NEW RELEASE GIVEAWAY
by Devon McCormack
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.
“Give that to me, you fucking idiot,” Wahrmer said.
He dropped to his knees and snatched the scrub brush from me. White, foamy suds hopped from the bristles as he pressed down so hard I could hear the plastic scratching against the tile.
He tossed me a raised eyebrow, as if expecting me to signal comprehension of his condescending instruction.
I gave a nod, which was more than he deserved for what he could have conveyed with a simple request. But since I’d arrived at St. Augustine weeks earlier to start my new job, I’d learned that Wahrmer was anything but subtle. He was an asshole. The first thing he’d said to me was, “This is fucked. What kind of useless cursed are you gonna be? And we have to pay you same as the others?”
They didn’t pay me the same. They paid me a lot less. Being a laborer with one hand is about as useful as being a sperm donor with one nut.
Regardless of my rate, Wahrmer was a fucking ass for making such a fuss, especially in front of the other staff. But people like Wahrmer didn’t consider my kind to be people. We weren’t just lower than people. We were a threat to them. We were a disease that should have been extinct but had to be tolerated. So he could go on being as much of an asshole as he wanted, and I just had to take it.
I was a cursed.
When I was eight, my dad was possessed by a demon. Demons were a disease. The darkness, as we sometimes called them. That’s how they came—in billows of black smoke. They were ethereal creatures who hunted for hosts so they could unleash their terror on helpless victims. Pain fed them. Misery brought them delight. They possessed people’s minds, took over their bodies, and forced them to commit heinous atrocities against others.
Like my dad did to my family.
Those who fell under the control of a demon were called infected. Sometimes, when an infected attacked someone, the demon left behind a mark—a spider web patch of purple and blue veins. It could show up on any part of the body. Be any size. Mine was on my shoulder.
Those who had this mark were called “cursed.” The United Cursed and Infected Security (UCIS), the organization responsible for handling cursed and infected regulations, said the mark was like a dog pissing on a tree. Marking its territory. Only dogs mark shit to keep other dogs away. Demons marked humans to signal to other demons that the marked were ideal candidates for infection. These marks also acted as an easy gateway for other demons to enter through, essentially priming us for infection. This made us incredibly appealing targets for demons and incredibly dangerous to the rest of the population.
To decrease our chances of becoming infected, we were forced to register and handed over to the state to work as slaves. That’s not what the UCIS said they were doing. It sounded far more noble when it came from one of their spokespersons. They were just keeping an eye on us. For our own good. For society’s good. By monitoring us, our odds of becoming infected significantly decreased. Demons liked to choose easy hosts they could inflict the most damage upon, but because we were monitored, despite our vulnerability, we became less desirable targets for them—presumably because they knew that the moment they infected us, we’d be reported and dealt with. That’s right. Bad as I had it as a cursed, at least I got to live. All discovered infecteds were put to death.
This approach was how the Assembly, a government-appointed committee in charge of minimizing the demon threat, had ridded the US of the surge of the nineties, when my dad was infected. Since their regulations and the imposed segregation, there had been far fewer infections. This was used to justify continued oppression of my kind.
I’d been working in schools since I’d been booted from the system to ensure I didn’t pollute the rest of society. I wasn’t sure how we offered less of a threat cleaning the schools than we would have if we were sitting in the classes with the other guys, but I always figured it had more to do with controlling us than weeding us from the rest of the population.
Wahrmer handed me the scrub brush, eyeing the sewn-up end of my long-sleeved shirt. I’d learned to sew for just that purpose. I couldn’t sew much else to save my life, but I could, fairly easily, sew the end of a sleeve. No one wanted to see that stump. No one wanted to know how disfigured my body was. Not even me.
As Wahrmer eyed it, I wondered if he was feeling bad for me or just pissed that I wasn’t able to be a better worker because of my handicap. Regardless, I didn’t like him hovering around my work, assessing it, scrutinizing it. I was a good worker. I’d been doing it long enough and employed by enough different people to know that. No good could come from this kind of scrutiny. Even if I was doing everything right, it was easy to find fault—to question a moment spent too long on one spot, to notice a tiny speck that was somehow missed, to judge a sigh that seemed to be disapproval for the work itself. He just needed to get the fuck out of here before he pissed me off. Last thing I needed was a write-up.
I continued scrubbing, acting as if he wasn’t there. It was the only way to get through these sorts of inspections.
Wahrmer prided himself in ensuring that his staff was fully prepped to tend to all the prissy boys who were carted off to this prestigious Catholic academy, St. Augustine. I wasn’t sure if Wahrmer’s salary depended upon performance, or if he just enjoyed being the head of the bottom tier of the school… and of humanity. I assumed it was the latter. After all, when you were as low in the pecking order as a guy like Wahrmer, it must’ve been nice to know there was still someone even lower.
He hunched over me, his thick, chubby arms looking sleek in the oversized navy custodian polo he’d tucked in, accentuating his bloated, taut belly.
Just keep scrubbing.
Eventually, he abandoned my post. Probably went to check on some other staff member, who he’d likely harass as much—if not more—than he had me.
My arm was starting to get sore. Not because the work was particularly difficult, but because when I was being inspected by Wahrmer, I had to work twenty times harder than any normal person. There was a tendency for employers to think that handicapped guys like me were incapable of performing as well as the others. Hence, the pay dock. I had to prove them wrong.
My sore arm was a good excuse for a rest. I hopped up and headed to the faucet. Setting the scrub brush on the counter, I ran my arm through warm water. The heat soothed the burn beneath my flesh.
My eye fixed on the running water to prevent an accidental glance in the mirror before me. I didn’t want to see it. I never wanted to see it. For the most part, any notice of my reflection was an accident. An occupational hazard.
It wasn’t just about seeing the flesh-colored patch that covered my gnarly eye. Or the sewn-up sleeve. I didn’t want to look at them, of course. They were disgusting reminders of how misshapen and undesirable I was. But the missing eye and hand evoked something far worse than extreme dissatisfaction with my hideous appearance. They evoked cruel, horrifying memories. Memories of what my dad had done.
I could never really avoid that reflection. Even as my eye looked elsewhere, my thoughts dwelt on the moments when I had to look at my reflection… or when I inadvertently caught a glimpse of myself. That dark wave of hair, glistening with silver strands. The lonely brown eye, resting in a gray half-moon that suggested how tired and worn I always felt. Pronounced brown scars where the other eye had been. White flesh that I could only compare to a familiar shade I saw when I had the opportunity to beat out some stress. A cross wrapped in a purple ribbon, the regulation tattoo, etched along my jugular to broadcast my cursed status to the world.
Those images, vividly frozen in my memory, stirred the unsettled darkness, nudging my eye toward the glass. They called to me, bidding me to pay it a visit.
As I became increasingly aware of my ignored reflection, I shut off the water. I walked over to my cart—a bulky assortment of bottles, rags, scrub brushes. There had to be enough cleaning supplies to last most households a few years. I slid a dry rag out of a plastic bin on the bottom shelf, wedged between a few rolls of paper towels and toilet paper. Passing back across the bathroom, I slid my hand under the automatic dryers.
My flesh became waves and ripples. I stared at the spectacle, letting it soothe my thoughts. It was a habit I’d gotten into. I’d never had automatic dryers at any of the other schools I’d worked at, so it was a bit of a novelty. I had to keep my one eye on the door to make sure Wahrmer didn’t burst in and catch my moment of paradise. The rag was my cover. If he did come in, I would just act like I was scrubbing the dryer down, and it would seem as if I’d set it off by mistake. Over my many years of working under similar dictators, I’d picked up a few tricks to cover my slacking.
I slid the sore part of my forearm under the heat. It was like wrapping it in a warm washcloth. Rearing my head back, I sighed.
It was a silly thing, but as I felt that rush across my flesh, as I became enchanted by the movement of my skin, for just a moment, I transported from where I was to a quieter place.
Praise for the Book
"A stark world, combined with raw, uncensored scenes of life in the dregs of society makes Hideous a great book along with the progression towards making decisions. Finding out who cares. After reading it I believe the key demographic is that of a young male audience, with the author's writing style and themes likely to be appreciated most by those that this author is most akin to. I highly enjoyed Hideous and would gladly recommend it for those looking for a darker Paranormal book." ~ Josh at Greedy Bug Book Reviews
"Mr. McCormack (Clipped) seems to find it impossible to disappoint; his incursion into the young adult genre is as compelling and powerful as expected. And so another page turner is delivered in the form of a paranormal fantasy that must be read in one sitting." ~ Joha at Littles Books
"I want to see young gay guys engaged by characters they can relate to, and with Hideous the author has succeeded. I'm not saying that every gay male is going to like it or that it won't be enjoyed by the major demographic reading in this genre - females. I am way, way past my teenage years, and a female, and I was engaged from beginning to end. 5 Stars!" ~ Kazza at On Top Down Under Book Reviews
"This was an amazing book to read. Some of the scenes were horrifying in their nature. Wonderfully written and detailed. Gruesome scenes, as well as drama, mystery, action and suspense. The struggle that Luke goes through on a daily basis broke my heart. I understood the way he felt about himself, on a personal level. I'm glad he finally found some happiness in an unforgiving world. Anyone who likes this type of book should definitely read it." ~ Shorty at MM Good Book Reviews
Interview With the Author
Tell us a little about Hideous.
Hideous is my newly released YA paranormal novel about a boy who is haunted by a demon. When he was a kid, his demon-possessed father killed his mother and sister, severed off one of his hands, and gouged out one of his eyes. Years later, the demon returns and possesses him.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
"The Handless Maiden" has always been one of my favorite of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. I wanted to find a way to write a modernized version of it. A major component to the fairy tale is this idea that demons are a common and known threat to the world. I liked the idea of bringing that to a contemporary setting. How would society react? What kind of precautions would we have to take? I modeled society’s reaction based on actual reactions to various epidemics (polio, HIV, syphilis). Demons are viewed as a disease, and those who are possessed are even referred to as "infected".
The main character, Luke, struggles with this world, because he is what is referred to as a "cursed". Those who are cursed are more likely to become possessed than most, so they are enslaved by the state so they can be monitored. There are a lot of stigmas around being cursed, and Luke also has the physical deformity that not only looks visually unappealing, but reminds people of the very thing they wish they could forget - that the world is plagued with demons.
What do you want readers to take away from this book?
There are two major threads that I see as the most important ones. The first is that body image is a terrible way of defining your self-worth. I know, it seems like a trivial message, and it’s something that is stated over and over again, but the reason we keep saying it is because it’s true. How you look has nothing to do with how good of a person you are … or how worthy of a person you are. The main character, Luke, having grown up with his handicap, is wildly insecure about his physical appearance, and he constantly feels inadequate and unworthy. He ends up meeting a character, Zack, who sees him for the amazing person that he really is.
The other major thread is about rising up and fighting for what is right. In the beginning of the story, we see a very apathetic Luke. He’s been a slave of the state for years. He’s done what he’s told. He doesn’t fight. He just tries to survive. There are those like him who protest, but there are major consequences for that, so he just plays by the rules. But the rules have never helped him any. They’re just there to keep him in line. When he meets Zack, a cursed who’s run away from the state and helps others do the same, he starts to realize that he doesn’t have to be confined to the life he’s been told he must live. Although, it takes a demon possessing him before he really wakes up to see how ridiculous this all is.
What age range would you say this book is for?
Definitely Upper YA. Because the main character is possessed by a demon, the book contains some graphic violence and explicit language. I would say sixteen and up, but it’s hard to pin down what kind of content people are ready for at different points in their lives. Anyone who reads it should just know that it deals with a very dark subject matter, and I don’t gloss over details or fade to black before violence. This book is for mature readers.
When did you decide you wanted to write YA books?
I didn’t really ever make a decision to write Young Adult novels. I knew when the idea for Hideous came to me that it was going to end up being most appropriate for a Young Adult audience, but I just write stories as they come to me. I try not to write for genres, but I think that it’s natural for people to gravitate to genres they like. For instance, I’ve noticed that I primarily write paranormal stories, which makes sense, considering those were the types of stories that I grew up loving. I think a part of what interests me about that age range is that there’s so much emotion during that time. And not just emotion, but very strong emotion coupled with very rigid ideas about the world. As I grew up, I discovered that the world wasn’t what I was led to believe, so my expectations changed, and I never have the sort of dramatic breakdowns that I had in high school. But back then, when I was still believing so many of the distortions of reality, I had very strong reactions to not getting what I wanted.
Who are your favorite YA authors?
Hands down, I’d have to say S. E. Hinton. She was the first book I read that was technically Young Adult. It was Rumble Fish. I think most people read The Outsiders first, but we didn’t get to that until the following year. Tex was my favorite book, though. He was so cool. He was so interesting. I wanted to be him. My most recent Young Adult author favorite would have to be Scott Westerfeld. I adore his Midnighters series. It’s about these kids who have powers during this special hour where time stops for everyone but them. The stories are so well written and fun. When I first read those books, I stood up and paced my room because I was so excited. They were thrilling. They were riveting. I recommend those books to anyone and everyone. I can’t think of a book that has elicited as much excitement from me as that.
What was the publication process like for Hideous?
I submitted it to Harmony Ink Press. They publish YA titles with gay main characters, and I really thought my little book would be a good fit for their list. After I submitted, I waited and waited and waited. Well, I didn’t just wait. I managed to write another book in the process and submit it to another publisher. It’s called The Pining of Kevin Harding, and that title will be released in October 2014. So I finished that book, and then I woke up one morning and saw in my inbox, "Contract Offer: Hideous". I read through the contract a few times and decided that I wanted to go with them.
The following day, my inbox was flooded with emails from Harmony Ink Press. There was all this paperwork I had to fill out: tax forms, blurb forms, marketing forms. I also got a warm welcome from several departments within the company. I’ll be honest, I was fairly intimidated by the whole process. But after that first day, everything calmed down quite a bit, and I really only heard from them when I had a new set of edits to take care of or they needed approval for the cover art.
Do you plan on publishing anymore YA novels?
I just signed another YA book with Harmony Ink Press. It’s called When Ryan Came Back, and it’s set for release in October of 2014. It’s more of a mystery/ghost story. Steven finds out that his friend Ryan committed suicide, but one day he finds Ryan sitting in his room. Ryan says he didn’t kill himself, and he believes his death had something to do with a story he was working on for the school paper. He asks Steven to help him find out how he died, and the story progresses from there. I’m very excited about its release. It’s definitely different from the tone of Hideous, but there’s a lot more to it.
About the Author
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.
Enter the giveaway for a chance to win an ebook copy of Hideous by Devon McCormack. Your prize will be sent out by the tour organizer after 1 August.