"Evan...EVAN! It's time to go!"
Evan trudged down the stairs as if his feet were full of cement and slung a look of irritation at his impatient mother.
"You don't even have shoes on yet? Kid, you are killing me!" She ruffled his hair affectionately as he passed her in the hall. "Go get your sneakers on quick. We're going to be late for our appointment!"
He took the socks she pushed at him and plopped heavily down on the floor.
"I don't even want to go, mom! Come on! You told me when I turned 11 I didn't have to get shots again till I went to college!"
His mom's smile was strained. "Baby, this is different. Completely unexpected. This immunization is really important. You know everyone in Atlanta probably applied for the lottery but the CDC only had 100,000 shots to go around. We were super lucky to get picked. You know it's only gonna hurt for a second anyway!"
"Whatever. Dad says you're a hypochondriac..." His voice trailed off as his mom shot him a look.
Since the divorce his mother hadn't really wanted to hear about his father's opinion anymore.
"Well, when your dad gets the fungus and we're walking around healthy as can be, you be sure to tell him where to go for me."
In the car, his mom was quiet, a sure sign she had something on her mind. Usually chatty, he could see the lines of tension around her mouth as she drove carefully through the maze of blockade-choked streets.
She had to stop every few miles, show her credentials to soldiers in camo and face masks, prove again and again that they were allowed to be on the street when the state was under martial law, heading into a city that looked like a war zone.
As they drove, Evan watched smoke rising across the city from a thousand brush fires. He had no idea it was so bad down here. Where the suburbs had once been a landscaper's paradise, now he saw people in their yards, bandanas tied over their faces, vengefully tearing out great clumps of vegetation. They tossed the green masses onto pyres, vines writhing as if the flames had turned them more animal than vegetable.
Kudzu. It was everywhere. No one could have known that "the vine that ate the South" was probably going to be the vine that destroyed civilization as they knew it.
His great-grandad had been a botanist. He told him all about the stuff. Back in the 1930's, Southern farmers, desperate for a solution to cure the erosion caused by a hundred years of king cotton raping the soil, were encouraged by the good ole' government to plant this Japanese import generously on their land. By 1946 it was estimated over three million acres had been introduced around the South.
Imagine everyone's surprise when they discovered this plant had no natural predators in the U.S., that the climate down South made for ideal growing conditions and that, in its mature state, it could grow up to a foot a day. The shit was mercenary! By the 1970's kudzu could be found from Florida to Novia Scotia and was considered an invasive plant and "noxious weed" by the Federal Government.
Evan's eyes watered and he coughed into his hand as they cruised through a particularly smoky neighborhood.
His mother cut a worried glance at him.
"You feeling ok?" She reached across the car and placed the back of her hand on his head.
"I'm fine mom. Really! It's just all this smoke. Both hands on the wheel, woman!"
Evan pushed her hand away.
He knew why she was scared. Because that's how it started. He'd seen it on t.v. First there was a cough, but before you knew it there were nosebleeds and vomiting blood and, even though his mom had turned the channel before he could really get a good look, he could have sworn he saw someone covered in sores as men in hazmat suits pulled a white sheet over their face.
People in the mountains started getting it first. In the beginning, they though it was some kind of bird flu, but then they realized it was something more insidious.
Kudzu spread by snaking out wide-ranging secretive roots under the ground, and they went everywhere. That's why it was so difficult to get it out of your yard when you discovered it growing. The vines had developed a subterranean fungus, one that spread rapidly from vine to soil and quickly to the roots of anything growing in your yard. And people were highly, highlyallergic.
And the soil of the Appalachains was held together now, virtually woven into the mountains, by a nest of kudzu roots.
Everyone thought the hillbillies were nuts when they started hacking up their crops and burning their fields, but when the fungus began to spread, and kids on playgrounds fell to the dirt with bleeding eyes, the whole country took notice.
It spread fast. Now the government was desperate to find a way to save America's food crops and oxygen-giving trees while not allowing all the citizens to die of the "vine-rus."
They were nearing downtown and Evan could hear a roar, like a stadium, nearby. Were there still ballgames in the midst of this? The steel buttresses of the CDC arched across through the sky just a few blocks away.
Around their car people crowded the sidewalks, chanting, screaming, sobbing and stretching out their hands. Many were waving green bills at their car, hundred dollar bills with pleading looks on their faces. Soldiers in tactical body armor pressed the masses back with their shields and waved tear gas cannisters over their heads as a threat.
"What are they doing, mom?" Evan looked around in fear.
"I told you we were lucky to get these shots, baby. Not everyone was so lucky. A lot of folks think it's unfair that there aren't shots for everyone. They're scared, desperate. I've heard some people have sold their lotto passes for a hundred grand a piece."
At the CDC gate his mother stopped at a final check point, wincing as someone threw a green vine onto the windshield of her car. She handed the soldier her winning lottery papers like she was handing him gold leaf. When he nodded them through the reinforced fence, his mother sighed in relief.
A man in a white lab coat met them at the curb of the CDC and walked them inside the steel and glass structure.
"Right on time, I see, Mrs. Strickland, Evan."
"That's Ms. Strickland, thanks," his mother answered tightly, and reached out to shake the man's hand.
"Well, Msss. Strickland," he responded, insolently drawing out the s, "We're glad you made it in today. Considering that your grandfather was so instrumental in introducing kudzu to the United States - this plagueto the United States - we wanted to be sure you received the treatment you deserve."
"Great Grandpa? What does he have to do with kudzu, mom? I thought we won the shot lottery?" Evan was so confused.
His mother's eyes were flicking around the long hall like a trapped animal, panic stricken.
"I didn't think anyone knew," she said quietly. "He did everything he could to get his name off the contracts, the reports. It wasn't his fault! It was the damn Japanese! They're the ones to blame! He just thought he was helping!"
Two soldiers had padded up quietly behind her and taken her firmly by the arms.
"It's not that simple, ma'am. Dr. Harrison Strickland at the University of Georgia tried his best to erase his gross environmental failure from the annals of history but it's not so easy to hide out these days. And now he's gone. But someone needs to be held accountable for these crimes."
"Are you mad? What about my son? Won't you at least give him the shot? Please, have mercy on my little boy," his mother wailed, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Evan stood frozen as they dragged his mother toward a cell filled with fat green vines.
"Ma'am, there is no shot. People need something to believe in, but the truth is, none of us are getting out of this alive."