A shaft of light went diagonally from the door to across the face of a small young man curled into a ball. His eyes flickered under his closed eyelids. Numbers and expressions flashed across his dreams, scrolling up and out of sight, like end credits in fast forward. The last line of algebra and punctuation flew up and away and there was a gap in the tirade of information, a single word started to quickly appear from the bottom of his consciousness, ‘RUN’.
His eyes snapped open and he took a deep breath in, taking in with it a good handful of dust from the floor. He squinted, although the small room was very dimly lit, what little light there was, was shining right in his eyes. He patted the floor around him as if looking for something, after not finding it he stopped looking. He brushed the back of his ears and rubbed the bridge of his nose, he wasn’t quite sure why, but something was missing.
He got up and squinted through the gap in the door where the light was coming from. He could see a lit hallway on the other side of a sparsely decorated room and not much else. He moved left and right trying to get a better view. He was squinting so hard it began to give his face cramp and he stopped. To his surprise he could see just as well without squinting, which lead him to wonder why he was squinting in the first place. He looked over his hands, arms, boots, grey trousers and taupe shirt and then around the room. It was a concrete floored cell with very little to be said for it apart from the fact it had a ventilation shaft running across the ceiling. It had clearly been installed long after the building of the room because it gouged an untidy hole in the wall it emerged from. It was a thick metal shaft about two and a half meters off of the floor. It was held to the ceiling with metal brackets, one of which was only held on with one screw; it dangled precariously.
The man reached up and grabbed the hanging bracket, he pulled it and it came away from the ceiling. A screw previously in the ceiling clattered to his feet, he pocketed it and considered its usefulness. There was a seam in the vent where the bracket had been, big enough to force the end of the bracket into. He began wiggling the bracket into the vent, hoping to be able to get into it, but wasn’t sure this was helping. The sound of metal scraping on metal began to make him cringe and he wondered how well this could be heard outside his cell.
The bracket caught on something inside the vent and the young prisoner pulled on it hard to get it unstuck. Suddenly a great deal of vent came crashing down from the ceiling onto the floor, exposing an network of metal tubes. After the crash had subsided the captive was sure that it couldn’t’ve gone unnoticed, and sure enough rushed footsteps started to get louder and nearer.
Clambering onto the segments of vent strewn across the floor the prisoner pulled himself into the now open vent and squeezed inside, it was a tight fit but enough for him to be able to commando crawl away from his cell into the murky darkness. He could hear commotion behind him as the door of his cell was unlocked and flung open. Various unclear exclamations and accusations filled the metal maze which only encouraged him to crawl faster and further.
He got to a right hand turn and squeezed himself around the corner, presumably out of sight. He was breathing short, hard breaths that smelled of rust and sweat, his neck ached from craning it up to look where he was going. Where was he going? He thought, trying to peer over his shoulder. He reasoned that vents pump cool air in from outside and so this vent must lead out somewhere. This vent system was essentially a conventional maze, with turns and junctions and presumably dead ends. It’s either a right-hand or left-hand maze, meaning that following a wall would lead him to the middle of the maze, or out. Of course, he continued to think, there could be loops within the maze. He reached for the screw in his pocket and backed up slightly. He scratched an ‘X’ on the floor of the vent, he shuffled forward and licked his finger. It was very slight but on the damp tip of his finger he could feel a cool breeze coming towards him. As he had already done a right turn, he decided to follow the right wall, marking every intersection with an ‘X’, if he were to come across an ‘X’ he would mark the intersection with another ‘X’, take the first left turn and continue to follow the right wall. It was foolproof, or so he thought.
He began to crawl forward, a new determination in each forward lunge. He continued passed a left turn, marking the intersection with an ‘X’ using the screw. The shaft wasn’t as dark as it could have been, due to the poor construction of the vent, light leaked in from various cracks and crevices. The breeze on his face began to get a little stronger and he could feel his lungs filling up like blowing into a folded paper bag. He turned a corner, hoping to see an exit but was disappointed to see more ventilation shaft spread out before him. His knees hurt and he kept banging his head on the top of the shaft, he was confident however that his movements were at least somewhat concealed by the low machine hum he could hear in the distance.
He began to get sweaty, the vent reflected his body heat back at him and it was hard work moving on his knees and elbows. For the first time since he had woken up he wondered where in the world he was. He tried to work backwards starting with the night before. But night before what? He had no idea what time it was or indeed if the last thing he did was the night. Okay he thought, what’s the last thing I can remember? He delved into the murky backwaters of his mind, he couldn’t think straight, he was too hot and it’s almost impossible to focus if you don’t know what you are focussing on.
A bead of sweat ran down his nose and dropped into the metal surface, he soaked it up with his taupe tank top. He didn’t like the colour and couldn’t for the life of him think why he would have put it on. He couldn’t remember yesterday, or the day before, in fact he couldn’t be positive he remembered anything. It was as if he was trying to recall a memory from years ago but there was nothing more recent to recall. The last thing he was sure of was a burning hot sensation in the back of his head, a heat hot enough to kill you, and he thought it might have. He gave up trying to recall events and thought about people, various faces flashed up in his memory they had various names attached to them, none were concrete. His own name? He had a feeling it probably began with an M but he wasn’t sure. He tried shaping a few of the vowels silently in his mouth Ma-, Me-, Mo-, Mi-. Mi- sounded the most familiar and he began going through a few names. Mike, Michael, Milton, Midas, Mitch. He bashed his knee hard on the side of the vent. He had stopped properly concentrating on crawling. He decided Mitch would do for now and he straightened up his legs and back. When he set off again he upped his pace.
There was a right turn coming up, this being the third right turn he had taken since his cell he began to doubt the foolproofness of his plan. Around the corner there was a grate in the vent, providing cool air to the room below, through it he could see two stools either side of an upturned bucket with what looked like playing cards on top. He took great care not to put too much weight on the grate as to not fall through it. Once on the other side of the grate he began to hear people below him. 3 or 4 sets of footsteps and something being dragged along the floor. He paused and waited, the sounds were getting louder, he brought his ear to the cold metal to hear better, the shaft creaked under his weight.
‘Take ‘em both to interrogation room A a gruff voice ordered,
‘Sir’, two voices said in affirmation. Mitch bunched up his knees, pressing the side of his head firmly to the floor. He was determined to gleam where he was and why he was here. The entire vent groaned. One of the set of footsteps stopped,
‘You hear that?’ all the other footsteps stopped. The man in the shaft froze, he lifted his head slightly from the vent.
‘Hear what?’ said two different voices. There were two loud bangs as someone knocked on the side of the vent. It made a not very hollow thunk.
‘Shhh.’ There was another knock on the side of the shaft but before the second one landed the entire vent collapsed and came crashing dramatically down taking out a nearby fluorescent bulb.
A shower of glass, dust, sparks and twisted metal flew up around a tall moustached man and he reeled back away from the collapsing vent. His eyes were unadjusted to the new light level and he brought up his arms in front of face to protect himself. Two shorter uniformed men turned around quickly, both releasing what they had a firm grip on. The was a small thump.
The man in the vent crawled out of the wreckage he had inadvertently caused and quickly got to his feet. The moustached man was coughing hard, he took a swipe at the ceiling intruder but missed. Once on his feet Mitch had two options; left passed the big man who had just tried to grab him or right passed two gormless looking drone types. He took his chance and ducked between the two men who seemed more concerned with the coughing sergeant who was trying to communicate something.
In front of him he could see a guy with short blonde hair sprinting away incredibly fast, he was wearing grey and taupe and seemed to want to get out of here just as urgently. He began to give chase when someone grabbed his ankles. An arm stuck out toward him,