"Mom, why can't I go? Everyone else is going to be there. Tina's bringing some makeup her mom bought her when they were in Paris."
"That's the whole point, Karen, everyone's going to be there ... Including Jenny Baker."
"Mom, that's not fair. Jenny's never done anything wrong. I don't know why you don't like her."
"You're right, she is a sweet girl,and it's not Jenny I have a problem with; it's her mother. And no, it's not fair, but it's what it is. Quite frankly, I'm surprised Cheryl's mom is even allowing her to come for the sleepover. I know Cheryl and Jenny are cousins, but Donna Owens always seemed more rational than her sister."
Karen rolled her eyes. "Mom, we're in school with her all day, a sleepover isn't that big of a deal."
"A sleepover is a huge deal. If Jenny is infected, the symptoms will most likely manifest during the night. That's why they allow her to go to school, even though she hasn't been vaccinated ... Despite the risks ... And train the teachers to recognize early warning signs."
"Mom, she's not infected. No one is. There hasn't been an outbreak in 15 years."
"No," Alicia Turner said, quickly and firmly cutting her daughter off. "I may not have a say about her going to school with you, but I do about this. The virus is still out there. The reason we don't see outbreaks anymore is because of vaccines. Every parent that chooses not to vaccinate, puts us all at risk."
"That's not fair ..."
"You didn't live through it. If you had, you'd understand. I was pregnant with you at the time, and when they came out with a vaccine, everyone lined up. I didn't know what the vaccine would do ... If it would cause birth defects or not, but the alternative was so much worse. Fifteen years, people are forgetting. There was an incident in Navarre a few weeks ago ..."
"Mom, that was nothing. A case of tetanus, and the boy didn't die."
"It wasn't tetanus, I don't care what they say. The government isn't going to cause a panic by telling people the truth."
"Now you sound like Jenny's mom," Karen laughed. "You can't trust the government. They're poisoning our kids, fake science, it's all a conspiracy."
"Well, that's one thing we can agree on. You can't trust the government. All that other crap though ... Your dad died during the initial outbreak. I won't lose you too."
Karen took a look back at her bed before climbing out her window. She thought the pillows under the blanket looked enough like a sleeping body that her mom might not notice. It was dark. Lord help her if her mother did find out though. Maybe she shouldn't go ... No. She was tired of never being allowed to do anything. Everyone has decisions to make, but no one ever consulted her, even though they affected her life.
Karen slipped out the window and crawled on the ground past the living room window. She could hear the TV ... Some chick flick her mom and John were watching. Since it was date night, and John had shown up with a bottle of wine, maybe her mom wouldn't think to check on her. Once past the living room, Karen stood and ran until she was out of sight of the house.
"Here, try this ..." Tina handed a tube of pink lipstick to Jenny and smiled approvingly as her friend applied it to her lips. "That looks good on you, Jen. You should wear makeup more often."
Jenny shook her head. "My mom won't let me. She says 15 is too young ... And chemicals."
"Your mom's pretty strict, isn't she? I'm surprised she let you come tonight."
Jenny shrugged. "She's not too bad. She just worries about me. Don't most parents though?"
"Truth," Karen said, thinking of her own mom. She wondered if her mom had looked in on her yet. The phone had rung earlier and she'd flinched, expecting Mrs. Owens to come into Cheryl's room and tell her she had to go home.
"Some more than others," Tina said. "My mom pretty much let's me do what I want. When we were in Paris, she let me go out without her all the time."
"That's not necessarily a good thing," Cheryl said. They all knew Tina's mom had a drinking problem and had probably spent the entire trip drunk. Tina was known for doing some really bizarre things just to get her mother's attention. She would have gone to juvie last year, if Cheryl's mom hadn't stepped in.
Tina looked uncomfortable for a moment, but then her face lit up. Karen's stomach knotted. She recognized that look. Tina wanted the spotlight off of her and was about to put it on someone else. She didn't disappoint.
"Did you hear what happened in Nevarre?" She glanced out of the corner of her eye at Jenny, waiting to see her reaction. Everyone else looked too.
"It was just tetanus," Karen said, hoping rhe others would take the hint and move on to a different topic.
"No," Tina said. "My mom is dating a doctor who works in the hospital there, and he said it was the NZ-T1 virus."
"Oh he did not," Karen said.
"Well he said it could have been. These parents who won't vaccinate their kids are playing Russian Roulette. It might have just been tetanus, but it could have easily been something that would infect us all."
"The NZ-T1 isn't around anymore," Jenny said. She stood up and crossed the room to look out the window.
"Well, not that the government would let is know," Tina said. "Isn't that what your mom says, that the government lies to us all the time?"
"Stop it," Karen said. "Why do you have to be so mean sometimes?"
"I don't know," Tina said. "I'm defective, I guess."
"Weren't you in Nevarre last week?" Cheryl asked Jenny.
"Yes. Visiting my Aunt. There was no outbreak. The government isn't covering anything up. My mom's just nuts."
"What would you do though if there were any outbreak? You aren't vaccinated ... You'd be at risk." Tina didn't sound like she was trying to be mean, she just sounded concerned for her friend.
"We'd all be at risk," Cheryl said, "just in a different way."
"Why are we talking about this," Karen asked. "I came to have fun and try on makeup."
Alicia opened her daughter's bedroom door to check on her. It was late, and she expected her to be in bed, but she was too quiet. Karen made little sounds when she slept. There was nothing. She turned on the light. Her eyes narrowed when she saw the bed. She knew the difference between pillows and a sleeping teenager. She grabbed her keys off the kitchen table and yelled to John that she'd be right back.
The 4 girls were intending to stay up all night. After making their faces up, they'd watched a horror movie and finished off the pizza and chips. One by one they began to nod off. Cheryl and Jenny were on Cheryl's bed, Tina was sacked out on the floor, and Karen had wandered into the living room to crash on the couch. She woke to a banging on the door. Her stomach sank. She knew it was her mom. Who else would be there at 2 in the morning?
"I can't believe you," her mother said, following Donna Owens into the living room.
"I had no idea she wasn't supposed to be here," Donna said. "I would have called you if I'd known."
"I'll go get my bag." Karen left the living room. Following the hallway to Cheryl's room, her stomach knotted even more. There was a strange noise coming from the room; a low, almost gutteral sound. Karen thought of the feral cat that had gotten caught in the crawl space under their house. She opened the door, turned on the light and screamed.
Cheryl was curled in a ball on the bed. Every bit of her was covered in blood. On the floor, Jenny was bent over Tina, eating huge chunks of her flesh. Tina's eyes were wide open, but there was no life left in them. Jenny pushed herself off the floor, launching herself at Karen. The teenager froze, too terrified to move. She'd never seen a zombie before. She'd read about them of course, in history books. She got the vaccine, so she would never turn, even if bitten by a zombie ... But the vaccine worked. There were no more zombies. The NZ-T1 virus was gone. The danger was over. There were no more outbreaks. She was dreaming. The pizza, it didn't settle well, and then worrying about her mother finding out she had snuck out of the house, and all the talk about Nevarre ... That was it, she was dreaming.
Just before Jenny reached Karen, Alicia pulled her daughter out of the way, slamming her into the hallway wall, possibly yanking her arm our of the socket, but she would live. Alicia pulled the knife out of her pocket that she always carried, and slammed the blade into Jenny's head. Jenny's face relaxed, no longer snarling, and the girl dropped to the ground. Behind her, Cheryl's mother screamed as she caught sight of her daughter's lifeless body as it began to move on the bed. She'd been vaccinated. She shouldn't be turning. Cheryl launched herself at the door and onto her mother.
The next day the newspaper ran a story about an animal attack. The government strongly cautioned Alicia and Karen not to speak the truth ... and explained what would happen to them if they did. They couldn't panick the public. They thought they were safe. If they knew the truth, that the NZ-T1 virus was still active and that the vaccine wasn't affective on a small percentage of the population, there would be mass hysteria. That's why they didn't force the fringe conspiracy nuts to vaccinate their kids; that way if there was another outbreak, there'd be someone to blame.