Jeff was a pretty easy going guy. He didn't have many wants or ambitions, nor did achieving great wealth or recognition play much importance in his life. Jeff just hoped one day he'd meet a nice girl. He had moved to New York for a career opportunity, which turned out to be yet another dead-end job. Jeff quit soon after, having had an unfortunate experience with a big-headed boss, but decided to stay in Manhattan. He enjoyed what life had to offer in the big city, much better than the rural trappings of his Midwestern roots. City life was exciting, and he found it stimulating to be around lots of people with big brains. He literally fed off them, though not for intellectual reasons, one might assume. His motivations were different because Jeff was a zombie, and eating brains was kind of part of the whole undead thing.
Naturally, zombies in the city weren't immensely popular (if at all anywhere), but it was easier to blend in. For starters, people in the city really didn't look at you. Not on the subway, not riding the bus, not in line at Starbucks. Maybe this was because cities trended younger, and younger people were mostly consumed with themselves and encased in the prison of their smartphones. The other reason is that cities were much more liberal. Everyone looked like a freak, so who was going to judge anyone else for how they dressed, styled their hair, or in Jeff's case: how his face slowly decomposed over time. No, everybody there was either accepting or strategically ignorant to strangers.
Such as it was the one autumn day when as he exited the subway, a woman on the stairs mentioned to her friend how revolting the subway smelled. Jeff assumed it was him. That kind of thing often happened when he was in closed or cramped spaces. Putrescine was an unfortunate part of his life. To combat his overwhelming stench, he slathered himself in considerable amounts of cologne, which oddly gave most people the impression that he was European. Even stranger was that old people never noticed his smell at all. Jeff guessed that was because they were either so old that they could no longer smell; already accustomed to mold, must, and mothballs; or about to die themselves thus felt it polite not to judge and then be considered hypocritical shortly after. Jeff had found that old people were also less likely to judge or notice him as the vapid and iPhone-afflicted, so Jeff had found an apartment in a building full of geezerly pensioners and their cats. (More on cats later, but leave it to say that old people have a penchant for them and that they are tastier with salsa).
Autumn had arrived in the city; leaves blazed in crimson reds, electric oranges, and vivid yellows. People loved this time of year. Groups of mothers wrapped in puffy coats and hats, walked sipping lattes while picking up brightly colored leaves to give to snot-faced small versions of themselves in baby-strollers. "Look, Sequoia! Isn't it beautiful!" "Here's a red one, Paxton!" Jeff laughed. He couldn't help think about how people, on the one hand, could view death as vile and disgusting and, on the other hand, not see their contradiction in cheering on Fall. Everything around them was dying—literally everything. "Maybe it was just context," Jeff thought, as took a left on Monroe Street and headed toward work.
The Burnes Family Funeral Home and Crematorium wasn't for everyone, but it suited Jeff perfectly. Jeff had always loved science as a kid and had even majored in organic biology at college before his unfortunate encounter with the undead (coincidentally also the last time he ate at an Olive Garden™). Furthermore, the irony wasn't lost on him that his life (yet another term of irony), had become a constant lesson in organic biology, for each day brought new delights in watching his body fall to pieces. Still, his job as Mortuary Assistant Manager, afforded him flexible hours and many obvious benefits for a zombie — rotting smells, a fresh supply of brains — the usual.
But the best thing about his job was Julie. Julie worked with Jeff at the funeral home. And, while she wasn't a zombie, she was easily as outside of her natural element as was Jeff. She had come from rural Texas with hopes of getting into the theatre as a make-up artist on Broadway, but things hadn't worked out. Returning to Texas wasn't an option for Julie, so she had gotten a job at the funeral home as the Mortuary Cosmetologist. "It lets me practice my craft," she'd say, "and the dead don't chat off your ear like all those annoying thespians. But, don't take that the wrong way, Jeff. I could never say that about you!" She smiled at him and Jeff smile backed, because he could imagine how the petty dramas of self-important actors must seem like comedies, and because his own ears had fallen off years ago. Indeed, Julie was his kind of girl, and as fate would have it, Jeff was her type of man. Someone once said, "If beautiful lilies bloom in ugly waters, you too can blossom in ugly situations." It was true for Jeff and Julie. Somehow they had found their way to each other in the murk and disappointment of past lives, and that was enough.
"Let's get married!" shouted Jeff.
"Okay!" replied Julie, and then let out a nervous scream like a schoolgirl.
They embraced, making Jeff's bottom lipstick in a funny direction. Julie giggled.
"You're so funny sometimes," she said, trying to push it back place, "I think I can fix that for you."
Everything after that had a bigger-than-life kind of feeling to it. They dreamt about their future together: a small house outside the city— maybe Rye; the possibility of adopting children; and even starting their own funeral home so that Jeff could continue to have access to brains without needing to kill people. Life couldn't be better until the day that Julie asked him the question.
"Honey, when should we go to Texas to meet my parents and start planning the wedding?"
"The wedding?" Jeff asked. "I didn't think we were going to have a formal wedding?"
"What are you talking about, silly?" Julie said, slapping him on the shoulder.
"I thought we're going to elope."
"Elope? What made you think that? No, we're going to get married at my parent's house. Besides, there's no way they're letting their last child get married without a big wedding!"
"Big? How big?" This conversation was making Jeff nervous and that was not a good thing for a zombie; limbs had a tendency to fall off or eyes pop out whenever subjected to deep emotional stress. "I don't think I can do that. You know how I am with crowds."
"You'll be fine," she said, waving her hand in a forgetaboutit kind of gesture. "Don't be so nervous."
"Julie, it's not that I'll be nervous, it's that big crowds make me—hungry."
He loved her, that wasn't in doubt, but agreeing to a wedding in a remote town in Texas with a large congregation of people didn't sound like a good idea. It sounded like a blood-bath.
"Can't we do something here?" he asked. "You know cities are better for me. There are more people than in small towns. There's a lot less chance that if things go bad, I don't wind up tearing the head off someone you know. Let's agree, at the very least, that could be really embarrassing for your family."
"But Jeff, I've always dreamed of getting married by my parent's barn to a theme that's part city-chic and part country-princess. We could have an aisle of hay bales that I could walk down in my white dress, maybe with my dad's hounds at my side in those cute bow-tie collars."
"Dogs!" said Jeff. "Sorry. Dogs don't like me. The smell of death puts them off. I can't do dogs."
"Okay, no dogs. Just friends and family then."
"No. No friends or family either. For one, most of mine are card-carrying members of the walking dead. Do you know what a happens when a group of zombies get together? It called an apocalypse, Julie! Bad things happen."
"Well, what if you all tried to get to know each other a little better beforehand? Maybe a play round golf as an icebreaker?"
"Golf? Golf! You think that golf is a solution? This is not about getting acquainted with each other. This is about keeping people alive. And by-the-way, the last time I played golf my arm fell off. It took the better part of a day to sew it back on. No, I won't do it. This is all a bad idea."
Julie looked away; her eyes were watering. Jeff could tell she was hurt. It wasn't his intention. He wanted to spend the rest of his cursed life with her. She was the only girl who understood him, who accepted him, who wouldn't throw up when he kissed her. How could he deny her what she wanted?
"I love you," he said, "You know that, right?"
"I love you too," she replied, sniffling.
"I'm sorry. It's just that this is a lot for me, and I'm not my best self right now."
It was enough to change the mood. Julie put her arm around him and looked into his dead yellow eyes. Jeff grinned back with a half decaying set teeth.
"I get it," she said. "How's this then—we will have a small wedding. You don't have to invite your friends or family—at least not the undead side. No dogs. And, we will find a place for the wedding near a big enough population, so if you freak out, you won't want to eat any of my relatives or neighbors."
"I appreciate that," he said.
"But, you do need to meet my parents."
"Then it's settled," Julie said, perking up immediately. "I will look for plane tickets so we can fly down to look at venues, and you can meet Mom and Dad. I just need to check their schedule first. It might need to be at the end of the month because I think they busy doing a bunch of things for the upcoming Republican National Convention right now."
"Wait. What did you say?"
"I think they're doing some convention stuff this month."
"No," said Jeff, "the other part. Did you say your parents are Republicans?"