It had become a cold dark world. Crime ran wild, going largely unpunished. Not only were law enforcement agencies unable to stop it, there was an alarming trend pointing to their involvement.
Not only was darkness a figurative description of the state of being, it was becoming a literal state as well. Decades of pollution, waste, and indifference had taken their catastrophic toll on the world’s climate. Winters had become brutally cold, with unmanageable amounts of snow, in areas unaccustomed to such. The sun was little more than an occasional bright spot in the sky. Daylight had been diminished to a couple murky hours a day.
Summer, conversely, was marked by triple digit temperatures coupled with major droughts. Night time offered little relief from the temperatures. Fires often raged, as looters and arsonists freely roamed the streets.
Jim Striker tried to exist among the chaos. He walked to worked, when he had work. His car had been stolen again last year, and he’d determined it would be easier not replacing it. He’d remained alone since his wife had embezzled unknown sums of money and equipment from her employer, then disappearing with her friend’s husband.
Jim hated what the world had become. He knew he was losing the battle to retain his sanity. Hate, bitterness, and anger threatened to take control of his existence. Recently, he wondered if resistance was worth the effort.
Last month, Jim had lost his left hand, when he tried to save an elderly lady from a gang of young thugs. A wild eyed boy, no more than 12, chopped his hand off as he attempted to pull the assailants from the lady. The lady’s life was lost, as would his have been, if not for the nearness of the door.
Jim had seen the man there before. A strangely happy man, who wore only cut-offs, T-shirt, and sandals; his hair and beard were gray and straggly. But, there was an unexplicable warmth in his eyes. On the day of the attack, the man had just kind of “appeared” on the steps outside the door. His presence was enough to send the gang members scurrying away. After checking to see if he could do anything for the lady, Jim had turned to the door, only to see no one there.
Now and then, Jim continued to see the man on the steps, while walking to, or coming from, work. There was always that warmth in his eyes. Last Thursday afternoon, only minutes after Jim had stepped from his office building, it was leveled by a terrorist bomb attack. The old bearded man sat on the steps as Jim approached. He couldn’t help but notice the snow didn’t seem to be within several feet of the steps. The man, sitting cross-legged on the concrete steps, seemed oblivious to the sub zero temperatures. Yet, it appeared to be warm on the steps. Although he’d not noticed before today, there was a kind of glow from the door beyond the steps. It was in no way haunting, or menacing, but soothing in some way.
Seeing the warmth in the man’s eyes, Jim summoned the courage to greet him. This was something you just didn’t risk in today’s world. It could easily cost your life.
“Hello, sir. I’m Jim. I’ve seen you here often. Do you live inside?”
The man spoke softly, “No. Just passing through. This is my friend’s place.”
Jim thought it best to not push for more. But what could it mean? He never seemed to go inside, and there was never any evidence of a friend. And that strange glow from the door, which seemed to warm the steps and area beyond?
The next day, Jim had been to the market. Walking home, a sudden driving snowstorm had left the streets all but deserted. But, when he turned the last corner for home, there he was. On dry, snow-free steps, sat the old man. He seemed as if sitting on a tropical beach in his cut-offs, T-shirt, and sandals.
“Why are you sitting out here in the snow?”
“It’s my place to be out here,” the man replied.
Unable to make any sense of what he’d just seen and heard, Jim walked on home.
With no real destination, Jim risked idling around the street the next morning. Mostly, he was thinking of the man at the door, sitting on those snow-free steps in the driving snow. He was determined to learn more about him, the door, and the friend. Although he knew it was usually dangerous to take such an interest, this guy was somehow different.
“Why is there never any snow around your friend’s steps? And why aren’t you cold in what you’re wearing?”
There. In one sudden burst of inquisitivity, Jim had cut through the chase. He had asked the questions that had been burning at him for some time.
Again, softly and deliberately, the man spoke. “Snow and cold are products of cruelty, hate, and unbelief. They are meaningless here. Come inside, if you’d like. But, only if you’re sure you’re ready. You see, once inside, you will never leave.”
What did that mean? Never leave! Was this some kind of joke? Maybe the old guy was just a nut. But, still there was the issue of no snow. And he never seemed to be cold, despite his dress.
“I’ll think about it. Not today, but maybe another day.” Jim’s reply was weak, but how do you reply to an invitation as he had just received?
Another week had passed, and gang wars had broken out in full force. Bodies littered the streets. Fires raged. It seemed as if hate had finally won out over any remaining good.
Jim thought again of the man on the steps, and wondered if he could possibly be there amidst all the mayhem. What was there to lose? Jim went out, and began walking in the direction of the steps. He was struck in the arm by an errant bullet on his way to the steps. He turned the corner, not expecting to see the man. But he was there. Bullets flew, and flames lept all around him, but he seemed to not notice any of it. Seeing Jim, the old man looked at him with that usual warmth in his eyes.
Jim turned back, looking down the street from which he’d come. Two men were tossing a child in the path of a speeding car. As he looked the other direction, he saw a man dowse kerosene on a crippled old man. The flames quickly overtook him.
Jim turned to face the door.
“I’m coming in.”