The Detour


Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.

I was deep in my Instagram feed when my dad’s grumbling pulled my focus from my phone. The car was stopped at a 3 way intersection, one that we went through every year around this time, on our way to the Stuart’s house for Christmas dinner. To our right, our usual route, straight to the freeway. To our left a slightly more circuitous, meandering one that passed through a handful of Podunk towns. But now we sat staring dumbly at an oversized orange sign blocking the road to the right that read simply: Detour. The road behind it was now a pile of rubble dusted in snow, urban improvement apparently abandoned for the holiday.

Without much of a choice we veered off our usual path, keeping left at the fork instead of right.

“How much longer do you think this will take us?” My mom wrung her hands; dutifully punctual under all circumstances.

I turned to look out the back window, watching the snow eddy in our wake as the intersection receded from view.

My head snapped back as we hit a pothole which also apparently jarred the radio to life as Jingle Bells started blaring over the speakers. I rubbed my neck absently. I wasn’t thrilled about this detour extending my time enduring my dad’s driving but I had to admit…it was pretty. The whole forest seemed to shimmer as the snow icing the trees glittered in the sunset. It was so inviting I almost wanted to walk right into the forest and plop down in the powder—if I could forget that it was a frigid 10 degrees out.

A sign raced past outside the window:

Elville 3 miles

Noel Canyon 11 miles

Carrollton 56 miles

The Stuarts lived between Noel Canyon and Carrollton but on the freeway it usually took us no more than an hour to get there. Who knew how long it would take us now.

The trees were interrupted for an instant by a road branching to our right. Martindale Lane, the sign said.

“Were we supposed to take that turn?” Mom asked anxiously.

“No, I think we go straight until we hit the sign for 220 North.”

“If we can even see it through the snow.” I grumbled.

“Your negativity is not appreciated. We’re going to get there and we’re going to get there on time. And how cute is this little detour? We should start going this way every year. I mean just look at that precious little cottage.” Mom gestured out the front window to the left.

The cottage in question sat back from the road a few dozen yards. It would’ve been hidden by the forest if it weren’t for the rays of lights reaching out through the trees like beckoning fingers. Strands upon strands of lights zig zagged the roof, dangling from the gutters like icicles and draping along the front porch. The house glowed from within too, emanating a warm golden light.

A burst of static followed by the saccharine notes of Jingle Bells shocked me from my reverie.

“I don’t know what’s up with the radio today.” My dad pushed the dial to turn it off but it didn’t obey. “I guess it’s in the Christmas spirit.” I rolled my eyes.

The soft pink of sunset was beginning to turn the lavender gray of dusk as the snow continued to swirl, falling in clumps now.


A minute later we sped past something illuminated for a flash in the headlights. It was partially obscured by snow, but I could just make out:

Elville 3 miles

Noel Canyon 11 miles

Carrollton 56 miles

How much closer were we now? I tried to remember the distances from the earlier sign but…nothing. I opened my mouth to ask my parents whether they remembered but they’d both started humming along contentedly to that obnoxious Christmas song and didn’t look like they’d be much help.

Then something else flashed in the headlights. The road sign read Martindale Lane.

“Uh, dad? We just passed that road again, Martindale Lane? I think we might have taken a wrong turn.”

“Sweetie we haven’t taken any turns. I’m sure there are lots of back roads in this neck of the woods.” He winked at me in the rear-view mirror but it was more annoying than reassuring.

Then, glowing in the distance I spotted something that confirmed my suspicions. Yeah. We’d definitely taken a wrong turn. But there was only the sound of the snow tires on the road and Jingle Bells. Minutes went by and I couldn’t contain the “I told you so” building inside me.

“So…are you ready to admit that I was right and we did just pass Martindale Lane for the second time?”

“What are you talking about?” He turned the volume down to hear my response.

“First that road, then like 5 minutes later that cottage with all the lights? That’s exactly the same as earlier.”

“Honey it’s the holidays, lots of people have Christmas lights up.” I waited for my mom to back me up but she just continued staring out the window. Night had fully fallen now, and there was no indication that the snow would let up any time soon. I really hoped we weren’t lost.

We hit another pothole and the radio was roused back to its wish to annoy us to death with Jingle Bells over and over and over. Or rather just annoy me to death. My parents were in the front seat, bobbing their heads to the music like they were at a Phish concert.

Out of nowhere, there was a dark silhouette in the middle of the road, thrown into sharp relief against the blindingly white snow. My dad wrenched the steering wheel to the side, narrowly avoiding a collision, as my mom and I screamed in unison. He slammed on the breaks, my seatbelt locking as we spun to a screeching halt.

It was silent save for our gasping breaths and that fucking Christmas song.

I craned my neck towards the rear window, or at least as much as I could with my seatbelt still holding me in a vice grip. I strained my eyes for any sign of what had just almost run us off the road but…just swirling snow, bathed fluorescent red in the taillights.

“Everybody okay?” Dad panted.

I nodded mutely, still too shocked to form words. “Must have been a deer or something…” He trailed off. I didn’t know what it was but that hadn’t been a deer and he knew it.

He started the car up again, driving much slower than before, and we settled into a dazed silence. Or near silence, thanks to the demonic radio. I looked out the window, stunned, registering only vague details. Another mileage sign, another side road. Another lit up house.


About 10 minutes later the quiet was broken by my gasp.

Elville 3 miles

Noel Canyon 11 miles

Carrollton 56 miles


“I think that was the same sign as before. We’re still 11 miles from Noel Canyon.”

My mom twisted in her seat, squinting her eyes out the back window.

“Are you sure it was the same one sweetie?”

Was it the same one? Was I sure?

But then…a few yards ahead of us.

Martindale Lane.

“Yes. I’m sure.”

She turned to my dad.

“Maybe we are getting turned around. Should we try taking this right up ahead? See if that gets us to 220?”

“Alright as long as you ladies promise you won’t blame me if we get lost.” He gave me a pointed, only half-kidding look in the review mirror and then hooked a right. This road wasn’t much different from the last, but the mood in the car had shifted palpably. My dad managed to dodge a pothole for once. The radio stuttered then stopped. The monotony of the landscape was broken by some veering tire tracks in the snow, finally a sign of civilization.

Then I saw something up ahead that made my gut twist.

Elville 3 miles

Noel Canyon 11 miles

Carrollton 56 miles

We were all paying attention now. Could we, by some geographical miracle, be the same distance from Elville, Noel Canyon, and Carrollton, as we were when we passed a sign that read the exact same distances 15 minutes ago? Even as I tried to rationalize, the sweat was beading on my upper lip. I focused every bit of my mental energy on willing us to not be lost in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve.

And then, just ahead on the right…Martindale Lane. We’d taken a 90 degree turn, driven straight, and ended up back at the same turn off.

As if echoing our fears the car jolted and started to shudder.

“That doesn’t sound good.” Dad tried to keep his tone light but I could hear the tension.

“How are we on gas?”

“About a half tank.”

“I don’t have any cell service.”

I looked at my phone. “Me neither.”

“We can’t pull over, it’s too cold to turn off the heat.”

Then we spotted a familiar glow in the trees up ahead.

“All good, no need to panic, we’ll just pull over and ask these lovely, very spirited folks if we can use their landline to call the Stuarts to come pick us up.” Dad said, clearly satisfied with his plan.

“We can’t ask them to drive in this!” Mom protested, “And they’ve probably put the boys to bed by now too.”

The thought of being under the covers in the Stuart’s cozy guest bedroom was almost too tantalizing to imagine.

The car’s clanking and grinding got louder as we approached the cabin.

“Fine. We’ll call Triple A then and get towed. Either way, we’re gonna be out of this mess before you know it.” His words were reassuring but as the wind picked up outside, they didn’t bring me much comfort. My dad steered us to the shoulder, the car rolling to a jerking stop.

“Alright bundle up everyone, this is gonna be a mad dash to some warmth.”

We donned our layers, all of them, and braced ourselves to open the doors.


We scrambled out of the car, the wind biting with razor sharp teeth the instant it touched exposed skin. The wind tore at my hair with a vengeance that felt personal, turning the strands into icy whips that thrashed at my face, my eyes. I’d lived through plenty of snowy winters, but this cold was…different. This cold was a third-degree burn, a biting chill that encountered no barrier between its dagger-like fingers and my very bones.

As we reached the tree line the snow deepened, and I paused and looked towards my parents for reassurance. My dad was full steam ahead, racing towards the house, head ducked into the wind. My mom met my eyes quickly and grabbed my hand. She yelled something to me but I couldn’t hear her over the screaming wind. I just gripped her hand tighter, plunged a foot into the snow, and focused on getting to that cottage, our cheerily glowing north star, just a few yards away. The drift was nearly to my knee and it felt like trying to wade through tar. The snow held tighter and tighter with each step but I pushed forward, my thighs burning with effort.

I was fighting tooth and nail to get to that house but it didn’t seem to be getting closer and, by the looks of it, my dad hadn’t made much more progress. I looked back towards the car but found that I could barely make it out through the trees. Maybe we were getting further than I thought.


He didn’t turn around. When I looked back again the car had disappeared. I felt my mom’s hand drop mine.

“Mom, come on! We have to keep going!”

I looked over my shoulder and my heart stuttered. Her lips were a deep blue, her eyes glassy, half hidden under her thick lashes which were now coated with frost. Worse than my violent shivering, she was utterly still. Icy terror chilled me from the inside out.

I looked towards my dad again but as I sucked in a burning breath to call his name yet again my gasp caught in my throat. He wasn’t moving either, suspended mid-stride, his gaze still on that cabin that seemed to recede further into the woods with each heartbeat. I felt a sob building in my chest but as it bubbled to my lips I found that I didn’t have the energy or will to cry. I was just so…cold.

“The bodies of a family of three from Rockridge were found Christmas day off of Siren Road after a passerby noticed their abandoned car and called the authorities. They were found deep in the woods, having died from apparent exposure.

“Investigators are left wondering why this family would have pulled over in the middle of nowhere, left the safety of their car, and hiked into the woods during a snowstorm, when they were just minutes outside of Elville. It’s a tragic mystery that will likely puzzle locals for many Christmases to come.”