The fluorescent lights flickered against the gray office walls, shifting my headache into third gear. I took another gulp from the Nalgene on my desk, which I’d already refilled twice. The contents of my wallet bartered their way into my bladder last night, and I had buyer’s remorse the moment I left my empty bed. As I mindlessly took the last sip of my water, my bladder reminded me that it had been an entire half hour since I visited the bathroom. I got on my feet and made my way across the office.
“How are you today?” a voice asked from a cubicle.
“Great,” I lied.
As I continued down the corridor, I passed cutesy posters of baby animals with inspirational phrases. YOU CAN DO IT, one said. It showed a cat hanging on a wire. A CLEAN WORKSPACE IS A HAPPY WORKSPACE, another said. It featured Chihuahuas cleaning with doll-sized cleaning instruments. At the end of the carpeted corridor, a few of my coworkers made small talk holding floral paper cups around the buzzing water cooler. The scene reminded me of moths around a light bulb.
In the grimy office bathroom, there were two urinals taken by men in nearly identical suits. I walked into one of the gray plastic stalls, where even the office’s stall graffiti was lame. On the right wall, black ballpoint pen wrote, “Feel good about urself.” The lyrics of Another Brick in the Wall’s chorus were carved into the left wall. Below that, a blue sharpie wrote “crocs R lame,” which served as a healthy reminder to about half the office. I washed my hands and used a dollop of scentless soap from the plastic dispenser between the sinks.
When I got back to my cubicle, I read my daily digest of scheduled client meetings. It was the same thing I did every morning for the last six years, and it would probably be the same morning I’d continue to live for the next six years. In fact, I had been waiting a long time for someone to tell me I was dead and wandering Limbo’s office district. My eyes drifted toward a poster I’d put up on my personal corkboard. The poster had the backdrop of a sunset and said ‘MAKE STRONG MOVES’ in bold letters. It was a strange phrase to put over a picture of the sunset, but it was the best thing I’d found in the department store’s bargain bin. My empty gaze was broken by two knocks on the side of my cubicle: the telltale sign of Fleur.
“Hi Branson, it’s Fleur. Listen, can you do a huuuuuuge favor for me?”
Today, Fleur was wearing a striped dress and bright red lipstick.
“What do you mean, what?”
“I’m just responding to your question.”
“No, you’re being a dick. Can’t you just be nice for once?”
“Can’t you just ask me the favor instead of asking me if you can ask a favor?”
“Ugh, I don’t know why I even try with you sometimes. Look, Stan needs me to photocopy the quarterly reports, but I really need the time to finish my spreadsheets. Would you mind?”
I despised Fleur and the way she’d relay her duties upon me. However, I loved having a change in my daily tasks. The big tiebreaker between the two was that I wanted our conversation to be over.
“Yeah, I might have time at the end of the day.”
She handed me the reports and strutted away in her two-inch heels. The eyes of men around me followed her, but they weren’t looking at her face. I looked back at my computer screen. Unlike the other apes around me, my blood didn’t immediately flow beneath my belt every time an attractive woman was within viewing range.
I grabbed my black briefcase and opened it on my desk. Inside it, I grabbed my blue folder and put the quarterly reports at the front. From my briefcase’s snack compartment, I grabbed a little pouch of peanuts I’d gotten from a recent flight and opened them up. The bag exploded, and a few of the peanuts fell on the ground beside the other scraps of food I’d dropped. I leaned my briefcase against the bottom of the desk and heard the ping of a notification ring from my computer. A tiny red notification displayed on my email. When I clicked on it, the email didn’t seem to be a client meeting or my usual spam. Its subject was,
“TIRED OF LIVING THE SAME ROUTINE?”
When I clicked on it, the message said, ‘If so, then do something about it.’ That was it. The email address was a mess of upper and lowercase letters, scrambled with a bunch of numbers. It reminded me of the error messages I’d always get from the photocopier. As soon as I tried responding with questions, the email bounced back and Google told me I was mailing to a nonexistent address. After a few moments of thought, I got a second email from the same scrambled address. It had no subject line. The body simply said, ‘My answers aren’t the ones you need.’ Tucker caught me staring at my computer with a perplexed expression. He asked if everything was okay.
“Oh. Yeah. Everything’s fine,” I said.
“Are you sure?” Tucker asked.
I thought for a few seconds, wondering what would happen if I actually spoke my mind. Tucker was a portly worker with a receding hairline, and my interactions with him were typically a few sentences of small talk. Maybe I imagined the email exchange, I thought. That was a possibility. After the drugs I did in college and the endless emails I’d read at work, it was possible I was witnessing an office mirage. As I was thinking, I realized I was staring at the poster on my corkboard again. MAKE STRONG MOVES.
“You know what? Screw it. Nothing is right. I hate this place. I went to college, got a degree, and ended up at a safe job I can’t seem to pry myself from.”
“I'm, uh, sorry you feel that-”
“… But I haven’t enjoyed my life, and I don’t know how. Every time I climb the stairs of my apartment, I imagine strangling myself with the rooftop garden hose, just to break my daily habits.”
Tucker’s eyes bulged, on the verge of popping out of his face. It looked like a hokey effect from a 3D movie. His mouth gaped like he wanted me to check his tonsils. Then, he started stuttering, looking all over the ground for something to say. His black khaki shorts were pulled up a little too far and they seemed to be swallowing his striped blue polo. Eventually, he glanced up at me.
“You know, I go to see a great therapist. I could give you their name."
“I don’t need a shrink. What I need is a new job, because this place sucks. I mean, why does anyone work here? Am I the only person who hates this place?”
Tucker did a double take, glancing across the sea of office cubicles to make sure there nobody was alarmed. To be fair, I was a bit loud.
“Shh! They’re going to hear you."
“Why haven’t you moved on to something better? Why do you work here?”
“I mean, the money’s okay… I don’t know, I guess I don’t like it here very much."
“How old are you? How many years have you wasted here?”
Tucker had a blank look to his eyes, staring at a void in the stained brown carpet. Blood flushed out of his face and his arms hung like wet jackets.
“Look, I’ve got two kids and a wife who doesn’t divorce me out of convenience, and I’ve worked here for twenty years because I don’t know how to do anything else.”
“I’m sorry, Tucker. Look, I’m leaving this job today… and I’m going out with a bang. You want in?”
Tucker looked at me again with wide eyes—not as wide as before, but his eyes were still the size of Ping-Pong balls.
“What do you think, Tucker?”
“I guess I could always work at my brother’s glass cleaning business…”
“C’mon, Tucker. You know you want to do this.”
“Why not just quit normally?”
“That wouldn’t be any fun, would it?”
“It would be responsible.”
Tucker’s phone buzzed. He picked it up and glanced at the screen. The longer he stared at it, the more his expression twisted into confusion.
“I just got a really weird email.”
“I think I got the same one this morning."
“Maybe my horoscope was right.”
“Let’s do this, then."
“Fine. Let’s do this."
I got out of my desk chair and began my trek to the copy room, which had the office’s most expensive equipment. Ironically, it was also the office’s most dysfunctional room, because none of the stuff ever quite worked. Tucker’s footsteps followed close behind me. When we got to the copy room, a tall skinny man with glasses was copying some kind of invoice. The copier dragged its sweeping white light across the room as it scanned the paper.
“Branson, right?” the man said, turning towards me.
“Yeah. You mind if I take a look at the copier?”
“I should be done in a few minutes. I’m just copying this proposed invoice…”
As the man kept talking, I stopped listening and started looking around the room. There was a lamp (too bulky), a stack of paper (too flimsy), a screwdriver (not big enough), a stress ball (definitely not), and the paper cutter.
“… And you wouldn’t believe how many times Gary told me to use the oxford comma, because those freakin’ ivy-leaguers need their freakin’ oxford commas…”
I wasn’t listening. Instead, I walked over to the paper cutter, grabbed the top of the massive blade, and ripped it off its wooden hinges. I stumbled backwards, almost dropping it on my feet. The paper cutter was a lot heavier than I expected. The man glanced at me and stopped talking. He started stepping backwards, retreating into the room’s corner. I looked at him, wielding the paper cutter blade like a samurai sword.
“Whoa, th—that’s freakin’ office property!”
“It sure is."
I looked for my target. The fax machine was too outdated, people already destroyed a printer when I saw Office Space, and then I looked at the photocopier. As I walked towards it, I noticed something particular on the small screen.
'Are you going to do something about it, or what?' it read.
“Oh, I’ll do something about it all right."
I raised the blade above my head with my flimsy arms and brought it down on the photocopier. It sounded like the split second when you realize there’s a spoon in the garbage disposal, but louder. The cracked display on the left side of the photocopier said “Check Ink. Then, check your muscles, you weak sack of meat.” and had flickering columns of color. The skinny man with glasses stood in the corner with a shocked expression, while Tucker looked at me with a half smile. I wanted to make that smile whole.
“Want the second swing?” I asked.
Tucker looked up at me with a huge smile, like he was about to get candy from a piñata.
“Well, Tucker?” I asked.
He looked at me, speechless and nodding. For a quick second, I’d thought he turned into a bobble head. I handed him the blade and he took it with a surprising force in his right hand. Then, he steadied his stance and brought it down on the photocopier. His bright red face erupted in giggles. Then, using both of his hands to grip the paper cutter, Tucker smashed the photocopier again. Then, he yanked it from its embodiment in the copier and handed it back to me. I pummeled on the photocopier one more time, for good measure.
The skinny guy with glasses looked at us with terror, scrunched up in the corner of the room. His chest heaved with long, gulping breaths. Once he noticed we were looking at him, he sprinted for the exit. Much like us, the skinny man didn’t see the department manager standing in the doorway, and the two collided. There was a clapping sound as their heads hit each other, and the department manager hit the floor with the skinny man on top of him. Beside the two men, the skinny man’s glasses lay broken in half. Almost instantly, the skinny man grabbed his glasses and leaped off the department manager. He blindly ran down the hall past my view, where I heard him run into a wall or another person. The department manager got up, brushed his khaki pants off, straightened his tie, and then looked at us.
I had seen this man angry at times—like when the company lost clientele, or when someone ate his lunch in the fridge, or even when he’d lost a game in his bowling league. However, I have never seen him look this angry. His face was bright red and covered in sweaty condensation. All of his facial features were scrunched into a frown. The vein in his forehead pulsed with an upbeat tempo. He held a coffee mug that said #1 Boss, but all the coffee had spilled on the carpet below. When he flared his nostrils, I was expecting steam to shoot out.
“What the FUCK do the three of you think you’re doing to my photocopier?”
“Smashing it with your paper cutter."
The department manager's eyes darted over to the paper cutter and his eyebrows hit his hairline. He clenched his fists and his arms started shaking.
“Do you want a turn?” Tucker asked.
Then, the office manager let out a primal yell and threw his coffee cup across the room, striking the photocopier. Following the sound of the crashing ceramic, the photocopier sparked and caught fire. The blue flames were small and everyone in the room was too stunned to immediately put them out. I looked at the office manager, where my next words came out of instinct.
“I quit,” I said to him.
“No. You can’t quit. You—both of you—you’re FIRED!”
“You can’t fire someone who already quit."
The fire alarm made a blistering ring and the sprinklers went off in the room. Black smoke flooded out of the photocopier.
“I’m calling the police."
The harsh reality finally hit me, but it didn’t scare me. It filled me with excitement.
“See you on the other side,” I said to Tucker.
I darted out the other side of the break room and weaved through the maze of cubicles. I only had a few minutes to get out, because the police station was only a few blocks from the company. Confused workers began standing up, trying to figure out what was going on. They all seemed to be looking at something behind me, but I didn’t have time to look back. When I finally got to my desk, I had my hand around my briefcase handle before hearing two knocks on the side of my desk.
“Hi Branson, it’s Fleur.”
“Look, Fleur, I’m kinda…“
“… Busy? Me too. That’s why I came to ask if you’d finished those Quarterly Reports."
“Oh, you didn’t hear, did you?”
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“You should ask the boss about it when you have to tell him that he won’t be getting those Quarterly Reports."
“Branson, are you fecking serious?” she started.
I pointed to the men working around me.
“Get one of these apes to do it for you. I’m leaving."
The men around me glanced upwards with stupid expressions. Then, I caught a glimpse of my boss pointing at me across the office. He was facing two policemen who had just come through the side entrance. I pushed my way past Fleur and ran through a narrow corridor. My briefcase swayed wildly in my right hand, knocking water bottles and staplers off the edges of nearby desks. I ran out the main entrance, greeted by flashing red and blue lights. An officer talking into a radio met my gaze. He let go of the radio, which fell and bobbed against his leg on the coiled wire.
“Police. Hands up!”
I looked around and found a chain link fence about half a block down the closest alleyway. Up above me, I also noticed the corner of my office on fire. Whoops. I jolted towards the fence to see if the gate was locked, and it was. There was a possibility I could jump it with the right amount of momentum.
“I said hands up!”
I ran towards the alleyway.
I jumped with all my might and grabbed ahold of the top of the fence. However, I didn’t jump as I expected, and my sideways body smacked into the chain links with a clink. I landed ass first on the concrete and my briefcase landed in my crotch, sending a painful jolt through my body. The first cop came over, pointing a Taser at my legs.
“You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. Anything you say may be used against you in a court…”
“Yeah, yeah. I watch detective shows, I know the drill.”
“Are you going to keep running?”
“Are you going to make me go back to work?”
“I’m taking you to a holding cell."
“Cool,” I said. “Just keep your photocopier away from me.”