Machine Anxiety

In Wilcox, that is the Wilcox of 2987, although the timebound nature of the subject of the following is surely subject to dispute, there was a tractor. It was green and had a yellow stripe running down the side of the cab; it was a fine tractor. It was big and semiarticulated and had a four-wheel drive and its wheels with their grooved tires were nearly twice the height of a man. It had a big nose that elegantly sloped like a dog’s snout tipped with sportish headlights flush with the surface and it gleamed unnecessarily and greenly in the light although it was well-used. Its model name was 3623TR. Its demeanour was friendly and its disposition unassuming. It had 400hp (300 for the PTO) and was powered (initially and possibly only ever) by an 11.2L RRO with variable and fixed geometry turbochargers and supercooled manifold systems, evidently a new industry standard, and had infinitely variable transmission. Its hydraulic capacity was 370L/min and its hitch-lift capacity was just under 11,500kg. The front axle had a high-capacity wet clutch splined to the transmission output shaft consisting of one large coned-disc spring, six separator plates, and six friction disks. The torque transfer was demonstrably excellent.

In the autumn the tractor began killing people, indeed, consuming them really was closer to the truth of it, so vital was the sequence of events, and carried out with such lithe atavism. The first ingested subject was found on the morning of the 23rd with his head popped like a grape under the front left tire and his body mushed into the soil. The manner of the death was obvious but the sequence of events that could have encouraged or compelled a grown and largely sensible adult to lie in the path of a tractor, and such a fine tractor at that, was never made out. Indeed the local police never figured out after two weeks of their tracers going around everywhere who had been driving the vehicle with the variable and fixed geometry turbos when Stu had been creamed. Nobody had the heart in them to blame the tractor, since the very sight of it filled one with virility and hope. And in any case the thing moved too slowly for it to surprise anyone. It bore its majesty with great weight. A 3623TR weighed nearly twenty tons. Stu’s fault.

The tractor was cleaned and placed in the garage. The owner considered selling it but there was no good reason to part with it and so it was not sold. It was inspected and it was dutifully noted that there was nothing amiss about it. The second person  was found pulped in the fields a week later and there was nothing new about it except that the tractor had apparently gone over her and then back again and so she was cut all the way through the middle. The owner insisted that he had locked the garage and that he had the key and was asked severe questions but no reason for his murdering his wife could be reasonably discerned since by all accounts their relationship had been uncommonly healthy and numerous individuals of good standing in the community testified to this effect. It was while the owner was in custody that the third thing happened, which was that the tractor which had been placed in a cordon evidently left its place in the field and rumbled several kilometres through the adjoining field, leaving muddy troughs in its wake, and rolled over a full family of four, which family was spread or smeared or ground over a patch of field about twenty metres by fifteen across. The cordon had not been broken and the tractor was a bit muddy. How it managed to run over an entire family was altogether beyond reckoning.

A serious manhunt began, the owner was released, and he stopped using the tractor after people stared at him when he tried to do so. Nonetheless everyone said it was a pity, truly a pity, that he had to stop using it, because of course it was an excellent vehicle and surely the objection to its open use was only a gesture of respect for the victims’ families (owner included.) Children sneaked into the garage to look at the tractor with the yellow wheel rims and the gorgeous rhinal slope and four-wheel drive. But the tractor’s violence did not stop with its permanent confinement in the garage, for in a month it appeared in an entirely  different town quite some distance away and again there was a squelching; a man who had decided to take a walk early in the morning. How it arrived there no-one knew as this time there were no tracks although the folding mechanism on the garage door did whine and wrench and give out when the owner, hearing of the news, staggered out to see if it was in fact true that the tractor he did not use had appeared nearly sixty kilometres away. There was no sign that the tractor had been occupied at the relevant time. The media called it a rampage.

No-one ever saw it happening. No-one saw the tractor move, even if the necessity and the traces of such movement were plain to see. No-one saw it escape the garage and no-one saw it come trundling after people. People became afraid. In the evenings people shut the doors and at night they looked across the fields and the roads to watch for a gleaming that came around like murder, luminous green and yellow executions. No-one thought that if it came there would be a sound to alert them: for surely the tractor came silent footloose through the halls of the night. The tractor’s prowling spread, its circle of territory grew. It fell through the attic of a nondescript white building on the outskirts of the city into the nursery on the first floor. It got people in fields. It got people on roads, proper roads and small dirt roads. It got a woman in her car who had come back from shopping tired and had fallen asleep at the wheel two metres from her front door. The body never got retrieved, properly speaking.

The police took the tractor away. They put it in a room with blastproof doors and they looked at it with cameras, or rather the cameras looked at the glowing semiarticulated thing with the impressive hitch-lift capacity and then people looked at the records afterwards. There were movement sensors and heat sensors and sensors that sensed radio waves and infrared and UV besides. The tractor did not move. The cameras said it did not move. The sensors sensed nothing. The tractor did what tractors, even good robust tractors, did when not being driven, which was sit virginally where it was.

The tractor’s range grew and the sporadic attacks became more frequent. It made excursions into the city. It appeared in a basement where there had been a party of some sort. Its appetite must have grown for even all over its soft nose there was human muck, and its back too, not just the sturdy 2057mm wheels with the mobile supercoefficient treads. The tractor had moved back and forth in the small space … sweat and loud music, fuel injections and machine purring. The pictures were vivid and beflecked.

One notable case involved the tractor crushing to death a well-to-do couple in a gorgeous flat in Hold Ave as they were in the act of copulation. The thing had evidently just dumped itself right on top of them because the weight had taken the couple still locked together right through the floor into the apartment below. The man and woman or the pieces of them rather had Vs from the treads embossed into them really deep and at points right through them. The man’s only slightly flaccid penis poked with minimalist intensity from the mess even though it was blue in death. People didn’t say it, of course, but you could imagine … the soft sounds or loud sounds, the traffic muted by the expensive windows, the sounds all here near and far away, clean fleshy sounds and bright sounds of pure locution, darkness and reflexive arcs, the bed interpreting all this as simple harmonic motion, and then a light bright as a god, two shining headlamps bearing down with metaphysical brilliance, the deep recursive roar of the 11.2L RRO, the oil and shift of the front axle coming down. But why wouldn’t people imagine? Could one not imagine being pinned under that great weight of love, all that blatant metal, unashamed of the need to maintain some distance between the signifier and the signified, that grinding and breaking under the weight, like the grind and break of orgasm… But such thoughts would only be entertained.

This was all impossible because the tractor was with the police. The media speculated: there were many tractors. And indeed there were. But the police took in the bloody hulks wherever they found them and said that all of them were the same tractor because the signs of wear and tear were same all the way down to the atom. They had pictures with three tractors lined up: the original, and another that was the same, and another that was the same (this was not yet cleaned and so there was a little blood on the hood.) The police hounded the tractors and put them all in the room. But then at some point  there was only one tractor on the room, and the cameras said only one had ever been there, while everyone involved clearly remembered taking the rest of the tractors in, and the people who had been killed remained dead, so something must have happened involving tractors, green and yellow tractors with spacious cabs and fine raised leather seats, and death.

A possible lead emerged when a man had both legs severed by the tractor but otherwise remained conscious throughout (it was assumed) the whole ordeal. He was a gibbering mess inside his head however and only insisted that he had seen a terrible light and a vast weight come over him, a firmament of sound entire, and when asked if a tractor had been involved said only it had been Maman.

Eventually a mob attacked the tractor where it was found even before the police were told. A fire was built around it but some immanence in the thing kept it lustrous in the flames even after thermite was poured on. The second mob took it to an industrial recycling facility where it was taken apart but no effect was discerned on the thing’s murderous forays. It appeared, mulched people, and was sated and still.

There was a cult of the tractor now; this was to be expected. It was a thoughtform, it was entangled, it was projection of postmodern anxieties, it was an emanation of nascent and antinomic industrial restlessness, it was a structuralist metaphor for the internal alienation of mechanistic capital; a poet wrote a thing about it in the paper, some morbid and observant individual demonstrated a statistical link between the tractor’s confinement and the range and wildness of its excursions, and Greengage Plc. fended off calls for recalls and stopped manufacturing 3623TRs.  They rapidly became, for a select few, treasured collectibles. They had stories to tell.

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