“How come you didn’t shoot it?”
“That’s the thing of it. I did, but I must have forgot to load it.” He rubbed his hand across his wet eyes and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “It wouldn’t have really attacked me, would it?”
“I doubt it.” There are no recorded reports of fatal black bear attacks on humans in the state of Maine, but I’d read of fatalities in Ontario and Quebec, and it was probably only a matter of time until something happened here. “You were right not to provoke it, though. If you’d shot the bear with a .22 you probably wouldn’t have killed it, and there’s nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal.”
Except a drunk with a gun, said a voice in my head.
“I loved that pig,” He swung the rifle off his shoulder and held it up by the strap. “I wish I’d shot that son of a bitch.”
“You shouldn’t handle a firearm when you’ve been drinking,Bud.”
“He was the smartest pig I ever had!”
I raised my flashlight so the beam caught him in the eyes.“Do you live alone here?”
Whether it was the light or the question that sobered him I don’t know, but he blinked and ran his tongue along his cracked lower lip and looked at me with renewed attention.
“My wife’s moved out for a while,” he said. “But she’ll beback before too long.” His expression turned pleading. “You don’t need to talk to her, do you?”
“No. I just wondered if anyone else saw what happened.”
He scratched the mosquito bite on his neck. “I got an old dog inside. But he’s deaf and just about blind.”
“I meant another person. You said you hadn’t seen the bear around here before. Is that right?”
“I didn’t even know there were bears this near the coast.You don’t think it’ll come back here, do you?”
“Probably not since you don’t have another pig. But I see you keep some hens.” I gestured with my flashlight towards the chicken coop, using the beam to draw his attention. “The bear might come back for the hens, although I doubt it will. Why don’t you go inside and put that gun away. I want to take a look in the woods.”
He glanced at the trees and shivered. “Be careful!”
I watched him shuffle away into the house, head hanging,beer in hand. No wonder his wife left him, I thought. Then I remembered my own empty bed back home and I stopped feeling so superior. Sarah had been gone exactly fifty-five days. Earlier, I’d gone to bed thinking that it would be fifty-six days when I woke up, but that was before Thompson called. So here it was fifty-five days again.
I got to work measuring the paw prints in the mud. They resembled the tracks a barefoot person might leave walking along a beach.Judging by the distance between the front and hind feet, I figured it was a medium-sized bear, two hundred pounds or so.
I followed the drag marks through the field, and the rainwater that clung to the weeds soaked through my pants legs. The trail disappeared into the low bushes — scrub birch and speckled alder and sumac —that grew along the edge of the forest. I directed my light into the wet mass of leaves, half-expecting to see the beam reflected back by the eye shine of the bear’s retinas.
Thompson’s description suggested a curious young bear expanding its diet from berries and beechnuts to the other white meat. Probably the animal was miles away by now, having gorged itself on Thompson’s beloved pig. Still, I found myself listening for anything to indicate the bear might be nearby. A mosquito whined in my ear. Ahead of me and all around, I heard trees dripping in the darkness. Switching the flashlight from my right hand to my left, I reached down to touch the grip of my sidearm. It was a heavy SIG Sauer P226 .357 magnum that I had never fired except at a practice range.
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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