On the Dark Road

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Richard Peters decides to take a break in the Lake District. The small village in which he finds himself is shrouded in strange superstitions.

Submitted: July 17, 2017

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Submitted: July 17, 2017

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Richard Peters swiped his key card and went into the bedroom. The room was small and basic but it was clean and the bed looked comfortable. That, he decided, was what really mattered. He was in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the Lake District. He wasn’t even sure of the name of the tiny village in which he’d found himself. After a bloody awful week at work he’d booked the first two days of the following week off work and, having packed a bag he had jumped in his car. Without really knowing where he was headed he ended up following the signs for the Lakes.

He had reached the small village and on an impulse pulled over. The village was little more than a one road cluster of buildings huddled together on the side of a lake. Peters had thought the remote place looked the perfect location to get away from everything and put the stresses of the office out of his mind for a while.

The landlady was in her sixties and wore a cardigan and glasses on a chain around her neck. She had taken his details and told him he’d be staying in room thirteen. Peters dropped his bag to the bedroom floor and flopped onto the single bed. He sighed. He glanced around the room. Like the rest of the village, and the B&B, the room was quaint and old fashioned. There was a tall cabinet in the corner full of ornaments and artefacts. The guys from Antiques Roadshow would have a field day here, he thought.

After leisurely unpacking and reading a couple of chapters of the dog eared paperback he was currently ready Peters shrugged into his coat and headed down the creaking staircase.

The village was like something from a painting or a biscuit tin illustration. He strolled along the narrow roadside path towards the centre of the village. The scenery was amazing. The vast lake on one side reflecting the skies overheard. The narrow road snaked past the houses and town buildings, against a backdrop of rolling green countryside. He walked slowly, taking it all in. It made such a change from his native Manchester. Back at home the nearest he got to the countryside was a grassy beer garden. An elderly man walking an equally old black Labrador nodded and wished him ‘Good afternoon’. Peters replied with his usual ‘Alright mate?’.

Like any village worthy of the name the place had four pubs on the high street. Peters noticed others tucked away down the narrow back streets.

The first pub Peters tried was perfect. Low wooden beams, large open fireplace and the solid bar that looked like it dated back to the days of Dick Turpin. He rubbed his hands and headed for the bar. The barmaid, a tired looking woman in her forties with unnaturally dyed hair smiled at him. He looked along the beer pumps and opted for a pint of Dingo’s. He was surprised when she asked for less than two pounds for the beer. That was well under half the amount he would pay back in Manchester. Happy days. He found a free table and could not help noticing how the locals stared at him. Most of these locals were somewhere in their sixties and dressed in smart outdated clothing.

As the afternoon turned to evening Peters was mooching down the cobbled back streets heading for the next pub. He wasn’t exactly drunk but the world had that lovely fuzzy glow that only a few pints of strong beer can produce.

He dined on steak and ale pie in a pub called the Slaughtered Lamb. The food was fresh and homemade. It was just the ticket for his slightly squiffy condition.

Eventually it was time to be heading back. He left the warm comfort of the pub and stepped outside. He emerged into almost pitch black darkness. No streetlights. Every now and then the night was punctured by the dull glow of house lights behind thick curtains. He stumbled along for a few steps. He couldn’t help smiling at how far away he was from civilisation. He rummaged in his pocket for his mobile phone. He tapped on the flashlight icon. The night was suddenly pierced by the narrow beam of white light. He trudged on down the road, his tiny torch light leading the way.

He found the narrow road leading back to his Bed and Breakfast. He walked on. The only sounds in the dark night were his breathing and the clomp of his footsteps. He kept on walking.

He was startled when, some time later, there was a noise from behind. It sounded like the thunder of horses hooves. And coming straight for him. Panic gripped him. He spun on his heels, calling out, waving his light. He had to alert the rider of his presence. He stared into the darkness. The stretch of path in front of him was empty. Peters held his breath and listened. An owl hooted from a nearby tree. He listened. No clamour of hooves. He was alone in the night. How strange. He waved his torch around. He stared and listened. Nothing. His heart was pounding. He had expected to be knocked over and trampled by the approaching horse but there was nothing out there. He shook his head. He turned around and continued towards the B&B.

The next morning he found the dining room at the back of the hotel. The landlady smiled warmly. After enquiring if he slept okay she showed him to a table in the empty room. It was little things like that that always struck him as quaint in the traditional boarding houses. In a dining room free of people he still had to sit at his allocated table. As he sat down she asked what he would like to eat. He ordered the full English breakfast. Coming right up, she chirped and left to prepare his food.

She returned a while later with tea, toast and an large plate heaped with fried food.

‘Did you have a nice evening, dear?’ she asked.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I had a few pints in town and a bite to eat.’

‘Lovely.’

‘I tell you what was strange, though.’

He explained about the sound of horses hooves and how no rider was to be found. Her pleasant expression clouded over into one of concern.

‘Enjoy your breakfast.’ She said.

She rushed from the room.

Peters shrugged. He had heard that these small towns had strange traditions and superstitions. The things at night were weird but there had to be some explanation. Deciding to put it out of his mind he grabbed his coat and headed out.

He mooched along the cobbled street and emerged on the tiny village square. He weaved his way between stalls selling everything from Bonsai trees to vinyl records. He treated himself to a couple of paperback books. It might have been his imagination but the locals seemed to be eyeing him with either curiosity or out right suspicion and hostility. As far as he could tell he was the only tourist visiting the area. No wonder, he thought, if they treat visitors like this.

That night he dined in a restaurant that was bizarrely traditional. The waitresses wore maids-style outfits of black with little white pinnies. They were overly polite calling him ‘sir’. It was such a change from the appalling customer service you got in most places these days. He ate a wonderful roast dinner and downed a few pints of cask ale.

After a few more drinks Peters settled the bill. He stepped out into the night. He marched to the Lakeside path using his mobile phone to light the way. He trudged through the darkness towards the guesthouse. A full moon glowed overhead. The only sound was the pounding of his footsteps. He felt quite alone in the world. These days, that was such an unusual sensation. Most of the time you were close to somebody somewhere. Even at home alone you had neighbours. He walked on.

He was startled by the drumming of horses hooves from behind. Not again, he said aloud. He spun round expecting the road to be empty like the previous night. He yelled in surprise. On the path was a figure on horseback. Moonlight and his torch lit the image perfectly. The figure was dressed in dark old-fashioned clothing. He wore a three cornered hat and a handkerchief pulled over his face. He looked just like a highwayman from an old film he’d seen. The man pulled a flintlock pistol and aimed it at him. Peters turned and ran. He pushed on as quickly as he could. He ran for the B&B. His heart pounded. He was breathing hard as he raced on. He did not risk looking back. It might slow him down or even cause him to trip and fall. He kept going all the way back to the guesthouse. He reached the porch and stopped. He turned back to the path. He  listened and stared into the night. Nothing. What was going on?

Still shaking he gripped the bannister to steady himself as he went upstairs to his room. He yanked off his t shirt, kicked off his jeans, coins spilling to the carpet. He dived onto the bed and threw the covers over his head. His mind raced. Was his drunken imagination playing tricks on him? Could the complete lack of sound and the darkness be such a shock to his urban senses that he saw and heard things that simply were not there?

The following morning he headed down to breakfast. Again he was the only person dining. The landlady appeared as he took his table. He saw the worry in her eyes as she enquired if he had a nice evening. Peters explained about the strange man on horseback.

The landlady went pale. She stifled a sob and dashed from the rom. Peters swore under his breath. That certainly wasn’t reassuring. He rubbed his face. He slouched back in the hard backed dining chair. From somewhere in the house a grandfather clock chimed the hour. He flicked through a copy of yesterday’s newspaper while he waited to see if the landlady would be returning. After twenty minutes he decided that she wouldn’t be coming back. With one last glance over his shoulder he put his coat on and left. He wandered out by the lake. The vast lake on one side, lush hills on the other. Again he felt completely alone in the wilderness. He felt like some intrepid explorer or like he was taking part in a wilderness reality television show. He walked further and further out along the winding lakeside path.

Later that day Peters was back in the village. Time for a pint. He tried a little boozer called the Admiral Benbow. The tavern was a typical country pub. It was very small with a décor that dated back fifty years. He spotted the cask ale pumps along the bar. A couple of locals perched on stools at the bar. They glanced round and stared at him. By now he was getting used to the unpleasant attention he was getting. He ordered a pint and a ploughman’s lunch and went to find a free table. As he sipped his dark ale his mind went back to the strange things he’d seen and heard each evening. The barman did a lap of the room collecting empty glasses and wiping down tables.

‘Excuse me, mate?’ said Peters.

‘Yes, pal?’

Peters told him about the sound of hooves one night, seeing a dark rider last night. The barman plonked his empty glasses on the table. He dropped onto the chair facing him. He fixed Peters with an intense stare.

‘There’s a lot of superstition and legend round these parts. I know the one you speak of. It’s known as the Three Corner Curse. First night you hears the horseman. Second night you sees the horseman.’

‘And the third?’

‘ You die.’

Peters gasped.

‘I’ve learned,’ the barman went on. ‘that not everything in this life has a logical explanation. All you can do is try not to dwell on things.’

Peters was left dumbfounded as the barman grabbed the glasses and moved on to the next table. Peters took a large gulp of his pint. Could this actually be happening? He needed some fresh air. He got to his feet. An elderly man at the bar called to him. He wore a shirt and tie and a grave expression.

‘There’s one way to check if the curse is upon you.’

‘How’s that?’

‘A black mark on your right palm.’

Peters turned his hand over and looked down. There was a black dot on his hand. The colour drained from the old man’s face.

‘I’m right sorry, lad.’

‘Look, this is ridiculous. It can be nothing more than some weird local superstition.’

‘But you has the mark.’

Peters charged for the door.

It must have been later than he thought for when he emerged darkness had fallen. He took a deep breath and tried to forget about the so-called curse. All very Wicker Man, he chunnered. Don’t make me laugh. He set off along the dark path towards the B&B.

The last thing that Richard Peters heard was the sound of thundering hooves.

Local news bulletins reported that a tourist was trampled to death by a horse that had escaped from a nearby farm. The reports also mentioned a prank that the locals liked to play on visitors involving a man on horseback dressed as a highwayman.


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