The Hollow People

Eleni Markova has never felt emotion before: no happiness, no sadness, no anger, and no fear. She is one of the Hollow People, a group that came about a hundred years ago when a virus swept over the world, decimating the population and leaving only a fraction of people uncontaminated. Most of the contaminated died, and the few that recovered from the plague were changed forever. Their genes were altered, and they lost their ability to feel emotion.

Now, a hundred years after the Hollow Virus, the only remaining human civilization thrives under the leadership of the Hollow People, and Eleni, a member of the City Guard, is a prime example of what a Hollow Person should be. But when terrorists attack the city, Eleni begins to experience what she never believed she could: fear. The foreign emotion runs rampant though her, causing her to flee for her life and abandon her post.

Eleni must either trust her newfound emotions and a con artist named Oliver or let her home be destroyed.

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11. *chapter nine*

"You can think about this for as long as you like," the man says. "I'm just here to answer your questions."

I don't say anything. The sense I made out of nonsense has collapsed in on itself, returning to its original state of chaos. I can't make heads or tails of anything, so I stop trying.

The man takes my silence as his queue to continue. "I'm Jay Soleil. I understand your situation is quite complicated and there's a lot going on right now, but I think I can relate."

My tongue feels too heavy in my mouth like it's too tired to speak. I'm too tired to think right now.

"You may think you're the only one in your situation, but that's not true," he says and pushes his glass up his nose. "While I admit that it's rare, your circumstances have happened before. It happened to me."

That catches my attention. I still can't bring myself to speak, but the wheels start turning in my head. Before. It happened before. It happened to him.

It's happening to me.

When I continue to give no indication of responding, Jay sighs. "Miss Markova, you're going through a lot right now, but I'm asking you to listen. You're not just deciding your own future right now. Your decision has serious implications."

"I'm listening," I mutter under my breath, though the words are next to impossible to form.

He raises an eyebrow like he's not certain he believes me but continues anyways. "Fine, I'll explain what's happening, but that doesn't mean you have to make a decision now. It's imortant that you think this through."

"Okay," I say, but it's more of a huff of air than anything.

"The Hollow Virus has been more or less wiped out since the founding of New Orleans, but every once and a while there's another outbreak. It's quickly contained and people rarely die, but it changed people, as you know. Regular people become hollow, and Hollow People, well, the original effect of the virus is reversed. They become regular."

This news shouldn't be surprising. If the Hollow Virus can turn off emotions, why couldn't it turn them back on? Still, it shakes me to my core. These emotions aren't as new as I thought. They've been with me since I was a kid, since I had the Hollow Virus. But, why are they manifesting now?

I speak my question with out meaning to.

Jay takes off his glasses and rubs his hands across his face. "It's complicated. We're not sure what takes these emotions so long to manifest, but it's possible that the brain needs a strong emotional trigger in order to, well, activate them. It's impossible to say for sure, though."

I swallow hard, trying to get rid of whatever is holding my words back. I can feel sweat starting to bead at my temples. "Are you saying that you can turn emotions on and off?"

He sighs again and pushes his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. "Yes and no. It's not like hitting a button or flipping a switch. We'd have to infect you with the Hollow Virus again and quarantine you, but if that's what you want then the city is willing to do that."

The words strike me hard. This was never supposed to be a decision I had to make. I was born hollow and that was that. No one ever asked me if I wanted to be hollow. I never wondered what kind of life was best for me. I accepted that I was going to live the life of a Hollow Person.

Want was not something to consider. I could not want. I could only be. Now I have to decide how I want to be.

I take a seat. I can't think standing up anymore. Not when my legs are trembling like this. Not when my head is aching like this.

I know what I had expected when I got here. I expected the worst and got the best. Somehow this feels worst. It's like I was expecting to get shot but the bullet missed. I'm not dead but can still feel the momentum. It still takes the wind out of me as I realize I'm alive.

It hurts so bad. These little monsters inside me that claw at my throat, scratch at my eyes, and tear at my stomach. The ones that can make my heart race until it feels like it's going to burst. The ones that can make me breath so hard I think my lungs will pop like balloons. The ones that make me cry so much I fear I'll flood the world. I want them gone. I want to exterminate them.

They are the ones doing this to me. They are why I feel weak. They are why I'm here in the first place. If it weren't for them the terrorists would never have killed as many people as they did. I could've stopped them sooner.

'But you never would've met Oliver,' a little voice in my head says.

I ignore it. I have more important things to think about than something as frivolous as boys, especially normal ones. There are still the terrorists. Those people at the square must have worked for someone, and that someone is still out there. How am I supposed to stop them when I can't stop crying long enough to think?

"Get rid of them," I say with certainty.

Jay raises his eyebrows, "Are you certain?"

I nod my head. "I'm certain."

I may not be used to feeling emotions but I'm certain of what feeling right now. The most good I can do for myself and others is to be what I am, to be hollow. I'm not sure if it's what I want but it's what I need. In the basic structure of life, needs must always come before wants.

Jay rakes his hands through the balding hair on his head. "I was hoping you wouldn't say that."

My heart stutters. "Why?"

He looks towards the door and then back at me. "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but the city relies on people like us, people who were once hollow and aren't anymore."

"I don't understand."

His eyes continue to dart around as he speaks. "It's tragic when a Hollow Person becomes normal and when a normal person becomes hollow. It's near impossible for them to recover from the sudden change, but they serve a vital function. I mean, we serve a vital function. The city needs us to understand the normal people. They can't properly govern those they do not understand. Only those of us who have seen the world through both lenses can grasp the enormity and complexity of our society."

I shake my head. "No, I couldn't help with that. I'm better off in the City Guard."

"That's the thing. Your role in the City Guard is exactly why the city needs you to keep your emotions...." He draws off and removes his glass only to put them back on. "I'm really not supposed to tell you this, but we need you to do something for us."

My heart picks up pace, uncertain if I want to hear this or if I'm better off never knowing. "What?"

"They need you to convince the terrorists that after gaining emotions you've chosen to join they're side."

All the pieces fall into place. Why I'm in this room. Why they marched me through the city instead of driving. Why I'm not in jail. Why I'm even being given this choice. They want to make the terrorists believe I'm being arrested, to show in public that I am now an enemy of the state.

"What will it be, Eleni? You can go back to being hollow if that's what you want. The city won't make you do anything that you don't want to do, but you would be doing your people a great service if you kept your emotions. At least for now."

I'm not sure what to think anymore. If I want to help people, then shouldn't I keep my emotions? But, do I want to? Do I want to keep going with all this pain and rage? I don't know. It's too soon to tell.

"Give me a day to think about it," I say, unable to look at Jay. I won't let him guilt trip me anymore.

"Of course, take your time."

I leave the room, realizing that my mind is already made up.

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