I pushed my way into the forest. Beaded rainwater spilled off the leaves onto my shoulders and face. I was drenched in an instant.
After a few steps, I was through the green wall of bushes and saplings at the edge of the wood. Beneath the trees the air was still and heavy with the smell of growing things — as humid as a hothouse. I made an arc with the bulls-eyed flashlight beam along the forest floor, looking for drag marks. But the soft carpet of moss and pine needles had absorbed all traces of the bear’s passing, and I saw no more blood drops. I wandered deeper into the woods, searching.
I found the pig a hundred yards in.
It lay on its side in a puddle of congealing blood. Its throat had been torn out, and its haunches had been chewed to a red pulp. The bear had not attempted to bury the carcass or cover it with leaves. It was possible it had heard me coming.
I switched off the flashlight and stood under the dripping trees, listening. I knew retired game wardens and ancient trappers who could hear the rustle a buck made passing through alders across a stream. Men who were so at one with the woods that they didn’t fully exist among other human beings but were only truly themselves outdoors. Maybe someday I’d be one of those old woodsmen. But for the moment I was still a twenty-four-year-old rookie, less than a year on the job, and my senses told me nothing about where the bear was.
I turned the flashlight back on. Then I went up to the house to tell poor Bud Thompson what I had found.
By the time I got home it was well past midnight. I’d left the light on outside the screen door and moths were swirling about, butting themselves stupidly against the glass.
As I stepped inside, I was surprised again by my empty house. Sarah had taken most of the furniture with her when she moved out. It always startled me, coming home, to see how little I actually owned. Stacks of books and newspapers, a steel gun cabinet, fallen antlers I had collected in the snow.
Moonlight shone in through the windows, bright enough to see by, so I left the lights off as I moved through the house, shedding my damp shirt and boots as I went. I unbuckled my gun belt and put it away, then wandered into the kitchen. Frosty light spilled out of the refrigerator when I swung the door open. I found a can of beer and pressed it against my forehead as I made my way out into the living room.
I cracked open the beer and toasted Bud Thompson and MikeBowditch — two womenless men dousing our loneliness with alcohol. Except that unlike Thompson, I had chosen to be alone. An empty house was what I’d wanted all along, even if it had taken Sarah years to realize it.
She’d hung in there with me from Colby College, where we’d met, through the Maine Criminal Justice Academy and the Maine Warden School and my eight weeks of field training. She toughed it out, thinking it was a phase I was going through, that eventually I’d go to law school like we’d talked about and become a prosecutor and maybe someday a judge. But it wasn’t a phase, and it was only after I had gotten posted in coastal Knox County that she realized that being a game warden was a twenty-four-a-day,seven-days-a-week way of life, and for reasons neither of us fully understood,I’d chosen it over her.
So she left.
And I missed her — and counted the days since she’d gone away. But I was relieved, too. Relieved that I no longer had to justify my emotions to anyone else. I could spend the night alone in the woods searching for a dead pig and be content in a way that made absolutely no sense to anyone who wasn’t a game warden. With Sarah gone, I could love this solitary and morbid profession without excuses and not have to look too deeply into the dark of myself.
That was when I noticed a small blinking light across the room.
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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