This it the fifth chapter of a novel I am translating and publishing on this blog. See this post for the first chapter and more details about the novel.
I want to thank the author, Yuki Hoshizaki (星崎ゆうき) for giving me permission to translate and publish this chapter here, as well as Yeti san (from the site Shousetsu Ninja) for performing a quality check on this chapter. You can find the original Japanese text of this chapter here.
Because of the large amount of time it takes to translate a chapter, as well as my desire to focus on content that my readers enjoy, I consider this translation to be in a provisional state––in other words, if I don’t get enough positive feedback, I may stop translating this story.
So if you enjoy it, please consider liking or commenting here, or rating/commenting on novelupdates.com (see this story’s page here, which has links to all the other chapters). You can also send feedback on the story to the email address “selftaughtjapanese (at) com”, and commentary will be forwarded to the author as needed.
Past, Present, You
by Yuki Hoshizaki
Translated by J.D. Wisgo
Chapter 5: July 4 (twilight)
I snap awake from a hard lurch of the train. Feeling an unusually large jolt––the train must be passing a switch point––I look around. The view outside the window, the oddly spacious train car interior…even in my groggy state it’s blatantly clear that there is something wrong with this picture.
“Shit. We’re almost at the last stop.”
Hearing the train announcement of the upcoming station, I realize exactly what is wrong: the next stop is the end of the line. The scenery speeding by outside the window is not a familiar rows of houses, but rather a rural landscape stretching endlessly into the distance. A space surrounded by unfamiliar scenery strongly is somehow similar to a classroom that you don’t belong to. The sense of being out of place is almost like a kind of alienation.
A moment later the train stops and I get off at the last station, only to discover the train I rode here is now temporarily out of service. I look up at the electric sign hanging from the roof of the station; it indicates the next departure is 45 minutes from now.
There’s no manga or novels in my backpack to help pass the time. I consider playing a game on my phone, but checking it so frequently to see if Sora sent me a message has nearly killed the battery.
“I might as well go for a little walk…”
Not feeling up for hanging out for 45 minutes in an empty train station’s waiting room, I decide to go for a walk outside. I pass through a tiny ticket gate, hard for me to conceive of after being used to the large automatic ticket gates in the heart of Tokyo. Here at the ticket gate, equipped with only a simple box-shaped RFID scanner, is an ancient inspection window where a station attendant probably once checked tickets by hand.
Despite being part of Saitama prefecture this place is actually close to Yamanashi and Gunma prefectures, and a good distance away from any big cities. I pay the remaining train fare my ticket didn’t cover at the ticket gate, the setting sun streaming in through a window, then pass through the station turnstile and start walking on the large road that stretches ahead. The buildings quickly thin out as I get farther away from the station. There’s virtually no sign of life here, and the wings of the crows soaring through the twilight sky look oddly large.
I continue along the road until I come to a giant Torii gate. At the gate is a series of stone steps that I’m guessing leads up to a shrine. Directly below the gate stands an guideboard that displays the pilgrimage route for visitors. The grounds seem to be surprisingly large, even a small temple nestled beside the shrine.
After gazing at the guideboard for some time I go through the gate, across the dim entrance road, and slowly up the mossy steps. The air here is somehow different, with a slight chill and a sense of great clarity. Calling it “divine” would be an exaggeration, but this place is somehow set apart from the uncomfortable heat of early summer. Coming down the stone steps is a girl in a sailor-style school uniform walking towards me.
I wonder what a girl would be doing alone here at this time of day, but the silhouette coming towards me is unmistakably Sora’s.
The eyes I catch a glimpse of in passing are definitely Sora’s. Her usual dark brown, sorrowful eyes are mere slits, as if on the verge of tears, and yet they possess a great power that easily penetrates my heart.
“Hey, wait a minute! I, um…sent you a message the other day…”
Hearing my voice, she halts for a moment and mumbles under her breath without turning towards me. “Why are you here…” Her words have an unmistakable edge to them: You shouldn’t be here.
In an instant, feelings of alienation disassociate my thoughts from my body. It’s like one of those dreams where you can’t control your body. She leaves me there and continues down the steps.
“Hey, hold on…”
By the time I am finally able to get a few words out, an unbridgeable gap has developed between Sora and I. Or perhaps the gap between us was unbridgeable to begin with.
I didn’t pay much attention to it on my way up, but the moss-covered stone steps are extremely slippery. Although I want to catch up with Sora, the sun already has started sinking in the sky so I have no choice but to proceed slowly towards her, using the incandescent lights below the handrail as a guide.
“There’s not much time left…so please don’t come any closer to me.”
“No time? What the hell does that mean?”
At first, I think it’s just my imagination. But it is undeniably reality––or maybe it’s easier to think in terms of reality with a hint of fiction. Sora’s body before me is slowly, but surely turning transparent as she walks away. The view of things on the far side of her body gradually becomes more visible until, at last, Sora’s body disappears completely.
If a color is missing from this world, then it may very well be the color of Sora.
I realize my cell phone is ringing in my pocket. I’m stunned for a few moments by this shocking event, but then I snap out of it and check my phone; it’s a call from Natsu Hayashi.
“Hello, Mizuki? I finally got through. Sorry about what happened at lunch time.”
“Oh, no problem…”
I’m still unable to focus my thoughts. My blurred vision alternates between fact and fiction, preventing the restoration of my mind/body connection. I can accept that strange things happen in this world, but mysterious phenomena should not happen this frequently, in such a short span of time. The dividing line between fact and fiction may indeed be blurred, but when it becomes too unpredictable, the ground beneath your feet is shaken.
“Do you have time to talk now?”
“Uh, sure. I do.”
Everyone needs some sort of foundation––somewhere in the world where they can live with a sense of being rooted, both feet firmly planted on the ground…
“What’s wrong? You don’t sound too well.”
“Yeah, I’m sorta…Nevermind, nothing to worry about.”
“Regarding the girl Sora Itono that you asked me about during lunch, it seems she did attend this school. But I heard that she died in the first year of middle school…Chisato––oh, Chisato Yamamoto is the girl I talked to today at lunch time––told me that she was in the same class as Sora back in middle school.“
“Yes. From acute leukemia.”
My thoughts, which were finally starting to focus, become hazy again. The sound of Natsu’s voice from my phone’s tiny speaker reaches my eardrum, and yet my consciousness contains an emptiness that can only be called a void. I hang up the call right then and start up the messenger app. The time is a little past eight. My message is still marked as unread, yet the signal reaching my phone couldn’t be stronger.
[end of chapter]
(English Translation Copyright © 2019 by J.D. Wisgo)