Flash Fiction – The Copier

I know what you’re thinking – what the hell are you doing writing a flash fic about a copier? But this is for my sister, who hates the goddamn things, and for good reason. Not these reasons, though.

**

The first thing Ava was ever told about working at Huston-Wexler, was never use the third floor copy machine.

The reasons were pretty pedestrian – always out of toner; ink ran; smelled like an overheating radiator in an unwashed sock – but the most fascinating one was told to her by one of the cleaning crew. “It’s haunted,” the woman, Justine, said, emptying a trash bin. “Management has tried to get rid of it, but every time they do, something awful happens. So they simply hid it on the third floor, and tell people to stay away from it.”

The janitor seemed sane otherwise, but as soon as the idea got in Ava’s head, her curiosity started to eat away at her. She started talking to others in the break room, dropping the haunted theory, which was met with nervous laughter and knee jerk dismissals.

But no one used the copier on the third floor.

Finally, one terrible day when all the other copiers were in use or broken, Ava decided to use it.

The third floor itself was kind of weird. No one worked up here, as far as she knew, but the stairwell door was unlocked, and there were lights on. In fact, the lights were weirdly loud, a constant background hum. Sometimes you’d hear voices too, of people talking farther down the corridor, but she couldn’t find anyone. “Hello?” she asked, several times. No one ever responded. And whoever was in charge of the temperature up here had the air conditioner on full blast – it was like walking into a freezer. Why was it never that cool on the ground floor? They could have used it.

The copier was in a small room off the main corridor, an older machine roughly the size of a dishwasher. It looked no different from any other copier she’d ever seen, and Ava kept waiting for something to happen, like a weird ghostly child to appear in the far corner of the room or something. But it never happened, and after a bit she felt like a moron. It was just a copier, like any other.

After checking the display for any potential warnings, she put her piece of paper in the machine, and wondered if all the horror stories had been a hazing thing for the new girl. What were they, twelve? It was fucking ridiculous.

She started up the copier, and it sounded like the one downstairs, juddering like an old car switching gears. But as soon as she saw the edges of light bleeding from the hood as it scanned, she knew something was wrong.

Ink suddenly vomited from the machine, splattering black on the floor. As she quickly stepped back, trying to avoid getting it on her shoes, the ink animated, becoming long tentacles that picked themselves up, and began flailing around the machine. Ava lunged for the door, but it beat her to it, wrapping an inky limb around the door’s handle. She still considered rushing the it anyway, but there was no way to avoid the tentacles.

There were maybe a dozen now, all flailing and getting distressingly close to her. Finally they stilled, raised in a hostile manner around the machine. The ribs of the weirdest crown roast imaginable.

A voice, deep and guttural, boomed from the machine. “WHERE IS THE SACRIFICE?”

“Pardon?”

“I DEMAND A SACRIFICE!”

“Uh … I got some mints …”

“I WANT SOULS!”

“Er, uh …” Ava made a show of patting her pockets. “Would you except cash?”

“SOULS!”

“I don’t have any. And really, isn’t that expensive for just one copy?”

The tentacles suddenly grabbed her and pulled her towards the machine. She tried to escape, but they were too strong.

The last thing Ava remembered was getting far too close to the copier, and a smell like boiled ink.

**
Justine found a folder on the floor of the third floor copier room, and knew exactly what had happened. Was it that Ava woman? Probably. A shame, as she had liked her.

They had done their damnedest to get rid of the machine at first. It wouldn’t budge, and seemed to actively hurt anyone who tried. So they tried locking the door with increasingly elaborate security measures, only to have them all mysteriously gone the next day, the door wide open. The machine would keep them from trying to hinder it in any way. Management didn’t believe it at first, and then gave up once they couldn’t reconcile being unable to move a damn machine. Now they pretended it was “someone upstairs” who decided they should keep it, but no one ever knew who. Because a lie was easier than the uncomfortable truth.

But Justine got it. It wasn’t like you could go around saying “Hey, we have a copy machine infested by an Elder God – what are you going to do?” So she and the others on the cleaning staff were forced to spread rumors about the copier being haunted, and hoping that was enough to discourage people from checking it out. Well, that and the fact that the entire third floor seemed to be haunted. Yeah, that was ridiculous, but all of this was fucking ridiculous, and it didn’t seem to matter to its reality.

While doing her rounds, she returned the file to Ava’s cubicle, even though she knew Ava was never coming back. By that time, there were whispers about the “new girl” not turning up for work, or even answering her phone.

The next day, while making sure the third floor was empty, Justine could have sworn she heard Ava’s voice amongst the many that whispered up there, saying, “I never should have stopped being a barista.” But she had no idea if that was really her, or simply wishful thinking.

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