The Biggest Freak in Duskwood

On the night of her eighteenth birthday, Diana Velasquez falls victim to an attack that leaves her horribly scarred and an outcast. Worse still, nobody believes the truth about what happened.

The thing that destroyed her life was no ordinary animal.

During the next five months, the threat in the forest grows worse and worse. Diana has decided she’s had enough of being a victim- she’s going to use her twelve years of boxing training, and her family’s wealth of ornamental weapons, to show these creatures they messed with the wrong schoolgirl. She’s going to be a hero.

Then, she realises there’s far more to the monsters of Duskwood Forest than she thought. Their secret is both a strength and a weakness, but it can’t be beaten by brute strength alone. The more entangled in her tormentors’ lives she becomes, the more Diana starts to doubt she’s doing the right thing. She thought she’d do anything to keep her family safe, but how far is too far?

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Author's note

Yo! This is something I wrote under the proverbial radar. Please note it contains graphic bloody violence, as is to be expected of me. Happy reading!
AA

12. The Bed by the Window

GRETCHEN’S BEEN EYEING me nervously from across the classroom all the way through biology, like she thinks at any second I’ll stand up, whip out my sword and neatly behead her. Meanwhile, I’m just trying to focus on the diagram of the circulatory system on the board and convince myself coming to school wasn’t a horrible idea. The pain from the scratch on my shoulder- neatly bandaged as it is with a pair of tights- is making me feel sick and woozy, and I’m overheating from keeping my sleeves down all day to hide my scratches and scars. A triple set of cuts across my right hand- as tiny as they are- hurt the most.

I only mentioned Dad to Gretchen on a whim, but ever since I did, I’ve not been able to stop thinking about him. He never did come home from work this morning. What if he’s dead? What if he’s been killed by Nancy? What if he’s in a ditch somewhere, wondering why his useless wife and his deviant son and his hardened knife-happy daughter aren’t looking for him? What if, just by sitting in this classroom right now, I’m failing him too?

I tell myself I need to calm down. After all, if he was still missing, I’d have heard something by now. I’m paranoid, and if I don’t refocus soon, I’m going to miss this important lesson on… Whatever it is this lesson’s about.

I’m jolted out of my half-daydream by the sound of someone shouting my name.

“Diana?”

I look up. “Huh? Yeah? Oh- oh. I, uh… I’m so sorry; I- I wasn’t listening.”

I expect Mrs Lane to sigh, or maybe nod sympathetically, but instead, she raises an eyebrow and jerks a finger towards the door. I turn and see a woman in a bright pink suit standing there- one of the admin assistants. My eyes widen.

“Uh-huh?” I say.

“Diana?” The woman asks. When I nod, she adds, “You’re needed in the office.”

Instinctively, I flash a look at Gretchen, who looks just as surprised as me. I want to cry or scream or murder someone, because there’s no point in playing innocent; I know what this means. Slowly, I get up and walk down between the desks, twenty pairs of eyes following me out of the door. My heart’s in my mouth.

The woman in the pink suit looks down at me, and her face’s completely blank.

Oh. My. God. Oh my God. Oh my God, my God, my God.

I follow her down the corridor, my insides suddenly cold as ice, my head spinning and yet crystal, crystal clear. Suddenly, I notice the smell of the carpet- the feeling of the air on my face and the ground under my feet, shoving against me like they want me to fall or faint or throw up. The woman doesn’t turn around; she’s leading me straight to the office. As we pass the front desk, I catch sight of Mum’s old navy Volvo in the car park through the glass doors.

This is it, then.

“Hi, sweetie.” Mum says, holding her hand out to me as the assistant pushes the door open. She’s sitting opposite the school councillor and the headmistress. She’s got Esme curled up on her lap with her thumb in her mouth and Minnie standing behind her, gripping the back of her chair, looking down at the ground. Louis is sitting in the corner, hugging his knees to his chest. I widen my eyes and try to look surprised when I realise Dad’s nowhere to be seen. My heart’s pummelling my ears and I’m sick to my stomach, dizzy and dazed like I’ve just woken up from a long sleep.

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.

Mum fiddles with her hands in her lap. I wonder if Esme’s fallen asleep. I hope to God she has. I stare at mum, urging her to get on with the terrible news. Please. Please. We all already know… don’t we? He’s been missing all morning. Oh, God. Please get on with it; I’ll pass out if you leave it any longer. Say it.

Dad’s dead.

“Kids…” Mum says with a heavy sigh. “I’m afraid I, uh… I’ve got some very sad news.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Louis pressing his clasped hands deeper into his lap. He bites his lip and I can see his face screwing up, red pinpricks appearing on his cheeks. To my surprise, nobody says anything. Not even Minnie.

“I’m afraid…” Mum sighs again, a long pause on her lips. “Dad’s not going to be coming home for a while.”

With that, my face screws up, my head grows hot and my vision gets fuzzier. I watch as Louis’ cheeks turn red and Minnie screws her eyes shut, and I vow, right then and there, before Mum’s even finished spilling her guts, I will kill them all. I will kill every last one of those bastards and I will never show them mercy again. They will pay for this. They will. They will. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Nobody was supposed to touch my family.

I still can’t breathe.

“Dad…” Mum says softly. That’s when I notice the school councillor’s holding her hand across the table. “Dad was taken to the hospital this morning. He’s going to be fine; I promise you.”

Wait a second. I jerk my head up, thinking I’ve misheard her. “Wait- wait. The hospital?”

Mum looks at me and nods sadly. “Yeah, honey.”

So he’s not dead.

Relief doesn’t seem like the right word.

“Daddy’s in the hospital?” Esme mumbles into Mum’s chest. She looks up. “Why?”

“He’s been in an accident,” Mum says.

An accident? Images flash through my head of his car skidding on ice, going into a ditch, throwing him through the windscreen. I gulp. But… but accident could’ve just been picked for Esme’s and Louis’ sakes, couldn’t it? The werewolves. I look up, and that’s when I see Mum looking directly at me, her eyes full of tears. That look tells me everything I need to know.

“Do we…” I hear Louis murmur. “Do we… have to stay in school?”

Mum doesn’t respond. At all.

“No, of course not.” The school councillor hurriedly cuts in. “You’re going home with your Mum right now, okay? And you can take as long as you need out of school. Don’t worry about another thing than helping your Dad get better. We wish you and your family all the best. I’m so sorry.”

Sorry my arse. No, that’s not fair- they probably are sorry, but they’re not miserable, like us. They’re sorry, but they’re not crushed, ruined, boiling with rage and anger and grief and confusion and grey-and-blue emptiness. Their lives haven’t been uprooted and torn in half.

My head’s buzzing with so much emotion I can barely string a thought, let alone decipher when’s a decent time to ask my shell-shocked Mum to explain what the hell’s going on. What happened to Dad? Where in the hospital is he?

And how bad is it?

On the way out of the glass doors, Mum carries Esme and holds Minnie’s hand. Something wraps around my arm- my badly injured arm. I bother to look down after a few more steps and see Louis staring up at me with his big blue eyes red and puffy and filled with tears. He’s clinging to me desperately, so I wrap both my arms around him, holding him as close as I can as our sorry crew reaches our sorry car.

“I can’t believe it.” Minnie murmurs into her lap as she gets in next to me. I ignore her.

We drive straight home, and nobody says a damned word; the silence tangles around us, blocking out the movement of the road and the passage of time and the singing of the birds. The world around me feels stale and old; not real, a figment of my imagination. This isn’t really happening. Louis and I never let go of one another. Once, he looks up at me, his eyes wider than I’ve ever seen them before, and whispers something I don’t hear. I don’t think I want to hear it. What’s this going to do to Mum? Destroy her, that’s what. I think it already has. She’s barely told us anything, but I know it must be bad. Really bad. Why else would we be pulled out of school? Why else would my mum be so deadpan, and why else would the admin assistants be so intent on comforting her? Why else would they all be crying?

I can’t breathe.

When we get inside, Mum beckons us all into the living-room. We sit down, and she sits down with us, deflating like an old balloon. I reach over to hold her hand, but she ignores me and reaches up to bury her face. I swallow.

“Does anyone need a drink?” I suddenly say, my voice too loud in the empty silence of the room. Everyone looks at me.

“Cup of tea, please, darling,” Mum says. Her voice’s barely a watery whisper. “Thank you.”

I don’t know why I’m doing this. Maybe it’s to delay what I’m about to hear; maybe I don’t want to know after all. Maybe I’m scared of seeing what it’ll do to my brother and my sisters, or maybe I just can’t stand to be in the same room as that sorry bunch another second. They’re breaking me up into little pieces and scattering me. I can’t bear it.

“Anyone else?” I say. “Louis? Hot chocolate?”

Without looking up from his lap, Louis shakes his head.

“You sure?” I ask. I’m stalling. Minnie looks up from her lap to glare at me. “There’s whippy cream and chocolate buttons.”

Louis stares at his lap for a few more seconds, and a tear drips off his nose. Then, silently, he nods.

“Yeah? Okay. Esme, you want a juice?”

She doesn’t say anything.

“Minnie? Water? Coke?” I try to laugh. “Whiskey?”

“Stop it, Diana,” Minnie growls at the ground.

“Alrighty. Back in a minute.”

When I come back with the drinks, they’re all sat in the exact same places. Esme’s back on Mum’s lap.

“Mum.” I hear Minnie say.

“Okay. Okay, honey. Di’s back now.”

“Good.”

I glare at my sister, even though I understand exactly how she’s feeling. Frustration’s not an emotion we’re allowed to be feeling right now, especially towards each other.

I perch on the arm of the sofa next to Louis and reach over to clutch his hand.

“Kids, I don’t want you to worry; I promise you Daddy’s going to be fine,” Mum says. “He had an accident on the way home from work last night, but he’s in the hospital, in the best hands he can be in, and-”

“Then why can’t we see him?” Minnie demands. Mum looks at her.

“He’s in surgery, and visiting hours weren’t open.”

“Bullshit!”

“Minnie!” I say. She looks at me, and the anger fades from her face.

“Sorry. I- I’m sorry.”

“What happened to Daddy?” Esme asks Mum. “Did he crash his car?”

“He, uh-” Mum stammers. I’m starting to feel sure she’s lying to us. Then, her expression clears. “Y-yes, sweetie.”

I breathe out.

“Did he go into the ditch?” Esme presses. God, I know she’s five, but I still want to strangle her.

“That’s… enough, now, darling,” Mum says. “I know it’s hard, but we have to stay strong, okay? We’re going to be here for each other. I promise we’ll all be together again soon.”

Stay strong? The voice in my head murmurs. Look who’s talking.

“Can we see him tomorrow?” Esme asks.

“Maybe. Probably not, honey.”

“Why not?”

Mum struggles. She’s going to cry again; I can see it in her eyes. Then, from across the room, Louis says, “Shut up, Esme.”

“Don’t tell me to shut up!”

“Louis, don’t tell her to shut up,” I add.

“But she-”

“That’s enough!”

 

 

It’s not until later that afternoon that Mum tells Minnie and I that she lied to us.

About what happened to Dad.

“Was it the monsters?” My sister decides to ask after dinner, after Louis and Esme have left the table. Mum, whose catatonic state of misery’s slowly been changing into an empty sort of bluntness throughout the last few hours, drops her fork with a clatter, jerks her head up at Minnie, who promptly mutters, “Sorry,” and then looks at me for help. I feel my blood freezing, my eyes widening.

“Yes,” I say softly, staring Mum dead in the eyes, not caring a shred for Minnie’s eyes shooting between us. “It was?”

Mum says nothing. And in my eyes, that’s as good as any answer I wanted.

 

 

“I’m going out for a walk,” I say, getting up from the edge of Mum’s bed at about six in the evening. She wants us all to sleep in her room tonight.

Nobody stops me. Nobody questions me. I wonder how many of them think they know where I’m going. They’re wrong.

I reach the hospital just before seven, my face bundled into my jacket collar, my hands rammed deep into my pockets. I’ve never come here before on the outside of an ambulance. In fact, I’ve never come here before as a visitor. Somehow, the shock’s making me think clearer. It was the wolves. Yeah, it was. And I’m going to deal with it. But first, I need to see my Dad.

I walk up to the front desk; a woman flicks her eyes up at mine, noticing the state of my face, and asks me nervously what she can do for me.

I bite my lip.

“Lucas… Lucas Velasquez, please.” I say. I gulp. “Coma ward.”

She points, and I walk. The corridor smells of chemical cleanliness and death. Maybe the death part’s just me.

The doctor’s talking to two police officers; I try not to let my disappointment sink all the way down to the depths of hell. The police officers look at me, their eyebrows raised, looking like they’re expecting me to give them a gobful. I don’t.

I told you so. I say with my eyes. Look what you’ve done.

And that’s it.

The doctor curls her lip at me as I try to convince her to let me in, but I keep my face clear and my words neutral till she finally relents. I can’t bear what I see; there’s a man in the bed at the end next to the window, but he’s not my Dad. This Lucas Velasquez is yellow in the face and purple under the eyes. He’s got paper stitches dotting and dashing his neck and tubes protruding from his arms. He’s got one leg on a table with a paper sheet over it- it’s an emaciated stump, foot completely gone, red and black and yellow, dotted with blobs of cotton. Mum told me everything when I pressed her. By the time they found him, he’d already lost so much blood they’d barely been able to keep him alive on the drive to the hospital. His leg had been a bloody ruin, and it was almost inevitable he’d picked up some horrendous infection. They’d been forced to induce a coma, and there’s not a sodding other thing they can do for him. There’s no point in my being here, but still, I tear my eyes away from his poor face and stoop over the bed, clutching his hand between both of mine. And I cry. I screw up my face and shake my voice and try to squeeze out tears; eventually, they start to fall, and I let myself drop to my knees. I let my head fall onto his hand and I keep on howling like a child. it’s all coming out, in front of the nurse on duty and the doctor outside and the two police officers who’ve only ever known me shouting or unconscious, and I can’t help it. I don’t care.

Look what they’ve done; poor weird Milo and his crazy girlfriend and his dealer and flimsy Gretchen and those two pathetic children. Look what they’ve done to my quiet, useless, sweet, hardworking Dad. And my Mum, too. Look what they’ve done to my siblings, too- they’ve taken three kids and turned them into cardboard cutouts, forced them to do nothing but sit around and wonder why God would ever be so cruel to one good family. Look what they did to Poppy, my bubbly, perfect, silly, fun-loving, full-of-light best friend; paled her out and washed her away. I don’t think I’m doing this for good and justice anymore; I feel hot all over, and my calm, meticulous thoughts are turning hot and murderous. This anger terrifies me. My family need me right now; more than anything. I can’t let my rampage take me over or we’ll all fall apart. I’ll start with one stop. Neville Street, the bad side of town, next to the corner shop. I clench my fist. That’s where it all began, and that’s where it’ll end.

Tomorrow, I’m going to march over to Milo’s house.

And I’m going to wipe the floor with him.

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