Sturm and Dung by Barry Schmidl

Second place honours in the short story category, Mensa Canada 2019 Literary Contest

It was one of those really hot humid days when you know there is probably going to be a storm just because Mother Earth/Gaia/God/Whoever feels like it. Unfortunately it was also a day when the septic tank in my yard decided to not only stop working, but start leaking. The heat and humidity were a fine addition to the already pungent atmosphere.

There had been signs of trouble the previous few days. I knew basically nothing about replacing a septic tank, but I knew enough to suspect this was going to need to happen soon. I had asked my neighbour Ricky Fantino who to call. After agreeing to pay a small fortune to “Stewie’s Super Sewer and Septic Service”, a crew had arrived and puttered around with a small backhoe, doing just enough to unearth the source of the hair curling fumes. Then it was 5 o’clock and off they went.

So there I sat, on my back porch, viewing something that paralleled an archeological dig – if archeologists liked to dig up ancient, stinky stuff in large fibreglass containers. A beer minimally helped. The Weather Network was on the living room TV. Looking over from next door Ricky [or “The Fan” as he preferred to be known] saw beer was available and dropped by, sitting with me to fully appreciate the sights and smells.

“That sure stinks, eh” The Fan said with keen insight, sipping on one of my beers.

The merest wisp of a breeze blew from the septic tank towards the porch. “Oh boy. That improves things.” I glumly added, taking a sip of my beer.

“Think there’s a storm coming” The Fan said, seeing the rapidly darkening sky.

“Maybe if I’m lucky it will dampen the smell.” I said, taking another sip.

“Don’t think it works that way, but”, said the Fan, noticing the wind had picked up quite a bit “maybe it’ll blow it away.” He helped himself to another beer, tossing the cap into the excavation. “Good thing I told you about Stewie, eh? The Fan really knows who to call.”

“Uh, ya. Leaving aside why you talk about yourself in the third person, do you mind if I ask what kind of kick-back you are getting from Stewie?”
“I think of it more as a finder’s fee or commission.” said The Fan. “Kick-back is such a loaded term.”

The wind picked up. Tree branches swayed. A garbage can fell over. The boom arm rattled on the miniature backhoe Stewie had left behind.

“Should they really have left that thing parked right beside the hole around the septic tank?” Light tapping on the porch roof heralded the start of rain.

“Stewie knows his stuff. But ya, if it was me I might’ve parked it somewhere else.” Tapping on the roof got harder and more frequent.

“Um, that thing isn’t going to tip over is it?”

“That there is an excavator with a bucket arm and front loader attachment. It’s got to weigh about 2 tons.” said The Fan. “That’s not going to get blown over by a breeze.” To emphasize his point he drained his beer, belched loudly and took another one. The rain had become torrential, starting to arrive at a 45 degree angle as the wind made the trees sway.

It was really not that far between the excavation and the porch. That is probably why I could see the walls of the hole starting to erode in the pelting rain. “Do you know how to drive one of those excavator thingies Fan?” I asked.

“Well I never drove one but I know how they work.” The Fan punctuated this with another belch, which seemingly called for another beer.

“Um. I really think that thing is going to tip over. I mean the side of the hole is turning to mud and sliding in. Isn’t that going to undercut it?”

“Oh. Ya.”

“I hate to suggest this, but do you think we can move it?”

“Well – Um – Sure!” The Fan brightened visibly, in contrast with the pitch black skies. “Ya, we should do it! Stewie will thank us for saving his equipment!” The Fan grabbed my shoulder and pulled me toward the backhoe. Over the torrential rain a loud sound came from inside the house. While being dragged down the back stairs I could see a red screen on the TV inside.

“What do tornado warnings look like Fan?” I managed to say before the door of the backhoe’s cab opened in front of me.

I seemed to be inside the backhoe. The Fan seemed to be leaning in from outside pushing buttons as the machine roared to life.

“There ya go! I got it started for ya buddy!” The Fan smiled broadly, rain running down his face. He pointed to one of the controls. “Now that’s the one you need to get it moving. You get this sucker away from the hole” The Fan said, gesturing generally in the direction of away. “Whatever you do though – don’t touch that control” he added, pointing at half of them.

Then the thunder and lightning started. “Whoa!” said The Fan, “I’m going back to your porch. Don’t want to be out here in a big metal thing when there’s lightening. Good luck buddy!” As he departed I felt the backhoe sliding sideways and down.

I suppose I touched ‘that control’ because there was a lurch and a loud crunch and suddenly there was a hole in the septic tank and a front bucket full of its contents. I guess that’s when I must have hit the gas because that’s when the backhoe started trying to climb out of the hole.

That did not work well.

I caught a glimpse of The Fan on my porch. I felt the backhoe upend itself backwards, with the front bucket simulating a catapult. I saw an arc of sewage in mid-air headed for my porch, illuminated by lightning.

And THAT is when the shit hit The Fan.