MONSTER FEATURE! FIENDS OF ALBION. THIS WEEK: HOLLOW MEN.
Albion’s leading newspaper is proud to present the first in a series of interviews with noted historian and monster expert Atticus Croddle. We sent investigative reporter Penelope Chumley to speak with the eccentric creaturologist.
Entering the home of Atticus Croddle puts one in mind of a violent and rather objectionable amalgam of a butcher’s shop, a museum, a library and a taxidermist’s. Books and journals fight for space with severed paws and monstrous heads. Grisly specimens bob up and down in green-tinted jars. The smell of dry blood, wet ink and embalming fluid shocks the nostrils, while a menagerie of unearthly, stuffed creatures assaults the eyes and nerves. Yet no sight is quite so disconcerting as Mr Croddle himself. His perpetually bewildered stare, his sallow skin, his incontrollable tics – they all add up to what may be the most fascinating creature of all: the Albion scholar.
PC: I would like to begin by asking you about perhaps the most misunderstood inhabitant of our fair land, the hollow man. What can you tell us about these beings?
AC: Well, Penelope, we actually understand much more about them than we once did. Hundreds of years ago, when the world still believed in Heroes, people referred to them simply as the undead. A terrible misnomer, since they are very much dead. It is us, who are alive, who ought to be called undead. Or, in another example, you, who are quite short, might reasonably be called untall. And…
PC: Fascinating, but about these hollow men…
AC: Ah, yes. It was the great naturalist Bartholomew Briggard who first coined the term hollow man, after noticing that these reanimated corpses, often fallen soldiers, only stirred into unnatural life when a magical ball of light, known as a wisp, dove into the ground and entered the empty shell of a human cadaver. We believe these wisps to be the spirits of the dead – tormented souls stuck in this world, availing themselves of the nearest dead body to express their rage towards the living.
PC: But couldn’t they express that rage by, say, writing a strongly worded message to our Letters page?
AC: No, no. You see, hollow men possess only the most rudimentary of intelligences…
PC: Have your read our Letters page?
AC: Ah, but you must remember that these are fallen soldiers, sometimes ancient warriors, sometimes casualties of recent wars. It is in their very nature to be belligerent. And, being dead and rather limited in their higher faculties, they cannot help but be slaves to that nature.
PC: Is it true they come in many flavours?
AC: I haven’t tasted enough of them to say with any certainty, but they can indeed vary in size and strength. Higher ranking soldiers would seem to make the most hardy and dangerous hollow men. Most prefer the use of a rusty sword, others prefer to hurl missiles, and yet others have mastered the use of shields. And, while they have traditionally been slow, lumbering things, I have recently observed an alarming new strain that moves towards its victim at great speed and explodes on impact.
PC: That is hardly sporting. They’re zombies, after all.
AC: Now, now, Penelope. We mustn’t use that word. It is wholly inadequate and considered highly insulting in some circles.
PC: Of course, how could I forget the Hollow Man Anti-Defamation League.
AC: They are not to be trifled with. I’ve had a few of them boycott my experiments.
It is at this point that I notice a muffled sound coming from a cupboard behind Mr Croddle. The cupboard’s door rattles briefly before our preeminent naturalist silences it with a backheel kick. His already anxious eyes fix on me in a most unnerving manner.
PC: Finally, the question all our readers have been asking themselves: are hollow men actually hollow?
AC: Not at all. I have a torso round here somewhere if you would care to poke around inside.
PC: That’s all right. Thank you, Mr Croddle. I look forward to chatting about more of Albion’s fiends in the near future.