The two vaqueros rode out into the southern field as the sun decided it to be time to make its morning appearance. They traveled the low, sloping hills, over grass eaten down beneath the hooves of their conveyance by the cattle they moved between. Each bull, cow and calf bore the Cole brand, but the rich man rarely came out to the ranch from the city, and neither vaquero had even seen him astride a horse, much less riding the land. The only time Tobin ever thought of the heir was when he took his monthly pay. Mel had never met the boss.
Mel was seasonal, an indígenas, and would go home to Atarjea, Guanajuato in the winter. Tobin was there year round. He was always glad to see Mel come back in the spring, fat from his wife’s cooking, full of stories about his children, while Tobin spent the winter, Christmas, with the other hands at the Ranch.
“We could have waited for the huevos,” Mel said.
“Could have, but then the sun would be out.”
“Could have slept a little longer.
“Could have, then we’d be out of a job.”
They kept riding, the conversation silenced, drinking the remains of the morning’s coffee. Mel watched as Tobin poured out tobacco from his pouch into an open paper, his cup balanced in the hand that held his reins. He licked the cigarette and closed it tight. He placed it between his lips and lit a match on the saddle, inhaling and letting out a filament of smoke that rolled and found the currents of wind, and left them to go down towards Mexico.
“You’ll need to teach me that someday,” Mel said.
“Can’t teach a stray dog no tricks.”
Four miles from the ranch, towards the river where the land got rockier and the grass grew sparse, they were past the herd, save for some stragglers. The two men pushed their horses to the edge of the river and followed it to the west. After ten minutes, with a smell on the air, they found what they were looking for. A bull lay on the ground, a few feet from the river, covered in flies and early maggots, lying before God, the morning sun, and the two vaqueros.
“Ese es un gran toro,” Mel said.
“Yep,” Tobin replied.
“No coyote’d go after one that big.”
“I don’t doubt that.”
“Ain’t no damn wolves around here.”
“Could be a stray. La unica.”
“Probably not, though.”
“Mi padre told me once that when he was a little gordo, un lobo came to the farms of his little village, down from the mountains, and it started killing goats and chickens, perros y vacas. The men of the village were worried it would soon start going after los niños. So, mi padre went out one night, just after la medianoche with mi abuelo, mi padre carrying the rifle. They went out to the field and found a good place, favor del viento, and they waited for hours. Mi padre was asleep when mi abuelo took the rifle from him, and he took aim. Mi padre saw el lobo among the cattle, going slow, very low to the ground. It was crouched, and just about to jump a vaca. Mi abuelo, Dios lo bendiga, he pulled the trigger and boom,” Mel said, making the motion of the firing gun with his hands, “and mi padre swears he heard el lobo scream. When mi abuelo y mi padre went to where el lobo was, it was gone, no blood anywhere, and mi abuelo knows his padre shot it. The bullet was sitting on the ground where it was.”
“Bullshit,” Tobin said, spitting coffee grounds to the dirt.
“It’s true. La mano de Dios,” Mel said, his hand in the air.
“You’re from Atarjea. Ain’t no damn mountains in Atarjea. Ain’t no damn little village, either.”
“You calling mi padre mentiroso?”
“I’m calling you mentiroso.”
“I never said I wasn’t.”
“Neither did I.” Tobin put the empty cup in his saddlebag, and got down from the horse. His feet on the earth, he gave the reins to Mel, who stayed atop his mount. Tobin took his knife from his belt and the sun struck the blade, scattering the morning’s light out to the field.
He approached the beast slowly, carefully, with the reverence the thing deserved on its deathbed of clean, trampled grass. He crouched down on his knees above the animal’s throat. It had been torn out. Tobin poked into the wound with the knife, moving the growing maggots out of the way. He then took the knife and dug it into the bull’s chest. Nothing came out.
“No sangre?” Mel asked.
“Could be caimán.”
“Could be, except there ain’t do damn alligators up in this river. Ain’t nothing but cow shit.”
“Could be el chupacabra.”
“Ain’t no damn such thing as chupacabra.”
“How many does that make?”
“Seventh bull this month.”
“Could be more.”
“Coyotes may have taken some bodies. Could be more we’re not finding.”
“Could be, but on those we’ve found, there ain’t no sign of coyotes. This one’s been here since last night, I’d say. They’d have been eating the damn thing soon as it fell. Coyotes don’t want nothing to do with whatever’s been doing this. Ain’t even a damn vulture around,” Tobin said, looking to the sky, holding his hat to block the sun rising in the east.
“Smells bad out here. Extraño.”
“That it does.”
“Why ain’t the coyotes been here?”
“Could be el chupacabra.”
“Ain’t no damn chupacabra.” Tobin stood to his full height and put the knife back in his belt. He took the reins back from Mel, put his foot in the stirrup and got back on the horse. “Let’s get back.”
“Huevos are going to be cold,” Mel said as they started back to the ranch.
“Probably.” Tobin rolled another cigarette, lit it and exhaled the smoke. The wind had shifted, took the smoke out over the river.
“Nothing worse than cold huevos.”
“Well, you didn’t have to come out with me.”
“You told me too.”
“You could have stayed in bed a bit longer.”
“I don’t like you sometimes.”
“Yeah, well, at least you didn’t miss out on any time me.”
“Rather spend the time with el chupacabra.”
* * *
When they got back to the ranch house, Mel went to the kitchen to scoop up the cold, leftover eggs, and Tobin went to the office, where Teresa, Cole’s sister and the only member of his family that wanted anything to do with the ranch was doing her paper work.
“What say you, Tobin?” she said when he knocked on the door.
“Another bull out by the river, ma’am.”
“Damn. Sixth one this month?”
“Damn. We can’t afford to be losing them like this.”
“At this rate, we’ll be out of cattle when the kingdom comes.”
“Maybe,” she said, laughing. “What do you thinks doing it?”
“Don’t know. No coyote could take down a bull the size of this one.”
“A wolf, maybe.”
“Doubt it, ma’am. Aren’t any wolves around these parts anymore.”
“Guess not. What do you think we should do?”
“I’m going to go out by the river tonight. See if I can find what’s happening.”
“All right. See if Melquiades would go with you.”
“And be careful out there.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Tobin stood for a moment, about to say something more. Teresa waited, the thought in her mind that she knew what he was going to say, but he nodded, and left the office, to go outside, to the porch. He sat in an old rocking chair and rolled a cigarette, using both hands this time, finishing the job faster than on the horse. He sat smoking, looking out over the land he worked. There were clouds out, past the river. He crushed the first smoke under his boot and rolled another. Mel came out from the kitchen, holding a sopping tortilla wrapped around his eggs. He chewed slowly, and watched the clouds with Tobin.
“What’d she say?”
“That you’re a damn idiot and you’re getting a pay cut.”
“Figures you’d say that.”
“We going out there tonight?”
“I am. You can come with you want.”
“I got a say in it?”
“Yeah, you do.”
“I’ll come out.”
“You really do deserve that pay cut.”
“Güey. Bring a bottle with you.”
“When do you want to go out?”
* * *
The day moved as if under the apathetic eye of a sleeping god. Tobin, Mel and the other hands were out in the fields. A fence to the north needed mending. The horses needed feeding. The cattle needed to be looked after. By lunch, Tobin had forgotten the morning’s dead bull. All hands came to the kitchen for their daily tortas. Tobin sat at the end of the long table, his back to the window brimming with sunlight, warming his back. He took a big bite from the torta de lengua, a sip of his horchata, and he thought only of the food, the drink, the present. Mel got his own sandwich and drink and joined him at the table, sitting across from him.
“Guillermo and Hugo were out in the southern field.”
“Were they?” Tobin asked after a swallow of horchata.
“Down by the river.”
“We need to have someone go get that bull.”
“That’s why they were there.”
“They get the bull?”
“And the calf.”
“They were maybe 500 feet from the first, just by the river.”
“Three last night.”
“Guillermo said there were footprints around the bull. It was barely out of the water.”
“We need to run a fence to block that river.”
“The footprints, they almost looked human, he said.”
“There was no sangre. None at all.”
“You know what I think it is.”
“Don’t you say it.” Tobin took the last bite of his torta and swallowed it down with some horchata. He stood up, took his plate and cup to the washbasin. He went out to the porch again, sat in a rocking chair and rolled a cigarette. He didn’t want to say it, especially not to Melquiades, but a part of him was beginning to humor the man’s idea.
When Tobin rolled and lit up his third smoke, Mel came out onto the porch with a cup of coffee and sat in the rocking chair to Tobin’s left. Mel put the cup on the ground beside him, and took a cigarillo from his shirt pocket.
“Tienes una cerilla?” Tobin handed him the matchbook, and Mel took his time selecting the perfect stick. He struck his match and lit his cigarillo, holding the smoke in for a few moments, savoring it. “I was thinking,” Mel said, his voice filled with a dangerous tone.
“Now you know we don’t pay you to think.”
“We tried letting you think once, you know.”
“You thought it would be a good idea to try raising llamas out here.”
“This place ain’t going to make no damn money on llamas.”
“I was thinking, maybe we need to take some bait with us when we go out there tonight.”
“Si, some bait.”
“What sort of bait were you thinking?”
“Cabra, of course.”
“Cabra. You want to take a damn goat out there.”
“Thinking it’s only right.”
“It’s only right. How is that?”
“We keep las cabras so close, that’s why el chupacabra goes after los toros y vacas. It really wants them cabras.”
“You’re a damn idiot sometimes, Mel.”
“You’re going to tell me you weren’t thinking it. What the hell else is going to be drinking the blood of them ganado.”
“It sure as hell ain’t a chupacabra. Ain’t no damn such thing as a damn chupacabra.”
“You know, when I was a boy, I didn’t think there were such thing as gringos. You sure changed my mind on that.”
“You ever stopped to think that the answer is obvious.”
“It makes perfect sense, you just stop to think on it.”
Chris Deal is from North Carolina via Texas. He has been published in several journals and anthologies, such as Warmed and Bound by Velvet Press and the forthcoming Booked. Anthology by Booked Podcast. His debut collection of microfiction, Cienfuegos, was republished by KUBOA press. He can be found at www.chris-deal.com.
“No, listen, it’s true. Aliens came down and abducted them cattle. Ran some tests on them, checked whether or not they’d make a good food source, found them not to be quite right for the need, then checked to see if maybe they could breed with them, then drained the blood to fuel their space ships, and dropped them back down, then went to your bunk while you were sleeping and shat in your pants.”
“Hijo de puta,” Mel said with a laugh, coughing on his cigarillo.
“Makes about as much sense as a damn chupacabra.”
“You’re right. It’s silly.”
“Still, it’s a good idea. We’ll go out there with a goat. See if that can lure what-the-hell-ever is doing this into our sights, and then we blow it away. If it happens to be a chupacabra, you and me will take it out on the freak show circuit, make us some real walking around money.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“That it does. Just don’t let me catch you thinking no more.”