Ranging from the mysterious to pulp action to the Lovecraftian, this vivid collection of short fiction explores a world of radio heroes, masterful villains, and creatures from places unknown.
Release date: January 28, 2016
Print pages: 380
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Richard A. Lupoff
Arlie’s imaginary train rides were more fun at night, when he could imagine himself a passenger aboard a sleek streamliner. The train passed through a darkened, tree-lined countryside. Mountains rose in the distance, a crescent moon shone though wisps of clouds, and the towers of an ancient stone castle rose, silhouetted against the landscape.
Travel on the morning trains was more difficult. Arlie knew that most of the passengers were workers on their way to their offices or students on their way to school. Still, it was fun to pretend that he was one of them, rather than confined to his bed.
He could hear his Aunt Cora bustling in the kitchen. He knew that she would be in with his breakfast and his medicine soon. Uncle Mort and Aunt Mary would already have left for work. They got up early and took the bus to the factory where they built tanks for the army. Now it was just Arlie and Aunt Cora in the apartment.
Aunt Cora was actually Arlie’s great aunt, his grandma’s sister. Uncle Mort was Aunt Cora’s son and Aunt Mary was Uncle Mort’s wife. And since Arlie’s mother was dead and his dad was fighting in the army, Aunt Cora and Uncle Mort and Aunt Mary had taken Arlie to live in their apartment.
It was mainly Aunt Cora, though, who cared for Arlie.
The apartment wasn’t as nice as his house had been, but they didn’t have the house any more, and a boy his age could hardly have lived there by himself alone, even if he’d been healthy.
The door of Arlie’s bedroom swung open and Aunt Cora appeared, carrying his tray. Some light came in through the doorway, too. Arlie blinked. The light shone around Aunt Cora. Arlie could see her smile, see her tooth with the little golden filling in it, her gray hair tied behind her head in a bun.
Arlie pushed himself upright against the old wooden headboard, a pillow propped behind his back. Aunt Cora set the tray down on the comforter. It balanced neatly across his legs. Aunt Cora held his face between her hands and kissed him on the forehead. She muttered something in the language they used to speak in the old country. That was what she always called it, never mentioned its name, just the old country.
She opened the bottle of dark medicine and poured a spoonful of it. She held it for him and he swallowed it. It tasted terrible. She screwed the top back on the bottle, gave him his pills one at a time and waited while he washed them down with a glass of orange juice.
Breakfast was a bowl of oatmeal and scrambled eggs and toast. Arlie ate as much as he could, which wasn’t much, and lay back against his pillow. Aunt Cora tried to coax him to eat more, and he took another forkful of eggs. They didn’t seem to have much taste, and eating made him tired.
After breakfast Aunt Cora picked him up and carried him to the bathroom. When he was ready she carried him back to his bed, took off his pajamas and gave him his sponge bath. He didn’t know why it was called a sponge bath, Aunt Cora just used a warm washcloth and a dry, soft towel. After his sponge bath she put him in a set of fresh, clean pajamas, even if the old ones weren’t dirty.
“You want a nap, darling?” Aunt Cora asked as she tucked him back into his bed.
Arlie nodded and slid down under the comforter. He closed his eyes and listened for the train.
He heard the distant whistle, smiling to himself in the darkened room. He knew that Aunt Cora had tiptoed out, whispering something before she pulled the door shut. He couldn’t make out what she said but he didn’t need to. She said that he had to get well because his daddy was in Europe fighting and Arlie had to be well and strong when he got home, after he’d beaten Hitler.
The train clattered past the apartment building. When Arlie was well he used to stand in the cement courtyard four stories below his window and watch the train go by. Now he could only listen to its wheels and its whistle, but he could close his eyes in the darkened room and see it as clearly as if he’d been standing in the courtyard watching.
He wanted to reach over to his night table and turn on the radio but he felt too tired so he just waited until he couldn’t hear the train any more, then he thought about other things while he waited for Dr. Goldsmith to pay his daily visit.
The visit was always the same. Arlie would hear the doorbell ring, hear the door open and close again. There would be a mumbled conversation between Dr. Goldsmith and Aunt Cora. They spoke in a combination of regular American and the Old Country language. Then Dr. Goldsmith would come into Arlie’s room carrying his black doctor bag and set it on the bed next to Arlie.
Aunt Cora would stand behind Dr. Goldsmith while he examined Arlie. He would take his temperature, look inside his ears with a little flashlight, then make him open his mouth and say ahh while he pushed his tongue down with a flat wooden stick and looked around inside. Then he’d take his stethoscope out of his doctor bag and put the little tips in his ears. Arlie was pleased that he knew the word stethoscope. Arlie would have to lift up his pajama shirt so Dr. Goldsmith could press the icy cold metal part against his chest.
When he finished examining Arlie Dr. Goldsmith always smiled. Arlie could make out his big smile even in the darkened room. Dr. Goldsmith always hummed a little tune while be put his little flashlight and his stethoscope back in his doctor bag. Then he would say, “Wonderful, little man, wonderful. Keep up the progress and we’ll have you playing halfback any day now. He always said the same thing.
One time, after Dr. Goldsmith left and Aunt Cora came back to stay with Arlie, he asked her what song Dr. Goldsmith always hummed when he examined Arlie.
Aunt Cora said, “Happy Days Are Here Again.” She asked Arlie if he liked that song and Arlie said that he did, it was a happy song and it made him feel good when Dr. Goldsmith whistled it.
Arlie was able to reach over to his night table and turn on the radio. That was another funny thing. He got sponge baths without a sponge and the table was next to his bed all the time, not just at night, but it was still called a night table.
He heard a news report on the radio. There was a big tank battle going on someplace called the Black Forest. He figured that his father was there, driving a tank and blowing up Nazis left and right. Arlie smiled.
After the news there was a quiz show and he knew most of the answers. If he’d been a lucky contestant he could have won fifty dollars and a year’s supply of canned soup, but he wasn’t a lucky contestant so all he could do was listen to the radio.
Then it was time for lunch, a lamb chop and spinach and a buttered roll. Aunt Cora cut the meat off the lamb chop and popped it into his mouth bit by bit until he couldn’t eat any more. He ate some spinach, too, even though he didn’t like it much.
Then he had his afternoon nap, and then came the second best part of the day, time for the radio stories.
He listened to Ace Larson Space Explorer. Ace Larson was the captain of a space ship that went to different planets. He had a girlfriend name Betty Blanton. There were always monsters on the planets they landed on, or sometimes space pirates. Betty got captured most of the time and Ace rescued her. Once Ace got captured and the giant scaly octopuses of Venus were going to sacrifice him on a big stone idol and that time Betty rescued Ace.
Arlie couldn’t remember much of what his mother had looked like, but he remembered a little. He remembered her hair was really dark and long and she wore dark red lipstick and she always smiled a lot. When he listened to Ace Larson Space Explorer he knew that Betty Blanton looked a lot like his mother. Ace Larson looked like Arlie’s father.
Today Ace Larson Space Explorer and Betty Blanton were on their way to a new adventure on the Poison Planetoid. Nobody ever went there because it was such a terrible place. All the plants were poisonous and the air was full of horrible mist creatures that looked like black ropes and twisted themselves around your throat and choked you so you couldn’t breathe but Jimmy and Janie Jansen, the twins whose dad was the President of Earth, had been kidnapped and were being held prisoner on the Poison Planetoid and Ace Larson Space Explorer and Betty Blanton were their only hope of rescue.
The episode ended as Ace Larson and Betty Blanton’s spaceship, the Isis, was about to land on the Poison Planetoid. Some mist creatures had got into the spaceship and they were attacking Ace Larson Space Explorer and Betty Blanton. They were both passing out because the mist creatures were choking them and if the Isis crashed onto the planet they were doomed.
After Ace Larson Space Explorer came The Crimson Wizard.
Arlie liked The Crimson Wizard even more than Ace Larson Space Explorer because he had copies of Crimson Wizard Comics and he could read about the Crimson Wizard’s adventures whenever he wanted to.
Uncle Mort and Aunt Mary got home from work and came to see him in his room. Uncle Mort brought him a comic book today, the new issue of Crimson Wizard Comics, and Arlie was so excited that he had one of his spells but it went away. Aunt Cora brought him dinner, a baked chicken drumstick and some beans, and he ate as much as he could.
He had to rest after dinner but then came the best part of the day. Uncle Mort picked him up and put him in his chair. He turned on the lamp over the chair. It had a lampshade made of cloth that looked brown when the light was turned off but orange when it was turned on, and a fringe of little strings hanging all around.
Arlie’s room was kept dark all the time and he had to stay in bed except when Aunt Cora took him to the bathroom, but every day after he ate his dinner Uncle Mort would put him in his chair and turn on the light for him. He was allowed to stay in the chair for an hour.
During the hour he had time to listen to two radio stories, and he always read during the stories. Aunt Mary used to be a schoolteacher before the war and she said it was a miracle that Arlie could read one story while he listened to another one and take them both in at the same time. That was exactly the way she said it, that he took them both in at the same time.
That seemed strange to him. He listened to the radio and he read his comic books. The only thing that he took in was his food and the medicine he had to take every day, but Aunt Mary said he took in the stories.
There were different stories every night. It wasn’t like the radio programs he heard before dinner. Programs like Ace Larson Space Explorer and The Crimson Wizard were on this same station every day, Monday through Friday, and the stories continued every day.
But the night-time stories were different.
Tonight they were Tex Wilson, Sheriff and Crooks Beware!
Tex Wilson rode a famous Arabian stallion named Pharaoh who was as smart as most men. Tex always wore a ten-gallon hat trimmed with a band of turquoise beads given to him by a friendly Indian tribe for saving them from a disaster caused by Snake Williams who wanted the oil that was under the Indians’ land. Snake Williams had miscalculated and used too much dynamite, trying to get the oil to the surface, and instead wakened a long-dormant volcano that sent rivers of red-hot lava pouring down its sides.
The hero on Crooks Beware! was Homicide Sergeant Jack Martin. Jack’s boss was Lieutenant Gibson, and his best friend and confidant was the lovely Marguerite Moran. Tonight Homicide Sergeant Jack Martin tackled the case of the terrible termagant. Arlie didn’t know what a termagant was but it made a scary noise that sounded something like a person’s voice but wasn’t, and it took all of Homicide Sergeant Jack Martin’s skill and courage, plus the help of the lovely Marguerite Moran, to defeat the menace.
Then your announcer Larry Thorson signed off with those familiar words, “Don’t forget to tune in a week from tonight, same time same station, for another thrilling episode of Crooks Beware! Uncle Mort came back and picked Arlie up and took him to the bathroom, then tucked him in his bed again and turned off the light.
Arlie closed his eyes. He lay in bed, listening to Aunt Cora and Uncle Mort and Aunt Mary talking in the living room. He could hear their voices and make out a word now and then, sometimes a regular American word and sometimes a word in the Old Country language, but he couldn’t tell what they were saying, not really. Except that he heard his own name once in a while.
He tried to stay awake but he was too tired and he fell asleep. He didn’t have any dreams. But then he woke up when he heard a train going past. He looked at the clock on his night table and it was really, really late at night. He couldn’t hear Aunt Cora or Uncle Mort or Aunt Mary, he could only hear the click of the train’s wheels getting louder, then the whistle sounding exciting in a kind of sad way, then the wheels getting quieter again, and then the train was gone.
But Arlie was awake now.
He pushed himself upright, the pillow behind him. He pulled the comforter up because he felt cold. He looked in the corner of his room. There was a radiator there, and sometimes when it got too cold in the apartment and there was no heat coming up Aunt Cora would get a hammer out of the kitchen drawer and bring it and bang on the radiator.
“That will let the super know we need some heat,” she always explained to Arlie. He knew that “super” wasn’t short for Superman or Super Mouse or Super Rabbit, it was short for superintendent, the man in the basement of the apartment building who sent steam up through the radiators.
Next to the radiator was the darkest part of Arlie’s room. In the daytime, with even a little light coming around the window shade, Arlie could see that there was just plain, dark, blank wall there.
At night the wall was even darker there, darker than any part of Arlie’s room. In fact he could see that there was an opening in the wall. It led to a tunnel. The tunnel was very dark, but there were lights far away inside the tunnel. Arlie could see the light places inside the tunnel. He could see people in there and other things too.
He could see Tex Wilson and the great Arabian stallion Pharaoh. Tex was sitting on Pharaoh’s back. Arlie could see Tex’s lariat hanging from the pommel of Pharaoh’s saddle, and Tex’s glittering silver six-shooter in Tex’s holster.
Tex was waving to Arlie and saying something that Arlie couldn’t make out no matter how hard he tried. He leaned forward in his bed, trying to hear what Tex was saying but it was no use.
Finally he saw Tex turn Pharaoh away and they galloped off across the great open plains in search of adventure. Arlie slid down in his bed, pulled the comforter up to his chin, and fell asleep.
The next morning Arlie was still asleep when Aunt Cora came to check on him before breakfast. He found himself with her arms around him, his face pressed against her house dress. When he said, “Ouch, you’re squeezing me too hard,” Aunt Cora laughed and squeezed him even harder before she let him go.
She took him to the bathroom, brought him back to bed, gave him his sponge bath, and dressed him in fresh pajamas. Today’s pajamas had little baseball players all over them.
He took his medicine and ate some breakfast, part of a pancake and a slice of bacon. Then Dr. Goldsmith arrived and examined Arlie the way he did every day. He didn’t smile exactly the way he did most days. He did say, “Keep it up and you’ll be playing halfback one of these days,” but when he left Arlie’s room with Aunt Cora he wasn’t even humming “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
Dr. Goldsmith and Aunt Cora talked for a long time, mostly in Old Country language, before Dr. Goldsmith left. Aunt Cora opened the door of Arlie’s room partway and looked in at him. He lifted his hand and waved to her. She didn’t say anything, she just closed the door. Arlie thought that was odd.
Even with light coming from outside around the window shade, it seemed that the dark place on Arlie’s wall near the radiator was especially dark today. Arlie looked into the dark place as hard as he could. He wasn’t sure if he could see the tunnel. He knew there were no lights inside. Still, this was the first time he’d even thought he might see the tunnel in the daytime.
He reached over and turned on the radio but he fell asleep before he could hear the news.
When Arlie woke up Aunt Cora was sitting on a wooden chair next to his bed watching him. He could tell it was afternoon by the way the light came around the window shade. He asked Aunt Cora if it was lunch time and she said that it was, yes, and what would he like for lunch?
He said a cheeseburger on a roll and French fries and Aunt Cora said she would make that for him and he heard her for a while in the kitchen. He could smell the food cooking and while Aunt Cora made his lunch Arlie tried to see the dark place again and see if he could make out anything inside the tunnel but there was too much light in the room.
A train went by, though, and he was able to make believe it was taking him to the Black Forest where he would ride in his father’s tank and blow up Nazis. Then Aunt Cora brought his lunch and he ate part of it. He asked his Aunt Cora what she was having for lunch and she said the same thing he was, he didn’t eat so much and there was enough left for her.
In the afternoon he made believe that he was in a Crimson Wizard story with the Crimson Wizard. The Crimson Wizard wore a big hat with a point on top and a wide brim that hid his face from his enemies so they wouldn’t learn his secret identity and attack him when he wasn’t in his Crimson Wizard identity. Nobody ever saw the Crimson Wizard’s face because he could never tell when an enemy might be lurking nearby, even when he was at home or in his secret lair working on a new and more potent potion or spell.
Arlie imagined that the Crimson Wizard needed an assistant and that he asked Arlie to be his assistant. They might even change the name of the comic book from Crimson Wizard Comics to The Crimson Wizard and Arlie, and Arlie would get to share the Crimson Wizard’s adventures in the comics and on the radio, too.
He had his nap and when he woke up he could tell that it was getting dark outside. He turned on the radio and listened to Ace Larson Space Explorer and to The Crimson Wizard.
Ace Larson managed to unlock the emergency equipment kit on board the Isis and get out oxygen masks for himself and for Betty Blanton. Once they had their oxygen masks in place Ace Larson Space Explorer was able to land the Isis safely on the surface of the Poison Planetoid.
But that was just the beginning of Ace Larson and Betty Blanton’s latest and most exciting adventure. Ace Larson asked Betty Blanton to look outside and see what kind of place the Isis had come down in. Ace Larson meant that Betty should look outside through one of the Isis’s portholes but Betty didn’t understand and she opened the hatch. A dozen scaly monsters rushed through the doorway, ray-rifles blazing, just as the day’s episode came to an end.
The Crimson Wizard was facing his arch foe the fiendish Dr. Mephisto. Not only was Dr. Mephisto a powerful master of the dark arts, he knew the secret that it took to summon up all the Demon Horde of Hades. It wasn’t easy for him, he could only do it when the stars of the Pleiades were in perfect alignment and the forces of good were at a low ebb. But as the Crimson Wizard himself was all too aware, the forces of good were busily engaged in defeating the Axis powers in Europe and Asia, so they were not available to aid the Crimson Wizard in holding off Dr. Mephisto and the Horde of Hades.
Arlie knew that the Horde of Hades were shown in one of the stories in his newest Crimson Wizard comic book. The radio dial gave off a little light and Arlie turned the pages, looking for the Horde of Hades. He found the story and lay in bed studying the drawings while he listened to the radio. He knew how the story came out in the comic book but it might be different on the radio. He liked the Crimson Wizard’s voice on the radio. Whenever the Crimson Wizard spoke there was an echo in his voice. It sounded like the Crimson Wizard was far away and up close at the same time.
When the story ended on the radio Arlie lay in bed trying to see into the tunnel in the corner but all he could see was a black place.
Soon he heard a key in the doorway of the apartment. He remembered when he was stronger and could go out of the apartment. He played stickball with some other kids in the cement courtyard outside the building, the same courtyard where you could see the trains when they went past.
He used to walk to school, too. He walked with his best friend. His best friend was named Buddy Bill McIlhenny.
The McIlhennys lived upstairs in another apartment. Buddy Bill lived there with his mom and dad and two sisters. Arlie wished he could live with his own mom and dad and sisters instead of his Aunt Cora and his Uncle Mort and Aunt Mary but he knew that could never be. He didn’t have any brothers or sisters and his mom was dead so he knew he would never have any but at least he knew his dad was in the Black Forest fighting Nazis and when he came back from the war Arlie would live with him.
When Arlie first got sick and couldn’t go to school or play in the courtyard Buddy Bill visited him almost every day. They traded comic books and talked about school and the war and Buddy Bill’s sisters and their other friends. But Arlie got sicker and Buddy Bill didn’t visit him as often as he did at first and then he stopped visiting him.
It was wintertime now. Last winter Arlie and Buddy Bill had made a snowman in the courtyard but this winter Arlie had not been able to go outside at all. He couldn’t even get to the window and look down into the courtyard to see if Buddy Bill had made a snowman without him.
He knew what the hallway looked like and he remembered the smell in the hallway and on the stairs. Some apartment houses had elevators in them but Arlie’s house didn’t have an elevator so you had to walk up and down flights of stairs when you went out or got home. But Arlie hadn’t been out of the apartment in a long time.
He heard the door open and he knew that Uncle Mort and Aunt Mary were home. He heard their voices and Aunt Cora’s talking in the Old Country language.
The door of his own room opened and Uncle Mort and Aunt Mary came in together. Aunt Mary knelt next to Arlie’s bed and put her hand on his forehead and her cheek against his cheek. Her hand and her face felt cool and smooth and her cheek was soft.
He could see her dark lips even in his room. The radio was still turned on and the light from the dial made Aunt Mary’s face show up clearly.
He could smell her, too. There were different smells on her. He could smell her hair and her perfume. He liked the way Aunt Mary smelled. His Aunt Cora sometimes smelled of cooking and his Uncle Mort didn’t seem to have a smell, but Aunt Mary smelled like sweet flowers. He tried to remember if his mom had smelled like sweet flowers but he couldn’t remember. Maybe old ladies like Aunt Cora smelled of cooking and other ladies like Aunt Mary smelled like sweet flowers. Arlie thought that he would grow up and marry a lady someday and he could smell her whenever he wanted to, not just when she came and put her cheek next to his.
Aunt Mary stood up and went out of the room and Arlie could hear her voice and Aunt Cora’s together. Uncle Mort came over and sat on Arlie’s bed. That was nice. Uncle Mort was still wearing his overcoat and Arlie could see a few specks of snow on the shoulders of Uncle Mort’s coat. There were big pockets in Uncle Mort’s coat. He reached into one and pulled out a folded newspaper. He unfolded the newspaper and took something out and handed it to Arlie.
It looked a lot like a comic book but it was thicker than any comic book Arlie had ever seen. Arlie looked at the cover. There was a picture of a castle on the front, with a full moon shining behind it. In front of the castle a big white animal sat with its head thrown back and its mouth wide open. It looked like a giant dog but Arlie knew that it was really a wolf, maybe even a werewolf.
Arlie smiled. He liked the picture.
Uncle Mort asked if he could read the name of the magazine.
Arlie was annoyed. He was a good reader. He’d learned to read even before he started school, and he was one of the best readers in his class before he got sick and had to stop going to school. He looked at the name of the magazine. It was printed in big yellow letters right over the dark sky in the picture. Arlie made a face. “It says Haunted Adventures. January 1945. In this issue Hounds from the Hills by Eduardo del Lobo, Marcus Billingham, Joseph Lester, Clarissa Norman, twenty five cents.”
Uncle Mort grinned. “You’re right, Arlie. You’re a terrific reader. You want to keep Haunted Adventures?”
Arlie opened Haunted Adventures. Unlike his comic books it was printed all in black words on white pages. There were some pictures but they were in black, too. He liked comics a lot and he wasn’t sure that he liked Haunted Adventures but he could tell that Uncle Mort wanted him to say that he liked it and he wanted to please his uncle.
“It looks great, Uncle Mort.”
“Think you can read the whole magazine, Arlie?”
Arlie wasn’t sure about that so he didn’t say anything.
“Well, you try one story and see how you do. You might want to try that Billingham. He’s a good writer. Don’t worry, Arlie, if you don’t like it we’ll go back to comics tomorrow.”
Uncle Mort ruffled Arlie’s hair and walked out of the room.
That night after dinner of spaghetti and meatballs Arlie sat in his chair with the lamp over it. He could see the dark place on the wall, but the funny thing was, the lighter the room was the less he could see of the dark place. He wasn’t sure he could see the opening or the tunnel at all, and certainly not Homicide Sergeant Jack Martin or the lovely Marguerite Moran or the Crimson Wizard.
But he was able to read the story that Uncle Mort said he would enjoy. It was called “Orchids for the Bride of the Spectre.” Arlie didn’t know what a Spectre was but clearly it was something scary. In fact the whole story was scary but still Arlie liked it and he was proud of himself for reading the whole story.
It was better than anything he’d ever read in school books, and in a way it was better than stories on the radio or in the comics. That was strange, because the comic books had bright, exciting pictures in them and the radio stories had real voices and sounds like spaceships blasting off or gunshots or the hoof beats of magnificent stallions. The stories in Haunted Adventures magazine only had words. Why were they so good, then?
Suddenly Arlie understood. The stories in the comic books or on the radio happened outside your head and you only saw them or heard them, but the stories in Haunted Adventures happened inside your head.
Arlie realized that he liked the idea that Marcus Billingham wrote the story, too. He’d never thought about that before. Comic book stories and radio stories were just there, somehow. The stories were there and the pictures were there, the way the sky was just there and the world was just there. You didn’t think about it, or if you did some grownup would say, “God made the sky,” or “God made the world.”
But Arlie didn’t think that God made Haunted Adventures and wrote the stories in it. Arlie realized with a shock that it wasn’t that way at all. Eduardo del Lobo, Marcus Billingham, Joseph Lester, and Clarissa Norman wrote the stories in Haunted Adventures. Somebody drew the pictures in the magazine, too, and somebody made the wonderful picture of the wolf on the cover, and somebody wrote the stories in Arlie’s comic books and drew the pictures there, too, and somebody wrote the stories about Ace Larson Space Explorer and Homicide Sergeant Jack Martin and even the Crimson Wizard that Arlie heard on the radio.
Suddenly Arlie felt something inside his chest, something that he had never felt before. It was warm and it seemed to be filling him up and almost pushing out of him. He knew something that he hadn’t known before. He didn’t know where it came from but he knew it with all his heart. He blinked and told himself that when he grew up he would not only marry a lady who wore lipstick and smelled like flowers like his Aunt Mary, he would write stories for Haunted Adventures magazine.
He closed the magazine and waited for his Uncle Mort to come and carry him to the bathroom and then put him in his bed. He waited for a train to come but he didn’t hear a distant whistle or the click of the wheels on the tracks.
That night he woke up when a train went past. He listened for its whistle and the click of its wheels. He could tell the exact moment that the locomotive rushed past the apartment h
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