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Nessie and the Living Stone

   
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text © 2000 by Lois June Wickstrom and Jean Lorrah

illustrations © 2000 by Sara Strand

Chapter One--The Magic Stone

        "Craig! Linda!" It was Roy, the tan, college-aged Loch Ness Coast Guard, bossing them again.  Roy zoomed his patrol boat up beside them near the shore of Loch Ness. "Craig! Linda!  How many times do I have to tell you?  Stay out of the water.  I don't want to have to rescue you."  Then he roared away again.  Roy always seemed to be watching them, trying to ruin their fun. Up the hill behind them, Craig could see Mrs. Carmichael, the hostess at the Bed and Breakfast, hanging out sheets beside the shed.  She, too, always seemed to be watching them.

When school vacation started, Craig was happy to be away from bossy teachers.  But now he was learning that wherever he went, all the grownups wanted to tell him what to do. Not just in Birmingham, where he lived in a tall apartment building, but here on the shore of Loch Ness, too.

Two whole weeks he had been here, and he hadn't caught even a glimpse of the Loch Ness Monster.  And Mom had put him in charge of his bratty little sister, Linda.  She tagged along behind him, picking purple flowers along the shore, and sticking them in her braids. Sticking flowers in her hair was just plain stupid.

And every time she saw a floating log, or even a wave behind a motor boat, she yelled, "I see her!  I see Nessie!" 

Craig was so tired of saying, "No, you don't!  It's not her!" that he walked along in silence, kicking the rounded  pebbles along the shoreline with his bare toes.

The warm summer sun beat down on his back, and Craig gazed out across the water.  On the opposite shore of the long, narrow lake stood a glen of rounded trees.  Wild fowl squawked as they dove for fish. Craig had high hopes when he and his parents left the brick buildings and crowded sidewalks of Birmingham.  He was going to see Nessie.

Two more days.  The day after tomorrow they would leave.  His chance to find Nessie would be gone!

Craig kicked some pebbles along the shore. 

Suddenly the earth lurched beneath him.  Books and drinks on stands beside the lounge chairs toppled. A large wave came up from Loch Ness, soaking him and Linda waist high.  An earthquake!  he thought.

The wave receded, and Craig kicked another pebble.  He heard a ping, then a chime.  He looked down.  Something, the size of a shooter marble, glowed blue.  He bent down and picked  it up.  His fingers tingled against the smooth warm glass-like stone.  Did this belong to someone?    It looked like a smooth old-fashioned jewel, carved for a special setting.

Other tourists farther back on the shore hadn't been splashed at all.  They were dashing about, calling to family or friends, making sure no one was hurt.

No one seemed interested in Craig's find.  The warm blue sphere pulsed in his hand. Blue fire flashed in its center. "What's that?" asked Linda.  "Can I touch it?" He stuffed it into his pocket, and pretended to ignore her.

In the water, he saw another glow, green this time.  Another wonderful stone? 

"This one's mine!" shouted Linda.  She jumped into the Loch and splashed towards it.  "I see her!  I see Nessie!" 

Craig started to yell, "No you..." but the stone in his pocket pulsed warmly against his leg, and he thought he saw the green glow move.

He dashed into the lake, to where Linda was standing, and looked down into the deep dark cloudy water.

A large head, like a swimming dinosaur with fiery green eyes, stared up at them from the murky water.  Linda took his hand, silently.                        

He'd never seen anything so big in his life!   It had to be Nessie!

The Coast Guard boat whirred in front of them.  Roy raised his megaphone to his lips, "Get out of the water!"  Had Roy seen Nessie?  Was he shooing them away so he could capture her? 

Roy didn't sound excited.  He used the same bossy voice he always used, "Get out of the water! Now!" Roy's boat came closer.  The water was cloudy with sand raised by the earthquake.  Nessie was too far down for Roy to see unless he came as close to her as Craig and Linda. He was coming closer by the second.

"Come on, Linda!" shouted Craig.  "Let's get out of the water!" He didn't want Roy to come close enough to see Nessie.  If they got out of the water, Roy would leave them alone.  Linda kept walking toward Nessie's green glowing eye.

Craig grabbed Linda's hand to pull her back.  The dinosaur dove, creating a strong undertow that caught Craig unaware.  He was pulled under and scared. Then the stone in his pocket pulsed and his fear disappeared.  Linda still held his hand. Even though he had his Red Cross Swimmer's certificate, he couldn't swim with his sister holding one hand.  He could just hear his mother saying, "You're ten. You're the big brother. Is this how you take care of your little sister? You get her drowned?"  He tried to shake her off.  They were still near enough to the surface that she might make it, if she started swimming up now. 

But instead of swimming for the surface, Linda clung to him with both hands as they were pulled deeper and deeper.

They tumbled  helplessly in Nessie's wake.  It felt like forever before the monster finally came to a halt.  When he found his balance, Craig looked into the face of a large green dinosaur with a long neck and huge flippers.  It had long purple stripes on both sides, like racing stripes, and purple spots down its back as big as frisbees.  He took a deep breath before he thought--I'm under water.  How can I breathe?  He looked at Linda.  Bubbles came out of her mouth.  She was smiling.

The dinosaur turned abruptly, flicked its tail, and dove even deeper.  This time, there was no undertow.  Craig tried to follow the dinosaur.  He swam with one arm, towing Linda with the other.  He gave a firm kick, and the stone fell out of his pocket.

He gasped for air and his mouth filled with water.  Linda dug her fingernails into his arm.  Craig kicked the scissors kick he'd learned in life-saving class.  And stroked hard with his one free arm.

His lungs hurt. Linda was a dead weight. The surface of the water flickered far above them.  And there in the water was Roy.  He had a tank of air on his back.  Roy dove down, grabbed Craig with one arm, and Linda with the other.  Then with his flipper-clad feet, he kicked their way to the surface.

Roy dragged them roughly to the shore and dumped them on the pebbles.  A chill breeze revived Linda.

"I told you to stay out of the water," he growled at them.  "If I have to rescue you again, I'll send your parents a bill."

As if on cue, there were his parents running down the hill from the B&B.  His mom was waving her arms wildly.  His dad was yelling at her, "How could you trust that washerwoman to look after our children?"  Tears streaked Mom's face as she lifted Linda in her arms.  Craig saw that his mom's tears were from being yelled at; not because she was worried about Linda. Linda was fine. She was already squirming to get out of Mom's arms and onto the shore.

Mom shouted, "Somebody! Get me a blanket! Quickly! My baby might go into shock!"  A tourist brought a beach towel.  Mom grabbed it and wrapped Linda, gushing, "Thanks. You're a doll."

Then she turned to Craig, "How could you let your sister go in the water?  She nearly drowned!"

"I tried to warn them, Ma'am," said Roy.

"Yeah, right," said Craig. "You knew there was going to be an earthquake!"

"You apologize right now," said Craig's mom.  "That's no way to talk to a man who just saved your life!"

Craig looked at his dad, hoping for reason.  "Nobody knew there was going to be an earthquake."

Craig's dad's cheeks turned red. "You apologize when your mother tells you to!"

"I apologize," said Craig to nobody in particular.

"I saw Nessie," said Linda.

"No, you didn't," said Roy.  "You disobeyed the Loch Ness Coast Guard and nearly drowned!"

"We really saw Nessie," said Linda.

"No you didn't!" said Roy.  "You were too close to the water, and the earthquake toppled you in.  Maybe now you'll understand why you shouldn't play along the shoreline.  Go up to Mrs. Carmichael's, and don't let me catch you on the shores of Loch Ness ever again!"

Mom put Linda down, wrapped in the tourist's towel.  Craig and Linda obediently walked up the slope to where Mrs. Carmichael was hanging up more laundry beside her shed.  Roy climbed back into the Coast Guard boat and roared away across the lake.  Both of their parents followed closely behind them. Why do grownups think that good parents stick close to their children? wondered Craig. Children would never grow up if they were supervised all the time.

"You've got to get that pretty stone back!" whispered Linda.

"It's at the bottom of the loch by now," Craig whispered back.

"You've got to look for it! You've got to try!" insisted Linda.

"How am I going to get away from all these grownups?" asked Craig.

"Mom and Dad have to entertain a client this afternoon," said Linda.  "You only have to deal with Mrs. Carmichael."

"What if Mrs. Carmichael tries to stop me?" asked Craig.

"I'll keep her busy," volunteered Linda.  "When you see her backside, run for it!"

"Maybe you're not useless, after all," said Craig, still rubbing his arm where her fingernails had left red dents.

Once they were at the B&B, Craig's mom herded them to their guest room.  "Stay in your room and take a nap now.  You must be tired from all that excitement."

Craig didn't protest.  If she thought he was in his room, she wouldn't be looking for him on the shore of Loch Ness.  Funny how grownups never suspect anything when you act obedient.

Linda pulled a wilted flower out of one braid.  "My braids are ruined," she whimpered.

"Take a nap now, honey.  You know I'm no good at braids.  You can ask Mrs. Carmichael when you wake up."  Mom patted Linda's head, something she knew Linda hated.

Linda whined, "I want my braids fixed now!"

Dad stood in the doorway and said, "Can't you get her to be quiet?"

"I'll get Mrs. Carmichael," said Mom.

"Just do it quickly," said Dad.  "We have to meet my customer for afternoon tea."

Dad glared at them while Mom went to get Mrs. Carmichael. Craig closed his eyes and pretended to be sleepy.

When Mom returned, Dad said, "Now go put on your dress and makeup. We're running late."

Dad herded Mom down the hall and Mrs. Carmichael said, louder than necessary, "So, you're the little maiden who wants flowers in her hair."

Linda bounced around on her bed, causing it to squeak, and making it difficult for Mrs. Carmichael to brush out her braids.

"You wouldn't be trying to distract me, now would you?" said Mrs. Carmichael, a slight grin forming at the corners of her mouth.

Linda winked at Craig.  Putting flowers in her hair might be stupid, but at least this time it served a purpose.

"Now Linda, face the back window so Mrs. Carmichael can brush your hair," said Craig.

"But I like to keep a watch for Nessie out the front window," said Mrs. Carmichael.  "I wouldn't want to miss her, you know.   Especially since you two already saw her once today, she must be up and about."

Craig groaned.  Linda turned obediently to face the back window.

"You don't have to obey your brother, you know," said Mrs. Carmichael.  "Don't you want to look for Nessie?"

"I want to look at your flowers," said Linda.  She bounced on the bed a few more times to find the place with the loudest squeak.

"Oh well, my flower garden is lovely, too," said Mrs. Carmichael.  "We can decide which flowers you want for your hair while I brush out the tangles."

Craig waited. He heard his mother's high-heeled shoes clack down the hall, accompanied by his father's heavy tread.  Then the door of the B&B opened and closed.  Finally, he watched his parents get into their rented car and drive away.

"Are you going to help us pick out girly flowers?" asked Mrs. Carmichael, turning to face him.

"I'll leave that to you girls," said Craig, picking up a book and pretending to read.

"Look at those yellow daisies," said Linda pointing. 

"You can have some of those," said Mrs. Carmichael, leaning toward the window.  Craig saw his chance and sneaked to the door of their room, which Mrs. Carmichael had left open just enough for him to squeeze through.  He heard her say, "and some violets, too," as he sneaked down the hall.  "They're lovely.  But they're nothing compared to the singing flowers that grow at the bottom of the loch.  Sometimes, my nets wash up with singing flowers caught in their ropes."

Linda bounced on the squeaky bed again, making enough noise for him to open the door, step out, and close it again, unnoticed.

He dashed down the slope to the shore.  The dinosaur was gone.  The tourists were gone. Roy was on the other side of the loch.  But, where was his stone?  Suddenly, the earth shook again.  An aftershock.  Another wave soaked him to the waist.  And as it receded, there was his stone again, on the shore.  He bent down, picked it up, and put it back into his pocket.

 

Chapter Two--Nessie

 

That night, Craig's family sat around the fire at Mrs. Carmichael's Bed and Breakfast, drinking tea and eating scones with the other guests.  Everybody wanted to talk about the earthquake.

Filan McDuff, a sailor from Glasgow, said he'd been fishing out across the loch.  And he'd almost reeled in the biggest catch of his life when sudden waves rocked his boat and his line snapped. Another guest told about climbing the ruins of Urquhart Castle. They passed around instant pictures of themselves standing against weathered stone walls. "See, there's another crack in the wall in this second picture.  That's after the earthquake."

"Loch Ness is one of a chain of lakes," said Filan McDuff.  "I've always thought there was a fault line under there.  But this is the first earthquake I've heard of in this region."

"I'm not sticking around for another one," said Craig and Linda's mom.

"We saw Nessie," said Linda, bouncing to show off the yellow and purple flowers in her hair.

"No, you didn't," said their dad. "But your braids look lovely," he added.

"Well, if it wasn't Nessie, it was a big dinosaur," said Craig, defending his sister.

"Itís not like you to side with your sister," said their dad.  "Are you two pulling my leg? Craig, you're a big boy, and I expect better behavior from you than lies to amuse your sister."

"We really saw her," insisted Linda, pushing a daisy back into her braid.  "She has green eyes and purple stripes."

Craig's mom patted his dad's shoulder.  "Let them enjoy their fantasy, dear.  They wanted to see Nessie.  And now they think they have.  They'll come home happy."

"We did see her," said Craig.  "And, I found this," he took the pulsing blue stone from  his pocket.

"That's pretty, dear," said his mother.  "It looks like a bit of an old bottle."

"May I see it?" asked Mrs. Carmichael.

"You promise to give it back?" asked Craig.

Mrs. Carmichael moved her fingers in an X over her heart.  "Cross my heart and hope to die," she said.

Craig nodded seriously and held out the stone.  Mrs. Carmichael lifted the stone up to the glow of the fireplace, as if it were a precious jewel.  Then she licked her finger and touched its wet tip to the blue stone.  "Och, yes," she sighed.  "It still tingles."  She looked back at Craig and Linda, and said softly, "This is a living stone."

"What does that mean?" asked Craig.

"The stone has a mind of its own," said their hostess.

"How can a stone have a mind?" asked Craig.

"Don't encourage them," said Craig's dad.  "The children have more than enough imagination as it is."

Mrs. Carmichael ignored the interruption.

"Stones think, just like you and me," she said.  "But a living stone is a wizard among stones.  Some say they were made by wizards."

She handed the stone back to Craig, who immediately put it back into his pocket.

"Maybe that's why Nessie wants the stone," said Linda.

"You didn't see Nessie," said her dad.

"If Nessie wants the stone, why didn't she take it when I dropped it?" asked Craig.

Mrs. Carmichael winked at Craig.  Then she picked up the plate of scones and offered everyone another. 

Craig's father said, "I've got something better than an old marble."  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bag full of whistles in every color of the rainbow. "I give these to my clients to remind them to call me."  He passed the bag to Filan McDuff, who took one and passed it to Craig.  Craig wanted one of each color.  He grabbed a handful, and passed the bag to Linda.

"You mustn't be so selfish," said Mrs. Carmichael.

Craig held onto his whistles.  The bag still had plenty. His dad didn't need all of them.

"He's young.  He'll learn," said Filan McDuff.  "It's what we give, not what we take, that makes us heroes or monsters."

Craig said, "Nessie looks like a monster."

"We've heard enough about Nessie for one night," said Craig's mom.  "It's nearly time for the children to go to bed."

"People have been seeing Nessie for hundreds of years," continued Mrs. Carmichael, ignoring Craig's mom.

"Has anybody ever caught her?" asked Craig.

"No," said Mrs. Carmichael, "but many have tried." As she spoke, she poured milk into Craig's tea.  "Nessie's a fast one, and she dives deep.  The loch is 233 meters deep, and Nessie goes all the way down." 

"I'm one who's tried," said Mr. McDuff.  "You'll never catch her, unless she wants to be caught."

"I'd like to try," said Craig.  He sipped his tea.

His mother glared at their hostess, and then at him.  "That's enough about Nessie!  You nearly drowned today. I don't want you going near the loch ever again.  If it were up to me, we'd leave this dangerous place tonight and never come back."

"Now dear, you know we have to see my client again tomorrow.  Mrs. Carmichael can watch the children again.  She'll keep them out of the water."  Dad glared meaningfully at Mrs. Carmichael.

"They'll be safe with me," she said. "They can help me with my nets in the shed."

"Now go up to bed. Both of you," said Mom.

Craig made a face, put his cup carefully down on the table, and got up to go.

"What good are nets?" asked Craig, hoping to get out of unexpected work.  He'd heard fishermen talking about folding nets.  It sounded both boring and hard.

"Nets catch wonderful things," said Mrs. Carmichael.

Linda's eyes sparkled.

"A fishing net will ne'er catch Nessie," said Filan McDuff, as if reading Linda's mind.

"What does it matter?" asked Craig's father.  "There's nothing there to catch, and the children aren't going near the water."

"I'll bet my nets could catch Nessie," said Mrs. Carmichael to Filan McDuff.

"I want to catch Nessie," said Linda, bouncing in her chair, yellow and purple flowers falling out of her pigtails.

"I could take them fishing tomorrow with the nets," said Filan McDuff.

Mom said, "No. I can't let them near the loch.  They almost drowned today!  Roy made me promise to keep them away from the water."

"Roy means well," said Mrs. Carmichael. "But I doubt your children were drowning.  He hates to see anybody swimming in the loch.  He thinks it will scare Nessie away, and he wants to catch her himself.  He says he's going to stuff her and put her into a museum."

"We can't allow that," added Filan McDuff.  "And Nessie wouldn't let your children drown, unless they were trying to hurt her."

"Why are you feeding their fantasies?" groaned Mom.  "I'm trying to get them to bed."

"Is your net strong enough to catch a monster?" Craig asked Mrs. Carmichael.

"I don't know," said their hostess, "but it's caught plenty of fish.  Nobody has caught Nessie, so it's hard to know for sure."

"Isn't catching Nessie the same as hurting her?" asked Craig's father.

"That depends on whether Craig lets her go again," said Filan McDuff.

"What's the point of catching her if you just let her go?" asked Linda.

"Nessie will teach you that," said Mrs. Carmichael.

"Why are you two egging them on?" asked Craig's mom.  "You know Nessie isn't real, and if she were, they'd never catch her in a fishing net."

"And they aren't going near the water," said Craig's father.  "That's final."

"Now upstairs to bed with both of you; no more dawdling," said their mother.

Craig and Linda went upstairs silently, but as soon as they turned the corner into the hall, they began whispering. 

"We have to get that net," said Craig

"You can't just run off with it when you're supposed to be folding it," said Linda.

"Of course I can," said Craig. "I sneaked off and got the magic stone today, didn't I?"

#

All night Craig clutched his stone under the bedcovers while he slept. He dreamed of Nessie, her green eyes beckoning to him.  Follow me!

The next morning, Mrs. Carmichael served fluffy scrambled eggs, buttered toast with jam, greasy bacon, warm slices of ham, grilled tomatoes, and black pudding for breakfast.  She poured juice, tea, coffee and milk.  Their parents kept eating and eating.  Craig thought breakfast would never end. 

Linda kept bouncing in her chair and shouting, "I'm not hungry.  I want to fold the nets!"  Craig thought the same thing, but was about to kick Linda under the table for giving them away, when Mrs. Carmichael said, "Sit patiently with the rest of us."

When everyone was finally done eating, Craig's mom said, "Now, children, be good guests and help Mrs. Carmichael clear the table."

Craig glared at his mother. They were on vacation.  He shouldn't have to do chores on vacation!  But he knew his mother was just delaying his hunt for Nessie.  He picked up his plate and Linda's and carried them to the kitchen.  He couldn't risk letting Linda drop hers and break it.  Not this morning.  They'd never get to hunt Nessie.

Finally, when the table was clear, Craig was ready to head for the shed.

"Now help Mrs. Carmichael wash and dry the dishes," said his mother.

Craig scowled at her, but he didn't dare complain.

 Linda said, "I want to ... go outside and play."

Filan McDuff said, "I'll help with the dishes.  That way we'll get finished faster."

Their dad said, "See. The children will be busy all day with chores. They'll be safe.  Now quit worrying.  It's time to go. Dad led Mom out to the car opened the door for her in a big show of chivalry.  Then he strutted around to the driver's side, adjusted the mirrors, and finally drove away.

"Can we go fold the nets now?" asked Linda.

"After the dishes are put away," said Mrs. Carmichael.

Eventually, after the last dish was dried and put away, Mrs. Carmichael led Craig and Linda out to the shed.  Filan McDuff pulled out his boat and started dragging it down the slope.  Mrs. Carmichael led Craig and Linda to the back of the shed. Linda walked into a cobweb and screamed.   In the back, a tangled old net lay on the dirt beside an old mossy wood ladder.  Musty odors filled the air when Mrs. Carmichael moved the ladder out of their way.

The cords of the net were thick and yellow. It looked surprisingly clean for having been kept in that shed.  Craig grabbed one corner and Linda took another.  They tried to straighten it out, but it only tangled worse.  Mrs. Carmichael took a third corner and helped them lay it flat.

"I have to go inside and wash the sheets," she said. I trust you'll have it all folded neatly by the time I get back.

When she was out of sight, Craig said, "We don't really have to fold it to take it."

Linda said, "It will be easier to carry if you do."

  Craig and Linda folded the net. It was so heavy Craig could barely carry it. Even through his T-shirt, the net felt rough against his chest.  He was surprised to discover that it smelled of fresh honeysuckle. Perhaps the net was magical, too.

"Hurry," said Linda. "Mrs. Carmichael might be back any minute."

"I'm going to bring the net back." said Craig. "It's not as if I was stealing it."

It was still too early and misty for tourists to be out sunning themselves, but the summer air was already warm. Craig carried the net down the driveway, down the slope, to the shore of Loch Ness, unseen.  Linda tagged after him. 

Mist covered the lake, and cool breezes tousled Craig's hair.

Craig laid the net on the pebbles beside a patch of purple wildflowers.  The mist was so thick he could barely make out the lights from the Coast Guard ship halfway across the lake. It was coming toward them. They'd have to hurry before Roy saw them and ordered them up the slope again. If only he didn't have to take Linda! She always slowed him down. Right now, she was picking purple flowers to give to Nessie.

He felt the stone in his pocket. Its tingle went all the way up his arm.  A few fish swam by, but no dinosaurs.

He looked back up at the Bed and Breakfast.  Mrs. Carmichael was hanging out sheets. She wasn't looking for him.  Maybe she thought he was still in the shed with the net. Come on, Nessie! he thought. This is my last day here.  Show yourself!

"Come, Nessie," called Linda, as if calling a dog.  They could just jump in and start hunting.  But under water, how could they throw the net?

Craig looked longingly into the murky water.  It rippled. Something glowed green--two big eyes.  Craig's heart beat rapidly.  Nessie was back!

"I see Nessie!" shouted Linda.

Filan McDuff's boat pulled into view at the edge of the mist.

"I hope McDuff doesn't see her or us," said Craig.

Nessie poked her head out of the water.  "I see her! I see her!" shouted Linda, jumping and bouncing her braids. 

Craig threw the net as hard and as far as he could.  It completely covered Nessie's huge head, trapping her--but Craig was trapped too!  The net wrapped around his arms like tentacles. Linda clung onto his leg.  He couldn't swim now if he wanted to, with only one leg free.  Nessie dove, struggling to escape the trap.  She pulled Craig and Linda after her.  

Craig gave a yelp of surprise and fear as he was dragged under.  This was not what he had planned!  Having Roy pull him out right now wouldn't be so bad.  Roy really was there to help.  Craig understood that now.

Just as Craig's head went under, he heard  Filan McDuff shout, "I'll get the Coast Guard!"

But from up on the hillside, Mrs. Carmichael called, "You've got her!"  She didn't seem frightened at all--she was cheering them on.

Nessie dove down and down, far below where she let Craig go the last time.  Fish glowed, mysterious lights flickered, and snatches of music met his ears.  Underwater plants undulated.  Nessie dragged them deeper and deeper.

Was he drowning?  Was that why such strange things were happening?  But he could still breathe, and Linda, hanging onto his leg, was blowing bubbles and smiling.  Her pigtails streamed over her head as the surface dimmed above them.

Everything turned dark.  Craig couldn't even see Nessie's glowing green eyes.  They must be all the way at the bottom of Loch Ness, 233 meters below the surface.  Terrified that he would be unable to breathe if he lost the stone, Craig managed to free one hand from the net and push his magic blue stone deeper into his pocket.

He looked up, but could not see the surface of the water.  Even Roy would never look for him this far down.  If he lost his stone now, he and Linda would drown long before they could reach the surface of the lake.  It was so dark he wasn't even sure which way was up any more.

They had set out to capture Nessie--but Nessie had captured them!

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