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Posts Tagged ‘Cichol’s Children’

I couldn’t sleep. The girl, I still didn’t know her name, had unsettled me. Her scent lingered in the cramped bedroom, fighting with the smell of damp and my own sweat to dominate the room. It was cold now though and I huddled deep under the covers, not that it seemed to help. Every time I closed my eyes I had the unsettling feeling that she was back in the room, standing over me and it kept jerking me back awake with a thumping heart. She had bitten me, hard; hard enough to draw blood and it still ached, even though the bleeding had stopped now.

It was no good, I was left restless, curiously unsatisfied. My head was swimming with unstructured thoughts, fears, wondering. The professor’s books sat beside the bed, near incomprehensible but what I had read had instilled in me the same curiosity that had brought the professor here.

It was no good. I steeled myself and swung off the bed into the cold night air, hurriedly pulling on my clothes and, as quietly as possible, creeping out onto the landing. The boards creaked, every step, sounding to me in the stillness of the night like the thundering tramp of a giant. I stopped, briefly, in the filthy little bathroom to soap the smell of sex from my body and, somehow, that made me feel better, more human, more settled. I was up now though, awake and I needed some air.

The door of the house creaked in its warped frame as I tiptoed out, closing it with exaggerated slowness, sucking my teeth with unease, hoping I hadn’t woken anyone. The only other one awake seemed to be the girl. A shiver down my spine as I stepped from the porch light and I looked up to see her cat-like gaze watching me go, her nose pressed up against the clear glass.

I put her behind me, thrusting my hands deep into my pockets to keep them warm as I tried to pick my way back to the cliffs. There was hardly any light tonight, no moon or stars, just the distant light from the porch and the faintest glow on the horizon to light my way. My hand groped in the dark for the guy-rope and found it, carefully inching my way down that treacherous path, bit by bit, the shadow of the cliff making the path and the beach virtually invisible.

A slip, a tumble, part of the path gave way and I fell, sliding down the path, no way to tell how high up I still was, how far it was to the beach I panicked, so scared by the dark that I couldn’t even voice a cry, just a strangled half-yelp as I tumbled into the void.

Striking the ground drove the breath from my body and left me spitting sand from between my teeth. I was winded and the bite in my shoulder flared, but I can’t have fallen that far. It just hurt, nothing was broken, dignity bruised more than my flesh but still I just lay there in the damp, yielding sand for a little while, getting my breath back.

After a time, the scent, the cool dampness of the sand stirred memories from the bedroom and that made me shudder. I sat bolt upright and struggled to my feet, brushing the sand from me with desperate pushes of my hands.

Then I saw it.

The sea was glowing, faintly, a green phosphorescence that glowed brighter with every wash of the waves and faded as they stilled. Eyes wide I stumbled forward and through the frothed surface of the glowing water imagined I could see the faintest shadows of the lost town beneath the water.

Was it my imagination or was I really seeing it? The squarish outlines of houses, streets, a dark shadow where the body of the church must reach up to its still-standing spire. It was impossible to tell if it were real or a trick of the light but it took me to the very edge of the water.

Water lapped at the toes of my shoes as I stared into the glow and my eyes adjusted slowly to the dark. Shapes moved in the dark and sunken town, or maybe just the cast shadows of the waves. I could see where the beach sloped forward and then dropped off, suddenly, down to those hidden shapes, so much deeper.

There was a glitter in the sand where the water slopped back again and I reached down, Plucking another coin from the sand and brushing it with my thumb. Gold again. Then I saw another, further out. I peeled away shoes and socks and stepped into the chilly brine, plunging my hand down into it to pull another from the dull, grey sand.

Something different then. A shining red further out in the water that seemed to twinkle like a distant star and it drew me. Distorted by the sea it always seemed out of reach but transfixed, I moved until the water slopped around my hips, glowing about me with every step.

I reached out, over the precipice towards the crimson mote, imagining a ruby or a garnet, perhaps set in some ancient Celtic gold.

It grew big in my vision with appalling suddenness and something made the water swell. A wave swept me from my feet and something… something boneless and long-fingered, something rubbery and cold as ice, something taloned and clammy and glutinous grasped my leg and dragged me into the dark.

I don’t remember much.

Blackness.

Panic.

A great red eye.

Teeth like broken glass.

I don’t remember how I got away.

The next thing I knew I was sitting in my car on the road back to London. A policeman tapping the window and asking me if I was alright.

I was drenched with salt water, the car was soaked in it. Green weed still clung to my body and my shoes, my socks, were nowhere to be found. I couldn’t speak to him. Couldn’t describe what I saw. There were ambulances, concerned people, people from the embassy and then I was taken home. Numb with shock and as helpless as a baby.

I still don’t know what really happened. My leg is scarred, curiously, like the shape of some enormous hand, every scar a mass of smaller, circular impressions into the flesh, as though it were stripped away.

On my shoulder, a double crescent of sharp, women’s teeth has never healed either.

I hope I found the reason we left Maundbury.

I hope they didn’t come with us.

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Butter melted over the potatoes, even though they were barely done. It formed a slick, oily puddle around the limp white fish that squatted on the plate, taunting me. The edge of the fork wouldn’t cut it, it was barely done at all, I had to tear at it with my knife to pull pale, translucent, rubbery mouthfuls from the fillet. Not that this seemed to bother my hosts whose open mouthed chewing surrounded me without any sense of shame or manners. For all the prayers on the walls they hadn’t said grace and we sat, chewing at each other in uncomfortable silence while I forced my way through the meal.

The whole time the two women stared at me, one milky-eyed gaze and one clear. The younger woman, maybe the daughter? Her eyes were keen and green and she stared at me with unalloyed fascination in a way that made her demure and old fashioned clothing seem somehow inappropriate. The man watched me too, but the gaze of the women was something you felt, almost physical, like being pinched and prodded and judged and it was making me nauseous, as though the food wasn’t enough to do that all by itself.

I finally managed to choke down the last rubbery bite, the watery taste of the fish lingering in my mouth, making me salivate – but not with hunger – as I tried to break the silence. “I found a coin, down on the beach this morning.”

“Oh, ah? A shilling or somethin’ from the town reckon?” The old man opined between picking his dentures.

“No, older I think,” I said, low and quiet, unsettled by the stare of the women. I fished in my pocket and plucked out the old golden coin I had found, setting it on the stained tablecloth and pushing it over towards him.

The old man plucked it from the table and picked it up, holding it up close to his rheumy eye for closer inspection. “Ah, celtic, yes, very old, and gold too. We get detectorists down from time to time, looking for these sorts of things but this place I hard to find and the cliffs can be dangerous. Especially after a storm. We find some bits and pieces from time to time I can show you after we eat, if you’re interested…” He let the last word hang, elongating the vowels strangeley and smiling to me with a peculiar twinkle in his eye.

“Oh, aren’t we finished?”

The old woman got up hurriedly and scurried out to the kitchen, returning with a horrid looking rice-pudding with a leathery black skin. I swallowed the welling saliva in my mouth as best I could. “Lovely.”

***

My stomach growled as the strange old man lead me up to his room, pausing every few steps on the creaking stair to turn back and make sure I was following. He seemed excited somehow, licking his lips, his hands wringing together limply as he took me into his bedroom and turned on the light. It was so dim it only seemed to lengthen the shadows and, frankly, I was glad I couldn’t see too well.

The room had that same pervading smell of damp that plagued the whole house. The curtains were drawn and faded by the sin and filthy cobwebs clung to them and festooned every corner. Beneath the damp was another smell, stale sweat, body odour and the hanging miasma of barely cooked fish from the kitchen below. All that was forgotten though as the wizened old gnome dragged a case out from under the bed and flipped it open. Even in the light of that fly-speckled bulb it glittered and the reflected light from the case lit the old man’s face up in a buttery glow.

“We find things time to time as well… a little retirement fund,” he winked.

It was amazing, a trove of gold coins of all different sorts, golden torcs, clasps, broaches. I was no expert but it all looked crude, old, ancient even.

“Afore the Romans, an’ perhaps a little after too,” he offered as picked up a torc, a sort of golden collar, and turned it in my hands. “A professor came some time back an’ told us all his theories,” he laughed, a sort of snorting cough. “Don’t know much about it all myself, but he left some books if you want to read about it.”

“I’d like that.” My voice sounded strange to me, low, reverential almost. To be holding something so old, so priceless. I set it back down, carefully, in the case as the old man rummaged around some more, dragging out another battered suitcase, turfing out old clothes and heaving out a couple of books.

“Villagers used to find this stuff all the time, there were a little museum of the stuff in the church. Professor said they were offerin’s or somesuch. I weren’t paying too much attention. Here you go,” he laid the thick, hard-backed books in my hands. “Best read them, if’n you’re interested. I s’pose you’re staying another night?”

I nodded, and he seemed pleased with that, ushering me back to my room as he hobbled back down the stairs to give the good news to his wife. I sat and cracked open the book, straining to see in the dim light of my room and poring over the absent professor’s materials.

***

The books were old, musty, going back to the twenties and the thirties and they spoke of archaeological finds I had never heard of in a style of English as dusty and as old as the books themselves. The print was small, hard to read in this light, the content dry and academic and beyond my understanding, but I strove to learn what I could even as it seemed to do its best to send me to sleep.

What I could understand seemed fascinating. The ancient celts had a tradition, it seemed, of offering riches to their gods in bogs, rivers, lakes and pits. Just the sorts of things the old man had in his case. Though there were no weapons, no armour, no shields amongst his trove.

Here though, these were offerings to the sea and I saw little in these books about such a thing. Would such offerings be found given the tides and storms? The sheer size of the sea? If the water were an entrance to the underworld as some speculated what greater doorway could there be than the sea? This must have been why he came here, seeking to find out, to understand to comprehend why so much should be found here in this lost town, of all places.

I read all afternoon and into the evening, it grew dark, my eyes watered with the strain. I was clutching at straws but something inside me felt that the answers to the past of my family and of the town here just beyond my reach in these books. I just couldn’t find them. When I next looked at my watch the hands read after midnight and I was taken aback. Had I left the room and eaten again? I couldn’t remember. My eyes were watering from the strain of reading but still I couldn’t put the books down.

Then there came a soft knock upon my door.

I wiped away the drizzling tears from my cheek and set the book down a moment, folding down the corner of the page and opening the door.

The daughter – I assumed – stood there, wide green eyes looking up at me. Her feet were bare and she rocked on her heels an unsettlingly false smile on her lips. “May I come in sir?”

Sir? The demure politeness seemed to go beyond her dress to something else and, unbidden, the thought came to me that her parents must be cruel to keep her so beaten down and silent. Even those words were barely a whisper. I nodded to her and turned back into the room, closing the books and setting them aside. “What did you want?” She gave no voice to anything but the door clicked shut and there was a flutter of fabric. My back stiffened as I turned and I bit my lip as I looked at her, rising slowly to my feet.

The old-fashioned dress was in a pile at her feet and her loose-limbed, slender body was naked in the dim light. More shadow than flesh and what could be seen was pale and white. “I don’t think…” I began, but she stopped me in a moment, stepping up to me, soft and lean and small against me, urgent and shameless, her mouth at my lips, silencing me as she pushed me back with surprising strength onto the creaking little bed.

I didn’t even try to protest, even though I knew it was a bad idea. It had been a while since the willing girls of London town and even the cynical fashionistas of Soho hadn’t been as forward, as demanding as this girl. She held me down, squirmed on top of me and stripped me bare, tearing buttons and scratching flesh with rough nails in her eagerness.

“Everything,” her voice a sibilant hiss in the dark as the light caught her eyes, flaring them red like an animal in headlights. Her sharp nails and long fingers twisted my watch from my wrist and then it was just us. Skin an hair, nails and teeth and nothing more.

She was cool, but wet, demanding and fierce, sharp little teeth biting into my shoulder as she writhed to me. There was nothing I could do, nothing I wanted to do as this demanding girl whose name was still a mystery to me took what she wanted with a fierce and consuming need until she quivered against me, sharp little teeth biting into my shoulder, stifling what slight little gasp she made, taking me over the edge so hard, so sudden, the edges of my vision dimmed.

By the time my sense came back to me, she was slipping away again. She left me spent, exposed, the cold of the room freezing my damp flesh as the sweat evaporated. A flash of milky leg, hip, breast. The whip of red hair tumbled from its pins. The brief flare of her dress clutched in one hand and she was gone again, leaving me confused and thirsty, shivering as the bite from her teeth began to throb.

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Come the morning the mist had cleared and wiping the condensation and black muck from the window I felt my stomach drop through my body to see just how close I had come to death the night before. From my vantage on the upper floor of the house I could see my car, inches away from the edge of the cliff, the track I had been following plunging straight off it into the surf and rocks below.

I swallowed and gathered my wits, pulling on the still-damp clothes from the night before and stumbling out onto the landing. In the cold light of day the dank old house didn’t feel half so threatening or strange. It just seemed somehow sad, a bygone reminder of decades before. Perhaps the nineteen-fifties? It had that impoverished, rationing and hard-graft feel to it somehow. Make do and mend, threadbare but prideful and don’t let anyone say otherwise.

The bathroom, when I found it, was – comparatively – a strikingly modern room, or at least it had been in the nineteen-seventies when avocado was all the rage. There’s not really such a thing as a quick bath, it’s a ritualistic affair, running the taps, testing the temperature, laying out the towel and so on. It wasn’t very clean though and I made it as fast an affair as possible, barely dipping myself into the tepid water and immersing myself into its depths as fast as I could, washing my hair with soap – I had nothing with me.

The stairs protested my modest weight as I clambered down in search of breakfast. Breakfast has never been something that the British have done particularly well. The much-vaunted fry-up seems to be a guilty indulgence and about the best you can hope for is a couple of slices of toast or a bowl of soggy cereal-in-milk that tastes like water because the full-fat is ‘bad’ for you. This humble little shit hole was no different and while I could have torn through a trough of bacon I had to make do with a bowl of limpid bran flakes with a few blackberries sprinkled on top for colour. They didn’t even have orange juice, just water.

There was no sign of the old man or the old woman while I ate my breakfast. The girl of the house, presumably their daughter, was the one who served me. She was dressed plain but looking at her it was hard to believe she came from the same stock. She had the red hair, a tumbling mess of bright red curls barely held in check with a hair band. Her figure was a delight and almost made the breakfast palatable. It certainly stopped me from the whole indignant and demanding American guest act, and instead I smiled and nodded in that special British way and assured her that everything was just fine.

Somehow I managed to drag myself away from the table to look outside. Everything was damp with drew and wisps of the mist still lingered around the house and a few lonely looking trees that clung to the cliff. I retraced my steps back to the car and gingerly climbed in. Triple checking I was in reverse and ready to go before I started the engine and backed away from the precipice.

I didn’t want to spend any more time in house just yet, so I left my suitcase in the trunk and climbed back out once I’d gotten the car back next to the house, slamming and locking the door after I hauled my coat out and pulled it on, the first warm, dry thing I’d felt since I arrived.

As the sun rose higher I strolled down the edge of the cliff face and looked for a way down. There was a path, though it looked a bit treacherous. Old plastic ‘danger’ signs were dotted along it but someone had rigged up a rope you could hold onto as you went up or down the steep slope and so, palms burning as I stumbled down a little fast and clung to the rope, I made my way down to the beach.

The last couple of steps I jumped down onto the yielding sand and wrinkled my nose. There was a lot of weed washed up, a tide mark that was sticky with decomposing sea life, oil, tar and plastic, hopping with sand fleas as I trudged past it and down towards the waterline.

The sand was grey, rough, yielding unpredictably underfoot, making me stumble and sway. In some ways it was more like mud than sand and it wasn’t the colour I’d been expecting. Where do you even get grey sand? Here and there dotted amongst the sand were pebbles, and some of them looked a little odd, bright red shining up from the muck. I bent down low and picked a piece up. It was rough like pumice and light in my hand as I tossed it up and down, catching it out of the air as I finally realised what it was; red brick, washed down to a smooth surface like the rest of the pebbles. Perhaps part of the lost village that was just out there, beneath the waves.

The whole beach was dotted with these little red reminders, artefacts of the town that had sunk. Now I’d seen one I could see more and more, bright red standing out against the dull grey sand. I swayed slowly down the beach, following the bands of the tide lines, stopping every now and then to crouch and pick up one of the rounded pebbles. Brick wasn’t the only thing to have been warn smooth, pieces of glass, worn opaque were dotted amongst them. Green glass, blue glass, clear glass. Had it been bottles? Windows? Something else?

It was just scraps though, bits and pieces, nothing earth-shaking, nothing important, nothing to give me any sense of connection or of history. Nothing to link me to the people who were the ancestors and cousins of my own town, so far away. This place, these people, they were meaningless to me. I tossed a smooth lump of brick into the sluggish waves and sat, immediately regretting it as the dampness of the sand soaked into my ass.

That’s when I saw it.

A glittering, shimmering in those lazy, foamy waves. It wasn’t the sun on the water, there wasn’t enough sunlight for that. It was something else. I hefted myself up, struggling back to my feet, soaking my shoes and socks as I stepped into the wetness. Something about it seemed foul, I didn’t like to linger there. It wasn’t just the rotting weeds but something else, something more that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Still, I steeled myself and thrust my hand into the froth, plucking out a single golden coin from the grey sand.

I held it up in the pale, wan light and brushed the crumbling remnants of the sand off it as I stepped back out of the water, shaking my feet. The coin was gold, that much was certain, but it wasn’t round, it was more like a child’s drawing of ’round’. Rough and ready, a crude image of something. Maybe a horse? Maybe a stag? The letter ‘C’, ‘V’, ‘N’ stamped into it. It didn’t make much sense to me, like nothing I’d ever seen before but maybe the strange family at the house could tell me more.

I pocketed it with a frown and looked back out over the sea as a larger wave washed the sudsy water up high enough to re-soak my shoes and for a moment, just a moment, the pointed tip of the church steeple, breaking the dull surface of the sea like a broken tooth, peeking from behind blackened lips. The only sign of our past, the history I’d come to find and, somehow, it made me shudder.

Damp and none the wiser I stopped at the edge of the path that slid back up the cliff and raised my eyes to the house that was squatting at the top. It was an even toss which was least hospitable. The sloshing murk or that slumping shit hole and its lurking yokels.

At least I might be able to get some food at the house.

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Genealogy, that’s the thing. People like to know where they came from and who they’re related to, what their heritage is, what it means to be them. It’s nonsense of course, who we came from doesn’t make our destiny, doesn’t dictate what we do. Still, my mother’s always been kind of insistent about this sort of thing and about our roots, nostalgic for ‘merrie old England’ and she always hit a brick wall when we got back as far as that. I wasn’t going to pass up a free trip to England and so, here I was.

I’d wasted as much time as possible in London. I came from a small New England town and life in the big city was fascinating to me. I’d never even been as far as New York before, let alone somewhere as exciting and foreign as London. They spoke English at least and that meant I wasn’t completely out of my depth as I would have been in Paris or Berlin. It also meant I had a really good time out drinking and seeing the sights but sooner or later I had to get off my ‘arse’ and set about what mom wanted.

I’d rented a car and headed out, following the ancient map my mom had given me. It didn’t even have all the roads marked on it that were signposted and as I drove deeper and deeper into the countryside and nearer and nearer the coast I began to wonder if it even existed.

Out of season it was cheaper, that was one thing, but outside the city England was not the rolling green hills I’d been lead to expect. Britain has this peculiar quality sometimes where everything is grey. The sky is a cool slate grey, the mist swirling around you is the same and, when you see the sea, it’s the same damn colour. Top to bottom grey to the point where it seems to stretch away into infinity and you can’t tell where you are or even how blind you’ve even become.

I found the turning , finally, that was supposed to leave to the village. Mom was on a mission to have me find the old church records so we could trace the family further back. Maundbury – my home town – took its name from this village. Early settlers weren’t too creative with the names when they first came to America. Our settlers were particularly lazy, not even bothering to put a ‘New’ in front of it when they founded the place.

The road, such as it was, was more of a track now and this did not bode well. The car bounced and shuddered along, wreathed in mist and I was shaken nearly out of my seat. Suddenly the road fell away in front of me, vanishing into nothingness and it was all I could do to bring the bone-shaking car to a halt, the front wheels mere inches from falling away into the unknown darkness.

With my heart in my mouth I opened the door and stepped out into the swirling grey. The wind was blowing from behind me, weakly, out to sea. I could hear the waves, some distance below, washing against the shore and, if I crouched, I could find the very edge of the cliff, tufted with sickly grass, but there was no way to see the sea or how high up I was from the ground. The only way to tell where anything was, was the misty glow of the car’s headlights, and further away, off the road, a distant, glowing porch light.

Perhaps I’d taken a turning too soon and the one I’d wanted had been the next one, but I daren’t try and move the car in this mist. I reached in and turned off the engine, cutting the lights and left the car behind. I’d have no choice but to wait for it to clear and, hopefully, get some help to move it when it did clear.

The ground was soft and crumbly, like a hard cheese, under my feet as I trudged. Swirling mist clinging to my hair and clothes and making them damp as the distant glowing light slowly resolved itself into the the shape of a run-down Victorian house, weathered by the rain and the salt with rotting window frames and mould-speckled glass. Simultaneously hopeful and worrying was the fact that there was a sun-faded sign in the window of the door marked ‘rooms available’.

A glance at my watch told me it was only eight in the evening, it felt much later. I’d hoped for a pub or an inn to stay at but there were no other lights around and this seemed to be the only place to go. I hammered my hand against the door and stepped back to wait, trying to put on my best all-American smile for whoever opened the door.

The door opened side and the rush of hot air that issued forth was almost stifling compared to the cold air without. I blinked and smiled and smiled and blinked again and gave my best and most cheerful “Hi!”

The person who stood there in the light was a wizened little dwarf of a man. All hunch and hair with the occasional, sparse little cluster of red hair in the snow-white of his beard and sea-green eyes that peered up at me from the depths of stars of wrinkles.

“Can I ‘elp you?” He leaned against the door, seeming pretty confident for an old man confronting a stranger on his doorstep.

“My car’s stuck,” I shrugged apologetically. “I was hoping that, perhaps I might be able to get a room tonight until I can get it sorted out tomorrow?”

“Of course you can, come on in before you catch your death,” the old man’s face creaked into a smile and he stepped aside to let me in.

The air outside was a soaking blanket of cold, but inside it was steamy and hot. The moment I crossed the threshold sweat began to pour down my back. The place was cramped, it even looked like the walls were sweating. Ancient central heating was rattling away as I stood, taking in the bible verses on the walls and the peeling wallpaper.

“Got nothing with you?” The old man lead the way to the stairs and the threadbare carpet that covered them.

It took him an interminable amount of time to climb the steps and moving shadow caught my eye as I replied, a pair of feminine shadows watching me from the hallway below.

“It’s back in the car, I won’t be able to find it until the morning. Not to worry, so long as I can have a shower it’ll be alright.”

“Bath.”

“What?”

“No shower, just a bath.”

“Oh, that will be alright.”

The women’s faces were framed by red hair, one old, one young, staring unsettlingly until they slid out of sight when we finally reached the landing. The floorboards bent under my weight as the old man shuffled up to one of the doors.

“Here we are mister…?”

“Bremer, John Bremer,” I smiled to him again and assured him I’d be alright and that I’d take breakfast in the morning. All but slamming the strange old gnome’s own door in his face as I escaped into the room.

The room stank of damp and the window frame was crumbling and stained black. The single pane windows rattled as the draught wended its way out through the frame and the bed had the firmness and the wet smell of the unused. It groaned as I sat on it and I knew how it felt as I flipped on the bedside light – it barely made any difference.

Mark 1:17 peered down at me from one wall, gilt, in a frame and an old, local map glared down from the other, showing the peninsula we were on ‘The Tongue’ and the village, on the part of the peninsula that didn’t seem to be there any longer. Was Maundbury even there any longer? Was this all that was left? This whole trip was a bust, mom was going to be pissed but if the village wasn’t even there, there was nothing to be done.

Looking out the window told me nothing more than it had before. Outside the glass the whole world was a sea of grey, making it seem like the house was the only thing that existed and the only sounds were the distant wash of the sea and the constant, unpredictable rattle of the heating. No television, no radio, it seemed odd. I wondered if they were gathered below me, in silence, listening up towards the ceiling.

Whatever the case, I wasn’t going anywhere until morning. So I slept. Swathed in mist, surrounded by Bible passages and the ghost of a missing village. The very past I had no real interest of my own in.

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