Over the course of the last thirteen years, I have been on many expeditions to the island of Puerto Rico in search of one of the world’s most infamous monsters: the blood-sucking Chupacabras. Allegedly a highly vicious killing-machine equipped with fangs, razor-sharp claws, glowing, red-eyes and – according to some eye-witnesses – a pair of large, bat-style wings, the beast has struck terror into the hearts of the population, mystified farmers, police-officers, veterinarians, and the media. Whatever the beast is, its actions have become both legendary and feared; and over the course of my time spent trekking through Puerto Rico’s El Yunque rain-forest, and speaking with the locals and those whose lives have been affected by the beast, I have come across some distinctly strange tales concerning the creature.
One of the weirdest tales came my way in 2004. And, what makes the story stand out most of all (for me, at least), is that in several key ways it seems to eerily parallel the theme of the 1997 horror movie Mimic. The movie tells the story of how, in Manhattan, cockroaches are spreading a deadly disease that is claiming the lives of hundreds of children. Entomologist Susan Tyler (played by Mira Sorvino) and her colleague and husband Peter Mann (portrayed by the actor Jeremy Northam) genetically engineer a type of insect called the Judas Breed. Distinctly oversized critters, they release an enzyme that successfully wipes out the disease-carrying roaches.
Of course, inevitably everything goes horribly wrong, and the Judas Breed mutates into human-sized, highly-intelligent, insect-monsters that begin to prey by night upon the population of Manhattan. Ingeniously, the beasts have the ability to cunningly disguise themselves as humans; and they do so by shuffling around the darkened streets, subways and alleyways late at night with their black-colored wings wrapped around their bodies – giving the impression of someone wearing a dark, rain-coat with upturned collar. Living on the flesh of hobos, winos, and those unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the Judas Breed thrives, reproduces, and survives very well deep in the old subway tunnels under Manhattan – until Tyler and Mann try to end their growing reign of terror.
Well, you may ask, what does any of this have to do with the Chupacabras? Okay, I’m getting there. In a lengthy conversation in the summer of 2004, a woman named Rosa – who works in a small restaurant on the island – related to me her remarkable tale. It was 1991 and Rosa was driving home with a friend, after a Friday night out in the city of Old San Juan. For a reason that to this day she is unable to fully determine, both Rosa and her friend felt compelled to drive their car high into the El Yunque rain forest – something, she told me, she would never have normally done, and certainly not at 1.00 a.m. on a Saturday morning.
Nevertheless, the pair duly headed along the snaking roads that lead up to the forest and was confronted by a horrific sight while rounding one particular bend: a five-foot-tall animal that crossed the road in front of them at a distance of about fifty to sixty feet with an awkward, shuffling gait. The creature appeared to be very dark gray in color and had two large wings that seemed to be wrapped around its back, giving the appearance of a long cloak that dragged on the surface of the road as it walked.
Rosa and her friend were terrified, and watched in horror as the beast continued to slowly cross the road. The creature glared at them for a split second with a pair of what Rosa determined were self-illuminating, glowing red eyes. Too shocked to do anything but stare in awe, the pair continued to watch as the animal shuffled into the trees and bushes and was lost from sight. Thirteen years after her experience, Rosa spoke in a nervous voice as she related her account to me. Other than her family and several close friends (including a friend of one of the interviewees encountered during one of my visits to Puerto Rico, and who had arranged for me to interview Rosa), she had discussed the encounter with no-one.
For her, the most bizarre aspect of the encounter was not the sighting itself, but the fact that the creature somehow impelled her – she personally and firmly believes – to drive to the El Yunque rain forest with the express intention of ensuring that she saw it, and for purposes that neither I nor she can adequately determine at all. If nothing else, Rosa’s account demonstrates to me that the mystery of the Chupacabras is a truly strange and very real one –and it shows no signs of stopping, either.
And, of course, Rosa’s description of the beast seemed to uncannily mirror that of the ruthless entities in Mimic: the wraparound wings, the shuffling gait, and the way in which it appeared the wings were actually a long, dark cloak, all make me wonder if fact was somehow eerily mimicking fiction.