'‘Jaguarundi,’' said Jay, reading a sign. 'They’re endangered.'

'Right, see?' said Doug. He looked at the sign. 'I probably shouldn’t feed on something endangered, right? Plus it’s too small.'

'How about the…Bornean bearded pig?'


'It’s over three hundred pounds,' said Jay. 'It’ll be okay.'

'No. I…' Doug searched for the right words. 'I don’t want you to think I…this is going to sound kind of weird, but…'

Jay looked up at him.

'I was hoping for something a little more…sexy,' said Doug.


'Not actually sexy! Not, like, I’m into animals or anything. Just…it’s bad enough I have to drink from an animal in the first place, you know? There has to be something more…elegant than the whatever bearded pig.'

Jay read the next sign.

'What about the ‘Southern bush pig’?' he asked. 'That’s sexier, right?'

'You really don’t know the answer to that question, do you?'

Jay blushed the color of raw meat. Doug had to look away. An awkward moment passed between them like a cripple.

'At home you feed on cows,' said Jay finally. 'Cows are sexy?'

'No, it’s all…In my head the blood drinking is about either romance or food. It’s complicated. The perfect animal…would be, like, a real pretty doe.'

'Or a unicorn,' said Jay.

'Don’t be stup—' Doug began. 'Okay, yes. Or a unicorn. But this zoo doesn’t have any unicorns, and I don’t know if a doe weighs enough. I might kill it.'

'A tiger?'

'It might kill me.'

'Um,' said Jay, casting about for an idea. 'Ooh! This way.'

'A panda?'

'Sure,' said Jay. 'It’s at least sexier than those pigs, right? And it’s big and gentle. They’re like huge babies.'

'Huge bear-shaped babies.' Huge, endangered bear-shaped babies, Doug realized with a pang. But what with all the bamboo-eating and never-mating-in- captivity, he thought they might be endangered because they were just kind of stupid.

'Yeah, but they’re not really bears, are they? I think they’re more closely related to the raccoon or something,' said Jay, but he didn’t look sure.

The raccoon comment was undoubtedly meant to reassure Doug, but it only made him think of rabies and bandit faces and those sharply determined little hands. He leaned forward, his stomach against the railing, and searched the enclosure.

'I don’t see it,' he said.

'They probably have someplace in there where she stays at night,' Jay said, pointing to a sort of cave opening in the back wall.

Doug stared at the cave. A light breeze tickled his skin and made him shiver — a by-product of being so low on blood, he thought. After a feeding he could barely feel temperature at all. Suddenly his ears pricked at an unexpected sound.

'‘What the world…needs now,’' sang Jay.

'Wait, shh. Someone’s coming.'

'I can’t hear—'

'Dammit,' whispered Doug. 'Hide.'

Jay lurched in one direction, jerked back, lurched in another, tripped for no reason. He finally made it through a gauntlet of invisible obstacles and crouched behind a water fountain shaped like a hippopotamus throwing up.

Doug scrambled over the railing and found a ten-foot drop into the panda yard. He hung by locked and aching fingertips from the top of the wall as a night watchman ambled into view.

Nothing to see, Doug thought at the watchman. Just walk on by…

The night watchman sat down on a bench with his back to the panda pen.

Son of a— thought Doug, as his grip failed and he tumbled noiselessly onto the lush grass below. He paused and listened. Jay was okay. The man above was unwrapping food and singing something in a mumbly hum, something about life being a highway. He sounded like he might be a while.

The yard behind Doug was still pandaless and quiet. He hurried, hunched, through the grass, past a thicket of bamboo, a pond, and stopped at the mouth of the cave Jay had pointed out before. It had a gate, but the gate was unlocked, designed only to keep pandas in, he supposed, not vampires out. It opened with a high squeal that Doug was pretty sure only he could hear. He, and any dogs nearby. And maybe pandas. He really wished now that he knew more about pandas.

Once inside, Doug got a good look at the panda and had to admit he’d been worrying too much. It appeared to be asleep. It appeared, actually, to be just a huge stuffed toy, the kind stepdads buy for their stepkids when they’re overcompensating. The illusion was supported by a rubber pig, which probably squeaked, nestled beside it on the straw bed. And a plastic xylophone hanging from the bars of a narrow window. And a big pink ball that had settled where the bare concrete floor sloped downward to a drain. It was like the toy department of a prison.

The floor curved up into the walls, one of which was nearly hidden behind a wide fan of bamboo stalks. The floor was painted bright white. All in all, the whole space wasn’t any larger than a two-car garage. It smelled the way a garage would smell if you left a bear inside it too long.

Doug breathed through his mouth and tiptoed over to the panda, its body slowly inflating and deflating like a fur balloon.

He realized, suddenly, that there was a significant difference between this panda and the cows back home. With the cows, it was easy to sniff out a vein, break the skin, take care of business. Here, he could imagine biting down and getting only a mouthful of hair.

He leaned over the animal, fangs bared, his hesitant hands hovering clawlike in the air, lacking only a black cape and high collar to finish the picture. Then a faint whirr from above caught his attention. Light glinted off a single lens, a glassy eye in the corner that motored slowly upward to look from panda to Doug.

Is that a camera? thought Doug.

The camera angled down again, past the panda, square on the rubber pig toy, and Doug wondered, Is that really a rubber pig toy?

He stepped around the panda and crouched on his hands and knees in front of the thing. It wasn’t a toy. It was some kind of animal. It looked like a naked rat.

What the hell IS that?


The magic kingdom

'OW. OW. OW,' said Doug from under his white plastic poncho.

'It’s only a little farther,' said Jay.

'Ow. Why would anyone want to live in a place this sunny? Is it leaving marks?'

Doug imagined what a pretty picture he made — zinc oxide on his nose, his cheeks greased with SPF 80. A small crack in the left lens of his spare glasses. Jay bent over to look under Doug’s hood.

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