Cliff and I were talking the other night about Stephen King and how after his last few books we had begun to think that we might never get to enjoy any new work from him, but then Duma Key had come along and we'd both loved it, and that got us to talking about King's work in general and how I had recently enjoyed The Mist and how much I liked Bag of Bones. Then Cliff mentioned that his favorite of King's short stories was a strange little Twilight Zone kind of story called Mrs. Todd's Shortcut.
I remembered the story vaguely, not having read it since 1985 when I bought the short story collection Skeleton Crew. I dug it up today and gave it a read. It is indeed a very cool story. The titular Mrs. Todd is a woman who is obsessed with finding shortcuts. With locating the shortest possible route between one place and the next. Her little sports car is filled with maps of all sorts and she has a notebook of little known side roads and paths. Slowly, as the story unfolds, you begin to realize that all of her shortcuts aren't necessarily through our own world.
The story, told in a sort of dreamlike first person by a man who is remembering his friendship with the now vanished Mrs. Todd highlights what I have come to think of as King's main strength as a writer, which is his storytelling voice. Reading good King is like having some amazingly gifted storyteller sitting there and spinning a yarn just for you. He slowly pulls you in and then completely submerges you in the world he is building. No matter how far fetched things get, for the time that he has you under his spell you will believe that what he says is true. That it happened. It's why his stuff can be so scary, I think. Because for that moment it seems real.
Though this is mostly a fantasy story, it still has elements of King's signature horror. At one point, right after Mrs Todd has made an impossibly short trip down to Castle Rock, the narrator finds some things stuck to the sides and front of her car that aren't of this world. Dangerous things. Things with teeth. The routes Mrs. Todd is driving aren't for the faint of heart.
Anyway, this is a wonderful, creepy, and somehow moving little story. I'm glad Cliff brought it up and glad I re-read it. You should read it too. But drive carefully.