When Black Rock City disappeared, many people cheered.
Burning Man had a lot of haters, and besides, no one took the news seriously at first. There were no collapsed buildings, no flooded subway stations, none of the normal abnormal things. There were just reporters standing in the middle of the completely empty playa, sometimes buffeted by sandstorms, delivering the news as if doing an extreme weather report.
Drone footage of the moment of disappearance was pointless, it being the middle of a white-out, but the satellites picked it up: a patch of twinkly luminescence winking out like it was connected to a power grid and not thousands of separate power sources.
Over one hundred thousand people gone. And not just a random assortment of people. Enough of the tech braintrust lost that there was a dip in the GDP. Enough scientists were lost that their peers in environmental, quantum, biological disciplines lent their heads to the task. But with no bodies or discernable evidence, and no witnesses but the prehistoric seahorses that lined the bottom of the desert sea bed, the mystery was never solved.
That generation died without knowing what happened, and sired children into a world where impossible, inexplainable things were a fact of life. I was one of those children.
I was a pastor in the Eternal Now, presiding over the 10pm Cuddle Puddle. It was the earliest mass, and consequently had a bunch of children, some of whom were beginning to question. I could see it on their faces as they lay stiffly, their eyes wishing they were elsewhere, their parent’s faces crinkled with concern.
For my next track I eased up on the thump-bass and curved the music in a mellower direction, just to see how it impacted the vibe. If anything, they got stiffer.
I rubbed my nutmeg necklace and inhaled its powerful scent, and my resolve formed. At the end of mass, I took the two teenagers aside: twins, as was often the case. I waved on their parents, who had a younger passel of triplets to contend with, and they left with relief on their faces.
I took them out of the sun and into my well appointed yurt, and offered them some tea.
“What do you think happened to Black Rock City?” I asked them as I handed them a teacup each.
The two thin siblings looked at each other, their surly faces uncurling a little.
“I don’t believe in BRC,” the boy said, jerking his black bangs out of his face.
“Shit doesn’t just disappear,” the girl said. “That’s just dumb.”
“And our parents already showed us video, but it looked super fake,” said the boy.
“Yeah it doesn’t even look as good as the moon landing fake,” said the girl. “That had some production values at least. Anyone can do a now you see it, now you don’t cut.”
I nodded, trying to hide my pleased look. Good freethinkers, these ones!
“I felt just like you when I was your age,” I said, removing my satchel of mushrooms. “I had the benefit of the council of people who knew Burners, so it was easier for me to believe. The further we get from the disappearance, the harder it is to sustain the faith. The truth is, there is no knowing or certainty. We can only ponder the mystery and join with the Burners in their rituals and sacraments.” I crumbled the dried mushrooms into my tea, and held out my hand for theirs.
The teenagers looked at each other again, this time with genuine surprise. “But the sacraments are for adults,” said the girl.
“With your questions you have proven yourself thus,” I said, letting my pleasure spread to my face.
They handed over their teacups and I dosed them.
I checked the time. Perfect. “We take these now, they should kick in right as the midnight Cuddle Puddle begins.”