Don't Look In The Air Vents

“And just remember, no matter what you do, don’t look in the air vents.”

That last line hung in the air like the blade of a guillotine. I looked at the elderly officer and asked for clarification.

“Just don’t look in the air vents,” he repeated, as if the instructions were as normal as the rest he was giving me.

I agreed, already feeling the tight grip of curiosity. I need the job, I reminded myself. I can’t afford to screw this up.

“I’ll be back in nine hours,” the old guard said, pulling his wrist up to check his watch. “That’ll have me here at 6 o’clock. Do you think you’ll be fine till then?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I’ve done this before.”

“Not here you haven’t,” he noted, a strange hint of disapproval in his voice.

“Aren’t all warehouses really the same?” I countered. “It’s not like I have to work the line or anything. I just have to walk the perimeter every hour, check the locks, and make sure no kids get in.”

The man shrugged. “I suppose. As long as that’s all you do.”

I wanted to ask him what he meant, but thought better of it. Like a prayer, I repeated: I need the job.

He handed me the keys and his nightstick, then turned on his heels and walked away. He had a slight limp on his left side and walked with an uncomfortable hunch, and my stomach twisted at the thought of getting old. I hoped that in my senior years, I would have enough money put away to not have to worry about work, unlike the man I had just spoken with.

When I heard the door close, a familiar chill ran up my spine, making the hairs on my arms stand up and my chest feel tight. I was alone.

Since I was a child, I always found solace in isolation. I enjoy the quiet and the dark and being alone with my own thoughts, which is why I took this job in the first place. A graveyard security shift in a refrigeration warehouse was the perfect job for someone like me.

I began my first round, listening to nothing but the hum of the refrigeration unit and the echo of my own footsteps.

Just as the guard had shown me earlier, I found the security coat on a hook hanging next to the freezer door. I donned the coat, enjoying the warmth and scent of tobacco, clicked on the flashlight, and opened the freezer.

The bulk of the warehouse was made up of two gigantic freezers, separated only by a large metal door. Apparently, it was cheaper to cool two freezers than one large one. Around the freezers were the offices and break rooms, which I would patrol in a moment, but the other guard had told me to check the freezers first. I couldn’t imagine why they needed to be checked at all, because as long as the office space around the freezers was secure, the freezers themselves had to be, but far be it from me to judge a man who had been doing the job for the better part of forty years.

I found myself in the break room after my first patrol. It was lit by the ambient glow of vending machines and the dim security lights fastened to the ceiling that always remained on.

I sat down on one of the chairs, kicked my feet up, and pulled a book from my back pocket to read in the little light I had.

I was reading a Stephen King novel, Salem’s Lot, which in retrospect could be the very thing that saved my life. The theme of the supernatural and acceptance that mankind has no concept of real evil put my mind in a malleable state, where it was more prepared to believe that anything could happen.

I heard a knock then, that shot me out of my book like a jolt of electricity. The knock came from ABOVE me.

I planted my feet on the ground and stood up, eyeing the ceiling with a mixture of curiosity and disbelief.

I checked my watch and saw that it was time for my next patrol.

I started with the offices this time, partially because I was already on that side of the freezer and the other part, the one my mind couldn’t comprehend in anything other than a twist of my stomach, because I could feel the danger I was in.

As humans, we forget one thing that nearly every other species remembers. We forget that in our core, we’re just as animal as the birds in the sky and the dogs on the street. That part of our brain, sometimes referred to as our lizard brain, has been conditioned out of us nearly to the point of nonexistence. It’s the part of the brain that tells dogs to hide just before an earthquake and birds to take shelter before a gust of wind. It’s the part of my brain that was telling me, screaming at me, to run. It’s the part I should have listened to.

I opened the freezer door and felt the cold rush of air. I clicked on my flashlight and stepped in, closing the door behind me.

It took me a minute to realize what was out of place. In the dark, I could only see what my flashlight fell upon, and I could only hear the high-pitched hum of silence. I was halfway through the first freezer when I realized what was different. I couldn’t hear the compressors working. There was no cold air being pumped into the freezer.

I frowned and looked up on the wall. I could see the air vent above a stack of boxes that was supposed to be emitting frozen air, but was now as silent as a graveyard.

I approached it, and after checking the boxes’ durability, lifted myself up.

I reached forward to see if I could detect any air movement with my bare hand, and no sooner did I do that then the vent cover came suddenly crashing down to the ground with a clatter that shattered the silence like glass.

I reached inside the vent, and was surprised to feel warmth.

I turned and found another box to stand on and made another step, forgetting completely about the last warning the previous guard had given me, and thinking only of the frozen goods that would surely sour if the freezer went out, and the prospect of my keeping a job in that event.

I lifted myself up onto the box, balancing myself carefully, then peered inside the vent. The darkness inside was almost opaque. I raised the light inside and felt my entire body recoil in disgust. Inside the vent were the remains of what looked like some large animal. Blood and bones caked the walls and spots of fur matted around them. An acrid stench caught me in full force and I stumbled off the boxes, catching myself just in time to wretch everything I’d eaten that day.

I stood straight and wiped my mouth, then, steeling myself, I climbed the boxes again.

As I held my breath, I examined the gore that lined the walls of the vent. A piece of fabric caught my eye and I reached in, careful not to touch any of the blood, and pulled it out.

It was a few inches long and had SE written on it in the familiar yellow letters that were printed on my own back. It was the same fabric as the coat I wore.

I heard a growl from inside the vent and began to scream.


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