What? Zombie Apocalypse
Where? Ground Zero- North London
This year I decided to celebrate the anniversary of my birth by taking part in a three-hour ‘Zombie Apocalypse’. I have always resented being born the day before Halloween. It meant a childhood of birthday parties filled with children wearing bin-bag ponchos and battered witches hats, all partaking in mandatory celebratory apple bobbing…It wasn’t the dinosaur theme I longed for, nor was I ever dressed in pink as I wished. I have fought against this tide well into adulthood. ‘No you cannot wear a cat costume to my dinner party!’ So this year, I gave up thrashing against the current and figured I’d just go with it. So when an opportunity to take part in a low-budget remake of World War Z came up, I jumped on board.
Companies running events like 2.8 hours later have flourished in the last few years, pedalling their particular brand of petrifying ordeals up and down the country. There are a whole range of scenarios you can opt for, which accurately recreate every modern zombie movie out there. The day navigating a mental institution full of the undead is popular as a ‘team-building’ exercise. It is the new paintballing. Personally I can think of nothing worse than being in a situation with my colleagues where I might legitimately wet myself. But maybe that’s just me. Potentially peeing myself in front of friends and complete strangers though, that’s a different story.
The idea of 2.8 hours later is an orienteering, high intensity sprinting and assault course combination, negatively incentivised by zombie induced terror. Our particular scenario was revealed after almost two hours of queuing at ‘Asylum’ (which was fully decked out in ‘the end is nigh’ interior décor):
All water in the city had been contaminated, we had to retrieve a two bottles of ‘safe’ water from the last and only shipment into the city. To get the co-ordinates to the warehouse we would first need to follow an initial set of co-ordinates to a computer which would, on entering a series of commands, give us a new set of co-ordinates. We would repeat this process, following our maps until we had retrieved our liquid bounty and could leg it back to ‘Asylum’.
The first computer was situated in a tall office block filled with bloody handprints, crimson spills, nauseating flickering lights and the undead. It is in this confined space that the concept of hysteria being contagious was reinforced. Blokes in their thirties who a moment ago had all been bad-sports, bursting with bravado were now retreating, screeching and clinging to each other like little girls.
Our team retrieved said co-ordinates and made it unscathed across the top floor of undead, to the rooftop and exterior stairs- both slick with rain and panic filled players. This is where I first identified my real fear. It wasn’t the genuinely terrifying character actors, who I had to keep reminding myself were just drama students and bored accountants. No, it was the practicalities which got to me. What if someone slips on the stairs? Or jumps off the roof? I thought. I’d I already seen two people full on crying mid nervous breakdown – it seemed a distinct possibility. The morbid health and safety inspector inside me just couldn’t let these things go and focus on fearing the man whose face was peeling away to bone.
The Girl Scout in me had inevitably done a little bit of research and consequently was dressed in head to toe lycra and merino. Like an all seasons ninja. It turned out to be crucial, not just because the zombies couldn’t grab onto your clothes, but because the whole ordeal was essentially 3 hours of interval training. Except normally when one sprints ‘flat out’ it isn’t:
a) Quite as fast as you go, when you believe you are running for your life.
b) For 3 minutes straight.
c) Towards zombies.
On one particular stretch we were hemmed in on both sides by fences and walls. Once you began to run, forwards or backwards became the only options, zombies screaming and pelting towards you from all sides. As the slowest sprinter I found myself at the back, desperately chasing my friend’s disappearing forms into the dark. Wishing I hadn’t eaten that bowl of pasta 5 hours ago as I could feel it gradually resurfacing, but thankfully my throat was shut tight with panic and a tearful feeling of abandonment.
I was tagged within this zombie gauntlet. It is just a giant game of tag my brain said, whilst my heart hammered- my body screaming otherwise. This was the only time I saw a zombie break character. And by saw, I mean I looked at the legs of his orange jumpsuit and his boots while I held my hand out, trembling, as he wrote on my hand with a UV marker. I was far too afraid to ask him what his day job was. Then on I sprinted till I found my group and dry-heaved at them in greeting.
It is a real wonder to me that more of the actors don’t get injured, as evidently most people’s boundaries and logic go out of the window. I reckon a lot of people’s reflexes must be to take a swing at the screaming, blood spattered individual running aggressively towards them. At the after party I met the actress who had played ‘office-zombie-inexplicably-wearing-hospital-gown’. She had sustained an injury during last night’s game. Whilst in character, screaming and slamming her head against a window, she had caused such trauma to her eye it was entirely bloodshot with a fully dilated pupil. Wow, I thought, now that is some method acting. She was however not the scariest individual we encountered. Nor was the 6’ 9’’ beast dressed as an undead hospital orderly. No, it was in our water retrieval scene that we would all become truly unnerved. I opted to act as a decoy drawing the zombie’s attention my way- therefore shirking any real responsibility for the mission. It turned out to be a wise choice. In the lower level carpark below us were some other ‘normal’ looking people- another team we assumed. One girl was brandishing a hammer. Not a prop. A real god damn hammer. After the boys collected our precious water, whilst I watched comfortably from my gender stereotype, hammer-girl went mental.
Not undead mental – screaming apropos of nothing. But plain ol’ ‘I’m gunna f*** you up mental’, actually come to think of it I think she may have used that particular threat, along with ‘I’m going to find you and kill you!’ As we came away we all wondered, veterans included, if she was part of the game or not. Either way she highlighted a disturbing security issue with the game. Any nutter could play or join in; we were in a public area in North London after all.
There were multiple zombie setups where they tried to trick you into feeling compassion in order to further terrify and infect you. For example the security guard points at a lanky loner ‘He’s been separated from his group, can he come through the checkpoint with you guys?’
Once this was all completed we arrived, nerves frazzled, back at Asylum, noting that the end of the world involved a lot of UV paint. We were tested for infection, and the ‘infected’ in the group like myself were ushered into what appeared to be a stolen set from ‘Dexter’. Here under blood spattered polythene sheeting, we were made up as slap-dash zombies: lots of blood, no prosthetic rotting flesh. All I could think, as they spattered me with blood and make up, was how many people’s sweaty faces had already touched this make up sponge? Shudder.
The whole experience really honed my fight or flight response and sharpened my reflexes. The next day coming up the escalators on the tube I heard a guttural scream from below, I immediately jumped up 4 steps tensed for attack.
Looking like a neurotic weirdo.
It was of course Halloween and someone was fooling around, but my trauma was still fresh. Everything hurt and I was exhausted, which implies it was a very thorough workout.
Would I suggest this urban obstacle course?
Would I recommend you chase it round the country on a regular basis (like several individuals we met)?
No. There are cheaper forms of cross training.