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The Zombie Tools sword they call "The Phalanx," for instance, is based on the Persian Yatagan sword, and the "Apocatana" is a version of the Japanese Katana, but each Zombie Tools sword includes a new twist, whether it's an extra curve or an original detail in the handle. Their line of machetes—primary weapons in zombie killing lore, according to McCarter—was made with quarter-inch blades rather than the usual eighth-inch ones to add some extra heft. But the most prominent feature of a Zombie Tools product is the acid etching each blade receives, giving it a worn, spattered look.
"We do an acid etch over the entire thing so you're not looking at such a pristine piece," says McCarter. "We want people to actually go out and use them, not just put them up on their wall."
Rob Lawlor is one of Zombie Tools' biggest customers ever since summer 2008 when he stumbled upon their shop, then located on Missoula's Northside. One night Lawlor and his friends were riding their bikes near the railroad tracks looking for a party they were supposed to attend.
"We were totally lost," he says, "but we saw some weird lights down the alley and heard music, and we thought it must be the party. When we pulled up we saw two guys with fencing helmets, gloves and rapiers sword fighting. There were fire dancers and a person blowing fire out of their mouth. Somebody handed us a beer and started showing us swords and we were like, 'Oh my God!' I started showing up every other day after that."
Lawlor has almost equipped his entire family—four brothers and his dad—with zombie blades, including "Apocatanas" and the "d'Capitan." It's an ongoing process, he says. Asked if he's preparing for a real zombie apocalypse, Lawlor laughs.
"I think some kind of an apocalypse is possible," he says. "There's a lot of shit going on in the world right now. And just like Zombie Tools says: If you're prepared for a zombie apocalypse, you're prepared for anything."
Last year, an employee of Okeechobee County in Florida posted a county evacuation plan in case of a zombie apocalypse. It includes a section encouraging people to acquire weapons from Zombie Tools in Missoula, Mont., stating: "Sending people to professionals who have a high degree of skill in creating effective tools to combat the horde should be of the highest priority. The weapon-smiths at Zombie Tools have created several highly effective weapons, which can be employed by any person of virtually any strength."
The "Annex Z" plan, as it's appropriately called, is still available on the county's website with a disclaimer: "This document was created on personal time and equipment as an exercise in creative planning...The hope is to generate ideas and concepts that will be able to be removed from the fictitious scenario response and applied to realistic scenarios."
Besides providing people a chance to think of creative evacuation plans, zombies are cropping up in college courses as a way to ponder big philosophical questions. Donald Gaff teaches a course at the University of Northern Iowa called "The Anthropology of Zombies." In his class students study topics like disease epidemics, societal collapse, consumerism, death and the question of what makes people human—all through the lens of zombies.
"I think the whole zombie phenomena is ultimately about control, or lack of control," says Gaff. "The mob zombie [underscores] the fear of an apocalypse. It has to do with what happens when the government's no longer there, family's no longer there, and you've got this situation you have no control over."