story: shadowy illumination

shadowy illumination cover.jpg

So . . . I wrote another short story. I’m still not entirely sure what it is, exactly, so interpret it however you like. Here ya go!

Her gaze lingered far too long on the shadows.

The torchlit hall was full of them, flickering and vanishing only to appear again. When she’d captured one in her sight, it had remained for only a few moments before it vanished again. Still, it was enough to addict her.

She hungered for another glimpse, but the darkness hid from her sight every opportunity it got. The little moments in which she managed to see a trace of darkness, or even the smallest hint of it, served only to increase her hunger.

She was–technically–a light-dweller.

But that meant that she should be afraid of this place. That she should not have a shard of darkness in her heart. That she should be looking only to the glow of the light, not to the shadows from the lack of it.

No, that meant she shouldn’t be here at all, that curiosity and rebellion could not have gotten the best of her and led her to this forbidden place. Neither light-dwellers nor dark-dwellers belonged in the place that joined their worlds, but here she was.

She was a light-dweller, and yet . . .

Part of her wanted to pull away, and run until she was out in the glow of streetlights against cobblestones. But the other part of her, the one she’d only just discovered, wanted to stay, live in the danger of the flickering shadows, where you felt isolated but never were. She wanted to go farther.

She saw, then, to her partial horror, that she had grown her own shadow. She’d become more opaque, less transparent. More human, less ghost.

They were the signature marks of dark-dwellers, shadows–the darkness that followed them everywhere. It felt so different from the glow that came from being a light-dweller that for a moment, she had forgotten her indecision and just gaped.

The darkness was changing her, she realized, as more and more shadows became visible to her. They swirled around her, coming closer and closer until they began to rise out of the ground. The darkness encased her, waiting for her to make a decision.

It was what she needed, she said to herself. She needed to find the end of the hall and reach the dark-dwellers’ world. She needed to find somewhere she belonged.

And yet the light was still calling her back.

She looked over her options, not wanting to reach the decision she knew she’d have to make. At last, she reluctantly determined that she could not leave everything she knew behind. So she took a single step back, the dark cage around her dispersing. And then she took another, and another. She faced the hall even as she stepped back into her world of glass and ghosts and light.

And then she sealed the entrance to the dark hall once more.

When she finally did turn, and stepped into the streetlights’ glow, she did so as a ghost who was no longer ghostly. A living being in a land of the dead. All contradiction and longing and mismatched parts.

She wished to reach the end of the dark hall and find what lay there, and yet she had gone back to the safety of home.

The word brought an unexpected bitterness to her mouth. Home. That wasn’t here, not really. She knew this as well as she knew this world; she’d known the fact long enough that it had bored her. And though she had never been able to figure out where home was before, now she knew: it was at the end of the hall. It must be.

She grew stronger in her resolve to go there again. Whatever this place was, it was not where she belonged. Never had been and never would be.

She was–in her mind–a dark-dweller.

She could not stand the brightness and the glowing and the colorless clarity when she, herself, was polychromatic and all mixed up. She could not stand the illumination when she so preferred the shadows.

She was a dark-dweller, and yet . . .

The light had laid claim to her again. She was becoming ghostly as she had been before, and losing both the solidity she had found in the dark and the want to go there again. She was equally opaque and transparent now, equal parts shadow and glow, equally human and ghost.

It was not what she wanted.

She had to be one or the other, but not both, not a solitary thing that belonged nowhere at all. And that meant she had to make a final decision, and destroy the part of herself that was wrong.

She chose what she had always known, and gave up on dreams of a different life.

So on the day her magic came–for it came and went in unpredictable bursts–she locked herself up in a fortifying-room, made to strengthen a ghost’s magic by echoing it off the walls and returning it at quadruple the strength. She cast an enchantment that froze her shadow, then outlined it with a glowing finger. The illumination that came from the line was nearly blinding, but she did not let the light lessen. She enchanted the darkness in her, forced it out and locked it away with the shadow, but when the process was done what remained was half a being.

She could have been both, could have belonged anywhere she wished. She was meant to be a spectrum of light and dark, and break the borders between worlds.

But what she chose to be instead was a monster.

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