Navigate to chapter
► Chapter 1: It Has Now Hit The Fan
► Chapter 2: Buy an Altoids ® Tin
► Chapter 3: So What Are We Up Against?
► Chapter 4: This Is Not A Kum Ba Yah Moment
► Chapter 5: Next Order Of Business. Guns.
► Chapter 6: A World Without Electricity
► Chapter 7: Water And Food, Short And Long Term
► Chapter 8: First Aid and Hard Choices
► Chapter 9: Speaking The Lingo
Chapter 1: It Has Now Hit The Fan
Had fun with all the zombie jokes, did you? Well, the undead . . . stuff . . . has now hit the proverbial fan one way or the other and you’ve decided to get with the program. Welcome to the new reality. Don’t worry, if you’re not planning on getting tough, it’ll be a short ride. Bloody, but short.
Cultivate an Attitude of Survival
To paraphrase a cool little wrinkled dude with a light saber, “Live or live not. There is no try.” If you don’t have an attitude of survival already, get yourself in the game — now.
I’ll always try to talk to both the before and the after crowd.
If you’re reading this in advance of the coming apocalypse, I have good news — you’ll probably make it once the world heads south. Preparation is everything. You still have time. Not much. But some.
If you’re hunkered down in some trashed bookstore peering at the page with a flashlight, turn that damn thing off, stuff this book in your backpack, and get the hell out of there!
Stopping to read in an unsecured location in the middle of an apocalypse is not a great idea. It’s a wonder you’ve lived this long. I’ll help you, but first, get some place safe — and be quiet doing it!
First Things First. They’re Not Human!
If you’re one of those bleeding heart types, you need to get over that sentimental streak pretty damn fast unless you want to bleed for real — and then spend the rest of your undead life shambling around with your new zombie scout den buddies.
I don’t care if that zombie standing in front of you does look like your grandma. Heck, I don’t care if she IS your Grandma — she is not human. Don’t try to talk to her. Don’t try to feed her. Don’t try to domesticate her. Put. Her. Down.
Two reasons. One, you’ll live another day and two, even if she isn’t human now, she was once. Have a little respect. When you kill a zombie, you’re putting a former human out of his or her misery. Consider it your good deed for the day and hope to the high heavens someone will do the same for you if it ever comes to that.
Why Are You Still Alive?
That’s a really good question, and I don’t mean, “what are you doing right to not get ripped to shreds.” I mean, “why are you bothering to stay alive?”
People who make it have goals. What are you hanging around for? What’s your long-term strategy?
Again, if the apocalypse hasn’t happened, congrats. You’re putting some thought into why you’re taking up space on the planet. That’s more than most people do.
I gotta tell you, on any given day I look at a lot of my fellow humans and think, “Wow, that’s oxygen we’re never gonna get back in the atmosphere.”
Let’s consider your raison d’etre, buddy. That’s French for, “Why am I fricking bothering?”
You want to cure the zombies and save the world.
If your previous job was the head of the CDC, then go for it. Hell, if that’s the case, you’re hold up in Atlanta with enough food, water, and power to watch all the rest of us get chomped up for kibbles and bits. Knock yourself out.
If you were flipping fries at Mickey D’s? You’ve been reading too many comic books. Oh, excuse me. “Graphic novels.” Whatever. You need a new goal. Now.
You’re trying to get back to your family.
I’m not giving you grief about that one, brother. Having somebody else to live for is a big reason to stay in the game. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. If you think your wife or your husband or your kids are still out there, then move freaking heaven and earth to find them.
You want to build a safe haven for yourself.
Okay, you can go all lone wolf Unibomber after the apocalypse and I get that. I’m guessing you’ve already seen people looting stores and running each other down in the streets. If you have any sense, you headed the other direction fast.
One of the first things you absolutely have to do when this all breaks is get away from people, but then, when things calm down a little? Find yourself some people.
You can’t go it all by yourself forever. First off, you have to sleep sometimes. Second, you’ll go bonkers after awhile if all you do every day is kill people who just don’t get it that they’re already dead.
Remember that movie with Tom Hanks on the island where he talked to the volleyball for two hours? At the very least, get yourself a volleyball. Yeah, some of us are introverts and spend more time alone than other people, but under normal circumstances a trip to 7-Eleven at least reminds you that you’re not the last living person on the planet.
You want to find a new way to live.
That one right there will work for you. Old normal is gone, new normal is here. Make it work.
Real survivors are flexible. Man, you better have Plans A through G already figured out and turn on a dime when you need Plan H.
Do NOT get locked into one way of doing anything.
Keep your cool no matter what hits the fan. You can fall apart later. In the moment, keep your head and keep thinking.
That right, I’m saying it again and I’ll keep saying it. The ability to think is the greatest tool at your disposal. You can. They can’t.
Be curious. Be creative. Look at everything around you with new eyes. Everything’s a potential tool. It doesn’t matter what it used to do for you, what can it do NOW? You know that idea of re-purposing old stuff? You’re basically in a position to re-purpose the whole world.
And totally keep your sense of humor. You know the Gun Owner’s Prayer? The last line reads, “Let NOT my last thought be, if I only had a gun, and Lord if today is truly the day that you call me home, let me die in a pile of empty brass.”
Me? I think it should read, “Let me die laughing in a pile of empty brass.” You can’t take this stuff too seriously. Come on, admit it, you watched The Walking Dead. Best line ever? Herschel after the fall of the farm in season two.
“Christ promised the resurrection of the dead. I just thought he had something different in mind.”
This stuff is just freaking priceless.
Why is This Happening to Me?
Oh for God’s sake. Do we really need to waste time on the “why me” bullshit?
Fine. Chances are good nobody really knows why the apocalypse is upon us. There are some major things to think about though if you just insist on trying to figure it out — especially if you’re one of those, “there has to be a way to put it all back like it was” types.
Back in August 2010, Sarah Boseley, the health editor for The Guardian wrote an article called “Are You Ready for a World Without Antibiotics?” and pretty much nailed it in my opinion:
“The era of antibiotics is coming to a close. In just a couple of generations, what once appeared to be miracle medicines have been beaten into ineffectiveness by the bacteria they were designed to knock out. Once, scientists hailed the end of infectious diseases. Now, the post-antibiotic apocalypse is within sight.”
How many times didn’t you finish that prescription because you were feeling better? Well hang your head in shame now. You helped engineer the super bugs and one of them went all zombie on our collective butts.
All it took was just one sick person getting on an airplane and forget about quarantining squat. If you still have time, go pick up a cheerful little tome by Matthew Stein called When Disaster Strikes:
“. . . with bacteria developing antibiotic resistance faster than we can develop new medicines, and viruses’ ability to ‘gene swap’ genetic material between deadly diseases with low infection rates . . . highly infectious diseases . . . it is only a matter of time before the roulette wheel of natural genetic selection and mutation deals humanity a crippling blow.”
Yeah, baby. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas . . . until the roulette balls jumps out of the wheel. So, I think that’s what happened. Mutant resurrection flu virus from hell. Now, can we get practical again?
Where Are You Now?
If you’re still bummed, and okay, granted, this does kinda suck, work on the “why you are” and “why did this happen” and get that all figured out for yourself. Trust me, you’ll have more than enough time to contemplate the meaning of life – assuming you manage to actually stay alive.
For right now, let’s talk about the where you are. Sitting in your recliner knocking back a cold Sam Adams on a perfectly normal day? Cool. You’re golden for now.
Apocalypse in progress? If you’re in a city, take what you need and bug the hell out. Get into the countryside as fast as you can. You’ll up your lifespan the minute you cross the city limits.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to get supplies at a mall or a trashed grocery store — at least not during the initial panic. Those places will be great to scavenge in the future when the bulk of your fellow humans have turned into Zeta Zeta Zeta sorority pledges.
(Get it? Zeta. Zombie. The “z” thing. Oh come on. I said you can’t take this shit too seriously. Lighten up. You’re not dead yet . . . I hope.)
In the opening days, even weeks of the apocalypse, people will flock to stores and fight like rabid dogs for the last package of ramen. Stay. Away.
If you have to try to get into a store, think Mom and Pop joints on the edge of town, and scope the place out carefully. Civilization frays really fast when people are scared out of their minds. Living humans are just as dangerous to you as dead ones during those first waves of sheer panic. They’re not thinking about anybody but themselves.
If the apocalypse is impending, start making plans for where will you go when it hits. As you’re reading this book and learning about strategy, fortifications, and storing supplies, figure out where you can stockpile your stuff and how you’ll get there when the time comes.
Right now, let’s just start small.
Chapter 2: Buy an Altoids ® Tin
Zombies hate bad breath.
Sorry. Took the low hanging fruit on that one. Back to our regularly scheduled apocalypse.
An Altoids ® tin is big enough to hold adequate minimal survival gear to get you through a few days if you’re stuck away from home and your main source of supplies.
In survivalist speak, we’re talking about an “every day carry” kit – something small enough to have on your person at all times so you can respond effectively to “high probability events” like the zombie apocalypse.
Ideally, you will have a cache of supplies at both your home and a remote location, but let’s start with what you can carry on your person every day.
Emergency Supplies as “Every Day Carry”
Pretty much everybody uses some kind of gear bag these days to lug around all the crap we think we need to get us through the day. Not using the bag we’re already carrying to keep an EDC kit with you so you’re ready to bug out at a minute’s notice is kinda stupid. I’m just saying.
Now, a word of caution. Be sure not to run your mini survival gear through security at the airport, though. The TSA gets all upset about things like razor blades and pocket knives. They’re narrow minded that way.
Before the power goes out, you can get on YouTube and find about a jillion examples of Altoids ® tin rigs. It’s almost a hobby among survivalists to create the perfect miniature survival kit.
And actually, treating your EDC like a hobby while you have time to tinker and refine the contents is an excellent plan. I’m going to run down some ideas about things that you can include, but there are no absolutes here. Your environment should affect all your preparation decisions. Urban survival is very different from wilderness survival.
Obviously you’re limited by the size of the tin, but that’s the point. Design something you can have with you at all times.
The Tin Itself
Start with a standard size Altoids ® tin, which will set you back about $1.50. Here’s how much room you’ll be working with:
- length 3 13/16th inches (9.68 cm)
- width 2 7/16th inches (6.19 cm)
- depth 3/4 inch (1.91 cm)
Secure the tin when it’s closed with a couple of thick rubber bands or ranger bands (more on those in a second.) Sure, using the bands will keep the lid in place, but they’re also just one more useful piece of equipment crammed into the overall package. As long as you maintain the low profile of the tin, which is the whole point of this exercise, affix whatever you want to the outside with tape.
If you’re not intending to open the tin often, seal the lid with a piece of black electrical tape to make it more waterproof. It’ll stay sticky forever. Or go for Gorilla Tape. That stuff would survive any apocalypse.
I actually prefer putting the tin in a small, heavy duty Ziplock ® type bag and then securing the rubber bands in place over that.
My philosophy is to include every potentially useful and re-usable component possible. Weight isn’t a factor, plus, by the time you’re done the tin will be so crammed full of supplies it won’t rattle.
If it does, you can always put in a couple of extra cotton balls, which, as you will see, do double duty for first aid and as tinder to start a fire.
Understand that the tin itself is part of your usable survival gear. You can purify water by boiling it in the tin, and you can even use the tin as a small “stove” for heating food. The material is durable enough to withstand a low flame.
Face it, when the apocalypse hits, you will have missed lunch that day because you’re just that lucky. As I’ve already pointed out, scavenging in grocery stores in the beginning will not be a good idea. Do yourself a favor and start carrying 2 or 3 packets of instant oatmeal around in your regular day bag.
If you’re on the run and just trying to stay alive at the moment, you don’t want to be weighted down with extra junk. You have to eat, but you also have to stay mobile. I guess you could beat a zombie to death with a can of Campbell’s Chunky Soup, but I don’t plan to test the theory any time soon.
At this stage of the game, a few spoonfuls of hot oatmeal will keep you alive, and you can easily shove them in your pocket if you have to ditch your larger bag to be more mobile.
(Don’t throw the envelopes away! They’re designed to hold water for mixing the oatmeal, and paper is always potential tinder.)
Remember, the apocalypse won’t have you starved down yet. Two-thirds of all Americans are overweight. For the first month or so, you’ll probably have plenty of fat to burn. Think of the whole thing as kind of a zombie zumba diet.
So yeah, Altoids ® tin oatmeal may taste like day old brick mortar, but all you need to make it is a little water.
Inside the Lid
Use the space inside the lid of the Altoids ® tin to tape small flat items like a:
- standard razor blade
- sturdy sewing needle
- waterproof match striker
UCO makes a Stormproof Match Kit with 25 matches and 3 strikers for $6.75. Use one of the strikers for your Altoids ® kit and include 2 or 3 of the matches.
You can also tape down elements of a fishing kit in the lid, but the practicality of that will vary by circumstance.
Mini Fishing Kit
You probably won’t be hanging out in the bass boat after the world goes to hell, but here’s what you’ll need to if you do decide to include the fishing kit option. Almost any insect will work for bait.
- Three eyelet screwsto put in a branch for threading your line.
- Three or four fishing hooks.
- 3-4 split shot sinkers.
- 15-20 feet of 8 lb. test finishing line.
Tape the flat stuff in the top of the box (or to the sides of the base.) Use a section of hollow plastic pen to hold the sinkers, with your line wrapped tight around it. Seal the ends of the tube off with squares of duct tape.
Emergency Signaling Options
Another option is to take a flat piece of mirror and affix it to the inside of the lid. One of the best places to find a mirror that works is to get one of those travel folding hairbrushes with a mirror in the handle. Just pop the piece out and it will be the right length for the tin’s lid.
A mirror is useful in a variety of ways, including emergency signaling. If you need to send a silent distress signal the flash of light from a mirror is clearly visible at a distance.
Of course, if you’re a hardcore survivalist, you’ll know how to use an emergency mirror to send messages in Morse code, but unless you’re part of a group, the chances that anyone who can read the code are pretty thin.
If you buy an actual survival mirror, the unit will have a built in aiming hole so you can tell where the flash of light will hit when you signal. That’s a nice option if you plan on using the light to distract zombies and head them off in another direction.
We’ll talk more about what zombies can and can’t do physically and mentally in another chapter, but basically, you can get their attention with sound and motion and use it to their advantage when you need them to be someplace other than trying to knock down the door of the house you’re hiding in.
Ultimate Survival Technologies sells a cool little Starflash Signal Mirror for $5.85 that measures 2” x 3”. It’s unbreakable, will float if you drop it, and is 90% more reflective than glass.
Another signaling option is an aluminum emergency camping whistle. I’ve seen these packaged in sets of three for around $8. They’re loud enough to be heard at considerable distances, but remember zombies come to sounds so only use your whistle if:
(1) you want the undead headed in a particular direction.
(2) you’re up to your shorts in re-animated rotting corpses and you’re trying to get someone to help you.
I’d fold up about a 2’ x 2’ square of heavy duty aluminum foil and tape it to the bottom of the tin. It’s reflective enough to be used for signaling, or you can use it to line the tin for cooking — or for that matter, fashion the stuff into a crude bowl.
Fire Starting and Cordage
Some variation of the above is about all you’re going to get in the lid of your tin. In the bottom of the box, I’d say you’re definitely going to want a Bic-type lighter for fire starting (four for about $6) in addition to your waterproof matches.
Wrap about 20 feet of strong hemp cord around the lighter just to make good use of the space. Never miss out on a chance to combine items in this fashion.
While we’re on the subject of cordage, include about 10 yards of dental floss in your kit. Just bust a box of it open and put the whole roll in the tin. That stuff is tough, and you can use it to sew things together — yourself included, which is why you taped that sewing needle in the lid.
First Aid Supplies
In addition to the dental floss and needle for stitching up wounds, take a length of a plain drinking straw, fill it with Neosporin, pinch the ends, and melt them closed with your lighter, then wrap the dental floss around the tube.
If you don’t have the guts to take a needle to yourself, you might be a little too squeamish for the apocalypse period, but a small tube of Crazy Glue is also an option.
Yeah, it’s probably toxic as all git out, but that’s the least of your worries when corpses are getting up and wandering around.
Use a small Ziplock ® bag, like the kind jewelry comes in to hold one or two doses each of ibuprofen and Benadryl ®.
Keep this package flat and small. Clearly the ibuprofen is for pain, but if you do manage to get yourself in a really secure location and you can’t sleep, the Benadryl ® will calm you down enough to get some rest.
Include a sturdy pair of tweezers, a couple of adhesive bandages (also known as Band-Aids), one or two alcohol prep pads (which can also be used for starting a fire since alcohol is flammable), and a small gauze pad.
Cotton balls are also an option. They’re good for first aid uses and as tinder. Also, when they’re stuffed in the kit, they’ll keep it from rattling. Remember, when in Zombieland, silence is golden.
Definitely get a light source in there. The Streamlight 73001 Nano Light is an excellent choice for under $10. It’s made of machined aluminum and it outfitted with a 5mm white LED. The whole thing is only 1.47 inches long and you’ll get about 8 hours of declining usable output.
Find some red transparent cellophane and cut a square large enough to be folded over the end of the Streamlight and secured in place with one of your rubber bands. Red light preserves night vision but provides enough illumination to work by.
The snap hook on the end of the light is a multi-purpose bonus. You can either remove the clip and use it as a secure attachment for another purpose, or tie on some cord and suspend the light to create a small work lamp.
Some people opt for those little keychain LEDs you pinch together with your fingers. They’re definitely flatter and will fit better in a crowded tin. Here’s a tip. If you go that route, take your knife and work the battery and the LED out of the plastic container. All you have to do to get the LED to burn is just clip it on the battery.
Lay out a piece of electrical tape and put the battery and the LED on it, then cover them with a second piece of tape. That’s about as flat and compact a flashlight as you could ask for and you can re-purpose the tape.
Lots of home-brewed, armchair, “I kill zombies in video games” types well tell you to go get a cheap knife down at Wal-Mart, break out the blade, and put that in your mini kit. Yeah. Right. Cause I’m looking to do the end of the world on a budget and lose several fingers in the process.
Do not go the cheap route when it comes to your cutting tool. Buy the CRKT RKS MK5 for about $20-$25. The high quality 3.81-inch blade sits in a fixed handle. Total weight: 1 ounce with the included sheath. The whole package is small enough to fit angled across the base of the tin.
You won’t get enough reach with a knife like this to put a zombie down, but thanks to the open handle and the holes at the top of the blade, you can lash the MK5 to a long, thick pole. Until you can get to your own supplies or acquire a better weapon, this rig should get you out of solitary zombie encounters.
As for a herd? Run Forest, run.
Other Useful Items
Don’t count on navigating by landmarks alone. Find yourself a little mini compass to the tune of $5 or so. These little babies are often called “button” compasses. They’re not the most accurate things out there, but they’ll do in a pinch and they’re literally no larger than a coat button. If you have a map or can score one, all the better.
A simple folded up coffee filter will filter big debris out of water, but I’d definitely get some water purification tablets. A package of 10 Ef Chlor tablets will get you a long way. That’s enough to clean up more than 50 gallons of water for $10 and they pack is flat enough to fit in the tin. (I’ll talk more about water contamination here in a bit.)
A two-pack of Military P-51 can openers will only set you back about $2.50 and will do a better job of opening a can than your knife. Truth be told, though, you don’t need a can opener at all.
Find a flat, rough surface — just plain old concrete — and rub the top of a can back and forth until you’ve scraped the edges down. Just squeeze the can and the lid pops right off. (I’d recommend practicing a few times, but once you get the hang of it this trick works great.)
As crazy as it sounds, one of the reasons I hear all the time for not preparing for a disaster of any kind is how much all the supplies will cost.
Are you freaking kidding me? Nobody ever saved their life in the middle of a crisis and said, “Damn. I wish I hadn’t spent $100 on that fire escape ladder.” There’s tight ass and then there’s just plain stupid.
Since you’ve probably already got a lot of the items I’ve mentioned just laying around the house (assuming you’re a pre-apocalypse reader), the basic stuff I talk about here is a pretty cheap EDC rig to assemble when you get right down to it. Obviously the extras or the alternate ideas will up the price, but the functionality in a survival situation is still more than worth your investment.
The stuff I figure you already have or that you can bum off a buddy includes:
- Ziplock® bag
- razor blade
- sewing needle
- eyelet screws
- fishing hooks
- fishing line
- aluminum foil
- hemp cord
- coffee filter
If you do have to spend some money on that second list, I’m guessing $25 tops. You can’t cram all of that into one Altoids ® tin (and it’s not out of the question to have two), but you should pick what’s going to work best in your situation — now.
The new definition of procrastination? “Purina Zombie Chow.”
Chapter 3: So What Are We Up Against?
As much as I hate to say it, everything that follows in this chapter is all technically “speculation” on my part. I’m not going to tell you that I have a friend who has a friend who has a brother-in-law who knows a guy who might work for a government think tank with initials nobody can figure out. Because even if that were true, which it is, you wouldn’t believe me.
So, let’s just pretend that everything we currently know is Hollywood’s version of fictional portrayals of zombies that actually go back to the freaking Epic of Gilgamesh in 2500 BC — because nothing we’ve been talking about for that long could possibly have a shred of truth to it.
Okay. Now. For you people who are struggling with the math? That works out to 4,514 years. And for those of you who are going “Gilga-who?” It’s the story Picard told Dathon in the “Darmok” episode of TNG. (If you’re not a Trekkie, but you actually passed high school English, it’s also an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia.)
That’s right, folks. References to the re-animated dead go back more than 4,500 years. Some screenwriter in Hollywood did not make the whole thing up no matter how much you want to believe that’s the truth. Denial might be comforting, but it won’t get you where you need to be in this situation.
Even going with the movie version of what a zombie is going to be like, it’s all a matter of picking your poison by this year’s hunkie movie star du jour. The zombies trying to take Brad Pitt down in World War Z were some pretty vicious, fast-moving antagonists because a dude like Brad can’t be taking on the wimpy undead. It’s just not a manly man thing, and Angelina wouldn’t like it.
Go rent the 1968 George A. Romero classic, Night of the Living Dead and you’ll find slow, stupid, lumbering zombies that are dangerous because there’s so many of them and they’re so mindlessly relentless.
Sit through several seasons of The Walking Dead on AMC and you’ll come to the conclusion that:
(1) zombies are always where you least expect them
(2) Rick really needs to get a Glock
(3) never trust what’s inside a locked barn
(4) I want to be Daryl when I grow up
(5) somebody you like is always gonna get chomped
(6) who figured Season 1 Carol for a Season 4 bad ass
Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Moving on.
Where is the real zombie apocalypse gonna land in the middle of all of those competing interpretations of what a zombie is and what it can and can’t do?
I already touched on this a little in the section on “Why Is This Happening to Me?” One thing I do think is a given. When the zombie plague does begin, it’ll spread like wildfire around the world in a very short period of time. Containment won’t be possible, in part because the proliferation of the disease will be exponential. We’re not talking epidemic. This will be a pandemic.
Every victim of a zombie attack becomes a zombie. I’m sure some pointy-headed math teacher could work a progression equation for us — in fact, they have, but I’m not supposed to know that — but I can give you the short answer.
And this is not a matter of just waiting around for the undead to rot themselves into uselessness. Don’t buy the “I’ll just say indoors until it’s over” line of reasoning.
Best estimates suggest that every single zombie has a “lifespan” of 3-5 years before they get too mushy, tattered, and just plain nasty to continue to pose a danger to the living.
Here’s what I think we can know about the apocalypse and zombies in broad strokes:
- Those who are infected will spread the infectionby unprovoked and spontaneous physical attack. The cause of the transformation from human to undead is likely a virus that is transmitted through the bite of an existing zombie.
- People who are wounded will likely run a high feverand be critically ill for some undetermined period of time before they die and then resurrect. It is not known if they are contagious during this stage of their transformation.
- The infected are driven by relentless hunger. I’m not sold on the whole “eat brains” thing. I think they’ll take whatever body part they can get. Zombies are cannibals, not discriminating gourmands.
- Destroying a zombie’s brain is, however, the only way to really put one down. You can blast his chest out with a shotgun and Ole Mr. Z will just get right back up and come at you again. If it weren’t so damned scary, it would almost be awesome.
All the studies I couldn’t possibly have read suggest that zombies have slow and shambling physical movements because their nervous systems no longer function correctly. Their nerves short-circuit every few seconds.
This looping malfunction makes the zombie’s physical motions halting and uncoordinated. Think of them like a flickering light bulb. It keeps trying to go out, but it never quite gets there.
Not to mention the fact that zombies take the idea of muscle atrophy to whole new levels. Even though they seem to keep moving until they look like dried out pieces of beef jerky, zombies still suffer from greatly decreased muscle mass.
Don’t convince yourself for a minute that a zombie can’t be strong, but they can be overpowered if you keep your cool because no matter what Hollywood tells you, they’re not fast on their feet and their reflexes are awful. Get over your initial revulsion and stay away from those snapping jaws and you can dance circles around one of these things.
Here’s another popular myth a lot of people latch on to. “Oh, if the zombie apocalypse hits, I’ll just find me an island somewhere and I’ll be perfectly safe.” Okay. Work with me here. They’re dead. Dead people don’t breathe. Therefore, dead people can’t drown. Come on. Do the math with me here.
Zombies don’t have to swim. They can just walk in the lake and eventually walk out on the other side. They’re not going to be strong enough to fight a good current, so getting washed downstream is likely, but sooner or later, they’ll either get out in shallow water, or just get snagged on something on the bottom and gurgle while the fish have fun with them.
Never assume that any body of water, including shallow offshore ocean water, isn’t also zombie infested. I wouldn’t be going for any swims in murky pools if I were you, and do not be drinking that stuff without excellent purification — like boiling — unless you’re just hankering for a heaping helping of Cream of Zombie Soup. (More on water purification later.)
The undead can see and they track movement with their eyes, but primarily a zombie is drawn to sound. If nothing is going on around them, they kind of just stand there and rot quietly. Unless something attracts their attention and triggers their hunger, they have no motivation to do anything. All of these qualities can be used to your strategic advantage.
Three Things You Can Never Forget
Zombies are like cockroaches — and thank God there are no zombie cockroaches because those nasty bastards are scary enough in their own right. My point is, if you see one zombie, expect all his little friends to show up for a play date sooner or later. Maybe you can’t see them right now, but they are definitely there.
Getting yourself in a situation where you have to deal with multiple zombies is bad, bad, bad. You know that rule, “There is no such thing as an unloaded gun?” Well, with zombies, there is no such thing as just one. You are always outnumbered. This is now a fact of life.
Avoid confrontations with herds, hoards, whatever the heck you want to call them. In any equation where there’s one of you and more than one zombie, the math is not in your favor.
Zombies feel no pain and are impervious to physical damage that would kill the rest of us instantly. They’ll spew all kind of nasty, putrid fluids, but they don’t bleed to death and they’ll happily keep shambling along dragging a broken leg behind them until it’s nothing but a bony stump.
Nothing but catastrophic damage to the brain puts them down. They can keep moving with a hole the size of a bowling ball blown clean through their chest.
And as if all of that weren’t bad enough, they never get tired and they never get bored. If a zombie gets you cornered somewhere and has to beat down a door to get to you, he’ll just keep clawing at that door until he get through. And the worst part? The noise he makes with all that mindless determination attracts his pals, so then he has reinforcements and pretty soon you’re screwed by the massing effect.
Never forget these fundamentals of zombie physiology.
- They’re rotting Energizer bunnies on speed.
- They exhibit single-minded determination and fixation because they feel no painand experience no fatigue.
- In volume, they will overpower you. Pun intended.
Understanding what zombies can and cannot do is the foundation for all your decisions about how and when to confront and kill them, and when to stay far, far away.
Zombie Strategy 101
All strategies are based on available resources. If you’re holed up in a solid, defensible location with tools and raw materials at your disposal, you have a lot more actionable options.
Survivors stuck on the streets or wandering the countryside face limited resources and constantly shifting terrain and logistics as well as being completely at the mercy of prevailing weather conditions.
You have to learn to read the lay of the land and work with what you have. For instance, I get real ticked off at the people who will argue endlessly on discussion boards about the “best gun for the job.” Dude. Seriously.
The best gun for the job is the one in your hand! Are you really gonna say to a snapping, snarling undead biker who is about ready to rip your head off, “Wait! Let me get my Desert Eagle Mark XIX.”
(Yeah, yeah. I know you’re jonesing for the gun talk. Fine. Are you out of your freaking NRA loving mind? A .50 cal hand gun? First off, it kicks like a mule with a bad case of hemorrhoids. If you’re in L.A., the zombies in Pittsburgh will be able to hear the damn thing. Suppression is a joke. Where the heck are you gonna find the ammo? The dang thing is 15 freaking inches long and weighs just shy of 5 lbs. Get over your Dirty Harry self already. — And he carried a .44 mag anyway.)
There’s no way I can possibly work through every strategic scenario with you. I can give you some basic information so you can start thinking like a survival strategist, because that’s what you are now. This is not a video game. You have to make good decisions, or you won’t be making any decisions at all.
So, to recap our discussion so far, here’s the intel on zombies that we realistically have to work with going into this thing. These characteristics and traits are reliable givens for encounters with the undead.
- virulently infectious bites
- relentless hunger
- indiscriminate cannibalism
- physically slow
- death by brainshot only
- can’t swim, but water is not an obstacle
- drawn to sound
- depend on external stimulusfor motivation
How do we use this knowledge to our advantage? Well, for starters, don’t get bit and don’t think there are any “good” zombies out there.
- All zombies bite.
- All zombies will try to eat you.
You can’t domesticate the undead.
The “not getting bit part” should be stating the obvious, but I’m trying to make a really serious point here. Avoiding bites is a proactive process.
When you have to go into an area infested with zombies, don’t just protect yourself with the biggest baddest gun you can find. You need some kind of personal shielding.
Sooner or later, you will have to enter some location – on purpose — where zombies are present. Hence the idea of purposeful preparation. At the very least go in with your extremities (read “arms and legs”) protected.
Trust me. The new “greeters” at that trashed Wal-Mart chocked full of useful supplies will offer you a warm welcome — right before you join the ranks of the undead Walmartians for eternity.
(If that happens, and for the sake of what little bit of tattered dignity you may have left, I hope your tattoos are spelled correctly.)
Once you’re over the initial panicked reaction and you’re a little more used to the undead, you won’t find it all that difficult to evade a single zombie when you can see it coming at you. In fact, they can be fairly predictable.
But if you come around the Mountain Dew display and run right into the undead Duck Dynasty crew? Chances are good one of those warmed over hillbillies will take a hunk right out of you for the simple reason that they took you by surprise.
Go into this kind of situation with as much personal shielding as you can rig and still stay mobile to avoid being taken unawares. It happens to everyone. The element of surprise isn’t always something you can control, but trust me, your reflexes and reaction time will improve the longer you do this.
Personal shielding doesn’t have to be prefabricated or all that elaborate. Even thick corrugated cardboard strapped to your forearms with duct tape can serve as makeshift gauntlets and could give you just enough time to fend off a zombie attack.
If you can swing it, actual riot gear would be a huge advantage, but it’ll set you back better than $600 a suit. Now, for that you’ll get hard shell panels over your back, chest, forearms, thighs, and knees with flex at key points. That includes a helmet and protective goggles.
It won’t make you RoboCop, but you’ll be close enough to live to die another day.
Hiding in Plain Sight
The strategy of hiding in plain sight is highly questionable and in my opinion way too risky. I think the undead can smell the living. Just trying to fall in with the hoard and mimic their uncoordinated shuffling won’t let you blend in.
Even if you try to make yourself smell dead by rubbing zombie goo all over your body, you still have a beating heart. You’re breathing. They just know.
I don’t care how good it looks in the movies or on TV. Zombies are dead, their nervous systems are shorted out, they don’t think, and they’re not very fast, but they can spot their next Happy Meal a block off.
Whatever is left in them that constitutes instinct or a “mind” works well enough to tell the difference between fresh meat on the hoof and day old road kill. They don’t go around eating each other. They’re looking for something with a pulse — you.
Use Sound Diversions
Thanks yet again to the movie industry, a lot of people expect to spend the entire apocalypse running and screaming with hoards of zombies chasing after them.
If that were true, you’d have the luxury of dropping dead from a heart attack instead of getting eaten. Go back and look at that list of zombie capabilities, Nimrod.
Zombies are attracted to sound, especially run-for-your-life girly screams. Done correctly? The apocalypse is gonna be your ultimate “quiet time.” You actually want to avoid the whole running screaming thing because it makes you look like what you are, prey.
While you are doing do everything possible to move and live silently, the zombies are going to be stumbling around chasing down every rusty screen door banging in the wind.
Their behavior doesn’t constitute high level hunting, but it’s hunting all the same. Use that understanding of what they do and why they do it to your advantage.
If you need to be at Point A, which is completely surrounded by the undead, rig something that makes noise to get them interested in moving over to Point B.
Now. A warning. Every single zombie in the vicinity that hears that noise will start dragging their stinking selves over to see what’s for supper. Do whatever you were planning to do and get out of there because you will have a herd on your hands in nothing flat.
Remember, one of the greatest threats zombies pose is sheer numbers coupled with tireless single-mindedness. You can deal with one or two if you’re adequately prepared, but if 50 back you down an alley? Game over.
Regardless of where you ultimately settle down or for how long you plan on being there, build obstacles that capitalize on the fact that zombies are uncoordinated and lack the muscle mass or dexterity to perform fine motor functions.
Sure, a gang of zombies can push down a fence, but they won’t climb it per se. The ones in back of the “line” may pile on top of the ones in front though. That’s actually one threat scenario they got right in the World War Z scene when Jerusalem is overrun.
Zombies don’t say, “Excuse me.” They will trample right over one another and keep coming. If you let the bodies pile up, you have a problem. Fences are good, but it’s essential that the perimeter be policed daily.
Yep. That’s right. You have to clean up after yourself during the apocalypse. (And you thought Fido’s poop bags were bad.)
I’ll talk about this more later, but as soon as you smell a zombie, you’ll know why taking out the garbage is not only a necessary chore for health and safety, but also something you’ll actually want to do.
From just the standpoint of trying to achieve some new normal, looking at decaying zombies all day is well beyond demoralizing. Beyond that matter of post-apocalyptic aesthetics, however, there are still plenty of deliciously deadly illnesses and diseases you can pick up from parasites that have fed off those rotting corpses. Ditto for drinking fouled water.
Pitfall traps are excellent, but they do require work on your part. You don’t need anything sophisticated for tripping up and capturing zombies. Just dig a hole deep enough that once they fall into it, they can’t get out.
There’s always the option of burying upright sharpened stakes on the floor of the pit, but since only a brain shot actually takes out a zombie, that’s just wasted work in my opinion — and it makes the pit harder to clean out.
The school of thought is divided on whether you cover the trap or not, but I wouldn’t take the chance of some latent instinct kicking in and the zombies going around.
Cover the opening with a thin overlaid mesh of branches and leaves. Remember, this is just camouflage to obscure the pit, you don’t want it to be able to take a human’s weight.
You do, however, have to consider what kind of human might fall through the trap: living or dead?
Unless you know for certain there are bad people in your area and you wouldn’t mind catching them, too, mark the four corners of the pit and put up a warning sign. Zombies can’t read, in case you hadn’t figured that out already.
Clearly, there is one problem with this little bit of ethics. If you have managed to lay low and not betray your position to other survivors, the warning signs will give away the fact that you’re in the area.
I’d rather risk letting other people know my whereabouts than be responsible for some poor schmuck falling into a pit of the undead, but I’ll leave that one up to you and your conscience.
Cheval de Frise
Yeah, okay, I didn’t really know what to call it. I had to go online and search for “sharpened stake defenses” because the only French I speak is followed by the word “fries.” But that doesn’t matter.
This cheval de frise thing has been around since medieval times when it was used as an anti-cavalry measure and it works great against the undead.
The one shown here is made out of a drilled central block of wood with crossed iron stakes. Doable if you have the tools, but you can just use a log for a central frame and lash smaller sharpened stakes to it to form the “x” shapes.
Put these around your perimeter and the undead will stroll right into the nice sharp points without batting an eye. Just like that. Zombie-ka-bob.
Of course you’ll have to come along and put ’em down and pull ’em off, but better that than have your defenses breached.
This approach is much more effective than rolls of barbed wire, by the way, because the first zombies will pile up on the wire and make it solid enough for the second wave to make it over.
Also, you can get the materials to make a cheval de fries more readily than you can come by enough wire to really make a solid perimeter barrier.
Always think in terms of maximum return for your effort. The only man-hours you may have at your disposal during the apocalypse are your own. That makes sweat equity a whole lot more valuable and personal.
Watch, Look, Listen
Hopefully you’re starting to get the idea. The more you observe zombies in action, the better you’ll understand what they can and can’t do.
SunTzu, the Chinese military strategist, best known for The Art of War, said,
“If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles . . . if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”
For the most part, surviving humans won’t rely on offensive strategies. By definition, an apocalypse is more or less a defensive engagement.
I mean come on, war of attrition? Wearing down the enemy? Not gonna work with millions of undead shambling around. You can’t exactly bleed an enemy dry when he doesn’t bleed in the first place.
But getting conversant with basic defensive strategies can help you to start thinking like a savvy survivor. It’s good to know about things like:
- The boxing maneuver where you “box in” your opponent and come at him from all sides. (You obviously will have to be part of a survivor group for this one to work.)
- Using a geographic “choke point” to concentrate the enemy in a confined area.
- Building fortifications and defenses, which we’ve just talked about.
And the one you should never think twice about using? Withdraw!
Know when to throw in the towel and back off. I call this the “we need a bigger boat” moment. If Quint had listened to Brodie in Jaws he wouldn’t have been reverse sushi. I’m just saying.
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