This is the flash fiction piece that took 3rd place in Ligonier Valley Writers’ 2013 Halloween Competition. It had to be about cats, bats, and/or rats, and less than 1K words.
Mrs. Welford’s Candy
Ghost and witch shadows skipped down Chestnut Avenue, saving Mrs. Welford’s dandelion-trimmed house for last. Lacey windows inhabited by glowing pumpkins and wavering electric candle flames seemed to strike perfectly at the heart of traipsing children on this night.
Of course, the plump, soft-voiced denizen was well-known for Christmas cookies and baskets of summer produce from her extensive greenhouse. Fresh flowers could be had for free from the basket nailed to her front door, and dried arrangements were available in the winter, for only the asking.
But her masterpiece, her true talent, was found annually during Halloween festivities.
Mrs. Welford’s candy was the most sought-after. It never got traded. It never got lost. It never was forgotten.
Eaten first among the chocolate rolls and fruit chews, before the tarts and certainly ahead of the lollipops, were Mrs. Welford’s candied stripes.
They were a faintly licorice-tasting chew. Usually found in rainbow colors (though Teddy from Statesir Place liked the red ones best, swearing they had magical properties that rendered other candy tasteless for forty-three minutes), they glistened in granulated sugar, and had a sweet, nutty, fruity, salty flavor that was difficult to place, though it was unmistakably itself. They had been a tradition in the neighborhood for a generation, and newly-welcomed neighbors were regaled with stories from past tussles over the treats.
Steven sat in his car nearby the tired, pink house, and watched goblins and superheroes bound over weedy sidewalk crevices and up the fragile porch stairs. Small hands proferring bags were met with approval, and both parties would separate with sublime enchantment.
A stillness in activity permitted Steven to pursue his end: he meant to get the truth from Mrs. Welford.
A bewildered Mrs. Welford answered the door. Steven began, “Mrs. Welford, I’m…”
“You’re little Stevie from Richard Terrace!” she disarmed him. “I can’t believe how big you’ve gotten! You’re going to medical school, right?”
“Yes, and that’s part of the reason…”
“How are your parents? They’re lovely people.”
“Oh, I’m so glad to hear it. And Ronnie?”
“Well, that’s kind of why I’m here.”
“Oh? Is he ok?”
“Fine, fine…may I come in?” It was a question he’d had poised for a while.
“Well, Of course.” She opened her door wide, revealing her living room, gold-carpeted with a wood-accent fruit-patterned woven couch and a well-used orange recliner. A cat was settled on the recliner seat, and another took residence by the hearth.
Once he’d cleared the threshold, he realized she was taller than he’d thought. The perspective of the porch had hidden her now-apparent height.
“Well, I guess I’ll just come right out. Mrs. Welford, I was a little curious about your treats these years, and I’d gotten one off of Ronnie…”
“Trying to find my secret recipe, eh?” Her bemused smile was slightly tweaked.
He looked at the woman he trusted and, betraying shame, striking his leg, he aspirated, “I had to know. I analyzed it.”
She melted into her motherly self, and dislodged a sorrowful, “Someone would, evenutally.”
“It’s rat, isn’t it?”
“Why?” he demanded.
“I…I don’t leave this house. I don’t ever leave here. I can’t. The neighbors love me, though. They love my cookies. They love my flowers. And I feel connected. But one Halloween, I had so many rats. They were everywhere. And they ate my plants. They ate everything. I had nothing for the children. So…”
Staring at the cats, Steven realized they weren’t pets. They were guardians. They were the strays of the town who’d found their way to the one woman who needed them.
“But…you can’t keep doing this. You can’t feed people rats.”
“Oh, but I cook them. I dry them. They’re flavored and candied! There’s a process…”
“Mrs. Welford. You have to stop. You have to give them something else.”
“But they love me for THIS.”
“They’ll love you anyway.”
“No.” she whispered. Steven, distracted by the rare consideration of his surroundings, didn’t realize that Mrs. Welford had spied the shovel by the fireplace. A quick step and a swift swing had Steven on the floor.
The doorbell rang though, giving Mrs. Welford just a moment to throw a blanket over Steven and check her hair in the hallway mirror. Good enough, she concluded.
“Trick or treat!” they called, and she smiled back. As she deposited her treats, she thought of the intelligent neighborhood boy with kindness, though he was also bleeding to death on her rug. She considered him and thought perhaps – just perhaps – she would change her recipe after all.