In spite of our differences, and honestly maybe because of them, Sam and I got along well. We got each other to try new things. Things neither of us would ordinarily do.
As a couple we worked well. We complimented each other. He was the strong, confident outdoorsman with a bit of a careless, sometimes self-destructive streak. I balanced him by being quiet and thoughtful. I’m sure people saw me as the petite little brooding girlfriend who’d rather be at home with a book. It never bothered me because that’s exactly what I was.
Sam was an adventurous type. Camping, climbing, off-roading in his 4 wheel drive, kayaking, anything outside really. He was also smart and caring and prone to at least one existential crisis a month. Regardless, this isn’t about Sam’s unhealthy fascination with Camus. It’s about our first and only camping trip together.
Honestly, I didn’t really want to go but I thought it was sweet that he’d invite me knowing I’d be no help to him whatsoever at setting up camp or cooking or any of the things he was so good at.
I kissed the tip of his nose and said I’d love to go and it was worth it just to see the happy look on his face. Almost.
The drive to Fox Creek was beautiful. Rolling, tree covered hills turned to deep, shady gorges and steep, rocky peaks. We turned off the interstate and into the town of Ellison and took surface streets through downtown, meandering along unlined country roads. We went miles past the town until we came to a faded, drooping sign that said Fox Creek SR 451. Sam turned onto the slightly rutted gravel road and we continued.
We’d been driving down roads with forest on both sides for miles and miles, the dappled sunlight casting everything in a golden green glow. When we turned onto the Fox Creek road, though, the canopy lifted but thickened and the sunlight dimmed even further, only occasionally fully breaking through to offer a thin shaft of golden light to the moss and fern covered forest floor. Ancient looking fallen logs crisscrossed the soft ground here and there. I was looking out the open passenger window through the dim mid-day, the forest air at once fertile and fetid around us.
“This is old growth forest,” Sam said, “untouched, unlogged and very old.”
His passion for the outdoors was matched only by my lack thereof. But I loved him, or, I thought I could possibly, and so I readied myself for the inevitability of bug spray and campfire hotdogs.
We crossed a shallow creek in his truck to get to the campsite. There was a small gravel lot with some heavy duty trashcans to keep the bears out and a small stand with envelopes for the parking fee. At the rear of the lot, away from the campsites was a lavatory or bathroom of sorts, one of the waterless kind, Sam told me. He said what they did was dig out a big hole for a tank and then set a prefabricated outhouse over the top. There was a tube on the side of the small building for pumping out the shit when it got full. The commodes, if they could be called such, were simply raised toilet seats over that giant, dark tank in the ground. There was a men’s and a women’s, side by side, the only difference between the two being the sign on the door. The tank underground connected them. I vowed not to use the vile lavatory. I could already smell the foul thing.
We set up camp and gathered some firewood. It was a very secluded spot just as Sam had described it to me. We were the only ones there.
It was only an overnight camping trip. The plan was to hike a bit on the first afternoon, sip on some whiskey and have some dinner by the fire that night and then hike a little more the next day before packing up and heading home.
After we set up the tent and hammock and unloaded our cooler from the truck we got our boots on and hit the trail.
It was hauntingly beautiful and I could see why Sam loved it. But I could also see that I might become a bit unnerved if I had to be out there for too long. The quiet. The seclusion. The cathedral-like pillars of the massive trees. Poplars and hemlocks and oak.
We hiked a switchback trail up to a ridge with a fantastic view and then looped our way back down, the trail coming right back to the gravel parking lot by that shit-smelling , vile little lavatory.
As we walked past it I could almost swear I heard a splashing sound from inside it. I looked at Sam and I could tell by the look on his face that he’d heard something as well.
“What was that?” I asked him.
“Relax, Jess, it was just a shit demon. You know how they get this time of year,” he said with a laugh.
I wasn’t amused.
The sun went down around our little camp. Our fire was bright as we ate and drank, talking well into the night. We finally crawled into the tent and snuggled up, both of us whiskey buzzed and content.
Late in the night I woke up. The whiskey and bratwursts had knotted my stomach up tightly. Sam snored softly next to me. I tried to go back to sleep but all I could feel was greasy sausage and liquor fighting for which one would escape me first. I cramped up and knew that I’d have to leave the tent to use the bathroom.
I nudged Sam. “Hey, where’s the toilet paper?”
“Hmm?” he said, still mostly asleep.
“The TP. Where is it?”
“In the outhouse,” he mumbled, rolling over onto his side.
Goddamnit, I thought as I slipped on my boots and unzipped the tent. Let’s make this quick.
My cramping bowels forced me quickly across the parking lot, our car still the only one there. Moonlight bathed everything in a silvery blue light, the trees shimmering darkly as they seemed to lean over.
A faint breeze brought the scent of the outhouse to my nostrils. The sticky, cloying smell of a strong floral fragrance attempting to mask the smell of weeks and weeks of human waste.
I was in danger of not getting there in time as the twisting and knotting of my stomach forced me to the foul little building.
In my hurry I’d forgotten a light. No worries, I thought, I’ll be fast and the moon is bright.
There were windows high up on the outhouse and as I banged open the door I could see the toilet from the bright glow of the moon. The lid was raised and I moved towards the pitch black hole that I knew dropped down five or six feet to the tank with its filthy stink.
I was at the end of my rope and so I undid my shorts quickly and sat down, my backside suspended and bare over that dark disgusting hole.
Immediately after I’d finished I heard a swishing, swirling noise from directly below me down in the tank as though someone was wading around down there in the muck. I froze momentarily in the act of unrolling the toilet paper and then I felt a cool, slimy finger trace the back of my exposed thigh from down in the hole.
Horrified, I looked between my legs to see the barely visible, but smiling, shit covered face of an old man. Covered in festering sores and gaunt as a skeleton, he grinned up from between my thighs and licked his lips.
I think I ruptured something in my throat. I’d never screamed that loud in my life. I pulled up my shorts and sprinted back to our camp, Sam already running towards me. He wrapped his arms around me and all I could do was point towards the cesspool of an outhouse.
Sam called the police and we watched the outhouse from across the lot until they arrived and arrested the shit and piss covered old man. He gibbered incoherently as the cops tried to decide whose car he’d ride in. I’m still not sure how they got him out of that filthy tank.
After we’d been home for a few days Sam called the police up in Ellison to see if they’d found anything out about the sick old man. They told him that they hadn’t been able to determine how long he’d been in the stinking hole under the lavatory, but judging from the number of corpses, animal and human, it had been a while.
Sam and I are still together but I’ll tell you this: I’m never fucking camping again.