by Jay Wilburn
We all want to believe we would survive what is thrown at us. It is in our nature to fight to survive. We do it in big and small ways throughout our days and lives as we work to provide and maintain our shelter and food supply. The question comes when the power goes out and does not come back on. When society breaks down and showing up to work is no longer enough to meet our basic needs.
Even in an apocalyptic scenario, we still work out our plans. As zombie fiction in all media has grown in the public awareness, so has the practice of planning for what we do when it hits the fan. Prepper and survivalist mentalities and culture have been a part of the underpinning of American culture and other places in the world too. These lines of thinking and preparation probably would have grown without the rise in popularity of zombie fiction, but the zombie genre contributed to be sure. There is a chicken and egg argument to be made here where the genre and the real life prepper culture built each other in an ongoing feedback loop over the last few years and decades.
There is a chapter in Stephen King’s The Stand where he talks about a series of characters that died from causes not directly related to the outbreak in his story. It was those that survived the illness, but could not survive the post apocalyptic reality either due to accidents, dumb bad luck, or the inability to cope. He estimated that more would fall fate to this bad coping end in Western cultures, industrial nations, and the United States in particular than those places in the world where survival already took a little more work.
Even the preppers are just gaming the odds in some cases. They are preparing for most likely scenarios. They are following general best practices for being ready when things go bad. The general wisdom is that poker is 40% skill. Obviously making the most of that 40% you can control gives you the best chance of winning over those that don’t prepare at all. That still leaves 60% largely out of your control. If the unexpected happens, that large percent may change who is likely to survive even among those that did their best to be ready.
We never truly know what we are made of until we have been tested. Even when we are tested, it does not guarantee that we will pass the next, different test. Those that prepare are likely to do better, but that’s not guaranteed. When the testing comes, any person could make any wrong move and the rest of the prep turned out to be for nothing. On the flip side, those that don’t think they have what it takes surprise us and surprise themselves all the time. We think we will never rise out of our darkest times and then often we do. We are a different person on the other side of those tests.
In any apocalyptic test, there will be those that become more than they were before. They will meet the tests for which they had not or could not prepare and they will amaze even themselves. When so many do not make it, a few unlikely survivors will thrive. People will learn and prove resourceful in ways they could have never imagined. People who have failed to thrive in our society in so many ways may outlast the new struggle simple because they had struggled so much for so long leading up to the test. Some that prepared for the path may actually find the reality beyond them. When the real and greatest struggle of their lives falls upon them, they will find that they are ill-equipped to handle it even with all their prepping and planning. Most of the unlikely will probably not make it, but a few will surprise us all. In some ways, those are the ones with the greatest stories to tell and potential to reach.
Whether you are facing a real apocalyptic test or are writing about one, consider the unlikely characters and what they might become. Those with the power to surprise us may offer a great story in exchange.