“You’ll find some loggers who say he’s still out there,” my dad said, “holed up in some cave, not knowing the war’s over.”
I looked hard into his eyes. “You’re lying,” I said.
But he wasn’t lying. Years later, after my dad and I had settled into a life pattern of long estrangements punctuated by awkward visits, I read about the incident in a book. A German POW really had escaped from Hobbstown and was never seen again. And I didn’t know what disturbed me more: that I doubted my father reflexively or the wistful look that came into his eyes as he told that story, as if his own greatest wish was to vanish into the woods and never return.
A black bear had gotten into a pigpen out on the Beechwood Road, and it had run off with a pig. There were bear tracks in the mud outside the broken fence and drag marks that led through the weeds into the second-growth timber behind the farm. The man who owned the pig stood behind me as I shined my flashlight on the empty pen. He had called me out of bed to drive over here,and his voice over the phone had been thin and breathless, as if he’d just run up a hill.
“Warden Bowditch,” he said, “I never seen nothing like it.”
His graying hair was wet from the rain that had just stopped falling. He wore an old undershirt stretched tight over his swollen belly and a pair of wash-faded jeans that hugged his hips and exposed an inch of white skin above the waistband. He carried a .22 caliber rifle over his shoulder, and he was holding a sixteen-ounce can of Miller High Life. His eyes were as red as a couple of smashed grapes.
It was a hot, humid night in early August. The thunderstorm that had just finished drenching midcoast Maine, five hours north of Boston,was moving quickly out to sea. A quarter moon kept appearing and disappearing behind raggedy, fast-moving clouds that trailed behind the storm like the tail of a kite. Crickets chirruped by the hundreds from the wet grass, and far off in the pines I heard a great-horned owl.
The bear had clawed apart the plank fence as if it were a dollhouse, leaving a pile of splintered boards where the gate had been.
“Tell me what happened, Mr. Thompson,” I said, moving the beam of the flashlight over the puddled ground.
“Call me Bud.”
“What happened, Bud?”
“That bear just scooped him up like he was a rag doll.”
I shined the light against the farmhouse. It was a clapboard frame building with a broken-backed barn that looked about to collapse and a chicken coop and tool shed out back. Behind the house was a dense stand of second-growth birch and alder with pine woods beyond. The bear had only to cross thirty feet of open field to get to the pigpen.
“You said you saw the bear attack him?”
“Heard it first. I was inside watching the TV when Pork Chop started screaming. I mean squealing. But you know it sounded like screaming.” He slapped a mosquito on his neck. “Anyhow, I looked out the window, but it was raining, and I couldn’t see a damned thing on account of how dark it was. Then I heard wood snapping and Pork Chop screaming and I grabbed my gun and came running out here in the rain. That’s when I seen it.”
Now that I was close to him I could smell the heavy surgeof beer on his breath. “Go on.”
“Well, it was a bear. A big one. I didn’t know there were bears that big around here. It was reaching over the fence with its paw, leaning on the fence, and the boards were just snapping under its weight. And poor Pork Chop was back in the corner,trying to get away, but it wasn’t any use. The bear just hooked him with its claws and pulled him in.”
Excerpted from The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron. Copyright © 2010 by Paul Doiron. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Minotaur. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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