“Make haste, prithee.” The fairy Pyx hovered in the air over her companion, her wings buzzing like those of a huge dragonfly. “These abominations pull me towards the earth." She indicated her bundle of clothes hangers.“Patience, patience.” Nyx held up two socks. The wooly pair unfurled down the length of her body like mangy, oversized cloaks. “Thinkst thou these two are mates?”“Yea, verily. And neither suffering any hole nor snag.”Satisfied, Nyx stuffed one of the pair into her booty bag and tossed the other back into the dryer. Working together, the two fairies managed to close the machine.Pyx caught her breath. "Make haste. Thou knowest how special the Eve of All Hallows is, and how many more domiciles we must visit hence."Fairies could cross the veil into the mortal world most easily once a year, on Hallowe'en. This meant that they began their mischief in humankind's houses at midnight on Hallow's Eve and worked until dawn, when they fled into the shadows. Mischief continued in secret until the last jack-o'-lantern candle guttered on the stroke of midnight on All Saints', and most wouldn't see the mortal realm again until the next year. The infrequent visits meant that their dialect--since it had been centuries since any human had believed enough to speak to a fairy--and also their familiarity with the way things worked in the realm of the mortals might be a tad out of date, although it mattered little over the centuries.Although as the oddities of human life increased, so did the potential problems.Pyx flew to the coat closet, where Ryx worked at a tangle of wire hangers. “Here are a few more for thee.” She released her hangers, causing a satisfying clang."Hush." Ryx circled his own modern-art wire sculpture. “Thou wilt wake the bigfolk.” He spiked his short fair hair with the fingers of his free hand."Beautiful," Nyx sighed. "So little have I to show for my efforts."“Never mind.” Pyx fluttered consolingly in a circle. “Thou wilt make it up erewhile.” Her transparent wings glistened in the moonlight coming through the nearby window, their delicate green veins outlined in the backlight. Pyx couldn’t help noticing herself reflected in the etched glass of the front door and preening for a moment over her slender form, her shapely long legs (seven inches was, after all, lengthy for a foot-tall fairy), her shiny blonde hair hanging past her knees, and her unusual aquamarine eyes, unique among the others’ same dull green. She sighed, thinking upon hearing it that even her voice was quite pleasing.Nyx brought her out of her reverie. “Methinks we have done our duty. And yet--what of these stacks, so neat and proper?” He perched atop a pile of folded laundry.They shoved the stacks, wings buzzing with effort, and let them fall into a convincing lump on the dusty floor. The three of them combined proved strong enough to work the top hinge pin loose from the closet door, and when they heaved-ho, it jammed quite properly. Satisfied, they buzzed into formation and headed to find the others.The tinkle of fairy laughter, like unto light bulbs shattering, drifted from the computer nook, where Minx, Binx, and Twinks were merrily swapping CD labels. All three fairies on the techno-savvy team wore crimson Cubs baseball jackets and stone-washed jeans with custom “buttonholes” in the rear for their flashing bulbs, unlike the others, who were clad in the more traditional green filmy spidersilk tunics, leggings, and stockings. Pyx thought the techno team quite affected.“Pray, look here,” called Minx as they fluttered in. “They've neglected to power off this laptop. Should I format the drives?” His feet in their pointy gold shoes were poised on the enter key, and Pyx pretended to consider as he hovered hopefully above the keyboard, his weight almost enough now to register the keystroke.“No,” Pyx said after a moment, tilting her head and hoping she sounded decisive. “That goes beyond our charter. We’ve five more houses to do this eve, remember you, and we’ve already spent more time than we should here. Where’s Jynbo?““Getting the drip on the bathroom faucet adjusted,” called Jynbo's mate Jynae from the hall. “I have frayed the filaments in these accursed light bulbs.""Pray do not exhaust yourself." Ryx scrubbed together his thin hands, then pinched the wick of a candle standing at the desk's edge; it ignited, casting flickering shadows on the paneled walls. The spent fire-dust trickled from his bony fingers as Jinx and Jynbo flew in.Jynbo looked as red-faced as a moth too close to a bulb. It appeared he was supporting his companion in the air.Pyx frowned. “Hast thou finished in the bedroom?”“Definitely finished, methinks.” Jinx wore a funny grin. He pulled away from Jynbo, taking a dip of a couple of inches in the air. "Finished for all time!"“Quiet!” Pyx ordered. “The bigfolk will wake.”“Worry not. I doubt they hear at all.” Jinx grinned oddly. His dark pixie haircut stood up in spikes on one side, as if he’d been rubbing his head on satin. Something in his expression was definitely peculiar. Even for Jinx.“Bigfolk hear well, though they seldom listen. Remem--” Pyx stopped. Each of her next words popped out separated by a poof of breath, like beads dropping down a chain. “What makest thou so certain they won't hear us?”“They just won’t.” Jinx gave a strangled laugh. “Not tonight. Nor tomorrow, nor tomorrow, nor tomorrow. . . .”“Jinx!” Pyx’s voice cracked. “What hast thou wrought?”“By the Tree, you've neglected to link the paper clips into chains.” He reached for a clip on the desk and giggled, a sound not unlike the report of a tiny machine gun. “I needs must find more.” Unsteadily, like a wobbly gyroscope about to tumble, Jinx flew into the hall.“What, pray, art thou concealing from me?” Pyx met Jynbo’s gaze, waiting.“He--” Jynbo paused. “He sort of--well, um, he has had a small accident.”“Accident?”“Well--not affecting himself, exactly.”Pyx found herself gradually losing altitude as unfamiliar fear washed over her. “What kind of accident?”“Oh, thou knowest.” Jynbo started fluttering back and forth around the candle's flame nervously, making it flare up. Pyx had the sense that, best friend to Jinx or not, Jynbo wished he had left this news for someone else to tell. “Mere bad luck. A tiny mishap.”“They?” Pyx felt herself sinking another couple of inches, until she was staring Jynbo in the shoes; she saw everyone else, one by one, peel away from their tasks and gather round to listen.“They--meaning the bigfolk?” That was Nyx, but it came out screeched, like feedback from a maladjusted electric amplifier. “They woke up? They saw him? They clonked him upside the head with a dustball? What?”Pyx saw, by her image in the wall mirror, her own face going ashen.Jynbo affected a light tone of voice, but his hands shook as he gestured ineffectively. “The two big ones. They’re just a tiny bit--prithee, they’re sort of--very sleepy.”With tremendous effort and a pounding heart, Pyx revved her wings and buzzed in the direction Jinx had flown. Behind her, she felt the others crowding into line. Jynbo's chattered excuses sounded far away at the end of the queue.The two humans on the bed were strangely still. As she approached, Pyx squinted from the glow. There was too much sparkle-glitter on their faces. As she got closer, she saw that their upper torsos were fairly caked with shiny fairy dust, looking as troweled-thick as Tammy Faye Bakker’s “special occasion” makeup. She shrieked before she could stop herself.From behind her came an accusatory voice. “Thou art only supposed to sprinkle them with fairy dust!” Ryx’s shouts sounded like soda bottles crashing over in a bowling alley after a perfect strike. “And only just to make them dream-heavy long enough for us to finish our chores!”Pyx began circling the room nervously, like a bat pacing a cave. She couldn’t bear to look at them, but she also couldn’t seem to keep her gaze away. They were just so--sparkly. Although they did seem to be turning a dusky color underneath, where the skin sort of poked through in places . . . especially that one foot, the one hanging out from under the blankets at the end of the bed. The skin there looked kind of grayish-black. And shiny.Nyx spiraled to the ceiling fan. “Didst thou shatter the vial?” She turned accusingly to the silent crowd, her gaze searching for Jinx. "It fell upon their heads and broke? How could this happen?"Pyx wasn't watching, and nearly flew into Jinx on her next circuit. He was sitting atop the wicker headboard staring glassily down at his handiwork with a look of adoration, as if these were his newborn male nymphs.She fixed him with a glare.Jinx giggled again.“We are waiting for your explanation,” said Dyx. He, too, seemed transfixed at the sight of the shiny lumps. They looked like candied sugar people, the kind the Best Fairy put into birthday baskets. Jumbo size.“Thou knowest how much to use,” said Pyx. “Thou hast done it perfectly for years.”“I know, but--” Jinx shrugged, his wings making a shuddery gesture. He trapezed around the top branch of the wicker frame and landed on the stony head of the male human. “But these seemed just too perfect--all decked out in look-alike silk pajamas, no blemishes, every hair in place. Then this one started snoring . . . it just kept going ka-snort, braap; ka-snort, braap, and it was so annoying. . . ." He cocked his head. "Pray, put thyself in my position.”"Think of the position thou hast put me in!" Pyx's brain cranked, but no solutions came.“How soon will they awake?” Dyx hadn’t gotten the message yet, floating up and down the lengths of the bodies as if to measure them for something. "Do I have time to take their measure?" He seemed fascinated by the toes on the exposed foot. The deep purple toes.“They’re not going to wake up! Do you not comprehend, you little fool?” Ryx twirled out of control for a moment, then stopped himself with an ice-skater kick and began tearing at his already-wild orange hair. “Thou hast really done it this time.”“Done what?” Dyx’s fingers stopped just short of a toenail."He has ended us, that's what." Pyx's voice sounded unfamilar to her.All ten fairies hovered in a semicircle in the air around the big bed, staring at Jinx.“Hee hee hee,” giggled the guilty party, spiraling up and down nervously between the ceiling and his former perch on the headboard as if he were playing on an invisible fire-pole. Ryx and Dyx began nervously imitating him, which triggered the others, soon making the room look full of tiny green-buttocksed tornadoes.“I hear no remorse.” Pyx held her hands to her ears, as though to block out further gales of irrational laughter. She could feel herself losing altitude again as panic threatened to set in; she countered with slow, deep breaths, gliding slowly along. She discerned her reflection in the dresser’s mirror, but jerked her gaze immediately away. She didn’t even want to know what she looked like now, probably all tousled and splotchy-faced. "I would like to hear an apology."“These are so big, dumb, and ugly--” began Jinx defensively.“I don’t want to hear it,” squealed Ryx, poking his pointy little fingers into his pointy little ears. “I don’t wish to have to go before Council and testify against thee.”Pyx heard herself let out a low moan. Council would indeed have to be told, and difficult questions answered. Later. First, there was the more pressing problem. “What, pray, wist thee . . . what shall we do with the--bodies?”Jinx shifted a bit, and Pyx knew there was more to hear. “Only these, or all of them?”“All of them?” Pyx sank lower and lower in the air. “I would fain ask thee--” Her mouth was so dry she could barely whisper. “How many are there?”“Oh, not so very,” said Jinx, shifting his eyes around evasively. “Only about four or five, total--”“Five!” Pyx, unable to look both at Jinx and where she was going, crashed into the wall. Briefly disoriented, she slid slowly down into a heap atop the big people’s bookcase. Her toe-length yellow hair floated down around her into a silken tent in which she hid herself, gathering it around reassuringly, with nothing uncovered except the points of her knees sticking out in front. She squeezed her eyes shut and whispered a prayer, then shook her head to clear it. She wasn’t hurt, as far as she could discern, but only shaken by the bump. In a moment she felt brave enough to make a part and peer out.“Let’s see those meddling brownies fix this!” Jinx’s bottle-green eyes danced with an unnatural light.“See what thy mischief hast wrought?” Ryx put his fists on his slim hips. “Pyx can’t even fly, Jinx, so upset is she. How couldst thou?”“I have told thee, it was an accident.”“Five accidents?” Ryx couldn’t stop his bulb from flashing, making his nether regions resemble a strobing advertisement.“Verily, only the first two were accidents," said Jynae drily.Jinx nodded, not very contritely. "After I fain realized. . . . I swear it, I didn’t mean to, but I became carried away by the beauty of it. They turned such a lovely purple color and made such musical gurgling sounds and. . . .” He shrugged helplessly, as if acknowledging it would be impossible to describe the joy of skydiving to those afraid to stand on stepstools.“They’re not purple now,” said Dyx, ever helpful. “They’ve been changing color.” The faces looked to Pyx like carved black opals, glittering on top but darkness beneath.“And then, truly, I had to do the bairns. Why, imagine the horror. They were orphans. It was kinder.” Jinx waved in the general direction of the other bedrooms, and a few fairies scattered into the hall, as though there were any hope of saving them.“Oh, by the Stones, the Wands, and the Birth Tree.” Pyx moaned, laying her head on her knees. “Could someone get me a drop of water?”Nyx grabbed a china thimble off a curio shelf and headed for the dripping faucet.Pyx stretched out helplessly on the bookcase, then found herself floating up a few inches in the air. She lacked even the energy to hold herself down. However, she did discover her reflection visible in the shine of the metal shelf supports, and found it pleasingly calming.“The council will have you shoveling bee-dung,” said Blinks to Jinx, who still grinned crazily.“I know not what to do.” Ryx pinched the bridge of his nose. “Oh, how I wish the Old Ones had never let me take charge of recording tonight’s endeavors. Awful enough it is that Pyx chanced to be Patrol Leader, with her delicate constitution.”“Faugh! She hast always been such a do-no-wrong,” muttered Blinks.“Why,” asked Dyx with a frown, “must we worry about it at all? Why can’t we just leave and let them think a human killer did it, or a disease?”“Fairy dust.” Pyx murmured it miserably, her tiny voice amplified by the echo in the bookcase niche. “They’ll find it was an overdose of fairy dust, and then they’ll get into an uproar to kill all fairies.”“They believe in us not.” Dyx wiggled his long fingers at her. “Not after they start school and have their imaginations neatly excised, methinks. Even when they see’st us, they merely sigh and vow to cut back on their libations.”“Not all of them.” Nyx held up a pointy finger in protest. “Remember you the writers and the artists, the Spielbergs and the Tolkiens.” Fairies all around nodded. “Are we not more logical than flying saucers? And those creatures have their own weekly tabloid magazines.”Blinks had a thought. “Thou knowest bigfolk mustn’t be allowed to find and analyze undissolved fairy dust. They’d have it for sale within a week, and the world would be in a mess, what?""If only we could clean it off--” Pyx knew that was impossible. It had hardened, and the time for successfully chipping at it was past. “Oh, whatever shall we do?” She pressed her palms to her eyes.“Put them in our booty bags--piece by piece, of course; that’s the only way they’d fit--and claim extra points for unusual treasure?” suggested Jinx in a helpful tone.Pyx felt herself going into an out-of-control grave-roll spin. “By all the Stones and Wands! That’s no way to answer me.”Nyx caught her before her hair got into an impossible twist and pushed her back onto the shelf. “Calm thyself. We’ll worry about taking him before Council later. Meanwhile, we must do something with these.”Fairy voices rang out with helpful suggestions.“Put them down the disposal.”“Flush them down the toilet?”“These aren’t goldfish!” Pyx could hardly raise her head, it felt so heavy.“Throw them in the trunk of their car and then help it roll over a cliff?”“Put them in the attic with the old clothes--in those trunks where I hid one of each of their gloves last winter,” said Jynbo. “And stick a For Sale sign in the front grasses.”“Sell them as mannequins,” said Ryx.“Can’t,” said Jynbo. “They’re in the wrong positions for standing. And the female has got one leg bent up all funny.”“And why might that be?” Ryx fixed Jinx with another hard stare.He giggled again. “I’d rather not say.”“We cannot fold them into a pleasing position. They are becoming quite stiff. Besides, that one doesn’t look intelligent enough to be a mannequin.”“Doesn’t matter.” Jynae sounded firm as she settled atop a dictionary on the bookshelf, her voice ringing amidst the general buzzing of wings. “There will be some merchant foolish enough to use them, if we sell cheaply enough. There always is a fool in a crowd, isn't there?”“But their color. . . .”Jynae persisted. “Gentlefairies, look closely. It is not so repellent. Prithee, I’ve seen all shades in the shops.” She paused, gripping her pointy chin in one fist. “But what when they become . . . overripe?”“They’re going to rot!” cried Dyx, his puny overhead candle igniting at last.Ryx had a solution. “We shall spray flesh-colored paint on them, and coat them with shellac. That wilt seal anything.”A withering look from Jynae. “That remedy's deficient.”“In what way? It keeps the rain out and the stink in.”“They rot from the inside out,” mumbled Dyx, pirouetting now, so fast that it made Pyx dizzy to look at him and his strobing bulb.“Then how, pray tell, have they preserved that elephant at the museum bequeathed by that Smithsonian?”“That’s science for you.” Ryx shook his head. “Our domain is magic.”"So what is to be done?" Jyane's eyes flashed along with her bulb.“I know!” Ryx flew over to the fireplace, dodged under the mantel, and peered up. “Stuff them up the chimney.”“Like Saint Nicholas--only in reverse?”“Somewhat. Like in the story by that Poe--you know, the American.” His voice echoed in the box. He disappeared upwards, then banged on something metal. “Damper’s stuck. Ack!” A flurry of black soot fell down and Ryx fluttered out, coughing and sooty. “Never bloody mind,” he said between hacks as Dyx and Blinks came to his aid.Pyx raised her head. “Why not, pray?” It had begun to sound workable to her.“Chimneys are narrow as pestilence these days; I could hardly fit up it myself with my wings spread. 'Tis a prefab chute.” They patted him on the back as he coughed again.Pyx massaged her temples. She could still hear Ryx bleating complaints as the other two towed him into the attached bathroom: “That corruption’s in my eyes and in the very folds of my hide!” Splashing sounds told her they’d made it over to the sink, where they'd get him cleaned off as best they could, presumably using the embroidered guest towels.“This is not the first time this has happened.” Blinks pointed a long skinny accusing finger at Jinx, who, like some drunken trapeze artist, still hung from the headboard, looking down at his handiwork. “He did it last week, too.”Pyx's mouth fell open. “Is this true?”“No!” Jinx was emphatic. “That time, they woke up. Perhaps not for a couple of days, that’s all. But that wasn’t fairy dust. It was that Sandman’s useless dirt.”“Sleep sand.” Nyx was a stickler for details.“Whatever.”“What did the councillors impose last week?” Pyx directed her question to Blinks. “I mean, for discipline.”“No one knew of it. I never told.” Blinks looked abashed, then cut her eyes at Jinx. “He acted sorry and swore he’d never do it again. Methought he had just confused the vials. But that was the day thou wert sick, Pyx, and we went off with old Neditarod, who cannot see a hand in front of his face and is so hard of hearing he kens not a gnat next to his foot.” She snorted. “I decided we were safe only after we returned two days later and found them in different positions, wearing different nightclothes. I slept well that night, you may be certain.”“You worried not about discovery?”Blinks crossed her arms and looked away. “Nothing was to be done about them, had it been too late. Thou knowest how it art. These things will happen despite our best efforts”--again she threw Jinx a glance--“or the best efforts of everyone but him. He doesn’t seem to realize.”“Yet no one thought to warn me Jinx had cracked like a defective china bowl?” Pyx’s other eyebrow rose.Blinks shuffled her feet in the air and ducked her head. “He did promise.”“Trust a fairy like him?” A thought struck Pyx. “If others are like him, and it goes on at this rate, we’ll run out of bigfolk--we’ll put our folk out of a job.” Pyx felt hysteria rising in her breast, and took deep breaths. “This was only the third site upon tonight’s mischief list.” Ryx sounded miserable. And no wonder; Pyx surmised that his promotion had just dissolved along with the victims. “And what about the two sets of bigfolk for whom we were to go and do good deeds?” Those were always saved for last, but still, one was expected to do as good a job on them, if only out of professional pride.“Let the brownies do it.” Pyx felt a little vengeful. “Always into everything as soon as we finish. Yesterday morning, they dared to repair every one of the shoe buckles that I’d so carefully made just-ready-to-snap the night before.” She crossed her arms firmly. “There’s only one thing to do. We shall take it to the Council right now. To the Archfairy Clinks,” she corrected herself, “and let her call an emergency meeting of Council with us all as witnesses so we can get help to get these beasts cleared out of here by sunrise.”“Call Her Fairyness out of the bath?” Blinks blinked, looking astounded.“No choice.” Ryx nodded in agreement. “There’s simply too much of this to clean up by ourselves. It can’t be helped. Give me a hand, Blinks.”The two flew over to collar Jinx, who hadn’t been listening, but had instead been playing his light-wand back and forth over the bigfolks’ opalescent glittery faces.“Hold, hold!” Jinx came out of his trance in time to kick and howl as they grasped his arms. “Pray, allow me to gaze upon them another moment or two!”But Pyx knew one must not listen to a fairy who had lost all sense. She'd already started lining up the fairies to depart. “Gather in the main room right away,” went the call into the other rooms, where fairies had been mooning over the other bedfast statuary. The news, of course, was the same for the other three humans. “Pity,” was all Pyx could say. She felt oddly pleased, a perverse giddiness; she tried to suppress the unsuitable feelings. She was, after all, a leader. What had gotten into her?Jinx kept struggling; Pyx watched as they dragged him into the room as roughly as two eight-pound fairies could manage. They were almost to the door when Jinx kicked out and knocked over the fairy-candle Ryx had, in all the excitement, left forgotten on the antique desk.Before anyone could react, the fire licked happily away at the stacks of bills and letters stuffed into the cubbyholes. The papers complied, blackening as they crackled and shriveled, encouraging the flames to lick their way up the flounced draperies above the desk.“Who lighted that?” cried Nyx.“It was dark,” said Ryx miserably. “Swiftly, let us do something!”They tried a thimble-brigade, but by the time they made their first ineffectual splash, the drapes above the desk had caught. A few fairies were already coughing because of the black smoke--there must be, Pyx realized, fast-burning synthetic fibers in the drapery fabric.Pyx kicked the phone off the hook and shouted into what she thought was the proper end of the receiver, but the heat started to singe her wingtips. She dropped as low as she could manage while still flying. “Get below the heat and follow me, everyone.”Wings beating, she led the fairy patrol to safety. They flew in haphazard formation out the cracked kitchen window they’d squeezed through on their way in, knocking most of the blossoms off the gardenia bush.In the front yard, the fairies regrouped, facing Pyx. “Are we all out?”“Unfortunately, yes.” Ryx gripped Jinx’s wrists as he would grasp the neck of a poisonous snake to prevent it striking. “Even this troublemaker.” He shook Jinx for emphasis.“Thou must admit that this takes care of our problem,” Jinx pointed out.Bigfolk were gathering on the adjacent lawns, watching the smoke. Pyx herded the fairies into a static formation hidden among the leaves of ivy twining the trunk of a wide oak, where their twinkling bulbs would be less noticeable.“Let’s the rest of us proceed to the next site, whilst you two take him to the Archfairy.” Jynae sounded plaintive. “We needs mustn’t abandon our cause over one disaster. We pledged to stick with our duties despite rain, sleet, or uprising.”Jynae’s suggestion sounded reasonable to Pyx.“To the Archfairy! Not this very instant?” Jinx flinched. “She is never disturbed at bathtime.”“Yes, this very instant,” decided Pyx. “I hope thou gettest her out of her scented bath and wak’st up her whole household and mak’st her so angry she sends thee away to shovel bee-dung forever.” She gestured royally toward the east wind. “Away, out of my sight.”“Meet’st thou back at the nest,” Ryx called to Pyx as the two jailers left, their sniveling prisoner still howling, whining about unfairness and unnecessary roughness.“This hast been the most horrible night of my life.” Pyx sighed, nibbling at a cuticle, as the fairies watched the flames bursting out the windows of the house. A siren whined in the background. Despite herself, Pyx shuddered with delicious excitement.“I know how you feel.” Dyx, misinterpreting her shivers, laid his bony arm across her slim shoulders. “But it can’t be helped. Think, now--it could have been worse: it could have been the White House or a government building.”“Pity it wasn’t,” Pyx murmured.“These were actually no great loss--hast thou seen what they call’d a garden? A yard full of bleached stones with a cow skull in the center!” Blinks gestured expansively, as though to indict the whole neighborhood.“I’ve never much cared for that type,” said Pyx softly, beginning to feel better.“They had no pets--didst thou notice? Now if there had been . . . that would have been a tragedy,” said Dyx. All around, fairies nodded solemnly. “But merely bigfolk. No environmental impact.”“It isn’t as though these folk were on our good-deeds list. Right?” Blinks linked her arm through Pyx’s, and Dyx on her other side did the same. Soon the fairies were all linked into a Fairy Circle around the live oak tree, spinning and giggling happily as they watched the firefighters arrive, lights flashing. Pyx could see herself in the gleaming red paint of the engines, and indulged herself with brief admiration.“We ought to make sure they don’t get in there too soon.” Dyx's voice was that of one mesmerized. “Of course, we mustn’t interfere. Afflicting public servants isn’t part of our charter, and we don’t need the Gremlins Union coming down on us.”“I know we shouldn’t,” whispered Pyx. “But let us tie just a few knots in their hoses. Only a few, mind you. Merely as a farewell gesture. . . .” She didn’t bother to suppress a giggle.The fairies unchained and headed, tiny wings buzzing, for the fire engine.
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