Dustman

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Into the village one day strode a man made entirely of dust, of great fluffy clumps of dust that formed the shape of a man, as if just laid over a man’s skin, but that clearly comprised him all the way down, composed his entire being. Little flecks of dust constantly flew off him in the breeze, but somehow he remained whole, either this process had been going on a long time and he had started out gigantic, this hideous striding thing, or else he had some way of remaining continually constituted in the shape of a man, despite this constant flaking decay.

Seeing the man coming from afar, the villagers all fled, and locked themselves into their homes, bolted safely up away from his immediate vicinity, watching the stranger suspiciously from their windows, although nothing in particular (apart from his hideous appearance) suggested that he meant them any harm. But as the man wandered into the centre of the village, towards the Baker’s Cross that stood as its central point, a brave and curious or stupid and naïve little girl of about 10 years old, the blacksmith’s daughter Maisie Croft, all bright eyes and pig tails, ran up the road towards him from her father’s workshop, back the way this unusual and unwelcome man had just came.

Unlike the other villagers, Maisie was not afraid. Seeing the man come striding past, Maisie did not see the horrible monster that her father had seen, before telling her to stop playing and get inside, and locking the door, but rather she saw just a fascinating, strange, mysterious, and yet somehow gentle, man. Probably we cannot say which of them — the villagers or Maisie — was right, because we know so little of this man, and of his origins, and of his purposes, aside from the fact that he was, of course, made entirely of dust. But regardless, she did not come to any harm, after struggling out of her father’s house, ignoring his panicked cries, to run up to the stranger, and ask the questions she had for him.

Seeing Maisie, the man stood stock still, staring at her. He did not say a word. Everything about him was utterly uncanny. He was part of this world, and yet he seemed to come, at the same time, from totally outside it. He stood there in the centre of the village by the Baker Cros, staring, silent. But Maisie, apparently unperturbed, asked away.

“Who are you?” she asked.

The voice came back, horribly dark and hollow. “I know not.”

“Why have you come to our village?”

“I go… wherever I happen to wander.”

“Where are you going to?”

“I walk the world, like this, in search of myself.”

“Do you know anything about yourself at all?”

“Alas no. But a few basic facts, that point to my origins.”

“Where do you come from?”

“I know not.”

“Do you have any parents?”

The man paused. He took in a deep breath, or at least he filled something like lungs with something like air, although who knows if he really had any organs, or if it was really air he breathed. “I have no mother,” he said. The wind picked up, and billowing clumps of the dust that constituted the man were whipped into the air, all around him, like a terrible sort of cloak, or bridal trail. “I have a father, who I knew, once. He was like me. For you see,” the man said, with a horrible sort of finality, like the grave. “My old man’s a dustman.”

Thanks to David Batho for helping me with the execution of this stupid joke.

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