A Most Peculiar Thing

1

~In Between~

Dahlia hitched her bag further onto her shoulder, beaming as she walked- not even the ridiculously heavy textbooks she was carrying could stop her from smiling.

She'd gotten three university offers.

God only knew how hard she'd slaved to get them. She'd been working her arse off for the past two years, and to finally have the rewards for her efforts be tangible, real, offers, was beyond gratifying. She couldn't wait to get home and tell her parents.

Her wide smile had faded to something more obscure, as smiles often do, a gentle upturn of her closed lips, eyes sparkling quietly with joy. She watched the leaves crunch beneath her feet as she walked, tracing the same path home she'd walked countless times. The trees, oak and birch, rose high and bowing on her right from the woods, sheltering her from the wind. To her right, beyond the wooden fence on this little path, wide fields with the same horses. She watched them for a moment as they swished their tails languidly and ate at the grass, blanketed against the cold. She snuggled into her thick jacket and pulled her hat further down her ears. Dark curls peeked out from beneath it, stroking her chin in the wind. She didn't mind.

This was a new beginning.

She knew that. But she didn't realise just how new it would be.

It took her a while to realise she had been walking far longer than she should have been. She stopped, turning around in confusion. If she didn't know better, she'd say she was in exactly the same spot as she had been ten minutes ago. But that couldn't be possible. She only lived five minutes from the bus stop.

She pulled her phone from her pocket to check the time. To her astonishment, it was dead. It had been on 73% charge on the bus, she was sure of it. Frowning slightly, she put it away and bit her lip, before shaking her head and walking on again. She was probably just imagining it, or had been too busy daydreaming. But there was an uneasy feeling stirring in her tummy.

The wind picked up and she pulled her scarf higher over her face, wishing she'd worn thicker tights. Dahlia kept her gaze on the familiar sign at the end of the path, maybe two hundred metres away, that read the name of her village. She was almost there.

Two minutes later, as the wind howled around her and thunder rumbled dangerously, she froze completely, as cold on the inside as she was on the outside. That sign was just as far away as it had been, and she couldn't deny it. Something was happening.

Wheeling around, she stared hard down the path she had just walked. There was a sign, a wooden one that she'd never seen in her life. She hovered for a moment, in the middle of the path, at one end her home, at the other, something new.

Carefully, cautiously, and more than a little reluctantly, Dahlia turned around with one last wistful look at the sign that pointed home, and began walking slowly back down the path. At the very least, she could get a look at this new sign and make some sense of what was going on.

As she walked (and thankfully, the sign was growing bigger so she was actually getting closer), she began to think about theories she'd read about on the internet. Time-loops or something of such sort, places where time hovered still or looped. She'd never put much stock in things like that, but what if that was what this was? But then, why hadn't this happened the countless other times she'd walked this path home?

She was starting to get a headache, so she tried her best to stop thinking about it, and whispered a quick prayer. She sped up, wanting this to end as soon as possible, squinting prematurely at the sign, although it was still too far to read.

But eventually she was close enough, and she came to a stop before it, just as it began to rain.

There was a little wooden fence on the wooded side of the path, and she saw that the path led through the woods rather than along it. In fact, the pathway back to the bus stop seemed to have disappeared altogether.

And, even more baffling, the sign read, very cheerfully:

Hobbiton- 5 ½ miles

Dahlia stared at it dumbly for a second, before dropping her bag to the wet ground unceremoniously, squatting on her heels, and bursting into tears.

Her sobs eventually died into sniffles, and she sighed shakily, feeling a little better. Wiping her nose and mopping up her tears with a tissue and glad she wasn't wearing mascara today, she took a deep breath, picked up her bag and stood u

Without letting herself think, without looking back, she briskly swung open the gate and entered the wood, stomping down the path to Hobbiton with decisive steps.

Inside the woods, the weather seemed to have cleared greatly, and soon enough, she had removed her hat and scarf and unzipped her coat.

It was cheerful, and the path was clear, the trees golden, so she let herself relax a tiny bit.

She was tired though, and desperately needed the toilet. Hungry too, and all she had left in her bag was half a Kit-Kat.

After ten minutes, she sacrificed her pride and squatted behind a bush, glad there was nobody there to see her. Another five minutes passed and she scarfed down the Kit-Kat, feeling marginally better, for all her shoulder still hurt beneath her bag.

Eventually she sat down for a rest, estimating that she'd walked about three miles.

Dahlia leaned back against the tree and stared up at the blue sky, a part of her noting that it should have been dark by now.

Her stomach churned with unease, with that strange awareness, that eerie sensation when you know someone is watching you. Shivering, although it was not cold anymore, she shook her head, trying to dispel the paranoia. She'd just walk until she found a house and ask to use their phone. She'd call her mother and stay right there and not move an inch until she came to pick Dahlia up.

The birds chirped in the trees with a cheer that only made her worry all the more clear. She frowned at the ground, nibbling at her lip, before climbing to her feet and picking up her bag.

At last, the sky began to darken. Dahlia wasn't sure if she was glad of this or not, but at least she wasn't in some sort of limbo anymore. But she began to resent the night after a little while. The trees seemed far less kind and far more menacing in the shadows.

She ended up putting her scarf back on, and after the wind picked up, her hat too. But she didn't have long to despair at the cold or dark, because at the end of the path, she could see a gate, and hanging from that gate, a lantern.

A shaky sigh of relief left her lips and she closed her eyes for a moment as hope brought warmth back to her fingers and toes. Picking up the pace, she began to walk quickly, running a little, until at last she reached the gate.

It was simple and low, and she stroked the wood gladly. The lantern looked quite old, but then, this was probably a farm and that family that owned it had likely lived there for many generations. Antiques like this weren't the oddest thing around.

Perhaps Hobbiton was the name of the farm, she mused, nodding to herself. God she had been so paranoid. Explaining this to her parents would be mortifying. A time loop? Most likely school had caught up with her and she was going doolally.

The path beyond the gate wound round a hill, so she couldn't what was beyond, but she knew it would be something absolutely ordinary; perhaps a pasture with some horses, driveway that led to a farmhouse, or even an orchard. Nothing more and nothing less than unconditionally, undeniably, unequivocally, completely and utterly normal.

As she walked down that path and around the hill, she had no idea what was in store for her. Had no idea that what was about to happen to her would be a most peculiar thing.