The doorbell rang.
Uncle Wallis smiled. His children were home. He flung open the door to a cheerful chorus of “Trick or treat!”
Three children stood on his porch, dressed as a robot, a fairy, and some sort of zombie pirate, respectively.
He smiled at them, and at their parents, who waited against the railing. “Well, Happy Halloween everybody! I've made something extra special, just for you!” The children wiggled like puppies as he leaned away from the door to fetch their treats. The tape on his bandaged arm pulled as he stretched, and Uncle Wallis hid a wince when he returned to the door with a bowl of store-bought candy.
The children sank back on their heels, deflated, while the parents frowned at each other.
“But...” the little robot said, “what about your candy apples, Uncle Wallis?”
Everyone in town called him Uncle, adopting him as their unofficial relative after his wife and children died in a car crash two decades back. At first, some had called him Grandpa Wallis, but he didn't take to that. “Never had any grand-kids. Never will. Still got nieces though, so call me Uncle Wallis.”
He laughed and set the bowl down. “Got you, didn't I?” Uncle Wallis reached again, this time grabbing a basket of bright red candy apples, each lovingly wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbon.
The children surged forward, holding out their bags and pillowcases.
“Now now, don't rush. I always make plenty.” He winked at the parents before putting two apples into each bag. Young or old, it didn’t matter. Everyone loved Uncle Wallis’s candy apples.
“Thanks, Uncle Wallis,” said one of the mothers, a pretty blonde with half-hearted liquid eyeliner cat whiskers. “Happy Halloween.”
He looked closer, squinting in the fading twilight. “Amy Rose? Is that you? Goodness, how you've grown. I remember when you were just this tall.” He hovered an arthritic hand over the zombie pirate's tattered bandanna. “Do you still eat taffy by the pound?”
Amy shook her head and blushed as the other parents waved goodbye and moved on with their kids. “No, Uncle Wallis, I've cut refined sugars out of my diet. Except once a year, for your candy apples.”
The fairy thanked him and skipped over to her mother, digging in her bag for the treats.
Amy accepted one and rolled it between her palms with a smile. “Just like I remember. They're a little touch of Halloween magic.”
She placed the apple back in her daughter's sack, but then frowned and pulled out a plastic sandwich bag of chocolate chip cookies. “Oh no. Our new neighbor was handing these out. Could you throw them away for us? I don't like Casey eating homemade stuff. There's no telling what might be in there.”
“Of course.” Uncle Wallis accepted the dubious cookies.
“Thanks.” Amy smiled, distorting her drawn-on whiskers. “I've been meaning to ask, if you don't mind, how you make your apples so good?”
“Well, you see, Amy, I believe in this town. I believe in family, and only feeding your loved ones the best.” He made a show of squeezing the chocolate chip cookies into crumbs, though it made the bandages tug again. “So I get my apples and honey from Stoudbaker farms on the edge of town, and they set aside the plumpest pomegranates for me every year.” He leaned in and lowered his voice. “That's how I get them such a lovely red color without using artificial dyes.”
Amy Rose smiled. “That's wonderful. Organic, locally sourced, and community-minded. I wish more people cared as much as you do.” She gave him a brief hug before leading Casey the fairy down the road to the next house.
Uncle Wallis shut the door and sank back into his easy chair, absently scratching at the bandages under his shirt sleeve. He felt a little guilty for not telling Amy the whole truth, but that was often for the best when dealing with children. Better not to tell them you've sneaked vegetables into their spaghetti, or used nonfat sour cream.
The truth was, he put a little of himself into each batch of candy apples. After losing his family, Uncle Wallis had felt isolated and abandoned, and the cure was clear. Make a new family. 90% of the town ate his candy apples on Halloween, so every year for the last two decades, Uncle Wallis carefully cut himself and bled into the candy syrup as it cooked. The resulting apples were gorgeous, a deep, rich red, the candy sweet and tangy, with just a hint of salt, like the fancy fleur de sel caramels at the mall.
This way, he was a part of them, and they were all a part of him. Every person in town was his family now, his children, and they all loved him so.
The doorbell rang. Uncle Wallis smiled and scratched at his bandages.
“Trick or treat!”
His children were home.