Wednesday, June 1, 2016

QK Round 1: The Bat is One of You vs. Hot Sauce is Bad for Wound Care

Title: THE LAST SPADE
Entry Nickname: The Bat Is One of You
Word Count: 60,500
Genre: NA Murder Mystery

Query:  


Mary Robert Rinehart’s play, The Bat, dazzles and spooks the audiences of 1920s New York. That is, until a real life murderer begins pinning dead bats to the bodies of his victims and the Bat steps off the stage and into the streets.

Flory is a twenty-two-year-old actress, fresh on the Broadway scene. She has the role of Dale Ogden in The Bat. Her mother is dead and the only friend she has in the world is Priscilla Hayes, her guardian: also an actress in The Bat. Noble is Flory’s nineteen-year-old half-brother. He’s African American, and Flory doesn’t know he exists. He longs to become a poet, and his heart is lifted by the beginnings of the Harlem Renaissance.

One night, as thunder cracks overhead, the cast of The Bat meets alone in the theater to discuss the murders and how they will affect the public’s perception of the play. Noble also chooses this night to tell Flory who he really is. As soon as everyone has arrived, Priscilla finds a letter addressed to all of them, written by the Bat. In rhyme, the Bat informs them that he is a member of the cast and he will kill them one by one that night—unless they discover his identity. 

The Bat’s letter is accompanied by a four of spades. As the cast tries to solve the mystery of which one of them is a killer, they find a three of spades, then a two. When they find the ace of spades, the card of death, it will be accompanied by a dead body. 


First 250:

A trolley rattled past in the street, and the boy who sold the papers yelled at the top of his lungs.

“Murder! Horrible Murder!” he shouted.

“Spoiling my day with horrible murders,” I said to myself. “What does the world mean by it?”

It was a gray day, what I like to call a jam day, because gray skies make me want strawberry jam. I strolled through the park with my coat wrapped tight around me. The coat was gray with a faux fur collar, but it was beastly thin. Now that I was a person who had achieved her dreams, who had money and things, you would think I could buy myself a nice coat.

“Buy yourself a nice coat, Flory,” I said. “You see? There. That’s an order.”

I enjoyed the sound of my heels clipping across the sidewalk. A man smoking a cigar looked up from his paper at me. Wrapping my fur tighter around my neck, I smiled the way I’d seen a movie star do it.

I strolled up to the newspaper stand and bought a copy of the paper.

“Horrible murder, you said?” I asked the boy.

“Yes, ma’am. Horrible. They say it’s an insane person who murdered the man—leaving a signature, no less.”

“A signature? On what?”

“Not a written signature, ma’am. You’ll see when you read it.” He proceeded to blast exclamations out of his lungs and deafen me. “Murder! Horrible, horrible murder!”

VERSUS

Title: The Gray Hole
Entry Nickname: Hot Sauce is Bad for Wound Care
Word count: 62K
Genre: YA Magic Realism

Query:

Six students at Mayville High will be dead by Saturday night. Again. And again, they will begin the week over just before Tuesday's first period class. Doomed to repeat the same week until seventeen-year-old Grayson Dell decides to stop killing them, the group must work through two problems: First, Grayson has no idea the groundhog week from hell is happening; Second, the victims are all jerks.

As Grayson struggles with the choices he’s made, his victims, seeing nothing left to lose, only increase their cruelty to outrageous levels, making the decision to kill easier and easier. It isn’t until Timothy Mayes, Grayson’s once-most-brutal tormentor, begins to see and treat Grayson as a fellow human being that signs of a possible end to the cycle start to appear. Now Mayes must steer clear of the other victims and show Gray that life is worth living, or be forced to endure the week before prom forever.

The narrator is a second-person voice in Grayson’s head, allowing the story to stay hopeful and sometimes humorous even during Grayson’s darkest moments.


First 250 words:

TUESDAY 7:59 A.M.

You tell yourself today will be different. Maybe it will. The lockers are the same sick, pale blue as yesterday, the linoleum floors still shine with same pungent cleaners that have been disintegrating nose hairs and SEAL-Team-Sixing brain cells for all four years you’ve spent in this school. And your classmates – if they’ve changed anything other than the color of their hair, it’d be tantamount to Chris Hemsworth intentionally eating a carb.

But still.

That pale blue used to be your favorite color before your attitude and your wardrobe took an about-face to the dark side. The chemical glint and nauseating smell from the floor is fading with each sneaker’s squeaking step. And those people – the juniors, sophomores, freshman, even your classmates, the seniors – they all could –

Your head snaps against a locker so hard it’s unclear whether the high pitched hum ringing in your ears is wholly a product of your mind or if the blue painted metal is actually screaming back at you. You try to pull away and see if you’ve changed the blue to red, but the hand that put you there doubles the pressure from its sweaty palms, digging the blunted and jagged ends of chewed away nails into the back of your head and left cheek.

You stop struggling before you start, so inured to bullying it’s become your norm. Embarrassment is the baseline of high school, and pain’s just a reminder you haven’t left yet.

Yet.

19 comments:

  1. Judges, reply here with your votes!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Bat is One of You:

      Wow, what a premise! I love the setting, and this feels a little bit Batman and a little bit Phantom of the Opera... and overall just very, very cool. The last paragraph of the query does a great job of making me want to read on to the first 250!

      As far as query advice, I would strongly suggest limiting the number of named characters in your query. I'd personally try ONLY mentioning Flory by name. We don't need to know who the playwright is in the query, and you can refer to the others as "Flory's best friend" or "an African American (actor? stagehand? whatever she knows him as) reveals himself to be her half-brother."

      Most of the dialogue in your first 250 flows very well... be aware, though, that having Flory's first line of dialogue be "Spoiling my day..." makes her seem very self-centered and doesn't make the best impression.

      ***

      Hot Sauce is Bad For Wound Care:

      This query starts off strong: The first line is a great hook, and the premise in general sounds amazing. After that, it does get confusing in a few places. Who is "the group"? (The to-be-killed students, I assume, but it took me a second." Who is the main character: Grayson or Timothy? or both? It also feels like you may be giving away a LITTLE too much of your ending here.

      The first 250 were surprisingly good. Second person is not something I ever expected to like, but you’ve got a strong, compelling voice here. “Your classmates, the seniors,” feels a little heavyhanded (I’d just say “the other seniors”?) but in general, you’ve taken a difficult POV and done it exceptionally well.

      ***

      This was an extremely difficult choice as I’d love to keep reading both, but since the query alone gave me chills...

      VICTORY to: THE BAT IS ONE OF YOU!

      Delete
    2. The Bat is One of You: I got confused by the sudden mention of Noble. How does he play into Flory’s life before he introduces himself to her? I feel like there was too many little details about Flory that could have been used to better set up this intriguing concept.

      You exported me right into the look and feel of the story with your 250! Such strong voice in this opening, well done!

      Hot Sauce is Bad For Wound Care: Nice concept! I found the first paragraph a little clunky, is there a different way to introduce the groundhog concept right off? I think that would help the flow.

      The voice in this 250, it screams off the page! I did find a few areas that threw me, but it could be my own knowledge references (SEAL-Team-Sixing?). A few sentences felt like half sentences and I had to re-read, thinking I was missing something. I’d see what you could do to really make this pop.

      Two very intriguing stories with strong openings, this a hard decision. But I have to choose one so: Victory to Hot Sauce is Bad For Wound Care!

      Delete
    3. Bernadine HarrisJune 1, 2016 at 5:22 PM

      The Bat Is One of You

      I’m always down for a good mystery, especially one with such a cool setting. I really enjoyed your pages. I had a great sense of Flory’s voice and the addition of the trolley and the newsboy really made me feel like I was reading a period piece. I love the idea that she hasn’t spent her money on a new coat yet. Nice character beat.

      My biggest concerns were with the query itself. It didn’t flow as well for me as I would have liked. And I don’t think it captures your voice well enough. The second paragraph especially felt too much like an info dump. Can you get this information out in a more organic way so it doesn’t feel like you’re just reciting stats? I also bumped on the third paragraph. There’s a mix of past and present tense. It also felt too much like it should be in a synopsis versus the query. I think it’s the details.

      Hot Sauce is Bad for Wound Care

      You had me at the opening line of the query. And then really had me at the second line. It’s such a high concept and you do a great job for me explaining it. I definitely want to read more and it seems like a really unique take on bullying. The only place I bumped was on the last paragraph about the narrator. It just didn’t fit the tone of the rest of it. In terms of your pages, I was disturbed from the first line and I mean that in a good way. I think you do a good job of establishing voice by having the Chris Helmsworth joke right away. It also makes me curious to read more because I want to see how you’re going to handle this in terms of his actual interactions with the students, as well as how the voice changes as he is shown more and more kindness.

      This matchup was tricky because this is the first one that the stories are so different. They both are great and I would read both of them but just for the fact that I have to pick one, I’m going with the one that I would be curious to request more pages because I want to know how you handle the narration.

      Victory: Hot Sauce is Bad for Wound Care

      Delete
    4. These are two really unique high concept queries and I would honestly be thrilled to read either book.

      The Bat Is One of You
      Can I just say that there is so much cool stuff going on here?! I absolutely love the time period and setting the action behind-the-scenes of a play (which all by itself sounds fascinating) really hooked me. That being said, for me, the query reads more like a mini synopsis. It names all the main characters and describes what happens to them without really (to me) being very clear about the main character, conflict or cost. I honestly think this is a query that could benefit from the “X is a Y until Z” query structure. Something like “Flora is 22 year-old fresh-faced actress making her Broadway debt in The Bat until the production is derailed by real life murders” or something like that (hopefully way better than that). The first 250 words are completely awesome and I would read this book all day long!! I personally loved the strawberry jam bit and felt the 250 did such an excellent job of priming me to expect a narration by a very captivating character.

      Hot Sauce is Bad for Wound Care
      I think this whole entry is really solid. This is a really interesting high concept that is very effectively described in the query. I, too, was surprised by how well the second person POV is done in the first 250 because that is not an easy thing to do. It’s an interesting narrative choice – essentially a decision to put the reader in the shoes of the killer – and I’d be very interested to see how the second person POV gets sustained throughout the book.

      This was such a tough decision. Honestly, if it were based in the first 250, I’d probably go with Bat. But this is Query Kombat, so for me Hot Sauce is the winner.

      Delete
    5. The Bat is One of You

      Theatre murder mystery - very cool! And good job setting up the stakes as the very foundation of the story. They have to solve it within X time or bad things happen. Before we get to that in the query though, the letter gets a little bogged down in names and details. Consider drilling down more on Flory and reducing the named characters. First 250, I get a good sense of the time, world and this character's voice. If there's any way you can get the reveal into the first 250 - what she reads in the paper - that would be an even stronger hook.

      Hot Sauce is Bad for Wound Care

      You had me from sentence one in that query. STRONG hook, timely topic, unreliable/anti-hero narrator, daring all around, especially with the second person POV. My only suggested tweak to the query would be, as others have noted, to tweak that last sentence so it's still from Grayson's POV. First 250, first let me say, I'm one of those nutters who ADORES second person POV. And you do it very well. This is a good set up for using it. Do, however, carefully consider your sentence structures to see where you might eliminate some of the "you" usage, as that will throw others. Same as you would in a first POV re "I" and "me". Also, I was a little thrown right at the beginning, because your query says Grayson doesn't know this is groundhog day repeating, but then it sounds like, with the first line he does. Maybe clean that up for clarity.

      Victory to Hot Sauce!

      Delete
    6. THE BAT IS ONE OF YOU:

      There’s a lot about his query that I like! A couple things tripped me up. First, why does a 22yo have a guardian, and why mentioned dead Mommy? Second, I’m wondering if Noble can be introduced more fluidly. He comes out of nowhere, and I’m not even sure he’s needed for the query since the other stuff (BATS, MURDER, MYSTERY) plays so well. (Which makes me wonder if you need to mention guardian/mom—there’s a lot of characters in the query—I’d consider losing at least one of them.)

      The 250 might be a bit long to say the same thing—that there’s a murder. I’m wondering if there’s a way to cut a couple of the newsboy shouts, or of the old guy, or something . . . just to get it moving a bit more? Totally subjective thought, though. It was just that, by the end, I knew the same thing I knew from the second sentence, that there’d been a horrible murder.

      HOT SAUCE IS BAD FOR WOUND CARE:

      Is this magical realism? I think it’s contemporary fantasy.
      For the query, I think it gives character, conflict, and stakes very well. My only suggestion is if you can punch it up a bit with Timothy or Grayson’s personality, and probably Grayson if he’s going to be the narrator. Maybe a reason he’s killing, a way he’s been wronged? Something that gets us on his side since he’s the killer and we’ll be in his head (literally) through the book.
      For the 250, second person is hard to pull off, and I’m not sure it works here, but that’s just my opinion. I feel like with a story like this, where it’s the mind of a killer, second person loses force because a killer is not a position we’ve been in. (Well, most of us. Heh.) (OK, I just read other comments and people seem to love the second person, so nevermind. Move along.)

      This one was hard for me. I went back and forth. Hmm . . .

      VICTORY TO THE BAT IS ONE OF YOU!

      Delete
  2. Hi guys! Just leaving my comments here.

    The Bat is one of you: I loved the premise and got a little Batman vibes (inevitable, I guess but yay!). While I really enjoyed the query the second paragraph threw me off because it names a lot of characters in relation to each other and there's no time for the reader to adjust, and I had to read the paragraph twice. But the stakes are great, and the vibe is right for Murder Mystery - and I love the setting. I really enjoyed the first words, but not entirely sure if having Flory talking to herself is a good way to start, it threw me off a little. But the rest is really good (:

    Hot Sauce is Bad for Wound Care: Loved the premise and the query, but wish we had been introduced more to the main character. Is it Grayson? Is it Timothy? Why should we root for them? The stakes are very clear, but we weren't given a reason to root for any of the characters. Your first words are definitely interesting, and I really like the use of second person.

    Good luck to all of you!

    ReplyDelete
  3. More comments. :-)

    The Bat is One of You Query: GREAT opening lines. Hooks the reader immediately with an interesting premise. I felt the next paragraph had too many names (like the role she is playing, is that absolutely necessary) and details. I think you can introduce the idea of a brother she didn't even know existed showing up in a simpler way. The next paragraph got me back into the story - there's the main conflict, and a doozy at that! I liked the spades idea giving a sense of impending doom, nice.

    You lost me more at the first 250. I really don't have a clear sense of a voice I can identify with - the jam day comment and how stilted she talks just strikes me as odd, and at first I thought her saying that a murder would spoil her day was a joke, then I realized she was serious. She comes across to me as very off-putting, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but might be a challenge in terms of drawing your readers in. Overall, great premise!! Good luck!

    The Gray Hole: Okay, I think this premise is AMAZING, but yeah, I had to read it a couple of times to really understand what is happening. It's tricky, because your main character is an anti-hero, which is cool, but hard to capture. I love the idea that people can get caught into a victim/victimizer cycle, and that it's actually really complicated.

    250: Overall good voice, but there were times it felt a little inauthentically YA and preachy, like the part about "inured to bullying..." I'm not sure a bully would have that much perspective at the time, or at least would phrase it differently. Overall, though, I thought your premise rocked and I really hope you get it out!

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  4. The Bat is One of You:
    Wow, your hook in the query is great. It made me want to know more about the story. That being said the second paragraph bogged me down. There are too many characters being introduced and little tidbits about them that we don't necessarily need to know in the query. What I would do is focus just on Flory. What are the stakes for her personally?
    Opening 250: amazing voice and imagery. I felt that I was right there with her. Though, I wasn't sure if the comment "spoil my day" was supposed to be sarcastic or not. It threw me a bit.

    The Gray Hole:
    This is such a cool set up for a story. I love the whole anti-villain idea. However, I'm not sure who your protagonist is. Is it Grayson or Timothy? My suggestion would be to focus on one of them in the query. Tell it through their eyes so to speak.
    First 250:
    I love the voice here. What I'm concerned with is the cliché of the dreaded high school. I feel that we see that a lot, especially in openings of YA. I would change it up a bit.

    Good luck to you both. I really want to read these one day!

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  5. The Bat Is One of You: Totally loving this historical, Phantom of the Opera type vibe going here! I was also confused by the sudden introduction of Noble in that paragraph. I would suggest keeping the focus on Flory, and keep things in the same chronological order that Flory experiences them. So instead of introducing Noble where you do, wait until the next paragraph, and in the sentence where you say Noble chooses that night to tell Flory the truth, change it to something from Flory's perspective, like "The night gets even stranger when a young African-American man named Noble approaches Flory and insists he is her half-brother." And then make a clear connection as to how Noble introducing himself just then affects the rest of the story. LOVE your first 250! I don't really have any critiques for that. Great job!

    Hot Sauce Is Bad for Wound Care: I absolutely adore this premise! And it's so brave of you to try second-person narration! Based on your first 250, I totally think you pull it off. Hats off to you! Regarding your query, I think it needs to be a little clearer who the main protagonist is. For most of the query it appears that Grayson is (and your first 250 would confirm that), but at the end it focuses on Mayes and the choice that Mayes will have to make. I think you need to try and frame your stakes from Grayson's point of view, rather than a secondary character.

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  6. Two strong entries. Good luck to both of you.

    I love the setting and premise of The Bat Is One of You. A strong opening with a great voice. The first sentence sets the scene and anchors the time period. Nice job. The only advice I can think of is to tighten the wording of paragraphs 2 and 3 by eliminating "to be" verbs.

    A novel with a powerful premise, Hot Sauce Is Bad for Wound Care takes risks with 2nd person narrative--so far so good:) But then the entire premise is edgy by focusing on a hero/main character who does very bad things. I agree with Taylor to keep the query's focus on Grayson.

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  7. The Bat Is One of You: I also love the setting/time period. I love how I can immediately tell from the dialogue choices, even if I hadn't read the query, that it is set in a previous decade.

    Hot Sauce: I love the concept of the query, and the tone of the the first 250 words. However. .. I am really struggling with the second-person narration. I feel like the repetition of "you" throughout will get old quickly. This is obviously just personal preference, as many above seem to love the unique approach! And I would be curious to see how it plays out in a longer excerpt.

    Best of luck to you both.

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  8. Fellow Kombatant who thinks these two entries are really intriguing!

    The Bat Is One of You: First two sentences of query = great. Second paragraph seems a little list-y, ie., do we need to know she plays Dale Ogden (just another name to remember)? Also, the way Noble is thrown into the mix seems choppy with details. In third paragraph I see why Noble is important but I'm not sure why I'd need to know he was a poet with a heart lifted by Harlem Renaissance. The third and fourth paragraphs of query I do think are tighter and make me want to read on. The first 250: I thought "What does the world mean by it?" sounded awkward. Perhaps you meant, "What on earth is this world coming to?" sort of rhetorical question? I loved the jam day description!

    Hot Sauce Is Bad for Wound Care: Really liked query opening, until I wondered who "the group" was. The kids in the first period class? Also, this "group" must work through two problems, then the list changes to Grayson as the subject. Confusing. Would have maybe made more sense to me if it read, Getting the killer to realize groundhog week from hell is happening. (since we already know Grayson is the killer but the group doesn't) Was also a little thrown by the last sentence, which seemed very out of place and tell-y. Might work better if it stays in same voice as rest of query, maybe 'Grayson's internal emcee narrates him throughout the day, keeping him hopeful and amused...' First 250? Loved, loved, loved. Someone above mentioned the 'you' getting old quickly, and I would tend to agree, but overall, the voice is strong and descriptive.

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  9. These are both really interesting! Very different entries, yet both brought some awesome elements to the table. :)

    THE BAT IS ONE OF YOU

    Query: I love me a good murder mystery, so I love the concept. My only concern has already been voiced: it feels like there are a lot of characters here, and that leaves me a little overwhelmed. Also, the mention of the half-brother seems unrelated and, by extension, perhaps unnecessary. It's hard to tell without knowing if he'll have a large role in the book or not.

    250: Loved the voice. Had that 20s feel to it while still being relatable and believable. I like the sense that she's already made it and yet she still feels like she's faking it. So relatable for so many people, which really draws the reader in. :)

    HOT SAUCE IS BAD FOR WOUND CARE

    Query: I agree with others--your introduction to the concept is a little confusing. I think it's not knowing who the "group" is right away... had to work through that sentence a few times. Otherwise, your query definitely made me want to continue reading.

    250: I am so fascinated by the choice to use second person. Like most others here, I think you pulled it off well, which is great because it offers something extremely unique. I would be worried that it might become cumbersome later on, but maybe not! Judging by this page, I think it would be a fascinating read. :)

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  10. THE BAT: Wow, this one is fascinating. I love taking real life events and fictionalizing them. This one is full of voice. The only thing I would change is take out "is." Flory, a twenty-two-year old actress has the role of Dale--describe the role. Tighten your sentences and this will pop. Your first 250 are fine, sets the tone and the setting well. Good job! I'd read this!
    HOT SAUCE: I liked the concept. Groundhog Day for HS! I was confused about why only the "jerks" are being killed and who has to figure out why. Your 250: second person POV can be confusing but it's great if done well. Make sure you indicate who your MC is and start with it's Tuesday again? But yesterday was Tuesday (thank you Supernatural). Good job, both of you!

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  11. THE LAST SPADE

    I love that you set your MS in the Jazz Age, and I think the query is quite good and sets up the major plot beautifully. I wondered a little how Noble fits into the main plot and would like to have a hint of that. (Note: the playwright's name has a typo: should be Mary Roberts Rinehart.)

    Your 250 did a good job of introducing your character and her aspirations, as well as giving us a glimpse into her previous life with the thin coat. Very well done.

    HOT SAUCE IS BAD FOR WOUND CARE

    I have to say I expected a less horrific tale from Magical Realism, my only experience with that genre being humorous. However, from your query I see exactly where the story is going and what it going to take to turn it around.

    Your 250 puts the middle/high school locker room right in front of me, and the second-person narration is excellent. It puts a new perspective on bullying, which has to be a good thing. So while your story is totally out my wheelhouse, I say well done again.

    Good luck to both of you!

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  12. Quickly because I'm running out of time, just a few words of WOW.

    These are two fantastic queries. I would buy them both.
    Hot Sauce is bad for Wound Care is my very favorite concept of all the entries I've read. Such a great premise. While I love a good second person narration, I do kind of wish it had multiple POVs. Either way, I love your take on what it's going to take for a bunch of teenagers to finally get it right. Can't wait to read this one.

    The Bat is one of You is such a well written entry. It absolutely feels like going back in time. You nailed the voice in the query and the first 250. I feel like you could leave the half-brother character out of the query. I don't feel like it really adds anything. In your first 250, you do such a great job of conveying your MC. I'm really impressed.

    Good luck to you both!

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  13. The Bat Is One of You

    First part of the query hooks me. Well done! Perhaps instead of referring to "The Bat" twice in close proxmity, refer to the latter as "the same production"? If Flory doesn't know about Noble, then why is he mentioned at this particular moment? Is he also in the play? Hrm, the setup sounds like a game of Clue! How are Flory and Noble directly involved in figuring out who the murderer is and stopping him? Do they fear more for their own lives or for one another's, knowing now they're brother and sister?

    Gray skies = strawberry jam. Classic! And can't aruge that. Did she speak that internal dialogue out loud to herself? Or just a thought? As written I'm guessing she said it out loud, although perhaps the speaker attribution should reflect that.

    "Newspaper" and "paper" in the same sentence--maybe replace the latter one with "the evening edition" or "the daily"?


    Hot Sauce is Bad for Wound Care

    This is a unique setup, so much so that it'd be difficult to judge from just this how well it works. "from hell" strikes me as cliched. And I recall the movie "Groundhog Day", but is "groundhog" now used to refer to a temporal loop like this one?

    I'm not sure a YA "protagonist" (or the voice in his head) would use ten-cent words like "tantamount" and "inured." Otherwise the imagery is excellent. Will be a while wondering whether we'll come to love the "protagonist"--or love to hate him.

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