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Where the Dark Roads Lead

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If you ever find yourself in Staffordshire, England and ever think of taking a shortcut off the motorway, down a particularly dark road, I beg you, drive on and don’t look back. My name is Daniel and I have to tell my story. I have to warn people of what happened, in hopes they never experience what I did. A memory that haunts my nightmares to this very day.

This occurred about a month ago. I’d been driving on the motorway for a few hours after arriving at Manchester airport. I’d been spending the past few weeks on a business trip in America and I was eagerly driving home to my girlfriend. My American friend Ralph was also travelling to the UK in a few days time, me and him had been friends for years and my girlfriend and his wife also got on quite well. It was 10pm and the motorway was unbelievably busy, considering it was this late at night. As I sat in barely moving traffic, I began to grow increasingly frustrated at the lack of movement and at that moment, I decided to take a risk. I would turn off the motorway when possible and take a different route home. I had no idea where I was going, but I estimated I would be sitting in traffic for at least another few hours if I stayed where I was, so the risk was worth taking.

After 10 minutes of driving off the motorway, I found myself completely lost and driving down a particularly dark street in the middle of the countryside. However this road seemed darker than usual, there were no street lamps, no lights on the road itself and there were no houses around the area at all. This began to make me nervous, I could not see ahead whatsoever and could only vaguely make out the curve of the road by my headlights. I continued driving for a while, by this point I was panicking. I was lost, in the pitch black late at night and had no idea where I was heading and could not turn back by this point. I contemplated pulling over to the side of the road and sleeping in my car until the morning came, when I could set off again in daylight.

That’s when… I vaguely saw something in the distance, a speck of light. I followed the light, hoping it was a house where I could at least get some directions. However, as I got closer, I began to see more details of the house, a house that was actually a small inn. I drove my car onto the small, bumpy car park and stepped out of my car examining the inn and the local area. The lights above the front door were the only light for what must be miles, like a small puddle in the middle of the desert. I stepped closer to the front door and gazed up to see the name of the place I was asking directions at. The sign was large, rusted and filthy, but was clean enough for me to read the name – ‘The Grazing Rabbit’.

As I entered, I noticed I was standing in the middle of a small reception area. The state of the room indicated the inn was over 100 years old, most of the structure was made of wood, the carpet was red with various swirly patterns and gave off an aroma of dust and damp. I noticed a receptionist at the desk, she seemed surprisingly old to still be working, by which I mean she look at least 80 – 85. She wore a moth eaten, black blouse and a slightly scratched name badge. I couldn’t quite make out what it read, but that didn’t really bother me.

Despite the aged look of the inn, I began to warm to it. I remembered my grandparents owning a house very similar to this and being inside had bought back happy memories from my childhood.

“May I help?” asked the receptionist.

“Yes, how much is it for one room for the night?”

I had decided I would stay for the night and set off in the morning, it made no sense to continue out into the darkness, even with directions from the inn.

“Six pounds and 24 pence,” the receptionist responded, the tone of her voice not changing at all. I was surprised it was so cheap. I reached into my pocket and drew 3 two-pound coins and a collection of small change. I sorted the exact amount out and placed it on the scratched wooden counter in front of me. The receptionist quickly produced a metal key and placed it on the counter as she swept up my change.

“You’re room 2. First door on the right upstairs. Have a pleasant night sir.” The receptionist gave a wide smile. I smiled back and thanked her before walking out into the car park to collect my bags.

After collecting my suitcase, I headed back into the reception to make my way up to my room. The receptionist had gone, I assumed it was most likely for a coffee or some other drink. But I didn’t think much of it; I was more concerned with hauling my heavy suitcase up the particularly creaky set of wooden stairs. After climbing the stairs, I quickly located my room and slid my key into the door’s lock and entered. The room was fairly basic; a wooden bed, with traditional patterned duvet and pillow covers, a wardrobe, desk, chest of draws and a window on the right hand side of the room, with the curtains already drawn. I checked my watch and noticed how late it was. I decided to get some sleep considering the presumably long drive I had the next day. I quickly removed my clothes, except for my socks and underwear, flicked off the light and lay onto the bed. It wasn’t long before I was fast asleep.

My eyes opened to a pitch-black room, feeling nauseous and dizzy. I wasn’t sure why, in my confused state I thought I was having some sort of allergic reaction to the dust in my room. I checked my watch next to my bed and noticed it was only 1:20am, still very early and knew I had not had enough sleep to prepare me for my drive tomorrow. Stepping up out of bed into the darkness, I headed over to the window I get some fresh air. I parted the curtains and placed my hand on the window’s metal handle, ready to push it open. I noticed how dark it was outside, there were no roads or houses to be seen and merely a few trees surrounded the inn. It was then I noticed a figure standing amongst the trees, holding what I assumed was a small lantern. The figure was still quite a distance away from the inn, so far that I could only make it out to be a man, in tattered clothes, holding the lantern up to eye level. I could only assume he was staring at me, but I wasn’t sure. For a moment, I considered calling out to see if he needed help, I obviously had some sympathy for anyone lost in the darkness of this area. But… I decided not to, I was tired and I couldn’t hide the fact that man was somewhat freaking me out.

I abandoned the idea of opening the window and layback down on my bed. As time went on my nausea went away, but my thoughts about the stranger outside didn’t.

The next morning I began packing, preparing to set off home. The vision of the man outside was still fresh in my mind. As I prepared to leave, I quickly gazed outside my bedroom window, it was only then I truly appreciated how isolated the inn was. It was 11am in the morning, yet I could still see no houses or main roads around the area at all.

As I made my way through the reception, with my suitcase gripped firmly in my hand, I placed the room key down on the wooden counter and thanked the receptionist. I was still trying to rationalise the reason for why somebody would be sneaking around this area past midnight. Maybe the person or maybe my tired and sick state had made me imagine things

However, after stepping foot onto the car park I noticed something that overshadowed all of the previous nights events completely. My car had been vandalised and I don’t just mean scratched or dented; I mean heavy bashed with a blunt object of some sort. The windows were smashed, the body was crumpled and the interior almost completely torn to pieces. As I inspected the car, I discovered only more damage. This eventually led me to conclude that I would not be able to drive the car back home that day.

I was shaken, but spent the rest of the afternoon speaking to my girlfriend, using the phone in the reception. I had attempted to use my mobile, but as I expected I found no signal. I confess… the car I was driving wasn’t mine. It was my girlfriend’s present from her dad for when she passed her driving test; although she never has. I wasn’t insured on her vehicle, so I was looking for another way out.

My girlfriend put me through to her uncle, who sells used cars. He told me that it was a busy time for him, but he could bring a car around in about 2-3 days. This frustrated me, but at least the wait was reasonable. I remember my girlfriend being baffled as to who would so severely damage my car and what motivated them. We both discussed various theories as to what happened, but none of them could explain the reason behind such a vicious act of vandalism. She also told me Ralph had called to say that he was looking forward to seeing us both. After about 30 minutes talking, I told her I loved her and ended the call.

The rest of the day consisted of reading the various books I bought at airport, which I intended to read on the aeroplane. However with no Internet or phone reception, I found it pretty much impossible to do anything. The shock of the events occurring over of the past two days had also severely reduced my appetite, to the point where I was merely snacking on a few cough sweets or packets of crisps I found in my suitcase. Before I knew it, it was dark outside and I decided to head downstairs to tell the receptionist about the situation with my car and pay for two more nights. As I made my way back to my room, I began to question why I had not been given room number 1. I had not seen anyone around the inn all day or the night before and there was no others cars outside. I could have sworn I was the only person there. With it not being too late, I decided to knock on the door, in hopes of meeting the occupier of room number 1, perhaps I could strike up a conversation. Yet no one answered the door. I attempted to open it, but it was securely locked. Strange.

I went to bed early that night, it was 9pm and I was enduring a splitting headache, most likely down to a combination of dehydration and stress. My routine was the same as the night before; I got undressed, flicked off the light and got into bed, falling asleep almost instantaneously.

I awoke once again to my pitch-black room, somewhat frustrated, my headache hadn’t gone away and I was feeling particularly thirsty. Reaching for the half empty water bottle next to my bed I noticed the time was 1am. After taking a few swigs from my water bottle I suddenly remembered the events of the previous night, the man outside my window. Finishing the last few drops from my water bottle, I began to feel curious as to whether I would see anything else that night, whether the man was back. I know it seemed stupid, but I felt the need to look outside my window once again. Stepping out of my bed, I headed over to the window, parting the curtains slightly. What I saw made my legs go numb and caused me to fall back onto the hard wooden floor in shock. The man was back, but stood merely… 10-12ft from the inn. For the first time, I felt truly terrified, but felt thankful I was on the second floor.

I contemplated what to do next, should I look again or go back to sleep hoping the man didn’t have intentions of harming me? Once again, curiosity overpowered me, getting to my feet I once again parted the curtains ever so slightly. The man was still there, although this night I could make out more of his features. Just discussing it now makes my skin crawl. He was a Caucasian male of average height and build, wearing a white vest and dark tattered work trousers. His clothes and skin were covered in what looked like black soot and he was still holding up that lantern. I couldn’t quite make out his facial features, however something looked… not right, almost as if he was… in some way deformed. One thing was clear though; he was staring directly at my bedroom window.

Backing away from the window, I went over to my door, double-checking it was locked. I also pushed the armchair from the corner of my room next to the window, which provided me with a sort of fool’s hope of keeping the man out. I slipped back into bed once more, deciding to sleep; the man was probably a late night gardener or something like that. I choose not the dwell on it; I would only freak myself out. Closing my eyes, I began to uncontrollable fall asleep from exhaustion, however the last thing I remember as my eyes forced themselves shut was the sound coming from my bedroom window; ‘tap’ ‘tap ‘tap’.

The following morning I immediately went downstairs to talk to the receptionist about the previous night’s events. I was angered, but nonetheless curious as to whom the stranger that seemed to enjoy lingering outside my bedroom was. As I walked down the stairs, I was glad to see the receptionist standing at the desk. She seemed to appear one moment and be gone the other, another one of her behaviours I found incredibly strange.

“Excuse me,” I began politely. “Is there anything I need to know about this hotel, which hasn’t been revealed to me?”

The receptionist gazed at me with a confused look. She didn’t respond.

“Are there any workers apart from you here?” I questioned, becoming somewhat frustrated.

“I assuming, you have seen something. Am I right?” the receptionist responded.

“Yes you are! The two nights I’ve been here, there has been a strange man wondering around the grounds at ridiculous hours of the morning staring through my bedroom window.”

The receptionist began to look concerned.

“W…what did this man look like?” She asked nervously.

“Tattered clothes, held a lantern, I couldn’t really make out much. But will you just tell whichever staff member it is, to avoid creeping around the grounds at night or at least not to disturb the guest in doing so, thank you!”

I began to turn away, to head back to my room, still frustrated, when the receptionist responded in the most chilling way possible.

“Sir… there are no other staff members at this hotel.”

I froze, and then slowly turned to reface the receptionist.

“The origins of the inn are... somewhat dark. Right next to this hotel was a mine, one of the most active in Staffordshire, hundreds of workers were employed in this mine, that was until… it collapsed about 80 years ago killing all the workers. The reasons for its collapse are unexplained. The Grazing Rabbit was originally a small building used to hold the bodies of the recovered miners while the recovery process happened, many however were left unfound. After the bodies were identified and moved, the building was converted into an inn. Which it remains to this day.”

As the receptionist told me this story, I began to cringe in terror. The man… outside my window fitted the description of a miner. The lantern, the clothes… everything. At this moment, I wanted nothing more than to be alone and contemplate what I had just heard. I nervously thanked the receptionist and returned to my room.

That whole afternoon, I felt very uncomfortable. I was seriously considering packing my things and heading off on foot, hoping I would reach a town before nightfall. Just being in the hotel after hearing that story had made me terrified of staying another night. However, I had to stay, the horrific possibility getting lost and being stranded around this area in the dark was too much to even think about. I spend the afternoon doing pretty much exactly what I did yesterday, except I remembered to drink a lot of water to avoid the agonising headache I had last night. I was trying to take my mind of the receptionist’s story, however as the night began to arrive, I could only feel my heart beating faster and faster and my breathing get heavier. The only thing that could make me feel any better was speaking to the occupier of room number 1, to know I wasn’t in this alone. But yet again, I saw no sign of them all day.

Before I knew it, the darkness of night had consumed the sky and once again I was surrounded by completed blackness, with the only light being from the hotel. The clock once again ran quicker than I expected, it was almost as if it knew I dreaded the night, soon it was 10pm and I reluctantly decided to go to sleep, as I took off my clothes and switched off my light I began to notice I was uncontrollably shaking. I’d never been so nervous before. I doubled checked the door and window were locked and got into bed.

I remember lying in bed for some time nervously wondering how I was going to sleep. However after some time had passed, I eventually did.

My memory is so fuzzy from that night, although I remember waking up once again at 1:00am, to the sound that I feared the most. ‘Tap. Tap. Tap.’

The sound came from my bedroom window. Fear had overwhelmed me, so much that I was struggling to think straight; but I needed to see what was outside. I expected this thing was throwing rocks at my bedroom window or something. Deciding to be brave, I got to my feet and slowly crept towards my window in the darkness, trying to avoid tripping over anything on the floor. As I reached the window, I reluctantly pushed open the curtains. I wish I never did.

I fell to the floor in horror covering my eyes, but I could not erase what I had just seen. The miner’s face was pressed against my window, I could see everything disturbing clearly this time… that face... his head was caved in and bloody, most of the face was either decomposed or covered in black soot. As I opened my eyes I saw the miner’s bony rotting hand appear, holding a rusty pickaxe. He began tapping the metal pick against the window. ‘Tap, Tap, Tap’.

I jumped to my feet and pulled the curtains closed grabbing everything in sight and pushing it up against the window. I began screaming for help, hoping the receptionist would hear and come to my aid.

After a few minutes of silence had passed, I sat back down on my bed. I gazed at my barricaded window, wondering if I was safe from that thing. That’s when I heard footsteps outside my door, coming closer and closer. For a second I hoped it was the receptionist, but something about the footsteps suggested it wasn’t.

“H...Hello?” I shouted nervously. No voice replied, only that horrific sound. ‘Tap, Tap, Tap’, only this time it was coming from my door.

I lay back down in bed and covered my eyes with the duvet. I was lying dead still, when I heard the doorknob begin to twist. I cannot describe how glad I was that I locked the door. The twisting became more violent, accompanies by loud banging against the door. Quickly grabbing the lamp from my bedside table I prepared myself for combat.

However, the noise suddenly stopped. I refused to drop my guard, I sat in my bed, ready for my inevitable encounter with whatever that thing was. But after 2 hours and no knocking, I began to feel my eyes closing. I tried desperately to stay awake, thinking that thing was most likely waiting for me to become vulnerable, then break down that door and hack me to pieces. 3 hours passed and there was still nothing. By the time 4 hours passed, I was asleep.

I woke up in shock to the sound of my phone ringing; I quickly grabbed it from my bedside table. The number was not in my phonebook, however I was more surprised to see that I had one bar of phone signal, for the first time since I arrived at the hotel. I cautiously answered it; it was my girlfriend’s uncle. He told me he was in the car park and a car for me. I quickly headed downstairs, ignoring the receptionist who sat at the front desk, and made my way onto the car park. My girlfriend’s uncle was unloading the car from the back of his truck, he stopped momentarily to greet me. When he finished unloading, I thanked him. He went through a few details that aren’t really worth mentioning.

“It took me ages to find you, you know,” he said. “I would have bet I knew this area like the back of my hand, but I didn’t even know this road existed”.

I gave a slight smirk but didn’t verbally respond, I was still distressed over the last night’s events and didn’t really feel like talking. I just wanted to get in my car and be as far away from this hotel as possible.

“Who runs this place?” he asked, in an attempt to make conversation.

“Some old bat, doesn’t really talk much, she’s at the desk through there,” I said, pointing through the front door. He tilted his head to look through the door, but pulled a face of confusion. I turned to see she had vanished from the front desk. Typical.

After packing my suitcase and returning my key, I got in my car and drove off from the hotel, without looking back. The experience of my final night had severely affected my driving, although I forced myself to concentrate. The last thing I wanted was the crash and have to go back to that place. After taking various side roads and country lanes for about 15 minutes, I found myself back on a main road. From there it was no problem finding my way back home. I was still quite shaken, but found myself home within just over two hours. When I entered my house, I kissed my girlfriend and embraced her. She helped me unpack while she attempted asked me how my stay in The Grazing Rabbit was, I changed the subject. She seemed concerned, and then I noticed I was shaking. However, I still insisted nothing was wrong. After unpacking I realised I had left my laptop charger at the hotel.

“Crap,” I muttered. No sooner as I said that, the phone rang. It was my friend Ralph. He told me he had just got off the plane at Manchester airport and would be coming to visit my girlfriend and me in a few days. I politely asked him if he could find a hotel called The Grazing Rabbit and collect my laptop charger from room 2. I anticipated it would still be light when he was around that area, so he was in no danger. He agreed. I gave him rough directions of how to reach the hotel that I vaguely remembered from a few nights ago. After thanking him, I put down the phone and headed to bed for a few hours rest.

Three days had passed since I arrived home. I had just come back from shopping with my girlfriend and I was helping unload shopping from the car. I went to check our answer machine messages as my girlfriend answered her mobile phone. She seemed… like she was trying to calm someone down and sounded quite distressed herself. I decided wait until I checked the answer phone messages before turning my attention to her; I was anticipating a call from Ralph telling me he would be arriving soon. As I pressed the button on the machine, my girlfriend’s voice became louder from the kitchen. I pushed the door in the front room shut. Before listening to message…

Hey Dan, just letting you know I’m stopping at this Grazing Rabbit place for a few nights. It’s getting a bit dark around the area and I’m not driving around when I can’t see. I mentioned you to the old timer at the desk and she told me to pass on her regards. She seems nice. I should be over in a few days’ times. See you then!

The message made my blood run cold. I bolted into the kitchen, my girlfriend was no longer on the phone but was holding her face in shock.

“Ralph’s wife says he hasn’t called in days, she’s getting really worried,” she said in a shaky voice, noticeably distressed. For the rest of the afternoon she was on and off the phone with various people, hoping Ralph had been in contact with one of them. She contacted the police and told them to check The Grazing Rabbit.

Her emotions completely contrasted mine. I spend the afternoon sat in my armchair, I didn’t feel sad and I didn’t feel concerned and but I knew what was coming. The police called back just over an hour later. My girlfriend answered. I can still hear her screams ringing in my ears after she heard what they said.

Ralph was found dead in his room in The Grazing Rabbit. Room number 2, the same as mine. The door was broken down and he had been hacked to death in his bed by an unknown assailant. The attack was estimated to have happened in the middle of the night. The police told me they needed to speak to me and I was to go to the local police station within the next few hours. They had attempted to find the receptionist, but she was not around. I assumed they identified her as the main suspect.

For the next hour I stayed still in my chair, I was unable to move in the fear I may throw up. The guilt was unbearable; I’d lead my friend to his death. Despite knowing what horrors lay at The Grazing Rabbit, I still instructed him to go there. Eventually I got a taxi to the police station, although I was still in no state to go. I remember walking through the station car park, shuffling my feet along the tarmac, feeling as if every muscle in my body had given up. All I wanted to do was to crawl into a corner and weep.

A fairly young officer lead me to the questioning room, where two old detectives sat on the same side of a desk with a vacant plastic chair on the other side, intended for me to sit in. One of the officers offered me a drink as I sat down while the other began to produce a folder of various documents and photographs. Although I was feeling dehydrated, I declined the drink. I didn’t feel I would be able to keep it down.

The officer holding the folder ran through the details of the crime scene. None of it surprised me. Murder weapon was a suspected to be a pickaxe, Ralph was awake when he was attacked, he’d attempted to barricade the door but the assailant broke through. I was only partially listening to what the detective was saying, I had a mess of emotions within my head and was struggling to make sense of anything that had happened over the past week.

The detective then mentioned a buzzword ‘Room Number 1’. My attention was caught immediately. He spoke of how after failing to find the receptionist, they attempted to speak to the occupier of room number 1, but after numerous knockings and attempts to find a key downstairs, they had to break down the door.

They found another body, although this one was heavily decomposed. Estimates say it must have been there for years, although they weren’t sure of an exact number. Early investigations concluded the victim died in the same manner as Ralph. The police then presented me with an image of the victim they believed it to be. It was of 80-year-old lady named Agnes Smith, who went missing years ago after leaving her abusive husband. The police suspected she had gone to live with relatives in Australia. Although the family claimed she had found a job and was living in secrecy.

I.. I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was the receptionist. I remember aggressively telling the police there was no way it could be her, I was speaking to her all the way through my stay, she was at the front desk, she handed me my key!

The police told me they had found nobody alive in the hotel. As far as they were concerned, it was abandoned.

It’s been a few weeks since the experiences at The Grazing Rabbit. The police have stopped calling, which is both a blessing and a curse. I liked their updates, they made me hope the case would be resolved and I could go back to my life as usual. But sometimes I grew tired of repeating my story to them. I knew they didn’t believe me.

The past few weeks have been hell. I can’t get images of The Grazing Rabbit out of my head. The events of my stay are burned into my memory. I can’t stop waking up in the night; I keep thinking I hear tapping, although my girlfriend doesn’t. I sometimes have suspicions that the creature may be coming for me, to finish what he started. But that’s only on bad days.

My girlfriend has left, she tells me she is struggling to cope with my recent behaviour. I know she’s not coming back. I’m all alone. The only thing I have is my thoughts; my hope has been replaced with fear of never feeling normal again. I’m writing this to warn all of you who ever come across The Grazing Rabbit at night. The darkness will choke you with fear, but you most continue down the road. I beg you, please do not stop.

I know many of you will think I'm mad and not listen. I understand. I can only hope you aren't the next victim, of where the dark roads lead.

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