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

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

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

Peter Puckerton

Mrs. Rinehart attended a street carnival, tossed a ring on a bottle, and took home a three-cent fish in a ten-cent bowl. Folks said Peter Puckerton was about the luckiest fish ever. Maybe he didn’t live as plush as a clownfish in a fancy restaurant aquarium, but he was as fortunate as a three-cent goldfish could hope to be, more so because of the way she coddled him. Few fish are prayed over morning and evening and get their flakes blessed to boot. Did the praying work? I believe in prayer but I don’t know if it applies to goldfish.… Keep reading

The Hymnboarder

When a man has been in charge of changing the song numbers on the hymn board for 43 years, how do you tell him he’s no longer fit for the job? Numbers get transposed, so when the congregation sang “Valley of the Shadow of Death” following a sermon about walking in the light, no one said a thing. And they overlooked “Fill me with God’s Light” at Graham Miller’s funeral, even though it wasn’t the best song for someone killed in a lightning strike. But after the invitation song on the last night of the gospel meeting, everyone knew Hank… Keep reading

The John Doe Statue

I think it was Winnie the Pooh who said that nudity, once familiar, loses its impact. A bridegroom who cheers and claps as his bride undresses will, in a few years, gaze upon his naked spouse with the same passion he would look at a toaster. And in Sycamore Shadows, even those who avert their eyes from provocative mannequins at Mayapple Clothing will glance at the John Doe statue in Marsuoin Park with indifference. Mayor Malcolm McDowell purchased the statue at an estate auction, though he could never explain why. Perhaps the mayor was the victim of a temporary insanity… Keep reading

Pond’s Bridge

You turn the bend, ease up the ramp, the car rises, and it’s suddenly dark. The timbers rattle and shake for 132 feet, and then you pop into the sunlight and the town is in view. I wish I could introduce everyone to Sycamore Shadows through our covered bridge. Unfortunately, it leads nowhere except the Shady Glen Campground and a dead end. It used to lead everywhere, before the hillside collapsed one night and destroyed the road, but that was when my grandparents were young. Since that night—Pap said the sound was so loud that houses shook and folks feared… Keep reading

Feature: Sycamore Shadows

Somewhere in Ohio on the banks of Little Rindle Creek, several miles south of Toad Hall, and a day’s walk from Neverland, lies the idyllic town of Sycamore Shadows. You will find it nestled in a shaded valley, sheltered from the world like a sleeping child inside a pillow fort. Sycamore Shadows cannot be found on any map but my own, nor will you be able to drive there in your car, but you can visit whenever you like and can stay as long as you wish. I have created this imaginary place because it is my delight and because, in… Keep reading

Feature: The Man with the Magic Camera

On the northern shore of the Ohio River a mile upstream from the mouth of Little Rindle Creek, near Castor, Pennsylvania, is an area once known as “Indian Rocks.” Carved into the flat bedrock bordering the river were hundreds of petroglyphs, or rock carvings, made by ancient Indians. The carvings, numbering nearly 100, were probably created over many centuries. Because of their quality and density, prominent authorities have studied the petroglyphs, many of whom published their conclusions. Unfortunately, one day an engineer looked at the naturally shallow water of the Ohio River and said, “Dam it.” As a result, the… Keep reading

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