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?


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!

5. The Two Knives

AS IT TURNS out, my older brother Iain, who left to join the army two years ago, left a damned good stash behind. The two knives in my backpack, which I nicked from the family’s safe this morning, are combat knives, serrated along the back edge. They’re better than Nancy’s. If I meet her again, I’ll be able to say something cool like ‘Think again, bitch’ or ‘No, I learned from last time’ or ‘Ha ha, my knives are totally better than yours.’ I guess realistically, I won’t actually have time to say any of that before she stabs me. But I’m not planning to go out tonight. After all, what’s the point? I’m not going to find anything. I’ll go out tomorrow, I swear, I tell myself as I dump my backpack by the door and fall into bed. Right as my head hits the pillow, I hear something in the forest.

That howling.

I jerk upright and shoot my gaze towards the window. I can’t see anything. But I just heard it, didn’t I? This time, for real. A chill of fear ripples through my body and I barely resist the urge to pull the duvet up to my chin, block my ears and lie back down. I look at my backpack, my jacket, my torch. This is what you’ve been waiting for, idiot, my mind tells me. Yeah, but I wasn’t… I wasn’t…

You weren’t what?

I wasn’t expecting to actually FIND anything.

That’s the truth- I’ve spent the last five months strolling around the forest like I’m the king of the monster-hunters, telling myself I’m a hardcore fighter because I’m out by myself with a tiny cheese knife in my pocket. I was only confident because I was sure I wouldn’t be unlucky enough to go through the same crap again. I think that, all this time, I was just wandering around the woods to try and convince myself it was empty.

And now I know it’s back in the forest, I’m debating staying indoors.

I get up, standing barefoot on the carpet and staring from the window to my bed to my pile of gear on the ground. It’s a meagre load. I’ll probably die. I don’t want to die. But I do want someone to suffer for Poppy’s death. And whether it’s me or the monster, surely that’s a payoff.

Come on. Show us what you’re made of.

I go over to my discarded pile of clothes, pull my jeans on over my pyjama shorts. My shirt and jacket go on over my vest. No bra. I spend several seconds trying to yank on one boot before I realise I’m still wearing my fluffy socks, which I tear off and don’t bother to replace. Is this really what you wanna be buried in?

I grab my backpack and push open my widow before vaulting onto the roof and running to climb down the trellis. Then, right there on the roof, I pause for a couple of seconds. What’s going to happen to me? If I’m right, there’s another one of those monsters out there, probably close, and I’m walking right into its mouth with nothing but a couple of knives. Am I mad? Well, the answer’s yes, but do I have a death wish? Maybe I should leave it alone. Everyone who’s out in the woods tonight, if there is anyone… They’ll probably be fine. I… I think.

Another howl from the woods freezes my blood, then freezes it more as I realise what I almost did.

I almost let my fear tell me to give up.

Oh my God.

“Diana, you’re disgusting,” I murmur as I pull myself down the side of the house, jumping the last few feet down onto the grass. Then, I start to run. There’s adrenaline already running through my veins as I realise what I’m doing- what I might be about to see. What might happen to me. Better me than anyone else. I’m not afraid anymore. I’m not afraid.



Since the howls soon stop after I walk into the forest, I’ve not got much direction besides the road, so I follow it. Eventually, I decide to walk through the abandoned car park. Right past Milo’s gang’s campsite. Because if they’re out there, and the monster’s out there, I need to make sure they’re okay. I brace myself for a stabbing, telling myself it’s better than a goring, but then, I look to my left. I realise there’s no light trickling through the trees- their fire isn’t lit and I can’t hear any laughter. Good. They decided to stay at home tonight- maybe they actually took my warning seriously. I feel a sting of pride.

That dies when I notice the stains on the leaf-litter.

I stop dead in my tracks, then turn and walk a little way into the woods, shining my torch onto the muddy remains of the stamped-out fire. In the dark, all I saw was deep brown on light brown; I freeze as my light turns it into red on orange. Bright scarlet stains, splattering the leaves, the trees, the muck at my feet. Blood, everywhere.

I gasp, feeling my hands starting to shake. I notice the smell now- it’s metallic and cloying. There’re scarlet shreds of fabric on the floor, too. Oh my God- they’re dead. They’re all dead. They’ve been gored to death. Milo, and Nancy, and those two boys, and that older man… they’re all dead. Gretchen… she’s dead. That’s their blood all over the leaves. I start to shake all over, tears brimming at my eyes. The monster was over here after all, and what if it’s still here? I jump at the sound of a breaking branch, but when I shine my torch, there’s nothing there.

I’m whimpering like a child. This is my fault. I can’t believe it. I’m in shock. This is it. I’ve failed them. I’ve failed Gretchen. I stumble my way back into the forest, sit down hard on a tree-trunk and start to push back against the advancing panic attack, grabbing fistfuls of my hair. What were you thinking? You can’t do this. What was I thinking? I can’t do this. I’m just a girl. This monster’s killed six kids with ease, and I bet I’m next. God, God… tomorrow, there’ll be more police, more questions, and the day after that, and the day after that. I’m determined to believe Gretchen isn’t dead; she can’t be dead. Maybe she… maybe she wasn’t with them. Shut up, you selfish pig. Even if SHE’S okay, the rest of them are mincemeat. Look around you.

I look around me; at the shiny crimson stains covering every surface. My blood freezes as I remember the screaming sounds I heard in the woods earlier; they could’ve been the creatures, sure, but what if some of them were…

Oh God.

I have to get out of here, now, and tell someone what I saw. The police. They’ll have to listen to me now six kids are dead. I have to leave before I join them. I get up from the tree stump, my legs shaking like they’re full of water, and breathe in to stem the tears bubbling behind my eyes.

Another branch breaks behind me, and there’s a quiet, rasped noise, like metal scraping stone. I barely notice it. I turn to run home-

And come face-to-face with a pair of glowing blue eyes.

I stare at them for a full second that feels like a full year; my heart sinks. This is it. I just told myself I couldn’t do this, but I guess as of two seconds ago, I no longer have a choice. After Poppy died, I swore to myself next time I saw one, I’d kill it or die trying. And this is definitely, definitely one. The eyes are five, six feet off the ground, and I see its teeth through the leaves now, too, thin needles, crimson with blood.

I click my tongue.


I rip myself out of my stupor and I think I’m going to turn and run. Instead, though, I throw myself forwards and drive my fist full-pelt in the direction of those eyes. The thing growls and swipes and suddenly, I’m flying; I grunt as I land hard on my shoulder. There’s a fresh claw mark on my cheek. I sit up, and that’s when the roaring, snarling mass erupts from the bushes and lands on me, knocking the wind clean out of me and pounding me into the ground. I yell, then punch it again, in the throat, which does nothing. I scream hysterically as its claws rake through my shirt and stomach and my clothes turn red. Not again. Not again. I reach up, spitting blood to the side, and grab the thing’s head, groaning as I pour all my energy into holding its jaws away from me. Looking up at the sky as I desperately try to push it backwards, I thank God for my boxing classes, my muscles, my new strength. Five months ago, I’d’ve been dead by now. Almost. The beast snarls.

I kick out, but it doesn’t stop. All I can do is scream again, loudly, desperately, as it presses its claws deeper into my flesh. I can’t bear the pain. I’m going to black out. No, I’m going to…

I cough and swallow vomit. Suddenly, my terror, my blind pain turns into anger. I spit more blood onto the ground and jam my thumb into its eye- it mews, and I freeze as its weight lets up a fraction. This creature’s smaller than the one that killed Poppy. It’s the same shape, but it’s not black- its fur’s reddish-brown and its eyes are blue instead of green. Its waist, neck and upper limbs are skinny, but everywhere else is bulging with muscle. I look closer, noticing its elongated snout, its narrow, black-rimmed eyes, its pointed ears. It’s enormous, but it’s not a bear. It’s more like a bulky, bloody massive wolf. Its jaws are dripping foam and it smells of blood and wet wood. Like the specifics of its species matter now it’s skewering me like kebab meat.

I should’ve known there was more than one.

I’m panting as I kick the beast in the stomach, as hard as I can. It yelps and pounces for me again, knocking me back down as I shrug off my torn backpack and shake its contents onto the ground. Pow. I hit the ground. My head explodes with colour. Something’s cold by my stomach. The beast jumps back onto my chest, shredding my skin with its claws, and I scream again as I realise I’ve landed on one of my knives- the blade’s rammed hilt-deep into the middle of my back, next to my spine. The pain, when it finally comes, is blinding, deafening, choking.

I grab my other knife from the ground, my hand shaking so hard I can barely hold it up, and flail, eyes closed, till I manage to ram the blade into the beast’s throat. Then, I open my eyes, and realise I haven’t pierced its hide. With a swipe that tears my skin like tissue paper, the beast sends the knife flying. Its jaws hit my ribs and I punch it, again and again, yelling with the last of my strength, till it backs away. Then, it flips me onto my stomach. The knife in my back bends sideways as the handle scrapes the ground and that’s when I vomit. It’s too much. Its claws open my back; they cut deep. I can’t breathe any more. I’m going to die. No, my mind says. My hand scrabbles for my second knife, but I grab something else instead- my torch. Then, the beast rolls me onto my side again. Without thinking for a millisecond, I twist around as far as I can and swing the torch with all my force into its eye.

The light’s snuffed out, plunging us both into darkness. I hit it again, and again, screaming with every blow, as the glass breaks and the bones crunch and the blue glow gets weaker and weaker. My screams sicken as it drives its claws deeper into my back. When it pulls back from me again, I kneel up and crawl away, panting and standing when my head hits a tree-trunk. By the watery streetlight trickling in from the car park, I watch as the creature, which was my height on four legs, stands up and screams. It doesn’t howl; it screams. The scream gurgles like its lungs are drowned. It freezes what’s left of my blood and crawls what’s left of my skin.

I’m a ragged mess on legs. One blow would finish me off. The beast stops screaming, one of its eyes crumpled closed in a mess of black flesh, and then, it thuds down onto four legs. I grab the knife in my back. Then, the pain lurches my vision and I throw up on the ground again. I can’t pull it out. I skirt the clearing, never taking my eyes off the beast, till I can stoop and grab the other knife, but it suddenly doesn’t look ready to fight me. It’s still growling, but it’s looking at the ground, pawing the leaves.

“Come on.” I pant. My throat throbs with sickness at every word, but I raise the knife, clutching it with both shaking hands. “Come on, you bastard. I’m not… afraid… of… you.”

There’s blood trickling from my mouth and down my neck as I say this. I can barely breathe and I’m sure I’m going to pass out. I look down at myself- my jacket, shirt and pyjama shirt are hanging off me in ribbons, and my torso’s a chunk of bloodied meat. My insides throb, and I feel a trickle of blood running down my leg. That’s it. That’s all I can take.

I don’t faint, but my legs give out and I yelp as I land back on the leaves. The beast stalks up to me and I sigh, trying to stand up; it pushes my head down with its paw. Its claws rake blood through my hair. Nobody’s left, I think to myself. If I die, who’s going to protect my family?

I let my body go limp. I’m raw against the dirt. I’m going to die. Playing dead, I realise, only works if the animal was hunting you for fun in the first place.

The next thing I know, the paw is off me, and I hear shuffling footsteps in the leaf-litter getting quieter. I open my eyes, and it’s gone. Just gone.

For a split-second, I’m so confused, so utterly full of anger, that I almost run after it. I could get it as it runs, land on its back, stab it right through the skull.

When I was five, I fell off a pony that wasn’t even moving.

So maybe not.

I lie there, panting, wondering if I’m going to die, for a minute that feels like a year.

But I don’t die.

Dad’s work is about three miles away, out towards town past the car-park. He should be there right now- it’s still the middle of the night, and he doesn’t get home until morning. I might pass out and die on the road, but I… I don’t want Dad to see me like this. He couldn’t handle it; not again. I can’t consider going to him for a moment; I need to hide this as best I can. If I can. I get up, my legs aching, my cuts sobbing with pain, but I do my best to ignore it. I need to get home, so I can tell the police six people have just been killed. I need to fix myself without anyone finding out, too. Home’s seven miles away. Ten or more if I take the long way around to avoid running into any more mutant wolf-monsters. Which is only sensible.

My family needs me. One foot in front of the other. I need to go home. Another step. And tell the police. And hide all this from Mum. One more step. After a mile or two, I collapse, the knife in my back seeming to twist deeper. It’s started to rain again, so I shrug off what’s left of my denim jacket, push it into the ditch with the earphones downstream. I let the rain clean my wounds, though it stings like a white-hot burn. I take a few rapid breaths, then drag myself up and keep going. One foot in front of the other, the full moon lighting my way. I’m going to live. I’m going to live.



When I get home, I try to climb the trellises to reach my room, but I can’t do it; my shredded arms throb, the pain floods through my shoulders, and my head sickens till everything turns black. I force myself to jump down, telling myself nobody’ll see me if I use the front door. They’re all still in bed- or they should be, anyway. Nobody finds me as I walk into the hallway. Nobody finds me as I climb the stairs. As I pass Louis’ room, I notice the door’s open and pray to God. The prayer doesn’t work; I hear his sleepy voice call my name as I walk past.


I freeze in place, Then, slowly, I turn. I look down at myself. I’m covered in blood and my shirt’s a tattered ruin. If nothing else, I’m indecent. I don’t think he can see the state I’m in, in the dark.

 “Hi, Louis,” I say softly.

“What…” he moans as he sits up, rubbing his eyes. I can’t help being calmed down by the sight of him; my mind was so full of grief and misery when I found that blood-splattered clearing. Reminding myself my family are still safe makes everything hurt a little less.

“It’s not time to get up yet. Go back to sleep.”

“What you doing?”

“Nothing.” I say, shooting a glance down at myself. “Just… checking.”

My back throbs. I’m trying to keep my voice hard, but I’m also trying to suppress the urge to run up and hug him. There’s still a knife sticking out of me.

Louis’ eyes travel up and down me, and the sleepy lilt vanishes from his voice as he takes me in. His eyes widen in fright.

“Di, wh-what happened to you?”

I sigh. “Nothing.”

It’s a lie, and he knows it.

“It’s not nothing.” Louis says. “Is- is that… blood?”

“No,” I say. “Mud.”

“You’re lying!” Louis’ eyes are wide as saucers.

I jump. “Keep your voice down!”

“You’re lying.” He whispers.

I nod, then look up at the ceiling and sigh heavily. “Yeah. I’m lying. I beg of you, don’t tell Mum.”

Louis looks at me like I’m crazy. “Why would I tell Mum?”

“Just…” I trail off, realising he’s not going to take his eyes off me till I leave. “Don’t. You can’t. She’ll worry.”

“Were you…” He says softly, taking me in. “Out… Sorry. No, I won’t tell Mum. If she asks, I won’t say a word. I swear. But what… what happened?

I sigh, and decide instantly not to answer. I scratch my face, wondering if he can see the claw marks on me in the dark. I think he can only seen the stains on my white shirt.

“I’m going to turn around now, Louis,” I say. “And you have to promise you won’t scream.”

“I’m not a baby,” he says indignantly. Then, I turn around, expecting to hear him screaming anyway as he sees the knife in my back. He doesn’t say a word. I turn back, and his eyes aren’t wide anymore. He stares at me with a mixture of fear and wonder, and in that one damn moment, I swear I love him more than I ever have before.

“I won’t tell Mum.” He says.

“You promise?” I bite my lip.

“I promise.”

I try not to hug him. I can barely breathe for the relief. It’s only now that I remember Milo’s gang in the clearing. I’ll have to deal with that in the morning. Bloody hell, I’m awful. Gretchen… she’s still gone forever. I don’t deserve the relief I’m feeling.

“Thanks.” I breathe out. “See you in the morning. Love you.”

“I love you too.” Louis lies back down in bed and I leave the room.

I feel fifty kilos lighter and my vision looks the wrong colour- has that wall always been green? Maybe. Maybe not. Instead of the bathroom, I head into my bedroom first, stripping off my bloody rags of clothing, balling them up with my ruined backpack, tying them into a plastic bag and then throwing them out of my window. They land somewhere below me, on the roof, out of sight. I don’t dare look down at myself. I can’t feel the pain anymore; in fact, I can’t feel anything below my neck. I put on my dressing-gown, but it won’t tie up, because there’s a knife handle sticking four inches out of my back. I hurry across the landing to the bathroom, turn the shower onto full blast, close my eyes and step in. I let my dressing-gown get soaking wet before I muster the courage to take it off, and then, I need to ram it into my mouth and bite it hard to stop myself from screaming. It burns. Oh, Christ, it burns. I let go of the fabric, then take a few sharp breaths before grabbing the hilt of the knife with both hands. I grit my teeth.

Maybe it’s not as bad as it looks.

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