Update

I was so determined to post something everyday on my blog.  I did not take into consideration that the flu season is still in it’s last gasps and somehow, it gasped on me.  This makes only the third time in 60 years that I had the flu and it was just as rotten as the first two.  Feeling better.  My sympathies to anyone that was bitten by the flu bug (nasty, little bugger) this season.

An interesting update on my last post – Mercury Retrograde. One of the aspects of a Mercury retrograde is the high possibility that someone from your past might get in touch.  A classmate from high school, whom I had not seen for many years emailed , out of the blue, to purchase a copy of “Turnipseed’s Bookstore”.  I’m not saying that the retrograde action of Mercury had everything to do with her request but she emailed when she emailed.  Two other friends that I had not seen for a while called and the entire MR experience was delightful.  So . . . Mercury retrograde, as annoying as it can be, certainly has it’s nice surprises.  Still, I am looking forward to April 23rd.

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Mercury Retrograde (Astrology is So Cool)

We are experiencing an astrological action known as a Mercury Retrograde.  The following article is a little simplistic but give one a good idea of what it is and what happens during a retrograde.  Warning . . . there are going to be things in the article that sound really familiar . . .

 

 

Mercury Retrograde

The time has come to tell you all about the dreaded Mercury Retrograde.  I think the best way to define this astrological action is to tell you a little story.  Shortly after I got my drivers’ license I was driving along a street that ran parallel to a train track.  A train was coming up behind me heading in the same direction.  As the train matched my car’s speed I suddenly, and only for two heartbeats, felt like I was going backwards and my brain went into total confusion.  As quickly as the train’s speed changed, the sensation subsided and everything was fine.  This is the basic action that is taking place when the planet Mercury goes retrograde.  The orbit speed of the Earth and Mercury are exactly the same for a short while, giving the impression that Mercury is turning backwards.  When you add the fact that Mercury is the planet of communication into the equation you began to get an idea of where this is all going.

 

Three to four times a year we will have a Mercury Retrograde.  This action last approximately three to four weeks.  Try to imagine the word “Communication” in the broadest sense possible and you will begin to grasp the concept.  A very wise and talented astrologer told me many years ago that people who are terminally ill will choose to cross over during a Mercury Retrograde.  My Mother and Father crossed on the first day of a Mercury Retrograde, thirty-three years apart.  I don’t know of any specific cause for this, but I have tracked it for many years and am always dumbfounded when it appears to be true.

 

Of course, there is communication between people which, at this time, can go to hell in a hand basket.  You will find that your mouth and your brain are not connected.  Watch the news anchors during a Mercury Retrograde.  These normally articulate people are suddenly tongue-twisted and appear at times to babble like idiots.  Arguments between trusted friends, relatives and sometimes complete strangers will blossom like spring flowers and turn into major thunderstorms in a matter of seconds.  If possible, don’t sign any legal papers or make binding agreements.  You may have a court case scheduled.  Stall if possible, because chances are you will have to redo, rewrite or reschedule.

Always back up your computer files because if you don’t you will regret it when your computer crashes like a meteor. Don’t buy anything that has any type of electrical or electronic component if you can possibly put it off until Mercury goes direct.  Chances are you will wish you had waited a little longer.  Your auto, which has never given you a moments trouble, will break belts, overheat, do anything to cost you time and money.

 

Know that going to Wal-Mart can easily turn into an obstacle course of gigantic proportions.  It will start in the parking lot where people on cell phones will try to engage you in a rousing game of “Chicken” for the same parking space.  You will know it in the store when people (you included) will be standing in an aisle staring, dazed and confused, at the place where your favorite cheap paper towels usually are but are no longer.  You will know it in the store when sweet little old ladies suddenly seem to have flashbacks to the most warrior-like past life they have ever had and try to mow you down with their spiffy little electric carts.  You will know it when the cashier can’t get the register to take your check, credit or debit card without a major hassle.

 

All right!  Now that I have you all terrified of Mercury Retrograde, let me point out a few more things.  Life goes on.  Knowing about the retrograde and the possibility of the snafus that can happen immediately make it easier to deal with in all aspects.  Forewarned is forearmed I always say.  You may not be able to avoid signing important papers or buying a new computer.  If you can’t wait then you can’t wait.  Understand that there may be more glitches than average but nothing that can’t be resolved, eventually.

 

Another possibility is that some one you haven’t heard from in years and years may get in touch with you or you may feel compelled to contact someone from your past.  Many times things that are in your past that you thought would never work out come to fruitition, culmination or conclusion.  I have only a few minutes ago got off the phone with my brother.  He was the victim of a stroke many months ago.  His recovery has been excellent in some aspects but a little slower in others.  He filed for disability several months ago but had heard nothing and was mentally and emotionally gearing up for a court fight.  He called to tell me that he had just checked his bank balance and almost fainted.  His balance was several thousand dollars more than he was expecting.  After some thought (it’s Sunday- no actual humans to contact) he realized that, without written notice, he was approved for his disability and a large chunk of cash was deposited in his account from the Social Security Administration. So.  It’s not all bad, this Mercury Retrograde.  A few tips:  Breathe deeply on a regular basis, develop your sense of humor to the max and repeat after me “This too shall pass, this too shall pass……”

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Christmas Moon

This is a story that kicked around in my head for a while before I got it written.  There really was a Jasper and he certainly was different.  It’s a little eerie but I think it’s an interesting point of view.  I call it . . .

 

Christmas Moon

Louisa could not sleep. She was fairly certain she was just overtired. The house was clean but it had taken two and a half days.  It still wasn’t up to her usual standard, but it would have to do.  The baking for the family get- together on Christmas Eve was just about finished, too.  She had sat down with Jasper before he went out for the night and talked over everything that was on her mind, including the recent break-ins. She told him about her theory that the sagging economy had a lot to do with the thefts, it being Christmas and all, and how very sorry she was for the victims.  For a big old cat, Jasper was a very good listener.   She chuckled as she added a little milk and honey to her decaf chai tea.  Jasper had patted her hand with his paw and smiled.  Then he meowed politely.  Could he please go out the window? He just didn’t care for doors.

She grinned to herself again and shook her head.  Every pet that she had ever owned or been owned by was distinctly unusual, but this cat topped the list. She lowered herself onto the dining table chair and stirred her chai.  She loved to sit there and stare out the big double window whether it was daytime or night but cold, winter nights with a full moon were her favorite.  The frigid light gave the grass, the trees, everything a silvery sheen.  The light was strong enough to see just about anything in the yard.

She caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and smiled again.  It was Jasper, and he was on the move.  He didn’t appear to be in a hurry or have anyplace in particular to go, just checking things out. He strolled behind the little cedar she had planted at the edge of the yard.  A few more years and it would be a pretty little tree but right now its limbs grew very close to the ground, more like a rounded shrub, but still an interesting   addition to the landscape.

She stopped in mid sip and blinked her eyes.   Leaning forward she stared hard at the thing that was coming out from behind the cedar.  It looked like Jasper, but the moonlight had to be playing tricks.  He seemed three times larger and walked on his hind legs for a second, then dropped back on all four legs.  He quickly disappeared in the shadows.

“Wow,” she said aloud.  “Come on Louisa, you’re just exhausted.  You did not see what you thought you saw.”

The cup of chai was just about gone, so she finished it up and set the cup in the sink.  That little chore could wait till morning.  The warm bed was calling her name, but right before she climbed in, she stopped.  The reports of break-ins in the area over the last few weeks concerned her, but not too much.  It was obvious there weren’t a lot of valuable things in her little home.  Louisa had collected more junk than anything that had monetary worth.  The last report, however, put the break-ins a little less than a mile away.

She had lived there for the last thirty seven years and had seen the surrounding area change from rural to not quite so rural.  Older residents had given land to children or sold lots of  five acres here and there but the atmosphere of old southern farmland still felt the same.

She turned away from the bedroom and went to double check the locks on the doors and windows.   Everything was as secure as she could make it.  She sat down on the side of the bed and checked the shotgun. It was properly cleaned and loaded and leaned against the headboard in easy reach.  She nodded her head, slid under the quilt, and was soon in a deep sleep.

At some point during the night, Louisa abruptly came awake.  Listening for a moment, she heard nothing out of the ordinary. She stared into the darkness as she strained to hear what might have jerked her to consciousness.

The comforting sound of Daddy’s old mantel clock ticking away lulled her back toward sleep.  A memory of someone and or something screaming drifted through her mind, but it was too late.  She slept.

 

The phone ringing at the same time the mantel clock started striking 7:00 the next morning, snatched Louisa from her dreams.  She rolled over and stared at the phone.  She was still groggy.  She couldn’t remember her dreams but knew she was relieved to be awake.

“Hello?”

“Louisa, are you all right?” The person on the other end of the line sounded agitated, so Louisa didn’t catch the voice immediately.

“What?”

“Are you all right?  I’ve tried to call twice, and I couldn’t get you to answer.  I was worried.  You never sleep this late.”  The worried edge in the voice was confusing.

“Ah, who is this?”

“What in the hell’s the matter with you Louisa? It’s Maggie.”

“Oh, Sweetie, I’m sorry.  I was so tired last night, I couldn’t sleep, but when I crashed, I crashed big time.”  She sat up on the side of the bed.

“What’s going on?  You sound scared to death.  Maggie, those freaks didn’t break in on you, did they?”

“No, no.  They robbed, or they tried to rob the Blaylocks.”

“I’m not real surprised.”

“Me neither.  That fancy new house,and they’ve been bringing in tons of gifts and things. Marie’s been keeping the whole area updated on how much they’ve spent on Christmas, not to mention they told anybody who would listen that they would be out of town at a spa until this afternoon.”

Maggie had a bit of an envy problem with Marie Blaylock.  Louisa tried to get back on topic.  “What exactly happened?  Did anybody get hurt?”

“Not unless you count the thieves.”

“What do you mean?”  Louisa had made it to the kitchen and was trying to hold the phone to her ear with her shoulder while she put on a pot of coffee.

“Apparently someone or something attacked all three of them and pretty much ripped them to shreds,” breathed Maggie at her most dramatic.         “Two of them bled all over the front yard, and there was a third one found on the porch.  That’s about all I know right now.”

“Lord.  Listen, I’ll be out in the studio.  Give me a call if you find out anything more.  I’ve finished my Christmas cleaning and baking, and I need to get started on some more paintings.  I’ve got a show in February.”

“Oh, I will.  I’m still trying to figure out how the deputies found out about it.  The sun’s just now coming up, so I’m really curious.”

“Yeah. Talk to you later.”

Louisa walked into her kitchen, opened the dishwasher, and started to put her cup from the night before on the top rack.  She stopped and stood still, holding the used cup in her hand.  Two thoughts entered her mind at almost the same instant.  She clearly remembered hearing a scream sometime during the night, and Jasper could have been headed toward the Blaylock’s last night.  Marie was in the habit of throwing leftovers over their back fence and Jasper loved “people food”,especially broccoli, almost as much as he loved canned tuna. It was a regular stop on his wanderings.

Louisa tore through the house, checking all the windows.  The only way that the cat would enter the house was through a window, and Jasper would wait patiently until Louisa noticed that he was sprawled on the outside sill.  There was no cat waiting to be let in the house.  She walked out on the back deck and called, but there was no Jasper in sight.  She nibbled at her bottom lip.  There was no reason to worry right now.  Jasper was the epitome of a tom cat, and he stayed away from home for days at a time.  Just a few months ago he had been gone for over a week and had come home looking like he had been fighting a pissed off tiger. But he was a fast healer so he was fine in a week or so.

Jasper was a strange cat from the beginning.  He was the only kitten in the litter, and he was huge.  The first time Louisa had seen him clearly was when he was about two weeks old.  He came stumbling out of the bedroom closet, stopped at her feet, looked up and yowled.  She was shocked.  He was the size of a six- week- old kitten, his eyes were opened wide, and she was positive he had come looking for her to tell her to fix him something to eat.  She rustled him up some bread soaked in warm milk and set the bowl before him. Fluffy, his mother, danced around him in concern as he ate every bit. Then the round ball of fur had wobbled after Louisa until she sat down.  He struggled to climb into her lap, so she picked him up where he curled into her hands and promptly went to sleep.

That wasn’t a great time in Louisa’s life but the cat made it easier somehow.  He had a big round head, tortoiseshell design on his back, spots on his belly, and a long ringed tail.  He listened to everything she said and never walked away until he was sure she was through. Occasionally he brought her gifts, a leaf, sometimes a mouse, and once a snake.  She hadn’t been happy about the mice or the snake.  The screeching and yelling she had done apparently made it clear that those types of gifts weren’t appreciated. From then on he only brought leaves and sometimes a pinecone or a small rock.  She had a wine glass full of his pinecone gifts on the kitchen window sill.  She had tried to figure out where he might have found the unique little burrs.  She knew this area very well but couldn’t recall ever seeing a tree that produced such small pinecones.  All of them were blemished in some way, so she figured he must have found them on the ground beneath the tree. She had pictured deer or maybe even cows walking under the tree, crushing them into the ground. Her artist’s mind craved a perfect pinecone off that tree.  She sighed.  No more thinking, she mumbled. There was only one way to stop her whirling thoughts. She grabbed a shawl and went outside.  The door creaked as Louisa walked into her studio and picked up a brush.

When she looked up again, it was to see the winter sun low in the western sky.  She was more than satisfied with her work.  She quickly cleaned her brushes and headed for the house, looking all the time for the cat.

“He’s just not ready to come home yet,” she told the sky.

The answering machine was blinking when she walked into the kitchen.  She quickly returned a few calls and then dialed Maggie’s number.

“Hey. Sorry it took so long to call you back.  I got all into painting and forgot to take the cordless with me.  What’s up?”

Maggie’s breathing gave away her excitement. She didn’t even bother to scold Louisa for not having the phone in the studio.

“OK.  Here’s what I’ve got . . . the Blaylock’s alarm system went off about three, three thirty this morning.”  Marie sniffed. “It’s one of those systems that just call in an alarm.  No blaring sirens or horns or anything like that.  I ‘m a little surprised that Marie didn’t include that bit of information for the neighbors.   Maybe she’s smarter than I thought.  One of the deputies rode by but didn’t see anything.  A few minutes later the new people that moved in next to the Blaylock’s last month called the sheriff’s department and said it sounded like people were being massacred over there.   The same deputy went back to walk around the house.  That’s when he found the three guys.  Two were lying in great big pools of blood out by their truck, and the third one was lying on the porch right beside the open front door.  The deputy told Barbara and Albert, that’s the new neighbors, that all the stuff they stole was in the back of the old pickup truck covered up with a tarp.”

She paused for a breath.  “Then he told them that the weirdest thing was that the guy on the porch was missing a finger.  Said it looked like it had been bitten clean off but was nowhere to be found.  Isn’t that awful?”

“Yeah, that’s pretty awful, Maggie,” agreed Louisa. She shivered at the thought.

“I guess they still don’t have any real clues?” she asked.

“None that I know of.  I’ll call if I hear anything.”

“I would appreciate it.  Is the sheriff sure these three are the creeps that were breaking in all those houses?”

“Yeah, they found out where they were staying and recovered a good bit of stuff taken in the other robberies.  Guess we don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

“Yeah, guess so.  Let me know if you hear anything else.”

“Will do.”

Louisa clicked the off button and looked at the phone.

I wonder if she’s thought to worry about what killed the bad guys?

She shrugged and started on her nighttime routine except there was no Jasper to talk to tonight either.

 

Christmas Eve dawned clear and not quite so cold.  Louisa was up at 6:00, brewing a fresh pot of coffee.  She sat at the table and stared out the window.  Two cups later she sighed and started to tidy up the house.  When the sun was up, she stepped to the deck and looked all around but there was no Jasper.  She heard the phone ringing and went back in to answer it. It was Maggie with an update.

“The deputy came back by the Blaylock’s late yesterday to see if they found anything else missing.  Guess they thought they’d give Marie some time to wash away all the blood.”

“Makes sense to me,” said Louisa.  “Did they find anything else that was missing?”

“Actually they did,” giggled Maggie.  “Marie had a huge bag of cut up raw vegetables in the fridge for her famous “crudités” and dips.  I know the whole thing’s not funny, but she was so furious because the whole damn bag was gone. She kept going on about how long it had taken her to cut up all those vegetables.”

“Did the deputies find any of it?”

“Nope, not even a baby carrot.”

Louisa laughed.  “You’re right, that’s really strange. But then the whole mess is strange.”

“You can say that again, Sweetie.  Listen y’all have a great time this afternoon and if I don’t talk to you for the next day or two, have a very Merry Christmas!”

“You too, Mags, tell the kids and Travis Merry Christmas for me.”

Louisa decided to make one more turn through the house and check all the windows, but there was still no Jasper.

“Okay,” she said aloud.  “One more check of the deck, and I’ll just have to let it go . . . at least until tomorrow.”

Louisa stepped out and was greeted with a rumbling meow.  A little squeal of joy escaped her lips.  “Jasper, where have you been?  You’re probably starving.  Come on baby and I’ll fix you some tuna.  You know its Christmas Eve, don’t you?”

He allowed her to pick him up and take him in the house through the door.  He ate his tuna then sauntered into the living room.

“Here’s your Christmas present you old rascal.”

She tossed a loosely wrapped package in his general direction.  He stood and stared at the sparkling package, and then he started to sniff.  It took him less than a second to tear the paper off the toy mouse and the little bag of catnip.  The mouse was forgotten as he sniffed and batted the small bag all over the living room floor.  He leaped up on the sofa and patted Louisa’s hand. A series of small trilling sounds rolled out of his mouth.  Louisa laughed.

“What do I want for Christmas?  Let me see,” she said thoughtfully.  She ran her fingers over the cat’s head.  He didn’t really have cat fur, he had a pelt, thick and soft and always warm.

“I know what I want.  I want to know that the robberies are over and that whatever attacked those guys won’t hurt anyone else.  And I want you to find me another little pinecone, but I want it to be perfect.

“How’s that for a Christmas list?”

A car door slammed in the driveway and high pitched children’s voices could be heard through the front door.  Jasper raced to the window in the kitchen and jumped to the sill.  Louisa followed, laughing and raised the window for the cat.  He seemed frantic to escape but then, Jasper wasn’t overly fond of children.  He leaped out the window and streaked toward the barn.

“Thanks for coming home, kitty.  That was the best Christmas present ever. They won’t be here too long then you can come back in the house.”

Several hours later she stood on the front porch and waved to the kids and grandkids as they drove out of sight. All told, it had been a lovely day.      Jasper was waiting in the shadows and promptly eased up and lovingly twined himself around Louisa’s legs.  She picked him up and took him in the house.  He jumped out of her arms and galloped to the kitchen ignoring the plate on the floor with bits of turkey and all his holiday favorites.  He stood in front of the back door, for all the world like he wanted out.  Puzzled, Louisa opened the door but he refused to move.  He just sat there looking at her with a smile on his cat face.

She shrugged, picked up a flashlight and stepped out.  The light caught something on the deck.  A pile of dried leaves was arranged right by the door so that she couldn’t miss it.  She peered at it from several different angles, then nudged it with her toe.  The leaves fell away revealing a fresh broccoli head, almost frozen in the cold wind.  It was propped up so it was obvious there was something was under it.  She nudged the broccoli and it fell away.  She leaned down and gasped.  It was a cleanly severed finger, human and probably male from the look of it. She swallowed and took two quick deep breaths. Under the finger was one more dried leaf. Louisa picked up a twig that had blown off the big oak tree by the deck and slowly lifted the leaf.  Carefully tucked underneath the leaf was one tiny, perfect pinecone.

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Chapter One

Chapter One

“Are you going to be here on Wednesday?”

Emmeline turned away from the book invoice she was checking, and looked at Ophelia over the top of her reading glasses.

“Of course I am.”  Something about the set of her cousin’s shoulders set off alarms for Emmeline. “Why?”

The dust motes made visible by the late afternoon sun burning through the tall windows gave Ophelia a surreal look. When you added in the spiked silver hair, the pale face and the slightly extravagant eye makeup you felt that you were looking at a pair of blue eyes staring out of a cloud.

“I need a few things for the website so I thought I might run up to Atlanta. No big deal.”

Emmeline turned to face her, big round eyes squinted in suspicion. “We just restocked two weeks ago. What could we possibly need?”

Ophelia mumbled an answer but Emmeline’s sharp ears caught the words.

“Why on earth do we need more graveyard dirt? Ophelia have you been advising people on revenge spells again?  I’m not going to stand for that one red hot minute. There are consequences for doing crap like that and you know it!”   Emmeline rose to her full height of almost five feet and assumed her queen mother stance. “What are you thinking?  If word gets out that we have a spell-casting website we’ll be run out of town on a rail. Nobody could even imagine that we know about things like that. We are respectable, slightly eccentric bookstore owners. And that’s the way it needs to stay.”

“Sweetie, if you ever touched a computer you would know that we are making a small fortune off that graveyard dirt. If folks want to order it from the website they have to take responsibility for their actions, not me.”

“Pooh!  We have to live here. It’s a small southern town. And, you know I wouldn’t touch a computer on a bet!”  She drew a deep breath and opened her mouth to continue but Ophelia cut her off.

“Emmeline, I have a database on the computer that contains all the information on sales, orders, everything for my website, the store’s website and the store, yet you insist on keeping all those figures in all those spiral bound notebooks written by hand.”  Her voice trailed off.

Emmeline decided she would catch more flies with sugar than vinegar. She took a more gentle approach to her cousin’s unreasonable attitude by using the childhood nickname that Ophelia’s mother had used.

“Fe, everybody knows that computers crash. I need to know that we won’t get caught out. What if the IRS decides to audit, what if somebody breaks in and steals the computer? Fe, are you listening to me?”

Ophelia had gotten up out of the chair and was slowly walking to the front of the store, wrinkling her forehead and staring out the front door.

“Fe!”

“No. I’m not listening to you. I’m watching half the town heading for the other side of the Square.”

Emmeline started to step down from the platform that housed the cash register and other office equipment.

“Grab the keys and the cell phone. I’m going to see what’s going on,” Fe said, as she pushed through the front door.

Emmeline was puffing just a little as she caught up with Ophelia at the edge of a growing crowd. She grabbed her cousin’s arm.

“Fe, there’s Lucius.”  She didn’t have to say it twice. Ophelia was already edging up to the most mysterious person in the town of Portal.

“Mornin’ Lucius.”

He was an odd little man. Nobody could remember a time when he wasn’t around somewhere. His clothes weren’t filthy but they weren’t exactly clean either. The trousers appeared to be denim, but there were so many clumsy repairs that it was hard to tell. He always wore a ragged, long-sleeved, plaid flannel shirt, no matter what the weather, and a faded and worn ball cap pulled down so low that one could only assume he had eyes because he never bumped into anything. If there was anything at all going on in town, Lucius would know. And he would tell, too, if he liked you and if you were good at translating muttering and riddles.

“Mornin’ Missus,” he growled at Ophelia. The little stooped man didn’t have the rapport with Emmeline that he had with Ophelia. He just touched the bill of his cap in the general direction of Fe’s cousin.

“What seems to be going on?” Ophelia asked. She watched him to see how the game was going to be played this morning.

He rubbed the gnarled hand over his mouth. “Looks like the sheriff has got hisself a problem.”

Fe and Emmeline waited, not saying a word.

“You know that patch of woods up north of town?” The cousins nodded. Patience was usually required when dealing with Lucius.

“That doctor from up around Atlanta bought it from old lady Turnipseed’s estate and decided to built him a big ol’ house. Away from the rat race he says.”

Fe and Emmeline looked at each other with raised eyebrows and at the same time gave almost imperceptible shakes of their heads. They hadn’t heard about a doctor or a house or even that the land had been sold. They turned their attention back to the old man.

“We hadn’t heard about that, Lucius. When did all this happen?”

He rubbed his hand over his chin and mouth again. “Let’s see . . .  started talkin’ about it pretty near two months ago. Got it all done last Tuesday. I guess that doctor feller don’t let no grass grow under his feet.”

Fe groaned silently. It was like pulling teeth to get information out of the old man but it was usually worth the wait. Lucius wasn’t a gossip. He always got his facts straight. Ophelia stood there looking at the old man. The only sign of impatience was the slight pursing of her lips. Emmeline, not being favored by Lucius, stood still and quiet. Her impatience and irritation with his verbal games was shown by the clenching of her hands.

Ophelia leaned in closer. “Lucius, what happened?” she said quietly.

He turned and very briefly glanced in Ophelia’s direction, an unusual move on his part. Ophelia gasped. She had never seen Lucius look at any body when he was talking. He turned away from the cousins and said flatly, “They done found a dead woman up there in them woods.”

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