The Death of Ed Goshi
by K. W. Taylor
When he finally heard it, Ed Goshi realized that "cancer" wasn't such a scary word. Neither was "inoperable." It wasn't his own death that frightened him, but the office ... getting things squared away there would be deeply scary.
"Ed, are you all right?" Dr. Shellering asked. "Do you have any questions?"
Ed shook his head. Then, seeing the sadness in the doctor's eyes, he offered up a gentle smile. "It's fine, Albert, really. I've led a good life, had good friends, and I've got a dynamite career. Everything's going to be all right."
The doctor smiled back, a bit more sadly. "You've got a lovely attitude, Ed, just lovely."
Ed swept a hand through the air. "Rubbish," he said with a laugh. "I'm a stubborn old fellow, and I don't say things I don't mean. Got nothing to do with an attitude or bravery or any of that."
The doctor nodded. "Good on you, then," he said.
"Really, just don't know what to tell them back at the office," Ed added. He rose and plucked his coat from the back of his chair.
Shellering's frown deepened for a moment. "Sorry?" He ran a hand over his forehead. "Ed, do you really want to be concerned about work at a time like this? You might want to focus on your family, I'd expect."
Ed chuckled. "Oh, but I am, son, I am." He shrugged his coat on. "Don't worry yourself. That's my job." He turned the handle on the exam room door. "Everything will be just fine so long as I can find my replacement in time."
"Ugh, I'm so not ever ordering the sushi again." Nick clutched at his stomach and rolled his eyes at Lenora.
She shook her head and grinned at him. "You say that every Thursday, and every Thursday when the cart comes by, what do you do?"
"I get the sushi."
Lenora laughed and fished a piece of edamame from the soy sauce dish. "Honestly, Nicky, it's good! You just eat it too fast is all."
"I guess." Nick's face clouded for a moment. "I never used to feel this bad after lunch."
"Getting old." Lenora took in his boyish features and felt a soft, familiar warmth flood through her. "How on earth can I continue to be seen out with such a geezer?"
"Whatever!" Nick threw his napkin at her and laughed. "I have to get back to work, whether my stomach complains or not."
"Same here, but I may try to sneak out early. My eyes've been getting strained by the end of the day lately."
"You need to check your glasses?"
Lenora patted Nick on the arm. "You worry about me far too much, darling boy." She waved at him as they parted by the elevator. Nick headed in one direction toward the programming wing, while Lenora headed in the opposite direction toward the graphics division. She still had a spring in her step as she left him, the sound of his jaunty whistle a comforting refrain.
The elevator doors opened to reveal Ed, head bowed, eyes fixed firmly on the toes of his wingtips. He stood there until the doors began to slide shut, at which time he snapped to attention and thrust the tip of his umbrella between them. The doors slid back again and he exited. He looked back and forth in both directions down the corridor before quickening his pace to catch up with Nick, who was halfway down the hall.
"Mr. Schultz," Ed called. "Just the fellow I wanted to see."
Nick turned and smiled down at Ed. "Hello, sir. Have a good lunch?"
Ed smiled and nodded up at his employee, though the corners of his eyes stayed still. "Have you got a moment?"
Nick stopped walking mid-stride. "If I'm fired, just get it over and done with." He looked around the hall furtively. "Here's fine; there aren't too many people around to hear me cry like a little girl. I'd just rather you do it now so I don't have to freak out during the long walk of shame to the room where you tell me you're 'restructuring'." Nick punctuated the last word with air quotes.
"Hardly, my boy, hardly."
Lenora was able to focus on her computer for all of ten minutes before her blurry vision gave way to a headache. She let her drawing stylus drift out of her hand and pressed sweaty palms to her eyes, willing the pressure to compensate for the throbbing above her left eyebrow.
"I haven't had trouble with my vision in years," she muttered to her cubicle mate.
"It's this work," Toby replied. "You're staring at that screen ten hours a day, and then what do you do when you get home?"
Lenora laughed. "That's when I work on 'Bucky and Mingo', of course."
"Which takes you how long?"
"Another three hours on a good night. Four if I've got cartoonist's block." She laughed again. "Almost never happens, though, 'cause Nicky usually rescues me with some hideously embarrassing story from his school days that I'm able to adapt quite nicely."
Toby stared at her. "You're joking," he accused. "That thing with the curling iron actually happened to someone?"
"That's my guy," Lenora said.
"I'm so glad he doesn't bat for my team, Len."
Lenora swatted at him and missed. "I happen to not be as superficial as you."
Toby sniffed. "Apparently."
"Anyway, I can't take another moment here. Going to head home for a few hours of quality time with a washcloth and several dozen aspirin." She closed out a few programs on her computer and shut the machine down. "Will the world survive without me this afternoon?"
"Hard to say," Toby replied.
"I'll get in early tomorrow," she assured him.
When Lenora reached her car in the underground garage minutes later, she clicked the remote lock and was almost instantly lifted off her feet, thrown fifty feet backward, and thrust against a truck parked several rows away. A rush of wind whooshed passed her, and flames now engulfed her car. Lenora's body rolled against the truck's crushed windshield, down the hood, and came to rest at the front bumper. A huge gash in her forehead dripped blood between her closed eyes.
In the cafeteria Nick and Lenora had left not twenty minutes earlier, Toby sauntered in and deposited six coins into the cappuccino machine. As soon as the paper cup descended, the entire machine rocked forward and slammed onto him so fast he hadn't even been able to raise his hands in front of his face. Toby's spectacles crushed against his eyes, glass poking through both corneas into the softer tissue beneath. The coffee continued to pour from the dispenser, setting his stomach ablaze with fire-hot liquid. This bothered him less than the crushed pelvis and splintered ribs, however. At first, he made no sound once the machine had come to a stop, but when his screams began, they were positively inhuman.
"Nicholas Schultz ... " Ed regarded the younger man with a bemused smile playing across his face. He tugged at his scraggly beard before rising from his desk chair and pacing toward the window, where he gazed out at the skyline. "This city is kind of marvelous, isn't it?"
"Um, I guess?" Nick shrugged, even though Ed's back was to him. "I moved here for love, sir, so I have to admit it wasn't my first choice of places to live."
"But you like the company," Ed said. He turned back to Nick. "You like the work that you do?"
"Oh, totally," Nick said with a nod. "I really like it here."
"Had any better positions?" Ed asked. "Maybe something with more benefits, shorter hours, that sort of thing?"
"I don't have tons to compare it to," Nick admitted, "but it's definitely way better than when I was a paper boy in junior high."
Ed chuckled again. "Well, from my office here, it's even better than that," he said. He crossed the room and sat on the corner of his desk. "Of course, with great power and all that nonsense. I won't sugarcoat it, lad. The stress can be quite overwhelming."
"Are you actually telling me that you want me to --"
"Replace me," Ed interrupted. "I need a replacement, and I need one now." His expression darkened. "If I don't secure my successor before it's too late, there could be consequences."
The entire accounting staff rushed into the cafeteria when they heard Toby's screams. Instantly, knives from a butcher block on the wall shot through the air at each of their heads. In seconds, every one of them had steel embedded in his or her skull. Five people, all dead before they hit the ground.
Toby continued to scream for less than a minute after that before he fell silent.
Nick blinked a few times before leaping to his feet. "Yes, of course I'll take it!"
Ed beamed at the other man. "Brilliant, son, just brilliant. I'll have legal start to draw up the paperwork and we'll --" He stopped talking abruptly and stared at Nick. "What's the matter, Nicholas?"
Nick had been absently rubbing a hand against his abdomen. "What? Nothing, nothing at all, sir."
"Your stomach ... "
Nick frowned. "I'm fine, sir." He regarded Ed somewhat sternly. "Really, it's nothing. I had some bad fish at lunch, that's all."
Ed collapsed into the nearest chair and buried his face in his hands. "Oh, dear boy! It's too late! You're already dead." He flew suddenly to the window and pressed both palms against the glass. "I'm so sorry!" he cried.
Nick started to move toward Ed but then the screams became audible through the closed office door. Both men ran to the hallway, where lighting fixtures were sizzling and popping from walls, shooting sparks high into the air only to land and set the carpet ablaze. Employees raced through the corridors, clothing torn and blood bursting from ears and noses. People were dashing madly toward elevators only to find no car inside once the doors opened. One polo-shirted youth dove into the vacant shaft anyway, only to land with a sickening thud seconds later.
"Oh, no, my assistant!" Nick yelped. He raced across to desk in front of his office only to find the occupant had somehow gotten his necktie caught in a shredder. Nick tugged at the young man's shoulders, but he shrieked when he saw that it wasn't only his necktie that had gotten lodged --it was also the hand he'd tried to free himself with. The younger man was already starting to bleed to death, arteries spewing great fountains of dark blood in high arcs that smacked against Nick's face and shirt front. Nick tried one valiant tug to free the man, but the assistant tugged the shredder's plug out of the wall and started to run off with it down the hallway.
All around them, fires sprang up, shouts turned to screams and screams turned to silence. Nick felt his stomach start to heave, and he crouched to the floor to vomit into a potted plant. The last heave emptied him not just of food but of blood, bile, and even a stray tooth. The pain gnawed at him, and his body was now slick with sweat.
He looked up, casting tear-filled eyes to Ed, who was now just wandering in a daze. "Sir, please! What the hell's going on?"
"Exactly," Ed said. He was eerily calm. "It's hell going on. I'm so sorry, son. I tried to get to you in time." He took a moment to smooth down the lapels of his jacket, pluck at his pocket square to fluff it up, and stood stiffly as if at attention as a giant ceiling beam crashed down upon his head.
Beyond the confines of the company headquarters and the city limits, beyond the very planet and its solar system and galaxy, there was a heart beating very fast. It was old and palpitating in distress, as its body's systems began to shut down around it.
"Oh, Ed," gasped the elderly woman by the side of the bed. "You never had a chance, did you? We couldn't even donate your organs in time." She watched her husband succumb to the cancer while --unbeknownst to her --entire cellular, molecular, and even subatomic worlds full of sentient beings expired painfully, helplessly at the same instant as their god.
© 2010 K. W. Taylor
Bio: K. W. Taylor is a writer and college writing instructor in Ohio. Her non-fiction has been published regularly in the Dayton City Paper, where she has served as a genre media contributor since 2005. Her short stories have appeared in Golden Visions magazine and Aoife's Kiss magazine, as well as a Pill Hill Press flash fiction anthology, and her essays on pop culture and writing have appeared in a Shelter of Daylight anthology.
E-mail: K. W. Taylor
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