It’s that time again! Time for another installment of the ongoing series of excerpts from my upcoming Permuted Press release The Becoming!
Throughout the excerpts, I’m going to be introducing the major characters of The Becoming and the general situation that they find themselves stuck in.
And now we meet Nikola Klein, the youngest of the cast members and oddly the most resourceful.
The girl’s blond hair lay tangled and messy over the shoulders of her dirty blue track jacket; her jeans were filthy from crawling in the dirt in the very space in which they now hid. A smudge of brown decorated an otherwise fair face, and the blue eyes set into that face studied Ethan with a wide-eyed, slightly frightened innocence that contradicted her feigned casualness. Ethan tried to guess the girl’s age. She looked horribly young; he didn’t think she was more than sixteen.
“What’s your name?” Ethan asked.
The girl tucked both hands into her pockets and ventured a small smile. “Nikola,” she answered. “Nikola Klein. I usually go by Nikki. And you are?”
“Ethan Bennett,” Ethan answered. “Formerly of the Memphis PD. Definitely not anymore.”
Nikola let out an undignified snort. “No, I don’t think so.” She paused as she looked him over again, and then she added, “I had you pegged for a cop when I first saw you out on the street.”
Ethan raised his eyebrows. “You did? How so?”
Nikola shrugged and rocked on her heels. “Cops, they have a certain way of walking. Kind of like military guys? It’s really noticeable.” She hesitated and then said, “My dad was a state trooper. He walked the same way.”
Ethan glanced around the dark space again. “Where is your dad?”
“He’s … he’s not here,” Nikola said delicately. Ethan recognized the downcast look on her face. It was then that he understood; this young girl had not just been through what every survivor had been through: the loss of someone she loved dearly. She’d lost everyone. She didn’t bring up a mother or any other relatives, despite Ethan’s questioning look, and Ethan guessed it was because she had no one left. He cleared his throat uncomfortably and hesitated before he spoke again.
“How old are you?” Ethan asked gently. “You don’t look a day over sixteen.”
“That’s because I’m fourteen,” Nikola confirmed. She broke from her stance and scooped up a backpack that rested on the dirt beside her camping lantern. “I turn fifteen this summer,” she continued. She unzipped the bag and started to rummage through it. “You hungry? I don’t have much, but I think it’s enough to hold us over.”
Ethan didn’t answer. Instead, he stared incredulously at Nikola. Fourteen? She was only fourteen? How in the world had the young girl managed to survive unassisted for a month in the horror movie the world had become? How did she gather supplies, feed herself, defend herself against the monsters outside when they threatened her sanctuary? Where had she been for the past month?
“Can I ask you a question?” Ethan asked. Nikola pulled a bag of beef jerky out of her backpack and offered it to him. He didn’t take it, though; he just watched her face. “How in the hell are you still alive? How are you still even here?”
Nikola looked at him with an expression that was a cross between worry and annoyance. “What, you don’t think I can take care of myself?” she asked. “I can handle it. I’m tougher than I look. Besides, isn’t it just a matter of avoiding them more than anything else? And I’ve got it covered if they come near me.” She picked up an aluminum baseball bat that rested beside her pack and twirled it in her hand with no small degree of skill. “Softball, three years. I’ve got a mean swing.”
“I’m sure you do, but I don’t know how effective whacking somebody with a baseball bat is going to be if they’re intent on killing you,” Ethan pointed out. “You haven’t had to actually use it yet, have you?”
“No, but I figure that that’s a good thing.” She gave Ethan a halfhearted shrug as she shouldered the bat. “It could be worse, right? I mean, I could try using a gun and end up shooting my foot off or whatever.”
Ethan raised an eyebrow. “Your dad was a state trooper and you’ve never used a gun before?”
“He said they were too dangerous. He didn’t want me to accidentally shoot myself,” Nikola explained. “He told me to never touch his guns, and so I didn’t.”
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