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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12. *chapter ten*

They let me go back to Wolfgang's apartment while I think about my decision. Though, I'm not allowed to leave. They say it's for my own safety, but it feels like they're just trying to keep an eye on me. The two guards they send with me don't help. Maybe it's for my own good or maybe it's for theirs. Either way I'm glad to have some space to think.

As I step out of the building a gust of cold air hits me and fills my lungs. I take a deep breath and let the world pour life into me and lift my spirits. The feeling trickles from my lungs into my arteries until my heart is pumping it to the rest of my body. Each beat of my heart is like a small, 'wake up, you're alive.' The reminder is enough to force my mind back where it belongs, in my body.

Yes, I am here. I am now.

Every step I take sends another gust of air rolling over my skin, another reassuring touch, another pat on the back. I take in deep breath after deep breath, trying to get my fill as if I had never breathed before. In some ways it's like I never have. There comes a certain relief with the making of a choice, with the acceptance of your circumstances, even if you don't like the choice you've made and hate the circumstances you're in. Adaptation is the greatest form of freedom.

Even the two guards following my every step can't shake the ease from my bones. There is nothing that can change the way I feel in this moment. I can breathe, for once in my life I can breathe.

Wolfgang is waiting outside the apartment complex when I arrive. He has a jacket wrapped around him to protect against the wind I had so welcomed. His skin is pale and stands in stark contrast to the bags forming under his eyes. Hunched over, he hugs his arms to his chest like he's trying not to drop something.

The guards don't leave when we walk into the apartment, they walk us all the way to Wolfgang's door and then wait outside. I have to bite my tongue the whole time to keep myself from asking my brother why he stands like a wilting flower, why he crumples when the wind blows.

"What's going on, Wolfgang?" I ask as soon as the door closes.

He rubs his palm across his face and slumps into his seat. "They took Oliver as soon as you left. He's in a hospital now, which is great, but they could charge me with unethical medical practices."

That stops me in my tracks. The life that was blown into me is sucked back out. "But... you were only trying to help."

He shakes his head as if he can't be certain of his own intentions. "Yeah, but to them it looks like an uncertified medical student performed surgery on an unconscious individual."

Oh, I didn't think about that. I was only think about saving myself and Oliver. It never occurred to me what it might look like from the governments perspective.

"He would've died if you hadn't."

Wolfgang presses his lips together and stares out the window, looking for something I can't see. "That's what they're looking into. If I can prove he needed immediate attention, then I'm off the hook. If not... well, I don't know."

My stomach churns. "It's my fault. I brought him to you. If anyone should get in trouble, it should be me."

"No, you did the right thing. You had to protect yourself and Oliver. I'm just glad you aren't in trouble. I mean, it surprises me that they aren't going after you to, but I'm glad."

An understanding of what Wolfgang is getting at hits me like a tidal wave. They didn't go after me for doing something very illegal but still went after Wolfgang. I mean, they'd have every right to arrest me for endangering Oliver like that when I could've taken him to a hospital, but they didn't. Is it because they need me? It must be.

I don't say anything else. I can't let Wolfgang know about my decision. He'd try to sway me one way or another. This needs to be my own choice, one that I make for myself. Besides, if I tell him about what the city wants me to do he might get dragged into it.

The silence has gone on too long, and I know I need to fill it, to do something to take Wolfgang's troubles off his mind. Stressing out won't change anything.

"How's Talia?"

A smile immediately crosses his face. Though it wavers, it never fades away completely. "She's good. Really good. I was worried that all of the commotion would upset her, but she stuck it out." He laughs a little. "She actually said her first words after you left."

My eyebrows shoot up, but I can't keep the smile off my face. Wolfgang's is just so contagious, but mine, unlike his, doesn't waiver for even a second. "What did she say?"

"Kitty. She said, 'kitty.'"

I can see the same feeling flit through Wolfgang at the same moment it flits through me. Kitty is just a word kids like. Kids like cats. It's still hard not to think of Talia's namesake when I hear it though. She loved cats. Really loved them, even thought she could talk to them. I'm sure it means nothing. It's just one of those crazy coincidences that life likes to throw at us, but it still hurts.

I never got the chance to hurt for my sister, but I do now. At the same time that I'm elated for Wolfgang and baby Talia, I can't help but think about the other Talia. My sister spoke her last words before my niece could speak her first.

I give a weak smile after realizing mine drifted away. "Do you think she would say it for me?"

"I think I can get her to say it," Wolfgang says, faking his own smile.

We go back to the lone bedroom and kneel next to the cardboard box. Talia, as bald as ever, lays in side and starts giggling the moment she says her father.

Wolfgang leans over the box and lifts her with all the care in the world. "Hi, Talia, it's papa and Aunt Eleni. She wants to say hi to you. Can you say hi to her?"

She giggles again and waves her arms but doesn't say anything.

I give a small wave, not entirely sure how to interact with a baby. "Hi, sweetie."

Sweetie. Is that what you're supposed to call a baby? I have no idea. I don't think I've ever met a baby, much less talked to one. How are you supposed to communicate with them when they can only kick their legs and giggle?

She laughs like I've told her the funniest joke ever.

"Talia, what did you say to papa earlier. Did you say kitty?"

I look at Wolfgang and back at the baby he holds in his arms. "Cats?" I try. "You like cats?"

She roars with laughter and kicks her legs as if she just can't contain herself. Still, she says nothing.

Wolfgang gives her a kiss on her head and lays her back down. "She doesn't want to talk right now. Why don't I go make you some food and we can talk about what you do next?"

I nod my head. "Sounds good."

Wolfgang leaves, while I kneel besides the small child. Her eyes flit open and closed. She looks so tired but also so peaceful. Sleep is yet another form of freedom, another form of adaptation.

I stand to leave, but another chorus of giggles stops me.

"Lenny."

It's like a stab wound to the heart and a warm hug all at the same time. Lenny, that's what my sister called me when she was nearing the end. She could hardly remember my name she was so far gone.

Talia probably just misheard my name and repeated what she heard, but it sends me into a panic. This, this small child, is my sister. She's not. She's clearly not. That's impossible. But it's like some essence of the old Talia has passed on to her. I don't know how to think or feel about it.

"Sleep well, Tally," I say and slip out the door, closing it behind me.

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Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed please vote and comment. It means so much to me when you guys take the time to comment.

Also, more amazing art by Stefanie_writer13. Go check her out, she's great.

Weekly song: Tear In My Heart by twenty one pilots

Q1: Is baby Talia cute or is she really cute?

Q2: Do all violations of the law need to be punished or can exceptions be made? How does this apply to Wolfgang's situation?

 

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