I would like some feedback on how to create a more vivid setting.
Written By: Isobel Williamson
July 15, 2015
If you've ever made a lapse in judgement that rippled through the rest of your day, maybe even affected you or someone you know for longer than that, you'll know what I'm talking about. I've made tons of these, but one that stands out in particular started by forgetting to shut the heat vent of my bedroom.
My family, a right-handed, coffee-drinking, book-loving group of Seattleites, has only ever had hamsters (and a few ill-fated fish) as pets. Last year, Pookie the hamster, whom we adopted Harry with, died on my birthday. While guests were over. Their mortality is heartbreaking, as out of five hamsters, four have not lasted much more than two years. Our fifth, Harry, is an outlier, as he is 2 1/2 years old. One of his eyes had an infection a while back, but he has recovered well. He walks a bit crooked, but will fling any food he doesn't like out of his cage with much vigor.
One Saturday morning in July, after a breakfast of cereal, and some homework from the Algebra 2 class I was taking, I noticed Harry sitting rotundly in his cage. He looked lonely and like he could use a bit of fresh air, so I decided to let him out of his cage.
Because my house is full of sharp corners and piles of books where a creature Harry's size could easily get stuck, the best place for him to run around is my room. Though not ideal for the exercise of a Dunjarian hamster, the piles of textbooks, clothes, and notebooks create the nooks and crannies that he loves to hide in. I thought it would be one of the least dangerous places for him to go.
I made sure my door was closed. I sat down at my desk with my computer, and watched Harry run around the floor, occasionally hiding under my bookcase or bed. With my toe. I played with the metal lever that allows the heat vent to close. The vent's grate is larger than most, maybe a three-quarter-inch square grid. But Harry has is kind of chubby. I thought he could never fit through. I continued to watch the little white blur run around, occasionally feeling the ridged texture of his paws and the sharp prick of his claws on my feet as he tumbled over them.
I finished a few quadratics quizzes and was settling into some YouTube. I saw Harry run past my feet. I looked down, heard a thud, and knew that he had traipsed through the grate, flinging down to the air vent below.
"Dad?" I cried. I had to repeat myself over the sound of his record player.
"What is it?" he asked, concerned.
"I think Harry just fell through the vent."
Dad came barging into my room.
"Is there any way to get the grate off?" I demanded.
"I don't know, Isobel, but first, we'll have to move your desk," he said with authority. He quickly moved my desk. I peered down but couldn't see anything in the one-foot-deep abyss. Though only a few bits of metal separated Harry from us, we soon discovered that the grate wouldn't come off. We would have to investigate the whole heating system--including he furnace!
While Dad poked around downstairs, I decided to check around the first floor for Harry. Maybe he hadn't fallen through. Maybe the sound I heard was just my foot hitting the vent. Either way, I was scared, but having him wandering around my room or the hallway was easier to stomach.
My heart shook at the prospect of Harry being lost. I had been sleepy, but this rush of adrenaline shook me awake more powerfully than caffeine. The periwinkle walls of my room felt more vivid. After poking around with the flashlight on my brother's phone (the first device I saw, as I was too panicked to find my own) and finding nothing, I joined Dad in the basement.
He had to go tutor, so he told us to listen for Harry, and stay by the furnace in case he found his way into the depths of the furnace.
Nothing. Then some scratching noises that could have been him. Then a noise I may have made myself. Then something I wasn't too sure about.
I put up a pillow barricade to block off the main airvent from the furnace. Hopefully, he would stay there until Dad came back with a better plan.
My brother made some Japanese-style noodles for lunch. They were fancy, with a fried egg on top, and they would have been a delicious dish if I wasn't so nervous and mad at myself. They tasted like salt and anxiety.
Eventually, Dad came back. He called the furnace repair place, but they only seemed amused at the prospect of a small rodent trapped in the vent. He said that he didn't think lthey were coming.
After getting a different perspective on the furnace, Dad deduced that Harry actually had already fallen through, and was now in the bowels of the furnace--in the fan. After taking off the front panel, and being able to see Harry poking his nose up through the slats, we still weren't really sure how to get him out. I wanted to completely take everything apart, but Dad had a more methodical approach. Eventually, after undoing some cables, he manuvered the fan out, and collected Harry.
"Here's your hamster!" he said.
"Thank you so much, Dad!" I cried. "I'm going to take him back to his cage immediately."
Harry's white fur was rumpled with dirt, and even though he can't frown or cry, you could tell he was sad. I thanked Dad repeatedly, and deposited Harry back, trying to clean the dust off his paws and face. From now on, I will never underestimate the ability of rodents to fit through impossibly tiny gaps, and will always take the extra effort to keep Harry safe and sound.