All posts by Edward Staskus

Edward Staskus is a free-lance writer from Sudbury, Ontario. He lives in Lakewood, Ohio.

Bump in the Night

By Ed Staskus

   The Saturday afternoon the Cleveland Guardians made short work of the New York Yankees at Progressive Field was the afternoon Oliver’s dad took him and his sister to Grays Armory when the game was over. The baseball stadium was on East 9th St. The Lake Erie Cemetery, where nearly 8,000 early settlers were buried, was across the street. On the other side of the boneyard, where Bolivar Rd. and Prospect Ave. meet before ending up at East 14th St., was Grays Armory.

   Oliver was the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County and his older sister Emma was his right-hand man. They were a half hour west of home, downtown in neighboring Cuyahoga County, and Oliver was technically off-duty. His dad, however, had promised a friend to bring his son to the armory to see if he could do something about Lou the Caretaker, the only ghost still hanging around.

   The Cleveland Grays got started when the Canadian Rebellions of 1837 got into full swing. The city fathers acted, forming a volunteer military company, to protect themselves from Canucks on the loose. They weren’t called the Grays at first. They were called the Cleveland City Guards but since their uniforms were gray they changed the name the next year. They wore Queen’s Guard bearskin hats that made them look a foot taller than they really were. They adopted “Semper Paratus” as their motto. Nobody knew what it meant because it was in Latin. The man upstairs finally explained it meant “Always Prepared.” Everybody liked that. There were 65 of the Grays.

   They set up shop on the fourth floor of a building called the Mechanics Block. Thirty years later they needed more space. They moved into an old fire station. Ten years later they moved into the newly built City Armory, sharing it with the Ohio National Guard. Soon after that a fire burnt the building to the ground. They decided to build their own place that would stand the test of time. 

   A seven thousand pound block of sandstone was set in place in 1893 for the foundation of Grays Armory. It grew to be three stories high with a five-story tower on the northeast corner. It was built as an urban fortress. There is a black iron drop-gate and iron barriers in front of the solid oak front doors. Iron rods are bolted to the brick walls as window protectors. 

   The armory was built to store guns and ammo. The drill room was where the Grays marched up and down in tight formations. But it wasn’t long before it became a kind of community center. The Cleveland Orchestra’s first concert in 1918 was staged there. The first time the Metropolitan Opera came to town they sang songs of doomed love and hellfire there. When John Philip Souza first marched into town his band played there. The first home and garden show and the first auto show in Cleveland were held there.

   Oliver looked the building up and down. It was Romanesque, built of brick and sandstone. It wasn’t an armory anymore, but a museum preserving local military heritage. Nobody drilled in the drill room. It had been converted into a ballroom. When boys and girls got married they sometimes had their wedding receptions in the hall.

   “That’s the problem,” Oliver’s dad explained. “The wedding receptions help keep the building afloat, but Lou is always shouting something or other and slamming doors, not to mention crawling under the tables. It freaks people out. One bridesmaid got very upset when she felt a hand on her ankle.”

   “Dad, did you say he’s the only ghost here?”

   “Yes, all the others have long since gone. He’s the last ghost standing.”

   “Why didn’t he leave with the others when they left?” Oliver asked.

   “Nobody knows, although I think it’s because he was the man who kept the armory spic and span for many years. He’s been here a long time. He doesn’t like it when it gets messy. When it does he gets right to work, which is a big help to the maintenance man. He and Lou get along just fine.”

   Lou had been the caretaker at the armory from its earliest days, living on the top floor of the turret tower. He never married. He liked to read private eye pulps and drink beer at night, stretched out on his sofa. He dropped dead of a heart attack in the meeting room on the ground floor of the turret tower. After he was buried he snuck out of the graveyard, went back to Grays Armory, and had not left since then.

   “Lou is always walking through closed doors. Museum visitors can hear his footsteps but none of the motion sensors ever pick him up. Whenever anybody starts talking about him the flags in the ballroom start falling off the walls. One night in the middle of the night an alarm went off. When the police got here they didn’t see a thing. When they checked the security camera footage they saw what looked like fluorescent mist in the room the alarm went off in. Everybody knew it was Lou.”

   “What did the police do?” Oliver asked.

   “They said, case closed, and went away.”

   “Do you want me to get him to go away and not come back?”


   “But it’s his home.”

   “When your day is done, son, you can’t go home again.”

   “Didn’t your friend say Lou drank apple cider vinegar for his health every day?” Oliver asked.

   “Yes, every morning. He drank beer at night.”

   “All right, then. I need a bottle of apple cider vinegar. And, even though I don’t know if we’ll need it, get a bottle of beer, too, just in case.”

   Oliver’s dad walked to the Heinen’s Supermarket on East 9th St. and Euclid Ave and bought a bottle of Bragg’s apple cider vinegar and a bottle of Broken Skull IPA. He was back in 20 minutes. He and Oliver stepped inside the meeting room on the ground floor of the turret tower. Oliver poured a glass of the vinegar and set it on a side table. A big potted plant in the room began to shake. Lou the Caretaker walked in. He walked to the glass of apple cider vinegar and took a sip. When he saw the bottle of beer he took a long pull on it.

   “That hit the spot, believe you me,” he said.

   “I’m glad it did Mr. Lou, but now we’ve got to talk about your new home.”

   “What new home? I’m happy here.”

   “I have got to ask you to leave,” Oliver said.

   “But why?”

   “You scare the daylights out of living people, for one thing. Another thing, your time is done here. It would be best if you joined the other ghosts who used to be here. It’s best to be among your own kind. They probably miss you. This will just take a minute, but I have to recite something official.”

   Oliver stood back and concentrated.

   “By the power of all my good karma, direct connection to the source, agape love, and selfless acts, I ask the universe to please remove all spooky entities from this place,” he said in a baseball announcer’s tone of voice. “You are not welcome here, so please go to where you are welcome. Over and out and batter up.”

   “If you’re going to put it that way, all right already,” Lou said.

   Oliver’s dad walked Lou to the supermarket. He bought two more bottles of apple cider vinegar and a six-pack of beer. Outside, he handed them to Lou. When he did Lou became invisible with a poof, even though he was still there. The shopping bag of vinegar and beer floated hip high across Euclid Ave and down East 9th St. towards Lake Erie. Every single person who saw the doubled-up blue plastic bag going past on its own nearly jumped out of their skins. The only person who didn’t was a duty-bound policeman who stopped traffic at St. Clair Ave. so the bag could go by in safety. He had seen more unexplained bumps in the night than he cared to remember.

   It wasn’t long before the bag was a speck in the distance. Oliver’s dad turned back towards Grays Armory. Oliver and Emma were sitting on the front steps. Dusk was going dark. He flashed a thumb’s up taking the stairs and joining his children.

   “Where’s Lou?” Oliver asked.

   “Looking for a dead-end street,” his father said.

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

Wall of Voodoo

By Ed Staskus

   The Wall of Voodoo was a plywood wall littered with dolls. There were nearly a hundred of them in a garage behind a brick house on Vrooman Rd. a mile north of I-90. The dolls had pins stuck in them. The pins didn’t bother the dolls, although they bothered the people who the dolls represented. If they didn’t have aches and pains already, they had them for sure once a pin cushion of them went up on the Wall of Voodoo.

   Voodoo is a religion that came out of West African ancestor worship and is practiced mostly in Haiti and parts of the American south, especially Louisiana. It is about serving spirits. Prayers and rituals honor the spirits and ask for their blessings. Voodoo enthusiasts chant, dance, and go into trances. Papa Gede is the number one spirit. He is a skeleton who wears a top hat and carries a cane down Resurrection Road. Voodoo dolls are almost always good, meant to bring good fortune to the person they represent. Friends and relatives pin flowers and photographs on the doll to appeal to the spirits.

   Sometimes bad people make voodoo dolls do things they don’t want to do. Those bad people ask the devil to give them black magic to get their revenge on somebody. No matter how much the dolls protest, once they are on the Wall of Voodoo they have to do the bidding of the evildoers who put them there.

   Hardly anybody in the town of Perry knew anything about voodoo. What they knew was lots of their neighbors were suffering from unexplained ailments. One newcomer in town was a man relocated from Louisiana. He knew an incantation that could bring Papa Gede to life for a minute. When the spirit appeared, the man asked him one question.

   “Is anybody in these parts messing around with voodoo dolls?” he asked Papa Gede.

   “Yes,” the spirit said, and disappeared in a puff of smoke. He didn’t like the weather north of Mason-Dixon. He sped back to the bayou.

    Lake County is a conservative northeastern Ohio county, more conservative than most of the state and more conservative than the rest of the country. Everybody had new cell phones, new flat screen TV’s, and new $50 grand pick-up trucks with gizmos galore, but they didn’t like anything new. They didn’t like the emerging culture. They especially didn’t like any new religions. If the religion had something to do with Africa, they liked it even less. 

   They thought of themselves as can-do people but didn’t know what to do about voodoo dolls spreading misery in their corner of the world. They were at their wit’s end when a local gossip piped up, “I heard there’s a boy who lives in one of the developments near Perry Cemetery who everybody says is a monster hunter. Maybe he could help.”

   Oliver was the Unofficial Monster Hunter  of Lake County. He saved the Perry Nuclear Power Plant when Goo Goo Godzilla attacked it. He saved Lake Erie College in Painesville from Old Joe Croaker. He knew how to deal with ghosts and trolls.  He was just over eight years old. His sister Emma was his right-hand man. She was just under eleven years old.

   “Okey doke,” Oliver said when a delegation of Perry men and women asked him for his help.

   “What are you going to do?” Emma asked him when they were alone.

   “Everybody in a sick way seems to live near here,” Oliver said. “Whatever is making it happen must be close by. I’ll get my Bad-Oh-Meter and we’ll go looking for it.”


   “No, you’ll be with me,” Oliver said.

   Emma stuck her trusty jackknife into her back pocket. Oliver turned in a slow circle. His Bad-Oh-Meter was a Y-shaped forked stick. It looked like a dowsing rod. He and Emma followed its lead when it started to twitch. They cut through the Church of Jesus Christ’s weedy field, walked up S. Ridge Rd. to Vrooman Rd., walked across the bridge spanning the Grand River, and soon came to a brick house where the Bad-Oh-Meter started twitching like a madman. 

   There were two giganto vinyl banners on the front lawn. One was turned slightly to face traffic coming on one direction. The other one was turned slightly the other way. One said, “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Trump.” The other one said, “Trump 2024 Make Votes Count Again.” The banners were blue, the lettering was white, and the trim was red.

   “I thought he was a traitor, not a red, white, and blue patriot,” Emma said.

   “Don’t let grandpa hear you say that,” Oliver said. “His head would explode.”

   When they walked up the driveway the Bad-Oh-Meter twitched to behind the house towards the garage.

   “Whatever it is, it is in there,” Oliver said.

   What they found was the Wall of Voodoo. The voodoo dolls were slapdash on the wall. Each one of them had lots of pins stuck in it. Each one also had a name written on a scrap of paper. One of the names was Harry Culver, who lived in their development and had recently been complaining about his suddenly achy knees. There were pins stuck in his doll’s knees. Below his name was written “DEMOCRAT PANSY.” The same words were written below each one of the names.

   “What’s a pansy?” Oliver asked.

   “Beats me,” Emma said, stumped.

   Oliver and Emma took the dolls off the wall, took all the pins out of the dolls, removed the scraps of paper, and threw everything in a pile outside the garage. They found a can of gasoline and poured it on the pile, setting it on fire with kitchen matches Oliver always carried in his Monster Hunting Field Kit. They went back to the garage to make sure they hadn’t missed anything. When they did they saw a half-scale mannequin of Donald Trump, wearing a red baseball cap and smirking.

   “I thought he was bigger,” Oliver said.

   “I thought he was smaller,” Emma said, and just for fun jabbed the tip of her jackknife into the mannequin’s big toe.

   At Mar-a-Lago Donald Trump was on his way from the dinner table to the bathroom. He felt a sharp pain in his big toe. He couldn’t walk. He stopped and sat down. He called for help.

    “We should stick a pin in his tongue since he’s such a blabbermouth,” Oliver said. Both of them thought it was a good idea.

   “What’s wrong with the boss?” asked one of Donald Trump’s flunkies.

   The bossman wanted to say what was wrong but when he tried to talk he felt a stabbing pain in his tongue and couldn’t say a word. He pointed to his big toe and his tongue, grunting and squirming. His flunkies couldn’t make heads nor tails of what he was trying to say. “Maybe he could tell us on Twitter,” one of them suggested. When they looked, they couldn’t find his solid gold cell phone. He had left it on the dinner table, where his children stole it and sold it on eBay. The flunkies dragged him to his bedroom and laid him out on his king size bed.

   Oliver and Emma were tending to the fire when a billy goat came running out of the house. He was wearing body armor and waving an AR-15. “What the hell are you doing?” he squawked and raised his gun. All of a sudden Papa Gede appeared. Smoke was pouring out of his ears. His bones were radiating. He was mad as the dickens. He didn’t like his voodoo being used for evil purposes.

   “Get away from those children,” he roared and struck the man on the side of the head with his cane. The man went down like a lightweight and started crying and complaining. He swore he would sue Papa Gede for all he was worth. “When my lawyers get done with you, you will be mashed potatoes,” he foamed at the mouth. 

   Papa Gede had heard enough. He snapped the AR-15 in half over his knee and threw it to the side. He spit on the fire. The flames got red-hot higher. He picked the man up, tossed him over his shoulder, and carried him to the house.

   “If you go inside and behave yourself, I will forgive and forget,” Papa Gede said.

   Machine Gun Kelly ran to his front door, tripped over the threshold, and crawled inside. He broke his fall with his fingernails. He got on the horn to 911. “Help, there’s a monster here, hurry, send the SWAT team!”

   “A fat lot of good that’s going to do him,” Papa Gede said laughing bananas in the split second before disappearing.

   “Thanks, pops!” Oliver called after him.

   Emma and he went back to the fire, dumped a bucket of water on it, and scattered the ashes. There was nothing left of the voodoo dolls. Walking back home, when they got to the bridge over the Grand River, they stopped and looked down. It had gotten dark and a full moon was reflected in the still water. A breeze rippled the water and made the moon look like it had wrinkles.

   “It’s rotten old goats like that one,” Emma said, gesturing over her shoulder, “who give witch doctors a bad name.”

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

Straw Man Down

By Ed Staskus

   It was pitch as a tar pit when Oliver, Emma, and Jimmy the Jet glided onto the campus of Lake Erie College in Painesville. It had taken them a half hour on their roller blades to go the 6 miles from Perry with Jimmy leading the way. He wasn’t winded in the least, although Emma was puffing from fright. Jimmy had broken every State of Ohio and County of Lake and City of Painesville rule of the road.

   They went by way of Richmond St., Liberty St., and Washington St. When they got to Gillet St. they swung south until they saw Royce Hall. They took a right and right away saw Old Joe Croaker. He was leaning on a black slab of nothing. When he straightened up he was taller than Oliver and Emma put together. Jimmy rolled to an unlit spot to the side. It wasn’t his duel to the death.

   “I’ve been waiting for you,” Old Joe said.

   “We’ve been looking for you,” Oliver said.

    “All right, sonny boy, now that you’ve found me, what are you going to do about it.” 

   “I’m going to put you on the first bus back to where you came from.”

   “I come from here,” Old Joe said.

   “You came from here once, but those days are long gone. Besides, you can’t go back to where you came from because that place doesn’t exist anymore.”

   “Hell ain’t disappearing anytime soon,” Old Joe said.

   “That’s where you need to go back to,” Oliver said.

   “The pit is no good for my constitution, such as it is.” He shrugged and flakes of straw made a halo around his head. They saw exactly what Old Joe meant. Hell was too hot to handle for the likes of what he was made of.

   “Does that mean you won’t leave?”

   “Not unless you make me, which looks like it it’s not going to happen, you being the young ‘un you are.”

   “All right, I challenge you to a knife fight in a phone booth,” Oliver said. “Your machete against my sister’s jackknife.” Emma handed the jackknife to Oliver. Old Joe started laughing. Before long he was laughing like ten thousand maniacs and choking from laughing so hard. Jimmy the Jet gave him a slap on the back. Old Joe coughed, spit out a mouthful of phlegm mixed with dust, and calmed down.

   “Boy, you’re blowing hard but you ain’t making any sense. You wouldn’t stand the no-chance of a snowball in hell.”

   Oliver rose up to his full height. He stood on a bench and slapped Old Joe across the face, challenging him in a way all men and monsters understood. “Only cowards don’t accept challenges,” he said. “Or would you rather throw words at each other and leave it at that?”

   “You have made the last mistake you’re ever going make, sonny boy,” Old Joe said, whipping out his machete and  carving pumpkins in the air with it. When a lightning bug flitted past he cut it in half in mid-air without even looking. He plucked a straw out of his sleeve and split is lengthwise with his blade like a razor. “My Spine-Splitter had never failed me,” he said.

   Emma pulled her brother aside. “Maybe we should call 911 from that phone booth,” she suggested, nervously looking Old Joe up and down. They could hear Tiberius barking in the distance. “I‘ve got a quarter,” Jimmy said wobbling on his skates. “He can’t be all bad,” Emma added.

   “He comes the closest,” Oliver said. “Besides, there’s no jail that can hold Old Joe.” He fixed the scarecrow with a look. “Can I borrow your whetstone?” he asked. When he had it in his hands he used it to sharpen the cutting edge of Emma’s jackknife. The scarecrow watched him with what seemed to be pity in his eyes.

   “I’ll take my chances,” Oliver said. “What about you, bird brain? Are you going to stand and deliver, or not?”

   Old Joe’s intelligence had been questioned every day every month of every year of his life. He had spent years trying to find the Emerald City, hoping to find a brain, but to no avail. He still didn’t have a single IQ. Even though he was dumb as play dough, he was smart enough to take offense when offense was given. It didn’t matter that it was coming from the mouth of an 8-year-old. He stepped to the door of the phone booth.

   “Your days are numbered,” he said looking down at Oliver. “It’s going to be zero hour soon enough.”

   “Age before beauty,” Oliver said, gesturing at the phone booth.  Old Joe glared at him but stepped into it. The second step was harder than the first one. It was tight quarters for him. When he was inside it took him a few minutes to turn around. When he finally did, hunched over, the top of his head bumping the top of the booth, his elbows smooshed, Oliver stepped in and closed the door. He snapped his jackknife open. The scarecrow brought his machete to bear, except he didn’t.

   The machete was bigger than the phone booth was wide. When Old Joe tried to pivot the blade, it got stuck. When he yanked on it, it stayed wedged in place. No matter what he tried he couldn’t get it free. He looked down at the towhead who was slicing open the legs of his pants and pulling straw out. It didn’t take long before Old Joe’s legs looked like toothpicks. He soon didn’t have enough strength in them to stay standing. He didn’t like the looks of what was happening. He began to collapse in slow motion. When he did Oliver started pulling straw out of the rest of him. Old Joe grimly realized the jam he was in.

   “Give me a break,” he said.

   “We’re not going to give you the skin off a grape,” Oliver retorted.

    The scarecrow tried beating Oliver with his arms. Tiberius ran up barking like a mad dog and ripped one of his arms off. Old Joe tried to clobber the dog with his remaining arm. Tiberius sank his teeth into it and ripped it off like he had the other one. Old Joe tried to bite Tiberius, who shrugged it off. He got what was left of the scarecrow by the back of the neck and dragged him out of the phone booth. He shook him, straw flying in all directions, until there was hardly anything left of Old Joe except a snarl.

   “I can do better than that by a country mile,” Tiberius said, and unleashed a growl to make all dogs proud. The scarecrow groaned. “Is this the end of Old Joe?” he asked, bitter and exhausted. Emma walked up with the box of kitchen matches Oliver had entrusted her with. Oliver gave the jackknife back to his sister and lit a match. There was straw scattered everywhere. It caught fire. Oliver lit another match. More straw got fire. Before long all of Old Joe was on fire. He stank like armpits and sulphur.

   Oliver, Emma, and Jimmy the Jet stood back and watched the fire burn itself out. Oliver rubbed Tiberius’s head. The spirit dog purred like a cat getting a belly rub. Before long there were only ashes where there had once been a fearsome spook. “He brought it on himself,” Oliver said, lacing up his roller blades. Emma laced her skates up, too, as did Jimmy. It was getting near to morning.

   “How did you know a knife fight in a phone booth was going to get it done?” she asked her little brother as they started back home.

   “I didn’t, at least, not exactly,” Oliver said. “You never know where you are going to end up, but you’ve got to be ready to make it happen when you get there.”

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

Leaning on Shadows

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 a stale 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. His eyes were red. 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.

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

School of Spooks

By Ed Staskus

   Lake Erie College is a liberal arts school in Painesville, Ohio not far from where Oliver and Emma lived in Perry. It was founded as a girl’s seminary before the Civil War. It allowed boys to join the girls in 1985. Nobody knew what took so long to get it done. Boys need good schools, too. Oliver, who was the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County, wasn’t planning on going there, but his older sister, Emma, who was his right-hand man, was visiting the school that day with their mother, even though the day was still seven or eight years away.

   Their mom had it in mind for her daughter to attend the same school she had attended when the time came. Emma wasn’t so sure. She had heard rumors the school was haunted. She knew full well her brother wasn’t going to be around much to lend a helping hand. He was probably going to be in Boston when the school’s spooks started to ectoplasm and poltergeist her to death.

   Oliver had just turned eight. Emma was ten-and-a-half. She was a smart cookie. She reminded Oliver about how brainy she was every day. Oliver had long since learned to ignore her crowing, although he knew without a doubt she was smart, as well as sassy. Sparks sometimes flew fast and furious. He jumped her from behind with cries of “Brainiac Monster!” whenever she let her guard down.

   Oliver wanted to go to any school in Boston, so long as it was in Boston, and it was top-notch in the sciences. The Atlantic Ocean was right there, like Lake Erie was right where they lived. Emma and he pedaled to the lake all the time. The big city of Cleveland 30-some miles to the west of their home had grown out of the Western Reserve. Boston was modern but ancient, century piled on century, and had more than its fair share of spooks and monsters. It might not have been the scariest city in America, but it did its best. Oliver thought he could learn a trade there and take care of monster trouble at the same time. He could be a part-time monster hunter in ‘The City of Notions’ and keep himself in pocket money.

   There were plenty of troublesome places in the United States, like St. Louis, the most dangerous city in the country, #2 Chicago, the whole state of Texas, and all the other no-law lock and load states. Dangerous was different than scary. Dangerous meant a bad feeling in your brain when bullets were flying. Scary meant a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach when something was spine-chilling.

   New Orleans had mayhem, mysteries, and devilry in its roots. It had the mojo hand, but Oliver didn’t like floods, and so Tulane University was out. He had a soft spot in his heart for the Voodoo Queen of the city, however. Marie Laveau was buried near the French Quarter, where people left bottles of booze, handfuls of money, and clumps of flowers. If you needed a favor, all you had to do was knock on her crypt three times. She always got it done. Whenever anybody stole money from her grave, their goose was cooked. She made sure those who deserved bad luck got their fair share of it.

   Savannah is one of the cities the American Institute of Parapsychology gets the most reports about. The Mercer House was once the home of Jim Williams, a voodoo-practicing antiques dealer. The house is haunted by the man he killed in an argument. Even though Jim Williams was acquitted in three separate trials, everybody knew he did the dirty deed. The ghost knew it better than anybody and never stopped spooking the place.

   In the city’s Bonaventure Cemetery, there was mad laughter. Spirits haunted its grounds. The Pirate’s House restaurant in Savannah is haunted by a buccaneer named Captain Flint. There used to be a tunnel leading from the Rum Cellar to the street. Men would drink at the bar, get drunk, sing sea shanties, pass out, and come to on a ship miles off shore. They had been shanghaied! They were sold to sea captains and forced to set the sails and batten the hatches.

   Oliver liked northern climates and disliked soggy humid swampy climates. Savannah’s technical colleges were out. As it was, he sweated up a storm doing his homework. He wished he could be like Thomas Edison and never go to school. He would rather find things out for himself. 

   He knew there were plenty of ghosts in Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin was said to climb down from his statue in front of the American Philosophical Society Library and dance in the streets at night. He didn’t think he could deal with seeing a philosopher dance, so Grim Philly was out, too. When the landline rang he answered it. It was Emma. She was on their mom’s cell phone, something she was supposed to never do.

   “How did you get mom’s phone?” he asked.

   “Never mind about that,” Emma said. “There’s a ghost dog after me.”

   “Oh, don’t worry about him, that’s just Tiberius. He’s not after you. He thinks something else is after you and is trying to protect you.”

   Emma wasn’t surprised Oliver knew who and what the ghost dog was. Even though she considered herself much smarter than her little brother, she had to admit he knew everything about monsters near and far.

   “Did you see the statue of him?” he asked.

   “I saw a dog statue in front of a building, but I didn’t pay any attention to it.”

   “Pat him on the head for good luck when you leave.”

   Tiberius was a Labrador Retriever that belonged to Harriot Young, a dean of the college at the turn of the 20th century. The dog hung around, wandering the grounds, and attending classes when he wasn’t taking a nap, even though he couldn’t read or write. Everybody knew and loved Tiberius. When he died there wasn’t a dry eye on campus. He was honored with a statue in 1910. It became a tradition to pet the statue for good luck before exams. 

   Early in 1957 a student woke up in her dorm room in the middle of the night to the sound of a barking dog. The barking wouldn’t let up. She got up to see what the matter was. A friend joined her. They discovered the building was on fire. They ran back inside and woke up the other girls in the dorm. They stood outside in their night clothes as Memorial Hall burned to the ground. Nobody could say afterwards what dog raised the alarm, until they realized it must have been Tiberius, the school’s guardian.

   “A ghost dog barking wasn’t all I heard, Ollie,”  Emma said. “There are toilets flushing by themselves, lights turning on and off by themselves, doors opening and closing by themselves, moans and groans, and other creepy noises. I’ll tell you the rest of it at home.”

   Emma was a sensible girl and wasn’t about to pat any old statue on the head for luck. Shallow men believe in luck, Emma thought. Sassy girls believe in cause and effect. On the other hand, maybe she would just this one time. When she was leaving the campus with her mother she patted the statue of Tiberius on the head.

   She didn’t notice the unworldly glow in his eyes as she walked away.

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

Going With the Flow

By Ed Staskus

   Even though Clyde was a bad egg, he hadn’t always been a stinker. He was well behaved as a child, civil and polite as a teenager, and hardworking as a young adult. But then he started putting on attitude and weight and before he knew it, he was big as a Volkswagen Bug with a muscle car roar. He started throwing his weight around. Before long he lost all his friends. Everything and everybody started to avoid him.

   He was a channel catfish. Every summer he swam out of Lake Erie past the Fairport Harbor Short Pier and up the Grand River. Except he didn’t anymore. When he was a tadpole, he went upstream looking for pools 6 to 8 feet deep, where he could play for weeks with flatheads, bullheads, and walleye. But he got too big for that. He got sick and tired, too, of being fished for, having to fight for his life. The madder he got about it the bigger he got. The bigger he got the better able he was to fight off fishermen. The more fight he put up the more his legend grew.

   A disgruntled angler who lost all his gear and his small boat battling Clyde posted a “Wanted Dead or Alive” flier outside Brennan’s Fish House. The picture of him didn’t do him justice, blurry and grainy. Clyde didn’t care. He wasn’t on social media. But just to set the record straight, he took a selfie and pasted it over the flier with spit.

   “That way everybody will get a good look at my teeth,” he told himself.

   Many people thought Clyde could sting them with his whiskers and barbels, but he couldn’t. What most of them didn’t know was that it was his fins that contained a venom that stung like hell and caused swelling. He didn’t usually try poking anybody with his fins, although sometimes he had to. When he stung people that was always the last time they messed around with him.

   Brennan’s was built at the end of the Civil War as a hotel called the Richmond Inn. It wasn’t working out, so the owners put in pool tables and started selling pretzels and beer. George and Martha Evans took over in 1927 and made it into a diner. They raised their ten kids in the hotel rooms. Each one got his own room and a king size bed. Harry Jones bought it 40 years later and ran the show as a bar called “Harry’s.” He and his wife lived upstairs just like the Evans family had lived upstairs.

   When Tim and Betty Brennan took it over in the 1970s, they changed the name to Brennan’s Fish House. Clyde was born before that time. After Steve and Sharon Hill took ownership in 2006, they kept the name. Clyde didn’t like fish houses but was glad the Hill’s kept the name. At heart he was a dyed in the wool conservative. If anybody had a problem with that, he was more than willing to tear their hanging chads to shreds with his grinding teeth.

   There were plenty of tall tales about him at Brennan’s Fish House. None of them were true although all of them were true. The more people liked the stories, the more true-to-life they became.

   One time Clyde got stuck in shallow water and a passerby threw himself on top of him, trying to drag him to land. Clyde jabbed the man with one of his spiked fins and pulled him out to deeper water, where he almost drowned. Another time the local scandal sheet raised the alarm. The headline blared “Giant Catfish Attacks Water-Skier!” The story said a 14-year-old teenager minding his own business while water skiing on Lake Erie suffered a vicious attack, with a photograph of bite marks up to his knee to prove it. Even though the boy had deliberately skied up Clyde’s back, and he had bitten the boy in self-defense, he didn’t bother writing a letter to the editor to protest the slander.

   The day Oliver, the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County, his big sister Emma, and his parents were at Brennan’s having chowder and yellow perch, was the day a boat from the Yacht Club drew a bead on Clyde. It was a 70-foot Outer Reef. The man at the helm saw the big catfish, gunned his diesel, and made a beeline for him. Clyde spotted him and was faster than the all-powerful engine. He dove and the yacht glanced off him. Even though he wasn’t hurt Clyde was outraged. He got under the boat and started gnawing at the fiberglass. When he finally made a hole, it was the end of the yacht. Unlike wood, fiberglass doesn’t float. The bilge pumps fell behind and the boat sank like a shooting star. 

   Captain Ahab went down with his craft, but soon surfaced shaking his fist at Clyde. The irascible catfish snagged the back of his pants, hoisted him out of the water, and tossed him ashore like so much flotsam.

   “That will show him who’s boss,” Clyde growled.

   Captain Ahab walked the 200 feet from the Grand River to the 100-seat fish house. He threw himself down into a chair. From where he sat it looked like the sea, buoys, marine charts, brass lanterns, wooden ship wheels, and old diving helmets on the walls. From where Oliver sat, the skipper looked soggy and sad. 

   Fairport Harbor has a deep draft harbor, three boating ramps, a fishing pier, canoe and kayak access, and charter boat fishing. Oliver and Emma walked to where the charter boats were. Oliver had a postcard he had plucked off the wall at Brennan’s. They were looking for Stan the Man. When they found him, he was taking a nap on board Meals on Reelz, his 30-footer.

   “Can you take us out to have a talk with Clyde,” Oliver asked. Stan said sure and before they knew it, they were on the catfish highway. He wasn’t hard to find. Oliver put on an Island Dry snorkel set and fins.

   “Watch yourself,” Stan said. “They say he’s a thousand pounds of bottom-dwelling fury, don’t you know.”

   The whopper wasn’t far. He was looking for his home hole along the shoreline. Oliver snuck up behind him. Clyde had excellent eyesight, though, and knew Oliver was right behind him. He could be ornery, but he could be patient, too. He stayed in place waiting for the Monster Hunter to tip his hand. What Oliver did was give him the postcard he had in his hand. On the card was a color picture of Mequinenza, a place in Spain where there are thousands of Wels Catfish, the biggest freshwater fish in Europe. At the bottom of the card was written in magic marker “4000 miles, go straight east.” Oliver pointed the way.

   “What do I have to lose?” Chad asked himself. He had burnt all his bridges. He had no friends, only enemies. He was fed up with being the bad guy. In Spain he would be among his own kind, the kind of fish who would understand him. He could retire and live out his days in sun and surf, eating his fill of frogs, clams, and crayfish.

   Clyde turned and gave Oliver a thumb’s up, even though he didn’t have thumbs.

   “Hitch a ride with a freighter going that way,” Oliver signed in the sign language fish understand. “That way you’ll be there in two weeks rested and relaxed. You might even get a tan if the weather cooperates.” He handed Clyde a pair of Ray Bans. “These are for you if the sun gets in your eyes.” When the catfish put them on, they made him look like the Terminator. He liked the look. He nodded his thanks and set off for Spain. He wasn’t the kind of whisker fish to waste his time.

   When Oliver and Emma and their parents got home Sly and the Family Stone, their family cat, came walking out of the woods behind their house. He had a bird in his mouth. The bird was playing dead, not that Sly was fooled. Oliver put on his fins and ran at the cat, lifting his knees high, flapping the fins like a madman. The cat was so startled he lost his grip on the bird, who flew away.

   Sly and the Family Stone was disgruntled. All he had wanted to do was play with his prey. He narrowed his eyes, turned, and slowly walked back into the forest, looking for another friend.

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

He Stomps By Night

By Ed Staskus

When he was sure his spot in the forest was the most secret spot in the forest, MechaGodzilla settled down and checked his weapons, which were himself. 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 ignite 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 “Head Controller” that took over, firing concentrated lasers the same as before. He was trouble in spades.

   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 promoting 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 manager came out to complain, but after he looked up at Godzilla who was roaring “HELLO!” he went back into the store and wasn’t seen again for three days, locking himself in his office.

   The movie theater had rolled out the red carpet for Godzilla, but after the beast’s 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 it. DQ Grill made the biggest ice cream cone in the history of DQ and sent a young counter girl hired yesterday out with it for white glove delivery.

   “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, sending her parents 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 main controls went haywire, Godzilla used his atomic heat ray on MechaGodzilla’s headless body, causing it to explode once more. 

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

   The new MechaGodzilla overpowered Godzilla but got zapped by a voltage 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 stricken when his second brain under his tail got a concussion, 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 spiral atomic breath to destroy the not-so-super-after-all MechaGodzilla.

   But a bad penny always comes back. 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, posed for selfies, and finally sacked out on the Home Depot parking lot. When the general manager peeked out in the middle of the night to see if the coast was clear and heard Godzilla snoring, he went right back into 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 “EAT THIS” on the thing.

   That night Oliver and Emma outfitted themselves in black from tip to toe. They both wore balaclavas. A thunderstorm was brewing, coming in 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 monster. She and her brother slipped behind a tree. “Wait until it starts thundering,” Oliver said. “Then follow my lead. Run as fast as you can and don’t look back.” When the storm broke wide open, Oliver stepped out into the open and waved his arms over his head.

   “Hey, you big lunkhead, over here.”

   MechaGodzilla turned his head. “Who are you calling a lunkhead, you little squirt? Beat it!” His eyesight was bad in the dark. He didn’t realize it was Oliver. The Monster Hunter threw a rock at him. It clanged off the metalhead. He looked down at the boy, who was like an insect to him. Sticks and stones weren’t going to hurt him. He ignored the boy.

   “You are just a 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 lighting up the sky. They burst out of the forest into the clearing behind their house, MeachaGodzilla hard on their heels. Laser beams were flashing out of every part of him.

   Suddenly the sky boomed and cracked, and a lightning bolt zig zagged 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-age Frankenstein toppled over, smoke dribbling out of the seams of him. He lay there like a heap of 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 creature.

   “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.”

   Godzilla came walking up. His head snapped 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 glopped to the ground melting and smoking. It lay next to MechaGodzilla, both of them wrecked. All the phones in the neighborhood went dead.

   “I’ll eat that later,” Godzilla said, satisfied.   “Good riddance to that thing,” Oliver’s dad said

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland 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.”

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.”

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.”