Ex Luminary

When I started competing the audiences were vast.  It was a mad time, really.  It was theatre mixed with science mixed with bloodshed mixed with personality disorder writ large, and the crowds lapped it up.  I was somewhat a celebrity in those days.  But I was younger then, of course, with bright, burnished muscles gleaming beneath the gauge asymmetry spotlights.  The strain of battle and the strain of sleeplessness have taken their toll since then.

The first competitions were underground events.  They grew out of military experiments aimed at manipulating photons for purposes of disguise or weaponry.  The underground days were short-lived, though, once the media took notice and ran with the story.  A lot of drivel was talked then about how our events marked the ultimate challenge of a man’s fighting spirit.  I always dismissed it as drivel, though it’s true the risks are real.  It’s also true that, unlike with traditional combat, the risks never end.

But it was natural for me to seek out those events.  Fighting for a livelihood has been at the root of my family for generations, an ancestral calling it would shame me to avoid.  So, I joined the largest Sciamachy Academy I could find and started to make my reputation.

The spotlights were the key.  Able to manipulate and stimulate photons at different levels of the colour spectrum, they could separate a man from his shadow.  It’s puzzling when you first learn how much your own shadow really hates you, wants to break you into pieces and stamp out any trace of you.  It seems illogical until you start to consider the relationship from the shadow’s point of view.

That was what the vast audiences paid to see.  In the specially reflective, sealed globe of an arena, with the spotlights beating down and setting your shadow free at your side, men and women fought this other part of themselves.  Of course, shadows have no interest in rules or sporting regulations and so the injuries could be extreme.  In the early days, especially, numerous deaths occurred before the offending spotlights could be shut down.

We all suffered badly.  When you stare into your shadow’s bleak and featureless face, feel its fingers locked seamlessly tight around your throat; watch your blood fountain through its shifting outline… well, you gain a new insight into what vulnerability means.  And so, during my career, I gained lots of insights I never wanted much.

After the sport was no longer officially sanctioned it returned underground, put on at travelling circuses and such.  That’s where I still make a living.  Because you can’t ever retire, not once your shadow gets a taste of freedom and clings to the hope of still using it.

You see, they’re infinitely patient, they never tire or lose faith.  They never lose contact with their target and we motivate their spite with every careless gesture they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves.  So, I try my best to get some sleep under the blazing lights I switch on each night, to keep my opponent at bay when I’ve no defences ready.

Then every morning I listen out.  Because that shadow of mine walks with a limp I don’t have, courtesy of one of my victories.  So, I keep checking to hear how it’s dragging up behind me; checking that its paces match my own, exactly, and don’t close in more abruptly than is healthy.


This is a second piece of flash fiction written in response to the Wordle Challenge #29 at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, where all stories in the link-up were prompted by the wordle at the bottom of this post.  The rules are that at least 10 of the given words are to be used. This time all of the words appear in the story.


12 thoughts on “Ex Luminary

  1. Another outstanding submission! I love the concept of literally boxing your shadow and you can really feel the venom of that unspoken companion. I love that the character keeps an eye on the shadow in the closing, pure brilliance!

    • Oh, thanks! Well, if you agree to start battling your own shadow it’s not an arrangement you’re ever going to walk away from easily – but then battles have a tendency to be like that, anyway. So many “cakewalk” battles still rumble on a decade later.

  2. Okay, now …. this story is enough to spark a bit of paranoia … never again will I think, “oh, it’s just a *shadow*” because my shadow might *really* be out to kill me! [shudder!] So many powerful images — that limping shadow, blood pouring through its outlines — wow. Just. Wow.

    And — until you mentioned the wordle at end — I had no idea this was prompt-driven. Sometimes wordles seem forced — not this one.

    A great story —

      • A distraction?!? Oh my! Prose like this would have driven me straight into haiku-ville! 😉

        So envious of your skills in prose — really, I am 😀

      • Well, you see, I’m even more admiring of your ability to conjure fantastic images and phrase them so lyrically in so short a space, now that I’ve started to sketch haiku of my own.

        The haiku pieces I’ve worked on so far have quite plain language, more so than some passages in my stories, I think. Not sure if that’s because I’m feeling my way or simply that the directness of haiku steers me towards fairly direct phrasing in that form. Will have to see… 🙂

  3. Stunning post, dear Sue… You did a great job working through the lights and shades, whilst making them opposite poles of the spectrum (” The strain of battle and the strain of sleeplessness have taken their toll since then”). I liked the way you confront them and how they fight in the battlefield (Those “underground events”)
    These sentence is truly powerful as it kind of resolves the antinomy: ” It seems illogical until you start to consider the relationship from the shadow’s point of view”…
    I just wanted to add these two fragments by Heraclitus which illustrate the battle and union of opposites:
    “What opposes unites, and the finest attunement stems from things bearing in opposite directions, and all things come about by strife”. (Fragment DK22b8).
    “The path up and down is one and the same”. (Fragment DK22b60).
    Thank you very much for sharing and all my best wishes to you!, Aquileana 😀

    • Wow how cool to receive a comment quoting Heraclitus! He and Diogenes were always my favourite Greek philosophers – such fascinating characters and observers of the world 🙂

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story and thanks so much for your thoughtful and clever observations, dear Aquileana!

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