Sunday, February 19, 2012

3 word week: The New Jerusalem

Post-publishing note:  After I wrote this and submitted it to 3 word week I realised I'd overshot the permitted word count. So I edited it. But rather than cheat, I posted the new version here.  Which means those people who are concerned about such things can compare the two versions to see how I did it. The original (below) is 647 words.  The edit is 588.

It was never supposed to be this way. Malcolm looked out over the landscape and smiled wryly as he heard an echo of his Grandmother, a long time ago. ‘I can remember when this was all fields,’ she had said and railed against the flow of new homes and shops encroaching on her world; a tide of development that slowly, but inexorably, stole the land around her.  He held power in the City then, and was part of the force that helped to erode her territory. He called it progress; she called it an unnatural disaster.

His talent for profit had helped him gather a substantial harvest from that same crop of aspirational lifestyle homes, boutiques and restaurants.  Malcolm was an automatic leader. Like a weathervane he had been swayed by the winds of financial change, sensitive to each swing of fortune, and pointing the way for others to share his unerring aim. That innate sense was what drove him to get out, just before the storms broke, and uproot himself in search of a dream. Unlike some of his colleagues, who were destined to fall as the surge of poverty swept through the stock markets, Malcolm did not amass money for its own sake. As soon as he had could afford to, he planted his hopes in a new life. He bought a small island off the North West of Scotland, which he worked as a croft, and led a simple, hard but happy life.  For years it sustained him: the sea all around, the call of wild birds, the change of seasons and the immeasurable pleasure of self-sufficiency, satisfied his body and his soul.

In the very early dawn he sat high on the island’s western cliffs and surveyed what he could see. ‘I can remember when all this wasn’t fields,’ he thought to himself, and wondered how he had let this happen; how his idyll had changed beyond recognition. Word had somehow spread about the former tycoon who found nirvana through a rejection of materialism, and they had begun to arrive. At first it was only a few: a couple who asked to be allowed to eke out a place using his example. They were poor, they said, and could not afford to buy their own land, but they would happily share whatever they managed to raise.  He agreed, as long as they cultivated the opposite coast.  But the next time he visited the other side of the island the two had become six and, soon after, they were twelve, then twenty, and before he could stop it they were a village; a settlement of followers wanting to live ‘The Malcolm Way’.

He had tried to be a fair leader; co-opted to the position without election or opposition. He did his best to set an example and to let them lead their own lives however they wished, as long as they left him in peace. But it was impossible. Within a year his existence was beleaguered by a host who saw him as their demagogue and clamoured for his advice and guidance. Now he reached the unavoidable conclusion that it could not continue. He must winnow the crowd before he was overcome: sort out those worth keeping and discard the rest.  Malcolm could see an obvious starting point, although he did not relish severing the link, but he made his way down to the sea with a determination he had not felt since his first visitors arrived. He knew exactly what he wanted to keep, and so he walked to where his small rowing boat was moored. Inside were a bag of clothes, fishing gear, his toolbox, enough tinned and dried food to support what could be collected from the ocean, and the remains of his original fortune.  ‘The rest is chaff,’ he said, as he settled into the boat and began to row.

Three Word Week is a writing challenge set by Steve Isaak.

This week's words are:
I.) beleaguer - v.
1. To harass; beset: We are beleaguered by problems.
2. To surround with troops; besiege.
3. To trouble persistently; harass.

II.) demagogue - n. -
1. A leader who obtains power by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace.
2. A leader of the common people in ancient times.
3. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) A political agitator who appeals with crude oratory to the prejudice and passions of the mob.
4. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) (esp in the ancient world) Any popular political leader or orator.

III.) winnow - v. -
a. To separate the chaff from (grain) by means of a current of air.
b. To rid of undesirable parts.
2. To blow (chaff) off or away.
3. To blow away; scatter.
4. To blow on; fan: a breeze winnowing the tall grass.
5. To examine closely in order to separate the good from the bad; sift.
a. To separate or get rid of (an undesirable part); eliminate: winnowing out the errors in logic.
b. To sort or select (a desirable part); extract.
v. intr.
1. To separate grain from chaff.
2. To separate the good from the bad.


snafu said...

I like the reversal of the 'I remembver this when it was all fields' bit. In your Gadget which shows past pages is a link to a Terry Pratchett post of yours, which reminded me of his Johnny and the Bomb, in which they go back in time to WWII and one of the characters looks at the open fields where his home will one day be built and says 'I remember this when it was all houses'.

MorningAJ said...

I'd forgotten that bit in Johnny and the Bomb. I DO remember 'Make me one with everything. I want to be a Hindu.' It still makes me laugh.

Steve Isaak said...

I enjoyed this a lot; great character-centric build-write. =)