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PROLOGUE

AUGUST 2082

Doctor Stevens had his hopes high, putting every ounce of faith he had into the experiment. The others had gone horribly wrong; lashing out, incomprehensive, or simply dying as soon as they regained consciousness. Some bodies were incapable of possessing such drastic changes, and they just collapsed. There had been far too many disappointments, but not this time.

No, not this time.

Experiment 748 was hanging from the wall with shackles around his ankles and wrists. Couldn’t risk him lashing out like previous ones had. His head down, brown curls falling over his forehead, his body slumped. Doctor Stevens waited impatiently for that little indication that he was awake—a flinch, a chill, a twitch. Any moment now, 748’s head would snap up and his eyes would be wide open and alert, and he would be a success.

He would prove those other scientists wrong. They had all laughed at him, made a mockery of him when all the others had failed. He knew deep in his gut, though, that 748 would not fail him. All their taunts and jabs would be in a distant past, and they would all envy him and ask how he had achieved something so impossible.

There. He had seen a finger twitch.

Glee coursed through the doctor, indescribable excitement he merely couldn’t contain. He rocked on the balls of his feet, clasping his hands behind his back in attempts to settle down. It didn’t work. Experiment 748 had hunched his shoulders, very much awake now as he snapped his head up, confusion lacing his red eyes. He tugged on the chains, even more bewildered when he realized he was immobile.

Pulling on his thick gloves, Doctor Stevens cautiously made his way over, being watched by 748 acutely. He smiled, trying to show his good will as he got closer. The experiment backed away as much as he could, red eyes glowing and wide and almost scared. He would not be scared for long, not when he learned how invincible he truly was.

Doctor Stevens had no time to be careful anymore, simply ready to show the experiment all that he could do.

“Easy,” he mumbled, bringing his hands to 748’s face. His thumbs went to 748’s upper lip and lifted it, grinning maniacally at the revealed canines.

The experiment jerked away, tugged on the chains again and hissed threateningly, but Doctor Stevens was too busy relishing in his enthusiasm to spare him a second glance. He knew this was a far cry from calling 748 a success, but he also knew this was the closest he’d ever gotten. Now he needed to assure the experiment’s strength and speed and overall ability to prevail.

To fight and to survive and to win.

He stopped, his back to the experiment as realization dawned on him. He had no idea where to go from here. He would have to convince the experiment that he was one of the good guys, one that needs protecting even. He would not be able to fight off the experiment if he came at him--that was the whole point. They were supposed to be ruthless fighters to be placed in combat and bring home victories, not to have feelings or compassion.

He heard the chains rattle, snapping his attention back to reality. He turned, and right when he did, 748 had yanked hard on the chains and ripped them out of the wall. Doctor Stevens’ eyes bulged, and he was stupefied for the smallest of seconds. The strength was clearly there, as it should be, and the doctor was beaming again. He had to shove his excitement away to focus on the potentially dangerous situation at hand. He scrambled around for a sedative. He kept them close by ever since the first experiment lashed out, but he’d tucked them away some place. He couldn’t remember what drawer or cupboard they were in.

Another loud snap.

Doctor Stevens was scared to look up.

Determination suddenly swallowed him. He would not die nor would he let this experiment get away with this. He would tame him, make him a fine soldier and respective servant. He would find those sedatives and he’d use that time to configure a way to peace between the two of them.

An understanding.

A large hand gripped the back of his neck, then his head was slammed down onto the counter. A few beakers bounced off with the force and shattered when they hit the tile, and nearly everything else had fallen over or slid to the edge. He still had the drawer open. He was still shuffling his hand around frantically for the syringe.

Experiment 748 was confused, that much the doctor could tell. He hadn’t made any more moves, just kept the doctor pinned down. Doctor Stevens realized he wasn’t sure if the elevated intelligence had worked like everything else, or maybe it had and that was why 748 wasn’t leaving. Maybe it was working out a way of escape.

Doctor Stevens couldn’t allow that to happen.

This was his experiment, his whole entire life.

Besides, 748 would have no idea what to do on it’s own. He needed to learn and he needed to continue growing his strength. The current war raging in the world would need him, and many others like him, if they ever planned on uniting again.

Doctor Stevens needed the experiment, the success, to steadily create more and more like 748.

Aha!

His hand had found the syringe in the very back of the drawer. He clutched it tightly.

The experiment must’ve figured out whatever thoughts he was working through, because he hauled the doctor back up and turned him around, placing his other hand on the doctor’s throat. He pushed just the slightest.

Doctor Stevens saw those red eyes narrow and he saw the intelligence circulating behind them. Part of him wanted to wait, to see if the experiment would try to speak to him or if he would let him go or if he would tear him to shreds.

Of course, he didn’t want that last option.

So after a moment’s reluctance, he raised his hand and plunged the needle into 748’s neck. Almost instantly, the experiment’s eyes fluttered and he swayed and his hands fell off the doctor, then he dropped onto the floor.

The doctor was grinning.

The world was going to owe him big time for his genius saving them all.

CHAPTER ONE

JANUARY 2086

3 MONTHS AFTER WAR

The world is destroyed. Flipped upside down completely. Evil lurks around every corner, danger is practically inescapable, and the humans can’t unite. Some made their own groups when the war spread, but they trusted no one else to join. Everyone is untrustworthy. You never know if someone has good intentions or bad. If they’re helping the friend or enemy.

Evelyn Baxter is one who stayed solo. There wasn’t much hope for her when she had watched the beasts slaughter her family, but her mother had caught her peeking around the corner and mouthed to her to run. Evelyn hadn’t at first; her feet had been glued to the floor. Then her mother didn’t care about being quiet and she’d screamed at the top of her lungs for Evelyn to leave, to survive, to stay strong.

Evelyn ran half the day then just to get one of the beasts who had seen her off her trail. And even after a small break, she ran some more.

Now she kills any she crosses and she does so with no remorse.

Mostly, though, she scavenges for food and better shelter and water. Always water. Preferably clean, however, that’s getting harder to come by. She never stays in one location more than a few days. If she hears the slightest of noises, she sets off again no matter how long her stay had been.

She tries to find books, too. There’s not much to do in a run-down chaotic world when you’re trying to keep out of trouble. When she finishes a book, unfortunately she has to leave it behind or her pack gets too heavy. Currently, she has three hardbacks, one paperback, and the rest of the space and pockets are filled with protein bars, other small snacks, and a canteen of water.

She found an apple the other day hanging from a tree. Just one. It was ripe and looked juicy. She had snatched it down and cleaned it on her semi-clean shirt. (She tries to wash her clothes and bathe whenever she can, but clean bodies of water are slim.) She took a bite and was tempted to save it because of how refreshing and sweet it was. She couldn’t help but bite into it again, and before she realized it she’d eaten the whole thing, nearly through the core.

Her camp was attacked last night. A single beast, but a beast nonetheless. It was quick business and he was out as soon as he came in, but this meant Evelyn had to pack up and get moving. If there was one around, there was bound to be others and she didn’t want to stick around for unfriendly meetings.

She snorts as she thinks about holding a conversation with one:

“Hey, we can be friends, right? You don’t have to eat my throat out, you know.”

“Oh, yeah, totally. We can be friends. I’m a vegetarian, anyways.”

As if that would ever happen.

Twigs and leaves crunch under her boots. She doesn’t know why she finds the sound relaxing when it could mean she has followers.

Stopping for a quick moment, she pulls out a map she discovered at an abandoned convenience store. (Everything is abandoned, really. Except the areas where certain groups have claimed, but she makes sure to steer clear of them.) She squints, holding it up to the sky. She has no experience reading maps, and she can’t decide where to go. She’s never had an actual route before. She just wanders and ends up places. Where is she to go? There’s no one left for her. There’s hardly anyone left at all that stayed sane after the attacks.

She chews the inside of her cheek. She hasn’t strayed far from home, but maybe she should. Maybe it’s better in other states. Florida, with it’s mass of tourists, was like a candy store for all the beasts when they were first unleashed. They flocked here like a bunch of excited, ravenous children.

Evelyn rolls her eyes.

She’s comparing cannibalistic murderers to children.

She touches the pendant laying on her chest, a gift from her grandmother on her graduation day. Precisely three weeks before she died. Before she was murdered. By them.

Glancing at the map again, she supposes she could head up to Georgia and poke around, see if it’s worth traveling any further. It’ll take about a day to get to the border, not counting possible confrontations, and considering she’s already in North Florida. She tries to do the calculations in her head yet gives up after a few attempts. She never liked math.

Keeping the map out for reference, though with hardly a clue if she’s reading it properly, Evelyn adjusts the straps of her pack and starts walking.

***

She doesn’t get far.

An hour into the hike and she hears a shrill scream. And it’s close. Too close for Evelyn’s liking.

Her hand goes to the hilt of the dagger hanging from her belt. It hasn’t failed her so far, though it requires close combat. She makes a mental note to look for a new weapon on her journey to the border.

After she gets out of this--if she gets out of this.

She doesn’t want to be in it at all, but there’s goosebumps on her arms and chills running down her spine and she knows she’s already involved. There’s no cover out on the open road except the woods that stalk beside it. She’s unfamiliar with those woods, and the scream was too close to make her believe she’d be able to explore it for safety.

There’s another scream, and this time it’s right behind her.

Evelyn spins around so fast she nearly loses her footing. Then her jaw slacks. A girl with dirty blonde hair is running towards her, flailing her arms and stumbling over the holes in the pavement. Her hair's a mess. Evelyn’s mother used to say Evelyn’s hair looked like a rat’s nest when she didn’t brush it. That’s the only description Evelyn can compare this girl’s to.

“Run!” she yells. “Run! You have to run!”

Maybe it’s the shock of seeing another human being for the first time in weeks, or maybe the girl’s hair is still distracting her, because she doesn’t run.

When the girl gets closer, Evelyn can see her clothes are ripped and torn in various places, and there’s mud stains on her jeans.

Then Evelyn catches movement behind the running girl, and she jolts out of her daze, instantly alert.

“How many of them are there?” she asks when the girl is in reaching distance. Evelyn’s voice is croaky and hoarse and it scratches her throat to speak. She hadn’t realized she’d gone so long without talking.

“Too many!” the girl shouts, grabbing Evelyn’s arm to tug her along.

“How many is too many?”

The girl is shaking, and Evelyn wonders how she’s still moving at all. “I-I don’t know. Five, maybe six of them.”

Evelyn curses under her breath.

It’s going to take a lot of endurance to outrun them, and the girl doesn’t look like she’ll be able to make it. She’s already falling behind, and now it’s Evelyn tugging her along, making sure she stays on her feet. She’s panting and wheezing and it looks like she’s crying.

“You need to keep up,” Evelyn tells her.

“I’m trying,” the girl gasps.

“Try harder.”

Evelyn risks a glance over her shoulder, then wishes she hadn’t bothered.

Two of them could dive forward at any moment and grab either of them.

She hears the girl praying, even though she can hardly breathe.

Evelyn bites her lip and thinks quickly. She scans the area and doesn’t see many other options besides those damned woods. If anything, they can put a bit of distance between them and the beasts. Evelyn has a bow, but she ran out of arrows a long time ago. Perhaps she could find some sturdy sticks and sharpen the tips of them.

But she needs to get away first.

With the girl, of course.

A sliver of her mind is doubting the whole situation. How the girl basically came out of nowhere. Maybe she’s been hiding out somewhere down that road. Evelyn hasn’t gone down that way, so she has no idea if there are people camps or beast camps or both. Did beasts make camps? Did they just absentmindedly roam sniffing for food?

Seeing a clear patch leading into the woods, Evelyn hesitates only a moment before deciding the situation is desperate enough for the risk. She grips the girl’s arm firmly, darting off the road quickly. The terrain is more uneven than the pavement, and they both stumble with the first few steps before they adapt.

Another cautious glance over the shoulder.

Her abrupt turn must’ve surprised them, because they aren’t so close anymore. Still there, but not as close.

It’s something.

Evelyn guides the girl around thick trees and over fallen branches, suddenly changing direction every now and then. She doesn’t know how deep they are in the woods anymore. It feels like they’ve been playing cat and mouse for a solid half hour. How long of that time has been spent getting herself lost?

She checks behind them again.

No one is there.

She doesn’t allow herself to breathe a sigh of relief yet. Instead, she walks over to examine a tree with many protruding branches, looking easy enough to climb. She kicks it with her foot--it seems strong enough. Looks half dead and rotting, but doesn’t give with the breeze whipping by or her foot.

In a specific instinctive mode now, she scours the ground for decent sized sticks. She finds a few good ones and tucks them into her pack. She looks the tree up and down again. The girl is watching her uncertainly, still shaking like a wet dog. Evelyn ignores her for the moment since she’s thinking so intensely. She jumps and catches the lowest hanging branch. Grunting with the effort, she pulls herself up and swings her leg over.

“Are we actually going to climb a dying tree?” the girl questions, her voice wavering like she’s holding back sobs.

Evelyn peers down at her. “Unless you’ve got a better idea.”

After a second or so, the girl shakes her head.

“What’s your name?”

“Delia,” she says. “Yours?”

Evelyn gets to her feet, maintaining her balance as she reaches for the next branch. “Eve.” She’s not a fan of her name, truthfully. It’s too formal for her tastes, too pretty.

Delia is struggling to reach the first branch while Evelyn is already on the fourth. “How are you doing this so easily?”

“It’s not all that hard.”

“Speak for yourself.”

“I did.”

Delia finally hauls herself up, then frowns. “Are you, like, naturally rude?”

Evelyn raises an eyebrows at her, then climbs higher. “Was that rude? Maybe you’re just too sensitive.”

Delia doesn’t argue the point.

Evelyn waits for Delia to get halfway up the tree where she’s waiting. When she does, she lets Delia go first so she can be higher. Evelyn doesn’t trust other people in general, but when it comes to her life, she really closes them off. If there is to be a fight, she’ll be sure to watch her own back.

They sit up in the tree for a long while, making sure the beasts have really scampered off. Delia is talking about her brother that got left behind and killed, and she starts trembling again and releasing breathless sobs. It’s like she’s hyperventilating. Evelyn doesn’t know what to do, so she offers her a Hershey’s kiss she’s been saving. Delia takes it with a little laugh, then a small murmur of gratitude.

“So, have you really been on your own all this time?” asks the new girl, eating the Hershey’s kiss slowly to savor it.

Evelyn leans back against the tree and closes her eyes. “Yeah.”

“But how? Don’t you want to meet up with other people? There’s more hope for surviving in a group.”

“Not when the groups are self-conceited bastards that only look over themselves. On my own, it’s easier.”

“Because you trust yourself?”

“More than I trust everyone else.”

“That’s pretty pessimistic,” says Delia, scrunching her nose.

Evelyn shrugs.

“Were you headed somewhere?” she continues. “Before I stopped you?”

“Might’ve been.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Exactly what it means.” Evelyn shrugs again. “Maybe I was, or maybe I would’ve changed my mind. I don’t plan too far ahead.”

Delia exhales loudly. “You’re confusing.”

Evelyn opens her eyes to look at her. She’s still got a rat’s nest for hair, but her face isn’t so flushed anymore since she’s calmed down. She’s picking at her nails, which are a chipped pale green, and nervously scanning the ground below. When they had first climbed up, Delia had been pretty freaked out. Didn’t like heights. Didn’t trust the tree to hold. She did agree, though, that it was better than waiting for the beasts to return.

“I still don’t understand,” she whispers, “how this all happened.”

Evelyn bites her lip and looks away.

“My theory is that it was a disease. One that got loose from, like, an Amazonian tribe or something. I don’t know. It’s sounds stupid when I say it out loud, but it makes sense in my head. Don’t you have a theory, Eve?”

Evelyn doesn’t like thinking too much about it. She doesn’t want to know how it happened. She doesn’t want to be able to blame someone. She tends to hold grudges and grudges are exhausting. “No.”

“Surely, you must think something. I mean, it didn’t happen overnight.”

“It sort of did.”

“You know what I mean. First we were fighting a war against humans, and then we’re fighting against the undead.” Delia blushes at this. “Do you think they’re dead? I’m pretty sure they’re vampires. They’ve got the fangs and the red eyes and the strength and--”

“Shh.”

“Okay, maybe not exactly vampires. Those don’t exist, right? Maybe a disease similar--”

Shh!

Delia finally falls quiet, staring at Evelyn, who is squinting and leaning forward. Delia hears it then; a twig snap. She covers her mouth with both her hands and gives Evelyn a wildly frightened look, but Evelyn just holds a finger to her lips and stays still as a statue. Delia mimics her, not moving a muscle, barely even breathing.

Two men--no, not men--beasts are standing just below them. Probably stray ones from earlier. Delia has heard rumors that they can hear your blood racing through your veins, like the legendary vampires do. (She truly believes they’re vampires, but she won’t fully admit that to anyone. It sounds too silly.) She tries to slow her heartbeat down without a clue of how to actually do so, so she holds her breath.

Evelyn grabs the bow hanging from her pack carefully, quietly. She knicks one of the sticks she sharpened in the string, slowly pulling it back so she doesn’t make any noise.

She lets it fly.

It hits one of them directly in the back of the neck, looking as if it’s gone straight through, and he sways slightly before falling over.

The second beast snaps his head up at the girls, and bares his fangs.

CHAPTER TWO

Evelyn can tell the beasts are fairly newer because of how long it took for them to find the girls, and how easily the first went down. She’s hit one in the neck before and watched it still try to attack until she shot it again, just beside the last arrow. You can’t really see a difference in their experience just by their appearances, but you can always tell by the way they fight.

She calls the more experienced beasts “Old Ones.” For no other reason than the fact that older people have always claimed to have more wisdom. She doesn’t know how old they really are, of course. It’s just a way for her to differentiate. It’s a lot easy to fight when you know what exactly you’re up against.

The beast remaining is clawing at the tree with his inhuman strength, and the bark is peeling off more and more. At this rate, he could have the tree thinned and falling within minutes.Delia is sobbing again up above her, repeatedly saying how she doesn’t want to die, not like this, not by the hands of him.

“What’s the plan?” she shrieks, looking hopeful at Evelyn.

“I told you,” mutters Evelyn, pulling another sharpened stick back in the string. “I don’t plan.”

She lets the makeshift arrow fly, but with the beast alert, he catches it with unbelievable speed. It stops him from tearing at the tree, and he smirks wickedly up at her, snapping the stick in half with merely his forefinger and thumb.

Evelyn curses.

“How can you not have a plan?” Delia’s pestering and fear is nonstop.

“Give me a minute,” Evelyn snaps.

Her eyes try to measure the distance between the two of them and the ground. They climbed pretty high to stay out of sight, but now it’s come back to bite them in the rear. Evelyn doesn’t allow herself to panic, though. Panic distracts you from focusing and focusing is how you survive.

The beast has gone back to ripping at the tree. It’s starting to swing back and forth just the slightest. Enough for Delia to lose her balance. Enough for her to slide off the branch, and enough for her to barely have time to get a grip around it.

She screams.

A sick part of Evelyn thinks about letting her fall. She’d snatch the attention of the beast for sure, perhaps for a long enough time for Evelyn to scurry to the ground and make a run for it. The image is easy, and she’d be on her own again, just how she likes it…

She groans, shaking her head to herself. Of course she can’t let Delia be beast food. She can’t stoop so low to sacrifice humans when they should be on the same side.

Evelyn grabs the above branch Delia is hanging from, pulling herself up. It’s stupid to go higher when the tree is gradually swaying more and more. But Evelyn made up her mind, and she doesn’t go back on decisions.

“Here,” she says, reaching her arm down for Delia to latch onto. She does so rapidly, her nails digging into Evelyn’s skin. Evelyn hisses. “I can’t pull you up if you scratch my arm off.”

Delia is too breathless and terrified to even attempt an apology.

Evelyn hauls her up just when the tree begins to shake violently. She looks down at the beast who is now gripping the tree, rocking back and forth with it.

She’s never heard one of them talk. Doesn’t think they can.

“No lady likes an impatient man!” she yells down to him out of spite, and the bitter humor relieves her stress only a bit.

“What do we do?” asks Delia, finding her voice though it’s cracking and barely audible.

“We have to jump,” answers Evelyn.

“Are you insane?” Delia is glaring at her with bulging blue eyes.

Evelyn glares back. “If you have a better plan, do inform me of it.”

But Evelyn doesn’t wait for a reply. She’s strapping her pack onto her back and climbing down a few branches, hopefully to make the fall less painful. She positions herself right over the beast, planning to use him as a cushion and take him out. She gives Delia a glance, who still looks baffled and scared out of her wits, then she takes the leap.

She smacks into the beast, who wasn’t expecting such a daring move. While she’s on top and dominate, she reaches for the dagger in her belt and aims for the soft area between his collarbones at the base of his neck. He catches her hand, quick to recover from the shock, and bends her wrist. She tries to resist, but it’s basically impossible to beat a beast’s strength.

He rolls them over, a firm grip still on her wrist. He’s baring his fangs and flashing his red eyes, but Evelyn doesn’t falter. She’s been up close to one before, and although it’s just as eerie and unnerving every time, she refuses to let it get to her. She treats them like any other opponent, like any ordinary human.

However, when she took all of those self-defense and martial arts classes a couple years back, her opponent was never actually trying to kill her.

Getting her leg out from under his knee, she throws her own up into his groin. It hurts enough for him to shrivel up, releasing her arms. She’s quickly back on her feet, grabbing a handful of his hair and yanking his head back, pressing the dagger against his throat.

Obviously, the fight can’t be so simple.

His hands fly up fast and cup either side of her head. He flips her over him, making her land hard on her back and the air escapes her lungs. The beast positions himself over Evelyn, sneering, disgustingly amused.

“Look out!”

Evelyn looks up and her eyes go wide at the sight of the tree falling towards them. She looks back at the beast, throwing her head up hard into his and he stumbles back. She rolls out of the way just in time for the tree to squash him.

Out of breath and holding her now throbbing head, Evelyn stares in amazement at Delia, who must’ve climbed down while Evelyn distracted the beast.

“Nice aim,” she murmurs.

Delia is beaming. “That was pretty amazing. Did you see how perfectly it fell? Like it knew exactly who to hit. All it took was a few more kicks and it just fell. Can you believe I did that?”

Evelyn rubs her forehead and she feels blood. She groans, pulling down her sleeve to hold against her head.

“Where’d you learn to fight like that?” Delia asks, still in awe.

“A lot of classes.”

“So, you were a badass before everything went to shit?”

Evelyn snorts, but her lips curl slightly. Smiling feels strange, so she doesn’t allow a full one to break out.

“What do we do now?”

Evelyn shrugs.

Delia gives her a look. “No plan?”

“No plan.”

“I don’t like not having a plan. It’s more comfortable to be able to stick to something and follow it.”

“You can’t exactly follow a plan nowadays,” says Evelyn.

“It’s still useful to think ahead.”

“Agree to disagree.”

Delia sighs, and doesn’t press the subject further.

Evelyn doesn’t want to admit that she has no idea where to go, so she sticks to heading for the border. She tells Delia this, who has no argument, and they set off. However, it’s getting dark out now. They were up in the tree for a while and time flew by. This makes Evelyn antsy, having to stop and make camp even though she’s uncomfortably unfamiliar with the area. They stay in the woods, figuring it’s a bit foolish to stay in the open.

Now Evelyn has to make do.

They found the treeline that runs alongside the road after a while of walking, and have been trailing beside it. That comforts Evelyn a little, knowing she has an exit if need be.

Delia is talking about her brother again, claiming herself cowardly for not going back for her him. She hadn’t even tried, she says. She’s getting choked up and keeps gulping loudly like the lump in her throat is too hard to swallow. She’s depressing Evelyn, which makes the whole ordeal more difficult.

“And you called me pessimistic,” grumbles Evelyn, digging a blanket out of her pack and laying it on the ground.

Delia either doesn’t hear her or ignores her. “All you have is a blanket?”

“Used to have a tent.” Evelyn shrugs. “Too hard to keep carrying around. Taking it down and putting it back up just seemed pretty redundant, and to be honest, it started falling apart.”

“Were you on your own as soon as this all happened?” she asks.

Another shrug.

“It’s hard to believe only a couple months ago we were all going to school during the war, and still worrying about adult responsibilities. I didn’t want to be in school, but I didn’t want to be an adult either. It was incredibly exhausting to be stuck in between.”

“Thanks for sharing.”

“I’m trying to make conversation, Eve. You don’t have to be so cold.”

Evelyn bites back a snide remark about being perfectly warm in her jacket.

Delia exhales exaggeratedly. “You’re not going to ditch me in the middle of the night, right? Run off so you don’t have an extra person to deal with.”

“I wouldn’t do that.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Evelyn doesn’t say anything else and settles onto the blanket. She scoots to one side so Delia can have the other, and they’re both quiet as they lay there, their backs against each other. Evelyn keeps her pack close in case they need to make a quick getaway. She also keeps her dagger in her hand (safely sheathed) and holds it to her chest. She never feels at ease, but the discomfort is worse tonight in an area she doesn’t know.

It’s cold at night. During the day it isn’t so bad when you’re constantly moving, but even Florida can grow a bit nippy mid-January. Evelyn usually rolls herself up in the blanket, like a human burrito (wouldn’t the beasts love that?). Clearly that isn’t possible with someone else on the material, which makes it even chillier.

“Eve?”

“Hmm?”

“Did you get to be with your family on Christmas?” whispers Delia.

Evelyn thinks this over, closing her eyes. “Did you?”

“No,” she whispers again. “That’s when it was really bad, you know? The first month was just stray ones here and there, but then early December they just… They were everywhere. My neighborhood was bad, real bad. The vampires--” Delia clears her throat, her cheeks flushing “--monsters weren’t even the worst part. It was all the street gangs trying to loot people’s homes and make a run for it.”

“I went through the same thing,” mumbles Evelyn. “You don’t have to remind me.”

“Sorry.”

Evelyn pulls her knees up, trying to curl into herself to preserve whatever warmth she can. Also, it’s sort of a shield for her. A comfort thing, in the least, to curl into a ball.

“I can’t go to sleep,” says Delia.

“I can tell.”

“Am I annoying you? I don’t mean it, honest. I’ve always been a talker.”

“Just close your eyes.”

“They are closed.”

“Then close your mouth.”

Strangely enough, Delia falls quiet.

Well, almost.

Evelyn hears her softly crying herself to sleep.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Julia Perran was born in 1999, desperate to cling to that 90's kid title, and grew up in Tallahassee, Florida. She unfortunately hasn't left yet, but has big dreams of moving to a place with something more exciting than college kids backing up traffic every weekend. When she isn't writing out one of her many (long forgotten) ideas, she typically has her nose stuffed in a book or a baking apron tied around her waist.

Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
Writing this book taught me a lot about how to play around with point of views, and it definitely helped improve my way of describing situations and characters.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
One day I got to a weird side of the internet where I saw an article about "exposing" the government, and their secret plan to create indestructible soldiers with undeniable strength. Being the fantasy junkie I am, I envisioned these science experiments as vampire-like creatures and voilà!
Q. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from this book?
A.
For Evelyn, I've had the image of Marie Avgeropoulos in my head the entire time. She definitely gives off the sass and badass vibe I was going for.