The Body of Isaac Cracklin
by Brian C. Petroziello
Thomas Van Horn slowly mounted the steps to the attic of his venerable brownstone. There was fear in each step as he hesitantly raised one foot and then another. The staircase was nearly dark, with but a single bare bulb inside the attic providing the only illumination. His fear grew as he crossed the threshold to the attic, and approached the center of the room where six tiny caskets lay. They were the size normally used for infants. He knelt and carefully opened the lids of each of the coffins and removed the bones within.
One had contained a skull; one the bones of a torso, while the each of the others had held arms and legs. Some of the bones were still covered by moldering pieces of clothing that he knew to be centuries old. He arranged the bones so that they were in their anatomically correct positions. He was breathing hard from the effort, and sweating from the fear, for Thomas Van Horn was not a young man.
He paused for a moment to catch his breath, and then produced a velvet bag from a pants pocket. He undid the drawstring, and, holding the end of the sack, tried to dump the contents into his hand. The object snagged on the fabric, forcing Van Horn to reach in and struggle to remove it. He finally managed to free it from the bag, only to have the object lacerate his index finger in the process. The thing was an amulet of obviously vast age. It was shiny, and not only reflected, but amplified, the light of the bare bulb, casting beams around the room.
In the center of the amulet was a large round black gem composed of a material he could not identify. He doubted that any geologist on the planet could identify the stone either. As he stared at the gem, mesmerized by the amulets reflections, a drop of blood from his finger splashed on the ebon stone. In the light of the bulb, the great shiny stone now seemed to pulse and change shape, as if it had a life of its own. He had unknowingly done the single thing that would now let him complete what he was about to do.
The amulet seemed to have a mind of its own as well, as it seemed to pull his hand in the direction of the bones laid out on the floor.
This terrified him he even more, and he paused, realizing that what he was doing was an abomination against nature. He tried to put the amulet back in the bag, but his hands could not move in any direction save toward the ancient skeleton. He crawled over to the bones, and laid the amulet on the brittle remainder of the sternum.
What happened next completely unhinged him.
A thick black, vile smelling smoke poured from the gem until it filled the attic room. The acrid smoke reminded him of something long dead. He choked, and covered his nose with his shirt. He coughed convulsively as he cowered on the floor. When the smoke cleared a few minutes later, the bones were gone. In their place stood a dark figure, wearing 17th century closing. The man's hair was an oily black, and long side burns flared out from his cheeks, nearly meeting at his chin. He lacked a beard otherwise. His hair was nearly to his shoulder, as was the fashion of those times. His eyes -- oh, those eyes -- smoldered with a raw red fire, like the flame of a candle. The amulet now hung around his neck on its finely wrought gold chain, and the gem now covered his heart; pulsing with the same rhythmic beat.
The man threw back his head, and laughed loudly. The evil sound reverberated around the attic. He stretched his muscles -- muscles that had not existed in over three hundred and fifty years, and then strode in the direction of the kneeling Van Horn, and cast him aside as if he were but a doll. The apparition disappeared down the steps, and out into the New York night.
Precinct Captain Pete Donovan walked gingerly to the far end of the squad room -- to the tiny corner that was home to the two desks that comprised the New York City Police Department's Special Crimes Section. The entire squad was in, seated at the two desks that faced each other. Vince Minelli was just hanging up his phone, while his partner, Brendan Mulhearn was concentrating on the manila folder in front of him.
To most of the rank and file, the Special Crimes Section was the subject of derision -- the butt of jokes, and snide remarks. In truth, Donovan used to feel that way as well, but he knew that these were two of the best detectives on the force -- and after he played a part in their recent investigation of the Mayor's kidnapping -- by -- well he still wasn't sure exactly what they were, but he knew the cases they investigated were strange, but they were not a joking matter.
They looked up at him when he reached their desks. He casually flipped small leather containers at each of them. They caught the objects nearly in unison.
"Tasers?" asked Mulhearn as he undid the flap, and examined the device.
"Yeah, I got a bunch of them to hand out as I see fit. I thought maybe you could use 'em on some spooks so's ya won't kill them -- oh -- yeah -- that's right -- they're already dead. Anyway, I thought they might come in handy. Oh, I'm sending some one back to see you. He looks like he's seen a ghost, so I figger he must be lookin' for the two of you," said Donovan with a smirk on his face.
After he left, Minelli spoke, "Bren, you should have left him in that worm hole thing," said Minelli.
"I don't mind him busting our chops," replied Mulhearn. "He's still about the only friend we have on the department -- and he keeps the Deputy Mayor off our back."
Minelli was playing with his Taser, pretending it was an electric shaver.
"You accidently hit that button, and it's going to be the closest shave you ever had," said Mulhearn, as an elderly gentleman approached their desks. He had an unhealthy, pale complexion. He noticed the man shaking ever so slightly, but he did not think that it was caused by any physical ailment. He did indeed look like he had just seen a ghost.
"Can we help you?" asked Minelli as Mulhearn motioned him to a seat alongside their desks.
"Are you Officers Minelli and Mulhearn?" he asked sheepishly. "I read about you in the National Inquisitor all the time. Your pictures don't do you justice, Detective Minelli... I don't know where else to turn. I fear that I have done something very terrible. You will want to arrest me."
Mulhearn had a difficult time believing that this frail old man was capable of committing any kind of crime, let alone something terrible.
"What exactly would that be?" asked Minelli.
"I believe that I have raised something evil from the grave, and it is killing people in the City," said the old man.
"Let's back things up a bit," replied Mulhearn, "before we start putting the cuffs on anyone, why don't you start at the beginning."
"My name is Thomas Van Horn. My family was among the early colonists to settle in New York City -- supposedly arriving around 1640. I have spent many years doing genealogical research, and compiling a family history. I have family bibles and other documents going back nearly to the beginning, but just when I should have found the very first mention of the Van Horns in America, I draw a blank. There were no mentions of any Van Horns around 1640, not on ship manifests, not even in the records of those who left the Netherlands, and the Dutch administrators of that time were very good at keeping records." The old man stopped and drew a deep breath before continuing.
"The first reference to any ancestor was to an Isaiah Van Horn, but that was much later, well after the family should have appeared in the early records. It noted his wedding, and the birth of several children in the early 1700s, but there were no records of his own birth -- although one family history says he was born on June 6, 1674. There was no record of his father, either, and only an oblique reference to the fact that his mother died during childbirth, as was so common at that time. But, strangely, it did not list his mother's name. These gaps in the documents were most unusual to say the least -- and most puzzling." Tears were welling up in Van Horn's eyes.
"As I dug further, I did find a reference in the margin of a Bible belonging to one of Isaiah's children -- it mentioned a sailing ship, the Morning Star. I though I had finally found the missing link, so I visited Holland, and found the original ship's manifests and logs. The ship did indeed sail to America in 1640 -- it included a passenger list, but this list did not match the records maintained by the colonists in America. One extra passenger had gotten off the ship in New York -- it was a nondescript Dutch name. I then checked the records in New York, but there is no further mention of him in the colonial records -- he simply disappears. When so many other records exist from those times, the lack of information regarding this man is strange to say the least," he said.
"Eerie strange?" asked Minelli. "Or just odd?"
"At first it was just odd. But I began to notice things. A page missing in the deed records, or a name crossed out in a church record. I was able to make a tracing of the next page of a crossed out birth record, and found the name of the father was one Isaac Cracklin. The child was a boy, and the date of birth matched that of Isaiah Van Horn. The record also noted the death of the mother in childbirth, matching our family records exactly. I was sure that I solved the mystery here in America as there were no other births recorded in the colony on that date.
"Armed with this new information, I returned to Holland, and found a record relating to that name. It was a criminal record. It appears that Isaac Cracklin had been accused of the murder of an infant, and hinted that there had been others. He was never arrested, or tried. I believe that he fled Holland under an assumed name, just ahead of the king's guards.
"I tried to find a record of his death in the New Amsterdam records, but the name Cracklin wasn't in any documents, nor was there any records in New York relating to the death of the passenger who surreptitiously stepped off of the Morning Star in 1640 -- or so I thought. I came across another record where the name was crossed out, just like in the birth record, and I repeated the tracing. It was him. I find it so strange that the officials of the time tried so hard to eradicate any reference to this man," he said.
"The date was close to the time that the Salem witch trials were going on -- 1692. "The municipal records for the time, did mention a witch trial -- right here in New York. It did not give a name, merely the initials: IC. But it was what I found out next that both shocked me, and piqued my curiosity at the same time. There was a list of charges against this man -- evil unspeakable things. I shudder to even think of the crimes on that horrible list. IC -- Isaac Cracklin -- I believe -- was tried in secret, convicted, and was sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out, obviously, but then -- and this is weirder still, his body was ordered to be dismembered, and each of the pieces of the body was to be placed in a tiny coffin, and the remains spread around New York. Only a handful of people knew all of the locations." At this point Van Horn began to shake visibly.
"Foolishly, I refused to be deterred -- this was now more than compiling a family history -- it was an all consuming mystery that in my madness I had to solve. Eventually, I was able to find the names of those people.
"By researching more church records, and their family histories, I thought I found all of the locations of the coffin. There were also off hand mentions of a certain amulet -- it was taken from Cracklin when he was arrested. The church leaders of the time feared this even more than Cracklin himself. It was shaped like a pentagram, and had a great onyx jewel in the center. They tried to destroy it by fire -- and the strongest blacksmiths of the time tried to take it a part. They could not even put a dent in the metal. When it came out of the flames it was as shiny and bright as when it went in -- not even a hint of soot from the furnace.
"The had no choice but to hide the amulet -- burying it deep in the woods that still covered the island -- buried there by a group of stone faced men who chose a rainy moonless night lest the object gain spectral energy from the light of the moon. The chronicle hinted that this charm was the source of Cracklin's evil, and that they feared it could bring him back from the dead if ever the parts of his body, and the amulet were ever brought together again. But, the charm did not stay lost. His son, Isaiah Van Horn, had followed the men, and watched them go about their grim task. He dug it up, and it has been passed down through our family ever since. I had seen this very talisman -- at my grandmother's. After her funeral, it was given to my mother with some of the other pieces of jewelry." Van Horn stopped and took a deep breath, then produced a handkerchief from a pocket, and wiped the sweat that now covered his brows like a flood.
"It took a while, but I was able to find the caskets, even though cemeteries had been moved, and churches were torn down. It took digging in subways, and cobweb covered basements, but finally I had them all. I hid them in the attic of my brownstone, and then, at the height of the full moon, I brought the bones and amulet together. Something terrible happened. When the smoke cleared, literally, Isaac Cracklin was alive. He left the brownstone. That was ten days ago. As you may know, there has been a series of terrible murders in that section of the city -- five in all -- terrible murders." He could hold back tears no longer. "I am sure that it is the work of Isaac Cracklin, and I am responsible for turning this terrible evil upon the world, so I am turning myself in."
"What makes you think that the murders are related?" asked Mulhearn.
"Or even that they are connected with this Cracklin guy that you claim you brought back to life?" probed Minelli.
"The record of his crimes that led to his execution -- they are too similar to be a coincidence," replied Van Horn.
Van Horn produced some folded newspaper clippings from the inner breast pocket of his jacket. "These are the murders." He held his hands out waiting for the detectives to put on the handcuffs.
Minelli and Mulhearn traded glances. Mulhearn spoke first. "Mr. Van Horn. We need to verify the information. The prosecutor will want to make sure he can prove his case in court. I'll take your address, and we will be in touch. Absolutely do not leave town. We will have officers watching your residence to make sure you don't go anywhere." Said Mulhearn with as much sternness as he could muster.
After Van Horn left, Minelli spoke, "Bren, what do you make of this?"
"I'm not sure. I've heard of the murders -- very gruesome, and homicide doesn't have a clue. Do you think that he could really bring a three hundred fifty year old man back to life?"
"Before we started this stuff, I would have bet my life that he couldn't." replied Minelli.
"Vince, we could be betting our lives if he did," said Mulhearn, as he picked up his phone. "Doc Reison?" he asked.
"Doc Reison," replied Minelli.
It was shortly after 1:30 in the afternoon when Minelli and Mulhearn pulled into the basement parking garage of the New York College of Parapsychology. They rode the elevator to the fourth floor, to the office of Professor Robert Reison, Dean of the college. He agreed to see them on short notice. Professor Reison, or "Mojo", as Minelli called him after the lyrics of the popular Doors song, had helped Minelli and Mulhearn on several occasions.
No sooner had they entered the waiting room when Reison's secretary, Karen motioned them in. Professor Reison was seated behind his ornate mahogany desk. He was tall, and wore a buttoned down sweater -- the universal symbol of academia. Wire rimmed glasses perched precariously on the bridge of his nosed, and his head was topped by a tangle of unkempt grey hair. A woman was seated next to his desk, she clutched a large, ancient looking book in her arms. Reison rose and greeted them. "Vince -- Bren -- it's been awhile. This is Paula Field, she's the head of the Department of Witchcraft and Wiccan Studies. I asked her to join us. She was very concerned when I told her about your problem." He motioned for them to take seats in the overstuffed maroon leather covered chairs.
Minelli thought he could detect a tremor in her hands, and she seemed to cling to the eldred tome even harder. There was an air of seriousness about the two professors that was normally lacking in these meetings. Reison usually took great pride in pointing out his art gallery of framed National Inquisitor covers that adorned his office wall, all of which featured the not so smiling face of Vince Minelli, usually with his hand outstretched in a vain attempt to prevent the photo from being taken.
Professor Field wasted no time in laying the book on the desk in front of the Detectives, the shaking in her hands was even more pronounced as they turned the pages of the book. She swallowed hard, and forced out the words as she pointed at the page. "I believe that this is the man you are looking for -- if he's really a man -- and he's really alive."
Minelli and Mulhearn looked in the direction indicated by her shaking finger to an illustration on the yellowed, cracked parchment. It was a woodcut of a figure -- tall, with flowing hair and trimmed beard. The carver was well practiced in his art, as the illustration was quite realistic, even down to the piercing evil look in the dark eyes. It sent chills up Minelli's spine, and Mulhearn shuddered involuntarily.
"The book was created in Spain, it is dated from the time of the Inquisition. It has crisscrossed Europe several times over the centuries until it ended up in a Jesuit library in Italy. It contains the accumulated knowledge of evil and witchcraft up to that time. The man in the illustration is Diego Juarez, a Spaniard by birth. He was a master of the black arts -- a very powerful warlock. If the legends are correct, he is at least six hundred years old -- possibly more. These killings -- if they are his work -- are ritual in nature, and they are intended to prolong his life," she continued.
"Juarez came to the attention of the Spanish Inquisition. He was accused of heresy and witchcraft. He was tortured terribly, and was put to death. One of his adherents stole the body, and removed it to Juarez' castle. In the warlock's study the acolyte found a stone -- quite possibly a remnant of a meteorite. The gem was reported to be as black as the darkest night, polished to a high sheen, and set in a pentagram shaped medallion. His acolyte placed the amulet on the chest of the life- less body, and smeared a drop of his own blood on the center of the black gem, causing it to spring to life. The gem transmitted the life force of the blood to the dead man, bringing him back to life." She was animated as she told the tale.
"We believe that the killings are necessary to sustain an alien life force in the stone, possibly extraterrestrial microbes. The blood is the food source for the aliens -- it recharges them. As long as he wears the amulet, Cracklin lives. He has used it over the centuries. The last time he was heard from, was in the 1600's. The authorities sought him in Amsterdam, and it was believed he stowed away on a ship bound for the New World, ending up in New York, where he committed a series of grisly murders. Church officials of the time caught him, tried him in secret, and sentenced him to death. They must have been aware of who he was, for after they executed him, they dismembered him, and buried the body parts separately. The hope was that no one would never find all of the parts to bring him back to life. The amulet was hidden as well, and the church elders who hid it were secretly executed over the next few months to make sure that the terrible trinket could never be found," she concluded.
"Thomas Van Horn undid their all of their careful planning," said Mulhearn. "Your story jives with the details that the scared old man gave us -- even down to the drop of blood on the stone."
"I felt his re-awakening. It was as if a sharp needle was jammed deep into my psyche. Others of our coven felt it too. In the world of old New York, Cracklin had to be very careful because of the small population. Today, there are so many potential victims, and he is probably feeling that he is safe because no one knows who he is. He will be bolder than ever. You must catch him detectives, before he starts building a following," said Professor Field. She looked genuinely terrified.
"We need you to do a little profiling for us. Where would we find him?" he asked. "We had homicide fax us some of the files, and there is a lot of forensic evidence, but none of it is leading them to a location."
"He is a satanist and he believes that he is the anti-Christ. He would most likely use an old church, or some place that is no longer sanctified." She leaned forward, and handed a folded paper to Mulhearn. "We have taken the liberty of making a list for you, based on the location of the murders to date. We are pretty sure that he is using one of them. We are trying to divine a more precise location, but he must sense our probings -- we have not been able to see him clearly. It is like some force is blocking our thoughts. He is clearly as versed in the black arts as the legends describe. He is very dangerous, detectives, but you must find him -- and quickly -- otherwise many more people will die."
"We will do our best to find him and arrest him," said Minelli.
Professor Field looked horror stricken. "No, detectives, a jail will not hold him, nor will an execution work. If he is amassing a following, they will simply dig him up and revive him again. I'm afraid he must be killed."
"That may not be possible," said Minelli. "There are protocols.
"If you find him, I am sure he will not give you a choice. If you kill him, our coven will do the rest. The Puritans had the right idea, but they failed in how they executed their plan. We know that the New York City police can not go about dismembering and burying a suspect. If you can find him -- and the amulet -- our coven will claim the body. Professor Reison can get in touch with us," she said as she retrieved the book.
There were nine locations on the list provided by Professor Field. The Detectives spent the next couple of days scouting the sites. There were no obvious signs of recent use at the first few locations. On the third day, they switched to the night shift for better hunting. They chose a location from the list that was not far from the garment district. It was an old Catholic church that had been abandoned several years before, but which the diocese had not gotten around to selling or tearing down. As they reconnoitered the structure, they thought that they noticed a light emanating from deep within the crumbling building. The detectives drew their weapons and made their way to the rear of the aging edifice. They found a window that was missing its grating, and Minelli used his handgun to knock the remaining glass from the frame.
The detectives eased into the church and used the beams from their penlights to explore the room. As they approached the stairs to the church proper, the beams revealed areas where the dust had been disturbed, and footsteps of recent vintage were discernible. They followed them to the area of the church that had housed the kitchen. A solitary candle burned dimly, nearly melted down to nothing. As they shot their beams around the room, pentagrams and other magical symbols leapt out at them, drawn crudely on the walls with a reddish brown substance that made them immediately think of dried blood.
They made their way up the creaking steps to the church proper. A thick layer of dust covered the rotting pews. This layer was very disturbed down the main aisle that led to the altar. The venerable altar, composed of white marble, flecked with gray, came under the light from the pen lights. It was a traditional ornate altar, backed with marble spires, looking like some great medieval cathedral shrunk in size -- a relic from a bygone era when such grandiose altars were the norm. It was so ancient that a modern altar, facing the congregation had never been built. As the detectives approached the raised altar they noticed that the altar, and the floor surrounding it were covered in dried blood. The sight sickened them in view of what they knew of the recent spate of murders.
Neatly arranged on the altar were several evil looking, curved, serrated knives and a golden bowl, all flecked with brownish stains. As they walked, their shoes stuck to the still tacky blood that covered the floor. As they surveyed the scene, they could hear muffled sounds coming from the basement.
"We've got company," whispered Minelli. As they made their way to the sanctuary behind the altar, they could hear the creaking of the steps, and the heavy footfalls of several people. From their vantage points on either side of the rear of the altar, they could make out a procession of men. A hooded acolyte, carrying a brass candle holder, topped by a large black candle, led a procession. Second in line was Cracklin, imposing in black, he strode purposefully toward the altar. He looked exactly as depicted in the eldred wood cut, with long flowing jet black hair, and a neatly trimmed beard that seemed to dance in the flickering candle light. This alone would have been unsettling enough, but the detectives were horrified to see that he carried a man in his strong right arm -- holding him as easily as if he were carrying a sack of flour.
The man, dressed in ragged clothes, befitting his lot in life as one of the homeless of New York, struggled to free himself to no avail. Cracklin did not even seem to even notice the man's flailing about.
Several other acolytes followed in the procession, also holding black candles.
Cracklin mounted the steps, and threw the man onto the altar with a loud thud, pinning the still struggling man until several of the acolytes were able to hold him down. Cracklin grabbed the bowl, and a large knife that had wavy serrations on both sides. He took up a position next to the prostrate form.
Minelli and Mulhearn had watched the proceedings from their hiding places. As the men set about their grim work at the altar, the detectives backed up so that they could see each other. Minelli had the misfortune to step on a loose floorboard that creaked audibly, echoing through the church. Cracklin stopped his incantation, and turned in the direction of the altar. He motioned to his acolytes, who ran in the direction of the noise.
Minelli crouched against the wall, and tripped the first man to come around the corner. He dropped the second with an overhand blow to the back of the man's head. Mulhearn fired at the third -- the bullet striking him in the shoulder, spinning him around, and sending him to the floor. A fourth acolyte stopped dead in his tracks, a look of horror on his face. The detectives thought it was because the man had come to his senses, but could not know it was because the devotee could see the dark bulk of Isaac Cracklin quietly coming up behind Mulhearn. The man clearly feared Cracklin more than anything human.
Mulhearn realized his peril too late. He whirled to face Cracklin who struck a backhand blow that sent him flying across the apse until he hit the far wall. Consciousness fled as the detective slid down the wall, and littered the floor in a heap. The remaining acolyte ran for the steps.
Minelli didn't hesitate, and fired at Cracklin. The bullet ricocheted off of the otherworldly amulet that Cracklin wore. It stunned the warlock momentarily, but before Minelli could fire a second time, Cracklin closed the distance, and embraced Minelli in a bear hug, forcing the air through the detective's lungs until he passed out. When he could feel Minelli stop struggling, Cracklin simply tossed him aside. He went back to the prostrate form of Mulhearn and dragged him to the altar. He used the ceremonial knife to cut off Mulhearn's trademark kelly green tie, and sliced open his shirt.
Cracklin began his incantation anew. Minelli could hear the old man's intonation as his consciousness returned. As his head became clearer, the deep voice of Cracklin's incantation spurred him to action. He did not waste time trying to find his weapon, but ran straight in the direction of the altar. He hurled himself at Cracklin, sending the warlock reeling, knocking him off of the altar, and sending the deadly knife clattering to the floor. Minelli rose and ran again at the crouching form of the warlock. The two met in a tremendous collision; each man getting knocked backward. Minelli thought he heard the old man's bones crack, but it did not seem to slow him down in the least. The warlock charged at Minelli with a roar, but the detective managed to sidestep him, and Cracklin slid across the floor. Minelli struggled to stand, and as he felt the painful area of his hips, he brushed against the newly issued taser. He fumbled to open the flap on the leather case, and produce the device.
Cracklin rose slowly, and faced the detective. A twisted grin of pure evil made him look even more horrific in the uneven flickering candlelight. He took measured steps in Minelli's direction. The detective held the taser in front of him and felt for the trigger. He depressed the button, and twin darts streaked in Cracklin's direction. One dart struck the metal of the amulet, while the other hit the alien stone. For a moment, a circuit was formed, and the electrical charge from the wires coursed through the amulet and the stone, resulting in a large explosion, which sent brightly colored pieces of molten metal flying in all directions. The energy released by the explosion tore into Cracklin's body, shattering it, and tearing him to pieces.
Minelli ached everywhere, and was bleeding from several wounds. He burned his fingers as he tamped out the tiny fires that erupted on his clothing. When he was satisfied that the danger was past, he sought out his partner, who was just waking up.
The other officers who later secured the scene must have thought it strange that Professor Field and several other members of the staff of the New York College of Parapsychology, dressed in the uniforms of a phony environmental cleaning company, were collecting as many parts of the corpse of Isaac Cracklin, and the strange medallion as they could, and were placing them in small wooden coffins. They would have been amazed to learn that the next morning, the coffins were escorted on separate planes to far flung places around the world for a decidedly un-Christian burial.
© 2008 Brian C. Petroziello
Bio: Brian C. Petroziello is an attorney in Dayton, Ohio. His stories have appeared a number of times in print in Black Petals, Amazing Journeys and Escaping Elsewhere, and the anthology Unparalleled Journeys II and have also appeared on line in Aphelion, Dark Fire UK, Unhallowed Sanctum, Planet Magazine, Descending Darkness, Fools Motley, Bewildering Stories, Crime and Suspense and Yellow Mama. Another Minelli and Mulhearn story is scheduled to appear in a future edition of Ethereal Gazette. Brian's most recent appearance in Aphelion was Jensen's Holler, April, 2007.
Website: Brian C. Petroziello - The Official Writing Website
E-mail: Brian C. Petroziello
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