Prepper in Demand // Short Story

Prepper in Demand (Part 1)

By Rebecca Zornow

Photo by Denise Johnson on Unsplash

The granola bars were expired. Well, that was a disappointment. Many of them were a raisin variety, and, because raisins have a high sugar make up, they would have turned into energy quickly as well as provide antioxidants. Some of the bars were more like a dessert. No one would ever say no to that. But here they were, expired.

Tara remembered when she bought the granola bars, years ago. She got a great deal and bought out the entire store and the store across town and then went back to each a week later. Six bars in a pack and Tara guessed the four members in her family would eat two a week, so that was 416 bars a year or 832 bars for a two year supply. In all, Tara spent $346 on the nearly 140 boxes.

Of course, making granola bars was more cost effective, and generally Tara preferred to have a 5 year supply of everything ready, but there was the convenience factor that would be handy those first two years. Purchasing oats, honey, a variety of nuts, and dried fruits was Tara’s first step. Honey never expired. You could find a 3,000 year old container of honey in an Egyptian pyramid and it’d still be okay to eat. But these bars. Tara pulled a few more boxes down. Expired too! She sighed.

Tara liked to sort through her inventory twice a year, checking for signs of animal disturbances (unlikely), replacing any items she pulled out when they ran out upstairs in the kitchen (always noted in pencil on a yellow legal pad), and paying extra close attention to humidity or possible leaks. But this summer was busy. She chided herself for forgetting that the bars would expire.

Tara navigated the tidy space easily, though the only light came from a barred window on the opposite side of the basement, ten years of organizing and stocking experience apparent. Glass jars of spices filled shallow cardboard boxes stacked on top each other. Glass was heavier than plastic, but Tara liked the fact that after using the spices, the jars could store newly grown or found foodstuffs. And they felt nice in the hand. Canned goods had their own aisle. Preserved mandarin orange slices, corn, beets, gravy, evaporated milk, green beans, broth, and more were arranged neatly, labels facing outwards next to the canned chicken, salmon, tuna, and sardines. There was an absence of Spaghetti-o’s and name brand soups. That was something Tara realized early on. Prepared canned dishes either lacked nutritional value, little better than junk food, or were much more expensive than buying the ingredients in bulk sizes to prepare in her own kitchen.

On the right side of the doorway was the filing cabinet with extra coupons, homestead-style recipes, and Tara’s purchasing logs. The Eat List of soon-to-expire items should have been posted on top so family members could quickly glance at it and sign out the items they took for the upstairs pantry.

It wasn’t there and a quick skim through the file cabinet didn’t reveal it either. Tara left the small air controlled room and went to another next door. Six coat hooks lined one wall with backpacks underneath—one for each member of her family and two extra in case they have visitors. It would go against Tara’s conscience to send her teenage kids’ friends home in the event of an emergency. She’d give them the choice and Tara suspected that they’d choose to stay with them.

WSHF (Tara avoided saying it the long way, When Shit Hits the Fan, so as to not swear), had always been on her mind and—

Someone knocked on the door. Tara was startled from the ordinary sound. Any other time and she’d race to open the door, curious what a visit might bring. But now…Tara climbed the steps quietly and quickly while tucking her dark brown hair behind her ears.

Martin and the kids were already in the front room. Martin held his gun in his lap. He motioned for the kids to sit on the couch next to him. Federick sat on the far end of the couch. He grew quickly over the last year and still looked slightly stretched but was finally beginning to fill out again, Tara noticed. Wendy sat between her older brother and father.

Tara opened the door tentatively. It was a skinny guy with light brown hair she saw from time to time in the neighborhood.

“Hi. I’m Peyton. I’m helping to organize a neighborhood plan. These print outs came in from Madison. On horseback if you can believe it.” Peyton smiled.

Tara didn’t respond. After days of only talking with her family members, it was a bit of shock that he was here, right on her front step.

Peyton continued, “I guess they printed them out ahead of time. Just in case. There are instructions for how to create a neighborhood plan and how we can help each other.”

Tara skimmed the tiny leaflet, plain black ink on thin paper. Anyone could have printed this.

If you are reading this, there may have been a man-made EMP incident. In the event of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP), a burst of electromagnetic energy harmful to technology and electronics, similar to a strike of lightning, is discharged from high in the atmosphere. Your area may have been affected if the following stopped working: electricity in a home or business, cellphones, automobiles, computers, and household electronic devises.

Tara snorted. No kidding.

Please remain calm and follow these instructions.

  1. Designate neighborhood zones the circumference of a short walking distance. Each zone shall inventory food, water, medicine, and other essential supplies within their boarders.
  2. Distribute food and water equally among the community. Consume fresh fruits, vegetables, and previously refrigerated or frozen items first. Medicine and other supplies should remain in their original household until needed for community use.
  3. Resume work and commerce where possible. Payment shall be in hard currency or goods.
  4. Follow all US State or Federal laws. All laws and justice systems remain in place.

Remember: There were no electronics or advanced mechanical technologies at the founding of the United States of America. Work together as a community and there’s nothing we cannot overcome.

Provided by the Commission for EMP Prevention and Abatement

Peyton saw she was finished reading and said, “Can I ask you a few questions? We’re trying to consolidate information.”

Tara fidgeted with the hem of her navy colored shirt. “Sure. That’s alright.” Tara’s heart sped up. Was that okay? Should she invite him in? How did one do things in this new world?

“Wendy, give this to your father.” Wendy, her 14-year-old daughter took the paper and brought it to her father who put the paper close to his face and read slowly. Martin didn’t need glasses, but hadn’t been to an optometrist to confirm that fact.

The young man shifted his papers in his hand for a fresh sheet. “The city’s working to zone out 5 block areas in town and 10 blocks in the suburbs. This will help us make sure we can take care of any problems that arise.” He took down their names and ages.

“What’s your current occupation?”

Tara blushed, “Me? Well, I’m a homemaker. And Mart…well, he’s an electrician.”

Peyton laughed. “Okay, so one of you is out of work at the moment.” Tara scowled, that’s not how she would put it. “But it sounds like you’ll be a great team player, Martin, when it’s time to get the neighborhood’s power up and running. Do either of you have military or civil government experience?”

Tara shook her head and re-tucked her hair.

Peyton paused as he scrawled down his notes. “How much food and water do you have in the house for your family? A month’s worth?” Tara didn’t respond. Peyton prompted again, “A week’s?”

“You know, Peyton, I think we have enough to last us for a good long while. You can count us out of the food consolidation. We’ll make this easy for you. We’ll just take care of ourselves.”

Peyton looked surprised. “There’s a lot of families that only have 2-3 weeks of food, and even less water. Fortunately, there’s a few others in the neighborhood that have bulk size products they stocked up on regularly and a guy who worked in Namibia set up some filters so we can source clean water from the river, but it would still really help to have an idea of where you stand. And, if you’re doing well, to share with families that will soon go without.”

Nine meals away from anarchy, tumbled through Tara’s head. She heard Mart stand up and move towards her and Peyton, signaling his presence, but didn’t come close enough to participate in the conversation.

“There might be stuff you need as well,” Peyton said. “Medicine? This thing could go on for a while. Your kids will need schooling and you might need chopped wood for the winter.”

“I’ve got a stock of first aid supplies. Our kids are home-schooled. We’ve had a wood heater in our house for a long time and can manage it. If we need something, we’ll trade when the time comes. ”

Martin spoke, “There’s not a whole lot we need from other folks. You work on maintaining peace and control, and we’ll be fine. Though I think we’ll be just fine either way,” he finished, patting his gun.

Peyton’s face up until then was animated. Now it was stone with control. “We’re going to have a community meeting tomorrow morning, first thing. Who knows what time that is?” he smiled weakly. Petyon handed a small green slip to Tara. She looked at it. It was blank.

“Please write down supplies you have and bring it along for the zone inventory. If you know you’ve got surplus supplies to share, you can bring them too. We’re meeting at 128 Willow Drive, the closed vacuum repair shop. See you there.”

Tara closed the door as Peyton walked down the front steps.

“Do you think we should go, Martin?”

Martin used his free hand to scratch his shoulder. “Don’t see how we can. I’ve got to stay here and protect the stash and you can’t go by yourself. A meeting like that during a time like this? Anything could happen.”

“I think we should go,” Wendy said. Tara was not surprised. Yesterday Wendy wanted to give their food away for free. “We need to know what’s going on in the neighborhood and how we can help.”

“Wendy,” Martin said, “You know why we stocked those supplies. To keep our family fed and safe from harm during emergencies.”

“But Dad, what are we going to do? Let people our neighbors starve? People like the Greys?” Wendy said.

“They might have their own food. What if we gave up our food to them and then we were the ones starving? I’m not going to let that happen.”

“Alright, you two,” Tara cut in before they could both really get going, “let’s do this. The granola bars in the basement are expired anyways. Wendy, Frederic, and I will go to the meeting and bring the granola. We’ll tell everyone we’ll be okay for a few months and this is what we can spare.”

Martin shrugged.

Wendy nodded, tears in her eyes.


“Yeah, mom, that’s fine. Dad, I’m going to check the perimeter.”

“You’ll bring your pistol? Now and to the meeting?”

“Of course.”

Frederic’s mom spoke behind him, but he kept walking. He heard, “Wendy, help me pack up those granola bars. Grab some bags, the plastic, please.”

Frederic did, in fact, check that he had his gun at his waist, though he knew he did, and that the safety was on, though he knew it was.

Once outside, Frederic skirted the house and retrieved a bag from the side of the quiet air conditioner. It was stocked with 4 cans of black beans, 1 bag of dried rice, 4 books of matches, 2 cans of chicken, 1 box of fruit snacks, 2 boxes of granola bars (he wished he had taken something else, now that he knew those would be distributed), 6 cans of fruits and veggies, and 1 bag of beef jerky. He hoped his mom wouldn’t notice it all missing. Frederic took items from the biggest piles and reshuffled things to make it look full again in the storage room.

He tucked the bag under his arm and folded his sweatshirt on top, obscuring the items from view. Shade lined the opposite side of the street, so Frederic crossed over and walked briskly towards the elementary school.

Everything around him was quiet. There was no sound of traffic or the periodic bursts of beeping, whirling, and music that proved life was still progressing. Cars littered the street here and there, stopped exactly where they were at the time of the incident, but people were scarce. Frederic didn’t meet anyone until he arrived at the school playground and scaled the ladder to the slide.

Two eyes looked fearfully out of the mouth of the slide, but the person sighed in relief when she saw who it was.

“Eric, it’s so quiet. I’ve been jumping at every sound.”

Frederic set down the bag and sweatshirt. He touched the gun again, reminding himself it was locked, before crouching down and kissing Monica. How could she look so great at the end of the world? He hadn’t kissed her since the world stopped moving and only saw her briefly through a window when he snuck to her house last night.

Their lip smacking sounded unnaturally loud with no competing sounds around them. Frederic slid in the slide next to her and felt his hair rise, powered by the static electricity known to blue plastic slides across the country.

Monica kissed him fiercely and smoothed his hair down, shocking them both. “I have to get back soon. My dad said it was okay to meet you, but he’s worried if I’m away too long. He wants to know how your family is.” Monica’s long straight hair crept up towards the top of the slide.

“Good, mostly. My dad’s not used to being home this much, he’s driving everyone crazy.”

“You have food though? Water?”

“Yeah, plenty. I brought you some, but my mom doesn’t know.” Frederick smoothed her hair down.

Monica pulled away slightly. “You still didn’t tell your parents about us?”

“I was going to. No, really, I was. But with the attack…things have been tense.”

Monica sighed and adjusted herself, she was sliding down and her sandals didn’t help hold her in place well. “You should soon. It will just make them feel bad to know you kept a secret from them. It makes me feel bad too. You’ll tell them soon?”

He nodded.

“I have to go. My mom is crying all the time and it scares my sister.”

They kissed again, but Frederic broke it off. “You need to take this,” he said, pulling the bag close.

“Oh my gosh.”


“Eric, I thought you brought a couple of things. This is a lot. We don’t need this. Doesn’t your family?”

“We’ve got enough. How much food do you have at your house?”

Monica considered that and eventually said, “We’ve got about three weeks worth. We’re eating everything we can from our freezer right now.” She made a face. “Lukewarm pizza rolls do not a dinner make.”

“Just take the bag, there’s more where that came from.”

3 thoughts on “Prepper in Demand // Short Story

  1. Hi Terry, nice to see you off of Twitter! Thank you so much for reading and providing feedback. I am a strong nonfiction and memoir writer and looking to build my skills in fiction writing so your help is appreciated. The story is going to be in three parts. I wondered if this first part would be stand alone without the other two initially and it sounds like your feedback is that it does feel unresolved. One of the things I am trying to learn how to write short stories with plenty of details and a very quick plot. It seems that most online readers want to read something that’s about 10 minutes, so I am trying to learn how to plug all those details in that short frame of time. I hope to build up the characters more distinctly in the next part of the story. -R


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