Chasing the Prey
It's All About Forgiving

When the forest speaks, sometimes it whispers in the subtle rustle of a leaf; or sometimes it shouts when a tree thunders to the ground.
     Sometimes the forest speaks in awestruck silence as a new life stands on spindly legs for the first time. The newly born fawn sees its world in shadows and light. The maze of trees is a puzzle to be explored.
     The fawn takes its first tiny steps in the direction of the great creature that is its father. The stag waits proudly for his son to reach his side, while the mother doe rests from the exertion of birth and the months of anticipation of this moment.
     Not really understanding why it is there and what everything in this new world is for, the fawn just enjoys for the moment the act of breathing and is content.
     The family of deer continues its foraging journey through the forest with the young one in tow. He moves slowly, yet gains strength with every step
     He watches his father leap nimbly over a large fallen log, and the son attempts to emulate his parent. He fails and falls, but love is there to nudge him back to his feet and encourage him that soon he will soar through the woods like the great antlered sire that initiated his life.
     Expressive brown eyes scan each other in assurance of this love, security and protection. There is no fear in this moment, yet, it is just a moment.
     In the distance sounds are heard foreign to the woods; a dog barking, the clapping sound of artificial thunder from the hunter’s gun. The parent deer look up suddenly and seasoned from the endless cycle, the doe nudges her young one back into the dense forest to find a place to hide, for her fawn is still too young to successfully flee for its life.
     The father stag knows what he must do and he looks at his mate and his son for the last time. Then he turns swiftly. He will lead the dog and death away from the ones he loves, never knowing if he will survive to return. Love doesn’t analyze, it just does what is necessary to fulfill what it is.

     The chase was long and swift. The great stag’s powerful legs propelled him a good distance ahead of his pursuer, but the dog was seasoned and determined. It would not give up; and deer can only run so long before the breath gives out.
     There was a hill to descend and the deer soared down its slope to the water below and plunged in, driving a heron from its fishing ground into the air. The hound followed, but stopped on the shore of the pond, instinctively wary of surrendering its mobility to the water. The dog continued to bark, a signal to its master that the prey had been found.
     The deer was chest deep in the water with its back to the dog. Then the buck turned to face his enemy. The stag made a sudden lunge toward the hound. Then the deer reared itself majestically out of the water almost like a stallion, and the great head bowed down with the weapon of its antlers aimed at the dog and thrust. There was a yelp as the antler raked the hound’s nose and the dog leaped backward.
     The buck weighed so much more than its enemy. It could have continued its charge and reversed the roles of hunter and prey, but the stag remained where it was, hesitated for a moment, and then turned swiftly. It waded across the pond to opposite shore, and then the buck leaped back onto solid ground, charging through the underbrush with the hound close behind.
     By the time the turbulence of the water in the pond had returned to its former placid state, and the fishing heron had descended to resume its patient wait for its food, the thunder of the hunter’s weapon had found its prey.

     The doe lifted her head at the sound of the roar in the distance. She was nestled in a thicket with her young one close beside her. The fawn peered expectantly through the branches waiting for the return of his father. The wait would be endless, and as each day and minute passed, a tiny thorn began to grow in the breast of the doe’s firstborn. It grew and grew into an angry, bitter root that refused to be consoled.

     Time makes fawns grow into gallant bucks, and hounds turn into aging house pets, greatly loved, but no longer able to join the hunt. There were new dogs to take his place when he is left behind to remember how it felt to run like the wind. Now he could only hobble on arthritic limbs.
     He watched his master’s pick-up disappear down the driveway with his replacements barking gleefully in the back of the truck, anticipating the day’s adventures. How the old dog yearned to go with them, oh, just one more time!
     He continued staring at the cloud of dust that remained in the wake of his master’s vehicle. Then he looked back at the comfortable cushion tucked in the corner of the porch where it was expected that he would spend the rest of the day. Then he gazed at the long driveway and the woods in the distance, and for some reason it didn’t seem that far away to go back for a little while.

     It took forever it seemed before the forest enveloped the old dog again. It was invigorating at first, to be held in the wood’s wild embrace. He tried to chase a squirrel, but the dog’s pathetic hobble only resulted in the squirrel’s mocking cry from the branches where it had so easily fled. The old dog could only look up at it and wince as the pain of the exertion took its toll.
     He sniffed the ground to try and pick up the scent of something, but time had also robbed him of this skill as well. The autumn wind blew, rippled the leaves and pounded the old dog with its chill. The dog had only joined himself to the woods once again for a short while, which was already becoming too long, he knew. His adventure was swiftly becoming a trial.
     He strained to listen for the sound of something familiar in the distance, like the call of his master shouting his name.
     “Casey, Casey, where are ya, boy? Come on home!”
     But the old dog’s lack of hearing cheated him of the sound.
     The thought of his comfortable bed in the corner of the porch wasn’t so bad after all, but when he tried to find it again, the forest he thought he knew had forgotten him.
     With sense of smell and direction eroded with time, there was nothing to guide him back through the endless trees to the place where he knew he had to be. Every step that he thought would take him home only led him farther and farther away until the cold, heartless night fell and wrapped itself around the dog’s aching limbs refusing to let him go.
     The pain drove the dog to a bed in the leaves where the cold and his agony pinned him to the ground. There he remained until the day returned with a damp drizzle that soaked him with torture and the old dog moaned. He whimpered and his aging throat tried to cry like it used to but the roaring bark of his youth was gone. The only sounds he could make now were closer to that of a human child who could not yet master words but only communicate in a crescendo of primitive sounds to express its unrequited needs.
     So the old dog sang his misery in a pathetic volley of plaintive grunts and whining ups and downs. There was nothing like it ever heard in that wood’s territorial history. The birds stopped what they were doing and cocked their heads in curiosity. The chickadees in particular made it a point to follow the sound and soon the branches above the old dog’s miserable head were decorated with black and white ornaments hanging from the tree’s limbs downside up and upside down to investigate the source of the strange unforest like sounds.
     “It’s definitely not a bird like us,” was the thought of one winged observer.
     The old dog looked up at the sudden activity above his head, wishing he could be as agile as those creatures with the feathers. He was cheered for a moment that he was no longer completely alone, even though they were just birds, but there was something comforting in their chirping. It silenced his pain for a moment and his whimpering stopped to listen to this new music. But chickadees are a fickle species and they never remain in one place for too long. Once it was determined that the old dog’s vocabulary was inferior to their own, the birds quickly left to resume the most important work of searching for food.
     The silence they left behind made the old dog whine and he quickly resumed his irregular multi-toned symphony of doggie groans and high-pitched crescendos of pain. He was hungry too, having missed his daily evening meal and his morning biscuit that his master always served him by hand precisely at nine o’clock. The old dog of course couldn’t tell time, but his stomach had become programmed to respond instinctively to its feeding schedule. The deprivation resulted in fresh chimes of agony that swiftly filled the local airspace and expanded to reach the ears of a small herd of deer that were grazing in a clearing nearby.
     They lifted their heads in unison and stood frozen, like elegant woodland sculptures. The sounds they were hearing were not threatening. This was not the voice of danger, but one of pain.
     A few of the younger ones took some tentative steps in the direction of the sound, then stopped and looked back at the large buck to see if he approved.
     The buck was listening, motionless. Then he slowly began to move toward the sound and the other deer followed cautiously.

     Casey had silenced his futile song for a few moments to gain some breath and rest his head between his paws. He sadly sniffed the leaves that were his bed, damp and wet.
     His aging ears could not detect the sound of the deers’ feet sifting the forest floor as they came toward him, so when the old dog looked up again he was startled to find that he was staring back at an assortment of wide brown eyes that were curiously beholding him.
     Casey suddenly realized that for the first time in his life the prey had actually come to him, just ripe for the chasing and he could hardly move!
     The deer towered above him. They seemed so enormous and he was so small. Somehow when he was chasing them in his glorious past, he perceived himself as being so much bigger. Now he felt helpless and vulnerable. The dog flattened himself into the leaves instinctively trying to assume a position of surrender.
     “It’s a dog!” the buck sneered. Then he began to lower his head preparing to thrust his massive antlers into Casey’s trembling body.
     “No, Rasha, my son! This is not our way!”
     The buck stopped and looked at his mother. “His kind took my father from me. He deserves to die!” he answered vehemently.
     “But we are not predators like him,” the doe responded firmly. “Our way is higher and we must live by a nobler standard than our enemies. You have been raised to walk this rule.”
     Casey was listening and the doe’s words had impaled him. “Predator?” He thought. “I’m a predator?” He never perceived himself as a predator. He was a sporting dog. His master always said he was a good doggie, too. How could he be a predator? He was only doing his job.
     “It’s just an old dog,” the doe continued. “He’s hurt and cold. He can’t do us any harm. Leave him alone.”
     The buck continued to stare at Casey menacingly.
     Casey was still trying to cope with the deers’ perception of who they thought he was. He was a sporting hound, not a criminal. He wanted to explain to them his side of it all and he wasn’t sure he would be able to make them understand.
     “I’m sorry,” he finally managed to say. “Uh, it was all part of the job I was trained to do. I, I never thought I was a predator…” Casey’s voice raised a few pitches encasing the word with an element of horror.
     The deer stared at him in silence.
     “Uh, I honestly never thought how it was for you,” he continued. “It’s like two completely different worlds….”
     Some of the younger deer had come closer and they were eyeing him curiously.
     “Look Wisset,” one of them said, “It has eyes like us and fur. I’ve never seen a dog this close before.”
     “No, we’ve always been able to outrun them. This one’s too old to run anymore I guess. Dog, if you could run now, would you chase us and hurt us?”
     Casey was suddenly consumed with emotions he had rarely experienced before. It was a combination of guilt and remorse. He never had the opportunity to converse with creatures he thought were so inferior to him. Now suddenly confronted with his “victims,” he realized that they had lost loved ones. He never thought of deer as having feelings and could grieve. Dogs had feelings, but deer? He didn’t know they could think or have emotions, yet they obviously did. This concept was totally new to him. Why wasn’t he told that when he was being trained to hunt them?
     Casey moaned. “I’m so sorry.” He had to be honest with them. “If I was young, I probably would because then I didn’t know any better.” And he hung his head.
     “Do you have a name?” the doe asked.
     He looked up at her and said, “My master named me Casey.”
     “That’s a strange sounding name,” Wisset replied. “We are named after the sounds the forest makes. I am Wisset, that’s the sound we hear when the breeze flows through tree branches.” Then Wisset looked fondly at the aging doe. “And Roowa is named for the sound the wind makes when there is nothing in the way and it can blow freely.”
     “My name is Wasaya,” The other younger deer said. “I am named after the sound only we can hear when winter snows are melting.”
     Then some of the other deer began to tell Casey their names, too; names that were born from the sound a deer’s foot makes when it is treading on leaves, and what a deer hears when a brook sings, or when branches rustle and snap, or when meadow grasses sigh when a deer lies upon them to nap.
     “They are beautiful names,” Casey thought. “Why didn’t they name dogs like that?”
     When the deer had finished reciting their names, (all of them, this is except for Rasha who remained locked in a moody silence), Wasaya said to Casey, “Wisset is my sister. We are orphans.”
     He was afraid to ask them what happened to their parents, he suspected he knew.
     “Roowa has been looking after us, she is like our mother.”
     Roowa nudged Wasaya affectionately behind her ear. Wisset kept staring at Casey. “You have a really bad scar on your nose,” she said. “How did you get it?”
     “Ohhhh,” Casey sighed as he remember that day when he was attacked by the buck he was chasing. “I ran into a branch.”
     “I’m sorry,” Wissett replied with sympathy.
     The sunlight was beginning to leave the forest to explore other lands. The air made a chilly response to the sun’s exit and the deer saw the dog succumb to his shivering. Wisset looked at the pitiful creature and without a word came alongside the startled dog and lay down.
     “What are you doing?” the buck demanded.
     “He’s cold. I think I’ll lie here beside him. He should feel warmer.”
     Rasha turned away in disgust.
     “I can help,” Wasaya said, and she joined her sister and lay down by Casey’s other side.
     The warmth of their bodies quickly began to turn away the old dog’s chill. He couldn’t believe that they were being so kind to him.
     “Thank you,” he said gratefully. “You don’t have to do this for me.”
     “It’s our way,” Wisset replied simply. Then she sighed with contentment and lowered her head to sleep.

     When the morning returned once again to embrace the forest, the deer slowly began to dissipate into the woods like the fleeting dew.
     “We are foragers,” Roowa said to Casey. “We must be going. You are welcome to join us if you can follow.”
     The old dog looked at her with a great yearning. Dogs are social animals and he didn’t want to be left alone again.
     “I will try,” he said. And with great effort he managed to pull himself to his feet. The gift of warmth that his two new friends had given him the previous evening had benefited his aging bones and he was in better shape than he was before.
     He was slow, but so are deer when they are looking for food and he was able to keep up with them fairly well.
     Wisset would get something to eat, and then she would seek him out. She was always asking him questions about what it was like to be a dog, and she couldn’t comprehend that there were other places to live that didn’t have trees and meadows. When he told her about his master and how he had been trained to hunt, she was fairly horrified.
     “Surely it is a primitive world you live in,” she told him. “It is so much better here with us. We don’t hurt each other by what you call hunting. The violence of your calling is foreign to us.”
     Her innocent words pierced his soul if indeed as a dog he had one. “A violent calling?” he repeated in his mind. What he had always considered to be fun was a violent calling?
     “It really isn’t like that,” he stammered. “It’s called a sport, recreation.”
     He looked at her and he knew by the expression on her face she didn’t understand. To her it was simply murdering her relatives.
     The pain of that thought pressed Casey into silence. He knew there could never be any justification in their eyes for what he had presumed to be his innocent occupation. Even though he was feeling horribly guilty, he sensed no condemnation from the deer – except for the buck Rasha who kept his distance and never ceased to eye the dog with a malevolent glare.

     The days passed. The deer were eating, but Casey was not and the dog was growing weaker. Wasaya and her sister brought him grasses to eat and a branch with some berries. He ate them because that’s all there was. How he wished he could catch a rabbit, but he didn’t dare express his yearning desire to kill something and eat it for fear of offending his new vegetarian friends. Then he began to think about rabbits. What if he had been befriended and helped by rabbits instead of the deer? The concept produced a volley of deep philosophical thoughts for a dog.
     Casey was resting in a bed of leaves at the edge of a clearing, watching the deer graze, as he contemplated the possibility of being befriended by a rabbit.
     “Could I eat a rabbit if it was a friend?” He thought. “I suppose not, if it was kind to me and meant it. It’s actually logical in a way,” he mused. He wouldn’t eat another dog either. Dogs didn’t eat dogs in his world. They were his buddies. “Therefore friends don’t eat friends in any case,” he concluded; “even if they are not of the same species. A friend is a friend.”
     He heard a rustling sound very close by and he turned his head to see a mouse peering up at him from under a leaf. Casey’s stomach responded with an empty growl.
     He could consider the deer his friends, and possibly a rabbit – but a mouse? Never!
     The hungry old dog managed to spring to his feet as swiftly as he could. The mouse disappeared beneath the leaf. Casey cast the leaves aside with his nose and saw a hole.
     “That must be its den!” he thought with glee. “This is going to be easy!” And he started to dig.

     The great stag, Rasha stood at the edge of a ravine, peering down at a stream and the rocks below. It was a sheer drop, several hundred feet of it. “Enough to kill a dog if it fell over the edge,” he thought with a measure of cruel satisfaction.
     His mother slowly walked out of the wooded shadows and stopped when she saw her son. Roowa looked at him as a mother would, with love and yearning. She had raised him trying to heal the wound in his heart. She thought time would make it go away, but it only formed an ugly scar, a constant reminder of the pain of an unjust loss.
     She came over to him and they stood together looking out at the sky.
     Then he said to her angrily, “Why do you let that dog follow us? I want to kill him, like his kind caused my father to die!”
     “Rasha, you have to forgive,” his mother pleaded. “It’s over and done. The dog is sorry for the pain his kind has caused us. You were named for the sound we hear when an eagle lifts himself into the sky. Your father and I thought you would be like that someday, that you could soar too, in another way. But Rasha, this pain you refuse to let go will never allow you to be free like the eagle. You are bound, my son. Please let it go.”
     He looked at his mother, and for a moment the hardness in his gaze softened. Then he turned, walked slowly back into the forest and disappeared within its shadows.

     Casey had fallen into a deep, restful sleep after his meal. Wisset and her sister, Wasaya were watching him.
     “Should we wake him up?” Wisset asked. The herd was preparing to move on again.
     “He needs his rest, he’s so old,” Wasaya replied. “He’s sleeping so soundly.”
     “But he wouldn’t want us to leave him …”
     Then a voice behind them said softly, “You two go on with the herd. I will watch over him until he wakes.”
     They turned to look at Rasha, wondering if it was safe to leave Casey alone with him.
     Then Rasha said gently. “I need to talk to him. It’s all right. I will bring him with me. We’ll catch up with you later. Go on, join the others.”
     They were hesitant, but his manner was different. There was no harshness in his voice as there had always been when he spoke concerning the dog; so they obeyed and wandered off to join the herd.
     Rasha watched them leave. Then he turned his gaze back to the sleeping dog and waited.

     When Casey finally opened his eyes he thought night was falling. Then he raised his head from his paws and realized the darkness was only a shadow. He looked up and saw the enormous stag looming above him. The buck’s great head was blocking the sun, turning the deer into an ominous, black silhouette against the sky. Casey pressed himself back into the leaves and began to tremble. He knew the other deer would try to protect him, but they were nowhere to be seen.
     “Old dog, come with me,” Rasha said gently. “The herd has moved on. They wanted to let you rest. I promised I would watch you until you awoke and then I would bring you along.”
     Casey responded to the kindness in Rasha’s voice by wagging his tail. It was a spontaneous reaction with no thought involved. “Thank you,” Casey said meekly.

     Casey followed Rasha through the woods without speaking. Once in awhile the stag would look behind him to make sure the dog was still following.
     The woods gradually dwindled into a clearing. Rasha stopped at the edge of the ravine and waited for the dog to catch up to him. Casey stopped several feet behind the deer.
    Then Rasha said, “Old dog, the path to the bottom is steep. I will follow you and guide you along the way.”
     The words were spoken tensely. There was something about the tenor of them that made the dog suddenly afraid.
     “I’m tired,” Casey said. “I need to rest,” and he sat down.
     “We can’t wait,” Rasha said impatiently. “The herd is getting too far ahead of us. We must catch up with them quickly.”
     Then Rasha came over to Casey and stood behind him. The dog began to tremble. The stag lowered his head and gently shoved the dog forward with his antlers.
     The old dog had no choice but to move ahead of the prongs that were nudging him from behind. Then Casey reached the edge of the ravine and looked down. There was no path, only a sheer drop to the rocks below. He suddenly understood what was happening. He turned his head to look up at Rasha who was now glaring at him with an unbridled rage.
     “I understand,” Casey said. “And I am sorry. I deserve this, I know. Please forgive me.”
     “I will never forgive you!” Rasha retorted vehemently.
     Casey merely lowered his head and waited for the final thrust of the deer’s antlers in his back that would send him over the edge of the ravine to his death.
     Rasha angled his antlers against the dog’s back with his heart pounding as he savored the moment of his long awaited revenge. Then he stopped. His keen sense of smell had detected a thick animal scent that told him there was danger. He looked up and stared back into the woods. He couldn’t see what was hiding in the shadows, he could only smell it, and know it was there. Then he heard a snarl and a sleek mountain lion blew out of the woods racing toward the buck.
     Rasha responded in an instant and dived off into the forest with the huge cat close behind.
     Casey watched in amazement. Mountain lions were very rare in that part of the country and he had never seen one before.
     “That was the biggest kitty I ever saw. I didn’t know they could grow that big!” he breathed. Then he looked back down into the ravine where his body would have fallen and the dog grasped the irony of the situation with astonishment - his life had just been saved by a cat!

     Casey walked back into the woods not knowing where he was or if he would ever find the herd again. In the meantime the deer had stopped to feed. Wissett had sought out Rasha’s mother.
     “Rasha has promised to bring Casey to us when he wakes up,” Wissett said, as if she was seeking some assurance that it was alright. Roowa knew her son better than anyone.
     The doe looked back at Wisset with sudden concern.
     “We must look for them,” she replied anxiously.

     The chilly evening was approaching and they found Casey huddled in the leaves halfway between the ravine and where the herd had left him. The air was growing colder drawing with it a frigid sadness as Casey told them what had happened.
     They waited there together through the long hours; hoping that the doe’s son would somehow survive and find his way back to them.
     The evening came and went, then another day and another sunset. On the third morning the forest was in a foggy mood and a gray mist shrouded the branches with gloom. Still there was no sign of Rasha. His mother knew that if he had survived he would have found them by now.
     Roowa was mourning quietly, in her way, in silence. Once in awhile one of the other deer would come along beside her, lick her gently as a means of comfort then walk away.
     Casey looked up at her from his bed in the leaves. He moaned before he spoke. He couldn’t help it, he was mourning, too.
     “I’m so sorry, Roowa. It should have been me. If it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t have been there; he would have been with you and the others. You’ve lost a husband and now a son.”
     She looked at him sadly as he continued to unburden his heart.
     “This scar on my nose – I lied before. I got it when I was chasing a buck. He turned and gashed me. I used to be proud of this wound. I’m not now. It could have been your mate that my master’s gun brought down. Now I’ve cost you your only son…” His voice trailed off into a sob.
     “My son is gone because he refused to relinquish the unforgiveness in his heart,” Roowa replied gently.
     The doe lowered her head to him and looked into his sad, brown eyes that mirrored her own grief. Then she said gently, “Old dog, you are forgiven.” And she licked the wound on his nose.
     He felt a sudden warmth deep inside of him that he didn’t understand, and comfort caressed his being.
     “Thank you,” was all he could manage to say.
     Suddenly all the deer turned their heads in unison staring off into the woods. Casey’s aged ears could not hear the sound of hunting dogs barking in the distance. Immediately the herd turned and began to race away.
     “Goodbye Casey!” Wisset shouted as she raced by him. “We’ll miss you!”
     Casey was bewildered. He still couldn’t hear the dogs. “What’s wrong!” he cried.
     “The hunting dogs are coming,” Roowa told him quickly, as she turned to flee. “We have to go.”
     “I understand,” Casey said, “Run!”
     She called back to him as she fled, “They are your own kind. They will take care of you!” Then she disappeared into the woods.
     A few minutes went by and Casey was suddenly surrounded by a pack of six eager young hunters.
     “What are you doing here?” one of them asked him in surprise.
     Casey’s tail was pounding the ground excitedly. He was overjoyed to see them. “I got lost in the woods!” he cried. “I’m so glad you found me!”
     “There were deer here!” one of the dogs shouted as he sniffed the ground. “Let’s go” and he dived into the woods while the others followed.
     “Wait!” Casey called after them. “I need help! Please, lead me home. I’m hungry and cold.”
     “We’re working!” One of them snapped as he ran.
     “We’ve got a job to do, we can’t stop for an old dog!” another yelled.
     And they were gone.
     Casey was crushed, angry and humiliated. He wanted to howl, but he couldn’t. He just lay there and let his pain consume him until he could think again. He remembered the kindness of the deer and he missed them. And he also began to remember how he used to be – just like those selfish, compassionless dogs that were so willing to abandon him in his time of need. They had suddenly become a mirror to his own soul, a reflection of who he had been before he met the deer and came to know their way.
     He wanted to make his pain disappear, so he said simply, “I forgive you.”
     Then he omitted a heavy sigh and lowered his head between his paws, wondering what name the deer would give to the sound of a sigh.
     Time, faded dreams and his thoughts gradually merged into one as an old dog died peacefully in the woods.

Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they don’t know what they are doing. – Luke 23:34
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. – Romans 3:23
But God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:8
In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins. - Colossians 1:14
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. - 1 John 1:9
And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you. - Ephesians 4:32
Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. - Luke 6:37
Take heed to yourselves: If your brother trespasses against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he trespasses against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turns again to you, saying, I repent; you shall forgive him. – Luke 17, 3,4
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. - Matthew 6:14,15
Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. – Romans 4:7

copyright 2010 by H.D. Shively

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