Neil had never seen so many students gathered in one, small cramped area. The only other occasions might have been festivities, where adults and other graders were mingled amongst them. But today, in the exhibit hall, everyone was around his height, and eavesdropping upon conversations was hardly beneficial. While his classmates grouped together as they shifted reluctantly through the bustling swarm, Neil struck out on his own.

Passing around the room aimlessly, he caught parts of conversation he had heard his classmates discussing on their way to the gathering.

"What do you think ghosts really are?"

"I don't know…maybe they're not even real."

"Then what does my sister really do?"

"Why would they lie?"

All questions everyone else has asked, Neil retorted silently with a wrinkle of his nose, as he passed the small band he'd eavesdropped on, who were talking rather loudly in disregard of the adults present.

The school board Heads stood towards the back of the exhibit hall, on a stage propped there specifically it seemed, for their viewing of the sixth graders. They were speaking to each other in muttered tones, eying the children spread out before them, gazes lasting longer on some more than others. Pausing about a third way towards the stage, Neil gazed up at them, and pictured the Heads as gods and goddesses observing their creation - figuring out how best to quietly guide them now.

Though "Head" was just a title the children made up for the school board staff, it had stuck, and the adults seemed to take the term in stride. The title had been made as joke in reference to how the head is where the brain is, and it tells the rest of the body how to function. That's the way the students saw their teachers. Neil had even seen some offer a smile when a student slipped and called one by the title, rather than their sir name. Others either regarded the child with a closed contempt, or dismissed the name entirely. Punishment had become insignificant for most of the students residing in the Wendell Colony Academy, once they reached middle school. Chores by then, had become a daily routine, and being locked into one's own room, offered time for studies or personal entertainment. With how much effort exerted and energy wasted, in punishing one student for a day by cutting off their power, it was an empty threat that prompted laughs from the children.

The Heads knew they were losing control over their charges, and it was only through continuous preaching and the presence of power that stopped students from exerting full rebellion. Splitting students up after six straight years together, was an example and reminder of this power. They wanted to show the students that they were still in control.

I won't be sharing a room with Richard or John anymore, Neil realized, as the adults began to call for order, the lights in the room dimming to focus on the stage and the tall figures looming ominously there. No more Cameron or Derrick…

In a strong, booming voice, a man dressed in tan slacks with a white, button-up shirt and black tie, lifted his muscular arms over his head, as he called to the hundreds of faces turned towards him, "Another eventful year has begun, and allow me to welcome you on behalf of the school board, and send you congratulations from Wendell's colonists."

There was a slight stir of mutters amongst the children, as they shifted in anticipation, and - what Neil judged as he watched them - nervousness. The fellow boys and girls they had become friends with through time, patience, and exploration, would be shifted from their lives. The change would be dramatic as new students - some possibly acquaintances known from daily classes - were shuffled around in friends' places.

Neil felt no strong connection to anyone he knew at the academy, and thus, found himself blessed not to be a part of the hugging and moping that would follow the meeting as children were directed to their new dorm rooms.

After a few minutes passed, the hushed chatter began to dim down, and Principal Huin lowered his arms. Sweeping his gaze quickly across the room, he cleared his throat, before beginning again, "This year will bring new changes, but do not fear…" Here, he held up one hand as if the confused children were about to protest change like taxpayers to tax raises. When a few moments passed in utter silence, Huin lowered his arm and dared a gaze towards the darkened room once more. The other Heads stood back against the wall with arms folded, their gazes falling on their leader and his unusual reactions.

Jud Huin - despite being only in his early thirties - was a man of sound judgment, and a strong presence. His cleanly shaven face was carved in a curved, but prominent frame. His evenly centered cheekbones made his small eyes appear illumined, and the bags resting beneath them were almost invisible, hidden carefully with a skin toner.

Despite that he had never met the man personally, Neil liked him. Huin appeared friendly and self-serving, having not to rely on his fellow staff members for answers. He was kind to the children, but presented himself also, as a strong, father-like figure. Neil had heard stories about Huin cracking down on misbehaving children, but had never learned the details, nor seen him do thus. The man seemed to have the presence of mind to keep such an embarrassing event discreet.

Without having to be addressed, the other staff members started to make their way off stage, calling out names and redirecting children into new groups. Neil watched as girls embraced their each other before heading reluctantly towards their callers, and how the boys slapped each other on the back in a sign of good will. He found it strange how the two groups acted differently towards each other when faced with the same situation. Maybe he would use today as an assignment in his psychology class.

I won't.

Neil mused about how simply he took to an idea, and then scrapped it. It wasn't a surprising process - children were well known for not sticking with something. For Neil though, he didn't disregard ideas or opportunities because he was afraid of hard work, but because he didn't see the benefits of putting out more effort than was needed. His psychology class was simple and basic - just research and recording.

The gloomy children shuffling their way towards beckoning adults were complex individuals, who were affected the same - to an extent - by the situation, but for different reasons.

They have memories, that's why, Neil realized. His ears pricked at the sound of his name amongst the many voices calling out. As the youth shifted his gaze around the room, looking for the 'Bringer of Change', Neil thought to the fairytales of heroes being called to fight a battle they hadn't intended to.

But Neil was no hero, and he wasn't being called to fight for, or against, anything.

I'm just being called for a change in my life. They're controlling that change.

Muttering a curse beneath his breath, Neil spotted the middle-aged woman calling for him, peering around with an earnest expression. This woman had spent at least fifteen years of her life, working with children, and continuously gave way to worry when they proved to have a mind of their own. All adults seemed to think the same way, though their reactions to radical kids differed.

Making his way through the now shifting crowd, the youth ignored the complaints and shouts he received as he headed for the woman, still attempting to raise her voice higher than the din. She was already turning hoarse and clearing her throat several times after every call of his name, when Neil arrived to stand at her side. When the woman turned, the back of her handheld terminal smacked him on the side of the head.

Neil instantly saw stars as the world turned black, and his leaden feet stumbled and dragged him to the ground. He rasped as fresh images of a blazing village flashed in his mind's eye. In the distance, there were voices shouting, and he thought he caught his name on their tongues.

Maybe it's just one voice.

When he stirred, Neil didn't have the presence of mind to open his eyes. There was a comforting, and familiar darkness encompassing him. It was a relief from the changing events in his life. There was a drifting voice calling to him again, but this time it grew steadily stronger.

"Not the same voice," the youth muttered beneath his breath, as he shifted back and forth in an attempt to raise himself. The floor wasn't hard, but instead soft and shifting.

Eyes opening steadily, Neil blinked several times into the calm, yellow lights overhead. Shielded by domes, the lights were like the children in the colony - confined rays of hope. A face eased into his eyesight, pushing away the blearing light. A small mouth moved to form words, but they were lost on him.

There was a dull, irritating buzz in the back of Neil's head that had effectively barricaded his ears and dimmed his hearing. His mother must have been afraid of speaking too loudly, in case he was still asleep or disoriented, which is why he couldn't hear a single word of her consistent, worrisome chatter.

Someone must have told Patricia to shut her mouth, because she shot an indignant look to the side before easing back in the wide, cushioned chair, shifted close to the bed. Pushing himself up slowly, Neil realized instantly that he wasn't in the exhibit hall with the other children anymore. His body felt stiff and unresponsive. Trying to raise his arm to cradle his aching head, Neil found it heavy and numb.

Patricia Parish- nearing her late thirties - was a woman who certainly didn't look the part. Her dark hair curved around her angular face made her appear youngish, and there was a brilliance resting in the woman's eyes, that most adults had long since lost. Neil's father claimed it was because the colony sucked the youth dry from its citizens. Neil's mother was a caretaker for the dead, and was the most lively adult Neil knew.

An act of irony, he realized as he eyed the tense woman. Mrs. Parish seemed to be peering past Neil's skeptical look and into his mind. The brightness in her eyes dimmed a little as she offered a grimace.

Shifting his gaze slowly towards his father, Neil took in the small room he was lying in. It was simple furnished - with just the necessary pieces for living in a dorm. It was larger than his fifth grade room - not that it mattered much. The door to his bathroom stood half open, with pearly white walls peeking through the crack at him in a tempting manner. Neil shifted where he sat uncomfortably. He had to piss, but his limbs still felt numb. He would save himself the embarrassment of having his parents help him.

Adam Parish - a tall, stocky man resting in his early fifties with a balding head to prove it - sat in the only other chair in the room, pressed against the far wall. Behind a thick rimmed Visor, he peered blankly at his son. From his father's lack of reaction, Neil assumed he was busy sorting through files.

It took a minute for Neil to realize that the growing hum in his head, came from his ears trying to pick out his mother's words. Patricia seemed oblivious to her son's hearing impairment. Her swift moving mouth and wringing hands said she was frantic with worry.

Is something wrong with me?

Neil must have voiced his thoughts, because his mother paused long enough to readjust her statements, and give an answer her son couldn't hear. Instead, Neil just gave a dumb nod of his head. Before Patricia could offer her son any more unheard affection, her attention was drawn to the opposite end of the cramped room. Shifting his weight so he wouldn't have to turn his aching head so much to see around the room, Neil watched as the familiar dark, form of Keene Garrison slipped through the automatic doorway. A smile eased onto his face as though he had practiced it while waiting in the hall to make his appearance.

Garrison's tall, strong frame said that medical practice wasn't his first career choice. He strode with an intense power in his legs, as if making each step count. Neil was sure that the man must have been questioning - perhaps for the twelfth time that same day - why he had taken the path he did. The good doctor was probably anxious to return home, and round his guy friends up for a good old game, and then sit and watch the sports on his platinum screen, while digging into party food and beverages.

And Ghostwalkers will serve it.

Neil wasn't sure why that thought had come to mind, but it might have been because the last thing he remembered, was his class, and being in a village, where a gangly woman was calling his name.

No, Neil reminded himself, as he sorted through the images and memories swarming in his muddled head. No…someone else was calling to me from that place.

Neil didn't know where that place was, but he felt it was familiar. Maybe he had read about it somewhere in a text book, or maybe it was a scene from an old flick he had fallen asleep during once. However, these thoughts were cascaded from his mind as the hum grew louder, making his ears throb slowly.

Raising his gaze to meet the dull flare of his doctor's eyes, Neil attempted to read his lips. When it was clear that his patient couldn't understand him, Garrison turned around to his parents. Once his gaze fell upon a distracted Adam Parish, he redirected his attention to the mother. The man must have lowered his voice - perhaps wondering if Neil really could hear, or out of realization and courtesy for his throbbing head - as he spoke to an anxious, but slowly relaxing, Mrs. Parish.

Sitting, gripping the sheets on either side of him in the balls of his small fists, Neil began to relax as his mother did. Patricia Parish was an overprotective, and nurturing woman. At the slightest worry, she would find cause to panic. Perhaps that's why she was best suited as a caretaker for the Ghostwalkers. She took everything as seriously as it could be taken, and reported it as thus. No doubt the council though had disregarded much of her commentary.

But seeing his mother relax, and stand to her feet to hug Dr. Garrison, then shake his hand and thank him with a nod, eased Neil's own subconscious worries. Everything was going to be fine, he could see it in his mother's glorious gaze. Right then, it was a lighthouse shining across the cold, dark ocean of dangers, with Dr. Garrison as the shark, that could either bring harm or just offer a strong, commandeering presence.

Dr. Garrison turned towards the door, offering Neil a nod and a small wave before disappearing through it. Though he hadn't done anything, Neil felt indebted to the doctor. A slow, steady movement from the corner of his eye, caused Neil to turn his head. He winced as the painful move served as a reminder of his condition.

Mrs. Parish parted her thin lips, and promptly began speaking, though in a slower manner than usual. She stopped with her mouth open as she perhaps remembered what Dr. Garrison had said. She turned her attention to the room then, scanning it steadily, before walking over to a cabinet and shuffling through the drawers carefully, putting everything she took out, neatly back in its place. After a few minutes, she stood and held a small, square panel aloft before her with a smile.

Neil recognized it as his VisualWriter. The overhead lights glinted off its curved corners, and the marker resting in the incurve of one of the sides around the slate. Standing beside the bed once more, Patricia began hurriedly scrawling, the tip of her tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth, like a persistent student at work.

Turning the VWriter around, the message read in neat, white letters against the black background, "Dr. Garrison says you've suffered from a slight concussion, but you'll be okay."

Mouthing these words to himself, Neil gave a slow nod once they registered, then looked up expectantly at his mother, who was watching him with a soft, fond expression. The lines around her mouth and forehead were deeper than usual, inclining an inside worry she couldn't speak, and that would take too long to write. For the first time since he had woken up, Neil was glad he couldn't hear.

Giving this thought, the youth gestured towards his head, without touching his throbbing ears. His mother appeared puzzled for a moment, but a sigh of recognition overcame her, and she began writing again.

The VWriter stated this time, "He says it will go away in a few hours." Almost as soon as Neil had read it, his mother turned it around, to write a final message; "You should rest. Your father and I have to return to work."

Neil's eyes flickered in the direction of Adam Parish, who hadn't moved since his son had awoken. The man hadn't given Dr. Garrison's arrival or departure any notice, and remained oblivious still to what was happening around him. Mrs. Parish grimaced at her husband, shaking her head slowly.

Setting the VWriter on the nightstand beside the bed, she leaned over and kissed her son gently on the cheek. It prompted a prickling sensation that spread down his neck, but Neil remained silent and unmoving as his mother pulled away with a soft smile. Striding over to where Adam Parish sat, she tapped his shoulder to stir the man from his missions. At the shift the man gave, Patricia assumed he understood, and headed for the door.

Pausing at the entryway as it slid open for her magically, Mrs. Parish offered her son one last smile before passing through. Mr. Parish, however, did not, as he walked slowly and cautiously forward.

When his parents had gone, Neil turned his attention to the VWriter. With it, he was permitted to send any message he wished outward. He was sure though, that all messages were monitored and approved before they reached their destinations.

Who does that? Is it a ghost?

Maybe he would ask his GW Strategic teacher. Though Neil had gotten off to a rocky start with Mr. Garret Roedran, there was evidence that the middle-aged man was taking the class and students seriously. Surely if Neil had a question, the man would answer it.

Best wait until I see him.

But Mr. Roedran - like all staff within the school - still wore the Visor. Did they ever take it off? Were they allowed to? Or could they even? Perhaps the mechanical device - with the ghostly eyes of the Heads resting within it - was implemented into the adult's head. Neil imagined that the process, even with the medication available, was rather painful. Dangerous, even with the equipment and careful calculations.

Neil's mother didn't trust machines. "Too many things can go wrong if a bit of coding is off, even by a digit," Mrs. Parish always said. Though Patricia was worrisome, Neil felt the woman had a valid point. Humans were more likely to make mistakes, but at least they could be discovered beforehand, and thus changed more easily, and since each doctor treated each case different from the next, the mistake wouldn't happen to multiple patients.

Arms still heavy and weak, Neil reached across to loosely grasp the side of the VWriter. Arm trembling as he slowly brought it onto his lap, the youth had to take several steadying breaths to ease his raging mind. Picking up the marker, he unsteadily wrote a message, and watched as the messy, scrawled letters reshaped themselves neatly. Picking out Mr. Roedran's contact from a series of visual prompts about the man, Neil sent to him, "Do ghosts monitor messages?"

He had had to keep it simple. His fingers had begun to cramp with the effort of remaining in a curved position. The entire process had taken him about ten minutes, Neil figured. He had read up on concussions, and how they slowed the brain's demands to the rest of the body. Sometimes the body was unresponsive entirely. Neil had, at least, managed to send a message, which raised a small trumpet of victory in his heart. Now he truly believed that he would be fine. Setting the VWriter aside on the bed - not caring whether it fell and broke or not - he eased his legs out beneath the blankets, and slowly laid back.

The soft fabric of the sheets was comforting, and the sweet aroma of his comforters being recently washed with a pine smell, eased his muffled senses. Before Neil could give thought to what dreams may come, his heavy eyelids were already shutting as the overhead lights began to dim to a soft, luminous glow. Neil beckoned for dreams to distill his slumber so he could rest in the bed longer…but they didn't.