Japanese fiction translation: “Final Days of Summer” by “Masaki Hashiba” [Story 2 / Part 3]

By | June 27, 2017

This is my translation of the 3rd chapter of the second story “Starfollower” (星を辿る人) of the fantasy work “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. The original work was published online not in chapters, but as one long entry with some breaks.

While technically a separate story from the first story (“Stargazer”) it is 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. The first chapter of this second story and the future ones will also be linked there (as I translate them).

You can see the second story’s original Japanese in its entirety here.

If you want to read more of this story, please consider voting for it on my poll of what to translate.

Story 2: Starfollower (Part 3)

 

Two shadows dart into a cave that continues below the ocean floor. Each time the one in front–a dolphin–beats his tail against the water, the one behind–a whale–looks back, visibly uncomfortable. After faintly flickering his body for a moment, the whale finally whispers to the dolphin.

 

“Is…is this really a good idea, Mr. Dolphin? It’s still not too late to return to Mother Moon. Come on, let’s go back already. If you do something like this, there is no telling what will happen. Once you fall back to the Earth, you may never again be allowed to return here. And if that happens–”

 

Once you part with your physical body there, you’ll be in limbo, neither dead nor alive.

It isn’t clear if the dolphin is even listening to the whale since he doesn’t look back or respond, as if his obstinate attitude speaks to the strength of his resolve.

Even the whale is much less talkative than before. This is partially because of the dolphin’s refusal to say anything, but even more due to the whale’s own bewilderment.

 

“But is the Lady Moon truly a mother…or is she a queen?”

 

The dolphin’s question, still unanswered, continues ravaging the whale’s mind, who had up until now always managed to maintain calm.

Is her love genuine? Or only deception and manipulation in disguise? The whale is now completely possessed by this doubt, which he would have probably never had if it weren’t for the dolphin’s question. Thinking about the long, monotonous years he had spent alone further widens the crack in his faith in the Moon.

But that isn’t all. As a result of his time spent with the dolphin, the whale realizes how unbearably bored he has been this entire time, as well as the reason he doesn’t want the dolphin to return to Earth…

 

“Hey, Mr. Dolphin…”

 

Just as the whale opens his mouth hesitantly to speak, the dolphin stops flapping his tail and quickly twists his body around. Up ahead at the end of the passage shines a disc of light. Here, a large tunnel bored vertically through the depths of the ocean, as if the water was evaporated with a laser beam, joins with the passage they just came through.

The moon asleep at the bottom of this tunnel emits a blinding light, but it is partially blocked by the walls of the end of the passage, inadequate to reveal the darkness where the dolphin and whale conceal themselves.

It is more than two souls who are hiding from the moon’s light. Nearby stands a coral plant large enough to block the cave’s exit, extending its tendrils into the darkness, as if in wait of others on the run from the moon.

The coral’s stark white body, so unlike the other coral on the ocean floor, is the only thing that looks truly dead here. On the tips of its eerily bone-like branches hangs tens of hundreds of egg sacks. Some are yellow as the sun, others blue as the sky, and a few white, bringing to mind the froth of waves. There are those that glow brightly, while still others emit dim smoky lights. Their proportions vary greatly, ranging from the size of tiny shijimi clams to giant clams.

The dolphin looks back questioningly at the whale who begins to speak, multicolored light spilling from his mouth.

 

“Yeah, this is definitely the place. I’m sure of it.”

 

In his time here, the whale has seen a great many souls appearing on the ocean floor which eventually return to the Earth. In his experience, there was one thing that indicated a soul was heading back to Earth–this cave.

Of all the fish that disappeared into this cave, not a single one had returned to the bottom of the ocean. Therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising for it to have some connection to the Earth. No, there has to be–something there was transforming these souls into shells.

Hearing about the cave from the whale, the dolphin asks him to immediately take him there.

Considering the dolphin’s situation, and the rules of the this place, what they are doing is completely taboo. The whale understands this more than anyone else, and yet he finds himself, unbelievably, leading the dolphin to the cave without trying to dissuade him. Before he realizes it, he is inside of the cave with the dolphin. The whale has no idea what has got into him; in fact, this unanswered question might have been the very thing driving the whale into the cave.

Following behind the dolphin, somehow he has ended up deep into the cave without even trying to stop the dolphin, all the while completely at a loss as to what is happening. Despite all that, in no way does he feel that trying to help the dolphin like this, something that would surely be opposed by the ocean itself and all souls in the universe, is wrong.

 

The egg sacks glitter as if beckoning the dolphin. Shining brightly or emitting a range of colors as they jiggle, each one’s brilliance seems to be calling out, “pick me!”

How wonderful would it be to be able to touch that brilliance…

The whale, increasingly excited, feels a tremendous compulsion to take a bite out of each of them. But the dolphin has yet to move. He isn’t interested in any of the beautiful egg sacks, instead looking at something near the base of the coral.

Curious, the whale follows the dolphin’s gaze, only to discover…a lonesome, purple egg sack of the likes that would never been noticed by anyone else.

 

“Hey Mr. Dolphin, have you lost your mind? There are so many beautiful egg sacks but you choose that one? What’s wrong with you?”

 

Realizing it is being watched by the dolphin, the tiny egg sack shakes its body vigorously.

As the dolphin observes the egg sack, desperately doing its best to shine despite lacking a bright light or attractive color, his hope transforms into conviction.

The dolphin pokes it with his snout, tears it open, and a cloud of purple erupts. Catching a whiff of the smell, the whale retreats in disgust.

 

“That smells. It smells horrible! Let’s stop this. It stinks of life…”

 

From its awkward shade of purple–the color of life within the deep, blue sea–comes a particular smell known to all beings in the universe from the beginning of time: the fresh, heart-racing smell of blood.

Something tiny tumbles out of the torn egg sack. Rolling onto the sand is what is apparently a tiny shell.

As the dolphin gazes at the dull grey, nondescript shell, the image of a streaming comet ignites in his mind.

 

“…Do you want to hear an old story?”

 

It seems that the dolphin is thinking out loud. Perhaps his words are intended not for the whale, but himself.

Does the dolphin see the whale blink? In any case, the dolphin begins to slowly tell his story.

 

“This is a tale from the time when I was still alive. We had gathered in the shallows for seven days, in wait of a meteor shower that occurs once a year.”

 

The dolphins wait patiently each year for the day of the meteor shower–the day when souls rain down upon the earth in the form of shells. They search out the most beautiful shell and take it home as their most precious treasure of the year.

While it may be difficult for other species to understand, to the dolphins, firm in their beliefs, nothing is more important than long-established customs. There are dolphin-hunting humans living near the beach, and still the dolphins continue their tradition despite the dangers involved.

One year, a young dolphin who has come to the beach in search of a beautiful shell is discovered by a boy.

The boy begins talking to the dolphin, fooled by his disguise into believing he is human. Still immature and ignorant of the evils of humans, the dolphin accepts the human without fear.

Ultimately, the dolphin and the young man end up waiting for the meteor shower together.

 

“After waiting together for several days, the day of the meteor shower finally arrives. The dolphin is overjoyed as he watches countless shells fall to the Earth…”

 

The dolphin sighs and stares longingly into empty space, as if the scenes of each memory materialize there during the telling of his tale.

On the day of the meteor shower, the dolphins, drawn there by the promise of finding a beautiful shell, are surrounded by several human boats. The human hunters too had waited patiently for this day, having realized the normally cautious dolphins would gather in the shallows once a year. The dolphins try to escape, but it’s too late.

Then, at the very moment they are being herded towards the beach and have nearly given up all hope–

 

“The human boy suddenly screams as he plunges off a nearby cliff right into the sea. While the humans are distracted by the boy all the dolphins are able to escape. Although it was humans who put us in danger, it was also a human who saved us.”

 

“A human saved you all? One of those cruel, arrogant beings?”

 

The whale, who had been listening quietly to the dolphin’s story, suddenly spoke out in utter disbelief.

Changing the feelings of many of the universe’s beings towards humans and the hearts of the humans themselves would be no easy matter. But for that very reason, it was the job of the torch bearers to continue to tell their stories of how things actually were. As always, the dolphins’ words rang true.

 

“…And then, many years later, he returned to the beach once again.”

 

Humans do not have the capacity to remember anything about these torch bearers, the dolphins. As expected, when meeting the dolphin again, this time as a grown man, he remembers nothing. Not about the immature dolphin, or even the meteor shower.

And yet, as if drawn by some invisible force, he somehow returns to the beach to gaze up at the stars together with this once-nieve dolphin. This is not a one-time thing; over and over he forgets about the dolphin, only to miraculously return to the beach.

 

“Even though he, now an adult, knew that no memories of our time spent together would remain, he always said, ‘Let’s meet again next year.’ And I would always answer in the same way, ‘I’ll be waiting.’ “

 

An incredible determination glimmers in the dolphin’s forlorn visage, his desperate eyes.

 

“ ‘No matter how many times you forget about our agreement to meet, I will always remember’…This was my promise to him. Keeping this promise through the years was the only way I could repay him for saving me, for saving us.”

 

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