Wishing on a Star

If you are unlucky enough to find yourself in love, do this: dress warmly, fill a thermos, climb to the top of Walker’s Cliff, lie in the grass with your sweetheart, and look at the stars. On a clear night you can see the Milky Way, a faint path across the sky. You look into the past, seeing light that had travelled long when Jesus was born, light that will continue to flow a thousand years and a million forgotten memories from now, the past itself, energy born as Hannibal tread the mountains, light that burst from a star as… Keep reading

The Long Shadow of the Ellipsis

On a hill above Sycamore Shadows, near where Musty Groves shot Frida Goblocks’ pet rabbit, Flopsy Sue, three circular mounds rise twelve feet above the landscape. From the ground they resemble first-day pimples; seen from the air they form a perfect ellipsis, causing you to wonder if the ancient Americans who created them worshipped punctuation. Standing in the soybean field next to the earthworks—soybeans this year, at least—I understand why people visit Stonehenge. For over 200 years scholars have scratched their heads while poring through books and squinting at manuscripts, looking for clues to the origin of the mounds, coming… Keep reading

Life in the Shadows

SYCAMORE SHADOWS, Ohio. Curly Dowd, plumber, says the finest scent in the world is a toilet fresh out of the box.  According to Curly, each toilet has a unique scent. He will not install a toilet until he puts his head inside for a moment. “You have to smell a commode before you fasten the tank,” he says, “because your nose should be facing the rear of the bowl and you have to lean over it from the back. You can’t do that when the tank is on—your neck isn’t long enough.” Happy squirrel season. Leena Freeman has completed the… Keep reading

The Shadow of Aedre Tour

SYCAMORE SHADOWS, Ohio. Anyone wanting to attend this year’s “Shadow of Aedre Tour,” conducted by Mr. Jacob “Nippy” Keene, should be in front of the Church of the Lost Sheep by 8:45 a.m. on Aedre Day. (Remember: September 18 falls on a Sunday this year. Aedre Day is Monday, September 19.) The tour begins at 9 a.m. and will proceed through Aedre’s life thus: Begin at the Burying Ground adjacent to the church, where Aedre, probably suffering from dissociative amnesia, “awakened” in 1800, near her supposed mother’s headstone. Proceed down Kishwaukee Street and Plane Tree Lane to Sanderling’s Run (near… Keep reading

The Dill Reaper

In 1981 the Sycamore Shadows Burying Ground Admissions Committee, after learning that the cemetery would soon be filled, resolved to “deny all burials, save those persons of extraordinary accomplishment or notoriety.” Despite the restriction, the twelve remaining plots had dwindled to four by the time of Robinson Hardy’s protested burial in 1987. By 2004 only two empty plots remained. As a member of said committee since 2005, I do not wish to seem discriminatory, but when you have two plots left, you wait for the right person to die, or for the wrong person to die in a compelling manner.… Keep reading

Empty Walnut Shells

On a hill at the Keene farm is a copse, mostly beeches, their twisted roots covered in moss, the spaces between them filled with ferns. Nippy Keene’s daughter, Allison, five years old, her pockets full of walnut shells, sneaks from tree to tree, placing the shells in nooks beside the roots, in case a fairy might need a place to stay. She chose the copse because she found a fairy ring that morning, a perfect circle of mushrooms white, where fairy feet had trod and danced while Allison slept in the night. A child will see wonderful things when standing… Keep reading

The Incredible Two-Story Urinal

In April 1929, Sanderling Pottery owner Allaster Sanderling, my great-grandfather, took to the open road in his new Drayson-12 automobile to see the great natural wonders of the land and humble himself before the majesty of God’s creation. Allaster found inspiration aplenty, but not from the sublime vistas of the Almighty. Mountains and canyons and deserts and buttes may inspire, but to Allaster, they could hardly compete with the manmade sights of Route 66. “I bought gas at an airplane, ate a hamburger in a dinosaur, drank a milkshake in a spaceship, bought a postcard in a giant sombrero, and… Keep reading

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

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


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

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 Rindle 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

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