I Am

He stood gathering shattered thoughts, and the fire burned. A river of water raced down the driveway, pouring down the street. And the fire burned. Uniformed people wearing helmets, carrying hoses, moved slowly and the fire burned. An array of sparks exploded skyward, and the fire burned.

An explosion blew apart the remnants and he watched his home collapse into a pile of burning charred rubble.

“I just closed on this house Thanksgiving weekend.” He laughed a dry bitter sound.

The fire chief alongside him spoke, sounding muffled by the man’s grief. “The gas tank in the car blew in the garage where the fire started first. The last was the propane tank outside, sorry, sir. There’s nothing we can do but attempt to contain it so the fire doesn’t spread to the neighbors.”

“My cats? Did you at least save them?” He cried.

“There was no way to enter the house safely. I’m sorry.” With a pat on the shoulder, the local fire chief turned and walked away.

My babies burned to death, he cried as his heart screamed in agony. Tears welled and ran down his cheeks.

Damn it! Now I’m homeless. He thought. Christmas Eve day. “There is nothing left.” He called aloud. No reply came. He looked over his shoulder to the house with the Christmas party he’d attended. “My new neighbors.” He saw none as if the party went merrily on without a thought about his disaster.

He watched until the flames died under the massive amount of water hosed on his house. Then he turned and walked to the party house. He rang the doorbell, knocked on the door, looked through a window and saw no one looking his way.

“Shit,” and he headed into the town where he’d planned to live and work for years to come.

Well, no rain or snow, at least, he muttered as he walked in the direction of the center of town. Glancing down, he stared at his feet shod in running shoes. He zipped up his fleece lined denim jacket, noted the small tear in his jeans just above the right knee.

Distant street lights seemed to beckon. He walked in their direction not knowing what he’d find there since he was unfamiliar with his new town. After walking for over thirty minutes, frustration and fear battled with the deep grief he felt for the loss of his feline companions.

He turned a corner and spotted a park bench, decided to sit for a few minutes. As he drew closer he saw there was someone lying on it.

“Damn it.” He began to turn away then, but stopped. “There’s a corner I can sit on.” He approached. “Excuse me. Do you mind sharing? I’m exhausted.”

No answer. He shrugged and sat. Realizing at once that the man lying there was not real. He was a bronze sculpture. He lit the light on his iPhone. Scanning the sculpture he saw mostly what looked like an old fashioned robe, like a old time monk might wear but shabbier. Carefully, he reached out and lightly tapped where a head might be if it was flesh and blood. It made a metallic knocking sound.

Nothing happened. He leaned back so he was against the feet. Almost dozing, wishing he might just have a sudden heart attack and drop dead, he felt slight movement behind him.

Fighting back the shout of fear, he jumped to his feet ready to defend himself against…a sculpture, he thought and laughed humorously.

Shaking his head, brushing off the seat of his jeans, he sat. And felt heat radiating from behind him. He heard cloth rustle as if someone adjusted a coat. Or a robe, he wondered feeling a buzz of fear.

He started to stand but a hand gently pressed against his shoulder.

“Oh, my god, what?”

The sculpture moved sitting up next to him.

“You’re not real…are you?”

“Do not fear me. I am.” The robed man spoke with a strange foreign accent.

A bit Middle Eastern, he thought. “I’m sorry. You felt like metal when I first sat here.” He watched the robed man pull his hands up so they were covered by the large sleeves. Linen cloth, he thought. How odd.

“Why were you lying here?”

“It seems, waiting for you?”

“Why me?”

“There is something you need from me.”

“I cannot imagine what. Tonight I’ve lost everything. My new home, my precious cats, all of my possessions. Hell, my life really.”

“I’m rather cold,” the robed man said. “I see there is a church across the street. We can find shelter inside.”

He laughed. “It will be locked so no one will steal anything.”

His companion stood. Bare feet in ancient looking sandals, scuffed and worn. He didn’t respond but walked across the street climbing steps to the entrance.

“Shit, why do this?” he thought and followed.

The robed man hesitated with his right hand on the door handle. He pressed down and the massive carved wood door swung in. He turned and waited.

Once alongside the man’s new companion they walked into the church. Their footsteps, his artificial rubber quiet, the sandals scuffing, echoed gently around them. They sat in the first pew, nearest to the altar. Warm air a relief. He felt oddly comforted. His grief less overwhelming.

“Are you a religious man?” His companion asked, hands still deep inside the arms of his robe. Feet drawn back under the pew bench.

“If I was I’d be wanting to know why God just stood by and watched me lose everything including my three cats. They were like my children. I’m not a bad person. I don’t believe I ever hurt anyone intentionally and if I learned I had accidentally, I’ve apologized for it.” He turned to look at the robed man and saw only the hood covering his head and face.

Since his companion said nothing he continued. “Life is a journey though.”

“To what destination?”

“Death of course where darkness only awaits us.”

“So for you death is a destination?”

He turned again to look at his companion. The robe’s hood was off, draped behind him. He had brown eyes, somewhat curly long brown hair, a full beard and mustache. He looked young but vastly old too. Like he’d traveled the world, met every kind of human imaginable and somehow was not repulsed by the worst but instead saddened. As if knowing he could do little if anything to assist them.

Why would I think that about him?

He shook his head attempting to physically dislodge the thought image. “What else might there be?”

His companion turned and looked him in the eyes. “Continuation in a way. Understand that people tend to exaggerate what they do not truly understand. Until its meaning is distorted, and then no longer related to its beginning.”

“So you believe life is not a journey with a set destination?”

His companion shrugged, seeming to express sympathy. He stood and held out his left hand.

“What happened to your hand?” Horrified by the large oval wound that penetrated his hand allowing him to actually see light though it.

“Take my hand. Put your finger in the opening.” His companion said.

When he hesitated, his companion said gently, “Believe.”

With hesitation, he obeyed. Fought against the shudder threatening to reveal his feelings of revulsion. Then stood too. They walked up the three steps before the altar. Stopped and stood in silence. His companion said again, “Believe.”

The man did not know, or did not remember how long they remained there. He heard a quiet warm voice tell him, “Return home.”

When he opened his eyes, he turned to find he was alone. Tears ran down both cheeks as sobs tore from his heart. He looked up to see a man resembling his robed companion hanging lifelessly from a large wooden cross.

He wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his coat, turned and left the building. Walking back, snow began to fall. The footsteps behind him, he saw when he looked back were of two people walking side by side.

Baffled, he hurried now close to running. He turned to corner onto his street and saw his new home untouched by fire. Now running as fast as possible he opened the front door and was tripped by his orange Maine Coon named Wilhelmine.

Merry Christmas