Hollis Taylor had a Hole in his head.
This crater in Mr. Taylor’s cranium acted as an external stimuli filter for his life; a screen that could determine the effect that any potential situation would have and shield him from the damaging and abhorrent biochemical reaction that would undoubtedly result from his interaction with it. An emotional fire wall, if you will.
Although it defended Hollis from the full range of socially accepted mood states, the Hole was particularly adept at shutting out Happiness, Joy, Humor or derivatives thereof. The Hole swooped in when laughter was occurring, covered Hollis when a joyful memory surfaced, and sometimes blocked his view of the sun shining down upon him. One could surmise that the Hole must be of such an unfathomable depth that it had swallowed up all of the positive experiences of the man’s life. No matter how many fantastic things had happened to him, Hollis was able to maintain a state of miserable disillusion. It seemed to him that his whole life up to this point had been a constant and redundant exercise in failure.
Everyone that knew Hollis, also knew about the Hole in his head. Those that had stayed around long enough to make any sort of impact in his life had suggested various corks to stop the Hole from swallowing Hollis completely. They seemed to think that at some point, the Hole would become a powerful Vortex that would suck his whole body inward into its hungry chasm. Hollis suspected that these generous folks giving him advice were more worried about being sucked in themselves.
Typical, he thought.
And besides, he had grown quite comfortable with his handicap. He had everything pretty well figured out. Anything that did not occur to him intuitively, or was the least bit optimistic, was quickly and efficiently disposed of by the Hole. His philosophy was simple and brilliantly all encompassing: Everything and Everyone was equally full of the foulest smelling shit and would be out to get him, if they cared about his existence at all. Fortunately for him, they did not.
Everything and Everyone could care less if the Hole turned vortex on Hollis. This was a fantastic advantage for him because he could now indulge in his most infamous past time: hanging out with Nothing. Hollis loved to sit numbly in his burnt orange Lazy Boy (registered trademark) recliner staring blankly at, towards, and into Nothing. Nothing was probably his best friend in the whole world. It never wanted Anything of Hollis but was always there for him. As a bonus, Nothing being essentially insubstantial, was impervious to the hole in his head. A completely impartial observer, Nothing was a fantastic listener.
As he was appreciating this fortune, a new thought occurred to Hollis. The recliner, (product placement removed), remembered exactly the contour and shape of his body and was always there to tuck him snugly in to contemplate Nothing. Hollis considered that he was lucky enough to have two best friends, Nothing and the chair, and the thought sent a signal to his mandible that a physical representation of appreciation was in order. Of course, the industrious Hole eradicated the premise effortlessly, and Hollis maintained his normal repose. His chair would go unrecognized for now. Just Nothing and Hollis, Hollis and Nothing, communing wordlessly in the scantly decorated living room.
Then the noise began.
It came all at once, as if materializing out of the ether. A crisp, deafening clap of thunder. Hollis blinked. He swallowed. He blinked again. He began to believe that, indeed, the sound had been thunder. That was all that it was, even when it happened again, but the third time brought him pause. There was apparently a rhythm to it.
The silence that followed the last auditory assault was eerie and long. Hollis was too tense to move his body but let his eyes dart about the room looking for the source. When it came again, realization washed over him and he felt as stupid as he supposed Everyone thought he was. It was in true idiot fashion that Hollis wouldn’t recognize the noise. When was the last time he had heard it? Had he ever?
Bap! Bap! Bap!
The front door was beckoning to him.
He had a visitor.
This was ridiculous, of course. Hollis had made sure that all of his bridges were burnt without chance of restructuring. Not that he had many to begin with, but with the help of the Hole, Hollis had effectively and efficiently annexed himself off from human contact. Even his mother had given up last year when his refusal to leave his house culminated in the (assumed) breaking of her heart, (insert clip art cliché here). If she had only let him alone everything would have evened out, he thought. She had none of Nothing’s silent understanding or patient compliance. Hollis would not be bothered with her.
His roommate Gerald had gone out one day a month ago and never returned. No big deal since they were on the government. The government did not care that Hollis had a Hole in his head, or if he left or not. Come to think of it, the government did not realize he was around at all actually.
This last thought sank in heavy as bricks.
If this were a film, it would be time to cue the “Vertigo” focus pull.
BAP! BAP! BAP!
Instinctively, Hollis ducked down behind the table. The one room apartment suddenly feeling smaller and absolutely shelter less. He wished now that he had a window on the door, or at least a peephole. There was no way to know what manner of beast could be behind that thin wood. He knew their probable intention, but not what bloodthirsty mercenary would be sent to do the dirty work. The intensity of the knock grew more acute, and a quick succession of hits caused a chorus of chills down his back in a bizarre physiological call and response that Hollis did not enjoy. Or at least he didn’t think he did.
Silence then, rushing into the room as if something had blinked out of existence, back into the depths from which it had come. Perhaps, Hollis’s head Hole had turned vortex after all and, instead of consuming him, it actually came faithfully to his rescue. Maybe that was the purpose of the hole all along; a body guard to ward off evils. As he realized that this actually WAS the Hole’s purpose, it occurred to Hollis Taylor that he had three best friends. He imagined his faithful new (ly recognized) friend standing next to him as Nothing hung one arm on his shoulder, the Hole blowing the smoke off of his recently used firearm. Hollis could smell the ozone left from the intruder’s disappearance.
The smile that came to his face now was not immediately dispelled.
He turned away contentedly, to go over to his loving chair, when the brick came through the window. It landed right in the middle of the recliner’s seat, turning Hollis’ well-worn niche into a final destination. The effects of shock were immediate and severe and the world turned grey briefly before dissolving to black.
The next thing he knew, Hollis was staring directly up at a ceiling. Temporary amnesia kept him from knowing exactly where he was, until he saw a familiar face in the dingy ceiling tile. His friend Nothing was there. Hollis blinked. He was at the apartment. Just him and his three best friends, Nothing, Lazy Boy ($), and…
His eyes peeled open as he remembered the evening’s events, and he bolted up right. The resulting sting of pain washed over him immediately and he vomited at the foot of his chair. Hollis shut his eyes against the blur that his vision had become and used one hand to wipe the dirty hair from his brow. The hand came away a bloody smear.
He forced himself to focus by staring down at the spot he had gotten sick, then let his eyes inventory the room slowly. The brick was still lying on the lap of the chair. Shards of glass and particles of red cement obscured the comfort of his beloved perch. He followed the presumed trajectory of the brick up a few feet to the left to an old painted black window. The window had been on the other side of the room near where Hollis sat every day. He had, of course, forgotten it was there. He found that ducking this time was more effortless, as it was a relief to be back on the floor. He crouched behind the Lazy Boy ($$), peeking out cautiously and bracing for the next wave of violent interruption.
Just what the hell was going on?
Alternating back and forth from the window to the door, Hollis’ usually dull eyes were fierce and alive. Behind his fevered brow, a thought was born that was neutral enough to not be eaten by the Hole. (Curiosity usually was neutral, as knowledge did not necessarily guarantee an emotional impact). He thought there was something written on the brick.
Quickly and clumsily, he swung his arm up over the arm of the chair. His fingers were able to trace the brick out almost right away and he clasped it tight in his hand. Soon he concealed it completely again, behind his chair. Hollis gripped the brick tightly with both hands and let his breathing catch up with him. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply for several minutes. Then he investigated the projectile.
The top of the brick was blank and porous, missing some small chips that had not survived the trip through the window. Hollis turned the brick over and felt his stomach sink as horror washed over him.
The words were written in big clumsy capital letters, crude yet effective:
My, were they effective.
Hollis’ eyes widened to their maximum capacity. His throat constricted causing a small noise that he had not heard himself make before. What was he to do? His mind raced frantically trying to determine the origin of his assailant. He looked to Nothing for assistance, for any possibility of salvation. No dice. That Nothing was consistent to the end.
Suddenly, Hollis was creeping on all fours shambling toward the front of the room. He made his way down the left side to keep out of the way of the door, as if somehow, someone could see in. As he reached the front wall he turned his back to it and slide slowly toward the door. He paused now to reassess. He could breathe but it was through a different organ than his lungs, it seemed. His mind, although racing furiously, was neither productive nor malignant. Hollis had the sensation that he was much younger than his present age and he pondered as to the source of this. He was not sure exactly how he was functioning at all. His legs were made of a gelatinous substance and he was sweating profusely. He supposed that if sweat were blood then he would be dead already. And yet he almost felt…
“What is this all about?”
Dimly, he saw Gerry at the other end of the room, smiling. Of course he was smiling.
“They don’t care about you man. It’s just a coincidence.”
Gerry plopped down in the Lazy boy ($$$), his socked feet hanging up over the side. His smile was tepid. His smile was grueling and all knowing. His smile made Hollis numb. The absence of feeling that Gerry brought with him was welcome. Hollis let his legs buckle and slid to the floor. His eyes stared blankly down at his hands. He noticed that his whole lap was covered in various debris and vomit. His pants were tattered and also stained in miscellaneous hues. It seemed the hands in his lap were the culprit of every failed dream he never had. He saw Nothing on his hands and he smiled.
Hollis looked up to see that Gerry was gone again.
And then the whole room began to quake. The sparse furniture in the room rattled and wobbled and the lights went out.
Hollis Taylor began to weep. Long dry sobs made louder by the room’s isolation.
And then, there they were. Cunning shadows growing out of the darkness. His mother’s arms folded, a grimace on her face, and Gerry with the ever-present-smile. And Meg…
Meg was there. She was so radiant, even in the dark. She looked upon Hollis with the most profoundly sympathetic eyes. The same eyes that always saw through every one of his facades.
Hollis abandoned his upright position and slumped forward to his hands. Still weeping Hollis was helpless as he raised his gaze back to the apparitions. As if on cue, Gerry and his mother began to recite their infamous routine phrases: Gerry’s “They”, and his mother’s “You gottas“. They formed a strange syncopated rhythm as Meg said nothing. She did not have to, never did.
Hollis ached for his routine, burned for this all to be over. He looked all around the room through the tears in his eyes.
“You should go out more, you should…” chanted his mother.
“It’s all the same in the end anyway, the same in the end…” droned Gerry.
Hollis tried not to look upon the figures, did his best to ignore the torment. He frantically looked about the negative space in the room. The dark was overwhelming and he could not find comfort
“Forget about them, they forgot about you… the same in the end...” Gerry’s smile broadened.
Meg continued to stare. No matter how hard Hollis looked away and around the room she continued to stare in to him.
“Just once in a while, maybe go down to where other people are…more you should get out…,” Pleaded his mother monotonously.
Hollis seemed to be floating away. He could not fathom how his life could have ever been different. He wanted to drown in this feeling: A blissful demise. His eyes began to roll back in his head. As if in slow motion, he was viewing the articles in the room once again. His eyes had adjusted to the absence of light and he could make out the objects in his line of vision. Somehow they seemed foreign to him now: the rug, the window, the chair, the brick…
“…You must get out.”
Something in Hollis Taylor’s head popped. Reality had returned. He gasped as he realized the chanting had stopped. He waited for the return of his delirium but it never came. It was time to move.
Hollis jumped up and opened the front door. There was momentary confusion as he tried to process what he was seeing. It seemed as if he had not opened the door at all. There, in front of him, was a full frame, bright yellow screen. Hollis first thought was that someone had put a new door on his apartment right over the old one. He remembered, as a child, staying at hotels with adjoining rooms. As you would open one door, a new one would be there waiting to be opened as well.
He reflexively reached out his hand and prodded this new barrier. It yielded to his finger. He pushed in a little farther and the barrier gave easily to the force of his hand. Without another thought, Hollis reached up to the top of the obstruction, grabbed, and pulled. The caution tape tore effortlessly revealing the hallway outside his door.
Hollis timidly stuck out his head into the hallway looking quickly to the left, then to the right.
There was no sign of Anyone or Anything. The lights were still on, but they flickered in and out as if there was an open circuit somewhere. Hollis turned back to the right, toward the door that led to the street. He summoned up his courage, took a deep breath and looked once more to the left, then was out in the hallway.
The smell of must and decay was overbearing. Hollis seemed to be seeing this hallway for the first time. As he traced down the corridor, he noticed that many of the doors were open and the rooms empty. His feet shuffled through dust and broken bottles. He thought he saw a rodent saunter by shortly before the lights went out completely. This broke Hollis’ semblance of an observation to inhibitions.
He reached the door to the complex, and finding no handle, he pushed the door outward. This ripped through more yellow tape on the other side, and Hollis once again was free. The cool night air rushed into his eager lungs. Hollis ran down the concrete steps and into the street. He rested now, doubling over with his hands on his knees, catching his breath.
A moment later, Hollis, now bright and alert, observed his surroundings. The street light cast a glow just illuminant enough so that Hollis was able to observe the immediate area, but not so bright that he could not see the one or two meager stars. Or were those satellites? Hollis’ contemplation was interrupted by the roar of an engine. This thing, whatever was coming, was big.
Hollis ducked into the alley at the left of the complex and waited. Soon he heard the behemoth approach. He peeked around the corner and almost saw it, when the voice spoke behind him.
Hollis said nothing. The fear was back, crippling, numbing him back home.
“Figure the stars appreciate seeing us as much as we do them?” asked the stranger.
His apprehension momentarily subdued by the odd question, Hollis considered the notion. Then he thought better of it.
“What?” He asked, and turned toward the voice.
There stood a man wearing a jean jacket, sweat pants and running shoes. On his back was a gray, overfull knap sack, and on his head: a dark brown fedora. His ensemble was accented perfectly with the scraggly beard of many sleepless nights. Hollis tensed up again.
“Look, I am sorry..,” he began.
“As we all are” said the man.
“.. What? I just mean… no wait... what are you talking about?”
“Me? Nothing. Just making conversation. I believe you were saying something.”
Hollis bit his lip and scratched his nose. He thought of another way to say what he wanted to, without being offensive.
“Well, I just don’t have any...”
Suddenly, there was a loud crash and more lights down the street went out.
“Jesus! What was that?” Hollis moaned and looked over his shoulder.
“Hurm,” said the stranger.
Now from the north, Hollis could hear another big motor shuffling this way. His heart, once again, began to pound faster. The stranger shuffled his feet a little in the gravel.
“Ask you another question fella?”
Hollis rolled his eyes and tried to muffle a sigh. As he began to reply the stranger cut him off.
“How long you been here?”
The stranger just looked at Hollis. His eyes were soft grey, like Gerry’s, but warm somehow. Not spiteful like so many, but not brimming with sympathy like Meg. Hollis thought that this was ok.
“Couple months, I guess.”
“You knew they would come didn’t you?”
“Who do you mean?” Hollis looked away, observing a dumpster with a burned mattress protruding out of its maw of a mouth. The stranger shrugged his shoulders
“Hey man, I am sorry to be so rude. My name’s Mackenzie.” He held out his left hand. On it, he wore a fingerless glove. Hollis noticed that his other hand went gloveless. Hollis grabbed the outstretched hand and reciprocated the gesture.
“Ah,” Mackenzie said, “well, Hollis what have you to do this evening?”
Hollis was caught off guard by Mackenzie’s easy going pleasantries. Did he not realize that Hollis was in the midst of a crisis?
“Look, hey man, I’m in trouble...” he began.
Mackenzie’s grey eyes remained fixed on his.
“Somebody is after me for something, I have no idea what. Never mind what. Should that even matter? We gotta get out of here man. You’re probably not safe here either. They probably are those sick freaks that go after the homeless…” Hollis trailed off.
Mackenzie looked at Hollis. A smile touched the left corner of his mouth. He stroked his beard twice then dropped his hand to his side. He said nothing.
“Well, let’s go! This thing is organized! They turned out the power! Say something man!”
“I know” replied Mackenzie, calmly.
“I know the powers out and I know that they are coming.”
“You... live here or something?” It occurred to Hollis that he had never met his neighbors.
“From time to time… like yourself. I have seen you around, ya know.
“Oh yea?” Hollis hung his head now, beginning to get uncomfortable. “Neat”
“Yea, you used to stay down at the train yard with that other guy. I always thought he kind of looked like me.”
Hollis sniffed again at the cool air. “Gerry” he said.
“Was that his name? Yeah that’s right. Anyhow that’s why I knew you were here. We all kind of migrated to this area...”
“…You knew I was here?” Panic began to rise again.
“Well, yea.” Mackenzie smiled and laughed a little, “You think I would have slung a brick through a random window?” he chuckled heartily.
“For no good reason?”
“You threw the brick?” Hollis was heated. A strange mixture of desperation and relief washed over him. The culprit of his night’s torment was before him. He clenched his fists, and spread his feet apart. He was about to strike when he remembered the violent shaking of the room, and the electrical failure.
“ .. What did you… are you with them?” Hollis asked with narrow eyes.
Mackenzie waved this off and shook his head.
“Na man,” he said, “I just saw that govment bastard pull in and walk up your steps, see. I was down by down, next to that dumpster you know, all content to share my evening with the few stars we can see. I saw that fucker and I knew I had to do something. ”
Hollis considered the puzzle pieces brought before him.
“So... how did you know where I was? “
“You the only room left up there with light man! Was not too difficult to deduce...”
Mackenzie smiled, but this seemed genuine and inviting. Hollis thought the similarities to Gerry were not so close anymore.
“So, you threw that thing to do what? Warn me?” He tried to wrap his mind around this idea but it seemed foundationless.
“Why, would you want to do that? You don’t even know me... Or you didn’t before now...”
Mackenzie looked at the ground and shook his head. His left hand rose again to his beard and he twisted strands of hair with rough fingers.
“Had to do something man. They been crashing these things down all around this area. I mean to the ground, man. Bringing in crews and wreckers, always in the middle of the night when most of us is sleepin. Always to those of us lucky enough to find a roof too, like yourself.”
Hollis blushed, as this was a luxury he had taken for granted.
“They just go in and knock a little on each closed door and if there is no answer…pff! Well, that’s it!” Mackenzie spat in the gravel next to his foot. “
He looked up at Hollis.
“Where there is inequality there is no justice, man. We all gotta look out for each other.”
Hollis Taylor looked back towards the street. He now noticed that three heavy machines had pulled in front of the building: A wrecker, and two dump trucks. He now heard men shouting to each other trying to be heard over the noise of the machines.
“All clear” said one.
“Let's do this” confirmed another.
Hollis shifted his gaze back to the window of his former domicile. The painted glass cast no reflection but strangely offered a contrast to the black hole the brick had created. The jagged cut framed the hole into Hollis old world with a rough brilliance that Hollis could only now appreciate. He saw Nothing peering out through the opening.
Hollis turned back to Mackenzie.
“Well, you been to that park on Fourth? “He asked.
“Have I?” Mackenzie beamed. “Best view in the whole damned city. This is the whole world as far I could care…”
“What do ya say we go see if the stars can see us from there?” Hollis asked.
“I would say you had a good handle on it,” Mackenzie said.
He held out his hand to Hollis.
Hollis wave it away and pulled Mackenzie into a rough hug.
“Woa man, not on the first date,” he laughed.
Hollis returned the sentiment with a snort.
“Let’s go before we get stuck”
As they walked away, the building began to shake and crumble down under the wrath of the wrecker. The night became fragrant with the dust of the doomed structure but Hollis could still smell the summer air. The wind danced around the men while they walked and talked. As they progressed toward the park, the cacophony of the workers began to fade into the soft hum of crickets.
Hollis turned back toward the carnage from whence he came, only once.
He turned back, and smiled.