| Catapult Alumni
Fiction Excerpt from ‘A Beautiful House’
This novel excerpt was written by Frances James Dinger in A. E. Osworth’s 12-Month Novel Generator.
A Beautiful House is a domestic novel set against the backdrop of ecological disaster. Morgan and Elton are a queer couple who survived the megaquake that largely destroyed Seattle, but even in the aftermath are still working gig jobs and have too many roommates. The novel follows them as they attempt to rekindle their relationship by having sex in their gig clients’ houses until a real estate scam breaks through their fantasy and leaves their living situation more precarious than before.
Eric, the landlord, was gone when Morgan woke up the morning after the earthquake, but everyone else was where they had been when she’d last seen them laid out in the darkness.
It had been years since any of them had attended sleepovers like this. It felt intimate to learn the sounds of her friends’ breathing, to see their sleeping postures. Morgan tried to remember the routine of waking up when it was restructured to be a group activity. How did children signal to each other that they were awake? Which one of them would decide to initiate the chaos of the day? Morgan had been the sort of kid that just laid awake until it was obvious the host was awake, listening for increased rustling in the sheets, waiting to see if someone got up to go to the bathroom. It was more comfortable to let someone else make the decision. But she lived in this house, she was the host, and it was her planning that had brought everyone here to begin with. The decisions were easy to make when they were about an imagined future. Instead of getting up, she decided to try to enjoy the stillness for awhile, surrounded by friends, as if they had decided on a whim to have a party that had gone so late that everyone needed to spend the night for safety. That was what it was, wasn’t it? If she looked at it a certain way?
“Morning,” Chelsea said, unzipping herself from her sleeping bag. With the stillness broken, everyone else began to get up as well.
“Eric went out awhile ago,” Elton said.
“Do you think he’s ok? Should someone go looking for him?” Edie was still in her sleeping bag, sitting up with her legs tucked against her chest.
“Breaking up the party is always a bad idea,” Aidan said.
“I didn’t talk to him, I just woke up long enough to see him walk out. We don’t know what direction he went,” Elton said. “It would be a waste of time to wander around the debris.”
“Should we be worried about, like, stronger aftershocks or something?” Edie asked.
“Probably,” Lyle said at the same time Danny said, “Why?”
“We can’t do anything about it.” Morgan said. “We should get to work.”
With everyone else awake, Morgan snapped into task mode. She stared down the wall of to-dos in her mind, looking for a single brick to remove, a task to move her off the floor.
“Let’s clean the house,” Morgan said.
The bookshelves in Morgan and Elton’s bedroom had been bolted to the walls, so they had not fallen, just rattled everything onto the floor. The curios they decorated the shelves with were mostly smashed. A terrarium filled with four types of moss had been reduced to glass shards, scattered horticultural charcoal, pulped plant matter and dirt. Coins from the fallen change jar had rolled everywhere. Seashells from coastal camping trips were pulverized into sand. A menagerie of Sch-like-brand plastic animals from one of the bookshelves merged from the debris as everything else was put away. Elton put them in the hallway in a pile of other items that were unbroken and ready to be organized. Danny took the toys when he was between tasks and arranged them in a parade down the middle of the dining table, which Edie and Chelsea had moved back into the center of the dining room. The table had drifted across the floor at a forty-five degree angle, one end facing the doorway to the kitchen, one facing the bay window. To everyone’s surprise, only the left pane of the bay window had shattered. Lyle was able to find enough scrap cardboard to cut into place to fill the void before sealing the exterior with a garbage bag to keep moisture out.
Overall, there was less glass than any of them expected. It seemed they all had the nightmarish vision that the entire floor would be a hazard of sharp edges waiting to slice their feet. But, after the few windows that had exploded were boarded up, few shards remained outside of a couple broken drinking glasses and the scattered contents of the recycling bin in the kitchen. The first day was done. The house was rearranged, but somehow liveable, despite the lack of power or running water, despite the unknown world outside.
Eric returned as the group was setting up the bedding in the living room again before it got dark. He was sweaty, holding two heavily laden canvas grocery bags filled with something, or multiple somethings, that obviously did not belong to him.
They all froze mid task, staring at the landlord in the doorway like feral cats, startled to be discovered.
“I just wanted to see what it was like out there,” he said. The bags slid from his hands and thudded onto the floor.
“Well, we did most of the work here for you,” Elton said. “This better come out of our rent for the month.”
Eric’s laugh was hollow. No one would give him any money that month. None of them could get enough cell signal to open their banking apps and even if they could, Eric was smart enough to know he was outnumbered by tenants. The balance of power had shifted sometime in the hours between the first aftershock and when the stray friends showed up on the stoop. He reached into one of the grocery bags and fished out several gallons of spring water, latex gloves, and granola bars. The second bag was filled entirely with expensive liquor.
Chelsea grabbed a handle of whiskey and wagged it in front of Eric’s face. “I’m not going to ignore the fact that you looted a liquor store while we were cleaning, okay?”
“Currency!” Eric grabbed the bottle back from Chelsea. “We’re about to be in survival mode. It’s going to be trade and barter out there and now we have something to offer. I won’t ask for rent if you don’t ask how I got this stuff.”
Morgan glanced at Elton, briefly, meaningfully. There was one problem solved. The day before, the earth itself had risen up to alleviate Morgan’s guilt for ruining her and Elton’s life. No, that was too dramatic. She had maybe ruined a year or two. They had managed to keep Morgan’s unemployment a secret from Eric for a full three weeks. The earthquake, somehow now both a disaster and miracle, had bought them more time.