All the Devil's Greed

“By trying to convince himself I was a devil by nature, my father made me a devil by nurture.”

Mary-Ann Lansfield’s outbursts cause strange happenings in their house, prayers and church visits seem to stir unbearable pain inside her, and her hunger is so insatiable she’s forced to raid the pantry every night just to keep it at bay. It’s no wonder, really, that everyone believes she’s possessed by the Devil.

The more she’s hurt and berated by those around her, the wickeder Mary-Ann feels, and the more she longs for the freedom she’s been denied all her life- the freedom to live however, love whoever, and eat whatever she chooses. Even after everything she’s been told about the evil in the world, what she really wants is to become every inch the monster she’s feared to be.

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Author's note

Hello! I'd just like to stress that this book contains a lot of blood, guts, violence, abuse, and religious themes. My protagonist is extremely morally skewed and her opinions are most definitely not my own. I never killed anyone, honest! Never!
AA

9. Deception

My father, as well as being ruthless, cruel, insane, and selfish, is a coward. Such a coward, as it turns out, he even hides from his own thoughts, and the things he sees with his own damn eyes.

After my fit in the bathroom with the mirror, I was kept in my bed for two days. Father never came up to see me. Mother sat at my bedside constantly, soothing me, telling me it was nothing more than an ill episode. When Father finally did speak to me again, he spoke as though he didn’t know me. I wonder now whether he was down in his study at all, or whether he was out of the house altogether. At the library, borrowing the books on the occult I spotted in his study. In church, talking to the Priest. And then came the incident at dinner with the Garveys.

I tried to ask my mother what happened to me- then, telling myself it must have just been another illness, that it must have been all me, I dug deep into my memories to try and remember for myself. Nothing.

Then, Father told me himself.

After he had dragged me upstairs and locked me in my room, of course.

I let him take me. I was, of course, mad with fright and confusion. I hadn’t eaten my fill by the time he dragged me away from the table, but I doubt I could’ve if he’d let me sit there till I’d eaten everything.

He sat me down on my bed, and gave me the kindest talk whose content boiled down to You are possessed by a demon; prepare your will and a coffin I could have hoped for. He told me that I was to be confined for a week, to keep the evil under control. That was, I think, the first point at which I realised he had no idea what was wrong with me. I was to have daily visits from his good friend the priest.

I do not know why I was disappointed when I learnt none of the Garveys were hurt. Elias even came up to my room whilst Father was talking and- from the other side of the locked door- wished me a swift recovery. He sounded sincere, too. He said he hoped he’d get to see me soon. His family were all safe- they just fled.

Father filled in what exactly happened to make them flee. I stood up from the table in fury and slammed my hands down. Then, I began to scream hysterically in a hollow, guttural voice- speaking a different language, he thought- tear out my hair, cry, and hurt myself. Apparently I picked up my own plate and smashed it down onto the table. Apparently I picked up fistfuls of china and started to smear them along my arms, drawing blood. Apparently I clawed at my skin- my arms, my chest, my face. I had not collapsed; I had not fitted. I had not dissolved into delirium either. I was taken. Father said my eyes vanished, replaced by dripping black, and that the tears that fell from them were like ink. I didn’t climb onto the table, but rather crawled, and only stood up when I caught on fire. He did not inform me how, exactly, I had caught on fire. He went very quiet when I asked and when I suggested, whilst he was in his trance, the candles, he carefully and precisely shook his head.

He could have been lying to frighten me, or to convince me he was right.

I suppose.

I waited for the doctors to come and take me away for the asylum. But they never came. Only the priest came.

That week, every time I asked to leave, I was punished. Every time I spoke I was struck across the face. After it was up, Father allowed me out of my room for church. I believe he only stopped locking the door on Mother’s instruction- I started having night terrors, and she herself always shouted at him till he gave her the keys to come in and soothe me. Once, Catty got to me first, but Mother sent her away. I have not seen Catty all week. I want her. I want her. Throughout this week of hell, which I fully believe will turn into a month of hell and then a year and then a lifetime of hell, the only thing keeping me going was the ghost of a hand in my hair.

Tonight is the first night since I have been unlocked that Father has come to bed. I heard him arguing with Mother, two hours ago or more, until he agreed to sleep in his room instead of down in the study. I relished those few words so much they practically made my mouth water. I know Catty will have heard their argument too. She knows I am free. If I go down to the pantry tonight, there is a chance she will be there too.

Of course, she may not want to continue our tryst now that Father has the whole house believing I’m a demon in Mary-Ann’s skin.

As I push the pantry door open, the gradfather clock nearly startles me off my feet. One. One in the morning and the house is already silent. The pantry is black and… almost… empty. The sight of the silhouette against the window, of the girl leaning against the counter, makes my heart stop and then start to throb ferociously.

She doesn’t move.

Then, she says, in Catty’s voice, the sound of which twists my gut sideways: “We probably ought to close the door.”

“Yes.” I simply say.

I turn my back to close the door; when I turn back, I can still see her but know she cannot see me. The way she feels, even without touch, even without sight- the way she feels in this room with me, sharing my air- drives me mad. And her words… close the door.

Then, Catty says, “Stay over there.”

My heart jerks. Stay? I am urged forwards and yet she wants me to stay. She must be afraid of me. No. I tell myself. I cannot stay apart from you for one more second.

“If you’re afraid of me,” I say in a shaking voice. “Please. I beg you. Don’t be. Please.” I know she has every right to be afraid. But I don’t think I could bear it.

“I’m not afraid of you.”

My heartbeat quickens.

“Thank you.” I say.

“I…I…” She says after a pause. “I know I’m a fool for it. But I’m not, Mary-Ann.”

She is the last one left.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Mary-Ann.” Catty says softly. I watch her, unmoving. “But ever since you kissed me, I’ve not been able to stop thinking about you. I try. I can’t stop thinking about you. The way you make me feel… you were a friend to me when nobody else was. But I love you, as more than a friend. I am sure this is what falling in love feels like. I’m afraid of myself for it, but I have. I have fallen in love with you.”

I walk towards her. I cannot wait any longer. I move silently- when I speak, she gasps slightly in shock at my closeness.

“Don’t be afraid.” I say. “Don’t be.”

She says nothing.

“You’ve fallen for me.”

Catty breathes out. “Yes.”

There is a long pause. I think on the words. Fallen? I do not feel as though I have fallen. I feel as though she has lifted me up, made me powerful. I do not feel weaker for needing her. I do not feel weaker for wanting her with every inch of myself, for wanting every inch of her.

“Well?” Catty says, her voice wobbling. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”

I simply say, “No.”

Then, I close the gap between us, lean over her, and kiss her. She eagerly draws herself up to me, kissing me back, and I run my hands up her arms and wrap them around her. She sighs against my mouth. I kiss her again, harder. Hunger courses through me in a red-hot river. God, how I have missed her. I tighten my grip around her neck even as I feel her pulling back.

“No.” Catty says, shaking. She doesn’t draw her face away- we stay suspended, centimetres of air between us. “You- you don’t understand.”

I bite back my frustration at her interruption. “Don’t understand what?”

“You don’t understand.” She says, softer this time. “I’m afraid. I’m afraid to do this- it’s so… so… What if your father were to catch us?”

At the thought, as it races through my head when we are so close, when we are still wrapped together like this, I shiver hotter. With fear, with excitement. I am so afraid.

“Then you will be out of a job.” I say simply. “That is what if.”

“And you…” She says, looking into my eyes. “Will be out of a family.”

“Worse than out.” I say, smiling. “Oh, so much worse than out.” I think of what he’d do, say. Whether he’d kill me then and there in a fit of anger or whether he’d care enough about the way he looked to simmer for a while and do it sensibly. I believe he would kill her too. “Catty, this is what we are doing. Maybe you are right. Maybe this is despicable, and wrong.” For some reason, whenever I feel as though it’s wrong, I want it more. “We are criminals for doing this- that’s the fact. We’ll always be risking everything by meeting like this. For doing this.” I draw back from her, taking my hands away from her shoulders. Again, she moves forwards, as if she wants me back, but I step away. I want her to want me a little more than before when I let her have me again. “Do you understand that?”

She looks up at me, her eyes shining.

“Yes.”

“And do you want us to stop?”

She bites her lip, looking straight into my eyes.

“No.”

I can’t hold back anymore. I wrap my arms back around her, and as our lips crash together, I feel her arms going around my waist. I lean over her, drinking her in, opening my mouth, no longer able to care whether she can keep up or whether she is still afraid. This is the greatest thing I have ever felt- better, even, than my father’s unconditional fear that night under the dining-table. I need it. I need her. I want her, and so I shall have her. I wonder, as I tighten my grip, running my hand up through her hair to push her head harder against mine, whether I would still feel this same sense of power regardless of whose lips I was kissing. Whose cheeks. Whose jaw. Whose throat. Whose sighs were pouring over me. I feel an urge building and building inside me- an urge to feel all of her, to take her all in. To get closer still. I lean over her harder, kiss her harder, deeper. She returns it all, but as I let go of her shoulder with one hand to run it down to her hips, she suddenly starts against me and pushes my hand away.

I pull away from her. “What? What’s wrong?”

She gasps. We both do. I already know her answer for sure- could say it along with her. I’m afraid.

But she does not say it. Then, she kisses me again.

I feel as though we are alone, not just in this room but in this house, this town, this earth. My universe has narrowed to the thin line of contact between our bodies. Only she exists. Her, and that door behind us. I am pouring every inch of my focus into her, but still, a voice at the back of my head whispers what if he were to come in?

The thought makes me smile against her mouth. What if? He will not, but what if? All through the week I had been thinking: What if she had been caught with her hand in my hair? And now, more. What if we had been caught out at the farm, talking when I was supposed to be on a ride through town? What if we had been caught in Mother and Father’s bedroom, with our arms around each other? What if we had been caught during that first nervous kiss? What if we are caught now, now that we are kissing like this? And what if I was caught doing something worse? Kissing her throat? Or some other part of her? If she was caught returning it? If we were caught lying down, perhaps? Me on top of her, or her me? Maybe next time.

And maybe next time we will be caught.

But maybe not.

I don’t know what possessed her to push me away when I reached for her side. Because within a minute she is running her hands all over my back and up and down my arms, making me shiver and sigh. She still does not make me weak, but I believe I am doing more than that to her. I believe she is coming undone against my body. I believe that if we continue to kiss for long enough, she will do anything I want. I believe that she has fallen for me so far and landed so hard that she is now mine.

I am sure that is not right.

Suddenly, her hands are on my hips, and that’s when I start away from her.

“Why?” I say.

She lets go like she’s been scorched. “What? Sorry.”

“Don’t.”

“What?”

“Don’t…” I bite my lip. Suddenly, I become terrifyingly aware of how much bigger I am than her. “Don’t… why- why would you want to touch me there?”

She looks up at me. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because I…” I sigh, thinking suddenly of Lula, and how she denied my weight till her last moments. I’ve lost even more weight this week, but only enough, I suppose, for myself to notice. “Catty?”

She keeps her face close to mine. “Yes, Mary-Ann?”

“Do you think I’m fat?”

She stares at me, raising one eyebrow. She doesn’t look me up and down, nor does she blush, or stutter, or struggle with her answer.

“Yes.” She says.

Her word, her single word, feels like a slap to the face. No- a punch. No- a belt. When she sees the look on my face, she makes a small, sympathetic noise at the back of her throat and raises her hand to stroke my cheek.

“What’s wrong?” Catty says. “I… you’re beautiful, Mary-Ann. Beautiful. How the… How on earth could anyone… anything make you doubt how beautiful you are?”

I hate this sort of attention, but I suppose I asked for it.

I have nothing to say to her. And so I kiss her again.

As I wrap my arms back around her neck, I realise the correct response was to tell her she was beautiful too. She is. God, she’s so beautiful. But it’s too late now- our eyes are closed.

 

 

“Mary-Ann!” Father opens the door without waiting for a response to his loud knock. He is shocked to see me hanging upside-down over the end of my unmade bed, my hair a gold puddle on the ground.

I roll over, already smiling.

“What?” I say. The tone of the word is such that it doesn’t sound like a question at all.

Father clears his throat. “Father Oakley is here.”

I smile wider. I don’t know why I have begun responding to passive misery with smiles, but I cannot stop it. Don’t want to, either, since it unnerves him so.

“Send him in, then.” I say, throwing my arms up from the mattress. Father Oakley already standing in my doorway- he doesn’t look afraid at all. I will make it my mission of the hour to drive his confidence away. I curl my lip at him. His face doesn’t flinch.

My father walks forwards. “You,” he says, jabbing his finger into my face as I look indifferently up at him. “Will stop speaking like that. You will treat us all-”

“Patience, Mr Lansfield.” Father Oakley says calmly. Father looks at him.

“She cannot help what she is saying, remember?”

I smile at the priest. This poor simple fool is one of my favourite people. Over the course of the past week he has managed to convince the entire household that my behaviour is not my fault. The illness, the fits, the romantic deviance, the rudeness, the defiance- it isn’t me. It isn’t Mary-Ann- her body is inhabited by something else. It is as if I am eavesdropping- I’m there, but as long as I continue to spit and snarl and laugh and say despicably depraved things, they don’t know I’m listening. If I am not as delicate as they believe a woman should be, then the only alternative is that I am not a woman at all.

Father straightens up- I know he resents Father Oakley. I know he wants me to suffer.

“You should be thankful Elias Garvey still wishes to marry you.” Father says. I growl. That stupid boy has, in Father’s words, taken pity on my illness. “Provided you are better in a few weeks, he wants to come back to spend a day with you.”

I laugh- the laugh begins as a snigger but grates on my throat till I open my mouth to let it fly loose. Father still foresees marrying me off, and clearly cares not for how mad I am by the time he gets me to the altar. As soon as I have taken vows I cease to be his problem.

Father strikes me across the face. “You should count your blessings, child.” He hisses. “I myself am staggered by his generosity.”

“I’m not- not surprised.” I say. Accidentally, I catch the Priest’s eye as I look over Father’s shoulder. “I knew from the second I met that boy that he would be happy to marry Hell for as long as it wore Mary-Ann’s pretty face and came with her money.”

Father goes to strike me again, but Father Oakley interrupts him. “Henry,” he says softly. “I think it would be best if I was left alone with the child.”

I wait till Father has closed the door on us to turn to the Priest. I don’t smile.

“Child?” I say.

He regards me with as much caution as always. He’s young for a priest- no more than thirty- with greying, thinning red hair and an oddly small nose with large, upturned nostrils.

“I thought that I was not a child.” I say.

“Now, we both know that you are not a child.”

“I’m nearly seventeen.” I snarl at him as he goes to take my hand. “I am not possessed, Father Oakley. I am Mary-Ann Lansfield. It’s me. There’s nothing wrong with me.”

“Come, now. You don’t need to pretend- haven’t you learnt that by now? We’re all alone in here.”

I laugh at his stupidity. My giggle doesn’t seem to unsettle him at all.

“I’m not possessed. I say again. “Not. I am sure you would prefer that I was. After all, if I was possessed- if I was some dark presence sitting on top of the real Mary-Ann Lansfield and keeping her suppressed deep in her own head, then it would be possible to suck me out. But I am her. I have always been her. Whatever prayers or questions or rituals or exorcisms you happen to be planning, you will never be able to rip the monster from this body.”

And I smile again.

Inside, my head is spinning. Am I really mad? Is this what it feels like to go mad? I simply think of things to say and say them. I laugh because I know that will make everyone think I’m mad. Does that count as genuine madness?

And what of possession? How do I know, after all this, that I am not possessed? Perhaps there truly is a demon in my mind, deeper ingrained than I had thought. Perhaps he has driven me mad. Perhaps being possessed doesn’t feel like suppression at all- perhaps the true trapping nature of it is that you don’t even know you’re trapped. I am afraid. But the priest cannot know it, or he may take pity on me.

“If you don’t wish to argue this entire hour, Father Oakley,” I say. “Then just talk to me as if you believe I’m Mary-Ann. Then, maybe, we’ll get somewhere.”

“Fine. I will play your game for a while.” The priest says.

I smile again. “Wonderful.”

In my head, a voice is going help me help me help me.

Mary-Ann is asking the priest for help. But he must not be allowed to hear her.

“So, Mary-Ann,” he says pointedly. “I would like to know what you think of this whole situation.”

“What situation?” I say, surprised by his question. I’m unsure now of whether I want to scare him or convince him I’m sane. “The possession, you mean?”

“I mean everything, Mary-Ann. I mean the… the fits, as you call them, the way you have been behaving, the hunger. The fact that your father believes you to be the daughter of the Devil, and now, possessed. What do you think of it?”

“Well.” I say, trying to remain calm. Tell him the truth, she says inside me. “At first, I thought I believed it. I was afraid, you see- he conditioned me from a young age to believe that there was something wrong with me. The pain in my chest, at- at church… that made me believe him more. And the fits, and the hunger. But I believe my father has somehow, or maybe over the years, become a master at manipulating people using fear.”

“The pain?” Father Oakley says. “Care to elaborate?”

“It happens mostly during church,” I say. “But sometimes, I just feel it at inconsequential moments. It happens whenever my heart beats too fast- it’s often a precursor to one of my fits. I believe it’s just an illness.”

“You don’t believe it to be supernatural?”

My opinion doesn’t matter at all. No matter what I say, he will tell Father I am lying. That the demon is trying to trick him. So I may as well tell him the truth.

“No,” I say.

“You don’t believe there’s anything wrong with you?”

I lick my lips. “Of course I do. Of course something’s wrong with me. My hunger never seems quenchable. I need food like I need air- insatiably. I’m ill. But Father’s the one who made me like this, not the Devil.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes. It’s his fault.” I jerk my head up at the door as it rattles slightly- I wonder if Father’s coming back in, but he isn’t.

“In that case, Mary-Ann…” The priest rests his hands in his lap. “I suggest you treat him with caution. The fact is he believes you are possessed by evil. He believes you are long gone. And so there is no telling what he might do to you.”

I stare at him with sudden confusion. Then, when I see the look on his face, I shiver/ Is he still playing the game? Or is he trying to warn me? I still believe he’s on Father’s side. But does he believe he’s talking to a demon, or to Mary-Ann? I bite my lip.

“He seeks to marry me off.”

“Yes, child.”

“To Elias Garvey, the man I had my episode in front of.”

As I say it, something occurs to me for the first time. If Elias still wants to marry me, even after everything he saw that night, surely the episode can’t have been as bad as Father claimed.

I look at the priest. I know our conversation will continue for at least an hour more- it always does. Eventually, he will call Father inside and tell him to treat the demon inside me with caution. And then he will leave, oblivious to the damage he has caused, and the fact that Father thinks caution means violence.

“Father Oakley,” I say, knowing it’s only a matter of time before the interrogation begins. “I’m afraid.”

He looks back at me. “Of the-”

“No, of marriage.” I say. “I’m not ready. I don’t want to marry. I’m afraid.”

“Well, Mary-Ann…” He says. “I am afraid we all of us must perform our duty.”

Then, he visibly realises what he’s done. He’s begun talking to the demon as though it is Mary-Ann- as though he believes it. He thinks he’s falling into its trap. Perhaps he thinks I want to possess him. Stupid man. Why on earth would I want his body when I already have this one?

I force a grin back onto my face. He regards me with fresh caution in his eyes.

“You’ve neglected your duty,” I say. “Haven’t you, Father Oakley?”

“I…” He stutters. That’s when I realise that, for a second, he truly believed he was talking to Mary-Ann Lansfield. I grin wider, and lean towards him on the bed.

“You’ll never be a good priest,” I say, as he shuffles away from me. “If you can’t even tell an innocent young girl from a demon. If you’re going to make a habit of making idle chatter with evil spirits, Father Oakley, then you probably ought to get out of this house. Talking to me like I’m human is a criminal act. Henry would not be happy with you.”

He doesn’t move. To my despair, the tiny flicker of shock I thought I saw in his eyes withers as he opens the Bible on his lap.

“I have had enough of your games.” He says. “Now, demon, it is time you told me what you truly are. What is your name?”

I laugh, long, hard, hysterical.

“You know what I am.” I say. “You know my name.”

“No. That is a lie. Tell me.”

I don’t tell him the truth.

 

 

Catty and I grow bolder with our meetings. As the week draws to a close, I start to become more and more desperate to divulge our secret to Father Oakley. To tell him, as he becomes more desperate with his pleas, that last night I kissed the housemaid for close on twenty minutes against the locked pantry cupboards. That this morning I found her doing laundry alone in the kitchen and did it again, even as the staff bustled around us and could have come in at any second. That on Saturday evening, whilst my parents were eating their dinner downstairs and I mine on my tray in my room, I snuck out, went to the end of the corridor, and laid her down on my parents’ bed. We don’t spend every minute together kissing, touching. Sometimes we sit on the counter, her staring at the closed door and me at the locked cupboards. Sometimes, we talk.

“He truly believes me to be a demon.” I tell her one night.

She licks her lips. “I know. But you do… scream a lot.”

She’s right. A few days ago, I began to laugh even when there was nobody in the room with me. It terrified me, to take a sound of happiness and poisoning it with fabricated insanity. The terror made me love it. Then, I forsook the laughter and began to merely scream. I have perfected the act of the madwoman, and in doing so, at certain moments, I find myself needing to scrabble to find my sanity again, to remind myself I am only pretending. Sometimes, I cannot stop myself at all.

“It’s only an act.” I lie. “Father beats me if he isn’t afraid of me. It’s the only thing I can do to keep him away.”

“Mary-Ann, I’m worried for you.”

“I know you’re worried for me!” I say, bitterly. “But what can I do? I’m trapped, Catty! They won’t let me go till I confess to being possessed or agree to get married.”

“You could…” She says softly.

I look at her. “What?”

She stutters, then shakes her head. “No. N… No. It’s foolish.”

I’m sure it is.

“Tell me.” I say after a pause. I want to hear her say it again.

“N- no…”

There’s a long silence. I look around, as always, at the locked cupboards.

“Elias is coming tomorrow, is he not?” Catty says softly.

I turn to her. “Yes.”

“They are testing to see whether they can still rid themselves of you, onto him?”

“Yes.” I repeat.

She doesn’t say anything for a long time.

Then, she says: “I was thinking we could get away from here.”

She says it resignedly, like she’s telling a joke rather than proposing a plan. I know she doesn’t mean it. And I know it stands no chance of working.

I sigh. “No, I will let Elias come.”

“Will you play the part?”

I think about it. I can’t decide whether I would prefer to be married or go mad.

I suppose I will lose her either way.

I look at her, tears suddenly in my eyes. “I don’t know.”

She jumps down from the counter and comes before me, pulling me down and into her arms. I hug her back, shaking.

“We may not have long left.” I say. “If I choose to go with him tomorrow. Another week or two. That’s how long it takes to organise a wedding, is it not?”

She looks up at me, smiling. “I think longer than that.”

“You underestimate my father’s desperation.”

We both laugh, sadly. She buries her head in my shoulder again.

“Well.” She says. “I just… I just… this has been…”

She trails off, and I just hug her tighter. I know what she’s going to say. Throughout this past week, knowing we would be separated soon, we have been at a loss at what to do with each other. She wants to savour everything slowly- she calls it heavenly. I, meanwhile, wanted to do everything at once as fast as possible, and to feel like a devil for it. Whenever we are together now, Catty is jittery- she keeps jumping away from me, positive she’s hearing things even when nothing is there. I feel little pangs of anger whenever she lets me go. I already feel us growing apart. She has begun, I believe, to realise I am not quite in love with her.

“I can’t.” I say. “Catty, I’m sorry. I can’t. Please don’t make me say it.”

I kiss her. She lets me for a couple of seconds, but then, she breaks off.

“Sorry. I heard something.”

Frustrated, I burst out, “The house is haunted. No ghost will give a damn.”

“Mary-Ann, I-”

“Oh, never mind.” I let go of her and walk away. Not quite willing to walk out of the door, but unsure where else to go, I find myself heading for a cupboard. The lock seems a little lopsided, and jiggles slightly at my touch. I feel Catty’s eyes on my back as I try to open it and fail.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m hungry.” I spit. Tears well up within me. I bite them back, knowing they’re the kind that, if I let them fall, will never stop coming. I keep worrying at the lock, refusing to turn or acknowledge her. I think she’s going to walk over to comfort me, as she always does, but she doesn’t. She stays where she is.

Then, she speaks- her voice is pricked with tears and anger. It’s the very first time I have heard her angry.

“Is that how you see me?” She says.

“Catty, please.” I grip the lock tighter.

“No. Tell me the truth, Mary-Ann. Is that how you see me? As nothing more than a new way to quench your hunger?”

I don’t tell her the truth.

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