Something Dark and Hollow, Chapter 2
Theo Lysander is a simple boy.
Peter Barclay Steven Shale is his best friend.
(He doesn’t know he is, because that would be kind of sad, considering the fact that Theo and Clay have very few things in common. Very few things at all.)
Theo is one of those middle class black guys that no one really considers “black.”
Clay is one of those upper middle class white guys that people look at and think, “white privilege.”
Theo Lysander. Clay Shale.
These were two inseparable friends separated by the thinnest of walls. A social construct.
See, Clay Shale belonged in a pantheon of godlike human beings who were incredibly out of reach of most others.
Theo was hanging on by the fingernails.
It was a trying friendship. Theo considered Clay to be his friend, except he was only marginally sure that Clay felt the same way. Clay was rather reserved when it came to things like that. He didn’t really go around professing his feelings. One could even be pushed to say that Clay Shale showed very little emotion at all. Unless, of course, he was with his friends. The ones that weren’t Theo. In Theo’s mind, there was Clay, and then there was Clay’s friends, who were kind of Theo’s friends, until he was reminded that they weren’t.
The whole clique situation was stupid in nature and practice, but it happened anyways, and Theo was in deep enough to be considered “one of them” but never close enough to actually be “one of them.”
Today, Theo Lysander is sitting next to Clay at lunch, and Clay is sitting next to Clay’s friends. They are talking about something that had happened earlier that day.
This morning, when he got to school, Clay found his locker plastered with drawings and poems and other things like that. “It was like one of those horror movies when you found out the killer is an obsessed psycho and see a shrine made to their victim,” he explained to Theo once, at some point, before he was sucked back into the pantheon.
Theo is holding a picture in his hands. It was Clay, that was easy to see. But Clay looked different. Better. Kinda hot. “I don’t see the issue. You have a secret admirer. Who draws good-looking pictures of you. That’s nice, right?”
The pantheon turned to Theo. Clay grabbed his shoulder. “Do you know who did this, though?”
Theo blinks again. “Who?” Then he remembers. “Oh.” He looks at the drawing again. “Oh.”
April Woods was odd if you were being kind and kind of a freak if you were being honest.
“She probably hexed you, dude,” says one of the pantheon. His name is Michael. (Or something like that. In all honesty, they all bled together in Theo’s head, the pantheon. It was some kind of free-thinking hive mind. He could hardly keep track. He had given up trying a while ago.)
Clay laughs. It’s almost startling, because Theo so rarely sees or hears Clay laugh, unless he’s hanging out with the pantheon. (Which, by the way, didn’t happen often. Theo was rarely invited to hang out with Clay’s friends.) “I hope not. Some of them are kind of cool.” He takes the drawing from Theo. “Like this one. I look hot.”
A girl snorts. “You look idealized.” (Theo can’t remember her name at all.)
“What, like it’s me if I were hot?”
“No, it’s more like the Romans carving statues of the emperor to make him look good. Aesthetic over accuracy.”
Clay frowns at the picture. “I think it looks just like me.”
“Whatever. I still say we burn them.”
“Why?” asks Theo.
“Why not?” replied Michael.
No one has an answer for that.
“Has anyone even seen her today?” asks Clay.
“Nope. She wasn’t in homeroom either.”
Theo remembers April Woods. He avoids her. He hears she’s into the occult and weird things like that. She was probably in a cult. She doesn’t have a lot of friends. He also remembers the way the pantheon laughed at he drawings. He remembers the things they said.
(Theo isn’t much of anything. He isn’t an athlete. He isn’t very book smart. He can’t sing like Clay can. He knows nothing about music. He can’t paint or draw very well. All he really does is read and write.)
(And write some more.)
(He doesn’t show people his work very often, because the one thing that he would not survive is being laughed at or made fun of. He likes to think he has a thick skin. The Oreo comments don’t get to him very often anymore, and he isn’t that bothered by the other black kids avoiding him or giving him weird looks that much.)
(But if he bared his soul the way he thinks April Woods tried to that morning and was laughed at like that?)
(He would not survive.)
Theo picks up his sandwich. “She’s probably fine.”
And now we come to Holly Locke.
There are few things we need to know about Holly Locke as of right now.
Holly moved to Wilden about three months ago. She’s made no conscious effort to make friends, as far as she is aware. She lives with her uncle, who lives on the nice side of town. She has a silver ring with an inset of black symbols in a very deliberate pattern. She’s kind of scary in that way that beautiful people are, like they are foreign creatures who are probably judging you.
(To be fair, Holly Locke is probably judging you. It’s nothing personal. She’s just a relentlessly analytical and critical person.)
Holly knows and cares about exactly eight people in this town who aren’t her uncle.
1. Aedan Cross
2. Samir Kallah
3. Maris Lake
4. Argenta Torres
5. Terra Shale
6. Clay Shale
7. Theo Lysander
8. Spencer Kyle
All others are irrelevant.
Holly doesn’t eat lunch at Wilden High School that day. Instead, she sits in the quad, waiting. At approximately 1:43 PM, Theo Lysander, who is free this period, walks outside and heads towards a table in the eastern corner. The table has a view of the fountain in the center of the courtyard and also sits under a tree. She waits for about one minute, pretending to read the book in her lap, when the door on the other side of the quad opens and Samir Kalla comes storming through. Her eyes flicker from him to Theo, who is taking out a textbook and a pencil. She bites her lip, makes an irritated noise, and intercepts Sam before he reaches her.
“Hey Sammy,” she says.
“Hi,” he growls.
Holly rolls her eyes internally and wraps her arm around his. She leads him to the table in the western corner, which is not under a tree, and sits down opposite of him. She immediately notices a small cut on his left jaw. “Spill.”
Sam looks at the table. “We lost her.”
Holly freezes. “Lost who?”
Holly breathes. She knows who that is. She isn’t important right now.
“She was taken today at the bridge. Before lunch. A Hollow got her and dragged her straight into the Rift. I marked it, but somehow the stone got moved. We had to find another soft spot. Me and Terra and RJ went in, but it had already set up a nest before we got there. We were too slow.” He puts his face in his hands and sighs.
Holly waits. She can still see the cut.
“We have three nights until the next full moon. Three fucking nights, Holly.”
“What kind was it? The Hollow, I mean.” She reaches up with a hand and, very gently, rubs a thumb across Sam’s cut. She feels a tingling on her left shoulder blade as the Wish takes effect and vanishes.
“The glamour looked a white guy with some Wishes on his arm who had a suspiciously similar look to Peter.”
“Who?” Holly removes her hand. The cut is gone.
“Clay, Holly. And thanks.”
“Don’t mention it. Your jawline is your best feature. What does Clay have to do with this?”
“She has a thing for him. April does.”
Holly smiles. “Don’t we all?” she says before she can stop herself.
Sam locks eyes with her.
He gets up. “Go to hell, Holly.”
She watches as he stalks away. The sun glints off of his ring. She clicks her tongue. “Only if you join me there, Sammy.” Then she gets her things and heads over to the eastern table.
Theo knows very little about Holly Locke. She reminds him of Clay, but Holly’s pantheon is far more obscure. Very little is known about Holly’s very few friends, except that it is an exclusive group of people that you have only ever heard of. Samir Kalla, he knows, is one of them. So is Clay’s sister, Terra. The others he doesn’t know that well.
There was this one black girl, Maris Lake, who sat by Clay once in World History last year. She asked Theo for a pencil once and didn’t say anything else to him at all.
He didn’t know much about Terra, except that she was Clay’s sister almost always out at weird times and no one ever questioned it, Clay least of all. She was pretty cool, though. She liked to read the things he wrote sometimes and she had a nice smile.
Samir was different. Clay had caught him staring at them a couple of times, but Samir stared at pretty much everyone. The unnerving thing was that Samir Kalla was the kind of guy who didn’t care if you knew he was staring or not. He was going to stare, and you were going to deal with it, because Samir Kalla was kind of terrifying.
Then there was this Latina girl and some white guy that Theo felt like he should know, but didn’t.
But Theo knew that all of them were forces of nature in their own right.
(Old gods, like the ones with several names and no real description, and the only real evidence of their worship are old ruins long buried.)
Holly sits down across from Theo without a word. He had seen her talking to Samir and rubbing his face. It looked friendly enough until Samir stalked away and told her to go to hell. He wonders what she said to piss him off. He wonders how crazy you would have to be to even try to provoke Samir Kalla. Theo isn’t sure what to make of Holly Locke. He likes to think that he likes her. She’s blond and has an athletic build with the craziest shade of blue eyes that you have ever seen, but she feels like the kind of girl that has an ulterior motive every time she laughs at one of your jokes.
“Hey,” says Theo.
“Hey,” says Holly.
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing much.” There is an electronic bell sound and Holly pulls out her phone, glances at it, then sets it on the table. “What about you?”
“That’s nice.” There’s another bell sound. The phone screen lights up. “Nothing is a good thing sometimes.”
She glances down. “No camera today?”
“No,” he says, “not today. I forgot to charge it last night, so it’s plugged up at home, but I didn’t plan on taking many pictures today.”
“Really? Why not?”
“I don’t know, I just haven’t been in the mood lately. Uninspired, I guess.” Theo was trying to put something together for the school student life blog, Wildeness, but nothing in the student life had interested him lately. Usually, his day consisted of going to class, eating lunch with Clay and Clay’s friends, then going to class more, then waiting on Clay to get done at soccer practice, then going out to eat, then going home, doing homework, and then pretending to sleep. He usually took pictures between then.
Lately, his schedule consists of going to class, falling asleep, half eating lunch, going to class more, and then waiting for Clay, except now Clay wasn’t in the mood to hang out lately (which concerned Theo for a number of reasons, all admittedly pathetic), so he usually ate alone at The Caf, which was the diner down the street from the school. Then he went home, except he barely does homework now and his sleep schedule is shaky thanks to some weird dreams lately.
(The dreams have been recorded and reflected on by Theo in his dream journal. They include a dark city that looks like Wilden but isn’t, and it’s on an island surround by a dark sea. Towards the south there is a forest with a castle in the middle. Sometimes Theo walked the city in his dreams. Sometimes he watched things happen.)
(Usually there were things like monsters, and sometimes he talked to them. They were okay, for the most part, but half the time they said weird things that always made sense only if you thought about it a certain way, or didn’t make sense at all until later. He had never been to the castle before, though he really wanted to go, but he was kind of scared to find what was living there.)
(Whatever the dream’s content, Theo always woke up lethargic and mentally exhausted.)
(This had been happening for two months.)
Photography doesn’t fit into the chain of events he now calls his life, which is a shame, because he really likes it. There was something romantic about capturing life on film. (Well, not film. Film is expensive.)
The cell phone begins to vibrate and chime. Holly and Theo look at each other, then down at the phone. “Torch” is displayed across the caller ID.
“Goddammit,” mutters Holly. “Sorry, I have to take this.” Holly stands up and put the phone to her ear and is quiet as she moves away from the table. Theo lowers his head back to his work and pretends he isn’t trying to listen. He doesn’t hear much. Holly is mostly quiet with her back turned to him, only speaking in low murmurs. Her shoulders heave with a sigh before she hangs up the phone and comes back to the table, looking apologetic.
“Sorry about that. Something came up, and it turns out that I have to go.”
“Oh,” says Theo. He’s more surprised by her expression than her sudden need to leave. She actually looks sorry. “That’s okay, I’ll see you around then.” He goes back to his book.
Holly lifts her bag to her shoulder. There is a moment of hesitation that feels more like a tactical silence before she asks, “How about after school?”
Theo looks back up, surprised again. “What? Today?”
“Yeah. Why, are you busy?”
“No,” says Theo, immediately wondering if he should have lied.
“Cool. In front of the gym, then, after last bell?”
“Yeah, sure. But what are we — ”
Holly is already walking away.
The gym parking lot is empty like it usually is after school. Theo is standing in front of the building, absentmindedly scratching his neck and swallowing down a sense of foreboding that has been plaguing him all day.
April Woods wasn’t in any of his classes for the rest of the day, and Theo didn’t even realize how many classes he had with her until she wasn’t there and the teachers asked about her. Most people had already made the connection between her and the wall of paper that had been attached to Clay’s locker that morning, but no one ventured as far as to ask where she had gone.
It was obvious:
Embarrassed and unwilling to face her classmates after being spurned by the lovely and lofty Peter Barclay Steven Shale, she had left school and gone home. Probably to get high or hurt herself or do whatever weird lonely girls did when they felt especially weird and lonely.
(Theo has not subscribed to this theory. April Woods didn’t seem like the type to get high.)
Holly had apparently left school after they made plans, but no one seemed to notice except Theo.
But she’s here now. Leo spots her in a black sun dress walking across the parking lot. “Did I keep you waiting?” says Holly as she reaches Theo. Her silvery ring glints in the sunlight.
“Nah, I wasn’t standing out here long.” This is a lie; Theo has been standing out here for a while. The last bell rang an hour ago.
“Good. You need to be not pissed at me to go where we’re about to go.”
“Where is that, exactly?”
She puts a finger to her lips and winks. “My secret garden. Come on.” She grips his hand and pulls him back towards the gym. The feel of her fingers around his almost distracts him enough so that he doesn’t notice that they’re heading around towards the back of the building.
When they turn the corner around the back edge of the gym, the sun has set just enough so that the alleyway is cast in shadow. Trashcans and abandoned things make strange shapes in the dark. It’s noticeably cooler.
Holly stops and turns to face him. There is a moment where there is nothing but silence. Holly is holding Theo’s hand, and it’s warm, and then Holly drops his hand and the moment evaporates. Theo immediately shoves his hands into his pockets. “So this is your garden?” he asks.
“It’s more of an entrance, really.”
Theo peers into the darkness.
“An entrance of an entrance. It’s around here somewhere. But first, I need you to wear this.” She reaches into her bag and pulls out a small box. Theo takes the box and opens it. Inside there is a silver ring. Etched along the sides is a string of symbols so white that they almost seem to glow in the darkness.
“It looks like yours,” he says.
“It is like mine.”
Theo takes the ring and puts it on his right hand. It slips onto his finger easily. Almost a perfect fit. “Why do I need to wear this, exactly?” It’s cold against his flesh.
“You’ll see. Now close your eyes. Don’t look at me like that. ‘Secret’ garden, remember?” Apparently she doesn’t trust him, because as soon as he closes his eyes, she slips a blindfold over them. Then she takes his hand again. They walk for a little bit before he feels a change. There is a feeling in his stomach, that pull from the navel to the throat that you feel at the top of a ride right before you drop. The wind on his face turns into a gentle breeze. The ring on his hand begins to warm.
Then they stop. Holly grabs his shoulders and makes him sit on something that feels like a bench. The blindfold comes off. “You can open yours eyes now,” says Holly.
At first, Theo is confused. He looks around. He turns behind him. The gym is there, or at least the alleyway is. Somehow, inexplicably, it has been squeezed between two large trees. Theo looks forward again. There is a large, sweeping meadow filled with flowers of all colors. In the center is a lake of cool, bright blue water that shimmers in the sunlight. The sun itself is high in the sky, as though it were the middle of the day and not late afternoon. The meadow is closed in on all sides by a ring of forest.
He turns to Holly. “Where are we?”
Holly is smiling. She isn’t looking at him. Her face is turned upwards towards the sun, her eyes closed. Her arms are draped along the back of the bench. “My secret garden.”
She laughs. “We walked.”
Theo stands up. “From school? Bullshit.”
Holly’s smile fades. “Sit down.”
Theo sits. “Sorry,” he says, though he isn’t sure why he’s apologizing. “But how?”
Holly turns her head sideways so that she’s looking at him. She gives a sigh. “Must you ruin this?”
“Ruin it how?”
“There you go again. Stop it.”
“Asking questions. Shut up for one second. Enjoy it.” She pulls out a pair of sunglasses. Theo doesn’t know where they came from. He realizes that he doesn’t have his backpack anymore, and hers has disappeared as well. She puts the sunglasses on and turns her face back skyward. “Stop questioning everything, Lysander. Just listen.”
Theo opens his mouth to say something, then closes it. He sits back and angles his head so that he is looking to the sky, like Holly. There is a moment where all he hears is the water of the lake and the cool breeze. He can feel the heat of the sun on his face, the light warming his dark skin. He puts his right arm straight in the air, almost as if he is reaching for the wispy cloud overhead. He thinks about Clay. He didn’t tell him that he wouldn’t be going with him after school today. Clay never asked, either. It was assumed. He wonders what Clay is doing now, without him. Then he thinks of April Woods. He wonders what kind of picture she’d draw of this place. She didn’t seem like the type to do landscapes, but the picture of the gym alleyway between the two trees would probably be of interest. Maybe even the cloud. He turns his arm, gripping his hand in a fist around the cloud, then spreading his fingers wide. The ring glints and catches his eye. He moves it closer and is looking at it when Holly speaks again.
“There. Did you listen?”
“Yeah. What was I listening for?”
Holly sits up with a sigh, and he feels guilty for asking another question. “The answer, Lysander. The answer to every question you’ve ever had.”
“Oh. I didn’t hear that.”
Holly stretches. And then she gets up. “No,” she says quietly, looking out over the lake. “No, I guess you wouldn’t have.” She turns to face him. “Do you know how to swim?”