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

17. The Mummy's Boy

IT’S FUNNY HOW memories can come back to you at the weirdest moments. Nancy’s pat-down search of me, where she sifted the knives from my pockets one-by-one, reminded me of the first time we met. She threatened me and I showed her I was brave by bringing out a tiny plastic-handled cheese knife I’d stolen from my Mum’s kitchen drawer- a knife I put into the pocket of my old combat trousers. A pocket Nancy forgot to search.

How convenient.

It was at around the moment I’d been talking to William- or Serpent, as I guessed he’d prefer- that I started to wriggle and try to push my hands around to my side pocket. That didn’t work, so I started to use my fingertips to wrench my waistband sideways, hoping upon hope that my belt was loose enough to let it move. Then, I started thrashing, and the gang left it alone, assuming it was a desperate attempt to escape. I eventually managed to reach into my pocket and jerk the tiny knife free, my heart still thumping as I waited to be caught. I had it in my hand for the first time at the moment Louis told Nancy “No.”

And I remember almost dropping it and accepting I was going to die.

But no.

Not yet.

“Anyway!” Nancy says. I grit my teeth and start to saw, the tiny knife nearly completely hidden between my hands. “On-”

“Louis.” I say. I expect my voice to sound harsh, but instead, I’m deadpan. Choked up. Washed out. “How long?”

He looks at me, and blinks one last tear down his face. “What?”

“How- how long?” I say. “How the hell long’ve you been out here with these sons of bitches? How long?”

“F- f- f…” He stammers. “Four- four months. Or longer. I- I don’t know.”

I sigh, and try not to let my chin drop onto the ground again. Four months. Of course- how the fuck didn’t I know it before? For as long as he’s been running away at night, he’s been coming here.

Nancy opens her mouth, but I cut over her again.

Why?” I say. He looks at me. “Why, Louis? Why did you want to? Did Alfie force you?”

Louis isn’t crying anymore, but he looks like he wants to. “N- no-” He says softly, breathing in and then growling the breath out. I see Nancy watching him intently; she’s waiting for him to screw something up. He’s trying to impress her. I don’t know whether I want to hate him.

Nancy starts: “Diana, your brother-”

“Shut up.” I say simply. “I’m talking to him. Louis, tell me. You know what these people have done. Is it what you want? Is this what you want? Do you need-”

“Shut UP, Diana!” Louis yells, his face red. “I DID it because I needed to GROW UP, alright? You were wrong, and all the bullies were right- I was ALWAYS and babied and picked on and beat up, and I deserved it! I needed to- to- to change.”

“But Louis, there’s nothing- nothing wrong with what you were.” I say, holding back tears. “What you are- still are. And I know you can’t-”

Nancy starts to say something, but Louis shouts over her.

“I’m NOT like that anymore!” He says. I shoot a glance at Gretchen, who’s looking up at the sky. “I’m NOT! I’m strong now. I don’t NEED you to save me!”

I look up at him, and once again, I’m rendered silent. I blink back tears, and the scars on my face, arms and back bristle as I realise what this is about. I listen. Nancy’s letting him speak, too; she’s relishing it.

“I was… I was sick of you being in the spotlight all the time; don’t you understand?” Louis chokes out. “You were all Mum and Dad cared about- after Poppy died and- and after all this crap with the wolves- nobody cared about me anymore! Or- or anyone else, but… I only started going out because- because I wanted them to worry about me, okay? But all they did was yell at me! They didn’t care-”

“Louis, Mum and Dad cared desperately about you!” I say. “Every time you went out they worried! How can you think-”

“I wanted the attention for once; I wanted what you had!”

“What; a face like a chewed-up raw ham and a lifetime’s worth of horrendous memories?” I say. “You weren’t there that night; you don’t know-”

“Again…” Louis says. “You- you always… always… were the victim. Never… never… and I got forgotten.”

“D’you think I wanted to be the victim?” I say.

Louis pauses. I don’t think he truly believes what he’s saying anymore. “But…” He says. “You sure acted like it.”

“What? I never did!” I say. “Never!”

It’s true.

“But you always acted like a victim,” Louis says again. He’s unsure. I know he is. I know him. These others don’t.

I’m almost through my ropes now. I think so, anyway.

“What, by existing?” I say. “By coming home with these scars and trying to act like me?” I’m crying now, hard. “What’d I do, Louis? What’d I do to hurt you? I don’t understand!”

Louis starts to cry again, hard, and that’s when my ropes give way. And that’s when Nancy walks forwards and slaps my brother hard across the face.

“Stop blubbering!” She says. “God, your brother’s a crybaby, Diana! We had half a mind to kill him the moment we saw him, but he was so desperate to join. He said he’d do anything for us. Didn’t you, Louis? You even said you’d bring us your sister.”

My blood runs cold. Louis looks down at the ground and says nothing.

“That…” I whisper, watching Alfie, willing him to move so I can start cutting through the ropes on my feet. “That was because you- you threatened to kill him if not, isn’t it? Isn’t it?”

Nancy grins, then widens the grin into a laugh. Louis, by her side, says nothing. I can’t believe this; I feel betrayed, but not for the right reasons. I don’t want anything bad to happen to my brother, gang member or none. Christ, he’s a child, and I know him. He’d never want this by himself; he was manipulated by his psychotic friend. I know it. Nobody’s going to be executed tonight. Not Gretchen, who’s still staring up at the sky, occasionally stooping her gaze to catch mine. Not me- my ankles are still tied, but if I were to separate my hands, I could reach Alfie and slice his Achilles tendon in half. Not that I’d ever do such a thing.

“Okay, that’s enough sentimental bullshit,” Nancy hisses, getting right up close to Louis’s face. “Let’s get on with it before midnight hits us, shall we?

When she pulls back, I see she’s pressed another one of my knives into Louis’ grip. He stares at it, and his face almost crumples before he manages to hold it together. I see Iain in his face, but I see myself in his expression- that determination, that fear, that uncertainty of what he wants or ought to do. We’re not strong because we know what we want. We’re strong because we’d rather do anything than nothing at all. I still admire him, even after this. I’ve still got a chance to convince him. I think.

“Come on, Mummy’s boy,” Nancy says. “Go on. Do it, you little pussy.”

“Shut UP!” I scream. I know this kind of talk’ll drive Louis crazy. My words are doing nothing, and to my horror, Nancy’s are doing everything. Louis bites his lip and shuts his eyes before looking down at Gretchen. Gretchen starts to shake.

“Di- Diana…” She says. “Di- I- I’m g-going to d-die… I-I’m scared.”

“Don’t worry.” Is all I say. It’s all I can say.

“My- my Mum…” Gretchen says. “My sister-”

“Don’t worry.”

“But Diana, they-”

No, Gretchen!” I say. “It’s okay. You’re going to be okay. Just close your eyes; don’t think, don’t speak, don’t look. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Okay?”

“Okay.”

Gretchen closes her eyes and I turn my attention back to Louis. Nobody’s going to die tonight. Nobody I want to live, anyway.

“Come on, pussy; I’m getting impatient!” Nancy says. She looks down at Louis, who takes a step forwards with the knife. He goes to kneel down, but those tears are back in his eyes, and I see him pause.

“Don’t do it, Louis.” I say. “I believe in you. Think of Mum. Think of Dad if you have to. You can’t. Please.”

“Diana, please.”

“No.” I say firmly. I don’t take my eyes away from the knife in his hands. “I’m not going to stop talking, even if it kills me, Louis. You didn’t hear me in the car park? I swore I’d never give up on you. I swore, Louis. I swore.”

“Promises mean nothing.”

“True,” I say. “Unless you value them.”

Louis closes his eyes, his knife barely staying in his grip, and I look down at Gretchen, who’s started to cry again.

“I love you.” I say.

“Shut UP!” Louis screams.

Nancy snarls. “Get ON with it, you little good-for-nothing PUSSY!”

DON’T talk to him like that!” I scream. I feel another kick in my ribs and realise it was Alfie, who’s laughing.

“Pussy! Pussy! Pussy!” Alfie chants. I see Louis close his eyes and grind his teeth; he’s getting angry. When he gets angry, he’ll do anything. They’re winning.

“Kill her, Louis,” Nancy says softly. “Or I’ll make you kill your sister instead.”

Louis and I stare at each other. Then, Louis’ lip starts to tremble and he squeezes his eyes shut and brings the knife down.

“No!” I yell, but he stops himself again- just before the blade touches Gretchen’s hair above the small of her back.

“Oh, my God.” Nancy says, clearly agitated. I wonder how close midnight is now. “This is pathetic. Get up, Louis.”

I freeze as she hauls Louis to his feet, then tosses him to her side. He yelps as he hits the ground next to me, and I hear him sobbing, “No! Not her; NOT her! Don’t make me kill her! Not her! Not her!”

“Louis.” I say. “It’s okay. I love you. I’m proud of you. Everything’s going to be fine.”

Louis doesn’t respond. “Not her…” He murmurs, curling up into a ball. “Not her; not her.”

“Shut UP!” Nancy says. “I’ll deal with you in a minute.”

“Nancy, touch him and you’re DEAD!” I scream. Alfie runs away from my side at Nancy’s beckoning and stands over Gretchen. I see the animal glee in his eyes and it disgusts me beyond belief.

“Let me do her; please?” Alfie says. My God; this kid’s twelve. He lives in a tiny English town, not a city, and he’s got a normal family; how can he be this way? “Let me do Gretchen. Let me. And then- and then Diana after.”

Nancy waves her hand, grinning down at me as if to say there. You see?  “No; no!” He yells as Alfie wrenches the knife from his grip and then shoves him over, hard. He lands on top of me and we knock the wind from one another; Louis rolls off me as the rest of the gang laugh, Nancy loudest of all. He sits up beside me, and that’s when he spots that I’ve cut through my wrist restraints and started on my ankles. It’ll take a while; this knife is far too blunt, but I’ve got no choice. Louis could say something- isn’t he meant to be on their side?- but he doesn’t. Gretchen’s staring at me again, and her eyes are saying help me, help me. I will. I’m the hero. I’ll save her. Alfie’s walking towards her, and I’ve got five, maybe ten seconds of delay before he-

“You were too weak to be part of this gang anyway.” Alfie tells Louis. “You’re a pussy. You’ll never be a real man. This is what real men do.”

Alfie brings the knife down between Gretchen’s shoulder-blades.

“No!” I scream, but it’s too late. The knife goes in. THUD. Gretchen stiffens, then goes limp like a broken doll, her head hitting the dry mud as her blue shirt turns plum-purple with blood.

“NO!” I scream. Louis starts whimpering, and he tries to nestle into my side before Nancy grabs him and hauls him up, striking him hard across the face. I look across the log at the three onlookers, all of whom have gone completely silent, their faces white. I want to look anywhere but at Gretchen, who’s dead; her blood’s all over the mud and she’s face-down, inches from me. She’s dead. I’m still screaming, even though Louis has stopped. I mash my face into the mud and try to keep breathing. Breathing, and cutting my ropes. So I’m not next. Oh, my god, my god. Gretchen’s dead.

Alfie walks right up to Louis and grins at him, then shoves him hard in the chest. Louis is still crying, but I swear I hear him murmur, “How could you?” before Nancy shakes him shut. A small flicker of realisation is the last scrap of emotion I see on Alfie’s face before he manages to snuff it out. His hands are covered in blood. I can’t breathe; the world’s gone numb around me. That girl who sat next to me in biology. That girl who was my only friend. That girl, with the knife in her back… I’m next. If I don’t get my ankles free, I’m next. And Louis with me, gang member or no; I don’t care. At least I won’t have to watch him die. I close my eyes.

“Nice job, Alfie.” Nancy says with a grin. “Give us your arm. You ready?”

Alfie grins and nods, holding his arm out. I widen my eyes.

“No.” I say, screwing my face in disgust as I watch Nancy roll Alfie’s sleeve up. “No, no, no, no!”

Nancy sinks her teeth into Alfie’s wrist. He winces, hard, but waits till blood starts flowing before he tears it out of her grip. Nancy licks her teeth and grins.  

Louis clamps his hand over his mouth. We look at each other, then at Alfie.

One more werewolf to worry about.

“There. You done.” Nancy says.

Alfie grins. “Thanks.”

Then, to my horror, Nancy takes the blood-soaked knife away from Alfie and walks behind Louis, holding his shoulder. She leans down, and presses the knife to his throat.

“No!” I scream, my throat already raw, my hands shaking so hard I can barely keep hold of my knife. “No! NO! DON’T TOUCH HIM!”

Nancy and Louis ignore my screams.

“You know the rules, Louis,” Nancy says. “Ten minutes to the full moon, and it’s gotta be done before the full moon or you’re mincemeat. Refuse to execute, and this knife goes all the way in. And now, sad as it is, now the canary’s dead you’ve got no choice but to kill your sister. Kill Diana or die. Jump to it, traitor.”

And she presses the knife into his hand.

Louis turns to me, deadpan once again, the tears drying on his face. My ankles are almost free; I can feel the rope loosening. I’m almost free. Just a little more…

“Louis.” I say through tears as he walks towards me. “I love you. Mum and Dad love you. Everyone you’ve ever met whose opinion matters a jot loves you. You’re a wonderful person. You are a nerd, a Mummy’s boy, and you should be proud of it. No amount of gang culture’s ever, ever going to change it. They can’t change who you are or what you feel-”

“Shut up, Diana!” Nancy says. “Louis, do it or I’ll kill you.”

Louis keeps walking.

“They just want to mess with what you do. They want to use you. Louis, I believe in you. You’ve got it in you- I honestly believe you could kill me. Easily. They’re wrong- you’re not weak; you’re strong, just not in the way they want you to be. You’re the kind of strong that makes you hard to use.  They think it’s weak to-”

“Shut UP!” Nancy yells again. She keeps yelling, but I keep talking too. I tune her out. I don’t know who Louis’s listening to.

“They think it’s weak to be loved, but it makes you stronger, Louis. I love you more than anything. Mum does, Dad does, but I love you most. Without you, I’d never have pulled through the accident. Without me, you’d never have pulled through the bullying. Your love for us makes you better than them, Louis; your goodness makes you stronger than them. Stronger than me. Stronger than anyone. You can beat this. You-”

“Diana.” Louis says, but he’s quiet.

“You can make a-”

“God, shut UP, Diana!” Nancy screams, stepping over Gretchen’s body to reach Louis and slap him across the face again. I bristle; my ankles are almost free. Then, yet again, Nancy jerks her head down.

“Oh, won’t you give UP already?” She says with a laugh, stomping down on my hands and kicking away my knife just as the rest of the ropes give way. “GOD, we’ve all got HEADACHES! You can get stabbed now or ripped apart.”

I’m free- but then, Nancy shoves her foot down onto my head. I gasp with pain and try to move, now I’m free, now I’m so close- but I can’t move. If I move, she’ll crush my skull.

“L- Louis…” I start, looking up at him with the last of my strength, but Nancy gets to him first.

“Diana’s wrong,” Nancy says to Louis. “Love and compassion make you weak. You can’t be a loner at this age, Louis, especially not with a disfigured dyke freak like Diana for a sister. You’ll never survive. You need us, Louis, but that’s not why you’re going to do it. You’re going to do it because you’re easily scared, and I’m going to threaten you.”

He’s quivering as she pushes her face right up close to his.

“If you don’t kill your sister, right here, right now, I’m going to kill you, Louis.” Nancy murmurs with a combination of glee and anger. “But I won’t just kill you. I’m going to gut you so you bleed out slow, so you’ll be a bigger freak than Milo Bird. But before that, I’m going to cut out your pretty eyes so you’re a bigger freak than Gretchen Haynes. I’m going to carve up your little face so you’re a bigger freak then Diana Velasquez, and then I’m going to tumble your little bits into an envelope and send them to your one remaining parent. Then, you’ll be a bigger freak than Poppy Nichols. I’m going to make you the biggest freak in all of Duskwood. And nobody… nobody, Louis, wants to be a freak.”

I open my mouth, but there’s nothing I can say. Louis is looking right into Nancy’s eyes, his bottom lip quivering. He’s afraid. And nothing destroys him more than fear. He tightens his grip on the knife and looks down at me, his eyes completely blank. I can’t believe this is it. I can’t believe he’s going to do it. I close my eyes.

Then, I hear two sounds.

The first is Louis murmuring, “Well, I do.”

And the second is a gurgled shriek.

I wait for a couple of seconds in bewildering, crushing darkness. Then, I open my eyes as the pressure of Nancy’s foot vanishes from my head. I look up and see her clutching her face, her eyes bulging. Louis takes a step back, and that’s when I see the combat knife wedged in the top of her skull, spurting blood into the sky. I stare at Louis. He stares back.

And then, Nancy’s legs crumple, her body folds in half and her head hits the floor with a CRACK.

She’s dead.

Louis killed her.

The air fills with shouts and I see Harry, Salem and William jumping up. Remembering my hands are free, I scramble to my feet, and as I do, something cold’s pressed into my hand. It’s heavy; it drags me sideways. I look down and see Louis has given me my sword. He’s looking up at me with huge, terrified eyes. I killed someone, he’s saying to me. I killed someone. That’s nothing, I say back as I heft my sword, push him behind me, and turn back to the campfire as the gang descends on us. Watch this.

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