The Short Cut

Essay by d_dreamer September 2009

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Henry hurried along the dark street, avoiding the circles of light thrown by the streetlamps onto the pavement. Why had they informed him only now? The leak of information was a big threat to him. If they knew about his undercover status, he would be in serious jeopardy. Who was the fool who spilled the beans?Luckily for them, the computer hackers had only got a minute percentage of information. What they were sure of, however, was that Henry's file had been tampered with. Information as such passed quickly and the force informed Henry immediately. They had to hide him somewhere overseas for the time being. Having only half an hour to get home to gather his family, Henry was in a mad rush to get things done.

As he sprinted along, he realised that it would take another fifteen minutes for him to reach his destination. Years of experience taught him that every second lost may result in disaster.

He had a feeling that something was wrong. What it was, he could not tell. His anxiety about his family surged. How great it would be to teleport there immediately! He wanted the assurance of the safety of his family.

Rushing along the lonely, desolate road, Henry's mind whizzed with all the possible shortcuts he could take. Buildings and alleyways whisked by him, the images forming quickly in his mind before being replaced with the latest one. One picture refused to go away. The alleyway. Realisation hit him. He knew what to do.

Screeching hurriedly to a halt, Henry turned and scrambled towards a tunnel of pitch darkness. This was a shortcut to his home, leading through the territory of a notorious gang of local thieves, a terror striking group that Henry had the misfortune to offend. They let him off with a warning, never to set foot in their territory again.

It was a tough decision. Risking himself by using the short cut so that he could get home faster, or go the long way, losing more time as a result. His desire to see them safe and sound made his decision easier. He made his choice.

Henry slipped sideways through the gap between the buildings, soon finding himself at the backstreet. There was hardly a person around-but there were always watchmen in here. After a glance around to get his sense of direction, Henry set off, taking extra care not to make any noise so as to reduce his chances of detection. The place was stiflingly silent. Every plop of his shoes against the ground sounded clearly through the night. Other than the sound of his footsteps, there was no other disturbance in the night air.

None until now. Henry heard a soft shuffle somewhere behind him. With a jolt, Henry had the sudden realization that he was not alone. He had a burning desire to whisk around and confront whoever was behind him, he did not do so. Henry was not superstitious, but he felt that one should never turn his head to look over one's shoulder in such a situation. Instead, he quickened his pace and turned into a corner street. Once inside the second perpendicular road, he doubled back and flattened himself against the whitewashed wall of the adjacent building. No doubt, the little thugs must have detected his presence. Reaching into his pocket for his handphone, he hurriedly selected the camera function with night mode. The shuffle along the road had ceased. Holding his handphone flat against the wall, he pushed it outward till the edge peeked over the corner, into the perpendicular road. The screen brought a clear picture of two men, standing side by side. Their silhouettes looked exactly alike.

Of all times, why now? He had better things to do than confront these thugs. However, these territory-protective people were unlikely to have the same thought. Henry had to run if he wanted to save time and avoid a confrontation.

Withdrawing from the wall, Henry darted down the road, putting as much distance as he could between himself and the junction. He heard the echoes of his footsteps reverberating through the night, blocking out any sounds the possible pursuers may create. Feet pushing down hard against the ground, flying down the various streets, Henry expertly picked his way through the maze of buildings. Finally, he burst out into the open. Screeching to a halt, he strained his ears for the subtle patter of feet from his pursuers. There were none. He had shaken them off, and was safe.

The warm glow of a streetlamp illuminated the pathway to a brightly lit house. His house. He was home. The silhouette of three children flitted across the windows, playing catch. All were safe.

In the back alley, a rag-and-bone man moved past the dumps. There, standing ramrod straight and tall were two similar mannequins, discarded only about a minute ago. The shopkeeper upstairs had bought new display models. Grinning, the rag-and-bone man loaded both mannequins into his cart. It was great to be an early bird. He got to take the best picks.