From the moment I saw The Charon Company’s Number Six oil rig I knew something was definitely wrong with it, and that made it just perfect.
I had originally intended to come by helicopter. A twenty minute ride as compared to an hour and a half boat trip was a no-brainer. Mechanical problems with the chopper shot that plan down, so I went to plan B, the boat.
Boats are not one of my favorite ways to travel, but I didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. We were scheduled to start shooting the first episode of the season in just over three weeks and there were two other filming locations that I needed to visit in the next six days.
Two of my team members were already on the platform. They’d headed out here without me because my plane was late getting into the New Orleans airport. Of course, the fact that I was now following them into the Gulf of Mexico just as a storm was blowing up did not thrill me in the slightest.
Thankfully, I was able to hitch a ride on a regular supply boat. It visited half dozen rigs, dropping off enough groceries and assorted spare parts so the people who worked on them could eat for another week and not feel too cut off from the world.
Unfortunately, the regular route the supply boat took ended up making Charon Number Six the last stop before heading back to shore. So it was after nightfall when I watched the oil rig slowly grow in my view, like a dark hand coming out of the water. It was majorly impressive.
Some of the bigger oil well rigs have been described as floating cities. Charon Number 6 wasn’t anywhere near that big, just a hundred feet long with three levels, along with the actual drilling tower.
“This will definitely work for the opening,” I said.
My show, it’s called In Dark Corners by the way, is what is popularly called a reality show. We go to places where people claim to have experienced hauntings or seen some kind of legendary animal. Then we film our investigation and hopefully find something. The latter rarely happens, but our ratings are good enough to say we’re definitely reaching an audience.
“Opening?” asked Amy Barker, the boat captain, a no-nonsense woman in her thirties. She wasn’t bad looking, in a don’t-mess-with-me-or-I-will-deck-you sort of way.
“On my show, we always start with an aerial view of wherever we’re filming, a high altitude shot and then zoom down to ground level,” I said. “But this time I think it will work a lot better to come shooting along the water at sunset and let the rig just grow out of the water. I think I’m going to end up steering some business your way.”
“Okay, Hollywood, whatever you say, as long as your check clears,” she laughed.
“Do I get the feeling that you don’t like my show? Or maybe you’ve just never watched it,” I asked.
“You’re right on the money there, Hollywood,” she chuckled, a self-satisfied grin on her face. “I haven’t watched it. You’ve got to own a TV to be able to watch anything.”
“Unless you can take care of your business in a short time, with this weather we may be spending the night here,” Amy said.
“Then I hope you brought your jammies,” I said. “Because there’s no way I can do what I need to do that quickly. So I guess we’re bunking here tonight.”
“I sort of figured that,” she chuckled, and pointed toward a heavy black backpack that lay on the deck near her feet. “I’ll come up top in a bit. I need to make sure everything is secure.”
A scratchy voice came from just out of sight at the top of the stairs, “Well, it’s about time you got here and started doing some work.”
If I didn’t hear J. W. “Jake” Connelly welcoming me with those exact words, I would worry that something bad was going to happen. It’s not that I’m superstitious, but when he didn’t greet me like that we’d had equipment malfunctions twice and once had to hightail it out of an African country just ahead of a coup-de-tat.
“If you think I’m going to say I’m glad to be here with you, then you’ve been hitting the moonshine a bit too much, and not sharing,” I laughed.
At five four and a hundred and forty pounds soaking wet, Jake certainly doesn’t look like one of the best location scouts and line producers in the business, but he was exactly that. I was just happy to have him on my crew for the past two seasons. He says he agreed to come and work with me because I beat him at poker. Personally, I think he lost deliberately just so he could thumb his nose at some studio execs.
He led me along a metal walkway that you could look down through and see the water forty feet below. Knowing that just an inch or two of steel was standing between you and it could easily leave a queasy feeling in someone’s stomach.
The main operations center was a decent-sized room. A desk at the center of it was illuminated by three long neon tubes. The only real light in the room was the bank of neon over the table that Nadia had commandeered. There were a couple of solitary bulbs hanging over the main door, but they looked like the sort of thing you would see in a low budget horror movie, the ones that flicker and then go out at just the wrong time.
I could hear the sound of a small generator that I presumed Jake had brought with him.
Nadia Forester is one of my researchers and a co-investigator. She’s the ultimate cynic and is always looking for a mundane explanation for the things we’re investigating. She’s able to squeeze into places that would give a non-claustrophobe claustrophobia. The standing joke among the crew is, if she can get her blonde pony tail in somewhere, then she can get the rest of her body through the opening.
“Hi, Russ,” she said looking up. “I was wondering if you would make it out today with that storm moving in. The coffee is over there.”
I’ve heard stories of rock stars who demand that bowls of only blue or purple M&M’s or a certain kind of Italian mineral water be in their dressing room. I don’t know if those are true, but I know I’m nowhere near that bad. With me it’s just coffee, but not some highly special brand that comes only from a tiny little coffee shop on west 35th Street in New York, just regular everyday coffee that you can get in any grocery store.
I found the small portable coffee maker and poured myself a cup. Given that the temperature felt like it had dropped at least ten degrees since I had gotten on the boat, in spite of the fact that the liquid tasted awful, I enjoyed every drop.
“Before you even say a word about the coffee, just remember, you’re the one who keeps saying there’s not room in the budget for a portable espresso machine,” said Jake.
“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered. “So what have we got?”
Looking around the room, I still couldn’t escape the feeling that there was something off about this place; maybe it was the darkness and the idea that there should be people and noise, and all we had was the wind, the waves and the darkness. It just didn’t feel right.
“Russ, this has got to be one of the stranger ones that we’ve come across,” said Jake.
“Aren’t they all? That’s what makes good television.”
“Yeah, but this one is different,” said Nadia. “The Charon Company is not one of the major players in the gulf oil business, but it does decent for a medium-sized company. Their other platforms have been turning a profit, but not this one. In the last five months they’ve had two complete crews of twenty five men, all experienced oil patch workers, quit. Out of those fifty, twelve have committed suicide, five disappeared and eight have been committed to lunatic asylums.”
“I believe the proper term is mental health facility,” said Jake.
“Don’t you dare go all PC on us,” Nadia snapped. “Some of these guys, who seemed perfectly normal before they came here, went totally fruit loops. The rig manager’s logbooks and reports talk about his men having frighteningly vivid nightmares, some of the men claiming that they heard chanting in the middle of the night coming from the platform and out in the water. Altogether, it makes for some bizarre reading; take a look.”
Apparently the rig manager had found one of his men, who committed suicide by hanging himself off one of the highest beams. Before offing himself the man had carved a symbol into his chest with the rough edge of a screw driver. It looked like some kind of runic letter, crossed with a hieroglyph of some kind. I know something about runes. I have a degree in drama, but I also have one in archeology. This didn’t look like any runic alphabet I had ever seen.
“We have so got to include this.” I said. “Is there any kind of translation available?”
“Not from anybody connected to the oil company. They claim it was just part of the ravings of a, now what did they say, ‘poor sick individual who managed to slip past the mental health screening system’,” said Jake with a snort.
“So, do we have any idea what it means?”
“Well, I sent a picture of the drawing and a photo of the original to a friend of mine who works at the Biblioteque National de France. He got back to me wanting to know what kind of crap I was getting myself into,” Nadia said.
This to me said he thought that she was on to something. I also didn’t bother to ask where she might have gotten what were probably either crime scene or autopsy photographs of the actual rune. I learned a long time ago, with Nadia you don’t ask too many questions. It wasn’t that she wouldn’t answer them; it was more that you might not want to know the answers. Besides, it also lessened any legal liability.
“So could he identify it?”
“Yep, he said it represents a very old mythological god, proto-Egyptian thing, with about two dozen different names, the sort of critter that likes to snack on the sanity of us mere mortals.” I had the vague memory of having heard something like this on one of the other paranormal shows the network ran; okay, I admit it I try to keep up with the competition.
“All that sounds like any one of a dozen Hollywood producers I’ve worked for. So what else did your boy friend say about this guy,” asked Jake.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” she said. “He’s married to my ex-wife. I gave her away at the wedding, one of the smartest moves I’ve ever made.”
That was when the door to the operations center whipped open and Amy came dashing inside, followed by waves of rain.
“Jeez, if I’d known it was going to get this bad I would have charged you double for the ride,” she managed to say between gasps of breath. Jake pulled a blanket off one of the chairs and wrapped it around Amy’s shoulders.
“Guys, this is Amy Barker. I hitched a ride out with her on her boat. Looks like the four of us are going to be rooming together tonight since the weather seems to have taken a turn for the worse,” I said.
“Well, we’ve got our choice of a couple of cabins and a big bunk room. After that suicide the feds ordered this place closed down while they conducted an investigation of the whole thing. How you got permission to film here, I have no idea. After all that trouble with the Deep Water Horizon I would have thought they wanted to keep weird incidents quiet,” said Jake.
“Just my charming personality, plus they claim the official investigation is done,” I said. Frankly, I figured they were going to try and cash in on the publicity of having a possibly haunted platform. As long as it helped the ratings of my show, I didn’t care.
“Yeah, right,” she muttered, wrapping her hands around the Styrofoam cup full of coffee she had poured herself, as much for the warmth as the liquid. “So where’s your buddy?”
The three of us looked at her. “What are you talking about?”
“That guy I saw on one of the upper walkways,” she said, looking at the three of us like we were idiots. “Big tall black guy, dressed in a long coat which, with the way the wind is getting up, is probably a good idea. He had a creepy looking expression on his face. I caught him staring at me, and it wasn’t in any kind of a nice way. You do know who I’m talking about.”
“Actually, the only people who are supposed to be here on the platform tonight are the three of us and you. We start filming in ten days and the oil company is going to bring a new crew of roughnecks in a week after we finish,” I said.
“Wait a minute; are you saying you saw someone, besides us, watching you?” asked Jake.
“Is this guy deaf or something, Hollywood?” she said turning to me. “I really don’t like having to repeat myself.”
This was beginning to feel like an episode of our show.
“Let’s go find our visitor,” I said, heading for the door and grabbing a flashlight from the rack near the door.
“Amy, where did you see this guy?” I asked.
“He was up there.” She pointed toward an overhanging walkway that led off toward the north side of the platform. A number of cables and hoses hung off the safety railing, which, obviously, the last crew hadn’t bothered to properly store away.
Naturally, by the time we got up there, there was no one to be found. Of course that didn’t mean that our “friend” might not be standing within ten or fifteen feet. All the steel girders and hoses, along with the drilling equipment, were a maze to deal with during the daylight hours, so at night and in a storm it made invisibility a real possibility.
“Jake, go up to the next level and see if there is anyone about. While you’re at it, would you please be careful. We don’t need you getting hurt, especially not now,” I said.
“Yeah, the paperwork that Russ would have to fill out would be a royal pain in the ass,” said Nadia. “Not that you wouldn’t look cute hobbling about on a pair of crutches.”
“Yeah, you would probably laugh your head off,” said Jake.
“Jake, get your ass up there.” The night vision goggles that we used on the show would have been really helpful right now, but they, along with the rest of our equipment, were back in Los Angeles.
“I wish now we’d gone with the O K Corral investigation,” Nadia said.
“We’ve got some objections coming from the Arizonian historical commission; thinks having TV people investigating the ghosts might be bad for business,” I said.
“Hey, Hollywood, you guys into tag art?” asked Amy. She had lingered down on the main part of the platform when the three of us had come up here.
“Tag art?” Nadia said.
“Over here,” she led us back down the stairs toward the far end of the platform. On one side of a small storage building that, even in the sea salt heavy air, reeked heavily of oil and grease, was covered by a huge mural. It was hard to see details, but what had been painted there was a huge version of the scarred design that the roughneck had carved into his own flesh.
Nadia reached up and gingerly touched part of the design. “Ouch,” she said and jerked her hand away from it. “What the hell was that? It was like sticking my finger in an electric outlet.”
“I always said that you had an electric personality, kiddo,” I said.
“Trust me on this, find whoever it was who said you had a sense of humor and beat the living daylights out of them, asshole.” Nadia began to flex her fingers as she massaged her hand trying to get the feeling back into it.
I was seriously beginning to wish that we had gone to Arizona. Even with that idiot historical commission hassling us, I would have felt more in control of things than I did now.
I looked down at the water forty feet below where we were standing. The surface was covered with white foam slapping against the sides of the rig’s supports. For a moment I was almost certain that I saw something there in the water, man-shaped, and more than one of them, twisting and turning around the rig. Then whatever I saw was gone. I decided not say anything, again feeling like anything I might say would sound more like something out of the show.
The wind had shifted, again. That was when, for just a moment, I could hear something. It was some sort of chanting, the sound had a distinct rhythm to it; making me remember the chanting at a voodoo ceremony when we had done an episode last year in northern Louisiana. I couldn’t make out the words; nothing was completely clear, but I had a churning feeling in the pit of my stomach listening to them. Whatever they were, the words were gone almost before I could hear them. But they left a foul taste in the back of my mouth.
“I think we better get ourselves back inside, Russ,” yelled Nadia. She kept nervously looking up toward the higher parts of the platform, scanning the area again and again.
“You’re right,” I said. “Where the hell is Jake?”
“Knowing him, he found some nice dry little cubbyhole up there, thinking to ride out the rain,” said Nadia. “He’s probably sitting up there right now where he can see us and is laughing his head off that we’re getting wet and he isn’t.”
That hardly seemed like the Jake I knew, but I wasn’t going to say so. Right now Nadia hardly seemed like the rational down-to-earth look-at-the-man-behind-the-curtain type. I thought that getting us inside and away from the elements wouldn’t be that bad an idea, for all involved.
“The operations center, now,” I said; trying to sound as authoritative and confident as I could, even though I was pretty much confused, and if I had to admit it, more than a little scared.
I was pretty sure I caught a glimpse of someone moving on one of the walkways thirty or so feet above us. It had to be Jake; at least that was what I kept telling myself. Whoever it was wasn’t running to try to get out of the rain, but rather moving at a slow steady walk as if ignoring the elements.
“You two get inside, where it’s dry. I’ll take a look around for Jake. He might need help getting back down here,” I said.
Amy grabbed my shoulder, then pulled something from the small of her back and pressed it into my hands. I could tell from the feel that it was a gun.
“You be careful up there,” she said.
“Awww, you care,” I told her.
“Maybe, but look at it this way, I’m just protecting my exclusive rights to bring you and your crew out here to film this place. Face it, in this economy I can use the money,” she laughed and headed off with Nadia.
“Watch your ass, boss,” said Nadia.
“You just make sure that there’s some fresh coffee waiting for me.” I yelled.
I didn’t do any fancy checking of the gun to make sure it was loaded; I trusted Amy on that. Besides, I know so little about guns that if it had been an automatic, I probably would have screwed things up quite badly. Thankfully, it was a revolver, so I slipped it into my belt.
I had some trouble making my way up the stairway; it felt like the wind was reaching tornado strength at times. I made it, but not without feeling like I had just completed one hell of a workout.
There was probably some fancy oil industry term for where I was, but I didn’t know it and couldn’t have cared less. There were two small shacks at opposite ends of the walkway, storage places for tools and other equipment, I assumed. Those were the places to start, but the wind was getting so bad I had to start rethinking the whole search-for-Jake plan. So I turned around and headed back to the stairway.
That was when I practically tripped over him laying on the walkway. If I hadn’t been keeping a good hold on the railing I would have been doing a swan dive over the side into the water.
“Jake,” I yelled, but with the wind I doubted that the sound of my voice carried over a few inches. He was cold, wet and didn’t move, which, given the circumstances, didn’t seem all that out of the ordinary. But when I rolled him over to see what was the matter with him, I knew that Jake was no longer with us. The skin of his face was pulled tight around his head, so tight that I could see the clear outline of his skull. That hadn’t been true only a handful of minutes ago when I had seen him head up here. He wasn’t breathing, or at least it didn’t look like it. I tried to find a pulse but couldn’t. I had to face facts, trying to maneuver his hundred and forty pounds of dead weight in this weather was going to be damn near impossible and I had a gut feeling that it wouldn’t do any good. So I pushed him up against the railing, pulled his jacket off him, which was not an easy task, then used it to lash him there.
By the time I made it back down to the main platform and to the door of the operations center, not only were my clothes soaking wet, but I felt like I had swallowed half the Gulf of Mexico. The transition into a room where water and wind weren’t slamming against me was almost a physical blow. I could feel it in my chest as I gasped for breath.
Even before my eyes had focused I knew something was wrong. I heard Nadia making some sort of muffled sound from off to my left. When I could actually see, I knew that things were horribly wrong.
Standing ramrod straight near Nadia’s work table was a tall swarthy-looking man with a vaguely Egyptian appearance. His face was dark as leather, which set off the strange gold-flecked eyes that stared at me, utterly repellent yet mesmerizing all at the same time. A rat came running out across the table, colliding with an empty soda can that someone had left there earlier. The creature looked around, as if seeing if anyone had noticed its action, just then noticing Nadia’s struggles. The animal reared up on its hind legs and stared at her for a few seconds before vanishing into the darkness.
Nadia and Amy were behind him, against the wall. Not standing, but actually adhering to the surface, Amy was a foot or so above the floor. I could see the look of terror on both women’s faces. Nadia didn’t seem to want to stop struggling; it was as if she did, that would be surrendering the very soul of what she was.
At that moment, the man, at least that’s what I thought he was, changed. Where he stood there was a pillar of churning blackness, a man-sized opening into utter chaos. Long thin tendrils of smoke, or something, reached out, first to the two women, who screamed. I could feel that sound in my very depths. I wanted to run, but my legs wouldn’t do anything. As one of those smoke things touched me I was flooded with images, a dozen running simultaneously in my head. I couldn’t sort out anything from this cascade except the sure knowledge that this thing was real and for whatever reason someone among the roughnecks had set it loose. It was a struggle to even think, but I knew as certainly as I knew anything that this “thing” wanted out, wanted to walk the earth and one of us was going to be the way.
Right then, all I wanted to do was to rip my own heart out to escape this thing that was pulling me in, making itself part of me and me part of it. A part of me kept hoping that I would wake up with one killer hangover and remember this as only a very bizarre nightmare.
The last thing I heard, before the darkness took me was the sound of my own screaming.
“Russ, I’m glad you’re here early, I’ve got the opening ready” said Carl, the show’s chief editor, as I walked in the door of the editing booth.
I set the large Styrofoam cup of coffee I had in my left hand down on the edge of the CPU and took a seat next to Rick.
“So, what have you got for me? “ I could smell something in the air, a vaguely burning stench. “Are you overloading one of these very expensive machines?” I asked with a grin.
“No, I punched the wrong time on the microwave and ended up burning the crap out of my frozen burrito,” he said.
“Figures,” I said. “So have you worked your magic for our opening sequence?”
“Your idea was terrific. It works great.”
The screen in front of us lit up, first with a close up shot of the water and then the prow of a boat shooting through it. Then the camera rose to the darkened horizon and you could see the oil rig seeming to grow out of the water. That still sent shivers down my spine.
“Welcome, friends, as we seek to find out what is hidden in the shadows, what we see just out of the corners of our eyes, and, most of all, what is right in front of us In The Dark Corners of reality.”
The camera panned across the other members of my team and then settled on me for just a few beats; seconds later our show logo came up and the opening credits rolled.
“Nice job, Carl,” I said.
“Thanks, boss. Your new team is pretty colorful, but I still miss Jake and Nadia,” he said.
“I do too, Carl.”
“By the way, I love that effect the new night vision goggles’ light does to your eyes,” he said, picking up a half eaten piece of pizza from next to his keyboard.
“Yea, it makes them look like they have gold spots in them,” he said.
“Never noticed that. We can call it my new look,” I said, looking at the tiny gold flecks in my eyes reflected in the monitor on the control panel.
Author Bradley H. Sinor has seen his work appear in numerous science fiction, fantasy and horror anthologies such as THE IMPROBABLE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, TALES OF THE SHADOWMEN, THE GRANTVILLE GAZETTE AND RING OF FIRE 2 and 3. Three collections of his short fiction have been released by Yard Dog Press, DARK AND STORMY NIGHTS, IN THE SHADOWS, and PLAYING WITH SECRETS (along with stories by his wife Sue Sinor.) His newest collections are ECHOES FROM THE DARKNESS (Arctic Wolf Press) and WHERE THE SHADOWS BEGAN ( Merry Blacksmith Press).
If you enjoyed this story, let Brad know by commenting — and please use the Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus buttons below to spread the word.
If you enjoyed this story, let Bradley know by commenting below — and please use the Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus buttons below to spread the word.
Story illustration by Steve Santiago.