Bill Crump gazed at his wristwatch and waited for his new bride to come out of the bathroom. They were parked at a gas station somewhere on the road from North Carolina to Florida. It was November of 1960 and the two were heading to Miami on their honeymoon. Ella Marie Dupree had just become a Crump. The excitement he felt was only overshadowed by his silent frustration at her need to use the bathroom every half-hour. Not that it made him love her any less. He had planned to make the trip in one day and these stops were ruining his meticulous plans.
“You know,” She said as she slid into the car. She took the time to fan her dress out around her knees and saddle up beside him before she whispered; “They’ve got coke bottles for a nickel in there.”
“Just the bottles? Empty coke bottles ain’t worth five cents.”
The car rumbled to life as he turned the key in the ignition, “That ain’t what I meant and you know it.” The pout lacing her words told him that it’d be in his best interest to go inside and buy her a coke.
Ella Marie was stubborn as a mule. Being thirteen years his junior, she had more energy and more thirst for life than he did. His mother used to joke that Marie had the passion and Bill had the wisdom. Without each other, they’d be lost. He loved her like he’d never loved anything in his life.
When they had met at Carolina Beach six months before he had never imagined that she would one day be his wife. In fact, Bill had been at the beach with a totally different girl. Had he not eaten a bad batch of seafood and Marie not offered to stay back at the beach house and take care of him, they might not have been sitting in that gas station parking lot.
The road stretched on before them, taunting Bill with the fact that he may never reach Miami. Fishing into his back pocket, he pulled out a nickel and tossed it to her. The grin on her face was all the thanks he needed. When she returned to the car he helped her pop the lid on the bottle with his car key before he cranked the car once more and put them back on their course.
They weren’t far from the Florida state line when the sun began to set. It had been over three hours since Marie had bought her Coke from the gas station. His new bride now slept soundly, her head leaning against his shoulder as she snored softly.
All Bill wanted to do was get to Miami that day. They had left their new home in Wilmington, North Carolina with enough time to reach Miami before sundown. But with all of the sporadic restroom stops they wouldn’t be reaching their destination on time. None of this would have bothered him if he had been alone, but Bill had promise Marie’s father that they’d stop driving before dark. He owned it to his new father-in-law to find somewhere to stay the night.
In the back of his mind, he argued that he could keep driving. Who would know aside from the two of them? Marie was his wife; surely she’d keep her mouth shut if he asked her. No, he needed to stop driving. The car was a bit rickety and could probably use a night to cool off from driving so far.
The decision to stop left him with very few choices. Really it left him with only two choices: find a hotel or find a friend’s house. Finding a hotel wouldn’t be difficult, but it also wouldn’t be cheap. As a penny pincher, spending ten dollars to stay the night somewhere wasn’t something he wanted to do. They’d just passed through Springfield, Georgia where he knew he had friends he could stay with. He turned the car around.
“Where are we going?” Marie lifted her head from where she’d been leaning on his shoulder. The gentle rumble of the car engine and Bill’s content silence had lulled her to sleep. So when she woke up heading in a completely different direction it caught her off guard. Bill had been lost in his own thoughts and didn’t hear her. She found herself sliding over to the opposite end of the car. “Bill?” The anger in her voice made the name sharp as a knife.
The gaze he shot her was filled with the same confusion she felt. “What?”
“Where are we going? Miami is that way.” One thin finger pointed to the road behind them. “We need to go the other way.”
The ominous tone in his voice made her shiver. He meant it as an explanation, but in hindsight, he realized that she hadn’t been there when her father advised him to stay off the road after dark. The pout from earlier returned and she angled her body away from him. Being a man, he didn’t really understand that she was nervous. Why should she be? The day before he’d promised to take care of her forever, and he meant it.
Marie didn’t see things so black and white. Instead, she viewed things through the judgmental eyes of her mother. Mary Magdalene Dupree had been a little more than outraged when her daughter had come home two months ago with an engagement ring on her finger. The women was even more upset when she found out that the man her twenty-year-old daughter was marrying was thirteen years her senior. Needless to say, it had made for a very awkward wedding.
So as they drove down a strange and ever darkening road, she contemplated what was happening to her. Maybe he was a mass murderer? Who meets their husband at a beach, anyway? The more she thought about it the more certain she was that her new husband was planning to kill her. It was late, she was tired and reason played no part in her line of thinking.
“You don’t have to do it, you know?” The words slipped out, hysterical and tear stained. It’s funny what darkness can do to a person’s imagination.
Great, now she’s crying. He forced himself not to roll his eyes as the thought flitted through his mind. Marie had been especially tearful over the past few days, as they’d prepared for their wedding. It really didn’t surprise him when she started bawling again. But, Bill thought, surely she’d want him to obey her father’s orders. It was for her own safety after all.
He gripped the steering wheel a bit tighter. The awkward feeling he always got when she cried began to overwhelm him. “Your father asked me to.” The explanation was halfhearted and a bit exasperated. They were being forced to stop because she had used all of their driving time using every bathroom they passed.
“He what?” Her big blue eyes growing even bigger. She opened her mouth to yell at him some more but stopped when she saw the fluorescent sign for a liquor store. Bill pulled into the parking lot and turned off the car. The two newlyweds exchanged glances. Marie felt the tears well up again and turned away from him again. The thought process was that if she acted innocent to his plot, he would feel compassion and not kill her.
The car was dark, only lit up by the hazy light from the store sign and the occasional passing car. Bill didn’t notice her frightened expression, only that her tears seemed to have dried up. Because of this, he was able to easily shrug off the whole thing as nothing more than post-wedding jitters.
A kiss was planted on her cheek before he got out of the car, muttering a quick, “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Marie watched him as he wandered around the store. Picking up bottles and examining the labels like they held answer to all of his problems. Maybe they did, she thought bitterly.
The Dupree family was littered with drunks. She had aunts, uncles and cousins who drank to escape their reality. Marie had grown to despise it so much that as a little girl she had sworn to herself that she would never marry a man who drank. As for herself, she’d never tasted the stuff and never planned too.
So watching Bill gather bottles of liquor and carry them to the front desk disturbed her. She had married a drunk. Ella Marie Dupree had gone and married a drunken fool. Her mother was going to just love that. Not that Marie would even be alive to tell her mother. Bill was going to kill her. Was the alcohol meant to drown his sorrows after he’d murdered her? She’d go down in history as the girl who’d married an old drunken murderer – could it get any worse?
It occurred to her to run. He had locked the car, but she could easily unlock it from the inside and run to the nearest house for help. They would believe her, right? The tears welled up again at the very thought. Then she’d be the insane girl who was married to the old drunken murderous fool. How spectacular. But that was better than being dead and buried in the woods.
She gripped the door handle and was just about to jump out when Bill opened the driver side door. He didn’t say anything, just grabbed the keys and walked to the back of the car. In the rear view mirror, she saw him open the trunk and put the alcohol he’d purchased inside.
As he got back in the car she watched in horror as he tossed a long length of rope into the backseat of the car. Marie collapsed into uncontrollable sobs of terror. Bill, who was completely unaware of what was happening, reached over and grabbed her hand. She yanked way from him, casting him a terrified glance. Well, then, he thought, if she didn’t want to talk about it then they wouldn’t.
The car roared to the life and Bill pulled from the parking lot. Once again they headed away from Miami. Marie continued to cry, scared for her life. The day before had been one of the happiest days of her life and now there she was, less than twenty-four hours later, facing the idea that she might be murdered.
Bill didn’t talk to her, focused on the road and on his own thoughts. She was overreacting, throwing a fit like a child and ruining the entire evening. Was she really that upset that they had to stop for the night? After all, it was his father’s idea. He was just trying to do what was right for his new wife. He wanted to console her, but he felt like every time he spoke to her he only made it worse.
The tiny side road leading to Clarisse and Dudley’s house was almost flooded with rain from the morning before. The car rocked as the tires dipped into muddy holes and threatened to get stuck. Tension built up inside the car, Marie leaned forward and gripped the top of the dash with her fingernails. He assumed that she was just nervous that they might get stuck.
Marie was gazing through the pitch-black forest surrounding their car, dreading what was coming. Exhaustion and paranoia had her convinced that he was taking her deep into these woods to strangle her. She pictured her death. Imagining the rope he’d casually tossed in the back seat being pulled tight around her throat. Does suffocating hurt? Did it matter if it hurt? Where was she supposed to go? If she had wanted to run, she’d long since missed the opportunity.
The feelings that went through her when she caught sight of a small house were unexplainable. The house clashed against the dark trees surrounding it. Soft light poured through the many front windows, illuminating the entire structure in a warm glow. Hope and relief tempted her; perhaps she’d misread the entire thing. But Marie was too much of a closet pessimist to let herself even get her hopes up.
Bill parked the car in front of the house and leaned back into the seat with a sigh. “We’d best go in, they aren’t expecting us.” The words were quiet, filled with the gentleness that she was used to receiving from him.
A curse rose in his throat as his brand-new boots sank into inches of mud. He rounded the back of the car and grabbed the alcohol he’d purchased. Marie stayed seated in the car, trying to decipher what all of this meant. Did this mean he wasn’t going to kill her?
She jumped as Bill opened her door and offered her his hand. She let him help her out of the car. The now ruined high heels she wore were the least of her worries as she headed towards the house. She swallowed nervously as she watched her husband reach into the back seat and grab the rope he’d put there. “Almost forgot this,” he muttered.
Suddenly the fear was back full force. Maybe he was going to kill her after all. Maybe the people in this house were going to help him. Maybe the booze was for the party they’d throw after she was dead. But, then again, Bill didn’t seem nervous at all. In fact, he seemed quite calm.
It took only a few seconds before someone responded to Bill’s knock on the front door. A petite blond woman sporting a beehive hairdo, that seemed to overpower her in an unflattering way, peaked through the crack in the door. The look of confusion on her face shifted to one of recognition and then to one of excitement. “It’s Bill!” the lady yelled as she unfastened the chain on the door and flung it open wide. She hugged Bill in a way that made Marie a bit uncomfortable; he was her husband after all, murderer or not.
To his credit, he withdrew, moving back to wrap a reassuring arm around Marie. “Clarisse,” Bill said with a smile, “this is my wife, Marie.”
Clarisse grinned widely and ushered them into the house. “Dudley!” She cried, her voice high pitched, “Come here! Bill and his new wife came to visit us!”
Footsteps on the stairs resounded before a tall man appeared in the living room. “Bill?” Dudley said when he caught sight of his old friend. The two men shook hands and made swift introductions. “What brings you this way?” Dudley questioned, flashing Marie a smile.
Clarisse nudged her husband, “They’re on their honeymoon, I’m sure.” She said, pretending to be flustered that he’d even ask.
Bill smiled and lifted the bag of liquor he still toted, “I thought you might appreciate this.”
The man laughed at his friend and nodded, “Clarisse won’t appreciate you bringing it to me.”
Clarisse scowled as if to emphasize the fact, “It’s a dry town. You’ll get us into trouble.”
“Take it as payment for letting us stay the night here?” Bill asked.
Clarisse nodded, “You didn’t need to give my husband beer in order to stay with us. You’re always welcome, Bill.”
Bill smiled at the sweet response and pulled Marie closer to him, “I promised Marie’s father I’d have us off the road by sundown. I’m sorry to just drop in on you guys like this, but I wasn’t sure where else to go.”
“Have to keep the father happy.” Dudley joked.
“I also brought you this.” Bill offered his friend the rope, “I forgot to give it back to you the last time I saw you. It’s from when you pulled me out of the ditch last winter.”
“That was a time, wasn’t it?” Dudley joked.
It hit Marie all at once and she started giggling. All this time she’d thought that Bill was going to kill her and in reality, he had been buying a gift for a friend. She’d let her anxiety and the darkness convince her of something too unbelievable, it was almost embarrassing to admit. All of this nonsense had been a clear lack of communication. Bill hadn’t fully explained and she hadn’t fully understood. The giggles overwhelmed her until she was doubled over with them.
Everyone looked at each other confused, waiting for Marie to calm down enough to explain herself. When it didn’t appear that she was going to stop laughing anytime soon, Bill leaned forward and grabbed her arm, “What is it?” He asked, slightly embarrassed at his wife’s outburst.
Marie gasped for air and clutched her sides as she tried to recover from her laughing. It seemed like every time she opened her mouth to explain she became even more mortified and giggly. “Oh,” She groaned, her sides aching from laughing so hard, “It’s just that I-I thought that maybe you’d planned to kill me.” She said it so simply, so casually, that the meaning was almost overlooked with a curt nod.
Bill had just opened his mouth to say something to Dudley when he realized what she’d said. “You what?” His face grew red with shock and embarrassment. He bit his lip and pulled her close to him, ushering her off to the side of the room, “You thought what?” He demanded, his voice a shrill hiss.
She shrugged and tried to suppress a grin, “Everything was just so weird. I woke up…” She trailed off and shook her head, “I’m not sure what came over me. Honestly, it’s just too ridiculous. I’m not sure why I ever believed it to begin with.”
“I would never hurt you?” He said quickly, his tone echoing the hurt he was feeling. “Marie, you have to know that.”
She tugged at her dress and wrapped her arms around her, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I just didn’t know what was happening and your answers were real vague. I just misunderstood I guess.”
His eyes grew wide and he shook his head. “Misunderstood? I think you did a bit more than just misunderstand.”
“It was dark…”
“Why does that have anything to do with it?” He demanded.
She sighed as she realized that she’d made a fool of herself. There was no way to explain it to him. She’d blown something very simple out of proportions. Marie rose up on her tiptoes and planted a kiss on Bill’s forehead.
He gave her confused look at she settled back into place beside him and wrapped her arm around his. “What was that?” He asked her.
She shrugged, “Just promise never to scare me like that again.”