Born to Ramble
He had been searching since dawn for the origin of the small dark plume of smoke and by breakfast Eldon Painter found it: an abandoned campsite at the back of his property, a dell thick with basswood and hackberry and bur oak. All that was left were the smoldering charcoals of browned fallen brush stuffed in an old Folgers’ can — an Army trick — and a couple fast food wrappers halfburied nearby. The site had been pitched under a cluster of knotty honey locust whose branches roped together about fifteen feet up creating a natural covering from any inclement weather. He could just about make out indentations in the ground where two bodies — boys, possibly — had been arranged. Eldon stood like that for a while in the cold morning, wondered why in the hell anyone would be camping back on his lot, who they were and when they had taken off. He let the forest noise absorb him, tried to listen for anything unnatural, anything that might not belong. But there was nothing. It was only he that didn’t belong here. He kneeled and fingered the charcoal in the can — there was paper too, pages of a magazine from the looks of it. He felt something at the bottom and pulled out a spent .30 caliber casing. Eldon blew the soot out of it, smelled it, rolled it between his fingers for a while. He dug around a bit more, and finding nothing, placed the casing in his flannel shirt pocket, stood and left. A few minutes later he was at the edge of his property looking for downed fence-posts, gaps in the barbed wire where the mystery campers may have slipped through from Rabkin’s land, and followed it along for a good quarter mile into the densest part of his acreage, where storms often castrated limbs of trees that fell and severed the boundary a handful of times a year. But he found none — it was all in-tact. He worked his way back to the campsite where he inspected further, hand
Short fiction by Jared Yates Sexton, Amanda Miska, Paul Hamilton and Robert James Russell.