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Paul Lubaczewski
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Just Like Fish
 By Paul Lubaczewski


      Edward woke up, he did this every morning so there isn't anything special about that, but we have to start somewhere. He was not one of those people who woke up, woke up. One minute they're asleep and the next you can have something approaching a reasonable discussion with them. He was an ease-into-it sort of waker. His eyes would creep open, but only enough to get him to the bathroom so he could pee. From there he would lurch into the kitchen with all the grace of manatee on land, grab a cup and put coffee in it. Next, he would go out into the living room and turn on the TV, the sound of other people talking in reasonable and pert voices hopefully reminding his own brain what was going to be expected of it today.

        Finally, it was back to the kitchen, to get some cereal, letting the inane morning show chatter waft through the house. It was just as he was pouring the milk that he heard the TV click off. “Goddammit John!” he moaned. He didn't bother to go storming out to the living room, there would be no point to it, really. Especially since he hadn't gotten his spoon yet, which he took a moment to rectify. Then, breakfast in hand, he went out.

       There sat John, waiting for him calmly, “I thought we'd talk.”

       Edward snatched the remote back and turned the TV back on, “Well, think again, this is already more conversation than I want to have before I've eaten and had my coffee!”

      The matter settled, he tried to let his temper ebb so he could see if there would be any good guests before he needed to shower.  Same old, same old, B-list actors smiling like seals begging for fish while promoting their films that would all make exactly enough money to justify them being in another bland vanilla romantic comedy after this one. He ignored John entirely as he sat there with his hands primly on his lap, well mostly ignored him, he couldn't help but notice John was wearing a suit. Breakfast finished, he got up, and went and got a shower and got ready for work. Not a word was spoken.

        Edward went out to his car to leave. John was sitting in the passenger seat waiting, the morning light seemed to gleam off his receding hairline as he sat there patiently. Edward got into the car, not bothering to hide his disgust as he put his briefcase in the back and started the car up.

        “So where in the hell do you have to be today anyway?” he snarled.

        “I'm going with you,” John replied evenly, his eyes straight ahead.

         “Of COURSE, you are,” Edward snarled pulling out of his driveway.

        Work was as good a place as any to escape. Certainly, John was here, but since Edward was busy working, it didn't matter. Edward was more than capable of ignoring almost everything when he was working. John wouldn't matter now until lunch at least. Of course, lunch was inevitable, it happened every day after all.

       Edward got up and left with absolute precision. He got up and went out and got a cab every day at this time to go to the restaurant he preferred. Even though he had his car, his department didn't rate inclusion into the parking garage. It was just one of those mix-ups when they designed the place that it didn't have enough spaces in the garage, even when car-pooling was taken into consideration. In all honesty, what had most likely happened was they had larger offices here once, and fewer cubicles. The designer hadn't taken into consideration how potentially soul-crushing the place would become. No one in his department rated a space. He might have his own office, he might have lunch breaks long enough to allow for eating out, but his car was still in a lot three blocks away.

        It was raining when he got outside, with John right on his heels. But the cabs knew when to be there and there was still one left waiting. Edward vigorously waved his arm at it to let the driver know he wanted it before moving as quickly as he could through the rain. He ran out with John moving alongside of him, step for step. Until they got to the car that was.

        That was when John elbowed Edward aside, rushing forward and held the door open for another woman who was just walking out saying, “Please Miss, I wouldn't dream of taking the cab from you.”

        In an instant, the woman was inside, and the cab was streaming away through the downpour.

        “You jackass!” snarled Edward, “that was Jane Feldstar, her department has parking, she could have just driven!”

         “It never hurts to be polite,” John sniffed as the pair of them began the long trudge in the soaking rain to where Edward was parked.

 

       Edward didn't begin to feel truly dry again for hours. He thought for sure he was going to get a cold from this. The circulated cool air of the building blowing on his soaked clothes put the chill all the way into his bones. Back at work though, the swing of things carried him away, and he was able to at least ignore it better. Nothing he could do about it now.

       Sometime in the late afternoon, not far from closing time, Melissa Parks came into his office. Edward had a secret crush on Melissa, that had lasted for years now. He always was looking, desperate to find that exact right time to ask if she'd like to go out on a date. Today something in him was telling him to go for it here and now. It was probably only the feeling that the whole day had been a wash, if she turned him down it wouldn't ruin a perfectly good day that way. Edward thought that way, some people do.

      Once the business end was finished, she needed some reports looked after for her boss, he tried to make small talk. “So, are you thinking about running any races soon?” he asked knowing she had run a couple of little 5k's this last year.

       She smiled, he thought coquettishly, and answered, “Well, I'm not sure, I mean I like doing them, but I never have anyone to run with. I mean my first one I ran with my ex-boyfriend, and since the operative word is ex....”

       THERE IT WAS, his chance, and why he'd opened with that. Edward until recently had been a religious runner, he could offer to run with her, all he had to do was make the offer....

       “Hi I'm John!” interrupted his thoughts like a sledgehammer hitting concrete. Edward had never heard him coming but there he was, his hand thrust out directly at Melissa.

       “Oh Hi!” she said politely, “I’m Melissa.”

        “Oh, YOU'RE Melissa, how nice to finally meet you,” John said happily as Edward died inside. Before he could get any more control over the situation, John added, “Well we'd best get out of my LITTLE brother's office and let him finish up. We drove in together, and I'm sure he doesn't need to stay late!”

 

        It was microwaved lasagna for dinner tonight. Just one of those frozen things you got at a store. John had his own arrangements, and Edward just couldn't convince himself it was worth cooking for only one. Instead, he just tossed his little box on to a plate and went out to watch TV to eat. John was there, sitting quietly. Edward could feel his eyes on him as he ate. He didn't want to acknowledge it, acknowledging it would be to acknowledge John himself, and that was the last thing he wanted to do right now. But still, his gaze was like an itch that just begged to be scratched, or worse.

       He finished his meal and tossed the carton into the trash by his chair where it landed with a rustle on top of all of the other containers just like it, awaiting trash day. John used the gap in purposeful activity to pounce, “So, why don't you want to just talk?”

       “If I wanted to talk, I'd talk. What I really want to do is watch TV right now. It was a long day,” Edward replied curtly, his eyes focused intently on the TV trying to block his brother out as much as possible while fuming inside about him. The overall effect being he couldn't concentrate on the television at all now.

       “It's just that we haven't really talked,” John persisted doggedly.

        That was enough! That was more than enough for Edward at this point! Standing up brusquely he snapped, “If I really wanted to talk to you any more John, do you think I would have killed you? When my hands were wrapped around your throat, don't you think I was sending you a message?”

        Edward stormed from the room without another word. A moment later the air filled with the sound of his bedroom door slamming. John said quietly to the empty living room, “And that's what I think we need to talk about.”

        This was it, this was the end. Since they were children Edward had done everything he could to get away from John. He had wanted his life, his space, his world, not John's hand me down one. But even after their parents died, they had forced him into the shadow of his brother, they left the house to both of them, meaning it would take both signatures to sell. John hadn't wanted to sell.

       Edward had moved back, friends had convinced him it was foolish to be paying top dollar for an apartment when he had a room in a house he technically owned waiting there for him. Within weeks he had seen the folly of it. It was all there like he had never left, every accidental slight, every annoying mannerism every degrading aspect of being the “little brother”, it all came back to him.

       He hadn't PLANNED to kill John. It was no great plot, no scheme hatched through hours of trying to sleep enraged, finally enacted with precision and certainty. No, it was just an average everyday sleight from his older brother that had sent him into a final, violent, deadly rage. Something about him not doing the dishes correctly.

       But when it was over, when the red fury vanished from his mind and he looked down on the breathless cold lifelong tormentor, the joy! The release from bondage, the ecstatic freedom for the first time in his life.  Edward actually chuckled when he checked for a pulse or for any even minor gust of breath. He hummed to himself as he dragged the body down the basement steps for safe keeping until he could be rid of it, letting John's head bounce on every step. He slept peacefully that night for the first time in as long as he could remember.

      John was sitting there when he got up the next morning.

      He had died, he even acknowledged it, but the final darkness had not claimed him for long, and there John was. Just as he had always been. Edward’s tormentor, his cell keeper, his bane, now and forever.

      Well, it ended tonight.

      He couldn't get away from John almost at all now, he hadn't been in a building in weeks without him. If anything looked like it might be good or fun, there was John to spoil it. John was everywhere now.   If that bastard didn't have the decency to stay dead, there were ways around it.

       Like the rope, he'd snuck out from the garage. Very high ceilings in this house, also, a very sturdy light fixture, Edward had tested it. Carefully and quietly he dragged his desk chair over so it was directly under it. He re-attached the rope, as he had every night this week. The noose was already tied and it fit easily over Edward's head. If John had found a way around death and decided to haunt the earth as something in between for the rest of eternity, he could damned well do it without Edward!

         He kicked the chair out from underneath himself.

         There was pain, he had expected it. There was even panic, and although he had not prepared for that, the hatred in his heart allowed him to fight it down. Finally, mercifully, walls of blackness closed off the space he occupied before closing in until it didn't exist anymore.

 

          “Edward?.........Edward?.......Edward?”

          The voice seemed to come from a long way off at first, but now it demanded his attention. Edward's eyes fluttered open to see....

         John.

         His face took up almost all of the available view. He smiled at Edward opening his eyes, “I only thank god I got to you in time!”

         Edward moaned, not in pain, just in disappointment and misery, “Why? Why did you have to get me down? Why couldn't you just let me die!”

         John's face looked puzzled for only a moment, and then he chuckled slightly, “Oh no, I meant before you came back. It would be awful to come back and just be hanging there like that trying to figure out how to get down. I don't know about you but I would just freak!”

         John chuckled a little more and punched Edward on the shoulder, “No, you're stone cold dead, and what a compliment, if you had died somewhere else who knows what might have happened. But since you died here, well it all continues safely onward!”

        “What do you mean? What could you possibly mean?” Edward gasped.

        “That's why I wanted to talk Edward, I thought you knew and were just avoiding the subject! You were always far more interested in his studies than I was, but just to see what was there for myself, I went through father's papers. It was their final gift to us, one they paid for with their own lives. If we died here in our family home, then that wouldn't be the end, only a beginning of a new life without the threat of mortality. We'll be together forever now Edward, won't that be grand?”

Before deciding to take writing seriously Paul had done many things: printer, caving, the SCA, Brew-master, punk singer, music critic etc. Since then he has appeared in numerous science fiction, and horror magazines and anthologies. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he moved to Appalachia in his 30s. He has three children, two who live in his native Pennsylvania, and one at home. Married to his lovely wife Leslie for twenty years, they live in a fairy tale town, nestled in a valley by a river. Author of over 50 published stories, his Amazon Best Seller debut novel, I Never Eat . . . Cheesesteak, is available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and fine stores everywhere.

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