“A Source” is up today in the January issue of The Collagist. It took a few tries to get the ending right, and I’ve got some notes on that after the jump. Spoilers, etc.
The first ending I came up with involved the three women of the tribe trapping the narrator in a cave somewhere high in the mountains. The plot before that was the same. The narrator then went through various tunnels further and further into the mountain. She conversed with the spirit of the old man and had visions similar to what the starving narrator sees. Eventually she found a river running underground and was swept away in the water, and the story ended there.
I found that ending to be too abstract — the river underground didn’t have resonance with any other part of the story. It was also too much like a scene in another story I’m working on.
The next ending was similar to the first, but the narrator escaped from the tunnels into a valley on the other side of the mountain. She then found a tribe similar to the creatures who took the children and old man. She’s able to join their tribe, and the story concluded with her teaching them the story of the sun and the moon.
This ending had more of a connection to the story preceding it, but it cast the narrator in an odd light. One of the main ambiguities of the piece is whether or not she believes the stories she tells, or if she’s just stretching her imagination. This ending makes it seem like her stories are a coping strategy — they’re just how she survives. While I liked the concept of narrative as survival, I preferred to leave the ambiguity intact. I also liked that the locations prior to that never repeated. The characters go from the plains to a valley to high mountains, following an upward trajectory. Having her come down from the mountain would’ve ruined that.
I’m happy with the ending I figured out. Having her mimic the journey of the sun and the moon seemed fitting, and a good way to have her play out the ambiguity of her believing or not believing her stories.