The light might have been heaven, but that its opacity was harsh and unforgiving. Its disorientating radiance surrounded him, sheathing him in thick layers of gossamer – intangible yet unyielding in their bulk.
Where was he?
Howard moved with tentative steps, probing the whiteness with hands he could not see. He waited for his worldly cares to fade away, or for his sense of being to diminish, but no such relief came.
A voice called his name, faintly but clearly, as if summoning him from across an incredible distance. Howard blinked, and his white-blindness bloomed into shape and colour. Familiar figures materialized before him, and the austere light of the afterlife faded.
Tobias was looking at him expectantly. He sat at the head of the mahogany table, fiddling idly with a capped pen. Other co-workers lined the sides, shuffling printouts and tapping at laptops. There were a couple of departments represented here. Rachel, from Legal, and Colin, from Facilities.
Mandy too, he saw. Back from maternity leave?
Howard looked over his shoulder. The meeting room door had been propped open. Outside, the room was alive with people, striding in and out of the angle of his vision. The familiar buzz of office chatter reached his ears. Opened on a high today, he heard. Maintenance bonds. Tandem loans.
A pointed cough brought his attention back to his boss. “The FOP tabulations, Howard. I presume you had the chance to look them over last night. Could we start with those as our first order of business?”
The room was warm, surprisingly so. The weight in his hand tugged, and Howard looked down to find that he held not a lantern but his briefcase again. The flap dangled open, and the photograph on the inside beamed at him with blue eyes. A summer’s breeze blew through the room, and with it, a fresh, green scent. Howard heard a joyful laugh as the wind pulled him into its gentle embrace.
“Howard?” repeated Tobias, his voice quizzical. He sat forward in his chair, setting the pen aside. Everyone was looking at Howard now, but as he faced them, their expressions seemed unfocused, as if viewed through a giant new lens.
“Is everything alright?”
“Excuse me,” said Howard. He turned on his heel, and, with renewed step, walked back out through the door.