by Nancy Branch
In the rugged Nepisiguit River region of northern New Brunswick, two hunters face off. One is local sports lodge employee Danny Knockwood, a Mi’gmaw guide with a withered hand. The other is Mui’n, a one-eared black bear battling his inexorable hunger. When Danny is charged by the lodge owner to hunt down the bear that is frightening guests at the salmon pools, his personal values come into sharp conflict with his commitment to the task. The resulting confrontation tests both his physical strength and his beliefs, as Danny begins to recognize a kindred spirit within the fiercely determined bear.
IN HIS WINTER DEN below the upturned roots of a white pine, lying on a bed of balsam fir and scraped-up bits of forest duff, Mui’n awoke. The bear thrust his snout towards the narrow shaft of light from his breathing hole, ringed with ice formed by the heat of his breath. Hooking the curved claws of one large forepaw around the edge of the air vent, he pushed. A second taloned paw followed and pushed with greater force until hardened layers of snow exploded into the air. Mui’n’s front legs appeared and then his head, low to the ground, his tan-coloured nose twitching, his pink tongue tasting the air, his eyes, black and inscrutable, squinting against the insult of sunlight. Snow spilled from above one ear, the other having been torn away long ago in an escape from a Two-paw trap. The bear paced in front of his winter home, sleep-dazed, and then moved away from the stink of the den into the hungry spring.
ROLLING ONTO HIS SIDE in his bunk, Danny Knockwood pulled the grey wool blanket over his head against the sunlight pouring in through the cabin windows. Tegig, he thought, shivering. Spring sun had little warmth. Rooting deeper into a heated pocket of his bedding, Danny dozed but suddenly sat upright in the frosted morning.
“Moo elowtinook. Useless thing,” he muttered as he rubbed the numbness out of the withered hand that always gave him trouble when he overslept. In truth, the twisted appendage was not as debilitating as it appeared. Danny had learned to compensate for what nature had failed to give him. Sometimes he had to tie his left hand to the stock of his rifle when he was tracking, or prop the barrel of the gun across his elbow before taking a shot, but it never kept him from bagging game. And in his business, that was all that mattered.
“Christ, he’s a gimp,” an American sportsman had said the first day Danny had shown up for work as a guide for the Williamson Lumber Company Sports Lodge. “What kinda operation is this, anyways? Don’t want some fuggin’ gimp guidin’ us.”
But wobégwei had said little against him on his second day. The second day, Danny had appeared for work wearing a fierce, black-eyed scowl, his long hair flowing loose from under a bandana, and his shoulder-slung rifle tied with a raven feather painted to resemble an eagle’s. That day their tongues hadn’t wagged quite so much. And they’d said even less after Danny swiftly brought down the twelve-point buck one of the loudmouths had wounded with a piss-poor shot.
about the author
Maritime-born NANCY BRANCH holds an M.Ed. from the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton. She now lives with her husband and son in Sherbrooke, Quebec, where she teaches Business English and English as a Second Language at Bishop’s University. One of her short stories has recently been published in The Mitre, Canada’s oldest literary journal. She is currently at work on a book of interconnected fiction stories entitled Journey Home, set on the Bay of Chaleur coast in northern New Brunswick.
from the library
Was More Here
by Danny Goodman
In New York City, Ben smokes too much and sleeps with women as a way to deaden his insecurities. With every indiscretion, he fights off adulthood for one more day, until the return of an ex-lover leaves him unsure of everything. Ben’s best friend, Josh, struggles to find the good in his marriage to Maddie, even as he searches for a way to keep from losing her. Ben’s neighbor, Mrs. Aguilera, looks to make peace with those she has already lost. Gripping tightly to one another like the oddest of families, Ben and his friends embody the place in which they live: a city where everything combines, with a touch of perfect madness, into something more than the sum of its parts.
“I love this story because it’s just plain good. The characters are broken and unsure, but the love they have for each other and the humor that carries them along is genuine and lovely to behold. This story made me laugh even while it was hitting me in the gut, and I’d like nothing more than to sit down and drink a beer with everyone in it. Mr. Goodman, thank you for rocking my literary waffle.”
— Lish McBride, author of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
The Last Judgment
by Maria Meindl
Charlotte is on the cusp of adolescence, and her world is being turned upside down. Unable to turn to her distant mother or absent father, she searches for guidance on the streets of downtown Toronto—and discovers God (or some version of Him) in the gutter.
“The Last Judgment is a story that penetrates into the heart of childhood sadness. Charlotte is without tools to fix what is broken, except for the incredible force of her will. The connections she makes between religion, parental failure, sexuality, and love make perfect sense because they are told in her bell-clear voice. This story is warm and tragic and, at moments, grimly funny.”
— Rebecca Rosenblum, author of Once and Road Trips
by Don McLellan
Father Michael, in his final assignment, has been asked by his Order to help facilitate recovery of an Asian country blighted by war. On the long odyssey into the interior, his driver and translator Trang tells him a story set in a once-famed traveller’s refuge known as the Inn of Tender Embraces. What starts as a simple tale of ill-fated lovers becomes, for Father Michael, a familiar beacon that guides him through the mists of an exotic landscape.
“Don McLellan is the kind of wise, well-travelled writer we don’t see much of these days. With Angels Passing he earns the right to be included in the exotic tradition of Hemingway, Maugham, and Graham Greene. Like all memorable writing, his story takes us to another world and holds us there. As spare and subtle as it is powerful, Angels Passing will linger in your mind long after the last page.”
— John Lekich, Governor General’s Award Finalist for The Losers’ Club
When I'm Old, When I'm Grey
by Andrew Wilmot
After an unexpected malfunction, the technology which enables humanity to cross vast distances has separated an interstellar traveler from the love of her life — not in space, but in time. Now, while her companions remain in stasis, she must endure the loneliness of the journey until the moment her lover wakes.
Winner of the 2015 Friends of Merril Short Story Contest, When I'm Old, When I'm Grey imagines the strange — and strangely familiar — forms that fear and longing can take, as we venture forth into the unknown of the future.
In the Afternoon
by Laure Baudot
Catherine wants what Richard has: a richly decorated house, and a perfect, lavished-upon baby. Catherine also wants Richard: a disaffected diplomat whose true passion is for cinema. But Catherine is only the babysitter, and her envy—and its fallout—come to the fore when Richard is accused of a crime, and she must decide whether to help exonerate him.
“Laure Baudot’s prose is exquisite, patient, and sophisticated. In the Afternoon immerses you in the fascinating and complicated mind of a babysitter who is wise beyond her years, yet dangerously impulsive at the same time. This story is irresistible and heartbreaking.”
— Sarah Selecky, author of the 2010 Giller Prize–shortlisted collection This Cake Is for the Party
by Caroline Adderson
Coming out of an unhappy relationship and a stint at an artist colony, Charlotte, a writer, takes a job teaching at a private ESL college. There she befriends Renata—audacious, sexy, and as changeable as Proteus. “I have a story for you,” Renata says to her one day over lunch. She doesn’t elaborate further, but Charlotte soon discovers that she has found in Renata an unexpectedly passionate and compelling subject.
“Caroline Adderson is such a graceful and intelligent writer that the work that must surely go into creating her hilarious, prismatic stories is never betrayed in the language. There is no strain on the page, not a bead of sweat. I think of her as a writer’s writer. I envy her talent and learn from her sentences. The short story, Obscure Objects, is, I’m happy to report, Adderson at her glorious best.”
— Barbara Gowdy, author of Helpless and The White Bone
“Obscure Objects, Caroline Adderson’s fierce and affecting workplace comedy, is a deadpan gem: droll, moving, snapping-smart.”
— Meg Wolitzer, author of The Uncoupling, The Ten-Year Nap, and The Position
The Snake Crosses
the Tracks at Midnight
by Daniel Karasik
People grow in dimensions other than those we perceive. The teenage narrator of award-winning author Daniel Karasik’s latest story must deal with the fact that his older sister is now a grown woman, and Lucy, his crush-next-door, has become a mystery, with depths beyond his comprehension. Has he been coasting all this time, school and television his life’s only sources of momentum?
The Psychology of Animals Swallowed Alive:
by Kirsty Logan
Embark upon these twenty short, scrumptious flights of fancy from the unmistakable pen of Scott Prize-winning author Kirsty Logan, and you will be astounded, titillated, disturbed, amused, heartbroken, and above all, astonished.
“Logan crafts an exquisitely wrought diorama full of tenderly compelling characters; observations about grief, worship, social order, and human nature, and a love that transcends definition.”
– NPR on Logan's debut novel The Gracekeepers