The Ruricolist is now available in print.

The Twentieth Century

The idol is made of steel. The idol has no face: no mouth to explain, no ears to heed, no nostrils to stink in, and no eyes to witness.

The idol has two hands: a hand of bright steel, and a hand of dull steel.

In the bright hand of the idol is a key. All around the bright hand are the tokens of pilgrims who leave what the power of the idol has opened at their prayers: which are locks, bars, doors, gates, fetters, and chains.

In the dull hand of the idol – what is in the dull hand of the idol? The dull hand of the idol is tight shut. Around the closed fist of the dull hand are the tokens of penitents willing and unwilling: which are empty things (the dull hand only takes): bottles, boxes, chairs, beds, shoes.

They tell stories of the idol. They say the idol came from afar. Everywhere, it came from afar. It came from afar with two hands. It came loudly, without fear and without shame, and it touched everything.

What it touched with its bright hand that holds a key, was opened. The bright hand opened the bonds older gods left as they fled before the steel god. The bright hand opened the cell of night; opened the house of sickness; opened the prison of birth; opened the pit of ignorance; opened the veil of lies.

What it touched with its dull hand that is closed, was taken away. It touched the cleanness of the height and the quiet of the deep; it touched the peace of the valley and the pride of the peak; it touched the hope of the beggar and the pity of the rich man. It touched the dreams of dreamers, and the pride of makers. And lastly it touched cities, and countries, and nations, and it took them away.

This god has two hands – a bright hand that opens and a dull hand that takes away; but this god, who is blind, deaf, and dumb, does not know which hand is which.

What shall become of the steel idol, stories do not agree. Some say it is already dead; it is already rusting within; someday it will fall in on itself; the power that draws pilgrims and penitents is but an ember in ash. Some say it is resting; someday it will rise to touch and end the world – but they do not agree whether it will end the world with the opening touch of its bright hand, or the taking touch of its dull hand. Some say it has already sown the end of the world, and only awaits a harvest. Some say it is old and ashamed, so before it dies it will join hands and restore all it has taken; and some say it is old and ashamed, so before it dies it will join hands and close all it has opened. Some say it is lonely, and awaits another of its kind.

And some few even whisper: it shall not die. Into the soil it rests on it is driving roots.