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


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



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


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


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


The Seersucker Suit

It began with a bakelite brooch, a harmless piece of plastic purchased at a pawn shop for his girlfriend, Alberdina. He gave it to her in Marsuoin Park, asking for her hand as they enjoyed a polystyrene picnic, eating from plastic plates using plastic forks and spoons. Percy Boggs was young and did not realize the implication. They married, moving into his grandfather’s house on Creek Road. Through the years the plastics came: celluloid, rayon, PVC, nylon, advancing with resinous patience, consuming his life like a slow-growing cancer. By the time Percy recognized the destroyer, he was too far gone… Keep reading

Sammy Blue

Sammy “Blue” Bellhorn, born the son of a sharecropper in a hot, dusty corner of Georgia, is the richest man in Sycamore Shadows. He must be, because he’s the only person in town who doesn’t want anything. He owns the bait shack near the covered bridge, sells minnows and crawdads caught from the creek and nightcrawlers collected in yards after a rain. Sammy lives in a room in the rear of the shack, sleeps on a cot, drinks from a pickle jar, eats from his one plate with his one spoon and knife, and wears one of two changes of patched… Keep reading

©Craig Wetzel's Imaginactory

The Beast and Stella Havelock

In 2002, Rube Elder and his wife purchased the 1928 Utopia Theater, on Kishwaukee & Main in Sycamore Shadows. They restored the marquee, cleaned the seats, scrubbed the bathrooms, polished the brass, and opened the balcony for the first time since the night in 1957 that Stella Havelock gave birth to Harold with her head on seat three, her feet on seat five, and the important stuff on seat four. Patrons in attendance that night in 1957 remember it well. Playing was “The Beast from Betelgeuse,” a horror movie about an alien with a taste for Christians who had traveled… Keep reading

Illustration from an early edition of Godfrey Neagle's, The Life and Adventures of Jeremiah Cucumber, an angler.

Jeremiah Cucumber

In 1745 Godfrey Neagle, age 29, seeking distraction from the advanced stages of galloping leprosy, began writing a novel. On the first day of work—thanks to his journal, we know the exact day: Wednesday, May 12—his nose broke loose from his face, landing on the manuscript. Undeterred, he put the nose in his pocket and continued to write. Nine months later he would finish one of the most celebrated and enduring works of western literature, “The Life and Adventures of Jeremiah Cucumber, an Angler.” By general agreement, it remains one of the funniest novels ever written. Even in an age… Keep reading

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