Illustration by David Norwood
Dressed to kill in orange and black, Halloween is done with sulking in shadows and is ready to drag out seasonal monster-obilia from darker days. It scoffs at store-bought costumes of simpering princesses and cartoon characters. Maybe you should too. If your trendsetting child yearns for a costume beyond trick or treat norms, here’s a suggestion thanks to memories of bizarre costumes made by my mother, costume creator extraordinaire with flair: make a costume of the chupacabra, today’s hottest urban legend with three differing personae, giving the ambitious costume designer options.
For the uninitiated, I now present…El Chupacabras! From Spanish chupar (to suck) and cabra (goat), the name christens a beast that sucks in the vernacular as well as the literal. Reputed to suck goats’ blood, leaving dried husks, the chupacabra’s diet varies with cows, sheep, horses, pets—anything its fangs can puncture. The first whiff of chupacabra came in the 1970s when drained animal cadavers lay shriveled with circular puncture neck wounds in Mocas, Puerto Rico. As fatality numbers rose, so did “sightings” of the perpetrator dubbed El Vampiro de Moca, an omnipresent imbiber of livestock blood—especially juicy little goats’—at multiple Puerto Rican and Mexican sites.
The Imagination has a collective mind of its own, susceptible to mass hysteria and spawning urban legends often with rural roots. Thus El Vampiro won celebrity status and caught newspaper reporters’ attention in ‘92. Articles on its carnage piqued the interest of media host Sylverio Pérez, who renamed it chupacabra. Its infamy increased in ‘95; eight sheep were found bloodless in Canóvanos, Puerto Rico, followed by 150 more victims. An “eye witness” gave a stunning account of the villain. Descriptions varied as others retold and embellished her account, but belief in the monster congealed as reports spread from Latin to South America. Then, like the armadillos and fire ants from south of the border, the damned things popped up in Florida and Texas!
So here we are, betwixt chupacabras migrating from east and west with a rumor of a chupacabra shot in Woodville, Mississippi, followed by a shooting in Simpson County substantiated by photos of the body and close ups of its double canine fangs. Current sightings range from Maine to Chile. Knowing no boundaries and seeing the world as their metaphorical oyster to suck, they’re now reported in Russia and the Philippines.
El Chup began its reign of terror as a wolf in alien’s clothing. A small, upright, dark green being resembling E.T. (but more menacing with reptilian skin, sharp claws, fangs and a forked tongue) is easy to replicate as a costume; fabric now comes in reptile prints, and fangs are plentiful at Halloween—though the tongue may be tricky. As chupacabraphobia grew, descriptions became more complex. Madelyn Tolentino of Canóvas described a four-foot-high alien monster with spiked quills down its back that could hop like a kangaroo on oversized hind legs at up to twenty feet a hop. Its large, slanted, “dark grey” eyes (sans whites) were “damp and protruding” and flamed orange at night. A lipless “slash” closed over fangs, and air holes sufficed for a nose. Spindly arms “drawn back in attack position” ended in “three long, skinny fingers,” balanced by three webbed toes attached to “long and skinny legs.”
Now here’s costume drama: folded feathers “whipped out” to stand straight up to form quills, potentially a stylistic problem. Get inspiration from the ‘95 sci-fi movie Species, seen by Tolentino prior to describing the chupacabra as nearly identical to the movie’s character Sil. Opt for her vision’s short, “well brushed” grey hair (fake fur) for the body or a contrasting, though still accepted, description of reptilian grey-green scales (reptile print redux). Online, see more animal and alien options. Once the design is complete, develop a scent “like battery acid” for spritzing the child. Do encourage hissing and screeching. But wait! There’s yet another option.
The chupacabras invading the U.S. changed from alien to wild dog/coyote/wolf combos—but don’t go whipping up a cute puppy suit. In 2004, a Texas rancher in Elmendorf, Texas, shot a bizarre-looking animal that killed his chickens, drank the blood, and ignored the meat. Aha! When a photo of the emaciated blue cadaver, hairless but for a ridge of hair down its back, with rounded ears, a rat’s tail, long face, and “severe overbite” exposing fangs, was posted, locals cried, “Chupacabra!” It’s a model for a skinny kid’s costume of PJs dyed blue-grey with starched fringe on the back. The “Elmendorf Beast” was thought to be a Mexican hairless dog, wolf-coyote hybrid, werewolf killed in mid-morph, Mantjac deer, or genetic experiment gone bad. When two more bit the dust in the same area, both were DNA tested; biologists agreed they were coyotes with severe mange. In 2007, Phyllis Canion of Cuervo, Texas, had the sangfroid to freeze the head of a bluish, balding, large-fanged carcass found on her land and gave it to researchers who cried coyote, not chupacabra. Duplicate animals were later photographed, videoed, killed, and researched with DNA results proving persistently canine. Many are unconvinced, but biologists agree unanimously the animals are coyote, coyote-wolf or coyote-dog hybrids or mixed species of wild dogs suffering from sarcoptic mange, or scabies, thanks to Sarcoptes scabiei mites. Here’s a true horror story.
The mites are cousins of spiders (eww!) that destroy the hosts they call home. After mating, females bite or gouge into a host’s skin, dig tunnels, and lay two to three eggs per day for two months. Eggs hatch, larvae crawl to the skin’s surface, eat skin cells, molt, and become nymphs that mature into adults to continue the vicious cycle. Their secretions cause allergic reactions. A frenzied host itches, scratches, and breaks open the tunnels under its skin, causing infected wounds. Skin thickens, crusts form, and hair falls out.
Multiple infections cause smelly skin on a severely weakened, disfigured, starving animal that can’t hunt and attacks livestock for food, often only injuring prey, which dies from internal bleeding. So how ‘bout a mite costume? Use a hooded, white sweat suit padded into an oval. Add four legs made of plastic-coated hangers covered with white pantyhose and attach to waistband. With the child’s two legs and two arms, you have eight requisite legs. Glue bubble wrap to legs and arms to mimic suction cups mites use to grip a host. Add fangs, see if you can figure out how to attach pipe cleaner spikes, and voila! It’s a Meany Mite!
Happy Halloween! You’ve now got three chupacabra costumes and a mite costume to boot. Make trick or treating hauntingly memorable. Now goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the chupacabras or mites bite.
Inspiration for Lucile’s article came from a Texas Monthly Magazine article on Larry, a snarky chupacabra who claims he’s “a cross between a coyote, a vampire bat, a kangaroo, a Tasmanian tiger and that crazy thing that sat on Jabba the Hutt’s lap” and reveals a severe case of Sasquatch envy.