This is the sixteenth in a series of posts featuring speculative flash fiction in translation. The series highlights both new and established spec fic writers from around the world.
Katsuya Yatsukawa (八川 克也) is a computer programmer in Aichi, Japan, where he lives with his family and edits Logic Aide. His passions include playing video games, reading comics, and writing science fiction. He has published various stories in S-F Magazine, Japan’s premier SF magazine.
Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His translations of Latin American literature include books by Claudia Apablaza, Liliana Blum, Carlos Bortoni, Selfa Chew, and Leticia Luna.
“Soul Tree” by Katsuya Yatsukawa, translated from Japanese by Toshiya Kamei
A single cherry tree stood alone. It was in full bloom.
The cherry blossoms were out in all their glory. The light-colored petals scattered like little flakes of snow. Plucked by gravity, they swirled in languid spirals, landing softly on the ground.
“Do you know why the cherry blossoms are so beautiful?” The girl who tagged along with me twirled, making her skirt float up in the air. She glanced up at me. She had a pretty smile.
I slowly shook my head and said, “Why?”
“That’s because” – she suddenly lowered her voice and whispered as if she were speaking of some serious matter – “a dead body is buried under the tree. That person’s soul is… making the cherry blossoms beautiful.”
“Oh, is that so?” My curiosity peeked. “Who is it?”
“Well… yes, a young woman. She was pretty, pale white skin and shiny black hair… but she was killed.”
I listened to the girl without saying a word. The cherry tree was in full flower. Is the tree absorbing Earth’s gift with all its strength? I wondered. How much longer will it last?
“She was engaged to be married.”
A soft breeze blew, making the petals dance in the air.
“But her fiancé was a very bad man… Hey, are you listening?”
The girl flitted around like a fairy. Maybe she’s a cherry-tree fairy, I thought. Unexpectedly, she may well turn out to be one.
“The man had met someone else. But he did not really love her. The other woman was rich, so he was just after her money. Anyway, the man now thought his fiancée was in his way.” The girl leaned against the cherry tree and took a peek at me. “He invited her to watch cherry blossoms. Then with the cord he brought” – she put her hands around her throat, pretending to choke herself – “he strangled her.”
How long will this cherry tree last? I want the flowers to last as long as possible. And I hope it will flourish again someday.
“She could hardly believe it, but she loved him so much, so she just smiled.” The girl snuffled. She looked sad while talking. “She died. The man dug a hole in a hurry and buried her under the tree. He never returned there. But she wanted to see him again someday. So she makes the cherry tree bloom. You see, the flowers look so pretty, and she wants him to come out to see them… The color of the cherry blossoms is the color of her soul.”
The girl seemed to be sobbing. I gently held her.
It was a good story. It’s different from one I’d heard somewhere a long time ago. But no matter. Almost everything is fiction. What this girl knew might be another make-believe story. The color of the soul? Might as well enjoy the variety of stories.
“Well, let’s go back before it gets too late…” I urged the girl. Spending too much time outdoors is not good for your body. It might not make any difference even if you stayed indoors, but it might be better than outside.
The girl stood next to me. Then she waved goodbye to the cherry tree.
I, too, glanced up at the cherry tree. Surely this must be the last time it blooms so pretty.
What lies beneath the tree is not a corpse. It is a dying Earth. The radioactivity covering our planet will kill us all. Surely I will not see such lovely cherry blossoms ever again. It’s a shame really, but I’m afraid it can’t be helped. It’s an amazing miracle that such a tree has survived until now. Perhaps we are witnessing the last miracle.
The color of the cherry tree was the color of the soul, the color of the soul of a dead Earth.
Cold black ash clouds smothered the sky. We started toward the shelter. Dry weeds crumbled and crunched beneath our feet.
The color of the cherry blossoms might have been a bit flashy. Even so, I didn’t mind it at all.