Blood Worth by D.B. McKenzie
Release Date: March 31, 2021
Publisher: Gurt Dog Press
Genre: LGBTQIA+ Urban Fantasy/Horror
Content warnings: Violence, gore, homophobia, elements of racism, mental health issues
The pills only help if the monsters aren’t real. Sadly, Devon McKenzie figured that out a little too late.
Running from his homophobic father and a mental diagnosis he’s unwilling to accept, Devon finds himself in Sudbury where the people are friendly, the parks are quiet and a looming shadow cast by the local Centre taints the idyllic village life.
Unfortunately for Devon, the Centre is his only hope of maintaining his new-found freedom.
Selling his blood to an organization that no one seemed to truly know anything about wasn’t very high on his list of things to do but after signing a contract, Devon finds himself as bound to the Centre as the poor souls that came before him.
The contract promised money and security, it didn’t say a thing about dead donors, a mysterious shadow dog that was definitely a wolf, or the return of horrific visions that Devon thought he’d buried when he’d left the psychiatric institution that his parents had sent him to years ago.
As the Centre’s secrets continue to grow, Devon begins to realize that Sudbury isn’t the quaint little village he believed it to be. Monsters linger behind every gentle smile and the more Devon digs, the weaker his grip on his sanity becomes.
With another donor’s life hanging in the balance, Devon finds himself in a race against time to figure out what the Centre is truly hiding before it’s too late for all of them.
But the only truth that exists in the quiet town of Sudbury, is that what you see isn’t always what you get and a few drops of blood may be worth more than humanity could possibly imagine.
EXCERPT-TEASERS (please only use one in your post):
Overhead, the lights flickered, manipulated by unseen hands and Devon froze as they blazed white, obliterating everything around him for a second, an almost perfect replication of what he’d experience d before. His vision returned in splashes as he blinked then blinked again, but the image in the window didn’t change.
Gone was the grey of the buildings across from his hotel and in its place, a lush scenery unfolded. Alien trees, with eyes that blinked from their leaves under the brunt of a brilliant, green sun, greeted him and Devon held his breath when several of the eyes seemed to focus in his direction, squinting at him from the backdrop of their pale blue leaves.
Thankfully, their gaze flitted over him, turning to some unseen thing in the distance and Devon heard it before he saw it.
A low, rattling hiss followed by a cacophony of voices as familiar as his own flooded his senses, while a shadow settled over the trees, smothering the sunlight. The leaves closed their eyes in a poor attempt at concealing themselves, but Devon didn’t have the luxury of hiding in plain sight.
His final destination was Sudbury, a small village just east of the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Sudbury boasted a population of just over 17,000 people, if the brochure at his motel was to be believed, but that was all Devon knew about the place. His ignorance didn’t bother him because if he didn’t know Sudbury, then chances were that his family wouldn’t know the place either, making the likelihood of him being found beyond slim.
Not that Devon thought any of his family would come looking, especially not his dad.
It had only been two days since he had packed what he could and fled before his dad woke from his alcohol-induced stupor, but Devon knew he wasn’t going to get his old life back.
Because two days ago, he’d still been living a lie.
Two days ago, he’d had a family and a home.
Two days ago, he’d been outed as gay.
A gust of cold air ripped him from his melancholy thoughts, prompting him to pick up his pace as he jammed his fingers into his pockets in an attempt to combat the chill.
There were few ways to make quick money in a new place like this one and Devon’s current destination was the only place that he was sure would accept him.
As if summoned, the building rose in the distance, a towering monolith set against the backdrop of the midday sun, right where the motel clerk had told him it would be. The Centre was all glass and gleaming white walls, a rose growing among the weeds of the older buildings around it. It spiraled heavenwards in an architectural design that many had labeled pretentious, but pretentious or not, it was Devon’s only hope of supporting himself.
The courtyard was empty, the benches bare, and there was no sight of another human—or even an animal—anywhere around. It was like a ghost town compared to the hustle and bustle that Devon had left behind at the motel.
Devon’s mom used to tease him that he would cut off his nose to spite his face, but he also knew when to swallow his pride. While the Centre would never be his first choice for employment, turning down Mr McAllister’s offer would have been beyond foolish. So Devon washed away any lingering resentment in his morning shower, then dug through his bag until he found something office-worthy to wear.
Tara’s semi-serious expression cracked when she caught sight of him. Her smile went a long way to ease the paranoia that clawed its way to life the second he stepped through the door, disguised as tenseness in his neck and shoulders.
“I didn’t expect to see you back so soon,” she greeted and Devon could only offer her a shrug. He didn’t remember saying goodbye to her the day before, so he wasn’t surprised that she thought he wouldn’t return.
Honestly, Devon barely remembered leaving the building.
What he did remember was cashing his check, handing in his deposit and moving his stuff out of the motel, before booking into a hotel that allowed for long stays and didn’t make his skin crawl.
On the way to the hotel, following the directions that the motel clerk had reluctantly given him, Devon had stopped only once to dump the familiar bottle of Clozapine pills that he’d unknowingly packed, before resuming his journey. He’d ordered room service from his new room, showered until his skin started to wrinkle and then collapsed onto a bed so soft, he’d flirted with the idea of never moving again.
He wasn’t going to tell Tara all that so instead, he offered her a rueful grin.
“I’m not dumb enough to turn down a job,” he responded, watching in amusement as Tara all but vibrated in her seat.
“So does that mean you’ll be working with me then?” she queried, beaming when Devon nodded. “That’s awesome, I’ve been praying for someone closer to my age ever since they told me Sophia had gotten the boot. Though to be fair, I’d have settled for anyone who wasn’t Sophia.”
Devon fought hard to resist the vindictive urge to snort, recalling the way that the previous receptionist had almost made him leave before he had even signed up. If his circumstances had been different, he definitely wouldn’t have stuck around long enough to get a contract.
“I think I met her.”
Tara’s eyes widened before narrowing. “And you didn’t run screaming into the night? If that’s not proof that you’ll fit in here, I don’t know what is.”
“I haven’t even done an interview yet,” Devon pointed out, but Tara waved him off.
“If you weren’t asked to do one when they offered you the job, then I doubt they’ll make you sit through one now. That’s how I got in. I was sort of floundering, didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. This place was my last resort,” she said and suddenly Devon understood the soft look she’d given him on the way to Mr McAllister’s office.
That night, sleep came easy to Devon but so did his nightmares. He was frozen in place, held down by unseen bonds while shadows crept across the ceiling above him, dripping onto his skin. Devon could feel them moving over his limbs, slithering higher and higher, leaving a slick residue behind that made his skin sizzle. He wanted to scream but he couldn’t move his mouth, not even when the shadows crawled past his lips, filling his nostrils and lungs until all he could do was choke.
From the ceiling, cloudy, reptilian eyes watched him and even when he gasped awake, the eyes were still there, only vanishing after he forced himself to blink once, then again.
The idea of sleep was so far beyond him that he didn’t even try.
The second-hand laptop that he’d bought caught his eye and on a whim, he reached for it. A quick search for Mark Bazweski’s name produced several articles about a couple of businessmen, none of whom fit the age range he would’ve assigned to the man, given how old Devon guessed that his sister was.
A more detailed search unearthed an old newspaper piece. It was an article that someone had uploaded in response to an animal charity, calling for modifications to the law that allowed people to defend themselves against any animal they deemed dangerous. The law itself was old and Devon could see the charity’s point; the law basically gave people free rein to shoot anything that didn’t have a collar on, but on the other hand, there was the article.
A twenty-five-year-old man by the name of Mark Bazweski had died while on a solo hike on October 21, 2019. An autopsy and investigation indicated that the cause of death was an animal mauling, but the type of animal hadn’t been identified.
Skimming the article, Devon scrolled down to the comments.
“Wanna bet he worked with the CIA and they offed him?”
Devon rolled his eyes at that one. There was always a conspiracy theorist lurking around these types of pieces but despite that, he kept reading, ignoring the more profane remarks until another comment caught his eye.
“So we’re going to pretend that the cops can track down a killer from the tiniest bit of DNA evidence, but they can’t get an expert to say what kind of animal killed this guy? I smell a cover-up. I bet someone’s dog did it and they just had enough cash to pay people to look the other way.”
Leaning back in his seat, Devon frowned as his brain dragged up the memory of the encounter with the thing from the path. The old woman had said it was a dog too and Devon had no reason to doubt her, but there was a place deep in his gut that couldn’t help but think that what little he’d seen of the beast had seemed more wolf than dog.
It was a stray thought flitting through his mind but Devon couldn’t shake it.
Clicking off the page, Devon altered the search and results instantly flooded his screen. They were all official Centre press releases, regurgitations of information that everyone already knew. It wasn’t until Devon sorted the search results by their upload dates that some unofficial pages began to appear.
The first thread had Devon huffing in amused disbelief when someone suggested that the Centre was feeding vampires with the donations.
The next thread broke down the components of blood and what each was good for, suggesting possible reasons why the Centres needed donations.
The article after that looked at the importance of blood from a more religious aspect, suggesting links from demons to monsters and that by selling their blood, people were selling their souls.
That one hit a little too close to home for Devon and he shut the page down, letting his gaze drift out over the village.
It probably wasn’t even the same guy. There was no way of knowing how many Mark Bazweskis were out in the world and without any additional information, Devon couldn’t exactly verify the article.
Another thought popped into his head as the sun peeked over the horizon and while he was almost certain that he wouldn’t find the answer on the internet, it wouldn’t hurt to try. His search brought up the previous pages about the Centres and he dug through what he’d already read until he found a page that outlined salaries.
It was just like he’d thought. The standard pay for donations was two hundred dollars a pop, and that was for a full sample.
When he couldn’t find anything else on payment, he shut down his laptop and closed his eyes.
It didn’t make sense that he was getting paid triple what was expected when there was nothing unique about his blood. He’d been in and out of the hospital as a kid enough to know that. It left the question of what exactly the Centre was looking for in the donations they accepted, but there was
no way Devon could answer that by himself. And it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that no one at the Centre would willingly just tell him what he wanted to know.
The best thing he could do for now was just leave things as they were, because sometimes ignorance really was bliss.
About the Author:
D.B. McKenzie is a 30 year old university undergraduate of Jamaican descent and have been writing for over twenty years. Her main interests in writing are geared towards horror and fantasy, heavily influenced by the works of Neil Gaiman, Frank Herbert and Dean Koontz.
Her short horror piece Still Waters has been published by Black Hare Press in the anthology OCEANS.