Contest #189 shortlist ⭐️

39 comments

Creative Nonfiction Inspirational Bedtime

The grandmother had finally rounded up the children and marshaled them through their bedtime routine like a military operation: brushing teeth, scrubbing hands and faces, changing into pjs, locating stuffed animals that had gotten lost in the excitement of the day. But going to sleep itself, that was another matter for three small children in beds that were not their own. A summer with their grandparents was going to take some getting used to. The children squirmed anxiously beneath their blankets.

A request for a nightlight came from the smallest voice, Lennon, aged five, who missed his parents and his light-up star mobile. The grandmother found a few tiny tea lights that seemed to do the job.

Rune, aged six, asked for another drink of water to delay being left on their own in the strange room, triggering Lennon to pipe up with a matching request.  The grandmother brought in three little cups of water, and waited while sips were made, followed by the inevitable trips to the bathroom.

Zilla, aged seven, was used to having her own room and fretted silently about not being able to keep the light on while she read. The grandmother detected the anxiety, and in a quiet voice asked, “Would you like to hear a story?”

“Yes!” all three shouted, relieved to postpone the frightening prospect of sleeping in a strange house. 

The grandmother nodded. “OK, but voices need to stay low because Grampa’s trying to sleep.” She heard a derisive snort from the living room where Grandpa was definitely not trying to sleep. She ignored it and, keeping her own voice soft and low in the darkened room, she began.

“Once, not so long ago, there were three animals who were the best of friends. I’m wondering if you know what kind of animals they were?”

“An owl,” Zilla responded immediately. She loved owls, collected them, studied them, and wore owl print pajamas.

“A bear,” Rune answered almost as quickly. She loved bears, and had a well-loved stuffed bear clutched at her side at that very moment.

After a span of deep thought, the smallest voice answered, “An eagle.”

“And quite right you all are too,” the grandmother said. “That is exactly what the animal friends were. They lived in the deep woods and had many adventures together. They took long hikes and had picnics where they dined on seed cakes and honey—"

“And s’mores,” Lennon inserted.

“Of course, though s’mores were for after their seedcakes and honey. They would explore the caves and swim in the rivers—"

“And travel,” Rune suggested.

“Exactly, but not in the way you think. Oh no, not at all. That’s where our story starts. One day, on their hike, Eagle flew extra high into the sky and with his eagle eyes, he spotted something most unusual in a clearing in the woods on the top of a mountain. It was shiny and round, and not natural at all. So, the three friends hiked the mountain. Well, Bear did. Owl and Eagle mostly flew but sometimes rode on Bear’s back, for she was a strong bear.”

“It’s not fair that she had to carry them,” Rune objected.

“Of course it is. She was their friend, and she knew they would help her too.”

“Like Eagle spotting the round thing,” Lennon reminded her.

“Just so. And in order for us to find out what it was, we might need not to interrupt too much. OK? Though it is OK to ask questions because it is always OK to ask questions.”

They answered silently, so as not to interrupt.

“When they got to the mountain top, what they found was a large silver disc, like a sled, with strange markings on it. Bear nudged it this way and that with a paw. It spun around just like a toboggan but didn’t do anything else. Eagle, whose beak was very hard, gave it a few pecks which made a ringing noise. Ping, ping, ping. Owl, who was very smart because she read so much, tried to decipher the strange signs.”

“Maybe they were instructions,” Zilla volunteered, forgetting not to interrupt.

“Owl thought it very likely that the markings explained what the silver sled was.  But they couldn’t figure it out, and after much puzzling, Bear gave up and sat down right on the silver sled. Then the most amazing thing happened.”

The grandmother could hear several indrawn breaths. Rune asked nervously, “What happened?”

“Bear started to disappear! Owl and Eagle could see right through their strong friend like she was tissue paper! But they were quick thinking birds.  They each stretched out a wing and grabbed onto Bear to pull her to safety.”

“Did we all turn into tissue paper?” the smallest voice asked.

“What happened is that they all disappeared. Only they didn’t know they disappeared because they could see themselves. It was everything else that disappeared. The trees, the mountains, the sky. Even the smell of the pines and the song of the wind. Instead, where do you think they ended up?”

“Egypt,” said Zilla who had just learned about mummies in school.

“Dinosaurs,” said Lennon, who was five, after all.

“India,” Rune decided sleepily.

“You are each right in your own way. They shot lickety-split through darkness, a strange wind whooshing all around them. Suddenly, the sled landed with a thump and began to slide downhill, just like sledding in the winter, only they were sledding down the side of a sand dune. It made a sshhhsshh-ing sound beneath them. When they came to a stop at the bottom of the dune, the three animals blinked around. Particularly Owl, for the sun in this desert was far too bright for her eyes. She thought she might need sunglasses if she was going to be visiting—"

“Egypt!” Zilla realized.

“Egypt indeed. While Owl adjusted her eyelids to the glare, Eagle spotted some white pointy things in the distance. “They look like upside down waffle cones,” Eagle reported. Right away, Owl knew they were- “

“Pyramids,” Zilla said confidently.

“Right. So, the three animals decided they would explore the pyramids. They knew they would need the sled to get back home, so they buried it a little in the sand and arranged some sticks in an X to mark the spot.”

“Like pirates,” Lennon mumbled.

“Exactly like pirates, and you’ll find out more about pirates later. For now, the three headed towards the pyramids, the soft sand sinking under Bear’s paws. They reached the Sphinx that guards the pyramids, like a big, ginormous lion. Nowadays, it doesn’t have a nose, but what Owl was quick to notice was—"

“It had a nose!” Zilla sang out softly.

“Quite so. That’s how she knew they had traveled not only through space, but through time. They had ended up a long time ago. Before the Sphinx got noseless. The nose knows, you know.”

The grandmother could hear two people breathing heavily and Zilla’s sleepy chuckle.

“The three friends stared up at the enormous pyramids,” she continued, “which were shining white in the sun. A string of camels carrying building supplies joined them with friendly snorts. The workmen were friendly too and offered them tea and some Umm Ali, which is a flatbread soaked in milk and filled with almonds and coconuts. The three animals thought this new treat was especially delicious. They ate so much, their tummies hurt, so they settled down for the night by the workman’s fire, feeling very safe and cozy. You know what they did next?”

There was no answer.

The grandmother smiled, more than ready to feel safe and cozy in her own bed now that the little ones were asleep. “That is what we’ll find out tomorrow night,” she finished softly.

And that is what they did.

Each night, the grandmother added to the tale, following the breadcrumbs of the children’s interests. And so, on the second night, the animals explored the pyramids but started to get a little homesick. They decided to return to the silver sled and head home. What they didn’t know was that the silver sled didn’t take them home. Instead, when they opened their eyes…

“…They were at the base of a volcano. They could feel the heat even through the ground. There were big ferny trees and little bubbly-leafed bushes.  Strange birds were flying in the air, and it wasn’t long before the ground shook like thunder, big, slow footsteps. Boom, Boom, Boom. Sure enough, a huge animal, bigger than any they had ever seen before, was lumbering toward them.”

“Supersaurus!” Lennon offered. “I saw a supersaurus!”

“That’s exactly what was coming right toward them! Fortunately, Eagle knew that supersauruses don’t eat meat, so they were quite safe. In fact, the big beast ambled right up and sniffed at them with nostrils the size of pie plates. Then it sneezed. Ahhh-choookerfluffle!!!” the grandmother sneezed, in her best imitation of a supersaurus sneeze. A small chorus of giggles erupted from the pillows.

“The sneeze blew away the silver sled which rode on the sneeze wind like a big silver frisbee. Unfortunately, it smacked right into the side of a—”

“Tyrannosaurus Rex!” crowed Lennon.

“Who didn’t want to play frisbee, probably because his arms were so short. He was sensitive about that. He swatted the silver disc and glared at the three animals through beady eyes, which were much bigger up close than you’d think. Eagle screamed, Bear roared, and Owl let out her biggest hoot and they ran for the silver disc right as the Rex began to swing its mighty tail at them.”

“Were we hurt?” Rune cut in.

“Of course not. Bear thought quickly, grabbed her friends, and jumped aboard the sled right as the Rex’s tail flicked the silver disc high up into the air. They rode up, up, up. Like being on a roller coaster, their stomachs went down to their toes. Then the sled turned, and they rode down, down, down, and their stomachs jumped up to their hearts. Just when they thought they would fall straight into the mouth of the volcano, everything went black and the whooshing sound carried them to safety. And where do you think they ended up?”

The room was silent.

And so, on the third night, the trio learned that the sled had brought the animal friends to the Taj Mahal in India. It was as beautiful as any fairy tale castle, even though it wasn’t a castle.

“So we didn’t meet a princess?” asked Rune.

“No, but you met a friendly group of monkeys who shared some puris with you,” the grandmother pointed out.

“I don’t think I like puris,” Lennon muttered, objecting to new foods out of principal.

“Puris are like golden balloons, except very tasty, particularly with a drizzle of honey. The animal friends liked the puris very much. But India was much hotter than they were used to. A friendly elephant sprayed cool water over them through its trunk, but eventually, they decided to go home. Do you think the sled took them home?”

There was no answer. The grandmother rose and quietly closed the door.

Each night, the story unspooled under the grandchildren’s direction through time and place. And so, the three friends found themselves on the Serengeti where the animals taught them all their different languages: the moan of the wildebeest, the deranged hooting of the hyenas, the bray of the zebras, even the booming of the ostrich. The noises brought the grandfather in to investigate, wondering if the roomful of children had turned into a roomful of wild animals. It took a little longer that night for the three children to calm down and fall asleep on the plains of the Serengeti.

And so on.

They travelled to the ruins of Machu Picchu, where they discovered their own father when he was a young backpacker, standing in awe of the past that still echoed there. 

“Did I talk to him?” Zilla asked. “I mean Owl.”

“It happens Owl did talk to him. A very serious conversation about how the ancient buildings had withstood earthquakes for so long.”

“Could he understand me?” Zilla inquired.

“You bet. Your dad knew that humans aren’t the only animal on the planet to talk. You just have to listen.”

The children travelled to a busy Moroccan bazaar where they ran into their mother when she was a young traveler learning about a new culture.  

“Did we talk to her too?” Rune asked.

“You bet. She explored the whole market with you and treated you to serpent cake.”

There was a chorus of “No!” from the children who were not about to eat serpents.

“Serpent cake is a pastry filled with sugar and almonds, and it just so happened to be Owl’s, Bear’s, and Eagle’s absolute favorite treat of all,” the grandmother explained before they drifted off to sleep with visions of sugary pastries dancing in their heads in a Moroccan bazaar.

And so on.

One night, the grandfather noticed the fatigue on the grandmother’s face. “Maybe the kids can drop off to sleep on their own now?” he suggested.

The grandmother nodded.  “Yes, I think they can. They’ve gotten comfortable here, I’m happy to say.”

She settled down into her recliner to rest her feet.

“So why do you keep telling them stories every night?”

The grandmother had asked herself the same question. At first it had been to guarantee her own night’s rest, free of little feet pattering down the hall in search of a snack, another visit to the bathroom, a complaint about a funny noise. Knowing they were snugly asleep, she didn’t have to worry if they were crying in homesickness into their pillows or lying awake frightened of the monsters that might reside beneath the unfamiliar beds.

But the grandmother knew that wasn’t really why she told her grandchildren a story every night.

She looked at the grandfather fondly. “I am not telling them stories at all, really. I am telling them that they are smart, and strong, and resilient. I am telling them they can make choices, and even mistakes, and learn from both. I am telling them that they are friends who will always help each other.”

She sat quietly for so long, the grandfather thought perhaps she had fallen asleep. And she was just about asleep but had one more thought.

“I am not telling them a story. I am telling them I love them. Every night.” And the consequences of not telling them that were unthinkable.

March 14, 2023 15:18

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39 comments

Shahzad Ahmad
21:23 Jul 18, 2023

What a creative way to link with the theme and exploiting the bed time stories to great effect. Well done!

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Laurel Hanson
11:46 Jul 19, 2023

Thank-you!

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Suma Jayachandar
05:27 Mar 16, 2023

Laurel, This left me with a warm fuzzy feeling. You are so good at writing kids and for kids:) This is essentially a grandma trying to make her summer visiting grandchildren feel at home. At the outset it appears as a daunting and unwelcome task. But she keeps at it. Only towards the end after the grandfather questions her about it does she consciously think about her reasons. Each one valid but the last one is what it all boils down to -“I am not telling them a story. I am telling them I love them." And that last line..it was so well done....

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Laurel Hanson
10:15 Mar 16, 2023

The Taj Mahal blew my socks off and I was at that jaded age when a kid thinks nothing in the world can impress them. Thanks for reading and for the feedback.

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Suma Jayachandar
16:44 Mar 24, 2023

Congratulations!

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Laurel Hanson
21:36 Mar 24, 2023

Thank you so much.

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Jack Kimball
12:41 Mar 15, 2023

Laurel, From my layman's view, this is first class writing in a voice that is unique to you, which is rare. About the only thing missing is an alien caterpillar or Harrow playing 'Hero of Faron'. Unless you are J. K. Rowling toying with us commoners at Reedsy using a pseudonym, a children's fantasy book is well within your reach. Your 'Alice in Wonderland' is waiting! I learn much every time I read your entries: how you use dialogue tags creatively without losing the story, the structure of the sentences, how phrases and clauses weave an...

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Laurel Hanson
14:50 Mar 15, 2023

I am deeply honored by this kind review from someone of your calibre. I flounder like a lost fish when I write, like literally wallowing in words and wondering what the heck I am trying to do. Then I read other stories which seem very competent, smooth, and mature to me - such as yours - and sit back down at the laptop to try to improve. I guess we are all learning from each other. As you may have noticed, I am experimenting with different styles, which is a big asset to this site as it really promotes pushing the edges of the box. This las...

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Lisa Ludvigsen
10:39 Aug 01, 2023

Hi! I loved your story. I have a Danish sleep podcast, were I read stories, fictional and articles. I would love to translate this to Danish and read it on the podcast. I will credit you if course. It's just a hobby of mine, because I love narrating

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Laurel Hanson
09:42 Aug 02, 2023

You have my permission to do that, though I would appreciate being credited. Hope it goes well!

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Lisa Ludvigsen
16:07 Aug 02, 2023

Of course!

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Amanda Lieser
20:55 Apr 10, 2023

Hi Laurel! Congratulations on this well deserved shortlist! I love how you not only captured the beauty of the story, but you also captured the intense relationship that storytelling can have for an individual. I really liked that dialogue at the end, because I think that it helped to magnify the importance of how different relationships can look for different individuals – the relationship the grandfather has with the kids might look a little bit different from his partner. I loved that the story had a happy ending, and I love to feeling wa...

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Laurel Hanson
22:01 Apr 10, 2023

Thank-you for these very kind words! This one was just a pleasure to write for the exact reason you state, it's just a story about storytelling at its simplist.

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K A Hamilton
15:45 Mar 30, 2023

Hello! K A from your critique circle. Sorry I'm late. :) This is such a sweet story. I love the way you fold the stories together instead of just blending them overtly. It's such a subtle approach.

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Laurel Hanson
21:17 Mar 30, 2023

Thanks!

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Tricia Cundiff
19:44 Mar 21, 2023

I loved the story, Laurel, and will use it on my own grandchildren! I, too, am a grandmother and have made up stories - although none as wonderful as yours - at bedtime at their requests. I love that the children want to be included as characters - whether they are themselves or animals! Thank you for a great read!

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Laurel Hanson
22:15 Mar 21, 2023

Glad you enjoyed it!

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Rebecca Miles
16:55 Mar 18, 2023

Can I ask the author a question, I wonder. I'd love to know, as this is creative non fiction, if this is based on someone you know. I love this grandmother, and her beautifully interactive storytelling style; she knows perfectly how to engage her readers, quell their fears and craft a story with and for them. This warmed my heart; and the end encapsulates exactly what a bedtime story is: love, nothing more nothing less than beautiful reciprocal love. I still read to my 11 year old every night. Oh the places we've been in those stories...this...

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Laurel Hanson
21:05 Mar 18, 2023

Happy to answer, It is nonfiction and I am the grandmother. The story started in a tent on an island but I tweaked that as too complicated to get into. It continued every time they visited for seven years, coming to an end with covid. They are lovely kids (of course I am going to say that) who were very enthusiastic in offering suggestions, and as time went by, I was in awe of the way they inserted themselves into it. The next day, they would discuss what "they did" the night before in the story (transposing themselves onto the characters). ...

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Rebecca Miles
21:13 Mar 18, 2023

This backstory is almost as beautiful as the story. I love the idea of you all sharing your stories under canvas. Magical. Thanks for sharing Laurel.

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Rebecca Miles
19:00 Mar 24, 2023

Pop the corks my dear, much deserved, I loved this beautiful tale. I'll respond to your email soon x

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Kevin V
23:38 Mar 17, 2023

Man, can you spin a story, Laurel. I also submitted to this prompt, but mine is more like empty calories compare to the rich fullness this offers. Such a joy to experience and so much to like. You are definitely one of the writers I fund with my entry fee! Truly, truly wonderful. Thank you!

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Laurel Hanson
09:53 Mar 18, 2023

Thank-you for the kind words. I haven't read much on reedsy that is empty calories so I very much doubt your claim, if for no other reason than the simile in your comment was so expressive, but also because I have already read one of your stories which didn't fit the simile. Look forward to reading the latest.

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Kevin V
12:49 Mar 18, 2023

Thank you Laurel. I guess that did come across more negative than I intended. My style is different and doesn't always feel as descriptively rich. That doesn't make it bad. I tend toward a lot of dialogue; but I really enjoy the more narrative? styles like you, Wendy and Michelle seem to have. I learn much from reading them.

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RJ Holmquist
20:58 Mar 17, 2023

Great story about telling stories! I think you captured the essence of why people have been telling stories for so long and why we have we love to listen to them so much. I love how the kids mix themselves up with the characters!

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Laurel Hanson
21:23 Mar 17, 2023

Many thanks!

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Lily Finch
21:35 Mar 16, 2023

Hey Laurel, Awesome use of consonance and assonance surface in darkness, suddenly, sled, slide, side, sand, dune, sound. Love the onomatopoeias, alliterations and overall sentences. "...shot lickety-split through darkness, a strange wind whooshing all around them. Suddenly, the sled landed with a thump and began to slide downhill, just like sledding in the winter, only they were sledding down the side of a sand dune. It made a sshhhsshh-ing sound..." Cool story! Excellent writing. Layered depths with meanings to match. Well done! LF6.

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Laurel Hanson
12:14 Mar 17, 2023

Appreciate the feedback. Writing for kids seemed to need more sound. And food. Always need food in kid lit!

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Mary Bendickson
18:53 Mar 16, 2023

Precious! As a grandma to 17 (well, 21 if I count some steps and halves) and all of them over 10 now, I feel like I have done a totally inadequate job of fulfilling all I should have done. Got another chance as my first great-grand is on the way:)

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Laurel Hanson
20:22 Mar 16, 2023

Good heavens! 21! Anyone doing that is already doing a heroic job. Hope great grands are as fun as grands.

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Delbert Griffith
10:17 Mar 16, 2023

This was a delightful tale, layered and subtle in its messages. You could add some nice artwork to this and you would have a top-notch children's book. This is just great work, Laurel. Your talent and writing skills are evident in every paragraph. Nicely done, my friend. Nicely done indeed.

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Laurel Hanson
12:54 Mar 16, 2023

Much appreciated! I actually didn't see how this had a niche at all, just was trying to address the prompt, but feeling like there might be an application for this is intriguing. Thank-you.

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Richard E. Gower
21:35 Mar 15, 2023

This is an incredibly imaginative and heartwarming story. It meets the letter and the spirit of the prompt in a walk, and even has a happy ending, which I am a sucker for (he said clumsily, ending the sentence with a preposition). All that, and s’mores too. Hard to get better than that.-:) Beautifully told. -:) RG

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Laurel Hanson
10:13 Mar 16, 2023

"All that, and s’mores too." Made my day! Cheers and thanks for reading!

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Michał Przywara
20:51 Mar 15, 2023

What an adorable story :) A new ritual was created, and a new tradition forged. And because the kids made the story their own, they also made the home their own. Clever. I really like the voices in this story. Each of them fits, each is distinct. Lennon *is* the eagle, and only uses "I" statements. His older siblings maintain a bit more separation, but even they slip up when things get really exciting. The grandmother skillfully resolves things like the interruptions, without resorting to hard authoritarianism, and still makes plenty of ro...

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Laurel Hanson
10:11 Mar 16, 2023

Thank-you for your kind feedback. I'm glad the inability of the kids to separate themselves from the characters they helped develop was coming through. To me, the idea that we enter the stories we hear was really important. Cheers!

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Michał Przywara
20:50 Mar 16, 2023

Ha, you know, I reflected on this point, and it occurs to me I do this all the time. Either riding along with the characters, or sometimes putting the book down to argue with one of them - because some decisions, while they might drive plot, are infuriating :) So maybe that's why stories appeal. We can put ourselves in them without any real risk.

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Laurel Hanson
12:13 Mar 17, 2023

Exactly. Best way for us to think about weighty issues and make moral decisions without screwing up in the real world.

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Michał Przywara
20:50 Mar 24, 2023

Congratulations on the shortlist!

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