Discover more from Catch & Release
Who Gets the Bed and Who Takes the Floor?
Harmony House: Episode 9
“Harmony House” is a serial novel with episodes released every Tuesday morning. You can read the setup for the story or start from the beginning. Each episode comes with high-quality audio narration for you to enjoy on the go with the Substack mobile app.
This novel is free to read for all subscribers. Paid subscribers get access to my other serial novel, “The Memory of My Shadow,” and to my entire archive of work.
In the last episode, the contestants faced their initial test even before they reached Houze. Arriving at a secluded forest location at night, they encountered a practical dilemma: limited space on the ATVs for their luggage. This predicament tapped into the deeper personal struggles each contestant faces. Particularly, Deepu's internal conflict was highlighted as he grappled with the physical and emotional significance of his possessions, reflecting on his past hardships and the journey that led him here. The group's night-time trek to Houze under the stars set a precedent for the challenges to come, revealing more about their personalities and histories.
Riley and his driver were the first to arrive at Houze. From fifty yards away, Riley could make out the silhouette of a man standing in the doorway. When they pulled up to the structure and parked, the man stepped out onto the small landing and waved.
It was Schultz and he was wearing his form-fitting uniform of black on black but now there was a large BangOn! logo across the front of his t-shirt. It might have only been Riley’s imagination, but he sensed the presence of the thing weighed the man down, dulling his usual spry gesticulations and exuberant body language.
The other vehicles arrived one by one, killing their engines and headlamps as they rolled to a stop and allowed their passengers to disembark. In the luminous aura that Houze cast into this field that once belonged to five generations of a family of farmers and before that, the Cherokee who never claimed ownership or even understood the principle, the faces of the contestants all had the same look of wonder and trepidation. As they stepped forward with their bags into the circle of light, their drivers hung back and a couple pulled out their devices to start recording.
“Welcome everyone! I trust your journey wasn’t too arduous. You are here, quite literally at the threshold of your new home.” Schultz paused for dramatic effect, his arms outstretched. “You will live together in the five hundred square feet of this futuristic dwelling perched atop a mountain in the oldest range of mountains in the entire world…”
“Ahem, sorry to interrupt,” a voice from one of the many assistants interjected. “But the Makhonjwa Mountains in South Africa are actually the oldest range in the world. Thought you might want to know since it will be tricky to edit in post…”
“Oh bugger!” Schultz hissed staring down at his feet, hands in his thinning hair. “We should be paying a proper actor to do this with a proper script.”
He sighed, then looked back up to address his audience and smiled.
“I’ll take it from the last bit,” he said and paused briefly before continuing. “You will live together in the five hundred square feet of this futuristic dwelling perched atop a mountain in ONE of the oldest mountain ranges in the entire world. You will stay until you decide you have had enough and want to leave.”
Schultz glanced down at his watch and then looked up, scanning their upturned faces.
“It’s five to midnight and time for each of you to enter Houze. Riley, let’s start with you.”
Schultz stepped down and approached Riley as two members of the makeshift camera crew set in motion, one heading inside the house and the other moving into position to get a better close-up angle of them as Schultz walked Riley into the house.
“Tell me,” Schultz asked conspiratorially as he placed a fatherly hand on Riley’s shoulder. “What are you feeling right now as you make your way inside?”
They walked slowly, closing the distance from where Riley had been standing to the steps of Houze. Riley was excited and nervous and couldn’t stop smiling. He hadn’t prepared any remarks. It wasn’t like this was the moon landing.
“Honestly? I’ve had to pee since Sevierville, so I’m kinda anxious to see how the toilet works.”
Schultz made a pained expression and nodded. “I see, well as you are keenly aware, it does have a state-of-the-art toilet. So, I will leave you to it and wish you the best of luck!”
As Riley walked up the two-stair riser and into Houze, he could hear Schultz call his next victim. The producer from the bus was perched on the small kitchen counter with his phone pointed at Riley. Riley wished he could have had a few moments of privacy upon first entering so he could take it all in without being self-conscious but then he quickly came to the realization that his need for any modicum of privacy would have to be put on hold indefinitely. He smiled at the camera and made a small half-wave from waist level before proceeding down the length of the house toward the bathroom at the opposite end.
The pictures did not do justice to Houze even though Riley felt as though he’d already seen it from every possible angle since he found out he would be a contestant. The first thing he realized was how spacious it felt. The twelve-foot ceiling in the main living space gave it an openness which was further amplified by the wall of glass that extended from the floor to halfway across the roof allowing for an uninterrupted view of the starry night sky.
On his right was the living room with its plush sectional couch which Riley knew folded out into a queen bed. This was one of the many concealed compartments throughout the house that could accommodate storage or hidden features. Every seam in the space that divided one plane of the home from another appeared to have a concealed strip of indirect lighting. The effect was a warm ambient glow throughout the space that Riley knew was programmed to adapt to the circadian rhythm of the environment outside and adjust color and brightness to be in harmony with the natural light.
Opposite the short side of the sectional couch in the wall that divided the living room from the kitchen was an enormous entertainment screen flanked by cabinets that Riley was keen to peek inside. But that would have to wait. He really did have to go so he continued forward, pausing only briefly to peer into the bedroom on the right that contained a lofted queen bed above a small seating area with a desk and lamp.
The bathroom was a sanctuary of what appeared to be polished stone from floor to ceiling with a large skylight above. Riley knew it wasn’t actually stone, but some eco-friendly material used to simulate the look and texture of rock. The door opened directly into the open shower stall and sink area with a large mirror above it. When Riley closed the door behind him, the indirect lighting automatically brightened. At the far wall was a door that he knew led to the toilet he’d read so much about and was desperate to use.
As he relieved his bladder in the dim and cozy confines of the water closet, he felt a sense of peace and calm. It was the fragrance. He hadn’t noticed it until now, but it was exquisite – something between fresh-cut flowers and an earthier, woodsy kind of smell. Houze was indeed everything he had dreamed it might be so far – at least from a form perspective. It would take time to see if its function did as well. He listened intently as his urine hit the bowl of the toilet and was routed through the series of tubes he’d seen in the schematics. He imagined his pee passing through a series of charcoal filters and into a gray water holding tank where it would be further treated and processed until it was transformed into potable water once again. There was no need to flush. Houze knew when he was done and flushed just the minimum amount of water to cleanse the bowl.
As Riley washed his hands, he started to hear voices just outside the door and understood that going forward, there would always be a meter running when he was in this room. He opened the door and got a preview of what the future would look like. What felt spacious only moments before now felt like a dorm room on Saturday night. Fran and Cam were chattering away in the bedroom as he walked past. Jayden was sitting on the couch, eyes wide, taking it all in. Deepu was inspecting the entertainment center and Jessie was opening all the kitchen cabinets. Meanwhile, three producers were filming the action from their phones and Schultz was trying to get everyone’s attention.
“Pardon me, everyone, hello? Please let me have your attention one last time,” Schultz called out over the din of murmured conversation.
Everyone finally quieted down and turned their attention to Schultz. Riley and Deepu took a seat on the couch on either side of Jayden.
“Thank you. Well, this is it. The game is afoot as they say. From now on you must adhere to the rules or you will be ejected from Houze and forfeit the prize of owning this wonderous dwelling and a lot of your choosing anywhere in the world. As you know the only other way to leave the competition is by your own choice. I wish you all the very best of luck! Cheers, and goodnight!”
Within less than a minute Schultz and every member of the support team had exited the house and hopped onto their ATVs. A moment after that, they could only make out the faintest whine of the vehicles as they crested the hill and their taillights disappeared. No one spoke. The late summer wind buffeted the outside of their new home. The longer the silence lasted, the harder it seemed for someone to willingly break it.
“Do y’all mind if I smoke?” Cam said as he reached into the breast pocket of his jacket.
Every member of the party gave him variations of the same awe-stricken, withering gaze which made him break into a crooked smile.
“Oh, c’mon, I’m kidding.”
Everyone laughed. The spell was broken, and they soon resumed their individual explorations of the interior of their new home. There were some ooos as new things were discovered and ahhs as the purpose for some of those discoveries was surmised. The built-in bidet for the toilet was one such discovery. The hidden cache of six bottles of wine in the uppermost cabinet of the kitchen behind a retractable drawer that contained stemware was another. They were like children racing around a new family home flipping on and off all the lights and picking out bedrooms except in this case there were clearly not enough bedrooms.
Surely everyone had given this a fair amount of thought, right? Cam knew that every one of them had had weeks to study the layout of Houze. It seemed the obvious thing for them to work out first, but no one seemed willing to address this matter or any of the other burning questions they collectively must have had. He didn’t see the point in waiting for a facilitator. Everyone had mostly finished their explorations, and many were fiddling with their bags, clearly trying to figure out where to stow their stuff. He moved to the midpoint of the space, in front of the huge wraparound window.
“Hey guys, don’t you think we should probably figure out a few things? Like where are we putting our shit? Who’s sleeping where? You know, figure out some norms for the group?”
Everyone nodded and murmured their agreement and gathered around. With no room left on the couch, Jessie stood and leaned against the partition between the kitchen and living room and Fran sat on the floor and leaned against the front door.
“So, there’s obviously not enough beds for all of us unless we plan to get super intimate. I’ve slept in a Queen with two other people. Well, let’s be clear, there wasn’t much sleeping but let’s just say it’s not ideal. So, what do we want to do? Draw straws? Sleep in shifts?”
There was some laughter. That was good. Cam hadn’t completely lost his touch despite the trench of woe he’d been inhabiting for the past month. He did feel a small stab of guilt and shame at his bawdy joke. It was still too soon. Riley, bless his sweet little soul raised his hand like he was in class. Cam pointed at him.
“You, the cute one in the front with the glasses, what’s your idea?”
“Well, as I said earlier today, I’m used to living with three other people in the same room, so I’ve had a lot of time to think about this particular challenge. Here let me just…” he stood up and rifled through his backpack coming out with a sheet of paper. “I worked out a schedule… it’s just a proposal, something to get the conversation started.”
Cam took the paper and studied it. On the page, there was a table printed out with days of the week as column headings across the top and the six contestant names in rows of the first column on the left. Within each box for a given housemate on a given day, there were a combination of letters: BR, C, or X. Cam thought he knew where this was going, but he’d learned after years of working with programmers that it was often beneficial to play the dumb designer.
“You want to explain this little algorithm you whipped up?” he said, handing the paper back to Riley.
“Yeah, sure. It’s kind of a deceptively tricky problem because the math doesn’t work out exactly right. There are only four spots to sleep each night so across a week, that’s twenty-eight spots total. There are six of us which requires forty-two spots to sleep in a week. That leaves a total of fourteen nights where someone won’t have a bed. Fourteen divided by six leaves a remainder of one which means each week one person will have three nights without a bed instead of two. It’s all right here if you wanna see it. The BR stands for bedroom, the C stands for couch, and the X means, well, you know, no bed.”
The five other housemates just stared at Riley, some with a look of puzzlement, others with irritation. No one moved to take the paper he was offering. As the unofficial facilitator, Cam felt compelled to prompt the group to respond.
“Thoughts about Riley’s plan? Anyone?” he asked.
He could see that Jessie was itching to offer his direction but was, for whatever reason, restraining himself. Jayden seemed to be thinking very hard about the problem, so Cam prodded her to think out loud.
“Well, is it really impossible to sleep three to a bed in a pinch? Wouldn’t it be better than not sleeping in a bed at all? If three people could sleep in one of the beds,” Jayden said, squinting her eyes as she calculated. “Then that means we cut the number of nights without a bed to one for each of us each week. And one night for each of us where we gotta sleep three to a bed. Is my math right?”
“Hold on now,” Fran said. “I think I follow, but you’re forgetting that it’s not just one of us who’s inconvenienced by the three-to-a-bed thing. It’s three of us. So that means we each end up with more bad nights than good ones where it’s just two to a bed.”
“Hmm, you’re right,” Jayden said, crestfallen.
It was quiet for a moment while everyone considered the problem more deeply. Whenever Cam had thought about it, he just assumed they would rotate and two people would have to stay up all night together. That didn’t seem so bad. At least no one would be alone, awake in the middle of the night. He’d suffered from insomnia for much of his life and the idea of having company made it infinitely more tolerable.
“Why don’t we try an experiment?” Deepu offered, getting up from the couch and turning around to face it. “This is the one that pulls out, right? Why don’t we pull it out and see how it feels to have three across?”
The others nodded and so Jayden got up from where she was seated and together they searched around until Deepu found the hidden lever that popped up the bench seat and unfolded the bed. It was an extremely clever design and Cam, who had always loved industrial design marveled at how the thing effortlessly unfolded once and then again, flattening into a well-constructed queen mattress. Once it was in place, Deepu gestured for Jayden to lay down and then he lay down on her left. Riley stood up but gestured in deference to Cam, but Cam waved him off, so he took the remaining spot on the bed.
The three strangers lay there together, arms crossed over their chests like vampires, eyes shifting from left to right. The other three gathered around the bed and looked down on them. It was all very odd, and it suddenly struck Cam as very funny. He began to chuckle looking down at these three very different humans, each awkward in their way, each trying to embrace the seriousness of their role as bed model. Staring at Jayden lying in the middle, bless her heart, trying her best to make herself thinner, Cam’s chuckle produced a snort which made Fran titter and Jessie make a wheezing cough that Cam understood to be his expression of amusement.
From there they all started laughing and it was like a virus that could not be stopped. Jayden’s laugh was deep and infectious because it made her whole body shake so the bed was vibrating. The tiny house was reverberating with their shared release of nervous energy. Just as it was starting to subside into sighs and giggles, someone on the bed produced a fart like the low B flat on a trombone, and the entire machine started up again for another full minute.
By the end of the night, it was decided that they would take it one day at a time rather than commit to some long-term plan when they were all so exhausted from the day. They figured out that someone could more or less fit on the part of the sectional couch that did not fold out, so Jessie took that spot while Jayden, Deepu, and Riley extended their residency on the foldout bed given that they’d already established a kind of bond from sharing in the intimacy of flatulence.
As Cam lay awake in the lofted bed listening to Fran’s delicate, whistling snore, he felt a little less alone than he’d felt in the weeks since Michael had thrown him out. He was still sleeping in a strange bed in a strange house, but he loved this little house. He loved what it stood for, and he loved the thoughtful elegance of the design.
With a little luck and a lot of perseverance, it would be his.
What did you think of this episode?
Your feedback is so valuable to me. What’s exciting you? What’s boring you? Where do you think this is all going? Please join the conversation in the comments or even better, start a chat with other readers.
Don’t have time for that? Just hitting the ❤️ button or “restacking” this episode in Notes helps more people discover the book and it’s a strong signal to me that you’re out there and maybe I shouldn’t give up today.
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: