The Purist

He came on a Sunday, clutching a briefcase containing copies of blueprints drafted up by his company alongside older maps from the courthouse archives. He laid them out for all of us to see.

"This here," he jabbed a ringed finger into the top left of the paper. "This is your foundation. And it's rotten. I'm telling you, even if it weren't for the riches down there, the whole thing's rotten. I need to go on in there and dig it up, and re-pour."

"What about the bedrock? Won't that make the town less stable?" I asked.

"No." the surveyor answered, glancing me an annoyed look. "No, see. What you've had all this time is a joke. I know what I'm talking about. If we go in there and root it out, not only are you going to have a better town, but a prosperous one. There are untold riches under your feet."

The mayor nodded sagely, but I could not bring myself to nod along. My hands tugged anxiously at my suspenders. I looked around at my neighbors. A few of them looked lost. Others looked to the mayor for guidance. What had we gotten ourselves into? The mayor seemed to trust him, but the surveyor - this man who we'd just met - was telling us to dig it all up.

Krick's Ridge was a town founded on a bed of granite so thick that through the generations, and the centuries, little had changed. Foundations of structures that had once stood still remained in some form or another, and new structures were simply built around the old. There were no sinkholes, no archaeological dig sites, no sense that prior civilizations lay buried deep under our feet. It was all around us - re-built, yes - but everywhere to see. We did not build upon our past as many towns did; the past lived around us and changed before our eyes.

But this, this... upheaval of the granite, the careful snaking of tubes and excision, and black smoke belching from portable generators, and rows of lights illuminating the darkness and noise disrupting the cricket symphonies of the night. I'd seen the plans. I knew what was coming and didn't want it.

"Why don't we just set aside a portion of land, somewhere small, and see where it gets us?" I asked finally. "Surely we don't have to rip everything out at once!"

"But we must!" the surveyor bellowed. "A small step of land will yield nothing. That's not how it ever works! You're either all in, or all out with this deal. I can't waste five month of my time setting up a small excision site only to have you back out at the last moment!"

"Consider it an experiment!" I retorted. "I'm not against this town profiting from what lays under our feet, but wouldn't it be prudent to make sure it won't..."

"Won't what!" he answered, squaring off against me, his long mustache quivering slightly. "What do you know about the procedure? What do you really know about the element we're talking about here? You're a schoolteacher! I'm a scientist. If I say that breaking through the crust all at once is the only way, then I mean it!"

I looked around to my neighbors. Some were visibly concerned with the surveyor's attitude, but so far, he had said nothing to dissuade them.

"No half measures!" he shouted. "No 'just barely!' It's all or nothing in this town."

"But it has never been tried?" I persisted. The mayor stepped in and put his hand on my arm. I wrenched it away. Susan and Otis placed their arms on my shoulder. I hesitated to go further. It was clear I was upsetting everybody.

The surveyor picked up the blueprints and waved them in my face.

"It's precisely because it hasn't been tried that it will work!" he exclaimed. "Some of you see this as an experiment? A theory about what riches lie below Krick's Ridge? It's not! It cannot fail because the stuff beneath you all is pure! It's never been touched by human hands... but in your hands, it's golden. Your town will never want for anything again."

"I just don't agree with this notion of... untested absolutism!" I said, defeated.

"Be reasonable!" the Mayor pleaded with me. "You may be on the Board but you know full well we can vote on this without you."

I walked to the glass and gold double doors near the end of the Mayor's office - doors that had stood there for at least a thousand years - and elbowed my way through it.

The experiment moved quickly. Within a week, the surveyor's team had set up portable element causation devices at quarter mile increments through the entirely of the grid that comprised our town, and the rock beneath it. The theory was evidently simple, as reiterated by my town barber, Thomas. He exclaimed it all on a lazy Sunday afternoon, a day before the experiment. He went on excitedly as I sat captive in his chair, about how fine cracks in the bedrock would be created. They would not disturb the buildings, or us, in any way. We would not feel a thing. The machines were peerless and would work exactly as the theories said they would.

Once the fine cracks appeared, the natural gas, followed by the special element, would seep up through the ground and be collected. "Also," Thomas said as he clipped the hair near my ears, "The surveyor's maps are amazing. Do you know what else he found? He found a fault line that's been threatening our town for as long as history. By making these cracks in the foundation, we get rid of all the danger of an earthquake, forever! How's that for good luck?"

"I don't know." I said pensively. "You know I oppose this thing. It just seemed so untested, so extreme, so based in theory. What if something goes wrong?" I turned in the chair to face Thomas. "And when have you ever known Krick's Ridge to have an earthquake?!"

Some of the other customers in the shop overheard me.

"How much of your life have you spent studying this stuff?" said Martha, the local organist. "This surveyor has spent years of his life studying the ground around here. I know you have your schoolteacher brain but you are not a geologist!"

The next morning, the grand experiment, the one fated to cover Krick's Ridge in riches once and for all, was at last ready. Let this serve as a model for other towns in other areas, they said. No more half measures. Everything you thought you knew about the foundation of your life is not only wrong, but can be changed, and not just that, it can be changed to shower you in wealth.

Everyone gathered in the town square at 5 am on a Monday morning. They brought thermoses filled with hot coffee, pastries from the local patisserie, and thick slabs of toast slathered with honey and cream from the dairy farm just a mile outside of town. There must have been five hundred of them all milling about in the square, and countless others spreading down the arteries toward the center of town. I saw this, because I was looking down on it all from Krick's Ridge itself, sitting in a folding chair and tugging at my suspenders like a man on his wedding day.

At some point the machines must have switched on, because plumes of fine sediment began to drift up from all over the township. I heard a distant buzzing, and a far off cheering. My family was down there, too. They thought I was paranoid for seeking higher ground, so they'd elected to stay. I only heard the far off call of voices, and their reverberation up through the valley made it sound as if the voices were all around, bouncing the granite wall behind me, and through the trees.

I am still, to this day, not certain when the sound of collective voices cheering became a deeper, more resonant noise. I didn't even notice it at first, but before long, the roaring was unmistakably loud, and did not belong to any of my neighbors. It belonged to the earth itself. Several tall spiny structures in the far west of the town drifted like lazy buoys and disappeared. The plumes of dust had become bellowing, roaring clouds of gas and smoke that soon obscured the whole western edge of Krick's Ridge.

I could only stand in horror as the sirens began their earnest and futile call. The shouts of triumph far below had devolved into cries of despair. More buildings in the east went down quickly, yielding to tall eruptions of rock and stone. A splitting noise began, one that made me feel as though I was a mere ant on a thread connecting a cloth spun by god, as the cloth tore fully in half and sent all plummeting into unknown depths. I could only gnash my teeth and scream in despair as the town at last disappeared into the depths, it's once solid foundation split wholly and irreparably, yielding to anarchic fires. The thick belch of the earth's sick dominated the valley below the ridge, and to the north, just barely visible through the drifting smoke, I saw a small trail of tracks and feet, no doubt the Prospector's headed off toward some other valley, preaching his purity to all who would listen.


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