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

11. The Flimsy Girl

I WALK IN step with her all the way from the common room to the bathrooms. I check to make sure there’s nobody in there. And then I grab her by the shoulder, spin her and slam her against the wall.

“What the hell do you think you’re playing at, Gretchen?” I ask her as she whimpers. “What- what’s wrong with you?”

She’s breathing hard, her mouth gaping slightly open. “Di… Diana.” She pants. “I thought you… you were off sick.”

“Yeah, course I was off sick; you half ripped my arm off!” I yell. “Why? What the hell’s going on?”

“Please let me go.”

“Go to hell!” I say. I want to punch her, but I don’t. The white adhesive eyepatch on her face looks like it’s about to fall off. “Tell me, Gretchen. Tell me now why the hell you hang out with those lunatics- those people, those… what- whatever you are!

“Di… Diana…” She’s started to cry. Already. “Please, I… I…”

“You what?”

She whimpers.

“You WHAT?” I yell.

“I… I… I can’t tell- please, please! You- you know… I can’t talk to you. Milo… Milo’ll kill me. He swore he would; he swore he would! Please. Please. I’m begging you.”

“Begging won’t help.” I start to feel a pang of guilt- she could’ve snapped in half from the force I grabbed her with, and I can’t help feeling she might be telling the truth about Milo. I have no idea whether what I’m doing’s right. Whether she deserves what I’ve been dreaming of doing to her.

“Gretchen, please.” I say. “I need to know.” I realise I sound too soft, so I harden my voice and tighten my grip on her shoulders. She knows she can’t leave without me following her.

“Tell me, Gretchen. Tell me why. Tell me why you’re all doing this.”

Gretchen breathes out, and the breath whines at her lips. She’s frightened of me- is that good? Yes. She lied to me. She hurt me. She and her friends killed Poppy, and they could’ve killed Louis too. She’s one of the bad guys. She’d better be frightened of me.

“Gretchen!”

She sobs. “Oh- okay! Okay, okay. Okay. Please. Don’t- don’t hurt me. I’ll- I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you how I met Milo.”

Oh, I think. That was easy.

“Please let me down.”

Down? I look down, realising her feet are dangling a few inches above the tiles. I’m holding her up against the wall- I didn’t realise I had this much strength left in me.

“Okay, fine.”

Slowly, I let her down. She tries to struggle, but I hold her fast.

“I’m going,” I whisper at the ground. “To kill every last person in that gang.”

She looks at me, wide-eyed.

“You’d better hope I choose to let you live, Gretchen. I swear to God- this shit’s turning me into a lunatic. I can’t bear it, but I don’t care- I will do it. I’d better find something out in these next few words that makes me let you go.”

Gretchen breathes out softly, a tear falling down her cheek, and nods.

“I didn’t… want it to happen,” she says, then starts to shake as more tears fall.

“What? You didn’t want what to happen?”

“You know what!” She sobs. “Turning into a… into a werewolf. I didn’t want it to happen. It wasn’t my choice.”

“So you turn into a werewolf?” I say.

She sniffs and nods. “Uh-huh. Yeah. By getting bitten. You didn’t know that?”

I press her harder against the wall in frustration. “No. How the hell would I possibly know that?”

“Be- because…” She trails off for a second and cocks her eyebrow. “It’s sort of common knowledge, isn’t it?”

I growl. “I didn’t… Look, just tell me how it happened.”

“I, uh…” Gretchen swallows, then starts talking as fast as she can. “I knew Nancy first… she got me involved in it. We used- we used to be best friends, you know? At primary. She used to be sweet, and kind, and then… she started hanging out with all these stupid cows and stopped hanging out with me. She turned into… well, you know.”

“A psychotic bitch?” I say. Gretchen looks at me and says nothing.

“She- she goes to the comp now,” Gretchen says. “Nancy, I mean. She met Milo there. They were dating. I think, since year seven. From the off. And he fucked her up more… he- he changed her, Di. But then, I- I moved, back to where I used to live, and- and Nancy and I started taking the bus together again.”

“Get to the point already.” I try to snarl, but I can’t help myself from wanting to let her go. She’s crying, for God’s sakes. I’ve never made anyone cry before. Not on purpose, anyway.

“Milo was there too. On the bus. Those two were, like, freaking brother and sister- they- they never separated, I mean.” Gretchen says hastily. “And Nancy started talking to me a- again. She… she acted like she wanted to be friends again, and I… I wanted to too.”

“Why the hell’d you want to be friends with her?”

“Because it’s a friend, Diana! I- I know she was awful, and I didn’t… I didn’t even like her much back then. But… I- I was alone, and she made me feel wanted, and so I said yes. It was better than nothing, you know? You remember how I used to be. Ginger ponytail, fucking- glasses, long skirts, no friends. I sat in the corner and did homework and nobody liked me. You- you don’t know what that’s like. You- you had loads of friends; everyone liked you. And I… I had nobody. So the first person I could get, I took.”

She’s right. I was always popular; at least, before the accident. I wonder if I should point out to her that actually, I do know what it’s like to have no friends, but something inside me tells me not to.

“We all started hanging out together at night,” Gretchen said. “In- in the woods. At that spot. It was just the three of us for a while, and then…”

She trails off.

“What?” I say.

“Anyway, it wasn’t like, a surprise or anything,” Gretchen says. “You know? It wasn’t like he was trying to keep it hidden or anything like that- he boasted about it, brought it up all the time, and I didn’t believe him because it was all so Goddamn stupid. He once hit me because I laughed at him. I thought he was telling a joke.”

“Wait.” I say. She’s lost me. “What- what do you mean? What wasn’t a surprise?”

Gretchen looks at me like I’m stupid.

“Finding out Milo was a werewolf.” She says.

“Oh.”

“He used- he used to tell us it all the time. He never shut up about it. He said he’d been one all his life- turned into a wolf every full moon, couldn’t control or remember it, relished the power. That’s what he said. He told us how- how it happened, too; said his father pissed off the wrong kind of people when his mother was pregnant, back when his father was a petty criminal. Before he got killed in that gang thing. He- Milo got cursed, I guess. It never sounded real, obviously, even- even… though he spoke about it like it was all old news. Nancy used to laugh at him too. Then, I guess I should’ve noticed this before- she- she suddenly stopped laughing at him. S- suddenly, it was just me that didn’t believe him. Eventually- like, only recently… three months ago or so, he- he told me he was sick of me not believing him about it. So he, uh- um…”

Gretchen’s face crumples and she starts to shake uncontrollably, more tears pouring down her cheeks. She’s gone red. God, I suddenly feel terrible for her.

“I… I need to stop.” She says.

“No.” I reply before I can stop myself. “No. No. You can’t. I need to know.”

“Please, Di!” She sobs. “Please, please! Don’t make me… don’t make me tell you- he- he’ll kill me, Di. He’ll fucking kill me; he swore he would, and Nancy said he would, and everyone else… they- they’ll kill me- please. Please!”

“They’re not going to kill you!” I scoff. She’s starting to irritate me again. “That’s just empty threats. You’re one of them. I’m the only one they want to kill. Now shut up and tell the rest of the story.”

Gretchen doesn’t speak. She doesn’t even look at me. She just keeps crying, her sobs growing softer and hitching in her throat as she runs out of tears. I can’t take any more of it.

She breathes out, then opens her mouth to start crying again.

“Gretchen, stop!” I say. “Tell me!”

“You- you’ll kill me too!”

“No, I won’t.”

“Yes, you will!”

Gretchen, I don’t kill people!” I say. “Milo doesn’t kill people! Nobody’s going to kill you. Now… please.”

She sniffs. “I don’t owe you an- anything, Diana; I know you’re not going to let me go. So why should I do what you say?”

“I swear to Christ, Gretchen, I don’t want to hurt any of you,” I lie. “I just want to stop you. Just- lock yourself away every night when you ch… change. You can stop yourself from hurting anyone; it’s not the bloody illness I want to stop. It’s the fact you let yourselves run round the fucking woods like that! Gretchen, you know me. I’m not going to hurt you. So- so- so just tell me.”

Gretchen stares at me, and I stare back. There’s a long silence.

Then, she takes a deep breath.

“Milo… took me to his house,” she says. “One night. I thought Nancy was going to be there, but she- she wasn’t. It was just me and him. We sat there and didn’t do much for a while. So we’re sitting there, and then… and then he started talking to me about the whole werewolf thing. It started off, like… I dunno; not exactly jokey, but sort of casual enough I was nervously laughing, because I thought he could’ve only been kidding. You know? And then he started to get really, really f- freaky. Like, he was talking all this crap about freedom and animal instincts and… I don’t know. I think he’s crazy. He’s not as crazy as Nancy, but he’s… weird. Sort of spaced-out. Just… Weird.” Gretchen swallows and tries to calm herself down. “I got up and said I was leaving. But when…” She chokes on another sob. “But when I tried, the- the door was locked. And I started to panic. And that’s when…”

I close my eyes and sigh. I know what’s coming next, and I curse myself for letting it make me feel sorry for her, but it does. Poor flimsy girl.

“That’s when he bit me.”

I blink.

Gretchen nods. “Yeah.”

“Wait…” I say. “Wait- he didn’t… he didn’t turn? You…”

“No.” Gretchen sighs. “He didn’t turn. From what he told me that night, when we- when he- when we’re wolves, we don’t use our teeth. Just claws. That’s why the world isn’t crawling with werewolves yet, he said. Said if you want to turn someone, you have to bite them when you’re human.”

“Wait, and that… and that works?”

“Yeah, Diana. It’s not… it’s just your body. It just changes your- your body. You have the same blood. The same… disease. So if you bite someone, they turn- doesn’t matter if you’re human or wolf or what.”

“I tried to run, but I… He got me. He got me, Di.”

I nod.

“He…” She sniffs. “We fought for a bit. He was way too strong. He knocked me down. He bit me then. In the… in the end. Rem- remember I had the- the elbow brace for a few months?”

I blink. “Yeah.”

“That’s where the bite mark was. It healed, but it hurt like crazy the first few weeks. I- I- every time I tried to talk to him about it, he just told me it was a punishment. Said I’d better think twice before I laughed at him again.”

All I do is nod.

Gretchen breathes out again, then blinks, letting tears fall down her face.

“Why’d he do it?” I ask her. “That- that can’t be the only reason. Why’d he turn you?”

“I… I- I don’t know,” Gretchen says. “He… he never told me. I think he was just sick of being the only one, you know? Being alone. And he wanted to feel powerful, so he started a gang. It’s like every other gang… the werewolfism’s not really even part of it, not really. It just is. It’s all part of Milo’s grand quest to feel cool or something. He recruits people, gets them in, and then he turns them. He needs us more than we need him. He’s pathetic, but he’s- dangerous.”

“Where’d the other three come from?” I ask. “Harry and Salem? Why’d he turn them?”

“Oh.” Gretchen blinks. “They’re from the comp. I think they’re year nine or ten. Last night was their first night.”

“And the other guy?”

She blinks. “What other guy? Oh, you mean Milo’s dealer?”

I frown in disgust. “Oh, seriously?”

“Yeah.” For some reason, Gretchen seems more nervous to admit she’s into drugs than she was with werewolfism and murder. “Milo’s known him for years. They all… all three of them, him and Harry and Salem…” She curls her lip. “He’s not done yet. He’s recruiting…” Her lip trembles again and she stares right at me. “He’s recruiting more kids. Younger ones. They all asked for it.”

“What do you mean, they asked for it?” I demand, the expression raising my hackles. “How could you-”

“No! No, I mean they literally, actually asked for it.” Gretchen says hurriedly. “They asked to be turned.”

“What?”

“Well, after Milo told them, he said they could either get turned or get killed. So they stayed.”

“Right. So Milo’s the big bad guy, is he?” I say, trying to regain my dominance. “He’s the only wrong one, and you’re an innocent little flower? Is that what you’re saying?”

“That’s not what I said.”

“It’s what you meant.”

She doesn’t answer. She looks up at the ceiling-lights.

“Now…” she breathes. “He’s going to kill me. For telling you.”

“I won’t let it happen.” I say. I mean it. Milo’s a skinny guy- whilst he’s human, I have a chance at him. If I catch him off-guard. Maybe if I kill him, the rest’ll stop, and then it’ll be over.

“Where does he live?” I say.

Gretchen looks at me. “What? No. Di, please-”

“Where does he live?” I ask her. “Gretchen, I honestly don’t know whether I believe you or not. You might be lying to me to spare your own skin. But-”

“I’m not! I’m not lying!”

“Yeah, whatever.” I growl. Her tears are pissing me off; has she got any right to cry after everything she’s done? “Where does he live? Gretch, if you’re telling me the truth, and you are some kind of innocent victim, I can stop him. I can help you get out of this gang. I want to stop this.”

“You can’t.” She whispers.

I stare at her, caught off-guard by the assuredness in her voice.

“Yes, I can.”

“He’s strong, Di. He’s stronger than he looks.”

I lick my lips. “I’m stronger.”

“Di-”

“I will stop him,” I say to her. “In, out, easy. And then you’re free. Now tell me where he lives.”

She takes a shaky breath, wipes her eye, and then whispers, “Neville Street. Bad side of town. Next to the corner shop.”

I nod silently.

“But he…” She stops herself, her eyes wide, like she’s trying to decide whether to tell me something important.

“What?” I say. “What?”

“Nothing. That’s all.”

“Gretch, I saw that. What were you going to tell me? What?” I spit.

“Your brother…” She says. “And- and Poppy…”

Then, she stops herself dead and shakes her head.

“No. I don’t have any right to say that. I can’t. I’m sorry. Look-”

“What about your family, Gretch?” I say. “What about your mother, and your sister? What about them?”

Gretchen’s expression darkens, and for one crazy second, I wonder whether I’ve overstepped the line. Then, she blinks back tears again.

“My family,” Gretchen says. “Are safe. They don’t need to know. But you-”

MY family isn’t fucking safe!” I burst out before I can stop myself. “What… what about… are you that selfish? Don’t… don’t you care about Poppy? Don’t you care what you did to her?”

“That- that was before I turned into… into one.” Gretchen says. “I swear, I got turned in spring. Must’ve been Milo. It could only have been Milo.”

I frown. “What about Nancy?”

Gretchen pales. “Nancy?”

“Yeah. You said there was a point Nancy stopped laughing at the whole werewolf thing. That obviously means he’d turned her, right?”

Gretchen’s expression clears. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess it does.”

“And that was?”

“Be- you’re right. Be- before Christmas.” She says. “I- I’m sorry. I was lying to you. I knew he’d turned her by then. It- it could’ve been either of them.”

I widen my eyes as hatred boils up inside my gut. “You mean-”

“Who kill- killed Poppy.” Gretchen says. ”Di, I’m so-”

“Don’t speak.” I say to Gretchen. “Don’t even say her name, you understand? It’s too good for your mouth.”

“Di, this isn’t my fault-”

“Don’t.” I repeat. “Not now. It’s done. Poppy’s done. It’s over. The reason I’m doing this… it’s for my family. My little brother- Milo knows about him, thanks to you-”

“Di-”

“Shut UP!” I snarl. “My family are NOT going to die, you hear me! I’m NOT going to let a single one of you bastards TOUCH my brother, or my Mum, or my- my Dad.” I blink. “I’m not doing this for revenge, Gretch. Do you understand that? You’d better walk away from this now, because if you don’t, and I suspect for a second you’re still going out there, I swear to God you’re every bit as dead as the rest of them. You should thank your lucky stars you’ve been throwing me a pity party these last six months.”

I suddenly realise. That’s it, isn’t it? Gretchen only started talking to me in the first place because she knew what happened to Poppy, and decided not to tell me. She felt bad for me. That’s it, then. Nobody in this Godforsaken school’s on my side.

“Di, I didn’t…” Gretchen says. “I wasn’t-”

“I don’t care,” I hiss. “About you. I’m here to protect my family from your bullshit and that’s it, okay? Think about Poppy. I want you to feel guilty. And think about my brother, and my Mum- my Dad. My Dad never came home from work this morning, you know.” I spit.

It’s true. He never came back. Mum didn’t seem especially worried, but then again, she’s a pro at burying her head in the sand.

Gretchen stares at me. Her lip starts trembling and she bites it, hard. As I watch her, I feel myself starting to cry. I’m not this girl- the one who spits and snarls and threatens, the one with no sympathy. It’s my anger, my fear, taking me over. I blink, and tears fall down my cheeks, but those tears only make me angrier.

“Gretchen, I don’t want to hurt you.” I say. “I don’t want you to get hurt, but as far as the facts go, you’re as bad as the rest of them. You’re safe for now. I’m not a monster. But I swear to Christ, you’d better watch your back. If I find out a single thing’s happened to my Dad,” I spit, “I will kill you where you stand.”

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