9/11, and my visit to the World Trade Center Memorial

This post was originally published on 11th September 2013, after I had visited New York, and the Memorial, for the first time.
For those who’ve joined me since then, here it is once more, in remembrance of those who died.


Today arrived, and a post that I’d been thinking about for a while more or less demanded to be written.

On my recent visit to New York, hubby and I went to the World Trade Center Memorial. I have a confession to make here. It wasn’t on my ‘to-do’ list. I don’t mean that I DIDN’T want to visit; it was just that hubby was far more keen than I was. So off we went.

I’m glad we did. It was one of the most moving places I’ve ever been to. It was also a strange experience. Let me try to explain why.

The Memorial is right in the midst of what is still a construction site. Cranes rise all around, the surrounding streets are dusty, there are hoardings everyhere. It’s a veritable maze to get to the entrance. Mad New York traffic passes by on all sides. But…once you are in there, it seems silent. Visitors are speaking quietly. The waterfalls that have been created in the footprints of the old towers roar a little, but not enough to drown out NYC, surely? And yet – it is wonderfully peaceful. No outside noise seems to get in.

In the footprint of each tower sits a waterfall and reflecting pool. The pools are each nearly an acre in size, and the waterfalls that cascade into them are the largest manmade ones in North America. We walked right round both pools, where the names of everyone who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks are carved into bronze panels. Memorial Plaza itself is covered with beautiful swamp white oak trees. And rising majestically beside all this: the new towers. One World Trade Center, once it’s 408-foot-tall spire is complete, will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

(If you want to know more about the Memorial, click here).

I said moving, yet strange. I couldn’t imagine, as I stood there, what it must have been like that day, or afterwards. I didn’t know anyone who died in the attacks, or in London in 2005, or Boston this year. This is not a comment piece on the state of the world, the rights and wrongs of the West’s relationship with the Middle East, or anything like that. I just wanted to describe my visit, and how it made me feel.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a lump in my throat, for the huge loss of life. I also felt proud to belong to a people who could pull together in the aftermath: to rescue people, rebuild lives, and build something new – in every sense. Why is it that humankind can do such terrible things, and yet have the courage and compassion people showed that day, and every day? I guess if someone had the answer to that, these things would no longer happen.

As I craned my neck to gaze up at the new towers, they seemed like a defiant phoenix rising from the ashes. You achieved nothing, they seemed to say. Except for stupid, senseless loss of life. We are still here. We remember our dead. We build something more beautiful where destruction was.

The 9/11 Memorial is one of the most inspiring places I’ve been to.

This post is dedicated to all those who have lost their lives in terror attacks around the world.


The Blood and the Cauldron (Part 1)

As the evenings draw in and Samhain approaches, things get spooky on this blog of mine. I wrote this story originally for Mari Wells, mistress of all the creatures that howl, bite, and go bump in the night. Now I bring it to you. So lock the doors, curl up with your favourite beverage (and some garlic, just in case), and read on – if you dare… ;-)


The heavy door swung inwards without a sound. That was good; he had half-expected it to creak. He stepped inside, hugging the wall and scanning the hallway for any movement. There was none. He left the door open, hoping that a little light would follow him. It was risky being here this late. The sun was almost down. Then they would rise, and he had no way of knowing how many there were. He had only ever seen the two, but he couldn’t save Cara if there were many more. He would be too outnumbered.


He had asked Mark to go with him, but his friend had refused.

‘It’s a trap,’ Mark had stated, ‘And we’re not going. They’ve been after you since they got your sister. Now you’ve given them bait.’

‘I can’t just leave Cara!’ Ewan had protested.

‘You know why we don’t get involved in relationships. Innocent people get hurt.’ At the expression on his friend’s face, Mark softened a little. ‘Look…why don’t you ask the Witch to help you?’

‘And be beholden to her? No thanks.’


So he found himself alone, back at the house where Cara had been dragged away. The memory of her cries made him shiver. She had wanted him to explore with her, saying it would be an adventure. In vain he had tried to tell her what lived there. She hadn’t believed him. Not being brought up in the town, she scoffed at the idea that there were any such things as – vampires.

There was an ornate staircase at the far end of the wide hallway, rising to the upper floor. The doors on either side opened onto reception rooms, except for one which led to the basement stairway. This much he knew from the plans. Would they be in the basement? Heavy drapes covered all the windows, so not necessarily. The undead would be safe from the light in any part of the house, except where he now stood in the fading dusk.

He had to start somewhere. He edged towards the basement door, leaving his refuge of light. He tested the doorknob. It wouldn’t budge. Crouching, he peered at the slim gap between the door and the frame. Locked! He could see right through the keyhole. He straightened, groping in his pocket for his lock pick.

A crawling sensation down his spine made him turn, and his worse imaginings were confirmed. Two vampires, the females who had dragged Cara off. They descended the stairs, arms outstretched to clasp him in a deathly embrace. He backed away, reaching inside his jacket for the holy water. If he distracted them with that, he might be able to stake both before they knew what was happening. No, wait – they would know where Cara was. If he killed one and captured the other… They were closer now, gliding down the last few steps. Their movements were noiseless, which was unsettling. God, but they were beautiful. He tried to watch them without meeting their eyes. He removed the stopper from the bottle with trembling hands.

‘Ewan,’ they whispered, reaching out to him with slender white arms. ‘Eeewannn…’ Distracted, he met the gaze of the nearest – and was hit with a wave of desire so strong he cried out. A rush of heat throbbed in his groin. He ached to step into that welcoming embrace. He slammed his hand against the wall, scraping his palm down the peeling paintwork. The pain broke the spell. He scrambled back towards the main door, realising too late that the sun had sunk below the horizon. There was no refuge that way.

‘Where’s Cara?’ He kept his voice steady. If he found her, there would be two of them against the vampires. Cara was feisty; she would fight alongside him. He refused to consider that she might already be dead, or so drained that she would be too weak to move.

Sibilant laughter was his answer.

They had come from the upper floor. He let his body sag as if in defeat, then, when they were mere inches away, he threw the holy water. He darted past the writhing, screaming vampires and mounted the stairs two at a time. Damn, which room to try first? Then he spotted the door ajar at the end of the landing. He raced towards it, knowing the two downstairs wouldn’t be distracted for long.

He took in his surroundings: a faded but ornate bedroom, with a canopied bed against the right hand wall. The drapes at the window would once have been the colour of fine wine, but were now like watery blood. They still blocked out the light; a single candle burning on the dresser threw a faint, eerie glow across the room.

There was a figure in the bed, covered by a gossamer sheet that accentuated womanly curves. He rushed over and threw the cover back – to reveal Cara, deathly white and asleep – or unconscious.

She wore a gown of some floaty fabric, not the jeans and shirt she had on earlier. He feared that they had fed on her – she was so pale – but there were no marks on her neck, or anywhere else, as far as he could see. He shook her shoulder, trying to be gentle so that if she were injured, he wouldn’t make things worse. No response. He knew she wasn’t dead, as her chest rose and fell. Maybe she was so drained, she wouldn’t wake? Could he carry her out of there – and deal with the vamps? A hiss from the doorway told him he was about to find out. Glancing from under his lashes so as not to meet their eyes, he saw the two females in the doorway.

They weren’t looking at him, but past him.

There was a gossamer movement of air behind him. Icy fingers brushed his neck, and he jumped from the bed. Cara sat up; baring her teeth in what was once a beautiful smile – except now her elongated canines were clearly visible. Ewan choked back a sob.

He didn’t care that the other two had moved to stand beside him – until they curtsied low to the figure on the bed.

‘Mistress.’ They spoke in unison.

Cara inclined her head, as though granting a boon.

All the air left Ewan’s body, as though he’d been punched in the stomach. The acolytes acknowledging Cara that way – that could only mean – how – how?

She was vampire. Not turned by them – she was their creator. She had been vampire all along. How had she fooled him?


Her voice was honey. How could she sound so sweet when she was a monster? Revulsion warred with desire in his gut. He had been deceived – lured here – trapped.

‘Ewan, look at me.’

He was lost, anyway. Three of them, against him.

He gritted his teeth, and raised his head to meet her gaze.


To be continued…

Image courtesy of greatbritishtours.com

Image courtesy of greatbritishtours.com

Where My Witches At?

Karen Soutar:

Do you write about witchcraft? Maybe you are a witch?? If you’d like to write a story or a post for my friend Mari, follow the link. :-)

Originally posted on Mari Wells:




Would you care to write a guest post about witches, Paganism, witches or witchcraft?

Contact me at mariwells4123 at Gmail dot com

View original

Double, Double Toil and Trouble

The cauldron is being stirred once again. I’ve sent Sam the Bengal Cat out to look for frogs, newts and other ingredients I need. Unfortunately, he’s the most incompetent familiar in the world, so I’m likely to get leaves, seeds, and drinking straws (don’t ask).

October is the Witching Month over at Mari Wells‘s blog, and I’m preparing a tale of covens, spells and other strange things. We’ll meet some of the Lochie Witches again, as well as Kate, a solitary witch who featured in my serial for Mari’s Vampire Month. Who knows, maybe a vamp or two will sneak in..?

Thank you William Shakespeare for the title of this post. I will undoubtedly be stealing lines from you again in weeks to come, William. That also goes for Messrs. Burns and Pratchett. And possibly Ms. Rice.

To warm my lovely readers up, I’ll be featuring stories old and new in September, with witches, vampires, and those unfortunates who meddle with them. Let’s go back to the beginning, when we first met the Lochie Witches… ;-)


The Summoning

The witch could see the caravans through the trees. They were an incongruous background to the activities taking place in the ruins of the old Kirk. She pulled a face. Legacy was all very well, but she sometimes wished their rituals happened in a different location. After all, it seemed wrong to summon the Evil One not a hundred metres from shower blocks and chemical toilet sheds.

“Stop daydreaming, Sister!” The voice cut through her thoughts. Aunt Aileen, brandishing a large wooden ladle, broke through her reverie and brought her attention back to what The Sisters were doing. They all called each other Sister, although none of them actually were. They were all related, albeit sometimes distantly – connected by their ancestry, going all the way back to the famous Lochie Witches of the 1700s. Those witches, however, had not had to contend with a busy road on one side and a caravan holiday park on the other. Back then, the Kirk had been remote and hidden amongst the trees at the foot of the Crag. Now, tourists roamed the grounds by day, although admittedly, there were not too many of them braving the Scottish weather at this time of year. At night, there was always the chance that a gang of lads and lassies from the nearby town would want to use the place for drinking or shagging or both.

The coven was the bedraggled remnants of those witches of the 18th century. Not for the first time, Fenella found herself wishing that more of the female line had died out. If they could no longer gather thirteen witches, then she wouldn’t be freezing her arse off on Samhain, trying to summon Auld Nick with fragments of ancient spell books, and a coven consisting of seven senior citizens, three working mums, two singletons and a precocious fourteen year old who was enjoying it all a little too much. Every year they tried to replicate what their infamous ancestors had done, and every year nothing happened, apart from Nana Anne setting her dress on fire and her cousin Jess falling over a tree root and twisting her ankle. Until last year, when the spell might be said to have worked. They had indeed conjured “auld Nick in shape o’ beast” – to quote a famous poem – except the beast in question was a large black beetle. The only reason that they knew the beetle was the Evil One was by the mark on its carapace. It had waved its antennae at them reproachfully and then spent the rest of the night sitting on Evie’s shoulder, much to the teenager’s delight. It hadn’t seemed inclined to do anything else – but then what could he do as a beetle? The 18th century coven had summoned him in the form of a huge black dog, which was much more the thing. Apparently the great hound had roamed the hills all night, terrorising locals and sheep, until the dawn sent him back Below.

Nana Anne stated she was positive she knew which part of the spell had gone wrong and this year they would succeed – properly. Fenella put her thoughts to one side and, at Aunt Aileen’s frantic ladle-waving, returned to the circle of Sisters around the cauldron. The potion was complete and being stirred by the three most senior coven members: Nana Anne, Nana Evelyn (her niece Evie’s namesake) and Aunt Aileen. It was the job of the others to chant the spell, ensuring that the last word was spoken at precisely six minutes past seven. Fenella had often wondered about the significance of that time, but it was in one of the spellbook fragments that had survived unscathed and was very definite. The hour – or six minutes past – was fast approaching. She joined hands with her other Sisters and, at a nod from Nana Anne, started to chant. At the exact same moment, the three witches in charge of the cauldron changed direction with their ladles and stirred counter-clockwise.

The skies above darkened further, if such a thing were possible during a Scottish autumn. Angry clouds gathered overhead and the wind picked up, whistling round the old stone walls of the Kirk and sighing through the trees. The surface of the liquid in the cauldron became as shiny as glass, and even with the stirring of the ladles the massing clouds were reflected in it. The wind was howling now, sounding like the mournful cry of a dog, and Fenella’s scalp prickled. This felt different to the last time, sure enough. There was a…presence, that was the only word she could think of…to the storm, an intensity that she hadn’t encountered before. She chanted with more purpose, her voice stronger and clearer. The others had felt it too, even young Evie, whose face had lost its this-is-fun-because-I-shouldn’t-be-doing-it look and taken on a determined expression. As the climax of the spell was chanted and the ladles made their last turn counter-clockwise, the clouds reached down from the sky, tendrils of grey searching like groping arms in the dark until they found their target – the cauldron. The link that formed between the liquid and the clouds looked like the tornado from The Wizard Of Oz, except for the colours contained within it. The blue-black of the night sky vied with the steel grey of the clouds and the glassy texture of the potion, which itself flashed all the colours of a prism as the column spun faster and faster. Fenella twisted her wrist, not letting go of her Sister’s hand, and sneaked a glance at her watch. They had finished the chant at exactly six minutes past seven. Just as she looked back at the column, it collapsed in on itself, swirling into nothingness in the bottom of the cauldron. There was a single crack of thunder overhead, but no rain fell. Instead, the ensuing silence was absolute. Hardly daring to breathe, the Sisters all leaned forward, but cautiously, in case a massive hound jumped out of the cauldron at any moment.

This, unfortunately, did not happen.

What did happen was that from the cauldron came a short, sharp bark.

Evie was the first one to move forward. Letting go of her Sisters’ hands, she stepped forward three paces and peered over the edge. Her face broke into a massive grin.

“Has it worked?” Nana Anne asked eagerly – far too eagerly for a ninety-year-old woman, Fenella thought. And what a stupid question! If they had indeed conjured the huge black dog of legend, it should have bounded out of the cauldron at the precise moment that the column disappeared. There was no room in there for anything larger than – oh no – surely not…

“Well,” Evie said slowly, “It’s kind of worked…” She reached both arms into the cauldron. When they came out, they were holding a black dog.

A little black dog.

There was a moment of stunned silence. On the one hand, it was a dog. This was a definite improvement on last year. On the other hand, Auld Nick wasn’t going to be doing much terrorising this year either. He looked like…

“I think he’s a Scottie,” Evie said hesitantly. “That’s good, isn’t it? I mean, we are a coven of famous Scottish witches.” Fenella groaned.

“I suppose it is him?” asked Nana Evelyn. She stepped round the cauldron, careful of any treacherous tree roots, and stood beside her granddaughter. Smoothing the dog’s fur back, she checked behind his ear. Sure enough, there was the mark. “It’s him. Well. Sisters, we must congratulate ourselves. This is a step forward from last year.” The dog wriggled. Evie put him down on the overgrown floor of the Kirk. Once again, Auld Nick glared up at them with a reproachful expression. Being a dog this time rather than a beetle, it was much more effective. The Sisters hung their heads, not wanting to meet his eyes. All except Evie, who seemed oblivious to the undercurrents running between the little dog and the older coven members. She scooped him back up and cuddled him. He wriggled a few times, then gave up, barked his sharp bark again and licked Evie’s face with a long pink tongue. She giggled.

“He seems to like Evie,” Aunt Aileen remarked, as dog and girl proceeded to romp around the Kirk grounds, chasing each other, the one barking, and the other laughing. “He did last year, too. I wonder what that means?”

“Sisters!” Nana Anne’s voice, surprisingly strong, cut through all their thoughts. “I agree with Sister Evelyn. It is another step forward. I will study the text fragments and next year, I am sure we will succeed and bring forth Auld Nick in his true beast shape. And perhaps after that, we will do what our predecessors never succeeded in doing, and bring him forth in the ultimate form.” There was a pause as everyone considered the implications of that. From the woods, the excited barks of a small dog were heard, mingled with Evie’s shouts. Fenella wondered if she should make sure they were all right, and then decided she was worrying needlessly. Nobody else would be in the woods at this time of night in this weather. As a Scottie dog, the Evil One couldn’t do more than bite a few ankles anyway. And her niece was still too young to be of any danger. Fenella suspected, however, that when Evie came of age she was going to be a witch to be reckoned with. After all, they hadn’t succeeded in conjuring Auld Nick at all until last year – the first time Evie had been part of the coven. And on both occasions he seemed to prefer Evie’s company… Fenella resolved to bring this up at the next meeting. For now, let the Sisters revel in their nearly-success, and let Evie romp around with her new playmate.

“I expect he’s catching rabbits, or something,” cousin Jess remarked to Fenella, as they each sipped a mug of mulled wine to the background of whooping and excited barking. “Not quite sheep, but still… Must be boring, being cooped up Below. Bet he’s glad to get out in the world for a bit, even as a Scottie dog.” Fenella giggled, and then bit the laugh back. The older coven members wouldn’t approve, but now the drama of the ceremony was over, it all seemed ridiculous once more. Grown women in a freezing ruin, trying to summon the devil for a night of – what? If they ever truly succeeded, what were they going to do with him? Well, obviously, she and Jess…and maybe one or two of the others…but Nana Anne? Aunt Aileen? Fenella suspected that if Auld Nick did ever appear in all his glory, the coven would be seriously depleted, as several of the older members would die of a heart attack.

In the woods, Evie and her canine companion had ceased exploring the undergrowth and were now resting on a grassy bank, sheltered by the trees. Evie lay on her back, the little dog lying on her chest, gazing into her eyes. The young witch broke eye contact for a moment to stare up at the inky black sky through the bare branches above. Then she met the dog’s eyes again.

Her gaze was far more than that of a teenage girl.

“I’m sorry you’re not a huge hound,” she said. “I’m sure if I looked at the texts I could work it out, but they won’t let me until I’m sixteen, and that’s two years away. Mind you, they are getting better at figuring stuff out. I’m sure you’ll be a big dog next year. But that’s not the ultimate aim, is it?” The dog panted at her in that smiley way that dogs do, and licked her face again.

Evie smiled back. “The year after next, then. I’ll be sixteen – of age. They’ll let me read the spells. I’ll figure it out, and persuade them to try my suggestion. I can be very persuasive. Some of them didn’t want me in the coven last year, at thirteen, but I convinced them. So I’ll get my way, and then…” She paused to savour the delicious thought for a moment. So did her companion, his eyes sparkling and his tongue licking his lips – although he might have just been thinking about rabbits – or sheep. Evie doubted it, though.

She knew what witches had always really summoned the devil for.

“I’ll conjure you in the form of a man”.

(Apologies to a local legend for playing around with it, and being creative with the location of various landmarks. This was originally going to be a much darker story, but it went off in a different direction. I think the ending promises darker things to come, however…)


I may go from left to right any time now...

I may go from left to right any time now…

That’s right folks, little old me is in a BAD MOOD.

It’s been caused by various factors, which I’m not going to bore you with. Mainly because I’m still at the point where even thinking about them makes me angry. I had a go at writing some stuff down, and had to stop.

However, an amusing image popped into my head as I wondered whether to post today. Who’s seen The Lego Movie? I guess many people who know me would agree that I’m kind of like Unikitty. Positive, smiley, not given to ranting about every little niggle that comes my way.

Well, today I feel like Unikitty at the point where she BLOWS!

I found the picture above, which illustrates what could happen at any moment.

So don’t p*** me off, people. You have been warned! ;-)

I’m off to write about vampires. That always cheers me up. :-D

Things I Can’t Do Now I’m Over 40

A bout of illness which totally floored me this week got me thinking about this. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not about to give up screaming at rock bands, dressing up for Doctor Who events, and all the other things SOME people say I shouldn’t be doing. This is a lament for the toughness and downright elasticity of my youthful self. Here is a list of stuff I just don’t cope with now I’m no longer in my twenties or thirties:

1) Being ill. I remember being at University and getting infections, colds, and all manner of ailments, and just shrugging them off and getting on with it. I sniffled through lectures, added my own germs to lab work, and still went out on the town of an evening. Nowadays, I retreat under the duvet and feel sorry for myself until I feel better. (Maybe I’m a man?) ;-)

2) Lack of sleep. This does depend on what my day involves, but generally – forget it. I can get by on 6 hours for a day or so, but any less than that and I don’t make it through the day without a nap.

3) Hangovers. Nope. If I’m so foolish as to drink enough to get one, the whole next day is lost. I’ve surfaced to find the cats staring at me, trying to work out if I’m dead. This usually leads to a trail of clothes and jewellery that I’ve drunkenly discarded en route to falling into bed the night before, and if I’m lucky, a scattering of change left over from the pub and the taxi.

4) Getting Having a suntan. Newly discovered, this one. Getting it wasn’t the problem – and yes, I tanned very sensibly: high factor sunscreen, staying out of the midday sun, and all that. But I’ve gone through 3 vats of moisturiser and I only got back from my holiday 2 weeks ago. My skin obviously doesn’t cope with drying out that much any more.

5) Eating any damn thing from any damn vendor. Kebabs, suspicious hamburgers, greasy chips…you name it, I could eat it and my cast-iron stomach just sucked it up. Now, the tiniest dodgy molecule and all hell breaks loose. Literally. Too much information.

6) Not writing things down. I don’t remember making lists when I was younger. Okay, that was partly because I had nothing to do except: go to lectures (maybe), eat (any old crap from the takeaway will do), go to pub (definitely), go on to club (if legs still working after leaving pub). These days, I can barely remember to brush my teeth if it’s not on a list. Ho hum.

So, ladies and gents of a certain age, do any of these sound familiar? (Please say yes). Would you add any? I’m sure I’ll think of some more – I’ll have to write them in a list as I go along, though, otherwise I’ll forget… :-)

The good old days - ah, how I miss them. Yes, that is soon-to-be-long-suffering-hubby with his head in his hands...

The good old days – ah, how I miss them. Yes, that is soon-to-be-long-suffering-hubby with his head in his hands…

Release Day Blitz for ‘Rescued’, by Felice Stevens

Today, I’m pleased to let you all know about a book I’ve been eagerly awaiting. It may surprise some of you to find out that this cynical, smarty-pants, vampire-and-werewolf-lovin’ girl enjoys reading a good romance. What?! So when my friend Felice Stevens told me she was writing her first male/male romance, I could hardly wait. Read all about ‘Rescued‘ here. Love is love. xx


Release Day Banner.jpgBook Blurb: Ryder Daniels has spent the last year recovering from rejection: his parents couldn’t accept his sexuality and his lover chose drugs over his love. The only bright lights in his life are his younger brother and his rescued pit bull. But now his mother’s punishment for his lifestyle has cut him off from his brother he loves so deeply. Devastated, he throws himself into the work of the Pit Bull Foundation he and his friends started.
FS_Rescued_coverinJason Mallory can no longer hide the dissatisfaction of his relationship with his longtime girlfriend. When her marriage ultimatum pushes him to break things off, he’s determined not to jump into the dating scene. But when a group of injured pit bulls are found on his construction site, he can’t forget the guy who shows up to help.

After Jason adopts one of the dogs, he and Ryder become fast friends—until one night, Ryder lets down his guard and Jason recognizes his desire. Soon, they can’t deny the passion between them but will family differences and ugly prejudices keep them apart, or can they fight to prove that love is precious, no matter the flavor?

Author Bio: Felice Stevens has always been a romantic at heart. She believes that while life is tough, there is always a happy ending just around the corner. She started reading traditional historical romances when she was a teenager, then life and law school got in the way. It wasn’t until she picked up a copy of Bertrice Small and became swept away to Queen Elizabeth’s court that her interest in romance novels became renewed.

But somewhere along the way, her tastes shifted. While she still enjoys a juicy Historical RescuedPromo5.1romance, she began experimenting with newer, more cutting edge genres and discovered the world of Male/Male romance. And once she picked up her first, she became so enamored of the authors, the character-driven stories and the overwhelming emotion of the books, she knew she wanted to write her own.

Felice lives in New York City with her husband and two children and hopefully soon a cat of her own. Her day begins with a lot of caffeine and ends with a glass or two of red wine. She practices law but daydreams of a time when she can sit by a beach somewhere and write beautiful stories of men falling in love. Although there is bound to be angst along the way, a Happily Ever After is always guaranteed.

Connect with Felice Stevens
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