All posts by Edward Staskus

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

River of No Return

By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

   Oliver rolled his eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “It’s like riding a bike.”

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

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

   “What’s that?” Emma asked 

   “It’s like kryptonite to Gill Men.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dire Straits

By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “What’s that bunny?”

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

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

Son of a Gun

By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Oliver peeked out from under Goo Goo’s tail.

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

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

   “I don’t have any,” Oliver said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

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

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

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

Slither and Hiss

By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “Holy smokes,” he hissed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “I have a plan,” Oliver said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “Holy cow, that thing is big!”

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

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

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

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

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

   “Yum,” she said.

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

Hillbilly Highway

By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   They ran back to where their parents were waiting.

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

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

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

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

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

Loose as a Goose

By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Godzilla had never heard of yoga.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “You lose,” he said.

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

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

   “I know the little rascal,” Barron said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bye Bye Boom Boom

By Ed Staskus

   Billy Destoroyah was all grown up and raring to go. When he was a little darling, everybody called him either Junior or Boom Boom. Now only Bill Destoroyah, Sr. called him Junior anymore. The rest of the gang called him Boom Boom, for good reason. He was red all over and had a bad temper. He was almost three hundred feet tall. Nobody bothered trying to guess his weight, since it didn’t matter. He was going to throw his weight around no matter what.

   The first Destoroyah was born and morphed out of a colony of crustaceans who were awakened when an Oxygen Destroyer was detonated in Tokyo Bay to try and destroy Godzilla. Growing and evolving by combining with each other, they took on several forms before converging into a colossal trouble making monster.

   In the beginning they adopted a flying form to battle Godzilla Junior. He swatted them away. It was then one of the Destoroyahs morphed bigger and badder finally towering over the teenaged Godzilla. The Toho Kingdom called him “the most heartless and cruel of any kaiju” to ever walk the earth.  After the kaiju killed Godzilla Junior, Grandpa Godzilla went on the warpath, tracking him down at the Haneda Airport. It was a rumble to the death. Grandpa Destoroyah did an about face, reduced to dust and memory. There was no satisfaction in it for Godzilla, but it was something that had to be done.

   Boom Boom was on his own warpath. He didn’t have any reason for it except that Goo Goo Godzilla was a kaiju grandson, like him, and was on the wrong side of the monster line-up. It was the Hatfields and McCoys. He got it into his head that Goo Goo had to go.

   Goo Goo chose a spot for the brawl south of Ontario’s Long Point National Wildlife Area, in the middle of Lake Erie. Goo Goo could fly there like a rocket from anywhere in no time and train for a week-or-two while Boom Boom was slow poking from his hideout in Japan halfway across the world. Goo Goo would be rested and ready. He would also have Oliver, the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County, in his corner. Emma, Oliver’s older sister and right-hand man, would be at his side.

   Boom Boom would be by his own bad self.

   Oliver lived in nearby Perry, Ohio, near the lake, not far from the nuclear power plant. He was in second grade, having finished first grade with honors, although with a warning about daydreaming. Goo Goo picked him up after school. Neither he nor Emma had a passport, but if the Border Patrol made an issue of it, Goo Goo would deal with them. ICE wasn’t going to be any match for his atomic fire breath if it came to that.

   Boom Boom didn’t give a thought to flying across the Pacific Ocean, even though his small wings barely got him launched and when they did, he could only fly at about 20 MPH. He didn’t give a thought to crossing the wide-open Canadian grain fields, He didn’t give a thought to navigating the Great Lakes. He was a big boy but wasn’t big on thinking.

   Oliver and Emma sat Goo Goo down before the fight to the finish. Emma explained what Goo Goo was up against. Oliver listened with half an ear, putting the finishing touches on his plan.

   “He has got a razor-sharp tail, clawed hands, and taloned feet that can tear almost anything apart in the blink of an eye,” Emma explained. “But Boom Boom is a pudge boy when it comes to hand-to-hand fighting. He is slow and sluggish. You are way faster. He likes to stay back and puff up stinking clouds of micro-oxygen, spit out explosive globs of micro-oxygen, and sneeze micro-oxygen comets of annihilation. Those are bad enough but watch out for his Laser Horn, especially when he lowers his head. The laser energy can take down a skyscraper. It can slice through monster scales and melt monster flesh.”

   She put her spiral bound notebook away. Goo Goo was doing one-arm push-ups. He was going to put the bite on Boom Boom. He switched over to the other arm. The last monster standing was going to be him.

   Oliver climbed to the top of Goo Goo’s head. He glued a strip of Velcro to his scaly crown and another strip to the seat of his shorts. When he sat down, he felt good and stuck. Goo Goo shook his head back and forth to make sure. Oliver stayed put. They were on the tip of Long Point. Goo Goo waded out into Lake Erie until he straddled the border.

   Emma stayed on the crest of a sand dune. When she saw Boom Boom approaching, she used her semaphore flags to signal Goo Goo and her brother. They flapped and snapped in the strong breeze. Oliver gave her a thumb’s up and pulled his auto darkening welder’s goggles down over his eyes.

   The young Godzilla had worried that the sun might be in his eyes, but the young Destoroyah came swooping down in slow motion from the sky to the north, over Simcoe and Turkey Point. Oliver tapped a message out on the top of Goo Goo’s head with the butt of the pocketknife he had borrowed from Emma. Most monsters knew Morse code.

   “Don’t mess around,” he said. “The Mounted Police will have seen him over Kitchener. They’ll be here soon, probably with helicopters, but they won’t have any idea what they’re getting into.”

   Goo Goo did the Ali Shuffle on the bedrock, jabbing with his left, and unleashed a burst of fire breath. When Boom Boom landed a hundred yards away, he made a tidal wave. Goo Goo stood his ground. Clouds and globs of micro-oxygen came at him but were blown away by the wind, which was gusting at 40 knots on the watery border of Canada and the United States. 

   Boom Boom roared and Goo Goo roared back. Boom Boom tried to do the Ali Shuffle but almost fell over. He thought about getting closer until he saw Goo Goo shadow boxing, throwing ten and twelve shadow punches every second. 

   “I won’t last long if I get too close,” he thought. “But I gotta get a little closer.” He was going to lay it on the line with his Laser Horn. “One beam of that will open him up like a rotten tomato.”

   He waddled toward Goo Goo staying just out of reach of his atomic fire breath. He turned to face him and lowered his head. The Laser Horn was primed and ready.

   Oliver had brought a 12-inch square of polished Super Mirror 8, stainless steel his dad had laying around in the garage. He unwrapped it from one of his mom’s kitchen towels. He knew the laser was coming but didn’t know how fast it would happen. He almost didn’t get the mirror set up in time, but he did. The laser light beam was aimed at the spot between Goo’s Goo’s eyes. Oliver lowered the mirrored square and the beam hit it smack dab.

   It reflected right back at the Destoroyah. When it hit him, it was the end of Boom Boom. He fell over with a plunk and sank to the bottom of Lake Erie. The water sizzled all around him.

   Emma saw Mounted Police helicopters coming and waved her semaphore flags. Goo Goo blasted off back to Long Point. He lowered his head and Emma clambered on board. Oliver used another strip of Velcro to stick her in place. Goo Goo flew them back to Perry and dropped them off on the other side of the forest from where they lived.

   “Thanks for all your help,” he said. 

   “Bye bye, pal,” Oliver and Emma said both at the same time. 

   Walking home Emma glanced at the dent in the square of stainless steel.

   “Where’s the towel?” she asked.

   “I must have dropped it somewhere,” Oliver said, looking around.

   “Dad’s not going to care about that dent, but you know mom’s not going to like you losing her only other favorite navy blue with yellow ducks on it kitchen towel,” Emma said, clapping Oliver on the back of the head. 

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.”

Sink or Swim

By Ed Staskus

   “Do you know where Emma is?” Oliver asked Tommy One Shoe.

   Tommy pointed to Lake Erie, to where Emma was trying to get into a canoe without tipping it over. She got one leg over the gunwale, heaved herself upwards, and tipped the canoe over. She fell backwards with a plop.

   “What is she up to?”

   “She’s trying to build up her bravery so the next time she’s hunting monsters with you, her knees won’t turn to jello.”

   Tommy One Shoe was called that because he came to school one day wearing only one shoe. “I forgot the other one,” he explained but every time he explained everybody broke out laughing. He couldn’t live it down after that, no matter how many times he went to school wearing two shoes.

   When Emma finally got into the canoe, she shook the water out of her hair like a dog. She practiced her paddle strokes sitting and kneeling. She tipped the canoe over on purpose and swam under it, where there was a pocket of air. She pulled it to shore, which took most of her might. Tommy and Oliver helped her tip it over again to get the water out of it.

   Emma was a sensible girl and wasn’t afraid of much. But like any sensible person, she was afraid of monsters. Sometimes she had nightmares about them. Oliver on the other hand, wasn’t sensible at all. He fought foiled captured monsters all the time. She threw herself down on the warm beach sand and the sun started drying out her swimsuit.

   “Hey sis, can I use your canoe?” Oliver asked.

   “Sure bud,” Emma said. 

   Oliver had his monster hunting gear with him.

   “Where are you going?”

   “Out there,” Oliver said. “One of the irregulars spotted He-Man Hedora. I want to make sure he’s just passing through.”

   “I’m going with you,” Emma said. “I’ll paddle. I’ve been practicing all morning.”

   Oliver was the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County. The Monster Hunter Irregulars were 4 and 5-year-old kids in the neighborhood who kept their ears and eyes open for monsters. They reported directly to Oliver. Emma was his right-hand man.

   He-Man Hedora was the son of Hedora the First. He lived in Sugura Bay just like his dad had done. He never went near Mount Fuji, where Hedorah fought Godzilla to the death. The First came from the Dark Gas Nebula, landing on earth as a tadpole, eating pollution and growing to be a big-time monster. When he fought Godzilla, he was on the verge of killing “The King of the Monsters” but at the very last second Godzilla used his atomic fire breath to activate electrodes on Mount Fuji which crippled Hedorah. Godzilla caught his breath. The next second he incinerated his enemy, turning him into a heap of charcoal.

   The strong wind on Mount Fuji blew the charred remains away.

   Japan gave Godzilla a gold medal because Hedorah had been rampaging up and down the country. What nobody knew was that he left a chip off the old block behind. When he grew up, he became He-Man Hedorah. He swore revenge on Godzilla.

   He was purple with red eyes and long eyelashes. He was like a gigantic blobby octopus. He swam most of the time, but had two legs and could fly, too. He ate sludge morning noon and night. He spit out sulfuric acid globs that looked like melted mozzarella cheese and he could exhale toxic mist clouds that stopped everything in its tracks. There was a crack in the top of his head.

   “When Hedorah gets super mad his brain pops out of his head,” Oliver said. “If he acts up, I’m going to try to get him to blow his top. No brains no trains is what I always say.”

   Tommy One Shoe pointed to the foggy horizon. “I think I see him,” he said.  Tommy had excellent eyesight. Oliver looked through his binoculars. “I see him,” he said.

   “Let’s go,” he said to his sister.

   They shoved off, Emma paddling and Oliver keeping his binoculars trained on He-Man, who looked like he was taking a floating nap. When they got close to him Oliver used the spare paddle to poke the sleeping beast. One of He-Man’s eyes blinked open. Oliver used the paddle to tap out a message in Morse code on his stomach. All monsters knew the dot and dash language.

   “We’re in charge of monsters here,” Oliver said. “Is there anything we can do for you before you leave and don’t ever come back.”

   He-Man’s eyesight was bad. He leaned down to see who was tapping on him. When he saw it was Oliver, he was both amused and outraged that a pipsqueak had poked him and was telling him in so many words to leave town.

   “Who you be?” he growled in octopus talk. Oliver had taken a crash course in the language of octopi and understood the monster.

   “I keep our corner of Ohio safe from monsters,” Oliver said.

   “What you do if I no leave?”

   “You don’t want to know.”

   He-Man’s blood pressure went up. Not only was the runt threatening him he was saying he had the power to make him do his bidding. How could that be? The boy and girl in front of him were small fry. He could get rid of them with one spit of a sulfuric acid glob.

   “I know what you’re thinking,” Oliver said.

   He-Man didn’t know what he was thinking most of the time. He wasn’t a mind reader. How could the Ollie in the canoe know?

   Oliver pulled a two-foot length of stainless-steel pipe out of his knapsack. He had borrowed it from his dad’s stuff in the garage. He hadn’t asked his dad but was sure he wouldn’t mind as long as he didn’t know anything about it. He was doing his darndest to not drop it in the lake.

   “Do you know what this is?”

   He-Man didn’t know but didn’t say so.

   “I know you don’t know so I’ll tell you. This is an A1000 Energy Creating Monster Destroyer. It’s the latest model. If I flick it on it will generate a trillion volts. If I stick it in the water, you’ll be lobster for the dinner table in one second.”

   He-Man couldn’t count that high. Four was as high as he had ever gotten. He had no idea what trillion meant, although he didn’t like the sound of it. He knew what volts were, however. He was nervous about the idea of electricity and water mixing with him smack in the middle of the mix.

   Oliver held the pipe up high and got the sun cutting through the fog to reflect off it. It made He-Man squint. He was so mad he felt like his head was going to explode. Then it exploded. His brain went flying out of his head and made a splash when it landed in Lake Erie. Oliver leaned over and scooped it up with a fishing net, almost capsizing the canoe.

   “This is bigger than I thought it was going to be,” he said, rolling the pineapple sized brain in his hands. He threw it back to He-Man.

   “Now scram and take your mean old brain with you.”

   The monster started kicking his legs floating on his back, got going, and then went airborne. He was a speck in the sky before long and then he was all gone. Oliver was putting the stainless-steel tube back in his backpack after they rowed to shore when Emma reached out and grabbed it.

   “Hey, this isn’t any kind of a destroyer,” she said. “It’s just one of dad’s scraps. You weren’t being brave. You were just bluffing.”

   “There’s a fine line between bravery and bluffing,” Oliver said. “I was bluffing but I was being brave, too. Bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid.”

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.”

Talk to the Hand ‘Cause the Face Ain’t Listening

By Ed Staskus

   Oliver the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County was an all-American boy, half German and half Lithuanian. So was his sister Emma. Their black and white cat Sylvester was a stray they rescued, and nobody knew her genealogy. When they asked her, she said, even though she couldn’t talk, that she didn’t have a clue.

   When Christmas came Sylvester lay low, so that Oliver and Emma couldn’t put bows ribbons and bells on her. They tried squeezing her into a sweater one holiday season, but when the cat scratch fever growling hissing scratching was over, the sweater was a mess.

   “I was born to be deadly stealthy, not a gay girl on parade,” Sylvester grumbled.

   St. Nicholas Day is a favorite holiday with Germans. Every night on December 5th Oliver and Emma cleaned their shoes and left them outside the front door before going to sleep. Next morning, they always found them filled with candy, cookies, and small gifts from St Nicholas, or whoever the delivery service was.

   What they didn’t know was that Krampus, who is a devilish self-styled sidekick of St Nicholas, was on the loose. He tags along with St. Nick to teach bad children a hard-earned lesson. Even though Oliver and Emma had been generally good all year, Krampus got his signals crossed and messed with their footwear that year.

   Their boots lay scattered in the snow in the front yard, thrown here and there. There were no candy bars nuts or gifts. What happened, they asked themselves, scratching their heads.

   Their father found them disappointed slumped on the sofa in the living room. They told him about their barren St. Nicholas Day. They had put boots instead of shoes out expecting a big payday, even a bonus, since they both agreed they had batted a thousand that year, which was none too shabby for them. 

   After their father cleared his throat, he told them about Krampus.

   “He’s the Christmas Devil,” he said. “He’s dark and hairy, other times he’s damp white and hairy, has got the horns of a billy goat, cloven hooves, and a long tongue with a pointy tip that hangs out of his mouth. He has fangs like a vampire. He carries chains and rattles them, and birch branches that he swats the bottoms of children with. There is a basket strapped to his back where he puts beyond the shadow of a doubt bad children so he can eat them later that night. After he’s done, he goes home to Hell.”

   It was a lot of holiday cheerlessness.

   When their father was done filling them in about Krampus Emma was sweating up a storm and even Oliver was taken aback. He soon recovered his poise, however, and asked where he could find the ogre.

   “We were good most of the year, weren’t we dad?”

   “Both of you were good, better than ever. I’m proud of both of you.”

   “So why did he pick on us?

   “Maybe he made a mistake.”

   “Monsters don’t make mistakes,” Oliver said, a determined look on his face.

   That night Emma and Oliver bundled up and went looking for Krampus. They didn’t have to go far. When they looked through one of the windows of the Church of Jesus Christ right around the corner, he was sleeping on a pew curled up like a lamb.

   “You go in and rile him up,” Oliver said to Emma. “When he starts chasing you, take off through the front door and I’ll take it from there.”

   “OK bud,” Emma said hitching up her pants.

   “Hey, you termite infested lousy lice pole skunk, I don’t like that you stole stuff from our boots,” she shouted into his sleeping face. He smelled like sulfur and old socks. “They were filled up with rocks instead of chocolate yesterday morning. We’re going to get you for that.”

   When Krampus shook the sandman out of his eyes what he saw was a nine-year-old girl bundled up like a blimp shaking her little fist at him. She was way less than half his size. She didn’t have horns or razor-sharp three-inch teeth. He could eat her in two seconds. He grabbed for Emma, but she was quicker than him and dashed out the door. He ran after her right into Oliver’s trap.

    Oliver was outside with his Wonder Boomerang in his hand.

   “Hey cream cheese face, over here,” he shouted.

   Krampus whirled, snarled, and made a beeline for Oliver. The monster hunter sidestepped the cloven hooves and threw his boomerang straight up. It came down in tight circles releasing a line of silky spider thread behind it. It whirled around and around Krampus until it bound his arms and legs so tight that when he tried to take another step he toppled over, landing face first in the snow.

    He roared and belched and complained until Oliver told him to quiet down, or else. The heat of his breath melted the snow around him until it was a puddle. Oliver stepped up to the monster. Emma stayed back. Krampus was seething with frustration. 

   “Why did you mess with our boots when we’ve been good all year?”

   “Why do you want to know?”

   “I ask the questions here, Krampy,” Oliver said firmly. “Spit it out.”

   “When I was at Jimmy the Jet’s house, he said he knew kids down the street who had been worse than him and if I let him off the hook, I could get two for one, so that’s why I went looking for your house. On the way I found out you weren’t as bad as he said you were, and all I got for my trouble was some crappy candy and cookies.”

   “Watch your mouth,” Emma seethed. “I baked those cookies.”

   Jimmy the Jet lived up the road on Ridge Rd. He was the fastest boy in Lake County. He ate fast walked fast talked fast. Sometimes he talked too fast. When Krampus showed up at his door he talked even faster.

   “He scared me out of my shorts,” Jimmy said when Oliver and Emma showed up. “When he started talking about eating me, I got really worried. Mom and dad were gone, and my sisters were upstairs fighting so I had to think fast. All I could think of was to put it on somebody else. You were the closest kids I could think of, so I gave him your address and he went away.”

   “Sheesh!” Emma said making a stink.

   “I’m sorry,” Jimmy said.

   “That’s OK,” Oliver said.

   “What did you do with Krampus after you got him all tied up with your Spiderman boomerang?” Jimmy asked.

   “We paid a visit to our friend the honey badger in the forest. He said he knew what to do with the mean old fiend. He came with us and dragged him away by one of his horns. When he started belly aching the honey badger bit him on the butt and that was the end of that.”

   “Where did he take him?”

   “He took him to the new Vrooman Rd. bridge, the one over the Grand River, tied the end of the spider thread to the top of one of the piers, and threw him over the side. He’s dangling a hundred feet above the river.”

   “What about all the bad kids he’s supposed to punish?” Jimmy asked.

   “They will have the rest of the year to straighten themselves out, just like you,” Emma said. 

   “It would be best to not give him a reason to ever come back to our neighborhood,” Oliver said, throwing Jimmy a slow look. “But if push comes to shove, and we have good reason, Emma might go to the bridge one night with her jackknife, cut him loose, and tell him our neighbor Jimmy is why he’s been spinning and spitting in the wind all this time. Do you know what I mean?”

   “That’s a thumb’s up loud and clear, bossman,” Jimmy the Jet said, saluting the Monster Hunter with his thumb.

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.”

Fixing Frankenstein

By Ed Staskus

   The day Frankenstein walked into Barron Cannon’s yoga studio in Lakewood, Ohio, Barron could tell he wasn’t a happy monster. He walked as though he had never gotten over the rigor mortis of what should have been his one and only death before being resurrected by Victor Frankenstein. He was dirty as all get out and wet. His boots were caked with muck and mire. He needed a haircut and a shave. He looked like he could use ten or twelve square meals all at once.

   “You look like hell,” Barron said. 

   “I feel like hell,” Frankenstein said.

   “I thought you were dead and gone, and only left alive in the movies,” Barron said. “The story is you killed yourself up on the North Pole after Victor died. That would have been a couple hundred years ago.”

   After being chased and pelted with rocks, flaming stave torches shoved into his face, shot at and thrown into chains, Frankenstein had sworn revenge against all mankind. They hated him so he would hate them. He had hated himself, as well, for a long time.

   “I was going to end it all when I floated off on an ice floe, but I froze solid, and it wasn’t until twenty summers ago that I defrosted.”

   An unexpected consequence of global warming, Barron thought to himself.

   “After defrosting I lost track of time,” the creature said. “It’s either all day or all night almost all the time. I built an igloo and learned to hunt seals. I caught and beat their brains out with my bare hands. I meant to go back to Geneva. But after living on the ice safe and sound, I changed my mind. There wasn’t anybody anywhere trying to kill me, which was a blessing. But then I got lonely.”

   “How did you get here?” Barron asked.

   “I walked.”

   “It’s got to be three, four thousand miles from the pole to here. How long did it take you?”

   “I meant to go back to Germany, but I took a wrong turn at the top of the world. Canada looked like Russia until I got to Toronto. By then I didn’t want to turn around. I had been at it for five months. I kept walking until I reached Perry, on Lake Erie. I met a boy and girl there. They were riding pedal go-karts on the bluffs. The girl said her brother was the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County. It was hard to believe. He’s nothing more than a tadpole. When I asked him whether he thought I was a monster, he said I looked monstrous, but was sure I wasn’t a monster.”

   Frankenstein had seen his reflection in water. He was aware of what he looked like. He didn’t like it any more than passersby did throwing him wary nervous glances and scuttling away. 

   “Was his name Oliver?”


   “You didn’t throw him and his sister down a well, or anything like that, did you?”

   “No, and I’m glad I didn’t. They helped me. They gave me some of their homemade granola bars.”

   “Don’t underestimate the boy. He’s taken on banshees and trolls, the 19 virus, Bigfoot, Goo Goo Godzilla, and the King of the Monsters himself. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s no ordinary child to mess with.”

   “He told me to come here and talk to you, that you were a yoga teacher and could unstraighten me. I’m stiff as a board all the time.”

   “I can see that,” Barron said.

   “I want to be able to touch my toes. I want to be a better person.”

   “I can help you with that,” Barron said. “Except the better person part. That’s up to you.”

   “I was benevolent and good once,” Frankenstein said. “Misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”

   “I’ll do my best.”

   For once, Frankenstein had the feeling he had found a true friend.

   After Barron got back from the Goodwill store with XXL shorts and muscle t’s, pants and shirts, and threw away Frankenstein’s clothes, which hadn’t been washed in centuries, they got started on the yoga mat. Barron told him to get barefoot. When he did the smell was bad. Barron turned on the studio’s fans and opened both the front and back doors. He took the creature’s boots outside and tossed them in the dumpster. The dumpster burped and spit the boots back out. They landed in the parking lot with a clomp. Barron doused them with gasoline and burned them.

   “We’ll start with the twelve must-know poses for beginners,” Barron said.

   Frankenstein had no problem doing the mountain and plank poses, but that was the beginning and end of what he could do. He couldn’t do down dog or a lunge to save his life. Triangle, dancer’s pose, and half pigeon pose might as well have been rocket science. When he tried seated forward fold, he folded forward an inch or two, and farted.

   “More roughage in those granola bars than you’re used to?”

   “I lived on seal blubber for a long time,” Frankenstein said.

   He could do some of the hardest poses easily, like headstand. He balanced on his flat head like nobody’s business. He chanted like a champ, his deep baritone rich and heart felt. He did dead man’s pose like he was born to it. 

   When the lesson was over, however, he wasn’t able to get up out of laydown. His muscles were in knots. Barron pulled out his Theragun and went to work. It took all the percussion device’s battery power to get Frankenstein on his feet and into the storeroom, where Barron prepared a bedroll.

   “It doesn’t look like you’re in any condition to go anywhere, but make sure you stay here. I have three classes back-to-back-to-back. I don’t want you barging through the door and causing any heart attacks.”

   Frankenstein groaned and rolled over. He slept the rest of the day, that night, and part of the next day. Barron took him to the barber shop next door. Frankenstein had never gotten a haircut. His hair was halfway down his back and his beard down to his belly button. The barber gave him a taper fade crew cut and a shave. He trimmed his eyebrows and the tufts of hair growing out of his ears. He unscrewed the electrodes in the creature’s neck.

   The incisions around his neck, wrists, and ankles had long since healed. Barron found a pair of size 34 sneakers and second-hand bifocals for him. Frankenstein was out of practice, but he enjoyed reading. Barron bought two dozen thrillers biographies histories at the Friends of the Library sale.

   Monday morning dawned snug and bright. Barron and Frankenstein walked to Lakewood Park, where they could unroll their mats outdoors on the shore of Lake Erie. Barron had sewn two mats together for the big guy. Barron’s one goal was to make the creature more flexible. His unhappiness with the human race would have to wait. He wasn’t killing anybody anymore, at least. Frankenstein’s problem wasn’t a desk job and never exercising. He wasn’t rigid with chronic tension. He had been on an all-blubber diet for decades but enjoyed the plant-based diet Barron was converting him to. They started having breakfast at Cleveland Vegan. 

   He had never stretched in his life, which contributed to his stiffness and pain. His poor muscles were as short as could be. On top of everything else he was close to three hundred years old, counting his own lifetime and the lifetimes of the men he was made of. His synovial fluid was thick as mud.

   Barron and Frankenstein worked on standing forward bend hour after hour day after day. At first the creature could only bend slightly, placing his hands on his thighs. He did it a thousand times. He huffed and puffed. When he was able to touch his knees, he did it two thousand times. He broke out into a sweat. One day Barron brought blocks, setting them up on the high level. Frankenstein folded and got his fingertips to the blocks. The day came when Barron flipped them to their lower level.

   “Don’t be a Raggedy Ann doll, just flopping over,” Barron told him. “Do it right.”

   The gold star moment finally arrived when Frankenstein folded forward without blocks. His upper back wasn’t rounded, his chest was open, his legs were straight, and his spine was long. He was engaged but relaxed. He took several steady breaths as the space between his ribs and pelvis grew.

   “Great job, Frank,” Barron said, encouraging him.

   Frankenstein did the pose three thousand times. He was looking lean and not so mean. His skin was losing its yellow luster. He was getting a tan in the sunshine at the park.

   According to B.K.S. Iyengar, Uttanasana slows down the heartbeat, tones the liver spleen kidneys, and rejuvenates the spinal nerves. He explained that after practicing it “one feels calm and cool, the eyes start to glow, and the mind feels at peace.”

   They walked to Mitchell’s Homemade Ice Cream in Rocky River. Barron had a scoop. Frankenstein had eight scoops. Children gathered around him asking a million questions, asking for his autograph, and asking for selfies with him in the picture. He was a ham with glowing eyes and never said no.

   From standing forward bend it was on to more beginner poses, then intermediate poses. By the end of the month Frankenstein wasn’t a yogi, yet, but he was more human than he had ever been. He joined Barron’s regularly scheduled classes. He was two and three feet bigger than anybody else. Barron put him in a back corner by himself where he wouldn’t accidentally clobber anybody while doing sun salutations.

   When the time came for Frankenstein to move out of Barron’s storeroom into his own apartment, Barron made him a gift of B.K.S. Iyengar’s book “Light on Yoga.”

   “This is the book that will make you a better person, Frank. I’ve read it twice.”

   “I’ll read it a hundred times,” Frankenstein said.

   “What do you plan on doing?” Barron asked.

   Frankenstein thought about becoming a barber like the man who tended to him but bending over the tops of heads all day long would lead to lower back pain sooner or later. He knew full well he had arthritis. He threw that idea away. He thought about becoming a house painter. He could reach more areas compared to a shorter man. He could cut in walls and ceilings without using a ladder. That would save hours over the course of a job. The downside was having to paint low, like skirting boards. Stooping would do a number on his back. He threw that idea out the window, too.

   When he finally decided what to do, he was surprised he hadn’t thought of it earlier. It was a natural. It was how he had been granted a second life. He would be an electrician.

   An electrician is a tradesman who repairs, inspects, and installs wires, fixtures, and equipment. Much of the job involves installing fans and lights into ceilings. Being tall would free him from the need to go up and down a ladder for every install. It turns the work from a two-man job into a one-very-tall-man job.

   Homeowners in Lakewood were always restoring and upgrading their houses. He would advertise himself as “Call Frank – He Knows the Power of Electricity and Will Save You Money.”

   If he ever made a mistake, he knew he could absorb the bust-up of voltage. He had already been hit with more of the hot stuff than any mortal man and lived to tell the tale. He would look for another Bride of Frankenstein, too, a nice girl with a slam-bam bolt of lightning in her hair.

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.”