By Darryl Foster
Earl McTavish was a farmer: early to rise, church on Sundays, a man of denim and plaid. At the edge of his inherited farmland he’d found his missing cow—a carcass of holes, reeking like the bottom of a carnival garbage bin. Earl retched. He’d heard of alien cattle mutilations, but he didn’t believe in them. He believed in poachers. A bitterness shivered through Earl as he remembered his granddad, found dead in this field a year ago. Foul play they had said, and likely a poacher. Earl left the remains and walked home. Tonight he’d bait this field with a cow and trap the poacher.
Midnight, and Earl huddled near a silo with his rifle and retriever, Dawson. An hour had passed since he had sent a cow into the dark field.
Dawson’s ears perked.
“What is it boy?”
Dawson growled, sprang forward and charged into the field. The dog’s barking faded with distance then died with a suffering yelp.
“Jesus Christ!” Earl stood alert, rifle ready, and the shadowy figure of a man manifested, embossed against the blackness of the field beyond.
“A man who stinks of church shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”
“Where’s my dog, poacher?” Earl accused and aimed.
“You son-of-a-bitch.” Earl fired. The man’s eye sockets burned with tendrils of flame, and the bullet became molten and dribbled to the ground. Earl’s heart swelled with fear.
“What the hell are you?”
“Your granddad asked the same question before he died. It’s simple, I’m a hunter, and you’re a fool for believing I wanted your cattle. The dead cows were bait to lure you out into the night, my hunting ground. Your grandfather fell for it too. There’s no poacher, only hunger.”
The leathery beat of a thousand wings filled the night and bats descended on Earl. He tossed the rifle and swatted with his hands, but the mouths of many were unstoppable, and tore chunks. Earl screamed and a bat flapped into his mouth, and chewed his tongue. He gargled blood as the man joined the kill with ivory fangs.