Matt Chapman joined MyM writer Kate Lloyd at a hen party with a difference, as they dispatched zombies with pride and extreme prejudice at a Zombie Boot Camp.
It’s pitch black, freezing cold and we’re being shunted from side to side in a speeding van. While it sounds like we’ve been kidnapped, the opposite is true – we’re a task force heading into an infected zone following a viral outbreak, hoping to find survivors. Clutched tightly in our gloved hands is a rifle, pointed down so as not to be a danger to our fellow volunteers. These bullets are meant only for our undead foes.
There’s a screech of tires and we’re bundled out of the back of the van. Within seconds an army sergeant yells at us to pick up the pace and head into the compound, before we take a knee and secure our lines of vision. As with all good horror films, it’s the anticipation that’s got our adrenal glands working overtime, and from our initial position everything looks quiet. Perhaps our decision to be in Fire Team A, heading into the complex ahead of our fellow troops, wasn’t so bad after all? Then something stirs in the darkness…
While it may sound from our description as if we’ve got a handle on our scary situation, it turns out we’re only fooling ourselves. As fresh recruits we’ve only been brought into the Government’s programme that day, and the weapon and tactics training we received quickly disappears from our minds. Sure, we’ve been decontaminated, dressed in body armour and visored helmets (“the undead may spit infected blood at you,” we’re told) and prepped to clear rooms as we move in two-by-two cover formations, but none of that seems relevant when there’s a quick-as-you-like 28 Days Later-style zombie pegging it towards you.
The biggest problem is the dark. Looking at the camera-flash images here, you may wonder what all the fuss is about, but when the same thing is happening in absolute black environments (only the supervisors have torches), it’s terrifying. This experience is also a physical one that goes way beyond running for your life. Those zombies pop up regularly and in the first exercise require focused fire to keep them down. One of our proudest moments is when comic artist Steve White is grabbed from above by a zombie on a wall and the pair of us return fire until he’s free. But the biggest challenge is still to come.
WE PREDICT A RIOT
The overrun facility yielded no survivors for us to rescue, although from a guilty point of view that at least means we didn’t gun anyone down by accident when they popped up looking for help! Next time we won’t even have that option. Our second exercise sees us retrain in the use of riot shields and batons, as we get up close and personal in our battle with the undead. Having dealt with them at gunpoint, that can’t help but bring a little lump to our throat.
Once again we opt to be one of the key figures in the group, wielding a larger main shield to protect the flank. That’s right, we’ve volunteered to be the man at the back, which in horror movie terms is like being a redshirt in Star Trek! Following an exercise in stacking, where we line up in formation with our front and rear positions protected, it’s back into the fray.
Having witnessed the infection up close, this time it seems unlikely there will be survivors to bring back with us. However, our commanders make it very clear that the people we really need to see return are our teammates. “If you get to the end and you don’t have everyone you went out with, you’ll need to fight your way back and retrieve them,” we’re told.
It’s not a pleasant thought. A system of counting from one to eight is quickly put in place in our squad, with us all taking a number based on our position of entry, and we agree to institute the count every time we finish an encounter. Let’s hope it doesn’t go out of our heads the second we face our fears, as so much of the gun training did.
We won’t spoil the excitement of the second exercise for anyone reading this and thinking they’d love to give it a go. What we will tell you is that some of the rules of Zombieland definitely apply to the Zombie Boot Camp. In our gun phase, the most important of these was ‘double tap’. As we battle zombies with just a shield and baton as our weapons, the rule we constantly think of is ‘cardio’.
The physicality of this event is also one of the most exhilarating things about it. When those zombies pop up in the second exercise, they try to rip that shield from your hand or even lift you up and throw you down on the crashmats. It’s possible to request a yellow vest to mark you out for easier treatment but we suggest you only do that if you’ve recently suffered an injury or are worried about a longer-standing problem. The full-on treatment is so much fun you definitely won’t want to miss it if you’re fit and able. Safe to say that our final sound off of the night is the best: “One!” “Two!” “Three!” “Four!” “Five!” “Six!” “Seven!” “Eight!”
THINGS TO DO IN DEN WHEN YOU’RE DEAD
Battles over, there’s time to chat with the organisers about the company setup and discuss topics such as how to recruit good zombies. It’s a real testament to the experience we’ve had this evening that the conversation doesn’t take the sheen off our enjoyment, even though we’re breaking its fourth wall (incidentally, you may already have recognised the company from its star turn on Dragon’s Den and they’re happy to talk about how the BBC actually invited them onto the programme, as Auntie felt the experience would make great TV).
As our second group scrambles in the door behind us, having escaped the clutches of the horde, it’s time for some group photos, including those zombies who have been terrorising us. Those of us staying overnight also get to enjoy the more traditional aspects of a hen do, which involve beer pong (we won!) and a dangerous hunting horn that brings on a round of shots when blown. Some of the zombies even stayed on to help us toast the occasion. A fabulous night was had by all – now bring on the Werewolf Survival Experience and our chance to star in our very own version of Dog Soldiers!