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 the 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 beast itches to escape.


4. Defending One of His Own

Shittiest day ever.

Streams of water rushed on either side of the glistening asphalt. Vacillating mists steamed off meter-parked cars. A few pigeons nestled together on a restaurant table, under the protection of a green umbrella.

Umbrella would’ve been nice.

The rain had finally settled to a light haze, but its effects had already left my jacket and jeans soaked. I shivered as I continued along the sidewalk, heading back to St. Augustine. Three plastic bags hung off my elbow. Another hung off my opposite elbow. Wedged between my fingers were the handles of two bottles of bleach.

A few hours earlier, Wahrmer had discovered we’d run low on the cleaner, a problem that arose because of his fucked-up supply ordering. While he worked on finding an alternative source, he handed me cash and sent me to pick up some bottles from the store… a little over a mile from the school.

When I’d first set out on what became a Poseidon Adventure, it had been cloudy, but I figured I’d be fine without an umbrella.

I was mistaken.

I’d initially had eight bottles, but four of the plastic bags filled with rainwater and ripped apart, sending the bottles crashing against the sidewalk. I picked up two. That was all I could carry, so I abandoned the other two, figuring I’d just let Wahrmer dock my pay. That wasn’t going to sit well with him. State employers had issues about money that mysteriously went missing in the hands of cursed workers. There was this myth that we were using it to conspire against the system or buy our way into operations that would help us deviate. Wahrmer wasn’t going to let it slide, but at least I had a few bottles to vouch for my attempt.

My arms burned. My thumb felt like it was about to split off. I’d thought I was in good shape from my daily workouts, but I clearly wasn’t doing as well as I’d thought.

Guess I need to up those reps.

“Stop it! Leave me alone!”

The cry came from a nearby alley. It was a familiar sound—one that regularly accompanied the sort of bullying my kind were used to.

Passing the alley, I saw several guys in black ski masks surrounding a kid who couldn’t have been more than thirteen.

Purple ink coiled like a snake around the cross tat on his throat. It made me feel bad. I hated seeing curseds that young.

His attackers, with their masks and matching jeans, were a knock-off of an anticursed gang that was popular in New York for terrorizing curseds in the name of vigilante justice. Since they’d made headlines a few years earlier, other kids had turned harassing curseds into a hobby.

Most of these guys were about my size. Some of them may have even been students at St. Augustine.

Tears poured down the kid’s reddened face. He had big eyes and orange hair that curled around obnoxiously large ears nearly a quarter the size of his head. He was scrawny—so scrawny that he may have been even younger than I’d initially suspected.

He looked like the kind of kid that would have been bullied even if he hadn’t been a cursed.

“Leave me alone!” he whined as the guys pushed him to each other in a cruel game of hot potato.

The tallest of the group grabbed him by his shirt collar and shoved him against the side of the wall of the nearby apartment building.

I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone was in these nearby units… and if they were, would they bother to do anything?

I knew the answer.

The taller of the assailants, who I assumed was the alpha of the group—as he was the one initiating the violence against the little fella—dug his hand in the kid’s pocket. I hoped he was feeling for cash.

The red-faced kid whined.

“Little pussy cursed,” Alpha said. “Shut up. Shut up. Just shut the fuck up.” He smacked the kid in the head repeatedly, evoking more tears.

I’m gonna get my ass kicked.

Setting the grocery bags and bottles at the corner of the building, I reached into my pocket and slipped out a knife. I never went on errands without it. Considering the prevalent violence against curseds, especially with the rise of these sorts of gangs, it was stupid to walk around the streets defenseless. Might as well be begging to get mugged… or worse.

“Hey, assholes!” I shouted, announcing my presence.

I didn’t think I was going to beat them up. Five versus one. I was horribly outnumbered. I only hoped I could distract them long enough to give the kid a chance to get away.

“Freakmister!” one of the ski masks called, a shorter guy in a navy jacket.

“Want us to take your other eye?” Alpha asked.

He set the kid down and started for me.

The kid ran off. My plan had worked, but now I was fucked.

“Oh, he’s got a knife,” Alpha said in a mocking tone. “You see that, guys? He’s got a fucking knife.”

He approached me rapidly, stopping a foot before the end of my blade.

“Well, come on!” he exclaimed. “You gonna whip it out, you better be ready to use it.”

He leapt at me. I stabbed through his shirt, jabbing him in the gut.


As I pulled the knife out, two of his buddies came up from his side. They grabbed my arms and pulled me back.

“You fuckin’ dick!” Alpha exclaimed.

Navy Jacket had my hand. He twisted my wrist, forcing me to release my one and only defense.

Alpha jumped forward, punching me across the face.

Blood spewed from my mouth, across the pavement. My cheek throbbed. That was gonna be a hell of a bruise.

The others watched, laughing, cheering, while their friend took out his vengeance on my skull. He threw punches so hard and so fast that my cheek went numb.

“Let him go. Let him go,” Alpha finally said.

His buddies released me. I plopped on the pavement, paralyzed.

Alpha grabbed me by the hair and pulled me to the side of the apartment building. Rearing my head back, he bashed it into the wall. It must have been a favorite torture of his, because he kept doing it… till everything went black.

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