Cold Reception

by William Falo

Ryan dreaded the sounds of night on the edge of the Hudson Bay. The ice creaked and moaned and intensified the isolation he felt and sleep became impossible. He tried pills and soft music but nothing worked until he heard a soothing, serene voice on the shortwave radio. Her name was Katrine and she worked at a Russian radio station. Her soft voice filled him with tranquility and took away his loneliness. Antennas sprung up everywhere to get better reception. He couldn’t imagine a night without her. Then the station announced they were going off the air.

“No,” he yelled so loud that icicles crashed to the ground from the roof. He dreaded the lonely nights ahead. There was another researcher and occasional trips into the town of Churchill but they did not overcome the emptiness and lack of human companionship. He looked out on the white frozen landscape as moonlight shimmered off the snow. It reflected into his wide open eyes and then he realized that he loved her. “I’m going to be there tomorrow night,” he said aloud.

He put plans into motion as the other researcher Drew came into the cabin, “Are you okay?”

The computer hummed as he ordered tickets to Vladivostok and thanked God that he still had a passport from a research trip to Siberia. Next, while Drew stood there he started to pack his clothes.

“Where are you going?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“I am worried. The polar bears are arriving in droves. This is the time we need to measure the environmental changes the most. I can’t do it alone.”

“I need to go home,” he lied.

Drew walked over to the computer screen and stared at the location on the airline reservations. “Russia? What’s going on?”


“I’m not letting you leave. What about your wife and kids?” he grabbed Ryan’s arm.

Ryan pushed him against the wall and a shelf tilted spilling its contents on the ground. A picture of his wife shattered. “My family doesn’t care about me. My kids in college don’t want me around. My wife is probably seeing someone else. She did that before. Your family came all the way here for your birthday. For my fiftieth birthday I didn’t even get a card.” He zipped up his backpack and walked out of the cabin as Drew slowly stood up and put the broken picture on the desk.

He arrived in the small Churchill airport to fly to Winnipeg then Russia as many people arrived to view the polar bears. Time went fast while he tried to talk himself out of what he was doing. How far could it go? Adultery. What if she doesn’t like me? He risked everything, his career and family could be lost. The funny thing is that meant less to him then the concern over her wanting to be with him. He did send some emails to the radio station telling them how much he liked her broadcast. She wrote back a few times but never more than a form response thanking him. But it was enough to keep him obsessed.

He arrived in Vladivostok as the sun hung low in a cloud filled sky. He stayed in a cheap hotel and barely slept as sleet pattered on the metal siding. The morning remained dreary and sleet continued to fall as he left for the station. Katrine often went on air during the daytime to broadcast to North America at night. He had trouble catching a taxi to the remote location of the station and arrived just as she walked in the building. He caught a glimpse of her long black hair going through the doorway as he ran up the icy steps.

At the top a guard refused to let him pass and threatened with hand gestures to call the police. He waited until she finished and became cold and wet. She came out with a man by her side. His breath became rapid. A husband or boyfriend, he worried. He couldn’t stop and walked toward her. “Hi Katrine.”

“Hi,” she looked confused. “Do I know you?”

“I listen to you in Canada. I came because the station was closing. I need to tell you how much your voice means to me.”

“Thank you. It’s a shame about the closing but I’m going to Moscow. I received a job with government television. Now people will be able to see and hear me.” She pulled her hair behind her ears. The gesture seemed flirtatious to him.

The man with her kept looking at his watch and said, “We got to go.”

“Oh, you’re right. This is Ivan he is my fiancé.”

Ryan’s heart sank and he stuttered, “Nice to meet you.” He reached out a shaking hand.

Ivan shook it stronger than normal. It felt like a threat or warning. Ryan felt sick and started to turn pale.

Katrine said, “Why don’t you come with us. You came so far.”

Ivan said, “Yes, why did you come so far?”

Ryan hesitated, “I’m doing some research on wolves in Ussuri Refuge and thought I would stop here.”

Ivan stared at him, “Just stopping by.” He said in disbelief.

Katrine interrupted, “Well, come with us to the Sky Bar and have a drink.” Her brown eyes showed warmth and caring. It didn’t help his feelings.

Once he researched wolves in Montana so he was able to talk his way around the lie. The club was a western clone in a more open Russia. They pushed vodka on him and he kept drinking. Ivan watched him suspiciously and Ryan prayed he would leave. He asked, “Ivan, what is your occupation?”

“I work in communications for the government and I’m overseeing the closing of the station.”

Ryan knew Ivan couldn’t have known her for long and that gave him hope. She was everything he imagined. A pulsating song came on the sound system and she got up and danced while her long black hair waved through the strobe lights. She waved to Ryan to join her and losing all inhabitance from the drinks he couldn’t resist. He tried to keep up with her but failed miserably. Once he thought he saw Ivan tinkering with his drink but he got swept up in the dance. Then Katrine put her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek and he felt warmth spread through his body.

The music ended too quickly and he sat down as Ivan smiled and then he noticed another man had joined him. He sipped his drink and watched Katrine. Before he knew it he slumped and couldn’t stop from falling off the stool. Then blackness overcame him.

He felt a coldness radiate from his back and spread over his entire body. He realized he was in a wooded area covered with snow. As he slowly stood up he heard Ivan yell, “Here is where you can research wolves.” He saw the jeeps red taillights grow dimmer by the second.

His head pounded and his eyes burned as he looked around. I’m in the middle of the refuge, he thought. He slowly walked in the direction the jeep left and cursed. He remembered Ivan and his drink. Drugged, he thought. He was thankful he was used to the cold from Churchill but he felt sluggish. After an hour he stopped and felt sorrow well up in him. His heart was broken in pieces like a shattered icicle. He remembered the beauty of Katrine and she was everything he hoped but realized he couldn’t just step into someone’s life without people getting hurt or angry. He wondered if she knew what they did to him. Did she agree to it? That thought hurt him inside.

Snow started to fall and he heard crunching sounds from the deep brush. In a clearing he saw four wolves sniffing the air, steam rising from their nostrils. They grew tense and one bared its teeth as tension filled the woods.

A black wolf came from the other end of the clearing. Ryan got nervous but didn’t dare move.

The intruder approached the pack and tried to single out a young female. He tried to cut her off from the pack but the others intervened and the alpha male chased him away. A brief fight occurred and they both disappeared. When the alpha wolf returned he limped badly. The others ran to him and showered him with affection. Ryan watched until they eventually sensed his presence and disappeared into the woods. He then thought of Drew alone in Churchill and his family in Toronto. He expected a cold reception when he returned but knew he belonged there.

Tears flowed down his cheeks and he knew he was the intruder here in Russia. With frostbitten hands and a broken heart he started the long walk back to Vladivostok. The path ahead of him loomed dark and foreboding causing him to doubt he would survive. Then he heard the wolves howl from far away as the snow intensified and he walked into the darkness not knowing if he would ever come out into the light again.

© 2008 by William Falo


About the Author

William Falo lives in Southern New Jersey with his wife and two daughters. His fiction has appeared in the Northwoods Journal, 55 words, Zapata, Pens on Fire, Brilliant, Bewildering Stories, Long Story Short, The Greensilk Journal, Skive Magazine, and Shine and is forthcoming in Mississippi Crow, Yellow Mama, and Conceit Magazine.


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