My hubris caught up with me and I took a nap this afternoon. I dreamt of an oil well rig being set up in the middle of Fuck You County (some back-ass part of Texas) in an area that the First Nations peoples had warned was No Good™.
The first week of drilling was one broken thing after another. If it was a hose, is burst or got clogged. If it was a pipe or a shaft, it broke. If it was electrical, it fried. Every day some poor soul passed out from heat stroke despite all the legitimately best efforts by the foreman to keep his men safe. The second week was double the first week’s costs.
The Suit (read: upper management) didn’t care about the increasing costs of drilling. He bragged that not only was the rig replaceable, but so were the men, and he didn’t care if it cost them their souls to get the well dug, that well better be dug on time because the projected profits would greatly overcompensate for the financial cost of digging it.
“You willing to bet your soul on that, Sir?”
“You said you didn’t care if it cost us our souls, Sir. Do you care if it cost yours?”
“If I could get this well dug and pumping on time, I’ll gladly give up my soul, if anyone could actually find the damn thing first! Ha!”
“We’ll get it done, Sir. We’ll get it done.”
“You better, or your blood is gonna lube the next rig!”
The Suit left with orders to resume drilling but the foreman told everyone to go into town for the night. He paid everyone several hundred dollars cash and said he wasn’t going to ask how it was spent as long as everyone was back on site before 6am. Those who knew him well immediately grabbed the youngbloods and raced away from the site in fearful silence.
The foreman went in the operations trailer and came out with his thermos of coffee. He moved to stand alone on the platform and looked up to the hanging shaft above him, then down into the connected drilling shafts standing still under him. He took off the plain gold chain and crucifix he wore in defiance of the safety rules about jewelry and began fingering the delicate links. He sipped his cold coffee and watched the still dry scenery alone.
The sun set, and he remained standing on the platform. His lips barely moved as he muttered well practiced words to himself and no one in particular.
The night embraced the land and the rig. He had a flashlight clipped to his belt but he had not activated it. The only sources of light were the red safety lights on the console reflecting off his dry unfocused eyes.
A stillness rose off the ground shortly after midnight. As if all of physical existence was trying to lie low and not be noticed. Something was near. Something was listening. Something was reaching for the immobile standing man on the drilling platform. The man held out a glinting thing in his hand and took a breath to speak.
“With Christ as my witness, you heard his offer. His soul for the successful completion of the well. If this is not suitable for you, I give you my treasure for the safekeeping of my men. Let the equipment fail, but touch not those who hold faith in me.”
The glinting thing turned. The red safety lights gave the gold crucifix the appearance of being smothered in blood. The foreman opened his hand, and the crucifix and chain fell into the exposed drilling shaft. Even if it had been caught by the lubrication mud and was recoverable, the moment the drilling resumed, it would be torn into pieces and made part of the lubrication driving the invasive steel deeper into the virgin earth.
The old hands returned to the rig at five in the morning. Each one bore an offering of a full thermos of coffee for the unusually drowsy and pale foreman. A youngblood spied a newly healing scar on the foreman’s exposed arm and pointed in preparation for making an inquiry. He was quickly slapped by the veterans and told to stop making up stories before he earned scars of his own to tell.
The drilling began without harm to men or equipment, but the ground under them fought back. For all the crew’s best efforts, the drilling proceeded slower than anticipated. They were not going to make the deadline at this pace.
A few mornings later, the foreman was studying the readings from the previous day’s work. He wondered if what he gave wasn’t going to be enough this time. He had been warned when he learned the skill that eventually he was going to have to start offering pieces of himself instead of just trapping fools with their own words. His nearly faded scar on his arm itched as he reflected on the piece of himself he already gave, but it looked like he would have to give more.
Instead of the usual offering of coffee from his crew, he heard terrible shouts and a few screams. He grabbed his shotgun and shouldered open the door ready to retaliate against the perceived attack.
“You the foreman? Sorry I’m late, man. I was supposed to be here two days ago, but the ground is really fucking hard to get through. No wonder you’re having problems.”
A large, thick, and muscular… man… dressed only in trousers made of sackcloth stood barefeet at the feet of the stairs leading to the operations trailer. The foreman thought this was the most severe case of sunburn he has ever seen in his life, because the barely dressed man was as red as a cooked lobster from the curled stubby horns on his head to the spaded tail idly sweeping behind him.
The foreman blinked.
Around the red creature’s neck was a very familiar gold chain and crucifix.
“Yea, I’m the foreman. Call me ‘Fuck’, cuz if I hear anyone yelling that, it better because something is really fucked up or I’ll fuck him up. You the Devil?”
“Nice to meet you, Mister Fuck. Naw, I ain’t the Devil. Just a demon. Assigned to your crew for the duration of the drill. I ain’t got a name like you folk have names, so whatever you wanna call me is good with me.”
“Demons start shit. And I ain’t having that. That weren’t the deal.”
“Unbonded demons start shit, Mister Fuck.” The demon fingered the necklace collaring him. “See this? It’s the mark of a covenant. I ain’t here to start any shit with you, or with the men under you. I’m here to help you dig this well and to dig it on time. I take it you’re a couple days behind already, so I’m here to push you back on time and finish the job. And when the rig is done, I leave, and you and those who hold faith in you remain untouched by me and mine. Someone else’s soul is liened for payment.”
The foreman lowered his shotgun and uncocked it in a show of peace. “Well, ain’t that precious. Yea…. that’s your name. LISTEN UP GUYS! THIS HERE IS PRECIOUS, AND HE’S GONNA GIVE US A HAND. YOU ALL HAVE TWO HOURS TO FIGURE OUT WHERE PRECIOUS IS GOING TO BE BEST AT WORKING AND THEN IF YOU ALL DON’T GIVE ME SOME PROGRESS TO TRACK I’M GONNA THROW ALL OF YOU DOWN THE FUCKING WELL! I figure two hours is gonna be enough time for me to figure out if you’re gonna be first or last down the well if I don’t get some payback on my investment, Precious.”
The eight foot tall demon shifted as he absentmindedly flexed in glee. “You’ll get your payback, Mister Fuck! You’ll see!”
“That’s BOSS FUCK to you! And I don’t see you doing anything other than NOT FUCKING WORKING ON MY RIG!”
“Yea, Boss! On it, Boss!” The demon turned around in preparation for crossing over to the platform but the foreman yelled at him to wait a bit.
“CHRIS! DON’T YOU BE FUCKING HIDING FROM ME NOW CHRIS, I NEED YOUR HEAD OUT YOUR ASS YOU CHICKEN SHIT MOTHERFUCKER! IF I AIN’T SCARED YOU AIN’T GOT NO RIGHT TO BE SCARED EITHER! CHRISTOPHER! DON’T MAKE ME SAY YOUR FULL NAME, YOU FUCKING BASTARD! I WILL FEED YOU TO THE WELL!”
The veterans of the crew were a superstitious lot, but they were more afraid of the foreman than of any supernatural force, divine or infernal. Chris pulled his head out of his ass himself from his hiding spot and ran to stand beside Precious. “Yes, Boss!”
“Get Precious some boots and gloves that fit.”
“Eh, Boss, I don’t need….”
“Shut up, Precious. You’re on my fucking crew now, may whatever god or devil you fuck with have mercy on you. And ain’t no damn soul, or any saintly ones either, stepping on my rig without non-slip boots and all-grip gloves. Everything else is on you.”
That command was all the crew needed to be able to accept the demon as an equal among them. (Though the youngbloods had to wash the piss out of their overalls before the veterans let them back on the rig.) Though the foreman gave them two hours to see where the demon Precious would fit best, the crew found their new formation in twenty minutes.
Though Precious handles the pipes like any other roughneck, there was something about the demon personally escorting the pipes into the ground that made the entire procedure flow exceedingly well. By noon, they had already made as much progress as the twenty-four hours prior to Precious’ appearance.
In the days that followed, Precious was a surprising cheery presence on the rig. He told stories about the First Nations peoples that were there before and hinted to why they considered the area to be a cursed place to be avoided. “Some things were buried for a reason, and not just to decay, as if it could decay at all.” He learned new expletives that delighted him, and his laughter at a successful prank shook bones and steel frame alike.
The foreman liked him because he could reheat coffee with just a glance, regardless of the container obscuring direct line of sight.
When the Suit came to inspect progress in person, Precious could not be found. So the Suit saw the men struggling to make any headway against the recalcitrant bedrock just as they had struggled before the demon’s appearance. The arrogant manager felt that hard work made for good servants, and nodded his approval at the excessive toil on men and equipment in his presence.
Precious would reappear after the Suit left, scowling and muttering words that decomposed the gloves and boots he was wearing requiring replacements of both. The moment he laid a hand on the pipe, the process would become smooth and easy again. However, Precious’ mood would not return to its regular gay levity until the next day.
Three days before the deadline, the drilling rig struck the target depth. Veteran, youngblood, and demon all exchanged high fives, chest bumps, and ass slaps. The foreman would not report the success until the test pumping rig was installed. If the flow met a certain level of measurement, then and only then, would the rig be considered complete.
Precious assured the foreman that the flow would be constant after the demon left. There was more than enough pressure under the ground to support demand, the demon said calmly before warning the foreman to expect to use reinforced pumps after his departure. “My presence is tempering more than just resistance.”
The well passed the test, and the results were sent back to corporate headquarters for confirmation. Precious removed his gloves and boots in preparation to leave.
“Well, Fuck. Got a question for ya.”
The demon fingered the gold necklace collaring him. “Want it back?”
The witnessing crew held their breath. This was more than just about the necklace, they understood. The foreman swished cold coffee between his teeth than spat it on the ground. “No.”
“It’s yours, isn’t it?”
“It was. I gave it up, free and clear. On the first day we met, Precious, you said that an unbonded demon starts shit, and that necklace is the mark of a covenant that I’m assuming is keeping you bonded and at peace with us. I didn’t remove it then, and I ain’t removing it now. Your assignment with me is completed. Report to your overseer for the next.”
Precious smiled and showed sharp triangular serrated teeth. “You know, Boss Fuck, you ain’t a stupid man. And that’s why we like you. You know how to make, and keep, a deal. I’m off, then. As commanded. Pleasure working with you and your men, Sir.”
The foreman stuck his hand out towards the demon. “Pleasure having you work with us. If you ever get bored of being a demon, you have a spot with us.”
Precious looked at the outstretched hand and slowly took it. He did not answer but shook the mortal man’s hand with an honest grip. He released the foreman, pulling the last hues of the scar off the foreman’s arm as he moved away, and walked away from the rig towards the uninhabited depths of the desolate land.
The next day the Suit appeared with several acolytes sycophants subordinates in tow. The Suit took credit for the success of the rig after revealing the corporation had already written off the rig as a loss and had ordered the crew to be reassigned elsewhere. “But my persistence and dedication to the company inspired these men to complete my vision and achieve the impossible! This is the achievement that has me now in consideration for the board!”
The foreman’s stern glare kept the youngbloods from adding their observations to the Suit’s speech. The veterans just smiled kindly and nodded their last respects to the man who was going to pay for Precious’ assistance. It was said that within the hour after the Suit returned to his air-conditioned office in a downtown tower of some major city, he fell and was dead before he even hit the ground. The only clue to what ailment had struck him was a strange, deeply infected wound on the inside of his forearm. Yet no one could place when or where the wound was incurred.
The crew broke down their drilling rig and moved on to the next assignment. When the foreman went to clean out his coffee thermos, he poured the dregs of a muddy fluid into the sink that was followed by a sudden clunk and the sound of a small chain slipping over the metal lip of the thermos.
His gold necklace and crucifix had been returned to him again.