Once, there was a shadow who was afraid of her own girl. I know, my dear reader, that you may chuckle at the mere consideration of such a prospect; after all, such irrational anxiety seems the stuff of idioms and jests. However, I assure you from the depth of my Darkness, this is no trick, legend, nor parable; Rine was a very real girl, with a very real fear. The townshades laughed at her and labeled their gossip with her name, her parents were ashamed—only her brother, Yhimott, provided the greatly-needed respite of encouragement and kindness.
“Why be afraid of her, Rine?” he’d ask, through the flickering blackness of a stormy night that severed their bonds to casters. “You don’t mind my human.”
“I’m not stuck to yours.” Hissh hush, rattled the wind, and Rine’s whispered response was nearly lost; her brother leaned forward with the quivering leaves of the forest to know her thoughts. “Besides, Timothy is a nice boy. But Erin—she’s crazy, I swear!”
Yhimott chuckled. “I think she’s brave.”
“Brave? She’s an idiot! I just know she’ll get herself killed someday…and then where will I be?” Poor Rine began to cry, tears clinging to her dusky cheeks like so many rays of the moon.
“Wherever you’d be on a new-moon night: free.”
“Until I get another caster. With my luck, I’ll probably become her tombstone’s shadow. Stuck in one place, unable to move at all until the next new-moon…how awful!” While I am certain that my good audience knows how trying it may be to separate from a caster without Lacklight, the fact that an inanimate caster has so little of this precious element is a lesser-known fact. Rine and Yhimott were good children; they had learned their schooling well, and never missed a day of class despite the activity of their Human casters. The former, plagued with a chronic case of pessimistic apprehensions as she was, could not bear the thought of such a fate.
“Maybe you should talk to her. Your caster, I mean,” Yhimott attempted to reason with his hysterical sister. Sadly, their reprieve together was drawing to a close as the summer thunder dissipated, and wind ceased to whip the Tree Shadows into a cacophony of Dimlight.
“That’s impos—!” The pitiable Rine’s voice caught painfully in her throat as the power came back on, incidentally jerking her several hundred feet away from her haven and into the well-lit-but-abhorrently-decorated room of her Human caster, Erin.
Maybe brother is right, the shadow girl thought miserably as she obediently hunkered over on a dirt-strewn floor to mimic her caster’s actions. Perhaps communication is my only chance to have this maniac see sense. And then, Goodness, but she even has horrible posture.
So it was, that while the Human known as Erin sat in front of a netbook and muttered profanity and discouragement at an electric storm that ironically snatched her own power, her reluctant Shadow mimed typing, whispered to the dust Shadows on the hardwood floor, and brainstormed over her dilemma.
How could she hope to communicate with her caster? Shadows spoke in Silence, but Humans only heard Sound. Humans at Erin’s youthful age were especially fond of Sound to the excess, as was testified by the gleaming buds adorning her earholes. Then, Rine remembered seeing Timothy play “shadow games” with her brother. The child made shapes with his hands, and Yhimott mimicked them. It was certainly not even a crude form of speech—but perhaps it could be worked with. Especially since Erin had studied what the humans called “sign language” for a community project. Sign language, for those of you who do not acquaint yourselves with the more underground systems of Human interpersonal communication, is the closest thing to speech-through-Silence they could construe; it is designed for Humans who are born without Sound, and involved the movement of hands into symbols.
Rine had her plan, and she was terrified. Still, the constant teasing from her colleagues and neighbors had gotten quite old. On a waning-moon night, when her strength was greatest, she held up her hand against Erin’s poster-filled wall and signed a single word:
The girl yelped, and Rine felt smug at having scared her for once. But Yhimott had been right about Erin’s courage; she recovered quickly, and, brushing back her silly peacock bangs, attempted to respond with Sound. “Um…hi? Who are you?”
“I am you, only not so brave,” whispered Rine, signing her words carefully. “That’s why I wanted to talk to you. Could you…be more careful with your life, please?”
A frown; Human facial expressions were certainly more interesting in Semi-light. “I don’t like being told what to do.”
“I know.” It was obvious, from the way her caster dressed herself simply to irritate her parents, to the habit of speech she preferred around her peers: sharp, arrogant, but ringing painfully false to a Shadow who dwelt with her all the time. “Still,” Rine continued, trembling at the prospect of angering such a character. “Your life is not only yours; if it does nothing else, my ‘Hello’ should at least convey this truth.”
“Fair point,” Erin replied. “What’s your name?”
The former smiled, and Rine decided that she liked her human more with happier expressions. “Clever, that. The anagram, I mean. Rine, do you know why I live the way I do?”
Rine made no answer, save to vehemently shake her head. Satisfied with this answer, the Human leaned back against her pillow. “I live this way because I’m afraid.”
“What?” The fearful Shadow, appalled at such a thought, forgot Humans couldn’t hear the nuances of Silence. Her utter shock was certainly lost on her caster; she had to repeat the word emptily in sign language. That being done, she could only listen in amazement as her Human counterpart explained that every thrill-chasing antic had addressed a specific fear. That her appearance and manner of speech denied the other Humans any chances of breaking her newly acquired fearlessness with the imposition of Betrayal. And, finally, that she had settled every fear but one…and that one was the only one she clung to.
“I’m afraid of the dark,” Erin stated. “I can’t even see my own shadow, and feel unbearably lonely. But…at the same time, I feel that I can only be myself when it’s dark, and nobody else sees me.”
Loneliness was something Rine understood; her own people isolated her. “Well, you’re not alone in the dark,” she promised hesitantly. “I’m your Shadow no matter what. Even if you don’t see me, I’m always watching over you.”
Her Caster, no longer an object to be feared since she understood fear so well herself, reached out to touch Rine on the wall. It was then that our Rine experienced for the first time a sensation scientists call “warmth”. It tickled her Darkness, and made her smile moonbeams.
“Promise?” Erin whispered. The trees danced again, more placidly than they had in storms when Yhimott had supported Rine in Silence.
Rine smiled again. “I promise.”
Sssha, sang the tree Shadows. She’s brave at last. Sssha!
Decades later, those of you shadowing the Williamstown Cemetery are probably aware of an expanded occupancy. The new tombstone speaks, with Tangible letters in stone, of a woman named Erin. They praise her life, a full and happy one with family and friends who loved her enough to shower her resting place with velveteen flowers. As the sun sets behind the headstone, a faithful shadow stretches with even greater fondness at its base. Its silent watch, constant in both Sunlight and Moondimth, speaks for this Love beyond any flowershade. Any bystander could swear its shape is that of a heart, as daily dusk grows stronger.
Rine, the trembling Shadow Girl, has kept her promise to the letter.