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Bloodlines

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter 5

 

They ended up going to Jenny's house. After Todd springing the monumental news that the Book of Pure Evil was back and then shutting down, Jenny decided they needed someplace private to pry the details out of him. Going to Todd or Curtis' house at 1:30 in the morning and having to deal with potentially nosy parents was out of the question, so Jenny's house it was.

The house sat dark and empty when she pulled into the drive. After a little over a month, it smelled musty and unlived in when she unlocked the door and walked in, Curtis and Todd shuffling behind her. Curtis still had his shotgun, like he thought somebody might come after them still. Todd just looked dead on his feet. And bloody. He was sporting bruises that she hadn't been able to see in the dark, like he'd been ruffed up pretty bad and that made her stomach churn a little. He absently rubbed at his chest, flaking away dried blood.

"You can use the shower. Go get cleaned up," which was a massive act of generosity on her part, since she was dying to sit him down and start getting explanations. He looked at her little blankly like all the pistons in his head weren't firing off properly - - not an entirely unfamiliar look with him - - but this time she figured it was shock rather than him being stoned or forced to endure one of Hannah's complicated, scientific theories.

She looked past him, at Curtis, who was clutching the shotgun to his chest with a faint furrow between his brows like he was deep inside his own head; not much help there. So she caught his hand and got him moving by show and tell, leading him to the bathroom off her parent's bedroom and giving him a push inside.

"Wash the blood off, Todd. I'll find one of my dad's old shirts you can wear."

He took a breath, looking at her finally with something resembling comprehension. "Okay."

She left him to it, wondering back through the house, checking on her room just to make sure it was the same as when she'd left a month ago. It was. Still a few clothes she hadn't had room to pack laid out on the bed.

Curtis was standing in the living room when she made it back, still holding the gun. She raised a brow at him.

"You can put that down, if you want."

He looked down at it, then back up at her. "You heard what he said, right?"

"Yeah."

"Balls," he said softly, looking as horrified as she felt at the notion.

"Yeah, that sort of sums it up." She flopped down on the couch and he finally moved to put down the gun, propping it next to the front door and sitting down on the other end from her.

"He looks pretty messed up," Curtis said. "Like somebody wailed on him."

Jenny frowned, pulling hard on the stray lock of hair she'd been twining around a finger. It pissed her off. She wished they'd run into more than a dog in the woods for Curtis to shower with shotgun propelled birdseed. She wished whoever had done that to Todd was within her sights right now. She'd pull that trigger without hesitation. She blew out a breath, a little surprised at herself at that wash of violence and looked back up at Curtis.

"This new friend of yours?"

Curtis' metal fist clenched. "Maybe. The Metal Dudes tried to run him down the other day, too. Banged him up a little."

"What?" that came out a little shrill. "Why didn't anybody tell me? Seriously, what the hell is wrong with guys and their lack of basic skills of communication?"

Curtis shrugged, not having an answer to that. Jenny rolled her eyes and simmered.

They sat for a while, not talking, each of them caught up in their own pretty awful memories of the chaos the book could make of perfectly ordinary lives. Then Todd shuffled back out, in one of her dad's old under shirts she'd laid on the bed for him to find. Her dad hadn't been a t-shirt sort of guy and all he'd owned were white Haynes, and this one was stretched tight across Todd's shoulders, a little translucent around the neck where his wet hair was soaking the cloth. He looked wiped out and slightly uncomfortable, like the last thing he wanted to do was have to sit down and talk about what had happened.

Which was tough shit. Jenny's compassion wasn't her most developed characteristic and this was important. The world shattering sort of important.

"Sit down. Spill," she ordered.

He breathed out a put upon breath and flopped down on the couch between her and Curtis.

"The Book's back."

"Yeah, you said that already. How?"

He cast her a quick, wary look from under his lashes and a fall of damp hair, then shrugged and turned his attention to picking at a loose thread hanging from the hole in the knee of his jeans. "Y'know, Satanists."

"We don't know. Start from the beginning."

He sighed again, and mumbled. "I got a text from Curtis tonight - - asking to meet him at school."

"I didn't text you," Curtis piped up.

"I know, dude," Todd looked up at Curtis, total conviction in that absolution. "It was Randy Fucking Savage. Him and couple of guys jumped me in the parking lot."

"I - - I lost my phone this morning - -" Curtis said a little numbly, eyes wide with dismay.

"Lets assume this Randy guy stole it," Jenny rolled a hand to get things moving.

"Anyway, they dragged me out to the woods where there were a bunch of other guys - - Satanist guys - - but like, young and really scary - - with this one guy who was like their high priest or something who looked like - - I shit you not - - Danzig."

"No shit?" Curtis mouthed, appropriately amazed. "Like Danzig now or Danzig from Lucifuge?"

"Well, sort of a cross - -he had more tats - -"

"God," Jenny threw out her hands and yelled. "Could we get off the name that Danzig portion of the show and get on with the story?"

Todd cast her a sullen look, as if she'd interrupted the most important part of the whole fiasco. "Yeah, well, he was a dick anyway - - and oh, Nikki was there - -" he added, as if that were just a minor detail.

"Nikki Kane?" Her voice kept getting embarrassingly shrill without her meaning it to.

"No, Nicki Minaj," Todd said sulkily, still annoyed at her dismissal of their Danzig classification.

She narrowed her eyes at him and he ducked his head and shrugged. "Yeah, her. So anyway, there were all these like Metal Satanist dudes and they were like chanting and I dunno, having this big satanic circle jerk - -"

"Wait a minute," Jenny waved a hand. "Back to Nikki - -"

"She brought them some stuff." He cringed a little, then chewed his lip, thinking hard. "I think maybe she was working with them - - or they were working for her - - she wasn't part of the - - of what they did."

"What did they do?" Curtis asked, a bare whisper.

Todd opened his mouth, shut it, scratching absently at his chest through the t-shirt. "The Danzig guy - -he um - - carved a symbol into my chest. I don't know what - - something satany, I guess - - that's where all the blood was from - -"

"He what?" Jenny leaned over, hands going for his shirt. "Let me see."

He pulled his knees up, wrapping his arms around them, blocking her access, suddenly developing a case of modesty.

"It's gone," he muttered. "After the book was free - - it just faded away. But - -I can still sort of - - feel it, a little." He dropped his forehead to his knees, breathing hard.

"Todd, how - -?" she started, but Curtis slashed a hand at her, and snapped.

"Give him a minute, Jenny."

"She said," Todd finally mumbled, forehead still resting on his knees. "She said I'd locked the book away and the only way to get it back was to break the locks. Whatever they did - - I felt it - - inside." He narrowed his eyes, the look he got when he was trying hard to figure out something inexplicable. "Like - - like somebody taking a bat to a windshield and the first couple of hits all it does is fracture and then it just - -" he looked up splaying out his fingers in an exaggerated motion of explosion. "Then the book was just there. And they let me go after."

"And these guys have it?"

"No. It flew away."

"Figures. Is that all?" Jenny prodded, not believing it.

"Well," Todd shrugged. "That wolf you shot was the Metal Dudes. And Nikki."

Curtis mouthed holy shit. Jenny just narrowed her eyes and figured they were lucky to be getting the details they'd gotten out of him.

"Do you have anything to drink?" Todd finally asked. It was enough to break through the tension that had built all through Todd's sketchy explanation. Jenny let out a breath and shrugged.

"I've been gone for a month. I wouldn't trust anything left in the fridge. I've got water."

She went into the kitchen, broke open a pack of bottled water under the counter and tossed two at the guys.

"Listen, I'm gonna go change, and brush the twigs out of my hair." She plucked one out from her ponytail for emphasis.

"Jenny - - thanks for y'know - - coming after me and all." There was a certain awkward uncertainty in his voice that made her take a breath and remind herself of all the reasons she'd used to talk herself out of him to begin with. She felt a little uncertain herself all of sudden. A little flustered.

"It was nothing. You'd do it for me, right?"

 


Todd slouched there on Jenny's couch, in Jenny's house - - Jenny's bedroom just down the hall - - a place he'd never actually been invited into before - - and felt nothing but numb. And tired and all he wanted to do was topple over, press his face to the couch and just sleep for twelve hours straight.

And he'd never in all the time he'd known Curtis felt uncomfortable when it was just the two of them, and maybe Curtis was feeling the same way, because he was sitting there, chewing on the metal tip of one prosthetic finger.

"Its not your fault - - about the text - -" Todd finally ventured, crumpling the empty plastic water bottle, just to be doing something with his hands.

Curtis made a sound, a choked off snort. "So was he hanging out with me just to - - what - - get at you?"

Todd shrugged.

"Swear to God, if I see him again, I'm gonna jack him right in the nuts."

"I already did - - a couple of times."

Curtis raised a brow at him. "Really?"

"Yeah, he was still walking funny last I saw him."

"Cool," Curtis nodded, then looked down at his knees, the fingers of both real and fake hands clenching a little, before he blurted. "Man, I'm really sorry."

"Its okay, it wasn't your fault - -"

"Not about that. About - - you and me - - since Hannah - - you know?"

Todd stared at him, wide eyed and not knowing what to say to that, when he'd been agonizing over it all summer. A whole different sort of ache centered around his chest, distracting him from the echoes of the faded symbol. "You had your reasons, dude. I did sort of - - make it happen."

"No," Curtis shook his head. "You didn't know. I didn't know. She never told me. I just really needed somebody to be pissed at and you were it. I was pissed at me too - -that I couldn't do anything to save her. So being angry at you was like a double whammy maybe - - I got somebody to blame with the added bonus of punishing myself."

Occasionally Curtis had flashes of brilliance when it came to understanding emotional conundrums that left Todd's head swimming. Todd wasn't entirely sure he followed this one.

"I missed you, dude." Curtis spelled it out for him. "I mean, I really missed you and it felt like I deserved not having you - - as a friend - - for not coming through for her."

"That's sort of fucked up."

"I know," Curtis sighed.

Todd slouched a little deeper into the cushions. "I missed you, too,"

And Thank God Jenny wasn't in the room, because it was all rushing up on him, the whole damned terrible day, the pain, Nikki and the Metal Dudes making threats that he under no circumstances wanted to admit to any of his friends - - the book -- and Curtis' forgiveness was the last straw that kicked him in the teeth and sent him over the edge in to utter wussiness.

He ducked his head letting his hair fall down and hide embarrassing wetness in his eyes. But he never had been able to hide anything from Curtis. Curtis hooked him around the neck with the metal arm, dragging him into a hug that was benediction and comfort and support and at the moment, he didn't even think a hug from Jenny could have topped this. He pressed his face into Curtis' shoulder and they both pretended he wasn't losing all semblance of dignity.

It had been a really long day.

 


The storm had gone from lightning and wind to a steady downpour of rain. It came in through the broken windowpanes of the church and created puddles on the floor. It was dry in the sanctuary behind the alter and Hannah huddled there, as she'd sat for countless nights before, only this night she wasn't afraid of the world at large, ignorant and empty. She was afraid of herself. Of what she was - - of what she might not be - - a real girl at all.

That was a familiar fear. But this time she knew the basics of the reality behind it. She was a clone. One of multiple attempts by her parents - - where they really even her parents or just the scientists who'd made her? - - to splice the living DNA of the Book of Pure Evil into a human being. She'd only heard a snippet of their recorded notes that night - - the last night she remembered before coming back to herself here - - but it had been enough. Genetic manipulation, gene splicing, cloning - - revolutionary cloning, actually - - maybe even the first successful human clone - - and perhaps she'd be a little more thrilled at the prospect of that breakthrough if she weren't so personally invested. She was perfect down to the last freckle, she'd checked in the mirror over the washroom in the rectory. The only thing missing was the place on her side where the skin had grown leathery and rough over the last few weeks of her previous life. Where disturbing knotty scar tissue had formed the shape of an inverted pentagram. The same shape that was on the cover of the Book. But it had vanished completely leaving only smooth, healthy skin. Or perhaps this body had never had it to begin with.

And maybe, if she'd only discovered that she was something created in a vial and grown in a tube, her rational brain might be able to accept it and adjust. It was the other pertinent detail that had her trembling and doubting the veracity of herself. She had died. She'd seen her grave, been drawn to that grave when she'd known nothing else. You could clone a body, but you couldn't clone a personality. You couldn't clone memories and experiences - - not without some process of mapping the neurons and the pathways of the brain and as far as she knew - - there was no such technology. But the Book was involved and Hannah's ultra rational mind had been stretched and confounded during all the months that they'd been dealing with it and she'd had no choice but to accept that there were things in the world that had no scientific explanation. As much as she hated to admit it, there was magic in the world that defied all the laws of science and reason.

Whatever had happened to her, the Book was at the center of it. And the last time she'd seen the book, it had been in Todd's hands and Todd had been on the verge of turning into the Pure Evil One. Or had he already turned? She wasn't quite sure, for that was when the pain had started inside her, growing outwards from that patch on her side, becoming so bright and intense that after a while, it had eaten her and she'd known nothing at all. She wondered if that's when she'd died. She tightened her grip around her knees - - no distancing herself rationally from the notion of death - - her own death. Curtis had been there and suddenly the thought of what he must have suffered made her throat swell and her eyes well with salty wetness. Time hadn't held a lot of meaning for her while she'd been a shell, but she thought a good deal of it must have passed. Her hair was matted and dirty, and her skin barely skin colored through the grime.

But other than the rain and the wind, and the occasional crack of thunder in the distance as the storm worked it way east, the world was very much what the world had always been. Which meant Todd hadn't brought hell down upon it. Good for him.

She needed to understand. She needed to find out what had happened between the gaps in her memory. She needed to make sure the people that mattered to her were okay. She needed to see Curtis. But the thought of what he might think of her was terrifying. What if he thought she was a monster? What if he were afraid of her? What if he found out what she really was - - a girl grown in a metal embryo, an unholy mix of human genes and the living cells of an evil, evil Book? What if he hated her?

She could try to go to Todd, but then what Todd found out, he'd inevitably share with Curtis. Besides, his strong point was fighting monsters, not figuring out the reasons behind their existence.

Jenny might understand. Jenny had a rational head most of the time, even if her tact was sometimes lacking. Jenny was a friend and painful as it might be if she looked at her with derision, Hannah thought she could survive it. And she needed a friend, badly. For her own sanity, she needed someone to look at her and recognize her as something other than a girl freshly grown in a tube.

 


Well, shit. Jenny stopped in the doorway to the living room fresh from a quick shower herself - - she'd found a spider in her hair from all the running around in the woods and spiders in hair were never good - - all prepared for a little bit more prying into things that had been going on since she'd been gone, only to find Todd and Curtis dead to the world. Todd was sprawled against Curtis who was sprawled against the arm of the couch, like a couple of ten year olds that had stayed up too late during a sleepover.

She sighed, grabbed the throw from over the back of the sofa and tossed it over them, and tromped back to her room. She'd left the city in such a rush, she'd left her laptop and her ipod and her favorite clothes. It was only an hours drive, but damned if she wanted to confront her mom and get into an argument about where she was going to live. She was staying in Crowley Heights and her mom could just deal. In fact she'd been doing fine on her own for months before her mom developed a conscience. Or, more accurately a conscience centered around the need for some of Jenny's inheritance. If it hadn't been for that, Jenny doubted she'd have given her a second thought.

The Book was back and it had brought a whole new set of troubles with it, and Todd needed her. He and Curtis couldn't deal with figuring their way out a paper bag alone, much less figure out how to deal with all the Book craziness without somebody who didn't figure getting totally baked was a good way of analyzing complicated dilemmas. And without Hannah - - well, Jenny was willing to make the sacrifice and be that someone. It most certainly wasn't that she'd been looking for a reason to convince herself to come back home. It wasn't that she'd actually missed him.

Them.

Missed them. Get it straight, damnit.

Too wired to sleep herself, she flopped down on her bed, comfortable in sweatpants and a tank top, and flipped on the TV. Not a lot on at almost 3 in the morning, but she managed to find a rerun of the Gilmore Girls and settled back to watch Lorelei and Rory hash out problems less complicated and a lot less dangerous than hers.

Still, it was good to be home.

 


 

Elliot Everwood was a joiner. The sort of kid that joined everything, every group, every sport he could manage to get accepted onto, every club, every social network and plodded along with the cheerfulness of the supremely oblivious, hardly ever realizing that he excelled at very little, until someone inevitably pointed it out. He wasn't particularly smart or fit, or charming or good looking. He was the middle child of a middle child and had neither the intellect of his older sibling or the innate cuteness of his younger. He was, to put it bluntly, a middling in every respect.

But Elliot was okay with that. He expected very little, and was seldom disappointed when he never got chosen for a top spot in this sport or that school club or band. (His clarinet playing was rather like someone scraping nails across a chalkboard inside the ears.) So it when he finally did find something he was good at, it was especially heart wrenching when it was taken away. He'd been an excellent minion. The best Mr. M had ever had. Mr. M had told him so and Elliot had never been the best at anything in his life.

The concept of Satanism was cool and all - - how could one big eternal orgy of drunkenness and sex not be, if Mr. M's nifty illustrated pamphlet could be believed - - but mostly, Elliot had loved the inclusion. He'd loved being Minion number 1. He'd loved the fact that Mr. M had trusted him with important tasks, when no one had ever really trusted Elliot with anything vital before. When no one had ever really relied on him to be anything but there, a middling son, a middling team member, a middling kid all around. Elliot had been needed and Elliot had loved Mr. M because of it.

And then Mr. M had gotten eaten by the book at the hands of Todd Smith and all that had been taken away.

Elliot wasn't the sort of kid that held grudges and it had sort of been Mr. M or Todd and Mr. M had sort of pushed Todd into taking up the book, Mr. M believing something that it turned out, wasn't true at all. And since everything went back to normal after Mr. M got eaten and Todd didn't bring about the fiery orgy Mr. M had promised - - he'd actually started doing summer yawn work - - Elliot didn't hold onto his grievances.

If anyone particularly deserved cross feelings, it was Curtis Weaver anyway, because he'd been the one to sway all the kids - - and a few of the teachers - - that Elliot had worked so hard to recruit away from Mr. M's Satanic society with the simple declaration that you didn't have to be a Satanist to get drunk and fuck. That Satanism was a derivative of plain old paganism and you didn't have to wear a funny robe or worship a dark lord to have fun. And not that Elliot didn't think that was fine and good - - he just hadn't wanted Mr. M to be disappointed.

He mourned. In fact, with school out for the summer and none of his various activities to be middling at, he spent a great deal of time and effort bemoaning the loss of the one person who had respected him and the one position in which he had excelled at.

It was during one of these sessions of self-pity, as he was reverently flipping through his very dog-eared, very worn copy of Mr. M's 'One Way Trip to Hell' pamphlet, that the curious thing happened. He'd gone to his room after dinner and a disappointing episode of Dancing with the stars, locked his door, even though his mom disapproved of the doing of things that might require the need of locked doors, and furtively opened his underwear drawer, slipping socks and tightie whities aside to reveal his most cherished possession. He'd taken it the day after Semi-formal, when classes had been cancelled due to the damage caused by the freak storm that had hit Crowley Heights and no place else. Mr. M would have wanted him to have it, he was sure, as he pressed his face into the soft weave of the sweater vest. He could almost still smell the scent of Mr. M's cologne. Ah, Old Spice. Mr. M had been a man of refined tastes.

He slipped it on, misty-eyed and sighing at the slightly scratchy feel against his nipples, and sat on his bed and looking at the beloved pamphlet and 'doing the devil's work' as his mom would say, with a hand under his briefs.

It was during the midst of this masturbatory expedition, that the book flapped through his open bedroom window to land with a surprising thump in the center of his bed.

He froze in mid-jerk, staring wide-eyed at the spark of ember red current that sizzled along the lines of the inverted pentagram on its cover. It was the Book. The one Mr. M had coveted more than anything. The one that had eaten him up and left Elliot with nothing but memories of his time in the sun. He should have hated this Book for what it had done to Mr. M, leading him on, then betraying him, but the lure of cracking open that withered hide cover was too great. It was as if it knew his greatest desire and the pages fell open to an engraved image in blood red ink of a horrified man. A beloved man, whose image had been captured in terrified denial as the Book he'd revered had betrayed him.

"Mr. M," Elliot sobbed, tracing the outlines with his finger. What he wouldn't give - -

As if the book had amazing etcha-sketch abilities, works began to appear, sprawled across the open pages.

Demum sacrificium ultimum

Elliot had no idea what they meant, dead languages not on the roster of Crowley High's various foreign language clubs, but he felt in his heart that somehow uttering them could only help Mr. M and Elliot Everwood was nothing if not helpful.

And quite suddenly he felt a pull. He felt the oddest sensation of unraveling. He actually looked down to see if he'd pulled a thread in the sweater and it might be coming apart at the seams. But no, it wasn't the sweater, it was him.

Elliot opened his mouth in a soundless cry of surprise, but it was too late. He'd already been sucked into the depths of the Book like juice through straw.

And in his place, sitting sprawled on his twin bed with its Aquaman sheets, sat a very bewildered man, wearing a sweater vest very much like the one Elliot had donned. In fact that selfsame sweater vest had been bought by this very man, a two for one discount sale at Larry's Casual Male during a 4th of July summer blowout. He'd bought six.

A curious little croak escaped him, before he toppled backwards, the vestiges of the excursion raking his body. Traveling to and from the Book was rather like having one's mind turned inside out, one's organs liquefied and excreted out through all one's bodily orifices, having one's skin torn off in strips and pasted back on the wrong side out.

He fainted. And roused a few moments later as his mind began to reset.

Like the girl huddling in a church on the other side of town, he'd been gone from this world since the night of a fateful high school dance, though his absence had been physical where hers had been a state of mentality. Unlike like that girl, his memories of that time were far from blank. He remembered every moment, every excruciating experience, and the hell inside the Book had been nothing like the hell he'd been promised, growing up under the tutelage of his father and satanic society of Crowley Heights. There had been no orgies, no steaming saunas of bubbly sex and depravation. No warm reception for those faithful followers of the dark lord.

There had only been terror and chaos and despair so huge that already, only moments back in the human plane his mind began partitioning off the worst of the memories, began in a desperate act of self-preservation to block out the most terrible aspects of that place.

Atticus Murphy Jr. sat there and breathed in cool air in a room that looked as if it belonged to a particularly large ten year old and realized with slowly dawning jubilation, that he was free.

He looked down, attention finally snared by the open pages of a regretfully familiar book. He canted his head, staring at the etching of the genuinely shocked face of a teenager.

"Holy Jupiter shit - -" he whispered. It was his faithful, if not a little slow, minion, Elliot Everwood. There were words over the etching. Atticus didn't even bother to do more than glance at them, before he slammed the book shut and flung it, much like a man might fling a snake he'd discovered slithering up into bed next to him, out the open window next to the bed. He sat there for a moment more, panicking no small bit. Traveling to hell and back or whatever hell was contained within the pages of the Book of Pure Evil, was not particularly conducive to a cool head and steady nerves.

He came close to tumbling off the bed when a woman's voice called through the closed door of the room. "Elliot, are you still awake? Why is this door locked? An angel dies every time you touch yourself, you know."

That wasn't the only thing that made angels die, and Atticus had slowly fading memories of some of those very things, even now. By the time she started rattling the doorknob, he was already scrambling out the window, falling rather ungracefully into the hedges outside. The Book, predictably was nowhere to be seen.

Which was fine with Atticus. If he never saw the cursed thing again, life would be just dandy. He would not however, be averse to encountering, preferably with a two-by-four in hand, Todd Smith, who had trapped him within that unsavory hell.

Todd Smith. Atticus stopped two blocks down from Elliot's house, clothes soaked through from the steady rain, and took a slow look around the quiet neighborhood with the late blooming realization that the world was not in fact immersed in the hell that the prophesy foretold upon the awakening of the Pure Evil One. Which meant either Todd had been a monumentally inept destroyer of worlds, or he'd somehow denied the age old prophesy and not plunged the world into an era of hell fire and chaos.

"Well - - damn." He found this lack of worldwide destruction rather comforting. At least it meant his house was probably intact, and all his clothes. These smelled little of wet sulphur.

He took stock of his surroundings and finally figured, after walking another four blocks of residential streets, where he was and how long it would take for him to walk back to his own home. He could deal with retributions after he'd put on dry clothes and had a nice cup of mint tea. His father had always frowned on it, but maybe he'd even splurge and add a nice big dollop of whiskey. Hell, maybe even two just to spite the old bastard. He'd earned it.

Serves you right, idiot. The censorious voice inside his head was not nearly so strong as it had once been. Did you really think you had it in you to be the Pure Evil One? They were playing you for a fool and you were too stupid to see it.

"Shut up," he snapped at that annoying ghost of a dead father.

As he walked through the rain, down the dark street, ghost laughter echoed in his head.

 

 

 

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