But Jones' will to live pushed him out of this state, back into reality. He gazed across the room and saw that now no one was awake. Then he noticed how quiet it was around him. There was no noise, even from outside. The hammering had stopped. The yelling had ceased. Even the air conditioning was silent.
'Oh my god,' said Jones, to nobody in particular. 'That's why we're so tired. There's no air coming in here.' He put two and two together. This wasn't an air-conditioner malfunction, this was all planned. They were all to die in an air-tight room. He realised now this was all part of Holton-Lacey's Redundancy Plan. Was this how the government had intended them all to die? He had to get out.
Was this how the government had intended them all to die?
He dragged himself to the solid steel doors, and, as he did so, he contemplated what lay outside. Why had the crowd gone strangely quiet? Were they waiting? If he got out, could he have survived asphyxiation, but instead find himself lynched by an angry mob?
Whatever the prospect, Jones had no choice. Staying put meant almost certain death. He didn't want to be found dead in the company of 140 clinically obese call-centre workers. It wasn't a good way to go.
He used one last burst of energy to reach up and press a large red button, marked 'emergency open', positioned alongside the entry doors. He waited for the sudden rush of air, but he had no such luck. Instead, a large warning light flashed above the doors and a siren sounded. Then a voice, the same voice that misguided people through the VastTel call menu, said, 'These doors will open in ...,' then an apparently computer-generated voice inserted, '27 minutes.'
Jones collapsed in a heap. He doubted there was enough air to last that long. The thought of killing some of the workers crossed his mind, the ones that were breathing heavily, but he was certain he couldn't do it. He didn't have the energy. Besides, it hardly seemed fair. After all, he'd done his own heavy breathing when he'd been thinking about Trisha Botherington.
Instead, he lay flat on his back, trying to conserve his energy. The room was turning hazy. The voice was nothing more than a light echo, announcing 'these doors will open in ... 25 ... minutes.'
'I can't go like this,' he kept telling himself, as he drifted in and out of consciousness.
Some of the call-centre agents had stopped snoring now. He wondered whether he was the last one alive. Even then, he wasn't sure of his state; everything seemed so muddled. He was losing all concept of time, and several times awoke, trying to remember where he was and what was happening.
'Give me your hand,' he heard a voice say. He opened his eyes and there she was. Trisha Botherington, looking at him with deep concern. Her hand was touching his.
Had the object of his dreams really come to save him?
Was she really there to rescue him?
'Come with me,' she said, in a flowing white gown, her lithe naked tanned body silhouetted beneath it. 'Quick, let me take you, hold my hand.'
Jones tried to reach out. Was she really there? Had the object of his dreams really come to save him?
'Come on, Jimi. I need you,' she said.
He somehow found the energy to reach his other hand into hers.
'I'm here to take you home,' the words were music to his ears, 'so our bodies can be entwined, ensconced together in a riot of joyous sexual ecstasy.'
'Oh, f*** it,' thought Jones. That was it. That was the giveaway. 'I'm making this up. She's just a friggin' dream!'
His breathing was now as fast as ever, as his eyelids closed and he lost consciousness. He, like all in the room, was left, perhaps, to die, but at least he had a smile on his face.
The Incumbent is Phil Dobbie's first novel and these excerpts have been used with his permission. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. To purchase the entire novel in digital format, click here. It is also available in printed format ... for more details click here.