James looked down at the assortment of stuff laid out on his bed. A backpack to hold most of it, an empty duffel bag for later. A handful of granola bars. Four bottles of water. About fifty feet of rope, which he hadn't realized would be as heavy as it was. A maglight, of course; can't have an adventure without that. A notepad. A couple two-way radios, courtesy of a "we are super broke please take our dregs" sale at Radio Shack. A smaller bag full of disinfectant and bandages. And, of course, a roll of duct tape. All that went into the bag.
Oh, and a 9mm pistol with two magazines and a box of spare rounds. That, begrudgingly, went into a locked matte black hard plastic case on his desk. Too much of a risk tonight.
The heavy coat and fingerless gloves went on him. The crowbar he'd carry in one of the duffel bags until he got there. And voila, one... well, professional crazy criminal, thinking about it.
Honestly, he couldn't rule out being crazy.
The starting point of this insane escapade was almost exactly a month ago. His work schedule had changed, and he got stuck on the night shift. Tech support at 1 AM is almost brutally boring, and it took a lot of effort to not just doze off. He was just getting into the pattern of it, when something went horribly wrong. One Tuesday night, the elevator was out when he clocked out. So, rather than go all the way around the building for the other one, it seemed easier to take the stairs. Makes sense, right? The big bulky security door for the stairwell is right there. So, throw it open and see... not the stairs.
Cubicles. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe. Stretching so far off that they fade into the horizon. He'd panicked then, and slammed the door. Clearly, this was sleep deprivation and hallucination. So, he took a minute, then opened it up again, and of course, there the stairs sit, normal as can be.
It wasn't until it happened again next week that he realized that the crazy wasn't in his own head at all, but in the real world all along. The week after that, he did it on purpose, and with a little less panic, and started to get a picture of what was going on.
Tuesday, 3:44 to 3:46 AM, the door to the east stairwell of his call center led to... somewhere else.
That third time, he went in a bit. Careful to keep the door propped open a bit, of course.
All the desks nearby were occupied, but he didn't recognize the names on any of the tags. And the little nicknacks were all sort of... random. There were pictures of cats, office toys, plants, all the usual stuff, but they all felt kind of jumbled, like they were just dropped there to just fill some kind of tat quota. It wasn't until passing the fourth or fifth desk that he thought to check a drawer, and made two major discoveries.
One, some of the desks had candy bars in them. And the candy bars seemed just as "random-number-generator" as everything else. He was well aware of the fact that humanity had put chocolate, nougat, caramel, and nuts together in just about every possible combination, but that didn't mean he'd seen any of them. And he was pretty sure that "Baby Things" weren't available at his local supermarket.
They did taste good, though.
The second discovery was when he found a wallet in a coat hanging on the back of a chair. The ID in it didn't match the name tag on the cubicle, it had a loyalty card to a coffee shop he was pretty sure didn't exist, and also a hundred and seventeen dollars and fifteen cents in cash.
That last part was important, because the cash sure didn't look randomized.
As he was busy wondering what kind of person would carry almost exclusively two and five dollar bills, a thought in the back of his mind was racing. If this was what he could find a few feet through the door, how much more stuff was in here? A hundred bucks, even in weird denominations, was a hundred bucks. He'd just made in five minutes what would normally take most of a work day.
James wasn't an idiot, and he'd played more than one RPG in his life. Even if he hadn't, he worked in tech support. Hard to avoid that kind of incidental knowledge. He could see what was going on here, and his thoughts turned to spawn rates and drop tables. Was this place farmable? Hell, if he could just pick up a few hundred bucks and some novelty candy every week, that was more than enough to justify it, right?
So busy was he caught up in wondering if this place was his personal treasure trove, that James didn't notice the skittering thing creeping up on him until it was already upon him. With a yelp of pain, he jerked his hand off the desk, a pained "holy shit" coming from him as he looked at the two tiny bleeding points on the back of his hand. On the desk, clicking at him in an angry tone, was a stapler.
It was black. Heavy. He could tell just by looking at it that it was one of those solid bricks that they don't seem to make anymore, but that keep showing up in offices. It clattered at him, moving under some unseen power, and skittered toward him across the desk, not letting up its tiny furious assault. As for how it was actually moving, that was more obvious. Ten to twenty "legs", made of what looked like ballpoint pens, gave the impression of a matte-black crab.
Before he knew what was really happening, it launched itself at his face, and James could only flail backward in panic. The stapler got a few good punches in on his left cheek, leaving dripping trails of blood running down onto his shoulder, before he got a good grip on it and pulled it off. It was heavy, but not really any heavier than a stapler. Gripping the top of it, he ripped open the feed chamber for the staples, getting a surprising amount of resistance, and a fleshy popping sound as he pried it back. Dumping the staples out onto the floor, along with some dripping fleshy strings that tied the stapler's internals together, he threw the creature into the far wall of the cubical, before slumping back into the swivel chair and taking panicked breaths as the adrenaline left his system.
It took him more than a few minutes to regain his breath, and longer to stop his hands from shaking. He'd just been attacked. By a stapler. God, he was bleeding! It wasn't threatening, but the wounds hurt like hell, and it was dripping onto his shirt and how was he supposed to explain this to his boss? As he sat there, trying to regain some calm, he noticed something about the corpse of the office tool he'd just fought off.
"Are you kidding me? It even has a loot drop. This is insane." He muttered to himself, kneeling down to pick up the small, slightly glowing, golden orb hovering above the body of the monstrous stapler.
Holding it between his thumb and forefinger, he brought it up to his eye. "Doesn't look like an actual gem..." he muttered, slightly squeezing the soft sphere. "What am I even supposed to do with..." It popped in his grip, suddenly and almost violently, though he didn't really feel a thing.
In his mind, however, a single thought that was recognizably not his own echoed.
[+1 Skill Rank : Templating - Phone Book - New York]
"What." Without really meaning to, he thought about a New York phone book, and a series of data points jumped to mind. Column widths, ad spacing and costs, font size, it was like he'd spent the last couple months working a job printing the giant brick texts that no one used anymore.
"What the hell kind of reward is THAT? I think I am actually a more boring person for having done that! No, this is bullshit! No! The candy, okay, I get that. Money? Sure! But this?! This is insane! Who the fuck wants to know how to format phone books?!" He yelled into the empty, endless, office.
Well, the mostly empty office.
A series of skittering noises answered the yell. Like a thousand dry ballpoint pens being scritched across paper, digging for ink that had long since run out. A waterfall of noise and motion. It took him a second to realize what he'd just done, and then the first stapler crested the cubicle wall.
A second series of noises joined the first, this time, it was mostly the word "fuck" yelled at high volume, punctuated by the sound of feet pounding the floor, as James dashed for the exit at high speed. "How fast can those things go? What if they catch me? What if the door isn't THERE?! How long have I been in here? Was I stupid enough to miss the exit window?" Thoughts ran through his head at high speed, and he ran through the office just as fast.
The door was still there, though. And it still led to the east stairwell. James was through it faster than he'd ever opened a door before, and slammed the thick metal security door behind him, bracing himself against it to stop the incoming flood of stapler-crabs. But the impacts never came, no skittering noises or scratchings echoed from the other side. It was just a silent hallway. He checked his watch. 3:47. He opened the door. Stairs.
Heart still racing, he decided to take the time to walk around the building and use the other elevator down that night.
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Bio: I write stuff, and have a lot of thoughts about narrative structure and tropes. Some of the stuff I write is here, the rest can be found over on Reddit on my r/hfy author page. Feel free to message me if you want to talk about ideas, or just have questions about anything I made!