This week’s excerpt comes from a book that is near and dear to my heart: The Becoming: Redemption. This was intended to be the last book in The Becoming Series; I felt like it had (mostly) wrapped up the story pretty well. (Of course, now I’m prepping to release another book in the series, so I guess sometimes when you think a story is done, it really isn’t.)
Anyway, this is from chapter 17 in the book, in which two of the main characters, Ethan and Kimberly, find out that all isn’t as it seems regarding the viral zombie outbreak that decimated their world. Keep reading for the excerpt, and if you enjoy it, pick up your copy of The Becoming: Redemption today! Or, if you haven’t read any of the series yet, you can start with book one, which is titled The Becoming, available now from Permuted Press!
The sun was high overhead and they’d been walking for most of the night, slogging through underbrush as the soldier they’d virtually kidnapped led them deeper into the woods. He clutched a compass in his right hand and a laminated map in the other, a look of intense concentration on his face. He didn’t look pleased to be dragging them through the woods, but Ethan looked like he couldn’t care less. After nearly ten hours of walking nonstop, Kimberly was at that point herself.
Though the soldier hadn’t told them much about himself, he had given them a few basics. Very few. His name was Chris Meiner, and he was nineteen years old. He’d enlisted in the military at the beginning of the second semester of his senior year of high school, mere weeks before Michaluk had broken out of containment and started its spread. He wouldn’t tell them anything past that, keeping everything close to his chest, like he were afraid to give them too much information about himself. Not that Kimberly could blame him for that. If someone had grabbed her and forced her to do his bidding at gunpoint, she wouldn’t be too eager to tell him much about herself either.
Chris led the way, and Ethan walked alongside him to make sure he didn’t do anything he wasn’t supposed to do. This left Kimberly to trudge along behind them, tripping over underbrush and trying to keep her lungs inflating and deflating properly. Before their little apocalypse, she’d always bemoaned her lack of being “in shape,” and she’d constantly try out new exercises, the latest fads that said, “This is how you stay slim and keep your weight down.” They would inevitably only last a week or two before she’d go back to her old ways of vegging out on the couch and watching bad sitcoms on her off days. These past couple of years, she’d been in the best shape she’d ever been in in her life, out of necessity, but that didn’t say much for her ability or lack thereof to hike over unfamiliar terrain through the woods with anything resembling grace.
She’d just muttered her fifth swear in a two-minute span, prompted by her shoulder-length blonde hair snagging on a low-hanging branch again, when Ethan said to Chris, “Keep walking. I’ve got my eyes on you.” He dropped back to walk with her, taking one of her backpacks off her shoulder wordlessly and adding it to his own.
“You doing okay?” he asked.
Kimberly couldn’t stop the dirty look she gave him as she stumbled over another fallen branch. “Ask me that again after we’ve had dinner and some sleep.”
“That bad, huh?” he asked.
“You could say that. Why exactly are we going cross-country through the woods instead of heading back to a road anyway?”
“Because he,” Ethan beckoned to Chris, “claims there’s a highway about two miles further ahead. He’s trying to get us to it so we can look for a vehicle.”
“Thank God,” she said. “My legs are killing me.” Ethan plucked a leaf out of her hair, and she dropped her voice so Chris couldn’t hear her. “How do we know he’s not walking us right into a trap for his buddies to pick off?”
“Because he won’t,” Ethan said. “He wants to live as badly as we do, and he’s not going to walk into his own execution just so his friends can bag themselves two more people.”
“You sound awfully certain about that,” Kimberly commented. Chris paused to examine his map by light of a small flashlight.
“That’s because I am,” Ethan said. “I was a cop, remember? I learned how to read people. This kid is just that—a kid. He’s not a seasoned military guy like Brandt. Sure, he’s got training, but he’s probably not battle-hardened like Brandt or even Dominic. He won’t put himself at an unnecessary risk because he doesn’t want to die.”
“That brings me to my other question,” Kimberly said. “Why were they shooting at us? You’d think they’d have been glad to see survivors, but the first thing they tried to do was kill us. Why?”
“Because you’re infected,” Chris spoke up. He glanced back at them before returning his focus to the path ahead.
“Where did you get a damn fool idea like that?” Kimberly asked, a flush of anger heating her cheeks. Ethan watched the exchange impassively, though his eyes were alight with interest. “Do we look like we’re infected to you?”
“Major Bradford said that everyone in the former southeastern sector of the United States is infected,” Chris replied in a know-it-all tone that made Kimberly want to smack him.
“You ever seen one of the infected that could talk?” Kimberly asked. “I’ve spent the past two years fighting and killing the things, and I’ve yet to find one that uttered a single word to me, even when I was cutting its head off.” She was grateful that Ethan was wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt. She didn’t think the scars that covered his arms from his attack in Atlanta would lend her argument any support.
“The ones that talk are carriers,” Chris shot back.
Kimberly looked at him incredulously. “You can’t possibly be serious.”
“I don’t think Kim is asking the right questions,” Ethan said before she could continue questioning Chris’s intelligence, not out loud, at least. “I have a few of my own, not least of which is why you talk like this is all confined to the southeastern U.S.” He paused, and a note of uncertainty had crept into his voice when he asked, “It did go worldwide, right?”
Chris’s face dawned with realization, and his expression became overwhelmingly pitying. It made Kimberly want to punch him. She held her fist in check as he said, almost delicately, “No, not exactly.”
“What the hell does that mean, ‘not exactly’?” Kimberly demanded. She realized she was clenching her fists only when Ethan’s long fingers wrapped around her right wrist and gently squeezed. She forced her fingers to relax and loosen, enough so that Ethan was able to slip his fingers between hers. They stood that way, clinging to each other like they were the other’s lifelines while they waited for Chris to answer the question. When he did, Kimberly got lightheaded and her blood pressure skyrocketed.
Chris looked like he felt a little sick at being the one to tell them his news. He chose his words with the utmost care, hesitating again before saying, “When the virus broke out…well, things weren’t good. They tried to quarantine the CDC, then the Emory University campus, then downtown Atlanta, and then the entire state of Georgia. When it looked like the Georgia quarantine was going to fail, the military and the Army Corps of Engineers drew up maps and plans and mobilized, and every single person who could get to the location who could do heavy lifting came out and built the Wall.”
“The Wall?” Kimberly repeated, tasting the words on her tongue, measuring the distinctiveness of the capitalized “W” that had been evident in Chris’s voice.
“Yeah, the Wall,” Chris said. “It’s this massive thing, runs for hundreds and hundreds of miles, from the coast all the way across to the Mississippi River and then south to the Gulf of Mexico. They built a temporary wall around all of it, just some mobile units that were used in Operation Iraqi Freedom and other places, and then they built up the Wall right behind it. No one goes in, not unless they’re in MOPP4 suits, and unless you have clearance to do so and your suit hasn’t been compromised, no one goes out of here.”
“So, what, they’ve abandoned us?” Ethan asked. His voice was low enough that the wind rustling through the trees almost drowned it out. “They decided to hell with us and let us rot?”
“Not exactly,” Chris said.
Kimberly made an exasperated noise. “There he goes again with the ‘not exactly.’” Ethan squeezed her hand in his.
Chris looked away from her, staring down at the forest floor with a chagrined look on his face. “Look, we’ve got a presidential campaign going on right now,” he said, his upper lip curling like he realized how terrible that sounded. “The Republican and Democratic candidates are tearing each other up over what to do about the southeast, and the dumbass who’s in the White House right now thought it’d be a good idea to try to make himself look tough and in charge so he can get re-elected easier.”
“So he decided to send you guys in to check things out?” Kimberly asked.
“No, he decided to send us in to wipe things out,” Chris said. “He sent in crews to do clean up on the highways and interstates to make way for any ground troops that are going to come through. They’ve got drones doing gridded flyovers of the area to pinpoint settlements of survivors, and they’re sending in helicopters and more drones and fighter jets with ordnance to bomb whatever they find. They told us that everyone on this side of the Wall that has been exposed is subject to extermination, and everyone we come across is to be shot on sight.”
“Oh dear God, you’re kidding me,” Kimberly murmured.
“Look, I don’t like doing it, okay?” Chris said. “I think it’s a terrible order, and I’m not the only one. There are a lot of us who think we should be airlifting survivors out of here and taking them to the other side of the Wall. Without new fuel for the virus’s fire, it’d die out after a while, and then we could look into making the place habitable again. We’ve already taken back Louisiana doing it that way. We walled it off on its own with the portable walls, and we kept shifting them inward until we’d killed everything infected we could find. That was early on, and the monetary costs were high, even though we didn’t lose many soldiers doing it, so the politicians sitting pretty in Washington keeping their hands clean don’t think it’s worth the money to try to save whoever happens to be left on this side of the Wall. You’re all expendable.” He spat the last word out, as if it tasted foul.
Like what you read? Curious what happens next? Be sure to check out the book, which is available now from Permuted Press for $5.99! Or, if you haven’t read The Becoming Series, start with the first book in the series, The Becoming!