Something Dark and Hollow, Chapter 1
The Snatching of April Woods
Her name is April Woods. She’s the kind of girl that you avoid in the hallways because she’s “weird.”
She’s really pale, but pretty much everything about her is dark. She’s got long black hair. She’s got on black eyeliner and eye shadow and lipstick. She has on black pants and a black blouse and one of those tops that flair out behind her like a cape. (She is planning on getting a tattoo that says “Bite me,” or something to that effect.)
She carries some freaky-looking book clutched to her chest. She strides down the hall like she has someone to meet, and she’s late.
She has no one to meet.
She’s isn’t late.
April Woods is the kind of girl that you avoid because she is a time bomb.
She has no friends, just people invested in getting to watch the mushroom cloud. People are waiting for her to blow up.
(Except, girls like April Woods don’t blow up, exactly.)
(It’s more internal.)
(It’s far more personal.)
(Girls like April Woods collapse on themselves under the weight of all their personal,
Today, April Woods is imploding. She doesn’t know why, and she doesn’t know why she doesn’t know, and she knew a couple of minutes ago, but the spiral of self-loathing slipped from her and is now spiraling far from her reach. She is pretty sure that it had something to do with a boy. That boy, with the nice hair and smile and sad look in his eyes. She can’t even think of his name above her own internal storm, but she is also aware in some form or shape or meaning that the boy is, in fact, Peter Barclay Steven Shale, who is called “Clay” by all his friends (and April Woods, under her breath, where he can’t hear her), and “Peter” to everyone else.
He really is a nice boy, sometimes, and he doesn’t like April Woods, doesn’t know she exists, and to girls like April Woods, who are “weird” and “sad” and incredibly, eternally angry with themselves for things that are out of their control, indifference found where love is sought is fatal.
In the most literal sense.
(April Woods wants to die.)
(It’s important that a distinction is made here.)
(April Woods is not an angsty teenager.)
(April Woods is a time bomb.)
(April Woods lives in a town in West Virginia called Wilden.)
(It’s nestled in the shadow of Mount Wilde. Most teenagers avoid the mountain because the children of Wilden are convinced, from a young age, that the mountains are haunted.)
(They are right, for the most part.)
(But Wilden is more haunted than the mountains.)
(There are people in the walls.)
April Woods has made it outside. It’s the morning side of noon. The weather man said it might rain later today, but April Woods isn’t planning on staying around that long. Her fuse is very short.
Wilden High School is located relatively close to the center of the town, and most people are accustomed to seeing students in all shades of mental stability walking briskly through the crowds with tears in their eyes, and most people are accustomed to looking away. But today, there was one who was watching as April Woods moved through the streets towards the bridge that stretched across the nearby river.
The young man had been watching April Woods for a while.
He was well invested in her well-being.
(He was a person in the walls.)
(To things like him, people like April Woods are of great interest. Imagine being a collector of broken things. Imagine finding, one day, a broken girl with a short fuse. Imagine hearing her heartbeat like a sweet metronome, deliciously taunting. The young man was very interested in this little time bomb, and he watched and followed and listened with delight as her clock ticked away.)
April Woods made it to the bridge and stood there, numb to the breeze. There were no passing cars at this time of day. No one would see what would happen next.
I guess now is as great a time as ever to explain what exactly had happened. (And how exactly Peter Barclay Steven Shale had wronged Poor Broken April Woods.)
There is a girl dressed in all black who rarely does anything outside of moping in the shadows. She knows a few people. She can draw. She can play piano. She can even write. But no one knows because she’s practically mute. And depressing. She doesn’t get invited to parties. Boys don’t talk to her, so she avoids them.
(Now imagine this:)
There is a boy with nice hair and dark eyes who wears tacky but somehow wonderful clothes that he found either in a thrift shop or one of those online indie but probably the former, because thrift shopping is cool. He’s reserved and almost sad, but in that way that just makes him seem mysterious and attractive. He can sing, sings in cafes around town sometimes. He hangs around that crowd of people that is always there. You know them. The musicians and the hipsters and the ironics and the people who shouldn’t be cool but are, against all odds, cool. The people who have dreams and aspirations and ideologies that you can’t spell, who Google those things that you meant to Google, but then check out the books on them in the library. They are the people that you will always remember, even if it’s just their name, because they are so ridiculously high school and genuine that they stick to the side of your mind. There is something about them that feels so…divine. Not like capital G God but gods nonetheless. Much too worldly to be found in a church. More like some pagan shrine that you find sitting in the middle of the most beautiful grove that you have ever seen. Immortal and otherworldly. And entirely out of your reach.
But not his. The boy with the nice hair and dark eyes and kind but rare smile is a pillar among them. And the girl in black is a devoted worshiper.
The girl dressed all in black is walking down the hall with an ornately decorated journal in her hand. It’s her sketchbook. A pair of broad shoulders who is late for his Biology class bumps into her and knocks it out of her arms, shouting a rushed apologize in his wake. The book flies and lands, open, papers scattered, in the middle of the hall. The tide of backpacks parts around the mess. A few pick up pieces and hand them to the girl as they go on their way. Except the boy. The boy sees the girl in all black collecting her private thoughts from the floor with shaking hands. He sees her gathering papers in the path of destruction, and he sees the journal, pages up, lying open, scrawled with illustrations of all kinds of beauty. He stares at it for a moment before picking it up and looking longer. He doesn’t turn any pages (because he can tell, at a glance, that this is something private and personal, and ruffling through the private things of someone you barely know is pretty rude), but he stares at the pictures on the pages. On the left page, there is a pencil sketch of a tree with a tire swing hanging from a branch. It’s simple enough, except for the fact that there is a surprisingly detailed, clearly abandoned house in the back made of broken boards and dark windows. On the right page, there is a pencil sketch portrait of someone he vaguely recognizes, maybe a celebrity, maybe someone from school. There’s something gaunt and haunting about the figure in the sketch that makes him stare at it longer than he normally would. At this point, the girl in black has gotten off the ground with her papers and is just noticing the boy staring at her journal. The boy’s eyes flick upward.
“Here you go,” he says, handing her the journal. She hesitates, even though it’s hers, before taking it from him.
“Thank you,” she says quietly.
“No problem.” He shoulders his backpack and begins to walk away. The girl is shuffling her papers back into her journal when he stops, turns around, and says, “You’re really good.” And then he’s on his way and April Woods is standing in the middle of the hallway long after the bell rings.
It is the first time that anyone has ever told her that.
April Woods is not accustomed to compliments or attention, so when he gives her some, even for a fleeting moment, it sticks.
She finds herself finding him in the halls, searching him out in the dining hall, spotting him in the library, sitting in the back wherever he sings, looking for his car in the parking lot, hearing even the slightest suggestion of his name.
Learning about his friends. Wondering if he would approve of her music choices. Writing poems about him. Drawing pictures that remind her of him, like birds and rainstorms. She draws his eyes, the swoop of his hair, his shirts and his shoes, his car, his smile, his brow.
(He’s stuck. Imagine this:)
A girl in all black sneaks into Wilden High School as soon as it is open, finds his locker, and plasters drawings all over it. Everything. Poems and sketches. Pictures and fiction. Everything, decorating his locker (like a shrine), a wall of scribbles and unworded emotions. It’s there, all of it. For everyone to see.
A boy walks up to his locker. She sees him. She’s been waiting for him all morning. He stares. She waits. She watches. His mouth twitches. She hears the words:
“What the fuck?”
And then he reaches up, rips a line of sketches from the door. He stares at a picture. It’s his car. “What the fuck?”
The picture falls to the ground in pieces. His friends are there, watching. The girl is there, watching. She’s stopped breathing. He rips another picture down.
His friends join in. They’re laughing. They’re pointing at her pictures, showing them around, ripping them to pieces, gathering them up, she doesn’t even know their names but she knows Peter Barclay Steven Shale, or she thought she did, and he is stuffing them away and laughing with his friends and she can hear him talking about burning them.
April Woods has reached the Bridge. The Bridge doesn’t have an official name, and since it is the only major bridge in Wilden, calling it “the Bridge” to any Wilden native is enough to identify it sufficiently. It’s over a gorge with a river running through it. The river flows from the mountains to a long drop called Dead Man’s Falls. The river flows fast.
April Woods has one hand on the railing and another clenching her journal to her chest. She’ll be damned if she’s going to let anyone ruffle through her stuff without her knowledge, even if she is dead.
There are no cars or people on the bridge today; Wilden isn’t known for its traffic. Wilden is known only for its ghosts. And April Woods is ready to join them.
She grips the railing. She isn’t crying. She’s ready. She reels back, ready to hurl herself across the barrier, into the dark waters below —
April Woods freezes. She turns around to see a young man about her age. He has black hair and the most piercing blue eyes that she has ever seen. And she has never seen him before. He’s wearing a black t-shirt and jeans. Tattoos wind up his arm. His feet are bare. His face is all high cheekbones and sharp angles.
“Why?” April asks. She takes an almost involuntary step towards him.
“This is a permanent solution to a problem that is only temporary,” the boy replies. His voice sounds like wind chimes. She thinks that he’s a singer. “And no one makes sound decisions when they are in pain.”
“I’m not in pain.” April is numb to this, all of it.
“You are,” he says softly. “You’re hurting. They hurt you.”
“Do I know you?”
“No. But you could.”
“Do we go to school together or something?”
“Then fuck off.” April turns back around, back towards the bridge —
“I can fix you.”
“I can fix myself.”
“You can’t. You don’t know how.”
“This is how.”
“No it isn’t. April.” She turns around and he’s standing right in front of her. His eyes are two pools of pure sapphire. “Trust me. I can fix you. Permanently.”
“Do you have any friends? Anyone that loves you? Anyone that will miss you when you are gone?”
April shakes her head.
“I thought so. You can’t fix this. I can.” He puts a hand up to her cheek. “I can fix everything.”
His skin is cool against hers. She breathes, “How?”
He smiles, a flash of straight white teeth. He leans forward and whispers to her, “Just trust me. Just say yes.”
The world slows down.
(A girl in black is on a bridge. She is about to kill herself. She is sad and alone and desperate. An unnaturally beautiful stranger offers her a way out. He reminds her of a fallen angel. The way his lips move are distracting, his smell surrounds her. He reminds her of a boy she knows. He wants to fix her. He wants to make her better. She has that feeling like when you stop your car but it hasn’t completely stopped yet, that moment where you have stopped moving but the world hasn’t caught up yet. She’s backed away from the bridge but now she’s teetering on some other edge. Gravity takes over, pulls her towards the dark below. She’s coming full stop.)
(She’s breathing a single syllable into the ear of her fallen angel.)
Samir Kalla should be in school right now.
But Sam has good eyes and knows a threat when he sees one.
Here is what Sam saw:
A Hollow from the Rift found a vulnerable and lonely goth chick, followed her to an isolated location, and convinced her to go with him. Snatched her up into the Rift. She didn’t even see the thing rise from the ground.
Sam fidgets with his ring thoughtfully. It’s a silvery metal inset with green gems woven in an intricate pattern that he thought he should know the meaning of.
(He wears his on his left hand because he’s married to The Cause.)
(THE CAUSE — AKA, saving randoms from scary monsters that want to eat their souls. He’s a hero, a Warden. It’s a thankless job.)
He thinks for a moment. He can still feel the soft spot the Hollow entered and left through. It wouldn’t be hard to track it down and get it done. But Fearless Leader was a pain in the ass about going off alone ever since Pat died.
(PAT — AKA, Patrick — AKA, a dumbass who got himself killed. Like a dumbass.)
Sam takes out his phone and walks away from the bridge. He’s opening his messenger and typing out a message to the others with one hand.
SK: problem at the bridge. meet me at spence’s
TERRA: we gotchu bb ❤
Sam is about to put his phone away again when another message pops up.
AEDAN: Don’t forget to mark it
Sam rolls his eyes and stops. He stoops down, picking up a small, smooth pebble, breathes on it, then places it near the soft spot. He can feel the Rift churning beneath him long after he leaves the bridge behind.