Unpacking Cafeteria Crossing

I have to say, this segment of Welcome to the Valleys was quite unexpected. When I sat down to write I hadn’t intended for the Shadow to play such a prominent role in the conversation. Instead, Walter was supposed to speak with Ama about how she was interpreting the anger in the cafeteria 1. The Shadow, however, wanted to have a say and the entire segment became redirected. Let’s unpack it.

The Setting

I wrote this passage on Labor Day, so it seemed appropriate to set it in a location which is both the bane and respite for vacationers, the dreaded “rest stop.” Have you ever noticed no one smiles at those things?

The Shadow

She’s really the star of this passage. And, yes, the shadow is a “she.” If you notice in the passage, Walter always refers to her as “it,” and Jeremy as “he” – but they’re both wrong. Jeremy is further along a path of accepting the Shadow’s companionship, so he has begun referencing this uninvited companion with a personal pronoun, but he doesn’t really know her yet.

Jeremy was also correct, the Shadows have always been present in the evertorches. In fact, they are quite at home in them. They do have difficulty communicating with the outside world in the presence of evertorches however, and doing so both exhausts them and saps thermal energy from the surrounding area. The more they punch through the haze which divides their realm and the human plane of existence, the more impact they have on the world around them. Also, the more they manifest, the more dangerous they become. It is going to be fun exploring these beings, they are not what the people of The Valleys think of them!

Also note, all three people at the table heard the Shadow speak. The two adults were so shocked by her presence they actually failed to acknowledge this.

The anger in the room

Ama was right, the anger being expressed in the room was not the normal grumbling of travelers. The attitudes of the new batch of guards are still fresh, and are being mitigated somewhat by the older (and wiser) members of the troop. Yet, people’s reaction to the mistreatment is being amplified in some way. When these people begin to return through the tunnel, probably after suffering more abuse, the political situation in The Valleys is going to deteriorate rapidly. When news of the evertorch mine near High Cliff becomes public things will really get antsy, as it’s the only valuable resource the Inner Valleys really provides to the outer settlements.

The Shadow reacts to the Senate

Why did the shadow react so strongly at Walter’s reference to the Senate? The first question she ever asked Jeremy was “why did you break the window, has the treaty been broken?” Is this the treaty the Shadow is referencing? What, exactly, is the relationship between the Senate and the Shadows?

Walter’s reluctance

Up to this point Walter has not appeared reluctant to do anything, but the guard’s words that he may have come back just in time really spooked him. Ama reasserting the same thought actually spark the first reticence he ever displays in the story. Walter was obviously someone of some stature, and still holds much respect in the Inner Valleys, but what is so special about him that people feel he can sets things right?

The summons

The Shadow manifests herself to communicate a clear message to Walter. He had been summoned, and the process of that summons began months before he undertook his journey to The Ravine. The sudden discovery of evercoal by High Cliff was no accident, the Shadows knew it was one of the few things which could get Walter to travel back to the Inner Valleys. They wanted him to end his exile and return. This begs two questions. First, “If they are able to so easily manipulate Walter’s life, what role have the Shadows played in the development of culture in The Valleys?” Second, and this is becoming a recurring theme, “Why summon Walter of all people?”

The big picture here is, long before Jeremy appeared to Walter along The Boulevard, the Shadows knew something had gone horribly wrong in The Valleys. Jeremy’s sudden arrival, especially in front of the very man they had “summoned” to deal with the problem, caused great alarm. Their appearance to Jeremy in the Tunnel was no friendly meet and greet, Jeremy was actually in danger.

  1. This is I pointed out her sense of relief when Jeremy arrived at the table. She was well attuned to the anger in the room, and was honestly fearful for his safety.