Maria Rosalva De Santiago was a sturdy woman. One might describe her as homely but with a certain pleasant appeal. Her skin was sun-darkened and rough from years of exposure to wind. Wrinkles creased the corners of her eyes betraying her age. She trudged through the weeds towards her house, a hand-sewn poncho draped over her slender but substantial frame. The sun was burying itself in the ground behind her and she paused to look back at it, her hand upon the brass knob of the door.
Sighing, the aging woman pushed the door open and stepped inside. It would be night in a few minutes and she had no desire to be outside. The adobe walls of the ranch house were lit only by kerosene lamps, no electricity ran his far out into the countryside in Texas. Tapestries with intricate Aztec designs hung from several places in the large den just inside the door. On one wall a mural shone under the lamps, its glazed surface glistening. Maria shuffled her way towards the kitchen. It was time for coffee and then bed.
The old woman threw some fresh wood into the wood-burner stove and lit it. In the corner of the quaint little kitchen she drew water from a black-handled pump and filled a kettle. Moving back to the oven she placed the kettle on the stove's flat-top then pulled a stool over from the table and sat to wait. Clutching a tin mug in her leathery hand she brushed back black hair over her left ear. It had been a hard year this last. Her husband had died in a freak tornado out on the range while herding the cattle. Now, the De Santiago ranch was in disrepair. Maria Rosalva had ferreted away enough money over the decades to hire hands, but it was barely enough to keep the ranch going. If business continued to decline she might have to shut down and use the remaining goats and cows to live off of.
These were, without a doubt difficult times, but the De Santiago's lived a long way from the crashing markets of Wall Street. They had, for the past two years of the depression lived fairly well, all things considered. There certainly was never a shortage of food on a ranch. That, coupled with the fact that Maria Rosalva De Santiago never put her money in a bank, insured that she was comfortable enough. Still, paying more ranch hands than ever had been a drain on the funds she had saved up, formidable as they were. The way the woman saw it she had one more summer selling season to turn a better profit or have to give up the ranch as just another defaulted business.
Still, time went on and life didn't pause for heartbreak. That a fifty-three year old woman had to manage a Texas ranch alone didn't stop God's sun from rising each day, as Maria often quipped. The kettle began its ragged whistle and she took it off the stove, filling her cup with the dark fluid. Stumping over to a small cabinet Maria Rosalva took out the cinnamon and sprinkled a bit over her coffee. That was how she took her coffee, no cream, no sugar, just cinnamon. It was how her father drank it and it was how she did.
Suddenly she heard a lilting howl from outside followed by a series of yips. Coyotes were quite common out here and wolves weren't unheard of. Maria sipped her coffee from the stool and looked out the small window into the darkening fields. She was glad the cattle and goats had been moved back to their barbed wire enclosures just two days ago. Coyotes could take a good milking heifer if they were hungry enough, even with an angry bull stomping around.
Another howl lit up the silence of dusk, this time answered by several others. Again came the yipping. Maria took pause then, it sounded as if the animals were nervous rather than hunting. She hadn't known coyotes to be nervous since wolves had passed through years ago when she was younger. It was strange, but she supposed that the hunters and farmers couldn't have killed all the huge beasts. Grunting, Maria Rosalva sighed again. She'd have to go into town tomorrow, her shotgun was nearly out of ammunition and she'd need more if wolves came around. Barbed wire fences weren't enough to stave off attacks from hungry wolves. They would find a way to jump the fence or to dig under it eventually.
Maria began her limping walk down the hall to her bedroom. Then, a bone-chilling shriek rent the night. A goat was screaming in the dark. "Maldicion!" the old woman cursed. Turning back she grabbed the shotgun from its place in the entry-way. She shoved the door open and pushed one of her last three cartridges into the shotgun's breech barrel. The goats were kept in an enclosure that also encircled the house so she wouldn't have to look far to find the coyote. She jogged lop-sided around the corner and saw the downed animal. It was still emitting a weak cry but it was clear it wouldn't rise. A small, dark shape was hunched over the dying goat.
"Madre de Dios," Maria Rosalva De Santiago breathed. The creature turned and galloped away into the darkness. Coyotes didn't run like that. It looked almost like a monkey the way it ran. She had never seen a real monkey, but they were often featured in the safari pictures they showed at the theater up Dallas. Maria crossed herself and then gripped her rosary, the shotgun hanging at her side, all but forgotten. The woman supposed it could have been an injured coyote, but that logic failed against the shiver that suddenly gripped her.
The rest of that night passed uneventfully. Maria Rosalva awoke the next day refreshed and ready to make the long walk into town. She shrugged off the strange attack of the night before and went out to bury the dead goat. Its throat had been torn open, its blood sinking into the ground. Maria dug the hole and dragged the animal over to it, covered it with a thin layer of dirt, then returned to the house. She dug several dollars out of a tin jar she kept hidden in a hall cabinet, one of her many hiding places.
Making the trip into the small village was a pain, but it was worth it. After the night before, Maria Rosalva would be buying more shotgun shells than she had planned on. It was never bad to have extra protection, but she still resented the need. As an imminently practical and level-headed woman she was never one to believe in ghost stories or to jump at shadows. Still, whatever animal had haunted her goat pen last night would die to a shotgun blast just like any other.
Maria Rosalva De Santiago walked into town limping slightly. The long walk was torture for her arthritis. She supposed she'd have to buy some more pain medicine for that problem while she was here. Most of the time Maria was ok without the prescription, but when she walked too much it became necessary. Several townspeople waved and called out to the old woman. She was well liked for her old-fashioned ways. Though some found her brash attitude and rough demeanor chafing, most enjoyed her. They realized she was often using humorous sarcasm, not really meaning harm.
Maria walked into the local general store. She always bought her shells from Pablo Juarez. Stumping up to the counter she called out for the man, he must be in the back as usual.
"Pablo, Vete aqui!" she called out, smirking. She loved ordering the man around, he always played along. Before long she heard his footsteps from the storage room.
"Ah, Maria! It's been a long time! I've missed you!" Pablo said, smiling widely.
"Oh, callete! I'm nothing special and you know it. I need two boxes of shells Jaurez," she said sharply. Pablo nodded and smiled again. He turned back to a shelf and grabbed the ammo.
"Two boxes huh? That's more than you usually get. Problems Maria?" he asked.
The old woman winked at him. "Don't you worry your little head mijo," she said, smiling now. Pablo smiled knowingly and handed her the cartridges and gave her change for the money she slapped down on the counter. The shells were expensive but not outrageously so. Prices had a habit of moving slowly from the cities to this small, remote town.
Maria Rosalva limped her way out of the store and headed down the street. She passed the sheriff's office with its one jail cell on the way to the pharmacy. The sheriff, John Haggard, nodded and tipped his hat to her in his cool manner. She nodded in return and continued down the road. Stumping into the pharmacy she shouted for the pharmacist, Dr. Ricardo Sanchez. The man was also the local doctor and had prescribed Maria the very medicine she was here to collect.
"Hello Maria! It's nice to see you my dear, it has been some time," he said, smiling. His gray hair gave away his position as the oldest man in town, even older than Maria Rosalva De Santiago.
"Yes, it has médico. I need a refill on my arthritis prescription, this old leg is killing me," she said, patting her aching hip. The doctor shook his head and turned back to grab the medication. He always had some ready; the town often had farmers and ranch hands that came in for pain killers. It was a rough life on the plains.
"Gracias," Maria Rosalva said, paying the pharmacist as she took the pill bottle.
"Por nada, señorita. I hope this helps," he said, smiling at her.
Maria headed out of town to take up the long trek home. Again, people waved and called out greetings and farewells in a mixture of Spanish and English. The town was mostly Mexican with a few whites mixed in. It was a nice place but was a common sight in the fields of Texas. There were many villages like this at the nexus of ranches and farms.
When she finally arrived at her home it was nearly dark. Maria Rosalva went inside after checking the cattle and the goats. She put her customary pot of coffee on the flat-top stove and lit the oven underneath. Sitting down the aging woman groaned and massaged her hip. She pulled the pills out of her pocket and swallowed two of them without water. It was something she'd learned to do over the years, when one takes pills fairly often it isn't difficult to do it without a drink.
As the sun sunk in the sky Maria sighed. She wondered if the strange beast would be back tonight. Just then the coyotes started up. This time it was only howling and the normal yipping, not the quick, anxious yaps of the night before. She relaxed and sipped her coffee. There was nothing out there tonight except the coyotes and whatever they were hunting.
Two weeks went by in an uneventful haze. The autumn cool blew in over the period. Maria Rosalva's aching hip took longer to calm down with the cold weather. It was a pain having to deal with a twinge like that, but the work on the ranch had to be done somehow. The hands had already left at the end of the summer season, so she had to maintain the yard and feel the animals herself. Maria had been doing this for years, but now it seemed more difficult somehow. So it was that she found herself in the position she'd been in for the past year since her husband passed. Maria Rosalva De Santiago was bored. She had little to do and no one to talk to besides the animals.
Maria Rosalva went to bed one night to the howls of coyotes. They had been especially active lately; she supposed there must be a large family of groundhogs that had settled nearby. Then, suddenly, the howling changed and the yipping picked up its pace. They were nervous again. The wizened woman sat up in bed. "Merde!" she cried out, jumping out of her bed. Grabbing the shotgun by the door and loading it with her new ammo she rushed out the door. A goat screamed just as she got off the porch. This time the racket came from behind the house.
As she ran around the ranch home she raised the shotgun and cocked back the hammer. She stopped in her tracks. Another mature goat lay sprawled, twitching on the ground. A dark shape again hunched over the dying animal. Just as she began to pull the trigger the creature looked up, red eyes glinting in the cloud fractured moonlight. The gun blast was deafening as both barrels exploded. Then, the animal leapt straight up into the air just as the shot began to leave the weapon. "Madre de Dios!" Maria Rosalva shouted. The beast had leapt about ten feet, reinforcing the impression of a monkey as it fell to the ground on two feet.
The creature loped off again, galloping into the dark as Maria reloaded the gun and shot another load into the air over the animal. It was too far away to hit anyway now. The thing was fast. Maria Rosalva De Santiago breathed deep, attempting to slow her sprinting heart. She walked over to the goat and again witnessed the mangled throat. Then, light flashed over another figure in the grass several yards away. "Puta! Mato dos!" she cried. There was another goat with a thrashed throat. Blood pooled on the ground but the animal hadn't been eaten. It was strange. The unknown creature had killed the goats as a coyote would, but only took a few chunks and then left the animal alone. Not to mention she'd never known coyotes to need to kill two fat goats in one night.
Just as Maria Rosalva was falling back to sleep the coyotes started up that nervous yapping again. She rushed outside, loaded the gun again and fired. Silence fell and the rest of the night's silence was unbroken. The next day found Maria on her way back into town. Doubtless the journey would cause major hip pain for the woman, but she needed to talk to the sheriff. She had left the two goats where they lay; it was worth the risk of luring the strange killer back to show the sheriff how they'd been killed.
The sheriff was surprised when the aged De Santiago humped into his office. She had been here just two weeks before; her visits were becoming more frequent. That was not to mention the fact that she had never come to see him before. He raised an eyebrow and nodded to her, reserving speech for when she spoke first.
"Buenos Dias Señor," Maria Rosalva said, dipping her head and sitting down in the chair across the desk from the Sheriff.
"Buenos Dias," the sheriff said, still reserving more comment until she gave what she was here for.
"I need you to come down to the ranch," she said bluntly.
Again raising an eyebrow the sheriff said, "and why do you need me to make that trip?"
"Something is killing my goats. It's got three already," she started.
"Coyotes?" he asked, cutting her short.
"No," she said point blank. The sheriff looked at her, eyebrow rising higher on his forehead. He began tapping his fingers on the desk. "It isn't coyotes," she continued, "them I can deal with. It's something else."
"Hm, something else huh? Not a wolf I suppose?" he said, standing up.
"No, again, I can handle dogs. This thing is darker and doesn't look like it has fur, unless it's very short. The strangest thing is that it doesn't eat the goats," she said.
"You're not suggesting…" the sheriff began, breaking off into a hearty laugh.
"Of course not, don't be silly. That old wives tale? No, it must be some sort of animal," she said, quite serious.
"Well, I suppose I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't accompany you back to the ranch to at least see what you're talking about," the sheriff jibed, still grinning.
Maria Rosalva walked out the door without further comment. The odd pair made the trip to the ranch in complete silence, the woman limping worse as they progressed. As they passed through the gate the sheriff began to look around. Maria nodded toward the house indicating it was on the other side. They skirted the building and the sheriff nodded, there were indeed two intact goats in the weeds.
"What the hell?" the sheriff whispered as he looked at the dead livestock. Their throats were ripped open but no other damage was done. It was quite clear they had been nearly drained of blood.
"See what I was saying señor?" Maria Rosalva De Santiago said inquisitively.
Nodding, the sheriff knelt down beside the first goat and looked more closely.
"They've been bitten two or three times each but that's it," the woman mentioned. Sheriff Haggard nodded again and touched the goat. The taut flesh was further testament to the fact that the blood had been taken from the animal. Bones stood out on the things body, but the amount of fat said it should be much plumper.
"Yea, it sure is strange," John said, looking over to the other goat.
Maria Rosalva grunted. She nudged the second goat with her boot and it shifted. The animal was lighter than usual without blood. The sheriff stood back on his feet and looked at the old woman.
"Well, I'll keep an eye out and ask the other farmers if they've seen anything," he said carefully.
"Thanks John, that's all I was asking for," Maria replied, "incidentally, what do you think it was?"
Shrugging the officer smirked, "Chupacabra?" The pair laughed.
Nodding to the lady Sheriff Haggard began his trudge back to the town. This was something for the books. A predator that didn't eat goats but drank their blood was definitely unusual. He chuckled to himself as he opened the gate. Chupacabra indeed.
Two months passed. Nothing happened. No nervous coyotes, no dead goats, and no more visits to the sheriff's office. Maria Rosalva De Santiago had resumed her normal routine. For the first few weeks after the attack she stood outside as the sun went down, her shotgun at the ready, loaded and cocked. Now, the lull of boring standard procedure took over once more.
The goats and cows gave their milk and grazed. The night air was crisper than it had been. Fall had officially taken hold and the temperature had dropped steadily over the past weeks. Maria stood outside as the sun began to go down, shotgun leaning against a wall behind her. It was ready to fire, but she felt no need to hold it. It was a beautiful evening. She thought she'd take a walk around the goat enclosure. Picking up the gun she began to walk, limping a bit.
Maria Rosalva De Santiago started. A strange noise came from around a corner of the house. It was like a shuffling, rustling noise in the grass. She immediately thought "Snake." Then, dropping that notion, she heard a crunching noise. That sounded like bone breaking, something she knew well from decades of slaughtering animals.
She crept around the corner and fought back a gasp. The sleek, black frame was bent low over a goat. It moved up and down as it breathed around the neck in its mouth. Raising the shotgun Maria froze and took aim. Cursing herself for a fool she cocked back the hammer as smoothly and quietly as she could. Unfortunately, there was no disguising the click as the gun snapped to the ready position. A ghastly head turned around, red eyes again shining out under the moonlit sky.
It growled. A deep, guttural, rumbling noise came from its chest. Maria's breath caught in her throat and she couldn't pull the trigger. Terror paralyzed the normally calm elderly woman and she simply stared. The creature began an odd movement as it turned and began to wave its head back and forth in a rhythmic rocking motion. It was like a snake hypnotizing a bird or rodent. Maria Rosalva was suddenly very aware of her heart pounding against her ribs.
Finally, the woman's finger squeezed the trigger. A roar tore open the silence of the night and in the flash of muzzle burst Maria almost missed the animal jumping sideways out of the aim of her gun. It growled more loudly and goats began to make anxious sounds. Coyotes started up in the background as if to accentuate the ominous night. Silvery moonlight glistened off the shotgun and Maria's black, flowing hair.
The beauty of the night was broken by this little monstrosity sitting crouched in the yard of the De Santiago ranch house. It glared at Maria Rosalva, continuing its strange head weaving. The old woman broke eye contact and drew shells from her poncho. Breaking the breech barrel she thumbed the ammo into the weapon. Popping it back into position she again rose the barrel, ready to cock it.
Cocking the shotgun Maria stared at the animal and again froze. She fell paralyzed as the red eyes seemed to bore into her soul. Ice trickled down her back, pins and needles boring into her body. A shiver wracked her frame, she couldn't pull the trigger. Maria Rosalva De Santiago could do nothing. It was night and a monster was killing her goats, but she could do nothing.
Then, the creature was upon her. She fell silently, rubies raining from her neck. The beast head leapt five feet, its jaws clamping around the aging woman's neck. A keening sound rose from the animal as it feasted. Ruined life lay beneath its claws, blood draining from the body.
Such was life.