This first encounter with the shadows is very intense. So much so that I didn’t realize how short it was until after I’d looked at the word count. Writing it was an extremely visceral experience, as the encounter combined several things I’m rather frightened of. I hate the dark, my imagination is so vivid that it just plain spooks me. I’m also not too fond of closed-in spaces. While I don’t mind tunnels in general, the thought of traveling through one for hours with no glimpse of the outside world stands my hair on edge. Sometimes I think writers are just working out their own phobias.
With those self-revelations out of the way, let’s take a look at some the happenings in this short section.
Jeremy hears the shadows
The fact that Jeremy alone could hear the shadows as they questioned him is going to reverberate through the story. It’s part of Jeremy’s identity. Walter was particularly shocked that Jeremy was the only one who could hear the voices. Again, this will be unpacked a bit further into the story.
When Walter identifies the shadows as “Shadestalkers” he evokes an angry response. They really do not like that name. What I find interesting is how they describe their dislike of the designation – it’s a “name of forgetters.”
If you haven’t picked it up by now, loss of history is a key theme in Welcome to the Valleys.” Jeremy doesn’t remember *anything, Walter and Ama are part of a society of people who have forgotten their own historic achievements, and the very monuments left to remind them of their story only deepen the mystery of their past. The very name they’ve given the monsters which live in the dark, and govern much of their society, even labels them as “forgetful people.”
It seems the shadows, and that is not their name for themselves, are a bit annoyed at people’s forgetfulness.
This theme, by the way, has unfolded naturally as the story has progressed. Much as this encounter reveals a couple of my inner fears, the theme of lost history reveals one of my deepest intellectual concerns. People who don’t know their past aren’t just doomed to repeat past mistakes, they tend to be easily manipulated.
The questions posed to Jeremy during the shadow’s investigation are unusually specific. What “window” are they talking about, and how did they even know where to find Jeremy? Still, something in Jeremy woke up long enough to issue a declaration to the shadows. The treaty has been broken, and they need to prepare. Something inside Jeremy wants him to communicate the things he’s forgotten, but why did he forget in the first place? What knowledge is he supposed to seek?
The evertorches dim
We get only a small taste of how truly terrifying it was for Ama and Walter to see the evertorches go out. Ama’s face was temporarily shaken from it’s practiced calm and replaced with an “oddly pale” visage. Those torches are not supposed to go out, and the entire society of The Valleys is based on the idea that the Shadestalkers are powerless against them. Ama’s face is pale because her worldview has just been shattered. The explanation she gives Walter is a wonderful example of someone trying to hold on to an idea which has irrevocably collapsed, but doesn’t want to let go of it just yet. We’ll have to see if her worldview is as compromised as it appears.
I’m trying to pull some of this inner conflict to the surface of Ama’s character in the next section, but she’s very resistant to allowing her unease leak through her practice demeanor. She’s trained her herself to be a visage of public calm and reassurance for decades so lettering her crack just a bit is proving difficult. People like that often just shatter when things go kablooey and I think she knows this.
For his part, Walter likes to face problems head on. When the world falls apart he tends to accept it, allow for a brief moment of panic, and then dives deep into himself to ponder what things mean. When he emerges from his reverie he’s usually ready to help others process. Being in the tunnel is going to send him deep inside himself. The talkative trader is going to slowly be left aside for something truer to who Walter is.
I’ve tried to convey hints thus far that something truly traumatic occurred in the deep history of The Valleys, a trauma which has been largely forgotten but the scars of which continue to cause a great deal of pain. The Extinction War was the defining event which led to the founding of The Valleys. It’s also at the root of the people’s forgetfulness.
Walter isn’t incorrect, by the way. The Extinction War never really ended. Jeremy is supposed to do something about that, but we’ll have to figure out what as the story unfolds.