Handbook for Mortals: Book 2 of the series Excerpt

Chapter 2

When Aunt Aldyth incinerated the entirety of the wedding venue giving several guests third-degree burns, questions naturally arose. What was responsible for the sudden gathering of clouds and weirdly synchronized lightning? Who was the oddly dressed man holding hands with Charles’ wife and surprise daughter, and what were they chanting? What happened to the Plain White T’s? Did Carrot Top and  Wayne Newton plan on showing up in matching t-shirts with my face emblazoned on them, or was it a coincidence?

The investigation began right away. Some fans speculated that Carrot Top and Wayne Newton were both trying to woo me, and because the two were such good friends they naturally had similar strategies of how to go about it. Others argued that it was meant as a show of solidarity regarding my recent accident involving an illusion gone wrong. Some people thought that the shirts weren’t actually identical, saying that while one of the shirts did depict me, the other actually featured my mother’s face, and therefore no fashion faux pas had been committed.

I hadn’t had a chance to ask them about it yet, but I knew I probably should at some point.

Oh, and we solved the freaky magic weather thing by wiping the mortals’ memories and fixing the trees with magic.

The next day, I had to take my mother and Charles to the airport so they could leave for their honeymoon. They would be staying at some fancy resort in the South Pacific, on some tiny island no one has ever heard of. If it were up to me, I would have sent them on a vacation to the Moana-themed Disney resort in Hawaii because I just really love that movie. When Mac and I get married, maybe we’ll honeymoon there! But Mac hates Disney movies, and sun. And singing. And a lot of things, really. But before you think something like “Wow, this Mac person sure sounds like a sad sack,” or “this could be a sign of major incompatibility between you two,” I would like to point out that people can change. Especially when they’re in a relationship with a super powerful witch.

“Zade!” yelled my mother as a car honked its horn at me.

“What?” I said. In the rearview mirror, I could see a car screeching to a halt. It would have hit me if it had been going any faster.

“That light was red!” my mom said, shocked.

“I know. That driver could have killed us all.” I could still see the car in the rear-view mirror, and suddenly it burst into flames.

“No, Zade, you ran the light.”

Had I? It was true that I’d been a little distracted, but wouldn’t you be too if you’d just been told you were the Chosen One prophesied a millennium ago? And had a boyfriend who didn’t like a lot of the same stuff as you? But I would have noticed if the light was red. I’d never run a red light before, even when I wasn’t paying very close attention. .

“I don’t think I did,” I said.

“Zade, your mother is right,” said Charles, who was sitting in the back seat. He’d been quiet for most of the drive. “The light was red. Don’t look so sad, I’m not trying to malign your driving abilities—oh no” he said as I took a sharp left turn into the airport. “It’s just, well, we could have called a limousine service.”

Sometimes even I forget how out-of-touch Charles is with the average person that he can afford to just throw around money on a limousine, even when he has a daughter who’s happy to drive him. Besides, I wanted to drive him. Most people may take doing normal stuff like driving your parents to the airport for their honeymoon for granted, but, well, that’s just something I’ve never had the chance to do.

“But we’re a family now. Maybe if you hadn’t abandoned Mom, we would already have plenty of normal family experiences. But I have twenty-five years of lost time to make up for, and we’re starting now,” I said as I swerved the car up against the white curb, and then hit the breaks hard. Charles gave a little groan of agreement, and then we all sat there in silence for a moment. I could feel my parents’ happiness at being reunited, and at having a daughter who was so supportive and helpful. But then they both got out of the car. I did too.

“Bye, Mom,” I said, after we’d unloaded their luggage from the trunk. I hugged her for a few seconds, and she gave me a kiss on the cheek. Then I turned to Charles, and threw my arms around him.

This, right here, was what I’d always wanted. He held me delicately in his strong arms, and nothing had ever felt so natural. This was the “normal” I’d been looking for when I’d moved out to Vegas. Until now, I had been like a traveler lost in the desert, parched and dying of thirst. Charles was an oasis in the middle of the Mojave, and I drank up every drop of his love like a life-sustaining elixir.

“Not too tight, Zade. I’m feeling a bit queasy.”

I pressed my face into his shoulder. The light fleece sweater he wore was so soft that I almost couldn’t feel it at all, even as I rubbed my cheek against it. I inhaled deeply.  He smelled aftershave and a rich, woody cologne.

“Zade, we need to check our luggage and the line is getting long,” my mom said.

Charles reluctantly pushed me off on him so he could look directly into my eyes.

“I love you,” I told him. “I love you so, so much.”

“I know.” It wasn’t like Charles to make pop-culture references, and I didn’t even think he’d seen Star Wars. But, I realized, he must have watched them all after learning they were some of my favorites!

I was so touched that I went to pull him into another quick hug, but he’d already turned towards my mom and the two of them were already rushing into the check-in area.

“And I love you, mom,” I called to her. “Have a good flight!”

After they were gone, I got back into my car. and had the GPS map a course to Mac’s apartment. Our relationship had been official for a month now, even though we’d been casually dating for the past six. I should probably get him a monthiversery gift, now that I thought about it.

As I merged onto the freeway, I pulled out my cell phone and texted Sofia.

Hey girlie 😊 I know we haven’t talked since my welcome home party. How’s your role in Cirque Du Soliel going? If the benefits are better over there, maybe I’ll join up too! J/k 😝 Anyway, I was just texting to ask if you remembered what cologne Charles wears? And we should totally hang out sometime! Love ya! Byeeeeeeeee ❤ ❤

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Save the Pearls: Chapter 21 (Or, Is Eden actually a psychopath?)

Previously on Save the Pearls: Eden was released from her Prison Hut by Lorenzo, after insulting his culture’s cuisine. She was then escorted to her dad’s new lab, where he and Bramford were discussing the permanence of Bramford’s transition. Since Bramford cannot reverse his cat-hood, he wishes to lose his humanity altogether and become a fully cat/snake/birdguy.

The chapter opens as Eden is hears an extremely loud screech, and she worries that the FFP have chased them down. Bramford starts to . . . go Super Saiyan?

She watched in amazement as Bramford’s body began to pulse. His eyes flared and the predator in him sprang to life.

supasaiyan.gif

Bramford leaps out of the building, and catmans off into the jungle. Eden “goes weak in the knees” at this display of raw power and jaguariness. (BEAST count: 23).

Eden’s dad limps over, and informs us that the screeching is just a howler monkey (and of course he has to work the howler monkey’s scientific name into this, because that’s what biologists do?) and tells us that they’re the loudest land animal in the world. Eden, being Eden, simply complains that it’s giving her a headache. Dr. Dad says he thinks that Bramford’s catching it for dinner.

Again, a big cat’s growl pierced the air, followed by a painful squeal. Eden quivered as she pictured Bramford, lusty for the kill, ripping into the howler.

OK, so I know I’ve been lowkey kink shaming Victoria Foyt for the majority of this readthrough, but, like, I hope I’ve made it clear that it’s the racial fetishization and the heavy eroticization of interpersonal violence in a novel aimed at teenagers that I really have a problem with.

But now I’m wondering: is Eden supposed to be legitimately psychopathic? I don’t mean that as a slur. Eden is literally being turned on by the thought of someone violently killing an animal. I am officially kink shaming. Who the fuck writes stuff like this and attaches their actual name to it?  (oh also BEAST count: 24)

But anyway, Eden’s dad is proud of his creation, and says “that’s my boy.” I hope he isn’t getting turned on by this too, but I no longer am going to give Foyt the benefit of the doubt.

But then Dr. Dad notices that Eden isn’t wearing any Blackface, and scolds her. Eden tells him that it washed off in the river, and then her dad scolds her some more and tells her it’s a good thing Bramford was there to save her. In response to this, Eden thinks,

Yeah, lucky me.

And I honestly don’t know if I’m supposed to read that as sarcastic or not. Flip a coin. It doesn’t matter.

But now we transition into another little flashback from when Eden was little. She remembers seeing her mother and father dancing to a “forbidden” jazzy song praising an attractive white woman. Eden remembers her father complimenting on how pretty her mother’s blue eyes were. She also remembers that they weren’t wearing blackface, which they made her promise to keep a secret.

Then the flashback is over. Eden gets angry, and asks her father why he messed with nature:

“Mother was right. [. . .] It was wrong to twist Bramford into this savage creature.” Who’s so exciting and yet, so infuriating.

I’m guessing that last bit was added so that the audience is reassured that Eden isn’t actually judging Bramford too hard.

Eden and her dad argue about what her mother thought about Dr. Dad’s work, which of course ends with Eden in tears. She charges out of the Lab-hut, runs through the village, and throws herself into the town’s “watering hole.” While she wallows, she thinks about Bramford and how he seemed to truly “see” her, and how nice he was to cuddle with, etc. Then of course she has to list some animals and their scientific names, and I swear to fucking god this scene happens every chapter. Finally, she flips back to being giddy, as she splashes some water on her face.

At this point, Bramford has returned with dinner. Eden hides behind a tree as she watches him, and thinks he looks smugger and more confident than ever. She thinks derisively that he didn’t need any more arrogance, but also that she wants him more than ever.

As Eden approaches him, he pointedly does not look at her. This, apparently, warrants some abuse:

For Earth’s sake, why didn’t the beast look at her? Shaking, Eden raised a hand to slap him.

Why?!?!?! What the fuck is wrong with this girl? Does she need some more opiate-withdrawal-relieving acai berries or something?

Bramford turns towards Eden before she can slap him, though, and she drops her arm. Then he tells her that the monkey is not ready to be eaten.

Eden wrinkled her nose. “I won’t eat that,” she said, aiming to hurt him with her words. “I’m not an animal.”

Good. I hope she starves to death.

Bramford feels similarly, telling her that if she were an animal, she’d be less trouble. Which is true.

She swept past him with a frustrated huff. Pins and needles stabbed her chest. She could barely see through her anger. She slipped on a pile of Brazil nuts and fell onto a log.

At this point, I’m not even sure if Foyt herself likes Eden. Bramford “smirks” at her misfortune, which I really cannot blame him for. Eden’s father also shows up, and gives her a judgey look as well.

While Eden is still lying on the ground (I think?) she notices that Maria and Lorenzo seem to be close:

Eden understood they were mates, although neither wore a white mark on their foreheads. Of course, with no pressure to mate, why bother marking one’s status?

  1. Does it occur to Eden that such a display of being taken will vary between cultures, and therefore she has no idea if the two are somehow signalling their hypothetical commitment?
  2. What does “pressure to mate” have to do with such displays? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say “in a community where everyone knows everyone else and their relationship status, wouldn’t signalling information like that be redundant?”
  3. I really don’t know what deep observation about the flaws of today’s society Foyt thinks she’s making. Is she saying that there’s too much pressure on people to get married? I really don’t get it.

Eden also noticed a peculiar glow that the couple shared. Could it possibly be evidence of love? Perhaps, she thought with growing excitement, remnants of it still existed in this untainted corner of the world.

And can we just take a moment to remember how fucking infatuated Eden was with Jamal back in the earlier chapters? She called him her “Dark Prince.” She thought romantic thoughts about how he could see the “real Eden.” If Foyt wanted Eden to be such a love-skeptic, shouldn’t Eden only been focused on Jamal’s utility rather than having her get all giddy over him whenever she saw him? This whole “what are these strange feelings” theme is rendered completely null and void by the fact that we already know that Eden knows she’s capable of these feelings. It’s stupid.

And as Eden is still maybe on the ground from her nut accident, she also watches some little girls playing. Lorenzo tells her that they’re his daughters, and Eden is shocked that they have multiple children.

Then, another Huaorani dude, who is introduced as Lorenzo’s brother Charlie, arrives on the scene. . .and he’s carrying Eden’s lost backpack! She desperately hopes that the LIfe Band is still in there, and Charlie sits down next to her.

Then Eden sees a woman breastfeeding a child, and is repulsed:

Eden couldn’t stand the emotions any longer. The soft looks between the couples, the nakedness, and the girls’ relentless laughter–it was all too much. Dizzy, she lurched towards the girls.

The girls start screaming about Rebecca again, and as Maria scolds them, Charlie tries to distract them with the backpack. They run away to a hut, and Charlie sets the backpack down. Eden tries to grab it, but then I guess the girls are back? Because they grab it instead.

I hope they lead her to a cliff and she falls to her death.

But that doesn’t happen: the girls must have grabbed a wooden carving in the three seconds they were gone, because one of them gives a small carving to Charlie.

Dr. Dad explains that this is a Huaorani custom: a gift for a gift. Eden wonders who did the carving, and thinks out loud that there must be someone in that particular hut. Bramford tells her that she shouldn’t think about it, but of course this has the opposite effect.

Now Eden was sure someone or something hid there. If she discovered the truth, she might gain leverage over him. Her legs worked like pistons as she hurried towards it.

She keeps running, and calls out for Rebecca, thinking she must be in the hut. Bramford chases her, and as he grabs her, she passes out.

And that’s the end of this pointless chapter