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By Doug Blackford
You seldom think about the end of something when it is at its beginning. It is something new, perhaps a symbol or an advancement of what came before. It has its entire future ahead of it and may endure long after your own existence has ended. Yes, you may think about that part of the end — your own, but seldom a thought towards the end of the creation you leave behind.
I remembered when it was built. I saw it when it was new. I walked its hallowed halls. I spoke in its main chamber. I also recall burying its architect, one friend among countless others I have bid goodbye over the centuries. Time lays low all things, eventually. Like water, it is persistent and patient and cares not one whit about your opinion of it. It is inevitable.
It was built from stones carved from the same moors in which it stood. A great swath of The Highlands that had known nothing but clan wars for centuries surrounded it in all directions. The Bloody Moors, they had once been called. I had shed more than my share of blood on them, my own and others. If all the dead here rose at once, there would be a considerable population problem. There was no end to it, until High Church.
There had been churches built, spreading the word of the Christian God and converting many of my people from their pagan worship. It did not stop the warring between clans. It only gave them more reasons and excuses to prove they were more “righteous” than the other clans. If anything, it made things worse. In my many centuries of life, I have witnessed more people killed in the name of religion than any other reason.
Such was not the case with High Church. It was part church, part combat arena, part government, and all neutral. No weapons were allowed inside its walls. All disputes had two avenues of recourse — diplomacy or combat, sometimes both. All physical confrontations were to take place in the arena and were to be unarmed. The stakes and rules inside the arena were determined by the participants and no interference was allowed. Any infraction of any rule had one warning and one of two penalties. Many were banned from ever stepping foot within the walls again, and a few dozen were executed in the early years, but it became clear that it made more sense to just obey the rules.
No clan had any more authority or rights within High Church than any other. All were treated as equal, whether small clan or large. The Bishop of High Church was the ultimate authority within its walls, but held none over the clans themselves. That dubious honor belonged to the Lord or Lady of High Church, though I only recall one Lady. He, or she, was elected each equinox and could serve no more than two consecutive terms, so one full year.
I tell you this because it worked. The wars didn’t completely stop. Not immediately. It’s in our blood and we do not care much for change. How’s that for irony? Me, reluctant to change. Ha! In any case, it did reduce the warring between clans. In time, over a century in fact, they did stop. You had the occasional border skirmish, but no more all-out clan-against-clan wars that decimated our population. High Church became the central seat of government and we enjoyed a relatively peaceful and prosperous 150 years. Then invasion came. Like the aforementioned water and time, it was inevitable. We had something others wanted. Too often, when someone wants something someone else has and they perceive themselves to be the stronger of the two, they try to take what they want. Such was the case, but they erred. As I said, war is in our blood. It was never far below the surface — just banked like a fire in the hearth. It kindled back to full flame in an instant.
Time destroys all things eventually, but humans usually get to it first. I lost everyone that was still important to me over those years. I have lost many more friends over the centuries since. There have been many more wars. There have been other creations as great as High Church, but they too have been laid low. Most recently, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris suffered that fate. Almost 200 years to finish its construction, then laid low in a single night.
Why I still live, I cannot tell you for sure. I was born in the sixth century, though I can’t say exactly when. We used seasons to mark time. Calendars haven’t been around forever, and they have changed a few times since we started using them, plus I really don’t remember a precise year, much less a month and day. The best I can figure is I upset or killed the wrong person in my youth and was cursed for it.
I don’t know if I can die. I have tried a few times, but I always wake up all in one piece. Sometimes years will have passed or I will find myself buried. I was buried for a long time once. Over 120 years had passed when I saw the sun again. Some would say, “Immortality! Give me some of that!” It is not an exhilarating existence. I have known a multitude of people, some famous, and I have seen some amazing things and places, some now forgotten, but I am tired. And empty.
War will always be in my blood, but I no longer have any passion. I care for nothing. Death no longer moves me or angers me. Life no longer amazes me. Beauty leaves no impression upon me. I have lost all faith in humanity. I have seen too much, but I cannot even remove my eyes to stop seeing it. They grow back. I only wish for it to end, but I have no idea how to end it.
And so, I sit here in The Bloody Moors, next to the last remains of High Church, waiting for I know not what. I can hear the vernal equinox celebration coming from the town bearing its name over and down the hill. All they know are mostly wrong stories about how their town got its name. High Church has become like me. We are both empty and irrelevant, echoes from the past with nothing but hollow shells to mark our existence in this age.
I sit and I wait. I am The Hollow.
Please visit Doug at his blog: https://smithandscribe.wordpress.com