What’s Mrs Todd’s Shortcut all about?:
An old man called Homer Buckland reminisces with a friend about a woman called Ophelia Todd who became obsessed with finding the shortest routes possible to drive from Castle Rock to Bangor. Through this obsession, Ophelia becomes slightly different and then all of a sudden, disappears completely.
What did I think?:
Oh dear. I guess I knew this day would come eventually. My rose-tinted glasses for Stephen King have finally slipped off. Other reviewers have mentioned that this story, Mrs Todd’s Shortcut is one of the best in his Skeleton Crew collection. Unfortunately, I have to disagree. Our main character is an old man, Homer Buckland who is sitting with his friend one day when he sees the car of Mr Todd’s second wife go by. This gets him to thinking about Mr Todd’s first wife Ophelia, who he remembers quite fondly after a series of strange incidents occurred and reminds him that he has been quite restless and agitated recently as if he is expecting something which hasn’t arrived.
We know from the start that Ophelia has disappeared in mysterious circumstances and Homer along with the rest of the town remembers her as a good woman: “Not a town woman, but a good woman.” She was more than happy to scrub up the war memorial with the other wives and when children needed taking somewhere she offered her services gladly, going no more than 40 mph although as Homer described it:
“It chafed her. That woman had lead in her foot and a ball bearing sommers in the back of her ankle.”
However, the main thing that Homer remembers about Ophelia Todd is that she was always looking for a shortcut. In her little Mercedes “go-devil,” she has a means of measuring how many miles she covers in each trip from Bangor to Castle Rock and has started to make a game of it. Playing against herself becomes more competitive when she amasses maps of every kind in her glove box with lines of all the routes she has tried. Homer is laying tiles in her bathroom one day when she begins to open up to him about it and offers to take him on a trip as he doesn’t quite believe her latest achievement of 116.4 miles (compared to the route most people take which is 156.4 miles). He notices that when she talks about it, the years seem to fall away from her face and she looks truly beautiful. He declines on that instance, concerned about what his wife may think but another opportunity presents itself and he cannot resist accompanying her.
All goes well at the start until Ophelia turns off on a road he has never seen before and never wants to see again. Even though Ophelia warns him that one of the trees nearly gave her an Indian burn a month ago, he cannot believe it until he sees the trees moving as if they are alive, one even manages to grab his cap. Through it all, Ophelia looks almost mad and is laughing constantly with a wildness inside of her. Homer then sees that everything is moving in that wood and he sees a terrifying creature on top of a stump which looks like a tree-toad but is as big as a fully grown cat. A short time later they exit that particular road and everything turns back to normal, including Ophelia and her spate of madness. There is no doubt about it now though, he believes her, as the odometer registers 111.6 miles.
Homer only sees Ophelia a few times after that, but each time he notices how beautiful she has become. She tells him about the latest route she has found that got her into Bangor in just 67 miles which Homer thinks is impossible as the mileage on the map (as the crow flies) makes it 79 at the most. Then the last time he sees her, her car is parked awkwardly in the drive with an ugly and horrifying beast that he cannot identify attached to the grille which she has obviously hit on her latest mad-cap ride. He is immediately worried for her but she describes herself as becoming a different woman (whom she likes) who just likes to drive and she will not change that for anyone. Then a few days later she disappears.
So, confession time. I really didn’t love this story. There were some good points, don’t get me wrong and I would have loved it if King had explored the darker elements of this story – the beasts in the woods etc. I had to read it twice to figure out just what I was going to say or how I was going to explain the story and on the second read I did enjoy it a little more but just found all the talk of mileage and routes slightly dull which means it’s definitely not one of my favourites in this collection. On a positive note, I found the ending unexpected and quite surprising as we finally find out what Homer has been waiting for…
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: Everything I Knew About My Family On My Mother’s Side by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank