Match (short story)
This short story is my writing submission at American Center’s Creative Writing Club. The very first part, Ben, was written following a writing prompt: “Your story must begin with the line “A strange noise woke her up in the middle of the night.” and it must end with the line “She knew that nothing would ever be the same again.” Two weeks later, the club has a much more challenging prompt: write a “list” story, a kind of story made famous by the writer Tim O’Brien in his book The Things They Carried. Knowing that our club members want “more of this weird stuff”, I decided to make a continuation named Lindt. Eventually, Ben & Lindt became a two-chapter short story that received lots of positive feedback from the club (that I didn’t expect).
A strange noise woke her up in the middle of the night. Lindt rose up, knowing that she’d not been having a nightmare. Still, she saw a figure standing at the end of her bed.
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could clearly see the face’s features. “This cannot happen,” she said to herself, realizing that’s Ben, her best friend. He was standing there, wearing a red shirt, baseball cap, looking sluggish as he always does.
“Lindt, I just want to remind you. The number is 46,” Ben said with his low, soft voice, “and I’m sorry to tell you this, but everything must end where it started.” People can easily mistake his voice for a six-year old’s one.
“This is enough, Ben,” Lindt thought, “I don’t know how the hell you are standing at the foot of my bed in the middle of the night, or does any of what you’ve just said make any sense. Just get the hell out of here, now!”
But Ben didn’t let any word come out of her mouth. “Just close your eyes,” he said. Involuntary, Lindt just followed his lead. The whole world had been frozen in time. When she opened her eyes, there’s no one but her in the room. It didn’t feel like someone had been there and just left, it feels like she was by herself all the time.
“This must be a dream,” Lindt thought, buried her head in the pillow and felt asleep.
The morning after, Lindt rushed to school. There’s a big exam waiting for her today. She has just a vague memory of what happened in her room the night before.
Or at least that’s what she thought. As Lindt crossed the street, she saw Ben waving to her at the bus stop. He’s wearing a red shirt and a baseball cap.
“Either you managed to broke into my house last night or my dream started to telling me the future of cloth choice,” Lindt said. The bus stop is crowded and everyone except Ben was gather around the left side. He knows how to make the world leave him alone.
“Tough night, isn’t it?” Ben said. “But I think it’s a poor excuse for being so late like this. You know what will happen to both of us, right?” It’s been always like this. He never leaves on early bus if they’re not together, even if that means they will both late for school.
“I will tell you once we’re on board. Here it comes.”
Two bus were approaching from afar. Lindt noticed that there were other students from her school at the bus stop. They are all looking for the second bus — a common yellow one.
The first bus stopped. There was not so many passengers on it. It’s a big bold rusted one, the kind that will take you for a long journey to the other side of the city. Lindt is not sure if she’s ever seen this one before. “Looks like it comes right outta someone’s dream,” she thought.
Suddenly, she grabbed Ben’s arms, forcibly dragged him on the bus. Ben was completely caught by surprise. All he could do was murmuring something as the door closed.
“My Gosh, Lindt! We might already late for the school, and there’s a big exam waiting for us there!”
“Well, Ben, you’re a the one who told me to get on this bus. I just simply do it.”
They both looked at the windshield. The bus number is 46.
“I have no idea of what you are talking about, Lindt. At least tell me where this bus is gonna take us to.”
“I have no idea about it, either.”
Totally confused, Ben shrugged his shoulder and walked up to the bus driver. Lindt watched the two of them exchanging a few words with each other, but seems like the driver was not much aware of Ben’s talking. Many times Lindt had witnessed this: an awkward conversation between Ben and another. He might not so good at getting others’ attention. Lindt turned to ask an old lady sitting next to her. “Rosebud town,” she said, “This bus has only one destination.” Her voice was dry and dull. She did not even look at Lindt. The old lady talked like an automated answering machine.
“Well, I guess this worth it all,” Lindt said to her traveling companion, “we are taking a trip to own hometown.”
“I don’t know if this worth our math exam. You didn’t know where this bus will take us before set foot on it, right?”
“I already said it. You are the one telling me to do so”
“Interesting, isn’t it? This bus is as strange to me as it be to you. Anyway, when was the last time you took a trip to Rosebud?” Ben took off his cap, weaving his hand into hair.
“6 months ago. With my mom and brother. What about you?”
“I haven’t returned since I left.”
“It must have been 3 years, isn’t it?”
“Yeap. I left Rosebud when I was 10, just like you.”
“So, where exactly did you live in Rosebud? You have never told me about your life back there.”
Ben did not answer. The bus was going fast on the wide, empty road. It’s a clear morning.
“It’s all in your head, Lindt. It’s all in your head.”
“At least, Ben, look at me when we talk,” Lindt turned to him.
“I didn’t say anything to you, Lindt. Everything must end where it started, Lindt”
That was the last thing Lindt heard before she felt asleep.
The bus stopped. Lindt could feel that. She woke up, seeing the other passengers scattering. They were walking across the field to get into town. It’s already late morning. Lindt realized that she and the driver were the last ones on bus.
“Hello lady, we’ve just arrived at Rosebud.” The driver was strolling down the aisle.
“Where’s my friend, mister? Did he already get off?”
“You mean the lady in front of you? She just left 30 seconds ago.”
“No, the boy who’s with me from the school bus stop. He’s wearing a red shirt.’’
“Don’t be tricky on me. I only sold one ticket to you. You were by yourself all the time. I know who’s on my bus, my lady.”
“It’s Ben, mister. We skipped school to get to our hometown. He must have left me before I even woke up.”
“In that case, I don’t know any way to help you. Good luck trying to find your friend, my girl.”
Lindt got off the station. The sound of the starting engine is metallic, distorted. She watched the bus taking a turn around the corner at the end of the road.
She looked over to other side of the field. It’s a warm, cozy day. “Everything must end where it started, Lindt. It’s all in your head,” she thought. She knew that nothing would ever be the same again.
“So, what’s next?” Lindt thought. She looked at her watch. It’s 10:20 a.m.
“The exam must have started at 10 a.m,” she talked to herself. Inaudibly. If Ben’s here, he must be the one who says that to her. “But does it matter? I’ve already missed it. There’s no point standing here, imagining how the class’ doing the exam,” she thought, visualizing how the class doing the exam. It’s just the nature of some people. Their minds keep lingering on fixed things. No regret. No What-have-I-done-wrong? Just imagine how things are happening if “I’m being there right at this moment.”
The teacher is giving out the answer sheets. Then the multiple-choice questions. There are just two things on her table now: a pencil and an eraser. The pencil is a yellow one. One hand-span long. A classic Staedtler. She remembers measuring the pencil’s length with her hand at a local store. It’s exactly the same length as her own hand-span. “Did they do it on purpose?” she thought. “Had the Staedtler’s factory secretly measured my hand-span when I was sleeping and then they made the pencil absolutely the same length?”. She just can’t explain it. Obviously, there will never be any reason for this kind of coincidence but you will still find yourself pondering it. Once in a while. Even if you’re aware that it’s just plain stupid to let this idea bother your mind. It’s the kind of question that once put in your head, you could never get rid of it.
“If Ben is still here with me, I would speak out all these thoughts to him,” Lindt thought. She would say it all, things that she could never say to anyone else.
“Lindt, it’s called creativity. Your imagination conjures up from weird questions like that. The weirder they are, the more creative you are. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Be proud of how talented you could be.”
“You must be right, Ben. I’m so creative that I even created a friend. And now that friend is telling me how creative I am. Ironic, isn’t it?”
It was such a relief for her. “I am a talented person, and I’ve recently got rid of my imaginary friend,” Lindt thought. “Partly. I’ve partly got rid of my imaginary friend, but I still got the pencil to think about.”
“Forget the pencil,” Ben said. “You should care about the exam.”
“Ok, I will forget about the pencil,” Lindt thought. “But I must forget about you first, Ben.”
Ben and the pencil are gone. At least for now. And right after you forget about the pencil, you must think about that eraser. It’s like when you no longer notice the shoes, you pay attention to the socks that person is wearing instead.
The eraser is on the table. Two more students before Lindt can get her hand on the exam. Parallelogram. It’s the shape of the eraser. A long Parallelogram eraser. Half blue, half red. Unsaturated colors. A thin white line runs around the eraser. Still a classic one, isn’t it?
“Why the colors on those erasers are always look unsaturated, even with new ones?” Lindt thought.
“Cos it’s made out of rubber. Petro. Chemical reasons, you know,” Ben said.
“Get the hell out, Ben,” Lindt thought. “Get the hell out.”
Half red, half blue. Lindt always makes sure that each time one part is used, there’s one time the other half is used also. Eventually, there’s no part running out before the other. Blue and Red, in turn. Odd and Even. “It’d be unfair for any half to be shorter than its companion,” she thought.
And then there’s this sharpener. A Stabilo one. Since the moment she figured out what a sharpener is for, Lindt had been knowing that all of her sharpener must be the one having a container. In fact, her sharpener’s container is always empty. She doesn’t know what she hates more, a bare sharpener that left shattered shavings on the table or an uncleaned sharpener’s container. Life for her is just that complicated.
For now, her clean, empty sharpener is not on the table. On the table, there are just the hand-span long pencil and the two-head-equally-used eraser. The sharpener is inside her bag, along with a small bottle of hand-sanitizer, dental floss, wet napkins and a pack of Trident.
It’s always dental floss, for sure. Toothpicks will never have a chance to replace it.
It’s always wet napkins, for sure. Tissues will never have a chance to replace it.
It’s always Trident, for sure. Mints will never have a chance to replace it.
“But, this time, there must be something to replace Ben, I guess.”
This time, there must be something to replace Ben.
This time, there must be something to replace.
This time, there must be something.
This time, there must be.
This time, there.
“Time is up, my precious.”
Lindt rises from her table. The teacher is giving her a warm, kind-hearted smile. Lindt hands over her answer sheet.
“You’ve just spent the last half of the exam sleeping, my girl. Another easy A+, isn’t it?” her teacher says, trying to rearrange the papers. “I think that you really should give our friend here a hand after the classes,” he says to Lindt while smiling to someone sit right behind her. Lindt turns around. Ben gives his answer sheet to the teacher, drops his face in palms and let out a sigh. He doesn’t even stare at Lindt.
The other students start packing things up. Lindt looks at her table. Lying there is a yellow pencil and a red & blue eraser, carefully positioned on the flat surface.