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
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.
by Andrew Forbes
An electrical engineer who has lost almost everything - his marriage, his job, his father - retreats to his garage to re-evaluate and reorganize the various loose ends of his life, and ends up assembling a thermonuclear device instead.
of My Sound
by Andrew Forbes
Saxophonist Metche Hufu and his band are the talk of Addis Ababa, filling nightclubs and packing dance floors. But the precarious existence of this golden age of culture depends on an emperor’s benevolence - and when his power begins to wane, Metche Hufu's music threatens to be silenced by the sounds of a country torn apart.
“How do you give voice to a sax player silenced by the politics of his country? If you’re a jazz singer like Kurt Elling, you take Dexter Gordon’s solo on ‘Body and Soul’ from his Homecoming album and you turn it into vocalese. If your name is Andrew Forbes and your tenor sax player is Ethiopian and it is Addis Ababa 1973 and his musical idol is King Curtis, you write The Expansiveness of My Sound and what you write is wider, more straight-ahead, stronger with political fervour, sadder than Elling but every bit as smart. Forbes is doing it solo and you have to imagine the quartet behind him. Read it with your fingers tapping and you’ll catch the beat. Read it with your ears open and you’ll hear Metche Hufu’s body and soul. Dig it!”
— T. F. Rigelhof, author of Hooked on Canadian Books: The Good, the Better, and the Best Canadian Novels Since 1984
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
by Star Spider
In the late 60s, the newest member of a group of all-female pearl divers — the ama — sees her life, and the lives of those dear to her, disrupted by an unlikely force: a James Bond film that sends American men to Japan in search of their own personal 'mermaids'.
by Andrew Forbes
In a suburb that is nowhere and everywhere, Jorgen deals with the feelings of alienation and frustration from his collapsing relationship by getting into his car, putting on Patti Smith, and searching for meaning and belonging anywhere he can — regardless of whether he is welcome or wanted.
Trigger Finger Blues
by Chad Pelley
Marcel, a sensitive sniper, knew his life was missing something. But he didn't know what until he set his crosshairs on it: Violet Caine. A ginger-headed lover of Thai food, wanted dead simply because her brother messed with the wrong bike gang. It's a story of redemption coming too late, and the ways happenstance can turn a warm man cold. Then warm again. Whether fate wrote his troubled life, or he wrote it himself, he wants Violet Caine to be the end of it - be it figuratively or literally.
by Matt Cahill
Portraits of people marooned within themselves, trapped by their past experiences, by uncertainty and anxiety — individuals for whom each new situation is a grueling journey towards the present, a place where action and choice are possible. In Second World, Matt Cahill illustrates, with honesty and empathy, how the most important breakthroughs are not the life-altering revelations, but rather the minor miracles that get us through each day.