Hideki’s phone rang a few seconds ago. He went to pick it up.
Suddenly, I heard a familiar whistle.
“Yooo Shin! How have you been?” Reaper asked, sitting in front of me, where Hideki had just left to take the phone call.
I took my phone out, and placed it in my ear. “Don’t sit where he was.”
Reaper slid himself a bit to his right.
“Why do you keep showing up? Do you want anything else from me? If not, leave me alone.”
“Oh, come on, Shin!” he complained. “I haven’t complained about you messing with deaths again, and you are already being so cold to me.”
“Deaths? The 10 passengers?”
“Yes. I told you many times before, Shin. You shouldn’t mess with these things, especially not in strangers' lives.”
“But their fate had changed, didn’t they? My father would have been the only casualty in this timeline.”
“Yes, that’s the problem!” he shouted. “Now there are 10 lesser deaths in this timeline!”
“That’s none of my concern, and I don’t think it’s your job to worry about it either,” I said. “You only lead them after they pass away, right? So, wait for your new order or something.”
“Shin, shin, shin,” he said. “You know me too well. That’s why I’m here. Because of the order. God of Fate’s order.”
“Wait, what are you talking about?”
He remained silent and only grinned at me.
“When there’s death, there will always be death, Shin.”
He then vanished without a trace.
I looked at the time on my phone.
I suddenly felt dizzy, as my head hit face down on the table. An electric jolt ran through my body, and the warping sensation came again as I passed through the grey shrine gate.
I found myself standing in front of the cinema. Same cinema. Same street. The display board on top of the cinema showed “12:00AM”. A bus carrying primary school children came charging into the street. The driver has lost consciousness, as the teacher tried to handle the steering wheel, honking to alert people.
Within a few seconds, it crashed into the cinema entrance. The entrance doors were completely decimated, as some bodies were lying below the debris. People started to shout and ran to help. I heard my mother and my father calling out my name, desperately yelling for my attention.
The vision then stopped, and I woke up.
My watch beeped.
I dropped my phone and dashed out of the shop’s door, past Hideki, mustering every ounce of strength I have, trying to make it there. As I stepped on the street, the bus stormed across me, heading straight towards the cinema. I ran, and shouted.
“No, no. Stop, STOP!”
But someone pulled my arm back before I could get closer.
After a second, the crashing sound resonated in the air. The whole entrance collapsed onto the roof of the school bus, sending a wave of smoke and dust to us. One of the small debris flew past me and scratched my left temple on my forehead.
I started to bleed, but I froze.
Everything became silent.
This can’t be happening. There was never a bus before. There was never… a bus before.
My heart started to beat erratically.
I tightened my fists, as my breath became heavier and heavier. I need to check it for myself. I need to confirm it. I don't believe this.
I heard a voice vaguely calling me, but I just don’t care anymore.
“Let go,” I said.
“shin... are you ok… oh god, you’re bleeding” she swiped away my hair, immediately took her tissue out to clean the blood, and put a plaster on the scratch.
“shin, snap out of it”
I looked at her and him, standing in front of me. Tears flowed out of their eyes, as they looked at me worriedly. Both of them were holding my fists, in between their hands. They desperately called my name, waiting for my reaction.
The background noises faded in, one by one. I heard my watch beeping; I heard the bus’s constant honking; I heard people running steps; I heard people screaming for help; I heard people coordinating the rescue; I heard people crying, sobbing near me; I heard him and her, calling for my attention.
Him, and her.
My father, and my mother.
I took a look at them again, to snap myself out of my thoughts.
“I’m ok,” I said, as I wrapped my arms around them. “I’m ok, I’m ok.”
They embraced my hug, and only nodded.
So, this is what I heard in my vision.
They didn’t make it to the movie. Why?
I looked at a box on the ground in front of me. “Hokkaido Egg Tarts,” it read.
I sighed, with relief.
“Those egg tarts…” I asked.
“Egg tarts?” my mother looked behind her. “Oh no!”
The entire box had been stepped on, with the yellow fillings and the crusts all meshed together like clay and compressed on. They looked almost like a pizza by now.
“Your mother,” my dad said. “She was scared they would have sold out the egg tarts by the time we finished the movie. So, we went to buy first. A long line of people was already waiting. We knew we weren’t able to make it back for our movies, so we settled on 12:30 PM's movie slot.”
“And then,” my father continued. “We saw you standing here when we arrived.”
“But the egg tarts are now…” my mother said.
“As long as Shin’s ok,” my father said. “We can always buy those again.”
“Right,” she said, as she hugged me tightly.
“Dad, help, I cannot—breathe—” I reached out to my father.
“This is what you get for worrying your mom,” he said.
I took a deep breath, as I looked at the crash site.
My mother’s fate had already changed in this timeline when I saved my father. This third death… it has already been averted, exchanged… with other people’s lives. The first time it happened, my mother was walking alone outside the hospital to calm herself down, when a brick on top of the nearby construction site fell on her head. It caught her unguarded, she didn’t hear the workers shouting at her until it’s too late.
An accident, they said. Like my mother was just another number in their statistics.
I calmed myself down, as people still continued to rush past us, trying to secure a clear path for the ambulance to arrive, for the paramedics to access the situation, for the fire fighters to begin removing the debris, for the local police to investigate what really happened.
I suddenly got the urge to look behind me.
Hideki was standing there all that time, holding my phone on one hand, the gift I bought on the other hand. I smiled at him, he smiled back.
“Mom, Dad,” I said. “That over there is my best friend I met in university, Hideki.”
I pointed at Hideki with my thumb.
My mother waved at him, and he approached us.
“Very nice to meet you, Shin’s mother and father,” he said. “I’m Hideki and your son’s always been taking care of me for the past year. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to stop him from getting closer to the crash site just now. I tried my best.”
“My, what a polite boy,” my mother said.
My father shook Hideki’s hand. “Thank you for stopping my son in time. If you weren’t with him…”
“It’s my duty, Shin’s father,” he said. “He saved my life once; I’m just returning the favor.”
My father looked a bit shocked but he continued to awkwardly shake his hand.
This scene gave me the impression that two children are playing a game of “let go first and you lose”.
My mother also went to hug Hideki, when I received a call.
“Shin? Shin! Where are you right now? Are you ok?” she asked, a bit panicked, on the other side of the phone. “Why are you not replying to me? Why is it so noisy there? Shin? Shin?”
“Calm down, Chiaki,” I said. “I’m fine, I’m fine. A school bus hit the cinema here; the authorities are gathering for rescue.”
“Is there anyone there with you?”
“Yeah, Hideki’s here. He’s fine too. And my mom, my dad, they just arrived here. They are safe, too.”
I heard her let out a sigh of relief sigh.
“Do you want me to come over?” she asked.
“No, it’s fine,” I said. “But I don’t think we will attend the afternoon classes anymore. Maybe I’ll go to Hideki’s place for a while before heading home.”
“Where?” she asked.
“Where’s Hideki’s place?”
“I’m not sure of the exact address, why?”
“I’m going there as well.”
“But you still have classes, right?”
“I don’t care… Wait, on a second thought, it’s the final class of the year anyway. Fine, I’ll head there afterwards. Send me the address first.”
“Ok, fine,” I said. “But be careful on your way there.”
“And one more thing, Chiaki.”
“You sounded cute when you panicked earlier.”
She hung up the phone.
“I’ll bet that was Chiaki, with the grin on your face,” Hideki said.
“It was, and apparently we’re having a party later at your place.” I replied.
“What?” he asked, with awe. “Really?”
“Really. Let’s call it our last party of the year.”