15 Jun The Shortcut
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"The Shortcut"Written by
Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
It was coming up on Thanksgiving and I wanted to go to my parents house. They lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, whereas I had moved to Denver,Colorado for college. I had been meaning to visit them for some time, so it seemed the perfect opportunity. My suburban wasn’t the most fuel efficient car, but it was hardy, and it had taken me to various other destinations faithfully for three years, so I trusted it. It was a two-three day drive, so I packed a lot of snacks, just in case.
When I set off, it was early morning. I knew that if I wanted to get there in a timely fashion, I would have to drive at a steady speed and have a fast route. This meant as few detours as possible unless absolutely necessary. I, unlike many people, have no issue with back roads. They were just roads which people didn’t use very often, but were just as valid as others.
The first few hours of driving were perfect. The sky was clear and blue, and there was just the right amount of traffic so that I didn’t feel lonely, but the highway didn’t feel crowded. There was a good dispersment of gas stations and rest stops. I stopped a two times to get snacks and to go to the bathroom. The day went well, but as night fell, things starting going wrong.
After awhile, my route had me go onto a back road that looked like it hadn’t seen a car since the invention of TV. It was getting dark but I could still make out the road well enough. It was completely overgrown, with saplings and bushes growing in the road. There were tall, dark oak trees lining the street, darkening it and shedding black, dead leaves by the side of the road. A light mist hugged the ground, swirling softly as the car passed. I had some misgivings about this route, but the GPS said that it cut two hours off my trip, so I went with it. But just in case, I turned on the radio to calm myself down. The only station I could find was some country music station.
As I progressed further along the road, I noticed some odd things along the side of the road. The first thing I saw was a pile of what at first looked liked garbage. As I got closer, I saw it was a bundle of dirty, ratty clothes, empty cans, slopping over with some unknown rotting fluid, and some fleshy mounds. I can’t say for certain, but I thought that I saw something underneath them move as I drove past.
As night fell, the mist grew thicker, and some darkly ominous clouds rolled in. I worried slightly about rain, but It never came. The clouds just hovered, darkening my path even further. My radio suddenly began to cut out, changing rapidly from static to this really faint station that I didn’t recognize. It had what sounded like chanting and shrieking. I quickly turned it off, my heart thumping in my ears. Without the music to distract me from my surroundings, I began noticing more odd things on the sides of the road.
I passed heaps of garbage that looked like they had been there for centuries. They were covered with what looked like a black goo. There were overgrown offshoots of the road that no doubt led to long abandoned farmsteads. On one of these, there were objects swinging from the trees that lined the entrance. I told myself that they were just oddly shaped hanging vines, or a trick of the light. They couldn’t be bodies.
There was the rotted out carcass of an old wooden church, just off to one side of the road. The roof had collapsed, most of the remaining walls had at least a quarter of the boards missing. It was covered in vines and overgrowth. Through the gaping hole that used to be the doors, I saw that the pews were strewn around wildly like some great force had come through and swept them aside in a fit of violence. There were also piles in front of it that trailed partially onto the road. I slowed down and drove carefully around them. I couldn’t tell what they were but it didn’t seem very good.
At this point, I was thoroughly creeped out and I was seriously considering turning around and leaving, shortcut or not, when I saw that there was a massive downed tree lying across the road. I consulted the GPS, which told me that there was a side-route about half a mile back that would connect back with the road after a while. I thought it over for a while, then decided that I would try it out. I thought “ Hey, what’s the worst that could happen?” If the road got too bad, I could just turn around.
It took me awhile to find it, seeing as it was so overgrown, I don’t even think it could be called a road. There was knee high grass all over the narrow road and years of nonuse had erased any tracks or ruts that may once have been. It was pretty narrow, with enough room for one car and then two ditches on either side of the road. Luckily, there weren’t too many bushes, so it was easy enough to drive on. Off to the sides of the road were what I assumed to be remnants of what used to be civilization. There were piles of decayed planks of wood. There were also quite a few rusted out hulks of old cars. Some of them looked like they had been abandoned by the side of the road, like their owners had just pulled over, gotten out and left. Other, less rusted cars looked like they had been in high speed accidents. These were bent around trees, smashed into other rusted skeletons, or just lay totalled in the slight ditch by the side of the road. There was one noticeable car that stood out because it had flipped onto its nose against a tree, so that the roof was parallel with the tree trunk.
Throughout the period where I was observing these, there was movement out in the forest. The mist obscured my view more than two feet into the forest, but I could make out shapes that swirled the mist. Whenever I thought I might make out a feature, it would dart back into the mist, leaving with nothing but swirling mist and a cold, sinking feeling in my abdomen.
Eventually, I decided to turn back. The road was getting progressively worse, my GPS was showing nothing but forest now, and I was beyond tired. The sides of the road were almost completely blocked by forest, so I drove forward, looking for a place to turn around.After about a mile, I reached what looked like a town, although I don’t think anyone had lived there for at least a century. There were a few building on either side of the road. All of them were overgrown to the point where I could barely tell what they might have been.There was a section of two or three buildings that were just burnt carcasses. The house next to these was in extremely good shape. It was still overgrown, but it looked almost entirely intact. I am a very curious person, I always have been, so this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. I decided to investigate, despite a nagging feeling of fright.
I pulled over to the side of the road and got out. I walked around to the trunk and grabbed my flashlight. As I walked toward the building, I realized that it was in even better shape that I had thought. The boards were barely rotted, and all of the windows were intact. I walked up to the door and put my hand out to open the door when a wave of apprehension and fear washed over me. I jerked my hand back and stumbled backwards a step. I decided to leave as quickly as I could and started walking to my car.
As I walked towards my car, I glanced over at the passenger’s side window and froze. In the reflection of the window, I saw my own reflection and, behind me on the porch of the house, a tall, pale figure. It had long, hollow eye sockets and its mouth was stretched in an eternal scream, with massive crooked teeth sticking out of this void. I stood there for what seemed like eternity, frozen in place. Then it dashed towards me and the spell was broken. I sprinted to the car, ripped open the passenger’s side door, dove in, and slammed it shut.
The thing rushed towards my car as I scrambled backwards into the driver’s seat. It reached my car and began clawing at the doors with what I assumed were claws. It shrieked in an unearthly howl, louder than I thought physically possible. I clapped my hands over my ears and managed to get into the driver’s seat. I fumbled with my keys and then got the car started. As it rumbled to life, the creature stepped back and shrieked even louder. A chorus of disjointed screams erupted from the surrounding forest and town. As I changed gears, I saw more of those things sprinting out of other buildings and out of the blanket of mist that surrounded me.
I jammed the gas pedal to the ground and my car jumped forward speedily. I quickly spun around and saw more of those things rushing from the building. A few of them reached the car and began gouging it, making a hellacious combination of their shrieks and the screeching of their claws on the metal of my car. I began speeding down the road, frantically trying to push the gas pedal down more, despite the fact that it was already floored. I looked down the road, seeing more of the creatures rushing down the road out of the mist.
After this, it gets a little fuzzy. My memories from this point on are like sparse beams of light in dark room. The next thing I remember is passing the car that was flipped into the tree. The front of my car was severely dented, and there was a black ooze all over the hood. My windshield was splattered with it as well and my heart was beating a thousand times a minute. I was covered with sweat, and I was panting, yes panting, for air. I could hear shrieks from not too far behind and I still had the pedal floored. The speedometer said that I was going 90 mph. I looked out the passenger’s side window and saw one of the creatures gliding alongside me. Then my memory stops again
The next thing I remember is driving full throttle around the turn and going up on one wheel and almost flipping over before managing to steady myself. I raced down the road, listening for any sign of the creatures. There were a few far off shrieks, but nothing close by. My pulse was pounding and I was drenched in sweat. I noticed in my peripheral vision two things. One, that the mist had cleared and two, that I was nearing the rotted church. As I sped towards it, time seemed to slow down. My eyes widened in horror as I came to a realization that I had forgotten the piles in the road. My foot slammed onto the brakes, but too late. I slammed into a clump of them and I was thrown forward into my airbag. As I fell into the pit of unconsciousness, the shrieks of the creatures followed me.
When I awoke some time later, the first thing I noticed was that it was light out. My head throbbed and I was covered with scratches. My body felt like it had been through an industrial wood chipper. I sat up slowly, groaning in pain, and saw that I was lying on the pavement surrounded by millions of shards of glass that used to be my windshield. I looked over and saw the smoking wreck that used to be my car. It looked like when it crashed I had been thrown out of the window. It was a miracle that I had survived
I got up and limped slowly over to my car. From the outside, the claws marks were even worse than I thought. There were three parallel lines that stretched for about three feet down and across. They were about three inches deep and many of them just slightly pierced through the door. I shuddered, realizing how close I had come to death.
I looked around me, wondering how to proceed. I was in the middle of the woods on an abandoned road with no car, injured, no shelter, and possibly being hunted by those creatures. I thought about it for a while and then started walking down the road back towards the highway. It was quite a ways away, probably about a day and a half walk, but I knew it was my only chance.
After hours of walking, my legs were nearly numb. I was dehydrated and hungry, and it seemed like salvation was still miles away. I stopped off the side of the road and collapsed onto an old rotted trunk. I leaned back against a tree and closed my eyes, wiping sweat off my feverish brow. I breathed a sigh and settled back into the tree and letting my thoughts wander.
I awoke with a start, my heart racing. I shot up, noticing that it was nighttime once more. The temperature had dropped twenty degrees. I cursed myself for falling asleep and trudged back onto the road. The stars provided a dim lighting and I had begun walking again when I heard it. It was the far off shriek of one of the creatures. My eyes widened and I stood completely still, trying to pinpoint its location. The next shriek I heard was louder and it came from the direction of my car, down the road.
I turned and sprinted in the other direction, adrenaline flooding my system. A dense fog soon materialised around me, limiting my vision to about ten feet around me. Occasionally, I would hear shrieks from behind me getting louder and louder each time. I could hear more screams coming from behind me. I was slowing down, which was something I couldn’t afford. I picked up the pace a little. I began sobbing, realising that the odds of me escaping were almost zero. I was lost in my thoughts and didn’t notice the small divot in the road. My foot slipped into it and I fell violently, hearing something in my ankle snap as I hit the ground. A bolt of pain shot up my leg and I screamed in agony.
I looked down at my ankle, wiping tears of terror and agony from my eyes as I checked my ankle. My ankle was twisted almost completely to the side, so that my toes were pointed at my arm. My vision swam for a second and I felt really lightheaded. I clamped my eyes shut and bit the inside of my cheek as hard as I could. It hurt like hell, but it helped clear my head. I glanced down at my ankle and let out a yell of frustration and pain. My yell was answered by a scream from down the road, reminding me of my current situation.
I dragged myself to the side of the road, rolling myself into a ditch. I cried out in pain as I hit my ankle. My vision swam dizzyingly as I attempted to stay conscious. I stifled my cry as I heard a scream even closer to me, maybe a quarter mile away. I scooped up leaves from around me, trying not to move my legs at all. Due to the amount of leaves I was able to almost completely bury myself in leaves. I left a small slit on my face so that I could see partially onto the road.
As the shrieking grew closer, my body started to tremble. I tried to stifle these as the creatures came closer. My eyes were glued to the wall of fog that loomed over the road.An ear deafening shriek erupted from the fog, making me flinch. Luckily I had piled tons of leaves around my ears which lessened the noise. One of the creatures glided out of the fog, it’s horrific mouth stretched into a grin. Its teeth poked out of its mouth at horrific angles. It slowed to a stop and surveyed the surrounding fog with its empty sockets. I held my breath, my pulse beating in my ears. It stayed for a while longer, then glided on, the mist swirling in its wake.
An eternity passed. An eternity filled with a procession of them, some stopping like the first, some gliding past without slowing down at all. There were so many of them and I began noticing occasional differences. Some wore nothing, while others had ragged tatters which clung to their forms like drying clothes on a clothesline. Some had ragged wounds which trailed down their elongated faces and made me feel sick.
Eventually, the flow of creatures ebbed, then stopped. After about thirty minutes of no movement, I slowly sat up and looked around. I grabbed a nearby stick and used it as a crutch. I propped myself up and began limping towards the road. I began limping on my original path, but slower this time, so as not to attract any attention.
As the night dragged on, I began feeling more confident. I hadn’t heard anything for about an hour, and I quickened my pace hoping to reach the highway by morning. And I was right. In fact, I made it to the offshoot that I had gotten on from the highway before it even started getting light. As I set foot onto the pavement, I let out an excited whoop and waved my makeshift crutch in the air. I laughed and began walking down the paved road when I suddenly stopped. The mist was clearing and so I had a better view down the road. And I saw them.
They were in a row that stretched across the street. As I stared at them in shock, they began gliding towards me slowly. I yelled and quickly turned to run when I stopped. Behind me, there was another line of them. They were gliding towards me just as slowly, advancing towards me silently. My legs felt like jello as I sank to the ground in despair. I sat down on the pavement and stared helplessly as they began sprinting towards me and the shrieks of the creatures filled the air. I cried out in agony as their claws pierced my body and ripped me apart.
A few months later, another person came down the road. He checked his GPS, because he was suspicious about this road. It was really overgrown, and there were what looked like animal bones scattered across the road. His GPS said that it was the shortcut, so he ventured forward, looking forward to surprising his friend for Christmas. He had gone to visit his friend’s parent’s house a few months ago, so he should be really surprised. He chuckled as he imagined his shocked face, driving over the bones without a second thought.