Ant Smith

All stories

In shadows

It's a congenital condition. Perhaps easiest to think of it as albinism in reverse. I can not leave the light. They tell me. I suppose I know it to be true. Those singular moments. That feeling of a heart not stilled but ripped apart. When the light died, and my shadow was lost. I was born you see with my heart in my shadow, and a shadow in my chest. Sharing this vital part of me with a malformed twin conjoined by the light. I call him Judas. I don't like him so very much.

Judas likes to skulk in corners. Always trying to slip under the bed or cosying up with the thuggish pools of Ikea furniture umbras. The darkest part of any shadow will call him and have him creeping off with scant regard for what it means to me. What it means to us. For if I lose my shadow I lose my heart and slip into the deepest darkness that is death. Twice they've resuscitated me back into this life of eternal light. And both times I could feel the repugnant joy Judas felt in the boundless freedom the consuming dark brought him. I could feel that part of him in my chest swelling to hideous proportion. Bursting against fragile cracking ribs. Oozing out along the fine lines of veins and capillaries. Lattice working my skin with a web of nothingness, of anti-being. Twisting flesh and muscle into a paroxysm of pleasure and pain. It hurts to let him free.

Sometimes we play chess. He's rubbish and often loses. He says its my fault, that I don't move his pieces right. We bicker and often abandon the game. But then the frigid boredom of our shared prison of this controlled environment grips us both and I see him languidly reaching out for some new slither of shadow cast by a carelessly positioned bottle of sauce or library book. He can be a right bastard.

Sometimes if I fall asleep by the window the setting sun will give him arms that can stretch from floor to ceiling. I will wake with a start and a shudder when his grasping fingers scratch at the edges of my defensive pools of artificial flood lights. He screams like a banshee when I leap back to the centre of my safety zone leaving him a but a spot on the floor. A pinprick of red at the centre, my beating heart. Sometimes he doesn't talk for days when I've had to treat him that way.

Then he will take to imploring me. Begging. Pleading. In a slippery slithering tongue. Cajoling. Promising. 'Please. Just a little touch. Just a little taste. We'll like it so much. Together. Just you and me. Free in the darkness. Together in the darkness.' Stirring up the bile in my gut. I hate this light. This constant optimistic flood. This will of technology conquering nature. And I know I want to pull the plug. I know I want to give in to what he asks. I yearn to buy umbrellas.

We play chess. We read. We pluck sullenly at guitar strings. Inside a focused pool of light. A hint of infinity skirting the edges. An under current. A single shared beating heart. A shadow in my chest.

And then we hear the news.

Shadows it seems, shadows can be killed. A case like ours, in Calcutta. Less extreme. A girl with a shadow breast. A shadow with a girl's breast. Conjoined by the light. Lactating the finest Indian ink. Separated. Torn apart. The shadow self swallowed by a close proximity macro-field black hole. The girl survived. As did the discorporate gland, albeit as little more than a momento mori.

Judas wasn't happy.

"It's the very darkness you've always longed for", I beseech him.

"It's all fish and porcelain" was the only sense I could get from him.

He'd always had a weird way of talking. Somehow using metaphors that to any right mind just weren't. But I could just about get along in a normal conversation. Which this wasn't.

"Mackerel, bream, cod and tuna."

"Stop listing extinct fish and listen"

He was very effectively conjuring images of heaps of dead stinking fish in my mind, with fine china cups and sauces wobbling atop. The whole scene was making me feel queasy and uneasy. I guess that's what he meant.

The darkness he was being offered made him feel queasy and uneasy. And not just himself. Since it had arrived it was as though he had been excommunicated. I no longer had to continually be on my guard against his slipping off into a huddle of darker indistinct shadows. They would come nowhere near him. You could almost see the other shadows twisting out of his way. That at least was a relief. But I couldn't feel comfortable with the sense of apparent danger that hung in the air.

The device was small, like an old fashioned wrist watch, but once activated it wouldn't stop hoovering up shadows until I sealed it. In comparison, the retro-fitting of our one shared heart into the space from where my shadow emanates would be, routine. Dull. Mundane.

So why prevaricate? Judas had shaped and defined my entire life and I had a deep rooted bitter hatred of him. Like a junky hates a needle. Like a blasphemer hates a tongue. Like a father hates a son. I shall be glad to be rid of him. To sleep in peace with the dark. To be the master of my own heart.

I fasten the clasp. It's the last thing I have to do. Judas, a mere shadow speck right now had stopped his chatter. He was behaving more like the shadow of a puppy dog than the shadow of a man now. Big baleful black circles where his big baleful eyes would be. I never came to conclusion if I was acting rightfully of wrongfully. I was just following the steps. Charging the nano bots. Scrubbing the theatre area. Adjusting the lights. Ticking the instructions off in their numbered sequence. I fasten the clasp.

Judas screams as though all of his remaining allotted screams were being ripped out of his body at once. A scream so chilling and piercing that I see his fingernails fall off. His toenails too. And from his uncapped extremities his essence begins to leak; to turn about upon itself; in a slow helical pirouette. Gathering speed and momentum. Discorporating only to reform as a dark matter dust devil tornado. With a heart of red at the very eye. Before blacking out, I came to understand what it means not to die but to be ripped from existence. The last thing I felt was a knot of anti space forming in my chest, given chase by the scuttle of a dozen tiny robotic feet.

I don't now sleep in the dark. Or buy umbrellas. All of a sudden I find, that which had been denied me, holds no sway. For although I hate this life of eternal light, I do not particularly care for the loneliness that I find in the night.