Meryl Stenhouse’s story “Gathering Dust” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 29 April 2016.
The beginning of this story came from a prompt from a writing course I did with Cat Rambo. The prompt was a picture of an old woman feeding the pigeons. In my head, the protagonist was a middle-aged man, recently divorced, just lost his job etc. He was watching the old woman as she picked up the pigeons, sprinkled them with dust and then sent them out into the city to give hope and luck to people. He desperately wants one, but when he confronts the woman, she tells him he can’t have one and he murders her for the pigeon she is holding, which does him no good.
Clearly the story evolved a long way from this rather tragic horror, though the original image of the old woman spreading hope remained. Somewhere along the way (and I can’t remember at what point) I got caught up in the idea of dust, of which a fair proportion is shed human skin, being made up of all the discarded luck and hope and fear and other emotions of humanity. That gave me the source of the old woman’s power.
My protagonist appeared about halfway through writing; I realised that the man I had envisioned originally didn’t actually fit into the story. I needed someone who had already stepped outside civilisation, who was seeing it from the dirty underside. Someone with her back turned to a ‘normal life’, whose fears had driven her out of her home to a place where there were no expectations.
The dark underneath is a concept that is common through human history; the devil, Cthulhu, Hades, the underworld. Always these dark things hunger, and heroes stand between the dark and the light. I wanted this hero to be a silhouette, a shadow.
Writing the first draft came easy; but because this was a story where language had a strong part to play, I spent a lot more time in revision. And then a lot of time going back and forth with Morris in the edits. But the end story is one I like a lot, and I hope you enjoyed it.
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