By Ed Staskus
“When you heard toilets flushing by themselves, where were you?” Oliver asked his sister Emma after she came home from visiting Lake Erie College in Painesville. She was chewing on an old pretzel. She cleared her throat.
“I was in the Kilcawley Dorm,” Emma said.
“Were you in the bathroom?”
“I had to go to the toilet so that’s where I was.”
“Was there anybody else in the bathroom?”
“Nobody knows who she is, but there’s a girl who haunts the bathrooms there,” Oliver said. “The toilets are the kind you have to push the handle down, but they are always flushing themselves. Sometimes when somebody is double-checking their buttons and zippers, they catch sight of her right behind them, but when they turn to see who it is, she’s going out the door.”
Oliver was the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County and Emma was his older sister and right-hand man. She had been visiting Lake Erie College with her mother. The college is near where Oliver and Emma lived in Perry, Ohio and it is where their mother went to school. The day Emma was there she heard a ghost dog barking and doors slamming themselves shut. There were hot and cold spots where there shouldn’t have been. The water fountain water tasted hot.
“Were you in Morley Music Hall when you walked through the hot and cold spots?”
“That’s where I was.” Emma said. “The cold was freezing cold and the hot was boiling hot.”
“The music hall is named after Helen Morley, who most of the time is seen in a white gown floating down staircases,” Oliver said. “She plays the organ, usually old creepy songs.” The hall is one of the best in Ohio, housing a 64-rank E. M. Skinner organ built in 1927. When the security guards hear the organ at night, they stay away.
“One time a guard went inside to see who was playing the organ in the middle of the night. She yelled at him to get out. She was even louder than the organ. When he didn’t leave right away she chased him out. After that the guards went on strike. Students in the pep band say they hear a woman screaming when they are practicing, but when they told a security guard about it, he said it was probably because their playing was bad, and besides, he wasn’t going to be doing anything about it anytime soon.”
“How come mom never told us about any of this?” Emma asked. “She went to school there.” After graduating from Lake Erie College their mom went to a law school in Tennessee and practiced corporate law before having her two kids, first Emma and then Oliver. She was planning on going back to work once they were both in high school.
“You know how mom is, everything is practical this and practical that,” Oliver said. “She’s always telling me monsters don’t exist, even when there’s a troll in our backyard looking in through our windows and watching her every move.”
Oliver and Emma sat in silence, thinking about their mother and the brave new world they lived in. Sometimes they couldn’t make sense of it. Sometimes they thought the train of the future was going to run them over.
“Fortune favors the brave,” Oliver said.
“I’m going to have to check my piggy bank,” Emma said.
“Were you in Andrews Dorm when you saw doors opening and shutting themselves?” Oliver asked.
“Yes, that’s where I was,” Emma said.
“That was Mary Evans,” Oliver said. “She used to be president of the college a long time ago. Nobody knows why she haunts that dorm, but she’s always knocking things off shelves, moving furniture around, and slamming doors. Did you visit College Hall or the Fowler Dorm?”
“There’s ghost named Stephanie who haunts the fourth floor of College Hall. She killed herself in the belfry way back when. She gets downstairs through a mirror in the parlor. The ghost in Fowler Dorm died there. She drowned in a bathtub. She has a bad habit of staring at people who are looking at themselves in mirrors. When they turn around she’s gone.”
“That would give me the willies,” Emma said. “They should call it that place Lake College of Eerie Women.”
“Was Tiberius barking all the time you were on campus,” Oliver asked.
“No, only when I was passing the Fine Arts Building.”
“Did you see anything there?”
“I thought I did, but I’m not sure. I thought I saw a scarecrow, but every time I looked he wasn’t where I thought he was. He seemed to be ten feet tall and was reaching for me. His hands were like branches.”
“That’s Old Joe Croaker. He’s not a school ghost, not exactly. He’s an old school ghost. He used to sleep in any of backyards around the campus that would have him until none of them would have him anymore. He once lived where the school is today, back when it was all farmland. I heard he was long gone, but he must be back. He’s going to have go back to where he came from.”
“Why was Tiberius barking?”
“He was barking because Old Joe Croaker croaks anybody who gets in his way. If he’s come back he’s got a good reason, although it won’t be good for anybody who messes with him. He has a machete he uses to cut hay and stuff himself with it. He knows how to use his blade, for sure. We’ve got to get him to go back through the mirror he used to get here. He’s a dangerous straw man.”
“Why is he dangerous?”
“Because he’s mad every which way, and he’s got nothing to lose. Running into him is like walking in the middle of the road. You get hit by cars from both sides.”
“What are we going to do?” Emma asked.
“We are going to have to go to the school and take care of business. But it’s too far to pedal on our go-karts and besides, mom would hit the roof if we even tried.“
“Maybe Jimmy the Jet could help us.”
“What do you mean?” Oliver asked
“Jimmy is fast as lightning on his roller blades. If we wore ours and made a conga line behind him we could get to the school in no time. We could go at night when everybody’s asleep and the streets are empty. Mom wouldn’t even know we were gone.”
Two days later Oliver, Emma, and Jimmy met in the middle of the night in the nearby Perry Cemetery on Middle Ridge Rd. It was around the corner from where they lived. The remains of Princess Mona, who was the granddaughter of Cleveland’s Chief Thunderwater, were buried there. They stood at the foot of her headstone. Emma had her jackknife. Oliver had a box of kitchen matches. They made sure their skates were laced on tight.
“Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night,” Jimmy the Jet said as Oliver gripped his waist from behind and Emma gripped Oliver’s waist. They set off for Lake Erie College and their showdown with Old Joe Croaker. He knew they were coming. He leaned against a shadow, chewing on a straw he had pulled out of the back of his head. A cloud obscured the moon. Tiberius’s nose twitched as he sniffed for menace in the night.
Next: Cutting Spooks Down to Size