Odyssey (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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The Odyssey (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Overview

The Odyssey, by Homer, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
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All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

Long before The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Harry Potter, the ancient Greek poet Homer established the standard for tales of epic quests and heroic journeys with The Odyssey. Crowded with characters, both human and non-human, and bursting with action, The Odyssey details the adventures of Odysseus, king of Ithaca and hero of the Trojan War, as he struggles to return to his home and his waiting, ever-faithful wife, Penelope.

Along the way he encounters the seductive Circe, who changes men into swine; the gorgeous water-nymph, Calypso, who keeps him a “prisoner of love” for seven years; the terrible, one-eyed, man-eating giant Cyclops; and a host of other ogres, wizards, sirens, and gods. But when he finally reaches Ithaca after ten years of travel, his trials have only begun. There he must battle the scheming noblemen who, thinking him dead, have demanded that Penelope choose one of them to be her new husband—and Ithaca’s new king.

Often called the “second work of Western literature” (The Iliad, also by Homer, being the first), The Odyssey is not only a rousing adventure drama, but also a profound meditation on courage, loyalty, family, fate, and undying love. More than three thousand years old, it was the first story to delineate carefully and exhaustively a single character arc — a narrative structure that serves as the foundation and heart of the modern novel. Robert Squillace’s revision of George Herbert Palmer’s classic prose translation captures the drama and vitality of adventure, while remaining true to the original Homeric language.

Robert Squillace teaches in the Cultural Foundations division of New York University’s General Studies Program. He has published numerous essays on literature and the book Modernism, Modernity and Arnold Bennett.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593081676
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble
  • Publication date: 10/1/2004
  • Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
  • Pages: 339
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Homer
Robert Squillace teaches in the Cultural Foundations division of New York University’s General Studies Program. He has published numerous essays on literature and the book Modernism, Modernity and Arnold Bennett.

Biography

We know very little about the author of The Odyssey and its companion tale, The Iliad. Most scholars agree that Homer was Greek; those who try to identify his origin on the basis of dialect forms in the poems tend to choose as his homeland either Smyrna, now the Turkish city known as Izmir, or Chios, an island in the eastern Aegean Sea.

According to legend, Homer was blind, though scholarly evidence can neither confirm nor contradict the point.

The ongoing debate about who Homer was, when he lived, and even if he wrote The Odyssey and The Iliad is known as the "Homeric question." Classicists do agree that these tales of the fall of the city of Troy (Ilium) in the Trojan War (The Iliad) and the aftermath of that ten-year battle (The Odyssey) coincide with the ending of the Mycenaean period around 1200 BCE (a date that corresponds with the end of the Bronze Age throughout the Eastern Mediterranean). The Mycenaeans were a society of warriors and traders; beginning around 1600 BCE, they became a major power in the Mediterranean. Brilliant potters and architects, they also developed a system of writing known as Linear B, based on a syllabary, writing in which each symbol stands for a syllable.

Scholars disagree on when Homer lived or when he might have written The Odyssey. Some have placed Homer in the late-Mycenaean period, which means he would have written about the Trojan War as recent history. Close study of the texts, however, reveals aspects of political, material, religious, and military life of the Bronze Age and of the so-called Dark Age, as the period of domination by the less-advanced Dorian invaders who usurped the Mycenaeans is known. But how, other scholars argue, could Homer have created works of such magnitude in the Dark Age, when there was no system of writing? Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, placed Homer sometime around the ninth century BCE, at the beginning of the Archaic period, in which the Greeks adopted a system of writing from the Phoenicians and widely colonized the Mediterranean. And modern scholarship shows that the most recent details in the poems are datable to the period between 750 and 700 BCE.

No one, however, disputes the fact that The Odyssey (and The Iliad as well) arose from oral tradition. Stock phrases, types of episodes, and repeated phrases -- such as "early, rose-fingered dawn" -- bear the mark of epic storytelling. Scholars agree, too, that this tale of the Greek hero Odysseus's journey and adventures as he returned home from Troy to Ithaca is a work of the greatest historical significance and, indeed, one of the foundations of Western literature.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of The Odyssey.

Good To Know

The meter (rhythmic pattern of syllables) of Homer's epic poems is dactylic hexameter.

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Read an Excerpt

From Robert Squillace's Introduction to The Odyssey

When Odysseus awakens from his dream-like voyage on the shore of his own island, he fails to recognize the place, asking: "To what men's land am I come now? Lawless and savage are they, with no regard for right, or are they kind to strangers and reverent toward the gods?" While the mists of Athene have produced the mariner's confusion, his questions do not vanish with their dissipation. Is Ithaca the ordered kingdom he left behind or a new realm of incurable savagery? And, after all the alternative worlds through which we have passed, to what land have we finally come? After meeting Arete and Polyphemus and Anticleia and Achilles and Circe and Calypso and the Sirens and the Lotus-eaters and many others, how do we now perceive Ithaca? The poem offers no unified answers, instead multiplying the complications it has engaged since Telemachus set sail for Pylos.

The first surprise of the Ithacan episode, at least to many modern readers, is its length; the landfall of Odysseus on his home shore marks only about the halfway point of the tale. Homer's buildup to the battle with the suitors is one of the slowest and most suspenseful in literature-even though his original audience knew the outcome from the start. As Alfred Hitchcock once observed, the sudden explosion of a bomb of which viewers know nothing generates a half-second's shock, while the slow ticking of a bomb of whose existence they do know generates a quarter-hour's suspense. Moreover, Homer fills the delay with its own significance. In the period between Odysseus's landing and the fight with the suitors, a series of recognition scenes unfolds, of disguises adopted and then penetrated or let fall. Odysseus reveals himself to his son, Telemachus, and to his loyal swineherd and cowherd. The old dog Argos, who had known his master as a pup, and the old nurse Eurycleia see on their own through the guise of age and poverty that Athene has helped the man of strategies don. To recognize Odysseus means more than simply to know who this particular individual is-or was, for if Odysseus remains unrecognized as the island's patriarch, if he cannot reclaim his old identity, he will become the old beggar he appears to be. To acknowledge the identity of this stranger as Odysseus is, in effect, to acknowledge authority itself, to demonstrate one's acquiescence to the whole system that legitimizes a king's rule. After all, no one who opposes the rights of Odysseus learns who the old beggar really is until he puts an arrow through Antinoüs's throat. Not even such old, disloyal servants as Melantho and Melanthius show the slightest suspicion that the mysterious stranger they enjoy abusing is their dangerous master returned. Only those who submit themselves to the hierarchical system, who recognize their own places, can also recognize Odysseus. Indeed, Argos not only recognizes but directly mirrors his master, who also risks consignment to the dung heap in his disregarded age if he can no longer prove himself the man he used to be, bend the great bow he once wielded, and, in an image suggestive of continued sexual prowess, fire an arrow through a dozen axes.

The Telemachy's emphasis on the twin values of authority and identity dovetail with particular neatness in the token by which Odysseus is known. An old scar received years earlier in a boar hunt, the first heroic episode that vaulted the youth toward his maturity, made him who he is, written into his body so long as he lives. As in the Nekyia, bodily existence-bodily prowess and endurance-measure the value of life; indeed, the scar suggests that one defines oneself by exterior, bodily deeds, not by any individual interior psychology. The violence of Odysseus's reaction to his old nurse's discovery of the scar, a symbol of his passage from boyhood to maturity, even recalls the curt rejection of Penelope by her son, a parallel reinforced by the nurturing role Eurycleia has played for both father and son. In these respects, the return to Ithaca seems also to be a return to the familiar, hierarchical values presented to Telemachus on his miniature odyssey.

And yet identity is never so fluid as it is in the second half of the epic, authority never so elusive. Though the scar represents the absolute fixity of self, what saves Odysseus on Ithaca is his capacity not to be who he is. This same ability to reconstruct himself in accordance with the demands of circumstance freed him from the cave of Polyphemus and taught him how to approach Nausicaä. Were Odysseus merely to weave these impostures to overcome imminent danger, little sense of contradiction with the idea of a solid core of self would result. But such shifting marks Odysseus's character even more deeply than the scar does. So habitually does he transform himself into someone else that by the time he approaches his father, the aged Laërtes, in the guise of yet another wandering stranger, the excuse that he needs to test the old man's loyalty has worn nearly transparent. The hero's tendency to assume other selves has not only come to define him, it connects him most nearly with the divine. For the gods can be anything, as Athene's transformations into man, woman, child, and bird affirm; to be stuck as oneself is to be merely human. Odysseus reaches his apogee not by his glorious force of arms, but by his lies and fictions. In one of the most charming moments of the work, Athene recognizes their unity in owning the divine gift of the creation of what is not: "Bold, shifty, and inexhaustible of lies, will you not now within your land cease from the false misleading tales which from the bottom of your heart you love? . . . you are far the best of men in plots and tales, and I of all the gods am famed for craft and lies." When Odysseus acknowledges of his patron that "You take all forms," he might as well be talking about himself. Nor does the scar suffice to confirm the hero's identity to his feminine alter ego, Penelope. She acknowledges her husband only when he shows that he remembers the secret of their bed. Such a test of identity-with all the erotic overtones that a private, mutual knowledge of the bed evokes, an implicitly carnal knowledge-depends not on the exterior, public reputation preserved in that reminder of past deeds, the scar, but on a private, intangible, even unspeakable knowing of who someone is. Nowhere does the work come closer to identifying the interior sense of desire as the heart of selfhood.

The poem also equivocates in its rhetorical support for the hierarchical system by which the man at the top of the ladder, so long as he acts justly, exercises complete authority to enforce order down to the bottom rung. The careful differentiation the poem makes between the really vicious, the merely weak, and the nearly sympathetic suitors transforms the hero's slaughter of his foes from exultant triumph to, at best, regrettable necessity. While Homer never challenges the morality of Odysseus's actions, this differentiation modulates the emotional tone of his victory. Even more tellingly, the poem refuses to allow the killing of the suitors and their mistresses to be a resolution. Since the first book, the confrontation of Odysseus and the enemies occupying his house has been anticipated as a climax, a final judgment between chaos and authority. Surprisingly, it is nothing of the kind. Indeed, Odysseus's victory lasts only the length of a single night, after which he must embark on a new journey, leaving Penelope yet again to escape the vengeance of his victims' families. In the hills, he gathers fresh support from his father's household; the suitors' families pursue and the fighting begins all over again. Since what the poem seems to have advertised as Odysseus's greatest triumph fails to bring peace, the human capacity to enforce order by strength of arms falls into grave doubt. The killing only stops when the gods command it, forestalling its resumption by blacking out the bitter memories of the survivors. If memory itself leads men to war, how can it be in any king's power to make a lasting peace?

So Ithaca appears after the Odyssean tour of alternative worlds. And yet in a sense we remain in an alternative world even after the hero of the epic has come among the familiar scenes of his homeland: the alternative world of fiction. The second half of the epic makes readers more conscious of storytelling than ever, virtually offering a seminar on the nature and uses of fiction. When Odysseus spends his first night with his wife, he tells her the whole tale of the Odyssey in compressed and chronological form. This condensation neatly contains the epic and at the same time alerts us by contrast to the complexities of the tale's nonchronological, expansive construction. For that matter, little occurs in the poem that is not also narrated; even the suitors tell the story of their slaughter amid the shades of the underworld, delighting Agamemnon. What is real, what lasts, it seems, is the story, not the event. Fictions may, of course, be simple lies; the disguised Odysseus deceives both Eumaeus and Penelope by claiming to be a Cretan veteran of the Trojan War who suffered difficulties among the Phoenicians and Egyptians-and who has encountered the great Odysseus himself. Every detail of this moonshine rings true, the tale confining itself to plausible circumstances among well-known peoples of the Mediterranean coast; as the narrator observes about his surrogate storyteller: "He made the many falsehoods of his tale seem like the truth." No monsters haunt the tracks of Aethon-the name Odysseus adopts in deceiving Penelope-no one hears the Sirens sing, no one changes form, and no one speaks to the dead. Within the confines of the poem, then, the apparently impossible (the actual voyage of Odysseus) is true and the entirely plausible (the journey Odysseus makes up) is false, implicitly suggesting that the truth of a story is not to be found in the accuracy of its events to what we perceive as daily reality, but in their significance, their capacity to show us some previously unknown way of understanding the world.

Most vitally, though, in a work that dwells so continually on the borders-it explores the intersection of living and dead, the flimsy barriers between human and inhuman, the double natures of authority and identity, and so on-the ideal of storytelling is to erase the boundary between the characters within the tale and the listeners outside it. When, in book XIV, a disguised Odysseus tells his swineherd a story of a night he spent outside the gates of Troy when he was cold, the man recognizes the present relevance in the narrative of the past and hands the old beggar a coat. By his reception of the story, Eumaeus proves more than his loyalty to his absent master or the customs of hospitality; he shows his humanity, his willingness to recognize that another man's story is also his own, another man's discomfort his responsibility. To see themselves in the tales of others is precisely what Antinoüs and the other suitors fail to do, despite the explicit invitation of Odysseus, who warns them (in his beggar's rags) that he too prospered once but was brought low. The suitors fail to acknowledge their image in the old man's words-"What god has brought us this pest?" is the substance of Antinoüs's answer-and in so doing exclude themselves from humanity. It comes as little surprise when one of their number mocks poetic diction in aiming an empty jest at the old beggar's baldness. The song reserved for those who fail to read themselves in another's story is only that sung by the bowstring, an analogy the poem makes explicit: "even as one well-skilled to play the lyre and sing stretches with ease round its new peg a cord, securing at each end the twisted sheep-gut; so without effort did Odysseus string the mighty bow." To rule oneself outside the common circle of humanity, in other words, is to die.

Each reader today faces the suitors' choice: to read the story as it concerns himself-or herself-or to turn it aside as an extraordinarily old man's babble. No arrow will pierce the throat of those who make the latter choice. But a contracted sense of humanity may follow. Whether one regards the conflicts that the poem relates as fundamentally the same as or fundamentally different from those of our own time makes little difference. The poem largely does not offer an argument for the validity of the civilization that produced it, but instead allows the reader to view from different angles that world's ideas of life and death, women and men, order and chaos, war and peace, wealth and poverty, and so on. In this way, the Odyssey makes room for many sympathies. Its enduring wisdom is that only by encountering what seems unlike oneself does one come to gain any self-knowledge at all.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 474 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 475 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 23, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    An Epic of Odysseus' Return

    This is an amazing translation; the language is flawless, almost poetic. And, of course, a timless classic. I had to read this book for my English Honors course and expected boredom. However, I was pleasently surprised-- I enjoyed it! It's the story of the Greek hero, Odysseus, after the Trojan War. On the start of his voyage home, he provokes Poseidon, god of the sea. Thus, releasing the god's wrath. Odysseus faces many obstacles, on account of Poseidon's anger, including an encounter with Cyclops, Circe, and the Sirens, and a journey to Hades' Underworld. I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates classic literature. Though the language does take time to become accustomed to, the hardest part of this book is the vast amount of characters. I recommend composing a list of all the gods and goddesses in addition to demigods and heroes.

    27 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 27, 2009

    Completely unbelievable!

    I am amazed at this book! I was actually required to read this for summer reading and I wasn't exactly thrilled to see how thick it was of pages. But as I read it I became enchanted of the way the words are written and the characters, and the plot! I loved it so much I kept on reading, and before I knew it I was finished with it! An incredible tale written in ancient times that tells the story of an exiled soldier trying to return home with many sinister obstacles bloking his way. A great read for anyone who loves greek mythology, and for people who just love monsters and heroes.

    13 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 14, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Wonderful!

    Fagles makes this classical story accessible to everyone, using easy to read language while relating the adventures of Aeneas as he leaves Troy after being defeated by the Greeks and makes his way to Italy to found Rome. It contains travel tales like the Oddyssey and battles as in the Illiad. The introduction is also well worth reading.

    12 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2007

    A reviewer

    The translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey by Robert Fitzgerald are more enjoyable to read, and are also more reliable and accurate. They are written in prose. If you want poetic versions, you can't beat the translations by Richard Lattimore. My personal favorites are the Fitzgeralds. I am a lawyer. I studied Greek subjects at U.C. Berkeley under professors Gregory Vlastos and Michael Frede. My favorite writers are Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Proust.

    9 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2004

    A delightful introduction to epic literature.

    This is a great book for those who are new to epic poetry, like myself. It's written in prose (in paragraphs, rather than poetic stanzas). Squillace has done a fine job of introducing contemporary terms, where appropriate, without interrupting Homer/Palmer's story-telling rhythm. It's an engaging story, and the characters are fascinating, and I enjoyed it so much that I read all the footnotes at the end. Somewhat-interesting discussion questions at the conclusion. Read the Introduction after you read the book, not before. I wish I could find a translation of the Illiad by Palmer/Squillace, as they did a very good job of making the story, the characters and the language approachable. 'O'Brother Where Art Thou'? Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 20, 2011

    This is not complete

    Starts at Book XVII

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2008

    It was required

    i read this book, and I found it interesting at first but when it got to the part where he kept on talking about ALL of his journeys that were actually in Iliad to the Phaeacians, it got VERY annoying, long, and never ending. In addition, it was boring to hear about all his other journeys because it had so many different characters that unless you actually knew them all you would get confused. Honestly, I would not recommend this book because I did not find it fascinating. I found it annoying, and boring. Maybe I am just not interested in these types of books. The only reason I read it was because it was a requirement on the summer reading list.

    2 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2007

    GREAT ADVENTURE STORY

    i read this book as part of a school assignment but i absolutely LOVED IT. it is a great adventure and love story. i really enjoyed the read and i strongly recommend this book to all readers. it was not difficult for me to understand at all either. when i read it, it was not written out in prose so it is pretty easy if you read the sentence full on until the period. overall great read!!

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2006

    THE book OF LYYYYYYYFe

    This was a required book for school, so I thought it would be extremely boring, and it was. Only until the late middle of the book do you get fully into it. Though it was not one of the best books I have read I do reccomend reading this classic adventure of odysseus's return home from Troy.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2001

    JUST ONE WORD IS REQUIRED : EXTRAORDINARY.

    THIS IS THE MOST MAGICAL NOVEL IN THE WORLD AND IT HAS BEEN BORE AS SUCH. THE ADVENTURES AND THE ROMANCE IS WHAT KEEPS YOU HOOKED TO THE PAGES, WITHOUT LETTING YOU GO.THE ILIAD AND THE ODDESSEY ARE BY FAR THE GREATEST STORIES EVER TOLD BESIDES THOSE OF THE BIBLE,AND OF GODS AND GODDESSES.THIS NOVEL SHALL FOREVER REMAIN THE GREATEST AND DEAREST TO MY HEART.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2012

    Homer is an amazing story teller!

    I had to write the Iliad for a school project and recammend it; I also love the Odyssey;Odysseus has always been my favorite character!He has cunning kindness, all wrapped into one man

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2012

    To all you Homer Haters out there......

    This book is SUPER INTRESTING! I don't see how it could be boring at all...... You must be very immature.....well whatever DEUCES:)

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 21, 2011

    Line numbers missing?

    I love the odyssey and this version was particularly clear, but I would like a version with the original lines of poetry listed out so I can take notes properly.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Nicely performed.

    Great performance of an old classic.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2007

    Review

    I read this book for a high school english assignment and, breaking the stereotype of my generation, found it very enjoyable. Our teacher required us to use Fagles translation and I had no problem understanding it. I would reccomend using online resources only to clarify or answer any questions if you arent familiar with the culture of Homers time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2006

    Interesting

    I had to read this epic. I was wrapped in the story from the moment I started reading it.Although it is complicated, it is very exciting to know about ancient Greece...and Odysseus' flings.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2000

    outstanding

    This book should be in the hands of every student reading The Oddyssey. Some translations really stink, but not this one.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2000

    Awesome

    Awesome

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2015

    A kit

    Th..thankyou she said in a soft voiice and looked t the adult scared and abbandond

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2015

    Mist

    She looked around.

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