Today’s M.M.M. is a last-minute affair, thrown together with stale cheese found in the company refrigerator and crackers from the accountant’s desk. I have several posts started or planned, but I spent all weekend editing the final draft of my novel (before I send it off to a professional editor) and so that’s what I’m left with for you this Monday morning: my novel.
Why two pages? I’m attending the Backspace conference in late May, at which I and other authors will workshop the first two pages of our novels with a group of agents.
I’m not yet ready to share what it’s entirely about, but hopefully you will enjoy this little offering.
Disclaimer: There might be typos. Please list all corrections in the comments section below. I’ll pay you in thank-yous.
Disclaimer: Names, events, and setting are subject to change.
Disclaimer: It is slightly more than two pages.
Disclaimer: This is my first effort at novel writing. I will not refund your time if, at the end of the following 2-1/4 pages, you feel cheated.
Michael Nygaard followed his father in the snow. The great Minnesota Northwoods grew up around them, black branches piercing the sky in frozen prayer. Beyond the trees to their right was Ebersold’s field, dotted with tracks, its fresh sheath white except in the middle where it still soaked red. Michael’s bare fingers wrapped around a rifle, one hand at the butt end, one hand on the barrel. It was the same rifle his father taught him to shoot last year at the age of eight, mostly at cans in the back yard. He handled and shot a gun expertly now, though he always asked his father to wring the necks of the birds still alive in the tall grass. This was probably why John Nygaard had never let his son come along on a trapping expedition, until now. John knew Michael didn’t like death.
Michael was cold but it did not bother him. He would have smiled had he no coat at all, his body warm with the electricity he’d felt since last night when his father set down his glass of milk at the dinner table and said, “Be ready at seven, Michael,” before rising and walking to the barn for final chores. Michael had glanced at his mother, had tried not to smile too wide. His mother had put a hand on his arm and said, “Be careful.”
He watched the brown plaid of his father’s back sway side to side, side to side, as he pushed ahead in the snow, dragging along a stick that made a tiny trench beside them. The swaying made Michael dizzy, so he looked again to the red spot in the distance, around which he and his father were walking clockwise—except to avoid Ebersold’s farmhouse and yard. This was their second lap around the red, each a concentric circle.
John stopped. A piece of bait lay along the side of the trail ahead of them. He stabbed around the bait with his stick. A steel trap snapped, breaking the branch in two, and Michael started.
“They laid more,” said John. “Let’s go.”
John threw his broken stick off into the white woods, where it landed noiselessly. “Ebersold has been leaving his sick and butchered cattle in these woods for years, letting wolves clean up his messes,” he said. “Then he’s angry when those wolves cross an invisible boundary onto his farm and take the food they’ve developed a taste for.”
Michael had heard this before. His father was known as a radical, on the side of what he called common sense but what some other farmers called tree-hugging communists. What one had to do with the other, Michael did not know. Most farmers were kind to them anyway, though; they didn’t care how soft-hearted John Nygaard was. And most of them wouldn’t have asked FWS to lay traps, as Ebersold did when one of his livestock was killed two nights ago.
Only a few dozen yards farther, John stopped again. “Goddamn it.”
Michael peeked around his father’s body. A wolf lay ahead, it’s front leg broken in a trap. The wolf saw them but did not lift its head. Only its eyes darted between the father and son. Plumes of warm breath rose from its nostrils.
“She’s probably been out here all night,” said John.
“What do we do?” asked Michael.
“We shoot it.” John glanced briefly at his son before grabbing the gun.
“Why?” said Michael. “Why don’t we try to save it?”
“We can’t save it. And they’ll euthanize it when they get here, anyway. Who knows how long that will be.” He moved forward.
“But we can save it!”
“It’s a wild wolf, Michael. The only way we can help it is by shooting it. If you don’t want to watch, walk back a hundred yards and I’ll come to you. I thought you were ready.”
Michael wanted to be ready. He just hadn’t thought it all the way through, to what it might feel like to find a wolf in a trap. He’d seen the traps before, when they’d accidentally come upon the steel jaws in snow. That is what he’d expected this morning, empty traps set off by sticks. He did not like that to save this wolf, they had to kill it. He felt he was letting it down, that the wolf wouldn’t know he and his father were not like the rest of them.
But she seemed to have been waiting for them, resigned. Her black eyes watched Michael and he stared back. A feeling stirred in his belly, a feeling at once of longing and being at home.
Michael stayed. He could not take his eyes off the animal, its huge paws slack in the snow. He was still looking when his father shot the gun. There was nothing but the echo across the fields and a flutter of gray fur where the bullet entered. No reflexive movement, no birds in flight. As they walked away, Michael still watched her, calm in the white and red snow.