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November 3rd Blog

Fall 2005







The Village and the Machine
Ella Sprink

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful village. Every morning the villagers went out into their rich fields and tended the land. There was plenty of work for everyone, and if everyone worked, there was plenty of food to go around. If they worked very hard indeed, there was enough for the winter.

Life in the village wasn't perfect, but it was pretty good. From time to time, some of the younger people would wonder if it was true that some of the neighboring villages didn't seem to have to work as hard. The older people would shake their heads. Eventually a few of these younger people went off and got work, but they still came home at night. This seemed to keep them happier, so the older people let it be.

Then for a while there were strange noises in the forest. The villagers investigated, but didn't find much of anything, and it was pretty dark out there, and anyway, whatever it was didn't seem to be hurting them. They went back to bed.
The noises at night eventually stopped and that seemed to be that. It was harvest time, and everyone was pretty busy, especially with having to make up for the work of the kids. The fields were good. It looked like it was going to be a strong harvest.

But the next morning, the villagers woke up and went into their fields and saw a monster eating their fields! They shouted with alarm and ran around, Then they calmed down, took got a closer look, and saw some sort of machine.

It had a massive boxy body, dozens of large wheels, and a sort of shovel and chute. It looked as though something very interesting was happening inside, but with the way it shuddered and lurched; everyone kept clear. Nobody worked that day. They just stood along the edge of the village and watched. At first, they thought it was eating their crops, then that it was eating the rocks underneath. It was making a pretty good mess, regardless, so everybody was pretty glad when it left around dusk.

They talked about it all night, but nobody seemed to know what to make of it. Maybe that was that. But in the morning, it was back. And the morning after that, and the one after that. Eventually, people started saying things about going on with their lives. So they ignored it.

Since the machine was tearing up their fields, the villagers had a lot of work to do. They worked around the machine. They harvested the crops that were undamaged. They cleared away the dead plants. Sometimes the machine would tear it up and they'd have to do it all over, but this, they said, was just life.

After a while, they started hearing rumors from their young people. That the other villages had seen the machine too, but that in their villages, the machine spat out the rocks it had chewed up from the first village's fields. Somebody asked why it was doing this, but it seemed pretty unclear. Something like, it got the rocks from this village's fields so that it could go get the liquid under those villages' fields so it could come back and get more rocks. This didn't make much sense, so the villagers figured their young people had heard it wrong. And anyway, it seemed like a bad deal and people were getting hurt over in those other villages, so they were just glad that wasn't happening here.

It was starting to look like it was going to be a lean winter after all. The villagers had to work a lot closer to the machine. They'd gotten used to running away when it turned their way. But one day a young boy wasn't quite fast enough. He was dodging around the machine when it lurched suddenly, and he was caught and crushed under its massive wheels.

All the harvest stopped. The villagers mourned the boy. They carried his broken body and lay it under the trees. His mother screamed and cursed the day the machine had come. But the machine did not notice. It went right on chewing rocks until dusk and then it went away.

That night after they buried the boy, the villagers sat quietly together and talked. Something would have to be done. The machine had hurt them all, ruining their crops. Now it had killed the boy. And the villagers weren't exactly happy about the machine using their rocks to kill other villagers either, although this had seemed less important when it seemed less real. But what could be done? They machine was bigger than many villagers put together. It was strong. In the end they realized there was nothing they could do, and they were sad.

Finally, one young woman stood up. She had not left to find work with the other young people because, she said, new shoots grew from old vines just as well. No one really knew what she meant by this, but anyway, she seemed to have a great deal to say most of the time. Today she said, "This must stop." She seemed pretty final about it, so they all said okay and figured she could handle it and went off to bed. The woman stayed up, though, and comforted the boy's weeping mother, and paced up and down around the village all night.

At dawn, she gathered the villagers. "Today, this must stop. We are strong together. Are you with me?" Now, the villagers all had different opinions about the machine and how it should be stopped, if it could be, and even if it should be. So when they went out into the fields, the young woman was not at all certain if anyone stood with her. But it did not matter. It was time to see if new shoots could grow.

As soon as it was light, the machine came, swaying ponderously on its huge wheels. It looked indefatigable, inexorable, and the villagers shuddered a little at the sight of it. But in the pale grey light, the young woman stood. Her face was angry and resolved and she stood in its way. The villagers watched.

An impulsive little boy, who had been friends with the boy who was killed, stepped out of the line, and flung rocks at the machine. But to the machine it might as well have been pebbles. It flung a few of its own rocks, not too close to where the villagers were, just as a warning. The young woman smiled at the little boy, but put up her hand to stop him. "Not that way," she said, "It can throw better than we can."

She flung a tree branch like a javelin into the spokes of the machine's wheels. The machine just kept going and the branch snapped like a twig in its spokes. Some of the villagers hung their heads and started to walk out to work. "It's a terrible thing," they said, "but there is nothing we can do."

"No!" shouted the young woman. And before anyone could stop her, she ran straight for the machine and threw herself in the spokes of the biggest wheel. "Don't you see?" she cried, "What happens to me, to us, doesn't matter. But we cannot permit the machine to cause such bloodshed with our own rocks - in our name, do you see? We cannot stand by. This must stop!"

There was an awful moment of silence. Even the machine stood still. But then, slowly, it began to creak into motion. The young woman would be crushed, like the branch, like the boy. The villagers would have to live like this forever.
And then an aged voice croaked out from the crowd. "It must stop." And an old man from the village plunged toward the machine and threw himself among the spokes. There was a moment's hesitation, then the villagers shouted, "It must stop," and they rushed the machine. Soon the wheels were completely entangled with the villagers. They reached their hands out to one another, a web of humanity within the mechanical.

The machine lurched and rolled. "Hold on! Hold on!" the villagers cried. And they did. The machine's wheels creaked and groaned and strained and finally broke. And the machine came to a stop, because although it was bigger than many of them, it was not bigger than all of them together.

The villagers let out a great cheer, and climbed out from the broken wheels, rubbing their cuts and bruises with great pride. "Hurrah!" they shouted, "We have stopped the machine."

But as they shouted and danced, something was happening. A small hatch at the side of the machine had opened. A ladder descended and a head appeared. A village couple gasped, "Why, that's our boy!" And it was. He climbed quietly down to them. So did several others, from their village and from others.

There was a cry of rage. Some of the villagers rushed toward them. "Why did you do this? Why did you do this to us?" they wailed. They were angry, and wanted to kill the crew, but couldn't, because it was themselves.

In quiet voices, the crew explained, "We just wanted to make our lives better - for ourselves and for you, too. We didn't mean for it to turn out like this."

"But you killed my boy," screamed the mother.

"And all those other villagers," shouted another. And it looked as though things were going to get ugly.

But once again, the young woman called out, "Stop!" She said, "Come. Let us sit. Let us talk. We all want a better life. But your blood and our blood will not buy it for us. Come. Let us talk."

And this, they knew, would be the bigger battle, the harder struggle. This would be the war they must wage, together, every day of their lives. To strive together, for themselves and for each other, for the world around them, and for their beautiful village.

And so they sat down. And so they began.