Chris Behan

Speculaville

The fictitious townhood of Speculaville had a peculiar obsession with elevation. Throughout its history, citizens would spend their days building higher and higher structures. No matter the endeavor, elevation was always at the forefront of your mind in Speculaville. Building a house? A stable? A sign? The higher the better. But there were no planes or helicopters in Speculaville; elevation could only be gained by building it.

The most well respected and envied citizens of Speculaville were the "Elders". Veteran craftsman, well versed in carpentry and architecture, capable of building structures of extravagant heights. The Elders had spent hundreds of years in fierce competition with one-another building higher and higher structures in an area of Speculaville called "Roof Street". And although the aim of the Elders was height, their towers provided much utility to the townsfolk. Some of their structures provided shelter, others provided storage. Some were just narrow lookout points, used to view the scenery of the surrounding area. But all had some utility outside of just being tall.

Speculaville had developed a system for buying and selling ownership stakes in the structures of Roof Street called the "Height Market". Structures were divided into shares and sold on the Height Market at a constantly fluctuating price. Some shares, like those of structures used for apartments, paid out quarterly dividends to their shareholders. Others, like the lookout towers, had less utility. Their value was based on what investors believed others would pay in the future for nice views; they were speculative.

One quiet, unsuspecting day in Speculaville, a mysterious piece of white paper began circulating amongst the youth. The author of this paper was unknown, he or she was unimportant. What was important was the schematic the paper contained: a description of a flotation device called a "balloon". The schematic detailed how one could use silk and paper to encase an element called helium, which would cause the casing to float. It described how and where one could extract helium from the ground, and how to fold the paper and silk to encase it. Within a few days of the paper's circulation, some young men and women from the town developed the first balloon. A grey silk sphere, lined with paper, filled with helium, and attached to a 10-foot piece of string.

The young balloon creators excitedly displayed their new device to the Elders on Roof Street. The reception was mixed. "I'm supposed to be impressed by this? It's hardly 10 feet tall" most of the Elders scoffed. A smaller group of Elders were impressed at the elevation that could be made with minimal effort and asked the youth to develop some balloons for them. And the smallest, but wisest group of Elders, having heard the aspirations of the youth to list their balloons on the Height Market warned: "There is almost no underlying value in these balloons, such things make for poor assets". But the young balloon makers were not dejected by this mixed reception. They spent the next several weeks building more balloons, using longer ropes, and more colourful silk casings.

Within a month's time, the tallest structure in Speculaville was a bright red balloon attached to a mile-long rope. And to the surprise of the Elders, this balloon became the most sought-after structure on the Height Market. Many were outraged at the immediate success of the youth. "I've spent my entire life building structures and studying architecture! How dare you hang this silly balloon above my towers!" Other, more opportunistic Elders, noticed the popularity of the balloon and began creating and listing their own on the Height Market, to great success. But the smallest and wisest group of Elders warned "What will you do if the rope comes loose, or the balloon pops? All will be lost." But the youth did not heed these warnings. No balloon had ever popped in Speculaville, which was notorious for its lack of wind, and they were confident that the ropes would not come loose.

Almost overnight, regular townsfolk across Speculaville became millionaires. Blacksmiths, tailors, and innkeepers alike, many of whom had never invested before, saw their balloon shares rise from $0.01 a share to over $100. And although they had only bought the balloon shares because their children told them to, they began to develop a false sense of confidence in their investing prowess. "Those idiots on Roof Street spend decades achieving 2x returns, in my first year of investing I've achieved 10,000x. I should be running Roof Street." Said the townsfolk of the Elders.

As word began to spread of how much money was made by those investing in balloons, more and more denizens of Speculaville began buying shares, driving the price further and further towards the moon. Most of the Elders were dumbfounded at the wealth of the townsfolk, which was starting to surpass their own. A smaller, more opportunistic group of Elders, who had listed their own balloons on the Height Market, saw their wealth skyrocket. But the smallest and wisest group of Elders warned "The gains made through balloon shares are far out of touch with the balloons real value. Get your money out while you can."

But of course, the Elder's warnings fell on deaf ears. Pursuing the ecstasy of rapidly rising wealth, more and more townsfolk poured their money into balloon shares, many investing their life's savings. It was not all smooth sailing, but it was close. There was the occasional "crash" that saw the price of balloon shares plummet 30%, only to rebound 130% the following week. It became common wisdom amongst the townsfolk to "buy the dip", for a rebound to new heights was all but certain. Speculaville was booming. Every day, a new cohort of citizens joined the upper class, and every other day a new balloon guaranteeing fortune was listed on the Height Market. Everything was going great until it wasn't...

It was a cool Wednesday afternoon in Speculaville, like any other afternoon during the winter months. But there was something very, very strange in the sky. Above the rainbow-colored skyline of balloons was a grey amorphous mass: a cloud. The townsfolk gathered in the square and looked towards the sky in awe. No one had ever seen a cloud in Speculaville. And whilst staring up at the sky like children, a horrific sensation quickly followed. A gust of wind blew through the square, rustling the clothes of all that stood in it. A dead silence followed. The townsfolk stared at each other in horror. Although they had never experienced wind, they knew very well what it was. An invisible force, capable of destruction. There were folktales about a town on this same land, before Speculaville, called Tuliptown, that was destroyed by the wind.

The story goes that in Tuliptown, flowers, specifically tulips, were the most sought-after resource. The citizens of Tuliptown would spend their days cultivating and harvesting tulips. They would then sell these tulips amongst themselves and neighbouring villages for absurdly high prices. Many citizens invested all their money into tulips, making a fortune as their prices skyrocketed. But the citizens of Tuliptown made a fatal mistake. They become so infatuated with the wealth they generated through tulips that they deemed it unnecessary to grow or produce anything else. Blacksmiths, tailors, and innkeepers alike, shut down shop and started to grow tulips. And for a short while, this investment paid dividends, as the money they earned from tulips was 10 times more than what they previously made. But that all changed when one day a great cloud shaped like a cone touched down in Tuliptown. The cloud produced a wind so strong that all of the tulips in the town were destroyed. Not a single seed remained. And with nothing to trade, and no production of their own, the citizens of Tuliptown had no choice but to abandon the land.

But the citizens of Speculaville thought this folktale to be just that, a folktale. After a brief moment of goosebumps and standing neck hairs, the silence in the town square was replaced with screams. "THE BALLOONS! SECURE THE BALLOONS!" Screamed the crowd. The townsfolk stampeded against the now raging winds towards Roof Street. Up above in the sky, hundreds of balloons violently danced, bashing against one another like the mosh-pit of a heavy metal concert. "POP!" exploded the first balloon in the colorful fray. The pop of the first balloon appeared to cascade across the skyline."POP! POP! BANG! POP!" Gradually, then all at once, every balloon above Roof Street had popped.

The townsfolk glared at the coloured debris that now lay at their feet with dejection and indignation. Women and children wept, while the men stood in silence. The fortunes of many were lost. The balloons had burst. Most of the Elders mocked the destitute townsfolk "Fools! I told you this would happen!". A smaller, more opportunistic group of Elders watched from the comfort of their towers above, paid for with the money they made from the balloon racket, which they safely exited before the burst. And the smallest, but wisest group of Elders said "Only through experience can we truly understand advice and where it came from."


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