Welcome to my stop on the book tour for A. J. Vrana’s The Hollow Gods. I want to thank Justine & Timy @ Storytellers on Tour for letting me be involved and a big shoutout to Ms. Vrana on her new release!
Make sure to check out the rest of the tour by hitting up the schedule link here!
Below you will find information on the book and author, alongside Chapter 1 of the novel. Check it out!
The Hollow Gods by A. J. Vrana
Published: July 28, 2020 by The Parliament House
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Horror, Magical Realism
Age Group: New Adult / Adult
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 and possess them. Yet the boundary between fact and fable is blurred by a troubling statistic: occasionally, women do go missing. And after they return, they almost always end up dead.
When Kai wakes up next to the lifeless 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. Can she trust Kai as their paths collide, or does he herald her demise?
And after losing a young patient, crestfallen oncologist, Mason, embarks on a quest to debunk the town’s superstitions, only to find his sanity tested.
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?
MIYA HAD ALWAYS BEEN OBSESSED with the hidden. What
lurked beneath the veneer of a perfect smile or the façade
of Stepford contentment? What cracks hid under the
polish, threatening to topple the entire structure?
But behind the gloss of the British Columbia logo
printed on the envelope in her hand, Miya knew exactly
what she’d find. She tore it open, not caring that whatever
was inside became collateral damage. Piecing it back
together, she forced her eyes to scan over the page.
Dear Miss Emiliya Delathorne,
After careful review of your academic performance, the
Faculty of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences regrets to inform you
that you have been placed on academic probation for failing to
meet the Satisfactory Progress Policy requirements outlined
Sweat pooled at the back of her neck as her eyes tripped
over every word.
No notation will appear on your official university transcript.
You can review the Satisfactory Progress Policy on our registrar’s
Miya tossed the letter aside, uninterested in the rest.
How the hell did it get this bad? she thought, her stomach
knotting with guilt. Her parents would be gutted. They’d
agreed to pay for the semester, and they expected results.
Distance learning was intensive, so they’d hoped to lessen
the pressure to find gigs, allowing her more time to study.
But scraping rent money together was still on Miya’s shoulders.
She was late again this month, and her ostentatious
landlady, Patricia, was running dry on charity.
Digging a shallow grave in the sand with her shoe, Miya
kicked the letter in and ground it into the dirt. She shifted
on the swing and gripped the rusted chains at her sides,
staring across the hazy white field where vendors would set
up the market in a few hours. Her audience, an endless
blanket of towering trees, loomed from the perimeters of
the meadow only a few paces from where she sat.
For as long as Miya had lived in Black Hollow—an
insignificant dent in British Columbia’s temperate rainforests—
the market was next to the abandoned playground
on the edge of the misty black woods for which the town
was named. Whenever fog descended on Black Hollow, the
surrounding forest’s emerald lustre seemed to darken. For
twelve years, Miya had been returning to the old swing by
that viridescent sea—especially on nights like this. She
could find it blindfolded.
Don’t lose your way, she heard the wind hiss an ominous
spell, or there’ll be hell to pay.
Feathers kissed the back of Miya’s neck and she shuddered,
jumping from the swing and spinning towards the
forest. Some said the playground was haunted, and it wasn’t
unusual to hear voices in the wind, beckoning innocent
bystanders to approach—or sometimes, to run away.
But Miya wasn’t one to shy away from the unknown.
“I’m not lost,” she called to the darkness. “I know exactly
where I am.”
The declaration was met with silence. Miya sighed and
reached down for her bag when the nearby shrubs rustled.
A raven swooped down to the swing and cawed, his wings
flapping as he steadied himself.
Miya squinted at the bird—barely visible in the dim
blue light before dawn. “Tough luck. I’m going home,” she
told him and turned to leave, but a flurry of feathers and
the scrape of talons on the back of her skull stopped her.
“Jesus!” She flailed her arms over her head and turned
back towards the swing, only to find the raven still perched
there. It was like he hadn’t moved at all.
He canted his head and chortled.
“How did you—”
Before she could finish, the rustling from the woods
grew louder, more persistent. There was someone there.
It was a faint murmur, barely audible in the open air.
Dropping her bag, Miya rushed towards the trees. As she
kicked past the shrubs, she reared back when she saw a
young woman clinging to a nearby branch for support. In
the pale glow of sunrise stretching across the sky, Miya
caught a glimpse of her face and recognized her immediately.
“Elle!” she gasped, rushing to catch the swooning girl.
Although she was slight, Elle crashed onto Miya’s shoulder
like deadweight. She was barely conscious, her skin cold as
ice, and her teeth chattered as she grasped weakly at Miya’s
They didn’t know each other personally, but it was hard
to go a day without hearing Elle’s name. She’d been missing
for almost a week.
After struggling to pull her from the woods, Miya
combed her over for injuries, but aside from a few scratches
and shadows clinging to the hollows of her eyes, she
appeared unharmed. Miya stripped off her jacket and
wrapped it around Elle’s trembling frame, then pulled her
phone from her back pocket and dialed the police.
“I’ve found Elle Robinson,” she blurted out when the
operator answered. The voice on the other end perked up.
“Yes, she’s alive, but I think she needs medical
After hanging up, Miya sat down next to the huddled
teenager and rubbed her shoulders, awkwardly attempting
to warm her up. Her knee-length nightgown was fraying
near the hem, the ivory satin soiled from tumbling through
the woods. She was fiddling with the thin gold chain around
her neck when she looked up. Who—or what—could have
done this to her?
“You,” Elle trailed off, wide eyes trained on Miya. “You
told me to stay away from Black Hollow.”
Miya dropped her hands from the young woman’s shoulders.
“I think you might be confused,” she replied. “We’ve
She must have been a bit loopy from dehydration.
Miya burned to ask where she’d been, what had
happened to her, but it felt ill-timed. When the police
arrived, they took Miya’s statement as the ambulance carted
Elle off to the hospital.
“Think it was the Dreamwalker?” she caught one of the
officers whispering, only to be hushed by the lead detective.
“We don’t deal with boogeymen, only criminals,” he
chided. He turned to Miya and shook her hand, smiling
“It’s a miracle you were here,” Detective Brandon
Hughes told her. “You saved her life, Emiliya.”
“Fateful timing, I guess.” Miya revelled in the praise.
Detective Hughes offered her a ride home, and she happily
accepted. He didn’t ask what she’d been doing out before
dawn and seemed perfectly content to dole out kind words.
Miya ate them up like all-you-can-eat sundaes. Her
heart swelled, the memory of the probation letter already
fading. She’d done something amazing—even if by accident
—and it was enough to momentarily abate the existential
Perhaps even the shallowest grave was deep enough to
Miya was riotous with motivation. She wrote a
statement to her university, acknowledging full
responsibility for her shortcomings and imploring the
administration for a second chance. The letter teemed with
vulnerability, heart-felt apologies, and promises to get back
on track. Without even waiting for a response, Miya began
preparing for her triumphant return.
But when the article on Elle Robinson’s disappearance
came out, Miya’s chest tightened as she scanned the story.
There was no mention of her contribution. Still, she
snipped the news piece from the diner’s free paper when no
one was looking and kept it as a memento—a reminder of
how good it felt to do something right.
As the days blurred together, so did the print in Miya’s
textbooks. A week later, her bank statement arrived with a
number stamped at the top: $41.52. Her gut clenched and,
with a defeated sigh, she let the letter drift into the trash
can. Miya had saved ten times that by her final year of high
Now she was fast approaching her twenty-first birthday,
but there would be little reason to celebrate.
Rolling off the futon wedged between her stickercovered
dresser and dull, grey-blue walls, Miya stumbled out
of her room. The final rays of orange and red were disappearing
from the tiny window nestled in the corner by the
door. After a few nights of no sleep, time whirled by like a
high-speed train. Insomnia was that clingy, unwelcome
guest who couldn’t take a hint when they weren’t wanted
It didn’t help that Miya’s browser was littered with tab
after tab of job listings she didn’t have the courage to
respond to. If she got an interview and went dressed as a
semi-mature twenty-something-year-old, she’d be found out
for what she really was: an imposter. They’d realize she was
only pretending to give a damn about their campy mission
statement and it would all be over. Capitalism would be
done with her, and she’d be forced to join a commune somewhere
in the mountains where taxes couldn’t find her.
Going somewhere no one could find her, on the other
hand, didn’t sound bad.
Miya got dressed and dragged herself to the door, but as
her hand touched the knob, she glimpsed something
darting across the room from the corner of her eye. She
whirled around and came face-to-face with the wall—blank
as a canvas save for the shadows cast by furniture.
Just my imagination playing tricks on me again.
Turning away from the mosaic of shadows, she left her
basement studio with the playground burning in her mind.
After so many years, the walk was automatic. Miya
knew that she was close when the buildings grew sparse and
the sidewalk turned to gravel. At the intersection with the
town’s faded green welcome sign and the crooked maple,
she ambled up the hill and through the field where the
farmer’s market operated on weekends.
The swings were still coppery with rust and weeds
protruded from the wooden curb framing the playground.
Miya caught the corner of her probation letter poking out
from the sand, so she scooped some up and piled it on top
for good measure.
The world had gone dark, and the sound of cicadas filled
the air like an orchestra in an amphitheatre. Miya looked
towards the forest and fixed her gaze on a spot between the
trees near where she’d found Elle. It wasn’t the first time
she’d seen something unusual there.
She remembered being eight years old and swinging
towards the sky when a swift movement in her periphery
pulled her attention from the clouds. Digging her foot into
the sand like an anchor, she scanned the edge of the clearing.
A shadow slithered somewhere behind the trees. Breath
held, Miya listened to the foliage rustle as the shape moved
closer to the light. Moments later, an animal emerged—a
wolf. Ears erect, posture stiff and alert, it watched her with
uncanny attention as she in turn watched it. She was too
enthralled to remember the ominous stories townsfolk
whispered about wolves. She even forgot they were
Every time Miya excavated this memory, she imagined
locking eyes with the wolf. She didn’t remember the colour
of the animal’s coat, but those eyes remained clear in her
mind—large, curious, and full of life. Seconds later her
name was called, the sound of it lashing through the air and
striking her from her fixation. By the time she looked back,
the wolf was gone.
Miya never told anyone what she’d seen that day. How
could she in a town where people were frightened of a
The Dreamwalker and her wolf.
Every child had heard the story a thousand times, and
like some rite of passage into adulthood, they were
constantly reminded of how important it was to the town’s
history and culture. People in Black Hollow believed in
fairy tales. And while Miya loved the idea of fables hidden
beneath the veil of the mundane, she’d yet to unearth
anything truly spellbinding. After all, the wolf didn’t spirit
her away into the Dreamwalker’s arms.
Still, she kept returning to the playground, hoping to see
the wolf someday. It was her sanctuary from everything she
didn’t want to face. Maybe it was childish, but Miya
lamented that reality wasn’t a fairy tale she could rewrite
with the power of her imagination. Reality wasn’t timeless
or enchanting; it was finite and perilous.
There was no forever-after in Black Hollow or anywhere
else. Eventually, Miya would have to rip herself free from
this inertia and moving away seemed a seductive option.
What did she have to lose? She could go to a new city, shed
all self-imposed expectations and start over. Eventually,
she’d make enough to pay back her family. All she’d leave
behind would be a good friend and a sea of false hope.
Miya’s bones pulsed with excitement; she could finally
get a clean start. Tomorrow, she’d pull a blindfold over her
eyes and drop a pin on the map. Wherever gravity wedged
it, she’d make her new home.
The moon hung low in the clear night sky, and several
stars glimmered over the pitch-black field. Sitting on the
swing, Miya clutched the chains on either side of her and
bent over backwards until her hair touched the sand. As she
stared off into the meadow, she saw shadows shapeshifting
like those on her wall. But one of them wasn’t wavering like
the others. It was solid, a figure she couldn’t quite make out.
Rather than waxing and waning, it slowly but surely moved
closer. Miya realized the shape belonged to a person—a
man tall enough to be intimidating in the dead of night.
She thought back to Elle, left with no memory of what
happened, and stories of other girls who’d come before her.
Maybe it wasn’t a spirit.
Maybe it was a person.
Miya sat up and gathered her things. As she threw on
her shoulder bag, the man paused as though he’d caught
sight of her. They both froze, like two animals meeting by
chance in territory they’d each claimed. The hairs on the
back of Miya’s neck stood on end, and before the man
could take another step, the headline of her memento came
back to her.
Another missing girl found at Old Market Playground.
Miya bolted through the field, leaving her memories
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A. J. Vrana is a Serbian-Canadian academic and writer from Toronto, Canada. She lives with her two rescue cats, Moonstone and Peanut Butter, who nest in her window-side bookshelf and cast judgmental stares at nearby pigeons. Her doctoral research examines 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.