"But you're dead!" Walter said.
The woman smiled. Despite his shock, Walter couldn't help but notice how much more radiant it made her, like somebody lighting a billion incandescent bulbs on the surface of the sun. Her eyes were warm and inviting, her teeth were straight and perfect and showed just the right amount of uncertainty as to make his heart flutter.
"I'm feeling rather well for a dead person," she replied.
Walter seized the edge of a chair and lowered himself into it. He massaged his shin, wincing as he did.
"Oh!" the woman said, attempting to get up, but hindered by the tarpaulin.
"My apologies, mademoiselle!" Walter said. Ignoring his throbbing shin, he assisted her out of the tarp and remained standing until she had been seated by the fire.
"Walter Wickford Middleton, at your service."
"Walter...I think that I have heard of you!" the woman said, brightening.
"Oh, well, yes, I have produced many fine works in the -"
"You're also known as Wicky, if my memory serves?" she asked, looking proud of herself.
"Yes, some people know me by that moniker," he said, deflating like a zeppelin that had dangled too close to a spire. "And whom do I have the pleasure of meeting?"
"Melisande," she said.
"Melisande, what a singular name," Walter said. "Well, Melisande, I consider it fortunate that we met when we did. I'm not sure how you survived out there in the blasted tundra, but survive you did. I daresay that I did not come a moment too soon. Are you cold? May I get you a blanket? A cup of hot tea?"
"A cup of tea would be lovely but, please, I am not cold," she said.
Walter got up out of his chair. Melisande noticed him wincing.
"Please, sit and rest. I will fetch the tea," she said. She left the room.
"Strange, strange," Walter muttered to himself. He went over to the tarpaulin and examined it. He saw no special insulation, no heater packs lining the walls. Besides that, the batteries necessary for a heater to handle the antarctic cold would be heavy and sloshing with acid.
He walked back to the fire, lit a pipe and stared past the smoke into the flames flogging the stones of the fireplace. Melisande didn't have any of the classic signs of zombieism: no bloated lumps of gas gangrene, no crackling of said lumps, she moved with the grace of a lady rather than the lurch of the damned, and she had kept her mouth away from his brains. The beauty of the entirety of her face, however, had reached right into his skull with both hands and swirled his brain around like an unexpected guest at a potluck stripping all the good bits from the stew for his own bowl.
When Melisande entered the room, Walter took no notice for he was still lost in thought near the mantle. She set down the tray of hot tea without a tinkle of china. Picking up a cup, she approached Walter from behind.
"How do you-" she began.
"Ah!" Walter started. His flailing arm smashed the tea that Melisande held back into her face, drenching her with boiling hot liquid. Steam rose off of her face and hair.
"Oh, bother, my dress," she said.
"Your face!" Walter said, leaping to seize a towel from the tea tray and gingerly blotting at her. She took his hand with the towel and pushed it onto her dress.
"This is my only dress," she said. "I must keep it looking nice."
They were very close now. Walter realized that she smelled of lilacs and honey. He also realized that he could feel the busk of her corset beneath the tea towel, and beneath that, her.
His nervous system jammed the lever from startled to concerned to flustered in one mighty pull.
"Well, er, ah," he said.
"Thank you for your help. Please, can you look at my collar?" she asked, tilting her head back to reveal an arching, delicate throat. He would've liked nothing better than to kiss it. Antarctica be damned.
"The dress is clean," he said. She pulled back and checked herself in the mirror on the back of the door. With a bit of distance, his wits returned.
"How did you not cry out? That tea gave me a burn on my hand, and yet you were completely silent. And how did you survive out in the wilderness?"
He watched her face in the mirror as it went from surprised, to disappointed, to tearful. She turned and approached him.
"If I tell you, you will cast me away," Melisande said.
Walter puffed out his chest and embraced her.
"I would never cast you away! Ever since I saw your frozen countenance amidst the Antarctica wastes, I knew that no simple chance could be responsible for our meeting and your miraculous recovery! And if I may be so bold, you have infatuated me from the very first moment that our paths crossed!"
Melisande looked up at him and sniffled.
"My recovery wasn't so miraculous," she said. She pulled away from him and her hands went to the buttons on her blouse and she began to undo them.
Walter struggled to maintain consciousness as his enthusiasm swelled.
She pulled down the top of her dress, she unhooked the front of her corset and, after dropping it to the floor, she pressed a small clasp between her breasts. The front of her sternum opened to reveal a brass pump.
Walter's curiosity struggled with his erection.
"An...robot woman? I've seen Capek's play but even my fellow members of the Candlebell Academy could not achieve anything beyond a man made of crude brass."
"I am a robot woman, it is true," Melisande replied, and the small gears and levers on the pump worked faster when she spoke, "but you are a flesh man, and you would do me a great service by dispensing with adjectives all together."
The Moral: the proper ending point of a striptease is before it becomes an anatomy lesson.
To be continued...