It was a particularly dark night. The moon was hidden by a cloudy sky passing over West Texas. No rain. It was dry, arid and quiet. The only break in the darkness was the headlights of a black F-150 crawling down a dusty road.

The pickup seemed lost. The driver, a man in late 30s, tried desperately to keep his eyes on the road ahead while simultaneously trying to read a piece paper by the faint light of the dashboard. It had the scribbled directions he needed, and he was glad he wrote them down since cell service gave out several miles back.

A well-dressed, well-groomed executive, he’d worked his way up the ladder at the North American division of one the world’s top oil majors. It was Halloween night and he didn’t want to leave his wife and kids, but he was invited to discuss a very promising asset acquisition. Deals were hard to come by these days, and shrewd acquisitions were how he made his way up the ladder quickly. So fast in fact, he was fresh off being named one of the industry’s Forty Under 40 honorees.

He’d asked for a mid-sized sedan—he was never a truck guy—but after an hour waiting at the airport in Midland, he gladly took the pickup as a rental, anything to get out of that terminal.

He arrived with a certain swagger, the result of his meteoric rise, but the dark desolation of the Midland Basin always gave him a bit of a quiver. He couldn’t fathom why his appointment wanted to meet here in the dead of night, but oil and gas executives are busy people so he took what he could get.

Finally, he saw the silhouette of an old pumpjack just ahead. He pulled up slowly, shut the engine, left the headlights on and climbed out. From the pumpjack, he saw a shadow of a man begin to head his way, slowly, almost as if he was doing a shuffle. As the man’s shadow got closer and closer he saw him—and elderly man—dressed in a 10-gallon hat, a cheap suit and a rope tie. He was old-fashioned, a bit scruffy and very nonchalant.

“Hel-lo?” the young executive asked, a bit confused.

The old man nodded in approval but said nothing.

“Why did we have to meet in the night—out here,” the executive asked.

“I didn’t want them to know we were here,” the old man answered.


“EFT. They’re everywhere. You never know when they’re around or who they are. Heck, for all I know, you’re one of them standing right here under my nose,” the old man said suspiciously.

The young executive tilted his head in confusion.

“You’re not, are you? One of them,” the old man asked bluntly.

There was a long pause. The two men stared each other down as if they were preparing for an Old West-style quick-draw duel. Finally, the young executive broke the silence.  

“No, I’m who I am. You invited me. You know who I am,” he said.

The old man tugged on his belt, cinching his suit pants up. He chuckled in approval.

“So why am I here? That pumpjack looks ancient,” the executive asked. “There’s no crew. The well is shut in. What’s going on? I thought you had a good deal for me. That’s why I came all of this way,” the executive said.

The old man’s smirk turned to a large grin.

“This deal will change your life, young fella,” he said, almost menacingly. “This well don’t look like much, but it’s magical, just like the oil industry. Just when you think it’s dead, well…”

The young man wondered aloud how the old man ever got any production out of the deteriorated machinery towering over both of them.

“We used to have a bunch of folks here, and the oil flowed. Heck, we even had free cash flow for a time there. Workers everywhere around here. But they’re all gone now.”

“What happened?”

“I’ll tell you. We had to let ‘em all go. After it came, things changed,” the old man said.

“What came? Covid? It’s killed demand, you know?”

The old man said, “That’s bad, but that’s not it. By the way, where’s your mask?”

“There’s no one around. I don’t need it.”

“There isn’t?” the old man asked, suspiciously.

The young executive pondered aloud, “What then, the Russians?”

“Data. There was so much. It started coming from everywhere. We didn’t know what to do with it. We drowned in it,” the old man explained.

The young executive paused, then said, “You should read the latest issue of E&P Plus. It tells you what to do with that data. It can help you.”

“Sounds like too much money for me,” the man answered.

“It’s free. Anyone can get it,” the young executive said. “You just need a computer or a phone—if you can ever get service out here, that is.”

“Well who doesn’t like free information,” the old man exclaimed. “Speaking of that. I’m going to give you some free information. Something you can take with you as you continue to climb up the corporate ladder.”

“Oh yeah? What’s that?” the young executive asked.

“Like I said before, magic,” the old man answered. “Maybe you didn’t read the latest issue of Oil and Gas Investor. Lessons from the past are lessons we can use in the future. It’s all right there. Leslie Haines wrote all about it.”

“Yeah, she’s good.”

Just then, the ground began to tremble and a faint clanking of metal began to break the silence of the night. The metal grinding grew louder by the second. The young executive had to cover his ears, but it was too loud now. It didn’t matter.

The old man just stared at him with a knowing and menacing grin.

When the young man looked up he saw the pumpjack come to life. Oil started to flow.

“How in the…?”

The old man continued to grin.

“Who’s running that,” the young man demanded. “We’re not alone?”

“We’re never alone,” the old man corrected.

The young executive asked, “So, who’s operating that thing then?”

“They are. You are. We are,” the old man said cryptically. “It’s all in the demand numbers. Again, do you even read Oil and Gas Investor? What about that E&P Plus you mentioned?

“If you pick up the Hydraulic Fracturing Techbook they put out, you’d understand what I’m talking about,” the old man continued.

Soon a methane flare appeared overhead, lighting up the night sky.

“They tell me it’s bad to do that,” the old man said.

“Of course, it is,” the young man countered. “Haven’t you heard of ESG?”

The old man asked, “What’s that?”

“Go to, they’ll tell you all about it. Why it’s important. How to handle it.”

It was then that a parade of what seemed like hundreds of Tesla automobiles began to appear out of nowhere. They lined up neatly in line and parked side by side in front of the pumpjack. Each one had a driver who emerged, angrily, some with signs and some with briefcases and tailored suits.

“Turn that off,” the ones with signs demanded. “He’s killing us!”

“Don’t give him any money,” the others screamed at the young executive. “He doesn’t have a sustainability report!”

Then something even more extraordinary happened. The old man’s face appeared as if it were an X-ray. A skull shown clearly and his body began to stretch and grow taller. His head spun around in a full 360-degree motion.

Frightened to the core, the young executive had to put his head down in his hands. He felt paralyzed with fear. He couldn’t run.

And suddenly, it all stopped. The noise was gone. The ground was steady again. The young man slowly lifted his head out of his hands and was surprised by the blinding sun in his face. Night had given way to daylight. Everyone, including the old man, was gone. There was no pumpjack in sight. It was as if it never happened.

Not knowing what to think, the young executive jumped back in the pickup and took off back for his hotel in Midland.

He burst into his room and quickly got out his laptop. He paced frantically around the room as he waited for Wi-Fi to connect. It seemed like an eternity. He turned on the TV. The local morning news was on and a chill came over him.

The anchor said with a dismissive chuckle, “Well, another Halloween has come and gone. We all know the folklore around legendary wildcatter Hyde Roe Karbin, who once dominated the West Texas oil industry. Legend has it that he appears once a year and starts up his wells, but once again no one has reported actually seeing his ghost. So, we’ll just have to live with the legend for another year, it seems.”

The photo shown was that of the old man he’d just spent the night talking to. The young man slumped back into a corner of his hotel room. He put his head down into his open hands.

He screamed, “Nooooo!”