Monster parent: @nothipsofacto
Alan’s temp job was so boring, it had started giving him nightmares.
He wished he’d paid heed to the flutter of unease he felt on his first day, when he met Kathleen, his supervisor, and she looked at him with a mixture of pity and disdain. “Well, I hope you last longer than the others,” she’d said, before leading him down to the basement that would be his prison for forty hours a week.
The basement contained a rickety metal desk, a staple remover, several plastic tubs full of paperclips, and approximately one billion boxes of files. Alan’s job was to empty all of the file boxes, remove the staples from each file, replace the staples with paperclips, and then put the files back in the boxes in chronological order instead of alphabetical.
It had taken Alan almost two weeks just to remove all of the staples. During that time, he’d come home with staples in his hair and his clothes. Staples got in his shoes. Staples snuck their way into his bed. He even found staples in the soup he ate for lunch. He came to hate staples with a passion he’d never imagined office supplies were capable of inspiring.
When he began the paperclipping phase of the project, he was shocked to discover he could hate office supplies even more than he already did. That’s when the nightmares began.
In the first nightmare, the boxes of files — which already seemed endless to Alan — had begun multiplying with the relentlessness of tribbles. In another, his body shriveled and withered as the sea of files sucked the life out of him, and Kathleen insisted his skeleton continue organizing documents. He dreamed of a whirlwind undoing all of his careful sorting. He dreamed of the files catching fire, and of his ashes mixing with those of the loathsome mountain of paper. Practically the only thing he didn’t dream about was being eaten by paperclips.
By the fourth week, the basement was full of stacks of papers, and Alan was fairly sure he was being paid ten dollars an hour to go insane. Sometimes, the buzz of the fluorescent lights sounded like whispering voices to him. Sometimes, he thought he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Once, he accidentally bumped into a stack of files, and when it tumbled over, taking several nearby stacks down with it, Alan cried for an hour.
Today, the plastic tubs of paperclips were all empty when he arrived at work. Alan hated the way Kathleen scowled at him when he told her about the missing supplies. Her narrowed eyes clearly conveyed her suspicion that Alan had stolen the paperclips. “Go sort files,” she snapped. “I’ll bring you more paperclips. Hopefully, they won’t vanish too.”
Alan felt a mixture of fury and shame as he organized papers. He caught himself making stupid mistakes, which only heightened his frustration. When he thought he saw movement out of the corner of his eye, he shouted, “Go away!” Immediately embarrassed by the unhinged sound of his voice, he pressed his hands to his face. He heard a faint metallic rattling and whipped his head around to look for its source.
“It’s just the heating vent making noise,” he whispered to himself. “It’s just the heating vent. Get a grip, Alan.” He counted to ten, took a deep breath, and returned to his paper shuffling, trying to ignore the tiny tremor in his hands.
The rattling sound came again, somewhere in the stacks to Alan’s left. He paused for a moment, frowned, and then slapped the files in his hands down on the desk with a sharp thwack. Maybe someone was down here, fucking with him. He’d heard that metallic rattle countless times before, he realized: whenever he dug into the plastic bins of paperclips. A feeling of certainty surged through him. There was some paperclip thieving prankster toying with him — as if his job weren’t miserable enough already.
Alan stomped in the direction of the sound, snarling, “This isn’t funny, you asshole! Ten bucks an hour! I’m doing this shit for ten piddly goddamn bucks an hour!” He thought he saw movement between the file piles near the back of the basement. “I see you, fuckhead! Give me back the paperclips!”
The rattling came again, louder and closer now, somewhere to the right of him. How was the practical joker moving so quickly? Fed up, Alan shoved the nearest stack of files, knowing it would take others down with it, exposing his tormentor. The domino effect worked exactly as he anticipated, revealing a — Alan shook his head in disbelief. A man… made of paperclips?
No. Surely not.
He wondered if he was having another nightmare, but he felt awake. He rubbed his eyes, and the paperclip man mirrored the motion.
The paperclip man had the same build as Alan, tall and lanky. “No fucking way,” Alan said, and the paperclip man’s jaw moved at the same time, although the only sound it produced was the metallic rattling of paperclips rubbing against one another. Alan waved his right arm, and the man made of paperclips did the same. Its body glinted under the fluorescent lights as it moved.
Alan took a step backward, but instead of mirroring his movement, the paperclip man took a step forward. The creature crooked its fingers into claws. Its mouth sagged open, releasing a wheezy growl.
Alan decided that even if this was a dream, it was time to run. He spun on his heel and sprinted toward the elevator. Thousands of paperclips zipped past him, reassembling into the shape of a man. A man standing in front of the only escape route.
Swearing, Alan skidded to a halt, looking around frantically for another way to escape, or something he could use as a weapon. He stumbled backward, bumping up against the desk. He groped blindly behind him along its surface, and his fingers found the stack of files he’d slammed down in frustration only a few moments before. He flung the files at the paperclip man. The paperclips simply parted, allowing the papers to pass through its torso without touching anything.
A hopeless sob burbled out of Alan.
The paperclips swarmed over him, skittering under his clothes, burrowing into his skin. He opened his mouth to scream, and a river of paperclips rushed down his throat. He flopped and flailed around on the basement’s dark industrial carpet, covered in a layer of paperclips so dense, he now looked like a paperclip man himself. His body only stopped moving when paperclips sank into his eyes.
A short while later, the elevator doors opened, and Kathleen stepped into the basement, carrying three new plastic containers full of paperclips. She scanned the room, searching for the temp. “Unbelievable!” she said, slamming the boxes of paperclips onto the desk.
Kathleen’s scowl grew even darker when she noticed there were already three full tubs of paperclips sitting on the floor. What kind of freak lies about vanishing paperclips? She shook her head in disgust. Why did all of the temps walk off the job? Maybe she needed to start using a different staffing agency.
“Why can’t we find someone to finish this goddamn project?” she muttered as she punched the button for the elevator.
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