‘Claws,’ an Erotic Horror Novel, Chapter Ten

Agnes Surian lay in bed that night, tossing and turning in her sleep.

Walking in the woods in British Columbia with her boyfriend, back when they were teens…Sometimes, it’s daytime, sometimes, nighttime, going back and forth between light and dark…she looks to her left and sees Thurston beside her, instead of her teen sweetheart.

“So, the beast is hiding among these trees?” he asks her.

“Yes. I’m sure of it,” she says. “Trust me, Andy, I know what I’m…”

Suddenly, a brown bear appears…She and her old teen boyfriend scream.

The bear attacks her boyfriend, a claw swatting his face.

She pulls out her gun and aims at the bear…A fog floats before her eyes, blurring everything…She drops the pistol…That pheromone smell…The fog clears…Instead of seeing the bear killing her teen boyfriend, she sees Thurston again, being gored by Callie as the beast…Surian screams.

The beast’s body hair falls off, and she changes back into nude, beautiful Callie.

She smiles and spreads her legs for Surian.

“Lick me, Agnes,” she says with lewdness in her eyes.

Surian woke up with a jerk and a grunt.

“Oh, Jesus!” she gasped.

***************

The next morning, Surian went to Callie’s apartment building, to the first floor apartment across from the crates in the alley. She saw the man in his kitchen through the window, the man who’d had sex with Callie that other time.

Surian rapped her knuckles on the window with one hand and flashed her badge with the other. “Detective Agnes Surian,” she said when he opened the door. “I’m working with the Toronto police. I’d like to ask you a few questions about a female tenant of this building, one I know that you’ve had…contact with…She’s blonde, beautiful, and often…without any clothes.”

“Oh, yeah,” he grunted with a lewd smirk. “Her.”

“What can you tell me about her?” Surian asked.

“Oh, she was nice,” he groaned, then licked his lips. “Such a beautiful…”

“Sir, I”m not interested in the pornographic details. Did she tell you her name, or which apartment she lives in? What floor does she live on…do you know?”

“Oh, uh, I think she lives on the seventh floor. I went up to her by the elevator and asked if I could have another screw.” Surian struggled not to roll her eyes. “She told me to fuck off.”

Gee, what a surprise, Surian thought.

“Then I saw her get in the elevator alone. It went up to the seventh floor. Later, I went up there to look around. I turned right after getting off the elevator and went down the hall. There was a powerful, sexy smell that got stronger and stronger as I continued to the end. It was at its strongest when I’d reached the farthest room on the right. It put me in a daze, though, and I couldn’t remember anything after that. Funny thing: the next thing I remember, I woke up in bed here in my apartment. There’s something voodoo about that chick.”

“Thank you,” Surian said. “I think I know all I need now. Goodbye.” She started walking out of the alley.

“Hey!” he shouted just before she disappeared out of the alley. “If you go talk to her, let ‘er know I’d be happy to satisfy her with my cock again!” His eyes were beaming with hope.

“I sure will, Super-stud,” Surian called back, then laughed.

**************

She went into the apartment and got in the elevator. When she got out at the seventh floor, the pheromone smell was already in the air. She held her breath as long as she could as she hurried down to the end of the right-side hall. She opened the hall window by Callie’s door as wide as possible to air out the powerful fumes. She stuck her head out, exhaled, and breathed all the fresh air she could hope to get from outside. Still, that sexy smell dazed her.

Room 717. Her eyesight grew blurry, but not so much that she couldn’t read the number on the door and remember it. She knocked.

Callie answered, opening the door wide.

She stood before Surian, naked from head to toe.

“Good morning, Agnes,” she said with a grin.

“How do you…know my name?” Surian slurred.

“I know a lot about you and your boyfriend cop. The vibrations unifying the universe give me access to all kinds of knowledge, including your life.”

“Andy’s not…my boyfriend.”

“He will be. You want him to be.”

Surian looked down at Callie’s breasts and hairless crotch. “Do you…ever wear clothes?”

“Not if I don’t need to. Anyway, you’ve already seen every inch of me many times, so there’s no point in my hiding my body from you. Do you like it? Check me out again.” Callie turned around for Surian, who admired the roundness of Callie’s buttocks. “I know you’ve experimented with lesbian sex a few times. Come on in. Lick my pussy.”

“Oh,…uh,…OK,” Surian sighed, then entered the apartment.

Callie closed the door and took Surian by the hand, leading her into the bedroom. Callie lay on the bed on her back and spread her legs. Surian put her face in between: the pheromone scent gave her no choice not to.

Callie moaned and sighed as Surian licked and sucked on her hard clitoris. Kluh put a thought in Surian’s mind, repeating it over and over like a psychic chant: Google Kluh…Polynesian myth…know more about who I am…

Callie sprayed her orgasm into Surian’s mouth. Before she knew it, she’d already gulped it down. She rose to her feet, then stood before smiling Callie like a soldier ready to receive her next orders.

“Thank you, Agnes, for giving me so much pleasure,” said the demoness in flawless human form. “You will forget all that happened here, including where my apartment is. Now, go…and don’t forget to Google me and my myths.”

Surian walked out of the apartment like an automaton.

*************

That afternoon, Surian was at the 22 Division police station. She sat in a chair in Detective Hicks’s office, reading something on her phone when he and Thurston entered the room.

“So, what have you got for us about the beast, Detective?” Hicks asked as he got to his desk.

“Just a minute,” she said, her eyes widening as she read.

“Oh, sorry, Detective,” Hicks growled. “I didn’t know your social life on Facebook and Twitter was more important than finding the beast and saving lives. Don’t forget the hashtag when you share your posts!”

“Hicks, please,” Thurston said. “For your information, we’ve come a lot closer to catching this beast than all your cops combined.”

“Don’t talk back to me, Thurston!” Hicks shouted. “You and your werewolf/Dr. Jekyll story? Don’t make me laugh! Its ‘magic’ erased your video of the girl’s transformations, eh? How convenient!”

“C’mon, Andy,” she said, rising to her feet and putting her phone in her purse. “Let’s follow ‘Chloe’ and see if she ever talks about a spirit named ‘Kluh'” She and Thurston walked out of the office.

“So, there’s an evil spirit now, eh?” Hicks shouted as they walked past all the other detectives’ desks towards the exit. “You’ve even deluded yourselves that it has a name? You two are a joke!”

“Ignore him,” Thurston said. “What have you learned?”

“Well, I’m wondering if there are any Polynesian exorcists in the Toronto area,” she said.

The Liberal Mindset

I: Introduction

As much as I recognize the conservative as my ideological foe, I can at least have a kind of grudging respect for him. We on the left know where we stand with those on the right: they support and rationalize the authoritarian class system we all suffer under, and while they spuriously claim that capitalism is good for society as a whole, they don’t go around pretending they care about social justice in a meaningful way.

With liberals, on the other hand, the situation gets foggy, and it’s in this way that the ruling class is particularly cunning. The liberal claims to care about all the social issues we communists are insistent on addressing (racism, etc.), but he or she backslides right when matters get urgent, or when his or her class privileges are threatened.

What must be understood is that the liberal, in relation to the conservative and fascist–and by these three I include every variety–is just another snake-head on the body of the same Hydra. Slice off Bernie Sanders‘s head, and the heads of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Tulsi Gabbard pop out of the same reptilian neck to replace his.

We communists, on the other hand, represent a different kind of serpent altogether: that of the dialectical ouroboros, as I’ve argued elsewhere. We recognize a fluid reality of material contradictions rubbing up against each other, especially in the form of class conflict.

For us, the resolution of class war will not come about in the form of making compromises with the capitalist class, as liberals would have it, by emulating the Nordic Model, or having a market economy with a strong welfare state, single-payer healthcare, shorter working hours, and free education all the way up to university; these social democrat benefits, of course, would be paid off through imperialist plunder.

No, we want to extend those benefits globally, and to rid ourselves of the market as soon as the productive forces of society have been fully developed, for the benefit of all. The liberal will never help us with this project; he, nonetheless, routinely tricks many left-leaning people into thinking he’s our friend. For this reason, we leftists need to be educated not only in dialectical and historical materialism, but also in the psychology of the liberal worldview.

The liberal, as we know, is hypocritical in his claims to care about social justice, and opportunistic in his politics. He says all the right things (well, except for stating a commitment to socialism), but fails to do what needs to be done. At the heart of this hypocrisy and opportunism is a psychological conflict resulting from a confrontation of his material privileges.

The liberal’s superego is making all these moral demands to care about social justice, including resolving class conflict; but his id enjoys all the pleasures and privileges of being part of a higher social class (including his cushy place in the First World), and his id doesn’t want to lose them. So his conflict tends to resolve itself in the form of espousing such things as identity politics: he’ll keep the class structure of society intact, but allow blacks, women, gays, etc., into the upper echelons.

The best way to think is to have neither the id‘s pleasure principle, nor the superego‘s ego ideal, dominant, but to have the ego‘s reality principle at the forefront. That’s why we Marxists are neither id-like opportunists, nor are we superego-minded utopian socialists: we are ego-oriented, realistic materialists, scientific socialists, acknowledging the necessity of revolution and the ongoing, lengthy struggle of making the dictatorship of the proletariat run its course until the day finally comes for the withering away of the state, and the enjoyment of communist society.

II: Defence Mechanisms

Still, liberals must preserve their illusions of having the most sensible solutions to the world’s ills, which are really just resolutions of their psychic conflict. Indeed, they try to resolve their cognitive dissonance with a number of ego defence mechanisms, such as denial, rationalization, projection, splitting, reaction formation, displacement, and fantasy, among many others. We’ll examine these now.

Liberals are in denial about the extent to which they support, whether covertly or overtly, the capitalist system. They will, for example, play the same game of false moral equivalency as conservatives will when it comes to comparing communism and fascism. In their opposition to communism, one every bit as vehement as conservatives’, they’ll pretend that Stalin’s leadership was every bit as cruel and oppressive as Hitler’s, even though it was the former’s army that did most of the work in defeating the latter and his army. See here for a more thorough discussion of the huge differences between the far left and far right, a discussion beyond the scope of this article.

Liberals rationalize their defence of the establishment by pretending to have a ‘pragmatic’ approach to curing the ills of our world. Hillary Clinton has claimed to be a “progressive who gets things done,” when the only thing she and her husband ever got done was to move the Democratic Party further to the right.

The funny thing about the Clintons is that they aren’t even, nor were they ever, liberals–they’re conservatives in ‘centre-left’ garb. Consider all they did in the 1990s: helping to lay waste to Russia with ‘free marketreforms, and keeping unpopular Yeltsin in power; the 1994 Crime Bill, allowing the prison system to ruin thousands of lives; the gutting of welfare with the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996; the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which relaxed regulations and allowed mergers and acquisitions in the media, resulting in the great majority of it owned by only six corporations; the repealing of Glass-Steagall, which some believe was at least a factor that brought about the housing bubble and the 2008 financial crisis; and the carving up of Yugoslavia, culminating in the 1999 bombing of the former socialist state, using depleted uranium on the victims. A progressive pair, indeed.

Liberals’ ‘pragmatism’ is set against the ‘utopianism’ of Marxism, when as I mentioned above, it’s the latter of these that’s the pragmatic application of progressive ideas. Liberals, on the other hand, aren’t progressive at all. They like to imagine they occupy a ‘reasonable’ position in the political centre, avoiding the violent extremes on either side. We are not, however, living in a world where reality is static, unchanging.

On the contrary, we live in a world in which everything flows dialectically, like the waves of the ocean. Crests of theses alternate with troughs of negations, the rising and falling of the water being the sublations of all these material contradictions.

What’s more, the current of these waves has been going further and further to the right, ever since the dawn of the Cold War, and especially since the disastrous dissolution of the Soviet Union. That rightward movement means that ‘neutral’ centrism is at best a passive acquiescence to that current, and at worst a collaborating with it. We must move against the current, and that can only mean an aggressive, revolutionary move to the left.

Still, liberals smugly insist that they’re ‘the good guys,’ projecting their support of the unjust status quo onto conservatives, as if only the right is to blame for our woes. Oh, the GOP and their awful wars! Vote in the Democrats, and the wars will end…or, at least, they’ll be tolerable [!]; the same for the Tories and Labour Party in the UK, and for the Conservative and Liberal Parties in Canada.

Liberals not only project all government corruption onto conservatives, but also project their tendency to interfere in the democratic process onto other countries, as in the case of Russia, a country with whose politics they themselves have interfered, as I mentioned above with regard to Yeltsin. Even after the Mueller report showed no proof of the claims of the Steele dossier (in which many, including myself, saw no real evidence right from the beginning), some liberals will surely still claim Russia colluded with Trump to get him elected in 2016. Now, he can use liberal folly and dishonesty to his advantage, and quite possibly get reelected in 2020. Thank you, liberals!

Both liberals and conservatives use splitting, or thinking in terms of absolute black vs. white, good vs. evil, when judging each other. That conservatives do this is painfully obvious: “Either you’re with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Liberals pretend to be above splitting, characterizing themselves as “open-minded,” but they’re just as hostile to differing ideologies as conservatives are.

I’ve known many supporters of the Democratic Party who imagine that all will be fine as long as their idolized party is elected, as opposed to the GOP. This blind devotion continues in spite of how similar their party’s agenda has come to that of the Republicans. In liberals’ universe, the DNC is all good, and only the GOP is all bad, no matter what either party does.

On Facebook, back when Trump had just been elected, and all the liberals were traumatized, I posted a meme that said, “So, you’re Obama‘s biggest fan? Name 5 countries he’s bombed.” A liberal FB friend of mine (then, not now) trolled me, saying, “Who cares? We have Trump.” Now, granted, Trump’s bombing of countries has grown even worse than Obama’s, but this needn’t (and shouldn’t) involve us trivializing Democrat sins. The problem isn’t this party vs. that party, or this charming man vs. that charmless man: it’s the metastasizing of imperialism that’s the real problem; whichever party is manifesting it at the moment is immaterial. Liberals can’t grasp this reality.

This splitting between ‘good DNC’ vs. ‘bad GOP’ is so extreme now that liberals are willing to go to war with Russia for her ‘collusion with Trump.’ These same people who were so passionately antiwar back in the 60s and 70s now bang the war drums, all because they’re such sore losers over the 2016 election results. Recall Rob Reiner’s short film with Morgan Freeman.

When I posted an article saying that Russia is not our enemy, that liberal FB friend of mine trolled me, saying it was a “crock of shit article…Russians are persecuting gays.” I responded sarcastically, saying, “You’re right, Peter. We should start World War III.” He liked my reply. Yes, risking nuclear annihilation is the only way to help gays. Hmm…

Liberals will engage in reaction formation, condemning everything bad they see conservative politicians doing, while resting perfectly content if a liberal politician commits the same egregious acts; in other words, liberals make an open show of hating the political evils of the world, yet secretly either don’t mind them, or even support them. Had Hillary been elected, liberals would be at brunch now instead of protesting Trump; even though she’d have had similar, if not virtually identical, policies as he has. The wars would have continued, the super-rich would have their interests protected, she’d have been tough on immigration (including a US/Mexico barrier), etc.

Liberals engage in fantasy, not only the totally uncorroborated fantasy of “Russian collusion,” but also fantasies that mere incremental reforms will fix what’s wrong with our world. Ocasio-Cortez‘s Green New Deal, apparently, will heal environmental degradation, when nothing less than an immediate, revolutionary takeover, by the people, of the government will do so. Sanders‘s giving away of free stuff will cure everything, it is supposed, instead of merely placating the public and staving off revolution.

A fantasy world of people indulging their desires via legalized prostitution, pornography, and drugs would fulfill people, as some liberals would have it, instead of fulfillment from ending pimps’ and madams’ exploitation of sex workers, and having government-funded rehab programs to get addicts off of junk.

Deeper than that issue, though, is how pleasure-seeking is a mere manic defence against the depressing reality of alienation, as I’ve argued elsewhere. Instead of understanding libido as satisfying drives through pleasure-seeking, we need to promote an object-directed libido (by objects, I mean people other than oneself, the subject; hence, object-directed libido is, as Fairbairn understood it, an urge to cultivate human relationships). And the promotion of loving human relationships is part of what socialism is about.

III: Hollywood and Pop Culture

Entertainment as escape to fantasy is especially apparent in the liberal media empire known as Hollywood. Anyone who has read enough of my blog posts knows that I like to write up analyses of films, many of which are mainstream ones. Sometimes I do psychoanalytic interpretations of them, sometimes I do Marxist ones, and sometimes a combination of the two.

This does not mean, however, that I have any illusions about these all-t00-reactionary films. My Marxist interpretations are deliberately subversive: I wish to turn these narratives into various threads of a leftist mythology, if you will, in order to counter the liberal/CIAlaced propaganda narratives Hollywood is brainwashing the public with.

Another reason I believe my Marxist slant is justified in interpreting these liberal narratives is because I see them as reflecting the conflicted liberal psyche I outlined above. The liberal’s superego demands films that promote equality, but his id wants the gratification of pleasure and the maintenance of the usual class privileges. Hollywood may be liberal, but it’s also a business. Hence, there’s a mask of the idealized liberal version of equality (identity politics, etc.) in these movies, but behind that mask are manifestations of class contradictions the liberal would rather you didn’t see.

‘Liberty and equality’ in these films, past and present, are defined in bourgeois contexts, as in Casablanca; peel away the mask, though, and note how subordinate blacks like Sam are. American Psycho is masked as a scathing critique of yuppies far more than of the capitalist world they embody…which you’d see if you removed the mask. The old Planet of the Apes movies idealized a peaceful coexistence between ape (symbolizing the proletariat, in my interpretation) and man (symbolizing the bourgeoisie), rather than promoting revolution (which was toned down in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes). Political corruption is seen as sensationalistic and titillating in Caligula, while the real oppression of slavery sits almost unnoticed in the background…behind the mask.

With the growing of neoliberalism, though, Hollywood movies have resolved the id/superego conflict, on the one hand, through identity politics (showing us strong women and blacks, as well as sympathetic portrayals of LGBT people, etc.), and on the other hand, through an upholding not only of the class structure of society (e.g., CEOs who are black and/or women, as opposed to promoting worker self-management), but also of imperialism and perpetual war (check out the spate of DC and Marvel superhero movies to see my point).

Whenever class issues are addressed, they’re rarely if ever dealt with in order to promote revolution; rather, it’s just as if to say, “Here, we acknowledged the problem–good enough.” Consider such films as Elysium, Snowpiercer, and Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi to see my point. Thus is the superego placated, while the id is indulged.

Liberal pop stars like Bono and Madonna put on a show of caring about human rights, yet they’re bourgeois through and through. Consider her shameful support of Israel through her planned Eurovision concert; on the other hand, she felt morally justified in opposing only the Trump facet of the ruling class, promising blow jobs to those who voted for Hillary, as if Trump’s non-election would have made much of a difference.

IV: Julian Assange

Trump’s election certainly made no difference as to Julian Assange‘s fate, despite all this nonsense of the last few years of him and Russia supposedly helping Trump win in 2016. Trump, who repeatedly spoke of how he loved Wikileaks, and of how fascinating Wikileaks is, now says he knows nothing about it, and that it is of no consequence to him, now that Assange has been carried out of the Ecuadorian embassy.

Now we expect repressive, authoritarian measures from conservatives like Trump against journalists who make them look bad…but where are all the liberals, those who loved Assange when he exposed the imperialist brutality of the Bush administration, but changed their tune when it was the brutal imperialism of Obama’s administration, and of Hillary’s corruption, that was exposed?

On top of liberals’ splitting of the political establishment into ‘good DNC, bad GOP,’ we also see the displacement of blame from the rightly accused (Hillary and the rest of the Obama administration) to the whistleblower (Assange). The same, of course, goes for Chelsea Manning’s persecution, a displacement of blame from the murderous US army to she who accused them.

That same liberal former Facebook friend of mine (Peter) used to speak ill of Assange right up until Trump’s surprise election. Peter went on about how Assange had ‘lost all credibility’ (according to mainstream liberal propaganda, of course), even though not one Wikileaks publication has ever been proven false. He also described Assange with the most eloquent of language, calling him “a fucktard.” He claimed, back in 2016, that Ecuador was sick of putting up with Assange living in their embassy, when left-leaning Rafael Correa wanted to protect him there, and it’s only with Lenin Moreno’s election (and money from the IMF!) that Assange has been kicked out.

V: Conclusion

Liberals backslide and betray the people at the very moment when their class privilege is threatened. That’s what Mao observed in ‘Combat Liberalism’: “liberalism stands for unprincipled peace, thus giving rise to a decadent, Philistine attitude…To let things slide, for the sake of peace and friendship…To let things drift if they do not affect one personally…To indulge in personal attacks, pick quarrels, vent personal spite or seek revenge…It is negative and objectively has the effect of helping the enemy; that is why the enemy welcomes its preservation in our midst. Such being its nature, there should be no place for it in the ranks of the revolution.” (Mao, pages 177-179) This is why liberals are no friends of the left.

Stalin once called social democracy “the moderate wing of fascism.” On the face of it, his words may seem excessive; but when you consider how liberals like Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, and Gabbard (in spite of, to her credit, Gabbard’s opposition to the war in Syria and defence of Assange) have no intention of overturning the capitalist system–instead, they would just soften it in order to stave off revolution–the logic of Stalin‘s words is revealed.

As I explained in my ouroboros posts, the clock ticks counter-clockwise from social democracy, then to mainstream centrist liberalism, then to neoliberalism, and finally to fascism. It’s not enough to be ‘left-leaning’ to turn the ticking back in the clockwise direction. Only a hard-left stance will have the necessary force to counteract the counterrevolution of the last fifty years: this means such things as ridding ourselves of antiStalin and anti-Mao propaganda, to arrive at the truth of the value of the communist alternative; for imperialism is a formidable foe that requires a resistance far more effective than the pathetically weak one offered by liberals.

‘Claws,’ an Erotic Horror Novel, Chapter Nine

[Some sexual content]

Detectives Surian and Thurston sat at the tip rail in The Gold Star that night, waiting for Callie to come onstage. A nude stripper was doing the last song of her floorshow. She spread her legs in front of Thurston.

Surian laughed at him for the embarrassment she saw on his face. “C’mon, Andy,” she said. “Enjoy yourself.”

“You’re the only one for me, Agnes,” he said in her ear.

“Oh, fuck off, Andy,” she said. “Pussy is pussy. You’re a guy, aren’t you? Live a little. I don’t care.”

“I care that you don’t,” he said…and meant that. He always flirted with Agnes Surian because he really liked her. “You’re much prettier than she is.”

“Bullshit I am,” she said. “That woman has a much better body than I have.”

“I’ll always like your brown eyes, and that cute brunette bob cut of yours, to that woman’s silicone anytime.”

“You’re not getting me that easily, Andy. Watch her.”

“Every time you talk like that, Agnes, you remind me of my high school crush, the girl you look like, who friend-zoned me and broke my heart.”

“She was that plain-looking and flat-chested, eh?”

“Oh, come one! You have more boob than that, more real boob than that stripper, and more smarts, which I find especially attractive.”

“Oh, aren’t you sweet. Stare at her ass, not at me.”

“Really. Your hunches about perps are accurate as fuck. You found the beast.”

“Who’s coming on next,” Surian reminded him. “Just don’t let yourself get mesmerized when she’s onstage. We don’t wanna lose…’Chloe’…again.”

“Agreed,” he said, glad the stripper’s spread was no longer in front of his face. “You remember what ‘Chloe’ looks like?”

“Yeah, I saw her over on the other side of the bar a while ago. You’ll see her soon.”

The song ended, and the stripper left the stage.

“All right, gentlemen,” the DJ announced as Callie got on the stage. “Let’s give a big hand for this sexy lady. Here’s…Chloe.” A chorus of men’s cheers pounded on the detectives’ eardrums.

“Remember, Andy,” Surian said in Thurston’s ear. “As soon as you smell those sexy pheromones, hold your breath. She uses that smell to fuck with our heads.”

“Got it,” he said. “Then we follow her, and if we can get a chance to see a transformation, we get video of it on our cellphones to show that prick, Detective Hicks, and get him to believe us.”

“Yes,” she said. They looked up at Callie with grins as she shook her ass in that tight dress and those black fishnet stockings.

**************

At about 2:00 AM, the detectives had followed Callie to the apartment of a man she was about to have sex with. They were lucky enough to be able to climb up to a third-floor balcony where they could look in a window and see her nude body bouncing on top of her lover in bed.

“I can’t believe we were lucky enough to find the right room so fast,” Thurston said.

“I can,” Surian said. “She seems to have the power to lure people anywhere she needs them to be. She probably put the intuition in our heads to look here first.”

“You mean she wanted us to find her here?” he asked. “You think she can do that?”

“Yes,” Surian said. “If she has the power to turn into a hairy, clawed beast, she probably has all kinds of powers, including her power to hypnotize us with those pheromones. She wants us here, and wants us to follow her around for some reason–I don’t know what that is, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough. So we’ll have to watch out for any traps she tries to set for us.”

“OK,” he said. They both took out their cellphones and set them to video camera. “I feel like a porno director.”

“Enjoy your perviness,” she said. “She’s hot, isn’t she?”

“I’d rather be pervy with you, Agnes. You’re hotter.”

“Shut up. I am not.”

“Oh, yes, you are.”

“Just get video of the proof, and stop hitting on me.”

They had been getting video of Callie and the man having sex in the cowgirl position for a minute or two before, at the sight of her wiggling tits, Thurston opened his mouth: “Check out bouncing Chloe.”

“Oh, behave yourself, Andy,” Surian said.

“You said, ‘Enjoy your perviness,’ Agnes,” he said.

“In your private thoughts, please,” she said. “I’m not a dude. I don’t wanna hear it.”

“Wait: what are they doing now?” he asked after seeing the man roll over and get on top of her. He got her on all fours. “So, he wants to do her doggy-style now?”

“No, wait,” Callie said, loud enough for the detectives to hear. Her lover was trying to enter her anally.

A flashback went past Callie’s eyes: Mort rolling over and rolling her over on all fours, so he could sodomize her…back when she was thirteen.

“No!” Callie shouted again.

“Oh, c’mon, baby!” the man said, starting to push in.

“I said…NO!” she shouted, growling the last word.

“Holy shit!” the detectives whispered together as they saw hair grow out all over Callie’s body. Her lover moved back, startled and speechless, his eyes and mouth wide open.

“You’re recording all this, right?” Surian asked in a shaky voice, her eyes agape.

“Yeah,” Thurston gasped with his jaw all the way down. “Are you?”

“Of course. Oh, my God!”

Callie’s lover screamed, then her claws sliced across his throat, splashing blood all over the bed. He fell on his right side, shaking, clutching his throat, and coughing out blood. The beast stabbed its claws, both hands, into his chest. He no longer moved. Surian and Thurston were now the ones shaking.

Then the beast looked at the window.

“Oh, shit!” the detectives said when the eyes of the smiling beast met theirs. It jumped off the bed, bounced on the floor, and flew at the window. “Fuck!” the detectives cried.

They dodged apart from each other in time for the beast to break through the glass and fly out between them. It landed on the front lawn of the apartment and ran off.

Thurston called backup. “The beast is back,” he said. “It’s running down Jarvis Street towards Isabella Street. Surian and I will wait for it at Edward Road, on the other side of town. Hurry!”

****************

Whenever cops confronted the beast as it ran and jumped down this or that road, a mere whiff of its intoxicating pheromonal smell, which quickly spread around everywhere it went, overpowered the cops to the point that they couldn’t aim their guns at it, much less fire at it.

The smell even got into the police cars through opened windows or car doors, causing a fog of disorientation that made it impossible to follow the beast. By about 5 AM, it had returned to Edward Road, to the alley next to Callie’s apartment building. The two detectives had been waiting.

Hiding behind the bushes in Edward Park across the road, they grinned to see the beast plodding along in exhaustion, leaving a trail of tufts of its hair. It entered the alley and went behind the crates, as it had last time.

The detectives came out from the bushes and crossed the road. With their pistols cocked, they entered the alley.

The beast lay asleep behind those crates again. Surian and Thurston put their guns away and took out their cellphones, which they reset to video camera. They began to record video of the beast from the shoulders up.

All those hairs on its skin were slithering back, retreating into their follicles. Its claws were shortening, changing back into fingernails.

“This is…incredible,” Thurston whispered. “Wow!”

“I know, but don’t make any noise,” Surian whispered. “She might wake up and get hairy again.”

Callie’s hair changed from brown back to blonde. Now fully changed from beast back to beauty, she lay there still asleep, the same nude sex goddess she was every night in The Gold Star, all clean, freshened up, and as if ready for a Playboy photo shoot.

“She doesn’t even need to pretty herself up in the bathroom,” Surian gasped, still in amazement at what they’d seen. “This is some kind of major supernatural shit we’re seeing here. You got all that recorded, Andy?”

“Yep,” he said with a smile. “We have all the proof we need. This should make Hicks finally take us seriously.”

Callie woke up.

“Good morning, ‘Chloe,’ or Sandra, or whatever your name is,” Surian said with a triumphant smile. “We’ve finally got you.”

“Hi,” Callie said with an ear-to-ear grin, not at all intimidated by them.

Before the detectives could hold their breath, they’d already inhaled a huge whiff of that aphrodisiac pheromone smell. Their heads were swaying from side to side.

“How about a threesome, detectives?” Callie asked. “I know you two like each other, and I know you both like me.”

Surian and Thurston got down on their knees. They dropped their cellphones on the ground. His head went between Callie’s spread legs; Surian’s lips wrapped themselves around Callie’s left nipple. Both detectives began sucking, kissing, and licking. Callie took a cellphone in each hand.

Her hands let out a glow surrounding both cellphones. The demoness’s power erased the memory of the video recordings. Callie orgasmed from Thurston’s lips and tongue on her clitoris, spraying come into his mouth. Kluh’s magic caused Callie to lactate, feeding Surian generous gulps of milk.

Now with the demoness’s fluids inside them, the detectives moved away from Callie’s body; for those fluids were now swimming inside the detectives’ bodies, giving Kluh direct psychic control of both of them. Still mesmerized, the two began French-kissing on the ground there in the alley as Callie got up and walked out of the alley, insouciant about her nudity, her hands at her sides and allowing anyone watching at the time to see all of her body if he or she wished to.

She went to the front door of her apartment building and used her power to unlock it, just by using the tip of her finger to tap on the keyhole. She did the same with that of her apartment, with no need of a key, when she’d reached her floor from the elevator. A hypnotized neighbour of her latest victim would soon arrive at the door of her apartment with her purse and clothes.

The detectives snapped out of their stupor after another ten minutes of necking. Thurston gave Surian a few more kisses on the lips and cheek.

“Stop it!” she said, slapping him. “You pig!”

“Oh, come on, cutie-pie,” he said, rubbing his cheek. “You were as into the kissing as I was.”

“‘Chloe’ used her power to make us do that, to distract us while she got away,” she said. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. We got video of both transformations.” They picked up their cellphones and checked where they’d saved the video recordings. We can finally prove–“

“Hey, what happened to them?” he said, frowning.

“She must have erased them while we were…fuck!”

“Let’s go find her apartment.”

“She’ll probably elude us again. We’ll have to think of a different strategy. I’d like to know what she does with herself when she isn’t stripping. I’d like to follow her around in the day, and see if there’s anything we can learn about her that way.”

“Yeah, in any case, we still have that sexy smell of hers fogging up our brains. We can’t think straight, so we can’t do much here and now.”

Yes, follow me around in the day, Callie/Kluh thought as she lay on her bed on her back. Learn more about me through Dr. Visner.

Analysis of ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is a 1972 rock album by David Bowie. The eleven songs on the album together tell the story of Ziggy Stardust, a messenger who tells of saviour aliens coming to an Earth that has five years left before all life on it must come to an end. He tries to save the Earth in the form of an androgynous, bisexual rock star, but his arrogance, excesses, and decadent lifestyle end up destroying him. The songs were written first, and the story grew around them later.

The album shot Bowie into stardom, and it’s now considered one of the most important albums in rock history. Bowie toured in the Ziggy persona for several years; but his immersion into the character blurred the line between him and Ziggy, almost driving him over the edge. This going-over-the-edge is similar both to that of Vince Taylor, Ziggy’s main inspiration, and that of ‘Maxwell Demon,’ the persona of Brian Slade in the 1998 film Velvet Goldmine, inspired by Ziggy Stardust.

Here is a link to the lyrics for all the songs on the album.

Five Years” introduces the problem of the story: it isn’t specified what the cause is, but “we had five years left to cry in.” The end of the world is nigh, apparently. Environmental destruction? Nuclear war between the NATO and Warsaw pact countries? No cause is stated explicitly, if it’s even implied. Bowie paints a vivid verbal picture of the traumatized reaction of everybody, but little more than that.

There are, however, a few hints as to what’s really going on. First of all, consider who the would-be messiah is: an alien whose herald is a bisexual, androgynous rock star? What can such a messenger do beyond entertain? Adults understand this, but the idolizing teenager sees so much more in the heroes he or she worships.

This story is a teenage fantasy, a melodrama in which rock stars are messengers of saviours, and mundane problems are seen as apocalyptic. How often have we heard adolescents over-dramatize whatever upsets them, acting as though their problems are heralding ‘the end of the world’? They do this again, and again, and again…

Consider the chord sequence of almost the whole song: G major, E minor, A major, and C major–four chords, repeated in a cycle throughout the song (save for the fat/skinny, tall/short, nobody/somebody people verse–A minor to C major [twice], G major to C major, D major 7th, and A minor to C major–not much of a variation). Anyone who listens closely to David Bowie songs, especially those of the 1970s, will typically hear many chord changes and variations within each song. “Five Years,” with its repetitive four chords, is symbolic of that adolescent melodrama of, “Mom! Dad! You’re ruining my life! My life is over!” happening again and again, in teenage crisis after teenage crisis.

Those five years are rumoured to have been the result of a dream Bowie had, in which his deceased father told him he would die in five years; but I see the choice of five years ’til ‘Armageddon’ as going from turning 13 to turning 18, or from turning 14 to turning 19…five years of emotional crises; perhaps a teenage fear of not being able to take care of oneself upon reaching the independence of adulthood. This fear of freedom is something Erich Fromm once explored.

The first time I heard this song, back when I was a teen, I was struck by how different Bowie’s voice sounded. It wasn’t his more usual baritone; he sang the song in a more boyish-sounding upper register, suggesting he was telling the story from a teen’s point of view.

Aside from the teen perspective, though, there are other interesting observations. Life is equated with suffering, since “we had five years left to cry in,” rather than live in. The teen narrator is observant in how deceptive the media is, since by his noting of the reporter’s tears, he “knew he was not lying.”

The teen wishes he could escape the pain by distracting himself, thinking of pop culture-oriented things, entertainment, etc.: “opera house, favourite melodies, boys, toys,…and TVs” (he and the other teenagers will be distracted by the pop culture icon, Ziggy Stardust, soon enough), but this manic defence cannot cure his despair.

His head is in pain; it feels “like a warehouse, it had no room to spare.” Now, he’s trying to cram in people, instead of pleasurable things; for as Fairbairn observed, correcting Freud, our libido is object-seeking (that is, seeking relationships with other people–objects are people other than oneself, the subject), not seeking to achieve pleasure, or the gratification of drives.

The boy is cramming “so many people”: fat/skinny, tall/short, nobody/somebody–these pairs of opposites sound like merisms, figures of speech often found in the Bible (heaven/earth, good/evil, as in the first three chapters of Genesis) meant to indicate the whole range from one extreme to the other. In other words, the teen is stuffing the internalized objects of people of all shapes, sizes, social classes, and of everything between the extremes of fame and obscurity, into his head, in a desperate attempt to escape the despair and desolation of loneliness that the imminent destruction of his world would cause for him.

The boy sees child abuse caused by the stress felt from the global crisis: a girl his age hits some children, rather like an elder sibling imitating the abusiveness of his parents. A black person stops her, saving the kids. This vignette suggests a number of the social issues many were especially concerned with at the time: the teen girl’s imitation of parental abuse suggests she isn’t observing the dictum, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” We also see a negation of the stereotype of the black criminal, by making a black man the hero this time. Teens of the early Seventies would have been sensitive to anti-establishment ideas like these.

A soldier stares at a Cadillac: he’s a member of the working class, who often die for the rich during war; he contemplates the luxury he himself can never enjoy, but for which he slaves away, so the ruling class can enjoy it. A cop defers to religious authority, disgusting a gay man who has been persecuted by that very authority.

The boy sees his love in an ice cream parlour, “looking so fine.” He feels “like an actor”–presumably in a melodramatic love story, or perhaps, in his teenage identity crisis, he doesn’t feel like his True Self. He wants his mother; he wants to regress back to an early childlike state, to an easier, less stressful time.

He thinks of his love, “drinking milkshakes cold and long.” He mentions his love’s “race”: is this person black? Is this the cause of his emotional crisis, the ‘end of the world’ for him? Have his conservative parents rejected his love for being a non-white? (Or is he black, and is his love white?) Is his love a she…or a he?

If he is in an interracial relationship, how does this tie in with the black person stopping the teen girl from beating the kids? His open-mindedness towards other racial groups for lovers is commendable, but is his choice of a (presumably non-white) partner meant as a deliberate act of defiance against his parents’ authority? If so, is his seeing a black person saving kids from a teen girl’s assault actually a wish-fulfilling dream, the girl representing his (immature) mom, the kids representing him (and similarly bullied teens), and the black person representing his love?

Does he want his love “to walk” up to him? “To walk” free from prejudice? Anyway, they have five years that he’s so obsessed with, it’s “stuck on [his] eyes,” and the “surprise” sounds like sarcasm; for he’s been through these brain-hurting crises so many times before, and will again so many times in the future, hence the repetitiveness of the song’s chord progression.

Soul Love” expresses the pitfalls of idolatrous “love” in several different forms. There’s the fake love of patriotism, the “slogan” of fighting for one’s country, leading to a mother’s tears at the sight of her son’s headstone in a cemetery.

Another form of idolatrous love is the puppy love of a teenage boy and girl speaking “new words.” But “love is careless,” descending over “those defenceless.” “Sweeping over, cross a baby,” could mean lovemaking resulting in an unwanted teen pregnancy, or it could mean the Cross that the baby Jesus, another idol, would eventually give His love on. Furthermore, “love is not loving.” The idolized ideal is far from the real thing.

“The flaming dove” could be religious zeal for the Holy Spirit, or the burning destruction of peace when “idiot love will spark the fusion” resulting in nuclear war, that foolish love of conquering an enemy (i.e., those ‘commies’ during the Cold War), instead of the wise love of learning how to coexist with differing ideologies. The “idiot love” could also cause “the fusion” resulting in an unwanted pregnancy.

The “soul love” of a Catholic priest tasting the Host (“the Word” made flesh…and in this case, made bread) is “told of love” of the Most High God as “all love” (1 John 4:8); but Bowie sings that his “loneliness evolves by the blindness that surrounds Him.” Evolutionary theory helps expose the phoney idolatry of religious faith, freeing man from Church authoritarianism, but also leaving us to feel alone and insignificant, in need of a new idol to worship, a new leader to follow blindly, as Fromm observed:

“When one has become an individual, one stands alone and faces the world in all its perilous and overpowering aspects.

“Impulses arise to give up one’s individuality, to overcome the feeling of aloneness and powerlessness by completely submerging oneself in the world outside.” (Fromm, page 29) The teen, rejecting parental or Church authority, nonetheless needs a new leader to follow, someone in whom he can submerge his individuality so he no longer feels alone or insignificant. The stage is set for Ziggy Stardust’s arrival.

Moonage Daydream” is more of a surrealist vignette than a continuation of the album’s narrative. Incoherent imagery (“I’m an alligator. I’m a mama/papa coming for you…a pink monkey-bird…,” etc.) abounds, like the automatic, random ramblings of the unconscious, a teenager’s “moonage daydream” of his coming rock ‘n’ roll messiah-herald, his dream as wish-fulfillment.

The notion of a wish for salvation through rock ‘n’ roll is accentuated with Mick Ronson‘s power chord at the beginning of the song. This “moonage daydream” is a teenage fantasy in which the teen hopes his rock ‘n’ roll idol will “lay the real thing on [him],” and prove that he really cares for the fan.

The daydream could be seen as a surreal dialogue between the rock star and his fan. We keep the “‘lectric eye” (the TV camera) on the star, while he presses his “space face close to” the fan’s. This “church of man,” a secular church of rock ‘n’ roll to replace that of the Bible-thumpers, “is such a holy place to be,” for it frees us of the repressions of the past.

Starman” advances the story with Ziggy Stardust heralding the coming of a saviour from outer space. The message is heard on a rock radio station; then, those Earthlings who hear it hope to learn more “on Channel Two,” on their TVs. Here we see how the media mesmerizes us with pop culture icons, who distract us from our real problems by tempting us to idolize rock stars; but as we learned from “Soul Love,” love (i.e., the idolatry of celebrities, religious figures, or partners who may break our hearts in the future) is not loving (i.e., real, selfless love).

The melody Bowie sings at the beginning of the chorus, with its upward leap of an octave and step down a semitone, reminds us of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” We’re being lured into a fantasy world, the adoration of a rock star, when we should focus on our reality on Earth; Dorothy similarly dreamed of an ideal world to escape from dreary Kansas–she’d want to return home soon enough, though. Little children were charmed by the Land of Oz; teenage “children” will “boogie” to Ziggy’s musical message.

It Ain’t Easy” has fewer chord changes than even “Five Years.” It isn’t a Bowie composition, though: it was written by Ron Davies. Bowie nonetheless did make a few lyrical changes to the song, in particular, this one: “With the help of the good Lord [instead of “patience and understanding”], we can all pull on through.” Such a change reinforces the album’s theme of reliance on religion, a form of idolatrous love that is a drug to distract us from our problems–recall, in this regard, what Marx had to say about religion.

Another contrast is between Davies’s bluesy original and the dainty melancholy of Bowie’s version, accentuated by Rick Wakeman‘s harpsichord playing. The repetition of the song’s few chord changes, like the four of “Five Years,” can be heard to symbolize the mundane normality of our unhappiness: same shit, different day.

“We will all pull on through, get there in the end. Sometimes it’ll take you right up, and sometimes down again.” The idolatrous love that religion and rock stars inspire only temporarily raises our spirits; like the highs and depressing coming-down on drugs, these manic defences aren’t omnipotent.

Side Two of the album establishes the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll prophet Ziggy Stardust. Now, “Lady Stardust” is actually about androgynous Marc Bolan, but the song still fits the narrative, since Ziggy represents glam rock stars like Bolan, Lou Reed, Jobriath, and of course Bowie. The boys and girls gaze on the beautiful star in pagan adoration.

While Ziggy is often confused with the extraterrestrials he’s heralding, it shouldn’t really matter whether he’s merely an earthly messenger or a quasi-divine alien. Rock stardom, here a metaphor for organized religion, shows that the distinction between messenger and message is typically blurred. The Bible is often perceived as infallible, even when its message of love is ignored; rock stars are practically deified by their fans, when it’s really their performances that should be admired. Jesus is God according to Christians; he’s a prophet according to Muslims. Religion on TV is entertainment as distracting as rock ‘n’ roll.

Star” begins with references to men who tried to improve their world through methods more down-to-earth than Ziggy’s. “Tony” is involved in the troubles in Northern Ireland, with the conflict between Britain and the IRA. Nye Bevan, as the UK Minister of Health from 1945 to 1951, tried to improve health care in England by socializing it. Some try to make things better, others fail and suffer.

Ziggy, however, imagines he can save the world by announcing the alien saviour “as a rock ‘n’ roll star.” He finds it “so enticing to play the part.” While Bowie himself had been without a major hit since “Space Oddity,” and therefore “could do with the money”; this preoccupation with cashing in on selling salvation through the media is chillingly redolent of the TV evangelists.

Hang On to Yourself” focuses on Ziggy’s party lifestyle with the groupies who idolize him. I’m reminded once again of the sons of God descending on the daughters of men in Genesis 6:1-4. The Starman has descended on Earth, and his mingling with us has resulted in the heroic Nephilim of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Yet since, as I argued in my examination of “Lady Stardust,” it doesn’t matter all that much whether Ziggy’s the alien himself of just an Earthly messenger of the Starman (because the religious tend to revere prophets almost on the same level as gods), then Ziggy and his band could themselves be the sons of God enjoying the daughters of men in their hotels every night. ‘Sons of God’ could be angels, gods, or otherwise quasi-divine beings, or they could be the descendants of Seth; therefore, Ziggy et al could be terrestrial or extraterrestrial, actual spiders from Mars.

In spite of the light-hearted attitude towards screwing groupies, though, they’d still “better hang on to [themselves].” For all of this freewheeling partying will ultimately lead to Ziggy’s self-destruction, just as the mating of the sons of God with the daughters of men led to the Deluge and destruction of the Earth, this latter already something expected to happen in five years.

Ziggy Stardust” tells the whole story in brief, but from the point of view of the envious Spiders from Mars. Ziggy’s an amazing talent on the guitar, but “he took it all too far.” Ziggy lets his talent and fame go to his head, “making love with his ego.” He imagines himself as godlike, “jiving us that we were voodoo.” The fans recognize that, in his growing egotism, Ziggy isn’t the saviour they’ve thought he is, so they kill him, and that’s the end of the band. The idolatrous always suffer bitter disappointment when reality hits them in the face.

Suffragette City” is about Ziggy’s relationship with a woman who’s great in bed, but has him so wrapped around her finger that she won’t let him hang out with his male friends. The power-based relationship is given a tongue-in-cheek comparison to men’s relationship with feminism, since Manchester, England was a major city for the growth of the Suffragette movement.

One of the hurdles in the fight for equality of the sexes is the perception that it involves one sex trying to dominate the other. Accordingly, feminists are perceived as ruling over their boyfriends/husbands in exchange for sex. On the other hand, a young man without a girlfriend or wife is seen as a freewheeling “droogie” running around partying, doing drugs, destroying property, beating people up, and even engaging in sexual impropriety (as Bowie himself was apparently guilty of with then-underage Lori Maddox).

What’s interesting, from the point of view of this song, though, is how rock star and groupie have changed roles: the idol has become the idolater, and vice versa. A son of the gods, having mated with a daughter of men, has become a son of men mating with a daughter of the gods. The dominant and submissive have swapped positions.

So, part of Ziggy’s self-destruction as a rock star is his ‘domestication’ by his girlfriend, thus losing his power and status as a rock-and-roll demigod; part of it is his having disappointed his fans by not delivering the salvation he’s promised; and most importantly, part of it is the drinking and drugs he’s overindulged in.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” focuses on that self-destructiveness through the excess partying. You can smoke the cigarette of time quickly, or you can savour it; live life in the fast lane, or take life with a relaxed attitude. Teenagers are stuck at a time of life of being “too old” and “too young” at the same time, too young to be partying to excess, but too old to be overprotected as children.

Early in the morning, one may “stumble across the road” drunk and stoned after a night of partying, which is a manic defence against all that is depressing to a teen…the “five years left to cry in.” Ziggy knows that kind of pain, for he’s “had [his] share.”

Even in his dying, Ziggy tries to comfort all the teens that he’s disappointed with his “religiously unkind” posturing as a prophet (making him no better than the priests and televangelists). Still, his advice is worth hearing: “Oh, no, love, you’re not alone!”

One of Bowie’s musical influences was Jacques Brel, whose “Jef” has been echoed in this song: “Non, Jef, t’es pas tout seul.” Brel comforts his friend Jef, after his girlfriend has dumped him and broken his heart; Ziggy comforts his teen fans after he himself has disappointed them, breaking their hearts. “You’re not alone!” Don’t let alienation get you down! “You’re wonderful!” You don’t need to identify with a rock star to feel worthy, teens. You’re already wonderful, just as you are.

The song climaxes with a whirlwind of chord changes and modulations suggesting the complicated emotions teens go through during those turbulent years. After the C major to A major sequence beginning with “Oh, no, love, you’re not alone,” we hear those words again with a chord progression of C-sharp minor, G-sharp minor, B major, D-sharp minor, B-flat minor, C-sharp major, B major, D-sharp minor, B-flat minor, and C-sharp major. Then, repeated chromatic ascents from B-flat major to C-sharp major are heard as Bowie sings, “Just turn on with me, and you’re not alone!…Give me your hands, ’cause you’re wonderful!” etc.

The lesson to be learned from this album is that, no matter what ‘apocalypse’ of “Five Years” we’re about to suffer, “No matter what or who you’ve been, no matter when or where you’ve seen, all the knives seem to lacerate your brain,” we don’t need an idol to “get there in the end.” No messengers of such idols, as the media likes to distract us with–be they priests, televangelists, or rock stars–are going to help us “all pull on through.”

It’s knowing that we’re not alone, that is, we’re all sharing the same sorrows and alienation of one form or another, that will comfort us, through our mutual empathy (that is, through Ron Davies’s “patience and understanding”). And if we give each other our hands in that empathic attitude, to help each other in solidarity, we’ll realize we have a lot more than just five years to live in.