A figure crouches under of the window of the cottage in the lee of a rhododendron. Damned knees and hips - they are aching from holding this position so long. The stranger stifles a sneeze, and rubs the shape of the key hidden in a pocket. Getting too old for this kind of snooping.
It has taken years. A life that spiralled down through joblessness, a failed marriage, but now is back on track. It's not an obsession - that sounds ugly. More like, a compulsion to find the truth. There are rumours about the owner of this cottage, but unsettling personalities are so often passed off as quirks of eccentricity in the countryside. Now the investigator has followed a lead to this isolated cottage in Wales, hopefully to find one Ian Moore. Moore is not all he seems.
Moore is an enigma. Under his pseudonym he has published a variety of books - horror fairy tales for adults, an anthology of folk tales, several murder mysteries. He's also the author of a popular trilogy of children's stories, prompting reviewers to dub him 'The Storyteller.' No one knows what he looks like - he works through agents for his sales, never attending book-signings or promotional events. His identity is a closely-kept secret, one that the investigator is about to uncover. Gloved fingers tuck under arms and the hidden figure listens.
"All you had to do was keep an eye on Dóchas for ten minutes while I showered and changed! Now look at the state of her." The voice breaks with annoyance.
A second voice replies indistinctly in an excusing tone. A high-pitched voice, a small girl's overrides the other's.
"Not his fault, it was me!"
Hands clench into fists. Oh, that was a surprise. A child?
"So, please explain, Dóchas. Why did I find you lying in the begonias, wiggling your bum in the muddy flowerbed and trying to heap dirt on yourself?" The first voice is strained, half-way between anger and amusement.
There's a mumble.
"What was that? I didn't hear you."
"I accidentally hurt Mr. Heckle. His head just came off."
"Mr. Heckle's gone?" the other asks.
A put-upon sigh is heaved. "And - so you decided to bury yourself, and not Mr. Heckle - why?"
"I was bad. All the insides, all over," The high voice sings songs. "You shouldn't pull animals apart so they don't work any more. So I had to go under the plants. S'what we do, isn't it? When we're bad?" The little girl sounds nervous, but underlying is a tone of unrepentant mischief.
Under the window, the listener's jaw tightens. That... that sounded off. Hopefully it isn't what it sounds like. But if it is, then some of the rumours... But, a child! The eavesdropper feels ill.
There is silence, and the first voice groans. "Dóchas..."
The second voice is chuckling, the little girl's giggles rising in counterpoint, and the other snaps, "Oh, stop it! I know you'll say she takes after me, but that rubbish sense of humour is all yours."
"She looked like a grubby little Ophelia lying in the mud, with the wreck of the begonias strewn around her," the second voice says. "There's no real harm done. She was only playing."
The other sighs. "Nice way to play. Poor Mr. Heckle. Fine, whatever. We need to get going, the reservation is for eight o'clock, and I'm starving. Come on, sweetling, we've got to clean you up for your birthday dinner."
"Buthal, why do we have birthdays?" Dóchas's voice is fading as she is taken off.
The listener hears the reply faintly "To celebrate many returns of the day, Dóchas."
After about twenty minutes the Volvo estate car pulls out. The figure stands, joints popping. Unlocking the back door, a brightly-painted, cluttered kitchen beckons. There are no bills visible to give away any clue of the occupant's name. Opening the fridge, the stranger gasps and shuts it, opens it again. A rabbit stares with milky eyes through blood-stained plastic wrap. The intruder prods it - ugh. It looks half-crushed, the belly sagging as if its guts are missing. A mobile phone is fished from a pocket, a picture snapped.
The kitchen table is a jumble of school-books, pencils, coloured paper - all the miscellanea of a young child's learning. A text is nudged to reveal at the title, and several plastic beads fall to the floor. Biology? Hm. Home education? The thought of a little girl reared in this strange isolation provokes a shudder.
The bookshelves in the hall have an eclectic collection of biographies of serial killers, children's books and novels. The intruder teases one free and flips through it. It's an author's advance proof copy for one of Ian Moore's crime thrillers.
In a nook off the living room is the goal - the battered oak desk is covered with notes and books. A saucer with crumbs and a half-eaten Jaffa cake rests next to a mug. The sleek computer wakes to a touch, but asks for a password. Damn. Short of stealing it, there's no way to access its information in time. There's a framed picture standing on the desk - a solemn little girl of about four or five, with dark eyes and sleek black hair escaping from pink hair slides. Several more pictures are snapped. The reflection in the glass of the frame shows a discontented face, lines from nose to mouth marring skin, hair gone grey too soon. Well. Many years have passed since the search was started. Time to get on with finishing it.
Sitting in the desk chair, the intruder hurriedly flips through the mess - historical tomes, battered copies of children's books. Research for Moore's next novel? A faded original Grimm's Fairy tales has a bookmark next to the title page, the top torn away, leaving only the spiky script, '- where my heart is, o my brother.' Odd. The investigator lifts a copy of Malory's Le Morte d'Artur that is thick with Post-its and frowns at what's revealed underneath. A page, very old and crumbling at the edges. Medieval? It appears to be old English or something, verses written on vellum.
The investigator lifts it with care. Beneath is a lined paper with notes in a strong hand - a translation in modern English. The vellum is laid beside it, more pictures are taken. The poem is scanned quickly, then again more slowly. What in the world -? Eyes darting over the desk, the notebook reveals that it has been used as - as a journal? No. The investigator riffles the pages. This looks like a first draft of a story. Yes. Silence breathes through the house. The time is checked, then a 'ha!' of satisfaction is expelled. The desk lamp is switched on, the Morte d'Artur opened with the notebook half-covering its leaves.
The stranger reads.
Buthal's Lament - (from the original verse)
From far Eire we Fomorians did come,
Wild our hearts and weirding
Cracking from chasm, the Causeway arose to convey
But woe - o woe! Whither hath my brethren wended?
Castles in Cymru we crafted
Fresh the feasting of fields and flesh
Strong strode we, our cloak of chaos covering
Woe, o woe - where hath my people wandered?
The darkness lightens, the weight lifts and he crests, the earth rolling away from him. Gasping, he lifts an arm to paw dirt from his open eyes, tears and filthy fingers smearing dark streaks across his vision. He coughs, retches and rolls over, snapping free of roots that are wound round his body like clutching hands. He hunches, and vomits black bile that steams in the chill air. His arms shake, holding his body up, and he looks at his filthy hands, the frail twigs of wrists. Small, so small. He could feel the ebbing of his strength as the elemental magic which supported him magic was leached from the soil over the centuries, but this is the worst yet.
His stomach knots again, twisting with a different pain. His mind is growing dim, his ancient memories fogging under need. He is shivering in the early morning breeze. A small rabbit hops close, nose twitching, insensible to his scent, covered in earth as he is. Before thought can take hold his legs propel him in a dive for the thing, scraping his stomach and legs and arms on sharp rocks. The young coney kicks in his grasp, its thin, despairing squeal cut short as he bites, thin fingers digging into soft fur, blunt teeth tearing until - ah. The metallic taste floods his mouth and he swallows, bites again, chews. He wrenches, arms shaking, and a foreleg flies away, blood spattering. He presses his face to the hole, tongue searching for the core of the animal. Grunting, he pokes a finger into the wounds, but he cannot reach the heart. The meat is not satisfying, There is still a horrible emptiness within.
It is not enough.
With a cry, he drops the limp body and covers his face. He sobs, shoulders heaving until his voice rises in a crescendo - the roar of a giant transmuted into a child's scream of rage and sorrow.
That is how Buthal is found alone in the wilderness by two trekkers - naked, speechless, wild blue eyes peering out from a mask of dirt and blood.
Ripe, the rich soil rewarded
'Till tragic the doom descended
The meat of man tasted by Buthal, ah! Terrible Buthal.
So, so served were we - sanguine the stain spread
Sweet the suckling babes we snapped and swallowed
Sweet the shrieks of men and maids sucked dry as eggshells,
Bold and blind we grew great and giant, bloated
Low, o low! Strength and pride to be struck down!
Much is made of the little boy found on the moors. No trace can be found of his parents, nothing is known of how long he was alone. Appearing as if from the earth itself, as the hikers said. No memories, no understanding of English.
Scans determine nothing - no brain abnormalities, no apparent injuries.
'Child of Nature,' the press dub him, and he is a two-week marvel. Nothing is said of the rabbit. No news agency mentions how when the female hiker bent to pick him up, he'd snarled open mouthed, pink saliva drooling, and lunged to clamp hands and teeth around her wrist, drawing blood and a shriek from the young woman.
And oh, it is right, the warmth appeasing some of his hunger. And yet Buthal feels empty, hollowness throbbing just under his breastbone. The blood in his stomach is a heavy weight pulling him down.
He is adopted by a sympathetic older couple who had given up on having another child. He gains a human name and a sibling who treats him with equal parts wariness and affection.
Buthal is an odd child, and it sets him apart. He looks normal. Only he knows his true age is measured in millennia, though if one looked at his weak and fragile child-body, a boy of about five or six, perhaps seven would be seen. He is small - for his age. When he is ready, he goes to school.
It does not go well. When he is sent home for the fifth time with clothes torn and face bruised, his human-mother sighs. Buthal's shoulders bow in resentment. This is not how his life should be, the fights are not his fault, and always there is the ache in his chest and the hunger.
How King Artur and his wizards did capture and subdue the giant Buthal the Terrible - (from Malory)
In the time whence the giants first did come unto Britain they lived peaceably, raising their keeps by wild magic from earth and stone. Dwelt they in this new land much as man did, eating of the earth's providence in game, honey and fruit...
But in lust for more power, a giant it was that first tasted the flesh of man, he who was known as Buthal the Red. Lesser he thought humans, as fodder he saw them, and so he ate, capturing a fair lady alone as she gathered herbs and rending her most horribly. Upon finishing his dread repast, he did grow in size and power, and became known as Buthal the Terrible. Jealously seeing this, his brethren did follow suit and the humans fled before them. Grown monstrous, they became greedy and thoughtless, and the more they ate, the stronger they became. They then began to kill and consume whomsoever they found, men, women and children alike, outraging all in the land against their race. Prideful and strong were the giants, yet arrogance was to be their downfall, for the giants did underestimate the might of men and their magic. Thus was the war against giants begun...
His human-sibling visits his room, sitting on the end of his bed in the dark. "Biting, again? Really? Bloodthirsty, aren't you." It is not a question.
Buthal flexes his hands, large on his thin arms. They say he will grow into them, like a puppy. He wants to scream that his hands are not meant to be this small, that they are meant to be large enough to cup a man's head, crush boulders, wield great weapons. But he is only a youngling, too weak to survive on his own, and his race is cursed and wasting away. "I can't help it."
The human looks at him with knowing eyes. "You can't keep doing this. It's not good. It's like there's a fight everyday, and if it's not you, it's about you."
"I need -" Buthal's voice breaks off. His chest hurts. "Something. It's out there." How can he explain that his very being engenders chaos? He is nature itself, he is elemental. Turmoil will always find him, and aside from the pain caused when the violence is directed against his frail frame with ignorant fists, he likes it. It comforts him. He draws his legs up, wraps his arms around them and buries his head against his knees.
His sibling doesn't question this, ever practical. "If you want to survive long enough to find whatever you are looking for, you need to get along better in the world. Just be like everyone else."
Buthal's voice is muffled. "I can't."
"Look, you think I don't get it? Being different? I know about all about pretending. Trying to be like the others at my school." The human's voice attempts a cool tone, wavers instead. "I know I'm not like them, because of the things I - never mind. But I don't go out of my way to rub it in their faces, and I don't put out an open invitation for them to pound mine. It only took me one time to learn that."
Buthal says nothing, but the quality of the silence between the two suggests listening.
"Just... make-believe. Watch others. Copy how they act, I know you can do that. It'll help, really. You'll see. And for God's sake, stop biting people, you little cannibal." The voice over his bowed head is exasperated but kind.
He still doesn't look up. The taste of blood, the feel of flesh parting under teeth is a pleasure, sating some of the hunger. It is a torment as well, for each drop he pulls inside is a lead pellet, weighing him down. It frightens him, the feeling that the earth itself is pulling at his ankles as though to swallow him. He doesn't want to go below. But the hunger is there, always. It's his curse.
His human-sibling sighs and gets up, resting a hand on his bowed head. "Try, for me, okay? I don't like to see you like this. It'll get better. Promise."
Buthal closes his eyes. "Yes." It won't get better. But he'll try, because this human asked it of him with kindness instead of hatred or anger.
When he is man grown, Buthal thinks back on that exchange between him and his human-sibling with resentment. He hadn't meant to ever like a human, much less feel the warmth of kinship. It is antithetical for one such as him to love. But it was one of their closest moments. Buthal treasures it, now that they have grown older and more distant in their relationship.
Buthal adapts. Strange events, fights and accidents still surround him, but he does not go out of his way to spur them on. Instead, he is accounted a somewhat unlucky child.
'He does does try so hard. A bit strange, but can one be surprised, considering his start in life? The poor little thing.'
When he overhears that, he laughs until the tears run down, stuffing a fist in his mouth to muffle the hysterical sound, teeth creasing skin. If only they knew, oh, if only.
...Word was brought to King Artur of Buthal's great crime, and the king was much grieved for the lady and wroth against Buthal. He declared war, causing men to hunt out the giants and slay them with steel and fire. Many a man did lose his life, it is true, yet many giants and giantesses fell to man's swords...
Against the greatest giant, Buthal, did Artur himself ride. His most skilled knights and also his trusted magicians and advisers girded themselves and mounted their fleetest horses, swearing vengeance dire against Buthal for his crimes...
...The giant fought with ferocious strength, catching up a few unfortunates, steeds and all, and dashing them down. With ropes and nets did they finally snare and trip the beast. Buthal fell with a mighty crash, and cried out, O my brothers, O my sisters, come you here, Buthal be taken! Yet none came to his call.
And Artur stepped forth, and said unto Buthal, There be none to help thee, giant, for thy brethren art slain, and what few remain fly before us. Buthal howled in grief and fury and struggled, but to no avail, for he was sore weakened from the litter of wounds covering his body... He did denounce Artur with many vile oaths for the slaughter of his kind, and the faces of the knights 'round him grew grim and full of anger.
The dreams are what prompt his human-parents to take him to psychologists and doctors for consultations. He wakes moaning, cheeks wet, thrashing night after night.
In one dream, men surround him, hatred twisting their faces, pikes stabbing. For what crime? It is no crime to defend oneself, one's castle, a daughter. He falls. A shaggy-haired man places the tip of his sword over his heart. "For my brothers, monster," he says, and thrusts the blade deep.
In another, he is fighting, wrestling a human, sinews straining, lips drawn back, and then he is falling, the howl of defeat torn from his lips as the cliff walls whip by.
In the dream that hurts his heart most, a beautiful woman cradles his severed head. She weeps. "O my brother, o! My heart be cleft in twain." Without lungs or air, he yet speaks to her, urging her to go home, to live. In vain he pleads - she slips away under. His head goes silent and he is carried home to be buried in the centre of what he now understands will become London.
(Years later, the pull of that great city is such he cannot resist - despite the clogging effect of so much humanity it feels like the only home he has ever been in. No matter where he goes under the earth, when he is above ground he eventually returns there.)
In some dreams Buthal holds a copper mirror up with six-fingered hands and sees unearthly beauty. In others he has the head of a goat and the grass he feeds upon is crimson, dripping from his jaws. In one he has a single eye and crushes men in his hands before the world goes burning dark and he wakes screaming.
The doctors nod, expressions shuttered as he describes his many deaths, the anger and grief that wind through his sleeping mind. But he knows better than to talk of the true dreams, the ones that would set him apart completely. He does not want to be locked away.
Buthal can never tell them the best dream, the dream of his first taste of blood, how the young girl writhes and screams in his grasp. The heady sense of power it gives him in his dreams, the hunger growing apace with his stature. How the bones crackle between teeth as he sucks at the rich marrow. How smooth the texture of eye-jelly sucked free feels against his tongue. How his mouth waters even now at the memory.
He pretends that the doctors help him, and begins to speak of more innocuous dreams. School. Adventure. Flying. He hides the pills - the sleep they give him is too much like the time beneath, trapping him in a helpless stupor.
Those dreams are the worst - the blackness, the grit of dirt against his eyes, the touch of worms and beetles as they burrow next to his skin, the crushing pressure of earth compressing his chest and filling his nostrils until he is smothering for air. He never sleeps in the between-times - he knows this. He wakes sweating after those dreams, eyes open and dry, unable to catch his breath.
He's had quite enough of that, enough for a thousand lifetimes. He fears it like nothing else, and to embrace the dark is folly, even when it awaits with the mass of inevitability.
He is not foolish any more.
...Yet Artur held up his hand... I must ask thee, Giant, said he, if thou wouldst treat with us. Thy kindred slaughter and feast upon us like cattle. Yet once we dwelt in harmony, so I grant thou this final chance to halt thy abhorrent acts and eat no more of the flesh of man. Whilst thou ally with us? We would not be your enemies.
Buthal laughed until the rocks trembled and the hills did echo with his mockery. Make alliance with man? said he. Ally with insects, belike. How be it possible, how dost one raise a worm to be an equal?
The ropes did groan as Buthal's anger grew and his muscles swelled with it, and the blood ran freely from his many wounds until the earth 'neath him steamed. Said Buthal in reply, The power I hath, I did gain from blood of man, it be mine own now and forever more will I hunger for it... Never willst there be accord betwixt your people and mine, never will I submit, never! Rather would I die a thousand deaths, said Buthal unto Artur, and the giant's smile was terrible to behold.
At Buthal's answer did Artur's face grow grim and he said unto Buthal, So be it. A thousand deaths be thy wish, then willst we accommodate it, Giant. And he called forth Menw the shifter of shapes and Myrddin the wizard, and bade them lay their magics upon Buthal. And the two paced a circle about the enmeshed Buthal, tracing their sigils upon the air, earth and upon Buthal's very skin. And thus Myrddin the great spell spake:
By blood and by breath and bone we bind
A human's heart for thine
Hunt for thy true heart, o Buthal
No hand to help or guide thy steps
Buthal! Buthal! we name and curse ye.
Buthal grows up, grows lost, always with the ache in his chest and grinding in his belly driving him half-mad. He finds the perfect calling - work where violence and its aftermath surrounds and soothes him, and it creeps into that hollow in his chest, filling it just a little.
His natural chaos follows him always like a cloak of dark mist. Buthal breathes it in, and smiles. He follows the teachings of his human-sibling, wears the mask of normality, of morality. He sees good people die, and bad people live, but should that matter to him? None of them held his heart.
He moves among the humans, searching. It is nigh-intolerable, biding his time until he finds that for which he aches. The world he knew has moved on. There are too many roads, there is too much settlement. The press of humanity is smothering the old magic of the earth with every passing year. No wonder his race has grown so small. No wonder he is so weak.
Starving does not help, yet he must abstain, as long as possible until he finds the object of his search. But in despair of ever finding it amongst the millions of people on earth, when the hunger grows too great, Buthal finds himself secretly stealing slips of flesh from the bodies that come to him through his work. Every piece of cold meat he ingests, every drop of blood makes him sluggish. His footsteps fall heavier, even as he grows a little stronger.
Once, he thinks, he was good. Or at the very least unconscious of good or bad, as any element of nature is. Once. But that was a long time ago.
Now there is only the curse. He loathes the memory, sees the dark wyrd he has wrought. He hates what the memory of what he once was, almost as much as what he has become.
He wears his human face, until it is a well-nigh perfect mask.
But he does not forget.
Avarice insatiable in life, thou stole ours
So eternal aching for flesh is thine
Ever hollow and hungry, yet unappeased
Giant grow thee, great willst thou fall
Buthal! Buthal! we knowest thou.
Blood be thy birthright and bane
Potent the provisions, power provides pain
Tainted will the provender weigh down and grow thee
Kills ye, slows ye and drags you down
Buthal! Buthal we curse thee.
And as they spake, Buthal's breath grew short and his limbs heavy, his eyes open and staring. With horror saw he the silver dagger Menw held and felt the pain as his chest was opened and his great heart pulled free. Yet he did not die, for the magic held him in its grasp. Before his face they held a tiny piece of flesh, the puny heart heart of a man. Menw thrust it within Buthal's chest and the flesh knit over it. As the heart began to beat as feeble and fluttering as the heart of a bird, Buthal cried out, O! O, it cannot sustain me, have mercy, give me back my heart!
Yet inexorably did the wizards speak their dread spell... And as they spoke the earth began to rise up to cover him.
If in desirous greed thy kind grow too potent and gross
Straining, the prop of thy pledged human heart does perish
Starving, the search for thy heart can sustain thee, but sickly
In agony untold, strength and size dwindling
Buthal! Buthal! Anathema undying!
The futility of his quest makes him want to howl. Cursed, his hunger is what will bring him down. Starving, he lives longer to search. Satiated, he grows in weight and power until his human heart bursts.
Either way, he has returned in failure to the living death under the ground, over and over and over and -
No. He will fight this. He is not ready to follow his brethren under, most of whom have been subsumed back into the elements that spawned them as they failed their quests time after time until their strength was spent.
The task is nigh impossible. Thus, the curse - Buthal's Bane.
Still. His true death can wait a while longer, he will not give up. Perhaps, this time, he will succeed.
He searches for the one that can end this.
Failing thy fate, laid under loam livest thou
But not in death nor sleep rest thee
Breathless and awake as years pass
Till the host of thy heart comes again
Buthal, dread Buthal, we curse thee.
Interminable thy quest take thou, decrepit and dwindling
Till the twain of temperament meet and find their hearts
And betwixt two, trust and truth be returned
Man to monster, monster to man
Buthal, o Buthal! accursed be thy race and thou!
And with a final cry did the earth rise and smother Buthal's final cry as he went under, eyes open and breath clogged. And thus was Red Buthal, known as Buthal the Terrible bound and all his race with him.
"That's it then? We've only just met, and we're going to look at a flat?"
Pale blue eyes meet dark blue, and one winks. "The name's Sherlock Holmes, and the address is 221B Baker Street."
He meets the other, the one. The one with his heart. He suppresses his first impulse, to leap upon the man, to tear him open and pull his own heart free, to eat it still beating with the man's blood a sweet slick against lips - but no, that can't be right, he knows that can't be right. His people were punished, cursed for such crimes.
He has found his heart. Keep it safe. For the first time in a thousand years, he feels something like hope.
He keeps the man close by, and really, it is a comfort and a solace. The man isn't much different from himself - a loner, cut off from the normal run of humanity. They have that in common, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.
John kills a man their first night together with no show of remorse, and Sherlock smiles when John jokes about it. They giggle like schoolboys in the flashing blue lights of the crime scene. How perfect, how ironic that one monster has found another, and that he holds his heart in his human cradle of ribs and slippery meat.
The ache in Buthal's chest is mostly quiet, now.
They move in together. John awakens with choking whimpers sometimes, but this is no surprise to his flatmate. After all, John was a doctor and a soldier, and soldiers cannot encompass all the horrors they see - in the night their minds crack and the terror oozes free. Sherlock stays awake days on end, warding off sleep as though it were a demon come to snatch his soul. Some nights John comes downstairs after a nightmare and Sherlock will be lying awake on the couch like an effigy. Sometimes John joins him, sitting in companionable silence. Other nights John awakens to the sound of a violin, Sherlock playing strange and eerie melodies that sound like wind over rock and moor, and which John's chest hurts to hear it.
Their work brings them a surfeit of flesh. He traces their cold skin, the wounds, so fragile, these humans. It is only when he is alone that he will lick his finger afterwards. It sustains him, as much as the wildness that swirls around him constantly sustains him like air. If his step is a little heavier after another bloody body is laid before him, if his teeth seem whiter or sharper, if he appears to walk taller - well. He can play human. People die, and he can't find it in him to care much, only cares that his heart-bearer lives, is protected. But he feigns caring well. He can play human.
But he is not that, not ever.
When he wakes, he rises from his bed to look into the mirror. He sees a human. Diminished, revolting, not the bright and terrible thing he once was. He hates this face, hates it, hate. His teeth dig into his lip until the taste of iron floods his mouth. He raises a thumb and covers his reflected eye in the mirror. He smiles, bloody-mouthed and Cyclopean.
There. That's better.
Mighty the magic born of the blood of man
Loathing, the land turned against us
Power must be paid, and so profaned we
Dire, dire the swords drank deep as dwindling we fell
Of my own story I tell you, of my sisters and brothers
My name is Buthal - once I touched clouds and laughed
Vengeance vile wrought unremitting, and my people vanish
Woe, o woe! Will I ever walk free?
The figure in the desk chair twitches as a creak is heard, head jerking up. Listens.
Nothing. Just the sounds of the old cottage settling as the night drew in. A glance at the time on the phone showed that not much time had passed. The intruder sat back, rolling a neck gone stiff from bending over notebook and papers.
There's still time, and other notebooks to snoop through.