The recorded voice rang out clearly.
Benny upended the bottle. A few seconds passed before he felt a small drop of moisture land on his arid tongue. It wasn’t enough to moisten his cracking lips.
Just before close of business on Friday afternoon, Benny had been asked to take a fresh bottle to the dispenser in the management suite. Several members of staff were already putting on their coats to leave as he stepped into the lift, which rose smoothly to the top floor and stopped. He heard the automatic message:
But the doors didn’t open.
He had sounded the alarm, banged on the metal walls, shouted until he was hoarse, but to no avail. He’d hoped to alert the weekend cleaners to his plight, but if they had turned up at all, he hadn’t heard them, and they hadn’t heard him.
He knew the length of his shoes, so he had calculated the length and width of the square of floor. He even knew the meterage from one corner to the opposite corner, but he didn’t know how long he had been trapped. His only timepiece was a phone which currently lay on top of a cardboard box in the ground-floor storeroom. It felt as if he’d been in that stuffy box for weeks, but that wasn’t possible.
He willed the empty bottle to produce another drop, wishing that he had a knife to cut into the plastic, so he could open it up and lick the last of the moisture from the inside.
He sank to the floor, no longer particular about the stale waste from his body soaking into his trousers, despite the shame he would feel when his unsuspecting rescuers arrived for work on Monday morning.
“Doors opening.” The recording seemed to have developed a mocking tone.
A bluebottle crawled through the space under the lift door, took flight, and landed on Benny’s face as he slept. Another followed.
Throughout the offices and on the streets, greedy teeth ripped into the fetid flesh of shoppers, housewives and workers who lay where they had fallen, eight days ago.
With so much to feast on, it was unlikely that hunger would send the rats in search of Benny’s entrails.
©Jane Paterson Basil