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Vegan Breakfast Delivered By Drone
Harmony House: Episode 10
I wanted to take a moment to welcome all my new subscribers this week and invite you to move into “Harmony House” with us. My hope is that this big adventure in a tiny house will become a satisfying and nutritional part of your weekly Substack diet. You can read the setup for the story or start from the beginning. Many subscribers enjoy listening to my narration and find it’s a great convenience for busy lives. I’m so grateful that you’re here and willing to entrust me with some of your precious attention each week. Thank you. ❤️
Peace & music,
This novel is free to read for all subscribers. Paid subscribers get access to my other serial novel, “The Memory of My Shadow,” and my entire archive of work.
In the last episode, the contestants finally moved into Houze, each awestruck by its futuristic allure and remote, picturesque setting. BangOn! Media director, Schultz, stumbled through his welcome to the group before taking his crew and leaving the contestants to begin the competition. Inside, Riley inaugurated Houze's eco-chic bathroom as others explored the technical wizardry of their new home. The reality of communal living in the tiny space settled in as they awkwardly puzzled through sleeping arrangements, which resulted in fits of hysterical laughter, effectively breaking the tension and bonding the group that soon enough will be trying to drive each other out.
On her first night in Houze, Jayden did sleep, but it was the sleep of hummingbirds – infinitesimal little sips of unconsciousness that ended so quickly they might not have happened at all.
She had never been camping. She could probably count the times she’d not slept in her bed in single digits. She had also never slept with a total stranger, certainly not two. As much as they had all surely prepared, it had occurred to no one to bring a sleeping bag, so they slept beneath a sheet and a heavy quilt like lovers or siblings in a hotel bed.
At first, it was the heightened awareness of her body and the space she knew it was taking up in the small bed. She had gotten stuck in the middle because she hadn’t been vocal about not being in the middle. For the first two hours after lights out, she had lay rigid, arms crossed over her chest, trying to hold in her breath and not move too much. At one point, her arms began to tremble involuntarily from the strain of keeping them crossed. She had no choice but to relax and gradually allow them to come to rest at her sides. This unfolding of herself she had performed with clenched teeth at the pace glaciers move. She would have been mortified if either Riley or Deepu would have startled awake when her flesh came into contact with theirs. Fortunately, neither of them stirred at the presence of her arms so close to their backs.
The incredible relief of just this minor comfort had been enough to help her feel that she might eventually sleep, but then she became aware of the bodies of her bedfellows. Deepu’s feet moved incessantly, his toes flexing as if in conversation with one another. And the cologne he wore, while pleasant enough in passing, was cloying and suffocating with extended exposure at close range. At one point, one of his nostrils began to make a high-pitched whistling sound with every exhale. As for Riley, he was so still and soundless that Jayden was convinced he must have died or was wide awake and just lying there thinking how irritating it was to be sleeping next to her. But eventually, he turned over on his back, and his arm came to rest heavily on hers, so she knew he was asleep. Though he slept in sweatpants and a long-sleeved t-shirt, Jayden could not help but imagine he was naked beside her, given the intimacy of the arrangement. Imagining him naked made her wonder what he looked like naked. Did he have a penis? If he did, did it work like a normal one? She had just assumed that Riley had a vagina, and subconsciously, this had made her more comfortable. One penis in a bed was trouble enough. Two was a real problem.
She had to pee, but that was not really possible, was it? She’d made sure she completely emptied her bladder before getting in bed. It was just in her mind, she told herself. There was no way she could get out of bed without waking both Deepu and Riley. Eventually, she got her mind off penises and peeing. She was just managing to find some tenuous grasp on the wispy, feather-like tendrils of sleep that promised to lift her up and away into sweet oblivion when Jessie’s snoring started.
Jayden’s eyes flew open wide as coins, and she stifled a scream. Neither Deepu nor Riley seemed disturbed in the least by the hee-haw sawing coming from the other side of the couch, and she suddenly hated them for it. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. For the first time, she noticed the view above her. She’d been so intent on willing herself to sleep that she’d not opened her eyes once since Deepu had plunged the house into darkness with the “Houze, goodnight!” voice command. Now, looking up through the enormous skylight, she could see billions of stars. Growing up in the city, Jayden had no idea there were so many you could see just by looking up. She forgot about the snoring and the bodies of the two people lying next to her. Eventually, she even forgot about her own body. How small and insignificant it was. She took up no more space in the big scheme of things than a blade of grass in the field outside.
Then, light was stabbing into her eyes, and a cacophony of dinging bells rippled through the five-hundred square feet of the contestants’ shared home.
“What the fuck?” Deepu said, sitting up.
“It’s the phones,” Jessie responded, his voice broken glass and gravel. “It’s our phones. The notifications.”
Riley was sitting up, too, and squinting down at his phone. Apparently, he’d been sleeping with it. Jayden didn’t know where hers was. She could hear Fran and Cam stirring around in the bedroom, looking for their devices. One by one, all the chirping notifications stopped except for one, which had to be her phone. Deepu got up and located it on the dining room table. Jayden sat up, and he tossed it to her. She unlocked it and peered down at the message.
Good morning, campers! Welcome to day 1. Breakfast will be arriving momentarily. Don’t forget to use your 30-minute recess today, and don’t forget to record and upload your 10 minutes of content. Enjoy!
“Jesus. Where in the contract did it say we’d have to get up at 6:30 every day?” Deepu grumbled.
His hair was mussed and sticking out in a dramatic swoop like the wing of a bird. Before flopping back down on the bed, he put on a pair of prescription glasses that made him look like the winner of the third-grade spelling bee.
“That was in the fine print directly below the rest of the fine print that no one read,” Jessie said. “This is not a pleasure cruise we signed up for.”
“Thanks for the reminder, Grandpa,” Deepu said.
“I’m assuming everyone got the same message?” Riley asked. “About breakfast and recess?”
They all nodded and mumbled their agreement. The sun was flooding into the main living area, and it felt like they were in a spaceship that had just completed a revolution out of darkness. The temperature rose by four degrees in the span of a few minutes, which caused the AC unit on the wall above the couch to hum to life and blow a cool breeze that carried with it the signature scent of Houze down upon the contestants as they stretched and rubbed their eyes.
Jayden rose to make a trip to the bathroom before anyone else could claim it. In contrast to the main living area, it was cool and dark, with only ambient morning light leaking through the skylight above. She was spacing out, looking at the pattern of the tile on the floor, when she heard a high-pitched whine like a weed eater outside. It sounded like it was moving all around the outside of the house. She finished up quickly, washed her hands, and went out to join the others.
Everyone was standing in the main living area, including Fran and Cam. They were looking up through the skylight.
“Well, will you look at that fancy shit,” Cam said. “I’ve never had breakfast delivered by drone.”
The little aircraft made a lot of noise for such a small thing. There was a large basket swinging at the end of a rope suspended from the drone, which hovered about ten feet above the front door of Houze.
“So, I guess we open the door and get it?” Fran asked.
How did she wake up looking like that, Jayden wondered as she returned to her spot at the foot of the pull-out bed? Her face was fresh and void of pillow scars. No puffy eyes.
“Yeah, I guess we do if we want to eat,” said Jessie.
Deepu was closest to the door, so he pressed the button to slide it open. When he poked his head outside to look up, the drone lowered a few feet so he could reach the basket. He pulled it to him awkwardly, and Jayden realized he was trying not to step outside. It reminded her of the floor-is-lava game that was always a favorite with kids she took care of. Would it count against them if they stepped outside to get the food? That seemed unfair. But this was a game. She had to remember that. They were not all friends here on vacation together.
Deepu unloaded the boxes and passed them to Cam, who sat them on the table. There were six. Once they unloaded the last one, the drone reeled up the basket and took off into the sky with surprising speed. Deepu closed the door, and everyone moved into the small dining area, where they hovered around the delivery. There was a delicious, smokey smell emanating from the cardboard containers.
Cam picked up the one closest to him and broke the tape seal on the lid so he could open the box. He peered inside and made a curious frown. He lifted out a small cardboard juice box with a logo on it that Jayden had never seen, then he took out another cardboard container, opened the folded flap, and lifted it closer to his face so he could smell the contents.
“I think it’s some kind of a scramble? Smells pretty good.”
They ate together, Jayden, Cam, Fran, and Deepu seated at the table, Jessie leaning against the door, and Riley sitting on the kitchen countertop. The food was tasty, though not much to look at. It was some kind of breakfast scramble with no meat or eggs. Jayden was surprised at her appetite. Normally, she didn’t care for breakfast, but something about being out here made her survival instincts kick in.
There was little conversation. Everyone seemed to be in their heads. Jayden studied each of her housemates in turn, aware that she was also being sized up. Fran picked at her breakfast with her nose scrunched up in mild displeasure. There was a small encampment of mushrooms she had banished from the rest of the scramble. Her fork was not as much an eating utensil as it was an excavation instrument. In contrast, Deepu had annihilated his food, leaving not so much as a sliver of onion in the cardboard container, which he folded and crushed into a square. He carefully read the fine print of ingredients on the side of the box the beverage came in before jamming the attached straw into it and draining it entirely in three successive slurps. Food was fuel to him. That was all.
Cam ate leisurely as though he were at his favorite weekday breakfast place, pausing to gaze out the window into the open field between bites. He was a handsome man – strong jaw and large eyes the color of tiger-eye topaz. The stubble on his bald head was just starting to appear. Jayden wondered if he would shave every day while he was in the house or whether he would let it go. She imagined it took a lot of time to shave your head, which made her wonder what the rest of the company’s grooming routines would be. Surely, this would become a point of contention, like teenage siblings having to share a single bathroom.
She had trouble observing Jessie because every time she turned to look at him, he was staring back at her. Once, when he wasn’t chewing, he smiled and nodded to her. He was tall and incredibly fit for his age, his torso lean and his arms rangy. He was only a little less intimidating to her now that it was day two. Maybe the snoring had humanized him in her mind. She imagined they would all learn a lot more about each other as the days progressed, and this caused her anxiety level to creep up. She did not relish the idea of being observed too closely. Jayden was just beginning to game plan how she could avoid having to poop at any time when someone else might come in right after her when Riley spoke.
“How’d you sleep? Hope I didn’t take up too much space,” he said.
“Oh, I slept okay, thanks. You were fine, really,” Jayden said. “I always have trouble sleeping in a new place.”
“Yeah, I figure that’s pretty common. I’ve learned to sleep in all kinds of crazy situations. I guess it’s all a matter of what you’re used to. We can swap places tonight, so you don’t have to be in the middle.”
“That’s nice of you,” Jayden said. “Thanks.”
“Hey, what are you filming?” Cam asked, looking over at Jessie, who stood by the large window with his phone.
“Nothing in particular. Just getting my ten minutes logged for the day,” Jessie said without turning around.
“Well, that’ll be some dynamic footage,” Deepu said, getting up from the table and searching around the kitchen for a place to dispose of his trash.
“I don’t think artistry matters here, does it, as long as we meet the requirement?” Jessie responded.
“Yeah, but come on, we’ve got to give the producers something to work with, right? I mean, this is a show about six people pitted against each other in a tiny space. Your landscape photography will just get thrown out.”
“Eh, that’s fine by me,” Jessie said, starting to turn around with his phone. “Would you rather I turned the camera on you this morning?”
Deepu’s hands flew up to the unruly bird wing of his bedhead. “No! No, just keep shooting your nature channel shit, Grandpa. Where the hell is the trash?” He asked no one in particular as he closed another cabinet.
“There is no trash,” Riley said. “It’s all composted. Here, lemme show you. It’s behind this panel above the sink.”
Riley pressed the blank panel directly above the sink, and it slid open, revealing a circular door about ten inches in diameter that had a locking mechanism that created a tight seal like a washing machine. He popped the latch, swung the door open, and dropped his cardboard container into the hole. Deepu followed his example.
“Anyone else?” Riley asked.
Jayden got up and walked over to deposit hers. It was a curious thing, and she wondered how it worked exactly. She was sure Riley could explain it all but wasn’t in the mood for a comprehensive lecture on the topic. It was too early. The others followed behind her and dropped their waste into the little porthole. After depositing the last piece of trash, Riley pushed the door closed and snapped the latch down tight. A mechanical whirring sound ensued from behind the kitchen wall, followed by a little rumble that Jayden imagined was like some kind of compactor. Then it was quiet. Riley pushed on the panel, and it closed, hiding the ingenious function.
“Wow, that is really cool,” Cam said. “But what happens to it? Where does it go?”
“It breaks down into soil after twenty-four hours. At least that’s what I read,” Jessie said.
“So, like everything goes in there?” Fran asked.
“Paper in most any form, and some biodegradable plastics too,” Riley said. “I don’t think metal is allowed. Nothing so rigid it would break the compactor.”
“Did you like read the entire manual or something?” Fran asked.
“Yeah, I kinda did,” Riley said, turning around to face the group. “There’s some incredible engineering packed into this thing. I mean, that’s why I’m here because I really believe we need to all be thinking like this…”
Riley’s enthusiasm tailed off as Fran just stared at him with a blank expression on her face. Jayden loved Riley’s awkwardness and felt compelled to defend him.
“Why are you here, Fran? Why are you interested in Houze?” she asked, surprising herself with her sudden boldness.
“I love reality show competitions. I always have,” Fran said. “True confession? I auditioned for The Bachelor four times and never got picked. I was an alternate and was on call for a week, but that’s as close as I got.”
No one said anything or offered any validation of this aspiration. Jessie had a pained look on his face but kept his thoughts to himself as he continued to video the empty field. Could this be something she and Fran had in common that no one else did?
“I love them too,” Jayden said. “I mean, I never thought I could be on one, but watching them was my guilty pleasure. I love the drama.”
“Oh my god, right?” Fran said. “My husband, ex-husband used to hate when I watched them. He was always judging me. I finally started recording them so I could watch them on my phone during my lunch break at work or on the weekends when he was busy.”
“Hetero men are so predictable,” Cam chimed in. “So judgey, boring, and predictable. Present company excluded, I’m sure…”
Cam said this last bit with his back to Jessie. His eyes went wide, and he mouthed ‘Oh my god’ conspiratorially to Fran and Jayden. He then clasped both of their hands, pulling them closer to him.
“So, ladies, are we going to spice this bitch up and make a show for the people? When is the hair-pulling going to start?”
They all laughed. Jayden felt like she might have laughed a bit more than was merited, but honestly, it felt so good to be a part of a joke, to be on the inside.
“Well, I can tell you one thing,” Cam said. “I’m no nature boy, so I’m going to be filming your beautiful asses long before I’m going to shoot B roll of the most boring day on Animal Kingdom. In fact, I already started!”
He turned them both around and pointed down at his phone, which he’d left propped up against his smoothie juice box sitting on the dining table.
“Ahh, you sneaky Pete,” Fran squealed, slapping him playfully on the shoulder.
Jayden laughed, too, but secretly felt horrible. The angle of the camera on the table was quite literally shooting their asses, and she would rather America’s first impression not be that. She stepped to the side quickly, hoping to get out of the frame, and tripped over Deepu’s foot, which caused her to fall backward. Instead of hitting the floor, someone caught her at the last second.
“Whoa,” Jessie said, his hands in her armpits, hoisting her back up. “You alright?”
His voice was low and soft in her ear. His beard tickled her neck. He had a woodsy smell like cedar and patchouli. Jayden felt all the blood rush to her face. Was this thing just going to be one humiliation after another? First farting last night in front of everyone and now almost falling on her big fat ass while trying to avoid having her big fat ass filmed. She thanked him tersely as she regained her feet. She tugged her shirt back down over her hips and was turning to go back into the living area when Deepu spoke.
“Who the hell is that?” he said, pointing out the window above the dining room table.
They all huddled together, leaning over the table as they peered out the window. At first, Jayden couldn’t make out what it was that Deepu was pointing at, but then she could see the very definite shape of a person standing a couple hundred yards away across the field. With the sun rising, it was impossible to make out anything but a silhouette of the person. It was just this lone figure standing still at the downward slope of the hill before it fell away into the morning mist.
“It’s clearly a man, right?” Fran asked. “I mean, we’re not on the moon, like everyone keeps saying.”
“Probably just some local guy hiking,” Jessie said, turning away and going back to finish his ten minutes of nothing footage.
His casual dismissal of the stranger in the field made Jayden feel better. After all, Jessie was one of those local guys who hiked out in the middle of nowhere by himself. It might have been a foreign concept to everyone else in their company, but he recognized it for what it probably was. She relaxed and moved away from the window. She needed to find her phone and think about what she would record today.
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Who’s Who in Harmony House?
Having trouble keeping track of who’s who from one week to the next? It’s tough when you only get to visit once a week. I made a little cheat sheet just for you: