by M.J. Nicholls
Alan Barbrush, Chief Editor at Scalped Olives Publications, had always been accused of skulking around the office cynically. (The skulking, that is, was deemed to be motivated by cynicism. The accusation was entirely sincere.) Yet today, his undying cynicism had reached such a huffy zenith, it was as though the weight of a lifetime's misery had finally -- after twenty years -- crippled him.
For two decades his organisation had -- cynically -- waded through over 1,292,827 submissions, rejecting every single one and publishing material from its own editing staff. Having failed to break even the previous year -- losing £10,000 on a self-help guide for brainless neurotics, Stop Whining & Just Do It -- tensions were running high around the office.
The new secretary, Lorraine, fresh from her Creative Writing MA, was looking to screw her first novel, Elaine's Chest, into print. Alan had hired her because her grades were outstanding and she had a bright, burgeoning clitoris. He knew that regardless of whether he hired her or not, she would ascend to a lucrative role in the industry, either horizontally or legitimately.
She tapped on his office door, a gentle but firm tip-tap, signifying she knew her place but would soon have people tip-tapping on her office. He swigged from his vial of absinthe and coughed up a pubic hairball -- he had been snacking on the vulva of an underground poet-cum-hooker the previous night.
"Come in," he said, muttering sotto voce, "my face."
"Morning Alan. I trust your wrinkly old pecker found a home in the snatch of some rancid Chelsea tart over the weekend?" she asked. Alan found this remark rather forward for her third day -- she must have been chatting with the co-editors.
"Yes, something like that. Do you have the final edit of Danny's novel? What godawful putrescence masquerading as contemporary genius are we churning out now? More self-help to the terminally retarded?"
"You can't say that word anymore, Alan. The correct term is mentally spastic," Lorraine corrected.
Alan wanted to bash her face in with a tire iron and spit mercuric chloride over her breasts until her pretty pink skin singed into a bloody black painball. Yes, he was almost definitely in love.
"Lorraine, I want your honest opinion on this novel and Danny's so-called talent. I mean, he's simply another snotty sub-Burroughs arse-budgie churning out hackneyed schlock, isn't he?" he asked. He reached for the pills on his desk and hurled two down his throat, not bothering to check the label.
"God, you're an ancient fucker, aren't you? Alan -- the kids today lap this shit up like heroin pasties. Kids are always looking for the latest decadent poet-of-the-streets to come blow their tiny minds with his trashcan rhetoric," she said, parting her fringe. For all its spirit-level straightness, it served merely to enhance her clone-like chic.
"I know, but this feels like a step too far. You can only serve the same roadhouse slop for so long before the clientele starts choking to death. Anyway, it's too late now. Maybe we can slip it out in summer unnoticed. No one reads books in the summer."
"Ready for the team brief? Your minions are awaiting your instruction," she said, smirking -- a smirk that masked a desire to drain the blood from his decrepit body and steal his chair.
As Alan left his office, he stopped to look at the painting on the wall. It had been commissioned by an acid-popping millionaire asshole who spent his days draining his spunk into a fish tank for his latest installation, Spermy Gills. He wanted to punch a hole in the wall.
"Are you all right, Alan?" Lorraine asked.
"Fine. Just fine," Alan replied. He wasn't fine. He was so far away from fine, fine might as well have been hidden in an underground catacomb somewhere halfway across the world.
As he looked around the office, every nuance of the place piqued him. The photocopier sat like a constipated rhino atop the hideous green carpet, snorting out endless pages of fuming hot poop -- next month's poorly received zeitgeist-throttling wank. The windows and their peek-a-boo blinds bugged the arse off him. His staff could surreptitiously gawp inside as he was downloading his X-rated entertainment for the evening.
His industrious worker-bees were buzzing around the office, sharing gossip, taking pops at new submissions, and trying to close the drawbridge between colleague, friend and lover. More vats of magma spurted inside him. He knew these people so well, so bloody well, he wanted to belt them around the brains with an iron dildo. His eyes turned to Mark.
Oh, Mark! Mark, writer of profound hodgepodge about single mothers and abused children. Reports from the frontline of life. So devilishly moving and clever. Alan knew Mark was trying to wheedle his way into the slacks of Rebecca, the copyeditor whose capacity for snide humour knew no bounds. She was a proponent of slick comedies about the endless push-and-pull of man-woman relationships, fuck-and-fight fests for self-loathing students.
As he looked around the office at the pitiful display of subhuman life, it struck Alan that he was descending into oblivion. This was the beginning of his much-anticipated end. His emotional scaffolding was about to collapse. When he shut his eyes, he imagined a dozen donkeys dumping their bowels around the office until the entire room was seven cubic feet of whiffy excreta. He yearned badly, so bloody badly, to rid himself of this nightmare, this endless burden of printing words, that he seriously started to think about a career in advertising.
"Right, listen up," he began. "Danny's novel is a petrochemical aberration. I want every copy printed to be pulped. Seriously, pulp the fucker."
"Actually, I think you'll find Tarantino's already made Pulp Fiction," Rebecca chipped in.
"Shut up, Rebecca," he scolded, his left hand twitching. "Just shut up."
This was it. The moment of his meltdown. It had come so suddenly. Ten minutes ago, he had been looking forward to searching the internet for uncopyrighted material he could plagiarise for his winter schedule. Now he was in the teeth of a full-blown nervous meltdown. His chin was wobbling. He wondered if everyone could see that -- his freakish wobbling chin.
"Just... shut... up."
A silence descended in which the entire staff turned to face Alan, staring through him in case he dared to show a crack in his veneer. A soft rattling noise emerged from the silence, ignored by all. Lorraine bit her knuckles beside the photocopier: she knew it was close. Her time on the throne. Alan could feel his jaw clamp shut, speechless at the thought of his own demise. He knew this day would come, but had prepared nothing to save himself.
The rattling sound intensified, followed by a susurrous hiss, like air being let out a tyre. The source of this interruption was the photocopier -- a faithful old banger that had lived in numerous offices and had seen more arses than a Russian bordello. Lorraine was too captivated by Alan's imminent blow-up to notice the noise: her time as chief cock-at-the-top was near. Soon she would be sipping chianti with Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie and killing the dreams of saps daily with the twitch of a finger.
Meanwhile, a small portal was opening up inside the paper-loading tray of the photocopier.
A blinking black eye, dripping with somehow-liquefied toner, was expanding through the plastic panels of the machine. As the silence widened, so did the eye, absorbing the plastic and paper as it coughed up thick balls of inky sputum onto the carpet. Lorraine was halted -- she didn't know whether to take Alan outside, pop him in a cab, then steal his desk, or let him dribble down himself before taking him outside, popping him in a cab, and stealing his desk.
"I have had... it up... to HERE with you self-interested shitmunchers!" Alan cried out. Several titters escaped the pros, while the newbies looked on dumbly, anticipating a very funny joke.
Lorraine's eyes goggled in expectation, her pupils expanding in tandem with the squelchy orb of the photocopier, which made an audible gargling sound at her side. The portal had expanded to cover the entire left half of the machine, coughing Malteasers of ink at Lorraine's feet. A few hacks looked over to see what the problem was, but Alan's meltdown was much more exciting than office equipment, so they returned to the show.
"You can take this company and... and... and shove it up your arses! All you want is to get your rotten books into print, so you can sip chianti with bloody Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie. I've... had... enough!"
The photocopier was buckling now, its insides churning with thick grogs of ink. It kicked and struggled like a horse gone mad; its engorged panels aspurt with hot liquid menace.
"Would someone shut that bloody photocopier up!" Alan shouted. Lorraine finally took her eyes off Alan to acknowledge at the puddle of ink at her feet. As she stepped onto dry carpet to protect her expensive shoes, the photocopier spasmed nearer, spraying a hot jet of toner across her legs. She leapt back in shock, but the inky beast powered up and lunged after her, backing her against the wall.
"What the fuck? Would someone stop this thing?"
The portal opened fully into a wide, bottomless void. A stream of ink blasted her legs, knocking her to the ground. She shrieked and slithered as the portal took hold of her body, sucking in her legs, reversing the flow of ink so it ran backwards then forwards. The flow was relentless, encasing her in a bubbling torrent of viscous ooze, slurping in her hips amid menacing mechanical gargles, then her torso, and -- at last -- her head.
After devouring Lorraine, the photocopier inched back into its regular spot, turning its ink shooters off. The office froze in hopeless stagnancy. What are you supposed to do when your colleague is devoured by the photocopier in the middle of your boss's mental breakdown? Call out the technician? Upon shedding their bowels, no one had the slightest idea how to react.
A moment later, the machine rocked left and right, flashing its buttons in a victorious green swirl. The beeping stopped. Calm beckoned. From the silence came a cavernous munching sound. Then more silence. Then the machine shook, spitting out the inky black skeleton of Lorraine in a mighty belch, her ribcage shooting across the room towards the slush pile. The room erupted in horror. Distorted wails, horrified screams, and despairing murmurs came from the staff as the lights went out, the blinds streamed shut, and the doors self-closed.
Alan stood still, oblivious to everything -- a bystander in his hijacked nightmare. Copyeditors leapt around the room as the office equipment mobilised in a tyrannous revolt against their masters. 30cm rulers pinged from the desks in unison, pinning Dennis -- the newbie working on a graphic novel retelling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff -- against the toilet door.
A strategy of desks broke loose from the creative throng, churning monitors and keyboards around the room, cornering Simon beside the file cabinets. Simon had no time to wonder, as the drawers opened and shut against his head, pummelling him into submission, whether his poetry book 9 Dreams would make the 2011 winter catalogue. He certainly didn't have to think about the 2012 catalogue as the desks nailed him to the wall, severing his legs from his torso. The desks clanged and clattered in a ritual triumph dance, soaking their scratched pinewood surfaces in his blood.
Temp #2, Vincent, with his four weeks experience editing novels from Rambunctious Slime Press, found himself at the mercy of the paper shredder, which chased him around the room until it sank its teeth into his blazer. Like the photocopier, it expanded its depths to accommodate human prey, showcasing an impressive set of gnashing razors and slicers. It nibbled on Vincent's scrawny legs, widening its jaws, as he began to feel a deep regret at having left his old job so quickly.
Arising from the dim corner of the room was the leaning tower of rejected manuscripts. Swirling through the air, this enormous pile of unloved writing no one had bothered to read sped into a small interoffice twister. It set about the editor-in-chief Ronald Steegers. Ronald, caught in the grip of this 1000MPH vice, was swirl-sliced by a record number of papercuts. The blood drained from the forty million lesiures in his skin, sluicing out cartoon-like as his bones were dumped in a bundle by the dustbin.
Rebecca, agog at the mayhem, was oblivious to the guillotine making its way up to the ceiling. It positioned itself at a diagonal distance from her, swung down in a parabola, lobbed off her head, then flopped back into its old spot by the disused monitors. Nice and clean.
Hot coffee scooshed from the percolator, scolding unfortunate Frank. He didn't even work in the office -- he only came down to drop hints that his novel Custard in Outer Mongolia was looking for a publisher (wink wink). Still, as the scalding coffee melted his flesh into mulch, and an impressive silver-red froth foamed upon his bones, he had to admit to himself -- it wasn't very good anyway.
Danny hid beneath a desk, but a band of chattering staplers advanced upon him, staples shooting from their jaws and spiking his neck, making a perfect suture around his windpipe. Hole punches drained the blood from his skin, easing him into the big sleep.
It was almost over. Receptionists banging on the exit door were clobbered and strangled by flying keyboards. Others were taken out by CD trays ejecting at frightening speeds, overhead fans snapping from their cables, being spun to death on swivel chairs, fire extinguishers shooting people out the sixth floor window, and pens boring holes into hearts and squirting toxic acid in there for a laugh. The Venetian blinds wounded no one.
Mark -- the last man alive -- cowered as the photocopier cornered him three feet away from Alan.
"You did this, didn't you? You sick bastard, you did this!" he said. The portal opened and the inky deluge came flooding out once more, sucking in the sub-Tarantino hack. Alan didn't emote.
With the whole office massacred, the equipment returned to its previous positions. Alan bit his lips.
"Right, well. That's that, then. Back to work," he said.
And it was. Back to work, indeed.
© 2010 M.J. Nicholls
Bio: M.J. Nicholls is a callow manboy clacking out experimental, sometimes amusing, but otherwise awkward fiction in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is currently undergoing creative irrigation*. His works have been published in Gold Dust Magazine, the Delinquent (UK) and Piker Press and New Paradigm (US). (*This may mean a sort of enema for the imagination, or frequent application of water using blow-up dolls with special attachments. The Editor refuses to speculate on such things.)
E-mail: M.J. Nicholls
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