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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4. *chapter two*

The bark is rough against my skin as I slam into the trunk of a tree, finally bringing the momentum I carried from the square to an end. This is it. I'm going to die right here, right now. There's no other explanation for the things running through my mind, for the irregular beating of my heart, for the way my muscles tense at every little sound.

That woman, the one who almost killed me, will find me and finish me off. I just know it. She'll put the gun against my head again, and this time she won't hesitate when I cry.

I cried.

I touch the sides of my face and feel the dried tears there. They're almost sticky on my skin. Hollow People don't cry. I don't cry. But here's the evidence that I did, painted on my face like a sign pointing out my weakness. Because that's what crying is. That's what any emotion is. A weakness.

I am weak. I am going to die.

I slide down the trunk, the bark scratching at my back, until I'm sitting in the dirt. The logical thing to do would be to go help all those people who can't help themselves. I am hollow, I shouldn't be afraid. But I am. In fact, I am terrified.

The concept of emotions always went over my head even when they broke them down for us in school. I understood all of the symptoms of each emotion but never why those emotions existed in the first place. No amount of memorization and studying could make me understand.

Fear: clammy skin, accelerated heart rate, and shortness of breath. Those were the symptoms they taught us.

I press my fingers to my wrist and feel my pulse. It flutters under my skin like an insect caught in a spider's web. The palms of my hand are sweaty no matter how many times I wipe them off on my pants. Air only fills my lungs in shaky gasps. So it's not just the feeling in my stomach, the one that makes me want to vomit. All of the physical signs are there too.

I've found myself caught in the web called fear. Those lessons in school are starting to make more sense.

I brush my fingertips over the bump at the base of my skull. It's my Noviac, the small device attached to the brainstem that records basic medical data. Perhaps it noticed my symptoms and notified a doctor. At the very least it has recorded my increased levels of adrenaline and the hit I took to the head earlier. The little device likely didn't notice the other things like accelerated heart beat and shortness of breath. Those are things that happen every time I exercise and would be considered irrelevant data.

All of those poor people who died in the square and all of those poor people still in the square, I wonder what their Noviac's say. For a lot of them their Noviac's say nothing. The little devices would have stopped recording when they died. A dead body gives off no data.

I should go back. I need to go back. So many people already died, and it was my job to save them. I failed them but I won't fail anyone else. I'll go back and save them even if it kills me.

Oh god, going back will kill me. There's no way anyone's still alive. We were so prepared to protect the president that we forgot about everyone else. Now they're all dead, and I'll be dead too if I go back.

I can't. I just... can't. It's not possible. I don't want to die.

I'm not strong enough.

That's what it really is. If I were strong then I would go back right now. If I were strong then I would never have fled in the first place. Instead I've let myself become weak under something as simple as emotions.

I pull my legs to my chest and tuck my head to my knees. As long as I sit like this I don't have to see anything. I press my palms against my ears. Now I don't have to hear anything either. Sitting like the world outside me doesn't exist. There are no people to save. There are no terrorists to kill me. There are no emotions to disturb my mind.

Maybe I'm turning into my older sister, Talia. Is this what she was like in the days leading up to her disappearance? I hope not. For her sake I hope she was just Schizophrenic like the doctors said she was.

Maybe I'm Schizophrenic, too. That would make a lot more sense than feeling emotions. Hollow People can go crazy like everyone else but they still can't feel emotions.

I don't know how long I stay like this. A few minutes. A few hours. The whole day. I don't know and I don't care. I feel safe here, and that's all that matters. If I could stay like this forever then I would, but the sound of twigs breaking not too far away sends me jumping to my feet.

"Who's there?" I call out as I look around the trees.

The daylight burns my eye, and I realize I couldn't have been here for that long. It was noon when I ran from the square, and the sun still hangs high in the sky.

No one answers my question, but I hear the sound of another breaking branch come from my right. My gun is in my hand in a second. Fear makes me react even faster than instinct does.

"I said, who's there?"

I lick my lips and tighten my grip on my gun. It's the woman from the square. She found me and now she's here to kill me.

"I won't let you kill me!" I shout. "I have a gun."

I scan the surrounding area again. The sound of feet on the forest floor has stopped. Everything is silent, but she can't fool me. I know she's here. I'll find her.

Something catches my eye. The flash of a hand. The sleeve of a blue plaid shirt. The woman had been wearing black. I remember that much. Someone else is here.

"I saw you," I say, trying to remain calm as I adjust my grip on my gun again and lick my lips. Why does it feel so dry out here today? "Come out."

A boy steps out from behind a tree with his hands up. "Jesus, lady. Do you really need to be waving that gun at me?"

The first thing I notice about him is that he's unarmed. The second thing I notice is that he's bigger than me by at least four inches and thirty pounds. The third thing I notice is that he's quite handsome with dark skin, sharp features, and short hair. I take into account the first two things and discard the third. I have the advantage with the gun, but he's big enough to disarm me if he knows how.

"Who are you and what are you doing here?" I can feel my hand shake uncontrollably but try to ignore it. I need look like I'm in control. I need to feel like I'm in control.

His hands are still in the air, but he doesn't look scared. He smirks at me like a person with a gun is some kind of joke. "I'm Oliver, and this is City Park. I'm allowed to be here, anyone is, but Hollow People don't usually come around here very often."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

He laughs. This stupid kid thinks everything is a joke. Are all unaffected people like this?

"You're wearing a City Guard uniform and carrying a gun. You certainly look like a Hollow Person."

"So what if I am a Hollow Person?"

He won't stop smirking. It's driving me insane. I can feel my eye twitch in a very unnatural way. All of these little things I'm experiencing feel wrong. I'm not used to my body doing anything but what I tell it to do.

"I've never seen a Hollow Person look so stressed."

My eye twitches again, and I can't stop myself from licking my lips. The humid air of New Orleans does nothing to protect my cracking skin. Licking them is making the problem worse, but it's impossible to stop.

"There's a lot going on right now," I say, thinking back to the square. It's hard to believe I went from a calm and collected guard to a crazy woman pointing a gun at an innocent civilian.

Oliver doesn't even flinch. He must not realize what's happening or he doesn't care. "You need to relax. Whatever is happening won't be fixed if you shoot me."

He's right. Of course he is. Problems aren't solved by any type of violence, especially violence against the innocent. This boy isn't the reason people are dying. He's not the one that pointed a gun against my head. He's not trying to hurt anyone.

Still, I can't bring myself to lower the gun. My fingers relax their grip ever so slightly. My posture loosens. My eye stops twitching. I don't put down the gun. Even acknowledging that there is no danger doesn't save me from seeing what isn't there.

Oliver sees me relax and takes a step forward and then another one. I don't tense up again but I also don't let go of the only object that can protect if something goes wrong. Something always goes wrong.

In a few steps he is in front of me with his hands up and the barrel of the gun dangerously close to his chest. "If I wanted to hurt I would have already. Now please lower the gun."

My arms fall to my sides. I could have killed him so easily just then, even on accident. He never posed a threat to me, but I posed a threat to him. How ironic that I was the one worried about being killed when the gun was in my hand all along.

The air lightens as soon as the gun isn't pointed at anyone, and I've put the safety on. I didn't notice how suffocated I felt until the tension lifted. I slide it back into the holster at my waist.

He sighs and puts his hands down. I thought he was calm the entire time, but now it's clear he had been faking it. "Much better, yeah?"

I don't say anything.

"Now, unless you're going to tell me why you're pulling guns on strangers, I'd like to go home in one piece," he says, turning around to go back in the direction him came.

"You were watching me," I point out as I remember how he stood behind the tree.

My comment doesn't faze him, and all he does his raise his eyebrow at me. "Like I said, we don't see Hollow People around here often."

I raise my eyebrow back. "Never?"

"Pretty much. You emotionless folks prefer to stay secluded from us 'inferior' people." He says 'inferior' with air quotes, and I think he might be mocking me. I can't really tell since Hollow People don't mock each other.

"No, your fragile emotions and egos just can't handle having logical people around," I retort, surprising myself with my wit.

"Whatever," he says with a roll of his eyes. I glare at him, and he puts his hands back up like I've pulled out my gun again. "I was just curious, okay? I've never met a Hollow Person before."

"And was I what you expected?" I ask, my voice rising in a way it never has before.

His lip crinkles. "I wasn't expecting an emotionless person to be so emotional and... illogical."

"Right," I say, though I'm a little offended. It doesn't help that he's right. I'm being emotional and illogical.

"Look," he says. "I'm sure you have your reasons. That stuff happens to every girl. It's just your time of the month."

It takes me a moment to process what he's implying, and when I do my jaw drops. "That's not why I'm emotional, asshole."

"Okay, okay. I'm going to go now because you're starting to scare me again. Whatever's making you like this, I hope you take care of it."

My cheeks grow warm. He doesn't understand what I saw, what I went through. He can make as many sexist period jokes as he wants, I need to figure out what to do about the square. He has gone from a small scare to a major distraction. He needs to stop wasting my time.

Oliver stretches and rubs the small of his back with a yawn. "Well, it was nice to meet you, Hollow Person. Hopefully I won't have to see you or your gun again."

"My name is Eleni," I feel the need to add as he walks away.

"Alright, Eleni."

He's almost past the tree line when my eyes catch onto something out of place. There's a bump under his shirt like he stuck something in the back waistband of his pants. I can't make out any distinct shape, but it seems odd to me that anyone would keep something there unless they were trying to hide it.

My hand reflexively moves to my holster. My gun is gone. That bastard stole my gun.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thanks for reading! I really hope you enjoyed this chapter, and if you did please vote and comment. It would mean a lot to me.

Last week I asked you two questions. Question one did not have a right answer, but question two kind of did. The question was, "What do you think Eleni's favorite color is?" The simple answer is she doesn't have one. Having a favorite color would be considered illogical and require some sort of emotional attachment, so she wouldn't put too much thought into it.

This weeks questions:

Q1: What do you think happened to Talia, Eleni's sister? What does this say about their society?

Q2: Would you want to be a Hollow Person?

 

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