When Larry, Christine and Justin find themselves lost in the deep south, they end up at a local beer joint where "Good Eats" doesn't always mean what's served on the menu.
Justin, Christine, and Larry were returning to campus after a weeklong spring break in Miami. They just put Jacksonville behind them when Christine mentioned that she was hungry and had to go pee. A few exits later, Larry who was driving, spotted a sign that had a restaurant and restroom icon. He pulled off at Route 17 and drove his 2006 silver Buick in the direction the signs pointed. They were one the road for a number of miles, but never came upon any restaurants or even a gas station. Thirty minutes later, a large road sign saying “You Are Now Entering Florida” came into view. Christine was getting desperate by now, so they pulled over so she could run behind some trees and relieve herself.
While she was taking care of business, Larry and Justin saw an old Dodge pickup coming down the road. It was the first vehicle they had seen since leaving the highway. The Dodge stopped. A grizzled old man with a long gray beard and worn overalls rolled down the dust covered window. He asked if they needed help. He had all the appearance of something from a bad movie. Larry told him that they were heading back to New York where they went to college and got lost following the signs. He filled the old man in on how they crossed into Georgia and are now back in Florida. Justin started whispering to Larry that they shouldn’t be sharing their business with this old coot. Apparently the man in the truck had good hearing.
“Well young feller, it would seem that this old coot knows where he is, while you two genius college boys don’t.”
Larry was noticeably embarrassed about what Justin had just said. “I’m terribly sorry Sir.” Larry apologized. “Would you please tell us how to get back to the highway?”
“Well for one thing, you’re right. you ain’t in Georgia no more. Ya got yerselves turned round like a flock o’ drunken ducks.” The old man was laughing to himself and shaking his head in disbelief.
“Tell ya what I’m a gonna do fer yeas.” He continued in a slow, and gravelly voice. “If ya follow me down the road a spell, I’ll take ya to a place where ya can get something to eat. They should have a map layin’ aound somewheres so ya can see where ya at and how to get back to where ya goin’.”
Before Justin had a chance to say anything, Larry thanked him. Just then Christine emerged from behind the bushes.
“This kind man is going to help us find a restaurant.” Said Larry. He filled her in on the plan.
When they all got back in the car, they followed the old man’s pickup down the dirt road. Justin started comparing the old man to the people in the movie Deliverance and began to make banjo sounds with his voice. Larry and Christine rolled their eyes each time they heard “ba-ba-ba-duh-ba-da-da-ding, ba-da-da-da-ding” Justin mimicked playing a banjo as he did this. Finally, Larry burst out laughing. He tried not to, and the sound came out his nose in a gross snort. Christine reached into the back seat where Justin was sitting and smacked him hard. There was a huge grin on her face though. She hated to admit it, but she too thought it was funny. About 15 minutes later the Dodge pulled up next to an old dive that looked like a bikers joint. There were a few motorcycles parked out front, as well as a pickup truck, two older model cars that had seen better days, and one faded green John Deere tractor.
Larry opened the car door and walked toward the Dodge. He was going to thank the old man, but the guy drove off, waving to them through the open truck window. There was a sign suspended on rusted chains from a post with peeling paint. The faded words “Good Eats” could barely be read.
“Well” remarked Justin as he made a few more banjo noises. “It looks like we’ve come to the right place.”
It certainly didn’t seem like anywhere you'd want to eat. They passed a number of filthy old gas stations and greasy spoons on their way south from Manhattan to Miami that were desperately in need of sanitizer. This place by comparison made them seem inviting.
“Any port in the storm as they say.” Said Christine. “Who knows, I hear some of these hole in the wall places serve the best food. By the look of the cars I’d say the locals must eat here, so it’s worth a try.”
They opened the green metal door which had a loose and jiggly knob and stepped inside. The sound of a jukebox which they hadn’t heard before filled their ears with some old country music song from the seventies. When they got inside it was as Justin kept saying, like something out of a redneck movie. Almost everyone smoked cigarettes. The smoke lingered. The walls and ceiling were horribly tobacco stained. There were a few small round tables with checkered cloths draped over them. The plates and dinnerware were mix matched as were the glasses. Everyone else was sitting at the bar. Justin, Larry, and Christine chose a table nearest the front door.
“This must be one of those places where everyone turns into vampires when the sun goes down and eats the three kids from New York.” Justin said in a macabre voice.
“Will you just stop it?!” Snapped Christine in a harsh whisper. “You’re one of the reasons people in the South don’t like Northerners.”
Larry was about to add something but stopped when the waitress started coming over. Her name tag said Ruth.
“What can I get cha?” She asked in a high-pitched, and perky drawl.
“What do you recommend Ruth?” Asked Larry. He pointed toward her name tag to show how he knew her name. She nodded and smiled.
“We ain’t got much here, mostly bar food, but the burgers are good and so are the wings. Gotta warn you though, I hope you like your wings hot ‘cause we don’t make em any other way.”
Justin ordered the wings. Larry and Christine asked for burgers with fries. Larry wanted his with bacon and cheese. Christine wanted hers plain. Christine also asked for a ginger ale while the guys each asked for a Miller Light.
“Well sugar.” Said the waitress. “Ginger ale I got.” She faced Larry and Justin and added “But we only got three types of beer. Local stuff. We call it Red Label, Blue Label, and White Label.”
For some reason Justin went off. “Come on guys, let’s go. I’m done with this Hillbilly Bob, good eats crap.”
Larry stopped him. “I’m so sorry ma’am, this is the last time we go anywhere with him. I’m hungry and the food from the kitchen smells good. I’ll try a beer. I’d like a Red Label please.
“I don’t think y’all want Red Label. It’s something those boys have grown up on.” She motioned toward the men at the bar who were all drinking Red Label. “For you honey, I’d recommend White Label.”
She then looked at Justin. The warmth in her eyes vanished. “And for you young man, I suggest Blue Label.”
“What makes you think you know what I like?” Challenged Justin.
“It’s just a hunch I got. Trust me I know a Blue Label guy when I see one.”
The waitress walked away before anything more could be said. She brought them each their drinks, a White Label for Larry, a Blue Label for Justin, and ginger ale in a glass filled with ice for Christine. The ginger ale had an odd taste. It wasn’t bad, just different. Definitely not Canada Dry or Schweppes. After a while the waitress returned with the food.
Larry and Christine started to eat their burgers. Justin took one taste of the hot wings and made a gasping sound. He quickly popped open the cap on the bottle of Blue Label and sucked it down.
“That shit is fucking hot!”
“You should get a burger then.” Said Christine. “It’s pretty good.” Larry agreed.
“No fucking way.” Added Justin. “I’m not going to let these inbred southern Hicks think I can’t handle a little bit of hot sauce.” He said it loud enough to be heard. The men surprisingly didn’t come over. They stopped talking for a moment, then went back to the conversation they were having. Mostly talk about crops, the weather and NASCAR.
Justin forced himself to finish the hot wings and ordered three more bottles of Blue Label to help wash it down.
“I have to admit.” Justin said with a raspy voice while looking at the bottle of Blue Label in his hand. “After a while the stuff grows on you.”
A song played on the jukebox that Christine loved. She grabbed Larry by the hand and said “Come, let’s dance.” Larry followed her. He wasn’t her boyfriend, they were just friends, but he wanted to be. He wasn’t going to miss this chance to do something she liked.
While Larry and Christine slow danced to a song that Justin thought was pretty lame, the waitress came over and asked if he’d like anything else.
“If I want something, I’ll fucking call for you!” He said rudely. Ruth was silent as she walked away. Her face revealed anger and disgust.
When the song ended, a few of the guys at the end of the bar began to chat with Larry and Christine. They seemed really nice. Larry told them about how they attended college in New York City and went to Miami for spring break. Before long they were talking about their studies. Christine was in pre-med and hoped to be a pediatrician someday. Larry told them he was studying business, and he pointed toward Justin adding that he was a political science major. They met when they took statistics together in their sophomore year.
Ruth seemed to assume that Larry and Christine were a couple and said she felt they were a good match. Justin could be seen seething whenever his name was mentioned. After a few more songs and dances, and some really pleasant conversation with the men at the bar, Justin announced coldly that they already wasted enough time here and should go.
The growling sounds began as Justin was starting to stand up. It was coming from the men at the bar. Ruth placed an arm around Larry and Christine.
“You two dears come with me, you’ll be just fine.”
She urged them over to a corner of the room. The men who were sitting at the bar stood and faced Justin. They began to transform. Their muscles thickened, causing their shirts to rip in places. Long, talon like claws grew from their fingertips and thick fur grew. Their faces distorted, elongating into muzzles like a bear or perhaps a wolf. One of the fully transformed men who now stood nearly as high as the ceiling, let loose a bone chilling howl. Christine screamed. Ruth looked her in the eyes. The waitresses’ pupils were glowing bright red.
“You have nothing to fear sugar. Just relax. Nobody will hurt you. I promise.” She stared into Larry’s eyes just as he was about to pull Christine toward the door and repeated the same thing. Christine and Larry felt her minds wander as tendrils of warm and pleasant feelings filled them, taking away their fear.
Justin ran toward the front door. Halfway there his legs gave out. He knew he wasn’t drunk, and realized in shock that his drink, the Blue Label must’ve been spiked. The men, now turned into large hairy and ferocious beasts descended on him. He screamed as his body was pulled apart, limb from socket and savagely devoured while he still watched. As the darkness of violent death closed in on him, a deep, more animalistic than human voice said something about Blue Label being the best seasoning.
Ruth was still with Larry and Christine. Although they were entranced, she could see they struggled to come to terms with the horror they had just seen. Ruth’s voice was calm and comforting.
“It’s okay dears. I gave you White Label. She looked at Christine with a mischievous smile. I slipped a little in your ginger ale. I didn’t think you’d notice or mind. White Label keeps you safe when the blood hunger comes. I only serve it to people who are kind and well-mannered as you two are. Blue Label however, well Blue Label is like sausage gravy on a biscuit to these guys. It makes a person good eats.”
Larry and Christine began to feel a tingling numbness as the White Label took effect. They were becoming sleepy.
“Now you two have a seat.” Ruth said as she helped them to the nearest chairs. Her eyes were still glowing red as she spoke to them.
“Listen to my words. Let them fill you. You don’t know that boy Justin. You never even met him. Christine you will become a wonderful pediatrician. Larry you will run a large business one day. You will be successful and honest. Larry, I can see that you love Christine and want to marry her. Christine I can see you love Larry as well and will say yes if he asks. You two belong together. Get married. Have beautiful children. You will both be very happy.”
“Finally” said Larry as he saw the interstate sign. “There’s the highway.”
He pointed his car north and merged onto I-95. They had been driving for what seemed forever after taking a wrong turn but were finally headed home. Larry tuned the car radio to a local station. A campy, country-western love song played. He did his best to sing along even though he didn’t know the words. Christine scooted a little closer and rested her head against his shoulder. She loved him so much and was hoping he would ask her to marry him. She planned to say yes.
About the author
My stories come to me in the form of vivid dreams. The challenge is in putting them to words. I'm medically retired, ride a Harley, and have five ferrets who keep me very entertained.