The driveway was long and dusty, marred by shadows clawing from the bases of the pines dotting the road. They marked the edge of the property, leading all the way back to the unassuming home on a small incline in the eastern part of the land. The shadowy curves lengthened as the sun dropped below the mountain range. Insects roared through the dying heat and a light flickered on in the house.
Old, brick walls, wooden beams and rippled, aged windows with thick glass sat under a corrugated iron roof, rust blooming in the corners. The light spilled out onto the yellowing lawn, where a couple of sheepdogs play-fought around their water bowl. Both were tethered by long leads to a kennel and a run beside the house.
A spoon scraped a can inside and both dogs’ ears pricked up. They stared at the front steps, muzzles taut and alert, hoping for dinner. The rattle of dry food mixed with wet and a couple of footsteps sounded before the screen door crashed open and one of their owners came striding out, holding two heaped silver bowls. Both dogs were salivating and started barking with hunger, joy and excitement, until their owner put down the bowls and patted their gorging heads as they scrambled to beat each other to finish.
As he stood watching the two animals, the last of the sun’s rays falling beneath the earth, Allen took in an unnecessary deep breath—more to taste the air. The sweetness of the petrichor oozing from the gums, insects biting and buzzing around, dog sweat and, in the distance, the lanolin-drenched sheep that needed shearing, all sent their odors fluttering over the breeze. The smells were music to his taste buds, but the air itself was useless and passed out of his body with no impact. His heart was quiet, something he’d taken years to get used to, but now found comforting. He could lose himself in his surroundings in a way he had never been able to when he’d been alive.
He was an imposing silhouette, standing over the dogs as he was—over six feet tall, with a grizzled jaw and heavy muscles under his dirty, off-white work shirt and grimy jeans. His leather boots were scuffed, but effective, and as he heaved back over the rickety front stoop, his footsteps clopped on the wood.
Inside, Joanna sat in her rocking chair, carved decades before by Allen’s own hands. Her frail knees were covered in a red, yellow and black crocheted blanket and she worked on another in her lap. Spectacles with plastic-beaded string hung around her neck and her frizzy, gray hair was tied behind her head. Her skin was dark, with deep ridges, and her fingers were gnarled, even as she wove deft patterns in the wool. Although her frame was slight and her skin aged, there was a quiet strength to her and her dogged determination to continue her task.
“Are you hungry, my love?” asked Allen.
Joanna started just a little then glanced up at her husband. “You gonna feed me with the dogs now?” Her words were harsh in a way, but her eyes were amused and playful, reflecting the lamplight around her.
“Depends on whether you behave yourself.” Allen grinned, then leaned down to kiss the much older-looking woman. Her lips were soft against his. She put a knotted hand to his cheek and stroked his jaw.
“You’re still exactly the same,” she said.
Allen got up and turned to the little bar kitchen across from her. On the other side of the large room was a double bed, also covered in crocheted blankets, a quilt and huge pillows. Their home was tiny, but crammed with knickknacks. Some had been collected from Jo’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren—dried gumnuts, twigs and polished rocks, some quartz crystals, antique jars and tins, as well as intricately painted items passed down to her through generations. Mixed throughout were photos of them all—smiling, playing and posing to capture moments of past joy. The rare photos at night also featured Allen, looking the same as always in every one.
Allen took out some bread from the pantry, cheese and ham from the small refrigerator then began making his wife a sandwich.
“You remember that day, Allen?” Jo asked.
“Going for a walk down memory lane?” countered Allen.
Jo smiled to herself and continued. “You were a gibbering fool, not much different to now, by my count,” she laughed, coughed then composed herself. “Had blood all over you, naked as the day you were born.” Her eyes developed the sheen of nostalgia. “The others ran away in fear, but I stayed. Do you remember?”
“I’m standing here now, aren’t I? And don’t try to tell me you stayed ’cause you’re brave. I know you were just thinking filthy things.”
Jo laughed and clapped. “Oh, you know me too well, my love.”
Allen buttered bread and laid slices of cheese and ham on it. He unscrewed the lid of a mustard jar and slathered it on the other piece of bread before closing then cutting it for Jo.
As she ate, tiny crumbs rained over her chest and onto the blanket, dropping to the floor. Allen sat in an armchair close to her, so their feet were almost touching, and they could look at each other and smile.
“You’d been eating—I dunno—was it a kangaroo?”
Jo laughed and put her half-eaten sandwich down. “That’s right. You had a leg, holding it like a drumstick, but you were sucking at it, trying to get out all the blood, weren’t you? Greedy then, greedy now.” Jo scratched at her neck, over a few old scars.
Allen touched her knee. His thick knuckles had dark hair over them, but his skin was pale. It had been decades since he’d seen the sun. Jo covered his hand with her own and sighed.
“You’re still so handsome.”
“And you’re beautiful,” said Allen.
“I know that. You don’t need to tell me,” said Jo. “You know, these days—these long days—I sometimes wish I’d let you turn me back then.”
“Oh, stop it,” Allen said. “I know you’re not gonna sit here feeling sorry for yourself when you’ve got all these kids and grandkids to show for your life. And even apart from that, you mean everything to me. I’ll never forget you and what you did for me.”
“Damn right you won’t. I lost a lotta friends ‘cause of you. And family. Lucky I’d already had a few kids, right. You’re pretty useless on that front.”
“Not for lack of trying, though.” Allen grinned.
Jo blushed a little. “Filthy old bugger,” she let out a mischievous laugh. “We had good times.”
“You’ve gotta stop talking like you’re dying tonight,” Allen said. “Please.”
Jo smiled and clutched Allen’s hand. “You’ve gotta let me finish. Always interrupting a lady, forgetting your manners.” She shook her head. “I said I sometimes wish you’d turned me. Sure, now that I can barely walk and God’s just waiting to take me, it stings a bit more that you’re still fit and handsome, but life’s long, and when I look in your eyes, I see you’re tired of it too.”
“I don’t know what I’ll do without you,” said Allen.
“Don’t get all mushy on me. And if I see you trying to off yourself like some Romeo for my Juliet, so help me I’ll kill you myself.”
“Of course from heaven. What? You think I’m going to Hell with you? Ha!”
“I thought you didn’t believe in that anyway.”
“Old habits die hard,” said Jo. “Besides, getting hitched to a vampire means a one-way ticket to Hell, doesn’t it? Bible doesn’t really cover what we’ve got.”
“Getting mushy again, old man?” Jo gestured at him. “Help me up.”
Allen got to his feet and held Jo’s hand as she stood and tried to stretch. She clasped both his hands and took a couple of steps to the side, trying to start a waltz, but leaning on Allen too much. They shuffled around the room, hips swaying in time to no music, but the sound of cicadas washed over them in waves and a cool breeze drifted through their home.
“I love you, Allen,” said Jo.
“I love you too.”
Jo sighed and pressed her head against Allen’s shoulder. “When I’m gone—”
“Not this again,” Allen said.
“Just let me finish. I’m worried about you. I really do wonder what you’ll do without me to keep you in check. I’ll be dead, so it doesn’t much matter to me, but I wanna die thinking you’ve got a life ahead of you.”
“I’m already dead.”
Jo slapped his chest. “Shut it.” She broke away from him to hobble to the shelves.
Among the photos around the room, in between misshapen pottery gifts, macaroni cards and behind countless colorful handprints on paper was a small black-and-white photo of three people. Allen in his heyday, back when he was human, standing beside a demure, pale woman. Both were dressed in heavy, period clothing, but the sun beat down on them, nonetheless. And between them stood a young man, his face set in seriousness. None smiled, because none did back then when photographs were taken. But that little family was the only memory of Allen’s other life that remained.
Seeing the photo, even hidden as it was, Jo picked it up and held it between her aged, but deft, fingers. She stroked Allen’s unchanged face as she passed it to him.
Allen examined it with the long memory of an immortal being. He gazed upon the faces of his wife Evelyn and his son Mack, and tears welled in his heart. He looked at Jo through a shimmer of salt water.
“Where’d you get this?” Mack asked.
“Wasn’t easy, lemme tell you. Had to pull one over on that museum that opened up at your old place.” She shook her head. “The things they said about you all…”
“You stole it?”
“Not stealing if they stole it first, right?”
Allen stared at it again.
“Go find him when I’m gone.”
When he clenched his fist, it hid the portrait from sight, along with the memories of his former life. Jo sat on the edge of the bed, breathing heavily.
“I’m the one who’s gonna die, so you gotta listen to me. I’ve loved you for half my life, Allen. I know you, even if you think I don’t. I know the darkness inside you as well, and it scares me to think of you alone. I’m afraid you’ll lose yourself in all that horror.”
Jo snorted. “You say you won’t, but you’re all the same. Vampire or not, men are weak. You gotta find him then make it right between you.”
Allen sat beside Jo. “Did you enjoy our life together?”
“Of course I did,” said Jo. “I’m still enjoying it. Just promise me, when the time comes…”
Allen uncurled his fist and together, they stared at the photo.
“He’s a handsome man, like his father,” said Jo.
Tears fell in silence down Allen’s cheeks and into his stubble. Jo reached up to wipe them off. She lifted his hand and kissed the back of his knuckles then held him as he sobbed beside her, still clutching the photo of his old, almost-forgotten family.
* * * *
Muted sunlight streamed through the tinted glass of the hotel room windows. It diffused through soft gauze curtains and fell against the carpet and bed. Under crisp, white sheets, Mack slept on his stomach, naked and peaceful. He wasn’t breathing and his heart wasn’t beating. He was resting in the odd way that vampires seemed to need to during daylight hours. The contours of his pale, muscular body were outlined in the shape of the sheet and his dark hair was a splash against one of the too-soft pillows. Outside, the sun set over Sydney, sparkling off buildings and giving one last blast of heat before the day ended.
Along one wall of the room was a desk, a large tube television, a telephone and a tray with two glasses, two cups and saucers and an array of teas and coffees. Jason, clad in a terry-toweling robe and nothing else, grabbed the glasses then sat them on top of the tiny bar fridge. He glanced at Mack and smiled before grabbing a milk bottle filled with blood from the fridge and pouring two large glasses from it.
He squinted at the dying sunlight and strode through it to Mack’s side, holding the two full glasses. He placed them on the bedside table, next to the lamp and second telephone, before leaning down to nuzzle against the back of Mack’s neck. He drew in the smell of sweat and alcohol, a little cigarette smoke and some blood before Mack stirred awake and brushed at his neck.
“Evening, my love,” said Jason.
Mack groaned and cracked his eyelids just a smidgen. “Already?”
Jason nodded at the blood. “Want a drink?”
Mack pulled himself up and rubbed his eyes. He turned on the lamp and gazed at Jason before grabbing the glass and drinking it back. Only when he was done and blood was coursing through his veins did he touch Jason’s hand and kiss him lightly on his mouth.
Jason drank his own in silence before pushing Mack back on the bed and kissing him more passionately. They both rolled over the sheets for a moment before Mack pulled away and smiled.
“What’s that for?”
Jason shrugged. “It’s nice, you know, when it’s just us.”
Mack hesitated a moment before smiling. “Reminds me of when we met. Remember? We would sneak away to the paddocks and I’d go hunting. You showed me how to change my form too.”
“I helped you figure it out, you mean. I was still human then? Anyway, why do you always bring up that stuff? It was so long ago.”
Mack nodded. “Not so long ago for me,” he said, his voice softer.
“We used to make love under the stars,” Jason said. “I miss that more than anything, you know. It felt like we were completely alone out there.”
Mack kissed Jason and jumped up to get dressed. “You’re up early tonight,” he said. “What’s happening?”
“Nothing. I just wanna get on with our lives, you know. I want us to move on from the crap back then. You get that, right?” Jason was filled with conviction.
“Yeah, I get it, baby,” Mack replied
“Isn’t that a pet name people use?” Mack asked.
“Well, yes, but why use it on me?”
Mack shrugged. “I’m just trying to fit in.”
“Why? You’re so strange. It doesn’t matter that you speak funny and use odd words. Just tell people you’re from the country—or England or something. People’ll ignore it then.”
Mack stared at Jason. “It’s not that. I just wanna blend in. I wanna be normal. I don’t want people to think I speak funny. I don’t want you to think that.”
“You’re a hundred-year-old gay vampire who can change into any animal you want. How normal do you think you can get?”
“People don’t ask you where you’re from all the time,” said Mack.
Jason got up and embraced him from behind as Mack pulled on his jeans. “I’ve been in it for a lot longer. I learned to hide my Italian accent and picked up new words and changing meanings and all that stuff. It’s hard and takes a long time.” He pushed Mack’s jeans down and fondled his bulge instead.
Mack let him do it for a bit, but his cock remained flaccid in Jason’s deft fingers. He pulled away in discomfort then dragged his jeans over his legs instead.
“What’s wrong?” Jason asked.
“Nothing. I’m just not in the mood.”
Mack kissed him. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m just tired. I’m gonna go check a few things before the shift starts. Zoran left a mess behind when he died. I guess we’re lucky he left it all to you, but the headaches this work brings with it? Gimme a horse and cattle any day.”
“A horse and cattle? You’re adorable.” Jason kissed Mack again then hugged him. “I’ll be up at Fuel later, with Greg.”
“You know, this is exactly what I was talking about. How you make fun of the things I say and do. Maybe if you helped me more, I wouldn’t be so weird.”
“Whoa, relax, Mack. Seriously, you got up on the wrong side of bed tonight.”
Mack tried to shake off the mood. “Yeah, sorry. You said you’ll be up with Greg later?”
“Might see you there then.”
“What do you mean might? Do you have plans or something?”
Mack shrugged. “I’m not entirely sure, but if not, I’ll see you soon.” He buttoned up a black dress shirt over his chest and kissed Jason one more time. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” said Jason. And before he knew it, he was alone in the hotel room, bloodied glasses by the bed and the smell of his boyfriend lingering in the air.
He went over their conversation in his mind, doubts and suspicions seeding at every recounting. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Jason sighed again and stared at the blank wall ahead.
Mack held it together in the elevator. He betrayed none of his inner conflict as he passed through the lobby, with its quiet grace. Doormen bade him farewell, and he gave a nod of recognition and thanks for their work before making it outside to the bustling streets of Kings Cross. Neon was starting to replace daylight and taxis were bumper to bumper on the road. Strippers and bouncers made their way to work, their days just beginning, creatures of the night just like Mack and Jason.
It didn’t take long to get through the main strip of the notorious neighborhood, and he found himself in a semblance of suburbia again. Terraced houses lined the streets, in varying states of repair. The odd backpackers and a motel or two, for the more discreet visitor to the Cross, advertised their hourly rates on chipboard signs on the street. Mack gave them a glance, but he was aiming for a particular place at the end of the street.
The hand-painted sign out the front named it Mangrove Backpacker’s, although no mangroves could be seen anywhere but in the crude depictions on the sign.
Mack made a beeline for Mangrove Backpacker’s, pulled open the gate then strode inside. He walked up creaking stairs, past a communal shower and bathroom and a couple of locked doors. Mack stopped and knocked on the door labeled ‘Twenty-Four’.
Shuffling answered him and the door unlocked from the inside. It was pulled open and a gentleman holding an off-white sheet over his crotch stood, rubbing his eyes and yawning. The man had a chest resplendent with muscles, and it was covered in light-blond hair that trailed in golden paths below the sheet. Mack glimpsed the curve of his buttocks and his legs that were covered in thick fur.
The man took in Mack’s pristine condition and gave a lopsided smile. “Evenin’, Mack.” He had a thick American accent.
“Good evening, Sparky.” Mack waited. “May I come in?”
Sparky stepped aside and held out a welcoming hand. “By all means.”
The room was small and messy. Garish clothing hung over everything, including sparkling G-strings, bright red leather chaps, cowboy boots and a familiar tank top with ‘Sparky’ emblazoned on it.
“To what do I owe this pleasure?” Sparky adjusted his sheet and winked at Mack. “Do you mind if I put on some clothes?”
Mack would’ve blushed if he could. Instead, he covered his eyes and nodded. Sparky dropped his sheet with a soft swish of material on carpet. Mack heard him shuffle across the room then the sound of fabric against skin.
“Okay, I’m decent now,” said Sparky.
Mack looked at him, now clad in a tiny pair of blue shorts that barely touched the tops of his thighs and did nothing to hide the obscene bulge between Sparky’s legs. Sparky gestured then sat beside Mack on the bed. He put his hand on Mack’s thigh and kissed his cheek. “Didn’t think I’d see you until the show tonight. This is a nice surprise, but should I be worried?”
“Worried about what?”
Mack laughed. “No, you’re an excellent dancer. The crowd loves you. Why would you think that?”
Sparky shrugged. “The boss visiting you at home before a shift gets the paranoia going a bit. You know what I’m saying?”
Mack laughed. “I’m not the boss,” he said.
“Boss’s main squeeze then.”
Mack’s brow furrowed with puzzlement. “What do you mean?”
Sparky grinned. “Nothing.” He squeezed Mack’s thigh again and rubbed his palm up toward Mack’s crotch.
Mack stared at Sparky’s hand in silence, but Sparky didn’t move it. In fact, he squeezed a little harder, pushed up a little farther. Mack’s bulge began to grow, filling out under his fly. His shaft became evident under the denim and his balls strained to be released, but he held back.
Sparky kept rubbing, leaning closer to talk to Mack. “Did something happen?” he asked. “Wanna talk it out?” He removed his hand, got up then grabbed a bottle of whiskey from the dresser. He unscrewed the lid, had a grimacing swig then passed it to Mack, who did the same.
Mack wiped his mouth, trying to conceal his excitement and keep his heart from beating again. He shifted in position.
“You okay?” Sparky asked, staring at Mack’s crotch. “You wanna get more comfortable?”
Mack squeezed his legs together but it only made his cock pop more. He blushed, his heart in full gallop again, then took another swig of whiskey. Sparky sat back down, his bare thigh against Mack’s jeans. The heat from his body was overwhelming.
“It’s Jason,” blurted Mack.
Sparky put down the bottle and placed his hand on the small of Mack’s back, rubbing in circles until his hand slipped under Mack’s shirt to contact his skin. His fingers slid under the waist of Mack’s jeans and massaged the top of his cheeks at the same time. Mack almost groaned with desire. “You two okay?” asked Sparky.
“Yeah, we’re fine. It’s just… I mean, I want to fit in, and it’s difficult to do that. And sometimes the way he treats me makes me think I’ll never manage to do it.”
Sparky was quizzical, but he didn’t stop rubbing. He moved closer so his breath was on Mack’s ear. “Fit in? In this town? Firstly, why would you want to? It’s full of drug dealers, criminals, gamblers… Bad people, man. I mean, our customers are so good in a way, but no one you want to emulate.” He moved his arm around Mack and squeezed his shoulder to bring him closer. “It’s good to be from the country. Makes you sweet.”
Mack’s heart hammered with life and this time, he really did blush. He hesitated then put his hand on Sparky’s thigh. Sparky’s skin was hot to the touch and his hair was soft under Mack’s palm. “Thank you,” said Mack. It felt good to be accepted and desired, different though he was. Sparky really seemed to understand, maybe the only one who did.
“It’s good not fitting in. I don’t, obviously, what with being from America, and it suits me just fine. People think I’m exotic. You just gotta play it up more, Mack, my man. As soon as people get to know you, they’ll love you too.”
The words hung in the air.
“I mean, as a friend.”
Mack pulled away enough to look into Sparky’s eyes. “I knew what you meant.” He opened his mouth. Sparky’s whiskey-flavored breath wafted over Mack’s face before he leaned up and kissed Sparky, gently at first, but with increased passion until their tongues tangled.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” Sparky said, breath now hot, cheeks flushed and bulge straining against his shorts.
Mack’s heart thumped with life as he nodded then pulled Sparky back on the bed. Sparky straddled Mack, unbuttoned his shirt and peeled it off. Mack’s jeans soon followed and Sparky threw both to the floor. Sparky almost tore his own shorts off in excitement and his cock bounced out over Mack, who pulled his legs up to wrap around Sparky so their cocks slapped together. Mack’s chest slid against Sparky’s skin in a slick of sweat. His firm nipples were taut and sensitive against Sparky’s. He scattered kisses from Sparky’s collarbone up his neck and over his delicious, pulsing arteries. Mack ran his tongue over his rough stubble before finding solace in Sparky’s warm, wet mouth, and he lost himself in the kiss. Mack flipped them over then fumbled a hand around behind him, pawing for his lover’s cock and drawing it up to paint his own hole with pre-cum. He groaned, bit Sparky’s bottom lip and eased himself back onto the prize. Sweat dripped from both their bodies as he slid down the shaft. Mack gasped as Sparky’s tip prodded him deep within. His lover grabbed Mack’s ass cheeks—one in each hand—and started lifting him up and down on his cock. Before Mack’s eyes, the man gasped and flushed scarlet with desire, his eyes glazing and his pupils dilating in ecstasy.
Mack’s heart flew and blood coursed through his veins in a way that it hadn’t for many years. He closed his eyes and felt his lover’s cock throb. He let go and allowed his own to start disgorging pre-cum until the sweet pheromones hit their noses, and they came in unison. Sparky gasped and gripped Mack’s body, causing pain with every spasm. Mack let out a couple of final breaths and his semen trickled down to puddle between them on the bed. Lost in the moment, Mack sank his teeth into his lover’s neck, feeling the skin strain and break, releasing even sweeter blood from the arteries to stream into Mack’s mouth.
“Ow! Jesus!” Sparky pulled away, clutching at his bleeding neck as blood dribbled out between his fingers.
Mack shuddered in joy as the blood made it through his system. He smeared the back of his hand over his mouth and looked at the red mark in shock.
“Jesus Christ, man! What the hell?”
Mack’s heart quickened. “I’m so sorry. Here, let me see.” He held out his hand, but Sparky pulled away, looking at his red palm and clapping it back over the wound in fear. Mack fought the urge to launch himself at Sparky, tear his neck open and drink every last drop of his blood. It was his instinct—his way. It was what would have been natural for him. Instead, he furrowed his brow in concentration and grabbed a tissue from the nightstand, holding it out for Sparky to grab before he retreated from Mack’s presence.
Mack looked around for something more substantial than a tissue to wipe himself off with. He was confronted with a floor littered with notes, mostly of the five-dollar variety. Among them were black leather work-boots, various plastic water pistols, holsters and aluminum star-shaped sheriff badges. The closest piece of clothing was Sparky’s star-spangled tank top. It wouldn’t have been Mack’s first choice, but he wasn’t feeling picky, so he scooped it up and started to wipe his semen-coated thighs.
Sparky fumbled at the nightstand for a packet of cigarettes. He dragged one out and lit it, sending plumes of smoke into the room. He got up then went to sit by the window, cracking it open to blow smoke outside. The smell still drifted in and around everything, but it didn’t much bother Mack. His heart was slowing to a stop and with it would be his need to breathe the air or smell anything at all any longer.
“I’m really sorry. I just got a bit overexcited,” Mack said, a shred of truth in his words. “Don’t tell anyone, okay? Please?”
Sparky exhaled a white cloud of smoke that lingered around his face. “Don’t sweat it, man. I’m down for some S and M. Just warn me first next time, yeah?” Sparky grinned with blinding white teeth.
Mack nodded. His heart had well and truly stopped again, so it was in silence that he turned to look at Sparky resting in the window. Neon lights from the Cross up the street flashed over the neighborhood, illuminating him in red, yellow then green. Sparky took another puff of his cigarette and stretched. His torso rippled with muscles and his balls shifted beneath his softening cock. He winked at Mack.
“At any rate, I’ll keep your secret if you’ll keep ours.” He waggled his finger between the two of them. “Don’t want Jason to know about this.”
“You read my mind.” Mack pulled on his jeans and adjusted his package. He located his shirt and dressed before going for the door.
“Hey, where are you going?” Sparky flicked his cigarette out the window and it spun through the air to land on the road and smolder. “It’s seriously fine, Mack. I get it. You’ve got a lot going on.” Sparky took his hand from his neck. “I-I really liked this.” He embraced Mack and rubbed his hands on his back.
Mack enjoyed the sensation of Sparky’s warm, sweaty chest against his, but he knew how close he had come to eating him. “I did too.” He moved to extricate himself from the embrace but Sparky held on to him a little longer.
“I’m not an idiot, you know. This may just be a one-night stand to you—just a way to get back at Jason for not understanding you—but I’m hoping it can be more.”
Mack would have blushed again. He was, for once, thankful that his heart had stopped beating.
Sparky kept his gaze a moment longer before letting go and opening the door. “See you round, I guess.”
Mack nodded and left. In the hall, he passed a couple of dilapidated doors, lit with green fluorescent light. They had rusted numbers counting down on them—twenty-three and twenty-two. Down the carpeted, creaking stairs and out the front door of the terrace-cum-boarding house and into the night, he vanished into the dark, determined to find something less obvious to feed upon.