James Cartwright moseyed down the dim olive green hallway in a manner typical of long serving public servants. He was in no rush. Even if he had cause to rush, mosey he still would. OH&S had strict guidelines regulating general movement, and James had always been a stickler for the rules. The Department of Maritime Stewardship had limited clout in the greater political arena, but the roost was ruled adequately enough, and James Cartwright was a fine example of its typical employees. As he waltzed the hallways, its aesthetic reminiscent of hit 1960s television sitcom Get Smart!, James wondered exactly where he was going. The old building was as immense as it was easy to become lost within.
His journey today was at the behest of a departmental head, Mr. Malcolm Beecroft. His instructions had outlined exactly where to go, but James’ attention had waned at the modest architectural complexity, and with a lack of visual cues to help guide him, he had become utterly flabbergasted. A gaping silence was punctuated occasionally by distant footsteps, often equalling his own meagre pace. At one juncture, his footsteps eclipsed that of a fellow walker so that it sounded as though the same person was walking in two separate locations at once. James took note of this and allowed footsteps in general to distract him completely. Aside from regular signage for union membership, safety directions and maritime paraphernalia, there was nothing to guide him along his bold quest. As if he were walking from an outpost town into a remote and hostile desert, strangers became few, surroundings grew barren, and light bulbs started to flicker.
James glanced at his departmental issue mobile phone - the reception bar was empty. He had noticed the ground had also begun to slant downwards. There were less intersections and office doors, and yet he kept walking, more out of curiosity as to how far the mysterious corridor went than any desire to complete his long forgotten task. Maybe he could even apply for some stress leave due to the anxiety the ordeal had created. He could go fishing and relax for a couple of days, if luck were his friend.
Onwards and downwards he continued into the impending dimness. There were no other sounds now, no footsteps aside from his to preoccupy the senses. Occasionally the hallway turned corners and wiggled awkwardly, like a line drawn without a ruler, and James Cartwright felt the air grow cool and stale. As surprising as the slog had been so far, even more surprised was James when he encountered the slog’s end. Still continuing into the earth, the walkway was suddenly filled with water, making continued access impossible. James stood at the water’s edge and gazed, wondering where the strange tunnel went beyond this artificial, interior beach. The walls appeared unfinished, rock and soil exposed like what he imagined a mine shaft to look like. James had never been inside a mine shaft before.
With nowhere left to go, he turned around and trundled back the way he had came. He found the return journey much easier to navigate, and before long was right back at his office.
“I got lost,” he explained to Malcolm, “this hallway just kept on going, and sloped down into the ground. I followed it until I got to the end, but it was filled with water. Have you ever been down there?”
Malcolm rolled his eyes. “That’s where they got up to when they were going to nationalise the department – don’t you remember all the emails we got about it?”
“I don’t think so.” James Cartwright almost ceremoniously deleted departmental emails without reading them.
“It was the project to join the Melbourne office with Launceston. The idea was to save costs by employing cheaper workers from Tassie, and then they could ride through the tunnel over here in the morning and back in the afternoon. But we ran out of money, so the idea was scrapped.”
“Oh,” said James, as if it made perfect sense. “Then why don’t they block it up or something?”
“Sometimes we like to go fishing down there.”
“Oh!” he said. And that did make perfect sense.