The summer heat beat down on the Sonoran Desert, just as it did all year round. Though it was November, the old, glass thermometer that clung to the window of my father’s convenience store still held upwards of ninety. The air conditioning was on the fritz but father refused to fix it since “It’s going to cool down any day now” . He’d been saying that every year since my mom passed ten years ago. She was always the handywoman of the family, so it was likely his Chicano Honor held that he not admit to not knowing how to fix something, nor that he pay someone to do the fixing.
“Uh, excuse me?” someone asked, slamming their drink on the counter. “Can you explain this to me?” she said, gesturing at the slushie on the counter. She was one of the women who frequented the shop, a soccer mom with a cardigan and hair pulled back so tight you could barely see the wrinkles that had begun to form across her face.
I looked down at the drink, which I’d noticed had sloshed out and onto the rack of lighters beside the register. “It’s called a slushie, ma’am. It’s a frozen beverage-”
“Uhm, yes, I know it’s a frozen beverage, miss-” she paused to look at my nametag, “Cone-sway-low-”
“Consuela,” I corrected, but she continued without missing a beat.
“What I want to know is why it has liquid in it,” she stated, rolling her eyes and clattering her manicured nails against the counter top.
“Ma’am, when something is frozen, like your beverage, and it sits in a location that is in the nineties-” I said, noting the thermometer on the window, “-they tend to, well, melt.”
Sharon, or maybe it was Barbara, did not accept my response and left in a huff, claiming that she would be writing a stern Yelp review when she got home. I believed her, of course, since she’d written at least one per week for the last eight months or so. She even advised, on more than one occasion, that I use a different name on my badge, so as to not look “like an illegal”. It was unclear why she didn’t just go to the Circle K across the street but I hadn’t the time to ask.
“Aye, chihuahua, what’s her problem?” asked the now sole-customer in the store. Her name was Alejandra and worked in the tattoo shop next door.
“Her slushie melted,” I said, making a pouty face to express my concern. Onto the counter she set her usual, an energy drink and a honey bun, and I was already grabbing her a pack of menthols and two of the scratchers with the luchadores on them. “It’s gonna be $13.78, please.”
While Alejandra fumbled to pull out her wallet, the chime above the door sounded. Beneath it, entered in someone I knew couldn’t be from around here. Later middle-aged with a look that screamed “I’m a snowbird”, to include the socks-with-sandals, he looked as if he wanted to get mugged by the group of fourth graders that roosted in the alleyway between mine and Ali’s shop.
“Get a load of that guy,” Ali laughed under his breath. She passed me a twenty, never taking her eye off the strange man.
“Where do all of ‘em get those hideous tropical shirts, you think?” I asked, stifling a chuckle. I punched in the digits and withdrew the change once the register violently spit out the drawer.
“I bet they’re part of a club,” Ali said, already opening her fresh pack of cigarettes. She beat them against the palm of her hand and opened the flap. Ritualistically, she pulled one out and put it back in upside down before drawing another and placing it behind her ear. With a simple thanks, she left the shop to go on with his day. Then it was just me and the snowbird.
“Let me know if I can help with anything,” I recited in the fakest of customer service voices. He nodded while rummaging through the rack of magazines closest to the door. Repeatedly, he’d pull out a mag’ and mutter “no, no, that’s not right” under his breath. It was at magazine sixteen that I felt the need to step in.
“You sure there isn’t anything I can help with, sir?” I prompted, walking slowly down the long counter space to best see him.
“Do you have road maps?” he finally asked, looking up to me. He pushed his thick-lensed glasses up to the ridge of his nose with a curled index finger.
“I mean, yeah, but don’t you have, like, a cell phone or something?” I asked, a little surprised. Even my abuela, who’d turned ninety-three last June, had a smart phone by now. She even Instagrammed pictures of her co-elderly pit bull a few times per day.
Quickly inserting the magazine back into the rack, the man swiveled and made a beeline towards me. Under his breath, he whispered, “This is a matter of national-security. I need a map of the local region and any news you can get me about animal attacks within a fifty-mile radius.”
“So, that’s a no on the whole having a cell phone thing, I take it,” I said, nodding along and slowly moving my hand to the big red button under the counter should things take a turn for the worse. “Uhm, yeah, we have the maps up by the cash register, with the sunglasses. And, uh, I can Google it, I guess?”
“Yes, do the Google, please,” he grunted, then went to the rack to grab a map.
“You looking for anything particular?” I asked, searching the news feed, “Like attacks on animals or attacks by animals. Because honestly both are a lot higher than I thought they’d be. Five kids, just in the past week, were attacked while out in the desert and seven local farmers, a few miles south of Tucson, reported their cattle were slaughtered. The local sheriff’s office reported that it was likely that mountain lions were going into rural communities in search of food or water with the heat wave and an almost non-existent monsoon season.”
“Just what I thought. Perfect!” he exclaimed with an inappropriate frivolity. Clearly, he noticed my concern and further explained, “I am tracking this beast.”
“You know that I said the sheriff’s off-” I began prior to getting interrupted.
“I know, child, but your law enforcement is hardly a match for it,” he said, rather bluntly. And rudely. Before I could say another word, he darted out of the store, making off with my 99-cent travel map. Purely on principal, or maybe because I knew what father would say, I threw up the “away from register” sign and booked it out the store.
Outside, the sidewalks were empty and traffic minimal, but still he was nowhere in sight. I looked down the alleyway beside the shop but there were only children with chains and bats, so I assumed that wasn’t his means of escape and, seeing as it was a 99-cent piece of paper, let him have it. Giving up, I turned around and went back inside to pour myself a melty slushie.
* * *
“And he just ran away?” Javi asked the next day. The kid’s real name was Javier, who was fresh out of high school and often worked the shop with me. It was the day after the Snowbird came through and I’d just finished showing Javi the tape from the security camera above the register. There was still something bugging me about the whole incident. Could it really have just been the sandals with tube socks?
“Yep, still owes me that 99 cents,” I lamented, though clearly not upset enough to take my eyes off my phone screen. I was busy clacking away on the screen, scouring the web for any link between that strange man and freak animal attacks. So far, I’d found a grand total of zero hits. Of course, it didn’t help that I had no idea what his name was and was only going off “strange man and wild animals”, “sandals man and wild animals”, and “old guy seeks animals”. That last one in particular was a bad choice of words. Eventually, I went back to the original search of animal attacks to see if there was anything I was missing.
“What do ya think he’s doing about now?” Javi said after a lull.
“Well, he wanted a map of the local area and said he was tracking ‘the beast’,” I reiterated, “I’d say he’s probably hunting some big cats.”
“Oh,” he said. Yeah. Oh. But then, I found something.
“Hey, uh, Javi,” I said, tapping his shoulder with the back of my hand. “Y’heard of el Chupacabra?”
“Like the urban legend?” he asked, shooting me a look of confusion.
“Look,” I said without answering. On the sixth page of the search, I’d found an article from almost twenty years ago that proclaimed a series of what had been ruled as being mountain lion attacks were actually done by el Chupacabra. While it didn’t have photographic proof to back up the claim, there was a picture of a person who’d witnessed an attack. My stomach instantly sank.
“The Snowbird,” Javi uttered in awe. And there he was, the Snowbird. This time wearing a suit, but not looking a day younger than from when I’d seen him. Javier and I exchanged a look that encompassed shock, horror, and confusion all in one.
“‘Special Agent Gerald Krantz, who appeared shortly after local police arrived on the scene, insists what farmer Francisco Gutierrez claims to be el Chupacabra is likely a coyote with severe case of mange,’” I read aloud, taking time to take everything in.
“If he thinks it’s just another coyote or mountain lion, why’s he so interested?” Javi asked, “Especially twenty years later looking exactly the same? Something’s going on here, Connie, I’m telling you.”
His questions mirrored my own and I was left with more than I had before I’d discovered the article. All questions pointed to the Snowbird, but I was at a loss for what to do next.
For the rest of the evening, business was slow. The monotony of a job in customer service hit hard in the wake of making such a strange discovery. I’d replenished the shelves, changed out the empty bladders for the soda fountain, and mopped the floors before the increasingly overwhelming sense of anxiety that festered within the shop felt like it had swallowed me whole.
“Javi, you good if I duck out early?” I asked, knowing full well he’d say yes. Being the shop owner’s daughter didn’t warrant me a coveted position within its ranks but it did allow me more leeway than other employees.
Without waiting for a response, I took off my highlighter-pink vest and tossed it over the counter, then exited the store.
Outside, Ali stood in front of the window to her shop, smoking a cigarette. Before I’d even made it to her, she’d pulled out her pack and tossed it to me. I caught it and pulled a cigarette out, placing it in the corner of my lips while I fumbled off the pack and pulled out a lighter.
Ali began to wax poetic about the life of a struggling artist, but I could hardly pay attention. The Snowbird still clung in the back of my mind, driving me past curiosity and dangerously close to obsession.
“You think time travel’s real, Ali?” I asked without regard for a segue or the fact that she was in the middle of speaking. My question confused her but after she thought about it for a moment, she spoke.
“Nah, it don’t make any sense,” she said with a grimace, flicking the ashes from the tip of her cigarette.
“What about, like, aliens?” I continued, taking a drag off the cigarette.
“Nah, they don’t make any sense either,” she said, doing the same. “You okay, Connie?” I laughed, not really knowing if I was. I felt like I was going crazy.
“Yeah, I suppose that’s true,” I said, rolling my eyes in amusement. “And…I don’t really know. Ask me again tomorrow.”
With that, I flicked the butt of my cigarette into the ash tray above the trashcan and headed off.
* * *
I was nearly home by the time I got the alert. The local news app for my phone notified me another child had been attacked at the eastside Saguaro National Park on the other side of town. I sat there at a red light, reading and rereading it so many times I’d missed when the light turned green. The man behind me laid on his horn and jolted me to attention. I floored the gas and took off from a screeching halt.
By the next light, I’d turned my blinker on, ready to pull into my apartment complex at the next right. Closer and closer I got to my turn, until I passed it altogether. I shook my head at myself and mumbled a string of profanities under my breath. I was going to do it. I was going to find the Snowbird.
I had twenty long minutes in between my split-second decision and my arrival at the park. I second guessed myself half a dozen times just between stoplights, but my morbid curiosity kept me going, cramming the self-doubt into a locker like some dweeb in between classes. Sure, that may have been an odd metaphor to use, given my age, but I often found myself regressing back to a high school mindset when stressed out. I still can’t even look a teenager in the eyes if he’s wearing a letterman’s.
* * *
When I arrived at the Saguaro National Park, it was nearing sunset and the emergency services were packing up and heading out. The girl had been rushed to the emergency room with non-life-threatening injuries. Now, there were only three cars in the parking lot: mine, a police car, and an older beater that looked to be on its last leg. Considering the police were taking down the police tape as I was pulling up, I had a pretty good guess as to who the third car belonged to.
I parked and got out of my vehicle, making sure to grab the small pocket knife I kept in the console. I headed to the beat-up car first to make sure there was no one inside. The police officer sitting in his own watched intently, but so did most in a place like Tucson, so I took it for only superficial reasons.
Unsurprisingly, there was no one in the car, which meant that the Snowbird would be out in the park somewhere. I flicked open my knife in one hand and grabbed for my phone with the other, just in case I needed to use the camera. Or call emergency services. I looked back to the cop in his car and sure enough, he was still eyeballing me. I gave a nod and began to walk down the dirt trail in pursuit of the Snowbird.
* * *
Barely five minutes in, I already felt tired. And dehydrated. And miserable. I quickly found myself wondering why people would ever do this for fun. Still, I pushed on. I was going to continue on for the only two reasons I had: he was weird, and I was curious.
I made for the largest hill within the vicinity of the parking lot, hoping I’d see the Snowbird’s lights. The sun had finally set but when I got to the top, I couldn’t see any sign that the Snowbird was out there. I kicked myself. Why had I come out all this way? I felt like a fool, like one of those tin hat-wearing conspiracy theorists. I hung my head, readying myself for the hike-of-shame back to the car. But then I heard a growl. A deep, guttural growl.
It sent chills down my spine and the sense of security gained from my pocket knife dissipated at the thought of trying to take down a mountain lion with a three-inch blade. I slowly turned to face the beast, doing my best to puff my chest out to appear bigger. It seemed that my love of nature documentaries may just be my saving grace, until I laid eyes upon it.
The thing stood on two legs, maybe three feet tall, with big, red eyes and spikes running down its spine. Saliva ran through its razor-sharp teeth and out its mouth. It hunched over, sniffing the air, then rattled its claws against each other. Clearly, this was not a mountain lion.
“Tío was right,” I uttered under my breath, then addressed it. “You’re el Chupacabra, aren’t you?” There was no outward sign that it understood what I said, but it was worth a shot.
“Alright, mijo, I don’t wanna hurt you,” I told it, brandishing my knife. I would’ve laughed at myself if I wasn’t already trying to stave off a panic attack. Unfortunately, my attempts at intimidation were unsuccessful, and the monster took several steps toward me. I tried to calm my heart rate, deep breathing and all that, but tunnel vision had already set in and I was locked on to el Chupacabra. Slowly, I stepped backwards to further the distance between us. If I could give myself enough of a head start, maybe I could stand a chance at outrunning this thing.
“Just stay there,” I willed it with everything I had. Just stay there. Just stay there. Just-
I winced, squeezing my eyes tight, in realization of what I’d done. It was a fallen branch, laying just so as I distanced myself but the noise of my foot breaking it in two alerted the monster of my plan of escape. Erupting with a high-pitched snarl in a display of its teeth, it opened its jaws so wide that it looked to have unhinged. Taking off with unbelievable speed, it charged at me, closing the distance before I could react.
In a lunge, it sunk its claws into my shoulders and dropped me to the floor. Screaming in pain, I impaled the monster with my knife. I struck it right in the abdomen and twisted it inwards. It let loose a howl, but its pain only angered it. The spot where its abdomen touched mine began to feel warm and wet as its blood pooled onto me. Despite its injury, it clenched on to me, sinking its claws further into me. I writhed in agony, sure I was done for. I grabbed its throat with my offhand, trying to fend off the massive set of teeth, but could feel my arms growing weak against the force of the monster.
Quickly, I worked to bring my knees to my chest, then pushed them out against the monster. I managed to gain inches, maybe six or seven, to work with now and the monster’s arms were no longer able to dig its claws into my shoulders like it had. With the short distance now between us, I was able to see that the blood was not normal, but a noxious green that shimmered in the moonlight.
“That is gross on- gah -so many levels, hombre,” I managed, but the blood had already begun to cover my knees and thighs. In seconds, my legs had become so wet from its blood that they gave in, slipping against el Chupacabra’s slick, scaly sides.
Losing the advantage, the increasing sense of dread began to overwhelm me. I was going to die there. I was going to be killed by el Chupacabra because I went off into the desert in the night, just like Tío said would happen. I was going to die, and that sheriff’s office would say it was because of a mountain lion. I was going to die because a weirdo in tubesocks and sandals stole a paper map from my father’s shop.
Then, as I lied there, looking the monster in the eyes while it snarled and lashed at my face, unable to utilize any of my other senses, it stopped. There was a flash of something, and then it just stopped. The pupils of its bright red eyes rolled to the back of its head and its body went completely limp against mine. I could barely process anything that was going on but after a moment, my senses returned to me. To my left, I heard footsteps approaching, crunching in the sand.
“You alright?” they asked me, but I wasn’t quite sure what to respond with. I definitely was not okay, but it may be rude to say considering whatever they’d done had just saved my life. Looking over, I saw him. Approaching me was the man himself, the Snowbird.
When he reached me, he laid down the rifle in his hands. It was metallic, shiny, and had several glowing buttons. It looked like something you’d see on the Enterprise. He knelt and pushed el Chupacabra’s body from atop me, then helped me to my feet. Just then, I realized he was wearing the suit I saw in that old newspaper, but now not in black-and-white, it was teal in color. He dusted off my shoulders and looked at the wounds on my shoulders.
“Here, you’re hurt,” he said abruptly, ignoring my question, then went off to where he had come from. About thirty feet away, he had dropped a case. Returning with it, he set it back down and opened it. It was empty, save for a panel laden with buttons. He pushed one of them, a “plus” sign, and suddenly the empty space in the case began to glow. There was a spark of light and then materials appeared inside of the case.
“What is that?” I asked while Snowbird searched through the contents and grabbed a small bottle that looked like a tube of toothpaste.
“Superliminal travel kit,” he said, as if I should know what it meant, but he realized my confusion and continued, “I can access several kits that exist in the vault with only the touch of a button. Med kit, cooking kit, repair kit. I got a hundred of ‘em. But let’s get you patched up before we go any further.” He opened the bottle and brought it to my injured shoulder, then squirted a gel onto the wounds.
“Funny thing is, though, my navigation kit doesn’t work. We don’t have satellites out here,” he said with a chuckle. That would explain needing a map.
“And who’s we?” I asked. Every answer only served to raise more questions. I wasn’t quite sure if I should stay to hear more or run in the opposite direction.
My skin began to feel hot where the gel touched it. It stung, like a wasp’s sting. I looked down at my shoulder and couldn’t believe what I saw. My skin had started to close, reattaching itself as if pulled together with stitching. In a matter of seconds, the wounds had completely disappeared.
“It’ll hurt internally for a little while longer, but this’ll keep it from getting infected,” Snowbird told me while inspecting my shoulder to ensure everything was okay.
“You didn’t answer my question,” I prodded. He returned only a look of annoyance, but after a stare down, he gave in.
“I suppose it won’t hurt,” he said, eyeing me suspiciously, “The beast that your world calls ‘el Chupacabra’ is not of this planet. It is a transdimensional being from a solar system far from here. It escaped custody of the police organization of my planet, of which I am a part of. It crash-landed on this planet decades ago.”
“Are you telling me you’re from another planet?” I asked, baffled at the idea, “You’re a cop from another solar system, and the urban legend, el Chupacabra, is a transdimensional what now?”
“Transdimensional being,” he said again, “These creatures don’t just move through three-dimensional space like you and I, they can move through the dimension of time. While the scientists of my planet discovered methods of creating a time machine, your ‘el Chupacabra’ can do so without aid of technology. It’s biological. Evolutionary.”
“So, every sighting of him…It’s all the same thing?” I asked, trying to put the pieces together.
“Precisely,” he said, “While the legend of el Chupacabra has existed for over twenty years on your planet, I have been chasing him for a matter of weeks.” He spoke so matter-of-factly that I felt compelled to believe him. The science of it made no sense to me, but who was I to argue with the man who appeared in that newspaper from all those years ago?
“And Gerald Krantz?” I asked.
“A cover identity. Just like the tourist getup,” he shrugged, “But now I think it’s time we went our separate ways.”
“But what about what happened here? What’s going to happen?” my questions were shot in rapid-fire, but he remained silent as he turned back to his case and punched in another number. There was that flash of shimmering light and then a small, rectangular object, reminiscent of a camera, appeared inside. He took the not-camera from the case and turned back to me.
“I’m sorry, kid,” he said with a sigh. He raised the object and I feared the worst.
“W-What’s that gonna do? Scramble my brain? K-Kill me?” I sputtered, holding out my hands, “Please, I’m not gonna tell anyone. Who’d believe me? You’ve seen how people react to Chupacabra sightings. It’s a joke!”
And then, he paused.
“Huh,” he said, lowering the not-camera.
“Huh?” I repeated.
“Maybe you’re right,” he said with a shrug, then turned his attention to the body of the Chupacabra. He brought his briefcase over to it and pressed a button that looked similar to the symbol for WiFi, then opened it after a flash of light emitted from it. Inside, there now were several small disks, about the size of the palm of my hand, which he took and began placing onto the body of the beast. Moments later, the disks began to blink and el Chupacabra faded in and out of existence until it was gone completely.
“It’s done, then,” the Snowbird stated, looking to me with a near vacant expression.
“Done?” I repeated.
“The body of the beast, your ‘Chupacabra’, has been sent to my ship and is awaiting transport back to our world,” he said, “Which, I suppose, means you have nothing to base any claims you may make. I believe that sounds ‘done’ to me. Do you disagree?”
“So, I go free?” I asked, skeptical he’d let me off the hook that easily. Only a minute earlier, he’d made to erase my memory, or even potentially kill me, depending on what that device would do.
He shrugged again. “Perhaps, or perhaps you may be of use to us. It won’t hurt for Gerald Krantz to have a contact, should he ever have to return to your world in the future. So get back home, go about your life as usual. Act like none of this ever happened, and maybe one day you might be called upon to help in the protection of your planet and the continued concealment of my own.”
With his final words, he held out his arm to look at his watch and pressed a button on its face. A shear, white light surrounded him and his body flickered in and out like the Chupacabra had done before him, and soon the light faded and he was no longer in front of me.
“Beam ‘em up, Scotty,” I said with a chuckle, looking up into the clear, night sky. There was no sign of his ship, but I knew he was up there looking down upon me. I lingered there for a while longer before the night’s chill laid its grip upon me, and so I quickly made my way back to my car, wondering if I’d ever see the Snowbird again.
Andrew Olvera lives in Tucson, Arizona, where he works as a teacher for students with special needs. He is the co-founder and an editor of Prismatica Magazine. @andrewtolvera