As many of you will know, I write about, and edit, stories based on the Zombie genre. Not something I planned to do, but it just happened. I’m also a bit of a ‘what would I do in that situation?’ and I was – and still am – positive that I wouldn’t be as chronically useless as the ‘survivors’ of shows such as The Walking Dead. I can almost hear the screams of horror now. That’s right, they’re useless. Suck it fan boys (and girls).
Recently I, and a number of friends, went to a Zombie Boot Camp. We were promised a “full contact kinetic experience”. My wife, God bless her, had been trying to organise the event for months as part of my 40th birthday celebrations.
Being a modern man, most of my friends are scattered to the winds, and it was a logistical nightmare to get everyone (including unsuspecting me) committed to one date. Needless to say it was all pulled together and five of us set off from Exeter, whilst others drove, rode or trained down to the venue.
We’d all been laughing at how all bar one had one or all of the following
- Martial Arts training, some had decades
- Military training of some sort. Including a chap who became known as False Para
- Police Training
- Weapons training of all sorts from knives through to guns
- Paintballing – To national standard for one
Imagine our glee as we thought of the poor zombie actors and the mullering they were going to get from us. I must admit to the odd squee moment. I was like a kid in a candy store. Zombies. Riot shields. Padded Batons. Section tactics in built up areas. Pyrotechnics. Full contact. I even gave everyone call signs (which I have used to protect the innocent in this account), and designated the southern lot as Team Sierra and the northern (compared to Devon) lot as November. That’s how excited it was.
My wife, on the other hand, was quietly bricking it, worrying that it would either be a) shit b) we’d get chucked off for being too excited c) both of the previous d) I’d injure my shoulder even more.
After a slap-up lunch full of bravado, we drove to the facility where we were met by a chap in full camo and a French Foreign Legion beret. He also had a French accent. Awesome! Cue me. Squeeeeeee!
We were then passed on to Alan, a Hell’s Angel in Police uniform, and went through the usual health & safety admin. I was told that because I had a partially dislocated shoulder I would have to wear what we termed as the sissy vest. Much hilarity at my expense ensued. Gits.
Soon we got kitted up, helmets, body armour etc. and then had a quick briefing before heading off to the riot training area. Squeeee.
By this time I’m trying to get my sissy vest on and feeling a right numpty. One of the staff says not to bother, he’ll get me another later. Fortunately, they forgot all about them and I was able to use my left shoulder to take the brunt of the zombie force.
Staff Fox gives a quick chat and then asks who the birthday boys are. Fuck. This is going to hurt. Turns out there are two of us. They give us batons and shields. I look at the other lad and reckon I can take him easily.
Unfortunately Fox turns us to face the entrance we just came through and says something about “this will give everyone an idea as to the sort of contact you can face.” Wait. What?
They bang on the door and a huge thing comes shambling through. What follows is a haze of batons, girly screams and one of the hardest punches in the face that I’ve taken in a long time. By the time they call stop I’m battered and drenched in sweat. And knackered. It’s then that I realise just how cool the day is going to be.
We then do riot training. Small shield work, learning how to interlock the large armadillo shields, how to advance, break, charge, call out orders and work as a team. All this whilst the other half pretend to be zombies and batter us.
After half an hour or so we all have a new-found respect for Riot Police. We’re chin strapped. After a quick drink it’s off to the CQB training area. Squeeee.
We get sat down and briefed on how to use paintball gun as well as how to enter and clear a room. Grins all around at the mayhem to come.
Naturally I’m in the group first to go and I’m at the front. We stack up. The Staff bangs on the gate. WTF? There are people inside. Adrenaline goes through the roof. Visors down. Safeties off. Staff opens the door.
Bundle in, peel and scan left to front, drop to the knee, “Target front!” “Target right!” Bang, bang. Double taps to the metal targets. These guns are running way HOT. The targets are dented. I’m tapping any target I can see. Even if it’s not “in” the “room” we are. I see it, it sees me. Bang bang.
“Room clear!” The next pair bounds past and does the same to the next room. Then the third pair. Bang bang bang bang. This. Is. Fucking. Awesome!
“Room clear!” Me and Dogman are up and running. More targets, more shots. We move into another, slightly larger room.
“Safeties on. Guns on the floor. Take a baton.” Hand to hand already? Bring it.
Into a darkened corridor, trip hazards everywhere. I find each and every one of the bastards. Then we’re into another big room. Only it’s darkened, torches flashing, screams and other sounds assault our ears. It’s the perfect way to disorient a bunch of lads hopped up on coffee, sugar and adrenaline.
“Muuuuuuh!” For a split second I’m stood like a numpty trying to work out what’s going on.
“Zombies!” Fortunately they’re the American kind, slow and stupid. And it seems like there are loads of them. Screams. Roars. Moans. The sound of batons hitting flesh. Whose flesh? Fuck it. Hit’em until they’re down.
“Room clear!” We’re all breathing heavily. Out of our arses if we’re honest. Back to our weapons.
“Through there. Go.” Dogman and I are through into the next room, he misses a target behind him so I tap it as well as mine. The others bound past. Then we’re up and moving. I can see targets over the barricades marking rooms so I start shooting on the run. Like I said before, if I can see a target, I’m going to put paint on it.
All of the staff teaching the drills are serving or former serving military. I stupidly put my hand up and admitted to having been in the OTC and Specials right at the start of the day. Dogman and False Para don’t. Bastards. So do I want to impress? Fuck yes. False Para’s under pressure too once they notice he’s wearing a maroon hoody with wings, but he hasn’t gone yet.
“Stop!” We’ve only cleared about eight rooms and beaten a handful of zombies but we’re panting and sweating our nuts off.
“How do you think that went?”
We all mumble we thought it was okay. I apologised for the fact I’d had a jam and lost a shit load paint trying to clear it. Pretty embarrassing considering just how much paintball I used to do, but shit happens.
Fortunately he was happy. Then he says the magic words. “We need two more to go again. Who’s up for it?”
Me and Dogman are by far the quickest to say yes.
False Para and Guinea are up next. They’re designated as the first ones to go through the door. What follows is plain awesome. False Para, me and Dogman have known each other for at least twenty years. I consider them my brothers. We’ve been through a lot and we know how each one works.
I don’t honestly know how fast we go through, but it’s fast. With only two pairs were clearing every other room. At one point I might have crossed in front of Dogman, but he wasn’t shooting and I was banging the rounds out before he even took a knee.
“Stop! How do you think that went?” More self-deprecating rumbles ensue.
“Well, apart from the fact I said to move slowly, which you didn’t actually need to do, that was the best all day. By all day, I mean you were the best out of every group today.” I was eating shit, my grin was so big.
It’s back to the briefing room. Training over, we are now moving on to the real thing. Shit just got real. First mission is to clear the outside of the target compound. There is a mix of zombies. Americans, as I said before, are slow and stupid. The Brits are hopped up on Rage. They’re fast, take more hits and ambush us from all sides.
The groups are split into two squads of roughly fifteen each. By this time it’s pitch black outside. It’s a night mission. We’re all kept together. Team One moves off, bundled into the back of a van. We stand around joking and basically trying to act hard and working out who’s going to take the armadillos and basically tank, and those that are going to be skirmishers and guard the flanks and rear.
The van comes rocketing back and screeches to a halt. The Staffs jump out and open the door, shouting at every one to get out. We count them in. Six. What the hell? Over half dead?
We bundle into the van. The door is shut, held closed only by a piece of string. It’s also pitch black. We rocket around corners, bomb along straights and then skid to a halt.
“Out! Run!” We run. Shields are waiting for us at the entrance to the target compound. We scramble to grab the shields. Smoke is in the air. Screams come from the buildings.
“Form up!” Shouts the Staff
“Form up!” We shout in reply. The shields are hard to lock up and we start to panic as the zombies appear. They’re only slow ones thank God and the skirmishes lay into them as the rest of the armadillos and me stand our ground.
“Targets down! Form up!” The skirmishers form on our flanks again and we advance a step at a time to the first barricade.
“Break!” We scramble over the barricade, a couple going arse over tit. No time to laugh or take the piss as shapes start to come towards us and we’re too busy trying to form up again.
These are slow again but the area is much more open. We get flanked and the order to break is given. If this is what happened in real historical battles it’s sheer hell. Visibility, nill thanks to our visors and the dark. Confusion, utter as people are dragged to the floor or get caught up one-on-one. Unit cohesion, only partly there. We’ve only gone fifty metres and we’re knackered. Only fought for what can’t have been more than ten minutes but feels like an hour.
We form up and march forward. I step on a body, stumble and keep going. Smoke bombs are thrown and then the Rage zombies come.
“Brace!” Our line is shattered. They hit us and just go through the line like it wasn’t there. It’s utter chaos as we’re attacked from all directions. They hit us, grab us, smash us with our own shields and basically batter the shit out of us. By this point we’re not even halfway round. Fuck. Me.
“Form up!” Every fight it’s taking longer to form. Armadillos are letting themselves get into fights rather than staying in the shield wall. Not a good idea considering how heavy the armadillo shields are.
The next two sides are just as brutal. People are singled out. False Para is grabbed, his helmet stripped off, baton gone, shield used to take him down and three of them lay into him. Sweatman is actually TKO for a few seconds after getting shield slammed. These buggers know every trick in the book and they’re not afraid to use them.
Finally we can see the entrance again. There’s another attack and more people are taken down. Every time we beat the zombies off. Every time it gets harder to save them. Finally the order to pull out is given.
Even as we start to pull out we’re attacked again. I look around and see that half of us are already in the van and it’s moving out.
“Fucking run!” Me and Prof unlatch our shields and leg it, dumping them at the entrance as the van continues to pull away. It’s at least a twenty metre sprint and I jump for it, the lads inside grabbing me.
More and more of us pile in, Rage zombies literally snapping at their heels. Tiny picks up the only girl present and throws her body in before diving after her. She’s lucky she isn’t crushed.
We’re all screaming encouragement as more runners appear. Skeletor makes a jump for it and misses. I actually think he’s going under the wheels. Tiny leans forward, grabs his hand and yanks him through. The doors close and we’re left in the pitch dark.
When the van rocks to a stop we get out and count off. Every one is there. It’s not a competition but fuck it, we beat the first group. We all survived. Just.
After tea and medals, during which we realise that the other group acted as zombies as well, we gear up for the second mission. We’re issued with paintball markers. Shit just got real.
This time we’ve been spit into three sections of roughly ten people each. Tiny hurt his back saving the two members of our team so drops out. Man Down. That’s a right shit and it sucks to be doing this without him.
The first lot head off again. Just like last time we wait. This time we can hear them engaging the enemy. Those guns are maxed out if we can hear them over that distance.
In what seems like no time at all they rock up and jump out. “Alpha Team sit on the right, Bravo on the left.”
We bundle in and bomb off again, straight back to the compound. Bounding out of the vehicle we charge in two groups to the compound. Bravo is in front and immediately comes under attack from some slow zombies. They deal with them easily and then we bound past them and stack up, ready to enter the building.
I’m first through, fuck knows who I’m paired with. A slow mover appears and we blitz the shit out of him. Shadows are everywhere, things hang from the ceiling and there are strobes, and pulses of sound. The visors on the helmets are scratched to shit so I start chucking mine up whenever I can.
We’re forced through mouseholes, down narrow corridors, through destroyed vans, over ground that is littered with debris and there are zombies fucking everywhere. It’s close in, point blank fighting. Some of the lads are forced to resort to batons.
“Press on! Target! I can’t fucking see! Jam!” Stress and tiredness is getting to us but we’re working so well together. Every target is called, everyone is looking out for each other, pulling them along, pushing them forward, watching their back. Stavros absolutely blows the shit out of a zombie, his visor’s down and he can’t see shit but it doesn’t stop him.
After what seems like an eternity we’re out of the building and back in the compound.
One of the Staffs shouts at Alpha to form a firing line. Bravo is somewhere behind us. Not a moment too soon we take a knee and face forward. Zombies come lurching and sprinting towards us. “Target front!” False Para is in his element. We shoot the undead crap out of them.
As soon as they’re down he has us bounding back. It’s Bravo’s turn and they lay it on whilst we get ready to cover them. It’s not a game any more, everyone is totally in the zone. As Bravo prepare to move they get ambushed from a vehicle. We can’t shoot for fear of hitting them and they get tied up as it pins them to the van.
Did I say we were in the zone? “Shoot the fucking cunt!” I scream, just as Skeletor goes for a contact shot. He rams his marker into the zombie’s gut and blasts it. God knows how many shots it takes but it drops.
They finally bound past us and we shoot another wave. They just don’t stop coming. Another bound and we’re by the gate, Bravo legging it for the van – under orders of course – there’s smoke everywhere, backlit by powerful lamps and we see even more targets. It’s like a horror film. I give up firing with my trigger finger and resort to an old paintball trick, fanning the trigger with my lead hand, laying the paint down. Everyone is firing as fast as we can. One of the Ragers literally skids to a halt at our feet.
“Go, go, go!” We leg it to the van as fast as we can and bundle in. The van is filled with the sound of our breathing and not much else.
In what seems like no time we’re back at base and the door is ripped open by Fox. He’s a serving Marine and Close Protection instructor.
“That was fucking awesome! Fucking good job lads!” All the blood, sweat and tears of the day are worth it. He’s not saying it because he has too – he didn’t for the last lot – he’s saying it because he means it. Every last word. You can’t imagine just how good it feels to hear a professional say something like that. Even False Para has a shit eating grin.
After that we spent the night eating good food, drinking good whiskey and counting our bruises. For four brief hours we were zombie killers and it felt good. It was the best birthday ever.
If you’d like to know more, maybe even see if you’re man/girl enough to go toe-to-toe with zombies, visit http://www.ramtraining.co.uk