This is my translation of the first chapter of the second story “Starfollower” (星を辿る人) of the series “Final Days of Summer” (残夏) by Masaki Hashiba (ハシバ柾). I’ve gotten permission from the author to translate it and put it on my blog.
While technically a separate story than the first story (“Stargazer”) it is very strongly related, and if you haven’t read the previous story I highly recommend checking it out first. You can see all four chapters of it translated here. Future chapters of this second story will also be linked there as I translate them.
I had originally taken a break from this series in order to do a few chapters of another work, but for several reasons I decided to come back to do this second story. Two of the reasons are discussed here, but put simply I think this is a really great story and I am honored to be able to translate it.
You can see the second story’s original Japanese in its entirety here. Please note that, as per the authors suggestion, I will be cutting out a small part of the story (at the end) since that will apparently be moved to another story.
Story 2: Starfollower (Part 1)
If you set out for the end of the universe, far beyond the sky above, sooner or later you’ll reach the bottom of an ocean. What we call the “end of the universe” is, in actuality, a giant ocean that encompasses everything in existence. All beings on Earth will one day cast off their physical bodies and return to that ocean as souls.
These souls, with their newly acquired exquisitely glittering scales and fins, can be glimpsed from even as far away as the surface of the Earth. Each of them manifests in our sky as a star, sparkling through the distant ocean waves.
At this moment, another soul is released from the Earth and begins to wander, hesitantly, in search of the bottom of the ocean. Its form is blurry, on the verge of fading away into nothingness, although the shape of a dolphin can just barely be made out.
In the midst of a world enclosed by dark, dark water, “he”–as we will call this soul–emits a burst of clicking noises, but there is no response. He is still too far from the ocean floor, assuming it even exists. Regardless, the darkness here couldn’t be any deeper.
His body, having not known any form of rest beyond a brief nap, is gradually enveloped by the sensation of dissolving away. Perhaps this is true sleep, he surmises and stops swimming, his body beginning to sink as it gives into the water’s demand. Sleep gently embraces him, gradually drawing him into an even deeper place.
Where am I? Why am I here? And why I am searching for the bottom of the ocean? He knows nothing, so trying to find answers only results in these thoughts instantly evaporating. While a part of him realizes something odd is happening, the condition of simply sinking like this in ignorance feels, for some reason, utterly euphoric.
Where will I end up? What is on the ocean floor anyway?
<Welcome home, my beloved one. May you rest peacefully>
The voice responding to his question sounds oddly familiar. A scene flashes through his mind: beams of moonlight cascading gently across the water’s surface.
The brilliance of the image awakens some part of his consciousness that had been heretofore asleep.
I know of a sky on the other side of the surface of the ocean. I know of a moon there. I remember a world of rippling waves, replete with noise. I even remember…yes, I even remember *living*. And two promises exchanged with a human, once long ago.
His tail flaps back and forth vigorously, as if desperately trying to avoid sinking. The world, quiet and dark up until now, quivers noisily. This individual that had nearly dissolved is now gradually regaining his memory and shape, twisting his body in ardent rebellion as he is propelled forward.
He rebels against the tranquil sleep that surely lies in wait at the bottom of the ocean, and even against the fact of his own death.
Naoyuki, you are the sole human who believed in me. I fear you have already forgotten the time you asked me, “Let’s meet again next year,” and I responded with, “I’ll be waiting.” But I remember. That’s because to me, our interactions together, repeated time and time again, are more precious than even the most beautiful of shells.
There is neither night nor day on the ocean floor. The grainy sand emits a white glow, dimly illuminating the nearby area. In the midst of absolute stillness, like at the dead of night, a hazy, rainbow-colored light appears. But a moment later, the light appears to bend and kick, leaving a trail as it passes through the water.
After weaving through a cloud of kicked up sand, the light finally reveals its form: a whale. Or at least it appears to be. It is a humongous whale, every inch of its body emitting a dazzling brilliance.
The whale deftly twists its large body using its tail fin, toying with sand on the ocean floor and fish that occasionally pass by. Even though ostensibly playing around, a gloomy expression–refusing to smile even for an instant–suggests that the whale is simply trying to kill time, rather than enjoy itself.
The whale catches something moving in the corner of its eye. Nearly overlooking the object due to his own glare, the whale quickly blinks and chases after the shadow.
Different than all the other souls that cannot be told apart, it one of the rare ones with a well-defined shape. He has seen this shape before…yes, it is called a dolphin. However, judging from its contemplative expression, this soul undoubtedly still possesses self awareness.
Souls who make it down to the ocean floor while maintaining the form from their past life are not very common. Of those, there are even fewer who also retain their memory and self awareness. Even the whale, who has lived here for many hundred thousand years, could easily count the number of times he encountered a soul like this. Having said that, at the bottom of the ocean where all souls come to rest, a place truly deserving the name the cradle of life, something like a number is meaningless.
Curious about this soul, the lights on the whale’s body flicker several times in quick succession.
“Hey, you over there. I don’t care who you are–just come over here and talk to me. Come on Mr. dolphin, why are you being so bashful?”
No matter what the whale says, or how brilliant he makes his body, the dolphin simply stares absent-mindedly into the distance. This irks the whale, so he begins to swim in circles around the dolphin.
The appearance of a being who can converse on the same level as the whale happened, at best, once every three thousand years. While this place is an everlasting paradise open to all souls, to a self-aware one it is unbearingly dull. This was a long-awaited conversation partner that had finally come along after several thousands of years; the whale couldn’t just give up so easily, regardless of what kind of being it was.
“With that kind of behavior you’ll never become an attractive shell. For you see, even though Mother Moon is fair to all souls, she always ranks them in the proper order. If you want to become a beautiful shell, you’d better talk to me. Got that, Mr. dolphin?”
The whale then glares at the dolphin for awhile in silence.
Each soul that comes to the ocean floor would be, before long, ranked against others based on how its life was lived, and on the day of the yearly meteor shower according to Earth’s calendar would return to the surface of that planet. Those who lived an honorable life as beautiful shells, and the rest as unsightly shells, wandering the Earth until the elements wore them down to nothing.
To every soul, acquiring a beautiful form to begin their new life as a shell is the ultimate honor.
And yet, this dolphin has no reaction whatsoever to the whale’s attempts to provoke him. Surely, no soul would ever renounce this honor, but even so the dolphin wasn’t responding.
The whale, refusing to give up, continues speaking to the preoccupied dolphin.
“Let me guess. You still have some attachment for Earth, right? No worries, you’ll be home soon enough. But in the meantime, let’s chat a little. If you do, I’ll tell you a secret about how to become a beautiful shell. I’ll make sure you get back to Earth as a exceptionally attractive shell, nicer than anybody else. I’m serious.”
“Come on, why won’t you talk with we? I’m sure you want to become a magnificent shell. I’m sure you want to return to Earth like that. This kind of thing usually takes centuries, but I’ll get you home in just a few decades, OK?”
The whale persistently swims around and around the dolphin, trying his best to get him to say something.
At last, the dolphin speaks. But his response is quite different from what the whale is expecting.
“A few decades? That’s way too late. I gotta get home, pronto.”
Once the dolphin finishes speaking, the whale dejectedly rubs his belly against the sand on the bottom of the ocean. After enduring boredom for ages, a guest had finally visited him; he wouldn’t stand for such an indifferent attitude.
“That’s not going to work. Where’s the fun in that? Since you can’t go home immediately anyway, you might as well hang out with me while you’re here. Getting all panicky isn’t going to get you there any faster.”
Hearing this, the dolphin falls into silence once again. He may be contemplating something. Then the dolphin, still quiet, points his tail fin towards the whale and begins to swim away.
In response the whale, anger rising, quickly maneuvers around to block the dolphin’s path.
“Let me tell you something. I’m not saying this to be mean. You…are dead. But you already knew that, right? Did you also know it’s against the rules for the soul of one who has died to go right back to Earth? Everybody has to follow the procedures, purify their soul here, and only after waiting a long, long time can they finally become a shell.”
“But I guess it’s true that souls like you and I, who have kept their sense of self, are pretty rare. Since you’ve got a lot of free time ahead of you, let’s ride out this thing together. Let’s face it: just like I’ve only got you to talk to, you’ve only got me.”
Despite his superficial tone, the whale’s words ring true. His sense of urgency is likely because of a growing worry the dolphin might actually not keep company with him.
For the first time the dolphin looks directly at him; perhaps he senses the whale’s desperation.
The whale’s skin shines more brightly than any other fish here, and flecks of light flash through his coal black eyes at unexpected times. Beams of light of various colors spill from the thin line of his mouth, faintly illuminating the surrounding area. A whale that could be seen so clearly from Earth was, when seen up close, that much more dazzling, more beautiful.
“A whale star like you shined very brightly even when seen from Earth. But you were so far away…I don’t think I ever would had realized your colors were this vivid had I not gotten this close to you.”
The whale blinks quizzically, failing to grasp the dolphin’s intention.
“What’s that mean? So you’ll talk to me?”
The dolphin slips right past the whale’s side without bothering to answer. But just as the whale’s expression turns anxious, the dolphin flaps his tail fin in the whale’s direction again, this time beckoning him.
The whale sees this and gleefully inhales a big gulp of water, going off to swim at the dolphin’s side.