RIG #9 • by Dan Blunk

I’ll say this for the place, it was remote. Even for the parts of the world where I was used to working, places so used up or so far from anything that they weren’t really part of the human world at all. But for all its desolation, that place on the plains of northeastern Colorado, swept by buffalo grass stretching horizon to horizon, was far from quiet. For one thing, there was the constant rusty-gate squawk of those damn birds, the little black ones with white patches on the wingtips, the ones the Cheyenne had called Ghost Wings. And, of course, there was the wind. Sometimes it was a whine that drilled into the loneliest part of you; other times it was the noise in a seashell, like hearing everything and nothing all at once. It could drive a man to dark places, that wind. That the Cheyenne people ever fought and died for such a place tells you all you need to know about the state of things for them.

This was out where the new formation, the Niobrara, had been pried open and that black magic was flowing as fast as we could catch it. We were drilling so many holes in the ground we couldn’t keep up with the hiring. I’d been around a while by then and the crew chief had me and the Kid two-manning the new site, rig #9. We weren’t supposed to be two-manning; safety regs called for full crews. But the company didn’t give a tin shit about regs. If they had, we wouldn’t have been out there at all.

Because the exploration geologist prepping the site for #9 had found human bones at the top of a lonely hill next to the drill bed.

The book called for him to notify the university in Fort Collins and wait for a full-scale, pain-in-the-ass archeological dig. All so some pinhead with letters after his name could tell us where a bunch of Cheyenne scouts had their latrine 100 years before. Instead, like anyone with sense, the exploration geo rolled his eyes, left the bones where they were, and finished drilling that pilot hole.

Things were moving so fast on the Niobrara back then that there wasn’t time to do what we had to, forget the extras. To this day, I don’t know if anybody was ever notified. After what happened to the Kid, I didn’t stick around to find out.

***

So me and the Kid are out there, dropping iron into the hole, pulling crude out of the hole. Hard, dangerous work, but the pay is good. And it is thrilling to work on the rigs, the grease and the sweat and the fear.

One evening, near dark, the Kid starts bellyaching. He’s had it for the day, he says. The Kid is nice enough, but he’s a total pain in the ass. If you work the oil patch long enough, you see this a lot. These spoiled college drop-outs come out here in love with the idea of the oilfields. I don’t know, maybe they think it’s going to be like the fucking Yukon, like maybe they’ll get to hoist a few cold ones with Jack London. Then they find out it’s just work, and more work than they can handle at that. Mostly, we wait for them to flame out, to head back to their mom’s basements, their high-def TVs, their video games. So the Kid isn’t my favorite. But I bite my tongue a lot because I figure he’ll move on soon enough. To stop his whining I start shutting down early. Then I hear it: A high-pitched cry. The wind, I think. But it isn’t the wind.

I look all around, thinking if the Kid is yanking my chain I’ll stomp his ass. But the Kid is closing the drilling fluid tank valves, doing exactly what he’s supposed to for once. He looks up at me and points at his ears, asking me if I hear that too. I ignore him.

I don’t give that sound another thought, until about a week later, around the same time. I hear it again, a high, piercing cry. I look to the tanks. The Kid is gone. I look toward the top of that lonely hill. And what I see makes my bones ache even now. The Kid is flat on his back up there. And he’s not alone. A man is leaning over him, backlit by the blood-red setting sun. It’s a Cheyenne warrior, wearing only a breechcloth; his face is painted ghostly white. He looks straight at me, eyes black as midnight.

Well, I grab a big wrench and run up to see what the hell. When I get up there, the Cheyenne is gone, not even a footprint left in the buffalo grass. It looks like the Kid is struggling to stand, but when I get close, it isn’t the Kid at all. It’s just birds. There must be a couple hundred of those Ghost Wings, nestled down in the grass in the exact shape of the Kid, right down to his ball cap. They scatter to the wind, leaving nothing behind.

***

I told the crew chief the Kid just walked off the job. At least that was believable. Then I went to Alaska and spent 30 years working the rigs and trying to forget. But I couldn’t. I moved back to Colorado last summer. Things felt… unfinished. I have terminal cancer, my retirement gift for breathing a lifetime of oil fumes. The pain is so bad some nights, like tonight, that I would do anything to end it. Old rig #9 isn’t far from here. It’s probably rusted out by now, barely limping along in the wind and the grass. Like me. I’m going to drive out there tonight and make my peace with that Cheyenne and his birds. We had no business being out there. I know that now. I’m ready.


Dan Blunk lives in northern Colorado with his wife and dog. This is his first published work of fiction.


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Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • This is fantastic. You could have gone to some really cheesy places here, but you didn’t. The voice is spot-on, and the ending is both surprising and touching. Keep writing, please.

  • This is fantastic. You could have gone to some really cheesy places here, but you didn’t. The voice is spot-on, and the ending is both surprising and touching. Keep writing, please.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Different, spooky and entertaining. What more can we expect?

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Different, spooky and entertaining. What more can we expect?

  • Beakermadness

    Contemporary, mysterious. Tight prose.

  • Beakermadness

    Contemporary, mysterious. Tight prose.

  • Good on you! First published piece and it’s a good one. Now, head over keyboard, keep at it.

  • Good on you! First published piece and it’s a good one. Now, head over keyboard, keep at it.

  • This story has a very ‘journal’ feel to it to me. After the first paragraph, it became harder for me to read. The half-thoughts and sentences jarred me out of the story. The use of ‘So’ is just something that I find hard to read. I feel like I am listening to my teenage daughter tell the story from memory.

    “Because the exploration geologist prepping the site for #9 had found
    human bones at the top of a lonely hill next to the drill bed.”

    This paragraph/sentence really made the story turn in my opinion. My complaint is that it is neither (sentence or paragraph). My binders engaged completely when I hit that spot in the story. I re-read it at least three times trying to figure out if I just was having one of those ‘morning’ moments.

    Thanks for the story.

  • This story has a very ‘journal’ feel to it to me. After the first paragraph, it became harder for me to read. The half-thoughts and sentences jarred me out of the story. The use of ‘So’ is just something that I find hard to read. I feel like I am listening to my teenage daughter tell the story from memory.

    “Because the exploration geologist prepping the site for #9 had found
    human bones at the top of a lonely hill next to the drill bed.”

    This paragraph/sentence really made the story turn in my opinion. My complaint is that it is neither (sentence or paragraph). My binders engaged completely when I hit that spot in the story. I re-read it at least three times trying to figure out if I just was having one of those ‘morning’ moments.

    Thanks for the story.

  • Dan Blunk, what a great name for a writer. And a writer you are, mister. Yeah the writing could have used another turn in the polishing bucket. I felt the opening too stretched with up front info, but the voice and the strength of character knocked me out.
    Keep the faith.
    “hoist a few cold ones with Jack London,” stellar!

  • Dan Blunk, what a great name for a writer. And a writer you are, mister. Yeah the writing could have used another turn in the polishing bucket. I felt the opening too stretched with up front info, but the voice and the strength of character knocked me out.
    Keep the faith.
    “hoist a few cold ones with Jack London,” stellar!

  • Matt Rickman

    At the end I was wanting more… the sign of a good story. Thanks Mr. Blunk.

    • Nick Giallourakis

      100% agree with Matt. Well done Mr. Blunk!

  • Matt Rickman

    At the end I was wanting more… the sign of a good story. Thanks Mr. Blunk.

    • Nick Giallourakis

      100% agree with Matt. Well done Mr. Blunk!

  • packetguy

    The author paints a convincing picture of the oilfield work environment using just a few clues, such as the mention of the geologist and drilling fluids tank valves. I had no problem visualizing the place, and believing the fabric of the tale. Planting an early expectation of impending disaster for the Kid kept me engaged.

    I liked the nebulous ending as well. The story works as a nice little compact package, and I hope it gets recognition for its concise structure and convincing vernacular. First person is the hardest narrative voice to write, so kudos for pulling it off.

    The story cries out for more. With readers hooked early on by the Kid’s fate, the author can easily spend another 1000 words or so on additional description, fleshing out both characters and setting the scene of the Kid’s demise more clearly. Perhaps a few more increasingly inexplicable spooky events leading up to it, perhaps with the kid contributing to his bad end in some way.

  • packetguy

    The author paints a convincing picture of the oilfield work environment using just a few clues, such as the mention of the geologist and drilling fluids tank valves. I had no problem visualizing the place, and believing the fabric of the tale. Planting an early expectation of impending disaster for the Kid kept me engaged.

    I liked the nebulous ending as well. The story works as a nice little compact package, and I hope it gets recognition for its concise structure and convincing vernacular. First person is the hardest narrative voice to write, so kudos for pulling it off.

    The story cries out for more. With readers hooked early on by the Kid’s fate, the author can easily spend another 1000 words or so on additional description, fleshing out both characters and setting the scene of the Kid’s demise more clearly. Perhaps a few more increasingly inexplicable spooky events leading up to it, perhaps with the kid contributing to his bad end in some way.

  • RichDev

    Haunting, richly textured and compelling. Great first paragraph.

  • RichDev

    Haunting, richly textured and compelling. Great first paragraph.

  • Kelly Danziger

    This is great…when can I read more?

  • Kelly Danziger

    This is great…when can I read more?

  • Carl Steiger

    I especially enjoyed the image of the Kid’s body being replaced by the birds. By the way, what ARE those birds? A Google search has not helped me.

  • Carl Steiger

    I especially enjoyed the image of the Kid’s body being replaced by the birds. By the way, what ARE those birds? A Google search has not helped me.

    EDIT: Maybe a Lark Bunting, State Bird of CO? The white wing patches aren’t exactly on the tips, but overall it seems to fit the bill.

  • MPmcgurty

    Goodness. I really liked this. Nice job on keeping a consistent voice, and a genuine one at that. Only thing missing for me was a buildup. We know as soon as we read the stand-alone paragraph about the bones where this story is going. And we know a bad thing is going to happen to the Kid. Nothing wrong with that if you fulfill the horror/thriller expectation. In a longer form, you could have added some creepy moments leading up to the warrior on the hill. There are always ways to prune language for those things, but I’m not sure what I would sacrifice here to make room for that.

    You have a lot of talent, Dan. I hope you become a regular contributor here at EDF.

  • MPmcgurty

    Goodness. I really liked this. Nice job on keeping a consistent voice, and a genuine one at that. Only thing missing for me was a buildup. We know as soon as we read the stand-alone paragraph about the bones where this story is going. And we know a bad thing is going to happen to the Kid. Nothing wrong with that if you fulfill the horror/thriller expectation. In a longer form, you could have added some creepy moments leading up to the warrior on the hill. There are always ways to prune language for those things, but I’m not sure what I would sacrifice here to make room for that.

    You have a lot of talent, Dan. I hope you become a regular contributor here at EDF.

  • Paul Robichaux

    Loved it. Great narrative, with a crisp ending that packs a punch. I loved the image of “those damn birds” in the exact shape of the Kid. Well done.

  • Paul Robichaux

    Loved it. Great narrative, with a crisp ending that packs a punch. I loved the image of “those damn birds” in the exact shape of the Kid. Well done.

  • joanna b.

    I couldn’t get into this story like so many of the other people commenting did. I feel like I’ve read this before, many times, and I didn’t get a unique take on either the MC or the KId. Both seemed like stock characters.

    However, I did like the birds in the shape of The Kid, I liked the digs at archaeology as in it finds latrines, and it seems pretty good for a first publication. Onward and Upward, Mr Blunk.

  • joanna b.

    I couldn’t get into this story like so many of the other people commenting did. I feel like I’ve read this before, many times, and I didn’t get a unique take on either the MC or the KId. Both seemed like stock characters.

    However, I did like the birds in the shape of The Kid, I liked the digs at archaeology as in it finds latrines, and it seems pretty good for a first publication. Onward and Upward, Mr Blunk.

  • S Conroy

    Lovely debut. Lovely language – “rusty-gate squawk of those damn birds” to pick out one phrase. And the idea of the birds in the shape of the kid is really creative.

  • S Conroy

    Lovely debut. Lovely language – “rusty-gate squawk of those damn birds” to pick out one phrase. And the idea of the birds in the shape of the kid is really creative.

  • macdabhaid

    Now this is a fresh, in-your-face-honest, piece of writing – a bit of the Keruoac about it. It totally engaged me , the expletives adding to the voice rather than detracting. Excellent double denouement.

  • macdabhaid

    Now this is a fresh, in-your-face-honest, piece of writing – a bit of the Keruoac about it. It totally engaged me , the expletives adding to the voice rather than detracting. Excellent double denouement.

  • Jeffrey Smith

    Great story, well told, with a voice that is both compelling and unique. Congrats on your first publication.

  • Jeffrey Smith

    Great story, well told, with a voice that is both compelling and unique. Congrats on your first publication.

  • Diane Cresswell

    You have captured an incredible vision with your words. I have been in that area along with being in the Dakotas feeling that wind move through every cell of your body. The land still holds the sacredness and it certainly is not difficult to see the past arise before your eyes… I have. All I can say is if this is your first story… then I would like to read more of them. Keep writing.

  • Diane Cresswell

    You have captured an incredible vision with your words. I have been in that area along with being in the Dakotas feeling that wind move through every cell of your body. The land still holds the sacredness and it certainly is not difficult to see the past arise before your eyes… I have. All I can say is if this is your first story… then I would like to read more of them. Keep writing.

  • disqus_kXdgzxE8SF

    Excellent job, Dan. Very compelling. Quite a hidden talent you have.

  • disqus_kXdgzxE8SF

    Excellent job, Dan. Very compelling. Quite a hidden talent you have.

  • Queenie

    This story is just right. Balanced tone, evocative language rooted in a convincing reality and cleanly sketched charaters. Not too much not too little. And then, the end–poof! It flutters off with those haunting little birds. Very good read. Most everyone seems to want more, …soooo…?

  • Queenie

    This story is just right. Balanced tone, evocative language rooted in a convincing reality and cleanly sketched charaters. Not too much not too little. And then, the end–poof! It flutters off with those haunting little birds. Very good read. Most everyone seems to want more, …soooo…?

  • Scott Harker

    That’s your first? I am shocked.

    The voice is experienced and wise and real. The imagery is beautiful. The backstory creepy. Kept me interested from start to finish. One of the best I’ve read here in a while.

    As others have said, please keep writing! Excellent work here!

  • Scott Harker

    That’s your first? I am shocked.

    The voice is experienced and wise and real. The imagery is beautiful. The backstory creepy. Kept me interested from start to finish. One of the best I’ve read here in a while.

    As others have said, please keep writing! Excellent work here!

  • mdj

    This is totally awesome! Your story left me wanting to know more about what happened to both characters.

  • mdj

    This is totally awesome! Your story left me wanting to know more about what happened to both characters.

  • JD Evans

    Great concept. Too many errors regarding oilfield technology Rigs don’t stay on wells after production begins. 30 years is ridiculous. And to consider a 2-man crew drilling in the deep Colorado well environment makes no sense. I didn’t know there was a lot of fucking in the Yukon..

  • JD Evans

    Great concept. Too many errors regarding oilfield technology Rigs don’t stay on wells after production begins. 30 years is ridiculous. And to consider a 2-man crew drilling in the deep Colorado well environment makes no sense. I didn’t know there was a lot of fucking in the Yukon..

  • Dan, it says this is your first published work of fiction, well keep it coming. It’s your voice, your honesty. You’ve got it, don’t hide it. Get it out there. As an old shipyard guy, I feel it in your prose–didn’t give a tin shit, pinhead with letters attached to his name, dropping iron in the hole, and best of all, thrilling work-grease, sweat and fear–that’s it my man. But it doesn’t stop there, you tell a great story. You waste no words. Keep at it, my man. And be in touch when you’re next piece it published. I’d read your stuff anytime. Good luck.

  • Dan, it says this is your first published work of fiction, well keep it coming. It’s your voice, your honesty. You’ve got it, don’t hide it. Get it out there. As an old shipyard guy, I feel it in your prose–didn’t give a tin shit, pinhead with letters attached to his name, dropping iron in the hole, and best of all, thrilling work-grease, sweat and fear–that’s it my man. But it doesn’t stop there, you tell a great story. You waste no words. Keep at it, my man. And be in touch when you’re next piece it published. I’d read your stuff anytime. Good luck.

  • Debbie Kane

    Dan – this story was great! I wanted more at the end and can’t wait for more. Keep up the writing!

  • Debbie Kane

    Dan – this story was great! I wanted more at the end and can’t wait for more. Keep up the writing!

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