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!
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20. The Skittles Game

THE NEWS THAT yet another poor soul- a young boy this time- has been found gored to death by dogs spreads through the town like wildfire. Alfie’s family are, naturally, devastated- at their insistence, the forest is searched thoroughly yet again. I cry, not because I’m sure the police will find the bodies I buried, but because I feel so utterly, horrendously guilty. I’ve killed all the bad guys, but I don’t feel like a good guy. I feel like a real person- someone who’s made a mistake. I feel like a monster. I feel like a killer. Once again, I sit tight, twiddling my thumbs, and wait to be arrested.

And once again, somehow, I’m not.

They interview me on the day- of course they do, since I’m the poor sod who found the body in the first place. I report no strange noises, no suspicious activity, no sightings of the thing that killed him. I deny my brother knew him and tell Louis to say the same. I want it over with. The Diana the police force knew- the one who slags them off for their every mistake- is gone, and in her place I put a young woman who’s quiet, demure, frightened. Broken. She’s a liar, but she’s safe from suspicion. After I’m told I’m free to leave the police station, I make my way towards the sliding glass doors, but I stop dead in my tracks as I hear some police officer or another murmuring a sentence that ends with; “awfully quiet this time.” I turn and stare at him for a long, long, long time. Then, I snarl.

Is that suspicious? Apparently not.

Alfie’s death was ruled as an animal attack, of course- easy to work out, easy to dismiss. The case is closed within a week, and all the police are pretty damn happy with themselves, even though they haven’t managed to find the fucking dog that did it. The poor boy’s dead- he can’t complain to them. No witnesses means no ridiculous claims that need to be investigated. As it turns out, Alfie’s sister, Daisy, knew all along he’d been sneaking out at night to hang out with a gang. She just didn’t care enough till it killed him. After this comes out, the reported disappearances of Harry, Salem, Gretchen and Nancy start to make more sense to the general public. All four families adamantly deny their little angels would ever be a part of something so awful, so basic, but within a week, the town pretty much decides for itself they’ve all run away somewhere. I’m safe. I’ve done the wrong thing- I shouldn’t’ve buried them. I should’ve come clean about what happened. But it’s too late now.

Alfie’s buried. None of us go to the funeral. We’re too busy dealing with our own tragedy.

The weeks pass like hours, and every morning, I wake up with my heart in my mouth and my pulse breaking through my bandages. I become accustomed to the winding white polished corridors of the hospital, the nauseous smell of disinfectant, the combined sounds of coughing and footsteps and trolley wheels. I get used to the sight of Mum crying, my army-hardened older brother wringing his hands, my younger siblings confused and deadpan. I get used to the sight of Dad getting weaker. I get used to the idea of him dying. And I think he does too.

He does his best to keep smiling, and it breaks my heart- he clings to his life for as long as he can, and it breaks my heart. As the days wear on, the visits from the nurses become more and more frequent, and our stints in the corridor, waiting to be told we’re okay to go back in, get longer. Sometimes, Dad manages to stay awake till we leave. Usually, he doesn’t.

It’s a Friday- four weeks since I buried the bodies- when Mum forbids Esme and Louis from coming to the hospital with us anymore. Louis fights hard to stay, and I, knowing why he wants to come, back him up- Mum’s in no condition to fight back. She lets him come. We drop Esme off with one of Mum’s old work friends, and I tell myself she’ll kick up a stink if she’s still not allowed to come tomorrow.

Mum says nothing as she walks up to Dad’s bed- the one by the window, with the sunlight spilling onto his lap. She sits down on the chair and takes his hand. Iain stands behind her, holding her shoulders.

“Hiya, Dad.” I say dejectedly. He doesn’t reply. He’s asleep.

As I settle into my usual seat, I’m forced to let my mind wander. What else am I supposed to do? Engage in Iain and Mum’s small talk? My throat’s sore. Stare at Dad’s poor face? I don’t have the courage. I try to think about school, since that’s what most teenagers think about at this time of year. I’ve missed so much- in fact, I think I could count on my fingers the number of full days I’ve spent in school. I’ll have to repeat the year, but who’s to say next year’ll be any better? Can it get any worse? Maybe. Maybe not. I hope not; this is awful. This whole year smells of clinical cream and tastes of tears. It looks like a church hall with black curtains and a forest with blood all over the trees. It sounds like a gurgled animal howl. It feels like death. It feels like misery. Because as angry as I try to make myself, now Dad’s got less than a week to live, all because of some scrawny werewolf I couldn’t quite catch, that’s all I feel. Misery. Misery. Misery.

At around midday, Iain and Minnie go to the food bar to get lunch. They come back grinning, with fistfuls of nothing but sweets, and Mum pretends to find it funny, even though she doesn’t. I really do find it funny, so I laugh, and so does Louis, and so, I think, does Dad. For a second. I don’t want to let go of his hand to eat my lunch, so my siblings and I take turns throwing Skittles into one another’s mouths. We get frowned at a lot during that hour, and I get it- how could the kids of a man who’s dying think straight enough to play games and laugh and feel joy? I’ll tell you how. Because we’re confused. This doesn’t feel real, so we act like it isn’t. It’s easy when you’re used to it.

After we’ve finished eating, Louis leans his head on mine. He wants me closer. I jokingly ask if he wants to sit on my lap, and for a second, with his finger in his mouth, he looks like he might say yes. Then, he realises I’m joking. I still haven’t let go of Dad’s hand- it’s getting sweaty. I wish I could switch, but I’m scared to let go, even if it’s for a second. What if he falls? Another hour passes, and Louis starts to cry. He stops after ten minutes, after he’s realised nobody’s going to acknowledge it. I squeeze his hand, but somehow, he manages to squeeze back tighter- so tightly it hurts. I still don’t want him to let go. What if I fall?

Dad wakes up after another couple of hours. I wonder what it is that makes him wake up, but only idly, because I think I know why. My mind’s on other things. I’m forcing it onto other things. I hear Mum and Dad talking, quietly, but when I come back to myself and focus properly on the conversation, I realise she’s shushing him, and he’s mumbling. He and Iain talk for a bit, and Minnie smiles and laughs, but the sad truth is, we’ve run out of things to say to one another. He turns to me, and I smile and squeeze his hand, but he doesn’t say anything. Dad’s always been good at reading people, and he can see in my eyes I don’t want to talk. I just want to paint this moment in my mind, keep it forever so I know for sure there’s nothing there to feel guilty about. Dad breathes for a bit- I think he’s too weak to turn his head back, or maybe he wants to look at us because Mum hurts him too much. I know I need to say something. Anything, God damn it. This silence is killing me- it’s unbearable, and the fact I’m not crying makes me feel worse.

“We- we’re safe,” I say to him softly. His grip on my hand loosens. His gaze loosens too. I know he knows what I mean- that the monsters in the woods are all gone now. I rather think he’s relieved- my words bring him comfort. It’s not because he’s slipping away. I see my family looking at me- they’re worried I’m speaking, because I’m the only one who’s brave enough to say goodbye whilst he can still hear. Mum looks terrified and Iain’s biting his fist. I turn back to Dad- he’s all that matters right now.

“We’re safe.” I say, looking down as Dad lets go of my hand to rest it on his chest. “We’re all going to be okay now. Thanks to us… me and Louis. We’re going to keep everyone safe.”

Dad’s eyes loosen more. Louis sniffs, once, loudly, and wipes a tear from the tip of his nose. As Dad watches, I reach over with both my free hands and grip Louis’s; eagerly, he takes them. Dad smiles.

And that’s the last thing I remember on his face. I blink, and blink again, and he blurs into the pillow till everything’s white. I don’t know whether I cry. I don’t know whether I imagine the hysterical whimpers that turn into moans that turn into screams that drown out the sound of the heart monitor’s solid beeeep. I don’t know how much time passes before I open my eyes to a nurse’s hand on mine and my brother’s shoulders. I don’t know if I fell asleep, or whether I’m already starting to blank out what my mind knows I won’t want to remember. I don’t know why I’d want to forget; as far as I can discern, Dad dies smiling.

And all I feel is misery.

 

 

I’m still in the waiting-room long after the sun goes down. Minnie’s at the end of the row of chairs, picking her fingernails. Iain and Mum are still in the ward; I’ve got a pretty good idea what’s going on. Louis and I are leaning hard on the same metal armrest as he pushes his head into my shoulder and I wrap my arm tight around him. Neither of us are crying. We’re not talking, either. In fact, we’ve barely spoken since that night in the woods. He hasn’t asked me about the bodies, or about my bite, or about Alfie. He’s a smart kid; he knows. As we sit in that room, in silence, I try hard to think through the solid buzz of Dad died Dad died Dad died Dad died in my skull. I know it’s wrong to be thinking of anything other than Dad right now. For God’s sake, my life’ll never be the same again. But it hurts to let the truth sink in too far. I decide to focus instead on the fact that tomorrow’s the full moon. Good. Just what I need. Just what we both need.

“I bought something last week,” I whisper into Louis’ hair. He doesn’t reply, but I know he heard me.

“One of those whacking great dog cages.”

Louis stares up at me. I press my lips together and stroke his hair. “It’s okay,” I say. “I know what-”

“What if it’s not big enough?”

“What?”

He scowls. “What if it’s not big enough?” He hisses. “For one of those-”

“Don’t worry. I’ve tested it out.” I say with half a smile. “It’s in the woods. All I’ve gotta do is…”

I stop myself. This isn’t the right time to be bringing this up- maybe Louis doesn’t need to know. Maybe it’ll be easier for him, this whole process, if he’s allowed to stay stupid to the details. Or maybe he, like me, could do with a distraction. Maybe he’s still just as desperate as me to bring this whole bloody rigamarole to an end. Dad’s over. The gang’s over… almost. I need to be over too.

“You, uh…” I say. “Anyway. I saw you watching the doctor earlier. You still wanna be a doctor?”

He stares up at me.

“Do you?”

He nods.

“Cool.” I stroke his hair. “Although… you’ve been doing some nice acting recently. Fooled me. Maybe you should join Esme’s stage show. Wouldn’t want all that talent going to waste.”

Louis sniffs. I was trying to make it sound casual, but maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up at all. I don’t expect him to reply.

Then, softly, through tears, he whispers, “Doctors have to be good actors too.”

I press my mouth together. How’s he so smart? And how did such a smart kid like him nearly end up falling down such a horrible path? I let the silence eat us again; I’m scared Minnie will hear us if we go on talking or get too loud. She’s a girl of extreme emotions- she’s always either laughing till she cries or crying till she laughs, and right now, she’s on the verge of yet more tears. I can’t push her over it. She can’t hear me talking about the wolves. I hold in my last question for as long as I can, biting my lip till I see Minnie getting up to go to the toilet. I know she’ll come out with red eyes and a handful of tissues. If I try to comfort her, she’ll scowl and push me away.

“Louis?” I whisper. For a couple of seconds, I think he’s fallen asleep. Then, he looks up.

I swallow. “Uh… listen. I know this is bad, uh… timing. But do you know who, uh… the other werewolf…”

Louis blinks. “You mean the one who…”

“Yeah.”

He shakes his head. “No.”

My heart sinks. “You sure? I mean, you were with- uh… with them, for- for a while. Weren’t you? You sure you never got a bit of an idea? It wasn’t, uh… it wasn’t any of the-”

“It’s not any of the gang.” Louis shakes his head again. “I- I don’t think. I never saw any of the others, but once or twice, I um… I heard Milo saying some stuff about her to the others.”

“Her?”

“Yeah. Milo used to say some stuff about bringing her out for the night. Nancy used to ask him. If he was bringing her. He never let any of us see her. I don’t know if that’s who you’re talking about, but, uh…”

He trails off.

My blood freezes. Oh, shit. I know who it is. My mind flashes back to the room in Milo’s house with the screaming behind the door- the one he told me to get way from. The one that held a drug addict. His mother. The last werewolf is Milo’s mother.

“Oh,” I say to Louis. “Oh, okay. I get it now.”

I hold him closer, and we go back to saying nothing. My head’s still buzzing with endless repetitions of Dad died Dad died Dad died Dad died, but now, even if it’s for a minute, there’s a new tune singing too. I’m glad for the distraction; I don’t want to let this tragedy make me weak. I want an excuse to be strong again. Here’s one: there’s one more wolf I have to deal with. But this time, it’s not a gang member. It’s not a nasty little kid. It’s some poor woman, probably so ill she doesn’t know where she is, who’s been under Milo’s thumb this whole time. It’s his mother. Maybe she was cursed alongside Milo. Maybe the drugs help her. Or maybe, worse… she was turned. Maybe accidentally. Maybe deliberately. My instinct, disgusted as it makes me feel, is to kill her. Get her out of the way, end this story for good. Avoid questions. Keep it easy… for myself. But she’s innocent. She’s been trapped in that room for God knows how long, whether she wants to be there or not, and what little control she still has over herself, if there’s any at all, has been destroyed by her son. I don’t want to wait anymore; Milo’s controlling grip over everyone he’s touched, which still lingers after his death, needs to end. I’ve got to go back to the house of the boy I killed, and I’ve got to figure out where they’ve taken his mother. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a hospital, or an asylum, or the bloody Bahamas- I’ve got to find her. I’ve got to get her somewhere safe.

Before the next full moon.

Which is tomorrow.

I’m pretty sure it’s all going to go horribly wrong, to be perfectly honest.

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