Soon enough tiredness gave way to cold and Finny’s teeth began to chatter. She got to her feet and made her way past the skylights to the front of the building. Looking over the parapet Finny saw she was directly above the concrete cowling of the right air vent. Below that the pavement glistened and for a moment she saw her own body broken and surrounded by a spreading pool of blood. She shook the image away. Oh no, not after climbing that drainpipe. This is the easy bit. Finny bent across the parapet and swung her legs over the edge. The top of the cowling was about a metre and a half below and she was able to lower herself slowly until her feet made contact with its surface.
Even as she let go of the edge of the parapet Finny’s feet slipped on the wet concrete, made even slicker by layers of collected bird shit. She landed on her rear with a bump, her short legs straddling the pipe uncomfortably. Unperturbed, she blew a sodden clump of hair that had escaped from her pigtails away from her face and inched along the pipe on her butt until she could look down over the edge.
The lower edge of the cowling was not directly below but recessed inwards to prevent rainwater building up. Instead of a straight drop down it meant she would have to swing at least once to get the momentum to land inside the pipe.
Again the stray hairs flopped annoyingly onto Finny’s face and she took time out to retie both her pigtails. Job done, Finny slowly turned herself around one hundred and eighty degrees. Feeling behind her for the edge of the pipe she inched backwards until her fingers found nothing but air. She let out a slow breath then leaned forward until she was lying flat and swung her legs backwards, out over thin air. This was going to bit the awkward bit. Don’t think about the drop. Don’t think about…
She got her rising panic under control.
“You can do this. You’re Finny, the climbing girl, remember? Okay then.”
Finny wiggled her body, allowing the weight of her legs to slowly pull her over the edge. As soon as she could reach it her fingers clamped down on the edge of the concrete. Very slowly she let her arms take her weight. Finny’s head dropped below the edge and she could see into the pipe. The lower edge was only about twenty centimetres further in than the top edge but she would have to swing far enough so that she would land beyond that and have enough momentum so that she could fall forwards once her feet landed.
Making damn sure she had as tight a grip as possible on the top edge of the cowling Finny began to swing. Nope, not enough… nope… bit more… bit more… She felt her fingers start to slide as her own momentum added the pull on her fingers. One more… Go!
Finny’s knees hit concrete and she flung her torso forwards, her hands scrabbling for purchase on any part of the big fan in front of her. Fingers found an aluminium fan blade and Finny hauled herself into the metre long space. Safe from falling she turned around and sat, knees pulled up tight against her chest so that she could feel her heart founding. That had been scary. Not, as ‘oh my god I’m going to die scary’ as climbing the drain pipe had been, but she was very glad that her way out of the factory wasn’t going to risk plummeting off anything. And at least she was out of the rain now.
Once composed, Finny turned back to the fan. The way she had remembered it there was the big fan motor supported by four bar-like things that held it in place. She also remembered the fan having four blades. But the fan had five blades. She’d remembered it wrong. With five blades it meant squeezing between the gap between the blade and the thing that supported the fan was going to be tight. Very tight. Laying on her back, Finny went at it head first, pushing with her feet against the floor. But her shoulders weren’t going through. To have any chance she would have to point her arms and get them through first and then wiggle her shoulders through. But Finny had squiggled through enough narrow places to know that doing it that way was the easiest way to get stuck.
She pulled herself out and turned around so that her feet were facing the way she wanted to go. Now, because her whole body naturally tapered down to her toes, she knew that if she did get stuck going in she could always get out again. At least that’s what everybody said. So Finny squirmed and wiggled her body and pushed and pulled on the fan bits and even managed to kick the loosely secured wire grill free so that her feet now hung over the inside edge of the fan pipe. She pulled and wiggled some more and everything was going great until the bulge in her britches caused by the roll of lock picks got well and truly stuck against the edge of the fan blade.
“Damn damn, poop inna can.” She intoned under her breath. Finny wiggled and squirmed for all she was worth and eventually managed to blindly slide a hand down inside her pants and was just about able to get a finger under the string that tied the roll closed. With a lot of effort she managed to pull the tools away from where they had got stuck under her hip bone and push them safely out of the way between her legs. That done she found she could move again but then made the fatal mistake of giving herself one big heave to get her hips past the fan blade and the supporty thing.
There was a twang followed by sudden indescribable pain in her side. Finny screamed and tried to push herself back with her feet and by pushing with her hands against the body of the fan. That brought even more pain and Finny’s vision blurred.
Fighting back the pain and the rising panic, she forced herself to remain really really still. As best she could she lifted her head and tried to look down her own body to see what had happened.
What had happened was this.
Many months ago, when the fans were being installed, a hot and sweaty workman was having trouble getting the fan blades to line up so that they didn’t cavitate. After being at it for most of an afternoon he had finally lost his patience and, instead of using the adjusting screws like the manual said, he lost his temper and went at it with a hammer. It worked, eventually. But the hammer had also created a hairline crack in the cheap aluminium.
Finny’s bulge in her britches had pushed against the edge of the blade right where the crack was and had forced it to bend away from the body of the blade. When Finny had gotten rid of the roll of lock picks and heaved herself further through the tight gap she was in, the thick waistband of her britches had caught on this bent out piece, bending it further back like a spring. Then, when her waistband had pulled free from the protruding sliver of aluminium, the spike had sprung back and pierced Finny’s skin just above the hip bone. What made it worse was that the pointy end of the aluminium was slanted down towards Finny’s feet, so that when she tried to push back, the spike had been driven even deeper into her side. Finny, however, only knew that she was impaled on a five centimetre piece of aluminium and that it was preventing her from going backwards.
Her clothes slowly drying on her, Finny lay on her back trying to think. While she was doing that she used her fingers to find out how bad it was. Many sharp intakes of breath and bitten lips later she found out. The tip of the bent piece of aluminium was buried about a centimetre into her belly. She could bush down on her belly so that the point was no longer inside her and she could then move. Two problems there though, well three if you included that she didn’t have the strength to either bend or break the piece of aluminium stabbing her. If she tried to go back the way she had come then, as soon as she could no longer reach far enough, the spike would stick her again. If she tried to do the same and continue on into the factory, well, she just couldn’t because she needed both hands to haul herself through the gap.
No matter how hard or long she thought about it Finny realised that there was only one way that she was not going to be found either dead or very embarrassed by Joe when he opened up in the morning. Finny looked at the blood on her fingers. If she did what she was going to have to do there was going to be a lot more of that. She was going to have to keep going and pray that the sharp sliver of shitty fan blade didn’t slice her open all the way up her side to her shoulder.