Fiction Short: Pueblo Pequeño
Posted by kingpollux
NOTE: Seeing as how my poetry is being somewhat well received, I thought I’d share some fiction too. Why the hell not, after all? This is a blog about writing, huh?
So, this piece, “Pueblo Pequeño,” is also from my collection of shorts and poetry. You can check out the book in the Kindle store if you like! There are three shorts, a brief non-fiction piece, and a cadre of poems. The book is only .99, of course, but is also available in paperback from Create Space through Amazon/Kindle.
Now, the story! I hope you enjoy it! Let me know what you think, please!
Maria Rosalva De Santiago is a sturdy woman. One might describe her as homely with a vague, grandmotherly appeal. Skin stretches over her face and arms, rough and sun-darkened from years of exposure. Wrinkles crease the corners of her eyes. She trudges through weeds toward the house, a handmade poncho drapes over her slender frame. The sun buries itself in the ground behind. She pauses to look back, a workworn hand resting on the brass knob.
Maria pulls the faded red door open. She has no desire to be outside after sundown. Inside, the adobe walls of the ranchhouse are lit by kerosene lamps. Brilliant blankets of Aztec design hang from the walls. On one wall a mural dances under living light. Colors flicker, armadillos and coyotes prancing in a dusty field of mutetones. Maria shuffles toward the kitchen. It’s coffee-before-bedtime.
The woman drops gnarled mesquite into the woodburner. The smoky, spicy scent wafts upward as loose sawdust puffs up from the wood. Shoving sage underneath Maria lights it with a broken matchstick. Moving to a corner she draws water from a pump, filling a robin’s egg kettle. Moving back to the oven the señora places the kettle on the stove’s flattop and pulls a stool from the table. Clutching a tin mug in a leather hand she brushes raven hair over her ear. It has been a hard year this last.
José Francisco de Santiago died in a tornado out on the range while herding cattle. Now, the ranch is in disrepair. Fences are filled with gaps, snarls of barb-wire twisting through the brush. Plants lay strewn across the land; the few managing to hold on are frayed and pitiful. Señora De Santiago ferrets enough money away each season to hire hands, but just enough to keep the ranch running. If business continues to decline she will have to shut down and live off the remaining goats and cows.
Without a doubt these are difficult times, but Maria Rosalva lives a long way from the defunct Wall Street markets. She lives fairly well, all things considered. A shortage of food on a ranch is rare. That, in couple with the fact that the señora never puts her money in a bank insures relative comfort. Paying more help is a drain on ranch funds nonetheless. The way Maria sees it she has one more selling season to turn a profit or give up on business.
Still, time goes on and life does not pause for heartbreak. “That a fifty-three year old woman must manage a Texas ranch alone doesn’t stop God’s sun from rising each day. Such is life,” as Maria says. The waterkettle begins a ragged cry and she lifts it from the stove. Stumping over to a small cabinet Maria Rosalva sprinkles cinnamon over the coffee. This is how Maria Rosalva makes coffee: “no crema, no sugar, solamente canela”. It’s how her father brewed it.
There is a lilting howl from outside, a series of yips follows. Coyotes are common out here. Maria slips off the stool and peers out a round window into the darkening fields. She is glad she moved the animals back to their barbwire enclosures two days past. Coyotes can take a heifer if they are hungry enough, even with an angry bull stomping around.
Another howl punctuates the silence of dusk, this time others answer. Again comes the yipping. Maria pauses then, it sounds as if the creatures are nervous, not stalking prey. She’s not known coyotes to be nervous since wolves passed through years ago. It’s strange, but she supposes that hunters and farmers can’t kill all the brutes. Maria Rosalva grunts then sighs. She will go to town tomorrow. The shotgun is short on ammunition and she needs more if wolves come. Barbwire is not enough to stave off hungry wolves. They always find a way through, especially with perforations sabotaging the fences.
Maria begins her fractured walk down the hall to her bedroom. A bone-chilling shriek rends the night. A goat is screaming.
“Damn!” Maria curses.
Turning back she grabs the shotgun from its rack. The wizened señora shoves the door open and forces one of three cartridges into the shotgun’s breech. The goats are in an enclosure that encircles the house. She jogs sloppily around the corner and sees the animal. It is still emitting weak cries but it’s clear it won’t rise. A small, dark form crouches over the dying goat.
“Madre de Dios!” señora De Santiago says, hissing. The phantasm turns and gallops away into the darkness. Coyotes do not run like that. It looks almost like a monkey from its movements. Maria never saw a real monkey, but they are often featured in safari pictures showcased at the cinema in Dallas. The señora crosses herself and grips her rosary. The shotgun dangles at her side, forgotten. It’s possible the creature was a wounded coyote but that logic fails against a shiver that consumes thought.
The rest of the night passes in the semisilence of the ranchos. Maria Rosalva wakes the next day feeling rejuvenated and ready to make a trek into town. She walks out to bury the goat, warding off shivers of fear with the Lord’s Prayer and a Hail Mary. Its throat is mangled, dark stains sunken in the dust. Maria digs a grave and drags the animal to it and rolls it in, a sickening thump greeting its arrival. After covering the poor young thing with a thin layer of dirt the señora proceeds to the house. She yanks several dollars from a tin jar she hides in a cabinet; one of her many hideholes.
Making the trip into the small town is a pain, but worth the trouble. After the night before, Maria Rosalva needs more shotgun shells than she planned on. It’s not bad to have extra protection, but she resents the necessity. As a practical and level-headed woman she is not one to believe much in ghost tales or jump at shadows. Whatever animal haunts her goat pen will die in a gunblast like any other.
Maria Rosalva De Santiago limps into town. The journey tortures her arthritic joints. “I need more aspirin maybe”, she thinks. Most of the time Maria is OK without the prescription, but when she walks too much it becomes necessary. Several townspeople wave or call to the old woman. She is well liked for her traditional ways. Though some find her rough demeanor chafing, most enjoy her company.
Maria always buys her shells from Pablo Juarez. Stumping into the store and up to the counter she calls out for the man. He must be in the back as usual.
“Pablo, vete aqui!” she says, smirking. Señora de Santiago relishes ordering the man around, he always plays along. Before long she hears footsteps from the storage room.
“Ah, Maria! It has been a long time! I’ve missed you!” Pablo says, smiling widely.
“Oh, callate! I’m nothing special and you know it. I need two boxes of shells Juarez,” she says. Pablo nods and smiles again. Turning back to a shelf he picks the ammunition.
“Two boxes huh? That’s more than you usually get. Problems Maria?” he asks.
The old woman winks. “Don’t you worry your little head mijo,” she says, smiling now. Pablo grins in return, hands her the cartridges and the change. The shells are expensive, but not unbearable. Prices have a habit of moving slowly from the cities to this remote villa.
Maria Rosalva limps out of the store and continues. She passes the sheriff’s office with its one jail cell on the way to the pharmacy. The sheriff, John Haggard, nods and tips his hat as she stumps down the road. She nods in return without pause. Grunting her way into the pharmacy she shouts for the pharmacist, Dr. Ricardo Sanchez. The man is the local doctor and prescribed the very medicine Maria is here to collect.
“Hello Maria! It’s nice to see you my dear, it has been some time,” he says, amiable as always. The Doctor’s gray hair gives away his claim to oldest townsperson, even older than Maria Rosalva De Santiago.
“Yes, it has médico. I need a refill on my arthritis prescription, this old leg is killing me,” she says, patting her aching limb. The doctor shakes his head and turns back for the medication. He always has some on hand. Life on the plains is tough.
“Gracias,” Maria Rosalva says, paying the pharmacist as she took the pill bottle.
“Por nada, señorita. I hope this helps,” he said, smiling at her.
Maria leaves town, beginning the long trek home. Again, people call out greetings and farewells in a mixture of Spanish and English. The town is mostly Mexican with a few whites mixed in. It is a decent place, but a common sight on the plains of Texas. There are many villages like this at the nexus of ranches and farms.
When she arrives home the sky is darkening. Maria Rosalva walks inside after checking the cattle and goats. She puts a pot of coffee on the stove and lights the oven. Sitting down the aging woman groans and massages her hip. She pulls the aspirin out of her pocket and swallows two.
As the sun sinks below the edge of the Earth, Maria sighs. She wonders if the strange beast will return. Just then the coyotes begin. This time there is only howling and normal yipping. Maria relaxes and sips her coffee. There is nothing out tonight beside the coyotes and whatever they hunt.
Two weeks pass. Autumn cool blows into the ranchos. Maria Rosalva’s aching hip takes longer to calm in the cold. It is a hassle dealing with the twinges, but ranches do not run themselves. The hands are already gone, the harvest season all but through. Maria finds the work more difficult than in previous years. She finds herself in a difficult position. It has been a very hard year. Maria Rosalva De Santiago is weary and bored. She has no one to talk to other than animals and nothing to do but work.
Maria Rosalva goes to bed one night to the howls of coyotes. They are especially active lately; she supposes there must be a large family of groundhogs nearby. Then, suddenly, the howling changes and the yipping picks up its pace. They’re nervous again. The wizened woman sits up in bed. “Merde!” she cries out, jumping out of her bed. Grabbing the shotgun by the door and loading it with her new ammo she rushes out the door. A goat screams just as she got off the porch. This time the racket comes from behind the house.
As she runs around the ranch home she raises the shotgun and cocks back the hammer. She stops in her tracks. Another mature goat lays twitching on the ground. A dark shape again hunches over the dying animal. Just as she begins to pull the trigger the creature looks up, red eyes glinting in the cloud fractured moonlight. The gun blast is deafening as both barrels explode. Then, the animal leaps straight up into the air just as the shot begins to leave the weapon. “Madre de Dios!” Maria Rosalva shouts. The beast leaps about ten feet, reinforcing the impression of a monkey as it falls to the ground on two feet.
The creature lopes off again, galloping into the dark as Maria reloads the gun and shoots more buckshot into the air over the animal. It’s too far away to hit anyway now. The thing is fast. Maria Rosalva De Santiago breathes deep, attempting to slow her sprinting heart. She walks over to the goat and again witnesses the mangled throat. Then, light flashes over another figure in the grass several yards away.
“Puta! Mató dos!” she cries. There is another goat. Blood pools on the ground but the animal is not eaten. It is strange. The unknown creature kills the goats as a coyote does, but only takes a few chunks and then leaves the animals alone. Not to mention she’s never known coyotes to kill two fat goats in one night.
Just as Maria Rosalva is falling back to sleep the coyotes start up that nervous yapping again. She rushes outside, loads the gun again and fires. Silence falls and the rest of the night is unbroken. The next day finds Maria on her way back into town. Doubtless the journey will cause increased hip pain for the woman, but she needs to talk to the sheriff. She leaves the two goats where they lay; it’s worth the risk of luring the strange killer back to show the sheriff how they’d been killed.
The sheriff is surprised when the aged De Santiago humps into his office. She’d been here just two weeks before; her visits are becoming more frequent. That’s not to mention the fact that she’s never come to see him before. He raises an eyebrow and nods at her, reserving speech for when she speaks first.
“Buenos Dias Señor,” Maria Rosalva says, dipping her head and sitting down in the chair across the desk from the Sheriff.
“Buenos Dias,” the sheriff says, still reserving more comment until she gives a reason for why she is here.
“I need you to come down to the ranch,” she says bluntly.
Again raising an eyebrow the sheriff says, “And why do you need me to make that trip?”
“Something is killing my goats. It’s got three already,” she starts.
“Coyotes?” he asks, cutting her short.
“No,” she says point blank. The sheriff looks at her, eyebrow rising higher on his forehead. He begins tapping his fingers on the desk. “It isn’t coyotes,” she continues, “them I can deal with. It’s something else.”
“Hm, something else huh? Not a wolf I suppose?” he says, standing up.
“No, again, I can handle dogs. This thing is darker and doesn’t look like it has fur, unless it’s very short. The strangest thing is that it doesn’t eat the goats,” she says.
“You’re not suggesting…” the sheriff begins, breaking off into a hearty laugh.
“Of course not, don’t be silly. That old wives tale? No, it must be some sort of animal,” she says, quite serious.
“Well, I suppose I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t accompany you back to the ranch to at least see what you’re talking about,” the sheriff jibes, still grinning.
Maria Rosalva walks out the door without further comment. The odd pair makes the trip to the ranch in complete silence, the woman limping worse as they progress. As they pass through the gate the sheriff begins to look around. Maria nods toward the house indicating it was on the other side. They skirt the building and the sheriff nods, there are indeed two intact goats in the weeds.
“What the hell?” the sheriff whispers as he looks at the dead livestock. Their throats are open but no other damage is evident. It is quite clear they are nearly drained of blood.
“You see señor?” Maria Rosalva De Santiago asks.
Nodding, the sheriff keels down beside the first goat and looks more closely.
“They’ve been bitten two or three times each but that’s it,” the woman mentions. Sheriff Haggard nods again and touches the goat. The taut flesh is further testament to the blood taken from the animal. Bones stand out on the thing’s body, but the amount of fat says it should be much plumper.
“Yep, it’s strange,” John says, looking over to the second goat.
Maria Rosalva grunts. She nudges the second goat with her boot and it shifts. The animal is lighter than usual without blood. The sheriff stands back on his feet and looks at the old woman.
“Well, I’ll keep an eye out and ask the other farmers if they’ve seen anything,” he says carefully.
“Thanks John, that’s all I was asking for,” Maria replies, “incidentally, what do you think it was?”
Shrugging, the officer smirks, “Chupacabra?”
The pair laugh.
Nodding to the lady Sheriff Haggard begins his trudge back to the town. This is something for the books. A predator that does not eat goats but drinks their blood is definitely unusual. He chuckles to himself as he opens the gate, chupacabra indeed.
Two months pass. Nothing happens. No nervous coyotes, no dead goats, and no more visits to the sheriff’s office. Maria Rosalva De Santiago resumes her normal routine. For the first few weeks after the attacks she stands outside as the sun goes down, her shotgun at the ready, loaded and cocked. Now, the lull of boring standard procedure takes over once more.
The goats and cows give their milk and graze. The night air is crisper than it was. Fall is officially taking hold and the temperature drops steadily. Maria stands outside as the sun begins to go down, shotgun leaning against a wall behind her. It is ready to fire, but she feels no need to hold it. It’s a beautiful evening. She thinks she’ll take a walk around the goat enclosure. Picking up the gun she begins to walk, limping a bit.
Maria Rosalva De Santiago starts in surprise. A strange noise comes from around a corner of the house. It is a shuffling, rustling noise in the grass. She immediately thinks “Snake.” Then, dropping that notion, she hears a crunching noise. That is bone breaking, something she knows well from decades of slaughtering animals.
She creeps around the corner and fights back a gasp. The sleek, black frame bends low over a goat. It moves up and down as it breathes around the neck in its mouth. Raising the shotgun Maria stills and takes aim. Cursing herself for a fool she cocks back the hammer as smoothly and quietly as she can. Unfortunately, there is no disguising the click as the gun snaps to the ready position. A ghastly head turns around, red eyes again shining out under the moonlit sky.
A guttural, rumbling noise comes from its chest. Maria’s breath catches in her throat and she can’t pull the trigger. Terror freezes the calm woman. The creature begins an odd movement. It weaves its head in a rhythmic rocking motion, like a snake hypnotizing a rodent. Maria Rosalva is suddenly aware of her heart pounding against ribs.
A roar tears open the silence of the night. Maria catches a flash of movement in the muzzle burst. The beast growls again. Goats make anxious cries. Coyotes start up in the background. Moonlight glistens off the shotgun and Maria’s black hair.
The creature glares at Maria Rosalva, continuing its growls and head weaving. The old woman breaks eye contact. She pulls shells from her poncho. Breaking the breech barrel she thumbs ammo inside. Popping it back into position she rises the barrel, ready to cock it.
Maria stares at the animal. She cocks the shotgun. A feeling of paralysis spreads once more as red eyes bore into her soul. Ice trickles down her back, pins and needles boring into her body. Shivers wrack her spine. She can’t pull the trigger. Maria Rosalva De Santiago can do nothing. Its night and there is a monster right in front of her, but she can do nothing.
The creature is upon her. Maria falls silently, rubies spraying. Jaws clamp around her neck. A keening sound rises from the animal as it feasts. Ruined life seeps to the ground beneath the beast’s claws.
A fifty-three year old Texas woman killed on a ranch doesn’t stop God’s sun from rising. Such is life.
About kingpolluxOk, so I'm Adam KW King and I'm an author, actor, singer, songwriter, musician, poet, writer, freelancer, etc etc etc. I do many things. Right now I'm focusing on my newest writing projects.
Posted on January 8, 2014, in Fiction and tagged author, collection, fiction, Fragments of Reality, horror, monster, PenMonkey, ranch, short story, story time, suspense, Texas, writer, writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.