Mean Big Mouth

By Ed Staskus

   After he was sure his spot in the forest was the loneliest spot in the forest, MechaGodzilla settled down and checked his weapons. He was built of space titanium and could launch missiles from his fingers and toes. He fired energy beams from his eyes and chest. He could flash on a force field that shocked and repelled his enemies. Even if his head was cut off, he was able to stay in the fight. He had a new “Head Controller” that took over, firing concentrated lasers the same as before.

   He was going to take care of Godzilla and his little friend, Oliver, the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County. If Emma, Oliver’s older sister and right-hand man, butted in, he would take care of her, too. He didn’t care who got in his way. He was going to have his way with Godzilla, once and for all.

   Godzilla was on a world tour helping promote his new movie, “Godzilla vs. Kong.” When he tried to land at the Atlas Cinema Great Lakes Stadium in Mentor, Ohio their parking lot was too small for him, so he landed in the bigger Home Depot parking lot next door. The general manger came out to complain, but after he looked up at Godzilla, who roared a hello, he went back into the store and wasn’t seen again for three days, locking himself in his office.

   The movie theater manager had rolled out the red carpet for Godzilla, but after his little toe hooked it, ripping it to shreds, they sent a maintenance man to sweep up the shreds and get rid of the rest of the carpet. DQ Grill made the biggest ice cream cone in the history of DQ and sent a young counter girl hired yesterday out with it.

   “Why me?” she complained.

   The other employees nudged her out the door. Godzilla liked the ice cream cone so much he gave the girl a ride on his back, rocketing up and over Lake Erie, to Cleveland for a bird’s eye view of downtown, and buzzed her home near Concord, sending her parents and the neighborhood into a panic.

   When she walked back into DQ she was promoted on the spot.

   The first time they fought, MechaGodzilla was overpowered when King Caesar joined forces with Godzilla. They defeated him by chopping his head off and blowing his body apart. The second time they fought it was more of the same. The rebuilt MechaGodzilla was juiced up with human brain cells. He tag-teamed with Titanosaurus, who wasn’t much help, however. He survived losing his head again, but when his master’s controls went haywire, Godzilla used his atomic heat ray on MechaGodzilla’s headless body, causing it to explode again. 

   The third time should have been the charm, but it wasn’t meant to be.

   The even newer MechaGodzilla overpowered Godzilla but got zapped by an electrical back surge Godzilla made happen, whether he knew what he was doing, or not. When he was rewired, he was rewired as Super MechaGodzilla. Rodan was in the neighborhood and told Godzilla he would be glad to help. Godzilla was crippled when his second brain under his tail was destroyed and Rodan was hurt bad. He wasn’t going to make it, so he gave up what life force he had left to revive Godzilla, who used his new red spiral atomic breath to destroy the not-so-super-after-all MechaGodzilla.

   But a bad penny always turns back up. The bad penny sulked and smoldered in the forest behind Oliver’s house in Perry, not far from Mentor. When the movie star showed up to visit his grandchild Goo Goo’s friend is when he would make his move. If anybody got in his way, he would move on them, too. He was sick and tired of being on the losing end.

   After the premiere of the movie Godzilla took questions, signed autographs, stood for selfies, and finally sacked out on the Home Depot parking lot. When the general manager came out of his office in the middle of the night to see if the coast was clear and heard Godzilla snoring, he went right back to his office and locked himself in again.

   Oliver and Emma got up early and went for a walk in the forest while their mom made breakfast. Godzilla liked eating fish and krill, Jello, cars, helicopters, and radio towers. She made him a humongous Jello salad and made it look like a car. Oliver’s father went out into their back yard with a spray paint can. He sprayed “EAT THIS” on the base of the 150-foot-tall cell phone tower that had recently been erected on the border of their property.

   “That thing is an eyesore,” he groused to himself spray painting “TASTY” below “EAT THIS.”

   Oliver and Emma were wearing black from tip to toe. They both had on balaclavas. A thunderstorm was brewing, coming fast. Emma saw MechaGodzilla first and stopped dead in her tracks. Oliver was picking up worms for Godzilla. They were good for his big buddy’s digestion. He looked back at his sister.

   “What’s wrong,” he asked.

    “Look,” Emma said pointing a shaking finger at the gleaming metallic menacing monster MechaGodzilla.

   They slipped behind a tree.

   “Wait until it starts storming and raining,” Oliver said. “Then follow my lead. Run as fast as you can and don’t look back.”

   When the storm broke Oliver stepped out into the open and waved his arms over his head.

   “Hey, you big lunkhead, over here.”

   MechaGodzilla turned his head and muttered.

   Oliver threw a rock at him. It clanged off the beast harmlessly. MechaGodzilla looked down at the boy, who looked like an insect to him. Sticks and stones weren’t going to hurt him. He ignored the monster hunter.

   “You are just an old heap of scrap metal,” Oliver shouted.

  MechaGodzilla didn’t like that. He started shooting laser beams. Oliver and Emma ran the other way. It was raining harder and harder, lightning bolts crisscrossing the sky. They burst out of the forest into the clearing behind their house, MeachaGodzilla hard on their heels. Laser beams were blasting from every part of him.

   Suddenly the sky boomed and cracked, and a lightning bolt zigzagged down from a mass of black clouds. It hit MechaGodzilla on the top of the head and stopped him dead in his tracks. Every part of him went crazy and he lit up like a carnival sideshow. When the show was over the new-style Frankenstein toppled over, smoke dribbling out of the seams of him. 

   He lay there like a heap of old scrap metal.

   “You took a big chance doing what you did,” his dad, an electrical engineer, said when the family gathered at the feet of the fallen monster after the rain stopped.

   “Yes and no, dad,” Oliver said. “You always say to be careful during thunderstorms, but not to worry about metal attracting lightning, because that is a myth. You told us height, isolation, and a pointy shape are what make it likely a lightning bolt will strike. I was sure once Emma and I got him out in the open, since he had a pointy head and was so big, lightning would strike, and it did.”

   Just then Godzilla came walking up. His head whipped around when he saw MechaGodzilla laying in the weeds. He walked towards him, eyeing him carefully, and bumped into the cell phone tower right in front of him. His nose was in the lead and took the bump full force. Godzilla jumped back, roared, and unleashed his atomic fire breath on the tower. It sizzled and melted to the ground, smoking and groaning next to MechaGodzilla. All the phones in the neighborhood stopped working.

   “Good riddance,” Oliver’s dad said.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Daybook To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Bad to the Bone

By Ed Staskus

   The first time Oliver the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County saw the Aitvaras it was walking through their family kitchen. When it got to the sliding door leading to the patio it walked right through the door without opening it. Once on the patio it transformed into a black dragon and flew away, its tail like a comet.

   Oliver poured himself a glass of apple juice and went upstairs, walking into his dad’s home office. His father was an electrical engineer. Ever since the 19 pandemic he had split his time working in his Beachwood office and working remotely. He was home today, blinking at his laptop and taking notes.

   “Dad, did you and mom invite a rooster over?”

   “No, we didn’t bud,” his dad said. “Why do you ask?”

   “I was just in the kitchen when a rooster with blue legs and a fiery red tail walked in. It went out on the patio, changed into a dragon, and flew away.”

   “Was it smoking a pipe?”

   “I think so,” Oliver said.

   “That’s an Aitvaras. They’re from Lithuania. If you see it again don’t let it in the house. If you see it in the house, kick it out. If you’re outside and it has shapeshifted into a dragon, be careful. He will roast you with his bad breath at the drop of a hat.”

   “OK,” Oliver said going back to the kitchen to put his glass away.

   His mom was the German side of the family, and his dad was the Lithuanian side of the family. Oliver and Emma were 100% birds of a feather. The Aitvaras was 100% Baltic pagan. What he was up to was a mixed bag.

   That night Oliver crept into Emma’s room and shook her awake. She was a heavy sleeper. Oliver, on the other hand, always slept with one eye open. He knew full well too many monsters knew where he lived.

   “Do you hear that?” he asked. There was a scratching noise downstairs.

   “What is it?” Emma, his older sister and right-hand man, asked.

   “I think it’s the rooster.”

   They snuck downstairs, Oliver leading the way with his flashlight and Emma gripping her jackknife. It was a special operations operation. They skipped the step near the bottom that creaked.

   The most secretive Lithuanian Special Operations Force units are squadrons that go by the codename Aitvaras. Nobody knows who they are. Sometimes even they don’t know who they are. They carry out top-secret classified missions.

   There wasn’t anything downstairs except an extra toaster on the kitchen counter. They didn’t know Aitvarai can shapeshift to resemble household objects. A line of crumble feed on the floor led from the kitchen past the bathroom down a hallway and into the garage. When they turned the garage light on, they were taken by surprise by the sight of it filled with stolen goods. There was Tommy One Shoe’s bike, Jimmy the Jet’s best skateboard, their next-door neighbor’s Cooper Mini, and somebody’s new Sabre gas grill.

   Back in the kitchen they decided not to tell their parents until morning. It started raining. Suddenly the extra toaster morphed back into the Aitvaras. It went through the closed window above the sink and turned into a serpentine-bodied dragon. It opened its mouth and started drinking the rain. Soon all the rain for miles around was veering their way and going down the gullet of the dragon.

   “That thing could cause a drought if it stays that thirsty,” Emma said.

   There were more than a dozen nurseries and fruit farms around their town of Perry, Ohio. If the Aitvaras drank all the rain, all the showers and thunderstorms, they would end up in big trouble. Besides that, Oliver and Emma would be out of fresh fruit.

   In the morning their mom called the Perry police department while their dad made a list of the hot stuff and took pictures of everything.

   “Aitvarai can turn themselves into black crows and black cats,” their dad told them. “But if that happens Sly will take care of it.” Sly and the Family Stone was the family’s guard dog cat. “This one is probably living in the forest and wants to be our family guardian. That’s how they trick you. We can’t let that happen. We would become his slaves. Sneaking in is one thing, but once we invite him in it will be almost impossible to get rid of him. They are beasts that bring good fortune by ill means.”

   “It was a toaster last night,” Oliver said.

   “They like to lay low behind stoves,” his dad said. “We’ll leave him an omelet every morning, so he doesn’t get his dander up in the meantime. If we mess with him too much when he’s in the house, he will infest all of us with lice.”

   Emma started scratching herself in spite of herself. Oliver chewed on his thumb. He was trying to come up with a plan. Emma turned the TV on. “Ollie, look,” she shouted pointing at the flat screen. “It’s that boss man from the White House, the Rudy man. He’s on ‘The Masked Singer.’ He’s dressed up in a rooster costume and he’s singing ‘Bad to the Bone.’”

   The next morning, after their dad had gone to work in Beachwood, and their mom was at the grocery store, Emma whipped up a special omelet in an eight by two cake pan loaded with Valerian root. She would be nine years old in a month, but she cooked like an old pro. She covered the cake pan with aluminum foil to keep it warm. Jimmy the Jet put on oven mitts. He was going to carry it into the forest and tempt the Aitvaras out of the woods.

   “Don’t forget, stay ahead of him and don’t let him catch you until you’re back here in our backyard,” Oliver said. “I want him on the stone patio.”

   “I brought my longboard instead of my skateboard,” Jimmy said. “He won’t catch me.”

   Longboards go faster than skateboards. It’s because they have larger and softer wheels than skateboards so they can go over gravel and twigs easier. Their bearings are higher quality, too, allowing for faster speeds.

   “Why do you want him on the patio?”

   “Because they can heal themselves by digging their spurs into earth, but not stone. Besides, I want you to leave the cake pan on the picnic table there.”

   Ten minutes later Jimmy the Jet burst out of the forest like a bat out of hell with the dragon from hell hard on his heels. Jimmy zig zagged to keep the beast away from him. When he got to the patio, he threw the cake pan down and raced away for his life. The dragon skidded to a stop and sunk his snout into the omelet.

   Valerian root is an herb but it’s a drug, too. Once it gets into your brain it makes you sleepy. There was enough Valerian root in the omelet to make all of Perry, Ohio, go to sleep all at once. The dragon was out like a light before it even took a last bite. It plopped down on the sandstone patio pavers and was soon gurgling like a baby.

   Oliver had run a wire from a lightning rod he stuck in the middle of the field behind their house to the patio. He wrapped his end of it around the dragon’s gnarly toes.

   Aitvarai are born from falling meteorites. They come to life as sparks when the meteorite burns up in the atmosphere. It started to rain. A thunderstorm was rolling in off Lake Erie. Oliver and Emma slipped inside. The sky got dark. Lightning bolts boomed and flashed over the roof. When one hit the lightning rod the Aitvaras lit up like the 4th of July and exploded. All that was left of him was a spark.

   Oliver ran outside as the storm blew away and nudged the spark into one of his mom’s Ball jars. He screwed the top down tight and wound electrical tape around it. The jar got as bright as a bonfire.

   “What are you going to do with it?” Emma asked.

   “Maybe I’ll ask dad to mail it to the Devil’s Museum in Kaunas,” Oliver said.

   That’s what he did and where his dad sent the Aitvaras, back to the homeland, where he became the star of the show.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Ohio Daybook To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Out of the Closet

By Ed Staskus

   “You’ve got to help me Ollie,” Tommy One Shoe said. Tommy always wore two shoes, but the one time he didn’t was in public, and after that he became near far and wide the One Shoe boy. He didn’t especially like the nickname. He preferred Tommy Terrific.

   “What’s the matter?” Oliver asked throwing himself on Tommy’s bed.

   Tommy lived in the same development in Perry, Ohio as Oliver did. They were practically best friends. They rode pedal power go karts together on the empty condo streets all the time.

   “I was drawing monsters last week and now one of them has come to life,” Tommy said. He scratched his chest. “I’ve got a rash,” he said.

   “Oh, that’s not good. Can you show me the drawing?”

   Tommy brought a legal pad to the bed and threw himself down next to Oliver. He flipped to the second-last page. There was Balor of the Evil Eye, the headless Dullahan, and the three-headed Ellen Trehend. The space next to Evil Eye Balor was empty.

   “Are you Irish?”

   “My granny is Irish. She lives with us in the basement. My dad put a kitchen and a bathroom down there. She’s got her own sitting room and bedroom. She never has to leave if she doesn’t want to. She can hardly walk so she stays in the basement most of the time, anyway.”

   “That’s too bad.”


   “Which one came to life?”

   “The Banshee. After she wasn’t on the paper anymore, I started hearing noises in the basement at night. Mom and dad said they haven’t heard anything, but they both sleep like logs. My sister snores and only ever hears her own snoring. When I asked granny, she just grumbled and said she hasn’t heard a thing.”

   “What kind of a noise is it?”

   “It’s like crying.”

   “Is it crying or more like wailing?”

   “What’s wailing?”

   “It’s like really bad crying, like if you cut your finger off by accident.”

   “It’s more like that.”

   “That’s a Banshee, for sure,” Oliver said. “Thank goodness it’s not the Babadook.”

Banshees are fairy women who keen shriek and wail, most of the time because they know somebody in the family is going to die. They have long streaming hair and wear dark cloaks and green dresses. They hide in closets, sleeping in piles of socks. Sometimes they are young and sometimes they are old. Sometimes they are tall. Other times they are short.

   “Was your Banshee tall or short?”

   “She was short, about half the size of Evil Eye.”

“Then she’s the older kind of Banshee,” Oliver said. “Was she outside under a full moon?”

   “Yes, how did you know?”

   Oliver was the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County. He made it his business to know everything about monsters. He knew if the Banshee was short and wailing at night under a full moon it meant certain death to somebody in Tommy One Shoe’s family. The cry of the banshee is sad and mournful beyond all other sounds.

   “Does the crying make you feel like a funeral?”

   “Just like that,” Tommy said.

    How are your mom and dad doing?”


   “No problems?”

   “No, except they are always watching gruesome shows on the TV.” 

   “How about your sister?”

   “All she ever does is ask mom and dad when she can start dating.”

   “How about your grandma?”

   “She’s always saying most her friends are dead, and she just wants to die, too.”

   “When did your grandpa die?”

   “Last winter. That’s the funeral I went to. It was the coldest day ever. They had something like a wedding reception tent over the grave, except they lowered the flaps to keep the icy wind off us. We all squeezed in like sardines. I thought I was going to get freezer burn.”

   “When’s the best time to talk to your grandma?”

   “Anytime except daytime. She’s always watching masses on TV, if she’s not napping, which she does a whole lot of. Mom and dad are going out to dinner tomorrow and my sister will probably sneak out on a top-secret date.”

   “All right, I’ll walk over tomorrow after dinner.”

The next day Oliver and Tommy tiptoed down to the basement. Tommy’s grandma Orla was playing solitaire at her reading knitting crossword puzzle table. There were stacks of Sudoku number puzzle paperbacks under the table. Oliver pegged her at close to a three hundred years old.

   “How old is she?” he whispered asking Tommy.

   “She says she 94, but she’s been saying that for as long as I can remember.”

   “Who are you two?” she asked.

   “I’m your grandson”

   “Who’s he?”

   “That’s my friend Oliver.”

   “Where are we?”

   “We’re at your house.”

   “How long have I been here?”

   “Ever since grandpa got sick three years ago.”

   “Who’s grandpa?”

“Her memory is bad,” Tommy said to Oliver. “She’s going haywire.”

   She was trimming her fingernails with a pair of scissors. 

   “My thinking has gone bad. I never thought I would get as wacky as I’ve become,” the old woman said. 

   When she stood up to make tea she couldn’t straighten up, remaining hunched over. She shuffled to the stove, one hand always on something, the back of a chair, the countertop, or a wall, for balance. The teacup wobbled in her hand coming back to the table. She didn’t spill a drop though, having filled the cup only to the half.

   “I wish my husband was here, but he went somewhere,” Orla said. “He hasn’t come back yet. I’ve been waiting for him.”

   Neither Tommy nor Oliver knew what to say. Neither of them wanted to say her husband was dead and gone. Neither wanted to be the first to say he was never coming back.

   “Have you heard any crying in the middle of the night?” Oliver asked.

   “I never cry,” Orla said.

   “I meant somebody else crying.”

   “I’m dead to the world when I sleep,” she said.

   “Granny, we think there’s a Banshee on the loose down here,” Tommy said.

   “That would be bad,” she said.

   “Where were you born?” Oliver asked.

   “I’m from Gortnadeeve, not far from Keeloges Bog.”

   “Did you ever fall into the bog?”

   “No, mum always warned us to stay away from it. We lived on a lovely farm, and I stayed on the farm, but pa and my older brother were killed after the Rising, and we had to come to America.”

   “When was that, what year?” 

   “Let’s see, I would have been nine or ten, so maybe 1930.”

   “So, you’re not 106 years old?”

   “No, not yet my boy.”

    Banshees don’t bring death but warn that death is near. It gives the family a chance to prepare. Oliver knew it was going to be a family member and it seemed most likely to be Orla, who was about a hundred years old. However, she wasn’t the fateful 106 years old yet. That was when Banshees were always right.

   “Can we come back tomorrow?” Oliver asked. “I think I know a way to banish the Banshee.”

   “Of course.”

   The next evening after dinner Oliver knocked on Tommy’s front door and they went down to the basement. Oliver had a knapsack and his older sister Emma’s jackknife. Orla made tea and the three of them sat at the round table. Oliver mixed rosemary, sage, oregano, coriander, his green tea, yarrow powder, and a handful of chicken bones in a bowl.

   “I need some of your blood,” he said to Orla.

   “Don’t take too much,” she said.

   Oliver made a cut on the tip of her right index finger with the jackknife and squeezed three drops of blood into the bowl. He stirred the goop and waited. Orla and Tommy waited. Nothing happened. Suddenly a blinding blue light streamed out of the bowl and flew in circles. A terrible wailing tore the heart out of the room. A banshee appeared, struggling, and in a flash was gone right through the closed door up the stairs and out of the house. The next second all was quiet in the basement

   “I think I need a good stiff snort of John Barleycorn,” Orla said reaching for the cabinet door behind her.

  “Granny!” Tommy exclaimed.

   “Save your breath to cool your soup,” Oliver said.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Daybook To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Loch Erie Monster

By Ed Staskus

    Nessie the Loch Ness Monster was sick and tired of being cooped up. She was sick and tired of the tourists. She was sick and tired of the amateur monster hunters, scuba diving from one end of the loch to the other searching for her. She didn’t like the scientists with their gimcracks. The loch used to be home sweet home. It was time to move on.

   It all started in the 6th century when St. Columba was taking a stroll on the banks of the River Ness. He saw a man being buried. The mourners explained the dead man was swimming in the river when he was attacked by a “water beast” that dragged him underwater. They tried to rescue him, but he was killed. Columba sent one of his buddies to test the waters. It was Luigne who everybody called Louie. The water beast made a move, but Columba made the sign of the cross. “Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once.” The water beast stopped like it had been “pulled back with ropes.”  

   Nessie had to laugh. She didn’t understand English, for one thing. Besides that, nobody was ever going to get a rope on her. Lastly, if she had wanted to eat Louie, she would have, but he was wearing a gnarly hair shirt and smelled like rotten fish.

   In 1938 Willian Fraser, the chief constable of Inverness-shire tried to stop a hunting party that was after Nessie They had a custom-made cedar wood harpoon gun and wanted her dead or alive. He tried to put a stop to it, but “my power to protect the monster from the hunters was very doubtful”.

   He need not have been concerned. She would have made toothpicks out of their harpoon gun. 

   Then twenty-four boats showed up in 1987. It was Operation Deep Scan. They deployed across the loch with echo sounding equipment. They thought they saw something. One of the scientists speculated they might be seals. Nessie could use an echo sounder. Seals were her favorite food.

   Sonar expert Darrell Lowrance saw a large moving shadow six hundred feet down. “There’s something here that we don’t understand, and there’s something here that’s larger than a fish, maybe some species that hasn’t been detected before. I don’t know.” 

   “Just try to come down here and get me,” Nessie snorted. 

   When the time came to go, she started north up the loch at night, through the middle of Inverness where all the Scots were sleeping soundly in their beds, up Morway Firth into the North Sea, around John o Groats, and out into the Atlantic Ocean. By that time the sun was at her back and the New World was ahead.

   She swam around Newfoundland, up the St. Lawrence against the current, past Quebec City and Montreal, and from one end of Lake Ontario to the other. She sent tourists scattering for their lives at Niagara-on-the-Lake, swam up Niagara Falls, and past Buffalo into Lake Erie. She stopped to catch her breath on the shores of Cleveland Ohio.

   That was a mistake.

   Police boats and Coast Guard boats their lights flashing sirens wailing raced right at her. Captains of speedboats big and small buzzed her back side, taking pictures with their cell phones. One of the captains lost his grip and his iPhone went flying. Nessie flicked her tail and splatted the phone back into the boat. She snapped her teeth at the Sea-Doo’s but they swerved away like water bugs. 

   A fire boat sprayed her with water “What is the point?” she wondered. “I’m all wet already.” She dove under the waves and found the deepest spot there was, two hundred feet down, and stopped to think. 

   “This is worse than the Loch Ness,” she thought. “I’m going back to the Old World tomorrow.”

   She backtracked the way she had come, past Fairport Harbor to North Perry, stopping near the Kissing Bridge at the Lake Erie Bluffs. It was getting dark. “I’ll get some shut eye here and shove off in the morning,” she thought. “Going over the Falls will jumpstart me across that last lake.”

   She found a shallow spot, stretched out, and lay her head on a half-submerged boulder. She was asleep in minutes and slept like a log. Her eyelids twitched whenever she started dreaming. All the fish avoided her.

   Oliver got word about the gigantic sea serpent in the morning from one of his irregulars, 4-and 5-year-old youngsters who kept their eyes and ears open for monster sightings. Tommy One Shoe called him from the Metropark. He spoke in a whisper but was beyond excited.

   “Ollie, you gotta get down here right away,” he said. “There is some kind of snake bigger than Bullwinkle asleep here at the bluffs.”

   Oliver got the coordinates straight and rolled his pedal power go kart out of the garage. He knew it wasn’t a garden snake. He knew it was some kind of a whopper. Emma was hard on his heels.

   “What’s going on? Where are you going?”

   “No time to talk. Get your go kart and come with me. Bring your pocketknife, too.

   They stopped at a fish house and hauled away all the seal blubber they had. By the time they got to the bluffs, cars were turning around and going the other way. A police car pulled up, although the policeman looked like he wasn’t sure what to do. It was sunny and bright, but nobody was walking on the lakeside paths.

   Oliver and Emma raced past the policeman down to the waterline. When Emma saw the monster, she almost jumped out of her skin. Oliver pulled out his binoculars to get a better look.

   “She’s a big one,” he marveled.

   “Come on,” he said, the blob of blubber flip flopping on his shoulder. He ran towards an overturned rowboat. Emma and he dragged it into the water and rowed out to Nessie. She was still sleeping. The past day-and-a-half had worn her out.

   A troop of summer vacation teenagers started shooting bottle rockets at her. Most of them missed, but they were harmless, anyway. They were annoying, though. When the teens wouldn’t stop, Nessie sucked up a thousand gallons of lake water and sprayed them with it. All their matches and bottle rockets turned to useless. They yelled at her, insulting her, but she didn’t know anymore English than she had before and didn’t pay them any mind. She turned towards the rowboat coming her way.

   “Now what?” she wondered.

   Oliver made signs with his hands that he wanted to tap a message out in Morse code. All monsters knew Morse code. Nessie opened her mouth wide, and Oliver tapped a message out with his ballpeen hammer, tapping on one of her front teeth. In the meantime, Emma started slicing the blob of seal blubber into slabs and tossing them down her throat.

   “What a wonderful lassie,” Nessie thought. “I thought I was going to die of hunger.”

   “OK,” Oliver tapped.  “I get where you’re coming from. You don’t want to stay here, and you don’t really want to go back. Have you thought about Lake Superior?”

   The monster said she had never heard of it just like she had never heard of the Great Lakes.

   “It’s far but being the swimmer you are, you would get there in no time,” Oliver said. “It’s way up north where there aren’t too many people who will hassle you. It’s one of the biggest lakes in the world and it’s more than a thousand feet deep. If anybody does try to bother you, you can just go undercover for as long as you want. It’s cold, too, like Scotland.”

   The more she heard the better she liked the idea. She didn’t like nosy neighbors or warm weather. “How do I get there?” she asked. 

   “Just turn around and go. It’s the last lake that way. You’ll know it when you get there.”

   The sea serpent rubbed the top of Oliver’s head with her nose and swam away. Emma and Oliver rowed back to shore and were soon on their way home. That night he asked his mother if they could have leftover seal blubber for dinner.

   “I don’t think so honey,” she said. “I’ve got chicken in the oven.”

   “OK mom, maybe some other time,” Oliver said.

   “I love you mom,” Emma whispered to her mother, her stomach squirming churning at the thought of eating blubber.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Ohio Daybook To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

River of No Return

By Ed Staskus

   It started in 1974 when the Grand River became Ohio’s second wild river gone scenic. It is bordered by forests of ash, maple, and swamp white oak. The slow steady flow of water along the wetlands makes habitat for wildlife. The lower section of the river in Lake County is designated still wild and even more scenic. There are steep valley walls of Chagrin Shale. After rainstorms sudden waterfalls sweep over the bluffs. 

   The Grand River has its own partnership group working with the Ohio Scenic Rivers Association to assist with preservation. When their work was done, they had no idea they had created a habitat for Gill Man. Oliver, who was the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County, warned them the year he spotted the creature, but they were not of a mind to listen to a six-year-old. When he warned them again a year later, they said they weren’t of a mind to listen to a seven-year-old either. 

   “That boy is making more noise than a skeleton key throwing a fit on a tin roof,” the man who made the rules said.

   Oliver rolled his eyes.

   “Pay attention to me son. I’m not just talking to hear my head roar.”

   “What about all the swimmers and paddlers and fishermen?” Oliver asked.

   “There isn’t any monster in that river. Now go, I say go away boy, you’re bothering me,” is what he got for his trouble.

    The Grand River follows a 98-mile course to Lake Erie. It rambles through five different counties, finishing up in Fairport Harbor. The Geological Survey says it is the most biologically diverse river of its kind in the Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair basin. There is plenty of wildlife, including wild turkey, bald eagles, and river otter. They stay away from Gill Man morning noon and night.

    There are six tent camping sites the Lake Metroparks has carved out for outdoorsmen. They are on the primitive side as campgrounds go. Each site does have a picnic table, grill, and a place to pitch a tent. Everybody gets their own fire ring. Campers are expected to pack-in and pack-out. There are no restrooms. 

   There is no rest for the wicked, especially if they run into Gill Man. Unlike the down-home wildlife, most people didn’t know anything about Gill Man and didn’t want to know. Whenever they bumped into him it scared the pants off them. Oliver knew all about the monster and wasn’t going to be scared out of his pants. His nerves were rock lobster steady.

   One of the camping sites is four miles downstream from Hidden Valley Park in Madison. Oliver and his sister Emma and their parents carried their gear and two kayaks a half mile from the parking lot to their weekend fire ring. That Friday night they grilled shish kebabs and roasted marshmallows. They had a tent, but the night was fair, and they slept under the stars. The next day after breakfast they slid their kayaks into the river and set off.

   They went against the current so they could come back with the current. They paddled under South Madison Rd., past Strong Cabin, and around Hogback Ridge Park. They were north of the Debonne Vineyards when they ran into the man who made the rules. He was at the head of a four-man Nighthawk canoe, although two of the men were women. The man at the stern was doing most of the heavy paddling.

   They looked happy. They were happy. They had just come from a stopover at Benny Vino Urban Winery, where they lingered long for tastings. The craft pulled up to each other, everybody said hello, and agreed it was a wonderful day. Before going their separate ways Oliver warned the folks in the Nighthawk to watch out for Gill Man.

   “You’re doing a lot of chopping, son, but no chips are flying,” the man who made the rules said. “There’s no Gill Man. I say you’re way off on this one.”

   Emma, who was Oliver’s right-hand man, stood up for her younger brother, saying, “When it comes to monsters, mister, he’s the Ph.D. of them in Lake County.”

   “Look sister,” the man laughed. “Is any of what I’m saying filtering through that little blue bonnet of yours?”

   “What blue bonnet?” Emma asked. She was wearing a Cleveland Indians baseball cap. The Indians weren’t the Indians anymore, but she liked Chief Wahoo. She liked his big teeth and big smile. He was a friendly face.

   Oliver’s mom reckoned they had come far enough and besides she had a surprise for lunch. They turned their kayaks around and followed the Nighthawk, which wasn’t hard to do. The muscles of the man in the stern were as soggy as a used tea bag, since he was the only one paddling. The two women were non-stop chatting while the man who made the rules was looking through his binoculars for eagles.

   He never saw the quiet as a fox strong as an ox Gill Man reaching for him until green claws grabbed him and pulled him out of the boat. When he tried to push Gill Man away, he was rewarded with a wet slap to the face.

   “I say what’s the big idea bashing me in the bazooka that way!”

   Gill Man didn’t understand English and ignored everything the man said. The man never stopped yelling and complaining. “Oh, shut up already,” Gill Man finally said, but it was in the language of the Black Lagoon, where he had been born and bred. He couldn’t remember how he ended up in Ohio, more than a thousand miles from the Everglades National Park, many tears earlier. It wasn’t hot enough in the summer and way too cold in the winter. If he knew the way back, he would have gone in a heartbeat, which was one beat a minute.

   “Help, help!” the man cried “He doesn’t know when to stop. Help me!”

   “What should we do?” Oliver’s dad asked. 

   “We need to make Gill Man a fish out of water,” Oliver said. “Get him out of his element, get him on land where he is slow and clumsy. Watch out for his hands, though.”

   The creature had webbed hands with sharp claws on the tips of each finger. His scaly skin was tough as nails. Bullets meant nothing to him. They bounced off him. He was amphibious, breathing in and out of water.

   “Do you remember how to lasso?” Oliver asked his dad.

   Oliver’s father had been a trick rider in rodeos putting himself through college when he was a student.

   “It’s like riding a bike.”

   He made a Honda knot with the rope at the bottom of the kayak. They paddled as fast as they could after Gill Man and snared him with the rope. There was a titanic struggle. They threw the rope landward, tied it around a tree, and hauled Gill Man ashore. The man who made the rules coughed up water and phlegm, shaking himself like a dog. Gill Man roared loud and louder. They wound the rope around him pinning him to the tree until he couldn’t move. 

   “I brought some rotenone just in case,” Oliver said.

   “What’s that?” Emma asked 

   “It’s like kryptonite to Gill Men.”

   Oliver sprayed Gill Man in the nose. The day started to turn to night. An inky darkness came over the creature. He sank into it, his dreams gone dreamless.

   When the Perry Fire Department showed up, they didn’t know what to do with him. Oliver talked to the chief. The chief got on his blower and called for a quint truck. It took six firemen to carry the unconscious Gill Man to the water tanker and toss him inside. They made sure the lid was shut tight. They double checked and checked again.

   Two days later the truck pulled up to the Black Lagoon in the Everglades and dumped Gill Man out. He was never so happy in his life. He waved goodbye to the firemen. They saluted him, the tips of their index fingers tapping the lower-right part of the brim of their caps

    Back at their camp site Emma and Oliver watched their mom bring crescent dough wrapped around hot dogs out of the cooler. She stuck them on roasting sticks while their dad got a fire going. They sat around the fire.

   “Pigs in a blanket!” Emma and Oliver exclaimed at the same time, hungry as hard-working fishermen with a tall tale to tell.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Daybook To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Dire Straits

By Ed Staskus

   Nobody knew why Orange Eyes wanted to go back to the Riverside Cemetery in Cleveland, but he did. Even Frogman, his neighbor, didn’t know. All he knew was one morning his good buddy was hitchhiking on Route 603. After two days of nobody picking him up and lots of fender benders caused by surprised drivers swerving at the sight of him, he started hoofing it. 

   He stood out like a sore thumb. He was 9 feet tall, tipped the scales at a quarter ton, and was green as celery. He could have been the Plantman of Ashland, since if he lost an arm or a leg it grew back like plants do it, but he wasn’t. He belonged to the Bigfoot clan. Everybody called him Orange Eyes.

   “It’s the first thing everybody notices,” Frogman said. “They glow like coals.”

   Charles Mill Lake south of Ashland had been his home for many years. He knew all the nooks and crannies on the shoreline. The first time anybody ever saw him there was when he bumped into the back of a 1947 Buick Super Sedan parked on Ruggles Rd. on a dark overcast night in March 1959. Ruggles Rd. was known as Lover’s Lane among teenagers in Ashland and Mansfield. Every spring night it was packed with parked cars all steamed up. When he looked through the rear window of the Buick, he scared the pants off a pair of teenagers trying to get to second base. They didn’t bother to button up racing away for home.

   Orange Eyes couldn’t remember where he had been born, but he remembered the night he walked into Riverside Cemetery on Pearl Rd. in 1881, five years after it opened. It was 100 acres of lakes and elm-lined shady paths. When he found a tunnel under the graveyard, he knew it was the place for him. He stayed for almost 70 years.

   His hideaway was home, but after World War Two was won and done Cleveland grew like nobody’s business. Urban expansion pushed into the west and south sides. He heard about “I Like Ike” plans for Interstate 71 and State Route 176, which would cut the cemetery off from the Cuyahoga River. It was where he went fishing every night. What was he going to eat? He didn’t want to try any cafeterias in the steel plants. The food was out-of-date by the time it got there.

   He walked the 70 miles south to Charles Mill Lake and had been there ever since. The living was easy most of the time, except for the picnic mash-up. It was a big mistake. It could have cost him an arm or a leg.

   He was stretching his legs and rambled into the middle of a middle of the night get together. It was a steamy summer night and there was a full moon. Nobody could sleep, including Orange Eyes. Three or four families were laying out on blankets eating cold chicken and potato salad. The men and women were drinking Schlitz beer. The kids were worn out and sprawled all over the place.

   He wasn’t watching his step and almost stepped on one of the kids. There was a pause and then pandemonium. The boy went one way, and he went the other way.

   Once the horrified picnickers got over their fright, the men armed themselves with baseball bats and tire irons. The women and children locked themselves in their cars. The posse beat the bushes for him. They met with failure, which was a blessing in disguise for everybody involved. Orange Eyes was hermit-like and laid-back most of the time, but if his dander was up, he could be more than a handful.

   The Boy Scouts were the last straw. He was dodging their tents one night when their middle of the night look-out, the only one of the band of brothers who took his duties seriously and never fell asleep, spotted him. He raised the alarm. Before Orange Eyes knew it, he was being chased by a pack of over-excited twelve-year-old boys armed with flashlights and rope.

   He could run twice as fast as them and easily gave the juvenile lynch mob the slip.

   After that he decided to go back to Riverside Cemetery, come hell or high water. When he got to Cleveland, he swam across the Cuyahoga River near the Denison Harvard Bridge. Getting to the other side was easy. Getting to the cemetery was going to be hard. The Jennings Highway was between him and home. He ran across Steelyard Drive when there was a gap in the traffic. Crouching in the weeds, he saw the highway was city-size wide and brisk with cars.

   In the meantime, Oliver and Emma were in the back seat of their mom’s Jeep Cherokee. She was in St. Louis for a legal conference. Their dad was driving. They were leaving Progressive Field and reliving the sights and sounds of the baseball game. The Indians were in 2nd place behind the Chicago White Sox, but it was July 31st and there was still a long way to go. They had pulled out that night’s game against the White Sox by a score of 12 – 11 in a game featuring 8 home runs.

   The 19 virus was fading fast in the face of vaccinations, and the stadium had been packed. Every time the Tribe cleared the fences fireworks lit up the sky. Everybody except the White Sox went home happy. They went back to their hotel to a down in the dumps late-night snack.

   They had just passed West 14th St., on their way home to Perry, when Oliver, who had a nose for monsters, being the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County, saw the burning eyes of the creature stuck in place by the unending traffic.

   “Dad, dad, stop, there’s a Bigfoot, the green thing!” he shouted, lowering his side window, and pointing. “I think it’s Orange Eyes.” Even though he was only six going on seven years old, Oliver knew his monsters inside and out.

   Their father in the space of a brief second hadn’t seen anything but agreed to go back.

   “Let’s go see if we can help or he’ll kill himself on that highway,” he said. “If he tries walking across it, he’ll also cause trouble. Folks will smash into each other trying to avoid him.”

   They circled back and pulled off on the shoulder of the highway. Oliver jumped out of the Jeep and disappeared into the weeds. He made the universal monster sign of peace and Orange Eyes let him get closer. Emma could see him looking down and nodding. Finally, Oliver and Orange Eyes walked back to the car.

   “He just needs to get across to the cemetery,” Oliver told his dad. “That’s where he lived for a long time. He wants to go back home.”

   Oliver’s father lowered all the seats except his and Orange Eyes was able to lay flat, his legs sticking out the open hatch. Oliver and Emma sat on his chest and hung on to his chest hair. He smelled like onions, asparagus, and especially cabbage.

   “Let’s make this fast before we get stopped by the police,” their father said, push-buttoning all the windows open. Fresh air rushed in. Stinky cabbage air rushed out. “The cops don’t need to see this. They would have to write a new law and we don’t need any more laws for every little thing.”

   They got off the highway, went down Denison, turned right at West 25th St. and another right into the cemetery. They drove past the Gatehouse Offices into the heart of the graveyard, coming to a stop in a spot dark as pitch. Orange Eyes wiggled his way out of the Jeep. He looked around and inhaled deeply. His eyes lit up and Oliver Emma and their dad stepped away. Orange Eyes coaxed them back and told them in monster talk that he liked the air. It wasn’t the same as when he lived there. It was cleaner than it had been mid-century. Even the river wasn’t catching fire anymore.

   They watched him lope away, waving goodbye over his shoulder, looking for the hidden entrance to the underground tunnel he had once called home.

    “I hope he finds his old place before he runs into anybody,” their dad said once they were back on the highway on their way home. “He’s not some small fry. If somebody bumps into that monster, they might turn into worm food just at the sight of him.”

   “I’ll tell you what’s a monster, dad,” Emma said.

   “What’s that bunny?”

   “My piano screaming the minute I sit down at the keyboard to practice.”

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Daybook To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Son of a Gun

By Ed Staskus

   Godzilla and his grandson Goo Goo Godzilla looked out over the Caribbean Sea and leaning on their elbows lay down on the warm sand. The sun was rising big and bright all shades of yellow. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. There wasn’t a snake in the grass anywhere. The coast was clear.

   “The secret to a great morning is watching the sunrise,” Godzilla said.

   They were on the uninhabited island of Chacachacare. It was long ago named Caracol by Christopher Columbus, which means snail in Spanish. It is part of the Bocas Islands spread out between Trinidad and Venezuela. It has an automated lighthouse along with a radar dish. It was where nuns once nursed lepers. 

   It was also where Godzilla battled tooth and nail and beat the hell out of Anguirus before Goo Goo was born. Since then, nobody wanted to go there anymore. Some Bocas islanders said the ghost of Anguirus roamed the beach at night, complaining it hadn’t been a fair fight.

   Goo Goo yawned and stretched. They had been laying around in the sun for a week. It was their last day of vacation in the tropics. Godzilla was planning on flying east to visit his archenemy and best friend King Kong on Skull Island. Goo Goo was flying to Perry, Ohio to visit his pal Oliver, the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County, and then taking off for home. Japan was home.

   “It’s been a blast, pops,” he said.

   “I wish you wouldn’t call me that,” Godzilla grumbled.

   They didn’t have any packing to do or travel arrangements to make so they stayed sand bound until the afternoon, loafing and snoozing all the while, snorting and farting in their sleep. When the time came to go Godzilla unleashed a mighty bellow of fire and rocketed up into the sky. Outside a small circle of friends few knew that the Godzilla’s could fly. He wagged his tail goodbye. Goo Goo got airborne, too, and headed north.

   He landed in Oliver’s backyard, which butted up to a wide field where there was a small evangelical church and a 140-foot-high cell phone tower. That’s an eyesore, Goo Goo thought, eyeballing the tower. He wasn’t as tall as it, but he was getting there.

   After high fives Oliver and Goo Goo caught up, sat down to orange juice and PB&J, and took a nap. After they woke up Goo Goo asked Oliver if he wanted to go for a ride to see the sights.

   “You bet I do, big fella,” Oliver said.

   “Bundle up, buddy, it’s cold up there.”

   Oliver tucked himself into the armored scales covering Goo Goo’s second brain, where his tail was attached, and they blasted off. Looking for warmer air Goo Goo headed south. He turned right over Tennessee, planning on looping across Oklahoma before heading back to Ohio. While they were surveying Tulsa in OK Land, Goo Goo noticed an immense gathering at the fairgrounds. He swooped lower to get a better look.

   It was the Tulsa Arms Show, the biggest baddest show in the world with over 4,000 vendors inside an 11-acre air-conditioned auditorium. The carnival featured old and modern guns, flintlocks and repeaters, Glock troublemakers and Colt Peacemakers. American flags flapped all over the place. Posters for “MAGA” were everywhere. It was a super-duper spectacle.

   Goo Goo didn’t like guns. None of the Godzilla clan did, even though pulling the trigger was useless against them. It was a personal thing with the monsters. Wherever Goo Goo landed in the civilized world men and women always came running, and when they saw him, started bellowing and blazing away. The bullets ricocheted off him. Goo Goo was never not annoyed about it, although it would take a nuclear bomb to knock him off his feet. 

   When he and Oliver landed at the firearms grab bag a tall man shaking his little fist ran at them firing a state-of-the-art AR15. His back pockets were full of hundred-dollar bills. Goo Goo picked him up and tossed him into a garbage dumpster. He used the AR15 as a toothpick before chucking it aside. The man popped up covered in old grease and new filth.

   “I’m Wayne LaPierre,” he shouted. “I run the National Rifle Association and you’re going to pay for this! I’ve shot and killed 10,000-pound elephants, you big un-American oaf.” Goo Goo didn’t like that. Whatever happened to southern hospitality? He wasn’t an oaf and elephants weren’t dangerous unless you messed with them. All they wanted to do was find and eat their 200 pounds of food a day.

   “You’re more like Wayne Pepe le Pew in my book,” Goo Goo said. When more angry mad men and women wearing NRA badges rushed him shooting their guns, he tossed them into the dumpster, too. It was a mess in there. The rats munching on leftovers jumped ship and ran away as fast as they could.

   “I’ll show them some guns,” Goo Goo muttered.

   He flew off towards Japan, the dumpster firmly in his grip. He forgot all about Oliver for the moment. When he landed in Godzilla Town, he turned the dumpster upside down and everybody fell out. Goo Goo herded them towards the Museum of Peashooters. It was where many of the weapons used against the Godzilla’s were on display. There were handguns shotguns machine guns grenades mortars recoilless rifles flamethrowers artillery more artillery rocket launchers tanks and jet fighters. None of them had ever made a dent.

   Oliver peeked out from under Goo Goo’s tail.

   “I’ve never seen so many guns in my life, not even on TV,” Oliver tapped out in Morse code on the giant reptile’s second brain. It was how all monsters talked to each other.

   “How many do you have?” Goo Goo asked.

   “I don’t have any,” Oliver said.

   “How do fight monsters if you don’t shoot them?”

   “I use negotiation, persuasion, coercion, hypnosis, sleight of hand, bushwhacking and booby traps, a knock on the head, and if worse comes to worse, my friend the honey badger in the back woods gives me a hand.”

   “Honey badger? What can a honey badger do?”

   “Honey badgers eat poisonous snakes before breakfast. They can do anything because they’re not afraid of anything. Once he has got you in his sights, it’s every man for himself.”

   “I could squash him with my little toe,” Goo Goo said.

   “I wouldn’t try it if I were you,” Oliver said, a sly grin on his face. “The honey badger don’t care.”

   Goo Goo made a mental note to find out more about the beasts. There was no sense in tempting fate. Maybe one of his kith and kin had run into them and knew what their secret powers were. Oliver was listening in on Goo Goo’s brain. “No secrets,” he tapped out. “They don’t have any weaknesses, either.”

   After touring the museum Oliver said he had to go home. His mom and dad would be worried. He was only seven years old, after all. Goo Goo frog marched the NRA mob back to the garbage dumpster. They climbed in, complaining. When Wayne LaPierre hesitated, Goo Goo gave him a kick, sending him flying. He landed in the dumpster on his silky as a sow’s butt. Goo Goo slammed the lid shut because it smelled bad.

   “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

   Halfway back to the USA he got sick and tired of the NRA loose cannons banging and hollering inside the dumpster. He dropped it on Pitcairn Island, a God-forsaken volcanic hunk of limestone about 1,000 miles east of Tahiti. “I should have dropped them off at the Ninth Circle of Hell,” Goo Goo thought.

   He and Oliver were back in Perry in record time. The evening was sweet happening on the shores of Lake Erie. “See you later, old buddy,” Oliver said. His sister Emma came running with a hot dog in one hand and pink lemonade in the other. She waved to Goo Goo with her foot. He fired up his atomic breath, winked and waved so long muchacho, and hit the road, the sky going pretty as a picture in the approaching sunset. 

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Daybook To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Slither and Hiss

By Ed Staskus

   Sammy wasn’t all in about living in a sewer but what could he do? He was too big by far to live out in the open. Trying that when he was a youngster almost cost him his life. Nobody ever said a kind word to him. They called him a yellow dog. Whenever they spotted him, they tried to chop him up, starting with his head.

   He was a yellow snake, born and bred in muck. Sammy grew up in a sewer, spent the best years of his life in a sewer, and expected to retire in a sewer. At least, until it all went wrong. In the end, home was wherever he settled his scales down.

   His relatives soaked up the sun, but the sun gave him heatstroke. He had lukewarm blood in his veins and shadows were warm enough for him. Other snakes ate eggs mice frogs and birds, but he was a big guy and needed big food. He lived on rats and rabbits and lost possums. He had teeth, but never chewed. He swallowed breakfast lunch dinner all at once. He used his teeth for grabbing whatever was on the menu.

   His favorite was garbage rats, who were plump and delicious and satisfied his appetite, but then new-style plastic garbage cans started popping up. They were the kind that critters couldn’t get into, and the rats started to get smaller and smaller. His dinner table got more and more bare.

   He was in a bad way in another way. The more houses there were the more crap came his way. He started seeing things in the sewer he had never seen before and never wanted to see again. Then his homestead came under attack.

   It started in the middle of April, when he woke up one day to rumbling and grumbling. The ground shook slightly. After the noise petered out, he slithered upwards until he poked his head through the grate in his attic and took a look around.

   “Holy smokes,” he hissed.

   There was a backhoe with a shovel on the front and a hoe on the back. There was a loader used to move asphalt, debris, dirt, gravel, and rock. There were a bulldozer and two humongous dump trucks. A trencher was being moved into place to dig trenches.

   There were concrete sewer sections being unloaded by a crane from a flatbed truck. New drainage was being created to collect sewage and stormwater from everybody’s houses, and the catch basins in the streets, connecting to trunk sewers taking it all to a wastewater treatment plant.

   Sammy could tell the men in their green vests meant business. He didn’t like it, not one bit. What they were up to would put him out of house and home. He didn’t want to move out. He didn’t want to end up on the wrong side of life and death either. His twenty-foot-long cousin in Florida had been hooked by a plumber working on a street pipe and drain. When push came to shove the plumber called in the artillery and that was the end of his cousin.

   The middle of that night he crept out of his sewer and went to work. Even though he didn’t have arms or legs, he moved easily. He had a long spine with more than 400 ribs attached to it. The muscles connected to the ribs were what made him able to crawl, climb, and swim. His belly scales gripped the ground. He was so wide he could push on both sides of himself at the same time. He wasn’t as fast as the black mamba, who held all the gold medals in the speed events, but he was plenty fast enough.

   He went at the tires on the loaders and dump trucks, but even though his fangs were as big as could be, he couldn’t puncture the thick rubber. Frustrated, he started flattening any tire he could find. By the time he was done more than two dozen cars and pickups parked outside for the night had one or more flat tires. He slunk home with a bad taste in his mouth.

   When Oliver’s dad tried to drive to work in the morning, he discovered both rear tires on his Chevy Colorado were flat as flounders. “Grrrrr,” he growled. He only had one spare. When he called the tire store, he told them he thought it was vandalism.

   Oliver was already in the driveway with his magnifying glass. He was the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County and had a hunch there was more to the story than hooligans. When he examined the tires, he knew he was right.

   “Dad, those punctures were made by the fangs of a big sewer snake.” He showed his father the distinctive bite marks. 

   “I thought the wildlife removal folks had gotten rid of all of them years ago,” his father said.

   “Maybe he was small, nobody noticed him, and he got left behind,” Oliver said.

   “How big do you think he is now?” his father asked. 

   “If he’s as big as I think he is, he’s gigantic.”

   “He has got to go. There are too many families and kids and pets around here for it to be safe.”

   “I have a plan,” Oliver said.

   It had to wait, though. He and his sister gulped down breakfast and jumped on the school bus. It was the last day of school before summer started for real. Emma was finishing third grade and Oliver was finishing first grade. Emma was Oliver’s monster hunting right-hand man. It was only after they got home that they were able to put their plan to work.

   First, they went to see their friend the honey badger who lived in the woods behind their house. Boom Boom the badger wasn’t a snake charmer. He had once duked it out with a puff adder, one of the deadliest crawlers in the world. Its venom melts human flesh. A half-dozen adder bites made him groggy so after he put the snake out of commission, he took a nap. He woke up refreshed. The fangs that cook life and limb could do nothing against his tough as nails body.

   “I’m your man,” Boom Boom said after Oliver explained the plan.

   Oliver and Emma knew the sewer snake liked to lay out in the open at sunset, soaking up the mild dusky rays. They knew the spot because they always avoided it that time of day. They quietly hid behind an old pin oak. When the snake showed up and curled up, they waited some more until he was good and drowsy.

   By the time the snake knew what was happening, Oliver and Emma were in front of him explaining he had to get out of town. When he protested, Boom Boom, sneaking up from behind, clamped his jaws onto his rear end and started pulling. There was nothing the snake could do because everything he tried failed. His poisonous fangs were useless. He flailed this way and that. He curled himself round and round the badger and squeezed with all his might.

   Boom Boom ignored everything he tried and dragged him to Oliver’s Monster Capture truck. Once he was under lock and key Oliver ran to find his dad. When his father saw the sewer snake, he took two steps back.

   “Holy cow, that thing is big!”

   He got behind the wheel, Boom Boom joined them in the passenger seat, and they drove to Elderwood in East Cleveland. Elderwood was once a happy community full of life and laughter. Over the years it became a run-down shadow of itself, and everybody moved out. Now there were no signs of life except for squatters and drug addicts.

   When they opened the back of the Monster Capture truck, Oliver didn’t have to say a word. The snake wiggled out fast and headed for the nearest sewer. The dope fiends didn’t know it, but they had a new neighbor.

   Back home in Perry, Boom Boom tipped his hat and trotted home to the forest.

   Over dinner, after his dad explained where they had taken the snake, Oliver said, “It was coming up snake eyes for him here, but a moldy old neighborhood with lots of leftover sewers sounds like just the place for him.”

   “They are always shedding their skin, becoming new snakes, so I think he’ll be OK in his new home,” Emma said, taking a day’s work well done bite of her stove-top grilled cauliflower and chicken.

   “Yum,” she said.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Daybook To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Hillbilly Highway

By Ed Staskus

   Ever since they were rug rats Oliver and Emma’s dad packed their mom and them up and they went on a one-week road trip to West Virginia. He streamed Steve Earle, and they sang along. “Now I’m standin’ on this highway and if you’re going my way, you know where I’m bound, hillbilly highway, hillbilly highway.” They always took Rt. 83 instead of the interstate. They sang out the back windows of their Jeep Cherokee. 

   “It’s God’s country,” Oliver’s dad said, even though he was born and bred in Cleveland, Ohio and had never gone to West Virginia until he was sent there as part of a refinery inspection team. He was an electrical engineer. He knew how to read a compass. He knew how to go south.

   One summer they went to Elkins for a bluegrass festival. They stayed at the Cheat River Cabins, ate breakfast at diners, went hiking in the Stuart Area woods, and listened to bluegrass at night. It was in the air all over. The Augusta Heritage Festival is held every summer at the Davis & Elkins College. There are old-time tunes and bluegrass, Cajun and Zydeco, Irish and Contra dancing.

   They heard Molly Lewis whistle. She whistled songs everybody knew, standing all by herself in the middle of the stage. Whistling used to be big. Elmo Tanner and Muzzy Marcellino made careers for themselves back in the day pursing their lips and blowing. In 1967 the whistling song “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” was an international hit.

   “If I’m out walking in the woods and hear a birdcall, I try to mimic it,” Molly said. “I have probably got a terrible accent in bird talk, but I do my best.”

   Another summer they went white water rafting on the New River, except Oliver and Emma didn’t. They were underage. They took pictures of their mom and dad pushing off and then ran to the Wonderland Water Park, all-day passes clutched in their hands. They navigated the inflatable obstacles and bounced splashed jumped all around the five-acre spring-fed lake water park. They went on waterslides until they were exhausted and had to chill out on the white sandy beach.

   The summer they were near Flatwoods in central West Virginia they made an excursion to see what the monster sighting was all about. Seventy years earlier the town earned the nickname “Home of the Green Monster.” Some folks called it the Braxton County Monster. Others called it the Phantom of Flatwoods, or simply the Green Monster.

   They were having lunch at Moe’s in near-by Sutton, talking about the monster, when a man leaned over from his table and said to Oliver, “Don’t worry about the monster getting you, kid. You’ll smell it before it gets near enough to grab you.” Emma glared at him from behind her new glasses. She pushed them down her nose.

   “My brother takes care of business where we live, mister. He’s the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County. If anybody needs to worry, it’s you and your old monster.”

   Everybody started laughing and talking about spaceships fireballs glowing red eyes 10-foot-tall eat you alive creatures. Oliver didn’t pay them any mind. He would make up his own mind when he saw firsthand what he needed to see.

   They went to the Flatwoods Monster Museum first. “The story made the local news, then got picked up by national radio and big papers all over the country,” Andrew Smith, who runs the museum, told them. “The mother and the National Guard kid ended up going to New York to talk to CBS.”

   It was near dark in mid-September 1952 when the May brothers Eddie and Freddie, playing in the schoolyard with their friend Tommy, saw a bright light flash across the sky and hit the ground. Freddie ran and grabbed his mother. Several more boys and dogs and Eugene Lemon joined them. They ran up the hill where the light landed.

   “Seven Braxton County residents on Saturday reported seeing a 10-foot Frankenstein-like monster in the hills above Flatwoods,” the local newspaper reported. “A National Guard member, 17-year-old Gene Lemon, was leading the group when he saw what appeared to be a pair of bright eyes in a tree. He screamed and fell backward when he saw a monster with a blood-red body and a green face that seemed to glow.”

   They were nauseated by a stomach-churning smell and ran away fast and faster.

   “Those people were the most scared people I’ve ever seen,” said A. L. Stewart, the newspaper publisher. He marched up the hill with a loaded shotgun after witnesses told him what they saw. “People don’t make up that kind of story that quickly,” he said.

   “One of the boys peed his pants,” said John Gibson, who knew them all. “Their dog Rickie ran back home with his tail between his legs.”

   John Gibson didn’t run. He was a World War II veteran who helped guard Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials after serving with an infantry division in the Battle of the Bulge. He still lived in Flatwoods. He sold 12-inch Green Monster lanterns, thousands of them to curious passersby. He had them made in Marietta, Ohio by a ceramic artisan. Each piece was hand molded, fired, and painted.

   “I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny,” he said. “I don’t believe in Santa. And I really don’t believe in the Flatwoods Monster. But I do want to boost our community. If anybody knows how I could get a 26-foot fiberglass Green Monster statue made for Flatwoods, let me know. That would be a big draw, don’t you think?”

   “I thought it was kind of a fake,” a friend of his said. “I didn’t fool with it.”

   “Everybody still talks about the Flatwoods Monster, and they talk about little green men, but I never run into any of them,” John said. 

   Another friend insisted he saw a flying saucer buzz his house around the same time in 1952. “What did you think when you seen the saucer?” John asked.

   “I thought it was Dwight D. Eisenhower on a broom stick.” 

   When the day-trippers from Ohio asked, he gave them directions to the exact spot of what everybody agreed had probably been a UFO incident, if it was anything at all. Oliver and Emma jumped into the back seat. It wasn’t far. It was on a hill on a nearby farm. The property owners were leery of the Green Monster’s popularity, and tourists were forbidden. They worried about city folk trampling their crops. “We’re sick and tired of hearing about that monster,” is what they said. There wasn’t anybody around, though, so Oliver and Emma walked up the hill, while their parents watched from below.

   Oliver stood where it all had happened. The sun was shining in the blue sky. There was no creature with a red face hellzapoppin eyes savage claws and floating in the air like gravity didn’t matter. There was no eerie mist and no evil stench. There was a strong smell of cow manure, though.

   “What’s that awful smell?” Emma asked.

   They ran back to where their parents were waiting.

   “What did you make of it?” Oliver’s dad asked.

   “I only hunt monsters I can smell and see and hear,” Oliver said. “If they are in a museum their time has come and gone. There’s nothing for me to do here. Can we go back to gone fishing?”

   “Let’s go, bud,” his father said, shepherding everybody into the Jeep, giving it gas, and going down the state road to the next corner of the Mountain State. Oliver and Emma sang “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” making up most of the lyrics as they rolled along.

   They left the Green Monster behind. He was taking a nap in the hollow at the bottom of the hill, where he had been ever since landing in Flatwoods. They didn’t hear him snoring as they sang at the top of their lungs.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Daybook To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Loose as a Goose

By Ed Staskus

Godzilla came to yoga late in life. He was 68 years old and getting long in the tooth. His rear end hurt. He thought it might be sciatica. He had trouble twisting to see who was gaining on him. When he tried to touch his toes, it seemed like they were miles away, even though they were only a couple of hundred feet away. He was losing his vim and vigor. He was on the edge of losing his edge. He knew it better than anybody. He had to do something about it.

   The first thing he had done after being accidentally brought up from the deep in the 1950s and getting on his land legs was stomp on Tokyo. When he was done, he lapped up all the spilled milk he could find. Then he took a long nap, sleeping all day and part of the next day.

   No sooner did Tokyo rebuild itself than he destroyed it again and again. In the ensuing years he destroyed New York City three times. He destroyed Osaka and Paris twice. In between he traveled extensively and destroyed London, Moscow, Sydney, and Las Vegas, among others.

   It seemed like his pulverizing days might be over. He tried supplements and new-fangled devices. He tried long walks and strength training. He tried massage and acupuncture. He tried leafy vegetables, even though his favorite meal was eating cars and transmission towers.

   When he went to a wellness clinic, they told him there wasn’t anything they could do for him. First of all, he didn’t have medical insurance. On top of that he had never worked a day in his life and didn’t have Medicare. No cash no wellness. Don’t let the door slam on your way out. Besides, there wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong with him, except for his advancing years.

   He didn’t like their answers and stomped on the building, flattening it like a pancake. His best days might be behind him, but he still had his trademark stomp. However, he lumbered away with a pronounced limp.

   “Man, oh man,” he muttered. “I think I hurt my back.”

   He was ready to take advice from anybody, including his grandson Goo Goo Godzilla, who was an insufferable know-it-all. He thought he knew everything just because he could ask the Gods of Google anything. Whenever Godzilla saw a cell phone tablet laptop desktop he chewed it up and spit it out because it tasted so bad. That was what he thought about knowing everything all the time.

   “You can’t turn back the hands of time, pops, but you can slow them down,” Goo Goo said. “I’ve heard one way to do that is by doing yoga.”

   Godzilla had never heard of yoga.

   “It’s a mind spirit body discipline,” Goo Goo said. “It’s thousands of years old. Ask Oliver, the Monster Hunter in Perry, my pal in Ohio. They have a friend of the family who’s a yoga teacher. His name is Barron Cannon.”

   “There’s nothing wrong with my mind or spirit,” Godzilla said. “It’s my body that needs a tune-up. I’m ready to try anything, even if it’s mumbo jumbo.”

   Although few were aware he could fly, Godzilla could fly. When he let loose an atomic breath of fire he could blast off like a missile and rocket himself anywhere in the world. In the summer one of his favorite places for R & R was Middle Sister Island. It was one of the Lake Erie islands. It was small but big enough for him. It was uninhabited. It was quiet. Goo Goo didn’t know where it was, and Godzilla meant to keep it that way. His grandson was a busybody.

   One evening it rained hard. In the middle of the night fog rolled in. The next morning, he woke up stiff and achy. It had been happening lately, too often for comfort. He was finally determined to do something about it. He blasted off for Perry, where Oliver the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County lived. Unfortunately, the shades were drawn. A neighbor told Godzilla the family had gone on vacation. 

   Godzilla took off and headed back towards Cleveland.  When he landed, he looked for a phone book to locate a yoga studio, but there were none to be had. The Yellow Pages had disappeared. Phone booths had disappeared. He put his quarter away.

   He roared off again, circling the city, and with his still keen eyesight located a studio on the west side of town. So long as he could see and stomp, he was still the boss man. He just had to limber up his old bones, get lean and mean again.

   He signed up for a complimentary class at the front desk. He didn’t have a mat, so the yoga instructor unfurled a hundred studio mats for him. The first pose, mountain pose, was just the right one for him. He was, after all, as big as a mountain. After that it was all downhill. Midway through class, frustrated and peevish, he let loose a breath of atomic fire and accidentally burnt the studio down. All the men and women fled, and the fire department raced to the scene.

   The same thing happened at the next yoga studio and the one after that. Cleveland’s yoga owners called a hasty business meeting and quickly resolved to ban the monster from all their places of business. They were, however, undecided about how to keep him out. He was as big as a forty- story building. He wasn’t hiding in any corners. He weighed in at 90,000 tons

   Godzilla was determined to learn the moves and carry the lessons away with him. He had too many mean streets to cross to adopt yoga as a lifestyle, but he had too many enemies to not do yoga. He had to be able to do to his archenemies what they wanted to do to him.

   “How about if we offer him free private lessons, somewhere outdoors, somewhere there is plenty of outdoors?” one teacher offered.

   Everybody thought it was a good idea, but nobody wanted to be the teacher doing the teaching. One false move and they might get squashed. After much hemming and hawing all eyes turned to Barron Cannon. He was a single man, didn’t have a family who would mourn him, and was an anarchist to boot. Most of Cleveland’s yoga teachers avoided him, his social and political views making them fit to be tied, no matter how much they meditated and tried to think the better of their fellow man. It struck them he was the perfect candidate. He was self-centered and hot-tempered and would give Godzilla as good as he got. 

   What Barron thought was that he had never met anyone worth a damn who wasn’t irascible.

   “How about it, Barron?” one of the teachers asked.

    “Sure,” he said and left the meeting to find Godzilla.

   Barron was notoriously tight-lipped when it came to small talk. Another teacher once bet him two dollars that she could get him to say more than two words.

   “You lose,” he said.

   The behemoth wasn’t hard to find. It was like looking for a skyscraper. He wasn’t hard to convince, either. He thought one-on-one lessons were just the ticket. 

   “I’ve heard of you,” the monster said to Barron. “Do you know the Monster Hunter?”

   “I know the little rascal,” Barron said.

   Godzilla motioned for him to hop on his back, and when he was hanging on tight, Godzilla rocketed back to Middle Sister Island. Before he did, he landed in the parking lot of a Heinen’s grocery store so Barron could stock up on protein bars and bottled water.

   They were no sooner airborne again than they heard sirens and watched police cars and SWAT teams from Cleveland, Lakewood, Rocky River, and Fairview Park descend on the grocery store, where shoppers were scattering in every direction. It wasn’t often that the King of the Monsters visited and didn’t destroy your city. They should have counted their blessings, but they were all boomers and echo boomers and felt as blessed as they were ever going to feel.

   On the island Barron got to work early the next day, even though Godzilla was cranky, wanting to sleep in. Hour after hour, day after day, he led Godzilla through endless sun salutations, until he could do them in his sleep. When he tried to beg off, Barron tongue lashed him.

   “Do you think Ghidora is laying around gazing at his navel? Do you think Mothra is lounging around eating grapes? Do you think Destoroyah is gaping the gals at a dance hall?”

   Godzilla had to admit none of them were doing any of that. They were all probably on the prowl. They were all like him. None of them had a friend in the world, only enemies. King Kong was the only creature Godzilla was remotely close to. They had fought to a draw several times and harbored a sullen respect for each other. 

   “I’m not going to bother you with the beliefs and principles of yoga,” Barron said. “I’m not going to read to you from ‘The Light of Yoga.’ It’s not because I don’t think it’s vital to the practice, but because that’s the nature of the yoga beast these days. You’re only interested in what yoga can do for you right now. I get it. We’re going to move on to intermediate practice next, and after that to Ashtanga Yoga. You’re a quick study, big guy. Another week-or-so and I think you’ll be ready to make these exercises your own.”

   Godzilla whooped his approval. Barron dodged the monster’s inadvertent bad breath. At the end of the day Godzilla curled up and Barron curled up inside Godzilla’s curl, staying warm. At the end of the week Barron pinned a gold star on Godzilla’s chest and declared him ready to go. The monster touched his toes with ease and beamed his appreciation. He was loose as a goose.

   After dropping Barron off at his apartment in Lakewood and promising to never destroy his hometown no matter what so long as Barron lived there, Godzilla got ready to blast off back to Japan. He had some scores to settle. He had nothing left to prove, but he thought he might destroy Tokyo again, just to show he could still do it.

   He circled over downtown Cleveland before turning west for the Pacific. Below him was the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Thousands of people on thousands of mats were doing sun salutations in the sunshine on the plaza in front of the blue glass tent. It was the annual Believe in Cleveland yoga love-in. He swooped low and belched fire. Everybody looked up and saluted his mighty yogic Breath of Fire.

   His enemies were going to pay for all the slanderous things they had been saying about him, things like blobby slow and over the hill. With his newfound reptilian quickness, he was going to make mincemeat of them. He was as physically fast and aware as he had ever been, slimmed down to 80,000 tons.

   He couldn’t wait to put the moves on his glib grandson Goo Goo, either. He would show him the path to Hell was paved with good intentions, even though he knew no monsters, not even his kith and kin, had anything but bad intentions. Barron Cannon had been right to not bring up the “Light of Yoga.” The light in Godzilla’s eyes had nothing to do with yoga.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Daybook To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”