Eight years ago, Luke Retter witnessed the brutal murder of his mother and sister at the hands of his demon-possessed father. He survived but lost a hand and an eye. The demon also burned its emblem into his skin, marking him as a cursed. Those who bear this mark are at risk of becoming possessed themselves, so they are monitored and enslaved by the state-run UCIS. Working as a slave is hard, but Luke prefers it to the possibility of being controlled by a demon.
One night, Luke wakes to find his worst nightmare coming true. His father's demon has returned. In a panic, he runs to the only person who might be able to help: Zack, a cursed who ran away from the state and created an underground community to protect other fugitive curseds. Zack helps him suppress the demon. But the city's become a time bomb, and Luke's demon itches to escape.
With the UCIS closing in on Zack's underground operation and Luke's demon crafting its own, nefarious plot, Luke realizes that he must take a stand.
Thank God, I thought. They let me keep my other eye. Oh fuck. Shit!
The pain was everywhere. Every muscle. Every tendon. Every bone. My skull felt like it was about to crack open. I surveyed the damage.
I’m naked! I’m naked?
My chest was covered in blue and black, with red cuts and scrapes occasionally spoiling their continuity.
A large gash on my side had been sewn up, but by whom? And where the fuck were my clothes? Where the fuck was I?
My gaze shifted around a mess of a room that was slightly bigger than my one at St. Augustine. Although Wahrmer never would have let me keep it this messy.
Papers and open books lay on top of a layer of T-shirts, sweaters, and slacks that concealed most of the hardwood floor. At a door on the other side of the room, a few pairs of sneakers and Converse clustered together beneath an unused coat rack.
On the adjacent wall, a table, made from stacked crates and a pylon, was pushed against the wall. On top of the pylon, steam from an aluminum canister with a bright blue dot of light glistened in the orange glow of a floor lamp tucked in the farthest corner. Next to the table was a refrigerator. With its bulbous shape and strange, luminous green color, it looked like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Just a few feet from me, an armchair with cotton oozing out of several tears and rips faced me.
I was lying on a mattress in the corner of the room directly across from the door. I was covered in a thin blue blanket that felt rough, nearly like felt… the least comfortable cloth a person could make a blanket out of.
As I pulled it down, I saw how far down the black-and-blue bruises went. My body looked like a space depiction of Earth.
I glanced around the floor, seeing if anything of mine was lost in the sea of apparel. I couldn’t see them anywhere in the mess. No bleach, either. Wahrmer was going to have a fit.
My eye flashed to the door.
It cracked open.
A guy in a hoodie, carrying several plastic bags, slipped in. He was young, around my age. Dark, nearly black hair stuck up and pointed every way. The unkempt state made it look like someone had taken a pair of garden shears to it. I couldn’t tell if it was styled that way, or if he’d just been too lazy to fix it. Thick sideburns dipped into a layer of prickles that wrapped around his face. It appeared to be a five o’clock shadow, but based on his age, I wondered if it’d taken a few days for him to get it to that length.
He locked the door and sealed a latch at the top. He shuffled in and set the bags on the pylon table.
I needed to say something, indicate that I was awake, but my mind was too busy trying to make sense of where I was to plan a proper attention-getting announcement.
He turned my way.
“Oh, you’re awake,” he said, hurrying over.
I wanted to say, “Where am I?” But that was obviously what I was thinking. I hoped he would just make the answer known.
“Hey, man, I’m Zack.” His eyes sparkled in the dim orange glow that illuminated the room. They were dark, like the pine trees in the woods behind St. Augustine. I wanted to lose myself in them… just like I wanted to lose myself in those woods.
Zack reached his hand out for a shake, pulling me out of the spell of his eyes.
I started to extend my hand, but there was too much pain. I pulled it back.
“Sorry,” I said.
“No, no. It’s cool.” He dropped back onto the armchair and tossed his legs over the side. “Thanks for helping my little buddy out there.”
That’s why he took me in.
I glanced at my body, hoping it would indicate my interest in knowing how I came to be in this position… nude.
“Oh yeah. Taylor… that kid, he came here to tell me that you’d helped him and that you were in serious trouble, so I went over. Found the guys that were kicking your ass and scared ’em off.”
“Scared them off?” I asked. How was this guy able to do that so easily when I’d just gotten my ass kicked? Not that he didn’t look strong. I just couldn’t imagine that I was that much weaker.
He smirked, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a handgun.
Why the fuck does he have a gun?
“Not very hard when you got one of these guys. Anyway, I carried you back here and patched you up a bit. Did a little stitching here and there. And your clothes were soaking wet… hence the whole naked thing.”
“Hey, I went and got some food if you want something.”
A polite side of me wanted to thank him and decline, but I was fucking starving. “That’d actually be nice… if you don’t mind.”
His face went scarlet. “Sorry, I just picked up some bread and peanut butter. I’m not much of a cook or anything. I mean, I have ham and cheese if you’d rather have that.”
“Peanut butter’s fine.”
He rocked onto his feet and headed to the table. He pulled bread and a jar of peanut butter out of the plastic bag and picked a knife up off the table. This table was clearly serving a dual purpose as his only counter. I didn’t imagine the knife was all that clean, but considering the kinds of things I’d eaten over the course of my life, I didn’t really care.
It was strange having someone being so considerate. I wasn’t used to it. So this guy was friends with the cursed I’d helped out… did that mean he was cursed too? Or was he just friends with that kid? I didn’t know, and I didn’t feel like it was something I could just ask.
“So… what was your name?” Zack asked.
“Well, Luke, I’m glad you were there for Taylor. Not sure what those guys would have done to him if you hadn’t stepped in. They’re kinda regulars around here. I know a guy who they nearly beat to death a few weeks ago. We’re pretty sure they’re some crappy kids from St. Augustine.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.”
“Know the place?”
“I work there. Just started a few weeks ago. But, yeah. It’s a bunch of entitled assholes.”
“I’m guessing you work for the state,” he said. He had a serious, stern look on his face, like the thought saddened him. He must’ve been a cursed. But if he was, why wasn’t he working for the state too? Was he a deviant? No. He looked too young to be a deviant. Usually they were much older. I tried to look for the tattoo on his neck, but his hood was too high.
He set the knife, laden with peanut butter, back on the table and dashed across the room to hand me the sandwich.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Not a problem.”
Devon McCormack spends most of his time hiding in his lair, adventuring in paranormal worlds with his island of misfit characters. A good ole Southern boy, McCormack grew up in the Georgian suburbs with his two younger brothers and an older sister. At a very young age, he spun tales the old fashioned way, lying to anyone and everyone he encountered. He claimed he was an orphan. He claimed to be a king from another planet. He claimed to have supernatural powers. He has since harnessed this penchant for tall tales by crafting whole worlds where he can live out whatever fantasy he chooses.
A gay man himself, McCormack focuses on gay male characters, adding to the immense body of literature that chooses to represent and advocate gay men's presence in media. His body of work ranges from erotica to young adult, so readers should check the synopses of his books before purchasing so that they know what they're getting into.