By Ed Staskus
“Dad, if Godzilla is King of the Monsters, does that mean nothing can beat him?” Oliver asked his father.
“Is the virus a monster?”
“Some people would say so.”
“Then how come nobody has asked Godzilla to beat down the virus? It’s been more than a year.”
They were on the back patio on a fair mid-March Saturday afternoon. It was breezy and unseasonably warm in Perry, Ohio. Oliver’s father was grilling burgers and his mother was in the kitchen preparing wide-cut French fries and coleslaw. His older sister Emma was pulling a chocolate upside down cake out of the oven.
“You just pour in the pecans, coconut, brown sugar, and presto-o change-o,” she said. “It’s fuss-free.”
Oliver’s father was an electrical engineer. In his spare time, he was restoring a 1968 Chevy Camaro. It had pony car style and a muscle engine. He knew how to repair almost everything inside and outside the house. He knew his way around and didn’t like being backed into a corner by a six-year-old, whether he was his son and the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County, or not. Besides, he was half Lithuanian and half Transylvanian and knew something about monsters.
“That’s a good question bud,” he said. “I might not know the answer, but maybe it’s because he can’t get a handle on the virus since it’s invisible. All the monsters he ever defeated, Mothra, Ghidorah, and Destoroyah, were all right in front of his eyes. He could get a grip on them.”
Destoroyah was one of Godzilla’s most powerful rivals ever. In the end he didn’t stand a chance, though. When push came to shove, he got shoved aside.
“You’re right, dad,” Oliver said. “Remember Garbara, that cat-faced wart-covered giant crocodile man? He showed him where to go in no time flat.”
“Scientists with chemistry sets like yours are the ones beating the virus,” his dad said. “They have the tools to see the invisible.”
The ground beef was done, and the fries were hot and crisp. Oliver ate with only some notice paid to his burger. He was thinking. Emma’s cake was delicious, and his mom made it even better when she added a scoop of ice cream. He forgot what he was thinking about while downing it, but later in his room he remembered. If he could somehow make the virus seeable Godzilla would be able to stamp it out in a second.
He rummaged around in his closet until he found his Extreme Kids Chemistry Kit and National Geographic student microscope. All he needed now was a virus to examine. Where could he find one, he wondered? They were everywhere, which was why everybody had been wearing masks for so long, but he had never actually seen one.
He smeared a glob of honey on a glass slide when his mother went to the grocery store. He trailed behind her with the slide in his hand, waving it in the air now and then when nobody was watching. He was sure he’d catch a bug.
In his bedroom, the door closed, and the shades drawn, he slid the slide into the stage clips. He turned the illuminator on and looked down through the eyepiece tube. He didn’t see anything. Oliver turned on all the lights in his bedroom and threw the shades open. He still didn’t see anything. He needed more light. He ran out to find his sister.
“Can you get your flashlight and come with me?” he asked.
“Sure,” Emma said.
Oliver looked in the eyepiece again while Emma fixed the beam of her flashlight on the slide. “Keep it steady,” he said. Emma squinted and concentrated.
“Hey, get that light out of my eyes,” a squeaky voice floated up to them.
“I didn’t know viruses could talk,” Emma said, surprised.
“Of course, we can talk, young lady, whenever we have something to say,” the virus said.
It was blobby, blue black and red, spiky tubers radiating from the outside edges of it. The blob wiggled, never staying still. Emma moved the flashlight slightly to the side. The blob stopped wiggling.
“OK, since you can talk, why are you being so mean and hurting everybody?” Oliver asked.
“What do you mean? I haven’t hurt anybody.”
“Yes, you have. Millions and millions of people have gotten sick because of you and lots of them have died. School was cancelled and we are wearing masks all the time.”
“There are lots of us, gazillions, all over the place,” the virus blob said. “Some of us inside you help guard your body against dangerous infections, and others of us help plants. Maybe you’re mistaking me for another virus.”
“I don’t think so,” Oliver said. “You are a coronavirus 19, aren’t you?”
“Yes, but what’s that got to do with anything? I just float around minding my own business until I can get into something and replicate myself.”
“What does that mean?” Oliver asked.
“Make a copy of myself.”
“Why do you have to sneak inside of us to do that?”
“We do it all the time. We don’t have the machinery to make copies of ourselves, so we have to get into you and trick your cells into becoming virus-making machines for us.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” Emma said.
“We were here first,” the virus blob said. “If it wasn’t for us, you probably wouldn’t even be here.”
“What do you mean?”
“We came from the primordial genetic pool. Modern cells are, well, modern. We started out in a pre-cellular world as self-replicating units. Over time some of us changed, becoming more organized and more complex. Eventually, enzymes for the synthesis of membranes and cell walls evolved, resulting in the formation of cells, which is what you are made of. We existed before bacteria, archaea, or eukaryotes.”
Oliver and Emma had no idea what the virus blob was talking about. Emma decided to sweat the truth out of him. She turned her flashlight on the slide again, as close as she could. Maybe he would confess in the heat of the moment.
“Hey, are you trying to kill me?” the virus blob complained. “Too much heat could be the end of me.”
“I don’t know archaea from rat finks,” Emma said. “But I know you’ve been bad. Are you going to stop making us sick, or not?”
“I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to,” the virus blob admitted. “I only do one thing and that’s try to make copies of myself. I don’t go out of my way to do anything else. Whatever else happens is out of my control. I’m sorry if I’m making people sick. I don’t mean to but that’s life.”
“OK, we believe you,” Oliver said. Emma moved the flashlight away. The virus blob breathed a sigh of relief.
“That was a close shave,” he realized.
“Who are you, anyway?” he asked.
“He’s the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County,” Emma said. “And I’m his right-hand man.”
“We thought you were a monster,” Oliver said. ”But now we see you are one, sort of, but aren’t really one, which is lucky for you. Godzilla is King of the Monsters. He doesn’t like it when anybody tries to muscle in on him.”
“Better you don’t ever find out,” Oliver warned. “He doesn’t live with his tail between his legs. He could take care of you with one sneeze of his atomic breath.”
“Tell him to come and get me,” the virus sneered, even though he didn’t like the sound of atomic breath. Pulling himself out of the sticky honey holding him to the slide, he floated away. Oliver and Emma never saw where he went.
“King of the Monsters my foot!” the virus blob sniffed as he drifted under the door, across the the living room, and through a tiny seam in the weather sealing around the front door. “We’ll see about that if he ever knocks on my door. He better wear a mask and have his vaccine shots before he messes with me.”
Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”