Its Trick

 

A goblin, a “wee” one, still wet behind the ears, awaits you below. It’s on its first Big Night Out: All Hallows Eve. Oh, and don’t let its pint size lull you into a false sense of security.

Its Trick” is published in the Winter 2011-12 issue of   THE RED PENNY PAPERS

~

Outside was forbidden to NeckBreaker–more so during daylight hours. It ignored the prohibition and scrambled, slunk low to the ground to dart among the overgrown, ornamental shrubs planted decades earlier around the extensive grounds of the once grand Victorian home for humans. The three-story structure was now a goblin family enclave: two adult progenitors and NeckBreaker, still immature and ungendered, neither male or female.

It tracked two females, human teens, the almost-adults.

Get–like me.

At three years of age, if it balanced on hind limbs, it stood chin-high to the teens. They strolled along the sidewalk on their skinny hind limbs, less wobbly than its two-legged efforts. Their destination was something called school, the weekday gathering place for human get.

Ears cupped forward, NeckBreaker gathered in their conversation, their annoying voices. It preferred the screeches of the human females, a high-pitched shrill, unlike the calls of the song birds once numerous on the property.

Horrible sounding snacks but so delicious.

The dark-skinned human, its favorite, shrieked. “You’re kidding, stop it! Jeremy’s party? A sophomore, mon Dieu, and he’s so hot.”

“Way hot. Sizzling!” the worm pale one said. “And he told me to bring a girlfriend. All those older guys and Jeremy’s soccer teammates. Too bad his parents will be there.”

“You want me to go? Really? Me?”

“No, Ettie–your brother. Who else? You’re my newest, best friend.”

“I don’t know. “Ma mère….”

“Huh? What?”

Ma mère. My mother, my mother!”

“Yeah, so? You’re fourteen; this is America, not Haiti. Besides, Jeremy’s parents will be there. And how’s your, uh, mère goin’ to know anything, anyway, if you just leave the dance a little bit early? And hello, my parents are driving us there. They’ll take you home, too. Don’t worry.”

Ettie stopped biting her lower lip. “Okay. But what will I wear?”

“Your costume? The same one you’ll be wearing to the Halloween dance at school.”

Halloween dance? Costume? Party? My progenitors would know. It calculated some way to ask them without arousing their suspicion.

The nearby branches parted. A claw reached through, hooked beneath a patch of NeckBreaker’s scales: the discipline zone, a vulnerable area between its shoulder blades where the immature scales had yet to thicken into an adult goblin’s living chain mail.

A talon gouged NeckBreaker’s unprotected flesh. As it trilled in pain, a choke-chain slipped over its head and tightened around its throat to cut off the howl. Despite the distress, its attention still fixed on the teens who clutched one another’s arms.

Goblin male progenitors were skilled at mind-veiling; the human get saw only what the adult male allowed them to see: a very human Mr. Breaker dressed in a business suit ready for work, a dog leash in his hand. The image would calm the teens, counter their instinct to flee nibbling at the edges of their weak minds.

The pale get broke the frightened silence. “God! What was that–that scream? Some kind of animal, like it’s dying. I hope an animal.”

The progenitor yanked on the leash, dragged NeckBreaker from the bushes beneath the bay window.

The pale get pulled at her friend. “Ugh, that’s one ugly–uh, ugly dog. Come on, let’s go. They’re a weird family; no one even goes there for Halloween. Not me, anyway. Jeremy said he saw a kid once. I don’t know. Nobody else ever did.”

NeckBreaker strained against the chain as the adult towed it up the steps and across the porch. It scrabbled, claws slipping on the wood, its stare never wavering from the females. A final yank on the leash spun it over the threshold, into the gloom of the interior.

The door slammed shut.

 #

NeckBreaker’s male progenitor, TalonSlash-breaker, sat at the feeding table. His words hissed, a sibilance impossible for a human to duplicate, a product of his bifurcated tongue.

“NeckBreaker’s behavior troubles me. A defective, possibly? He is skilled at escape but his development outstrips his maturity. We must ….” He interrupted himself to adopt a more respectful tone. “I fear its capture. Its disobedience places us at risk. It is yet too ignorant of the human world to stalk safely or hunt any creature, let alone cull humans. Perhaps, we may need to–terminate it.”

The only termination during any of TalonSlash’s six breeding cycles with previous partners proved a tasty treat–a blind hatchling from his coupling with an Asian she-goblin. His unexpected hunger a mere two-hours after his meal had surprised TalonSlash.

His current breeding partner, ShankBreaker, was bent over her meal across the table and glanced upward. Her maw followed, soaked with blood. The final two sewer rats on the feeding mat writhed and squirmed in an escape attempt despite their broken legs. She elongated a talon and speared one rat through the skull, imprisoning the other rodent behind the five talon “bars” of her left claw.

Her gaze fixed on TalonSlash. “Where is your hunter’s cunning? You judge too soon. Its development is a wonder, far beyond its years. Perhaps, a gift from the Dark One. We will see. Yes, NeckBreaker is difficult to control. No matter, my instinct tells me–something. No more talk of termination. Enough.”

When a she-goblin issued a command, no male breeding partner in his right mind dared to differ. Most she-goblins could best two males at once.

And winners ate losers.

TalonSlash little feared retaliation. He was too useful. He-goblins sustained the mind-veil far longer than females and the ultraviolet wavelengths of daylight harmed their vision less. The males could integrate more easily and successfully into the workaday world of humans.

Many of the he-goblins excelled at monetary pursuits. At TalonSlash’s employer, a Wall Street investment bank, two of his colleagues veiled themselves, as well, carefully keeping their distance one from the other, a standard goblin precaution. The rest of the financial advisers in the department were humans but, in essence, human versions of goblins and–he reluctantly admitted–a credit to their race.

#

NeckBreaker stopped turning the glass doorknob of its false-death room, a bedroom of some human family long ago consumed before its hatching.

Locked from the outside. Why? Escape is so easy.

Its goblin progenitors often imprisoned it inside the third-floor room of their Victorian house. Or attempted to, just as they did tonight. Especially tonight.

NeckBreaker loped toward the single, tall window of the room, otherwise empty but for the sleeping nest tucked in a murky corner. It peered-out a glass pane, its claws resting on the sill, scarred with scores of scratches, the gouges proof of its determination to master upright walking, though just three-years of age.

Four‑and‑a‑half‑years was the norm, when a maturing goblin’s hind limbs straightened, the talons fully retracted, when the head shifted more upright on shoulders in a passable mimic of a human stance–an easier to mind-veil human stance.

Outside, a full moon, orange and swollen like a belly stuffed with prey, silhouetted the treetops. Behind NeckBreaker, its black, goblin shadow was centered in the moonlit shape of a pale, elongated window cast across the hardwood planks of the bare floor.

The century-old building remained unlit, concealing its surveillance. Human get, the smaller ones called children, hurried from house to house, their faces masked, bodies clothed in stranger than normal material. All the get carried bags of some sort. Doors opened at the houses. They shouted, crowded the human adults who emerged to toss objects into the raised bags.

None of the humans, adult or get, approached the darkened Victorian house.

Curiosity tore at NeckBreaker. Could the dark human female, the Ettie seen earlier in the day, be doing the same? If she was, on this night and this night alone, its approaching her without suspicion or rousing fear was possible. But why make the risky attempt? No hunger drove it to the Ettie or stronger than usual predator’s desire to hunt. What else?

The answer lay outside, wherever the female lurked. Strange how human get possessed adult genders though still immature.

#

Goblin WatercolorHunched low, NeckBreaker scrambled across the lamp lit street, a bag clutched in its claw, the better to pass as human. Instinct compelled it to seek out the long stretches of darkness between the lampposts or hiding places within the foliage to observe the human ritual as closely as possible.

An excited group without an adult guardian pounded the entranceway of a house. NeckBreaker scampered unnoticed to the edge of the distracted crowd. The door opened. Light from the interior doused them and their upheld bags.

“Trick or treat!”

An adult female outlined in the doorway said, “Oh, my, oh my! Here are some treats, so keep away those tricky tricks.”

She held out a large, pumpkin shaped container. The human getcrowded against one another to grab clawfuls  The adult grew stern. Would she strike them?

“Hey, hey, everyone! One dip, that’s all. Got that? One dip. You already got enough goodies tonight to eat yourselves sick anyway.”

Food? It stared at the bag in its claw, raised the empty sack and stood on its hind limbs.

“My, what wonderful costumes,” said the adult. “A pirate, a witch. Hey, you, Spiderman, I said one dip. One! Put the rest back. And a princess, and–” Her eyes widened. ”A, a, uh–”

The offspring quieted, turned around; their instantaneous shriek was music to NeckBreaker’s ears. In a blur of limbs, they fled screeching down the block, their bags clutched against their costumes as they disappeared from sight.

“Good gravy, kid. You scared the stuffing out of those other Halloweeners, poor kids. No wonder with that costume of yours.” She called over her shoulder. “Hey, Harry. Harry! Forget the TV! You have to got to get out here to see this.”

A distant voice replied, “What, what? Come on–Halloween’s your thing. I told you I wasn’t gonna answering the….”

“Harry, will you haul your–uh, buns out here. You’ve got to see this kid’s costume. And bring my drink. Yours too. You’re gonna need it.”

NeckBreaker stuck to the ritual, held the bag up. Somewhat hesitant, the female stretched her arm toward it, the not‑real pumpkin in her paw. It reached in, scooped a clawful and dumped the objects in the bag.

The Harry arrived, an adult male. “Look, we had a deal. You agreed….” He glanced at NeckBreaker. “You, uh, uh…Holy Moses!”

“What’d I tell you. Amazing, right? Kid, your mom or dad’s good, real good with costumes.”

NeckBreaker dared not speak, nodded its head up and down, uncertain of what they meant.

The Harry said, “Don’t move, kid. Don’t move. I got to get a camera. Stay right there, don’t go away.”

It had no idea what a camera was.

The female pushed the container of treats closer. “Here, take some more. Whatever you want. That costume of yours earns a double‑dip.” She bared her fangs. It stepped back. “Don’t be afraid, I’m not going to hurt you; it is a little late to be out alone, though. Your mom know…?”

“Got it,” said Harry. “Move, move. Give me a clear shot. Okay kid, hold the bag up. More to the side, so I can fit the whole costume.” It followed the human’s directions. “Great. Ready? Say cheese.”

To avoid provoking them, it struggled to pronounce “cheese.”

A flash of lightning. Blindness.

The decibel level of NeckBreaker’s howl, the sound of a hyena skewered alive and roasted over hot coals, overwhelmed the human’s eardrums. Eyes closed, they grimaced, paws covering  their ears.  When their eyes reopened, it stared down from the highest branches of a tree in their front yard. They inspected the nearby bushes and around the front corners of the house before abandoning the search.

Ears cupped and bent forward, it picked-up the sounds of locks on their entrance door sliding and clicking into place.

Pointless. The locks could never shield them if they were NeckBreaker’s target.

It sniffed the contents of the bag and retrieved a treat thing, a rectangle. Mouth wide open, it plopped in the treat and chomped. It gagged. Knocked off balance, it reflexively grasped a branch to prevent tumbling from the tree, not that an actual fall would have been harmful. Spitting bits of paper and foil, it spied bright lights in the distance across the rooftops, toward the center of town.

A human gathering place? The school?

#

The blare of Kanye West’s “Runaway” echoed across the gym. Clara spotted Ettie talking with some boy, both of them beneath a basketball backstop folded against the ceiling.

Looks like a Freshman.She ploughed across the wood floored courts crowded with dancers gyrating and brushing through a forest of black and orange crepe paper tentacles.

She reached Ettie, tapped her shoulder. “Hello! Where were you? I’ve been waiting forever, you know. We gotta go.”

Ettie held her wristwatch up. “Excusez-moi, ma petite amie. Le temps?”

“Oh, right, hide behind the Haitian stuff.”

“French, French, not Creole. And five minutes is not forever!” She turned to the boy. “I’ve gotta go now. Really nice meeting you. Maybe we’ll see each other in the cafeteria tomorrow?”

“Sure. Okay, in the cafeteria tomorrow. Great, I’ll look for you.”

Clara dragged her friend away. “Bye, bye. We’re goin’ now.”

“You’re a pain,” said Ettie. “He was cute. Sweet, too.”

“Uh, huh–and he’s a freshman! We have older, more mature men waiting at Jeremy’s.”

“Ha! You’re funny.”

In the parking lot, Ettie glanced left and right. “Where are they? Aren’t your parents driving us? You said–”

“Changed. Two juniors with licenses. And here they come. Look.”

“Clara! If my mother–I don’t know.”

#

Concealed among the evergreen bushes of a park, NeckBreaker spied the gathering place across the street. A too bright place. So many metal movers. A large number of humans, too many, came and went, mostly the almost-adults, a few fully grown adults, too.

Muffled sounds rumbled through the walls of the structure. Ears cupped forward, it strained to distinguish any human words. All nonsense. It focused on the humans outside the structure.

The Ettie’s voice!

It spotted her and the worm pale one, dressed for the human ritual. A metal mover stopped next to them. Two almost-adult males emerged to gather the females into the mover. The Ettie delayed, stepped away. The worm pale one grasped her hand.

NeckBreaker tensed. A death clash?

No bloodshed erupted; the females spoke together then entered the mover. The metal box on wheels exited the field of stilled movers, turned onto the street, and drove past the park. The scent trail of the mover, a unique odor, pungent, not in the least tasty, was easy to track.

It followed, keeping up without difficulty.

The mover turned onto the final block. Stilled-movers lined either side of the street. Was this the place the Ettie had called “Jeremy’s party” before my progenitor captured me?

NeckBreaker pressed it’s back against the side of a house to peer around the corner. A rhythmic boom, the squeals of females and the bellows of males revealed the mover’s destination at mid-block. Odd, glowing figures tilted at varying angles across the front yard. The mover stopped there and the humans exited.The Ettie ascended a short flight of steps and entered the house of noises.

A small group of threatening not-quite humans, bare-legged, their mouths smeared with blood, reformed in the middle of the street when the metal mover departed. Torn and ragged material draped their red-stained torsos. NeckBreaker first assumed the round object they kicked was a head but recalled humans entertained themselves with objects called balls. A spotted ball sailed back and forth among them in the street. Glare-lights attached to the house transformed the ball into an orange and black spinning orb.

Keeping close to whatever cover existed, NeckBreaker advanced toward the noise and chaos, toward the Ettie, until no cover remained. The bag for the awful treats had worked well with the male and female adults. It slipped from the shadows, bag upraised and crossed the lawn.

A voice shouted, “heads up!” The ball shot straight toward NeckBreaker. It kicked at the threat. Talons pierced the leathery hide; air hissed, rushed out the slashes. The ball deflated, clung to the micro-barbs along the talon edges.

An almost-adult ran up, examined NeckBreaker. “Whoa, little dude! That’s one awesome costume.” The human stared at the deflated ball, more a rumpled pancake. “. “Oh, man, that’s sure done for. Good thing it was only a raggedy-ass practice ball. Went with our costumes.” He indicated the words across his chest. “Team Zombie.”

Team Zombie? Awesome costume? It crouched, poised either for flight or fight, but kept the bag raised, its shield.

The rest of the zombies advanced, their dull fangs exposed and like the adults, not a display of hostility. They stopped, scrutinized NeckBreaker. It turned to follow whenever one of the four attempted to step behind it.

“Is there a zipper or something?”

“No, stupid,” said another zombie. “It’s makeup. Heavy duty, prosthetic stuff. Hollywood stuff, like I saw on a special effects documentary. Takes hours to put on. More, even. Right, little dude?” NeckBreaker nodded. The zombie smirked. “See, man. Told ya. His parents must be pros. Wow, man. Very cool.”

The third zombie said, “Jeremy’s gotta see this. Hey, little dude, wanna come inside? Lotsa good stuff to munch on, way better than the junk most people give away. Pretty girls, too. I’m Brad. What’s your name?” He pointed to the zombie on his right. “This here is Tom. Those two are Stevie, ‘The Basher,’ on account of he can kick a ball a thousand miles an hour. And Roll-E, nobody can stop him when he’s rollin’ down the field.”

It strove to answer in as human a voice as possible, the trill of the bifurcated tongue impossible to subdue. “NeckBreaker.”

“Huh?” said the Brad. “Man, that costume makes you sound real weird. Great Halloween effect. Nick Breaker, huh? Put it there, Nick.” He stretched his paw out for a low-five.

It hesitated, reached slowly toward the soft flesh, pink and vulnerable, the talons useless for defense. Or killing.

“Whoa, whoa,” said the Brad. “Hold up, a sec. Those claws look like they could do some real damage. Like with the ball. I’ll settle for air.”

#

 A veiled she-goblin stared from across the street at a dwelling overrun with humans, mostly immature get gathered for their yearly Halloween festivity. Humans remained out-of-season nowadays, unless for harvesting or immediate defense or protection against discovery. She was hunting for non-human prey, though other goblins, a partnered couple, had prominently marked the territory as theirs, a dangerous gambit for a lone hunter. If they discovered her lack of discretion, transgressors were fair game.

What she saw shocked her. A goblin get, ungendered, on its hind limbs, standing in the open among humans. And unveiled by any adult! Its progenitors were fools who endangered the race locally. Or worse, the world if the humans streamed cell phone videos on YouTube. Her talons extended, retracted, extended, while she plotted her killing strategy. She salivated in anticipation of her next meal, the goblin get.

 #

 The zombies encouraged NeckBreaker, guided it up the steps of the porch. They passed teens with glow twigs in their paws. Smoke seeped from their mouths, a dangerous ritual. Easier to track them.

Red and orange lit the interior. Boxes blared the wails of humans at painful volumes; it winced. Death moans?

Internal membranes expanded in its ears to prevent damage.

The humans quivered, jumped and twisted apparently in pain. None of the almost-adults closest to the ear-splitting boxes tumbled to the floor. Remarkable. Their shouts reverberated throughout the house and mingled with the strangest of all human sounds, laughter.

Unable to locate the Ettie visually, it sniffed and tasted the air with its tongue. Nothing of interest, excluding unfamiliar odors, most far from enticing.

The majority of the teens took little notice of it and Team Zombie parading through the darkened interior. The stares of a few, those closest, did fix onto the group and track them. Wary, NeckBreaker kept its chest and side toward the trackers as it followed the escort. They passed a staircase to the second story; it rushed to the stairwell and sniffed. Two fresh odors, adults, a male and female.

It and Team Zombie squirmed their way through the crowded kitchen. Familiar, similar to the one in the enclave: wall and floor-storage keepers, a cold-keeper and the water-dispenser next to the flamer the humans called sink and stove.

“Hey, Jeremy,” the Brad called. “Get a load of this costume. Nick meet Jeremy.”

The group by a floor-keeper parted.

The worm pale one. NeckBreaker tensed, rocked back and forth on its hind limbs.

She frowned, clutched the arm of an almost-adult male in a black cape. The Jeremy, sunken-eyed, paler than the worm pale one, broke away from her and approached.

NeckBreaker drew back. Hunter’s fangs. Some humans bore real fangs!

“Hi, Nick. Whoa! Hey relax, I don’t bite. Wow, that’s got to be the best Halloween costume ever. Way cool, little guy. Where’d you get the outfit? Really great makeup. Man, my parents have got to see this.”

It circled away at the mention of human progenitors, possibly with lightning-blinders, and rushed over to the worm pale one. So close to its goal, NeckBreaker risked speech.

“Essttie.”

“What? Ettie? You said ‘Ettie,’ right? You know her?”

It nodded.

“Huh, can’t you talk?” She glanced toward Jeremy and Team Zombie. “He must be kinda slow. You know, takes the really short bus to school.”

The males displayed their dull fangs, growled the laughter sound. The Roll-E said, “Watch out, Clara. Don’t get him pissed-off. You should’ve seen what his feet did to the soccer ball.”

She bent down, her paws clutching forelimbs. “You want to see Ettie?”

It nodded.

“Okay, let’s go. She’s on the patio. Follow me.”

NeckBreaker hesitated.

“Come on, nobody’s gonna eat you. Come on.” She reached out, stopped. “Yow, your costume does mean business. Don’t worry, I won’t touch. Kinda dangerous for a kid, no? Anyway, let’s go.”

Outside, the crowd thinned. Its ears cupped and turned independently of each other. A familiar voice: the Ettie, speaking with two males at the edge of the backyard, well beyond the flagstone patio. The males held glow twigs.

NeckBreaker vanished from the patio to confront its male competitors.

#

Clara scrutinized the yard and spotted Ettie or rather the reflected glow of a white dress and possibly the two juniors who drove them to the party.

Her friend claimed the gorgeous costume was for a Mambo, a Haitian priestess in the Voodoo religion. The outfit floated ghostlike against the darkness at the base of a shallow hill. Deep evergreen woods bordered the property, the remnant of an old growth forest before the days of suburban hyper-development.

She turned to speak with NeckBreaker. “Ettie’s down–what the? Nick? Where’d you go?”

Screams and yells erupted at the bottom of the hill. Worse followed; shrieks and deeper howls, high-pitched hisses. Growls sliced through the chill Autumn air, each outburst more ear-piercing, more hair-raising, the vicious havoc of Tom cats, giant, ferocious ones, slashing and slaughtering one another.

Ettie, her dress raised thigh-high, charged in a pair high-heels up the slope. She trailed a couple of yards behind her non-chivalrous male companions. The teens on the patio stopped their partying; their eyes fixed on the shadows at the edge of the property. Some of the students grinned as if in the know, as if enjoying a Halloween prank.

Debris erupted from the unseen commotion in the dark forest: dirt and dead leaves, the limbs of shredded evergreens. Tree branches swayed. A rustle in the lower branches stirred, rippled its way to the tops of the tallest trees. Crashing sounds. Small limbs and twigs bent, broke and hit the ground. Something more massive landed with a thud, final, unforgiving. The woods quieted; nothing stirred, breeze or otherwise, within the prolonged calm from the woods.

Frozen in place amid the muffled music and conversation from the house, none of the teens spoke. Finally, an agitation somewhere along the branch strewn floor broke the stillness in the forest, some burden being dragged deeper into the darkness. The teens unconsciously huddled closer on the patio, scoffers included. Neither Clara or Ettie or any of their companions dared to venture into the nocturnal woods–not until the day brightened the shadows to wash away the memory of their dread.

They never saw Nick again.

#

NeckBreaker’s male progenitor, TalonSlash-breaker, conferred with his partner in the main hall of their enclave. A single light, a reading lamp on a small table, glowed weakly in the extensive gloom. To his goblin eyes, light flooded every nook and cranny.

“Where did you find it?” he asked. “Are we still undiscovered? Did you need to cull?”

Both goblins had tracked after NeckBreaker once they realized it escaped again. They split up to double the search area. TalonSlash was not surprised his breeding partner found their get first.

“He,” ShankBreaker said.

“What?”

“NeckBreaker is male.”

“A he–so, so soon?”

She looked as close to amused as a goblin ever managed. “NeckBreaker has gendered. He was driven to seek a human female partner to initiate his cycle.”

“What? I harvested at six, considered early but still knowledgeable enough to gather the human eggs without damaging them. NeckBreaker–a he-goblin? We must have ‘The Talk.’ Does he understand a goblin breeding partner is necessary to implant the eggs, to absorb them and trigger her fertility? Perhaps, it’s best if you …?”

“Quiet. More amazing still.”

“What else could …?”

“He moves at will from place to place.”

“We all move ….”

“Instantaneously? First here, next there. No movement in between! He appeared at the edge of the property. The transgressor who stalked him from the forest should have slaughtered him before I intervened. He vanished and reappeared behind her. Then in the trees. One branch, then the next. No wonder we could not confine him. NeckBreaker thought every goblin moved in such a way.”

“His early maturity is problematical, but–but this last revelation–it’s incomprehensible.” TalonSlash’s more pragmatic nature reasserted itself. “And the transgressor? Her body?”

“In the largest cold-keeper, the subterranean level.”

“Hmmm–an old one, beyond breeding age. Tasteless. I prefer Chicken McNuggets.”

“Forget your stomach. Open your mind! NeckBreaker’s future get may keep the humans in check. Turn the tide, save our race–the entire world.”

“Great Expectations.”

“Yes, great enough for a Race Council’s consideration. NeckBreaker has the rights of the gendered, now. And we must ready him for an eventual Council meeting. Ready him for his destiny.”

#

The newly gendered goblin stood before a full length mirror in his third-floor false-death room. He pinched a twig in one claw and examined his reflection, the talons partially retracted.

Now a male, his mind-veil skills had improved. Significantly improved. If the Ettie was beside him, she would have seen the image of the almost-adult male who attracted her, a glow twig in his paw.

NeckBreaker bared his hunter’s fangs at the mirror, a mind-veiled smile from the Ettie’s male companion.

 

– The End –

Also available in   THE RED PENNY PAPERS   Winter 2011-12 issue

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