”Sluggish Symbol, Inane Illusion” is a short novel written by Yuki Fujimira that is published on syosetsu.com, which I enjoyed so much I decided to translate into English.
This story takes place in a unique society, where each citizen is legally obligated to write a single book during their lifetime.
You can see more information about this novel including a brief synopsis, my original review, previous translated chapters, and the original Japanese chapters at this table of contents page.
Chapter 6: ‘Memories Traced by a Corpse’
The novel “Memories Traced by a Corpse” is classified as a surreal fantasy.
Told in the first person, it begins with a man whom we know only as “I” awaking in an unfamiliar train station.
With no idea why he is there, the main character leaves the station and starts to wander the city at twilight. The everyday scenery around him gradually begins to distort, and discrepancies develop between his memory and what he is experiencing.
He begins to lose his grasp on what is reality and what is not, and as the story progresses even his identity becomes uncertain.
In the end, the boundary between life and death itself becomes blurred, and while walking along the beach with a long-dead schoolmate he reveals that he considers himself as “nothing but a corpse”.
The story ends suddenly with a scene of the beach below the moon.
Back then, I’d bought and read a new book almost every week, but my discovery of “Memories Traced by a Corpse” was by pure chance.
One day, in a bookstore I frequented, I came across a man staring intently at something on a display table.
When I followed his gaze, I saw a book’s cover depicting a moonlit beach.
There was an illustration of a large beach seen from above, and in its center was a tiny silhouette of a person.
The figure was mostly likely the protagonist. But it was hard to make out any details from its small shadow.
Feeling a certain attraction to this mysterious book, I picked it up.
It ended up taking me three years to decipher it.
Even now, I’m not confident I understand it completely.
That’s because the book has carefully thought out hints placed all throughout it.
––––”Memories Traced by a Corpse” is a pandora’s box, and its author Mitsunori Sugikata is a monster.
Or so I had thought.
“Go to see Mitsunori Sugikata…You mean in your imagination?”
“I don’t understand why I would do such a thing, nor how I would bring you into my imagination.”
“It’s your imagination, so you’d only be thinking I was together with you, whereas in reality I wouldn’t be.”
“You make me sound like a really pitiful person. To think I’d go information hunting with an imaginary person who doesn’t even exist…”
“Hold on a second–I do exist.”
“Oh well. I guess I’ll go to Mitsunori Sugikata’s place with an imaginary you. That’ll be nice since I won’t have to pay your bus fare.”
“Will you stop already? Why the heck are you trying to visit Mitsunori Sugikata in the real world?”
Whether I existed or not wasn’t the issue here, and talking about going out with an imaginary me was just Saki’s attempt to annoy me.
Ready to pull my hair out from frustration, I tried to get the conversation back on track.
“Do you really know where Mitsunori Sugikata lives?”
“Of course. He lives in this city.”
Naturally, this caught me off guard at first, but after thinking about it, I realized that maybe it wasn’t that surprising after all.
Of all the many books that are on sale everyday, there’s surely some reason for each book that gets displayed upon a bookstore’s table.
The most common reason is simply that the book’s author lives nearby.
I guess I’d never considered such an obvious connection because to me, Mitsunori Sugikata was like an imaginary person.
It’s not uncommon to confuse a book’s author and it’s characters, but it was embarrassing to have done this myself.
If Saki were to rub this in my face I’d probably drop dead on the spot.
“Silly boy. That means you had thought of Mitsunori Sugikata as a character in his own book, right?”
“I’m not going to drop dead. Sorry to disappoint you!”
“Did you just loose your mind? Or are you battling with an imaginary person?”
“Don’t blame me. This is all your fault!”
We’re not getting anywhere.
Talking to Saki is just like reading her novel. Long-winded and utterly unproductive.
I said, “Anyway, let’s go. Come on already,” and lead her out of the station.
We boarded a bus departing for the outskirts of town.
From the last seat of the nearly empty bus I watched the scenery outside the window.
Since we’d wasted so much time on the train going in circles, it was already evening.
Saki began talking from the seat next to me.
“Whenever I let you speak, you’re so long-winded and the conversation is utterly unproductive, so I’ll just explain.”
“You’re the one telling me?! This is all your fault!”
“When I was young, Mitsunori Sugikata lived next to me.”
“He moved away when I was in middle school, but when he published his book we were still neighbors.”
While I listened to Saki speak, I tried to recall what I knew about “Memories Traced by a Corpse”.
The book had went on sale five years ago, but like many others it apparently didn’t sell very well.
The actual sales figures were only available to the government, and the general public had no way to know them. But judging from the fact that there were very few blogs or sites which mentioned this book, the rumors about it not selling much were probably true.
But at the same time, it was also true that there was a passionate cult following by a small group of people.
To this day there remain around 10 web sites that analyze the so-called “Corpse’s Memory”.
Of those, only two are still being actively updated, where two passionate fans continue to chronicle their impressions of this mysterious story.
That gives you an idea how enigmatic and open to interpretation “Memories Traced by a Corpse” is.
There are so many unanswered questions: the identity of the main character and those of the people he is talking to, the true meaning of the cryptic things throughout…
There’s surely many people interested in asking the author about the real meaning of these things.
But there was no contact information provided at the end of the book. So we had no choice but to trace the main character’s memories ourselves and rack our brains thinking about the story.
––––And now, Saki is saying we can actually meet this author.
“Saki, you actually read ‘Memories Traced by a Corpse’ right?”
“Yes. It’s a very confusing story.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s true.”
This girl doesn’t mince her words. It’s pretty obvious she just read the book and isn’t one of those crazy fans.
Our bus passed through a quiet residential district.
I couldn’t help noticing there, alongside the bus, was an old woman who looked to be in her 80s pedaling a bike.
Who is this lady? She’s got amazing leg strength. If it was me, I could keep up with a bus.
I wonder if Saki will end up like that when she gets older. Scary.
Saki, who in my mind had just been demoted from a school heroine to a creepy monster, brushed back her long, black hair.
“It’s no surprise that it is so confusing. After all, only a portion of the entire story was published.”
“Yeah, of course…Wait, what did you say?!”
“A portion of the entire story”? Did she just say ‘” portion of the entire story”?!
What the hell. So while we were struggling with such little information to figure out which interpretation was correct, there was actually more to the story…
“You should of have told me earlier!”
“But I think staying ignorant has it’s own perks. As you learn more about this book, you’ll experience an altogether different type of joy and suffering.”
“Then at least please give me the right to choose.”
“Once you find out, you’re choice will already be made. It’s same as when someone is born, they have no choice but to try living.”
“I don’t think I agree with you there.”
When talking with Saki, somehow the conversation always gets derailed.
We generally end up at the point where I say, “You may be right, but I disagree,” so it’s a waste of energy to take things too seriously.
I decided to try and steer the conversation in a different direction to prevent her from going off on a tangent with this topic any longer.
“So have you been seeing Mitsunori Sugikata lately?”
“I guess it was three years ago when I met him last.”
“That’s a really long time to be out of touch! Are you sure it’s all right to go see him today?”
“Yeah, it’s fine. Hey, pay attention, we are getting off at the next station.”
Right after Saki said that, the bus began slowing down and gradually came to a stop.
Unable to hide my confusion, I stepped off the train and into a deserted residential area.
Though each house had a different appearance, they were all enclosed by tall fences, giving the impression of some far-off country.
I walked a half step behind Saki through this forgotten city, which lacked any signs of life.
With each step I took, tension spread through every cell of my body, until even breathing became difficult.
After traveling less than five minutes, Saki suddenly stopped.
In front of us was a ordinary, yet elegant two-story house. Saki pushed the intercom button on the wall, and a few moments later an old woman poked her head out of the door.
Upon seeing Saki the woman’s face visibly relaxed, pretty despite the lack of makeup.
“Oh, It’s you Saki. Come in!”
“Hello. I hope you don’t mind, but today I have come with a friend.”
Saki stepped aside as she spoke, so I hurriedly greeted the old woman.
I wonder if this was Mitsunori Sugikata’s mother. It was an strange sight to watch Saki interacting with this woman like they were good friends.
We changed into slippers inside and were led to a room at the end of a hallway.
Standing before the door, the old woman said “I’ll go make some tea” and left us there.
Just as Saki put her hand on the doorknob, I asked in a hushed voice,
“I don’t meant to be rude, but is Mitsunori Sugikata still…”
“Alive? Why would you ask such a thing?”
“Because it doesn’t seem like you were away from this place for three years.”
Judging from way the old woman spoke to Saki, the girl had been coming here quite frequently.
And yet she claimed she hadn’t seen Mitsunori Sugikata in three years, which seems to imply he was no longer alive.
Saki smiled at me.
It was an amazingly beautiful smile that highlighted the delicate curves of her face.
She turned the doorknob and opened the heavy wooden door.
“Welcome to Mitsunori Sugikata’s personal study.”
The sight which expanded before me was a world of its own.
=== End Chapter 6 ===
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