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.

   “That’s a good question bud,” he said. “I don’t 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.”

The Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County stories can be found at http://www.theunofficialmonsterhunteroflakecounty.com.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Champing at the Bit

By Ed Staskus

  Vicki, Bettina, and Dottie plunked down their fifteen cents apiece at a NYCTA booth and walked down the stairs. Dottie stopped to look at a yellow sign trimmed in red on the wall at the entrance to the tunnel.

   “Please cooperate. When in doubt, ask any employee. Help keep the subways clean. Use receptacles for paper. Do not rush. Let ‘em off first. Move away from doors. Keep to the right on stairways. Try to shop between 10 and 4. Always be courteous.”

   “Run!” she suddenly shouted, running up the platform. “It’s one of those air-conditioned cars!” 

   Two months earlier the transit system had rolled out the first experimental air-conditioned cars on the East Side IRT line. They were fitted with deodorizers and filters and piped-in soft music. The temperature was maintained in the mid-70s. Signs on every third window said, “Air-Conditioned Car. Please Keep Windows Closed.”

   They were taking the IND line across the river to Brooklyn, across Gravesend, to the end of the line. When they got off the train they walked, crossed Mermaid Avenue, and hoofed it to Coney Island Beach and the Boardwalk.

    Dottie felt light as lemonade.

   They stopped at the Sodamat on West 15th Street as they strolled on the Boardwalk. “Good Drinks Served Right. Skee Ball 5 cents.” There were prize games, hammer games, rifle ranges, freak shows, and fortune-tellers up and down Coney Island.

   “Look, they have waffles,” said Dottie, pointing to a sign on the front of a counter behind which a man in a white jacket and soda jerk cap was making waffles.

   “I thought you wanted a Nathan’s,” said Vicki.

   “I do, but later,” said Dottie.

   “Did you know hot dogs were invented right here on Coney Island, almost one hundred years ago?” asked Bettina.

   “Not so fast, how could Nathan have done that?” asked Dottie. 

   “It wasn’t Nathan, it was Charley Feltman, who used to boil sausages on a small charcoal stove inside his wagon and then slip them into a roll. He called them red hots at first, but later changed it to hot dogs.”

   “How about some ball hop before we eat?” asked Vicki, pointing into the arcade behind the food counter.

   “My game is stickball,” said Dottie. “Skee ball is for jellyfish. They don’t even play stickball here. They play coop-ball. That’s for jellyfish, too.”

   “Do you only play stickball?” asked Vicki. 

   “Oh, no, we play ringolevio and skelly, too, although some kids call it scummy top. Skelly is fun, but all you’ve got are your chalk and the squares and your caps. Ringolevio is way more fun, we run all over, and there’s a jail, and jailbreaks, and everything.  Chain, chain, double chain, no break away!” 

   “Let’s break the chain and go eat,” said Betty. They ordered waffles.

   “That was the best waffle I ever had,” Dottie said afterwards

    “You had two of them,” said Vicki.

   “She’s a growing girl,” said Betty.

   “Those were the best two waffles I ever had,” said Dottie.

   “Where to now?” asked Betty.

   “I want to jump off the Eiffel Tower!” exclaimed Dottie. 

   The Parachute Jump at Steeplechase Park had been built for the 1939 World’s Fair and later moved to Coney Island. It stood 250 feet high, was open-frame, and everyone called it the Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn. Twelve cantilevered steel arms sprouted from the top of the tower, eleven of them supporting two-person canvas seats and parachutes. The riders were belted down, hoisted to the top, then released into freefall, caught by the parachute, and floated to the ground. Shock absorbers were built into the seats, just in case.

   “I’m not going up on that thing,” said Betty.

   “Do you remember the parachute wedding?” Vicki asked her.

   “No, I never heard of it.”

   “A couple got married up there. The minister was in the seat next to them and the whole wedding party was on the rest of the seats. When the ceremony was over the married couple parachuted down first, and everyone else followed them, except for the minister. The cables on his seat got tangled and he was up there for more than five hours before firemen could get him down. The tower is right on the ocean, and it was windy, and he got sick as a dog, puking on the wedding party.”

   “That cinches it,” said Betty.

   “You and me both, sister,” said Vicki. “Time to plow back through the crowd.”

   “Why do they call it Coney Island?” asked Dottie, taking a last longing look up at the parachute ride she wasn’t going to ride.

   “It’s because of the Dutch,” said Bettina. “When they were here, maybe three hundred years ago, there were lots of rabbits in the dunes, so they called it Konijnen Eiland, which means Rabbit Island, which became Coney Island after the English took over.”

   “How did they take over?”

   “Somebody always takes over,” said Betty.

   “Why does somebody always take over?”

   “It’s the way of the world, child,” said Betty.

   “I want to go on the Wonder Wheel,” said Dottie. 

   “I think we’re up for that,” said Vicki.

   The Wonder Wheel at Luna Park was a Ferris wheel and a Chute-the Chutes and a slow-moving roller coaster all in one. It was once called Dip-the-Dip. Some of the cars were stationary, but more than less of them moved back and forth along tracks between a big outer wheel and a smaller inner wheel as all of it rotated.   

   They walked past an eight-foot high neon sign spelling out “Wonder Wheel.” Through the middle of the sign was an arrow blinking and pointing to the ride. “Thrills!” it said.

   Dottie sat between Vicki and Betty in one of the sliding cars. 

   “You can see Manhattan,” said Vicki when it was their turn at the top of the 150-foot-tall big wheel and it stopped for a few seconds.

  “Look, you can see the Rockaway,” said Betty.

   “It takes you low and it takes you high,” said Vicki.

   “When you reach the top it’s like you can touch the sky,” said Dottie. “You can see the whole world.”

   “One minute you’re on top, the next minute down you go,” said Betty. “I say, stay in your seat, it’s going to get bumpy, enjoy the ride.”

   “Top of the world, ma, top of the world,” said Vicki like a crazy person, bulging her eyeballs and throwing her arms up.

    Betty laughed.

   “One day he’s a mama’s boy mad dog killer and the next day, older and wiser, he’s Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

   Dottie wondered, what are they talking about? 

   The Wonder Wheel shuddered and started down again.

   “Can we go fast now?” Dottie asked when they were on the ground.

   The Cyclone was in Astroland at the corner of Surf Avenue and West 10th Street, almost 2700 feet long, with six fan turns and twelve drops. The lift hill was 85 feet high. Six years earlier a man who hadn’t spoken in fourteen years, riding a roller coaster for the first time, screamed while going down the first drop.

   “I feel sick,” he muttered when the train returned to the station. He dropped to the ground in a dead faint after realizing he had spoken.

   Dottie peeked over the front edge of the front car down at the track of the Cyclone as the train creaked to the top of the lift hill, where it was going to curve over the rails and hurtle down. Vicki and Betty were in the car behind her, after she had pleaded with them to go on the coaster, and she was with her new friend, Ronald, a boy her age whose parents had stayed behind on the platform. 

   “I have a friend who counts the seconds until the ride is over,” said Ronnie. 

   “Why does he do that?”

   “He can’t stand it.”

   “What’s the point of riding it in the first place?” 

   “I dunno,” said Ronnie. “Every time I ask if he wants to go with me, he says, sure, as soon as I’ve lost my mind, but he always goes anyway.”

   “The Cyclone is for when you want to be scared and thrilled all at the same time. Maybe he should stick to the merry-go-round.”

   “Yeah,” said Ronnie. “You don’t want to ride the roller coaster when you’ve got diarrhea.”

   “No way,” said Dottie, making sure their buzz bar was locked in place.

   “Did you hear about that girl who got hit in the face by a pigeon and broke her nose going down this hill?” asked Ronnie.

   “No!” said Dottie.

   “It was alright,” he said. “She had some Kleenex and stuffed it up her nose nostrils to keep the blood out of her eyes.”

   “Yikes!” said Dottie, as the Cyclone shimmied shook roared down the other side of the lift hill. “If that happens, I don’t have any Kleenex.”

   They laughed up and down the trick hill, leaned into the banked turns that twisted and tipped the train, ducked beneath the head-choppers, and inside of two minutes pulled back into the station where everybody clambered off. 

   “My legs feel like fried bacon,” said Ronnie.

   “Yeah, that was the mostest fun,” said Dottie.

   “Bye.”

   “Bye to you, too.”

   “That was sketchy,” said Vicki.

   “Shoot low, they’re sending Shetlands,” said Betty. “Did you feel that tower sway when we got to the top?”

   “You bet I did.”

   “I’m hungry,” said Dottie.

   “You’re always hungry,” said Bettina. “Doesn’t Stan feed you? Do you have a hollow leg, or what?”

   “So am I, hungry, I mean,” said Vicki.

   “How about a red hot at Nathan’s?” Betty suggested. 

   “Yippee ki yay!” exclaimed Dottie.

Excerpted from “Stickball” at http://www.stanriddman.com.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”