Short Stories 

 

 

 

Sunday
Oct042009

Three Fall Stories by Linda Saslow and Casey Dorman

Twenty-Eight

 By Linda Saslow

 The return flight from Maui was excruciating. Even after getting home to Cleveland, Jo’s family’s schedules never seemed to normalize for the first week. With the constant breastfeeding of a toddler and the interruptions of a restless near-kindergartener, the hot humid August days and sleepless nights in the 1920s house had become frenetic.

As much as she needed and desired sleep, it wouldn’t come. She started to drink Seven and Sevens in the middle of the night. The bottle inherited from a friend’s recently departed father. Still, the booze did not help her rest. She just surfed the internet and sent e-mails all night long when the baby wasn’t awake.

She washed her tired face in the attic sink one morning and had a realization. The visage that had always been charming and youthful looked old and fatigued at 28. And now, with her short, low-maintenance haircut her red hair and brown eyes reminded her of him. They always looked a bit alike. But now that she had aged the resemblance was more striking.

They hadn’t talked for years, since the year before she got married. Still, she kept thinking about him, particularly when her husband left for work. She called the operator and got Fred’s number in Southern California. He was still at the same old Pasadena craftsman house near the Federal courthouse, so he wasn’t hard to track down.

At first, Fred was overjoyed to hear from her. They swapped life stories of the past six years. He was leading a Narcotic’s Anonymous meeting in Hollywood. She had thought about the heroin a few months back when her father had cussed her out. But, she had been clean since before the latest baby was born. After she stopped seeing him nearly a decade ago, it had just been pot anyway. She had smoked opium on a reckless whim once in college, but somehow she always thought that didn’t count. An aberration.

 He called her a couple of months after her 21st birthday wanting to rekindle their three-year devil-may-care teenage romance, but at that point she had been dating her now husband for more than six months and wasn’t going to take a step back into chaos. Why she was re-entering his world now was strange, but she felt a need to connect with her past.

Jo admitted that she wasn’t writing anymore. This concerned him. He had always supported her writing and helped to proofread her award-winning high school journalism. His B.A. from a prestigious Journalism school had always set the bar high for her.

The second baby had created a frenetic pace in her life where there wasn’t a place or a time to write for print or even for fun. He pleaded with her over the telephone that she take up writing again, but inwardly she couldn’t figure a place and a space in her life to find that mental energy with two children still not in primary school. The laptop sat lifeless among the kitchen clutter of recipe books and unread magazines. Completing her master’s degree in writing from his Alma Mater was on hold while these children demanded so much of her in this strange city. They exchanged e-mail addresses and said goodbye.

Jo failed to mention the call to her husband upon his return from work. They ate, the baby nursed and she failed to sleep for yet another night. Dawn broke with her cleaning the kitchen and e-mailing friends and family.

Her husband gently kissed her goodbye when he left for work the next day. Nothing seemed amiss. The breakfast dishes were still on the table when the telepathy took hold. In her mind, she felt and heard Fred talking to her in her mind loud and clear. He could speak to her and she could speak back but it was all though spiritual channels. She was shocked and so was Fred. He couldn’t believe it actually worked. He or she came up with the explanation that because he was her first lover in her teens, their souls had become linked somehow through the ethos. She could even feel a wave of his energy travel down her spine through the chakras.

Five-year-old Madeline made notice of her mother’s distraction as Jo wandered around the house discussing the last decade of her life in exhausting detail with the voice inside her head. This went on for hours it seemed, and then she was woken from this vivid walking daydream by her one-year-old’s persistent tug on her shirt to nurse.

During the early morning hours as the last day had sleeplessly slipped away Jo looked up long-distance telepathic broadcasting on the computer. She found that the ancient Polynesians had used this sort of mind-to-mind communication across the ocean from island to island and called it coconut radio.

Later that night the other voices started. She heard from a beloved elderly professor from graduate school. She could hear him speak to her in her mind, but more faintly than she had heard from Fred. He told her she was a modern-day Joan of Arc. The voices now made sense. Jo, with her French heritage and the fact that she had visited the site where the Catholic Saint was burned at the stake in Rouen, she actually believed him. What other woman could she remember in history who had been lead to action by powerful voices in her head?

She was oddly energized and made love to her husband with a fiery passion not seen since before the latest baby was born. Afterward, Jo was so exhausted that she slept for a few hours that night. When she woke she fed the children Mutigrain Cheerios, as usual, and wished her husband a good day at the office.

When breakfast was finished, the voices reappeared without warning. It was Fred along with her favorite aging professor. Her 75-year-old guru told her she was in danger. She tried to watch the children but the baby was climbing on the furniture and standing precariously on the rocking chair. The voices both told her that this child was possessed by Satan and she saw her older daughter, Maxine’s, eyes glow phosphorescent as proof of the nefarious forces controlling the unruly child.

While she paced the kitchen listening to her mind full of dialog, she barely heard the children racing up and down the stairs and out onto the upstairs balcony. The five-year-old could open all the baby gates and the house became a free-for-all for the wandering tots.

That night she told her husband about the voices she had been hearing. He was concerned but thought little of it. The children were fed and there was food in the house so the routine of his very busy life had changed little. After the two week vacation for a frenetic family reunion in Maui he was extremely busy at work. He got stoned nearly every night with the pot that his indy film director friend FedExed to him from California. She did not because she had heard from her trusted college confidante who was a pediatric resident that the THC went straight into the breast milk without being washed by the bloodstream. No respite for sleep would come from this herb.

They made love again that night with the same passion that had failed them since in a year. She went back to the ancient home office desktop computer to write and e-mail to an old friend in Seattle about what was happening to her. After she typed a page of text the baby walked into the room and leaned down and pushed the off button on the computer. She didn’t rewrite the e-mail. She took the baby’s action as a direct cosmic sign that it should not be sent.

This night was filled with more voices. Her favorite professor warned her to change her name to her married name because there were people looking to harm her who only knew her by her maiden name. He told Jo that her father had many enemies. She had stopped using the former last name a year and a half ago when she moved two thousand miles away from her hometown where she had a reputation as a writer to preserve. There were too many Jo Browns in the world anyway. No one could ever find her on Facebook under her maiden name; there were simply too many people with the exact same name.  All this was gone now. Here in Cleveland she was a wife and a mother and her husband’s surname seemed adequate for her life now. She took to heart the stern warning to change all official documents to her married name.

She began to hear the voice of that good friend in Seattle telling her that she could communicate telepathically too. Her friend was so advanced in the technique that she could broadcast messages rather than simply receive them and respond in acknowledgement. So far Jo had always been contacted when someone had something to say to her. She did not yet know how to get a frequency to make a call to someone through these spiritual channels that she was just beginning to understand.

In the middle of the next afternoon, as the air hung humid and damp with the sallow August heat, Fred contacted her though the spiritual channels again. He told her he wanted to give her back the part of her soul that he had stolen from her a decade ago. Fred instructed her to kneel – which she did on a futon in her child’s room – and to hold her head and to repeat “I am at one with myself”’ which she did about fifteen times. She felt a rush as the lost part of her soul returned to her body.

Her husband returned to the child-cluttered house at dinner time from his day of endless marketing meetings and conference calls and she told him what had happened that day. He was getting concerned. This new-age thinking was not in character for her. After the children went to bed they made love again. Her body was lean from not eating much for the past week and her pink flowered flimsy nightgown hung from her now size-eight body. Breastfeeding hungry toddlers always helped her shed the baby weight.

She decided to e-mail Fred in the middle of that night. She sent a detailed account of what had been happening to her in the last couple days and thanked him for returning her soul. She spent hours writing quite a lengthy and dramatic e-mail.

            In the middle of the next day, Vanessa, her new Ohio local friend, called and invited her over. She wanted to know if the children wanted to come over to play. Jo got her brood dressed and ready to go out for the first time in days and drove up to Cleveland Heights. She parked on the tree-lined street and headed up to the old home that her friend shared with her husband and two young children. Jack was a rambunctious four-year-old and his sister Charlene was a serene two-year-old. Her children were happy to be finally out of their own home and back with other children. She smelled incense in Vanessa’s house and became suspicious. What was her reason for burning incense at such an early hour – was their some sort of secret spiritual ritual she was involved in.

            Jack jumped on the furniture and Jo began to imagine that he too, like her one-year-old, was possessed by evil forces. Perhaps the devil or aliens, one could never be certain.  Young Madeline soon became annoyed by his antics and they left for home before lunch.

            She wondered how much she really knew about Vanessa. Their children went to the same preschool and the two women both had degrees in the arts but the thought of lingering smell of incense bothered her. She must be involved with dark spiritual forces and be practicing witchcraft of some sort.

            That night the dark voices entered her head. They told her that sinister people were looking to kill her. The voices – which came from a former female college professor who had taken a liking to her – told her to beware of hit men who wanted to snuff her out in revenge for her father’s criminal underworld connections. The paranoia became overwhelming. She started to get nervous.

Her period was quite late and she began to be obsessed by thoughts that she was pregnant again when Maxine wasn’t even weaned yet. She had heard that the birth control pills allowed during breastfeeding were not nearly as effective.

            The sticky August weather clung to her, aggravated her asthma, and made her more restless. She called Fred on the phone again and started to become angry and accusatory about problems he created in their relationship by his constant substance abuse and lack of emotional availability. She mentioned that he had stolen her soul from her and that she was happy he had finally returned it. He was bewildered and became defensive. Fred was utterly confused; he insisted that she not to write or call back.

            Late that night, in a driven rage, she again e-mailed him. More accusations were leveled. Fred returned her message the next day with an angry message asking her not to contact him again. Her husband found it on the computer and became very upset. He yelled at her for this incomprehensible long-distance infidelity.

            At this point she was in bed clutching her knees and trying to focus on the cacophony of voices in her head. They mentioned that demons had long ago taken possession of her newly-purchased house. She hadn’t bothered to hang the Mezuzot since she moved into the new home. She went to find her stash of the Jewish protection scrolls in ornate four inch cases and started hammering them to every doorpost in the 80-year-old English Cottage.

            The next morning she woke and gave the children their usual breakfast. The calm did not last long. Jo went to the bathroom and a flesh-colored ball of human tissue fell out from between her legs and then the blood started following. It seemed that her late period had turned into a very early miscarriage. Jo became very alarmed and called her friend around the block who had a husband who was a doctor at the hospital.

Katrina, a seasoned homemaker from the neighborhood, came over with her preschool age children and listened to her story. She was sympathetic. She was concerned. She had known Jo for little more than six months but she was aware of what abnormal behavior was for this stay-at-home mother. Katrina, also a stay-at-home mother, had her PhD in research psychology. She stayed for a couple hours and then needed to go home to feed her own preschoolers lunch.

Chantal, an African-American eight-year-old who had befriended the family in their first months in the new city called later to see if she could play with Madeline. Jo easily agreed and Chantal was dropped off after lunch. The children played happily in the basement with the older girl which provided a much-needed break for weary young mother. She rested in the easy chair in the living room and the voices started to chime again.

It was her female professor from grad school again telling her there was imminent danger. She told her there were demons possessing the house and she needed to exorcise them from the home immediately. She went around the house from basement to attic opening windows and yelling for the spirits to leave.

Chantal was visibly alarmed. Jo took the group of children to the nearby playground to get them away from the demons that might still be lurking in the old home. Katrina was there with her children and Jo told her more about what had happened that afternoon. Katrina was alarmed but let the group go home from the playground unsupervised.

Jo’s husband came home from work shortly thereafter. Chantal told him what she had observed that afternoon. He was horrified. He called Chantal’s mother and had her whisked away immediately. He then put the family in his old SUV and drove to Katrina’s house and spoke to her and her husband who had just returned home from the hospital. The neighbors took Madeline and Maxine for the night and told him to take her to the hospital. Katrina – who was not used to making clinical diagnosis – told him Jo was probably bipolar – or manic depressive, as was the popular parlance.

Madeline was left with Katrina and the baby was left with no bottles, since the toddler had never had formula and disliked a bottle. There wasn’t time to pump breast milk anyway.

In the car on the way to the hospital she told him the demons were in the car. He drove her at breakneck speed to the emergency room at the University’s Hospital.

Jo was in a stupor as they admitted her and brought her to a bed in the ER. She told the resident about the voices that had been talking to her for the past two weeks. They spoke to her husband outside of her earshot in hushed tones.

They told her they were transferring her to the psychiatric ward and strapped her down to a drab olive vinyl-covered gurney so she could not move her arms and legs. Jo was visibly terrified.  As the orderly wheeled her through what she believed to be a catacomb of underground tunnels on the way to the psychiatric ward a booming voice entered her head. He said “I am God; this is where you need to be.”

After the underground ride to the psychiatric building, she was put in a dorm-style room where a resident with a Russian-accent came to talk to her and asked her about the last few weeks. She brought in a Haldol shot and Jo went effortlessly to sleep for the first time in weeks.

In the morning she woke to find she had a roommate. She was convinced the young woman was a spy. She seemed to be watching her every move.

She went to the dining area and had coffee and picked at the bland hospital breakfast. Soon she was ushered into a room with a dozen doctors and residents. They asked her to tell them about her past several weeks. She told them in detail about how her friends were speaking to her telepathically and about her paranoia. After a few minutes she was told to leave the room and she went to sit down with other patients and glanced at the television.

She had started to leak breast milk all over her hospital-issue blue pajamas. She asked the nurses for a pump so she could relieve the pressure in her leaky breasts. They ignored her request. No doubt it thinking it was just another irrational request from a psychotic woman.

She ate the tasteless chicken for lunch and took a shower and changed into hospital pajamas. Her husband soon came with a small overnight bag of underwear, jeans and shirts for her to wear. Her clothing was so big it hung off her. She had barely eaten for the past few weeks.

The woman who shared her room kept watching her. She became more paranoid. The nurses brought her small paper cups of pills which she took willingly.

As she wandered the halls of the psychiatric ward she met an African-American man in a yellow caftan. He told her that he was Jesus and showed her his ring that said WWJD. He said it meant “What would Jesus Do.” He was kind, but she went to watch TV by herself. Her breasts were leaking profusely by now and the wetness on her bra was both sticky and embarrassing.

Some kind of dinner was served. She ate it reluctantly and the nurses gave her another small cup of pills and she took it. She then slept what seemed like normally again.

The panel of doctors wanted to talk to her again after breakfast. They prodded her with more questions. She told them that her roommate was watching her for the hit men who were stalking her and she wanted a private room.

She was moved to a stark room with a single bed and a linoleum floor. At least her bathroom was now private.

Jo called her husband on the hall phone and asked for music and writing paper and pens. He brought her a new personal CD player with headphones and CDs. He also brought her the paper and pens she requested. She sat on the floor of the room and listened to Pete Townsend and wrote complex longhand accounts of the voices she was still hearing in her head.

Katrina came to visit her the next day. They sat in a nurse-monitored lobby and talked. She assured her the kids were fine. Jo’s breasts were hard as rocks by now and she wondered when she could begin breastfeeding Maxine again.

Later that day, they took her and a couple of other patients to a room outside the ward where they could do art projects. She was an art major in college and she studied the choices intently. She decided to make Madeline a purple wooden stool which she decoupaged with images from cards and covered with tiny blue glitter.  Mod Podge was a simple and fun creative tool.

She sat in a lounge at the end of her hall on a couch by herself. A red-headed boy with acne came in to talk to her. He sat at a table on the other side of the room. He was 18. She was 28. He asked her if she would give him a blow job! His tone and manner was so nonchalant. She got up and left the room and went to the solitude of her writing and music.

The voices hadn’t stopped yet, but they had become fainter with each passing day. She had to listen intently for them now. They didn’t fill her head and overpower her. She missed the children. Her rock-hard breasts reminded her of the baby. She still couldn’t get the nurses to bring her a breast pump to relieve the pressure. She sat on the floor and wrote more. Pen to paper pressured her on.

Later that day, her mother and her tired-eyed husband stopped by with the children. She held the baby and watched her walk around the small lobby under nurses’ supervision. Her family tried to appear calm but it was clear they were tense and worried. What was happening to her was frightening and they didn’t know if she would ever be herself again. Jo didn’t know if she would ever be herself again.

 

 

The Old Men at the Beach

by Casey Dorman

          “Can you see them?” The speaker was an old man slouching next to him on the bench in what appeared to be an alcoholic stupor.

          “See what?” asked Tommy.

          “Them,” the old man said, his eyes scanning the crowd passing in front of them on the boardwalk. The man, dressed in a soiled and frayed banker’s suit, complete with striped tie and scuffed wingtips, Tommy knew, was called Mr. George by the crowd at the Black Dog Tavern. The regulars at the tavern said his mind was gone, lost in a world of delusions and random mutterings, ignored by all except one or two similarly impaired patrons.

           I shouldn’t have asked, Tommy thought to himself, realizing that Mr. George probably was observing legions of imaginary insects or herds of pink elephants, rather than the families and children strolling along the weathered boards in their shorts and bathing suits.

           “What am I supposed to see?” Tommy asked.  The other man wasn’t much older than he was. If he’d been shaved and cleaned up, he might have been mistaken for an ordinary businessman. His full head of hair, combed back over his head, was too long at the collar and was greasy and dirty, but still showed vestiges of the brown it once was before the bulk of it had turned white.

            The old man sighed in disappointment. “You think I’m crazy, talking nonsense. That’s because you can’t see them.”   He looked up and down the boardwalk. “It’s only every once in awhile I see one of them. Most of these people are just normal humans.”

             “And the others?” Tommy asked.  He could hardly believe he was asking the question.

              Mr.  George had straightened up and was leaning toward Tommy, eager to talk despite his obvious disappointment that the latter did not share his visions. “Jimmy thinks they’re from another planet.” He shrugged when he said it, as if he could take or leave such an opinion.

             Oh great, Tommy thought, two of these old codgers have the same delusion.

             “Gerald, he says they could be ghosts inhabiting the bodies of living people” Mr. George went on, referring to another well-known visitor of the tavern.  “That makes no goddamn sense to me, since I don’t believe in ghosts. But Jimmy says if they’re not from another planet, maybe it’s that we – the three of  us  – have some special ability to see some people’s souls, like their ghosts but before they’re dead yet.”

            Jimmy, Gerald and Mr. George. Those were the three most gonzo drunks who came to the Black Dog. All of them seemed to be crazy, at least in everyone else’s eyes. Tommy hadn’t known that they even talked to each other. “What do you think?” he asked.

             “Ghosts don’t exist even if they’re future ghosts. From what I can see, I’m pretty sure they’re from another planet. That’s the thing that makes the most sense to me.” He looked at Tommy with a sheepish expression. “Not that making sense to me is a strong recommendation.”

             Tommy stared at the people passing in front of him. He couldn’t see anything different about any of them. Why was he even looking, he asked himself.  Did he really think any of them were from another planet? “How long have you and your friends been able to see these … creatures?”

             “At first I couldn’t see them… only Murphy could.”

             Murphy was a legendary fixture on the boardwalk who had disappeared from sight about a year ago. That was before Tommy had retired and started coming to the Black Dog Tavern every afternoon. He’d never met Murphy, but he’d heard that he was both a drunk and a looney. No one was surprised when he’d vanished. Old drunks often did that, especially near the ocean where falling off the pier or tumbling into the waves was a constant hazard. The musings at the Black Dog Tavern were philosophical. One man said that when some drunks got as far gone as Murphy was, they just faded into oblivion, leaving this world with no trace. Rocco, the bartender, offered his own insights. “I listen to these old men mutter and it’s always the same thing,” he said. “How they screwed up their lives, how they hate themselves for being who they are. I think at some point they all drag themselves off to someplace to die – like elephants going to a graveyard.”

          “So Murphy told you about the men from outer space?” Tommy asked.

            Mr. George gave him a doubtful look. “I said from another planet, not from outer space. And they aren’t just men, there are women, too. Murphy saw them and told me about them. I didn’t believe him any more than you believe me right now.”

           He hadn’t meant to challenge the old man, although he was right, Tommy didn’t believe him. But he was pretty sure that Mr. George wasn’t trying to put him on. “But you see them now?”

           The old man nodded. His eyes were actively scanning the crowd.

           “I’ve seen a couple of them this afternoon. Don’t see any right now.”

            “How can you tell?

            "Dead eyes.”

            "Dead eyes?”

             “Murphy told me to look at people’s eyes. I didn’t see them at first. Murphy kept telling me to just keep watching… and drink.”

             “Drink?”

             “Drunks - we’re the only ones who see ‘em.  Except the kids and retards. They can see ‘em, too.” The old man swung his gaze away from the busy boardwalk and looked at Tommy. “You’ve got to be special to see them.”

              “So I take it you finally started seeing them.”

             “Not till after they got Murphy.” Mr. George was still looking at him.

             “I thought Murphy disappeared.”

             “He was a danger to them. They had to get him before he told too many people.”

              “Nobody ever found Murphy.” Despite himself, Tommy had become fascinated by the old man’s story.

             “Of  course not. They got rid of him.”

             “You mean killed him? Abducted him?”

             He shrugged. “He’s gone.”

             “Aren’t you afraid of them?”

             “Nobody listens to me.  Nobody but Jimmy and Gerald and nobody listens to them.”

             “I’m listening.”

             “But you can’t see ‘em.”

             “I guess I’m not drunk enough.”

              “I guess not.”

 

                Two days later Mr. George stopped coming to the Black Dog Tavern.

                Tommy made inquiries. Nobody knew anything. Nobody cared except Jimmy and Gerald, who both agreed that the people from another planet, or the ghosts, as Gerald referred to them, had gotten Mr. George. They were both scared and said they were leaving the beach; moving inland, maybe to Arizona, and not talking about the things they saw to anyone anymore. Within days they were gone.

                Tommy waited. For the next several weeks he remained hopeful that the old man would turn up, perhaps recovering from a long binge or a debilitating illness, or with a story of having visited relatives at some distance. He went to the local police, who knew Mr. George from complaints filed against him for public drunkenness and for being a nuisance telling his story to strangers. Mr. George had even attempted to inform the police about the presence of “aliens” and had become belligerent when his warnings had been ignored. The police weren’t interested in investigating the old man’s absence.

           After several months Tommy seldom thought of Mr. George. When he did, it was with both sadness and consternation. He didn’t believe the old man’s story but his strange disappearance was troubling. But Tommy’s thoughts had come back to rest upon himself. The Black Dog Tavern had become a haven for him to quiet his nagging memories with beer. He had become a morning drinker and was vaguely aware of observing himself slide from the ranks of the afternoon recreational tipplers to those of the all day drunks. His mind dwelt almost exclusively on the losses of his lifetime and his own role in creating them and the alcohol served to numb his regrets; except on the occasional afternoon when, sitting in front of the Black Dog watching the crowds pass by on the boardwalk, he could find delight in the young people he observed on the boardwalk. He hoped that they would grow up stronger and wiser than he.  Most of the older people, whose faces he studied with interest, didn’t look as ravaged from life as he and his fellow Black Dog patrons were.

          It was during one of these afternoon interludes, when Tommy was scrutinizing the faces of the  people walking by, that he noticed a forty year old man dressed in business attire and with a purpose to his step who came marching past Tommy’s bench. The man’s dead gaze was particularly striking, given his otherwise energetic and determined demeanor. If I were Mr. George… Tommy thought, realizing that the mysteriously absent older man would surely have leapt to a conclusion regarding invaders from another planet should he have noticed the passersby’s vacant stare. But when, a few minutes later, a similarly zombie- expressioned woman passed in front of him, Tommy had second thoughts.

          They really do look different, he thought to himself. How many of such vacuous looking human beings were out there? And then one of them stopped in front of him, snapping  pictures of some children playing in the sand. One of the children was pointing at the man with alarm. When the man turned so that Tommy could see his face, his dull eyes stared lifelessly past Tommy’s shoulder and at the front door of the Black Dog Tavern. Tommy turned to follow the man’s gaze and saw old Ernie, one of the incorrigible drunks, coming down the steps of the tavern, shaking his fist at the man facing him on the boardwalk.

          “I see you, you damned unholy alien,” Ernie shouted, continuing to shake his fist.

          The man raised his camera and snapped Ernie’s picture, then turned and hurried down the boardwalk.

          “Did you see him?” Ernie asked, directing his question at Tommy. “Did you see the damn zombie?”

          “I saw him, “ Tommy answered. “He took your picture.”

          Ernie stared at him. “You really saw him?” He sounded incredulous and immediately sat down on the bench next to Tommy. “You can see them?”

          “I didn’t know anyone else saw them,” Tommy answered.

          “Neither did I,” Ernie replied, a look of drunken relief spreading across his face.

          Their conversation was interrupted by a woman pushing a twenty year old man in a wheelchair. The disabled man’s head and upper body weaved back and forth and bubbles of spittle were at both corners of his mouth. He had one fisted arm raised, the other arm drawn tightly across his chest, clenched into a tight ball, the knuckles white with spastic tension. He looked as if he was trying to speak. Tommy could only make out a series of grunts.

           The woman stopped the wheelchair in front of the bench. “He says the man who took this man’s picture was bad,” the woman said, though whether she was interpreting the seemingly indecipherable sounds he was now making or referring to an earlier conversation she had had with the disabled young man was not clear.

          “Bad in what way?” Tommy asked her.

          “Not human,” the woman answered.

          “He’s damned right,” Ernie said. He was shouting and the woman took a frightened step backward.

          “Has he said that about anyone else?” Tommy asked the woman. He was unsure whether he should be addressing her or the young man she was tending.

          “A few times,“ she replied. “I don’t know what he’s talking about, but he doesn’t lie. And he’s brain damaged but he’s not stupid.” She looked embarrassed. “He insisted I tell you.”

          The young man had quieted and was staring forward. The woman reached down and used a handkerchief to wipe the saliva from the corners of his mouth then, without further conversation, began pushing him down the boardwalk.

 

         The next morning Tommy showed up earlier than usual at the Black Dog Tavern, hoping to talk with Ernie before the latter became, as he habitually did, too inebriated to talk lucidly about any topic.

         Ernie didn’t show.

         By noon Tommy knew that Ernie would not only not make an appearance at the Black Dog Tavern that day, but that he would never be seen again.

          When he went to the police station he was turned away. He told them about the non-human who took Ernie’s picture and about Mr. George and Murphy, about the disabled young man who had seen the aliens too. The police said he was crazy and threatened to put him in the hospital.

         By noon the next day he had seen four more aliens. He wondered if they were increasing or if he was just becoming more aware of them. Their vacant stares were frightening to him and his thoughts were no longer concerned with guilt from his own past, but only about the aliens and what they wanted here on earth. He was sure it was something evil. They were infiltrating human society and no one but a few of humanity’s most marginal members was aware of them. He felt his anxiety rising. Even drinking more beer did not reduce his fear. He needed to make someone other than himself aware of the situation, even though he had no idea what could be done.

        As he sat on the bench in front of the Black Dog Tavern , counting the aliens who walked by and trying to calculate their percentage in  the population, he was joined by a man only a year or two younger than himself whom he had noticed had begun coming to the tavern only recently. The man seemed absorbed in studying the passersby on the boardwalk and Tommy wondered if he was also seeing the aliens. The man wasn’t an obvious drunk, like himself or Mr. George or Ernie. People might listen to someone like him.

       “Can you see them?” he asked the man, trying to keep the desperation from his voice.

       “See what?” the man asked, looking puzzled.

       Tommy felt disappointed. “Them,” he answered.  It was obvious that the man couldn’t see the aliens. Probably the man would think he was just a crazy old drunk. But he needed to try. Someone had to know.

        He began to talk.

       From across the boardwalk a young woman with vacant eyes aimed her camera and snapped his picture.

 

The Library

By Casey Dorman

 

He was in a spacesuit, crammed inside of an interplanetary shuttle, which hovered over the flattened landing area in the midst of the Utopia Planita, the vast plain that had been the favorite Martian landing site for earth vehicles since the first Viking landers back in the early 1970’s. His requests for information from his military escorts had been stoically ignored and he had been hurried through the NASA facility at Cape Kennedy and hustled aboard a squat, beetle-shaped shuttle, poised atop a tall, slender solid rocket booster, which almost immediately blasted off toward the distant red planet. Now, as the shuttle craft slowly descended to the plain below, he was no more successful in getting any of the shuttle crew to divulge why he was there or what they were doing than he had been when back on Earth.

The entrance to the prefab plastic structure which served as an office, warehouse, and spaceport for what was becoming clear to him was a more extensive earth presence on Mars than he had been aware of, was a double airlock and once the second door hissed shut, he was assured that it was safe to relinquish his suit and breathing apparatus.  He was greeted by a tall, rugged looking army officer who introduced himself as Colonel William Stacy.

“Glad you could join us, Professor Green,” the Colonel said, extending a hand.

“I had no choice,” Harvey answered. “No one even told me where I was going and I still have no idea why I am here. I was in prison on earth, as you probably know.” He assumed the Colonel was aware of his status as a political prisoner, the price Harvey had paid for purchasing forbidden ancient Semitic texts for use in his research on ancient languages at the university. The United States government assumed that anyone who bought smuggled-in documents from Iraq must be a terrorist.

The Colonel looked startled. “I didn’t know you were a prisoner. Do you mean you haven’t been apprised of the reason for your presence here?”

“Not at all.”

The Colonel looked irritated, but then nodded,”It will be easier to show you than to explain things up here.”

“Up here?” Harvey asked. “Do you mean on Mars?”

“I mean on the surface,” the Colonel answered. “We’re going below. That means we need to put these damn suits back on and go outside.”

 

“Outside” meant a half mile walk across the rock-littered plain on which the Martian landing station was situated. Harvey, the Colonel and two other men, introduced as Doctor Fleming and Doctor Smith, walked briskly across the ground, Harvey being  surprised at the ease with which he could traverse the surface of the planet, given that its gravity was only half that of earth. Only the bulky spacesuit made walking difficult. He knew that there was a thin atmosphere outside, but it was mostly carbon dioxide and not oxygen and without the protective suit, he would have suffocated in minutes, not to mention freezing to death in the minus 50 degree F, temperature.

Soon the contingent came upon a much smaller version of the building they’d left at the landing site and Colonel Stacy led them inside where they shed their spacesuits. In the center of the building was a large hole in the ground, above which was a turbine-run platform. “We’re going down,” Stacy said, motioning all of them onto the platform.

The four of them huddled together on the platform. The Colonel was the largest of the other three men. Doctor Smith was young, crew-cut and eager. He looked more like a bureaucrat than a scientist, but then in the present political climate nearly all science was being conducted within the confines of the government. Doctor Fleming, on the other hand, was older and had the air of an academic. Harvey noticed that Fleming interacted very little with the other two and when he did it was with an almost formal manner.

With a whir of the turbine, the platform descended what seemed to Harvey like nearly a quarter of a mile before coming to a stop in front of a tall, metal doorway.

“It took us more than a year to figure out how to open this door,” the Colonel said.

“How long have you been here?” Harvey asked. He had been vaguely aware of shuttle visits to the planet over the last ten years but had never heard of a permanent settlement before.

“We’ve had this outpost for nearly ten years,” the Colonel answered. “We’ve occupied it continuously for the last five – ever since we discovered the door.”

“You mean this isn’t something you installed?” Harvey asked, a deep feeling of awe starting to invade his thoughts.

“It’s Martian,” the Colonel answered, matter-of-factly. He looked in the direction of one of the other two men who had accompanied them down to that level. “Give Professor Green a quick rundown, Doctor Smith.” Colonel Stacy pressed a section of the door and it slid open.

“How long ago the Martians went below the surface of their planet, we haven’t got a clue, except that it must have been well before anyone was recording history on earth. The whole subsurface is riddled with tunnels and rooms. Not enough for a lot of people, so far as we can tell, but then if the rest of the planet is like this, there could be a lot more of an underground presence than we’ve found here. In this compound there were probably about 5000 or so at one time. At least that’s how many coffins we’ve found so far.”

“Coffins?” Harvey asked. “They all died?”

“So far as we can tell,” Colonel Stacy answered, interrupting Doctor Smith. They were walking forward through a tunnel, the walls, ceiling and floor of which were covered in some kind of shiny metal, giving it the appearance of chrome. “There’s no way for us to tell when they died. We can’t use carbon dating on this planet of course, so we haven’t got a clue… unless you can tell us.”

“Me? How can I tell you?”

“We’ve found a library,” the third man, the one identified as Doctor Fleming, answered.

“A library?” Harvey could hardly keep the eagerness from his voice. “They had books?”

“Not exactly books,” Fleming answered. “But there are records. Digital records stored on these small rods – you’ll see them in a minute, after we pass through the Room of the Rulers. We’ve been able to energize them, but of course we can’t read Martian so we don’t know what they say. That’s where we hope you can help us.”

They had gotten to another door. Colonel Stacy pushed a similar spot to the one he’d pushed on the first door and this one too slid open. They entered a room with two large boxes in the middle of it. The walls and even the ceiling of the room were etched with continuous lines of mysterious stylistic markings. Harvey recognized them as text, but one with which he was totally unfamiliar.

                “The Room of the Rulers… their burial room,” Colonel Stacy said, quietly. There was a note of reverence in his voice.

                “How do you know?” Harvey asked. The two large metal boxes in the middle of the room looked like coffins, he granted them that, but what made them think that this was where the rulers were buried… or that the Martians even had rulers, for that matter?
                “We know there are two bodies in these coffins. Our probes have determined that much. In the other funeral sites, as we call them, there are hundreds of coffins, less elaborate than these and without the figures on the wall.” Colonel Stacy answered.

“It’s reminiscent of the Egyptians, don’t you think?” Smith asked, turning to Harvey.

                Harvey had been thinking the same thing. He wondered what the Martians looked like. “Have you opened any of the coffins?”

                Colonel Stacy answered. “A couple of them. The skeletons look pretty close to human. It would probably take a doctor to tell the difference.”

                “But you haven’t opened these two?” Harvey asked.

                “No.”

                “Let’s go on to the library,” Doctor Fleming interrupted.  He looked as if he was bored.

                Harvey was full of questions, but the prospect of visiting a Martian library was too intriguing for him to delay the group’s progress.

                They stepped through another door into a modest room filled with what must have been thousands of small holes in the wall, each of them filled with a slender rod.  In the middle of the room was a box-like machine with a bench in front of it.

                “The machine reads the rods,” Doctor Smith volunteered.

                “How did you figure that out?” Harvey asked.

                “There’s an opening the same size as each of these rods,” Doctor Fleming answered. “We just stuck one of the rods in the opening to see what would happen and the screen on top lit up with what looks like lines of text.”

                “But we can’t read it,” Colonel Stacy said, his voice flat.

                “Why do you think I’ll be able to read it?” Harvey asked the three of them.

                “Because of this,” Dr. Smith answered, picking up a rod that had been laying on a part of the machine that looked like a shelf, with indentations for up to probably twenty rods. He inserted the rod into the machine.  “Take a look at the screen.” He moved aside to let Harvey sit on the bench.

                “A Rosetta Stone,” Harvey said, his voice shaking with excitement. The screen in front of him showed two pages of text, side by side. On the right was the obscure Martian text. On the left the text was completely familiar to Harvey. It was first century A.D. Hebrew. He recognized the content. “This is one of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” he whispered. “It’s the book of Isaiah.”

 

                For the next eight days, Harvey labored at deciphering the Martian text.  The task was surprisingly easy because of remarkable similarity between the Martian and Hebrew lexicons, which completely baffled Harvey. He could think of no reason why two scripts from different planets should bear any relationship to one another at all. When his work had finally yielded a serviceable dictionary of Martian words and phrases, he turned to the task of deciphering the Martian documents.

                “Begin with this one,” Doctor Smith said, handing him a long slender rod. “You’ll see why when you put it in the reading machine.”

                Harvey inserted the rod. The first image that appeared on the screen was a picture of what appeared to be one of the Egyptian pyramids. “They were photographing Earth… five thousand years ago,” he said, in awe.

                “What does the text say?”  Doctor Smith asked impatiently.  Fleming, the other scientist had gotten strangely quiet. He appeared to be observing only… waiting to see what would emerge from Harvey’s investigation.

                The image of the pyramid was followed by a page of text. Harvey began translating. He could hardly believe what he was reading. “It says that they sent their chief engineer to Earth to teach the people on Earth how to build a pyramid.” Harvey knew that the designer of the first pyramid, the Step Pyramid was Imhotep, the Pharaoh’s advisor. There were also claims by some Jewish scholars that Imhotep was really Joseph, the son of Jacob who had been sold into Egyptian slavery and become a favorite of the Pharaoh and brought the Jewish nation into Egypt.

                “Ralph, come over here,” Doctor Smith said, motioning for Doctor Fleming to join them. “Tell Doctor Fleming what you just told me,” he said to Harvey. Colonel Stacy had come over to listen, too.

                Harvey slowly translated as he read. “Because they failed to develop the beginnings of technical civilization after our first visitation, we sent our chief engineer to the inner planet,” He looked up from the text. “I assume the ‘inner planet’ is Earth. Our aim…” he continued translating, “was to show them how to construct a large and functionless structure, which would necessitate developing a significant workforce, division of labor, an industry to clothe and feed the workforce, and would  result in moving the planet’s civilization forward toward eventual technological achievements sufficient to allow our citizens to live comfortably among them.”

                “You mean the Martians built the pyramids?” Doctor Smith asked.

                “They didn’t build them, they taught the Egyptians how to build them,” Harvey answered.

                “Why?” Colonel Stacy asked. “Why did they want to develop a civilization on Earth?”

                Harvey had been reading further. “Their planet had failed them. The loss of atmosphere had driven the population underground thousands of years earlier. They lived underground but wanted to live on the surface. They knew their own planet couldn’t sustain surface life so they directed their attention to Earth.”

                “How did they get from here to Earth?” the Colonel asked.

                “It doesn’t say.”

                “It said they’d visited Earth before,” Doctor Fleming said. “Does it say when or where?”

                “This rod has a number on it. It’s number 68 in this particular shelf of rods. Assuming they are in chronological order, we can go backward and see what we find.” He picked the next rod below the one with the pyramid on it and inserted it in the machine then quickly scanned the text. “It just talks about meetings they had among themselves. It appears to be like minutes to a meeting.”           

                “Go back about ten rods,” Doctor Smith suggested.

                Harvey let his hand slide down the rack of rods and about a dozen rods below the last one he’d picked, he rested his hand on another rod. “How about this one?”

                The rod contained a picture of a circle of wooden poles.

                “What’s that?’ Colonel Stacy asked.

                “A henge,” Harvey answered. “It’s a precursor to Stonehenge. Around 3000 BC, before Stonehenge was built, there was a similar structure made out of wood on the same site. In fact, Stonehenge appears to just be a copy of the original woodhenge. Signs of similar woodhenges have been found in a number of locations around the world – all dating from about the same time.”

                “So the Martians taught us to build henges, too?” Doctor Smith asked.

                “It says that they gave us a way of predicting the seasons so we could develop our agricultural system enough to support cities of workers in the future.” Harvey answered.  “They were disappointed that it didn’t work. The population remained isolated from one another in small villages and remained agrarian.”

                “Find a rod that was written after the one with the pyramid on it,” Colonel Stacy said. “See how successful they thought their intervention with the Egyptians was.” The Army Colonel appeared much more interested in the discoveries than did Doctor Fleming, who had again retreated to the background to watch the others.

                Harvey selected a rod ten slots higher than the one with the pyramid. “This is number 78.” He translated the text to himself then explained it to the others. “They sent a large contingent of Martians to Egypt. Apparently the Egyptians sensed there was something different about them, not to mention their special skills and knowledge, and they enslaved them and made them work on building more pyramids. It says the Martians escaped from the Egyptians and asked their leader here on Mars to bring them back to their home planet but he refused. He promised to send emissaries from Mars periodically to check on how they were doing and if they developed a viable civilization, then the rest of the Martians would come and join them.”

                “The Chosen people,” Doctor Smith said. “Jesus, what a discovery. The Goddamn Jews were really Martians.”

                “What about the coffins?” Colonel asked, looking at Harvey, then at his other two companions.

                “What do you mean?” Harvey asked.

                “If everyone was going to join them on Earth, why are there all these coffins – thousands of them just in this complex – up here?”

                Harvey reached for the last of the rods on that shelf. “Maybe we can find out the answer,” he said. He inserted it in the machine and began scanning the text that appeared. After about ten minutes, he turned to the others. “You’re not going to like what you hear.”

                “For Christ’s sake, just read it to us,” Doctor Fleming said. He was still standing on the periphery of the group.

                “The leader was waiting to send more Martians down to Earth. Waiting until he was satisfied that the civilization that was being created was a safe one for them. Martians had extraordinarily long life spans – thousands of years. On Earth, these life spans rapidly got shorter until they approximated those of humans. But on Mars the people – or whatever you want to call them – continued to live for thousands of years. Even so, they eventually died. The longer the leader waited to send them to Earth, the more died up here – and they refused to procreate here on Mars, thinking they were sentencing their offspring to a miserable existence underground. Each Martian was given a choice – to go to Earth and join the colony, thereby shortening his or her own life – or to stay here and eventually die without issue. On Mars, they could live in peace – the Martians had never had a war among themselves – while on Earth, although they could procreate and participate in building a civilization, life was brutal and primitive. In fact the Martians themselves, when they were on Earth, had become nearly as brutal as the humans they lived among. They had almost totally forgotten their original culture and were just left with a handful of meaningless rituals they didn’t really understand. Finally, there were only a few thousand Martians left alive up here. The Leader decided to make a last ditch bid to bring the Martians on Earth back into the fold and remind them of their heritage by sending his own son down to give them his message.” Harvey looked at the other three men. “You all know the rest of the story.”

                “You might as well tell us what it says,” Doctor Fleming said, stonily.

                Harvey swallowed. He hadn’t wanted to say any more. “It says the son was captured by the humans and turned over to the leaders of the Martian colony who sentenced him to death. He was put on a cross to die and then buried. Since he still had a Martian lifespan, he didn’t die and he came out of his tomb and tried once more to give his message to the other Martians, then returned to Mars.  His father died and he himself, wrote down this message. There were still a handful of Martians alive and he asked to buried in the next room beside his father.

                “Jesus Chr…” Doctor Smith started to say but caught himself.

                Colonel Stacy moved over next to Harvey. “You’ll never be able to tell this to anyone. You know that don’t you?”

                Harvey thought about his former imprisonment. What he had just discovered on this last rod would surely be perceived as the ultimate challenge to Christian religion.  “I’m sure you’re right,” he answered the Colonel.

                He looked around the library. It was strange, he thought, that there had been a rod with both ancient Hebrew and the Martian text on it. Stanger still that Colonel Stacy and his team had found that rod so easily. “How did you manage to find this Rosetta Stone rod so quickly?” He asked the Colonel.

                The Colonel let his gaze wander the shelves lining the library walls. “We just lucked out, I guess. We pulled the first rod out of the shelf nearest the door and bingo, that was it. Doctor Smith recognized the writing as Hebrew.”

                Harvey walked over to the shelf nearest the door. There was an empty hole where the rod containing Hebrew and Martian text had been. He pulled out another of the rods and walked back across the floor and inserted it into the machine. It also had both Hebrew and Martian texts on it. The Hebrew was just as familiar to him as was that on the first rod. It was another section of the Dead Sea Scrolls, this one a portion of the so-called Community Rules scroll.

                He checked a few more of the rods. “You didn’t really luck out Colonel,” he said, after looking at each of them, “you could have picked any one of the rods from this shelf. They all have both Martian and Hebrew on them. Several of them seem to be Dead Sea Scrolls. Most of the scrolls we’ve found are fragments and the majority of the scrolls were lost to either robbers or to the ravages of nature but it looks like all of the original scrolls are here.” He took another rod from the shelf. “Any one of these may contain brand new material from the ancient Israeli tribes at the time of Christ,” he looked around the room, “… or whoever he and they were.”

                He inserted another rod into the machine. The familiar two column layout of Hebrew and Martian filled the screen. This time it was a scroll Harvey had never seen before. He was unable to contain his excitement. “This one actually says the Israelites were visitors from another planet. It describes the ‘teacher of righteousness’ who came among them as the son of the Martian leader, who still resided on Mars. It says he wrote these words to let the community know the truth about themselves.”

                “But none of the Dead Sea Scrolls says anything like that,” Doctor Smith said.

                “Maybe these scrolls got destroyed… or lost,” Harvey said. Then he had another thought – one that rang true to him. “Or they were kept secret,” he said quietly.

                “Why would anyone do that?” Colonel Stacy asked.

                “Because they would undermine the message of the church,” Doctor Fleming answered. He stepped back and pulled out a gun, pointing it at Harvey. “I had hoped you wouldn’t be able to translate the Martian text,” the doctor said. “Even if you discovered the truth about the Israelites, though, and even about Jesus, I knew the Colonel wouldn’t allow you to return to Earth with your discovery. But now you’ve discovered something no one outside of the Vatican knows – that the truth has been known for over sixty years. The research team at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem learned about the Martians within five years of starting to examine the Dead Sea Scrolls. The information remained with them - with them and with a small group at the Vatican who determined that it could never be revealed.”

                “And now you have to kill me so I can’t take the knowledge back to Earth,” Harvey said. “You are from the Vatican?”

                “I am their chief expert on ancient texts – a colleague of yours, Professor Green – except you have never heard of me because all of my research has had to remain secret.”

                Doctor Fleming was staring hard into Harvey’s eyes. He had forgotten about Smith and the Colonel for the moment. Suddenly Doctor Smith stepped in from the Fleming’s left and knocked the gun from his hand, pulling his own pistol. “The President said he smelled the Vatican in this situation. He was right.”

                “You and your President are in over your heads,” Doctor Fleming said, disdainfully. “The Vatican has kept this secret more than half a century. Jewish and Christian theology have remained intact despite concrete evidence that they are a fabrication – a misinterpretation of the historical facts. Only the Church could have orchestrated such a successful cover-up.”

                Doctor Smith’s ire was evident. “Are you kidding? In America we’ve been able to blame every challenge to President Ferris’ power on anti-Christian elements – usually Muslim extremists. We’ve marginalized every religion except Christianity and almost made it the official religion of the country. Do you think we could have done that without manipulating the truth and fabricating all sorts of lies?”

                “That’s exactly what I mean,” Fleming sneered. “You assume this is just one more secret to be kept, one more lie to be told to the gullible masses.” His eyes narrowed, shrewdly. “This is the secret of secrets, the one story that can never be told” His voice started to rise. “Christ was a goddamned Martian.  Don’t you get it? If this gets out there is no Christianity!”

                “Are you two crazy?” Harvey asked, stepping toward the two arguing scientists, who seemed to have forgotten about him and Colonel Stacy. “We’re standing in the midst of the greatest scientific discovery in the history of mankind and you two are arguing about which of you would be better at keeping it a secret. We need to get a full-fledged expedition up here to read every one of these rods in this library. We need to look for more libraries, more underground complexes. We need to understand who the Martians were. For God’s sake, they shaped part of our own human history. What if somewhere on this planet there’s some of them who haven’t died?”

                Smith was staring at him dumbfounded, his gun pointing toward the floor. Doctor Fleming took advantage of Smith’s distraction to reach down and pick up his own gun. He pointed it at Harvey. “Smith and I agree on one thing, Professor Green; you’re not going back to tell this story to anyone.”

                Doctor Smith raised his gun and pointed it also at Harvey. “Fleming’s right. Your part of this mission ends here.”

                “I’m afraid you’re both mistaken,” Colonel Stacy said. He had come around behind the two scientists and was holding a machine rifle in his hands. “Drop those guns. I’m a trained soldier and I can kill both of you before either of you gets off a shot.”

                The two scientists’ pistols fell to the floor with a clatter.

                “You work for the President of the United States,” Smith said. “He’s your Commander –in-Chief.”

                “Not up here, he isn’t,” the Colonel said.  “I’ve been on this planet off and on for ten years. I was with the party that found this underground complex. I’ve walked these tunnels and rooms hundreds of times. This was a noble, dying civilization, which sought a way to save itself without harming anyone else. They came to Earth and offered the best parts of their culture to the people they found living there. They were responsible for the pyramids, for the development of civilization on earth, for the laws that governed how people acted toward one another. And when their colonists went astray, their leader sent his only son to earth to try to give them a message that would bring them back to their original ways.” Without lowering his gun, the Colonel looked from one to the other of them. The look in his eyes was grim. “That’s a story that needs to be told.”

                Colonel Stacy motioned for Harvey to join him standing opposite the two scientists. “We’re leaving,” he said. “They can continue their argument about who can lie better than whom for as long as they want.  It will be a long time before anyone comes back and finds them.”

                “You’re going to leave us here?” Doctor Smith asked, terror in his voice.

                “I’ve set the doors to open in three weeks.” The Colonel said, taking off his backpack. “There is enough food in this pack to last you that long. The room has fresh water, piped in from the polar icecaps and the pumps are still running. The oxygen is ample for your survival.  When the door opens, you can take the elevator to the surface and call for help. The Professor and I will be on Earth by then, telling our story.”

                “You’ll be thrown in jail the minute you open your mouth,” Smith said.

                Colonel Stacy smiled. “We’ll probably be thrown in jail soon after we open our mouths. But by then it will be too late. As soon as we return we’ll schedule a press conference to talk about the expedition and the tragedy that resulted in the loss of the two of you. Once we have the media’s attention, we’ll tell the truth.” He walked over to the machine and picked up the last four rods they’d looked at and handed them to Harvey. “And we’ll have proof of what we say.”

                Both Fleming and Smith started to object, but Colonel Stacy backed toward the door. “Let’s go Professor,” he said. “We’ve got some rewriting of history to do.”

 

 

 

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