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

10. The Empty Bed

THE PAIN MAKES me throw up three times on the way home, but that burning in my throat’s nothing compared to the burning fear I’m being followed. I can’t stop checking over my shoulder, but I force myself to keep doing it till I’m sure I’ve lost Milo- I won’t lead him back to my house. He can hurt me all he wants, but he’ll never get my family.

I’m angry. I’m so angry I can barely think. I swear to God, I don’t care those bastards are human- I’m going to kill every last one of them. I will. I will. Even Gretchen? Yeah. I’ll kill them all, as soon as I’ve healed.

Halfway home, my vision twists with black and burning heat wraps around me so tight I can barely breathe. Then, I stumble to the ground. I only know I’ve passed out after I come back around- still lying face-down in a patch of mouldy leaves, still alive. The sun’s almost risen. What time is it? Maybe five or six o’clock. Maybe later. I struggle to my feet, the heat giving way to a cold, clammy feeling, and force myself to keep walking. I will get home before Mum wakes up. I will. I will.

 

 

I don’t.

I close the door as quietly as I can, and my heart sinks into my boots as I hear footsteps on floorboards. I turn to see Mum standing at the other end of the corridor, her face frozen mid crumple. I expect her to rush to hug me, but she doesn’t. Then, I see the yellow post-it in her hand.

“That…” I say. “That- that’s nothing. I just, uh…”

She doesn’t interrupt me. She just stands there, her face still crumpled, waiting for me to finish. I try my best.

“I just…” I close my eyes. “I thought I’d better let you know I was going out on a walk. I, uh… yeah.”

“Okay,” Mum says softly. “Okay… Okay.”

She walks back into the kitchen to throw the note away, and I close my eyes, peeling the thick fabric of my jacket away from my shoulder. When Mum comes back into the corridor, I turn to the side, hoping she hasn’t seen the rips in my jacket or the brown specks all over my clothes.

Hi guys,

I went out for a walk. Hope that’s okay. And I also want to let you know I love you all. You know.

Di xxx

That was what the note had said.

I can’t bear to think what’d have happened if I’d left one of the other notes instead- the ones I drafted before discarding that’re sitting at the bottom of the bin in my bedroom. Dear all, I went out for a walk. I also borrowed the sword. And all Iain’s knives. For no reason you need to worry about. Sup, I went out monster-hunting. If I don’t come back, I love you all. Hey Mum, I went out to punch a wolf in the face. If I don’t come back, tell that arseclown of a police officer I was right, and Louis to stay the hell out of the woods or I’ll find him and haunt him. Oh, and tell Doctor Harper I’m sorry for the coping ritual. Peace out…

“Diana,” Mum says, her voice choked up with tears.

I swallow, pretending to look at the wall. My bloody shoulder’s facing away from her. “Mum?”

“Are you okay?”

I look at her, bite my lip, and nod. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Why are your clothes ripped? Do you-”

“Oh! No, no. It’s fine.” I laugh nervously. “I went up to the river- you know, up near the sluice gates? And I tripped and fell down the embankment.” Suddenly, for no good reason, Harry and Salem flash through my head. “I ripped myself up on branches.”

“And the spots?”

“The spots?”

When I turn to look at Mum her lip’s trembling and she’s pressing her mouth together, hard. I think she knows what I’ve been doing. I can tell she’s frightened. My heart’s breaking for her, but I know one thing for sure: She’s passive enough that if I lie, she’ll want to believe me. So I bite my lip and lie again.

“I landed in a ditch.” The laugh’s trying to choke me. “Water. I’m an idiot.”

Mum laughs too, grimly. “Well… Okay then, sweetie. Go on up to your room.”

As I turn, slowly, and start to walk up the stairs, Mum wipes her forehead and walks back into the living-room. Am I grateful she’s like this? On the one hand, if she was any stricter, I’d never be able to get away with the things I do. But on the other, she’s so submissive, so underprotective, that it makes me feel underloved. Surely, if your daughter walks through the door with her clothes ripped, again, covered in obvious blood, again, a real mother would make a fuss. Surely, if there’s anything out in the woods with claws sharp enough to cut and teeth sharp enough to kill, regardless of whether it’s a werewolf or a German Shepherd or a bloody weevil, a real mother would do more to make sure her twelve-year-old son stopped leaving the house at night. Without me, Louis would still be sneaking out. Without me there to check on him, he’d have felt free to wander right into a death-trap if he’d wanted to. Without me, that dead deer the pale mangy werewolf had killed in the woods could’ve been him; that blood all over Nancy’s face could’ve been his. Without me there.

On instinct, as I pass Louis’ room, I push the door open and peek in.

His bed’s empty.

For a second, I stand there on the landing, staring at the dog-eared duvet and the open window with a dumbfounded expression on my face. Then, slowly, a sickening feeling of dread starts to leak through my muscles. He’s gone. He was there when I left- six hours ago- but he’s gone now. And that can only mean one thing... Oh, God. My heart starts pummelling my ears and I stop breathing as I walk into his room, my eyes wide, my mouth wider. I tear my eyes off the empty bed and look out into the garden.

“Louis?” I say softly.

No response. Obviously.

“Oh- oh- oh, my God,” I murmur. I can feel myself getting weaker from the agony of my shoulder wound, but I have to go back out there, no matter what Mum might think of me. I have to leave, now, and save him. I bet they’ve got him. That’s how those pricks knew I had a brother, and that’s why they laughed. Oh, my God. My mouth screws up and my eyes fill with tears. “Louis?” I whisper again; this time, I’m not asking for him. I’m whining in fear, like a lost puppy. My legs nearly give out. I remember the blood on Nancy’s face- it wasn’t hers; it’d been smeared round her mouth, dried in drips, half-rubbed off. So who did she kill? I’m not stupid. I’m jumping to conclusions, but it’s the right one, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

I start to cry; great, ugly sobs fall out of me as I bury my head in my hands. I failed him. I turned my back for one second, and he left again. He wasn’t going near the woods, but they got him anyway. I sob louder, no longer caring who hears me, but even as I sink to my knees, I’m planning to go back out there. Milo’s got my sword and as I pat my pocket, I realise I’ve only got one knife left, but it doesn’t matter. If I’ve only got one knife, I’ll just have to save my brother with one fucking knife. I straighten up and turn to run down the stairs.

As I do, I come face-to-face with Mum, who’s standing in Louis’ bedroom door.

“Diana?” She says softly.

“Mum, get out of my way,” I hiss.

She nearly moves. She actually, nearly fucking moves.

“What- what’s wrong? Why’re you crying? Are you-”

“Why am I CRYING?” I sob, tears still pouring own my face. “WHY am I CRYING? Mum, LOOK behind me! Louis’s GONE! He… he-”

“What do you mean?” Mum stares at me, her eyes wide. “He- he… He was here a second ago. He can’t have-”

“How long ago?” I say. I can’t help it; I’m breaking apart in front of her. And maybe because of her. “Mum, you should’ve-”

“He was just here, Diana! There’s nowhere he could’ve gone!”

I hold my pocket still. “Nowhere but out the window! Mum, I have to- I have to leave. Now. I need to find him-”

“The window was open before-”

“This’s all-”

“Di!” Mum says, holding her hands up. I stop, wondering if I should shove past her and leave. I can’t bear to admit it, but we’re both at fault here. I blame myself more, but not solely.

I stare at Mum, waiting for her to speak. She swallows hard, trying to keep her eyes off my shoulder, and looks me in the eyes.

“The window was open…” She says slowly, “when I saw him in here. He can’t have left. He’s-”

“Well, so what if he just lay down when you came in? Mum, you can’t-”

“He’s here.” Mum insists.

HOW do you know that?”

“Be- because-”

“What’s going on?” A third voice says. “What’re you doing in my room?”

So utterly perplexed am I by the sound of Louis’ voice, since I know for sure he’s dead in the forest, I can’t even bring myself to look at the doorway behind Mum. Then, he walks back into the room, staring up at me with a new wide-eyed expression as he sees the blood on my jacket. He’s wearing his school uniform already, and he’s holding a glass of water. His hair’s wet, spiked with beads of water that fall onto the shoulders of his jumper. He’s there. He’s meant to be dead, but he’s there.

I was wrong again.

“See?” Mum says in a half-triumphant voice as she ruffles Louis’ hair, then puts her hand on his shoulder. “He’s okay, Di. Everything’s fine.”

Everything is NOT fine! I want to scream. He’s supposed to be dead! Okay, fine- he’s not dead NOW, but he COULD’VE been! This is what happens when you… when you…

I swear I’m not going crazy.

“Oh,” I say. And then I turn, silently, and walk back into my room.

I’m just cripplingly paranoid.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Paranoia’s driving me insane There’s werewolves in the woods, sure, and they want to kill me and my entire family, sure, but I need to keep that a secret from them now. Milo swore to me- and I believed him- if I ever told a soul what was going on he’d tear us all to shreds. If I keep going off at every little blip, they’ll guess I’m hiding something, but I can’t help it. I can’t protect Louis any more, and I can’t protect anyone. Who am I kidding? I can’t tell a soul about this.

I shrug off my combat jacket, thanking my lucky stars it didn’t get as much blood on it as I thought it had. Then, I bite my tongue, go to my window, and pull off my shirt.  I know the sick pain of the card-brittle fabric separating from my raw wound’s going to make me throw up, and I’m right; at least the morning air’s cold enough that I can rid myself of the aftertaste. I down a slightly stale glass of water and feel better. Then, I pull off my vest, look down at my shoulder, and nearly throw up again. Oh, God- it’s a red and black mess. Maybe it’s not as bad as it looks. Nah, I’ll be fine. At least it won’t need a needle and thread, right? It’ll heal on its own. I’ll be fine. I’m not half as worried about myself as I am about Louis- the paranoia’s still eating away at my bones, forcing me to spool through the list of family members I’ve got left and find somebody else to worry about. I need to worry. It’s my job. Is Dad late home? I look at the clock. Yeah, Dad’s a little late home. Good. Something else to fixate on as I plan what to do next.

My plan, I realise as I get out of bed again at seven, involves going back to school.

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