The Hollow Men

By Ong Sher Li

It was 4.00 a.m. and the world had ended two hours prior. Without warning, without the slightest indication. With a whimper and not a bang, as the saying went. Every person on earth was dead and gone. Even the girl who had fallen asleep in his bed just hours before. But of course, he was still here. Eiros was not human, of course. He was immortal.

At this point, he started to wonder if he ought to pen his story down, since he did, after all, have all the time in the world.

But then he realised that he really had very little to tell.

(There was no compact with The Devil, or a kiss from a vampire, or a soul hidden in a box somewhere on an island that didn’t exist, or some magic spring—one day, he had simply woken up and found himself to be immortal. Of course, he hadn’t known that at first. It took a full decade for him to come to terms with the fact that he had stopped aging, and about a century more to finally resign to watching people he knew die, and the world change, while he didn’t.)

And of course, there was no one to tell it to. A story without an audience would only go to waste, he thought, bitterly.

(He had checked, of course, made sure that this wasn’t some bizarre dream come true. They were all gone: children, adults, old folk—vanished into the fucking ether or wherever it was that mortals went when the world ended. And so, he was alone—and lonely.)

He stared hard at the journal on his desk. It was 4.37 a.m. now and the pages of the journal remained stubbornly blank.

This simply wouldn’t do.

The madness would set in only too quickly this way.

So, out he went—into the cold, dark, dead city.

***

All other life had disappeared as well. You’d think after all that hype about how they were oh-so adaptable and resilient and shit, there’d at least be a cockroach or two around, but there wasn’t. Not a single one in sight. Not a cat or a dog or a rat or any of those animals you’d expect to linger around a city like this. Not a thing. Not a thing. Not a single thing in sight.

Darkened windows gaped at him all around. Abandoned vehicles enticed him to take them—get in and take me for a ride, love, come on, get in, get in— out of town, somewhere, anywhere, but he found that he had to decline.

There was, after all, nowhere to go.

“Huh,” he said aloud, eventually, and the single syllable danced through empty streets and alleyways, and when it finally reached him again, it was like a dying gasp (of which he had heard plenty of): soft and fleeting and infinitely depressing.

There really was nothing like living through the end of the fucking world.

He’d read the stories, heard the songs, watched the movies about what anyone would do if they lived past The Apocalypse, The Second Coming, The End of All Time, whatever-you-might-call-it, and it was absolutely nothing like this. There was no rag-tag group of survivors scavenging the remains of the city, no fine furry friend to keep you company, no civilisation to rebuild—there was only just you. Waiting for eternity to pass. Forever. For-fucking-ever.

***

It was only by chance that he saw it. But how could he have missed it? It was the only building with its lights on in the whole city. A cheap, slightly run-down little diner in the corner of the street—the sort you could walk past every single day of your life and not give a second thought—but there it was, lighted and brilliant and blinding and so terribly welcoming that he walked towards it without a second thought.

The quaint little bell above the door chimed away to its heart’s content as he burst in. He stopped, stared, and saw the only other living creature in the whole diner: a man (about the age that Eiros himself appeared to be physically) having an early breakfast at one of the tables as though everything was still right with the world.

The man looked up from his meal (a messy plate of something that he had probably and unfamiliarly made himself) and beckoned him over.

“And so here we are at the end of the world,” said the man, as Eiros took the seat across from his.

“Yes, here we are,” Eiros replied, staring at the man. “Eiros,” he said, introducing himself.

“Charmion,” the man said, dabbing at his mouth with a serviette.

“How—do you know how it happened?” Eiros asked, feeling tired.

“Who knows?” replied Charmion, airily, “it doesn’t matter. One moment they’re here, the next—they’re all gone.”

“Lose anyone?”

“No,” said Charmion with finality, “you?”

“A few.”

“It doesn’t pay to get attached at our age.”

“It doesn’t.”

“And so here we are,” Charmion repeated.

“Yes, here we are,” Eiros said again, with as much exhaustion and exasperation as he could imbue into his words.

Charmion sighed.

Eiros sighed.

“I’ve heard that only an immortal can kill another immortal,” Charmion said, contemplatively.

“What are you suggesting?” Eiros looked at Charmion.

Charmion looked at nothing. “To stave off the inevitable insanity that eternity will bring, I would suggest we kill each other.”

“Must we?” Eiros asked, a little pleadingly.

“We must, for what else do we expect to see after this? We’ve seen it all, my friend, we’ve seen it all.”

“Yes, I suppose, yes.”

“Will you do me the honour, then?”

“Yes, I will. Will you, Charmion?”

“Of course, Eiros, of course.”

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