A small, dark object the size of a baseball arced through the late afternoon light, bouncing once, twice, three times across the white-painted wooden porch before coming to rest at the foot of the bright white door. The wick was fizzing loudly and burning brightly.
Two snickering, sheet-clad forms ran into the nearby bushes.
"I'm going to get you my pretties..." cackled an elderly woman as she opened the door, smiling.
She wore a witch's costume, for the most part; black, pointy hat, black cape, even a black dress, stockings and shoes. Even with the heavy makeup on her wrinkled face it was easy for the two in the bushes to see her expression of merriment change to curiosity as her attention was drawn downward, attracted presumably by the insistent hissing sound. Once her eyes saw the small, black object and the sparking fuse, they sprang open widely.
Her expression rapidly turned to concern in the second before the explosion removed it, stripping it from her skull along with the flesh of her face and hurling it across the large living room. It slapped wetly against the wall before it began a slow slide downward, leaving a vivid, irregular trail of crimson.
Most of the rest of the woman's body was blown backward into her husband�s arms as a twitching, smoking, dripping heap.
Outside, the sounds of the man's screams were been soaked up greedily by the two snickering in the bushes. When the screams had wilted to softer sobs and wails, they backed out of the shrubs and high-fived as they scampered down the street under their white sheets.
"Best night of the year, Xavien!"
"Best night of the year, Tillis!" they chorused as they skipped into the darkness.
"Are you sure of this one?" I ask once again, tired of the false alarms.
We're leaving the run-down, abandoned farmhouse that's been our refuge for the day, heading for the old Buick and the hunt.
"Absolutely! Six people in six hours! Six different ways! What more do you need!?"
He has a point there; I hate it when he has a point. He has points far too often. We follow the shadow of the house to the car, throw our stuff into the back seat and get in.
"None of them had anything in common. Nothing. Other than they lived close enough together to make it possible!"
Another one of his damned points! He has more, and if I don't deflect him, he'll keep pointing them out. As he starts the car I know I need to change the topic or listen to it all again.
"That land by Tiere was pretty, wasn't it? We should buy that before someone else does, go there when this is all over."
That usually does it.
"You're trying to avoid telling me I'm right, aren't you?"
Then he looks right over at me; pulls that glare where he tilts his head downward just a bit and looks directly into me and smiles, just a tad. That always makes me sigh.
"Yes. You happy now?" I ask, knowing full well that my admission will make him so.
He nods, puts the car into gear and we tear out of there. We don't have much time.
"So, you're really sure of the town, then?"
"Yes. You know how they operate. That was the test for tonight. There can be no doubt of this."
"Wily. Waiting for so late to test. They've never waited so late before."
"They want to succeed this time. This gave us no time to get there. If we had been further away we would have never learned of it until another town was lost."
We come to a four way stop in the middle of nowhere. He stays motionless for some time, viewing the map he had memorized earlier.
"If we take the right, we will get there faster, but, it seems, dangerous?"
"Dangerous? To us? Or others?"
That does not sound good.
"How much faster?"
"An hour, maybe more?"
It was enough to risk it. We're running out of time. Tonight is the real deal.
"If you're really right, we only have hours," I say.
He checks his watch and frowns.
"Six hours, fifty-seven minutes."
Great. We lost one already. It's time for the truly desperate measures.
"Dog," he agrees as he turns right and we head into the countryside.
It's not bad around here, I could like it. The mountains are really blue in the mists of the summer heat, the lowering sun just tinting the white snowcaps pink and orange. We're heading into those mountains, the small town we are seeking is in the valley on the other side of the first high peaks.
It isn't long before we come upon a nicely isolated house. As he drives slowly up the dirt driveway, we check it out closely. It's an old, white, picket-style with high angled roofs and warping wood siding in need of paint. There are lots of overgrown trees and bushes, and the grass hasn't been cut in decades. It's past sunset now, and there isn't a light to be seen in the house. Perfect?
As he rolls to a stop some twenty feet from the corner of the house, we nod to each other in that 'use caution' way and open our doors. We get out and listen, poised at the doors. Nothing. He whistles, not too loudly, lips pursed instead of rigid. Still nothing. The house does seem deserted; the dust on the single step in front of the nearly paint-stripped door visible even from here.
We separate from the car and slowly approach the house. He whistles loudly, much longer as well. Then he warbles a whistle, like a bird.
"Hello!" he yells, startling me.
He usually doesn't do things that boldly, and we still didn't know for sure it's abandoned. He looks at me, probably sees my expression isn't a happy one.
He smiles, laughs a bit and says, "It's empty. Come on."
It does look it. I've seen more than a few abandoned houses, spent many months living in them. Ever since he came and changed my, uh, life?
As we turn to go back to the car, we hear a bark. Thank goodness! He whistles a couple more times and the barking gets closer. Soon, a beautiful golden retriever comes slowly through the tall grasses from the other side of the ramshackle barn, its tail wagging and its tongue dangling as it limps up to him.
It's an old male, probably near the end anyway, and we are probably going to do it a favor. I go over and thank the dog as well, scratching behind his ears when he indicates he likes that. His belly is a favorite too, but what dog's isn't? He's getting a bit lame, too, obviously no longer in good health. I love it when it works out like this; it seems a good omen. The younger and healthy seeming volunteers are the worst, but they come when needed.
He did it quickly, just a fraction after the dog had granted the forgiveness and we recognized it.
Still, the sound of the neck breaking, it bothers me, it's creepy.
That makes me glad he's the Reader, not me. I couldn't do the next part. I couldn't have gotten this far on several occasions before. It was the younger ones; when they came, I could never.
As he moves the animal in front of the car, I switch on the headlights for him. He opens the shell, gathers the components, and is soon ready. He makes a few marks in the ground with a hollow pit in the center. He chants, weaves side to side, gestures with his hands in complicated patterns. The image becomes clear, even to me. They say when the Blade and the Reader become close, that happens. It had happened with us almost immediately.
He nearly collapses as the sight of the two sheet-clad forms fade. I catch him, ready for it.
"So close!" he hisses.
He's weak after this one, far more than usual. That worries me.
"We're so close!" he says with more strength this time.
"Take it easy for a bit," I tell him.
He agrees, thankfully, and we sit there for a while. I don't mind it at all, I love to hold him. He is solidly lean, muscular and flexible. We fit together very well, as we had found out on that first night we met.
When we met, I had no idea of what he did with his time. He was just an incredibly good-looking guy sitting at that bus stop. I hadn't felt like going out that night at first, then for some reason, I just needed to! It was like I had to! I walked straight to that street corner and locked eyes with him as I approached him.
He was sitting there, facing my direction, seemingly waiting. He smiled directly at me as I walked up to him. He was gorgeous! I've always liked older guys, and he looked to be in his late twenties. Strong features with reddish-brown hair, pale skin and lips, dark, dark brown eyes. I stared into those eyes, meeting them for the first time, knowing I was going to be looking into them for a long time to come. I just, knew it.
"We are some pair," he says, stroking my arm around his chest, recovering from the seeking spell.
He always knows what I'm thinking.
"We are. Remember when we officially matched? Cloris went purple and had an attack!"
"That was most rewarding," he says, grinning that damned rascally grin.
"Can I ask, how many matchings you've had?"
I've asked before, but not at such an appropriate time. He was that way, often answering questions when they belonged in the conversation, ignoring them when they didn't.
"More than I care to admit to. I am ready now."
He isn't going to answer, that's clear. He's stronger now, standing mostly on his own, only slightly weaving as he heads back to the car. He returns with the things he needs and begins the next ritual.
He is always at his most handsome while performing rites, with the energy he controls wrapped around him. His hair stands up, weaving and dancing in the currents of energy. His expression of concentration is adorable, even sexual in a way; similar to the faces I so loved to be the cause of.
"Are you sure that's a good idea? You were pretty weak after that last one."
"We need the compass to follow them. Without it, we will be hunting a golden flea on a herd of elephants."
Even his ancient sayings are cute. I've often wondered how old he really is. He won't tell me. I've asked dozens of times since we've been together. He says age is a lie, that it's your experiences that make you who you are. So, who's to argue with that? I still wondered, though.
I know he is going to use more of the dog, and I don't care to see it, so I go back to the car and try to find a station on the radio. Just one station, and it�s country. I hate country. He loves it. I forgive him that fault.
When he comes back, I refuse to look at what he has with him. I've seen them before. Sometimes I hate what we do.
He sets it on the seat next to us on top of a faded towel.
"We need water, be right back," he says and then gets back out of the car.
We do, too. He has blood on his hands and arms, but we haven't checked the house yet.
I get out of the car to remind him of that when he kicks in the front door.
"Take it slow!" I yell just before the gunshot.
He comes hurling out the doorway backwards and lands on his back in the dust. I pull my pistol and flick off the safety before I finish my first step toward him. Another shot. Shotgun, both times. I see the dust fly inches from his left arm.
I have my right arm outstretched with the pistol aiming in the general direction of the house and start squeezing off a shot with every step as I run towards him, aiming to miss.
His chest cavity is ruined, most of the black t-shirt shredded. Several ribs are visible, as is a bubbling mass of pink and red that can only be perforated lungs. He's pale, but his eyes are open, blinking. Those beautiful dark eyes grow paler as I hesitate over him.
I grab him by his right arm and haul ass, dragging him through the dirt.
The last round in the pistol cracks its way toward the house as I reach the car. I toss the pistol into the back seat and throw him across the bench seat in front. I climb in as fast as I can, pushing his legs the rest of the way over and then pull the door closed behind me. I start the car, and as I drop it into reverse, the windshield explodes into an opaque spider-web maze as the sound of the shotgun arrives.
I turn the wheel and give it gas, spinning the small car into a one-eighty. As it points down the dirt drive and stops fishtailing, I nail it. I hear more shots, but we're out of the danger range now. Accelerating sideways up the county road, tires squealing, I notice he's on the floorboards now.
I floor the car for all it's worth until the curves start and I come across another seemingly deserted side road. This one I follow until I see a spot to get off of it and not be seen. A burnt out building does nicely, and I park the old Buick behind it.
Now I have to deal with the mess.
I cry as I reach down and pull his body up by the arm. Once his shoulder is close enough, I use that to pull him to me, laying his head and shoulders on my lap.
His eyes are open, but unseeing. My own eyes fill with tears.
"This one, Xavien?"
"This one, Tillis!"
The two ghosts skipped up the walk and onto the brightly lit porch. One knocked while the other rang the bell. They looked at each other and snickered.
A middle-aged man in beige slacks and sweater opened the door. He had been expecting shorter visitors and had to straighten up to look up at the two before him.
"Trick or Treat!" the ghosts demanded in unison.
"Well! Twin ghosts! That's something else! But aren't you a little old for trick or treat?" the man said, reaching for a handful of candies from the bowl by the door.
"We're even older than we look! Wanna see?" one of the ghosts asked.
"Oh, really?" the man laughed. "Sure, show me how old you are!"
As he held the hand with the candy forth, the sheets were pulled up. The candies fell, tumbling from the man's slackened hand.
He screamed, "Dear God in Heaven!" and staggered backwards a step.
"NOT!" came the reply in unison.
"DIE!" echoed between the walls of the house.
The man dutifully complied, crumpling to the floor in a seemingly boneless heap, his eyes staring at both nothing and eternity, his skin wrinkled and puckered even though it also seemed shrunk-wrapped to his skull.
"Aww, that wasn't very entertaining, Xavien!"
"Still, best night of the year, Xavien!"
"Yup! Best night of the year, Tillis!"
They dropped the sheets, turned and skipped down the walk.
"Should we have closed the door, Tillis?"
Just then, the screams of the children who had next come upon the house filled the night.
They laughed, cackled even, as they skipped along.
Less than six hours to go, and he is down and out of it. At least two dead by now and I am alone. Again. The town is still an hour away, and now the only help I have is that disgusting compass!
I have no time to cry over him. There had never been any guarantee this wouldn't happen; I had even been repeatedly warned about the possibility, by him and the others back at The Association during my training. But that still doesn't ease the shock or the emotional load.
I put him in his sleeping bag and then put the blankets and stuff over him. At least he isn't obvious, if I get pulled over or some such.
He has done all that was needed of him, the rest is up to me. Still, I wish he could be there at the finish, should I win. I'd hate to lose now!
It's fully dark now, and through my continuing tears I read a road sign that says it's forty miles to Haddonfield.
"Oh, my! Look at this one, Tillis!"
"A pretty one, Xavien!"
The two sheet-clad ghosts stopped at the end of a sidewalk leading to a home with many lights and decorations. A sound track of screams and bellows, chains and creaking doors played through a speaker in the window near the door.
"I would say this one is asking us to visit, Xavien!"
"I believe you are correct, Tillis!"
The two approached the house, snickering, breaking away from each other on the wide porch. One stood before the door as the other seemed to slip under the door.
The lone ghost rang the bell. A pretty young woman, who was smiling in expectation and holding a bowl of candy, opened the door. The form beneath the sheet seemed to fall through the floor of the porch, leaving a seemingly discarded sheet lying in a crumpled pile.
"Oh! My! What a nice trick! How did you do that?" she exclaimed, apparently delighted by the trick.
As she bent to examine, or perhaps even lift up the crumpled sheet, she suddenly stood ramrod straight and shook slightly. A small cry escaped her lips, followed by wisps of smoke. Her eyes first bulged, then steamed, then exploded. The music was suddenly silenced and the entire house went dark. The only sound now was the laughing of the two tricksters.
She fell forward onto the sheet, her twitching body partially covering it, bright red blood running in thin trails from her ruined eye sockets onto it.
"Oh, I say! Shocking! Simply shocking, Tillis!"
"Oh, so punny! So punny indeed, Xavien!"
Two electrical wires leading from the wall socket near the inside door fell to the floor as the words, "Honey, what did you do?" in a man's irritated voice came from deeper in the shadows of the house.
Quiet snickers may have been heard, if anyone had been there to hear them, before the young man arrived to see his wife laying face down on the stoop.
In his grief, and during his howls of anguish and horror, as he cradled the lifeless body on his lap, the man could not be blamed for failing to notice the crumpled sheet on the porch slide away. It traveled to the sidewalk before again taking on the familiar shape. Another sheet, seemingly as equally discarded, took to the air and settled down upon another previously invisible form without notice from the frantic fellow.
Back at the sidewalk, the two ghosts traipsed merrily along.
"Oh, glorious, Xavien!"
"Indeed! Simply delicious, Tillis!"
"Why, you have been stained, Xavien!"
"Why, so I have, Tillis!"
Red stains marked the white sheet.
"That won't come out in the wash, Xavien!"
"No, it most likely would not, Tillis!"
"Best night of the year, Xavien!"
"Best night of the year, Tillis!"
It's after eight now, and another soul is now at rest. Maybe more; they loved to have 'collateral damage'. I've heard they once caused a school bus full of children to crash, killing nearly everyone on board, just in order to have it kill the target on his motorbike. They would have done it, I'm sure it's not idle rumor. And who knows what they had just done to number three?
There is no way I am going to be able to save number four. Even number five is almost certainly dead. Maybe I can stop six. Maybe. But if I don't stop them...
I refuse to think on it. That is defeat. I will not be defeated! Not this time! Not now that he is in the back seat, like that. No way!
And I will have to use that compass. Oh, fuck. I had left it on the floor on purpose, not wanting to touch it. I had thrown that old, faded towel over it, not even wanting to see it.
This would have been his duty. He would have held it, concentrating upon it, steering us toward them. Now I would have to do that, and hold that disgusting thing in my hands.
I'm feeling so alone, like before that night we met. After I had finally approached him, and we had talked a bit, he had asked if I knew someplace where we could be alone. My heart had raced, fluttered, pounded. I took him to my place, to where I lived above the garage at my parent's house.
He wanted to get cleaned up, and as he was in the shower, I was sitting there, tingling, almost giggling, that I had a really cute guy over in my apartment. When he came out of the bathroom without anything on, his wounds so clearly visible, the lust left me. It was replaced with deep concern for him and the need to comfort him.
He told me how best to help him, showed me how to tend wounds, even stitch them. I followed his instructions, intent on healing him, making him feel better. It was all that mattered to me.
When I had cleaned all the wounds, sewn the last gash closed, and had covered them with bandages, he put his hand behind my neck and pulled me into a kiss. It didn't end. We made love. It was smooth, as if we had done that together a thousand times before. Everything just went the places and the way we wanted. I suppose it was his experience that made that happen.
When we had rested, he asked if I loved him. Of course I did; from that first glimpse of him. I told him so, and he asked if I would give my life for him. Of course I would; from that first glimpse of him.
As I come around a mountain top curve, I see the little town below me. It's one of those picturesque little mountain towns, tucked into a forested valley. If there are a thousand people there, it's tourist season. Not that this place likely ever saw tourists. The main highways bypass it on the other sides of the high hills. It is isolated below, only this two-lane, gray-topped road in and out, and the yellow paint on it looks to have last been done decades ago.
I slow down and take a good, long look. There's a wide shoulder area and I stop the car. I get out and have a fast look.
Down in the valley, the tallest object is the church steeple, lit on all sides. It pokes above the town like a protective totem. Too bad it only works when you really believe. And true belief is rare in my modern world. Not to mention that the truth has been so long suppressed and distorted, the vast majority can only see a sliver of it.
But He likes it that way. That way, only those who search for it can find it. The search requires the most open mind and soul, unified and whole. The rest, the great bulk of humanity, are lost.
Somewhere down there, in that little postcard town, with its twinkling lights and slow pace of life, are at least four more who have seen the truth, or will. I have to do what I can to find them, to save them from the Hollow Ones on their night.
Back in the car, I continue down the narrow mountain road, toward the chase, the encounter, the conflict.
"Oh, well now. This will be obvious, Xavien!"
"Yes, too easy, Tillis!"
The ghosts approached a tractor-trailer parked at a convenience station along an unusually wide road for the small town. The fuel tanker was currently filling the underground tanks, the driver leaning over the hoses impatiently.
The ghosts split at the door to the shop, one moving toward the truck, the other entering the brightly lit interior.
"We don't do trick or treat here, kid. You kinda big to be at it anyway, ain't ya?" the man behind the counter asked.
"There's something wrong with the gas truck, mister! You better check it out!"
The attendant ran around the counter, threw the glass door wide and stared at the scene in front of him.
The driver was struggling with what looked like a white sheet that was wrapped around his head. He had kicked one of the hoses free and fuel spewed from it, covering an astounding area with every passing second.
The attendant stared at the emergency cut-off button on the wall behind the counter before exclaiming, "That won't matter for shit!" and instead ran toward the struggling trucker.
As he jumped the trail of the running fuel and came within reach of the driver, the sheet flew upward over the truck, and seemingly landed atop the silver tank. Both men stared at it as it stood upright, as if a man now wore it.
The attendant, suddenly remembering the similarly clad trick-or-treater inside, glanced that way.
What he saw made him foul himself instantly.
As the burning matches fell toward the ground, he pushed the trucker away as hard as he could, then tried to run. He tripped over one of the fuel hoses and fell face first into the growing puddle around him. He staggered, stumbled, fell into the fuel again, splashing it over himself and soaking his clothing with it.
He recovered, his eyes stinging, his mouth and nose filled with the taste and reek of the gasoline. He started running blindly, coughing and choking, but the flames were faster than him. Before he had cleared the flowing gasoline, the flames traveled over the surface of it and began licking up his legs, then his waist, then his chest and face, finally over his head, engulfing him completely.
The living torch ran in circles now, screaming horribly, as the trucker regained his own feet. Knowing the truck was an instant from exploding, he ran away from it and toward the human fireball.
As he tackled the still running, burning, smoking man, the fire reached the trailer valve, flash-igniting the trapped vapors and rupturing the sidewalls, sending shrapnel into the main tank. The concussion threw the two men ten feet from the tanker.
The fuel and vapors from the main tank were released by the shrapnel, and they ignited. The ensuing explosion engulfed and threw the prone men another thirty feet, out into the highway, tumbling them like flaming dross in the winds of a forest fire.
As the fireball tore away the cheap vinyl siding and the weak corrugated tin of the roof of the convenience store, the windows gave way, allowing the fire free access to the flammables inside.
When the concussion wave struck the two fuel pumps, they crumbled and ignited inside the primary fireball as it swept by. They added their own vertical jets of bright yellow and orange flames to the coruscation.
In successive blasts, the trucks fuel tanks ruptured and exploded in a chain of comparatively tiny puffs of fire and light.
"Woooo! Barbecue, Xavien!"
"Barbecue indeed, Tillis!"
The propane tanks were next, chain firing and sending each other in every direction. Flaming cans of liquid propane ejected their contents in jets of blue fire, wheeling wildly around and caroming crazily. A few simply exploded in place, blowing holes in the wall of the store.
One bottle, its ignited contents jetting out of the broken valve assembly like a rocket engine, shot out of sight over the building. Several seconds later, the faint sound of its explosive landing arrived.
The entire wall of the building next to the tanker and propane tanks fell inward, the roof above it a flaming skeleton of wreckage. Inside, the building and its contents burned from end to end. The last remaining window glass fell outward onto the sidewalk, the sounds it made barely audible above the hissing roar of the fires. Two cars parked at the end of the store burned as well, adding more smoke to the black column rising above the scene of destruction.
"Yes, stupendous, Tillis!"
Both sheet-clad forms were now near the two men in the road. Car lights were coming down the road, forcing them to leave the burning, smoking bodies quickly. They waited behind a parked truck as the car came slowly. As it passed the debris and corpses on the road, it suddenly accelerated and sped off into the dark.
"Spoiled sport, eh, Tillis!"
"No nice, curdling screams from that one, Tillis."
"No. That was too bad, eh Xavien."
"You seem to be smoldering, Tillis!"
"Yes, I do, do I not, Xavien!"
A small patch of the white sheet, mid-way up the side of the figure, was burned away, the edges charred and still smoking, only empty blackness visible through the hole.
"It shall extinguish soon, Tillis!"
"So it shall, Xavien!"
"Best night of the year, Tillis!"
"Best night of the year, Xavien!"
The smoke and small flames on the blackened, twitching corpses continued as the two ghostly figures put the scene well behind them.
It's one of those towns. The white sign on the city limits with the badges of the local organizations, then the cutesy 'Welcome To' sign.
There are trick-or-treaters out still. Small groups of kids dressed in various costumes, stopping at the homes of people who's names they all know. Nothing like the big city I grew up in. As first, I envy them, then I remember not to do so; these small towns are magnets for Them.
They love bringing pain and death to these quiet places. Other Enemies haunted the cities; but the small towns are most beloved by my own sworn enemies. The ones I chose as my challenge are the worst, in my opinion. The Hollow Ones are not the strongest, nor are they the smartest, nor the most fearsome, but they are the most insidious. The creatures I have sworn to destroy are the sly ones themselves, the pranksters, if you will. If you can call murder and death, pranks.
Tonight is their night. If I don't stop them from killing six enlightened souls, they will have the ability to bring It through for a night of destruction. This small town would be filled with death and ashes.
Comfortable looking houses spaced widely apart line the highway into town. As the houses become closer to each other, and the road curves right, I can see emergency lights ahead. As I get closer, it's apparent I am indeed closer to Them.
A convenience store is on fire, a gasoline delivery truck and two cars as well. The night sky seems ominous as the intense fires below illuminate the column of smoke as it rises into it.
A county Sheriff's car is blocking the last intersection before it all. Not wanting the attention, I turn off well before then. I see another police car the next block over, blocking that intersection several streets down. I turn down the next street when I see it is empty. They have to be close, the fire trucks are just now arriving.
Time to use the compass, I sigh. With luck, maybe I can stop them before number five.
I stop the car, put it in park, and leave the engine running. I pick it up, and lay it on the seat next to me. It is several seconds before I can uncover it. I know I am going to have to hold it with both hands to use it. I loathe it.
I unwrap it and glare at it. He had left the skin long behind the skull, then tied the extra skin with a bit of wire. At least it won't leak as I use it.
I pick the thing up, and hold it with both bare palms, grimacing. Closing my eyes, I call back the image he had conjured just prior to the creation of the thing. Seeing the two sheet-clad forms clearly, I feel the prickly tingle and open my eyes.
The needles set into the dog's eyes are pointing ahead and to my right. As I rotate the head in that direction, the twin gold needles waver and spread, still pointing the same direction, but now a bit away from each other; a sign they are not far away.
I wave it back and forth; trying to narrow the direction down. Feeling good about the direction, I put the animal's cold head back on the towel and wrap it up tightly.
I glance into the back seat. It hurts, knowing he's there, that there is nothing I can do for him. I'd like to cry for a while, let the emotion burn itself out, but there simply isn't the time. I can do what I can for him later, but not now.
Even the way he recruited me, it was always later. After we had made love that first night, and I knew what he was, it was always, "Later, my angel, later." It was always later with him.
I didn't want to wait for it. I never understood why he delayed it. I wanted him to do it. I wanted to join him, help him, to be with him every moment of every day, even if it meant leaving my parents and friends.
Parents, hah! They charged me three hundred dollars a month for that little apartment, and I knew they couldn't get that from anyone else! I worked every day after graduating school to move up there, away from them. I had thought they would charge me next to nothing to have me out from under their asses. I guess the garage apartment wasn't far enough for them.
As for friends; who?
I had been thinking that too, laying there, naked with him. That was the first time I knew he could read my thoughts, when he told me I shouldn't hate my parents, but that since they had offered no respect to me, I was under no obligation to respect them. He said he could take me away from there. I wanted that.
I had expected him to do it then. He didn't. We did make love again, a bit more aggressively, and again I expected him to do it at any moment. Not that I was let down when we finished and he still hadn't. I wasn't let down, not by a long shot, but I was wondering if he was going to make me like him after all.
Sighing, I look up and see in the rear view mirror that a police car has pulled up behind me. I panic. Not only do I have a bit of blood on my hands, there is a dismembered dog's head next to me, I have him in the back seat, and splotches of blood on the front seat. Oh, and no ID.
I curl my fingers around the steering wheel, turning my knuckles white. The police car's lights come on and I turn the car off and wait for the officer to come up.
He's a tall, thin guy, early twenties, probably a rookie. He holds his right hand on the butt of his weapon as he nears the car. When he bends down to see my face, he isn't smiling.
"Can I ask what you're doing here?" he says in a sweet country accent.
"I was lost, just checking the map," I lie.
He nods a bit, peeks in the back window again, then over to the passengers front seat. Its fairly dark out and there was no street light here. The only light was his flashlight, which he kept mostly in my face.
Where ya headin'?" he asks.
"Belusha," I say, naming a small town on the other side of the mountains.
"Why'd ya get off the highway?"
"Wanted to see the sights. Got plenty of time, so I came the scenic route," I offer, trying to explain why I was blocks from the highway to Belusha.
"I see. We just had a sudden fire. I just thought an out of state vehicle in the area was somethin' I best check out. You got your license and registration?"
No. I have no such things. Even if I still have my old license, it's long out of date. It's time. I take a deep breath and concentrate, bringing up the energies and focusing them.
I sense his mind and body, let myself meld with his being. In his thoughts, I see myself through his eyes, hear myself talking to him.
"I was just passing through, arrived well after what happened. Certainly no connection to anything questionable. I should just keep moving on."
"Well, since you was just passin' through, and after the fires started at that, you can't have nothin' to do with it. You should just keep movin' on."
"Yes. Thank you officer. You have a nice night."
"Yes. Have a good night, sir."
As he walks back to his car, I gently smudge my image in his memory before I leave him.
I love doing that. Feel guilty about it too. I mean, when you realize you're changing the thoughts and memories of another person, it bothers you. Me, anyway.
Once the officer pulls around me, I start the car and wait for him to get a good patch down the road before I pull out and turn right at the next street. Two blocks later, I stop and use that disgusting compass again. The indicators point mostly straight ahead, just a bit to the left. The tips of the needles in the eyes are nearly touching, letting me know that my quarry are almost within shouting distance.
The adrenaline starts flowing, and my senses heighten. I can feel the slow air currents through the car, and smell the deodorant and cologne from the cop still lingering inside with me. I can smell his own scent, too. And the dog-compass, and the stale sweat of my own. And him, in the back seat.
But I mustn't think of him, only of Them. I have to focus, concentrate, and become the Blade. The fight is near now. Soon, I will be victor, or vanquished. This town will go innocently on, or it will become an orgy of blood, destruction and death by morning.
I check my watch. Ten o'clock. I'm probably already too late to save the next sacrifice.
"A conundrum, Xavien!"
"Indeed so, Tillis!"
"We must not fail in this, Xavien!"
The two white silhouettes were near a small home that had no lights on within it. It was a low, short ranch-style home with a small unattached garage. There was no car visible in the open garage.
"This one has eluded us, Xavien!"
"Perhaps, but I feel it coming closer, Tillis!"
After a pause, the other replied.
"Indeed! We must prepare a welcome, Xavien!"
"Indeed so, Tillis!"
As an old compact car approached, the two hurried to conceal themselves within the garage.
The ugly little car pulled into the drive with one headlight flickering on and off irregularly. Once it squealed to a stop inside the garage, and the rattling engine quit, the driver's door opened with a bone-chilling wail of tortured metal.
A woman in a waitress uniform got wearily out of the car, slamming the door closed with a hollow, vibrating clang and the rattle of lose metal parts. She sighed and walked toward the open garage door. Just as she passed behind the car, a long, twisted piece of white cloth snaked out from under it, wrapping around her ankle and pulling her off her feet.
She went down backwards, striking her head on the cold concrete, stunning her momentarily. Through the grogginess, she realized she was being pulled by both ankles underneath the car.
She screamed constantly as she fought to grab anything to stop from being dragged beneath the low vehicle. There was nothing within her reach to grab onto, so she uselessly tried to use her long nails to gain purchase on the cement of the driveway; the nails bent, painfully breaking almost instantly. In her struggle, she didn't notice her keys seemingly float out of the pocket in her waitress' skirt and drift into the car through the open passenger side window.
When she noticed she was no longer being pulled under the car, she stopped screaming for help. She sat up, noticing the silhouette of someone in the driver's seat of her car. She actually felt her pockets for the keys as the car started.
As her pretty face turned from fear to surprise, even curiosity, the engine revved up and the gear lever dropped one slot.
She had time to scream in panic, even try to turn out of the way of the car, before the wheels began spinning. Her legs were under the car, still held by whatever had pulled her there. She used her arms to try to pull herself further from the car, but what held her was far stronger than her.
As she began to scream again, the squealing rear wheels caught and the car began moving. Her screams changed, becoming louder and harsher. They were screams of pain now, instead of fear, as first the rear wheel, then the front wheel rolled over both of her legs. The sickening sounds of the breaking bones were not audible over the loud exhaust and engine noises, but it was immediately obvious that both legs were indeed broken.
The car came to a stop at the end of the driveway, the headlights shining on the woman sitting on the floor of the garage. Her face was distorted in pain and fear, both of her legs unmoving as she leaned over them in agony.
The engine revved twice before again wailing as the revolutions increased. The wheels squealed again as the transmission locked into drive and the car sped forward.
The woman wept over her tangled legs, not seeing the car approach; not wanting to see it.
The bumper struck her torso solidly, forcing it over and down, under the front wheel. The car rolled over her body, catching her clothing, hair and skin on sharp edges and corners before it came down fully on her. The engine never dropped from it's screaming roar as the transmission dutifully channeled its power, now rotating the drive train in reverse. Her body was pulled several feet outside the garage before the front wheels again rolled over it. The car stopped, the engine still roaring loudly as the wheels spun again, slowing its backward speed before propelling it forward. The car bounced over her remains, dragging them several feet, smearing fluids and torn flesh up the drive and onto the garage floor.
It was still possible to tell that the mangled mass had been a human being just moments before. With a loud bang, the transmission again provided reverse momentum, spinning the wheels in the mess beneath them. The car had not moved more than a foot when there was a loud, deep, metallic bang followed by a repeating clanging of metal against metal. The engine stalled, and the vehicle rolled slowly down the driveway toward the street, a thick, greasy cloud billowing from the front end.
Two white sheets flew and fluttered out of the car windows, taking on vaguely human-shaped forms almost instantly.
"Now, that was most interesting, Tillis!"
�Yes indeed, Xavien!"
The screams of the neighbor who came out to investigate the noises sent the two white-clad forms scurrying away and giggling in glee.
"Oh, my! What a nice voice she has, Xavien!"
"Indeed! Shrill and pleasingly piercing, Tillis!"
"Let us enjoy this one a bit, Xavien!"
"Very well, let us linger a while, Tillis!"
The figures drifted to the roof of the small home, coming to rest as nothing more than two vague, slightly lighter patches upon it.
More neighbors came, and within minutes there was a crowd gathered.
"Most delicious at first, but now quite dull, Xavien!"
"Quite true, Tillis!"
"Come, more tricks and treats, then Master, Xavien!"
"Yes! One more, then Master, Tillis!"
"Best night of the year, Xavien!"
"Best night of the year, Tillis!"
As I turn another corner, watching for the two sheet-clad forms, two police cars come from the other side of the block towards me. I pull to the side so they can go around, and notice a gathering of folks a couple houses up the street. The police stop there.
I park the car, sneak up to join the crowd and gently elbow my way up front. A car is being pushed up a driveway, toward a mess that was once a human. It was one of the enlightened; her aura still fading around her ruined corpse.
I go back to the car, uncover the compass and concentrate on Them. The needles point, and from their angle to each other, they were close. This would be much easier with a Reader, my Reader, doing this and directing me.
I back around the corner and head north. The next block I again take up the compass. Almost straight ahead, and so close!
I stop at every corner now, using the compass, following the golden arrows that penetrated the dog's eyes. Each time, the needles of gold tell me I am closer.
I turn down a narrow street with no sidewalks, cruise it slowly, looking for the two white shapes. There are small groups of kids still out in costumes, going door to door for treats.
If only their parents knew. Unfortunately, like all the ancient secrets, this one is obscure, found only by those who search for the truth relentlessly, openly. Who else could believe the truth of Halloween?
When he told me the truth of All Hollow's Eve so long ago, that first night with him, I believed him. I believed him easily. I believe anything he tells me: told me. He had never been one for kidding, or joshing. The truth, only the truth would do for him, or come from him.
That night we met, he told me only the truth. True, he hardly told me anything, but what he did was solid, honest fact.
He woke me that next morning, just before the sun rose. He was leaning over me, his hand on my chest, the other still under my head as I slept. I felt his breath on my neck, heard him sniffling. When I asked if there was something wrong, he told me the truth.
"I've fallen in love with you, as I expected I would with the one who answered my call, but you, you are so young. You could have so much if I left you, found another. It would be, almost criminal."
I knew what he meant, how he must feel. I think the beginnings of the matching were already in place, as I could almost directly feel his emotions. I wanted to cry; not for me, for him. For the difficulty he was experiencing because of me.
I remember so well, placing my hand on his face, putting on a smile for him, telling him he could only be doing me a favor by taking me out of there. He asked if I would miss my friends. I said I might, the three friends I had, but they weren't close enough to miss much. We did some stuff together, had some laughs, but never were close. I already felt far closer to him than all the friends lumped together.
When I told him so, he must have felt the honesty in the statement. He smiled, a wide smile, full of his love for me. We kissed again, long and loving, our hands roaming. I was ready for another turn with him, of course. It went beyond the sensual that third time. He shared his mind with me, showing me what he lived like, how difficult it could be, even as we moaned in our pleasure.
As we neared, together, he locked eyes with me. We kept our eyes burning into each other the entire time. As it occurred, as I released in response to his release within me, he kissed my neck, nuzzled there, then he changed me, finally. I became one with him.
The third time was the charm. And it had hurt, it burned so badly, it had been pure agony.
But now, suddenly, I see the Enemy! They're half way up a sidewalk, approaching a house just up the block.
I pull over and kill the engine. I rush to the trunk, open it and pull the ancient case from it. I cover myself with the weapons and tools so familiar now.
I run behind the nearest house, hoping there are no fences, or if there are, that they would be easy to hop over. I'm in luck, not a single fence. Now, if I can get inside and reach the them before they answer the door, I can warn them, save them. There is a small light on inside the back of the house, probably the kitchen. I try the door there, but it's locked.
Then I hear screams.
"Number six, Tillis!"
"Yes, number six it is, Xavien!"
A woman was holding out a bowl, four children in costumes reaching for the treats.
"Quickly, and we can include the children, Tillis!"
"You have a plan, Xavien?"
"Yes, an orgy of aging, Tillis!"
"Oh, so wonderful, Xavien!"
The two made their way up to the porch and blocked the children from the stairs.
"Hey! Come on, let us through," the largest child, about ten or twelve demanded from behind his Incredible Hulk mask.
The sheet-covered duo looked to each other, then pulled the sheets upward.
The screams began instantly as pandemonium fought chaos for the upper hand on the small porch. Most of the children ran toward the woman and the inside of the house. The two children who stood shaking before the ghosts, grew and aged rapidly. In seconds they passed through puberty and into adulthood. Their costumes ripped and shredded as their bodies grew. As the seconds passed, they matured into middle age and then began to shrink slightly as old age came. Another brief moment and they shriveled, dried and collapsed.
The woman slammed her front door, locked it, and pushed the children toward the back of the house.
"Run, kids! Run out the back and don't come back!" she yelled at them, forcing them to move faster then their legs were capable. Two, the smallest, fell, and she stopped to help them up. As she did so, the change in the screams of the children from the back of the house caused her to look up.
A stranger dressed like Indiana Jones with long red hair trailing over his shoulders was pushing his way through the back door. In an unusual English accent he yelled at the children to run home and not stop until they got there, to stay away from the front of the house and go straight through the neighbor's yard across the alley. The entire time, he was sprinkling the contents of a small vial over each child as they ran past him into the night.
As the last child ran through the door, he slammed it and sprinkled the remaining contents of the vial around it, chanting eerily.
The woman now huddled on the floor, holding the two smallest children who had fallen. She was pale, but her face was almost calm.
"You! What are one of you doing here!" she exclaimed over the frightened cries of the two children she held.
"You recognize me?" the young man asked, dropping the empty vial into a pocket and running past her to the front door.
"I can see what you are! But how? You look so young. And what were those things out there? What the hell is going on!" she demanded, gripping the kids even tighter.
"You've been targeted. By The Hollow Ones," he said as the two white-clad forms forced the front door open with a word of power.
A strong gust of wind followed the opening door, blowing the hair out of the smallish man's face. He stood firmly, resolute before the horrors that approached him.
"Look, a Blade, Xavien!"
"Yes, a Blade, Tillis!"
"But a boy, Xavien!"
"Yes, so young a boy to be a Blade. And so young to have been chosen, eh, Tillis!"
"Yes, so, Xavien!"
"Yes, a Blade, and your doom!" he exclaimed, straightening to his full five foot and five inches and waving his hands before him.
"Oh, and a Cockney lad at that, Tillis!"
"Yes! A lovelerly Cockney and all, Xavien!"
"I'm not Cockney!" The Blade exclaimed as his bolt of energy flew from his weaving hands and struck the two enemies.
As the energy struck them their sheets caught fire, bursting into bright yellow flames and were gone in that single second. Before him now stood the true forms of his Enemies. Yellowed bones were visible in places where the rotting, oozing flesh didn't cling to and cover. Long, white hair hung from both heads, and though the facial features were mostly obscured by it, what was visible was mostly bone and teeth. The eye sockets burned an intense, bloody red in the grinning skulls.
"Such power, Xavien! Such a potent opening spell! Has he burned out his best, already, Xavien?"
"Quite possible, Tillis. Has he anything left? And where is his Reader? Cockneys never work alone, Tillis!"
"I do not know." the creature said before it sniffed several times and then said in a satisfied tone, "Ah, gone, Xavien!"
The hollow voices mocked him, laughing at his loss.
"Oh, Tillis. So young, so potent, so grieved. Oh, this shall be such a pleasure, eh Tillis?"
The hunger, the greed, the desire are all palpable in the large living room as the horrid creature spoke.
"Yes! A veritable treasure of pleasure, Xavien!"
Both skeletal forms charged at the Blade, howling their hatred, need and rage. The woman shrieked, unable to bear the horrible sound. She blocked the ears of the children with her palms while they huddled in the doorway to the kitchen.
A brilliant flash of white exploded, nearly blinding her even through her closed eyelids. The three combatants began exchanging spells, wreaking havoc upon the contents of the house. Several pieces of furniture burst into flame then imploded with echoing booms. The lightest things on the tables - papers, magazines, other such items - swirled around the room in the vortex of energies the three released upon each other. Soon even the tables began dragging around the floor, making screeching noises almost as loud as the voices of the three as they howled out potent words. The ceiling began to crack, small bits of the plaster raining down on the woman and children.
Again and again energies were exchanged, forces repulsed, powers drawn upon and hurled from side to side. Smoking bits of debris whirled between the combatants, trailing smoke and sparks. As objects crashed into each other in the mayhem they burst into ashes and showering sparks, raining down on the weird forms circling each other in the now seemingly confined room.
The Blade fought with his magic, determined that he would be destroyed before he let even one of the Enemies escape. He had used up the preliminary spells, even his mainstays, and now begun using the more potent and dangerous ones.
One of the Enemies hurled a sphere of crackling green energy at him, burning his clothing and setting his hair alight. The Blade dropped and rolled, came up with a spell ready and hurled it at the closest Enemy. It wrapped the skeletal form in a field of deep purple mist, slowing it's movements.
The other Hollow One released a narrow beam of yellow brilliance from a fingertip that the Blade narrowly dodged. Where the beam struck the wall a perfect hole the diameter of a finger appeared completely through it.
The Blade stood, crossed his arms, pulled a dagger from each shoulder and threw one at each enemy, speaking a spell. One dagger struck home in the slowed Enemy, lodging between exposed ribs, sparking and hissing there. That Enemy fell to the floor like the bag of bones it seemed to be.
"Xavien! Oh, Xavien! NO!" the second hissed, hurling itself forward for physical combat.
The Blade knew the Enemy was dangerous in close quarters fighting. They held all the cards in such a fight. Only magic could do real harm to them, while they could now easily harm him physically. His first spell, bringing them back to corporeal existence, had assured that possibility.
As the grotesque form hurled itself onto the Blade, he twisted out of the way, and brought his hand and arm over and around the neck of the creature. The cold chilled him immediately, forming frost on his skin where he touched the creature. He bit back the pain as he pulled it toward the back of the house.
"Open the back door, now!" he screamed as he approached the huddled woman and two children.
She nodded, pushed the children out of the way, and ran to the door. She unlocked it and threw it wide, immediately returning to the wailing kids.
The creature was clawing at the Blade, opening long, thin cuts with the sharp bones at the tips of its fingers. It clawed at his chest, his back, his leg and his arm.
The Blade pulled and carried the creature out the door, it's sudden violent thrashing as it passed the blessed portal providing the Blade relief from it's clawing. But the struggles were spreading the frost to his side and leg nearest the creature. He got the horrible, decaying, living corpse out of the house, and fell over it, suffering more damage from the further contact with the deep cold that emanated from it.
The creature used its fleshless finger bones to gouge at his eyes, gaining hold on his left orb and pulling it from the socket. The muscles that controlled it ripped from their anchor points, and the optic nerve drew taught, stretching at first, then snapped. Cackling in glee, the creature pulverized it with its fingers.
Even through the agony, the Blade had already pulled an iron spike from his back, and thrust it through the chest of the creature, through it and into the ground beneath.
The skeletal form suddenly went rigid, and then it wailed, shaking the windows of the home. The Blade struck the tip of the iron spike with the hammer from his hip, driving it deeper into the earth, grounding the creature's energies.
A bright bolt of green lighting sprang upward from the spike. A strong expulsion of hot, fetid air blew outward, then a darkness so deep existed there momentarily, that it sucked loose leaves and other debris toward it before closing with a high-pitched squeal. The body was gone, leaving the steaming spike and a vaguely human outline of burned grass.
The crack of the thunder simultaneously broke every window in the back of the house.
The Blade rolled away, knowing the bolt was coming, but he was still struck by the powerful energies as well as the concussion. Still, he was up and running back toward the house as the shattered window glass fell to the ground.
Inside, the second Enemy was still immobile on the floor, but he knew the spell would end soon. He rolled it up in the throw rug it lay upon and began dragging it out toward the back of the house, trying to avoid any contact with it.. As soon as it passed through the doorway, it woke in agony and struggled.
"I see you bear the wounds of my brother! I shall finish the work!" it hissed, reaching for the Blade's remaining eye.
A sudden strike to its hands kept them from reaching his face. The woman poked and prodded at the thing's arms with her broom, preventing it from doing as much damage to the Blade as it would have liked.
Most importantly, this distraction gave the Blade time to raise the partially wrapped creature above his head, and bring it down on the still steaming iron spike standing upright in the earth. The creature wailed as it was impaled, then another flash of bright, green light exploded. The Blade had already turned to shield the woman from the blast, and the concussion threw him onto her, and both of them to the ground.
Neither of them saw the white flash or black void that quickly formed and vanished, but they felt the crackling energy crawl over their skin from their proximity to it. The loud, ear-piercing whine and unbelievably loud crack as the void closed let them know it was over.
The Blade rolled off the small woman and asked if her if she were harmed. When she shook her head, he lay onto his back, nearly exhausted and unable to move. His hands were cracked and bleeding from the frosty touch of the Enemies. His face bled from numerous small wounds, and blood was running freely from his ruined eye socket. He could feel numbness in nearly every part of his body. He almost wished he could die.
It was over. He had won. He had bested not only one Hollow One, but two. Alone!
He smiled widely, still panting.
He only wished that his Reader could be there to see it. He would have been so proud!
But there still was no time for the grief. He had to flee the area before any authorities arrived.
He sat up slowly and stiffly. The woman was there with a broom in her hand, the children holding her tightly from either side.
"Is that it? Is it over?" she asked.
He nodded, tried to stand. She dropped the broom, told the children to go home, but not to tell anyone what had happened. She told them that if anyone asked, that something scary had happened on the front porch and that they had run out the back door with the rest of the kids. She made them promise, they agreed.
The children walked past the smoking piles of ash that was all that remained of the creatures that had so recently terrified them. One, a boy of about twelve, spat on a pile as he passed it, then winked at the Blade.
When their eyes met in that second, the Blade recognized the will, the promise held in that small body.
He smiled at the boy, nodded.
The boy nodded back, mouthed, "Thank you," and then ran into the night with his friend.
"Yes, it's over, this year," the Blade said as the woman helped him to his feet.
"Let me help you with those cuts, and you need a hospital for that eye!"
"No! I can't do that anymore. Trust me, I will be fine," he said, taking her hands from him.
"You'll die!" she pleaded.
"Then I will die. We all will die. You know there is no reason to fear it."
She smiled, kissed the hand she held, and brought the palm to her cheek.
"Then go, if you must. Is there nothing I can do for you in return?" she asked, returning his hand to him.
"Yes, there is. You know what it is. And whom," he replied, glancing at the direction the brave young boy had fled, dragging his friend.
"Yes. I do. I will."
Back at the car, I fall into the driver's seat, and slam the door. Cop cars come barreling around me, their lights flashing and sirens screaming.
It was over. I start the car, back into a driveway, then head back the way I came.
It's strange, driving with only one eye. I stop at a closed drug store, easily forcing open the back door, then take what I need, leaving cash on the counter.
Back in the car, I drive to a secluded spot outside the small, now hopefully quiet town.
I clean up as best I can with the bottled water from the store. I apply bandages where needed. I look at myself in the rear view mirror and laugh. I look ridiculous.
At least I'm still alive.
I drive into the night and let the grief have it's way with me, for now.
"So, I missed quite the fun time then, my angel?"
We're cuddled on the wide bed, my head on his shoulder. We've just made love for the first time since the hunt ended and he'd recovered enough to permit it. It had been a long wait!
"Yes, you did," I say, as I run my fingers over the wide scar on his chest.
"So, you just threw me under the blankets and left me there?"
"What would you have done?" I ask, knowing damned well he would have done the same.
"The same," he says.
My eye has grown back, doing so quickly, but strangely; it is now a deep violet, and I can see the temperatures of things. It's difficult now, seeing in both light and heat at the same time, but I know it will become second nature in time. For now, I just close one eye or the other.
He has healed nicely, too, only a rough scar where I could once see his internals. It adds nicely to his appearance, quite frankly. It makes him more human, more imperfect, more like me. Or, more like I was. Before.
We came south, to the mountains, and found a log cabin with a for sale sign. Of course, we had to find a lawyer who understood our position, and condition, to take care of the legalities, but it was ours now and forever.
We can stay here for the months between the hunting seasons. We have satellite television and a satellite internet connection, so we can keep up with news and stories of the strange from all around the world, and stay in touch with the few others.
I would never go back to the life I had before him, or wish it had never happened. Not only because that would mean I could never be with him, but also because I am doing something that truly needs to be done. I love him, with all of me. I can never leave that. We have centuries together ahead, if we are careful. But, I know, and he knows, that one of us can precede the other into the next realm any day. Perhaps we will go together, it has happened before that both Blade and Reader have been destroyed together, or in the same battle against an Enemy.
I rarely miss the old life, though sometimes I wonder what my parents and friends might be up to. He says it would be possible to go find out some day, but that they must never see me. I will always look nineteen, never aging, never changing, appearing the same as the day I disappeared from that life and began this one. If they saw me, they would certainly be curious to say the least. Maybe after a few more years, when my face has dimmed in their memories, I can go back and check up on them. Maybe I will.
For now, I'm content to spend the next decades, hopefully centuries, with him. He's my love, my light, my life. I would say he means more to me than my own life, but, well, that is long behind me. He took it from me, and he can have it for all time.
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