I want to thank my Beta-reader pal, Calamity Carol, once again for going over my story and helping me make it so much more readable. Not many corrections this time. Either I’m getting better or she’s missing more of them J I really appreciate the time and energy she puts into getting my stories prepared for reading by those of you in the group who need their regular Laramie fixes. This is a short one (for me) but I hope you enjoy it just the same. Just a little something that popped into my head and I DO know that the Chupacabra is a more contemporary mythical creature, but what if…..
I was ridin’ fence on the south pasture when I came on a freshly killed newborn calf. It’s not unusual to find newborns preyed on durin’ calvin’ season. Wolves n’ coyotes are the usual culprits, but this time somethin’ was different. There was practically no blood on or around the calf’s body, not even where the scavengers had feasted. The only blood I saw was around the gapin’ hole torn from the throat of the young animal.
From the safety of a stand of aspens, the calf’s mother stood mournfully wide-eyed as she was watchin’ me examinin’ her dead offspring. The rest of the herd was nowhere to be seen. They’d obviously sensed danger n’ wandered away to find safe refuge elsewhere.
It seemed strange to me that the mother hadn’t fought to protect her newborn. There wasn’t any sign of a battle in the grass around or near the dead calf’s carcass. It was like its mother took cover n’ watched n’ did nothin’ to help her calf.
My mind raced as I tried to recollect some stories from my childhood when I was raised on a small piece of dirt in the Panhandle of Texas. We had well-nigh next to no livestock, but the rancher that we sharecropped land from had several head of prime animals back then, both cattle n’ horses. I was beginnin’ to recall things I’d been told about a ghost of an animal that was responsible for the slaughter of livestock belongin’ to that rancher.
I don’t think I really believed the stories after I grew some. I reckoned it was the kinda thing ya tell a kid to keep ‘em from wanderin’ off when they’re little. Cougars, wolves, coyotes or bobcats were more likely the reason the rancher’s animals were slaughtered out there on the range. I do recollect the way the story went n’ that the beast that everyone feared was a blood drinker, killin’ only for the blood n’ leavin’ the rest of the carcass meat for scavengers. The dead calf before me sent a shiver down my spine. Her jugular had been ripped opened n’ the blood had been took almost cleanly from that wound. What remained was left behind for the buzzards n’ other scavengers who were lucky enough to happen along to clean up what hadn’t been desired by the animal responsible for the savage slaughter.
The grass close to the carcass was trampled down n’ it was hard to sort through the tracks that were now fused together. The prints from the beast that made the kill were thoroughly masked by the various opportunists that came to feast on the remains. Coyote n’ buzzard tracks were the most evident, n’ circlin’ above me the buzzards were waitin’ for me to leave so they could resume their meal.
Searchin’ the open fields, I spotted a path cut through the high grass beyond the fence where the attacker probably entered n’ escaped the pasture. The trail headed straight for a towerin’ gatherin’ of boulders footin’ a rocky bluff to the southeast of the grazin’ land.
I grabbed the reins of my horse n’ mounted up to ride back to the gate n’ I backtracked along the fence to find n’ follow the trail that led to the rocky ridge that might be shelterin’ the marauder of our herd. I pondered, searchin’ for the name of that phantom animal from my past but it kept evadin’ me. A picture of it came to my mind, though I’d never actually seen one other than those my mind painted for me as a child. The more I thought about it, the more frightenin’ the image became as my imagination ran wild with my remembered childhood nightmares.
When I reached the parted-grass trail, the name suddenly came to my lips, n’ I unconsciously muttered out the word, “Chupacabra.” I hadn’t heard that word since I was a youngin’. The sound of it comin’ to my ears brought on a chill even more so than the image that had come to my mind earlier. A goose had stepped on my grave. But this was Wyoming territory! The stories of the Chupacabra were from Texas n’ Old Mexico. Why hadn’t I heard anything about them since I was a kid if they’d been known in these parts. I’d been herdin’ cattle for some time since the war n’ I don’t recall any of the drovers ever mentionin’ Chupacabra worryin’ the beeves durin’ those years.
I rode to the bluff n’ dismounted. With my gun drawn, I climbed the rugged rocks to search for any caves or dens that the animal could be usin’ for shelter. The wind had swept the rocks clean of any dirt or dust makin’ the search for tracks impossible on the raw rock surfaces. It was like followin’ a ghost. I found several likely den-like places in the rocks but not a sign of any animals takin’ up residence recently.
When I was climbin’ down the far side of the bluff, I saw some bushes that looked like there could’ve been a cave hidden behind ‘em, n’ sure enough, behind those bushes there was what looked like could be the lair of a large animal. I pushed one of the bushes aside n’ was amazed at how big the cavity in the rocks really was. It didn’t appear to go in real deep, but it would’ve made a nice cozy shelter for a cowhand caught out in a heavy rainstorm or blizzard to hole up in until it passed. It was on the east side of the ridge, protectin’ ya from a bad west wind n’ with the overhang it would’ve kept ya good n’ dry. It was a perfect shelter for man or beast, n’ from the tracks left in the dirt at the sheltered entrance, it was the den of some kinda large animal.
The tracks were too big for a coyote, yet too small n’ frail to be from a wolf. Obviously, they weren’t the tracks of a cat, either. I wished that I’d had a lantern with me to explore the cave a little more. I was pretty sure that it didn’t go in very far, maybe ten or fifteen feet from what I could see, but the darkness could have been deceivin’ n’ coverin’ a lower ceilin’ that went deeper into the rock. If it was cut deeper, there could’ve been a beast in there watchin’ n’ maybe sizin’ me up for his next meal. I couldn’t be sure, n’ I wasn’t all that anxious to find out the hard way. I decided to come back later with a lantern n’ bring Slim along with me. If this was a Chupacabra we sure didn’t want him thinkin’ that our herd was his personal feedlot, n’ I was sure I didn’t want to meet up with him alone.
Carefully, I slipped down from the rocks n’ mounted Traveler n’ headed back to the ranch to tell Slim about what I’d found. I wondered if he could venture a guess about what might’ve killed the calf. I wasn’t gonna mention my hunch about a Chupacabra for fear that he’d think of me as foolish for believin’ in childish stories of boogiemen n’ such. I figured that it best for him t’ come up with his own conclusions about what happened after he’d had a chance to see the calf for himself.
When I told Slim about findin’ the dead calf he immediately reckoned that it had to be wolves invadin’ the ranch. Since I was unable to convince him otherwise with the evidence I’d observed, I decided to share my theory.
“Chupa what?” Slim asked. I could see the doubt in his eyes n’ in the unbelievin’ half- grin on his face.
“Chupacabra,” I repeated. “I’m not sure about it myself, Pard, but it’s some kinda critter we had back in Texas n’ from what I heard about ‘em, this sure looks like the work of one of ‘em.”
“And what is this critter? Something like a mountain lion or something?”
“Nope. From what I recollect it’s more like a wild dog or wolf-like thing, but big n’ strong n’ ugly with almost no hair on its body.”
I could tell Slim wasn’t buyin’ it. He shook his head n’ gave me one of those crooked smiles that lets me know he’s not believin’ every word of what I’m sayin’.
“No, really, Slim,” I pleaded. “I ain’t never seen one, but I remember my pa tellin’ us kids about ‘em. There was one or two killin’ the rancher’s cattle back in Texas when I was about ten years old. Pa sat up a few nights with his rifle watchin’ our horses to make sure that the Chupacabra didn’t come n’ kill any of ‘em or none of the chickens, either.”
“And you never saw this creature?” Slim asked. He looked a little more seriously at me, kinda like he was a little more interested in listenin’ to what I was sayin’.
“Naw. It finally went away or somethin’. All of a sudden we didn’t hear no more about any more animals dyin’ from the Chupacabra. Wolves n’ big cats sometimes, but those kills were always different n’ easy to figure in who done it.”
“So what makes these kills so different?” Slim asked. So I told him about how the Chupacabra seemed to only suck the blood outta their kill n’ left the carcass’ for the buzzards. When the bodies were found, there was always very little blood found anywhere on or around the carcass.
Now the look on Slim’s face made me feel downright foolish. I was sure he didn’t believe me. I wished that I hadn’t mentioned anything ‘bout the blood until after Slim saw the calf for himself. “Where is this calf? I want to have a look for myself,” he said while he pulled on his jacket and headed for the door. “Next thing you’ll be tellin’ me we have vampires roaming around out here.”
After Slim looked over the remains of the calf, he didn’t say anything for a long time. He paced a little n’ looked off in the same direction that I’d followed-- the parted-grass trail-- to the rugged bluff. “Are those the rocks where you think the animal’s holding up?” he finally asked. I could see his eyes scannin’ the boulder-covered hill.
I’d told him about the cave I’d found up there n’ that that was why I’d brought the lantern along with us so we could go check it out. “Let’s go have a look,” he said, n’ I followed after him as he rode away, leavin’ the calf to the scavengers again while we went to hunt for its killer.
When we got to the bluff, we climbed up to where the brush covered the cave openin’. After lightin’ the lantern, I pushed one of the bushes aside so we could enter the cavern. I was sure glad that I’d brought that lantern with me. The entrance was large enough for me to stand up straight in but Slim had to hunch over a little to keep from scraping his head on the rough, rocky ceiling. At the back of the cave we spotted a crawl space. It was large enough for a man to crawl through n’ it went deep within the rocks. If that critter was in the cave, he was probably inside n’ waitin’ for it to get dark before comin’ out to forage for his supper. I poked the lantern into the darkness but I couldn’t see inside very far because the passage bent around to the left about eight feet inside. Slim stopped me from becomin’ too curious n’ crawlin’ into the small chamber.
“Let’s wait,” he said as he stopped me by tuggin’ on the back of my gun belt. “Let’s move the herd up to this end of the pasture and keep watch over them tonight. There’s going to be a full moon and with luck, no cloud-cover. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to lure him out so we can shoot him.”
“It’s a good thing Andy’s back east or he’d probably want to catch the critter and make a pet out of him,” Slim said, when we reached the bottom of the summit n’ he hopped up on Alamo, with a humorless grin, n’ we headed for home.
The last stage of the day came in on time n’ Mose was alone. Since he had no passengers n’ no schedule to keep, he consented to stay n’ have super with us. While we ate, Slim told Mose about findin’ the dead calf. Mose told us that he’d heard that the Bradley’s had lost two young calves over the past two days. They figured that it musta been wolves, but thought it kinda strange that not much of the meat had been touched. They figured that somethin’ must have scared them off before they could eat n’ only the buzzards n’ ravens seemed to have bothered to pick at the carcasses. I looked at Slim waitin’ for him to say somethin’ about what he thought that it might be, but he quickly looked at me n’ I could tell he wanted me to give Mose my notion about what might be killin’ the livestock.
Mose listened, but I could tell that he thought that I was funnin’ him. “I ain’t never heard of nothin’ like that,” he said as he burst out laughin’ n’ slapped his knee. “Slim, I think this boy’s been more than jest sippin’ at Jonesy’s medicinal stock lately! Ya might wanna put a good strong lock on that trunk ‘til Jonesy gets back.”
Again I was feelin’ foolish, but at least, I think, Slim was startin’ to believe me that it was somethin’ different than anything else we’d been up against here at the ranch. He saw it for himself that it sure didn’t look like the work of a big cat or a wolf. He knew that this was somethin’ different. Real different.
After Mose left, we set out to roundin’ up the herd n’ movin’ ‘em to the south end of the pasture to lure out the deadly devil. With it bein’ calvin’ time, there was the smell of fresh blood in the air for any predator to take note n’ t’night wouldn’t be no different. One heifer had wandered away from the rest of the herd. Her time had come n’ we could tell she was already in labor. We stationed ourselves so that we were close to her but still able to keep a close watch over the rest of the beeves.
Luckily the night was clear n’ the moon lit up the pasture with its silvery glow. The dry grass cast back the light givin’ us a view for a good distance all around us. With hardly no cloud-cover, the night was gettin’ cold. I rolled up the collar on my jacket n’ was wishin’ that I’d thought to wear my chaps to help keep my legs a little warmer. I reckon we were just too anxious to catch the maraudin’ beast that we weren’t thinkin’ any about our comfort. If that creature didn’t come out into our trap real soon, it was gonna be a really long, cold night.
My face felt like it was about frozen n’ my feet, well, I almost couldn’t feel ‘em in the stirrups any longer. My fingers were getting’ stiff n’ I had to keep workin’ ‘em to keep ‘em limber. Slim had his collar pulled up around his neck, too, with his chin nestled down against his chest inside his jacket as best as he could. We both sat our horses with our Winchesters cradled in our arms hopin’ that the varmint would sense the herd in its close proximity n’ come out on the hunt n’ not notice us out there amongst the cattle.
It had to be three o’clock or later when the heifer in labor started to make a big fuss. I figured that it was the calf presentin’ itself n’ causin’ her to beller. In the dim moonlight I could see that a head n’ two tiny hooves were peekin’ out into the world. A newborn would be on the ground in only a matter of minutes. Glancin’ away, I spotted somethin’ crouchin’ n’ slowly makin’ its way in the heifer’s direction. I hissed to Slim n’ pointed in the direction of the movement just a few yards beyond the laborin’ heifer.
We were both at full alert. Suddenly, I no longer felt the cold as a burst of heat rushed through my body in anticipation of finally gettin’ a glimpse of the mysterious predator.
The creature made no sound as it crept in the direction of the calvin’ cow. Slim n’ I raised our rifles in the direction of the threatenin’ animal as it slowly picked its way through the grass n’ low brush. Since we were downwind, it never sensed us n’ it was only focused on its victim. Stoppin’, it sniffed the air then sat down on its haunches, but it never took its eyes off the birthin’ heifer. After a few minutes, it again started stalkin’ the heifer. When the calf hit the ground, the beast moved in faster. Both Slim n’ I fired at the same time n’ the beast fell in a heap, not makin’ a sound except for a heavy thump when it hit the ground.
The startled mother, who’d been lickin’ at her calf, jumped n’ appeared to not know if she should run or stay with her newborn. Slim rode to her n’ jumped off Alamo to assure her to stay with her new baby. I rode to the slaughtered animal where it lay dead in the glow of the moonlight. Two holes were in its body almost in the same place. Both bullets went through the shoulder n’ straight into the creature’s heart. It never knew what hit it n’ was dead before it hit the ground.
I examined the varmint n’ it was like nothin’ I’d ever seen. It was almost naked, with only a tuft of fur here n’ there. The skin was gray as were its few patches of hair. It had a massive n’ bulky, ugly head. The front portion of its body was powerfully muscled while the hind end looked like it was mismatched, havin’ narrow, poorly muscled hips. Its tongue lolled out of its mouth n’ I looked at his teeth. They were a lot like those of a wolf or dog’s teeth, with large, fierce upper n’ lower fangs. In the moonlight, even the eyes looked gray.
After Slim had calmed the cow n’ she was once again tending to her calf, he came over to me n’ watched while I was examinin’ the creature’s teeth. “Chupacabra?” he asked, when he stooped down to take closer look.
“I reckon,” I answered, not sure about what I was really lookin’ at. It wasn’t nothin’ I could positively identify, at least not in the dull light of the moon.
The next mornin’ we rode out to examine the body of the strange creature in daylight. Yup, the skin was gray, as were the patches of hair on its body. We guessed that it was at least as tall as a large wolf but it had much finer legs n ’smaller feet. Its large head looked misshapen, not resemblin’ anything either of us could identify. The teeth seemed much larger the night before, but they were still formable, just the same. The eyes? They were glazed over in death, but I do believe that they were gray, just like I’d thought the night before. In the light of day, I was able to give more thought to it n’ how the beast looked more like some large dog with a bad case of the mange. I’d seen coyote with the skin condition makin’ them look like less than what they really were. Most likely the poor creature was nothin’ more than a feral dog with the misfortune of being plagued by the mange n’ forced to forage for food n’ findin’ newborn calves an easy meal. But what was its real meal? Why was the carcass drained of blood n’ not eaten by the killer? Too many questions were spinnin’ in my mind.
I don’t know for sure what it was, but that creature sure brought back a lot of memories from my childhood n’ the stories that came with me from out of the Panhandle, especially those about a creature called the Chupacabra. If this was one, he wasn’t quite the scary creature of my childhood nightmares n’ he was sure a long ways from home. I reckon we’ll never know fer sure what it was that was raidin’ us n’ the nearby ranches, but the killin’s have stopped, at least for now.