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Mark Howes
Second-place winner Mark Howes. Photograph by Michael Keller.

Second Place

Mark Howes

French Creek

Got a neighbor named Frog Wilson. They named him Frog not because of the way he talks, but the way he walks. Well anyway, me and Frog, we decided we’d build us one of them hot-air balloons. So, we got a cast-iron bathtub and some hickory sticks. We sold our ginseng that we had dried and bought us some skins – beaver skins, muskrat skins – and we built ourselves a hot-air balloon. We took one of them 500-gallon propane tanks and strapped to it.

It was a good-looking outfit we had there, and everything was going fine. It was flying and everything. The anchor we got, we imported it. It was a five-ton boat anchor, but it worked pretty good.

Well, we was getting ready to go to the Woodchuck Dance at Helvetia, and we was all dressed up in our blaze orange. Frog come over, and Frog said, “The wind’s comin’ up. You reckon we ought to lash that hot-air balloon down a little better, make sure it don’t go nowhere?”

I said, “Sure.”

So, we hops in it. Well, lo and behold, you know what a gale is? That’s a strong, powerful wind that comes right before the hail. Well, we took off in that hot-air balloon in the gale.

We furrowed our garden, furrowed the neighbor’s garden, went on up, come across the holler, found one of the largest sycamore trees I’d ever seen in my life. It was hollow. We hid in that sycamore tree, came out of that sycamore tree, went over, went through a hail storm. That hail tore holes all over our balloon. Froggy’s got a tub full of hail settin’ there with him, and he’s a-shaking. I had been catapulted up inside that balloon. Not only that, but there was a whole bunch of flying squirrels inside there, too.

We was fallin’ so fast, I knew we was going to crash. I thought to myself, the only way I can fix this situation is to plug all these holes with flying squirrels. So, I whipped out my leatherman tool, and I thumbed through it till it come to “Mark Howes’ Fix-It Tent.” I didn’t think the Humane Society would like it too well if I patched my tent up with live flying squirrels. So, I imagined the best thing for me to do was to just tie their legs and stretch them out over the holes.

It worked perfect. Once in a while, they’d flap up and let us come down slowly. So, me, Frog, and the flying squirrels, we was makin’ pretty good time a-comin’ into Helvetia, back into that country where I knew where we was at. Well, we landed in Helvetia. I walked over and took my pocketknife, and I freed every one of them flying squirrels and put them in a feed sack. Took them back across the hill, turned them back into that sycamore tree, came back, and danced the first woodchuck dance with my lovely lady. And that’s the truth.

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