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The Other Way - Chiaroscuro Writing contest round 1 - Everyday

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avatar Ivain
Level 52 : Grandmaster Terraformer
The other way

Mark was tired. Nothing surprising, really, considering he worked a double nightshift on most ‘days’. It paid pretty well, even if he was just guarding an empty office building. That may have been because nobody sane would consider working a double shift, and the overall hourly pay increase was still less than it would cost the company to hire two people for the two shifts.

At least he’d had a week break after moving into his new apartment. A week he’d used to catch up on his sleep, despite the best efforts of his meddling neighbors. Oh sure, it was good manners to introduce themselves, but he wished they didn’t have to wake him up for it. Who even knocks on someone else’s door as early as 11am? Crazy people, that’s who.

He sighed as his alarm clock went off. The only reason he’d not become a crazy person himself was his strict routine, so he hauled himself out of bed to begin his ‘morning’ routine. It was 5 PM.

Returning to his apartment, Mark found himself tired once again. Not surprising, of course, he always was. But this time it felt different. He wasn’t just physically tired. His chest and mind actually hurt from how exhausted he was, and he was sure it went beyond mere physical sensations. This couldn’t really go on much longer, or he might simply not wake up the next morning.

At least, not nearly in time for his shift. His neighbor had knocked on his door again, but he’d failed to respond. He was still wondering why she bothered when he had never even seen her face, just heard her voice and the sounds of her walking around in her own apartment. His neighbor on the other side barely made any sound, so he figured it was because she wore heels.

He dropped off to sleep after fixing a quick dinner from takeout leftovers.

The door opened, and Mark stumbled back into his apartment. This had been the worst shift he’d ever had, by far. Normally, guard duty was boring but peaceful. He’d had training, sure, but he’d never imagined he’d actually need it.
The intruder had been little more than an overly adventurous teen, possibly under the influence of something. Not armed or dangerous at all, but when the kid had spun around upon hearing a footfall and nearly knocked him to the ground, he’d still nearly peed himself.

For a very brief moment, he’d seen a flash of something in the kid’s eyes that had convinced him he was gonna die. Silly, of course, he’d had the training and weight advantage on a teen that barely reached his chin, but his exhausted state of mind had made him believe it.

Pulling off his shoes, he collapsed onto his bed. His boss had shown up while he was talking to the police after the culprit had been caught. Not his immediate supervisor, but the actual boss of the company. He’d been given a week off, and a big bonus for his help in capturing the intruder. He’d also expressed concern about how worn out Mark seemed, expressing uncertainty

As the last of the adrenalin that had kept him on his feet for hours left his system, his limbs started shaking. He dropped off from exhaustion just as a tear left his eye. He didn’t notice, of course.

The next day, somewhere in the early afternoon, Mark woke up wrapped in his bedsheets. His limbs were aching with a kind of numbness that was both dull and prickly at the same time. His eyes felt wet and puffy, and it took a while for him to truly wake back up to the world around him. Then the horror of what had almost happened the day before crashed over him. He spent another hour in bed, shaking. He was mortified at his own reaction, really. Sure, he’d nearly gotten killed, but it wasn’t like it happened. For a brief second, he’d even welcomed the thought that that was his last shift.

Remembering that brought back all the reasons why he’d been upset when he thought he was going to die.

It’s amazing, really, how many thoughts and memories can flash through your mind in less than a second. For Mark it had been mostly thoughts, since few of his memories were particularly interesting.

That was the problem, wasn’t it? He hadn’t lived since he was 12. He’d just always done what he thought of as his duty. Studied hard, focused almost exclusively on school work, graduated university with very good grades. And then he’d found out there was almost no work to be found with his degree.

That had been the worst year of his life, by a long shot. Realizing that more than a decade of focusing on schoolwork to the exclusion of all else had been a waste.

After articulating these thoughts, it didn’t take long for Mark to decide that a week off wasn’t nearly enough. It was time he tried to live a life again, and he’d start with one of his lifelong dreams – traveling.

Setting down his backpack, Mark was surprised by how nice the small room was. Almost as surprised as he had been when he found out how cheap it could be to travel around Europe for a month, if you weren’t particularly fussed about the season or all the hotspots.

He’d spent some time in France, moving between coastal cities and eventually ending up in Paris.

The city was quite nice, though there seemed to be a lot of trash in the more tourist-infested areas. He supposed that was to be expected, considering he’d arrived shortly after the high season.

Looking back, he reflected on the week he’d had. Telling his boss he was resigning, that he needed some perspective on life. Planning out his trip in the matter of a single day. Being surprised at not hearing the most insistent of his neighbors moving around in her apartment. He’d always disliked her, but he’d still been comforted listening to the movements and sounds of her living a normal life on the other side of the wall. Looking back he was just happy that they all seemed perfectly ordinary sounds.

Attaching such importance to something so trivial only reinforced the notion that he really needed to change his life around.

Fortunately his well-paid nightguard duty had left him with quite the savings account. If he used only half of it, he could use the other half while looking for an actual job he might have a future with, or at least figure something out to start with.

His time in Amsterdam, where he’d started (the airport of Schiphol being one of the biggest hubs in Europe, after all), had been very… interesting. He’d met many people that seemed to have a completely different attitude to life than he’d ever had. It had been enlightening, talking to many of them, even if he knew he’d never choose their lifestyle.

It surprised him how many of the Dutch were completely fluent in English. Even living in the national and tourism capital of the country, he would’ve expected more trouble.

Digging his schedule out of a pocket on his large backpack, he looked it over. He had 4 days left in Paris, before he’d have to get on a plane to Heathrow, then transferring to a flight to Copenhagen, the second-to-last stop in his journey. He’d be staying for a week.

Until then, he could do whatever he wanted. The problem was that he still wasn’t sure what that was.

Packing his bags, Mark mulled over the encounter he’d had in a restaurant near the Seine. It was really nice to encounter someone who actually spoke fluent English without an accent that made him feel like he was being deliberately rude to the person he was speaking to.

It was obvious she was a tourist, like him, but they’d still had an enjoyable chat. He’d been a bit awkward at first, having rarely had this sort of interaction, but he’d relaxed more and more as she seemed to simply be curious about his journey, and had told a bit about her own.

They were both British nationals, which would probably explain her lack of weird accent. He’d not thought to ask if there was a particular reason for her being on a trip out of season, like he was. By the time the question occurred to him, he’d already been on his way back to his apartment.

Then he’d smacked himself in the face, having forgotten to ask her for any contact details. No chance he was running into her anytime soon, not now he was leaving. Perhaps he’d get lucky and run into her somewhere in England again, or he could find her online via her name.
Not that he had much experience with what he’d been informed were ‘social media’, but then there’d not exactly been much social in his life. What he did know is that searching for Eva from the UK would be a time-consuming task.

Though he had thought something about her seemed familiar.

Picking up his completed bags, he grabbed a taxi to the Beauvais-Tillé Airport, where he was taking his flight from to save money.

Mark really couldn’t believe his luck. Maybe the universe was messing someone, or some entity with a cruel sense of humor was messing with him.

His flight had been delayed. Not by a little bit either. No, he’d have at least 5 hours to spend until he could hope to get anywhere. At least it had been his connecting flight from Heathrow, not the one towards it. If that one had been delayed, he’d miss his connection, and that wouldn’t be repaid directly.

Shaking his head in frustration, he sat down heavily, plopping his bags down between his legs, wrapping the straps around his legs for extra security.

“Hello there”. Mark’s head spun around at the familiar voice, and he broke out in a smile.

“Hey Eva, I hadn’t really expected to see you again”.

She returned the smile, sitting down next to him and setting down her suitcase to lean against her legs.

“Neither had I, to be honest. Especially after I realized I’d forgotten to ask for any contact details”.

Mark raised an eyebrow at hearing his own thoughts echoed back at him. He’d been beating himself up about that a little, upset that his own stupidity and awkwardness had made him forget something he now realized he’d found quite important. To hear that he wasn’t alone in that sentiment was honestly a relief. He pulled out his phone.

“I had the same problem. Let’s fix that now, shall we?”

She pulled out her own phone, and they exchanged full names and contact details.

Putting their phones away, they continued some of their previous conversations for a few minutes, before Mark decided he wanted to know something.

“So, how much of a coincidence is it that we meet up here, at the same time? I thought you were staying in Paris longer than me?”

“I was going to, but my hotel became a bit unpleasant. Sleeping cheaply is nice for the wallet, but not for the peace of mind. Especially not for a woman on her own”

“Tell me about it. I might not have the same things to worry about, but I was grateful each time I found out I had a room where the sheets were properly clean and didn’t have cigarette holes or stains in them.”

“So where are you going next, Eva?”

“I was actually planning on heading over to Milan, it seems like a good place to end my trip. You?”

“It was Copenhagen for me. I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with that city, though I don’t really remember why.”

Mark shrugged, it wasn’t important to him why he wanted to go there. At least he wasn’t wandering around aimlessly like he’d feared at some point. Then he sighed.

“Of course, my plans have gone a bit awry. I’ve got at least 5 hours to kill while the company I was flying with arranges an alternate flight.” Mark stared off into the distance, hands clasped between his knees.

”Seems there was a maintenance failure on one of their planes, and they got quite a scare. So now all planes of the same manufacture have to be doublechecked”

“You too?!” Looking around at her, Mark saw Eva’s eyebrows had risen all the way across her forehead, nearly colliding with her hairline. “Were you flying with Transavia too?”

“Yeah, and it seems it’s mostly the budget flights that were affected, the busier lines use a different model plane. Or so the lady at the flight desk told me.”

Eva’s smile had returned from her earlier expression of surprise, and Mark found himself fascinated by it.
He mentally shook himself before his stomach rumbled. He didn’t think it was loud enough to hear, until she suggested they grab a bite to eat while waiting what was going to happen to their journeys.

Mark lounged back in his seat in the back of the taxi, still unwilling to believe his journey was over already. The last week had been incredible. Sure, he and Eva had headed off to different destinations, but the pleasant surprise had been that they’d gotten to spend a lot more than 5 hours together.

For some reason he wasn’t quite sure of, both of them had been given the option to go via Zurich, which resulted in them ending up in the same plane. Having both been kept waiting for many hours, they received a free upgrade to first class, which Mark discovered was a really pleasant change. He’d liked flying before, but if this is how the rich people did it, he didn’t think he’d ever get enough.

Of course, it had certainly been helped by the woman sitting next to him. Part of him had feared that if they spent so much time together, she’d get tired of his company, but she never did.

They were both tired from their long day, though, and about halfway through the flight they’d both fallen asleep.

When Mark had woken up to dark brown hair tickling his nose, he’d frozen for a bit. Having found that Eva had somehow slipped out of the support offered by her headrest and ended up with her head on his shoulder had made him strangely happy. He still felt a bit giddy when he remembered.
He figured he finally understood all the boys in his old highschool class when they’d talked about their girlfriends. Seems he had some catching up to do, after almost a decade.

His face turned a bit red when he thought of what else they’d discussed, when he was pretending to be busy studying. Yes, lots of catching up to do, but he didn’t think that was gonna happen anytime soon.

After all, the flight was going to arrive eventually, even though Mark was, for once, in no hurry to get to Copenhagen. Or Zurich, in this case.

The intercom pinged, and Eva jerked slightly as she woke up suddenly. Mark had felt his face turn red again, but after blinking a few times had Eva just smiled at him as she straightened up.

He’d felt something squeeze his hand, and looked down to find it was her hand that had slipped into his without him noticing. He had looked up at her with raised eyebrows, and her smile had just broadened.

They’d spent some more time in Zurich, having a nice dinner together, and talking about not just their journey this time, but also their future plans. Mark had confessed he really had no idea what to do with his life, since a bachelor in Economics didn’t really seem to be in demand anymore.

Some of her suggestions had surprised him, but he figured that since he really liked the idea of picking his own work times, starting his own advisory company might not be such a bad idea.

The taxi driver pulled him out of his thoughts with a terse “We’re here”. He paid the amount on the counter without question, leaving a modest tip out of habit. He’d learned that always helped, and that not doing it tended to get you nowhere if you wanted another taxi.

Taking over his bag from the driver, Mark headed up to his apartment. He wasn’t sure how he’d react to seeing the room he’d spent so much miserable time in, but he figured that with the experience of the past few weeks under his belt, he could handle it.

Arriving at his front door, he fished for his keys when movement to his right caught his eye. It seems his neighbor had also arrived from wherever she’d been to. But when he fully turned around to actually greet her, he found the surprised face of Eva looking back at him. They stared at each other in silence for a few seconds.



Author's note: I decided to interpret "Everyday" as being about a story of what might happen to an ordinary person struggling with what, sadly, are quite ordinary and common issues.
The personal development isn't exactly detailed, since I finished most of this story in the last 10 hours and I had an upper limit of 5K words anyway, but I hope the few hints I dropped were enough.

Mods, plz read
If some of the implications I made are too obvious (aka they fall outside of the age-related content guidelines), let me know and I'll edit them. I don't think I have, but I can't be sure).

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I'm surprised! Someone on the forum has (almost completely) proper grammar! Wow! This is cool!

Here's a handy tip: Try to not use contractions like "don't" in writing unless it's in dialogue.
  • lyliaa
  • Level 2
  • Apprentice Architect
  • January 3, 2019, 10:51 am
I kinda disagree with that tip tbh, contractions (or lack thereof) can be a good way to create a casual narrative voice which the reader can empathise with more :)
  • Ivain
  • Level 52
  • Grandmaster Terraformer
  • January 2, 2019, 11:04 am
Well, I AM rather older than the average forum user (22), so having better grammar is not surprising.
As for not using contradictions in non-dialogue, is there a specific reason? Because if I followed that instruction blindly it would become very difficult to write coherent sentences.

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