[Chapter 3] — Veins
The stranger walked with a gait of mock self-assurance the world had instilled within us; there was no doubt she was around my age. Though, the older I turned, the harder it was to tell. Some of my classmates aged twenty years by the time we graduated. The yearbooks will forever share their hair’s short-lived memory. Time took to us all as differently.
Her eyes shone in bright contrast to the night; specks of purple glittered her iris like golden scales shimmering through a mountain stream. A faded green dress draped her figure; it was torn ragged at the bottom seams, and accompanied with patches of dried dirt and various other colors and stains, which left the story to the imagination. Her hair was mopping wet, leaving trails of water dripping down her torso, as if she had just bathed in the lake. I could not help but feel a shade of jealousy run through me. In the fire’s light her face was unblemished. Her beauty was beyond genetics. I was not a religious person, but there was an aura, gently wavering around the top of her head like a halo. A red, braided leather belt cinched tightly to her waist. Her toes crept the edge between dirt and ember. The shadows applied their own marks beneath her eyes.
We sat in silent acknowledgment. I stared at her; she at the fire. The girl crouched close to the lapping flames tips touching the ends of her own black hair that could only be shown against the night sky by the fire’s light. A purplish hue casted across her fingers. I could not tell if the liquor had begun to burden my mind past its limit. As pale light reflected from the moon’s surface so too did her skin shine amidst the sea of night. I wondered if the moon had chosen me to spend the evening with.
She was indisputably beautiful; however, it had been sometime since I had looked upon another with anything but envy or pity. I had often mistaken the desire of the soul for that of the flesh. Now, I could find no reason to trust my feelings.
“Do you remember me?” She spoke casually as if she had not emerged from the forest.
“I haven’t been here long enough to remember anything.” I said.
“You’re passing through, then?” The woman asked.
“As much as anyone else is.” I said, giving the girl a once-over. I couldn’t see a gun, nor a knife. I wasn’t sure if I would have cared much if my friends weren’t here with me. I would have extended them the courtesy of a sentry’s shout, had my new friend packed heat.
She giggled, to which I said, “I know. I know. I’m dramatic.”
“It’s not that.” She said, “Just reminded me of someone I know.”
“Do they live in the mountain with you?” I asked.
“He’s lived in many mountains, and many caves. Once we spent the night in an overturned rail cart, but Mickey didn’t want to come with us.”
“Why’s that? Doesn’t like the simple living of Clearwater?” I asked.
“He said, ‘this is a girl’s trip, and I’m not heading back East.’” Stella said in her best attempt to mimic a man, I had never met before, “Which was fair, but he always gets an attitude. You know what I mean? Like, if you don’t want to come; then, say that. It’s probably for the best. Mickey doesn’t get this stuff.”
“This stuff?” I asked.
“Oh, right.” Stella said, “You don’t get it either.”
“What’s the ‘it’, I’m supposed to understand? That might help.”
“It won’t.” Stella responded bluntly.
“Do you and your friends sneak into people’s campsites, often?” I said with a smirk to let her know I meant nothing by it. I pulled my backpack over from behind my chair, and removed my smoking kit.
“No, and Alice told me not to—She did come with me. You’ll love her if you ever meet, but she’s a little shy.”
“And who are you?” I asked flicking my lighter over my bowl.
“Stella.” She said, “And I do admit to committing a bit a sneaking, but you cannot fault me for it. I’m the one in danger if anything.”
“How do you figure that?” I asked, “How do I know, Mickey isn’t going to run out of the bushes with a gun?”
“Because he doesn’t want to come back East. I already told you this.” Stella said, brushing the question aside, “I’m only here to help you, which can be blamed on convenience or fate. Especially for one only passing through.”
I tapped my bowl against the arm of my chair, sending a wave of ash floating to the earth. “Sorry, but I was lying before. I’ll be around here for a while. A lot longer than a while, maybe. But, hopefully not too much longer than that.”
“Well that’s even better.” Stella said, “Maybe, you’ll be around for the bloom.”
“I think you have me confused.” I said. “Do you…” I held a shaky hand up to excuse a brief fit of coughing. I’m sure my lungs were already coated with the dark resin. “… Do you live in Clearwater?” I asked attempting to push through my buffering mind to remembering.
“I used to.” She said taking one last look at the flames before jumping to her feet and gliding gracefully into Claire’s red, foldable chair. Her dress took flight alongside the mountain breeze as the feathers of an exotic bird. Her feet did not touch crack stick nor crunch on a fallen leave. She took to the movements of the world with an ease I had rarely seen and never previously able to pick up on from others. Her body swayed identically to the sway of the oak branches within the light of the fire.
An occupied mind would have not noticed the slimmest reactions and twitches at the movements and vibrations of the ground, nor paid a thought other than a quick judgement. My world was showing double, but I swore there was a rhythm in her fingers that passed on to mine. A tingle or spark of movement that passed with the subtlest kiss of wind upon pale knuckles, and the torn skin below.
“Cool. Cool.” I said still trying to gauge how threatened a normal person would be in this situation. The worst, I supposed, was getting ganked; however, I was confident in my ability to scream before she completely swiped my jugular. “Like in Clearwater or… here?” I asked spreading my hands out.
“The mountain.” She said casually.
“Like that mountain?” I said pointing to the jagged tipped monster beside us.
“Yup,” She said then upon seeing my face smiled wryly, “Think I’m a ghost?”
“Are you a ghost- If you are, you have to say so.” I joked.
“No. Are you a ghost?” She asked.
“I wish.” I said, shifting my weight on the camping chair I brought. “Might be more interesting than this.”
“That, my sister, is because you never lived to begin with.”
“Ouch.” I said, “I’ve been to places.”
That made her giggle softly, “You could travel the world, read every book from every library, and you would still be dead. I used to be dead, but I came back.”
“Oh dope.” I said sarcastically, “How’d you do that?”
Her eyes widened as she lowered her head and leaned towards me, though there were still a few meters of separation. With a croaking whisper, she said, “I let go.”
“I do that too.” I said digging the whiskey from below my seat. I shook the bottle “Want a sip?” I asked.
“Is that your release?” She responded rocking back and forth on her heels toward the flames.
“I have some weed too. If you smoke.” I said returning the bottle from under my chair.
She giggled as if there was an inside joke between her and the universe that I was not privy to. “Sure, I’d love a little high.” She said, pushing herself up. She walked lightly as if there were not a worry that penetrated her perfect complexion. I had never heard of any spectral women springing upon helpless campers around this valley, yet here it was happening. I had thought the world too bland for spontaneous engagements. It appears I continued to be proven wrong.
She sat in Claire’s chair in a poof as her legs disappeared beneath the layers of her dress. I started repacking my bowl.
“You look like you haven’t been eating, sister.” She said.
I methodically pushed the herb into the big-bellied bowl trying my best to keep the wind from her thievery. “Sister? I didn’t say anything before, but you see me, right?” I laughed as I offered her a smoke.
“I see you.” Was all she said taking the bowl from my hand.
“Are you sure we’ve met? I feel like I would remember a name like yours.” The weed began to soothe the strain alcohol brought to the brain.
“You didn’t ask last time.” A smile touched the inner corners of her cheeks. “Have you found your name?” She grabbed the bowl and lighter from me and easing back into the back of her chair.
I hesitated for a moment, which was answer enough for Stella. “It’s okay. We all find it eventually.”
She clicked the lighter, holding her thumb on the shotgun of the bowel, and releasing at the height of the fire that blossomed within the pipe’s nursery. “You just need to search for a sound that spurns a feeling of recognition. Does that make sense? I was never good at explaining this stuff. My name is Stella. The name comes from the stars-like me; however, the notes begin within the cradle of the jaw.” She said pointing to the rear of her chin, “This is answered with a rumble from the crevice of our throats.” she pointed to the middle of her neck, “The pressure becomes too much, until the release of the final syllable just as a purifying breath. My name is of the stars and the heavens. Some people don’t put that much thought into it, but you will see that my obsession is not so insane.” She whispered, yet spoke with such careful consideration for her pitch and voice. I could see the muscles in her throat work to manipulate the air within to sound perfect upon the ejection.
My brain spun in an attempt to process this information, “So your name was not always Stella?”
“My name was always Stella just as your name was never Alex.”
“My name is…” I bit my tongue on the word. The syllables crashed together like a pair of mismatched cymbals clenched within the sweaty palms of an unbloodied freshman. Even now, I could not pry the sound from my mouth.
“Do you get it?” She asked.
“How’d you know?” I asked, “Did you find it in a baby book- or did God say something?” I poked looking for any sign of a red flag, but so far, Stella captivated my attention. I felt as a disciple might have before the visage of a higher power. She was freed. Her voice was as light and effortless as her movements, which appeared to compliment her energetic and impulsive speech patterns.
“Stella.” She repeated, “The way it sounds I think. I liked it. I liked hearing it.”
“I don’t like the way my name sounds.” I said, “It feels unnatural.”
“Then it was never your name.” She giggled, “Have you thought of a new one?”
“A new name?” Now it was my turn to laugh, “No I haven’t”
“A name should feel like a dress,” She said, “If you can’t look yourself in the mirror and say ‘Good morning, Stella. You look wonderful.’ Then why try?”
“It’s easy.” I said.
Stella pondered this for a moment, “I never thought pain was easy.” She said, “I never wanted to feel any of it.”
“Is that why you changed your name?” I asked.
“No. I changed it because Stella was my name. You are a slow learner.”
“I’m sorry.” I said backing up on my words. I had not meant any offense, but to be fair, personal questions were certainly expected upon an intrusion. If we had met once, I would have remembered. Clearwater was not a large town by any means, but I supposed there were houses and families that stretched through the hundred mile stretch of lake that cut through the valley. Still, I did not get out much. I recalled most social interactions solely on how scared I feel falling into them.
“Don’t apologize.” She gazed in my eyes with innocent curiosity. An authenticity was present that I felt no need to laugh at. Life was already enough of a bitch. I didn’t feel the need to drag on someone for being weird.
“Where have you gone? How is the world?” She asked returning her gaze to the fire.
“I don’t know.” I said sparking the bowl and dragging a long hit, “Probably the same as it was yesterday, or maybe not.” I exhaled a long puff of smoke that took shape against the fire’s light, “The world is ending. If the nukes don’t get me, some angelical will… If that fails we get to look forward to the firestorms in a decade.”
“Woah.” She said, “Sounds amazing.”
“And some people think history is dead.” I passed the bowl to her.
She lit the bowl and breathed a long meditative breath. The fire burned from the center and spiraled to the outside edges of the flour.
“Damn.” I said as Stella released a torrent of cloudy mist in the air.
“It doesn’t do much for me anymore.” She said, “But I like breathing the smoke out. It makes me feel like a dragon.”
I was inclined to agree. Weed was water to a creature like me. It did the bare minimum to ease the worry of movement. The fire in my lungs brought energy to one created without a means of naturally making it. It wasn’t alcohol where I flipped a coin as to whether the drunk will drown my thoughts or exacerbate the emotions. Cannabis soothed the splintered edges of my thoughts. The anxiety was there. It was always there, but it sat with me whilst high instead of whispering in my ear.
I nodded my head as I ashed the bowl and was about to repack it when Stella interrupted.
“Would you want to try something better?” Her eyes glowed fiendishly from the reflection of the fading flames.
“What, like mushrooms?” I asked, “I’m pretty drunk as it is. Not sure if I want to meet the Gods like this.” I giggled.
Stella brushed it away, “That’s the only way to see them, sister.” She joined my muffled laughter. “This is for us, nameless ones- well one side of it; Alice said it wouldn’t help any of our brothers, but it helped me, when I was like you.”
Stella stuck her bare feet out from beneath the folds her dress, caked in dried, lake mud and loose grass clippings. I looked at her in surprise.
“What a strange creature have you hosted tonight.” Stella said, passing a smile. “I know the expression of concern, as I know in what awful ways the face can contort to express disgust, pity, and lust.” She spoke sharply and for a moment I felt the weed pinch my nerves, but just as I considered feigning concern her voice softened, “Do not fear me, sister. I don’t like to talk to people, least of all the dead ones,” She said nodding to me. “But I can help you. This can help you, if not to see; then, to at least feel what life should.” My guard slowly released and I sank in the preciseness of her pitch and the delicacy in her words,
“Fuck, that does sound nice.” I replied jokingly. Another feeling bubbled to the surface, which I could not identify. Love? Surely, not; Certainly, the feeling was not lust. Of all my sins, desires of the flesh never plagued me, what useless toys were our bodies? The touch of others was ill-received, and the returning respects had always felt forced. “If it kills me, don’t let them find the body.” I decided.
“Why would I take that pleasure away from the Evangelicals?” She giggled rising to her feet with a lightness my body would not mimic.
“It’s not meth, right?” I dug my boots into the dirt floor. Remnants of our wood pile lay spread as ashes around our feet.
The moon had fallen from the heavens and chose me to follow her to a secondary location. If a high was all I got then I would be satisfied; a hastened obituary suited me better. If I were to die at least this would be the new most-interesting thing to ever have happened here, murdered at the hands of the moon.
I brought a large bucket of water to the stream. I scooped the pale in the current and extinguished the fire. The embers hissed their last curses before accepting their premature death. I dropped the bucket, removed my phone, and turned on a flashlight. Stella stopped me. “Just close your eyes for a moment. You will see.”
I looked at this woman, who stood before me. My vision may be blurred, but my feet remained steadfast. Doubt dripped through soft openings in my heart. My mind had shown malevolence towards me, but never had I doubted my eyes, and yet, how would I know hallucination from truth?Another trick? The thought hung in the back of my mind, No. No. I could not doubt my mind now. Only faith in sanity would keep me straight.
I clenched my eyes shut and waited for the barrel of a Glock to poke my forehead or the tip of a knife to touch my spleen. I opened my eyes, instead, to find the dark landscape revealing a hidden layer of color in spite of the moon’s disappearance. Black had turned to an infinite array of bluish hues and subtle breathes of the world around.
“There’s beauty where you look, so look.” Stella said taking my hand and leading my shaky feet away from the safety of my friends.
My phone lied tucked in my back pocket. My left arm gripped the leather banded necklace wrapped in chords around my throat. The leather, through years of incessant wear, was unburnished and rough to the touch; it would remind me, every so often, to its presence; however, I rarely noticed. Stella led the way from my campsite and into an unknown land I had explored my entire life.
A few loose leaves blew in front of my face as the wind gave a lighthearted whoosh. Shades of night, once blended undetectably from intoxicated eyes, danced from tree to leaf to distant shores. The stars did their best in the queen’s absence, but without her radiance I relied on the most miniscule of changes to avoid fallen trees or sudden pitfalls spread across the brittle ground.
After a treacherous incline, steered by the hand of my captor and drug connoisseurs, Stella paused and knelt at the edge of another clearing. Savage Mountain bore above us. There were no shades of blue upon the glistening spirals of the cliffs. The rocks were as black as the void, and they stood in contrast to the moonless night.
“Quiet.” She whispered. I crouched beside her expecting to find her cult or rehab group. The forest was deafly quiet. The only light to be seen in the clearing were waves of purple glow pulsing in a slow tempo. The ground beat below me. Paired with my state I was forced to stead myself with my outstretched hand digging into the turbulent earth. It shook most uncomfortably. A reverberating, thump, that gave notice to the change in glow.
Stella poised her head moving her ear around the forest. She was holding her breath as I involuntarily followed her lead. After a moment she breathed a sigh of relief and took my hand, “This way.”
We crept our way toward the source of the tremors. The sound of my feet upon the ground shifted dramatically. The earth was hollow. Where there was once dirt, now hid rock. The gaps, I could see, were man-sized chasms streaking away from the mountain’s base. It was of no earthly creation I had ever seen. Stella led me through the left-most entrance. The black rocks no longer hid beneath dirt. She made no sound as she paced through the winding path that encompassed us. My boots, thick and worn from use, scraped along the floor as I kept as close to her as possible.
Strange whispers, sounds, and the constant beat of the earth loudened as we approached the purple light ahead. The hollowed hole we traveled through revealed another level of the forest beneath the earth. Monstrous white roots tore through their enclosure. Vines woven in intricate braids crept across the stone bark of the trees. The earth shook louder. Scratches could be heard as well. Gurgling, sucking sounds from within the depths of the mountain. I stumbled back. My thoughts were silenced by the echoing sounds that approached from all angles. Stella’s face was cast in the beating purple light. I covered my ears, but it could not be helped. The air was thick and saturated. Water glistened through trickling streams across the cavern.
All my life, I had lived in Clearwater, yet I had never known about this. Stella guided me through the underground. Other plants dimly glowed in the darkness. Green stalks of strange plants and blue mushrooms with white streaks mottled on their bodies. This had to be another dream. Deep ravines cut jaggedly across the stone tree forest. I pictured my skull splattered on the rocky gorge below. It was not a long fall, but if I landed right…
Stella grabbed my arm. Her fingers were chilled. Cold emanated long after she released me, which had sufficiently sobered me up. The luminescent glow grew in intensity. The vines pulsed with what I could now see was fluid rocketing through the plant. They were veins beating with the heart of the mountain or of these trees. No leaves grew upon their white-stoned branches. I touched one nearest to me as we passed. It was smooth as marble, but unlike Stella, radiated warmth. I looked up to see the openings to the world. The vines twisted their tendrils above the branches. I thought I had seen movement, but Stella urged me on.
“Do not touch.” She whispered sharply. Stella followed one of the vines until she abruptly stopped. Purple flowers touched with pink speckles littered the ground around this tree. Etched upon the tree was the word, Jake. Stella swiped her hand across the letters, but they remained.
Stella grabbed the waist of her dress and revealed she had, hidden within a leather sheath upon her thigh, a knife. A red metal glistened even without the assistance of the vine’s pulsing light. Gold corners embossed a design I could not make out. Stella held the edge of the knife against one of the vines. It split through the earth in the center of the flower patch. The vines were somehow capable of pushing within the stone trees. The trees themselves moved with life with every beat. I could see the movements brush across shadows in the corner of my vision. This tree was tamed, dispirited, or dead. Whichever fate it held meant it no longer moved as its siblings.
Stella held the knife against the skin of the vine, she turned towards me and nodded her head below her. On the ground, I could see, there was, beneath the stalks of grass a large, leather-wrapped flask. It was opened, and seemingly dropped or abandoned. I picked up the container and brought it to her. I was not drunk, but I was unstable. My vision was disoriented from the constant glow. My ears rang with the beat of the purple fluid shooting through the vines. The scratches echoed during the silent moments between the mountain’s pulse. I touched the leather fiber of my necklace trying to make sense of this.
Stella commandeered the flask and positioned it below her dagger. In a swift, merciless motion of her wrist the vine bled the liquid down it’s stalks. The canteen awaited catching the downpour of thick liquid. I did not think this was meth. Floral scents echoed from the wounded plant along with voluminous squirts of the fluid with the quickening beat of the earth. It was not long before the world around us begun to shift violently. The mountain was awake. Stella capped the canteen. Her other hand aggressively pulled me forward with surprising strength.
“Watch… awake” I could decipher the words from her lips with the two passing beats. I was confused until I felt the stone roots begin to inch their way nearer to my ankle. I jumped forward before the stone rock could grab ahold.
Stella led me to the wall of the cavern. Above us was an opening of light. Before I could protest, Stella climbed the face and hoisted herself above the opening. She leaned her body as far as she was capable reaching her hand out for me to grab ahold of. I studied the features of the wall and managed to grab a foot hold, while my arm reached up on an exposed rock. I pushed myself up, but the rock slipped beneath my foot. I desperately grabbed onto one of the vines that wrapped across the walls.
“Hurry!” Stella cried as the tremors begun to localize around us. I hastily restored my balance and crawled my hands across the volatile plant. It vibrated with an intense buzz as if bees were trapped within. As I neared the entrance the vines had begun to warp and rip themselves from the wall’s surface. Rocks burst into the underground. I extended my arm as Stella clenched an iron grip upon my injured wrist. The ice wove its way like frozen spiderwebs through my own veins. I gasped as she helped me retreat. Moments later the vines closed. The land returned to silence save for a quiet beat below my shaking legs.
Blood crusted in translucent frost dripped down my arm. I held my hand over the opened wounds. A rip of fabric caught my attention. Stella approached with a torn piece of her dress in hand. She wrapped the cloth around my injured skin. The climb had done them ill. Red splotches painted the dress a shade of pink. Stella never said a word during this interaction.
We returned to the tree line, hiking the path we had arrived from. Stella navigated as if she had lived in the forest her entire life, but that could not be. She did not look like someone would had they spent years in the mountains. She was normal-ish, except for everything that had just happened.
Our final leg ended as we emerged to the roughly hewn campgrounds. Only sparse embers remain though smoke continued to swirl from the depths of the ashes. We stopped just before the precipice to my tent. I didn’t want to wake the others. My body was beaten ragged. My head swam in nausea as I grappled for my water bottle within my tent.
Time brought relief to my shaking frame. My heart had quieted. I could not be sure if what I had seen was real. Flashes of the purple light rippled through my eyes every time I blinked. The shaking vines and the tunnel down. “Stella” my voice strained from effort, “When did we meet?”
“Our classes met on a fieldtrip to the old gallows.” She said calmly, “I think it’s a state park now.”
“Yea…” I said vaguely remembering how creepy everything looked, “You have a good memory, Stella. I don’t remember much of that.”
“Yea you do, silly.” Stella said unperplexed, “There was a tradition for the condemned. They would rip a piece of cloth from their clothes and soak it in oil, then after the state murdered them, the executioner would tie the fabric to the gallows. That was when you asked something, do you remember what it was?” She spoke softly as a tutor would to a student struggling to grasp the most basic of concepts.
I nodded my head in acknowledgment to the effort I was giving in understanding her story. My spit was caught in the back of my throat as my heart quickened at the sudden apparition of a shameful memory I had buried deep within the abysm of my mind came hurdling into the forefront of my thoughts. “I asked what happened to them if they had no clothes.”
Stella giggled and nodded her head, “And after everyone was done laughing at you, and the teachers broke everyone up for lunch”
“Yea, my group was near the woods and went exploring and… Oh shit.” I said covering my mouth with the palm of my dirt-stained hand.
“I didn’t mean to spy.”
“Yes, you did.” I said feeling my cheeks burn shamefully.
“I did.” Stella admitted, “But you know now, what I heard.”
“Yes, Stella.” I said, “I remember what a twelve-year old kid said after being laughed at by two classes. People will say crazy shit after that.”
“Does humor help you mask your burdens?”
“Humor masks everyone’s shit.” I stated.
“If it is just a thing people say; then, why not say it now?” She asked.
“I found the ritual site where they dipped the fabric in oil. Because I was a kid, and kids are stupid, I dipped one of my socks in the pock and tied it around a branch.”
“Sure did.” Stella giggled, “and then…”
I released a deep breath feeling the alcohol fade to weariness, “I asked whatever Gods acquired the governments sacrifices to…” I paused, keeping an eye on Stella to ensure she already knew this next part. Her smile confirmed my fears, and I finished, “To make me a girl.”
“I think you missed a part there, but that was the gist.” Stella laughed.
“I guess that explains why you hid from me.” I gave my best attempt at appearing menacing, but was met with another short burst of giggles.
“Yea I didn’t want to be the first one of your victims. I just spy on people. I thought you were going to hang me.”
“So, you dragged me into a drug-cave because of something I said a decade ago? I have to admit, Stella, that’s a little weird.”
“If you don’t want me here; then, I will leave, but I was on this mountain first.” She said fiercely, “I’m being nice here. I don’t like talking to people, especially those given everything.”
I retreated a step from her barbs; however, she was right. I didn’t die and I acquired a tree drug. The least I could do was give in to her fantasies. “I’m sorry, Stella.” I said raising my hands defensively, “I’m just drunk and tired and confused over all of this.”
She visibly calmed down, “You’re right, sister. I get excited over new things and old friends.”
“Are we friends?” I asked innocently.
“We’re bound in more ways than that, for better or worse.” Was all she said.
Stella looked familiar as a cousin would, or a sister to her brother. Names and faces clouded my mind obscurely; however, a name such as Stella would not have slipped my mind. I would have certainly burned a face as hers into what little memory remains, but it was not her face that was familiar. It was not her name. There was an air that flowed within her movement. I had never met Stella until I did. Now, I realized I had known her my entire life. Not the face. Not her name, but a shared breath.
Stella pushed the flask towards me. I grabbed ahold of the metal container. The liquid was heavy, dense, and syrupy. “This will bring Euphoria, sister.”
A sensation fluttered within me at the word, sister. I opened my mouth but a deep yawn escaped in place of words. Stella took this as an invitation to rise.
“Visit soon.” She whispered, “Alice is busy, and another season of rotting fish will be the final death of me.”
I parted my lips to respond, but she was gone. The night had begun to lighten a shade as the first chirps of the summer birds christened the upcoming day. My heart sank a moment realizing how little sleep I was about to receive. I dragged my weary body into my tent, unsure what to make of this night.
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