He had been reaching for his cup.
Now that single action remained frozen in time! He could scarcely breathe! He stared blankly at his own right hand, paralyzed in mid-motion by shock and overwhelming fear. His arm was suspended before him, reaching toward his desktop that was no longer there. In the blink of an eye his well-lit office cubicle had disappeared, his swivel chair had vanished, his co-workers were suddenly silenced, and the coffee cup on his desk was gone. Now he stood motionless in a half-crouch, facing towering double doors before him, his right hand still reaching toward his missing cup.
Even his thinking had come to a stop.
There was no way to tell how long he had been standing there before the first ragged breath came back to his lungs. Suddenly, discordant thoughts cascaded through his mind. If this was a heart attack, shouldn't there be some pain? No, probably just a fainting spell. Yet he did not feel dizzy. Just breathe deeply and close your eyes, this will all go away.
No! No, don't close your eyes! There could be danger!
His panic rose. All he could hear was the pounding of his heartbeat and his own labored breathing. He did not move, his hand still reaching for his cup.
Risking a slight turn of his head, he could see a blank, gray wall ending at a corner only a few feet to his left. Slowly turning his head to the right revealed the opposite corner of the wall, but no other features. Only the two massive doors stood before him, tightly closed, made of some burnished metal the color of polished bronze. Elaborate scrollwork covered the surface of each door in flowing patterns he did not recognize, but there were no handles or hinges visible. The same scrollwork ran around the narrow frame and lintel surrounding the doors. Each door was easily twenty feet tall and four feet wide. Together they gave the impression of an entrance to an important governmental chamber or some inner sanctuary. There was no suggestion of aging or extensive use. He swallowed hard.
Slowly lowering his right hand, he rose from the crouch instinctively assumed when confronted with danger. Just as his breathing was becoming more regular, another wave of panic struck. Where are you? Has someone drugged your coffee? Is there something behind you? Again, his muscles tensed, and he flinched instinctively, expecting some awful blow. But nothing happened.
Steeling himself for some dreadful shock, he turned his upper body to glance timidly behind him. He was standing at one end of a long, featureless hallway that disappeared behind him into darkness. No windows, doors, or wall-hangings disturbed the face of either wall. The corridor behind him was seamless, gray, and opaque. There was no visible lighting.
And yet he was not standing in darkness! The area around him was fully illuminated, even though his body cast no shadow from the lighting. Again, lifting his right arm slowly, he confirmed that there was no shadow cast beneath his outstretched hand.
Turning back to face the two enormous doors, he forced himself to relax his clenched jaw. There was no way to tell if the doors had ever been opened throughout all eternity. He shook his head to clear his thoughts, but the effort resulted in a cold shiver running down his spine. Perhaps this was all a dream and he had fallen asleep at his desk. Oh, there would be hell to pay if he were caught napping. He concentrated on waking up but could effect no change in his mind or body. Mustering what courage he had he uttered a timid "Hello!" The single word barely escaping his pursed lips. There was no answer and no echo. He began to break out in a clammy sweat and his breathing became more labored.
Hell to pay! Yes, that must be it! He was dead; that was the obvious answer! He had read stories about this kind of experience. He nodded his head nervously in agreement with his thoughts. Yes, this was the great "final accounting" he had read about. He bit his lip. But he did not feel dead! In fact, he felt very much alive.
He called out louder this time with a sense of desperation creeping into his voice. Still no answer. Common sense told him he must knock on the door, but instinct told him to run down the hallway and find an escape. Since he had no idea where he was, running down the hallway was no solution. Where would that decision lead? Where was he? He hesitated, looking apprehensively at the closed doors before him. Doors were for entry, he reasoned. His best choice was to move forward. Gritting his teeth, he took a tentative step toward the doors.
At the same moment, he heard footsteps approaching from beyond the door. He froze again in horror with eyes glued to the scrollwork before him. He wanted to run, but his body would not move.
Both doors opened silently inward.
A tall figure, clad in resplendent armor from head to foot, strode confidently forward to face him. The apparition came forward like some medieval king confronting a cowering vassal at the manor door, the confidence of his approach further immobilizing the man in the hallway. Even though both doors remained open behind the armored figure, the frightened man could not see beyond the towering warrior. He dropped his gaze to the floor, afraid to make eye contact.
The strange knight stopped a full pace away, his crimson cape fluttering about him. The warrior wore a large silver shield on his left arm, embossed in raised gold relief. A terrifyingly realistic image of a lion leaped out at his adversaries. His right hand was tucked confidently into a broad leather belt at his waist, the design on the belt repeating the rampant lion symbol from the shield. Somehow the unseen light source now radiated from the knight's armor, sending cascading rainbows of color dancing against the walls, ceiling, and floor.
The frightened man in the hallway remained crouched, averting his eyes, as if expecting some mortal blow.
The knight considered him for a long moment.
When the apparition remained silent, the frightened man risked looking up from the floor. The knight's feet were shod in some strange footwear, like sandals, with bronze tips and intricate designs radiating up the leather thongs intertwined around firm, sun-bronzed calves. A knee-length leather kilt hung beneath the broad leather belt about his waist. Above the belt was a breastplate made of some marvelously iridescent metal unlike anything he had ever seen before. He squinted at the dazzling display of light across its polished surface. Centered on the breastplate, forming the letter "T" was the hilt of a beautifully jeweled sword in raised relief, but there was no blade above the hilt. Around the knight's neck was an exquisite white-golden pendant from which hung a lustrous blue jewel the size of a hen's egg, surrounded by settings for much smaller jewels. The first setting on the left side of the pendent was filled with a fiery, red stone that gleamed with its own ruddy luminescence. The other six settings were empty. The knight also wore a dazzling helmet which incorporated a crown of jeweled stars into its crest. The helmet's visor, the radiant armor and his own overpowering fearfulness prevented the startled man in the hallway from seeing the features of the knight's face.
He could not watch those features slowly evolve from a disgusted glower into a sympathetic smile. There was so much that this knight could say to the cowering pilgrim in the hallway, so much the warrior could tell this man about what lay ahead for him. But there was always a proper time and place for every purpose in this kingdom. He had learned that lesson well enough.