Gender: Male Age: 29 Location: San Francisco.
|Introduction: An unforgettable night on the town.|
"Instantly the spirit of hell awoke in me and raged. I saw my life to be forfeit; and fled from the scene of these excesses, at once glorying and trembling, my lust of evil gratified and stimulated, my love of life screwed to the topmost peg."
-Robert Louis Stevenson, "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"
It was Halloween weekend and my girlfriend was out of town, so I figured there was no better time to become a completely different person.
Think about it: Wouldn't you love the power to live without accountability, if only for one night? To do and say anything and know that you'd be Scott free in the morning? To have no regrets, no inhibitions, no conscience? Most of us would. Some of us would even kill for it.
It started with an offhand remark from a literature professor: He mentioned that Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" was based on an actual, though debunked, vein of study. Once upon a time, medieval alchemists believed that you could extrapolate a human being's personality the same way you could a physical substance, and even separate its elements. They believed they could study the soul, draw it out and sample it, and that they could do it in the only vessel that such a thing did or could exist in: the very body of the person themselves.
The idea struck a chord with me. My degree program was psychology, but I wanted to read those old fraud's works. Not because I ever suspected they were right but because I thought that the ancient world might have some singular insight into the concept of the id. My teacher humored me, directing me toward obscure branches of Jabir ibn Hayyan and Muhammad ibn Zakariya Razi. I was fascinated by what I read. Imagine: the belief that artificial powers could induce disassociation so extreme that it caused an actual physical transformation. Complete nonsense of course…but what an idea! Once I'd really thought about it, I couldn't stop. "Sam can never let anything drop," that's what Erica says about me, and I guess she's right.
The procedures laid out were not that complex; these were, after all, medieval works. I can't say when exactly I decided to actually try it, but maybe I secretly had the plan in mind all along. Maybe the appeal of being someone else was what drove my supposed intellectual curiosity from day one. I don't know for sure; I can’t take anything about myself for granted anymore. In any case, by the time Halloween weekend approached I already had all of the equipment I would need, hidden in a trunk in the closet. And with Erica leaving town for a job fair, I was free to experiment without any awkward questions. I felt a twinge of guilt, as I was sneaking around on the woman I love, but I was sure she wouldn’t understand.
And anyway, what was the harm?
The process, as I mentioned, is simple, but I was no chemist, so I took my time, careful not to spoil any of the volatile ingredients. It was almost sundown by the time I had condensed the final product. It didn’t look like much, just a few ounces of clear liquid in the bottom of a graduated cylinder. But if I was right, it was the key to a whole new me.
Or not. In truth, I had no idea what it would do, beyond having established that it was not poisonous. So I toasted my reflection in the window and drank the concoction, then sat back to observe the results.
For a while I felt nothing, and before long I began to suspect I'd been very foolish, taken in by some dusty old alchemy. And then I started to feel feverish. There was a burning feeling inside me, like I had swallowed a hot coal. I tugged at my shirt, and finally I took it off, and my pants too. I was sweating and my body was red as a sunburn. I panicked; had I poisoned myself after all?
I picked up the phone to dial 911, and that’s when I noticed that my hands were different. I turned them over, hardly believing what I was seeing. Then, for a panicked moment I thought the floor was caving in, as everything seemed to sink before my eyes, but in fact what was happening was that I was becoming taller! A tingle in my scalp alerted me to a change there, and I discovered that my hair was longer. I ran to the bedroom to look into the mirror, and what I saw astonished me: My reflection was that of a man who looked nothing like me at all! I was completely transformed.
Whereas before I had been overweight, now I was lean, tanned and muscular. My broad face and snub nose were replaced by rugged, chiseled good looks. I had wide shoulders and powerful arms. For lack of a better phrase, I’d become tall, dark, and handsome. Curious, I stripped off my underwear and checked downstairs. Yes, the transformation was very complete indeed.
I began to laugh, probably a little hysterically. Was this really happening? Understand, I expected, at most, a psychological response, the impression or belief, probably vague and fleeting, that I had become someone else, an idea probably borne from the power of suggestion and the narcotic effect of the compound. But this, this was too much to imagine. I think I went a little out of my mind then, laughing and dancing and posing in the mirror, delighted and overwhelmed by my discovery.
I probably should have gone to the hospital. At the very least I should have begun documenting my findings. Instead I felt like going out. I wanted a night on the town to celebrate, and to explore just what the new me was all about. If I had been a little more conscientious, I would have realized that I had reason to be worried. If the source of my discovery was thousands of years old, someone else must have attempted this before me; so why were their findings never recorded? Unfortunately, I did not have the presence of mind to consider this then.
First things first, I decided that the clothes in my apartment didn't suit the new me. It was hard to find a boutique still open that late on Halloween, but I managed. The salesgirl who sold me the suit was very friendly, and I do mean very friendly, and this gave me pause. I’d never had much luck with women before; Erica was my only real "conquest." Was it just because I was better-looking now? Or was it that I was also more confident, more outgoing, more secure? These are exactly the kind of questions I should have been asking myself then, and if I had bothered to observe any change in my behavior everything that happened next might have been avoided. But I didn't ask scientific questions. Instead I asked the salesgirl, Tina, what she was doing that night? Oh, working, of course. Well, did she have a break coming up? Could I treat her to a drink? Could I treat her to anything else? My, what a cute smile you have, Tina…
And soon it was "Oh, what a hot mouth you have, Tina," and "Oh, what a dirty girl you are, Tina," as she pulled me into the back room and unzipped my pants, yanking my new cock out for its first street run, as it were. I really could not believe it; this kind of thing never happened to me. But hey, I wasn't me anymore, I thought; maybe this kind of thing happens to the new me all the time? Tina's cherry lip gloss lubricated her mouth as she slid my whole cock in at one go. I couldn't believe how amazing it felt; Erica, it goes without saying, never did this. I grabbed a handful of Tina's hair and pushed her down. Normally I'd have been too shy for that kind of thing, or even too afraid hurting her, but now my hands acted all on their own. And she liked it. She moaned. I pushed harder and she gagged, but she didn't try to stop. I felt strong.
Soon she was bent over with her palms pressed against the wall and her spectacular ass in my hands. The thin black line of her thong bisected two perfectly round cheeks, and I gave the left one, then the right one, a hard smack. My hands were huge now, and I was a little clumsy with them; bright red palm prints glared on her white backside. "Oh, fuck, that is amazing!" she said, growling and wiggling her hips. So I did it again, the soft, round flesh of her ass cracking under me over and over. Erica would have killed me if I'd gotten this rough with her, but this girl ate it up. Why? Was I just lucky? Or did she like it because I liked it, and she wanted to like me?
I fumbled with my cock in a clumsy, unsure way; I had an enormous hard-on by this time, and it was easy to pull aside Tina's non-existent panties. I paused, realizing I didn't have a condom on me. But she hadn't said anything about it? How would my body even react to anything I contracted right now? Questions for another time, it seems, as I popped the tip right into Tina's wet little cunt and slid it in one inch at a time while she moaned. She was so hot inside, and the skin on my shift was so sensitive; the feeling almost scared me, and for a second I felt myself losing control of the new me, shrinking back into my normal self, but then I pushed past it and that exhilarating feeling of power and control came back again. I squeezed Tina's cheeks between my hands again as I pushed up, and up, and up inside of her. Her body was very accommodating; I loved every second of it.
She was still facing the wall, so I grabbed her by the hair again and pushed her into it, hard; her cheek ground the plaster and her moans became a little muffled, but she didn't tell me to stop. The line of her body under me was flexing back and forth as I rode her from behind; curious I pulled my shirt up and off so that I could see more of my own physique; the ripple of my abdominal muscles above my hips was almost hypnotic. I imagined invisible waves of force emanating from my muscles, traveling down my hips, across her rippling ass, and then in a spike right up her spine to her brain, where they came out the other hand end as grating moans and breathless gasps. I was a machine, and she was the socket.
I got so worked up watching this that I didn't notice I was going to cum until it snuck right up on me: I grabbed Tina's hips as hard as I could and pulled; her nails scraped the wall. Her pussy was sopping wet and hot around me as I gushed, spurting inside of her. A shudder so hard I thought it would split me open ran through my body, and then in a second it was done, and I was spent, lax, out, finished. I let go of her; she almost fell over. I could see her knees were weak. I checked the time; we'd only been going at it for ten minutes or so, but it felt like longer. She was trying to pull her pants up. "Shit," she said. "That was intense."
"Yeah. Sure," was all I said.
We cleaned up. She had to get back to minding the register before someone else came along. I was suddenly, intensely bored by her, and the change shocked me, but I tried to make polite small talk, telling her I'd come back and see her again. Hell, maybe I would; why should I only have one great night in my life? Why shouldn't I do this all the time? It was so easy, it would almost be criminal not to do it. By this time I'd almost forgotten I was there to buy clothes; Tina hooked me up with a nice suit on a discount. I left the shop dressed to kill and feeling ten feet tall. The streets were full of people; people in costumes and people in party dress, people who were drunk and drinking and people who were laughing and dancing and living. I wanted to grab every woman I saw and waltz down the street with her.
I walked in no particular direction, just heading toward the most noise. I turned up Columbus and ended up on Broadway, a neon-soaked corridor under flashing signs advertising "Live Girls!" A doorman grabbed me by the arm and pulled me in, complimenting my suit; I stuffed a twenty in his breast pocket and he took me to a table right next to the stage. I ordered champagne. Soon the club dancers were hanging on my every word. The night became one long, drunken tilt-a-whirl of lights, colors, music, and women; so many amazing bodies, so many beautiful eyes and charming smiles. What the hell had I been doing with my life until now, I wondered? Nights like this were what living was really all about. I forgot all about home, about school, about Erica, and most of all about myself. What did I need any of that for? Why have that, when I could have this instead?
It must have been close to midnight when I stumbled into the men's room, chuckling to myself. While washing my hands I found that someone had slipped a note, written on a napkin, into my pocket. It gave the address of a parking garage and said, "Meet me in thirty minutes." Well, color me intrigued. I went to the garage and found the space I was supposed to wait at. There was a slick green Audi parked there. Eventually a cute, petite redheaded thing came and unlocked the driver's side door. I stayed in the shadows, watching. Did I know her? I'd expected to discover one of the dancers here, but it took me a moment to place this woman: She was the bartender! I chuckled, amused, and then stepped out where she could see me. She was startled for a moment, but smiled when she recognized me.
"Well hello," she said.
"Hello yourself." I took her by the hand, which startled her again, but when I raised it to my lips and kissed it she blushed.
"I wasn't sure you'd come…" she said.
"Lucky you," I said. I gestured. "Is this your car?"
"Can I drive?"
She paused, flustered again. I grinned. She gave me the keys. I got in and adjusted the driver's seat; my legs were much, much longer than they normally were. She seemed awkward sitting in the passenger seat, but smiled at me, shy. I wound my way down the ramp and out into the street; the car purred like an alley cat. "I'm Jesse," the girl said after a while.
"Nice to meet you," I said.
"What's your name?"
I almost said, "Sam," but then I stopped myself. No, I thought, not tonight. Tonight Sam just isn't good enough. "Victor," I said. She giggled more.
She gave me directions to her place. The streets in the city are narrow and no matter what they show you in the movies it's hard to find room really open up a car like that, but I managed. I was drunk as hell, of course, but if she noticed she didn't care. Jesse's place was out in Pacific Heights. I was a little impressed; it was all deco floors and pricy leather furniture, and a giant aquarium of tropical fish and live plants. I asked, as casually as I could, how a bartender afforded this house and that car.
"My fiancé is a doctor," she said, after hesitating for a moment.
Oh man. Just when I thought my night couldn't get any more interesting.
She excused herself to "freshen up." I counted to ten and then followed her. The house was mostly dark, so the light from the bathroom was easy to pick out. She was doing a line off of the sink and when she came back up the sight of my reflection behind her made her jump. She turned and smiled in a guilty kind of way; her pupils had dilated almost to pinpoints. I looked her up and down; her dress was the barely-there type. I placed one hand just beneath her ribs and then slid it down the side of her body, feeling her through the thin fabric. She opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. I wasn't paying attention anyway. I pushed her up against the sink; she gasped a little.
"So," I said, "tell me about this fiancé."
She blinked. "Huh?"
"What's his name?" I ran my hands across her curved hips.
"Henry," she said, sounding somehow uncertain.
"Henry. Tell me about Henry." My fingertips brushed the bare tops of her thighs, just under the hem of her dress. The bright lights over the mirror showed me that the small hairs on her arms were standing up.
"You want to know about…?"
"What's he like?" I said. I pushed against her harder, grinding my crotch into her body. She leaned back, but once her head touched the glass there was nowhere to go.
"He's…nice, I guess," she said.
"Hmm. Does he have a big dick?"
"I said, does Henry have a big dick?" One of my hands slid around her thigh and up between her legs; naturally, she wasn't wearing anything under her dress. Once my fingers connected I saw the lightning bolts dancing behind her eyes.
"Oh!" she said, her mouth a perfect O. She drew in a rough breath. "It's…it's okay, I guess."
"Hmm. So, Henry, okay dick, makes a lot of money, does that sum things up?" I massaged her with two fingers, the rubbery flesh of her lower lips pulsing already. "You like to suck his okay dick?"
"Not really…" she said. I pushed against her harder; her legs were open now and trying to wrap around me, but there was not enough room.
"You don't like to suck dick, or you don't like to suck his dick?" With my free hand I grabbed her face, a little rough, and I ran the pad of my thumb over her lips; she licked it for a second.
"I don't know," she said. "He's the only guy I ever…I don't know."
"Only guy, huh?" I pushed her back more. She was shaking all over. My fingers were working up inside of her. She was closed up tighter than a vice around them. "So what about this? I guess you've never seen one like this?" I let her go long enough to unzip and pull my cock out. She shook her head, although I'm not sure she was really looking at it. I realized she must have been pretty wired all night, and now she was a long way gone. Well, suited me fine; less handholding necessary.
I positioned her sitting on the sink with her legs spread and her back against the mirror, and then I ran it home. With Tina earlier I'd wanted to explore the feeling of my new body, but now I was only interested in the matter at hand. When I pushed in I saw Jesse's eyelids flutter up for a second and she opened her mouth to say…well, I don't know what, because I clapped a hand over her mouth to muffle it. With my other hand I moved her leg out of the way a little more and then I started to thrust; she was a hot, tight little thing, I'll give her that. I had to practically force it, and then again halfway. She sounded like she was screaming but it was hard to tell, since I was smothering any noise she might have made. I checked her eyes now and then, just to make sure she was having a good time; mostly they were rolled back, which I took to be a good sign.
Her legs were up in the air and around me, and every time I leaned into her they bobbed up and down. Her shoes were still on and one of them slipped off and dangled from the tip of her toe, which I found hilarious for some reason. I grabbed it and threw it over my shoulder. Then I leaned into her so hard that her legs went ramrod straight for a second and stuck out on either side of me. She moaned so loud I couldn’t smother it, and for a second the bitch actually bit me, although it was probably an accident; I took my hand off her mouth in any case. She was sopping wet on me and again I wondered again whether it was safe to be going bareback on her. But I was already too committed to stop, so I just kept going, burying myself in her body again and again. I was still fully clothed, just with my fly down, so I stripped off my coat; it was getting hot in there in a hurry.
"So how does Henry fuck you?" I had to repeat the question a few times before I got a somewhat coherent answer:
"No? How then?"
"He's always--AH!—he's always slower."
"Do you like slower?"
She giggled and shook her head in a languid way. "No."
"You tell him that?"
"What the fuck—AH, FUCK!—difference does it make?"
"Probably makes a big difference to him."
"Just shut up and fuck me…" Her words were slurred and ran over each other. Her fingers were all tangled up in my hair now. She sat so far back on the sink that I had to stand on my toes to get an angle where I could keep my cock in her, and my ankles were starting to ache in protest, but I recognized that I was coming up on it now and I sure as hell wasn't about to slow down.
"What do you want Henry to do that he never does?"
"Mmmm, Henry never sticks it in my ass."
"Henry never calls me….never calls me a…" She trailed off, seemingly bored with her words, her eyes rolling again and her words just a low moan. I slapped her once, hard, and her eyelids fluttered open.
"Henry never calls you a what?"
"Whore," she said. The word was a little exhalation.
"You like being called a whore?" I was sweating all over, aching from exertion, my spine bowed with the effort of fucking as I poured into her.
"I love it," she said. She was limp like a doll now. She seemed to be waiting for something. "In fact, I think he's going to say it a lot, after tonight…" The sound of a key turning in the lock made my ears prick up. Jesse did too. "Oh," she said, "that' should be him now."
I felt a cold stab of panic. My cock squirted inside the tight, clenched confines of her body at that moment, popping off, but the thrill of it withered under my fear. The front door was opening and there were footsteps on the floorboards. It wouldn't take long, of course, for Henry to find us here. Jesse just sat back, arms folded, watching, seemingly bored. I wanted to slap the daylights out of her, but there was no time. I zipped myself up and readjusted my belt, thinking maybe I could find a back door or a side door or something without being noticed. But as soon as I turned around, there was Henry, standing blank-faced in the bathroom door. Cue my cold sweat.
Henry looked at me. Henry looked at Jesse. Jesse looked at Henry. I looked only at the door, and my ticket out of here. Nobody said anything. After a while I broke the silence, giving Henry the closest thing to a winning smile I could manage. "Well," I said, "I guess you and your girl have a lot to talk about."
I was close enough to see Henry's throat jump up and down as he swallowed. "Yeah," he said. "I guess we do."
"Why don't I just show myself out while you do," I said, slipping past him. I couldn't help but brush his shoulder. He was stiff as a board. I was in the living room and halfway home by the time he caught up.
"Wait a minute," he said.
"I don't see that this has got anything to do with me," I said. I was smiling still. "You two just settle your thing and I'll—"
"I said, wait a minute," said Henry, and now, for the first time, he looked angry. I smiled wider and put my hands up.
"Henry," I said, "with a thing like this, you have to understand—"
In all fairness, he really did swing at me first. That's not bullshit. Yeah, he took a swing; then I took one back. And another one. And another one. I'd never even thrown a punch in my life, so I really don't know what happened, but the next thing I remember is Henry huddled on the floor with his hands up; Henry, with his nose broken across his face; Henry, with a mouth full of blood, too frightened to move, and throbbing pain in my hands and wrists from pummeling him again and again. Jesse was hanging onto me, telling me to stop, even trying to pull me away. When I caught my breath I shrugged, letting her drag me. I felt hollow, like everything around me was happening from a million miles away; I became fascinated by the sight of bruises on my knuckles, wondering if they'd still be there when I changed back to normal.
It was a while before Jesse's voice penetrated my haze: "What the hell is wrong with you?" she said. I shrugged again.
"What? Isn't that what you wanted to see?" I said, taking a step closer to her. She backed away.
"You completely lost it," she said.
"He swung first."
"Just get out," she said. She did not sound angry, exactly, nor did she sound quite afraid. If anything, she was simply disgusted. The contempt is what provoked me. Rather than leave, I rounded on her and started backing her up one step at a time, jabbing a finger at her collarbone.
"Don't give me that," I said. "You want to play games? Let's start with you. Let's ask, where was all this concern for Henry before now? Huh? Why don't you tell me? Why don't you just tell me?"
“I…” she said.
“Now you care about him, huh? You care? Tell me just how much you cared twenty minutes ago? Tell me about that. Go on, tell me.”
"Get out!" she said again; tears were in her eyes. I smirked. And then—
I swear I just meant to push her out of the way. She was telling me to get out but she was between me and the door. I just meant to give her a little nudge so she'd move; I swear that's all I meant to do. I think. I really do. I don't know how it happened; in slow motion I watched her teeter, watched her fall, saw her silhouetted in the light from the aquarium, heard the glass break and the water gush out. Next thing I knew my shoes were wet, and there was blood in the water too. So much blood…
Henry screamed and jumped up and came at me again. Or maybe he was just running to check on Jesse, I don't know. I pummeled him again all the same, and when he stopped moving I ran. I ran like a shot, out of that house, down the block, into the night, just running, running, running until the blood pounded in my ears. I really think I ran all the way home. I must have looked like a maniac to anyone who saw me. When I slammed the door, my heart was thundering and my lungs burned. I went to the kitchen, hoping water would help, but I couldn't keep it down. I hurt all over; what was happening? My body was changing, my muscles shifting and contorting, rearranging themselves over my bones. The formula was wearing off! But it was worse than before; it hurt more. A lot more.
I couldn't stand. I crawled on my hands and knees, trying to get to the bedroom, trying to strip off my now ill-fitting clothes, leaving a trail of discarded garments behind me. Every square inch of me was on fire. Breathing felt like needles in my throat. Pain throbbed at the back of my eyes. There was a shrieking noise, like a fire alarm; was I screaming, or were my ears ringing? I couldn't tell. I just kept trying to move forward, not even sure what would happen if I got where I was going but certain that the immediate goal was the only thing keeping me sane.
I got as far as the bedroom door, and then I just couldn't go on. My bones were changing shape and I couldn't support myself anymore, so I collapsed in a heap where I was, sobbing and wretched. I thought I was going to die. I decided it was okay.
I closed my eyes. The pain didn't stop when I slept. Even my dreams hurt.
Erica's voice woke me.
She sounded far away.
She was upset, scared.
"Sam, are you okay? Answer me? Sam? Sam?”
She leaned in right next to my ear.
"Samantha, answer me!"
I opened my eyes. It was morning; the light hurt. Erica was standing over me. She must have come home early. She looked scared. I was lying in the doorway with my back all twisted up; for a moment I feared I couldn't move, but no, after a moment's stretching I was all right. The pain was just a dull throb now.
Erica was shaking her head and biting her fingernails. "Samantha?" she said. She only used my full name when she was angry or worried. "Talk to me, baby. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," I said. My voice startled me; it was hoarse, but back to normal. A quick survey showed that I was back to normal too. I looked at my hands; no bruises.
"What happened?" Erica said.
"I…had too much to drink." My head still hurt, too. I went to the bathroom and started the shower. I looked into the mirror and stared at myself until a fog of perspiration blotted out my reflection entirely. I looked like me again; but was I me? Was I really, completely me? Or was I maybe…
"Sam?" Erica said again, coming to the door. "Whose clothes are these?" My suit was still all over the floor. I shrugged, turning toward the shower so I didn't have to look at her while I answered.
"I went to a costume party." Before she could ask any other questions I stepped under the water, hoping to wash away everything that had happened. The memory of Henry's ruined face and Jesse's scream while falling sent a flutter of panic through me. What had I done? Were they all right? Were they…
After I turned the water off I toweled dry and went straight to my phone. I looked at the Gate's site: "Two Dead on Halloween Night," the headline told me. I couldn't breathe. But I let out a sigh of relief when I read on: The article was about a shooting at a nightclub. I looked over all the recent city news, but there were no other murders, no missing persons, no couple beaten to death in their home in the early hours of the morning. They were alive, then. Thank God.
I kept an eye on the news for a few more days, but there was no mention of the attack. No need to worry about police detectives knocking at my door. Not that it would have mattered; all the witnesses would have described a tall, handsome man. No reason to suspect the short, fat lesbian. The formula had done its job. It did its job very well, indeed. I was anonymous. I was safe. I had escaped all consequences.
Well, almost. I can't get rid of the dreams. And it can't fix things with Erica; something changed between us after that weekend. I don't think she ever really trusted me again. She asked me questions that I just plain didn't have any answers for, and the more I hedged, the more I pushed her away. But what could I tell her? Not the truth, surely. She left me a week ago. She said she needed time to think. That's fine by me. I need time too.
I've dropped out of school. Didn't go to a single class again, after Halloween night. Just didn't have it in me, I guess. I burned all my notes on the formula, but I can still remember the whole thing. I've tried to make myself forget it, but of course, that doesn't work. That worries me too.
I'm not going to lie: I liked being the Other Me. It was fun. I want to do it again. Even with everything that happened…well, no one really got hurt, did they? Not so bad that they won't all get over it sooner or later anyway. Besides, why should I have to sacrifice for everyone else all the time? Why can't I do what's important to me, just once in a while? Is that so bad? Would it be wrong? I don't know. Sure, there would be risks, but aren't there always? And if you think about it, I really was provoked…
That's what I tell myself. And then I get sick for even thinking about it.
I don't go out anymore. I don't talk to anyone. I don't look in the mirror. I just think about that night. I could make more of the formula. I could do it right now. I could have a drink and go out and forget all my problems, and whatever new problems I get, well, I could forget about them too, in the morning. Yes, I could do that. But will I? I don't know. I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't know myself at all, these days. That's been the scariest part of this whole thing, actually.
I guess the question is: At the end of the day, how much can you trust yourself?
How much, indeed?
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