With their guns cocked and ready, two engineers turned zombie hunters crept through a door and into madness. A dozen bloody, undead faces awaited.
Steve Wynn and Eric Timmerman, who had taken holiday leave to kill zombies, put dozens of bullets in their brains, which turned out to be plastic.
These were zombie targets and dummies, not the flesh-eating ones, and Wynn and Timmerman encountered them at a gun range at the end of a gravel road in Winchester, Virginia. They were students in Zombie Survival 101: Surviving the Horde, a class offered by a state firearms training company that has, like much of the gun world, become infested with zombies.
Around the United States, gun enthusiasts are turning pop culture's fascination with the undead into a socially acceptable target. They are joining zombie eradication teams and snapping up zombie targets, zombie ammunition, zombie gas masks and even zombie killing textbooks, which explain that the only way to execute a zombie is with a head shot.
Late last month, nearly 1,000 people gathered on a Minnesota farm for Outbreak Omega, an annual event of simulated zombie attacks where shooters even rode in a local police team's armoured truck.
"It's politically incorrect to shoot human targets," explained Larry Ahlman, the long-time owner of Ahlman's gun store, the host of the Minnesota event. "And it's getting politically incorrect to shoot animal targets. It's a little boring to shoot circular rings all day. But nobody can find a place in their heart for a zombie. So it's really the perfect thing to shoot."
Cultural historians and gun-world observers say there are deeper societal forces at work.
Zombies and guns are a perfect match, they say, especially for a new generation of gun enthusiasts raised on graphic video games and movies and TV shows such as World War Z and The Walking Dead that feed a quintessentially American hunger for end-of-the-world fantasies.
"The perennialness of zombies is really fascinating," said Kelly Baker, a religious historian and author of The Zombies Are Coming! The Realities of the Zombie Apocalypse in American Culture. "Zombies are so malleable. As a metaphor, they are really effective for just about anything." A US doomsday community which encourages people to save and prepare for the apocalypse, is using zombies for recruitment.
"To protect and sever" is the motto of the Zombie Response Team, a Texas group.
"How do we accomplish this?" the group's website says. "Through educating each other about how to be prepared for any disaster that may come our way, including a zombie apocalypse. As they say, if you can survive a zombie apocalypse, you can survive anything."
Zombies have even become a metaphor for disease outbreaks and mass casualty attacks, with both the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Defence Department having used zombie hordes in training documents and simulations.
A group of mathematics professors published a paper titled, When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modelling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection.
Whether Wynn and Timmerman realised it or not, experts say the zombie threat plays into a never-ending fascination with the end of the world.
"We all believe that we will be the one who survives," said a University of Ottawa professor and author of the mathematical zombie infection study who writes his name as Robert J. Smith?. (He said he spells his name with a question mark to differentiate himself from other Robert J. Smiths.)
But the professor questioned whether firearms were a suitable defence.
"One zombie versus one human, humans are going to win that," he said. "Humans are smart, they're agile, and so on. But it's not usually that. It's usually a thousand zombies versus 10 humans."
And he points out that those aren't good numbers, even for an Uzi machinegun.
"They don't need to sleep and they don't need to eat," he said. "All they want to do is feast on your brains. We have to sleep. We have to sustain ourselves. So that's where zombies tend to have the advantage."
Shooting in United States city of Indianapolis possibly caused by two people bumping into each other
A shooting in the US city of Indianapolis that injured seven people may have been set off by two people bumping into each other in the street, police said.
The gunfire erupted about a half-hour before bars were to close at 3am in a neighbourhood popular with university students and other young people.
"It looks like it was two guys bumped into each other and it took off from there. There was no rhyme or reason," Indianapolis police chief Rick Hite said on Saturday.
Police arrested a 23-year-old man on a preliminary charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm and questioned him about the shooting. He was not charged in connection with the shooting.
Investigators were still trying to sort out what happened more than 12 hours later, and were hoping witnesses would come forward.
Police said one man was in critical condition at a local hospital. Five other men and a woman were also shot, but did not have life-threatening injuries, authorities said. All of the victims are in their 20s.