Chapter 48:

"Coming Home"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

“Let’s get out of here!” Eguchi bellows toward the purple sky. “Homeward bound!”

“Eguchi, man, what’s the dope?” Miyagawa asks. “What’s cool here? I’m not opposed to leaving right away, I got a customer waiting at the ryokan, but what’s got you vibin’, man?”

“The human spirit, that’s what!” Eguchi points toward the river bend. “The temple’s destroyed, the flame extinguished, the center cannot hold, but we’re still here.”

“What?” Miyagawa looks like he’s just been shot. “But the past, man! Th-th-the myth of the future, the next generation, the dream and mist. What about all that? The flame’s gone out?”

Eguchi puts his hands on Miyagawa’s shoulders. “We’ll just light another. Wouldn’t it be nice? Rather than tending to a flame from the distant past, we can light a new flame, right here. It’ll be this generation’s flame. Time’s ticking, let’s go live a little, let’s enjoy the now, let’s enjoy all the nows still to come.”

“That’s something, boss.” But Miyagawa nods. “Hell yeah, man, let’s start a fire.”

Miyagawa smashes a bottle of bootleg sake and tosses his lighter into it. I stare mutely at the growing flames that quickly spread across the bow, catching light on wooden panels and crates. Eguchi stares too, as does Miyagawa.

“ shit, man. And to think I used to be a professor with tenure, too-”

“Let's go!” Eguchi barks out. Miyagawa immediately snaps to attention and sprints to the boat cabin, revving the engine, peeling away. I find a bucket and lean over the edge of the boat, filling it as we steam out of there, and then toss it on the fire. No good. The flames spread to other crates, other bottles of sake. Smoke billows into the sky, mixing with the blue beams of the incoming twilight.

Eguchi finds a fishing net and starts scooping bits of the burning pile into the water. Steam quickly rises when the flames make contact. And through that steam, through that mist, through that fog and through that twilight, we gaze upon the Temple of the Eternal Flame for the last time. It will only exist in the memories of a select few; it will exist forever under Nobuhide’s watch until the last piece of wood surrenders itself to dust and oblivion. And so it goes. 

But it’s not truly gone. Nothing’s ever truly gone. As long as somebody is reading this, then the old days may go up in smoke, may disappear from active human memory, but in the subconscious, the collective unconscious, it goes on and on, contributing to our history in one way or another, making a silent, subtle impact on the course of lives, and that’s what you can honestly say about any of us in the grand scheme of things.

I find another fishing net and start hauling the burning mess off the side of the boat. But then my net catches on fire, and I accidentally stumble backwards and light the cabin on fire fearlessly toss it away into the sea. But now the cabin’s on fire, and Miyagawa starts sweating under the flames.

“We might have to beach her, man!”

“We got somewhere to be!” Eguchi yells. “I have grass to touch, and Shunsuke has a woman waiting for him!”

Something changes in Miyagawa. A rusted, old lightbulb inside of his brain activates. Gears turn; motors whirr. He wipes his forehead and adjusts his captain’s hat.

“A woman, huh? Always a woman. I knew a Yoshiaki woman once. She’s long gone, but her smile…her face…her voice…”

He tightens his cap, clarity in his eyes. “I’ll get you to her, Shunsuke. If it’s the last thing I do. And you too, Eguchi. I’ll get down this river, out of this forest, into meadows, because-”

Miyagawa revs the boat again and we zip down the river, sending ripples beneath the moonlight.


A flock of scared birds shriek and scatter from the trees. But, truth be told, I’m inspired by Miyagawa’s words, the way he yells into the moonlight. But while anything may be possible, the boat’s still on fire. Eguchi’s still going hard with his pole, but the dude’s ancient and the smoke billows. I try to take it from him, let him rest, but he keeps me away from the flames.

“I’m an old man. You still have so much life to live. Let me do something good for a change.”

He charges into the smoke, pole in hand. We’re in the middle of nowhere, so for the first time in perhaps my entire life, I can see the entire field of stars above. Despite the chaos around me, my eyes shine. There must be thousands of them floating above this dark river, millions, bands of purple light and gray galaxy. Everything looks beautiful, everything looks serene - is this the carbon dioxide poisoning talking? The whole boat’s covered in smoke, and right as I raise my hand to scoop up a spoonful of stars, smoke covers me entirely. I hear Eguchi coughing, Miyagawa gasping.

I got things to do. Can’t die yet. I haul myself to the cabin, prop up a slumping Miyagawa, and put my hands on the steering wheel.

“I don’t got a driver’s license,” I mutter.

“That’s alright,” Miyagawa says as his head lolls. “I don’t got my boating license, either.”

But it’s a straight river and we’re past the rapids. Patches in the smoke reveal the moonlight, I think of Shizuko, and then, against all odds, land ahoy. We smack into the dock at the ryokan and the boat comes to a rest. We immediately leap off for safety, plunging into dark water, surfacing and gasping and heading to the shore. We clamber onto dirt, onto sand, and now that we’re clear of the smoke, the stars appear once more. As Eguchi and Miyagawa both breath heavily, I could stay on that shore forever, but I got somewhere to be.

I uneasily come to my feet. My whole body complains and I’m seeing double, but I start trudging down the dirt path into darkness. 

“Where are you going?” Eguchi croaks out. “It’s pitch black out!”

I put on my phone flashlight. “I gotta catch the bus to catch the bus to catch the bus to Shuten.”

“But the last bus already left!”

“Then I’ll walk it.”

“That’s the carbon dioxide talking,” Miyagawa groans. “Shunsuke, we got a perfect view of a burning boat, stay and watch with us! You’ll get hypothermia or fox spirits out there, man!”

I ignore him, soldering on, my shoes squeaking with every step, my lungs wheezing with every step, because I got somewhere to be. But then I stop - the rational side takes over. I fall to my knees down the road from the ryokan. Because that’s the thing about handling the past - to heal your old wounds, you gotta confront your demons, but you still end up with scars. There’s a cost to everything. My cost for dealing with my past was missing this last night with Shizuko.

I sit on a grassy patch by the riverside. The waters move slowly, reflecting the stars up above. “Hey, Miyagawa. You got any more bootleg sake?”

“You’re speaking my language,” he says, moaning as he gets to his feet. “Gotta check in on the customer, too.” He shuffles inside, leaving me to my lonesome. Eguchi’s laying by the boat, gazing up at the stars, laying on the grass. 

I leave him to his fun and stew in my own misfortune. No, not misfortune. Just lousy timing. Your goals for yourself can clash with your goals for others. The goals you share with others. It’s about finding that balance. I’m not sure if I did, but you know what? Sitting here on this riverbank by myself, I’m far more comfortable with being alone than I was in Tokyo. I was alone in a crowd there. But now I know at least the stars will always be with me, as will the past, as will the present, as will the future.

I hear footsteps approach me. I don’t look up at Miyagawa, I just extend my hand for a drink, but instead, I feel someone flick it.

I tilt my head. “...Shizuko?”

She’s standing there next to me. 

I don’t believe it. She has a smile on her face. I reach my hand up and give her a tender push on the stomach. It feels real, alright, real and warm.

“You’re not a carbon dioxide hallucination,” I mumble. Then I immediately bolt upright and collapse into her arms. Yeah, I did, no need to cross out anything this time. She’s real, she’s here, she’s sniffing me again, but at least she has an excuse this time.

“Were you on that boat?” Shizuko asks. “Are you okay?”

“I’m perfectly fine,” I answer, ignoring the soot stains I’m leaving on Shizuko’s clothes, ignoring the way I can barely stand. “But what about you? What are you doing here?”

Shizuko keeps me upright. “I’m sorry, Shunsuke. You helped me with my past, but I let you go off to handle yours by yourself. So I came here to help however I could.”

I laugh. “Sorry? You have nothing to apologize for. I’m the one who ran off. I’m the one who got obsessed with the flame. I was selfish. But…I needed to be selfish this one time. I want to improve myself, for both you and for me. And I think I did that. Some stuff’s been troubling me, and I’ve worked it out.”

“That’s great,” she murmurs. She holds me tighter, because yeah, I’m lying.

“Maybe not all the way,” I admit. “I’ve worked on it enough to talk about it now. And because I trust you, and because you trust me, can I tell you about Kanako? About Suga? About all the stuff’s that weighing me down?”

“You want to fly with me?”

“To the moon and back.”

“Such a loser,” Shizuko teases. I put an arm around her shoulder and she walks my limping body back towards the ryokan. Miyagawa and Eguchi sit on the bank, drinking the homebrewed sake, watching the past go up in flames. But they seem perfectly content on this penultimate night of summer.

“Guess it’s time to go teach somewhere,” Miyagawa muses. “And buy a new boat. I’ve been meaning to for a long, long time.”

“And it’s time for me to wander,” Eguchi says. “Starting tomorrow. Tonight, I’ll spend my first night as a changed man laying in the grass watching the stars.”

They turn back to look at us. Miyagawa gives me a slow nod of approval, while Eguchi studies me with a quiet, studious look on his face. Then it softens.

“Shun Shunsuke,” he calls out to me. “Go live a damn good life.”

I smile and nod back. “You too, my friend. You too.”

I leave them to admire the memories of the past and excitement for the future. Shizuko walks me inside the ryokan. “You know, Shusuke,” she says. “This ryokan only has one room.”

“Should I sleep outside?”

Shizuko laughs, then takes my hand and takes me away, following her forever now, one day at a time.

Steward McOy