We're sat in the front seat of a beaten-up car as it screeches to a halt outside the warehouse. A zombie – mad, frothing, all claws and teeth – lands on the bonnet and starts hammering at the windscreen, and as we fumble to get the door open and bring our assault rifle to bear on it, we're grabbed and dragged out of the car by another undead attacker who came out of nowhere.
Our gun jams, and we fall into the mud where the zombies claw at our fatigues - until our backup jumps out of the van behind us and unloads into them, sending them sprawling.
We stagger to our feet. It's not your average day out.
It's not real, of course, but it might as well be. We're at a Zombie Boot Camp Experience Day from wish.co.uk – normally the sort of company that lets you drive expensive sports cars around a racetrack, takes you skydiving, or teaches your how to make a passable crème brulee. Today's a little bit different, though.
It all began earlier that day as we trudged through a windswept industrial park in Droitwich, on the outskirts of Birmingham – we're found, sized up and sent through an inflatable decontamination tent owned and operated by the Parasol Corporation1, who are training civilians in the art of zombie hunting after the virus hit England.
We've come here to fight zombies, and we'll do just that – but not before we've been trained. We're given paintball guns designed around an M4 carbine assault rifle, which feel pretty authentic, and taught some basic combat tactics by ex-military (or, in some cases, current-military) instructors – stuff like room clearance, proper use of explosives, and how to move between cover.
None of these people are FHM. We were too busy kicking arse and taking names to pose for pictures
This takes most of the day, and by the time the chance to fight some zeds comes up, we're raring to go. While everything's being prepared, we start angling for the role of squad leader and coming up with snappy nicknames for our squadmates, who are clearly having none of it.
“You don't have to call us 'Sir,' or anything like that. We're very approachable. 'Boss' will do,” we say to a blonde girl and give her our best reassuring smile before she looks up and we realise she was on her phone, and not even listening to us. Pfft. If she thinks she's getting rescued in a dramatic last-ditch gambit full of sexual tension now, she's wrong.
And then – BANG. Zombies. All up in our face. There are a few other zombie simulation events available in the UK, some of which we've visited in the past (like all-day shopping mall-based horror with ZombieLARP, blasting the undead on Hampstead Heath with Fire Hazard, or a weekend of retro survival with Terror4Fun) but none of them use full-contact monsters, so when we were physically dragged out of the car it came as something of a surprise.
Lady zombies: surprisingly cheery
This isn't for the faint of heart – we took a gun butt to the face as a zombie tried to wrestle our gun away from us, and our squad mate in the car had to deal with broken glass as a zombie over-enthusiastically smashed a car window – but it adds another level to the fear of the experience, as you might be tackled to the ground at any time. Or, you know, start bleeding.
We're steered through the experience by those same instructors, who bark orders at us and drive us into hidden zombies that dash out of nowhere and grab us. There's no hope for a dramatic 'No – you guys go on – I've been bitten – I'll – cough – hold them off from here – tell my wife I love her – ugh' because everything's pre-ordained to ensure that you succeed, no matter how many zombie scrums you end up in.
But it's still a frightening experience – the set-dressing is pretty authentic, and the hellish warehouse in the centre of the arena that forms the final scenario is genuinely creepy, complete with bodies, guts, gore and a claustrophobia-inducing tunnel section.
Is it fun? Of course it is. You get to shoot zombies in the face, throw explosives through doorways, and pretend to be a soldier for a while. Just make sure you get to a shower soon afterwards – fighting zombies can be pretty sweaty work.
If you'd like to fight zombies for a day, check out the experience package at Wish.co.uk
1 Doh ho ho