Short Stories

Short Story: The Question

How does something come to be out of nothingness? He stared at the question hidden into the exam. For one, he had gotten past the first barrier and found the actual question. Or was it there to sidetrack him? How could they expect him to answer it? He was a novice, not even that. He didn’t even know how to tie his robe correctly yet. The saffron robe hung loosely open from the collar, revealing his black shirt underneath it. He leaned away from the screen, taking a deep breath in, straightening the collar. He typed a few commands on the keyboard to make the screen to show once more the original exam.

The questions about discipline were easy. The request for the seven mantras was a child play. The question about human suffering was something he could answer without thinking. Still, the apparent easiness of the exam made him restless. He knew if something seemed straightforward, then he had blocked his mind and saw only the surface. The trickery of simple language and concept, reading and hearing without thinking. Oh, but there was the false profoundness of big words in a complex sentence. He pushed those thoughts away, concentrating on the exam, wondering had he been wise to let the cryptic symbol at the upper left corner lead him deeper into the rabbit hole. Cracking the code to get in had been again effortless, but was it a ruse? Yes, it had to be. An impossible question to trick a novice into thinking they had all the answers. If someone could get the conundrum right, they would be the master of the universe.

Maybe it was just that, that he was supposed to show humility? Or how about surrendering the need for control and answers, and leave both of the exams, the visible and hidden, empty? But what if he jeopardized everything by doing that? The law was waiting for him outside the monastery. It was this or to be whipped and locked up. Ever since the pandemic, the world had turned into a shit show. The fall of democracy, the rise of surveillance had strengthened governmental control. That would be almost okay if it wasn’t the megacorporations running the show. Back to the feudal ages. Not that he ever thought they had left such a world behind. Only masked to seem else. But he did believe in the order and what they sought. Not in some higher power, but into the cosmos and into the monastic order. He had been blessed by chaos and luck when the monk had found him and saved him from the cops beating him up. She had moved so fast that all she did to the cops had been a blur. He had expected her to leave him lying on the street, bleeding, but without saying a word, she had offered him her hand. And he had taken it. Nothing had been the same since. They had included him in the order. A place and community people like him could only dream of. And now he was messing it up.

Maybe the question was about the two faces of the coin, something and nothingness walking hand in hand. Or about the fact that a true master understands that they cannot be the master of the universe or control the chaos. True master forgoes their needs. True master only marvels at everything and asks questions. Then why was there a test, if it goes against the base assumptions they built the monastery on? Tests always look for the right answers, even when there are none. That is the essence of its being.

He loosened the collar he felt was suffocating him now. The hum of the air conditioner was making him want to scream. But that would be the last draw. They were observing him, and if a scream echoed from this bare empty room with a computer on a low desk and chair to match to sit on beyond to the walls, he would be done. He went back to stare at both sets of questions and couldn’t decide. There had to be a trick. The order was known for its paradoxical sentences. Why would the exam be any different? The whole entry-exam was a paradox. He snorted. He should write that on the answer lines and see what the masters made of it. For the first time in his life, he didn’t dare. Back in his old life, he would have spit against authority, walked out of here, and given a middle finger to anyone who observes him go. Now, he had become a tamed house-cat.

The hum of the air condition soon turned into a gong being sounded. The screen went black in that same instance, and he cursed to himself. Both of the exams had stayed empty. He had fallen into a meditative state, staring at the screen, unable to decide. Shit, shit, shit, he thought, sinking his head into his hands. His life was over.

The door behind him opened, and he glanced over his shoulder in thought to see one of the masters to lead him out. Instead, she was there. She gave him a smile saying nothing.

“Did I fail?” he blurted out.

She shook her head.

“Did I got it right, then?” He was almost afraid to ask.

She shook her head again.

“It has to be one or the other,” he snapped. Then feeling his face get red and hot because of his own stupid ego.

She smiled at him as she made his way to him. He couldn’t help but notice her hips sway one side to another. Even in her robes, there was something sensual about her movements. He bit his lip, forcing out such thoughts. It was bad enough he had failed the exam, and now to taint his celibacy with lust. If they let him stay, he had a long road ahead.

She produced an electric pad underneath her robe and handed it to him.

The screen flashed open as soon as his hand touched it. He read what was written on the opened document. “Not a monk then?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“Oh, well. Then why put me through all this? You could have given me the hacking job in the get-go without having to toy with me.”

She didn’t reply. No smile nor shook of her head.

When he tried to offer the pad back to her, she refused to take it. She motioned her to follow him out of the room.

Stupid order, he thought as he got up. Mind-games through and through. Not that he minded his new assignment. He hurried after her.

Thank you for reading! Have a lovely day ❤

© K.A. Ashcomb

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