Ever wondered where dust comes from?

Inspired by a really bad find when I was replacing my old open bookcases with lovely new closed-back ones…

Kicking up a Dust

‘Oh, do come on! You’re messing about like there’s no tomorrow.’

‘Well, there isn’t.’

Bevli rolled her eyes.

‘It’s a saying, alright? she retorted.

‘Why do you say it then? You sound like one of the Big Ones.’

‘Now look here, Shaz—’

‘I’m Staz. She’s Shaz,’ the younger one pointed to an even smaller figure who was gyrating round the kitchen.

‘Well, you look the same to me.’

Staz drew himself up to his full eight-millimetre height.

‘I’m a him, she’s a her,’ he said, his voice full of offence. ‘And we work as a team. We’ve been doing this for two hundred years and know what we’re doing.’ To reinforce his point, he extended a skinny arm and threw a handful of tiny specks up into the air. They curved in a cloud with a tail, then separated, drifting down and scattering over the red tile floor. ‘See?’ he said.

‘Alright, alright,’ Bevli conceded. ‘You scatter well. But we’d better get on. We have five more rooms to do before sunrise.’

Bevli formed up her little troop of dustites into a loose group and ushered it towards the main living room. She sighed. This was a bigger house than their previous one and she’d had to accept some new members after the Great Disaster. And they’d had to make a long journey to get here. It had taken five of the Big Ones’ years. The major had assured her that it would be an easy billet and he trusted her to weld her group into a cohesive force. Their work was essential to the universe and absolutely essential to keep the Big Ones on their toes.

Bevli sighed again. All well and good for him to say that but these latest Big Ones had such massive weapons of strength that nobody had seen before. Her teams had learnt to run and hide from the big sucker that had taken all the eastern cohorts that time several decades ago. Now they cleared their personnel from any area a good hour before any of the Big Ones arrived. The next night they worked extra hard to leave a double coating.

‘Where shall we start, please, Miss Bevli?’ Shaz asked. Bevli peered at the little figure and thought that as the dustite was polite it had to be Shaz rather than the stroppy Staz. Bevli studied the room. It wasn’t in too bad a state. A film of dust covered most wood surfaces including the crossbars on the dining table and chairs by the window.

‘You hop up onto the window sills in the bay and start there. If you get a bit on the curtains it will be a bonus. They’re velvet and dust should stick nicely. Bit awkward they’re still open, but do your best.’

Shaz trotted off, with a hop and a skip on the way. Bevli thought she heard her humming a tune. Oh, well, nothing like a happy worker. And the moonlight flooding through the windows made such a difference. You could see exactly where to lay the dust and watch it sparkle as it fell. Staz was concentrating on the mantelpiece then jumped onto the television. Two others were tackling an old-fashioned sideboard. Bevli smiled to herself. Maybe the major was right. No Big One had lived here for a whole year since the last one had died so their dust was hardly disturbed as the days passed.

‘Scuse me, Bevli, but there’s a delegation from the spiders wants to talk to the dustite-in-charge.’ Hadlit, her deputy, broke into her nightdreaming.

‘Oh. Thanks, Hadlit. I hope it’s not one of those giant ones again. Frightened the life out of me.’

‘Yeah, something ten times bigger than you don’t make you very comfortable.’ He grinned at her. ‘But that last one turned out to be a dead softie, lisp an’ all.’

‘I know. Well, wheel him in.’

The arachnid was small, brown, with hair thin legs. She – Bevli was sure it was a she – danced towards them as if on tip-toe.

‘Greetings,’ the spider trilled and blinked.

‘Hello,’ replied Bevli, trying not to show how disconcerted she was by such a show of six eyes reflecting moonlight. ‘What can I do for you?’

‘There’s a few of us would like to move in, spin some webs and  hang out here. We wondered if you’d be okay with that?’

‘Thought you lot didn’t live in groups,’ Hadlit said and glanced at Bevli.

‘Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t,’ came the enigmatic answer.

‘As long as you don’t get in our way,’ Bevli said, not knowing which eye to look at.

‘Nah, you won’t know we’re here,’ the little brown spider said and shrugged all eight shoulders. She waved a leg in the air. ‘See ya, then.’ She turned and scuttled off leaving Bevli staring after her.

‘Blimey, she’s an odd one,’ Hadlit said. ‘They’re usually a lot snottier than that.’

‘Perhaps they’re a rebel collective or something,’ Bevli answered. ‘Keep an eye on them, please, Hadlit and let me know if anything disturbing happens.’

He nodded and marched off in the direction of the staircase taking another two dustites with him. Bevli looked round and spotted Staz lying down on the tabletop.

‘Shift yourself, young dustite,’ she said. ‘There’s all upstairs to do. No time to lie down on the job.’

‘But nobody’s been here to clean. Why should we keep laying dust on top of what’s there?’

‘First, because I tell you to. Second, the thicker the layer the better.’

‘But no Big One will come and live here again.’ Staz half-closed his eyes and gave her a challenging look. ‘They’re all dying.’

‘Oh, you’re now on the inside circle of news, are you?’ Bevli couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of her voice. ‘We made that mistake in 1348. They didn’t all die out. Only about a third of them. And look how many of them there were at the end of the second millennium!’

Staz sat up.

‘Was you there? In the Black Death?’

‘I was very young then, barely out of the shell,’ Bevli replied. ‘My dad said they knew better in the Roman times with the Antonine plagues. He and his mates had a great time, he used to say.’

‘Respect,’ Staz said. He glanced at her, then jumped down. ‘I’ll go and start upstairs.’

Bevli groaned inwardly. The young ones were so naive.


Rattling. A tinkle of glass. Bevli sat up abruptly in her corner behind the tall clock in the hallway. The sound of the door opening – the front door. She peered out from under the plinth of the tall clock. The thump of boots. Great dust motes in the sky! Big Ones. Boots, smallish feet, and a second pair half the size. It was a female and a youngling. The boots stayed still then after a minute, moved forward. Bevli shifted to the side of the clock plinth.

Clouds! They’d left footprints across the parquet flooring, crushing the layer of dust so carefully laid by her team. She went to follow them when an intense beam of sunlight shot through the hole left by the broken pane in the front door.

Bevli dived back under the safety of the clock plinth. She trembled. That was a near one. She was always warning inexperienced dustites about the sunlight burning them to a crisp and had tragically seen it happen to others. Now she’d been almost caught herself like a beginner. Idiot! She’d have to leave the Big Ones to wreak havoc now and they’d all have to work twice as hard overnight.

Bevli roused herself as soon as it was dark and went on a scouting trip. Her heart sank. The hallway and stairs had been swept, the youngling’s room was clean and the kitchen floor gleaming. Curse the female Big One. Well, she’d soon find out that dust could not be defeated. They’d been scattering for over a million years and they’d do it for the next million.

‘Bad is it?’ Hadlit. His voice was sympathetic. He must have realised how frustrated she was.

‘Not tragic. But we’ll have to look sharp. Can you get three of the agile ones to find any hair the Big Ones have dropped so we can make some really substantial dust-bunnies?’

Hadlit chuckled. ‘Going for the heavy stuff, eh?’

They worked tirelessly throughout the night, adding extra layers on the bookcases and sideboard. Exhausted herself, Bevli congratulated the wilting troop and sent them off to a well-deserved rest. The next night they had to do the same.

For Bevli, it became a battle of wills.


A week later, Bevli woke at the same time and went to check the cleaning devastation in the kitchen. She slipped through the gap under the door, but stopped when she saw the female Big One sitting at the little table. Strange – the woman was normally in bed by now. But she sat there, head in her hands, sobbing. Her tears were falling onto the oilcloth covering the table. Bevli thought a dustite would be stunned and then drown in one of those great lumps of water. But the Big One’s shoulders were jerking up and down in time with the tears. Bevli couldn’t remember such open distress for a long, long time.

‘Oh, God,’ sobbed the woman. ‘Why did we come here? I thought me and Jim would find a place to be safe. But it’s a bloody rubbish tip.’ She stood up  and fetched herself a glass of water. Bevli stretched her neck and looked up to see tears streaming down the woman’s face. Poor thing. The major said a lot of the Big Ones were fleeing from a plague and taking over empty houses. This female  must be one of them. It was a solid house and plenty of room for her and the youngling. So why was she so upset?

‘I’m so tired of running. If only I could get this place clean. God knows how it gets so dusty each night.’

She sat down at the table again and started to cry again, but more softly. The kitchen door swished open, knocking Bevli off her feet. The youngling stood in the doorway. His eyes were gummy and half-closed.

‘Mum? Where were you? Why are you crying?’

‘Oh, Jim.’ She pulled herself up and hugged him. Bevli could see the child’s white face. Could do with a good meal, she thought. She watched as he clambered up on to the mother’s lap and laid his head on her chest.

‘Don’t cry, Mum. I’ll help, Mum.’

‘You can’t, Jim. You must rest.’

‘What are we going to do, then? You said we wouldn’t go travelling no more.’

‘I don’t know. Perhaps it would have been better if we’d died like Dad.’

Bevli watched as they both wept. Great motes, they were in a right state, this pair. Needed a bit of perking up. She was thinking so hard that she hardly noticed Hadlit arrive at her side.

‘You alright, Bevli?’

‘Oh, hello ,Hadlit. Just watching the Big Ones. I think we have to do something for them.’

‘Have you fallen over and hit your head?

‘No, I’m fine, but—’

‘What?’ His eyes narrowed. ‘You’re not going soft, are you? Our job is to keep them busy and out of as much mischief as we can. We wouldn’t exist otherwise.’

She batted the back of her hand against him, but lightly.

‘I know that, you daft thing. But suppose, just for once, we didn’t scatter? Would the world really end?’


(Originally written for Helen Hollick’s blog series Ten Minute Tales)

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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