Truly, Deeply, Endlessly
by Tony Noland
He stood as she approached. Bundled against the cold, carrying her hat in her left hand rather than wearing it, she came closer, a slightly hesitant look on her face.
"Richard?" she said.
"Yes, it's me, Richard Tollofson, although maybe I should call myself ZombieFanBoi."
Her face split into a wide smile. She laughed as she shook her head.
"Thank God! I had this image of walking around asking guys in the park, 'Excuse me, I'm FleshBiterMama...are you ZombieFanBoi?'. I guess I should introduce myself properly. I'm Melinda, Melinda Jackson."
They shook hands, and then stood, awkward in a sudden silence. Across Lake Shore Drive, a few hardcore joggers and walkers moved along the paths near the frozen beach. Lincoln Park itself was pretty empty.
"Um, so..." she said, "should we go get a coffee or something? I'll be honest, this is the first time I've ever met one of my online friends in real life for a... you know, a get-together." She blushed slightly. He looked at the ground.
"Yeah, it's a new one for me, too. Actually, I thought maybe we could just walk, you know? Talk a bit?"
She looked around the park, at the ice on the shore, the joggers, the stilled and silent tourist booths by the marina.
"We could go somewhere with more people around. I don't mean to make you uncomfortable. I just would rather be outside on a day like this. Do you want to go to the zoo?"
"Are you kidding? It's freezing out here!" She laughed again, pulled her hat on. "This isn't going to be much of a lunch date if we're incompatible right off the bat!"
He smiled slightly. "The cold doesn't bother me much. Tell you what, I think I saw a lunch vendor up on Lincoln. I'll buy you a cup of coffee. Between that and the walk, it'll be almost as warm as being inside."
Her eyes glanced over his shoulder, at the Starbucks sign on Clark Street, across from the park. His sunglasses were the wrap-around kind, mirrored. Her own face, stretched and distorted, was reflected back at her.
"Well... OK. But let's get moving, Richard, it really is kind of harsh out here. It smells like it's going to snow."
"Does it?" He drew in a long, deep breath, let it out. "Hmm, I'm not getting anything. What does impending snow smell like? Like impending rain, only colder?"
She laughed, her breath a fog between them.
"You goon." She dug her hands into her pockets and they set off, faces into the wind.
"So, you live north of the Loop?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said, "I live over in Wicker Park, not too far from here."
"How do you like it? I hear it's getting pretty gentrified these days."
"Yeah, but it kind of goes through cycles, you know? Bad, then good, then bad again."
"How long have you lived there?"
He didn't answer right away. For more than a minute, they walked in silence.
"A long time. A real long time. Look, Melinda, I guess that kind of brings me to what I really wanted to say."
"The fact is... well, I don't meet many people. In real life, I mean. The internet is great, lets me have lots of friends online, but real life is a whole different matter."
She didn't respond, but only dug her hands deeper into her pockets as they continued to walk.
"It's not that I'm shy or antisocial or anything. I like people, like to be around people. It's just that I have a ... condition that keeps me kind of isolated. Very isolated, actually. It's not a medical thing," he said quickly. "I mean it's not a disease or a sickness or anything. It's just ... part of who I am."
They walked in silence.
"Jeez," he said, "this is hard. I didn't think it would be this hard to, you know, to tell you. It's just that... well, look, I like you. I mean I've come to like you a lot, and I just don't think it's fair to you for us to keep chatting and sending e.mails and tweets back and forth without you... knowing."
She stopped, turned to face him.
"Without me knowing what, Richard?"
He stood, looking at the ground. After a moment, he reached up and removed his sunglasses. Dead gray eyes, rimmed with bruised purple flesh stared out at her.
She took two steps back, her body rigid.
"I can dye my hair," he said, "and rub tanning solution onto my skin. I can even paint my nails a normal flesh tone. But my skin is always cold and I can't do anything about my eyes. They just don't make contact lenses for zombies, Melinda. I ... I'm sorry." He looked back down at the ground. "I was hoping you might... I'm sorry, I shouldn't have tried this. It was stupid, and I'm sorry. Christ, I'd weep if I could. I should know by now not to... I'm sorry. How could I hope that you'd understand when -"
He stopped, looked at her.
"I do understand. I've suspected this for awhile. Now that I know for sure... I just wanted you to know that I think it was a brave thing you did, coming out like this."
At her words, his expression of despair slowly turned into one of rising hope. She drew her hands from her pockets and held them out to him.
Twin cracks erupted from the HK 9mm pistols she held, small flashes licking from the barrel shrouds. Richard's head exploded, sending a spray of dried flesh backwards in a gray cloud. His body dropped to the ground.
She leaned into the button mic on her collar.
"Got him," she said.
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