Unicorns are real.
At least, I think they are.
Dragons are definitely real. I have seen them. Chupacabras exist, too. Also Sasquatch. And mermaids—though they are not what you think.
But back to unicorns. When I, Professor Mito Fauna, was a young man, I lived in the foothills of Peru. One day, there were rumors in my town of a unicorn in danger, far up in the mountains. At that instant I founded the Unicorn Rescue Society—I was the only member—and set off to save the unicorn. When I finally located it, though, I saw that it was not a unicorn, but rather a qarqacha, the legendary two-headed llama of the Andes. I was very slightly disappointed. I rescued it anyway. Of course.
Now, many years later, there are members of the Unicorn Rescue Society all around the world. We are sworn to protect all the creatures of myth and legend. Including unicorns! If we ever find them! Which I’m sure we will!
But our enemies are powerful and ruthless, and we are in desperate need of help. Help from someone brave and kind and curious, and brave. (Yes, I said “brave” twice. It’s important.)
Will you help us? Will you risk your very life to protect the world’s mythical creatures?
Will you join the Unicorn Rescue Society?
I hope so. The creatures need you.
Defende Fabulosa! Protege Mythica!
Mito Fauna, DVM, PhD, EdD, etc.
It was a peaceful morning in Miss Vole’s classroom.
Miss Vole was giving a lecture about the Mexican-American War.
Every student was absolutely silent. Not because they were mesmerized by Miss Vole’s lecture. They were absolutely silent because pretty much every single student was fast asleep.
Pai Lu had her head on her desk, her eyes were shut, and she was rhythmically breathing through her black-lipstick-covered lips.
Janey was bent backward over her chair, her mouth wide-open, as if she were dead.
Jasper and Johnna were leaning against each other, Jasper’s head nestled in the crook of Johnna’s neck. They were gently snoring in harmony, like two blenders of different sizes, running at the same time.
Jimmy was doubled over on himself, his head between his knees.
Uchenna sat directly behind Jimmy. She was awake, because Jimmy kept silently farting in his sleep. She wanted to poke him and tell him to stop farting, but every time she reached out her finger to poke him, another fart wafted in her direction, making her curl up in a ball and whimper.
Elliot was also awake. He was furiously taking notes on Miss Vole’s lecture. He was pretty sure that some portion of it would be on the test. If there was a test. Which Miss Vole had never mentioned. But he wanted to be ready. Just in case.
“In the year 1836,” Miss Vole was saying, “more than one hundred and eighty years ago, Texas and California were a part of Mexico’s territories. Have you heard of Texas and California, children?” Miss Vole always talked to the class like they were kindergartners. It drove Elliot crazy. And, apparently, it put everyone else to sleep. “Texas and California are states. In the United States. But they didn’t use to be! You see—”
Every kid in Miss Vole’s classroom sat straight up.
Janey snapped forward and hit her head on the table.
Pai Lu said, “Werewolves?! Zombies?! Vampires!? What’s happening!?” And then she said, “Please let it be vampires!”
Jasper and Johnna pulled away from each other, disgusted that they’d been cuddling without realizing it. And then they each took a breath. They spun around in their seats and faced Jimmy. “Ugh!” Johnna moaned. “What did you eat this morning?!”
Jimmy sat up and grinned.
Then they all turned to the source of the booming sound.
The classroom door had been thrown open. Standing in the doorway was a tall, thin man in a tattered tweed suit. He had hair like a tidal wave, a beard streaked with black and white, and eyebrows you could lose a pen in.
“Perdón, Miss Vole,” said Professor Fauna, the most eccentric social studies teacher on the planet—and the founder of the secret Unicorn Rescue Society. “I need Uchenna and Elliot. Right away.”
Miss Vole looked unhappy. “Professor Fauna, you’re always taking those two. They have missed far too much class already. Whatever you’re taking them for, it can’t possibly be—”
“It is very important, Miss Vole. I need them to watch television with me.”
Miss Vole squinted. “What?”
All the kids stared at Professor Fauna. Elliot and Uchenna included.
“Yes!” Suddenly, Professor Fauna seemed less confident. “Uh . . . you see . . . television is very important! There is much information that can be gathered from TV! You can watch the news, the sports, the weather, the fake news, the fake sports, the fake weather. Muy importante.”
“Can I come?” Jimmy asked. “I want to watch TV!”
The professor looked at Jimmy. “What? In school? Are you kidding? TV rots your brains! Besides, you look like you watch too much TV already. Try reading a book, young man. Elliot and Uchenna, ¡vámonos!”
And he left the room.
Elliot and Uchenna quickly collected their backpacks and walked to the classroom door. Elliot turned back to the class and waved sheepishly before following Professor Fauna down the hall.
Miss Vole shook her head, as if waking up from a dream, and then turned back to the class. “Where was I? Oh yes! Did you know that California and Texas are states?”
Twenty children instantly fell asleep.
Uchenna and Elliot hurried to keep up with the long strides of the professor. He swept down a staircase, and then down another one, and they followed, until they were in the subbasement of the school. As they strode past large, humming air-conditioning units and yellow buckets on wheels with mop handles sticking out, Elliot tried to ascertain just what was going on.
“Do you really want us to watch TV with you, Professor?” Elliot asked, practically running to keep up. “I mean, while TV is safer than trying to rescue a dragon or a sasquatch, I’m not sure we should be missing class for it.”
Professor Fauna stopped in front of a door with five dead bolts running down one side. The sign on the door read janitorial supplies. But pasted over that was a piece of paper that said, mito fauna, dvm, phd, edd, social studies department. “You do not understand, Elliot,” Professor Fauna said as he unlocked the dead bolts, one by one. “On the TV is something about—”
“A mythical creature that needs our help?” Uchenna blurted out.
Professor Fauna nodded. “At least, so I believe.”
He pushed the door open and revealed a tiny office, no bigger than a mattress, lined floor to ceiling with bookshelves. Against one wall was a small desk, and above that was a series of maps and charts with crazy scribbles all over them. Professor Fauna walked to a bookshelf and pushed some books to one side, revealing a tiny television. He turned it on. A tiny black-and-white picture appeared. On the screen, a barrel-chested man with a giant cowboy hat was talking to a reporter. The words bob braunfels, rancher ran across the bottom. There was no sound, though. Professor Fauna fiddled with a knob on the little TV. Suddenly, they could hear it.
“. . . drained of blood. All of it,” the rancher was saying. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my whole dern life. A young cow—just lyin’ there, dead.”
The reporter said, “Sounds like a vampire bat, Mr. Braunfels.”
The rancher stared dismissively at the reporter. “Vampire bats are smaller than my hand and can’t drink more than an ounce of blood. Whatever this was took a couple gallons.”
“And you saw two holes in its hind leg, just above the hoof?” the reporter asked, pushing the microphone closer to the rancher’s face.
“No, not two. Three. Three puncture wounds. Like a huge rattler bit it on one side—and then half bit it again on the other side. Strangest dern thing. Also, rattlers put poison in. They don’t take blood out. No idea what could have done it. Must have come across the border.”
“You think the culprit came into Texas from Mexico?” the reporter asked.
The cattle rancher pushed his big hat back on his head. “Well, I’ve never seen nothing like this on our side of the Río Grande, so I reckon it must have. Who knows what they’ve got over there!”
The reporter shivered as she turned to the camera. “Well, this has been a live report from Laredo, Texas. Stay tuned to this channel for—”
Professor Fauna switched off the TV. “You see!?”
“See what?” Elliot asked. He looked genuinely afraid.
“What could do something like that?” Uchenna asked. She also looked scared. Which was unusual for her.
Professor Fauna said, “The bite pattern is right, but it shouldn’t behave in that manner! Unless there is something very, very wrong with it. It may be sick. Or crazed. Or rabid. Or—”
“What might be sick or crazed or rabid?” Elliot demanded.
“What? Oh! A chupacabras, of course!”
“A what?” said Elliot. “A choo-puh-CAH-brahs?”
Uchenna cocked her head at Elliot. “You don’t know what a chupacabra is? Is it possible that there’s a mythical creature that I’ve heard of, that you haven’t?”
Elliot pursed his lips. “It seems that there might be, though I am perturbed by the notion. I am still waiting for Deadly Beasts of Kazakhstan to be returned to the public library. Maybe it’s in there . . . ?”
“The chupacabra is a bloodsucking monster!” Uchenna announced, shuddering. Then she smiled a little, which perturbed Elliot even more.
Elliot turned to the professor. “She’s exaggerating, isn’t she? She’s just trying to scare me.”
Professor Fauna shrugged. “Technically, she is right. Except she is saying it wrong. It is chupacabras, both singular and plural. The name means ‘sucker of goats.’ You are saying ‘sucker of goat,’ which sounds very weird.”
“Uh, they both sound weird,” Uchenna clarified.
Professor Fauna considered this. After a moment, he said, “Yes, I suppose that is true. Now, come! I will tell you more in the airplane!”
“What?! It is a bloodsucking monster?” cried Elliot. “Also, if we have to go anywhere near that thing, do we have to take the Phoenix?” The Phoenix was the Unicorn Rescue Society’s single-propeller airplane, which crashed every single time they flew it. Somehow, Professor Fauna always got it working again.
“Elliot, it is a thirty-hour drive to Laredo from here. We must fly! ¡Hay que apurarnos!”
“Wait!” Uchenna exclaimed. “Where’s Jersey?”
“Already in the Phoenix! ¡Vámonos!”
Professor Fauna dashed out of the office door. Uchenna was hard on his heels. Elliot watched them go.
“Doesn’t anyone think we should just stay in school today?” he asked.
No one answered because he was all alone, in a tiny janitorial closet that doubled as the world headquarters of the Unicorn Rescue Society. He threw up his hands and followed the professor and Uchenna to the airplane, which would take them to Texas (if it didn’t crash), where they would encounter a bloodsucking monster.
Elliot sighed. “This is the worst extra-curricular activity ever.”
Moments later they were in the parking lot, boarding the battered blue-and-white plane. Uchenna helped pull Elliot up into the Phoenix.
As Elliot strapped himself in, he said, “So, tell me more about this creature I’ve somehow never heard of.”
Uchenna said, “Well, a chupacabras is short and has spines down its back. It looks a lot like a bald coyote crossed with a porcupine. It hops on its hind legs, kinda like a kangaroo. Oh, and it has sharp, long teeth. Like needles. The chupacabras plunges them into a victim’s flesh and . . .” She trailed off as she noticed Elliot turning green.
Professor Fauna clambered into the cabin and started jabbing at the plane’s controls with his calloused fingers. He squinted at the dials. “Truly, we know very little about the chupacabras. It has been ignored not only by science, but also by scholars of mythology. Information about it has mostly survived as urban legends, passed among schoolchildren and through popular culture, like television programs and viral videos and—”
Elliot stopped him. “Wait. Do I not know about this creature because I don’t hang out enough with other kids? I’m spending too much time reading books or something?”
There was a long, awkward pause. Professor Fauna stared at Elliot, unblinking, his bushy eyebrows beetling together. Uchenna looked at the rusty floor of the Phoenix.
Professor Fauna continued. “At any rate, there are journalists in Mexico who have taken reports of chupacabras more seriously. Reading their newspaper articles and doing my own research, I have come to a number of conclusions about them. For example, I believe that chupacabras travel in packs.”
Elliot said, “You want us to fly to Texas and face a horde of bouncing vampire coyotes? Are you kidding?”
“There is no cause for concern,” Professor Fauna replied. “Chupacabras are only known to latch on to the ankles of animals and suck the blood from their bodies. No human has ever been attacked.”
“That we know of,” Uchenna whispered dramatically.
Just then, Elliot felt something sharp grab his ankle.
“AHHHH!” he screamed.
A blue blur rose into the air in front of him. Two red wings came beating up into his face.
“Elliot! Relax! It’s just Jersey!” Uchenna was laughing.
Jersey settled in Elliot’s lap and looked up at him, blinking his big yellow eyes. Elliot exhaled and stroked the soft fur on Jersey’s head.
The plane suddenly roared to life. The doors locked with a loud click. They began to taxi down the school parking lot toward the street.
“¡Nos vamos a Texas, vaqueros!” shouted Professor Fauna over the roar of the engine. Then, in a horrible Western accent, he repeated himself in the language of cowboys from old TV shows: “Vamoose, buckaroos!”
Elliot settled back with a sigh, strapping himself in again. The Phoenix picked up speed as it reached the end of the lot, but the professor didn’t yank back on the yoke to lift it into the air. He was busy fiddling with the dials of the radio.
“We need to find the perfect music, amigos míos!” he exclaimed.
“Excuse me?” Uchenna said, indignant. “When did you get a radio in this plane?!”
“It seems our Muckleshoot friends at the Boeing plant installed it.* Now, to face the chupacabras, we must get into the right mood.”
Elliot’s eyes went wide as he looked through the cockpit window. He pointed, terrified.
Dozens of cars were moving slowly through the school zone.
The plane was going to drive right into the traffic.
“Professor!” Elliot shouted. “Pull up!”
Suddenly, a song began blasting from the speakers: trumpets, guitars, violins, and emotional singing in Spanish.
“Mariachi!” Uchenna shouted. “I love mariachi music!”
Then, just as they were about to plow into the passing cars, Professor Fauna yanked back hard on the yoke, and they rose above the street, their wheels almost grazing the top of a city bus.
The Phoenix shuddered under the strain. Elliot thought he might pass out.
The professor and Uchenna didn’t seem to care. They were singing together, in unison with the radio:
“¡México, lindo y querido!”
As the trumpets crowed and the guitar was strummed dramatically, Elliot stroked Jersey and sighed.
They were going to Texas. All the way down to the border.
* See The Unicorn Rescue Society: Sasquatch and the Muckleshoot
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