Maybe just 85%?

(or ju-.chuu.ha-.kku)

Literally: ten – middle – eight – nine

Alternately: Eight or nine out of ten; an 80% – 90% probability; “most likely, X”

Notes: This is obviously in the same vein as the previous 九分九厘, and may be considered equivalent, although in a purely mathematical sense the chances are lower and so the certainty is less absolute.

It does look pretty tasty

Also, this manjuu – image sourced here.

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Big frog, small pond

A kotowaza to encourage exploration and growth.

(I no naka no kawazu taikai wo shirazu;
“The frog in the well knows not the great ocean.”)


A frog at the bottom of a well may look up and see only walls and a circle of sky; it may look around and think that the cistern it lives in is the whole world, or all of the world that matters. It doesn’t know about the vastness of the world outside, or about the oceans that dwarf its little pool – and as a result, it may gain an overinflated view of its own importance.

This saying thus has two, related uses. It can point to a situation where someone has limited access to information, or a narrow worldview. Or it can mean someone who has a lot of pride in their knowledge – but only because they know so little that they don’t realize how much there is that they don’t yet know. In either case, the implication is critical, with a nuance that the ignorance the person displays is at least in part due to their own sense of self-importance preventing them from seeking deeper or broader knowledge. I like to twist the saying in a positive direction by suggesting that a frog brought out of the well can learn about the ocean and benefit from the experience.


(i, pronounced like the letter “e” in English) is a water-well. (naka) is another noun, indicating the inside or middle of something. is yet another noun, “frog.” Note that in this case the usual pronunciation, instead of standard-Japanese kaeru, is kawazu – a poetic or archaic name for “frog.” These three nouns are joined with the associative particle (no), for a literal rendition along the lines of “frog of middle of well.” This noun phrase forms the subject of the sentence.

The predicate is simply an object-verb grouping: 大海 (taikai) is literally “large sea,” or “ocean.” is our object-marker particle, and 知らず is an archaic or formal negative form of 知る (shiru), “to come to know.”


Despite kawazu being the more common reading, kaeru is also acceptable. 井の中 can be replaced with 井底 (seitei, “the bottom of a well”). The character can be replaced with (uchi, “inside”) without any change in meaning. The whole saying may be referred to, shorthand, as just 井の中の蛙 or even 井蛙 (seia, “well-frog”).

Example sentence:


(“Daigaku wo sotsugyou shi, furusato ni modori, tokui ni natteiru hito wo mitara, yahari i no naka no kawazu taikai wo shirazu to omowazaru wo emasen deshita.”)

[“After graduating from university, returning to my hometown, and seeing the people there putting on airs, I couldn't help but think about how the frog in the well knows nothing of the ocean.”]

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Directions, part IV

EEeee! There was a scream in the darkness. Seth sat up in bed and swatted his alarm. EE—whap

A glance at the clock revealed that it was only midnight, Monday morning. He had forgotten to reset the alarm to four. He did so automatically, half-dozing already, and slept again until the alarm pulled him from violent, terrifying dreams four hours later.

EEeee! He sat up again and swung, but missed the clock’s alarm button and instead knocked it to the floor. It went off three more times before he could retrieve and silence it. He turned to look at the room’s other bed to see whether his roommate had been woken up.

Isaac was awake, lying on his back. One arm was crooked over his face, hiding it. His breathing was deep and slow, regulated with obvious effort, although he didn’t seem to be feigning sleep.

Seth dressed and grabbed his CD player. “Sorry ‘bout that, man. I didn’t wake you up ‘cause of being mad… what? What’s up?”

He got no reaction, and tried again. “Are you okay over there? When did you get in? What’s going on? Did Thea see you at your job and break up with you or something?”

After a pause, Isaac spoke in a flat, controlled voice. “Thea was riding a bicycle out to the grounds. She had said something earlier about wanting to visit them. She must have come late, around midnight. Th… she… there was an accident.”


Isaac remained silent and motionless.

“You are SO shitting me!”

A whisper: “…no….”

“You—how do you know?”

Isaac was still breathing with forced depth and regularity. “I saw. I don’t know what they did after that; there might have been an ambulance involved. Now go away and do your job. And have your fun whining about it. And leave me alone.” His voice remained low and even.

“Well, f—”

“I said, go.”

Seth left. He let the door slam behind him, although he regretted doing so even before it had swung all the way shut. He put his headphones on behind his ears, holding them in place with his cap. He turned the volume all the way up. It felt as if knives were working their way into his brain as he walked out into the chilled darkness, but he didn’t touch the player until the music had stopped on its own.

The week between the end of classes and the start of finals: “Dead Week.” There had been a funeral, but Seth hadn’t gone. He had thought about getting drunk, but decided against that too—it seemed inappropriate. Instead, he spent the day staring out the window, watching birds shake the light snow-cover from the branches of a nearby evergreen.

After vanishing for a few days, Isaac had been spending more time in the dorm, staring at books for hours at a time and then disappearing again, presumably to class or work. His easy sarcasm had vanished so completely that others asked Seth about it, and when it returned, it was subdued. When he learned that Isaac was turning twenty-one on Thursday of Dead Week, Seth decided that they should go drinking. He still enjoyed going to the Welcome Mat, in part because it reminded him of better times and better company. But his one-time friends had moved on to the clubs, while he mostly kept to himself.

“Isaac,” he had said.


“You’ve never gone to a bar.”


“I’ll treat you.”


“It’s a tradition to get to know your alcohol when you come of age. And I’m not talking about that psycho fruit-juice they serve at your Jew things; I mean shots, or at least beer.”

“Give me a reason.”

“You need to relax.”

“Another reason. A better one.”

“I said I’ll treat you a round. You don’t get to bitch if you don’t like it though.”

“Fine, but don’t expect me to have more than that one drink.” Isaac had given Seth a speculative, distrustful look, then turned back to his reading.

Now, leading Isaac in, Seth smiled as the familiar wall of sound met them, muted yet almost tangible. The great thing about this place was that it hosted a continual rotation of local bands. The music wasn’t always good, but it was usually fresh. He took Isaac to one of the tables along the wall, with a good view of the band, and sat him down before heading over to the bar for drinks. He selected a rich dark beer from his favorite microbrewery so the taste wouldn’t scare Isaac away. When Seth returned to the table, Isaac was looking pensive.

“Hey, what’s down?” said Seth, putting one of the beers in front of him. “You’re a man now! Sort of. In a way. Cheers; drink up!” He sat down and took a drink.

Isaac picked up the beer and looked at it as if expecting strong acid. “Tell me something. Why are you being so nice to me?”

“Don’t get all moody over there. You’re not even drunk yet.”

“Fine.” Isaac audibly suppressed a sigh, took a mouthful, and made a thoughtful face before swallowing and setting his glass down. “OK, I’m drunk. Why are you being nice?”

“What, I take you out for your birthday and you gotta ask why?”

“Seth. We don’t usually get along very well. Our schedules are incompatible, our tastes are incompatible, and so on and so forth. I wouldn’t do something like this for you.”

“It’s your birthday! And you haven’t been an ass recently. That’s it. You didn’t, um, lose your position over there, did you? Or get put on probation?”

“What? Oh, no, nothing like that. In fact, they were very nice about everything after they found out I knew her. I’ve been staying away because— because I just wanted some time alone. To think things over, I suppose.” He gave Seth a close look. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, I dunno. I thought you might get in trouble since your girlfriend got in an accident on her way out to see you without permission. There’s even a story that she got shot on the grounds during one of the exercises or something, even though it’s just a rumor. I mean, you know….”

Isaac was silent for a long time, pressing his lips together tightly. Then he picked up his beer and drank again as if trying to decide whether he liked the taste. In the background, the band launched into a new song about men and women. Finally, he sighed and said, “It wasn’t like that at all, really.” He paused to drink again, then continued while Seth was still trying to figure out what he had been responding to. “I guess I need to clear up a misconception: she wasn’t my girlfriend. Eligible after she started down the road to Jerusalem, as it were, but she always made me a little nervous.”

Seth snorted. “Coulda fooled me.”

Isaac bared his teeth sarcastically. This was the smile Seth understood the most. “If you weren’t such a pessimist, somebody besides yourself might need to participate in the fooling.”

That was effectively the end of the conversation and of the evening, although when they got home Isaac did thank Seth for the birthday present.


Seth let his bike fall on the hillside, checked the ground, sat down. It was the middle of the spring semester now, and he was taking a break from a vicious swarm of essays by visiting the countryside beyond county road W24. From his backpack he took a thermos; he popped a piece of crushed ice from it into his mouth and chewed noisily while extracting a can. He opened this carefully. He took a drink.

“Cold Beer, you’re my best and only friend.” He grinned briefly. “We should meet like this more often.”

Sighing, he drank again. The air temperature was high enough that he appreciated the ice and the shade of a nearby stand of pines. The trees in front and the hill at his back lent a sense of strength and depth to this little corner of the world. Here, he didn’t need or even want other people.

Birds flew overhead. The beer was gone, and Seth idly contemplated a grassflower he had picked. “Plain,” he murmured. “You wouldn’t even notice it. But that one Transcendentalist guy said we’re all just grass anyway.” That probably meant something, he felt.

He picked a piece of clover as well and stared at them, twirling the stems together between his fingers before finally tossing them away. A memory of sitting on the hillside, the first time he had done it with another’s company, came to his mind.

Jimmy said “Your name is in the Bible, Seth. My mom told me that.”

Seth said “It doesn’t mean anything. I’m not in the Bible.”

Jimmy said “My mom said Bible names are special. I’m special because there’s a James in the Bible.”

Seth said “I’m special because I can see the dog in the sky.”

Jimmy lay down too on the spring-smelling lawn and said “I can too!” even though there was no dog. But that was ok because Seth could see a dragon, and it was his.

The shell of the sky was infinitely blue; the land and trees around him curved up to meet it. Warm, calm, tired, somehow comforted by the enclosure, Seth slept. He dreamed of a world where nobody told him what to be. He dreamed that he became something anyway.


One evening, Isaac came back to the dorm and found Seth poring over a notebook page full of numbers and a large printed map of the campus, with details added in pen. “Oy vey, am I hun— what’s this?”

Seth flashed a self-deprecating smile. “I’ve gone psycho. Didn’t you notice? It’s all your fault, too. This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t set me up with that stupid newspaper gig.”

“What wouldn’t have happened?”

“I wouldn’t have assigned a number to each bush in the Rose Garden and then counted all the stems and leaves and thorns on each, and then kept track of the buds as they turned into more leaves and flowers and stuff, and I wouldn’t be keeping track of their petal count now. And I wouldn’t have started doing the same thing for every other garden in the place. And I wouldn’t be eying the trees now. Do you know how much counting a guy can do between four-fifty and seven, five days a week? A lot!”

Isaac looked over the map and notepad with wide eyes. “I thought you were lifting weights in the spare time. Or thinking of new ways to get back at me for recommending you to a paycheck. Hey,” he pointed, “those don’t have numbers, they have names.”

“Shut up!” Seth flipped the notebook shut and put his hands over the map defensively. “It gives variety. If you’d get your face out of your books, you might notice that plants have personalities too! Either tell me I need medication, or leave it alone.”

“I don’t think I’ll touch this one.” Isaac looked out the window with his tired smile, with an added touch of melancholy. “We all remember in different ways. Botany is a fine science.”

“Botany?” Seth looked up. “Maybe. Or something like that.”

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Nine and nine of ten and ten

In honor of September, a yojijukugo with some nines in it!


Literally: nine – part – nine – smaller part [1/10 of a bu]

Alternately: 99%. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred. Almost certainly.

Notes: There is some danger here due to also meaning 1%, so that the phrase can be misread as “a 9.9% chance.” However, in this case 分 means “one part (in ten),” and from this the meaning of something almost guaranteed to happen is born.

Sorry for the tiny image size

Also apparently the name of a band!?

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On how to make a mountain

A variation on a theme:

(Chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru; “Even dust, if it builds up, becomes a mountain”)


Small things, allowed to accumulate, become large. Multiple sources reference the English saying “Many a little makes a mickle” – a phrase I’d never encountered before in my life – which goes to show something about how languages change over time.

At first glance this kotowaza seems almost identical to last week’s 雨垂れ石を穿つ, but there are a number of important differences. First, the emphasis is on small “things” (which may be metaphorical at least as commonly as they are physical) rather than small amounts of power. Second, the connotation of this saying can be negative: small amounts of work can build up into an overwhelming amount. It appears that the saying began as a Buddhist warning against neglecting small tasks. That said, modern usage allows for both positive and negative implications.


We get a full sentence this time! The subject is (chiri, “dust/dirt”), modified by the particle (mo). While is often translatable as “also,” “too,” etc., in this case the nuance is closer to “even.” Next comes the verb 積もる (tsumoru, meaning “to pile up,” “to accumulate” – in the intransitive sense) – in the conditional form, which changes its final -ru to -reba. This conjoins the first clause to the second one: next we have the noun (yama, “mountain”) and the verb なる (naru, “to become”). The particle between them, (to, pronounced like “toe”) is here serving the same function as the English “to,” as in “the dough changes to bread in the oven.” The particle often serves this function in standard Japanese; is a more literary or formal alternative.


The character can in some situations be read gomi, meaning “trash,” or “waste,” but in this case that reading would be incorrect. My sources also specifically note that taking to mean “boring things” is a misinterpretation.

This is another selection from the Edo Iroha Karuta set.

Example sentence:


(Chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru to iu kara, mainichi hyakkajitenn no kiji wo hitotsu yomu you ni kimeta.”)

[“They say that even dust can pile up and become a mountain; in that spirit, I decided to read an article out of the encyclopedia each day.”]

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When you eat like a horse, you get thirsty


Literally: cow – drink – horse – eat

Alternately: To drink like a cow and eat like a horse; to eat and drink a huge amount.

Note: The first half can also be 鯨飲 (; “to drink like a whale”). The phrase can also be rendered, somewhat prosaically, as 暴飲暴食 (; “violent/heavy eating and drinking”).

Random Youtube Link,
presented without comment.

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Directions, part III

(Story begins here. Continued from Part II)

The next time Seth heard Thea’s voice was a week later, in the library carrel spaces. He was spending his lunch break with his CD player and a pile of books that might help him write a paper. He was walking down the row when he saw the tops of Thea’s and Isaac’s heads bent in mutual study, the latter covered by a skullcap. Seth immediately sat down in the carrel opposite theirs. He arranged his books in front of him and opened one to somewhere in the middle. Then he turned it so that the words faced him. He put his headphones on his neck, failed to turn the music on, and listened.

Her soft voice fit the library setting well. “This… ‘Tanakh’ is a long work. At this rate, we will not finish it for months.”


“This is a great amount of study, Isaac. Why is it so difficult to join your tribe? To eat of my fruit is a test of faith; to read this book is a test of… ah… ‘attention span.’ Is your god not afraid that its people will fade away?”

“Um, no. Frankly, it’s difficult on purpose, to keep out the people who don’t really mean it. If you’re having doubts, this is probably a good time to rethink things. Why do you want to be Jewish anyway? Not that I mind, but….”

“Do you have a soul?”


“I have no soul. I am an intelligent manifestation of an aspect of nature, given life by a knot of energy remaining from the original primal chaos.”

“Don’t start that again!” Isaac sounded upset and frustrated, as if it were a recurring issue.

“As you wish. But if I become a worshipper of another god, will I not gain a soul that lives forever? I will never be a mortal servant to any of my family, nor any of the other families like mine, even if I knew how to find them. Call it a matter of convenience.”

“We’re not a business like the goyim are. Go Episcopal if it’s convenience you want.”

Seth’s hackles went up. Thea apologized without any change in tone. “I did not mean to insult your ancestral allegiance. My meaning was that yours is one of the few beings I feel worthy of my worship left in this world. I will accept that the God described in these books is one, and mine, so that I may gain such a soul as human people have.”

“But why Judaism? This isn’t a small thing, to become Jewish, no matter how famous we are. We’re a weird little bunch, and not everybody’s going to be as friendly to you as I am.”

“I have made my choice, and will see it through. To always be making another choice would be to never see an end.”

Isaac returned to amusement. “I know of several people who converted in order to marry. I’ve heard of people who converted to reverse their parents’ or grandparents’ apostasy. Theoretically, some even convert because they learn about Judaism and think it makes sense. But I’ve never heard of somebody stepping over because they think it will get them a soul.”

“It is what I believe. Why do you argue?”

“Hey, they won’t let you join until the rabbis try to talk you out of it three times, I’m told. Consider this a warmup.”



“May I accompany you to your workplace some day? They do not allow visitors unaccompanied, but I would like to see the grounds around the Serif building.”

Seth’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah, right,” he muttered.

“No.” Isaac was adamant. “It would be better for you to stay away.”

“There is an abandoned sacred grove there. I would like to say farewell, and plant my bush there, before I leave my old ways.”

“I’m glad that you want to convert, Thea. We’ve destroyed a few pagan gods in our time, and you stepping over will mean you and I don’t have to fight. But work is still work, and the commanders don’t like civilians wandering around and getting in the way. The wooded area is where the upper levels hold their wargames.”

“I see. …Will we read this book again after learning Hebrew?”

“That would be good. Why are you taking the class, anyway?”

“I wished to learn about those who have survived and prospered. I am concurrently studying Greek, and the Arabic course was full when I attempted to sign up. Hebrew is the only other modern holy tongue available to me here.”

“Right. Well, we’ll start talking about Yaakov—Jacob—next time. He’s my son, you know.” Isaac sounded pleased with himself. The two stood; Seth watched as Isaac removed his yarmulke and the pair walked out of Seth’s field of vision.


As they went deeper into the books, the two moved their study sessions progressively into Seth and Isaac’s room. By midterms, they had entirely abandoned the library, so that at intervals Seth was treated to a seemingly endless parade of odd names and ancient laws. At first, during the transition, he would leave the room abruptly and wander the campus or play overpriced arcade games in the Campus Underground. Then he began taking pleasure in staying, reading or just staring into space with his headphones on, never allowing Isaac time alone with her. When the spice of that had worn off, he had become accustomed to their crosslegged presence in the corner. He sat on his bed and pretended to read, listening to the way her voice softened and complemented Isaac’s insistent pedantic droning, like water smoothing the edges of a canal.

He tried not to watch her. It made him nervous, as if she were always just about to pause and look up at him as she had the first time, long ago under a tree. Sometimes he was afraid that her eyes would be penetrating, knowing, that they would tell him with silent primeval laughter that she knew each time exactly when his gaze was drawn back to her, and why. Usually, though, it seemed inevitable that her face would be expressionless, unmoved. That would have been worse. And so he kept his eyes studiously on the page of his Macroeconomics text, occasionally flipping a page back or forth to make it seem realistic.

They didn’t just read the Jewish Bible, of course. At times, discussing a bit of text or some rabbinical commentary that Isaac had found and referenced, they would wander off on tangents that ate up the rest of Thea’s visit. Eventually Seth, still not looking at Thea, started making comments. He liked to point out the bloodier parts and watch Isaac dive into contextual explanations, feeling that this was a time when he could really make his roommate sweat.

One afternoon, when Isaac had excused himself to get drinks from the vending machine downstairs, Seth risked a glance at Thea. She was leaning against the wall, idly paging through some minor prophet. Then she paused, and he watched her lips moving as she read to herself. They were soft and full.

Her feet were bare on the bed and her knees drawn up, so that her ankles showed below the hem of her black slacks. She wore a pine-forest green shirt just loose enough to show the softness of her neck and just tight enough to show the firmness of her body. Her only ornament was a necklace of tiny gold links with a deep magenta stone set in it, about the size of a cherry pit. Her hair had fallen forward to nest her face in dark ringlets.

Now that he had looked, Seth found he couldn’t stop. A curious warmth and tightness were spreading out from the pit of his stomach and from his throat. Words ran circles in his head, and at first he feared, irrationally, that he would never be able to speak again.

“What’s your major, then?” he asked. “I don’t think you ever said, and all I see you studying is religion and languages.”

She looked up quizzically—which was itself a mercy. “Classical studies.”

“You mean like ancient history and mythology? Shouldn’t you know that already, if you were there to see it happen?”

“I wish to understand the contemporary human perception of my history. It is as if you were to learn American history on the other side of the world.” He grunted and nodded, pretending to consider this wisdom and assimilate it into his worldview. “What are you studying?” she asked.

“Well… I’m technically a business major right now….” He paused, wishing her eyes didn’t seem to know and wait for the rest of his thought. “…But I’m still finishing up my core. I don’t know what I want to be.”

Her mouth moved as if in a reflexive desire to respond, but she was silent. Seth found himself taken by the simple humanity of the moment.

“You know,” he said.

After some silence, she asked, “What do I know?”

“You know,” he said, “if you want, you can come here some time when Isaac isn’t around. We could talk or something.” The tightness had vanished with the words, but the warmth now took possession of every inch of his body, from forehead to fingertips, as she looked at him with those impossibly deep eyes. He felt as if a spotlight had been turned on him.

“What would we talk about?”

“Well,” he said. “Well, you said you were a fertility goddess…. I’m sure we could think of something, you know?”

Then she laughed, with real amusement and something like pity, and now she was looking at him with the knowing face from his nightmares. “After your rejection those months ago it is a compliment from you, and I thank you as such. But as for that—I am too much for you, Seth,” she said. Her voice was clear and matter-of-fact. “I would destroy you.”

On the stairs, he met Isaac coming up. “Hey; if you wanted, I could have gotten you—” said his roommate, but then Seth was past him and on the next flight, head tucked into his shoulders, hands tucked into his pockets, shoes still untied. Isaac leaned over the railing. “Hey, are you ok?” But by then Seth was gone into the night.


Seth was writing yet another essay on some Sunday afternoon when the familiar knocking came at the door. He stood, crossed the room, and opened the door with a single swift motion. “Isaac’s not in today.”

He was closing it again when Thea said, “I know.”

“What?” The door swung back open and Seth stared down at her.

She looked up and down the hall. “May I enter?”

“Ok….” He stepped to the side to let her in, not bothering to hide his confusion. “So, what do you want this time? I don’t even know any philosophy, so I can’t help you with your Jew thing.” The warmth was creeping up on him again, and but he squelched it as best he could.

“I would like to visit the Serif building grounds. Isaac works there; we have talked about the plants and landscape. I wish to see them.”

“Ah.” He stared at her. He wanted to hit something very hard, and wasn’t sure it wasn’t her. She returned his gaze, waiting. Eventually he realized she was expecting him to answer her request. “So?”

“As his roommate, you are likely to have access to a map.”

Seth shook his head in exasperation. “Don’t tell me you don’t know how to use the Net. Look.” He led her to his aged computer and opened the university home page. “This… is the campus map, right? Click here, and it’s the whole county. Those yellow squares are off-campus buildings and grounds belonging to the University, like the married-student housing. That red area? That’s the place you’re looking for. Here, sit.”

Thea took the offered chair without looking away from the screen. “Continue.”

“Now, just click here for the road map. See? You follow the highway for like five miles, and then turn onto county road W22. Isaac does it all the time. He comes home late-late sometimes. He’s a moron; with the hills, traffic can sneak up on you. One of these days he’ll be biking home tired and wham! —A truck will take him out. Boom!”

“Is this the main entrance? What if I do not wish to be seen?”

“If you want to sneak in, take W24 up here and follow—there’s a clear-cut area under some power lines right up the northern face; follow it. There’s a fence, but you can climb it or find somewhere where a falling tree took part of it down. There’s barbed wire on top; take a blanket to put over it if you’re crazy enough to go in. Just if you do that, you’d better have a mountain bike and not a racer. And no cars if you want to be sneaky either, unless you’re planning on walking the last mile or two.”

“Thank you. I shall be careful. How do you know this?”

Seth coughed. “The woods behind the Serif grounds are a good place for minors to take a cooler full of beer and some friends where nobody can find you. Safer than trying it on campus or in town. That’s in theory, of course. I just like to hike.”

She thanked him with quiet sincerity and left. He leaned back in his chair, assignment forgotten. “You know, that’s right. It might be nice to just go hang out there for a while. The weather’s been nice, and…. God damn it!” He slammed his fist into the desk, and had to spend the next few minutes nursing his knuckles back to usefulness.


EEeee! There was a scream in the darkness.

(To be concluded)

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