Bands of camo-clad, Nerf gun-wielding students, fleeing for their lives from other students covered in blood and hungering for brains, have been an increasingly common sight on the VCU campus in the past week.
“That’s probably us,” said Adam Seats, junior English major and event organizer for Z-Day: VCU, whose annual showdown between the living and the undead kicked off this Monday at the Compass.
Both first-time and veteran zombie killers turned out to the gathering Monday night, each sporting their finest battle regalia, advanced and/or modified Nerf gun technology, foam axes, swords and at least one squeaky rubber mace.
Seats, with senior English major and head Z-Day organizer Nicholas Earley, initiated the crowd in the rules of the week-long survival game, whose playing field is anywhere outdoors between Cary, Harrison, Broad and Main streets.
A blue arm band indicates a human player; a red arm band indicates a zombie player. Instead of transmitting the virus into the human bloodstream by bite, Z-Day zombies convert humans to their gruesome ranks by means of a five-second hug.
Humans can keep the undead at bay – for a time – with a hit from a Nerf gun or a variety of synthetic melee weapons. Zombies, however, can “reanimate” into a hug-ready state by finding and touching a trash can. This makes certain locations well-populated by trash cans, such as the Compass, particularly dangerous for humans on the run.
Excessive force and, for zombies, hugging below the waist, are strictly off-limits.
Many survivors at the Compass on Monday arrived bedecked in references to their preferred zombie canons. Lee Reid, freshman mechanical engineering major, said his outfit was originally meant to evoke Simon Pegg’s Shaun from the romantic zombie comedy (billed a “rom zom com”) “Shaun of the Dead.”
But, Reid said, “There’s a guy whose name is actually Shaun who said he was gonna come as Shaun, so … I untucked (my shirt) and rolled up the sleeves, and now I’m Louis from ‘Left 4 Dead.'”
“Unlimited ammo,” Reid said, describing his preference for foam swords over Nerf projectiles. “You don’t have to worry about reloading it … I do have a (Nerf) gun, too. I just put it in my bag to sneak it out past security. I live in a residence hall, and I’m probably not supposed to have it.”
While other universities, including the University of Virginia and Longwood University, hold similar “human vs. zombie” events that last typically for a day, Z-Day: VCU is unique in that it takes place over the course of a week. A designated break over the weekend coincides with the Carytown Zombie Walk and RVA Zombie Film Festival at the Byrd Theatre (for information, see the CT’s Halloween event planner).
Z-Day has taken place at VCU on a week close to Halloween for the past four years. While Z-Day originally consisted of more improvisatory, unplanned zombie breakouts around the city, current organizers also schedule planned “missions” that encourage participants to concentrate their efforts to preserve humanity against the undead menace.
For example, participants can be sent to “rescue” a survivor – perhaps with a “broken leg”, or otherwise incapacitated – from a location, perhaps the ram horns at the Commons Plaza, which has been set up for the purposes of the mission with a concentration of angry ghouls.
“If you don’t plan out anything, what happens is people will sit in their houses, and at the end of the week they’ll come out and be like, ‘I am the ultimate survivor,’” Earley said.
Interested zombies or zombie dinners can become involved in the rest of Z-Day week by contacting event organizers through their Facebook page, “Z-DAY: VCU,” at http://www.facebook.com/groups/5512287887/.
Photos by Amber-Lynn Taber