“The Hour After Westerly” by Robert M. Coates is the only story I have ever read that could match the description of someone
“driving down a road, surrounded by farmland, maybe some trees and things. They go off track, not sure if its in the car or walking, but they come across a house.”
Davis Harwell is a salesman driving home from a business trip. He starts out in Providence as he has done many times, to his home near New Haven.
. . .. he knew the route and distance, and he was merely checking over the obvious and familiar – settling into it really – as a way of relaxing after the tensions and sudden, unpredictable demands of the business day.
He loses track of time, loses memory of part of the trip, is much farther from home, later than expected, and can recall all the details of his repetitive trip, except for a certain portion of it.
Somehow, somewhere, he had lost an hour; but that wasn’t all; he had lost memory as well, and there was a whole section of the trip. . . . that had simply dropped out of his mind completely.
His only memory from the lost time is inexplicable: a group of white houses (“after all, almost all New England houses are white”), a clock, and a steeple.
“Later on they decide to go back to the house, but they can't find it.”
When he takes the trip again, as he does about every six weeks, he checks off the landmarks he remembers, and notices the portion of it where he has no memory of the previous trip.
He looks for the "remembered" houses and steeple clock again on other trips, and does not find them until, several trips later, he decides to take a different loop of the road home.
As soon as he drives on the “unfamiliar” route, he feels a sense of exploration and freedom. It still looks new to him, but feels familiar. He passes a summer cottage with a woman gardening out front who almost seems to wave at him, as he struggles with whether to stop, and what he would say to a stranger to explain his stopping.
He has the same unexplained deja vu at a bar, where the bartender shouts, “Well, hel-lo!” in a welcoming tone that surprises Davis Harwell.
The bartender explains, “For a minute there, I thought you was someone I knew.”
Davis Harwell is puzzled, feels a strange combination of familiarity and strangeness. Taken aback, he asks directions home from this “new” (to Davis -- unless. . . ?) loop in the road.
Then the man did a strange thing too. He put his arms down, folded, on the bar, and stared silently at Davis for a moment. “You aren’t kidding?” he demanded, almost menacingly, and then, perhaps because he had seen Davis’ look – surprised, puzzled, half fearful – he seemed to change his mind. “O.K., we’ll play it your way,” he said. And slowly, carefully, he gave Davis his road directions.
Davis Harwell goes back one more time, in the late fall, when most of the summer people are gone, and has the same puzzled feelings of familiarity and strangeness.
“I read this between 1997-2007. It was in a book of short stories, scifi, paranormal and/or horror stories.”
I read it in "Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow" by Ray Bradbury.
It is well anthologized, including in "Haunted New England: Classic Tales of the Strange and Supernatural".
It is a gentle, quiet story that never explains what happened. The author’s style has many more details of the trip, Davis Harwell’s interactions with his wife, and with other people as he tries to understand what happened to his lost time, and his lost memory.
He never finds an answer for the strange deja vu he has, nor how the other people seemed to know him. It is almost as if he had another alternate life, but neither he, nor the puzzled people he meets who seem to recognize him, ever know for certain.