Eli’s Boys | Zach Nabors

Only three hours prior had Hopper been engulfed in a surrealistic frenzy, a haze of anxiety and shouting, when he and Finn had hit a hard right directly after the Sparky the Squirrel sign, an oversized, gray, bucktoothed squirrel denoting his distaste for forest fires, disrespect for nature, and beer cans being lobbed into his forest. The wheels peeled the pavement and chunks of loose gravel just before the turn off to Jolley Baptist Church Rd (grandmother’s church) and headed deep into the winding roads of the lush thickets of Cottage Grove. Now three hours removed and the shock had rooted itself within Hopper’s marrow. Feeling as if an anesthesiologist had pulled him from a post-surgery stupor, he stood dull and numb leaning against his shovel. Looking. Counting his breaths.The crunches of Finn’s shovel still permeated the back of Erickson’s field—metal to dirt—toss to ground—metal to dirt.

The night was darker than most, heavy overcast, as if the calendar had been tipped off as well. A jaded crescent moon kept ducking, slow and methodic, in and out of grey clouds, while any speck of starlight remained hidden years away. Even the cosmos could not bear to lay eyes upon the bleak tragedy that shrouded itself in the dark-dead of night below them.

The headlights were too much of a risk, Finn had screamed. But after hours of exposure eyes grow accustom to darkness. And through this acute awareness brought on by the absence of light, Hopper could see the sludgy sweat sliding down Finn’s tired face, just as he could feel the thick dirty sweat roll down his own.

There hadn’t been many words spoken since they arrived at the junction where expansive farmland meets verdant woods: only the demanding of no truck lights, the instructions to Hopper that it ‘Mus’nt be a shallow grave. ‘At’s how people get caught,’ and Finn’s notification that all cigarette butts will be tossed into an old beer can and taken with them. But Hopper didn’t feel like smoking. He was a pack-a-day smoker, but the urge after three hours wouldn’t ever come. He vomited twice, but no cigarettes.

Hopper squinted through the thick southern night air. Trying to see the cousin he had always known. The boy he had grown up with, at each other’s side, unmovable.

Hopper and Finn had always been inseparable: their daddies being brothers. Both boys the same age and both vigorous adrenaline driven kids—watch out for those McKnight boys people would say.

They had grown up doing everything together. Finn always tended to spend the most time he could at his Uncle Eli’s house: fishing, meddling through creeks, and peeing into older girls’ windows.

Finn wasn’t a week passed ten years old the day he found his mother in the bathtub blue lipped, eyeballs reaching for the back of her skull, and a black leather belt tied around her upper arm; his father, drunk and swearing, beating and banging on her chest, then turning his goddamning-anger upon someone else, someone still alive, someone else to blame—Finn—and chased him outside, down the old dirt road he had spent his first decade on, a pint of rye whiskey (mostly drank) in his father’s left hand and an open pocketknife in the other, until Finn finally made it to Hopper’s home for good.

Eli McKnight caught hell, now with the responsibilities of raising two boys. The two young ones were fire on an oil spill, leaving a streak wherever they torched a path through. If one hocked rocks through the church windows, so did the other. Grandma McKnight urged the Jolley Baptist way, but the boys only revolted more.

They learned to share and do everything as one entity. If one missed school, they both did. They smoked pot and sniffed glue together. They drank booze and did coke together. If one was rummaging through a pill cabinet, the other played lookout. Hopper can remember vividly being fifteen years old behind the old Cottage Grove High School, their first time; Amy Johnson’s blonde hair flowing long and lustrous as she went down on Finn and then turned with her piercing blue eyes and beckoned Hopper without a word or gesture, just a stare, pulled him closer and closer until he had been promptly directed and placed inside of her from behind. And the look he could never forget streaked across Finn’s face, the look of pride and amazement, as if they had just achieved the impossible. Hopper and Finn were like brothers, only closer.

Hopper stared and stared, but he could not find that boy that ran scared to he and Eli’s house, with a dead mother and a drunk, knife wielding father behind him twenty years ago, or the wild boy skipping out on Grandma McKnight and her Jolley church, ditching school and smoking dope, switching and swapping positions, taking turns on the Johnson girl like there wouldn’t be a fifteen years later, they would only stay the same, in the same place, forever.

A small flick of lighter lit Finn’s face, showing his heavy burdened features and the sizzle of the small flame burning tobacco broke the silence

and monotony of shovel dipping into loose, easy dirt, but then it was right back to it—metal to dirt—toss to ground.

The boys grew older and they drank and they chased women and they fought, took on all comers—homers and out-of-towners alike—in Ellen May’s Bar, turned into their own personal home-away-from-home in Buchanan. Out of high school they had gone to work for their daddy’s best friend’s mowing and lawn service. The friend, an old grizzled man who gave them a trailer and a little piece of land to live on, who didn’t care what they did or how they did it, as long as they showed up for work, worked hard, and told him the torrid details of their previous night’s revelries.

Two years prior to this night Hopper had got a job working for Henry County—working the road crew; Finn hooked himself to meth and moved in with a woman, a woman—word had it—who made Ellen May’s her home- away-from-home and took all comers. Hopper had kept the trailer.

Eli had gotten to where he could laugh about the two hellions he had managed to keep alive and survive himself. The way a reminiscent father and son can as time passes and the young hellions become men, though two years, nearly to-the-day, you could mark the change in Eli’s face: now sullen and tired, within it lay the virtue of an astute knowingness, insight into the future, shallowly hidden in the lines of his aging face. Eli now had the sad eyes of a man who knew too much, the frightened eyes of a man who had abruptly remembered a certain curse. He had seen the ending. The same look Hopper had when he received that midnight call from Finn, until his demeanor hastily shifted subsequent to hearing the cold demand to, “Get over here NOW!”

“The sun’ll be up soon.” Hopper finally said, just like any other statement he might make to anyone else, as Finn kept packing dirt and meticulously covering what had been at least a six foot deep hole with leaves and sticks and other things he felt made the earth seem undisturbed and natural.

The moon peaked, but only for a moment as the cousins, deliberately, with the lights turned off, rolled out from the Erickson farm. Nothing was, or could be said on the way home. Finn made sure he had the beer can/ashtray, kicking it about the floorboard over to Hopper’s side.

Raising his hand, the extended webbing between thumb and index to his nose, Finn cocked his head back for a small bump of crystal to slam the rear-interior of his head. Finn held the small plastic baggy toward Hopper, but Hopper nodded no. They had already shared enough.


Zach Nabors, a self-proclaimed writer of many forms, is essentially a lazy man, an outsider with high blood pressure, located in northwest Tennessee on the border of Kentucky, afflicted with the itch of landlocked blues. He has two two year olds, twins, and is about to finally finish his BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Tennessee at Martin after many self-induced setbacks (Hillbilly Heroin, etc.). He writes articles randomly for fultonkynews.com and has work that has appeared in On the Rusk, the Northwest Tennessee Writer’s Guild Anthology, Beanswitch, the upcoming fall issue of the Stone Highway Review, The Dying Goose Quarterly, and now Vagabond City.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.