The Hollow Gods
(The Chaos Cycle Series, #1)
Published by: Parliament House
Publication date: July 28th 2020
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Magical Realism, New Adult
Isolated in the forests of Western Canada, Black Hollow is a town with a dark secret. For centuries, residents have foretold the return of the Dreamwalker—an ominous figure from local folklore said to lure young women into the woods with the help of wolves, and possess them. Yet the boundary between fact and fable is blurred by a troubling statistic: every now and again, women do go missing. And after they return, they almost always end up dead.
When Kai wakes up next to the body of a recently missing girl, his memory blank, he struggles to clear his already threadbare conscience. Miya, a floundering university student, experiences signs that she may be the Dreamwalker’s next victim and finds herself caught between a supernatural kidnapping and a senseless murder. And after the death of a young patient, crestfallen oncologist Mason embarks on a quest to debunk the town’s superstitions, only to find his sanity tested.
Yet a maelstrom of ancient grudges, forgotten traumas, and deadly secrets loom in the foggy forests of Black Hollow. Can three unlikely heroes put aside their fears, and unite to confront a centuries old evil? Will they uncover the truth behind the fable, or will the cycle repeat?
When Miya returned from the dream, her eyes were already open, but she was unable to move—paralyzed even though she was wide awake. Her heart crashed against her ribs, and her breath caught in her throat, every tendon and muscle taut with desperation. She couldn’t open her mouth, scream, or even gasp for air. All she could do was look right in front of her.
The phantom woman from the dream hovered directly above her, her face inches away as she mirrored Miya’s prostrate form. Miya could see the mask clearly now—a hard, bone shell, shaped like a raven’s beak. It extended down her face in a sharp V, past her lips and over the edge of her chin. The mask was decorated with gleaming black and purple that swirled together like oil and water, slick against the smooth, flawless ivory. Her lips—quirked at the edges—descended towards Miya’s.
Miya squeezed her eyes shut, trying to kick and thrash—whatever she could do to get away. Her skin crawled with spiders, invisible parasites burrowing their way inside her until she was unable to fight the fear any longer. Miya implored the spectre, bargaining with the only thing she felt the woman might want.
I’ll go back to the dream, Miya told her. I’ll follow you—wherever you want. I swear. Please, just let me go.
Air rushed down Miya’s throat with such force that her lungs burned when she finally managed to gasp. Her eyes shot open, beads of sweat trickling down her face as she tore over every inch of her room. The apparition was no longer there.
Miya’s hand twitched as she flexed her fingers, testing her ability to move. She breathed in again, this time slower, willing herself to stop shaking but with little success. She’s no longer here, Miya repeated. Her mind was racing, her senses screaming, but she had, somehow, regained control.
Miya sat up, remembering what it was like to be inside her own body. She had the distinct sense of having gone somewhere she shouldn’t have—somewhere she risked never coming back from. A bizarre thought to have about a nightmare, but Miya knew in her bones that this was more than a dream. She’d looked into Medusa’s eyes and barely evaded turning to stone.
For a brief moment, the fog lifted, and she remembered the events of her first dream—the one that came before last night’s. Not only that, her knowledge of the fable had returned. In a frantic tumble, Miya threw herself at the bedside table and reached for her journal. She couldn’t afford to forget again; she had to write it down. She needed to know what came next. But the second the tip of her pen connected with the paper, Miya had no idea what to write. She stared down at the lines, her mind as blank as the page in front of her.
The dreams and the fable were gone.
A. J. Vrana is a Serbian-Canadian academic and writer currently residing in Toronto, Canada with her two rescue cats, Moonstone and Peanut Butter. Her doctoral research focuses on the supernatural in modern Japanese and former-Yugoslavian literature and its relationship to violence. When not toiling away at caffeine-fueled, scholarly pursuits, she enjoys jewelry-making, cupcakes, and concocting dark tales to unleash upon the world.
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Kai found himself standing barefoot in the woods. The faint smell of smoke wafted from somewhere nearby, voices shouting, closing in. Crimson blood soaked the mud and snow around him. Gradually, Kai realized he was surrounded by death. Animal limbs and entrails were strewn across the tainted earth. Alongside them lay mangled wolves, maimed and disfigured, the hinges of their jaws ripped open in grotesque snarls of agony. As he walked amidst the carnage, the smoke grew stronger, cinders rising to the sky as the smog thickened in his lungs.
The bloody trail led into a village. It smelled of Black Hollow, but there were no roads or cars, no buildings made of brick, and no alleyways to hide in. Houses were aflame, roofs collapsing as wood turned to ash. At the mouth of the tiny settlement was a pyre, ropes encircling a black, charred mass. It was shaped like a human, the outline of the skull still visible amidst the blaze, her mouth agape—frozen in a silent, eternal cry of terror.
A shrill call drew him back towards the red-soaked earth. A raven crawled, his wing broken and his leg writhing, towards the body of a dead child. The boy was pristine—midnight hair stark against his waxy skin, parted grey lips and glassy, lifeless eyes giving him the appearance of a porcelain doll. The raven bobbed his head as he curled his talon around the boy’s swollen fingers—that one, pearl black eye gleaming before he plunged his beak into the corpse’s abdomen, tunnelling his way inside. A satisfied rattle echoed from the scavenger’s bubbling throat as he devoured all he found, his slick form gradually disappearing as he burrowed into the hollowed cadaver.
The boy’s chest wall swelled, bulges pulsating under the flesh. His head lulled to the side, his jaw slackening with each undulating distention. The convulsions faded out, an eerie stillness following the possession before an arm jerked, a leg twitched—and finally, an aberrant gasp for air ripped through the boy. As if pulled by puppet strings, he flowed upright in one smooth motion, his hand twisting as the puppeteer grappled for control. Grasping the boy by his chin, the hand snapped the jaw back into place, teeth clamping together with a click…click…click. His neck jerked this way and that, snapping in and out of place before it grew accustomed to the new range of motion. Slowly, the head turned towards Kai, tilting to a near right angle—wide, pitch-black eyes boring into his soul.