If you find yourself in a haunted house surrounded by zombie experts, it’s important to ask the tough questions. “So, if zombies are always eating people, wouldn’t the worst thing about a zombie apocalypse be the piles of zombie shit everywhere?” It’s menacing questions like this that keep me awake at night, so thankfully last Wednesday, I was able get some answers from Sean Stephens and Garret Middaugh of Z.A.P.S Utah (Zombie Apocalypse Preparation and Survival).
“Well, no,” said Stephens. “The brain’s natural instinct is to survive, so it’ll tell the zombie to keep eating even though the rest of the body doesn’t function. The [zombie’s] brain wouldn’t know otherwise and eventually the zombie would just explode.”
Bingo. As you can see, these guys are well-versed in zombie theory. The two of them combined have seen just about every zombie film in existence and when you mix that up with backgrounds in pharmaceutical development, law enforcement, paramedics and pathophysiology, you have yourself a solid team of qualified zombie instructors.
Z.A.P.S. co-founders Garret Middaugh and Sean Stephens
Now, unfortunately for this story, neither one of them actually thinks zombies exist. I was hoping they did, but they don't. In fact, the true mission behind Z..A.P.S. is to offer courses in general survival techniques and disaster preparation -- with a zombie spin. “We know it’s based on something fictional,” said Stephens, “but it’s fun, and the CDC said if you’re prepared for a zombie apocalypse you’re prepared for anything. We figured, why don’t we take the knowledge we have of survival techniques and combine it with this fun idea?”
Obviously, I’m a responsible adult who would love to know more about disaster prep, but truth be told, I was only there to find out how fast I would I die in a zombie scenario. So, to get a feel of what it would be like to be surrounded by zombies, we met up at XSI Factory, an all-purpose indoor-sports facility in Lehi, which recently opened a massive zombie-infested haunted house, appropriately called Zombie Apocalypse.
The plan was simple: Run through some basic survival techniques and then wrap it up with a mild killing spree through the haunted house. I probably should mention that Stephens and Middaugh were geared up from head to toe with flak jackets, assault rifles, side arms and even machetes.Best of all, they had a real M4. Yeah, you could say these two had so much sweet stuff they were ready for anything, even my shitty questions.
The M4 is the preferred rifle of Utah zombie killers.
Middaugh opts for the all black flak jacket; that way, his guts are safe.
Strapped to the teeth with guns and blades, we kicked things off by clearing out one of the rooms of the haunted house. “Pow, on your left,” shouted Middaugh, as we moved through the room shooting at plastic props on the walls. I followed close behind, carrying a replica M4 rifle. I felt like Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies, when she was handed a gun for the first time. “Pew, pew, you’re extra dead,” I yelled at a skeleton lying on the floor.
We got to the end of the room and proudly surveyed our fake carnage. “All right, that was pretty good,” said Stephens. “The important thing is to remember to try to cover different points; that way, we won’t get flanked from one side.” We discussed the logistics of killing fake zombies for minute or two and then decided it was time to take it up a notch.
Mario Hipol, the head of marketing at XSI, gave us the okay to run through the entire haunted house before the crowds arrived. This was sweet because we finally got to shoot at some real zombies … or high school kids in makeup. “So, what’s the strategy here?” I asked Stephens. “Just stay behind me and hug the walls.” “Can I have a gun, at least?” Stephens reached into his holster and handed me a little plastic pistol. "Sweet."
Middaugh had to go home, so the battle was down to just me, Stephens and my photographer, Mike Fuchs. Slowly, we inched our way through the dark maze. I covered Stephens while he offed a couple of warm-up zombies with his plastic, laser scoped M4. But instead of me yakking about it, how about an action packed montage with this ditty playing in the background?:
Okay, let's do this ...
My stats for this particular zombie apocalypse were complete crap. I got spooked at least three times, which in a zombie scenario means your dead. As expected, Stephens weaved his way through the haunted house like a pro. But listening to him talk about survival techniques and seeing all the gear just wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to make sure Z.A.P.S. was 100 percent for real. So, the next day I e-mailed over a couple of brain-buster zombie scenarios, hoping to stump Utah’s finest:
Scenario #1: Okay, you’re held up in your dorm room at the University of Utah, trying to ride out the apocalypse. You realize that you have an overdue library book sitting on your bedstand. You start to sweat. If this apocalypse is over soon, that fine could be, like, three bucks. Ultimately, you decided you must return the book to the downtown Main Library within the next three hours. Unfortunately for you, it’s Conference weekend and there are well-dressed zombies everywhere. Plus, you have no legs. What do you do?
Their answer: You have accepted the fact that there is no way you can make it that far (without legs) and you can’t afford a three-dollar late fee because you've spent all your money on an AR15 sniper rifle and ammo. Since you were so well-prepared after completing your Zombie Apocalypse Preparation & Survival (ZAPS) course, a few friends from the dorm have found refuge in your place. One of your new roommates is the kid who stole your girl and doesn’t seem to be pulling his weight. You decide to send him on a special mission to return your book and force him out at gun point. From your vantage point at the top of the building, you see that, sure enough, the well-dressed zombies notice him hauling ass down the street and start to swarm. That’s when you put that $2,000 piece of weaponry to work. One after another, noggins start exploding, and you clear a path far enough for your “friend” to make it to the library. You never see that brave soul again, but you also never received a fee for the late library book.
Scenario 2: You’re celebrating a friend’s birthday at Gracie’s, and for some reason, you pass out on the roof. You wake up the next morning and you're shocked when you discover that the entire city is overrun by zombies. You barricade the entrance and bunker down in the gastro-pub, drinking, eating and watching reruns of Friends. After a few weeks, you’re sick of watching Friends and you decide to go out for some fresh DVDs. You head to Blockbuster and browse the horror section. After you pick out a few decent zombie flicks, you head back to Gracie’s. From a block away, you notice that you left the door open like an idiot and now it's filled with shamblers. The sky is becoming overcast and you realized you also left your jacket at the bar. Completely naked and angry, where do you go now and how do you get there…while dragging a 54-inch flat screen and a garbage bag of DVDs?
Their answer: Since you put in all that work to acquire the flat screen and DVDs, there is no way you are giving them up without a fight. Determined to make it to a safe place (with electricity), you throw the bag of DVDs over your shoulder and tuck that TV under your arm and start running. As you run, you wonder how silly you must look -- running naked, garbage bag of DVDs over the shoulder and a huge flat screen under your arm, all the while being chased by a swarm of flesh-starved zombies. You are brought back to reality when you hear the crack of a rifle coming from a building window up ahead. You look behind you just in time to see the walker hit the ground. A rush of relief and determination flows through you and you head for the sound of the shot. As you near the building, an attractive female busts out of the door and pulls you in, mowing down your pursuers. You sit on the floor of Kristaufs’ in the fetal position and stare in amazement as the chick performs “.223 lobotomies” on the hoard. Finished cleaning up, your rescuer pulls you from the floor and you snap out of your daydream. The female explains that she saw you running naked down the street and was impressed with not only your determination but your fine toned physique. You think to yourself, as she begins to explain her lonesome and desperate situation, I’m sure glad I took that Z.A.P.S. Course. Time to repopulate and reclaim what is ours!
Okay, these guys are good.
All photos by Mike Fuchs