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

15. The Pile of Pillows

THE NIGHT’S NOT so frightening when all you’re doing is staring at the same motionless bit of forest in a lawn chair on your front porch. I kept at least one of the vows I made to Dad. I’m keeping my family safe. The internet calendar says tonight’s a full moon, but I was out here last night, and if nothing happens, I’ll be out tomorrow too.

Gretchen’s been avoiding my eyes at school, and it was only when I passed Nancy on the way home the other day, and she hissed at me, that I realised I was frightened to ask either of them about Milo. Firstly, I’d be subjecting myself to a barrage of abuse, and secondly, maybe I didn’t want to know. I’m just a girl. I don’t know whether I’m going about this the right way, and I’m scared to accept I killed Milo, especially now he’s dead, out of the way, gone. Forever. Nobody seems to give a shit- there was no news article, no investigation, no eulogy. Nobody cared about that boy. He was weaker than I’d thought- without his gang, he was nothing. He broke like a twig. The smarmy, cackling, little shit I went there to kill in the first place wasn’t the weedy child I left to bleed to death in the end. He haunts me. And I’m scared he’s haunting Nancy and Gretchen and Harry and Salem too. I want to want to kill that drug dealer- the one who attacked Dad- but I’m scared. What if it’s the wrong thing to do?

Besides, my family’s safe now. I’m keeping a watch on the house now the moon’s full, even though it’s barely risen and the sky’s still gold and silver. I haven’t heard anything- the beasts haven’t changed yet. It’s nine o’clock, and the YouTube video I watched on werewolves told me they change at midnight. I could be wrong, but it doesn’t matter, really- whenever they change, if they dare come near my house, I’ll be ready.

I clutch my sword for comfort, the cold metal barely bothering to sear the numb skin of my fingers, and lean back in the lawn chair, holding it to my stomach. I’ve got a fresh stock of knives clogging my pockets and my hands are bandaged and my bloodstained combat jacket’s back around my shoulders. I’m ready. My fingers are freezing and my insides are coiling as they overheat, but I’m ready. I’m weak, but I’ll be strong again by the time they come for me.

I don’t remember the last time I slept properly. I’ve been sitting out here, or on the roof, every night for the last week, and the week before that, I was in Mum’s overstuffy overstuffed room with my siblings. My oldest brother Iain arrived three days ago, on emergency leave from his army training, and he’s sleeping in Mum’s room now, keeping her company so the rest of us don’t have to.

The sky trawls through its same old watercolour rainbow- silver, then gold, then bronze, then orange and red. The clouds and aeroplane trails jump forwards, picked out in yellow, then fade to blood-crimson as the sky purples like a bruise. It’s getting darker, and I still hear nothing in the forest besides the odd bird call. It’s silent. Too fucking silent. I don’t like it.

Darker. Darker. I clutch my sword for strength and lean on it. My head droops. I pick it back up and realise how far my mind was wandering- all the way through Dad’s life and back again, all the way along his family tree from his parents in Valencia to his kids on this rainy hill in Durham. All the way back to my childhood in Spain and all the way forwards- my future looks grey and cold and hazy without Poppy, but without Dad, it’s black and charred. Mum’ll be torn as badly by Dad’s death as I was by Poppy’s, and the rest of my family’ll suffer with her if I don’t force them all to hold it together. Louis can barely breathe for the tears and I hold him all day till he exhausts himself, then check on him thirty times an hour or more to make sure I’m not breaking another promise by letting him get out at night. What about school? I’ll either fail or throw myself into it more than ever before. What about food? I’ll either stop eating altogether or eat so much I can barely breathe, like I did after Poppy died. I’d barely come to terms with living without her, and now, it’s all starting over again. It’s a vicious cycle, but with every spark-spitting revolution it chars blacker and crumbles a little more. Black. Blacker. Dark. Darker… Darker…

I open my eyes, and the sky’s black; the moon’s bright white and round above the trees. I’ve jerked awake. I’d fallen asleep. For how long? I have no idea. I jump up and look wildly around. The forest is still silent, but something at the back of my head whispers Louis. Then, it screams it. Louis!

I don’t know why.

He’s always in his bed when I check.

Always.

Without stopping to think twice, I run around to the side door of the house and quietly push it open. At least half my family’ll be awake, so I have to be silent. Silent in these enormous boots. I run up the stairs, thanking the Lord for the carpet, and when I reach the door at the end of the landing I ready myself for the long, painful creak.

Creeeaaak. I wince. “God’s sake,” I mouth, gritting my teeth as I wait to be leapt on by someone, but nothing happens. Tentatively, I push the door the rest of the way open, finishing the creak off with a flourish, and peer into the room.

He’s in his bed.

Thank God.

He’s not moving, so he’s still asleep. He’s not moving. Look closer, something in my head tells me. It’s the paranoid side; the side that convinces me he’s dead in a ditch every damn time I check on him. The side that knew Dad was missing before anyone else did. I walk closer. Look, my head says. Just to make sure. That lump under the duvet could be a pile of pillows and you’d never know. Never, ever, ever….

Shut up.

That’s ridiculous.

It’s only when I get to the very side of his bed, seeing moonlight spilling onto the duvet from the adjacent window, that I realise there’s no hair sticking out onto his pillow. So what? He’s under the covers.

Maybe that’s what he wants you to think.

Oh, my God, I hate my mind. Everything that’s happened may have made me stronger physically, but emotionally, it’s turned me into a quivering, paranoid wreck. But that’s fine. If I have to prove a point to myself, I have to prove a point to myself. I twitch back the covers, half-expecting to see a pile of pillows in my brother’s place. Instead, there he is, safe and sound. My mind was playing tricks on me again. Louis is so still he looks like…

A pile of pillows.

I blink. I blink again, and there he is- no, there it is. A pile of pillows. Under the duvet is stuffed not a body, but half a dozen cushions in a vaguely person-shaped mound. My heart freezes in my throat and plummets into my stomach. No. No, this can’t be right. He can’t be gone. But he is, he is.

Right.

I’m almost relieved. I’m relieved, that is, because here’s yet another sign my paranoia’s well-founded. Other than that, I’m struck by horror and electrified by anger- at him, for being so stupid, but at myself, too, for not checking closer. How long’s he been doing this? Every time I’ve peeked into his room the last few months, have I been looking at a pile of pillows? What’s wrong with me? And where’s Louis? Is he at that playground again, with his bloody knucklehead mate Alfie? Or is he… is he… gone? I’ve got a feeling, and I know I’m not wrong… They’ve got him. And they’re not getting away with it; whoever’s touched my brother, if anyone has at all, they’re about to feel hell so hot it’ll burn them to a crisp.

I only barely bother to stay quiet as I hurry down the stairs and fling open the front door, stopping to lock it behind me and toss the keys onto the lawn. I’ll be gone, but the rest of my family’ll be safe. I grab my sword from next to my lawn chair, shove it into the pocket of my combats, and start to run. I don’t care that it bashes my leg every step. I don’t care my heavy clothes are too hot, or my numb fingers are too cold; I don’t care it hurts. I’m going to run till I’ve got nothing left to run for.

As I reach the bottom of the hill and plough into the woods, I’m swallowed by an instant lull. The trees’ full canopies block out the moon, painting me in utter darkness. Watery white light falls in rays and lands in pools on the dry daisy-speckled mud. It’s silent, but not too silent. My manic breaths and my feet thudding down on dry mud keep it lively. I’m going to the playground, ten miles down the road, and when I get there I’m going to grab my brother and slap his friend into the ground and drag him all the way back home. I’m going to say, “How could you do this to me?” No, “How could you do this to Mum?” or even “How could you do this to Dad? You promised him. You made ME promise to him. And even though he’s dying you still thought you were good enough to-”

Suddenly, in my head, I hug him. I stop, desperately trying to rewind the memory and keep hold of my anger, but then, I let him hug me back. I watch us cry and shake together, just like in the hospital car-park. I can’t get angry at him- I just want him back. When my family caught up with us that day in the car-park, they just stood around us and watched. They didn’t pile in together like they had in Dad’s room; they knew better than to interfere with us, because from the day Louis was born, when I was seven, it’s always been me and him. Me and him with everyone else in the background. Me and him against the world, no parents, no brothers, no sisters, no Alfie. As I run, I’m not running to save his life, or to punish him for being disobedient. I’m running to get him back. And whether that happens to involve fighting off a horde of werewolves with my sword or just slapping a twelve-year-old blonde brat with a crewcut, that’s what I’m going to do.

Imagine my surprise when I reach the playground and Louis and Alfie are nowhere to be seen.

“Louis!” I scream, knowing it’s pointless. It feels like it’s only been a day or two since I was last here, screaming for him like he was already dead, even though it’s been months. “Louis! Louis! LOUIS!” He’s dead. He’s dead. This time you’ve done it. This time he’s done for. They’ve got him. “Louis! LOUIS!” How could I think I was strong enough to take down an army when one word, one name, makes me so weak I start to cry? God DAMN you, Louis! PLEASE, I’m BEGGING you!” I’m crying hard now; harder than ever. They’ve got him. The gang- minus Milo, who I suddenly regret killing a whole lot less- have got him. But… but that’s okay. Because I’m going to get him back. They’re not at their campsite, but they’ve got to be in the woods somewhere- I’m hoping they change at midnight, and it can’t be more than ten or eleven now. I’ll find them. That’s all there is to it. I’ll find them.

“Come OUT, you spineless hairy bastards!” I scream. I sound ten times braver than I feel, but I still pull my sword out. Some part of me- the part that watches too many action movies- holds the sword high in the air so the blade catches the moonlight. “I said COME OUT! WHAT’S wrong? You SCARED? YOU SHOULD BE!”

Nothing.

Just the tug of the wind and the rustling of the leaves.

Yeah, I didn’t think that’d work.

Right, walking around in circles in the dark it is, then.

I don’t think I really care about getting lost, which is good, because within ten minutes or so, I am. Hopelessly lost. As I walk, I feel the panic starting to go stale in my head. I’m calm because I have no choice, because I need to come up with a plan. I need to figure out the best way to get my brother away from those bastards, and I need to prepare myself for the inevitable- tonight, someone’s probably going to die. They’re not going to let me have my way without a fight. I’m not going to lose that fight, but I don’t know if I’m ready to kill again. Not all of them. They’re children, for God’s sakes. For all I know, they were all forced to become werewolves, and if that’s the case, they don’t deserve to die for it. It’s then that I realise I might’ve been right about killing Milo all along- maybe there’s nobody out in the woods at all, and maybe Louis is lost. Maybe they heeded my advice to Gretchen and stayed out of harm’s way, no longer forced out and about by their leader. Maybe everything’s fine. But if everything’s fine, then where the hell’s my brother? What about my fear? What about my gut feeling?

I keep walking.

My arm starts aching horribly, so I switch hands instead of putting the sword away in my pocket- it makes me feel safe. It makes me feel like I know what I’m doing, like I’m in control of myself, everyone else. It makes me feel like a hero.

I know, deep down, that if there is a fight, I’ll come out of it with blood on my hands. I imagine them all dead- it’s not what I want, but could I do it if I had to? What if they all attacked me and I had no choice? Could I kill them? That drug dealer? The one who killed my Dad? Yes, I could do him in no problem. I could gut him and then strangle him with his guts. I could cut his head off and bolt it to a plaque on my family’s mantelpiece. I could dice him into mincemeat and sprinkle him on a bowl of spaghetti. Y’know, if I had no choice. What about Nancy? I think Nancy’s the one who killed Poppy, so yeah. I’d do it. She’s my age, and she was definitely under Milo’s thumb, but she’s more than a little unhinged and she kicked me into that clearing last time I saw her out here. I’d kill Nancy. What about the two boys? Gretchen said they wanted it. What if she’s wrong? And what about Gretchen? She’s my friend- no. She was my friend. She betrayed me, but she claimed she had no choice- wait. She told me that. She dared to defend herself when I confronted her about what she’d done. Could I kill her for that? I bristle as I realise I think I could. She thought I was too weak to follow through with the vow I made to her, but I showed her I was wrong with Milo. I could show her again. I could kill her. I could kill all of them if that was what it took to keep my family safe.

Wait.

What’s happening to me?

I’m absorbed in keeping my family safe, but what about these kids’ families? Milo had a sister, and a drug-addicted mother who needed him. Gretchen has a little sister and parents who dote on her and love her to death. Harry and Salem are children- they must have had hardship in their lives to lead them to join this gang, but they must have someone who loves them. Nancy and the drug dealer? I don’t know, but they can’t be alone in this world either. I can’t just steal people from their families, willy-nilly. Everyone deserves a second chance. Or a third or a fourth or a fifth. I killed Milo because he sneered at me and spat on the ground as he bled. God, am I being too nice? I don’t know, but I’m so worried about Louis I can’t force myself to feel angry anymore; it’s all drained from me. There must be other ways to save my brother, if he needs saving- I can track the wolves till dawn and trap them whilst they’re weak from changing. I can reason with them before they change. I can…

Really, Diana?

REASON with them?

You can’t reason with a werewolf.

No, but I can reason with a person. I’m good at smart talking.

Not good enough.

Look, I’ll kill them if that’s what it comes to, alright? But I’ll do everything I can to stop it from coming to that.

I bite my lip and blink, realising I’m so deep in the woods now it’s pitch-black.

Okay, fine. Whatever you say, boss. Oh, by the way, you’re lost.

What?

I stop. It’s true- I don’t know this part of the woods. The full moon’s high in the sky, but it’s still silent, and without those sounds or the road, I’ll never have a chance of finding my way back.

Wonderful.

I keep walking anyway; I’m sure it must be midnight soon, but I can’t turn back. I’ve got to find my brother before anything else does. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe him and his stupid mate Alfie decided to go somewhere else- Alfie’s house, perhaps. Maybe all the werewolves are locked away, or off terrorising some other neck of the woods. Either way, there’s definitely nothing h-

I jerk around at the sound of rustling in the bushes.

“Hey!” I say, knowing it’s pointless. Werewolves don’t speak English on full moons, as far as I know, and if it’s not a werewolf, it’s a badger or a fox.

The rustling doesn’t come again for the few seconds or minutes I stand stock-still, sword raised, heart pounding, waiting to be jumped. When I heard it, it was far away, but tight and precise, like a footfall. Crunch.

Then, I hear it again. Louder. Closer. Crunch.

“Oy!” I yell, my heart in my mouth, raising my heavy sword higher. I ready myself for a fight. Then, as the rustle comes again, I see a group of bushes quaking slightly and hear a sharp crack. The bushes are thick and taller than me; whatever it is, it’s huge. Whatever beast’s about to die, it’s huge. I raise my sword.

Then, I break into a run.

I sprint towards the bushes, my sword raised and my mouth tasting of blood, realising as I run that they’ve stopped moving. Then, another group of bushes, several feet from the first, starts to move. I turn and charge straight towards it; it’s running for me, and it’s nearly as tall as me on all fours, running with a strange lope like it’s limping. This is it, running for me- the drug dealer, as a werewolf- the pale mangy bastard who killed my Dad. Then, as I reach the pale shape, it quickly changes direction and we run directly into each other. Suddenly, I’m on the ground, on my front. I pant and raise my sword, but the wolf squeals “No!”.

I pause for a second. The beast’s on the ground next to me, a pale lump, wriggling like bait on a hook. It doesn’t get up, and as I blink at it, I realise it’s not a beast. It’s a person. I’ve run headlong into someone and knocked them off their feet, and I nearly finished them off, too.

At first, I think they’re a girl, because of their high-pitched voice; my mind flashes through Gretchen and Nancy, and then to Louis. Sure enough, it’s a younger boy, but it’s not my brother. It’s not Harry or Salem, either. He’s alone. He gets to his feet, and his eyes widen when he sees me, then grow wider still when he sees my sword and my blood-soaked clothes. He’s got pale skin, small eyes and blond hair, shaved on both sides and slicked back with gel on the top. He’s wearing a Space Invaders shirt and he’s taller than Louis. I need a moment to recognise him, but when I do, I want to slap him and scream and cry “Where’s Louis? Where in Heaven or HELL is my brother?”

Instead, I calm my voice, brush myself down, and say “Alfie?”

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