I wasn't thinking about much except driving as I meandered up the road. I was busy hoping a logging truck wasn't waiting for me around the next bend; and there were bends every hundred feet it seemed. Logging trucks were notorious for screaming down these single lane Forest Service roads without a care in the world. Temperatures had been well above the hundred degree mark for over a month now. The dust enveloped everything behind my truck like I was being followed by a brown monster. Hunting season has started a couple of weeks ago so the report of a dead body way up in the hills wasn't unusual and I didn't think much of it. I stuck to focusing on the road ahead, listening to the CB for truck traffic, and glancing at my GPS each time the dirt road forked.
My GPS signalled that I was close and as if on cue, the road abruptly ended at a small cul-de-sac with barely enough room to turn around. I immediately noticed 2 vehicles here, a Forest Service truck and a larger pickup with a camper on the back. As soon as I opened my door the smell hit me. It was the familiar smell of death but the intense heat seemed to enhance every quality of it. After the initial pleasantries with the Forest Service employee, he pointed to the camper and told me it was in there. "What do you mean, 'it'?" I asked. "You'll see", was his only response, given with a look of disgust on his face. I grabbed my latex gloves, gave them a big puff of air as if to create some finger-balloon, and slapped them on my hands. I headed towards the camper, my eyes scanning the ground, the smell of death stronger the closer I got.
I noticed a fresh patch of vomit in the dirt as I approached the camper door. A quick yell at the piss-fir (our affectionate name for Forest Service employees) gave me its source. I carefully twisted the door knob on the back of the camper and was instantly greeted by the worst stench I had ever encountered in my days of crime scene investigating. It was even worse than the accidental puncture of intestines or stomach at an autopsy. Even my seasoned nose was assaulted and caused my whole body to take a step back. I kept the door open and tried to figure out what I was looking at.
Time can do amazing things to a body. Now add to the mix extremely hot temperatures and an enclosed environment like this camper (all windows closed, of course), and time can do wonders. Towards the front of the camper was a converted sleeping platform in the area where seats and a table normally were. Straight out of a horror movie, a black blob was creeping towards me. After the initial shock I realized it wasn't really moving towards me (I later attested this to too many horror flicks) but was, in fact, moving. I tried desperately to grasp what I was looking at. The entire sleeping area was covered with this black gooey substance. A good portion had dripped off the shelf and fallen to the floor where even the dripping tentacles of goo were alive with motion. I wondered what the camper's owner could have possibly had in the back. The thought was short-lived as I realized I probably was looking at the owner, accosted by death and tormented by the heat and flies.
I retrieved some Vicks from my truck, placed a bit under each nostril, and returned to the camper. This time I stepped inside, careful not to step in any of the black substance. Writhing in unison throughout the black substance were tiny white maggots. This was how the mass of black became alive. They were everywhere and such large numbers made the black mass seem alive. Any semblance to it's original human form was gone. Imagine Frankenstein's Easy-Bake oven stuffed with black pudding and maggots. The heat and bugs had literally melted every piece of flesh and left behind a mess of black which the bugs still climbed through, searching for that last scrap to digest. I had never seen such an incredible account of decomposition. I had to poke through the black mess with a rod to confirm that there were bones within.
The investigation didn't take long. A carefully crafted note left behind revealed the victim's last moments and no other evidence suggested other than suicide. I wondered how we were going to get these remains out and waited for the coroner to arrive to help me figure this one out. While disgusting, the method was actually quite simple. We used flat-nosed shovels to scoop the remains into a body bag. Even the Vicks and the mask now on my face couldn't hide the overpowering smell. The maggots weren't bothered by the action and burrowed deeper into the mass. I pitied the coroner for having to drive the long winding roads with this in the back. The coroner was ready for such cases. The coroner brought something I had never seen before. Towed on a trailer behind their van was the 'stink tank'. The circular steel tank was airtight and evidently used for especially bad bodies. The bag was unceremoniously dropped into the tank and sealed from the outside world. Because the cause of death was known and no crime was involved, I never saw that stinky mess again except inside my head. The smell, however, would never leave.