The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:
2017: The Year of the Every-Day Magician
(link to main page of novel)
A Second-Hand Account of the Rise and Fall
of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry
David J. Keffer
May 1, 2017
With the arrival of May, it could not be denied that the tilt of the Earth's axis had coaxed spring out from its winter den and that a third of the year had inexorably vanished. Oscar could reach no other conclusion than that he was behind schedule. He had not achieved one third of the amelioration, which he hoped to deliver by the end of the year. Moreover, the Renegades had no president and no direction. Soon, he feared, the house would sell and he would be forcibly removed from the Renegades himself. Worse yet, the spell of catorthoseis (Abjuration) seemed to have reached its apex, without producing any lasting result. At the same time, Oscar struggled with The Analects. He was constantly put off by admonitions, offered without context, that appeared contradictory to his own intuitive sense of purpose. "The Master said, 'The study of strange doctrines is injurious indeed!'"*
To Oscar, all doctrines seemed strange and equally injurious. Enveloping oneself in a globe of invulnerability was not the solution. Oscar understood in a fragmentary way that it was a privilege to suffer, that not caring about something gave one power over it, that the struggle to create meaning was to invite vulnerability, that one had to be weak for suffering to have an effect, that a fantasy in which one exaggerated weakness or imagined wholly new weaknesses was a mechanism by which the world might be made a better place, but, for the life of him, he could not figure out how to assemble the various pieces into a functional, guiding principle.
*Confucius (551-479 BC), The Analects, translated by James Legge, 1861, full text: The Internet Classics Archive.
written while listening to: Keiji Haino - The 21st Century Hard-Y-Guide-Y Man (PSF Records, PSFD-68, 1995, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 2, 2017
Even Cybil's liberal mother questioned the judgment of visiting the local mosque with the express intention of signing up Muslims to the rolls of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. "Isn't that doing the president's work for him?" she asked innocently.
Cybil had pulled her long black hair back in a ponytail. Oscar watched the expression evolve on her face as her mother's words registered with her, eventually settling in a prolonged frown. After several more moments, her eyes widened and she looked at Oscar, "You know what? My mom's right! This is the stupidest idea in the world."
Oscar managed to prevent himself from sighing. There seemed to him to be an unnecessary amount of competition for the title of stupidest idea in the world.
He listened disconsolately as the diviner announced that she was hereby quitting the Renegades. This left only an abjurer, the crazy cat conjurer and the gothic necromancer with her wicked Analects in its ranks. Certainly, the world did not make its own amelioration an easy task.
"Cheer up," said Cybil, grabbing him by the arm. She ran to the kitchen and emerged with a bag of old hamburger buns. "There's geese on the river. We can feed them from the bank."
So instead of making the world a better place, Oscar spent a pleasant hour in the company of a lanky debutante, who (despite only moments earlier having destroyed the dream that had preoccupied Oscar for much of the year) seemed now to find a natural joy in making him feel better.
written while listening to: Reiko Kudo - Licking up Dust (Hyotan Records, HYOTAN-003, 2007, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 3, 2017
Oscar could tell by the way that his mother tiptoed around the subject that he was not going to like whatever plan eventually emerged. Mother and son sat at the kitchen table over the dinner she had prepared for them. The house was eerily silent; the television, radio, cell phone and computer were all turned off. Equally silent as well as invisible, St. Jerome took an empty seat at the table and buried his face in his hands.
"How are your friends?" she asked Oscar.
"I can't see Omar anymore. His parents forbid it." Oscar then had to explain the poor reception of the one-hundred days in office skit.
"I would have liked to have seen it," said the mother, belatedly.
Oscar did not reply. He had yet to tell her of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. There seemed little point now that its membership was in the midst of disintegrating.
Oscar shrugged. He had a month left; he knew that he wouldn't return to the Catholic school next fall, so whatever transpired there mattered naught.
Because she felt so little cooperation from her son, the mother was tempted to begin an interrogation regarding the origin of the computer hidden beneath his bed, but with a sigh she restrained herself and made her announcement. "I contacted your dad and told him that you wanted to spend a week with him this summer."
Oscar set down his fork. A thousand conflicting thoughts swirled in his head. Through the strenuous efforts of St. Jerome, Oscar did not explode in fury at the table. Only one thought managed to emerge and manifest itself in the boy's trembling voice: "That was a lie."
written while listening to: Fushitsusha - Allegorical Misunderstanding (Avant Records, AVAN 008, 1993, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 4, 2017
It became a priority for Oscar to find additional members of the Registry, regardless of their faith or lack thereof. Oscar accepted that his fantasy was inextricably bound within the society; each member, current of former, had represented one of the eight schools of magic. It was this chain of logic that prompted Oscar to seek Lamar out.
As Cybil had once described to Omar in the most unflattering terms, Oscar's older brother had been part of a group of "lame gamers", who participated in fantasy role-playing games. Aside from Oscar's brother, there had been three others who constituted the core of the group, meeting weekly to explore dungeons, slay dragons and unleash hellacious doom upon the unwary. Often the gaming sessions were held at Oscar's house, so there had been many occasions for Oscar to meet them all, or at least to sit in the back of the room and observe the rambunctious proceedings. He had not been granted a seat at the table; though he had asked. His brother had insisted that not one iota of the courage of knights or the dark sorcery of wizards could be wasted on babysitting.
Of the remaining members, Oscar had seen none since his brother's death. He had no particular affinity for one over another. His decision to contact Lamar was based exclusively on proximity. Lamar lived closest to Oscar and was most easily accessible by bicycle. In Oscar's memory, Lamar had played a raging barbarian, who hailed from the icy tundra, who wielded a mighty blade, whose heroic physique and untamed locks caused many a maiden to swoon, and who answered to no lesser name than Dagnar the Dangerous.
written while listening to: Mitsuru Natsuno, Keiji Haino & Ishibashi Eiko - Reverb (Rhythm Tracks, TRACKS-012, 2008, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 5, 2017
Oscar laid his bike down in the yard and knocked at the door. He tried to quell the uneasiness in his stomach, for the premonition that he was engaged in an ill-fated endeavor steadily intensified. Next to the two stairs leading to the front door a plastic garbage can overflowed with a small mountain of partially empty bottles of soda pop and refuse from fast-food restaurants. At least one colony of ants worked diligently to break down the nutrients and return them in pieces to their underground lair, but their efforts were apparently insufficient to address the rate at which the waste accumulated. Oscar knocked again.
Although located less than two miles from his house, this neighborhood was populated by more modest homes on smaller lots. A higher fraction of the homes and yards were not well maintained. With no car in the driveway, Oscar decided no one must be home. He returned to his bike, just as the door opened a few inches. In the narrow gap thus revealed, a middle-aged woman dressed in a stained sweat suit greeted him in a tone that was intended to communicate her irritation with being disturbed. "Yeah?"
Without moving from his spot in the yard, Oscar explained that he was looking for Lamar. The woman, presumably Lamar's mother, gruffly informed him that Lamar was at work at a local, chain restaurant. "Won't be home 'til late," she said in parting, as a way to convey that she wanted Oscar neither to disturb her again during the day nor to return after dark, when it was too late for visitors. As he thanked her, she closed the door.
Oscar knew the location of the restaurant; it wasn't far. However, the encounter had sapped his enthusiasm. He resolved to attempt to make contact with the barbarian at the restaurant on the morrow.
written while listening to: Knead - This Melting Happiness - I Want You To Realize That It Is Another Trap (Fractal Records, Fractal 023, 2003, Japan, lp, discogs.com)
May 6, 2017
On Saturday afternoon, Oscar bicycled to the restaurant. White Tito followed behind him at a discreet distance. Although he chose to remain invisible in the clear light of the sun, the owl kept its distance since Oscar's growing magical sensitivities might alert him to the presence of the owl by other means.
Oscar slowly pedaled into the parking lot, past a few, unoccupied cars. He found two teenagers leaning against the back of the building, both wearing employees' uniforms and passing their breaks while fiddling with their cell phones. One of the boys pushed himself up and returned to the interior of the restaurant. Oscar suspected that the remaining fifteen-year-old might be Lamar; it had been almost two years since he had last seen him.
Beneath a mop of curly, dirty blonde hair, the boy's face was a display of teenage hormones, showcasing equally a sparse pattern of stray whiskers and interspersed patches of acne. Lamar looked up from the phone and noticed Oscar watching him while trying to balance on his bike. The two boys examined each other for ten seconds or more, each retrieving the memories required to confirm recognition of the other.
Oscar approached the back of the building, but it was the barbarian who spoke first to the brother of his slain companion. "Well met, young Oscar, He who has Loved the Deer." As a barbarian he put great stock in the origin of names and had no qualms with one who had fornicated with a doe. One had to make do in the wild places of the world.
written while listening to: Keiji Haino & Michihiro Sato - Tayu tayu to tadayoitamae kono furue (PSF Records, PSFD-8018, 2004, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 7, 2017
Lamar had had little time to speak at their first meeting; his break had ended almost as soon as Oscar had arrived in the parking lot. They had agreed to meet again on the following day. While Lamar had offered to stop by Oscar's house, Oscar declined. Nor did Lamar suggest his own home. Instead, they agreed to reconvene outside the restaurant, though it was especially convenient to neither of them.
Oscar arrived ten minutes early and had almost given up hope when Lamar eventually appeared half an hour late, wearing ill-fitting jeans and a t-shirt. Of his tardiness, the older boy said nothing. He greeted Oscar by asking, "Are you getting up a game?"
Oscar nodded tentatively. "Sort of."
"What's it called?"
"The Renegades of the American Muslim Registry."
"I don't know that one," Lamar admitted, "but it sounds pretty interesting. Is it anti-terrorism special ops? "
"Domestic terrorism," Oscar answered, thinking only of the terror instilled by the president in his fellow citizens.
"Urban!" Lamar intoned, as if it were the most exciting adjective in the universe.
"Actually, in this game, the Muslims are on the side of right," Oscar clarified.
"Subversive!" Lamar gleefully intoned. "Count me in." After a moment he added, "I'm not a Muslim myself you know. I follow the Cimmerian god, Crom. He is a grim and unforgiving master who favors strength. He does not answer prayers, as only the weak pray." Lamar then drew the attention of the few people in the parking lot on early Sunday afternoon by shouting, "May a bolt of lightning incinerate me on this very spot should I ever dishonor the Blood Lord!"
Oscar peered about nervously. The passers-by avoided looking at them, for fear of drug-addled retaliation.
The barbarian offered the following dramatic conclusion, "Many a time did your brother save me from a dire fate. I shall consider it an oath of honor to repay this debt to one of his blood-kin."
written while listening to: Andy Haas - Arnhem Land (Avant Records, AVAN 048, 1997, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 8, 2017
Lamar's work schedule was irregular to say the least. At fifteen, he had few other employment options, so the management felt free to assign him shifts only three or four hours long, to cancel his shifts without notice, or to call him and announce that he was to come in immediately. The various associate managers, one of whom was always present in the restaurant, seemed to take a perverse pleasure in treating him and the other underage employees in the same manner that they were treated by the manager, namely as subhumans to be demeaned for their lack of options. When friends asked what prompted Lamar to keep this job, he would reply, "Seven dollars and twenty-five cents per hour." It was the federally mandated minimum wage. While there had been much talk during the presidential campaign of raising the federal wage to as high as fifteen dollars per hour, the prospects had disappeared given the outcome of the election.
Lamar was taking the garbage out to the dumpster, when he saw Oscar straddling his bike behind the restaurant. "How long you been out here? Let me see if I can take a break." He grunted as he heaved the can over the lip of the dumpster. He awkwardly shifted to largely avoid a stream of brown and red liquid that leaked out a crack in the side of the can and pooled on the asphalt.
Apparently it was an inconvenient time for the task masters to give the barbarian a break, for he did not reappear that day; Oscar eventually bicycled home without speaking to him.
written while listening to: Keiji Haino & Masataka Fujikake - Ashita arufabetto ga, kiete shimaimasu yo ni (Fulldesign Records, Fulldesign Records, FDR-1011, 2009, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 9, 2017
Lamar showed up unannounced at Oscar's house Tuesday after school with the explanation, "They cut my shift today."
Oscar paid little mind. He examined his watch. His mother would be home in an hour or so. Undoubtedly, she would be alarmed to find Oscar in the company of one of the close friends of his brother at the time of his death. He had to get Lamar away from the house, but he did not want to offend the barbarian.
They sat on the front porch, as Lamar asked about the rules and goals of the Renegades. "How do you win?"
"Amelioration," Oscar replied. "You have to make the world a better place."
"Like slaying the dragon to save the maiden and the surrounding villages."
"Exactly," Oscar agreed, glancing at this watch again.
"Who's the maiden?"
This question gave Oscar pause. "Well," he stumbled, "there are three women in the Renegades." He remembered that Cybil had quit. "Two actually, our diviner quit."
"Who are the other two?"
"A conjurer and a...librarian."
"You are light on muscle," the barbarian observed.
Oscar nodded. It wasn't clear to him how muscle could make the world a better place. He largely associated it with violence.
"So, it's like LARPing?"
Oscar was unfamiliar with the term, prompting Lamar to explain the acronym, "Live Action Role Playing. You wander around in the real world."
Oscar nodded absent-mindedly; it seemed an apt description of his life the past few months. He looked at his watch again.
"When is your mom coming home?"
"Soon," Oscar admitted, embarrassed. "I'm sorry."
Lamar rose to his feet. "Don't sweat it. Nobody wants to be seen in the company of a barbarian. Having forsaken the comforts and conventions of civilization, we adopt the role of outcast as a badge of honor." With those parting words, he took off down the street, his bicycle weaving in a lackadaisical way across both lanes.
written while listening to: Seijaku - Last Live (doubt music, dmf-156/157, 2015, Japan, cdx2, discogs.com)
May 10, 2017
On Wednesday, Cybil appeared on his porch. It had been over a week since she had quit the Renegades and he had last seen her. Summer was already approaching; the temperature neared 80. Oscar had left the front door open to cool the house. His mother hoped to have sold the house before they needed the air conditioner. As such, Cybil stood at the screen door and called inside, "Oscar?" Her voice echoed through-out the house and traveled down the hallway to the shrine of his brother's room, where Oscar studied a grimoire. Without explanation, his spirits rose at the sound of her voice saying his name. He chided himself, for he had already accepted that once he moved out of this house he would never speak to her again.
They faced each other through the screen mesh. Curiously, Cybil said, after a week separation, "I thought I was never going to see you again, just because I left the Registry."
"Here I am," said Oscar, spreading his arms wide.
"Are you going to invite me inside?" Cybil produced a smile that again threatened Oscar's equilibrium.
Seated on the couch, she asked, "What have you been up to?"
"LARPing," he replied, then had to explain what it was. Of Lamar, he said nothing.
"That sounds stupid," said Cybil. "I'm sorry. I know your brother was into that kind of stuff, but it's for losers."
"Why is that?" Oscar asked, trying to hide his disappointment.
"Because," she said, "the whole idea is messed up. There's something so wrong with this world that you have to escape through fantasy?"
This was a statement with which Oscar wholeheartedly agreed, though he did not choose this moment to endorse it. "Maybe."
"Well," she said as if it was obvious, "there's nothing so wrong with the world that rolling up your sleeves and working on it won't fix. Running away is for cowards."
written while listening to: Keiji Haino & Shoji Hano - The Strange Face (Ultra Hard Gel, GEL CD 01, 2000, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 11, 2017
"To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage."*
The necromancer sat across the wooden reading table from the abjurer. She attempted to interpret the boy's purpose in selecting this lesson, from among many in The Analects, to share with her.
"What is it," she asked, "which you have found absent, that you cannot bring yourself to enact?"
Oscar met her stare without flinching. "Amelioration, of course."
To be honest, the necromancer maintained an ambiguous relationship with the proposal of general amelioration. Knowing as she did the secrets of the dead, there was a limit to her susceptibility to such arguments. Still, she had committed to the education of the young abjurer, a task she was not yet willing to relinquish, despite his increasingly sporadic visits to her temple.
"Have you learned anything else from the Master?" she asked.
Oscar obliged her by reading a short passage, which he had bookmarked.
The Master said, "Do you think, my disciples, that I have any concealments? I conceal nothing from you. There is nothing which I do that is not shown to you, my disciples; that is my way."
Wu-ma Ch'i reported these remarks, and the Master said, "I am fortunate! If I have any errors, people are sure to know them."*
That the boy had discovered virtue in the abjuration of deception swelled the heart of the necromancer with the same pride that many tutors feel at an unexpected achievement of a pupil who had shown no previous signs of distinction.
*Confucius (551-479 BC), The Analects, translated by James Legge, 1861, full text: The Internet Classics Archive.
written while listening to: Keiji Haino, Jean-François Pauvros & François Causse - Y (Shambala, SHAMB 99003, 1999, France, cd, discogs.com)
May 12, 2017
When Lamar showed up again at Oscar's house on Friday afternoon, Oscar took him to see the only member of Renegades easily accessible. They slipped past Agnes' car and into the back yard, which they found overgrown only in patches around the margin where sunlight managed to get past the hemlocks. Their arrival scattered several squirrels.
Oscar knocked at the back door. Eventually, Agnes appeared and ushered them inside. He introduced Lamar as the newest Renegade.
The old woman seemed surprised. In response a cat emerged from around a corner and climbed onto her lap to comfort her.
Lamar described his barbarian heritage to the conjurer, who took it all in with a show of politeness. She served tea, boiling the water in a kettle, then steeping it, before pouring it in dainty porcelain cups placed upon saucers with a matching floral design. When they had finished their tea, Lamar volunteered to carry the tray back to the kitchen. As if to provide a demonstration of his barbarism, he accidentally lost one of the cups and it shattered on the kitchen floor.
Startled, the cat leapt from the conjurer's lap. Amidst a profusion of apologies, Lamar gathered all of the pieces he could find. Oscar got down on his hands and knees and searched for shards as well.
"A barbarian indeed," said Agnes to Oscar. She had hoped that the matching tea set, like everything else in her house, would outlive her. Under no circumstances could this encounter be deemed an auspicious first meeting.
written while listening to: Barre Phillips, Keiji Haino & Sabu Toyozumi - Two Strings will do it (PSF Records, PSFD 45, 1994, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 13, 2017
"Who's the barbarian?" Cybil asked. An hour or so of daylight remained. The approaching darkness placed shadows on her face, hiding her expression amidst her black hair.
"You spoke to Agnes."
"I don't need to be a member of the Renegades, to talk to my friends."
"Of course," Oscar agreed.
"Who is he?"
Reluctantly, Oscar answered, "He was one of my brother's friends."
"I knew it!" said Cybil, stamping her foot on the wooden porch. "He's one of the druggies that your brother hung out with when he overdosed."
Oscar kept his expression on her tennis shoes. He said nothing. Of the details of his brother's death, he nurtured only suspicions. His parents had not provided him with a clear account, neither at the time of the accident nor later. He had not yet summoned the courage to ask Lamar.
"You don't know how to run the Renegades!" Cybil said with exasperation. "In a society, you have to vote for new members. When Agnes joined, all three of us agreed to invite her." She paused long enough to make sure that Oscar continued to listen to her, though he did not meet her eyes. "Agnes doesn't want a barbarian in the Renegades."
"He said he was sorry," said Oscar, thinking of the teacup.
"And I don't want him either."
"You're not in the Renegades," Oscar reminded her. "You quit."
"I'm unquitting," Cybil announced.
At this declaration, Oscar floated in an out-of-body bliss. He paid no attention to Cybil's following words, "just so I can vote the barbarian out, then I'm quitting again." The Registry was saved!
written while listening to: Kazuki Tomokawa - Erise No Me (PSF Records, PSFD 8008, 2001, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 14, 2017
Cybil held the interview at her house, after all of her family's Sunday activities had been completed. She had changed from her church clothes into jeans and a t-shirt, though she had left her hair pulled back. She felt it looked appropriately austere for what were surely to be serious proceedings.
Agnes drove over, though the houses were separated by scarcely two blocks. Lamar and Oscar arrived together, each looking more forlorn than the other. It was difficult to determine, just by visual inspection, which of the two boys was on trial.
Cybil officiated, while her mother served lemonade to the children and tea to Agnes. She began by expounding the egalitarian nature of the Renegades. Cybil also described the purpose of the society, namely to foil discrimination of any kind, but especially that based on religion, as threatened by the president during his campaign. At these words, her mother beamed with pride. Then Cybil turned to the barbarian and asked him to state his motivation for wanting to join the registry.
Of course, barbarians are not well suited to civilized matters of state. Out of his element, his arguments wandered almost incoherently. When he was finished, Oscar gave him an optimistic thumbs up as a show of support, wholly at odds with the spectacle that had just transpired.
They took a vote on paper ballots. Cybil announced the results, "One for and two against." She turned to the barbarian. "I am afraid, given the current composition of the Registry, that your campaign for membership is, unfortunately, unsuccessful. We thank you for your interest."
Lamar looked stunned; as if this predestined result had caught him by surprise. He turned to Oscar. "What about the librarian? She hasn't voted. She could cast the tying vote."
At this news, Cybil stood agape. "A librarian?" How could the barbarian be aware of members unknown to her? She frantically wondered how many others Oscar had, on the sly, invited into the Registry.
written while listening to: Keiji Haino, Jozef Dumoulin & Teun Verbruggen - Miracles of Only One Thing (Sub Rosa Records, SR 439LP, 2017, Belgium, lp, discogs.com)
May 15, 2017
Based on the description provided by Oscar, Amanita was easy to identify at the library. Cybil pointed her out to Agnes, who had come not just as a chauffeur but also as a member of the Renegades with a stake in the membership. Noting the librarian's uniformly black eye shadow, lipstick, dress, tights and combat boots, Agnes whispered to Cybil, "Be careful. She looks tough. Watch out for those boots." Of Amanita's shockingly blue hair, Agnes said nothing.
Without any show of trepidation, Cybil approached the reference desk and requested help finding a book from the occult section.
Immediately, Amanita was suspicious. The old woman and debutante did not fit the stereotypical picture of occultists. Curious, she led them to the elevator, guessing correctly that Agnes would rather not navigate the stairs. In the elevator, Cybil flashed the peace sign and said, "We are fellow Renegades of the American Muslim Registry."
"I thought as much," Amanita replied.
In the Occult and Paranormal aisle, they introduced themselves. Then Cybil explained Oscar's liberal invitations to the Registry.
Based on the girl's arguments, Amanita immediately understood her own membership was now in jeopardy. "So what of me?" she asked.
"You are being interviewed right now," Agnes informed her.
"Oh." Amanita straightened her hair.
"What's your role in the Registry?" Cybil asked.
"I'm the Diviner," Cybil said. "Agnes is the Conjurer of the Registry. What about you?"
"Oh..." said Amanita. "I staff a temple filled with the records of those who have transitioned to another plane. Through this repository, I provide the means of communication with the dead."
"Wow," said Agnes, impressed. "That could come in handy."
Seizing upon the favorable remark, Amanita asked, "So am I officially in?"
Cybil exchanged an approving glance with Agnes then announced, "Welcome to the Renegades. We have a barbaric problem to discuss."
written while listening to: Merzbow, Keiji Haino & Balázs Pándi - An Untroublesome Defencelessness (Rare Noise Records, RNR061LP, 2016, United Kingdom, lpx2, discogs.com)
May 16, 2017
After work on Tuesday, Amanita arrived at Rufus' apartment at about a quarter to ten. She hadn't seen him yesterday, so this was her first chance to share her encounter with the eclectic occultists.
Before she could say a word, she had to allow Rufus to tell her about the various published reports of the president leaking classified intelligence to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister. He had clearly spent too much time poring over the news on several sites and felt compelled to repeat the story in incredulous tones until Amanita placated him by demonstrating a corresponding indignation. With that off his chest, Rufus asked, "How was your day?"
She brought two glasses of wine out to the back porch of the third-floor apartment. The night was cool, the hum of traffic muted. She recounted the episode with Cybil and Agnes. She concluded with their request that she side with them on their vote to expel the boy, whom they called a barbarian.
The pleasant evening had calmed Rufus; Amanita's story, if not her presence alone, had taken his mind off politics. He ran a finger over the fabric of her shirt along her spine. When she had finished, he said, "That doesn't make any sense. The whole point of the registry should be to swell the ranks so that it is impossible for a fascist government to identify Muslims from the rest of society."
"I told them that," Amanita assured him.
"You have to vote to keep the barbarian," he decided, "or resign in protest."
She leaned over and kissed him on the neck. "You're just jealous because you're not on the Registry."
Rufus did not deny it. He said in a tone of exaggerated exasperation, "I should be."
She kissed him again to quiet him down and murmured, "I might put in a good word for you."
He struggled away, if only for a moment, to remind her unnecessarily, "I fixed that kid's computer."
written while listening to: Keiji Haino & KK Null - Mamono (Blossoming Noise, BN-018CD, 2006, United States, cd, discogs.com)
May 17, 2017
Cybil found Agnes sitting on her lawn chair in the back yard. The tortoiseshell cat reclined in the shade, while the old woman was exposed to the sun. The temperature had risen nearly to 90 degrees and the afternoon had not yet grown so late that the day was beginning to cool. "Move your chair into the shade," Cybil encouraged her.
Together they moved two chairs under the hemlocks. The cat looked on idly, as if wondering why in more matters humans didn't follow the sage example of felines. Cybil worried that Agnes looked on the edge of heat exhaustion, so, unbidden, she went inside and made two glasses of iced lemonade.
When the diviner and conjurer were seated in the shade, the elder of the two said, "It's petty, isn't it, keeping the boy out over a teacup?"
"It's not just the teacup," Cybil replied. "He's a barbarian."
"He doesn't look like a barbarian," Agnes mused. She took another sip of lemonade. She glanced over at Cybil. "He's kind of dumpy."
Cybil nodded. Certainly, the label, barbarian, had not been applied to describe Lamar's physique, which more readily evoked potato chips and video games. In any case, that seemed the least of their problems. "Amanita's not going to vote to expel him," Cybil announced.
"Her arguments are sound," Agnes agreed. "We could splinter off and form a rival registry," she suggested with a faint grin.
Cybil frowned. "To be honest," she admitted, "I like Oscar and Amanita and I want to stay with them." She also hoped that Omar would eventually find a way to rejoin their number.
"Me too," Agnes reluctantly agreed. "Besides, seeing the erratic way that this president has been acting lately, the Registry may have to act with its full strength any day now."
written while listening to: À Qui Avec Gabriel - Utsuho (Tzadik, TZ 7233, 2001, United States, cd, discogs.com)
May 18, 2017
Through sheer repetition, Oscar was gradually becoming more comfortable with Lamar showing up at his house after school, on days when the older boy either didn't work or didn't start until later in the evening. Lamar understood that he was to depart before Oscar's mother arrived home. Oscar had moved their meetings inside the house, since the front porch felt too exposed. A casual comment by a neighbor to his mother about Oscar's new friend might set off an unwanted string of questions.
Thus far they had limited themselves to the living room and the kitchen, where Lamar exhibited no compunction against raiding the refrigerator for leftovers. Oscar sat at the table and repeated his request. "Cybil said that Amanita wants to meet you tomorrow at the library before she casts her vote."
"That might be possible," the barbarian said nonchalantly, between taking bites of chicken from a drumstick. "I don't think I'm scheduled tomorrow either. Those bastards are messing with my hours." He finished the chicken, then washed his greasy hands and face in the kitchen sink. From there, he asked,
"You're a wizard, aren't you? Like your brother?"
"Can't you cast a spell to make sure she votes me in?"
"That might be possible," said Oscar, slowly repeating the barbarian's words. "But..."
"Well, like I said, the librarian is a necromancer. She might have tricks of her own up her sleeve."
The gears turned in the barbarian's head. A few moments later, he shouted with unrestrained enthusiasm, "Wizard duel! Now, I'm definitely going to be there."
written while listening to: Black Stage - Black Stage (Maboroshi No Sekai, MABO-005, 1996, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 19, 2017
The barbarian had never ventured into the downtown library. It took something as momentous as the Renegades to bring about this juxtaposition of the learned and the benighted.
The necromancer spotted the boys as soon as they entered. She read uneasiness in the sidewise glances of the barbarian. Of course, her vote was predetermined. This boy, however uneducated and uncouth he might be, deserved membership in the Registry no less than any other willing to rise above bigotry for the common good. Besides, Amanita was encouraged by the news that Rufus had shared with her last night. The appointment of a special counsel, investigating the president's ties to Russia and his attempts to obstruct justice, could mean that his designs for a Registry of American Muslims might never come to fruition. Still, the exercise itself, in forming local resistance to the exploitation of social uncertainty designed to pit the majority against a minority, possessed intrinsic value. As such, the necromancer welcomed the boys with great warmth.
Without leaving the reference desk, the librarian informed the barbarian that he had her blessing to join the Registry. A curious expression passed across his face, though he did not explain it at that time. Perhaps, he was merely disappointed at the absence of a duel.
The necromancer recognized that there was a nobility to be found among barbarians. She expressed this sentiment, while at the same time chastising the abjurer for neglecting his studies, by opening a copy of The Analects and reading a brief passage.
The Master was wishing to go and live among the nine wild tribes of the east. Someone said, "They are rude. How can you do such a thing?" The Master said, "If a superior man dwelt among them, what rudeness would there be?"*
*Confucius (551-479 BC), The Analects, translated by James Legge, 1861, full text: The Internet Classics Archive.
written while listening to: Keiji Haino & Alan Licht - Gerry Miles (Atavistic, ALP71CD, 1996, United States, cd, discogs.com)
May 20, 2017
To show there were no hard feelings, Cybil threw a party to welcome the barbarian to the Registry. Agnes insisted on hosting it at her house. She had a forty-year-old storm radio through which Cybil dialed in a popular music station. During their first meeting, Cybil and Amanita had exchanged numbers; the librarian agreed to come after the library closed at five o'clock. Cybil even had her mother call Omar's mother and ask if Omar could come to the party. However, Omar remained grounded, forbidden from seeing them. Agnes had prepared a fresh fruit salad, which because of the season, had nearly a dozen different fruits in it, including kiwi, cantaloupe, pineapple and blueberries. The hostess also set out matching crystal party treat bowls, one filled with pastel-colored mints and the other two with almonds and cashews. As the centerpiece of the living room buffet, a carved crystal punchbowl with matching ladle was filled with fruit punch. A half dozen champagne flutes were arranged on either side. Even the smell of old age, which ordinarily filled the house, seemed to be diminished for the occasion.
Oscar and Lamar arrived together on bicycles. Lamar seemed in high spirits. He popped an amazingly extended wheelie. They entered through the back. Punch was distributed. Cybil raised a toast to Lamar's membership in the Registry. All in attendance cheered. The barbarian was ill-prepared to deliver a speech. He thanked each of the other four individually. He apologized that he couldn't stay long but that his shift started at six. There were murmurs of disappointment at this news but they were quickly silenced by Lamar's subsequent announcement that the ways of the barbarian brooked no creature comforts. Parties such as this were for the privileged elite. Although the Renegades could ever count him as an ally in their struggle against fascism, he regrettably declined their invitation to join the Registry.
written while listening to: Keiji Haino & Loren MazzaCane Connors - Vol. 2 (Menlo Park, 7005, 1997, United States, lp, discogs.com) and Keiji Haino & Loren MazzaCane Connors - Live at Downtown Music Gallery (Persona Non Grata, PnG #2, 1995, United States, cd, discogs.com)
May 21, 2017
Oscar did not understand why he woke before dawn and could not get back to sleep. This was not a common occurrence for him. He rolled first to one side, then to the other, but remained alert and awake. He rose quietly, poured himself a cup of milk and went out to the front porch. There, he listened to the neighborhood song birds conduct their predawn choir. Many species were represented and, in the dark, Oscar could see none of them. All the while, he wondered what had disturbed him.
What he could not know was that White Tito had roused him from his sleep and drawn him out into the stillness of a day not yet begun for a particular reason. The owl perched on the porch swing but possessed insufficient weight in his incorporeal state to cause it to react to his presence. It mattered not; the owl's purpose lay in teaching Oscar a new spell, abandon (Abjuration). This spell was not to be confused with wanton abandon (Enchantment), which had a very different effect. Abandon functioned by allowing a single experience to so fully permeate the target that they perceived it as wholly inevitable and abandoned themselves to whatever fate this event might deliver them.
That White Tito deemed such a spell timely was a consequence of his sensitivity to bidirectional temporal diffusion (Transmutation), through the casting of which he sensed that later on in the day Oscar's mother would sign a contract, passing the title of the house into other hands, upon the arrival of a closing date not too far in the future.
written while listening to: Gaspar Claus - Jo Ha Kyū (Modest Launch Records, ML20130222, 2013, Japan, lp+mp3dl, discogs.com)
May 22, 2017
"Catorthoseis," said Oscar, "was supposed to work." He stood on the other side of the counter at the fast food restaurant.
Lamar leaned over and whispered with a mixture of apology and annoyance, "I can't talk now. I'm working." Lamar looked over his shoulder to find an assistant manager scrutinizing the exchange. Oscar followed his gaze and received an unpleasant sneer. The assistant manager donned a neat moustache and a dress shirt that was one size too tight. He took a step toward the counter.
"I'll catch up with you later," Lamar said, who then disappeared into the back.
Oscar fled the restaurant. He mounted his bicycle and sprinted heedlessly out of the parking lot, narrowly missing an oncoming car in the street. The driver slammed on the brakes and pounded on the horn, but Oscar did not stop.
He had found his last Monday at school nigh intolerable. The other students described to each other their summer plans and promised to share all their exploits when school resumed in the fall. That they yet had the remainder of the week in each other's company seemed no obstacle to expressing these grand gestures.
As for Oscar, he would not return to the Catholic school. It was just as well; he had learned very little from Catholics. If he had not been forbidden by the pastor, he might have studied how to summon and control a spirit according to the rites within The Key of Solomon the King. If he had only disregarded the priest's advice, he could have set that spirit to the task of keeping his home and he would not be facing the dire situation now before him.
As for his summer plans, the proposed trip to see his father loomed over his head like a black storm cloud. On Monday, in a last gambit, Oscar prayed fervently to Jesus Christ to annihilate the entire human race so that he might be spared the misery of this reunion.
written while listening to: Keiji Haino & Pan Sonic - Shall I download a blackhole and offer it to you (Blast First (petite), PTYT 014, released 2009, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
May 23, 2017
On Tuesday morning, Oscar woke with a fever. The school had a policy of sending home children for twenty-four hours if they showed signs of a fever. His mother knew that if she brought him to school, the secretary would call her mid-morning at work to come claim him. Instead, she left her son home by himself, something she had not yet done in his young life. Why on this date she suddenly deemed Oscar sufficiently mature to spend an entire day on his own we do not know. "It's only a summer bug," she told him.
Oscar lay in bed, alternately sweating then shivering with chills.
St. Jerome came down from heaven and sat beside the sick child. He had brought with him a copy of one of his own works, De Viris Illustribus (On Illustrious Men), which provided historical information regarding one-hundred thirty-five ecclesiastical writers. Perched on the edge of the bed, St. Jerome read from the text, translating it into English on the fly for the benefit of Oscar.
Ambrose a bishop of Milan, at the present time is still writing. I withhold my judgment of him, because he is still alive, fearing either to praise or blame lest in the one event, I should be blamed for adulation, and in the other for speaking the truth.*
Of course, by the time of this reading, Ambrose was long dead, having expired in 397. St. Jerome therefore felt no restraint against appending his judgment of the complete body of work of Ambrose, who had subsequently been canonized. "He turned out okay after all," he said to Oscar.
While to a theologian, having St. Jerome comment on his works might provoke paroxysms of delight, to Oscar in his sickness all of the histories seemed excessively dull. It was exactly the sort of remedy appropriate to thwart a summer virus for it quickly lulled Oscar back to sleep.
*St. Jerome (347 - 420 AD), De Viris Illustribus (On Illustrious Men), translated by Ernest Cushing Richardson. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 3. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892. full text: New Advent.
written while listening to: Chisato Yamada - Fantasy World (PSF Records, PSFD-73, 1996, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 24, 2017
Oscar's fever continued into a second day. His mother lamented that he did not have a cell phone to call her if there was a problem. "I'll get you a phone, when we have moved to the apartment." She had already done the calculations for the new budget, based on maintaining only her current job. She intended not to touch her half of the proceeds from the selling of the house, which had been largely paid off and had appreciated significantly in value during the decade and a half since they had bought it. Her plans seemed sound. She would put half in a retirement account, another a quarter in an educational savings fund for Oscar's college and the last quarter in a savings account in case of an emergency. It was the best security she could provide for herself and her son. Such plans for the future filled her head as she dressed for work.
His mother texted a neighbor, who she knew stayed home most days (though not the conjurer) and let her know that Oscar was home sick. She instructed him to make his way to their neighbor, to crawl if he had to, in the event he got worse.
None of these thoughts reached Oscar. He had heard only the word "apartment". It was the first mention by his mother that they would not be moving to another house.
Today, the Destroying Angel came to keep Oscar company in his delirium. "'Apartment' comes from the Italian, appartare, meaning 'to separate'," the angel explained to the child, "just as you will be separated from your friends, never again to find them or to be filled with pleasure by the warmth of their greeting."
written while listening to: Cinorama - Nawa nawa (PSF Records, PSFD-63, 1995, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 25, 2017
On Thursday, officially the last day of the school year, Oscar's fever was unabated. He lay in bed, his face pallid, his hands clammy. As his mother was leaving for work, Oscar fretted that he had to clean out his desk, but his mother told him not to worry about it.
As soon as she left, Douchebag J. Troglodyte came to visit. He wore a spiffy, dark business suit and a bright red tie. He paced back and forth across the length of the small bedroom while he spoke to Oscar. He explained that in the past week, he had traveled to Riyadh, Jerusalem and Rome in what he described as a tolerance tour of the world's three Abrahamic religions. "That makes me something of an expert," he said, "on Allah, Yahweh and Jesus. I know some things--so many things actually--you can't just read in books." Douchebag J. Troglodyte then proceeded to expound upon the role of religion in modern society, pacing all the while. When he thought that Oscar wasn't paying close attention, he repeated himself. He delivered a rambling lecture, eschewing sentences in favor of fragmentary, often incoherent, ejaculations. Several times, he reminisced fondly about the sword dancing he had observed in Saudi Arabia.
He concluded by noting that the Pope gave him a gift. "A book!" Of course, it was a point of pride with the troglodyte that he had never read a book. Thus the following passage remained unread.
The great danger in today's world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God's voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.*
*Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation: Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel), 2013, English translation, paragraph 2, Vatican Press. full text: The Holy See.
written while listening to: Keiji Haino & Boris - Black: Implication Flooding (INOXIA, IXCD 0002, 1998, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 26, 2017
The virus had run its course; the fever had subsided. Still, Oscar should not have accepted the invitation from Lamar to venture out on bicycles that evening. His mother would have forbidden it, but she had a late appointment with a landlord showing apartments. Besides, Lamar had been possessed of an inexplicable enthusiasm. He insisted, "It's got to be today!" He had learned in the paper that it was the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month; it seemed to him a call to action.
Four miles later, they arrived at the mosque, both sweaty and Oscar near exhaustion. The building had once been a retail store. A high cinderblock wall had been erected around the exterior of the surrounding parking lot. The lot was full; cars were now parking up and down the street. People funneled along the sidewalk into the gate. Oscar and Lamar left their bikes just inside.
Dressed in white robes, the Imam, a bearded man originally from North Africa, greeted the faithful outside the front entrance. He would conduct the evening prayers to usher in the season.
When the two boys reached the Imam, Oscar did no more than stand silently beside Lamar. The Imam's expression conveyed both curiosity at their presence and concern for the younger one, who appeared on the verge of fainting. He listened patiently as the barbarian, with what eloquence he could muster, explained that they had come as emissaries of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. While Lamar described its noble purpose, a crowd gathered round, listening and murmuring.
Eventually, the Imam interrupted Lamar, attempting to dismiss him by thanking him for his visit. As all could see--the Imam gestured to the crowd--it was a busy night. Oblivious, the barbarian continued to laud the Renegades, and a subdued but irritated indignation spread among the spectators. Then, to Oscar's horror, a familiar face appeared. Overcome, he succumbed to darkness.
Omar's father caught him just as he collapsed.
written while listening to: Keiji Haino & Coa - You should draw out the billion and first prayer (Hören, Hören/Mimi-010, 2000, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 27, 2017
On Saturday, Oscar's mother said nothing of his betrayal as she tended to him. There were many questions on her mind, which remained unanswered. She did not ask him as to why he had thought it sensible to go bicycling four miles after three days of fever. She did not interrogate him as to the reasoning behind choosing the mosque as his destination; she knew enough of the Renegades to draw her own conclusions. Nor did she ask him for the identity of his companion in whose company Omar's father had found him, though she wondered. Not in a hundred years would she have guessed the truth.
Omar's father had been unable to identify the older boy, who had simply biked off down the street, once he saw Oscar being carried into the back seat of the SUV.
The exchange of the sick child had been awkward. Oscar's mother had not been home and the boy had lain on the couch in Omar's living room for nearly half an hour before she returned from her appointment with the landlord. All the while, Omar's mother hovered nervously, repeatedly asking her husband if it weren't better to call an ambulance and have the boy taken to the children's hospital.
Although he would never speak on it, Omar's father perceived the struggles, economic and otherwise, of the single mother. He sat by the boy, encouraging him to drink water, then, carrying him across the street and laying him in his own bed, turned him over to his mother's care.
Oscar's mother felt very much the subject of reprehension, though there was nothing in her neighbor's words or deeds to convey it. Such guilt emanated from within herself. She knew that her son suffered from her neglect. Her husband had predicted that episodes such as this would come to pass once he left.
written while listening to: Keiji Haino & zeitkratzer - Stockhausen: Aus den sieben Tagen (Karlrecords, KR011, 2016, Germany, lp, discogs.com)
May 28, 2017
On Sunday, Omar's father finally regained enough composure to broach the subject of Oscar's trespassing on the grounds of the mosque on the first evening of Ramadan without going apoplectic. He had decided to hold this discussion in Persian because it seemed the most appropriate to him.
Omar sat on the couch in the living room with his father standing on the other side of the coffee table. "It's your fault," he said in a measured voice. For this comment, with no opportunity to explain himself, the boy was sent to his room.
An hour later, Omar was summoned again to the living room. He resumed his seat on the couch. This time both of his parents stood before him. "How is it my fault?" asked his father.
"You won't let me be an American kid," Omar answered flatly.
His parents exchanged glances; they privately admitted that locating the optimal balance of cultures was a learning process.
Omar continued. "If you would have let me stay in the Renegades, I would have been there to tell them that this was a terrible idea. I could've stopped them."
Again the parents exchanged looks. They sensed a ring of truth to their son's words.
"You knew nothing about it?" his father asked.
"How could I?" Omar replied, "I haven't seen them for a whole month."
In this manner, the restriction on seeing Oscar and Cybil was lifted. While neither parent could bring themselves to vocalize the words that would allow Omar to rejoin the Renegades, the sentiment was implicitly communicated.
"Go visit your friend," said Omar's mother in English. "His mother says that he is still in bed."
written while listening to: Vajra - Chiru-Ha (PSF Records, PSFM 1001, 1995, Japan, cd, discogs.com) and Vajra - Tsugaru (PSF Records, PSFD 62, 1995, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
May 29, 2017
Having recuperated with rest and his mother's oversight, Oscar led Omar into his brother's shrine, saying, "I wanted you to see it one time before it is torn down."
The fact that a panel reading "SOLD" had been added to the realtor's sign in the front yard of Oscar's house was not a topic that Omar had yet broached. Still, he understood that the sale was the origin of the timeline leading to the dismantling of the shrine. He gazed around the ordinary bedroom. To call it a shrine was something of an aggrandizement. It seemed only a very clean boy's room. On a bookshelf more than two dozen books, some hardback and some paperback, stood in a neat row. "Are these the grimoires?" Omar asked with awe, as if beholding a holy relic.
Oscar nodded. "You want to look at one with me?"
Omar eagerly agreed.
Oscar's mom popped her head in the doorway; of the prohibition against entering the room she said nothing.
"It's a beautiful day," Oscar said to Omar. "Let's read it outside."
On the front porch, Omar discovered that, in the brief time he had been inside, Oscar's mother had put out an American flag to celebrate Memorial Day. It hung on a pole at an angle from a bracket attached to a column.
Oscar briefly explained Memorial Day.
Omar said, suddenly worried, "We didn't put one out. We don't have a flag."
"It's no big deal," Oscar assured him. "Lots of people don't put them out." However, Omar was not reassured by these words. Oscar set the grimoire down on the table. To placate his friend, they marched across the street carrying the flag and placed it in the corresponding bracket of Omar's house.
In the evening, Omar's father removed it and rolled the flag around the pole. He returned it to Oscar's mother, thanking her for letting them borrow it for the holiday.
"It was the least I could do," she replied.
written while listening to: Purple Trap - Already The Motionless Heart Of Tranquility, Tangling The Prayer Called "I" (Tzadik, TZ 7221, 1999, United States, cdx2, discogs.com)
May 30, 2017
Oscar's mother had no choice but to leave Oscar home alone and return to work. Having followed her husband to this town two decades earlier, she had no local family upon whom to call for aid in the summer. With her husband absent, she could no longer afford a summer day camp. She did, however, lock the front tire of Oscar's bicycle in a closet, lest he be tempted to over exert himself again. She thought only of the mosque; of his more frequent sojourns to the downtown library she yet remained ignorant.
Oscar accepted Cybil's mid-morning invitation to visit Agnes. They sat out in the backyard, flanked by empty cages. After Cybil made lemonade, Oscar regaled them with Lamar's exploits at the mosque. At the retelling, Cybil covered her mouth with both hands, as in disbelief, while Agnes lowered her gaze and covered her eyes with one hand, as if shielding herself from residual embarrassment. It seemed no one received the story well; hearing it, the tortoiseshell strode off to the edge of the yard. It leapt atop the fence then haughtily passed a waiting trap.
"When Omar's father showed up, I fainted," Oscar concluded. He took a sip of his lemonade.
Cybil made him retell several parts of his tale in greater detail, including the reaction of the Imam.
Oscar could recall no sign of agitation in the holy man. "He was as cool as could be," he reported. He supposed that, in a vocation in which there was frequent opportunity to address the trials and tribulations of the members of his congregation, the Imam had learned to keep things in perspective.
"What about the barbarian?" asked Agnes.
Oscar shrugged. "I don't know. He was still talking about resisting the forces of tyranny when I passed out."
written while listening to: Nazoranai - The Most Painful Time Happens Only Once Has It Arrived Already..? (Ideologic Organ, SOMA018, 2014, Austria, lpx2, discogs.com)
May 31, 2017
Jellybean had missed Omar terribly. When the boy entered Cybil's home, the dog bounded up and threw its paws on his shoulders, nuzzling its wet, black face into the crook of his neck and nearly knocking him over.
"I knew you would come back to the Renegades!" Cybil shouted. She pushed the dog to the side and bestowed Omar with a hug that threatened to squeeze the breath from him.
"How did you know?" He himself had thought the outcome very much in doubt.
"I'm the diviner!" Cybil replied as if it were obvious.
The boy and girl took the dog out into the vacant lot, where the three of them ran about and celebrated the last day of May in the manner of those free of the cares of the world. The sky was overcast and a pleasant coolness cloaked them, despite their exertion.
Eventually the three of them came to rest in the grass. They peered up at the swath of white spread above them. "It's good to have you back," Cybil said, looking over at the younger boy. "I thought the barbarian was going to tear us apart." Cybil started to say more, but Omar waved her off.
"I don't want to know anything about him," he said. "Not even his name."
"I'm afraid," Omar admitted, "that my father is not totally over the episode at the mosque. If I learn something more and he asks me for it, I will have to tell him. I'm sure Oscar would think of that as a betrayal."
"Oscar..." Cybil said, trailing off.
"What about him?"
"He'll be gone soon. My mother said that they are only in the house until the end of June. After that, the Renegades will have to carry on without him."
written while listening to: Keiji Haino & Sitaar Tah!- Animamima (aRCHIVE/Important Records, aRCHIVE22+23 & imprec099, 2006, United States, cdx2, discogs.com)
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