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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23. The End of the Road

“YES! YES. YEAH.” Louis jumps back from the cage as the wolf snarls and throws herself against the bars. The 999 dispatcher asks if he’s okay. “Yeah. No, no, I’m fine. Just the dog. Poppy; please calm down!”

“Okay, my darling.” The woman on the other end of the phone says. “Don’t worry; the fire service’s been dispatched. They’ll be with you in about ten minutes.”

“Okay. Thank you.” Louis stands up. Poppy jabs her snout at the bars again and the cage rocks, but he’s pretty sure it’s not going to give out. He has to get back to his house, right now. Ten minutes? It’s already been half an hour since Diana left. It took him that long to find the damned cage and wrestle Poppy inside; she’d been a bag of bones by the time he’d finished figuring out the combination lock. She’d been a monster by the time he’d gotten through to the fire service. Diana had been wrong about a million things, and one of those things was the sleeping pills. The moment Poppy’s mind left her, so, too, did any pretence of drowsiness. She’s snarling, spitting, yowling, digging her claws and her teeth into the bars. Louis steps back, holding his hands up as the phone continues to crackle with useless noise. He holds it back to his ear.

“…on the line with me until they get there?”

“Huh?” Louis says. Good dog. What? Yeah. Okay.”

“Don’t worry, darling. It’s all going to be fine. How old are you?”

Oh, God. Here we go again. He swallows. “Twelve. I’m thirteen in three weeks.”

“What’s your name?”

He sighs, heavily, as he continues to back away from the cage. He feels sick. His heart’s hammering, and not because of the beast. Right now, his family are either all alive, or all… dead. He bites his lip and holds back tears.

Don’t worry. Diana saved them. She swore to you she would.

“Louis.” He says. The werewolf screams and rolls over. “Good dog.” She gets up again. “Aw, bitch.”

“You got your dog with you, Louis?”

“Uh…” He says. “Yeah. Kinda. I mean… Look, I’m really sorry.” His heart’s jumping up into his mouth with every pulse and something in the trees is rustling. He needs to be able to hear. “Sorry. I really am. But I gotta go.”

He takes the phone away from his ear and hangs up the call. Silence floods into his head.

He needs to go, now. He needs to know if his family are okay. He needs to know if Diana got away in time to change. Somewhere out in this forest, two werewolves are running wild, but Louis doesn’t care about himself. He only cares about his family. He needs to know if his stupidity’s finally killed them all.

He rams his phone into his pocket and then, not caring whether it falls out or not, he starts to run. He’s always been shit at running; he’s reminded of his P.E. classes, blood at the back of his throat, thin sickness hissing in his head, his ribs knotting up, twenty layers of laughter chasing behind him like a tidal wave. Now, though, his legs aren’t aching. It’s funny how much faster he runs when he’s got something to run for.

When he reaches the road, he only has to run for a few minutes before the sickening sight of the red-and-black ember comes into view on the hillside. As it grows larger, and his body grows heavier on his spindly legs, his thoughts turn to Milo. He knows Milo did this. There’re still a few things he didn’t tell Diana; not because he wanted to keep them from her, but because she never asked. And he was afraid. Always, always, he was afraid. He swallows, bends over as a stitch tweaks his ribs, pants for a couple of seconds, and then starts to run again. He had a feeling, all along, that the wolf Milo was always talking of “Bringing out” was Poppy. He didn’t know whether he believed it, or not, but the thought passed his mind on occasion. He didn’t know why Milo’d be keeping Poppy captive- he guessed the guy just liked the feeling of having someone weak under his control. He hadn’t told Diana because he’d been sure he was wrong, and he didn’t want to upset her. His sister’s brave, but she’s a pro at jumping to conclusions. She’s too impulsive. She puts too much trust in her own strength, her own ability to win. For all he knows, he’ll reach his house and find she’s done something really, really stupid.

Louis gets closer and closer to his house, watching as the orange flames grow taller and taller, stretching out of the bedroom windows and dragging the black sky downwards. The air tastes of smoke, and it’s starting to fill his mouth and nose and make him cough. He trips, nearly falling into the ditch. He manages to pull himself to a halt; he’s a twenty-minute run from the burning house, but he’s scared if he goes any further, he won’t be able to breathe. He’s scared.

Doubling over, Louis plants his hands on his knees and coughs into empty air. Tears are streaming from his eyes, and they’re not from the smoke. His family are dead. Most likely. He can’t save them. Everyone… Everyone’s gone, and he’s left alone with nothing but Milo to deal with on his own and poor Poppy to haul around on his own and a world of adults who’ll never believe him. He always knew it’d end this way. From the moment Alfie convinced him to join the gang, from the second Milo first forced him to tell them about his sister with Frankenstein’s face, about their parents who believe her every word, about their Dad’s rant that made the police close off the woods, he always knew it’d end this way.

Another thing Louis’ll never tell Diana is that their Dad’s dead because of him.

A rustle in the bushes makes Louis jerk his head up. The silver-red road to his house is coated in black smoke. The trees and bushes that line the ditch are swaying slightly in the wind. He watches them, his heart in his mouth. So THIS is what Diana’s nights felt like. All I’m missing’s a few monsters.

To his right, twelve feet from the ground, a pair of golden eyes light up.

“Aw, bitch.”

Louis’ voice sounds far too quiet, especially against the backdrop of sirens as they start to whine in the distance. He needs to run. He’ll die if he doesn’t run, and if he were to test his legs, he’d probably find out they still worked. But he doesn’t. He stands there and watches as the owner of the eyes growls. The wolf’s far bigger than any he could’ve pictured. In the orange streetlight, it’s brown. It’s got a huge mouthful of jagged teeth, and those teeth are shining crimson. It could be the shadows, but one of those gold eyes looks brighter than the other.

Louis and the wolf stare at each other. He feels a pang of recognition.

“I…” He whispers. He’s frozen now. He wonders if the wolf’s about to attack him. She should, right? Because she’s not herself. But she just stands there, staring, something shining in her eyes that’s almost… human. Something tells him to walk forwards, his eyes rooted to those gold ones, and reach out his hand.

Di?” He says, softly. “It- it’s me.”

Suddenly, with a massive mashed-up scream that cuts him in half, the wolf throws itself onto four legs and bolts for him. He shrieks. Idiot. Thought you could tame a monster. She knocks him off his feet and swipes, once; suddenly, his chest is nothing but blood. He knows this wolf’s his sister, but she’s still going to kill him. Good. Good. You deserve it. If anyone deserves to die, it’s you, Louis. Take it. He closes his eyes-

And opens them again.

He watches in shock as another growl sounds; this time, it’s coming from somewhere beyond the trees. That’s when a black, roaring whirlwind of eyes and teeth lunges out of the bushes, slamming full-force into the pair of them and knocking the brown wolf flying. Louis scrambles to his feet, peeling his shirt away from the puddle of bloody rainwater he’s landed in, and watches as the black wolf pounces on the brown one and closes its jaws on her neck. Blood sprays everywhere. The brown wolf screams. The black one lets go, and its teeth come away dripping scarlet. Louis’ heart sinks into his stomach as he backs away from the fight. He knows he should run- better the smoke than the brawling werewolves, right?- but what about Diana? She’s losing the fight. She’s had her neck ripped open by Milo, that bigger one, that black one… wait a minute.

No, that black one’s not Milo.

“Bitch YEAH! KILL him!Louis yells, against his better judgement. He claps his hand over his mouth and, as the black wolf chases the brown one deeper into the shadow of the forest, he takes off running, into the blanket of smoke and towards the rest of his family. His sister’s going to be fine. She has to be.

 

 

By the time he gets home, he’s choking, but he can see blue lights through the haze of grey and white. There’s no red left, either. He had to hide from the fire engines as they rocketed past, ten or so minutes ago- they were too late. The fire was all but burnt out. Louis feels sick, and it’s not from the run. They’re dead. They must be dead. Diana’s gone, and she probably didn’t have time to save them before she turned. Did she? Did she? He’s all out of tears. He veers off the road, which is blocked by the two fire engines, and cuts through a corner of the woods. He can hear shouting. Familiar voices? He cat-leaps over the final scuffle of bushes…

And runs full-speed into his Mum, knocking her off her feet. Someone screams.

“What the- oh! Oh- oh, God! Louis!” Mum clings him to her chest and rocks him; he lets himself sink into the embrace. Her voice’s shaking like a leaf and he thinks she’s too weak to get up.

“Louis?” Iain says. He grabs Mum and hauls them both upwards. Louis’ started crying again, desperately relieved- and shocked- to see them all alive. He lets himself ignore the questions his family are raining down on him- that is, until Iain grabs him and shakes him.

“Whu… what?”

“WHERE have you been?” Iain demands. “Je… Jesus Christ; you’re- you’re covered in…”

Louis looks down at himself; at the blood drying on his chest, his new red shirt. “Oh. Oh, yeah. I’m okay, though.”

“Where’ve you been?”

Louis extends a shaky finger to the forest. “I… I- I-”

“Don’t answer.” Iain says. Mum and Minnie, who’s holding Esme, stare at him as he backs off and buries his face in his hands.

“Iain, what?”

“Nothing.”

Louis’ heart jumps as he realises his older brother is crying. Mum bundles him into a hug. Minnie pushes her way in too. Louis, for once, stays on the outside, nursing the pain in his chest. He watches the firemen running back and forth with their hoses, shouting to one another; he watches as streams of water turn the remaining blips of fire into hissing plumes of white smoke. He walks forwards and holds his hands to his head, trying not to cry, as the smoke twists upwards and pulls back over small sections of their ruined house. A second siren starts up behind him and grows rapidly louder; he turns, and sees two police cars pulling up behind the fire engines, followed by an ambulance. Why the ambulance? Something cold and thin twists inside his gut. That’s when he looks back at his family and realises why they’re crying.

They must think Diana’s dead.

“Guys!” Louis says, running over. “Guys!”

“Louis…” Iain says, bending down. “Louis, Di… she-”

“No! No, Iain; Mum, she’s fine. I swear. She was- she was with me-”

“She came back to save us.” Iain says. “She saved us all, Louis. And then she- and then she…”

“She turned!” Louis bursts out before he can stop himself. “I- I mean, she did! I SAW her! She’s fine!”

Iain’s eyes widen. He’s afraid to keep talking. Louis thinks his brother believes him, though. He looks up at his Mum, who hasn’t moved. Her eyes are wide and her hand is at her chin, shaking, but she’s not quite in a trance yet. She can still hear him.

“Mum…” Louis says. “Please. Diana’s fine. She’s going to be fine. Trust me.”

Nobody says a word for a very, very, very long time. The smoke starts to clear, and the black collapsed ruin of their house slowly starts to become visible, but Louis can’t tear his eyes away from the forest.

After a few more minutes, a fireman comes up to the family. He takes his hat off and wipes his forehead.

“Hey.” He says, pointing. “The ambulance is here. You guys need to go in. To get checked for smoke inhalation.”

Iain and Louis glance at each other.

“No!” Mum suddenly says. “No… No. No. Not yet.” She shoots a quick glance at Iain. “We’re waiting for someone.”

The fireman frowns. “Mrs-”

No.” She says firmly. “We- we’re waiting for someone. We’re not going anywhere till she gets here.”

“And how…” The fireman wipes his forehead again. “Long will that be?”

Louis smiles weakly, then shrugs. “Soon, maybe.”

He’s right. The entire family, along with the exhausted fire crew, medics, and police officers, turn around at the sound of shouting. Two police officers glance at each other and start running, and that’s when Louis hears it: A scream. One of the wolves is nearby. It screams again, and Louis starts forwards, but Iain holds him back. He feels sick; the wolf sounds weak, so weak the howl’s all but drowned out by the sound of people shouting. It’s wounded, most likely. It might be Diana, or it might be Milo. He wonders how it ended up here, and guesses it was probably attracted by the sound and the lights. He doesn’t want to believe he led it here.

At another shout, the rest of the police officers take off running down the forest road. One of them’s yelling something into his radio. “Backup-” Louis hears. “Armed-”

Armed.

NO!” Louis screams, wrenching himself from Iain’s grip and starting to run.

“Louis!” Iain yells, taking off after him; for once, Louis is faster. He leaps over the bushes and sprints after the police officers; that’s when he sees the dark shape at the end of the road. A huge patch of tarmac’s scarlet in the streetlights.

“Louis, come BACK!”

“NO!” Louis yells. “NO! YOU CAN’T! THAT’S MY-”

He cuts himself off as he reaches the circle of police officers. The dark shape on the road splits into two; one standing up, the other a heap on the ground. He looks at the one that’s still alive; the one with the gold glowing eyes. The one covered in the least blood. There’s brown fur poking through the gaps. The one on the road is larger. Darker. Not moving.

Sister.

The brown wolf is pawing the ground, walking in circles, as the police officers murmur and mutter and yell. He’s not going to attack anyone, Louis doesn’t think… But why should he care about that? The black wolf is slick all over with blood. She’s got a deep gouge in her stomach and her eyes are closed. She’s on her side. She’s not moving.

Louis chokes. He tries to scream, but the words won’t unstick from his throat. “Di…”

Diana. Diana. DIANA!

When someone’s hand lands on his shoulder, he tries to wrench it away, but the grip holds fast.

“Louis.” Iain’s voice says. “Get back here.”

“Iain-” Louis chokes. “Diana, she-”

“What the hell’s going on?” Their Mum’s voice calls from the end of the road. Iain turns.

“Mum, it’s okay. Go back to the- no, NO!” Iain lets go and runs back as Louis hears his Mum wail. “Go back to- no!”

Louis’ eyes fill with tears and his broken world blurs from black to grey to white to black. It’s over. It’s all over. Diana’s dead, but he won’t accept it yet. He can’t breathe. He barely hears the police officer nearest to him murmuring, “Five minutes.”

Five minutes till what?

Five minutes till the guns arrive.

He looks at the one remaining wolf; the brown one. Milo.

Good.

Louis walks forwards, knowing the police officers won’t notice him; they’re too busy staring at the two mutant behemoths in front of them. One alive, one dead. Diana could come back from a lot, but she can’t come back from this, surely- the stain of her blood on the road stretches from white line to white line.

“Jesus Christ.” Someone to his right whispers. “Diana was right.”

“Mm.” One of them mumbles. They’re talking like that because they think Diana died in the fire down the road. Louis wants to scream, but does it really matter? Either way, she’s dead now. Only he’ll know the truth now. He’s stuck with it, forever. On his own.

He takes a step back, and that’s when another round of shouting erupts from the other side of the circle. In the distance, Louis hears yet more sirens. He watches as the brown wolf- Milo- turns to look at the black one. Suddenly, he jumps back with a snarl. There’s another snarl, too- lower, churned up. It grows louder. The two or three police officers around the black wolf start to back away, quickly- one runs into the woods. The brown wolf pushes himself up onto two legs and snarls.

The black one peels herself off the road, struggles to her feet, and bellows.

Someone screams as the black wolf hurls herself forwards, closing her jaws around the brown one’s snout and shoving forwards with her full bodyweight like she can push him off his feet. She’s badly hurt- she’s limping, and there’s blood dripping from a gash in her head- but when’s that ever stopped her before? She rips her jaws free, and a hail of blood falls from the deep gouge in the brown wolf’s throat. He yelps and drops back onto all fours. As everyone watches, he whimpers, then gets back up again. They go for each other.

Louis gasps. “Kill him, Di,” he murmurs, as the brown wolf swipes a triple claw mark into the black one’s face that knocks her onto her side. She struggles back to her feet. The police officers are running, but they’re running further from the house- they’re running down the road, towards the sound of the sirens. A police car appears in the distance, slowing down to a stop as the driver catches sight of the bloody carnage happening twenty steps in front of him. He’s cut out of view as the black wolf throws herself onto the brown one’s back and sinks her teeth deep into his throat; this time, she doesn’t let go. More blood sprays. Louis feels sick, but he holds it down. The brown wolf screams and spits and snarls, but slowly, yet again, he starts to whimper. He falls down onto all fours. His head hits the road. He squeaks, and only then does she let go.

He lies still.

Suddenly, a pair of arms wrap around Louis’ waist and lift him off the ground. “No!” He screams. “No! NO! Put me DOWN-” He cuts himself off as the black wolf looks up from the brown one, its jaws dripping with blood, and locks its mismatched golden eyes onto his.

It snarls.

RUN!” Iain yells. “Run. Run! RUN!

And then, as if remembering he’s the one with his feet still on the ground, Iain turns and starts to run.

“Put me DOWN! Put me DOWN!” Louis yells, pounding his fists down on Iain’s arms and trying to dig his nails into the skin.

“Stop hurting me!” Iain says.

“NO!” I’m not going ANWHERE till she- till they…” He runs out of energy. Why’s he shouting? Diana’s a monster. She’s not in there. Iain’s right- she’ll kill them. He looks over his brother’s shoulder. The black wolf’s closer to them, but she’s barely running. She stops and sways on her feet, panting. Every exhale pushes a flurry of blood out of the wound on her stomach and onto the road. She’s getting weaker. She’s still staring at them, but can she really hurt anyone now?

Louis bites his lip and tries not to cry. He lets himself go limp in his brother’s arms. His Mum and sisters meet them at the end of the road. Iain turns back, holding Louis fast around the waist. Louis watches, his heart throbbing, as seven or eight more police officers get out of the new car. They’re slowly walking towards the black wolf, but they won’t hurt her now, will they?

Louis looks up at his Mum and older brother.

They’re both crying.

“Mum!” Louis says. “Mum. Mum. They can’t hurt her, right? They can’t. She’s not…” He tears his eyes away and watches as the black wolf pushes itself onto its back legs, listens as it screams. “She’s not- MUM! LOOK at me! That’s your DAUGHTER!”

“I don’t…” Mum weeps. She wipes her cheek. “Where? Why are you… calling it her?”

Louis stares at his Mum in horror. That’s when he realises, as he stares at the armed police encircling the black wolf… Whether or not she’s a threat, she’s an oddity. She’s easier to deal with dead than alive. They… they’re going to kill her anyway.

Without a second thought, Louis turns his head down and sinks his teeth into Iain’s wrist, as hard as he can. Iain yelps and loosens his grip; Louis wrenches himself free, and just like that, even though he’s empty, he’s running again, twenty layers of shouting chasing him down the road. He’s never run this fast before. He knows he might be too late, but he doesn’t care if he’s shot; he doesn’t care if he’s wrong; he doesn’t care if he’s killed by the wolf. He doesn’t care. He runs down the road, screaming “NO! NO! NO!” like he’s going mad. He tears past the wolf as he hears a shout of “One!” from the police. As he runs up and skids to a halt right in front of the guns, he yells his own order.

“STOP!”

There’s no hesitation from the police. “Get out of the way!”

STOP!” Louis screams again. His voice wavers, and he sniffs.

There are seven guns in all; he counts them in a split-second. He holds his arms out. He’s only little, and their target’s huge, but he’s going to block them. He’s going to block them till they gun him down.

Behind him, there’s a wail, and the ground shakes, once. Louis turns and sees the black wolf lying on her side. She’s whimpering, but she snarls and tries to get back up. Louis turns back to the row of police, his heart in his mouth. Six guns, picking out points on his chest, his head, his stomach. They make his skin tingle with electricity. They make his head fuzz up, his vision blur. One monster, behind him, her gaze dribbling all over his back. Her bloody teeth ready to find his bloody neck. The fear stoppers his throat. If he doesn’t move, he’s as good as dead. But if he does, she is.

Louis digs his heels into the ground.

“It’ll kill you!” A police officer shouts. “Get out of the way!”

“No.” He says, his voice clogged in his throat as he starts to cry again. “No, I- I won’t.”

“It’ll kill you!”

“I know.”

Louis ignores them. His arms are starting to ache, so he drops them back to his sides.

LOUIS!” Iain shouts, his voice broken up by wheezes of exhaustion. “Get out of their way! Have you gone mad?”

Louis can hear his brother’s footsteps coming to a halt a little way away, but he ignores them. He closes his eyes.

“I’m NOT MOVING, Iain!” He yells.

“You’ll be killed!” Iain sobs. He’s not going to walk any further forwards, because he’s afraid. Louis isn’t. Not anymore. “Louis, for God’s sakes, you’ll be killed!”

“I know.” Louis whispers to himself.

A police officer interrupts them. “Listen to your brother, Louis. Get out of the way.”

“I’m not letting you touch her!” Louis’ voice starts to shake. “I- I- I’ll stand here till sunrise if that’s what it takes. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter what- what I’m doing. All- all- all you need to know’s that- that I’m not letting you kill her. You won’t believe the truth about my sister, so I’m not going to try. I’m just gonna… stand here.”

“You’ll die!” someone shouts. Louis hears a low growl as the wolf shifts on the ground, stirring up another flurry of yells from the crowd. He doesn’t move. He wrings his hands.

“Better me than her.” He says, breathing out. “Coz I wronged her. I made a mistake that destroyed this entire family. Everything that’s happened to her’s because of me. She’s like this because of me. It’s all my fault, and I’ll never forgive myself as long as I live but I’m not going to sit and wallow in it anymore!” He sobs. “I’m going to stand here, and I’m going to save my sister from you.”

The police officers exchange glances.

“I- I- I did this to her, but y- you helped too.” Louis says. “Diana, she… tried to tell you about the monsters… so many times. You wouldn’t BELIEVE her, and it made her take stuff into her own hands. That cost her EVERYTHING! It cost this family everything. So, now… we- we’re going to let her go. I’m going to make us all watch what we did to her. I’m going to stop my mistake from taking another step! I’m going to stand here till you lower your guns!” Louis starts to scream again, hot tears pouring down his face. “It’s MY turn to do the right thing for once! I’ll protect my sister TILL SHE KILLS ME!”

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