Author’s note: What follows is an excerpt from a dream I had last night. I shared it on Facebook to much acclaim (well, my wife liked it).
I stepped up to the heating vent which, because of a quirk in the design of this place, was at eye-level. I shined my flashlight through the grille into the ductwork. Movement behind the grille, on the right, caught my eye.
Two mice, apparently wrestling with each other among the dust and grime at the bottom of the duct. No, not wrestling. There was something between them, some shapeless, wet red mass. They were fighting over it.
I tapped the metal grille with the flashlight. No reaction from the mice.
I moved the flashlight to the left. More dust and grime, small bits of detritus, and-
A human hand, fingers curled upward into a claw, yellow-gray skin pulling back from the fingernails.
I moved the flashlight along the length of the hand, wondering if the whole body was back there. No, the hand terminated in a ragged stump just past the wrist, yellow bones sticking out, the exposed flesh caked with dust. Nothing else in there, just a small, circular hole where apparently the heat, if there were any, would be piped into the duct.
I turned away from the vent. I knew I should probably tell someone about the hand, but there was work to do. There was still no sign of the physical therapist’s cat…