Lara loved to hike the verdant forest trails that paralleled the Little Lazy River. It was cooler, there, in the shade of old, vine-covered hawthorns and silverbells. The creek – it could hardly be called a river, really – meandered languidly in the sweltering heat; even moving water took on a sluggish, heavy stink when it had gone too long without a shower. Lara snapped a few photos with her cell phone, just to document the conditions in the area, as she’d done at least once a month for the past four years, ever since she’d heard the chilling tale on public radio one night that sent her on her quest to find the creature some called “chupacabra.” The caller had earnestly insisted that the beast was no mere myth, as many assumed, dreamed up to enchant tourists and bring their trade to the sleepy, western town of Nogatos.
The caller had suggested that the town might have earned the name “no gatos” – no cats – for a reason. That included larger cats, like bobcats and mountain lions. No one had spotted one in the area for as long as anyone could remember, and until recently, no one seemed to wonder why. Lara wondered. Lara had even parlayed her interest into a paying gig with the local paper, where she wrote a weekly column that touched on issues such as soil erosion, global warming, fertilizer run-off, xeriscaping – anything that gave her an excuse to hike the Little Lazy River on weekends. She’d earned enough to set up a few small night-vision webcams in the area in hopes of catching the elusive chupacabra, should it prefer night-time to the bright light of day. So far, though…nothing. She had watched a small family of alligators swallow a badger, two armadillos, and a couple of turtles, though.
Cycle of life. Lara had grown up watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, so she knew that beauty and brutality were inseparable in nature. She went to check on each of the cameras; they’d not been broadcasting anything but gray static for a week. Curiously, each of them had been vandalized, turned upward towards the sky. They bore scratch and tooth marks. But it didn’t appear random – every camera was pointed straight UP. Lara adjusted each and tested the reception on her cell phone.
Wild Kingdom before bed as a kid did not prepare her for what she found just a furlong ahead, around the next bend. Snarling, slavering, the mangy creature stood over layers of viscera stacked like some grisly parfait. They might have been human remains – Lara had never been much good at geometric puzzles, and her brain wasn’t playing that game while entrails steamed a few feet ahead of her on the trail. The beast bared its fangs and spat at her, standing its ground, protecting its turf. She took a step backwards. It glared at her. Another step. Another. Slowly. She fought to keep her breakfast down. These are not the droids you’re looking for, she whispered, stifling hysterical giggles. When she reached the bend, she could hear it returning to contented sounds of rending and chewing flesh, its growls becoming gutteral sounds of satisfaction. Lara turned and ran.
Later, describing the chupacabra, Lara realized how insane she sounded. There were no reports of missing persons in the area, and police found nothing – not one scrap – of anything, anyone – around the trail where Lara led them. Lara knew what she’d seen, but she had been too terrified, for once in her life, to pull out her phone and take the shot. And so, the myth lived on, even as Lara was assigned to advertising sales and told to “shut up about the rabid dog, already.”
Lara wished it were so easy to forget the chupacabra.
Today’s short story was inspired by the Writing Prompt – Creative Copy Challenge #495 and is brought to you by the bolded words and phrases in the story. I toss the gauntlet to you, and to the members of Write Tribe, to create your own story and link to it, below: