AT THE END OF THE CORRIDOR
Posted July 20, 2011on:
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I had been working underground for a month when I decided that I must, absolutely must, have some time off. It was coming up to my 42nd birthday, around Halloween. Enough was enough. Day after day of loading up vast quantities of information onto a computer, and I had forgotten what the sunshine was like. Normally I wouldn’t have worked 30 days so continuously, but we were chronically short-staffed. Sacrifices had to be made, as we were constantly being told.
My birthday rolled round, and I made it clear very firmly to one and all that it was to be my last day on site, before I took a couple of days rest. No one seemed to object, although I had the unnerving feeling that nobody was taking it very seriously either. Sort of, humour the old bag, she’s only wanting to have a good moan. My gormless sidekick, Clumpy Jane, gave me a bottle of perfume as a present. The bottle was minute, it looked like the sort you find sellotaped to the front of a magazine as a free gift. In fact, I’m pretty certain that’s what it was! Dear old Jane, so embarrassed to be seen to be doing anything for anyone. As though such noble human sentiments were beneath her. I thanked her as graciously as I could, and she blushed, and said “well somebody had to do something”, which I couldn’t help thinking was the kind of remark that was best left unsaid!
I went along to the little kitchen to make myself a coffee. How heartily sick I was of seeing whitewashed walls and fluorescent lights. How I longed to see furniture that wasn’t made out of plastic or stainless steel. To see pictures on the walls that hadn’t been cut out of magazines, or the kind of mass-produced cheap rubbish you get in big stores. To see plants and flowers that weren’t rubber plants, or cacti. (I have developed quite a loathing of rubber plants since coming to work here). To see WINDOWS! Yes, to see WINDOWS, and to actually be able to look out of them at the outside world! Talk about cabin fever, I was in danger of getting it bad!
Then I noticed that somebody had left me a present on the kitchen table. It was gift-wrapped and definitely addressed to me. I felt myself quite touched. That somebody had gone to that trouble. I unwrapped it to find a paperback book. It was quite battered, having gone through several pairs of hands by the looks of things, but it didn’t matter, because it was by my favourite author, Rosie Browning. She was a very prolific writer of historical fiction, who had been dead sadly for several years. I was astonished to find a book of hers that I had never read. I had assiduously tracked them down for years, downloading bibliographies of her enormous output from the Internet. And here was one that had passed me by! And somebody had gone to all the trouble of tracing it for me, gift-wrapping it, and then shyly leaving it on the kitchen table! I felt an intense warm glow spread all over me. One that I hadn’t felt for years.
It was called “Joan de Lisle”, which again captivated me. Rosie had obviously written about another obscure lady of history. I preferred these to her books about more famous figures, like Queen Elizabeth I, or one of the mistresses of King Charles II. Simply because we tend to already know a lot about those ladies, and I liked to hear about the more forgotten ones, the ones perhaps not even relegated to a footnote in history. Joan de Lisle. The name didn’t ring a bell at all, but I was looking forward to getting to know her. The cover showed a picture of a woman in a sumptuous blue velvet Medieval dress, with lustrous long black hair, standing in the middle of a stone room, looking down at a bed on which heaps of gorgeous dresses were loaded. Again, this was baffling. Rosie’s heroines are usually depicted as looking pensive, as though such weighty questions as “shall I?” or “will he?” were consuming her every thought, standing on beaches looking out to sea, or peering out of windows with her fingers gently touching her chin in contemplative pose, or sitting at a desk with a quill pen in her hand, as though composing a letter of immense historical importance. Whereas this one looked as though the thought going through her head was “bugger this, I’m not tidying all this up, the damn maid can do it!”
I clutched the book to me almost breathlessly. This was much-needed escapism, a chance, for a few moments a day at least, to get out of this sterile, over-technical normality. I walked out of the kitchen, and back into the long corridor which cut through the main section of our underground building. To one side was my work-room, and even from out here the relentless buzz of all the machinery was intense. I sometimes wondered if we would all go mad if all the buzzing and humming was to suddenly stop all at once, it would be that much of a shock to our systems. In all honesty I had no idea where the other end of the corridor went, it disappeared into darkness. The fluorescent lighting didn’t seem to go that far. I had never asked what was down there, even though in my early days in the building I had done some exploring in my spare moments, for exercise more than anything. On one occasion I got completely lost, caught up in a maze of identical-looking corridors and stairwells, and had to ask the post-girl where I was. On another occasion I found myself in a dark corridor with radiation warnings on the walls, and had to hastily come out again.
Clumpy Jane suddenly appeared out of our office, and said something to me about making the tea. I had a dismal image of a teabag lying at the bottom of a chipped mug, one that was sold to raise funds for a hospital, and then milk from a carton dripped over it. I walked away from her without a word, and strode as quickly as I could down the corridor. The darkness swallowed me up, and I waded into it like somebody wading into the ocean to commit suicide.
I was walking for quite some time. I began to be reminded of a funhouse at a fair we had been taking into when we were kids, oh so long ago it seemed. It wasn’t much of a funhouse, because it scared the living daylights out of us. It just got blacker and blacker, and the corridors narrower and narrower, until we were screaming and crying to be let out. Looking back, it seemed like a premonition of this moment. I began to wonder if the darkness and the corridor would eventually conspire to crush me.
And then the wall suddenly gave way at the end, and I found myself out in open countryside. There were mountains in the far distance, trees that were gnarled like old men’s fingers were dotted along the rough track ahead of me. And in the near distance, perched on a rock was a castle, built out of white stone, and looking as though it was slowly crumbling to pieces. I looked behind me. The hole in the wall I had just come out from looked solid, as though somebody had painting a huge black shape on the stonework. Excitedly, because I knew, I KNEW, that Lady Joan de Lisle was waiting for me at the Castle I walked swiftly along the track.
REPORT BY ALAN FARLOW: We have hit more problems with the contractors, regarding the installation of the new men’s lavatories in C Department. The wall has finally come down, but human remains have been found behind it. The badly-decomposing body of a woman. Being sealed up seems to have prevented the rotting of the body as quickly as one might expect. This has been immensely distressing for everyone (including me) who has seen it. I strongly suspect we may well have yet another walk-out on our hands. The men all seem unhinged as it is. I’m constantly hearing tales of grotesque figures seen in the shadows, and strange noises heard. In a bid to try and make up for lost time, I suggested that considerable amounts of overtime could be put in. Only to be told that nobody will work down there after-hours. Even during the day, nobody will go to that part of the building on their own. The finding of the remains is about the worse possible thing that could have happened. Somebody has actually suggested to me, in all seriousness, that a priest should be called in. Not only is this absurd, but the security implications would be immense! If we cannot break this impasse soon, we may have to simply cut our losses, seal off that part of the building, and build the lavatories elsewhere.
(PRIVATE NOTE): Rumours have been flying around here at a very unhealthy rate. People are saying that the body is that of a woman who disappeared from her office here some time back. I remember hearing about this case. It had shades of the ’Marie Celeste’ about it. She simply stepped out of her office and disappeared. Her jacket was left on the back of her chair. Her handbag was still in the drawer of her desk. At the official inquiry, the last person to see her alive, Jane Fillimore, (now retired), said that when she spoke to her she seemed vague and distracted. I know officially that it was decided that she had had a nervous breakdown, brought on by overwork, and being too long down here without a break (normally no one would be expected to work longer than a 7-day stretch at a time, she had been here for over a month). I’ve spoken to some of the old-timers in the department, and they say she plainly wasn’t cut out for the job. She was forever going off for long walks by herself, and burying herself in romantic novels. You need to keep your feet permanently on the ground at all times to cope with working down here. How true that is. The nervous breakdown theory is all very plausible. But it doesn’t explain why her body wasn’t found until now, and how the wall came to be bricked up in front of her. It also doesn’t explain, and I can scarcely believe I am writing this, why there were huge bites taken out of her body.
E-MAIL FROM CHANTAL LEWIS, CONTRACTS DEPARTMENT TO ALAN FARLOW: I can assure you I have looked back in our records as far back as when we first came here. I can find no record at all of anyone being hired to erect a wall in that part of the building. It was always my understanding that that part of the building had been left completely untouched until very recently. I have no idea how that poor lady came to be behind it. This is all very time-consuming, and we do have more pressing concerns than going back over old jobs from many years back, which have no relevance to now! Cheers, Chantal.
(ALAN FARLOW, PRIVATE NOTES): I can’t believe she regards it as having no relevance to now. What a bloody high-handed lot they are down there! Snotty cow!
(PRIVATE DIARY): I’ve decided to start keeping these notes on a regular basis. The way things are turning out I feel I want some kind of record set down on paper, because I have a bad feeling that the powers-that-be will try and deny that any of this is happening. Something truly horrific happened today, and I still can’t believe I saw what I did. It’s all like something out of a bad dream. I decided to go down and speak to Martin Collier, his office is that last one down that corridor, before … well before the blackness kicks in. Martin and I don’t know each other at all, not even on nodding terms, and I’ve always had the impression he doesn’t think much of me, but I’m desperate enough to try anything. When I walked in I could see he was snowed under with work, his desk was stacked high with papers. He made it clear this wasn’t a convenient time, but I stood my ground. Thankfully, as things turned out, I’m glad I stood it in the doorway. I didn’t go any further into the room.
Martin carried on working, obviously hoping I’d take the hint and bugger off. He got up and went over to his filing-cabinet to get something out, and then it happened. A hole slowly opened up under his feet, it was as if somebody was burning it away like a blow-torch on paintwork. And then two hands came up, grabbed him by the ankles, and pulled him down through the hole. Martin didn’t make a sound, he just simply disappeared down the hole.
I was given a 4-day sick note by the doctor, and a prescription for sleeping tablets.
(some time later): Got the summons I’ve been expecting for some time, called before a disciplinary board to explain why I haven’t been into work. I said I couldn’t work, I wanted nothing more to do with C Department. It was pointed out that I was under contract, and was now in serious breach of contract. I said I honestly didn’t care. They could do what they liked with me, send me to prison if they wanted, ANYTHING rather than go back to C Department. Then they got all Kindly and Patient with me. They appreciated they said that C Department was a very stressful place to be blah-blah-blah. I could see they weren’t going to mention Martin if they could possibly help it. The it-never-really-happened trick. So I mentioned him. And then I could hardly believe what they said. “Is that all that’s bothering you?” I nearly had a heart-attack, I was so riled. I had watched a man disappear right under my nose, and they thought this wasn’t something to get worked up about!!!! The old guy on the panel hastily back-pedalled a bit, and said “This sort of thing isn’t unheard of you know. I once heard of a hidden well suddenly opening up in the bar-room floor of a pub in Yackley, and a poor woman falling down it. And in Cornwall of course, they have all this sort of trouble with the old tin-mines. It’s clear if anything that there was never a decent surveyor’s report done when this place was originally built …” I got up and walked out.
(have no idea what the real date is, and it doesn’t matter anyway): My last notes. I will write these up, and then put them in an old shoe-box, and if there’s anyone left to read them, well they might find them of some interest. I never did go back to C Department, and I never heard anything more from the disciplinary board. I put my house on the market, and came down here to the seaside to live. I felt I needed some space to get my head round what I had seen back there. No doubt everybody wrote me off as a case of a chronic nervous breakdown, but it scarcely matters. Everything has felt strange and disorientated since I left C Department. I can be in a shop, and I’ll suddenly see something odd out of the corner of my eye, and then that’s it, I’m upset for the rest of the day.
And then today I could see the end in sight, and it’s not going to be a pretty one. I’ve locked and barricaded my door, just so that I can at least get these notes written up before They come in. I got up you see. It’s October, and the morning was very chilly and misty. A thick sea-fog had come in overnight, and was clearing very slowly. I got dressed and then pulled up the blind. Far down below me, the beach was scattered with black figures moving jerkily across the sand, and walking straight into the sea. More was stumbling awkwardly across the promenade, out of the shopping arcade. And then I knew that It had finally happened. The zombies that had killed that woman, and who had dragged Martin Collier to his certain death, they had finally got up out of the underground caverns they had been in. They had finally found a way out. No doubt helped by all that stupid renovation work in C Department. What had we finally released there? They’ll all soon know!!!!!!!!!!!
<P FRAGMENT OF AN OFFICIAL REPORT: … The decision to close down C Department wasn’t one that was made lightly. We have been advised that trying to sell the land off to a private developer may prove difficult, and riddled with problems. So it may well have to stand idle for a time. We are hoping to keep staff redundancies to an absolute minimum. Some will be able to be relocated to other departments, and we hope that the others can be disposed of through natural wastage …