The blood that fell to the ground wasn't his own. It wasn't his feet that held him rigid, or his legs that held him stiff#. There was an unfamiliar, dank smell that seemed to cling to him, and though the air was overwhelmed with fumes and the harsh taste of ash, the daunting stank of body odor remained strong and solid - repugnant.
The soft drip of shed blood was overpowered by the mighty roar of the flames ablaze on the horizon's edge. Those dancing in the flames, part of the vicious beast, could have been dancing for joy for what all their yelling was worth. There was no distinguishing screams from war cries.
The blood that fell into the pool at his feet, was not his own.
There were muttered words from a gagging mouth, that couldn't be heard. A face over swept by tussled hair that couldn't be seen. Reality trembled and shimmered with the ablaze sky, sparks spreading dragon's fire as pounding footsteps tore the earth apart, until edges became blurred, and the world hazy. It was as if the world itself were being burned away, and this was just one branch of the colossal Tree of Life. The world would be picked away part by part, until it collapsed upon itself.
And he would still be standing on this one branch.
"A ghost is the presence of a memory, that holds an unnatural binding to this world. Ghosts are not people. They cannot vote, they cannot drive, and they most certainly…"
Balding, beady-eyed professor Gareth Roedran, turned with a fluent movement of his upheld arm, digital marker clasped between his left thumb and index finger, as if presenting a prize. The sixteen pairs of eyes staring back at him were large and attentive.
With mouth still open like a struggling fish out of water, Roedran felt out of place, standing before a classroom of sixth graders. It was his first year teaching students who remained incomprehensive of their colony's customs, and thus, the middle-aged man felt as lost as they. He tried to recall his first introduction to the education of Ghostwalkers, but the memory served of no use here. He was in his late teen years when an agreement had finally been reached, and the regulations on ghost rights were chosen and defined. Roedran had had six years of experience and maturity on the children sitting, staring at him now.
Coming to a final conclusion, Roedran lowered his stiffening arm with a deep exhale. For a moment, he allowed his weary eyes to rest behind the dark lens of his Visor glasses. The thin piece of headgear resting securely on the bridge of his nose and around his head to loop to the other side, allowed the school board to keep tabs on what Roedran was teaching, as well as inspecting the children's response. Gareth had grown so accustomed to the light piece of metal, that he sometimes let slip pieces of information the colony's school board didn't deem appropriate. Roedran had already received several reprimands in the past school year. Now they had placed him in a difficult position. He couldn't reference his own experience with the Ghostingwalking Strategic class to uneducated children breaching puberty, and thus had to pick and choose his words carefully.
Roedran was saved from making a possible mistake, as an arm inched its way into the air. The thin limb belonged to a slender, young girl with her blonde hair swept back in a ponytail, and tied with a thin bow. The intrigue and need resting in her bright eyes beat back Roedran's hesitance, like light pushing back the dark. With the hand still holding the digital writing tool, he pointed it towards her, sitting in the second row on the right.
"Yes?" prompted Roedran carefully, trying to put a name to the girl's face. He had studied the seating chart before his first day in GW Strategic had begun, but it seemed to have been a waste of time. Roedran had been overcome by a panic attack in the morning recess before the students began to file in, and had sat at his metal desk for ten minutes after they had arrived, before daring to push himself shakily to his feet.
Though his confidence had grown within the last ten minutes, Gareth still felt subject to hysteria and the nervousness creeping along his limbs like a tentative spider.
Slowly lowering her arm, the girl looked almost shameful, as she answered in a prompting, but weary voice, "Are Ghostwalkers allowed any freedom? Any rights?"
Roedran had expected some of the children to distrust the colony's ruling on Ghostwalkers, but he hadn't been prepared for it. He had expected to have a week or two with the children before they began to question what they heard. After all, they were twelve, and thus distracted with hormones, body changes, and career choices. Unknown and unseen individuals wouldn't hold a presence in their changing lives - not until they were moved into their new dorm rooms.
But here was a young girl, who questioned the colony's ruling on Ghostwalkers, on the first day in class. Roedran was frustrated already with the obstacles laid before him, but he was also relieved that these children were breaking the haunting cycle of obedience passing through the generations, brought upon the citizens by their fear, and the colony's choice to prey upon that fear.
With a soft sigh, Roedran raised a weary and almost saddened expression towards the girl, saying in a controlled, but quieter tone, "No, they don't. Ghosts have lived before - let us live now. They are intruders to our time. They do not belong here, and thus must not be treated as if they do."
The girl's head bobbed as she raised her glance and opened her mouth, perhaps to argue the point further. After a moment passed in silence, the class' eyes caught on this prominent child, she instead just shook her head and pursed her lips together so tightly that Roedran could hear her teeth slam against each other. After a minute passed, with the other students not sure where to turn their hesitant glances now, Roedran faced the slim, glass frame serving at his writing board. He peered at the words "Ghostwalking Strategic" presented in bold capitals at eye level.
Raising his stiff arm and ready hand once more, Roedran wrote in the air just before the board, pressing the button on the back of the metallic utensil, watching as the laser connected with the glass frame, and formed the words his mouth couldn't muster to say. They clung to the sides of his dry throat, and refused to be moved.
Resting in the third row in the back of the classroom according to the alphabetical seating method, Neil Parish sat hunched back against the soft fabric of his cushioned chair, staring blankly at the glare against the metal sides of his desk from the blaze of the overhead lights. There was a soft, yellow glow veiling the room Neil had grown so accustomed to, that it made any other illumination strange, and even hurtful to the eyes.
The exchange between Amy and Mr. Roedran passed unheard over Neil, like a jet passing far above in the sky. The words were meaningless to the youth as he sat, doodling with his marker on the glass frame serving as his terminal. Once he rested the marker down in its slot beside the slate, his desk processed the imprinted image of an old-styled jet into its database, in case he deleted it, and decided he wanted to bring it up later.
The doodle wasn't horrible, but instead expectant for a twelve-year-old boy who spent most of his time playing games. It had the right outline - though jagged and lopsided - with no real detail. Neil had once dreamed of flying through the skies in a jet, and to know the feeling and superiority pilots exerted as they strode their way through the colony. The youth envied them and their freedom of the sky and ground.
Now, Neil sat in GW Strategic, learning about the rights that never belonged to the ghosts who no one saw. He was supposed to be learning the tools necessary for his career choice, and Neil didn't see how Ghostwalkers affected a pilot's life, and it was because that he saw it this way, that Neil didn't hear the teacher calling to him.
It took a soft, hesitant prodding from the boy sitting at the desk to the right of his, for Neil to raise his gaze and sit up with a jolt. Hands fumbling over the smooth surface of the marker, he raised slanted eyes towards the patiently waiting man, with hunched shoulders who had been dubbed his teacher for this hateful year. The Visor made it difficult to fully judge Mr. Roedran's expression, but Neil accepted it as expectancy.
The children half turned in their seats, gazing at him, made Neil nervous. Quickly hiding this feeling with a low scowl he knew his father to favor in moments like these when the spotlight was swung his way, Neil prompted simply, "What?"
"Mr. Parish, we are waiting on you for an answer." Roedran's voice was craggily, but grew stronger as he spoke. The man straightened himself, lifting his head as if it suddenly weighed less, and peered down across the room to the inattentive student.
Sliding back against the cushions of the metal chair connected in a swing motion to his desk, Neil sat so he was barely seeing over the edge, saying in a lighter, annoyed tone, "What was it?"
The lines around Roedran's mouth smoothed as he tensed slightly, but the man replied easily, "I asked for your opinion on Ghostwalkers. I know your mother works as a caretaker, and your father as a transferor."
With a stiff shrug of his shoulders, hands clasping either side of his desk, Neil informed his teacher, "I don't see my parents much, and I've never seen a Ghostwalker…so I wouldn't really have an opinion, now would I?"
Neil hadn't meant for so much hostility to be expressed with those words, but once they were out, he was glad he had said them. At age twelve, he had been expected to walk into a class with an opinion on a subject he had no previous concept of. The idea was ludicrous - even he could see that at his age.
There were mutters from the other children, but whether in support of his words or not, Neil Parish didn't know. As far as he saw, it didn't matter either. Let the other children draw their own conclusions from what the colony told them.
Roedran spent a few minutes considering Neil's statement, then prompted, "Then what do you think of them, knowing what you do."
With a snort, Neil sat up straight now, ready to serve this persistent man a piece of his mind. "I don't think they belong here at all, but I think its our fault they are."
At this, Mr. Roedran quirked his eyebrows so far up that they rose like thick caterpillars over his Visor rim. "Ohh?"
Nodding - in reassurance to himself and his statement - Neil continued, "Ghosts don't reappear because they led happy lives. Spirits return because of unfinished stuff, right?"
Roedran tilted his head back and forth on his shoulders in consideration of this, saying in an intrigued tone, "Perhaps…" Pausing in thought for a moment, he then rested his marker on the edge of his desk, and strode forward. Pausing at the aisle's head splitting each row into two sides, Roedran shifted his head to meet Neil's gaze levelly. "That is one theory, Mr. Parish. What makes you think it true?"
Shrugging one shoulder, frustration slipping away under his teacher's cool, steady stare, Neil replied simply, "That's what they say."
"Ahh…" Now Roedran's calm expression broke, and hard lines formed around his brows and mouth. It was visible only a moment, before he turned and strode back towards his desk. When he faced his students again, Roedran leaned back against the counter, with his palms clasping the edge loosely, saying, "What can't be explained with science, is often explained with religion."
Blonde, pony-tailed Amy raised her arm again, quicker this time. As Mr. Roedran looked at her, she started speaking quickly before he could permit her to do so. "But sir, the colony advisors say the two don't touch and argue upon a subject, like whether or not there is a God."
Nodding thoughtfully, Roedran's lips broke into a hesitant smile, as he noted, "Yes, that's true." pushing himself off the desk, he added matter-of-factly, "However, the appearance of these 'ghosts', has caused quite a stir and a clash. There are scientific theories given for their appearance, and religious claims that come dangerously close to breaking the boundary between proof, and belief."
The boy sitting in front of Neil gave his teacher a questionable look, prompting, "Are you saying that what they can't explain, they claim is spiritual?"
Roedran's smile grew thin as he realized what he had said. Then, clearing his throat and picking up the marker resting on his desk, bouncing light from overhead onto the ceiling like a well positioned flashlight, Roedran turned back towards the board.
"I think that is enough about the two for now." Beginning to write down a list of the differences of lifestyle between a citizen and a ghost, he continued in a controlled, serious tone, "Let us turn our attention instead, towards the colony's method for dealing with ghosts, and how the church influenced it."
The rest of the class slipped by quickly, with each student's mind drifting between what they were being taught, and what they had grown up believing. None of them had seen a Ghostwalker, and even if they had, how would they know it was one? Was it an apparition - transparent and white like in the old movie flicks? There was a countless number of movies released with theories on what ghosts in civilization were represented as, but some of the ideas seemed so far-fetched and different from one another, it was hard to tell if any of them had any fact at all in which they were based off.
When the class ended, and intercom commanded that sixth graders report to the exhibit hall, the children in Mr. Roedran's class, gathered their few belongings silently and trailed one after another, out of the classroom. Gareth stood at his desk, watching the last of the small forms disappear on the other side of the automatic door. There was a light steam of exhaust as it shut closed with a soft click that bounced off the nearly empty classroom.
Author's Note: this story was started as a short story to be entered into a magazine, with a max of 25k words. Thus, it doesn't have chapters really, and instead, sections. Things are made clearer as the story goes along. I'm not entirely sure where this story will take me, but I am hoping that after it's published in a few magazines, someone will offer for it to be published as a story on its own, and thus, give me the oppurtunity to extend its length and depth. Thank you, for all reviewers and readers,