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

7. The Needle and Thread

“THE STAB WOUND’S all good. I bandaged it with toilet paper and masking tape.”

I’m pretty sure that’s the first thing I say when I wake up.

The next thing I remember is the pure, bright pain of the doctor peeling my crappy homemade bandages off. I yell and swear a lot, biting my tongue and lamenting how much pain I’m in- that’s a mistake, because the next thing I know, they’ve brought out the morphine. And the needles.

“Can I have a sick bucket?” I ask. This time, I’m taken seriously.

Mum looks so worried, and it breaks my heart. A doctor walks over to tell her I’ve been stabbed, but I shout for him to stop. I tell her myself. And her face crumples before she runs out of the room. Dad follows her.

“That went well- AH! SON of a BITCH!” I scream as the doctor rips the last remnant of masking tape away from the wound on my stomach. He whistles, then looks up at me with mild amusement. That’s when I realise I recognise him. He’s the doctor who gave me my injection the first time I was hurt- the ginger guy I’ve been mentally beating up these past five months. I swallow a wave of guilt as he smiles at me.

“Hey.” He says. “You might want to calm the swearing. You know- the impressionable youngsters can hear you.”

There’s no hint of that obnoxious self-absorption in his voice. I don’t think he’s serious, so I half-grin through the agony and say, “Don’t you think they need a bit of entertainment?”

“Yeah.” He nods. “My Lord, does your poor family have any toilet paper left?”

I attempt a pained smile. “Nope.”

He walks over to a cupboard. When he stands up, he’s holding a bottle of green liquid and a plastic bag full of cotton. I freeze. “And why was that?” he asks.

“Because,” I say, “I don’t happen to be well-stocked on professional- AH! Ow! Ow!”

“Sorry. Just dabbing you with disinfectant again.”

“Hella obvious! GOD, it hurts!”

“Not as much as septicaemia.”

“Maybe, maybe not.” I screw my mouth tight to stop myself from wailing again. “I had to use toilet paper, because I wasn’t well-stocked on medical-grade bandages. Like most normal people- ow.”

“Well,” he says, dead serious, “if you’re going to keep up the monster-hunting, you might want to fix that.”

I stare at him, but he just raises an eyebrow and adds, “Or, come to us next time instead of trying to DIY bandages.”

 “I didn’t want…” I grit my teeth. My voice is soft, drained of all its energy. “I didn’t want my family knowing how badly I was hurt.”

The doctor doesn’t say anything, but he looks genuinely sympathetic as he nods.

“Look, M- uh, Miss Velasquez.”

“Call me Diana.” I lean back with a sigh. “May as well. I’m gonna be here a while, aren’t I?”

“Okay. Look, Diana, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is gonna hurt real bad for the next few minutes. Or maybe hours. You’ve got a lot of mud in that stab wound.”

I gag. “Don’t.”

“Sorry. I don’t get to say sentences like that a lot.”

“I have a, uh… a thing. I don’t know what it is, but my pain tolerance is a lot- ah! Smaller than everyone else’s. I get sick and dizzy, really easily.”

He raises one eyebrow. “Panic attacks?”

“What?”

“Do you ever have panic attacks when you feel pain? Or when you think about experiencing it?”

I remember last night, when I almost managed to talk myself out of going into the woods. I remember feeling a lot hotter, like I’d had a fever, and I was faint and dizzy before I’d started to walk. Had that been because I was frightened not of dying, but of the pain itself?

“Yeah, I think so. Maybe.” I pause. Why am I opening up to this random guy?

“Agliophobia.” The doctor says, soaking his cotton again.

“What? Ow.”

“Agliophobia’s what it’s called… a proper phobia of feeling pain.”

“Oh, really?” I grit my teeth. “I thought it was normal.”

“Nope. It’s a real phobia.” He says. “Although that said, you’re doing exceptionally well. You’re a brave soul. I can’t believe you pulled that knife out by yourself. It’s unbelievable.”

“Thanks.”

“Unbelievably stupid, but unbelievable.”

“Really?” I grit my teeth. “Honestly, I feel like I’m about to throw up.”

“Don’t worry. If you need to, you need to. Is the morphine helping?”

“I dunno.” I focus on the pain as it moans beneath my skin, retreating deeper. “Maybe. I feel a bit high.”

He smiles as he lifts my leg to clean out the underneath. “That means it’s working.”

I smile back, but turn around as the door opens and my parents come back into the room. Dad’s eyes are red and Mum’s clutching a tissue, stuffing it up the sleeve of her cardigan as she looks at me.

“Uh, hi, Doctor Harper.” Mum says. The doctor looks up.

“Hello, Mrs Velasquez. I’m almost finished up cleaning her up, and then…” He looks at me with a grimace on his face. “She knows what’s coming next.”

“They need to sew me up.” I tell Mum, who pales. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, so-”

“Could we see her alone, please?” Mum says to the doctor. “For a few minutes.”

I look at her nervously.

“Sure.” The doctor says. “Can it wait until I’m done? Or… not?”

“Um…” Dad looks uncomfortable. “No. not really. I’m sorry, but, uh… could you-”

“Yes, of course,” the doctor says, standing up. He shoots me a weak smile.

“Good luck, Diana. I’ll see you later.”

I don’t want him to leave. I’ve decided I like him.

“Will you have a needle?” I ask.

He grimaces. “Yes.”

“Excellent. Bye.”

He smiles and leaves, shutting the door behind him. I turn to stare at Mum and Dad, who walk towards the bed. They both look nervous. Mum takes my hand and I squeeze it back, trying to smile.

“What’s… up?”

“The police station called us,” Dad says, swallowing. “They finished checking on your friends.”

I sit up, but realise that was a stupid idea as my back throbs. “Oh. What? And? Are they okay?”

“The ones they managed to find? Yeah.” Dad says with a smile.

I blink. I’m not sure whether I’m relieved or not, but I think I am. Mostly, I’m utterly confused. How?

“Your friend Gretchen?” Dad continues, seeing my face. “She’s completely fine. Apparently she answered the door herself.”

“They’re sure it was her? She has a younger sister.”

“Yes, it was definitely her. And Milo, and all the others? They’re all fine too. None of them had any idea what they were being visited about, sweetie.”

I sigh, heavily, and rub my eyes. “Oh. Okay. Cool. That’s good.”

I can’t believe it. That clearing was full of blood when I saw it- who else’s could it have possibly been? I suppose it was an animal’s blood, and the gang all stayed home that night. Good. Good. That’s good, right? I’m glad they’re all okay, but I feel… stupid. Ridiculous. I can’t believe I made such a fuss insisting they were all dead, or mortally wounded deep in the woods somewhere. Gretchen’ll never speak to me again. I’m a moron. And the police’ll laugh in my face.

“It is, isn’t it, honey?”

I think Dad’s going to say something else, but he never does. Mum doesn’t say anything either. I wonder if they’re disappointed, or scared. Maybe they’re saving their questions till we get home. It’ll be hell on earth, trying to explain to my parents why I tried to keep a stab wound that almost cut my stomach in half a secret, but I can’t wait to be discharged.

After all, those beasts are still out in those woods, and as long as I’m stuck in here, I can’t do anything about it. God knows how many of them there are- I thought there was only one, and now I know there’re two, I’m positive there must be more. They’re all waiting for the first mortal idiot- like that gang, or my brother- to stray past the yellow tape. I’m the only one who still believes they’re there, and God damn, I need to do something about it. I need to take that sword. The one above the mantelpiece. If I’d had that last night instead of Iain’s two knives, I reckon I would’ve been able to kill that bloody thing straight away. I need to solve this, once and for all- it’s a simple case of hitting them where it hurts. Maybe I won’t get hurt again. First, though, I have to get out of this Goddamned hospital bed.

“Dad?” I say. He looks up at me.

“D’you know how long I have to stay here?”

“Uh…” Dad struggles. “They did say to us, to make sure that st- stab wound heals, it’ll be close on two weeks.”

“Two weeks?” I say, incredulous. Two weeks? Is that bad? Can it wait? Maybe. Maybe not.

What if Louis takes my absence as an opportunity to sneak out again?

“Look, do I need to stay that long? I pry him. “I’m not that badly hurt, am I?”

“Diana, you’ve been stabbed.”

“I know. But apart from that.”

Apart from the stab wound?”

“Yeah. If we forget about the fact that I was stabbed in the spine, I’m okay, right?” I target Dad with my pleading. He’s easier to persuade than Mum. I’ve known it for eighteen years, but now, for the first time, I’m going to try to manipulate it. “Dad, I’m worried about my schoolwork, and I want to go back to school and see Gretchen. I think hearing what she’s heard, if she finds out I’m back in hospital, she’ll really start to worry, and I can’t do that to her! Please, Dad. I want to go home.”

“Diana, we’re having none of that,” Mum cuts in. “You need to stay here so they can keep an eye on you, make sure you don’t get an infection.”

“I won’t. Please.”

“Do you want to get an infection?”

“No, Mum, I don’t want to get an infection, weirdly enough,” I say. “But-”

“Then you’ll stay here.” Mum says. “That’s final. Honey, I don’t know why you’ve been doing these things, or what to believe about these… attacks. I’m scared.”

“Why are you scared?”

“Because we don’t know what’s happening to you, Diana!” Dad cuts in.

“We’re worried for you, honey,” Mum says.

I struggle not to let the fear in her eyes sink in; it’s making me feel horribly guilty. “I was just stabbed a little. Doctor Harper says it wasn’t that bad. Barely broke the skin. I’ll be fine; don’t worry about me.”

“We weren’t talking about the damned stab wound, Diana!” Mum raises her voice and I widen my eyes. “You know what we were talking about. We don’t know why you keep going off into the woods at night, or why you’re suddenly relapsing about- about Poppy. But we want you to know we’re here for you, okay? We want to talk to you.”

“I don’t want you to worry.”

“Damnit, we don’t want to worry either! You think we want to worry?”

“Mum-”

“Do you?”

I swallow. “No.”

“Exactly. But we can’t help it when you won’t talk to us.”

I DON’T NEED TO TALK TO YOU! I scream in my head, but I know it’s not the truth. And it’s not what they want to hear, either. I suck a deep breath through my teeth.

“I know. I- I- I’m sorry, Mum.” I say. “I promise I’ll talk to you. I love you.”

“We love you too, darling. Now.” Mum squeezes my hand and smiles weakly. “Promise? If you need to do something, ask us first. Whatever it is- we’re here for you. You understand? No more midnight treks.”

I grit my teeth, ready to lie to Mum again. I hate it, but it’s what’s best for her. I know it. I know it.

“Yeah. Yeah. Okay. I promise.”

She strokes my hair. “Thank you, honey.”

I try not to sigh in annoyance. Two weeks is bad- can I deal with an entire fortnight stuck in this damned bed, with this damned smell, this pain, that damn doctor and his quips? Okay, so maybe he’s not so bad.

“Look, you guys can go home.” I say. “If you want. Take all the kids home, but-”

No, honey,” Mum says. “We want to stay here with you.”

“But, Mum-” I say. “You can’t do that to yourself. Not again. I’m not letting you pine away next to me for another fortnight.”

“Diana-”

“No. You know what I mean. Look, no offence. I love you and I’m glad you want to stay. But, Mum-” I plead with her. “Please. You need to go to work. And Esme doesn’t need to see me like this. Or Louis. Or Minnie. They need to feel like everything’s normal- how’re they going to get over this happening again if they’re stuck in a hospital every spare moment for a fortnight? Please, Mum? For my sake? I’ll be okay.”

Mum opens her mouth, but closes it again as Doctor Harper knocks on the door. I hold up my hand ‘Five more minutes’ and he gives me a nod and walks off.

“Okay…” Mum says with a nod. “At least let me stay with you today. Dad can take your brothers and sisters home.”

“Okay. Thanks, Dad,” I say to Dad, who doesn’t object. Something occurs to me- something I should’ve thought of before I agreed to stay here the full fortnight. “Oh. There’s something… First? Can I talk to Louis, please? Alone?”

“Yeah. Of course you can.” Dad says quietly. “I’ll go get him.”

“Wait.” Mum interrupts. “The doctor needs to finish up first.” My heart sinks as I realise what that means.

Needle and thread.

 

 

“Hi, Louis,” I say, a grin plastered onto my face. “Wanna see a human voodoo doll? Check this.” I hold up my arm, which is puckered and crisscrossed with nubs of black thread. It hurt me like an absolute bastard, and it was worse than pain, too. That thread, dragged through my skin, felt so… wrong. Still, now it’s over, even though I feel slightly sick, I do my best to make light of it.

Louis doesn’t react.

“The lie didn’t work.” He whispers.

I look at him; he’s looking down at the ground, his eyes slightly too wide and his mouth slightly too narrow. I pull the sheet up over my body to hide the rest of the stitching from him.

“Hey.” I say, poking him in the cheek. “Hey. You okay?”

“It didn’t work.” He repeats. “The lie.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m sorry. That- that Mum found out. I didn’t mean for her to.”

I blink. “It’s okay! It’s not your fault. They only found out because I fainted. Didn’t they? Not because of you.”

“I know, but… I’m sorry anyway.” He gives me the smallest of smiles.

“You’re sorry anyway.”

He nods, grinning.

“Course you’re sorry anyway. You’re a sorry little bugger all the time, aren’t you? I love you, Louis.”

“You got hurt.” He says, the laugh dying on his face.

I stare at him.

“What?”

“You did! You got hurt again because… because…”

“It…” I trail off. I can’t lie to him, and if I tried, it’d just make things worse. “It’s nothing.”

“It’s not nothing, though!” He bursts out. “It’s not nothing, is it? You- you can’t just tell me not to go out, then go out and get hurt yourself! What does that prove?

I raise one eyebrow at him. “Quite a bit, don’t you think?”

He stares at me; I feel frustration bubbling in my gut. Then, I break out of my stupor when I see two red pinpricks appearing on Louis’ cheeks- a sure sign he’s about to start crying.

“Hey. Hey.” I hold out my arm, beckoning him over, and swing my legs out of bed so I can hug him. I see his face crumple and he starts sobbing into my shoulder, so I chuckle, despite the pain he’s causing me, and rock him from side to side.

“It’s okay.” I say. I know what he means- he knows I was hurt near the playground he snuck out to last month.

“Why? Why’s it okay? Why- why did you cover for me?” Louis sobs. “I don’t deserve it- you should tell Mum when I do stuff wrong like a normal big sister. Like Daisy.”

I pull him away so I can give him a withering look, and I prod the tip of his nose with one finger. “Alfie’s sister? Do you want me to be like her? You want me to tattle on you? And only look up from my girly games to hit you with a pillow and call you a little shit?”

“No.” Louis barely laughs through his sniff.

“I’ll tell you why I didn’t tell on you, bro. It’s because our parents- and I can tell you this, because I’m old enough- aren’t actually as good at parenting as I am,” I say. “Mum wants to believe everything’s totally fine and Dad wants to believe everything’s horrible, which is why we don’t need to tell them everything all the time. Okay? It’s not because I’m cool. It’s because there’s no point in worrying them.”

He nods and wipes his nose. “Okay. Look, I’m sorry I cried.”

“You’re still crying,” I point out, going to wipe his nose as he shakes his shoulders to get my arm off him. He keeps doing this- realising he’s letting me treat him like a child and then pretending it didn’t happen. I wish he’d pick one or the other; it’s confusing. I love him to death, but he confuses me.

“I- I’m not.” He sniffles again.

“No.” I smile, and he grins back, even though his eyes are still full of tears. “Of course you’re not. You’re a man. You’re the man.”

“I’m the man.”

“Yeah. Now, I need you to promise me something, okay?” I say to him. “And you need to promise me. Swear to me. Can you do that?”

He widens his eyes for a second. He doesn’t nod or shake his head, so I continue. “I don’t know if it was just the one time, or not, but I need you to promise me, in no uncertain terms, you won’t go out after dark by yourself again. Do you swear to me?”

Louis sniffs again and wipes the last of the tears away. “But you…” He says. “You said you wouldn’t tell Mum.”

“Correct. I won’t tell Mum, because she doesn’t need to know things if I know them. I’m eighteen, which means I’m an adult, which means I know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m going to tell you what to do and what not to do because I love you, and I care about you, and I want you to be safe. You can choose whether or not to listen, and I just have to trust you’ll listen to me, because for the next fortnight, I’m stuck in here. But can you- you- you have to promise me, Louis. I’ll never ask you to promise anything else again.”

“But- but I wouldn’t go anywhere near the fo-”

“Louis, I don’t care. I trust you, but I really don’t care where you’re going, because if you’re going outside at night, you’re not safe.”

“Safe.” Louis repeats, looking over my stitched arm, my thick wads of cotton bandaging. “From-”

“Promise me, Louis. Promise me.”

He stares at me. His eyes are still red from crying and there’s a tear about to drip off his nose. Then, quietly, he says, “I promise.”

“Thank you.” I say, and whether or not he wants me to, I grab him and pull him into another hug. “Thank you,” I repeat. It occurs to me he probably thinks I’m asking him to stay out of the forest because I don’t want to get hurt again, not because I’m worried about him; God, how simple things were when I was his age. I’m stitched up like an old sock and I don’t care. I could get shredded and patched a million times worse than this, and I wouldn’t care. As long as I know Louis is safe, I can live with spending the rest of my damned life in this hospital bed. When I first started coming out into the woods, I thought it was because of Poppy. I don’t want revenge. If I had nothing left to lose, I’d walk right out into those woods and let them tear me apart without a fight.

I don’t want to avenge what I’ve already lost. I want to protect what I’ve still got. This is my family, and nobody’s going to touch them. I’ll keep them safe. Even if it kills me.

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