“I need you to shoot me in the head.” Howard tapped his temple. “Right here.”
Toby laughed and spilled beer down the front of his denim work shirt, then he saw Howard wasn’t laughing with him. “What? Because some dude bit you?
Howard glanced around The Suds Soaker. At twenty minutes to last call, they were alone except for Louise Hitchens, the Soaker’s owner and sole bartender. She’d been tossing back shots of Makers most of the night and wasn’t exactly eavesdropping. “Not just some dude. A fucking zombie.”
Toby laughed again, nervously, and took another swig off his beer. He’d polished off a dozen brews and lingered just south of totally shit-faced. Howard had pounded down fifteen, and he was frustratingly clear as a bell. The fact that the alcohol had no effect further convinced him he’d chosen the correct course of action.
“How do you know it was a zombie?” Toby said.
Howard wasn’t one hundred percent certain it had been a zombie. He’d pulled over two nights ago to take a piss after he and Toby had closed down the Soaker. The old country road had been dark like it can only get in the country, black and silent, as if you’re the only person for miles. There he was, dick in hand, when something came out of the night, pale and awful and making a terrible moaning sound. He’d thrown one arm up to protect his face, and whatever it was bit him good. He’d pissed all over it and himself, and maybe that made it let go. Howard had raced home, and he hadn’t left the house until tonight to ask an old friend for a special favor.
“Look, weird stuff has been happening,” Howard said. “You notice I haven’t used the facilities tonight?”
Toby frowned and then looked at the graveyard of empty beer mugs on Howard’s side of the bar. “Hey, yeah.”
“I haven’t pissed or shit or done anything else a normal person should do in two days.”
“Maybe you’re just sick,” Toby offered.
“No. Look,” Howard rolled up his sleeve and held out his forearm. The bite still looked fresh, the teeth marks deep and pronounced. “No blood. No scabs. Nothin’.”
Toby pushed his face close to Howard’s arm, examining it with a drunken intensity. “Kind of looks like an animal bite.” He brightened. “Maybe it was just a possum or something.”
“Who ever heard of a person getting attacked by a possum?”
Toby shrugged. “Okay, a coyote then.”
“It wasn’t a fucking animal,” Howard said. “I’m telling you it was a monster.”
Toby blinked. “But I don’t wanna shoot you. Who am I gonna go drinking with?”
“Look, man, I need you to do this because I can’t do it myself. That’d be suicide, and you go to hell for that.”
“Yeah, but I’d be a murderer, Howie.” Toby swayed on his stool.
“Nah, killing a monster don’t make you a murderer. Those guys on the Walking Dead ain’t murderers, right?”
“Rick’s a goddamn hero,” Toby said.
Howard smiled. “Fuckin’ aye he is. Just like you’re gonna be.”
“Hey, assholes,” Louise said from the other end of the bar. “It’s three o’clock. We’re closing.”
“Keep your panties on.” Howard hopped off his stool and tossed two crumpled twenties on the bar. “Come on, Toby, we’re leaving.
Outside, Toby leaned against his F-150, still covered with rock dust from his work day at the quarry. His resolve had wavered since leaving the bar. “I don’t wanna . . .” He stopped, and his stomach gurgled loudly. Howard thought Toby might puke, but his friend fought the good fight and swallowed a mouthful of bile and beer.
“You still got that Ruger in your glove box?” Howard asked.
Toby looked away. “Maybe.”
Toby unlocked his truck, leaned over the seat, and pawed open the glove box. He dug around until he found the revolver and showed it to Howard.
Toby fumbled with the cylinder release a few times but finally managed to open it. Five rounds of .357 magnum sat snugly in the Ruger’s chambers. More than enough to do the trick.
Louise had made a beeline for her car after pushing them out the door. They were alone and the Soaker was out in the middle of nowhere. The shot wouldn’t be heard by anyone that mattered. “Okay, you’re gonna shoot me where I showed you, then take my body and bury it behind your barn.”
“Oh, Jesus, Howie,” Tears stood Toby’s eyes.
“I know, buddy.” Howard put his hands on Toby’s shoulders. “But I don’t want to become a monster. I might hurt you or other good folks. You don’t want that, right?”
Toby shook his head. “I guess not.”
“So let’s do it already. I don’t wanna lose my nerve.”
Toby drew in a deep breath and put the revolver against Howard’s temple. He thumbed back the hammer. “I love you, Howie.”
“Love you — ”
The gun went off like a thunderclap, and Howard fell. I’m dying, he thought as he hit the ground. He lay there for a while, listening to Toby puke his guts out a few feet away and wondered why he was able to wonder at all.
He ran a hand over his temple. There should be a half-inch hole there and one about twice as big on the other side. He felt a burn mark, but beneath it the flesh perfect and unblemished. It didn’t even hurt.
“Goddamnit,” Howard said and stood up.
Toby whirled toward him, eyes as big as dinner plates. “You’re . . . you’re not dead.”
“Looks like you were right, Toby. I’m not a zombie.” Howard paused, thinking. “You got any crosses at your place?”
Aeryn Rudel is a writer from Seattle, Washington. He is the author of the Acts of War novels by Privateer Press, and his short fiction has appeared in The Arcanist, Havok, and Pseudopod, among others. He occasionally offers dubious advice on writing and rejection at www.rejectomancy.com or on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.