This story was written by Zoey Zhou Xian-yi, 14, from St Paul’s Co-educational College.
Each week during the holidays, we will publish a story from one of the finalists of our 2019 Summer Short Story Competition. Our favourite entries will be compiled into a book, which each finalist will receive a copy of. The winning entry will appear in Young Post on August 31.
Lose was a stray. A wanderer.
He was a scrawny little boy with shaggy black hair, his eyes hollow and distrusting.
He had no family or friends, nor had he ever had any.
People feared him. They avoided him as much as possible, and for good reason. Wherever he went, Grief and Pain followed. They never went away, no matter how hard Lose tried to make them.
“Leave me alone,” he often said.
“No, we cannot,” they always replied. “We are a part of your nature.”
Lose lived alone in the hills, isolated from the fishing villages. He spent most of his time in his shack. Living as an outcast wasn’t easy. His companions didn’t make things any better.
The only thing that cheered Lose up was wandering in the hills. As he wandered, Lose would get a feeling, probably the only pleasant feeling he ever had, that he would find something, something that could lead him out of his gloom, something that he finally wouldn’t lose.
However, as each day passed, unchanging, that flickering flame of hope gradually dimmed – until one day it was set ablaze by the boy who came to his shack.
Find was a troubled kid. Sure, he was well-known as a helpful lad, but he didn’t like it at all. Find would retrieve things, and help people regain what they had lost, so everyone admired him.
His natural talent for finding things made him a hero. But every day when Find woke up, he would immediately have to start searching. It was impossible not to. It was as if it had been programmed into him, the codes etched into his soul, ordering him to do so. Usually he had a target, and he would chase after it until he was so weary he could barely walk.
There was something else, too, something that puzzled him. He often found himself wandering, following a feeling and looking for something, but he didn’t know what.
When he met the boy at his little shack, something clicked into place in his mind. He was the one Find was looking for.
Lose was completely stunned when the boy came knocking on his door.
The boy looked exhausted, his dark, sweaty hair sticking to his forehead in dishevelled strands.
“Hey. I was – ” The boy began but stopped abruptly. He looked at Lose in a funny way. “Uh … water … can I have some?”
“I … was … just about to fill my supply,” Lose tried not to stutter. No one had ever found his shack, and certainly no one had ever spoken to him so boldly. “You … can come along.”
Lose led the way, with Pain and Grief following them
The boy was taller, but had the same lean frame. His eyes, fiercely striking, looked at everything in interest. Seeing how hesitant Lose was to speak up, he introduced himself first.
“I’m Find. Nice to meet you. Nice shack you’ve got.”
“Thanks, I guess,” Lose muttered in response. “Where are you from? I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.”
“I don’t live nearby. Ever heard of the Peninsula of Nine Dragons? I live there.”
“Isn’t that very far away?”
“But you came here by foot?”
“Yup, did some rowing too.” Find shrugged like it was nothing. Lose gaped at him.
“Hey, I don’t know your name yet,” Find said, patting Lose’s shoulder. Lose flinched. When was the last time someone had dared to make physical contact with him?
“Uh, I’m Lose.”
“Funny name,” Find grinned.
“I’d say the same about yours,” Lose murmured. Find’s expression suddenly darkened. Pursing his lips, he fell silent. Lose turned to him in alarm.
“Oh! Sorry … I … I didn’t mean to upset you – ”
“No, it’s fine.” Find gave Lose a little smile which didn’t reach his eyes. Then they proceeded to walk in silence.
The crisp chatter of the river reached their ears before it came into sight. The clear, glistening water running over the smooth pebbles.
Lose bent down and dipped his bucket into the stream. As he struggled to hoist it back up, Pain and Grief stepped forward to help him balance the bucket, before stepping away again, eerily wordless.
Find sat down and reached into the cool, rushing water. He had just met Lose, but somehow Lose felt familiar to him. It was as if they had a special connection.
“About the name …” Find began. “I have some sort of curse from it.” Find explained his story, and Lose stared at him like he’d grown an extra eye.
“That’s a curse?” Lose asked. “Sounds mighty fine to me.”
“What do you mean?” Find crossed his arms. “You have no idea how exhausting it can be.”
Lose sighed tiredly.
“I have a curse too,” he muttered. The boy’s eyes were like shattered glass. “I’m Lose. I lose pretty much everything. I scare people away because Pain and Grief are – ”
“Part of your nature,” Pain and Grief finished simultaneously, as if they’d rehearsed it. How did Lose put up with these creepy guys?
“Wait, but … you didn’t drive me away?” Find said.
“That’s what I’m puzzled about. How you can approach me with such ease … I don’t know the reason yet.”
They fell silent again. The gears in Find’s brain were overheating as he tried to process the situation.
“I think … I might know.” The puzzle pieces began to fall into place. “You and I … we both have what we see as a curse. Maybe since our curses are opposites, they cancel out each other.”
Lose gasped. “Really?” he asked, his eyes lighting up. “You really think so?”
Find saw a hopeful grin appear on Lose’s little face.
Lose spent the rest of the day with Find. It was fantastic. The more he stayed with Find, the more Lose could feel actual joy. It was sweet, and reviving, like aloe vera smeared over sunburn.
In Find, Lose found solace. He had finally found something that he wouldn’t lose.
“So … you’ve never had a chance to relax? Not even a minute?” Lose asked. Find sighed.
“Nope. I just can’t be still. Once I stop searching … it’s like ants crawling and nipping all over my skin. I want to rest, of course. I’ve always wanted to wake up one day without the rushing urge to look for stuff. But my restlessness is instinctive, so there’s no way I can stop it.”
“There was no way.” Lose gave Find a meek smile.
Find couldn’t help but smile too.
But in that split second, Find felt as if a lightning bolt had struck right through him. Heat seared down his side. A sore headache burst like a bomb inside his skull. Find bit his lip to suppress a cry. What in the world had happened? Something was just … gone. He felt as if a void had been ripped open where the “something” should have been.
Find glanced at Lose. Fear engulfed him quicker than quicksand. Without a word, Find scrambled up and darted into the woods.
“Wait, Find?” Lose called after him, bewildered. “Where are you going?”
“I – I’m sorry …” Find called back, his voice quivering. “I don’t …” He didn’t finish his sentence before turning away, his eyes wide with panic, and running off.
Lose watched, frozen, as Find’s silhouette disappeared into the foliage. His was plunged into a chaos of emotions.
Driving people away is part of my nature.
The sour, swelling lump in his throat was choking him.
But I thought Find was different.
Pain and Grief were doing a sort of wild shaman dance around him, the same one they always did when someone lost something.
No. Please! Have I not lost enough?
Lose bent over and pounded his little fists on the ground. His bitter tears spilled onto the grass, and his throat burned as he cried with the force of raging hurricane.
Find focused only on his growing tiredness as he ran. Honestly, he had little idea why he was running away. Since they’d met, he’d never found Lose difficult to be around, yet in that moment, Lose had released a sort of power, so terribly strong, that it had left Find utterly panic-stricken.
Find still had that unsettling feeling – as if something familiar had been removed. That worried him most of all.
Unexpectedly, a young man appeared out of nowhere. Find stifled a yelp as he skidded to a stop inches away from the man.
“Who are you?!” Find asked through his unsteady breaths.
The man ignored Find’s question and offered his own: “Why are you running away?”
“Uh – ”
“Because you felt something missing?” the man interrupted.
“Yeah …? How …”
The man chuckled. Instantly, Find felt as if a gentle, refreshing wave was washing over him.
“I’m Relief. I’m part of Lose’s nature.”
“What? But … that’s – ” Find stuttered, unable to find the right words to say.
Relief smiled warmly. “Do you still want to look for things, now that you’re away from Lose?”
Find stood still and thought for a moment. Nothing. No invisible ants crawling up his body. No imaginary needles prickling at his skin. It was bizarre, but … peaceful. Serene.
“Did you see Pain and Grief coming after you when you lost something?”
“Exactly. You only see me, Relief, because you lost something you’ve always hated.”
Find gasped as he realised what Relief was saying. Relief grinned cheerfully.
“See? Sometimes losing isn’t so bad.”
In Lose, Find had lost his unrest.
Lose had never felt more tired. His throat was awfully raw. He felt as if the insatiable flame that burned in him while he cried had consumed all his energy, leaving him empty and listless.
Pain and Grief paced around him worriedly.
Lose struggled to sit up. He stared at the spot where Find had disappeared from his sight.
He couldn’t help but hope that maybe Find was different. Maybe he’d come back …
Grief and Pain’s images flickered.
Lose watched in horror as his two companions started to dissolve. Soon, they had completely vanished, and in their place stood a smiling man.
“I’m Relief.” The man’s voice was calm and pleasant. “Finally, you have discovered the other side of your nature.”
Lose was dumbfounded. What?
He gawked at Relief, wide-eyed and stiff as a statue.
“Lose!” Find’s voice jolted Lose out of his daze. He turned to see Find running towards him, an eager grin on his face, his eyes shining like stars.
Lose immediately enveloped him in a hug, squeezing him tightly, as if he was afraid Find would disappear if he let go.
“Lose, this is Relief,” Find said, and explained his entire encounter with the man. Relief gave Lose a little wave.
It was too much for Lose to comprehend.
“Wait …” Lose said slowly. “If you’re part of my nature, why don’t you follow me around all the time like Pain and Grief?”
“It’s true, you might not see me very often,” Relief explained gently. “It’s because people usually associate you with Pain and Grief, not Relief. But no matter what,
I’ll always be a part of your nature.”
Relief then gave Lose a friendly rumple-of-the-hair. “Well, I’ll see you around, Lose,” he said warmly, then disappeared as suddenly as he had arrived.
Lost and Found lay on the soft grass side by side, gazing at the sky with its vibrant sunset hues.
Lost used to lose. But it was all in the past.
Found used to find, but he had found what he was looking for.