Chapter Fifteen

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Today

Scott tumbled head-first into the darkness of the vertical section of the shaft, his arms and hands, already in front of him, instinctively embracing for the impact. A quarter of a second into the fall, he worried that this vertical part of the air vent went all the way from the top floor to the bottom and would that a fall from such a height would certainly kill him.

Great, Scott thought. My fear of heights combined with my fear of the dark merging so beautifully into this perfect end to my life.

But as his elbows, knees, and heels scraped against the metal walls, he realized this section of the shaft was much more narrow than the horizontal sections he had been navigating through, so he folded his arms together, thrusting his elbows hard against the sides and also spread his legs so that his knees pushed against the sides of the shaft as well.

The initial unbalanced manner by which he pressed against the sides initially bounced him and jostled him within the confines of the metal shaft, and his knees and elbows burned from the friction of the shaft, the ridges of where the pieces of vent joined together tearing into his shirt and cutting him.  But he kept the pressure up, pushing out with his arms and legs as much as possible, despite the burning, the pain.

The fear of snapping his neck at the sudden stop at the bottom was a pretty good motivator to help him focus less on the pain and more on just stopping his fall.

He skidded along the shaft for another second or two, the speed of his descent slowing even further.

He pushed out as hard as he could, but the vertical momentum was too much to stop altogether. It did, however, slow him down significantly.

After a few more feet of the reduced speed descent, pressing up against the walls of the shaft, his elbows popped free of the walls on both sides.

The first floor, Scott thought, and thrust both of his arms straight out on each side, feeling the impact of the ledges on both sides digging in to his biceps.

But it was enough of a jolt to his fall that he was able to further spread his legs out and brace them firmly against both sides of the shaft and stop his descent completely.

He hung there, inverted, unmoving, and took a deep breath, trying to figure out how he could twist around and shimmy in to the horizontal section of the shaft without losing his grip and continuing his plummet into the darkness.

Sweat dripped into his eyes as he hung there, catching his breath, trying to work out a quick plan. He could feel a thin line of blood, warm and sticky, running up the back of his leg. It wasn’t enough blood to start dripping, but he was certainly aware of it, and of the burning sensation. Although his legs didn’t just burn from the spot he figured he’d been shot – they burned in the several spots that had been pressing against the wall in his attempt to slow down the vertical descent.

There was a bit of light coming from off to his right. There was a steady stream of heat blowing up through the shaft, more intense now that his plummet had stopped, and likely further aggravated by the fact that most of the mass of his body was blocking the heat from continuing to rise.

Scott twisted his hips, slowly moving his knees towards his front while pushing the back of his head against the side of the metal shaft. The edges of the horizontal section of the air vent dug deeper into his biceps as he slowly twisted and shifted.

He knew that he couldn’t remain suspended there much longer. His arms would eventually give out and he would plummet all the way to the bottom.

So he had to do something a bit risky – he had to tuck in, do a quick twist, lift his left arm out of the shaft to his left, and thrust it into the one to his right; at the same time he had to continue to twist and thrust his legs completely into the opposite horizontal section, so that his body was planking the gap.

He knew that, while perfectly suspended he might stand a chance of holding himself by gripping onto the ledge of metal, even falling the half foot would be too much for him – the slick metal, particularly with him sweating the way he was in the over-heated enclosed heating vent, wouldn’t allow him any sort of proper grip. There wouldn’t be enough friction to hold himself upright.

Scott flashed back to the scene in Die Hard where Bruce Willis’s character, John McClane falls down a section of a significantly larger air vent, more akin to the size of an elevator shaft. In the movie he fell a couple of stories before the last two portions of the fingers of both hands end up catching the edge of one of the horizontal sections and completely stop his fall.

It wasn’t a matter of physical strength, Scott knew – certainly, McClane was tough enough to hold himself up with just the tips of his fingers for a few seconds – but the issue was simple physics. There’s no way that a man in the weight class of almost two hundred pounds would be able to stop such a rapid descent with such a minimal point of contact, the tips of eight fingers.  Never mind the speed of his fall and the slickness of the metal itself, but McClaine had already been sweating and he was covered with blood.

While McClane had fallen a few stories and still managed the miraculous save, Scott knew that, if he twisted incorrectly, despite having one full arm extended into the horizontal section, the downward pull of his weight would be enough to dislodge him and send him tumbling down the vertical section of shaft again. There was, simply, nothing for him to grasp onto. His fingers couldn’t dig into or catch on anything.

He took a deep breath, did the final twist and, with all of his might, pulled his left arm in and shoved it quickly into the same side his right arm was in. At the same time, he tucked, twisted, and pulled his legs in, then immediately thrust his legs back out on the opposite direction with all of his might.

His legs pushed through the horizontal section on the far side, a bizarre feeling to have them meet no resistance after the previous several seconds of intense pressure against the metal sides of the air shaft. A split second later, his hip connected with the bottom of the horizontal section digging into his hip. His arms started to slip as the downward momentum wanted, desperately, to pull him naturally down.

He jammed his elbows against the sides of the shaft and prevented himself from falling.

He hung there, his body planking across the section of vertical shaft, and let out a deep breath.

Then, after a few seconds, he managed to get the tip of his shoe against one of the tiny ridges that connected the sections of the shaft and push his upper body further into the one side.  Scrambling with his feet and slowly pulling himself forward with sweaty, slick fingers, he managed to get to a point where his body weight was enough overtop the horizontal section that there was no chance of him being pulled down the vertical section of shaft.

Secure and safe, at least from the fall, he let out another deep breath and rested there, giggling the way John McClane did immediately after surviving a pretty precarious situation in that classic adventure movie. “Eat your heart out, McClane,” Scott chuckled in a half sigh, half laugh. “Yippie Kaye Yay!”

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