The trip to the north coast of California is a long one, at least eight-hours, if you stay within the speed limit. Ham Piper knew this, but after several cups of coffee and getting stuck behind a slow moving log truck and two RV ‘wienie-wagons,’ he found he had to stop for a pee.
He’d already passed Hat Creek Station, where he also got his most recent cup of coffee, so he knew the place to ‘rest’ would be further up the road at the Mt. Lassen overlook.
“Nice, clean restrooms,” he told himself.
But as he pulled in the vacant parking lot, he discovered a sign that read, “Due to COVID-19, these facilities are closed. Sorry for any inconvenience,” and instead, three large blue plastic outhouses stood sentinel over the landscape. Ham didn’t care as raced to the first one and stepped inside and began relieving himself.
“What in the…” he shouted.
As he did the ground shook violently under him and he found himself holding on the sides of the porta-john, trying to maintain his balance. It didn’t help and the outhouse dumped over.
With no time to react, Ham fell with it. As he collapsed against the wall and slid to the floor, he watched in horror as the white lid popped open and the foulest of man came pouring out.
He joined the liquefaction as he vomited again and again, while attempting to avoid the large turds and strands of used toilet paper from engulfing him. Worse yet for Ham, was the discovery that the over-sized unit had tipped onto the door.
“Effing great! An earthquake and I’ll bet Highway 299 is gonna be closed down now,” he muttered.
Try as he might, he could not roll the thing onto another side and he concluded that the outhouse must have dropped into a newly formed crack in the asphalt. Again he found himself puking and he continued until he had little more than air in his stomach.
Though his throat was sore from the acid of the vomit, he yelled for help. Ham yelled until he could no more and he became hoarse.
“Whadda time to leave my fucking cellphone in the truck,” he chided himself.
After an hour, much of the liquid that had rushed over him in the fall, had found its way through the small openings meant to be air vents. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much he could do about the larger and grosser items that could not find their way out through the same vents.
Not wishing to side down in the filth, though already covered in it, Ham squatted against the ceiling of the building and listened for any sound that might come into the parking lot. Amid several violent tremors, not even a vehicle was heard to pass by on the highway which was only 300-yards away from where he was trapped.
“Please, Lord, help me get out of here,” he heard himself pray.
Soon his legs were aching from his squatting and he finally sat down. It was also around this time that he realized the sun was beginning to fade and that if he couldn’t escape soon, he’d be spending the night in this ‘shit prison.’
The tremors and after-shocks began to lessen, until they disappeared altogether. By this time, Ham was exhausted from trying to tip the sani-hut over so that the door was no longer trapped beneath him.
“God! Where are you?” he cried, “Get me out of here and I’ll help out at the soup kitchen this Thanksgiving and Christmas!”
He closed his eyes, intending to rest for only a few minutes, but when he opened them next, he found the sun was gone and he was beginning to get violently cold. He pulled his knees up as close to his chest as possible and tucked his hands under his armpits and rested his head against his soiled knees.
He work up several time throughout the night, his teeth chattering and body shivering so hard he couldn’t control his muscles. After fighting sleep for fear of hypothermia, Ham slipped off into an uncomfortable hour or two, waking when he felt the warmth of the morning sun radiating of his tomb.
“Oh, please Jesus, don’t let me die like this,” he begged in a weak voice. It was the first time he truly felt helpless and he felt tears filling his eyes.
As he sat with his back against the ceiling, he wondered if anyone missed him yet. “My wife has got to be worrying,” he thought, as he was supposed to call her when he arrived in Eureka.
In the distance he heard a fast-moving siren. Ham began pounding, yelling and trying to rock the outhouse from side to side hoping the movement might be seen by the speeding emergency vehicle.
The wailing siren screamed passed and he sat back in his spot feeling defeated. That’s when he saw a seam of light glowing from somewhere deep with the holding tank.
“A weak spot!” he shouted.
Looking at it, he suddenly realized what it would mean to access it. He’d have to crawl into the soupy remains of human excrement that hadn’t found its way out of the tank, onto him and the interior.
The thought made his stomach turn and he retched up a green-yellow glob of bile. The sight made his midsection clench and loosen several more times before he got it under control.
He stood up as high as possible and placed his face, nose first against the cleanest of the dirty air vents and sucked in as my fresh air as possible, then knelt down and forced his right arm and head through the hole and into the tank. He put his hand down, squishing something horrible into his palm and between his fingers.
He managed to check himself as he felt the nearly overpowering urge to dry-heave. Slowly he twisted his right shoulder down and then forward until his left shoulder was beyond the opening.
The smell was beyond anything he’s ever experienced in his life and he thought seriously of retreating back to the safety of the corner he had spent the night in. Instead, Ham forced his left arm through the gap between his body and the toilet’s opening and pressed forward.
“Gak!” he burped, stomach roiling.
He struggled to shift his middle-aged paunch around so that it would passed through the hole and then his smaller hips, until he found himself fully inside the basin of the shitter. He ran a finger down the crease, and knew it was thinner than the heavier black plastic that had at one time held untold gallons of marinating crap, piss and disintegrating toilet paper.
Ham took a pen-knife his father had given him years ago and opened the largest blade. He stabbed it into the crease.
With his hands, wet and covered in crap, he fumbled the knife, cutting his thumb and dropping the instrument into at least six-inches of raw, smelly sewage. Ham spent the next couple of minutes in a panic as he searched for the tool he he thought of as his salvation.
After finding it, he wiped his right hand off on his shirt, getting it as dry as possible, then inserted the blade into the hole he’s already started. Though difficult, Ham drew the blade down slowly, until he had opened the bladder from top to bottom.
He poked his head out and drew in the first crisp, fresh breath of air he’d had since the ordeal began. Refreshed, he twisted and turned until his shoulders cleared the plastic tank, then dragged the remainder of his body out of the thing.
He laid on the warming asphalt for a number of minutes, before sitting up. He felt light-headed and decided to stay seated for a while longer.
Finally, standing up right for the first time in hours, Ham stretched and looked around. The parking lot was as empty like it had been when he pulled into it the day before.
As he approached his truck, he could see his reflection in the side window. He cringed, looking like he was covered in meconium and afterbirth.
Ham Piper looked back at the now useless outhouse with its slashed bladder, noting it resembled a raw oyster on the half-shell or perhaps a woman’s swollen labia and thought, “That’s a new spin on being born again.”
He unlocked his truck, got in, fired it up and turned it back the way he’d came, heading for Hat Creek, where he planned to find a shallow spot in the stream, rinsing himself as best he could. Then maybe, he’d get another cup of coffee from the nearby gas station – he could do with some food; a hot-dog perhaps.
En route, he called his wife.