Columns > Published on May 25th, 2020

Skipp's Self-Isolating ABC’S of the COVID-19 (Stage One)

Alphabet photo by Magda Ehlers

AUTHOR’S NOTE — If there’s one symptom of the coronavirus that’s spread faster than the virus itself, it’s writer’s block through the writer’s community. You don’t even have to catch the bug itself, cuz it’s already done a number on our heads. And I can’t even tell you how many hundreds of writers I’ve seen on social media, lamenting their inability to pull their thoughts together and make something out of words. You may be one of them.

Aside from the anxiety and terror, a lot of it has to do with the fact that WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO THINK YET. It’s too early. We’re still in it. And will be for some time to come.

I didn’t think I was gonna write any fiction, either. The whole thing was too huge, and I couldn’t begin to plot it. So I wrote music instead, which was a clear creative path that didn’t require me to verbalize anything. I could let my feelings flow, and not sweat the analytics.

But then I remembered the ABC model, which I’ve used several times before when tackling big subjects. Breaking it down into 26 DISCREET SHORT-SHORTS, alphabetized for inspiration, clarity, and convenience. And suddenly, the flume opened. I almost couldn’t write ‘em down fast enough.

So this is my suggestion to you, if you’re feeling blocked. It’s a really fun exercise. A really fun prompt. And a really useful way to process it one bite at a time, instead of attempting to take on far more than we can chew right now. 

HOPE THIS IS HELPFUL! And hope you enjoy these nice stories, all bundled together. May they inspire you to construct your own. And give us all a bigger picture to learn from. As we struggle through this together.

Big love,



Amy waits on the porch, as she often does these days. Just her and her phone, a bottle of whiskey she’s been hitting since 10:00 ayem, her pack of American Spirit Blues, and a folding chair beside her folding table, where her ashtray sits in a state of perpetual overflow. 

Somehow, the day has stretched till 2:00. Sun high in the sky, but not half as high as she is. She sings along to Lana Del Rey's “Born to Die”, not caring how badly. There’s no one on the street to hear her. The streets are empty in this neck of the woods, on the outskirts of suburbia. Barely a car in an hour or more.

Oh, Andy, she thinks. Please tell me you’re comin’ soon.

Ordinarily -- for the last five years -- she’d be waiting tables at the Delta Bar and Grill. Serving Shrimp and Grits Benedict and a Bloody Mary to some lucky fellow, sober as a judge herself. Now she lives in terror that she’ll never see the Delta again without a “Closed” sign out front. 

Not that she’ll be seeing that any time soon. She’s too scared to take public transportation. Too scared to walk more than the ten looooong blocks to the nearest liquor store and 7-11. Too scared to do much of anything but drink, and wait for Andy’s beat-up Toyota to arrive.

And then, lo and behold, it appears in the distance. Two blocks away and closing. She lets out a cheer, takes a celebratory swig, starts to stumble to her feet, decides against it. She is made of numb, but she’s not dumb. 

So she waits until he actually pulls up out front before getting up. Waving hi. Pulling up her mask. 

And then tumbling, face-first, down the two steps from her porch to the unforgiving sidewalk below. 

“OH, JESUS, LADY!” he hollers, muffled through his own face mask, slamming his car door shut as he races toward her, then stops twelve feet away. He wants to help her. Is not sure how. Maintaining distance is his only defense.

She lets out a scream that turns into laughter before descending into tears that mix with the blood flowing down her forehead. Not just drops. A cascade. 

“OOPS!” Amy says, laughing again, pulling herself half-up and waving him away. “I’m fine! I’m fine! Thank you!”

What she wants is for him to pick her up from the pavement. What she wants is for him to wipe the blood from her face, peel his mask back, and kiss her. What she wants is to take him inside and fuck him senseless. Not feel so alone any more. Thank him for risking his life for her, every time he makes this trek. Brings her groceries. Saves her life. Is her hero. 

But that’s not how it is, so that’s not gonna happen. As she struggles to her feet, embarrassed. And he, equally embarrassed, just unloads her boxes of food that will keep her alive for the next week at least. And hopes her relief check comes in. So she can send for him again.

Maybe someday, she will get her wish.

Cuz, frankly, Andy would like that, too.



“Okay,” Bea says. “So let me get this straight. It’s 5G cell phone signals. It’s Chinese biological warfare, waged on America. It’s American biological warfare, waged on the Chinese. Bill Gates did it. Or the Democrats did it. Or Satan did it. Or it isn’t even really happening at all.”

Always with the mouth,” her father snaps from a thousand miles away. “Always the one with all the answers.”

“I’m not saying I know the answers,” she says. “I’m saying I don’t. And you don’t, either.”

I just know what I’m told.”

“Yeah, by Fox News!” She can hear it blaring in the background, as they speak.

It’s better than the lies from CNN!”

“Dad, I don’t like CNN much more than you do.”

Or what do they call it? MSDNC.”

“Oh, that’s a hoot. Okay, I like Rachel Maddow.”

Of course you do. She's a lesbian, too.”

“Well, there's that. But, you know, she does actual research. She doesn’t just spout off the top of her head. Regardless. I agree she was in Hillary’s pocket. I’m still working on forgiving her for that.”

A moment of silence, from the other end of the phone. She lets him savor that victory, is glad this isn’t a video call.

“The point is, something is going on. And it’s killing people all over the world. Not just in America. It’s a global pandemic. The key word is global.”

“Well, where did it come from then?” he demands. “It wasn’t here last year! It didn’t just sprout out of thin air!”

“Well, here’s an idea,” she says, as a light goes off behind her eyes. “I didn’t hear it on corporate media. I’m just making it up as I go along. So the polar ice caps are melting.”

Aw, Christ Almighty.”

“No, seriously. They are. You don’t have to believe in global warming. Maybe Jesus just does it with his loving hands.”


“Hang on. Point is, we can both agree that Antarctica and the Arctic Circle are the coldest places on Earth, right?”


“They’ve been frozen since the dawn of time. At least since the dinosaurs. You still love dinosaurs, right?”

His voice softens. “I taught you to love dinosaurs.”

“Yes, you did.” Smiling. She really does love her dad. “So let’s talk about the ice that’s been sitting up there for the last million years or whatever. Okay? If it’s starting to melt -- for whatever reason -- that means that things that have been buried there for a million years might be coming to the surface. Asleep all this time.”

Huh.” He pauses again. She can almost see him thinking. The Alzheimer’s is wearing him down, but she remembers the inquisitive mind that raised her, 46 years ago.

“For all we know, the diseases that killed off every species before us are just waking up now. They’re not new. They’re incredibly old. Even older than you, Dad!”

He laughs. “My little smarty-pants.”

“So what if the Coronavirus was just waiting for us, all this time? Not from a lab. Not from anyone’s government conspiracy. And if it’s the Devil? You always said that the Devil was patient.”

But these are the End Times.” With evangelical gravity.

“Maybe they are, and maybe they aren’t. But these are these times. So we do what we can. You wear a mask when you go out, right?”

Mom does. I don’t go out at all. My knees.”

“I know.” Like the arthritis wasn’t enough. “But she’s alright, right? Is she home?”

She’s napping. She sleeps like a rock. She’s a rock.”

“I know.”

You know she loves you, right, baby?”

“Always has, always will. I know the drill.” Wiping away a tear.

And I love you, too.”

“I love you sooooo much.” 

Her dad never used to cry out loud, even the slightest bit. That was her job. But there’s something beautiful in hearing him yank back a sob, much as it saddens her. His heart opening in these private moments, even as his mind shuts down.

Okay, then,” he says, reigning it back in.

“I’ll call back on Wednesday, okay?”

God willing.”

“God better.”

They both laugh. 

And, with that, say good night.



Here’s a joke: three goons walk into a Safeway. Strapping 20-somethings from the jocular white jock end of the gene pool. No masks. No nothing. Not a care in the world.

To be fair, only 87% of the people in the supermarket are wearing them. And most of the ones that aren’t maybe just don’t have one, and aren’t sure how to make one. Or they did, but the straps broke. Or they’re socially isolating so much that they think they can get away with a quick ten minutes, shopping scrupulously, and then getting the hell out.

Carl knows the drill. He resisted wearing a mask for the first six weeks, mostly because he started smoking at the age of eight, and he’s 68 now, and it was fucking hard to breathe through the fabric. Still is. But he finally broke down, sawed a t-shirt in half, and turned it into a bandanna he could pull up only when he spoke with somebody, and leave off in the mostly-empty aisles between. It makes him feel like a bandito, which is kind of fun. So he’s rolling with that.

Carl’s at the Chinese food counter by the deli, where they’re still serving up fresh batches of General Tsao’s Chicken and Mandarin Beef with noodles and/or fried rice. It’s nice to have a hot meal cooked by someone else sometimes, when you’re all alone. Order two, and you could eat for three days. 

He’s standing six feet back from the counter, staring through the glass at what he wants. Waiting for the nice lady to get done taking a deli order from a large black woman with smiling eyes and her tiny daughter, wearing matching tiger-stripe masks.

The three goons saunter up to the deli counter, and instantly surround the woman and child. One moves straight up to the glass, immediately starts poking his fingers at various items. Smearing his fingerprints as he goes along. He has curly red hair. Carl dubs his Curly.

“Hey!” he says, yelling over his shoulder.. “You want Pepper Jack or White American?” 

“I want allllll that dark meat,” says the big-nosed one he dubs Larry. He is rubbing his hands lovingly across the glass, like he’s trying to give it a massage.

And that leaves Moe, the tallest of the three. Standing barely a foot behind the woman and her kid. Very deliberately doing so, to the point that she takes a long stride forward, dragging her child along tersely. Closer than she wants to the others now triangulating her. 

Then Moe coughs. Extravagantly. Sprayingly. Directly into the back of the woman’s head. Not even lifting an elbow to stop it.

“I GOT THE COVID!” he bellows, as she recoils in horror. And the trio erupts with laughter.

“Oh, you sons of bitches,” Carl mutters, backing up from the counter, pulling up his bandanna, even though he’s thirty feet away. Particulates travel. That’s the whole fucking point. 

He will not be ordering from here today. And is gladder than usual he didn’t start shopping first, so he has no basket to selfishly abandon.

He heads straight down the nearest aisle, full of frozen entrees he might have grabbed. Walks fast, determined, rounds the end of the aisle, walks down two more, and then heads back up front, where he sees the crying woman and child fleeing. Hears the guffaws still ringing, as the shit-talk rings.

Most of the people in this store have no idea what just happened. A Vietnamese couple going out the exit look nervously up, then down at their feet. Carl moves toward them, keeping a safe distance from everyone.

He parked at the far left of the parking lot, by the gas station, five or six spots down. The homeless by the dumpster are paying him no mind. He opens the back of the pickup truck, heads straight for his tools, the screwdriver he needs. 

Removes his license plate. Tosses it in the back. Screws in a new one quick. Out-of-state, but up to date. 

By the time he’s done, the mother has almost strapped her kid into the passenger seat, both of them sobbing. “I’M SORRY YOU CAN’T SIT ON MY LAP! But soon as we get home, oh, baby…!”

Carl steps into the front seat, slams the door, revs the engine. Doesn’t need to make that much noise, but can’t help himself. It fucking revs him up to do it.

Carl is a war vet. A lifelong Republican. Hopes he gets his party back someday. Hopes he gets his life back. 

But he knows an enemy combatant when he sees one.

He pulls into reverse, idles to the side, pointed backwards, watches the exit. Is delighted to see the three hollering goons escorted out by Safeway security staff, in his rearview mirror. It pains him to see how scared the staffers are. And how completely unrepentant are these stooges, as they strut triumphant. Directly toward him.

The second the staffers are back inside, and it’s just those assholes, Carl stomps on the gas. 

The look on their faces is priceless.

The funniest thing they ever did.

Carl takes side-streets for the whole five minutes it takes for him to get back to his garage. There’s a tense moment, when a cop car comes the other way. But they just keep driving, and so does he. They got other shit to do.

It isn’t hard to fix the fender, hose the blood off the bumper, tires, and undercarriage. Mostly tires and undercarriage, cuz he speed-bumped those motherfuckers thrice before tearing ass off into the street.

He will never forget that mother’s smile.

And hopes to god the EMTs have the PPE they need for this particularly messy cleanup on aisle three.



In times of plague, you don’t always have time to test the already-deceased. You just assume they have it. Even if they got run over by a pickup truck three times.

During ordinary flu season, a lot of people die from the flu. But just because they had the flu doesn’t mean that’s what they died from. That heart attack, that brain embolism, had been building up for years. The timing’s just coincidence.

Point being that we’ll never know how many people this shit takes out. People die every day.

But if you don’t think people are really dying from this, ask the people who are watching it happen every day, as they try to save them.

The next life they save might be your own.



Eric is rich as sin. But that could change at any second, his broker explains, as they watch the stocks tumble together. 

In the 1920’s, when the market collapsed, it was not uncommon for the nouveau-riche to go from “Top of the world, Ma!” to the bottom of the skyscraper where they just jumped out the window with a splat. There are few fortunes that can’t turn on a dime. And Eric’s is turning fast.

It’s hard to be hated by 99.9% of the world. Especially when you depend on them to keep hitting your casinos.

Eric’s also concerned that the poor might eat him. Plow through the gates of his gated estate. Overwhelm security, no matter how well-armed. Bust down his door. And tear him limb from fucking limb, toss his carcass on the backyard barbeque, while alternately ransacking the place, murdering his family, and doing cannonballs off the diving board of his super-sweet Vegas swimming pool.

It’s hard to be hated by 99.9% of the world. Especially when you depend on them to keep hitting your casinos. A sucker is born every minute, yes. But when they all go broke, or start dying at once...

...and when yours are the vectors for a massive reinfection that spreads across all fifty states, and every country in the civilized world, that whole world now cursing your name...

They say the house always win. But now the house is crumbling. He took a gamble on reopening. And nobody won.

“You might want to consider shutting down for good,” his broker says, “and putting what's left offshore. Cuz you are running out of choices fast.”

And that's when the gates break down.

And the hungry hordes pour in.



Freddy was fine, until three days ago, when the symptoms crept up and caught him. Now he's on a gurney in a hallway without end. Gurney after gurney. Lined up. And amen.

And he finds himself going, how the fuck did this happen? I WAS SO CAREFUL. What was my mistake? Pouring over every second of the last two weeks. Every surface touched. Every item of food purchased, wiped down before it even hit the kitchen counter or fridge. Every piece of mail, or bill of currency exchanged.

Freddy's OCD had kicked in well before the Covid hit. He'd been washing his hands forty times a day since he was a teen. He felt naturally predispositioned for the clampdown. Had spent his whole life training.

On the one hand, it just seems so unfair. On the other, he must have done something. Some chink in the armor that somehow slipped through. Replaying it over and over, as he coughs into his mask. A chorus of coughs, all up and down the corridor. In a hospital with no end. And no available ventilators.

He brings one hand up to wipe his itching eye. Catches himself, too late.

And remembers.



Gigi misses kissing strangers. Gary misses baseball games. Georgia misses college classes, not to mention parties. Gertude misses her great-grandchildren.

Gioseppo misses naked artist models. Gina misses posing for him. Greg misses telling people what to do, and lording it over. George misses telling Greg to eat shit.

Gretta gave up on the world a long time ago, wishes the rivers clean. Gogo is giving up professional wrestling for now, but cannot wait to grapple again.

Grace is giving up everything but grace itself.

God is watching.

Gerry ain't giving up nothing. That's just how he rolls.



The only thing that makes sense right now.



The only thing that doesn't.



Love and desire got to go somewhere. When there's no one to touch, you touch yourself.

News out of China says coronavirus might linger in the sperm, even if you survive it. No word as yet as to whether it's sexually contagious. One guesses lady-juices might behave (or misbehave) the same way. Every horny human of every persuasion wants the answer to that.

J is also for “Jesus, I hope I get to ever fuck again.”



Kevin awakens at 8:00 ayem to the sound of treacly saxophone, on a bed of wilted muzak, wafting up from the back porch below. He groans. Dear God, not this again. 

Fifteen minutes later, he drags himself downstairs, having heard it exactly fifteen more times. Their home is a bureaucratic waiting room from Hell now. If Satre’s No Exit had a soundtrack, it would certainly be this.

He doesn’t blame the State Unemployment Bureau for the waiting time. With 36-plus million newly unemployed, he knows those poor bastards on the other end of the line are overburdened beyond imagining. Doing God’s work, government-style. God knows he and Krista need those checks. 

But after eight hours in limbo yesterday, he holds Satan personally responsible for the muzak. It’s a brutalizing onslaught of sonic tedium, ostensibly designed to soothe, with a secret agenda of rendering one helpless in the process of completely obliterating the human soul.

Krista is a concert violinist, her symphony orchestra in limbo, her junior high school teaching gig on hold as indefinitely as she. So it’s a trillion times worse for her, he knows. He’s just a gym coach who happens to hate shitty music. Love’s funny like that.

He makes her an omelet and a fresh cup of coffee before venturing out to the porch. Sees her staring into the middle distance, phone in hand. Like holding it will make it end faster.

“How you doin’, my baby?” he asks. 

“I haven’t felt this suicidal since I was thirteen,” she says. “But thank you. I love you.”

The bad news is, they have to listen to that muzak 80,000 more times.

The good news is, the checks eventually arrive.



How many times can you spray your car with disinfectant before it will never stop smelling like disinfectant again? Lynn’s pretty sure she’s about to find out. Praying every time that it works, as she wipes down the seats and door handles, the steering wheel, then sprays the trunk. And leaves the windows perpetually open. At least a crack, even in the pouring rain.

But people still need rides. And she still needs money. Hardly ever to the airport any more, which is great. She will not pick up from there. But just locally getting from here to there has become a thing, as public transport turns into a petri dish, even more so than ever before.

Case in point: she pulls into the mostly-dead strip mall, one Rite-Aid, Petco, and Grocery Outlet away from the apocalypse. Gym dead. Pizza joint dead. Coffee shop dead. Thai restaurant dead. Hair and nail joint dead. Nobody’s getting Lotto tickets from Lulu right now.

But the lady waving from the curb as she pulls up is sketchy as hell. No mask, for starters. Yelling into her phone, as strike two. Junkie skinny for thirds. 

“Nope,” Lynn says, moving on. “Like I’m dyin’ for you, bitch.”

The next one is just fine, and tips her two dollars on a four-dollar run, gives her a great review. “Thank you for making me feel safe,” the lady says. “You don’t know how much that means.”

Lynn thanks her back, watches her go. Gets out. Wipes the door, the handles, the seat. Sprays like her life depends on it.

And hopes she still has this job tomorrow.



“It’s been three months,” Monica says. Marcus sighs, says he knows. Says he’s aching for her. Knows he means it. She is aching for him, too.

It’s not like he’s a thousand miles away. It’s exactly one hundred and forty-seven blocks, as the crow flies carless. 

If there was one thing they ever swore to each other -- in the ups and downs of their complicated, non-monogamous polysexual relationship -- it was that they would keep each other safe. Would not endanger each other. Biologically, at least. (Both have pre-existing conditions that coronavirus could steer directly to death.) Would not feed each other disease. Careful. Careful. Always careful and wild.

But when polygamy whittles down to monogamy, then non-agamy at all, the choices refine in startlingly clarifying ways. 

“I miss them all,” she says.

“Me, too.”

“But you’re the one,” she says. 

And so they wait.



Ned doesn’t know how many times he has to beat Nellie, just to get her to shut up. Has already hidden every sharp or blunt object he can find. 

But it’s getting harder and harder to fall asleep, even with her down on the couch and the bedroom door locked. 



They’re the things we fall back on when we don’t know what the fuck we’re talking about. Which is to say, we fall back on them all the time.

I’d like to suggest that we’re emotional creatures first, and intellectual creatures maybe third or fifth.

I’d like to suggest that we’re emotional creatures first, and intellectual creatures maybe third or fifth. Which is to say that we feel things, then attempt to put words to them. Or better yet, let other people put words to them. If we like the words, that becomes our new expressed opinion.

It’s astounding how much time we spend, just squirting other people’s opinions at each other, then responding emotionally to any disagreement as if it were not just a personal but a physical attack. Then personally attacking that person in kind, and escalating that shit out of all proportion to the actual regurgitated ideas that were never even ours to begin with.

In the last years of her life, my mom and I made a deal. We could discuss any and everything under the sun, so long as we did not invoke political pundits. We restricted the conversations of controversial topics to how we actually felt, in person-to-person encounters from our lives, instead of dragging in opinionators. And honest to God, we never argued again. We disagreed sometimes. But we agreed more often than not, on purely human terms.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

So basically, fuck opinions. Yes, we’re all entitled to them, like the half-baked and equally hallucinatory egos they rode in on. Both are phantoms, hijacking truth. When the truth is the only thing that actually matters.

But, of course, that’s just my opinion.



Pablo wins the poker game again. If anybody had real money, he’d be king of the underpass. 

Instead, he’s just another homeless guy sitting around a packing crate with four other homeless people, their tents or whatever they have behind them. There’s a roaring trash barrel fire. It’s 4:30 in the morning. A dozen others are trying to sleep.

“But here’s the thing,” Pablo says, grinning, as Peter scoops up the cards. “Yeah, we’re all in the shit right now. But the deck just got shuffled by the Covid, okay? Those jobs we lost? They’re gonna come back. It just won’t be the same people. Maybe next time, we’re the ones with the better jobs!”

“What if they don’t open back at all?” This from Paula, whose life is a frown.

“The restaurants might not be the same restaurants. But people still gotta eat, right? So somebody else reopens under a different name. It’s still the same cards in play. You know? THE WHOLE DECK JUST GOT SHUFFLED. The whole world just got shuffled. And nobody knows how it’s gonna land yet. But it’s the same fucking world. And I am going to play it. So you gonna deal those fucking cards now or what?”

Peter shuffles and deals a round of Five Card Stud, with a baleful eye that reminds Pablo that this guy hates him right now more than death. Pablo’s optimism a personal affront. 

Somewhere around dawn, Peter will attempt to slit his throat while he sleeps, and Pablo will beat him within an inch of his life, kicking his ass all the way down to the riverbed and into the water, yelling, “Hope you know how to swim, motherfucker!”

But for now, he nods at his pair of aces.

And looks forward to the rest of the new hand he’s dealt.



These four walls

Are the jowls of Satan

Closing in

As I howl and spin



When your only connection to the outside world is an internet modem that shuts down every fifteen minutes -- unplugging, replugging, ad infinitum -- it helps to remember that you’re lucky as fuck to have one in the first place.

They’re shipping a new one, Renee! It should be here on Monday.

First world problems, indeed.



Two of Sadie’s mom’s best friends passed away on Sunday. One after another, like bowling pins. Different nursing homes. Same result. 

Both so kind, when her own mother passed three weeks ago. A whole older generation, succeeding in ever-more-rapid waves of pandemic spread.

Sadie is running out of senior citizens to fear for, or love in real time. The sorrow is huge.

She looks to her children, and says, “I swear to God, we will survive.”



We tend to forget this is all one world. Wherever you are, it’s not just happening there. It’s happening everywhere.

I don’t know how many Eskimos are currently dying from the coronavirus. But one is one too many. Meanwhile, refugee camps all over the globe are helpless breeding grounds for the disease. Every city a potential hot spot. And every small town only needs one careless or unwitting fuckup to spread to the next one. The next one. Then you.

If it’s happening anywhere, it’s happening everywhere, sooner or later. 




Under the circumstances, this shouldn't even be a fucking question any more.



Vivian is crazy-hot. And Victor ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at, himself. That’s what the masks are for. 

But as they pass on the street, eyes the only visible parts of their faces, they instantly know they were meant to meet as meat. Then breed. With future offspring to feed.

There are gonna be a ton of new babies, is all I’m sayin’.



Wendy prays on her knees for an answer, alone. Wendell assures his parishioners that if they gather together, as they are now, Jesus will surely protect them. Wally just wants his Wall St. job back. Wanda prays for revenge.

Somewhere in Wherever-The-Fuck, the mind of God is processing it all. 

Its answer is, “Cuz that’s just how it is.”



If there’s one thing that could totally survive this, it’s the alien from Alien.




Because it is.



Because that is where we live.

About the author

John Skipp is a New York Times bestselling author/editor/filmmaker, zombie godfather, compulsive collaborator, musical pornographer, black-humored optimist and all-around Renaissance mutant.

His early novels from the 1980s and 90s pioneered the graphic, subversive, high-energy form known as splatterpunk. His anthology Book of the Dead was the beginning of modern post-Romero zombie literature. His work ranges from hardcore horror to whacked-out Bizarro to scathing social satire, all brought together with his trademark cinematic pace and intimate, unflinching, unmistakable voice.

From young agitator to hilarious elder statesman, Skipp remains one of genre fiction's most colorful characters.

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