Fiction Fantasy Suspense

For good reason, not all paths and trails are marked on every map.

Marko kicked through piles of autumn leaves at the roadside. His parents had refused him a ride, he couldn’t afford the train, and hopping the bus without change didn’t work out. It'd be a three-hour walk back to Moscow.

A car drove behind him. He turned. It didn’t come from the end of the road, but halfway as if it drove out of the forest. He waved his hand, slowly, inspecting the vehicle as it approached and stopped.

Purple stains, like splashes of wet paint, coated the side and dripped onto the asphalt. A bright contrast to the dull white of the car. A cockroach crawled over the passenger door, looping around the handle.

The window rolled down.

“Need a ride?” a man asked.

“Huh?” Marko watched the cockroach go—he’d seen nothing like it. A dark orange shell with white spots, and more than a dozen legs. It crawled from the passenger door to the hood, out of his sight, and he looked up.

“You speak Russian, kid?” the man asked. “Or did I take the wrong path?”

“Yeah,” Marko said, “yeah. I need a ride. Moscow, if you could.”

The man swept his hand, motioning to the passenger door. Marko brushed violet-colored grass off of the seat. He glanced at the quarter empty bottle of vodka in the drink holder and tightened his seatbelt. 

The man looked over a map laid out on the dashboard, the paper covered in dashes, twisting lines, and notes in a strange alphabet.

“Moscow…” he said, starting the car. “I know a shortcut. We’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“That’s impossible.”

The man laughed. There was alcohol on his breath. They passed by the forest, and Marko tried the button to lower the window. No luck. Waving him down had been a mistake.

“What brings you out here?”

“I'm coming back from my grandparent's house. They live far away. I forgot to ask them for bus money.” Marko tried the window again. “On second thought, sir, I get terrible motion sickness. I wouldn’t want to throw up in your car. You should let me walk.”

“It’s Andrei, kid.” He averted his eyes from the road and onto his map. “Don’t worry. It should only be seven minutes if I turn here…”

“Turn where?” Marko said. “There’s not another exit for-”

Andrei twisted the steering wheel, driving right into the forest. Marko cried out. He brought his arms up, ready for the car to collide with the trees, for the airbag to pop out and cushion him, for his legs to bend and break under the glove box-

It didn’t happen.

They drove onto a dirt path. The surrounding trees faded into nothing. A road sign in a foreign language loomed ahead. Numbers below the letters read 888. The sky, once a clear blue, was now midnight dark, with a full moon. Marko lowered his arms, exhaling.

The headlights switched on and Andrei laughed.

“You thought that was it, huh?”

“Where are we?” Trees faded back into view around him. Palm trees with long, purple leaves. Violet grass. Verdant green rivers. Marko craned his neck, looking out the rear window. He could no longer spot the road sign.

A rust-colored, ringed moon, replaced the silver one from before.

“Did you drug me?” he asked.

“Drug you?” Andrei continued to laugh, his hand tapping against the steering wheel. “With what? It’s a shortcut, that’s all.”

“To where? Where are we?”

“I don’t know. All I can tell you is that it’s much, much faster. A wormhole of sorts. Five more minutes on this path and we should be right outside Moscow like you never left.”

The car rocked over tree roots, the dense forestry extending onto the track. Glowing yellow eyes watched in the shadows. Palm trees blocked out any light from above.

The car’s headlights flickered on and off.

“Happens,” Andrei said, nodding to the radio. The digits on the clock switched at a rapid pace. “Anything electric starts to glitch around now. We should be out of here in a minute or two.”

The headlights flashed off. Darkness. When they flashed on, Marko glimpsed a creature on the path ahead, the size of a dog, slithering along. He could make out its purple skin and its six yellow eyes before the headlights failed again.

“Hey,” he said. “Watch the road.”

Andrei traced his finger on the map. The headlights flashed, the creature standing frozen ahead. Marko shook Andrei’s shoulder, and the man looked up and swerved—too late. The creature let out a high-pitched cry as they crashed into it.

It continued to squeal as Andrei drove on.

He sighed, stopped the car, and opened the driver’s door. “Its claws or teeth or something is stuck in the bumper.” He reached back to grab his vodka. “Come on, help me get it out. If I bring this back to Russia, it’ll destroy the ecosystem.”

Marko stepped out of the car. The acidic air made him wince. He walked over to the hood and stood beside Andrei. The headlights blinked at them, momentarily flashing the fright in the creature’s six yellow eyes, six dilated pupils darting from side to side. 

One of the creature’s tentacles, ending in a hooked claw, pierced into the bumper. A second tentacle laid limp, dripping purple blood. A third and fourth flailed with failing strength. The creature let out another screech and Marko flinched, looking away.

“We have to put it out of its misery,” he called. 

“Nature will do that for us,” Andrei tipped back the vodka. “We’ll leave it on the road. Take its left side. Grab it by the end of its tentacles and it won’t scratch you.” 

The creature wailed as Marko grabbed it. The tentacles, slimy enough that he couldn’t get a proper grip, slipped from his hands. He cut his arm along the creature’s claw, his blood dripping to the ground. He recoiled and shook his wrist.

The wailing continued.

Branches snapped on Andrei’s side, trees shaking and rumbling. The thicket ripped apart as a second creature broke through, the size of the car, all six of its eyes dark red. It brandished its tentacles, cutting through the palm trees. Green phlegm spat out from its jaws as it roared.

The creature stuck in the car's bumper quieted.

Andrei took a swig of vodka, smiling. He pulled a dirty rag from his jacket pocket. He stuck it into the bottle, shook it, and produced a lighter.

“Cheers,” he said.

He flicked the lighter with a click, tipped it to the rag, then tossed the Molotov into the thicket. The bottle exploded into a rising wave of flame. It caught onto the massive creature’s oily skin, turning it into a blazing fireball. Marko squinted against the brightness of the flames while he tore the first creature from the bumper.

Distorted screams echoed through the forest. The two got into the car, and Andrei took a right after a minute’s drive—into another wall of trees, coming out in the woods near a public school. Moscow.

Back to daylight, only twelve minutes from when they left.

“The cut is barely that deep, kid,” Andrei said, stopping the car. “Walk it off.”

“Where were we?” Marko opened the door and stepped out. Fresh air. Green grass. The wailing still echoed in his head. “How did you find these…shortcuts?”

“Don’t know, but you’ve been through it now. Squint the next time you’re walking along the road. You might see things others don’t.”

“I’ll see them like you do?”

“Yeah, and bring a map, too. Draw them out, write them down, ride the unseen paths. You’ll save days of traveling. You might even get addicted to it.”

Marko nodded, taking off. Despite the cut across his arm, he thanked the man—he’d take it over a three-hour walk and sore feet. When he looked back, the car had disappeared back into the forest.

Back to the shortcuts.

- - -

With enough convincing, his parents lent him the car for his next trip. Marko drove down the quiet road, watching the right and narrowing his eyes. The trees split into two in his vision. A pathway opened between them. 

It hadn't been there before.

He could save some time traveling through.

September 09, 2021 05:03

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Terry Jaster
00:03 Dec 29, 2023

Excellent job. Reminded me of a different story about shortcuts. Mrs Todd's shortcut by King. Yours is just as good as his so Congratulations. Keep up the good work.


Alex Sultan
15:18 Dec 29, 2023

Thank you! 'Mrs Todd's Shortcut' is one of my favourite SK short stories - it was definitely the inspiration for this one. I appreciate the comment.


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Fiery Red
12:56 Sep 17, 2021

Hi, Alex! Amazing story, for a moment I was reminded of platform 9&3/4. Haha!! There might be an edit here I think-'and hopping the bus'. It's a small typo I guess. Keep writing and growing!! It would be great if you could leave feedback on my latest:)


Alex Sultan
21:19 Sep 20, 2021

'hopping the bus' is correct here. I meant it as in jumping the bus or trying to get on it without change. Thank you for the comment, and I'll leave feedback on your story when I get the chance :)


Fiery Red
04:14 Sep 21, 2021

Oh I didn't know that. Thanks for sharing this with me 😊.I thought it could only be hopping on the bus or hopping off the bus.


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Keya J.
16:33 Sep 14, 2021

This is amazing! I could seriously feel the tension building inside my veins as the protagonist stood in the middle of the jungle with an unknown drunk driver and appalling noises. Brilliant Alex! I love it. An interesting take on the prompt :)


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Elle S
03:56 Sep 12, 2021

Truly, I am deeply appreciative of your work. I read this yesterday, just before I went to sleep, and it took me places. Very intriguing flow of interesting ideas indeed.


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17:58 Sep 10, 2021

Hi Alex, I like the latest edit. Here's a few thoughts: For good reason, not every path and trail can be seen. - I think the reference to the map in your original draft was stronger. It foreshadows the actual map and implies that there is some kind of conspiracy to keep certain things off maps, keep them hidden. It built more intrigue for me than this version does. But I think you'd have to be careful to word it so that it implies that there are *some* maps with this information, its just not all of them. A car drove behind him. He turne...


Alex Sultan
22:40 Sep 10, 2021

Thank you. I've implemented all the suggestions you wrote here - the first line one is tricky, but I agree the original one was stronger. This is all really great feedback and I'm happy with how the story is now.


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Annalisa D.
01:16 Sep 10, 2021

That was a really good story. I loved all the creatures and the descriptions. Cool idea. I liked it a lot.


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11:26 Sep 09, 2021

Hi Alex, overall I really like the concept of this but the execution could be tighter. I'd read it out loud all the way through and look to cut any redundancy or repeated words in every line / paragraph. I saw Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings this week and I wonder if you have seen it too? Was it part of your inspiration? If not maybe watch it if you can - and think through verbs and adjectives that might describe the forest scenes and see if any can be applied to your story. I keep coming back to the map that the driver has. Yo...


Alex Sultan
19:58 Sep 09, 2021

Your notes are all very helpful. I plan to edit this story a lot and implement everything you've brought up. Right now, this is more a polished rough draft than anything. I have not yet seen Shang-Chi - my inspiration for this was an old Stephen King story with a very similar concept. I also like your notes on the map. There's definitely more I can add to it. I cut sentences on it earlier. If you check again Friday night, the story should be a lot different. This took me ages to write with my head still in my last story, and it came out a...


21:11 Sep 09, 2021

No worries. I'll try to find some time to look it over again tomorrow


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11:12 Sep 09, 2021

hi Alex, here goes: Marko walked along the road. He kicked through piles of autumn leaves. His parents wouldn’t give him a ride, he couldn’t afford a train ticket, and hopping the bus without change didn’t work out. As far as he could tell, he’d be walking three hours back to Moscow. - As an early paragraph I'm afraid this fell a little bit flat for me. I'd switch this up to make it a bit more engaging. Maybe something like: Marko kicked through piles of autumn leaves at the roadside. His parents had refused him a ride, he couldn’t afford ...


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Jon Casper
10:03 Sep 09, 2021

Gripping story. A unique concept, and well executed. Vivid description. Good action. Nice job!


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Zack Schickler
15:34 Apr 26, 2023

Amazing story Alex, keep up the work😍


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