“Dude, I told you, chupacabras eat goats not cows,” Miguel said and stepped over the barbed-wire fence, being careful not to snag his crotch. The field on the other side was dark, and huge bovine shapes loomed in the moonlight.

His employer, Dale Costa, moved ten feet ahead, shining a flashlight into the gloom. He stopped, turned, and pointed the light at Miguel’s feet. The powerful smell of garlic wafted in the air between them courtesy of the string of bulbs Dale wore around his neck.

“I don’t think garlic works on them, either,” Miguel said. They’d discussed this before, and though Miguel knew the legend of the chupacabra like the back of his hand — his abuela used to scare the shit out of him with it — Dale remained convinced the infamous goat-sucker of Mexican folklore was at the root of his problems.

“Look, man, something’s eatin’ my cows,” Dale said. “Maybe it’s not an according-to-Hoyle chupacabra, but it’s gotta be in the same family or some shit.”

Dale had fifty head of cattle on his dairy, and losing one cow was bad, but he’d lost four, and that was outright catastrophic. Miguel had joked, perhaps inappropriately, after they’d found the first cow, torn open and drained of blood, that maybe it was some breed of northern chupacabra. Had he known his employer’s predilection for wild conspiracy theories gained at fringe websites that peddled high-octane bullshit to the naïve and desperate, he would have kept his mouth shut.

Miguel shook his head. “So we’re gonna, what? Kill it with garlic and a shotgun?”

Dale carried his 12-gauge in his left hand, loaded with shells filled with silver BBs. Miguel had told him silver was for werewolves, but he hadn’t listened to that either.

Dale blinked. “Well, yeah. I figure the garlic’ll make him weak, then I’ll blast him.”

“Then what am I doing here?”

“I need a positive ID once I nail the little bastard. You’ve seen a chupacabra before, right?”

Miguel shook his head. He hadn’t ever seen a chupacabra because they didn’t exist, but Dale had promised to pay him five hundred bucks. Now that he was out here, though, the realty of the situation came crashing down.

“Dale,” he said. “Look, man, it’s not a chupacabra killing your cows. It’s people, and the kind of people that can do that to an animal can do it to us. Get it?”

“Horseshit,” Dale said. “Nobody in Modesto would do that. This is a good Christian town, not some pit of devil-worshipers like San Francisco or Sacramento.”

“Listen, man,” Miguel said. “I’m from Modesto too, and there are some bad motherfuckers in this town. We need to call the cops.”

Dale’s eyes narrowed. “You want that five-hundred bucks or not?”

He really needed the money. He was getting behind on his child support, and five-hundred would put him square with his ex. Miguel reached around and touched the butt of the Sig Sauer P226 stuck in his waistband. He’d loaded it with plain old copper-jacketed lead, and it lent him some comfort.

“Fine, you got half an hour.”

Dale nodded. “Then turn on your flashlight and help me look.”

Miguel switched on his Maglite, and they moved further into the field, passing sleeping cows oblivious to the humans in their midst. Cows did not, as urban myth attested, sleep standing up, and when Miguel spotted one on its side, the first real stirrings of fear uncoiled in his guts.

“Look,” Dale whispered, and pointed his shot gun at the cow Miguel had spotted. As they moved closer, Miguel realized the animal was moving, jerking and twitching — something else was moving it.

Miguel pulled the Sig from his pants. Whoever it was had to have seen their flashlights, and the fact they hadn’t run off was a bad sign.

“Turn off the flashlights,” Dale said, switching his off. He crouched low and took his shotgun in both hands.

Miguel turned off his Maglite and pointed his pistol at the prone cow. Dale saw the gun and nodded. “Good thinking,” he said. “Your bullets will slow it down so I can get a good shot.”

“Dude, please listen to me. That is not a fucking chupacabra,” Miguel said. “It’s some crazy Satan-worshiping assholes. Let’s just go and call the cops.”

Dale scowled and shook his head. “I told you, people in Modesto don’t do that.” That apparently settled the matter for Dale, because he moved off toward the stricken cow and put his shotgun to his shoulder.

Miguel followed behind Dale, a little to his right, so he’d have a clear shot at the loony son-of-a-bitch gutting cattle in the middle of the night.

They were within ten paces of the cow when it stopped moving. They waited, and the hairs on Miguel’s arms stood on end. He opened his mouth to tell Dale he was five seconds from leaving his ass in this field, when two dark shapes darted away from the cow, running east and west. The thunderous roar of Dale’s shotgun followed, and startled Miguel so badly he fell over on his ass, firing his Sig into the air. He climbed to his feet and saw Dale sprinting after his targets. Miguel followed in a shambling run.

He caught up to his employer, who had stopped in the middle of the field, his shotgun resting casually over one shoulder. The dairy farmer stared down at something in the tall grass. “Got one,” Dale said happily and switched on his flashlight.

Dale’s light fell across something with leathery gray skin and a massive, bulbous head. Two huge black eyes stared up at them, and the creature’s toothless mouth hung slack in death. Miguel’s bladder let go in a hot wet rush as he realized what he was seeing.

“Goddamn it,” Dale said, shaking his head. “Sorry, Miguel. Not a chupacabra. Fuckin’ aliens again.”

Aeryn Rudel is a writer from Seattle, Washington. His second novel, Aftershock, was recently published by Privateer Press. Aeryn occasionally offers dubious advice on the subjects of writing and rejection (mostly rejection) on his blog