Arctic Sounds – Paul Douglas McNeill II

I open my eyes and watch the tiny feet do their little dance under the door. I squeeze my eyes shut, open them again, and watch an exact replay. One more time to be sure. I close and open my eyes, and the third performance lets me know all is okay. Every time I open my eyes, a short, private show. Our thin mattress lies directly on the floor and provides the ideal view. The debut performance caused a panic, but now after a few weeks, I’ve memorized every step of this little dance.

My wife sucks in a loud gulp of air.

“Oi, bebe,” she says.

“New one or old one?” I ask.

“The man had a bunch of hands covered in brigadeiro, and he tried to smother me with a bunch of pillows, but then he turned into DNA.”

“I just had one where I was in love with our toilet, and I kept thrusting my hands in the tank and my feet in the bowl, and that’s how we fucked.”

“Sim, amor,” she says as she rubs my head.

A minute or an hour passes, and I turn over and see the shadow man shifting his weight on each foot. A few blinks usually make him disappear. I close my eyes, but the shadow man is still there, rocking back and forth. I try to erase him one more time, but he won’t go away. I stare as hard as I can at the dark, but shadow man won’t stop swaying. I slowly sit up and swing my open hand at fidgety shadow man. I make contact.

“What the fuck?” I kind-of ask.

“Ai, bebe,” my wife says. “I’m scared. I think I hear somebody.”

I jump from the bed, grab the empty wine bottle by the door, and walk naked into the living room.

“It’s like a bunch of knocking and scratching,” she says.

I look out the living room window, at the front door. Nothing. Nothing but four feet of snow, strong winds, and a thick sea of white dust, fog, and haze lit by towers of reflected light that stretch up and across a night that never ends. Heavy steam rises and drifts from every roof. Every few seconds, tiny snow tornados are born and die. I can’t help but be amazed that the only horror movie set here was actually filmed in New Zealand somewhere.

“Bebe, let’s try sleeping with music or something, sim?” my wife kind-of asks.

We go back to bed, and I try to play our Sleepytime Spotify playlist, but the Internet is out – again. Instead, I listen to the constant Arctic racket. I thought the top of Alaska would be eerily quiet, but it’s noisier than our ground-floor Brooklyn apartment, our condo in Beijing, or our ocean-view rental in Rio. The Arctic winds howl as they pass under the house, beat against the walls, shake the tinfoil and plastic covering the windows, and force the house to sway on its pillars. The water pumps groan every ten minutes or so, the heating vents clang and click at odd intervals, and snow machines roar at all hours. Freezing dogs howl, and their stiff chains rattle. Gunshots pound the air. A constant sub-polar symphony. The first few nights in the Arctic, you barely sleep, senses piqued. Every sound might be a looming murderer, and you want to get the jump on the bastard before he takes you down. But, you soon realize that you are just in a standoff with the breeze.

A minute or an hour passes, and a new noise joins the Arctic concert: the unmistakable sound of the snow crunching and whining under the weight of heavy boots, and then the clanks and thuds of footsteps on our steel stairs. My wife and I sit up at the same time. She grabs her empty wine bottle; I grab mine. I peek out of our bedroom door, while my wife stands behind me with her nails digging into my arm.

“Call the cops,” I say.

At night in deep winter in the Arctic, everyone looks like Death, and a black-hooded Grim Reaper is knocking at our window and trying the knob of our front door.

“Cell’s not working, bebe,” she says.

Door. Window. Door. Window. Fist. Knuckles. Foot. Fingertips.

“Wait, wait. It’s ringing. Hello? Hello? Police? Yes? Someone is at the door. Someone is at my door. There is a man at the door. A man is at the door. Ai, bebe, she can’t understand me,” my wife says as she hands me the phone.

The hooded man keeps knocking and twisting, knocking and twisting, relentlessly.

“Yeah, can you hear me? Yeah? I am at 1539 apartment B. Someone is trying to get into my house.”

“Who is it?” the dispatcher asks.

“I have no idea. Please send somebody.”

“What does he look like?”

“He’s completely covered. He’s got a hood on. All black. Just send somebody over.”

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s trying to get in my house.”

“Alright. Where you at?”

“1539 B, next to the Search and Rescue building.”

“Alright. We’ll send somebody,” says the dispatcher.

“Do you want – ”

“Sir, they’re coming, ” she says before hanging up.

A minute or an hour passes, and I just stand in the bedroom doorway, naked, with nothing but an old wine bottle in my hand, hanging, ready to throw or strike. Hooded man keeps up his compulsive knocking, twisting, knocking, twisting. He looks well-rehearsed at this little upper-body-only choreography. I stand in the bedroom doorway, trying to make sure he can’t see me. The sodium vapor lights ooze through the blinds, slashing rows into the darkness across my face and my gut and our collection of city maps covering the walls. I briefly think about James and Humphrey and Edward and Fred and Burt. I look at my Indiana Jones fedora on the hat rack. I realize the only things standing between hooded man and me are an empty wine bottle, a flimsy window, cheap blinds that won’t close, and a plastic Christmas tree.

Finally, two new light towers stretch across the haze. I walk over to the window. A police SUV pulls up. Hooded man turns, sees the car, walks down our steps, and turns toward the back of our house. Just before he disappears around the corner, he pauses and everything freezes – as if I had just taken a snapshot. He looks through our window, the ember of his cigarette barely revealing his face before it’s covered with a cloud of half-smoke, half-water vapor. The light reflects off his snow goggles and hits my eyes. I blink, and he’s gone. I turn to the police officer, who’s looking in our window, briefly examining a naked, shaking man. He puts his car in reverse and drives away.

“That’s it?” my wife asks.

“Maybe he’s going after him,” I say.

“But he went the other way.”

“Maybe he’s trying to fool him.”

I put a chair next to the window and sit and wait for the officer to return. A minute or an hour passes, and I wake up in the chair with the wine bottle between my legs. A note on the front door reads: “Gone to get locks.”

I sit in the chair and think about Joe and Daniel and Macaulay until screaming and an abused snow machine grabs my attention. I pull the blinds aside just enough to see out. My neighbor and his girlfriend are fighting again.

“You’re the fucked one!” she screams.

“Get outta here!” he replies, and turns the accelerator on her snow machine.

I just stand, naked at the window, watching this argument on repeat. The two players replaying their parts over and over. The chorus of “You’re the fucked one” and “Get outta here” plays on a loop, accompanied by a solo from the snow machine. “Fucked one. Outta here. Vroom! Fucked one. Outta here. Vroom!”

A minute or an hour passes, and my wife returns with a plastic bag full of chain guards and swing bars.

“Bebe, stop snooping for a second and help me put these on the doors,” she says.

“In a minute, bebe. I need to look something up on the town’s yard sale page,” I say.

“I got the locks already. I’m not buying used locks.”

“I’m looking for guns.”

My wife laughs hard – like my mother used to laugh when I said, sitting in my

highchair, “I can make my own dinner.”

“Bebe, you can’t buy a gun on Facebook,” she says – laughing.

“You can here. Pretty cheap.”

She looks over my shoulder as I scroll through photos of rifles, shotguns, handguns, piles of guns, half-empty ammo boxes, some artistically posed and framed, some barely visible in blurry, rapidly snapped shots.

“We aren’t buying a gun, bebe,” she says.

“Amor,” I say. “After last night – ”

“Babe,” she says as she pets my head and scratches my beard. “We aren’t buying a gun just cause you got scared.”

She starts drilling holes into the door jam just as the Search and Rescue helicopter lands nearby, and I stare at the Christmas tree lights through the haze of my freshly brewed coffee and try to drown out an orchestra of buzzing, whizzing, grinding, swooshing, screaming.

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