prompt: shadow, title: stark relief in "the next big thing" flash fiction

  • June 6, 2022, 1:59 p.m.
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  • Public

The peril of a city with endless shine, sunrise to sunset three-sixty-five, is the way the brightest lights also cast the darkest shadows. The deep azures of sky and sea, that white-hot beating you down from all angles above, a void twice your size and twice as well-defined as you’ll ever be, follows you endlessly. L.A. requires no magic to do that to us, just extant quirks of geography.

It’s a metaphor. Nature and magic tease us with such metaphors. Language taunts us with such metaphors. English, pluriform mutt that she is, contains vast multitudes explicating how absurd humanity is, puns and double-meanings, trying to get us in on the jokes. Language isn’t wholly cruel, after all, she wants to laugh with us, not simply at us.

A metaphor for how we all live in shadows, each in one particular shadow cast in an individual way, when each of us are hit by that same blisteringly indifferent nearest star. We all live in the shadow of who we think we could’ve been, might’ve been, should’ve been. Worse yet, what we think we could still be if we weren’t such miserable failures. Darkness chasing us from cradle to grave. The stronger the limelight, the darker it looms, dragging us down to ground with hopes.

We don’t get what we want, or worse, we get what we want after having changed so much while trying to get it, we don’t want it anymore. Old dreams transubstantiated into waking nightmares.

It isn’t just us garden-variety failures, either. A city lousy with millionaires who cry themselves to sleep because they’ll never host Saturday Night Live, folks who hosted Saturday Night Live who drink themselves to sleep because they’ll never be asked to run for governor, with former governors sulking in their money bins because they’ll never be crowned God-Emperor. Failure, entirely relative but failure’s shadow eternal, regardless of scope.

For Mitzi, the beauty she needed to make people pay attention to her talent. She ended up in the city of angels, no longer able to hear their sweet songs. For the scientist, to get to live a full life without his nervous system betraying him. He descended into cruel madness. For myself, to get my name up in lights, to make my family proud. What did it get me? A broken heart and a few less years with my father before a heart attack killed him.

All Frank had wanted as a child was to get away from his people, where he was a midget and a hopeless dreamer and a freak, to walk among the humans with their far-too-short lives and their fascinating music and their curious faiths. Now, all Frank wished for was to see the sasquatches again, even just one of them, before he died.

This was what Frank was thinking about, as he woke up fully-healed on the slab. But before he heard or saw anything, what first hit him was his sense of smell. A scent of something familiar.

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