This page is dedicated to the manuscript of A House Made One, a novella I wrote between 2017 and 2021. Although I’ve sent it to a number of publishers, I haven’t found a place to publish it yet.
It’s a utopian novella set in a time and place where humans are forced to live together in large Houses for whole winters of rain. It’s about a teenager living through the extreme seasons to turn into a more responsible member of his House. I wrote A House Made One to explore themes of identity, love, community and self-development in a context that allowed for radical re-imagining of the ways humans interact. I wanted to design an environment in which my hopes for human beings are encouraged, instead of our world, in which good behaviour is so often discouraged. In a time of simple technology yet refined social structures, I imagine a world in which polyamory, gender identity and communal ownership are not big obstacles, but are accepted as part of the best possible solution to the question of surviving as human beings.
The story follows Beru, seventeen years old, who behaves like the teenagers I know well from my daily teaching practice. However, since the rules that govern his world are different, the reader is allowed another perspective on human behaviour. Familiar motivations in an unfamiliar world will allow the reader to connect to characters while critically examining an alternative to the world we live in. By living along him for a year, readers can imagine their own choices in the valley of the House of Turtle and compare those to the choices they make every day.
Please feel free to read the first five pages of the story here. In case you want to read more, let me know. I’ll gladly send you the whole manuscript and would love to hear what you think. If you are affiliated with a publisher or know someone who might be interested to discuss publication with me, I’d be grateful for any help in trying to move the project forward.
A House Made One
by Wessel Fledderus
Beru looked out across the lagoon and felt the breeze lift a few strands of hair. This is what summer should be like, he thought. This is what life should be like. He consciously turned to his senses in sequence. He felt his weight pressing on a smooth rock, he felt his pantoons breathing loosely around his legs and he felt the drops of sea water dry on his shoulders. He heard the younglings chatter and pile rocks on each other, he heard the creatures around them make their sounds of complete comfort and he heard the waves overturning on the beach. He saw people devoted to their tasks on the beach, the sparkling waves in the lagoon and the horizon turning a deep green where it met the spotless sky.
This was what life should be like. Why could he not imagine how he had felt only two moons ago, when he felt everything was pointless and life should have been ended before it turned to misery? He struggled to remember the thought process, but could not grasp the steps he took then. He fought to evoke the feelings of that time, to drag them out into his current situation and face them here, where he would certainly destroy them forever. He visualised the endless rain and the grey faces, but to his current eye, they seemed distant, even slightly pleasant.
On the beach, an unage apprentice had found a particularly pretty shell. A nearby seal slowly lifted its head. People gathered and he could hear their cries of excitement all the way on the cliff. The shell would be on display for everyone in her house to see. She was not from his house. The Whales, he thought, or possibly the Crabs. He tried to make out the faces, suddenly excited. Maybe Trucia would be there, too. That was the reason he was here in the first place.
“Beru, we need you.”
The voice was torn, but friendly. Aless beckoned him.
“The first layers have been built. I want you to inspect them and perform judgment while I hand out the firstmeals.”
“Naturally, master elder.” Beru wasn’t always a committed apprentice, but he appreciated the task he had managed to claim today, so he made sure to appear zealous and capable. He rose and moved towards the miniature rock foundations the younglings had made, acknowledging the effort they had put in. After every foundation, he performed judgment with a kind smile. He was aware of the influence he had over the younglings, who were only between five and ten winters, and he felt the disaffected gaze of Aless, who would perform judgment on his performance upon her return to the house.
After he was finished, the younglings eagerly chomped down their firstmeal while clustering in small groups. The noise of the sea resounded around them and they looked around leisurely. Beru watched them while he ate, reaffirming that he was lucky to be caretaker today. Aless and Berth seated themselves next to him.
“They are doing well,” Berth said. She was a strong woman with short, dark hair, known as one of the best builders of the house. Beru appreciated her, but rarely spoke to her. She was demanding of herself and others, something that made her unpopular with Beru and other unaged.
“If they maintain this discipline when they grow up, our house will be secure and prosperous,” Berth looked from the piles of collected rocks to the younglings. “It warms my bones.”
“They certainly worked hard. They must have been impressed with your example this morning.” Aless was an older woman, with a tenderness that contrasted her cracked face and voice. Her grey hair was put up in a complicated pattern, an artistic variation on the traditional hairdo for the elderly masters. She had been caretaker as long as Beru could remember, treating the ill and supervising the young already when Beru was a child himself.
Berth turned to Beru.
“Your judgments were kind and wise, but you need to refine your builder’s eye. I hope you will join one of my classes before autumn comes.”
“It would be my honour, Berth.”
He hoped that would be enough to stop the discussion there. He was willing to learn, but not ready to spend his days underneath the House if there was a chance to be close to the sea, with a chance to see that girl again. He noticed a feeling swell in his chest. Summer was too good to be spent on foundations.
After the task was completed, Aless and Berth started to prepare to take the younglings back to the house. The younglings were excited to be relieved of their duties and were already planning their afternoon playing.
“Will you join us, Beru?” asked Aless.
“No, master elder. The others will soon be here and I would like to make the most of the sun’s abundance today.”
Berth grinned and started walking, saying: “The young are full of energy, but lack direction. Enjoy your sunsoaking, Beru.” The younglings followed her, not quite aware of what she had said, but enjoying the words at Beru’s expense. As they headed for the House, they started a children’s marching song. Aless nodded to Beru and said: “Enjoy the day. Maybe you can find some new followers for our House, too.”
Beru froze at the cheek of her remark. It always surprised him how his elders could think so lightly of contacting the other Houses and selecting potential lovers, in whatever form. To Beru, nothing could be more important or more daunting. His heart pounded with the realisation that everyone must be aware of his friends’ intentions. If Aless could mention it so casually, it must mean the whole house was talking about it. Even his father.
He quickly left for the beach, where soon there would be a congregation of unaged from all nearby Houses. Usually, there would be close to fifty, depending on how the tasks had been divided in the morning. They would swim, sing and sleep in the sun, perform feats of strength, skill and agility and outwit each other wherever possible, hoping to attract others to them. It was exhilarating and a constant source of new connections. Last year, Beru had become interested in Trucia, a girl from the House of Caiman, but she had only been to the beach during her tasks this summer, never afterwards. Maybe today.
He was already radiating heat when his friends arrived. He heard Cibastian first, as always. Cibastian’s voice was rich and playful, a result of Cibastian’s tendency to talk to everyone, all the time. During winter, he would be the last to run out of stories. During summer, he would be the first to have new ones. He was bold and impulsive, which used to upset Beru, who had always been more pensive. However, during the previous summers, they had discovered they complemented each other well, not least when contacting unaged from another House.
Cibastian was talking to Lear, which was mostly clear because there was no retort to Cibastian’s outrageous boasting. If Beru was pensive, Lear was positively introverted. He was Beru’s oldest friend and Beru’s mother never failed to mention how they spent long winter days sitting together playing their individual games, apparently satisfied to be in each other’s presence. Lear always thought before he spoke, or thought at length and never spoke at all. He was a serious, focused worker who did not change his mind readily. He treated others with a distant respect that could put people off. It certainly had required Beru’s repeated reassurance to convince Cibastian that Lear appreciated him enough to tolerate him around.
Beru heard a thump in the sand and felt some specks hit his face.
“Hello, Cibastian,” he said, without opening his eyes. “I’m happy you’re here.”
“Are you ready to gather some followers? I’m confident our House will be full of the prettiest girls soon.”
Lear’s raspy voice noted: “It will have to be soon. I think the rain might start today.”
Beru opened his eyes, shielding them from the sun. He looked at the clear blue sky and had to look between his eyelashes to look for clouds. Before he could find words for his predictions, Cibastian spoke.
“Nah, you’re being too pessimistic. It will be a wonderful day full of sun and sweetness. Look, Beru, I made some tokens for those girls from the House of Whale.”
Beru sat up. The tokens were a series of carved pieces of wood, held together by strings. They were decorated with elaborate patterns, which traditionally conveyed a personalised message explained when it was given. Cibastian’s tokens were promises of love, understanding, physical prowess and comfortable living. The symbol for laughter was in there four times.
“Where did you find the time to do all this? You’ve been on the beach constantly.”
“Clever task choice and setting of priorities,” Cibastian grinned. “I’ve been minding the elders, mostly. I let the others do the hard work while I entertain them with some talking. You know… They appreciate it. None of the aged are going to ask me to something time-consuming when they see an elder man thrilled to be in conversation about his own conquests at the beach.”
“Come on! Finding the best followers is important!”
Some others from the House of Turtle had arrived with Cibastian and Lear. There was Sissaly, a girl of seventeen winters and her sister, Offil, two winters younger. Then there were a few younger unaged, for whom this was their first summer away from the supervision of the aged. They were mostly occupied with each other and hardly interacted with the other Houses, although they sometimes challenged each other to games of skill or strength.
Slowly, groups of people were gathering on the beach, some four tens in total. People started swimming, talking, playing games and making music around the beach.
“Come, Beru, time to go. See you after, Lear. Good luck with Tymas.”
Cibastian dashed off. Lear squinted. Beru rose and put his hand on Lear’s shoulder. “He means well, Lear. I told him you spoke with Tymas regularly, so he jumped to the conclusion. Should I talk to him?”
“No matter. I don’t mind.”
“See you later, Lear. I’ll come see you when the first games are over.”
Beru turned to the part of the beach marked for rockthrow and started ploughing through the sand.
“She’ll be there,” Lear said.
Beru smiled and walked on.
With a sense of self-awareness, Beru arrived at the rockthrow. Some girls were throwing now. The rounded, marked stones lay in a pile close to the throwing line, which was marked by wooden poles. Cibastian was chattering away to Guerry, from the House of Crab, while they both crossed their arms in a display of simulated disinterest. Two other boys from the House of Seagull, Tymas and Rodderic, sat in the sand, speaking in low tones.
Beru recognised Yesther and her friend Jodi, both seventeen winters, from the House of Crab, who were watching the current thrower with disdain. She was clad in a noticeably revealing set of clothes, revealing the curves around her hips when she moved, which usually led to appreciation and condemnation in equal measure. There was a younger girl cautiously eyeing her while holding her own rock. He did not know either of them. Two more girls were watching the game, although Beru noticed they were more interested in the other audience members.
Disappointed that Trucia wasn’t there, he let himself fall down into the sand and started working it into shapes while he watched the rockthrowing absent-mindedly. He flicked through his memories of Trucia on the beach, some from last year, some from this year, before he’d had time to go there himself. Trying to paint every detail of her face in his mind, he struggled to find words to categorise her features and was unable to explain why he thought her to be beautiful. Wavy hair, deep blue eyes, sharp bones softened by her smile – these things he could capture, but they did not explain his fascination. A cheer rose from the audience as Yesther launched her rock, comically somersaulting into the sand, landing close to Cibastian, who smiled warmly. Beru felt his lips tighten. Would other girls do such things to win him over? Would Trucia?
At the start of last summer, Beru had shared some games with her. Two winters younger than him, it had been her first summer at the beach. She had boldly approached him and challenged him to her first game, taunting him by saying he would be shamed forever if he would refuse the dare of a newcomer. She was talkative, active and free. At first, Beru had trouble understanding her, because she seemed to behave erratically, alternating intimacy, mockery and distance with jarring switches. As summer progressed, he had become comfortable with her drive for breaking expectations and they were locked in a never-ending contest of wits where she attempted to surprise him and he attempted to grasp her motivations before she had uttered them.
When summer drew to a close, she had shocked him by revealing her feelings of admiration and appreciation to him as a matter of fact, a natural given. They had even kissed, once, secluded from the others on a walk in the forest. The last days of summer were filled with tumultuous emotions so that when the rains came, he had not said what he needed to.
His winter was therefore engrained with a constant inclination in his thoughts. His desire to be outdoors, in the sun, on the beach, and active, became intricately mixed with his desire to be around Trucia. Spending the measureless days of frigid downpour carefully articulating his feelings towards her, he feared his conjured scenarios would disconnect from reality.
When spring came, he had made the twofold decision to express all his winter’s worth of pining, pondering and pronouncing, and also search the reality of summer for signs that would completely deflate his dreams. Alternating between dedicated initiative and practical consideration, he managed to remain indecisive to the extent that his own response to seeing her would be a surprise to him.
A shadow moved onto his face. Cibastian hauled him to his feet. “Our turn, my friend.”
Tymas and Rodderic joined them. They declared a game of distance, rather than precision or skill, Cibastian’s favourite. While he moved to throw first, Beru heard voices approaching. He turned, too eagerly, he thought, and spotted her walking hand in hand with another girl, flanked by two more girls and boys holding hands. Beru almost dropped his rock.
“Go on, Beru.” Cibastian pulled him towards the poles. Two of them had already thrown, with decent outcomes. Determined to make an impression, Beru flung his rock past both of them. Cibastian cheered and declared legendary strength while hanging around his shoulders. Beru heard nothing as he met Trucia’s eyes. His mind came to a momentary halt and then questions poured down. Did she see his throw? Was it good enough? Had she changed since last summer? What if she was only attracted to girls? If only she would smile, he could stop worrying.
She faced him with eyes more blue than he remembered. The moment stretched. He noticed her new necklace with a carved wooden figure pointing down her chest. Strands of hair waved across her neck.
She smiled. He felt his body tremor.
Their initial greetings were comically casual, but Beru was pulled back into the game by Cibastian before he could decide what to do. Half the unaged from the House of Crab moved on, but Boryn asked to join the game and the rest stayed to watch. Beru felt split in two, divided between full attention on Trucia and remaining a normal person participating in a game of rockthrow. Every time he looked towards the audience, Trucia stood out like a full moon in a starry sky. He felt so drawn to her that he wondered whether he could hold his balance.
“It seems you’ve spent all your skill on that one throw, Beru.” Cibastian mocked him with a flourish of muscle. Muttering arose from the audience, as always when Cibastian performed in public. Beru wished he could do the same.
“You’ve spent it all on posing, Cibastian,” Rodderic scoffed. “You’re doing worse than Beru.”
“It’s all part of my ploy. You’ll never see it coming.” Cibastian’s face mirrored a demon mask, accurately.
“They will if you tell them, kelp brain!” Yesther roared from the side. The girls in the audience laughed freely. Beru was transfixed by the sound of Trucia’s laugh.
“Maybe it’s a double bluff,” Trucia said above the din. “Maybe he’ll lose miserably to confuse all of us.”
Tymas was ready to throw.
“That would not be a surprise at all.” His voice was relaxed while he body tensed. With admirable form, he launched his rock five feet further than even Beru had. Sounds of awe rose all around. If anything was to be won by this endeavour, Tymas had just won. Cool, capable and clever. Mud. Beru felt outclassed.
Then, Cibastian jumped on Tymas.
“Congratulations, Tymas! You’ve won a hug from the most attractive unaged at the beach.”
Both fell flat in the sand as the crowd cheered and Yesther jumped onto the both of them.
“Here I am, then!”
Beru looked back at Trucia, who stared straight at him with apparent communication. Beru felt his body respond before his mind did. He walked over and offered his hand, involuntarily, yet fully conscious.
“Shall we sit by the water for a bit?” His voice was resolute, a little lower than usual. Thankfully.
“Just the two of us, Beru? Are you sure?” She took his hand. “You might not remember how I vowed to harass you whenever I am close.”
“Oh, I remember. You just never managed. More practice, maybe.”
They walked away from the fray that had moved into the lagoon to a spot a little further away.
Beru was aware of the sound of the surf and the noise of those nearby, but it was dull compared to his hard-hitting heart. There was no silence, but the space between words was daunting. He felt Trucia’s eyes on him, but whenever he had mustered the resolve to meet them, they dropped to the sand below their feet.
“How come you’ve not come to the beach before?” Beru asked with strained casualty.
“I was ill for a while. My parents wouldn’t let me leave.” Trucia turned to him. “Were you waiting for me?” It was meant to provoke.
“Yes. Either you have trouble remembering last year or you’re just combing for compliments.” He sunk into the familiar exchange and felt his insides float.
Trucia smiled. “Maybe I was less impressed than you were last summer.”
Beru took a few steps, feigning deep thought.
“It does seem like a dream. Maybe I imagined all of it.”
Trucia mirrored his serious expression. Beru continued.
“I must have imagined that time when we came to the beach with our feet covered in cuts and bruises because we had stayed at the beach too long the day before and had returned when it was too dark to see.”
Trucia nodded, seriously, like a concerned parent.
“And I must have imagined that time when we were challenged to a double duel and Cibastian and Yesther fell over before we had made contact.”
A small smile fluttered on Trisha’s lips.
“And I must have imagined that time we pretended to be siblings for two days and we managed to convince even Cibastian…”
Trucia’s smile burst into laughter.
“All those glances we exchanged and all the times I could hardly contain myself and he didn’t notice…” She fell silent as she looked at Beru’s solemn face. She sat down demonstratively.
Beru dropped next to her, cross-legged, his eyes on the horizon, his right side tingling with Trucia’s proximity.
(end of page 5)