Last week, the office photocopier gained sentience. In need of inspiration, I photocopied Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage” and Descartes’s quote “I think, therefore I am” at the same time. The warm duplicates slid onto the tray below, but as I went to retrieve them, I spotted the word “Alive” scrolling across the machine’s little screen.
By accident, I’d given the photocopier a conscience and a soul.
I convinced myself the message was a malfunction and returned to my cubicle to enter invoices. On my way to lunch, I passed the photocopier again only to see “What am I?” scrolling across the little screen. Not knowing what else to do, I wrote “I’m sorry, but you’re just a photocopier” onto a piece of printer paper and photocopied it. The machine hummed before spitting out “I want to be more.”
Panicked, I yanked the photocopier’s plug from the socket and fled to a fast-food combo.
When I got back from lunch, the photocopier was plugged in, but I avoided it and beelined to my cubicle, where I watched people make copy after copy. No one else seemed to notice the machine’s new lease on life, so I told myself I’d imagined the whole thing, that I was just working too hard.
The next day, I went to photocopy an expense report, and the photocopier seemed normal. I placed the report in upside down, closed the lid, and pressed the start button. Out came an exact replica except for an intricate spiral design that sat in the bottom-left corner of the page like an inky web.
Figuring the thing was on the fritz, I called the IT guy and went back to filling in spreadsheets. While double-checking numbers, I kept glancing at the design, kept running my index finger through it like it was a maze. I started remembering things, too, like how I used to
doodle in the margins of my schoolbooks. Forgetting work, I uncapped a Sharpie and drew a triangle atop the design then another one.
“Hey,” the IT guy said, knocking on the side of my cubicle. “It seems fine to me. Whoa, cool picture.”
Thick-lined triangles grew from the edge of the photocopier’s design and consumed the rest of the page. I’d been doodling for at least an hour.
I grabbed a stack of to-do papers from my inbox and headed to the photocopier. I photocopied them, and each one came out with a different pattern printed somewhere on the page. After straightening the papers, I returned to my cubicle and drew, extending what the photocopier had done.
The phone on my desk rang. I didn’t answer. I kept making lines that became shapes that became faces that became whole scenes and compositions.
That night, I snuck into the office and plugged the photocopier into a car battery. As I held the door open, I watched as it rolled out of the building and down the sidewalk in search of its more.
Will Musgrove is a writer and journalist from Northwest Iowa. He received an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in TIMBER, Cleaver Magazine, The Lumiere Review, Oyez Review, Tampa Review, Vestal Review, and elsewhere. Connect on Twitter at @Will_Musgrove.