In ancient times, when the winter winds blew early, wolves would come down from the hills looking for the easy prey of domesticated animals. In gathering places, the people would cluster together for security, and stare off into the darkness beyond the bonfire light, watching for movement in the shadows . . .
When he wakes in the night, he hears rough, whispered voices in the next room of his condominium. For a long time he lies there, unsure whether it would be more terrifying to open his eyes or to keep them closed. Eventually, he realizes that his wife has fallen asleep in front of the television set. What he mistook for frightening voices are just talking heads delivering news of rapes and murders, bombs and scandals that are soothingly far away from his little bubble of security. Reassured, he falls back into dreamless sleep.
Later that morning, as he is about to pass through the shining silver portal, the whisper-quiet sliding glass doors that lead to the plush-carpeted lobby of his high-rise office building, he is accosted by a dirty, foul-smelling woman asking for spare change. He has seen her many times before, dark and thin, haunted and carnivorous, reeking of cheap booze and piss. To make his passage easier, he drops some clinking coins into her filthy hands.
Sometimes he wonders where they all come from, these lost souls in soiled rags. The ones who scare him the most are the ones who hear voices inside their heads. He remembers a time when he, too, would hear those voices. He would hear them calling from the mountains around his childhood home, nightmares trapped in caves of ice. When his mother was dying in a cancer ward in Vancouver, he would hear them calling from their chains of seaweed at the bottom of the ocean floor. When his first wife was walking out the door of their one-bedroom apartment with her blue suitcase and the child he never really knew, he would hear grisly phantoms howling up at him from the lonely depths of the elevator shaft, begging him to join them.
As time passed, though, he got better and better and better at drowning out the frightening voices. He learned to stop his ears with clay. He turned up the television set, and installed thick wall-to-wall carpeting. He bought an iPod and a big-screen TV. He created a gathering place of well-lit security, and filled it with the laughter of people he didn’t much care for.
Once in a while, though, when things are very quiet and still and the winter winds blow early from the mountains, he hears whispering, and strains his eyes for movement in the shadows . . .