To Let

📅 Published on April 15, 2021

“To Let”

Written by Kyle Harrison
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.80/10. From 5 votes.
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I should have taken more notice of the graffiti when I arrived at the Highbrooks.

But the sad fact is that the strange scribblings on the complex were the least of my worries here.

Traveling alone is never something I would recommend when you are in an area you are unfamiliar with, but my options were limited.

If my fiancé Peter were here, he could have translated the words, but he had still not gotten his green card when I bought the property in south Sussex.

That was just another item to add to the list of mistakes I made with him.

The building stood approximately thirty-three meters away from the rest of the cul-de-sac, a relic of a bygone era.

To be honest, when I first got the keys to go tidy up the apartments, I actually wondered if the place had been condemned at some point.

That’s the problem with me, though; I always dream too big. Where I saw potential, others could look and see nothing but headaches and more debt.

Nothing about the place had been updated in well over ten years, thanks to the downturn in the local economy. Dust and cobwebs covered every surface, and boards nailed down each window. It felt more like a tomb, and I was a grave robber intruding.

This was supposed to be an investment in our future, but instead, the purchase was feeling more and more like a train wreck.

As I moved toward the second floor to inspect the wiring and floorboards, things didn’t improve much.  I used my phone’s flashlight to illuminate my steps, shining it down the dirty hall like a beacon. Clearly, no one had been here for years, I thought as I saw something in the distance, something stir, and I remembered the seller’s warning of rats.

Cautiously I approached, trying to see where the vermin scurried off to. When I rounded the corner, though, I found myself face to face with something far more significant than any rodent.

At first, I didn’t know quite what it was, except that it had to be about the size of a grown ape. It was hunched over the way such a primate would do to protect itself, and from this angle, all I saw was long matted hair. That, coupled with the foul order, made me initially think it actually was such a great beast, escaped from the zoo.

When the light hit its features, it stirred, and I recoiled in fear, frantically grabbing my keys to search for my mace. While doing that, I dropped my keys in a panic, and I heard the thing make this low grunting noise like it hurt even to move.

As I reached down to retrieve my phone, I caught a glimpse of its face and found myself in utter amazement. This was not an animal at all but a frail, homeless old man. My weak light showed that his aged features had all the signs of starvation, along with bruising. He likely had been hiding in this abandoned building for a while, using it to hide from the cold and rain that was common this time of year. I could see that he just barely had any sight at all, his eyes glistening curiously toward me as he tried to determine if I was a friend or foe.

How long had it been since he bathed or had a proper meal? My heart went out to him, thinking of the hard childhood I had growing up in the States.

His naked body was covered in tattoos and scars, his muscles frail and his skin sagging everywhere else that his beard did not protect. Everything about him screamed an addict, a victim of this criminal society that had been seeping into Europe for well over my entire lifetime.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” I told him, realizing that he was likely more frightened of me than I was of him. He tilted his head, clearly understanding the words but did not respond. Could he even speak? Or had he been so far removed from his fellow human beings that he no longer felt it necessary?

“My name is Bernice. Bernice,” I said, placing a hand on my chest and then gesturing toward him. “What is your name?”

He opened his mouth, trying to clear his throat and then in a low guttural tone, he said with a thick Slavic accent, “Dom…”

“I’m going to help you, Dom,” I told him as I slid open my phone to call Peter. I knew he was probably still on his flight from Copenhagen, but I figured maybe he could still help.

“Hello?” he asked as I put him on speakerphone.

“Peter… babe. I’m here at the apartments. We have a neighbor… can you help me tell him that I’m going to contact the homeless shelter?” I asked softly.

“What? What are you talking about? Is it a squatter?” he asked with his thick accent.

“He’s just a harmless old man… he looks lost, babe,” I told him.

“You wasted my time for this? Call the police and get him out of there!” he snapped and ended the call.

I sighed and figured he was probably irritated from his long flight. We had worked so hard to get him into the country, and this whole thing of trying to renovate the Highbrooks was an idea he had never been on board with.

I kept telling myself that I knew he would calm down once he got his green card, once he saw all the things London could give him.

“Sorry about that, Dom… I’m going to try and find some help… okay?” I told the frail older man.

All he did this time was nod.

I moved back down to the first floor, trying to use what limited internet I had to find the nearest shelter. It was about thirteen blocks away, not bad.

Pushing the door open, I went back to my SUV and decided that I would stop by and ask them to help Dom on my way to the airport.

I was confident that the good deed would make up for some of the other cosmic lousy luck I had been receiving lately.

How little I knew…

* * * * * *

Peter landed around six that evening, after a bit of delay waiting to get into the dock. He looked grumpy but smiled when he saw me. I brought him his favorite food and a sign in Russian that said welcome home.

“You misspell home,” he whispered to me as he kissed my forehead.

I blushed and remarked, “I’m just glad to see you made it.”

“Have you got a hotel for us?” he asked as we walked to the baggage claim.

I bit my nails, nervous to tell him the bad news. The fact of the matter was, I was dead broke. The current expenses with the title for the property had set me back about forty thousand.

“Actually, babe, we are gonna have to stay with my folks tonight… It’s just for tonight, maybe tomorrow,” I hesitantly told him.

His eyes flashed frustration, but he didn’t say a thing. Peter has always had a short temper, and I knew that the idea of having to stay with family was going to upset him. Since my folks are devout Christians, the chances of getting any alone time were relatively next to nothing.

But thankfully, he was too tired from his flight to make an argument and just huffed in disappointment, grabbed his bags and marched toward the front of the airport. I slinked behind, wanting so badly to ask him about his trip and a dozen other questions, but my common sense told me he wasn’t in the mood.

Instead, for most of the drive across London to my parents’ flat, I didn’t make any comment except whenever he did, being careful to gauge my responses so that I wouldn’t upset him more.

I wanted everything to be perfect for the start of our life together, and I’ve never been one to make waves. Besides, my father was convinced that Peter was terrible news, and I had been having a hard enough time trying to convince him otherwise.

It’s my fault, really. As I said, my parents are traditional Christians of the Lutheran faith and don’t think I should have even started a relationship outside of my home so hastily.

What they didn’t understand was that despite Peter’s flaws, he was a sweet man. I mean, we all have problems, right? Just because he came from Communism didn’t mean that he was a terrorist or something. Convincing them of that had been an uphill battle, and I doubted this short visit would be any different.

It started peacefully. My mom had made us turkey and Polish sausage along with lemon cake, which was Peter’s favorite. But I could tell from the moment we all sat down at the table my dad would start putting pressure on my fiancé.

“So, Peter… have you figured out what you are going to do for work yet?”

“Dad!” I said in frustration.

“What? It’s a valid question, isn’t it?” he said, and turned to Peter and stated, “I just want my daughter to be provided for. That’s all.”

My fiancé wiped his mouth before answering as articulately as possible. English was not his best attribute.

“I still await… confirmation for visa…” he answered.

“That’s been a few months back. Since your last visit,” my dad pointed out.

“That’s the government for you… always more hurdles,” mom said. I could tell the questions were bothering Peter so I tried to steer the conversation a different way.

“I helped a homeless man today,” I offered.

But my attempt didn’t work.

“I am not… what is the word? Lazy. I want to work. But… hands tied,” Peter insisted.

“I understand. I know you love her. I can see that. But… can I be real with you, Pete?” Dad asked.

I swallowed, unsure what my father would say. My fiancé gestured for him to continue.

“Bernice is our only daughter. And all of this is so rushed. Getting you here, trying to get things settled for a wedding, and then, on top of that, the property she is trying to fix… it feels like something out of reality TV,” he said.

My fiancé didn’t know some of those words, so I softly translated them. This time it seemed like he was angry with me.

“Why you tell father about the property? That our decision,” he muttered.

“Babe, they helped us get the loan! We’re investing for the long term!” I told him.

“It was stupid,” Peter barked back. “Hey, now, no need for name-calling,” Mom said.

“No, Mom, it’s fine. Peter just means that he doesn’t know why I couldn’t get the money myself,” I said as I squeezed his hand. “I told you my credit was bad, babe,” I said.

“And this is exactly what I’m talking about. Putting the cart before the horse…” Dad said.

I glared at him, upset that he was provoking a reaction. The only saving grace was my phone buzzing, and I saw it was the shelter calling me back.

“Berni, you know the rules. No cell phones at the table,” Mom chided.

“Sorry, I need to take this,” I responded, getting up and moving to the hallway.

“Hello? Bernice Manchester speaking,” I said softly.

“Yes. Evening, mum. This is the Saint Alphaeus Homeless Shelter. You called earlier about a man needing assistance in the Highbrooks?” the answer came.

I paced toward the window as I refrained from hearing my dad lecture Peter some more. It was making my blood pressure rise.

“Yes, yes, that’s right. Did you get him to help?” I asked.

“Well, that’s the thing, mum. We checked the entire property top to bottom as best as we could… I couldn’t find him anywhere. Could you give a description?” the employee asked.

I pursed my lips, realizing that the old man had likely decided to leave after our encounter. Some people just don’t recognize they need help, I thought to myself.

“No… I’m sorry, I probably made a mistake. I’m sorry to waste your time,” I told them as I heard Peter shout something in Russian and my front door slam.

I ended the phone call there and went into the kitchen to see what had happened.

“What did you say?” I asked my father angrily.

“Nothing that didn’t need to be said,” he said.

“Dad, seriously. Why can’t you be happy for me? Every time Peter has traveled, it always feels like an interrogation!” I muttered.

“Your father just wants what is best for you,” Mom insisted.

I sighed in frustration. “What I need right now is for you to let me live my own life! Make my own mistakes!”

“Oh, you’re gonna be making plenty of those with Putin out there,” Dad muttered.

“Dear!” Mom snapped.

I sighed.

“It’s fine. I should’ve known coming here was a mistake, too…”

I grabbed my coat, and Mom tried to stop me.

“Where are you going?”

“I’ve got a credit card; Peter and I can grab a hotel. Anywhere more hospitable than here,” I answered.

“I’m sorry about your father. He means well,” she whispered as she led me out to where Peter was getting a smoke.

“Tell him he can stop worrying. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself,” I told her as she hugged my neck and also apologized to Peter.

We left right around nine. “I’m sorry about my dad,” I said once we were finally settled in the hotel. All I wanted to do was just cuddle in my fiancé’s arms and forget about it.

But Peter was still brooding.

“Father, a very stubborn man.”

“Oh, and you aren’t?” I teased, punching his arm.

Peter was not in the mood, though and muttered. “Why does he not like me?”

“No, it’s not that at all, babe!” I said as I wrapped my arms around him and snuggled. “He just doesn’t want me having another heartbreak,” I explained.

He nodded, and we laid there for a moment in silence as I played with his beard.

“Hey… what exactly did you say to him tonight anyway?” I asked.

“Hmm? Oh. Told him he could ‘srat’ tebe v rot’,” Peter remarked.

“What does that mean?” I giggled.

“To crap in his mouth,” he said with a smug smile. I sat up, looking at him like a scolding mother.

“Peter, that’s my father! Don’t talk to him like that!” I told him.

“What? I do not see the issue. He was rude to me!” he retorted.

“He wasn’t rude. He was just concerned for my safety,” I argued.

“And why be concerned? What is the reason for concern? Tell me concern!” Peter insisted.

I stood up, flustered that he didn’t see anything wrong with his derogatory remarks.

“You need to apologize to him! He was looking out for us! He has done a lot for us, you know!” I told my fiancé.

Peter snuffed his nose in the air and remarked. “He helps you. He no helps me. I don’t see the reason for an apology,” he argued.

“Don’t be like that… We want to get along with them, don’t we? I mean… they are the only family I have,” I told him.

“Not my family!” Peter snapped back.

I did my best not to blow up. I knew that it wouldn’t get any better if I kept pressing the issue.

So I grabbed my pillow and said icily, “I’m sleeping in the other room.”

“Fine. Whatever,” Peter said, acting like he didn’t care. I was just too exhausted for any of this.

Grabbing a warm blanket from the dryer, I snuggled onto the couch and sighed, wiping away a few tears. Why was this so much harder than I ever really dreamed?

Eventually, that same tiredness overwhelmed my body into sleep.

* * * * * *

Both of us slept in and missed breakfast the following day. But our day was so full of things to do for the Highbrooks that I figured busting out tails off over there would let us forget about the arguments from the night before.

When we arrived, Peter seemed to be in good spirits, especially when he saw that the building appeared to have a particular architectural design similar to what he was used to from Moscow.

“Not all houses are homes,” he said as we approached the complex. I noticed him looking at the Russian graffiti, and I remarked, “I forgot to tell you about that. I wondered what it meant.”

“It is… what is the word? Old wives’ tale? Yes… something associated with Domovoi in the old country,” he explained as we walked inside.

I squeezed his arm and remarked, “Sounds Scary. Tell me more about this Domovoi…”

But Peter was otherwise distracted. I knew what he thought as his eyes roamed the dusty banisters and the broken tiles. “It needs a little TLC…” I said as he covered his mouth and brushed off a ton of old ashes from the front desk.

“This is worse than pig sty… why did you ever get this property?” he muttered.

“It’s not that bad. Besides, we can make it better!” I remarked with a smile as we walked up the stairs. I didn’t want him giving up when we hadn’t gotten started at all, but I could tell with each corner we turned and the room we explored, he was growing more and more apprehensive.

“Do AC work, at least?” he asked.

“No. Sorry, sweetie, hasn’t been installed yet,” I admitted. I was getting the impression that he was not liking this arrangement one bit.

“I’m sure once we get started, we won’t notice. I can open some windows.” I said as we started back to the door to go and grab tools from his truck. Peter mumbled something under his breath, but I ignored it. I could see why the place would make him in a bad mood. He probably thought that I’m a sucker for even purchasing it, I realized.

But soon enough, I was sure he would see its true potential.

* * * * * *

A few days passed. Peter started working on fixing holes in the wall, upholstering furniture that could be saved, and electrical. I focused on the basements. There was a lot of flooding down there and old equipment that needed to move, so we hardly got to see each other a lot of times.

When we were together, things didn’t turn out so well. I could see that the lack of air, running water and other proper utilities was agitating him. Casual conversations would turn into arguments quickly.

“Can you help me move some of the stuff on the fourth floor? Toss it out the window?” I asked one time, squeezing his muscles. His glare told me he wasn’t in the mood.

“I need to take a smoke,” he said as he wiped away more sweat.

“We can’t keep having breaks, or we’ll never get anything done!” I told him.

He whipped around to point a finger in my face. “You think I am lazy? Or did you bring me here to make me your slave?” he growled.

“What? What are you talking about? I’m pitching in too!” I told him.

“You hardly do any heavy lifting!” Peter snapped back. I could tell his temper was rising.

“Babe, you know I can’t,” I teased him, placing my hands on his chest. He pushed me away a little roughly.

“Don’t treat me like a child.”

“Well, you are acting like one,” I remarked. This time I was the one about to leave, not wanting this to get any more heated. But he grabbed my wrist and twisted me back toward him, shouting in my face. “Don’t act like a bitch!”

“Get your hands off me!” I said back, wriggling from his grasp and rubbing my arm gently. “That hurt!” I muttered, and then said, “Just leave me alone.”

He mumbled an apology as I stormed back to the basement, frustrated that I had let things escalate so quickly.

I slumped down near the bottom of the stairs and held my face in my hands, trying not to be overwhelmed with emotion.

Then from amid the shadows, I heard this strange low grunt. It made me stiffen, and I looked toward the old laundry units that were pushed against the cement walls. From in between two of the washers, a pair of glossy eyes looked in the shadows.

“Who’s there?” I asked cautiously. The shape moved toward me and into the light, revealing it to be the homeless man I thought had run off.

He looked like he was in worse shape than before, his skin shriveled and rotting, his teeth hardly hanging in. And he looked like he was sizing me up for his next meal.

“What are you doing here? What do you want with me?” I asked as I stood up. The man growled like a feral animal. I knew he didn’t understand what I was saying, but still, I tried to reason with him.

“I can help you. Let me help you,” I told him, trying to reach out toward his shoulder.

He gnashed his teeth and lunged toward me, scratching my arm with his twisted nails. Then he came at me with even more ferocity as I screamed.

Suddenly I felt a firm grip on my other hand, pulling me back up the steps. Peter guarded me and swung a hammer toward the old man, causing the stranger to growl in frustration and slink away toward the shadows.

“Don’t hurt him! He’s just confused!” I said.

“Are you crazy? He tried to attack you…” Peter insisted as he moved toward the old man.

“Let’s just call the police, please,” I said, holding him back. The old man squatted down back into his hiding place the way a snake would return to its hole, and Peter stalled, then nodded toward my suggestion. “Fine. But I want him gone,” he muttered as we walked up the stairs together. I could still hear the old naked man growl as we did.

* * * * * *

Unsurprisingly when the police arrived, somehow, the homeless man had already managed to find a different hiding place.

“I don’t see how that’s possible. There’s no other way out of the basement,” I told them as they came up the stairs.

“He has probably been here a lot longer than we think. Knows all the ins and outs,” one officer suggested as he looked toward a bruise on my arm.

“The squatter do that, too?”

I quickly covered it up and shrugged, feeling my face turn beet red.

“It’s nothing. I got a few scrapes working upstairs,” I told them.

The officer nodded, glancing over toward Peter, who was making a statement to his partner and then he reached into his pocket and took out a business card.

“Well, listen…if you feel like you are in any kind of trouble… this is my private line,” he said, passing it to me.

“Thank you… I’ll keep that in mind,” I said with a nervous smile.

* * * * * *

Peter and I made up to each other that night on the rooftop. I insisted that we should grab a six-pack and just look out at the stars as the night passed us by.

“Isn’t this country beautiful?” I asked wistfully as we saw a shooting star.

“You are beautiful. I am so sorry for my behavior earlier. Bernice, you are… what is the word? You are my world,” Peter told me. I kissed him. “Let’s promise not to fight anymore,” I said.

We made love amid the dark.

But our love did not last for much longer.

* * * * * *

Another week passed, and we started to see a change in the Highbrooks. Wallpaper was in place, the carpet was down, the lights were on. It felt like it was alive again.

But Peter and I’s arguments were getting worse. Each time they ended with neither of us talking to the other for the rest of the day. One time, Peter even threw something at me. I knew he wanted this project to be over with, but these petty fights were getting us nowhere.

Finally, I confronted him about it in the kitchen.

“We need to talk,” I said as he got under the sink to fix a leaky pipe.

“Not now,” he remarked.

“Yes now,” I said as I sighed and remarked, “Frankly, I need to know that we are okay. That this is going to stop.”

He looked up at me, confused and agitated.

“I am not doing anything wrong,” he insisted.

“We’ve been at each other’s throats for almost a month now! We said we would stop! You promised!” I told him as I fought back the tears.

“I am not a liar,” he growled.

“Well, then I’m a fool because all you’ve done is treat me like I’m your property!” I said.

He slammed down his tools and got in my face.

“I didn’t ask to come here and do all of this! If I wanted this servitude, I would have stayed in Russia!” he snarled.

“Well, then go back there for all I care!” I shouted as I stormed out.

I went up to distract myself with cleaning.

Another day we were in the basement again, arguing over the plumbing, and Peter slammed me against the wall.

“You’re hurting me!” I told him.

He apologized immediately and slammed his fist into the wall instead of my face. The act of violence made me frightened. And that night, I almost called the police on Peter.

I need to give him another chance, I told myself. This is a lot harder on him, coming to a new place and adjusting. I told myself things would get better.

Then I found the old man again, this time while I was vacuuming one of the penthouses. I was dusting the closets, and then when I turned, he was just…well, there, somehow. He was on the carpet, hardly looking as starved as he had before but still a bit chaotic. He was, however, wearing some clothes that I guessed he had stolen from the laundry, so at least I didn’t have to see his naked body again.

“Dom… I don’t want to call the police on you again. Please tell me why you are here,” I insisted.

He reached toward the carpet and ran his fingers through the fabric before making a grunting noise.

“My… home…” he answered.

“But you can’t stay here!” I told him.

“My home!” he said, this time with a firm voice.

“It’s our home now,” I told the old man as I walked past him and added, “I don’t want to get you in trouble. If you agree to leave peacefully, I will pretend I didn’t see you,” I told him.

“Leave?! I am not the one who will be leaving!” Dom answered angrily. His tone frightened me, and I quickly locked the door. Suddenly he was agitated again and scratching on it like he could get through.

“I’m sorry…” I said as I rushed to find Peter. This needed to end before we opened our doors to the public in a week.

I found Peter in the kitchen on the second floor, working on the cabinets. I could see that he still hadn’t been cooled down from earlier, so at first, I hesitated about mentioning the return of our unwanted house guest.

He saw my frantic eyes and didn’t question why I was there, instead just following me up the stairs. Once at the locked room, I stood at a distance and watched as my fiancé burst through, only to find an empty suite.

“Bernice, what is this about?” he asked in frustration.

“It was the old man… he was here!” I insisted, shocked that he was gone again.

“I do not have time for games,” Peter said, pushing past me.

“I’m telling the truth! Don’t walk away from me!” I said, grabbing his hand the same way he had that first day.

He turned around and smacked me in the face, sending me tumbling to the floor.

“Don’t lay your hands on me, woman!” Peter shouted back.

“What the fuck?! You son of a bitch!” I said, getting up and then shoving him back. His body hit the wall, and this time I could tell that I had taken things too far.

With a wild look in his eye, Peter came toward me and grabbed my hair, tossing me to the bed.

“Sick and tired of your childish tantrums!” he snapped as he pinned me down. I struggled as he grabbed and fondled me, making my body feel exposed and uncomfortable. “Get off me!” I snapped back.

“Shut your mouth, you want this!” he said as he ripped my clothes off, acting like a sexual sadist.

“No, I don’t! Stop! I said stop, you bastard!” I said, slapping him and kicking.

His face got hotter with fury, and his hand gripped my neck, making it hard to breathe. “You’re such a bitch!” he shouted.

Then from behind us, we heard a low thrum, a growl emerging from the hall.

Peter released his grip on me and turned to see the old man there, his gaze feral and angry toward the two of us. I gasped for breath as Peter went toward the old man and yelled, “Mind your business, codger!”

He raised his hand to hit the old man, and I rushed to stop him, causing Peter to slam his fist against me instead.

“You little bitch!” he said as I scratched my nails against his face.

“Stop it, you monster!” I shouted back.

Suddenly the older man struck. Acting like a cobra, he grabbed ahold of Peter and pulled him to the floor.

“What the fuck?!” my fiancé snarled as he tried to get away from the old man’s grasp, but surprisingly he was stronger than he looked.

Then something beyond belief happened.

The old man began to sink into the floor, his body slowly melting into the carpet. “Bernice… help!” Peter said as the stranger grabbed his neck and tightened his hands on his throat. The old man’s fingernails transformed into claws, his teeth into fangs, and suddenly I realized he was consuming Peter, taking him into the floor as well.

Peter screamed as his legs broke, trying aimlessly to fight the creature with a death grip on him as they sank into the floor. Then his back snapped, and he shouted obscenities and looked to me for help, desperate to escape.

I stood there and watched, paralyzed with fear – but also thankful as a sudden realization came over me. The stranger was helping me, protecting his home.

Peter’s skin began to slide off, pushing his muscles and bones to different directions, as he was now against the carpet himself, the old man’s mouth widening until it was large enough to swallow him whole.

Peter kept shouting at me, calling me all kinds of names in English and his native tongue until both he and the creature were utterly gone, one vanished, the other devoured. Then the carpet morphed and settled like a rippling lake.

* * * * * *

I told my parents that Peter had left and returned home. They didn’t ask any other questions.

The following week, people started moving in.

New couples, like Peter and me had been meant to be. A few even reminded me of our dynamic, and that worried me.

I still see Dom sometimes, slinking amid the shadows, but I don’t bother him anymore. We understand each other. I bring him a small tray almost daily, a gift to thank him for what he did for me.

And sometimes, when I see those young couples that remind me of Peter and me a little too much, I give him something else.

Rating: 9.80/10. From 5 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Kyle Harrison
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Kyle Harrison

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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