“The Hermit’s Story,” a magical tale about entry into an alternative reality, begins with a sort of poetic overture about the blue color of an ice storm. The narrator and his wife have gone to the home of Ann and Roger for Thanksgiving dinner. The power is out, and after the two couples eat pie and drink wine before a roaring fire, Ann tells a story about an experience she had twenty years earlier in Saskatchewan with a man named Gray Owl, who hired Ann to train six German shorthair pointers.
After Ann has trained the dogs all summer and into the fall, she takes them back to Gray Owl to show him how to continue to work them. She and Gray Owl take the dogs out into the snow, and Ann uses live quail to show Gray Owl how the dogs will follow the birds and point them. They work the dogs for a week until they get lost in a heavy snowstorm, drifting away from their base by as much as ten miles. When they come to a frozen lake and Gray Owl walks out on its surface and kicks at it to find some water for the dogs, he abruptly disappears below the ice.
Ann decides to go into the water after Gray Owl, for even if he is already drowned, he has their tent and emergency rations. However, when she crawls out onto the ice and peers down into the hole through which Gray Owl has disappeared, she sees him standing below waving at her. When he helps her climb down, he says that what has happened is that a cold snap in October has frozen a skin of ice over...
(The entire section is 523 words.)