The Hollow and The Saint

"The world we live in is no different from Hell; there are those who are tortured by the fire, there are demons who carry out orders, and then, of course, there is the devil himself. Well, I plan on turning hell into heaven."

Wounded, heartbroken with a hollow void filling down his soul, Logan Hayz is lying down on the ground, in front of him the corpse of his son, with a bullet stuck in his skull painting such beauty on his face. A bullet fired from the same Glock pistol Logan is holding in his right hand. Blood covering his left mechanical arm giving it an exquisite look with the rust of steel. Water drops touching down his flabby skin, in one eye he can see the past along with all the hardships and sufferings he had to endure to achieve his ultimate dream of creating the perfect world. In the other, he saw the reason he pursued that dream, Elizabeth Rose, his long-lost beloved.


Cover by INFINITE_EXHO

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12. Happy Valentine

I don't believe in holidays, especially Valentine's Day. You’re probably thinking something along the lines of, "Do you even believe in love? How cruel of you!"

Let me explain. What I hate about these holidays is the concept of ‘pretending’ to feel such way just because it's ‘Valentine’s Day’. It's like when you wear a mask for a play, and you get so immersed in the role and character, that when the play is over you don't recognize yourself anymore. You may even laugh at yourself later. These holidays tend to leave hearts broken rather than bring them together. For me, love is not a feeling, it's more of a need - a connection, like the missing puzzle piece of the soul. That is why I consider love to be a liability. For me, to succeed in my job, I couldn’t afford to have any distractions.

It's the 14th of February.

“Oh, hey there, Logan,” Ms. Anderson said, arranging white shirts on the table.

“Good morning, Ms. Anderson. Thanks for the bread by the way. It was delicious! Got to roll, see you tomorrow,” I replied as I entered Ms. Anderson’s shop, holding Eli’s hand with my left.

"Hey, Logan! Don't forget to drop by at noon. You promised to take me shopping, remember?" Elizabeth reminded me.

Something was out of the ordinary. I looked back, left then right.

Why do I feel as if I was being followed by someone? I’m just paranoid.

"Of course I remember, don't worry! I will be on time. Take care!" I took off to The Baron’s shop.

“Eli, don't you think that Logan is such a handsome young man? He seems to care for you. Why aren’t you two together yet?” Asked Ms. Anderson, folding a piece of cloth.

“What? No, I’ve known Logan since we were kids, we’re like brother and sister. Besides, I don’t think he looks at me like that,” Elizabeth replied, laying down her purse in the drawer.

“Oh, you are so sweet… but a tad stupid. He is madly in love with you. The way he looks at you, the way he holds your hand, the way he speaks to you - come on, you must know better!”

“There is no way… Are you sure?”

“Of course I am sure. It's just that… he is an idiot, too. He doesn’t know how to express his feelings right now, but he seems to be satisfied as long you two are close.”

“Oh, Ms. Anderson. You’re imagining things! Even if what you said is true… look at me! I am just some blind girl. I can't even go shopping alone,” said Elizabeth, sitting down on the chair.

"Well, his eyes tell otherwise. Trust me, nobody stays devoted to someone that long if they don’t care for them. That’s true love! However, if you keep being naïve like you are now, some other girl will trick that poor guy and snatch him away from you!”

“Hmmm…” Elizabeth sank deep into her thoughts.

***

After finishing my first contract, a question began to cloud my mind.

How many contracts does I have to complete to climb up the ranks?

I was at The Baron’s shop, checking out an antique wooden clock that caught my eye.

Broken, what a waste.

“Logan, I have a favor to ask of you,” said The Baron with a nervous voice.

Strange, that’s the first time he’s ever spoken to me like that.

“I’m listening,” I sat on the chair. And he sat next to me.

Usually he sits behind the desk. It must be an important issue.

“As you know, it’s my job to survey the assassins in this region. A new recruit, codename Zebra, is trying to present himself as the best assassin around. Instead of working on completing contracts to raise his rank, he took a different route. He chose to take out other assassins, especially those newly recruited.”

“I thought targeting other assassins was allowed?”

“Technically it is, but this guy is causing insecurity among the ranks, and that’s bad for business, he is creating chaos.”

“Alright, so where do I fit in all of this?”

“You see; I can’t put a contract under his name because he hasn’t done anything wrong. But you, it’s another story. Right now you’re not bound by any contract. You can take care of him without any problem. However, I need it to be done today.”

“Today? Why?”

I promised Elizabeth I’d spend the day with her.

“Tomorrow he will be assigned a new contract, by then he will be untouchable. Plus, I want this to end as soon as possible,” he leaned his head down.

He needs me so badly, this is my chance.

“A favor won’t cut it for me, I want something more concrete,” I straighten my back on the chair, feeling big and all mighty.

“Does that mean you’ll do it?” The Baron eye’s flashed with hope.

“Depends on the offer. I’ll make it easier for you, I won’t accept money.”

“How about this, I will try to get you a special contract. The kind that would put you right in the spotlight. What do you say?”

This is exactly what I was hoping for.

“Fair enough, just give me all the information you have on this guy, and you can consider it done.”

This is it, my way up.

***

It was noon, I came and took Elizabeth with me. I was determined to stick to my promise and complete the job at the same time, again.

“Why aren’t we going to the city market?” Elizabeth asked, after noticing the long walk.

“I heard there are some interesting stores in the neighborhood, so I thought we could check them out,” I responded.

“If you say so, but my wallet is limited, just so you know.”

She was wearing black glasses, and held a cane in her left hand. I was holding her right one. However, I felt a hesitation in her touch, as if she was shying away from me.

What’s wrong with her today?

We arrived at the clothing store, I was always the one who chose what she would wear. Thanks to me, all of her clothes were white, I liked to see her wearing this color. Maybe because it reflected her purity. Now, I wanted to make a change.

"How about red? Come on, try this one out. Meanwhile, I have something I need to buy from the store nearby." I was in a hurry.

“What is it? We can buy it together later.”

“No need, it’s something somewhat personal. Besides, the changing rooms are full, it will be a while until you get your turn.”

Just as I was going through the exit, a policeman stopped me.

“Sorry sir, but I think I need you to come with me,” he was standing in front of me blocking my way out.

“Why? What did I do wrong?” I asked, looking behind for any other cops.

“You will be told at the station.”

He searched my pockets, and confiscated my switchblade.

“Let’s get you to the car,” he said, after handcuffing me with my hands behind my back.

He made me walk in front of him until we reached an alleyway with no one around. That’s when I felt cold metal touching the bottom of my neck.

“Hollow, what a pleasant surprise. I’ve heard great things about you. I’m Zebra, by the way,” he said, this time with a sinister voice.

“So you’re the psychopath who is responsible for taking out the other assassins. I have to say, I’ve heard a lot about you too. Never imagined you would go this far, disguised as a police officer, that is. How did you find me?”

“Isn’t it obvious? You were the next target on my list, I have been following you for a while now, planning on taking you down later, but since you already came into my turf, well, let’s just say I couldn’t resist.”

So predictable.

Judging by his previous targets, The Baron and I noticed that he not only chose new recruits, but he was also aiming for younger assassins. If our theory was correct, I should’ve been the next target as I was the youngest assassin alive in the region. I’d had a feeling for some time now that I was being followed. He had been watching me.

The Baron had also told me that he was the arrogant, confident type- the worst trait an assassin could have. That’s when I figured out how to lure him out of hiding. I was confident that if I went into his city, he would surely come for me.

Hearing his cocky voice, I broke into laughter, I couldn’t hold it inside anymore.

“Lost your mind already? Here I was hoping for a dramatic speech,” he lowered the gun downwards, squeezing deep in to my spine.

First mistake, an assassin doesn’t talk too much.

William once told me that all handcuffs could be opened with the same key. That’s why I always had that key taped cleverly on the back of my belt.

“You know what, I just feel sorry for those who’ve fallen by your hands. If you ask me, they got what they deserved,” I said, sticking my right hand under my belt, trying to sense the key. I felt it with the tip of my finger. So I carefully slide it out right into my hand. Zebra was too distracted making a scene and boasting about himself.

“Well, you’ll be joining them soon. You’re the one with the gun to his head, remember?” He laughed. Meanwhile, the cuffs were open, and my hands were free.

I managed to take a glimpse behind, he was holding the pistol in his right hand. I knew in each direction I had to strike.

Holding the gun too close to his target. Second mistake.

Quickly, I rotated my body to the right, getting out the pistol’s sight, and using my right hand I grabbed his right wrist to block his aim. With my left hand on his right shoulder, I pushed Zebra forward while I took a step behind his back. Then I had to force his arm backwards, using my left hand I grabbed hold of his pistol now that his grip was loose. Just like that, and just in matter of two seconds we swapped roles, and I was the one in control.

His jaw down on the ground, unable to understand what was going on, he simply dropped to the floor. I could see the fear oozing from his wide opened eyes, crawling backwards, the almighty lion turned into a lowly cat so quickly. Instead of fighting back, he surrendered. He tried to stood up as he stumbled, he was about to flee. Without any hesitation, I pulled the trigger. First shot went to his back, he dropped on the floor that was when I made the second shot to the head.

 “See? That’s what you do when your target is right in your line of sight. Don’t speak, just pull the trigger,” I whispered in his ear before fleeing the scene.

***

It had been fifteen minutes since I left Elizabeth. After throwing the pistol in the nearest dumpster, I got back to the clothing store. Luckily, she was just out of the changing room.

The moment I saw her with that dress on, I swear I felt my heart skip a beat. She was marvelous. The way her blonde hair rested on her shoulders atop that red was captivating. The way it wrapped her skinny arms, the amazing frills danced on her chest. A skinny gold belt around her slender waist, the dress cascaded down to her ankles. It was like I was living in a painting, except she was more vivid and real than art. I could feel and smell the scenery. It was perfect.

 "So? How do I look?" she had doubt in her voice, turning left and right.

My jaw wide open, a second later I spoke my first words, "Eli… You look amazing!" I was astonished.

 "Really? You think I’m pretty? I mean, you like this dress on me? Well, at least I got to wear it. It's expensive as hell!" She kept on feeling the dress with her hands.

“Who said anything about money? I like it on you. I am buying it."

"No! I can't let you burden yourself like that! You know I don't like you paying for my stuff."

"Don't worry. My job pays really well. Besides, you and I are one, remember?"

"Okay… Just don't tell me afterwards that I didn't warn you. You’re going to go bankrupt! Let me change so I won't wrinkle the dress."

"No, don't take it off! You must spend the whole day wearing it."

"But-"

"No buts! Come on, let's go,” I hold her hand, taking her straight to the cashier. 

After that, we went to have lunch and spent the whole day walking aimlessly around Steely Hollow, under the snowflakes of winter, holding hands, with her head on my shoulder. It was so light, I barely felt it, what I did feel was peace. A sensation far from my line of work.

Somehow we felt alone in this world. Not in a bad sense of way. It was like everybody disappeared, and it was only me and her. Side by side, hearing only her nimble footsteps, and feeling her warm breath down my neck. My mind turned off, focusing only on that moment.

***

We returned home late. She asked me to spend some time with her that night. We bought a bottle of wine. Usually we don't drink, especially Eli since it reminds of her father, but today was an exception. We were sitting on the bed.

"Hey, I've been meaning to ask you this for a long time. How can you imagine things you don't know?" I asked, opening the bottle.

"Well, it's simple. Just like when I walk alone. I tend to memorize the road, and each step. While with objects, if I know the shape, I imagine it in my mind. If it's something new, I use my hands to capture a clear picture of it in my head,” she held the glass tight as I poured in the wine.

"Okay, then how can you describe me?" I poured in my glass.

"Actually, I don't know."

"Really?! We’ve known each other all these years, and you don't have a clear picture of me? I mean, when you talk to me, at least, you should imagine someone. Right?"

"Yeah! Of course, I have a picture of you. It's just, you could say… it's outdated," she teased.

"Don't you wish to update that picture?"

She drank her glass of wine in one go. She was nervous. She approached me, getting close enough that I could feel the warmth of her body. She laid her hands on my face, and started moving her tiny fingers around my features. It kind of tingled.

Then, when she reached my lips, she stopped there. She then brought her face in line with mine. It was like she was looking right through my eyes. It was the first time I noticed her lips. They were pale red, like a rose. The upper lip was thinner than her curvy, plump bottom lip, but not too much so. She was getting closer, and so was I. Maybe it was the wine. I felt my body being drawn by a strong, magnetic force, pulling me unmercifully to her side. She was so close. In that moment, I felt my whole body being surrounded by a cold aura, my heart started racing… I was afraid of the unknown.

Suddenly, the glass in my hand slipped to the floor and broke into hundreds of pieces. We returned to our senses, and she immediately moved away from me. I could tell how tense she was by her heavy breathing.

"Oh sorry! Don't worry, I will clean it up," I said, confounded yet relieved at the same time.

While collecting the broken pieces, I couldn't help but think that I was picking up the pieces of what used to be our relationship. After cleaning up the floor, I went to my apartment. She didn't say a word. Still, I couldn't help but wonder:

 Did the glass slip from my hand on its own? Or did I drop it on purpose?

Back then, I didn't know the answer. But here was what I knew for sure - I hated Valentine's Day more than ever.

 

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