Short story: The Office That Wasn’t

By Colleen Cowley








Set a few months before the events of The Opposite of Magic



Emily read the sign taped over the door and laughed. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Didn’t that sum up her feelings about taking this job.

She opened the door, a massive, arched thing that certainly could double as the entrance to hell, and got her first look at the basement into which she’d been cast.

Holy heck.

A stone passageway stretched ahead, alternating between light and nearly dark thanks to bare-bulb fixtures that weren’t up to the task. Arches at regular intervals led off to still more corridors. Just about the worst place for a cozy office, though—in all fairness—an ideal backdrop for an adventure.

Then a man popped out of a connecting corridor, which sent her heart rate soaring until she saw his smile and outstretched hand.

“Hi there! Bernie Ballantine, medieval lit.”

He wore a fedora in a shade of red so eye-stabbingly bright, it made her squint. She suspected colorblindness.

“Emily Daggett, history-department castoff,” she said, shaking his hand. “Is the English department short on office space upstairs, too?”

His mouth twitched. “Nope. I kept nagging them to move me here until they finally did, just to shut me up.”

Aha, not colorblind. Merely peculiar. So she offered up her equivalent of a neon-red hat. “My specialty is magic and mythology.”

“Sounds like fun,” he said—without a hint of condescension.

Yup, she liked this guy.

“C’mon, I’ll show you your office,” Bernie said, and led her to the second corridor on the left.

She’d thought the basement had hit her with all its surprises already, but no. She stared open-mouthed at what was not, in fact, a hallway with doors leading to rooms, but rather a corridor very much like the one she’d just stepped out of. Nothing but arches leading to yet more corridors—and an utterly out-of-place desk, chair, computer and telephone.

The corridor was her office. The corridor.

She looked over her shoulder, hoping it was a joke, and saw Bernie’s office across the passageway. Exact same setting, made more inviting by a couch, lamps and other personal touches.

She cleared her throat. “Do these hallways, um . . .”

“Go anywhere?” Bernie glanced around, chuckling. “No.”

A metaphor if ever there was.

Emily slumped into the chair, which wobbled, wheels intended for carpet. She’d never seen a crazier office, and as a graduate assistant, she’d worked in a converted supply closet. So much for her assumption that she could go nowhere from there but up.

Well—she would work hard and get out. Out of this pointless basement. Out of Ashburn College.

She gazed at her corridor, with its Gothic arches and seductive darkness. The worst place for an office. But the ideal backdrop for an adventure.

Not, of course, that she would have one.


The end