did the medical centre she took him to immediately after. Aside from being shaken up, Otto reportedly continued on with life as normal – even eating chocolate on a daily basis as he did prior to the tour.
My investigation wasn’t into the incident, however. His mother squared that away with the CEO of the company not long after it happened. My involvement in the situation came after Otto went missing a month later.
His mother phoned the police first, who didn’t take her claims seriously. Her reasoning that something was wrong was based on the lack of chocolate bar wrappers in his bed. I’ll admit, when she came pounding on my office door yelling, “Help! There’s no wrappers! My boy!” I also had a hard time taking her seriously. Money is money, though, so I let her into my office.
After an eternity of sobbing and giving unopened chocolate bars to me to examine, she was finally able to tell me all of the details of the incident and his behaviour since the occurrence, leading up to his disappearance.
According to Otto’s mother, he began acting strange about a week after returning home from the tour of the factory. His chocolate intake almost tripled, and Otto needed chocolate bars every hour of the day. He would wake up in the middle of the night, sweating and screaming that he needed a chocolate bar immediately. Why she didn’t see this as strange I never fully understood. He started skipping school roughly one week before he disappeared, but was always found behind the local candy shop scavenging through the waste bins looking for discarded chocolate bits. Again, I’ll never understand why she didn’t take him to a doctor. Part of me feels that she would let him eat so she didn’t have to deal with tantrums. Opinions don’t solve investigations, however.
I took the job. Mostly out of curiosity, although I won’t deny that the hefty reward she was offering for an easy case swayed me a tad. While she might have been unable to accept it, at that time it was obvious to me that Otto had to be attempting to return to the factory. The job was only a matter of finding him along the way. It didn’t sound difficult. They lived one country over and shared a land border with the city the factory was in. For a child of nine, the task wasn’t exactly an impossibility. It was a day trip by train, two or three by car, and probably not much more by hitchhiking.
€1.800 up front. €2.200 upon retrieval. And all I had to do was track his scent like a hound.
I should correct myself here, before I get too far.
I did not spend almost four months looking for Otto. I found him within two week’s time. The remainder of that period was spent attempting to infiltrate the factory to find him and rescue him.
According to my sources, Otto made it to the factory approximately six days after he left home. They never attempted to contact his mother.
Until a few days ago, I was unable to confirm visuals – it was all conjecture. The factory is highly guarded. It’s probably closer to a castle than an actual factory. There’s a gargantuan wrought-iron gate that surrounds the entire premises – easily taller than two men. Brown German Shepherds that freely roam the grounds. Guards that cover every one hundred feet, standing stoic as if they were members of the Queen’s Guard. It took me the brunt of the past few months surveying the grounds every day to formulate a plan of action. The place is a goddamn fortress. One might think it’s the vacation home to royalty.
Getting inside wasn’t the most honorable of tasks, but it needed to be done. The guards never changed shifts. The dogs never went indoors. I…I hate to admit this, but I have to: I went through…the septic tank. It was left unguarded underground, with about half of it exposed to the sewers. Yes, it was disgusting. I don’t think the smell will ever cease to haunt me. There were no other options. I crawled through those pipes, almost getting stuck a few times along the way. Luckily, no flushes happened. I came through a large manhole in the floor under what appeared to be a series of tubes that chocolate was flowing through. The area was small, but just big enough for me to crawl through on my hands and knees – had I been a little person there’s a chance that I could have walked, I guess.
I crawled under the tubes for quite some time, until they rose up and a ledge leading down to a cold, stone hallway appeared. I checked for guards – nothing. It was deserted, and I was in luck. After a minute of walking down that hallway I came to a heavily beaten door that read:
Jackpot. At least, I hoped it was.
I jimmied the lock in the handle and slowly cracked open the door. A smell overtook me. Worse than the filthy waste water covering my body. It was flesh, rotting flesh and…chocolate. Not the pleasant chocolate smell I was used to. This was spoiled milk, with cacao mixed into it. My entire body began convulsing as I gagged. I didn’t want to go in. I pondered it as I heaved. Was the €4.000 worth whatever I was going to witness?
Yes. Yes, it was.
I opened the door wide enough to squeeze my body through. It was dark, but not entirely blacked out. It was akin to a bedroom with a nightlight. I had to wrap my dirty shirt around my face to be able to stand the smell. There were spotless metal tables lining the walls of the room, along with shelves full of tools and empty cages. Along a huge, empty wall was a table filled with computers and paperwork. I went there first to search for answers.
Supply Chain Four
Action Required: Fill
Please press "Enter" to initiate replenishment sequence
Those were the only words on the screen, with “Enter” blinking in bold, blue letters. I could toggle out of the screen, nor cancel the status inquiry. So I did what I had to do and initiated the replenishment.
The wall behind the computers illuminated in a blinding fluorescent white light as the turning of gears and machinery overtook the room. The first thing I noticed was the crane moving down an overhead track carrying a net full of blue and green striped spherical fruits. They weren’t anything I had ever seen before. As I followed the crane with my eyes it led to an area that was sectioned off by fencing with barbed wire across its top. Bursting out of that fencing was Otto…or something that resembled him. It was a lumpy blob of white skin, covered in purple stretch marks and deep red cracks. The was some sort of mouth on top of the flesh mound that was being kept in a gaping open position by some sort of forceps. As the crane lowered itself into position just over the creature’s mouth, it grunted repeatedly in approval over the meal it was about to be given – like a baby bird when it’s mother returns with a worm. The fencing began shaking violently, and a bunch of little men ran into the area from panels in the walls, stabbing the blob with some sort of electrical rods. It stopped moving.
The crane released the net, and dozens of those strange coloured fruits fell into it’s mouth. The ones that fell were tossed up and into it’s mouth by some of the smaller men without electric rods. A machine wheeled into the the area and a tube emerged from the front of it, facing the front of the fenced area. The men opened the side of the fence and the machine extended the tube straight into a fold in the blob’s center. It let out a cry of pain as a brown sludge sloshed it’s way down the pipe to the machine.
“Otto. He loves chocolate so much, he was eager to take a job here.” A voice pierced through the drone of machinery. I jumped and looked behind me, but there was no one in the room. I ran for it. Back through the door. Up the ledge. Back through the manhole cover and out to the sewers. I made it back to my hotel faster than any taxi could have gotten me there.
I have no idea how to inform his mother of what’s happened to her son. I don’t really know what to do myself, honestly. Every morning there’s a delicious chocolate bar sitting on my pillow. They know what I’ve done. They know where I am. I know I shouldn’t be eating the chocolate. I know it’s a message. It’s just so good.
CREDIT: Mikey Knutson
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