THE VICAR’S LAPTOP • by Derek McMillan

Well, I don’t know about you but I find I have a lot to do of a Sunday. There is the car to wash, the lawn to mow and those flowerbeds are not going to weed themselves, are they? And of course there is the Church. Well, that is not a problem any more.

Our vicar, the Reverend Green, was tired of all those jokes about Cluedo and anyway he was a modern vicar if you know what I mean. He wanted us all to call him Tony, if you please.

It all happened like this. One evening “Tony” as I suppose I must call him was polishing a homily in the study at the Vicarage. If you don’t know what that is? Perhaps you should go to church more often, though I say it as shouldn’t. It is what is frequently referred to as a sermon. He was, like I said, a modern churchman and a conscientious one. At least he was in those days. He practised his homily, recording it on his laptop and then playing it back to get an idea of how it would sound to his congregation.

Just as he was recording there was a knock at the door. He was momentarily angry and then he tells me he was amused at his own expense because his homily was all about dealing patiently with the trials of everyday life. It was the sacristan, Paul Weaver. Now if you know our Paul you would probably think of him as one of the trials of everyday life. He delights in being the bearer of ill news.

“It’s the organ, Vicar. You’d best come and have a listen.” he said.

So there was nothing for it but to walk through the rain to St Mary’s while Paul gave the Vicar an update on the state of his rheumatism. (Paul for one would sooner eat broken glass than call him “Tony”.)

The organ, when Paul pressed a few keys experimentally, gave out no noise at all, then a thumping sound and finally a noise like somebody with bronchitis inhaling underwater.

A doyen of stating the obvious, our Tony said that sounded awful.

Paul couldn’t resist adding, it sounds quite expensive too. He’s right you know. Those cowboys will even charge a fortune for a call-out. Paul couldn’t resist adding a lengthy commentary on the ills which organs can be subject to and the Machiavellian machinations of organ repair companies.

Tony was already running a fund to repair the roof, one to repair the narthex and one to restore the rather nice North window. Yet another fund was not going to go down well in the village.

Then, if you please, he got a call from Bet Crowder to tell him old Bob was poorly. Tony tells me he considered walking to Bob’s cottage which is on the other side of the village to save on the petrol but then the sheets of falling rain persuaded him to get his ancient Morris out. It wasn’t much of a car but it was more-or-less waterproof.

Doctor Jones doesn’t have much time for vicars. Between you and me, he doesn’t have much time for anybody. Bet told me he was hogging the fire in their living room when Tony arrived.

He said, “Well, if you’ve come to make the funeral arrangements you’d better get a move on,” and he said it in a voice which carried to every corner of the cottage. I have a feeling he was off with toothache when bedside manner was taught at medical college.

Bob was very weak and apologetic about being unable to play the organ that Sunday. Well we know now that that turned out to be be any Sunday. The organist was in a similarly parlous state to the organ, you might say.

Doctor Jones’ cheery prediction of his imminent demise, however, was an exaggeration — but as for old Bob, I am here to tell you he never left his cottage again.

“No organist, no organ,” was the theme running through Tony’s head on the way back to the vicarage. There was nothing for it. He realised he would have to use his laptop to produce the music. He thought the technophobic tendency in the congregation would be outraged but he was wrong.

Neither old Bob nor the old organ had been exactly up to the mark for some years. It was only when we heard the YouTube version that the congregation gained an insight into exactly how much the music in church had gradually declined over the years.

I told Tony that it was excellent. I added, because it was true, that if our singing were up to that standard, what a lovely sound we would have.

Well, Tony obviously listened to me. He started recording Songs of Praise versions of the hymns for the week and playing those to an appreciative congregation.

Then came the sunny Saturday morning when Tony woke up to find he had been stricken with appalling laryngitis. He could scarcely make any sound at all.

There was one possible solution that he could see. He had to play the MP3 of one of his old homilies in Church that Sunday. It went down very well. Certainly a lot better than a lot of laryngitic croaking would have done.

So now I think we have the best of both worlds. There’s a lovely service in the Church every Sunday, so long as old Paul has remembered to turn the laptop on, of course. As for us, well, we don’t actually have time to go to the Church. Last time I popped my head round the door there was just old Paul quietly dozing and the laptop doing the honours.

There is, you must admit, so much to do on a Sunday.


Derek McMillan is the author of Salt Wars which was published on Kindle in December 2013. It is a fantasy inspired by Salzburg and its Prince-Archbishop Wolf-Dietrich von Raitenau. It is also available in German and French. You can “try before you buy” on Kindle so why not have a look? Derek is a retired teacher and his editor is his wife, Angela McMillan.


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Every Day Fiction

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Derek, for this gentle reader–not every gentle little pub anecdote is destined to grow up to become a story that someone will love to read. I say this with pain, because I really hate not liking something written by anyone who has liked any of my stories. And I hate equally not commenting on a story by anyone who has commented on mine, because it feels rude.

    I think you could have pushed yourself harder, and gone past the gentle chuckling and reminiscing and lifting another pint with the lads here, and you could have drawn, say, a gently ironic picture of modern technology in a church abandoned on Sunday because all the young potential parishioners are too busy in their own way with that technology too. You could have pared away all the head-wagging and put in a little more, perhaps, of the impersonality of a Sunday, now, and how sad that might feel to someone for whom a traditional Sunday is meaningful.

    You have it in you to write stuff that goes beyond the anecdote and the paralyzingly gentle humor, to explore how it feels to see the death of a way of life that may have had its stultifying flaws, but had character and flavor too. I’m not leaving a star rating, and I hope you will come back with something showing more of your capacities.

    • Chris Antenen

      I think that suggestion would have gone waaay past the 1000 words. I could read what you suggest between the lines;

      • Gerald_Warfield

        I agree with both Chris and Sarah. I’m wrestling with the same problem in a story and realized that I just can’t keep it to flash length.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          I once cut over 300 words from a story so I could submit it here, and ended up with something much more powerful than I’d started with. It hurt vanquishing all those lovely sentences I’d been so fond of, but I just ruthlessly got rid of everything that didn’t advance the story or say anything useful about the characters, and I still packed plenty in. 1000 words is mighty roomy.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Derek, for this gentle reader–not every gentle little pub anecdote is destined to grow up to become a story that someone will love to read. I say this with pain, because I really hate not liking something written by anyone who has liked any of my stories. And I hate equally not commenting on a story by anyone who has commented on mine, because it feels rude.

    I think you could have pushed yourself harder, and gone past the gentle chuckling and reminiscing and lifting another pint with the lads here, and you could have drawn, say, a gently ironic picture of modern technology in a church abandoned on Sunday because all the young potential parishioners are too busy in their own way with that technology too. You could have pared away all the head-wagging and put in a little more, perhaps, of the impersonality of a Sunday, now, and how sad that might feel to someone for whom a traditional Sunday is meaningful.

    You have it in you to write stuff that goes beyond the anecdote and the paralyzingly gentle humor, to explore how it feels to see the death of a way of life that may have had its stultifying flaws, but had character and flavor too. I’m not leaving a star rating, and I hope you will come back with something showing more of your capacities.

    • Chris Antenen

      I think that suggestion would have gone waaay past the 1000 words. I could read what you suggest between the lines;

      • Gerald_Warfield

        I agree with both Chris and Sarah. I’m wrestling with the same problem in a story and realized that I just can’t keep it to flash length.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          I once cut over 300 words from a story so I could submit it here, and ended up with something much more powerful than I’d started with. It hurt vanquishing all those lovely sentences I’d been so fond of, but I just ruthlessly got rid of everything that didn’t advance the story or say anything useful about the characters, and I still packed plenty in. 1000 words is mighty roomy.

  • terrytvgal

    I found the style (voice?, maybe) of this piece very distracting. My vocabulary is generally pretty good but I bumped in to 2-3 words I didn’t know and context didn’t help. “narthex”? “parlous”? For all that, I got to the end, which I should have seen coming I suppose but didn’t. I have a very hard time finding fault in the stories I read here at EDF, because I am unpublished and tend to consider all the stories I read here as victories in their own way, just for being here to read. 3stars and thanks for your effort here.

  • terrytvgal

    I found the style (voice?, maybe) of this piece very distracting. My vocabulary is generally pretty good but I bumped in to 2-3 words I didn’t know and context didn’t help. “narthex”? “parlous”? For all that, I got to the end, which I should have seen coming I suppose but didn’t. I have a very hard time finding fault in the stories I read here at EDF, because I am unpublished and tend to consider all the stories I read here as victories in their own way, just for being here to read. 3stars and thanks for your effort here.

  • I’m a big fan of British mysteries and this piece reminded me of the charming, eccentric village characters you find in Agatha Christie mysteries — specifically “Murder at the Vicarage.” The understated humor is very very British to me; I like it but it does take careful reading. I enjoyed reading your story and thought it worked well. Totally did not get the “Cluedo” reference though.

  • I’m a big fan of British mysteries and this piece reminded me of the charming, eccentric village characters you find in Agatha Christie mysteries — specifically “Murder at the Vicarage.” The understated humor is very very British to me; I like it but it does take careful reading. I enjoyed reading your story and thought it worked well. Totally did not get the “Cluedo” reference though.

  • joanna b.

    i did like the description of the organ: “thumping sound, like someone with bronchitis inhaling underwater.” the latter is a true original. the story itself was a bit too chatty though, for me. i think fewer characters, and the important few developed more, might have added depth. you did need Bob, the organist, to get sick, but i couldn’t see that Doc Jones added much of anything to the story line. the story line was a very good one, the replacement of actual church with virtual church, but it got lost in the “head-wagging” as sarah crysl ahktar so neatly pointed out. the writing style is smooth, so are the vocabulary choices.

  • joanna b.

    i did like the description of the organ: “thumping sound, like someone with bronchitis inhaling underwater.” the latter is a true original. the story itself was a bit too chatty though, for me. i think fewer characters, and the important few developed more, might have added depth. you did need Bob, the organist, to get sick, but i couldn’t see that Doc Jones added much of anything to the story line. the story line was a very good one, the replacement of actual church with virtual church, but it got lost in the “head-wagging” as sarah crysl ahktar so neatly pointed out. the writing style is smooth, so are the vocabulary choices.

  • Liz Gray

    Sadly, I don’t think the ‘voice’ really works here. I kept waiting for something to undercut it, but nothing did. It would work better in something like the People’s Friend than here where readers generally expect something sharper, harder-hitting or at least unexpected, with a twist. It’s good to have variety on EDF but this didn’t work for me.

  • Liz Gray

    Sadly, I don’t think the ‘voice’ really works here. I kept waiting for something to undercut it, but nothing did. It would work better in something like the People’s Friend than here where readers generally expect something sharper, harder-hitting or at least unexpected, with a twist. It’s good to have variety on EDF but this didn’t work for me.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    The conversational tone became a bit stilted due to the lack of contractions.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    The conversational tone became a bit stilted due to the lack of contractions.

  • Erin Ryan

    It took me a while to figure out “all those jokes about Cluedo.” In the U.S. the game is called Clue, and the character is called Mr. Green, not Reverend Green. Our version of Mr. Green is sort of a businessman in a suit.

    • Gerald_Warfield

      Oh! Now I get it.

  • Erin Ryan

    It took me a while to figure out “all those jokes about Cluedo.” In the U.S. the game is called Clue, and the character is called Mr. Green, not Reverend Green. Our version of Mr. Green is sort of a businessman in a suit.

    • Gerald_Warfield

      Oh! Now I get it.

  • Cranky Steven

    “Narthex”, “Cluedo”? I need a cluedo to find out what those are. My dictionary doesn’t know either. Are you possibly from a different country than America?
    I liked this story over-all but strange words and references are bumps in an otherwise smooth road.
    It might have been nice to have Ol’ Bob drop dead. A good metaphor, IMO, and a corpse never hurts a story. Three stars.

    • Edward Beach

      I was waiting for a corpse in the organ! There’s a British tv series called Midsomer Murders, set in the shires, quite popular, and it’s jammed with corpses. Derek, release your darker side, sir.

    • Erin Ryan

      The narthex is the gathering space of a church. I didn’t realize the word was so unknown, but I guess maybe I am out of touch. (I write/edit for an American Catholic liturgy magazine, where the word is pretty commonly used.)

      • Cranky Steven

        Okay. Thanks for the info. Now I know. I am not a Christian and so have not been into churches much or at all in decades.

        • Erin Ryan

          Well, you aren’t the only one who didn’t know it – another commenter said it puzzled her too. So I thought I’d help.

          • Cranky Steven

            Erin, you did help. You are a sweetie pie even if you do not strew corpses into organs. 😉

  • Cranky Steven

    “Narthex”, “Cluedo”? I need a cluedo to find out what those are. My dictionary doesn’t know either. Are you possibly from a different country than America?
    I liked this story over-all but strange words and references are bumps in an otherwise smooth road.
    It might have been nice to have Ol’ Bob drop dead. A good metaphor, IMO, and a corpse never hurts a story. Three stars.

    • Edward Beach

      I was waiting for a corpse in the organ! There’s a British tv series called Midsomer Murders, set in the shires, quite popular, and it’s jammed with corpses. Derek, release your darker side, sir.

    • Erin Ryan

      The narthex is the gathering space of a church. I didn’t realize the word was so unknown, but I guess maybe I am out of touch. (I write/edit for an American Catholic liturgy magazine, where the word is pretty commonly used.)

      • Cranky Steven

        Okay. Thanks for the info. Now I know. I am not a Christian and so have not been into churches much or at all in decades.

        • Erin Ryan

          Well, you aren’t the only one who didn’t know it – another commenter said it puzzled her too. So I thought I’d help.

          • Cranky Steven

            Erin, you did help. You are a sweetie pie even if you do not strew corpses into organs. 😉

  • Chris Antenen

    For the first time, I’m disappointed in the readers’ comments. Since when have readers been able to expect something more than a good story, told well, within a thousand words?
    One of the best pieces here was the story of Cinderella told by the stepmother. Think it’s something like ‘Lady Tremain’s , , , ‘ told like a fairy tale, with no twist except for the whole story.
    I’m not pleased with so much pseudo science fiction and seldom understand the twist, but I just read them, enjoy them, and comment if I have something constructive to say.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      I’m looking for great stuff, and I don’t ask of any writer what I don’t strive for myself. One thousand words is plenty of room to tell something extraordinary, or wonderful, or delightful, or thought-provoking. It’s not the Cliff Notes version of “real literature.”

      Genre doesn’t matter. A charming absurdity or a bit of light fluff can be 5-star stories.

      Every reader brings different expectations, and judges stories accordingly.

      Please point out any comment here that did not rationally explain what that reader felt was lacking in this story.

      • Chris Antenen

        –not every gentle little pub anecdote is destined to grow up to become a story that someone will love to read–.

        –A trendy new name for a classic form doesn’t degrade it into the Cliff Notes version of “real literature.”–

        — Good lines, polished. I had the feeling you had used them before. Neither rationally explained what you felt was lacking in the story.

        ‘I’m looking for great stuff’ — are you an editor of EDF? If you are an editor here or elsewhere I can understand it’s difficult to take a busman’s holiday.

        You implied a literary relationship with the writer. Then why say all this here? I was in cringe mode after I read it, but I expect he will come to your rescue.

        Others wrote some negative notes, but I didn’t feel like ducking.

        Why respond to me, anyway?
        “Im nobody,
        Who are you?”

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          No–like everything else I write, the stuff falls straight out of my head onto the page. I don’t have a collection of set pieces.

          Derek has said some really nice things about my own stories here, and I wanted to like what he wrote. But I didn’t. So I explained why.

          EDF has both a ratings system and a comments thread, so people can express what they actually think, rather than making polite murmurs and asking to pass the biscuits. I explain my opinions, and no one need agree with them. That’s why this thread is here in the first place.

          • Edward Beach

            I’ll back you up on this one, Sarah. I think it’s fair to say NONE of us posting stories to EDF know how to write. That means getting feedback from the comment section can be really helpful; it means duffs like us get to know what other duffs genuinely think about what we write. And, yeah, constructive comments… I don’t think any of us are posting unhelpful comments. Actually, given the general lack of conversation of this comment app (which is called Disqus, any bells ringing?) I’m guessing that most writers don’t even know what people are commenting about their stuff. Jeez, this Chris person needs to chill a bit. Haha!

          • Chris Antenen

            I’ll try, Edward, but I think discussions like this are good. Have you ever been in a writing group where the critique is.” Oh, I just loved your poem/story/chapter.” It has happened to me and it’s not helpful, but it’s meant to be and you want to scream, “Why?’ and then when the room is still, someone says. “I think, from what you have told us about this character, he would say ‘took’ instead of ‘stole,’ and ‘Friday last’ instead of ‘last Friday.’ That made a lot of difference — didn’t trash my story or make it sound like perfection, but presented impressions that led to a meaningful discussion. That was constructive and it happened recently. I find reading the story aloud (alone and for a group) and listening to comments from fellow writers is a big part of editing. We can do a version of that here, but we should be careful of the words we use to help someone understand our viewpoint — just asking for a little Bob Dylan here.
            I liked your idea of a corpse in the organ and Joanne’s idea of eliminating the doctor with the attitude. And ditto about derek releasing his darker side. I’m going to look for that murder series. I’m usually just a weekend PBS viewer.
            Thanks.

          • Edward Beach

            Hi Chris,
            For me, this is the closest I have to a writing group at the moment, and yes I totally get the thing about people offering feedback that is insubstantial. When I see someone using words like “great” or “speechless” over work that I can quite clearly see lacks real merit then it undermines both the commentator and the forum itself (especially if other people follow suit). I think people expressing dissatisfaction is fine too, so long as they try to justify themselves. Using the right words is trickier online though, where you don’t have the tone and inclination of one’s voice to carry your meaning across. Haha, I’ve probably inadvertantly offended more than a few peeps with a misplaced comment!

          • Carl Steiger

            Me too, I rely on EDF as my writer’s group!

  • Chris Antenen

    For the first time, I’m disappointed in the readers’ comments. Since when have readers been able to expect something more than a good story, told well, within a thousand words?
    One of the best pieces here was the story of Cinderella told by the stepmother. Think it’s something like ‘Lady Tremain’s , , , ‘ told like a fairy tale, with no twist except for the whole story.
    I’m not pleased with so much pseudo science fiction and seldom understand the twist, but I just read them, enjoy them, and comment if I have something constructive to say.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      I’m looking for great stuff, and I don’t ask of any writer what I don’t strive for myself. One thousand words is plenty of room to tell something extraordinary, or wonderful, or delightful, or thought-provoking. A trendy new name for a classic form doesn’t degrade it into the Cliff Notes version of “real literature.”

      Genre doesn’t matter. A charming absurdity or a bit of light fluff can be 5-star stories.

      Every reader brings different expectations, and judges stories accordingly.

      Were there any comments here that did not rationally explain what that reader felt was lacking in this story?

      • Chris Antenen

        –not every gentle little pub anecdote is destined to grow up to become a story that someone will love to read–.

        –A trendy new name for a classic form doesn’t degrade it into the Cliff Notes version of “real literature.”–

        — Good lines, polished. I had the feeling you had used them before. Neither rationally explained what you felt was lacking in the story.

        ‘I’m looking for great stuff’ — are you an editor of EDF? If you are an editor here or elsewhere I can understand it’s difficult to take a busman’s holiday.

        You implied a literary relationship with the writer. Then why say all this here? I was in cringe mode after I read it, but I expect he will come to your rescue.

        Others wrote some negative notes, but I didn’t feel like ducking.

        Why respond to me, anyway?
        “Im nobody,
        Who are you?”

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          No–like everything else I write, the stuff falls straight out of my head onto the page. I don’t have a collection of set pieces.

          Derek has said some really nice things about my own stories here, and I wanted to like what he wrote. But I didn’t. So I explained why.

          EDF has both a ratings system and a comments thread, so people can express what they actually think, rather than making polite murmurs and asking to pass the biscuits. I explain my opinions, and no one need agree with them. That’s why this thread is here in the first place.

          And no–I’m not expressing some professionally-cultivated aesthetic. I don’t know nuthin’ about art. I just know what I like.

          FYI–I wrote my initial comment after half a day had gone by, and Derek’s story was at 2 stars after three votes, and nobody else had yet given him any feedback. None of those votes were mine. And I didn’t think it fair to have a story out here, languishing for any sort of response at all. It’s not like I was up at 3:00 a.m. ensuring I’d beaten everyone else to it. Plenty of readers just give toe-curlingly bad ratings to stories but never tell the author why. Seems churlish to me.

          • Edward Beach

            I’ll back you up on this one, Sarah. I think it’s fair to say NONE of us posting stories to EDF know how to write. That means getting feedback from the comment section can be really helpful; it means duffs like us get to know what other duffs genuinely think about what we write. And, yeah, constructive comments… I don’t think any of us are posting unhelpful comments. Actually, given the general lack of conversation of this comment app (which is called Disqus, any bells ringing?) I’m guessing that most writers don’t even know what people are commenting about their stuff. Jeez, this Chris person needs to chill a bit. Haha!

          • Chris Antenen

            I’ll try, Edward, but I think discussions like this are good. Have you ever been in a writing group where the critique is.” Oh, I just loved your poem/story/chapter.” It has happened to me and it’s not helpful, but it’s meant to be and you want to scream, “Why?’ and then when the room is still, someone says. “I think, from what you have told us about this character, he would say ‘took’ instead of ‘stole,’ and ‘Friday last’ instead of ‘last Friday.’ That made a lot of difference — didn’t trash my story or make it sound like perfection, but presented impressions that led to a meaningful discussion. That was constructive and it happened recently. I find reading the story aloud (alone and for a group) and listening to comments from fellow writers is a big part of editing. We can do a version of that here, but we should be careful of the words we use to help someone understand our viewpoint — just asking for a little Bob Dylan here.
            I liked your idea of a corpse in the organ and Joanne’s idea of eliminating the doctor with the attitude. And ditto about derek releasing his darker side. I’m going to look for that murder series. I’m usually just a weekend PBS viewer.
            Thanks.

          • Edward Beach

            Hi Chris,
            For me, this is the closest I have to a writing group at the moment, and yes I totally get the thing about people offering feedback that is insubstantial. When I see someone using words like “great” or “speechless” over work that I can quite clearly see lacks real merit then it undermines both the commentator and the forum itself (especially if other people follow suit). I think people expressing dissatisfaction is fine too, so long as they try to justify themselves. Using the right words is trickier online though, where you don’t have the tone and inclination of one’s voice to carry your meaning across. Haha, I’ve probably inadvertantly offended more than a few peeps with a misplaced comment!

          • Carl Steiger

            Me too, I rely on EDF as my writer’s group!

  • Edward Beach

    I agree with Paul Freeman on this one, the chatty dialogue was a turn-off. There was so much of it that it disrupted the flow of the sentences. Perhaps less would have been more here.

    I liked the idea of the vicar’s lap-top playing out to an audience of nil; after all, church in the UK is soooo last century. That was your story focus though, which made the whole diversion to the organists place seemed unnecessary – as if that began to take over. I definitely go the sense that some of the story strands and characters were a little redundant, but then that’s what good editing is about I suppose. Thanks for the story Dezza!

  • Edward Beach

    I agree with Paul Freeman on this one, the chatty dialogue was a turn-off. There was so much of it that it disrupted the flow of the sentences. Perhaps less would have been more here.

    I liked the idea of the vicar’s lap-top playing out to an audience of nil; after all, church in the UK is soooo last century. That was your story focus though, which made the whole diversion to the organists place seemed unnecessary – as if that began to take over. I definitely go the sense that some of the story strands and characters were a little redundant, but then that’s what good editing is about I suppose. Thanks for the story Dezza!

  • D McMillan

    I apologise. I was told that the Reverend Green reference would be lost on American readers but I insisted on keeping it in for the benefit of the many readers of Everyday Fiction in England. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

    On another tack, I seldom use a dictionary these days because I find my friend Google more informative. I typed in “Reverend Green Cluedo” and ended up with more information than I could shake a stick at 🙂

  • D McMillan

    I apologise. I was told that the Reverend Green reference would be lost on American readers but I insisted on keeping it in for the benefit of the many readers of Everyday Fiction in England. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

    On another tack, I seldom use a dictionary these days because I find my friend Google more informative. I typed in “Reverend Green Cluedo” and ended up with more information than I could shake a stick at 🙂

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