It was cold being dead but strangely he wasn’t shivering. After the cold, he noticed a strange sense of peace. The debilitating fear from before was gone. Until that moment Holden hadn’t realized how horribly large his fear had become, the vast range of fears he had accumulated. Having to face the next day and all the confrontations he would have to avoid. Of continuing to sink further into the void of being a living piece of nothing. The disappointment on his parents faces at his failures. His life had deteriorated to nothing but fear. The absence of it was…he had a hard time describing it. Freeing? Peaceful? The relief he felt made him want the moment to never end but a soft cough had his eyelids snapping open.
“There you are. I was wondering how much longer you were going to keep me waiting. Would you like to get up?”
The fear was back. Now he would find out what was next. With trepidation, he looked around for the voice but was quickly confused. He wasn’t curled up in a pool of his own blood but in a dilapidated hallway. Where was his bathroom? Rotting roots pushed through floorboards. The stained grey paint was peeling off the walls in places while more roots slide through the cracks. Lining the wall on both sides were windows. The size and shape of the windowpanes differed, some were wood while others were stone or metal. He couldn’t see out of them very well from his position on the floor, but each seemed to look out on somewhere completely different.
A thin hand with neatly trimmed nails was held out in front of him, politely waiting. Following the hand up he saw a thin beanpole of a man, neatly dressed in a plain grey suit and matching tie. The man’s straight black hair was receding from his wide forehead, perhaps deciding to relocate to his upper lip because his mustache was possibly the bushiest Holden had ever seen. Equally bushy eyebrows raised as his pale blue eyes glanced down at his hand, still out and waiting. Holden felt his face heat as that horrid anxiety came back. He hated first meetings, he was horrible at making good impressions. Taking the offered hand, his heart sank at the realization…not even death was enough to free him from his fears.
“That’s enough of that. Learn what your situation is first before you make any conclusions.”
It was sound advice uttered in a calming tone so he took in a deep breath to try and get a hold of himself. Filling his lungs started a gagging fit. His nose was assaulted with a rancid smell that seemed to be crawling through his nose and down his throat. The smell had him bending over retching but the man’s thin hand held more strength than Holden would have thought. He was yanked up and down the hall at a brisk pace. His body felt leaden and clumsy but the man’s hold on his hand didn’t let him slow down or halt so he had no choice but to follow.
“Try not to breathe while we’re here. I know it’s a hard habit to kick at first but the smell in this part of the hall is awful and we have too much to do to dawdle.”
His initial reaction to that was to question the not breathing, it was rather more than a habit after all, but then he remembered two things. First was the smell and he was not going to bring that stench into his lungs again just to speak. Second was the fact that he was dead. At least, he was reasonably certain he was dead. If not then he was either delirious from blood loss or insane. Since both of those would excuse him from ever going back to his workplace he didn’t particularly care which it was.