Jack’s eyes snapped open as he heard the sound. He glanced quickly to the clock next to the bed to see the time. 1:17 AM. There was no reason for there to be noise coming from the kitchen of his apartment at that time.
He was already moving, as quickly and quietly as a man of his size could move. He snatched the pistol from the nightstand and headed out of the bedroom into the hallway. The small size of the apartment gave him a good view from the doorway of its one bedroom. Down the short hallway he could see almost all of the living room and the opening to the kitchen on the right. He raised the pistol as he heard the distinct sound of the a chair being moved across the floor in the kitchen. As he padded quietly down the hall he quickly scanned the living room ahead of him. A couch, large TV and a heavy bag hanging in the room. Spartan, empty and undisturbed as always. The front door on the left appeared closed and secure as usual. Whomever had entered the apartment was in the kitchen. There was nowhere else left to hide.
With three quick paces he reached the kitchen door and wheeled to his right, snapping the gun up in front of him. A figure sat at the kitchen table on the far side of the space. It had Jack’s laptop open and it was staring intently at the screen. The man’s sunglasses reflected the light from the screen. He had a wide brimmed hat pulled down low in his head and the collar from his long coat was pulled up around his ears. That was when Jack noticed he could see right through the man’s head. Literally in one ear and out the other.
The Hollow Man.
Jack lowered his gun as the creature turned to look at him. “Hello, Agent Cooper,” it said. When it spoke Jack noticed he could see right through it’s mouth to the back of it’s head. It’s face was emotionless, even when it tried to smile. “I don’t understand you humans and your fascination with these electronic gadgets. But then I don’t understand much about humans anyway.”
“Do you have to move your mouth when you talk? It’s distracting seeing through your head.”
The Hollow Man “smiled” again. It’s mouth performed the motions that a human face would make to smile but there was no life in it. It looked even creepier with that empty space between its illusionary teeth.
“I’m sorry,” it said. “I didn’t mean to unnerve you.”
“Yes you did.” Jack ejected the magazine from the gun and placed them both on the counter. It was useless and he didn’t want to stand there in his shorts holding it. It made him feel ridiculous.
“Fair enough. I can’t help but admit that I like human emotions. They are fascinating. I am drawn to them.”
“So Sal tells me.”
“How is Mr. Salvatore? I really must visit him again. I don’t think he likes me.”
“No one likes you. Now why don’t you explain what it is you’re here for and then get the fuck out?”
The Hollow Man rose from the chair and turned to Jack. The chair didn’t move as he passed through it. He moved a few steps toward Jack and tried muster a hurt look on his face. It merely looked like a bad painting the had changed.
“Jack, you wound me.”
“Whatever. Just tell me why you’re here and be done with it. I’m tired and I don’t have time for this shit.”
The Hollow Man took two quick steps to stand within arms reach. Jack reflexively turned slightly readying himself for a fight. A fight he knew he couldn’t win with a creature he couldn’t hurt. He knew it had done that just to startle him and he cursed himself for letting it happen. The Hollow Man was toying with him for some reason. His only chance was to stay as emotionless as possible and not give it anything to work with.
“What’s the human expression? ‘Two for flinching’? I got you, Jack.” It smiled unsettlingly again.
“What do you want?” Jack was trying as hard as he could to sound annoyed and not defensive. Any sign of being intimidated would only encourage the visitor. Too much annoyance and it would be overplaying it. “I’m too tired for this.”
“I know, I know. It’s rude of me to visit you in the middle of the night like this. Isn’t it annoying that you need sleep? You just lay there for all of those hours being totally useless.”
“Sort of like you only all day long”, Jack snapped back.
“Oh, ouch. If I had feelings I imagine that would hurt. You are a quick one, Agent Cooper. I like this witty banter. How about this? Your mother!”
“I said, ‘your mother’. I am insulting you. Did I do that right?”
“No”, Jack snapped. “What the fuck is the matter with you?”
The Hollow Man’s face fell into a facsimile of a frown. “I got that wrong? Tell me, when is it right to use that phrase? I find it usually makes people angry.”
Jack exhaled slowly and tried not to get angry. He was only marginally successful. “I’m going to guess you’re not here to learn how kids insult each other on the playground. I’m also going to guess you’re not here to kill or torture me. You could have done that already. You want something. What is it? Because if you’re going to keep going like this I’m going to seriously think about killing myself.”
“That would be something to see”, it smiled at him.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, so you can eat my soul or emotions or whatever the fuck it is you do. Not gonna happen so let’s just get this over with. What do you want/"
The Hollow Man moved into the living room and made a show of sitting down hard on the couch, exhaling loudly. The effect was lost when the couch showed no sign of anything landing in it.
“Agent, we have a mutual problem.”
“You’re gonna have to narrow it down for me.”
“I know about Thorn taking over Hoffman. I know he tortured you and has your team’s loved ones in peril at an undisclosed location.”
jack made a sideways spinning motion with his index finger. “Yeah, we all know this stuff. Get to the point.”
The Hollow Man stared at him in silence for a few seconds. “You really aren’t going to play along, are you?”
“I would like to help you and your team with this issue.”
“Bullshit. What’s in it for you?”
“Nothing, agent. I simply wish to…”
“Bull. Shit. Get to the point. What do you want in return?”
“Fine”, The Hollow Man said s he made a show of sighing. “Thorn has a ring. It allows him minor mind control over humans. He can speak short, direct commands and they are forced to comply. Nothing complex. But he can make you sneeze or sit. Things like that.”
“Why do you care? You aren’t human. He can’t do anything to you and in the end that’s all your really care about…” Jack’s voice trailed off as he thought. “Holy shit. The ring works on you, doesn’t it?”
The Hollow Man remained silent.
“C’mon, asshole. Fess up. He can make you do stuff with it, can’t he. And either he doesn’t know it or he does and you won’t get near him.”
“I want that ring’, The Hollow Man stated flatly and with a touch of supernatural power in his voice. “Get it for me.”
“And what? You want me to get the ring and do what? Give it to you? So now no one can stop you? Fat chance. If by some chance I did get ahold of it why would I ever dream of giving it to you?”
“Because if you didn’t I would kill everyone you care about. Horribly. And with immense amounts of pain”, The Hollow Man said without hesitation.
Checkmate. Jack paused. He knew the Hollow Man was right. The wearer would be safe but everyone around him would die. Even if the ring allowed one to control The Hollow Man sooner or later you had to sleep. The it would be out of your control. Worse yet, you couldn’t be in more than one place at a time. He suddenly felt trapped.
“If I take Thorn out and just leave the ring alone then…”
“Then I’ll kill you and everyone you care about, agent. Horribly. And with…”
“Immense amounts of pain. Yeah, I get it, jackass.” Jack ran his hand through his hair and paced around the kitchen. The Hollow Man just sat and stared at him in silence.
He stopped pacing. “Alright, what if I do get you the ring? How do I know you won’t kill everyone anyway?” The exasperation in his voice was apparent and he knew it. He wasn’t hiding any emotions from the creature.
The Hollow Man smiled. “Where is the fun in that? You get me that ring and I promise that I will not harm any of you. Cross my heart and pray for death. Isn’t that what you humans say?”
“No. Goddammit you’re annoying. And don’t be surprised but I’m not willing to take your word for it.”
“I will do you one better, agent. I will even do you one favor. Get me the ring and I will, how do you say it, ’owe you one?”
“Sure you will.”
“I am hurt that you don’t find me trustworthy,” The Hollow Man said in surprisingly good imitation of sarcasm.
“So I get you the ring and you leave us alone until we need you for something? Is that the deal?”
“I didn’t say that I would leave you alone.”
“No, that’s the deal. You get the ring and fuck off until we ask for your help. Then we’re even. Otherwise I put Sal on finding a way to get rid of you for good. There has to be a way to do it.”
“I don’t like the turn this conversation has taken,” it said sounding mildly annoyed.
“Take it or leave it. That’s what I am offering. Otherwise I go right to Thorn and tell him about this meeting.”
The Hollow man stood slowly. Again, the couch didn’t show any sign of him having been sitting there. “You are testing my patience, Jack. You are taking advantage of my good nature.”
“You don’t have any good nature. You’re an evil son of a bitch and I don’t like you. I can’t do anything about it but I’ll be damned if I will participate in it. That’s the deal. If you don’t like it be on your way or end this bullshit right here. But you won’t. You need us. My guess is that Thorn doesn’t know exactly what he’s got and you’re happy with that. We both want that guy to bleed. So as much as I hate to admit it, our goals are the same. I’ll get you your fuckin’ and you hit the road. That’s it.”
The Hollow Man stood in silence for a long moment. Then his joyless smile slowly spread across his face. Jack could see the hole between his teeth.
“Fair enough, Jack. Get me the ring and I won’t interfere with you and your team.”
“Or anyone else. No tricks. You’re completely hands off.”
“Fine. Get the ring and we have a deal.”
“Good. Now get the hell out of my apartment.”
“Fair enough.” The Hollow Man moved to the door, paused and turned back to Jack. “I will wait for your call for help, Jack.” With that he turned abruptly and passed through the door.
Jack waited a moment and then muttered under his breath, “Over my dead body. asshole.”
The Hollow Man leaned his head back through the door. “I heard that.” And he smiled.
That smiled looked remarkably real, Jack thought as a chill ran up his spine