Beneath the Surface
The work that was taking place to restore the façade was, in itself, a façade.
The rot that affected Livenworth Town Hall ran a lot deeper than the obvious, physical rot that permeated a fair amount of its structure (and which wasn’t getting fixed anyway). The affliction that had reduced a once proud building to a sagging heap of so much useless brick and plaster was far less tangible, and nothing that any amount of builders tea, hods of bricks or flagrantly visible arsecracks would be able to fix. Those were all present, of course – but that was just a pretense. If the public had even an inkling of the true cause of distress, there would be panic. Probably. Maybe. It was a risk.
Someone had carelessly – not to mention foolishly, given the known damage that could be inflicted – left a beginners book on philosophy open and inside the Town Hall. Normally this would not have been an issue as, while an avid reader, the Town Hall lacked fingers or a tongue with which to lick them and so could not turn pages. Had the book been left anywhere else on the inside it simply would have read the two open pages, been annoyed it could not have read more and that would have been it. But the book had been left by an open window, and the weather had been forecast to be convenient breezes and, shockingly, this was entirely accurate. Every time the Town Hall reached the end of a page, there would be a tiny gust of wind and the page would flip over. In this way it read the whole thing, and was deeply affected.
Riven with metaphysical angst and confusion, the Town Hall began to sag with disconsolate sadness, and it was at this point that the problem became apparent, though not obvious. Those not well-versed in saddened buildings attributed the various structural problems to mundane causes and moved to fix them as might well be expected. This just made things worse. The building, ill-equipped to grapple with the deep meaning – or meaningless – of life rejected such feeble efforts and deteriorated. It was only by chance that the Philosopher General was visiting of a weekend and had the issue diagnosed in a trice. The offending book and cause of all the woe was also found, which helped narrow it down, though the party responsible refused to own up, even after a heart-wrenching speech from the Philosopher General. Shorn of anyone to blame, work had to go ahead without a scapegoat to nail to the front door.
Teams of thinkers and squadrons of logicians were brought in, many on extremely short notice. The town budget for the year was put up against the wall and shot. Every single other item of business – including that one council member who was on fire at the time – was put on hold. Nothing was more important. All non-essential personnel were put into storage and the furniture was given unpaid leave so as to keep them out of harm’s way. Sealing all entrances bar one, those tasked with handling the existential crisis moved into place. Inside, they found the Town Hall an oppressive place; the walls and ceiling groaning heavy with doubt and worry. They had not arrived a moment too soon.
While the builders – merely unskilled and poorly-paid actors, as was often the case with builders – kept up the masquerade outside, the intellectuals on the inside engaged in ferocious and uncharacteristically erotic debates. All were quite fraught, and all were designed and choreographed to best usher the building towards some manner of comfortable understanding. By degrees and by inches the building slowly started to grasp and grapple the concepts it had been so worried about. What had been crippling doubt and despair became stoic acceptance and acquiescence, coupled with a willingness to accept and experiment with unusual world views. Prospects looked good.
Then, disaster. At the very height of an especially acrobatic debate, one spectator unthinkingly put a single toe of line. This altered the context of the entire debate, and threw what had been a looming slam-dunk conclusion into stark and sudden doubt. The Town Hall groaned, its walls shifting in shock. Those gathered inside looked about with wide and fearful eyes. One especially weak-willed Junior Thinkologist let their nerves get the better of them, breaking and fleeing for the door. Panic swept through those gathered like wind through a field, and none were unaffected. What had been a stalwart group of razor-sharp minds became a panicked and screaming mob thundering out into the street.
Unable to vouch for the physical or metaphysical safety of the Town Hall it was ordered sealed up. And remains so, to this day.