I had found the short cut completely by accident.
Feeling nauseous, I just had to get out of the crawling rush hour traffic, and had turned into a narrow lane not much wider than the car.
After switching off the engine I climbed out of the vehicle, the space to breathe in a little fresh air calmed my heaving stomach, and before long I felt well enough to continue.
I travelled on along the little lane looking for somewhere to turn around, passing beautiful glades and greenery along the way.
After a couple of miles I came to a quaint wooden bridge spanning a shallow but rapid stream. The sign at the side declared:- “TROUTBROOK CROSSING … POACHERS WILL BE PROSECUTED.”
I drove over the bridge, and after another quarter of a mile or so the road emerged onto a major A road which I recognised immediately, I was only about two miles from home, the short cut down the lane had taken fifteen miles and the best part of an hour off my commute, oh this was indeed a gem of a discovery.
I wasn't really surprised that I had seen no other traffic on the little lane, it wasn't on the map, and both entrances to it were so hard to spot from the road a person would just drive straight by totally oblivious to their existence, as I had been doing for years now.
I used the short cut every day from then on, the time it saved me enabled me to have a leisurely breakfast instead of dashing to the car with keys in one hand and a half-eaten slice of toast in the other.
After a few weeks I became aware of odd changes taking place along the lane, unnerving changes.
There was one particular spot where three oak trees stood side by side at the road's edge, their leafy branches overhanging, and diffusing the light for several yards. One morning when I passed there were only two trees, this in itself, although noticeable did not seem particularly strange, one of the trees must have been infected and had to be cut down, but in the back of my mind a little voice said, “Well, where is the stump then?”
The tree had reappeared when I passed the spot on my way home, convincing me that I had imagined it in the first place, until the next morning when I passed and there was not three, but four trees.
Alarm bells started ringing...
Another day the sign at the bridge said “TROUTBROOK CROSSING … POACHERS WILL BE PERSECUTED.”
Some days a bend in the road would be sharper or shallower than before, other days flowers by the roadside would have changed colour overnight.
Although these changes were strange, there was nothing threatening about them, and so I continued to use the short cut, only now I tended to actually look closely for anything that was different or out of the ordinary.
When I actually looked for it, there was always something to see, sometimes a large, sometimes a minute difference to spot, but still something, every day.
I began to see this as a kind of game, and each day eagerly awaited my journeys, playing “Spot the difference” and I was happily thrilled once I had discovered the change.
Until today, if there were something different I couldn't spot it, feeling cheated I turned the car around when I reached the major road, and set off down the lane again in the opposite direction, I must have missed it, it was there to find, I just needed to look a little closer.
I had crossed the bridge and almost reached the far end of the lane again, and was feeling frustrated that I hadn't noticed anything different when it dawned on me I would probably be late for work.
I glanced at my wristwatch, jeez, I was due to start in twenty five minutes, this wasn't good.
I pressed the accelerator harder, driving as fast as I dare on the narrow twisting road, I would reach the end soon and be able to turn around. With luck, and a bit of risky driving I would just about make it in time.
The car hit air as I took the bridge too fast, bouncing on the springs as it landed heavily on the other side...
A chilling thought crept into my brain...
“That's the second time I've crossed the bridge!”
I drove faster still, the trees a passing green blur, the four oaks flashed past, and before long I was speeding towards the bridge again.
“What the...?” I was driving round in circles, how the hell could that be happening?
I glanced at my wristwatch again, and my heart went suddenly cold.
My hand looked different, the fingers seemed shorter, more stubby than they should.
Panicking, I slewed the car to a stop and cut the engine.
I tilted the rear-view mirror and took a good look at my reflection.
The face that stared back at me was that of a complete stranger.
The short cut (Part 2)
©2012 Stephen. J. Green.