Survival of the preparedest!
|Mama was sitting at the computer, looking at the Craigslist ads. I tried to ignore the pictures flashing across the screen, since anytime Mama got into her researching mood it meant new changes in our chores and family life. However, when the image of a goat caught my attention, the words slipped past my lips before I could stop them.
“You're not planning on getting goats now, are you?”
Mama's cheeks flushed pink. “They're the next step in my master plan, Tina. We've got a good supply of chickens, meat rabbits, and a flourishing garden. Goats will give us milk, which we can drink or use to make cheese and soap.”
My hands fluttered nervously to my face as I grabbed a loose strand of hair and twisted it between my fingers. “S-soap?” I could see my summer plans blowing away like a leaf on the wind, replaced with the image of Mama and I stirring up batches and batches of soap.
Mama's eyes gleamed behind her glasses. “Yup! Soap! But first I have to get a couple of does.” Mama turned back to the screen and frowned at the price listed on the ad. I cleared my throat to voice my concerns. Our backyard was slowly shifting into a miniature farm. It was embarrassing enough bringing friends over to wade through chicken feathers and scrape droppings from our sandals, just to get to the trampoline. I couldn't imagine what goats would add to the mix. I bit back my words. Mama was lost in her world of prepping and wouldn't hear me, anyway.
With a sigh I slipped into the kitchen and fished around in the cupboards for a bag of chips. My knuckles bumped against a stack of canned soup. I frowned and shut the cupboard door.
“Mo-om! Where's the chips?” my holler echoed across the kitchen. Last I had checked, the snack cupboard was full of junk food, not canned goods.
“Um, check the top of the fridge, Tina!” Mama yelled back. “I've confiscated the cupboards to hold our extra food until your dad builds me more shelves downstairs!”
Well, that answered that. Standing on tippy-toe, I stretched out a hand and snagged a big bag of Doritos.
“Tina, could you start the noodles for dinner, please?” Mama called. “I've got to call this guy about his goats —“
I shoved a spicy chip in my mouth and grunted. Dad walked in, home from working hard at the mill, as I dumped a box of noodles into a deep pot of boiling water. He kissed my cheek and flicked a strand of hair that hung over my left eye.
“Where's your mom? I can't wait to tell her about the sweet deal I found on firewood kindling! Eric said I could have all I wanted on the lumber scraps so I filled the back of my truck to the brim with'em! Should last us through the whole winter, this year!”
I fought the urge to roll my eyes. “Can't we use the electric heat this year, dad?” I could barely hide the whine in my voice.
“Using the scavenged wood is cheaper, Tiny.” I groaned at the nickname Dad had bestowed upon me as an infant, and popped open the lid of a massive can of spaghetti sauce. I should have known the idea of using the heater would be shot down. Dad and Mom were a perfect pair. The two of them were all about being frugal and self-sufficient. They were also prepping nuts, storing up years and years of food and medical supplies. Our supply of toilet paper would last until I had grand-kids and took up an entire room of our four-bedroom house.
“We need to unload the truck quickly,” Mama said, rushing into the kitchen to set the table. “I need to pick up three goats tonight. Two does and a buck! I got quite the deal on them!” Mama gushed.
“I'll call Corey and Martin. Between the four of us, we'll have the job done in no time.”
“Five of us,” Mama frowned, tipping her chin in my direction.
“Aw, mom!” I pouted. “Lost in the City is on tonight...”
“Sorry, kiddo,” Mama plopped a handful of forks onto the center of the table as Dad hefted the steaming pot of spaghetti onto a potholder next to our plates. “This is more important.”
I crossed my arms across my chest as Dad said grace. My fingers would be full of splinters before the end of the night, I just knew it! I stuck a noodle in my mouth and slurped it up. Mama was going on and on about the care of goats.
“We'll have to band any males that are born. We only have the space for one buck,” Mama was saying.
“Band?” Daddy furrowed his brow and salted his noodles.
“Castrate.” Mama grinned as Daddy winced.
“Ew! Mom!” I gagged. “We're eating!”
Dad's lips twitched with laughter and he pointed his fork my direction. “Might come in handy, knowing how to castrate a young fella.”
“Daddy!” I blushed and concentrated on my dinner.
By the time dinner was over and I had finished slaving over the dishes, Corey and Martin had arrived. Dad tossed me a pair of work gloves, killing my plans to moan over slivers —real or imagined—and we got to work. The bin in the wood shed was overflowing with scraps and the sun had set when we finished. Mama waved a hand goodbye as she peeled out of our driveway to fetch her new goats.
“C'mon, Tiny.” Dad rubbed the back of his neck. “Let's veg out on the couch and watch a movie. I think we've earned it!”
Dad started getting fidgety at midnight. Our movie had ended and we'd started a second, though I could hardly keep my eyes open.
“She'll be here any minute,” Dad said every other minute or so, attempting to reassure me. I was fine, though. I knew how Mama loved to gab with new people about gardening and chickens. She was probably squeezing every piece of goat information out of the Craigslist sellers as she could.
Dad paused the movie. “I think I'll call her cell and see how she's —“
Truck lights flashed through the window before suddenly flickering off. A second later, there was a loud bang as Mama hit the garbage can. I jerked awake at the noise and stretched. Mama's voice, loud and panicked, had me cramming my feet into a pair of slippers and sliding across the smooth linoleum to the front door.
“Thomas, help me get these goats out of sight!” Mama was gasping as she tugged on the lead rope of a goat as tall as her knees. Daddy grabbed the collar of the buck and feeling a tingly sense of urgency in the air, I grabbed the third goat.
“What's going on?” Dad whispered, probably thinking I couldn't hear him above the bleats of the goats.
“It's happened!” Mama hissed over her shoulder, unclipping the rope from the first goat and gently nudging her into our shed-turned-barn. Daddy stopped in shock until the buck pulled at his hand, eager to be with his lady friend.
“The It?” Daddy sounded horrified as he released the buck. The animal bounced into the barn and mouthed a piece of hay. I let go of the third goat, our second doe. She seemed to glare up at me, butted my side with her hard head, and darted into the building with her mates.
“I know we've been preparing for years but...but I didn't think it would actually happen!” Mama's voice came out in a long wail. She seemed to realize the noise she was making and slapped a hand over her mouth.
“Let's get inside,” Daddy said. He grabbed my elbow and urged Mama along. Once inside, he locked all the doors. I noticed our wide-screen television had turned dark and the light I'd left on in the kitchen was off.
“What's going on?” I hugged myself with my arms, feeling a strange cold flood my soul. Mama's blue eyes flickered to mine and compassion filled her gaze.
“Different people prep for different events,” Mama said. Her bottom lip wobbled and she squeezed her eyes shut.
“Yellowstone erupting, EMPs, government takeover...” Daddy started rattling off a list.
“Zombies, plague, economic collapse...” Mama interrupted.
“And it finally happened?” Daddy looked at Mama and she slowly nodded.
“Which one?” I whispered, feeling my head begin to spin. My stomach clenched, rebelling against our earlier dinner. Mama bit her lip.
“All of them,” she murmured. “On the drive home I was listening to the radio. It seems Russia has taken over the east coast. It appears they used a...a man-made virus. People are dying left and right over there and —“ she hesitated.
“It's spreading,” Daddy's voice was flat and dull.
“Yes,” Mama's voice cracked. “Like wildfire. The ones that aren't dying are changing —“
“Zombies?!” I shouted. “That's...that's got to be a joke! Zombies aren't real!”
“They are now,” Mama said. Flopping onto a chair, she held out her hand, inviting me to sit and cuddle on her lap. I didn't hesitate but rushed forward and buried myself in her protective arms.
“The EMP,” Daddy nodded thoughtfully. “That hit just as you pulled into the driveway, didn't it?”
“I think so,” Mama agreed. “I suspect it's the Russians. They're coming at us from every angle.”
I wanted to cover my ears, to hide my head in the sand like an ostrich. This couldn't be happening. It had to be a terrible dream.
“Yellowstone?” came Daddy's deep voice.
“Okay,” Mama let loose a nervous giggle. “I guess we're not being hit with all the doomsday scenarios. That's something to be thankful for, right?”
I peeked up at my parents, their faces eerie in the shimmering light of the full moon. Daddy closed the curtains, dumping us into utter darkness.
“We'll make it through this,” Mama assured, brushing her fingers through my snarled hair. My mind flashed over all the years she had been prepping. The canned foods filled the basement, the room of toilet paper, the garden, the chickens, rabbits, and goats, the library of books on making soaps, candles, butter, and more. I felt myself relax. Mama was right. We were going to be okay because we were prepared.