“See you tomorrow,” I waved at Chiaki.
She stood in front of her house, and waved back. “See you.”
Her house is still dark, meaning that none of her parents have returned yet. She opened the light at the entrance door, and waved at me again before going inside.
I looked at my watch.
We spent more than an hour reading, before I walked her home. I also grabbed two umbrellas with me, and said to my mom that I’ll be picking up dad at the train station.
He’s the next death.
I rushed to the train station and got a ticket to the next train station, which is the second last station where my father boarded the last train here.
It will take an hour to reach there, and he’s expected to leave work at around 11:30 PM. Overtime, I know. He must have been tired.
My father is a man of few words, but that didn’t stop him from showing his love. He was never late to any of my school activities: cultural festivals, sports days, parents’ days, and entrance ceremonies. He was more excited than my mother when the mailman delivered my university acceptance letter. He talked more than usual during our dinner that day, asked about my plans, asked about my interest, asked about the campus, asked about the activities they have.
But he never mentioned the fees.
He told me to just choose whichever course that I’m interested in, and will motivate me to study. And, I did. He didn’t want me to worry about the fees, so I attended my university with a scholarship. Because I didn’t want him to worry about it either.
My father used to be just a small clerk. But every weekend, when he was dating my mother, he’d always bring her out to many places. He’d take her to eat local delicacies that my mother had never tried before, then movies, arcades, and museums. Yeah, museums.
My mother didn’t really care about having a luxurious life at the time, she only wanted to spend some quality time with my father. My father also had the same thought, but he didn’t want my mother to not be able to buy things that she liked. So, he worked hard, and got promoted to a manager in the big city. Of course, that’d mean he had more responsibilities, more work to do, more people relying on him. So, often, he’d arrive home late and go to work early.
My mother would always cuddle him when he came home, and he’d always have a warm smile on his face.
Suddenly, a whistle slipped into my ears.
The cursed Reaper’s call.
“Getting ready for the next death?” Reaper asked. “Have you decided what to do this time?”
I didn’t say anything.
“The lives of all the passengers… or the life of your father,” he continued. “Tough choice, huh?”
“Shut up,” I said. “You’re the one taking their lives.”
“You see,” Reaper knocked the holder of his scythe on the floor. “That’d be right if you didn’t know this. If you experienced these incidents for the first time. But you’re not. You know what is going to happen. You can save them. But are you going to do so, or are you going to just blame me for it?”
I took a deep breath, without replying to him.
“You’re a really selfish person, Shin,” he said. “You’d already decided, didn’t you? 10 passengers’ lives, 10 small worlds that they hold precious to, in exchange for your dad’s life. For your happy future.”
“SO WHAT?!” I punched the steel exit door of the moving train.
“So what if I only try to protect my dad? Is that wrong? Do I need to save 10 people I don’t know for one that I love and care about? Who decided this rule? YOU?”
He chuckled. “Oh, Shin. Ohhh Shinnnn.”
“Shut up,” I said. “Don’t say my name.”
“It’s your decision, Shin,” he said. “In the end, you’re the protagonist of your story. The end justifies the means, don’t they? I just hope you can see it through.”
He chuckled again.
“Enough. Get lost.”
“As you wish, Shin.”
I felt a wind past me, and then I was all alone in this train again.
The first time my father’s death happened, my mother and I only received a call from the central hospital a few hours past 12AM. There was a train accident. When the train reached the intersection not far away from the station I’m heading to, it derailed. All the train’s carriages were flipped to the sides. My father’s body was jerked out of the window and they only found it an hour past 12, when they did a thorough search around the area. He was already severely injured at the time, and by the time he reached the hospital, they couldn’t have done anything.
They also picked up his phone from where he was found.
When my mother and I unlocked my father’s phone afterwards, it showed the phone contact section. My mother’s contact number was clicked on, but slightly below the ‘call’ option, there was only a red blood stain. My father… didn’t manage to make his last call.
I had never known how important my father was to my mother until that day. She cried, for what felt like an eternity as I hugged her in my arms. It was a long, painful sob that shook the core of my heart. I couldn’t have said anything, because nothing would matter anymore at that time. Our hearts were broken into pieces.
I took a deep, shaky breath.
I looked at my watch.
I’m almost there.
Soon, the doors opened and I stepped out of it. I took a look around to see if I could find my father.
“Shin,” he called out, walking towards me. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh,” I said. “Nothing. I just worried there might be snow, so I’m here to pick you up.”
I showed him the umbrellas.
“You didn’t need to come all the way to this station though,” he said.
“I just felt like taking a short trip to refresh myself,” I said.
“I see. Well, your mother called me earlier,” my father continued. “She was all excited about you bringing Chiaki back home.”
“That’s just like your mom, right?” my father also chuckled with me.
I peeked at my watch.
I took a look around the station. Nine people, waiting for the train. One is missing.
“Next train’s the last one,” my father said. “We better not miss it.”
“Yeah,” I replied, as I stood myself a foot away from the boarding platform. “Can you get a ticket for me?”
“Sure. Wait here.”
Toot. Toot. The train tooting sound became louder, as it began to approach us from a distance.
“To risk, or to play it safe?” I mumbled to myself as the sound got clearer, and closer. The impending sound of death was almost deafening, rampaging my inner thoughts.
I looked at my father purchasing the ticket from the machine. He waved at me with a smile, a bit panicked with the train approaching us.
I took a deep breath. 10 for 1, huh?
Then the same strong dizziness suddenly hit but I managed to stand my ground, trying to recollect my breath. My entire body felt another electric jolt as I felt myself warped into a grey shrine gate again.
I started having vision. If I didn’t come, my father would have been waiting for the train in front of the boarding platform as usual. But someone bumped into him. He was already tired, so he lost his footing and fell into the railway track. The platform operator pressed the emergency alert button, but the train didn’t manage to stop in time. It charged across him.
The vision then stopped. I shook my head. The timeline had been distorted. My father’s fate has changed, again.
I calmed myself down, before positioning myself to where I recalled the late passenger bumped on my father.
I readied myself.
I looked at my watch again. A minute has passed.
Bump. The man collided with me.
I let go of the two umbrellas I was holding, dropping them onto the rail tracks.
“Shin!” my father yelled.
I quickly step my right foot in front of me, to prevent myself from losing my balance.
The operator at the platform immediately pushed on the emergency alert button, warning the train to slow down.
The train began to slow with the friction of its wheels and the tracks getting louder and louder as it approached us. After tens of seconds, the train collided with the umbrellas. Snapped them into pieces. Right before my eyes. Then it stopped.
I sighed in relief, as my knees gave themselves up.
“Shin! Are you ok?” my father rushed to me.
My watch beeped.
I let out another heavy sigh.
Day 1, completed.
“Sorry, sorry,” the man who bumped into me said. His face was filled with red, likely from drinking beers.
“Shin!” My father called me again.
“Yes, I’m fine dad.” I said.
He hugged me. “Good, good.”
I hugged him back. “I’ll never leave you or mom alone, dad.”
“Good,” he said, without another word.
The man bowed at me again, while the train operator came down to see what happened, coordinating with the platform operator.
After they checked, they found that the umbrellas’ pieces were firmly stuck in between the railway track and the train’s wheels, and they had no way to get it out without touching the tracks or moving the train, which was dangerous in that situation. So, this last train is stopped for the day until a technician comes in tomorrow. And, from the slowed reaction when the train was trying to stop earlier, they decided to service the train as well.
Of course, that’d mean we have no way of returning home tonight. Some of the passengers frowned at me, while the rest started to call their family. My father too, where he opened his contact list and called my mother.
1. Plus 10 lives.
I did it.
“So,” my father said after he ended the call. “Want to eat some late-night snacks? There’s a ramen shop nearby that just opened at this hour, until tomorrow morning.”
“How about your job?” I asked.
“Oh, I was planning to take a leave anyway. Your mom… she wanted to watch a movie tomorrow morning.” my dad scratched his head.
I smiled. That’s why he stayed late. That’s why there was a dress hanging out in their room.
“Let’s eat some ramen before we get a taxi home.” I said to my father.
“Sure. Can you handle spiciness though?”
“No, I prefer it plain.”
“Yeah, just plain. I don’t want any spices.”