New free fiction from Billy Bob Richardson, author of the breakout bestseller, So, you want to live past next Tuesday?.
What does Hollywood know?
Billy Bob Richardson
Raymond W. Garfield. That’s what his mom called him when she was mad or very serious. Mothers used that tone of voice and your whole name like it was some kind of condemnation. “Raymond W. Garfield take that trash out now! Or Raymond W. Garfield where have you been?” Was there some kind of class that mothers attended to get just the right tone to make you feel about two inches high? Had to be.
He was Raymond to his mom but to friends just Ray did well enough. That’s when your friends weren’t being clever and called you other less pleasant names, like Jerkwad.
Ray’s dad had always joked, “Call me anything as long as you remember to call me to dinner!” Every time she heard her husband utter those much used words, Ray’s mom would roll her eyes and shake her head with that “men will be boys” look on her face.
Even now that memory could bring a smile to Ray’s face.
He was daydreaming about names and friends as he looked out the front window of his mom and dad’s house. The most prominent feature in his sight was the Zombie Emergency Response Vehicle. That usually made him smile as well. It was a sight to see sitting out front. Not out front in the street or out front in the driveway. Nope it was sitting right there in the middle of his dads pride and joy. The greenest and most well maintained lawn in the neighborhood. The worst thing wasn’t that it was sitting in the middle of the yard. What was worse was the twin six inch deep ruts leading from the street and circling the yard a couple of times.
Somewhere along the way good friends and a harmless hobby had not only gone out of kilter but had blown up in his face. The Zombie Emergency Response Vehicle had its roots in the zombie craze that took the nation by storm. The Walking Dead TV program had hit the nation like a whirlwind and the zombie culture was born.
Ray and his friends had jumped on the runaway zombie train with a laugh and a will. At first there were Walking Dead parties and endless discussions about what zombies would do in the apocalypse and how Ray and his friends would fight the zombie hordes off.
It seemed like half the people he and his friends knew were zombie fans. Following in the footsteps of millions of fans Ray and the guys talked, ate and slept zombies.
At seventeen Ray had a job weekends and after school working for Mr. Hasenpfeffer. Mr. Hasenpfeffer was the proprietor of one of the very few remaining gas stations in the area that still had a garage attached to it. Ray had always liked tinkering with cars and Mr. Hasenpfeffer was a patient and good teacher. Ray reached the point where he was assigned significant rebuilds.
A local brought in a 2000 Nissan crew cab that had some serious issues. Mr. Hasenpfeffer tried to talk him out of having it repaired, pointing out that the truck wasn’t really worth spending all that money on. The man very insisted it be repaired. Logic didn’t seem to be the man’s strong suit. In the end he was never able to pay for the job. After giving the man many opportunities to pay up Mr. Hasenpfeffer had to put a mechanics lean on the vehicle. Since no payment was every forthcoming the state issued a new title for the truck and it became the property of Mr. Hasenpfeffer.
Mechanics were paid by the job. They didn’t receive any money for it until the owner of the vehicle picked it up and paid what was owed. Basically Ray was out of luck. Mr. Hasenpfeffer decided it was only fair that Ray get the truck for the price of the parts. Thus the Zombie Emergency Response Vehicle was born.
Over the next year Ray and his friends totally rebuilt the crew cab, four wheel drive. The engine had already been pulled and totally reconditioned by Ray. For safety when fighting of hordes of zombie, and because it really looked cool, a six inch lift kit was installed and all the goodies a Zombie combat vehicle would need. Ray and the guys bought camouflage clothes and boonies hats for their official uniforms. Even Ray’s mom and dad got the bug and helped out with the vehicle. His dad helped tape off the truck and paint it in an urban camo pattern. His mom made name tags and patches declaring them An Official Zombie Response Team.
At nineteen Ray and the guys were in the local junior college and still die hard zombie freaks. So was the rest of the country. Far from zombie books and TV programs losing their appeal the whole zombie craze actually seemed to be gaining more steam. Now they watched not only The Walking Dead but a new zombie show called Z Nation. It was all great fun and a harmless hobby for all of them.
There was a group of them that got together often to discuss zombie matters. Ray, Bob, Alvin and Todd who had known each other since first grade and remained friends. Much to everyone’s amassment there were two others in the group that made any meeting extra special nice.
Marry Beth and Sonia. Also friends from first grade. What Ray couldn’t figure out was why two socially acceptable attractive young ladies hung out with four teenage male zombie freaks. Not that he was complaining. Not only did they hang out they joined in the conversations and never laughed at the guys even when the conversation took a way too serious tone. After all, talking about zombies was fun, but rather pointless. Everyone knew there couldn’t be any such thing as zombies! Still the girls indulged them and seemed to take it as seriously as the guys.
Marry Beth and Sonia had always been good friends and someone the guys could talk to. Just two more guys really. That is until Ray hit seventeen at which point a very graphic dream pointed up the fact that they were actually girls and not a couple of the guys.
It wasn’t long before he found out that Bob, Alvin and Todd had already realized that fact, much in the same way as Ray had. Now teenage boys can be real jerks and can say some really dumb things to girls. By some miracle they all made it to nineteen without offending their female friends. Try as they might it didn’t help with every girl they knew. They did manage to alienate several girls they went to school with.
It was almost comical. One month Ray thought he was in love with Marry Beth the next month Sonia. Not that he was alone, the others were suffering through the same teenage angst especially when the girls had dates with other classmates. That was something almost impossible for the guys to endure. But endure they did.
All this was running through his mind while he stood there. He had to get ahold of himself, the Zombie Emergency Response Vehicle drew his attention.
Damn Hollywood and damn all those zombie authors who had misled Ray and his friends. The “facts”, yes facts they spread through TV, movies and print would have been laughable if they weren’t so dangerous and dead wrong, just plain wrong!
Sure, you could try and make a case for them not actually having any experience with real zombies but that didn’t exonerate them from responsibility. There was no disclaimer in any of their work stating that they might have gotten the facts wrong. They just let the public believe that the “authorities”, them, knew about zombies.
Ray was outraged that they had so many of their “facts” wrong and let everyone think they knew what was what.
They could at least have gone the Myth Busters route. A great program by the way. In every episode multiple times they carefully explained “Don’t try this at home!” See, perfect disclaimer. The thought passed through Ray’s mind, “I sure hope those Myth Buster guys are OK.” Now there were guys who would make it through the zombie apocalypse. With their skills at making devilish weapons they would for sure make it through.
Not Hollywood, TV or books though. They just let you think they had some idea about what zombies were and how to handle them. Unfortunately for Ray and rest of the world, 10% of what he knew about zombies was wrong. As things began to go wrong he figured at least 10% of what he thought he knew about zombies was wrong. Eventually he would find that what he knew was more like 90% wrong, but that was in the future.
There was a movie called The Thirteenth Warrior that Ray and his friends had watched a least a dozen times. There were many memorable quotes in that movie. True it was just a movie but that didn’t negate a good thought or a saying based in fact. There was one that Ray and his friends would often quote when they were working on the Zombie Emergency Response Vehicle, or when in some serious discussion of what they would do when the zombies attacked. “Luck favors the prepared.” Then they would laugh and say they would be chockfull of luck since they were Zombie Super Prepared!
OK, OK they were stupid teenagers with a lot to learn about how the world worked. Still, it had kept them out of the kinds of trouble their classmates got into and it was fun!
Then came a world-wide pandemic illness known variously as Super Flu, Stupid-Flu or H3N5 virus pandemic. It all happened so fast that no one actually knew if it really was some type of flu. The one thing that was known was that it drove people into a subhuman frenzy when it hit them full on. For those infected in the first days or weeks mortality appeared to be 99%. There was no known cure. Or if there was those who had it or might have been able to develop such a vaccine had succumbed just like the mere mortals of the general population.
The best case, best chance, was to never get infected in the first place. Mostly that consisted of where you were when the outbreak hit or just plain dumb luck.
Dumb luck, ya, well Ray would take it, dumb or smart. Without luck he and most of the people he was close to would now be wandering the earth as a mindless creature or would have provided a meal for those same creatures.
For most of the world, good luck, even dumb luck appeared to have taken a vacation leaving behind really bad luck. Fate had taken the cosmic dice and rolled craps for mankind.
One of the few pieces of information to come out of the CDC before it stopped communicating with mere mortals trapped outside, dealt with the primary incubation period. A quick analysis by the CDC theorized that the virus took 5 to 7 days to incubate before signs of illness were seen. That meant that world travelers, goods and food products that got shipped around the globe reached about every country imaginable. It was speculated that air travel was the number one method of spreading the virus.
One method of infection was through the respiratory system. For common folks that’s when the infected breathed the virus out into the air. Fluids, saliva, spit and snot being the assumed most common methods that made the number of people infected skyrocket in mere days. After the 5 to 7 days flu like symptoms were exhibited. Death occurred within 24 hours for 70% of those infected. For 29% it took days for those exposed to die. The 70% might have been the lucky ones, since the 29% suffered excruciating pain in their joints and fluids spewing from every orifice.
A bite could certainly pass on the contagion. As it turned out that was one of the many things that Hollywood had been inaccurate about. A kiss or “other body fluid” exchanges were among the possible methods of transmission however things had unraveled so quickly there was no empirical evidence to go by. Someone could have studied the horizontal bop method, if so they hadn’t had time to pass on the information. These days a prudent person waited at least a day before doing any experiments on the horizontal transmission method.
In one odd twist of fate the first known outbreak of violence and people eating each other was seen in Timbuctoo a city on the southern edge of the Sahara, in central Africa, some nine miles from the Niger River. A city that at one time was used as icon of remoteness.
Why and how it started there, would have been a National Geographic special for sure. Too bad there weren’t any reporters or investigative journalists left alive to report on it. Well, these days alive was a relative term at best. But Ray was pretty sure that zombies didn’t use word processors. Almost sure.
Not surprisingly there was a rapid and total breakdown in the rule of law. Fear of retribution by society and its constraints changed when your children were starving or you were facing species extinction.
Everyone’s world totally changed in less than two weeks. A change the world would not shake off anytime soon or perhaps ever. Cities, organizations, units and institutions struggled to remain uninfected and viable to assist in the survival of mankind. All their struggles collapsed within 4 days. Mankind was sliding backwards rapidly on most any known scale of measurement. The speed of that slide would accelerate until mankind lost all semblance of humanity.
As it turned out there were some very real and tangible pluses for Ray, his family and friends being zombie geeks.
At first there were reports emerging from around the world of a strange new illness which made people enter into fits of rage, going homicidally crazy and carrying out destructive rampages against people and anything breakable. The numbers of people calling in sick to their work had skyrocketed. Health professionals of all types had been heard to say it wasn’t anything to be alarmed about. It was just the flu, and when you were sick with the flu you stayed home, it was just common sense after all.
By lunchtime of the second day there were reports of strange police calls involving domestic violence, assaulting of officers and groups of people tearing things apart. Not always property. Most times it included the aggressors slowly and calmly eating the property owners.
So far Ray’s group hadn’t heard any reports of this crazy behavior in their town. By the time he got off of work, he and the others were convinced it was time to get behind locked doors. Just as a precaution. None of them believed that a zombie apocalypse had started. They spread the word as much as they could telling people to play it safe and get behind locked doors.
After sharing the warning on their Facebook accounts they began a joking conversation about zombies and the end of the world as they knew it. Later recalling that period of carefree joking they would kick themselves for not taking things more seriously.
At 10am on the third day, that really annoying civil defense siren or if you preferred the air-raid siren began to yowl. The sirens began screaming and a warning of danger was heard blaring from all TV and radio outlets possible.
Fox was on the air right after the last notes were fading away with the same government warning only delivered in a less strident way. The message was simple and straight forward:
Go straight home and lock all doors. Barricade windows and any form of access to your home.
Roy’s absolute favorite warning was, “Don’t pick up hitchhikers.” First of all, who picked up hitchhikers these days? And who in their right mind picked one up that had bloody hands, and pieces of human tissue in their teeth and hair?
Report any sign of illness, fever or nausea to local authorities ASAP.
Call police at the first sign of illness or suspicious behavior by your neighbors, or any emergency involving acts of violence or illness.
As it turned out the horse had not only escaped the barn, the barn and all the outbuildings were quickly burning to the ground.
During the night between the third and fourth day the world found itself facing an unprecedented fact. The apocalypse was well and truly upon them.
By mid-morning of the fourth day climbing to the roof of your house and shouting for the police or anyone in authority, worked quite as well as trying to phone them.
Ray and his friends had all kinds of plans on what to do when the zombies attacked. Problem was, some weren’t as practical as they might have been. Or hadn’t been thought out as well as they should have been.
The house Ray and his family lived in was in an older neighborhood where the lots were over an acre. Back when his grandfather owned it, zoning laws were pretty lax and the old gentleman had run a small handmade furniture slash carpentry shop out of it. He employed four men so they needed room for the lathes, saws and all the equipment.
Since the passing of his granddad Ray and his father had cleaned out the sawdust and sold most of the commercial woodworking equipment. They set up a little workshop of their own in about 10% of the huge old building. The shop had a stout wooden rollup door that let Ray drive some of his automotive projects right inside the shop. Ray’s dad loved to tinker with things and when he sold all the industrial woodworking machinery he was all jazzed up to put a solar system on their house with the proceeds from the sale.
All went well until the solar panels came and they were unpacked. His mom took one look and asked if those went on the house. His dad was too excited about the new project to be diplomatic. He held one up so his wife could see it and explained it went right up on the roof facing south to catch the best sunlight. Unfortunately south was the direction the house faced and the way guests and neighbors came up to the house.
That was the end of the house solar project. His mom was not having those ugly things ruin the curb appeal of her house. Ray tried to look sorry when it turned out the panels would be installed on the workshop/zombie retreat. Even though he tried he didn’t do a very good job hiding his joy at the prospect of having power when the zombie apocalypse came.
When the zombie craze took hold Ray, his family and friends thought the old building seemed perfect for a zombie retreat. His dad went along with it more to keep boys from being boys than anything else.
Actually as buildings went it was probably one of the better choices for fortification. It had solid block walls with the cells, or hollow spots, in the blocks filled with concrete. His granddad had laughed and told Ray one time that when the building went up concrete was comparatively cheap so it only made sense to fill in the block creating a really solid wall.
Concrete must have been cheap because the whole floor was a 9in thick slab. The old gentleman had built his own doors, thick and sturdy as they did in the old days. There was a large changing room with lockers and two showers along with a two sink counter for washing up after a day of being showered with sawdust. His granddad took a real interest in his employees, he saw them as friends as well as employees. He didn’t like sending them home with their clothes full of sawdust and debris so he provided the showers and all the hot water anyone could want.
As a fortress against zombie attack it was almost perfect. The one flaw being there were quite a few windows. Both at eye level and high up on the 14ft walls. Ray’s dad solved that one for them. There was a stack of blocks leftover and still in a storeroom 25 years after the building was finished. He showed the boys how to drill holes in the cement surrounding the windows, insert rebar and then cement in a few rows of blocks. This effectively raised the bottom of the windows to 8 feet. Hopefully this would put them out of the reach of zombies.
In their little shop his dad a Ray created some zombie grates out of rebar that could quickly be installed on the upper portion of the windows guaranteed to keep zombies at bay. They laughed at that pronouncement not knowing that one day their invention would be put to the test.
It turned into a great hangout for Ray and the others. A place they could work on cars and their various projects. As they got older and had some cash they started fixing the place up. As the various families redecorated, the zombie retreat sported a very eclectic assortment of furniture and an older big screen TV with a satellite connection curtesy of piggybacking onto his dads set up.
Every time Ray’s mom would come out to their retreat she would look around the room and shudder. She claimed that the diverse assortment of furniture of various and wildly eclectic styles along with a fake bearskin rug made her ill. That was always good for a laugh amongst the teenagers.
Either by luck or good planning the zombie retreat was a good solid idea. Unfortunately their other plans didn’t work out quite as well.
On his way home at noon on the second day Ray had dug out his list of supplies and food he always carried in the Zombie Emergency Response Vehicle and was prepared to make stops at the Cosco, Sams Cub and BJ/s. Before he got to the first store Marry Beth called and wanted them to engage what she called Zombie Protocol. She wanted them all to meet at the zombie retreat. She was sending a text to the others to arrange for them to meet there as well. She felt they could coordinated their efforts and purchase things together in a more efficient way than doing it on their own. She had a point. Even together they didn’t have much ready cash. Ray never could seem to get ahead more than a few hundred dollars.
He made it home and waited for the others. Eventually Marry Beth and Alvin showed up. The others texted that they couldn’t make it. Ray didn’t know it yet but this was the point where most of their plans started to unravel.
The three of them made a run for supplies and did their best. Halfway through their list Marry Beth’s mom called and demanded she come home. She was really embarrassed but she was 19, in school and her parents were paying her way. She was torn because she had the feeling school was about to become the least of her worries. Still she loved her parents and needed to get home and try be an obedient daughter and reassure them this super flu would soon be over.
What really bugged her though was the feeling she was letting the others down. They were lifelong friends and not just the kind of people you met and called friends. She knew if she really needed any of them they were there for her and leaving them alone in the zombie retreat felt like she was abandoning them.
She explained she had to get home to her parents and help keep them safe. Or so she said. Ray was pretty sure she just couldn’t or wouldn’t buck her parents. A lifetime of being the dutiful daughter had programmed her to let her family’s wishes supersede her good judgement.
That left Alvin and Ray to stack their pitiful few bags of food and over the counter meds in the pantry of the retreat. They had sectioned of parts of the huge old structure as bedrooms and collected beds as the various households redecorated or updated. Not that they found they really needed beds. More often than not when spending the night in the retreat they just fell asleep on the numerous couches spread around in front of the TV and entertainment center. Ray didn’t really understand the fuss about beds. The couch worked just fine for him. Matter of fact, he pretty much fell asleep anywhere on anything any time. So did all the guys for that matter.
The next day Alvin was summoned home. In all their zombie plans they hadn’t made allowances for parents and their refusal to understand that everyone needed to fort up and lock themselves away from society.
Ray’s mom and dad had joined in the good fun of the whole zombie apocalypse but hadn’t really taken the possibility of such an event to heart. Being hard working people they thought it was their duty to go to work with so many people out with the flu. Work would need them to fill in and take up the slack. Ray on the other hand was a true believer. He was practically hysterical at the thought of his parents leaving the house. They should be in the retreat with all the door locked and braced not headed into town!
“Dad you and mom just can’t go into town or work. It’s way too dangerous. Haven’t you heard about the craziness on the TV?”
“Now Ray, the whole zombie hobby was good clean fun but you know as well as your mom and I do that there can’t be any such thing as zombies. The news people get paid to exaggerate and blow any little story out of proportion, just so they can get the gullible to keep watching their news programs.”
“But dad didn’t you see the footage of the violence last night and people running crazy?”
“Of course I saw it. What did I really see though? I agree that we are going through a spell of very bad flu that is keeping people home. That includes the police and other public employees. All we could really see in all that dark footage was people taking advantage of the lack of police presence to vandalize people’s property.”
“Ray that is exactly why your father and I have to get into work. Work is going to be horribly shorthanded and they will need everyone to come in to keep the businesses afloat. If good solid people like us shirk their duty to their employers we won’t have any jobs to go back to when this all blows over. We can’t afford to lose the income right now.” His mother explained.
Nothing Ray could say would sway them. For the first time in his life he resorted to begging.
“Please mom, please dad, I don’t want to lose you guys. I know you think I’m over reacting but what is going on is exactly the way every movie, book or TV show starts out. First there are reports of some type of flu. That is quickly followed by the violence and destruction we saw last night on the news! Then people start eating each other! Please stay home at least for a few days!”
“Son, I can see your mother and I indulged you and your friends too much. This is my fault. I should have done a better job of making sure you knew the difference between a game and reality. We have to go now but tonight we really need to sit down as a family and work out reality from fiction.”
It didn’t matter how persuasive he tried to be or what he said his folks ignored him and left for work. Ray was beside himself with self-hatred. Somehow he should have made them stay home! It was clear to him his dad was the one who couldn’t recognize reality from fiction. In less than a week the reality of the old world became the fact of the new world.
By the time his parents left the house they were all upset and on edge. In the car on the way to work his mom and dad decided that they had indulged his hobby way too much. It was fine to play at zombie but to actually stay home from work and lock yourself into the workshop was going too far. Now they would have to come up with a method of getting through to their son and get all those fantasies out of his head.
Watching his mom and dad drive away was the spur Ray needed to get into gear and round up his friends.
The power was still on for that Ray was most grateful.
Considering his course of action he thought about what responsibility he had to his neighbors and to his friends from the zombie alliance. While he knew what Bob, Alvin, Todd and the girls had said about the group coming first he still felt a pang of guilt about his neighbors. Then there was Mr. Hasenpfeffer, he was a special case and needed to be checked on. He also knew what his mother had taught him he had to do in life, and decided to be sure that others were warned when you could manage it.
Going to his room Ray got dressed in his official Zombie Response Team uniform. Cammies and boonie hat with Zombie Response Team proudly displayed across his back, with patches showing his name and the official Zombie Response Team logo embroidered on them.
Opening a footlocker in his closet he selected his weapons of choice for zombie eradication. A vicious looking combat tomahawk. His baby was a tactical SOG Tomahawk with an extended cutting head, spike for piercing applications, compact glass-reinforced nylon handle, and metal pommel cap. It was housed in its very own nylon carry sheath. That went on his right hip. Next he took out an Applegate-Fairbairn Fighting Knife variation that used a Fiberglass Delrin handle, thickened in the center for a sure grip. The handle met a short, forward-bending cross guard that protected his fingers. It was a beautifully designed and beautifully ergonomic weapon. With a 6″ blade with an overall length of 10-3/4″ and a 1″ width blade was beefy all the way to the tip. Made of Solingen 440C stainless steel hardened to a Rockwell of 58, it sported a Kydex sheath. Leaning in the corner was his 3.5’ Ironwood fighting staff. It was tipped at one end by a 6” hardened steel spike.
Looking at himself in the mirror he felt an adrenaline rush. There stood the perfect urban zombie fighter!
Time to assemble the troop’s time to roll. Checking he made sure his smart phone was fully charged. With cat like reflexes, in his mind, he made his first call.
“Hi Ray what’s up?”
“It’s time we circled the wagons and manned the retreat. Things are going crazy out there and we need to kick our plans into gear!”
“Ah..well..ya see Ray I tried to head your way an hour or so ago and I got stopped.”
“Too many crazies in the street? Sneak out a back window and hide out by your pool house. I can get there in the Zombie Emergency Response Vehicle and grab you from around back of your house.”
Sounding distinctly embarrassed Bog said, “No Ray it isn’t that. You see. Well. Actually my parents won’t let me leave the house.”
“You’re saying that what may actually be a zombie invasion isn’t important enough for you to leave the house? The one thing we have planned for all these years and you can’t come out and help save the group because your parents told you that you can’t leave the house?”
This time Bob was sounding not only embarrassed but exasperated. “I explained to them that they could come to the retreat and be safe along with everyone else but they just laughed. About the only thing they have laughed at in a couple days actually. I’m sorry Ray, I really am but my dad would skin me alive if I left after being told I had to stay home.”
“Sure, I get it. Well if you change your mind just give me a call or text.”
Thinking about it that sounded really lame, but what else could he say? His friend was going to die because his mommy and his daddy forbad him from coming out to play with the other kids. Ray just heaved a huge sigh at the thought.
The next three calls were just variations on the conversation he’d had with Bob. He did get to call Marry Beth because she called him.
“Ray, I’m in trouble. Something is wrong with mom. She called from her work to say she was terribly sick but right in the middle of the conversation something happened. The phone was still connected but I could hear grunting and screaming. Then a voice called out mom’s name saying no, no, no then grunting and slurping sounds. I’m scared out of my mind Ray!”
“OK, hold on I am on my way, you sit tight.”
Rushing out to the zombie truck Ray had the key in the door when he thought about Old Mrs. Davis. The nice old widow lady had fed the neighborhood kids cookies and candy for years. He just had to check on her and warn her.
He headed up her driveway to the house and rang the bell. He could hear grunting inside and immediately became cautious. Tiptoeing to a window he looked inside. There was nice old Mrs. Davis with her back to him holding something in her hand. Ray had the distinct feeling he was about to spew his breakfast into the bushes. Mrs. Davis turned and had the back half of her favorite Tabby cat in her hands and was munching on the cat like it was a rack of baby back ribs. As Ray watched she separated the tail from the hind quarters and spit the tail out.
Besides being horrible to watch Ray had the feeling he was missing something about the action in front of him. Time to think about that later. He really needed to get to Marry Beth.
Copyright © 2015 Billy Bob Richardson
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or in any means – by electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise – without prior written permission.
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