WALL WALKERS • by MaryAlice Meli

I hate the first day at a new school.

The law-and-order vice-principal stands guard as students file in bleating warnings at those already in jeopardy. High-water plaid pants, bow tie and a head so bald, he gleams under the fluorescent light. His eyebrows climb north and I swear his paunch quivers when he spots me. His nose twists as though sniffing road-kill. He stares at my outfit: the long paisley print skirt borrowed from Granny’s closet, her sleeveless, tie-dyed shirt and long strings of clattery beads.

Mr. My-Way-Or-The-Highway growls, “What are you supposed to be? It’s not Halloween.” I felt Gran’s big red shoulder bag nestle itself closer to me. Aww, he’s scaring the walkers. They live in her tote bag.

“You look like a hippie throwback, missy.”

A wide-shouldered, bowlegged jock laughs, pulls my long, bushy hair and rasps, “You got something living in there?” I jerk away.

“What’s your name?” says Mr. L&O.

“Hollyhock Laferty,” I say, keeping my voice quiet but staring directly at him. Granny says my orangey-brown eyes are my secret weapon. The walkers hold secrets, too, but she hasn’t told me what they are.

Mr. L&O gives a gravel-throated, “Uh-huh,” as though my name proves him right somehow. “I’m Mr. Badger and I’ll be watching you. Get to your homeroom but, first, that bag’s as big as a backpack and no one’s allowed to carry a backpack. Put it in your locker.”

The jock pushes me but I dodge his hand reaching for the bag and hurry on. I’m not putting them in a locker; I’ll just have to steer clear of Badger.

Gran and I live in her rec-vee, short for recreational vehicle. When we stop at a crafters’ market longer than a month, Gran makes me go to Real School as well as Cyber School. Real School’s not a good fit. Gran’s the best teacher; she knows about planets and history and books and art. And walkers.

I discovered the bright red tote bag in the rec-vee’s storage hatch, fascinated that its sides bulged and seem to breathe. Inside were pale pink, yellow, orange, green and blue creatures about half the size of my hand snuggled on top of each other breathing as one with a rhythm slow and easy like the quietest summer sea. I took the bag to Granny who said, “I’ve been saving them for you.”

“What are they? Did you make them?”

Her soft, tinkling laugh sounds like a gentle breeze through wind chimes. “No, my darling, these are yours, a souvenir from your parents’ last, long, strange trip.”

“Before they disappeared?” I asked.

“I prefer to think they found a better place, the home of these lovely, gentle creatures.”

“But why didn’t they take me?”

“They will… when they return.” That’s all she’d say except, “These creatures hold a secret. Watch.” She reached inside the bag and chose two of the creatures whose eyes opened as soon as she touched them. She held them carefully then raised her arm and flung them towards the wall. They untangled themselves and began a slow crawl down the wall, across the floor and into her hand.

“Take the bag to your next school and, if there’s trouble, throw a few at the wall and watch what happens.” She winked but said no more about their secret.

Everything goes well that morning, but, after lunch, I walk into English class and trouble is on the white board. Someone made a freaky likeness of the teacher, a woman with Brillo curly red hair, and a bald man with a sizeable paunch kissing. I notice the jock slouching in his seat, smirking.

The teacher screams nonstop and Badger barrels into the classroom and eyes everyone until the jock nods at me.

“Stand up.” Badger’s voice cracks. “None of these students has the talent for art I saw in your portfolio.” He steps closer. “I’ll have you suspended for this disrespect, this… this character assassination.”

A boy in the back of the room grabs his chest, groans as if shot and falls on the floor. The jock chortles, high and loud. Badger swings around to scold then spies my red bag. At his grab, the bag falls open. I breathe a sob of frustration, reach down for a fistful and lob them at the wall.

The wriggling creatures hit the white board with a wet sound, like a hungry creature smacking its lips. After several seconds, the students erupt in shouts and hoots as long transparent legs, like bean sprouts, grab onto the white board and slowly creep downward.

Badger gawps as the creatures march across the floor to where I now sit holding the bag open for them. The walkers near the end of the line crawl over Badger’s shoes to disappear under his pant legs. He smacks his legs then jerks up his pants to peel them off. They jump onto his hands and continue up his arms to his neck, into his ears, his mouth. His neck bulges, nostrils flare, eyelids flicker and his eyes roll back in his head. He freezes then his face begins to change.

The walkers’ secret makes us gasp. The wrinkles around Mr. Badger’s eyes, his frown lines and two deep grooves from nose to chin relax and slowly disappear as a look of serenity and youth transform his features. His hair grows in. He’s… almost handsome… almost.

The creatures stretch in delight as they clamber back into the bag. Badger awakes with a start like someone on a bus who jerks awake after he’s passed his stop. He looks around then down at me. His face beams a smile so new it crackles. “Gentle Hollyhock,” he croons. “What a joy you are to have in our school.” The bell rings.

The walkers settle themselves for a nap and I close the bag except for a few I tuck into my hair. I hurry to my next class behind the jock.

MaryAlice Meli: teacher, reporter, writer, dreamer.

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  • vondrakker

    A real hoot !!!
    Loved it
    5 *****

  • Ted Lietz

    Quirky and thoroughly enjoyable. Great job, MaryAlice!

  • Cathy Vonderau

    Every kid needs some Wall Walkers, just in case!
    Thanks, MaryAlice!

  • Jen Tran!

    Hilarious read, awesome! 5 stars.

  • I regret to say, I find stories that portray baldness as a disfigurement a bit distasteful.

    I also thought Mr. Badger and the Jocks were too stereotypical, and the fact that classes continued as normal after the wall walkers appeared was unrealistic.

    That aside, a gentler story than the ‘Carrie’-style yarn I was expecting.

  • SarahT

    Not everyone finds baldness unattractive, however, it isn’t a far stretch to think a teenage girl with dreadlocks might.

    I really enjoyed this story… the only thing pulling me out was “walkers”. I’m afraid I’ve seen too many episodes of “The Walking Dead” …so the term is synonymous with zombies (for me).

    Love the detailed characterizations… excellent!

  • Jason

    I find baldness grossly disfiguring Paul, and I find your opinion otherwise to be a bit distasteful.

    Had the same feeling on the use of “walkers”, was hoping for a good zombie story.


    I thought this was a pretty good story. I liked the use of the word “walkers.” It was like they were gremlins, not to be confused with the movie of the same name. I didn’t have a problem with the baldness issue except when it was combined with the word “paunch.” I’m a bit paunchy myself so I guess that is why I didn’t like it.

  • JenM

    What a great story! I’d love to hav to that story.

  • Rob

    Interesting story up to the arrival of the walkers in class. They only changed Badger, and yet the other teacher and students seemed to completely change. One person of a whole, wild, class changes and then everything’s okay (???) I’m afraid it makes the story unravel. Sorry, I was enjoying it up till then.

  • Izzy David

    I loved it. I was so worried about the walkers as soon as the writer introduced them, sure they’d get stomped by the cruel Mr. L&O and relieved by the happy ending. That gave it an unexpected twist.

  • @Jason – baldness, like skin colour, certain disabilities and whether a person is male or female is a genetic issue. For this reason, personally, I try not to create a negative picture of a character based on such features. That was my point. However, if you find certain such genetic traits ‘grossly disfiguring’, no problem. That’s your opinion, and you’re free to express it.

  • mwc

    Your details made the characters come alive. I could dee them.

  • MaryAlice Meli

    My deepest thanks to all who read the story and took the time to comment. Those are gifts I cherish.
    I apologize to those who found my handling of certain traits to be insensitive. Actually, I have no bias against bald men, having married two of them (not at the same time) and found them definitely sexy. For the flaws in the story, I’m working to improve as a plotter/writer and appreciate direction.
    Again, thank you.

  • Mariev Finnegan

    Mary Alice,
    FIVE STARS. Don’t let those bald Mr L&Os criticize. I’m Mariev, Matriarch of the Erie. Grandma. I say your story is perfect.

  • Joanne

    Bald guys can be very, very attractive…even a little paunch is not a deal breaker. It was the north-climbing eyebrows that made the character stereotypically nasty for me.

    I agree with Rob about where and how the story unravels. I also found the transitions a bit clunky—just getting into the story when we flash back to Gran for a bit too long, then we’re back at school. I don’t really know the “why” of the walkers.
    That said, the writing was good and the story was definitely engaging.

  • Henya

    Rich images. The story is populated with quirky characters.

  • Vittoria Meli

    Great job with the story. I really liked the twist at the end…not as gruesome as I thought it would be. Your biggest fan.

  • Janet McClintock

    What a creative and unique idea! The ending was such a pleasant surprise. Liked the inference that changing one bad apple can change the dynamics of the group. Write on!

  • MAM

    This is my brilliant sista!!
    Way to go, girl..Congrats!
    Intriguing and amusing.

  • Louise Carroll

    I love the walkers and I’m not surprised that you found them waiting quietly in your mind.

  • Where can I buy some wall walkers?! Great, imaginative story. I’m reading it to my kids. Wonderful job, MaryAlice! I think this could be expanded to a middle grade novel 🙂

  • MaryAlice Meli

    Thanks, Lori. Expanding to a MG novel is an interesting idea.

  • Carol Miller

    Loved the wall walkers. Twist at the end was unexpected & fun. I wanted to read more about Hollyhock & her “pets”.