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January 14, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Have you ever noticed an ordinary person simply standing somewhere that was obviously unreasonable? Like an elderly woman idle near a pub’s back entrance or a child motionless outside a bank. Yes, I know, I too thought, “Well, there’s got to be a logical reason behind it. So what? They’re probably waiting for someone or something like that”. But that’s my point. What explanation is there when you realize the individual is still there, hours later, silent and unresponsive? Where is your logical excuse? You may think I’m being dramatic, but hear me out before you judge my sanity.

One day, as normal and uneventful as any other, I was on my morning commute to my bottom-of-the-bucket job as a dairy goods stocker at (insert generic supermarket name here) when I saw this middle-aged Asian businessman (assuming by his corporate attire) standing by a bus stop. Yet, he wasn’t exactly next to the stop as if he was waiting for the quarter-hourly Q60 like a handful of other folk were. He was a good fifteen feet from the sign itself. Odd? Yes, but not enough for someone whose subconscious is trained to be oblivious to the world around them while getting from destination A to B as quick as possible. As I speed walked by him, a queer sense of vertigo suddenly washed over me, almost like that feeling you experience when you’re on a plane that dips downward. This snapped me out of my spaced-out trance and I just…stopped. Still confused over what I had experienced, I scanned around me for anything out of the ordinary. My eyes fell on this man, whom of which gave no interest in return. Now that I was much closer to him, his features, or lack thereof, became more definite. The man’s face was void of expression. I would say it even seemed forced, because it wasn’t the “default” frown that we anatomically show when we aren’t trying to express ourselves. His eyes were horrifically sunken as if he were an insomniac. Also worth noting is that his suit looked ancient; the threading was frayed in several places and there were sickly colored stains that were far from fresh. After pausing to take in his strange appearance, I finally realized that I was wasting time and shrugged off the whole event as weird but unimportant.

I went about my usual dull and depressing work day. I would love to say that punch-out time came before I knew it, which that wouldn’t happen even in a dream, but I digress. The evening sun is making its descent as I make my way home with the hope of having a decent meal and a shower before getting to likely past-due Sociology homework. Queens Boulevard was less jammed than usual, so I decided to take the bus. A few minutes behind schedule, the rundown Q60 screeches to a halt at the stop. I board, swiping my college student fare card as I pass the driver and find the least crowded spot. I see my block rapidly approaching, pull on the ragged stop request rope, and exit. Lo and behold, this guy is still standing in the exact spot as when I passed by this morning! My mind explodes with questions like how has no one noticed him stationed there for so long or what in the world is he doing in the first place. Curiosity overcame me and I attempted to get him to explain his behavior.

“Um, excuse me. Is everything alright? I uhh…saw you this morning standing here and I uhh…well…have you been here this whole time? Hello? Sir?”

Somewhat agitated for being ignored, I pressed on.

“Look, buddy, I just thought that there might be something wrong and wanted to know.”

No response.

“Do you not know English or something? I know you can hear me; atleast look at me so I know you’re just being ignorant. Well?”

I’ll admit I was being harsh, but the guy was acting like I was invisible. But then I noticed something. He wasn’t acting ignorant at all, in fact, I don’t think there was anything going on in that head. His eyes had this absentness that was way beyond being spaced-out. It’s like he was an empty shell wearing clothes. The best thing I can compare him to would be a zombie, without the ravenous hunger for flesh of course. At this point I couldn’t help myself; I did the logical thing and poked him. Nothing. No “What was that for?” or sign of agitation. My worries started to grow, as I was out of ideas.

“LOOK, YOU WANNA BE ALL PYSCHO ZOMBIE, DO IT IN YOUR OWN HOME, OK? YOU’RE GONNA GET IN TROUBLE FOR FREAKING PEOPLE OUT EVENTUALLY!”

Other passerby looked at me as if I were a crazed lunatic. Realizing I took it too far, I just continued onward, occasionally looking back over my shoulder half expecting the man to move or something along those lines. He was as quiet and motionless then as he was nine hours ago.

I opened the door to my hallway-shaped apartment and entered the kitchen to pop a frozen dinner into the microwave. My head started to throb as it usually does around this time, thanks to the permanent damage I got from that near-fatal incident with a ladder two years ago. I open my bathroom’s medicine cabinet to take my meds for the pain which reminds me to be thankful for being alive on a daily basis. The microwave’s beeps echo throughout the apartment; tasteless turkey and mashed potatoes await. I force down the unpleasant dish for nourishment, take a calming shower, and turn in for the night.

Its Friday, or as I and probably 99% of other folks with jobs like to call it, payday. I go about my regular morning routine and depart for work. The October weather is not yet chilly enough for long-sleeves and coats, so everyone is dressed in normal clothes. I turned onto the boulevard and was immediately faced with four squad cars, some ambulances, and two practically obliterated vehicles. The first car, a navy blue Honda, had looked like the Incredible Hulk tried to fold it into a taco-like shape. All windows were shattered and the driver’s side door was completely off its hinges and laying a couple feet away. The car was empty, which means whoever was inside probably survived. This was confirmed when a cop assisting a young injured guy, probably about my age, came from around the side of the car. The cop helped the guy into one of the vacant ambulances as an EMT emerged to inspect him. The second vehicle, a stale vanilla SUV, was in much worse shape than the Honda. Have you ever seen a crash test video that manufacturers use in commercials to show how safe their vehicle is? Well multiply that damage by ten, and that was the current state of the SUV. I would go into detail like how there was what seemed to be long matted hair stuck in the jagged windshield, or how there was definitely a thumb just sitting next to the left tire, but I’ve always had a weak stomach for gore. I don’t have to tell you that whoever was driving obviously didn’t make it. The other ambulance had two EMTs inside, pulling a sheet over a woman’s body. I caught a glimpse of the side of her face and gagged before they completely covered her. One officer was idle on the sidewalk, trying to keep passing pedestrians from gathering to see the accident. I walked up to him with my hand raised to signal that I wanted to talk for a second.

“I know it was a car crash, but what happened exactly?”

The officer first scolded me for my curiosity then explained. Apparently the young guy had took his eyes off the road and reached under the dashboard to find a water bottle that was rolling around so it wouldn’t accidentally get stuck behind the brake pedal. He went right through a red light, and well, you can tell what happened next. After telling me what happened, the officer rushed me to continue on my way. It really was a tragic scene, and it’s a shame someone had died due to another person’s negligence. While pondering this, I caught a familiar figure across the street out of the corner of my eye–it was him again. But this time something was different. No, I’m not talking about the man’s expression or stature. That remained the same as the day before. No, this time…he wasn’t alone. Call me crazy all you want, I don’t care. The image of that woman’s grotesque face will forever be burned into the confines of my mind. They just stood there, side by side, spectating the scene of the collision as if they were captivated by it. Goosebumps creeping up on me, I once again bothered the cop for reassurance.

“Sorry again, but…that man over there. You…you see him, right? You see that lady next to him too, right? Isn’t she the one that…died?”

The officer, now annoyed by my questioning, briefly looked towards where I was pointing.

“Look sir, there isn’t anybody over there. Enough with these pointless interruptions, please go on your way and let me do my job.”

Something told me that they would say that. That there is no one physically standing on the other side of the street and that I am just imagining it. But they’re wrong. I know what I saw. I watched as the two figures slowly turned and walked away, and as they went, their bodies became more and more transparent. Almost as if they were slowly phasing out of existence.

From that day on, I gladly took my medication that kept me going, thankful to be alive and well. However, this flicker of understanding was just a ruse to hide the truth. That constant reminder of fear of the day when it’s my turn to walk with the strange man to someplace far from this world. The microwave beeps and I snap back to reality, just like every other night after getting home from work. I take one look at the distasteful meal before me, a tear forming in my eye, and begin to eat.

Credit: Perfect Flaw

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It’s One Hell of a Trip

January 13, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I told Gage not to take it. For weeks now stories had been coming in about these goddamn ‘chill pills’. That you could go to this awesome psychedelic place, you know, a real ‘trip’. And normally, yeah, that’d be my jam. That night we were at our usual place, a club called Spun, one where the music blasts so hard it goes right through you. And when everyone’s out on the dance floor it’s like we’re just one big mass of seething waves of colors and flashing lights. But that was in the old days…

“Man, don’t listen to the hype,” I tried to tell my friend. My favorite people and I were all smushed into a random green sofa in the loft, and Gage’s pupils were already wide- he was rolling on ecstasy as it was. The pill was right there in his hand. But I’d seen too much to know otherwise. The pills made you a real deadhead… I mean, they CHANGED people. Not like a bad acid trip or something. It was more than that. You came back all different, quiet and not fun the way you were before- and that’s if you were lucky.

The unlucky ones? They went out the hard way. Overdose. Jesus, in all the years we’d been doing this I’ve never seen so many ODs, and it frightened me. I’d lost friends over this, and I wasn’t about to lose another. Usually I’m the cool guy, down with whatever, but I tried to snatch the pill out of Gage’s hand. He was too fast- he clenched it tight in a fist.

“Lay off, Reymer,” he said, laughing. “Since when are you my MOM? Jeez, it’s just a trip. Take it easy, man.”

I sighed and looked around. Next to me, snuggled in tight, was my girl Brit- she always had a camera in her hand and a bajillion ideas in her head, and I was sulking from Gage and kissing her on her creamy-coffee skin, as she giggled and her Kandi bracelets went all a-jingling. Brit, man, she could put up with anything. That’s probably why she had gotten cornered on the other side by Busby’s squeeze, our friend Sammi.

We loved Sammi, in a kind of tolerating way. She was a real space case with a thing for rave costumes and hopped around at a million miles an hour, letting everyone know ten times (twenty if she was high) that it was Sammi with an I, like, OK? The girl was all zippers and cords, her hair a bleach-blonde pixie cut that flew around wildly as she gabbed at Brit, who just smiled patiently. At one point I’d looked over and Sammi was even applying this blacklight face paint shit onto her, but she let her. Brit’s a go-along girl. I love her for that.

Lastly there was Busby, my main man. We’d been pals since school. To most people he’s just that drug hook-up, that shady guy who sells you weed or party pills, but who you’re a little too afraid of. Funny thing is, he was just a normal dude when you got to know him, just a stoner in an oversized hoodie and the same old rasta beanie hat every day. But he was a guy you could depend on, in the end. Busby was the coolest.

I wanted to stay with my friends, but next thing I knew Gage was down the stairs going to the main dance platform, and I was worried. Our little group seemed to grow smaller every day, these fucking pills. So even when Brit looked up at me with begging brown eyes, I went after him.

“Man oh man,” he told me with wide eyes, glancing around the room. “Trip of a lifetime, dude.” He was shivering, and I touched his arm. God, it was cold.

“You got fuckin’ ice water in your veins, Gage!” I shouted to him over the beat.

He just flashed a dopey grin. “I know. But it’s the best kinda cold, man. See the walls?” They were just plain club walls, still that dull grey from the warehouse it used to be. But Gage looked fascinated by them. He started dancing up on some girls, and they greeted him with various looks of confusion and annoyance. I dragged him away.

“You’re being too handsy, dude. Why don’t we-“ Suddenly he turned to face me, breathless, and pulled me into a bear hug. “The fuck, man?!” It was like his touch was electric, and I swear when I pushed him off and he exhaled I could see it in the air, like on a winter’s day, a thousand tiny particles making icy mist. He just kept on staring at everything. “I’m sorry, man, you can’t take this shit, Gage!” But he just laughed it off and waved his arms around, ‘one’ with the crowd.

I made my way back upstairs, only to find Busby standing over our little sofa group trying to make a pitch. And boy, was he a salesman if I ever saw one. “Listen up guys, it’s like this.” He had attracted a few other clubbers, some college co-eds in kitty hoods and a dude playing with glow toys. “I can hook you up with one of the sweetest and, I happen to know-“ He lowered his voice like he held the secrets of the universe in one of those little baggies. “-most POTENT new highs.”

I started to say something, to stop him, but he was way into his song and dance now. Even Brit, who was finally free of Sammi the neon pink-and-green fairy, was looking a bit interested. “When you take it, you feel like MORE than yourself.”

“Like LSD?” asked one of the school chicks, entranced.

He chuckled. “Even crazier. It’s like another piece of you, that you never knew you were missing. Just picture that. People go WILD on this stuff.”

“They fucking die on this stuff,” I finally piped up. I didn’t wanna harsh out my pal, I really didn’t, but if he was talking about what I thought he was, I wasn’t about to watch my friends fall prey.

“Are you talking about… those COLD pills?” asked Brit, her brown hair swaying loose around her shoulders as she turned to him, incredulous.

“CHILL pills. And ain’t nobody dyin’, alright? Don’t believe everything you hear.” He shot me an irritated look. But some of the others seemed kind of skeptical, so Busby finished up. “Anyway, maybe you should check it out for yourSELF. So if you’re lookin’ for that kind of flavor, just hit me up, you know? Not gonna lie- it’s one trip you WON’T forget.”

To my dismay, Sammi was shimmying her little leg-warmers over the sofa to Busby, giving him a glittery kiss on the cheek. My eyes met hers with a solid, no kind of look, but she brushed it off. “D’ya think you could… hook me up, babe?” It was like I was in the fucking Twilight Zone or something. Was NOBODY else a little wary of this shit? I tried one more time.

“Busby, I don’t think she should,” I told him. “That guy Chip from senior year? I heard he ended up in a fucking BODY BAG from these tabs. And what about Sprite?” We all glanced down at our feet with renewed sorrow. Sarah or “Sprite” had been our friend, sharing the love at every dance party and sporting these crazy rainbow wigs. She was smart, going to med school soon, even. They found her dead a week ago in a club bathroom. Chill pills.

“Not to mention all the zombies walking around.” I gestured to a group of guys we saw every now and then, those dudes that hand out flyers for new parties, shit like that. Or that’s what they USED to do. Now they just sat around, quiet. I felt so fucking alone as I watched Busby reach into his pocket. That was it. Brit and I were out of there.

Sure enough, when the couple stopped by our apartment the next week to drive us to this summer jam, Sammi the fairy had become a calm, dreads-free girl in jeans and a t-shirt, complimenting our ‘nice place’. I couldn’t believe just one pill and BAM, a friend was now a stranger. But we had a party to go to, and next thing I knew we were at this sweet indoor-outdoor joint that’s always crowded and smells weird, but gets the best DJs.

I was dancing with Brit and taking in the warm evening on the porch, but I couldn’t help feeling like I didn’t know anyone else there. Gage had been parked in the corner for an hour now, shooting me a frosty smile when I waved to him. “Don’t worry, Reymer,” Brit told me as if sensing my thoughts. “I mean, look at Sammi, she’s doing okay!”

“Yeah, if you call a total change in behavior okay,” I said glumly. She took my hand and we sat on some old beanbags. “I dunno, Brit…” I loved her, but trying to put it all into words was too much. I put my head in my hands and she rubbed my back.

“Look, babe, it’ll work out in the end. Maybe it’s just… temporary.” I pulled her close to me, desperate for someone to cling to, and took in the smell of this berry shampoo she always used. “Hey! I’ll tell you something.”

She was suddenly on about one of her numerous ideas. “See, it’s gonna be this ZOMBIE film, but like, in a club. Kinda like this one, right?” I couldn’t help but crack a smile. “We can call it… Rave-N-Ous. Get it?” We both fell back laughing, as she told me, “OK, this is the best bit. It’s like, the tagline, alright?”
“Okay, okay, go for it.”
“P. L. U. Z.” She punctuated each letter with a jab of her finger, making invisible dots in the air. “Peace- love- unity- and zombies!” I leaned in for a kiss, her lips glossy and warm.

“It’s a good idea, babe. I love it.” With a squeeze of my hand, she stood and gestured to the grass, where a number of dancers had gathered and a pleasant breeze was blowing in the smell of the city. But as I went to follow her, Sammi ran up to me, and I first I hoped she was back to her old self- but then I saw her panicked face. “It’s Busby, Reymer. He took too much- oh God, oh jeez!” She shifted from foot to foot. “Please… he was in the back rooms with some guys hashing out business. Come on!”

“Alright, it’s OK, we got this.” We hurried to a private room, where people go to make deals or screw sometimes, behind a wooden panel to keep it all hush-hush. Busby was shaking uncontrollably, his face soaked in sweat, under a layer of sheets on a dirty old mattress. He kept piling on more; a ratty blanket, and even jackets. I went down to him right away, but he was delirious as Hell.

“I’ve had it, man,” he told me. “Reymer, I’ve had ENOUGH. You get me? Enough of being… somebody else…” He was on the verge of tears, and I tried to gauge if this was just some bad trip, or medical shit we really needed help for. “I just wanna be me again, but I, I don’t know who that is…”

“You’re fine, dude, you’re fine.” We were always the last to seek outside help- or God forbid, call the cops- but he was pale and wouldn’t stop trembling, so I turned to Sammi. “Alright, this is bad. Find the party guy, the main one. His name’s Tyler. Tell him to start getting people out.” I took Busby’s hand, his fingertips mottled. I wasn’t about to watch my best friend OD.

“Jeez… Okay, I’m going!” As she ran from the room I called after her, “Tell everyone to BAIL NOW!” That meant get rid of everything- if you were carrying, dump it or run. Leave before the cops get here. Hide your shit. Busby started to laugh, his red-tinted goggles now over his eyes.

“Know what’s funny, Reymer? They’re just for decoration,” he told me. “They don’t do SHIT in the real world. They don’t keep out a bit of cold- or sunlight-“

I was sweating myself with fear, and grasped his hand tighter. “There’s no sunlight here, Busby. You gotta keep breathing and stay awake with me, OK man? Come on!” His breathing had become shallow, slow. I felt so fucking helpless. Outside the room I could hear the kids running, and the music shut off. At last, the sound of sirens caught my attention, and I turned back to my friend.

“See? They’re here, Busby. They’re gonna take care of you, man.” Just as I reached into his cargo pocket to hide his pills, he suddenly grabbed me with a white, icy hand. “I just wanted to be in the good world, Reymer,” he said to me, his voice weak between hard breaths. “It’s finally… my chance…”

I had to swallow back my tears, quietly tucking his baggies down my pants and trying to reassure him, but his eyes were unblinking, staring at the ceiling. The EMTs ran over and I ushered them in, thinking to myself it was too late. My own best friend, and he was… gone. I stumbled back out onto the deck and to my surprise, one of the only people still there was Brit, now donning neon sunglasses and sitting against the railing.

I ran to her. “Brittany, it’s Busby. He took too fucking much… Christ, I think he’s dead.” I ran my hands over my gelled hair, feeling so goddamn stupid and miserable. To make matters worse, her eyes were glassy. “Oh God, you didn’t, Brit- what are you tripping on? What the FUCK did you take?”

She waved a hand at me and moaned, “Reymer, it’s too bright out here.” I was baffled. It was dark out, crickets chirping as I heard them loading the ambulance. But I had his stuff still on me- there was no time to stay behind, so I hoisted her against my shoulder.

“Come on, we have to hurry.” We didn’t even get the chance to find a ride. “Man, please don’t tell me you took that shit. I can’t fucking lose you, baby. We’re going home.”

“I like it better out here,” she mumbled as we raced down the street. By the time we’d reached the apartment, it was late and my feet were aching. I put Brit into bed and laid down beside her, wiping away my tears. She had a strange air of calm about her, arms and legs open wide like a snow angel. I swear just as I passed out, exhausted in my gloom, she looked almost- relieved.

Busby wasn’t a guy that ‘did’ funerals. So when it came time, I contacted all of our pals to throw a ‘life celebration’ at his place. I figure it’s what he would have wanted. Brit would go around weeping, but I had this nagging feeling that something had changed, and not just because he was gone. I suggested she do a video memorial, but she just kind of shrugged and told me, “Okay… yeah.” I gathered up all his paraphernalia in his bedroom, ready to pass it out to everyone, when Brit found me hungover on the edge of his bed.

“Oh Reymer.” She wrapped her little tan arms around me. “As long as you still have his stash… maybe you should use. It would make you feel better.”

I brushed her off in disgust. “What, seriously? Right now as people are arriving to fucking, REMEMBER our dead friend? You think I should get high?” I didn’t know this girl anymore. I didn’t know any of them. Sammi in the downstairs hall- looking at pictures of them in frames as if he were a stranger, when they’d been high school fucking sweethearts. Gage off in his own little world now, not the jolly guy I used to party with. And now Brit…

“It isn’t like that,” she protested in a sweet voice. “The chill pills are amazing… they’ll change the way you see everything. He’d WANT you to party at his place one last time.”

My stomach twisted into knots. “Jesus, what happened to you, Brit? What about all your little- plans? Remember? Rave-N-Ous? THAT’S the you I’m looking for right now, not this… this other fucking you!”

“Rave-N-Ous… right.” Her eyes darted uncertainly for a moment, and then she smiled. “The movie! Of course. Peace… love… unity…” I waited. My voice was low and hard.

“AND zombies. …get out of his room. Now.” She just sat there blankly. “OUT!” At once she was running down the stairs, screaming, “Jeez Reymer, I was just trying to make you feel better! What’s your deal with this stupid movie thing anyway… Busby’s fucking DEAD!”

The door slammed and she joined the others by the poolside, her words echoing in my head as I looked around despondently. My reality had gone from a fun adventure to a cold, hard slap in the face, and I was alone now more than ever. I didn’t want this reality anymore. There was one thing I could still use to escape… and even against my better judgment, I wanted it. So I got the small, white pills out and took two of them.

Onset was almost immediate- I was still in Busby’s room, but now it was decked out in a plush carpet and the most realistic images I’d ever seen projected on the walls, showing exotic fish swimming as rays of sunshine beamed down from the ceiling. “Reymer.” I stood and turned, gasping when I saw him… Busby, alive again, and yet different. His clothes much nicer; no hat, but plenty of bling; and though he smiled at first, that soon faded. I wondered if I hadn’t gone into a bad trip as his face went pale and angry.

Approaching him, I reached through one of the walls, or rather, its hologram, and found my hand at a window and looked outside, past the imaginary clownfish. Snow was falling, and yet there were hordes of partiers all of a sudden, decked out in heavy gear and going nuts. I saw people fucking in the pool, shivering as they did so, four and five at a time. Bottles and joints lay everywhere as music blared, and those who didn’t dance just stumbled around, drinking and swallowing what they could find. Busby reached out his arm to steady me as I cowered in terror, but I ran.

The stairs had become a polished marble as I descended them, in what was evidently a much fancier version of Busby’s place. Once I opened the doors I stood shaking in the icy air, wandering around the chaos. The sky was dark and inhospitable, full of clouds. I stumbled toward the kids, who all greeted me in various states of intoxication, some already passed on on the lawn as snowflakes continued to fall. Then, there they were- Gage and Sammi, sitting in a couple lawn chairs and clutching each other for warmth. Sammi was downing a bottle of whiskey, and I ran to them in confusion and horror.

“What the fuck is happening, guys? The FUCK is going on?” Sammi just kept drinking, a single angel wing strapped over her shoulder missing most of its glittery feathers, the tears practically frozen upon her red cheeks.

“Reymer, man- just got here?” asked Gage. I nodded, rubbing my own arms in the frigid day air. “I don’t know much more than you, dude. I tripped a couple weeks ago… I just came here because everyone’s partying, and I figured, hey, get warm. Take some pills. Fucking pills…” He laughed sadly at the notion. “Sit down, man.” I pulled a chair beside them.

“We went… somewhere else when we tripped,” Gage slurred. “THIS fucking place. They say there was an event here…. a month ago, maybe more, I dunno. Except after this eclipse thing in the sky, it didn’t end when it was supposed to, and the darkness… it didn’t fucking go AWAY, man.” My heart pounded, but I just kept nodding for him to go on. He took a swig of the bottle. “The sunshine is gone now. All gone. This place is fuckin’ dying, Reymer. It’s falling away from the sun, the TV says.”

I slowly rose to my feet. “No, this is a trip, Gage. This is a goddamn drug, and I am not FUCKING here! I’m going back to my own damn world!”

Gage just laughed. The sound of gunfire rang out in the crowd, and Sammi screamed and began to run off, her wing flapping loosely. Some people freaked out, but most of them just kept on… dancing. Partying. Screwing. Holy fuck, this place was Hell. I dashed back into Busby’s house and locked the door behind me, backing away as the sound of hands pounding began to come from outside, voices begging and screaming.

I nearly jumped a mile as a blonde in a bikini came from the hall, a rainforest scene projected behind her. “Hey baby… while you’re here, wanna stay a while with me?” She suddenly pulled herself to me and began grinding against my leg, her hand reaching down my pants, and I brushed her off. I didn’t know this chick, and just wanted to get back. Her sweet face soured and she grabbed a vase off a stand, smashing it to the floor. “Damnit, don’t leave me like this!” she screeched as I tried to fend her off, going up the steps. “You hear me?!? I don’t want to die a virgin! COME BACK!”

I headed back into Busby’s room where all at once he shoved me to the ground, adjusting his oriental robe and saying through gritted teeth, “Figure it OUT yet, Reymer, ol’ buddy of mine?” I struggled back on my hands, sinking into the rug.

“Just tell me how we can leave, Busby. If you’re alive I can…” Before I could say another word, he gave me a hard kick to the gut and I curled up on my side, groaning.

“That’s right, YOU can! YOU can go back to YOUR world- the better world.” He bent down but I scooted away, straightening against the wall, an illusion of coral reef dancing in my face. “Busby, man, we’re friends. I didn’t know you were stuck in this shithole… We can help each other.”

Busby was infuriated. “Oh, CAN WE?” He leaped at me but I dodged and punched him hard in the jaw, sending him back onto the bed with his robe splaying open over thick silver pajamas. “Because all of this?” He unsteadily rose and indicated the resplendent room. “All the money I made with those pills? All the shit I own? Doesn’t mean FUCK ALL now!” I ran for the door, but he charged at me, flinging us both out into the hall. As I lay beneath him, bleeding from the forehead, he elbowed me repeatedly with a primal scream.

“I don’t- understand! Just- please, Busby, stop!” Finally I threw him off and he slid across the marble. His whole body was alive, seething as he spat on the floor and shouted down to me, “I couldn’t TRANSITION properly, get it? I tried with the pills and then… there was just…” He sank down to the landing in despair. “No other Busby to go into.”

Slowly it dawned on me. “You mean…” I faltered. “You can’t go into the real Busby.”

Sadness turned to lunacy as this, this Alter-Busby, began to laugh. “The REAL Busby? I’ve been Busby all my fucking life, Reymer.” He drew himself up. “The “real” Busby, heh, that’s a JOKE.” His eyes glared at me. “Who’s to say you were the one who was ‘Reymer’ first. You’re not the one I knew. The Reymer that was MY friend wouldn’t have let me die with no fucking TICKET out of here!”

I started to feel breathless, the chill rolling into my lungs. Regardless, as he came at me I stood and knocked him back to the railing with a punch, and then another, and another, refusing to believe it. That my friend was dead and gone, and all because some bastard wanted to take his place. Even as I struck him, Alter-Busby just laughed as blood streamed down from his nose and mouth.

“I didn’t mean to let Busby overdose. You can’t tell me there isn’t SOMEthing I can do.”

“Oh, there’s EVERYthing you can do! Just look outside!” He gestured to the chaos, the carnage, the desperation outside, even the people beating at his doors. “No wonder it seemed like such a trip. People are doing anything because NOTHING can save them now, PAL. Well…” He pulled a little bottle, full of chill pills, quietly out of his robe pocket. “Except for these. I call it a ‘shift’.” He put the pills back and grunted violently at me. “Too bad I can’t do it myself.”

I hoped to God that the Busby I knew was in there somewhere… “Th-then there has to be a way back for me. Look, I’m, I’m so so sorry man, OK? Please help me.”

He gave me a brutal grin and said, “If I can’t go, neither can you.”

The people outside got in one way or another and now we had an audience, cheering and watching as he grabbed me by the throat and choked me right there on the hard floor, my hands scrabbling. I brought them up and scratched his face, and he let me go, wincing in pain. The crowd was half-insane, some of them fighting one another too, others naked and dancing and some just holding one another as the frosty air blew in.

I pulled myself up by his door handle. “Listen to me,” I said between labored breaths. “None of this will bring the- the OTHER Busby back.” He just lay there, moaning. “But you shouldn’t be so fucking selfish as to keep one of your only REAL friends here to die, huh?”

Slowly he rolled over and lifted his head to look at me, the blood trickling freely now, and grinned like a maniac. “But Reymer. I DID let my ‘real’ friend escape. It’s a one-way trip, PAL.” As my face revealed the true sense of horror inside me, he shrieked with laughter. No, it couldn’t be. Shift back, I thought to myself, concentrating hard. Brit said she could do it. I can do it. Shift back, shift back, shift FUCKING back! “That means that MY buddy, the Reymer from my world, just made it safely back to the other side… I figured you’d be dumb enough to give him the chance.”

I exploded with fury. I tried so hard to conjure up images of the real Busby’s home, or the club, or even just the sun, but all I could feel was that pervasive chill in the air, and I punched until my knuckles were bloody and raw. Weakly, barely conscious, Alter-Busby chuckled. “At least there’ll be someone… on the other side… to take care of your girl, Reymer.” Just as I started to walk away, my head snapped back to look at him sharply. “If she IS your girl anymore.” Finally he sank down into a pool of crimson and closed his eyes, twitching occasionally.

Completely numb inside, I quietly descended the steps as the bottle of pills rolled out from his robe, and suddenly the partygoers swarmed his body like wild animals. I can’t say that I even blame them. No one would want to die here. I walked out onto the snowy front lawn and sat down in a La-Z-Boy someone had managed to drag out there, looking down the street. I watched two grown women beating down a third one with their handbags, God knows why. A pack of dogs ran by, sniffing out whatever trash they could find. I just sat a while, wondering if it mattered or not who got the “chill pills” they were so frantic to take. Maybe they deserved their place in the sun, too. Then, like a miracle, I heard my name, and saw a figure walking down the road.

“Reymer! Reymer, is that you? God, you’re bleeding!” We ran to meet each other- my sweet Brit, clasping a wool blanket around her like a cape.

I bit my lip and choked up. “Is it really you, Brittany? Jesus.” She nodded, but I had to know for sure. “Peace… love…”

“Unity, and zombies. Rave-N-Ous.” I held her tighter than I ever had as she wept. “It feels like it’s been… forever. We need to get inside, c’mon.” A block down, a man with a bat was dragging a businessman from his car. We dashed to the running vehicle and tore off into the darkness for our apartment.

The world is a giant party now, and yet we both stay inside talking and huddling for warmth- ironic, I know. We build fires and eat when we can. When Brit was still lucid, she told me she felt hot already, even sweaty, and that it was some paradox thing… that when people freeze, they’ll even take off their clothes. She’d seen it in a movie once. But that was a couple of days ago.

I stoked what little was left of the dry newspaper, waiting to see how long the fire would last, the boiler having given out. Brit was on the floor in a t-shirt and underwear, giggling, long since having refused the blankets I now kept around myself. “Do you wanna go out, Reymer? It’s such a nice day.” She smiled vacantly and rambled on, pulling off her top. I had found at least one nice thing in this crappy little place- one of the image projectors. It was second-rate compared to what I’d seen, but it would do. I set it to “Bondi Beach.”

“Ohhh, Reymer, look!” She stood up and waved her arms, laughing and showing off her ‘bikini’. “The sand is wonderful… it’s stuck between my toes…” She walked right up to the hazy picture displayed on the wall and moaned with longing as artificial blue waves crashed against the shore. “It actually feels- warm- come on in!” She waved eagerly. “Reymer, come on! The water’s fine!”

I closed my eyes and sighed as the last few embers died out, and my sweaty palms let the stick I’d been using drop. “I’m coming, baby. I’ll be right in.”

Credit: TheJinx

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Aqua Vitae

January 7, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Traveling on into that sunless region known as the Land of the Blest, the good Knight Alexander of Macedon, accompanied by 40 friends, 100 slaves, and 1,200 reliable soldiers, found a misty waste uncrossed by any path or track, and decided that there the tents should be pitched. On the following day he took a thousand armed men and left in search of the end of the world. Those remaining in camp grew bored and restless in his long absence, and wandered the countryside for diversion.

One morning two soldiers stumbled upon a pool at the foot of a cliff surrounded by clusters of tall poppies with luminous purple petals such as they had never seen before. The water of this hidden pond was perfectly still, of an iridescent blue so deep that after looking at it for more than a moment neither of them could be sure if his eyes were open or closed. Across its placid surface shimmered wisps of a silvery mist that in the intricacies of its sinuous coils suggested brief glimpses of long-deserted palaces, voluptuous gardens overgrown, vast cavalries on the move through shadowy vistas; the merest flashes of a vanished world, imponderably old and incomparably beautiful. Awed by this equivocal vision, both knelt at the muddy bank to get a closer look. A faint whispering on the breeze like the mingled voices from far away of a multitude of departed souls lured them to dip their hands into the marvelous water. Upon doing so, each was rewarded with a warm wave of ecstasy that washed through his body: forgotten scents from early youth rushed back into memory, those of his first days in his mother’s care; and all the colors of the little village of his birth vividly burst forth in his imagination, as stirring as if both seen for the first time, and after a lifetime’s absence.

One soldier, shocked by such intense sensations, pulled his hand out, experiencing a sharp pain precisely opposite to the pleasure he had felt: a pang of regret swept over him as if in one stroke he had lost everything he ever held dear. Meanwhile, his comrade, discovering that the delightful feeling ceased almost immediately after contact, plunged his other hand, then both arms, into the dazzling blue liquid until he leaned precariously over it to the point of falling in. When his partner pulled him back by the shoulders he shrieked in agony. As acute as his pain was after withdrawing one hand, he could not imagine the torment his companion must have undergone. He released his grip, and the other dove headlong into the spectral water to disappear without casting a ripple. He thought he saw his face flicker among the silvery wisps for an instant, then evanesce into nothingness.

Terrified by what had just happened, he rushed back to camp to tell the other soldiers, many of whom ventured into the wilderness to witness the strange pond for themselves. Most were sufficiently frightened by the smart received upon pulling a cautious finger out of it, but several shared the fate of its discoverer, losing themselves in ecstatic nostalgia and diving in to leave no trace behind.

When Alexander, upon returning from his quest for the world’s end, learned of the charmed water’s fatal effect on his troops, he ordered a company of slaves with pickaxes and shovels to weaken the face of the overhanging cliff, and horsemen with chains to pull it down, burying the pool with its secret forever.

Credit: S.W. Rice

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Grave Shivers

January 3, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Note from Derp: This video pasta does feature some minor gore, though it’s telegraphed before it happens. So if you are extremely squeamish about such things, please consider giving this video a pass or having a friend who is familiar with your comfort levels vet it for you beforehand.

Grave Shivers

This is a video pasta. If the embedded video is not loading for you, please click the link above to go directly to the video’s YouTube page and try watching it there.

Credit: Brent Sims

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Watchmen Woods

January 1, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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My name isn’t really important…but for the sake of this story, let’s just say I’m Ruby. Yeah, that works. In any case, I’m currently a junior in high school, I’ve got a lot of friends, and I’m happy with life. But all of this happened during my sophomore year, and trust me, nothing has ever been the same since.

I’ll start with the town lore. A few hundred years back, there was a huge spike in the number of missing people around the area we call Watchmen Woods. It’s a fairly large forest, and it’s dense too. The limbs are so tightly woven together and the trunks are so close it’s like a maze. No daylight reaches that place. But back then I guess there were a lot less trees and a lot more valuable resources other than just a squishy swamp. And well, the people that went in there sometimes, didn’t come back out. And the ones that did were never, ever the same. They’d become mute most of the time, their eyes glued to those woods. Then the people started coming back.

I know, the usual set up for a creepy story. But these people weren’t the same either. They all had a dead look in their eyes, but they smiled as if the forest was the most wonderful place on earth. Now, they were always so obvious when you saw them, but somehow they were still able to lure people in behind them. That’s how the majority of people around here went missing, because they saw their loved ones and wanted to bring them home. There hadn’t been a missing persons report in town since like 1950, but people still listened to this “bedtime story” because, well, those woods were fucking creepy. Until January of my sophomore year though, and news spread that Chloe was gone. Just up and vanished.

“What if she went into the woods?” My friend Trevor asked me one day. “You know how interested she was in the folklore. That girl could have gotten herself killed for all we know.”

“Take it down a notch Trevor.” I hissed, pulling him to the side. “We can’t just go saying things like that. There hasn’t been a Watchmen Woods incident in decades!”

“Don’t you think it’s about time there was?”

That last sentence chilled me to the bone. The rest of the day I was pretty shaken up, so was everyone else in school. I was pretty quiet until I got home to find that my mom was out shopping and my dad was still at work. I kicked back in the recliner and watched some television until I saw a news report about Chloe. Five-two, seventeen, wavy black hair and blue eyes. They had a pretty picture of her up on the screen and it sort of hurt to see her there. I went to turn off the TV, and that’s when I heard it. Someone was outside my god damn house. And they were calling my name.

“Ruby!” The silky female tone appeared to be coming from my back door. “Ruby, come here! It’s me, Chlo-”

That’s all I heard before I was up and off the couch, sprinting towards the back door. When I got there I practically tossed it off of its hinges and whipped my head from side to side, looking for the girl. There was no way in hell she knew where I lived. We weren’t even that close, but she was still my friend.

At the time we had one of those old wooden peg-styled fences, where there were two vertical posts and there’d be circular gouges cut in the sides to put in two horizontal wooden posts with tapered ends to fit the holes. The latch on the back gate was nothing more than a pin and two circles, so I pulled the pin and ran to the edge of the woods. Oh, I forgot to mention that didn’t I? We lived right on the edge of Watchmen Woods. So close that I could almost smell the wafting scent of death from the bogs and the broken carcasses from animals and whatever else that got trapped in them.

“Chloe?!” I shouted, looking around. “Chloe, are you there?!”

No answer. I took a deep breath and pretty much gagged from the lungful I got. Deciding that enough was enough I went back inside to wait for my parents to get home, but I didn’t tell them about it. What would I say? “Oh yeah, the girl who went missing was at our back door and she was sucked up into the woods like everyone else who goes missing around here”? No. That wouldn’t do anyone good.

The next night my parents were leaving for some dinner thing, and they said I could have a few friends over if I wanted. They trusted me not to do something stupid and for that I was glad, because not even five minutes after they left did I begin calling at least ten people. There wasn’t going to be a party of the normal kind. I wanted to have a search party formed.

Trevor was more than willing to go into the woods, but everyone else was ready to piss themselves at the thought of it. One girl though who I hadn’t even realized was here said she’d gladly go because she didn’t believe in that sort of stuff.

“Do you really want to go out into the swamp Hanna?” I questioned, pulling her to the side. She was my ex-boyfriend’s little sister, younger by a year. She was a freshman and, to be honest, sort of bitchy. I don’t even know how she got here or how she found out, but I guess I did call my ex and tell him. She probably overheard and thought it would be a good chance to get out of the house. After all, she was treated like she wasn’t there.

“I’m down for it.” She pulled her black hair back into a ponytail, taking off her pink brand jacket only after she had it perfect. “You guys are all fucking pussies, there’s nothing back there.”

“Fine.” I scowled, returning to the group. “Whoever’s coming, get ready, I’m going to go get a jacket and flashlights. We leave in five.”

I left momentarily to get the aforementioned items, and this was where it got weird. I started hearing something outside my window, like soft singing, mixed with giggling that in an instant turned into maniacal laughter. My blood turned to ice as I bolted out of my room and ran into the front to make sure everyone was there. One, two, three, four…all the way to nine. I had to do another count to make sure I was right, and I got nine again. The horror clawed its way up my spine as I dropped the flashlights.

“Where’s Hanna?” I asked shakily. Everyone looked confused, until Trevor stepped forward.

“You mean the freshman girl? She ran out the back saying something about a “stupid myth”.”

“Oh no.” I whimpered, grabbing a flashlight. God, why did she have to be so stupid?! Can’t she just listen to someone for once in her life!

I kicked open the back door to see the woods beginning to darken. I steeled my nerves and ran forward, reaching the edge of the fence before I stopped. I could hear the sounds of someone saying help and branches breaking underneath heavy footsteps, but what I saw next would stay with me for the rest of my life.

There was Hanna, running through the woods, fear plastered to her face like the sweat that was dripping from her forehead. The full moon gave me enough light to pull the pin out of the gate and run forward, pushing her behind me when I saw the thing chasing her. It wasn’t human, it wasn’t an animal…no, it was something else altogether.

It was white, or translucent, if that could be applied. It was at least seven or eight feet tall, with elongated limbs and looked to be like it was a living tree. But it’s limbs were like sticks, and it’s head was nothing more than a gnarled mass of bark and hollow eyes, a gaping mouth turned down in a hungry scowl. As it reached for me I saw more of them in the trees behind it, all with their heads cocked to the side as they waited to see me killed or turned into whatever the hell people were turned into when they had been caught. But that didn’t happen.

The creatures arms didn’t even even touch me.

Instead, a girl stood in between it and I, outstretched arms blockading me from being hurt. Even though she was shorter, the air of fierceness surrounded her more than anything. Chloe was there, but she also wasn’t. She was already dead, a spirit, but she had enough control left to stand up to the captors of her soul.

“Go, Ruby.” She said quietly. “They’ll kill me for this. Save yourself.”

“Thank you.” I sobbed, running back towards the fence. I turned around only when I was at the door to see that the thing had taken hold oh Chloe and was lifting her fragile body off of the ground. Her eyes turned to ash and so did the rest of her as she crumbled away in its grasp. I slammed the door shut and didn’t look again.

I pushed past everyone in the front room, knowing that Trevor had kept them inside while I ran. Instead I grabbed my phone and dialed my ex, waiting for him to pick up. He sounded tired as hell when he did, but he didn’t mind that it was me calling.

“Ruby? What’s going on?”

“I need you to come pick up your sister. Hanna has been nothing but a disaster and she almost got me killed! That kid-”

“Did you say Hanna?” His cut off response was quiet, almost fearful.

“Yes I said Hanna!”

“Ruby, how do you know that name?”

“Um, your bratty little sister who is a grade below us and always sat on the couch with her phone when I was over? Why?”

“Ruby…my sister Hanna died three years ago when we first moved here.” The air almost seemed to quiet itself. “She ran into Watchmen Woods to prove that it was just a story and never came back out. We never told a soul about her. It was better just to leave the past in the past.”

“But…she was here…”

Then it dawned on me. Why everyone always seemed to ignore her. Why she was never with anyone at school. She was a fucking puppet this whole time. And an image came to mind that I regret never taking more interest in. I’d seen Hanna talking to Chloe not even a week before she disappeared, probably planting the idea in her head.

“No, she wasn’t.”

Everyone was in a blind panic until I sent them home. I stayed up all night, too scared to sleep, researching whatever the hell those could possibly be. I found a blog post back from 2007 from someone in our area about the woods. They called the creatures Watchmen, fitting, I suppose. Described them like wood nymphs or dryads, except instead of the friendly female form, they were the animated forest trees that didn’t take kindly to visitors. They were like spirits themselves almost.

The months following that incident I never saw Hanna again. She was gone completely, not a trace of her left. When I told Trevor he about had a nervous breakdown thinking he was batshit crazy. I myself was worried there was something wrong with my own head. But I haven’t been able to completely trust anyone in my town since then. Especially the kids that always sat alone like they were just new to the school or something. But in some of them I began to see the dead look in their eyes. I started paying closer attention to myself after that. I regret to inform anyone reading this that I’ve started to see the Watchmen around town now, they’re no longer sticking to the forest. I guess they were there all along.

It’s getting hard to stay out of the forest actually, now that I’m seeing it everywhere. The school is gone, the store is gone, it’s all trees. I can’t even go home now because it’s gone, replaced by trees. I miss my parents. Pretty soon I’ll wake up and I’ll already be in the woods with their empty eyes, just staring at me.

Maybe it isn’t so bad…

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The Soft Nowhere

December 31, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Hi. I’m Caitlin and I’m eleven years old. I think. I may have been here for ten minutes or ten years. Every second in this place feels very long. Who I am isn’t really important, but if you must know, I’m a girl who loved school, cartoons, and pop music.

I’m floating in a big black emptiness. I can see my parents and friends in the distance. I want to be with them. They probably want to be with me, but I can’t reach them and they can’t reach me. We’re all stuck in this big, black place and we’re all floating and unable to move. I think everyone from Earth is here. There are probably all the celebrities, religious people, police men, teachers, and everyone, but none of us can move or interact.

It reminds me of Purgatory, which I learned about in Sunday school. It’s supposed to be like this, only everyone is here, instead of just the unbaptized babies and occasional sinners. I always imagined Purgatory being scarier than Hell anyway. At least in Hell, you can hear your loved ones scream beside you and the pain is physical. With this place, and I guess Purgatory as well, you’re paralyzed and trapped in your own body. The darkness is kind of like a cushiony straight jacket, holding us all in place.

Some might think it’s beautiful. All of us are together, in the same place. It blows my mind to think that Taylor Swift and the President of the United States are probably floating here with me. Nobody is too good for the end of the world.

I should say how this all started. It was going on New Year’s Eve, and everything was kind of scary. Everyone expected the world to end, but I don’t know exactly why. Something to do with global warning, or space. On the news, they’d talk about more and more people disappearing. Large holes leading to nothing started appearing all over the ground. In some spots, it was hard to avoid falling into them.

The nights were pure blackness, even out in the country where my family lived. There were no stars, and there had always been stars before. Towards the end of December, the sky was just as black during the day as it had been at night. It was like a light bulb that was on its last legs and finally went out.

The crazy stuff happening was all anyone talked about. The boys tried to scare me and my friends at school, telling us the martians were clearing the sky to come get us. I didn’t believe them, but I was still just as scared about the unknown situation as everyone else.

One day after school, I overheard my teachers discussing how to educate us on what was happening, but they were just as clueless as their students. Mr. Jameson said they may as well tell us kids that we’re all “fucked”. I couldn’t take it when I heard him say that. I ran into the classroom crying. They comforted me and told me everything would be all right, but how could I believe them?

My parents told me that the people in charge would figure things out, but I didn’t believe them either. The same went for one of my favorite TV shows, which had a message at the end of an episode telling us to be brave and that everything would be okay. I was disillusioned. Nothing was okay. Everyone on the news seemed scared and baffled too.

It was all supposed to come down at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. My parents told me there’d been some similar scare about fifteen years ago with something called Y2K. Y2K turned out to be a hoax, but there were no signs that it would happen. The thing we were dealing with now had warnings, and they were scary and like nothing anyone had seen before.

On New Years Eve, my family all huddled in our living room. We spent most of the night hugging and saying how much we loved each other. I could barely keep from crying the entire time. I mostly remember my dog, Bella, looking at me really sadly. Dogs always look sad, but she almost looked ready to cry herself. It was like she knew what would happen, and she wanted to tell us she loved us and would miss us. If I could cry in this place where I am now, I would bawl like a baby just thinking about that night. I wonder if Bella is here, but it really doesn’t matter.

At midnight, everything went black. I heard my mother scream. My entire body went numb. My tongue felt like a sock. My limbs all went limp. I was still awake through all of it.

After what felt like forever, I could see again. My parents were floating off in the distance and I was in my place. The terror was still there, but there was no way of expressing it. I’m not scared anymore, just sad and hopeless.

I’ve called this place the Soft Nowhere because everything feels so neutral and pillowy, but pointless. I can only hope that one day, everything will go back to normal, but I know it won’t. This is our life now. We are strung amongst the blackness, unmoving, just as the stars had been. Everyone is equal. Nothing matters anymore.

There is still one thing that gives me hope, though. From the corner of my left eye, I can just make out some kind of light. My greatest wish is that it’s some sort of salvation. It’s the only thing holding my mind together, other than the knowledge that my family loves me and I love them.

Love isn’t visual, though. Especially here. It’s not something you can hold or show. The only thing this place is good for is displaying humans.

I wish I could tell everyone to try moving. It feels so impossible, but I think that maybe if we all tried, this place couldn’t take it. There’s no way of telling people to move, but I’ll keep trying. Hell, if I could, I’d be writing this down, rather than reciting it in my mind. For now, I guess, we all have each other, anyway.

Credit: Traumatized Kitten

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