An Invitation to Another World – Part 01
He couldn’t determine the exact moment he realized he was dead. His mind was foggy, but his memories were crystal clear, creating a dream-like sensation.
Hikaru remembered the words of his senpai.
“All dead people cross the Sanzu River wearing white clothes. Why do we have to act as a group even after we die?”
Breathing in a full lung of air brought him back to his senses. The air seeped into his brain. Sleep deprived, he felt as if he was in a movie theater, watching memories from the past, but when he snapped out of it, he realized that he was walking.
There was a long line.
Everyone was wearing identical white jinbei clothing. Looking around, he saw buildings resembling gray skyscrapers, but none of them bore any signs of life. There were no windows. If he had to describe them, they looked like massive gravestones.
So I’m dead, huh…
His most recent memory came back to him. Hikaru was heading to a convenience store late at night, wearing a black hoodie, so the driver could not see him. Misfortunes never come singly. It just so happened that as he was crossing a pedestrian lane with no traffic signals, he was lost in thought and failed to notice the fast-approaching truck. He was preoccupied with thoughts of his senior, of what she said about the Sanzu River. He barely had any memory of the collision. He felt numbness, and that was it.
I gotta say, this place is creepy. Is this after we cross the Sanzu River? Or before? Does the Sanzu River even exist?
The queue before Hikaru’s eyes was, in other words, a procession of the dead. Hikaru had been in a state of stupor until moments ago—one that was forcibly induced, it felt like. Looking around, he saw that most of the people were in a daze.
Suddenly Hikaru got a hunch that there was a judge up ahead who would determine whether he would go to heaven or hell. The notion came so unnaturally that it felt like some supernatural being imprinted it into his head directly.
He shuddered. There was a being here that defied science, defied all logic. An afterlife was just too unscientific.
One person in the procession started screaming. Others spoke to the one next to them but were ignored. Some, like Hikaru, came to their senses, but they were in the minority.
Among those in a daze, there were a very few who were holding something like a pouch, with light spilling out of it. He had no idea what it was.
What to do…
Hikaru’s head was clear enough that he thought this was a rare experience. He decided to step out of the line for the time being and stroll around the gigantic gravestones.
I didn’t think I would die so soon…
He met his untimely demise at the age of fifteen. He was named Hikaru, meaning ‘to shine’, in the hopes that he would grow up to be a young man with a bright future, but he had always lived in the shadows. Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that he preferred to stay in the shadows. Not having any contact with others made life easier, and he saw no benefit in standing out.
Even during his elementary and junior high years, when athletic prowess could make one a star, Hikaru kept a low profile. He wasn’t exactly unathletic; in fact, he was quite good. But he had no desire for the spotlight or to pursue sports with the zeal to win national championships. He just did the bare minimum and nothing more.
It might’ve been his parents that influenced his indifference to social interaction and his constant pursuit of efficiency. He didn’t hate them, but as the relationship between his parents grew colder, Hikaru became increasingly distant from them.
Children become unmanageable as they grow older. And Hikaru was precocious. Despite living under the same roof, they acted as if they were strangers.
I don’t feel anything about my parents even after my death… Is that why I managed to snap out of it?
If the departed had fond memories, they would look back longingly on their past. Hikaru, however, had no good memories of his parents that he wanted to reminisce upon. Nor did he care about the judge.
As Hikaru wandered around aimlessly to the back of a giant gravestone, he sensed human presence.
“Come on, move it.”
“Hehehe. We’re dead too because of you.”
“Cheeky little bugger. We’re gonna torture you for eternity, so you better be ready.”
Three young men were kicking a cowering youth.
Bullying even after death, huh? You guys are too old for this. Doesn’t sit right with me.
They might have known each other while they were alive, and then died at the same time, yet still the bullying continued. It was worse than bullying; this was lynching.
What do I do?
Hikaru had never been in a brawl against three people. He couldn’t even remember being in a one-on-one fight. All because he thought that resorting to violence was barbaric and absolutely meaningless.
A closer observation revealed one of the bullies to be huge. Of the remaining two, one was skinny and the other fat—the big guy’s lackeys, most likely. All he had to do was deal with the leader, and he’d be fine.
Hikaru’s gaze met with the youth being bullied, and he gave a start. There was life in the young man’s eyes. Hikaru nodded. Surprised, the young man turned serious.
His face was saying, “If you’re going to help me, I’ll take action as well.”
Okay, let’s do it.
Hikaru decided to be violent and confront them, something he would never have done while he was still alive. And he came to the decision so easily too. Part of him said that efficiency didn’t matter now that he was dead, and he wanted to try something he had never experienced before. Perhaps the abnormal situation he was in numbed his sense of danger. Hikaru walked toward them. They were too absorbed in their bullying to notice him.
When they were about three meters away, the huge guy looked over his shoulder.
Hikaru stepped closer and kicked the huge guy in the butt. His legs were unsteady, as he had never done this before, but Hikaru was the type to improve quickly with any sport.
The huge guy fell forward.
A second later, the young man who was being bullied sprang to his feet. The skinny guy and the fat guy only looked around, unable to comprehend what just happened. As the huge guy tried to get up, the young man kicked him in the face, and he fell back down, nose bleeding.
Hikaru turned to the other two. “You guys wanna go next?”
They scattered in different directions.
As the huge guy rose to his feet, fuming, Hikaru kicked him in the groin.
The guy glared at an empty space, his mouth flapping open and shut.
He looked like an inchworm that toppled sideways.
“Let’s go,” the young man said. “While we still have the chance!”
“What? Oh, yeah.” Hikaru ran away with him.
“Wounds heal quickly here. That guy will be back up in no time.”
“How long have they been beating you up?” Hikaru asked.
The young man laughed. “A few days maybe? No, actually more like weeks. I’m not sure. This place can really mess up your sense of time.”
“That bad, huh?”
“If nothing happened, I would have just continued walking in line, but the big guy just had to snap out of it. He smacked me and the other guys back to our senses.”
“What’s at the end of the line?”
“A judge, probably.”
The young man shared the same theory as Hikaru. He didn’t know why. Just that he knew.
“I’m going to hell anyway,” the young man went on. “So I thought it would be better to just stay here and let them beat me up. But I guess I have to pay for my sins.”
Apparently, the huge guy was working for some gang, and they were involved in a scam that targeted the elderly. The young man, tormented by his conscience, grabbed the steering wheel of the car that the huge guy was driving and sent it plunging straight into a river. The three men who were in the car with him also died. They were all eighteen years old.
“We should be safe here.”
Hikaru and the young man stopped some considerable distance away. He felt like he was sweating, but his skin was smooth. It was strange, considering he felt tired.
“How old are you?” the young man asked.
“Fifteen,” Hikaru replied.
“Huh. So a boy three years younger than me saved my butt.”
The young man chuckled dryly, scratching his head.
Seems like a nice guy, Hikaru thought. Terrible way to go, though. He couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.
“Here. You can have this.”
The young man took out a small pouch from his pocket. When he opened it, light spilled out.
“I saw people in line holding something similar,” Hikaru said. “What is it?”
“I don’t know. I just had it when I came to my senses. I know it’s something important, but I have no idea what it is exactly.”
“Can I really have it?”
“Yeah. You kinda gave me courage.”
“You had it all along. You said you drove the car into the river.”
“I wasn’t really thinking straight back then. Of course, I knew I shouldn’t continue living such a shitty life, but there was more to it than that. A cop car was running nearby that day. It might not have had anything to do with us, but I thought it was the end of the line.”
“Yeah. It’s lame. Well, I’m off, then.”
The young man waved and walked away. He didn’t ask for Hikaru’s name. Perhaps they would never see each other again.
Hikaru watched him go. The man seemed determined to atone for his sins head-on.
“I like you.” A sudden voice came from behind. “I like how you can’t just ignore people that need help.”
Hikaru whirled around. “Who are you?!”
“I don’t have much time. Will you listen to what I have to say?”
It was a boy about Hikaru’s age. His hair had a golden luster to it, and his eyes were blue.
At first Hikaru thought it was a foreigner. But the boy was wearing old-fashioned clothes made of velvet, with a corsage around the collar. He looked like an aristocrat depicted in an oil painting found in art textbooks.
That’s weird, Hikaru thought. There should only be Japanese people here.
All the departed in line had black hair and black eyes, including the young man from earlier. And they were all wearing the same white clothes.
“I want you to come to my world and live in my place,” the boy said.
“Wh-What are you talking about? You’re not making any sense.”
“I’m going to die soon.” He turned up his shirt, revealing a red belly.
“And I’m already dead,” Hikaru said. “Also, I was just told that wounds heal quickly here.”
“I can’t do that. The laws here don’t apply to me. From your point of view, I’m from a different world. You already know where you are, don’t you? This is the entrance to the heavenly realm, the place where the soul is judged. The most my spell of crossing worlds could do was connect me to this place.”
“I’m not following at all. Could you explain things properly?”
Hikaru understood that the presence of the blond boy here was abnormal. He probably shouldn’t be here. However, he had no idea what this spell of crossing worlds was exactly.
“I would love to, but I don’t have time to go into detail. Please, come to my world. And grant my one wish. Then you can come back to life. Or more precisely, you can be reborn.”
Did he just say what I think he said?
“Then you can live the rest of your life however you want.”
There was not a single downside for Hikaru in this deal. After all, he was already dead. But there was something bothering him.
“What’s the catch?” Hikaru asked. “You asked me to grant you a wish. What do you want me to do after I’ve come back to life?”
“Ah, he has a sharp mind as well. That’s even better. I’ll explain it to you once you’ve been revived. Is that acceptable? I’m in a hurry. I can’t be here for too long. My time here is much more limited than I originally thought.”
The color was fading from the boy’s hands and feet. He was becoming translucent, and it was spreading fast too. He didn’t have much time left here, it seemed.
“Also, we can communicate here, but we can’t have complicated conversations,” the boy added. “It might sound like we’re using words, but we’re only communicating using mental images. For example…”
The boy said something, but Hikaru couldn’t hear it.
“I just said the name of a place in my world, but you didn’t catch it, did you? I’m telling the truth.”
“All right,” Hikaru agreed. “We’ll go to this world of yours, and then I’ll listen to what you have to say.”
He was dead anyway. He thought it couldn’t get any worse than that. He was also interested in this other world.
“I will now cast the spell of crossing worlds. My name is Roland. Roland N. Zaracia. My physical body is yours.”
Hikaru’s vision turned blurry and white.
And his soul vanished.
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