The Boy Who Could See Beneath the Earth
March 27, 2012
Guy Finley had the gift.
There was no doubt it.
Or was it curse?
He didn’t know, and he was afraid to tell, and he hated the thought of anyone laughing at him. Guy Finley only realized that the earth could no longer keep its secrets from him, and as he shuffled across that burning West Texas sandscape, he could feel water bubbling up somewhere deep beneath his footprints.
But the barren stretch of earth that spilled out from Sanderson was as dry as a chunk of brimstone, and everybody with good sense knew it, which is why the elder Mr. Finley spent such a great deal of his time worrying about the sanity of his son. And the boy wasn’t yet ten years old.
The sun beat down upon the Trans-Pecos desert as though it was angry, and maybe it was. The land had a thirst that couldn’t be quenched, and the clouds only brought a few shadows upon the ground, never any rain.
Guy Finley slowly led his father out beyond an empty arroyo, down where the mesquites and greasewood stubbornly drove their roots like withered stakes into the baked soil. He paused and stared hard at the rocks that lay scattered upon the cracked and ashen patches of earth, and he nodded. “There’s water beneath us,” he said softly.
His father sadly shook his head. The boy’s mind had been tainted since birth, he thought. Only a fool would dare speak of water upon a land that had been squeezed dry by the devil himself. But the old man, being a desperate old man, started digging anyway, trying to carve his way through dirt as tough as goatmilk adobe. As the afternoon winds wiped away the sweat from his weathered face, the elder Mr. Finley decided that he must be as crazy as his son.
The heat will do that to you sometimes, he told himself. Besides, his cattle and his children had swollen tongues, and the Rio Grande was so thick with mud that you had to chew the river water before you could swallow it.
“How deep are we gonna have to go?” the elder Mr. Finley asked.
“About sixty feet.”
The old man groaned. His back ached. And two days later, he broke down past sixty-two feet, and fresh water rushed up to hide the broken blades of his auger. Suddenly the boy didn’t appear to be so tainted anymore.
Guy Finley had the gift.
No doubt about it.
Neighbors sought him out, and the boy didn’t turn any of them down. Just north of Del Rio, he stepped off three wells for a man. Two hit water, but the third was as dry as a sandstorm.
The rancher didn’t mind, but Guy Finley told him, “Your hole’s crooked. If you had drilled straight, you have found water in the third well, too.”
The man dropped dynamite into the hole.
The ground shook and heaved. And water boiled forth from the cavity.
Guy Finley had been right all along.
“How much do I owe you?” the rancher asked.
“Nothing. I didn’t pay nothing for the gift,” the boy answered. “And I don’t charge nothing to use it.”
Guy Finley was big hearted all right. But he was just a long, lanky, overgrown kid. He didn’t know anything about the ways of money. His daddy smiled. His daddy did. The old man sat down with the boy one night and placed a fruit jar filled with crude on the table before him.
“This is oil,” the elder Mr. Finley said.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Can you find it?”
“If it’s under the ground, I can,” he said.
By morning, Finley and his son were their way to Spindletop on the southern edge of the Piney Woods, almost within spitting distance of the gulf. The whole landscape smelled of oil. It smelled of money. And the old man trembled with anticipation. There were a lot of greedy men searching for East Texas crude.
And his son would find it.
They would pay plenty to hire the boy with the X-ray eyes.
Oil? Water? It didn’t matter. Nothing under the ground could hide from him.
“How do you do it?” he was asked.
Guy Finley smiled and shrugged. He didn’t talk a lot about the gift.
The elder Mr. Finley made the rounds in the saloons of Spindletop, where whiskey was so strong, some said, you could spill it on two brickbats, and they would jump up and commence fighting. In time, he found a gambling wildcatter named McFaddin who was drunk, but not enough to take a wild chance on a boy who had the gift.
“I want to check him out first,” he said.
The elder Mr. Finley nodded.
That night, McFaddin’s roughnecks buried a barrel of oil six feet deep beneath a matted carpet of pine straw. The hour was dark. Even the moon hid its face behind a thunderstorm.
“The kid won’t be able to see a damn thing,” the wildcatter said.
“I can see oil,” Guy Finley said.
Six minutes later, he was standing above the grave that held the oil.
“What’s he gonna cost me?” McFaddin asked the elder Finley.
McFaddin grinned. “In the oil business,” he said, “a lot is never too much if you’re as good as you say you are.”
Guy Finley could not sleep that night. “It’s wrong,” he told his father. “What I have is a gift that’s supposed to be given away.”
“It’ll make us rich.”
“It’s not worth it.”
The elder Mr. Finley sighed. It was a difficult thing to have a son with a tainted mind.
The next morning, Guy Finley trekked across a strip of land, down where the herons fluttered above the swamps, and he felt oil bubbling up somewhere beneath his footprints.
The wildcatter immediately leased the land, laughed out loud, and refused to pay the Finleys any money at all. “I don’t need the kid anymore,” he said.
McFaddin scraped together every cent he could beg, borrow, or steal and sank it into the edge of a salt dome.
The well was dry, and he was a broken man.
He cursed Guy Finley. “You’re nothing but a cheap, side-show huckster,” he screamed.
“You should have paid us,” the elder Mr. Finley said.
“I could have told you that you were drilling on the wrong end of the field,” the boy replied.
McFaddin never again got enough money to find out if the boy was right. But then, he didn’t have to. He lost his lease. And he was drinking among the brickbats in a Spindletop saloon when word came about the great oil strike on the field that had once belonged to him.
Guy Finley did indeed have the gift, he decided.
There was no doubt about it.
Wildcatters flocked around the elder Mr. Finley, trying to hire the boy with the strange eyes. They all wanted him to point out the spot where their bit should finally bite into the dirt. And the old man banked more money than he had ever seen in his life, more than he could count at one sitting anyway.
Then on a frosty autumn morning, he turned his son loose on an open spit of land that cut down toward a bayou, folded his arms, and waited for lightning to strike once more.
All day Guy Finley walked.
For a week he walked.
The oilmen began to grumble and lose their patience.
The elder Mr. Finley walked alongside his son as the distant derricks of Spindletop cast their long shadows down the salt dome and on toward them. “What’s wrong?” he asked the boy.
“I don’t see a thing.”
The old man glanced nervously back toward the angry, sweating wildcatters who were growing tired and restless.
Guy Finley hung his head and confessed, “The gift is gone.”
“You can’t just lose something like that,” the old man said.
“Than what happened to it?”
“You sold it.”
There was no doubt about it. The boy’s mind hadn’t been tainted after all, only the old man’s greed. And it cost them the only gift that either of them had ever possessed or would ever possess again.
Originally written for and published by The Writers Collection.