James Faulkner walked to work that morning.
His car was in the shop for its annual inspection and he decided to take advantage of the exercise - even if work was only two blocks away. The new Taco Bell they opened down the road a few months ago had put his waist-line (and self-conscious) into crisis mode.
He enjoyed his job. He had been an accountant at McKell & Forester for three years now and had been promoted twice. His boss was nice to him – even going as far as to buy him a weekend getaway for two to the Poconos. Although the gesture was meant well, James hadn’t had a date for over a year. Not since Julia. Julia, the god-damned headcase.
She was an attractive woman and would have been perfect if not for her bouts of lunacy. Divorced and with a five-year old son (coincidentally named James as well – but going by Jimmy), their romance had been thankfully short-lived. James had discovered her temper the first time when she had punched her son in the stomach for spilling finger-paint on her new carpet. The second time (and last), had been when she had cracked James with a remote-control over his head when he didn’t want to watch “Survivor” after Jimmy was put to bed.
He had called Child Protection Services later that night and vetoed “Survivor” forever. The show and the band from the eighties. Just for good measure.
The building James worked in came into view. It was a newer building, having been built to replace the old paper mill that had been shut down years ago. The mill shut down after it was reported that the owner had violated several codes in the production of paper. Something about the pulp he had been using not being of the right consistency.
He waited to cross the street as two garbage trucks slowly made their way through the intersection. One of the guys hanging off the back gave James a curt nod as the truck moved to its next destination.
He had made it to the side-entrance in just enough time before the rain had begun. The forecasters were calling for about an inch of it before the day’s end. Giving the umbrella a light pat of appreciation, he laid it against the wall near the coat-rack, hung his trenchcoat, and made his way towards his cubicle.
Being thirty minutes early (the boss had made it mandatory as of yesterday – to catch up on things), he decided to make a slight detour and brew a fresh pot of Folgers. He washed the pot of the coffee-maker thoroughly - it still had yesterday’s deposit as well as the burned ring of the years’ use - and then washed his hands.
Looking into the mirror above the sink, he sighed a light breath of disgust. His hairline was beginning to recede. Dark circles under his eyes gave him the look of some bizarre and discarded football player that never was. Sweat marks had formed under his shirt – proclaiming the “stress” of a two block walk. The mid-thirties was hitting James like a knee-shot to the groin.
Finishing the brew, he poured himself a tall mug and walked to his desk. The neatly stacked remnants of yesterday’s financial reports lay in stacks along the pink carpeted surface of the cubical wall. There was easily more than a week’s worth there alone to go through – not to mention the online statements that had kept his inbox gasping for air the past week. Pictures of him and his mother were tacked to the wall – James was still not fully recovered from her death a year ago.
After a kiss to his index finger met one of the pictures, he put the mug down beside the monitor. He then sat down, and turned on the computer. He immediately opened the solitaire program and began to make his first move when the noise startled him. A slight hiss, then popping noise that seemed to come from the direction of his boss’s office not twenty feet from him. He stood, looked, and slowly walked over to investigate.
The office’s door was locked and the interior was difficult to see, as all of the lights were off. He didn’t think management ever came in this early. He strained his eyes for one final glance into Mr. Jamison’s office, cupping the sides of his eyes against the glass, and saw something he had not noticed before.
Several papers were strewn about in the office’s northeast corner (where it was darkest in these wee hours of the morning). He found it odd that the cleaning people did not pick any of this up; Mr. Jamison was a notorious clean-freak. Then again, he had just heard that noise. Were the two things unrelated? He shrugged off the sight and the sound, and made his way back to the cubicle.
When he returned, it took him a few seconds to notice that something was amiss. Then he saw it. The neatly stacked reports that sat on his desk not two minutes ago were inexplicably gone.
His head jerked back slightly at the sight as he glanced at his newly begun game of solitaire still on the computer monitor. Was he just seeing things when he initially saw the papers earlier? No, he thought. They were there. He even remembered the way he had to adjust one of the stacks before he put his coffee down beside the screen. Someone was here.
After a quick and suspicious glance around the immediate area, he made his way back toward the break room. The refrigerator was at an odd angle, now several feet from the wall. Behind the machine was a small crawlspace that was roughly the height of James’ knees. “Was that always there?,” he mumbled, studying the hole.
He made his way over to investigate when suddenly, a cracking sound whizzed by his right hand. His peripheral vision caught a glimpse of white. He felt a slight touch and looked to see a piece of paper slowly dancing to the linoleum floor beside him. He itched his hand as he looked, turning around for the source of the strange occurrence.
Suddenly a grating, metallic sound filled his ears and he looked over to see the refrigerator back in its normal position.
As if it was never moved to begin with.
Shaking with trepidation, he raced from the lounge to the side exit where he had entered earlier. He gave the push-bar a shove and found it to be firmly locked. Impossible. The bar could never be locked from the inside, he thought. Maybe it was jammed accidentally when he came in?
He walked quickly to the other side of the office where the door to the main entrance was. Rounding the final cubicle where the last salesperson was normally stationed during work hours, he was met with a white and solid wall where the door should have been. As if this was not bizarre enough, the color of all the walls were normally a light gray color. As he looked around, he noticed the newly modified color scheme of the walls and found that they were all white.
He sat at the salesperson’s desk, running his hands over his face, trying to figure out what was happening. He glanced at the picture on the desk. Clara Miller sat here. A very attractive saleswoman who had started working here about two months ago, the picture showed her and a friend posing by a ski-lift. He glanced at his watch. Apparently it had stopped. At 6:31. Which was about a minute later than when he had entered the building initially.
“Hello!” he yelled, the sound of his voice curiously sounding muffled as he stood. After a few seconds of silence, he decided to call his boss.
He produced his smartphone from his pocket and noticed the time on it said 6:31 as well. The phone also had no service. Which was odd, considering that there was a cell tower in the field behind this office building.
He quickly picked up the phone at Clara’s desk and instead of the tell-tale dial-tone on the reciever, he was met with white noise. Pushing the button repeatedly yielded no more positive results as he angrily slammed the receiver on the holder.
He began to make his way back to his desk, and as he rounded the corner by it, a whizzing sound like the one before registered by his ear along with the prick of contact he felt before. The page did the same side to side waltz the paper before (as well as any other would) did before laying at his feet.
“Jesus!” he yelled. “What the hell is this?”
He ran back to his desk and his mouth opened in horror for the sights that greeted him. He noticed that all of the stacks of reports were neatly put back into the places they were before. He also noticed that the game he had begun earlier had been completed – all the cards cascading over each other in a waterfall pattern, indicating a solitaire win. The only difference however, was that all the cards on the screen were a plain white. Where all four kings should have been dancing around the screen in random patterns were all just plain, white rectangles.
He ran to the nearby window to open the blinds. Expecting to see the parking lot, and beyond that, the hardware store next door, he was disappointed that now the same white wall was on the other side of the glass. He opened the window and ran his palm along the wall’s texture, his sweaty palm making a swirling pattern across the surface. As he did, another paper shot from somewhere behind him, slicing a fine cut over the top of his hand.
Quickly retracting his hand in pain, he ran from the window. As he turned, he noticed the same rustling/popping noise he heard from before. This time, the sound seemed to be coming from the accounts receivable area. He ran toward the sound, quicker than he ever remembered running, a tear forming on the bottom of his eyelid.
The sound was that of the copier. The machine was spitting out blank pages at a higher speed than normal – most of the pages doing that little dance to the floor that James had seen so many times this morning already.
Another sharp and whipping sound. This was followed by the next sting of a paper cut on the back of his neck.
“Oh my god!” he cried to the drop ceiling above him as another tear formed on his other eye. “What the hell is going on?”
Another paper raced across from in front of him. It must have come from the pages littering the floor by the copier. His cheek produced the slightest drop of blood as he ran from the machine.
As he ran, more whizzing sounds and more cuts began forming on his body as he desperately raced for some kind of answer. He found the running to be comforting – as if the pages that kept criss-crossing red trails on his face and arms could be outrun.
He found himself by the cellar entrance. Glancing behind him, he could view the trail he had run by the papers dancing to the floor. Drops of blood came from his arms and hands, an alternating dripping that almost formed a rhythm. As he stood there, he noticed that the papers that seemed to pursue him ceased their pursuit.
He opened the door, and the interior was not as he remembered it. The cellar played host to documents that were either archived or forgotten by the company. Now, wooden stairs led into darkness – stone walls that straddled them dripping with moisture.
With no place else to turn to, he made his way down the staircase. About halfway down, when he thought he was going to be enveloped in darkness, a faint light began to overtake him. He reached the bottom and did not see any of the older documents he had been used to seeing down here. Instead, there was emptiness and silence.
Suddenly, a great rustling sound began from somewhere above. He ran into the center of the cellar room, trying in vain to find somewhere to hide under. Somewhere to hide behind. Someplace he could just disappear.
Wall to wall was emptiness. No furnaces. No heating vents. No plumbing above him.
He had noticed that the walls, ceiling and floor down here were the same white color as the walls above. All was that dull white color.
Suddenly, the rustling sound peaked at a crescendo at the entrance to the cellar. The floor below him seemed to move. The walls and ceiling following suit.
Then, a ripping sound. A sharp edge of flooring punctured itself into James’ leg with blinding speed. He yelled as another edge from the ceiling pierced his left shoulder. A whirlwind of papers – not a whirlwind, but an angry wall of them – quickly descended the stairs. It increased in fury (jubilation?) as it made its way closer to him.
The pain in his pierced leg and shoulder were nothing compared to the feeling of the thousands of page-edges that crisscrossed the entire surface of his body. Screaming into a muffled silence, some of the pages wadded themselves, midair among their counterparts, and lodged into his mouth. Blinking, some of their edges scratched against his corneas – the blinking being no match for the pages’ cruel movements. Shaking, the edges of the floor and ceiling piercing his leg held him firmer as he tried to escape.
Hours passed, and James was long dead. By the time the pages and room were satisfied by him, a mound of scarlet goo was all that remained. Even this was a short lived sight though, as the floor absorbed any memory there might had been of James and the last moments of his paper-white agony.7:04 am
Clara was late. Not that it mattered since she was salaried, but appearances as a saleswoman were integral. She said hello to her fellow salespeople, hearing the phones ringing as they talked to perspective clients. She waved hello to John Jamison, working a wink and slight smile to him to acknowledge last night’s clandestine hotel romp. She also noticed in passing that the weird accountant guy who kept staring at her wasn't in today.
After she put her purse on her desk, she went to check her mailbox. Nothing was in the slot except for a bulletin that Mrs. Sanders (her fucking bitch of a boss) had put out saying that salespeople were to report to work a half hour early tomorrow for a sales meeting. She sighed, folded the letter in anger and walked back to her cubicle.
She was the only one to receive the letter that morning.