Over the last year I have been doing a Creative Writing diploma with Centre of Excellence to help keep my writing flowing. One of the tasks for the writing course was to write a section of dialogue between two characters. Immediately I thought of two colleagues stuck in a ventilation shaft, hiding from some unknown creature – because that is where my mind goes. I thought this would be a good setting for dialogue as due to the darkness there would be little else to convey the setting and predicament they were in.
I tried to keep the tone light rather than going into full horror mode and I have to admit I enjoyed writing this piece. We often hear about the hero fighting against some beast that’s escaped but we rarely learn about the other poor staff who happened to be trapped in the science facility too.
I’ve expanded it beyond what submitted for the module assignment to give a more of a story but have still kept it under 1,000 words.
In Any Vent
“Eli! Did you hear that? Eli!” came an urgent whisper.
“That scratching sound.”
“I don’t hear any scratching Reese.” Eli replied calmly.
“Can we at least turn our torches on?” Reese pleaded.
“No, we need to save the charges, just in case.”
“In case of what?”
“In case we need to make a move. You don’t want to be crawling about here blind, do you?”
“I guess not.” Reese conceded sulkily.
There was the sound of hands rummaging in canvas pockets, followed by a sharp crack. Reese jolted at the sudden loud noise, bashing his head on the metal ceiling above him.
“Here, this’ll help.” Eli said dropping a glowstick in the space between them. It emitted a soft red glow highlighting their bodies but not much beyond that.
“How long you had that? We’ve been sitting in darkness for hours.” Reese glared at his colleague, who in turn looked at his watch.
“It’s been forty-eight minutes.”
“Well, it’s hard to tell sitting in the dark…” Reese paused, leaning his head to the side. “Do you hear that? It’s that scratching again.”
Eli closed his eyes, listening intently. “It’s not scratching, it’s scraping.” he finally replied. “It’s air conditioning unit 504 in the crew quarters, one of the blades is bent.”
“I know these ventilation shafts inside and out. Literally.” Eli answered proudly.
Reese tilted his head trying to gauge the noise for himself but as his realm of expertise was sanitation maintenance, it was a fruitless endeavour. The gurgle and clanging of pipes were more his remit. Reese still not comforted, frowned.
“Why didn’t you fix it?” he asked accusingly.
“Excuse me?” this time Eli glared at Reese, brimming with incredulity.
“If you had fixed it, we’d know for sure if…when we’re hearing scratching. We’d know if that thing was in here with us. But now that fan is going to hide the sound of its approach.”
“I very much doubt that.” Eli leaned his head back against steel wall, rolling his stiff shoulders.
“Well for one, I’d hear it. You might not, especially since you blast music in your ears all day, but I would. I told you I know these vents.” He tapped a finger against his temple. “And for two, this place is locked down tight. It’d need a keycode and a fingerprint to open any of the maintenance shafts. Nothing bigger than a mouse can get in without clearance.”
For a moment Reese appeared to relax and then the moment vanished, chased away by a thought skittering across his skull.
“What if it can squish down to the size of a mouse? Or even smaller?”
“Then no-where’s safe to hide and we might as well get out of these vents.” Eli replied resignedly. “Might as well find someplace a helluva lot more comfortable to wait this out.” Eli angled away from Reese, trying to stretch his legs out into the dark tunnel.
“I am not leaving this vent until I hear a radio call saying it’s safe out there.” Reese stated firmly.
“Then shut up.” Eli reasoned.
There were only a few seconds of peace before the sound of Reese and his foot nervously tapping against the metal wall shattered it.
“Aw man, what if they can squish down to the size of the mouse?” he repeated. “We’re going to get our faces ripped off just like poor ole Zeb.”
“That’s not what happened.”
“I said that’s not what happened.” Eli looked at Reese, frowning. “It injected some kind of barb on the end of its tail into his neck. It did not rip his face off. There wasn’t even any blood.” He was beginning to regret that he listened to Reese’s idea about hiding out in the vents, or rather hiding out in vents with Reese.
“Well excuse me for not recalling every detail in the panic.” Reese rolled his eyes.
“He might not even be dead. He might just be knocked out with some kind of natural anaesthetic.” Eli figured, more to himself than to his growingly irrational companion.
“So it could rip off his face painlessly?” Reese questioned, his voice gaining pitch.
“For heaven’s sake Reese, there’s been no face ripping! What the hell is wrong with you?” Eli snapped. His deep voice reverberated along the walls, leaving an eerie silence behind once it dissipated.
Reese stayed quiet, sulking rather than responding to Eli’s reprimand. Although his boot still tapped out a juddering beat, it did so a little less loudly.
Eli took a deep breath and sighed heavily. He briefly thought about apologising to Reese but on looking at his sullen face, Eli merely shook his head. He closed his eyes and reclined back, trying to make himself as comfortable as possible in the gloomy tight space.
When Eli’s eyes snapped open again, the glowstick’s light had faded to a weak glow barely illuminating the space around it. He realised Reese was right, it was incredibly hard to tell how much time had passed in the dark.
Eli reached an arm out into the darkness, trying to feel for Reese’s body. Reese must have shifted position for at first Eli couldn’t find him. After some fumbling, his hand finally felt Reese’s lower leg and boot. It was still, far too still thought Eli. He gripped onto Reese’s ankle and shook his leg.
“Reese! Reese!” he whispered urgently. No reply, Eli shook harder.
“Wha-??” came a gurgled reply. Eli couldn’t believe it, after all his panicking, Reese had also fallen asleep.
“Reese!” Eli shook him again, making sure he would fully wake. “Reese! Can you hear that?”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s just that fan.” Reese mumbled.
“N-no, Reese. N-no it’s not.” Eli’s voice trembled. “Remember I know this place inside and out. Inside and out.”
A scratching sound approached.