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Menagerie of


Welcome to a very special visit from -- and version of -- my "Menagerie of Mystery," for on this occasion all of its principal exotic exhibits have been exclusively selected for your entertainment and delight from the sequestered, hyperspatial realms of Virtual Reality. Since I first went online in 1997, accounts of many extraordinary cryptids rarely if ever documented by more traditional modes of publication have come, or have been brought, to my attention. So I am unfurling herewith a collection of these cryptozoological incongruities of the Internet, wondrous creatures of the Crypto-Web!





This second amphibious anomaly of the mammalian kind is notable for its eminently tangible nature, in the shape of a stuffed preserved specimen, but which, tragically, was not purchased when originally seen and is now apparently no longer on sale.

The details of this extraordinary case can be found on French cryptozoological researcher Michel Raynal's excellent website, "The Virtual Institute of Cryptozoology" (, and were brought directly to my attention in early September 1999 by Michel himself, who was interested to learn my opinion as to the possible zoological identity of the creature in question. It all began in July 1999, when Spanish cryptozoological investigator Angel Morant Fores visited Macas, in Ecuador's Morona-Santiago Province, inhabited by the Shuar Indians. During Angel's stay there, he was taken to a small shop by Shuar guide Marcelo Cajecai, which contained many animal souvenirs for sale. The specimen that attracted Angel's particular interest, however, was a stuffed, superficially mole-like creature. Unsure of whether, if he purchased it, he would be permitted by the Ecuadorean authorities to take it out of the country, Angel decided not to buy it -- a decision that he bitterly regretted afterwards -- but he did snap a number of color photos. One of these appears with his report on Michel's website, and depicts a truly bizarre-looking animal.

Measuring 14-16 inches long, this unidentified creature has predominantly white fur, but is marked dorsally with a number of broad brown bands; all four of its feet are webbed; and, most startling of all, it sports a noticeable nasal trunk (proboscis) on the end of its snout.

When Angel returned home, he and a zoologist colleague, Dr. Carlos Bonet, consulted a number of publications dealing with South American mammals in the hope of identifying this bizarre little beast -- but all to no avail. Angel also showed his photos to five mammalogists; of these, four were completely unable to identify the creature with any known species. Conversely, the fifth suggested that it may have been a yapok. Also known as the water opossum and referred to zoologically as Chironectes minimus, this is the world's only aquatic species of marsupial.

Yet although, taking into account its general size, webbed hind feet, and striped pelage, there is indeed a degree of similarity between the yapok and the Macas mystery beast, there are also a number of significant differences. For instance: unless the latter creature's fur has faded since its remains were stuffed, it is much paler than the yapok. Moreover, as pointed out by Angel: its front feet as well as its hind feet are webbed; it has no pouch (whereas both sexes are pouched in the yapok); and the yapok does not possess its distinctive proboscis. So what could it be?

Not all marsupials (despite their name) are pouched, so it is not impossible that the Macas mystery beast is an undescribed species of aquatic marsupial, quite probably related to the yapok but even more specialized for an amphibious lifestyle. Alternatively, as I mentioned to Michel, it may conceivably be an undiscovered species of insectivore, analogous to those aquatic, Old World trunked relatives of moles known as desmans. Since his return to Spain and his realization that it did not seem to correspond with any species currently recognized by science, Angel has made several attempts to purchase the specimen via a contact in Macas, Dr. Carlos Tovar, but the owner of the shop in which he saw it is refusing to sell it. During his stay in Macas, Angel was informed by a Shuar that this mysterious species is common in local rivers, so perhaps a specimen can be secured for study and identification in the not-too-distant future.

I have recently received fresh information from Angel Morant Fores that yields a somewhat different perspective on this case. Angel has informed me that the creature was recently examined in Macas by visiting Ecuadorean biologist Dr. Didier Sanchez. He concluded that it was simply a yapok, and claimed that its most notable features -- its lack of a ventral pouch, and its nasal proboscis -- were the result of considerable manipulation of the specimen by its taxidermist, with the proboscis having been artificially attached to the specimen's snout! If so, that is the end of the matter as far as any cryptozoological connection is concerned. However, Angel stressed that Sanchez's verdict was not definitive, and that in late November 1999 Sanchez succeeded in purchasing the specimen and brought it back to Quito for further study. We await the outcome with interest.






In my previous "Menagerie of Mystery" (Strange Magazine #20), I alluded to a recently developed breed of "domestic cat," the Pixie Bob -- created from original matings of domestic cats with the lynx-related bobcat Felis rufus. This sparked off a fascinating series of e-mails from well-known science fiction/fantasy writer David Robbins. Author of the very popular Endworld and Blade series, and many other novels, David is also passionately interested in cryptozoology, and has utilized various cryptozoological themes in his writings. However, the case that he brought to my attention within his e-mail communications was not fiction but fact, and featured some uncomfortably close encounters of the feline kind.

The following account, reproduced with David's kind permission, is quoted from his first e-mail to me on this subject, dated March 9, 1999, in which he wondered whether the case described by him could be explained by domestic cat x bobcat interbreeding in the wild:

We live in the mountains of rural Oregon. About six years ago we moved here from Colorado, and shortly after our arrival I spotted several cats with bobbed tails, much like those of a Manx. They were all orange in hue, though, and quite large. (I always saw them at a distance; they would run off when they spotted me.) I didn't think much of it at the time. Then the daughter of our neighbor across the way mentioned that on the mountain behind their house, there were "a whole bunch" of these cats. According to her, some years back a bobcat mated with one of their domestic cats. The kittens took to the wilds and rarely come near people. They all had the same orange coloration, short tails, and were larger than normal domestics. Still later, we heard from the girl's mother that the father had shot several of them after one got into their chicken coop. All this was borne home recently when one night we heard caterwauling outside. I hobbled out [David was still recovering from a car accident at the time] onto the front deck and there was one of these orange cats about to attack our male domestic ["Barney"]. It was huge compared to "Barney," had the same orange color and a bobbed tail. Since then we've spotted the same cat a couple of times, but always at night, and it always runs off. As if that weren't enough, a male bobcat was also hanging around. My wife and sons were tremendously saddened when it killed one of our female domestics [called "Topaz"]. Again, I heard caterwauling and hobbled out with a flashlight. The bobcat ran off but later returned and I had a good look at it on our rear deck. I suspect it was trying to mate with her and her death might have been accidental, but I could be wrong.... I have noted that these hybrids seem much more vicious than ordinary cats, even more so than the bobcat that supposedly sired them.

Following an e-mailed reply from me, requesting further details, David e-mailed me the following additional information on March 12, which included a fresh sighting:

I have no definitive proof these cats are the product of a Bobcat/domestic cat union besides hearsay and the evidence of my own eyes. But they certainly are bigger than domestics, have that "long-legged" Bobcat build, if you will, and the traditional bobbed tail. I can relate no information as to their number. At one time, if I remember what we were told correctly, there were eight to ten of them, but after the chickens were attacked, our neighbor reputedly shot quite a few.... Ironically, the big hybrid that came after our male cat, Barney, tried again two nights ago. I saw him clearly on our back deck. His musculature is quite extraordinary, his tail and build exactly as I've described. In addition, part of his face is disfigured, evidently from some mishap, lending to a particularly fierce appearance. (My wife speculated that maybe it is one our neighbor shot but it survived.) I've encountered feral cats before. In fact, I shot one some years back after it made a habit of attacking our domestic. It was huge and had the same massive musculature but not the bobbed tail this new orange one has.

Most of David's third and final e-mail to me regarding this episode, dated March 13, concentrated upon the unexpected fearlessness of humans and general boldness displayed by the bobcat that had killed his female domestic, Topaz, and which may possibly also have sired these strange, bob-tailed, alleged hybrids -- speaking of which, however, David did note:

The orange cat didn't return last night. Its usual pattern is to show up, then not reappear for about a week or so. What significance that might have eludes me. Although bobcat x domestic cat hybrids have been recorded in captivity on several occasions (and long before the Pixie Bob "domestic" breed was developed), I am not aware of any fully-confirmed cases recorded in the wild. Nevertheless, it is not an impossible scenario, genetically or behaviorally, although in general I would have expected an adult male bobcat to kill rather than mate with a domestic (as may have been the case with Topaz).

As for the strange orange pelage of the suspected hybrids (and as specifically expressed by David, and echoed by me, there is no proof that these odd felids are hybrids, only suspicion): if they really are hybrids, they could be derived from matings between one or more bobcats and a typical ginger tabby. When I asked David if there was any likelihood that he could obtain a photo of the orange cat that had terrorized Barney, he replied that he could try but did not guarantee success, for three different reasons. Firstly, he conceded that he was only a middling photographer.

Secondly, the cat had only appeared at night. And thirdly, if it did appear again and made any attempt to attack either of his two remaining domestics (Barney and an extremely elderly female), he would be shooting it with something rather more potent than a camera! If the latter scenario did take place, however, he assured me that he would take pictures and measurements of the carcass, which he would also preserve in case a zoo or some other zoological institution may be interested in examining it or taking blood samples for taxonomic purposes.

To date, however, I have received no further word from David regarding this cat, so it seems safe to assume that it is still on the prowl, just one of several orange-furred feline enigmas frequenting the mountains of Oregon but eluding formal identification.


While carrying out Marine Corps training at a Californian bootcamp during the first half of 1999, cryptozoological investigator Nick Sucik put to good use the opportunity to question his fellow recruits, many of whom were hunters and from a variety of different U.S. states, concerning mystery animals. On July 3, 1999, Nick posted an extremely interesting account to, in which he detailed some of his findings. Two of the most intriguing sections concerned reports of a giant owl and a giant mystery herbivore, which I have quoted below with Nick's kind permission. Nick had this to say regarding the giant owl:

One thing I did hear about though, came from southern Texas. I was told of a huge white owl claimed to be about 4 feet tall. The local Mexican population was extremely superstitious of this animal and I was told that the one time this kid actually did see the creature, everyone around him ran away in fear, their belief was that the owl was actually a witch and if it landed it would transform into just that, and if it looked at you, you'd receive a curse. Of course he didn't believe any of that, but it goes to show this creature was viewed in awe by the locals. The significance he stressed was the size of the owl and it being the color white made it an eerie spectacle. What I couldn't determine from him was if this bird was known scientifically, could it be found in bird books so to speak, or was it only known locally. He never gave a very confident answer, I think he only assumed it was known scientifically.

Needless to say, however, such an owl, of that size and color, in that location, is certainly not known scientifically. Morphologically, probably the closest correspondence can be obtained with the snowy owl Nyctea scandiaca. However, this only stands 12-14 inches tall, and although of circumpolar distribution it is restricted to the arctic tundra -- which is a far cry indeed from the environs of southern Texas and Mexico! The largest of all known species of living owl are the biggest eagle owls, notably the European eagle owl Bubo bubo and Blakiston's eagle owl B. blakistoni from the Far East (only recently reclassified as an eagle owl after traditionally being categorized as a fish owl), but these rarely if ever stand two feet tall, let alone four feet. Much larger owls are known from the fossil record, including Ornimegalonyx oteroi, formally described in 1976 from Cuba's Pleistocene, whose height exceeded three feet, but none is believed to have survived into modern historical times.

The second mystery beast that was brought to Nick's attention during his period of training at bootcamp is even more fascinating:

Another one that may very well be a familiar animal but sounded unique I heard by [i.e. from] one recruit we had from Ethiopia. I asked him if they had anything unusual or mysterious where he was from. He said no, but told me about an animal called in their language a "deep," described as being "like a bear" except herbivore, they're about 2 ft. high and 4 ft. long found in the deserts of Ethiopia, light furred and very rare. He claimed it was considered dangerous even though it was herbivore. It's said to be incredibly strong and known to flip over vehicles by ramming them with its head! Unfortunately, he was unfamiliar with the English name with [i.e. for] this creature but brought it up because "there is nothing else like it in the world."

This posting elicited a reply from British cryptozoological researcher Allan Edward Munro, who voiced my own thoughts when he noted that Ethiopia's mystifying "deep" sounded like a very large hyrax -- i.e. those famous elephant-related but diminutive and deceptively rabbit-like ungulate mammals from Africa and the Middle East, also known as dassies or conies, with hoof-like nails instead of claws. Nevertheless, no known species alive today is anywhere near as big or as powerful as the deep; the largest, Johnston's rock cavy Procavia johnstoni from Central Africa, is no more than two feet in total length.

However, as Allan also noted, and as I have documented within my book In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), enigmatic bronze statuettes dating from the Warring States period of Chinese history (480-222 B.C.) have been likened by Brown University ungulate expert Professor Christine Janis to an officially extinct giant hyrax-like ungulate from the late Pliocene/early Pleistocene epoch known as Pliohyrax -- thus implying that perhaps this pig-sized creature persisted into much more recent times than suggested solely by the fossil record. (Incidentally, as its name indicates, Pliohyrax has traditionally been classed as a gigantic form of hyrax; lately, however, some paleontologists have opined that it belongs to a distinct lineage of ungulates.) Certain early northern African geniohyids (fossil hyrax relatives) were as big as tapirs or small horses, but these vanished millions of years ago.

Eager to learn more about the deep, I contacted Nick to request any additional information that he could supply to me, and on July 5 I received the following detailed reply:

I'm not sure that's a cryptid at all. According to Demesa (the recruit), it was a known animal. I wondered though, was it known to his people or regionally known or is it an actual scientific animal so to speak. I believe it may be the latter though he was unsure [of] the English name given to it...Demesa, 21, migrated from Ethiopia when he was 14 and had been living in Las Vegas. Since he was originally from Africa I asked if he was familiar with Ethiopia having any mysterious animals. He didn't grasp what I meant by there being "mysterious" or "hidden animals." I used Mokele-Mbembe as an example. He then understood but their philosophy of nature and the animals within tends to vary against ours. According to Demesa, whether an animal was unknown to science was irrelevant. Nature needed to be respected and exist unharmed by man. He told me that there was once a time in Africa when the animals lived harmoniously amongst men and that you could actually walk right past a lion without harm. After he was done with the Green Peace speech he did bring up a unique animal called in their language a "Deep." He described it as resembling a bear but smaller and herbivorous found in the desert part of the country. About 2.5 ft. tall and 4 ft. long and it didn't have [as] much hair as a bear, he claimed. The strength of this animal was incredible, allegedly able to flip over a jeep ramming it with its head. Nowadays they're rare due to hunting. Demesa admired it because it was "one of a kind" like the lion, he said. That was about it. I think he did say he'd seen one once but at a distance. Allan Munro suggested this could be a "hyrax." I have no idea what that [is].

If Demesa's description of the deep, as relayed by him to Nick, is accurate, it does not appear to be a species presently known to science (at least in the living state). In any case, it would certainly warrant investigation by any future zoological visitors to Ethiopia -- especially in view of Demesa's claim that this creature is nowadays rare, due to hunting. How wonderful it would be if a chance comment by Demesa ultimately led to the scientific unveiling and accompanying protection of a significant new mammal in his native Ethiopia.

Indeed, it may not even be confined to Ethiopia. Chad Arment recently received an e-mail from a correspondent whose wife is Somalian. He informed Chad that his wife apparently knows of the deep (or at least of a creature resembling it). She claims that in Somalia it is referred to as the dewacco (in Somali, the "c" in its name is pronounced like a deep "h"). Deep or dewacco, there is clearly a notable mammalian mystery awaiting a satisfactory resolution in parts of eastern Africa's more remote terrain.


The giant extinct megalodon shark Carcharodon megalodon is renowned for its huge teeth, of which countless impressive specimens have been obtained in fossilized form. There have also been a few highly controversial reports of non-fossilized teeth, which have been cited in support of the possibility that this most formidable of sharks still survives (a possibility that, although undeniably slim and the focus of dissension by cryptozoological skeptics and critics in the past, is one that I and various other cryptozoologists do not entirely dismiss, and which I plan to re-explore in detail within a future publication.) To date, however, there is no conclusively verified record of an unfossilized megalodon tooth -- which is why, on May 26, 1999, an e-mail that I had received from fellow Strange Magazine contributor Richard Ravalli attracted my attention. For within his e-mail, Richard announced that he had recently been contacted by someone who claims to have on his website a photograph of what he thinks may be an unfossilized megalodon tooth!

Thus began an extensive and meticulously conducted program of research by Richard concerning this mysterious photo and the even more mysterious tooth that it depicts, which culminated in a detailed report of his findings, e-mailed by Richard to me on June 16, 1999, and which I reproduce in full below, with Richard's very generous permission:

[The] picture in question was sent to me in e-mail in May of this year. The person (who turned out to be, according to his e-mails, Allen James, a high-school student from Texas with an interest in Megalodon, and who apparently runs a site on Megalodon which neither of us [Richard and I] could seem to access) contacted me via Strange Magazine Editor Mark Chorvinsky after reading my article on Strange's web page []. He sent me a photo of what he felt was a white, unfossilized tooth of the species Carcharodon megalodon. He claimed to find it on Ebay (the online auction service) and said the tooth was for sale there. [I] eventually contacted Ebay's customer service center to see if I could track the seller and/or buyer of the tooth down. They did not return my request. I then contacted various Megalodon tooth sellers on Ebay to get their opinion on the photo. All were in agreement that the tooth depicted in the photo is a fossil. "Megteeth" (, who did not supply his real name but claims to be a computer engineer who has studied and traded in Megalodon teeth for 28 years, commented on the distinctive cracks in the tooth: "The cracks in the root and enamel tell me that this tooth, after being lost, absorbed water and enlarged due to swelling. After many, many moons, in the slowly desiccating matrix in which it was buried, it 'stress cracked' when the water went away." [They] were in agreement that the various colors of fossilized Megalodon teeth (as well as this one) come about from the particular environments and impurities in which they lay.

Steve Alter (not Steve Alten, author of the horror novel Meg) of "Steve's Fossil Shark Teeth" in Fernandina Beach, Florida (, who is likely one of the top authorities and dealers in Megalodon teeth in the U.S., claims to know where the tooth likely originated: "This tooth is definitely a fossil (absolutely, 100% without question). Actually there's about a 90% chance this one came out of the Ashepoo River, SC. If not then it's from either the Broad or May River in Beaufort, SC. Either way it's at least 5 million years old. That's where teeth this color come from and I have seen hundreds of." Alter and "Megteeth" then proceeded to show me pictures of other white-colored Megalodon teeth which are known to be fossils, some of which match the picture in question very closely. It seems the major point to be made here is that "whiteness" in a Megalodon tooth does not necessarily denote its age.

"That reddish-tan is mostly found in one small part of South Carolina," Alter continued in another e-mail. "It's just one of those things that you could never prove but you get a feel for after dealing with so many teeth. Same thing on the age. Megalodon teeth have subtle differences in tooth form over age (serration size, bourlette width, etc.) that you have to see to be able to tell. Also, all of the more famous fossil locales (such as SC, and the FL phosphate mines) have been dated by determining the age of the surrounding sediment so it's about as accurate as you can get."




[Alter] further commented: "The closest thing I've seen to what could have been mistaken as a modern tooth is what fishermen are dredging up from the depths off of New Caledonia in the South Pacific. These teeth have a certain hardness to their fossilization (they have a very strange 'clink' when you tap them) that I can't fully explain but they are no doubt fossils. It's one-of-a-kind stuff but I looked at a couple specimens up real close and have no doubt about [whether] or not they were fossil. I feel strongly that the stories of unfossilized teeth being dredged up deep in the Pacific are similar if not identical to these."

"Megteeth" had this to say about the colorization characteristics of the tooth: "One of the characteristics that I would ascribe to it would be that it has begun to 'rot.' I have seen several 'rotten' teeth. This term means (at least to me) that as the tooth material (the dentin or dentine -- the main tooth material -- everything but the enamel shell) degraded, it was not replaced with a mineral which was stable enough to 'copy' the tooth in its original condition and last over time."

Author Richard Ellis had this to say about the photo: "It looks 'authentic' to me; that is, doesn't look doctored in any way. But it isn't really white, is it? Fossils acquire the coloration of the minerals that replace the original substance, and this one, while lighter than many Meg teeth I've seen, is -- I believe -- a fossil that happens to be a light color. If you look at non-fossil shark's (or your own teeth, for that matter), you will see that they are white or off-white, with an enamel 'gleam' that toothpaste-peddlers like to talk about. This photograph shows a tooth that is made of stone, not enamel."

Main point in conclusion is that those seeking "real" Megalodon teeth (especially on the internet), if not already aware of these facts, should be.

Richard's very thorough investigation and comprehensive report have brought to attention a significant yet hitherto little-publicized fact (at least in cryptozoological literature) concerning megalodon teeth. Namely, that paleness of tooth color is not necessarily synonymous with non-fossilization -- judging from the opinions expressed by the various experts consulted by Richard, fossilized megalodon teeth can be very pale, albeit not wholly white. Moreover, British paleontologist Darren Naish subsequently informed me that he has collected bright white fossil odontaspidid and ray teeth from Morocco.

This should therefore be borne in mind if and when any future claims or reports of pale, supposedly unfossilized megalodon teeth emerge.





One of the strangest mystery animal reports emanating from my native British Isles appeared in my book From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997) within a section entitled "In Pursuit of Neo-Pangolins":

Equally as a scaly anteater (pangolin) abounding in England, but how else can we explain the baroque beast encountered in Dumpton Park, Ramsgate, Kent, on April 16, 1954, by Police Constable S. Bishop, and described by him as a "walking fir-cone?" This is an excellent description of a pangolin, those insectivorous mammals covered in huge scales remarkably similar to those of a fir cone or pine cone. Pangolins, however, are wholly restricted to the tropics of Africa and Asia. Also, they are so difficult to maintain in captivity that they are seldom exhibited in zoos, and hardly ever kept as pets. So even if we do identify PC Bishop's beast as a pangolin, how can we explain its presence in a Kent park? We have simply exchanged one mystery for another, and emerged none the wiser.

On June 3, 1999, however, I received a very interesting e-mail from reader John Mitchell of San Francisco, who had enjoyed reading about Bishop's "walking fir-cone" in my book and wished to nominate what may indeed be another candidate for this odd beast's identity:

In March, I had the opportunity to visit a friend I had hitherto known only through e-mail and telephone conversations.... He is an insatiable collector, and his house is full of rare and wondrous contraptions many a museum would love to have. At one point, he asked if I'd like to meet his beloved pet of 15 years -- an Australian shingleback skink. When he brought the lizard out and set it on the floor, my exact words were, "It looks like a walking pinecone!" Not the least surprised at this observation, my friend revealed that these skinks are commonly known in Australia as "pinecone lizards." In fact, "walking fir cone" would be a more apt name for this strange beastie, as the lizard's brown coloration, tight cone-like scales and elongated shape make it a dead ringer for a balsam fir cone.... Given England's close ties with Australia, it is not hard to imagine that a visitor from Down Under might have transported a shingleback skink or two to England. If one were to escape or be released, it might well favor a park as its new residence, since these lizards love to hide under logs (further enhancing the fir cone appearance?) and can eat just about anything. I don't know how big the beast in question was supposed to be [no details appear to be recorded regarding its size], but shinglebacks are reported to come in a wide range of sizes. The one I saw was about a foot long. One more thing: having seen the peculiar head-shaped tail of this lizard (I nearly petted the wrong end!) I no longer consider the possibility of the tatzelworm a mere flight of Teutonic fancy.

John's e-mail is an accurate description of the shingleback or pine-cone skink, also referred to in Australia as the bobtail and the stumpy-tail, and known scientifically as Trachydosaurus rugosus. Probably the best-known reptile in Australia on account of its abundance, harmless vegetarian lifestyle, general sluggishness, and occurrence in patches of bush in and around a number of Aussie city suburbs, the shingleback usually measures approximately 14 inches when adult, and is indeed uncannily reminiscent of an animate fir or pine cone. Its placid temperament and rugged survival ability make it an easy reptile to maintain as a pet, favoring John's suggestion that an escapee specimen in Kent might explain PC Bishop's curious encounter in Dumpton Park. Certainly, the scenario of a shingleback on the loose here is in my view a much more plausible prospect than an absconded pangolin, and I am most grateful to John for bringing this thought-provoking identity to my notice.




In The




Finally: I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of the many other persons who have contacted me online during the past 30 months or so to share cryptozoological information and opinions with me. They have greatly enriched my knowledge, I am sincerely grateful to all of you, and I greatly look forward to exchanging many more e-mails of the crypto kind in the future. I can be contacted at

Also, be sure to visit my website (at:, which contains the most extensive bibliography of cryptozoological, zoomythological, and general animal anomaly books currently online. At the present time of writing it provides full bibliographical citations for over 560 volumes, and is continually updated. So get those mice clicking, and check it out!

Until the next time:

Watch with glittering eyes the world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.

- Roald Dahl


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