Highway to Hell

Highway to Hell teaser (again!)

I know I’ve been letting Twitter do my work for me, posting wise. But to make up for all the microposts, here’s a nice long excerpt from Highway to Hell, which, as I may have mentioned, comes out on Tuesday!

Maggie and Lisa are stuck in a half-horse ranching town, and the talk in the town’s one restaurant/bar/hangout is all about the livestock that’s been dying lately. Here’ the prevailing theory.

From Highway to Hell, Chapter 6

“Drought didn’t kill my best herding dog,” said Carl from the Old Guy’s table. “Or Teresa’s goats.”

She unfolded her arms slowly, with a sense of drama. “All with their throats ripped out.”

I swallowed the memory of the blood, the phantom taste of it too recent. “So, what do you think it is?”

“El Chupacabra.”

[Teresa] whispered the name, whether for effect or fear. The half-voiced word breathed across the bar to my waiting ear, lifting the hair on the back of my neck.

“El what?” asked Lisa, her tone breaking the spell.

Bud Man groaned, a not-this-again sound of annoyance. “Teresa, you’re crazy. It’s not the chupacabra. That’s a load of horse s**t.”

She reached across the bar and grabbed his bottle. “You don’t have to drink in my bar if you think I’m crazy.”

He grabbed it back, sloshing beer on the counter. “Yes, I do. It’s the only place in a hundred miles.”

“Dave believes me,” Teresa muttered. “He saw what happened to my goats.”

“What is el chupacabra?” I asked. The word tickled a memory in my mental file cabinet of useless information.

“It means the goatsucker,” said Dave. “It kills livestock, drinks their blood.”

“And you think this goatsucker killed the cow and left it on the road?” I tested the weirdometer in my head, the way you nudge a tooth with your tongue to test if it’s loose. No bells went off, but it was hard to think seriously about something with such a ridiculous name.

Especially when Lisa asked, “Wouldn’t that make it a cowsucker then?”

Teresa scowled at her levity. “El chupacabra kills whatever it can get,” she explained. “With the drought, cows are weak, easier to catch.”

The memory clicked. “Hang on. I remember this from an article on the Internet.”

“Oh, well then it must be true.” Lisa’s tone was drolly dismissive.

I ignored her. “It’s like an urban legend. But in the story, someone found a dead animal they couldn’t identify.”

“You have got to be kidding me.” Lisa pushed back her plate and put her elbows on the table. “This is a real animal?”

“Yes,” said Teresa and Dave.

“No,” said Bud Man, at the same time.

“It is,” Teresa insisted.

My gaze traveled between the three of them, over to the Old Guys’ table, across the audience in the booths. “So, what is this chupacabra thing supposed to look like?”

I’d asked the magic question. Everyone answered at once.

“It’s a huge dog shape–“

“Lizard… like a lizard…”

“With spines down its back.”

“It can hop like a kangaroo…”

“Fly like a bat…”

“Stop!” Teresa held up her hands. The voices all subsided; their queen had called them to order. “El chupacabra is too smart to be seen. It comes out of the darkness to drain the blood of its prey, then disappears. No one sees anything–just a glimpse of glowing red eyes.”

The bar had been warm a moment ago, but as she talked, embroidering the words with melodrama, my skin seemed to cool, and I shivered in the air conditioning.

copyright Rosemary Clement-Moore from Highway to Hell.