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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3. *chapter one*

They told me I would never feel emotions--none of us would-- but I've always wondered if empty is an emotion. I am never happy or sad, angry or elated. I am desolate on the inside, and there's something quite tragic about that.

I suppose that's why we're called the Hollow People. We're devoid of all feelings besides our most basic natural instincts. Instead we are logical, calculating, cold. That's supposed to be an advantage, but today I don't think it is.

"Private Markova." I turn my head towards the sound of my name. It's still strange for me to hear Private replace my name, Eleni. I guess that's what happens when you move out of your parents' house and join the City Guard. "President Shah arrives in fifteen minutes. Be prepared."

"Yes, Captain Stein," I say with a salute.

All of my gear was in order this morning, but I go through it again to be safe. One rifle strapped to my back. Check. Two extra rounds of ammunition. Check. Handgun at my waist. Check. Gas mask. Check. Baton on my other hip. Check.

If something goes wrong then I'm prepared. After all, that's why I was chosen to be on the City Guard. Not smart enough to be a doctor or a scientist. Not eloquent enough to be a politician. But I'm athletic enough and organized enough to be a City Guard. It's where I'm most needed.

The wind chills the side of my face as I wait for further orders. I don't care about the cold. Never have and never will. I am here to do my job and nothing else.

There's a strange haze over the city today, like a blanket has been laid across everything. Then there's the silence that accompanies it. Rustling and murmurs come from the other guards as they prepare for the arrival of President Shah. But besides that, it's like the world has stopped moving.

I have the strange thought that all of New Orleans has fallen asleep except for the people around me. Every remaining soul on Earth, all living in a single city, has drifted off under the warm blanket of the hazy afternoon.

My eyelids feel heavy, and it takes a lot of effort to open them. Maybe I'm asleep, too.

Then a shout echoes off the walls of the Great Hall and reminds me that my thoughts are illogical and should be discarded in the face of more pressing matters.

"Positions, guards! Your president will be here in a matter of minutes, and it is your sworn duty to keep her safe even at the expense of your own life."

Perhaps I should be nervous. My first week on the job. The President's life partially in my hands. But I'm not. I would never expect to feel such a thing. It would be a weakness. It would get in the way of doing my job. That's why normal people aren't allowed to handle jobs as stressful as that of a City Guard.

I file in amongst my squadron along with two of the other new recruits, Cade Lang and Merryn Begay. We have trained together for months. They are more than capable of doing their job; though, they don't make for great company. I'm sure they'd say the same of me.

With everyone in their positions around the podium where President Shah will make her Revival Day speech, things are even more quiet than before. My brain recognizes the lack of noise as completely natural--we're in an empty square with no one around--but my gut instinct tells me to be on high alert.

I try to convince myself I'm being unreasonable. Everyone here is a highly trained City Guard, there is no reason to believe they wouldn't be able to do their job. On top of that, they're all Hollow People. Their only motivation is the preservation of the human race and themselves. What reasoning would they have for hurting President Shah?

Still, my natural instincts kick into high gear. President Shah isn't the only one who will be arriving soon, I realize as I spot the crowd of people waiting to be let into the square, her audience will be as well.

"You seem tense," Cade says from my left. "Something seem off to you?"

Of course, he assumes I have some logical reason for my over vigilance. "Things are too quiet. It seems abnormal."

He shrugs his shoulders. "That's because it is for you. You're used to seeing this place packed with people. You're used to hearing all the vendors and people. No wonder it seems off."

His explanation makes perfect sense to me. This isn't how I'm used to seeing the square, so my body naturally reacts to the differences. My mind feels more at ease, but my gut still protests.

It doesn't hurt to have an extra watchful eye, I suppose.

The guards near the gate open them up and begin to let the first people in. Everyone wants to hear the president speak.

I can feel the temperature crawl upwards as more bodies get packed into the enclosed space. Sweat dampens the back of my neck, but I'm too focused to notice. With every person that walks in I become more alert, analyzing each of them for odd behavior. No one stands out.

Even the ever stoic Merryn wipes the sweat from her brow.  The sun is directly above the square now, and we're all feeling the heat.

A man walks out in simple gray to stand in front of the podium. "Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the leader of this great and lonely city, President Shah."

The crowd erupts in applause as President Shah steps out of the doors leading to the Great Hall. She waves at the crowd and flashes a smile she doesn't mean or feel. For all of the normals in the crowd even the president has to pretend to feel something.

The sound of the crowd is like a wall around me, pressing in from all sides. Between that and the heat my focus begins to slip, but I know that I can't let that happen. I am here to do one thing and one thing only. Protect the president and do what I need to be on high alert.

"Welcome," President Shah says. "I am pleased to join you for the fifty-second annual Revival Day." It is so strange to hear a Hollow Person say a word like 'pleased,' but every president since the founding of New Orleans has had to do it. After all, only Hollows can work in the government.

Out of the corner of my eye I spot a shift in the crowd. I have my hand at my hip in a second.

I'm thinking about drawing the baton, but Merryn puts her hand on my arm again and shakes her head. I look again at the crowd and see that it's just people shifting uncomfortably in the glaring sun.

The heat's just getting to my head. That's it. I need to control myself and not do anything rash.

I wipe my sweaty palms on my pants and force myself to shake out the tension in my limbs. I can tell Cade is giving me strange looks, but I ignore him. Hollow People rely on two things when making a decision: logic and natural instinct. It was these things that kept our ancestors alive, so why shouldn't I rely on them now?

"It was on this day fifty-two years ago that our ancestors reestablished the great city of New Orleans after the Hollow Virus had decimated the population," the president continues in a soothing voice. "It was with great perseverance and the aid of technology that the remaining people from across the globe gathered here to start anew."

No matter how much people try to focus on the president's speech, they can't help but notice the temperature rise. The same goes for me. My thick gray uniform does nothing to ward of the heat, and sweat clings to me like a second skin.

"Of course, the virus took more than friends and families. For some it took their emotions, too. But we are humans and we can find hope in the face of tragedy. The Hollow People may have lost their emotions but they learned to use this to their advantage. Ruled by logic and instinct, the Hollow People were trusted to run the government. Ruled by emotion and ambition, the unaffected were trusted to run the private sector."

A man at the back of the crowd catches my eye. He has something in his hands. Something that looks an awful lot like a...

"And so we found balance," President Shah finishes just as I recognize the object the man is holding. It's a gun. An assault rifle at that.

"Everybody get down!" I shout, but the warning doesn't come fast enough.

The man fires into the crowd, and everything turns into pure chaos.

Most of the guards move to protect the president as their first priority, allowing me the opportunity to go after the shooter. Pushing past hysterical citizens, I dart through the crowd and make my way towards the criminal.

At first I can't quite understand why he isn't running away from me and the other guard closing in on him. Does he know it's all over for him?

A shot fires from behind me. Then another. And another. They're the only thing I can hear; that is until the screams. When the screaming starts it drowns out even the firing of guns.

No, the shooter doesn't think it's all over for him. In fact, he knows it has just begun.

If the people in the crowd were scared before, they're petrified now. A lot of them freeze up, unsure of where to run now that there's more than one assailant. Even more of them make a run for the exit, almost trampling each other and me in the process.

One woman tries to shove past me but only succeeds in knocking us both to the ground. I'm pinned under her weight, and the only thing she can do is grab ahold of my uniform with both hands and sob.

"We're all going to die," she whimpers as her tears turn spots on my uniform a darker shade of gray.

Her whole body trembles against me. Her breaths are heavy and her heart races like she's been running. Is this what it's like to be afraid?

I pull her to her feet, unsympathetic to her fear. "Ma'am, you need to remain calm. Move towards the exit in a calm and orderly fashion."

Between her tears she laughs. She laughs in my face. "You Hollow People are so cruel. You can't even feel sympathy for a crying woman. You can't even feel fear in the face of your own death."

This takes me aback for a moment, but then I push past her. I don't have time for her hysteria or her misplaced hate when there are at least two armed assailants in the crowd.

I can hear her laughing and hiccuping between her sobs behind me. This is why they don't let regular people work for the guard anymore. Fear is a person's greatest enemy, so why not have guards who don't feel fear.

When I get the chance to take in the scene around me something cold settles in my stomach. There aren't just two shooter anymore. Not three or four. Not even five. There's six shooters in the square and hundreds of potential targets.

Guards have two of them surrounded, but the remaining four have no one to stop them from shooting at innocents. One of them makes eye contact with me; I can see all the bodies lying at her feet and even more further into the crowd.

With every shift of the sea of people it is like a curtain is being pulled back, revealing another victim, another person who lost their life too soon.

She points her gun at me and I know what I have to do. The gun goes off with a bang that sounds louder than any before it, and I roll to the ground. The bullet whizzes above my head, but I keep going, getting to my feet and running after the woman before she can take aim again.

I slam into her with all the strength I can muster. We both go to the ground in a hail of swinging fists and kicking legs.

It's hard to tell who's winning as we both struggle to get the upper hand. She grabs at my long hair, and I wonder why I didn't keep it short. I slam my fist across her jaw hard enough to knock her head against the cement and make her let go.

Blonde strands are glued to my face with a mixture of sweat and blood. I can feel the red liquid pooling in the corner of my mouth but don't have long to think about how it got there.

I think I finally have her pinned when she wraps her legs around my waist and flips me over. My head hits the ground hard, and I might have a concussion because everything is blurry and I can hear the blood pounding in my ears.

The assault rifle she had killed so many people with is gone, lost some time during our brawl, but she has replaced it with a handgun. It seems like nothing next to the weapon she had before, yet I know that it will end my life in a matter of seconds.

I can't see her face clearly through my blurry vision, but it's not hard to imagine the way she snarls at me. "Time's up for you, little hollow girl. Expect to see all your hollow friends soon because this city's for the natural people now. Why should we let our government be run by freaks of nature when we can do it better ourselves?"

As she speaks I have time to let my fate sink in. No matter how much I struggle I can't knock her off of me. No matter how much I try to focus, my mind remains bogged down. This is the end of the line for me. My first week on the job, and I already got myself killed.

At least I won't be afraid when I meet my end. At least nobody will be able to miss me.

She presses the barrel of the gun against my temple, and the cold metal sends chills over my skin. Something unpleasant fills my stomach; it feels heavy and cold. Even now that I'm pinned in the shade and I've stopped moving, sweat trickles over my skin. My uniform is too tight. It's keeping me from breathing. Every breath is a struggle, and I begin to wonder if I'll suffocate before she can even pull the trigger.

I see the fuzzy image of her finger begin to tighten on the trigger and I squeeze my eyes shut. My heart is racing in my chest. It's pounding so hard I can't hear anything else. I've never experienced anything like this. Not even a long run can get my heart racing like this.

Something wet builds up at the corner of my eyes and then trickles down my cheeks. My heavy breaths turn to gasps, and now I'm certain I'll suffocate. There's not enough air in the world to fill my lungs.

"Are you crying?"

I open my eyes to see the shooter staring down at me in wonder. Her hand has gone slack, and the gun has fallen away from my temple.

My gasps turn into hiccups. The water running down my face tastes salty on my lips. I am crying. I've never cried before.

The woman and I just stare at each other for a moment, both of us trying to process how this is happening. My chest still feels heavy, but now that the gun isn't against my temple my heart rate has slowed ever so slightly.

The gun.

She realizes that she's made herself vulnerable a moment too late. I smack my head into her nose hard, sending her reeling backwards. She doesn't know whether to aim at me or stop the flow of blood coming from her nose.

I drive my knee into the side of her head before she can make up her mind and then I run. I run like I've never run before. I don't stop for anyone or anything. My legs keep moving long after I've left the square, but I can't stop.

My mind is possessed by a demon, a demon that makes me keep moving. It's the same demon that made me cry and made my heart pound in my chest. It's the one that stole the air from my lungs and the focus from my mind. I know this demon's name. Fear.

For the first time in my life I am very, very afraid.

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

Thanks for reading the first chapter of my new story! What did you guys think?

Remember to vote and comment if you enjoy and add this story to your reading list to be notified when I update.

Every chapter I will ask two questions: one more serious and one for fun. You can answer one of them or both of them in the comments. If there is a correct answer then I'll tell you next chapter. I want you guys to think critically about this book and the underlying themes. There's a lot in this book below the main story line. It will discuss themes of politics, discrimination, isolation, and (of course) emotions. I'm never going to tell you what something means, I want you to be able to decide for yourself.

Q1: Do emotions interfere with logic?

Q2: What do you think Eleni's favorite color is?

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