Tales Behind the Tombstones

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 3 (v.1) - Plagued Penitentiary

Submitted: August 30, 2017

Reads: 178

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A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 30, 2017



3.Plagued Penitentiary




There is a fine line between the dead and the living.

A line so fine that without a second thought, they can cross it.




Heels clicking against the concrete floor echoed throughout the corridor. Denise glanced down at her pocket watch as a prolonged sigh escaped her lips; her heart was heavy, but her occupation demanded professionalism. She had been part of the medical staff at Eastern State Penitentiary for a little over a decade. After her internship at a local hospital back in Rhode Island, she moved to Pennsylvania upon receiving a job offer she couldn’t refuse. When she began medical school, her goal was to save lives, to help people. 

The hands on her watch read one thirty in the afternoon. She had already performed a handful of lifeending procedures. The familiar staffroom sign hung over the door to her left. She entered it and headed straight for the fridge. Retrieving the container marked ‘Denise’ she put it in the microwave for one minute and waited, tapping her fingernails against the grey, granite countertop. 

“Rough day, Denise?” Jack said. Jack Smurl was one of her colleagues and had worked there longer than she had. He was a prison guard and usually worked the graveyard shift.

“Like any other day,” Denise responded, smiling awkwardly.

The microwave timer went off; Denise flung the door open hungrily and carried her food over to the empty seat next to Jack. She sat down and tucked eagerly into her corn silverside leftovers from the night before; meat so tender, it fell apart just looking at it and steamed spuds, zucchini, squash, carrots and broccoli smothered in cheese sauce. She chewed each piece carefully to savour the flavour and washed it down with a hot cup of coffee.

“Well, that’s me done.” Said Jack, putting his own dishes in the sink and heading back to his regular patrol of block C. “I hope your day improves.” He added as he exited the room.

Denise finished her meal and rinsed her dishes, placed them in the dish rack and headed back towards the medical wing to check her job sheet for the afternoon. There was one more lethal injection to carry out. She was barely an adult and a mute; sentenced to death row after being convicted of several counts of murder. 

Denise never enjoyed putting an end to people’s lives, even the coldest-blooded of killers; having to end the life of a young woman, still in high school felt unjust. Authorities discovered the young girl and her friends had broken into Waverly Hills. After doing a full sweep of Waverly they found five bodies. They found the girl’s prints on several weapons, and blood of the deceased covered much of her clothing and skin. A knee-jerk reaction from an officer caused a bullet from his gun to lodge in her head; she survived without the ability to speak. 

Denise met with a few of her other colleagues and they entered the room where they were planning to carry out the young woman’s execution.


She turned her keys in the lock and as she entered her third-floor apartment, tossed her bag down on the hallway table. Her muscles ached, and her head throbbed. After lighting candles, she ran a hot bath, took off her uniform and settled down into the water. Closing her eyes and laying her head against her waterproof pillow, she exhaled, feeling her muscles relax after a trying day. 

She woke herself up coughing; the water was already tepid. She hopped out of the tub and grabbed a beige towel, drying herself under the heat lights. Her body shuddered as she coughed again, this time into the towel. She hurriedly tossed the towel over the rack and headed to her bedroom. She threw on some comfortable pyjamas and returned to the bathroom, straightening the damp towel on the steel fixture. A small amount of blood clung to the fibres; Denise didn’t seem to notice and went to bed feeling exhausted and dizzy. She simply put it down to the rough day she had at work.

Several hours later Denise woke to a severe coughing fit. She was so lethargic she could barely lift her head. Her chest heaved and ached with each cough. A cough so violent she thought her ribs would break and perforate her lungs. Every breath hurt. She slid out of bed to get to the phone; her bed sheets were sweat-soaked, and she had a burning fever. With no energy to get to her feet, her legs shaking she crawled across the floor to the handset two feet away. She barely made it to the side table and reached towards phone when a coughing fit rattled her body again. Blood sprayed the wall with each cough until her body gave out and she collapsed.


Days went by. 

Denise had not returned to work for four days. After calling her phone and receiving no answer, her boss became increasingly concerned. She was not the person to take days off, even when sick; she had racked up about six weeks’ worth of sick days. He called police and made them aware of the situation. Hours later he received a phone call. They had discovered Denise dead in her apartment and without going into details; the circumstances were suspicious enough to warrant a full toxicology screening and autopsy. 

News quickly spread of Denise’s death. Her colleagues held a quiet vigil in the staffroom for her that afternoon. Having no family of her own still living, Denise had put her boss, Malcolm, as her next of kin and emergency contact. The autopsy results stumped the coroner; the blood taken from the deceased showed a disease comparable to tuberculosis.

“Tuberculosis?” Malcolm raised one dark eyebrow.

“We aren’t entirely sure. Denise was up to date with all her boosters per the blood work.” The coroner replied. “The weird thing is, although not confirmed as tuberculosis, the results showed a definite familiarity between that and whatever Denise had. It killed her quickly, within a day I’d say. She haemorrhaged internally, and they found blood leaking from every orifice. Tuberculosis doesn’t do that. What Denise suffered from, it makes little sense, Malcolm.”

“What is it, Steve?”

“The disease ravaged Denise’s body so quickly; she was dead within mere hours from the onset of symptoms. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say it was much quicker strain of Ebola.”

“Oh, my!” Malcolm said; the shock seemed to knock the breath right out of him.

“Malcolm, we need to screen all of your employees, and anyone who may have encountered Denise in recent weeks.”

“That could be anyone…” 

“Yes, this only adds to the importance of the situation. We do not know exactly what this disease is. What we know, is that it is highly contagious and fatal. I should get the Centre for Disease Control in on this too.”

“Yes, okay,” Malcolm said, running his shaky hand through his thick crop of short, brown hair. “I will let my employees know. In the meantime, what should we do?”

“Remain vigilant. Keep your eyes open for anyone with a cough or fever and encourage them to seek medical help immediately.”

Malcolm sighed as he hung up the phone. He called a work meeting to announce the bad news. His employees responded with various degrees of worry and fear.

 “I saw Denise the day she died,” Jack said. “She looked a little tired but otherwise fine. So how do we know who is sick and who isn’t?”

“This is a very serious illness. It is deadly and works fast. However, in the early stages, the symptoms are a cough, fever and lethargy.” Malcolm said.

“Do they know where Denise contracted it from?” Jack asked.

“Or how to treat it?” A fellow employee asked in a shaky voice.

 “They haven’t figured that part out yet. No one saw Denise when she was at her sickest. She died in her apartment during the night. They say it closely resembles a strain of tuberculosis…”

“Tuberculosis?!” Jack cried, stunned. “But that hasn’t been around since the vaccine eradicated it, right?”

“Yes, that is true.” Malcolm said, adding, “Whatever Denise had, showed characteristics of Tuberculosis but that disease didn’t work its way through the body that swiftly. The coroner said it appeared to be characteristically like Ebola.”

A collective gasp sounded throughout the room. A few people spoke in hushed tones to one another while a good portion of them stood motionless, their faces etched with fear.


The coroner hung up the phone and returned to the morgue to re-examine the results of Denise’s blood work. He looked through the microscope again, scrutinizing the blood smear on the slide. It looked as though the cells were attacking each other, both the red and the white. In all his years as a coroner, Steve had seen nothing like it. When the disease had taken hold completely, the infected cells became erratic, moving agitatedly under the lens.

A hand dropped over the side of the gurney. The white sheet that covered the cadaver slowly fell towards the floor. Death tainted her skin; pale, stone cold with a bluish hue. Denise’s eyelids flickered open revealing an unnatural colour of the iris, like moonstones. The whites of her eyes were bloodshot, and her pupils were so constricted they looked like pin-points. She sluggishly sat up and turned her head to the left. A man with a white coat stood bent over a counter, oblivious to the reanimated corpse behind him.

She slid off the bed and moved towards him, her feet shuffling along the smooth, linoleum floor. He pivoted and found himself face to face with Denise. Unable to move, he stammered, “D–Denise, H–How… are you okay?”

Denise let out a ghastly shriek, showing a mouthful of bloody teeth before biting down hard into Steve’s neck. He let out a gurgling cry as she ripped at his jugular; blood sprayed out of the gaping hole while his heart continued to pump blood around his body. Choking and gagging on his own crimson fluid, his arms flailed about as his undead assailant continued to make a feast of his throat. She ripped and tore at his flesh, chewing hungrily; making an entire bloody mess of her meal. The light faded from his widened eyes, his face permanently contorted in horror.


Jack walked his routine patrol along the upper level of the maximum-security wing. The inmates weren’t as rowdy as usual which seemed a little odd. He peered into a cell as he passed; it was well after midnight and lights out had been in effect for several hours. All he could make out were two silhouettes, shuffling their feet quietly in small, irregular movements.

“Hey, Bill!” Jack called, not sure what he was witnessing. Bill polished off the last of his ham sandwich and headed towards Jack. 

“What is it?” Bill peered into the cell that Jack was facing. He ran his baton along the bars, making a loud noise to rouse the inmates. A hiss and a clicking sound came from within the cell. The dark shapes slowly turned to face the prison wardens, their eyes glowing eerily white from beyond the steel bars. 

Bill moved closer. “What are you lot doing in there?” he demanded. 

Two men occupied the cell, Travis and Conner. They sentenced Conner to two consecutive life sentences for first-degree murder. They convicted Travis of violently raping a slew of women at knifepoint, engraving his markings on their body and leaving them to bleed out. They continued to move sluggishly within the confinement of their cell; neither one responded to his question. Keys rattled as Bill retrieved them from his belt clip. Jack put his arm out in front of Bill to stop him; he had an unsettling feeling and couldn’t shake it. 

“Jack, Relax,” Bill said, nonchalantly. “I brought a little friend to the party. What’s the worst these two knuckle-dragging dumb arses can do?” He added as he patted the pistol stored in his leather holster. He put the key in the steel lock and turned it until it clicked open. 

The shuffling became more erratic as though something had riled them up. Bill slid the heavy steel door open with a grinding sound. Travis and Conner suddenly lunged at him, ripping at his flesh with their teeth. Bill fought to pull his gun from his holster, but he wasn’t fast enough; blood spewed out of his opened mouth as their teeth gnashed and ripped at his throat, opening a huge wound and severing the carotid artery. 

Jack screamed in alarm and fired several shots at the inmates, at the least hoping to incapacitate the men. They trained the prison officers to pacify, not kill outright. The pair kept ripping at his flesh, exposing muscles, sinew and bloody insides. Bill was dead long before his body hit the floor. Jack watched in horror as the two continued to dine hungrily on his internal organs.

Jack staggered back a few steps and fired frantically. A bullet penetrated Conner’s forehead and exited the back of his cranium with a spray of blood, stopping him dead in its tracks. Travis didn’t seem to notice Jack at all. He fired again, this time aiming his weapon at Travis’ head, dropping him to the floor with a single headshot.

Jack reeled back in horror, tripping over a mass on the concrete floor and landing hard on his butt. He blinked several times, suddenly realising blood covered his face, in his eyes, mouth and nostrils. He wiped it with the back of his sleeve and wailed, staring at the bloodied, lifeless bodies laying a few feet from him. 

When he was certain they would not get back up, Jack ran back to the Warden’s quarters, his legs shaking with every step. He slammed the door behind him and ran to the phone. Upon placing the receiver to his ear, he found no dial tone. Running his shaky hand through his hair he retrieved his pager from his belt and paged Malcolm. With the door securely locked and hours left of his shift, he stayed safely within the confines of the quarters. He felt his body relax slightly and his eyes grew heavy. He surrendered to it and fell asleep fitfully, twitching and moaning as the exhaustion overcame him.


The car's headlights cut through the darkness and fog. The kids were in the back giggling and talking excitedly amongst themselves. 

Suddenly the car swerved.

“Mom!” The pair screamed. “What’s happening?”

Before the mother could answer the car went straight through the steel barrier. It rolled for several yards and then came to an abrupt stop against a tree. Steam billowed out of the crumbled vehicle as the passengers remained trapped inside. 

“Mom?” A tiny voice sounded from the back seat. He looked to his left and his sister was missing. Slumped over the steering wheel was his mother; blood was pouring out of a wound on her forehead. “Mom?” He repeated.

He tried to unbuckle his seatbelt, but something was jamming the mechanism. With some contorting, he pulled himself free of the restraint and climbed into the front passenger seat. He shook his mother, growing increasingly desperate at the lack of response.

“Mommy?” Tears filled his eyes as he continued to rouse his mother. He sat back in the seat, feeling defeated, scared and alone. Suddenly remembering his baby sister, he hopped back into the backseat and looked out the side window. Something caught the corner of his eye. He clambered out and landed with a soft thud on the dirt below. It had been raining, and the ground was slightly damp. A canopy of trees covered most of the night sky, but a few stars peeked through the gaps; the moon was full and high, offering a little light.

“Chloe?” The boy said, timidly. “Chloe, where are you?”

A small figure lay crumbled on the soil a few yards from the car. The boy ran to his baby sister, threw himself down on to his knees and held her. She was still alive; cuts and abrasions covered most of her tiny body, but she was breathing.

“Tommy?” She whimpered. “What happened? Where’s Mommy?”

“Can you walk?”

“I–I think so…” she stammered. Tommy helped Chloe to her feet, and they trudged back to the car together. An owl hooted suddenly, scaring the twins. They ran back to the car trembling. 

The driver’s seat was empty. They found smears of blood on the windshield and steering wheel. Between the cracks of the broken glass was a tuft of their mother’s blond hair.

“Where’s Mommy, Tommy?” Chloe trembled. It was cold out and the slight breeze brought an unwelcome icy touch to her pale skin.

“Sh-she was just here…”

A shrill laugh seemed to come from all around them. They screamed and held each other close, turning in circles and wondering who belonged to the sound.

“She is mine now!” The raspy voice echoed. “You will ALL be mine!” Shrill laughter filled their ears.

The pair screamed and ran into the woods together…


Thump. Thump. Thump.

Jack rose to his feet shakily and paused, listening carefully for the sound again.

Someone was banging on the door. Loudly. Muffled voices ensued, but the words were incoherent. Whoever it was, sounded frantic. Jack’s right hand was at the ready, hovering over his holstered pistol as he reached for the door handle with his left. The knob shook as he turned it, perhaps out of fear; perhaps someone was trying to open it from the other side.

He slowly turned it and two tall figures barrelled past him.

“Seal the door! Hurry!” Malcolm yelled, from behind a blood-smeared face. His shirt drenched in sweat and blood, he took it off and balled it up, tossing it across the room. The other man was unbeknownst to Jack. He was tall, about six feet four inches and had a tanned complexion. Blood and sweat also covered much of his clothing. They looked dangerous but scared; Malcolm was carrying a semi-automatic assault rifle with several rounds of ammunition slung over his shoulder. The other man was carrying an axe and steel baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire.

“The shit has hit the fan, my friend,” Malcolm announced. “Grant and I waded through a shit storm of reanimated inmates. The disease doesn’t just infect the cells, it changes them. When you die, you come back as one of–those things.” He added, gulping. 

“The place was crawling with them when we came in,” Grant said. “Most were still behind bars, but some staff members were wandering the halls. We had a shit fight on our hands just trying to get into the building. It is worse outside. Reanimated corpses are everywhere!”

“Total media blackout, too.” Added Malcolm. “All networks are down.”

“And it isn’t just the dead you need to worry about. People are looting and assaulting others on the streets.”

Jack stood wide-mouthed. “The disease that Denise had–it caused all this?”

Malcolm and Grant nodded in unison. “It appears that way. They found the coroner dead in the local morgue this morning. It looked like something ate him alive. Denise’s corpse was missing.”

“Holy shit!” Jack gasped.

Grant interrupted Jack and Malcolm’s exchange. “We gotta get out of here, guys!”


They grabbed all the spare ammunition they could carry and some supplies; first aid kits, bottled water and whatever food they could find. They exited the Warden’s quarters together. It looked as though Grant and Malcolm had cleared the way in, mostly. Battered bodies were everywhere. Blood spattered the walls like a morbidly abstract painting. Corpses lay with their internal organs visible and intestines hanging out. The stench of death had already taken over the prison. The men stepped over the bodies cautiously, keeping an eye out for any movement amidst the sea of massacred figures.Hands reached out toward them from behind the bars as they crept through the maximum-security wing. Reanimated corpses hissed and gnashed at them hungrily as they passed. One had his face pressed up against the bars trying to get at them; rotted skin peeled back, exposing blood and bone. He repeatedly clicked his teeth as he eyed them eagerly. A black eye socket and a pinned moonstone iris stared at them as though they were walking rib fillets. 

The trio walked through the prison, unaware of what was approaching them from the main entrance. A swarm of reanimates were congregating not fifty metres from where they were and were closing in. There was at least two dozen walking dead. The largest of the group had an eye missing, and on one side of his face, the flesh pulled back completely. One had a large wound on his abdomen and his intestines were hanging out like a string of sausages in a butcher’s window. Some were missing limbs. They all moved the same way, slowly and aimlessly–that was until they spotted a breather.

Malcolm, Grant and Jack silently crept through the halls, past the cells still holding violent, undead criminals. Flesh and blood caked the cell bars as though the reanimates had been attempting to push themselves through the gaps. 

As the men rounded the corner, the hallway widened slightly revealing the main entrance. Scores of rotting cadavers milled noisily around the centre of the room. Some were clicking their teeth together, others snarling and growling. Grant stood at the front of the human party with steel bat poised at the ready. He gestured with one hand to silence Malcolm and Jack, fearful that the slightest noise would alert the undead of their presence. Suddenly one of the walking corpses sniffed the air; his pinned, white eyes looked directly at the trio. Jack, Malcolm and Grant sucked in a breath. In an instant, the barrage of breathless, bloodied bodies was on them. They braced themselves for the inevitable collision and raised their weapons. Jack fired a few rounds into the fray; getting a few headshots thinned the herd as the rotting bodies collapsed one by one. The rest kept coming. Grant poised his bat ready to knock their heads for a home run, barely missing Jack.

A group of undead barrelled into Grant knocking him to the floor. He was still screaming as they tore at his flesh, ripping out his intestines and hungrily feasting on his innards. Malcolm fired a few shots into the fracas taking down several walkers before he too, fell victim to their insatiable appetite for human flesh. Jack stared at his fallen friends in wide-eyed disbelief and fear. Several moments went by before any of the reanimated corpses seemed to notice him. Time stood still as he watched the fingers on Grant’s left-hand twitch. Half eaten intestines spilt out of the gaping hole in his belly as he slowly rose to his feet. His eyes were freakishly white, not deep brown like they once were, his pupils but a tiny dot in the middle. In his peripheral, he saw Malcolm slowly twitch and rise. Half of his skull exposed, and tattered flesh hung loosely from his jaw. Jack stared open-mouthed at the sight. He could see the far wall through the hole in Malcolm’s body. 

They gnashed their teeth at Jack and shuffled swiftly toward him.


Soft shards of light filtered through the gaps in the curtains. Outside the birds warbled their familiar songs. Jack’s eyes fluttered open; disoriented and rocked to the core by fear, he reeled backwards finding himself pressed against the lounge armrest. His head was throbbing. Blinking a few times, the familiar furniture of his lounge room came into view.

“Odd…” he muttered to himself, still trembling. Had it all just been a horrible nightmare?

The house was empty; his wife and kids were apparently not home. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Jack scanned his surroundings still feeling a little groggy. He glanced at his watch, gasping as he checked and double checked the time on the face. Three thirty in the afternoon. His shift started in about six and a half hours but the commute to the prison was just over two hours. He ironed his clothes, made his meals for the night shift and hopped into the shower to freshen up. With a rather unpleasant taste in his mouth, he gargled spearmint mouthwash and gave his teeth a good brush. Steam fogged up the glass shower screens as Jack stood humming under the hot water.

He stepped out into the steam and felt along the wall for the towel rack. After drying off, he wrapped the towel around his waist and headed towards the basin and mirror. He grabbed a new razor, put a liberal amount of shaving cream on his face and set about fixing his five o’clock shadow. With long, downwards strokes, he began from the left side of his face, down his cheek to his jaw. He proceeded from left to right until he could no longer feel any bristles. Reaching for a towel, he suddenly caught sight of the red, foamy water. Thinking he had just cut himself shaving, he grabbed a damp cloth nearby to stop the bleeding. When his eyes returned to the mirror, it reflected something other than his usual appearance. Pinned, moonstone eyes stared back at him from a face no longer covered in skin; the blood, bone and muscle exposed. Jack put his hands to his face in horror as he stepped backwards. He slipped on the tiles, hit his head on the edge of the bathtub and lost consciousness.


“Jack,” said a softly spoken voice. “Do you know where you are?”

Jack’s eyes slowly fluttered open. He blinked several times, but his vision stayed blurry. “I–I can’t see…” 

“We had to sedate you. Do you remember anything?”

“I - I was getting ready for my shift,” Jack said, shakily. “At the prison.”

The doctor looked at the nurse nearby and he shook his head, solemnly.

“Jack.” The doctor said soothingly. “You haven’t worked at the prison in over a year.”

Jack tried to sit up suddenly to contest the statement but collapsed back into his hospital bed having exhausted every ounce of energy within him.

“You need your rest.” The nurse said, plumping the pillow and pulling jack’s thermal blanket up to his chin. She dimmed the lights as she and the doctor left the room.


The hospital staffroom of the psychiatric wing was practically empty when Nurse Jefferson and Doctor Peters entered it. They each grabbed their lunch and sat at the table by the window at the far end of the room.

Nurse Jefferson worked at the Regional Hospital of Scranton, Pennsylvania, starting only two months ago.

“Poor guy.” Doctor Peters said.

“What happened to him?”

“Such a tragic story. He was a long-term employee of the Eastern State Penitentiary who lost his job because of his medical condition. He was too unstable to continue working there. He became a recluse after he lost his wife and kids.”

“She left him because of his illness?”

“No. No, nothing like that.” Doctor Peters said. “They were travelling through New York State about three years ago to visit her family in Long Island. On that night, she was driving along Mount Misery Road when she suddenly lost control of her vehicle. The car rolled and came to an abrupt stop against a large tree. Odd thing though, Police reports claim they found no bodies in or around the vehicle; they simply… disappeared.”

“Oh, my gosh!” Nurse Jefferson gasped.

“The news shook him to the core; he obsessed over it. Finding them became his entire life. His career suffered, he isolated himself from everyone who tried to help him, his mind gradually eroded after almost a year of searching and continuously coming up empty.”

“That’s so sad…” 

Dr Peters nodded in agreement, dabbing the corners of his mouth with a napkin.

They finished their lunches in relative silence and resumed their shifts.

“Keep Mr Smurl sedated for the next forty-eight hours. Keep him rested and under observation. I have also increased his medication.”

“Yes, Sir,” Nurse Jefferson returned to her patient while the Doctor headed to his office to file the paperwork.

After several weeks in the hospital, Doctor Peters was confident that Jack was safe to send home and arranged the discharge documents.


This cycle continued for several years until one solemn day in September.

His caretaker, Sophia, had arrived to ensure he took his daily medication, and she usually spent time with him. She had become rather close to Jack and cared for him deeply. 

She rang the police and ambulance as soon as she saw him; hanging limply from the rafters of the lounge room. The life and colour had drained completely from his face. Strangely though, he looked at peace.

Sophia glanced at the coffee table and saw a note with her name on it. She couldn’t stand to see Jack like that anymore, so she headed to the outdoor setting to read it. The paper shook in her small hands as she unfolded it and read the words aloud. The strain in her voice becoming more obvious with each passing phrase.


Please forgive me, Sophia.

I didn’t want you to be the one to find me like this.

I still see them, in my dreams. My wife and kids. In the beginning, they were just as I remember them; my daughter with her cherubic face and contagious giggle, my son with his gorgeous green eyes and unfaltering smile and my beautiful, loving wife with her sunny disposition and sweet voice. Her face was aglow with the pregnancy; a child we will never get to hold in our arms. She was a wonderful mother and wife. 

The dreams of them became nightmares; I saw them disfigured and damaged. I can’t bear to see them like that anymore. 

Without them my life is meaningless.

Please don’t be angry at me. I’m tired of hurting. I’m tired of feeling helpless and hopeless.

I don’t want to feel this pain anymore. I don’t want to feel this aching void inside anymore.

Once I take my final breath, my nightmares will end, and I can only hope I am reunited with my family.



She clutched the crumpled-up note against her chest, fell to her knees and wept loudly as the sound of wailing sirens approached.

© Copyright 2019 H D Cooper. All rights reserved.


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