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.