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A large fish, a member of an ancient species called Bowfin, is trapped in a water hole beside a river running through a country farm. Two boys, ages 14 and 18, want to free the fish before it starves. The story begins with the younger boy, Christopher, groping his way through the night toward a barn on the farm. He is recovering from a violent beating at his school the day before. He is seized and dragged into the barn by the older boy, Jesse, and the two boys get to know each other in the barn that night. Jesse has made a dip net from tree branches and scraps of clothing from his grandmother's childhood. Christopher comes back at sunrise the next morning and the two follow the creek down to the river and try to rescue the Bowfin. After a desperate struggle to get the powerful fish in the river, the boys climb back up the creek. They join Jesse's grandmother in the farmhouse kitchen. The story ends in the country road by the farm's mailbox. Jesse straddles the dusty ruts in the road. He speaks one line that pulls together the story's threads-the trapped Bowfin, the fresh lumber at the kitchen door, a little girl in her grave, a school bus driver and a Beagle-and makes it plain there is more than one kind of trap in our lives, and the boys want to set free much more than a fish in a water hole.