Blood and Misery

stock bearded man

Stock photo of a bearded man in a suit

“He looks like a cool drink of water but he’s candy-coated misery…”

Autumn 1977 – Stanford University, California

“As you can see in this EEG readout General, our Receiver subject’s brain waves are changing, beginning to match those of the Sender subject’s patterns we can see here on the remote receiver.”

“How far away is the Sender, Dr. Targ?” Brigadier General Nathaniel J. Stuart had been briefed on the technology involved in Targ’s and Puthoff’s experiments and he felt that the extraordinarily sensitive nature of their work required he view the preliminary evidence without being accompanied by his aides.

“Approximately half a mile, General.”

“And there’s no way they could possibly be in communication through conventional means. What about the EEG devices? Could they be connected in some way to produce this effect?”

Both men were in a darkened control booth observing the Electroencephalogram readings of the Receiver subject who was in an adjacent room and the Sender who was in a secure section of the basement of Lathrop Library. Both subjects were in sealed chambers that were shielded electrically and visually opaque. Russell Targ’s colleague Dr. Harold Puthoff was with a small team supervising the Sender, who was being subjected to regular flashes of light producing a predictable brain wave pattern that was being seen on both devices in front of the Professor and the Army General.

“Absolutely not. The actual EEG machine measuring the Sender is at her physical location and operated by Dr. Puthoff. Although we are seeing the results from that device on this repeater, it is in no way electrically or otherwise connected to the machine monitoring our Receiver.”

Nate Stuart was normally a skeptic. He questioned everything except orders, particularly those from the Pentagon. Up until three months ago, he thought any mention of this “E.S.P nonsense” was pure bullshit that only sissy Commies and Hippies believed in because they smoked too much marijuana. But the top brass in Strategic Planning and the “spooks” at Langley were taking it seriously so he was ordered to take it seriously, too.

The only time in his life when he actually thought anything like this was possible was way back when he was nine years old and visited his Grandfolks down in the Louisiana Bayou. The folks didn’t talk about Ma’s family much, but the old Great-gran was dying and had begged to see her little Ellie’s boy before she passed.

Great-gran was on the high side of ninety and still lived alone in an old one-room cabin deep in the swamp. Grandpa took him out alone on a small flatboat. Pa had raised Nate to be tough, but he still didn’t truck with poisonous snakes and gators.

Grandpa tied the boat to a rotting dock and walked Nate up to the front door. The old man raised his hand to knock but never got the chance.

“I know you’re here with the boy, Buford.” Her voice sounded ten years older than Moses and Nate thought right then and there he’d prefer swimming with water moccasins to walking inside.

“Door’s open, boy.” Grandpa put his hand on Nate’s shoulder. “I’ll wait here until she’s done with you.”

“Grandpa, what’s she want with me?”

“Boy, only your Great-gran can tell you that. Now you get in there.”

No knob, latch, or nothing. He pushed at the door and it swung in.

“Get in here, Nathaniel. I ain’t got all day. Didn’t you hear your kin say I was gonna die?”

Nate walked in and the door slowly closed behind him. There weren’t any lights inside. Windows provided the only illumination and that was scarce. He could just make her out lying on a bed against the far wall in the corner.

“Come closer, boy. I won’t bite, well not you anyway.” She started to laugh and then a racking cough consumed her. When it passed he could see her hand wave him over. Her arm momentarily passed into the light and little Nate could hardly believe what he saw. Great-gran was a Colored.

“Come here, boy.”

Colored or no, she was kin and she was an elder so he obeyed. He knew his Pa and Grandpa both would skin him alive if he ever disrespected an elder.

“Ah, I see you growed up straight and tall like your Pa.”

“Yes, Ma’am, only I didn’t know you’d ever seen my Pa.”

“Oh there’s all kinds of ways of seeing, Nathaniel. Your eyes are only one way.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” He didn’t understand and hoped this wouldn’t take too long. He was getting ready to wet his pants for the fright of her.

“Boy, I ain’t long for this world. The Lord Jesus is callin’ my name and soon I gots to stand before the Ivory Throne and give an accounting. I ain’t lived much for Jesus because of the Devil.”

Nate jumped back a step. The Baptist preacher back home gave terrible sermons about the Devil catching little boys and girls unawares in sin and sending them straight to Hell.

“Iz what they call a Voodoo Queen. In my day, I held de people of da Bayou in the palm of my hand. I had boys and men lining up for to spend some pleasured nights with me in my bed.” She cackled a bit but at the time Nate had no idea what she was talking about.

“I have one last gift in me, Nathaniel and I’m giving it to you.”

“A gift, Ma’am?”

“Yes, boy. I gots something special for you.”

She was the poorest person he’d ever seen and he knew Pa and Ma had grown up real poor. She didn’t look like she had any presents, and as scared as he was of her, Nate also felt pity. He couldn’t accept a present from her, even to be polite.

“What gift, Ma’am?”

“Why boy, I gots the future for you, your future, and Iz gonna give it to you right here and now.”

“As you can see General, the brain waves of the Sender and Receiver have been identical for almost ten minutes.”

Stuart suddenly realized his thoughts had drifted. He hadn’t thought about that day with old Great-gran in who knows how many years. He hadn’t wanted to think about it, especially when the first thing she’d told him about his future came true, and then the second, and then the third.

marie-laveau

Angela Bassett in the role of “Voodoo Queen” Marie Laveau from “American Horror Story” (2013-2016)

After he’d gotten back home from Louisiana, he got a book with blank pages and wrote down everything Great-gran had told him about the future. He didn’t exactly believe it but he didn’t exactly not believe it either. As he got older, he’d write down the date and circumstances of each thing she’d told him would happen.

He now kept that diary in a safe behind a false wall in his workshop even his wife didn’t know about. In the past fifty years, not one thing…not one damn thing Great-gran had told him would happen had ever failed to come true.

“How long can they keep this up?”

“I see you’ve guessed that fatigue is a factor. Yes, this is about as long as communication can be sustained. There. On the Receiver’s graph you can see some fluctuation. She’s beginning to lose the link.”

“Yes, thank you, Professor.”

“Excuse me a moment.” Targ picked up a phone and dialed an internal number. “It’s me, Harold. That’s a wrap.” He listened for a moment. “Thanks, I’ll let you know as soon as I find out anything. Yeah, bye.”

Targ hung up the phone. “Can I answer any questions about the experiment, General?”

It took Stuart a moment to respond. He still had Great-gran on his mind.

“I’ve read all of the reports as well as your confidential grant proposal. This has been going on for about five years here at Stanford and the basis for your research goes all the way back to Joseph and Louisa Rhine’s work at Duke in the ’30s.”

“Yes sir.” The General could tell Targ was slightly annoyed at being told the obvious and that he wasn’t particularly fond of the Military. On the other hand, he needed Defense Contract money so he’d be polite and keep his mouth shut unless spoken to.

“I must say based on what you’ve shown me so far, I’m impressed, impressed enough to recommend a pilot program. If that pans out, then I think the Pentagon can be convinced to appropriate funds for your research.”

“That’s wonderful news, General. Anything Dr. Puthoff and I can do to facilitate this process, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

“I’m not one to hesitate, Professor. Rest assured. Right now, I’ve seen what I’ve come to see. If you’ll show me the door, I’ll be on my way. I’ve got a report to write up.”

On the way out of Tang’s lab in the Psychology building, Nathaniel Stuart remembered his unique visit with a Voodoo Queen whose dying gift to him was a road map into his future. There was no way in Heaven or Hell she could have known all of what was going to happen in his life over the next half century and yet she did and unerringly so. If Great-gran had the gift, maybe others did too, and if they did, they could be made to use it for the security of their country.

Technicians had entered a nearby steel chamber minutes ago and were disconnecting electrical leads that had been attached to twenty-year-old Linda Hadassah Strousberg. Linda had been the single most promising Receiver Targ and Puthoff had ever worked with. They hoped to build their careers around her if she could be convinced to stay at Stanford after she graduated next spring.

At that moment, all Linda wanted to do was find a bathroom, then grab a snack, and then get to the library so she could meet with her Organic Chemistry study group. She was sure to be late, but she believed Dr. Targ when he said his “Remote Viewing” work was important.

The session tonight had been nearly identical to the others she’d experienced before except she couldn’t get the man’s face out of her mind. It appeared about five minutes into the experiment. For an instant, she thought it might be an image of the Sender except she knew the Sender was a young woman, another student. But every time she thought of the mysterious man in her vision, she became cold and afraid.

“Oh come on, Linda. You promised this time you’d come to meet him. You won’t regret it. I swear.”

“Sasha, why do I want to meet this guru of your’s again?”

Linda and Sasha had been roommates and best friends since their Freshman year. They’d been assigned to the same dorm room and had been inseparable ever since.

Linda came from Orange County and only went home on school breaks and for the summer, but although Sasha’s parents lived in nearby San Francisco, she still insisted on renting an off-campus apartment with Linda, telling her Mom and Dad that it would save gas. Plus, Linda was a brilliant upon brilliant student and was one of the big reasons Sash would be graduating with a 3.87 GPA instead of squeaking by with a 3.00.

“Because he’s the most spiritual and intuitive person ever, plus he’s really good-looking.”

“Are you saying you want to go to bed with him, Sash?”

“All the girls in the group want to and probably a few of the guys, but he’s too enlightened to go for that. Too bad, too.”

“So where are we going?”

“I told you. We’ve got a conference room reserved at the SU. He’s going to be speaking to about thirty of us. You are going to love this, Linda.”

She let Sasha lead her to the Student Union. It was after sundown but there were still plenty of kids on campus. She didn’t forget where they were going. Linda hardly forgot anything, which is part of what made her a good student along with her insatiable desire to learn.

Sasha had been trying to introduce her to the guru guy for months but there was something inside Linda’s head that told her it wasn’t a good idea. However, Sash was her best friend and she had promised, and she did want to make Sasha happy, so it probably wouldn’t hurt to listen to what this character had to say.

“What’s his name again?” Sasha knew Linda was teasing this time.

“Anthony Zerba, Dr. Anthony Zerba.”

“What’s his doctorate in?”

“Well…I don’t know.”

“Ten to one its in Animal Husbandry. How about Underwater Basket Weaving?”

“Oh knock it off, Linda.”

They were both laughing as they walked into the main entrance, but as they started up the stairs, Linda got a cold feeling, cold enough to make her tremble. Sasha had Linda by the arm and felt the sudden change, stopping her when they got to the second floor.

“Linda, what’s the matter?”

“I don’t know. I mean, I just started to get scared, like something bad’s going to happen.”

“Oh, you always get those feelings. That’s why those two mad scientists Dr. Frankenstein and Dracula keep experimenting on you.”

“That’s Dr. Targ and Dr. Puthoff and don’t change the subject.”

“If you still feel up to it, we need to go inside. Anthony will be here in a minute.”

“He’s here now.”

“How do you know that, Linda? We haven’t even gone inside the room yet?”

Linda shifted her gaze from the far wall back to her friend and smiled. “Because I felt it through the Force, silly.” Linda lightly tweaked Sash’s nose.

They both laughed and started walking arm in arm again. “You idiot. I told you seeing ‘Star Wars’ forty-seven times was too much.”

“It was only forty-two and it is not too…”

They walked in the conference room. Marishka, who had been one of the first students to join Dr. Zerba’s Enlightenment Movement on campus, waved them in. “Hurry, he’s just about to start. I’ve saved two seats for you up front next to me.” Linda blinked rapidly at the abrupt realization that Marishka was the Sender from her most recent experiment just a few days ago.

As the trio walked toward the front of the room, a man had started walking toward the podium on the stage. He was darkly handsome, almost supernaturally so. Linda couldn’t take her eyes off of him for a moment and when she could, she saw that Sasha, Marishka, and everyone else in the room were completely focused on him.

gerard_butler_actor

Actor Gerard Butler

“Good evening. Would you please be seated so we can get started?” He spoke with a slight accent but Linda couldn’t place it. He was a complete stranger but she recognized his face instantly. He was the man she saw in the vision during the last experiment.

Linda didn’t mean to fall asleep on her textbook but it had been such a hectic week approaching mid-terms that she hadn’t been getting much rest. Sasha still hadn’t gotten home. After Anthony’s presentation, she said she was going out with her friends, which Linda interpreted as her “cult-mates.”

She had sat woodenly while “Doctor” Anthony Zerba spouted off platitudes and rehashed eastern philosophy as if they were mind-shattering revelations. And yet, every other person in the room seemed enraptured by this man. Once Linda had gotten over the shock of seeing him, the man from her vision, she realized he wasn’t all that compelling. Certainly he was attractive, somewhere between thirty-five and forty-five, close-cropped black hair and beard lightly streaked with grey, tasteful dark three-piece suit that looked too expensive to be worn by a “humble spiritual leader,” but nothing special.

Well, not exactly. There was something about him, a sort of charisma laced with menace. He hadn’t said or done anything that would have led Linda to believe he was dangerous, but he had an aura of malevolence about him. She couldn’t wait to get out of there and to drag Sasha with her. Linda was dismayed when Sasha said she’d be staying out for a while. It wasn’t just that she had mid-terms too and should be studying, but the sense that something bad was going to happen to her.

Linda was walking down a long, dark hallway. Every few feet there were lit candles suspended in wall-mounted holders providing the only light. She was embarrassed to find that her only clothing was a thin, cotton nightie. She was completely nude underneath and the gown was mostly see-through. She could feel arousal and moistness between her legs. Her nipples were hard and sensitive. It was as if she had been engaged in heavy foreplay, which is as far as she’d ever gotten with a boy. Only on nights like this when she was home alone did she dare masturbate to relieve her frustration.

But she wasn’t home alone tonight, she was walking down a dark hallway, wasn’t she?

There was a door at the end of the corridor. It opened all by itself. She walked into a large room. More candles, then torches, a fireplace. There was a man in the middle of the room. He was dressed in black, long dark hair, full black beard, both streaked with grey. It was Anthony and then again it wasn’t.

“Come in, my dear. I’ve been expecting you.”

“I…I don’t know if we should do this, Anthony. If the others should find out…what about Marishka?” She was speaking but it wasn’t her voice. But it was coming out of her mouth, wasn’t it?

“Neither she nor the others will discover us, I promise.” He took her under the shelter of one arm. “I love all my children, but you are special. You and I must consummate what we have for each other.”

“Yes, Anthony. I didn’t mean to doubt you.” She lowered her eyes in shame and penitence.

That definitely wasn’t her. She’d never submit to a snake like Anthony. It still wasn’t her voice but she knew who it belong to. It was Sasha’s.

Anthony took her in both arms. Linda felt her body go almost completely limp. She wanted to scream, to run, to get out of there. His hands were all over her. She felt him yank up her gown until it was around her waist. Then strong fingers massaged her clitoris. It was disgusting, horrifying, violating, and yet he made her orgasm twice. She’d never climaxed standing up before and never so strongly. Linda arched her back and cried out, begging for more. She could feel the moistness ooze out of her vagina and down her inner thighs.

Then there was something else, something horrible. He was kissing her neck. Then it hurt and then it was wet. She had a third convulsive orgasm as he was sucking on her neck. No, not her neck. It was her blood. He had opened her throat and he was feeding on her blood.

A kaleidoscope of images surged through her brain too quickly to unscramble and follow. Her head was going to explode. There was blood, pleasure, and pain.

“No! Let go of me you bastard! Let me go!”

Linda woke up sitting straight in her chair as if she’d been electrified. It was a dream. She had been asleep. It hadn’t happened. She felt her neck. No wounds, no blood. But she did feel moist. She looked down. Her jeans and panties had been pulled down around her hips. She remembered feeling mildly aroused earlier but put it off to study. Now she was completely sated, almost exhausted sexually. How could she have masturbated and climaxed in her sleep?

Embarrassed, she stood up and quickly redid her pants still feeling warm moistness in her panties.

Something was wrong. It was after two and still Sasha wasn’t home. Somehow she knew she was confused, scared, and in pain.

“Sasha come home,” she whispered. “Whatever’s happened, I’ll take care of you.”

Twenty minutes later, Linda was pacing the floor wondering if she should call Sasha’s parents or the police when she heard a key turn in the lock.

“Sasha!” Linda ran to the door and Sash almost fell into her arms.

“Oh my God, what’s wrong?”

Linda managed to get the door shut and locked and pulled her friend into the kitchen, sitting her at the table. She was barely conscious. There was a scarf around her neck that didn’t belong to her. Linda took it off only to find two oozing puncture wounds right where she dreamed she’d been bitten.

It hadn’t been a dream. It was what really happened to Sasha and Linda had felt every moment of it. Not only that, but she remembered something else. When Sasha was bitten, something happened. The flashing images and the pain Linda felt almost made her pass out but now she was starting to be able to interpret them a piece at a time.

She could see Sasha and remembered experiencing everything she went through when Anthony took her, fed on her, Linda could recall every thought, every feeling, the subtle nuances and gross erotic pleasure mixed with terror.

She could see something else. In the moment Anthony punctured her neck and began draining Sasha of blood, he gave something back, something lingering which he intended to use to control her. He also gave up something unintended. In the moments Anthony and Sasha were linked, Linda could see and feel not only everything in her best friend’s mind but in her lover’s as well. Linda knew everything Anthony knew including what he had planned for Sasha and the others. She also knew how to stop him and protect Sasha.

Linda had called in a few favors but she managed to get together everything she needed for the following night. She knew that if Anthony didn’t take Sasha with him now, it would be too late. He had 398 others either in transit or already waiting for him at what he called “The Retreat” in a remote part of a Mexican forest. He needed to join them soon or everything he had planned would be lost.

“Linda, I’m sure you’re imagining things. It’s okay if I go with Anthony and the Family for a little while. My parents will understand.”

“I sure as hell won’t Sasha, and you’re not going. What you will do is sit in that chair and wear what I’ve put on you. Remember, you promised me, you swore that you’d go through with this. If what I have in mind doesn’t work, I can’t stop you from going with him, but if it does, it proves I’m right and you’re staying. Got it?”

“I know, but are you sure Anthony’s the crazy one?”

“He’s not crazy, Sash. He’s evil.”

Sasha was totally bewildered. Linda was her closest friend and she’d do anything for her but suddenly she’d developed some sort of strange vendetta against Anthony. Sasha trusted Anthony with everything she had and was. He said she was special, that they had a destiny together. But some tiny part of her felt afraid, like going with him might not be a good idea…or was that just Linda putting those thoughts in her head?

Linda stood behind the chair Sasha was in. They were both facing the door of their apartment in the space between the living room and the kitchen.

There was a knock. “May I come in?”

“Drop dead,” Linda yelled at the same time Sasha said, “Yes, you can.”

The door opened. Sasha must have given him a key.

As Anthony crossed the threshold, he started coughing and gagging.

“I did a little research. I found out you’re allergic to garlic.”

“Oh…cough…please. You jest.” He was an amazing con man. He was struggling to breathe and he could still make out like it was a joke. “Just such a strong … cough … odor”.

Sasha looked up from her chair at Linda. “Maybe I should take this stuff off now.”

“Nothing doing, Sash. It’s working. You’ll see. Now sit tight in that chair and let me do the rest.”

“But Linda…”

Anthony was still at the doorway. He held himself up by one arm pressed against the wall still wheezing like someone having an asthma attack.

“Being a couple of good Jewish girls, we don’t have many crosses and crucifixes around, but I have plenty of friends who were glad to lend me some. I know what it is that repels you.”

Linda opened up Sasha’s sweater like Linda Danvers turning into Supergirl and then did the same to her own to reveal a multitude of borrowed Christian icons dangling around their necks. They didn’t have as great an effect as she’d hoped, but a look of surprise and dismay were captured in Anthony’s features.

“And now for the pièce de résistance…” Linda reached over to the wall switch at her left and flipped it up. All of the lights in the small apartment came on, and then she toggled a switch on a large lamp right next to her. The lens was pointed straight at the door. Brilliantly illuminated, Anthony cringed and trembled, then shielded his eyes.

“Full spectrum illumination. The exact type and frequency of visible light that comes from the sun. Since I know you won’t hang around until morning, I thought I’d bring morning to you.”

“Very well, you can keep her. I have the rest. You cannot prevent that.” His voice was hoarse and pained.

“No, Anthony, don’t go.”

“Stop it, Sasha. Remember what I said. If the garlic, the crosses, and the light all bother him, I’m right and he’s a vampire. Do you really want to go with him? Don’t you remember what he did the last time you were alone with him?”

fangs

Found at the Islington Gazette

Sasha’s eyes were filled with tears. Linda knew she loved him or was seduced into believing it. He had controlled her thoughts and feelings, but now his influence over her was weakening just as he was. For one terrible instant he dared uncover his face and look at the two of them in the light. He opened his mouth and hissed like a serpent baring two long fangs. Linda felt her neck throb where he had bitten her or rather Sasha.

Her friend turned away from Anthony and buried her face in Linda’s middle. “Help me, please.”

Linda held her close but was still looking at Anthony. “Get out. Never come back.”

The vampire wheeled and ran out the door vanishing into the night.

They didn’t feel safe until weeks later when the news from Mexico broke in the media.

Almost 400 people died after being asphyxiated at a failed utopian settlement in a remote region of Southern Mexico near the border of Guatemala. The deceased were followers of a deranged cult leader named Anthony Zerba, who had led his followers with promises of a better life, and had kept them there through violence and intimidation. Every person found in the compound had their throats cut and very little blood was left in their bodies. Each of the victims have been identified and their next of kin notified.

What the news reports failed to mention was that the bodies of Anthony Zerba and about thirty of his closest followers were not among the dead.

“Do you still want to go ahead with the program, General?”

“She was your best subject, Dr. Targ?”

“That she was, General. No other Receiver had shown anything close to her aptitude.”

“You don’t know why she dropped out of the program. I thought you had convinced her of the importance of this work.”

“Not a clue, General. She said something about needing the time to get ready for graduation next spring and her roommate having gone through some sort of trauma. That’s all I know.”

Nate Stuart pondered for a moment wishing he could light up a stogie in the Professor’s office. He’d gotten a green light for the Stargate Project but now he wasn’t sure if the results would be worth it. How many people like Great-gran were there in the world? Probably not many. What if Linda Strousberg was the only other one or the only one in her generation?

In a remote area of the Mexican state of Chiapas, a man with dark hair and a beard led thirty others of his kind to an abandoned 16th Century Spanish Mission church. From there, they preyed upon local villages, hapless travelers, and even drug smugglers. The leader of the Family was once known as Anthony Zerba, but in the distant past, he was called Antonie as one day he would be again.

“What about Sasha and Linda, Master?” Marishka’s mocha colored flesh clung to her lord as the full moon rose over the jungle to the east.

“They are of no concern for now my lovely one. The future will always wait for us. But for tonight, we hunt.”

Over the next decade, the Vampires of the Temple of Quechula became a legendary terror of the night.

quechula

The Temple of Quechula – Photograph: David von Blohn/AP

I wrote this for #LyricalFictionFriday hosted by Simply Marquessa. The idea is to take a song lyric and use it to inspire a piece of fiction or other creative work. The lyric for December 28 is, “He looks like a cool drink of water but he’s candy-coated misery…”

I’ve been writing a vampire series lately so naturally the Undead have been on my mind. I pictured Mr. “Candy-coated Misery” as a vampire but I wanted someone who could resist him, give him a challenge. I started thinking about him having a sort of harem of women he’s bitten who are all slavishly compliant except for one.

But what would make her so different? What extra ability would allow her to resist. Something psychic maybe?

I was shooting in the dark when I remembered that Duke University did a lot of “ESP” experiments starting in the 1930s. I looked that history up and saw an article that included Targ’s and Puthoff’s work at Stanford which eventually led to military funding and the Stargate Project.

As I was writing, everything morphed in my imagination until the story as you’ve just read it was created. Since the story is set in Autumn of 1977, I had to include a “Star Wars” reference or two, but also in creating my vampire cult leader, I decided to loosely style him after Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre. Jones was headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area up until 1977-78 when he led just over 900 people to a compound in the nation of Guyana where they all committed suicide by drinking Kool-Aid laced with poison.

In my version, the vampire had other ideas about what do to with the dead and of course, he, along with thirty of this followers including Marishka, escaped to form the basis of a vampire cult or family and as of 1978, they reside in an abandoned 16th century Spanish colonial church in Southern Mexico. I used Temple of Santiago or the Temple of Quechula as a rough basis for that location.

The following link won’t work until December 28th but I decided to post this story ahead of time because it relates to others in my Sean Becker Undead series. Once the 28th arrives, you can read other stories based on the prompt by visiting #LyricalFictionFriday

There are currently five chapters in the Sean Becker series starting with The Beginning of the Fall (read that story and a link at the bottom will lead to the second and then the third and so on). Find out more about Antonie by reading The Romanian. Other related stories are Stop Me From Falling and The Thaw.

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