The belief that the change of his lifestyle wouldn't affect him, Neil found would be quickly disproved. Any hope that he could keep his distance from his peers, and continue to parade throughout the academy with the same thoughts, reasoning, and direction, would quickly dwindle and die. The blunt force of his new life smacked him hard like the first cold wind on a warm day.
The morning following Dr. Garrison's visit, Neil wasn't awoken by the appearance of the sunlight spilling through the glass window resting the length of one wall. Instead, it was the appearance of a steadily brightening light from overhead that caused his eyelids to struggle open. He had to slit his gaze against the bright beam. As his sleepiness was quickly swept away, a light coating of yellow tainted the tiled ceiling resting far overhead.
Lying very still on his bed, with the sheets clinging fitfully to him, Neil felt heavy and immobile. It was as if the ability to not only move, but conjure a response from his body altogether, had been stripped away in the night. Though there was a slight tingle behind his ears, the dull ache of temporary deafness had left him. He could vaguely make out the sounds of hushed whispers nearby, but Neil didn't tear his gaze from the vast, creased ceiling to search for the source.
Instead, the youth attempted to make sense of the sudden burden pulling on his limbs. Managing to shift his legs where they laid out straight, Neil found his sheets pulling at them. His comforter had been tossed to the floor during the night, which troubled him thoroughly.
Drawing in deep breaths as his mind worked to sort through the haziness and decipher memories from his surroundings, Neil's nostrils flared at a dank odor. It was vaguely familiar and distinguishing, but not describable. Slow realization drifted over him as he recalled the night's prior events.
Having been incredibly disoriented from his concussion, and too embarrassed to request help, Neil had tightly wound his legs together, and fallen asleep with a full bladder. The result explained why the crumpled bed sheets were pulling at his limbs, and lodging him to the mattress. Neil became slowly more aware of the muttering in the room, and realized he wasn't alone.
Sure that his new roommates had discovered the same conclusion, Neil felt a flare of anger rise in him. His brow furrowed as he fought back snappish words. What should he care what they thought of him? Neil was sure that after a year had come and gone, and he was moved into the seventh grade quarters of his career choice, he would only see them as tiny specks as he took to the skies freely overhead.
It was this thought that consoled the youth, and relaxed his muscles and mind enough for him to move without much resistance. The sheet tore from his body as Neil slowly heaved himself up. Sitting with stiff back hunched, he raised his gaze to meet the watchful, attentive eyes of his new roommates.
There were two of them, and Neil was somehow relieved to see them smiling his way. Both were taller than him, but not by a considerable margin. They stood a decent distance from the foot of his bed, almost pressed up against the far wall where his father had sat in the chair resting forebodingly behind them. The empty, purple seat cushions served as a reminder to Neil, of his father's disappointing silence, and the work that had him so withdrawn from the rest of the world.
From the rest of reality even, Neil realized was an almost humorous way to think about it. Both his parents worked with ghosts - his father directed the transfer from particle to physical form, and his mother partook in the caring and development preliminary stage, as the ghosts confusedly adjusted to a newly forced life.
Neil wondered how it must feel, to live a life that ended tragically. To have their remorse, loathing, and memories cascaded as they were forced into a new, unprivileged life of servitude. Neil didn't know if he agreed that it was the best method to deal with the troublesome, vengeful spirits, but he couldn't help but wonder if it was truly the only option available.
Resting where he was - even though the position increased the pressure on his back and made his body tremble with the effort of upholding itself in such an awkward way - Neil wondered if the two boys staring at him questioned this as well, or simply ran with what they were told and had grown accustomed to all their lives. Quickly scanning their smug expressions, Neil decided that comparing them to mindless puppets was a bit extreme. Instead, he decided that they were merely ignorant and young, and with any hope, they would recognize the misdirection of their thoughts, and find their own way.
But at the moment, they were still blissfully guided, and stretching out his legs and hunching them repeatedly to loosen the muscles, Neil supposed it would do no harm to allow his roommates to remain childish. Finding mild humor in separating himself from the rest of the sixth graders, Neil threw his legs over the side of the bed, and slipped off. His feet landed with a numb thud that sent tingles up his legs, and made his knees buckle alarmingly.
Neither of the boys moved to help him, but stood leisurely to the side, keen eyes observing their roommate's movements. Neil decided to dismiss their unfathomed wonder, and took a ginger step towards the still ajar door of the bathroom. Leaning against the frame for support, he hurriedly cast his gaze over the neatly tiled floor with black lining, before stepping inside and shutting the door firmly behind him.
Turning on the sink's hot tap, Neil braced his hands beneath the searing rush and splashed his face. The heated water felt good against his sweat dried face. A low steam began to rise and mist the mirror to blur his reflection. Raising his eyes to scan over the fogged surface - the shine gone from the glass as the light just passed over its surface like any other - Neil wondered how long he would have to wait for the two boys in his room to break apart and let him be. Perhaps they would even leave the dorm entirely, allowing him to rest his tired body in privacy.
Slowly opening the bathroom door without a sound, Neil peeked around it. Discovering that both boys remained, chatting amiably together, he knew it pointless to cower from them. Opening the door fully now, he stepped into their line of sight. The smaller of the two - who now stood to the left as if he had started towards the door - spotted Neil first, and his words slowed until he stopped speaking altogether.
The taller boy turned towards Neil and a mischievous flare rested in his eyes, as a knowing grin crept along his round features. Turning towards him, he nodded towards the bed with a put on air of confidence that Neil was close to envying. Not letting his emotions better him - knowing them untrustworthy and complicated - he instead allowed a dull look to pass over his features as he forced any ill feelings towards the boy to simmer momentarily, and then fade.
Finding himself withdrawn from his surroundings, Neil found the boys looking at him expectantly for a response. Deciding simply on, "Whatever," the youth made his way towards the bed. Bundling the sheet up, he strode past the watchful boys and paused beside his dresser, and pulling open the curved door there, sent it tumbling down the shoot. Watching it disappear down the narrow tunnel into darkness, Neil wondered briefly what it would be like to follow it. Would he get caught and stuck in the tunnel, only to be found days after his disappearance by some servant who realized that no laundry came from this room?
Of course if I were missing, it wouldn't come anyways.
Deciding to discard the foolish thoughts, Neil closed it slowly, listening to the soft click as the door shut in place. Feeling eyes on him still, Neil turned back towards his roommates who peered at him uncertainly now. They had expected perhaps an angry outburst at their comments, but Neil refused to feed their greedy methods of securing life for themselves. They could find another child their age, or younger, to intimidate.
Instead, the youth strode back towards his bed and picked the VWriter up from off the floor where it had fallen in his restless slumber, ignoring the comforter lying in a heap. Plopping down on the bare mattress with one leg swaying over the side, he powered it on. When it became evident that they would receive no response, the boys shook their heads and strode back through the side automatic door that connected their rooms.
Neil allowed a small smile to touch his lips, but it quickly fell when his silent mirth was replaced by the thrill of seeing a response from his Ghostwalking Stategic teacher, Mr. Roedran. With trembling fingers, he gained access to the message after the VWriter phased a scanning laser over his face to verify his identity. The message read simply: "Talk to me in class."
This wasn't the response Neil was expecting, but even as his hopes dwindled, he knew it had been a small chance that Mr. Roedran would respond at all. The Wendell Academy staff worked more than ten hours a day. The classes were small - only fourteen to twenty in each - and there were about five hundred students residing in the school.
A small number considering the colony's size, Neil realized as he sat back against his pillows, shifting his weight into a comfortable position. Holding the VWriter up before him, he considered the possibility of transferring to a nearby school. He would have to change doctors, teachers, and dorms.
Perhaps I would even make some friends.
It seemed more like a thought more than a hope. Neil wasn't friendless because the other children were intimidated by him - like how his parents and counselors believed - but because he was, as his therapist had described, "anti-social". Perhaps even depressed.
After doodling a rough image of what he thought the Wendell Academy's blueprint looked like, Neil set the VWriter aside, watching the device scan the slate into memory and then delete his work. Sitting up with a grunt, he made his way towards the sliding closet, and picked a pair of plain, steel gray pants. Shrugging out of his wrinkled pajama bottoms, Neil replaced them without a thought. He lifted his gaze to the folded clothing resting on the shelves of the closet, neatly folded. They were all of the identical color, shade, material, and make. Taking a long-sleeved shirt, he pulled it on over his lean chest, and let the closet close on its own as he walked away.
Shoes were an unneeded hassle, so Neil overlooked the boots resting on the floor as the door of his room slid open with a soft whine. Stepping through, he barely noticed it closing as he strode down the hallway, and took a turn out of the dorm area. Going straight would have led him in a large loop around of the dorms and the students residing within them.
The turn Neil took instead, led him to another automatic door that opened up to a round, sitting area. There were numerous hallways, doors, and ramps to aim for from here, but Neil felt strangely out of place. He had spent six years living in Wendell Academy, and had yet to explore every turn and room. Many were off-limits to students, and Neil hadn't felt the compulsion to break into the system. He found no real excitement in discovering the staff's secrets. What could they be hiding that wasn't available information on the Net?
No, his real curiosity lay with his parents' work, but not even in emergencies, were citizens allowed in the area. Neil doubted he would ever see what Patricia or Adam did. Even when he became a pilot, Neil would hold no business in their line of work.
Maybe that's why he wanted to be a pilot - to break away from a life serving the ghosts, who were supposed to be serving them.
That and the open sky, Neil thought, as he lifted his gaze to the white ceiling resting a over a hundred feet above his head. It felt as distant as the sky, but he could at least see it. He wondered what the open blue looked like, and he wanted to watch it melt into a fiery-orange glow at dusk, and a dark midnight shade at night, and then to a soft pink that would give way to the cycle once again.
Neil's feet carried him subconsciously towards a bench to rest. Sitting without thought, he continued to stare up at the ceiling, and tried to adjust his vision to imagine it a soft blue color. Clouds! That's what he wanted to see. And free moving birds and animals, instead of those who patrolled the sitting areas for the students' amusement, and tainted minds. Neil had seen the other boys kick and hold down the animals to perform "tests" on them, which included seeing how long the animal could withstand torture before passing out or turning on them.
Of course, when the adults arrived to break apart the situation, the boys would claim they did nothing to provoke the creature. Neil didn't know why the staff let the lies slip past, when cameras were stationed all over the academy. They surely must have known the truth.
But that's it, Neil pondered as he leaned back against the uncomfortable edge of the bench. They never seem to punish anyone for anything they do. Letting his gaze sweep over the numerous individuals walking through the area, he added in a stern grimace, And they know that.
The adults may have thought they were in control, but only because the students let them.