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Round 1 | Everyday | Chiaroscuro Writing Contest Season 3

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avatar lyliaa
Level 2 : Apprentice Architect
I interpreted this prompt as an opportunity to describe the everyday monotony of characters in a world not too different from our own, and what happens when that monotony is broken in the worst possible way.


I’m alone. I can tell as soon as I finally admit that I'm awake, and blink my eyes to clear them.

“Hey, mate, you in there?” It’s Maeck. I give a grunt.

“Come on then.”

When I still don't reply, he shouts,

“Race you there!”

“Fine,” is my eventual reply. I heave myself up, and, after looking down at my wrinkled clothes and shrugging, I duck through the entranceway.

It takes a few moments to adjust to the brightness; the sky is colourless, and air oppressive, as if I’m standing at the bottom of an expansive glass of water, the brink of which is floating miles above. Maeck’s figure, which is now nothing but a silhouette, outlined in the brightness of new daylight, is stood passively a couple hundred metres away.

I run after him, arms pumping, legs sore from my curled-up sleep. In the distance he turns and sprints, then disappears round the corner where the paths intersect. At this point I don’t need to think about where I’m going and why. The buildings, if you can call them that, seem so far away, several small leafless trees leaning far over my head, my sight shrinking away within my skull.

When I get to the square, the whole world appearing in my view, he's a tiny figure leaning against the pump, nonchalantly, no trace of a heavy breath on his tongue, while I'm labouring away, chest rising up and down rapidly. In his hand I see a paper bag, which he waves cheerfully at me.

“Mrs Green particularly generous this morning, eh?” I breathlessly call to him. It's a regular joke between the two of us; we both know exactly where those bread rolls came from, and it’s hardly a kind old lady with wiry white hair piled in a bun on her round, rosy-cheeked head. He holds out one of the rolls towards me. It’s hard, dark brown, slightly burnt on one edge where it was touching the oven wall, and stone cold. I go to grab it and our hands meet for a second before he relinquishes his grip. After a moment of eye contact as I try to show my gratitude, he says,

“Come on. We might miss your favourite person!” I groan and picture Tirra’s usual sickening smile as she waits for us at the edge of the Yard.

After an hour of winding our way through the labyrinthine paths, by which time the platinum sky had been torn apart into soft, fractured pieces, we abruptly step down into the Yard. It’s a large depression in the ground where I’ve been told there used to be a lake - the ground is too marshy for even the most desperate people to build on. Instead, it’s filled with mountains of detritus, framed by the skyline of the tallest part of the city behind it. The scale is hard to appreciate because the outside is surrounded densely by buildings, and, once you enter, the mountain heaps obscure everything else. Even the sound of the city is dimmed, so it’s as if you’ve been transported to a completely different world. I wish.

As expected, Tirra is waiting for us at the top of the staircase which marks one of the only entrances into the Yard. Her arms are full of pieces of plastic, some large, some small.

“Late, boys.” She gestures to the bulging bag which is slung from one shoulder, and leers, “I’d be surprised if there’s anything left for you.”

“You really like thinking your existence impacts us, don’t you? Really like waiting for us each morning just to gloat” I retort.

“Oh no, I’m just in love with your excessive physical attractiveness. I just couldn’t survive if I didn’t see you every day”

Maeck lightly touches touches my hand, which is hanging at my side in an unconvincing show of nonchalance.

“We’ve got work to do.”

He leads me away and down into the Yard proper, and then turns back around to face me.

“You’re not letting her get to you, surely?”

“Well, why does she wait for us? She must be done way before we get here”

“Where does she live, then?”

“Just round the corner”


“Lucky to live right next to this dump?”

“Who are you kidding? This whole place is a dump”

“I thought you were supposed to be the reassuring one?”

He signs and turns around to half-heartedly pick through the pile of scrap metal.

“I just wish it was different, you know,” I continue. “We didn’t have to come to this stupid place every day, put up with Tirra every day, eat stolen rolls every day.” I throw a piece of metal, hard, at the ground, where it bounces off into oblivion.

“I know. It’s boring, and stupid, and most of all unfair. But it’ll all change soon. I promise,” he replies.

Again, he brushes his hand against mine in reassurance. I don’t say that I wish I could believe him.

* * *

I awake to the regular dripping of water from an indentation in the bright blue tarpaulin above me. I shudder and turn onto my side, unwilling to get up from the relative warmth of the blankets that shroud my body. Now my view is taken up by the sheet of newspaper that is the last evidence of my sister’s demands for privacy. It’s started to fall apart under the weight of the water that my parents swore wouldn’t be able to get into our tent.

“Daaaad?” I call out. The only reply is the groan of the thick canvas from carrying a pool of water above it. Finally admitting the necessity of getting up, I stretch out to my full height to knock the water off the top of the tent. It travels in rivulets as tiny drops race to get to the bottom. I watch two of them drip down the outside of the semi-transparent canvas, stock still in concentration despite the chill, until one of them wins and joins the growing puddles on the muddy ground outside.

My stomach growls with hunger and I silently wish for Maeck’s presence, sinking slowly back onto my bed. I have no idea what the time is; any semblance of sunlight was being obscured by the heavy clouds, and our only clock is probably on my dad’s wrist right now.

As I try not to think about the gnawing feeling that’s creeping up inside me, and not just due to the hunger, I hear the squelching sound of slow, deliberate footsteps outside. One side of my brain shouts at me that it’s Maeck, but, as my sister used to say, optimism just leads to disappointment, so my shoulders fall again. To my surprise, then, there’s a brush against the outside of the tent, and a moment later, a familiar face framed by dripping coal-coloured hair pokes around the flap.

“I’ll just take my shoes off, then I’ll be in”

“Don’t we need to-”

He grins widely and throws the bag of bread rolls at my chest before I can finish my interruption.

“I guess it’s your lucky day, eh?”

I smile in genuine appreciation and begin to eat. A minute later, he enters the tent and, after pausing for a moment as if having decided it was a good idea, shakes his head around like a wet dog and sprays water everywhere. I make a noise of disgust and laugh as he looks around.

“Good job you’re the only one here, that could have gone seriously wrong,” he chuckles, and then explains, “I figured you’re in my debt now since I brought those along.” He nods towards the rolls.

“Yeah, why are you in such of a charitable mood all of a sudden?” I joke.

Maeck’s laugh dies and his mouth snaps back to an expression of sparse neutrality. I properly look up at him, from the slightly damp socks all the way to his sodden parka, and then I’m lost in the deep wells of his eyes. Normally a light blue, almost white if the light catches them in a particular way, they have become a dark, swirling grey. I put the roll in my hand down, almost subconsciously, before picking up the bag and holding it out to him. He takes it with infinite softness and his brows knit together before looking away.

We reach the Yard after an hour of stony silence, walking in step but feeling more isolated than I would if I were alone. Not even Tirra is there to break up the suffocating blanket of quiet, but I’m too preoccupied with what is wrong with Maeck to fully register the strangeness of her absence.

As I pick through the rubbish, the same thoughts keep cycling around my head, but by the setting of the distant sun I’m still no closer to a resolution. Something is definitely going on here. But what?

* * *

My eyes snap open and I throw the blankets off my prostrate body. The tent is stiflingly warm. I have the idle thought that the clouds must have trapped the heat below the atmosphere before the truth of the previous day hits me like I’ve slammed into a brick wall. I turn over and sit up suddenly. Resolving to pull myself out of the dark, I dart off towards Maeck’s family tent. I’m desperate for answers, not more questions.

My pace slows as I pick my way through the maze of passageways between tents and more permanent, corrugated iron and plastic dwellings. This is a stupid idea, I tell myself. Nothing is wrong and Maeck is on his way to your tent right now and you might miss him by going a different way and he’ll be worried about you and do something stupid. Nevertheless, my feet take me along the route which is still familiar from all those years ago before the Yard demanded all of the time we spent together.

I know something is wrong as soon as I peak the hill that overlooks the patch where he lives. The air smells acrid and my view is obfuscated by a constantly changing, distorting, swirling mist. My legs lurch me into a run, but I am halted by a sudden, constricting armhold. Tirra. As the mist clears, the whole world seems to shrink down to a pinprick within my mind. No, it can’t be.

The tents have been razed. The ground is still smoking, dark, dead. The families, and their children, are gone.

I strain against Tirra’s rock-hard hold on me but the futility crushes my skull and shatters my bones. He’s gone.

“He died fighting for his right to live here. Down to the very last second.

He would have wanted you to keep going. You know, return to the routine, the everyday. Not let this all go to waste, be forgotten.”

“He… He never told me they’d been threatened eviction.”

Tirra shrugs.

I strike her with a punch, fist clenched as hard as I can, but it does nothing to relieve the pressure of pain building up inside me, threatening to overflow. She locks eyes with me, nods, then turns away. I blink, and she’s gone.

The last friend I have in this place is gone.

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