The Cast: Erich (the “yeah, why not?” guy), Myself (the “I have an idea!” guy), the Gopher (not the office kind that runs around making copies and getting things).
When you find a dead body you forget about whatever you were going to do because plans have now changed—even if that body is not a person. And for us it was no different (If you were expecting a Stand by Me moment that isn’t going to happen).
I don’t recall where Erich and I were headed, but as we stepped off my front lawn into the street, we spotted a dead gopher—not a visible mark on it—just laying in the ditch in front of my house. It couldn’t have been dead very long because it didn’t smell and there weren’t flies. Knowing that it was there we couldn’t just leave it. If my mom saw it and found out I had too and then left it, I might get in trouble. So after some discussion and some very careful thought processes, we decided that we would try our hand at cremation. After all, letting it sit in the dumpster until trash day would be almost a whole week. That just wouldn’t do. If we buried it, that would take a lot of work and then some dog might dig it up and eat it. That would not be sanitary and then there would be a hole. No good either. It had to burn. Besides if you think about it, how often do you get to try to cremate something? Exactly!
“Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. You’re full of disease. So cremate you we must.” Was the new saying of the day.
We grabbed a flat nose shovel from my garage and then brought the dead gopher around to our ‘Cement Slab of Safety’ behind the garage. Here is where we would test things that might create potential hazards (fire) because it was surrounded by crumbling brick walls on one and a half sides. There was a water spigot nearby to help deal with said hazards, so all was well.
The body was placed in a large metal wash basin/tub we had saved, for just such an occasion, when we cleared out the Turtle Tower (that story will be told I promise, just not now). The next steps were to get matches, set the water line, and get the gasoline. Because while hair and fur may burn, they don’t burn well on their own. We tried that with the gopher already and it didn’t work.
Since it’s the vapors that burn, and not the liquid gasoline, we felt that if we filled the tub with gas then as the vapors burned and the fuel was used up, that the carcass would burn up as the gasoline was used up. It all sounded quite logical. The only problem we saw was that the metal tub had a split seam along one side so we could only fill the tub about half way. Fine, it was early morning still. We had all day.
Skr-r-rtich! went the match and Fwoosh! went the gasoline and the gopher… We-ell the gopher just lay there burning. Well, not exactly burning. OK, not burning at all. The hair was being singed off. So the hair had to be burned off first? Alright, learning moment. And as the fuel burned up the gopher did not. Okay… Cremation is apparently more complicated than two completely inexperienced teenagers might have thought. Who knew? And with as much gasoline as we poured into the tub we were going to be there a while watching nothing happening to our gopher. But then something did happen.
Along the belly of the gopher there was a split that we had not seen, probably a result of whatever killed it. We only knew there was a split because it began to open, wide. Something inside was swelling up. It looked like a bright green latex balloon had been swallowed by the gopher and was then being inflated. But inflated how? If it was a balloon it should have burned but it wasn’t.
“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”
“Um, what happens when that gets too big?”
“It pops I guess?”
“But if it pops, won’t something come out?”
“I don’t know maybe gross stuff or gasoline? Or both? Maybe it soaked it up inside and it’s heating up inside?”
“So we’re standing in front of a flaming, green, gas-filled gopher gut bomb?”
After moving to the side—and farther away—we grabbed a long stick and tipped the metal tub to help the ‘excess’ gas flow out. You know, to speed up the cremation process. OK, so we tipped it so the fuel would dump out and we could let the fire burn out faster. We had become scared, alright?! Once that was done, Erich and I cleaned up and left to go do something entirely different for the rest of the day.
The next day we checked in on our gopher friend in the tub. Flies and maggots were all over it. Alright, there was no choice. We had to prevent the possible spreading of diseases. “Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. You’re full of disease. So cremate you we must.” Once more. So we poured the gasoline and lit the match. Things died and the little creepy maggots popped and then that green thing inflated once again. What was this thing?!? We freaked out, once again. And, once again, we carefully tipped out the fuel.
Later that day we checked in on ‘Gopher’ and he was covered in flies, again, and maggots, again. So we poured gasoline and lit him on fire, again. And then that green thing inflated and freaked us out. Again! This could not continue. We had to put a stop to it. This gopher-thing had to burn!
We tried once more the next day and the green balloon inflated larger—and much faster—than it had previously. It was decided that we should bury the gopher in a corner of the dirt lot by the trailer court behind my house. Well, we took two shovelfuls of dirt from the ground, put the gopher in the hole and threw the loose dirt back on top. If anything was going to eat that, then they deserved whatever they got. As for Erich and I, we were done with the gopher.
Thanks to Google I now know that to cremate a human body a furnace much reach temperatures of 1,400–1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, and remain at that state for 1–3 hours. Gasoline, when ignited, can heat objects to about 1733 degrees Fahrenheit. But the heat loss in an open metal tub would never allow that to happen, even for a large rodent. We were never going to be able to cremate that gopher.
The next day the gopher was gone. We never learned what got it. Nor did we want to.