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NIGHT of the CHUPACABRAS // Chapter 1

It was a dark and quiet night in the jungle as the animals slept peacefully. The only sound was the crickets playing a symphony with their legs.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, the quiet of the night was interrupted by the screeching of frightened monkeys as they swung from tree to tree and huddled together behind some rocks. The giraffes were awake with their necks stretched so high their alert eyes could see everything in the plains. The zebras formed a circle around their babies to protect them, and the gazelles put their strongest leaders on guard.

All the animals were restless; something was rustling through the trees!

Jose, the nighttime animal caretaker, had taken a short nap because every night was always the same. Nothing unusual ever happened while he was on watch _ but this was no ordinary night at Busch Gardens.

The screeching awakened Jose, and he was alert immediately. Something was very wrong, and he had no clue what it was. He drove his jeep all around, through the Serengetti Plains and under the Montu roller coaster, trying to find out what was upsetting the animals. Jose found nothing until the sun came up, and there it was. A poor gazelle had died and there were hideous puncture marks on his neck _ and no trace of blood at all!

Jose's boss came in one hour later. "What is the meaning of this?" he asked. "Why did you wake me up?"

Jose quietly led him to the body.

"What happened here?" his boss asked. "Did one of the lions get loose last night?"

"No, they're all in their cages," said Jose. "Dave, only one creature could have made these marks without leaving any blood _ the Chupacabras!"

"The Chupa-what?" asked Dave.

"The Chupacabras," he answered in a shrill voice. "It is a creature that terrorized farmers in Puerto Rico where I grew up. Now it's at Busch Gardens," he gulped.

"That's a bunch of hogwash! No mysterious blood-sucking creature killed this animal, but somebody sure did. We need to find out who did, before the public hears about this and stops coming to Busch Gardens. I think I'll call my best friend, John, to help us. He's a detective, and if anyone can figure this out, he sure can."

My dad and I were kayaking all morning. I was excited because we were going to explore a little island in Boca Ciega Bay that was full of starfish and hermit crabs. Just as we got to the island and pulled onto the sand, his cellular phone rang. I couldn't believe it. He even takes his work with him to deserted islands. But I guess that's what good detectives have to do.

When he hung up, he looked excited.

"Hey, Abby, how would you like to come on a case with me at Busch Gardens?" he asked.

"Yahoo!" I yelled, but no one heard me except my dad. I love animals, and even though I'm just in middle school, I already know I want to be a vet when I grow up.

"What's the case about?" I asked.

"Something mysterious has killed an animal at Busch Gardens and the caretaker thinks it might be the Chupacabras."

"The Chupa-what?" I asked.

"The Chupacabras," he answered. "It's a hideous, blood-sucking creature with skin like a dinosaur, bulging red eyes with an oval head like a UFO alien!"

"Yuck!"

My father took a moment to clear his throat and then continued, "Some of the people who say they've seen him say he has a spiked back like a porcupine, fangs, a long snakelike tongue and he hops like a kangaroo!"

"Yeah, right! You've got to be joking. You've been out in the sun too long, Dad." I tried to stifle my laughter.

"Excuuuuse me, Abby. Do you think I would really make something like this up? No one has ever photographed him, but some say they have seen him. Last month they found 69 dead goats, geese, chickens and ducks in the yards of two families in a neighborhood in Miami. They all had the same vampirelike fang marks on their necks, and there wasn't even a drop of blood on any of them!"

"There wasn't?"

"Nope. These strange happenings first started in Puerto Rico, then Mexico and now Miami. Maybe now he's at Busch Gardens. So, do you still want to go?" my dad asked.

"Of course," I answered, but I was both excited and a little uneasy.

My dad handed me the paddle and I started paddling us toward our new adventure, wondering what we were in for!

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