Andrew was lost. His GPS was not working right and the paper map, well it was too big to unravel while driving. The road was narrow and winding. The sun had gone down faster than he’d expected, lost behind tree-covered mountains, their leaves burning autumnal orange and red. It was dark now and getting darker. Andrew switched on the car’s high beams. He was far from the big city. There were no street lamps, and the space between lighted buildings was counted in miles. There might be a small cluster of buildings, a dilapidated barn and a few house, with a name such as The Village of Potluck. Lone houses were perched on the side of mountains, looking as if they were about to collapse onto the road or slide into the valley below. The road was supposedly two lanes, but any vehicle approaching in the opposite direction posed a challenge.
“So much for short cuts,” Andrew thought, promising himself that he would stick to major roads in the future.
He looked for a place to pull over, but could find no spot that was not rock or guardrail or a plunge into a creek bed. He could have pulled into one of the dirt and gravel roads that led directly to one the cliff dwelling homes, but the numerous “No Trespassing” signs made him uncomfortable doing so. Andrew did not know what gun toting madman might rush out a house to take a potshot at his Porche.
The car was not as valuable as it looked, being second hand. Still, it had cost him enough and he did not want it to suffer any more damage than this mountain road had already caused. He already felt the gears were not shifting as smoothly as before the car had started to climb and plummet this endless series of hills.
Andrew had gone to Hagerstown, Maryland for the weekend to visit his old college roommate, Chester Kunitz for a barbecue. He had begged off many previous invitations, but had finally accepted, making the long drive to Hagerstown from Fort Washington.. He had not seen Chester since their days together at the University of Pennsylvania. The excursion had proven a lot of fun. It was much better seeing Chester and his wife in person rather than simply exchanging messages on Facebook. Everything would have gone fine if Andrew had not mentioned that he was heading to Albany after the barbecue for a week long trade conference on industrial adhesives. A neighbor of Chester’s, a Silas or Cyrus something, big man with albino white hair and pink lips, had overheard the remark. This Silas had suggested a wonderful shortcut. He had written down directions for Andrew, said it would save him an hour at least. Andrew had thanked him. He had been the foolish to trust that man. Now Andrew believed this Silas had a cruel sense of humor. If he ever saw that man, Silas, again, Andrew would clock him good.
Even with his high beams, Andrew could not see more than ten feet ahead. The road twisted too much, and trees blocked his view of oncoming cars. Branches kept scraping his roof and windshield. All he could do was drive slow and watch for lights coming through the trees, or dancing on the road. His red Porche was built for speed, but the wooded mountain terrain had neutralized his gas pedal.
Andrew was looking for a place to pull over and study his map. When he saw lights from a small town, he felt relieved. If he could find out where he was, maybe he could figure out how to get back on one of the numbered highways that crisscrossed the state. As he approached town, he looked for a sign with a name of the place. He could not find one. He did find a history marker for a cabin that had been burned down during the French and Indian War, a family of settlers was killed. That sort of thing might be interesting to some folks, but Andrew was not in the mood for trivia. No. He wanted to get his bearings, and get back on track for Albany.
It was not much of a town. Just a few houses and small business crowded around a spot where two unnamed road intersected. Andrew saw a gas station with two pumps. A sign reading Rickert’s Service Station was lit, so were the lights in the office. Andrew pulled in. A bell rang as the Porche’s tires rolled over a hose stretched across the driveway. Andrew checked the gas gauge. He could use some gas, but directions were what he really needed.
A rectangular metal sign swinging on a chain said full service. Andrew pulled his car up next to a pump. He shut off the engine and waited. No one came out of the office. Andrew honked the car horn. Still no one came out. He leaned forward over the steering wheel, trying to get a better glimpse through the glass at the office. He did not see anyone in there. He hoped the station was not closed, that the lights had not been left on by accident. Maybe, the attendant was just in the men’s room. He honked again, hoping this would make the attendant speed his business. His eyes were focused on the door and window of the office. He waited. There was no motion.
He gave up and started the engine. Just then, Andrew noticed a thin man in blue jeans, and a checkered cloth jacket standing nearby. The man was staring at his car. The man was thin, and dirty looking, with short hair on his head and sparse whiskers on his chin..
Andrew rolled down his car window.
“Excuse me?” he asked. “Do you work here?”
The man pointed at himself and shook his head. He started to come closer to the car.
“Is this place open?” Andrew asked..
“The pumps are on,” the man said. “But the owner’s not around.”
“Then how can I get some gas?”
The man’s lips formed a thin grin.
“I’ll pump the gas for you. How much do you want?”
“I thought you said you didn’t work here?”
“I don’t work here. I’m just covering for the owner while he’s on a hunting trip.”
Andrew handed the man two twenty dollar bills.
The man asked, “Do you want the whole forty’s worth?”
“Yeah,” Andrew said. “Super.”
“Okay,” said the man in the checkered jacket. He walked with the twenty in his hand over to the office. He opened the door and went inside. A few seconds later he emerged and started walking back towards the car.
Andrew popped the release for the gas tank. The man unscrewed the cap, and place it on the roof of the car. He took the pump nozzle from its hook and stuck it in the tank. The pump began to ring up gallons and dollars.
“What’s this town called?”
The man looked up from his work, and saw Andrew leaning out the window.
“Bumblefuck,” he said. “That’s what they should call it. They call the part of Pennsylvania between the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh ‘Bumblefuck’. The locals don’t call it that. They just call it home. It’s the city folk who call it Bumblefuck when they find themselves stuck there. They call it Bumblefuck because its backwards and boring and stupid enough to drive you up a wall. The kind of place that make a city person just go bonkers.”
“You just called it Bumblefuck, so I guess you’re not from around this way?”
“No,” said the man eyeing Andrew. “Like you, I’m not from around here. Not originally. I prefer the big cities, a place where it is hard to stand out if you look or act a bit peculiar. A place where you can find people in the streets or in 24 hour diners at any time day or night. I should never have come here. The place just gets under my skin.”
“I hear you,” Andrew nodded. “But can you tell me the name of this town?”
“The locals call it Hetzburg. There used to be a sign, but it was knocked down by fuel truck five or six years ago, and wasn’t fit for use anymore. No one in town wanted to cough up the money for a new sign, so there’s been no sign since the. Hetzburg is one of those places most people blink and pass through in the mountains northwest of Harrisburg. Not many people pass through unless they are on their way to see the Nittany Lions play or visit one of the smaller colleges hidden away up here and have programmed their GPS to find a slow and scenic route.”
The road had not seemed very scenic to Andrew.
“Do you know how to get to Route 220, or 219 or 522 from here?”
The man shook his head.
“I have not been here that long, and I don’t have a car, so I am not familiar with the names of all the roads, but if I were to ride with you I think I could tell you when to turn and when to go straight.”
Andrew did not like the fellows eyes. His whole expression was odd. Andrew did not like the thought of having the man in his car.
“Thanks for the offer, but I can’t put you out like that,” Andrew said. “You would have to get a ride back.”
Andrew checked his watch. It looked like he was going to have to change his plans. He would not be able to drive on these back roads all night. It could be the death of him. He asked, “Is there a motel around here?”
The man shook his head.
“How about a place to eat?”
“There’s what passes for a restaurant, but just barely. I’ll never go back there to eat. The service is terrible. If you drive by you will see it looks empty. The sign may say open, but if you go in there you”ll wait forever for that waitress to show up. She is mighty slow.
Andrew grinned, “Slow can be good. How old is she?”
“Maybe thirty five, forty, something in that range.”
“Much of a looker?”
The man turned his head cockeyed and twisted from side to side..
“She don’t look too bad. Red head.”
The man’s eyes suddenly widened.
“You must be some kind of player asking all these questions about that waitress, one smooth operator.”
Andrew chuckled, because it was true.
“ Oh? “ said the man, chuckling as well. “You’re like that. You are a player. I could tell from your eyes. I didn’t want to say, but I knew. You are one of those guys who is always on the prowl. Same here.”
The man made his finger into a gun.
“Bang! Chalk up another one.”
The man drew a hash mark in the air with a finger.
Andrew smiled broadly.
The man pointed at Andrew’s face.
“You smile. Is that how it is? Heh-heh. I know the feeling”
He leaned towards Andrew and flashed a row of dirty teeth.
“We’re birds of a feather. Bet you together we could knock them ladies dead.”
Andrew kept smiling, but only to be polite. The comparison of himself with this Bumbefuck oddball sickened him.
“What else is there in this town besides a crummy restaurant and a gas station?” Andrew asked.
“There used to be a bar just outside of town, but it burned down last week. A real tragedy because it is over twenty five miles to the next bar. Other than that, there is an animal feed store that also sells some people food, but they’re closed for repairs. There’s a hunting and fishing supply store stocked full of shotguns and semiautomatics, but that’s not open at this time of night. There’s maybe a dozen houses in the town proper, at most, and there’s the church.”
The man gestured to a shape that could be dimly seen in the lights from the service station. It was a white clapboard church with a worn and weary look.
Andrew said, gesturing to the church, “I guess that’s the main attraction.”
“There are no attractions in Hetzburg,” the man said. There’s nothing for a man in a hurry to see.” He shook his head. “Nope. No one pays attention to anything or anyone here unless they are from Hetzburg or related to someone in Hetzburg. That does not add up to a lot of folks looking this way. That’s one of the nice things about this town. No one from outside gives a damn what goes on here.” The man grinned, “That’s one of the few things I like about this town. No prying eyes.”
The man finished pumping the gas. He pulled the nozzle out of the tank, and screw the cap back in. He closed the tank cover, and carried the nozzle back to its perch on the pump. The man stood there with his back towards Andrew. He continued talking, but now in a lower voice.
“Across the street from the restaurant, a taxidermist has a shop. The window is full of dead things, stuffed yet lively. There a turkey vulture and a raccoon and a rabbit that will never see Easter. I’ve been inside, just once. Didn’t need to go back twice. There were plenty of dead moose and deer heads mounted on the wall, big bucks, five points or more, a small black bear and one snarling cougar that probably came from out of state. Plenty of glass eyes staring at you when you talk to the old man who runs the place. I think his name was Cullen. All those eyes watching might have made someone else feel uncomfortable, but not me. It reminded me of nightclubs back east in Philly or up in New York, dark places filled with glazed eyes.” The man sighed. “All those dead eyes. I miss them.”
The man grew quiet for a time, then started up again, turning towards Andrew.
“You see there’s not much around here. No reason for me to stick around. No reason for you to stick around. Just fill your tank and move on. Bob Rickert used to run the station, offered me a job when I arrived in town. Then hunting season started, and he was gone. Hunting is big out here.” He laughed. “It was really big this year. When hunting season rolled around it emptied out the town. There’s nothing like blood sports to get the ticker going and fill you with a sense of pride and accomplishment.”
The man closed his eyes and shook his head. “Yeah. It’s been a good season so far, but now that everyone is out in the woods, it feels lonesome being around here. I don’t like that feeling. Yeah, this town is dead. I think I’m about ready to move on. No more Bumblefuck for me. I’ve had enough.”
Andrew agreed, “Maybe you should move on.”
The man half raised his eyelids. Andrew could feel the man staring at him.
“You think so?” the man smiled. “Too bad I don’t have a car.”
The man started to laugh.
Andrew did not like that laugh. He reached over to close the window, but he was not fast enough.
It was a week before the county sheriff received enough pestering calls from worried relatives to drive out to Hetzburg. It took another month for the state police to find all the bodies. Newspaper headlines raged about the “Hetzburg Massacre.” There were no suspects, and no trail to follow.
Some of the victims were found in shallow graves in the woods behind the service station. Some were found laying in their homes or businesses. Others were found in the church basement. Most had been shot at close range. There were 28 victims in all, the entire population of Hetzburg, plus one unknown salesman without wallet or I.D., who was passing through Bumblefuck and did not have sense to step on the gas.