It's 9 a.m. on a recent Saturday and I am one of 20 day campers sitting around a fire pit in rural central New Jersey. Doused in suntan lotion and bug spray, we are all there for the same reason: to learn survival skills, particularly those meant to fend off cannibalistic corpses.
Yes, you read that correctly — cannibalistic corpses, more commonly known as zombies.
From TV favorite "The Walking Dead" to last year's blockbuster "World War Z," the flesh-eating foes are everywhere.
Now, you can channel Rick Grimes, Glenn Rhee or whoever your favorite zombie killer may be at Zombie Survival Camp in Manchester Township.
From shooting rifles and throwing knives to stitching wounds and purifying water, the curriculum provides a foundation for conquering not only the living dead, but also other emergency situations such as car accidents and floods.
"The skills you're learning today are real," says Mark Scelza, camp founder and instructor of firearms and emergency preparedness. "The zombie apocalypse is the worst-case scenario. We're preparing you for natural disasters — earthquakes, hurricanes, etc. We got a lot of thank-yous after [Hurricane] Sandy."
The camp, now in its sixth year, is run by Scelza and his wife, Suzanne, the camp's resident crossbow expert.
The couple, who live in Jobstown, N.J., are joined by two other instructors: their 19-year-old son, Sam, a bladed-weapons expert; and Jonas Sherman, a hand-to-hand combat expert and creator of Zombitsu, a defensive fighting style that focuses on how a zombie would attack.
Following welcome remarks, the group is divided into four teams of five, which remain together throughout the eight-hour camp.
On my squad, Team 3, are 15-year-old Kinjal Ruecker and her stepfather, Jason, of Silver Springs, Md.; and husband and wife Joe and Sofia Spenser of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Jason registered as a Christmas present for Kinjal, who wanted to learn how to shoot a gun. The Spensers, self-identified outdoor enthusiasts, were simply looking for a new activity.
"We like to hike and rock climb and have also taken trampoline and trapeze classes," Sofia Spenser says. "This is just another adventure for us."
No one actually believes in zombies, and only one, Kinjal, is a fan of "The Walking Dead."
In the morning, we rotate through four stations: sutures, crossbow, knife-throwing and emergency preparedness.
My team begins at sutures, where we stitch up a sliced pig's foot and also master other first aid tactics such as dressing wounds, applying tourniquets and using medical syringes (on oranges).
"Be sure not to suture the skin to the muscle," Sherman says.
Not having operated on anything since my frog dissection days in middle school, I struggle to mend the slimy hoof. My teammates appear more adept, especially Sofia, a former assistant to a dental surgeon.
Our second stop is with Mark, who discusses how to prepare for emergency situations, including the loss of electricity and clean water.
"Bottled water packs are what — $5 now?" he asks. "Buy some! You can't go three days without water, so make sure you have one gallon per person per day for at least that time."
Another way to stay hydrated, he says, is through purifying water. Methods include filtration devices such as Lifestraw and specially designed water bottles, as well as a home remedy of mixing 1 teaspoon of household bleach into 5 gallons of water.