Minnie the Moocher

By Ed Staskus

   The Minerva Monster should have stayed in Minerva, Ohio, but he didn’t. When he didn’t, he got tangled up with Oliver the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County. That was his second fateful step. His last step was dismissing Oliver as just another seven-year-old. He should have punted and kept an eye out.

   The monster’s name was Minnie and since he was always on the prowl for grub, and since he never had cash or a credit card, he was known as Minnie the Moocher even though he was willing to play his saxophone for his supper.

   The first time Oliver saw the creature in the forest behind his house he was practicing scales. He was wearing a blue bandana wrapped around his head and dark sunglasses. He was as naked as the day he was born.

   When Minnie was done practicing, he burst into “Take the A Train.” He played the Dave Brubeck Quartet version. He played it for his own satisfaction.

   “Hurry, get on, now it’s coming, listen to those rails a-thrumming, all aboard, get on the A train, soon you will be on Sugar Hill.”

   When he was finished and Oliver started clapping, Minnie almost jumped out of his furriness. He thought he was alone. He couldn’t see around the oak tree behind which Oliver was standing. When he roared Oliver didn’t jump out of his skin.

   Minnie had been an outdoorsman for a long time, but the first time anybody ever caught sight of him was in Minerva more than forty years earlier. Herbert Cayton had dug a garbage pit behind his house. Everything went into it, including food scraps. When Minnie went rummaging in it the farm dogs went berserk, barking up a storm. Herbie and his mother Evelyn went to the pit to investigate. They got the surprise of their life.

   “It just stood there. It didn’t move, but I almost broke my neck running back down the hill,” Evelyn said.

   “What do you want?” Minnie bellowed at Oliver, who came out from behind the tree. When he saw who it was, Minnie almost laughed. It was a pipsqueak of a boy. He stood up on his hind legs making himself bigger and roared again even louder. He was roaring at the wrong boy.

   When Dave White ran into the creature behind his Paris Township home near Minerva, and Minnie roared at him, he couldn’t lock himself in his house fast enough.

   “It’s a blood chilling sound,” he said. “A curdling sound. It will scare the hell out of you.”

   Oliver had been roared at by three-hundred-foot-tall monsters. A hairy ten-footer who scavenged garbage dumps wasn’t going to faze him. He strolled back home whistling the A Train song.

   Back in Minerva when Deputy Sheriff Jim Shannon investigated a complaint about Minnie, he thought the simple explanation had to be food.

   “Those folks heard something at the kitchen window, kind of clawing and pawing. I don’t think the creature, whatever the hell it was, was trying to get in as much as it was saying, ‘Hey, feed me!’”

   The lawman hit it on the nose. Minnie the Moocher was always on the make for a ten-course meal. He could eat anything anywhere anytime.

   Every time somebody spotted Minnie the papers radio TV made a big stink about it. Newspapermen and photographers started showing up in Minerva. They were followed by curiosity seekers and hunters. The orange vested hunters came armed with Bowie knives, handguns, shotguns, and rifles. Most of them had cases of beer in coolers in their pick-up trucks. When they started taking potshots at him was when he decided to move on. He was sick and tired of being the bad guy. He hit the open road. 

   “It was moving pretty good on two legs, pumping its arms like a track star. I got back in the car, rolled up the windows and locked the door,” said Herbert Burke, parked on the side of a country road.

   When Minnie got to Lake County, he thought he had stumbled into paradise. There were farmers markets galore to steal food from and plenty of forest land to hide in. He broke into the Mentor, Painesville, and Willoughby markets. Before long the cops got plenty concerned about it. 911 was ringing off the hook.

   The Lake County Visitors Bureau got concerned about it, too. Minnie had been spotted at campgrounds gleaning. He had been spotted at beaches scavenging and working on his tan, even though he was hairy as could be. He had been spotted in gardens foraging. Travelers and tourists were avoiding Lake County like the plague. The bureau knocked on Oliver’s door.

   “i saw him a few weeks ago,” Oliver told them. “He plays a mean saxophone. He wasn’t friendly, but he wasn’t unfriendly either.”

   “He’s scaring the tourists to death. Something has to be done,” they said.

   Oliver and Emma put on their thinking caps. Even though Minnie wasn’t messing with people, people saw him as a menace. Even though he was Charlie Parker-like on the sax, nobody was coming to his shows. Every time he showed himself everybody ran the other way.

   “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” Emma said.

    ‘What does that mean?” Oliver asked.

   “I don’t know but grownups say it all the time, and since they’re in charge, it must mean something. Anyway, I think it means we have to find him a girlfriend who will become his wife, who will cook three square meals a day for him, and who will keep him at home.”

   “You might be on to something,” Oliver said.

   “Where have you been,” Emma asked. She had long thought she was the brains behind Oliver’s monster hunting. He did the hunting, and she did the thinking.

   “What does that mean?”

   “Oh, never mind,” she said.

   They borrowed their mom’s laptop and found a dating service for Bigfeet. It was hard to tell who might be right for Minnie. All the Bigfeet girls looked the same, all of them hairy and about eight feet tall. When they found Bonnie the Bigfoot, who lived in the woods between Sudbury, Ontario, and the Lady Evelyn Smoothwater Provincial Park, both of them perked up.

   “Bingo,” Emma said.

   “How do we get him there?”

   “Maybe Uncle Ed will drive him there. He’s from Sudbury.”

   “Good idea,” Oliver said.

   “What?” Uncle Ed said when they asked him. “You want me to drive a Bigfoot to Sudbury? Are you sure Sudbury wants him?”

   “Not Sudbury exactly, more like the middle of nowhere,” Emma said.

   “That sounds even worse,” Ed said.

   In the end he and Aunt Vanessa agreed to do it. They could drop him off, stop at Lake Nipissing, stop in Toronto, and be back by Monday morning.

   “How are we going to get him to go?” Ed asked.

   “Leave that to us,” Oliver said.

   Emma went to work. She made a scrambled egg breakfast. She made ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch. She made a pot roast for dinner. She made a strawberry and rhubarb pie for dessert. When Uber Eats delivered the food, Minnie ate all of it all at once. When he was done and picking his teeth, Oliver explained that he could have the same food every day. All he had to do was go to Canada and get married. Minnie had never heard of Canada or marriage, but he let loose a whopping burp. He soon agreed to go.

   “Yeti or not, here I come,” he said.

   Ed and Vanessa picked him up the next day in their SUV, lowered the back seats so he could stretch out, and left for the border. They drove with all the windows open because Minnie smelled so bad.

   “When was the last time you took a shower?”

    “Never.”

   “Do you have a passport?”

   “No.”

   Vanessa threw a blanket over him when they got to Buffalo. When they got to Sudbury, they turned right. They took Route 84 north and dropped Minnie off near a lake with no name. Bonnie was waiting and ran out to them, throwing her arms around Minnie.

   “Aw shucks,” he bumbled and stumbled, and they disappeared into the woods holding hands.

   Ed and Vanessa spent a few days swimming in Lake Nipissing, a few days sightseeing in Toronto, and after they got home to Lakewood, Ohio where they lived, they dropped their car off at the Meticulous Car Wash & Detailing Center.

   “What was in this car?” the cleaning man asked putting a clothespin on his nose.

   “You know how all pictures of Bigfoot are always blurry?”

   “Sure.”

   “That’s what we had in the car. A blur.”

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Banshee in the Basement

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.

   “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 development streets all the time.

   “I was drawing monsters last week and now one of them has come to life,” Tommy 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.”

   “Yeah.”

   “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.

   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. 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?”

   “Good.”

   “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 thousand 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 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 Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Pedal to the Metal

By Ed Staskus

   Looking down at the Great Lakes Goo Goo Godzilla wondered what they were and where he was. He had flown past a whopping big one and could see four more, each one smaller than the one before. The two he was over were like kidneys facing each other and the one ahead reminded him of home. It was shaped like Japan. He swooped lower to get a better look.

   When he saw the 500-foot-tall cooling towers of the Perry Nuclear Generating Station, his eyes got wide, and he dove straight for them. One of them was billowing steam, but the other one looked quiet. He knew exactly what they were. He didn’t like their looks. The Godzilla’s had a love hate hookup with fission.

   Oliver knew what they were, too. He lived nearby. He didn’t pay them much mind, though. As long as the lights worked he was happy.

   Goo Goo couldn’t fly, not exactly, but he could launch himself like a rocket with his atomic breath. Once he was up and away, he was able to glide the jet stream for hours, adjusting his course with bursts of red-hot. His grandfather had taught him.

   “It was fifty years ago when I was battling Hedorah that I first flew,” Godzilla said. “I was beating him into mashed potatoes with my tail but then he morphed into a flying saucer and escaped. I was helpless but wouldn’t give up. I ran as fast as I could, but he just got farther and farther away. At the last minute I got a brainstorm and took off using my atomic breath. I caught him, wrestled him down to the ground, and knocked him for a loop.  When I was done, I blasted off again and went home.”

   “Can you teach me?” Goo Goo asked.

   “I will, but don’t tell your grandmother,” Godzilla whispered. “She thinks flying is dangerous.”

   “What about Mothra and Rodan?” Goo Goo said. “They will always have the upper hand if you don’t go airborne. There’s King Ghidorra, too, he never stops giving you fits.”

   “I know, I know,” Godzilla said, the memory getting on his nerves. “Let’s just keep the flying to ourselves, OK?”

   “OK pops.”

   When Oliver heard the emergency siren coming from the direction of Lake Erie, he ran to the TV and turned it on. He suspected Goo Goo Godzilla was roaming around and feared the worst. Sure enough, it was the boy mountain circling the power plant on the lakeshore. He ran upstairs where his mother was brushing her teeth.

   “Mom, can I borrow your cellphone?”

   “Of course,” she said, spitting out Colgate and a mouthful of water. “What is that sound out there?”

   Oliver ran downstairs without answering and called school. He begged off his first-grade class. The lesson that day was going to be about the difference between living and non-living things. He didn’t have any trouble with that kind of mental grasp of things.

   “Do the best you can,” the vice-principal said. “We are all counting on you. Oh, and tell your mother we won’t need a note this time.”

   Oliver was the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County. Even though he was only six years old he had a sixth sense about monsters. He knew when they were under his bed. He knew when they were in the basement. He knew when they were lurking in the woods.

   “Emma, can you skip school today?” he asked his older sister.

   “You bet I can!”

   “It might get dangerous.”

    I’m right behind you,” she said.

    They tossed monster hunting gear in their backpacks, strapped them on, and jumped on their pedal power go karts. Oliver’s was built for business while Emma’s was raked for style. They pedaled alongside Lane Rd, through front yards and backyards, through crop fields and nurseries, past Lane Grove and Birchfield Meadows, and at North Ridge Rd. stopped at the Dairy Queen for ice cream. Pressed for time, they had to lick down their cones on the go, zipping under Rt. 20 to Lake Erie, where they took a right and raced to the nuclear plant.

   They followed the shoreline past the bluffs. Goo Goo was stomping around the cooling towers, unleashing bursts of fury. They saw him plain as day. Police cars were everywhere, but what could they do? Goo Goo’s skin was a kind of battle armor that bullets and bombs bounced off of.

   When the police chief saw Oliver coming, he waved for him to hurry.

   “What’s your plan of attack?” he asked.

   “All Godzilla’s have two brains, one in their head and one down their back where the tail starts,” Oliver said. “I’m going to climb up his tail and go after his second brain.”

   “That sounds good. We’ll swing around to the front of him and try to distract him.”

   Oliver and Emma scrambled behind Goo Goo, who was snorting at the policemen. Oliver stopped at the tip of his tail and started climbing up. When he reached the spot where Goo Goo’s second brain was, Emma tossed a small ballpeen hammer up to him. Oliver peeled back the scales that covered the brain and started banging out a message with the hammer in Morse code.

   All monsters know Morse code, although they never tell anybody who isn’t a monster. Since most of them don’t know how to talk, only roar growl and holler, the code was their way of talking to each other. The Godzilla’s had their own secret language, but they knew Morse code, as well.

   “Stop messing with those reactors.” Oliver tapped. “That’s an order. Scram!”

   Goo Goo stopped dead in his tracks. He whirled in all directions, almost sending Oliver flying, looking for the buttinsky trying to be the boss of him. Where was he? Was it an invisible monster? That could be real trouble. Maybe he had better fly back to Japan and tell his grandfather about this. He would know what to do.

   Before leaving he bellowed and tail-thumped a police car. Oliver had already scrambled off Goo Goo. He and Emma dashed a safe distance away while the junior lizard dinosaur lifted up into the sky with a mighty roar. Before they knew it, he was gone.

   The police chief thanked Oliver and clapped him on the back, almost sending him sprawling. “You saved the day. Whatever you did took care of that stinkweed. We owe you a debt of gratitude.”

   “C’mon bud, we better beat it back home, otherwise we’ll be late for dinner,” Emma said.

   “All right,” Oliver said, and they slid into their go karts and in a split second left the power plant behind them.

   By that time Goo Goo was far to the west, gliding over Sandusky, where he spied a Laser Wash car wash. He had flown almost ten thousand miles and hadn’t taken a bath in days. He was sure lasers would clean him up like nobody’s business. But when he landed, he discovered there were no lasers, just water. It was a scam! He was vexed and stamped his feet. When he noticed an American Pride car wash across the street, he liked what he saw. He lay down at the entrance of it, exhaled getting skinny like a snake, tucked in this legs and arms and let the roller conveyor pull him. The water was cold, so he heated it up with a short blast of hot fire. When he came out the other end he felt like a new man and zoomed away.

   Oliver and Emma didn’t stop for anything on their way home and walked in through the back patio door just as their mother was setting the table. Their father was playing his new old-school Legend electric piano in the living room.

   “Ollie, Emmie, dinner’s almost ready,” their mother said looking at them over her shoulder. The kitchen was warm and smelled wonderful. “Make sure you wash up, you’re both dirty as can be. Where have you been and what have you been doing?”

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

The Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County

By Ed Staskus

When Emma looked at her brother Oliver, she saw a towheaded boy about four feet tall and not even fifty pounds. He wore his hair short, ran up and down the stairs, was a slow eater, could be shy but always spoke up, and was learning how to play the piano, although he wasn’t nearly as good as she was. He was an all-American boy, half German and half Lithuanian, like her. He was also the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County. How did a first grader become that? She was in third grade, taller, bigger, and smarter. She had mastered division and multiplication. Oliver was just learning how to read and write, for goodness’ sake.

   Sometimes she thought she should be the monster hunter, not her brother’s right-hand man. She was even more unofficial than him. She wasn’t sure she liked that, although she had to live with it.

   She had to admit, though, that Oliver had nerves of steel, while she still got spooked by some of the monsters he went head-to-head with. He had taken care of Goo Goo Godzilla in less than five minutes when he was threatening the nuclear power plant in North Perry, not far from where they lived. He did it as easily as brushing a bug away.

   He got started in kindergarten chasing shadows, noises in the night, and wrestling with nightmares. Phantoms learned to beware of his reach, though. He flattened them like pancakes and tossed them out of the house like frisbees. He made his reputation the summer before first grade. There was a troll in the woods behind their house. Not behaving himself was the last mistake he made in Lake County.

   Trolls came to the USA from Scandinavia in the 18th century on sailing ships. They can be big or small, ugly and slow-witted or sneaky charming, harmless or menacing, fast-talking liars or almost like the folks next door. They live apart from others, even other trolls, preferring their own company. They are ungodly, kidnapping cats and dogs. When crossed they can be dangerous. They are afraid of lightning and church bells. Sunlight turns them to stone.

   When the neighbor’s terrier disappeared, Oliver knew he had to step up. He saw the dog every day, fed him doggie treats, and treated him like a friend. A good neighbor is somebody who can play the bagpipes but doesn’t. The troll wasn’t being a good neighbor. Oliver didn’t like it when anything messed with his friends.

   He set his clock for an hour before dawn. It was cloudy and dark when he woke up. He threw his old camera and some bungee cords in his backpack and snuck out of the house, but not before Emma spotted him, threw on sweatpants and a pullover, and joined him. Their parents were still asleep, his father softly snoring.

   Oliver’s father had bought an old Polaroid and a dozen boxes of film for peanuts at a flea market in Grand River. He already had a fancy Minolta digital camera, so he gave the Polaroid to Oliver, who took pictures of spiders and praying mantises with it.

   “Are you going to try to get Chester back from that awful troll?”

   “Yes.”

   “What are you going to do?” Emma asked ready for action, but with no idea how her brother was going to deal with the varmint. She had never seen a real troll before. She had only ever seen the garden variety kind.

   “We are going to find him and keep him from crawling under a rock until the sun comes up. We can use the camera’s flashbulb to herd him. If we can get him to step into sunlight he’ll turn to stone, and we can save Chester.”

   “I brought my flashlight and pocketknife,” Emma said.

   “Good,” Oliver said, nodding grimly.

   They walked into the forest, Emma leading the way with her flashlight. They saw the troll’s campfire and smelled him at the same time. He smelled like an old rat. He was a pint-sized Tusseladd troll with three heads and three noses as long as carrots. He had a round stomach and short stubby arms and legs. He was boiling water to make porridge. Chester was tied up next to the fire. It looked like the troll meant to eat him with his porridge.

   “We’re in luck,” Oliver said. “That kind of troll is usually gigantic. I think we can handle this runt.”

   When they stepped out of the dark into the light of the campfire the troll jumped up and his three mouths started jibber-jabberring. Chester whined and kicked his legs. Oliver held up his hands, palms out and made a peace sign. He pointed to his stomach and said he and his sister had come a long way and were hungry.

   The troll calmed down and started dreaming scheming right away. Maybe he could grab and cook these two children, too. He would have more grub than he knew what to do with. He showed Oliver and Emma where to sit and went back to his pot. When the water started boiling, he started making his porridge.

   “Are you a betting man?” Oliver asked him.

   “Of course,” the troll said.

   “I bet I can eat more porridge than you.”

   The troll laughed a mean-spirited laugh like he was the living soul of a funeral. That was fool’s gold. Nobody could eat more porridge than a troll. 

   “If you can eat more porridge than me then I won’t eat you,” the troll said.

   “I’m on for that,” Oliver said.

   I don’t know about this, Emma thought. She started thinking of all the things that could go wrong. There were too many to count.

   They tended the fire while the troll went to get more water to make even more porridge. Once it was ready, they both ate as much as they could. What the troll didn’t know was that Oliver had shoved his backpack under his shirt and was filling it with the porridge, without the troll noticing. When the troll was full and couldn’t eat anymore, looking like he was on the losing end of the bet, Oliver suggested he cut a hole in his stomach so he could have as much as he wanted. He did and stuffed handfuls of porridge inside of himself. By the time he got to the bottom of the pot he was so heavy with the pasty goo he fell over groaning.

   Oliver and Emma rushed him, bound him up with their bungee cords, and dragged him by his feet to a small clearing. His three heads bounced on the ground all the way there. The sun was already up and when its light washed over the troll he turned to stone instantly. They stood him up and took Polaroid snapshots of him. Chester was barking up a storm, so they ran back to the campfire, untied him, threw dirt on the fire and went home.

   The troll who turned to stone became a landmark. 

   “If you want to go to the valley, take a left at the troll. If you want to go to the pond, take a right,” everybody said.

   When show and tell day was announced at school, Oliver took his Polaroid pictures. Emma took the muffins she baked all by herself. They would have been a hit any other day, but on that day the spotlight belonged to Oliver. He had matched wits with a troll, ridding the neighborhood of a vile nuisance, and lived to tell the tale. From that day on he was known as the Monster Hunter.

   On the Perry Local School District bus going home Emma pulled two muffins nobody had been interested in out of her book bag. She offered one to Oliver. They sat side by side eating them.

   “These are delicious,” Oliver said.

   “Better than the porridge?”

   “Better than anything that rotten troll could ever have made,” Oliver said.

   When they got home, Chester dashed up to them, working up an appetite. They gave him a muffin and he forgot all about them. They walked into the house.

   “How was school?” their mother asked.

   “I learned that nobody knows what a Polaroid camera is,” Oliver said.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”