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

22. The Burning Sensation

ON THE WAY home, as I pass the sign for Duskwood forest, I see the sun sink behind the trees. I pull over, even though there’s no hard shoulder, as I’m struck by a tidal wave of terror that kicks my heart into overdrive and twists a knife in my chest. I start to burn up, sweat beading on my forehead, even though my bones are freezing cold. I shrug off my jacket as it tries to stick to my skin. The change. No. No, no, not the change. The change. The pain. Barely sunset. Only… I check the clock, breathing hard. The pain. Only six o’clock. Panic attack. Panic attack. Panic attack.

The pain. The pain. The pain. It’s coming for you.

I clutch the steering-wheel with numb fingers, breathing as hard as I can to keep myself afloat. I start to sob with every exhale, shaking and weeping. I can’t do this again. Not again. I can’t lose control again. Poppy’s lying in my back seat. I should take her to a hospital, but I can’t, because at midnight, she’ll change too. I’ve got to get her out to the woods- to the cage. Will it be big enough? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t KNOW! I don’t know WHAT I’m doing! I came face-to-face with the villain, the enemy, the bad guy I’ve wanted dead all along, and I let him live. Just so I could take Poppy away. He’s still alive. I let him get away. And at midnight, the change’ll take him too. Breathe, Diana. Breathe. Breathe. I breathe, and it makes everything worse. The knife in my chest tightens. My breaths sharpen. The change. The pain. The change. I look back at Poppy. How can she survive that change? Her body’s like a bundle of twigs. She should stay broken when she breaks. Breaks. Your back’s going to break. Your jaw. Your fingers. You’ll break like a twig. Breathe, Diana. Breathe. But not too much. Stop breathing. Maybe that’ll help, you stupid son of a bitch. Oh, no- help, you’re dying again. Save that for later. You’re going to break. Break. Break.

I look at Poppy, in my back seat. I want to run away. I want to die. I want this all to end, but it can’t. Because I’ve got her. I’ve got to save her. I close my eyes, bite my lip, and do what I always used to do when I had panic attacks. Iain had to help me last night… but what about before that? Poppy. Back before Nancy and Milo took her from me, I used to hold Poppy’s hands. I imagine her voice, crystal-clear, calm, low, close to my ear.

Breathe, Diana. Breathe. Breathe. Come back to me.

I breathe. And breathe. And suddenly, the disembodied sound of her voice wrings tears from my eyes- not frantic ones. Calm ones. Heartbroken ones. Because now, she’s back… but she’s not. My heartbeat’s slowing down. Force her. Force her back into your head. She needs you. You need her more.

Poppy. Poppy. Poppy.

I’m crying…

And I’m breathing.

Poppy whimpers in the back seat. I sniff, hard, and turn to look at her. The sight of her makes me want to cry again, but I wipe the tears from my face. When my vision clears, I see she’s looking at me.

Breathe.

“It’s okay.” I say, as calmly as I can manage. “It’s oh… kay. I’m fine.”

Poppy sighs.

“I’ll fix us. Okay? Nobody’s going to get hurt.”

She breathes in.

“Yeah.” I say. “I know. But didn’t you hear the bastard talking?” I smirk. “I’m one too.”

She goes quiet.

“So…” I say as I turn back to the wheel and fix my eyes on the empty dark road. “We’re in it together again. Like always. Come on, let’s go home.”

I park at the side of the house, and fix my sights on the back door. I’ve been trying to think about what’s the safest thing to do, now, with her- but I’m still not sure. As I pull my phone from my pocket, another knife of pain twists in my chest, but I push it down with all my might. It’s quarter past seven. We’ve got five hours, and Poppy needs to be seen to now.

But nobody can know she’s alive. Not yet.

As I pulled away from Milo’s house, my first- and probably wisest- thought was to drive her straight to a hospital. I didn’t want to know what exactly was wrong with her, because it hurt me, but I needed to. The morphine. The missing leg. The scars. The malnutrition. She needed to be looked after by someone who knew what the hell they were doing. But the change was less than six hours away, and if anyone saw her- police, doctors, Mum, anyone- I wouldn’t be able to get her away in time to take her into the forest. I could drive into the forest. We could sit there, in the car, and wait. But she’s barely awake, and I can tell by the way she’s wriggling slightly that the car seat’s hurting her. I need to get her into the house. She needs medicine and a bed, even if it’s just for a few hours, before I take us to the cage. It seems like a huge risk, but the truth’s that Mum’s in a trance. Losing Dad’s destroyed her, widened her eyes, paled her skin, stamped lines into her face, sucked her into a half-awake state. Iain, Minnie and I killed ourselves trying to take care of her- we spent the morning calling the rest of the family to let them know Dad had died, because she couldn’t do so much as speak. I could sneak Poppy right under her nose and she probably wouldn’t notice. It breaks my heart, but it’s true. And for now, it’s a good thing.

I text Louis, praying he’s got his phone on. He’s been in his room the last twenty-four hours; he should be fine.

Louis. Listen, Im so so sorry to do this to you but I need you to get downstairs and open the back door. Thisll blow your head off so I’m going to write it down here to give you a head start, I was at Milos house. I found the last wolf. Its Poppy. She’s with me now and I need to get her inside

I sit at the wheel, drumming my fingers on the dashboard and swallowing down every whisper of a new panic attack. It’ll calm once I get inside the house. I only have to wait a few minutes before my phone buzzes, and my blood freezes. I wonder what he’s said. Is he in shock? Will he stall? Will he even believe me? I force myself to pick up my phone to look at the text.

Okay. I can see you. Door unlocked. Need help, or?

I sigh. I love that kid.

No. Good thanks. Could u get the first aid kit please?

Yup

I ram my phone back into my pocket, get out of the car, and walk to the back door to pick Poppy up. My jacket, knives and sword get left behind. I don’t need them anymore. As I walk up the garden path, I hug her close to my chest, supporting her head as it lolls hopelessly downwards, hoping to minimise the chance she’ll be seen. Louis opens the back door for us; his eyes go wide when he sees Poppy, but he stays silent.

“What are you doing?” He hisses. “Why are you bringing her inside? You’ve got-”

“I know.” My voice is deathly calm. “But she needs help now and nobody can see her. I’m taking her to my room.”

Louis says nothing. He nods. As I walk up the stairs, I realise he’s following me, and I don’t stop him. Once we’re safely inside my room, he shuts the door behind us. I think we’re safe.

Then, I see Iain standing in the middle of the room.

“Diana?” Iain says, his eyes wide. “What-”

“Ssh!” I say.

“Oh- oh, Christ, what the hell-”

“Iain.” I say, walking forwards. “Listen to me.”

“Diana, what the hell-” Iain looks down and covers his face with his hands. He recognises her. “WHAT-”

“Keep your voice down!” I say, suddenly invigorated by a fresh wave of determination. That, and desperation. I stumble over my words, but I keep talking. “Listen to me, Iain. You know I went out. We- we both know you know I was up to something. Don’t- Don’t we? Your- your missing knives? Your clothes? You must’ve noticed them.”

He nods, still refusing to tears his eyes away from Poppy. “But- but she-”

“No. Stop. And the sword. I took that too. And you wanna know why? Because I was hunting the things that killed Dad. And Poppy, too. I’ve been protecting this family this whole time, and I just found out she’s still alive, after everything that’s happened, and if you don’t believe me and keep your mouth shut, at least till morning, everything I’ve been working so hard to keep right’s going to be done for. So, please, I’m begging you. Not now. Not now. Please.”

Iain’s been stunned into silence, his eyes flickering between the three of us. He presses his lips together- a clear sign he’s considering something. I hold my breath.

Iain breathes out. He points to Poppy.

“She needs a hospital.” He says.

“I know.” I reply. “But not till morning.”

He blinks, then struggles to wrap his mouth around a retort. “W- w- why-”

Because we’re both werewolves!” I hiss before I can stop myself. Louis gasps. Iain widens his eyes further.

We stand there, staring at one another, for what feels like an eternity. I wonder if I need to do something, to shut him up. If he talks, we’re all royally screwed. I press my lips together.

“I…” Iain blinks, then locks eyes with me. “I knew you were up to something.”

“Good.” I say. “So you understand-”

“I don’t believe anything.” He says. I freeze, but then, he finishes.

“But I trust you.”

He looks down at the ground, shaking his head. Then, silently, he pushes past us, opens the door, and leaves, shutting it behind him.

I look down at Louis, who stares back at me, eyes wide.

“D’you think he’s gonna tell?” I ask Louis.

Louis nods. Then, seeing my face, he starts to shake his head.

“No. No, course not.”

I sigh. I’m safe. We’re safe.

I lay Poppy down on my bed. God, I hate the way she looks in this light. She’s still grey. Only now do I see her freckles, her long eyelashes, the orange tint to her hair, and only then does it hit me that this is really her. She’s really here. She mumbles, and I stroke her face. I hear Louis breathing in sharply behind me; he’s starting to cry.

“Di-” he squeaks.

“Ssh.” I beckon him in and he buries his head in my chest and sobs. “I know. I know.”

“No. Di-”

“It’s only till morning. After that, I’m taking her straight to a hospital.”

Louis sniffles. “Mm-hm.”

“I promise. It’s all going to be fine.” My mind flashes to Milo. I ignore it. “I swear. I’m going to fix up her wounds a bit.”

Louis stares up at me. “You don’t know how to fix wounds.”

I laugh. “I know. But I’ve got bandages. And antiseptic. I’m going to do my best for her before she gets to the hospital. First, I think we ought to give her some sleeping pills. And… and some painkillers.”

“Why?”

I sigh, blinking back tears of my own. “Because… because she’s in terrible pain.”

 

 

We leave the house at eleven, so paranoid am I to get far away from my house before the change begins. I know it’ll take Poppy first, because she’s so small now, and me afterwards, so I come up with a plan. I explain it to Louis as we walk down the road, the glimmers from our house on the hillside growing fainter behind us.

“So Poppy goes in the cage first.” Louis says.

I nod, hefting the unconscious girl in my arms. “Yeah.”

“And you after.”

“Yeah.”

“But how does that work? Like, logically? If you become a wolf, how do I get you in the cage?”

“I don’t.” I say. “I get in before I change.”

“But what if…” Louis pauses for a second. “What if you fight?”

“I won’t.”

No.” Louis says. “I mean what if you fight her?”

“I know.” I close my eyes. “I thought of it. That’s why, uh… we… knocked her out? I don’t think I’ll attack her if she’s knocked out.”

“How do you know that?”

I look at him. “How do I know what?”

“That you won’t attack her knocked out?”

I look down at him. “Didn’t Milo explain it to you? They don’t kill to eat, or- or anything like that. They only kill for fun. I guess, uh… if something’s knocked out it’s no fun.”

Louis breaks eye contact.

“So…” I say. “It’s like playing dead. It works on bears.”

“Does it work on wolves?”

We walk in silence for a couple of minutes.

“Hey.” Louis says. “I’ve got a better plan.”

“Which is?” I ask.

“How about we put you in the cage, then chain Poppy to a tree?”

I stop walking for a second. “Oh.” I say. “Good idea.”

“She’s unconscious, and she’s limping, so that means she’s not gonna break through, right?”

For God’s sake, the boy’s a genius. Why didn’t I think of that? That’s a way better idea. But…

“We didn’t bring any rope.”

“Oh.” Louis pauses. “Well, we’ve got a ton of time. We could go back?”

I look down at him, then grab his shoulder as he stops to turn back. “No! No. You can’t go back. You won’t get back in time, and then neither of us’ll be locked up.”

“We’ve got half an hour-”

“No, Louis.” I say. “Lock us both in the cage together and leave. That’s the plan. We need to stick to it.”

“But what about the-”

That’s the plan.” I say.

“Okay.” He says. He pauses for a second, then keeps walking. “And if you hurt each other?”

I look down at Poppy in my arms and swallow, wanting to cry but holding it back. She’ll get better. She has to. But if one of us’s killed in that cage, it’ll be her.

“Better us than anyone else.” I say.

We keep on walking; several times, I want to turn back and get some rope. I know I could’ve made a mistake; one that’ll cost me everything. Trusting the internet? Some conspiracy video channel that uses archaic illustrations and overly elaborate font? It’s been right about everything so far, hasn’t it? I swallow my fear.

“Diana?” Louis says. I look down at him, confused by the sudden playfulness in his voice.

“What?” I ask.

“When you… turn… into a werewolf?” He says, swallowing.

“Yeah?”

“Don’t you… y’know… lose your clothes?”

I blink. My heart goes cold. Oh, no. I forgot to bring spare clothes.

My God, I’m the worst werewolf ever.

Louis giggles as I stop walking.

“What?” I say, a slight tremble in my voice. “You got no problem with a naked wolf. What’s up with a naked person?”

“Wolves have fur. They’re not technically naked. And besides, you’re, uh…”

I blink. “Good point.” I look down at myself; I’m wearing tracksuit trousers and an oversized shirt. Poppy’s wearing the same- I threw out the ratty rags she’d been left in and dressed her in some of my clothes. I washed her hair, too, as best I could.

“These’ll stretch.” I say, trying to convince myself.

Louis looks at me. “Uh. Okay. You’ll rip out of them, won’t you? You… you- you did before.

“God damn!” I say. “Yeah, probably! What’s stupider? A naked version of me or a wolf wearing trousers?”

Louis snorts.

We walk on for a few minutes, down the middle of the road. We’ll reach the turnoff point soon.

“Uh…” Louis’ voice wavers. “Y’know, we do have enough time-”

Enough, Louis!” I say. He jumps. I’m getting irritable; there’s a needle of sickness hissing in the middle of my skull and I want to throw up. The headache’ll come next. “Sorry. No delays.”

“There won’t be any delays!” He says, turning on his heel and pointing. “What could possibly delay… oh.”

I take a couple more steps with Poppy, then realise Louis isn’t walking next to me anymore. He’s stopped dead, in the middle of the road behind us. I turn back.

“Louis, what the…” I look up, at the tiny pinpricks of our house windows in the very, very distance. “Oh.”

I run forwards and Louis grabs my arm, digging his fingertips deep into my elbow. His lip’s trembling, his eyes are shining orange, he’s whimpering at the back of his throat. He’s frozen. He’s not going to speak again. And neither am I.

I breathe out again, hard, hysterically, and it turns into another wavering sob I can’t hold back. My house, in the distance… is flooded with light. Not just the pale gold kitchen light, or the soft pink bedroom and living-room lights… it’s glowing, drenched in one enormous pulse of blood-red. There’s a thin line of black dribbling up into the sky.

My house…

My house is burning.

I stand there, frozen, with Louis at my side.

One.

Two.

Three.

Boom.

“Louis!” I yell at him, ten volumes too loud. “Louis! You have to take her. Now.”

He looks down at Poppy, his eyes filled with tears. “But I…”

“Get her to the cage. You have to. I have to go back. Now! Take her! She weighs nothing, I promise!”

I thrust her into Louis’ arms and he takes her, but that’s when I realise that’s not what he’s scared about. He looks nervously down at her, and it hits me. He’s never seen the cage before. I was leading us there. I told him, sure, but what if he doesn’t find it in time? What if she turns? What if she kills him? I look down at Poppy- this poor sick girl who’s done so much damage. This girl who came back from the dead, but barely… The girl who’ll never come back fully. The girl who may as well be dead. No. I won’t let myself consider leaving her behind; I won’t. I won’t. But am I willing to risk her hurting my brother? I haven’t got a choice, have I?

The truth is, I have.

Between him and her.

I’m just frightened to make it.

“Take her.” I say. “You know how to get to the cage?”

He nods.

“Right. Get her there. You’ll be fine.” I straighten up.

“Diana!” He squeaks. “What if… what if you-”

“No what-ifs!” I say. “None! No more. You know me. I can’ t be killed. I’ll be fine.” Pain’s starting to bubble up inside my head, behind my eyes- I ignore it. It’s nothing. My family. My Mum and my sisters and my brother. Everyone. Gone. No. No, they’re not gone. Look. The fire’s small. You’ll get there in time. Oh, God. I know what’s happened. I know why this is happening. Another promise. One shouted after me in the forest, the night I ran from him. “If you ever come near us again, I’ll kill you. And your entire family too.” I ran from him. From Milo.

And Milo, it appears, is someone who keeps his promises.

“Run, Louis. With her.” I say, holding my hand to his face. “Don’t follow us. She needs to get somewhere safe. I need you, now.” He’s crying, the tears streaming down his face glowing orange in the streetlamps.

“I- I- Diana, I can’t!” He says.

“Yes, you can.”

“N- no! Not alone; I- I…”

“Remember what I said?” I bend down and hold his face in both hands; I’m crying too. “Back in the clearing? All those bastards who ever told you you’re weak are wrong. Louis, you’re strong. You’re stronger than all of us. And you can save us all. Okay? Come through. Prove it. I need you to be strong for me now. I’ll never give up on you.” I wipe away one of his tears. I can’t tear my eyes away from the burning house behind him.

“What if…” He chokes. “What if you.. and Mum…”

“No. Nothing’s going to happen to me.” I say. “I’m coming back. I promised you, didn’t I? I promise you, Louis; I promise.” I sob again. “I’ll come back for you. I’m never letting you go.”

He sniffs, then nods. I straighten up, one hand on his shoulder.

I let him go.

And then, I run like I’ve never run before.

 

 

Ooh, look, a burning house. It’s like in the movies. Sparks everywhere, smoke everywhere- you’re choking. You’ve got a headache already, but maybe that’s the change, coiling round your bones, ready to force them apart and remodel you into a monster. Feel that heat. I lick my lips as I get closer. There’s nobody outside. The fire’s only on the lower levels, but I have no idea how I’m going to get up to the bedrooms. I run up to the door and slam the full weight of my body into it. WHAM. Hey, Diana. It’s a death trap. You should probably think twice before you run straight into the… Oh. Never mind.

I’m already inside.

MUM!” I scream with all my might. “MUM! IAIN!” I choke on smoke as my headache grows worse and worse and starts to constrict, squeezing my thoughts into soup. The heat presses a hand to my face to shove me backwards. “MUM!”

I look up at the staircase. Beyond it, there are no flames. In front of it, there are a lot, and they’re wrapping around me and congealing the air in my lungs. My hallway, my dining-room, my living-room- all gone. All black lumps in a blazing inferno. Nobody’s down there. They were all in bed when we left. A burst of sparks jumps into my face and makes me spit and sob, then snarl. I can hear screaming. I can hear the frantic beep-beep-beep-beep of the fire alarm that came far too late. I’m crying. Is that the heat or the pain or the panic? Does it matter? I grit my teeth, wait for the flames in front of the stairs to duck lower, and jump over them. I think I’m on fire, but I’m not, so I keep running. Running. My throat tastes of blood, but the dry smell of smoke’s filling my head and making me choke. My headache’s screaming at me; I haven’t got long left. I want to throw up. I reach the top of the stairs and slam my entire body into Iain’s bedroom door. It opens, easily, and I nearly fall. He rolls over in bed and immediately starts to choke. My throat itches.

“What… what’s going…” He gasps and sits bolt upright in bed. He jumps out. “Diana! What-”

“Fire!” I scream. “Get EVERYBODY out! Right NOW!” My voice clogs up as a nauseating wave of pain digs into me. “NOW!”

He runs after me, and I don’t bother to look back at him. I know what the shock of seeing your entire house on fire feels like. I felt it first. He runs to Mum’s room. I run to Esme’s. She’s already awake; she’s the one I heard screaming. Without a second thought, I pick her up and run into the corridor.

“What’s happening?” She asks.

“Three guesses.” I growl. I kick Minnie’s door, twice, and burst into her room. “MINNIE! GET UP!” I yell. I stop and double over, dropping Esme, as my stomach and guts start to tie themselves in knots. My throat twists inside my neck. My joints feel weak and flabby. My nostril twitches and a slow trickle of hot blood oozes down into my mouth. Suddenly, Minnie’s there, one hand on my shoulder.

“No!” I bat her away, then start to cough. “Get- get OUT! Take her. Meet Iain. Get-” Minnie takes a sobbing Esme from me as I look beyond her, downstairs. The wall of flames has doubled in height and crawled halfway up the staircase. My vision blurs as the change suddenly seizes me and throws me against the wall. I crumple like paper. I raise one hand to wipe sweat and tears off my face, and it comes away red. The heat’s killing me and the smoke’s killing me faster and the change, as it slowly begins to crush me from the inside, is killing me fastest of all. I hear Iain screaming at us to follow him; his words are stifled. I hear the words “Bedding” and “Window” and “Out”, and Minnie runs past me, only quickly glancing back. She’s assuming I’ll follow her. They’re going to escape through the window. They’re going to throw bedding out to break the fall and jump. I drop to my knees and, even through the heat and the smoke and the alarm and the screaming, I hear my first joint bursting open with a CRACK. I scream as my vision clears; it’s all I feel. My finger. One finger, breaking in half, is all I feel.

“Diana!” Somebody shouts; then, as I blink and feel the rest of my fingers breaking, and my wrists twisting backwards, Iain runs back towards me. He’s trying to pull me up. “No… no.” I murmur. I try to scream it, but the words won’t move from the back of my throat. “N… oh… no… n…” I wheeze, but no sound comes out. Iain’s still screaming. “Diana! Diana! Get up, darling; I’ll carry you. We can get-”

“NO!” I scream, tears pouring down my face as I twist sideways and fall back to the ground, landing on two broken ankles. The pain’s worse. Worse than I remember. And that’s when I look out of the window, heaving as Iain leans down and tries to pick me up again, and see the shadow standing on the lawn.

He sees me.

He waves at me.

And then he doubles over in pain.

“No…” I hiss through my teeth, realising what’s about to happen. “No… no… NO! NO!”

 “Where’s Louis?” Iain shouts, looking up towards the end of the hallway.

“He’s out.” I say. “He’s safe. No. NO!”

“What’s wrong?” Iain says. I look up at him, and he yells in horror as he sees my face. The blood. My eyes.

“Told… you…” I choke. “Werewolf.”

My shoulders pop out of place. I scream again. I’m going to turn. I’m going to black out. I’m going to kill them all. All of them… Because I came back to save them. Milo must’ve known I would. Everything; everything; everything I worked for. It’ll all be gone. All for nothing. I’m going to kill my family. I scream again; “GET AWAY FROM ME!” before the bright scarlet hallway turns turquoise. I’m going to burn here. I’m going to turn into a werewolf and kill them all, or burn to death. And then he’ll win. Iain shouts to someone at the end of the hallway; something tells me it’s Mum.

“GO!” he yells, then kneels back beside me.

“Fuck OFF, Iain!” I sob. The pain’s livid. I’m crying. I’m crying blood. My heart pulses. Once. Twice. And pop, out comes a rib. Two. Three. The pain’s brighter than any fire, hotter than any fear. Iain gasps, then gets up and hurries away, because Mum’s refusing to do as he says. She won’t leave me, but I won’t let her stay. I struggle to my feet. I don’t have any feet, so I don’t know how I’m doing it, but I am. I’m running on adrenaline and anger and agony. Anger. I can’t see the shadow on the lawn anymore, but I know Milo’s out there. I struggle to the window. It takes me one burning hot minute. I sit down. The breath floods from me and I collapse against the frame. The wind should be freezing on my skin, but it does nothing.

My jaw bursts apart and I howl. The pain and the fear boil into fury. Milo. He did this. All this time, I was feeling guilty for killing him; he killed Poppy, and I lived. He ran around at night, not caring who he killed, and I lay there and listened. He killed my Dad, and I cried. He took my brother, and I did nothing. I had him RIGHT THERE, in the corridor, and I could’ve killed him, but I let him go. Why? Because I was afraid. I’m selfish, and I’m angry, but I’m not ashamed. My indecisiveness, on the other hand, nearly killed us all. It still could yet. Probably will. I’m going to reach him before it does. If I have to become a bloody animal before I’ve got enough balls to kill him, so be it. He’s a monster. And I guess nothing fights monsters better than monsters.

Milo. Milo. Milo. Kill him. I roll sideways. Gravity snatches me up, and suddenly, I’m falling. I’m falling out the window. Down. Down. Down. THUD. The wind flies from me and I swallow a mouthful of blood as my last tooth spatters the flowerbed. Some chunk of the house or another falls behind me, dotting the air with sparks. I hear nothing. I see Milo; he’s a heap on the ground, clutching at the grass as he falls to pieces. He’s helpless again. And this time, I’m showing him no mercy. He cost me everything; my life, my love, my family, my body, my safety, my sanity. My faith. Gone. Gone. Because of him. And I nearly let him live, because I felt sorry for him. I’ve made mistake after mistake after mistake after mistake; is there a single bloody part of this plan I’ve done right? What kind of hero am I? The kind who’s scared of her own feelings? The wrong kind? No more. I fix my eyes on him as my thoughts start to dissolve. I tighten my fists as the claws burst out. I clench what’s left of my jaw as my skin tears like tissue paper. I breathe in.

And I scream as my back breaks in half.

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