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Random Ramblings,  Story Excerpts,  The Way of Attrition

The Way of Attrition: Chapters Eight and Nine

I’ve made a significant change in my life since the last time I posted, and the change is the reason why it’s been so long since my last post.  After seeing how well a Fitbit motivated me to push harder in my morning runs, be more active, and stay hydrated, I decided to apply the same logic to my writing. I found apps that would motivate me to work on my novel for an hour on every day where it’s at all possible.

It’s working very well. So far, there have only been four days that I haven’t worked on my novel, and three of those days were related to my niece Mari’s birthday and my related trip to Fresno. Between getting there, being there, getting back, and then doing the meal prep I normally would have done over the weekend, I didn’t have time, not without cutting into my sleep, which I’m not willing to do.

I don’t know where that leaves me with my blog. The hour a day I’m spending on my novel means that I don’t have the time on workdays. I could make it happen most weekends, though I haven’t done that so far. I think part of it is that this blog has very low readership. Part of that is a lack of promotion on my part but part may also be that my content just isn’t doing it for people. I don’t know, but I’d rather spend the time on my novel at this point than figuring it out.

I might see about posting once a week.

In the meantime, here are Chapters 8 and 9 of my novel. I’ve made edits to them in the last month that I haven’t had time to proof so I’m sorry about any typos. There’s also a good chance I’ll end up cutting large parts of these chapters. I’m not sure. They are very lighthearted and I’d like to call back to that lightheartedness later when things get more serious.

Other chapters are here.


Chapter 8

<I’m going down to the waterside. Want to come with me?>

Carson glances at me from over the top of his tablet. <No, thanks.> A shadowed man stands across a bridge, watching a group of laughing strangers on the other side.

Blinking the image away, I ask, <What’s wrong?>

<I’m getting a lot of emails from friends. They want to know where I am, what’s wrong, why I’m on the news… I haven’t answered any of them, because what can I say? Today, I got a new one. From my first boss – it was a summer job at an aquarium. I haven’t spoken to her in years, but she’s reaching out, saying she hopes I’m okay.> He smiles wistfully. <She’s like Professor McGonagall – extremely strict but altogether awesome.>

<I’ve never read Harry Potter.>

Carson sputters. Actually sputters. <What!?> He sounds as aghast as I would if he told me he’d never heard of scrambled eggs.

Restraining a smile, I shrug.

<But they’re so much fun! And you’re missing out on so many cultural references!>

That’s not strictly true. I did study in-depth summaries of Harry Potter and other popular novels to help me blend in with humans. That doesn’t seem like the most amusing option to go with so instead I offer, <Most of the people I spend time with don’t reference Harry Potter.>

<You’re spending time with the wrong people,> he announces. <Well, we’re adding this to our list of human things you need to experience. And the movies too! Alan Rickman as Snape is one of the best casting choices ever made!>

Oh, really? Speaking of fun, I think I can have some with this. <I’m not reading Harry Potter,> I state with all the seriousness of someone committing to a lifelong pledge of honor.

Carson falters. I don’t think I could have more effectively stolen the wind from his sails if I’d tried. <Why not?>

Because watching and hearing his reactions is priceless… But I’m not going to say that. <What am I possibly going to learn about humanity from Harry Potter that I can’t learn somewhere else?>

<How to approach the world with an open mind, how to accept people who are different than you, how love and forgiveness are more important than hate.>

<Really? No other literature speaks to these points?>

<I didn’t say that. Harry Potter is a lot of fun->

<So you’ve said.>

<And it expresses good values in an entertaining and easy to digest way. What do you have against it? Please tell me you don’t dislike something just because it’s popular?>

<Of course not. I’ve heard a lot about it, obviously, and it doesn’t sound appealing. The villain sounds too one-dimensional and I’ve heard Harry and his friends don’t really evolve or grow as characters. I like it when the villain has depth and the main characters come out of the story as different people than they went in.>

<But…> Carson gestures with both hands, verbally floundering.

Use your words. <Yes?>

<Just…try the first book. If you don’t like it->

<I’m not interested.>

<But you like the Chronicles of Narnia! You can’t tell me the villains are masterpieces of three-dimensionality.>

<No, but who doesn’t want to find a magical land inside their wardrobe?>

<Who doesn’t want to find out they’re a wizard and go to a magic school that you get to by boarding a train on a hidden platform?>

<Now, if Hermione were the main character, I might read them. She sounds interesting. Or Snape.>

<So…what is it that you’ve heard about Harry that you don’t like?>

<He doesn’t sound special or interesting.>

The expression on his face… It’s like I’ve insulted his best friend. This is great! <He’s brave, selfless, and forgiving. Not every hero needs to be the cleverest person.>

<I never said they did. But they do need to be compelling.>

<It’s usually frowned on to form opinions without having enough information to. You should read them, if only to have a real basis for your dislike.>

<Seven books is a lot to read just so that Harry Potter fans will be satisfied with the legitimacy of my dislike.> Before he can answer, I add, <Anyhow, let’s talk about something else.> There’s only so long I can defend a pretended dislike of a series I haven’t read.

Carson looks fantastically disgruntled over such a trivial thing. I wonder if I’ve heard the last of this?

As it turns out, I haven’t. Carson starts slipping Harry Potter into random places, as if I might agree to read it if he catches me off guard. He does catch me off guard, but never as off guard as he wants.


<Can you please pass the salt and read Harry Potter?>

<Here’s the salt, and no.>


<Telepathic text messages are neat, if a bit distracting. Owls would be distracting too, but at least they wouldn’t pop up like someone’s inserted them into your brain.>

<Owls… What?>

<You’d understand that reference if you read Harry Potter.>

<You’re lucky I don’t have a Harry Potter book right now or I’d throw it at your head!>


<You know what would illuminate this conversation? Reading Harry Potter. What do you think?>


<Don’t you think refusing to even try something is narrow minded?>

<Depends on what it is.>


<It’ll only take like six and a half hours.>

<What will?>

<Reading the first Harry Potter book.>

<Are you getting paid to promote it? Is J.K. Rowling a family friend or relative?>

It becomes an inside joke, or inside routine.


Chapter 9

Breakfast is my favorite — spicy scrambled eggs. Eagerly, I pick up the preservation plate and move to the kitchen table. Carson’s already halfway through his meal. He’s reading off the table top display.

<Good morning,> I greet.

<Good morning,> he responds without looking up.

I lower the plate to the table as I sit. It’s an odd plunging sensation when I meet air where I expected solid wood, like when you step forward without realizing you’re stepping off a curb. Yelping, I plunge to the floor, vaguely registering the clatter of the plate falling with me. What the hell? I look around. The chair is exactly where it should be, right where I sat down.

Scrambling to my feet, I look at the chair with narrowed eyes. Then I try to touch it. My hand passes straight through it. I glower at Carson. He’s biting his lip but it doesn’t hide his smile. No, no, his smirk. He’s smirking!

<You bastard!>

At this, Carson bursts into laughter and the chair vanishes.

The real chair, I see now, is in the far corner of the kitchen, by the pantry. I retrieve it, setting it diagonally next to Carson’s spot so I don’t get scrambled eggs on its legs.

<The look on your face!> he crows. <And your arms, they kind of flapped!>

Tears of mirth gather in his eyes and I have to laugh too.

<You’re cleaning that up,> I say when we’ve quieted down.

<Yes, I am,> he agrees pleasantly, smiling.

<And making me breakfast.>

<Absolutely.> He stands to do just that. <I was sort of celebrating… It’s been a month since the allucinari has caused me any trouble.>

<That’s great!> But it doesn’t change the fact that he has no idea what he’s started here.


I orchestrate the whole thing. The whole thing, playing Carson perfectly from the beginning.

<Atthya’s pretty isolated,> I comment. <She focuses mostly on work and doesn’t see friends very often.> Similar to me, but worse. <I was thinking it’d be nice to introduce her to Arelia. Well, not introduce, they do know each other, but…>

<Have them meet in a more friendly setting…?> Carson supplies helpfully.

<Exactly!> I nod. <What do you think of inviting them both over for dinner this week?>

<Sure. I’ll cook! I can make…Italian, or maybe something South American! I haven’t had Venezuelan food in ages.>

<You don’t have to make anythi->

<I want to,> he cuts me off, as I expected. <I enjoy it, plus with all the meals pre-prepared here it seems like a good amount of effort to put in, actually inviting friends over for dinner.>

<Great! What day do you think?>

<Oh, whatever works for them. Just give me a day’s heads-up.>

Arelia and Atthya are easy. They’re not friends but they like each other and share similar interests. They could probably talk all day about their work endeavors.

On the evening of my masterful plan, I offer to keep our guests entertained so Carson can focus on cooking, which he likes to do in peace. I serve Pineau des Charentes in the dining room. Atthya and Arelia take care of the rest, earnestly discussing their exciting new ideas about the gadgets they want to create and the projects they hope to spearhead. Only once does Arelia turn to me pensively and probe, <You seem…very focused on something that isn’t us.>

Arelia has messy shoulder length ringlets of deep auburn and a face of spattered freckles that match her hair, standing out like drops of paint against her tawny brown skin. Her nearly black eyes taunt at having a red undertone of their own. In spite of her mane, they are the first thing I noticed about her. They study me now.

<You know me so well,> I allow, <but don’t think I haven’t been paying attention. Desalination, wildlife preservation units using SEUs to make sure the humans don’t kill off any more species, free world WiFi… It’s all very fascinating, I assure you.>

<Hmm.> She looks suspicious.

I smile broadly but it’s Atthya who comes to my rescue.

<Did you hear about the 20 week abortion ban?> she asks.

<No,> Arelia responds.

<It’s passed Congress and Senate. Dabbracio hasn’t signed it yet but they expect him to.>

Arelia shakes her head. <There are serious fetal abnormalities that aren’t detectable until 20 weeks or later. Abnormalities they don’t have the ability cure.> She sighs. <I wish we could help them. Between our sex ed, virtually full proof contraception, and advanced medicine, we don’t have much need for abortion in the first place.>

<It’s their own fault. Our parents wanted to share everything with them and they threw the DOH at us. And don’t forget rape. That’s not likely to disappear form their society, especially with Dabbracio. The man was elected in spite of – or because of? – an array of open sexism.>

<Dinner’s ready!> Carson announces, cutting off Arelia’s reply.

Perfect. My kitchen and dining room are divided by a wall, with a door on either end. Carson emerges from the door on the right – the door he always uses – with a large serving bowl that he sets in the center of the table. <Chicken salad,> he tells us, <Venezuelan style.> Then he returns to the kitchen, again using the right door.

I levitate the bowl of salad to the perimeter of the left door. Both Arelia and Atthya look at me quizzically but I silence their questions with a smile and shake of my head. As soon as Carson reappears in the right doorway, I send the bowl of salad the rest of the way through the left, depositing it gently on the kitchen counter.

<These are empanadas, there are veggie ones, cheese ones, and…> he stops short a foot from the table, looking for the missing salad. <What happened to it?>

<To what?> I ask.

<The…salad…> He sounds befuddled. It takes everything in me not to grin like a loon.

<Oh, the chicken salad you mentioned? You haven’t brought it out yet.>

<But…> Carson doesn’t finish the sentence. He sets down a platter of what must be ’empanadas’ and returns distractedly to the kitchen.

As before, I levitate the food to the left doorway and wait for Carson to reappear, which he does almost immediately, carrying the bowl of salad. I send the empanadas on their merry way back to the kitchen counter.

<I must be more tired than I realized,> he says in an abashed tone, <the salad was in the kitchen.>

Carson puts the bowl back in the center of the table, is in the process of turning away, when he does a triple take. Yes, a triple take. I didn’t realize a person could actually look like a puppy, but in this moment, Carson, with his wide, wondering eyes, does. Like a very innocent, very perplexed puppy wondering what happened to his treat. He glances over his shoulder, toward the kitchen, takes a step back, then stops, frozen in mental permutations.

Arelia is the one who loses it. All at once, from a studiously serious expression to cackling, chortling bursts of laughter. Atthya joins in, her mirth quieter, deeper toned, and…fractured, somehow. Finally, I can’t help myself either and bend my face to the table as I crack up, so amused my laugh silently shakes my whole body.

<Eyan!> he exclaims. <This was the point of the entire evening, wasn’t it?>

<Yes,> I confess when I’m able to project coherent telepathy. Raising my head, I find him a pace from the table, flushing, and grinning widely.

Arelia, Atthya, and I help Carson bring out dinner in recompense. After wholly enjoying all of it, I relate the fake chair incident so that our friends will understand the history. It’s a delightful evening, one of my best spent in the company of others.

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