Brent Monahan was first published in the so-called Horror genre in 1979, with the novel DeathBite. It became a film with Peter Fonda and Oliver Reed. Other novels included Satan's Serenade, The Uprising, the vampire reimagined with The Book of Common Dread and Blood of the Covenant, Illusions, and The Bell Witch/An American Haunting which was made into a film starring Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek. High-speed Shudder is an anthology of his short stories. He also writes period murder mysteries such as Nevermore and The Jekyl Island Club.


by Brent Monahan

“I want you to know how much I appreciate your coming with me,” Hank said.

“I do know, Dad,” Mike replied patiently, his fifth assurance during their three day trek.

The Quick ‘n Good Food cargo van rolled south into the dawn light. To the east side of I 25 lay the Rio Grande, providing water for the sparse life of the surrounding desert landscape. The west side was considerably drier and deader. The border with Mexico lay one-hundred-twenty miles ahead.

“I get time alone with you and finally learn your whole story. Besides, I’m on the company clock, so why should I complain?” Mike added.

Hank had two children. Mary, the older, worked grudgingly for the family enterprise. Mike had majored in Marketing at the U. of Michigan and had worked enthusiastically at promoting his dad’s various food outlets since his high school days. Hank Morales had created eleven lucrative food concessions and trucks that served Greater Chicago’s professional sports and live theatrical entertainment parks, fields, and arenas.

Hank lowered the sunglasses from the crown of his head. “We’re close now. So, this trip is about three tunnels. You already know about the first one.”

Mike nodded. “You were born in Chihuahua, the state directly south across the border. A place called Las Varas. A suburb of Delicias.”

“With a population thirty years ago of about a hundred-fifty-thousand people. A hundred thousand fewer than now. Small on industries; big in agriculture.”

“The area wasn’t part of the drug route into the States, but, like rest of the country, it had a strong criminal element.”

“Right,” Hank affirmed.

Even though his father had only shared the story of his formative years once before, Mike wanted Hank to know how well he had listened. “The Delicia gang was part of Chihuahua’s Juárez Cartel. Seven ringleaders lived together in a compound near Las Varas. They controlled drugs, gambling, and prostitution.”

“As well as extortion, kidnapping, and murder for hire.”

As Enrique Morales grew, he became obsessed with the reasons corruption and criminal behavior were endemic in Mexico. He could not understand why the country’s good citizens would not band together as had their neighbors to the north, to effect a revolution. Mike knew that his father had cautiously gathered a group of twelve with similar convictions. The men wanted to create a spark in one corner of Mexico, to ignite a torch that would encourage other towns and regions to fight for justice and peace. Since the police and legal systems were so ruthlessly corrupt, they decided to use vigilante tactics and exterminate the seven thugs. They had only two pistols, a carbine, and a double-barrel shotgun, but they taught themselves how to make Molotov cocktails.

The plan was to attack the compound two hours after midnight on the day following Cinco de Mayo. As the gang members fled their burning buildings, the vigilantes intended to kill them and confiscate their assault rifles. But the dozen would-be reformers had a Judas Iscariot in their midst.  

Enrique made his living selling tortillas, churros, and other basic foods from a wagon. The young bachelor lived alone, in a simple hut. The midnight before he and his co-conspirators could act, the gang went on the offensive. Three of their members ventilated Morales’s dwelling with assault rifle bullets and then set it on fire.

“I was an idealist,” father told son, “but I was also a realist and trusted no one. For three months prior to that evening, I dug an escape tunnel under my bedroom. The other end came up inside a storage shed in the alley. I waited until the fire had died out but smoke still filled the area before I began my flight to the U. S. border. Thirty years ago tomorrow. I later learned that the gang killed everyone but me. Not just my friends but also their families. They were furious that I had escaped.”

“The tunnel saved you,” Mike said.

“I saved myself. The first tunnel was my method.”

“And the second one?”

“Was in a border town called Palomas. I paid to use it with pesos I had put aside plus dollars from the sale of my motor bike. I joined a group of seventeen other refugees. What they used to call Wetbacks when the border was barely patrolled and immigrants swam across the Rio Grande.  The smugglers stuffed us into an oven of a warehouse and treated us like animals intended for illegal pet stores.

“We crossed under the border inside this second tunnel. It was far more elaborate than what I had created. A quarter-mile long, outfitted with professionally-engineered wood shoring, a ventilation system, and a long string of lights. Not a cheap enterprise. The “coyotes” bled each of us nearly dry. I was left with less than thirty dollars in my pocket.”

“Holy saints, what a horror story!” Mike exclaimed.

“Wait. The horror had barely begun. We crossed on a moonless night. The other end of the tunnel was hidden in a maze of weeds and shrubs. Only a few hundred yards into New Mexico, we were found by the search lights of a Customs patrol wagon. I thought we’d all be back in Mexico by the end of the day. But the patrolmen were on the take. They kept our group herded together like cattle until three vans appeared on the dirt trail. The guys who got out were White. But not at all Lily White.

“The dudes from one of the vans were dressed like Hell’s Angels bikers. The first was about six-foot-three, with tattoos covering his huge arms and a face covered with shaggy red hair. His companion was skinny but wiry, also tattooed, completely bald except for his eyebrows. The skinny one peeled off bills from a thick roll of money and handed them to one of the Customs officers. The government wagon pulled away, leaving four handlers, the vans, and the seventeen crossers in the desert.

Me llamo Red,” the big hombre said. Then, in Spanglish, he made it known that we were all indentured workers and would remain so until we had paid twice what had gone in bribe money to the ICE officers.

He said, “Which of you has no fear of the dark or of tight places? Claustrofobia.”

“Is the work dangerous?” asked the man standing to my right. He was told the labor was mining but not especially dangerous. The advantage was that freedom could be earned twice as fast as working in motels and restaurants, in a slaughterhouse or tending crops in fields. Only unmarried men were wanted. I put my hand up as quickly as I could. Five men imitated me. The big redhead couldn’t convince anyone else.

Two guys dressed in casual suits put the remaining eleven in the other two vans.

Hank’s foot eased off the accelerator as a road sign loomed ahead. Like so many other Southwest highway signs, it was riddled with bullet holes. It read ‘Chuchillo.’

“Knife,” Mike translated. Hank almost never spoke his native tongue, but he encouraged his son to take three years of high school Spanish. “What a strange name.”

“Some say it was named after a local renegade Apache named Chuchillo Negro,” Hank shared. “Others say from the sharply pointed hills just to the west of the town.”

They drove along the increasingly rough dirt road for two miles, until they came upon some four-dozen ramshackle, old structures scattered around the barren landscape. Hank stopped the van, got out, and shouted for attention.  When he got no response, he went from building to building, trying doors, entering unlocked spaces.  He returned to the van shaking his head.

“So, Chuchillo’s a ghost town,” Mike surmised.

“Looks like. But it still had a half dozen residents four months ago. I paid a local historian to do research then. What he found is why we’re here . . .and it seems to have gotten worse. Chloride . . . ahead a piece . . . is an old ghost town. One among many.”

“What happened?”

“They were created by the silver rush. Then died when bi-metalism was dropped in favor of the Gold Standard. During the 1870s.  Also died because the easily-mined silver played out, and the rest was too expensive to get at.”

The road turned into a trail, gullied and strewn with rocks, impossible for anything less than a rugged, four-wheel vehicle to traverse.

“Let me guess,” Mike said. “Thirty years ago, when you were here, the price of silver climbed high enough to reopen a few mines.”

“Just one. Another part of the tale is that, the whole time this mine was abandoned, out to I 25 and for twenty miles in all other directions, the area had no animal life. No birds, wild sheep, goats, rodents, reptiles, or even coyotes.”

“Just like now,” Mike said, dividing his attention from front to side windows. “I haven’t seen even a rabbit or a roadrunner.  Nothing. How long had the mine returned to operation before you were recruited?”

“Nobody said.  But I estimate it was a little more than a year. When the van stopped and we six volunteers piled out, we found ourselves inside a large yard enclosed by chain link fencing and barb wire. It ran up against a vertical wall of rock. In the face of the mountain was an opening.”

“The third tunnel,” Mike reasoned.

Hank nodded. “This one was completely covered by a gate of heavy mesh steel. There was rusted machinery on either side, but the gate seemed almost new. Inside the enclosed yard were three buildings. One was a good hundred years old. Dried to the color of silver and sandstorm-blasted rough. Its roof was swaybacked and patched in many places. It was the bunkhouse for the miners. The other two structures were smaller but new. Red, Chrome Dome and a third guy they called Felix shacked in one. The other stored equipment, food, and such.”

Five minutes later, the Sprinter van crested a hill. Hank took his foot off the gas pedal. He regarded the place with a combination of shaded eyes and memory. Much of the enclosing wire fence listed toward the earth, coated with rust. The remnants of a large nylon camping tent were snagged in many places by the fence barbs. The bunkhouse still survived.  The other two structures were charred skeletons.

“Vandals?” Mike theorized.

“No. I burned the buildings to the ground. But that tent can’t be more than ten years old,” Hank said. He drove the van up to the gaping fence entrance, stopped, and fixed his attention on the mouth of the mine. The steel gate was halfway open. A heavy chain and lock hung down.

“Damnit!” Hank snapped. “Exactly what I feared.”

“What’s the problem?” Mike asked.

Hank shut off the engine. “I’ll be as brief as possible, because we need to make maximum use of the daylight.”

Hank told his son that all three supervisors had had macho attitudes and were quietly menacing. They were never without pistols and gun belts. All the workers agreed that the place had an air of a prison work camp. The operation had three vehicles:  two vans and a desert-camouflage-colored Hummer. As soon as they arrived, the six volunteers were lined up inside the bunkhouse. They were told that they would work seven days a week. Further, they would split with their handlers the value of the silver they extracted and pay twice the money laid out for their border crossing, plus the costs of food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and laundering. The barb-wire-topped fence insured that they wouldn’t slip away into the night without paying their due. At the end of each day, the unrefined silver would be weighed and divided. Each miner was given a key to a private locker in the bunkhouse, so that he could protect his earnings.

Two questions arose immediately. The first was how many other workers already labored in the mine. The second was an estimate of how long it took the average worker to pay off his indenture and also have enough to get to a city and survive until other work could be found. The group was told that all previous workers had left, some only a day before. The estimate for an average stay was “about a month.”

The bunkhouse had ten Army surplus bunks, with relatively clean sheets, blankets, and pillows. Ten metal lockers were bolted to the far wall. The remainder of the space had tables and chairs. The workers were told that the surrounding mountains prevented radio or television reception, but Spanish language magazines and playing cards were provided.

While Hank talked, he and Mike began to unload the Sprinter’s cargo. They erected a four-man tent with one side against the passenger length of the cargo area and the entrance close to the passenger door.

“Felix did the cooking,” Hank said. “He was a terrible cook. For selfish reasons, I let them know I was good with a skillet. I was asked to prepare the dinners. Instead of playing cards, I went into the mine in the evening for a make-up hour.”

“Alone?” Mike said. “It sounds dangerous.”

“It was. I had no work boots, no rope, no spare batteries for the lights. Just a pick axe, a sack, and a piece of mica, to mark the walls as I explored. I figured the upper tunnels had been completely examined, so I dared to go deeper. I discovered far more than I expected. My first solo exploration was on the third evening. I came across little pools of water on the passage floors. The tunnels above had been almost perfectly dry, due to the climate. I examined the walls, trying to find where water seeped in from above. No luck. But the deeper I went, on the fourth and fifth nights, the damper the floors were. It made no sense. And then there was the fact that none of the three Gringos had mentioned a sickening stink or traces of blood.”

“Was the place a mountain lion or puma lair?” Mike asked.

“That’s what I figured. Some fairly big cat that had a hidden entrance to the mine.”

“Not the case?”

“Far from it. I went deeper and found human bones.” Hank paused, but his son remained silent. “Lots of them. Not long-dry bones from Apaches or Navajos. Fresh bones, with bits of flesh and sinew on them. A couple of the jaws had dental work. None of them belonged to tall men. No wide, female hip bones. Next to two skeletons, I found lengths of cord with locker keys tied to them.”

Mike whistled in amazement. “So it was all a set-up. They were the bones of people like you who crossed the border.”

“The mine tunnels weren’t the only things with low overhead,” Hank quipped. “Free labor, replaced every week or so. Free except for what the Gringos paid the border patrol, some food and drink, and a lot of duplicate locker keys. Single men, disappeared into desert mountains. No one to complain when a handful of illegal aliens went missing. Nothing their families could do to track them down from the Mexican side. Let’s keep unloading.”

Mike followed his father around to the Sprinter’s rear doors.“The bastards. Disposable humans. But what killed them?”

“You’ve heard of the Chupacabra.”

Mike’s head reared back. “The goat sucker? The mythical predator of the Caribbean and Central America.”

“Actually, as far north as here. A vampire creature blamed for killing all kinds of domesticated animals, especially goat.” Before his son could reply, Hank added, “What dwells here is no large reptile but a mutation of a bat. For some reason confined to this mine. Before Red and Company reopened the mine, there was only enough wildlife to maintain a few creatures with maybe twelve-inch wingspans. But then the constant supply of illegal aliens allowed the colony to grow in number and individual size.

“When I shut the operation down, most of the colony must have died off. For a time, the wildlife, sheep and goats were viciously attacked and killed. This area was scrupulously avoided. Down in Truth or Consequences . . . the closest real town . . . the historian found a diary in their museum. The writer said the few residents blamed either chupacabras or large vampire bats.”

Hank handed Mike a 30-lb propane tank. Directly behind, sitting on cradles, were two more.

“This is a lot of gas,” Mike said.

“For a lot of heat and flame.” He unboxed two sheathed machetes, two miner’s helmets with lamps, two Xenon flashlights, three old-fashion alarm clocks, a roll of duct tape, and a 100-foot length of rope.

Mike stared at the mine entrance with misgiving. “Are we going in there?”

“You don’t have to, but I do. Almost two decades ago, I could have afforded to finish this.” Hank nodded at the destroyed tent trapped in the barb wire. “Could have saved whoever that was. Today it ends.”

Mike’s jaw tightened, but he managed, “I’m with you, Dad.”

The two men trudged through the open mine entrance with part of their burdens. Harsh as the morning sun was, its light failed to penetrate farther than forty feet. Hank and Mike switched on their helmet lamps. About 200 feet in, they found human bones next to pick axes and burlap bags.

“Probably the owners of the tent,” Hank surmised.

The main shaft divided not far ahead, with both arms descending at shallow angles.

“You take the left,” Hank said, playing his flashlight beam all around. “Back when I was here, the colony of monsters gorged themselves on the latest crop of miners and then must have gone dormant for six or seven days. That allowed the next group to work. That won’t be the case now. Stay super quiet. Listen for faint squeaking, and then meet me back here.”

Hank found a large skull with wisps of red hair clinging to it. Neither exploration revealed any life.

The right passage was where Hank had discovered the water, blood, and bones thirty years before. He and Mike rolled the propane tank to the edge of a steep decline, tied the rope to it, and belayed the other end to a rock outcropping. Hank had reengineered the alarm clock by replacing the bell clappers with bars of flint and steel. He set alarm mechanism to ring in five minutes, taped the clock securely to the tank, and partially opened the gas valve. Father and son carefully lowered the tank until the rope became taught. Then they retreated beyond the mouth of the mine.

Two minutes later, the mine came alive with a flash of light, a roar, and a punch of air pressure.

“The heat alone should have cooked everything down there,” Mike said in a hopeful voice.

“Maybe,” Hank answered, “but I have to make sure this nightmare is over. There has to be at least one other escape route for those things, because they fed out here all the while the gate was closed.”

“Which is why you brought several propane tanks,” Mike understood.

Hank nodded. He pointed to the crest of the hill directly above the mine opening. “We weld the mine gate shut and spend the rest of the day searching.”


Father and son methodically scoured the jumbles of rocks atop the hill, but no second opening was found by dusk. They retreated to their tent and ate a dinner of cold sandwiches and beer. Hank had Creedence Clearwater Revival’s greatest hits playing from a small speaker attached to his cell phone.

“You’ve been amazingly patient about waiting for the story of my escape,” Hank said. “The reason I waited until now was for you to see this hell hole firsthand, so you wouldn’t judge me too harshly.”

Mike nodded. “I hope you saved your fellow workers.”

“Absolutely.  The morning after my discoveries, I gathered my compadres, let them know what was going on, and showed them the proof. We hid in a long-abandoned side passage near the mine entrance and built up a wall of rocks in the opening. When we failed to emerge for lunch, Red came looking for us. A few minutes later, he returned with the other two.”

“You made it seem like you’d all been killed that morning?”

“Until we could all sneak past them and lock the gate with them inside. The others were delighted just to escape with the vans and their silver,” he said. “But I figured the three bastards who had brought us here wouldn’t use a bank to stash all the unsmelted silver. The reason those other two buildings are burned out is because I couldn’t find their hiding places. They turned out to be in spaces behind the wall boards, between the studs.”

“How much?” Mike wanted to know.

“Enough to pay for my first food truck. I also made a small killing selling the Hummer in Chicago.” Hank’s face contorted with guilt. “But, in order to escape, I let three men face horrible deaths.”

“Murderers all,” Mike said. “Predators ate predators.”

Without warning, a large, black figure flew into a section of the tent screening. Its high-pitched squeaks sounded over the music. Claws pierced the screening. The flailing of the creature caused the material to rip partway from the nylon wall.

Hank rolled from his fold-up chair and thumbed off the music.

Black wings flapped frantically. Two sets of claws now worked at the screening, while another pair of attackers ripped at the door screen.

“Jesus! Look at the size of them!” Mike yelled as he fought his machete from its sheathing.

Hank swung his chair hard against the net door. One of the creatures screeched in pain.

The first of the mutated bats burst through the opposite side. Its wingspan was almost two feet from tip to tip. The forearms were twice as long as normal, with hands ending in razor-sharp claws. Its snout protruded several inches, the open mouth displaying teeth thicker than the species’ usual needles that pierced flesh and drew blood.

Mike stood his ground. A second after the frenzied creature cleared the netting, he swung his machete in a smooth arc and severed its head.

Finding the folding aluminum chair a successful weapon, Hank struck again and again at the pair of predators probing his side of the tent. Mikes used a slashing technique.

After a minute of frantic attacking and defending, the creatures retreated. The men brought their Coleman lamp up to the corpse and studied the head and body.

“Imagine being trapped inside the mine with a large colony of them,” Mike said.

Hank nudged the head toward the tent door. “Once the steady diet of defenseless men ended, most of them must have starved. We may have faced every surviving creature tonight.”

Mike held up the screen so his father could kick the bloody head outside. “We need to find the other opening from the mine. End it completely.”

Hank picked up the Coleman lamp. “We can’t leave until we do. Let’s retreat for the night to the van.”


Mike found the bats’ escape route late the next afternoon, concealed in the shade under a large, tilting boulder. He and Hank tried to stuff the opening closed with large rocks, but they kept tumbling down the hole, leaving the passage open. They hauled a second propane tank up the hill and duplicated the steps used the previous day. The explosion caused the tilted boulder to collapse, forming a near-perfect seal.

As Hank sat on a rocky prominence next to his son, he said, “I wonder how many people were hurt or killed after I escaped, simply because I was afraid to report what was happening to the authorities.”

“Hey, you were an illegal alien, Dad,” Mike rejoined. “You locked the gate.”

“I should have written to the local police.”

“Put it behind you. Today you ended it.”

Hank shook his head with misgiving. “My experience was just one permutation of the suffering of thousands of desperate people. Maybe some of the other eleven who crossed the border in the tunnel with us were forced into prostitution or died from infections in slaughterhouses.”

Several seconds passed before Mike said, in a soft voice, “Yeah, there are worse monsters than huge bats. All kinds of monsters who kill in the light.”

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