Shadows stretch as the light dwindles to twilight. Bits of darkness converge to join and form a shade where body parts unfold. All pieces reach, a part of the whole, expanding until I am formed from obscurity and gloom. The mist solidifies. The air twists to pirouette. My hands high in the air, I leap. In my death ballet I run, falling to role then back up to jump high and land gracefully. I am the Shadow Dancer.
Rising from my crouch, I look about the world I am found myself, the world I protect when I am called. The world I have known for so long. My world, I once scoured of the disease-ridden skin with which it was composed. Shit and waist had contaminated it for so long. This world, that had discarded me, having no use for the death dance of shadows, once there was no more darkness, and the demons had been purged.
Why have I returned? Why have I been brought back to a world lost to me? Nothing is familiar, but this must be my world for none other could, or would dare have this dancer in their world.
There are scents in the air, colors and heat, far different from the putrid rotten breath or the decaying reek of death that I call familiar. All around is warm and feels… good is the word that comes to mind, which vexes me, for nothing is as it was in memory. The odor does not fill my nostrils with the gagging putrescence of decay. The colors are bright and though there are only a few I can see in the dimming twilight, the feeling is clean.
Nevertheless, my memory tells tales of refuse and waste covering a dark scabby scene, a fetid cloud void of natural light, heat belching into the air as rank smoky steam when I rip their entrails and release them to the ground beside the pagan beasts. Those are my memories.
I stand on the unfamiliar ground. Warmth and light from the burning orange/yellow glowing thing resting on the horizon follows my every step. A strong wind tries its best to blow me over and though the ground is firm, green tentacle appendages dance and sway with the wind. The green has once again covered everything and it dances around me as I wade through its ocean. Above me the blue monolith sits, separating earth from night sky. I can recall no such memory from my world for the land was always too dark to distinguish between sky and ground.
Why am I here? Why have I been bade return to a place where I am not needed? I walk forth. Something reaches out to me and I feel more than hear it. All of my senses go sharp. There is an impression in this sea of green a few yards away.
“I am the Shadow Dancer. Do not hide from me or there will be tales told of your suffering.”
I duck and move quickly, attacking with instinct alone. I stalk towards the impression and dive, snatching the thing as a flood of nostalgic memories suddenly returns. In my hands, the familiar old rusted shovel, pulled from its overgrown confines. My cohort. My friend. You were with me through that time, by my side. This is my world. I know that now with definitive proof comfortable and familiar in my hands.
I spin the shovel as a baton, feeling its weight and allow its essence to join with my own muscle memory. Now I am prepared for whatever deemed it necessary to bring me back here.
As if an answer to my words, there is a flash on the horizon and I see movement. Yes, definite movement coming towards me. It is moving with fleeting and nimble speed reflective of myself. The gap closes quickly and in the last moment the thing leaps high into the air with a great challenging cry. It is tall and black, and it spins gracefully, its weapon coming around to bring death with it.
I am the Shadow Dancer, protector and death bringer to all demons. I leap, blocking the weapon and delivering a blow that this thing dodges expertly.
Weapons around, we land face to face and I am stunned to stare into a mirror. It is a reflection of myself that speaks in my voice, holding my shovel.
“I am the Shadow Dancer,” the thing says, “the death bringer. You are trespassing in my domain, and I will strike you down as protector of the green things that grow from the earth.”
My nemesis, if that is what I may call it, bends its knees and moves to strike, it raises its shovel and lunges at me. I dodge the strike that surely would have decapitated me. It misses my neck and I counter, striking back only to occupy this doppelganger while I try to understand. My aggressor dodges my halfhearted thrusts simply and I ponder on the ironic sense of fighting against myself…
I am the Shadow Dancer. This creature cannot be me for I am me. I am all that I am.
I fend off the attacks from myself, my mirror, my shadow fighting me. I am formed from nothing to fight for the green things. My mirror attacks again and again and I evade, still contemplating. It looks as once I did. It is covered with guts and grime, the blood through the years caked in places, its face indistinguishable to itself. It attacks again and I dodge and parry each deadly blow. If I do not destroy it, then it will surely kill me.
How does one fight against one’s self?
I face my echo that has determined me to be an unwelcome guest in its domain. Its attack is becoming faster now, fiercer. I will have to think quickly or risk losing to myself.
If the truth be that this thing is myself then one cannot survive without the other. In destroying me, it will ultimately destroy itself. Knowing this I should try to reason with it.
The next swing arrives so fast and true it embeds its shovel into my handle. The attack is broken and the thing comes with hands to my throat. The shovel breaks free and cuts a deep gash into my arm. I block and defend.
I cannot reason with so determined an opponent.
How have I become my own nemesis?
In its eyes I can see the frustration has now become a blind rage ridden fever and now I can strike safely.
The swing comes for my head and instead of blocking, I duck. The swing continues and in the next instant the back of its head is exposed. I spin and strike with the flat end of my shovel across the back of its head, a blow that would kill a man in an instant, but only succeeds in knocking my opponent unconscious.
The other drops, splaying itself into the green.
I stare down at my defeated self, and look about the area. The green ocean sways in the breeze of the setting twilight. Something is missing. I listen to the wind and inhale the scent in the air. With each breeze, comes the faint scent of fear and death that I know so very well, for it is all that I smelled when I approached my demon prey. However, there is something else. Innocence?
The realization comes and I look down at the me-thing lying in the pure green blades, free of all demon beasts. Where are the others, the ones from before, for if the green has returned where are the creatures that own this land outright? Where are the animals on which the demons fed?
I look down at myself, it stirs, the killing machine that I once was, and I realize the truth of its singular insanity, to kill anything and everything to protect the land.
My stomach sinks as I sense the death of innocent lives taken in my absence. This thing is the mirror image of myself created in the darkness of all I once was, and brought forth from fear to live in this world for so long. It is chaos, summoned in an effort to sabotage the possibility of happiness and let innocence make a connection with the depth of the true self.
I now know what this thing is and what must be done.
On the ground, the other me stirs, it shakes its head and begins to rise. I reach for my shovel, but the other is up and on me attacking with a kick that leaves me winded. It has its shovel and I dodge trying to reach my own just a few feet away. Its eyes blaze with a furious fire of determination.
It will kill me.
I reach my shovel, but do not dare pick it up until…
The other-me leaps, spinning in the air and bringing its shovel down to split my skull. I parry, grabbing hold of its shovel and with all my effort block down, twist and kick out. The kick connects and I send the me-thing away and break the shovel before retrieving my own. Then I attack, with all that I am, and all that this me-thing is not, for only I… am the Shadow Dancer.
It blocks my thrusts that come fast and fierce. It anticipates. It is me, but in the now dim light all that is darkness is me and not this imposter that kills the innocent. My power surges with the twilight, it blocks misses and I strike it in the face with my knee as I raise the shovel high bringing it around fast and down to split this thing from face to belly.
It stumbles back in shock, I advance, stepping to the side and swinging low with the flat end to take its legs from beneath it. It drops. Standing behind it I wait for it to rise and I raise my shovel, swinging once more to drive a deep surgical slit down its back. It wails in pain and falls forward. I drop my shovel and am on top of it, ripping the gash wider to skin this thing of my flesh. I must find the flesh that is… must still be underneath.
It screams again and tries to fight, but this fight is done, it is my day.
The compacted cake of blood and guts comes off in my hands and an arm is finally free. I flip myself over and go at the face to remove the mask it hides beneath. The me-thing screams a final testimony and passes out.
I finish stripping it to reveal the truth of you that had become me, lying small and naked as a babe, vulnerable outside the demon façade. This masquerade began in my absence to fight the fear of even the good that finds its way here.
The body stirs slowly and wakes from the painful birth. It rises to stand beside me no longer angry and afraid. No longer tall and menacing. A child in its tweens that has resided in this land longer than I, but is now in need of guidance, understanding and even protection.
I collect my shovel and nod to the child. I am the Shadow Dancer, caretaker of this land and all the good it has, destroyer of its evil. I am teacher to your inner self that cannot bear to be left to fend alone.
Leaving the last vestiges of the me-suit that has already begun to rot and return to the earth, the child and I walk on into the darkness to begin a new journey together traveling this realm to teach and learn from each other.
And as we move into the distance, I hear the call of the animals climbing out from burrows and hovels, and I no longer smell fear.