Chapter 1:


Girlfriend from Another World


My life’s practically over.Bookmark here

They called it ‘being a late bloomer’.Bookmark here

But, what really makes one a late bloomer?Bookmark here

People say talent is not something you’re born with but one you cultivate. Only through hard work can one truly develop a significant skill. If you work hard, then you’ll be blessed by the that thing the laymen call ‘talent’.Bookmark here

So why’d they call me a late bloomer, then?Bookmark here

It implies that I had a talent to begin with. That I was born with one. Maybe they wanted to call it something else, but couldn’t bear to say it straight to my face.Bookmark here

“You’re just lazy.”Bookmark here

Indeed, being a lazy, dependent person made me like this.Bookmark here

I should thank my lucky stars I’m able to be here right now.Bookmark here

The elevator shook as it descended down the tube. The tube itself was transparent; looking outside, I saw the afternoon sun embrace the vast cityscape with a warm, orange glow. As the sun went down, windows of the buildings started glowing with the lights from within. From a distance, I made out a few neon signs and ad billboards lighting up in varied, colorful hues. At the very heart of this sprawling metropolis was a huge tower of red and white. Well, there were two of them in the city, but I just wanted to point out the shorter but more iconic one, and not the huge, white one.Bookmark here

From this elevator, I spied signboards written in a language I vaguely understood. The rest of the tourists inside my elevator couldn’t even understand the basics of the things I could read -- Or at least I assumed so. Tourists from different parts of the world with different cultures, dressed in different levels of formality.Bookmark here

I, myself, dressed in an appropriately sized linen jacket to keep the cold out. Springtime air in this country was colder than the stories said. Those bastards lied to me. 10 celsius is no joke.Bookmark here

But I think I’ve gone off track.Bookmark here

Those are all irrelevant details now.Bookmark here

As I said, what’s important is that, the lazy ‘ol me actually got the chance to go abroad, and into the place I’ve always wanted to go to:Bookmark here

Tokyo.Bookmark here

Shibuya, to be exact.Bookmark here

When someone like me gets stuck in a dead-end job with no chance to grow an actual productive skill, getting to go abroad always seems like a faraway dream; Especially when you’ve got awful spending habits like I do.Bookmark here

But sometimes, windfalls happen. Either somebody dies and you get an inheritance, or you win the lottery, or you win a prize and get an all-expense-paid trip to your dream vacation.Bookmark here

Either way, how I got here is no longer important. Something fortunate happened, and things piled up, and here I am, in the capital of the easternmost country, unless you count the Solomon Isles or New Zealand.Bookmark here

Yes, I got lucky.Bookmark here

Getting a lucky streak and ending up here felt like rolling your favorite Ultra Rare unit in a mobile game.Bookmark here

But don’t be mistaken – it wasn't the best feeling.Bookmark here

Something as momentous as this shouldn’t have been left to luck, but I don’t have plans to look a gift horse in the mouth.Bookmark here

Just take the chance.Bookmark here

Unfortunately, this tale isn’t about my vacation.Bookmark here

Or rather, it is. In a way.Bookmark here

Vacations are hardly worth talking about. Experiences, on the other hand… are something different.Bookmark here

It wasn’t as if I hadn’t believed in the supernatural before. I considered myself a superstitious person, but I never thought of the possibility of being proven right.Bookmark here

Yokai.Bookmark here

I saw a yokai today.Bookmark here

Being a talentless person, I’m naturally attracted to talented people. Hardworking, honest-to-God practiced people who have dedicated their lives to perfecting their craft. Every waking moment a step closer to becoming the ideal self.Bookmark here

Of course, in the modern age, that isn’t common anymore. People entertain themselves - distract themselves - with all kinds of things. Even then, if a person dedicates themselves enough, they can achieve a similar level of expertise in their field despite that.Bookmark here

That, I admire.Bookmark here

By that logic, I’m probably not unlike that yokai from earlier.Bookmark here

Attaching itself to talent.Bookmark here

In a crowded street, sometimes you’ll hear the voice of someone you know.Bookmark here

A voice, sweet, and a little nasal, but in an attractive way.Bookmark here

This morning, back in the alleys of Shinjuku, that was where I met her.Bookmark here

Or rather, where I met her again.Bookmark here

For both the first, and second time.Bookmark here

Most people knew her as Miki Starsky.Bookmark here

Hearing that name, you could only assume it was fake.Bookmark here

Because it was.Bookmark here

It was a pen name – It came with the profession. Everyone in that field had to make up some weird but catchy name to stand out from the sea of their ilk.Bookmark here

Known for music production and great charisma, Miki had her fair share of success within an industry teeming with talents like herself. It was a brutal, competitive field that forgave no one for even the slightest slip-up or bout of laziness, not unlike actual showbiz.Bookmark here

But it wasn’t showbiz.Bookmark here

This girl was always seen wearing a colorful, eye-catching outfit that was so iconic of her.Bookmark here

She wore a thick, white sweater that exposed her slender shoulders and ample cleavage. This cleavage was covered with a tasteful helping of sleeveless sheer mesh top that went up and tied around her neck. She donned a short skirt and thigh-highs that squished around her thighs, like how artists nowadays love drawing their girls.Bookmark here

The most iconic of all was her visage. Wild, creamy, platinum blonde hair that reached just a little past her shoulders. And her eyes: A stunning blue with a literal star, like in her name, at the center of her iris. This all complimented her comically big smile whenever she would make an appearance.Bookmark here

The girl loved music. Every now and then, she would come up with a song, and it would circulate within social media, earning up to one-thousand positive engagements. In an industry where its titans can generate posts that get up to five digits of engagements, a smaller-time talent like her reaching that much was practically a miracle.Bookmark here

She was a nice girl to boot. Chipper and playful, with moments of sensitivity and authenticity, especially when she told stories of what experiences inspired her songs.Bookmark here

I admired her. A lot.Bookmark here

Enough to throw away a decent chunk of change just to communicate with her, and tell her just how much I appreciated her talent. Talent I never had nor cultivated. Not that I told her that last part in the chats, of course.Bookmark here

That wasn’t the girl I met today.Bookmark here

That girl wasn’t even in this dimension.Bookmark here

She was nothing more than a two-dimensional picture animated to move on a computer screen. A 2D anime girl made to perform on live streaming platforms – singing, playing video games, or talking for hours on end with a chatroom filled with people who may or may not be like me.Bookmark here

A puppet made to dance at the whim of its master.Bookmark here

It was a cynical way to refer to it.Bookmark here

A friendlier way to talk about it was to say it was an ‘extension of the person behind the screen’.Bookmark here

More like a mask.Bookmark here

The girl I met today wasn’t Miki.Bookmark here

But when she spoke carelessly in a busy street of Shinjuku, my ears perked up.Bookmark here

The girl spoke with the exact same voice as Miki.Bookmark here

It was then that I approached her. It was a foolish effort, of course. Asking some random girl if she was ‘Miki Starsky’ out of the blue would get you a cold shoulder at best or a harassment claim at worst.Bookmark here

I couldn’t afford to get slapped with some criminal case on my first vacation. I’d get deported with no chance of coming back to dreamland for the rest of my life.Bookmark here

But part of me wanted to find out If I was right.Bookmark here

When I looked at this girl, I couldn’t help but laugh internally.Bookmark here

The nerve of this lady.Bookmark here

This young girl, with the same voice as Miki, wore an outfit not too dissimilar from the actual figurehead - just dressed a little more practically. Her sweater was larger and covered up more of her upper body. She wore tights under her short skirt and another jacket layered on her sweater. Probably to protect against the cold, especially at night and before noon.Bookmark here

Her hair and face, on the other hand, was a little more ‘mundane’, but still a certified beauty. Long, raven black, with traces of brown dye at the tips. She had some slight eyebags weighing her down, but this didn’t make her look unkempt or anything.Bookmark here

When I walked in front of her and tried to sneak a look, I believed she had taken notice of me.Bookmark here

Oh God.Bookmark here

She went up to me with a deadpan look and asked me, plainly, in unaccented English, what exactly I was looking at.Bookmark here

I uttered nothing but grunts and “uh”s.Bookmark here

I was screwed.Bookmark here

But then I told her.Bookmark here

“Your mole.”Bookmark here

Yes, her mole.Bookmark here

I couldn’t stop staring at the beauty mark she had under her left eye. There was nothing inherently special about it, but I find moles to be the last ‘oomph’ that elevates a lady’s beauty to the next level.Bookmark here

But that wasn’t the only reason.Bookmark here

For every passing second I stared at her, something was starting to come back to me, like pieces of a puzzle.Bookmark here

The way she spoke. The mole under her eye. That slight tinge of bright brown in her eyes. Her deadpan expression. And the fact she wore a specific silver cat brooch on a pouch on her waist.Bookmark here

They say brain cells are the longest living cells in your body. By the time you reach thirty, all of the cells you had at birth had been replaced with newer cells. But the ones in your brain hadn’t been replaced, and will live for around two centuries more, if you didn’t die of old age yet.Bookmark here

I didn’t mean to imply she was even close to that age, of course. But the point was…Bookmark here

She hadn’t changed.Bookmark here

It dawned on me. I knew this girl.Bookmark here

But not as Miki Starsky.Bookmark here

She kept staring at me as if I were some pet that had just peed on the carpet. But the more she did, I noticed that her mouth began twisting into a smile. Her eyes widened in a flash when a certain realization had dawned on her.Bookmark here

She called out my name.Bookmark here

And then she smiled at me.Bookmark here

This has become a difficult situation.Bookmark here

I had to respond quickly. The more I idled and just stood there, the more she’d suspect I was a totally random creep that resembled someone she knew way back.Bookmark here

But I couldn’t focus.Bookmark here

Because I noticed a pair of pale, ghastly, ghoul-like hands planted firmly on her shoulders.Bookmark here

I was taller than her, so I could look over her shoulder to check if some mean prank was being played on me.Bookmark here

But there was none.Bookmark here

These hands came from thin air. Like a ghost.Bookmark here

It looked like a stereotypical fake photo of a spirit laying its hands on an unsuspecting victim in the middle of a candid shot. Except it was happening for real in front of me. No tricks. And I wasn’t on any substance or medication either, unless Vitamin C caused one to hallucinate.Bookmark here

Don’t ignore her.Bookmark here

Don’t ignore her.Bookmark here

“Uh, yeah. That’s me.” I responded.Bookmark here

“Then you remember me, don’t you?”Bookmark here

It was a good thing I responded before she took out some whistle and put me in the slammer.Bookmark here

She chatted with that same tone of voice Miki did. She shared the usual ‘we meet again’ pleasantries like old friends do when they see each other again after years. We talked about how we ended up where we were. Bookmark here

Of course, I knew her home was actually here in Japan. She arrived in my country when she was young and had spent time up to the 9th grade in it. We went to the same school together until then, and played in the mud a lot. A lot of fond memories to recall. Good times.Bookmark here

However, I noticed that the more she spoke with that chipper, cheerful voice – the hands. They started squeezing her shoulders, veins popping out of those malnourished fingers.Bookmark here

From behind her, I saw something emerging.Bookmark here

A disheveled woman whose long, wet, black hair draped over her entire face peeked out from her shoulder. A single, snake-like eye stared from beyond the curtains of her hair, its size inhuman and red streaks all over it. A live horror show right in front of me.Bookmark here

I think they called this thing a ‘Nure-onna’.Bookmark here

Holy hell. Does she not notice this?Bookmark here

Ignore her.Bookmark here

Ignore her.Bookmark here

As this… thing began squeezing down on her, the girl’s demeanor began to change.Bookmark here

At first, she was friendly, cordial, and generally warm. But it began changing.Bookmark here

Her eyes narrowed, and her smile became smaller, but more… sensual. The way she looked at me like a predator eyeing their delicious prey.Bookmark here

She asked me something weird.Bookmark here

“Hey… Why don’t we hang out, just like old times? You’re alone, aren’t you?”Bookmark here

What?Bookmark here

“I know you’ve been watching me.” she said seductively.Bookmark here

What on earth?Bookmark here

I didn’t know what she meant by that. I coped with the thought that this girl was just a big fan of Miki Starsky, even going so far as to cosplay and sound like her. But when she said those words, a chill went up my spine.Bookmark here

“You thought I was Miki, didn’t you?”Bookmark here

The ghost continued to stare straight into my soul. No one but I could see it. Not her, not any passers-by. Just me.Bookmark here

Dear God. What is that yokai doing to you…Bookmark here

…Makoto Shirase?Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.