• Short Stories

    Outlines and Rainbows

    © Peter l. Barnes and Peter Barnett February 2021

    Find the 27 songs over the decades, mostly about colour.

    Sky watched the morning mists as they swirled around the river and offered the briefest flashes of the weeping willow trees lined up along the bank. She might be small but hopefully her bright yellow mac wouldn’t struggle to be seen in the foggy morning. She watched the pure white swan floating down river, tiny cygnets riding on its back.

    She watched a strange outline emerge from the woods, walking steadily towards the river, leaving huge footprints in the deep snow, before plunging its head in the rushing and freezing water for a refreshing drink. Water swirled around and around the angular face, disturbing the rapid flow. A sharp snap and a silver fish flapped and struggled to free itself from pointed teeth and a strong jaw. It thrashed about trying to escape, but to no avail, as it was thrown into the air, spraying water with its rapidly flapping tail, before disappearing in a single gulp.

    “Hello,” said Sky, ever a forward young girl. 

    “Er, hello,” uttered the shape. “I didn’t know anyone could see me.”

    “I can only see your outline,” admitted Sky. “What have you done?”

    “I’ve been singing a song all morning and can’t get it out of my head.”

    “Procol Harum?”

    “Bless you.”

    “No silly, the song.”

    “Oh Yes,” said the shape. “If you say so.”

    “I do,” said Sky. “Yes, the snow has made you all but invisible.”

    “Is that a good thing, my mysterious girl?”

    “If you want to creep up on people, when it’s snowing,” said Sky. “Once the sun comes out, you’ll stand out like a sore thumb. And if I’m not mistaken it’s about to do just that.”

    Streaks of bright light strained through thick fog and thin drizzle and lit up the far riverbank creating a beautiful rainbow, myriads of colours sparkling across the river, like the first morning. Even more startling was the white horse standing in the field opposite.

    “Hello Sky,” called the creature. “What’s that shape standing by you today.”

    The shape shifted uneasily, not enjoying all the sudden interest in its outline.

    “I’m not sure,” said Sky. “By the way your mane is particularly beautiful this morning.”

    “The last wish I granted, went down particularly well,” said the white horse, preening its multicoloured mane and tail.

    “And your horn is gleaming,” added Sky. “Now that the sun is out.”

    “Thank you,” said the white horse and with a flick of its tail, gambolled like a spring lamb across the fields and into the woods.

    “Is that a unicorn,” asked the shape.

    “What else would it be?” said Sky.

    “How does it get all the colours,” said the shape, which was gradually turning bright white against the grass, now that the snow had melted.

    “Oh,” said Sky, almost jumping out of her skin as the white dragon emerged. “That’s what you are.”

    “What did you think I was?”

    “I thought you were a common dinosaur.”

    “Common!” said the white dragon. “I’ll give you common,” taking a deep breath.

    “Don’t get all uppity now.”

    The dragon gently let out a gentle breath of fire, warming the frosty grass around Sky’s wellingtons.

    “Sorry, I’m a bit jealous of the unicorn’s surreal colours,” said the dragon. “How does she get them.”

    “Every time she grants a good wish, she is given a new colour,” answered Sky.

    “Do you want a wish?” said the dragon. “I’d love to be surreal.”

    “No, then you’d be in pieces, bits and pieces, all over the place and confused by a bunch of melting clocks,” said Sky. “And anyway, can you grant wishes?”

    “I don’t think so.”

    “We’ll have to find another way,” said Sky. “What about good deeds.”

    “I can do bad deeds.”

    “That will only turn you into black.”

    “I’m also good at painting things black,” said the unhelpful dragon.

    “Now why doesn’t that surprise me,” said Sky.

    “Let’s go down the streets and ask if anyone needs a good deed.”

    “It doesn’t work like that,” said Sky. “But we’ll go for a walk anyway, shall we?”

    They walked down the riverbank to find a glum looking boy sitting on a bench, tears dribbling down his cheeks.

    “What’s the matter?” asked Sky.

    “My gumboots leak and my socks are soaked,” said the boy. “If I go home my now, my mum will be cross with me for jumping in all the puddles, and having holes in my shoes.”

    “I think I can help,” said the dragon.

    “Really,” said the boy, unphased by a talking dragon.

    “Yes, see that purple bottle.”

     “Oops,” said the boy, picking it up and giving it to the dragon. “I didn’t mean to drop my litter.”

    “Thank you, now your boots.”

    The boy handed over the wet boots and dragon with a gentle hot breath melted and vulcanised the boot, melting the plastic bottle to fix the new seal.

    “Now your socks.”  Dragon held the socks up and with a warm breath dried them out.

    The boy quickly donned socks and boots and ran off jumping in all the puddles, spraying purple rain all over dragon

    “Thank you thank, you,” shouted the boy.

    Walking through the fields they came across a calf bellowing for its mother, who was standing in a field of the greenest grass.

    “Please, help bring my baby home,” called the mother.

    Sky and Dragon gentle herded the calf back to a gap in a fence, whereupon it rushed through the lush field and immediately suckled its mother.

    “Thank you, dragon,” called the mum.

    Dragon and Sky slowly wandered down the path to the local village before passing a whimpering dog, his collar caught in a yellow ribbon, attached to an old oak tree.

    “Hello, what’s happened here?” said Dragon.

    “I ran off,” said the dog. “I was chasing a rabbit down the pavement and got caught up and now I’m stuck.”

    Dragon carefully untangled the dog. “Do you know where you live,” asked dragon.

    “No, don’t let me race around, chasing my tail.”

    “You’re right and we don’t want someone making off with you,” said dragon. “Come on we’ll go to the vet, I’m sure they can identify you.”

    Soon the dog was trotting behind its relieved owner, off for a nice warm bath and well-deserved supper.

    “Thank you, dragon,” called the owner, as a glint of golden sunshine, flashed from the vet’s closing door.

    A young lady was rushing down Paris road frantically asking people in the street for directions.

    “Can we help you?” asked dragon.

    “Are you lost,” asked Sky.

    “No, it’s my mother she’s so forgetful and always wandering off,” said the distraught woman. “Have you seen her?”

    “We’ve seen lots of old ladies about,” said the dragon. “How would we know?”

    “Oh, that’s easy, she’s the one in the brightest red dress.”

    “Come with us,” said dragon. “She may be at the coffee shop, around the corner.”

    Sure enough, there was an old lady sitting and chatting to a bemused group of teens.

    “Thank goodness,” said the woman. “I hope she hasn’t been a nuisance.”

    “No, she’s been telling us some very colourful stories!”

    “Come along mother,” said the woman hurrying her mother off home.

    “But I haven’t told them the one about the …”

    “Mother!”

    Walking further up the high street they noticed an overloaded stand at the greengrocers, piled high with tangerines about to topple over as a leg gave way. Dragon dived forward and held the leg up whilst the shop assistant refixed the leg.

    “Thanks dragon,” said the assistant. “They would all be running down the street without your help.”

    “That reminds me of a song,” said dragon.

    “I think you’ll find that’s ‘Tambourine man’,” said Sky, pointing to one in the charity shop.

    “Oh”

    A young lad stumbled into dragon as the tall heel on his blue suede shoes gave way.

    “Sorry,” said the lad “Not used to these.”

    “Why are you wearing them then,” asked the dragon.

    “Off to a rock and roll party and found these in the charity shop,” said the lad. “No way I’m going to hobble there.”

    “Let me see,” said the dragon. “The glue’s dried out, a bit of heat will soon have that fixed.”

    Dragon breathed hot air onto the heel and squished it back on, before returning it to the lad.

    “Thanks dragon,” said the lad.

    A little boy was looking wistfully at the pale moon in the blue sky rising over the rooftops.

    “Mum what does the other side look like?”

    “I don’t know,” said his mum.

    Thinking this was something where he could help, dragon told the boy to hop on his back and he’d fly him there.

    “No dragon,” said Sky. “What would the child breathe.”

    “Good point,” said Dragon. “But I can take you all to the planetarium.”

    Dragon dropped them of at the planetarium.

    “Thank you, dragon,” said the mother. “I sure it will only be blacks, whites and greys though.”

    Sky and dragon made their way back home. “What’s your name? I can’t keep calling you dragon.”

    “Joseph.”

    “Joseph have you seen yourself recently?”

    “No.”

    “Look in the window.”

    There, in all his glory, was a dragon, festooned with all the colours you can imagine, everyone he helped had given him a colour.

    “It worked,” said Joseph. “Thank you for all my colours, Sky.”

     “I think you may find this interesting,” said Sky, pointing to a poster in the window.

    ‘Auditions today for a great new musical.’

    Sky skipped away down the street, past the nursery school where all the little children were singing their favourite song.

    26 songs

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  • Short Stories

    Choritzo the Chocolate Dragon

    Chorizo, the Chocolate Dragon

    © Peter G Barnett (aka Peter L. Barnes) Feb 2020

    I met my Dragon on the way grandma’s house, well not my Dragon as such. It was flitting between the trees trying to look frightening, without much success. Chameleons are great at blending into the background but this Dragon had it all wrong. Red where there should be green and green where red leaves should hide her.

    “Come here you silly Dragon, you can’t hide from me.”

    “But I’m good at changing colour.”

    “Yes, but only changing to the wrong ones.”

    “Sorry.”

    “Here, look at this,” said Melissa, pulling out some Ishihara charts, which she always took in her handbag. “What number do you see?”

    “Three.”

    “Wrong,” said Melissa. “And this one?”

    “Five.”

    “I thought so, you’re colour blind,” she said. “I suppose we should introduce ourselves, I’m Melissa.

    “Chorizo!”

    “Bless you.”

    “No Chorizo, the chocolate dragon.”

    “Chorizo isn’t a chocolate.”

    “Tell my dad that,” said Chorizo. “I had all the Italian lads chasing me with knives and forks.”

    “How horrid.”

    “I got my own back as I let off a few fire bursts.”

    “So why are you skulking around the woods?”

    “The other dragons mock me because of my short nose. So, don’t you rub my nose in it as well.”

    “What, your short nose,” said Melissa, ducking, as a puff of fire squirted from Chorizo’s nostrils.

    “Now, now, just a tease,” apologised Melissa. “Is there a reason for it being so short?”

    “You don’t know much about Dragon Law, do you?”

    “Well I do actually, it goes back to Baden Powell days, something about doing a good deed makes your nose grow.”

    “Yes, Pinocchio had it all wrong. Anyway, I’m waiting for a good deed to come along.”

    “I think you’ll find that good deeds hardly present themselves,” said Melissa. “You probably have to go out and find them.”

    “Would you help me?”

    “I’ll do what I can.”

    “Why are you off to see your grandmother?”

    “She’s got some baskets for me for the grand Easter Egg hunt.”

    “Can I help?”

    “I don’t see why not but don’t scare Gran with your big teeth.”

    Melissa knocked on Gran’s thick oak door, freshly polished and smelling of Lavender. “Friends here Gran.”

    “Melissa do come in but leave that sneaky Dragon outside.”

    “He’s fine, only a little misunderstood.”

    “Your baskets are in the corner,” said Gran. “What have you brought me today?”

    “I’ve picked some lovely berries and some chestnuts.”

    “Roasted?”

    “Not yet, do you want Chorizo to roast them for you?”

    “Yes please, but put them in the grate first, I don’t want a fire.”

    Melissa put the chestnuts in the fireplace and Chorizo breathed a gentle flame until there were perfectly roasted.

    “See, I told you she was a good Dragon.”

    “Yes, I can see we’ll get on like a house on fire,” said Gran.

    “Stop!” said Melissa, as Chorizo threatened a conflagration. “It’s just an expression.”

    “Sorry.”

    “We must be going or we’ll be late with hiding the eggs.”

    They were soon back in the small town where Melissa told Chorizo to hide, unfortunately by a red brick house. “Wrong colour.”

    “Sorry.” Said Chorizo turning from blue to purple and finally to red.

    “Better. Now, let me see about the chocolate eggs.”

    Melissa entered the shop to buy Easter eggs for the hunt.

    “I’m sorry,” said the shopkeeper. “All Badburies eggs are sold out although there was a lot of grumbling that the crafty company has made them all cheesy. But there are no mother’s eggs at all.”

    “Mothers?”

    “Sorry, you know them as Ma’s of course.”
    “What am I going to do. There’s only a couple of days left, I’ve never let the children down before,” said Melissa. “What happened?”

    “The rumour has it, that someone sabotaged the factory and blew the gas main so they couldn’t melt the chocolate.”

    “I can solve that,” said Melissa. “Chorizo, come here, we’re off to sluff.”

    She climbed on her back and the flew through the smog to the large, now dormant, factory.

    “I understand you have a chocolate problem,” said Melissa. “I think we can help.”

    “Well the vat is cold but even if we melt that, all the machinery is cold and clogged with old chocolate.” He said “We’ll never sort it out even with a dragon.”

    “Don’t worry about that let me show you.”

    Chorizo drew breath and hurled flame at the congealed mass, which soon turned into delicious melted chocolate. Chorizo swallowed a huge mouthful of chocolate and within minutes was laying perfect chocolate eggs of varying sizes.

    The foreman rushed out to get his men to wrap the eggs.

    “We can’t put them through our machines as they are metric sizes so we’ll have to do them by hand.”

    “Oh, do you want them wrapped,” said Chorizo. “Hand me that roll of silver foil.”

    Melissa handed over the silver foil and in no time at all, perfectly wrapped Easter eggs popped out. ready for the staff to put them into boxes and baskets.

    “What about coloured ones?” asked the foreman, hopefully.

    “See that pile of glittery wrapping paper and Christmas cards that can’t be recycled, pass them across,” said Chorizo.

    Melissa and the foreman passed the pile of glittery wrapping and cards for the obliging dragon.

    “Now the best colours are red and blue,” said Melissa, suddenly biting her tongue.

    “No, no,” exclaimed Melissa, as the eggs rolled down the conveyor belt.

    “Blue and green should never be seen.”

    “What,” said Chorizo.

    “The other green.”

    “Sorry.”

    This time beautiful red and blue wrapped eggs emerged, rolling towards the final baskets.

    “That’s enough,” said Melissa. “Thank you so much, you’ve saved the day.”

    A few days later when all the eggs had been found under the bushes and hastily consumed, the town decided that thanks were due and organized a banquet in honour of Melissa and Chorizo.

    “We would like to present Chorizo with this beautiful, chocolate golden medallion for all that she has done for us,” said the Mayor, looping the ribbon around Chorizo’s neck and now, long nose.

    “Not only has she rescued us from that awful northern chocolate company, and given the children their eggs, but has also recycled all our glitter paper.”

    “Three cheers for Chorizo. Hip, Hip hurrah.”

    Chorizo laid the biggest egg ever, which the waiters rushed towards, breaking off bite sized pieces for all the guests.

    Someone signaled the band and the words of that well known song rang out.

    “Oh, for he’s a jolly good Dragon, oh for he’s a jolly good dragon, for he’s a jolly good Dra-agon and so say all of us.”

    Chorizo blushed furiously. Bright green of course.

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  • Short Stories

    The Vegetarian Dragon

    Copywrite Peter L. Barnes Oct 2019

    “Cows! Cows as far as you can see,” said Dorgon, casting his eyes across the green, green hills of his Welsh home.

    “So, what’s the problem,” said Pricilla, licking her claws after a very tasty breakfast snack, having crossed the road to catch a dithering chicken.

    “I said I could eat a horse,” said Dorgon. “Not a blimmin’ cow.”

    “Why can’t you eat a cow?”

    “I’ve become a vegetarian, ain’t I.”

    “I’m not sure you understand vegetarian.”

    “Yes, I do. They said I couldn’t eat beef, lamb or pork or even chicken, even if it is claw licking good. Therefore, horse is still on the menu.”

    “You’re delusional.”

    “Is a cart an ‘orses durves?”

    “What?”

    “Well, we all know you have to eat the cart before the horse.”

    “Your hunger is draining power from your brain,” said Pricilla. “What we need is a stable.”

    “Well Barnstaple is nearby.”

    “StaBle!”

    “Constable was into horses,” said Dorgon, never the brightest dragon, it has to be said. “Maybe he can help.”

    “I think he was more an oxen man,” said Pricilla. “You need Stubbs.”

    “I shave every morning,” said Dorgon. “What’s your problem.”

    “Not stubble you idiot,” said Pricilla, becoming tired of his silly game. “Come on, let’s search for Escape to the Country.”

    “Why?”

    “Because there are always wannabes trying to find a house with stables,” she said. “There must be one close.”

    Pricilla took out her Kindle Firestick and started a search. “Here we are – Sebastian and Camilla looking for land for their horses.”

    They watched the programme on the small screen, fast forwarding until the couple found their dream home, complete with a manège and stables. They noted the village and the coordinates, before grabbing a flying pigeon, which upon the threat of being gobbled up, flew them to the afore mentioned farm.

    “Thanks pigeon, don’t go far we may need you again.” The pigeon trembled but was too terrified to move.

    “Come on Dorgon let’s see what they have,” said Pricilla.

    Dorgon and Pricilla trundled up to the stables and started peering into each stall, which were mostly empty, certainly of horses.

    “Can I help you,” said Sebastian, unfazed by the fearsome dragons, no doubt intent on stealing his steeds.

    “Where are your horses?” asked Dorgon.

    “We only have one at the moment and Camilla’s off riding it,” said Sebastian. “Are you looking for riding lessons?” knowing full well that they didn’t.

    “Well, I’m not sure you have a horse big enough,” said Pricilla.

    “And would you stop salivating into the stall,” said Sebastian.

    Dorgon wiped his lips realising that this vegetarian fad wasn’t going to be as easy as he thought. Sneaking the occasional sheep or cow was fine, as they weren’t often missed from a large herd roaming the hills, but horses are more protected.

    “I’ve seen enough Hunger Games programmes to know that look,” said Sebastian, picking up the fire hose. “Now hop off, there’s a good dragon, before I hose you down and put out your fire.”

    “Let’s go,” said Pricilla, picking up the homing pigeon.

    “You may want to try the stables at Horsham,” suggested Sebastian. “They often have horses that have expired,”

    “Horses have an expiry date?”

    “Shut up Dorgon. Thanks for your help,” said Pricilla “Come on Pigeon, Horsham here we go.”

    A brisk flight later, they hovered over the farm and stables before dropping down into an open field where a TV crew were filming One man and his Dragon.

    “Didn’t you do this once?” asked Pricilla.

    “Yes, but they always filmed it after my fasting day.”

    “Too may charred sheep I suppose.”

    “Maybe,” said Dorgon. “Anyway, they then gave me a chance to do the Great British Roast Off, but it was never going to get to Hollywood.”

    “Why me?” said Pricilla to herself, fed up with his ongoing nagging.

    Once filming was finished, they collared the stable owner about any spare horses he may have.

    “Dead or alive,” said Trevor, always up for a bit of horse trading.

    “Either I suppose, but not rotting,” said Dorgon.

    “There are often horses that have passed away and have to be taken to a knacker’s yard.”

    “What’s a knackered yard. I often feel a bit down but don’t feel the need to go to any yard.”

    Trevor soon realised the drift of the simpleton dragon. “No, it’s a place where we send deceased horses.”

    “Oh.”

    “Tell you what, we had one only this morning,” said Trevor. “It would be a lot cheaper if you could dispose of it.”

    “Lovely,” said the slavering dragon.

    “Do you want a takeaway or eat-in?”

    “I’ll eat it here if I may.”

    “Do you want any sauce with that?” asked the farmer.

    “Obviously.”

    The owner towed the dead horse out to the middle of the field. “All yours, now don’t make a mess.”

    Dorgon waited until the owner was safely out of harm’s way, before with a spark and a flash, he ignited a conflagration of yellow and red flame to engulf the body, leaving a charred and no doubt tasty feast.

    “Ahh my Black Beauty, just what I need.”

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  • Short Stories

    Toasted Tea Cakes

    A short story of fun and laughter for all those who are struggling with lockdown.

    © Peter L. Barnes – November 2020

    “I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait a little longer,” said her Mother.

    “Why?” asked Bethany. “What’s happened this time?”

    “Apparently the training centre was broken into and the dogs stolen,” said her mother. “I’m so sorry my love but you have been put on the emergency list.

    “It takes months to train guide dogs,” said Bethany. “Now I might not get to University.”

    Bethany rushed up to her room and locked the door, and had a good cry into her pillow. Eventually she sat up, determined not to be beaten by another set-back. There had to be a way out of this she thought and moping isn’t going to solve anything.

    Maybe a good walk around the park might help clear her mind. She had a specific walk that she did every day, that had good guide rails and pavement edges which enabled her to walk with only her electronic stick and new Sonar system. A device that enabled her to ‘see’ objects and warn her of moving people. But of course, these were only aids and couldn’t really help her if she went to new, unfamiliar environments. She needed her guide dog to be truly independent.

    She had already bonded with her new puppy, during its training period but all that effort was now out of the window.

    “Get a grip girl,” she said out loud, when she walked down the stairs.

    “Sorry,” said her mother.

    “Just talking to myself,” said Bethany. “I’m going for a walk. Is it sunny outside?”

    “Yes,” said Alexa. “Sun all morning.”

    Bethany kissed her mother, “I’ll be in the park,” she said.

    “Have you got your phone?”

    “Of course.”

    “And door key?”

    “Don’t fuss mother, I’ll be fine,” she said closing the door behind her.

    She walked along the familiar pavement, unconsciously counting as she went, until she reached the gate by the park. Her parents had purchased the house many years ago because of its proximity to this park. They were now reluctant to move to a bigger house in the country that they deserved, in case it disrupted Bethany’s life. Which was one of the reasons she wanted to go to UNI so they could move on.

    She arrived at the road, needing to cross to get to her favourite coffee shop. She sensed a presence beside her. She found and pressed the ‘cross’ button but seemed to be waiting an age before the beeps went and cars were still going past at what seemed, reckless speeds.

    “Do you need some help?” growled a voice beside her.

    “No, I’m waiting for the beeps.”

    “You could wait a long time,” said the voice. “The lights are out of order.”

    “Oh,” said Bethany, torn between her desire to sit down in the sunshine with her chocolate covered cappuccino and the fear of accepting help from a stranger.

    “I’ll stop the traffic and tell you when to go.”

    There was screech of complaining tyres, before silence indicated that everyone was indeed stationary.

    “Ok you can cross now.”

    “Thank you, sorry for inconveniencing you.”

    She walked to her local coffee outlet and waited to be seated by the waitress.

    “Hello Bethany, your usual table is free. I’ll get your drink,” said the waitress. “Is your uh, companion, having something today.”

    “What companion.”

    “Me,” said the gruff voice. “Yes, I’ll have a teacake please.”

    “Toasted?”

    “No need,” he said.

    “So why are you impinging in my space?” asked Bethany.

    “Well to be honest it’s the café’s space,” he said.

    “I can’t stop you then.”

    “Anyway, you looked a bit down and I thought I could bring you some good cheer.”

    The waitress brought out her drink and the teacake. Bethany sensed a fierce heat on her cheek.

    “What was that?”

    “Oh, they never toast the teacakes to my satisfaction.”

    “You bring your own blowtorch for that?”

    “Sort of,” said her companion. “So back to you, why are you so down?”

    “I lost my guide.”

    “I can’t see anyone,” said her gruff companion, looking around. “Did you lose them in the park?”

    “No stupid,” said Bethany. “My guide-dog.”

    “Don’t see any stray dogs either.”

    “No, you wouldn’t,” said Bethany. “He never arrived, it was stolen from the training centre.”

    “Oh, that’s terrible.”

    “Yes, which is why I’d like to be alone with my thoughts.”

    “Why do you need a guide dog?” said the gruff voice. “Except for the broken lights you were doing fine.”

    “Yes, but I need one before I go to university,” explained Bethany. “I won’t be able to get around the huge university campus without one.”

    “That’s not good then is it?”

    “No.”

    “I’ll leave you to your thoughts then.”

    “Thank you.”

    “OK, see you tomorrow then.”

    “Tomorrow?”

    “Well, you’ll need someone to help you across the road ‘til the lights are fixed.”

    “Suit yourself.” Bethany felt her companion leave and heard the screeching of tyres as he crossed the road.

    She pointed the phone towards her departing companion and took what she hoped would be a useful photo with her smart phone. Her computer should be able to translate the image into words.

    “Was it bothering you,” said the kindly waitress, as Bethany stood up to leave.

    “No. I think he was trying to do me a favour.”

    “Shall I direct you across the road?”

    “Yes please.”

    Once home she copied the photo into her computer but all it said was ‘cars and horse’.

    “I must admit I didn’t hear the clip clop of a horse, very strange, anyway horses don’t talk.”

    “Sorry dear,” said her mother.

    “Nothing, my computer is playing up a bit, that’s all.”

    The next day she wanted to find out if her gruff companion would turn up again, when she went for her usual walk. She had a good feeling about him and if he did turn up, she would at least find out his name, if nothing else.

    “Hello,” said the gruff voice.

    “Oh, it’s you again.”

    “Afraid so. Do you want help on the road it’s so busy?”

    “Yes please, if you don’t mind.”

    Once settled down in her usual seat after the usual tyre squealing, Bethany sipped at her chocolate coated froth. “So, do you have a name?”

    “I think it’s Moron.”

    “Moron,” queried Bethany. “Why do you think that?”

    “It’s what the drivers call out at me after they’ve stopped.”

    “No, but what did your parents call you?”

    “I never knew my parents,” said the voice. “It was Easter and I was left in an egg basket.”

    “What exactly are you?” asked Bethany. “I notice the waitress called you It and my computer is confused by your image.”

    “I don’t know, do you want to feel me?”

    Bethany gingerly put her hands where she expected to find a head.

    “Well, you are different – long nose like a horse but scaley skin. Hot nostrils, you must take care you might be ill. Large ears and a huge row of teeth.

    “It’s what I suspected, I think you might be a dragon.”

    “Really that’s exciting, I think,” he said.

    “Well, I’m not going to call you Moron,” said Bethany. “Do you think you might be a Japanese Dragon?”

    “No idea.”

    “I shall call you Shinto.”

    “Shinto, that’s nice,” he said. “Can I be your guide dog?”

    “Guide dog?”

    “Well, you don’t have one and I would be great at it,” said Shinto.

    “Yes, but a bit frightening for everyone else.”

    “Isn’t a fierce dog also frightening?”

    “Not as much as a dragon.”

    “Why not give me a try, what harm would it do?”

    Bethany could think of a million harms that a dragon could do but refrained from comment.

    “I have to go to the Natural History Museum tomorrow,” said Bethany. “It’s part of my pre-studies.”

    “That sounds exciting, where shall I meet you?”

    “We’ll meet in the park as usual, it’s not far to the museum,” said Bethany, sure that her parents wouldn’t approve of her choice of a guide dog.

    Bethany leapt out of bed excited by the thought of going to the museum unaided, also she would have a guide to talk her through the exhibits. She hadn’t asked if Shinto could read but at least he could describe things.

    She dug out the bright yellow guide dog coat she had been given in the expectation of her trained dog. Umm, she thought, feeling the small waistcoat, oh well it will have to do.

    She donned a backpack with some drinks and her iPad and said goodbye to her mum.

    “Hello,” said Shinto. “Where to?”

    “Here we are,” said Bethany taking out her iPad and showing him the map of where they needed to go.

    “Do you have a satellite image,” said Shinto. “That would be more useful for me.”

    “Sure,” and switched from map to satellite. “Here, see where the claw is pointing.”

    Bethany tried to ignore the hooting and car crashes as they walked along the pavement. “Are you the only dragon around?”

    “Probably the first one in this city.”

    “That explains things. I hope they let you in.”

    “Why wouldn’t they, guide dogs are always let in, surely?”

    “Dogs yes, not sure how many other guide dragons are around though,” said Bethany. “But I have an idea, do you know how to walk like an Egyptian?”

    “No what’s that?”

    “Walk very slowly and stiffly like a robot,” said Bethany “I’ll pretend to be directing you with my smart phone.”

    Shinto started walking as directed and Bethany acted out controlling him.

    Arriving at the entrance, there was indeed an enquiry about her companion, until Bethany told the guard that there was no ban on guide animals, live or robotic.

    “Besides it will be an added attraction,” hearing the excited children clamouring to get close to Shinto. “Be careful, he might bite.”

    She kicked at Shinto’s shin who promptly opened his jaw and chattered his teeth.

    Shinto led Bethany through the exhibits, subtly unpicking the locks so that she could feel the exhibits to get an understanding of the skeletal make up of birds and animals. Shinto explained which objects were merely bones and which were stuffed animals, allowing her to be as delicate as necessary.

    All was going well until they reached the dinosaur section. Bethany read the braille inscription that there was a ‘live’ Tyrannosaurus Rex on display.

    “Do you want to see T-rex,” asked Bethany.

    “Great, a pop concert,” said Shinto. “Is that what all the screaming is about.”

    “No, Tyrannosaurus Rex. Creatures that died out 65 million year ago.”

    “So, what’s all the screaming?”

    “I don’t know?” said Bethany. “What can you see?”

    “It looks like my dad and it’s swinging a child to and fro in its jaw.”

    “You have to stop it.”

    Bethany felt a rush of air as Shinto flew into the great hall.”

    More screams from the children, no doubt at the sight of a full dragon, then a cheer and a blast of hot air.

    “What’s going on,” said Bethany, as she heard a crunching and the agony of twisted metal and smelt burnt material.

    “All sorted,” said Shinto, once again by her side.

    “Excuse me,” said a voice.

    “Yes.”

    “Is this your dragon?”

    “Well not mine exactly but he’s with me,” said Bethany, worried that Shinto had done something dreadful. “Is there a problem?”

    “Yes and no,” said the voice. “I’m Professor Grant of the museum.”

    “Bethany, and this is Shinto” said Bethany, holding out her hand. “What went on?”

    “Well, a child had climbed onto my automaton T-Rex and had got trapped in its teeth, just as the show started,” said Professor Grant. “She was in danger of being injured or even killed.”

    “That’s terrible.”

    “It would have been, except for your dragon,” said the professor. “Shinto rescued the child and as the automaton seemed out of control and set it on fire.”

    “Oh no.” said Bethany. “I’m sorry to have spoilt your display but I can’t see otherwise I would have stopped him. I don’t have any money to fix your T-Rex.”

    “No need, far from it,” he said. “The children think he’s a hero and want to thank him.”

    “Oh, alright,” said Bethany. “Shinto go over and say hello to the children.”

    Bethany heard the children clambering all over Shinto and excitingly asking him questions.

    “While he’s doing this, maybe we could have a drink at the café.”

    “I’d like that,” said Bethany, in need of a hot drink after all the worrying events.

    “So, what do you know abut your dragon, where does he come from?” asked Professor Grant.

    “No idea,” said Bethany. “He came into my life a few days ago, out of nowhere.”

    “Well, he’s a great asset to the museum. Do you think he’d like a job? He’d be the best attraction, ever.”

    “I think he was hoping to be my guide, seeing as my dog was stolen,” said Bethany. “And I don’t have an alternative at the moment.”

    “I could make you an automaton instead,” said the professor.

    And so, it was, that the museum had its very own, live, T-rex and Bethany had her very own guide robot.

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  • Short Stories

    A House is Forever – A Christmas Story

    A House is Forever not just for Christmas

    ©Peter L. Barnes 2018

    Pauline woke with a start. Someone was creeping into her bedroom. Her heart was thumping in her chest and she could hardly contain her excitement. She was sure that Father Christmas could hear her, despite desperately trying to keep still. Why did she have to have such a squeaky bed, any movement would betray the fact that she was awake. Convinced that if she made any sound, Father Christmas would rush out without leaving her any presents. She controlled her breathing as the shape cautiously crept around the room to the foot of the bed.

    Earlier in the month, she had helped her father put up the lights – greens; whites; reds and her personal favourite, blues. Draping them across the small tree in the corner of the cottage, with a special angel on top for her mother. They were only allowed to put up the decorations after 1st December, so that was always when Pauline started counting down to the big day. Her father had taken her to the local toy supermarket where the dazzling and bewildering array of fantastic toys were beyond her imagination and also beyond her father’s wallet. They had bought nothing at the till and Pauline’s eyes started welling up at the lost opportunity. Maybe if they had been to a smaller shop, she could have picked out something affordable that she really wanted.

    The door quietly closed behind her welcome intruder, but Pauline waited an age before she felt comfortable in checking the anticipated gifts. Finally, she had waited long enough, her curiosity too demanding to leave well alone. She crawled to the end of her bed and cautiously pulled the stocking onto her blanket, thinking back to the days before Christmas break, when the children in her class had talked about all the presents they would be getting for Christmas, from the latest dolls and their outfits; prams and pushchairs; kitchen sets; fashionable clothes; shoes; typewriters and even sewing machines.

    Pauline had kept quiet, in case she revealed that her chances of any meaningful presents was slim. Her father was a mere carpenter, didn’t earn a lot, and since the death of his wife, Pauline’s mother, seemed to be in a state of quiet shock, left without his soul mate and unable to properly console his daughter. Pauline tried her hardest to cope without her mother who had passed away suddenly, last Christmas, the worst present ever.

    Pauline felt the lumps and bumps in the stocking. A most wonderful feeling, desperately trying to guess the contents. The apple and orange were too obvious, and disappointing, but then a square box crackling with wrapping paper, held more promise, as did the strangely shaped, unusual oblong. Something soft and squishy, promised maybe the cuddly teddy she had seen in the shop. Maybe her father had snuck back into the shop and selected the one she had coveted.

    She daren’t switch her light on, as it was far too early to get up, so she tucked the unopened stocking under the covers, unwilling to let it out of her arms.

    Pauline felt something pressing into her side, before realising that daytime had finally arrived and she had turned over onto her wonderful stocking. “Yippee,” she cried. “Time to get up.”

    She sat up, opened the curtains and gasped with joy as she watched the snow tumbling out of the sky, turning everything white. “What a perfect Christmas, now for my presents.”

    She opened the end of the stocking and extracted the first package, ripping the wrapping paper and tossing it to the floor. “Oh, wine gums,” Not the cuddly bear she had thought. “Maybe the next one would be more exciting,” but she saw it was only chocolate buttons. The oblong present contained only an oblong box. Pauline began to realise that maybe this Christmas would be the same as all her previous years. The apple and orange were placed carefully on her bedside table. “Only one more,” she said, crossing her fingers as she slowly opened the plain cardboard box.

    Inside, laid out carefully, were three miniature dolls. One dressed as her father, one of herself and the third, a beautiful depiction of her mother. Tears welled up in her eyes and dribbled down her cheeks. Not only at the memories of her mother, but also at the thought that her father, and his small income, had managed to construct such beautiful present. She knew in her heart that her father played Father Christmas and loved him for the intrigue and pretence.

    It was time to go down and thank her father, not only for the presents but the wonderful thought behind them. Miles better than all the expensive, impersonally built toys from far off factories. She dressed in her best outfit, well cleanest at any rate, and walked downstairs, smelling the toast and hopefully a soft-boiled egg for her breakfast.

    “Good morning dearest sweetheart,” said her father, giving her a kiss on her forehead. “Happy Christmas.”

    “Hello Daddy,” said Pauline, giving him a hug as he leant down to the floor. “Look at the dolls Father Christmas made for me. They look just like us.”

    “How wonderful,” said her father “Let’s have breakfast and the see if there’s anything else Father Christmas left under the tree.”

    “More presents?”

    “Maybe only one, but let’s eat first.”

    Pauline had never eaten her egg quicker than today, dipping her soldiers into the egg, spilling bright yellow yolk down the sides of the shell and onto her plate.

    “Careful! Don’t waste it.”

    “Sorry,” she said, wiping the side with her finger to get the last morsel.

    “Ready?”

    “Oh yes.”

    “Close your eyes,” as he led her into the lounge. “Open them.”

    Pauline gave a shriek as she saw huge present by the tree, “For me?” Maybe this would be something she could talk about, as she knelt down and slowly undid the brown paper wrapping. A roof emerged, with all individual tiles marked out, followed by the outside walls and windows. “A doll’s House!”

    “Not any doll’s house,” he said.

    “No, it’s our House,” she replied. “How wonderful. But it has no insides and no people.”

    “Where are your other presents?”

    “Oh upstairs.” She said excitement building once again. “I’ll get them.” Pauline rushed up the stairs and collected the box and fruit.

    “Right. Now open the front wall of the house, there’s a small catch.”

    Pauline fumbled on the catch with her trembling fingers and finally opened the door wide. “But there’s nothing inside.”

    Her father brought another rectangular box from behind the tree and handed it to Pauline. She was shivering with delight as she ripped open the package to reveal a perfect Kitchen, just like theirs, complete with another Mum doll, this time in her pinny.

    “Right, now push the kitchen into the house.”

    Pauline eased the kitchen in and set her mother in front of the oven. “Look Dad she’s cooking our supper.”

    “So she is,” as he handed her another box.

    Pauline opened this one more carefully as it rattled slightly, inside was a perfect dining room this time with her mother laying the table.

    A third box appeared as if by magic, now she had a lounge with her mother sitting in front of the fire, knitting a tiny blue jumper. “Oh Daddy, this is wonderful thank you so much.”

    She unwrapped the fourth box to reveal a beautiful model of the main bedroom with her mum doing her hair in front of an exquisite mirror.

    “Put that on top of the lounge,” instructed her dad.

    Pauline carefully slotted the bedroom into the first-floor section, followed by another room her father passed her, made to look exactly like their bathroom.

    “Where’s my bedroom?” queried Pauline.

    “That’s the other box you have. I thought we could decorate that together.”

    Finally, he produced a tiny garden with mum in her gardening clothes, planting flowers.

    “Dad this is the most wonderful Christmas, thank you.”

    “We both miss your mother so much and I thought that if we couldn’t have her with us, we could have her in spirit, in this house and we can do all the things together, as if she had never left.”

    Pauline hugged her father so tightly to make sure he realised what a wonderful gift he had made for her.

    “Now then, how are we going to decorate your room?”

    “I’ll get some things but I think mother should be reading me a bedtime story.”

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  • Short Stories

    Happiness and Gloom or how I handled the lockdown.

    Copywrite Peter l. Barnes April 10th 2020

    “Fred, what are you doing?”

    “Clearing the garage like we agreed,” said Fred.

    “Still. You’ve been doing that for days,” said the voice from the kitchen. “What’s taking so long?”

    “Clearing out thirty years of storing my stuff in the garage will probably need more than one day,”

    “Hoarding you mean,” came Mabel’s voice, grating on Fred’s ears like a rusty file on sprung steel.

    “The same as your sewing boxes and cloth scraps.”

    “Whatever, I’ve left your breakfast on the steps.”

    Fred took the plate, which in theory, mimicked the delicious breakfasts they’d had in Sydney Harbour. Of course, Mabel always bought the wrong type of avocado, so instead of lovely lumpy green and tasteful delight, what was on the plate was a flat mush of nothing, making the limp toast, more soggy than usual.

    Fred gazed around the garage wondering where to start, looking up at the cobwebs where spiders had been self-isolating for decades.  I wonder what they get to eat, hopefully the annoying mosquitos or maybe each other. Do spiders get stuck in their friends’ webs, he wondered.

    Not wanting to be disturbed again, Fred tried to get the old analogue radio to work, hoping to drown out the sound of his wife’s voice. But the old radio no longer tuned in, probably a cracked ferrite rod unable to pick up signals. Fred had tried the new-fangled digital radios but had never found a station. More attempts to tune into Radio Four only brought more crackling noises, made worse by the worn-out speakers.

    Talking of flying insects, one wasp seemed intent on getting into the garage and disturb him, if not sting him. Fred took an old sandal and threw it across the garage, completely missing the offending wasp but luckily hitting the door, slamming it shut, effectively barring its intrusion, as well, thankfully, his wife’s moaning.

    “I’ll start with the childrens’ toys,” he said to the pile in the corner.

    An old bus, which had been used to help the toddlers walk, now rusted and forlorn sat on the top shelf.

    “Maybe somebody would be able to restore that and make it useful again,” said Fred, dusting it down and replacing it on the shelf. “Wow, the old castle I built for the boys, now long gone to warmer climes. That definitely can go to the charity shop, once they reopen.”

    A box held old teddies, worn and stained from years of hugs and tea parties, but still with the buttons in their ears.  “They could definitely go to the auction room,” declared Fred. The toy car collection, still in their original boxes could bring enough money for a holiday, he didn’t watch ‘Flog It!’ for nothing.

    “Gosh is this still here. I thought I’d thrown it out long ago,” said Fred, dragging out a beautiful coffee table. Hand made by himself, as requested by Mable. Crafted wooden legs and struts, varnished instead of French polished, after an attempt to follow YouTube videos, failed to live up to expectation.

    A wooden model sailboat, painstakingly put together to try and demonstrate that he did have the patience, not of a saint perhaps, to complete such a complex work. Finished and proudly presented to Mable, but not allowed to be displayed on the mantlepiece, dismissed as a dust trap.

    A cot and high chair saved for any grandchildren that might come along but now that his sons and daughter were spread across the globe, unlikely to be needed, but bringing back fond memories of crying and food spread across the kitchen floor and of course, nappies. Well maybe not such fond memories, reflected Fred.

    A box in one corner held the treasures of holidays long forgotten, a batik from South Africa; a boomerang from Australia; a flag from America and posters of trips including a memorable poster of him swimming with dolphins, which despite the claims on the poster, did nothing for his wellbeing. Maybe swimming with a mermaid might have been more his style, assuming he was a merman.

    One memorable trip was on a cruise ship to the Mediterranean, where Mable had been taken down with a food bug and confined to the medical suite, allowing him to enjoy the pleasures of relaxing by the pool, watching the nubile ladies diving into the water and generally lying about in the sunshine.

    He started ticking off all the power tools and separating them into two piles. One for those he used frequently and those he would probably never need. But on reflection he put them all into one pile for ’keep at all costs’. This clearing out was not going well so far. Moving onto all the spare wood he kept from whittling, to offcuts allowed him at last to find things to throw away, although it was still quite a small pile.

    A big box in one corner was his old parts for cars and bikes. There were several parts that could definitely thrown out as they applied to vehicles sold many years hence. But getting to the bottom he pulled out a long cable.

    “There you are,” he said to the cable. “How did you get in here?”

    Now he was talking to inanimate objects, whatever next thought Fred. But this cable was special, it was bought for the bike he was storing for 20 years and after years of searching he had found the cable on the internet but had been distracted when it arrived by Mable struck down by a mysterious bug. Fred was sure she would get these bugs whenever she thought Fred was drifting away and enabled her to demand his full-time care.

    He had thrown it into the box in frustration and it had obviously slipped to the bottom, never to be found again, ‘til today. “Why didn’t I clear out the garage earlier.”

    He went over to the back of the garage and slowly hauled a tarpaulin off the object in the corner.

    “Silver, how are you?” He wheeled out the huge gleaming motorbike out of the corner admiring its gleaming chrome and silver paint job. Still as wonderful today as the first time he had bought it. Actually better, many years of stripping, polishing and painting had turned it into a gleaming monster. The battery was still on trickle charge for which he thanked his foresight, that maybe one day he would get out on it again.

    He took the object out of its protecting plastic and opening his tool box and connected the clutch cable from handle bars to the lever, carefully threading it though the channels. A quick pull showed that the cable was still free and capable of allowing him to change gear.

    “Now, where’s my box of biking equipment?” he said, searching for his collection of biking gear. Leather and helmet donned and boots pulled tight. He was almost ready. He opened up the door, “Just off to the dump, dear.”

    The sun was low on the far horizon, as a whirr of a motor lifted the garage door. Shafts of light swept around the garage as the sunshine reflected off the chrome. A click of the key and a rumble as an engine burbled into life. A clunk, as first gear engaged. The wonderous almost forgotten smell of oil and fumes swirled around the garage and drifted out into the street.

    A scream from the kitchen door, as Mable realised what was happening.

    “Right,” said Fred. And with a twist and a roar and a shout of “Hi Ho Silver.” And with thoughts of William Tell, Fred and bike disappeared into the fading sunlight.

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  • Short Stories Uncategorized

    Breakfast at Tiffanies

    Or – A Klutzy Dragon

     

    © Peter L. Barnes March 2020

     

    The Dragon picked bacon bits from between her teeth, with her especially sharpened claw. Breakfast had been perfect. Ten bacon slices crispy; twenty fried eggs, soft but with crackling white; thirty spicy sausages, straight from the farm; fresh vine tomatoes; a pile of wild portobello mushrooms; finished off with a 500-gram raw and bloody steak.

    She paid her bill, surprisingly low, and walked down the hill to finish off with a lovely cappuccino at the local Tiffanies Coffee shop. She walked through a field enjoying the sunshine when she came upon a pixie sitting in the middle of the grass munching on clover.

    “Pixie Lott, how are you?” asked Priscilla.

    “I’m fine,” said Pixie. “Why are you not flying?”

    “I can never fly on a big breakfast.”

    “I don’t know why I gave you powers, maybe I should take them away.”

    “Maybe not,” said Priscilla, belching out a ring of fire all around the pixie. “I know you love trapping people in a pixie ring, now see how you feel.”

    Arriving at the edge of the sea, Priscilla found a beautiful mermaid sunning herself on a rock, crunching on an unfortunate lobster, quietly singing to herself.

    “How does the lobster feel?”

    “Crunchie,” said the Mermaid, licking her lips.

    “Not how does it taste, feel?”

    “And the pigs you ate this morning?”

    “Grateful for a humane death, unlike eating the lobster alive.”

    “How would you expect me to cook food under water?” asked the Mermaid.

    “Find a hot pool,” said Priscilla blasting a small pool in front of the Mermaid’s feet until it started boiling over.

    The mermaid looked down at the small pool where several snails in seaweed were bubbling away.

    “Looks tasty,” said the mermaid. “Pity about the rest of the pond life though!”

    Priscilla walked further along the seashore checking out the debris piled up amongst the weeds, coming across the White Unicorn resplendent with her rainbow stripes, shining out in the bright morning sunshine.

    “Morning Wolfmother,” said Priscilla.

    “Morning Priscilla,” said the Unicorn. “Why do you always call me that?”

    “Look it up,” said Priscilla. “Anyway, what are you doing?”

    “Cleaning up the plastic,” said the White Unicorn, tugging a large sack of plastic fragments along the beach, using her white flowing tail.

    “Let me help,” said Priscilla.

    “No don’t do that,” as the unicorn saw the dragon taking a deep breath and punching a fire ball at the bag.

    Woof went the bag, sending up a cloud of burnt plastic smoke into the sky, blocking out the sunshine.

    When the smoke had cleared, the Unicorn stood amidst the wreckage, her tail shrivelled up and her glorious coat blackened.

    “Thanks for nothing,” said the Unicorn, as Priscilla strode away.

    Walking further along the beach she found a small child looking down at the pebbles and a Fairy godmother asking her what the matter was.

    “I’ve dropped my stone,” wailed the child. “How will I find it now?”

    “Was it special?”

    “Of course,” said the girl. “It was my pet stone; I’d painted it black.”

    “I can help,” said the fairy godmother, about to cast a spell to reveal the stone

    “So, can I,” said Priscilla, and unleashed a stream of fire, blackening all the stones and inadvertently turning the fairy’s wand into a pile of ash.

    “Thanks for nothing dragon,” said the furious godmother.

    “But the child now has a choice of loads of stones.”

    Priscilla watched a group of gnomes fishing in the incoming waves. The central gnome was sitting on a throne.

    “Morning King Cannot.”

    “Canute!”

    “Whatever,” knowing better to interfere, no way is this going to go well.

    Walking back up the beach to her local coffee shop, Priscilla came across a wizard and witch, fighting it out over a young lady who was being transformed from a poorly dressed waif into a beautiful princess and back again.

    “She won’t go to the ball said the wicked witch, casting the poor spell once again.

    “Oh yes she will,” said the Wizard, determined that the young girl would have her chance.

    “What’s this, some kind of magic reality show?” queried Priscilla.

    “She needs her chance in life,” said the wizard, making her outfit even more sparkling

    “No, she needs to finish her chores in my house,” said the wicked witch, “I’m her stepmother and what I say goes.”

    Priscilla stepped into the fray and blew a smoke screen over the warring factions.

    This time the wicked witches spell went wrong and Cinders stayed in her lovely gown.

    “What have you done?” screamed the hag.

    “I’ve swapped your wands,” said Priscilla. “You will only be able to make good wishes in future.”

    The witch stormed off in a huff.

    “I suppose the opposite is true for me,” said the wizard “But I can grant negative spells instead.”

    Cinders swept away in the TV’s stretch limousine.

    Priscilla sat outside the coffee shop, sipping her cappuccino.

    “What’s the problem Pricilla?” said the Prince, joining her.

    “Everything seems to be wrong this morning,” she said. “I can’t do anything right.”

    “That explains my ever after fairy tale, turning into divorce.”

    “Really, I’m so sorry.”

    “Don’t worry I was never suited to cold climates,” said the concerned Prince. “How did this all start?”

    “It started after breakfast at that café you recommended.”

    “I told you they did a wicked breakfast, so it’s your own fault for trying it.”

     

     

     

     

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