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Authors: J. E. Gurley

Tags: #JE Gurley, #spirits, #horror, #Hell Rig, #paranormal, #zombie, #supernatural, #voodoo, #haunted, #Damnation Books

Hell Rig

Hell Rig

By
JE Gurley

Damnation Books, LLC.
P.O. Box 3931
Santa Rosa, CA 95402-9998

www.damnationbooks.com

Hell Rig
by JE Gurley

Digital ISBN: 978-1-61572-331-7

Print ISBN: 978-1-61572-332-4

Cover art by: Matt Truiano
Edited by: Isaac Milner

Copyedited by: Sherri Good

Copyright 2011
JE
Gurley

Printed in the United States of America
Worldwide Electronic & Digital Rights
1st North American and UK Print Rights

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any form, including digital and electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the Publisher, except for brief quotes for use in reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Dedicated to my loving wife, Kim, without whose help I could not endure. She understands having a muse is not quite the same as having a lover. She understands that four a.m. is the perfect time to finish up a chapter.

Thanks to Jonathan Maberry, my mentor and friend. You placed me on the path and set a lamp unto my feet. And to Weston Ochse, my friend and neighbor. Thanks for your support and encouragement.

Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita

On Monday, August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 storm with winds in excess of 145 mph, struck New Orleans at 8:00 a.m. with the fury of an enraged animal, killing over 1800 people and devastating the area, smashing levees and flooding large portions of the city. Just prior to landfall, Hurricane Katrina had reached a Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, the highest number possible.

Twenty-six days later, September 23, 2005, Hurricane Rita, the season’s second Category 5 storm, roared into the Gulf and lay poised to strike New Orleans a second brutal blow. Miraculously, it veered sharply to the west, striking instead the Texas coast near Sabine Pass at 3:00 am on September 24, dropping to a strong Category 3 by landfall.

This vicious double punch caused billions in damages and claimed over 2000 lives as persons dead or missing, but it could have been much worse.

Chapter One

Gulf Coast, Global Platform Thirteen, September 17, 2005 –

Jeff Towns loathed flying with all of his heart and soul. It usually required dire circumstances to get him in an airplane, especially sober. Now he found himself trapped in a rusted out Vietnam era Huey helicopter a decade older than he was. The olive drab camouflage paint had flaked off in chunks as large as his hand, revealing a dull gray undercoating. It had been haphazardly repainted in various shades of green, making it look like a child’s first attempt at finger painting. The ancient Pratt and Whitney Turbo-400 engine labored as loudly as his complaining stomach while the foam flecked mocha brown waters of the Gulf of Mexico sped by at 160 mph two hundred feet below him. He gripped the straps of his safety harness strapped across his chest with both hands, like a parachute, his teeth clenched so tightly his jaw ached. His stomach coiled python-like around the two-egg Denver omelet and hash browns he had unwisely wolfed down just before the flight. He groaned as his stomach rumbled yet again.

“Wanna bite?”

Jeff opened his eyes and looked over at one of his companions, ‘Big Clyde’ Gleason, a large redheaded country boy from Picayune, Mississippi. Clyde calmly sliced off a sliver from a plug of chewing tobacco with his Case pocketknife. Jeff looked down at the tobacco offering with disgust. Clamping down on his revulsion, he shook his head. Gleason laughed, a deep hardy, knee-slapping guffaw befitting his farm boy upbringing.

“Getting a little queasy, Towns?” Gleason asked, holding the fresh cut tobacco offering under his nose and sniffing it approvingly before popping it into his mouth.

“No, a lot queasy,” Jeff answered bitterly, waving his hand dismissively. “Now, get that shit out of my face.”

“Leave him alone, Big Clyde,” Eric Tolson yelled from his position at the edge of the open door of the helicopter. His feet dangled over the side of the old Huey, the ends of his long blond Fu Manchu-style mustache snapping in the breeze. The pulled down brim on his oil-stained New Orleans Saints cap and his dark shades hid his mischievous blue eyes. Jeff could barely hear him over the thumping blades and rushing air. “Can’t you see he’s still enjoying that greasy omelet and even greasier pile of half-cooked hash browns he had for breakfast? Lordy, they were slimy.”

That was all it took. Jeff grabbed the airsick bag he was hoping to avoid using, placed it over his mouth and let go. His throat burned as he regurgitated his breakfast.

“Oh, my Gawd, he’s spewing!” Gleason warned with a chuckle, holding up his hands in mock defensive posture.

Jeff finished emptying his stomach and took a couple of deep breaths. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and groaned. His stomach gurgled menacingly but remained in place. He folded over the top of the airsick bag and looked for a place to set it out of the way.

“Here,” Tolson said, reaching over and grabbing the bag from Jeff. He tossed it out the open door and watched it plummet to the sea. “I hope fish like eggs.”

“Sure they do,” Gleason chimed in. “Ain’t you ever heard of caviar. That’s fish eggs, right?”

Tolson laughed. “Yeah, but people eat caviar, not fish.”

“I saw a fish eating fish eggs once on National Geographic. It—”

“Stow it, you two,” Ed Harris broke in, his deep bass voice cleaving the din like a scythe. He sat in the front of the chopper, leaning back over the front seat to confront Tolson. “Save your energy for the clean up. We’ve got seven days before the refurbishing crew comes in. If we haven’t finished by then, I’m out some cash. Shut that damn door, Tolson. I’m tired of screaming to be heard.”

Tolson swung his legs in and slid shut the door of the Huey in one fluid movement, smiling up at Ed. Immediately, the sound level dropped several dozen decibels, from a roar to a dull throb.

“I just wanted some fresh air,” Tolson commented.

Ed Harris owned Re-Berth Incorporated out of Port Charles, Louisiana, a small salvage and restoration company for whom they all worked. Tolson and Gleason, for all their good-natured bickering, respected their boss and usually avoided giving him any unnecessary grief. They knew Ed had called in all the favors he could to get the Global job. It was the biggest clean up they had ever attempted and could lead to similar good paying jobs in the future.

Jeff was not sure about some of the new hires. He glanced at Greg Bale sitting across from him quietly reading a
Times Picayune
newspaper. Bale, medium build, short brown hair, body deeply tanned from the sun, did everything quietly, even his exercises, which he did with a religious fervor. Bale had been with the company for almost six months, no new hire but still unproven in Jeff’s eyes. His long, diverse resume seemed to indicate a drifter or a man unconcerned with his future. He worked hard but Jeff did not trust a man who could pull up stakes so casually anytime he wished. A man needed roots, even roots as tenuous as Jeff’s were. Dependability was a part of the job.

Bale harbored a dark secret. Jeff could see it haunting his eyes sometimes when Bale thought no one was watching. He often reached up and touched, almost caressed the crucifix he wore around his neck as if fearing it but fearing more to give it up. To Jeff it seemed Bale’s silence held back a secret he was afraid might slip. He spoke very little, as if afraid he might let slip his secret. In spite of his cross, he never professed a faith in God or his fellow man. The cross seemed incongruous to his nature, more burden than reassurance, an albatross on a silver chain. Jeff assumed everyone had secrets, but Bale’s secret was big and dominated his life. He was a man running from some calamity in his past too big to escape.

Gleason and Tolson were old hands and despite their proneness to off-color jokes and childish shenanigans, Jeff had no doubts about their abilities and trusted them with his life. He watched Tolson pull out his cell phone, dial a number and frown when the call did not go through.
Probably calling his secretive girl friend
, he thought. For all his womanizing talk, Tolson had dated the same woman for months, though he had never brought her to any of their frequent drinking sessions. Jeff suspected Tolson’s wild rover days were nearing an end.

He glanced over at Sid Easton, fully absorbed in a comic book, pimple-faced and barely out of his teens but trying hard to make everybody believe that he was a blooded, street-tough punk with his slicked back, black hair, his propensity for foul language and multiple earrings. He was new, a nephew to Ed or something like that. He might be okay if he didn’t flake during crunch time. At least he seemed eager to get to work.

Ken McAndrews, or Mac as he insisted they call him, was also new, a former oil field worker from Shreveport with a penchant for poetry and multisyllabic words. He was tall, lean and muscular. He claimed his father was a Scot but his drawl condemned him as born and raised in Louisiana. He had signed on for grunt work and as a welder’s helper. Jeff hoped Mac was not as flaky as most assistants he had known.

Matthew Sims was an oddity, even among oddballs. A former shrimper out of Venice, Louisiana, Sims had lost his boat and crew during Katrina and had refused to return to the sea. He had shown up at Re-Berth two days before their scheduled departure asking Ed for a job. Ed, always soft hearted, had hired him on the spot. He was quieter than Bale but claimed a wide variety of skills that could prove useful offshore. He was tall, thin and wiry with close-cropped brown hair and dark brown eyes that roamed constantly. The smile that he flashed more often than necessary seemed more cruel than humorous, as if he knew a deep dark secret about you. Jeff didn’t trust a man who could give up on his life’s work so easily. Most shrimpers would rather die than give up the sea. Salt water ran in their veins. He did not trust Sims.

He looked over at the fourth newbie, her eyes closed, and headset plugged into a pink I-Pod held in a delicate, long fingered hand tipped by hot pink nails. She wore no makeup but was one of those women who did not really need it. Indeed, she looked lovely without it. Lisa Love was a complete mystery to him. A recent graduate of LSU as a chemical engineer, she was a real looker, not the usual broad shouldered feminist roustabout type of women one usually saw working in the oil fields. She had kept to herself, hardly speaking during the entire trip from the office to the heliport. Ed had brought her along as a safety engineer and radio operator. There would be numerous dangerous chemicals and safety concerns in an old platform like Global Thirteen. Her job would be to categorize them according to the danger they presented to the crew and to fit their cleanup and repair into the already busy work schedule. Almost as if she felt Jeff’s gaze on her, she opened her eyes, looked at him and smiled, running her long delicate fingers through her auburn hair.

The last member of their little group was a blank page. Ric Waters was a Global man sent out ostensibly to oversee the clean up and monitor the gas pressure manifolds and wellheads for any possible danger from leaks. Any problem with them could send the whole rig up like a bomb. Waters sat by himself, his back against the pilot’s seat, hardly moving except for the gentle swaying caused by the helicopter. The cold, distant look in his haunted eyes frightened Jeff. Waters looked like one of those Sudanese refugees he had seen on the news or a Gulf War vet who’d seen too many dead bodies. He was a vacant body whose owner had left no forwarding address.

Waters worked previously on rig Thirteen before Hurricane Katrina hit and knew it better than anyone alive. They would depend on him for details, but Jeff hated to think their lives were in his hands.

Jeff leaned over and tapped Ed on the shoulder. “What really happened on number Thirteen?” There had been numerous conflicting rumors explaining the deaths of the crew on the rig during Katrina, each more suggestive than the previous, but very little in the newspapers.

Ed looked back at Jeff and shook his head. “I don’t know for sure. Rumor is it caught fire during the rush to shut it down before Katrina hit. Everyone died.” He looked pointedly at Waters who ignored him, lost in a world of his own. “Everyone but him. They say he was off platform shutting down the injector wells when it happened. Came back to find everyone toast. Shook him up quite a bit, though. He spent a couple of weeks in the hospital up in Shreveport.”

“That’s the reason for those dead eyes
,” Towns thought. “I don’t like the idea of working on a ghost rig,” he said, fingering the amulet around his neck. He didn’t believe in voodoo, but had bought the small round Loa Agwe medallion at a shop in New Orleans. The cute little sales clerk with large breasts and a perky smile had told him Loa Agwe was the guardian of the seas and seafarers. Jeff bought it because of the small sailing ship stamped into the metal, surrounded by a circle of intricate symbols. It was supposed to bring good luck to sailors and, he hoped, rig workers.

Ed glared at him. “Don’t ever say that again,” he warned. “Names stick.”

“Yeah, Jeff,” Tolson added, overhearing. “We don’t need no damn zombies walking around.” He glanced over at Lisa Love. “It might scare the skirt.”

Lisa opened her eyes, crinkled her pert nose and smiled. Jeff noticed her eyes were a very light blue, almost azure. She removed one earphone. “I don’t wear a skirt when I’m working. Just consider me one of the guys.”

“None of the other guys have tits like yours,” Tolson replied, smirking.

“Pipe down, Tolson,” Ed snapped. “She’s one of the crew. Give her some damn respect.”

Tolson smiled at her and doffed his Saints cap, showing his freshly shaved pate. With his bald head, Fu Manchu moustache and Death Head skull tattoos running the length of his right arm, he looked like a Neo-Nazi skinhead, but contrary to his appearance, he was intelligent and gentle though a bit pre-political correctness. “No offense meant. I really like your tits.”

“Tolson!” Ed growled.

Lisa took Tolson’s remarks in stride, flipping him the bird with one long, slender finger. She began to replace her earplugs.

“It is haunted.”

They all turned to look at Waters. His soft voice had barely registered above the noise in the chopper. He looked up slowly, his cheeks pinched and his dark eyes just depressions in his skull. His Atlanta Braves baseball cap almost swallowed his head. No trace of emotion marred his pale face or spilled over into his voice as he spoke.

“It is haunted,” he repeated. “They all died there and they’re waiting for me. You, too.” He nodded his head several times in affirmation.

“Who’s waiting?” Ed asked.

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