Novel #7

On the heels of Return came the first long story I actually shopped around – Our House. Written in a month at the end of 1995, clocking in at 62600 words, I was really proud of it.

It garnered a total of 17 rejections, of which 13 were form rejections. One said in rather diplomatic language that it was crap. One said that it was a rip-off of half a dozen other stories, most particularly Amityville Horror. And the other was the best, and also the last I received: The editor said he liked the story, “loved” the writing, but found the middle section meandered, and the constant self-referencing by the narrator, especially with what was yet to come in the story, was off-putting. So he basically told me to rewrite a lot of it, and I decided to do just that, and so stopped sending it out. However, by then, I had written so much other stuff that it fell by the wayside.

So Our House was the first novel that got rejected.

The story involves an old house that takes over the lives of a group of children, all the way into adulthood. It makes them do things out of character. But is the house haunted, or is it a reflection of themselves? The narrator is watching some protestors trying to save the house, and relates his own history with the place as he sits in his car, trying desperately not to join them. He fights it… and fails… sort of…

The story has no chapters, and is written from the first person perspective as though the narrator is talking into a hand-held tape-recorder. And that is how I wrote the first 25000 words – me talking into a dictaphone and then transcribing. The house itself existed, an old deserted house on Nelson Rd, long since torn down, which some of us broke into in year 7. The car in the shed was there as well, though not as old as in the story. Oh, and we didn’t kill anyone either.

It was also the first story that got an emotional response from some friends – some claimed it gave them nightmares. That would be good if it was true, but I don’t know for sure.

Look, the story definitely needs work, it suffers (as you shall see) from a diarrhea of the ellipsis, and it drags a bit, but one day when I am suffering from writer’s block, I may come back to it and revise the bits that old editor told me to. Not bad, all in all.

Excerpt

Hmmm… Nicky…

Okay, let’s go. Get this over and done with…

It seemed like Nick was a nice enough bloke. I mean, he had some annoying habits, but didn’t we all. Essentially, though, he was pretty cool. ‘Thea turned up with him on the same day that Brian turned up with Yvette and Gina (the latter was who he was trying to set me up with, having heard from Randy that I was a bit depressed after losing ‘Thea). We met in town and went to the pictures. I don’t remember what we saw, but it was an action film. Had Bruce Willis in it, I think. All I remember is that none of us spent a great deal of time actually paying any attention to the screen. Randy and Shelley, ‘Thea and Nicky, Brian and Yvette, me and Gina, four couples spending the whole afternoon kissing like there was no tomorrow. What I do remember – very clearly, in fact – was that when Gina kissed me it was like kissing a spittoon; Christ, did that girl’s mouth water. She almost dribbled. It was disgusting. I was almost relieved when, after a week or so of constant attention, she decided that I wasn’t right for her. And Brian and Yvette didn’t last a great deal longer, either. I think he found it hard to come to terms with dating quite an intellectual girl, a science student at university. Majored in physics, I think. But ‘Thea and Nicky, that turned out to be quite a coupling…

We all liked Nicky, at least a little, though I knew Brian was suspicious of something. I never found out just what, but there was something he didn’t like about the tall, nineteen year old (two years older than me at the time), dark-haired teaching student from Flinders University. But… hey, you know… Maybe he just didn’t like an outsider, any outsider, coming into the circle…

Especially after we sort of inducted him into the group…

No, he wasn’t inducted, just sort of accepted…

No, that’s still not right. Oh, shit. Well, let’s be honest here… We were looking for a Jamie substitute, some-one to replace the friend we’d killed so crudely, and Nicky’s affable personality and apparently deep affection for ‘Thea made him a candidate…

The perfect candidate…

But his first visit to the house seemed to completely contradict this assessment…

It was near the end of September of that year, 1988, when ‘Thea apparently first told him what we’d been doing since we were little kids. She said later that she wasn’t sure if he believed her or not at first. She reckoned that he looked at her as though she was having a joke, or setting him up for one. But she persisted gently and he said that he wanted to see for himself. And that was when she asked Brian if it would be all right if he came in with us one night. Brian took two days (during which time he asked Shelley and Randy, but not me; apparently he didn’t think I’d like ‘Thea’s new boyfriend just waltzing in… and he was probably right… but at least he did tell me after the decision was made) to make up his mind and the next Saturday night there were once more six people seated around that small, dirty, smelly room where ‘Thea and I had first made love, where Jamie had been killed, where five of us had grown up…

But things felt different. The atmosphere was really claustrophobic in the room, almost oppressive, and despite the rather cool night outside, the room had a sweltering feel about it as well. We all felt uncomfortable and uneasy and what little conversation there was was very forced. It was almost as though the house didn’t want him here, didn’t want anything to change, no matter what had happened to Jamie. And Nicky apparently felt it worse than any of us… so much so that it almost created a split between he and ‘Thea… which, I suppose, was probably what the house wanted, anyway.

But it failed. They instead had sex for the first time together that night at her house and we didn’t see ‘Thea back there for a good four weeks, until the last weekend in October. She wasn’t happy about something and, like the rest of us, when she was unhappy she came to the house. It took Shelley a while to get out of her what was wrong. And the reason hit us like a bombshell. “Nick wants me to choose between you lot and him,” she whispered before bursting into tears. She fell against Shelley’s shoulder and I think we all understood what was going through her mind: How could she choose between this boy she thought she loved and her entire life up till now? I guess it was something we all feared in one way or another, but it was definitely something we didn’t want any of the others to have to go through alone…

And I was the one who came up with the suggestion: “Invite him back in here.”

They all looked at me. For the past few months no-one had really taken control of the group – we’d just sort of let things happen; after all, a break-up like the one between ‘Thea and me did upset the balances of the group dynamics a little… and there’s that old psychology kicking in – but now I think I was reasserting my ‘leadership’. “P-Pardon?” ‘Thea croaked.

I nodded slowly. “Last time he was here there must have been something wrong with the house. Maybe even us, your high expectations, us wanting a new Jamie, I don’t know what, but something,” I explained slowly, honestly. The others appeared uncomfortable at this, but none denied it. “So bring him back. We’ll show him he’s accepted here for who he is. And maybe we’ll show him that he’s being a little unreasonable with his request.”

The look ‘Thea gave me was one of such gratitude that I think I fell in love with her all over again…

But, for all that, it was decided. ‘Thea would get Nicky here – even if she had to drag him, she said – and we would be on our best behaviour and endeavour to show him that he wasn’t really hated by all of us…

But, as usual, we forgot to take that fucking house into account…

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