Phil Berry’s story “Sheer” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 10 June 2016.
Sheer – the eponymous and seemingly limitless vertical tower of rock, came from a desire to create a distinct ‘secondary’ world. I wanted to show how men and women would adapt to conditions that seem unbearable. Imagine never being able to sit or rest on a solid, horizontal structure. ‘Flat’ becomes myth, and those who tire of life spent on hessian ropes need only step off, plunging into the ever-present mist below.
But that was not enough. The community on Sheer needed a context; where did they fit, ecologically, in this world with a broken crust? Answering this, I thought about a mural on the walls of the boys’ toilet in a local attraction – ‘Wetlands’. The mural shows a classic water cycle, with rain coming down from the clouds onto the land, draining via rivers into the sea, evaporating, forming new clouds and precipitating. Pretty basic, but beautiful. This I translated into the more macabre biomass cycle on Sheer, where hated Driftbirds collect the corpses of the fallen before they hit the planet’s surface, carry them to the tops of the towers, and lay them out. Here the bodies decompose into a layer of humus. Thus, this sterile (post-apocalyptic, possibly) world will develop fertile plains on which communities can sow crops and re-establish themselves.
Ideas excite me, but concepts are easier to describe than people. Yet, I recognise that editors want character driven stories; background, depth, emotion, motive. On Sheer, where a misstep or a slip of a hand on a rope can end it all, tragedy is never far away. It is a combination of grief and duty that drives young Resten to leave home on a quest for the ‘top’, where he hopes to find the body of a little sister who walked in her sleep and stepped out of the family nest into the infinite air.
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