Master Series: The Sea
A Modern Japanese Kaidan*
original story copyrighted by author @ syarecowa.moo.jp
translation copyrighted by M. L. Mills, 2010
It was the summer of my second year in college
I and a friend - an upperclassman - went to the sea.
A far cry from the beating rays of the sun and girls in bikinis, we were bound for the chill night sea.
Shivering at the prow of the small motorboat my friend was maneuvering, I thought, How did it come to this?
Below was nothing but the undulating ocean surface, the far depths of which were unfathomable.
Sometimes my face twisted and distorted and I had the feeling I was seeing the profile of some stranger's face in the waves
The far-off shadow of the land laid an unsettling silhouette.
A faint light from the lighthouse highlighted the heavy tapestry of clouds in the depths of the sky.
There was an irresistible power within his invitation of “Let us go find the sounds of the sea.”
Master of the occult (among other things), my friend's collection contained a number of dubious cassette tapes. When he let me listen, it was an endless recording of disturbing growls, voices like weeping, whispers in some unknown country's language.
After I finished listening, he warned me, “You'll shorten your life, you keep listening to that.”
I freaked out and swore to myself I would never listen again. Yet as time passed, for some reason I found myself again wanting to hear them.
I chased after those softly whispering voices that couldn't quite be picked out with an unrequitable expectation, wondering what they were saying...
The Master got a kick out of the state I was in and telling me that those were the sounds of the sea, invited me to the night ocean.
The Master operated the boat he had borrowed from a friend with familiarity and by the time we were out at sea, the sun had completely gone down. I - who had never been out on the ocean in a ferry much less a tiny boat - from the start stood with frozen legs. response to my question of whether or not he had license to operate it, he haughtily tossed back, “As long as the recorded length is three meters or under, you don't need the small vessel operator's license.”
The boat glided over the dark waves of the ocean surface under his guidance.
At some distance off-shore, the Master suddenly cut the engine and pressed the record button of the tape recorder he had brought.
The wind fell silent.
Once the noise of the running motor stopped, silence enveloped us.
No... After some time, from somewhere indiscernible drifted in what can only be called the susurous sounds of the sea.
Allowing ourselves to drift along in the current, the boat rocked gently in the waves.
Sticking my head out over the bow of the ship, I peered into the ocean. In the bottomless black waters, white shapes of what looked like they might be the undersides of fish flashed by and disappeared.
The Master sat in silence, staring fixedly at the horizon.
Even sneaking a glance at his profile couldn't give me a hint as to what he was thinking.
The slight sound of wind brushed passed my ears.
From the bottom of the ship came a dull echoing noise of the sea and I felt an uncontrollable sense of helpless loneliness.
“It's taping...right?”, I asked only to be shushed to silence in return.
I had the feeling I could hear something, but at the same time wasn't sure.
In the first place, what the hell in the middle of the ocean would give off a whispering like that on the tapes?
I sat in the darkness, listening closely.
How much time had passed... I was sitting zoned out face battered by the clammy, salty ocean wind when suddenly something like a human figure cut across my line of vision.
Unconsciously, I followed it with my eyes. It definitely looked like a human figure.
I didn't think it was flotsam adrift in the sea.
It stood up from the ocean's surface as tall as a child.
I sat frozen, unable to move.
I couldn't take my eyes off the dark human figure undulating back and forth as it disappeared into the distance.
Right smack in the middle of the ocean, there was no way the water was shallow enough for a tree much less a human being to stand.
My field of vision grew smaller, the human figure slowly disappeared into the darkness.
With a trembling voice I asked, “What was that you think?”
The Master shook his head and murmured only, “The sea is full of things we know not.”
I was driven by an impulse to switch on the flashlight, but then had a feeling I might see more than I wanted to and gave up.
I heard a sound as the record button of the anachronistic tape recorder clicked off.
It began to automatically rewind and made a sound - shaaaa – that echoed with terrible loudness.
As the boat rocked ever so slightly, I had a feeling that the Master was moving in the direction of the tape recorder.
“Care to listen?”, I heard him say.
Not possible. Not for me. In my room or his, FINE. Even, dare I say, a regular ghost spot would be alright.
But here - separated from the land, drifting in the waves – HERE was the tangible feeling that there was no place for a human, neither on nor under the ocean surface.
“No place for me in all the worlds.”
That saying came to mind for some reason and I was fiercely overcome by a sense of helplessness that comes from having nothing, no one to rely on.
If even on a whim something overturned this tiny boat...
That this world would allow that...
I had an undefinable chill down my spine.
Thinking on such things, I gripped the edge of the boat with all my strength.
Without any regard for me, the Master pressed the Play button.
Before I knew it, I clamped my hands over my ears.
Being careful to not lose my balance, I straddled my legs out and dug in. All sound disappeared from my world. The Master crouched before the tape recorder, unmoving as if someone had pressed his stop button.
I couldn't take my eyes off of him.
I felt choked by the raw smell of the sea.
“Only one plank lies between me and hell.”
Ah, I thought, for fishermen the Other Side is the Sea.
I could see something like a human figure at the Master's shoulder as he rocked back and forth with the waves. Once again, the shadow standing in the sea tried to cross right next to our boat.
I couldn't see the face or anything. I couldn't even clearly discern where the outline of hands or legs were.
Just, I could only tell that it was a human figure.
Suddenly, the moment I thought he had just turned to face in that direction, he started bellowing something, half his body hanging over the edge of the boat.
He was incredibly infuriated.
For an instant the boat tilted. Reflexively, I leaned in the opposite direction.
Still standing, the human figure disappeared into the darkness.
The Master pulled himself back into the boat and took hold of the stern motor.
I lost my balance and automatically put both my hands that hand been holding my ears shut on the edges of the boat.
What the hell was that? What the hell?!
The Master was babbling on in state of excitement, attempting to start the engine.
He intends to turn us about and go after it.
Is what I thought and I clung to his hands yelling, “I can't. Let's go home.”
He shook me off. “Of course we are. Grab hold.”
Immediately the loud sound of the engine rang out and the boat shot off.
I roughly wiped my glasses as the salt plumes splashed into my face, my eyes pursuing the light of the lighthouse I could faintly see.
I didn't have the courage to look back.
Later on, the Master told me he'd let me listen to that tape we made that night out at sea.
As it turned out, I had yet to hear it.
In the spirit of “Danger past, God forgotten”, I blithely went to the Master's room.
“We recorded the impossible.”
There is no way, having been told that, I could not hear it.
Setting the cassette player on the table, the Master pressed play.
The muffled sounds of waves and wind echoed from far off.
Moving my ears closer to listen, I had the feeling that mixed in with that was something else, a different sound.
When we raised the volume, you could definitely hear it.
Neither staticy white noise nor a low, heavy rumbling sound, some orderly connection of sounds.
And it was repeated, over and over.
If you raised the volume more, rather than hearing it more clearly, the sound began to break up.
But if you focused and listened closely while cleverly adjusting it, you realized that it was made up of two words.
It was an indescribable sound that could be taken as both a human voice and as a natural sound.
The instant I understood those two words, I bolted up out of my seat and caught my breath.
Those two words were
with no mistake....
*Kaidan – a traditional Japanese “ghost” story usually involving the unexplainable, a flexible concepts of time and space, strange meetings, love gone wrong, the supernatural… Curious and sometimes terrifying stories, but never centered on nor featuring either gore or sex.
Original text story: syarecowa.moo.jp
Audio recording: www.nicovideo.jp/watch/1279969676
(Account with nicovideo required. Japanese only.)
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