Publish or Die Trying

Everything seems impossible until you do it.

 

When I was a kid, I often dreamed of going to the post office with a large stack of printed pages to drop in the mail, to await a response from a publisher. If rejected, I would do it again, and again, until someone out there finally recognized my genius. There’s something romantic about the whole process, occupying a physical space, with that treasure born from your imagination stuffed into a manila envelope. This was long before e-mail and blogging, when typing was still taught in schools, before everyone in the world started thinking they knew what it meant to tell a story. Nowadays, publishers are torn between whether to request solicitations by e-mail or traditional post. With e-mail, they can simply hit the ‘delete’ button to reject you, but electronic submissions are exponentially more numerous. Mailed submissions are fewer, but require more handling.

Of course, the world of publishing has changed in many more ways since I was a child. Not only do I have to compete with every Tom, Dick and Harry who thinks they can write a masterpiece with little to no-effort, but the market has been flooded by 1 cent unedited e-books, and worse, predatory soft-scam agents and POD publishers who prey on the desperate, who get your books online but never into the hands of readers. What is particularly depressing, for me at least, is seeing the number of books catering to would-be writers with titles like, “Five Steps to Getting Published,” when what most people should be asking, but rarely do, “How Do You Write a Good Story?” It’s frustrating, because true greatness can only come from a lifetime of work. I could never have written The Princess of Aenya without first writing Ages of Aenya, and I couldn’t have written that without The Dark Age of Enya, which could not have been made before The Nomad, which was dependent on The Metal God, which I learned to write only after The Dark Temple, and so on and so forth.

As if these hurdles aren’t discouraging enough, modern day writers must compete with new forms of entertainment, like YouTube and Playstation. I can’t tell you how heartbreaking it is for me, hearing endless praise for the Game of Thrones TV show, but never for the books the show is based upon. And booksellers have taken note, taking far less chances with new authors, and turning a blind eye to anyone with artistic ambitions. Gone are the days when something like Watership Down, a 400 page epic regarding the life of rabbits, can make its way to print. Today, if it doesn’t involve teens or zombies or an apocalyptic scenario, your manuscript will get thrown into the “not trending” bin, no matter how masterfully written.

Another sad reality I’ve come to realize in my 41 years on this planet: LIFE IS NOT A MERITOCRACY. What does this mean, you ask? It means that the best people don’t always get the job. This is why we have so many idiots running for president. So much of success boils down to dumb luck. George Lucas just happened to be in film school at the right time and place, befriending the men who would become giants in the industry, like Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma and Steven Spielberg. Originally, Lucas was only interested in film editing, but Coppola encouraged him to turn his short student film, THX-1130 4EB, into a feature length movie. It was considered a critical and commercial disaster, but the artsy sci-fi dystopia paved the way for Star Wars. Had Lucas been born far from Hollywood, say, in Florida, he might have ended up like me, an unknown, probably a car mechanic (I work in a restaurant, but he loved cars). Stan Lee is another great example. Having grown up in New York City, he was much more likely to land a job at Timely Comics as a mail clerk. Like Lucas, Lee never dreamed of becoming a storyteller, but when two of the head writers at Timely, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, were terminated, Stan was the only person left to fill the position. Spider-Man was born from a fortunate accident, but it wasn’t a radioactive spider.

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A literary accident

 

For someone like myself, reading about George and Stan can be terribly discouraging. I feel I was born into all the wrong circumstances. There are no publishers in Florida, my parents outright ignored my literary ambitions while constantly pushing me into the restaurant business, and nobody in my family reads (seriously, none of my siblings have read a single book outside of school). All this means I have to work harder to get noticed, and that my work has to be twice, maybe three times as good as those who have it easy. But there’s a plus side. If life is not a meritocracy, it means that I do not have to forever fret about being “good enough.” There are some truly abominable works of fiction out there (I could name names, but I won’t) that sell like hotcakes, so it doesn’t always take a literary genius, or a perfect story, to find success. Another encouraging fact to consider is that, despite the advent of the Internet and video games, books still sell like crazy. Just look at this chart:

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These authors are far from scraping by. But my ambition is not to become a millionaire. I could honestly die happy if I were to earn, say, 50k a year via royalties. So what I need is a foolproof, five point strategy, and here’s mine:

 

  1. BELIEVE IN YOUR WORK: Yep, you’ve got to believe in your work like a suicide bomber believes he’s going to heaven (OK, bad analogy) but you get what I mean. So much of success boils down to hype and salesmanship. You have to regard your book like the precious gem it is, because if you doubt it, others will too. Now, this isn’t exactly something I’d recommend to new writers, simply because if you’re new to all this, your writing probably sucks. I know mine sure did. Even back in ’04, when I was sitting at my local B&N hawking copies of The Dark Age of Enya, I knew in my heart of hearts that I wasn’t quite there. What I was offering was far from my best, or rather, the best.
  2. DON’T TAKE ‘NO’ FOR AN ANSWER: The advice I have seen, in most ‘how-to’ books, is to be as polite and reverent as possible (as though agents and publishers are gods or something), and then wait patiently for their approval. If rejected by everyone out there, throw your life’s work in the trash. Well, screw that. There are a number of problems with this method, aside from the obvious. First and foremost, big name fantasy publishers are rare. I can count them on one hand, actually. So, if I am rejected by 5 editors, is that it for me? Sure, I could go back to the drawing board and spend another 3 years on another masterpiece, but if you believe in step (1), that isn’t an option. So, unless all 5 editors genuinely read through my manuscript and conclude it’s crap (or simply not trending), I’ll be calling, resubmitting, and showing up at their offices until someone calls security.
  3. SELF-PUBLISH TO GET “REAL” PUBLISHED: Self-publishing only works if you want your friends and relatives to read you. It in no way makes for a career, and it isn’t what I have dedicated my life to do. But sometimes, the selfie route can be a backdoor to the big leagues. It worked for Christopher Paolini of Eragon fame, as well as for my friend, Michael Sullivan, author of Theft of Swords. So, if someone does end up calling security on me, I can go the selfie route, if only to prove that my story can sell. However, unlike these 1 cent e-books you see on Amazon, I am going to invest in a professional editor and in professional artwork.
  4. THE JOHN KENNEDY TOOLE APPROACH: No, I don’t plan on killing myself to get famous (I’d like to be around to see if it works), but I might consider doing what Toole’s mom did after his suicide, and send my book out to some famous writers. Hopefully, a Martin or a Rowling will peruse the damn thing and pass it on to his agent.
  5. IF ALL ELSE FAILS …: If none of these approaches work, there will be other books. The Children of Aenya comes next.

 

 

Aenya News Update 3/26/2016

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Radia by Selene Regener

It’s finally finished! After two and a half years of writing, I am proud to say I have a completed draft of the latest in the Aenya series, The Princess of Aenya. Call me melodramatic, but it’s nice knowing I have two “good” books under my belt, so if I die suddenly, I will have left something on this planet to be discovered. Pending a final edit, the word count stands at (c) 125,000 (roughly the length of Tolkien’s The Return of the King), which is quite a bit shorter than my previous book, Ages of Aenya, at around 170+k. Unlike AoA, Princess is a simpler story, but that’s not to say it’s inferior. I like to think of it like Peter S. Beagle’s, The Last Unicorn, from which I have drawn a great deal of inspiration. I wanted to write a fantasy novel that not only captivates the imagination, but has something meaningful to say about life. The very best fiction, IMO, does this. And I aspire to do the same.

Of course, I couldn’t have done it without the help and encouragement of my three beta readers, my wife, Hynde, my good friend, David Pasco, and, strangely enough, someone who contacted me out of the blue, Tobias Tholken, who lives in Germany. When I asked Tobias why he chose to take this journey with me, he said simply that he was a lover of good fantasy, not the cookie cutter, mass-produced kind littering so many bookshelves today. I was honored to know he regarded my work in the same vein as some of the German classics we both adore, like Michael Ende’s The Never Ending Story (another inspiration, incidentally). Truly, amid the glut of sprawling, sword and sorcery world-building epics, there must be a scarcity of meaningful fantasy for him to have reached out to me. At any rate, I cannot thank Hynde, David and Tobias enough. They have definitely earned their place on the book’s Acknowledgment Page!

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Amalthea the unicorn, courtesy of my daughter

So what’s next? Well, naturally, I feel that a book like this deserves its spot in every bookstore in America, perhaps the world. The hard part is convincing an agent or an editor to read it. There is this misconception that there’s a guy someplace, reading every submission from cover to cover, tossing manuscripts into either the rejection pile or the approval pile. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. But even if I could get someone to read it, they might decide there aren’t enough vampires, zombies, or moody teenagers to warrant publication. Bookselling is all about making money, and the only formula publishers seem to understand is “if it worked before, it will work again.” Why do you suppose Superman is looking so much like Batman, after The Dark Knight became the third highest grossing film of all time? Such formulaic thinking is, sadly, anathema to art. If you’re writing bondage erotica for the express purpose of capitalizing on the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, sorry, you’re not an artist. This is not to say, however, that artistic endeavors cannot be lucrative. In fact, it is usually the most inspired books that become global sensations. Few thought Harry Potter, which was deemed too long for a kid’s book, would ever succeed. Now, because of Rowling, we have an entire ‘YNA’ section at Barnes & Nobles, right next to the ‘bondage’ category. The problem for publishers/producers is that they simply cannot predict what the next big new thing will be, precisely because it is *new*. As a lover and promoter of great fiction, however, I maintain the belief that a good story will find its way into the hands of readers. Gone are the days of Emily Dickinson and John Kennedy Toole, whose beautiful works were only discovered upon their deaths.

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Zaibos courtesy of David Pasco

As my dutiful wife goes about sending out queries (because I do not have the heart or the stomach for it) I will be turning my attention to new fiction. There are a number of short stories I have been meaning to write, for the heck of it mostly, though winning a contest would be nice. I also have a stack of books to read. Long ago, I was taught to be wary of reading fiction while writing it, because the style of the author tends to creep into your own. So for the past year, I’ve been devouring a lot of non-fiction, like Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, Islam and the Future of Tolerance, and Waking Up. I also read Bill Nye’s Unstoppable, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Heretic, Bob Ripley’s Life Beyond Belief, and I am finishing up (trying to understand, at any rate) Lawrence M. Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing. Sounds like heady stuff, but it’s actually easier, for me, than reading George R.R. Martin and having to wonder, “do I measure up?” Either way, good writers have to be voracious readers! Even non-fiction helps, for how can I write sufficiently about a subject I know nothing about, lest I limit myself to, God forbid—restaurant management?

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Nessus courtesy of David Pasco

But what does the future hold for Aenya? Glad you asked! Eventually, I am going to start on The Children of Aenya (are you detecting a theme here?). Like PoA, it is going to be another spin-off, because, like Harry Potter and The Hobbit and Star Wars, which were each wrapped up neatly, I do not want to invest time on a sequel to a book nobody has read. I would also like to write a novel that my kids can enjoy, who are now 11 and 5. Don’t worry, it won’t be too kiddie, but more along the lines of the fourth Harry Potter and subsequent installments. I’ll simply be omitting the sex, nudity, torture, and the extreme violence (all the good stuff, basically). The main characters will be children, after all, with an older supporting cast. And it will play on multiple levels. In Princess of Aenya, I explored the dichotomies between good and evil, compassion and cruelty, and an idealistic worldview from a more cynical one. With Children of Aenya, I would like to explore the wonder of childhood, and how that wonder connects to the biggest questions we can ask about life and our place in the universe.

 

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Demacharon courtesy of David Pasco

To give you an idea, the main character, Lilliea, is a 12 year old ‘apprentice astronomer.’ I picture her stargazing on the roof of her house, with a picnic blanket, a plate of biscuits and a small telescope, and a mind full of questions. The best part is, I will be employing my actual 12 yo daughter, who will be contributing concept sketches soon to be seen here!

 

The City of the Drowned Short Story -Book Review

I was surprised the other day to receive feedback for, “The City of the Drowned,” a novella I wrote back in 2006. Never fully completed, I abandoned the story for a number of reasons, namely, because it was originally intended as a sequel to “The Dark Age of Enya,” which I was no longer promoting, and secondly, because I felt I had moved on as a writer. The rewrite, “Ages of Aenya,” I am told, is vastly superior. Still, it’s great to receive affirmations of your abilities, even for something that is incomplete and written long ago!

Formerly clothes free life visit our new home clothesfreelife.com

 Hedonian trireme at sunrise Hedonian trireme at sunrise

Finneas Ryder
Book Review
Short Story
The City of the Drowned
Nick Alimonos
2006

I was excited to receive this short story to review this month. I had read some of Mr. Alimonos’ work before, but admittedly it was just in bits and pieces and I had never completed any of his full works. It was not because I didn’t appreciate his style or concept, it was because I wasn’t allowing myself time to read for pleasure. Well let me say this off the bat, that was a huge mistake on my part.

I have to say that the science fiction and fantasy genre has always been one of my favorite styles of writing. I enjoy the true escapism that the genre allows the reader when it is well thought out and written. The City of the Drowned is a perfect example of this. This piece…

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ANNOUNCING: The Princess of Aenya

Today, I have finished the book I talk about in this post, “The Princess of Aenya,” after two and a half years of work! It is roughly 123,000 words. For the most part, I am happy with the way it turned out.

the Writer's Disease

More specific art to come!

After 14 years, I am ready to work on something entirely new. Although my current novel, Ages of Aenya, was started in 2006 and written from scratch, the characters and the basic outline originated from The Dark Age of Enya. As you can imagine, fourteen years is a terribly long time to wait for a new book, and an even bigger age gap when you consider I was 24 and now 38. In 1999, when I first posted the short story He-Man fanfic, The City by the Sea, which became The Dark Age of Enya much the way Fifty Shades of Grey started as a Twilight fanfic, I was still single and living with my parents. Today I own a home, a business, and am married 12 years with daughters ages 3 and 8. When I created Xandr, he was my age…

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The Nomad: Chapter 7

Part II: The Search

Chapter 7

When Seline was kidnapped, I first thought to find her by catching the ships before they docked. I had learned that Iuz came from a land far south, a land known as Ninevah. However, to reach Ninevah, Iuz’ ships would have to dock first in Crete and then Aegyptos. I knew that I could not catch them by sail, since they had departed long before I could have obtained a ship. But with Thunderfoot, my mighty steed, I could circle the Great Sea through Cannan, where I hoped to reach Aegyptos before Iuz and his crew.

The very day of my wedding, I returned quickly to the King, and promised him that I would return with his daughter. Then, I leaped upon my horse and left that very instant, not having thought to bring any water, food or clothing. All that was in my mind was to find Seline and nothing more.

For two days I traveled without stopping to eat or sleep. I watched as the sun rose and set, without tiring, without letting my horse a moment’s rest. We moved at lightning speed, over mountains and through river valleys, beyond forests and lakes and barren plains.

At last, Cannan spread before me, a hot wilderness of hills and rugged terrain. I looked down upon the land and saw a city in the distance. I knew not which city it was, but later learned it to be the ancient city of Jericho. Wearily, I pushed my horse to the outskirts of Jericho, until even my godly steed collapsed with exhaustion. I leapt off of him and made the rest of the journey on foot.

Far below, I saw a fruitful pasture, and climbed down the hill feeling the jagged and broken rocks cut into my naked skin. I could feel my bare back boiling in the sun, knowing it was not the sun of Apollo, but the light of some other, unforgiving god. My throat had become as dry as the land and I could not swallow.

When I stepped at last on level ground, I saw that my feet and hands were bloodied and blistered, and I regretted not having worn any clothing. Unlike my homeland, here did nature thrash upon the body, so that a man could only live by struggle and tribulation. Here, in the land of Cannan, nature was not the friend of man but the enemy.

I walked for miles along the plain, until collapsing in a pasture, where sheep and cattle were grazing.

 

When I opened my eyes again, I found myself in a soft bed of straw. Leaning over me was a dark skinned woman with brown eyes and hair. She spoke to me in a language I could barely comprehend, but I understood enough to communicate. Her native tongue was Hebrew, but she knew a little Phoenician, which was similar to Greek. The woman was holding a grail in one hand and a damp rag in the other. I asked, “who are you?”

“I am Sarah. My husband found you lying on the ground, out on his field. He found you without clothing and nearly dead.”

“I thank both of you for your kindness.”

“Well. . . we could not let you die. Kindness is the will of God. That is what my husband always says.”

“Where is he now? I must thank him and take my leave.”

She pushed me back into bed. “Rest now, you are not strong enough to leave.”

“But I must go. . .”

“No. You will sleep in my bed tonight, while my husband and I sleep in the stables. I have prepared an extra place for dinner. You must eat and drink before you can be well,” she said, lifting the grail to my lips.

I drank the bitter tasting water and wondered how such people could live day to day drinking it. But I was so thirsty at the time, I was willing to drink anything. Compared to the water which came from my mountain abode, however, it was filth. “I thank you again,” I said.

“Do not think of it. We are happy to share our home and our food. I would have dressed you in my husband’s clothes, but you are much too big for them. Before you leave, I will sew a tunic and make some shoes, so that you may continue your travels.”

 

Later that night, I gathered with Sarah and her family for dinner. I was surprised at how small the table was and the portions of food. Either the people did not like to eat much or had hardly any food to serve.

There were no chairs, so we sat on a carpet over a dirt floor. Nehemiah, the husband of Sarah, looked much older than she. He had a long gray beard and was poorly dressed. Resting alongside the table was his shepherd’s crook. Beside him was his son, Jacob, who looked no older than eight or nine.

Before we ate, the three said a prayer to their god, thanking him for their food. I wondered at that, at how they could thank their god for giving them so little. If it were Zor who gave so little, I would have cursed him. All that we had was flatbread with no taste, a strip of lamb intestines, and dirty water. Such a portion could I have eaten in a single bite.

Little was spoken during dinner. It was a far cry from the screaming and arguing that went on during most Greek dinners. Then again, I had never eaten with such poor people. I was accustomed to the indulgences of kings and the feasts I had made for myself after hunting.

At last, the silence was broken by Nehemiah, “you did not tell us your name, stranger.”

“I am Dynotus.”

“And how come you to be lying unconscious on my pasture and naked? Were you mugged and beaten?”

“No, I was traveling south when I collapsed in exhaustion. I did not have any clothes, for where I come from, there is little need.”

“You are not from Cannan, then, are you?”

“No, I come from the north, from Hellas.”

“I have not heard of such a place. Is it near Syria?”

“Actually, it is further north, beyond the Great Sea, near Troy.”

“Yes, I have heard of Troy, but only in legend. I was told of the great, unparalleled riches of Troy. But that land was destroyed, wasn’t it, by your heathen gods?”

“And what gods rule this land?”

“No gods rule this land, but the god of Abraham and Moses, the god that took the people of Israel out of Aegyptos. We may not speak his name, but he is the one true god.”

“Your god does not appear to provide you with much,” I responded.

“He is all knowing and all powerful. All things work through his will. We do not have the riches that you have in Troy, because our god is a jealous god, and vengeful. The land of Cannan is in a state of famine because our king is unrighteous. But the twelve tribes of Israel care little for material wealth. We strive for righteousness. Such is the covenant we have made with him. He leads us toward righteousness. Do your gods give you that?”

“I don’t know what is righteous and what is not.”

“Righteousness is humility before god. Humility means, that if we are offered a great abundance of food, we take little. If we are given many fine coats to wear, we keep only one, and give to the needy. If we are offered many women to have fornications, we choose and marry one, and resist the temptation of the many. To indulge in the pleasures of wine, women and song, is to be unrighteous before the eyes of the Lord.”

“Forgive me, I did not wish to insult you. I only thought that you wanted to have more.”

“We did have more, once, when we were slaves in the land of Aegyptos. There, you shall find many gods, and riches beyond your wildest imaginations. But the land is corrupt and evil. They have gone astray and have given in to wickedness. They live from day to day without doing work. They have become sloths, forcing their slaves under whip and chain. And because of their slothfulness, they have degenerated to drunkenness and lechery. But long ago, we abandoned these things, to be poor but free, to worship our god and find righteousness through him.”

“I was going to Aegyptos. If your people came from there, perhaps you could help me find the way.”

And Nehemiah said, “I would not wish to help a heathen man find a heathen nation. But, I spoke to God before you awoke, and he told me to help you in any way that I could. Though I do not understand His purpose, I shall not disobey Him. The Lord God works in mysterious ways, and He has His finger on you.”

“Good, then perhaps you could tell me if it would be possible to reach Aegyptos from here, before the sun sets on the third day. It is all the time I have.”

“It could be possible, but only by chariot. Unfortunately, we have only an ass for plowing, and he is very slow. But if you wish, I shall give it thee.”

“No, I could not take your only mule. I shall go on foot, even if I do not make it in three days.”

“Then we shall offer you clothing and a satchel for bread,” Sarah said. “You will need much food for such a journey. We shall offer all that we have.”

“I could not take your food. But, if you wish it, I shall accept your clothing.”

“That is good. The sun of Aegyptos is not like the sun of Cannan. It will burn any man who goes there without protection, like the flames of a furnace. It is the hot sun of Re, the god they worship in Aegyptos.”

That night, I played with their younger son. The child had never seen anyone like myself. He would commonly ask how I came to be so muscular, and wished to know if I was stronger than Samson. Though I did not know who this, Samson, was, I told the boy that he was a weakling compared to me.

“Why must you leave us?” asked Jacob.

“I am on a quest, to find my wife, who has been abducted.”

The kid laughed at me, as if I was telling a fictitious tale, and replied, “are you going to fight the bad men?”

“I will fight and kill the bad men,” I told him.

“I think you could. But you hafta watch out for things in the desert.”

“What things?” I asked.

“Horrible things,” he answered, “things like monsters and giants.”

I laughed, “what monsters?”

“You know. . .giant scorpions, and large birds that eat horses; they live out in the desert,” he said.

“And how do you know so much?”

“I was told.”

“Told by who, your father?”

Then, he looked and pointed upward, whispering, “I was told by God.”

I laughed again, “don’t believe everything that God tells you.”

Suddenly, the door burst open, and there stood two men. Sarah screamed and grabbed the child, while Nehemiah rose and confronted them. “What are you doing in my house!” he cried.

“We have come to collect your taxes,” they responded.

“What. . .I owe no taxes,” said the old man.

“Well, you do now! Pay us or we shall take what’s ours!”

“I’m not afraid of you! This is a house of God. You cannot force us to do anything!”

Then, one of the men pulled out a short sword, saying, “you’ve been hearing too many stories about David and Goliath, old man.”

Sarah rushed over to her husband and tugged on his arm, pleading, “please, Nehemiah, don’t fight them!”

The other guard walked into the house and smacked Sarah across the cheek. She fell to the ground, bruised. “Please don’t hurt us. We’ll give you what you want.”

My blood boiled within, knowing in the blink of an eye, could I kill the two guards. But I waited to see, clenching my fists tightly, if I could use their intrusion to help me.

“Do you have any gold or jewelry?”

“My wife does not own any gold, nor do I. We are poor and only work enough to eat. But if you wish, I can offer you a few of my sheep.”

“Ha ha ha, we don’t want sheep, old man!”

“Please, we have nothing else!” Sarah replied.

Then, the men looked around the room, until they spotted the boy, “we’ll take the kid. We should get a lot for him in Aegyptos, if we sell him as a slave.”

Sarah burst into tears. “No! Please don’t take away my baby!”

Finally, I decided to act. I stood up and confronted the two men. “You don’t need the boy. Take me instead.”

“You? You would take the boy’s place, as a slave?”

“If you take me to Aegyptos, I will.”

“Well, you look pretty strong. We could get a lot for you. All right, mister, come with us.”

Sarah fell to my feet, kissing my arms and my cheek. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” was all she could say.

“It was the least I could do. But don’t worry. I will use them to get a free ride to Aegyptos. They have a chariot.”

“But. . .don’t you understand? You will be a slave, the rest of your life,” said Nehemiah.

“Don’t worry. We Greeks do things a little differently.”

Then, Sarah ran to give me the tunic and sandals she had made. I quickly dressed and prepared to take my leave. I said good-bye to my new friends: Nehemiah, Sarah and Jacob, but before walking out the door, Nehemiah approached me in secret. He handed me a large backpack that seemed to weigh a ton. “What is this?” I asked.

It is a stone plaque that I found buried beneath my pasture. When I prayed to God, he told me where to find it. He said that I should give it to you. I did not understand, but it is for your own safety. You must keep it until you find a place to make use of it.”

I opened the bag, finding a large, green, stone plaque. Engraved upon it were many Hellenic words, and beside the words were strange pictures that I could make no meaning of.

“The Lord said that it would be called, the Metamphrasis stone. Guard it carefully, Dynotus, for someday it shall save your life.”

“I will, kind sir. I do not know the purpose of this stone, but I shall carry it as your god commanded. Thank you, and may your god bless you and your family,” said I, before joining the slave traders.

The two men put me in the back of a carriage pulled by four horses. Looking back upon the house of Nehemiah, I saw it beginning to rain. It was a heavy rain, like one that only Zeus could bring, a rain that seemed uncommon in the land of Cannan.

The Nomad: Chapter 6

Disclaimer: This is a love story and an adventure, a modern take on The Odyssey, set in a mythological past where all of the world’s pantheons coexist. It is my first full-length novel, which I wrote in high school circa 1993. 

The Nomad represents a much younger and less experienced Nick Alimonos, but also, a writer who was more passionate, confident, and brash. If you can get past all of the warts (the wordiness, archaic language, melodrama, and awkward sentence structure) I think you’ll find a fun and fascinating story to enjoyThank You.


 

Chapter 6

I found Seline’s white robes soaked with tears when I met her. I had finally reached my homeland as Elios Hyperion and Apollo began to carry the sun across the sky. It melted into the atmosphere like a boiled egg spilling its yellow yoke over the horizon. I had just come over a grassy hill, when I saw the palace standing in a cloud of thick fog. It was on that hill, that I found Seline running toward me. In one hand she carried a handkerchief and with the other she held up her dress so that she could run.

We embraced and I saw that her golden hair had turned gray and her skin had become pale and sickly. Her eyes were pink and weak and shimmered with dampness. Her hands were cold and numb. When I saw her like this, I was in so much shock that I could not speak. Then, she said, “Dynotus, is it you? Is it really you?”

“My dear, who else could it be?”

“I thought you were dead.”

“Why would I be dead?”

“Did you not seek the crown?”

“I did.”

“At first, I knew nothing of the crown. But when I heard stories of what fate befell those who sought it, I believed you were dead. After all, you are only a man.”

“Yes, but I am a man who loves you, and no power on Earth or on Mount Olympus can stop true love.”

“Dynotus, I love you so much. . .” and she paused to catch her breath, “. . . and when I thought I would never see you again, I began to slowly wilt and die, and hoped that I would so that I could find you in Elissium, so that we could be together. I wished to waste away so that nothing but the echo of my tears would remain. My tears for you.”

“There is no need for that now. I have returned with the Crown of Kirce, and we will be wed this very day! Nothing can separate us again.”

And I lifted her in my arms and carried her to the palace, and as I did, the fog lifted and the sun rose high into the air warming Mother Gaea, and flowers sprouted after each step I made.

The gates of the palace opened and all the guards and maid servants greeted us with hospitality and joy. This, at first, surprised me, for I had not expected such a warm and friendly greeting from people whose acquaintances I had slain. Then I saw the King, who rushed toward me with open arms. Though he was smiling, I could tell that much grief had befallen him. “Dynotus!” he exclaimed, “you have returned!”

“What happened? I believed you despised me and wished me dead.”

Then the King laughed and replied, “I did! I did! When you left, I thought you would not return and rejoiced. But my daughter locked herself in her room and cried. There was not one day that passed that she did not cry. She did not eat. She did not sleep. And she said she would never leave her room unless she saw you coming toward the palace from her balcony window. I implored her to come out, but, she refused. I offered her everything a young woman could want. Clothes, jewels, horses, servants, she cared nothing for them. At last, I broke down her door and saw that she had become thin and frail, and that her skin had turned pale and her eyes lost color, and I became terrified. I thought she would die of grief. Then, I fell on my knees and begged her to tell me of anything that would make her eat. And she said, ‘to see Dynotus again’. It was then, that I realized, that she truly loved you. And I told her that I could not find you. But, that, if you were found, or if you returned alive, I promised her to be wed to you. With that promise, she ate.

Then, we waited. The entire kingdom fell into mourning and prayed to the gods for your safe return. Even the guards, when they saw my grief, hoped for your return.”

“So I didn’t need to find the crown?” I asked.

“My son. . .I give my blessing. If marrying you will make my daughter smile again, then marry you she will!”

Seline hugged me and looked deep into my eyes, then smiled and turned to her father. Already, her beauty had returned. “And for her wedding wreath, she will wear the Crown of Kirce!”

A crowd of people gathered round to see it. The King lifted it in his hands and said, “magnificent! I have never seen a treasure of its equal. It will make excellent raiment to my daughter’s head, its beauty surpassed only by her own.”

Seline smiled and reached out her hands to touch it. “Ohh, it is beautiful!” she said, and as she began to place it on her head, the maid servant Astymeloisa called out. “Seline, you have such beautiful things. I know I would never be able to afford such a gift for my wedding. But at least, let me try it on, to know what it would be like to be you.”

“Oh Astymeloisa, you are such a good servant. I would be more than kind to offer it. . .,” and Seline handed Astymeloisa the crown. The maid servant combed her hair back and stood upright to look her best, then, smiling with enthusiasm, did place the crown atop her head.

I think, I was looking down at the time it happened. I was lost in thought, wondering about the mildew growing on the brick walls, when I noticed, what at first I thought was a gust of wind, blow a leaf out of my hand. Then, the heat burned my side and I panicked. I yelled Seline’s name and lunged myself at her, toppling her to the ground. I turned around and heard people screaming, crying. Astymeloisa was still alive, though. Poor girl must have clung on to life for several minutes before she died. I remember her turning and turning and screaming. It took five buckets of cold water before the flames were drowned out, and by then, nothing was left of Astymeloisa but a black charred corpse. The crown had turned to dust, and I could have sworn that Kirce was alive and back to normal some place, laughing at me. I just thanked the gods for whatever impulse drove Astymeloisa to put on the crown before Seline. What I would have done if Seline had put on the crown, could I not even bring myself to think.

The King commanded that several days of mourning be observed for the dead maid servant. I could not believe how things were changing. Not even the King saw women in the same respect. At one time, the King would have sold Astymeloisa to me like a farmer who sells his livestock, to be used as a private whore. But today, due to Seline’s friendship with her and my love for Seline, Astymeloisa’s death became a national tragedy. Because of this, our wedding was postponed. Perhaps, if we had been married a few days earlier, I would not be here, speaking of what was to happen next.

 

The day of our wedding took many days to prepare, even with the hundreds of servants and maid servants working for the King. I demanded that as a naturist, the ceremony be as informal as possible, so Seline agreed to wear only a simple white robe and a gold tiara. Furthermore, a high priest of Zeus was summoned from the north, in Macedon, to marry us.

When the big day came, everything went as planned, even up to the very end of the marriage ceremony. The priest announced us husband and wife, and when I turned to look at Seline, for the first time my wife, all the memories of every woman I had known, melted away, and I experienced a thrilling moment of unspeakable joy, far beyond even the wildest of my sexual adventures. All that I could think, was of how I wished to swim in the ocean blue of my beloved’s eyes, and could not believe that, I had never even kissed Seline, not even once, and that by kissing her would I erase all memory of ever having kissed before.

I placed my hand behind her waist and cocked her head back. She gave me a welcoming smile and I descended down to drink of her rose pedal lips, when, suddenly, a cry was heard from the back of the temple. I turned to see the disturbance, my lips having just glided over hers, close enough to feel her breath, but, never having touched.

“I object to this wedding!” the voice cried out.

King Demaratus rose from his chair and asked, “who dares interrupt this union?”

Then, the crowd parted like the Red Sea, and coming forth, a strange old man with dark and wrinkled skin. He sat upon an old wooden throne carried through the temple on poles. The poles were held by four men in black robes and black turbans. His one eye was bloodshot and stared coldly at me, while the other sank closed. His nails were long and dirt filled, and his teeth were black as night. He spoke with a harsh and raspy voice, “I dare insult anyone, I, Iuz the Cruel!”

“And why should these two not be joined in marriage?” asked the King.

Iuz whispered into one of his guard’s ears and the guard brought forth a wooden box and opened it. Upon seeing the contents of the box, Seline screamed, and the others in the temple were just as shocked. Laying there, lifelessly, was a human arm, stained with blood and severed below the elbow.

“What is the meaning of this?!” cried the King.

“This is the arm of my son. My son who was mutilated by the Son of Zor. For this crime, he must be punished.”

Suddenly, out from another caravan, came Trax the Torturer. He looked as mean as ever, but, this time, with only one arm. Now, however, he had attached to his severed limb a large iron clamp, one which held his double bladed ax. “I demand justice!” cried Trax.

“Well, you shan’t have it. Dynotus did nothing wrong. You were bandits intruding upon Greek land. Dynotus was right for banishing you then, and he will be right to banish you now,” said the King.

Iuz leaned closer to the King and said in a deep voice, “oh, you misunderstand, my King, we are not asking for justice, we are telling you of the justice you are to receive, you and Dynotus!”

“Guards, take them away!” the King commanded.

Suddenly, hundreds of soldiers surrounded the room. All of them dressed like Iuz’ guards. The Greek soldiers had disappeared. “All your guards are dead. We took care of them outside the village. In the Greek harbor is a fleet ten times the size of the last one I sent. It was easy to get beyond your defenses, since half of your army is attending this wedding. I was prepared to contend against a much greater force. I suppose this is my lucky day. And this time, we mean to sack the city of all its treasures, including the beautiful women!”

“Enough! Guards or not, if you did not learn the last time, you shall learn now! For as a trophy, I swear: before you leave here this day, shall you take back your own arm, held in a box!” I threatened.

“I think not!” Iuz replied, and as I went to smote him, did he cast from his hand a glowing jade beetle, which struck me on the waist and wrapped around me like a belt. A jolt of energy ran through me, as if I had been struck by lightning, and I fell to the floor paralyzed.

Iuz leaned over me and grinned, “I heard of your might, Dynotus, and so came prepared. Not even the greatest of the desert giants or the mightiest of the task genies can remove the Scarab of Nether Sharrukin, once it is placed upon them. When it attaches to your body, you become as powerless as a child.”

Then, two of his guards grabbed me and began to beat and kick me. I sustained their blows, unable to move, and watched as Trax and Iuz did their evil, and I, powerless to stop them.

“The girl is mine!” Trax said, taking Seline in his grasp.

Iuz turned to me, and pointing his bony finger, said, “I thought for a long time the punishment I could enact upon you. But it looks as though the Fates have been generous. For there is no greater torture I can conceive, then letting you live and taking your beloved with me! If I were to kill you, you would merely ascend to Mount Olympus as a demi-god. If I were to kill her, you would know her fate, and eventually end your mourning, perhaps to find another love. But by taking her with me, you shall never know what tortures she will be made to endure. You will be plagued for all eternity by the unknown, and you will live, never knowing whether she is alive or dead, whether she is happy or whether she is forced into wedlock with another! A finer punishment, I could not have devised!”

Seline turned to him and said, “you monster! How could you be so. . . so. . .”

“Cruel!” he finished. “That is why, my sweet, they call me the Cruel!”

Trax pushed Seline to the ground and fastened manacles around her ankles, dragging her away in chains. Desperately clinging to the ground, Seline looked at me as long as possible, pleading, “Dynotus, help me!”

I reached out with all my might, taking her hand in mine, and said, “Seline, you must forgive me, you must forgive my weakness, but, I cannot move! But, I swear. . .I swear that wherever you go, wherever he takes you . . .I will find you, in the remotest corners of the world, I will rescue you, I promise!”

“And I swear, my love, that I will never love another. They may force themselves upon my body. . .but they will never have my heart; it shall always be yours!” and with that, she began to cry, as our hands were pulled apart.

I watched Seline be dragged from me and felt an enormous rage build within. It was as if something in me had exploded. With that, I grabbed the scarab from my gut, and letting out a blood-curdling scream, one to scare the meanest of wolves, I did free myself from its power. I crushed the scarab in my hand, and taking hold of both guards, did smash their heads together and break their skulls.

Immediately, I rose to my feet, my godly strength returned. I ran after the bandits, but, already they were on horseback. I called for my own horse, Thunderfoot, riding him out to the harbor.

There, I saw a fleet of ships departing. I wished to catch them, but, knew not which of the many ships contained my love. With all of my effort, I was too late.

           ***

It was then that I vowed, that no matter what the cost, no matter how difficult, no matter how impossible, I would search and I would find her, even if it took the rest of my life. I would not rest. . .until she was back in my arms again.

This is how I lost my treasure, effendi, the greatest treasure that any man may possess, the treasure of true love.


 

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Dear Agent

Sometimes, the greatest art lays hidden, because the people who create it are born too early, or because they’re misunderstood, or because they simply do not fit neatly into what categories came before. We have seen this often enough. Van Gogh. Melville. Sometimes, brilliance is lost to wrong-time, wrong-place. John Kennedy Toole. Emily Dickinson.

I am fully cognizant of how this letter must sound, the late-night ramblings of a delusional, desperate writer. You’re not far off. But what you do not know is that I am 41 years old, and that I queried my first novel at 14. That’s not a typo. After nearly 30 years of following the formula set by the Writer’s Market and getting nowhere, what am I to do? There are no guidebooks for someone like me. And, quite frankly, what have I to lose? You can do nothing more than ignore me.

If you haven’t tossed this letter out yet, let me guess what you must be thinking: learn to write a decent story, Nick, and maybe you’ll have a chance. But teachers, students and family have all marveled at my creativity since I was six. I know how to engage people with a story. But you’re not looking for me, are you? I am not famous, and my books do not fit the Twilight/Fifty Shades mold. Let’s be honest with each other, shall we? You print what sells. I get that. I can be realistic. But every now and then, something comes along to shake up the market which nobody can quite predict. Trends come and go, but what never goes out of style, is great fiction.

OK, maybe I’m bullshitting you, or just bullshitting myself. But what I can say for certain, is that I have dedicated 35 years to mastering the craft of storytelling. This must account for something. At the very least, a little faith.

I am offering more than just a book, though I have two I’d weigh against anything on your shelf. Instead, I am offering you myself, my life, everything I have given to the written word. It’s not about approval. I’m far past that. No, I ask that you take a journey with me. The destination is greatness.

The Nomad: Chapter 5

Disclaimer: This is a love story and an adventure, a modern take on The Odyssey, set in a mythological past where all of the world’s pantheons coexist. It is my first full-length novel, which I wrote in high school circa 1993. 

The Nomad represents a much younger and less experienced Nick Alimonos, but also, a writer who was more passionate, confident, and brash. If you can get past all of the warts (the wordiness, archaic language, melodrama, and awkward sentence structure) I think you’ll find a fun and fascinating story to enjoy. Thank You.


 

Chapter 5

I traveled great distances and through many lands to find the crown. So many adventures had I experienced on my journey, that the quest to find the crown could make yet another story all its own. But those encounters are of no importance to my tale. I do recall, however, the glorious day I returned triumphant. I spoke with many fishermen on the whereabouts of the island, where the wicked queen and sorceress, Kirce, once dwelled. Most of whom I spoke with told me they knew not of such a place. Then, I met a blind poet who told me of an odyssey. He spoke of ancient times, back during the war against Troy. He told me of a man who had angered the god, Poseidon, and had caused him to wander the Great Sea for twenty years before finding his way home to Thaki. And so, I went to the city of Thaki, and found that this man had long been dead. However, his great grand children knew of Kirce, and of how to find her. They told me to go to the edge of the river, Akaron, and gave me two things they said I would need. One was a conch shell and the other was a pair of two gold coins called obol.

When I arrived at the river, I found it surrounded by a thick fog. Nothing could be seen in any direction. Looking at the ground, I could tell that no life remained. And I wondered, where would I find a boat? Where did the river lead?

Finally, I decided to blow on the conch. To my surprise, the shell made a loud noise, like a horn. I waited several minutes and saw a ferry boat come crossing by. The boatman held a long oar and was shrouded in a black cloak which masked his face like a veil of mourning.

I stepped into the boat and asked if I could be taken to see Kirce. The boatman did not reply, but began to row as if he had heard and understood my request. After a long time sitting, I grew weary, surprised the boatman knew where he was going, wondering with amazement why the thick cloud neither lifted nor ended. I knelt over to drink of the water in thirst, but felt a cold, bony hand pull me back. I assumed the water was not safe to drink and said nothing of the matter.

After a long period, the boat came to a stop near similar, lifeless soil. As I stepped out, the ferryman extended his hand, and, to my terror, I turned to look into the face of death. Now, I understood the mystery of the fog and of the conch shell. I had summoned the ferrymen of death, who had taken me to find a dead woman. And the gold coins were for his payment.

After giving him the obol, I stepped on to the island where the fog cleared, seeing it was midnight.

Though I had journeyed through the Underworld, the island was not of the Underworld. It seemed as though Kirce had died, but somehow—through dark magic—had avoided Hades. Instead, she seemed to have brought Hades to her. The only difference, which I could tell, is that the guardian dog, Cerberes, was not there, nor were the Gates of Thanatos. Yet, the soul of Kirce still dwelled on the island, and only Charon had known to find her. For the island was shrouded in fog, and only the lost at sea could find their way to it.

I tread through muddy ground until I reached a paved clearing. The path led to a dark temple. On each side of the road, sculpted gorgons guarded the entrance, illuminated by distant torch light. I walked between rows of demonic faces and through an archway to a pair of double doors. The walls were lined by centuries of dust and mold. In the corner of the archway did I see many cobwebs. Sitting in the center of a large sewn web, a black widow spider made her nest. I took one of the torches from the wall and entered the temple.

Even with the torch light, it was difficult to see. From room to room, no light could penetrate the darkness.

The temple was cold and unfeeling. It appeared that no living breath had graced its halls in a hundred years or more. Exploring further, I discovered a hallway filled with candles. Walking by, each candle lit itself.

The candles led me to a room dug one foot beneath the rest of the temple. Entering it, I found myself standing in mud. Then, I heard a strange noise, and turning to look against the wall, found numerous pigs. Most of them were dead, but, one moved toward me. Then, the pig spoke, with a voice no different than a man’s.

“Turn back!” the pig said. “Lest ye suffer the fate that my crewman and I have befallen!”

“I am Dynotus, Son of Zor. I seek to find the queen, Kirce,” I answered him.

“She is here, but you do not want to find her. Turn back or become like one of us!”

At first, I considered the pig’s warning. But it was not enough to convince me to leave. I did not think my fate was to end up a pig. I knew my destiny to hold greater things, and so I marched on.

After a lengthy search, I found another room. There was a pentagram etched into the floor and candle stands placed at each point. Beside the symbol, did I discover a book case. Lifting one of the books, it crumbled to dust. Finally, I discovered, high on a pedestal, the queen’s throne. As I stepped up to it, I found, to my horror, the skeletal remains of Kirce. Apparently, she had died alone, sitting on her throne, none having the decency to bury her. It was no wonder her soul had never reached Hades. She had died without burial, a fate far worse than death. Then, the thought occurred to me, that, perhaps, I could be the one to do her the honor. But when I touched her bones, they, too, turned to dust. With that, I saw a golden crown fall from her head and come crashing to the floor. Taking the Crown of Kirce in my hands, I felt triumphant. However, as I began making my way back to the temple doors, a horrifying thought occurred to me. I wondered, that with everything in the temple seeming so ancient, with the books and the remains of Kirce having turned to dust, how was it that the pigs in that one room, who had warned me about being transformed, were not only still intact, but still alive? It didn’t make sense.

As I made my way through the passage to the double door, I heard an echoey voice coming from all directions. A cold chill ran down my spine, as the name, “Dynotus,” rang throughout the temple. I halted, swinging my torch up defensively. Then, I saw a beautiful young woman descend a staircase, a staircase I knew not was there. She had raven black hair and black painted eyes, and her lips were painted as black as her robes. She pointed a finger at me, smiled, and glided over to where I stood as if she had no feet. “What woman are you?” I asked in bewilderment.

She raised her hand, letting her sleeve slide down her arm to her shoulders, revealing a gold bracelet like a serpent coiled around her wrist. She brushed a long nail against my neck and whispered, “I see your wicked thoughts, oh handsome one. What would you have me do to you?”

I grabbed her arms and pushed her away, “I have no thoughts for a woman such as yourself!”

She receded and spoke in a loud mocking tone, “am I not beautiful, Dynotus?”

“I will not be seduced by a dead woman! You appear beautiful, but your flesh is cold and icy.”

“Let that not deter you from my pleasures. Kiss my lips and let your blood warm me.”

“Rather would I kiss the lips of a serpent! For I bet a serpent hath less poison in them.”

“Come now, Dynotus,. . . .look into my eyes and turn me away if you do not desire me.”

And I did look into her eyes, falling spellbound. Within them, I found the erotic wiles of a whore. I embraced and kissed her, and fantasized of our eternal love making, all the while, strange voices pounded my head.

Kirce raked her nails against my bare skin, scratching my back, and soon, I felt myself losing blood. I looked to see a pool of it around my feet, with Kirce kneeling to my waist to drink from my thigh. A deep sense of bliss came over me as the black witch sated her nefarious appetite. Then, I saw my reflection in the Crown of Kirce. But, to my horror and disgust, I also saw the image a ghoul, sucking on my blood.

I screamed and kicked her away. She fell back, laughing, and licking her lips. Then, she knelt and lifted the crown, placing it atop her head. “At last! At last, you have given me the blood I’ve needed to renew my body! Before you came, my beloved, I was merely a specter.” Then, she added, with a hint of sadness, “I was wasted away to nothing, nothing but a cold and lonely spot in the corner, only by sheer will keeping my soul on this island and forcing Death away. I would not go! I knew that a man would come to restore my beauty, like the shipwrecked crews from before. But you. . .you are special. So handsome. . .and a demi-god! Your life force will sustain me for centuries! I wouldn’t change you into a swine, beloved.”

“Yes, but how long will your youth last, before you must drink of me again, witch!?”

“Only in another few days,” she replied. “But why worry of such things? Here we are, free from death, you and I. . . .together, forever! We shall feed off of each other’s life forces. My magic and your blood will make us immortal!”

“I already am immortal!”

“Then, stay here. . .and I shall give you everlasting love!”

“You know nothing of love. Once, I knew as much about it as you, but I have learned, and it is a thing greater than immortality.”

“But, I can be any woman you want. . .any woman you desire. . .please stay here with me!”

“I must return!”

“Ahhh. . .so you are getting married to a beautiful princess, I see!”

“Get out of my mind, lest I take back from you your life!” I threatened.

“Describe her to me. Tell me what she looks like, how she acts. I can be her. . .I can be her!” she pleaded.

“You could never be her!” I screamed, and turned my ring into a sword.

After a pause, she responded, “you are not a shipwrecked sailor, are you?”

“I have come for the crown!”

“Then, if you must go, sleep with me one night, or else I shan’t give it thee.”

“One night, yes, and in the morning I shall be like a newly cooked rooster, dried of blood and seasoned for your hunger.”

And Kirce took off her clothes and did walk toward me naked, speaking in seductive whispers, “now, Dynotus, legends of your lust have even reached my ears. How could such a man like yourself, resist a woman such as I? How can you leave here, not having known what I feel like? Don’t you want to. . .?”

“Silence! Give me the crown and let me leave or I shall take off your head!”

Kirce raised her hands, making her robes jump back on, and floated away, gazing at me with eyes of evil. Then, like some voracious beast, her nails grew black and long, like the talons of a vulture, and a forked tongue slithered from her mouth as she spoke, “Men, they are such pigs!”

With that, a beam of light erupted from the center of her crown. I raised my silver sword and the beam was deflected back at her! I then heard a horrid scream, and looked to see, where Kirce once stood, nothing but a crumpled robe and a gold crown.

I walked over the remains, taking the crown, and found a piglet underneath. She looked at me and tried to run. But I moved more swiftly, turning her belly-side up, to make certain that the creature was female. I laughed, laughed and walked down the corridor to the pig pen.

When I opened the door, I found the crew of sailors, now pigs, and seeing that they had no mate, did offer them the swine in my hands. Closing the door, I remarked, “there you go, Kirce, several mates with whom to share your everlasting love!”


 

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