Life in the Shadows

 Wilson Hahn said his dog, Frances—not to be confused with his wife of the same name—brought home a size 12 man’s shoe with a fifty dollar bill hidden under the insole. If anyone is missing a shoe, they may pick it up at his tobacco shop. Curly Dowd wishes to know what sort of man reaches inside a stranger’s shoe and looks under the insole? Ada Sanderling says the kind of man who names a dog after his wife. Amos Finch left his glasses on a bench in Sanderling Park and when he returned to get them, they were gone.… Keep reading

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The Progressive Sheep

Although I dislike preacher to cracker comparisons, Minister Westminster does resemble a saltine: steady, with a dash of salt for flavor, or savor, as the Bible puts it. I am not a Calvinist, suggesting that people cannot rise above their packaging; with faith and good works, anyone can be a Triscuit. When church member Garton Purby decided sheep sounds were suitable for worship, no one would have compared Westminster’s reaction to that of an ordinary cracker. Used with restraint, “amens” are an accepted part of worship—sheep sounds, not so much. After the first baa, Westminster stopped in mid-sentence, looking for… Keep reading

Matilda Rampion

Thunder still rumbled in the hills when I found the fledgling robin, soaked in rainwater, appearing more dead than alive. Despite no success in raising feathered orphans and believing that it mattered, I carried the bird inside, dried it, and named it Oliver Twist. To my delight, the orphan thrived on the pulverized worms I fed him each hour, growing daily. Several weeks later I noticed that his cage had suddenly grown small. I took him to the edge of the woods, sat the cage on the ground, and opened the door. Oliver Twist remained on his perch, uncertain what… Keep reading

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Rabblefish

We would fish in Aedre’s Pool, my friends and I, a can of corn between us, cane poles in our hands, teasing and punching each other as we waited for the bobber to bounce, bragging of kisses that had never happened, something boys will do. Now we wade, these same friends and I, our graphite fly rods paid for in installments, our reels machined from solid stock, presenting our hand-tied flies created on expensive vices, as if the angler with the most equipment wins. No longer do we thrill to every tug of the line; we must wait to see… Keep reading

Miss Fetters’ Forbidden Fruit

Before her retirement, an event greeted with a collective sigh of relief, most students regarded Miss Helen Fetters, English, room 4B, as the scourge of the Sycamore Shadows school system. Of slight build and genial features, Miss Fetters could commit genocide with a look. And though she would occasionally overlook the misuse of a semi-colon, and might, with considerable effort, refrain from killing a child who had written in the passive voice, the “Attila of Orthography” could not tolerate a spelling mistake. Students committing such an infraction simply vanished. As feared as she was in the classroom, it was only… Keep reading

A Youth of Much Promise

When a young man still on the diaper side of his thirteenth birthday is offered the distinguished job of church bulletin editor, he’s either the preacher’s son or possesses considerable writing talent. Henry Barnes and Minister Fletcher were unrelated. When Henry wrote, the words flowed as if an angel were guiding his pen. He wrote unceasingly, patiently honing his craft for seven long years. His “Sin of the Week” column is still used as a reference and often quoted in sermons. Nine months after resigning as bulletin editor, Henry had not only completed his first novel—one of the greatest novels… Keep reading

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Odoriferous Founders

Independence Day falling on a Sunday in 2010, Minister Easter Westminster of the Church of the Lost Sheep invited Curly Dowd of the Sons of the Battle of Little Beaver to address the congregation on some spiritual matter relating to the founders of our great nation. Printed below is a partial transcript of Curly’s speech, presented to a packed house:  “When pondering life in yonder days, before the bees brought honey, when swifts had few chimneys, and rubber-lipped carp had yet to swim our streams, certain iconic things come to mind: reading ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ by candlelight, butter churns, dovecots, spinning… Keep reading

The Drip

Scholars may disagree, but I believe that Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is about plumbing. I cannot think of any other interpretation of the lines near the end of the poem: “Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.” According to Wilson Hahn, it began as an ordinary drip, one drop of water falling every 27 seconds. Had he left it alone, it would still be falling at nearly the same rate, less than pint of water wasted each day, equivalent to another verse in the shower or a quarter-inch in… Keep reading

Milton Dunnacker

He was the Johnny Appleseed of our early years, an uncouth eccentric who loved “The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe” with as much passion as he disliked personal hygiene. In an era when people seldom bathed, John Milton Dunnacker, founder of Castaway Books in a log cabin in 1832, was renowned for his smell. At a time when everyone hosted parasites, Dunnacker was famous for the foul vermin that followed him wherever he went. Clouds of flies buzzed around his head, colonies of fleas lived in his queued hair and vacationed in his pants, crustaceans manned isolated outposts in his armpits.… Keep reading

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Tradition

Form a group and traditions will soon follow, however silly they may seem to those outside the group. The members of the Sisters of Ruth Cross-stitch Club, founded in Sycamore Shadows in 1928 to evangelize through cross stitching, eat mostly meatballs. Believing, despite any scriptural authority, that the biblical Ruth cooked meatballs for Boaz, they consume the food in such quantity that most “sisters” resemble meatballs themselves. Their cholesterol levels are legendary. Members of the now-defunct Little Beaver Explorers Club nailed fish heads to wooden posts erected expressly for the purpose. It began as a simple way to display trophies;… Keep reading

©The Museum of Sycamore Shadows. Used with permission.

Crapulous Bill

You sit in the meadow, enjoying the splendor of God’s creation, relaxed, carefree, content, and in the blink of an eye, everything changes. Your heart stops; you stand, unsure what to do, shaking, unable to move, your palms sweating, your eyes scanning the terrain, overcome with dread as you realize that your deepest fear has come to pass: you have lost a sheep. While few alive today will know such terror, drunken shepherds have always misplaced sheep. Still, April 17, 1864 was not a typical day for shepherd William Sanderling, known as Crapulous Bill; he had never lost a sheep.… Keep reading

Byron Cobble

    Tomorrow morning Byron Cobble will flop out of bed, pour a cup of coffee, and plop into his chair. Opening the paper, he’ll skim the news and scan the comics, perhaps noticing the one-page spread entitled “Remember the Fallen.” His second cup of coffee finished, he’ll dress and piddle with his fishing gear in the basement. Later that morning he’ll wash the car and mow the lawn. At midday, he’ll fill a cooler with beer and ice and load his trunk, setting off for the park or a relative’s house. It’s a holiday, a paid vacation day. Please don’t… Keep reading

The Samurai

I could see Mr. Donatu behind the counter, arms coated with flour and powdered sugar, his gentle face smiling as he filled holes with sweet stuff, unaware of my approach. Craig the Avenger, boldest pirate west of Creek Road, would succeed where others had failed. While my snickering comrades waited around the corner, I alone was brave enough to sneak into the den of the samurai dragon. Singing a song in Japanese and little suspecting that an intruder was near, Donatu turned away. Slowly raising my hand as I stooped in front of the counter, my fingers searched until they… Keep reading

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The Imaginactory

On the night of October 1, 2009, I enjoyed the unfettered slumbers of the poor. The next morning, I awoke rich. Not Beverly Hills rich, or even Pittsburgh rich, I stepped out of bed Sycamore Shadows rich, which means you get credit at Freese’s Grocery and that Joe Ballard expects your donation to the annual “Guns for Kids” drive at Christmas time. I didn’t know of my new-found wealth that morning or I wouldn’t have eaten peanut butter on a spoon for breakfast, but later that day I received the news that my great-uncle Phineas Sanderling had named me the… Keep reading

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Harmon’s Common Sin

Imagine that it’s 1834 and you’re in a crowded tavern, drinking ale. Women of dubious morals giggle at your side and despite your determination to resist, temptation abounds. Since entering the establishment, you have narrowly avoided committing three minor and one intermediate transgression, but your greatest fear is the sins you do not know. Luckily, in your pocket is a newly published book to guide you, the second volume of John Harmon’s “Common Sin and its Causes Expounded, with an aid to identification,” the first “field guide” to vices. Having had the foresight to buy the book, you leave the… Keep reading

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