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 http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

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