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Dr. Gibson agreed to meet me with Laura at our now favorite breakfast place, the Toasted Buzz. I told them of the instructions Matilda gave me to summon Buckrest, and the warning against the Barghest dogs, the vermin, and the hell-ravens, but kept the contents of my dream to myself.
“Oh my gosh! I just remembered something!” Laura said excitedly.
“What is it?” Dr. Gibson urged.
“When you said hell-ravens, it brought a memory of when I was a child at Nicholas’s house. He had a raven that had free reign of the house but would mostly stay in his cage. But one time he was flying through the house madly, angrily, swooping down on the guests. I was so young at the time, but the big news was…” she clammed up instantly.
“Tell me what it was!” I demanded.
“Oh Lord…I can’t. This is awful.” She winced at the table, as if she were seeing the vision play before her.
“Tell me what happened,” Dr. Gibson coaxed calmly.
“My family had been going to those weird parties Mr. Buckrest threw for some time, and this one particular time, he had brought out a live raven. The thing sat on his shoulder and cawed from time to time, and it scared us. Before it was time for us to go upstairs, a little boy appeared, very quiet and timid. He held his mother’s hand the whole time. His parents approached the table, and the little boy reached for some food there. Suddenly the raven leapt up from Mr. Buckrest’s shoulder and jetted towards the little boy. It landed on his chest and started pecking in his mouth. There was blood everywhere and the boy was screaming in pain, of course. Mr. Buckrest rushed over and kneeled beside the boy, saying ‘my poor boy, are you all right?’ showing genuine concern for the child. Then Dr. Woburn, a pediatrician in town who went to Mr. Buckrest’s parties, tended to him and the boy seemed fine afterward. Later that night after the party was done and we had fallen asleep, Kendra and I were awakened by Mr. Buckrest, and he brought us with the little boy to a cemetery. He showed us different graves, but I was so scared I couldn’t retain anything. That was the only time I had ever seen that little boy.”
“Do you remember his name?” Dr. Gibson said.
“I’m afraid I don’t.”
“What about the cemetery? Was that a regular occurrence, going to the cemetery?” I asked.
“No. It was the first and last time we ever did anything like that. Afterward, Mr. Buckrest swore us to secrecy, making us promise not to ever tell anyone about our visit. I don’t remember much about the visit, to be honest.”
“What more do you remember about the boy?” I asked.
“Not much,” Laura said, shaking her head. “He was probably four or five years old, so he was a few years younger than me. If he’s alive today I’d say he was in his late teens. His hair was very blond; in fact, I would say he was a towhead. He was extremely quiet, so quiet, I don’t remember him saying anything at all. He did scream and cry when the raven landed on him.”
“So the raven just landed on his head?” Dr. Gibson asked.
“No, it landed on his chest, right here.” Laura pointed an area between her clavicles. “There was even blood coming out of his chest. I would dare say he was wounded pretty badly. And of course the pecking around his mouth drew quite a bit of blood.”
“Was there anything remarkable about the raven that you remember?” I asked Laura. “Anything unusual we should know about?”
“Not really. The bird’s call seemed unusually loud to me, because it seemed to fill the entire house. Aside from that…maybe the sharpness of its claws, so strong that it would tear the little boy’s flesh? Or its aggressiveness in general, going after that child like that.”
“Will you excuse us?” Dr. Gibson said. He led me up and towards the restroom, stopping short of entering. “Henry, I’m thinking this girl’s a wealth of information. We’ve got to get it out of her, but if those nuggets are that hard to remove, we need to try something else.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a shiny metal sphere, about a dime’s width in diameter. “I want you to watch this Harry, watch what I do. It’s a little trick I learned that has come in handy with this type of repressed information. Pay attention, and learn how it’s done.” We sat back down at our table, where Laura remained. “Laura, go ahead and watch the ball.” He spun the ball on the restaurant table. “Go ahead and keep watching,” he said as he pulled out various objects from his jacket pocket. “Keep watching, and don’t turn away.” He pulled out a ball-point pen, a rubber band, a paper clip, a button, and a wad of paper. As he removed the items from his pockets and lie them in front of him, he began to ask questions. From time to time he would spin the metal ball again. “Let me ask you a series of questions, Laura. Tell me about the things you saw when you were a little girl.”
I saw the look on Laura’s face, and it was clear that her eyes grew heavy. She swayed in her seat, and then finally her eyelids fluttered before she lost consciousness. Her head flopped forward, her chin striking her chest.
“Mom and Dad would take us to Mr. Buckrest’s house,” Laura said faintly.
“What happened the night of the raven?”
“We went to the cemetery.”
“Which cemetery?”
“Prince of Light, on Lafayette Road.”
“What happened at the cemetery?”
“He took me and Kendra and…that new boy.”
“Do you remember his name?”
“His name was Jay.”
“Jay? Okay, what happened when you went with Kendra and Jay and Mr. Buckrest?”
“We went to see Mr. Buckrest’s mother.”
“His mother? She wasn’t alive, was she?”
“She was buried. Miss Roma came up and saw us, she touched us.”
“Was she a ghost?”
“She tore through the grave. It was her body, and Mr. Buckrest summoned her up.”
“What did he say? How did he summon her?”
“He chanted ‘Mother, Mother – please return, from the place where you surely burn – though worm has turned within your brain, come visit those that still remain.’ Then she crawled up through the grave. She was like a mummy, most of her flesh was gone. Then Mr. Buckrest talked to the body. He said ‘Mother, look at these fine children! Aren’t you proud?’ He turned to us and said, ‘Children, this is Ms. Roma, my mother.’ She reached out her hand toward us and touched us. She was just skin and bones, and her bones felt like leather. She began to speak, and dust came from her mouth. I couldn’t understand what she was saying because it was in some strange language I’ve never heard before. Her voice was scratchy and dusty. Mr. Buckrest took us behind him, and he said more strange speech, and the ravens came back.”
“Like the ravens that made Jay bleed?”
“No, there were four of these, and each stood on a tombstone. They were almost as big as a man, and their feathers were gray, not black. But they cawed just like a raven, and their eyes glowed with an orange shade. They were fierce. I thought I was scared when I saw Ms. Roma, but these beasts were far more frightening. The disgusting birds started pecking into the graves and pulling up intestines, organs, brains, any part of a human being, the birds devoured them.
“And you’re sure this is no dream?”
“Oh no, I was there. He took us to a crypt a few yards from the grave. When we went inside, there was a cemetery caretaker, tied up in rope. He started struggling, asking us to let him loose. Mr. Buckrest lifted the man up and put him on the stone table inside the crypt. The man continued to protest. Mr. Buckrest said to us that it was time for us to enjoy the fruit of his labor, that it was time to partake. He took out a long dagger from his cloak and raised it toward the ceiling, then spoke in the same strange language his mother was speaking. He pointed it down at the caregiver, then dragged it across his throat. The man gasped as blood poured down onto the tabletop into a groove, which then poured into glass cups, the rims all broken. Mr. Buckrest told us to drink from the cups, and the four of us, the three kids and Mr. Buckrest, all took a glass and drank the dying man’s blood as he stopped breathing. Our mouths started to bleed from the jagged glass, and it mixed with the man’s blood. Mr. Buckrest then said that Ms. Roma had put a blessing on us, and the ravens swore to it, and we drank the blood to consecrate the blessing, that we were his forever. We were supposed to eat the dead caretaker’s body, but I was so scared, I ran out the crypt and never turned back. Perhaps Mr. Buckrest found me and brought me back to Wingate. I do know I woke up in my bed in Mr. Buckrest’s house, and Kendra and I were the only two up there.”
“Did you ever see Jay, the little boy, again?”
“No, that was the only time.”
“Did you ever go back to the cemetery?”
“No, no other times.”
“All right. What do you think, Henry?” Dr. Gibson said, turning to me.
“I think we need to wake her back up,” I stammered.
“Good idea. Laura,” Dr. Gibson said, returning to our witness. “Laura, I’m done asking you questions. Now, I’m going to give you the signal to wake up, and when you hear it, then and only then will you wake up. The signal is when I drop the metal ball, you’ll hear it drop and roll on the table. Are you ready? On the count of three: one, two…three!” Dr. Gibson dropped the metal ball, and bounced loudly a couple times before rolling in a random direction for a few inches. Instantly, Laura’s eyes fluttered back open. She looked around.
“What happened?” she asked, confused.
“You were a great help!” Dr. Gibson said, smiling ear to ear. We proceeded to fill Laura in on all the details she hypnotically related to us.
“Those must have been the hell-ravens Matilda told me about,” I said to Dr. Gibson.
“Yep, and it sounds like those things aren’t exactly easy to get along with,” he said.
“I’m thinking we need to pay a visit to ol’ Prince of Light Cemetery,” I said.
“I think you’re right,” Dr. Gibson said. When we got to Prince of Light, we tracked down the maintenance worker. “Can you tell us where Roma Buckrest is buried?” Dr. Gibson asked after the initial introductions.
“You’re going to have to find it yourself,” the maintenance man said. “We’re not allowed to get into those details with visitors. But I will tell you that the Buckrests are buried in the South lot.”
“Thanks,” I said. The Prince of Light Cemetery was comprised of six lots: Northeast, Northwest, East, West, Central, and South. The Central lot was the original lot, which was the cemetery for Prince of Light Asylum and Penitentiary, which was sold in 1887, twenty years after it opened. The penitentiary building was torn down not long after and the land was converted into cemetery lots as the South lot. The next year the asylum was razed and became the East lot. The Northeast, Northwest, and West lots were open land, but by the turn of the century, the final plans for the Prince of Light property were laid down, with appropriate landscaping shaping the layout of the cemetery. We entered through the main gate, which at that point was the only open gate, and it brought us directly through the circular Central lot between the Northeast and Northwest lots. We headed for the South lot and finally detected the grave of Roma Buckrest, near the far southern tip of the lot. Laura shrieked in fear, years of memories cascading back onto her conscious mind. 
“This is it,” Dr. Gibson said. We circumnavigated the massive stone, which was topped with an obelisk. It appeared as though there were two angels on either side of the tip of the stone beam, but the wings were evidently broken off, the angels snapped off and then reattached head down. We inspected the gravesite to look for anything unusual. “We can’t disinter without a court order,” Dr. Gibson explained. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. “Where is the crypt?” Dr. Gibson asked Laura. She pointed toward an ancient, fading, decrepit mausoleum, yellowed with age and with crumbling marble gouged away. The columns in the front barely supported the sagging roof, and the wrought iron fence seemed hardly a barrier to an individual like Dr. Gibson, who retrieved a skeleton key from his seemingly bottomless pocket. He finagled the key into the keyhole, then deftly turned left, right, right, left, right again, then extracted the key and replaced it in his pocket. After a split second, the lock came undone and the gate, long unopened, noisily gave us entry. The rusty hinges loudly complained, having lain dormant for ages, of the burden of the swinging gate, swaying in the wind. We slowly walked into secured area, approaching the tomb. Dr. Gibson was unable to open the mausoleum door on his own, so I offered my help. The door achingly succumbed to our momentum, scraping the stone floor and creaking just as loudly as the rusty iron gate. Inside the pitch black mausoleum, Dr. Gibson ignited his flashlight and swept the interior of the sepulcher; in the center, he illuminated the massive marble table, upon which the bleached bones of the caretaker Laura told about in her hypnotized state sat motionless for many years. The dark stains of blood dried many years before marred the gray stone floor, and shattered glass cups littered the interior of the crypt. “Look at that,” Dr. Gibson whispered. The ceiling of the tomb began to glow an eerie, sickening glow, when suddenly Laura began to chant in some strange language:
Salambach nach’tur, ra’voc egroch! Ra’voc egroch! Ra’voc egroch! Ra’voc egroch! Cah-turrh! Enh-salambach! Cah-turrh!
Laura threw her hands up into the air, fingers outstretched. I saw that her eyes had rolled up into her head, and the door of the tomb flew open with a crashing boom. A mighty gust of wind rushed into the decaying edifice, throwing Dr. Gibson and I into the corners. Laura remained upright, hands out as if in worship. She shrieked: “Ra’voc egroch! Abu-dih!” and from outside I heard the deafening caw of what had to haven been a massive raven. I gathered myself back up and helped Dr. Gibson to his feet; we managed to run out of the tomb, although Laura seemed not to notice or care that we did. But what met us outside may have been even more overwhelming than the tempest within the walls. For outside, scattered through the South lot of Prince of Light Cemetery, were six ravens, each as large as an automobile. Their repulsive plumage was ashen gray, and their terrible eyes glowed orange. Their beaks were long and sharp, and the aroma of rot filled my nostrils, surely emanating from these harbingers of death. They dug into the long interred graves, pulling up the rotten entrails of the dead buried underneath. I felt helpless against the beasts. Through the din, I managed to hear a thud within the sepulcher. I ran back in to find that Laura had collapsed where she stood. I checked her vital signs; she was still alive. I cried out for Dr. Gibson to help me hoist Laura onto my shoulder, and we would make a run for it to the car, hoping to avoid as best as we could the foul-smelling birds of death.
As we sprinted past the first behemoth bird, eager to devour living human flesh, we were immobilized by the presence of the hell-ravens’ master, the dark creature Buckrest.
“You have something that belongs to me,” Buckrest shrieked.
“I have nothing that belongs to a dead man!” I shouted defiantly.
“That’s where you are so wrong, human!” Buckrest summoned one of the hell-ravens toward him and somehow directed it to snag our charge Laura into its beak.
“You’d better watch your step, vampire,” Dr. Gibson suggested, tearing the top two buttons from his shirt to expose the cross that hung from his neck. Buckrest hissed at the sight of the cross, which was anathema to the malevolence, and caused the leather strip that bound the cross to Dr. Gibson to ignite in flames. The cross fell straight to the soil, singeing Dr. Gibson’s skin, then was swallowed up by the land.
“You are standing on unholy land, gentlemen. You’d better watch yours.” And with that, the raven took flight to the sky and evil Buckrest disintegrated into the land of South lot with a curl of smoke. The smell of brimstone lingered in my nose, assaulting my olfactory nerve for quite some time. But our key witness, Ms. Laura Clark, had been snatched by our enemy, and Dr. Gibson and I were not sure how we would save the day.
When we got back to the station, we told Lieutenant Carpenter of what happened at Prince of Light, and we received a verbal lashing from the law officer. We sat in his office as he towered over us, standing behind his chair. He asked rhetorically how we could have let something like this happen, that she was our top witness, and that maybe we should consider Kendra Morgan and Laura Clark as good as dead at that point.
“You know, Lieutenant, you can speak to me however you want,” I said, standing up to give Carpenter a lashing of his own. “I understand; I’m still new, still a little wet behind the ears. But you need to realize that you have here one of the greatest mystery solvers and law enforcement minds this country has ever seen here in Dr. Gibson! You have no idea what we have gone through on this case. I’ve had my fair share of strange cases, sir. But let me ask Dr. Gibson! Dr. Gibson, how strange is this case, compared to your other cases in your history?”
“Lieutenant, this is one hell of a case,” Dr. Gibson admitted. “Man, we just saw six gigantic ravens, half a ton each at least, ready to gouge out our innards. We have encountered demonic canines straight from the stench of Sheol desiring to crush our bones. And of course, we have the scourge of Charleston, South Carolina, in the late Nicholas Buckrest, lately reanimating his corpse as bloodthirsty, organ-hungry revenant!” Dr. Gibson had stood up to meet Carpenter in the eye. “Sir, we did everything in our power to save the girl, but unfortunately we didn’t. We are mere humans. But I refuse to give up hope that our girls, or any of the kidnapped girls, are dead. We press on, we make the next move. We are not afraid. We may be deficient in our powers and abilities, but let it be known that fear, lack of heart, or lack of determination was what stopped us. We will not stop until I have proof of death from both girls in my hand!” Dr. Gibson had worked up a froth, but quickly recomposed himself. The two seasoned investigators took their seats again.
“I admire your dedication,” Carpenter said weakly. “But we have to be realistic,” he said backhandedly.
“Don’t be stupid!” Dr. Gibson responded abruptly, still sitting. “We’re talking about people, Carpenter, not just their mortal lives but their immortal souls as well! YOU be realistic. Saving a life is worth it all.” He shot up and motioned to me to get up as well. “We’re going to brainstorm. If you need us, you know how to get a hold of us.” I followed Dr. Gibson out of Carpenter’s office.
Our rush out the office and down the steps towards the front door was slowed by a woman who approached us gingerly. “You’re the investigators looking at Kendra’s abduction, aren’t you?” she asked circumspectly.
“Yes, and you are?” Dr. Gibson huffed, still on a roll from his interaction with Carpenter.
“I’m sorry, my name is Geneva Ashbury.” The woman’s dark red fell in front of her face, and she promptly pushed it back to where it belonged. “I was hoping you would help me.”
“Of course. I’m terribly sorry for my attitude,” Dr. Gibson apologized, clearly calming down and showing the woman empathy. “It’s obvious you’re troubled. How may we help you?”
“It’s my son, Jimmy. He’s missing, and I have to wonder whether the same person who’s taken all those people has also taken my son.” She gasped emotionally.
“What makes you think the responsible parties for the other crimes are responsible for your son’s disappearance?” I asked.
“Just the fear, I suppose. You know, you start hearing about all the disappearances and bodies found, and you don’t remember the last time you laid eyes on your son, well, I’m sorry, but the mind jumps to conclusions.”
“How old is your son?” I asked.
“He would be seventeen now.”
“And how long has it been since you’ve seen him last?”
“Right around the time all this started happening.”
“Have you filed a missing persons report yet?”
“Yes I have, but with all the news coverage going around…a worry-wart like myself will fear the worst, unfortunately.”
“I understand. Well, I have to tell you, Ms. Ashbury that it’s not likely your son was abducted or in any way harmed by this same person.”
“Why is that?”
“So far, all of the associated victims have been females. Your son would be the first male victim.”
“Well, that’s something of a relief,” Ms. Ashbury offered halfheartedly.
“Did he live with you at the time of his disappearance?”
“He was living with his father in Jacksonville, Florida.”
“We’ll review your report, ma’am, and we’ll let you know. I trust the phone number on the report hasn’t changed?”
“That’s right, no change.”
“All right, well, thank you for bringing it to our attention. James Ashbury, is it?”
“Yes, it is.” Ms. Ashbury hesitated for a moment. “There is something I feel I should say.”
“Yes, ma’am?”
“I know Kendra Morgan. I know her mother Bridget. I used to be good friends with her.”
“Really?” I asked, now intrigued. “Did you happen to attend the same parties?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Does the name Nicholas Buckrest ring a bell?”
Ms. Ashbury’s face turned straight down to face the floor, averting her eyes from mine. “Of course, the eccentric, rich man who died several years ago.”
“Did you ever attend parties thrown by Mr. Buckrest that Bridget and Kendra Morgan also attended?”
“Yes,” she said quietly.
“Did you ever take your son to those parties?”
“Just once.”
This exchange, which had been happening on the steps in the foyer of the station, began to get notice. “Dr. Gibson, would you mind escorting Ms. Ashbury to conference room? I’m going to dig up the missing person report she filed last year.”
I asked the records clerk to find the report and to bring it up to the conference room. I bounded up to the room, where Dr. Gibson and Ms. Ashbury waited. Dr. Gibson had already begun questioning.
“Buckrest seemed to be a figure who demanded attention, Ms. Ashbury,” he asked her as I walked in. “What was so special about Buckrest?”
Ms. Ashbury looked down, as if ashamed. “Nicholas…I don’t know. It’s hard to put my finger on what was so…compelling about him.” She sat in thought for a moment. “He was certainly debonair. He was cultured, from old money, you know. He was elegant, somewhat regal. Always courteous, he would bow and smile whenever I would arrive at his home. He cut quite a dashing figure.”
“A good-looking man?” Dr. Gibson asked.
“That really wasn’t it. He wasn’t ugly, but he wasn’t a gorgeous specimen, either. He was romantic. He made one feel wanted.”
“Is that how he made you feel?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said meekly. “Is that such a bad thing?” she asked heatedly. “What’s so bad about that?”
“No, there certainly isn’t,” Dr. Gibson asked understandingly. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be wanted.” The clerk then arrived with the file. I looked it over as the other two sat quietly. Finally I put the file down.
Ms. Ashbury had reported that her son Jimmy was five foot ten inches tall, weighed about two hundred twenty pounds, had longish red hair, a scar on his upper chest, and pierced ears. He had been wearing a black t-shirt, black cargo pants, and a black trench coat. “Do you happen to have a recent picture of Jimmy?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m sure I do.” Ms. Ashbury fished through her purse in search of a snapshot of her son. She produced a well-worn photo of Jimmy, which we made a copy of for our files.
“Was he the camping type?” Dr. Gibson asked.
“We’d been camping a few times, but I wouldn’t say that he’s the camping type at all. He’s into the goth scene.”
“Ma’am, it seems that it’s a touchy subject for you, but I have to keep going back to those parties at the Wingate House,” I said. “I can’t help but wonder about that.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” she responded. “I went to one party in those days and –”
“That’s it? Just one party you attended? You didn’t attend any more?”
“Just the one.”
“How did you become involved with the Buckrest parties?”
“I became friends with Bridget Morgan.”
“And Dr. Morgan?”
“Dr. Morgan was nothing but a fool. He married Bridget but she was only interested in him for the money. The man she really loved was Sang Babbitt.”
“From the Carolina Library of Classical Studies?” Dr. Gibson asked.
“Yes. They were a match made in heaven,” Ms. Ashbury responded.
“From what I’ve learned, I’m thinking hell,” Dr. Gibson said.
“How were they a match made in heaven, as you say?” I asked.
“They were like soul mates. They shared so many interests. They were to high school together, I think they were high school sweethearts. But Sang doesn’t make a lot of money for what he does, so she agreed to marry Dr. Morgan instead.”
“So Bridget…Mrs. Morgan…was the one who introduced you to the Buckrest parties,” I tried to clarify.
“Yes, but the one who really started it was Sang. He was the guy who pushed the parties, to have that high society life, where the goody-goods all know who you are.”
“Where did you meet Mrs. Morgan?”
“My husband and I had just moved to the area, and the Carolina Library of Classical Studies held a series of events showcasing how other groups influenced Carolina culture. That’s where I met Bridget and Sang. That’s when they told us about the parties. I went a handful of times but then we stopped. It would be years before we would go again, this time bringing our son.”
“Was your son blonde-haired at the time?” I asked.
“Did anything happen at that party, when you returned with Jimmy?”
“We called him Jay at the time. Nicholas brought out his prized raven Tepo, which he had been breeding. My son was a very quiet child, but for no reason, the raven flew up and straight for Jimmy. It landed on his chest and started to peck at his face, probably because children really weren’t allowed downstairs at the parties. The children were sent up to the attic where they would eat dinner and go to sleep.”
“And that’s where he got the scar on his upper chest?” Dr. Gibson asked, looking over Ms. Ashbury’s missing person report.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Perhaps you can shed light on a question we’ve had.”
“I’ll try my best.”
“We have a witness who says that when she was a child, she had the experience of attending a Buckrest party, along with two other young children,” Mr. Gibson asked. “In the middle of the night, they were awakened by Nicholas Buckrest and taken to Prince of Light cemetery. There, she claimed to have seen the reanimated corpse of Mr. Buckrest’s mother chant a consecration over the three children, among other events. It seems that Mr. Buckrest performed a mockery of the Communion meal with the three children, inside a crypt near his mother’s grave.” Ms. Ashbury began to shudder.
“It seems that your story of what happened to your son when he was a toddler corroborates with our witness’s story,” I said.
Ms. Ashbury wept into a tissue.
“Ma’am, can you tell us more of what happened that night? What rites were performed that night?”
She shook her defensively.
“Unfortunately, in the performance of those rights that night, a maintenance worker at the cemetery lost his life, according to our witness. Ma’am, someone died as a result of this rite’s performance. Please tell us what happened.”
The woman sobbed uncontrollably. Her eyes became red from the tears. She wiped her face furiously with the tissue. “Nicholas was performing a consecration. He was setting them separate for himself. It was sort of like an adoption, a sealing of the deal.”
“A sealing of what deal?”
“Who is your witness? Who were those children?” she asked.
“Our witness is Laura Clark. The children are Miss Clark, Kendra Morgan, and it appears, your son, Jimmy 'Jay' Ashbury.”
She buried her face in her arm. She raised her face again, eyes distorted from the welling tears. “Those children were fathered by Nicholas Buckrest.”

Submitted: September 21, 2010

© Copyright 2022 Peter Amaral. All rights reserved.


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