The Escape ©2013 Written just for Grace McPherson

 

Escape

 

Grace was trapped. The room was small and cold. The stones that made up the wall, felt damp and slippery. She sat on the floor, pouting. Nothing had gone the way she had planned.

Only twenty days before, word had come to her father, the King of Doll that the King of Pol was moving against his Southern border. The south of Doll was the kingdom’s most fertile lands. They produced almost all of the food grown in Doll. The King of Pol wanted to take those lands away.

The coming war seemed fated. There had been tension on the border for many years.

It wasn’t like the Pol people were starving. In fact, just the opposite was true. They had so much extra food; they were selling it to five other kingdoms. Nobody could figure out why they wanted the Doll land, other than to force Doll to buy its food from Pol.

In an effort to understand, the King of Doll sent his smartest adviser south to investigate. She just happened to be his daughter, Grace.

Grace had been to the south, only once. A young boy she had met in school had invited her to come spend the winter holidays with his family in the small village of Teal. She had enjoyed her time in Teal with the boy Peter, and so had headed that way to begin her investigation.

Along the way, she met a man stumbling in the highway. Dismounting her horse, she asked if the man was alright. The man just stood and slowly weaved from one side to the other until he almost fell over. Grace was quick to catch him. She felt his forehead. He was burning up. In fact, his whole body felt inordinately very hot.

She had called to her cohorts to dismount and make camp so she could tend to the man. And so they did. Making camp near where the mountains met the fertile savannahs. As the others started a fire and prepared to make the evening meal, Grace tended to the man.

As she kept wet compresses on his forehead she wiped the sweat from his chest. She kept commenting that no human could be this hot. And so on into the night, she kept dipping the clothes into the cool stream nearby, and tried to cool the man down. She hoped it would help cure him from what he was suffering.

As the moon rose, the man’s eyes fluttered. He looked at her. He tried to say something; but could not. His mouth was parched.

Grace slowly placed a clean soaking cloth at his mouth. “Here, suck on this.” She knew that a person, who was very thirsty, would drink too much at one time. That could prove to be disastrous. He sucked the cloth dry; as he did the next three.

Finally, he could speak in a horse whisper. “Why?”

“Did I save you? Because you are a man; and who am I to choose, one of the other, to save or let die?

“But, you don’t know me?”

“You were walking on the road. You too are a traveler, the same as we. What kind of a person would I be if I did not offer the help I was so very capable of giving?”

He fingered the fine cloth of her travel clothes. “By your clothes, and these men, I would say that you were very rich and probably also powerful. Those kinds of people do not dismount to reach down to those on the ground.” Looking around, he noticed how late in the night it had become. “They also would not spend this kind of time applying cold compresses to a man burning from some unknown reason.”

One of the soldiers knelt down in his armored legs, and handed a bowl of sweet smelling soup to the man. “We would have to camp somewhere tonight.” Looking about, he nodded. “The Princess has chosen wisely.”

He pointed across the highway. “Over there, the ground is damp and we would ache in the bone by morning, and half of us would be sick by midday. Over there, is a thicket of Scratch weed, it would have been most uncomfortable for us to lie on.”

Nodding, he stood. “Yes, I would say that you were very lucky to be where we needed to be for the night.” He smiled and turned back to his duties at tending the fire. The gentle snores of others combined with the shearing sound of his metal greaves on his legs, as he walked, to create a kind of music in the night.

The man looked at Grace. “So I was right about you being rich and powerful.”

Grace smiled. She plopped down on her rump on the grass. Her metal greaves squeaked under her travel dress. Her legs were tired from kneeling over the man all evening.

She sighed and looked into the night. “Princess, yes. Rich and powerful . . . “ She slowly looked back at the man. “A ruler is nothing more than a farmer. We are only as successful as the land and the landsmen are. If their crops fail, we fail. If we encourage them to be successful and grow good crops, and make good merchandise, then we are also successful.”

“ . . . And rich.” The man insisted.

She pursed her lips. “We have enough food to eat, yes that is true. But there have been some years where the soup was more water than meat or vegetable. But we have made sure that our landsmen had enough to eat. For a starving landsman is too weak to work, and will not be able to plow, tend or harvest his crops.”

“So the landsmen are your crop, and you tend them so there is food on your table.”

“In a manner of speaking, yes; I guess you are right.” She smiled. She thought that her father would like the analogy. She hoped that she would be able to tell him later.

“So even though you are powerful, you still bend over to take care of those who don’t live in a fancy castle. Isn’t that a little patronizing?”

“Do you feel patronized that the Duke brought you a bowl of soup that an Earl cooked from a hare and a duck that I shot this afternoon? Or do you just feel well-fed?”

The man looked in his bowl. “Fed . . . But if there was just a tiny bit more?” He smiled.

Grace could have sworn she saw a brief flame in his eyes. But; his smile was warm, and she thought that there might be some more soup left. She took the bowl and rose.

The man watched her as she made her way towards the fire. She wove her way through her men, checking each of them as she went. One had rolled over, and she stopped and spread the blanket back over his body and shoulders. Another she spoke softly to, and he relaxed and went back to sleep. Finally, she made it to the pot that sat on the stone that ringed the quiet fire.

The old man rose on his one elbow and watched intently as she dished out the soup. She ladled most of it into his bowl, and looked and spoke to the soldier standing guard. He nodded his head and waved his open palm about, indicating the others. She scraped the last small ladle full into another bowl.

Rising, she took up a skin of water and filled the pot. She washed the water around the walls of the pot, and then put the pot back where the water would heat.

She took up the bowls and stood. Striding slowly back, she checked her men again. She smiled as she toed the blanket back over the young soldier’s shoulder. She watched a moment. The blanket stayed, he was soundly asleep.

As she handed the man his full bowl of soup, he nodded at the young man. “He has trouble with his blanket often?”

She glanced back at the man, and turned smiling with softness in her eye. “He is the son of the baker in the city. It will take him a little time to learn to tuck his blanket in around his armor.” She sat down cross-legged, her armor shearing with a musical sigh. “In our armor, we can’t feel when a blanket falls off our shoulders. So we can get very cold before we wake up. Once you are that cold, you can’t get you and your armor warm again until the sun returns.”

Thinking, she rocked forward. She placed her bowl on the ground between them, as she reached forward to feel his forehead. The man noticed that her bowl had very little soup in it. And to make it worse, it was all broth and no meat. He looked at the large chunks of meat and carrots piled in his broth.

She sat back. “You are still very hot.”

He mused. “I am always very hot. It is the nature of the beast I suppose.”

He pointed at the two bowls as he tried to pour some of his second bowl into hers. “You have given me your share of the pot. You will not do well tomorrow if you do not eat.”

She gently pushed at his bowl. “Actually, I have very little interest in food right now.” She looked up at the man’s face. “. . . And, what do you know about tomorrow?”

The man spooned some more meat into his mouth. He watched her. She truly didn’t have an appetite. He pointed down the road with his spoon. “You are going to meet the other army; no?”

She pursed her lips thinking. The man had been walking the same direction they were headed; so how did he know what lay ahead? “What do you know about the other army?”

He chased the last carrot and piece of meat about his bowl. Chewing, he put the bowl to his lips and drained the last of the broth into his mouth.

He wiped his mouth on his sleeve, and belched quietly into his closed fist. He watched her the entire time. There was no condescension or disgust in her eyes. There was only patience as she waited him out.

Putting his bowl down, he wiped his mouth once more with the other sleeve, and laid back. He looked at the night sky.

“Why do you think the Pols want your farmlands?”

She thought about the shift of his thoughts. “We don’t know. We have thought about it a lot, and it really doesn’t make sense. They don’t need the food; they have more than they need. And there is nothing here but the farmland.”

He rolled up onto his one elbow. He studied her. “Are you sure?”

“What do you mean?”

He pointed into the dark. “What is behind those trees?”

She looked at where he was pointing. “The Mercurial Mountains; but there is no ore down in this part of the range. Most of the caves and tunnels that have been examined are just limestone. The farmers use the lime to sweeten their fields. But other than that, there is nothing of value other than what you break your back to grow.”

The man lay back. “So you don’t know about the dragons.”

She laughed. “You are a curious man. We find you almost dying on the road, and now with two bowls of soup, you talk like a man who has had too many jacks of mead or beer.”

He wiggled his eyebrows at her as he smiled. “So, you think I’m daft or drunk on that good soup.” He rose back up onto his elbow. “So you don’t believe in the dragons; eh Grace?”

She examined the man for any signs of duplicity. Finding none, she asked “How did you know my name was Grace? The Duke only referred to me as Princess.”

“Well, Princess. I don’t think you are Elizabeth, for your little sister is only nine next month. Hope, is older, and already married with a child soon to be born, so she would be in no condition to put on armor; much less travel. That would leave Gwyneth of the raven black hair that she keeps trimmed to her shoulder to show off her back in party dresses; or the redhead princess that would rather be in a travel dress that would hide steel legs and boiled leather body armor.”

She was uncomfortable that a stranger knew so much about her and her family, but strangely, she was not uncomfortable with the stranger. She finally picked up her bowl of now cooled broth and drank it down. She licked her lips tightly as she watched the man’s face. Finally, she raised her right arm and wiped her lips on the sleeve smiling.

He laughed. “I would have sworn that you would have wiped with your dirk hand, instead of your sword arm.”

She laughed. “It makes no difference. In the field, we use whatever is convenient. So, now that you know so much about me, what about you?”

“Me?” He lay back. Putting his hands crossed behind his back. “My name is Pel’k, and I’m just as you said; a man on the road.”

“What kind of name is Pel’k; and where are you from?”

He rolled on his side with his hand tucked under his head. His dark eyes seemed to catch the light from the fire and reflect the flames. “Pel’k is a very fine old family name. As for where am I from? Well, most recently, a very long way away. But originally I was from around here.”

“So, why return home now?”

He closed his eyes. His breathing was soft and slow with a rhythm that almost got lost as a soft summer evening breeze. Grace started to think that he had drifted off to sleep.

His lips parted. “Some of the children” He sighed. “Some of the selfish children are starting to squabble over something that isn’t even really theirs.” His eyes opened, and the fire flared as the Duke put on some more wood. His dark eyes were nothing but the iridescence of the fire.

He moved back up onto his elbow, and then sat up cross-legged. “So old Uncle Pel’k had to come back and sit the children down and tell them what was what before someone got hurt.”

He reached down and plucked up a few blades of grass for his hands to play with as he looked deep into the dark at the mountains beyond the light. The vein in his forehead throbbed lightly, but enough for Grace to see.

“And did they?”

He didn’t move for a few moments, and then turned slowly. “Did they what?”

“Listen, and behave themselves.”

He sighed. “I haven’t started yet.”

“So you haven’t gotten home yet.”

He tossed aside the blades of grass that were now tied in a tight complicated knot. His left hand pulled three more blades. His upper lip rolled under and tight to his teeth. “I’ve been watching them. This is a very complicated problem.”

“How so?”

His left hand now pulled up six more blades of grass. His hands were busy. “At one time, there was one family who was trusted with the item. Now another wants that item for no apparent reason. But I’m not sure they could be trusted with the keeping and proper care of the precious item, so I had to watch both to see who I could trust.”

Grace shifted and the metal greaves sheared. The tune brought a smile to Pel’k’s lips. His left hand pulled seven more blades of grass.

“So have you reached a conclusion yet?”

He looked at her and smiled widely. “You haven’t even what it is that they are fighting about.”

She watched him, and then exhaustion overwhelmed her. She placed her face in her hand with her elbows on her knees. Her head slowly wagged back and forth. She spoke in defeat into her hands. “It doesn’t matter.” Looking back up with red rimmed eyes, she looked at Pel’k.

Her body folded in on herself, and her shoulders sagged. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound uncaring about your problem . . . It’s just that I am so tired of hearing about people fighting, squabbling, and picking at each other.” She threw up her hands. “And for what? A little more land that they don’t need and food that they don’t need; a bauble here and a trinket there and they will go to war over it all.”

She fell back. “It is just so exhausting.” She growled softly.

The Duck looked over from his post.

Pel’k waved him down and shook his head.

“So what is your answer?”

She spoke to the stars. “I don’t know.” She lay on the grass, her eyes tracing from one star to the next; searching for help.

She sat up. “That is why my father sent us down here.”

“Just the six of you? Did he realize there was an army of thousands just on the other side of the border?”

She grimaced, “We suspected. I had hoped to come down to find out what it is that they want.”

“Will they tell you?”

“I don’t know. I hope so.” She looked off into the night. “If we do go to war, hundreds if not thousands of men will die. If the battle is here, there will be no crops to harvest next year. But even if the battle was fought across the border, it would be fought in their frame lands. And the same would hold true for them. And that is all about the food. But those that will be fighting are the same people that plant, tend and harvest the crops.”

Pel’k finished the thought. “So even if you win; you lose. You win the war, but have no food for the next year, and no farmers to grow more.”

She nodded. “So we both lose.”

“And what if they want the land anyway?”

“I don’t know . . . Maybe we just let them have it, and hope we can sell them enough other stuff to buy enough food to feed everyone.”

“You would do that?”

“Luckily that would be my father’s decision to make.” She looked back at the man. “But it is an option. We would really rather find a way to not have war.”

“Even if it means giving up your food and lands.”

She nodded.

He lay back down. His right hand covered the blades of grass he had been working on.

Grace took her cue. She picked up the bowls and stood. She thought about the curious man lying on the grass. She knew the second she turned around, she wouldn’t be able to tell a person what he looked like, or even how old he was.

She turned and walked back towards the fire. Her legs softly sheared a musical tone. The man smiled.

#####

The morning was heralded by the call of a meadow bird. The sun was still a few minutes before it would show above the distant eastern mountains. The gray had long turned to pink, and was now just getting brighter. The soldiers stirred.

Peter sat with his blanket tucked in the shoulder hasps of his armor. He held the ration of morning tea out to the Princess.

She sat up and took the leather jack mug. “Thank you Peter, how is everyone this morning?”

The morning watch relayed the report. “All are fine and rested. The horses are fed and watered. The sky looks clear this morning . . . And the man left in the middle of the night.”

Her eyebrows rose as she turned to look where Pel’k had been lying. She turned back as she took another sip. “Did anyone see him leave?”

“No ma’am.”

She looked at the young lad. His breathing wasn’t right. “Peter? Is there something you aren’t telling me?”

He chewed on his lip. “I was letting you finish your morning tea like they told me to.”

“Like who told you to?”

He nodded behind her towards the roadway.

She turned, but saw no one. And then as she continued to turn, she finally saw the large army standing in the shadow of the trees. A lone rider sat his horse. She knew the man well. His father was the king of Pol.

Slowly she put down the jack and the now-spoiled morning tea. She rose stiffly to her feet. She took a step, and then thinking, removed her belt the dirk and shiv were scabbarded to.

Slowly she walked towards the army. As she passed where Pel’k had been lying, there now sat a dragon made of grass blade; with outstretched wings.

She stepped up onto the roadway. “Good morning Detter. To what do I owe this distasteful display of force?”

The man softly spurred his horse. “You will come with me.”

“And my men?”

“They are free to return to your father with the news.”

“Where may my father find me?”

“We will hold you at Flint Castle.”

She nodded her head in understanding. “Ah, the easiest to defend, and has never been breached.”

The lord motioned his left hand, and a horse was led out.

“So, I’m not even allowed my own horse. You really must be afraid of me.”

“It is cleaner this way Grace.”

“If I come peacefully, nobody will be harmed?”

“You have my word.”

“Have you harmed anyone yet?”

“There was a slight problem with a farmer yesterday. My man and he have both been punished.”

She lowered her one eyelid.

“Grace, they are alright. The farmer will be your manservant, and my man will learn that farming isn’t an easy thing.”

The Duke walked out to the roadway. She turned and looked at his face. He wouldn’t blush, but he was very ashamed at being caught.

“It’s alright Sean. I’ll be fine. They are taking me to Flint. Tell my father not to mount an army. It won’t do any good. I’ll stick to the plan, and see what I can work out.”

He bowed his head and took a step backward.

She spun on her heel and put her foot up into the stirrup. Swinging her leg over she pulled the horse around. “Let’s get on with it.”

 

#####

So she sat in the cell, in the lower bowels of Flint Castle.

She had talked for most of the day before with the king of Pol. There was not even a glimmer of concession. He wanted the land, the food, and the people. The only surprise was, when he also included . . . the Mercurial Mountains – – just as Pel’k had mentioned.

She heard soft footsteps on the hard stones of the dungeon hall. They were not boots of the guards, and there was no armor sound of sabaton steel shoes. This was the sound of cloth slippers or bare feet. The stride was confident, but secretive.

The bold on the door slid back, and the door opened. She remained looking at the far wall. Whoever it was, she didn’t want to talk to.

“This is a dreary place to want to sit in, when there is so much lovelier countryside to see on a nice night like this.”

Her head snapped. Standing in the door was the silhouette of a man in a long tunic. “Pel’K?”

“You were expecting the Duke, or say Peter?”

She rose, still wary. “What are you doing here?”

“Well, I thought I had already covered all of that.” He chuckled. “Come, it is time to leave.” He put out his hand.

The stairs wound up in a series of spirals. As they came out on what Grace knew to be the main level, she could see soldiers, standing about, unmoving. She looked at Pel’k.

He took her hand again. “Come, we are running out of time. I didn’t think they would be so crass as to stick you in the dungeons; so I checked the towers first. It cost us time.”

He pulled her into another upward spiral of steps. They took the steps two at a time, even though her legs were starting to bunch and become sore. They continued up.

“Where are we going?”

“The time stop will end soon, and everyone will return to moving. So, any chance we had of sneaking out the front door is long gone.”

“Time stop?”

“We froze the movement of time.”

“Who is we?” She pulled her hand out of his.

He stopped on the stair and reached to the statue of Grace. He took her hand and she moved. He gripped her hand harder. “Don’t let go of my hand. If you do, you time freezes for you.”

“But who did you mean by we?”

He could feel the force shifting. He could sense the tiny crystalline structures shift. “We are out of time.” He turned and pulled her up the stairs. “I will explain everything in every kind of detail, but later. We have only minutes to reach the north rampart.”

They turned from one spiral of stone steps and into the last spiral. The stones here were of sandstone. Somewhere in her mind, Grace remembered the only place where there was sandstone in any size or quantity to quarry was in the Mercurial Mountains.

The great clock in the clock tower ticked and the second bell chimed. Pel’k lept up the last eight steps before the ringing had turned to the pealing of the third and last chime of the clock. Grace felt as if he had pulled her arm from its socket. Her feet fumbled and barely touched the sandstone steps.

Her mind raced. She remembered a warm summer day, and her father had taken her to the top spires of the North rampart of their castle. He had explained the difference in the stones. All the Castles were the same in only one feature. All the North ramparts were made from sandstone blocks that had been quarried in the center of the Mercurial Mountains.

She looked along the rampart; a soldier was running towards them. He was an archer. She reached for her dirk and grabbed her hip. Her hand tugged, and was only full of dress.

She reached and pushed Pel’k around and out of her way. She stood calmly facing the oncoming archer. In the dark, he would not use his bow unless he could clearly see who he was shooting. Grace had no such compunction.

Pel’k gargled behind her. Something was wrong with his voice. “I only need the time of forty heart beats.”

Grace didn’t understand, but she did know the jailers didn’t think to check for any armor on a lady dressed in a traveling dress. The archer rushed in. His intent was obvious. He would run into the woman, knocking her to the ground and then attack the man. Little did he know who the real threat was.

As the man reached her, Grace raised her arm and hit his face with the steel armor cops on her elbow. Just her elbow could have done the job, but to guarantee the job, nothing beats a little piece of steel armor.

The blow stood the archer straight up. Grace grabbed the bow off his arm. Then for good measure, she brought her steel plated knee up between his legs. He folded like the wings on a swan; blanched white and going down. She plucked the quiver off his back and pushed him out of her way as she brought an arrow into the bow.

She aimed at the next archer as he was rounding the corner of the long rampart. She knew he would have no armor, so a leg shot was as good as a kill; but the man would recover. The arrow flew true. The archer went down and skidded for the length of three men.

Just then three armed soldiers exploded out of the midpoint staircase. They stopped and looked both ways then started running towards Grace and Pel’k.

Pel’k roared in a deep thundering voice. “I need a few moments more.”

Grace could feel the voice as much as hear it. It rumbled more like thunder than the voice of a man. She almost turned but an arrow shattered on the crenelated wall of the rampart.

The arrow was in her bow before she even thought. It flew back towards the archer almost on the other side of the castle. The next arrow was in and out of the bow and headed for the leg of the first soldier. She hoped he had forgotten his upper leg plates.

She wasn’t thinking any more. The arrows were fed through the bow and then seeking the targets as the next was coming to the bow.

She reached and her hand dove into the empty quiver. Five armed soldiers exploded form the midpoint stairs and three more came out of the corner turret.

Grace could hear hobnailed boots pounding up the last spiral of sandstone steps. She started to turn. “What now . . . ?”

Her words froze in her throat.

The very large dragon swelled up and the red and midnight purple wings unfolded. The entire corner turret was blotted out by the wingspan. From the height of three full men, the dragons head cocked back and belched a stream of fire the length of eight men laid head to toe. His roar was deafening.

Before Grace could run, the dragon stooped, and reached around her waist and lifted her. The large golden fired eye winked. The dragon smiled. The voice was that same thunder rumble that echoed in the center of her chest. “Time to fly, Grace.”

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in War is not always what you think | Leave a comment

16″ Dragon Frame

16″ Dragon Frame.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Striker’s Big People and the new friend

Striker ruled all that he could rule. The floors were his. And when the big people were gone, like most of the days, the couch and chairs were also his; Especially the big green chair that was just under the front window where the sunshine poured on the wide overstuffed back making it so nice and warm for Striker’s little belly.  And then there was The Bed.

Striker could sing you songs, nay, ballads, long stringy soppy heart rending eye watering ballads on the joys of a big huge bed in the late afternoon sun. The smells of the big people that permeated the blankets and spread that were so grand to nuzzle and scrunch into until just the tip of an over excited tail was left exposed. Then it’s a body shuddering collapse followed by a deep draw of air and then one explosive snort and silence for a few hours, the Jack Russell every-last battery recharging for the evening festivities.

Much of the floor kingdom, reconnaissance with sharp eye and sharper nose, was in order more days and weeks than not. The occasional small pile of the one big persons clothes that smelled especially good and slightly damp was the height of all treats. The quick dash down the long hallway followed by a flying dive nose first into the pile that would slide for the longest time. Then it was grab the pile and drag it back down the hall to repeat again and again while the big people stood in that senseless rain room getting all wet. But for Striker, the longer they stayed in the little wet rain room, the more fun he could have with sliding with the pile.

The food bowl was fun too. Pushing the food bowl down the long hallway on the slippery floors was a grand game that was good for at least one of the Big People to come join the game by re-starting the game with the bowl back in the feeding area. Some times if Striker pushed the bowl just right against the one wall, the Big People with the louder bark would grab the leash and they would go to the park for a good long run with some of the other dogs in the neighborhood. So playing the “bowl push” game sometimes had great rewards, if his Big People were home.

Doors, of all different sizes, were important in the days patrol. Doors can stop you from entering rooms or tight little areas. Doors that are not quite shut completely can provide sometimes up to an hour of diligent effort to open and gain the rewards on the other side. The Big People really like to help with that game. They have the room with the wonderful sun soaked high bed that is soft and wonderful to lie on, roll around on, and snuggle under the blankets and really get your nose full of those wonderful smells of Big People, Big People, BIG PEOPLE! And then there is the “other door” in the room that leads to a smaller room where the smells can be really intense. Those are the “Rooms of Shoes”.

The Rooms of Shoes are the best. The smells are so intense and wonderfully pungent that you can get dizzy just walking into the rooms. The softer shoes are the most wonderful, especially when the Big Bark People gets back from the park when they have a great run. Those soft shoes can make your head spin faster than a treat driven Jack Russell tail can wag. The deep grassy pungent odor is what hits you first, with a sort of tangy salty second whiff, kind of like when two dogs are walked by you and there is a big funky dog and a sleeker smaller dog, it’s the “one-two” smell punch. Then as you start to chew on the soft sides or just carry it around a bit while the Big Barker is getting wet, the taste of salt and a little scummy slim after-taste starts to really get your taste buds kind of sideways. After a while though, it’s just too much and you’ve got to take a break and head for the window over the bed. You know you’re going to get yelled at, but the view of the park and all of the other dogs are worth it. And it’s not that kind of yelling any way, like it really counts.

A while back, the Big People fussed a whole bunch in one of the smaller rooms. They painted with a new color, YUK! Not a smell that rated high on Strikers list. And then there was the new furniture. There was even a bed that was just Striker’s size, but they must have really felt strong about him not sleeping in it because it has a cage around it to keep him out. There was a cool new trashcan, but eventually it smelt worse than the bad part of the park. Euw!

Then the new “Not So Big People” arrived. Not a fun People at first. It slept most of the time and then there was that NOISE! Wow! Eventually the days routine settled down and Striker grew to accommodate and accept that the nights would be interrupted with walking; but not taking for a walk. The days had their quiet times, and then there were the not so quiet times. Striker’s People had changed. Only time would tell whether it was for the good or not; and the Not So Big People looked like they were going to be hanging around for a while.

As the days and weeks and months wound their magical spell and the Not So Big People got larger, and it began to get around like Striker, on all four. Soon there were new games in the hallway with the slippery floors. And the new guy was kind of fun for a while, as long as it didn’t smell like that bad part of the park. And recently it started to stand up on it hind legs. Very good! It was paying attention as Striker was teaching.

Just wait until it gets warm again in the park, or the little park in the back of the house; there will be someone else to blame for the muddy paw prints.

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An Evening at the Great Lodge

“In the late afternoon we would stop and make camp.  The dust was thick in our clothes. It was so fine coming up off the ox hooves that it just floated in the air until it found a hiding place. I remember parting my sister’s fine blond hair to find her scalp was the same dark gray of the Dakota trail.

While the men were off gathering wood to the south, we girls would be standing there naked as Jay birds on the north sides of the wagons, beating our clothes against the wagon sides. The dust would float about us in a cloud when there was no late afternoon breeze, and we would whirl our dresses about us over our heads like a bunch of drunken cowboys on a Saturday night in hopes it would blow the dust away.

It probably didn’t, but we felt better doing that dance. I don’t remember the men folk ever making any comment about the women’s dresses looking any cleaner; they were just hungry and tired by the time they got back with firewood. But tired as we all were, while the women folk made dinner, the men would lever up the wagons one by one and pull the big heavy wheels to check the axles and grease; a dry axle would burn an axle within a day and there were few spares or ways to repair an axle or wheel out there on the prairie.”

Her eyes were pools of remembrance as they looked out off to the lodge. But the sight was made watery by the 83 year old memory of camping alongside the lake.  Her left hand, now deformed by the abuse of age visited on her life of hard scrapple days of nonstop survival in the Wild West, hovered like a butterfly against her chin. Resting lightly on the old scars gathered in the horror of a century gone by, the finger tips read the brail each memory carved onto the tablet of her life’s face. These were the stories she could not tell little children; they were stories that she could barely tell herself. The Indian raid on the wagon train, losing her little brother to a wild cat and almost losing her own life, falling out of the loft during the barn raising; each written in blood with a scar here and another there, as if memories could be written in flesh.

The sun was soft on her blue chintz dress as she almost sat splay-legged on the sweet prairie grasses, resting from a lifetime of hard living. The sweet music of bees laboring to turn the summer into honey for winter pancakes and full happy tummies lightly droned across the meadow and blended with the occasional sounds of people talking or the rare automobile arriving at the great lodge.

“What honey?” She turned to the children sitting near her as they pulled at the stalks of grass in random mindlessness of pulling, stripping, and holding the parts up to be lazily pulled away in the partial breeze. “What did you ask?” she asked regaining her focus on the current day as her left hand return to its perennial place in her lap; winding the second and third finger into the folds of her dress until they would eventually wear a pattern or hole in the weave.

“I asked, what would they cook for dinner, grandma?” The small girl asked with her head cocked onto her right shoulder covered by the white puffy sleeves of her middy.

The elder’s eyes studied the fine yellow hair of the child as slender tendrils were caught and lifted into the puffs of breeze; much like her great aunt’s hair would have been at that age. The watery eye glinted in the gloom of the deep overhanging straw hat, looking at the child but seeing another child about a very different camp fire.

“Always biscuits; I remember we always had wedge cut soda biscuits with dinner. My mother was known for her campfire biscuits. And beans; there was always a crock of soaking beans in the wagon. Many days would go by that the men couldn’t find any game for a stew or roasting, and beans would sustain us.”

The children laughed at the shared secret that was common knowledge; “So there was ‘music’ in the air,” the older boy muttered and then snickered and looked off to the lowering sun.

She removed her straw hat and dusted some imaginary detritus from the brim as she looked off into the distance to hide the smile. Inside her, the child was turning rolls on the ground from giddy laughter at the men trying hard to remain gentlemen, yet “having to check on the horses” every few minutes. It was one of the true happy memories from that time.

Checking her cheek back in against her back teeth, she gave the children a half earnest attempt at “the look”, which only set the gang into more wild gyrations of flailing legs and rolling bodies played to the tune of squeals and giggles. “Well,” she huffed dramatically, “if you’re only going to act like children, I guess we’ll just have to put you to bed early tonight.” She paused for drama, “without a bonfire.”

That had a very quick sobering effect on the gaggle of squirming bodies. The decorum was restored as she rose teetering to her feet. “Help your grandmother Jacob, I’ve sat too long,” reaching out to the oldest boy. “Give me your shoulder.”

They walked across the meadow towards the not yet finished lodge.  The late evening hush settling down amongst the grasses as the geese slowly began to tuck their beaks into their feathers fluffing and softening in preparation to burrowing in for the night. In the distance the screaming squeal of an elk calling to a possible mate warbled in the half light. The sky had lost its azure light and began its walk in grey and the last small birds fluttered about in the air in a waltz with the bats of the night.

She leaned into the young teenagers shoulder until their heads were just inches apart as she confided an observation of years watching others. “I saw the Yoder girl watching you today.” He squirmed as if to get away from the tightening arm about his shoulder. “I think she would prefer it if you might share your lunch with her instead of with the men tomorrow.” He knew better than to talk and betray his mutual interest or worse interrupt the family matriarch. “There will be some gooseberry pie hiding under the chaffing table near the potato bins.  I would suggest you maybe sit in that large hole they cut for a viewing window; so it will be in easy reach if you feel a need to share a treat with someone.”

“But they’re going to mount the great window in there tomorrow morning. Uncle Lawrence brought the glass up this afternoon. They just have to finish the frame and mount the glass before they seat it all.”

“You never mind about your father and uncle. After I’m finished with them at breakfast, their crew will be busy in the entry cathedral for at least a few days; so you two will have a very nice large log on which to sit quietly enough to talk and have lunch.” She smiled and winked at her grandson with her only good eye, “at least for a couple of days.”

The night settled down across their shoulders and the land as they made their way up the great stone stairway and into the great room of the lodge. She thought back to those days spent near the lake with her family, and then after her capture by the small tribe that had become her family until she was a woman and fled to civilization. Those mixed years had lead to her mixed resilience that kept her alive and raising her family of her own making. Never marrying and unable to have children of her own, she had taken in strays that had come her way. Tender love had left none of the scars on her fiercely protected brood that drew maps across her face and body.  Scarred and battered she tottered into her golden years and beyond, and wouldn’t trade one less scar if it meant one less child.

She looked about the carefully hewn timbers and logs that made up the “furniture” feeling of the construction of the lodge.  In her bones, she knew that the attention to what the tree and stone tells you, went into every step of construction. The power and health of the great meeting hall vibrated in her sole as she felt that it would endure as the earth would; long and resilient. She gave her grandson’s shoulder one last hug of love as she made her way off to her rest. The morning would bring another long day and she would need to start searching for a third and last eagle feather for the spirit bag for the heart. She looked back at the silhouette of a strong young man standing in the great door looking out at the moon just rising above the plains off to the east. Yes, she thought; that heart would need a third feather, not so much a large one, but a third one for the balance. Nodding, she tottered down the hall as her gnarled knowing fingers traced the grain and knots of the log walls; comfortably finding her way through the dark as if it were a bright prairie day at high noon.

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Going Home

“No miss, not one; all.”

The weather was just on that verge of becoming a real spring as the clouds stopped being sources of rain and had become targets of creative imaginations as ducks followed elephants becoming a larger teddy bear as wisps of Indian smoke drove through it all to make a field of cotton ball clouds scattered across a pale blue sky. Elizabeth Hanna Maria Sumner looked out across the still cold grounds of the August Hamilton Home for Children.

Her hands purposefully removing a long white cigarette from a silver plate holder and brought it to her mouth. She didn’t really want a cigarette, but she didn’t want to risk talking anymore. The process of starting a cigarette would give her the moment to calm and collect her thoughts.

“I have brought clothes for the girls and boy and would like them to wear them for travel.” She stated to the window. Her lip was starting that little quiver that she so hated since she was a small child in Mississippi, on the very wrong side of the tracks. Long before today, long before the doctor’s degree and even long before Miss Elvira Stipple’s school for girls of color.

“That would be fine Mrs. Sumner.” The director eyed the woman doctor from California. “Will, Mister Sumner be joining us today?” Wondering what would cause her to travel so very very far from home to adopt three children she had never met, but only seen in a photograph.

“No”, she snapped. Her head almost jerking around, but instead locked like an iron trap on the rusted child’s tricycle in the play yard. Regaining her calm in the desperation of her focused endeavor, she turned while blowing out smoke.

“No he won’t. He was called back to California when we arrived in Toledo; something to do with the upcoming elections.” Now concerned about a possible problem or even worse delay in the process of securing the children and her life, “I was under the impression that all the paperwork was complete and our coming was only a formality . . .” a tiny panic fluttered to her heart but then calmed to a mere resting butterfly, “and of course the civil thing to do.”

Turning once again to the window, and leaving the young director in a chilled silence to muddle through her social misstep of asking questions that may or may not be her business or concern.

Elizabeth’s right hand, absent mindedly pulled at her hat as an imaginary curl errantly broke loose. Not that the hat was the most stylish by west coast 1922 standards, but it served her well to hide the mass of overly curly hair that she had permed once a month, as straight as it could get to an acceptable “waviness” for a white woman doctor.

“I see there is a tricycle in the yard”, turning back to the director shuffling the last of the paperwork. “ I have a Kodak camera, do you think there is anyone on your staff who would know how to take a picture of the children and me? In the yard.” Her hand waves at the yard past the window “On the tricycle. The children of course, not me.” The flutter of the butterfly beats softly in her chest.

The director looks at the slight hint of panic. Then it washes away. Not her concern but she wonders at the devils that drive this quirky woman doctor from California. “I can do it.” She offers at the woman is once again looking through the glass, her eyes focused a thousand miles and many years away.

“Do what?” She turns as her hands searched the purse for another cigarette. She focuses down into the purse then up at the young blond woman sitting behind the desk in a starched white nurse’s uniform. Her mind starts to slip back to a not too far distant time in another kind of home as the man who was her father lay slipping away.

“Take the photograph. I have an Argus camera, how different can they be?” The director sensed that she was no longer the focus of this woman’s attention but that it had turned inward as she wrestled with her thoughts or demons. Quietly she stood and walked toward the office door, “I’ll just see to the children.” A disassociated hand waved in dismissal in her general direction, a quiet sniffle was masked by the snapping shut of the woman’s purse.

Her father lay slipping away. The once powerful lion of a man, who thundered through halls of justice, now lay before her a sallow shadow of the visage that commanded juries and galleries to listen and view the world through his eyes and wager the lives of the men who he would send home or to prison. His fine porcelain skin drawn thin, like thread-bare sheets over his bones, was cool in her hands. The sound of his breathing was like the memory of long lost lovers sighs in a spring night’s air.

The words were all said, the heritage of concepts all understood, now was the easy part; the waiting, the dying, the simple act of never being able to talk again; To ask questions, again; To share hopes and dreams, again.

Not that a girl living in the Colored side of the tracks could share much with her powerful white father, but it was the possibility that he would see that what he had started by sending her away to school was about to finally make her a woman doctor, and white.  The white children, and an imaginary successful husband and father, slain at the prime of his life would put away any question of color in their new home, and her new position at a new small clinic in the sleepy town of Van Nuys.

“Mrs. Sumner?”

“Yes”, she turned from her past and the window, and toward her new life and self. “Are they ready?”

“Almost, they’ll meet us in the yard.” The director offered her hand in guidance down the hall. Then she stopped and turned to the woman and in a quiet confidant voice, “could I ask you why?”

The shock was almost as if she had slapped the other woman “How dare. . . “

“I don’t mean to pry.” She rushed on. “It’s just that it is rare that even one deaf child gets adopted, but there are angles waiting for you that you would take all three. And I just wondered where you find the grace to shoulder such a yoke, I mean your heart must by either huge or hurting, to take on that much.” Blushing at her crossing of a very fine line, she looked down then back into the woman’s eyes.

The not much older woman stood as of stone, and not much colder. She searched in the soulful eyes of the young nurse director and found the spark of the understanding she needed. Then she warmed, and all the fear and worry from the lies washed away as she understood and owned in her heart a truth. A truth that was not only universal, but about her personally as well; one that she had learned  but not recognized, from her father that day he was passing away, and she put her hand out onto the other woman’s shoulder and squeezed just ever so slightly a motherly squeeze.

“Every child needs a home, someone to love, and someone to love them.”

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Zephy

Zephy sat in the window, his tail swishing back and forth. If his Great uncle Aeolus was going to come today, it would be in the early morning. Trouble was, the school bus also came early in the morning. The race of life or death by torture would be decided soon, and Zephy just couldn’t stand the waiting.

If his uncle arrived before the school bus, there was a good chance that he Zephy, would spend the day with his world famous uncle; none other than Colonel Aeolus Emory Gryphon, commander of the most decorated combat squadron in the Air Force.

Zephy had a large box filled with nothing but really cool postcards from all over the world where the Colonel and his squadron had flown, or the Colonel had personally traveled to. Buried deep like treasure were two large goldish coins called “Chips”, which commanders have and pass out as thank you tokens to other military personal of lower rank as a physical acknowledgement. One of the coins that Zephy had was from his uncle, but the other was one that his uncle had received, specifically for Zephy, from the President of the United States.

Zephy thought it was pretty cool that his uncle and the President of the United States were friends, and uncle Aeolus had been to the White House on many occasions; but he thought it was even more cool that his uncle had thanked the President for the chip, but told him that he would be passing it on to his nephew Zephy. The President had told him to keep that one, and gave him another one specifically for Zephy, telling him that he and his nephew were welcome at the White House any time. It just made Zephy’s tail twitch even harder to think about some day that he and his uncle might go to Washington DC together.

But today, he would just settle for his uncle to get there before the bus.

“Zephy, your breakfast is getting cold.” His mother called. “Come on dear; you need to be ready for the school bus when it gets here.”

“Boy!” Zephy thought to himself; even his mother was conspiring to send him to school today instead of getting the day off to spend with his uncle.

With a final yearning look out of the window, he slid off the window seat and with silent lion` s feet, padded his way to the kitchen for his pancakes and eggs. He really did like the maple syrup, but it just wasn’t what he had his heart set on today.

As he sat up to the table with his lion paws dangling inches from the floor and slowly waving back and forth as he chewed, he thought about the email he had gotten from his uncle, sent from the USS Lincoln aircraft carrier as it was steaming its way back across the Atlantic Ocean. Uncle Aeolus had said that they were about four to six days away from the base and were “cutting squares in the ocean”, meaning that a ship runs north for say four hours, turns east and runs for four hours, then turns south and continues the same routine till they are back to where they started, and then start the process all over again. It is called a “Boxed Track” and it is a way to patrol an area of the ocean, but more importantly it tests the crew’s ability to navigate and operate as a cohesive team. Uncle Aeolus says it is the same with the fighter wing.

He specifically said that he was about 99% sure he would arrive ashore with enough time to come see Zephy and his family on the next Tuesday, and that was today. He hadn’t called, to say he wasn’t coming, but he hadn’t shown up yet either. This was just wrong,  he moped as he slowly pushed his pancakes around with his fork. His mother watched him sadly over her shoulder as she washed some dishes. As the little twinkle flared in her eye and her cheeks pulled back in a blocked smile, her wing raised to block Zephy from seeing.

“You’d better hurry up and finish Zephy, the bus will be here in five minutes.” It was all she could do to keep her smile out of her voice. “And, you know I don’t have the car today, so I can’t drive you to school if you miss the bus.” She snuck a peek over her wing.

Just then Zephy’s dad came out of his parents’ bedroom as he straightened his tie and pulled on his jacket.

“Dad” Zephy began, “Uncle Aeolus said he would be here today, but he’s not; and the bus is coming.”

As his dad leaned over and gave his mom a peck on the cheek, he turned and addressed his son’s concerns. “Son, he said he would try, and that is not the same as absolute. He’s a very busy man and has a great deal of responsibility.” He lifted his head and cocked it, “and speaking of responsibility, I hear a certain large yellow vehicle coming up the hill, and you don’t have your boots on mister.” As he bent over to peck the top of the small head, he found himself kissing air and the front door opening.

“I’m coming !” Zephy yelled as his right boot slipped over his paw, with the left already standing ready. “Bye dad, bye mom, love you.” And the door slammed shut followed by the mushy slapping sound of yellow galoshes running down the walkway to the end of the driveway and the waiting school bus.

At the edge of the walk and lawn, Zephy stopped to look back. His mother and father stood in the large dining room window waving goodbye. His mother put her fore claw to her beak and blew him a kiss. Zephy turned and ran the rest of the way to the bus and climbed aboard.

“Do you think he suspected?” The deep voice rumbled from the bedroom door.

The two parents stood transfixed as they watched the school bus door close and the bus slowly start to pull away. The boy in the fifth seat back was waving his claw at them and they waved back. “I think you actually pulled this mission off this time Colonel.” Zephy’s dad muttered out of the side of his mouth as he knew just what kind of eagle-eye his son had. Slowly the bus disappeared down the road and was finally hidden by the large over growth of Jacaranda trees.

Turning, the two parents chuckled with the Colonel as they finally could let down their guard.

“Where did you park the car?”

“Car? Not today, I absconded with an official command SUV. We’re talking lights, siren and the whole nine yards. I parked it behind the old barn.” The Colonel laughed at the extent he had gone to for his favorite person on earth, his nephew. “It goes with the airplane I brought this year.”

Taking her apron off, the boy’s mom poured some more coffee for all of them. “We have about thirty minutes before they start the track back from the farm loop. We can cut them off right in front of the school for maximum “Wow” factor,” she said as she handed the mug with the wings for a handle to her Dear Mother` s favorite, youngest brother. “And from here it’s only a few minutes’ drive; so sit down and enjoy your coffee . . . it’s going to be a long day.”

“That kid is getting harder and harder to fool. But he still doesn’t understand that “early” means any time after midnight, and I’m usually hitting 40,000 feet before dawn is creeping across the desert sands. My guess is that would be long before he’s awake.” Chuckling the Colonel sipped on his cup of steaming Joe. “OK, let’s plan this assault mission.”

Nodding the three sat.

The inside of the school bus was abuzz with the usual morning noise of boisterous kids. The driver kept smiling at odd times, as he searched his rearview mirrors. It wasn’t often since his days that he had served in the first Desert Storm that he was in on a secret mission; especially one that he got to play an important part in. The last long slope that ran the last two miles to the school was sliding by too quickly as he looked behind and saw nothing.

Suddenly in the side street he saw a large black SUV with blacked out windows. As he approached the cross of the side street, the SUV flashed his headlights twice; the game was on. The driver looked up into the large mirror that showed him every child on the bus; none were the wiser to what was about to happen.

Suddenly from out of the side street, the black SUV with blacked out window lit up with red and blue flashing lights and a siren as it came barreling out of the street and turned in pursuit of the bus. The bus, with perfect timing learned in the cockpit of an F-15 flying drag to the Colonel’s jet, pulled over just shy of the sidewalk it would usually pull up to. The SUV with the siren blaring and lights flashing attracted the attention of every school child, teacher and even administrators, as it pulled nose into the curb in front of the bus. But no one jumped out.

The siren wound down to silence and nobody moved.

The loud speaker on the SUV squawked, “Attention in the bus”

Everyone looked at the bus, “If there is a person turning six years old today, and his name is Zephy; then come out with your hands up.”

As the driver side door of the SUV opened and the uniformed pilot stepped out, he continued on the loud speaker, “Because, I have a big birthday hug and it will require a hands up to hug back.”

He figured he would wait until after lunch to tell the kid about the WWII T-6 fighter plane waiting out at the airport for their fun in the afternoon. But for right now, he knew he would have to brace himself to receive the incoming missile that was rapidly flying out of the bus.

The Colonel smirked; it warmed the cockles of his heart to be a favorite Uncle on the kid’s birthday.

Posted in Fantasy, just for fun. | 3 Comments

The No Holster Cowboy Doesn’t Ride Today

The pale winter sun weakly wormed it’s not so warming way through the dingy snow mused windows of the Hold-up Saloon. Music plays languidly in the background as if from a scratchy record where nobody wants to turn the Victrolla up to hear how bad it had become; as if any of the serious dangerous cowboys were paying much attention to the Victrolla that day anyway. As the snow continues to play “h” “e” double toothpicks with the radio reception from the station in Buffalo.

The sawdust curled tightly about the toes of the No Holster Cowboy, much like a wool carpet of other days. The dangerous looking much favored straw sombrero was pitched on the backside of the cowboy’s head to keep the lines of sight clear in case there were any desperados or other bad guys lurking in the or around the saloon. With right hand itchy, the fingers clinched and unclenched as if by their own free volition to grab the pistol and start blazing with a bad gang.

The cough started with a low rumble in the shallow chest, and worked up to become a distraction from keeping an eye on all of the hombres. There is no harder job in a saloon, then hombre watching, when you would rather be out on the range shooting cattle rustlers, or rounding up wild mustangs out on the range and away for the indoors. Anything that was outside; away from just floating from room to room.

The cowboy stumbles to the deep overstuffed chair and collapses as a deep coughing jag racks the small body and brings the worried saloon keeper rushing in from the kitchen area. Her name is really Sal but everyone in the saloon calls her ma. Occasionally in the evenings her bo stops in for the night after work and calls her “sweets”, but the day crowd, today, all call her “ma”. She rests a probing worried hand onto the cowboy’s forehead as the racking juicy cough slowly loses its momentum. The fever is lower today, maybe some soup would help, but the hot towel body-wrap won’t be necessary today like it was last week and the months before. After 4 months, she has become an expert judge at monitoring the ups and downs of a debilitating possible killer, and as a good saloon keeper, she has her tricks to make the cowboy comfortable if not happier.

Large lazy dinner sized flakes of frozen water slowly, almost silently but for the white noise of static in the air drift down to blanket the range around the saloon window. The birds have all flown south and therefore there is no other sound to disturb the drooped head with the askew straw hat and the small chest with the little six-shooter rests hung on a lanyard string about the tiny neck as air wheezes struggling to move in and out and keep life in the little body that doesn’t grow but shrinks day after day consumed by an evil hombre from inside as the cowboy stands a quiet watch checks the inside of her eyelids for pinholes.

The range is softly silent as the comforter of frozen down wraps the world in a white of stillness, the hesitation of a hummingbird at the throat of two flowers. The usual noise of other cowboys, Indians, police, bad guys, or just other children is schooled away until night fall as the school year continues without the No Holster Cowboy. The school marm stops by each week bringing work that will help keep the cowboy abreast of the teachings, if only the energy was left to attend to the reading and paperwork. But the watching over the saloon and securing the perimeter is about all the energy the cowboy can muster in the small shrinking body.

Sal, the gal known as “ma” silently walks through the bar with a deft hand moving a stack of magazines, adjusting a slightly askew doily, a pillow repositioned here a rug edge kicked flat there, the room is restored to order as the cowboy sleeps in the large chair. The ever present back of the hand finds the little forehead. The butterfly floating lands for a telling moment then is once again adjusting and dusting and moving the world, satisfied that the soup has done its job once again. The soft whistle of the incoming noon train two hours late signals the saloon keeper that the tea water is ready for her afternoon respite from the duties of a nurse.

As she walks past the window, she languidly is aware of the new inch of snow in the yard.  In the next window is the tiniest swelling of the naked branch tip. And in the little iron cased leaded glass ornamental window with the big purple irises under attack by dragonflies and lady bugs, through the wavy glass that never shows the world in whole truth, she sees a tiny spot of light blue in the snow. She stops to stare, the blue is there. It’s not a piece of the window. She backs up a bit to the window before and looks. A small tender smile chases a couple of worried wrinkles away from her eyes.

The quiet is being attacked and she removes the kettle and pours the hot water into the bone china tea pot and replaces the tiny lid. As she sets down the kettle, her off hand turns off the flame and the only sound is the slow solemn ticking of the grandfather clock in the entry hall. She winds her hands in the towel at her apron strings as she sits down at the chrome edged light green Formica kitchen table.

“The crocuses are starting” she smiles “soon the daffodils and then the warming sun”.  The warmth and sunshine will be good for the little cowboy. Spring is a bearer of good.

 

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