Strike Three

Addison’s day couldn’t possibly get any worse. In the past 6 hours, he was hit in the face with a dodge ball, had fallen asleep in class, was persuaded into doing his friend Damian’s homework for him, and now he was walking home with a pile of books too tall to see over. Addison grumbled, and flipped his red hair away from his eyes. He continued walking through the back alley that led to the street of his residence. He and his friends called it “Jungle Alley”, obviously for the great amounts of foliage growing through the cracks in the fences on either side. There were trees with branches that stretched from one side to the other, zigzagging across the skyline. There were giant roots that covered the ground, which seemed to trip you on purpose every now and then. Therefore, Addison wasn’t surprised when he fell and sent the textbooks and papers scattering.

He cursed under his breath, and brought his wounded knee to his chest. He glared behind him, and scrutinized the area for the one devious root that decided to mess with him today. Instead, a metallic object about the size of a football caught his eye. His shoelace was caught underneath it, so he leaned over the strange device to set it free. The tiny machine clicked, and a green gas seeped out from the top of it.
“What…?” Addison questioned aloud. Suddenly, his eyes started to burn. His skin felt as if someone was jabbing him with a thousand razor-sharp needles. His head pounded incessantly like a drum. He fell to the ground, and slowly felt his throat start to close up. His vision started to falter as his whole world turned grayscale. Then, everything went black. Addison’s day was about to get a whole lot worse.
“Oh God, my head…” Addison droned, as he began to regain consciousness. Pushing his hair back, he opened his eyes to see a black void. There was no light coming in from any direction. Yet, he could still see himself in full color. Perplexed, he shakily stood up. “Am I dead?” he said into the infinite darkness.
“Heh heh… not quite, kid. Not quite.” chuckled a grizzly voice from behind him.
“Then…where am I? Who are you?” he shouted in the direction of the voice.
“Geez, you and your questions. Take it easy, you’re giving us a headache. You’re in an experiment, kid. The Experiment. Welcome. As for me, think of me as kind of…a guide.” Right then, a blood-red wolf with a black stripe running down its back stepped forward from the black abyss. He smirked, and sat in front of a paralyzed Addison. Not only was he afraid of wolves, but a talking one!? This couldn’t be real. What bothered him the most is the necklace the wolf was wearing; it was indistinguishable to his own. Moreover, why did it say ‘giving us a headache’?
“I must be dreaming.” Addison said to himself.
“Dreaming? You’ve kind of got it. You’ll find out in time. We’ll all find out in time…” the wolf trailed off, as he stepped backwards into the eternal blackness. Addison leaned forward to try to see his so-called “guide” again. That instant, the wolf growled, and lunged at him. Addison screamed as he opened his eyes, and sat up in bed.
He breathed heavily and sat up in bed. “It…it was just a dream after all? But…how did I get home?” he spoke aloud. That instant, a stinging pain surged across his face. He sprung from his bed, and stumbled across the floor to his bathroom. He looked up at the mirror to see a fading red scar across his left eye. By the time he started to wash it off with water, it had disappeared completely.
Trying to ignore the confusing series of events that had just occurred, he threw his school clothes on, and walked downstairs to the kitchen.
“Good morning, star-shine! The earth says hello!” greeted a familiar but surprising voice. Addison turned to see his best friend Damian sitting at his kitchen table, eating breakfast. “Dude, your mom makes killer pancakes.”
“How…how the heck did you get in my house!?” Addison finally managed to utter.
“Back door. I know where you hide the key.” Damian replied, smiling. “Oh, there’s food for you, too!” He held up a plate with three golden-brown flapjacks. Addison groaned and laughed.
“Okay, okay. Is there any syrup left?”
*~*~*~*
“No way. Not a chance.”
“Aw, c’mon! Please?” The two were walking to school, and Damian was pestering his best friend as usual.
“No. I will not go to that stupid Star Trek movie with you.” Addison snapped.
“But, it’s not stupid! It’s going to be epic, man, Epic beyond all…epic-ness, okay?” Addison rolled his eyes.
“You nerd.”
“Not nerd, fanboy. There’s a difference, Addy. You’re the one with the good grades; so technically, you’re the real nerd here. Speaking of which, did you finish the homework?” Damian asked. Addison froze in his tracks. The homework. Did he even have it? He opened the front pocket of his messenger bag, to find a vacant interior.
“Crap.”
*~*~*~*

“So, the textbooks are in Jungle Alley? What?” Damian shouted, as he tried to catch up with Addison.

“It’s a long story!” the other boy yelled over his shoulder. He turned into the alley, to see about seven books lying among the roots. “So it was real.” He whispered to himself.

“Honestly? Tripping, dropping everything, and leaving these here? I can’t believe you.” Damian said as he hastily picked up textbooks.

“Yeah, I…can’t believe me, either.” Addison spoke quietly, as his eyes scanned the roots for the metallic device with no avail. “Who could have-?”

“You practically owe me that movie now, man.” Damian interrupted.

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Sure.” Addison replied dully. He winced, and brought a hand to his eye.
*~*~*~*

Addison opened the door to his room, and dropped his messenger bag in the corner. He sat down on his bed, and fiddled with his lack and red striped arm-warmers. Come to think of it, that wolf was wearing the same ones. He sighed, and fell backwards. He needed some rest.

Addison opened his eyes and screamed, seeing the darkness before him. He was back.

“Oh, welcome back!” said a familiar voice. Addison’s eye stung with every word the wolf spoke. He looked up to see it lying on a pile of black cubes, smirking just like before. “This is going to be fun. Trust me.”

“What is, exactly?” Addison replied, confused.

“Hmm. It depends. Whatever the boss wants us to do.”
“The boss?”
“Ugh. Forgot conversations with you are nothing but never-ending games of 20 questions.” He stretched, and leaped down from the top of the pile. “Okay, time to lay down some rules.” As soon as those words left his mouth, a sharp wind rushed through the void. The room turned a blinding white. Addison quickly closed his eyes, not prepared for the sudden change in lighting. He slowly opened his eyes to see the black cubes the wolf was sitting on re-arranging themselves to form words. “Rule number one,” the wolf said aloud as the cubes wrote the words in the air, “is that you will have to complete a challenge to test your strength, logic, heart, etc. M’kay? Good! Rule two!” Addison slowly nodded as the cubes wrote the second rule. “You can never tell anybody on the outside world about The Experiment, on the penalty…of death.” The last two words were spoken rather somberly. Addison gulped. “Rule three. You’re not allowed to wake up until your challenge for the night is completed.”
“So, I’m asleep, right?” Addison asked.
“Bingo, kid.” Addison gave a nod.
“Okay. Go on.”
“Right! Rule four, most important rule of all. For each challenge you fail to complete, you will receive a strike. Three strikes, and you’re out. Dead.” With the last few words, the wolf moved three of his claws in front of Addison’s left eye. Addison’s eyes went wide.
“You mean those scars? So, I have one already! You gave me one, and I didn’t do anything!” he shouted.
“Easy, relax. That one was just a…preview. The real ones will be much more painful. And they won’t go away.” The wolf said, smiling a sinister smile. The cubes formed a door. “Oh, just in time. Your challenge awaits.” Addison took one look at the wolf’s jagged teeth, and ran through the door. “Heh…and so, it begins.”
Addison shielded his eyes, as there was another change of lighting. The room he was in looked like the one before, but smaller. It felt…more ominous for some reason. Like something bad was just bound to happen. BANG! Addison covered his ears as a gunshot rang through the darkness. BANG BANG BANG! “Are they shooting at me?” he thought. He opened his eyes, and was face-to-face with a red-eyed shadow creature. BANG. A bullet hit the figure before he even had time to scream. He looked up, and saw a girl, about thirteen or fourteen, holding a gun. She had messy hair dyed green, a skirt patched, ripped leggings underneath, a handmade shirt, and a neon-blue tie. She smiled widely, and her eyes lit up.

“Oh boy! A new friend!” the girl shouted happily. She put away the gun, and held out her hand. “My name is Isabella Sunny Garcia, but you can call me Izzy! Or, Izzy-bug! Or, Izzy-bug, Lizzy-bug, the fantastically wonderful!” she said in a hyperactive, singsong voice.

“Uh…I’m Addison.” He replied, ears still ringing from the gunshots.

“Aw, you’re all shy and stuff! How cute! We’re going to be super-mega-awesome best friends, Addy!” Addison frowned, hearing yet another person use his dreaded nickname.
“Oh, I’m sure.” He replied, sarcastically.
“Great! Hope you don’t die!” She said in the same happy tone of voice. Right then, he saw something moving behind Izzy. She spun around, and drew her gun. BANG! “Here comes the fun part, Addy!” she shouted with a smile. Addison hurriedly looked around to see seven or eight shadow creatures surrounding them.

“What should I do? What the hell should I do!?”

“Use your imagination, silly!”
“Yeah, that helps…” he grumbled. The shadows were closing in. He needed to do something, fast. “Uh…uh, FIRE!” he shouted, and pointed his hand toward the enemies. A shower of sparks, a flurry of flames, and a sheet of smoke exploded from the palm of his hand. “I did that?” he asked, astonished.

“Way to go, Addy!” Izzy shouted over her shoulder. Addison forced a weak smile at the girl. Then, he felt something behind him. He turned around, but it was too late. He closed his eyes and braced himself. A few seconds later, he felt like he was floating. He drifted in and out of consciousness. He opened one heavy eye, and saw the red wolf in front of him.
“Tsk, already? I expected more of you.” He raised his paw, and put it to Addison’s face. “Strike one.” Whispered a voice, as Addison sat up in bed. He screamed, and covered his face with his hands. Pain surged through his body. He felt blood running down his cheek.

“Crap! CRAP!” He yelled, as he ran to the sink. He dried off his hands, and put a wet washcloth on the bleeding gash. He panted heavily, and gazed into the mirror. A nasty-looking cut was across his left eye, and bleeding severely. “I need to get to a hospital!” he managed to say through cries of pain. However, as soon as he finished his sentence, the bleeding stopped. The wound looked as if it had always been there. “Don’t tell, on the penalty of death.” Said the wolf’s voice.

“I…I won’t. I won’t.” Addison said to the voice inside his head.
*~*~*~*

He hoped he didn’t see anyone. His parents were thankfully at work already, and now he was walking to school at a fast pace with his head down. He knew people were going to ask, so he covered the scar with his hair. “What am I supposed to do now?” he said to himself.

“About what?” said a cheery voice from behind. Damian tilted his head and frowned. “What’s wrong, Addison?” Addison started to panic.

“Uh, nothing. Nothing! Just, uh…school! Yeah, school! Homework and crap.” He lied. Damian crossed his arms, sensing the panicked tone in his friend’s voice.
“Uh-huh, yeah. B.S. What’s really going on?” Damian asked, as he stepped forward.
“No! I can’t tell you!” Addison shouted.
“Oh, forgot to mention,” rang the wolf’s voice inside Addison’s mind, “if someone finds out, and they’re under the age of 18, they join the experiments instead of you dying.” Addison covered his scar with both hands, now concerned for a life other than his own. Damian looked at him worriedly.
“Oh, God. You’re not being emo, are you? Are you hurting yourself?” Damian asked nervously. “Why are you covering your face? What happened?” A lot happened in the next three seconds. Addison felt all of the color drain from his face, and his scar burned. Damian pulled Addison’s hands down, and saw the wound. Both started to have trouble breathing, and fell to the ground. Then, everything went black. Within those three seconds, Damian had joined the Experiment.
*~*~*~*

“I didn’t want you to get involved in this nightmare.” Addison whispered as the two listened to the wolf’s “rule speech”.

“How the heck was I supposed to know about this!?” Damian whispered back.

“If you kept yourself out of my business, you wouldn’t have to know!’ Addison snapped back in a voice a little louder than a whisper. The two friends exchanged glares.

“Hey! You two! Pay attention!” the wolf growled at the boys. They both quickly stood like soldiers.

“Yes, sir!” they replied in unison.

“Good. Ugh, why does The Experiment only work on teenagers…” he complained. “Just go to the challenge, okay?” The cubes formed a door, and they hurried in. “For the record, this is totally not my fault.” Damian said to his friend.

“Oh, it so is.”

The familiar sound of gunshots and growling filled the air. The last of a large group of shadows fell to the ground, and vanished.

“You’re late, silly-head!” Izzy said to Addison. “Oh! You brought a friend! Yay!” She ran over to the two boys, and tackled Addison. Rather, knocked him over with an over-enthusiastic hug. Damian laughed. “Oh, where are my manners? Bad Izzy! Hee hee, my name’s Isabella Sunny Garcia, Izzy for short!” she said to Damian in the same exact fashion she said to Addison the night before.

“Damian. Damian Moore. Pleased to meet your acquaintance.” He said, as he shook Izzy’s hand.

“Yeah, glad you two are introduced. Now Izzy, would you kindly GET OFF?” Addison shouted.

“Whoops! Sorry, forgot I was still sitting there!” Izzy said as she stood up. Addison brushed himself off and glared at the smiling girl. “Anyway, it’s great more people are here!” Izzy said. “It gets awfully boring sometimes, I’ve been by myself for about a month or t—hold on.” She paused her sentence to shoot at a shadow creature on the floor that was still alive. “Sorry about that!”

“Izzy,” Addison questioned, “how long have you been here?” For once, the girl didn’t smile. In fact, she looked angry. She tightened her grip on the gun, and looked him in the eyes.

“Eight years.”
Isabella Sunny Garcia was hiding in her room, with her security blanket. In the six years of her life, she had never heard her parents argue this much. She heard a crash, and shut her eyes as tears rolled down her cheeks. Suddenly, her door was flung open.
“Come on, we’re leaving.” said her father, as he grabbed her wrist. His voice was monotone, and he smelled of whiskey. He sported his lab coat, and has a serious look on his unkempt face.

“But daddy, where are we going? Are we ever going to see mommy again?” she asked. Her father turned to her, and looked her in the eyes. He said nothing, and even though Izzy was only a little girl, she knew exactly what he was trying to say.
The sounds of that evening were imprinted in her mind forever. The rain hitting the roof of the car. Her father’s streams of yelling and cursing. The honking of cars on either side of them, swerving to avoid a crash. There were sirens, there was screaming. She was yelling to her father to drive as normal people do. Her father shouted in refusal every time she asked.

They finally arrived in a place that reminded Izzy of secret labs in cartoons. It was her father’s work, which she heard her parents yelling about relentlessly. An assistant fetched a clean coat for her father. She stood shivering, in the same soaking wet clothes. She closed her eyes, and heard her father talking.
“It’s time. The Experiment starts now.” He said.
“But sir, are you sure?” another voice replied. “I think—”
“I’m the boss here! I’m the boss! And when I say now,” he shouted at the top of his lungs, grabbing Izzy and pulling her forward, “I mean, NOW, d*****!” The assistant shakily nodded, and took Izzy’s hand.

“Your daddy wants you to help him with his work.” Izzy looked up from under her curly brown hair.
“I want mommy. Why isn’t she here?” she asked. However, she received no answer. She never did. Instead, she was thrown into a small cylinder, which sealed up. A green gas started to leak in from the top of the chamber. She squeezed her blanket, and everything went black.
Izzy squeezed the handle of her gun. A single tear dropped to the ground. She heard no sounds, saw nothing but darkness. She didn’t remember that night clearly. Nor could she remember her life before, her father, her friends, anything. All she could remember were the sounds. Yelling, sirens, crying. Someone shouting her name.
“Izzy!” A familiar voice, shouting her name. “Izzy! Snap out of it!”
“What?” Izzy’s mind returned to the present. Addison was in front of her, shaking her shoulders. Damian was fighting shadows a few feet away.
“You’ve been standing there for half an hour! We need your help!” he yelled.
“…okey-dokey, Addy.” She replied in her normal manner.
The three completed the task at hand without fail or harm every night. Some nights, it was much more intricate and complex than others. There would be things like deadly mazes, giant enemies, and virtual realities that seemed very, very real. Eventually, this nightmare became more like an everyday task, like cleaning your room, or doing homework. Addison still worried, though. Every now and then, he saw the wolf…just watching them. He worried about Izzy, and how happy, almost crazy she looked when using her gun. Mostly though, he worried about why the wolf reminded him…of himself. One night, after a challenge, he saw it out of the corner of his eye. He tightened his hands into fists, and spun around to face it.
“Why don’t you just go away!?” he screamed at it. He threw fireballs in a rage.
“Addison, chill! Calm down!” said Damian, as he tried to stop his friend. Izzy just stood there, looking at the retreating wolf. Addison slowed down, and finally came to his senses. He lowered his arms.
“I…I…” he tried to speak, but no words came forth. He stood awkwardly, with his mouth hanging open for a moment. He shook his head. “It’s always watching us. I know that’s its job, but…something about that wolf just really annoys me.” With the last few words, Izzy snapped to attention.
“Wolf?” she questioned.
“Yeah, what are you talking about, Addy? Do you need glasses, too? It’s clearly a zombie.” Damian said, adjusting his spectacles.
“Zombie? It’s not a wolf or a zombie, sillies! It’s a guy in a white coat!” Izzy corrected. Addison was puzzled.
“How can we all see different things?” he asked to nobody in particular.
“You kids are smart. Once most people figure it out, which takes them quite a while by the way, they are automatically out. But I like you kids…I’ll spare ya.” Said the wolf…or, zombie, or person in the white coat.
“Then what the heck are you?” Damian questioned.
“The answer to that is simple. Your worst fear.” He said with another one of his trademark smirks. Addison gasped.
“I knew it! I’m terrified of wolves!”
“Why?” asked Damian.
“I…I saw a wolf eat my cat.” He slowly said. The two boys cringed at the mental image. “But why is your worst fear zombies? You have like, zombie video games and stuff, which you play constantly.” Addison inquired. Damian sighed and scratched the back of his head.
“The ones in the games aren’t real. When I fight them there, it reminds me they aren’t real. Plus, it keeps me feeling safe. It’s like…a security blanket, in the form of slashing the undead with chainsaws.” He admitted. Addison smiled. His seemingly simple friend was maybe just as complex on the inside as he was. Izzy turned to them.
“What’s fear?” Izzy asked. She looked at them inquisitively.
“Stop joking around, and be serious for once.” said Addison. “You know what fear is.”
“I’m being completely serious.” Izzy said as she shook her head.
“Well, uh…” Damian explained, “Fear is…you know, when you are up against something scary. Like a rollercoaster or a haunted house.”
“I don’t know what rollercoasters and haunted houses are.” She said, completely honestly.
“Izzy…are you…real?” Addison asked.
“Of course I am, silly goose!”
“No, I mean, do you exist outside of The Experiment?” Izzy’s smile turned to a frown.
“I don’t remember.” Addison frowned as well.
“Well, what do you remember? And why is your greatest fear some dude in a lab coat?” “I remember…” It was then that Izzy had her epiphany. He mind was cleared of all disorientation. She looked up at the creature watching them. “I know who you are.” And with that sentence, Addison and Damian woke up.
“What the crap was that about!?” Addison exclaimed. Damian, who had slept over that night, was bewildered as well.
“No, idea, man. No idea.” The two sat in silence for a little while. “So. You seriously saw your cat get eaten by a wolf?” Damian asked, to break the silence.
“Yeah. But I don’t think the wolf itself was my greatest fear. I mean, it’s more than that. The wolf…looked like me. I think I’m afraid of…becoming like one.” Addison fiddled with his necklace.
“Well, you certainly look human.” Damian said with a laugh as he rolled up his sleeping bag.
“You know what I mean, idiot.” Addison snapped.
“Yeah, I know. Just…just know that I don’t think you’ll ever act like that. You’ll always be the Addison that’s my best friend.” Addison smiled.
“Thanks. That means a lot to-GAH!” he didn’t have time to finish his sentence, because Damian had him in an impulsive hug.
“You’ll always be Addy to me.”
“Uh, dude?” Addison managed to say after overcoming the shock. Damian quickly let go.
“Uh, err…none of that.” Damian said, and adjusted his glasses. Addison slapped him on the back of the head with a notebook. “Hey! That hurt!”
“Do that again, and it’ll be worse. I’d be worried about those glasses of yours.” Addison said, half-smiling.
That night, after the two had contemplated about Izzy and drifted to sleep at Addison’s table, they saw something truly horrifying. There stood Izzy, pointing a gun at them. The look in her eyes was barbaric and desperate.
“The challenge is to give one of your opponents a strike.” She said in monotone. “I have two already,” she added, raising her voice, “and I’m NOT DYING NOW!” BANG! BANG! BANG! The two ran just in time. Damian quickly said “shield”, and a force field materialized in front of them. Izzy just kept on shooting at them.
“Izzy, don’t! We can help you! We can find a way out of this!” Addison shouted, trying to reason.
“You’re lying! You have no idea how to get out of here!” she screamed back. The shield flickered away for a moment, and came back.
“Reason faster, Addy! Reason faster!” Damian yelled. But Izzy was right. Addison had no idea in the slightest about this place or how to get out…but Izzy did. He lifted his head to shout to her, but the shield flickered away at the same time.
“Now, just stand still, both of you.” Izzy said, lining up her targets. “Two birds…” she said, putting her finger on the trigger, “with one stone.” CLICK. “What?” the girl looked down in surprise at her gun, which was out of ammo. Addison took this moment to his advantage, and ran over to her. He kicked the gun away, and pushed her down.
“Listen to me! You know more about this than I do! You know who that…thing was! We can get out of this, if we work together!” he shouted in her face.
“How do you know!?” she screamed back.
“Trust! You’ll have to trust me! It’s what friends do!” Izzy eased up a bit, and started to cry.
“Okay. Okey-dokey, Addy. I trust you.” She said. Addison nodded, and let her go. Without warning, pulled out another gun from behind her back, and put it to his forehead. “But you shouldn’t trust me.” BANG. The two boys disappeared, the mission being completed. “I hope we can still be friends.”
“That…that b****!” Addison yowled, as he sat up. He held his hand to his face, and felt deja-vu as pain once again coursed through his entire body.
“Oh, God! You’re bleeding like crazy!” Damian shouted. Addison screamed. Then in a matter of seconds, the scar healed itself just like the last one. He slowly put his blood-stained hand down, and looked at the ground.
“We’re…we’re not getting out of this, are we? I mean…this is it. I’m…I’m going to die.” He put great emphasis on the last word.
“No, you’re not!” Damian said to him.
“Oh, be realistic Damian! Izzy’s gotten two strikes in eight years. Eight years. I have two, and it’s been less than a month! I am going to DIE!” he shouted frantically at him. He had a look in his eyes that was desperate and barbaric.
“Addison, calm down. You’re starting to look like her.” Addison blinked, and sat back down. There was a long silence where Addison reflected on what his friend had just said.
“Right. Don’t want that. We’re going to get through this. Just, don’t be surprised if I use you as a human shield.” He said after a while. The two boys laughed. “We’ll get though this.”
Once in The Experiment, they could sense something was amiss. It was eerily quiet. Just like a horror movie, in the few seconds before everything went wrong. As if on cue, Izzy jumped down in front of them.
“Guess what?” she said excitedly.
“You’re going to kill me?” Addison guessed.
“No, silly-head! Sorry about that, by the way.” She said in a happy manner, like she was talking about puppies instead of shooting someone. “It’s good news. I think I found a way out.”
*~*~*~*
The three ran through a dimly-lit hallway Izzy had found, as she explained to them what was happening.
“So, your dad’s like, a mad scientist who experiments on kids’ brains?” Addison asked between tired gasps.
“Mmm-hmm. Never was too fond of daddy.”
“And you’ve been corrupted by the brutality of these arduous trials?” Addison inquired.
“I don’t know what those big words mean…but if you’re asking if I went crazy, then yeah, basically.” She said with a shrug.
“And how, exactly are we supposed to get to your dad if The Experiment takes place in the subject’s subconscious?” Damian shouted to her. They stopped running when they came to a big metal door reading “Restricted”.
“You’ll have to…trust me.” Izzy replied. She smiled, and turned to Addison. “It’s what friends do.” She gave Addison a quick hug, and opened the door. There was a flash of light, and Izzy charged forward to defeat her worst fear.
*~*~*~*
Quite a lot happened in The Experiment. Friendships were made, fears were overcome. Spirits were crushed, and trust was broken. But most importantly, a door was opened. A door was opened, and one brave girl went in. She went in because she needed to help her friends. She went in because she needed to face her fears. She went in because she needed to find herself.
It had been three days since The Experiment had ended. Addison and Damian ran out of school at the bell, anticipating their long-awaited movie night. Addison flipped his hair away from his unscarred face. He looked in the direction of Jungle Alley, trying to mentally plan out the fastest route to the theaters. Then, he saw someone step out of the alley. It was a girl, about thirteen or fourteen. She had messy brown hair, a skirt with leggings underneath, and a neon-green shirt. She smiled widely.
“Hey there, silly-head.”





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