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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/1600083
Rated: 13+ · Serial · Fantasy · #1600083
Who knew talking to granite could prove so informative...?
Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island
Previous chapter: "Part 81: Mosquito Beach



PART EIGHTY-TWO:
Like Talking To A Rock


FRANCOIS POINTED OUT at Lake Superior. "It seems a ride has already been provided," he said.

"Huh?" Charmian asked, and turned to the lake, everyone else following suit. Her eyes widened when something pale came drifting out of the fog, and they only widened even further when she at last made out what it was.

A...stone canoe?

They all stared at the odd shape bobbing closer to the shore. Even as they watched, the small canoe--seemingly carved of white stone, perhaps some sort of granite--gently beached itself upon the terraced shore, the waves lapping around it. After a tense pause, they edged toward it and looked it over. Charmian and Winter Born leaned over to peer inside, seeing nothing; Moon Wolf, Singing Cedars, and Thomas examined the sides, frowning.

Lieutenant Barrington leaned over the bow. "What the..." He rapped against its hull with his knuckles, then drew his hand back, rubbing it as if it hurt. "How does a thing like this even stay afloat--?"

"Some sort of strange medicine," Stick-In-The-Dirt murmured anxiously. He didn't even dare touch the odd canoe.

"Just like it," Winter Born said; when they looked at her, she merely looked at the canoe from stem to stern. "Just like the one the lady in red was riding in."

Charmian earned a look from Moon Wolf. "I dreamt about this canoe," she admitted, feeling her ears burning. "I guess Winter Born did too." She ran her fingers along the edge and felt how smooth it was; every bit of it was carved to look exactly like a birchbark canoe, as if a real canoe had somehow been petrified into solid stone and sent floating their way.

Barrington let out a snort and leaned back. "Something like this is quite obviously a trick, is it not--?" he scoffed.

Charmian bit her lip. Its arrival had been rather convenient. She and Winter Born stood and waited while Moon Wolf stepped into the water and looked it over thoroughly, running his hands along the underside, then inside over the ribbing. Once he had examined every inch of it, he glanced up at them with a frown.

"I sense no trickery to it. It has strong medicine, yes, but no tricks. At least, either none right now, or none that I can sense."

"Well, that's a true comfort," Thomas grumbled.

"Well...he just said his ego's too big for him to let us just sit around figuring out how to reach him," Charmian said. "Maybe this is Mishosha's way of saying come on and let me see how pathetic you are for myself." She rapped at it just as Barrington had done. "I say we take it. Since only the four of us are going, and Mani won't be riding anyway."

"Once more," Thomas started to say, when Stick-In-The-Dirt interrupted him, taking a step forward, wringing his hands.

"You're certain this is best...?" he asked, and Thomas looked at him as if he'd been reading his mind.

"We'll be careful," Charmian said, unable to think of anything else to say. She turned to look at the others and saw how Singing Cedars, Niskigwun, and Manabozho were looking at her. "Cripes already! It's not like we're staying all day!" She waved at Winter Born, who hurried forward and splashed into the water, peering inside the canoe before climbing in; Charmian got in as well, wincing a little as she did so; the thought of trusting in a boat made of rock wasn't a comforting one. She waited for Moon Wolf to push the canoe off from shore...but as soon as he started trying to do so, it was evident that that would be easier said than done. Everyone stood and watched stupidly as he put his shoulder to the canoe and pushed at it as hard as he could, with no success. It didn't even budge an inch, no matter how hard he strained at it. Charmian and Winter Born started to blush a little and lower their heads, feeling rather silly; Mani tilted his own head and cocked an ear. Moon Wolf stood and rubbed at his sore shoulder, scowling. He looked ready to start kicking the canoe and Charmian didn't doubt that he was thinking it.

She stood up and put one foot out into the water. "Maybe we have to wait for him to..."

Manabozho took a step toward the canoe and touched it with one finger. There was a slight pause, then it slipped back into the lake. Charmian gasped and drew herself back in before it could bowl her over, and she and Winter Born looked around themselves curiously. Moon Wolf blinked, then hurried to jump in; it bobbed, but didn't threaten to sink. Charmian glanced at Manabozho but he merely crossed his arms and gave her a foul look.

"It doesn't have medicine in it," he groused. "It has a manitou in it. Maybe, if one of you had bothered to ask, it would've saved you the trouble."

Charmian blinked again. "A manitou canoe? A...canoeitou?" She grimaced. "Gawd I have to stop doing that..."

"So we just talk to it and it'll move?" Winter Born asked, looking it over again.

"Treat it like any other manitou," Manabozho said, turning back to the shore as if dismissing them.

Charmian peered over her shoulder. Moon Wolf sat in the back of the canoe now, a very dark look on his face. She made sure to pretend that she was merely checking out the canoe so he wouldn't see her look, but he coughed to get her attention, and she had to look back at him again. His expression hadn't changed.

"Ask it to carry us to the island," he said.

Charmian's brow furrowed. "Why can't..."

Do you simply wish to humiliate me? he said in her head, stormclouds practically forming over his face. I have a poor reputation with asking manitous for things--and so the canoe will hardly listen to ME!

"Oh," Charmian said, blushing again and turning to face the front. She touched a finger to the canoe as she'd seen Manabozho do. "Um..."

"I think you should call it Asini-Jiimaan!" Winter Born exclaimed.

Charmian pulled her finger away. "Huh?"

Winter Born blushed a little and lowered her head. "Um...Stone Canoe is nice," she murmured meekly.

"Asin...Asini..." Charmian trailed off, feeling rather stupid. "Yeah, how about just Stone Canoe." She put her finger back to the hull. "Um...Stone Canoe? We'd..."

The rock of the highest slopes. From the highest slopes of the island I am carved, a period of time which took many days, days which went on and on and on and on seemingly forever, and chipped and broke many chisels, and stubbed and hurt many fingers--

Everyone's eyes went wide. Charmian's shifted to look down at her finger; the voice rattled on and on in her head, without cease, and it took her a moment to figure out what must be going on. She peered back at the others. They had the same looks, as if somebody were giving the world's longest acceptance speech and no one had the heart to tell them to shut up.

"Um..." she said again.

...Great rocks, piled up high by the glaciers, the great ices which came from the north, and covered the south, and traveled to the north again, forming the great lake basins you now sail upon, the voice went on, basins which filled with water, and flooded the land, and receded--and flooded, and receded--and flooded again--cracking the great rock of the great hills upon the islands--

"Um," Charmian said a third time, feeling her face go warm. She tapped the Canoe with her finger, then rapped it with her knuckles. "Uh..."

...The very same cracks which cut my body from the little mountain, saving great trouble, but much trouble was taken in freeing me from the hill, for I was great and heavy before I was carved, and heavy am I still, for this is merely the way of stone which has been shaped by ice and water and wind and earth, over thousands of moons, back into a past so distant that none alive may imagine it, that--

Charmian's face screwed up. "Canoe! Could you shut up?!"

Dead silence. Her ears rang; she glanced back and saw that everyone on the shore was still watching, their eyes as wide as moons. She tried to suppress her grimace this time and gingerly touched her finger back to the Canoe's side, fully expecting it to shock her or something. Winter Born gave her a tiny sympathetic look but she ignored it.

"Um...hello?" she ventured.

Silence. She started grimacing inside, trying not to squirm; then when the voice came again she gasped and jumped, it startled her so much.

You want me to talk now?

Charmian fought to make herself sit down again, even though she wanted to plunge in the lake. Mani, standing beside the Canoe, gave her the same look as Winter Born, and she wished that she'd made him do the talking. "Uh...sorry," she said in a small voice. "I didn't mean to be rude." She took in a breath and let it out. "It's just that...you kind of talked a lot."

More silence. Then, I rather think you would talk a lot too, if you had lived most of your life stuck up in a mountain waiting for somebody to come carve you out.

Another grimace. "Sorry! I didn't think of it that way. I'm only fifteen years old," Charmian said.

Oh. A pause. I suppose that makes it understandable. One who is merely fifteen can hardly comprehend the thoughts of one who is fifteen thousand.

"Wow!" Winter Born exclaimed, sitting up. "You mean you're fifteen thousand years old?"

More or less, said the Canoe. There was something you interrupted me to ask?

"We need to go to that little island, please," Charmian said, wishing that they'd at least made it out from shore a bit before getting involved in this exchange; Thomas and Manabozho had both crossed their arms by now, and Kenu and Marten were giving them quite odd looks. Augwak was actually tapping his foot against the stone beach as if waiting for a bus to arrive.

Oh, the Stone Canoe said, a bit wearily. BACK to the island...of course. It started moving, jerkily at first, then more smoothly; Winter Born turned to wave at the others as they drifted out into the lake. Charmian couldn't bear to look back, so instead kept her finger pressed to the Canoe and pretended that she was the only one there.

"I take it you don't like the island...?" she said.

So now you wish to engage in conversation, the Stone Canoe said.

Charmian made a face. "I'm just trying to be polite! I didn't mean to snap..."

One who is merely fifteen should still learn how to properly address manitous, even those they cannot ever fully understand, the Canoe replied curtly.

Charmian ground her teeth. "Cripes! Do you have to be such a pissy canoe--?"

The Canoe immediately tilted, and the three of them yelped and grabbed onto its sides to avoid falling out. Mani, swimming in the water beside them, turned to look at them and whistled, but the Canoe didn't right itself. Charmian clawed at the side in a panic, not even able to dig her fingers into it. She swallowed the insults that popped into her throat.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!!" she yelled. "I didn't mean it! I'm just fifteen--practically a baby--okay?!"

The Stone Canoe tilted back upright so that they all fell back into their seats. Moon Wolf had to swipe a stray feather from his face, and he gave her a look even more evil than the earlier one. Charmian sank down into the prow, wishing even more that she could just swim to the island instead. BE COURTEOUS, Moon Wolf growled in her head, and she rubbed at it as if she had a headache. She gripped the gunwale.

To the island? the Canoe asked in a coldly polite tone.

"Um...yes, please," Charmian said meekly. It started moving again, and soon enough they were sailing along as if Francois himself were paddling. Charmian let out a small sigh and tried to relax a bit. "So...you don't like the island?" she ventured again, trying her best to keep her voice respectful, though she felt immensely stupid talking to a boat.

It is not that I hate it, the Stone Canoe said. Merely that I just CAME from there, and it grows wearisome.

"Oh--?" Charmian sat forward, brow furrowing. "You mean you're from Mishosha's island--?"

Of course, the Canoe said in a voice which told her that it thought she was quite ignorant. He is the one who sent me.

Anxiety lit up inside Charmian, despite this being her own earlier theory; she saw Winter Born and Moon Wolf go tense as well. Mani even swam closer, his antlers coming dangerously close to scraping the Canoe's side.

Relax, the Stone Canoe said. He is merely the one who cut me out of the mountain.

Charmian let out a breath. "You mean...you don't serve him, then?" she asked.

On the contrary. I take him to and from his island as he wishes, and I also take those whom he deems fit to come, and take away those whom he deems unfit to stay. He is a wabano. He does not need to ask for my assistance. He merely has me do. This is what wabanos do, after all. A pause, and for some reason Charmian and Winter Born both slowly turned their heads back to look at Moon Wolf. He blinked, then his face went red and he tried digging his fingers into the Canoe's sides, only to find that he couldn't. He drew his arms back and crossed them instead, glaring balefully.

I see you already have one in your company, the Stone Canoe said, so I hardly need explain further. An odd mental sensation that she figured was much akin to a polite cough. You are quite likely the only one in the past twenty or so years who has bothered to ask me for anything.

"But you wouldn't move if I didn't," Charmian said. "You mean you took all those other people across without them asking--?"

I got tired of it, the Stone Canoe replied rather sourly, so she decided not to persist.

"Um...okay," she said, instead. "So you mean other people have come to and from the island?"

Over the years. Never many. And most of them are unfortunate. I recall, to this day, only one who was fortunate--and he was the only other one who bothered to ask. Another pause as the waves swished by. Might I ask what your business is on Mishosha's island?

Charmian sat up straight. "We're trying to make our way to the north!" Winter Born exclaimed, before she could speak; she glared at the girl but Winter Born didn't notice. "To speak with the North Wind!"

The Wintermaker--? The Canoe bobbed a little. You think this is wise?

"We kind of have no choice," Charmian said. "It's a matter of life or death. If we don't do it, there'll be a big flood."

So? the Canoe said. There have always been big floods. When the glaciers last retreated, and the water covered the land, and I--

"Not that sort of flood," Charmian interrupted, wincing when she sensed the Canoe's displeasure. "One caused by a bad manitou. Megissogwun. We--"

The Stone Canoe lurched and they all yelped again, flying forward; Winter Born tumbled into the prow and Charmian let out an oof when Moon Wolf fell atop her. Mani whistled and bobbed his head, having to turn back around, as he'd still been swimming when the Canoe had halted. He pulled up beside them and continued whistling as they attempted to push themselves up and straighten out. Charmian fought a scowl as she brushed her hair out of her eyes.

THIS is the manitou whom you propose to face?! the Stone Canoe yelled in her mind, making her jump. ARE YOU THOROUGHLY MAD?!

Charmian blinked and furrowed her brow. "It's really that bad--?" she blurted out.

The Canoe rocked from side to side. This manitou existed even before I was born! When I was but a pebble merging with another pebble merging with another pebble, and being ground over by ice, and shaped by earth and wind and water, and pushed further south, and-- It cut itself off when Charmian's face started to twitch, and coughed. He was fully a manitou of great power when this land was still young! If you came merely to face Mishosha, perhaps I could comprehend. But a fifteen year old seeking a manitou almost as old as time--beyond understanding!!

"Like I said!" Charmian retorted. "I don't exactly have a choice! You mean even YOU don't know where he comes from?"

NO ONE knows this, the Canoe snapped, before lurching back to life. It sped a little faster now toward the island. I carry you only because I was ordered to do so. After that, you're on your own! Foolish little pebble! Thinking you can take on such a creature!

Charmian grasped the gunwales. "I am NOT a little pebble!!" she snapped.

Mani whistled and bumped against the Canoe, making it rock, and it let out a silent yell of protest. Charmian and the others glanced down at him; he peered up at them and whistled again, then tilted his antlers slightly to the left. Charmian lifted her head and squinted into the fog.

She tensed when she saw dark serpentine shapes twisting in the distance, rising and falling and rising again. Their eyes glowed almost mockingly.

Yes, that's them, the Stone Canoe murmured. Ever since he was granted his medicine, Mishosha has the power to call upon their aid.

"Granted his medicine?" Charmian echoed.

Surely you are aware that Mishosha obtained his powers FROM this very manitou you propose to attack? the Canoe said. Now you see why I worry for a foolish pebble like yourself? You have no clue what sort of beasts you pit yourself against, have you?

"Stop being so pissy," Charmian snapped, but this time she remembered to hang on when the Canoe tilted itself. "Does this Mishosha have anything to do with a Manitou Island?" she asked, and it righted itself again. She sensed puzzlement before it bobbed a little.

Well...of course. It bobbed its prow toward the tiny island which loomed ever closer into view. There it is, right ahead of us.

"No, no!" Charmian said, shaking her head. "I mean Manitou Island!"

Exactly as I said! the Stone Canoe exclaimed in a frustrated tone, bobbing again.

Charmian opened her mouth to yell when Winter Born tugged on her elbow. "I think...maybe he's saying that that island's called 'Manitou Island,' too?" she suggested tentatively, nodding at the island. Charmian's face screwed up, but she glanced down into the Canoe anyway.

"You mean that's what that island is called?" she asked. "That one right ahead of us--Manitou Island?"

Of course it is! the Stone Canoe said with a flustered sigh. What else would it be called?

"But we just came from a place called Manitou Island," Charmian said. "Only it's far to the south. In the straits. Between Michi-Gami and...um..."

"Odawa-Gami," Moon Wolf filled in.

"Um--yeah--Odawa-Gami," Charmian said, confused. She nodded. "Whatever."

Oh. The Canoe expressed puzzlement. I had thought this place was called Michinimakinong, the place of the turtles.

"Well, that's one name of it, but..."

Red Land One, Mani said in a very small whistle, nodding at the serpentine shapes. She glanced to the right and saw them over there as well. They kept their distance, but she didn't like how they followed along.

"Canoe...?" she murmured uneasily.

They will not attack you on the way there, the Stone Canoe assured her. On the way back--perhaps. But not yet.

Charmian sank a little. "Well, that's great news..."

"If this is also known as the Manitou Island then is there any sort of connection between it and the real Manitou Island?" Moon Wolf demanded under his breath. "I find it hard to believe that this is coincidence."

"Well...Manitou Island only got that name because Francois called it that," Charmian said. "And it's like Bouchard said--there must be a hundred Manitou Islands! It doesn't necessarily mean anything."

"If this is so then why is it that a manitou apparently from our Manitou Island now serves someone upon this Manitou Island?" Moon Wolf interjected. "Do you think that much is coincidence?"

"Well..." Charmian trailed off and didn't bother finishing the sentence; it did seem rather strange. "Canoe," she said, and felt it acknowledge her. "Do you know of Mishosha recruiting any outside help other than the Mishupishus?"

The Canoe seemed to shrug. I have never followed his activities closely. As I see it, it's best NOT to get too involved in such things! What a wabano does eventually comes back to him--and when that happens, I plan not to be a part of it! I would not be surprised though, and it bobbed a little, if this is so. He is the most powerful wabano I've heard of, but my experience is limited, and if he seeks help...well, YOU know what they say... It bobbed again. Not that you heard it from ME.

"Of course not," Charmian said, and felt the Canoe seem to relax just a little. She leaned into the prow as it drew up toward the shore. "Canoe," she said again, keeping her voice low, "is there anything you can tell us that might help...?"

This depends on what you plan to do, the Stone Canoe said. My advice would have been not to even bother coming out here in the first place!

"We have to secure a way north," Charmian whispered. "And free this Red Swan."

Red Swan--? The Canoe nearly stopped. You know of her? How? it asked, when she nodded.

She leaned down almost close enough to kiss its bottom. "I had a dream about her and she said she was in trouble here. If you can help me, I'd be grateful."

Well... The Canoe hesitated for a moment or two. I know very little of her, it admitted at last. She sensed it peering nervously at the faraway Lynxes. Only that she seems to have been here longer even than Mishosha himself.

"She has--?" Charmian's brow furrowed; that didn't make sense.

The Canoe mentally shushed her. I think, it said. But who would know? In any event, she is very old, and I sense she has quite a bit of medicine, but something that Mishosha does keeps her prisoner. As for why he does this--I have no idea. I rather think he was put on this island simply to keep an eye on her!

"Really?" Charmian whispered, curious.

The Canoe mentally nodded. Not that you heard it from me. It raised its voice. Here is the landing. Mishosha asked that you be brought to his shore to speak with him personally. You should know, that because you decided to face him directly, he has decided to grant you one audience. Not many demand to speak with him in such a manner, and so he recognizes that one of you at least must be impressive, but keep in mind that once you are upon his island, you follow his rules. It lowered its voice again. He makes me say that. Basically, flatter him, and watch yourself.

Charmian nodded. "Got it."

They fell silent as the Stone Canoe pulled itself up and beached itself on the pebbly sand, then carefully climbed out onto land. They peered upwards; despite its small size, the island's pine forest seemed to go on forever, with several of the dark trees looming over them up into the mist. Winter Born shivered a little as Charmian took in their surroundings, then turned back to the Canoe.

"Thanks for carrying us," she said. "Where will you be going?"

I always stay near in case I am called again, the Stone Canoe said, though far more people come to the island than actually leave it--alive, at least--so unless you are lucky, you will likely have no more need of my services.

"Oh." Charmian dug in her pouch. "Well...I guess it's goodbye, then." She tossed a bit of tobacco inside the Canoe. "Thanks again."

The Stone Canoe tipped a bit. Tobacco?! it exclaimed so loudly that they all jumped, even Mani, who was clambering onto land. The Canoe rocked from side to side. You toss me TOBACCO?!

Charmian blinked. "Well--I thought--"

She gasped and stumbled backwards when the Stone Canoe dragged itself fully ashore; she fell over on her back in the wet sand and gasped, drawing her legs up when it just about ran her over, stopping just short of doing so. MEGWETCH! it bellowed, and then slid back down the shore and out into the lake. Charmian stared after it, blinking in confusion as it promptly turned around and sailed off, somewhat more cheerily than before. Her brow furrowed as she carefully pushed herself up.

"Um...you're...welcome! I think," she said, still perplexed, but deciding not to bother. "Guess he hasn't had tobacco in twenty years, either," she mumbled, dusting the wet sand from herself.

"Are we going to go find Old Man Mishosha now?" Winter Born asked.

"That's rather why we came here," Charmian sighed. She peered into the pine forest. "Too bad I forgot to ask which way to head. I guess the best way is forward."

"This is a small island," Moon Wolf said. "If we don't find him there, we simply need to look elsewhere."

"Yeah, but it's a tricky island," Charmian retorted. "You don't know how long it took me to convince the OTHER Island to let me see all of it! If it even has." She made a face and they started walking into the woods; soon enough the pine trees swallowed them up, and Moon Wolf lifted his hand, lighting the way in pale luminous blue. Winter Born and Mani peered at the trees as they went along. "But I was told he lives in the woods. So I guess that's the best place to start. Now I need to think of what to say to him first." She gnawed her lip.

"He is a wabano and just as that Canoe said, they are full of themselves," Moon Wolf replied. "Whatever you say to him, do not hint that you feel he is weak. I realize this is difficult for you, but if there's any way for you to approach him, it's through flattery."

Charmian glanced back at him. "I keep forgetting you're in a position to know these things," she said; when his look grew dark, she grimaced a little. "I didn't mean it that way..."

He shook his head curtly. "I know exactly the way you meant it in, and it's correct. This is why I wished to come along. If you can't say the right things, then perhaps--"

He cut himself off abruptly and halted, Mani doing likewise. At first Charmian thought that he'd stubbed his toe or something until she saw the way that he blinked and tried stepping forward again, only to halt just as he had before; Mani tossed his head, pacing to the side, then to the other side. The two of them stared at Charmian and Winter Born with confused looks as the other two turned back around to face them.

"Moon Wolf--? Mani--?" Charmian asked, brow furrowing. She stepped toward them. "What is it?"

Moon Wolf held up a hand and appeared to press it against thin air. His own brow furrowed and he did it with his other hand. Mani seemed to try poking at the air with his antler. They did this for a few moments until Charmian rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.

"Ha ha, nice, Marcel Marceau! What, you're trapped in a box--?"

Moon Wolf's perplexed look grew and now he even made a knocking motion. He lowered his head to meet her eyes and opened his mouth to speak--but nothing came out. The smirk slowly vanished from Charmian's face and she took a step closer, Winter Born edging to stand closer to her, their eyes wide.

"Moon Wolf--?" Charmian asked again. She reached out toward him and waved at the air just to his side--nothing happened. Confused, she tried to touch his hand when he offered it--but it was as if she couldn't reach him. She didn't feel a wall, or resistance, or anything--it just seemed impossible somehow to actually do it. She tried this several times, then tried reaching out for Mani with the same results. Even Winter Born tried touching them, without success. She glanced up at Charmian.

"Charmian--?" she asked, her voice growing thin with fear. "What's happening--?"

"I...I don't know," Charmian said, holding her hand up palm flat; Moon Wolf followed suit but they couldn't touch each other. "MOON WOLF?" she yelled, not even sure if he could hear her or not. "WHAT IS IT?"

The medicine man just shook his head, seeming as bewildered as she was. That wasn't a good sign.

Mani bristled and stepped closer, halting at the same distance as Moon Wolf. He tossed his head and his nostrils flared, mouth opening in such a way that she knew he must be whistling, yet she couldn't hear him. Moon Wolf glanced at him, then back at her--then she saw his eyes go wide. He took a step back and lifted his hand, blue flames flaring over his fingers; then he looked at it, then at her, and she tensed up at the aggrieved look on his face.

In response he threw out his other hand and pointed at her. Her stare fixed on his mouth when it moved, and she thought she could make out the word Behind!

The hair on the back of her neck prickled and she whirled around, Winter Born following suit.

The bear that stood right behind them reared up onto its hind legs and let out a terrible bellow.


Continue:

 Part 83: Bearwalking  (13+)
Charmian and Winter Born are led to the lair of the mysterious Mishosha...
#1600088 by Tehuti, Lord Of The Eight



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This item is NOT looking for literary critique. I already understand spelling/grammar, and any style choices I make are my own. Likewise, I am NOT seeking publication, so suggestions on how to make this publishable are not being sought.

This item IS looking for people who are simply interested in reading, especially in long/multipart stories, and who like to comment frequently. My primary intent is to entertain others, so if you read this and find it entertaining, please let me know so and let me know why.

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