Author Paul Doiron shared the opening paragraphs of his short story “The Bear Trap,” which will be made available to readers for free starting Monday. Inspired by the story of the North Pond Hermit, “The Bear Trap” will likely resonate with Maine readers who already know the tale.
“The Bear Trap,” copyright Paul Doiron
The wind moved across the surface of the lake like breath upon a mirror. In the stern of the canoe Charley Stevens dipped a paddle to bring us around again over a submerged field of weeds. We were fishing for early-season pike. Charley was a retired Maine game warden — thirty years in the service — and the best woodsman I’d ever met.
The evening before, I’d happened to remark that I’d never caught a northern pike on a fly rod before. Charley had sat upright in his chair, as if the notion offended his sensibilities, and said I needed remedial schooling if I was going to have any future at all in the Warden Service. It was my first year on the job, and every day I was learning how little I actually knew about my new profession.
And so, here we were, at dawn, on a distant body of water whose name was unfamiliar to me.
“How do you know this place anyway?” I asked.
“Oh, this was my first district when I was a new warden, back from the war.” The canoe rocked gently, almost like a cradle. “Of course, it’s changed a lot since those days.”
I waited for him to go on, but he pressed his lips together and squinted across the lake toward a mist-blurred line of trees.
In my experience, retired wardens loved nothing more than to tell tales about their escapades in the North Woods. I was always having my gullibility tested by some gray-haired joker who believed the point of spinning yarns was to see how many lies he could pass off as the truth.
Charley’s approach to story-telling was to casually mention some brush with death he’d had as if were a humdrum matter of no particular interest. That very morning, on the drive over, I was shocked to hear him let slip that he’d spent months in Vietnam as a prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton, in the same cell block as John McCain. I wanted to believe the old geezer, but I had been raised a skeptic.
I reeled in my line. “How has it changed?”
He raised the dripping paddle toward a point of land where the pines had been cleared to make way for a cedar-shingle mansion. “Do you see that monstrosity of a domicile? There used to be a boys’ summer camp there. I don’t know how many nights I spent staked out in the puckerbrush, trying to nab the damned hermit who kept robbing the place.”
“Wait,” I said. “What hermit?”
He frowned. “I thought you wanted to hook a pike.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t hear about it in warden school. But I guess it’s ancient history to the current generation.”
“Come on, Charley. Tell me.”
He sighed, his breath shimmering in the chilly air. Then he set the paddle across his knees
and nodded his head in the direction of the trapper’s basket at my feet. “Pour me a cup of coffee from that thermos. I bet it’s still hot.”
Starting Monday, you can access the entire short story, “The Bear Trap,” by visiting Doiron’s website and clicking on the link.