Chapter 14:

Dear, Future

Second Chances

“Shin.”Bookmark here

I spent the last half an hour with my eyes closed.Bookmark here

“Shin.”Bookmark here

I ran through all the possible scenarios that I could do now, for them 10 children. I rolled over to my left.Bookmark here

“Shin?”Bookmark here

There was nothing I could have done to prevent their death, trying to leap the time again will also lead to the same consequences: 10 deaths, 10 futures lost. So… I could only honor their memory. And, prove that those stories they told me will not be ever forgotten by their parents. I will let them know that their children fought until the end, and how brave, ambitious, kind they are.Bookmark here

It’s… the very least I can do.Bookmark here

“Shin, are you feeling better now?” Chiaki softly brushed my hair.Bookmark here

I continued to rest my head down on her lap. It’s a bit soft like a pillow, but with more tenderness on it. Right… she must have trained hard in order to get her black belt.Bookmark here

I took a small breath to recollect my thoughts. “This is nice.”Bookmark here

She lightly slapped my face. “Are you enjoying my lap?”Bookmark here

“Of course,” I looked at her, waiting for her reaction. “Can’t I?”Bookmark here

She blushed, and immediately stood up. “If you can joke, that means you’re fine already.”Bookmark here

My head knocked on the bench. I slowly patted where it hurted. Then I sat back up on the bench.Bookmark here

I took a deep breath, before looking at them. The boys are now playing swings, and catch; the girls are halfway through building a new castle. Hideki and Yui are by their side, accompanying them.Bookmark here

The spiky-haired boy approached me as he saw me awake, holding his sister on his right.Bookmark here

“Crybaby Shin!” he pointed at me. “This is the first time I’ve seen an adult cry!”Bookmark here

“I was not crying.”Bookmark here

“Liar, liar, pants on fire,” he said. “Your eyes were red!”Bookmark here

“Big brother,” his sister tugged at his shirt. “Stop teasing Chiaki’s boyfriend.”Bookmark here

“B—Boyfr—Hina, he’s not my boyfriend!” Chiaki said.Bookmark here

“But you two looked so sweet together,” Hina, the little sister replied.Bookmark here

“Yeah!” Hideki shouted at a distance. “You guys should kiss and get it over already! It’s getting annoying!”Bookmark here

“Shut up!” Chiaki yelled back.Bookmark here

Yui chuckled, looking at Chiaki’s embarrassed reaction.Bookmark here

I took another deep breath and stood up. Then, I bowed down to them all.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry for making you guys worried earlier,” I raised my head up. “I’m fine now, thank you.”Bookmark here

“You should be sorry alright,” Hideki said, walking towards me. “You’re acting weirdly emotional these days, like something serious happened to you and you couldn’t talk about it.”Bookmark here

“Your eyes, Shin,” he looked at me. “Those were real pain, you were suffering. What happened in that split second?”Bookmark here

I cannot say anything. I’m not allowed to. It was stated in the contract I signed. And to break it, everything I’d done would have been for nothing. Zero. Na-da.Bookmark here

“It’s… I will tell you, but not now. Not after I’ve settled this.”Bookmark here

“This?”Bookmark here

“Yes, this.” I put on a determined look, peering into his eyes. I hope he got my message. I don’t want him to interfere any deeper.Bookmark here

He looked like he was about to say something but he decided against it. “That’s not fair, but fine. If you choose to deal with it yourself, I—we will wait for you. So, until then…”Bookmark here

“Shin,” he pointed at my face. “I’ve always got your back. So, don’t worry! Even if it’s against the Grim Reaper himself, I will teach him a lesson for messing with you! For messing with my friend, Shin!”Bookmark here

He raised his head to the sky. “You hear that, Grim Reaper? You’d better stay away from him or I’ll stuff you full with ice cream!”Bookmark here

The children giggled at Hideki’s words. I only looked at him, and smiled. Even against Reaper, huh?Bookmark here

He gave me a thumbs up.Bookmark here

Yui mimicked him.Bookmark here

Chiaki sighed, before reluctantly giving me a thumbs up as well.Bookmark here

The children all stood up and did the same.Bookmark here

“I, Shin,” I said. “Hereby accept all your thumbs up. Let today be marked down in history as a thumbs up day!”Bookmark here

The spiky-haired boy chuckled, before bursting into laughter. Looking at him, his sister, Hina also laughed. Then the rest of the children followed their laugh. A few residents stared at us weirdly as they passed through the playground.Bookmark here

Another embarrassing moment in my university life.Bookmark here

After about 10 minutes or so, we separated into two groups to walk some of them home. It’s already late in the evening, and the sky’s orangeness had slowly darkened into pitch black.Bookmark here

Chiaki and I walked the spiky-haired boy and Hina home.Bookmark here

“Thanks for playing with us today, Shin,” he said. “It was really fun!”Bookmark here

“Thanks, Chiaki,” Hina hugged her.Bookmark here

Chiaki got caught by surprise, and only smiled as she patted her head. “This might be a little early, but…”Bookmark here

Hina looked at her.Bookmark here

“Happy New Year, Hina,” she gently smiled. “May you have a fun year ahead.”Bookmark here

Hina hugged her again.Bookmark here

I pulled out my fist, ready to bump it with a spiky-haired boy. But I stopped.Bookmark here

“What’s your name, Hina’s brother?”Bookmark here

“Haru,” he said, bumping into my fist. “You’d better remember it, Shin. Until we meet again.”Bookmark here

I chuckled. “Haru, and Hina. May you two have nothing but fun, and safe, year ahead.”Bookmark here

They both hugged me.Bookmark here

“You too, Shin!” they said in unison.Bookmark here

Then, after waving ‘goodbyes’ once again, Chiaki and I were already heading back to the train station with a taxi.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

It was already 8:30PM after I walked Chiaki home, and reached my home. After I had my breakfast with my father and mother who were already waiting for me, I took a quick bath and went into my room. I sat in front of my laptop.Bookmark here

I searched for the details of the accident. I searched for their name. I looked for their faces. 10 of them were 9 years old coming back from their school trip to the zoo. Only nine bags were found in the bus, this explained why one of them didn’t have any bag. I came across a few videos, interviewing, and recording their parents’ reactions.Bookmark here

But my hand stopped on top of my mouse.Bookmark here

I owed them this.Bookmark here

I took a sharp breath, and clicked on the videos.Bookmark here

There were only three parents featured.Bookmark here

One of them was a mother with a professional business suit. She was the mother of the curly haired girl. The second one is the parents of the twin brothers, who dreamt to inherit their father’s bakery shop. The final one… Emilia’s father. The small police in their neighbourhood.Bookmark here

I watched all the videos with my earphones on. Their devastating cries and shouts resonated in my ears for five full minutes. I forced myself not to look away, or stop, or mute the videos. I need to embrace this, then only I can move on.Bookmark here

I then opened my email.Bookmark here

But before I could type anything, the dreadful whistle came.Bookmark here

I looked at the time display in my laptop.Bookmark here

9:25PM.Bookmark here

“What are you doing here?” I asked, without turning back to face him.Bookmark here

He didn’t reply to me but I sensed his presence behind me, holding his scythe as usual.Bookmark here

“Shin… I didn’t mean to—”Bookmark here

“Are you happy now? You already showed me how powerful you are, how undeniable fate was. Are you happy now?”Bookmark here

“I was merely following orders, Shin. You know this better than anyone. Just because I led them to the afterlife doesn’t mean it was I who decided their death.”Bookmark here

“Did you even know—their name, their life? What was I even there for?”Bookmark here

“The children, they have regrets, Shin. Their regrets… were too strong, too poisonous that it’d evolve into intense hatred if I took them to the afterlife straight away, Shin. They wouldn’t be able to rest in peace. They couldn’t. You are human, the only human I know. You are the only human I trust, Shin.”Bookmark here

He paused. “To be honest, I didn’t know what to do. Orders were that I bring them to the afterlife as soon as they all arrived. But you and your reckless actions, I bet if it’s you, then there’s something you would have been able to do. You’re like a hero, after all.”Bookmark here

“Hero? I wasn’t able to do anything. I didn’t do a single thing for them. NONE!”Bookmark here

“Shin, shin, shut up. You saved them, alright? You saved every single one of them when they decided to share their stories. Emilia, especially, didn't even open up to many people in her previous life. But you made her talk. In those few minutes. She had the most intense regrets among them. You saved her. No use denying it.”Bookmark here

I slammed my study table as I stood up to him.Bookmark here

“Trust me, Shin,” he raised his hood for the first time, and looked at me straight into my eyes. “If I could let you hit me, I would have done so ages ago.”Bookmark here

He looked young, almost the same as me, but both his eyeballs are white. Blind.Bookmark here

“You saved those children,” he said again. “I did not regret sending you there back then. And, I would have done the same thing again if I needed to.”Bookmark here

“Did you even remember their name?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Every single person that I’d lead. I remembered them.”Bookmark here

I took a deep breath to calm myself down.Bookmark here

Then, I sat back in front of my laptop. “If that’s all you wanted to say, you can leave now.”Bookmark here

“As you wish, Sh—”Bookmark here

“Wait.”Bookmark here

“Yes?”Bookmark here

“Thank you.”Bookmark here

“You’re welcome, Shin.”Bookmark here

I heard a soft wind whooshing sound and in the next second, he was gone.Bookmark here

I stared at my keyboard, then began typing.Bookmark here

“To Studio ABC,Bookmark here

My name is Shin, I’m a freelance journalist. A few days ago, I had the opportunity to meet the 10 children who were involved in the tragic accident that happened in the afternoon. They were afraid of me at first, with some of them looked like they were about to cry.Bookmark here

But I did some magic shows with a rubber band and slowly, they started to open up to me. They shared with me their ambitions, their hopes, and their dreams when we chatted. Therefore, I hope to use this chance to convey their thoughts, and if appropriate, provide comforts to their parents, to help them, and everyone who is grieving on the lost of 10 precious, innocent lives.Bookmark here

The class representative, his name was Kubota Yoshi. He wanted to be a teacher; teachers were the coolest person to him. They taught, guided, praised, and high-fived with him in many circumstances which made me feel appreciated. And when they honestly talked about his problem to his parents, he felt overjoyed because they were speaking for him, when he couldn't.Bookmark here

Then, there was a boy with a plastic bracelet named Seki Takehiko. He wanted to be a hero, just like his name implied. He wanted to save many people, and be a courageous, powerful ally that people can rely on.Bookmark here

Okino Masaki, she wore a cap. She wanted to be a pilot. So that, she could spend more time with her mother, and bring her around the world for free.Bookmark here

Seo Atsushi, he was a shy kid, but he wanted to be a doctor. He aimed to cure his mother’s diseases, to lessen his father’s financial burden. He cared about them deeply, and promised he’d study hard to make his dream come true.Bookmark here

Kubo Shuichi, he was bald, and he wanted to be a spy. He can shoot bad guys, drive stylish cars, wear stylish suits, and have all the freedom he had. He was the most energetic, and most passionate among them. The only thing he hated was when he had to go to sleep earlier.Bookmark here

Tanigawa Shuji, Tanigawa Kei, the twin brothers, wanted to inherit their bakery shop from their father and mother. To bring small happiness to their neighbors that came to their shop day and night, and to be able to learn from their parents, was the greatest happiness in their life.Bookmark here

Tada Yori, she wanted to be a lawyer like her single father who is a public prosecutor. She wanted to help innocent people, like her father, and bring comfort to the victim’s families. She adored her father’s job, and her eyes were sparkling when she talked about her father.Bookmark here

Hayashi Tomoko, she had curly hair. She wanted to be a businesswoman just like her mother, and wear a business suit. She said that even though her mother was already tired when she returned from home, her mother would always help her with her homework. And that, her mother, was her role model.Bookmark here

And, Emilia. Takashi Emilia. Half-Japanese, half-British. She looked up to her father who was a local policeman that patrolled her neighborhood for lost, missing items, or suspicious persons. She wanted to be like him—kind to both her and her mom, reliable to the residents of all ages. She was the shyest girl in the group, but she had a strong will, and more than anything, she just wanted to have the power to protect her mother and father.Bookmark here

All ten of them were the bravest, mostly lively children I’ve ever seen in my life. They had hopes, and dreams that they were not afraid to say, not afraid to chase. They were inspiring. And I’ll never forget those few minutes that they spent sharing their stories with me. I hope that this will, in one day, reach out to those who need it.Bookmark here

I want people to know that they were strong until the very last second. They were small, but unbelievably strong.Bookmark here

And to their parents, my sincere, deepest condolences.”Bookmark here

I read through my email again.Bookmark here

“And to their parents, my sincere, deepest condolences thank you. Thank you for giving them the very best life they could’ve had. Thank you for being there with them. Thank you for everything that you’ve ever done. And all that you will, for them, in the future.Bookmark here

Thank you, for making their future possible. Thank you.”Bookmark here

I read through it again.Bookmark here

Then, after a few minutes of walking in a circle, I clicked ‘send’.Bookmark here

I looked at the time.Bookmark here

11:00PM.Bookmark here

Then, I realized something.Bookmark here

I forgot my gift at Hideki’s place. I grabbed my phone out.Bookmark here

“Hideki, my gift. REMEMBER to bring it here tomorrow.”Bookmark here

He texted me back after a minute. “OK.”Bookmark here

I looked at the time again.Bookmark here

11:02PM.Bookmark here

Slow.Bookmark here

Dreadfully.Bookmark here

Painfully.Bookmark here

Slow.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.