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The Spot Writers – “Myself” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write about a character who finds an object that had been lost.

This month’s story comes to us from Val Muller. She is the author of the Corgi Capers kidlit mystery series (www.CorgiCapers.com) and the YA coming-of-age tales The Scarred Letter and The Girl Who Flew Away. She is taking the prompt a bit more metaphorically. It is inspired by David Bowie’s video “Thursday’s Child” (https://vimeo.com/240799507), a video which has always intrigued her.

***

Myself

By Val Muller

The kid was finally down for a nap. There was finally silence. Peace. She sighed and looked around the room. The vacuum cleaner sat in the corner, its cord unraveled and covered in stickers. Its canister was full of beans, dirt, sand, and dog hair and needed to be emptied. The carpet was sprinkled with dried bits of Play-Doh. The dog’s head was stuck under the couch as it tried to reach a half-eaten bag of Veggie Straws that had spilled earlier. Its front legs struggled to reach under the couch, scattering more beans onto the carpet.

Note to self, she thought. Put beans on top shelf of pantry from now on.

In the kitchen, a trail of water led from the dog’s water dish to the toddler’s doll house in the living room, where it filled the toy bathtub and toilet, already starting to warp the wood of the toy furniture. The trail seeped into the carpet in a serpentine line. A half-eaten bowl of Cheerios sat on the Mickey Mouse child’s table in front of the television, absorbing milk.

To her right, the kitchen sink overflowed with dishes. The dishwasher had become a repository for beads and sand dumped there during an unexpected phone call yesterday, and she couldn’t find the energy to clean it or hand-wash the backlog of dishes that had accrued.

It was all too much. She went to the bathroom. Closed the door. At least she could have thirty seconds to pee unencumbered, without a toddler asking “whatcha doin’ in there?” or sticking her little fingers under the door. She washed her hands and dried them on her pants: the hand towel was missing. Likely, it had been used to drag water from the dog bowl to the doll house.

She looked in the mirror and sighed. When had she last brushed her hair? Like, really brushed it, while looking in a mirror and using styling products? Last week? Last month? It might have been years ago, before the toddler.

A stranger stared at her from the mirror. Her eyes looked tired. No, not tired.

Dead.

That was it. She was dead inside. She was a function. She got chocolate milk out of the refrigerator when asked. She kissed boo-boos and tied sneakers. She quelled tantrums. Couldn’t a robot do as much? A twinge of guilt pricked her stomach. She was ungrateful. She had a healthy toddler. That should be enough.

She stepped out of the bathroom and plopped on the floor to pluck stickers from the vacuum’s cord. On the hearth above the fireplace sat two books she’d put there at Christmas—Christmas a year and a half ago—that she planned to read. But what was the point now? Each time she sat down to read, something interrupted her. An accident, a request for a snack, a cup of milk being dumped on the dog. No, better not try to get into something like a book. Best to use nap time to clean the house.

She was almost finished removing the stickers by the time she realized she was singing: music was still playing from the living room speaker. It was The Wiggles, and she had been singing to “Five Little Monkeys.” She hurried in to stop the music, and it still echoed in her head. She didn’t even mind it anymore. It was even familiar. Comforting.

What?

What had become of her that she didn’t even realize she was singing along to kids’ music? When was the last time she listened to something of her own choosing?

She needed to get out. A trip to the mailbox. A box awaited, sent by her parents. They were cleaning out her late grandmother’s home, and they mentioned they’d be sending some old photos Grandma had kept over the year. She returned inside, using a broom handle to push the rest of the Veggie Straws out from under the couch. The dog gratefully consumed them.

The first few photos in the box were recent: baby’s first and second Christmases, first and second birthday parties, first time swimming. She flipped through the stack. The pictures aged. Here, her graduation from college, arm around Grandma. Then, a photo she’d sent of herself in her college apartment. She’d forgotten about that space tapestry. It had graced her wall for all four years of college. She always maintained that crazy idea—that she was a stellar traveler, and her life on Earth was just one of her lives, just one experience of many. She insisted that her very vivid dreams were her soul’s way of remembering all of her other lives. Her nickname had been Supernova.

How could she have forgotten about that? She still had that tapestry somewhere, didn’t she? And when had she last had a vivid dream? Maybe you died inside when you stopped dreaming.

She kept flipping. Back through the college and high school years. There were the pictures of her art show. Her high school exhibit, Nebula, had gotten her a free ride for two years in college. Good grief, she’d forgotten the scope of that final project for college, the one that got her national acclaim. The canvas took up the entire wall of her dorm room. She’d had to transport it to the show in sections. And now each section was boxed up in the basement, stacked under a disassembled crib.

There was that whole wall in the office. It had been empty since they moved in. Maybe she could hang it up again…

She flipped through the photos, going back in time to her days as a swimmer, her time on the debate team, her summers at the beach, the time she colored her hair blue and purple. Her first ear piercing, and her seventh. Her days in elementary school gymnastics, her role in the kindergarten school play, her dozen-and-a-half lifetimes that had passed since her birth.

An aged picture of her in ripped jeans and a Starman t-shirt reminded her that she had loved David Bowie. She remembered that now. Why was she content with The Wiggles? Where were her Bowie CDs? She hurried to the garage and dug through her car, under the crusted layer of cereal that seemed to cover everything. Under the copies of The Wiggles and Disney soundtracks and pouches of applesauce and travel packs of disinfectant wipes. There they were, at the very bottom of the center console, interred more than three years earlier. Her Bowie CDs.

She flipped through them. There is was: David Bowie. The 1969 album. She hurried inside and replaced the kid CD in the living room player. “Space Oddity” started playing. It played softly, and she kicked up the volume.

She closed her eyes, rocking back and forth in the living room, listening to the tale of Major Tom, risking everything to follow his dream of space travel, even to his ultimate detriment. But he went. He risked things. He didn’t leave the book on the mantle for fear of interruption.

The song drew to a close, and she hit “repeat.” The intro started up again, and she kicked up the volume, wondering how loud she could make it before waking the kid.

The guitar tickled her mind. The drums pounded with her heart. She ran her fingers through her hair, remembering how she used to toss it around in college. Wild and teased with hairspray, like it had been kissed with stardust.

She kicked up the volume some more so that her hearing took over. The sight of the messy room faded. She listened again to the tale of Major Tom. What had he discovered in those moments in space? What insights did he gain? How much had he grown? What would his next life bring him?

He wouldn’t have been bothered by stickers on an electric cord, or sand in the dishwasher. Those things were irrelevant.

He would have bought paints by now, reclaimed the office, reclaimed a dream.

He was a space traveler. He glowed brightly. He was remembered by all. He was a Supernova.

Emily kicked up the volume again, planning the décor for a home office renovation, her mind igniting with the names of all the paint colors she’d need to paint a nebula. Major Tom’s name echoed on the track.

Major Tom was dead in the end, sure, but not dead inside.

And neither was she.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.ca/

 

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July 11 – Sixteen Months

Heart is brokenfix

A piece of my heart ripped from my soul
Sixteen months ago,
Since then so many cliches of life and death
And sometimes there are no words,
No white, no black,
Just mucky grey between masses of nothing.

We honour you in death as we never did in life,
But isn’t that the way of humans—
Not missing something until it’s gone,
Withholding words until it’s too late.

I’d give all my next heartbeats to
Hug you one last time,
To tell you “I love you” in case you didn’t know
Because no one can hear those words enough,
I’d ask for forgiveness for my wrongs,
For not being perfect,
But throughout your thirty-six years
I tried my best,
But still, I could have done more.
We can all do more.

Balloons don’t go to Heaven
And though lovely
With colourful meaning and love,
That rubbery sheath
Harms the environment.
We need to protect our future
As I couldn’t protect yours,
A mama can only do so much,
Which I did not know until your death.

I tried so hard to save you,
But could I have done more?
Though my heart says otherwise
My mind screeches NO!
The word “incurable” exists
And I don’t know why,
Prayers, doctors, money…
Nothing could save you.

I’ll grieve every day with that
Empty hole in my heart,
That missing fragment I live without,
For I still breathe and function,
I still eat and drink and play
But I’m not whole.
My heart can never be repaired.
No amount of thread or glue can help.
Not even tissues can dry all my tears.
Nothing can bring you back.
Nothing.

I’m not sure of my beliefs,
What my future holds after I’m gone.
Will we meet again?
I’m sorry to waver,
To not fully believe,
I’m like my father who opined that
Once we’re gone, we’re gone, and
Nothing remains but stone or ash.

But forever and always:
There are whispers in the wind,
Rustling through the trees,
Birds chirping,
Deer scampering across the field.
Perhaps it’s you, calling out.

I think of you too often,
Wondering where you are
In this game of life and death.
Within this vast landscape of living
Where does life end and death begin?
When does death end?

My son, my son,
These are words I could never imagine
saying, writing, or thinking.
Who could ever predict this loss?
Not I.
And now I ponder the future
And other wretched events that linger,
For if your death occurred, nothing is sacred
and more loss surely waits,
Waiting like the moon to rise or the sun to set,
For no one is immune to life and death.

We all have our beginnings and our endings,
And, oh, how horrid the endings.

 

Matt candle crop

 

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WOLVES DON’T KNOCK

In honour of Canada Day (July 1) and the U.S. July 4: WOLVES DON’T KNOCK is on sale for $10.99 U.S. until July 6. Amazon.com
Also available in Canada for approx. $14.50 on Amazon.ca
Available locally from the author for $15.00.
Wolves Don't Knock FINAL PRINT COVER

Twenty-two-year-old Miranda escapes from her abductor and the wolves that have tormented her soul for six long years. She returns to her childhood home where her mother, Sharon, caring for Miranda’s son, Kevin, has feared for her daughter’s fate. Uncertainty and distrust taint the first year after Miranda’s return. Miranda and Sharon hide secrets they dare not reveal while constantly wondering when Miranda’s kidnapper will reappear. Can mother and daughter bury their demons and repair their strained relationship? Can Miranda bond with the baby she never knew and find the love she so desperately wants? Will Kevin’s father play a role? Will Sharon find the answers she needs to recover from her own troubled past?

Set in Halifax and vicinity, Nova Scotia.

Although this book deals with sensitive issues, there are no graphic sexual scenes.

 

PRE-PUBLICATION REVIEWS:

What a story! What a read! It reminded me a bit of The Room and, of course, a couple other stories like this one. It is engaging though it has difficult themes and elements. —ML

I love the parallel mother/daughter relationship and once the grandmother gets involved, it truly turns into a generational problem. The knock-knock jokes are a stroke of genius. You have wonderful symbolism and use it well throughout. And all the “wolf” connections and descriptions are soooo perfect this should be in a lit course to teach symbolism! —PL

A 5-star novel. Buy it. So many elements of suspense weaved through Wolves Don’t Knock that you feel you can’t read and turn the pages fast enough to get to the end…a real page-turner, holding this reader’s attention from opening to the end. The many threads woven throughout this novel left me exhausted by the end. That is a very good thing…. A lot of the introspections were the best passages in the novel. Often beautifully written… Joyce Carol Oates uses intensive character introspections in a lot of her work. She can get away with it because she has the skills to make those introspections fascinating. So does this author…  —RA

Wolves Don’t Knock is a spell-binding novel that delves into the mysteries of a traumatized young woman’s psyche, as she fights to regain a sense of worth. As the story progresses, the variety of well-developed characters will keep the reader turning the pages. Thumbs up and five stars to this talented author. —KA

 

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The Spot Writers – “Silkie Samaritan” by Phil Yeats

Welcome to The Spot Writers. The June prompt is to update a legend or legendary character/beast: bring it into the modern world, or add a twist that isn’t consistent with the original legend.

This week’s story comes from Phil Yeats. Phil (using his Alan Kemister pen name) recently published his first novel. A Body in the Sacristy, the first in the Barrettsport Mysteries series of soft-boiled police detective stories set in an imaginary Nova Scotia coastal community is available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Body-Sacristy-Barrettsport-Mysteries-Book-ebook/dp/B07CK94SKV/

***

Silkie Samaritan by Phil Yeats

She’d stumbled along the familiar path from the manor house to the distant shore. Storm clouds obscured the heavens, and the fog was exceptionally thick. She lost her way several times and lurched blindly amongst boulders and brambles before regaining the familiar path.

In the darkest predawn hours, she reached the cobblestone beach. Unseen, the relentlessly pounding surf beckoned from only a few yards away. She dropped her winter coat onto the cobbles and stumbled toward the sea. When she saw the effervescence created by waves breaking upon the shore, she unbuckled her shoes and kicked them off. As she stood, she loosened the ribbon and let her nightdress fall to the ground.

She stood shivering in the frigid winter night wearing only her chemise. She stepped forward onto the slippery ice-cold cobbles at the water’s edge. A few more steps and the undertow would claim her, ending her miserable existence forevermore.

A large wave washed ashore covering her feet with frigid water. She noticed the intruder as she instinctively stepped back. He disappeared as the fog swirled around trees at the edge of the beach and reappeared several seconds later. Closer now, she could distinguish his features.

He was young, not yet twenty, and strikingly handsome. When he spoke, his voice seemed familiar. But she was certain she’d never seen him before.

He stood just beyond reach, drifting in and out of focus as the fog swirled about him. He was too far away to restrain her, but his bright twinkling eyes held her in thrall.

“Please, reconsider,” he said. “There must be a better solution.”

How could he assess her choices? He couldn’t know how she stood at sixteen with the hopes and ambitions of the fairest and most accomplished maiden in the parish. Or how the handsome young John Dunsmuir had been smitten at the balls, hanging on her every word and action, lavishing praise and dancing with her one dance after another?

Then her handsome doctor disappeared, and six months later her father promised her in marriage to the only son of the local squire. Her financial security would be assured, but the squire’s son was nearer fifty than forty and ugly as sin with a miserable disposition that matched his appearance.

On their wedding night, he beat her when he failed to consummate their marriage. Eighteen months later, she remained a virgin, but the regular beatings became harsher. Tonight, when she stumbled from the house, one eye was swollen shut, blood dribbled from her lip, and she cradled her arm beneath her breasts to minimize the pain.

How could this enigmatic stranger offer her any option but the one she’d chosen?

He held out a neatly folded stack of clothes. “Remove your chemise and don these.”

She inspected the clothes, rougher cloth than she was accustomed to and drab colours, but they’d be warm. As her will to end her life waned, she was feeling the cold. She grabbed the grey-brown trousers and pulled them over her legs and up under her chemise. Strange to be wearing a sailor’s trousers, but they fit well.

“Next, the shirt. We must leave all your clothes on the beach.” He twisted away holding out the clothes while looking toward the path to the village.

She also turned away, hoping to hide the bruises her husband had inflicted.

He turned back toward her after she’d buttoned up the shirt. It was made of finer cloth, and like the trousers, fit perfectly. Next, a pair of well-fitting shoes and then a waistcoat. This was tight across her chest, but he insisted she fasten all the buttons, flattening her breasts and aggravating the pain from her bruises. When he passed her a boy’s cap and instructed her to tuck her blond curls up inside, she realized what he had done. He’d disguised her as a lad, one on his way to join a ship.

She followed, lacking the will to do anything but follow his instructions, to a small house overlooking the harbour.

“This is Mrs. Page. She will keep you hidden and prepare you for the voyage. Please, follow her instructions without question. I will return when it’s safe.” He turned and departed without another word, leaving her in the care of the matronly Mrs. Page.

He returned four days later in the early morning light.

“Come,” he said picking up the sailor’s kitbag Mrs. Page had packed. “We sail on the morning tide.

Two days later, they were at a decent, but modest hotel in Paris, and in the months that followed visited Vienna, Prague, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Naples. In the autumn, they returned to Le Havre and boarded a brigantine destined for the New World.

During the months of their grand tour of Europe, her saviour acted like a true gentleman, always attentive to her needs and never acting inappropriately. Finally, on the voyage across the Atlantic, he provided an explanation.

“I was always a strange child. Many called me a changeling, but my half-brother, John, always stood up for me, saved my life on several occasions. You know John, he courted you when you were sixteen, but your father rejected him as a suitor, claiming he had insufficient prospects. He departed determined to improve his prospects. When you married, his dream didn’t die. He remained determined to somehow win you back.”

“But how? My fate was sealed once I married.”

“I chose to repay my debt by watching for a chance to free you from your bonds.”

“And you’re taking me to him?”

“I will leave you in Halifax and you will travel by coach to Windsor where John is professor of medicine at the newly established Kings College. He can now offer you the life you deserve.”

“Won’t you come with me to visit your brother and receive your reward for all you’ve done for me?”

He shook his head, a wistful look in his eye. “In Halifax, my job will be done.”

The late autumn storm, the worst in living memory, drove the mighty ship toward an unforgiving lee shore. The splintering of massive timbers upon offshore rocks assigned the ship and crew to watery graves.

He grabbed her by her arms, dove into the waves and struck out for shore. With mighty undulating kicks, he battled the turbulent seas and incessant undertow. His strength spent at the pounding surf line, he thrust her into the outstretched arms of rescuers braving the undertow from the shore. When they lifted her weight from his arms, he sighed, rolled onto his side, and let the undercurrent drag him into the depths. The child of a silkie from the sea, he’d grown to a man upon the land. Now, he would return forevermore, a silkie in the briny deep.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.ca/

 

 

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The Spot Writers – “On the Edge, the Story of Peggy and Sam” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. The June prompt is to update a legend or legendary character/beast: bring it into the modern world, or add a twist that isn’t consistent with the original legend.

This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Her first novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, will be available for purchase by the end of June. “Follow” her website www.writingwicket.wordpress.com for updates and/or “like” her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WolvesDontKnock/.

***

“On the Edge, the Story of Peggy and Sam” by Cathy MacKenzie

Peggys Cove, a small rural community on the eastern shore of St. Margarets Bay, is one of Nova Scotia’s most visited landmarks, picturesque with its lighthouse and deadly waves crashing against the huge boulders. According to local legend, a young girl named Margaret was the only survivor of a shipwreck off Halibut Rock, near the cove. (Peggy, of course, is the nickname for Margaret, hence the name of the cove.) Margaret/Peggy was found by a fisherman who took her to his home, and she was adopted by this man and his wife. No doubt, they all lived “happily ever after.”

In this fictionalized story, I’ve brought Peggy of the Cove into the modern world, where we find her floundering in the Atlantic Ocean…

When Peggy spat out salty water, it was as if she were in the throes of a nightmare, for why was she in the water? But her predicament was real—too real.

She gasped for breath and tread water. She scanned the vast waters. What—a lighthouse?

She was a fan of lighthouses and immediately recognized this one as the lighthouse at Peggys Cove. Peggys Cove, the place where legends began and ended. An abundance of lobster chowder and buttery biscuits. All varieties of fresh seafood. Tourists who disregarded the dangers of the rocks.

She’d been there several years previously and had even admonished several carefree teens who bounded over the boulders as if they were invincible. “Watch for the black,” she had shouted. “Don’t go near the edge. If you tumble, you’ll disappear forever.” They ignored her, of course, so she let them be, and they were fine in the end, thank God. She wasn’t certain what she would have done had one of them toppled into the sea. Would she have jumped in? Nope, not her. Be reckless in your life; suffer the consequences.

Consequences. Was she suffering consequences? What had she done to deserve this?

Her head ached, and the shark-infested waters didn’t calm her nerves. It was a wonder a shark hadn’t shown its face yet. If it did, she wouldn’t fare well.

She made an effort to swim toward shore, where relentless waves slapped against a wall of boulders. Would the waves crash her to the rocks? Wet rocks were slippery and dangerous, and she wouldn’t manage to get on shore even if she reached land. Barefoot, she would slip and slide on the rocks, and if she slid back into the water, she wouldn’t make it a second time. She had amazed herself she’d made it thus far, not that she knew where her journey had begun.

How the hell had she ended up in the water? Why the hell couldn’t she remember? What the Sam Hill—her father’s favourite expression.

Sam!

Samuel Reid, her fiancé.

She shivered and swallowed more water. She found it ironic the more she drank, the thirstier she became.

She was slowly losing strength. She must get to shore.

What had happened to her? Journey—a boat! A cruise boat. They had been on a cruise. A seven-day cruise out of Manhattan. Her memory was returning, albeit slowly. They had boarded the ship at Manhattan, with ports of call at Portland, Bar Harbour, Saint John, and Halifax, ending with two days of cruising from Halifax back to New York.

What “leg” of the cruise was she mired in? Did she “disembark” on the way to Halifax or on the return journey to Manhattan?

More nerve-wracking, how had she ended up in the ocean? No one could accidentally fall over the forty-eight-inch railings. No amount of booze would cause her to be drunk enough to jump into the sea. Someone had to have pushed her.

Horror stories assaulted her. Husbands and boyfriends who wanted to be rid of their partners. Someone had pushed her, and who else but Sam? But why? They loved each other, didn’t they? She did, at any rate, and had always thought herself to be a good judge of character.

They were to marry in December, two weeks before Christmas. The wedding had been planned—by her, of course—and invites mailed. Two months from now. A big wedding, too. Gifts had already poured in. They were both popular, having graduated Dalhousie in June. No jobs yet, but such was life. The jobs would come, though, and they’d end up happily married, forever after, with the proverbial white picket fence and two-point-five kids—if that stat was still correct. She hadn’t checked recently. And who’d have half a kid, anyhow?

They’d taken out life insurance policies four months previously. Sam’s idea, wasn’t it? She hadn’t thought much about it—until this moment. “Might as well get coverage now,” she remembered him saying. “One less thing to do after we’re married.”

She spat out more water. Was she getting the bends? No, from the little she knew about the condition, the bends were when you were deep underwater, your brain exploding within your skull. She was above the sea, but still dangerous and brutal. The sea claimed whatever and whomever at will.

She must reach the rocks. She was confident she could grasp hold and haul herself up no matter the eel-like surface. And someone would be there to rescue her.

Please, God, let someone be there.

Figures and distances weren’t her forte. How much farther? How much longer could she last? Not that it mattered. She must keep swimming. Move her arms, kick her legs. Nothing to it, right?

Her life depended upon it.

Sam. Had he really done this? Why? Why, oh why?

They’d been drinking; they always drank. Who didn’t? “One more glass of wine?” he had asked. “Sure, just one,” she had replied. Booze was free onboard. They’d purchased the beverage package.

Wait! Who had purchased it? Him or her?

No matter. Didn’t matter. Gotta reach shore. “Please, God,” she mumbled. “I’ll never drink again if you save me.”

Didn’t everyone bargain when death neared?

No, death wouldn’t come for her. And when she found Sam, well, she didn’t want to think what she would do.

She forced her arms to dig deep into the water, inch by inch. Where was the splash of her feet? Shouldn’t she hear the splash? Wasn’t she kicking?

Forget it. Keep going. She was moving. The rocks were closer. Black rocks, but she’d manage. Just get me there. I’ll handle the rest.

She pretended she was a mermaid. Mermaids existed in the water. She’d live if she were a mermaid. Who knows, maybe she was one.

Kick! Kick, kick.

Her feet were numb, so maybe she had developed a mermaid tail. Flap! Flap, flap.

Nearer. Almost there. A few more kicks. A few more flails of her arms.

The water was warmer. She was warmer. Another sign of death?

She was close. So close. So close…

“Please, God, don’t let this be a mirage.”

She touched the sharp edge of a rock. A big rock. A boulder.

“I’m safe,” she muttered.

She looked up. A cliff. Too high. She’d never scale that.

She latched hold, her hand slipped, she swallowed water.

She reached again.

She managed to hoist herself onto a low-lying surface, where she lay, panting. The October sun shone across her. Warm. No breeze, no dastardly wind. No crash of the waves against the rocks.

Anyone there? she wanted to shout, but she possessed no strength.

Let me rest. Just let me rest.

 

Note:

My story “Margaret of the Sea” (perhaps a bit too dark, but that’s what the guidelines wanted!), another fictionalized account of Peggy/Margaret, will be published in an upcoming anthology titled Creatures in Canada – A Darkling Around the World Anthology, by Lycan Valley Press. This anthology consists of one “legend” story per province in Canada, a story that could have only happened in that particular province. My story was selected for Nova Scotia. Book will be available on Amazon.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.ca/

 

 

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The Spot Writers – “Cerebus” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is among the most difficult I’ve tackled. In fact, when I shared it with my student writing group, they were all stumped. Update a legend or legendary character/beast: bring it into the modern world, or add a twist that isn’t consistent with the original legend.

Today’s post comes from Val Muller, author of the Corgi Capers kidlit mystery series. Learn more at www.CorgiCapers.com. And if you like modern twists on mythology, check out her supernatural mystery The Man with the Crystal Ankh: https://www.amazon.com/Man-Crystal-Ankh-Hollow-Book-ebook/dp/B01N75XTGK/

***

Cerebus by Val Muller

 

“Where are we?” asked the largest of the heads.

“I’m thirsty,” answered the middle head, craning its neck in search of water.

“Meow,” said the third.

“Meow?” the other two repeated.

“Meow,” confirmed the third.

“Where are we?” asked the largest head again, its eyes devoid of intellect. An affront to its position. I sighed. That should have been me—head head, brain of Cerebus. What was Ambrus doing in my spot? If I were still in charge, I would have crushed ten souls by now. Twelve! And the three of them were just standing there.

“You’re on Earth, you twits,” I answered. “Don’t you remember anything?”

“Earth?” repeated the largest head—my head—in Ambrus’s lame voice. He said it the way you remember a dream you just woke from, a dream you’ll forget in the next moments. “It’s very bright up here,” he complained.

“Yes,” agreed the second head. It had to be Mikula. He had taken Ambrus’s place as middle head.

We all turned to the third head. “Meow,” it said.

I looked down to note that I was licking my paw. Of all the undignified…I growled at myself, but it came out as more of a purr. In fact, I found myself thinking about finding a nice cardboard box to curl up in.

How atrocious.

And what the hell is cardboard?

“I’m confused,” said the largest head. I glanced at him. I couldn’t help but admire his—my—chiseled jawline, its bone-crushing teeth, its fiery mane of hair, more lion than dog. Oh, but those vacant eyes. I narrowed my own.

“When are you not confused, Ambrus?” I asked. Ambrus was our brawn, not our brain. He did what I told him. He devoured souls when I didn’t feel like it, he pounded his head into the rocks of the underworld to create cavernous cave-ins. He told us when we needed sustenance. Pure beast. He did none of the actual thinking.

“Meow,” said the third head.

“Wait,” said Ambrose. “What’s going on?”

I growled—trying to make it as purr-less as possible. Any imbecile could see what had happened.

“We were sent up and forward,” I said.

“Up?” asked Mikula.

“Forward?” asked Ambrose.

“Meow,” said the third head.

“Up.” I motioned to the surroundings with my paw. I was surprised at how dexterous the feline appendage was. I pointed to the alleyway, the buildings, the glowing lights of the city.

“And forward.” I pointed to the airplanes in the sky, the automobiles, the indicators of the current era.

“But why?” asked the idiot who occupied my head.

This had literally been explained to us moments ago when we were still in Hades and still in our own era.

“We’re being proactive,” I said. “Sorting and gathering souls for Hades. Things were getting crowded. Gods, haven’t you read Dante’s Inferno? We’re supposed to scare up some people into behaving better. Hades is tired of dealing with so many down in his turf. We’ve got to slow down the influx of souls.”

Mikula nodded like it was the first he was hearing of all this. That’s all he ever did. Agree and obey.

The third head meowed. I wished the other two would just bite his head off already. There were fewer things more useless to me than cats. And here I was…

“When we transported,” I explained, “we were supposed to be sent somewhere deserted. You know, to fully materialize. Hades can see all, but he apparently missed that there was a mangy alleycat right here, licking its damned paws just as we arrived. The sheer force our arrival crashing into its existence, and my head was taken by idiot over there, leaving Ambrose’s head ripe for Mikula’s taking. And me…” I meowed so loudly I felt sick and forced up a hairball.

A human walked by, talking into a sparkly device. The three heads turned to gauge my reaction.

“I thought we were bigger,” Ambrose said. Indeed, the human had towered over us. “We used to be able to devour men in a single gulp. That I remember.”

“Souls have no size,” I said. “In this world… “ But what could I say? How could I justify Cerebus’s new diminutive size with talk of limited resources of the laws of physics in the real world? These partners of mine came from an alternate dimension, and they barely understood anything. It was pointless. We weren’t going to devour souls anytime soon. And we certainly weren’t doing Hades any favors.

A human walked by. “Meow,” I said, swallowing my disgust.

“Awww,” the human said. “Are you lost, little kitty? Stay right here.” She disappeared into a doorway and emerged a moment later with a little can. She flicked the top, and it made the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. I leapt to her feet and devoured the sweet ambrosia that was trapped inside. Fish and liver pate. I couldn’t remember a thing in Hades I liked better.

When I finished, I glanced up. Music from an open window above the alley had lulled the three idiots to sleep. Their body was warm and their breathing, rhythmic. I purred once and leapt into the crook of their front leg, snuggling in for a nap. Before I fell asleep, I admired the clean paw I had just licked. Its calico pattern was something to rival the finest artisan’s work. Then I licked it some more, just to be sure.

It’s what cats do, after all.

* * *

The Spot Writers:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/ 

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/

 

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The Spot Writers – “Jason’s Revenge” by Phil Yeats

Welcome to The Spot Writers. May’s prompt is to write a story about a character playing a prank on another. This week’s story comes from Phil Yeats. Phil (using his Alan Kemister pen name) recently published his first novel. A Body in the Sacristy, the first in the Barrettsport Mysteries series of soft-boiled police detective stories set in an imaginary Nova Scotia coastal community is available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Body-Sacristy-Barrettsport-Mysteries-Book-ebook/dp/B07CK94SKV/

*****

Jason’s Revenge

By Phil Yeats (a.k.a. Alan Kemister)

Jason sidled through a secondary entrance and headed home. The posse caught up within a block. When one of his grade twelve classmates kept him behind to explain a lesson, he knew they would.

“Hey, Romeo,” a posse member exclaimed. “You should be hustling the delectable Ellen McNair, not helping pathetic losers who can’t do their homework.”

“What!” Jason replied. They always tormented him, but this thrust was unexpected.

“Don’t give us that shit. We saw you and Ellen with your heads together. You better get your member in there before Butch beats the crap out of you.”

Jason turned to confront his adversaries. If they told their distorted story to her boyfriend, his life was toast. He knew she was trouble and avoided her like the plague, but she’d cornered him with endless questions about her classwork.

“I was helping the dumb bitch. Ellen hasn’t a clue about math.”

“Careful, dude,” one replied. “Ellen’s okay, and we’ve heard she’s hot for you.”

“No way! She wouldn’t acknowledge my existence if she didn’t need help with her homework.”

Knut, the head of the posse, shook his head. “You got it wrong, man. Ellen thinks you’re the deep, dark intellectual. The guy who’ll be leaning back in his fancy black leather chair in the executive suite when Butch is digging ditches.”

Jason shook his head and sauntered away, hoping they only meant to tease him. His nonchalance was fake. If he stayed and argued, they might turn violent.

“Trust us, man,” Knut called out. “Come to the beach tomorrow afternoon and give her a little encouragement. She’ll melt in your arms.”

 

The next afternoon, Jason spotted Ellen talking to three girls. No way she’s interested but maybe one of the others… “Hey, Ellen, how’s it going?”

“Bugger off, you stupid twerp. At school, I might need your help with an assignment, but here…” she gazed at the bikini-clad girls and macho guys, “I have better things to do.”

Within seconds, Butch towered over him, rhythmically pounding his right fist into his left palm. Off to the side, Knut and his posse were killing themselves laughing. Jason realized he’d been set up.

Butch launched his attack before Jason could talk his way out. He ducked the first blow and landed two good punches before Butch’s size and strength prevailed. Jason went down.

After a vicious kick, Butch and three girls sauntered away without giving Jason another glance. The final girl, a cute pixie with glasses who always wore her long brown hair in a ponytail, knelt beside Jason. Her name was Kristin.

“Are you okay?” she asked as he struggled to sit. She put her arms around him and gave him a big hug. It hurt, but he didn’t care. “That was like so totally unfair.”

Jason glanced at Knut’s posse as Kristin helped him to his feet. They were no longer laughing.

Jason and Kristin strutted past Butch and Ellen to the snack bar where Jason purchased sodas. They snuggled on a bench and sipped their drinks. The rest, as they say, is history.

*****

The Spot Writers:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/

 

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The Spot Writers – “Painted Red” by Eric Egger

Welcome to The Spot Writers. May’s prompt is to write a story about a character playing a prank on another. This week’s story comes from a guest writer to the group. Eric Egger is founder and publisher at Freedom Forge Press, a press dedicated to celebrating freedom and the spirit of the individual.

***

Painted Red

By Eric Egger

 

Every “i” had been dotted, every “t” had been crossed. Charles glanced at his beachside café, surveying every detail. The menu sparkled. The chrome napkin holders reflected the setting ocean side sun. The café’s pristine magnitude was overshadowed only by the pride in Charles’ eyes.

William poked Xavier in the ribs. Their roommate had worked so hard for his new business, and evening-before-opening-day-jitters wasn’t making him any more relaxed. The guy needed a laugh. They couldn’t wait to see the look on his face…

They did it just as rehearsed. William arrived with a stack of mail dated two weeks prior and a look of concern. He pretended to emerge from the sidewalk, spotting Xavier randomly.

“X, I think this is yours.” William held out an envelope from the credit card company.

Xavier feigned surprise. “Damn, I was wondering when that bill would arrive. Where the hell was it?”

William case his eyes downward just like they rehearsed. “Sorry, man. This whole stack of mail musta slid behind the couch.” He spoke louder than necessary, seeking Charles’ reaction in his periphery.

But Charles was all business. He’d spent hours battling city hall for permits, researching state and local laws, taking all the right people out to dinner… and all he ever talked about was all the red tape he had to slice through to open up a simple beach-side restaurant. Rules this and regulations that.

William flipped through a few additional envelopes and put on his best and most convincing look simulating both horror and shame. “William, there’s one here for you too…uh…it looks like it might be important.”

The government seal was easy enough to grab off the city’s website. The rest almost came naturally. “Board of Business Equalization and Regulation,” the city hall mailing address, even some official sounding text about “applicant’s proposed color scheme was deemed not in keeping with the objectives of the Board of Equalization action zone.

Charles’ eyes popped open as he grabbed the letter and quickly read its contents. His demeanor shifted as nervous energy transformed almost alchemically into righteous indignation.

“Where was this letter, Bill? It was postmarked two weeks ago!” The rage was building.

“Sorry Charles, like I said…behind the couch. Is it about your café?”

“Those bastards said they’re denying an occupancy permit because the color scheme of my umbrellas and awning aren’t uniform and don’t match the city’s approved color palette. What the fu—reaking hell am I supposed to do about that now? I was supposed to have my opening day tomorrow and they sent this two weeks ago and I’m just seeing it now for the first time because you constantly let the house become a hobo crap pile!”

“Whoa, Charl—” William began a feigned protest, but couldn’t finish as Charles made a bee line for the door and slammed it closed behind him.

Xavier looked sheepishly at William. “Think we should tell him it’s just a joke?”

“Nah, he’ll be ok, just needs to blow off some steam.”

***

The next morning William and Xavier looked for Charles in their apartment but couldn’t find him anywhere. He hadn’t come home last night, and the roommates were getting worried. They walked a few blocks over to the café, where they found a bleary eyed and paint splattered Charles painting over his awnings.

“All right! Hey, first customers!” Charles greeted his roommates with a sleep deprived grin. “No problem, I took my phone to the hardware store, matched up the color from the approved color swatch and painted all the umbrellas and awnings overnight. The website said any letter with deficiencies that weren’t structural or safety related could be used as a temporary occupancy permit as long as I maintained adequate records to prove that I made the changes scheduled a re-inspection within 21 days of the letter. Even though it was 2 weeks ago, I still had 6 days left. So I’m officially open for business!”

Xavier and William looked back and forth sheepishly. The prior maroon and navy combination had looked just fine, but the custom paint-over-fabric job had not gone well.

William started to speak, intending to fess up to the prank when a white SUV sped up. An officious city badge brandishing man approached the group waving a yellow piece of paper in his other hand. “Zoning and Ordinance Enforcement, I’m here on official business! There have been several complaints. This is a cease and desist demand ordering the halt to the opening of this business concern for non compliance with the city’s gentrification zone guidelines. We’re trying to gentrify this part of the city, boys. That means making it look like a place people would want to come and spend money, not making it look like someone painted a sleep deprived elementary art project in the dark!

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.ca/

Eric Egger http://www.freedomforgepress.com

 

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The Spot Writers – “What is Yellow and Stiff? What Looks Like a Deflated Beach Ball?”

Welcome to The Spot Writers. May’s prompt is to write a story about a character playing a prank on another. This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Watch for Cathy’s upcoming novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK.

We also welcome two new members to The Spot Writers: Phil Yeats and Chiara De Giorgi. Check out their websites at the end of this post.

***

What is Yellow and Stiff? What Looks Like a Deflated Beach Ball?

by Cathy MacKenzie

My Harry was the funniest person ever. Our friends said I was funny, too, but I could never top his pranks. He had always been the life of every party.

One evening, a mere three weeks before his death of a sudden heart attack, a group of us were at the Admiral Arms. We had ordered drinks and sat around the table, gabbing and waiting for the music to start, when Harry abruptly disappeared upstairs to the washroom.

In the lull between the first song and the second, he announced his presence with a loud guffaw, and sporting his trademark sly grin, descended down the winding staircase. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I hoped no one else saw what I saw.

He sashayed toward our table, grabbed my arm, and pulled me on the dancefloor. Snuggled against my husband, he led me into the dance steps, twirling me to Eddie Cantor’s “Makin’ Whoopee,” a song from the twenties, when we had married.

I smiled. Even at eight-nine, Harry still had “it.” I still turned him on, and I melted into him.

I basked in the warmth that coursed through my body until he ruined the moment when he ceased dancing, which caused everyone else to stop, as well. The music continued to play as it had during the sinking of the Titanic. How apropos, I thought later.

He broke away from me. With an exaggerated flourish of his arm and an even bigger grin, he reached into his pants.

Voila! He brandished a banana!

I couldn’t help but look at his crotch: deflated like an air-deprived beach ball.

Pfft! Gone!

beach ball

(My grandfather, Harry T. MacKenzie, always a prankster, actually played this prank on my grandmother, who was just as silly as he was. Unfortunately, he died when I was a year old, but my grandmother loved to tell this story.)

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.ca/

 

 

 

 

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The Spot Writers – “Ms. Spindle’s Retirement Gift” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story in which one character plays a prank on another. Today’s tale comes to us from Val Muller, author of The Scarred Letter, the young adult reboot of Hawthorne’s masterpiece, and Corgi Capers, the kidlit, canine-packed mystery series.

For this month’s rotation, we’re featuring guest writer Eric Egger, publisher at Freedom Forge Press, who will write this prompt with the added challenge of connecting it to the theme of freedom, as with everything having to do with FFP.

***

Ms. Spindle’s Retirement Gift

By Val Muller

Robbie Stewart was the kid she had every year. He came in different names, different bodies, he took different courses. But he was always there. Every iteration was a natural leader or especially talented, or at least had the potential to be, but he always squandered his natural charisma for ill and chaos. Sometimes he riled up the rest of the class. Sometimes he set off another conflicting personality and made a 90-minute class last all afternoon. Sometimes he popped into Ms. Spindle’s head as she tried to fall asleep. Or when she was cooking, one of his irritating antics would replay in her mind, causing her to burn dinner. Sometimes he appeared as a character in a movie or television show, ruining her immersion.

For thirty-seven years she had put up with the Robbie Stewarts of the world. For thirty-seven years she grinned and bore it. She’d always planned on going for just three more. Three short years to round her career to an even forty. Just three more years of Robbie Stewarts. But last month’s faculty meeting had put an end to that. The new initiative, following the latest educational trends, dictated that next year neither she nor any other member of the faculty at Piney Field High School would be allowed to hold students accountable to deadlines. Adhering to deadlines was not part of the academic standards, and it was harmful to student learning.

Theoretically, the Robbie Stewarts of the world could turn in every single assignment from September onward at the end of June. She knew this because Robbie Stewart, sitting in third block study hall, had gotten wind of the new initiative and was questioning her about it.

“So if it was next year, then if I held on to all my assignments and turned them in on June 1, you’d still have to grade them?” he asked, his mouth cracking into a smile. His face was oily with acne, and his teeth needed flossing.

She did not answer, but she suspected her involuntary cringe was all the encouragement he needed.

“And what if every student did the same? You would have to grade every single assignment from every single student on June 1.” He stifled mock concern. “That would take you hours. You’d have no time to yourself. Not on weekends, not on evenings. It would almost mirror the way teachers make students feel. Having assignments intruding into all our waking hours…” He was mumbling now, taking the joke beyond its natural stopping point, making a few other students chuckle. “…would barely even have time to shower, let alone eat.”

Luckily, this particular Robbie Stewart would graduate in a few weeks, but another would replace him, and next year’s R.S. would surely take full advantage of the new late work policy, exposing all the loopholes before the administration team even had a chance to address them.

“It’s not worth it,” her husband agreed over dinner that night. “You put in your time. Not everything has to be neat and even. Thirty-seven is just as good as forty.” Indeed, the difference in pension was a mere seventeen dollars and fifty-three cents a month if she stayed the extra three years.

“I won’t get my forty-year service pin,” she said. “Or my watch.” The district gave a fancy, engraved watch to all teachers who made it to the forty-year mark.

Her husband smiled. “I’ll buy you a watch, Mrs. Spindle. Any color you want. Even gold.”

She thought about Robbie Stewart. This year, he was big on taking pictures of assignments and distributing them to classmates. He didn’t charge for this service; he did it for the fame. She’d caught him in October with a copy of the vocabulary quiz, one he’d gotten from a recycling bin at the end of the previous school year. She’d caught him using his watch to send texts with answers to the fifteen-page history packet right before the due date. She’d tried to turn him in twice, but each time, Robbie Stewart cleared his phone so that when Admin searched it, they found nothing incriminating.

Except Mrs. Spindle’s repressed frown.

Robbie Stewart was on her mind that night as she agreed to the retirement with her husband. After that, her teaching took a noticeable dive. She relied on decades’ worth of material for the final weeks of the year. She took sick days to accommodate several three- and four-day weekends. She allowed students to view more movies in one month than she’d allowed in the last five years. And while they watched, she just stared and stared. The time was growing short. She had only days to make her move.

She had been watching carefully, these new smart devices students had. There were watches and jewelry and little fobs you stuck to your sneaker. They tracked movement, sent alerts and notifications, and even browsed the web.

Robbie Stewart had the most impressive watch of them all. It was a blue one, a unisex band not too thick. It was a serene blue, too, the color she imagined retirement would be. Whenever he got a text, the watch glowed, a pulsing blue light. And she knew he could send texts from it, too, and access the Internet. She wasn’t sure the details of how it worked; she knew only that she desired that watch more than she desired her service pin or the platinum-colored watch the district would have bestowed upon her three years hence. It was a symbol of the menacing power of Robbie Stewart.

She popped in another movie and opened her laptop. Years of creativity, repressed by student apathy and teenage angst, came flooding out. Her years of teaching journalism and research papers mingled together in the cauldron of her brain, coalescing into the perfect concoction. It was fed by the renewed energies allowed by her recent long weekends and lack of lesson planning. It was the inspiration of a career’s worth of self-indulgence, all packed into a single moment.

She experimented with fonts and columns, with stock art and bylines, until it looked the part. She left the class alone to watch the film and trotted to the copier. She photocopied the article once, then photocopied the copy and its copy until it had that worn-out look that made it seem genuine, like something the main office would distribute.

And then she left the bait. When Robbie Stewart’s class came in, she left it tucked between the chair in front of him and his desk. It stuck out just enough to intrigue the lad. Before she started the film, she channeled all her years of teaching Shakespeare. With a performance worthy of an Emmy, she feigned concern.

“Students, I seem to have left an important article somewhere. If you happen to see it, please turn it in to me at once. No need to read it. In fact—” she hesitated and tried to make her face turn red and then pale— “It’s actually a bit controversial. It has nothing to do with you, mind you. Just with some policies going to be implemented next year.”

She stifled a smile as Robbie raised an eyebrow. As soon as her back was turned, she heard him snatch the article. She made a show of searching under several student desks as the movie commenced, not minding the young lad reading quietly at his desk.

As the students shuffled out, Robbie tossed something in the trash, leaving the room especially quietly. She waited until they all left. The room was silent and full of the emptying scent of teenagers. As the air cooled and freshened, she bent down to unroll a wad of paper. There was her article, well read. High school senior expelled as smart watch reveals cheating; college admission rescinded. She smiled again at her use of quotations from the principal of the nearby county who was apparently receiving some kind of award for his groundbreaking sleuthing into student technology. Even the superintendent had been quoted, confirming the district’s ability to search student devices without warning.

She chuckled. If the article were true, Robbie’s watch probably contained enough evidence to get him expelled three times over. Too bad it was just really good fiction.

She wadded up the article to return to the trash when something twinkled in the trash can. There it was, in all its glory: Robbie Stewart’s blue watch. Abandoned for fear of it being a snitch. Her article had been more convincing than she thought.

The watch felt cool around her wrist, but it warmed almost immediately, and she swore she felt youth making its way from her skin into her blood and up her arm. She went to the main office right away to arrange leave for the rest of the year. Who needed to work three more years to make an even forty? She left school smiling, her trophy sparkling serenely around her wrist in the early June sun.

* * *

The Spot Writers is seeking another member. Have what it takes to write one flash fiction piece per month? Want it published on four different blogs? Need other flash pieces for your blog content? It’s a great way to stay motivated to write—and write for an audience. If interested, contact Val for details!

* * *

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Eric Egger: www.freedomforgepress.com/blog (guest this month)

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