I am a hollow man, bound to that twilight Kingdom that God abandoned and the world pretends not to see, that Hollow Place that tainted what once was my soul. I was a dreamer— an escapist brimming with the idealistic fantasies of youth and adventure. I was a writer— my artistry adorning the world with words bled from my veins, giving life to the dreams I held so dear. I was a fool. And now, as I cling to the last shreds of my withered self, I write my final story— I write my immortality; the legacy of a dead man.
Like many things in my life, it started with a dream. I loved to dream back then. It was as close to a real adventure as I could ever come to in the boring modern world. Some say that when you sleep, your soul travels to other places beyond anything you can experience in waking life. Perhaps if I had not taken this life for granted, I would not have wandered so close to the Hollow Place before my time.
In my dream, I found myself in an empty town. The town was not merely empty of people; it was emptiness itself. It was almost like a poorly drawn set from an old silent film, with mere cutouts of houses and trees placed crudely before a torn grey backdrop. This was a world with shape but no form, as if it had been unraveled to its barest essence. I knew I was dreaming— what else could this be?— but a sense of uneasiness beat along with my heart in my chest. I felt like I was being watched. Several times I thought I saw eyes opening up in the stylized grey backdrop, just on the periphery of my vision, but when I spun to look the unseen eyes blinked shut as if hiding from my own. My unease bloomed into the cold dread that I was somewhere I was not meant to be.
I could not bear to stand in the uncanny emptiness of the place, afraid, perhaps, that the ground would pick at my seams and unravel me with the rest of the town. So I walked reluctantly onward against the thick uneasiness that weighted my limbs. My footsteps resounded through the town as if the ground, too, had just enough shape to be functional over a vast and empty abyss. The sound was loud enough to wake the dead.
There was not much variance in scenery as I trudged further along the street. I had the impression that the town was designed from some long-forgotten memory of what a town was supposed to look like, a child-like imitation that failed to live up to its real life counterpart. All the houses looked the same. All the trees were the same nearly colorless shade of green. Each of these were placed along the street just asymmetrically enough to be unsettling. Because of this unchanging landscape, the figure standing in the yard ahead of me was a jarring contrast to its surroundings. I immediately froze, forgetting my former need for motion as the sight of the figure sent me into a petrified horror.
I could call it a man, but that would be a lie. Like the town, the basic shape was right— it was certainly human shaped, with the barest characteristics of what a man should look like. It was wrong, though. The proportions were off, its gaunt arms and legs just noticeably too long and its torso just short enough to seem unnatural. It looked at me— or did it?— with its drooping, eyeless face, deep black sockets betraying the emptiness within. Its lips were parted slightly, down-turned in an expression of misery, but the unmistakable sound of laughter pealed forth from those grey lips and echoed far more loudly than my footsteps ever had.
The thing’s laughter was a wakeup call to the dead town. The eyes that I thought I’d seen in the false sky earlier opened up all at once— ten thousand cartoon eyes, all locked on to my terrified gaze.
—and was suddenly awake in my bed.
The rest of that day was spent escaping the memory of the dream. I was far too on edge to endure the loneliness of my apartment, so after a quick breakfast of slightly stale cereal, I decided to go for a walk. It was a beautiful morning in my blissfully non-empty town. On most days I was bored by the normality of the little town, but after the events of last night I could not find it in me to complain. Still, the uneasiness from the dream seemed to follow at my heels wherever I went.
After a restless walk through my neighborhood, I settled down in the park with my notebook to get a bit of writing done. I was between stories at the moment, and the money from my last book was beginning to stretch thin over the necessities of daily life. If I didn’t want to have to pick up a boring retail job again, I needed to produce some quality material, and fast. But as I sat pondering over the empty page, my mind betrayed me. I could think only of the Hollow Place I’d visited the night before. The “Hollow Place.” The phrase had popped unbidden into my mind, but it was a fitting name for the empty town of horror I had encountered the night before. Almost without thinking, I scribbled the words at the top of my page in big capital letters: THE HOLLOW PLACE. But that was it. No more words would come, and I felt oddly drained. This was unusual for me. Normally my brain was overflowing with so many ideas that my hand struggled to keep up. But now, I tapped the end of my pen idly on the spiral binding of my notebook, chewing on my lip in mild distress. The Hollow Place, my mind echoed uselessly. I sighed and glanced around me for inspiration.
The park was relatively quiet, given that this was a Tuesday morning and most normal people had jobs to attend. A few stray joggers circumnavigated the track around the park’s outer edge. Birds sang to the scampering squirrels that watched me warily from the great Oak under which I sat. Other than that, I was alone. I was used to being on my own like this; I needed solitude to write, and for the most part my own words kept me company in a way that other people never could. For some reason, however, my words seemed to have forsaken me today. In their absence, the suffocating weight of my loneliness abruptly threatened to smother me. I felt heavy— no, the world felt heavy, pinning my fragile form against its thick flesh. I leapt to my feet just to prove to myself that I was still able to. I was shaky and cold, despite the summer heat. Even in the familiar safety of the park, I felt too close to the memory of my dream, to the awful hollow town. I needed to keep moving.
I walked the rest of that day, back and forth across town, restless like a shark. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, why it felt as though gravity would crush me if I were to stop for any length of time. The feeling of unease which had accompanied me back from my dream grew like a contagion inside of me. Why did I feel so tainted by the Hollow Place? It was only a dream… wasn’t it?
By the time the sun bathed the horizon in the floral hues of the day’s death, exhaustion finally overcame the restless energy that had possessed me. Unfortunately, I was still a couple of miles out from my apartment. The slow walk back was excruciating on my overworked muscles; I couldn’t believe I had walked so far. My only consolation was the cool twilight breeze that drifted languidly through the thick heat, drying the sweat on my brow. Every now and then it tousled my hair like a mischievous lover; it was a nice reminder that the world had some small glimmer of affection left for me on this hellish day. Or so I thought.
As I reached the apex of the hill I had been struggling on for the last fifteen minutes, the empty lot next to my apartment came into view. Nothing had been here for quite some time and my town clearly spent its maintenance funds elsewhere, so tall grass and weeds had overrun the lot like a miniature urban savannah. It was here that my nice little breeze turned treacherous. The wind grew stronger than before, more sinister. It slunk through the dry grass, an invisible cobra hypnotizing me with its melodic hiss. And then— the voices. A chorus of whispers in the swaying grass, words just quiet enough that my ears struggled in vain to catch their meaning, but though I could not hear, I somehow knew: each voice spoke my name.
I sprinted the rest of the way to my apartment and slammed the door behind me.
A nice long shower had me in somewhat better spirits about an hour later. I felt vaguely sick inside, almost raw, as if my innards had been scooped out; pulped like a pumpkin. Even so, I was hopeful that a proper night’s sleep would cure me of the day’s afflictions. Today was a fluke, I thought. Just “one of those days.” I glanced down at my notebook on my desk, where the dreaded phrase screamed up at me from the top of the page. I tore it out of the notebook and ripped it up with a feeling of satisfaction. The pieces fell to the floor and lay there like shattered glass. “I’ll clean that up in the morning,” I said to myself. “Things will be better then.” Now, as I write this, I find it difficult to imagine ever feeling such a foolish optimism about anything.
I awoke from hollow dreams to the sound of shuffling next to my bed. I had been to the town again. I had stood motionless in the street, my path blocked by a writhing crowd of the town’s hellish denizens, all variations of the same alarming figure I had seen the night before. They did not move toward me, but swayed or twitched or spasmed in place. Some of them laughed. Others wailed morosely. Their expressions rarely fit the scattered sounds that escaped them, as if they had forgotten how to match emotion with gesture. Hollow people in a hollow world. I had not been able to turn away and remained rooted to the spot until the noise had awoken me.
I lay still, hardly daring to breathe. The shuffling noise continued. It sounded like little feet over shards of glass—no, not glass, I realized, shredded paper. Something was in my room. Unable to bear the thought that one of those Hollow things was in the darkness with me, I leapt up and switched on my bedside lamp in one swift, frantic motion. Nothing was there. The ripped up paper was in my floor just as I had left it, undisturbed. I felt too sick to be relieved.
My life continued in this manner for nearly a week. My nights were spent in desolation, either fighting sleep or dreaming of the Hollow Place or waking up to strange sounds and sweat-soaked sheets. My days were listless and bleak— whispers following me in the wind, in the sound of birdsong outside my window, as if the Hollows had pulled on the skin of this reality to stalk me in thin disguise. This world was too heavy, gravity crushing the breath out of me as my former passions seeped like carnage into the parched earth. There was this life and there was the Hollow Place and then there was me—an outcast to both worlds. I was being consumed from the inside out.
Things came to a head on the last night I would ever sleep. I stirred awake, disturbed into awareness by a cold burning sensation at my stomach. The area felt wet, like a cold cloth was pressed to it. A loud squelching sound filled my small bedroom as I lie there, terrified into paralysis. I had thought I was too dead inside by this point to feel fear again after the never-ending horror, but I was wrong. Instinct pried my eyes open against my will. There was a dark shape leaning over my stomach. It was so slight, I could barely feel the weight of it resting upon me but for the cold wetness it produced near my belly button. A moment passed before my eyes made sense of the figure— it was a woman, dark hair shielding most of her face as she sucked voraciously on my stomach. My skin looked mottled as if she had been at it long before I had awoken. A sickened cry escaped my lips, but I couldn’t seem to move despite the woman’s almost non-existent weight. She stopped and looked up at me. Two empty black holes filled the area of her face where eyes should have been— it was not a woman. It was a Hollow thing.
Still immobilized, I could only watch as the Hollow’s mouth drooped slowly open. It opened wider and wider, like a snake unhinging its jaw. I braced myself for the horrible sound of laughter or screaming that I thought the creature was about to unleash, but I could not have been prepared for what came out instead: voices, children’s voices. A chorus of little children’s singing poured from the gaping maw—
“Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’ clock in the morning.”
I ran. I no longer remember how I managed to extricate myself from the Hollow’s grasp. One minute I was cowering under its drooling form, and the next I was panting in the street, my blind panic exhausting what was left of any energy I might have had. I was too afraid to sleep again after that.
Not that it mattered.
Since then, I’ve seen the Hollow everywhere. They don’t need my dreams to get to me anymore. I’m too close to their world, too close to becoming as they are. I know what they want from me now because I want it, too: passion, desire, emotion, life— I want to be able to feel again… even if it means I have to take that feeling from someone else.
It has been three days since I last slept. The next time I close my eyes will not be in slumber, but in death. My time has almost come. I have fought so hard against the emptiness growing inside me. For you, dear reader, I could not allow myself to give up before I finished this, my final tale, my last chance at redemption. Let me be remembered now as these immortal words, and not as the Hollow that I am to become. Let me place my soul in this text before it can fade to oblivion with the rest of me.
I can fight it no longer, for I know the secret of the Hollow Place, of Death’s other Kingdom—
“For Thine is the Kingdom”
—We’ll all come to the Hollow Place eventually.
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