Things just didn’t feel right as Bill Stanford pulled off to the side of the country road. He opened the map and traced with his finger the route he had been taking. He should have already arrived in Cedarville. As beautiful as the country road was; with tall standing pines and wildflowers in profusion; the hour was getting late. A hot meal and a warm bed to curl up in was all he wanted right now.
Odd that he hadn’t seen another car on this road in the last two hours. It made asking directions all the more difficult. The choices were clear. Two hours of driving back to the nearest truck stop, or forge on and hope to find some diner or homestead where he might get some help. Bill chose the latter as he slipped the shifter into drive and pulled back onto the road.
The sun was going down, and tall shadows were slithering across the road as he made his way through the turns and curves. This would be a tricky road to maneuver after nightfall. He stared ahead intently, gripping the steering wheel tightly and would have missed it if his peripheral vision hadn’t been so acute. Daddy Bucks Home Fixins’. Thank God! A meal and directions.
He hit the brakes, and turned into the gravel parking lot, raising a cloud of red dust behind him. Definitely not one of your fine diners Bill thought as he turned off the ignition. Apart from an ancient and worn out red pick up truck and a tacky old Oldsmobile, the parking lot was bare. As he got out of his car, he raised his eyes to the sign of the diner and noticed that some local yokel must have at one time used it for target practice. Still, it beat driving around in circles at night on this godforsaken road, and despite his misgivings, he pulled on the door and walked in.
His senses were assaulted as he walked into the dank darkness that was this diner. The air was thick with smells of things, too long left unattended. Hank Williams moaned out from the jukebox about how lonely he was. The tables and chairs were dusty and dirty and looked as though they had not been used in years. But the shiny red vinyl counter seats had been arse rubbed to a high gloss. Fly corpses hung suspended on a long brown sticky strip hanging behind the big man.
“ Howdy stranger “
He was a mountain of man. In a stained wife beater tee shirt and camouflage pants. His grin showed the left side of his teeth missing, no doubt from a solid kick to the mouth Bill thought as he advanced to the counter. Though his gut feelings told him to turn and run out of this place with all his might, Bill proceeded nervously and took a seat on the shiny swivel stool.
“ Howdy. What can I get ya this evening?”
Bill looked around for anything that might resemble a menu then thought better of it as he watched that fly strip slowly flowing in the stinky breeze that wafted through this putrid place.
“ I’ll just have some coffee please. “
The smile left the big man’s face as he leaned forward, resting his huge bear-like hands on the greasy counter.
“ Oh come on now! A strapping young feller such as yerself needs nourishment! Pickins have been a might slim these days with huntin’ season about to open, but I can still wrassle ya up a plate of Daddy Bucks special stew! Think we might have enough left for one last serving. What ya say city? “
Bill heard the skinny country boy at the far end of the counter snicker as Daddy Buck waited on his answer. Obviously he was the owner of the pick up. As much as he didn’t want to know anything about food in this place, to refuse now might be taken as an insult. He was in a strange place, with strange people, alone on a dark night in the middle of nowhere, and so he accepted Daddy Bucks offer.
Daddy reared like a big old bear and let out a throaty laugh. “ Enjoy the stew son, but don’t be thinkin’ yer gonna be gettin’ my recipe! “
Again there was that snicker, more like a cackle from down the counter. Bill squirmed and squeaked on the hot vinyl seat.
Daddy Buck whirred into action. He pulled a dirty plate from the sink and ran it under hot water for a minute and dried it with a decrepit tea towel. Bill’s stomach was churning watching the sight unfolding before him, wondering how on earth he was going to get any of Daddy Bucks food down his throat.
“ Won’t be but a minute city. “
Bill looked down at the man at the end of the counter who was nursing a beer and leering at him in a lascivious way that sent shivers up Bill’s back.
“ Daddy Buck, may I ask? How far is it to Cedarville? “
Daddy Buck turned towards Bill and in a nonchalant tone told him it was about two miles down the road. Bill felt the bile rise in his throat. Two miles? And he had put himself through all this torture for two lousy miles? Bill rose from the vinyl seat.
“ Hey, where ya goin’ city? “
“ I’m sorry Daddy Buck, but I have an urgent appointment in Cedarville that can’t wait. I will gladly pay you for the dinner, but I really can’t stay. “
As Bill started towards the door, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He swung around into the face of the country boy from the end of the counter. His look was demonic and filled with rage.
“ Ya ain’t very polite there city! Daddy Buck here went to a lot of trouble for ya, and you just walk away? That may be the way they do things in the city, but out here, well, we are simple folk who believe in God, country and damned good manners! “
Bill felt a sense of dread and looked towards Daddy Buck who was ripping off his apron like he was getting ready to rumble. Bill raised his hands to his chest, palms outwards and said “ Hey, I’m not looking for any trouble here. I just have to get to an appointment is all ! “
The country boy advanced with a demeanor leaving no doubt of his intentions. Bill turned back towards the counter.
“ Ok, on second thought, my appointment can wait for ten minutes. “
Daddy Buck started whistling through his half a mouth of teeth as he put his apron back on.
“ Smart move city “ said the country boy as he headed back to his seat.
As Bill turned back, Daddy Buck slid the plate of hot stew before him.
“ Enjoy city, but remember what I said; ya can’t have my recipe! “
Daddy Buck was beaming from ear to ear, waiting for Bill to dig in. Bill slipped in a fork, and slowly raised it to his mouth. It was the most horrible thing he had ever tasted. The meat tasted funny, and was fatty. Pale and creamy, it sort of slid down his throat, leaving a greasy trail to his stomach. Bill nibbled at the sparse serving of vegetables in the plate, but they had absorbed the flavour of that ghastly meat, whatever it was. He started to feel dizzy, weak, nauseous. As he let his fork drop, he tried to rise to his feet but felt his knees buckle as the world spun out of control and as the darkness set in, he heard that snicker, resounding over and over in his mind and all went black.
Voices were making their way through the blackness as Bill gradually regained some awareness. Distant, but growing louder as he struggled to open his eyes. The searing pain in his mouth hit him like a bolt of lightning and he tried to scream, but nothing but guttural grunts were all he could manage. He suddenly realized he couldn’t feel his teeth; nor the roof of his mouth! My God! My tongue was gone!
His eyes widened against the realization of his situation. Tied down securely in what looked to be a butcher shop! Drawing on all his forces to break the ties that bound him to the table but they would not budge! He strained to hear what was being said in the next room.
“ Morning Sheriff. How we doing this fine morning? “
Morning? How long had Bill been unconscious? And what had happened to him?
“ Mornin’ Daddy Buck. Mornin’ JJ. Sorry Daddy, but I have a few questions for ya. Some city fellow never showed up at his hotel last night in Cedarville and his bosses are concerned that he had an accident. Y’all aint seen nothing have ya? “
Bill tried hard as he could to grunt with all his might, over and over again!
“ Nope Sheriff, ain’t seen a thing. How about you JJ? “
“ Nope, been here all night, and I ain’t seen hide nor hair of no city guy. “
Bill was frantic! Yelling as loud as he could as the tears and blood chocked his grunts, he coughed blood and bile; every muscle straining against the restraints.
“ What’s that sound in the back there Daddy ? “
“ Aw Sherrff, it’s just the wifes’ retard brother. I am babysittin’ him while she is in Cedarville getting her hair done. “
“ Alright then Buck, what’s for breakfast this morning? “
“ Well Sheriff, how about some fried, thinly sliced tongue, a couple of eggs, grits and coffee? I got me a new shipment of meat last night. “
Bill eyes bulged to the point of exploding from his head as he heard them all laughing in otherworldly possession.
“ And tell ya what Sheriff, bring yer lady around tonight. I am gonna prepare a fine roast leg with all the trimmins fer dinner. “
Bill felt his stomach heave as he trembled uncontrollably, and the last thing he heard before his heart exploded in his chest was that snicker…and the diner became the dined upon.