Firewater, Oklahoma

Eric Benson
20 min readSep 22

Formerly Stillwater, Oklahoma
May 7, 2047
96 F
80% humidity
30% chance of precipitation

Over and over the rig’s protective red casing groaned and flapped like a wounded bird flailing violently inwards with each gust of wind ripping through my brand-new pumping mechanism. The countless rusted-out bolts on the side casings needed replacing years ago, but budgets were busted. So said the community that hired me at least and it was just too dangerous to climb up the damn rig thanks to the winds. The ladder was missing too many rungs to safely install new bolts anyway. I had to make do with what I had. I was lucky enough just to have a functioning pump and a new one at that. It was a stroke of sheer fortune that the old pump broke a week into the process of pumping out a new two-mile hole from the Earth.

This job wasn’t exactly what I had expected when I landed in Stillwater from Laramie six months ago. I was forced out of my last postdoc position at the university lab since the legislature had just changed all the state laws about funding. Total assholes those politicians. As money dried up like the parched fields of much of the Great Plains, the powers that be wanted folks to move on to somewhere else. Not enough water. Not enough good soil left, they said. We’re better off in Michigan, Minnesota, or the Northeast where there are big lakes and soil that still works. Going West wasn’t an option unless you’re rich or know someone rich. PhDs like me aren’t wealthy, and I’m severely lacking in the friends and family department. But regardless, this job was the best shot I had to prove I was a real scientist.

Stillwater is a big scientific experiment. It’s like the new Wild West out here — except with no duels or a gold rush. Ok, so it’s not really like the Wild West, but you can test or try anything from a technology standpoint if it helps make living here better. That is part of what attracted me to this part of Oklahoma. It was one big lab. I specialized in mechanical engineering throughout my years at university. I was interested in it from an early age. I used to build bridges and flying cars out of sticks, glue, and string when I was seven. I fancied myself not only as an engineer but as a world saver. My parents were the latter. Or at…

Eric Benson

Associate Professor and Chair of Graphic Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Co-founder of Re-nourish & Fresh Press Agri-Fiber Paper Lab.