The Road Less Traveled

Submitted into Contest #124 in response to: Start your story with someone trying to read a map.... view prompt


Drama Fiction Romance

I’m pulled over on the side of the road, my hazards flashing red against the pure white snow every few seconds. It’s literally 0º outside and the heat blowing fiercely from my vents is quickly stolen from me by my window. My gloved hands grip the map tightly. I have no idea how to read this thing. Who knew GPS wouldn’t work in the middle of the freaking mountains. My iPhone, the one thing I can always be found holding close to my face, has been tossed onto the passenger seat, completely useless to me after snapping a few shots I plan to post to my Instagram feed when I’m done with my getaway trip and back on social media. 

It’s started to lightly snow, small flecks landing gracefully on my windshield and quickly being swept away by my wipers. Thank you to the man at the rental car counter who suggested upgrading to the SUV with four-wheel drive. If only you could have recommended a navigation system better than this map, which in my hands may as well be the rosetta stone. 

I pull up the screenshot I took of directions to my Airbnb before I landed at the airport.

Take a left on Arrow Trail then head straight for 6 miles

Take a right on Cedar Hill and drive 2 miles

The cabin is on the right 

I turned left on Arrow Trail a while back, but I have no clue if it was 6 miles ago or 60 miles. It feels like I have been driving forever and the blinding white snow is making my eyes hurt. I haven’t seen any signs that say anything let alone Cedar Hill. I’m becoming convinced that nobody actually lives in these mountains and that I paid someone to stay in a cabin that does not exist. The queen-sized bed with a down comforter, wood-burning stove, and comfy leather chair with the nice fur blanket draped over it are all images I saw of another cabin in another place where I am not headed. I have been cabin-fished; like catfished but with cabins. 

I could head back to town. There was a nice enough-looking motel on the way that I could stay in. Maybe I’ll find my tranquility or bliss or whatever amongst the nice people of Big Sky and then I can head home and tell my roommate and family that I am a-ok. I have pieced myself back together and am ready to move forward. Nothing to see here, folks. 

I sink into my seat and reach for my necklace, remembering I took it off over a week ago. I got rid of anything and everything he had given me. Donated his favorite sweatshirt, smashed the mug he got me for Christmas last year, burned every love note he had ever written me. And it didn’t make me feel one bit better. I missed the way his sweatshirt smelled, I missed drinking coffee from that mug, and I regretted destroying the kindest words anyone had ever put down on paper for me. But in the end, that was all it proved to be, words on a paper. 

4 years together had all been thrown away in the blink of an eye. What I thought was my one true love had turned out to be nothing but a liar. When he was cuddled up in bed with me, she had been tucking his daughter into bed and promising daddy would be there to do it tomorrow. When he was cooking me dinner she was leaving a plate in the microwave for him in case he came home. When he was pouring me a glass of wine to celebrate my little victories, she had been pouring herself a glass of wine to wallow in her miseries. Maybel. Her name is Maybel. The name of someone too nice to be cheated on by her husband for 4 years, and yet here we are.

Well, I don’t have the slightest clue where he is or where Maybel is, but I am here, in this Ford Explorer freezing my ass off trying to find a cabin and failing miserably. I haven’t seen a single car drive by in the past 20 minutes I’ve been pulled over, no cars since I left the town. When I googled “secluded places to stay in Montana” the search really came through for me. If I ever find this place at least I know I can sob and wail as loud as I want in the clawfoot bathtub while blasting We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together by Taylor Swift and screaming along and not a soul will hear me.

I instinctively go to grab my phone to search up how to read a map and then remember that if I could do that I wouldn’t need the damn map in the first place. I wrack my brain for any survival skills I learned when I was a Girl Scout. Is my brain capable of grabbing information from that far back? I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday. My eyes are closed tight, my hand is pressing against my forehead and then it comes to me. I may not be able to use google on my phone, but I can still use the compass. 

I flatten the map out on my lap and drag my finger to the town I just came from. I trace the road up looking for Arrow Trail and drag it along the windy path in search of Cedar Hill. According to this map, Cedar Hill is North East of Arrow Trail. I pull the compass up on my phone, its hand instantly pointing East. Apparently, I turned right and missed the fork to go north that was mentioned nowhere in the Airbnb directions. I take a mental note to add this in my review when I leave.

I fold the map back up and toss it into the passenger seat. 

“You can do hard things!” I yell as I hit the steering wheel. My therapist recommended I encourage myself out loud when I come across a challenging situation. Maybe she’s onto something. Maybe it will help me find this damn cabin and my $150 sessions will start paying off.

The car is in reverse and I start slowly turning around, headed back out to find this fork in the road I missed. I drive for about 10 minutes and then I see it, just barely, a road that doesn’t even look like a road veering off in the direction I now know is north. I take the turn and am quickly met with evergreens, pine to be exact. The further I go the denser the trees get until I spot a quaint cabin on the right. It looks exactly like the photos.

I park off to the left of the road and quickly grab my luggage from the trunk; the cold is no friend of mine. As soon as I get the door open I’m headed to make a fire and warm this place up, one skill from Girl Scouts I could never forget. The wood is just starting to catch fire when I plop down in the comfy leather chair, wrapping the fur blanket around my shoulders and curling my legs up against my chest. And for the first time since we broke up, I let myself break down. 

I cry for the 4 years I wasted with him when I could have been finding my soulmate. I cry for the love that was a constant in my life but was just a bad habit in his world. I cry for Maybel, a more faithful wife than I would have ever been in her shoes. I sob, soaking my face and the blanket until it feels like there are no tears left in my body to expel. I cry myself dry and then I cry myself to sleep.

When I wake the sun is shining through the windows, bright and eager to greet me. The fire has gone out completely, no warmth left to be shared. I peel myself from the chair and make my way to the kitchenette. There will be no starting the day until I pour myself a large cup of dark coffee. My head is throbbing as if I had downed a bottle of vodka the night before and was now paying the price.

I grab the steaming mug and head for the front porch. It’s 2º today so I grab the fur blanket and wrap it around my shoulders again as I shove my feet into my Uggs. I cozy up into the wooden chair and take a sip of my coffee as I stare out into the mountains, the great unknown. 

How do you put something that has been shattered into a million fragments back together? 

“One piece at a time,” I hear my therapist say. 

And you know what, I think she’s onto something.

December 13, 2021 00:50

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Alice Richardson
07:06 Dec 19, 2021

A story of persistence and courage.


Lauren Rice
20:21 Dec 19, 2021

thank you so much for reading!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.