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Cody Rochon
by Devon Pitlor
I. Visitation day On a shadowy late afternoon in the July of his fourteenth year, Cody Rochon, a tall, straight and angular boy with a pleasing face framed by a thick tussle of barely manageable sandy hair, navigated his already outgrown BMX down the central business district of Aristock past cafés and sundry shops filled with townsfolk who knew and often pitied the handsome boy. He was the only child of Miranda Rochon, a local radio talk show hostess known for her conservative views and the ability to extract often bizarre stories from the least likely people, and Miranda was on the radio in some of the businesses her son passed that day---on the radio and droning about some anomaly seen by some of the local farmers in the surrounding region, a subject that did not interest Cody simply because his stern and often aloof mother was addressing it, and Cody had learned long before to avoid most subjects his mother tackled. Cody was pitied in some quarters and admired in others, pitied due to the local celebrity of his smoky-voiced mother and admired because, as everyone knew, he was one of the core members of the ubiquitous and seemingly all-powerful Plus Sized Club which had toppled politicians and police chiefs alike and whose membership was reputed to be in the thousands nationwide. But on that day, Cody was not on a mission for the club but rather on a rather routine trip, stipulated through a court order, to visit his father and remain with him,

if Cody could manage it, until Monday morning. Visitation privileges were not taken lightly by Miranda Rochon, who insisted that Cody spend all the time legally allotted by the court with his father, a fallen native of Aristock who lived in a shabby one-room apartment over Gebargan's Hardware and spent most of his time in a midtown alehouse called quite appropriately The Bat Cave. The Bat Cave was a sweaty, dark little halflit shot house hidden away on a rarely traveled backstreet behind the crumbling Astoria Hotel, which the city of Aristock had promised several years before to demolish, as it was an eyesore to all but the little knot of semihomeless men who often slept in its abandoned rooms under piles of moldering newsprint and drank potions that were not intended for the swift and physically abusive intoxication they produced. Though he had what passed as an "apartment" of his own, Matt Rochon, Cody's father, was, in effect, already one of these men, and homelessness loomed daily as his next stop on a downward spiral that had begun years before around the time that Cody was seven and had simply continued without abatement into what ever Matt's consciousness could reckon as the present. Before that time, the Rochon household had been a caustic battleground, an armed camp, manned on each side by an unyielding parent who lobbed incendiary words at their counterpart over the head of a little boy who had learned to pull into a shell and put on the impassive face of childhood ignorance. Now the visitation roles of divorced father and adolescent son had somehow become reversed as Cody grew able to leave his house and find with great ease his downtrodden, alcoholic father in whatever dive Matt was haunting at the moment, which usually depended on how large a tab he could run or who

could supply him with enough powder cocaine to find his way into the next day. Thus, instead of Matt Rochon finding his son, his son found him on visitation days, and today was no different. Outside of the cracked brick structure which housed the Bat Cave, a smudged, handwritten sign hung sideways on the ripped screen door. YOU MUST BE 21 TO ENTER. Cody was far from twenty-one, but his entrance was taken as a matter of custom. He was Matt's kid, and Matt was well, Matt. Sometimes jovial and funloving and possessed of a few spare bucks and often times not, but still Matt, a still attractive early middle aged man with a disarming smile and a line of bullshit that stretched from his own Aristock boyhood through his years as a respected businessman to the nadir of his downfall. Matt had once worn a fresh shirt to work everyday along with an unstained tie. He had a list of prominent clients and had been successful for a time as a certified financial planner. But that was now long ago. Today Matt wore the same yellowing tee shirt from day to day and usually forgot to make any attempt at shaving. His drinking began in early morning with the nine o'clock opening of the Bat Cave and lasted until he collapsed on a gutted mattress in his room above the hardware. When Cody visited, the boy invited no friends, and the Plus Sized Club ceased to exist. Cody slept near the edge of his father's grimy mattress and listened to the man's endless blathering about people and issues that had once apparently affected both his former life and the city of Aristock as a whole, and these were only more things that Cody had learned to obdurate himself to and ignore as he would the buzzing of the swarms of summer flies trapped in Matt's cluttered room attempting to exit through sullen panes of soot streaked glass

that had not been opened in years. Upon entering the Bat Cave, Cody, who had simply shoved his bike into the doorway, mechanically shook hands with a few old regulars and kissed what passed for one of the southside's more prominent street hookers, a painted face called Diamond Falconi, who had once "slept with mobsters," or so was her oft-repeated tale. Diamond Falconi massaged Cody's back as she hugged him and ground her pelvis into his in a manner that would have gotten her arrested if it had been witnessed in any place but the smoky warren of the Bat Cave. She had long had designs on Matt Rochon's handsome son, and someday, if she could remain sober enough, she would act on them. For Cody's part, she was part of the reason why he had recently begun to question whether he really liked girls, although he knew somehow that Diamond Falconi, aged as she appeared to be to the young boy, would probably be his first sexual experience. It seemed to be like a planned event, and when he at length extricated himself from her perspiring grasp, he felt dirtier than ever and knew that Monday morning and his return to Miranda's home was an eternity removed. Cody edged past the others slumped in various postures over the wet bar counter and made a friendly gesture to Wink Rohan the half-witted bartender. Wink, usually drunk himself by this hour of the afternoon, didn't give a damn whether there was a minor in the bar, and besides, it was Matt's son and the kid usually had some money from the treasury of his club, a club which few of the Bat Cave regulars really cared to understand. Matt Rochon, still surprisingly lucid and beaming out from his prematurely reddened eyesockets, hugged his son in a manly way, straightened his back, took a final swig of the warm vodka from a chipped glass in his hand, and smiled. "Your mother is on

the radio," he said, nodding upward toward an old Philco which had probably been on the Bat Cave shelf since the Korean war. "So what?" said Cody. "She's on every day at this time. I didn't think you listened to her." Matt blinked at his son, somewhat dazzled by his freshness and the overpoweringly stale atmosphere of the bar. "Gadjo turned her on today. She's talking to some guy named Palobay who is a bug professor at the college. He is also into weird creatures, and there has been one reported around the old fairgrounds farther south at the town limits. Sounds pretty horrible. Like a huge upright bat. Something with flakey wings that leaps out and tears people apart. There have been a few bodies found. All shredded. Suppose there is a police report on it. I mean this thing." Cody paused to listen to his mother for as long as he could stand it. Her glowering and often mocking voice rose above the mumbling rumble of the sodden crowd. He knew very well that Dr. Eric Palobay, an entomologist, was the stepfather of Jared Nescott, the founder of the Plus Sized Club. And he knew very well that there had been strange creatures before in and around Aristock. He had no intention of explaining anything to his father. Listening to Palobay, Cody attempted to get the gist of this latest sighting, but the sheer disgust for his mother's voice and her line of sarcastic questioning dampened his desire to listen. Cody could think about it later when this "court ordered" visitation was over, when his mother's latest flame had packed up his stuff and left the house, when the club met again. The last word he heard was "exoskeleton" before Wink assented to someone's wishes and "turned the bitch

off." The middle of a baseball game quickly took Miranda Rochon's place, and everyone seemed happier, if that were possible in a netherworld alcove of the hopeless like the Bat Cave. "I stole some boards from the hardware," said Matt, rolling a veined and rheumy eye at his son. "I brought them here on the truck. Drinks were on the house for a while." "Oh Jesus..." "Yeah. Oh Jesus. I need a little favor. I can't leave the truck here. They'll tow it after midnight, so I gotta drive home." "Another DUI," groaned Cody, looking down at his sneakers. "Not if you help me," gurgled Matt. He motioned for Wink to fill his glass again. The plank money had obviously not run out. "I don't even have a learner's permit yet, Dad. You don't get that in Pennsylvania until you're fifteen, and then you have to have a parent...a sober parent in the car with you." "Not a soul here is fit to drive. We can take the back way. No one will know the difference. Even the cops have given up on this end of town." Cody started to protest again, but looked into his father's sagging face, a face which once attracted the attention of some of the prettiest women in Aristock

but which now drooped with the weighty excess of years of drugs and booze, and realized it was no use. He suddenly remembered something he needed to do, something he had meant to do on his bike but had forgot. "I'll do it one more time if we can visit the girls," he said, negotiating as he always did with his father. Matt's mood darkened. He looked up at Diamond Falconi who he knew had been listening. Diamond raised one of her large breasts with her hand and laughed. "Go ahead, Matt," she slobbered. "Go let the kid visit the girls. No one knows what in the fuck these boys are up to anyway? And then he can come and fuck me." Diamond guffawed deeply and turned her butt toward Cody and slapped it. "You bout ready for me kid?" Cody pretended not to notice. "That end of town embarrasses me," said Matt gloomily. "You shouldn't even be over there on your bike. What in the fuck do you boys do in there? Okay, I need you to drive. We can visit the "girls." Which girl do you need to visit?" "Iris," said Cody solemnly. "Iris." "Okay. You drive. Stay away from Horsemarket Street and the cops. After we get home, you can go across and get us some leftover lunch pizza for cheap. You have some money on you?" "A little. Let's go. We have to see Iris before it is dark."

Diamond Falconi watched Matt stumble out behind his son. "You ever gonna tell him?" she asked. Matt sneered without answering. There were two things, maybe more, he could tell his son, and Diamond was only a part of one of them. And Matt, although quite drunk, did not wish to tell his son anything. II. The "girls" Farther south almost to the limits of Aristock where the river bend resolved into a muddy garbage strewn shelf of polluted sleaze was the neighborhood Matt Rochon had grown up in. It was a tangle of mostly deserted warehouses and clapboard houses now, here and there punctuated by grander brick dwellings that had once belonged to the various members of the widespread Rochon family which had initially settled the neighborhood before it officially became a part of Aristock. To most residents it was simply a run down eyesore, but to some of the really older generation it was still the Plantation. The Rochon Plantation. All of the property upon which the crumbling buildings and empty houses had been built had once been a part of a huge sprawling meadow which had been owned by Cody's great grandfathers and their kin. Little by little the Rochons had degenerated, and even the semblance of lost prosperity was now dimmed in the district. Its narrow streets were besieged with unimaginable garbage and wrecked vehicles of all sorts. Drain pipes emptied their foul excrescence into the river, and rats ran freely over heaps of refuse that were dumped up and down the curbs of the pointless streets. Even the homeless avoided the Plantation, which to Cody and his gang and a few others around town was not called the Plantation anymore but simply "the girls."

The reason for this name lay deep in the Rochon family history. Each of the twisting lanes of the zone had been named for a female Rochon family member. The street, if one could call it that, that Cody needed to visit was named Iris for a long dead Iris Rochon who had been his great grand aunt or something. Cody really had no idea and didn't care. His father, when sober or even when drunk, could tell him all about them---the ancestors---if he wanted, but Cody rarely listened. It was just more drunken drivel. Cody's reason for wanting to drive down Iris Street and risk puncturing the tires of his father's dented and outdated Dodge Ram pickup had to do with the Plus Sized Club, Jared Nescott, Malachi Ayladore, Ian Parmeter, Subaru Devaney, Tyshawn Rodamar and, yes, the only in-abstentia and female member of the core group, the long missing Nautica de Craquelot. And so they went. Father hunched over in the passenger side of his truck and fourteen year old son keeping out a wary eye for cops and driving. Illegally, of course. What was the worst they could do to him? Put him in a juvenile home? Cody had learned not to care. Like the rest of the Plus Sized Club, Cody both disrespected and hated cops. Eluding them in a woebegone slum was even fun. The last time he had ineptly run over a cat, and Cody regretted that. But otherwise, except for a few wandering stumblebums, the streets were more or less forsaken. Long shadows of pending nightfall slithered out from between the cracked fences and chest-high piles of household waste which trashed the street. The detritus of human life, cast off flippantly in a neighborhood founded by his unknown ancestors. Cody's job was to drive down Iris street take note of what he needed to see and get his father and his sputtering truck home. Then there would be stale pizza and some television, and time would hopefully pass faster. Thankfully, Matt knew to be quiet as his

son slowly maneuvered through the junk, glancing from side to side and mumbling to himself as he drove. At the end of Iris Street, Cody dutifully halted for a stop sign that had long before fallen over and been covered with dried mud. "Well?" said Matt. "Tuesday morning at eleven o'clock in one of our places." "Which one?" "Dad, you know better than to ask me that. Our meeting places are secret." "Yeah, sure." Matt turned his head and surveyed the dismal vista from the truck window. "Used to be kind of fine," he mumbled mostly to himself. "Not in my time though. We were lucky to get out of here. You know your mother was a Rochon too. We're some kind..." "Of distant cousins. How many times are you going to tell me that?" "Why don't you boys just use your computers or get cell phones like everyone else? Why do you leave weird messages for one another here of all places? Messages written in garbage and scrawls that only you guys can understand?" "The Plus Sized Club operates that way. The cops are not our friends." "They are nobody's friends," sighed Matt. "There are things I could tell

you...." "Forget it. Oh, Jesus!! There is something else I forgot. It's in the goddamn messages down the street." Matt turned his head and knew better than to ask. Cody pulled away from the stop. Hanging from an extinguished street lamp was a half legible sign that said Iris. The next street, equally debris-strewn, was called Mary. The next Laura, and so on. Suddenly Cody braked. "What is going on?" said Matt, awaking slightly from the quiet stupor he had settled into. Cody stared at his father with a pitiless eye and said "What is that street right there? It is blocked by too many old tires, rubbish and fallen trees, but there is no sign. It is almost invisible, and I never come this far on my bike. What is the name of that street? Where does it go?" Matt clicked his tongue and rolled his shaky eyes. "You have your secrets; we have ours. We Rochons." "I'm a Rochon. What is that street called?" "None of your business," said Matt with more determination than he had previously shown, "but for your fourteen year old information, it used to lead to a cemetery, a Rochon cemetery that hasn't been maintained for years. You want somewhere really spooky, that's it. All your ancestors are buried there. My great grandmothers on both sides, grandfathers, uncles..."

"It's where you were arrested as a kid, wasn't it?" snapped Cody. "Mom told me about that once. You were arrested for trying to dig up graves." "I was twenty years old. Let's not talk about it. I was probably stoned or drunk then too. I don't know what I was looking for." Cody accelerated past the closed street entrance. The night was falling faster now. He tested the headlights of the Dodge Ram. As suspected, only one of them worked. "Mom told me you were looking for a family treasure." "I guess I was. Drop the subject. Get us home. Cops are everywhere." Suddenly, Cody pulled once again to a halt. He left the truck's motor running and jumped out and ran backward toward the corner of the unnamed street. Matt watched in the rearview mirror as his son pulled a rectangle of metal from a twisted mass of wire and tires. Cody came running back to the truck and tossed a rusted and barely readable street sign onto the seat between him and his father. The sign read "Alba F." Matt jerked his head and reached for the sign, ostensibly to throw it out of the window. A countenance of genuine fear creased his face. His eyes became as wide as serving plates. "Get rid of that now," he commanded. "Throw it out and never ask about it again." Matt overpowered his son's grasp and took the wasted street sign and tossed it from the truck. It landed with a dull plink on the cracked pavement. "Alba F," said Cody to himself. "The only one with a letter. Who was she?" Matt opened his door and, despite the slow movement of the truck, jumped out

onto the street. "Take the truck home," he shouted. "I'm walking. See you there." Cody did as told, eluding the police. He fetched the day's leftover pizza from the stand across the street and settled down in front of an old Motorola television to watch the news. Indeed, some bodies---identified as vagrants--had been found in some of the outlying farm fields around the fringes of Aristock. They had been viciously torn apart and none had identification. The local police suggested a rabid coyote. Others had seen something different. But it was only a rumor. Some kind of huge and lethal beast was stalking the rural parts of the county. Jared Nescott could fill him in on Monday. Matt stumbled home sullenly and had very little to say to his son for the remainder of Cody's visit. Cody appreciated the silence. It was the best atmosphere one could hope for between the two of them. III. Enter Brooke Nescott On a breezy and rather arid Monday morning, Brooke Nescott, alone at home on a brief vacation from her university assistantship job with her domestic partner Dr. Eric Palobay, renowned entomologist and crypto-zoologist by avocation, mechanically switched off her cell phone as she heard the clatter of Cody Rochon's outgrown BMX on her driveway. The boy, whom she loved as all the others in Jared's circle, had undoubtedly come to see Jared, but the latter was late getting home from his own visitation to a particular large and imposing ash tree which housed the soul of his biological father, Dragonsnort. Brooke remembered and honored the strict injunction against cellular devices that the young club members had imposed on themselves and dutifully put

hers on vibrate into a pocket of her jeans. Brooke, still radiantly beautiful at thirty-nine, had no desire to offend a core member of Jared's impressive club. And it was exactly her grace, beauty and intelligence that Cody first basked in as he entered Brooke's kitchen. The contrast between the fresh and vibrant Brooke and the saggy and shopworn Diamond Falconi was the first thing that came into his mind as he greeted a woman that he had known all his life and was far more comfortable with than with his own mother. Brooke hugged Cody warmly, as she always did, but it was not the embrace of some sexual come on, rather that of an affectionate friend. Realizing how much the boys of the Plus Sized Club hated small talk, the first words out of her mouth were "Congratulations, Cody. You have some news for me, I presume, and have some news for you. Let's have a hot chocolate and exchange information." Cody, totally at ease, sat down at the table. Sinfully he wished for a minute or two that his first sexual experience could be with Jared's mother, but he quickly blanked out the notion. Somewhere in his near future an encounter with the ghastly Diamond Falconi was lurking, and Cody did not want to think about it. He thanked Brooke for the congratulations. It was directed at him, as he knew, because now the presidency of the Plus Sized Club had finally revolved around to him. It was in the charter of the Plus Sized Club that the presidency was traded off yearly among the core members, and it was Cody's turn. Club presidents, he knew, had absolute power to make any and all decisions for the club without vote. The club had always been adamantly against any form of democracy. Cody, who had missed many meetings and many events, felt somewhat unprepared and was about to express this to

Brooke---as he had intended to with Jared---when Brooke cut him off and cocked an eyebrow in his direction. "Well?" she said. "What about my news for you? Aren't you interested?" "Sure," said Cody smiling. It had been a rough weekend with his dad, and Cody was now totally decontracted in the sunny warmth of his best friend's mother. "I hope it is about that thing that's lurking around town and pouncing on the bums. I heard Mom interviewing Eric about it, but I didn't catch the whole thing." "Another cryptid," said Brooke quietly dismissive. "Eric is off meeting with his organization about it now. Between us, they have no leads. Even Eric's woodsy assistant Katie knows nothing. My news is something else. Came in to me by phone this morning from the Medical Center where I used to work. Can you stand a little good news via the cell phone?" Cody indicated that he could. After a sequestered two day and a half with his alcoholic father, any sort of news would be welcome. Brooke went on to explain to him that a friend of hers in the rehab center had called about nine that morning to inform her that Matt Rochon, husband of the infamous talk show host Miranda and well on his way to becoming another one of the town's more recognizable drunks, had stumbled in that morning and requested information about alcohol and drug rehabilitation. "Of course, your father doesn't have any insurance any more," concluded Brooke, "so you boys might want to extend your lifelines and find some way to help foot that bill if he is sincere."

"He's just an old drunk son of a bitch and probably bluffing to impress me," grumbled Cody, pushing aside his mug of chocolate which was still steaming and probably too warm for the incipient day. Brooke rose to her feet and busied herself purposely at the sink. She looked over her shoulder and pondered the boy at her table. Just yesterday, he had been a baby. Miranda Rochon's baby. Miranda Rochon, who having married a family cousin, had always been a Rochon and who once had won a school beauty contest and who had never delighted in the idea of being pregnant because of how it ruined her figure, a figure which she quickly regained following Cody's birth. No girl in Brooke's school had ever liked Miranda, which may have enhanced the latter's popularity among the boys. Brooke, not liking her any of her old classmates, had paid Miranda very little attention and gone off to college, forgetting both her muted disdain for Cody's mother and most other details about her. Brooke thought briefly of sneaking another cigarette from her hidden cache during Eric's absence but thought better of it. The boys of the Plus Sized Club did not generally approve of smoking. With a long sigh, she sat back down and took Cody by his broad, muscular shoulders. She shook him a little and said "Give your father a break. You've had a hard life so far with both of your parents. Daphne Sellitzer at the Center said that your father seemed scared of something, and it wasn't about you or his failing health. The man has always had a death wish. I shouldn't tell you that but I am going to now. Did you know that we dated briefly during the summer before I started college?"

"No," said Cody glumly. A discussion about his father was the least of what he wanted. "Well we did. He was a good looking guy. Still is. If he would take care of himself..." "Which he won't," snapped Cody. "What's the point?" "I'm going to tell you the point," said Brooke firmly, "and you can listen or not. Your father was going down the wrong path long before he married your mother." "Which was probably the worst path of all." "Maybe so. He used to talk about the curse of the Rochons when we were kids. That was a convenient thing to blame his weaknesses on. His whole family had more or less deteriorated, and I suppose he felt it was his fate to do the same. But there was more. I suppose you know that he once did a lot of genealogical research about your ancestors, the dead Rochons?" "Yeah. Lots of boring stuff. Bunch of farmers who sold their land to cheap housing developers when we had a grain industry here. Way before my time." "And mine too. But let me tell you this. He was always looking for something, something real. I don't mean an aim in life either. I mean something tangible, something very Rochon."

"Like the so-called treasure he was out robbing their graves for?" "I know about that...everyone does or did...but I don't think it was a treasure. He had learned some stuff about one of your old grand aunts or something. She had a secret, and your dad used to think he knew what it was. That was what he was looking for in the family plot when he finally got caught with an open casket and a shovel and spent some time in jail." Cody shifted in his seat. He shot a glance at his wrist watch and asked again about Jared's return. He was visibly bored by any subject touching on his father or the multitude of dead Rochons that were planted in the worst possible area of the city. But, still overcome by Brooke's tenderness, he continued to feign interest and play along. His mind drifted to the inescapable meeting he would be forced to have with his mother that evening and more so to the seemingly dauntless responsibilities he would have the next day vis-à-vis the club members, who would hold him up to the same standards as all previous presidents. "So just what was he looking for?" he asked opening his deep blue eyes into Brooke's. "I'm not sure," said Brooke pensively. "Your father discovered speed and uppers very early in life. Everyone else was getting stoned back then, including me, but not Matt. He was into energy. He experimented with every sort of stimulant possible, even the crystal meth we had in those days. He was looking for energy, power, something to make him faster and more alive than everyone else. He never thought of drinking beer or alcohol back then. Speed

was his thing. Handfuls of pills. It was lucky he did not explode his head with the crap. Somewhere in my story, in my memory, there is a connection between the speed he swallowed and his tromping around in that cemetery. That is about as far as I can go with what I know. Your father was looking for something that the early Rochons had, something unknown. It was supposed to be buried with one of them in that overrun graveyard." Brooke rose again to stir the pot of chocolate she had on the stove and pull some cold cookies out of the fridge. Her abrupt movement seemed to say that the discussion was finished because she had reached the extent of her information. In reality, she began to wish that she had never brought the subject up to Cody. She always went too far with Jared's friends, and now she regretted it. But then she had stirred the dead ashes of Cody's concern for his father. Maybe there was some good in that. Cody drank the now cooled chocolate and munched on a cookie. It appeared as if he was going nowhere. Brooke could see that he had another question. In his eyes she perceived the same precocious wisdom that she did in Jared and all of his "evolved" friends. There was no use holding anything back. She reached for a scrap of notepad and a pencil and scribbled down the address of a website. "Look at this sometime," she said. "It may explain where he got some of the money he found for his education and for his office rent and for his habits. You're going to be shocked, but I think you can take it. If I didn't think you were mature, I would never give this to you, and don't ever tell anyone I did. I could go to jail for it." The mention of jail did not faze Cody in the slightest. All his life he had seen

his father in and out of jails, mostly for drug abuse and DUI. A word like "jail" was just another Rochon family household term. It produced no effect whatever on the boy. As Cody finally got up to leave, he stared at Brooke and asked if she knew who Alba F. was. He explained that a now occluded street in the Plantation had been named for her and that he had found an ancient street marker and that it was most like this which had scared his father into seeking rehab so early on a quiet Monday morning. Brooke dropped a spoon she had been using to stir the melted chocolate on the stovetop. She swung around toward the departing boy with a look of genuine desperation in her eyes. "I hope your father can put his life back together," she stammered. "He was a brilliant man once. He can be again. I'm not real sure about this Alba and the street named after her, but I know this: No one---and that means no one---is supposed to discuss it. Don't even bring that name up to your father again. And don't ask me any more about it. I really don't know. There is something evil in that. An old hidden story. It has to do with the graveyard, I think, but I know better than to mention it to anyone. Go on and do your duty as the next president of the Plus Sized Club. Raise some more money. Put some other corrupt politicians out of office. Watch out for the special town interests and especially the police. Find Nautica de Craquelot. Study hard in school next fall. And forget Alba F. Forget everything we have talked about today. Let your father follow his course and find, if possible, his destiny. That is all I have to say. Now give me a kiss and scoot." Cody willingly embraced Brooke with a growing desire mounting in his still developing body. Her fragrance was clean, unsullied and hygienic. His role

now was to return to a house of horrors and confront a mother that had never really loved or wanted him, and then next Saturday it would be his father and his drunken cohort again. Maybe more illicit driving. He walked out into the heat of a beautiful July morning and wondered what he would do with the rest of the day. In his hand he grasped the scrap of paper containing some weird website that Brooke had told him about. He resolved at length to go look at it. Maybe he did in fact want to know some of his father's secrets. After all, they were his secrets too. Cody was a Rochon, something he could not forget. IV. Tuesday, July 22nd, a meeting of the Plus Sized Club Surreptitiously and from their separate and unseen directions, the six core members of the Plus Sized Club sneaked into a suite of nearly forgotten study rooms near the rear of the Humanities Building at Central State University. The key to the unused rooms had been, of course, provided by the chairman of the Entomology Department, Jared Nescott's incipiently eminent stepfather, Dr. Eric Palobay, who was not present when the meeting took place. But uncharacteristically and for the first time ever, another adult was: Matt Rochon, who by Tuesday had managed for the first time in many years to stay sober, and who had been invited, nay almost commanded by his son Cody to attend the meeting. The five core members who greeted Matt did so with a kind of guarded solemnity. He was there on Cody's insistence because he needed money, and the far reaching tentacles of the Plus Sized Club could indeed give him a stake in the rehabilitation he so desperately needed. Matt had almost exhausted the pharmaceutical samples of an anti-anxiety drug provided to him free by a kind

nurse at the Medical Center and was becoming alternately nasty and goofy in his forced withdrawal from nearly a decade of heavy drinking. He snarled upon entering the closed study room and said something about this being the meeting place of the "famous" club. Ian Parmeter, the club's outgoing president, returned his snarl with a cold enmity by saying "Be advised, Mr. Rochon, that you are here by Cody's invitation and that the Plus Sized Club has never met here before and never will again. You will leave here knowing as little about us as you do now." Matt snarled again, rubbed his aching forehead with a growingly unsteady hand, and sat down at the long dimly lighted table designated for the meeting place. No sooner had he sat down, than Ian Parmeter, still officially club president, motioned for him to get up and settle himself behind a closed door in an adjacent room, informing the wobbly adult that the first part of today's meeting was closed. "Oh whatever," said Matt with some disdain. "Either you guys are going to help me recover or you are not. Whatever." "We have other business to conduct," said Ian dryly while ushering Matt into another room "Don't come back until we call you." Then the meeting began. Jared Nescott opened the proceedings by announcing that the investiture of Cody Rochon was the first item of business. He praised Ian Parmeter for his year of service and for the benevolent activities that the successful fund raising had produced. He further reminded the group of the club's basic charter of governance in that no voting nor democratic procedure was ever necessary for the "tribe," and that once Cody was installed, it was totally up to Cody to direct the activities and forge the decisions of the club.

Earlier that day, however, Cody had apologized to Jared for his lack of attendance at meetings over the past year and confessed that he was not entirely up to speed on the club's projects and agenda. "We'll help you with that," Jared had said. Cody furthermore explained that he was more or less blackmailing his father. The club could provide for some of the expenses of the man's suddenly developed wish for alcohol rehabilitation, but only in exchange for certain information. Something big had scared his father into this rehab stance, and there was also the matter of the predaceous "monster" which had been lurking in the periphery of the city. Cody had intuitively linked the two things. Jared had also mentioned to him that his stepfather had been totally suspicious of the motives of the radio interview with Cody's locally illustrious mother. "The woman is just trying to discredit reports of this thing," Eric had said. The fact that his mother was in league with those elements of upper Aristock society which obfuscated important events, like the slaughter of homeless vagrants in the fields outside of town, did not surprise Cody in the least. Over the years his mother had become one of his personal demons, and if the Plus Sized Club could do anything to discredit her, Cody would be secretly pleased. Upon taking their seats, the boys waited for Ian Parmeter to pass the charter scroll of the club over to Cody Rochon, an act which he did unceremoniously. Each of the boys raised their fists into the air and repeated the club motto which still was "For Nautica and Crackland," although Nautica had not been heard from in two years and apparently the secret subterranean Arctic realm of Crackland was no longer threatened by outside forces. There were some

rituals that just endured. Cody with some hesitation took his place at the head of the table and opened a sheet of paper in front of him. He thanked the core members for considering to help his ailing father, to which Jared Nescott immediately piped up and reminded him that the Plus Sized Club comprised a tribe and that members of a tribe help one another, "whether they respect them or not." Jared put a particular emphasis on this last phrase as he directed it toward Cody, whom he knew did not particularly value his father. "Okay," said Cody. "Let's proceed briefly. Tell me what I need to know about each issue. First fundraising." Fundraising was going well. The club had over a thousand friends conducting such activities as car washes and homework help spread over the entire country. All kept in contact via the club's very innocuous website. The money was still coming in. "Politics?" Politics were all right too. There were no councilmen, police captains or school board members that needed discipline or removal at the moment. "Nautica de Craquelot?" She had been silent for two years now, hidden away among the vap-wearing people, and even Eric Palobay could not be exactly sure where she was, but it was known that she was alive. It was also known that Jared Nescott, if not some of the other boys, were still in love with the charming and captivating girl, who now at fourteen must certainly have begun

to display an imagined womanly beauty that tantalized the thoughts of Jared and the others. Next came "Crackland," the secret underground realm once defended from invaders by people like Eric Palobay and Brooke Nescott, to only mention a few that were known. Crackland was okay. They would all go there some day, and they would take Nautica de Craquelot, grand daughter of Crackland's discoverer and founder with them. The original species and the human settlers of Crackland were living in harmony under the loose management of a former Nevada cowboy and his Spanish mercenary female partner. All the news from Crackland was pleasingly tame and overwhelmingly ordinary. "My dealings with my father?" They were accepted although not generally approved of. Subaru Devaney reminded Cody that he was the president and had full power to direct such matters. Then Cody put down his pencil and stared at his young colleagues. "What is our official stand on drugs?" he asked. "For, against or neutral?" The answers came back. It depended on what kind of drugs and who was using them and for what purpose. No one in the club could deny the reality of recreational substances, and it had been determined long before that after the boys reached a certain age each one would sample some of the things available and report back on them. There was, in effect, no particular injunction against drugs or their users, unless the later became destructive. Cody's response to this was only "Hmmmm." "And what, if I can ask, is our stand on online pornography?"

Malachi was the self-confessed expert there and he was quick to state that "We don't have one. Every one of us here has entered puberty, and every one of us has at one time or another looked at sex videos online. It is a natural and normal thing for boys to do. Which one of us can say that we haven't at one time jerked off to a porn flick?" A general air of assent floated through the group. Brute and unvarnished honesty was one of the pillars of the Plus Sized Club, and this long before the group had physically grown too large to fit underneath the fat girls' clothing racks at Mega-Mart, the original meeting venue which had given the club its name. "But why would you bring a question like that up?" continued Malachi. "None of us are gay, and we don't do circle jerks, and what we watch online is always private. We don't get carried away with it." Cody seemed pleased. The new era of the Plus Sized Club was not going to be one of intolerance and prurience, rather one of acceptance and understanding. Pornography, the boys knew, was just a part of modern life---and perhaps a therapeutic one as well for people who had no other sexual outlets. "Then let's watch this," he said walking over to the lone computer in the room and typing in an address scribbled on a note sheet given to him only the day before by Jared's mother. With total aplomb, the fourteen year old boys settled back as a standard internet porn site flashed itself onto the screen with the warning YOU MUST BE 21 TO ENTER. After scrolling through a few free video previews, Cody found one trailer that he motioned for the group to watch carefully. What followed was outrageous, even for the inured members of the club. The

video was grainy and somewhat retro, but it was clearly a prolonged sex scene between a slightly younger Matt Rochon and a well-endowed woman who looked for all the world to be a practicing prostitute. "Her name is Diamond Falconi," said Cody calmly, "and you can all see that this is my father. The vid is a few years old, but apparently they were making some money with it. That is all I wanted to show you. I don't condemn my dad for this, but I wanted some of you to know how he used to get money for his drugs and drinks. He is not particularly a good man. But I think he can teach us something today. We trade rehab funding for information and pay the hospital directly. If we gave the money to him, he might spend it on this worn out cumbag who still hangs out in his old haunts." A certain hushed silence overtook the room, as Cody switched off the computer and opened the door for his father to enter. By the time Matt ambled into the room, his free medication was really growing thin and his head pounded with the desire for a drink--any drink. His raw, alcohol-deprived nerves were making his behavior unpredictable and uneven. "I need a drink," he muttered. "Fuck rehab." Cody reached into his backpack and produced a half pint of some cheap brandy and set it on the table. "Take a swig," he said. "We didn't bring you here to suffer. If you answer our questions honestly, you can enter the Med Center rehab program tomorrow. Jared's mother will take care of the arrangements and the payment." Matt's hands trembled as he unscrewed the top of the bottle and downed nearly half of it. After a sense of imminent relief washed over his face, he

looked at his son and said "What if I don't?" "Then it's back to the Bat Cave with you," said Cody. "And back to whatever is scaring you so much since Saturday. Apparently it wasn't enough to scare you sober for life. But rehab will help." Matt grinned broadly. He rose to his feet and walked over to his handsome son at the head of the table. "I know what you are going to ask me," he mumbled. Then he took a shock of Cody's hair in his fingers and pulled it forward. It was Cody's "stray hair," a few locks of jet black hidden in the sandstone colored mop that covered most of the boy's head. "You're asking the wrong person," he said. "Did you ever wonder where you got this...or those nice dark eyebrows of yours? Most of the Rochons were fair all over...but your mother's family had a few dogs that jumped the fence. They left their mark on you here and there." "I'm asking you and not Mom," said Cody sternly. "You already know my questions. What "treasure" were you seeking in the family churchyard and who is Alba F. and why was a street in that slumdump named for her?" "Okay," said Matt, finishing off the bottle. "It's Med Center rehab for me tomorrow. I want to stop drinking. I want to get my life back and maybe prevent a few deaths. The whole thing has finally come back to haunt us here in Aristock. What they used to call the curse of the Rochons. I thought it was pure nonsense when I was your age, but I learned better. I have a pretty good idea what that thing is out there. It comes back every few years or so, and people like your mother cover up its crimes. It only attacks solitary wanderers

and rarely comes into town. Its...her...name was once Alba...Alba F. ....Alba Facundo, to be exact, and if you ever utter that name outside of this room or to your mother, you are sure to be sent away and probably for good. Guarantee me more clonazepam and a nice bed in that rehab facility, and I'll tell all of you about Alba. But guarantee me first." Jared Nescott pulled a slim iron box out from under his seat. He opened it to show several stacks of hundred dollar banknotes to Matt. "Guaranteed," he said. "I'll call my mother as soon as this meeting is finished and we can use our phones." Matt gave Jared another of his emblematic sneers and said: "Are you sure you don't just want to post it along Iris Street by re-arranging the garbage? I'm sure that's the best way to contact her." Cody Rochon tapped his pencil forcefully on the table. "Alba Facundo," he said with cold determination. "And now." Matt sat down again, tented his long fingers and began his story. V. A monster on the loose The fearsome monster that was ravaging the environs of Aristock was odious beyond mere description in that it was neither male nor female, mammal nor insect nor lizard. It was, in effect, a thing of itself. A hideous, genderless creation of misplaced evolution that was vile and rapacious above the simple comprehension of those who had brushed against the sheer ferocity of its being.

Those who had seen the fiend always wished they hadn't, as it was gruesome in appearance and demeanor. Truth be told, the monster, which had drifted for decades in the remote recesses of the Alleghenies, was often described in some of the most lurid language possible and seemed by the account of most witnesses to be almost Hollywood-like in the naked horror of its countenance. This nightmarish vision, of course, aided those like Miranda Rochon who sought to minimalize its existence to that of a simple cinematic fantasy on the part of those fortunate souls who had come within vision distance and lived to report it. By all accounts currently rendered, the monster was a huge, bipedal grotesquerie, standing nearly seven feet in height and covered with the body armor of some sort of bony exoskeleton, which by some rural witnesses was described as impermeable to bullets. Its distorted ribcage and extruding chest were comprised of layers of tough bone, and its arms were abnormally long and ended in dagger-like claws rather than fingers. Its head and skull were shaped like a hideously inverted football with huge protruding jaws equipped with jutting fangs of pure spiny and barbed bone rather than actual teeth. It lurched with a crooked spine and moved with the rapidity of a cougar, pouncing suddenly upon unsuspecting victims and mincing them to bloody scraps before voraciously devouring their vital organs. It wallowed in the bloodlust of its own being and was virtually impossible to track down or kill. And there were those in the foothills surrounding Aristock who had tried. Testimony after testimony was recorded by local officials from those who had been on hand to witness its sudden attacks. The descriptions all matched, and, in fact, they matched descriptions rendered many years before by the local

Susquehannock Indians who called the creature Marnabanash and felt it had been sent to Earth by the most ancient forces of the uncaring universe to avenge the sins of mankind for its assault against the purity of nature. But in truth, the life form was a creation of its own making. It could not reproduce because there were no others like it, and to make it even more frightening and less Hollywood, it was a rather contented anomaly, a thing extrapolated from something that had once been human by a vital thrust of sudden mutantcy. It enjoyed being what it was because of the sheer exhilaration of its evolution and the awesome power of its life force, which had emanated from the primitive brain of someone who had once been human and had crossed an artificial evolutionary threshold into blurry distortion. It killed insatiably in its gluttonous bloodlust for the unadorned joy of slaughter which had become one of the most vital mainsprings of its atrocious being. And it sprang forth and killed without warning or apology. Of a family of three--father, mother and daughter---out for a woodland picnic near the dappled groves in front of remote Selfridge Pond, it left only pieces of torn flesh and cracked bones compacted beneath torn fragments of floral summer wear. Of a squirrel hunter in the Keanbridge Woods it devoured all but the unfortunate man's skull and upper spinal column which lay twisted on a gore-clotted tuft of bloody grass near the edge of the treeline. Of its canine victims it often dragged the disparate pieces for yards before discarding them willy-nilly into the soil. It killed because killing thrilled and invigorated it, and in reality ate very little of its prey. Possessed mostly of a hard carapace and a dark chitinous shell, it survived almost on pure energy, and its alimentary needs were few. The need for water was also attenuated in the horridly dry beast, whose black and lidless eyes were protected by a thick dark layer of armored

ligament. Its desiccated tongue lay flattened in the well of its gory maw as it cleaved sinew from bone from its victims and joggled off from their mangled remains in search of further victims. In short, it was a terrifying bundle of enhanced dynamism, which could reputedly lay dormant in the deep Allegheny groves for decades at a time before arising once again to exercise the insurmountable vigor of its supercharged being against man and animal alike and then disappear for an indeterminate length of time until something within its inexplicable and altered self again called it forth into aggression against all other living creatures that it might encounter. And Matt Rochon knew all about it. In fact, Matt at age twenty had once set out on the quest to become this creature himself, so great was the mutant sense of power and intensity of passion that it wielded. This was part of the story he tried, albeit somewhat unsuccessfully, to convey to the awestricken boys of the Plus Sized Club that morning in a peaceful July when in exchange for a season in alcohol and drug rehabilitation he spoke of the creature's horrors to the underage but precocious assembly of boys, one of which was his own son and by that virtue a distant offshoot of the dreadful and nameless beast itself. He had attempted to weave that part into the improbable tale of Alba Facundo herself. Much of that is the story which follows of just what engendered the freakish thing and how he Matt himself could have well opted to become like it. VI. Mother and son, an uneasy pact Miranda Rochon was an attractive early middle aged woman who had once

won a high school beauty contest and had gone on in life to marry Matt Rochon, her fourth cousin twice removed, in a vain attempt to dissipate and exculpate herself from the dark bloodline of her grandmother, an anomalous outsider to the fair-skinned Rochon clan who had been reputed by many to be a Spanish witch. In effect, the grandmother, whose given name was Alba Facundo was from gypsy stock and had happened into the precincts of preindustrial Aristock by the agency of what was generally taken to be a passing road show, not uncommon in rural Pennsylvania near the end of the 19th Century. Alba Facundo was a glamorous and sultry Tzigane by all accounts, and she had mesmerized Miranda's grandfather upon sight. The rest became the more obscure annals of the pervasive Rochon family tree, and Miranda, by the very nature of her family's discomfiture and shame for this strange outlander, had dutifully spent her childhood in the avoidance of the woman's name, which over time had become an unmentionable in every Rochon household. Even the twisting lane which led to the family grave plots, a street begrudgingly named for this now dead family member who had never taken the Rochon name, had been allowed to fall into desuetude and become almost totally obscured by the hopelessly snarled under- and over- growth of nature. The gypsy's name had become an outlawed word in every Rochon household, and it was only the thrill-seeking Matt, who would later become Miranda's reluctant husband, who dared hunt for its impermissible secrets. Cody Rochon had learned of these things from his desperate father on the day of the meeting of the Plus Sized Club. He had learned them with the warning to hold the name Alba Facundo in silence----but none the less to ask his forceful and hostile mother if she still had a pair of Matt's old shoes stored somewhere in a closet. Miranda, busy with a new affair as well as with her

daily radio talk show, was annoyed by the mere presence of her son and did not suspect the reason for his request. Cody supplied it by saying that Matt was running low on footwear and had asked if he might retrieve a pair of his old shoes from the family rummage closet in what was now solely Miranda's house. Distracted and not thinking much about her son, Miranda consented that Cody take the closet key and rummage through his father's old belongings. The shoes, whichever ones the boy wanted, were in the closet somewhere. Miranda didn't care. There was only one item on the whole of the Earth that Miranda didn't want the boy to ever see, and she was certain that that item was definitively not in the huge throw away closet above the garage. Cody took the keys to the room and alone climbed up the creaky wooden stairs into his father's past. Matt had assured the boy that his old studded track shoes would be in a box marked CSU taken away from the university after Matt had graduated at the age of twenty-three. "There will be my old varsity jacket in there too and some winter gloves. You will also see a few pictures of me and your mother, ones that you have never seen before and never will again if she ever finds you have them. I sealed all that in the box years ago. I know she has never bothered to open it. Bring the entire contents of the box to my room before I go into rehab if you want more proof of what I have told you." Cody quietly retrieved the marked and sealed box and roped it to his BMX and rode off toward Matt's room above Gebargan's hardware, a room which Matt was already tidying up and arranging for his imminent departure for the Med Center Rehab facility the next day. He met his skeptical son in the doorway with all four of the room's windows pushed wide open for the first time in Cody's memory. His father truly had a will to recover. He had obeyed his

son's every request and told a story so uncanny to the assembled club that it screamed for more proof. In this long ago taped cardboard box from the end of Matt's university days was some of that proof. Matt took the box from Cody's hands and sat down on his devastated mattress, shaking his head in wonder. Under Cody's awestricken eyes, he tore open the box and pulled out a slim pair of track shoes, as well as a small pair of gloves and a yellowing envelope filled with decomposing photographs. "I was twenty-three nearly twenty-four when I fit into these shoes," he mused bitterly. "Unlike you, I was a small guy. That's why I was so good in track. Small and fast. Now a man, however small, is full-grown at twenty-four. That is a fact. I was then--I thought--as big as I was ever going to get. Look at the shoes. Compare them." Cody lined one of Matt's old track and field shoes up alongside of the tattered sneakers his father was now wearing. The size difference was colossal. Whereas Matt had always worn a wide size twelve in Cody's lifetime, the track shoes were barely eights. Likewise, the gloves. Matt claimed to have worn them all through college, but they were made for much smaller hands and shorter fingers, and there was no way Matt's large hands would ever fit into them any more. And then the lettered varsity jacket. Matt by his own admission was a muscular wrestler. He had earned his letter in wrestling rather than in track. The jacket was like that of a teenage boy half his size, and Cody realized that he could have easily worn it himself at present. "These must have been from when you were a kid," said Cody. "No. I was twenty-four or there about. I told you that. The drug, malocambra,

gave me a growth spurt in less than five seconds. I became the size that I am now or maybe even a little bigger because I've wasted away a lot of my tone due to all this boozing." "In just five seconds you popped from five foot three to six foot four?" "Yep. And my whole body went with me. Do you think those gloves could come anywhere close to fitting over my hands even as frail as they are now. My fingers are almost twice as long. That hat you see wouldn't go on my head either. It happened within seconds. The tea, the potion, malocambra, the criminal recipe of your great grandmother Alba...a drug more potent than anything you have ever dreamt or heard of in your life. Its force is beyond description. It rips you out of your humanness and propels you forward along the evolutionary chain. It eventually turns you..." "Into a monster," concluded Cody thunderstruck and staggered. "Ah, but what a trip," mused Matt, drifting off briefly into a reverie. "Nothing like it. You feel more electrified and alive than anything living around you. Imagine the immediate escalation of everything within you. It is irresistible. Its sensation makes you not care how big or grotesque or misshapen or ugly you become. The awareness of the thrilling and immediate transformation takes a hold of every one of your senses at once, enlarging and expanding them. Keep on drinking and you become a different and far more vital being." "And ugly too," from what I've heard, muttered Cody, "and dangerous as

well." "Who cares?" said Matt. "It explodes within you and drives out a part of your primal being that has been dormant since all eternity. It releases your true life force. And I only had a sip of it. She made me stop after that. She burned the recipe right before my eyes as I begged...begged for more. Every minute of my life since that day I have lived in the unshakeable memory of those five seconds. She robbed me of that pleasure of that transformation when she destroyed the recipe." "Who?" said Cody staring into the glassy, far away expression reflected in his father's red and suffering eyes. "Who?" "Your mother. She said the recipe, the tea, was foul and immoral and should be forgotten forever. The recipe had been copied down for her from one of her grandmother's journals by a cousin. Your mother had kept it all those years, and we, being bored, agreed to try it. Malocambra, the evolutionary expansion drug. As I told you boys this morning, there never was nor ever will be anything like it. Old Alba knew its secrets and was willing to share them just for the sheer thrill of it. It was Alba Facundo who was malevolent and evil, and she probably still is." Matt stared out of his open back window at the sickly ivy creeping up the brick wall of the adjacent building. His mind drifted back to being twenty-three again, full of burgeoning power, rapidly exploding with the potency of a substance that rushed evolution along and thus allowed one to experience the raw momentum of the life force itself. It was clear that he would do it again if

he could, and Cody did not need to be reminded that this alone was the reason that his father had spent so many hours with a spade and pickaxe digging up the putrefying graves of his ancestors in the Rochon churchyard. The journal of Alba Facundo, buried beneath an unlettered stone, was immured in her coffin. Matt's obsession had driven him to search for it during most of his sober life until the frustration of failure at last had led him down the path to drink. Cody opened the crumpled envelope and glanced at the pictures. Though over twenty years old, they showed a couple that seemed overly attractive and happy with one another, a boyfriend and girlfriend, cousins...cousins possessed of a dark and ominous secret...the secret to evolution and mutantcy itself. But the most shocking thing was his father's size. He was a small, muscular, wiry and lithe man at twenty-four, hardly bulkier than his young and slender mother who sat beside him, an arm wrapped seductively around his less than broad shoulders. Nothing like the broken but still hulking giant that had stood before Cody during all of his fourteen years of life. Five seconds of a drug. That was all it took. A couple of sips and the body inflated, the mind exploded, the forces tripled. Later that day, Cody and Jared watched as Brooke Nescott led a hunched and dispirited Matt Rochon into the back door of the Medical Center Rehabilitation Annex. All three of them were joyous. At least Cody would not have to pass any more Saturdays alone eating stale leftover lunch pizza with his father in an airless room or be fondled by a has-been porn queen in a bar so low down the social scale that it had even fallen off the radar of the local police.

VII. Back in the Nescott home that evening Dr. Eric Palobay listened intently as his handsome and precocious stepson Jared recounted the Plus Sized Club news of the day. The story of Cody Rochon's strange father and grandmother was far from being lost on him. In the insect world, Eric explained, there were also incidences of accelerated evolution. Scaphandrous beetles for example could transmogrify into almost demonic leviathans with horrid claws and great spreading wings if given a dose of purified cane sugar glycogen dextrose, and they would attack anything or anybody, however large, on sight. There were other examples too. Snakes that grew five feet overnight and developed huge fanged heads when injected with maltose and starch. Birds with bulging red eyes that could perceive the tiniest flickers in the blackness of night. The world was filled with cryptids, and it was in no way surprising to Dr. Palobay, a grateful recipient of a lifegiving cryptid himself, that at sometime in the rural past someone had discovered a growth acceleration potion that worked on mammals...human mammals. The story of the drug malocambra also rang true with Brooke Nescott, who had for a short time dated Matt Rochon prior to his marriage to Miranda. Yes, indeed, Matt had been a quick, nervous, muscular little guy back then, the captain of both his track as well as his wrestling team. She had not seen him for years, but stories of his current size came suddenly as a shock to her. Moreover, Matt had been a thrill seeker of the worst kind. He had never been content to be the fastest boy on the school team but wished to make himself even faster...to become the fastest human alive, and thus the illicit tablets, the dates with fat girls to gain diet pills, the crystal meth. It was written all over

Matt's early character that he desired enhanced strength and power, so why not a substance that could quicken development, a kind of super steroid in an era when normal steroids were just starting to become known. It all made sense to Brooke. Eric buried his head in his hands and said there was more. Two brothers had been out in the foothills near Cranmath a few days before. A grisly beast --a bony thing with a hard exoskeleton and black shielded eyes---had attacked one of them, hurled him to the ground next to his truck and immediately disemboweled him with one stroke of its mighty claw. The other brother had emptied four rounds of twelve gauge shotgun bullets into the broad, serrated chest cavity of the vicious monstrosity, and these had not even made a dent in whatever unbreakable carapace covered its body. The surviving brother had escaped in the truck just in the nick of time and had been summarily interrogated at the southside police precinct branch, and... "And what?" said Brooke. "And Miranda Rochon was there. Someone at the station called her in because she'd been asking questions about these attacks and wanted material for her show. Miranda and the police decided that the remaining brother was delirious and that the attack, from all indications, was the work of a renegade Allegheny bear that had come down to the foothills, no doubt rabid, probably looking for a meal. That was one of the stories Miranda told me about that day I was on her show, but I saw the police photos of the gutted man. No bear could have ever made a slash that wide or deep."

"By all accounts, Miranda has been covering this up for some time. After all, this Alba Facundo was her grandmother." "Not enough of a motive in my opinion," said Palobay pensively. "Who really cares about saving the reputation of one's grandmother? No, there has got to be more to it than that. I have a feeling that this is a drug thing. Pure and simple." "What are you getting at?" asked Jared, pouring himself another coke. Eric assumed his far away look and wound his arm around Brooke's waist. In reality, although one hundred years of age, he looked no older than forty and claimed to feel about thirty-five. "Back during the Depression," he began, "I was a bigger alcoholic than Cody's father could ever imagine being. I was just a wild street kid from Chicago with a penchant for heroin and booze. I ruined my liver and kidneys before I was twenty-four in 1938. That was when I got the vap slapped onto me, thank god. But before that, I was in and out of institutions whenever they could catch me. In those days, it was solitary confinement, cold turkey and a restraining jacket. But they pumped you full of raw chemicals too, bromides and foul smelling paraldehyde which took away your will, then they gave you opoids which pumped you up like a gorilla on a rampage. They thought the alternation of the two would cure alcohol and drug dependency. There was a lot of insanity back then, real insanity because of those primitive drugs, and I almost went insane myself. But to this very day I remember one old-time amphetamine that made me feel as if I could lift a hippo and toss it over a tree. I will never forget that sensation. Now rehab today is all about sedatives. Right now as we sit here, Matt Rochon is probably

sedated as all hell and either sleeping or watching television in that place. They keep the alkies sedated for a few weeks until the pathogens of the alcohol are clear of their systems, then they wean them away from the drugs, and bingo the rehab miracle is supposed to happen...and Matt walks out into the sunlight, regains his old profession, hugs his son, kisses his wife and reignites his passion for a clean and productive life. All very good, except..." "Except what?" interrupted Brooke. "Rehab works." "Except the mind," said Palobay. "The body is drug free but the mind isn't. From what Matt told you boys, he had been knocking himself out with coke and liquor all these years to forget the five seconds of malocambra he once sipped. "That's what he said," offered Jared. "The missing part in this story is just how much of the stuff the all-knowing Miranda ingested. Did she watch her boyfriend jolt up a foot taller and then do an eyedropper of the stuff on her tongue as well? Did she really burn the formula to save Matt or to prevent herself from going too far? Maybe she has also spent the rest of her life up until now looking for the cookbook. She knew Matt was digging in the family plot even after they were married, and she just let him do it. That's not like a tough broad like her. She must have wanted him to find something." "What about the monster?" said Jared. "Family friend? An experiment gone wrong? Some kid that found the right grave?"

"Alba Facundo," said Eric. "I believe it's her. She must be older than me in her present state. If a mud slug can keep me hale and healthy well past one hundred, then who is to say that a super dose of this tea couldn't have made a kind of immortal monster out of her as well? If you ask me, the monster is none other than old Alba Facundo herself. This has gone on and off for years in this part of the state. Mostly off. I'm betting Alba goes into suspended animation for years at a time. The scaphandrous beetles do. Too much of the life force all at once makes a body tired. A long rest restores it. My take." "Then how does Miranda fit into all this?" asked Brooke querulously. "I'm not sure," said Eric, "but there is another part to this story that just doesn't fit. Matt suddenly gets all scared when he hears a description of the beast over the radio and sees a street sign with her name on it. He suddenly wants to stop drinking and get into rehab. So in exchange for some money, generously provided by a bunch of fourteen year old boys, he tells a tale that was supposed to be kept a secret forever. Excuse me if I offend you, Jared, but you guys are still just boys. I don't care how powerful the club is. A little bit of trank and a swig or two, and Matt opens up to some kids. What do you think he will do when he's all comfy and doped up in the hospital surrounded by the happy, booze-free faces of his new friends?" "Talk," said Brooke, anxiously. "Probably talk a lot." "And if Madame Miranda is trying to keep this all an enigma for her own personal reasons, what do you think she will do?"

Jared grimaced and pursed his lips in thought. "They hate each other," he said. "She will probably kill him." "Right on," said Palobay. "And the Alba Facundo monster will go on slashing and killing until it gets tired and decides to get back up into the high ground and sleep some more years." "I'd better take a ride over to Iris Street tomorrow," said Jared. "Stay off that goddamn street and use your freaking cell phone for once," said Eric. "This is serious. You can forget your crazy anti-phone campaign for once, can't you? I mean like in an emergency?" VIII. Cody confronts his mother "So. He had a growth spurt in his twenties," grumbled Miranda Rochon. "He had probably stunted his growth with all the drugs he used to do, all those amphetamines." Cody continued to stare at his mother, and she continued to stare back. Finally, he lowered his head and said: "I know about Alba Facundo, her street, the potion she made. I also know that too much of it can turn someone into a hard, spiny ogre, just like the one that has been reported outside of town in the last weeks. There have been killings."

"A rabid cougar," said Miranda. "If you had been listening to my show..." "I don't listen to your show, and, furthermore, I know Dr. Palobay who you had on as a guest." "Do you now? I suppose it's because of your smart-ass friends. Do you know what I'm going to do? Now that your father can't take you any more on weekends, I'm going to send you to live with my sister in Pittsburgh. She always wanted a kid." "And you didn't." "Not really now that you mention it. Tyrone really doesn't want me to have the extra baggage, and you, my little punk, are just that. A carbon copy of your drunken father except for that lock of black hair and those eyebrows." "The mark of Alba Facundo, a Spanish gypsy that just happened to marry your grandfather. A dark woman. Darker than the Rochons. A mixer of potions. Where did she get the ingredients, anyway?" "Your father is an asshole and a traitor to the family for ever mentioning that name to you, and I suppose those other boys know all about it too and that guy Palobay. I'll take care of them. I have a big audience, and people listen to me. It won't take long either. I have friends in the sheriff's department and at city hall." "Palobay has friends too. And so do I. If you try to send me to Pittsburgh, I'll

just run away. You'll never know where I am." "And where would you go? Somewhere on that little bike of yours. You don't even have a car and can't drive. You have no one to feed you. And don't tell me that stupid club is going to do it. Get your things packed. You're leaving tomorrow." Cody, once again faced with adult decisions that no child of his age should ever have had to make, thought for a moment. A dim memory of something told to him once in the Bat Cave by none other than the aging porn star Diamond Falconi came into his mind. It had been three years before when he was eleven and already seeking his father's company in the greasy dump that Matt had made his main venue. Diamond even then had taken a liking to "Matt's boy" and had probably wanted to impress him. She told him that his "bitch of a mother" had had a lover before the divorce. It had been a rootless and routinely unemployed former radio producer by the stupid but therefore memorable name of Clarence Birdtail. Cody had done some digging in his mother's private drawers and found evidence of large loans of money to Birdtail, as well as photos of the man who did not look nearly as insane as his name suggested. She and Birdtail had, in fact, been seeing one another quite some time before the divorce, and Birdtail had threatened her career somehow if she would not continue to give him money to support some sort of methamphetamine habit. All of this came from Diamond Falconi, of course, but Diamond was the slick, worldly type who usually knew what she was talking about. Cody thought for a long moment and then said the single word: "Clarence."

Miranda went livid. She lunged forward to swat at the agile boy who ducked her blow and ran to a corner of the room, his fists outstretched. "You little fucking bastard," she sneered. "You snooped. That is what your gang does, snoop. Well, it is going to end here. Pack some clothes. You're leaving." Cody realized that he would never again be comfortable nor safe in his mother's house. Not only had he mentioned the name of the forbidden Alba Facundo, his great grandmother but also he knew about a pre-divorce affair that, if revealed, could have caused Miranda to lose the house, car and child support that she had exacted from Matt at the time of the divorce. Mentioning Clarence Birdtail had been his secret weapon, and now it was exhausted. He had no ammunition left to fight with. He realized only too well at age fourteen that he truly and passionately hated his mother and began relishing the thought of leaving her forever. Like all determined boys of that age, he gave little thought to where he might live or how he might continue school. "I'll pack," he said. "And I'll go. And I'll never see you again. I suppose that will make us both happy. And," he added almost as an afterthought, "I'll forget about Clarence Birdtail and Alba Facundo and her drug potion and anything else you want me to forget about---just to be away from you." Miranda seemed pleased. Her face softened. "It's better that way," she said with almost a touch of kindness in her voice. "You'll like Pittsburgh." "Before we go, I'd like to visit Dad in the hospital and say goodbye, and that is what I am going to do right now."

"Bring up Clarence or Alba and I will make life even harder on you." "Don't worry. I won't. Of course, you do admit that your grandmother was a kind of witch who concocted a drug that can turn human beings into lethal monsters, don't you?" "I'm not admitting anything about anybody. Now get out. Visit your father and get ready for a road trip." Cody had bought the time he needed. A brief telephone discussion with Jared Nescott earlier that day had brought some questions to his mind, and, like Jared, he feared for his father's safety. It was perhaps the first and only time in his life that Cody felt any sort of filial affection for Matt, but the impulse was strong now, and Cody realized he had to move onto action. There were still some missing tiles in the mosaic of his family past that he needed to put in place, and his father held only one of them. Strangely enough, the old porn queen Diamond held the other. Straight away into the sunny July afternoon, Cody pedaled his BMX down the back streets of Aristock and found his way to the front door of the Bat Cave. By the time he entered the hazy bar, his mother was already clattering on the radio about some floral pageant soon to open in the Civic Center. He walked boldly into the lowlife tavern and pointed to Wink the bartender. "Please turn that shit off," he said in a voice that seem to prognosticate the onset of premature adulthood. Wink winked at him and mechanically obeyed. "You're really not supposed to be here any more," he said. "I mean now that your father is..."

Cody brusqued past the corner of the bar where Wink stood, heedless to the man's words. In her usual seat he found Diamond Falconi sprawled out in a skimpy housedress and showing more than what he wanted to see of whatever attractions she still possessed. Diamond had been "entertaining" a man, but the man, like everyone else, was broke, and so Diamond easily turned her attention to Matt Rochon's attractive son. Cody whispered something in her ear, and Diamond responded with a forced seductive smile. She lit a cigarette and said: "For that information you are going to owe me something someday." "Okay," said Cody. "But not today. I need to visit my father." "Then it's a promise," murmured Diamond. "Let's go out on the deck in back. The only ones who can hear us there are the alley cats, and they won't mew a word." The two of them pushed their way out of the back screen of the Bat Cave and sat down on a rotten wooden porch overlooking a filthy, rubbish littered alley. Diamond stroked the boy's bare leg as it issued from his shorts. "You're going to be a good one some day," she cooed. IX. Diamond Falconi "Oh sure, I used to turn tricks," she began. "I did lots worse stuff too. And yes, I made a few films with your father. I suppose you've already seen those online. He was a handsome guy once. Long before your mother, I had this thing for him. He was, after all, one of the Rochons. That used to mean

something in this town. I hated to see him driven to distraction by that bitch Miranda. But he was obsessed. He figured she could do something for him which he couldn't do himself." "You mean read a recipe, find the ingredients and make a brew." "Yeah, something like that. She only married him because he gave her a little gift, and the thing he wanted, well, she never made it. He begged and begged. The brew, as you call it, made people beg. It was, they say, more potent than any upper you can find anywhere. It had gotten control of his mind." "Where did he find the recipe? I thought Miranda had burned it in front of him." "In the graveyard, of course. He went to jail for that. But not before, he turned it over to the bitch. When he got out, they got married, and from that moment on your mother controlled him. You came along mostly by accident, I'm sorry to say. But Matt never got her to make the potion again. She hid her grandmother's journal away and never told him where it was. That's all I know." "What about this Clarence guy?" "He was blackmailing her about something, probably their affair. Your father could have gotten a much better divorce settlement if the court had known. Anyway, one day Clarence up and disappeared. No one knows where he went or how he got there. I suppose Miranda was relieved to be rid of him. After

all, she is a bigtime local radio personality and all." Cody reached over and took the lighted cigarette from Diamond's hand and took a long drag. He noted the chipped scarlet polish on her nails. She probably was going to be his first. She could teach him how to do it. It wouldn't be all that bad. Not as bad as living with a treacherous and lying mother. Or nursing the habit of a barely sentient father. Maybe he could even live with her. She stayed in one of the few remaining habitable rooms at the rundown Astoria. Maybe she could make him a bed and he could continue school. The woman presented several possibilities to him. "So nobody knows where Clarence went?" "Nobody cared. He had just drifted into town and done some part time production work at the radio. Who cared about a scumbag like him?" "You know," said Cody with an air of seriousness, "that people are getting killed by this thing and that Miranda is part of the whole cover up." "I suppose I do. Alba Facundo turned into a monster. Evolved, I should say. I wonder if that is not where all of us are headed. I mean if it's sped up evolution, then we must all be on our way to becoming bony beasts who hunt and kill at will. Sounds like the end of evolution to me. A way to survive that is better than this...this flesh." With that, Diamond, on reflex, lifted one of her large breasts under her skimpy dress. It was, Cody noted, something she had the frequent habit of doing.

"I suppose so," said Cody. His mind was already on the visit he planned next to the rehab center to see his father. His further plans would develop from there. Characteristic of his age, he had no worries about that. Diamond continued to stroke his leg and added "When do I get mine? When you're sixteen? I'd say you're about ready now, don't you think? "I said later," replied Cody firmly. "I'll do it with you later, Diamond." "You know, that's the first time you've ever called me by my first name." Cody began once again hoping that it was the last. Something in the older woman's pendulous breasts, in her thick lips, in her painted eyes had started once again to repel him. Maybe he could slip quietly out of town as his mother wanted--if only to avoid having sex with Diamond. As he rose to leave, Diamond informed him that she too had plans to visit Matt Rochon at the Center later that night. "Maybe I'll check myself in with him too," she laughed. "This joint just ain't right without him." Passing by the regulars hunched at the bar, Cody detected once again talk of the pointless slaughter of some drifter in the foothills. The monster of Alba Facundo had struck once again, and nobody was going to do anything about it. X. Conclusion Matt Rochon was nestled pleasantly into a corner of a sofa in the broad commons room of the Rehabilitation Center. Around him bobbed nurses,

doctors and other bustling attendants. Beside him other zombies, in varying stages of tranquilization nodded and smiled and frowned and cried and made funny sounds, the sort of which one hears in a facility of recovering addicts. Matt made some sort of effort to rise to greet his son, but slouched back onto the couch listlessly as Cody approached. Cody glanced over his shoulders at the other residents to make sure none of them were eavesdropping and then began his final round of questioning. "So you did find the right grave and the recipe," he said pointedly to his father. "You never told us that part." "I found it," stammered Matt. "I wanted it. You just wouldn't understand. Those five seconds of sips I took....they opened a whole new world for me. I hope you never get anywhere near the stuff because, if you do, you will never get away from it." Cody could honestly say that he understood. The malocambra of Alba Facundo was a substance beyond mortal belief. It caused a metamorphosis so complete and so strong that it became all-consuming. Once one started drinking the concoction, one could never stop because one entered another phase of being, one became something new and more vital, a monster to be sure, but a monster transmogrified into a demon of power and energy beyond all normal human understanding. Cody continued: "So you gave the recipe to Mom. Why didn't you just make some yourself?"

"I could never figure it out. It had all sorts of weird plants mentioned in it. Things that your mother's family understood. The bark of this tree, the stem of that plant. I never knew where in hell those things were or understood what to do with them even if I had found them. Your mother knew. It was she who cooked up the first batch and then decided not to drink any." "Other than what she let you test. It must have spooked her out when you grew so fast." "It did. That probably was it. There are some things that one is just not meant to even try. Malocambra is one of them." "But then she wanted you to retrieve the original journal of her grandmother. She must have changed her mind." Matt Rochon made yet another effort to sit up straight on the couch. Depraved-looking souls of all sorts drifted past in various degrees of dress or undress. Most of them seemed to be intent on changing the channels on the three large screen televisions in the room. Some were obviously hiding pills in the pockets of their gowns. Matt looked at his son and resumed. "She's a dangerous woman, Cody. I suppose I should have told you that before, but I guess you know now." "What about Clarence? Why didn't you bring that up during the divorce?" "I didn't find out about it until later. By that time there was no Clarence."

Cody looked squarely at his father and decided to say everything he knew: "You remember Jared's stepfather, Dr. Palobay. He actually studies weird creatures. He told Jared that Alba Facundo in her monster form goes up in the mountains and sleeps for years, then comes down and kills people and then goes back to sleep and so on. Right now she is killing, and Mom and the others are covering it up. Why does Mom have such an interest in covering for her grandmother who should have been dead years ago?" Matt rolled over on his side and looked at the wall. Then he rolled back, sat up and took his son by the shoulders, hugging him warmly--perhaps for the first time in Cody's life. "Shit. Is that what she wants you and Palobay to believe? Well, ain't that a convenient myth? I went along with it too and lied to you boys. Alba Facundo may have lived a little longer than her time, and it's true that she killed a few people back in the day. That's what those so-called evolved monsters do, you know. But she herself was killed over thirty years ago, and thank god for that. Her family raided her possessions, burned down her house and buried what was left of her along with that accursed recipe book in the family plot. That was what I dug into years ago, and I saw her remains if that is what you can call them. Depending on what you believe, she may have died a very happy and pleasant death. At least that is what I thought. Her remains...well, I don't want to go there, and don't forget I was only a tool for your mother and her family." "Jared told me that some hunters discharged a shotgun point blank into the thing's chest and its bony armor protected it. It can't be killed in the usual way."

"Nope," said Matt. "But it can be killed. And it was. And if I were you, I'd let Dr. Palobay know how right away. Whatever is out there now needs to be stopped. And it's not Alba." "You know how to kill it? Why didn't you do something before?" Matt looked away at a distant wall again and sighed. "Because I was a worthless drunk, the same worthless drunk that you used to drive around town. You know, there are rats in this end of the city. Occasionally I'm told some of them get into the building, and the staff does something about it right away. They put some rat bait outside where the rats will find it, and lo and behold, the rats eat it and die---until some new ones come back." "What does that have to do with Alba Facundo or the monster? It's not a rat." "The tea. Even though she turned into a veritable creature from hell, she remembered it. Hell, who could forget it? It pulls you like a magnet. All they had to do was make some more and put it in some kind of open container out in the hills or wherever she was seen. She naturally finds it, like a rat with the bait, drinks some more and surges into the next stages of evolution. And the next stage is the last stage. They say it's horrible and the results certainly are, but I honestly believe it's a wonderful death, and one that I would have sought myself. Imagine that final burst of dynamism, the detonation of energy so great that mere words cannot describe it. If you experience that, who cares if you become a grotesque monster and end up like a rock-solid twisted pile of concrete plasma? I'm getting more sober with every hour that passes, and

with luck, I'll be out of this place soon and never have a drink again, but I will never forget..." Suddenly, an animated figure burst on to the scene between father and son. It was a woman wearing a red wig and some kind of mask. She had been there, barely noticed, all the time. In her hand, was a black revolver. She dashed up to the corner couch where Matt lay and shoved Cody back into the wall. Pointing her weapon at Matt, she snickered with a metallic and mocking derision. "Stupid loose-lipped son of a bitch. You are going to die right now, and right in front of these androids and their keepers. And I look crazy enough to get off on insanity, something I can fake very well. I should have done this years before when you were sitting in your bars sharing all your so-called knowledge with your band of sot-heads. The name Alba Facundo should have never been mentioned, and you knew it. And as far as Clarence goes, well, maybe he is enjoying it as you claim. I assume he is, killing and all." Cody rushed forward to protect his father, but Miranda pushed him aside with an almost unearthly strength---and it was Miranda, of course. Mother had come to kill father--and in front of son. And now---finally--there arose some commotion among the zombie-like residents who began to sense trouble and were closing in. Cody, shocked and wide-eyed, stared at his mother and said one word: "Clarence!" "Yeah," shouted Miranda, no longer trying to conceal her purposes. "And he's probably loving it." Miranda stiffened her arm and aimed the revolver at

her ex-husband, who cringed fearfully into the folds of the couch. Without warning a shot rang out, a shot which echoed throughout the commons room of the rehab facility, awakening all but the most stupefied. Without uttering a further sound, Miranda dropped her arm and folded to the floor, falling first on her knees, then face down onto the carpet. On her back blossomed a huge bleeding hole. She weakly raised her head and shoulders one more time and then collapsed and expired. The residents shrieked from all sides, standing back for their own safety. It was, of course, Diamond Falconi, who had crept in unseen among the wandering herd. In her hand was a much larger gun, and she had just used it. As attendants rushed to the scene, she dropped the weapon and stared with a crazed smile at all present. "A little skill of mine you never knew about, Matt. I loved you once and I still do. I always said I was going to kill that bitch. Tonight seemed like as good a time as any." And so the police, late as usual, finally arrived en masse and put Diamond, still cackling in a zany, half-witted voice, into more manacles than she really needed. They led her away as attendants went about their business quieting down the residents and checking on Matt's state of health. Cody was more or less forgotten as more white-frocked assistants arrived and milled about in the crowd of stunned residents. Somewhere in the tumult, the corpse of Miranda Rochon disappeared as well, as did the pool of blood left under her dead body. Eventually, some well-meaning adult separated Cody from his father and sent him outside, and Cody--being Cody--knew enough to disappear into the night. *************************************************

Jared and Brooke Nescott, accompanied by Cody Rochon and Eric Palobay, sat on the living room sofa in Brooke's house. Of course, no televisions nor radios were playing, and all the cell phones had been switched off. Jared had his arm around Cody's shoulder. "You'll enjoy living with your father in his old house," said Jared merrily. "Not sure," said Cody. "I've liked it here too." "And we've enjoyed having you," added Eric Palobay with Brooke at his side nodding in assent. "But a boy needs to be with his father." "Guess so," said Cody, who in reality had beheld more than any fourteen year old boy ever should have. "Diamond could have done a lot more than just skin flicks," he continued. "She's a great actress. Up in the mental wing now talking crazy stuff about monsters and all. The way she's acting, she'll be out of jail in no time the way our stupid judges are. She should have gone to Hollywood." Then his mood grew dark again. "So it was Clarence. Mom got rid of him with the potion. He spurted into his next stage and started killing just out of lust. And I suppose he still is." "Not so," interjected Eric Palobay, reaching into his pocket for his cell phone. "Would you boys mind if I turned this on and showed you something?" Jared and Cody shook their heads in rapid assent. Eric scrolled down to a

series of gruesome photos taken on the grass of a rural meadow. In them, was clearly the gnarled, warped and horribly disfigured remains of some rude mass of spiny bones and broken pieces of what looked like a hard shell. "Curled up and very dead," said Eric. "He won't be bothering us any more." "How did you kill him?" said Jared wonderingly. "I didn't," said Eric. "Miranda did. She put out the "rat poison," as Cody's father so fittingly called it. More potion. In the bottom of a ripped milk carton so whatever passed for its mouth could drink it. Even as a mindless monster, he couldn't resist. It took him to the last stage. He probably died a mindblowing and wondrous death." Cody and Jared examined the photos again and again. A blurry heap of twisted and disconnected pieces of something which had once been a man and then a monster from hell. "The end of a fiend," said Jared at length. "No. The end of evolution," said Cody, weakly forcing a faint smile. "The end of evolution." ___________________________ Devon Pitlor -- May, 2011 /*/*//***

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