ERROR: CL-1

About the Story

This story may or may not have been inspired by having my soul sucked out of my body forcefully while working a shitty office job for 6+ years, only to be fired because the director was self-centered jackass that liked to hire his buddies to do jobs all the while the CSO looked the other way because she was making bank and basically didn't have to do anything but look nice and tell everyone that 'we were all doing our job the best we could'.

Or an old copy machine, I dunno, I'm not a doctor.

“This Damn thing is really starting to get on my nerves.” I angrily smacked the side of the machine a couple times. I knew it wouldn’t fix it, but it was therapeutic to get my aggression out. I’d been working in this office for seven years of my life, I’d spent half my twenties and part of my thirties working in this office, completing menial tasks and listening to the drone of the lights overhead. I’d been to hundreds, probably thousands, of pointless meetings and taken on more tasks than I could honestly even fathom. All of this, the joys, the hardships, the good and bad times, were formed into an explosive ball of rage every single time I had to use this damned copy machine!

“Paper jam in rear-loader.” I stared at the small cracked screen on the front. “There isn’t a rear-loader- you only have a front-loader. Why are you lying to me?!” I smacked the side again. While taking my aggression out on the machine was satisfying, it wasn’t going to solve my problems. I took a deep breath and paused; I needed these copies several hours ago so I would’ve had time to get them bound for the board meeting the next day. At that point, I was already working half an hour over when I should've left, so there was no point in getting aggressive and trying to rush through things- I was going to be there for a few hours extra anyways.

After troubleshooting the machine for another half hour, I finally achieved what I needed. I went back to my desk and put together the presentation binders for the meeting. After finishing the last one, I glanced over to the clock on the wall- 8:40 PM. I had managed to burn away my entire night working on these pointless collections of paper. I grabbed my phone to see if my wife was angry with me for not coming home. That was when I noticed a text from John, my boss.

‘We will have an extra presenter at the meeting tomorrow, make sure you make an extra binder.’

I stared at this text message and could feel my blood pressure doubling. I had spent the last three-plus hours making these presentations, only to be one short. My eyes shifted over to the copy machine, and I could feel the dread as it flooded through my veins. There was a moment where I wanted to send a text back to John and tell him to shove the binders so far into specific orifices that he could determine the chemical makeup of the copier ink, but in the end I decided that paying my mortgage was more important than that single moment of euphoria.

I pulled the binding from one of the already finished books, and walked over to the machine, slamming the paper into the copy tray and staring down at the glowing LCD screen. I pressed the buttons to start the copy, the belts whirred and the tray lifted. Everything looked like it was going to work, and for a moment I was almost feeling relief that the machine and I had finally come to understand and respect each other.

I say almost, because as soon as everything looked like it was going to work, the copier beeped and the screen shifted to the disgusting pure white screen with the small black text and red exclamation point. I stared down to see what message was going to cause my aneurysm.

“Paper Jam in Rear-loader.” Once again, these words tore through my soul, the only benefit was that, this time, I knew what to do. I pulled the front tray out and leaned down, staring into the paper mechanism. To my surprise, there wasn’t a ball of paper crammed into the metal this time. My confusion and anger was more than palpable at this point- what the hell was wrong this time then?

I replaced the drawer and started to stare at the various notes and symbols all over the machine. It was then that I noticed that there was a small note that was sitting underneath the machine- I grabbed it and realized that it was my saving grace.

“Rear-loader is actually top-loader. Lift top if jammed”. The fact that I found this note at that moment was nothing shy of a sign from the gods of office work. I wanted to ask which god it was, but honestly, I really didn’t care. I would’ve been thankful if it were Loki playing a prank on me, or even Cthulhu sending me down the trail of madness.

I lifted the top half of the machine and, as if fate was finally going to make life go my way, there was half a sheet of paper that was crinkled into the slot. I reached in and tried to pull the paper out, the sheet tore in half, leaving some of it within the machine.

“Oh, no you don’t, you bastard.” I reached in further and gripped the paper as tightly as I could. As I grabbed it and started to pull, I heard a clicking sound and the belt started to move. I looked over in confusion as the motor kicked on, not thinking about the fact that I was still holding onto the paper and my hand was still deep within the machine. The mechanism started pulling the paper that I was holding onto, and before I could let go, I felt the paper slide across my hand, cutting it. I pulled back in pain and stared at the paper as it was shoved through the machine, and out the top- a small spot of blood sitting on the page.

I glanced down at the cut that ran across my hand, it was a small, thin line that was pooling blood in my palm. I shifted my attention to the inside of the machine and noticed the small red dots that now littered the internal components of the copier. After a few seconds, I simply sighed and shut the top and moved on. I checked the screen to see if it was still throwing an error, to my surprise it looked like it was cleared. I pressed the continue and turned to walk away for a moment to get a tissue for my hand, but something was off. Normally, the copier was a noisy, clunky piece of trash, but it was being louder than normal. The motor was going crazy, and there was a lot of mechanical noise coming from it. I kept staring at it, half expecting it to tell me that there was another jam or something, but it didn’t. It just kept speeding up and getting louder and louder.

I just stood there, staring at the outdated machine, and waiting for it to explode, impaling me with a gear and proclaiming that it had finally gotten its revenge on me for the years of abuse. Just when I thought it was genuinely about to blow, the power started to flicker in the building. The lights blinked off and on and dimmed repeatedly, until everything shut off. I stood there in the darkness, staring in the direction of the copier, and listened as the mechanism slowed to a stop. Honestly, that damn thing sounded like a motor seizing, it made clicking noises and it sounded like something snapped inside. When it finally came to a full stop, the lights slowly faded back on, dimly illuminating the floor.

The screen started glowing again as the power came on. It ran through the normal motions of booting up- showing the logo, saying ‘please wait for several moments’, and then it went back to the main screen. I pressed the copy button again to try and get it going again, but it immediately locked up and went back to the error screen.

“Error; CL-1.” Once again, this device was trying my patience. I looked around for any other sticky note with information, anything that indicated what the hell CL-1 meant, but it looked like this was a new one; one of the thousands codes that this frustrating machine had given us since we purchased it. “This is why I need an assistant, someone to do all these bullshit tasks for me. Someone to design these presentations, make my copies, get my coffee. Someone with the willingness to kill for their minimum wage job.” I chuckled as I rubbed the sweat from my forehead, a side-effect of my escalating heart rate. “Basically, I need someone like how I was back in my early twenties- someone stupid enough to do everyone else’s work while not showing that their dying inside.” I let out a heavy, defeated, sigh. “Me before corporate life beat me into a pathetic pulp…”

It was at this point that I just gave up- There was no way I was going to try and get that damn thing to work again, and it was already past nine. I conceded, going back to my desk and grabbing my backpack- worst case scenario, I would come back in the morning and try again. Best case, I would just give John the fourteen copies I had and someone wouldn’t show up, so we’d have an extra.

I honestly didn’t sleep much that night; something about the whole situation was causing me to be mentally obsessive over it. For some reason, I was dwelling so hard on the fact that I was going to be blamed for breaking the copier, or that my boss was going to be aggressively angry with me not doing what he asked. Normally these thoughts means nothing to me, but something was different about that night- something was giving me this strange feeling like I had genuinely made a mistake.

Dwelling on it did nothing for me, so I stared at the back of my eyelids for a while; at least until my alarm started going off and I got up to get ready for work. I went through the motions groggily, drove to the office, and sat in my car, preparing myself for the inevitable conversation John was going to want to have with me. After I had fought with myself for several minutes on the issue, I decided it was better to just go in and face it than drag it on any longer. I got out, entered the building and got in the elevator to get up to the fifth floor. The doors shut, and it stopped one floor up. As they opened again, John stepped forward and gave me a friendly grin.

“Hey, There’s the man of the hour!” He patted me on the shoulder and stood beside me. “Thank you for staying late and getting those presentation binders done. They came out looking absolutely gorgeous. Good call on the color palette.”

“Oh, thanks.” I was a bit confused at this statement. “It was no big deal. I’m just sorry I didn’t get that extra one done. You can give the guest mine, I don’t really need--”

“You made enough, there were 16 on my desk this morning.” He glanced over me with a confused look, my face must have looked the same as his. Not only had I been one short, I never put them on his desk, they were still on mine when I had left. The only thing I could think of was that someone else had gotten in earlier and taken care of it for me. “Anyways, great job.” He patted me on the shoulder again and exited the elevator, walking straight toward the board room. I stared out at the floor as the doors shut, trying to think as hard as I could about who in that building gave enough of a damn about me to actually help me out. I couldn’t come up with a single name.

I exited on my floor and started toward my desk.

“Hey, Kris, good morning.” I waved at the receptionist as I passed.

“Uh, yeah, good morning again.” She responded with a snarky tone. “Oh, hey- the maintenance company called back and said that they could send someone out if we needed them to. They said they had never heard of an error CL-1, so it would probably require a technician.”

“Ok.” I paused and glanced back toward her. “Why are you telling me though? Shouldn’t you tell someone in office management?”

“You’re the one that reported it and you’re the one that called them.” Kris didn’t even look up from the screen as she responded. “Seems like you took responsibility, so I’m telling you.”

“Oh…” I looked back toward the area where I sat. “Well, thank you.” She had to be mistaking me for someone else on my team. I decided that it was best to just take the knowledge and report it to whoever else was in that morning; arguing with her would get me nowhere.

I walked past the empty cubicles, looking for anyone else that may have reported the copier error- to my surprise there was no one else around. I checked all the desks on the way to mine, the open offices; it looked like I was the first person to get in on my team. I shrugged it off- really it wasn’t my problem.

I rounded the corner and got closer to my desk, only to see my lamp on, At first I thought that maybe I had left it on overnight, but then I noticed the sound of someone typing, and the glow of my monitor peering beyond the cubicle walls.

At first I was angry; why the hell was someone at my desk and using my computer?! I thought about throwing my case on my desk aggressively and asking who they thought they were. I thought about calling security and having them reprimanded regardless of who it was, but then… then I saw who it was. I stared from around 5 feet behind the cubicle and saw the man that was sitting in my chair and working on my computer. I was standing there and watching myself work at my desk.

I had to be hallucinating because, if i wasn’t, then I apparently had a long lost twin that had taken over my job. I slowly approached the desk just to make absolutely sure, and with every step I became more certain that the man in my chair was me. His hair, his glasses, the mole on his neck- every single detail was mine. How had this happened? Why did this happen? Most importantly: What was happening?!

“Excuse me…” I reached out and put my hand on his shoulder. As my hand hit him, his hands stopped moving on the keyboard, he just sat there staring at the monitor without turning to face me. “Hello? I wanted to ask who you were.” After standing and waiting for several moments, I gave his shoulder a slight pull, and turned him to face me. His eyes were cold and expressionless, his face was blank and pale- there was no mistaking who this was, it was me. This man looked to be the perfect copy of me in every way, except what made me human. He looked like he was dead inside, completely void of thought and feeling. “Can you hear me at all?” I waved my hand in front of his face; he continued to stare at the carpet. “Oh my god, I need more coffee…”

As I made this statement, the man sitting in the chair, the copy of me, glanced up and nodded, then stood up and walked away from my desk. I watched as he walked towards the break room and out of sight, almost as if he was a mindless drone with only enough willpower to complete the task at hand.

Just as he passed the corner and exited my line of sight, I noticed a second one exit the copy room. He looked the exact same as the other copy, his face a blank canvas, but every single minute detail the same as mine. He walked out onto the main floor, paused, then walked over to my desk, sat in my chair, and started doing seemingly random tasks on my computer. I watched as he opened emails and responded to them in a professional manner that was consistent with how I did. After finishing those, he moved onto selecting dates and times for meetings that needed to occur across teams, he pulled and updated various spreadsheets, and he even called one of our offices to ask a question about their compliance with our policies. Somehow, this copy of me was doing my job better and more efficiently than I had ever done it.

As I was standing there, my eyes fixed on how beautifully the specimen in front of me was performing, my awe was interrupted by the original copy returning. He approached and reached out to hand me a large cup from a local coffee shop. He stared at me for a moment, almost as if he was expecting something. It took me a moment, but I realized that he was waiting for my approval on the coffee.

“Oh, my apologies.” I took a sip of the searing hot liquid- peppermint mocha, my favorite. “That’s perfect. Thank you, sir.” I smiled at him and looked back at the other copy. Somehow, life had decided to give me not one, but two assistants that looked and acted just like me, minus a few emotional details. They could do my job, they could run my errands, and I could sit at home playing video games while raking in the money. Who in their right minds wouldn’t want to have someone to do all the boring crap they had to do every day?

“Well, uhh…” I patted the first copy on the shoulder. “I guess I should let you get back to work?” I smiled again at him, he nodded in confirmation. I grabbed my case and strapped it over my shoulder, walking away with a satisfied grin on my face.

As I took a couple steps, I paused- a strange sound filled the silence of the room. It almost sounded like someone was struggling to breathe. I turned around to the copies only to see something that I would’ve never anticipated. I watched in absolute horror as the first copy repeatedly stabbed the second copy in the throat with a pair of scissors, my pair of scissors. He pulled them and thrust them back in as hard as he could several times, before deciding to place them neatly back in my pencil holder. I then watched as he grabbed the now lifeless corpse and pulled him out of the seat, tossing him effortlessly out onto the floor, and then sitting down to resume his work.

His shirt was drenched in blood, his hands were also lined in red, and it was collecting on everything in the cubicle as he went back to work. My keyboard, my phone, my pens, and various sheets of paper were all now stained red. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, and the color drain from my face- I had literally just witnessed me, killing another version of myself.

This was the point where I had decided that I needed to get out of there, I needed to leave and get as far away from whatever this was as I possibly could. I quickly turned away to leave, and smacked, face first into someone else. I instinctively apologized, until I glanced up and noticed the person- it was another copy of me. He stared at me, his eyes blank and his face expressionless.

“Oh my god, no. Not more.” I stepped back as I watched him, he kept his eyes on me as I nearly trembled in horror. “What now? Are you going to kill the other copy? Or kill everyone else and do their job too?” He stared at me for a moment, before nodding and stepping past me, toward one of the offices. I watched as he entered, and winced as I heard the sound of someone greeting him, then screeching as they were, I assume, murdered. The hard smack against the ground told me that my assumption was correct.

It took this long into this situation, to this exact moment for me to realize that, if someone else walked onto the floor, they were likely to be murdered by these copies. Not to mention, if an investigation was to take place, I was going to be charged with the murder- these clones were all exact copies of myself. If they investigated the murders, they would find my DNA, my finger prints, everything that pointed to me as the murderer. The idea of running away from this place re-entered my mind. I disregarded the scene behind me and started running toward the elevator, only pausing as I noticed a copy of myself sitting at the front desk.

“Oh no…” I approached the counter and smacked the surface. “What the hell did you do with Kris?” The copy glanced up at me, then slowly looked down onto the floor beside him. I followed where he was looking, only to see Kris’ body, her neck completely twisted around.

I immediately struggled to stop myself from vomiting as I turned back to my original mission- getting the hell out of there. I swiftly stepped over to the elevator and started jamming the button, after a moment the doors pulled open. I was greeted with the sight of my boss’ mangled body lying on the floor, and three more copies standing and staring at me with their emotionless eyes. I turned to run to the stairs, there were five more of them in the main area; sweeping, mopping, cleaning the windows. All of them doing the menial tasks that they had decided they needed to do.

The room started to spin as I tried to look in every direction for a way out of this mess; there was only one way to get through this that I could think of, getting rid of the evidence. If there was no proof that a murder took place in the building, then I could, possibly, get out of this unscathed. Well, at least physically; mentally I was going to be scarred forever.

“Hey, all of you.” I shouted, hoping that they would listen to me. It seemed to work as they all paused their work and turned to me, staring with those glazed over eyes. “I need you to… uh…” There was something unsettling about seeing dozens of copies of myself standing and staring at me, waiting for my instructions. “I need you all to get rid of the bodies. I need you to make sure there isn’t a single body in this building when you’re done.” I watched as they all stood still, processing what I had requested of them for a few seconds. They all turned to look at each other, and simultaneously nodded.

At first, I thought my plan would be successful- I started to let my guard down as the copies moved toward the corpse of my boss. They lifted him out of the elevator and moved him over to the break room, placing him on one of the tables, placing him gently on the surface, then pausing to all stare at each other.

Suddenly, the feeling of the room changed as the group of them all leaned down and started biting into his flesh. They all took chunks of his skin off with each bite, slowly pulling bits of his body off, and chewing it with their emotionless stares. I couldn’t hold it in anymore, I leaned over and vomited my breakfast onto the smooth tile, feeling light headed and dizzy as I stumbled back toward the wall.

I shifted my stare from the bloody scene in front of me, to the main floor; there were more of them than I could count. They were all leaned over a dead body, ripping into their flesh and ingesting them. I slowly stepped away from the situation, every single step taking in the absolute horror in front of me. This whole morning had gone from a fairly confusing situation, to a horrifically gruesome group of cannibal clones consuming my co-workers.

“Excuse me.” A shallow raspy whisper hit my ear from over my shoulder. I turned to face another copy as he stared me down. I stared at him in terror, shaking and breathing rapidly.

“What... “ I choked as I spoke. “What do you want?”

“Get rid of... “ He whispered again, struggling to speak. “All bodies. Not a single body left.” His words, my words from earlier, were a terrifying explanation of what I had requested. I was going to be next, they were going to ‘remove’ me as well. I shook my head and stepped back.

“No… no, I won’t let you kill me!” I shouted at him, he continued approaching me with every backward step I took. “Leave me alone!”

“Remove.” He growled once more, his hand reaching out toward me. I had to think fast- I threw my coffee in his face and jumped into a sprint toward the other end of the floor. There was only one other escape here- the fire exit. I ran as quickly as i could past the same disgusting scene in every direction, clone after clone eating corpse after corpse. I dodged as many as I could as I made my rush toward the emergency door. I grabbed the handle, twisted it and pulled it as hard as I could, only to be met with another one- Another damn clone, standing right in my way and giving me the same murderous stare as the other.

I looked around once more for any method of escape, my eyes finally landing on the door to the copy room. I ran as fast as I could, dodging as many of them as I could, shoving the door closed and locking it. As soon as I locked it, I could hear them all on the other side, smacking it and trying to get in; they were merciless in their pursuit. The only thing I could do at this point was wait it out and hope that they would eventually give up.

I pushed my back against the door and slowly fell to the floor, sitting and staring at the small, empty room. I shut my eyes and slowly tried to catch my breath again, trying to refocus on what was going on. They were all doing what I told them to, so they were just going to to get rid of the bodies, and then they would move on, right? As long as they didn’t see me, maybe they would think that the floor was empty and leave, or at least go back to being distracted by their work. Until then, all I had to do was wait and be as quiet as I could.

My thoughts, as well as the silence, were interrupted by the sudden and sharp sound of the copier starting up. The small motor started making a whirring noise, and the mechanisms started to move. At first, I thought nothing of it- it was an old hunk of junk, and it would make random noises every now and then, but then, the motor started to go faster and faster, exactly as it had the night before. It sped up, making louder noises with each passing second. The lights overhead dimmed slightly, as if the building was losing power, but they lit back up to full capacity after only a few moments.

The small LCD screen lit up with the error screen, and the machine beeped.

“Error, CL-1.” I read, it was the same mysterious error as before. “Well, looks like maintenance won’t be coming to fix that anytime soon.” I chuckled, at least I could find something to laugh at in this new scenario of corporate horror.

My small joy was cut even shorter than anticipated as I watched the copier start to spew out a strange, pink slime. It pooled on the floor by the machine, a viscous, flesh tone liquid that was slowly starting to collect and build into a pile. I watched as it quickly started to take form, the form of a human head… my head. The fleshy mound opened its eyes and stared at me as it continued to be created by the fluid pouring from the machine. My heart started racing as I searched the room for anything to protect myself with, only to find nothing short of paper and a toner cartridge.

There was no way I was going to survive. The copy machine, the old hunk of plastic that had caused me many migraines, was literally creating clones of myself in a few minutes flat. Whatever eldritch horror had decided to enter this office building, had determined that the copy machine would be it’s entrance into this world, and I would be the one to let it out.

I took a few deep breaths as I prepared to defend myself against this clone, hell-bent on murdering me and ‘getting rid of’ my body. I focused as the gelatinous blob took full form, and stood up, turning its gaze right at me. The room heavy, and silent, all except the beeping of the machine as the screen continued to read; Error: CL-1.

Narrations Of This Story