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“OK, kiddo. Glad to see you’re still up for the challenge,” he finally says.

“I deal with you every weekend, don’t I? Anything after that is a piece of cake.”

He flashes me a quick smile and opens the door. I follow him into the hallway, take in a deep breath and try to calm my nerves, which are firing all over the place and causing me to shake internally. My bluff worked. Now all I need to do is keep up appearances.

As we walk down the hallway to the freight elevator, I already know where Dex is planning on taking us: the laundry room. I don’t want to think about the horrors that might lie there, so I ask him, “You told me you saw something, before I turned on the infrared… what was it?”

We stop in front of the elevator and Dex inserts the key, giving it a turn and pressing the down button. The elevator purrs loudly, as if it hasn’t been turned on in decades. I’m reminded of The Shining for a brief instance and hope a river of blood doesn’t come flowing out of it.

“Just some really weird lights dancing around. You know how you can get those orbs on screen, like the ones we saw at the lighthouse? Same kind of thing but they were jumping up and down, like balls in a lotto machine or something.”

The elevator button light goes off, and with a loud metallic groan, the doors slide open to expose a larger than average elevator behind them.

“Ladies first,” Dex says, but I shove him forward. Not this time.

We get in and press the button for the laundry level, which is marked, thankfully. It’s also below the first floor and the first two parking levels, which is a slight cause for concern. Just how far down are we going?

I give Dex a nervous smile, which he returns with a mischievous one. An agonizing minute later, we lurch to a stop on the laundry level.

The doors shudder slightly, then open as if being pried by invisible hands. In front of us lies a long hallway, poorly lit by buzzing overhead lights, casting shadows on the few doors that lie along the way. Not the most welcoming place.

Dex steps out first. He grabs my hand, his grasp on mine firm and warm, and I let myself feel the momentary wash of comfort that only he can provide for me. I let him lead me into the hallway. The elevator doors remain open and waiting for the next passenger, only on this empty, quiet floor, there is none to be found.

Dex hoists the camera onto his shoulder again and motions for me to turn on the infrared.

“Might as well start filming this now.”

“Where is everyone?” I ask. “I mean, the hotel runs around the clock, doesn’t it?”

“But which clock?” he answers in a statement, not a question.

I sigh and flip on the infrared again. My body glows a vibrant red but when I aim it over at Dex, he only comes up orange.

“What?” he asks as I purse my lips, thinking.

“Seems I’m a lot more hot-blooded than you are,” I say and quickly show him the screen, placing his hand in front of the lens.

He chews on his lip briefly and then places his hand against my forehead. It feels cool.

“Well you’re not hot…”

I shoot him a wry look.

“I mean, not internally hot. Outside is another matter.” He winks at me.

“Are you flirting with me again, Mr. Foray?”

“Again? Whatever do you–”

He’s interrupted by a wall of sound as all doors down the hallway suddenly swing open and bang against their walls. Simultaneously, the elevator behind us powers up with a thunderous whir, the doors closing quickly.

“It’s go time,” he says and we’re off down the hallway to the first door.

Dex is just about to enter the room when the door slams shut in his face, almost smashing his nose back into his skull. He gives me a scared look I don’t see on him too often. Probably the thought of having to get a nose job.

He goes for the handle and I’m right there at his side as he jangles it back and forth vigorously. It’s locked.

We dash for the next door and the same thing happens. Same with the last door after that. All doors locked. Nothing to explore.

“Now what?” I mumble, feeling a familiar wave of cold snake around my feet and ankles. I point the infrared down at it, but it doesn’t register anything out of the ordinary.

Dex doesn’t say anything for awhile so I look up at him. His eyes are focused above him, at a loose-looking vent on the ceiling.

“Perry,” he says slowly, carefully.

I shake my head. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

He looks back at me and shrugs. “What’s the harm? I’ll just boost you up there. If you crawl around for a bit, you’ll probably end up in one of the other rooms and then you can open the door from the inside.”

“I...don’t even know what to say to that.”

“No? You usually have some sort of witty one-liner.”

“You go up there, Dex. There’s no way in hell I’m going.”

“You can’t hold me up and it’s too far for me to jump. Short man syndrome, remember?”

“You can’t hold me up.”

“Perry, for the last time, stop acting like you weigh one million pounds. You don’t. You’re as light as a feather.”

I let out a laugh. I can’t help myself.

“I’m not…anyway, even if you could push me up there, do you think I’d fit?”

“Again, Perry– ”

“And if I do get up there, do you think that aging duct would hold me? I’d come crashing through like a bag of bricks.”

“Stop using your non-existent weight problem as an excuse, just because you’re too chickenshit,” he challenges.

My mouth drops slightly. I am not chickentshit. And my weight problem isn’t non-existent.

“Fine,” I say and walk toward him. “If you don’t think it’s an issue, then away I go.”

He steadies his gaze at me, sussing me out. I cross my arms and give him an impatient stare.

He nods quickly and lowers his hands joined together. I step on them unsteadily and before I can even question just what the hell I am doing, I’m boosted into the air, one hand on the camera, the other reaching for the vent.

Once Dex has me steadied and I can stand, albeit wobbly, on his hands, I climb to his shoulders and push the vent aside. It pops up and slides out to the side with an easy clatter that rattles down the hallway. Up close, it is big enough for me to fit through. But it’s also black and fathomless and hides a wealth of things that could frighten me to death. It’s a vent, for crying out loud. Since when did this show turn into Mission Impossible?

“You OK, kiddo?” he asks from beneath me, his voice shaking slightly, either from apprehension or from the strain.

“Not really. Have you ever been in a dark vent before?”

“Several times,” he answers seamlessly. “Once you get up in there, I’ll hand you the flashlight so you don’t have to be in the dark.”

“How thoughtful of you,” I mutter and reach for my hands into the vent. It’s cold and I fear it will be icky inside but the bottom of the duct feels mercifully dry.

“On the count of three,” he says and once we count down, he pushes me up further and I’m waist deep. I feel his hands slip away and with a groan I pull myself forward until everything except my calves are inside the dark air duct.

I’m scared as hell. The sides of the duct have me unable to turn around and I can’t see what’s in front of me. For all I know, there could be a giant rat in front of my face, ready to gnaw it off, starting with the little tip of my nose. I am starting to panic and an attack in this tight of a spot would be a dangerous thing indeed.

“Uh, Perry,” I hear Dex say. His voice is comforting but the tone isn’t.

“What?” I say as quietly as I can. My words reverberate around me.

“I guess you can’t turn around and reach for the flashlight…can you?”

I close my eyes and let my head thud against the cold bottom. “No.”

“That’s OK, I’m just going to stick the flashlight inside your boot. That way, when you get a chance to move around a bit more, you can grab it.”

I feel him grab my leg, undo the laces on my left Doc Marten and shove the flashlight inside.

This has to be the stupidest idea ever. Some ghost hunters we are.

I sigh and then cough loudly from all the dust.

“Perry, I’m going to try and talk you through it. Just move forward until I tell you to stop. And when I tell you to stop, see if there’s an opening off to your right. If there is, go down that way and it should place you in the laundry room. At least, I hope it’s the laundry room.”

“OK!” I yell, hoping my voice will scare off any hideous creatures that are waiting for me up ahead.

You can do this, I tell myself. One movement at a time, like a snake. Remember if you need to escape, you just need to back up and you’ll be free.

I repeat this to myself as I slink forward, feeling more and more like Tom Cruise. Or Garth from Wayne’s World when he keeps landing on his keys.

After what feels like a lifetime of wiggling and trying to refrain from vomiting on the infrared, Dex yells for me to look for a space going off to the right. I feel for it but though I still touch the same cold metal walls, there’s a bit of a breeze up ahead, flowing down the right side of me.

I continue, hearing Dex’s babbling from below becoming more and more muffled, until my hand doesn’t slam against the side as normal. I found the opening.

I take it, maneuvering like a rat in a maze and wiggle down in a new direction. After a few beats, I can’t hear Dex at all anymore and that realization fills me with dread. If I need to get out, I’ll have to not only back up but make a turn going backwards as well. In the pitch dark, the idea is terrifying and disorienting.

But I continue because I’m determined to see this through. And soon enough, my eyes start to pick up something ahead of me. There’s just a little difference of light up ahead and then my hands come across cool air and a vent covering.

My fingers wrap around the metallic grate and pull it up with ease. It rattles as I push it to the side and I stick my head down below, taking in deep breaths of fresher, non-contained air through my nose. I don’t know what’s below me, all I can see are a few red lights, which I guess are the on-off buttons of machines. There is some other light, though, spilling in from under a doorframe and with hope I realize that Dex and the hallway must be on the other side of that.

I carefully slide across the opening, distributing my weight on each side until I’m just past it, then I lower myself down, my legs dangling helplessly. I have no idea what the hell is below me but I’m just going to have to hope for the best. I take a deep breath, wiggle myself out until I’m hanging what must be a good few feet off the ground, and let go.

I land on solid ground, though the impact makes me stumble to the side and my body goes flying against a desk that makes an impression in my hip.

“Fuck!” I yell. That’s going to leave a giant bruise.

“Perry?” I hear Dex call out from the hallway. I scurry over to the door, careful not to trip over anything in my way, and feel for the doorknob. I yank at it to open, but nothing happens. It appears to be locked from the inside and the outside.

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