Tag Archives: The Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County

Cutting Spooks Down to Size

By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “I come from here,” Old Joe said.

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

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

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

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

   “Does that mean you won’t leave?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “Give me a break,” he said.

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

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

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

   Oliver, Emma, and Jimmy the Jet stood back and watched the fire burn itself out. Oliver rubbed Tiberius’s head. The dog purred like a cat taking a nap. Before long there were only ashes where there had once been a fearsome spook.

   “He brought it on himself,” Oliver said, lacing up his roller blades. Emma laced her skates up, too, as did Jimmy. It was getting near to morning.

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

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

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

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Spooks on the Loose

By Ed Staskus

   “When you heard toilets flushing by themselves, where were you?” Oliver asked his sister Emma after she came home from visiting Lake Erie College in Painesville. She was chewing on an old pretzel. She cleared her throat.

   “I was in the Kilcawley Dorm,” Emma said.

   “Were you in the bathroom?”

   “I had to go to the toilet so that’s where I was.” 

   “Was there anybody else in the bathroom?”

   “No.”

   “Nobody knows who she is, but there’s a girl who haunts the bathrooms there,” Oliver said. “The toilets are the kind you have to push the handle down, but they are always flushing themselves. Sometimes when somebody is fixing their face in the mirror, they catch sight of her right behind them, but when they turn to see who it is, she’s going out the door.”

   Oliver was the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County and Emma was his older sister and right-hand man. She had been visiting Lake Erie College with her mother. The college is near where Oliver and Emma lived in Perry, Ohio and it is where their mother went to school. The day Emma was there she heard a ghost dog barking and doors slamming themselves shut. There were hot and cold spots where there shouldn’t have been. The water fountain water tasted hot.

   “Were you in Morley Music Hall when you walked through the hot and cold spots?”

   “That’s where I was.” Emma said. “The cold was freezing cold and the hot was boiling hot.”

   “The music hall is named after Helen Morley, who most of the time is seen in a white gown floating down staircases,” Oliver said. “She plays the organ, usually old creepy songs.” The hall is one of the best in Ohio, housing a 64-rank E. M. Skinner organ built in 1927. When the security guards hear the organ at night, they stay away. 

   “One time a guard went inside to see who was playing the organ in the middle of the night. She yelled at him to get out. She was even louder than the organ. When he didn’t leave right away she chased him out. After that the guards went on strike. Students in the pep band say they hear a woman screaming when they are practicing, but when they told a security guard about it, he said it was probably because their playing was bad, and besides, he wasn’t going to be doing anything about it anytime soon.”

   “How come mom never told us about any of this?” Emma asked. “She went to school there.” After graduating from Lake Erie College their mom went to a law school in Tennessee and practiced corporate law before having her two kids, first Emma and then Oliver. She was planning on going back to work once they were both in high school.

   “You know how mom is, everything is practical this and practical that,” Oliver said. “She’s always telling me monsters don’t exist, even when there’s a troll in our backyard looking in through our windows and watching her every move.”

   Oliver and Emma sat in silence, thinking about their mother and the brave new world they lived in. Sometimes they couldn’t make sense of it. Sometimes they thought the train of the future was going to run them over.

   “Fortune favors the brave,” Oliver said.

   “I’m going to have to check my piggy bank,” Emma said.

   “Were you in Andrews Dorm when you saw doors opening and shutting themselves?” Oliver asked.

   “Yes, that’s where I was,” Emma said.

   “That was Mary Evans,” Oliver said. “She used to be president of the college a long time ago. Nobody knows why she haunts that dorm, but she’s always knocking things off shelves, moving furniture around, and slamming doors. Did you visit College Hall or the Fowler Dorm?”

   “No.”

   “There’s ghost named Stephanie who haunts the fourth floor of College Hall. She killed herself in the belfry way back when. She gets downstairs through a mirror in the parlor. The ghost in Fowler Dorm died there. She drowned in a bathtub. She has a bad habit of staring at people who are looking at themselves in mirrors. When they turn around she’s gone.”

   “That would give me the willies,” Emma said. “They should call it that place Lake College of Eerie Women.”

   “Was Tiberius barking all the time you were on campus,” Oliver asked.

   “No, only when I was passing the Fine Arts Building.”

   “Did you see anything there?”  

   “I thought I did, but I’m not sure. I thought I saw a scarecrow, but every time I looked he wasn’t where I thought he was. He seemed to be ten feet tall and was reaching for me. His hands were like branches.”

   “That’s Old Joe Croaker. He’s not a school ghost, not exactly. He’s an old school ghost. He used to sleep in any of backyards around the campus that would have him until none of them would have him anymore. He once lived where the school is today, back when it was all farmland. I heard he was long gone, but he must be back. He’s going to have go back to where he came from.”

   “Why was Tiberius barking?”

   “He was barking because Old Joe Croaker croaks anybody who gets in his way. If he’s come back he’s got a good reason, although it won’t be good for anybody who messes with him. He has a machete he uses to cut hay and stuff himself with it. He knows how to use his blade, for sure. We’ve got to get  him to go back through the mirror he used to get here. He’s a dangerous straw man.”

   “Why is he dangerous?”

   “Because he’s mad every which way, and he’s got nothing to lose. Running into him is like walking in the middle of the road. You get hit by cars from both sides.”

   “What are we going to do?” Emma asked.

   “We are going to have to go to the school and take care of business. But it’s too far to pedal on our go-karts and besides, mom would hit the roof if we even tried.“

   “Maybe Jimmy the Jet could help us.”

   “What do you mean?” Oliver asked

   “Jimmy is fast as lightning on his roller blades. If we wore ours and made a conga line behind him we could get to the school in no time. We could go at night when everybody’s asleep and the streets are empty. Mom wouldn’t even know we were gone.”

   Two days later Oliver, Emma, and Jimmy met in the middle of the night in the nearby Perry Cemetery on Middle Ridge Rd. It was around the corner from where they lived. The remains of Princess Mona, who was the granddaughter of Cleveland’s Chief Thunderwater, were buried there. They stood at the foot of her headstone. Emma had her jackknife. Oliver had a box of kitchen matches. They made sure their skates were laced on tight.

   “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night,” Jimmy the Jet said as Oliver gripped his waist from behind and Emma gripped Oliver’s waist. They set off for Lake Erie College and their showdown with Old Joe Croaker. He knew they were coming. He leaned against a shadow, chewing on a straw he had pulled out of the back of his head. A cloud obscured the moon. Tiberius’s nose twitched as he sniffed for menace in the night.

   Next: Cutting Spooks Down to Size

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

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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 what stole 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 edits Theatre PEI. He posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com.. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

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