A couple of years ago, I spent an afternoon with a man ready for the end of the world. I was doing research for a book and wanted to talk to someone involved in the “prepper” movement, those people who stockpile food and other supplies in order to survive an apocalypse they believe to be as inevitable as it is imminent.
I was given the man’s number by a friend-of-a-friend, and during a brief phone conversation I tried to allay the prepper’s suspicions, which was like trying to convince my mother that three glasses of red wine does not equal a serving of fruit. It was only after I promised not to take any photos, or mention his name in writing, or disclose his exact location, that I was given directions to his 20-acre property, which he chillingly referred to as a “compound.”
On the day of our meeting, I headed north from Greenville past Asheville, Weaverville, and Mars Hill, then turned east towards Burnsville. An hour later, I was inching along a winding dirt road near the Tennessee border. As I drove, I wondered what to expect. Would I be met by a man dressed in head-to-toe camouflage with bandoliers slung across his chest? Would he push the barrel of a semi-automatic rifle into my ribs and demand to see my credentials? Would he try to feed me stewed squirrel? These thoughts were still pulsing through my mind when I saw the words “Private Property” emblazoned across a large metal gate blocking the road. On the other side of the gate sat a blue Toyota minivan with an “I Love My Dachshund” license plate attached to the front bumper. A moment later, a thin, middle-aged man stepped out of the van. He was clean-shaven, had short brown hair, and wore tan pants and a burgundy polo shirt. This was the man who would survive the apocalypse? It looked like the hardest thing he could handle was the back nine at Thornblade.
I followed the man to a modest, single-story ranch house sitting next to a well-manicured lawn. When we walked inside, a fat Dachshund snapped at the hem of my pants. The man scooped the dog off of the floor and cradled it as if it were a baby. “This is Barnaby,” the man said. “He’s harmless.”
For the next two hours, the man and I sat at the kitchen table, drank herbal tea, and discussed how to subsist during a variety of emergencies ranging from hurricanes to fuel shortages. By the fourth mug of tea, my patience was wearing thin. What about civil unrest, I thought? Or the weaponized drones that establish martial law? Or the zombies? My God, man, what about the zombies!
I wanted to see an arsenal, and a fallout shelter, and an armored vehicle designed to drive over the decaying bodies of the ill-prepared. But it was not to be. I left the house with nothing more than the knowledge that keeping some canned food, bottled water, and fresh batteries on hand was probably a good idea.
I followed the man back down the driveway and watched as he climbed out of his minivan and carried Barnaby over to the gate. When he swung the gate open, I pulled forward and rolled down my window. I thanked him for his time, admitted I had expected to meet someone a few eggs short of a dozen, and then made a silly joke about preparing for an alien invasion. At this, the man put his hands over Barnaby’s ears and looked around suspiciously. He then leaned down and whispered: “It’s coming soon.” Maybe it was the gallon of herbal tea in my system or the terrified look in Barnaby’s eyes, but I couldn’t help but believe he was serious.