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WRITING – THE PHOTOGRAPHER

Posted by samatwitch on April 26, 2012

I wrote this for a short story contest earlier this year.  I had a really good opening few pages but had to scrap it all because it was a short story contest, not a novel!  So this was written in the last few hours before the deadline and posted to the contest with one minute to go!  It’s not great, but it is mine.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER

Molly braced herself, then stared defiantly at the boy who had done everything possible to make her life miserable since she and her parents had moved to this small town three months ago.  Gerald and his friend Lewis delighted in tormenting their classmates, especially the girls, but for a few minutes she had the upper hand.

She was enjoying being the helper for the school photographer, even though it mostly consisted of standing beside him and acting as a focus for the students he was shooting.  Somehow it seemed to relax them to see another student in the gym where the photos were taken.  Nobody would call Molly intimidating; she was small for her age, with blonde hair and delicate features.  Along with her shy demeanour, those attributes meant she was usually ignored, except by the bullies in the school.  She smoothed her fingers over the small bottle in her pocket that she carried with her at all times.

The photographer had chosen Molly deliberately – not just to relax the other students, but to help Molly overcome her shyness.   He had seen how Gerald had pinched her and kneed her in the back while they were posing for their class picture and decided to do something about it.

Now he had Gerald in front of him, squirming around in the chair as the photographer readied his equipment.

“Sit still, please, Gerald,” he requested pleasantly.  “I want to make sure I have the perfect shot so your parents will be pleased.”

“My Ma’s not going to pay for any old pictures of me,” the young boy said, “I don’t know why I’m even here.”

“Because everyone is having their pictures taken individually this week and then your mother can decide whether or not she wants to purchase them.”

Finally the photographer seemed happy with his arrangements, staring through the lens for what seemed to Molly to be a long time before finally snapping the picture.

“Thank you, Gerald,” the photographer said quietly.  “You may go back to your group now and send in the next person.”

Gerald seemed to stumble a bit as he got up, but then he walked stiffly out the door.

A few minutes went by and no other child appeared

“Molly, could you go and ask the next child in line to come in, please?”

Molly went to the door and looked out.  The line-up of children were waiting, some patiently, others fidgeting, Lewis as usual trying to intimidate his classmates.

“Andrea, you’re next,” said Molly to her friend who was standing at the front of the line.

“Didn’t Gerald tell you to come in?” she asked as they crossed the gymnasium floor.

“No, he didn’t say anything.  His eyes were weird and he just walked by all of us without hitting or pinching or anything,” she replied.

“Probably the flash affected his eyes,” said the photographer, overhearing as they drew near.  “Some people react badly.  As for not hitting or pinching, I would think that’s a good thing.  He shouldn’t be doing that at any time.  That’s something that should stop right now and I know just what to do about it.”

“Oh, no,” cried Andrea. “If he finds out I said anything, he’ll be worse than ever.”

“Nonsense,” said the photographer.  “That kind of behaviour must stop immediately, but don’t worry, I have no intention of telling him that you said anything.  I’d already seen his bullying for myself.”

Andrea settled down and the photographer seemed to be quite happy with the picture he took of her and the rest of the students that afternoon.

“Is there a student missing, Molly?” he asked. “My list says 32 students but I’ve only taken 31 pictures.”

“Lewis didn’t come in,” she replied. “He was in the line-up earlier but Mrs. Anderson said he left to see what happened to Gerald and he didn’t come back.  They’re best friends.”

Just then Mrs. Anderson bustled in.  “I’m sorry to keep you waiting.  I was looking for our last straggler, but it seems Lewis felt he needed to make sure his friend Gerald got home safely.  He didn’t seem well when he left.”

“No problem,” said the photographer, “I’ll be here all week taking pictures of the other classes.  We can just slip him in during one of the other sessions.  After all, it’s very important he get his picture taken just like all the other children.”

“Yes, I’ll see that he does.”  Mrs. Anderson flitted out the door.  “Molly,” she called back, “you can leave now; it’s three o’clock.”

Molly walked home slowly, thinking about all the things that had happened today.  Who would have thought this morning that the day would have ended so well?  And she was going to be the photographer’s assistant all week.  He had asked Mrs. Anderson and she’d said yes.

Passing by the park, Molly caught a glimpse of Gerald and Lewis standing, huddled together by the swings.  She walked faster, hoping to avoid a confrontation, but they didn’t even seem to notice her.  It looked as if Lewis was doing all the talking for once, but she wasn’t taking any chances.

The next morning when she arrived in class, Gerald was absent.  Lewis was in his regular seat but he looked lost without his constant companion.  Just before the bell rang, Lewis stalked over to Molly.

“What did that photographer do to Gerald yesterday?” he demanded.

“Nothing,” said Molly. “He just took his picture.”

“Well, Gerald was in there longer than anyone else and he wasn’t the same when he came out. His eyes weren’t right and he was just different.  Last night he wanted to go hunting!”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” muttered Molly, somewhat surprised at her bravery.

“With his bare hands?”  Lewis slid over to his seat just as Mrs. Anderson entered the class.

“Molly, you can head down to the gym to help the photographer with one of the other grades today,” she said.

Over the next two days, as Molly stood beside the photographer, she heard whispers and mutters from some of the other classes about Gerald.  Everyone seemed to have a story about what had happened to him.  Some people had actually seen him and said he just stared right through them.  Reports of students’ pets going missing were also circulating throughout the school.  Some people were blaming the latter on Gerald and his strange behaviour.

“Nonsense,” scoffed the photographer when he overheard a couple of students discussing the latest rumours.  “Gerald is probably home with the ‘flu.  As for the animals going missing, it’s probably a coyote or raccoon, maybe even a cougar.  Now one of you come in for your picture.”

“Molly,” the photographer asked at the end of the next day, “Has Lewis been behaving?”

“No, he’s worse than ever.”

“Hmm.  Well, make sure he comes in for his picture tomorrow.  It’s my last day here.”

“I’m not sure he’ll come,” said Molly.  “He thinks you have something to do with why Gerald is acting strange.”

“Really?” the photographer asked in exasperation. “It’s not as if I’m stealing souls!”

Molly looked startled.  “Why did you say that?”

“Some cultures believe that taking one’s picture steals that person’s soul.  We know it’s not true, of course.  Nobody can steal a soul.”  He laughed softly.

“Oh, of course not,” Molly said unsurely. “That would be ridiculous.”

“Absolutely.  You don’t think I did anything to Gerald, do you, Molly?”

“Oh, no,” she was quick to reply. “I didn’t see you do anything and I was here all the time.”

“Good.  I’ll see you tomorrow then – and don’t forget to add Lewis to the list.”

When Molly got home, her parents were speaking to each other in the living room in the low voices that always seemed to be a preface to moving to a new town and school.  She had so hoped that this one would be the last.  In spite of Gerald and Lewis, she was enjoying her time here and had even made a friend, Andrea.

She overheard her name and the words “bullying” and “hurting”.  She heard her mother say that they needed to protect her.

Molly quietly opened the kitchen door and then let it shut firmly.  The conversation in the living room cut off abruptly and her parents came into the kitchen.

“How was your day?” asked her mother as she helped Molly off with her coat.

“It was good,” she answered.  “I’m still helping the photographer.”

“That’s nice, dear.”

“Why are you home so early, Daddy?”

Her father glanced at his wife.  “Oh, I just came home to discuss a few things with your mother and take my two favourite girls out for dinner.”

“We’re not moving again, are we?” Molly asked apprehensively.

“Maybe.  It’s not settled yet, Molly, but we may have to move.”

“I don’t want to move! I like it here.”  Molly crossed her arms defiantly.

“We’ll give it a few days and see what happens.  It may turn out that we can stay.”

“Oh, please, please,” begged Molly, running to her father to give him a hug.  Her parents exchanged looks over her head.

“We’ll see.  In the meantime, why don’t you run upstairs and wash up so we can go out for dinner?”

“Okay.”  She ran off cheerfully.

Her mother looked after her.  “It would be a shame if we had to move again, just when she’s getting settled and making friends.”

“If the bullying continues, we’ll have no choice.”

 

“I know,” sighed her mother as she left the room.

“You seem to be a little quiet today, Molly,” the photographer said the next day. “Are you tired of being my assistant already?”

“Oh, no.  It’s just that my parents are talking about moving again and I want to stay here.”

“Does your father get transferred often?”

“No, he works for himself so he can work anywhere.  It’s just that they don’t like it when I’m bullied so we move.”

“There must be a better solution than that,” said the photographer.  “Running away isn’t the answer.  You must stand up to the bullies and not let them get away with it.”

“Yes, but that’s really hard to do when you’re small like I am and there’s two of them.”

“Gerald seems to have changed his behaviour.  Maybe we can persuade Lewis to do the same.”

“I think that would be a great idea,” beamed Molly.  “Then we can stay here.”

“Let’s see what we can do, shall we?  Why don’t we get Lewis in next?”

“I’ll go and get him out of class.”  Molly almost bounced out the door, while the photographer adjusted his camera.

A few minutes later she was back with a reluctant Lewis in tow.

“Here he is.”

“Welcome, Lewis,” said the photographer. “Why don’t you have a seat?”

“I don’t wanna have my picture taken.  My parents won’t buy it anyway.” He struck a defiant pose.

“Nonsense, I’m sure your parents will love it, so please sit down and behave as if you are a properly brought up young man for once, not someone raised by wild animals.  Come to think of it, wild animals probably treat other animals much better than you have been treating your schoolmates.  Bullying is unacceptable and you need to stop before something terrible happens to you.”

“Yeah, what are you going to do about it?  The same thing you did to Gerald?” As he said those words, Lewis seemed to shrink a bit and his eyes darted to the door.

“I did nothing to Gerald and I wish you would stop spreading stories that I did.  I saw Gerald back at school today and he seemed fine.”

“That’s because you didn’t know him before.  He’s totally different – quiet and just walks from class to class by himself.”

“Sounds like an improvement to me, young man.  Maybe you should do the same.”  The photographer finished adjusting his lens and looked at Lewis.  “Please sit up straight and look straight at Molly.”

Molly stared back at the young man intently, with a slight smile on her face, the fingers of her right hand clasped around the smooth object in her pocket.  Lewis couldn’t tear his eyes away, not even when the flash went off.  The photographer dismissed him without looking up from his camera, but did look over at Molly as Lewis slowly left the gym.

“I hope that’s the end of his bullying tactics, Molly.  I think he just needed someone to point out how wrong his behaviour was.”

“I’m sure you’re right, sir.”  Molly said as she smiled slightly.  “I think he’s learned his lesson.”

“Thank you for being such a good assistant this week, Molly,” said the photographer.  “If I don’t see you again, I hope your life goes much more smoothly from now on.”

“It will, I can feel it,” said Molly.  “Thank you for giving me the chance to help.”

As she left the gym to head back to class, she saw Gerald and Lewis standing in the hallway.  She noticed that Lewis now had the same blank stare as Gerald and neither of them made a move towards her as she walked by.  She waved at them gaily and continued on her way.

Entering her room at home, she took the small bottle from her skirt pocket, swirled the black contents and placed it on the shelf next to a similar one.

“There,” she said with satisfaction, “no more bullying from either of you. You’re souls are safe with me.”

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SHORT STORY: A BUCKET OF BOLTS

Posted by samatwitch on December 24, 2011

This is the last of my past group challenges (we have one coming up in January). It was for Christmas and had to contain the words turkey, cinnamon and spaceship.  As usual, I put them all in the first paragraph. 😉

A BUCKET OF BOLTS

“You turkey!” Cinnamon slammed her hand on the table next to Sage.  “In the name of the goddess, why would you buy a spaceship?  It’s not as if we can leave this planet.”

Sage waited for Cinnamon’s anger to abate.  She could erupt like one of the volcanoes on Absinthe, but she calmed down a lot faster – and with much less damage – usually.

“It’s just a small one, Cinnamon.  It was in the used ‘ship lot I pass on my way to work.  It hadn’t sold for so long, they marked it down really low.”

“It’s red!”

“Well, that way it can be seen in any weather and other ‘ships will avoid it.”

“Oh, I’m sure the other ‘ships will avoid it, alright.  It looks as if it will fall right out of the sky in front of them.”

“Nonsense, it has a great engine in it.  It’s only ‘ships with Capissen 38 engines that do that.”

“You hope.”  Cinnamon sounded resigned.  Good, that meant she was starting to come around.  “I guess we might as well keep it; I’m sure the dealers have taken your money and run by now anyway.  Face it, Sage, they saw you coming a light year away!  That ‘ship is nothing but a bucket of bolts.  Does it even fly at all?”

“It will,” Sage replied, “I just need to tinker with it a bit.  I don’t think anyone’s looked after it for years.”

Cinnamon shook her head, but she was smiling.  You had to love a man who was confident in his ability to fix anything.  And his confidence was not misplaced.  Sage had yet to meet a machine he couldn’t improve.

“Let me know when it’s ready for a test run,” she said with resignation.

“Of course.”  Sage smiled at her knowingly.  “I wouldn’t go up without my favourite test pilot.  The trouble with you is you’re so used to those big spaceliners that you fly, that you don’t appreciate the little ‘ships anymore.”

“I appreciate anything that actually flies,”  Cinnamon stated, “and I haven’t see this one do that yet.”

“It will,” Sage promised, “I’ll have it in the air before the Christmas celebrations.”

Christmas was one of those quaint customs that had come to the outer planets with the original settlers, but its roots were lost in the light years and centuries of the past.  Nobody Sage knew remembered little more than just before the end of the year there was a celebration with lights and lots of food.  Legend had it that an old fat man in a red suit flew around the planet delivering presents to children, all in one night.  Since they had both been brought up on Coriander, he and Cinnamon had never experienced such a tradition, but Sage was a realist, as well as a mechanic and he knew there was no possible way that any spacecraft could accomplish such a feat.  True, Pegasus wasn’t a very big planet, but facts were facts: to visit every child on the planet would have taken many more hours than were available in a single night.

Sage spent every spare moment he had on his little red spaceship, tinkering, tuning and replacing parts.  One of the perks of being the city’s (and, truth be told, planet’s) best spaceship mechanics was that he was able to get parts at a discount, sometimes even free.  He always knew when a ‘ship was being sold for scrap but still had parts that were salvageable.  His affinity to make a ‘ship fly when everyone else had given up on it was legendary.

Finally, he was ready.  Sage called Cinnamon out to the shipport to go for a test flight.

“You cut that close,” she grinned.

“I said I’d have it ready before the Christmas celebrations and I do,” Sage protested.

“The afternoon before.”

“Do you want to go for a ride or not?” he asked.

“Of course.  Are you flying or am I?”

“I’ll do the test run.” Sage decided.  “Hop in.”

Off they went, soaring up in the low clouds.  Cinnamon had to hand it to Sage once again.  Her husband sure knew how to make a spaceship fly as it probably had never flown before.   It handled well, seeming to avoid obstacles even before Sage was aware of them – and he was a good pilot.  Not as good as Cinnamon, of course, but who was?

After having put the ship through all the tests he could think of, Sage turned to go home and was astounded to realize how far they had traveled in such a short time.  He and Cinnamon had been so absorbed in putting the ship through its paces, they hadn’t paid much attention to the distance they’d covered.

Now they realized they were on the other side of the planet, heading home at a great rate.

“Wow,” said Cinnamon, impressed, “you really got some speed out of the old bucket of bolts.”

They returned home without incident, parking the shiny red spaceship in the yard next to all the other ‘ships Sage was working on.

Before they could enter their house, they were interrupted by their neighbour.  They’d never seen Sandy looking so excited and anxious.  Of course, they hadn’t known him that long and they had hardly seen him at all over the last month, but he had always seemed very happy and calm.

“Where did you get that spaceship?” he demanded without even waiting for a ‘hello’.

“In the used ‘ship lot on the other side of town,” replied Sage, puzzled.

“I’ve been looking all over for him,” Sandy exclaimed.  “He was stolen last year right after Christmas and I looked everywhere.  I finally thought I would have to manage without him this year but I didn’t think I could, especially with this fog rolling in.”

Sage looked out and sure enough, a thick fog was starting to blanket the city.

“What are you talking about, Sandy?” he asked.  “I bought the ‘ship legally.  I have the papers…”

“I don’t care about the papers.”  Sandy brushed that aside.  “I just need Rudy for tonight.”

Sage was getting a little impatient.  Maybe his neighbour wasn’t quite as stable as they had thought.

Cinnamon joined the conversation.  “Who’s Rudy and what do you want with our spaceship.”

“Rudy is my red spaceship and I need him to help me deliver presents to children all over the world tonight.  I must leave now or I won’t get to all the children.  I’ll have him back by morning.”

Sage and Cinnamon exchanged looks.  “What are you talking about?”

“It’s the night before Christmas.  I’m Sandy Close and I deliver presents to all the children on the planet before sunrise.  Rudy is my guiding ship.  He can see through fog and rain and has the speed that I need to guide my sleigh.”

Cinnamon and Sage looked at their neighbour, astounded.

“You really do that?”  wondered Sage.

“Yes, yes,” Sandy answered impatiently, “but I need to leave right away.  May I borrow Rudy tonight?  I promise I’ll bring him back tomorrow and you can ask me any questions you want.”

Sage looked at Cinnamon.  “We did find it strange that the ‘ship went as far and as fast as it did on our test run.”

“I know, but what he’s saying just isn’t possible scientifically.”

“Of course, it isn’t,” Sandy agreed.  “It’s not science, it’s magic.  But even magic has rules and I only have so many hours to fulfill my duty.”

“Fine,” shrugged Cinnamon.  “But if that ‘ship isn’t back in our yard by tomorrow morning, we will be calling the authorities.”

“Thank you, thank you, good neighbours.”  Sandy shook their hands enthusiastically.  “I’ll see you in the morning.”

With that, he let out a piercing whistle and bounded across the street to where a strange contraption awaited.  It was big enough for Sandy and a huge red sack that perched on the back and had eight four-legged creatures with horns attached to it.  In answer to the whistle, Sage’s newest acquisition had flown across the street and now hovered in front of the animals.  With another whistle, it took off, followed by the animals and the open spacecraft, which were now flying through the air.  Circling his astounded neighbours, Sandy Close yelled down to them, “Merry Christmas, Cinnamon and Sage, and have a good night.”

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SHORT STORY: THE ROBINS

Posted by samatwitch on December 14, 2011

Another group writing challenge, this was for Hallowe’en 2006.  A fire had damaged a local newspaper office and the challenge was to come up with an explanation for that.  Here’s mine.

 THE ROBINS

“Hey mister, you okay?”

The man lying on the ground couldn’t make out the words, but he instinctively tried to reach the voice.  He stretched out his left hand as far as he could and tried to turn in the direction of the voice.

“Please, help me.”  The man’s voice was so weak as to be almost non-existent.  “I need help.”

Gravel crunched under cautious footsteps as Walter neared the outstretched man.

“Hey, mister,” said a voice near his head, “do you need some help?”

“Need help,” the man repeated.

Walter jumped and looked down as he felt something brush his ankle.  The man was reaching out with his hand.

“Please,” he whispered, “. . .  call . . .  doctor . . . warn her.”

“I’ll run home and call 911,” Walter suggested.

“No, no, not the police.”  The man was so agitated, he struggled to sit up, only to fall back limply.

Walter looked apprehensively at the man.  He couldn’t see any blood or wounds anywhere, but the man certainly didn’t look well.   Maybe he had fallen and hurt his head.  He remembered his mother waking him up periodically when he’d had a concussion during a hockey practice.

“Mister,” he asked quietly, “where do you hurt?  Is it your head?”

“Unnh,” groaned the man.

Walter persisted, “What’s your name?”

“Robin . . . Seven.”

“Robin Seven?  Okay, Mr. Seven…”

“Just Robin,” said the man.

“Okay, Robin, I think you better try to stay awake until the ambulance gets here.  You don’t look so good.”

“No ambulance.”  The man became agitated again.  “Call doctor.”

“I don’t have a phone.  The hospital can call your doctor.”

“No, no.”  This time Mr. Seven managed to raise himself up slightly.  With great difficulty, he reached into the pocket of his jacket and  pulled out what must be the world’s smallest cell phone.  He pressed one button but even that effort seemed to be too much for him and he collapsed onto the hard ground, the device rolling out of his hand.

Walter looked at him anxiously and hoped someone would come by soon.  He was off the main roads, but surely somebody would drive by on their way to work.  He had the day off because his teachers were on a course, but it was a Thursday after all.

Walter was sure the man – Robin – wasn’t getting any better lying on the cold damp road, but he didn’t want to move him.  Walter walked around the man to pick up his phone.  Even though it was a dull February day, light was beginning to filter through the trees lining the road and when Walter picked up the object, it was clear that this wasn’t any kind of cell phone that he had ever seen.  He put it back in the man’s pocket, noting a smoky smell when he bent over.  As he straightened, his hand touched the man’s arm beneath his sleeve and he found Robin’s skin to be cool.  Walter wished he had a blanket.  Maybe he should take off his jacket and put it on top of the man.

Just then he heard a thumping sound and he looked up to see a helicopter about to land on the road in front of him.

The helicopter landed and two men, looking very much like the man lying on the ground, jumped out, followed more slowly by an older woman in a white coat.  They all looked as surprised to see Walter as he was to see them.

“He was talking to me a few minutes ago,” he offered.

Three heads swivelled towards him.

“What did he say?” barked the woman.

“Just that his name was Robin Seven and he wanted me to call his doctor.  I don’t have a phone, but I think he called someone on his.”

The three people exchanged looks.

“Anything else?”

“No, he couldn’t tell me where he was hurt, but there’s no blood that I can see,” replied Walter, relieved that help had arrived and yet feeling as if something was not quite right.  Why were they standing asking him questions when the man obviously needed medical attention?

As if she could hear Walter’s thoughts, the woman looked down at Robin and murmured, “You have served us well, Seven.”

Turning to the other two men, she motioned to the man on the ground, “Four, Nine, please take him back to the helicopter.”

The two younger men picked up Robin, one at his head and one taking his feet.

Walter stared in astonishment and growing anger.  He’d watched enough medical shows on TV in his young life to know that something was very wrong.

“Hey, what are you doing?  Who are you?  Where’s the stretcher or your medical bags?”

The woman shook her head slowly.

“I am Dr. Rudolph.  I created the Robin series.”

“Robin series?  What are you talking about?”  Walter felt as if he were in a dream.  What was going on?

“The Robin series of robots,” the doctor explained patiently.  “ROBIN stands for ROBotic INtelligence.  I have created artificial life so that I could place the ROBINS in positions of authority at various CanWest media.  ROBIN 7 was placed at the North Shore News, but his position was compromised when the staff there started going through their archived material for their 35th anniversary and someone realised that he hadn’t aged at all in the last twenty years.  He had to get rid of the evidence and set the building on fire.  Unfortunately, he must have overloaded his circuitry and only made it this far before he collapsed.  With the damage, we couldn’t track him until he pressed the button on his old-fashioned homing device.  But now he’ll be taken home and recycled.”

Walter’s eyes were near to popping.  He had so many questions he thought his head would explode, including the nagging feeling that the doctor shouldn’t be telling him this.

He managed to stammer, “Why?  Why would you put robots at newspapers?”

“Oh,  not just at newspapers, at TV stations, too.  It’s the only way to control what news people hear.  Unfortunately, somehow I wasn’t able to get the ROBINs situated at all the news media, just CanWest and its subsidiaries, but that was a good start – they own most of the news sources around here anyway.”  The doctor shrugged and then started towards Walter.

Walter started to run but he had been so absorbed in what the doctor was saying that he hadn’t noticed the other two men – robots, too, he guessed – coming up behind him.  They grabbed him by the arms while the doctor approached with a needle which she inserted into Walter’s neck.

“Just a pinch, boy, and then you will remember nothing of this conversation.  You won’t be aware of us at all and you will return home with memories of a pleasant morning walk.”

Walter started walking in the direction of his home, oblivious to the helicopter taking off behind him.  When he entered the house, his mother asked, “Anything exciting happen on your walk, Walter?”

“No,” he answered at he went into the living room to turn on the news.

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SHORT STORY: THE CROSSWORD PUZZLE

Posted by samatwitch on November 29, 2011

I wrote this for a local newspaper contest, where you had to include the words I put in the first sentence.  The whole thing came to me as I was at work and when I finished for the day, I sat down at the computer and typed it out in about half an hour.  I knew it wasn’t really the type of story the contest liked, but I entered it anyway and after the contest, I entered it into a national short story contest where it made it to the finals.  The first judge really liked it; the second not so much. 😉

THE CROSSWORD PUZZLE

“I had no idea the capital of Mongolia is Ulaanbataar.  Did you, Dave?”

When she didn’t receive an answer, Claire looked up from the large atlas she was consulting to find the last two letters for the crossword puzzle she was working on.  She could just see the top of Dave’s straight brown hair as he slouched on the sofa watching another car race on TV.

“Dave, did you hear me?  Did you know the capital of Mongolia is Ulaanbataar?

A grunt that sounded vaguely affirmative answered her this time.  Claire tucked her long blonde hair behind her ear and studied the atlas once more.

“How on earth did you know that?”

“I must have read it somewhere,” came the mumbled reply.

“But where?  I don’t remember ever reading anything about Mongolia since whatever we took in geography in school and I certainly don’t remember the capital.”

“What difference does it make where I read it?”  Dave was clearly impatient.
“I’m just curious.  You know how exotic places fascinate me.”

“Nothing exotic about Mongolia.  It’s cold and dry and barren – very unfriendly.” Dave spoke absently, his concentration on the coloured blurs that were the race cars.  “ At least that’s what I’ve heard,”  he tacked on.

Curious, Claire stared at him.  “You sound as if you’ve been there.”

Another mumble from the couch.

Claire got up from the table and walked around the couch to plant herself firmly in front of Dave.

“Claire, move, I can’t see the race.  They’re down to the last 20 laps.”

“I don’t care about the stupid race.  I want to know why you never told me you’d been to Mongolia.”

“I didn’t say that I had.”

“You practically did.  Have you been to Mongolia?”

“Yes, if you must know, I have.  Now will you move so I can see the end of the race.”

“No.”  Claire stood firm.  “I want to know why you never told me you’d been to Mongolia.”

“It never came up.  Now will you please move?”

“What do you mean, it never came up?  We’ve known each other five years, we’ve lived together for four, you know how much I want to travel to foreign countries and you never once told me you’d been to Mongolia?”  Claire’s voice rose with her agitation.  “How could you not tell me?”

“Could we discuss this later?  I want to see the end of the race.”  Dave leaned around Claire trying to get a glimpse of the TV.

“No, we can’t discuss it later.  It’s already later.  I can’t believe you never told me this.  What else haven’t you told me?  Where else have you been?  And why is it such a big secret?”

“Look, I haven’t told you everything I did in the 30-odd years before we met and I don’t expect you to tell me everything, either.  I don’t see what the big deal is.  There’s nothing special about Mongolia.”

“Then why you were there?”

“Okay, if you let me watch the end of this race, I’ll tell you later.  In the meantime, you should calm down.  It’s no big deal.”

“Fine.  Watch the end of the damn  race.  I’ll be in the bedroom when it’s finished.”  Claire stomped out of the room and slammed the bedroom door behind her.

Dave’s eyes narrowed as he watched her leave.  He thought hard for a moment, nodded, then went back to watching the race.

Ten minutes later, the race ended.  Dave sat for a few more minutes, considering how to appease Claire’s curiosity and anger.  The anger he could deal with – he’d dealt with it before.  But her curiosity was something else.  There wasn’t really anything he was able to tell her that would satisfy her and she would just keep nagging at him until he slipped up somehow.  Look at how much trouble he was already in, just because he hadn’t paid enough attention when she had been talking to him.  He knew better than to let his guard down like that.

Dave heard the bedroom door open.  He turned off the TV and glanced down the hall.

“Claire,” he called, “how about I fix you a special drink before we talk?  Maybe it will relax you and we can talk calmly about this.”

“I’m perfectly calm,”  Claire said indignantly.  “I just don’t understand why you never thought to tell me that you’d been to an exotic country like Mongolia.”

“I keep telling you – there’s nothing exotic about Mongolia.  It was cold, that’s all.”

“Dave, “ Claire said with exaggerated patience, “I find anywhere outside North America exciting.  And Mongolia: Genghis Khan, nomads, the steppes, caught between Russia and China.  How can that not be exotic?”

“See, you know more about it that I do.  There isn’t anything I can tell you that you can’t find out in books or on the Internet.”

“How can you say that?”  Claire burst out.  “You were there.  You must remember something about the way the country smelled, what their food was like, what the people were like – if they were friendly or hostile.  I can’t learn that from books or the Internet.  Were you in the country or did you get to any cities?”

“What difference does it make?  I wasn’t even there very long.  Just in and out in a few days.”

“Well, what were you doing there?  If it was so ordinary and forgettable, why were you even there in the first place?”

That was the question Dave had dreaded.  Now what could he say?  Claire wasn’t one to stand for evasions.  She’d just keep asking questions until he gave in.

“Oh, I just wanted to see what it was like.”  Dave was deliberately offhand, hoping Claire would stop asking questions before she got into big trouble.  No such luck.

“And what was it like?”

“I told you!  It was cold and dry and barren.”

“There must have been something else.”  Claire was clearly exasperated with him but wouldn’t give up.  “Why would you go halfway around the world to a country like Mongolia for no reason?”

“I didn’t need a reason.  I just wanted to travel to another country.  It’s not a crime, you know.”

“I never said it was…”

“Well, you’re making me feel like a criminal.”  Taking the offensive was usually a good strategy.  Not this time.

“Don’t be silly.  I just want to know all the details.  Did you travel alone?”

“What difference does it make?  Can’t you let it be?  It was no big deal.”

“It is a big deal.  You’ve been keeping this a secret from me for years and I want to know why.”

“Fine.  I was in the USSR and figured while I was there, I’d wander into Mongolia to see what it was like.  I didn’t like it and I didn’t stay.  End of story.”  Dave hoped that would be the end of it.  He was running out of patience and ideas.

“What were you doing in the USSR?  It must have been a few years ago, if it was still the USSR.”  Claire was trying make sense of the whole conversation, but the more Dave told her, the less she felt she knew – of his experiences and of him.

“It was.  I was there because my family is originally from northern Russia.”  It wouldn’t hurt to give her that much.  After all, almost everyone in this country came from somewhere else.

“Northern Russia!  Do you mean Siberia?”  Claire was even more astounded.

“Yeah, somewhere around there.”  He shrugged carelessly.  “I was younger and thought it would be interesting to see where my family came from and while I was there I went to Mongolia.  Are you satisfied now?”

“No, I’m not.  Everything you say just makes me more curious.”  Dave had been afraid of that.

“Dave, I’ve asked you about your family and all you say is that they’re all dead.  You never mentioned where they were from or that you had been to Russia to find your roots.  Whenever I asked you where you got your dark eyes and high cheekbones, you just shrugged it off.  It’s obvious they come from your Slavic heritage.  Why the big mystery?”

Dave rolled his eyes.  “There is no mystery.  I just don’t like to talk about myself or my family.  It was fine with you yesterday, why can’t it be fine today?”

Claire just stared at him.  “I just don’t understand why there is all this secrecy between us.  It’s not like you were a spy or something.”  A brief flicker in his eyes made Claire gasp.  “That’s it, isn’t it?  You were a spy.”  She looked at him in shock and disbelief, as she sank into a kitchen chair.

“For Pete’s sake, Claire, don’t get carried away.  Why would you think I was a spy?”  Dave was becoming desperate.

“It’s the only thing that makes any sense:  why you never told me your family was from Russia, or that you’d been to Mongolia.  You were sent there, weren’t you?  That’s why you were there and never talk about it.”  All the pieces seemed to be coming together, yet the whole picture remained unbelievable.  She was an ordinary person, Dave was an ordinary person – a bit secretive, maybe – but he had a normal job, worked out regularly, went to the movies and loved car racing.  How could he possibly be a spy?

Dave could see the wheels turning in Claire’s head and knew what her next question would be – which side was he on?  He watched her silently for a minute, then made his decision.

“Why don’t I make you some special herbal tea I have?  It was the one thing I did like about Mongolia and I had some shipped in.  It will calm you down and then, if you promise not to tell anyone – and I mean anyone – I’ll tell you the whole story.”

Claire just nodded.  She was still trying to assimilate what she knew already and wasn’t sure if she was prepared for more, but if he was willing to tell her, she would listen.

While Dave filled the kettle and plugged it in, Claire continued to sit in stunned silence, staring at the man in front of her who had suddenly become a complete stranger.  Everything she thought she knew about him was now suspect.

Dave glanced at Claire as he reached behind the seldom used glasses on the top shelf for a small bag of herbal leaves.  He added a few to the teapot, paused and added a few more.  “It’s a long time since I’ve made this mixture, so I hope it turns out.”

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Claire roused herself to say.  “What is it?”

“I don’t know for sure.  I was given the ingredients and told how to make it, but I haven’t actually had it myself.  I did see it’s calming effects on others, however.”

“I don’t know if I need to be calmed.  I seem to be very calm,” Claire stated.

“Yes, you are now, but I want you calm when I tell you the whole story.”  As he talked, Dave reached into the cabinet under the sink and pulled out a small packet of dried herbs.

“Where on earth did you get that?” asked Claire.

“I had it sent to me recently.  I didn’t want you to use it accidentally.  It’s expensive and it doesn’t taste good unless mixed with the first herbs.  I thought that was the safest place to put it.”

“Meaning, I never go under the sink to get cleaning supplies,” Claire said sarcastically.

“No, I didn’t mean that,” Dave assured her.

“Well, it’s true, isn’t it?  I clean the bathroom in exchange for you cleaning the kitchen.  Works for me.”  Claire was returning to her usual feisty self.

“And it works for me.  We have a good arrangement.  I don’t like to think of anything upsetting that.”

“Is that all you can think of – upsetting our ‘arrangement’?”  Claire was back.  “I thought we lived together because we cared about each other.  I didn’t realize it was just a convenient arrangement.  Maybe you’re hiding from something or someone.”  Her voice took on an accusatory tone.

Dave didn’t answer until he had poured a cup of the steaming brew for Claire and put it in front of her.

“Here, drink that while I’m telling you the whole story.”  He poured a cup for himself and sat down across the table from her.  He watched as she took a sip.  “What do you think, Claire?  The next hot product on the market?”
“It’s not bad.”  Claire sounded surprised.  “Very light, but with a different fragrance. ”  She took another sip, then looked at him expectantly.  “So, what’s the story?  Are you a spy?”

Dave watched her carefully before replying.  “You must promise not to tell anyone anything I tell you.  Not only your life and mine could be in danger, but many others as well.”

“Aren’t you being just a little melodramatic, Dave?  After all, you’ve been living here for several years and nothing unusual has ever occurred – not that I’ve known about anyway.  Although, given the current circumstances, I may not be the best judge.”  Claire took another sip.

“No, you’re right, Claire, nothing unusual has happened in the last few years, and I’d like it to stay that way.  I’m not what you would call retired, it’s more like I’m inactive at the moment.  With the political situation such as it is in Europe and Asia, they don’t need me and my talents right now.”

“Who’s they and what are your talents?”

“They are the KGB or perhaps I should say the former KGB.  They’re not really gone, just gone underground.  And my talents are that I can speak Russian fluently and pass as a citizen of Russia or many other Slavic countries.  I can slip in and out and plant rumours that can bring down governments or stir up turmoil.  By the time I went to Mongolia, however, the people had already decided to become a democracy.  Tired of being pushed around by the USSR and China, I guess.”

While he was talking, Dave watched Claire closely.  The tea seemed to be working.  Her breathing had slowed and her whole body was lax.

“I was sent to the States to be educated, so I could pass as an American.  That way no one ever questioned why I turned up where I did.”  He paused and watched dispassionately as Claire slumped to the table, a final look of surprise on her face.  Noting the unfinished crossword puzzle, he reached over her lifeless body to fill in the final two letters.

“I’m sorry, Claire.  You should never have found out that the capital of Mongolia is Ulaanbataar.”

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SHORT STORY: APRIL’S BIG ADVENTURE

Posted by samatwitch on November 22, 2011

Another story written for our geek group. I can’t remember what words we had to use in this one.  (Edit: A friend on Twitter just reminded me that we had to use the words April, Fool and include a bird.)

APRIL’S BIG ADVENTURE

April looked down at her black and white outfit with pleasure. She knew she looked fine, indeed. Her feet tapped excitedly as she made her way to the large flat rock overlooking the Atlantic ocean where she was to meet Julius. The ocean was mostly calm today, stretching navy blue as far as she could see, where it met the lighter blue of the sky. Blue was April’s favourite colour. Today would be a wonderful day for swimming.

As she drew closer to the meeting spot, April could see that Julius wasn’t there yet. No matter, she was early and she was just glad that none of their other friends were there. They couldn’t seem to go anywhere these days without a crowd of others with them. She liked Julie and Janon and all the others, but sometimes she just wanted to be alone with Julius – and today looked as if it could be the day!

Excitement hurried her steps and she stumbled a little on a small rock in her path. As she righted herself, April heard a faint humming. It didn’t sound familiar and she looked all around her to see what could be making the noise. She didn’t see anything, but the humming, although still soft, appeared to be approaching.

Finally she looked up and saw something in the sky. The sun was still so bright she couldn’t make out what it was but it looked round and shiny, with the sun glinting off the exterior. As the object came nearer, April became afraid, looking around frantically for the friends she had wished elsewhere. Where was Julius? Where were all her friends when she needed them?

The large object was now hovering directly overhead and making a loud throbbing noise. April wished she could fly – or even run away – but she couldn’t get her legs to work. A door opened in the side of the round object and two very large creatures came down as if floating and landed right beside her. April opened her mouth but no sound came out. Instead, sound came out of their mouths – or what she thought must be mouths. They were just slits in the flat faces of these creatures. Their eyes were set back in their heads and they seemed to have some sort of feathers around their faces. She didn’t understand their language and when she was finally able to squeak out a word or two, it was obvious they didn’t understand hers.

As the huge beings approached her, April tried to run, but they were too fast for her. One of the beings reached out with fur-covered paws and picked her up, carrying her up to its face. The fear of being eaten alive was too much for April and she passed out.

When she woke up, April was lying on her back on what appeared to be a bare slab in a large cave with light everywhere. She looked around and saw all kinds of items she couldn’t identify. Everything was shiny and hurt her eyes. She tried to get up but there was a belt around her stomach, keeping her in place and there seemed to be something around one of her legs. She looked over the side of the rock and saw that it was a long way down to the bottom of the cave. How was she ever going to get away from these monsters? True, they hadn’t eaten her alive – yet, but maybe they were keeping her to feed their young.

A noise from the cave entrance distracted her. One of the creatures approached, but this one did not have feathers around its face or fur on its paws. It spoke to her, but April still did not understand the language. The creature approached and April tried to shrink closer to the rock, but it came right up to her and did something to the belt to loosen it, then helped April stand up. It gently stroked her before poking and prodding her a bit. It wasn’t painful, but she wasn’t used to anything touching her like that! She tried to squirm free, but the paw holding her was firm.

After a few moments, with the creature speaking to her all the time, in what she realised was a soothing tone, she was lifted from the table and carried over to a smaller cave, with walls that were barely there. April didn’t want to go in the smaller cave, but she had no choice. Once inside, the creature did something behind her and when she turned around she discovered there was now a wall where she had entered!

The creature picked up the cave April was in and carried her along narrower caves until it reached one where there were two of the feather and fur creatures. She was handed to one of them and it carried her outside into the cold air. There was the large round shiny object she had seen from the rock what felt like days ago. How long had she been gone? Had Julius been looking for her? What about her parents, her friends? Were they alright?

April felt herself being lifted in the shiny object and then a very loud noise startled her so much that the passed out again. This time when she woke up, she thought only a few minutes had gone by. The loud noise was now a steady throbbing and she had the sensation of flying. Once again her cage was lifted, but gently so she only rocked slightly within it and the creature holding her spoke. Its paw pointed to her and then gestured to the clear wall of the machine. April looked where the paw pointed and felt as if she were flying far above the ocean. This was what she had dreamed of all her life, to fly high above the water, soaring and dipping. Her heart swelled with happiness in spite of her fear and then the machine they were in started to drop. Now she could see darker objects in the water. They dropped lower and she saw that the objects were rocks – her rocks – where she lived with her family and friends, but none of them were there.

Just then, she felt a bump and the noise got louder as the wall of the machine opened. The creature lifted her in the cave and carried her to the rocks some distance away. There he opened the wall so she could get out. April stumbled a little, she was in such a hurry to get away before the creature changed its mind and took her away again.

The creature took a few long strides and got back into the noisy machine, which lifted into the air. April stared up at the shiny object, remembering the sensation of flying she had had.

The noise faded into the distance and so did the object. Soon there was nothing to see or hear but the sound of the ocean. Sliding down one of the rocks, April fell and hit her head.

She woke up surrounded by her friends and family, all chattering to her, asking her where she had been. She didn’t know what to answer. How could they understand when she didn’t?

None of them had heard any loud noises or seen any shiny objects. They said she must have had a dream when she hit her head. Slowly she walked back with them.

Later than night, April stood alone on a rock, looking at the stars. She thought about her experience that day but now it all seemed kind of fuzzy. Had she really been flying?

“Don’t be a fool,” April told herself, “of course it was all a dream. Everyone knows that Atlantic puffins don’t fly all that well at all.” Then she looked down at the band around her leg and wondered.

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SHORT STORY: FROG FOR RENT

Posted by samatwitch on November 17, 2011

A Sci-Fi fan group I belong to occasionally has writing challenges.  The first one was that it had to be less than 500 words (mine is 499!) and include the phrase, “Frog for Rent”.  This was my entry, which had to be read aloud, of course.  It’s actually meant to be part of a longer story – a young children’s book perhaps – which I had started as an assignment in my Kids’ Lit class a number of years ago.

 

FROG FOR RENT

“Frog for Rent?”  Brenna read the sign aloud.  “Why would anyone want to rent a frog?”

“There are lots of reasons,” an indignant voice said from near her right foot.

“Such as?”  she inquired, looking down at the large green frog.

“Such as wanting a translator or guide in the Enchanted Swamp.”

“I have Samantha,” Brenna indicated the long-haired tabby strolling out from behind a nearby bush.  “Samantha can speak and understand most languages in the Enchanted Swamp.  I also have a map to guide me.”

“Well, what about finding a prince?” the frog asked.  “I can identify any frogs who are really princes so you don’t have to go around kissing every frog you find.”

“I’m already a princess,” replied Brenna, “why would I need to find a prince?”

The frog looked shocked.  “Not want to find a prince?” he sputtered, “But, but, everyone wants to find a prince!”

“I don’t,” stated Brenna firmly.  “I’m on a quest to find my best friend Trevor and a prince would just get in the way.”

“But a prince could help protect you from dragons,” protested the frog.

“Nonsense!  My mother’s best friend is a dragon; perhaps you know her?  Her name is Desmerelda.”

“Never heard of her,”  the frog almost barked.  “Whoever heard of a dragon being friends with a human queen.  Your mother is a human, isn’t she?” the frog asked suspiciously.

“Oh, yes,” assured Brenna, “my mother is quite human.  She and Desmerelda became friends when they both went to Royal School.  Desmerelda is Empress of the Dragonhood now.  I’m surprised you haven’t heard of her.”

“I don’t keep track of things outside of the Enchanted Swamp,” huffed the frog.  “I have enough to do with what’s going on in my world without worrying about others.”

“Really? What do you do?” Brenna asked with interest.

“Well, I keep the fly population down and I check the stability of lily pads and take part in the Frog Chorus.  We have a concert coming up next week if you’re going to be in the area,” the frog said proudly.

“That does sound as if it would keep you busy,” Brenna remarked.  “What kind of music do you sing?”

“Hip hop, of course.”

“Oh, of course.”  Brenna smiled.  “And you still have time to rent yourself out as a guide.”

“I like to keep busy and I can use the coins.  I’m courting Miss Amelia Mouse,” the frog admitted shyly, “and we’re saving up for a lovely home by the water.”

“Congratulations, Mr. Frog,” Brenna said as she reached down to shake his front leg, “I hope you will be very happy together.”

“Thank you.  You can call me Rupert.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Rupert, I’m Brenna.  And you’ve met Samantha.” The cat stopped cleaning her face and studied the frog intently.

Rupert cleared his throat nervously.  “Since you don’t need me, I’ll be going.”

“Good-bye, Rupert.”  With that, Brenna and Samantha turned back to the path through the Enchanted Swamp.

 

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Short Story

Posted by samatwitch on November 15, 2011

I recently have been encouraged to post some of my writing where it can be read so I’m taking the ‘dare’.

I don’t normally write – or read – short stories, as I find I can’t get as deep into characters as I like, but I have written several for contests or challenges. Here’s one I wrote several years ago for a Writer’s Digest contest.

THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT

I glanced left and right, then took a first cautious step into the wide open field. What was it about the dark that seemed to change even familiar places into potentially menacing ones? During the day, the empty field with the high grass didn’t seem so big or so threatening. The grass was green and fresh-smelling and when the sun was shining, it was one of my favourite areas to spend time. But tonight this same field stretched endlessly before me, the safety of my home on the other side invisible in the dark.

I knew I should have left the neighbour’s barn dance earlier, but I was having so much fun with my friends. The food was good, with several different types of cheeses I had never tasted before, served with bread and crackers, followed by crumb cake and tarts, and chocolate that melted in one’s mouth. And the music! It was all I could do to sit still until I was asked to dance. My toes kept tapping in time to the beat (I have very good rhythm).

But now the music was over, the food was gone and my friends had scattered to their own homes, leaving me to cross the field alone. Bravely, I took another step into the high grass, which was so tall and thick that I couldn’t see above it. Surely it was safe. I had walked and run through this field many times. It was my neighbourhood and I knew it well. Nevertheless, a feeling of dread came over me. I froze in place. Was that breathing I heard? Was there someone or something behind me?

I looked over my shoulder, but could see nothing but shadows, as there were in front of me. I tried to tell myself it was imagination working overtime, but I wasn’t very convincing. Slowly, I started walking again, picking up speed as I became convinced that something was following me. If I turned around quickly, I could see the grass move behind me – but it might be the late evening breeze. Any sounds I could hear over my own pounding heart could be attributed to normal nocturnal activities. Why then this feeling of dread?

I looked to my left and right. How much farther did I have to go? There – up ahead on the right – what were those darker shadows silhouetted against the starlight? Could my pursuer have passed me and now was waiting for me to come to him? My heart lurched within me, then went back to its quickened rhythm as I realized it was just the stand of birch trees that marked the halfway point across the field. How absurd, I told myself, I’ve been out after dark by myself before and have come home safely. There was no reason to think I wouldn’t do the same this time.

I paused to calm myself, and in the silence between one breath and the next, I heard it. From somewhere close behind me came the faint but unmistakable sound of breathing. The hairs on the back of my neck – and everywhere else on my body – stood up, and I started to run, dodging in and out of the grass. The wind whistled in my ears as I sped around a large rock. I knew that rock. I was getting close to home. But would I make it? I risked a glance behind me.

He was keeping pace with me, but his breathing was almost normal, while mine was so ragged, I wasn’t sure where my next breath was coming from. My heart felt as if it would burst through my skin at any moment and my skin was cold and clammy. My next glance revealed him even closer. My fright became panic and in my panic, I tripped over a tree root which had been left behind when they cleared the field. Head over heels, I tumbled down the slope on the other side, coming to rest at the base of another large rock.

It was big enough to hide me from my pursuer, at least momentarily, and I took advantage of the respite to catch my breath. I was small and fast, but he was big and just as fast. I risked a peek from behind the rock. He was standing by the old root, looking around in what appeared to be a puzzled manner. Maybe he hadn’t seen me fall down the hill and thought I was hiding in the grass near the root.

I watched for a moment as he circled the area, head down. When he looked in the opposite direction, I darted out from the protection of my rock and fled towards home. He must have seen me from the corner of his eye, because once again he was chasing me, and this time he meant to catch me. I wasn’t sure what he wanted from me, but all of my senses were telling me I was in danger.

I ran as fast as I could, not daring to glance back at my pursuer, but putting all my strength into making the last distance home. He was no longer making any attempt to be quiet, but ran swiftly through the tall grass, gaining on me the longer we ran. As my home came into sight at the end of the field, my body stirred to even greater lengths. Just a few more feet and I would be safe. I felt his breath hot on my neck and I demanded more from my body than I had ever had occasion to do before. He was so close, I could feel him gathering himself to pounce.

Just as he leaped for me, I darted into the mouse hole that was my home. And as my family gathered around to welcome my safe return, I remembered the 11th Commandment of the field mouse: Thou shalt not tempt the neighbour’s cat by roaming into his territory when he is outside.

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