One late night in the centre of town a man wandered the streets of his city. He stepped with haste, his face covered with a black hood, and his arms filled with a thick black trash bag, his back was weighed down with a back pack, and his eyes darted in every direction. The city was alive with Friday night fun, drunks wandered the streets, and people could be found in every corner of parks, car parks, and even the abandoned buildings that were not secured well enough. But the one place this man knew he would be safe was down below. He stepped as fast as he could towards a nearby graveyard, where he knew of an old, and forgotten access way, somewhere he would be left alone. He kept his head low and walked at a speed most would consider to be running.
He stood at the lights waiting for the green man to appear, too nervous to run across the road with the late night drivers, between the drunks, and the boy racers, this man had seen more than his fair share of carnage. As soon as the man turned green he ran across the road, the final obstacle to his destination, he vaulted the low fence to the graveyard with little difficulty, stumbling over the roots, and nearly disintegrated graves he made a lot of noise for the quiet part of town, and soon a voice chimed up behind him.
“Hey man, what you doing here at night. Looks pretty dodgy.”
The man stopped moving, his grip on his bag got tighter, and his jaw flexed from side to side.
“Just visiting a grave.” He replied. “I would appreciate my privacy.”
“Oh so sorry, off you go.”
The man paused, still looking forward, he took a deep breath and made his next step, but stopped as the man’s voice behind him continued.
“Thing is though, I am an upstanding citizen, so I would have to call the cops about the man with a suspicious amount of bags going into a graveyard. Unless of course, I knew what was in the bag.”
The man scowled under his hood.
“Fine, but not here, I will show you where I am going, just don’t call anyone.”
“Ha, deal. Let’s go buddy.”
“Buddy…” the man snarled as his nose twitched.
The man started back at his march towards where he was going, the slur spoken drunk behind him struggled to keep up, but was not deterred, and pushed forward. Eventually he lost sight of the hooded man for but a moment, and upon walking around a large tree with the threat of calling the police on his tongue he watched as the hooded man lifted a heavy metal cover from the ground in-between a large set of roots.
“Oh yo. What is down there?” The drunk asked as he stumbled over, looking down the hole.
“You.” The hooded man said as his cold stare was locked on the drunk.
“Ha, what?” The drunk said, going to turn his head to look at the hooded man he felt a small blade pierce his neck, the breath fell from his lips and his body fell in, landing with a wet thump at the bottom.
The hooded man looked around, even though he was sure that he was secluded, free from prying eyes. Not even someone in the nearby skyscrapers could see through the think canopy of the woods he was hiding in. The man carefully picked up his trash bag and made his way down the ladder into the disused service tunnel. He placed the bag down on the corpse of the drunk and ditched the back pack on the nearest patch of dry concrete, before returning to the top of the ladder to seal the hatch behind him. With a secure clang of metal, it slotted into place, sealing the hooded man in, leaving him in near complete darkness. He made his way down the ladder again, standing on the corpse of the drunk he picked up his trash bag and back pack, switching on the torches that were fixed to the top of his backpack’s straps. He then started to march through the narrow tunnel, whistling as he went. At each junction he muttered under his breath.
“Left, right, straight, left, right, right.”
Turning the last corner, he found himself deep in the tunnels, wandering for nearly half an hour. Following the last stretch of tunnel, he made his way to a large circle room with a grate high above in the centre of the ceiling. Letting in drips of water, light, and the noise of the world above. The man took a moment to stare at the light coming from a nearby street lamp before he made his way into the centre of the room. He placed the trash bag in to one side, along with his backpack.
“I am sick of this planet, I can’t wait to be upon you, Hollow.” He said as he pulled a small collection of loose pieces of paper from his bag, all stored on separate pages of a clear file. Each one was tarnished, burnt, and barely legible. His fingers ran across the pages delicately.
“It took me years to get this many, I just prey to the gods of Hollow that I have enough information this time.” He said as he pulled a large canister, after canister from his bag. Cracking the top seal he started to pour the thick blood onto the ground. He smeared the blood into a long line with a large circle at the top with a cross dividing it into four equal parts. To each side of the circle were crescent moons, one filled with the blood, the other, just a frame of the moon. Above the circle were three small circles stacked like a pyramid. Then to finish it off he ran a double helix around the main line, ending at the base of the large circle. With the last of the blood remaining on his hand he pressed his palms into the sockets of his eyes and rubbed outwards until his palms rolled onto his temples. Giving him a red band across his face, dark and viscus.
He grabbed his trash bag and carefully carried it over to the centre of the large circle. Opening the top, he poured the thing from inside out. A heap of flesh that had been sewn and put together with bones and organs squishing on the inside. The bloated flesh sac laid limp on the ground, and the man tossed the bag to the side as he ran back to his backpack. He flicked through the clear file, staining the plastic with the blood on his hands, following the text with his finger he muttered under his breath on repeat. Satisfied he grabbed a large knife from his bag, and walked to the flesh bag that laid on the ground. With one hand raised to his chin height and his palm facing inwards, and the other raised to the same height with the knife in hand he began to recite.
“I am here, a subject. I vow to do as you say, to be what you need me to be. As an offering, I have created a new nightmare for you to use on Hollow, let it plague those who dare to defy you. With my blood I offer my life to you, in hopes that you will take me from this world, a world that does not understand.” The man paused for but a moment as he cut his hand, already three scars laid across his hand. “You are chaos and night, the beacon of blight, the fear in my throat that I try to swallow, you are the true god of Hollow.”
The man squeezed the blood from his hand and let it drop onto his offering below. There was nothing, no change. He closed his eyes tightly and squeezed his hand as hard as he could. The sounds of the street above mocked him with failure, weeding their way into his mind as a reminder that he was still on Earth.
“I did everything, acknowledge me!” Tears fell from his eyes as his hand started to feel cold and cramped.
He fell back onto his ass as he sat on the damp of the chambers floor. Peeling back his hood he revealed himself. Pale skin, scars all over his scalp, a shaven head where no hair grows, the symbol he drew on the ground tattooed on the back of his head.
“No one has ever understood me here, I need to live in a world of eat or be eaten, it is the only way for me to feel me. Here, here I am just a mask of what I should be.”
The man sniffed at the cold air, deciding what he was going to do with himself after this, how he was to return to normal life, or how he was going to continue this venture of his. He pulled out his phone and signed into his bank account to see a crushing number present on the screen.
“Oh great, fucking money rules my life once again, such a stupid fucking system.”
Out from his bag he pulled a small bottle of alcohol and took a swig as he sniffed. Taking a packet of cigarettes out of his bag, he sparked one up, struggling with the lighter as he did. As the flame took his body froze for a moment as he could hear footsteps echoing through the tunnel, his panic faded, and his face shrugged as he took another swig and sat back onto one of his elbows.
“Hello stranger, come to admire my art?”
There was a short pause, then a calm, and oddly relaxing voice spoke up.
“I never really was a fan of that symbol, Anodyne can be lazy when he wants to.”
The pale man froze mid drag, turning around was a man in steel cap boots, cargo pants, a heavy blue and black jacket, and a mask which had many eyes running down the it like stripes.
“Who are you?” The pale man asked.
“Depends who you ask, the most common one I am given is Mask, you can use that for now.”
“How fitting… What are you doing here?”
“I am here, because I have a bit of a gripe with Anodyne, and I love messing with his plans, so I am offering you passage to Hollow.”
The pale man looked over Mask very carefully, trying to size him up.
“You don’t look how I expected.”
‘I won’t, I am not from Hollow, I am just hiding out there for the meantime, good entertainment.”
A second set of foot prints slopped their way through one of the partially collapsed tunnels where dirt and water mix to make a layer of mud at the base of the tunnel. Out from the darkness came a police officer.
“Oh shit.” The pale man said, as he rubbed his head.
His thoughts raced as he was trying to figure out what he was to do, how he could get away, but still talk to Mask.
“That lift won’t be nessesary, Anodyne has sent me to fetch Mr Cromb.” The officer said, staring at Mask, changing his attention to the pale man he gestured back down the tunnel he came from. “This way, we will be in Hollow in no time.”
Cromb stood, looking between Mask, and the officer confused.
“I don’t know what I am supposed to do here.” Cromb said, looking to continue, but over run by Mask.
“This is rich, what does Anodyne answer favours like Santa Claus now, or maybe Jesus even.”
The officer rolled his eyes. “Listen here Tamt, Anodyne does not have time for you right now, please step aside or force will be used to ensure his guest arrives to his destination.”
“Firstly, you don’t have the right to use that name, secondly, there is no force that you could exert that would come close to scratching me.” Mask said, his tone feeling more guttural.
“Anodyne has instructed that no one is to be allowed to interfere, that includes you Tamt.”
Cromb stepped back as he watched the tensions rise, making sure to stay within the chamber so he could both see, and hear everything that was happening.
“I told you, don’t use that name.” Mask said, turning his body to face the officer.
The officer raised a hand as if he just recalled something.
“I forgot, Anodyne had a message for you.”
“I don’t want to hear his words.”
“He asks, what’s behind the mask?”
Mask lunged forward at the officer, colliding with an invisible barrier that stopped him short of his target.
“The hell is this?”
“Chaos.” A voice from behind Cromb called out.
A man emerged from the shadows, his eyes were pitch black with silver crosses as pupils, he wore a long brown coat, and casual attire underneath, but no matter how much muck he stood in, he never stained his shoes.
“You.” Mask said with a guttural rage.
“What’s behind the mask, Tamt?”
Mask looked at Cromb and chuckled to himself.
“Enjoy hell kid, I was going to take you somewhere much nicer, good luck with this psycho.” Mask said as he simply faded from view.
“Goodbye Tamt, it was so nice seeing you again.” Anodyne said with a smirk, and one hand on Cromb’s shoulder.
“I think he is gone.” Cromb said nervously.
“Oh he is, but I know he heard me. He always will.”
Cromb looked to Anodyne, he stood slightly shorter than Cromb.
“You look confused.”
“Sorry, I expected…”
“More? Would you prefer it if I was a twelve-foot demon, with black wings, and devilish red eyes?”
Anodyne let go of Cromb. “I have done other forms, humans are just, more comfortable. It is hard to explain.”
“Does this mean you are going to take me to Hollow to live?”
“I am taking you to Hollow, only you can do the second part, I won’t be there to hold your hand.”
Anodyne snapped his fingers, and a large root grew through the ground in the centre of the chamber, it slowly formed into a tree that claimed most of the space in the chamber. In the side facing Cromb there was a door.
“Walk through if this is something that you want. Keep your eyes closed and walk straight, eventually you will reach another door. Do not open your eyes until you have close the door behind you. No matter what you hear in there, it can’t hurt you unless you open your eyes. That is the only advice you are getting, the rest is up to you.”
Anodyne faded out as Mask had done before, and although Cromb could not see, he knew that the officer was gone too. He marched up to the door of the tree and closed his eyes, pulled the door open and closed it securely behind him. The very first moment his skin touched the air he was chilled down to the bone, he knew that if his eyes were open he would see his breath, and despite his curiosity to what was around him he kept his eyes closed and walked in a straight line. He was not in the space for long before he could hear a sea of slithering and, the sound of shrill shrieks coming from behind him. He lowered his head a little and continued his march, determined to reach the door on the other side. He could hear the screams get closer, as he did his best to walk away, hoping that the noises would stop. But as they got closer they got worse. He could hear the gnashing of teeth, and the cracking of what he could only assume was bone. His hands and feet could feet some form of tentacle touching him on his legs, and arms as he walked. Right as his heart sat in his throat he was halted by slamming his nose into the next door, and there was a sigh of relief. He opened the new door and made sure that it was as locked as he could make it before letting the handle go, or even attempting to peek out from behind his eyelids. The air still felt cold on his skin, but warmer than the chill of the space he had just left from. With his left hand still shaking, he took a deep breath and opened his eyes.
He was in a marshy bog, water, and small islands of moss and dirt scattered the landscape, as small trees and bushes sprouted from under the water, or from the dirt mounds. Turning around the door had disappeared, but the tree was still there. He put one hand on the bark of the tree and marvelled at how foreign it somehow felt.
“Weird, it is warm.”
He turned back around to see birds flying in the sky and dark clouds high above head with the sound of distant rain. In the far distance he could see the orange glow of a fire. He pulled another cigarette out and sparked it up as he wandered towards the orange glow. His feet were soon nearly frozen as he marched through the cold waters that littered the area.
“This is my opportunity; I am not looking back now. This is what I wanted, this is how we will feel alive.” He said to himself as he rubbed his arms to combat the cold. “But fuck it is cold.”
Punching himself in the face softly he amped himself up.
“Come on, we can do this, this is what we were born for.”
He picked up his feet and he began to jog through the marsh waters, jumping over the deeper pointes to try and keep momentum. He was making good speed as the rains came down over him, like a wave it passed him, heading towards the orange glow that was not so far away anymore. Cromb’s breathing was laboured, and he could feel the fire in his chest starting to ignite as the cold ignited inside him.
His feet slowed and he slumped through some thick slop as he realised that the orange glow was a fire, but just not what he expected.
“Fucking, how is there a forest fire in a swamp?” He yelled as he slammed the water around his knees.
He took the moment to get his breath back, looking around as he used the heat of the fire to keep his skin feeling like ice. He double took as he saw an enormous man standing in the swamp staring in his direction. The man stood at what Cromb assumed was about ten feet tall, with a shoulder width to match. Cromb looked over his shoulder at the fire that was slowly spreading, then back to the behemoth of a man who had already started running through the swamp at him. His sickening roar killed all other sounds as the wildlife fell silent.
“So this is what it is like here.”
Cromb looked back at the fire and started to run into the flames, in the hope that they might protect him.