Chapter Two: The Boojum.
Big Delta, Alaska, USA.
Sam Renstrom had worked on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline for years but he’d never seen anything like this.
Parked on the Richardson Highway over the Tanana River, he looked across to where the pipeline spanned the river on its narrow suspension bridge. Over the midpoint of the river, a blurry vertical disc, swirling with colors, oily and iridescent, bisected the pipeline. It was several meters in diameter - larger than the bore of the pipe - but had no depth. At least, when Sam looked at it edge-on, that’s how it seemed. It reminded him of a film of soapy water in a kid’s bubble maker. Whatever it was, it was mighty curious; but curiosity wasn’t what had brought Sam here this morning: The weird disc, whatever it was, had stopped the flow of oil.
Sam had woken early to a call from his supervisor. His inspection shift was due to start at 8am but the call came at 6:15. The supervisor’s briefing was hurried, and made no sense.
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline pipes oil thirteen-hundred kilometers from Prudhoe Bay on the north coast through twelve pumping stations to Valdez in the south. Alarms had gone off at 6:05 in Pumping Station Nine near Delta Junction, indicating a total loss of pipeline pressure. Within minutes, similar alarms went off at all downstream pumping stations right down to Station Twelve, just outside Valdez. The strange thing was that Station Eight, a hundred kilometers north, was not reporting any problems. If there were a catastrophic breach in the line large enough to cause zero flow at Station Nine, the decrease in back-pressure should have set off alarms upstream. This hadn’t happened, and no-one could explain it. The calls went out and all the inspectors responsible for that hundred-kilometer section were mobilized - but it was Sam’s day.
He drove to the north end of the bridge and down Hansen Road to where the pipe came ashore. He parked as close as he could to the water’s edge and stared though the dusty windshield at the curiosity surrounding the pipe. It sent a chill down his spine. His Pop used to tell stories about supernatural creatures that supposedly roamed the Alaskan wastes. ‘Boojums’ he called them. Sam had never really believed in them but he was revising his skepticism now.
“My very own Boojum,” he said to himself. “What’n the hell are you?”
He rubbed his eyes and released a jaw-cracking yawn. He was bleary from the early start but he had a cure in a thermos on the passenger seat: Sam made different strengths of coffee depending on the weather and the scale of his hangover. It was a pleasant summer morning but he’d watched a hockey game and sunk too many brews up in Fairbanks the night before, so today was a High-Octane day. That meant a shot of rum in the Joe, and he savored it as he puzzled over the Boojum.
He sure didn’t know what it was but it had to be what was blocking the oil. If he could figure it out and get rid of it, he’d be a hero. Hell, he might even get a raise! He had a good idea how much money was lost when the oil didn’t flow, and he figured fixing it must be worth a couple thousand bucks a year extra in his pay check. Besides, this was his section of pipe. He’d maintained and inspected it for years, damn it, and he wasn’t going to let some weird doohickey mess with his livelihood.
After two cups of his Calypso Joe, he was feeling a lot better - and a lot braver. Psyched up to take the responsibility – and the credit – for dealing with the Boojum, he reversed his truck under the pipeline bridge tower and stepped out. He clipped his utility belt around his waist and threw down the last of the coffee. With a grunt, he climbed onto the roof of the truck then scaled the tower until he was standing on the pipe. The company expressly forbade this but all the inspectors did it. Actually, Sam wasn’t certain whether other inspectors did it or not but he sure did, and he didn’t give a good goddamn what anyone else did.
Taking a deep breath, he headed out along the pipe, over the water. His years of walking the pipe illicitly served him well and he balanced easily, using the stay wires for support. After one-hundred and eighty meters, he reached his Boojum.
From three meters, the disc was humming and he felt the hairs on his arms prickling. He pulled a penny from his pocket and threw it into the shimmering face of the disc. It passed clean through and disappeared with a faint crackle, leaving a slight eddy on the disc’s surface like ripples on a pond.
Sam’s eyebrows rose at this and he sat down to straddle the pipe. He shunted forward then lay prone to examine the pipe where the Boojum intersected it. It looked like the pipe was cut clean through but no oil was escaping. Impossible as it seemed, the oil was pouring into the disc and disappearing. He took off his grubby Alaska Aces cap – another breach of regulations but he hated hard-hats – and crawled forward for a closer look.
Once he got within a meter of the disc, he felt a strong pull on his head and shoulders, like the suck of a vacuum cleaner. He tried to scuttle backwards but it was too late. Whatever force the Boojum was exerting, he was caught in it and it pulled him forward. The cap fell from his hand and hit the water. He tried to grip the pipe with his hands and thighs but to no avail.
“Oh God! No! Help me. Somebody, please help me!”
His screams were cut off as he was sucked into the swirling disc.
The Boojum stayed in place humming contentedly but all that was left of Sam Renstrom was his hockey cap as it spun down the river.