Goat Sucker Blues Part Two

Tobin had supper with Teresa, in her office.  They kept the door closed.  None of the other hands, not even Mel, said a thing about it.  Tobin had been there the longest of them all, since before Michael Cole, the old man’s heir, had taken control and left his sister, Teresa, in charge of the day to day matters.  Cole went to the city to spend all the money they made of the cattle he could.  Even before the old man had died, the younger Cole was a rare sight on the land.  Teresa had been raised up among the horses and cattle.  Tobin had been a young man, new to the Texas sky, when he taught Teresa how to ride the mare her father gifted to her.  There was no need for talk of the time they spent together.  Old man Cole had thought highly of the Okie.  He had always been a good worker, the best on the ranch.  There was talk from the old man that he would sell the ranch to Tobin one day, but the old man’s son had raised a stink about it, about how the ranch was his inheritance, that it was only right it came to him when the old man decided it to be time to give up control, and when the old man’s health took a turn, Michael Cole signed the papers and the ranch was his, but he gave his sister the position as manager to placate her.   He came by maybe once a year to make sure it was running as best to keep his bank account full to the brim.

Tobin had a bunk out with the other hands, in the cabin old man Cole had built, with a television and showers and enough beds for ten men, but he spent most nights in the main house with Teresa.  The younger Cole may not be the most loved of bosses, but Teresa was fair, and Tobin a respected elder, though he could still do all he needed and had no issues throwing a few punches when necessary.  No one talked about the time they spent together.  There was no need.

After having their suppertime in the office, Tobin went out to help Mel put together what they needed for the night.  Canteens of water, a bundle of tortillas and beans, the goat and the bottle Tobin had conceded, their rifles, and a bedroll for each.  Teresa gave Tobin a peck on the cheek, and not a hand there so much as snickered.  Mel was up on his horse and looked away, out to the southern field.  Tobin nodded at the woman, put his foot in the stirrup and lifted himself up to the saddle.  The two vaqueros were off with out a word into the dying light, their horses moving without a hurry through the standing cattle.

In the northern sky stars began opening their eyes to the lonesome men, watching with interest as they rode towards the clouded night.  In the south, a cord of blue light cracked through, out over Mel’s homeland, and some moments later a rumble came out over the land, into the heart of each man, a reverberation that rattled their ribs as the evening wind blew coldly over them, bringing the smell of cattle droppings to their nose, a smell familiar and comforting to each.  The moon rose like a black eye in the east.  The cows murmured in their slumber.  The goat trailed behind them, its rope tied to Mel’s horse.

The low, childlike gurgle of the thirsty river met them after an hour’s travel.  From his saddle pouch, Tobin drew forth a flashlight, and as they went along the river, he shinned it like a searchlight until he found what he was hoping not too.

“Un toro,” Mel said, looking at the bull awash in the halo of light, less than five feet from the river.

Tobin got down from his horse, as did his compatriot.  Both men crouched down low on their knees over the deceased.  The wound on the animal’s neck was still steaming in the cool night, and he didn’t have to, but Tobin put his hand to the beast’s chest.  “Still warm.”  He stood back up and shined the light over the surrounding sand.  A trail of tracks led to the bull and back to the water.  The air smelled of shit.

“What do you think?”

“Seems whatever did this is across the river.”

“Si.”

“Come on.  Let’s cross here.”

“Here?”

“The river’s barely a foot or two deep.  Get your lazy ass back up on that horse.”

“Pajero.”  Mel went got back on his horse, and Tobin picked up the goat and handed it up to him.

The river was fifteen feet wide and came up to their horse’s knees.  They crossed slowly, keeping the animals calm, each man mindful of loose rocks.   The foul stink in the air got heavier when they got to the other side, and the horses started to behave skittishly, jumping at the wind in the brush, the water running by.  The two horses were tied to a low tree.  Tobin found a thick stick, two feet long, and started whittling a point on the end.  Satisfied, he pushed it deep into the ground, and tied the goat’s leash to it.  The animal went to the end and started eating the fresh grass.

The two vaqueros sat at the base of a tree and waited, a rifle across each lap.  After an hour of silence, Mel took out the bundle of tortillas and beans.

“Frijoles están fríos.”

“What you want me to do about that?”

“Get a fire going.”

“Give it an hour.”

“Tengo hambre.”

“Eat them cold, then.  Let’s wait and see what we see before we start up a fire.”  Mel put the food back in the bundle and set it to the side.

“What do you think that smell is?”

“Cow shit.”

“Don’t smell like no cow shit I’ve ever smell.”

“You a connoisseur of cow shit now?”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah.”

“Ever been this side of the river?”

“Maybe once or twice.  We never kept nothing out this far.”

“We’re not all that far from the border.”

“Nope, we’re not.  Be quiet.”

“Could be anything out here.  Narcos.”

“Ain’t no narcos out here.  We’ve never had a problem with anyone crossing the land.  Be quiet.”

“I don’t like it out here.”

“Shut up.”

“Extraño.”

“I mean it, shut up.  Did you hear that?” he asked, standing to his feet, clutching the rifle.  Mel mirrored him.  They stood stock still, watching the outer dark, listening.  There was a sound like breathing, quieter than the horses, the goat.  Tobin lit up the flashlight and shined it out over the surrounding brush.

A flash of movement, and something like a growl came from the north.

Quick footsteps away and the two vaqueros were following, away from the horses, the bait.  After a minute, Tobin stopped, and Mel almost ran into his back.  The sound of the pursuit had gone quiet.

“What was it?” Mel whispered.  Tobin swept the light from side to side, all around him.  The breathing was still there, just outside of sight.  It was heavier, winded.

“Don’t know.  Looked white.”

“White?  Un gringo?”

“Don’t know.  It was low to the ground.  A wolf, maybe.”

“Thought you said there were no lobos out here.”

“Quiet.”  Tobin extinguished the light and put it in his back pocket.  He held the rifle like a soldier, stepped softly, avoiding twigs or rocks.  Mel took his lead.

There was a rustle to their left.

Tobin turned and fired at the sound.  The explosion kept anything else from reaching their ears.

The older hand took the light back out, shined it where the bullet had gone.

A drop of blood on the dirt.

A trail of red leading away from the river.

They followed the markings through the brush, direct for fifty feet to a small cave made from two boulders.  The outside was littered with the bodies of small animals, squirrels and rats, rabbits and bats.  Not a damn drop of blood anywhere to be seen.

“I told you.   El chupacabra.”

“Shut up.”

Tobin shined the light into the opening of the cave.  The dark was stronger than the light, refused to give any ground.

“Come on,” he said.

“In there?”

“In there.”

“Mierda.”

Stepping inside, they found the cave to be deeper, going into the ground, like a burrow.  They heard the breathing, louder, echoing off the walls.  It was harsher.  Whatever the source, it was in pain.  Something like a whimpering came to the two.

“You hit it.”

“Yeah.”

Ten feet into the cavity, there was a rustle of movement.  The flashlight illuminated crude designs on the dirt walls, shapes like bulls, buffalo, and something like a person, more animalistic.  The drawings looked to be made in blood.

They went towards the sound, deeper underground.  The walls got closer, more claustrophobic.  The light save for their torch grew darker.  The air thicker.   The smell fouler, shit and sulfur and decomposition.  More animal corpses lined the walls.

The tunnel opened up into a small den, ten feet wide.  A nest of twigs and scraps of cloth was in the center.  A body rested there.  The source of the breathing.

It looked like a man.  Emaciated, with not an ounce of fat under the pale, luminescent skin.  Thick fibers of muscle.  Hair long and dreaded with dirt.  A patchy, black beard crusted with blood.  The thing’s eyes were the color of the sky by the horizon, twisted with hate and pain.  It growled, not the sound of a man, but a cornered animal.  The bullet had hit its shoulder, gone straight through.  Thin rivers of blood on its chest and back.

chrisdealChris 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.

The thing got to its legs.  They trembled at first, but grew steady.  Tobin raised his rifle, took the thing’s head in his sight.

With an obscene screech it threw itself at the man closest, at Tobin.

He didn’t hesitate with the trigger.

The explosion was louder in the close walls of the burrow.  The thing fell to the ground in a pink mist of matter.

Tobin waited for his breathing to steady, for the hearing to come back to his ears.  “Told you weren’t no damn chupacabra.”

Mel didn’t respond.

Tobin turned slowly, making sure another bullet was in the rifle’s chamber.

Mel was on the ground.  Another thing on top of him, it’s broken yellow teeth in the man’s neck.

Mel tried to speak; only a bubble of blood came out.

Three more things stood between Tobin and the exit.

He fired, once, twice, until the cartridge was empty.

The things kept coming.


Goat Sucker Blues Part One

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.”

“Los lobos?”

“Ain’t no damn wolves around here.”

“Could be a stray.  La unica.”

“Could be.”

“Probably not, though.”

“Probably not.”

“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.

“Nope.”

“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.”

“How’s that?”

“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?”

“Don’t know.”

“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?”

“Seventh.”

“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.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“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.”

“Mámalo.”

“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.”

“Will do.”

“When do you want to go out?”

“After supper.”

“Trabajo?”

“Trabajo.”

 

 

* * *

 

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?”

“Dos.”

“What?”

“And the calf.”

“What?”

“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.”

“Christ.”

“There was no sangre.  None at all.”

“Christ Almighty.”

“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.”

“Es malo.”

“We tried letting you think once, you know.”

“I know.”

“You thought it would be a good idea to try raising llamas out here.”

“Shut up.”

“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.”

“Bait.”

“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.”

“The answer.”

“It makes perfect sense, you just stop to think on it.”

“Que es?”

“Aliens.”

chrisdealChris 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.

“Chinga usted.”

“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.”

“Puta.”


Priest and Pistol

When the killers gave Eduard the choice between the machete and the tire, it was sometime after midnight. They had been beating him since nightfall.

They broke down the front door and flooded into his home. Seven men, most in gaudy, expensive clothes, brandishing pistols and shotguns and blades coated in tissue and dry blood. Their leader was dressed as a priest but had no collar around his throat. They struck Eduard and put a gun to his face, a knife to his throat. The Priest asked if Eduard would like to go for a drive as his men tore up the house. They put a bag over his head and drove in circles as the sun descended from the sky. They cursed and threatened to be there for his wife when she came home. The Priest silenced them with a bullet. Eduard could feel the white heat of it pass close to his face, smell the spray of powder burning through the cloth over his face. A weight slumped against him and the rest of the ride was quiet. The wind cut through the broken window and Eduard could smell the desert.

The killers took bets behind the circle of headlights. The blade was the most popular option, but Eduard read the newspapers and he knew it would not be as quick or simple as a beheading. They would start with his feet, chopping them off at the ankles and tying a tourniquet around the stumps. He would sit in his pain for maybe an hour, getting to know it as something real. He would scream and try to crawl to safety but they would be there to kick him back into the arena of cars. Then they would take his knees. The killers made a game out of it, trying to draw out the murder for as long as possible.

Choose the tire, the Priest said, bent above the prone form of Eduard. It will hurt; there is nothing I can do about that, but it will be over with sooner than you would think. The smoke will put you to sleep and it’ll be done.

The stars were out, and this far from the world they saw everything. Every finger had been broken, some several times. Eduard’s teeth were smashed from his jaw, his blood trailing down his face, his throat. Eduard asked for the tire and the killers groaned. A voice said, We can still use the machete, but the Priest cut him down.

There is no joy in this for me. I am a soldier and these are my orders.

Eduard wanted to ask why, but he found no words. It did not matter, though. This was the death he was born into. Two killers came and handcuffed each of his arms to a chain. The chains were attached to the bumper of a car. The men behind the wheels took just enough pressure off of the brake peddles to pull Eduard to his feet, his arms extended, shoulders and elbows and wrists out of sockets. The Priest stood before Eduard and placed a comforting hand on his chest.

I will say a prayer for you if you will give me the same benefit.

Two of the killers put a tire around Eduard’s neck. His face and chest were splashed with the gasoline pooled inside. Each breath was fought for. One of the killers laughed. The Priest shot him in the center of his back and ordered him to be left for the coyotes. Eduard begged and the Priest relented. A match was lit and dropped into the tire. His screams echoed through the night and birds of prey mocked him. The Priest did not lie, it was over fast. As the flames spread, over his body and into his lungs, the Priest put a pistol to Eduard’s forehead, but it was not needed. The man went quiet. They unhooked the chains and the body fell, flesh still smoldering into the dawn. The smoke and the ashes caught the wind and were carried across the desert, to the coast and over the ocean.