His escort appeared speechless that Doug had been able to stop their momentum at all. Another tall, good-looking teenager had to step up to the plate.

'Fuck, there are more of you?' he said. 'Where’s your friend?'

'Probably hiding in a bathroom.'

This second guy went off to look, leaving the first to stand there and hold Doug’s arm and glare.

'Look, you can let me go,' said Doug. 'I’m not going to turn into a bat or anything.'

'Heh. What? Shut up.'

'Seriously. I’ll leave as soon as my friend gets here.'

'I think you can let him go,' said someone new.

Doug’s escort let him go. 'Whatever. Your house, Paul.'

'Oh,' said Doug to the new kid. 'You’re Paul. Nice party.'

'Thanks. How did you find out about it?'

'I found a flyer at the convention center. At the pre-con party. It was under Stan Lee’s foot.'

'Someone must’ve dropped one,' said Paul. 'Sorry, it was more of an invite-only thing.'

'I didn’t know.'

Just then Jay appeared with a tall guy holding each arm.

'Here he is,' one of them said. 'People in the bathroom line said he’d been in there a half hour.'

Doug glanced at his watch. That sounded about right.

Outside, Doug and Jay shuffled through wet grass, aware of the gazes of two or three guys standing guard on the front porch to make sure they didn’t double back, sneak in through a window, slide down the chimney. Crash the party and get dork all over everything.

'Don’t take this the wrong way,' said Jay as they reached the car, 'but that would have been a great moment for you to turn into a wolf or command rats or something.'

'Yeah. And then you could have gone and done recon in the bathroom again. Everything secure in there? Did they have enough guest towels?'

Jay didn’t reply.

They drove off into the dark street.

'I have to feed soon!' said Doug. 'I feel like I’m starving and going crazy at the same time. I’m curs — damned! I’m damned to forever yearn for the…vile…'

'Vile crimson ichor?' offered Jay.

'No. For the vile…for the sweet, vile…' Doug trailed off. Damn it, 'vile crimson ichor' had been pretty good.

'Will you die?' asked Jay. 'If you don’t…feed? Will you die again?'

Doug exhaled and watched the houses pass.

'I don’t know. It was bad enough the first time.'

'You said it was awesome,' said Jay. 'Before, you said that getting turned into a vampire was better than sex.'


'You said it was like your penis went bonernova—'

'Can you not say ‘penis’? Please? It’s like I get the exact opposite of a bonernova whenever you say it. Say ‘dick’ or—'

'I don’t swear,' said Jay. 'You know I don’t.'

'Look. Okay. Obviously…' said Doug, 'obviously the getting-turned-into-a-vampire part was great, and the vampire chick was hot and everything, but the actual dying part sucked. Obviously.'

'Oh. Sorry.'

'’S okay.'

Doug rolled down his window a few inches and wedged his nose into the gap, inhaling the thick, salty air. Anything to keep from smelling the one hundred and fifty pounds of blood and best friend in the driver’s seat next to him.

'You’re the one with family here,' said Doug. He and Jay were staying with Jay’s aunt and uncle during the convention. 'Are there any farms close by?'

Jay thought a moment. 'I don’t think so. Maybe some citrus orchards. Ha! Maybe some blood oranges.'


'No. No farms.'

'Well…there has to be something,' whined Doug, 'someplace with big animals. Big enough so I won’t kill them.'

Jay was quiet. Then he made a turn toward the freeway.


Endangered species

THE SAN DIEGO ZOO is located within a twelve-hundred-acre expanse of garden and cultural attractions called Balboa Park and encircled by lush palms and meticulously trimmed topiary elephants. Its outer wall is thirty feet high and can be scaled by an out-of-shape vampire carrying a friend if he sits down for a while afterward.

'Just a sec,' Doug huffed for the second time. His head was spinning, and the first verse of a song he didn’t like was going around and around in it. Jay cast his eyes about with his hands over his nose and mouth. He flinched at every noise. Finally he went to stand behind a cart that sold T-shirts.

'We should meet back here if we get separated,' he whispered. 'Right at this cart.'

'Why would we get separated?'

'I don’t know. If guards chase us.'

'Jesus, there won’t be any guards in here. Why would they be on the inside? No one else could climb that wall. If there are guards, they’re probably all out there.'

Jay said nothing, but after a minute he stepped out into view.

'Okay, I’m ready,' said Doug. 'You know, if I was full of blood, I bet I could have hauled ass over that wall. I could have carried two of you. I could have carried a whole cheerleading squad.'

'Why a cheerleading squad?'

'I dunno…girls like animals.'

They chose a path at random past the gift shops and snack stands, and wended their way into the heart of the zoo.

Jay looked at a sign nearby. '‘Capybara,’' he read.

'Too small.'

'It’s the world’s largest rodent.'

'Good for the capybara. I hope it has a coffee mug that says so. I’m not putting my mouth on it.'

They continued down the winding path, peering into the dark, quiet habitats. Doug sang under his breath, '‘What the world…needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just…too little of’—Oh, great. Perfect.'


'Why can’t I have a good song stuck in my head?'

'My uncle doesn’t like people messing with the radio. He says he has it just how he likes it.'

'It’s a terrible song.'

Jay shrugged.

'No, seriously,' said Doug. 'It’s stupid. I mean, love is the only thing that there’s too little of? What about… uh…coal? Or trees?'



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