This chapter was based off of REAL information I learned while working with the DNR. We used to clean up various areas of public land where locals would dump garbage. Trying to figure out what to do with the junk was usually one of the more “gray areas” of working with government officials. Mostly, we put small things in our own dumpster. If it was too large to dispose of with the regular garbage from the Post, then we would find a place behind one of the many out buildings and burn it. ( IF it was burnable! Things like couches, fiberboard furniture, Etc.) Still other things we had to take to the junk yard for possible recycling. ( Yes! We actually found a refrigerator and a gas oven!) It was then that I discovered the various environmental laws and procedures that are in place, and this story was born.
I’m not sure if things have changed much in the last 15 years ( Has it been that long?!) But, I remember being surprised finding out the various details and procedures that I’m sure were not main stream familiar to everyone at the time. Regardless, if the rules have changed since then, these rules were in effect at the time. Enjoy chapter 14!
David packed the truck with the tools he thought would come in handy for digging up a large refrigerator out of a four foot pit. Several lengths of rope, some leather gloves, and all of the shovels. He even packed the small one he bought for Tracy since it was just the perfect size for Daniel. Everyone was going to help, Including the kids. It was they who got this ball rolling and they can help finish it. Tracy busied herself with packing a lunch and lots of water. It was like they were going on a picnic. David informed the kids to wear some clothes that they didn’t mind getting dirty. This was especially difficult for Samantha. She came out wearing designer low rise jeans and a skimpy T- shirt that was a bright hot pink. David told her to change into something a little more rough and dirty. The next time she came out with designer bootleg jeans with blaze orange polar fleece from Old Navy. Top it off with flip-flops on her feet.
“Sam! Are you Crazy?”
“This is the worst stuff I have.” She wined.
“I said old and practical, not just the ‘out of style’.” David paused. He could not believe the way teenage girls dress these days. Scantly clad with the most inappropriate clothes on the planet. You could not run, jump or do anything that required hard work or heavy lifting. He sighed, Girls are just not boys he concluded. “Can you at least lose the flip-flops and put something that will protect your feet from the dirt and brush. A nice tennis shoe or high top will work.” He knew better than to say boot. She would most likely come out with a high heel boot.
Tracy came out in her usual garden attire. She looked like she were going to pick strawberries at some farm. She carried the lunches and tote bag containing bottled water. She was planning on making a day of it.
“Lunches? I doubt we will be out there that long. Water I can understand but lunches? I really would just like to dig this thing up then bury it again before anyone can see us.”
“What are you going to do when all that money falls out of it?” She handed him the bag
“There is no money in it! The only reason we are going to dig it up is so I can prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
Daniel jumped in the truck and flipped back the seat. Whitney and Sam followed Sam was wearing some pink tennis shoes. David and Tracy climbed in the front.
“I still think we should bring the Van” Tracy reasoned. ” We wouldn’t have to scrunch up in there and have plenty of room to move around in. ”
“The van will get stuck back there in the woods. We buried it off the road a bit. The last thing I want to do is get the van hung up in the middle of nowhere. And at this point, I’m not really concerned with everyone’s comfort. ” David turned the ignition.
“Can we bring Eliot?” Daniel asked
“We can not bring any of your friends, Danny! There is barely room for everyone as it is.” David looked at him through the rearview mirror.
“Eliot is the cat, Dad. ”
David looked puzzled, then looked at Tracy. “The cat’s name is Eliot?”
“Yeah!” All four of the other passengers confirmed.
“It’s a good thing I didn’t know about that or I would have vetoed it. ” He glanced at Daniel again. “No! We can’t bring the cat.”
David shifted the truck in drive and pulled out of the driveway. They were on their way. They passed through town and down the road to the highway, Retracing his steps just three nights ago. David could hardly believe he was about to repeat that nights events. Only this time in daylight with his family. The shear insanity of it made his head spin as he finally realized the motivation Pandora must have had when she opened that box. Or Eve when she took that bite out of that apple.
They pulled onto the highway and soon were speeding down the interstate. David turned on some music to pass the time. It didn’t matter as he looked back and saw that the kids had their earphones on and were lip sinking to some inaudible tune on their players. David flipped through the stations, finding one he liked and looking at Tracy for approval. She didn’t object.
It was turning out to be a nice day. The sun was out and the weather rather warm. If everything turned out the way David had envisioned it, They would find it, dig it up , rebury it, and be back on the road within a couple hours. Maybe less, since they probably wouldn’t have to completely unearth it to take the peek inside.
He looked over at his family and noted that there would be more shovels doing more digging. That also should cut down on the time. Even though he was not really sure on how much help the kids would give. He was prepared to hear Samantha complain on how hard the dirt was or how chafed her hands were going to get. Daniel and Whitney were still young and probably would not complain. They were real troopers and would dig as best they could, even if they were not very proficient with a shovel.
The Saturday traffic thinned as they got out into the farm country. With a little luck, they would not find anyone else in the woods, but there was a high chance that there might be a hunter or two. It was a Saturday after all and small game season had just started. Hopefully, if there were any hunters in the area, they would leave them alone and not get curious as to what a family of five are doing digging a hole in the middle of some field. The kids would most likely make enough noise so as to scare any potential game away.
Before long the Shelbyville exit came up and they pulled onto the two lane roads that crisscrossed the state game area. Within a few minutes, they had passed the sign that welcomed everyone to the Yankee Springs State Recreation Area. David looked around noting that he had forgotten what it looks like in the light. It was night time when he and Ethan came the first time. It had possibly been years since he had been here before then. He noted the various pull offs and wondered which one they had taken.
“Are we close? ” Tracy asked looking out the window.
“Yeah we are close, I don’t remember this area though. ” David looked on. A few vehicles dotted the pull offs, confirming that there were hunters in the woods. Hopefully there wouldn’t be where they were going.
David glanced up and noted an old apple tree twisted and gripping the side of the hill along the road. There was something familiar about that tree. Something Ethan has said. David’s brain fired up struggling to remember where they had pulled off.
“Any idea where you guys buried it?” Tracy pressed, anxious to get the digging on.
“Ethan said something about where he got his first Deer. I think is was in the apple orchard. There should be a pull off around here coming up on your side.” David slowed the truck. The kids one by one, removed their headsets so they could hear what was going on.
“Are we there yet?” Daniel asked, beating Samantha and Whitney to the punch.
“Look for a pull off on your Mom’s side of the road.” He looked in his rear view mirror to make sure no traffic was coming. He continued to creep down the road careful not to pass the turn.
This was not right some how. David looked for familiar signs and even thought he had been here many times when he was growing up, it somehow looked different. Tracy and the kids kept pointing out little off turns but they were not the right one. The trees looked different and the turn off was a road not just a loop. The frustration was spreading.
“How about this one?” Tracy pointed. She had already pointed out several that David vetoed.
David looked up shaking his head. He continued to creep down the road. The tone in Tracy’s voice was sending the signal that she was ready to start digging and David’s inability to find the place was getting to her. Even the kids were fidgeting in the back. The activity was getting to him.
“Stop jumping around back there! ” He commanded “It’s distracting!”
“David, Do you know where we are going?” Tracy asked rhetorically, It was obvious he was lost.
“It was Dark! And I have not been here in years! Ethan was doing the driving”! David was yelling now. There were few things that could get David more angry than when he was lost. Or at least uncertain of his location. He knew it was around here somewhere but could not pinpoint the exact place. The Family bothering him was not helping.
The kids fell silent. They knew what their Dad was like when he was lost. The plan now was to seem very small and try not to draw any attention. That way, when he did lose it, he couldn’t blame the kids. Tracy looked out the window, silently brooding. David could feel their stares.
“Look, Ethan said it was where he got his Deer. That should be around here someplace.”
“What did it look like? ” Tracy asked trying to get David’s memory to kick in.
“There were fields just off from the road, surrounded by trees. It was Dark so I could not see very well. I think we were in the swamp. Or close by it.” David was talking while searching the sides of the road for clues. He remembered the Argument about the deer. He was certain it was around here.
An hour had passed and David was now doing circles and backtracking. The kids were doing little to conceal their boredom and Tracy kept probing David for answers. Trying to jog his memory. This was not going the way David had hoped. He wanted to be done with it by now. He was about to call it out of sheer frustration when Tracy spoke up.
“Is there a place we have not checked yet? We have been up and down this road several times and you still don’t recognize anything. ”
“All right. There is one road we have not checked out yet. But I Don’t think it is there. If we don’t find it by then, I’m gong home and that will be the end of it.” David said affirmatively. He had planned on spending his weekend relaxing, not driving around aimlessly in some state forest. Dave pulled up to the now familiar stop sign and turned left down the road they had not yet followed.
The woods were sparse, interwoven with fields and farm roads that ran the length of them. Tracy pointed out the area fit his description. David drove on till he passed a particular dirt road that caught his attention.
“Wait!” He stopped and backed up. “This road looks familiar. “ He turned down the two track, careful to avoid the two trees that flanked each side. The Family bounced around in the back as the truck fell into the various potholes and mud puddles.
“Do you remember this part? ” Sam asked. She had finally taken off her headphones and started to pay attention once again. She too must have felt they were getting close.
David looked around, slowly driving down the road searching for the hidden field. “Keep an eye out for any small trees that have been pushed over. He advised. “That is where Ethan drove the jeep off the road.”
“You’re not pushing any trees over in this truck ” Tracy commanded. “they will scratch the paint.”
They continued on until a certain field caught their attention. It was in a ways off the road. There was path leading into it that looked like tractors had used. David pulled off the road and onto the field entrance.
“This it? ” Tracy asked.
“I don’t know. Ethan pulled through a stand of trees. Let’s get out and take a look.” David clicked off his seat belt and opened his door. The rest of the family followed.
Tracy stretched her legs and arms after having been cramped in the cab of the truck all that time. She still secretly wished they had brought the van instead. At least then you can adjust the seat to create more room. The Kids also piled out and groaned and complained that there was not enough room for them all in the back cab of the truck.
“All right everyone, Spread out and start looking for some freshly overturned dirt.” David picked out a shovel and threw it over his shoulder. ” It should be around here someplace. Look around for tire tracks in the weeds too. It should be fairly obvious when you find it.”
The rest of the family fanned out and began looking. David was the only one with a shovel. The leaves were falling fast now. The entire ground, even out here in the middle of the field was covered with leaf littler. Old tire tracks crisscrossed the field. Finding the hole might be more difficult than first imagined.
After going approximately half way down the field, Whitney shouted that she had found something.
“Look! I found a shovel!” She announced jumping up and down. The rest of the family ran over. Whitney held up the missing trench shovel David had lost several nights ago. They had to be close.
“Ok, That’s the shovel I used. The hole has to be around here somewhere so circle around.” David noticed how different everything looked in the light.
Tracy shouted out that she had found some small pile of dirt that looked like it was fresh. David walked over and took a random bit with the shovel her was carrying. Two bites in and he struck something hard and metal.
“This is it!” He announced then signaled to the rest of the family that they would need the rest of the shovels. He walked back to the truck and drove it out to the field, being sure to engage the four wheel drive so they would not be stuck.
With the truck close by now and the rest of the family armed with shovels, They began to unearth the behemoth that was buried below them.
“It’s not very deep but we will have to dig around it to expose the sides.” David scrapped the top of it clean.
“Where is the door?” Tracy asked “It will be a lot quicker if we just expose the door and open it. That way we don’t have to totally dig it up.”
“It’s on the bottom, we buried it with the door facing down.”
“What? Why did you do that?”
“So the smell would not permeate up.”
Sam was struggling with her shovel. “why did you bring that little shovel out here? That doesn’t look very big. That must have taken you hours”.
“I’m just impressed we found this.” Tracy conceded. “ I must admit. I had my doubts that such an elaborate story was actually true.”
David soaked in the comments but didn’t reply. Sure now they all acknowledge that they didn’t even believe the story. Now they admit that they thought it was just all made up. Several hours ago they were interrogating him on the whole affair.
The larger shovel was much easier to use and worked faster. David was able to expose his side rather quickly. Tracy was trailing slightly while the kids, though working hard, had barely gotten a couple feet down. David pulled up and decided to help Daniel on his side.
Daniel looked up with a smile. He had covered in dirt and grime and happy for it. “This is better than camping!” He beamed. He took another small scoop with the new shovel.
“I doubt camping is this bad. ” Sam complained. She had gotten some dirt on her jeans and was brushing it off vigorously. “At least there are no bugs. ”
“I think this is fun Daddy! This is the best vacation we have ever had! ” Whitney was having as much fun as Daniel.
“Vacation? ” David looked up surprised. “You think this is a vacation?”
“This is hardly a vacation.” Samantha corrected. “Vacations are where you have fun and stay clean.”
“We are having fun!” Whitney affirmed. “This is the most fun I think we ever had.”
“More fun that Disney World? ” Tracy asked, amused at the view of the situation.
“Oh yeah! Much better.”
“Yeah!” Daniel agreed
“What ?!?” David and Sam both looked up with confusion.
“Why do you say that? Didn’t we have fun at Disney World?” David asked.
“Well, the rides were fun, but waiting in line was bad.” Whitney reasoned.
“And Sam refused to go on the rides we wanted to go on.” Daniel added.
“That’s because you guys wanted to go on the baby rides! No one wanted to go with me through space mountain.”
“And there were too many people,” Tracy chimed in. “We didn’t do anything as a family.”
David looked around at the unforeseen consequences. He had actually thought that every one would be complaining at this point. Throwing down their shovels and strutting off the site eager to get home and take a shower. The mystery would remain buried and no one would ever bring it up again. The only one who seemed to be as miserable as he was was Sam!
“Well, I’m glad you are all having a really good time.” He looked over at Samantha. She was scowling as she pried back and forth on the shovel. She had a smudge of dirt on her face. And then he caught a faint glimpse of a smile.
Everyone else was beaming. David understood why Samantha would have to hide that she was secretly having a good time. That whole teenage idea that doing something with the family was not cool. Even David began to feel like that was turning out to be a fun event.
Almost two hours later, the refrigerator was exposed enough to flip up and flip over. David wanted to ensure that they were not going to struggle unnecessarily with the monstrosity because they had not leveled off the areas around it. The goal was to flip it over just enough to open it, then close it up and rebury it. David tossed his shovel up and prepared to apply leverage.
“I’ll push while the rest of you pry on it with the shovels. Don’t break any! ” He located the hinges and prepared to flip it over on that side.
With a heave ho, they all pushed and levered the refrigerator on it side. David then inched out and slowly shimmied the refridge so they could flip it on its back. The duct tape was still securing the door firmly in place. He grabbed a shovel and ran it along the seam of the door, cutting the tape and releasing the door from its grip. The family stood along the edge of the hole in anticipation of this moment.
David gripped the edge of the door with his gloved hand, and with a mighty pull, flung the door open!
The first thing that hit everyone was the smell. The over powering stench that David had faintly remembered from before. The smell was like an invisible force that physically hit you in the face. Ammonia! As if someone smashed smelling salts on your face! You could feel it in your eyes and nose and lips. David turned his face away, instantly pulling up his arm to protect his eyes and nose from the toxic fumes. The rest of the family scattered as if David had just released a bomb.
David jumped out of the pit and trotted away, trying not to breath. Moments passed as everyone tried to catch their breath and regain their composure.
“Did anyone see what was in it?” David asked
Everyone shook their heads. It was impossible that the smell could be that strong. So strong, that people standing only a few feet from the opening, would fail to see what was inside. David walked over to the truck and grabbed some water.
“Ok, let’s give it a second to air out. Then we can all go see it together. He opened the bottle poured it on his face, washing the invisible film from his eyes and lips.
The rest of the family gathered around him, taking sips of their own bottles and discussing their theories on what could make such a horrific smell.
“Well, I’d like to change my theory back to the dead body.” Tracy volunteered. “Something or someone must have died to create that smell. It can’t be the money.”
The kids all nodded in agreement. It was unanimous. There was something dead inside that thing and now the only mystery was to find out what.
“I still don’t think it is a body” David reasoned, “ It might be some old animal or something though. Maybe some spoiled food.”
“No way, anything that created that smell has to be big!” Sam offered.
“It smells like the sewer!” Daniel announced with a nasal voice, he was still holding his nose.
A few minutes had passed and the smell had diffused to tolerable levels. David signaled that they were ready to solve the mystery once and for all, and they should all hold their noses. They slowly crept to the edge of the hole.
David could see the top of the refrigerator and the door was still flipped open. As they slowly approached he could see more and more of the inside. Until, at last, he could see all the way to the bottom of the case.
“HA! I told you all! ” David announced while dancing a little jig. He was finally vindicated.
“That’s impossible!” Sam and Tracy both said in unison. “What is causing the smell? ” Tracy asked.
“I don’t know and I don’t care! No money, no body, NOTHING! Now, let’s hurry up and bury this thing before someone sees us.” David jumped up and grabbed a shovel. He as almost giddy!
“At least shut the lid.” Tracy was still holding her nose. The mystery was solved and the results were rather disappointing.
David flipped the door over with his shovel to contain the smell, yet some residual fumes still lingered. He started the slow process of burying it once again.
“Hey Dad, who is that?” Whitney pointed out towards the road.
A man dressed in gray was approaching the family. David looked up and could feel his heart suddenly pound uncontrollably. The man was wearing a uniform.
David was familiar with uniforms. He was a fireman after all. And he worked with Police and emergency personnel on a regular basis. But this was a uniform he had only heard of or read about. In all the years David had hunted, he had never encountered a conservation officer. He had expected them to look like the DNR guys that wore the green uniforms with the large green arm patch. This man looked more like a police officer. Dressed in gray and sporting a badge on his shirt pocket and a sidearm on his belt. Dave felt like all hope and reason was draining away from him as the man slowly walked toward them. He was in an impossible situation.
“Good afternoon!” The man sounded cheery.
“Hello there! ” David squeaked out. There was something unnerving about encountering an authority figure. Even when you have not done anything wrong. But now, at this particular moment, With a large, rusty stinky refrigerator, half exposed to the world, with your entire family holding shovels, One could only describe the feeling as …euphoric? David felt like the situation was so hopeless that it was almost hilarious. Like he was bound to be on candid camera or Americas funniest home videos.
“Can we help you ? ” David asked The very question was over the top. He was trying everything he could to stop from laughing.
“Yeah I was just wondering what you folks are doing out here.” The man asked, still smiling.
“Nothing! ” Tracy blurted out. Unlike David, she was horrified.
“What you guys burying? ” He asked looking at the rather large and conspicuous hole behind them.
“Oh?” David glanced back over his shoulder looking surprised at the mound of earth. “Oh that! Yeah, We were digging up this refrigerator.”
“Digging it up?” The man looked at the scene with suspicion. The kids were frozen as was Tracy.
“Yeah, is that illegal?” David asked.
“Burying old junk or disposing of garbage on state land or any public property is illegal. It looked like you were burying it. ”
“Well, we were, I mean , We had dug it up and now we are reburying it.”
“Well, you can’t rebury it.”
“Because burying it is illegal. ”
“But we found it like this . Is digging it up illegal?”
“Nope, you can dig up and removed junk off of public property all day long. Most people form little clean up groups and pick up trash during the non hunting season. ”
“But you can’t put back something that was here originally?” David inquired, searching for a loop hole.
“As long as you don’t want to pay a fine.”
“Just out of curiosity, how much is the fine?”
“One thousand dollars! And possibly several hours of community service.”
“Oh,” David glanced over at Tracy. She looked like she was about to faint. The kids were amazingly quiet.
“Ok, so here is what we can do, Either you can dig this thing up and load it on your truck and dispose of it properly… “ The man trailed off. “Or I can write you up with a ticket and you can pay the fine.”
The thought of loading the horrific object with that smell into his clean truck was a daunting task. He had no idea what he would do with it when he got it home. Suddenly a one thousand dollar fine did not seem so bad.
“If I accept the ticket, can I leave the refridge?” David was hoping for some leeway.
“Nope, you pay the fine and still have to remove the object.”
Given the alternatives, there was not much choice “ I guess we will load it up!” David smiled. He reached into the back of the truck and grabbed the coil of rope.
After removing the rest of the dirt away and pulling the truck closer, they flipped the giant refrigerator into the truck bed. The family then filled in the hole left by the fridge and they all shook hands with the officer. To his credit, he did help out with the loading and digging.
So once again, David drove down the two tracks of Yankee Springs with the large smelly refrigerator in the back of his truck. The family was not in as fun a mood as they had been just several hours ago. There was something about an officer making you do the right thing that could really dampen the atmosphere. At least there was no body for the officer to discover. Or any money. Though the money would have been a better find. It could have complicated things trying to explain how they found it and where it came from. If there was a silver lining, it was that they got off with a refrigerator that apparently still works! … and no fine.