Cold nights always upset Ivan. Alone in his room, buried beneath a woolen blanket pile, the boy listened to the cracks, bangs, and thumps of his grandmother's old house.
He liked it best when the wind howled outside since it covered those other sounds in the house; he was safe from the outside world.
Some nights when the air was still and the place quiet, there came such a terrific horror that, for days after, every shadow would give him the frights. On those nights when all was quiet and the clock in the hall ticked off the seconds, Ivan could sense the coming of the Whisper Men.
The Whisper Men approached the room and moved down the hallway without the sound of footsteps. Their frosty breath hung in the air and preceded them.
The men's dark shapes stood at the end of his bed; shadowy figures gazed down upon him as they spoke in soft voices that sometimes sounded like the breathing of the sick in their sleep. Ivan named them Whisper Men.
After their first visit, Ivan asked his grandmother why she would allow strange men to come unannounced to his room. His grandmother informed him that there had been no visitors the previous evening, so he must have dreamed the entire affair up.
Night after night, when the air was frozen and the moon cast its pale bluish-white glow into Ivan's room, the Whisper Men came and stood at the end of his bed.
Sometimes, they remained silent, staring from behind, misty air that rose from their nostrils; most times, they talked in whispers. The most unusual feature of these conversations was that they all spoke simultaneously. Ivan couldn't understand what they were saying; however, occasionally, he could make out a word or two.
On one occasion, they spoke the exact words simultaneously. This frightened Ivan because, as they whispered, their words echoed about the room, sounding like hundreds of whispering men.
Upon finishing their task, they abruptly turned and left in the same manner they arrived, frozen breath leading the way and not a footstep to be heard.
When they came, Ivan longed for summer's sweat-soaked nights where the only thing to fear was a curious cricket or hungry mosquito.
The boy lay motionless, trying not to breathe too deeply for fear of attracting their attention. The shadows whispered their words simultaneously, never pausing or changing rhythm or tone. Ivan waited, and as suddenly as they appeared, the Whisper Men vanished, going to where they went when not observing him.
Sleep came, and soon, it was morning. With the sun came a promise of warmth and hope that tonight would not be another of the cold, still nights accompanied by the shadows of the Whisper Men.