There was a woman in the vent. In the drafty old room with wooden floors, a woman’s voice was coming from the heater vent.
I was laying on the squeaky cot, gazing at my phone as I swiped around in a stupor. Then I heard it, a low, breathy voice, vaguely amused, metallic and flat as it bounced off the metal walls of the heating duct.
“What are you doing?” she said.
I slept with my head close to the vent, so her voice was in my ear, accompanied by a warm burst of air, like breath.
I started to respond, but the voice said:
“No, leave me alone.”
I asked the homeowner, who was renting the room out to me, about the woman. He told me there was no one in the house but the two of us.
“Maybe you heard the TV,” he said.
The next night, I settled in, half-excited to hear the voice, half-dreading it because I knew it would likely be a highway exit to insanity.
I laid awake, waiting, but there was only silence from the vent. I started to fall asleep, when it spoke.
That morning, I took a screwdriver to the grate and popped it off. I stuck my head in, and aimed a flashlight around. There was nothing but dust.
When I knew that the owner had left for the day, I searched the house for the woman. I opened every vent in every room checked every closet and bathroom. I even went downstairs to check the furnace.
Just as I gave up, and was headed back to my room, I heard the heat kick on and the voice from somewhere deep inside of the house cried out:
“Olly olly oxen free!”
I became increasingly obsessed. I would wait for the day to end, just so I could run home and lay next to the vent. I’d been longing for this to happen. I wanted my own story to swap with people when the subject of ghosts sprang up.
I looked deep into the dark tunnel of the heating duct.
“Where are you?” I whispered.
She stopped talking. The only noise from the vent was a harsh, raspy sound that might have been breathing, or was just the old house making its old man sounds.
I tried to forget about her. Then I did. I slept soundly next to the vent, having convinced myself that I’d heard mundane noises rather than a contact from beyond.
I awoke late one night. The vent was making a horrible, choking noise that brought to mind thoughts of cigarette smoke and bronchitis.
I sat up and found my flashlight. I shined it on the vent.
There was a face pressed against the grate. A burned, charred face with blackened flesh, flakes of it peeling off and drifting onto my bed sheets like dandruff. It kept shoving itself against the metal, breathing hard, rasping and choking. Its wild eyes glared at me.
“I miss you.”