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

6. The Hero of Duskwood

“SORRY, SORRY. YOU’RE going to have to go back. A- a wolf?”

OH my-” I cover my face with my hands, and Mum squeezes my shoulder. “How many times,” I say softly, “do I have to say wolf before you hear the word wolf?”

A certain amount of intimidation always comes from talking to a police officer, even one you called, and even one who’s a complete Goddamn imbecile. I’m not keeping this new attack a secret. No- I’m only keeping my injuries a secret. The only one my parents have seen is the one on my face; the rest are bandaged up with masking tape and toilet paper.

“Miss- Miss Velasquez.” The police officer makes a move to plant his hand on his forehead, then realises that would’ve looked really bloody disrespectful and lowers it. “You understand there are… There are no wild wolves in England.”

“Yeah, no- stuff! I’m telling you, officer- it wasn’t a normal wolf! It was taller than me on four legs! It was way skinnier, but sort of… musclier in places too. Massive front legs, tiny back legs. I- I don’t know how to explain it.” I sigh and think for a minute. It’s no wonder he doesn’t believe me. “Look. Look- it had the face of a wolf. That’s what I said. Although its teeth were wrong. Like- like needles.”

Mum tightens her grip on my shoulder.

“Right. So it was definitely, definitely a wolf, but at the same time, it wasn’t a wolf.” The officer says. “Right.”

As he drags out the word ‘Right’, he pretends to write something in his notebook. Mentally, I add him to my boxing ritual list. Lanky brown hair, silly little moustache, big watery green eyes. Almost as short as me. Maybe I should just cut the ritual and punch him now. My injuries are killing me and I’m pouring all my effort into stopping my hands from shaking- God, it’s almost like I never pulled that knife out, like it’s still wedged in me. Maybe I’ll wander into A&E sometime and casually mention I’ve been stabbed, see if they can help me out with it. Worse than all that pain, though, is the cold fear still lingering from the thought I failed all those people at the campsite. I’m barely holding it together.

“Okay. Let me backtrack.” I say, as the guy runs out of sarcastic comments and his eyes go blank. “I called you, because I was attacked- by something that I’ve described to you perfectly. I understand that you neither believe me, nor want to believe me-”

“Diana.” Mum says.

Mum. It’s true, officer, and I don’t blame you a tad. I know what happened to me in December was a shitfest, for you maybe more than me, and I understand you want to write this off as PTSD or me being crazy and hallucinating. I understand that. But the honest fact, is- is that these things have already killed… Poppy, and now a whole load of kids out at their campsite. Like I said. You sent people up there, right?”

“Uh-“ He scratches his nose and averts his eyes from mine. “Yeah- yeah, we did.”

“So you saw it there. All the blood.”

“Um…” The officer struggles. “Honestly? No.”

I blink, my heart sinking. “Wh- What?

“They’re reporting possible traces, but no blood. Certainly not, as you put it, a bloodbath. The trace amounts are most likely mud. So, no.”

“Okay,” I say, wavering slightly. “Fine. Okay. So, uh…” The truth occurs to me. “Oh! It was raining! All the blood must’ve been washed away!”

Now, I’m definitely starting to look and sound crazy. I’m furious, with myself as much as anyone else, and God, I’m in so much pain. “I’ll give you one thing.” I say. “It’s weird that they’re all gone. Their… their bodies, I mean,” I say. The beast that attacked me had left me for dead, so I did wonder after I’d come home where all the kids’ bodies had gone. “But they were definitely- they were definitely- I suppose they could have just been attacked, but there was so much blood, I swear to you they must’ve been killed. They’re definitely dead. I swear on my life; you need to take me seriously. For their sake if nothing else.”

“Diana, I appreciate you’re worried about your friends. But nobody’s been reported missing today.”

“Well, so…” I trail off as a wave of nausea passes through my head, then continue. “So what? Maybe nobody’s noticed they’re missing! Does it matter?” I’m starting to get more and more agitated- I’m worried about that stab wound. Maybe I’ll die in front of this police officer- if nothing else, it’ll get my point across. No. Not in front of your parents. “When they’re reported missing later, will you take me seriously then?”

“Diana.”

What, Mum?” I burst out, turning and trailing off as I realise it was Dad who spoke. “Sorry. Dad.”

Dad turns to the officer. “Officer, you need to take our daughter seriously. We believe everything she’s saying, and she’s right- if lives are at stake it’s your duty, sir, to make absolutely sure you’re doing everything you can regardless of how stupid you think it sounds. Okay?”

For some strange reason, the words coming out of my dad’s mouth have a much more profound effect.

“Sir,” he says to Dad, “I appreciate you’re concerned for these kids’ safety.”

“Good.” Dad says. “Coz I am.”

“We are too.”

“Again, good,” Dad says, a small laugh in his voice. Mum and I look at him, surprised he’s spoken up. “It’s good that you, someone paid through the nose to protect this town, especially its children, are mildly concerned for their safety. I happen to know it’s your damn job to investigate when bloodstains are found in the middle of the damned woods!”

“Sir, I… did- did you ever think it could be animal blood?”

He’s addressing both of us now. I blink up at Dad, who says nothing.

My back starts to throb more as I turn back to the officer.

“Yes, of course,” I lie. “But it’s not.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I DO, okay?” I say, tears in my voice. It hurts. It hurts , so badly, but I can’t show it in front of my parents. No, I can’t. “I KNOW! Look, I’ve had enough of people not believing me. Don’t think I don’t know how insane this sounds? But I swear to you, it’s true. Actually, no. You know what? It doesn’t MATTER whether you believe me or not. Not to me, anyway. It matters to Duskwood. It matters if you want to keep your job when this whole damn town goes into meltdown with deaths and disappearances. I’m the only person who can warn you before you get blood on your hands. God damn, I don’t care if it makes no s- sense!” I’m starting to cry, and twice, I’ve raised my voice to shout over his attempts to stop me. Mum lets go of my shoulders. “I don’t care about logic, or what the hell these things in the woods are, or why they’re here, or that they’re living Goddamn creatures- you need to gather up your squad, get your biggest gun and blast them into the next dimension before they kill anyone else! Am I…” I trail off. “Am I getting through to anyone here? If not, you may as well leave. I…”

I sway on my feet and Mum yelps as Dad grabs me.

“Are you okay, sweetie?”

“I… I’m fine, Mum.” I look back at the officer, who, thank God, has a more serious look in his eyes.

“Okay, miss,” he says. “I’m going to let you get off to get your… injuries looked at.”

Mum jerks her head up at him.

“Give me the names of the kids you say were, uh… killed, and we’ll be sure to look into it. Okay?”

“Okay. Thank you.” I say despite my boiling anger. “I don’t, uh… actually know all their names. I know Gretchen Haynes, and Milo Bird, and there was a girl called Nancy with them too. I think they called one of the other boys, uh…” shit. What was it? I don’t remember. “Harry. That might be wrong. Ask Milo about them.”

“You ought to be damn familiar with Milo Bird,” Dad says. The officer doesn’t respond, and Mum glares at him.

“Lucas!”

“Sorry. But they should.”

“Okay. Milo Bird, Gretchen Haynes, Nancy, Harry…”

“And one- no, two others,” I add. “An older guy and another younger boy.”

“What’d they look like?”

“The older guy was skinny and sort of pale. He had blond hair and a beard. The other boy was, I think… Arabic? He had longish black hair.”

“Alright. We’ll look into it.”

“Thank you,” I say, knowing full well he won’t.

“And about this… creature that attacked you.”

I sigh. “Yes?”

“Did you see it properly?”

“Oh, my GOD!” I say, turning away from the officer and covering my face with my hands. Mum squeezes my hand, but I have to resist the urge to tear it away. I think I’m going to start crying again. I can see someone looking out of the upstairs window- Louis. I smile at him, but he doesn’t smile back- he widens his eyes, then retreats back inside the room.

“I know we’ve already taken your statement. But did you see it?”

“Clear as I’m seeing you now.”

“You’re sure it couldn’t have been-”

“Don’t you say dog.” I point at him. “Don’t you d-”

“Diana.” Mum says. “Calm down.”

For her sake, I try my best. I breathe out slowly.

No,” I say. “It was not a dog.”

“Okay,” he says. “Well, the thing is… if we saw what it did to you- if you let us see your injuries, we might have a better chance of getting the case put through to Urgent.”

I freeze.

“See…” I swallow. “See my injuries?”

“Yes. Is it just the one on your cheek?”

No, my mind says. Here’s your free guided tour. There’s a deep triple claw mark down my back, a perfect grid of scratches on my right arm that utterly numbs it. See how I’m balling my fist in my sleeve? That’s because I’m missing two fingernails. The skin of my elbow’s barely clinging on. My shoulder feels dislocated. There’s another triple set of gouges on my scalp; I’m shocked you haven’t spotted them through my hair, actually. My chest’s a mess and my stomach’s curdled like pudding. Oh, and don’t forget the stab wound! Mabye it’s pierced something important!

“You can see her injury,” Mum says, shooting a glance at me. “On her face- look.”

“That’s a claw mark,” Dad adds.

“Well,” the officer says. “If that’s all, and with no missing reports, I’m afraid I don’t have enough evidence to make this an urgent case.”

My hands fumble with the hem of my shirt. Then, I put it down. I swore to myself I wouldn’t let my parents know. They wouldn’t be able to cope with the stress, the fear. I can’t do that to them. If the case doesn’t go through, I guess I’ve got no option but to…

Go back out there myself.

I can do that, can’t I? I don’t need this bug-eyed moustached idiot and his merry band of complacent jerks to help me. I could be a hero. Diana Velasquez, the hero of Duskwood.

“That’s all.” I say.

“Right. Well, I’m sorry, but beyond checking the houses of the people you’ve named to make sure they’re okay, I’m afraid all we can do is issue a ban on the woods. Close the road, stop people going in.”

“Good.” Mum says.

“That won’t help,” I say. The officer looks at me. “What? It won’t! People’ll still go in there anyway. It isn’t safe. Unless you’re planning on putting up an electric fence with armed guards, it won’t work.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but there’s nothing more we can do.”

“Cool,” I say. “Excellent. Now feel free to leave for whatever more important case you have. Old woman getting het up over her neighbour’s trees? Druggies screwing with supermarket wheelie bins? Go save the world.”

The guy turns to walk away.

“Arseclown,” I add under my breath as he reaches his police car.

Dad snorts humourlessly.

“Diana!” Mum says.

“Sorry, Mum. But he is.”

Oh, God, I feel sick. My back’s hurting so badly I can feel the ache, like a live animal, twisting around my bones. I can’t believe it hasn’t killed me yet. Or at least made me bleed through my shirt.

“Yeah.” Mum sniffs, but I barely hear her as the world fuzzes and starts to twist sideways. “That he is.”

“Diana, I can’t believe you went out into the woods by yourself,” Dad says. There’s no authority in his voice, as usual.

“At night,” Mum adds.

“At night. What on earth possessed you to do that?”

“I, uh…” I feel sleepy. I try to think straight. I swore to Louis I wouldn’t say a word against him, even though he still swears he never left the house. We’re old pros at keeping one another’s secrets. “I don’t know. I think I just had to, um… I had to see it… for myself.”

My parents exchange worried glances.

“See what, honey?” Mum says.

“You know…” I say. My eyes don’t feel focused right. Oh, God, I think I’m going to faint. “The… the… where it happened…”

Mum widens her eyes.

“Her earphones…” I say softly. “Were in the ditch.”

Without a word, Mum pulls me into a hug. And that should’ve been a moment of comfort. But the second her hand touches my back, I gulp, widen my eyes, and have to pull away to throw up on the ground. I hear her saying my name, but I can’t reply. A sickening wave of heat hurtles over me and the next thing I know, my face’s mashed into the grass and my perfect lie’s nothing but rubble.

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