Walker of the Shadows

Perhaps it wasn't such a good idea after all, thought Annie Meled as she trudged home after school in the rain wearing her too-large hand-me- down boots from her big brother. Perhaps I shouldn't have done it.

The twelve-year-old girl tripped in her boots and went sprawling into the mud. "Perfect," Annie muttered. "Just perfect." She was covered in mud from head to toe. She cursed herself softly. "You clumsy oaf!" Nothing seemed to go right (had she made the right decision???).

Depressed, Annie took refuge from the rain in a shadowed corner between a closed store and the alley behind it. She sat there, hugging her knees and crying. It wasn't supposed to happen this way, she thought bitterly. It's all wrong.

Crying isn't going to do you any good, a little voice in her head told her.

What else am I supposed to do? she answered it.

What do you think you are supposed to do? the little voice piped up.

I don't know, wailed Annie. That's why I'm sitting here crying!

I don't understand, the voice said. Does that mean you think you are supposed to sit here and cry?

No, no, Annie tried to explain. I don't know what I am supposed to do, so I sit here and cry.

Why?

Oh, I don't know why! Annie burst out, frustrated.

Do you know anything?

Well of course I do, Annie replied, you know, math and stuff.

How do you know this "math and stuff"?

What do you mean, how do I know? I just do.

How? the voice persisted. I don't understand. How do you know you know these things? That was a hard question. Annie stayed quiet for a while, thinking about that issue. I don't know these things, she finally answered. In fact, from what answer I've come up with, I don't know anything at all, and for that matter, neither does anyone else.

It seems you understand one concept at least, the voice said. You seem to not understand a great number of things. I assume you cry because you are in pain.

I am, Annie sobbed. Horribly in pain.

Do you think pain is bad?

Of course I do! Who doesn't?

I suspect your question was rhetorical, but I shall answer it nonetheless. I do not think pain is bad, and neither do any of my kind, I believe.

Who are you? Annie asked, wondering what the voice and his kind were.

Who, me? the voice replied. I am just a walker of the shadows.

Who?

A walker of the shadows, who are you?

I'm human, stuttered Annie, desperately disoriented and wondering if she was going mad.

Hello, human. Now, we were-

Oh, no, you misunderstood. My name is Annie.

My apologies, Annie. Now, we were just talking of pain. You said you thought pain is bad. Why?

Oh, your questions are so confusing! It just is.

Why?

Annie could see that it was no use telling this "walker of the shadows" that some things just are. She finally decided on an answer that she hoped would please the voice. Pain is bad because pain hurts, she told it.

Why does pain hurt?

I give up! Does that satisfy you?

No, not really. Why does pain hurt?

I told you, I don-

I will give you something to start on: sometimes pain is the only bridge to where you want to go.

But-

No. Think about what I have just said.

So Annie thought. Sometimes pain is the only bridge to where you want to go.

She thought about when she used to go to ballet school. After long hours of stretching, she had pain from skin to bone. But she had kept on ballet, had not stopped because her legs held pain. She wanted to become a ballerina, and in order to every goal there is pain along the way, and every time you pass through pain, it makes you stronger. Because sometimes pain is the only bridge to where you want to go.

Annie, triumphant with her discovery, reported it to the voice. But she had completely forgotten about the larger question.

Why does pain hurt?

Annie knew the answer to this immediately, thanks to the knowledge she gained just by thinking about what the voice said.

Pain doesn't hurt. Pain only changes. You feel pain, and from the way you feel that pain, you are forever changed by it. And, most important, the way pain changes things relies on you and you alone. You decide whether to change things for the good or the bad. And, right now, I am faced with that decision. I must choose which path to take.

The past is a woven blanket, the future millions of awaiting threads.

And now I must choose which threads to weave and which to leave untouched.

Yes.

And Annie never heard the voice of a walker of the shadows again. But then again, nor did she need to speak with one ever again.

Because she understands that since you do not know anything, and since pain drives you to change, you create the change out of no knowledge by picking threads and weaving them into the blanket.

The quote, "sometimes pain is the only bridge to where you want to go" is from Matthew Stover's Traitor.