Monday, 4 April 2011

The Hollow Man by Quin Herron

When I was seven years old, my heart began to fail. Slowly, the vital regularity of my heartbeat began to lessen and lessen. I could no longer run through the rye-grass down the road, or play baseball in warm summer evenings. Soon it became almost impossible for me to climb the steps up to my room. And of course, the knowledge that my life was coming to a premature and slow end weighed down on every step I took--each one closer to death.

Earlier that year someone had invented a device: a three dimensional printer that could reproduce human organs. They could simply take a few cells from my heart, put it in a strange, protoplasmic ooze and create a brand new one. My mother and father wrote hundreds of letters to all sorts of people, pleading for the life of their slowly dying son. I still have the picture they used in my wallet, the one they inserted into every letter. I'm wearing a white t-shirt that's too big for me, my baseball helmet, and a gapped smile. Complete with the baseball bat in my hand I looked positively American. The news media responded, and I became a poster child for modern medicine.

I remember sitting in my hospital bed, exhausted, as a mustached newsman put a microphone in my face and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I looked at him with sleepy, confused eyes, thinking to myself what kind of question is that? I told him, with a dry mouth and a weak voice:


Everyone in the room quieted down, and all I could hear was the slow sound of the heart monitor. Finally I could get some sleep.

Of course, with the media involved, nobody had a choice, and the first organic man-made heart transplant was performed.

That was two thousand five-hundred and thirty-five years ago. I can still remember it like it was this morning.

By the time I was forty-seven years old, the only part of me that remained from when I was born was my brain. Everything else had failed at some point in my life in the same excruciatingly slow way. As every part died, it was replaced. It seemed that God wanted me to die more than anyone else, while everyone down on earth wanted me to keep on living.

When I was one-hundred and fifty years old, I thought I would die at any moment, but my mind and body were just as sharp as they had been over a century before. People began to fear me, a few tried to kill me. I hid myself away. The technology to create organs disappeared in one of the wars, and I have never met anyone like me. Everyone I knew from that time is dead, and all I have left are my memories.

I have been a professor of Mathematics, a columnist, a philosopher, a theologian, a monk, a technician, a peacebringer, a gravedigger, an engineer, a poet, and, lately, I have called myself pilgrim. I have seen men, women, and children killed needlessly, and I have seen a forest burned to the ground and then grow itself back to its original glory. I have seen civilizations lose their memory, and great cities reduce themselves to ash. I have seen mankind take flight into space, and I have seen the faces on the astronauts who returned from their long journey to say that there is nothing out there, nothing. There is no world for us to escape to. There is nothing but gas, dust, and ghosts.

I have seen humanity come to the verge of its own destruction five times. I have seen everyone I knew as a child die and fade into the universe. I have met my descendants and felt relieved that they do not look like me.

I have learned that war is not a state or a decision but a regular occurence partaken by every kind of person, and that peace is better categorized as an abnormality. People--whole nations--forgot what they found good in this world, what for a little while made them happy and secure and comforted, and they moved on to something else.

Things are basically the same, only the names have changed.

There are times I wonder whether I will die myself, or if indeed I have beaten death into submission, or if he has decided to wander off to bigger and better things. The only time I came close in two thousand years was when I was browsing in a market and was robbed at knife-point by a pale man with only five teeth. I gave him everything I had, and asked if he wanted my clothes as well. His eyes became filled with confusion and horror, and then he ran away.

Still, after all these years I fear death, and sometimes as I drift off to sleep or walk through the darkness I can feel his cold, wet breath on my cheek.

Now I wander through desolation and splendor, through shining cities and smoggy slums. I hear the whispers of lonely misfits and lonely emperors as they lie in bed at night, unable to sleep as they ponder the inevitable nothingness that lies before them. And their whispers echo.


About the author

Quin Herron is an undergraduate English/Creative Writing student at the University of San Francisco. 

Picture Credit: Howie Le