The Favor

by Bill Richter

Five days ago, Aaron asked me to kill him. I’d never killed anybody or ever considered it for a second; I am ultimately a meek person. But I was Aaron’s only friend left and the only person he could trust. He was my only friend, too, so I understood his asking me. I told him I had to think about it, that it was an enormous responsibility and I was also concerned about how it might screw me up. We were all pretty scarred from living in a post-apocalyptic world as it is.

We’d had fifteen days warning that the mountain-sized asteroid, what we’ve usually referred to as “that big fucking rock”, was going to hit. The question was where the impact would be and whether it would be on land or in the ocean. I was living in Los Angeles and left immediately. After COVID-19, I was prepared and had a plan for whatever the next event would be. I’d inherited a cabin in the mountains from my parents that I didn’t tell anybody about. I packed and headed there after the first news report. There were three other cabins in the area and their owners arrived soon after. We agreed to help and protect each other when necessary, and to give each other space most of the time otherwise. We maintained a regular Sunday get-together to check in with each other, share resources, and make sure everyone knew what day it was.

After the asteroid slammed into Nebraska, the first months were rough, but we had generators that helped us weather the worst of it and guns to fight off the crazies who came through. Food, winter clothing, sleeping bags, and masks were our most important possessions.

I didn’t know Aaron before. He knew Herb and Kathy, my nearest neighbors. He stayed with them occasionally, and we’d end up talking. He’d been an architect in Los Angeles and I’d been an animator for movies and TV, doing a lot of work creating cityscapes. Besides talking about post-apocalyptic living, which everyone did, we talked about buildings, architecture and eventually reading, which is what I spent a lot of time doing. I was reading long books I’d claimed to not have enough time for before. At the time I was reading War and Peace and I’ve already finished Don Quixote, Infinite Jest, and Moby-Dick.

When he wasn’t here, he had a place near Los Angeles and he’d tell me about how things were there.

“It’s still pretty scary,” he said one of those first times we talked. “People are settling down and it isn’t as dangerous, but it’s still really unpredictable. People freak out and most of those people have guns. Any group that has more than a few people starts feeling like a cult really fast.”

That was also my experience any time I ventured out for supplies, or to get a change of scenery for a couple of days. All groups of any size have a leader, and the leaders have something about them that just isn’t right. I stay away from most people.

“Why do you keep going back?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“What?” I asked.

“It’s going to sound insane.”

“Look at our world. How crazy can it be?”

That’s when Aaron told me he was vampire, and could prove it.

“I go back because there are people there, and they have what I need.”

“Blood?”

“Or the means to get it,” he replied. “I don’t need it as often as you’ve seen in movies or read about, but I get sick if I go too long without it. We still don’t usually need to kill people to get it. We have other ways.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you? This is real?”

“I was turned six months before everything happened. Eternity sounded much better then.”

He left for a moment and returned with a kit filled with transfusion supplies and an ancient medallion.

I believed him, and he told me Herb and Kathy knew too.

A few months later, Herb and Kathy ventured out for supplies, which usually meant clothes, blankets and canned food, and never came back. They said they were going to a different place than usual, always a risk. I didn’t suspect Aaron had anything to do with it even when he showed up right when they said they’d be back. He spent a lot of time looking for them and I went out searching with him. He was genuinely troubled by their disappearance. Other than one trip back to Los Angeles, he started living at their cabin.

Then five days ago, two years into this, the thought of eternal life became unbearable for him and he asked me to kill him. I didn’t want to.

“Can’t you kill yourself?”

“We can’t. I‘ve tried fourteen times. But others can, and you’re my only friend. Please.”

Knowing how bleak my future was and that his was worse, I reluctantly agreed to it a few days later. He knew where he wanted it to happen and we packed for a day hike and left early the next morning.

As we descended the barren hills, we alternated between animated conversations and silence. I doubted I could do it and Aaron sensed this. Well into the day, we neared a river, and we could see someone in a distant clearing.

We stopped and Aaron put his hands on my shoulders.

“That person. I’ll have to kill people like him so I don’t get sick. When I get sick awful things can happen and I don’t want them to happen anymore. It’s not just my not wanting to face eternity in this world.”

I understood. We walked down to the river and the sun actually broke through for a moment. He took off his shoes, handed me a large, sharp hunting knife, and stepped into the shallows, looking up at the sky.

“This was a beautiful world,” he said.

We were both ready.

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