MANCHESTER, N.J. - When they come, you can try to reason with them, using that delicious brain of yours.
You can remember they were once people too, figure out what it is you did to make them want to now eat you and hope to convince them you want to live in peace. Rather than pieces.
But I'm going to fight the undead bastards.
And I'm not alone.
For the worriers among us, there's a lot of random and unscientific stuff to fear in 2012. The end of the Maya calendar in December, some believe, heralds our collective end. Online, some are chatting about three alien spaceships heading our way, along with Planet X that will sideswipe Earth. That's if solar flares don't burn us to Tator Tot crispness first.
It's impossible to reasonably prepare for these threats NASA says are unreasonable. But we can ready ourselves -- gather our meat-cleavers -- for any fight with the undead.
You heard me. Don't try to look away. It's time for every man, woman and child to soldier up.
From Los Angeles to London, zombie survival courses are filling up fast.
In the '50s, families worried about commies.
Today, it's reanimated corpses.
"In a time of catastrophe, some people find their humanity; others lose theirs," explains Michigan State University professor Glenn Stutzky of his summer course, Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse: Catastrophes and Human Behavior.
He's interested in teaching behaviour through pop culture, such as Brad Pitt's zombie movie World War Z, due out next year. If there is a next year.
Me? I'm interested in keeping my head.
At a course in Worcestershire England, they've practised fighting zombies with paint balls and simulated grenades.
But I need real firepower to preserve my humanity.
And who would have guessed our best hope would be found in New Jersey.
Tucked in the New Jersey Pines, there's a winter hunting club that, at this time of year, turns into the Zombie Survival Course.
With apple blossoms in the wind, it would be easy to lulled into a false sense of ease here. But this is the home of the mythical New Jersey Devil, a flying biped with hooves.
"Growing up, every kid is taught unexplained noises are the New Jersey Devil," says Sue Scelza, who runs the school with husband Mark.
Any strange clamour, these days, could be cadavers heading away from the hunting club, where students practise with 9-mm and .45-cal. handguns along with M4 carbines and Smith and Wesson M&P 15-22 rifles. Did I mention the crossbow?
And over there, physical therapist Laura Legaspi is whacking husband, Pete, with training batons. Every thump brings laughter. They've come for fun -- but also function.
"Since 9/11, everyone would like to be better prepared," says Laura, a New York native.
She talks against a backdrop of gunshots. Then an old truck starting up.
Nearby, Ed 'The Reverend' teaches a session on hot-wiring.
"You can't rely on AAA when they're all home looking after their own," says Ed, who doesn't want his last name used because he works with the government.
"What about EMP blasts?" student Janice Celeste asks of electromagnetic pulses that can kill electronics.
I'm not sure how zombies acquired an EMP weapon, but it's a good question.
Under the label of play, students learn to stitch gaping wounds and what to carry in a "bug-out" survival bag. The training can run for a day or a weekend.
Owner Mark says the skills can help in a crisis situation: "But we do our best to make it fun and entertaining with the zombie theme."
But Eric Schneyder is having doubts.
A tattooed, muscle-bound survivalist, he'd be first pick if you were choosing a home team to defend humanity.
However, the 37-year-old carpenter from Philly wanted less fantasy and more preparation for real threats.
When disaster strikes, he's sure it'll be the biggest dog with the biggest stick who will live.
He looks over the average citizens, timidly taking up arms and laughing as they beat on one another with pliable batons. Then he sizes them up.
"The truth is, if something happened, all these people would be dead," he figures, sure they would forget what they've learned.
But the truth is, I'm coming away with a valuable first lesson in shared humanity.
If the impossible were to happen, and the undead come for you and me, there will be a place for those who haven't been properly trained.
They'll be needed to give the rest of us time to run.
A zombie primer:
A zombie is a walking corpse.
In early references, it took magic or witchcraft to raise bodies from the dead or turn the living into hypnotized beings walking in a trance.
Time magazine credits the 1929 novel, The Magic Island, by William Seabrook, for introducing 'zombie' in western speech.
In 1932, the Bela Lugosi film White Zombie premiered.
But modern zombie lore was born from George A. Romero's 1968 cult-classic, Night of the Living Dead.
American musician and filmmaker Rob Zombie is not, in fact, a zombie.
In 1994, the Irish rock band, The Cranberries, reached the pop charts in Canada, and elsewhere, with the protest song Zombie. It was about the troubles in Northern Ireland.
Believers of voodoo say a sorcerer can reawaken the dead.
Legend says salt will cause a zombie to return to a grave.
In South Africa, it was once believed children could create a zombie spell.
In the 1980s, Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis wrote two books on the idea that powerful drugs could be behind the zombie legend.
Zombies can't drown. They're already dead.
How to recognize a zombie
There seems to be some confusion when it comes to recognizing a run-of-the-mill zombie.
More specifically, there are concerns we may not be able to tell the difference between an actual invasion of the walking dead and the daily comings and goings of reality stars.
To keep the likes of the Kardashians, Jersey Shore alumni and dancing celebrities safe from harm, here is a quick reminder of how you can quickly tell the difference between a zombie and a celebrity.
A zombie is usually a dim-witted, slow moving, ill-tempered body that's lost its humanity and self-respect.
Be careful. A reality celebrity is often similar, but includes a telltale bottle tan and hair extensions.
A zombie is looking to feed on your brain.
A reality star is, well, actually after the exact same thing.
You can stop a zombie with a hard blow to the head, running it over or setting it on fire.
To get a celebrity to go away, just ignore it.
You can't have a reasonable conversation with a zombie.
Again, this is a pretty much a tie with a celebrity.
Zombies are, despite seeming to shuffle along in packs, solitary beings that walk aimlessly across the landscape.
Reality stars always have publicity agents -- and some guy with a hand up to seem like he's blocking a camera shot -- nearby.
Zombies hate bright lights in their dead eyes.
Celebrities are attracted to any glare.
Zombies do not procreate -- but they can bite or scratch you to create others of their kind.
Snooki is pregnant.
Zombies used to be productive members of society.
Reality stars can't say the same thing.
You wouldn't open your front door to a zombie.
Every day, we invite reality stars right in.
Types of zombies
If you think there's only one type of zombie, you'd be, well, dead wrong.
Here are some of the main categories of the undead.
Among zombie geeks, George R. Romero's brand of staggering, shuffling corpse is simply called the 'Slow Zombie'. Basically, your dad's undead.
The 'Crawler' - popularized in video games - is the zombie that's either missing legs or has been wounded and still tries to crawl forward to reach a victim.
Modern zombies are often depicted as being faster than an Olympian on crack. In the movie 28 Days Later, 'Runners' were able to break all the expected physical restraints and sprint at top speed.
While vintage zombies were created by magic, over the past half-century, most have mutated into 'Biters' thanks to mysterious viruses that are transmitted through saliva, scratches or even through the air.
Most zombies are considered rather stupid. But there are depictions, including in the Evil Dead films that have created 'Leaders' who can plot and strategize your doom.
Sure the undead are often uncoordinated freaks, but Michael Jackson was able to create 'Dancing Zombies' that had more rhythm than most suburban high school proms.
'Floaters' are zombies carried on ocean currents. In the video game Dead Island, they vomit on victims.
The 'Zombie Superhero' - two words not often put together - was created in 2005 when Marvel comics created Marvel Zombies, which turned their usual heroes into the undead.
'Pets' are a breed used in movies such as Shaun of the Dead and graphic novels.
The 'Superhuman Zombie' is a corpse that happens to have abilities no human can boast. Think jumping from roofs and crawling up the sides of buildings.
Finally, don't show any compassion to any of these zombies. Online, there's a name for bleeding-heart zombie lovers - the 'Zespain'.
Other global threats
Threats to humanity in 2012 and how they compare to a zombie apocalypse:
Nuclear war - Always a favourite among worriers, this threat has been around for more than half a century and still causes raw nerves. More likely than an attack from the undead.
End of the Maya Calendar on 21 December 2012. Said to herald a transformative event. Too vague to compare with the undead.
The gravitational pull between the sun and a supermassive black hole - dubbed Sagittarius A - will pull the Earth apart. Scientists say this is ridiculous, so we put it as even-odds with meeting up with the undead at your mailbox.
A mass extinction, caused by a comet impact or other cosmic mishap, which some believe happens every 26 million years. Right about, um, now. Catastrophic events have taken place on our planet in the past, so this one rises above the undead on the threat meter.
Global terrorism? We fear this more than lumbering brain eaters.
Some are afraid giant solar flares will take out life on Earth this year. NASA says they don't fear that happening. We still put the risk above zombies, but only because we know the sun exists.
Hitting, or a near-miss with a mysterious Planet X - also called Nibiru -- will throw our globe off balance. Since this comes from those who say they read the thoughts of space aliens, it's as likely, or even less so, than a zombie attack.
A 'Photon Belt' is a new age movement theory that has a ring of photons bombarding Earth, causing a shift in the planet's physical makeup or leading to a spiritual transition among humans. Sounds as plausible as your neighbour trying to eat your brain.
NASA issued a press release debunking a theory of the red supergiant star Batelgeuse -- located more than 400 light years away - going supernova and impacting Earth this year. Experts say it can't be predicted when that could happen and it's too far away from Earth to affect our planet. So the risk doesn't seem much greater than zombies.
Some claim there are three large spaceships heading our way, and will arrive later this year. We're only worried if zombies are piloting them.
Zombies have little to say other than 'Brains' and 'Arrgghhh'.
But there's been plenty said about them.
Here are some memorable quotes you might want to remember before you turn into one of them.
"Use your head; cut off theirs."
- Author Max Brooks, The Zombie Survival Guide.
"They're coming to get you Barbara!"
- Johnny, Night of the Living Dead (1968).
"It is truly universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains."
- Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
"I love zombies. If any monster could Riverdance, it would be zombies."
- Comic and late night host Craig Ferguson.
"Your mother ate my dog!"
- Paquita Maria Sanchez, Dead Alive (1992).
"This is the way the world ends; not with a bang or whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door."
- Amanda Hocking, Hollowland.
"Zombies can't believe the energy we waste on nonfood pursuits."
- Patton Oswalt, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland.
"Cats like to cuddle more than any other living creature, including zombies, which are only half dead."
- Jarod Kintz, The Days of Yay are Here! Wake Me Up When They're Over.
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