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.”

Too Many Fords

By Ed Staskus

   The summer vacation Oliver, his big sister Emma, and their mom and dad went on had too many ideas to it. Oliver and Emma wanted to go somewhere where they could run around outside. Their mom wanted to go somewhere where she wouldn’t have to do much of anything. Their dad wanted to go to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. He was an electrical engineer by trade, but he was a car nut, too.

   Henry Ford was the man who made cars go, who made them for everybody, and who made himself one of the richest men in the world. That’s all he ever wanted to do and it’s what he did. But he got too rich for his own good.

   He was born on a farm but wasn’t interested in farming. He became a machinist. When his family needed somebody to fix their pigheaded steam engine, he was their man. “Don’t find fault, find a remedy,” he said. He got so good at it, he got hired as a serviceman. He founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903 when he was 40 years old and introduced the first Model T in 1908. They were easy to drive and simple to repair. 

   Ten years later more than half of all the cars in the United States were Model T’s. All of them were black. “Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants so long as it is black,” he said when his car guys suggested colors.

   By that time, he was becoming a mean old man with a chip on his shoulder. Everything was black and white. It was his way or the highway.

   When he was young he said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” The older he got the more he put learning behind him and let his mind go stale bread. He hated trade unions, black folks, and Jews. He didn’t trust banks or his fellow man.

   The first place their mom and dad took Oliver and Emma was Kelleys Island. They left their car behind on shore and took the Jet Express. They went to a beach, played putt-putt, and toured the Island Wine Company. Their mom tasted some white wines.

   “When I was a teenager, we used to come here to drink,” they overheard her say to their dad.

   “Why did mom have to come here to drink?” Oliver asked Emma. “Grandma always has plenty of water and juice at home.”

   Emma rolled her eyes. She was two-and-a-half-years older than Oliver, but he got all the glory for fighting monsters, and she had to settle for teaching him the facts of life. She had to admit, though, it was Oliver who took care of business because he never let facts get in the way.

   The next day their mom went to the Kalahari Spa while they went to Cedar Point with their dad. It was hot, in the 90s, and steamy, like their backyard in August. They went on dozens of rides, walked hundreds of miles, and were exhausted by the time they got back to their motel. They were sweaty and dirty. Their mom was at the pool looking good. She was relaxed and rejuvenated.

   “I got a pedicure and a manicure. I got a honey scrub and a full body salt stone massage. I got a facial treatment, too” she added, looking her family over. “The three of you look like you got lost in a swamp. I order you to take a shower and let’s go out to eat.”

   The next day they walked down the Lake Erie shoreline, and when it got dark built a fire and roasted Max Mallows. A million stars twinkled in the night sky. It was quiet as could be. They didn’t hear the tires or engine of a single car until they got back to their car.

   When they got to Dearborn, they started early the next morning and roamed Greenfield Village. They saw the real bike shop where the Wright brothers worked. They saw the real Menlo Park where Thomas Edison worked. They saw the real house Henry Ford grew up in. They went on the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. They took in the Ford Giant Screen Experience.

   “I’m getting Ford on the brain,” Emma said. “Can’t we do something else?”

   “Not yet, bunny,” her dad said. “There’s the Ford Museum of American Innovation coming up next.” 

   “How big is this place?”

   “250 acres.”

   “Oh my gosh!” Emma exclaimed, even though she had no idea how big an acre was.

   Oliver and Emma didn’t like museums. They would rather be doing something else rather than looking at things somebody else had done a long time ago. But they loved their dad and knew he wanted to go to the museum, so they didn’t complain.

   The museum was more than cars, although there were lots of cars, new, old, and older. There was the Roper, the first American-made car. There were muscle cars. There were electric cars that everybody would be driving soon. There were old machines from the farming, railroad, and flying ballgames. There was the Ford airplane Richard Byrd flew to become the first man to barnstorm over the South Pole.

   There were Model T rides. They were a rough tough ride. There were touch screen displays. They were slick and smooth. What Oliver and Emma wanted to see the most, however, was the Wienermobile. It was near the end of the day. They hurried to find it. When they asked where it was, the museum guard said the room was off-limits.

   “Why is it off-limits?” Oliver asked.

   “It’s because of the two Henry Ford ghosts who won’t leave that room,” the guard said. “The old ghost hates Jews. He thinks Adolf Hitler was a hero. The young ghost doesn’t hate anybody, except maybe the old ghost and Adolf Hitler. They have been going at it tooth and nail lately. They get loud and scare our guests. One day we found the Wienermobile a mess, the bumpers and doors torn off, the windows busted, and graffiti spray-painted all over it.”

    “Why don’t you tell them to leave?”

   “We’ve had exorcists, ghostbusters, and witch doctors try, but they say the hold this place has on Henry Ford, both Henry Fords, is just too strong.”

   “I could get rid of them in no time. It would be child’s play.”  

   The guard looked skeptical looking down at Oliver. He had to admit he was a child but suspected he was playing. “Run along now,” the guard said.

   “My brother is the monster hunter where we live,” Emma said.

   “Where’s that?” 

   “Perry, Ohio. He saved our power plant from Goo Goo Godzilla.”

   “My little boy told me all about that,” the guard said. “He looks up to you.”

   “I helped,” Emma said. The guard patted her on the head. Emma looked grumpy.

   Before they knew it, they were whisked into the director’s office. Oliver outlined his plan and said he just needed three or four guards for five minutes to help, to make sure the Henry Fords both knew he meant business.

   They marched into the Wienermobile room. Oliver started insulting Adolf Hitler in a loud voice, calling him a tinhorn crumb bum of a dictator. It didn’t take long for the old Henry Ford to show up, followed by the young Henry Ford. The old ghost started complaining and casting spells. The guards, Oliver, and Emma made a circle around the two Henry Fords, holding hands. The old Henry Ford scowled. The young Henry Ford scowled. Oliver looked up at them.

   “Do you remember when the two of you said, ‘If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.’ Until the two of you put your heads together and agree on one point of view, you’re both going to have to leave. Now move along.”

   “Why should we?” both Henry Ford’s said.

   “If you’re going to be that way, I’m going to have to get down to business,” Oliver said.

   He squeezed the hands holding his. He concentrated. His eyes glowed. He said something nobody could understand. He stopped his breathing. His forehead got shiny with sweat. “Go, go, go!” he cried out.

   “All of a sudden, you could feel the electrical energy moving,” the guard said. “It was so intense all the hair on the back of my neck stood up. When the little guy said, go, go, go, we all got a zapped feeling in our guts. Both Fords shot straight up and through the ceiling. We ran to the window and saw them zooming away. They haven’t been back since.”

   The Wienermobile room reopened the next day

   “It was like smoke chasing its own tail,” Emma said.

   “Dad, can you drive us to DQ for a cone?” Oliver asked in the parking lot.

   “You bet bud,” and they sped away in their black Jeep Cherokee.

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.”

Minnie the Moocher

By Ed Staskus

   The Minerva Monster should have stayed in Minerva, Ohio, but he didn’t. When he didn’t, he got tangled up with Oliver the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County. That was his second fateful step. His last step was dismissing Oliver as just another six-year-old. He should have punted and kept an eye out.

   The monster’s name was Minnie and since he was always on the prowl for grub, and since he never had cash or a credit card, he was known as Minnie the Moocher even though he was willing to play his saxophone for his supper.

   The first time Oliver saw the creature in the forest behind his house he was practicing scales. He was wearing a blue bandana wrapped around his head and dark sunglasses. He was as naked as the day he was born.

   When Minnie was done practicing, he burst into “Take the A Train.” He played the Dave Brubeck Quartet version. He played it for his own satisfaction.

   “Hurry, get on, now it’s coming, listen to those rails a-thrumming, all aboard, get on the A train, soon you will be on Sugar Hill.”

   When he was finished and Oliver started clapping, Minnie almost jumped out of his furriness. He thought he was alone. He couldn’t see around the oak tree behind which Oliver was standing. When he roared Oliver didn’t jump out of his skin.

   Minnie had been an outdoorsman for a long time, but the first time anybody ever caught sight of him was in Minerva more than forty years earlier. Herbert Cayton had dug a garbage pit behind his house. Everything went into it, including food scraps. When Minnie went rummaging in it the farm dogs went berserk, barking up a storm. Herbie and his mother Evelyn went to the pit to investigate. They got the surprise of their life.

   “It just stood there. It didn’t move, but I almost broke my neck running back down the hill,” Evelyn said.

   “What do you want?” Minnie bellowed at Oliver, who came out from behind the tree. When he saw who it was, Minnie almost laughed. It was a pipsqueak of a boy. He stood up on his hind legs making himself bigger and roared again even louder. He was roaring at the wrong boy.

   When Dave White ran into the creature behind his Paris Township home near Minerva, and Minnie roared at him, he couldn’t lock himself in his house fast enough.

   “It’s a blood chilling sound,” he said. “A curdling sound. It will scare the hell out of you.”

   Oliver had been roared at by three-hundred-foot-tall monsters. A hairy ten-footer who scavenged garbage dumps wasn’t going to faze him. He strolled back home whistling the A Train song.

   Back in Minerva when Deputy Sheriff Jim Shannon investigated a complaint about Minnie, he thought the simple explanation had to be food.

   “Those folks heard something at the kitchen window, kind of clawing and pawing. I don’t think the creature, whatever the hell it was, was trying to get in as much as it was saying, ‘Hey, feed me!’”

   The lawman hit it on the nose. Minnie the Moocher was always on the make for a ten-course meal. He could eat anything anywhere anytime.

   Every time somebody spotted Minnie the papers radio TV made a big stink about it. Newspapermen and photographers started showing up in Minerva. They were followed by curiosity seekers and hunters. The orange vested hunters came armed with Bowie knives, handguns, shotguns, and rifles. Most of them had cases of beer in coolers in their pick-up trucks. When they started taking potshots at him was when he decided to move on. He was sick and tired of being the bad guy. He hit the open road. 

   “It was moving pretty good on two legs, pumping its arms like a track star. I got back in the car, rolled up the windows and locked the door,” said Herbert Burke, parked on the side of a country road.

   When Minnie got to Lake County, he thought he had stumbled into paradise. There were farmers markets galore to steal food from and plenty of forest land to hide in. He broke into the Mentor, Painesville, and Willoughby markets. Before long the cops got plenty concerned about it. 911 was ringing off the hook.

   The Lake County Visitors Bureau got concerned about it, too. Minnie had been spotted at campgrounds gleaning. He had been spotted at beaches scavenging and working on his tan, even though he was hairy as could be. He had been spotted in gardens foraging. Travelers and tourists were avoiding Lake County like the plague. The bureau knocked on Oliver’s door.

   “i saw him a few weeks ago,” Oliver told them. “He plays a mean saxophone. He wasn’t friendly, but he wasn’t unfriendly either.”

   “He’s scaring the tourists to death. Something has to be done,” they said.

   Oliver and Emma put on their thinking caps. Even though Minnie wasn’t messing with people, people saw him as a menace. Even though he was Charlie Parker-like on the sax, nobody was coming to his shows. Every time he showed himself everybody ran the other way.

   “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” Emma said.

    ‘What does that mean?” Oliver asked.

   “I don’t know but grownups say it all the time, and since they’re in charge, it must mean something. Anyway, I think it means we have to find him a girlfriend who will become his wife, who will cook three square meals a day for him, and who will keep him at home.”

   “You might be on to something,” Oliver said.

   “Where have you been,” Emma asked. She had long thought she was the brains behind Oliver’s monster hunting. He did the hunting, and she did the thinking.

   “What does that mean?”

   “Oh, never mind,” she said.

   They borrowed their mom’s laptop and found a dating service for Bigfeet. It was hard to tell who might be right for Minnie. All the Bigfeet girls looked the same, all of them hairy and about eight feet tall. When they found Bonnie the Bigfoot, who lived in the woods between Sudbury, Ontario, and the Lady Evelyn Smoothwater Provincial Park, both of them perked up.

   “Bingo,” Emma said.

   “How do we get him there?”

   “Maybe Uncle Ed will drive him there. He’s from Sudbury.”

   “Good idea,” Oliver said.

   “What?” Uncle Ed said when they asked him. “You want me to drive a Bigfoot to Sudbury? Are you sure Sudbury wants him?”

   “Not Sudbury exactly, more like the middle of nowhere,” Emma said.

   “That sounds even worse,” Ed said.

   In the end he and Aunt Vanessa agreed to do it. They could drop him off, stop at Lake Nipissing, stop in Toronto, and be back by Monday morning.

   “How are we going to get him to go?” Ed asked.

   “Leave that to us,” Oliver said.

   Emma went to work. She made a scrambled egg breakfast. She made ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch. She made a pot roast for dinner. She made a strawberry and rhubarb pie for dessert. When Uber Eats delivered the food, Minnie ate all of it all at once. When he was done and picking his teeth, Oliver explained that he could have the same food every day. All he had to do was go to Canada and get married. Minnie had never heard of Canada or marriage, but he let loose a whopping burp. He soon agreed to go.

   “Yeti or not, here I come,” he said.

   Ed and Vanessa picked him up the next day in their SUV, lowered the back seats so he could stretch out, and left for the border. They drove with all the windows open because Minnie smelled so bad.

   “When was the last time you took a shower?”


   “Do you have a passport?”


   Vanessa threw a blanket over him when they got to Buffalo. When they got to Sudbury, they turned right. They took Route 84 north and dropped Minnie off near a lake with no name. Bonnie was waiting and ran out to them, throwing her arms around Minnie.

   “Aw shucks,” he bumbled and stumbled, and they disappeared into the woods holding hands.

   Ed and Vanessa spent a few days swimming in Lake Nipissing, a few days sightseeing in Toronto, and after they got home to Lakewood, Ohio where they lived, they dropped their car off at the Meticulous Car Wash & Detailing Center.

   “What was in this car?” the cleaning man asked putting a clothespin on his nose.

   “You know how all pictures of Bigfoot are always blurry?”


   “That’s what we had in the car. A blur.”

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.”

Pedal to the Metal

By Ed Staskus

   Looking down at the Great Lakes Goo Goo Godzilla wondered what they were and where he was. He had flown past a whopping big one and could see four more, each one smaller than the one before. The two he was over were like kidneys facing each other and the one ahead reminded him of home. It was shaped like Japan. He swooped lower to get a better look.

   When he saw the 500-foot-tall cooling towers of the Perry Nuclear Generating Station, his eyes got wide, and he dove straight for them. One of them was billowing steam, but the other one looked quiet. He knew exactly what they were. He didn’t like their looks. The Godzilla’s had a love hate hookup with fission.

   Oliver knew what they were, too. He lived nearby. He didn’t pay them much mind, though. As long as the lights worked he was happy.

   Goo Goo couldn’t fly, not exactly, but he could launch himself like a rocket with his atomic breath. Once he was up and away, he was able to glide the jet stream for hours, adjusting his course with bursts of red-hot. His grandfather had taught him.

   “It was fifty years ago when I was battling Hedorah that I first flew,” Godzilla said. “I was beating him into mashed potatoes with my tail but then he morphed into a flying saucer and escaped. I was helpless but wouldn’t give up. I ran as fast as I could, but he just got farther and farther away. At the last minute I got a brainstorm and took off using my atomic breath. I caught him, wrestled him down to the ground, and knocked him for a loop.  When I was done, I blasted off again and went home.”

   “Can you teach me?” Goo Goo asked.

   “I will, but don’t tell your grandmother,” Godzilla whispered. “She thinks flying is dangerous.”

   “What about Mothra and Rodan?” Goo Goo said. “They will always have the upper hand if you don’t go airborne. There’s King Ghidorra, too, he never stops giving you fits.”

   “I know, I know,” Godzilla said, the memory getting on his nerves. “Let’s just keep the flying to ourselves, OK?”

   “OK pops.”

   When Oliver heard the emergency siren coming from the direction of Lake Erie, he ran to the TV and turned it on. He suspected Goo Goo Godzilla was roaming around and feared the worst. Sure enough, it was the boy mountain circling the power plant on the lakeshore. He ran upstairs where his mother was brushing her teeth.

   “Mom, can I borrow your cellphone?”

   “Of course,” she said, spitting out Colgate and a mouthful of water. “What is that sound out there?”

   Oliver ran downstairs without answering and called school. He begged off his first-grade class. The lesson that day was going to be about the difference between living and non-living things. He didn’t have any trouble with that kind of mental grasp of things.

   “Do the best you can,” the vice-principal said. “We are all counting on you. Oh, and tell your mother we won’t need a note this time.”

   Oliver was the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County. Even though he was only six years old he had a sixth sense about monsters. He knew when they were under his bed. He knew when they were in the basement. He knew when they were lurking in the woods.

   “Emma, can you skip school today?” he asked his older sister.

   “You bet I can!”

   “It might get dangerous.”

    I’m right behind you,” she said.

    They tossed monster hunting gear in their backpacks, strapped them on, and jumped on their pedal power go karts. Oliver’s was built for business while Emma’s was raked for style. They pedaled alongside Lane Rd, through front yards and backyards, through crop fields and nurseries, past Lane Grove and Birchfield Meadows, and at North Ridge Rd. stopped at the Dairy Queen for ice cream. Pressed for time, they had to lick down their cones on the go, zipping under Rt. 20 to Lake Erie, where they took a right and raced to the nuclear plant.

   They followed the shoreline past the bluffs. Goo Goo was stomping around the cooling towers, unleashing bursts of fury. They saw him plain as day. Police cars were everywhere, but what could they do? Goo Goo’s skin was a kind of battle armor that bullets and bombs bounced off of.

   When the police chief saw Oliver coming, he waved for him to hurry.

   “What’s your plan of attack?” he asked.

   “All Godzilla’s have two brains, one in their head and one down their back where the tail starts,” Oliver said. “I’m going to climb up his tail and go after his second brain.”

   “That sounds good. We’ll swing around to the front of him and try to distract him.”

   Oliver and Emma scrambled behind Goo Goo, who was snorting at the policemen. Oliver stopped at the tip of his tail and started climbing up. When he reached the spot where Goo Goo’s second brain was, Emma tossed a small ballpeen hammer up to him. Oliver peeled back the scales that covered the brain and started banging out a message with the hammer in Morse code.

   All monsters know Morse code, although they never tell anybody who isn’t a monster. Since most of them don’t know how to talk, only roar growl and holler, the code was their way of talking to each other. The Godzilla’s had their own secret language, but they knew Morse code, as well.

   “Stop messing with those reactors.” Oliver tapped. “That’s an order. Scram!”

   Goo Goo stopped dead in his tracks. He whirled in all directions, almost sending Oliver flying, looking for the buttinsky trying to be the boss of him. Where was he? Was it an invisible monster? That could be real trouble. Maybe he had better fly back to Japan and tell his grandfather about this. He would know what to do.

   Before leaving he bellowed and tail-thumped a police car. Oliver had already scrambled off Goo Goo. He and Emma dashed a safe distance away while the junior lizard dinosaur lifted up into the sky with a mighty roar. Before they knew it, he was gone.

   The police chief thanked Oliver and clapped him on the back, almost sending him sprawling. “You saved the day. Whatever you did took care of that stinkweed. We owe you a debt of gratitude.”

   “C’mon bud, we better beat it back home, otherwise we’ll be late for dinner,” Emma said.

   “All right,” Oliver said, and they slid into their go karts and in a split second left the power plant behind them.

   By that time Goo Goo was far to the west, gliding over Sandusky, where he spied a Laser Wash car wash. He had flown almost ten thousand miles and hadn’t taken a bath in days. He was sure lasers would clean him up like nobody’s business. But when he landed, he discovered there were no lasers, just water. It was a scam! He was vexed and stamped his feet. When he noticed an American Pride car wash across the street, he liked what he saw. He lay down at the entrance of it, exhaled getting skinny like a snake, tucked in this legs and arms and let the roller conveyor pull him. The water was cold, so he heated it up with a short blast of hot fire. When he came out the other end he felt like a new man and zoomed away.

   Oliver and Emma didn’t stop for anything on their way home and walked in through the back patio door just as their mother was setting the table. Their father was playing his new old-school Legend electric piano in the living room.

   “Ollie, Emmie, dinner’s almost ready,” their mother said looking at them over her shoulder. The kitchen was warm and smelled wonderful. “Make sure you wash up, you’re both dirty as can be. Where have you been and what have you been doing?”

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.”

King of the Monsters

By Ed Staskus

   “Dad, if Godzilla is King of the Monsters, does that mean nothing can beat him?” Oliver asked his father.

   “That’s right.”

   “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.”

   “Who’s Godzilla?”

   “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 and Cleveland Daybook To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

The Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County

By Ed Staskus

When Emma looked at her brother Oliver, she saw a towheaded boy about four feet tall and not even fifty pounds. He wore his hair short, ran up and down the stairs, was a slow eater, could be shy but always spoke up, and was learning how to play the piano, although he wasn’t nearly as good as she was. He was an all-American boy, half German and half Lithuanian, like her. He was also the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County. How did a first grader become that? She was in third grade, taller, bigger, and smarter. She had mastered division and multiplication. Oliver was just learning how to read and write, for goodness’ sake.

   Sometimes she thought she should be the monster hunter, not her brother’s right-hand man. She was even more unofficial than him. She wasn’t sure she liked that, although she had to live with it.

   She had to admit, though, that Oliver had nerves of steel, while she still got spooked by some of the monsters he went head-to-head with. He had taken care of Goo Goo Godzilla in less than five minutes when he was threatening the nuclear power plant in North Perry, not far from where they lived. He did it as easily as brushing a bug away.

   He got started in kindergarten chasing shadows, noises in the night, and wrestling with nightmares. Phantoms learned to beware of his reach, though. He flattened them like pancakes and tossed them out of the house like frisbees. He made his reputation the summer before first grade. There was a troll in the woods behind their house. Not behaving himself was the last mistake he made in Lake County.

   Trolls came to the USA from Scandinavia in the 18th century on sailing ships. They can be big or small, ugly and slow-witted or sneaky charming, harmless or menacing, fast-talking liars or almost like the folks next door. They live apart from others, even other trolls, preferring their own company. They are ungodly, kidnapping cats and dogs. When crossed they can be dangerous. They are afraid of lightning and church bells. Sunlight turns them to stone.

   When the neighbor’s terrier disappeared, Oliver knew he had to step up. He saw the dog every day, fed him doggie treats, and treated him like a friend. A good neighbor is somebody who can play the bagpipes but doesn’t. The troll wasn’t being a good neighbor. Oliver didn’t like it when anything messed with his friends.

   He set his clock for an hour before dawn. It was cloudy and dark when he woke up. He threw his old camera and some bungee cords in his backpack and snuck out of the house, but not before Emma spotted him, threw on sweatpants and a pullover, and joined him. Their parents were still asleep, his father softly snoring.

   Oliver’s father had bought an old Polaroid and a dozen boxes of film for peanuts at a flea market in Grand River. He already had a fancy Minolta digital camera, so he gave the Polaroid to Oliver, who took pictures of spiders and praying mantises with it.

   “Are you going to try to get Chester back from that awful troll?”


   “What are you going to do?” Emma asked ready for action, but with no idea how her brother was going to deal with the varmint. She had never seen a real troll before. She had only ever seen the garden variety kind.

   “We are going to find him and keep him from crawling under a rock until the sun comes up. We can use the camera’s flashbulb to herd him. If we can get him to step into sunlight he’ll turn to stone, and we can save Chester.”

   “I brought my flashlight and pocketknife,” Emma said.

   “Good,” Oliver said, nodding grimly.

   They walked into the forest, Emma leading the way with her flashlight. They saw the troll’s campfire and smelled him at the same time. He smelled like an old rat. He was a pint-sized Tusseladd troll with three heads and three noses as long as carrots. He had a round stomach and short stubby arms and legs. He was boiling water to make porridge. Chester was tied up next to the fire. It looked like the troll meant to eat him with his porridge.

   “We’re in luck,” Oliver said. “That kind of troll is usually gigantic. I think we can handle this runt.”

   When they stepped out of the dark into the light of the campfire the troll jumped up and his three mouths started jibber-jabberring. Chester whined and kicked his legs. Oliver held up his hands, palms out and made a peace sign. He pointed to his stomach and said he and his sister had come a long way and were hungry.

   The troll calmed down and started dreaming scheming right away. Maybe he could grab and cook these two children, too. He would have more grub than he knew what to do with. He showed Oliver and Emma where to sit and went back to his pot. When the water started boiling, he started making his porridge.

   “Are you a betting man?” Oliver asked him.

   “Of course,” the troll said.

   “I bet I can eat more porridge than you.”

   The troll laughed a mean-spirited laugh like he was the living soul of a funeral. That was fool’s gold. Nobody could eat more porridge than a troll. 

   “If you can eat more porridge than me then I won’t eat you,” the troll said.

   “I’m on for that,” Oliver said.

   I don’t know about this, Emma thought. She started thinking of all the things that could go wrong. There were too many to count.

   They tended the fire while the troll went to get more water to make even more porridge. Once it was ready, they both ate as much as they could. What the troll didn’t know was that Oliver had shoved his backpack under his shirt and was filling it with the porridge, without the troll noticing. When the troll was full and couldn’t eat anymore, looking like he was on the losing end of the bet, Oliver suggested he cut a hole in his stomach so he could have as much as he wanted. He did and stuffed handfuls of porridge inside of himself. By the time he got to the bottom of the pot he was so heavy with the pasty goo he fell over groaning.

   Oliver and Emma rushed him, bound him up with their bungee cords, and dragged him by his feet to a small clearing. His three heads bounced on the ground all the way there. The sun was already up and when its light washed over the troll he turned to stone instantly. They stood him up and took Polaroid snapshots of him. Chester was barking up a storm, so they ran back to the campfire, untied him, threw dirt on the fire and went home.

   The troll who turned to stone became a landmark. 

   “If you want to go to the valley, take a left at the troll. If you want to go to the pond, take a right,” everybody said.

   When show and tell day was announced at school, Oliver took his Polaroid pictures. Emma took the muffins she baked all by herself. They would have been a hit any other day, but on that day the spotlight belonged to Oliver. He had matched wits with a troll, ridding the neighborhood of a vile nuisance, and lived to tell the tale. From that day on he was known as the Monster Hunter.

   On the Perry Local School District bus going home Emma pulled two muffins nobody had been interested in out of her book bag. She offered one to Oliver. They sat side by side eating them.

   “These are delicious,” Oliver said.

   “Better than the porridge?”

   “Better than anything that rotten troll could ever have made,” Oliver said.

   When they got home, Chester dashed up to them, working up an appetite. They gave him a muffin and he forgot all about them. They walked into the house.

   “How was school?” their mother asked.

   “I learned that nobody knows what a Polaroid camera is,” Oliver said.

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