Six little pairs of shoes hovered a foot off the old wooden floor of the schoolhouse. The seventh pair belonged to an adult and shuddered up and down where the others were deathly still. Four button noses were pressed against the peeling paint, flakes falling faster than ever thanks to their giggling. One of the girls tapped on the wood and waited for a response.
Clop clop clop, the wall responded, exactly like the hoof stamps of a pony. Their giggles answered it back. The girl tapped on the wall twice more. Clop clop.
“It’s Jujube!’ she exclaimed, nearly swallowing a chip of paint. She rose into warm memories of her recently-deceased pet. Jujube was an especially runty pony, with a mane that hung over his eyes and that he occasionally chewed as if dealing with preteen anxieties. Their favorite thing to do together was to ride around in the mud, seeing how high up her outfit they could get it to splash.
We got it up to the third button! The girl would tell her sighing mother. We’ll ruin these clothes! We’ll ruin them together! Unfortunately, there was other ruin in Jujube’s future, the ruin of a highway, the ruin of a man tired of breaking for deer who was too bleary-eyed to see the difference. The girl still had that outfit, but she couldn’t wear it anymore because of the sorrow fastened to it like a lead ribbon.
“Hang on girls,” the adult said, her feet shuddering enough to tap the floor. “This isn’t… this can’t be…” Their teacher’s connection was the weakest, the most suspicious, but they all hear the sounds inside the wall. It had started ten minutes ago, with a tiny realistic scratch under their desks. It moved to the right and got louder, pulling their attention away from world history. The teacher assumed it was an ordinary mouse, the kind that had plagued the place of learning before. She had recalled the game she played with her class last year, where they wondered what bits of math the mice had eaten when the dust was wiped from the chalkboard and it settled between the slats of the floor. “This isn’t mouse arithmetic…”
“I know those scratches,” one of the girls had said in the middle of a paragraph about Cortez. She jumped up from her desk, scurried over to the wall and stuck her nose near the bottom of it. The scratching grew louder, more playful. She reached out with a delicate fingernail and scratched right back. “It’s Bleu! It has to be! He’s the only gerbil that scratches like that!” She shed a tear for her long-dead rodent.
One of them the teacher could’ve pulled back from. She could convince them that one ghost was a trick of the mind, but not an entire petting zoo. Other noises had joined the scratching. Jujube’s clopping. The rasping of a cockatiel’s beak, the prim and proper beaky bites of a turtle, and the sloppy pawing of a few dogs. All of the students were out of their chairs in a flash, faces pressed against the wall. The teacher looked at the backs of their bouncing curls and wondered what on Earth they were talking about.
Only when she joined them did they get their explanation. Behind the animal sounds, calm and collected, were human footsteps. Thick boots with new soles. Back and forth the sound paced while the pets reconnected with their owners. The girls didn’t care about it, but the teacher heard it. She heard knuckles crack and the sniff of someone who had been shrugging off a cold for ten winters straight. She knew there was someone there, as much as someone could be in a wall, and that someone knew it right back. He spoke to calm her.
“Do not fear good lady.” His voice was full of drama, but also soothing, like he was introducing an act for an excitable audience of lemmings. “My name is Roger Rogers.”
“Who are you?” the adult asked, hoping her sense of responsibility could keep her talking over the cold lump in her chest.
“I just told you. Roger Rogers. I used to be a man, now I’m just a specter, but a friendly one I assure you. I was wandering by, enjoying the aether, and I heard these adorable animals. They were all together, in a little herd, taking care of each other and mourning their owners. The animals don’t know any better you see…”
“What do you mean?” Her nose was an eighth inch away from the wall. She thought she felt a cold breeze from between the cracks in the paint.
“They don’t know they’re dead, only that they can still long. I brought them here so they could talk to the children again. I run a friendly little petting zoo. See how happy the children are?”
The teacher looked over long enough to see another one of the girls pressed against the wall. She gasped when she saw her feet dangling inches off the floor. There was no more room in her lungs for another gasp when she realized her feet were doing the same.
The girl was too lost in memory to care. In her mind she was standing out on her veranda, in the middle of fall, tweeting songs along with the cockatiel perched on her finger. The bird’s name was Toodles, and they had to play outside because he was never quiet.
“I don’t think we should…” the teacher started to say, but then heard a new scratch. The only scratch she ever cared for. She cared for it when it was on her door ruining the décor. She cared for it when it was on her arms around bath time. “Simon,” she whispered. The black cat scratched back, just inside the wall. Yes, he was surely there. No other cat, live or dead, could scratch like Simon. She rose into the air, feet stabler in certainty.
“Simon convinced you, I see,” Roger Rogers crooned. “Yes they’re all so happy to see you. I wish you were on this side. They could lick your faces, jump in your laps, and really understand what’s going on.”
Roger continued on, but one of the girls noticed something, the girl who had Toodles. Toodles was always loud. Always chirping and whistling. Now his beak and claws just scratched. Scratched. Scratched at the wall and left no marks. It was like there was no air on the other side, no air to turn into songs or barks. They scratched frantically, desperate to break through the wall. No whines. No whinnies. Just tireless scratching and dead memories. Her feet shuddered.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Chaytoncross during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!