Author: DeAnna Knippling (Page 2 of 39)

How to Survive NaNoWriMo, 2017 Edition.

NaNoWriMo is going on for some people.  I’m not doing it this year.  I’m not feeling it, I have too much other stuff going on, and I just did the writing-thing-per-day challenge thing last month, with the October flash fiction.*

But here is my 2017 advice for surviving writing 50K in a month:

  • You do you.  No writing advice is absolutely 100% always true.  NONE OF IT.  Head-hop if you wanna, edit if you wanna, research if you wanna, quit if you wanna.
  • It takes a long time to become a good writer.  Hoftstadter’s Law applies.  It’s not a waste of time.  Learning how to write is learning how to think.
  • If your life is such that you can’t cope with taking time to do something nice for yourself for a month, maybe it’s time to rethink that.
  • There are a bunch of naysayers out there who think they’re just exposing you to the realities of the world by telling you that NaNo is a waste of time or that they’re “beyond all that.”  You’re a fiction writer. WHAT NEED DO YOU HAVE OF REALITY ANYWAY?
  • You have my permission to use whatever tricks or lies you need to use in order to do the writing.
  • It’s tempting to think that an experiment only has validity if everything works according to the hypothesis–but that’s bad science.  An experiment is only a failure if you put a thumb on the scales.
  • You don’t have to be having fun in order to be writing well or making progress.
  • Even monkeys at the zoo get to have enrichment activities.  So do we.
  • Oh, man.  If your rings are loose, just take them off and put them somewhere safe right now, or else you’re gonna leave them at some coffee shop because they’re going to spin around as you type.
  • Drink more water, get some exercise in every day, buy freezer meals with fiber.  Otherwise pooping is going to become a serious problem, haha, not joking.
  • Every day is a new day.  Every failure is one failure, and that’s in the past.  Every success is one success, and that’s in the past, too.  The important part is to go inside what makes you, you.  And to bring something back.  That’s all.  The rest is up for grabs.
  • Moar words is moar words.

Good luck.

*Which I loved and am planning to do again next year, with phobias.

How to Sell Your Crap, Part 0

Step one of selling your crap (not that it’s crap, just that you’re likely to think it must be crap when you’re trying to sell it) is to go from “I’m going to pressure my connections into buying this based on who I am” to “Tempting, isn’t it?”

So:  identify three things that your audience will like about your crap.  Subject matter, style, and tone (e.g., humor) are good places to start.

However gracelessly you need to, combine those three things into one short sentence.  Don’t bother with a log line (oh you writers).

A hypothetical example:

  • Cats
  • Dry humor
  • Presented in a witty fashion

Becomes, “Things that go squish in the night: A cat-owner’s horror story.”

It’s not gonna make you a million bucks and there’s a lot more to it than that, but at least it’s not “Buy my crap.”

Buy my crap!  New release:  31 horror flash fiction stories, from Ray Bradbury-esque to Black Mirror-WTF, now on sale for under a dollar.*

*Short stories, horror, Ray Bradbury, Black Mirror, cheap–five things!

Surprise! Plot twist.

Most people hate most surprises most of the time.  It’s only when you secretly suspect that there’s going to be a surprise, and the surprise will be exactly what you wanted but didn’t have to ask for, or what you would have wanted if you had known that it was a possibility, that a “surprise” is enjoyable.

The only reason a plot twist works is that you’ve managed to convince people ahead of time that they won’t hate it.

  1. Foreshadowing is hinting at an upcoming plot twist.
  2. Using repetitive elements that stick out somehow is hinting at an upcoming plot twist (the blood-red items in The Sixth Sense, for example.)
  3. One of the characters explaining exactly what’s going on is hinting at a plot twist (see: any mystery ever, where one character says, “Well, clearly what’s going on is X.”  Oh boy).
  4. Saying that there’s a plan and explaining the details is hinting at an upcoming plot twist.  Watch the last line in a scene/chapter; writers do a LOT of this.
  5. Small things starting to go wrong or just plain weird for the character is hinting at an upcoming plot twist of epic proportions.
  6. A sudden raise in stakes–no matter how subtle–is hinting at an upcoming plot twist.
  7. Nothing big having happened lately is hinting at an upcoming plot twist, although it’s not a guarantee that you won’t have a second, even bigger one right after the first.
  8. The plot twist happens…and then you interrupt the action to establish just exactly what happened.
  9. After the plot twist, people stand around and talk about that shocking plot twist.
  10. At the end of the story, the characters are still talking about the plot twist.

The other side of this is that you can’t wink too broadly at the upcoming surprise.  You have to rub your eye and say there’s dust in it or that your contacts are dry, as it were.

The perfect surprise is when the recipient can smugly say, “I knew it all along,” but not feel the humiliation of having to be actually told.

 

October 31: TRICK OR TREAT

 

The whole collection is live!

 

Oct 31:  TRICK OR TREAT

 

It is a thousand years from now.  Whenever now is, it’s a thousand years after that.

A cure for mortality has been created—crafted—perfected.  Humanity has moved to the stars.  Why not?  We have literally nothing better to do than to explore the universe, no matter how long it takes.  The generation ships accelerate across what once would have been generations.  They still have not reached their destinations.  In another thousand years, they still will have not.  We couldn’t think of what else to call them, though.  Starships sounded too retro.  In many ways we are still lazy.  Immortality won’t make you outgrow that.

But at least we know, no matter what happens to our homeworld, that humanity will continue.  The End will never happen.  Every day, every moment, is now a new beginning.

And yet.

On Earth, in a city called New Venice, which used to be called Bologna until the seas rose, was a house that was sealed up the day that it was declared that free immortality would be available for all.

Throngs lined up for their shots and pills, but the house remained closed.  The residents, of whom there were thirteen, communicated with the outside world freely—but they kept their doors locked.

Everyone who had become immortal began to complain about having to take care of those who had not.  In some ways that was a good thing—because many people had “accidentally” not received immortality because they were overlooked.

But not the baker’s dozen inside the house.

“No, no, thank you, if any of us fall ill, it is not your problem, do not concern yourself,” they said.  “We will take care of our own.”

Then it came to pass that everyone who had had a religious objection to immortality was overruled—they were taken up in vans and brought to the doctors, and administered immortality whether they wanted it or not.

It was a big hullabaloo.  But it was for their own good, even if it meant they would never meet their maker.  By then sentiments were starting to turn.  Death became a privilege, something that must be earned, based on one’s contributions to humanity.  You couldn’t buy it.  No amount of donations or endowments were considered in the balance.

Only time.

Death was so far out of reach that you could journey to the stars and back again, and still not reach it.

But from the Thirteen inside the house:  “No, no, we won’t be having any of that.  Don’t worry.  We won’t be a bother at all.”

I’m sure you have questions.  “How did this work?  Were people zombies?  What if their heads were cut off?  What about people incinerated in a nuclear holocaust?  Or who dove into the heart of a star?”

The answers I have to give you are terrible, terrible.  As people began to desire death, the enforcement of immortality changed in order to keep pace.  First flesh was altered, then the mind. For a time we became machines, then flesh again—but you would not have recognized us as human.

Still, the house in New Venice remained sealed.

The last holdouts.

A propitious day was identified.  Halloween.  Several of us were sent to the house, wearing such masks as to make them seem more “human,” in the old style.

They knocked on the door.

“Haha, we’re all fine in here, just fine.  No need to worry…but do come for Halloween.  We’re always game for trick or treat if you are!”

It was a tradition for those brave enough to do so, to knock on the door of the Mortal House on Halloween.  The door would open, a bowl of candy would be revealed among purple light and a smoke machine.  Once you took the candy and left, the door would once again close.  If you tried to push your way into the house, you would find only a sealed vestibule of reinforced concrete with no other apertures.  The door was a decoy.

If the bowl was emptied, however, it would be refilled the next time the door was opened.

A mystery, although most of us thought it was an A.I. running the whole show on the inside by now.  Still, we had to know.

As I said, the door was knocked upon and the magic words spoken.  The door opened, and a bowl of candy appeared on a small table with a silk handkerchief on it.  Purple lights shone from overhead, and a smoke machine’s fog rolled out of the doorway.

I was there.  The others pushed me forward, and I took a small chocolate bar wrapped in foil.

It was not dusty; the paint had not worn away.  It seemed brand new.  I unwrapped it and shoved it into the mouthhole of my mask.

It was delicious.

The others shoved past me and into the vestibule, banging on the walls with pressure guns, powdering the concrete and smashing the reinforcing rods into shivers of metal, little petals of it that flaked off and tumbled gently to the floor.

In moments the wall was destroyed.  They stepped through.

I waited for two hours for the screams to stop, and then I left, shoving all the chocolate into my pockets, then closing the door behind me.

I whistled on the way home.  I’ve always liked chocolate.  But I’m not stupid enough to assume that there’s only one way to master death…

And I am not yet tired of life.

And that’s it–the end of the flash fictions.  You can purchase the entire collection here.

I’m still trying to work this one out.  Was it a trick?  Or a treat?  At any rate, I had Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of Red Death” on my brain while I was writing this.

New Release: October Nights

Cover of October Nights

October Nights: 31 Tales of Hauntings and Halloween

Available on Kindle

A collection of flash fiction: 31 tales for the 31 nights of October.  As wide a variety of horror as I could come up with–from Barker to Bradbury to Zenna Henderson.

SPOOKY SHORT FICTION – PERFECT FOR A HALLOWEEN NIGHT!

Thirty-one horror tales of ghosts, haunted houses, vampires black cats, mad science, weird plants, demons, zombies, and Halloween. From the surreal to the gory, surprise twists, black humor, bad puns, dark dreamlands, old myths, thrillers, chillers, and illers. Twilight Zone stories, dark fantasy stories, Black Mirror stories, and far-future dystopias.

Short & sweet…monsters & meat.

(For teens and up.)

October 30: GHOST

 

Oct 30: GHOST

 

“It’s experimental,” Whitcomb said.  “So we’re not sure what’s going to come out of it.  It could be about as interesting as giving a toddler a keyboard.”

“You know what they say,” Nicholls joked nervously.  “An infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of typewriters will eventually type out Hamlet.”

The electrodes taped to his skull itched.  And his head was cold.  He’d never shaved his head before.  His teenage years had been pitifully lame, spent in the basement reading old horror novels and trying to avoid his stepfather.  Sometimes he had a broken arm in a cast.  Sometimes he didn’t.  At any rate he wanted a warm stocking cap to put over the electrodes, but even if he could get away with doing something like that, it was too late now.  The test was about to begin.

Whitcomb picked up the syringe full of the chemical goop that was supposed to suppress some of the functions of his dreaming, enough so that his subconscious could still access the part of his brain that knew how to type and spell and form words and sentences, but not enough so that he’d get up and walk around or talk in his sleep or anything like that.  She flicked it with her fingernail, then pushed the plunger slightly to make sure no air bubbles had collected near the needle.

Nicholls took deep breaths as she approached him.  “Not scared of needles, are you?”

“Not normally, no.  But this is a strange situation.”

“Unusual, certainly.  Are you sure you want to go through with this?”

“I’ve had writers’ block for ten years now.  Stick it in, Doc.”

They were old friends. She smiled wryly as she gave him the jab.  “I hope this works for you.”

He lay back on the cot, feeling the colder liquid prickle painfully through his veins.  “Me, too.”

In the background, he could hear Whitcomb murmuring to a tape recorder.  But he tuned her out.

He was already falling asleep.

When he woke up, he was shivering.  In fact he was naked, crouched in a corner of the little exam room where the cot had been set up.  He rubbed a hand over his head.  The electrodes were gone, just a half-dozen sticky spots on his skull where the adhesive pads had been ripped off.

The room had been trashed.  The cot was bent and twisted and looked like it had holes eaten in the fabric.  The medical charts had been ripped off the walls.  The walls?  Covered with claw marks.

The cabinets were splattered with fluid, this gray-green viscous stuff.

And Whitcomb lay on the floor in a pool of blood.  Nicholls’s hospital nightgown was wrapped around her throat, but that wasn’t the worst part.  Her guts had been ripped open and loops of moist organs lay around her, like a child’s bath toys that needed to be put away.

“Janet!”

He crawled over to her.  He had bruises all up and down his legs.  How?  How? 

She was dead.

He got shakily to his feet and started to hobble toward the door.  The clock over it said that it was after midnight.

There was supposed to be a camera monitoring him that fed back to the computer that was receiving the signals his brain was sending out.  Writing in his sleep.  Who the hell had thought it was a good idea to…to unleash the creative forces that had been trapped in his skull for the last ten years…it had to be his fault.  Had to be.

He grabbed a robe from the rack as he passed, leaving behind a bloody smear.  First, a phone call to the police.  He didn’t care that he was damning himself.  He was too stunned to care.  He deserved whatever happened to him.

Waiting for the police to arrive, he washed his hands, then went back into Whitcomb’s office.  Gingerly, he sat in her chair and woke up the computer.

His file was open.

Make him stop make him stop I can’t move oh god I have to help her and I can’t move please dear god make it stop no no no

In the end, he had written almost sixty single-spaced pages full of despair and horror.

A tab started flashing on the task bar at the bottom of the screen, a file named with today’s date that was trying to get his attention.

With a shaking hand, he clicked the file name.  It opened, footage from the camera Whitcomb had rigged up in her room.

The ghost had been waiting for her, a sharply-defined but translucent layer of pale green, a figure in a doctor’s coat.  One hand was twisted…skeletal…bearing scalpel-thin claws.  The ghost grinned at the camera as Nicholls lay back on the cot and Whitcomb spoke into her microphone.

Then it turned back toward her as she kissed Nicholls on the forehead and mouthed the words good luck.

This one was inspired by Stant Litore, who was joking that someday he’d like to be able to nap and write at the same time.  “What could possibly go wrong with that?” I asked.  What indeed.

 

October 29: FULL MOON

 

Oct 29: FULL MOON

 

Mary could only leave the house on a full moon.  The doctors said she had agoraphobia, but that was because they didn’t have a word for what she had.  She had always thought it rather strange—that the inside of her mind was determined by words, rather than the other way around.

The full moon made everything magic.  That was it:  she couldn’t go anywhere that wasn’t magic.  And oh, the feeling of moonlight on her bare skin!  But she knew it was for the best that she not spend more than a few minutes on each full-moon night at the window.  There was a lascivious pleasure in it that simply wasn’t decent.

The moonlight could be covered by clouds after she had seen it, and she would still feel the delight of it running along her skin, but in order to leave the house, she first had to see it.

She would bask in the rays for a few moments, turning this way and that, on tiptoe.

Then, with her eyes full of the divine light, she would shake off her skin like a rug and leave it on the bedroom floor.  Off she would go, galloping through the neighborhood, knocking on windows, climbing chimneys, trailing her fingers across car windows, leaving footprints on the rooftops, and—

She would wake in her own bed at sunrise, just as the moon set, trapped once again.

This house, she would think, every time she woke.  This terrible, terrible house.

The things that trap you, the things that keep you safe.  I don’t know–I was thinking of women horror writers like Shirley Jackson, Zenna Henderson, Joyce Carol Oates.

October 28: CEMETERY

 

Oct 28: CEMETERY

 

The day was gray and depressing.  The golden leaves had all fallen and been raked away, and the hills around the cemetery were dull as pot-metal from all the bare tree branches.  One or two evergreens speckled the vista, but for the most part it was scenery in need of some snow.  The grass was going dormant for the winter.  Jones could have cut it down to ground level and still not been able to kill it completely, but for the sake of the mice and birds, he cut it about two and a half inches.  That way the snow, when it did come, would catch in it and provide some ground cover.  Plus if he cut it too short, the water would wash the topsoil away, come spring.

The air was warm enough that if any moisture came, it would be rain, at least by the time it hit the ground.

But no rain came.

Jones prepared two grave sites, one next to the other but not on the same plot.  It had been chance that both men had died about the same time.  For all Jones knew, they’d never met.  Soon they’d be sharing the wait to Eternity together.  But that was the luck.

One had been a murder; the other had been a heart attack.  The murder victim had been the first to die.  An autopsy, an inquest, a trial—the whole bit.  The murderer would go to the state pen, and, in a condition suitable only for a closed casket, the victim would be buried here.

The heart attack victim–the dead, no matter what else they were, were all victims–had been sudden.  It was less than a week since he had passed.

There seemed no rhyme nor reason to it, unless it was to serve as a cautionary tale.  Two men had died on different days, but both in such a way as to arrive in the cemetery on this day and no other.

All men would die and be brought to the same place, strangers until at last they came to Heaven.  All souls were strangers, all family dust, all lovers food for worms, the wicked and the innocent mingled together, the tormented and the tormentors—all came to the same graves in the end.

Jones didn’t like the thought of it, that was all.

That was why the babies and the children, he took from their coffins and buried them somewhere else.  He knew who was buried in the cemetery, after all.  He heard them whispering in the dark.

And if it meant a few of them returned before the Resurrection from being buried in unhallowed ground, well, that was just the luck.

It’s a gray day out and I’m feeling depressed (and sick from a sinus infection), and for some reason had written the words “creepy children” on my notepad last night.  I can’t remember what I had intended to write when I wrote the note, which is annoying–the story that got away.

The word “cemetery” always reminds me of the movie Cemetery Man, from which I found the wonderful comic series Dylan Dog.  But…I just couldn’t work myself up to that level of grand Italian black humor this morning.  One twist, and that’s all I could handle.

Oct 27: MASK

Oct 27:  MASK

 

Whenever I get a diagnosis, I’m never really sure that it’s my diagnosis.  I have what I have nicknamed Mystery Autoimmune Disease, or as my sarcasm-laden boyfriend likes to call it, “MAD Cow Disease.”  I forgive him because he painted me a picture of a Holstein cow in a can-can dress dancing on top of the Empire State Building, with purple biplanes circling around it and a Red Bull energy drink clutched in one fist.  Around Matt, you just go with it.

He loves me, even after what the disease has done to my face.

Which, honestly, isn’t that much, but it still makes me self-conscious.  My face is always puffy and swollen, and sometimes I break out in this rash that looks like small yellowish mountains erupting from my face.  It’s gross.  It grosses me out, I mean.  Matt would yell at me if he heard me say that.  “Remember that you’re beautiful and I love you!”  But I really am self-conscious about it.

He never makes masks for me, and he never paints “me,” no matter how silly, with a mask on.

I’m not the only one out on the streets wearing a mask.  I see others like me all the time.  A tiny little nod of recognition shows up between people who are wearing masks sometimes.  Glitter twinkles, peacock feathers bob, even those faceless stretchy see-thru thingies kind of shimmer.  I gotta wonder if it’s becoming a fashion statement.  Yo!  Fashion!

I asked Mike if he wanted to try out a plain mask the other day.  The two of us could walk around town like that.  After dark, why wouldn’t you?  I like the feeling that every night is Carnival.  He said thanks, but no.  Save it for Carnival.

About the only time that it gets to me anymore is seeing masks on kids when it’s not Halloween.  Poor kiddos.  But they look so cute.

And then there was yesterday.  At the Metro station I had to stand in front of a woman who didn’t have a mask on her face and stop three people with masks from hurting her.  They were calling her ugly and throwing trash at her.

“Shouldn’t you do something about your face?” one asked.  “You whore?  Who do you think you are?”

I jumped in front of them.  It didn’t look like anyone else was going to do anything.

“Whoa, Whoa!”

“What are you, some kind of fake sicko?” one asked.  “You don’t belong here.  Go home.”

I had to show them my face and they laughed at me and left, without showing me their faces.  The unmasked woman was still cowering behind me.

“Are you okay?”

She was.  But what about tomorrow?  And what about the next day?  The train came, but she scurried off in the other direction while I got on.  Embarrassed?  Still afraid? I didn’t actually ever see her face.  She had pulled her coat over her head.

On the train I sat down and just crashed.  Every joint in my body hurt just from walking around.  I’d been hurting all day, and pretending not to.  And short of breath.  Dizzy.

That’s when I took off the mask.  It wasn’t that I didn’t need it anymore.  It wasn’t that I felt beautiful or that I didn’t want to support other people like me.

I just…didn’t feel like it.

“Look at me,” I whispered all the way home as the masked and the maskless on the car stared at me.  “I’m here.  Look at me.”

This one, I’m not sure about.  I’m not sure what it means.  I may have completely hosed this one.  I know it’s not about going, “People with chronic conditions need to shut up about it!” or anything like that.  More like, “Nobody should have to hide in plain sight.”

Anyway, I glimpsed a friend’s post that said, “Progress is more important than perfection,” and decided to run with it.  I don’t mind progress.  But I’m coming to loathe perfection.

October 26: VOODOO

Oct 26:  VOODOO

 

Sam’s kitchen wasn’t one of those photogenic open restaurant kitchens.  Au contraire.  It was stained floor tiles and a gaping grate in the middle of the floor, battered heavy-guage pots hanging from blackened hooks, a walk-in baking oven with yellowed glass, a mixer with a bowl that could hold a couple of small children, plastic tubs stuck with tape.

He hadn’t been able to get all the blood off the ceiling.  But it was supposed to be non-infectious after twenty-four hours, anyway.

And it had been seven years since the previous—the final—zombie outbreak.

Exactly seven years.  He had come in early to, what was the word, celebrate?  To mark the ending of all that death.  There was something about the length of time that spoke to him, although he didn’t know why.

He started pulling the ingredients out of the fridge and stacking them on the counters.  Before he knew it, he had the butter and flour measured out and mixed up and in a couple of big pots.

Two big pots.  Two sets of ingredients.

That night seven years ago, he had lost his best friend in the world, a gigantic mother of a man named Tony, who was six and a half feet tall if he was an inch.  A real monster of a man, you know?  Ugly as sin and sweet as caramel.  He couldn’t work the front of the house because he would scare folks, but every night he was at the restaurant, the whole kitchen sang.  Figuratively, because the dishes Tony sent out—hell, anything that he so much as touched—would be so good that it would fill your heart.  And literally, because he had the voice of an angel.  Or rather the angels sang like Tony, a sweet baritone voice that knew every Frank Sinatra song by heart.

Best friend?  If he couldn’t tell the truth now, when would he?  He had been in love with the bastard, and worried that Tony would not love him back.

Seven years was a long time to be without your best friend.  The love of his life.

The roux started to cook, filling the kitchen with that raw-flour smell.  He stirred both pots with wooden spatulas, sometimes one in each hand.

From the fridge he heard something moving.  Ignoring it, he kept his eye on the roux.  He didn’t have the ingredients he needed to start all over again.  It was now or never, and come hell or high water, he was not going to let his roux burn.

He started humming.  You do something to me…

Finally both sets of roux were a deep, rich chocolate brown.  Through the double doors leading out of the kitchen, it was just now starting to get light.  Rising on a day he might never see.

He added the holy trinity and for a moment just stood there in the steam coming up, wafting over him.  Then he added the big links of sausage, making sure not to make a mixup, even through his tears.  Then the chunks of gator.  He wanted to let that stew for a  while, too.

The broth he had made ahead of time.  He had to take a small plastic tub and ladle the clear brown liquid into the two pots; the container was too heavy to lift.  The ice bath he’d packed it in had melted, but it was all good.  He’d only had to take the thinnest of scum layers off the top before he wheeled it out.

Only one type of broth.  He hadn’t been able to save any of the bones.  The CDC had claimed all those.  Because of the marrow.  Now he felt nothing but anger.  None of them would have had to die, if only–

Brought to a simmer, he added sugar, salt, Tabasco sauce, his own seasoning mix, bay leaves, stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce from a farmer that lived on the edge of the swamp.

He checked the fridge.  Not quite.

He cleaned for a while.  It was a kitchen.  It always needed cleaning.  The blood splatter on the ceiling tiles remained where it was.

The filé powder went in, and then, in a big skillet with bacon drippings, he cooked the okra with a little distilled vinegar until it turned soft.  People who were afraid of a little slime didn’t belong in his kitchen.

Crabmeat, shrimp, Worcestershire sauce.  Another forty-five minutes until it was done and perfect.

At forty minutes, the fridge door opened, and Sam swayed, caching himself against the counter by the big pots.  He covered the pot that he’d made with pork sausage and fat as the fridge door swung closed and clicked back shut.

Tony was still big, but he wasn’t exactly a man anymore.  Sam had been thawing him out for a week, though.  And now it was time.

Him or the gumbo?  Sam was humming under his breath again.  And crying.  Big fat tears running down his face.

He wanted to beg forgiveness.  Seven years he had held out against temptation.  Seven years he had left Tony to rot in a frozen hell.

But the loneliness and his longing had never faded.

“Tony?” he said.  “Sing for me, Tony.”

The big man bared his teeth.

And then it was all down to a last test of faith.

That his gumbo really was good enough to bring back the dead.

Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about actual Voodoo practices to treat them with respect.  But I do know something about cooking.

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