My fiancee had an idea to get me practicing and writing more. We have been playing an epic game of Draw Something with each other on the iPads. Her idea was to write a story using all the pictures/words that we drew in one week.
The words were Titanic – wow – oilfield – Macbook – popular – rebound – Tupac – kung fu – Snooki – Shaq – bonfire – follower – taxi – oval.
The story could be any length or genre but must contain all of the above words. After its been posted I was also considering a post about the Making Of… like a behind the scenes. Really for my own benefit so I can think about my process for the future.
And now our feature presentation…
By Sean Fallon.
‘In the night its noises and in the day the men are seeing things.’ White stood in front of Blue’s desk, his hands clasped together as though in prayer. As he spoke he rubbed his hands together slowly.
Blue frowned, ‘What kinds of things?’
‘Shadows. The men on the watches are seeing shadows.’
‘And other things. They say there are things walking out on the dunes.’
Blue waved his hand as though to waft away what White said, ‘They’re spending too much time in the sun. Go into storage and find them bigger hats.’
‘But, sir, you must have heard the noises. The past two weeks every night-’
‘We’re in the middle of the desert,’ said Blue. ‘There are animals out there. They’re probably making the noises.’
‘Not these noises. They sound like…’ White wanted to say bombs falling but thought better of it. ‘They don’t sound like animals.’
‘Get back to work. You are my second in command, only come here with real issues’ Blue looked down at the papers on his desk.
White sighed and left Blue’s office.
Waiting outside was Green. He clutched a wide brimmed hat in his hands. ‘So whaddid he say?’
White started walking along the steel catwalk that stood fifteen feet above the desert floor. The small hut that served as Blue’s office stood at one end of the walk while the other huts (the sleeping quarters, canteen etc.) were at the other. ‘He thinks we’re wearing hats that are too small and that those noises that sound like bank vaults being dropped out of the sky are just the noises desert animals make.’
Green caught up with him. ‘So he thinks we’re mental?’
‘He does indeed. Well, actually he thinks I’m mental because I was stupid enough to go see him.’ White stepped down the stairs off the catwalk and into the canteen. The small canteen had a serving station at one wall and a long steel table in the middle of the room. As he opened the doors the five men sat at the table stopped talking and looked at him.
‘So?’ said Yellow, a bald man with a ragged moustache.
‘He thinks we’re mental,’ said Green before White could speak.
Yellow slammed his hand on the table, ‘Damn it. What’s it gonna take for him to listen to us? Is someone gonna have to die first.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, no one’s going to die,’ said White.
‘What about Purple?’ Said Red from the far end of the table.
White sighed, ‘Purple died because he went wandering out in the sand.’
‘He was hearing voices,’ said Yellow. ‘Voices that made him wanna kill himself.’
‘I know the feeling,’ said White. ‘Purple should never have been out here in the first place. He was…unsettled.’
‘Is that a nice way of saying he was nuts,’ said Red.
‘The nicest way I can think of at such short notice,’ White looked up at the large clock that hung above the canteen doors. ‘Right, Gray is off watch in an hour, who’s relieving him?’
Orange raised his hand lazily, ‘Me, boss. Though the more time I spend out there the more I think I’m gonna see the ghost of Hamlet’s dad walking the walls.’ He looked around the room for a reaction and got blank stares. ‘Beatniks,’ he muttered under his breath.
‘Right, take one of the cameras with you. Try and capture something, some proof of what you say. I’m not taking any more of your suspicions to Blue until I have evidence to back me up.’
‘But you believe us? Right, chief?’ said Red.
‘I believe something has you all spooked. I believe that those noises we’re hearing at night are not natural. And I believe that in four days a big fat helicopter is going to arrive and carry every one of us off this rig and off this godforsaken oilfield and back to our homes and real beds and women and booze.’
The men rattled their knuckles on the steel table as applause.
The Rig was a titanic structure built for drilling in the desert. Raised fifteen feet off the ground it stood on four huge legs which were dug deep into the sand. The Rig was split in three sections. Each section linked to the other by a long steel catwalk. Section one was Blue’s office, the brain of the beast as Blue called it. The central section held the canteen and sleeping quarters of the nine man crew who ran the Rig in four month bursts. Between the residential huts and the canteen was an open section for recreation that had a battered basketball hoop standing on it. On all three sections the floor was a series of metal panels that looked to have been hastily welded together and looked like a violent sneeze would separate them. White knew that he slept well at night because he didn’t think about how unsafe the floor was. The third section was the drill. Mostly automated from headquarters the drill ran constantly. The crew’s job was to maintain and also to protect the Rig. Each member of the crew came from either engineering or a military background. If you had been an engineer you were taught to fire a gun and if you were from the military you were shown the difference between a Kelly hose and a bell nipple and put to work.
Encircling all three parts of the Rig was a walkway that could be reached by two slim inclined catwalks, on each side of the central section. The outlying section (known as the moat) was higher than the other areas and was manned at all times. Regulations stated that two men should be on watch at all times but since nothing ever seemed to happen it had been reduced to one. As White climbed the ramp up to the moat he had a feeling they would need to up the number soon, if only to provide peace of mind to the spooked crew.
Gray stood at the corner of the moat closest to the drill. He was a dark-skinned man in his thirties and was dressed in khaki shorts and a shirt. Atop his shaven head was a black cap with a mesh curtain that covered his neck like a strange mullet. He was squinting towards the horizon. He raised his binoculars and pointed them out at the dunes.
On all four sides they were surrounded by vast, infinite plains of sand. The dunes rose and fell in the constant, light wind. The cloudless sky offered no relief as the sun constantly beat down on the roofless Rig. The only solace was in the roasting hot huts or the mildly cooler canteen.
White stood next to Gray who wordlessly handed him the binoculars. White looked through them at the windswept dunes.
‘Did you speak to Blue?’ Said Gray scratching his nose.
‘He says we need bigger hats.’
‘Typical,’ Gray removed a pack of cigarettes from his shirt. He looked at each cigarette before selecting one. It had a 12 pencilled on its side. He lit it and blew a plume of smoke into the wind.
‘What am I looking at?’
Gray poked the binoculars, lightly pushing them to where he wanted White to look. ‘Second dune along, about halfway down. Two black stones, oval shaped, both about the size of an egg.’
White looked moving the binoculars over every inch of the dune but saw nothing.
‘What can you see?’
‘Sand. Lots and lots of sand.’
Gray took the binoculars and looked. ‘Gone.’
‘Orange is going to come relieve you in a bit. He’s going to bring a camera.’
‘Why do you think? You’re all talking about there being something out there but you give me no proof. Blue will laugh me out of the door if I go back with nothing.’
Gray pointed out to the horizon where the air shimmered in the heat. ‘You know when someone walks past a frosted glass door?’
‘It’s been a while but yes.’
‘And when they walk past it’s like a shape that you can see is a person but you’re not sure?’
‘That’s like what we’re seeing. Out there on the edge in the shimmer there are things moving. Like walking silhouettes.’
White stared out at the shimmering horizon but saw nothing. ‘And the egg rock thing?’
‘That’s something different.’
That night they all sat in the canteen (except Red who was on watch and Blue who ate in his hut alone).
White drank coffee and stood behind Orange who was uploading the pictures on his laptop.
Orange sighed, ‘I’m not gonna lie I took 102 pictures and I think 101 of them are of sand.’
‘Let me guess,’ said Brown, an engineer with an unkempt goatee and a scar across his throat. ‘The other one’s of your dick?’
‘Does the camera have that good of a zoom?’ said Green.
‘Ha fucking ha. You should be on the stage lads,’ Orange flicked the screen. ‘This laptop is bollocks. The second crew all have pre-Fall Macbooks and don’t have to put up with this shite.’
‘They’re also a bunch of dickheads,’ said Brown.
‘Do they ever mention the shadows and the noises?’ said White.
‘We don’t really talk shop with them, chief,’ said Green. ‘Most of the time we tell them that we pissed in their beds and they say they knobbed our wives and then we all have a pint together and Gray punches one of them out.’
‘The same one each time?’
Gray looked up from the book he was reading, ‘No, I’m an equal opportunity violent drunk. I spread it around.’
‘When we get back, I know you only have one night on the base with them before they take over here but ask around.’
‘They’ll think we’ve gone soft,’ said Brown.
‘Haven’t we?’ said Gray.
‘Like fuck we have,’ said Brown. ‘There’s nothing out there that scares me.’
‘We should increase the watches,’ said Gray. ‘Two men out.’
‘Why?’ said White.
‘We had two men at the start and then scaled back out of laziness.’
‘Because nothing ever happens.’
‘That’s what they said at Pearl Harbour,’ said Orange. ‘Right, pictures.’
White looked over his shoulder as he scrolled through them one by one. ‘Sand, dunes, more sand, Orange’s shoes for some reason, sand again, a snake, shoes again, the drill, sand, sand, sand.’
When they were finished there was nothing out of the ordinary in any of the pictures.
‘What now?’ said Orange.
‘Each man on watch will take the camera,’ said White.
‘Did you see anything?’ said Gray.
Orange shook his head, ‘Nah, nothing.’
‘Maybe,’ said Brown. ‘Maybe Blue’s right. Too much sun, not enough women.’
‘And here’s me thinking that women were what drove me crazy in the first place,’ said Orange.
‘What day is it?’ said Yellow suddenly.
‘Tuesday,’ said Orange. ‘Tuesday the ninth.’
‘Yeah, Yellow, why?’
‘Today’s my birthday. What year is it?’
‘Your birthday? I’d assume it was every year.’
‘No, idiot so I can work out how old I am.’
‘Wait, you don’t know how old you are but I’m the idiot.’
‘Its 2021.’ said Gray.
‘In new years?’ asked Yellow, his eyes closed in concentration.
‘Nine years since the Fall.’
‘Fifty-two,’ said Yellow, smiling.
‘Oldest man in the crew,’ said White. ‘Happy birthday.’
‘Cheers,’ Yellow stood up. ‘And now I can finally open my present.’ He strolled out of the canteen, whistling to himself. When he opened the door a blast of cold air circled the room causing all the men to shiver.
‘First thing I’m gonna do when I get home is have the hottest bath I can possibly have,’ said Orange. ‘So hot it actually cooks me a little bit. I want the neighbours to walk past and sniff the air and think it’s some delicious meal that they recognise but can’t quite put their finger on.’
‘Is boiled white boy a common meal in your neighbourhood?’ said Gray.
‘After they smell how yummy I smell I think it’ll become a lot more popular,’ said Orange. He closed the laptop and pushed it away. ‘Quiet night tonight.’
Brown took his cap off and threw it at Orange. ‘You stupid shit, now you’ve jinxed us.’
Orange caught the cap and threw it back, ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
They all sat in silence, listening.
The doors swung open with a bang that made them all jump and Yellow came bounding into the canteen carrying a shoebox wrapped in yellowing newspaper.
‘A present from home,’ he declared, dropping the box on the table.
‘So your wife packed this before you left and you waited for thirty six days to open it?’ said Green. ‘I’d have opened that on the chopper ride out here.’
‘The beautiful Mrs Yellow put a lot of time and effort into this and it only seems fair to wait until the right day to open it.’
‘I admire your patience,’ said White. ‘But like Green says I would have opened the hell out of that thing thirty five days ago.’
‘Can we all agree that if it’s a porn mag or extra fags we can kill Yellow for holding out on us?’ said Orange.
‘Have you run out?’ said Gray.
‘Of porn or ciggies?’ said Orange.
‘Yeah, eyes were bigger than my lungs and I ended up miscounting and had my last one two days ago. Week of cold turkey before we’re back.’
Gray held up the one he was smoking. On the side was 11. ‘You’ve got to have a system. Three a day, each one numbered so I don’t lose count.’
‘I’m aware of your system, you smug prick,’ said Orange. ‘It doesn’t put a cigarette in my hand though does it?’
Brown reached into his pocket and took out his pack, he tossed it to Orange. ‘Take two. If you take more you’ll have to pay for them.’
‘I was thinking your teeth.’
‘Wow, you are unpleasant,’ Orange took out two cigarettes and put on in his mouth and one behind his ear. ‘Thanks though.’
‘Are you gonna open your present?’ said Green.
Yellow carefully un-taped the newspaper page that covered the shoebox and handed it to Brown who began to read it.
Yellow smiled and opened the box. Inside were a birthday card and a gold Zippo lighter. Yellow picked it up and frowned at it. On one side the words Activate my hate, let it break, the flame – Tupac were engraved and on the other was a raised image of Abraham Lincoln.
‘May I borrow that?’ said Orange, reaching over, the unlit cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.
Yellow handed it over and opened his card. He read it and blushed. ‘She’s still got some fire in her.’
‘This says that this Tupac character said this,’ said Orange, reading the lighter. ‘And not Abe Lincoln as the lighter would suggest.’
Yellow shrugged, ‘She’s a lunatic but she’s good in bed so I can’t part with her.’
From outside came a noise like a giant fist punching the ground. A few seconds later it happened again and then again. Then a high pitched squealing whistle like someone was dragging a rusty nail down a chalkboard. After a full minute both noises stopped as abruptly as they started.
‘If that’s an animal making that noise then I’m the fucking pope,’ said Green. ‘It sounds like God farting.’
White looked at the clock and pointed to Orange, ‘Go relieve Red, make sure your rifle’s loaded and stay by the lights.’
Orange nodded and left the canteen.
The noises began again. Huge booms followed by stretches of silence that felt like a hand was slowly clasping each man’s heart and then the boom again and each man realised they had been holding their breaths between sounds. This time there was no squealing.
‘Right,’ said White standing up. ‘Bedtime. You all know your watches. Starting tomorrow morning we’re upping them. Two men out each time. We’ve put up with this for a fortnight, we can handle four more days.’
Each man knuckled the table twice to show support and then trooped off to their huts. On his way out of the door Brown handed Yellow his newspaper back.
‘This newspaper is like ten years old,’ he said.
Yellow shrugged, ‘The wife collects newspapers from before the Fall.’
‘Then tell me this,’ Brown pointed to a picture on the page. ‘What the fuck is a Snooki?’
The next morning, just after dawn, White was summoned to Blue’s hut.
Blue was sat behind his desk biting his nails.
‘Sir,’ said White in greeting.
White sat down.
‘Two men watches?’
‘They’re spooked. This will calm them.’
Blue shook his head, ‘Time’s nearly done. Four more days. What am I going to put in my report?’
‘I wouldn’t presume to-‘
‘Presume. Humour me.’
‘You would need to write that the drilling has proceeded on schedule with the drill requiring only minor repairs and maintenance.’
‘You would need to mention that the canteen was lacking in tins of fruit.’
Blue arched his fingers in front of his face and let out a sigh, ‘Go on.’
‘You would need to point out that morale was lower on this trip than it was on the last.’
‘And why would that be?’
‘Because of Purple.’
‘Well sir, you would need to make reference to the fact that one night Purple walked out in the desert with no equipment and was found dead the next morning.’
‘Would I need to write the cause of death?’
‘Sir, have you not already reported this to base?’
Blue narrowed his eyes at him, ‘Of course I have but for the sake of the conversation, humour me.’
White stared at him for a few seconds, ‘The cold. He went out in just a t-shirt and shorts, his sleeping clothes, and died of the cold.’
‘Where was he found?’
‘Not far from the Rig. He had climbed down to the sand and walked around for a bit but he didn’t stray very far.’
‘Had you been hearing these night noises everyone keeps talking about at this point?’
‘Again I feel as though this is information that is-‘
Blue held up a hand, ‘Humour me.’
‘They started a few days before. A few days after we buried him Red said he saw something on the horizon but we took the jeep over and there was nothing.’
‘So these night noises have started and Purple goes out wandering. He freezes to death. Doesn’t get eaten. Doesn’t come back with tales of giant sand worms or some sort of inbred group of hillbillies who are worshipped by another group of cannibalistic followers.’
‘No, he has a breakdown and dies. It happens. You said it yourself the drill has been running smoothly. The men are bored. Some are so bored they start seeing things. Others get so bored they go out into the sand and die. Me, when I get bored I play cards.’
The door burst open and Red fell onto the floor. Blue jumped to his feet, ‘What is the meaning of this?’
Red struggled to catch his breath, ‘On…the dunes…’ He took a deep breath, ‘there’s a man out there.’
The crew assembled on the moat. Out in the distance they could all make out a human figure stumbling around on the dunes.
Blue raised the binoculars, ‘How long has he been out there?’
Yellow stepped forward, ‘Me and Orange were on watch.’
‘I came round to this side of the moat I spotted him just over there, walking around.’
Orange raised a hand, ‘I want it to be noted that I asked what the fuck is going on.’ He paused. ‘What the fuck is going on?’
‘Noted,’ said White. ‘Orders, sir?’
‘Yellow, can you hit him from here?’
‘What?’ exclaimed White.
Yellow squinted his eyes at the man on the dunes. ‘Maybe, sir. I’d definitely give him a good scare for sure.’
‘You can’t shoot him,’ said White.
‘Can I not?’
‘No. I mean, why kill him?’
‘Call me old fashioned but when I work on, what is essentially, a giant metal spider equipped with a robot drill that is surrounded on all sides by a 100 miles of empty desert I tend to be quite paranoid of strangers suddenly appearing on the horizon. Especially when those strangers are dressed in business suits and not wearing shoes.’ He handed White the binoculars.
White peered through at the stranger. The man was staggering around in a circle, his arms clasped to his sides. As Blue said he was wearing a dusty black suit with a tattered white shirt and no shoes or socks. He lowered the binoculars and looked at Blue who raised an eyebrow at him.
‘I’m going to go get him.’
‘Will I have mutiny if I don’t let you?’
Blue bit his lip. ‘Get him, put him in Purple’s hut and if he flips out I’ll shoot you before I shoot him.’
White nodded, ‘Agreed.’ He pointed at Red and Orange. ‘Get the jeep ready, we’re going out there.’
‘So we’re a taxi service now?’ said Orange.
White turned and headed down the ramp. ‘Bring guns.’
The jeep was housed beneath the Rig under a tarp. It was checked and driven around every two days to keep it up to scratch.
White jumped in the front seat next to Red who was already sat behind the wheel. Orange jumped on the back, a rifle slung across his shoulders. White opened the glove box and removed the walkie-talkie. He pushed the button and spoke, ‘We’re ready here, over.’
Gray’s voice came out of the small black handset, ‘Be careful, over’
Red turned the key in the ignition and they idled beneath the Rig for a few moments, the jeep shaking but not moving.
White looked at Red, ‘Red? Kid?
Red looked at him, ‘What are we doing, chief?’
‘We’re saving someone’s life.’
‘Are we? What if it’s a trap?’
‘A trap set by who?’
‘Raiders are nothing to be scared of. We’ve got guns.’
Orange lent forward from the cab in the back, ‘Am I the only person who thinks it’s gonna be Purple out there?’
White turned sharply in his seat, ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ He pointed to a cairn of rocks that sat out of the Rig’s shade, bathed in sun. ‘Purple’s right where we left him.’ He turned to Red. ‘Now, son, get your head on straight. The quicker you get us out there the quicker we’re coming back.’
Red put the jeep in gear and they cruised out from under the Rig into the blazing sunlight. Each man wore a cap and sunglasses that fastened around their neck with an elasticated cord. Even with this protection they still all squinted and squirmed in the light and the heat.
‘How can he stand it out there with nothing on his head?’ Said Red.
They all stared at the stranger as they approached him. He continued walking in a wide messy circle, his feet shuffling and tripping through the sand as though he didn’t have enough energy to lift them over the small dunes.
Red stopped the jeep ten foot away from him.
‘Let’s go ask him,’ White jumped out of the jeep drew his handgun.
Orange unslung the rifle and cocked it. ‘Boss, what’s the signal for me to shoot him?’
‘The signal will be when I start shooting him.’
‘That’s pretty hard to misinterpret.’
White pointed to Red, ‘Stay here.’
He slowly walked towards the stranger who didn’t look up at them or seem to realise they were there. It occurred to White that he didn’t know what to say. He expected the stranger to see the jeep and acknowledge them in some way but instead he continued walking in the same messy circle.
‘Excuse me,’ said White. ‘Hello.’
The stranger ignored him and carried on walking.
Orange moved around to White’s left and levelled his rifle at the stranger. The walkie-talkie squawked from the seat of the jeep where White left it. Red grabbed it and threw it to him.
‘Something interesting for you, over.’
‘Gray, we’re a little busy, over.’
‘Yeah we noticed. Seems like he’s ignoring you though, over.’
White turned to the stranger, ‘Hey dickhead!’
The stranger kept walking.
Red started the jeep’s engine, ‘Chief, I think we should get out of here.’ He fastened his seat belt and fidgeted with the strap.
‘Gray, what’s interesting? Over.’
‘Look at his feet, over.’
Orange and White looked down and saw the stranger was walking in his own footprints, even stumbling at the same points every time. The circle he was walking was identical each time.
‘What does that mean? Over.’
‘I don’t know, can you see his face? Over.’
‘He’s looking down, over.’
Orange crouched down and walk-crawled towards the stranger until he was close enough to see the face. He let out a cry and recoiled backwards, scuttling through the sand back to the jeep.
‘The birds have been at him or something,’ Orange turned and vomited loudly onto the sand. He pointed at his own face, ‘all gone, no eyes.’ He vomited again. ‘Jesus Christ.’
Gray’s voice sounded again, ‘We can see Orange is vomiting so I’m going to assume its not good news, over.’
‘Yes, it would seem our new friend has no face, over.’
‘Right, I’m not sure what you should do now, over.’
‘Where’s Blue? Over.’
‘If you can believe this he’s gone to the bathroom, over.’
‘We’re coming back, over.’
Red let out a long held breath and started the engine.
‘Good idea and then I th- shit! Get in the jeep and come back now!’
Orange re-slung his rifle and jumped into the jeep. White ran after him and jumped into his seat. Red gunned the engine and turned them towards the Rig.
‘What’s happening? Over.’
‘Remember I told you about those two oval stones I told you about yesterday? Over.’
‘They came back.’
‘They just blinked at me.’
A familiar booming noise filled the air as, to their right, a huge creature burst from a large dune in a shower of sand and rocks. It stood as high as two of any of the men on the crew and was covered with fine, dark mustard-coloured hair. It looked like a grizzly bear but with a long neck and lengthened snout.
It landed with a thump and let out a loud screeching cry as its large, almost triangular head swivelled on the long neck like a serpent until it was looking straight at the jeep.
Red swerved away from it and floored the accelerator.
Orange struggled to aim his rifle as the jeep bounced over the dunes. Gray was shouting something from the walkie-talkie but White couldn’t hear him. His ears rang with the pounding of his heart, the animal’s screeching and the long string of profanities that were coming out of Orange’s mouth.
The creature watched them for a moment and then began to run at them.
‘Shitting hell,’ cried Orange. He grabbed Red’s shoulder. ‘Can’t this fucking thing go any faster?’
The animal leapt into the air and dived at the sand headfirst. It hit with another resounding boom and disappeared into the ground, the hole it made filling up behind it.
The jeep flew across the dunes away from the hole that was somehow nearly completely refilled.
White craned around in his seat, ‘Has it come back up?’
‘I feel like we’d hear it,’ said Orange.
There was another boom and the jeep rose up into the air as the animal burst from the sand beneath them. Red let out a high-pitched scream as the jeep flipped sideways dumping Orange and White onto the desert floor while the young crew member stayed trapped in his seat with his seat belt. White landed face down in the sand but heard the crunching impact of the jeep as it landed.
The sand was oven-hot on White’s face but he couldn’t move. The sound a microwave makes after the timer starts starting playing in his head. Cooked, he thought, what a way to die. A hand grabbed his arm and roughly wrenched him to his knees.
Orange’s face filled his vision, ‘Come on, we’re gonna have to run.’
‘But I was cooking,’ said White.
‘That’s great, chief, and when this is over I’ll build a bonfire and we’ll make sure you’re done but now you need to get your shit together and run.’
Orange slapped his across the face. ‘Snap out of it, sir.’
White shook his head a few times, ‘Where’s Red?’
Orange shook his head, ‘On your feet.’
White felt aches and pains all over and the promise that these aches and pains were simply previews of what was to come. He turned around. The jeep was upside down between them and Rig, which stood twenty feet away. ‘Where’s that creature?’
Orange shrugged, ‘I blacked out a little after the fall and when I stood up it was gone. Probably back underneath us.’
They started running. Orange held his rifle with two hands in front of him and White held his handgun by his side.
They passed the jeep. It looked like a flipped-over turtle baking in the sun. The underside was dented where the animal had hit it from below and one of the wheels had been ripped off in the impact. White slowed down to look for Red’s body when a boom filled the air. He looked over his shoulder and saw the animal had risen up from the place he had just been lying down.
Orange pushed him, ‘Go! I’ve got this!’ Orange cocked his rifle and got down on one knee in a shooter’s stance.
White hesitated for a moment and then broke into a sprint towards the Rig.
The animal saw Orange and started charging him. Orange watched the animal grow in his rifle scope. ‘No bumpy jeep to save you now you son of a bitch.’ Orange pulled the trigger and the gun jammed. He tried again and felt nothing but pressure from the trigger. He stood up and looked at the rifle. ‘Must have been damaged in the fall,’ he said and calmly drew his arm back and threw the rifle at the animal like a javelin. He watched it hit the animal’s flank and rebound off before the animal pounced at him.
White scrambled up the Rig’s ladder and collapsed upon the catwalk. Yellow stood over him.
‘What the hell’s going on, skipper?’ said Yellow. He reached down and pulled White to his feet.
‘I don’t know.’ White stumbled up the ramp to the moat where Blue and Gray were standing.
Out on the stand the animal was gone. All it had left was the smoking ruins of the jeep and a large patch of bloody sand that had once been Orange. White looked at the distant dunes and saw the stranger still walking his messy circle.
‘So this is all new to me,’ said Gray. ‘I’ve seen some mad desert shit in my time but this is new.’
‘I’ve called in an evac,’ said Blue. ‘Transport will be here in an hour.’
‘Until then?’ said White.
‘Arm every man, stay together and hope that thing doesn’t get brave enough to attack the Rig,’ Blue stared through the binoculars at the horizon. ‘You hear about stuff like this but its ghost stories and idle shite after a few beers.’
‘The Raiders. They haven’t attacked a rig for years. It’s why we keep security low. People talk about how after the Fall they were everywhere. Attacking settlements and hitting resources.’ Blue handed the binoculars back to Gray. ‘I’ve heard some of the old fellas talk about how they can do all this voodoo stuff. Raise the dead and summon beasts.’
White frowned, ‘But that’s ghost story shit and this is real. Orange and Red are both dead and we’re getting evac’d. With all due respect, sir, you need to keep the spooky tale stuff to yourself.’
Blue nodded. ‘I’ll be in my hut packing. If anything happens sound the alarm.’
White knuckled his forehead in salute and turned back to the desert.
‘He’s packing!’ He said, once Blue was out of earshot. ‘What an arse!’
Gray shrugged, ‘He’s scared. This might calm him.’
‘Where are the others?’
‘I sent Yellow to get you and then he’s getting a gun and searching the Rig for ways in.’
‘So you think this is a Raiders attack too?’
‘I don’t know but I’d hate to find a knife in my back and die thinking that I should have been better safe than sorry.’
‘You ever seen one?’ Said White.
‘I have,’ said Gray. ‘I was in a bar in Onyx and a miner dragged one in.’
‘Nope. It was just a short man dressed in rags but the miner said he never fought anyone who was tougher or faster than the Raider. Said the little guy pulled all manner of kung fu shit out of the hat before the miner got the best of him. Then he dropped down dead.’
‘The miner just told the story and died from his wounds. Apparently the little Raider man had done more damage than he realised.’
The walkie-talkie crackled at Gray’s hip.
A very faint noise came from it.
‘Where’s your walkie?’ Said Gray.
White closed his eyes, ‘I left it in the jeep.’
The walkie-talkie crackled again, ‘…help…help me…’
‘Oh Jesus Christ,’ said White softly.
Gray and White looked down at the smoking wreck of the jeep.
White began to speak but Gray spoke over him, ‘You could probably sprint there and pull him out but that thing would reappear and get you both before you got back here. Or we could send everyone out and make a perimeter while you drag him from the wreckage and two of us carry him back escorted by the others, however that thing that not be alone and even if it is alone I’m pretty sure it kills at least three of us before we get back to the Rig. Or it’s a trap.’
‘It sure sounds like Red.’
Gray pointed at the stranger walking on the dunes, ‘And he looked alive.’
‘We can’t leave him out there,’ said White.
‘We have to,’ said Gray.
‘We’ll see,’ White headed down the ramp. ‘Get everyone together in the canteen in five minutes.’
‘I vote we leave him out there,’ said Brown.
‘Red wouldn’t leave you out there,’ said Green.
Gray stubbed cigarette number 3 into the ashtray and lit number 2. ‘I have to agree with Brown. It’s suicide.’
‘Can we wait till the evac arrives,’ said Yellow. ‘They come in in one of these big ass transports and we can scoop him up.’
‘I don’t think he’ll last an hour,’ said White. ‘I can understand if you’re scared but he’s one of ours and he’s stuck out there and needs our help. I can’t live with not helping him.’
Gray sighed, ‘Boss, you order me out there and I’ll do it but don’t order me out there.’
‘Same,’ said Brown.
‘I’ll go,’ said Green.
‘Yep,’ said Yellow.
The doors opened and Blue strode in. ‘What the hell are you all doing in here? We’re under attack and you’re taking a coffee break?’
‘We’re getting transmissions from Red,’ White pointed to the walkie-talkie.
‘Red’s dead. The jeep landed on top of him.’
‘Then how are we getting transmissions from him?’
‘I don’t know but then I also don’t know why a dead man is walking out on the dunes or how a giant sand monster appears out of nowhere.’
‘I’m going out to get him; Yellow and Green are coming with.’
‘Are they? I’m afraid not. This is my rig and I give the orders so you’re all staying, you’re all getting back patrolling and you’re gonna make sure no little Raider bastards cuts our throats before the evac arrives.’
Blue took a step back as though struck, ‘What?’
‘This has been my rig for a long time. Your orders are only followed because I repeat them. When we were out there trying to protect this place you were off taking a dump somewhere. When the men needed leadership you were off packing your swag to leave. You don’t even eat with them.’
‘This is insubordination.’
‘If that was you out there we wouldn’t be having this meeting. We’d have just turned the walkie-talkie off and had a cup of tea.’
Blue blinked a few times and looked at the faces of his crew. ‘I was packing because acting normal projects a sense of normality in a stressful situation.’
‘Did you read that in a book?’
‘Answer me this, did you pack your signed Laker’s ball?’
‘The Shaq ball? Yes, I did.’
‘So two of your men were just killed and you thought rather than assembling the men and talking to them and making a plan of action you went and packed a basketball.’
Blue looked down at the ground, ‘I didn’t know what to do.’
‘You should have led. Right, Blue, you are relieved of all duties and I am assuming command. Gray, you are my second in command.’
‘This won’t stand,’ said Blue like a told-off child.
‘If what everyone is saying is true then I’ll be dead in ten minutes anyway and it won’t matter.’
The walkie-talkie sat in the centre of the table and crackled to life, ‘…please…please…help me…’
Gray slowly stood up, ‘It’s repeating itself.’
‘I doubt Red’s got much to say in his condition,’ said Green.
‘No, I mean it’s repeating like a recording,’ Gray starting looking around the room. ‘Oh no.’
‘What?’ Said White.
‘They knew we wouldn’t just run out and get ourselves killed; they knew we’d have to meet up to discuss it.’
White jumped to his feet, ‘It’s a trap!’
There was a boom and the animal that had attacked them before ripped through the floor. The table went flying across the room, smashing into their little kitchen unit. Luckily, the creature could not fit all the way through the hole it had made and was stuck flailing its claws at them and snapping its teeth.
White drew his gun and prepared to fire but the animal saw him and tore back down through the hole, taking the surrounding panels with it. The ripped out panels took their neighbours with them and the floor began to collapse panel by panel. Below them the animal dropped into the hole in the sand that it had burst from. The hole began to slowly fill with sand again.
Blue ran for the door and burst out onto the rig floor. The floor beneath Green and Brown gave way and they both fell. Green fell straight into the hole and disappeared with a scream but Brown landed on a soft patch. He strained to escape but the sand was beginning to fill the hole fast and quickly trapped his legs. ‘Jesus! Help me!’
He was too far below them for any to reach.
‘Do we have a rope?’ shouted Gray. He was on the other side of the hole to White and Yellow and the floor was falling away before him faster than it was for them. It didn’t fill him with girlish glee that the only door was behind Yellow and White.
‘Brown! Try and dig yourself out!’ Shouted Yellow.
Brown was clawing at the sand around his legs, making a whimpering noise as he did. The sand was rising rapidly.
Brown let out a scream, ‘It’s got my legs,’ and then he was gone, ripped beneath the sand before anyone could say anything. The hole he left filled quıckly.
White holstered his gun and looked up at Gray, ‘Can you jump it?’
‘Nope,’ said Gray. ‘Not even a little bit.’ He kept walking backwards as the panels fell away onto the sand fifteen feet below. Gray kept backing up until he hit the wall. ‘Wait, I’ve got an idea.’
The animal tore out of the sand in front of him. It landed with a thump of the sand and screeched. Rearing up on its hind legs it stared at Gray, who looked around for an escape but found none. The animal’s head moved backwards and then lashed out like a striking cobra, it mouth closing around his middle with a wet crunching sound. Blood gushed from his mouth as the animal crushed his body in its jaws. It whipped its neck about tossing Gray’s body around like a dog with a toy before dropping down on all fours to enjoy its meal.
Yellow and White exchanged a look and then dived towards the door. They burst out on the rig floor and saw five Raiders stood over the crouching, cowering form of Blue. The Raiders were all small figures dressed in brown robes that were tattered and dirty. On their faces they wore plated masks that were the colour of sand and had elaborate lines engraved into them. All five were arranged in a circle around Blue and each carried a small club.
They stared at White and Yellow and for a long time no one moved.
‘Chief?’ Said Yellow out of the corner of his mouth.
‘I’m gonna try and reason with them,’ said White. He raised his hands and said, ‘Do you speak English?’
One of the Raiders moved forward as though to speak but said nothing. He simply turned on his heel and strode over to Blue. He held his club up over Blue’s head, prepared to strike and looked at White, his head cocked to the side as though asking a question.
Yellow turned to White, ‘What’s happening?’
‘I don’t know,’ White shrugged at the Raiders. ‘I don’t understand. Please don’t kill him. Just let us go and you can take the Rig.’
The Raider who stood over Blue straightened himself to his full height (which was still only just over five feet) and lowered the club to his side. The other four Raiders looked at him and after a few seconds he nodded. They all turned and swarmed upon Blue with their clubs. The Rig leader crying out as they pummelled him.
White drew his gun and fired wildly into the group. He managed to wound a few but upon being shot at the group scattered, jumping over the side of the Rig as though it was wasn’t a fatal drop below.
White ran over to Blue. He was lying on this front and breathing shallowly. White slowly turned him over and saw his face was a pulped mass of bloody flesh. ‘Boss, you there?’
Blue let out a choking noise, spraying a haze of blood into the air and then went limp in White’s arms. White set him down upon the Rig floor.
‘And then there were two,’ said Yellow. ‘How long we gotta last before the evac arrives?’
‘Half an hour if it arrives on time. Our best bet is to barricade ourselves in Blue’s hut and call for emergency help.’ White checked the magazine in his gun. ‘I’ve got four bullets left. You?’
Yellow pointed to the canteen, ‘My gun’s in there. Or probably on the sand by now.’
‘Of course it is.’ White looked ground at the mesh floor beneath his feet and saw two oval stones sat directly below him. He pushed Yellow to one side as he dived to the other. The air boomed around him as the animal shot up from the sand like a cannonball, its head lowered as it rammed the rig floor. The floor outside was more stable than the canteen panels so it only managed to make a small dent. Yellow jumped to his feet and ran the direction of the drill. White made to follow him but the animal jumped again and managed to rend a hole in front of him. Its head was all it could fit through and it snapped at White with its massive jaws. White raised his gun and emptied it into the animal’s face. The animal snapped a few more times seemingly out of reflex before it seemed to realise it had been killed. It slid out of the hole and collapsed in a heap on the desert floor.
White let out a breath he felt like he had been holding for the past few days then he ran to Blue’s hut to find more bullets.
Yellow ran along the walkway to the drill housing. The drill continued to run no matter what and the air was filled with the smell of oil and smoke. The drill was housed in a tall metal dome and surrounded by drums of oil which the crew used to keep it lubricated. As Yellow got closer all other noises became drowned out by the dull roar of the drill in action. He lent against an oil drum to catch his breath and saw a Raider standing ahead of him. The little man held a club in one hand and a fat rusty knife in the other. He advanced towards Yellow.
Yellow sighed, ‘You set of pricks. We weren’t doing anything wrong here. We’re just doing our fucking jobs!’ He leapt at the Raider and grabbed the wrist of the hand holding the knife, forcing it away from himself as, with his other hand, he rained blows upon the Raider’s head. The Raider countered with shots from the club to Yellow’s ribs who grunt with each hit but refused to slacken his grip or relent from his assault upon the Raider’s skull.
A second Raider appeared behind the first and smacked Yellow’s forehead with his club, causing him to release his grip and fall backwards onto the cat walk. Yellow jumped to his feet and shook his head to clear away haze and double vision that threatened to linger there. He raised his fists and settled into a boxer’s stance, his head low and his feet ready for movement.
The first Raider raised his knife and approached Yellow slowly.
‘When I was a lad I fought a lot of men.’ His left fist shot out in a vicious jab causing the Raider’s head to snap back. The knife slipped from his fingers and he stumbled slightly. Yellow advanced, jabbing as he did, keeping the Raider off balance. The second Raider watched but did not help. Yellow moved around like a man half his age, jabbing with his left and moving aside before the Raider could swing his club at him.
‘I could have gone pro but the wife didn’t want it,’ he dealt the Raider a hard body shot and heard the satisfying sound of a rib breaking. The Raider grunted and swung the club, smashing an oil drum and puncturing its side. The oil glugged out of it onto the catwalk and through the slats onto the desert floor.
‘She said I was getting too old for fighting,’ he jabbed again and again. The Raider stumbled back towards the railing. ‘If she could see me now she’d be furious.’ The Raider’s back hit the railing and the club slipped from his fingers. Yellow fired an uppercut with his right hand, sending the Raider off his feet and over the railing. He spun in the air and landed headfirst onto the sand with a resounding crack.
Yellow smiled and turned around. The second Raider swung his club and smashed Yellow into the face. He felt his cheek shatter and his nose break. He fell onto the floor and for a split second could hear a man’s voice from a long time ago counting up to ten. He crawled along the catwalk and tried to use the oil drums to pick himself up but it was done. He slipped to the ground next to the leaking oil drum. The second Raider stood over him. Behind him four other Raiders appeared, climbing over the railings.
Yellow smiled, ‘I promised her long ago that I’d never fight again.’ He opened his hand revealing the open zippo lighter. He lit it and tossed it into the leaking oil. ‘I’m sorry, my love.’
The shock of the blast knocked White off his feet. He clawed his way up using Blue’s desk for leverage and looked out of the door. The horizon began to lower and White realised the section of the Rig that held Blue’s hut was collapsing. The legs it stood on made horrendous, metal ripping noises as they broke. The world began to tip for White as he held onto the doorway as it fell and the last thing he saw was the big blue sky before the hut hit the ground.
Rough hands pulled him out of the wrecked hut and dumped him onto the ground. He slowly opened his eyes and looked into the masks of two Raiders who stood over him.
‘Oh, you guys. I hate you guys,’ he said groggily. He sat up and looked around. He was surrounded by Raiders who all stood staring at him, all armed with clubs, knives or clubs and knives. One Raider stepped forward from the group and pointed at him with a nasty looked piece of sharpened metal. The Raider then looked at the others and spoke a language White didn’t know. The assembled Raiders all seemed to be in agreeance with whatever was being said.
Behind him White could hear the sounds of crackling as the Rig burnt in the sun.
Eventually the Raider stopped talking and pointed at another of his group who scurried away across the sand. The leader Raider dropped the nasty piece of metal he had been holding. The Raider who had been sent away returned carrying a chain attached to a metal ball about the size of an orange.
The leader took it and held up the ball to cheers from the Raiders around him. He held the other end of the chain and began to spin the ball around his head, picking up speed with each turn.
So this is how I die, thought White, head bashed in in the middle of the desert. He wanted to try and run away or squeeze his eyes shut but he wasn’t confident his legs were up to following orders and he didn’t want to give the Raiders the satisfaction of seeing how afraid he was. He set his jaw and stared at the leader as the ball swung around and around, faster and faster until it was a black blur above the leader’s head. And then a small red hole appeared in the centre of the leader’s head. He let go of the ball and chain which flew into the crowd, hitting one poor Raider in the chest. The noise of the gunshot which had caused the hole finally reached them from the distant gun.
White turned around and saw the evac transport flying along the dunes. A sniper hanging from the side was firing rapidly causing the Raiders who weren’t hit to flee across the sand.
The huge transport passed over his head and settled onto the desert floor. A team of medics filed out of the side doors and ran and stumbled across the desert to him. White tried to stand up but his legs gave out and he fell onto the sand. He looked at the burning Rig as the medics got closer and he thought about going home.