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

16. The Prisoners

ALFIE BLINKS, AND his face screws up like he’s been crying. His eyes are red and puffy. A sick, cold feeling spreads through my blood.

“Alfie?” I say. “Jesus Christ! Where’s Louis?”

Alfie blinks, then says, “D- Diana? He was- he was-”

“What the HELL are you doing out this deep in the woods?”

Alfie looks around; his voice is jumping up and down, and his crying almost sounds artificial. “He- he- it’s not that deep; we were-”

Where’s my brother?” I demand. Alfie looks at me, and I know what that look means. I’ve never felt sicker in my life. Alfie’s out in the woods. Louis is meant to be with him, and he’s not. He’s out here, somewhere, alone.

“Do they have him? Alfie. Alfie. Look at me. No, STOP crying!” I grab his shoulders and shake him. “Just- just tell me, Alfie; tell me where Louis is.”

“Louis? He, uh…”

“Did they take him, Alfie? Did someone take him? The gang? Nancy and Gretchen and two younger boys? Do they have him?”

For a second, Alfie’s expression, crumpled up by crying, goes utterly still as he looks up at the sky. He opens his mouth, then closes it again. I want to slap him. They’ve taken him; I know they have.

SPEAK, Alfie!” I sob.

Alfie looks up to stare me dead in the eyes. Then, silently, he nods.

My heart stops.

“Yes?” I say. “Yes? That’s a yes? They’ve taken him? Oh my God. Right. Right.” I heft my sword. “Where’ve they taken him, Alfie? Tell me where they are. Where they were, I mean, when- when they took him. Where were you? What were you doing?”

Alfie whimpers, his voice shaking harder. He opens his mouth, then closes it.

Oh, God. I’m so sick of this. “Listen to me, Alfie,” I say, bending down to him. “I’m going to stop them, okay? I’m going to stop them all. I need to save Louis. They won’t hurt you; I swear. I’ll protect you. Now, just tell me where they are; I- I need to know where they are.”

I don’t know why I’m suddenly so broken; I knew he’d been taken before, didn’t I? Well, now I guess I know it for sure. No more fruitless paranoia. No more telling myself it’s fine. No more denial. No more hiding under the covers.

“I- I’ll take you,” Alfie says softly.

As we start to walk, I want to ask him a million questions, but at the same time, I’m scared to open my mouth for any of them. Louis isn’t dead. He can’t be dead; he can’t be. It soon occurs to me that Alfie’s walking almost too quickly for me to catch up, hopping over branches and skipping around ponds like he’s done this a million times before. He’s been coming out here a lot, hasn’t he? My stomach churns as I wonder how many of those times Louis has been with him, inches away from those claws and those teeth. And now, they’ve caught him. I guess it’s good luck I found Alfie, really; in this enormous forest, we could’ve never run into one another. I don’t feel very lucky, though. I just feel sick with worry.

God, I hate Alfie; hated him the moment Louis first brought him home, spent all evening every evening talking about video games and guns and hot actresses. The moment he got Louis to get the same haircut as him because it was ‘cool’. The moment he started luring Louis into that playground at night; the moment he got him hurt. Sure, Alfie couldn’t have known there was a gang in the woods, nor werewolves, but I need someone to blame besides myself for once, damnit.

“Slow down!” I say, tripping over a log and nearly falling on my sword as I struggle to keep up. And what a ridiculous end to a ridiculous legacy that would’ve been. Alfie barely looks over his shoulder.

“Come on, we’ve got to help him!” He says in his ridiculously high-pitched voice. “Come on, speed up.”

I try my best, but end up nearly tripping and slicing my leg open again. I wonder why Alfie hasn’t asked about my sword. Or my getup. He’s probably too worried about Louis to think, like me. I pick up my pace and manage to walk alongside him.

How do you know your way around the woods so well?” I demand.

“We’re not going around the woods.” Alfie says. He pauses. “We’re going out of the woods.”

“Wait.” I stop for a second, my mind struggling to understand. “What do you mean, out of the woods? Why are you leading me out? Is that where they took him?”

“Yeah.”

Alfie pauses for a long time, then sniffs loudly. I look up and spot orange streetlight between the trees a few hundred feet away. Instantly, I relax. At least I’ll know my way home again once I’ve found my brother.

“See.” Alfie says. “That’s where they are; right up by the road. Somewhere.” He sniffs again, louder, even though he’s not crying anymore. Then, suddenly, he stops.

I stare at him.

Alfie looks up at me, his eyes wide. “I’m scared.”

Despite how much I hate him, I lay a hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay,” I say. “I’ll protect you. Please show me the way to my brother.”

He turns and keeps walking, taking me closer to the road. Once we’re a few metres away, I realise something’s wrong; I can hear talking, and the ground stays level instead of rising up to meet the road. The streetlight’s too low down- practically on the ground. And is it the right shade of orange? It looks too red- or maybe too yellow. Maybe it’s changing. I can hear crackling, too, amongst the talking. I keep walking, following Alfie, until I’m sure of what I see. It’s not streetlight, and that’s not the road. We’re deeper in the woods than ever before. And that’s firelight.

Once we’re at the edge of the clearing, the talking hushes up. I see Nancy first; she steps in front of us from behind a tree, and Alfie and I both reach for each other at the same time.

“Found them!” Someone yells from the clearing. Then, Alfie pulls on my hand, trying to drag me forwards. I pull back, but I see Nancy’s face light up with glee as she spots us, so I stop pulling and reach for my sword. I raise it, but then, Alfie punches me hard in the stomach. I grunt and fall to my knees. “What the f-” Nancy knees me in the face, and then stomps down on my hand till I scream and let go of my sword. She kicks it away from me.

All I can do is stare up at Alfie in horror as two more pairs of hands grab me and hold me down.

“Get the FUCK off of me!” I snarl and struggle, but there’s too many of them; someone holds my wrists together behind my back and then ties them together with rope. I struggle, but it’s already done. It’s all so… fast.

“Alfie, I-” I’m cut off by my own grunt of pain as Nancy kicks me in the back, knocking the wind out of me and sending me toppling off my knees; my face hits the dirt. I snarl, and everyone laughs. Everyone, including Alfie.

Yeah.

I thought his crying sounded fake.

“Alfie, you little SHIT!” I half-scream, half-weep as I feel someone tying my ankles together too. “You- you-”

“He’s been with us all along, Diana, you stupid bitch!” Nancy gloats. She kicks me hard in the ribs; I grunt, and everyone laughs again. I spit onto the ground and suck in breath to hold back the sickness. “Did Gretchen not tell you about the new recruits? No? Well, how about-”

“Where the HELL’s Louis?” I shout, tears falling down my face. I realise what this means- Alfie used Louis as bait so he could lead me here. My brother might be safe… or he might already be gone- no. I don’t want to think of any more alternatives. “Where’s my brother? If you’ve hurt him I’ll tear you APART!”

“Look up, you fucking idiot,” Nancy says, grabbing my hair and yanking my head up. It takes a minute for my eyes to focus, but there, on the other side of the firelight, I see him. The tears stop, but I still freeze.

Gretchen’s standing at the far end of the clearing, holding Louis in front of her; his wrists are bound behind his back and he’s staring at me too, his eyes brimming with tears. He’s not just red around the cheeks; his entire face is red. He’s not dead, but they’ve got him. And he’s terrified.

I open my mouth and try to speak, but nothing comes out; nothing but blood and a quiet sob. “Lou- Louis.” I manage to choke out eventually. “Don’t worry.”

“Di!” He sobs. “They- they found- I can’t… please-”

“I’m here to get you, Louis, okay?” I say urgently. Nancy walks to stand in front of me, Alfie follows her like a lost dog, and Harry and Salem dump themselves back down.

“I- I’m so so sorry!” Louis starts to cry. I stare at Gretchen, whose face is utterly expressionless but for a tiny hint of sadness. She isn’t staring at me; she’s staring through me.

“Gretchen!” I say. “Let him go, bitch, or I swear to Christ I’ll tear you all apart! ALL of you! Every… last…” I look at Louis, who sniffs. “ONE of you! Leave him ALONE! LEAVE him alone!”

I’m glad I’ve got something to yell about- namely, the fact my little brother’s being held captive- to yell about as a distraction to the others as I slowly ease one of my combat knives out of my pocket. I hold it tight to my palm so it’s against the ropes of my wrist, and then, slowly, without stopping my speech, I start to saw them. It’ll take a while. If they touch Louis before then, I guess I’ll just have to fight them tied up.

“Louis,” I say calmly. “Don’t worry. I’m going to get us out of this.”

“You are, are you?” Nancy squawks with laughter like a parrot. “I’d like to see you try, Diana! We’ve got you tied!”

“Nancy, you could cut off all my fucking limbs and I’d kill you with a headbutt. I’ll never stop fighting. Leave my brother alone. How DARE you? LEAVE him alone! Please…” I trail off. I’m losing my mind. “Please, I’m begging you, leave him alone. What’s he done to deserve this? Why him? You’ve already taken the girl I love, and my Dad, and it’s me you want, so why not kill me and leave the rest of them alone? Please? Please!”

Nancy walks over and kicks me hard in the ribs again, hitting the bruise from the first kick dead-on. My neck gives way, sending my head crashing back to the ground, and I hear Alfie yelping with laughter. I struggle to keep my eyes locked with Louis’s as I continue cutting through my ropes. I’m almost done. I think. Soon my hands’ll be free. Thank God for evil monologues.

“Oh, Diana, there’s so much you don’t get.” Nancy’s voice is gruff and furious, but occasionally, it jerks upwards like a broken guitar string. I think Gretchen’s right- I think she’s a few daisies short of a flowerbed. She strides forwards again, and when she turns back to me, even though her mouth’s pressed into a scowl, her eyes are wide and crazed. “Do you honestly think you can save Louis? Let alone yourself. Now, let me explain what’s going to happen to both of you, alright?”

She shoots a menacing glance at Louis, and I see Gretchen flinch. I want to kill her the most, I think. She’s the one who dared to touch my brother. I lick my lips.

“Okay, so… Since Milo’s gone-” Nancy jerks her head around to stare daggers at me. “I guess I’m the one who has to do the evil monologue. And I would, if I had the time, but I can clearly see you’re busy cutting your ropes and I’d hate to think I was wasting your time.”

I freeze. The whole gang laughs as Nancy walks back over to me and brings her boot down hard on my wrists; I scream as the knife bites into my palm. Louis cries out, and the boys glare at him. Nancy bends down to pry my bloody fingers open, removing the knife. Then, she throws it into the fire. My heart sinks into my boots and I see Louis’s face reddening as my last hope vanishes. I can’t reach any of my other knives.

“Did nobody remember to search this whore?” Nancy screams, entirely too loudly for the five people she’s addressing. “Don’t you all REMEMBER? It was… part of the plan.”

Then, she drops to her knees, rolls me onto my back, and thrusts her hand up my shirt. I yell and struggle, but she pulls it out just as quickly and laughs with everyone else.

“Making sure you ain’t got no more weaponry on you, superhero.” She murmurs.

“What, you think… what?” I murmur through gritted teeth. “I’ve got all these pockets, but you thought I’d have stashed a knife up my bra?”

“No, not really.” She whispers. “Just checking.”

“Well, why don’t you check properly?” I say, curling my lip at her. “Like a real supervillain?”

I see Louis flinch. Nancy draws back slightly and slaps me, hard, across the cheek. I growl and say nothing. Then, she digs her hands into two of my empty pockets, pulls them out, goes for two more, as everyone watches. She finds my three other knives, then kicks me over so I’m on my front and searches the rest.

“Jesus motherfucking Christ, how many pockets do you have?” She says.

“Search me or don’t.” I spit. God, this is so degrading- I’m on my back, tied up, as some skinny bitch with a weave and blue lipstick slowly plucks knives from my pockets like she’s unpacking her lunchbox. I want to kill her. Kill her, and watch her brains drip from- no. What did I say about giving them a second chance? I try to kick Nancy, but she dodges me, then flips me back onto my stomach. She kicks me again, in that same spot, for good measure. I moan in pain and spit onto the floor again.

Nancy leans right down so her lips are at my ear.

“You into that sort of crap, freak?” She whispers into my ear. “Was your girlfriend, too? I can-”

I jerk my head up and headbutt her in the face, as hard as I can manage. She yells in pain. Someone in the group laughs and Nancy growls, then digs her fingernails into my jaw and pulls me back in.

“I’m going to enjoy watching him kill you.” She whispers, then grins as my expression changes from anger to fear. She stands up, then hands Alfie one of the knives she took from me. That’s when I finally realise what they’re planning to do to me and Louis.

“So… what?” I growl after a while. “This is some sort of… test? For you, Alfie?”

He nods, silently, and stares at the knife in his hand. He likes it. Of course he does; it’s a great knife. Too good for a wicked brat like him. This isn’t just a kidnapping plan; it’s some sort of initiation ritual. Gretchen told me they had a new, younger recruit. I start to struggle, but as Alfie takes a step towards me, Nancy holds him back.

“Wait a second.” She says. Alfie stares up at her, and she softly adds, “This is funny to watch. Don’t you think?”

“Yeah.” Alfie laughs.

“So basically, Diana, what’s going on’s that we’re staging a little execution.” Nancy says quietly. “We’re turning in less than half an hour, on the dot of midnight, but we had some business to clear up first. We had two people we wanted to deal with first- people who’d wronged us. Get me? We knew we’d find you out here, with all your blades. We knew getting hold of Louis would bring you in. And here you are. Ready like a piece of meat for the slicing. You… care… SO much about your family, you’d run in here, guns blazing, without a single shred of fucking plan in the world! Diana, you’re too pure. You’re so pure you’re an idiot. All brawn and no brains.

“So this is what you want, is it, Alfie?” I spit. “This is what you want? To become a part of this fucking gang of beasts- OW!”

Alfie kicks me in the side, but I growl and keep talking.

“This is it, then?” I say. “You think you’re a tough guy? You’d dare to hand my brother in like this- like he’s NOTHING to you?”

“He is nothing to me,” Alfie insists.

“Well, he’s EVERYTHING to ME!” I yell. “And- and what about you, Gretchen? You’re good. You were good, anyway- and now you’re in the habit of killing twelve-year-old boys? You know I’m not going to let you-”

“Diana.” Gretchen says, her voice high. I stop and realise she’s nearly crying. “You don’t-”

“Let my brother go.” I say. “Let him GO!”

“Diana, you-”

“Let him GO!”

“Di, stop it!” Louis weeps, his voice shaking like mad. I can’t bear to see him like this; it breaks my heart. “Stop it- STOP it! Pl- please!”

I pause for a long time, then decide to move on with my mad distraction. I’m delaying- for what? For nothing. I can’t escape. In fact, I can’t believe they haven’t killed me yet. “Hey.” I say. “Gretchen.”

She looks up at me.

“Were you lying to me? About Milo forcing you to turn?”

She breathes in a shaky breath, then curls her lip. She’s still holding onto Louis’ hands.

“Fuck you, Di.” She says.

“And what- what about the rest of you?” I ask. “Did you want this?”

“Of course they all wanted this,” Nancy spits. “We’ve been doing this for ages.”

“And you, Nancy?”

“What about me?”

“Did Milo force you to change?”

“No.”

“Are you lying to me?”

“So what if I am?” Nancy squeals with laughter. “I don’t owe you crap, freak. Now shut up.”

I do. I shut up. I’m not sure what else to say, and I’m wondering, now, for the first time, whether I really am about to die. After all that- after all that training, all that anger and all those promises- am I going down like this, tied up in the middle of the forest with my face mashed into the dirt and the little brother I swore to protect right behind me?

Yeah, probably.

“Hey.” I say softly. I’m looking up at the drug dealer- the older guy with the pale beard and paler hair. “Hey, you.”

He looks at me with his watery, pale eyes. He’s the one who killed my Dad.

“What?” He says.

I breathe out. I’m about to ask him whether he wanted to be turned, like I did the others, but what’s the point of that? Instead, I ask him a simpler question.

“What’s your name?” I say.

I’d realised I didn’t know it, and I was curious.

He licks his lips. “Serpent.”

I blink. Serpent? “No- your real name, arseclown.”

“What?”

“Your real name.” I say. “Anyone? Fancy throwing me the name of the bloke who killed my Dad? I’ll bet it’s dumb. Is it Gilbert? You look like a Gilbert. Or maybe a Montgomery.”

“It’s William,” Salem pipes up. Everyone turns to glare at him, and Harry elbows him hard in the ribs.

“Serpent’s a- uh, an anagram.” Salem says. “Of his last name. What?” He says to the gang. “She’s dead meat. What’s the difference?”

“And what’s his last name?” I ask.

“Peters,” William growls. “Now shut up before the little boy puts a knife through your back.”

I see Nancy hold Alfie back, but meanwhile, I’m rearranging letters in my head. Then, I force a smile and turn back to the man who killed my Dad.

“Oh, gee.” I say. “Nice to meet you, Serpet. You know, you make the scrawniest werewolf of the lot, Serpet. Did you know that?”

William bristles, but says nothing. Another of Nancy’s kicks finds my ribs.

“Is it- time- now?” I say.

“Time for what?” She spits. “Time we kill you?”

I think of everyone I’ll be leaving behind. My Mum. My brothers and sisters. My Dad, for his last few days of life. My school friends. My grandparents. Everyone. Gone. And everything. Gone. But mostly, Louis… right beside me. Coming with me.

“No.” I spit. “Time you let my brother go.”

“Oh!” Nancy says. “Oh, that’s funny!”

“He’s not mixed up in any of this,” I say. “He doesn’t deserve it; he’s a kid. Please; please. I’m begging you. Kill me; let him go. He’s just a kid! He doesn’t deserve any of this! He doesn’t know what’s happening to him! Please, Nancy. I- I- okay, I give up. I’ll do whatever you say. I’ll die without a fuss. Kill me, but please let my brother go! He hasn’t done anything to you!”

When I look up at Nancy, she’s grinning from ear to ear. Behind her, both Gretchen and Louis look down at the ground, and I spot Alfie intently examining the knife in his hand again.

“Ooh,” Nancy says, turning to the rest of the gang. “I dunno now!”

Everyone laughs. Why are they laughing? What about this is funny, from either point of view? They’re all sick.

“I feel like she’s made some pretty good points!” Nancy says. “What do you all think? Should we let him go?”

She’s mocking me. Worse, she’s mocking Louis. I want her dead.

I think we should let him go.” William volunteers.

“Yeah- yeah!” Alfie and Harry chorus. Gretchen and Salem stay silent.

“Alright, alright.” Nancy holds her hands up to more laughter. Her eyes grow wider every time they laugh. She looks over at Louis, who’s now crying so hard he’s gone completely silent, his mouth wide open. “Louis?” She says.

He looks up. Gretchen looks down at him.

“Do you want to leave?” Nancy says. “Now that you’re so close?”

My blood runs cold. No- colder than cold.

Slowly, without taking his eyes off me, Louis shakes his head.

My blood freezes, and the fear infects me so quickly it knits my guts together.

“Then get on with it and chuck her in, will you?” Nancy says.

Louis steps away from Gretchen, and that’s when I see his hands aren’t tied at all, and hers are bound with cable ties. Feebly, he throws her to the ground, and she lets him. That’s when Nancy’s words run through my head again- two people, she said, who wronged us. Gretchen told me everything I needed to know to kill Milo. She’s a traitor. She catches my eye as Nancy puts her foot on her back, and gets the only front-row seat to the most crushing mental breakdown I’ve ever had.

Gretchen’s the second prisoner. Not Louis. Louis isn’t a prisoner at all.

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