Mountain Girl's Honeymoon by Barbara Stanley

Ellie wakes up in the trunk of a car and knows only her wits will keep her alive, in Barbara Stanley's heart-stopping story.

Just keep quiet
.

The blood from the back of her head made a gummy spot on the trunk's floor, trapping some strands of her hair. Every bump in the road yanked those strands hard enough that she wanted to shout. Or throw up from the dizzy and the smell. Or curse or scream or cry, but -

Just keep quiet.

Sweat trickled down her back and soaked into the grime of the blankets. Among all the other smells - exhaust, motor oil, blood - the blankets binding her were the worst. They gave off a sour, fetid smell, like something unwashed, tainted. And she'd give her soul for a drop of water.

From somewhere in the dark beyond, music played, the first sound she heard that, after swimming up from unconsciousness, anchored her first coherent thought: Someone's hurt me and put me in this trunk. And he's singing to country music.

Another thought followed: I know this road, these graded spots. It's Pacific 10, the north highway repair job. Thirty minutes after this patch ends I'll reach the last exit for miles around - Refugio exit.

Refugio mountain: remote campsites, endless off-trail hideaways, narrow boulder passageways, gullies like scars cutting across terrain. Hidden places, hiding places, where furred and feathered predators scattered remains that would never be found.

Ellie, you're in deep shit. Her third coherent thought.

She heard choking. It was her - gasping for air - a thrashing, sweaty bundle knocking around in the dark. When her left hand - already puffed-up and stiff - banged against her leg, pain stabbed her wrist and before she could stop it, she yelped.

Someone hawked up and spit. Someone up front - the driver.

"Hey," he said. "You awake?"

A semi roared by on the left, shaking the car in its wake. Traces of diesel exhaust seeped into the trunk.

"Ehhh - lee," the driver sang, "Wake up wake uhhh-up."

Panic and die. Strange how those words appeared then, like her classmates were in the trunk with her, chanting along. Like they, too, couldn't believe this stranger knew her name. Ellie clamped her mouth shut, took a breath in, and held it.

"It's me." The driver said.

She exhaled.

"We'll be home soon. Sorry about the bump on the head. You don't mind, do you? It's gotta be, uh, authentic-like."

The semi's horn wailed in the darkness.

"I know you're awake." The driver said. "Wish you was up here with me. We got a starry night out, Mountain Girl."

My old nickname. This can't be real.

"Not much longer and I'll let you out. We'll be together, finally, like it should be."

In through the nose, out through the mouth. In, out. Controlling breath was important, essential for survival. Panic and die was what her scuba instructor taught her classmates to chant, endlessly. His face smiled down at her - Michael - a brief spark that vanished into darkness. Panic and die, he said.

"At least say hello."

In the background, a country song twanged - cheery, unnerving.

In, out.

"Hello," she said. She eased her right arm free of the blanket, sliding her hand along the trunk floor. No purse anywhere, no cell phone, either. And no shoes - her feet rubbed against fabric.

The driver laughed. "Man, you was out. Good to hear your voice again."

She inched her left arm out next, careful of the wrist. Her right hand explored some more and found the lock housing, straight ahead. She must be on her left side, facing it. A good position to be in when the trunk finally opened.

The driver sounded calm, reasonable even, in a twisted way. If she could match his tone...

In, out.

"I... can you let me out?"

Silence.

"For some fresh air?"

"Won't be long," the driver said. "You'll be okay."

The car accelerated, pitching Ellie forward. Her hair yanked free from the gummy patch and she yelped once more, but her wrist stayed safe.

The road smoothed again, and the graded patches vanished. Refugio loomed closer.

The driver hummed along with the radio.

He stopped for a moment and said, "Go back to sleep if you want. I'll wake you when we're home - my darling." A catch in his voice. "Enim ta tsal," he said.

Panic and die. Focus. Feel for wires. Yank them out, short the taillight. Get the CHP to stop the car. Keep him talking to cover your noise.

"Where are we going?"

"You know."

"I'm not sure." Her fingers slid along the walls of the trunk.

"You'll know soon." He lowered his voice, reverent. "The most beautiful part," he said, "is the capture. We pretend it's a surprise."

No wires. Keep trying.

"How... did you find me?"

"I followed you," he said, "like always, chasing after you." He laughed again.

In, out. Don't think about that. Think about a weapon, a tire iron, a wrench, a tool kit in here somewhere.

She wedged her good arm under the blankets, deep as possible, groping for something, anything that might crack his skull open. Sweat trickled down her forehead. "I'm roasting in here. Can we stop?"

He snorted. "We're on the highway, baby."

"We're on 10, right? Lots of places to pull over along the shoulder."

The engine hummed in her ears.

"Just for a minute?"

"Stop talking, Mountain Girl," he said. "You're going to be happy bride. Doog edirb. Teews edirb." He chanted on while the radio played a song about a man who wanted a horse for a wife.

And in the next moment, a country music station played low in another place and time, a tiny mailroom years earlier. A tall, gawky man with straw-colored hair hunched over piles of mail, sorting carefully, gray eyes narrowed in concentraton. He pursed his lips together, humming, while his big hands shoved envelopes into their proper slots. He looked up and, meeting Ellie's eyes, gave her a shy smile.

Ray. Ryan. Robbie...

"Randy?" She stopped groping.

"Yeah?"

It was Randy... something, she never got his last name. Ellie hadn't seen him in nine, ten years, easy. He worked in the mailroom of the medical supply company where Ellie had worked in her early twenties. She saw him when he passed her desk, always said a polite hello. He helped break into her car when she'd locked the keys inside. On her birthday she'd brought him a piece of cake from the little party in the lunchroom.

He left the company before she did, kind of drifted away - a death in the family or something.

"Randy, what's going on?"

"Baby, we're going to our home. He spoke slowly, as if to a child. "I'm taking you with me, finally. Remember? In the letters I wrote you."

Letters?

"It's the bride by capture. How the warrior gets his mate. They pick a day and he pretends to kidnap her and they run off." Randy continued. "Told you the plan in your birthday letter."

"Randy, I..." I never got any letters. "I remember. Where did you say we were going again?"

"Where we belong," Randy said.

"Shouldn't we... don't you think we should say hello, at least - face to face? Or how about a hug?" A hug, a smile, a knee in the nuts.

"Gonna make up for lost time soon, baby," Randy said. "Real soon."

Another image drifted by - a red-tail hawk, gliding in circles across a candy-blue sky. There was a new man in her life - Michael, the scuba instructor from her class. They'd gone for a moonlight paddle, then spread out a blanket to watch the stars. His smiled looked right into her, in a way that made her feel safe. "Don't run away," he said.

"I need to go to the bathroom." Her right hand pushed at the blankets, inching them down her sides. "Stop the car and I'll jump out for a minute."

Randy snorted again. "Don't be crazy. We're doin' 70. You wait - I got a nice pit dug for us." The car accelerated.

The blanket bunched to a lump at her waist, unable to roll further. Ellie cursed under her breath.

She was the expert at running away. First, from the drizzle-gray rust belt called home and the ice-cold rage of the two people called her parents, to finally any job, any person, any place, that threatened entanglement. She had backpacked and bungee-jumped and spent a night and a morning in an alpine lake, waiting out a forest fire. There was always a way out.

The expert. So much so that no one actually knew where she'd gone this Thursday evening.

Just shopping. Struggling with your bags in the underground parking. Fumbling with your keys, dropping them. Did you pick them up? Can't remember. The last thing was the sound of footsteps behind you.

Michael's face appeared again, and her eyes filled with tears. "Don't run away," he said.

Stop it. You once dropped thirty feet off a rock face before the rope caught you. You will get out of this.

Randy hummed along with the radio. After the tune stopped, the volume lowered. "I wrote you all the time," he said, "told you to wait for me and you did."

"Randy," Ellie said.

"They don't understand," Randy said. "Nobody understands. You and me are alike. We don't need no-one but each other. Every day in lock-up, I thought of you. I couldn't write you then. They would read my letters."

"Randy."

"We got our own special language, just the two of us. Our own way of doing things, the right way for us."

"I need fresh air. I need to stretch my legs." I need to escape.

"We got our own place now, nobody to tell us what to do, nobody watching. A real home, for us and our babies."

"Randy, stop this car."

"Listen." Randy's voice quivered. "You gotta stay calm. Everything is going to be all right. We're going home, Mountain Girl, we're going home!"

The car swerved and her head swerved with it, hitting the lock housing hard, right on the edge.

"Ooohhh, beautiful, beautiful - my beeyootifull mountain bayybee," Randy shrieked.

Another swerve, another crack against the metal. "Randy, stop! You're killing me!" She pummeled the roof as Randy sang.

"Goddammit, stop!"

As if by magic the car slowed, rolled over the gravel of the shoulder, and stopped. Ellie cradled her left hand to her chest, knees curled up, poised to strike. The blanket still covered her legs, but too bad. She'd only get one chance.

But Randy did not get out of the car. After a long silence the car began to move again - in reverse.

"Randy, what -"

The car slowed, paused - and lunged backward, crunching into what she knew was rockface, just off the shoulder. Ellie pitched forward, right over her injured wrist, into the mound of blankets.

Her left hand blazed with pain. She rolled on her back into a swirl of dizzy, nausea following close behind.

Panic and die, Ellie.

The driver's door swung open. Randy's footsteps neared the trunk.

"You're my wife now and you do what I say," he said. "No more swearing or I'll hurt you. No swearing."

Bang! Bang! He punched the side of the car, her stomach jumping in time with each blow.

Randy slammed back into the driver's seat and the engine roared to life. The car pulled forward, back on the highway.

Panic and die, her classmates chanted. All depends upon presence of mind; fear is fatal. Houdini said that, and he had escaped from under the ice.

"Don't be so jumpy." Randy said. "We're almost home. I got some nice sheets for you, I got your chair waiting."

A couple of months back Ellie had gone on a cleaning binge, chucking clothes, trinkets, trash. She'd stacked everything by the curb for the charity pick-up. The next morning her old chair was missing from the bunch. Ellie drove off to work, figuring someone took it for their own use.

Somebody had. Oh yes indeed.

"Thank you," she said.

The car rumbled on in the darkness.

The red-tailed hawk appeared again, filling the sky. With a fierce cry, it swooped down to dig its talons into Randy's body, wheeled and dipped to claw out his eyes. It lifted Randy's body high and dropped it in a ring of fire, watching as he writhed in the flames. With one last cry it ascended, gliding so close to Ellie that she flinched, heard the rustle of its wings and felt its air on her fingertips. Then it disappeared from her vision, leaving the air behind.

She waved her fingers against its current.

Air, on her fingertips.

Air, coming into the trunk, near the left rear taillight.

Her fingers darted to the wreckage, tip-toeing along the edges as though fearful it might be a dream. They clambered up a jagged ridge, slid along a metal shard and felt it, a skim of air, in a crack above the smashed taillight.

She tugged at the metal and the crack widened, then her fingers were out, waving in the open space of the outside world.

Her right arm jerked backwards with its own life, forced itself through the opening before getting stuck, midway to the elbow. Cool air blew across her skin.

She flopped the arm back and forth, feeling warm drops trickle down her skin; blood probably. Good. Someone would see a bleeding arm hanging out of a trunk and call 911.

As if in response, a distant horn honked. With a surge of energy Ellie lifted her head, only to be met by a bigger surge of dizzy that pulled her down, down into blurry dark nothing. Not now, not now, no...



She woke to the sound of Randy's voice.

"...still young enough for kids. We coulda started a lot sooner but I go back for Ma's funeral and whattaya know there's a warrant out for me. Think jail would stop me?"

The radio's volume ebbed and swelled, a garble of noise. Finally the music settled to a background murmur. "Saw you kiss that guy on the beach," Randy said. "Gotta punish you for that."

Tingles ran up Ellie's right arm. She wiggled her hand, twisting the arm to chase away numbness.

"I'm sorry," she said. "He's only a friend."

"You got me now." Randy said.

She flapped her right arm back and forth, back and forth, feeling the night air on her skin. Her arm was coming back to life, because the wet scrape along its length hurt like hell. Like it mattered. How late was it? How many cars were on the highway? Someone must have seen her. That car horn must have been real. Please, somebody.

Then Randy swore. He thumped the seat twice and cursed again.

"What?" Ellie said.

"Hey - no."

"Randy..."

"Wait," he said. "Be quiet."

"But I..."

"Shut up!"

Randy pounded the seat against the sound of approaching vehicles, and the buzz of a far-off helicopter.

"Relax, relax..." More pounding.

Then, "C'mon, pass me up."

Her heart leapt.

A red haze filled the trunk, followed by blue light. A strobe flashed low, then high, low, high - illuminating the dark. The helicopter droned closer.

"Mountain Girl, be quiet." Randy said. "Shut up and we'll be okay. Don't act crazy."

In, out. Panic and die.

Again, the car slowed and pulled to the right, crunching over gravel. It came to a stop, idling, as a voice thundered over the PA. "Driver. Turn off the engine and step out of the car. Put your hands on the roof..."

At at the sound of that voice Ellie jumped into action, kicking the trunk with all her might. She opened her mouth to let out a shriek.

Before she got the chance Randy gunned the motor and fishtailed back on the highway. The momentum flung her right arm backward and she envisioned it snapping in two, lying on the road. She pulled it back into the trunk.

The sirens chased them, but the helicopter stayed above, all furious blades and light. The radio's volume swelled as Randy yelled above it.

"I told you to be quiet. I told you don't act crazy."

"Randy," Ellie yelled back. "I'll talk to them. I'll tell them to leave us alone."

"No." Randy said. "We're not going back."

"Randy, no."

"We'll make a run for it. Hold tight, Mountain Girl."

Incredibly, the car surged again, reducing Ellie's world to a bucking darkness. The trunk shimmied and shook, blankets enfolding her when the car made one more turn, juddering straight on a new surface, bumpier than cement.

They had reached Refugio turn-off.

The car took the first low curve in a controlled skid, shaky and precarious. The helicopter followed them, its light piercing the edges of the trunk.

Any minute now they would go over the edge. Too many curves, too narrow a road, too much speed for the car. Any minute now.

Unless Ellie found a way to stop Randy.

She thrashed around in her cocoon, yanking the blanket off her face. "Randy, listen - I love you. You hear me?" Her voice sounded tinny and shrill. "I love you. Stop the car and I'll tell the police... we're together."

Silence for a long moment, then Randy's voice, strangely calm above the din of brakes and blades. "I'll always love you, Mountain Girl. Even now when you're lying to me. It's okay, we're together, nobody's gonna get us. It's all okay now."

The car swerved again and before Ellie had a chance to register the quiet of tires leaving the road, she felt the sickening lift of being airborne, floating without dimension in a slow motion turn.

Falling.



A roaring light blazed above. Ellie opened her eyes to the helicopter overhead. A shape gazed down at her. "That's it honey, stay with me," a voice said. "Can you tell me your name?" A woman with brown eyes and a nose ring wavered into focus.

Ellie stared at the nose ring. "Ellie," she said.

"Well, Lee, you're okay now, you're safe. We're taking you to the hospital to get you checked out, but you're gonna be okay. Stay still now."

Bodies, lights, crackle of a dispatcher's radio surrounded her. Voices directed human traffic. The EMTs snapped her in, and once more Ellie floated above the din, carried along on a stretcher. She tried turning right, but her neck was braced, head bandaged, arms and wrist bandaged also. Her fingers and toes still wiggled though, to her immense relief.

"What about..." She tried turning again.

"Don't worry about him," another EMT said, looming above her.

The stretcher bumped along as rescue workers prepared to ascend the low ridge. They passed Randy's car, a gray wreck buckled around a coast live oak, not so live now. Branches jabbed Randy's body, which lay splayed against the steering wheel. His head twisted away from Ellie at a 90 degree angle, a dead man's nap.

Could that gaunt stringy body be him? Blood streaked his blond hair. His bare back had today's date scrawled in black, with two words underneath - Ydnar/Eille. Some of the paint had run down his back.

There it was, the special language. His special language:

Ydnar/Eille.

Randy/Ellie.

She shivered, closing her eyes.

Weirdly, tears seeped from their edges.

"Here we go," the EMT said.

Ellie opened her eyes on the ascent. Above were a million stars, barely visible past the helicopter's light. They were there though, just beyond, like the stars on that beach. Below them, the ridge descended, into darkness.

They neared the road's edge, clear of the slope. She heard Randy's voice, "We don't need no one," saw Michael's smile. "Don't run away," he said.

The hawk soared again in a bright blue sky.

"I'm ready," she said.

6 comments:

  1. This story hits the ground running and doesn't look back. Thank you, Barbara Stanley, for one wild ride. There is an irony here that might be worth developing if you choose to make the story longer; that a woman afraid of relationships is kidnapped by someone so desperate he intends to force her into one. The flashbacks to Michael were too brief and limited to one person to convey how deep this phobia runs in Ellie. What you have is a polished and well-written thriller. It is also a story on the cusp of literature, should you allow yourself the space to breath life into Ellie's phoboia and how it has overwhelmed her life -- and now this happens. It leaves us pondering what we will have when she puts herself back together from this experience. Thank you for a thrilling thought-provoking read.

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    1. Thank you for your in-depth critique of my story, especially regarding delving deep into Ellie's phobia and how it permeates her life. I had considered that when revising the story. Glad you enjoyed the ride!

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  2. Barbara, I really loved this story; you brought all the tension, the drama, so near and real. I felt like I was in that car trunk and dealing with a crazy man. I have a story coming up and I'm rather sheepish about how it will compare to "Honeymoon." Congratulations and please keep writing. I'll look here and elsewhere for more of your work. I've acquired two new favorite writers lately; Poe Ballantine and Barbara Stanley.

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    1. Thank you for that! I appreciate all your comments and look forward to reading your story.

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  3. Excellent thriller, edge-of-your-seat stuff, could not look away once I started. Randy is a special sort of scary - crazy, yet possessed of a subtle intelligence that makes him all the more unpredictable. Crisp writing, very polished. Great story!

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  4. I agree with the first commentor who suggested more backstory on ydnaR. :)
    Here are a couple critique suggestions, just my thoughts. 1. called home, called her parents - seemed forced. 2. Omit 'So much so that' - start the sentence without those words. 3. Omit 'behind you.' - the reader already knows this was a sneak attack. 4. LOVED 'dead man's nap' - great turn of the phrase. 5. 'Oh yes indeed' - should there be punctuation in this sentence?
    I thought you portrayed Ellie well, and her bravery is important in the story!

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