I still haven't quite got it right. It works on my flesh, but not on my clothes. And my body still casts a reflection in water. But not, interestingly enough, in a mirror. Nor do I cast a shadow. But time to go home and get back to work. It's cold standing out here naked in the rain.
Back indoors, I grab a dressing gown and let the warmth flow back into my veins. An hour later and the effects have mostly worn off; my body is visible again - although it will take another thirty minutes or so for the faint purple colour to completely disappear.
My name's Tris - short for Tristram. I'm seventeen and I live on my own. I moved out of my parents' house last year when I came out. They didn't throw me out or anything like that, but I knew that I'd disappointed them and the atmosphere was uncomfortable. They still love me in their own way - and they are paying the rent on my modest bedsit. I suppose the best way of looking at it is that we've reached a mutually satisfactory accommodation.
My two abiding loves are science and magic. My more temporary loves have included Daniel, Marcus, Timmy and, of course, my cousin Geraint who seduced me on my thirteenth birthday, and over the next twelve months taught me all the joys of sex before going off to University abroad. He's still there living with the partner he met in his final year of study. Some would say he used and abused me, but it didn't feel like that and I bear him no ill-will. He was gentle with me and I was an enthusiastic partner - and what I learned from him has ensured that my sex life has been vigorous, varied and satisfying ever since.
But back to science and magic. When I was twelve, my father's half-brother, Merle, took me on one side.
'Tristram, you won't know it yet,' he said, 'but you are different. In many ways. Our family, that is the half of it that is not your father's, has long had a gift. I do not need to tell you what it is, because you will find out when your body and mind are ready to use it. I promise you that you will know. And when you do, you will need this.'
He took a small packet from his pocket. It was wrapped in what looked like oilskin and bound with small metal bands secured by a clasp.
'Inside the cover is a book. You will not be able to open it until the gift is within you. But when it is, you will know what to do. It passes from one generation to the next when the owner reaches sixty.'
'How do you know who to pass it on to?'
'One of the other things that makes us different is that the owner never has children. And you will understand why very soon. And when the time comes, you will know who to pass it on to, I promise you. The book contains many secrets; secrets that you can choose to use for good or ill. But I advise you to use them for good. The book will not remain with you if its contents are used unwisely. The book itself will not give you power, but it will open doors that are not open to others. It will let you use your learning, your skills and your knowledge in wholly remarkable ways. It will show you new pathways to take with them - provided the purposes to which you want to put them are worthy. But if you do not have the learning, the skills and the knowledge then the book will be useless to you. It is there to enhance your abilities and powers, not to replace or supply them. Learn, and learn well.'
He put the package in my hands. It felt soft and warm to my touch. I turned it over and over in my hands. He must have seen the puzzlement on my face. He ruffled my hair.
'Don't worry, Tristram. I know that all this must sound very strange. But within twelve months all will become clear. But this must be our secret. Tell no-one of this or the book will not stay with you. There is no need to hide the book, though. To everyone but you and me it will appear completely different. Just put it on your shelf with all the others. '
Twelve year old boys just accept the weird. It never even occurred to me to question it. Uncle Merle had told me what would happen, so I just assumed it would.
'I understand Uncle Merle.'
That night, I tried to open the clasp. Well, of course I did. What twelve year old would not? But nothing shifted it. I put it on the shelf just as my uncle had told me to. He'd said I'd know when the time was right. I'd just have to be patient.
It was over the next six months that I began to realise that I was attracted to other boys and not girls. Well, I say I realised, it's more that I acknowledged it. I think I'd sort of known it for some time. I also knew it was not something my parents would be happy about. My father was very much a 'man's man'; not openly homophobic, but just enough comments and jokes for me to know that what I was was not something he'd approve of. It didn't stop me experimenting with my friend Daniel, however. And he seemed as keen on jacking me off as I was of doing it to him. But that's as far as it went.
A month short of my thirteenth birthday, my cousin Geraint came to stay. His father, my uncle, was working overseas, and his mother had to go into hospital for a month, with a couple of months of recuperation afterwards. Geraint's brother moved in with my mother's sister, and Geraint moved in with us. He was seventeen. I didn't know him particularly well;, we'd met up occasionally at family events, as cousins do. I'd always quite liked the little I knew of him. I hadn't seen him for nearly a year when he moved in. In that year, he'd changed from being kind of cute to being distinctly good-looking. He'd grown, too, standing at an even six foot. His blond hair was shaggy and multi-toned. Not with the help of any hair products, just a natural variety of shades from palest yellow to straw. His eyes were green - part of his Welsh heritage I guessed. When he arrived, and after he'd kissed my mother, he wrapped me in a huge hug.
'Good to see you, cuz.'
His arms felt perfect round me and he smelled of wood, moss and citrus. I thought he was gorgeous.
We had a spare bedroom, which he used, but he took to using the shower in my en-suite. He was completely unselfconscious about being naked. When he wanted a shower, he'd just knock on my door, come into my room , strip in front of me and disappear into the shower. When he was done, more often than not he'd emerge towelling his hair, giving me a good sight of all he had to show. He sometimes caught me looking at him.
'We're all built the same way, Tris...nothing to hide or be ashamed of,' he said.
And I unashamedly looked forward to seeing him naked. His body was as perfect as his face. And after about a month, I thought 'why not?' and adopted the same approach, secretly hoping he might be waiting to use the shower when I came out. And one day he was.
'Whoa...good body, Tris,' he said, and then,' for a guy who's not yet thirteen, you're very well-developed, too.'
And I was. I'd first had a 'wet' climax when I was eleven and a half - just a tiny splodge that first time - but since then I'd matured quickly. By the time Geraint came to stay I'd been jacking off regularly for six months.
'Um, thanks. Not as impressive as you though.'
'I'm nearly five years older, Tris. I reckon you'll end up making me look inadequate.'
He said this with a smile, and we both laughed. But it was maybe the first time I wondered if there might be more between us.
He soon asked me to call him 'Ger'. At weekends he'd sometimes take me to the local swimming pool, and I noticed that, like me, he seemed to let his eyes follow the cute boys more than the pretty girls. Occasionally, in the evenings, he'd take me to the movies. We'd sit beside one another and he started to let his leg press against mine. I had no objection.
For my thirteenth birthday, my parents organised a party to which a dozen or so of my friends came. By seven, it was all over and my parents announced that they were going out for the evening. Geraint said he was happy to baby sit ('baby sit'..ugh) and he'd got a DVD for us to watch. We ordered pizza and, once it had arrived settled down on the sofa. It was 'The Way He Looks'.
As the story unfolded, I noticed he kept turning and looking at me. I smiled. I felt his hand on my leg, just brushing it. I looked at him and smiled again. He put his arm round my shoulder. At the end of the film (which I loved), he said,
'Good film, no?'
'Very good,' I said.
'Do you know why I chose it?' His eyes were fixed on mine. Those pools of green.
'I guess,' I said, ' that maybe you just came out to me?'
''You're one smart cookie. Do you mind?'
'No, not at all. I like boys too.'
He looked at me. He sighed.
'God I wish you were sixteen, not thirteen.'
'Why do you think?'
I felt a little lurch in my stomach. And then I realised I was getting hard.
'I like you Ger. I wouldn't mind,' I heard myself saying.
I could see him thinking. And then the phone rang. He got up, adjusted an all-too-evident lump in his jeans, and went out into the hall. When he returned, he had an odd smile on his face.
'That was your Mum. They've had a bit of an evening of it with their friends. They're going to stay over. They won't be back 'til the morning.'
He paused. A long, long pause.
'Come on, time for bed.'
At the top of the stairs, he turned to me.
'I really like you, Tris.'
He gave me the briefest of kisses, then went into his bedroom and closed the door. I suppose I'd half hoped he'd invite me in - though I didn't know what I'd have done if he did. I turned and went into my room. I touched the place where he'd kissed me. I wished I'd kissed him back. Too late now. I stripped , washed, brushed my teeth and got into bed. I didn't bother with pjs...I wanted the feel of the sheets against my skin. I turned the light out and just lay there for a few moments, reviewing the evening. It was amazing that Ger had come out to me. And he was very sexy. It made me hard again just thinking about him. I started to stroke myself. Then I heard the door open. I sensed Ger walking towards me. Then I heard his voice.
'Did you really mean what you said?'
'That you wouldn't mind...wouldn't mind if we...you know.'
By way of answer I pulled the sheets open. I sensed his hesitation, and then he was climbing in beside me. He was naked and, as his body pressed against mine, I could feel his arousal. I turned to face him. Our erections touched and he suddenly pulled away.
'We shouldn't be doing this, Tris.'
'I want to do it Ger.'
I could feel his heart hammering in his chest, and his breathing was jerky and uneven.
'Oh God, Tris...look...OK, but...this has to be our secret, Tris.'
I stretched an arm out and touched his shoulder. That seemed to be all the encouragement he needed.
I felt his lips on mine. And then, for the first time, I felt his tongue flick against them. I opened up and let him inside. I felt his hand run down over my chest, and my stomach and then take hold of me.
'Oh God, Tris...you are so beautiful. I've wanted this for so long.'
Over the next few hours, Ger introduced me to the delights of gay sex. He used his hands, his lips, his tongue, his mouth and his cock to arouse and pleasure me - and he taught me how to do the same to him. We didn't go all the way that first night - but we did pretty much everything else. When it was all over, I asked him to stay with me, and I fell asleep enclosed in his arms.
Over the next two months, we had sex when and where we could. Sometimes the opportunities were fleeting, occasionally we had hours to ourselves. And one night we were alone in the house all night. That was the night I lost my virginity to my cousin, and I learned the joy of being inside another boy. I was sore in the morning, but I didn't regret it for a moment.
The day finally came for Ger to leave. I felt desolate. We had a tearful goodbye and he promised to arrange for us to meet up again soon. But we never slept together again. Maybe he felt guilty. Maybe he found someone else. Maybe both. But I never regretted those times we had together.
There was a side-effect to it, however. Uncle Merle had said that I would know when the gift was inside me, and that I would understand why the owner would never have children. I now knew with absolute certainty that I was gay - and that was surely what Merle had meant. No sooner had I worked this out than I felt a surge of energy deep inside me - and I knew that the gift had arrived.
I took the package down from the shelf, and where before there had just been a plain clasp, I could now see five indentations. Instinct told me to put my fingers in these recesses, and when I did so the clasp sprang open and the metal bands fell off. But to my disappointment, the book appeared to be entirely blank. What was it Uncle Merle had said to me? "If you do not have the learning, the skills and the knowledge then the book will be useless to you. It is there to enhance your abilities and powers, not to replace or supply them. Learn, and learn well.'
I guessed it was time to start learning.
I love science - and chemistry in particular. The magic of two gases forming a liquid; of a solid turning directly into a gas; the elegant exchange of atoms when a reaction occurs all fascinate and thrill me. I have experimented far beyond the confines of my school course which I find irritatingly trivial, and one of the privileges of having my own apartment is that I have created a small laboratory in what used to be the second bedroom. I am a practical chemist rather than a theorist, but I am fully conversant with all the principles at work. Uncle Merle had told me that I would get the best from the book if I had learning, skill and knowledge. Whilst I didn't understand exactly why or how, I had taken him at his word and studied and experimented as hard as I could for the last five years.
I'm not sure what I expected to happen when I opened the book, but it certainly wasn't what actually happened. If I'd expected anything, I suppose that it was that there would be writing and possibly diagrams. In my wilder moments I wondered if it might contain magic spells. Instead, the pages shimmered slightly as I opened the cover and then words and letters and numbers seemed to float up off the page and re-arrange themselves in the air in front of me in a multiplicity of colours.
I saw formulae start to assemble, but they were not for any substances with which I was familiar. And there were elements within the formulae that I'd never seen on the Periodic Table. I took the book with me into my laboratory and went to work.
In the four years that had passed since my uncle had given me the book, I had had a number of gay experiences. I could hardly call them relationships as they were all fleeting. I'd fooled around with a couple of boys from school - both older than me. Perhaps it was the Ger effect, but I'd been drawn to their aura of experience. As it turned out, what Ger and I had done together actually made me more experienced than either of them were, and I took pleasure from surprising and instructing them in the ways of love. I'd also had a couple of fleeting holiday romances on summer holidays away with my parents - both with local boys who, like me, were mostly just interested in a bit of no-strings sex. And then I'd met Nikolai, the son of a Russian diplomat, and we'd fallen for each other big time. We were both sixteen and a year later we are still very much together. He lives in the Embassy with his father but he goes to my school and often spends the nights here with me in my apartment. We share the same interests and the same outlook on the world - and we adore each other. We laugh at the same jokes and we can communicate without words. He's the blond, blue-eyed epitome of a classic Northern Russian, and we pretty much fell for each other from the first time our eyes met. We've shared a desk in the classes that we have together right from the start, and I don't which one of us first pressed our leg against the other, but I do know it was before the end of the first week of that first term. We were in bed together by the second weekend, and we've never looked back. We both love sex, and are entirely uninhibited about each telling the other what we want. But it is much, much more than just sex. I love him to bits. I haven't told him about the book, but I don't see how I can keep it a secret from him now; we both work together in my lab, and if the promise that the book holds out to me is even a fraction real, it's something we are going to have to share - even if the ability to use the secrets is something only I will have.
He'll be round here tomorrow night, but tonight I have the book all to myself. I open it again. This time, there are no dancing formulae, just text that seems to illuminate word by word as my eyes scan it. It tells me that the power of the book is in my head. That I must follow my instincts and not be bound by my learning. And it tells me to turn to the end of the book. I do so, and as the back cover opens and falls flat on the desk, it deepens and becomes a box. A box filled with jars and tubes. They are unlabelled, but some unspoken instinct tells me what they are for.
I take them out and arrange them on my workbench. Words appear on the pages of the book. Not instructions, but questions. What is my heart's desire? My first thought is not a particularly worthy one, but I cannot help myself. I want to do what the alchemists of old wanted to do, to turn base metal into gold. OK, not very imaginative, but tell me you wouldn't want to do the same. No sooner is the thought anchored in my mind, than my hands, almost automatically, start weighing and measuring. Some of the chemicals are from my own supplies, other from the mysterious selection that has come out of the box. Somewhat to my disappointment, there are no loud bangs, smoke or smells. I end up with a colourless liquid. I take a fifty pence coin from my pocket and drop it into the liquid. In front of my eyes, the silver colour starts to yellow and shimmer and then brighten from matt to a shiny gold. I use forceps to remove it from the liquid - and they start to turn gold as well. I suddenly realise what King Midas must have felt like. I rinse the coin under a tap and take it in my palm. I turn it over and over. It is heavier than it was and it certainly looks like gold. But I realise I have no way of actually knowing - short of having it assayed. And without assay marks, it is unsalable anyway. It is, at best, an interesting trinket. And I have a strong feeling - crazy as it sounds - that the book expected better of me.
Despite this, my next idea is not without an element of self-interest - even if I tell myself I'm doing it for Nikolai. Whilst he and I love having sex, there is a minor hiccup in that once he's had his second climax, he's finished. Whatever I try, he remains resolutely floppy - and he finds it both distressing and embarrassing. I know that he'd give anything to be able to keep going - and for that matter, while I can keep going longer than Nikolai, I have my limits too. Part of me wonders what it would be like if we could both just keep going, and going and going. I sense an air of resignation from the book, but the inspiration is soon flowing through my fingers as I mix and then refine a new batch of ingredients. This time I end up with a powder, but my instincts tell me it is not complete. I turn the pages of the book. There's a section that grabs my attention. It's headlined 'Personal Performance' and it's very intriguing. As I read it, it becomes clear that there are limits to what you are able to do for yourself, be it physical, mental or behavioural development, but the common factor is that the final potion - for want of a better word - needs to contain an element of 'the appropriate essence', whatever that means. And it appears that the nature and quantity of this 'essence' is also what controls the duration and intensity of the change that it governs. A list of symbols follows - presumably representing the essences - but there no captions or words of explanation to clarify what they stand for. The symbols include a red circle; what looks like a drop of rain; an orchid; a bowl and what looks like a slightly misshapen football. It's a mystery - but, now that I've decided to share the book with him, a mystery that I can talk about with Nikolai; he's good at puzzles and crosswords, so maybe he'll be able to help.
On the dot of six, I hear a key turning in the lock and there's Nikolai, looking good enough to eat, as usual. He has his own house key. We greet each other with our usual kiss and a hug, then I take him by the hand and lead him through to the lab. He's intrigued.
'So what's so important we have to come straight here?'
'I need to share a secret with you, Nikolai. It's quite a big deal, and it's something that has to remain just between the two of us, OK?'
I see his eyebrows go up a fraction, but he just nods.
So I tell him the story of Uncle Merle and the book.
'Wow,' he says, 'and this is for real?'
I nod, and reach up to the shelf for the book. As my fingers touch it, I hear him gasp.
'What's up?' I ask.
'That book. It was just an ordinary chemistry text, but when you touched it, it changed...it's...shimmering'
I look at him as if he's mad. So far as I can see, nothing has changed. The book is still the book. Then I remember Merle's words, "There is no need to hide the book, though. To everyone but you and me it will appear completely different." I smile.
'Umm, yeah. That's part of how the book stays hidden.'
I can see the wonder in Nikolai's eyes. He reaches out.
'May I touch it?'
'Sure,' I say.
Nikolai turns the pages.
''But they're all blank, Tris. There's nothing there.'
I look over his shoulder. I can see the words and pictures. The diagrams and the formulae. The shapes forming in the air.
'I guess I'm the only one who can see them, then, Nikolai.'
I can see his disappointment. I wonder if there is a way to let him see what I can see. I'll work on it.
'So what does it do?'
I rummage through the drawer where I put the gold 50p piece. I spin it in the air and he catches it.
'This looks like...gold'
'It is. I think. I made it a couple of hours ago.'
'Oh my god. You can change things into gold.'
'Yes. But you need to handle it with care.'
I show him the forceps with the shiny gold tips.
'And it's not much more than a trick really. I mean, there's going to be a lot of awkward questions if two boys start turning up with a shedload of gold. And anyway, there are more interesting things to do.'
I tell him about my idea of a potion that will let us have endless sex.
'Yeah, I kind of thought you might go for that.'
I grin - and he grins back.
'So what do we have to do?'
I tell him what I've done so far - and the problem of the 'essences'.
'Can you draw me the shapes you can see?'
I nod, and reproduce them as faithfully as I can.
He takes them and studies them carefully. I can't help but run my hand over his back and up into his hair as he sits there, his concentration fully on the little symbols. My fingers massage their way across his scalp. He sighs and turns his head to face me.
'I can't concentrate if you're going to do that, Tris. You know how much I love it.'
'Quick play break before back to work?'
He moves his face closer to mine and puts his hands on my shoulders. Our lips touch and we're locked in a passionate kiss that neither of us wants to break. When eventually he pulls away, there is a loop of saliva still joining our lips. He looks at it, and I see his eyes light up.
'That's it, Tris. Of course!'
'What? What are you talking about?'
'The essences. They must be the things that are inside us. Let me think. Our blood - that could be the red circle; that drop of rain...I think that's tears - or maybe sweat. What else are we left with? A bowl, a football and an orchid. '
There's a moment of silence. I can almost hear the crackle of his neurons firing as he works it out.
'The orchid. That's semen. The orchid is so called from the greek 'orchis', a testicle, because of its shape. What other fluids do we have? Saliva...and urine, I suppose. Hmm... that football-like thing could be a bladder, so maybe that works. And I suppose if the bowl represents food, that's the connection with saliva.'
It all sounds like a bit of a stretch to me, but before I can say a word, I'm aware of a rushing sound in the room. As it dies away it seems to leave the sound of 'bravo' hanging in the air.
'Did you hear what I just heard?' asks Nikolai.
'The noise. Did you hear a word as well?'
I see him shiver.
'Yes. It sounded like 'Bravo'. '
'To me too. I think the book just spoke to us. To both of us.'
Our eyes meet. We instinctively hug each other.
'So...' says Nikolai, 'what are we waiting for?'
'What do you mean?'
'Well, if we're right, which I think we are, it seems to me that if the sex potion - or powder - needs some essence, it doesn't take a genius to work out which of those possible essences is most appropriate for what we have in mind.'
A smile spreads slowly across my face.
'Indeed. And I guess the quantity is a matter of trial and error.'
'I guess it is. But we need to collect some first.'
'I suppose we do.'
We smile at each other and unbuckle the belts on our trousers. They fall to the floor and our underwear follows.
We're well used to jacking each other off, and that's what we proceed to do. We use test tubes to collect the precious 'essence'.
I retrieve the powder from the cabinet where I've left it.
'I guess if we want it to work for both of us, we'll need a bit of both.' I say
I take a 5ml spoon and add a dollop of both sticky samples to the powder. It fizzes gently and changes colour before liquefying. I divide the mixture in half and put it into two clean test tubes. It is odourless and when I dip a finger into it to taste it, I find it has the faintest hint of lemon about it. We clink test tubes and empty the contents down our throats.
The effect is not instant, but over the next five minutes I am gradually aware of a tingling in my chest that slowly descends into my groin. I ask Nikolai if he is feeling the same. He nods.
'I also feel quite extraordinarily horny. Please can we go to bed?'
We almost run into the bedroom, discarding clothes as we go. By the time we land beside one another on the bed, we are both fully aroused.
Let's just say the potion worked. The next thing we need to work on is something that will prevent our cocks from becoming rubbed red raw which is the only reason we finally had to stop.
But all that was nearly a year ago. It was Nikolai's idea to start work on an invisibility potion, but it's proving very hard to get right. We have had a lot of fun along the way mind you. Having sex with someone you can't see is a mind-blowing experience. Being touched and held and stroked by hands that you can't see is extraordinary. The first time Nikolai went invisible on his own and gave me a blow job, when I came, you could see the spurts of cum stopping dead in mid-air as they hit the roof of his mouth, and then spiralling down and settling into a pool as it disappeared down his throat before collecting in his stomach. Weird, but strangely artistic in its own way.
We clearly still haven't got the balance of essences right. Blood is the key one - and we've become expert phlebotomists along the way - but it is not the whole story. It must be possible to remove the anomaly of casting a reflection in water - and probably get clothes to be invisible too. Only being able to use it naked rather restricts its usefulness. But we're still working on that. What we have mastered is control over the length of time the potion renders us invisible which is a big plus. In the early days, I got an emergency call from Nikolai when the potion had unexpectedly started to wear off. He'd had to hide himself in a locker at school and wait for me to reach him with another dose.
I'm sitting at my lab table and thinking. Although we've been using invisibility for some pretty childish purposes (if I'm honest) and indeed for some things of which I'm not very proud, I want to start considering how we can use it for more noble purposes.
It's as these thoughts pass through my head that I am aware that the book has started to shimmer. I open it and a host of symbols that I've seen before appear in the air in front of me - but this time they resolve themselves into pictures and thoughts. It's as if the book is trying to help me. Unbidden, something my Uncle said to me comes into my mind: "The book will show you new pathways to take with them - provided the purposes to which you want to put them are worthy." I realise that the book must have been pretty disappointed with how we've been trying to use invisibility so far, but the idea of using it for a higher purpose has suddenly revealed some new ideas about how to correct the problems we've been having with it so far. I need to talk with Nikolai.
'OK, cool,' he says, 'and you're right, we should use the power we have - that you have - for good. '
And so the 'Unseen Solutions' detective agency was born. Almost immediately the answer to the problem of casting reflections became clear to me - and once I'd seen it, it was absurdly simple; it just required a rebalancing of the essences; a little more saliva, a little less blood and the addition of a few tears. And a month later, I solved the problem of making clothes invisible too - which makes it a lot more comfortable on a winter's night...
We have acquired an interesting clientele in the five years since the Agency's inception. We work with government and state agencies - in this country and overseas - as well as with individuals. And if anyone is too poor to pay us, but needs our help, then we give it anyway. The fees we are paid by those who CAN afford us more than provide us with the comfortable lifestyle we've become used to. We have moved into a lovely - and secure - home away from prying eyes. Anyone who tries to discover how we achieve the results we achieve by attempting to bug, track or inveigle their way into our confidence we simply refuse to work with again. And word gets round. Even the security services have accepted that respecting our privacy is worth it for the results we deliver.
We have added other tools to our armoury as well. But one thing we have stopped doing. The 'sex' potion was all very well, but actually it got in the way. Nikolai and I love each other and though sex is important, artificial aids just feel wrong. And anyway, he's no longer just Mr. Two Shots. Perhaps the book has had something to do with that - I don't know - but I'm sure there is more to its power than I've yet discovered. It's a voyage of discovery - just like my life with Nikolai; and I can't wait to find out where both journeys take me.
This story is part of the 2018 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Empty Shoes". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 24 August to 14 September 2018 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.
The challenge was to write a story inspired by this picture:
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