Chapter 0:

Unemployment

THE UMA CORPORATION OWNS ME!!


Sitting on the spotlessly clean floor of his constrictively small and unfurnished
half-room apartment, lazily picking at the strings of his guitar in an unsuccessful
attempt at taking his mind away from his current situation, Mutsuki Arata could
do nothing but sigh as the words of his father once again came to mind.Bookmark here

“No one in life is aiming to be a failure”.Bookmark here

As his next fruitless attempt at diversion, he decided to once again do a tour of
his apartment.Bookmark here

That should do the trick.Bookmark here

He started with the wall immediately in front of him. This was the door that led
to the outside. He liked to seat facing it just in case someone once again tried to
pick the lock or force it open, so that he could quickly stand up and put his weight
against it to keep the assailant out.Bookmark here

Both things had proven laughably easy to do.Bookmark here

The first time around, two thugs had tied him up and after taking a full inventory
of everything in the room, they had taken his old gas stove, his old phone, a
small black & white tv he’d had since he was in middle school and his favorite
tennis shoes.Bookmark here

The second time around, the one assailant just looked dumbfounded at the room,
got really red in the face and started yelling, first at him and then just in general
until he finally left, still yelling, and went downstairs and got into an argument
with the landlady, asking her if she was not ashamed of making people live in
such squalor. In the end the police got involved and the thief was arrested for
causing a public disturbance.Bookmark here

The third and last time around it was three people, all wearing masks like the
kind you would get during summer festivals. They forced the door open and
immediately looked at him sitting on the floor practicing his fingering. They
apologized, closed the door and left, only to come back maybe ten minutes
later with some food from the convenience store and then stayed for dinner.Bookmark here

It ended up being a rather nice evening.Bookmark here

Still, you can never be too vigilant.Bookmark here

In fact, once it was time to sleep, he would usually unroll his futon so that his
head was right in front of the door. Should the door open at any point during
the night, it would hit his head and immediately wake him up.Bookmark here

Either that or cause him a serious concussion.Bookmark here

It all depended on how good at their job his prospective trespassers were.Bookmark here

Immediately to the right was, obviously, the right wall, which he liked to call
the “utilities wall”, since it contained both the switch to the only light in the
room, a single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling on a wire, as well as a tiny
sink and faucet which was his only source of running water. Sitting on the sink
you could see his plain white ceramic mug and his toothbrush.Bookmark here

It also had the only window in the room, which lead directly to a dirty alley
where everyone in the building usually placed their trash, so it mostly stayed
closed even during the scorching heat of summer.Bookmark here

This was also the wall where his small, single burner gas stove rested. He had
managed to get it for cheap during a sale at a camping supply store and it had
proven very durable and effective.Bookmark here

Next was the wall he was currently leaning against. The back or rear wall.
Its only redeeming quality was that it had the only electric plug. Not even
a dual outlet. No. Just a single solitary plug to serve each and every one of
his electrical needs.Bookmark here

Obviously, he had invested some of his money on a power strip long ago. It even
had a couple of USB charging ports. Perfect for charging his phone and also for…Bookmark here

Well…Bookmark here

For whenever he finally purchased something else that also charged via USB.Bookmark here

At least then, he would be ready.Bookmark here

Also resting against the rear wall where his guitar case, where his guitar usually
rested when not in use. His suitcase, which contained every item of clothing he
currently owned, which to be honest wasn’t that much to begin with, but even
such small amount could not be stored anywhere else as his half-room did not
even come with a half-closet.Bookmark here

And finally, there was his old and busted amplifier, which had once been a shiny
and new brand model. Mutsuki had restored it as best he could, just as he had
done all those years ago with his precious Baby Blue, his electric blue-colored
electric guitar which currently rested on his lap as he relentlessly picked on a
single note, hoping the noise it generated would fill his head and expel all
other thoughts out of it.Bookmark here

This wall also tended to be the coldest wall in the room, so he usually liked to
lean on it when it was hot and during summer, he would end up down to his
boxers, his entire body plastered against the wall like the poster of some sort of
semi-naked idol or comedian.Bookmark here

His landlady had once found him like this during a particularly hot summer
afternoon.Bookmark here

She had stayed there, with the door open, just staring for roughly five or
six minutes before hurriedly closing the door once again.Bookmark here

Relations were tense since then, and she had also started to demand to have
the money for his rent delivered to her apartment in an envelope beneath her
door by the end of the month every month.Bookmark here

Mutsuki immediately stopped himself from continuing that train of thought,
basically opening the side door and jumping with the train still in motion with
no fear for his safety or how he would land since this was all a metaphor and
metaphors couldn’t hurt you.Bookmark here

For the most part.Bookmark here

Thinking about rent would get him nowhere right now.Bookmark here

Besides! There was one more wall left on his grand tour of the apartment!Bookmark here

He smiled and moved his head slightly to the left to admire the left wall. Then
the smile disappeared from his face almost as soon as he inspected it, as he
remembered that this was the left wall or as he liked to call it, “the boring wall”
since there was nothing in it or about it that made it remarkable in any sense.
It was just a wall. And certainly, that was more than enough. No one was
asking for it to be anything else, but it still made for a rather boring ending
to his tour of the apartment.Bookmark here

And so, there it was.Bookmark here

Four walls, a floor and a roof with a bulb hanging from it. A door, a window,
a sink, a faucet and a single electric plug.Bookmark here

And soon, he wouldn’t even have that.Bookmark here

Not once his miserly savings finally ran out on him and he no longer had enough
money to rent even that wannabe closet space.Bookmark here

At first, when Mr. Sakamoto could no longer pay him for his help at the grocery
store. He continued to help him free of charge for another month, but then
Mr. Sakamoto’s wife quietly asked him to please leave, as they didn’t want to
feel like they were taking advantage of him.Bookmark here

He could have argued that he had no trouble at all, but also didn’t want to make
Mr. and Mrs. Sakamoto feel like he was taking pity on them.Bookmark here

So, he stopped showing up to help and only came in as a customer, making sure
he made all of his major purchases directly through them.Bookmark here

Still, it was only the one job.Bookmark here

But then, the Kinoshitas sold their liquor store, and the new owner fired both
him and the other guy who helped with the boxes.Bookmark here

Poor other guy!Bookmark here

Unlike me, he had three children to feed, not to mention his wife and
her all-consuming addiction to idol gacha games. How would she get that
premium currency now?Bookmark here

Thankfully, the kids were keeping them afloat economically through their
video game streaming channel, so that should give other guy some time to
get back on his feet.Bookmark here

Two weeks after that, the Arisugawa bathhouse was also sold out and just
a week later, it was demolished to make room for some fancy apartment building,
which meant Mutsuki not only lost yet another job, but the closest bathhouse in
his neighborhood. Now he had to walk an hour and a half in order to get a decent
bath, and he would usually get all sweaty all over again from all the exercise,
so what was even the point?Bookmark here

Still, he couldn’t just go without bathing, so he kept going even though it was
mostly a useless endeavor.Bookmark here

The final strike came, funnily enough but not really, when the Yoshizawa batting
cages finally closed due to bankruptcy. It had been over a month since their last
customer and it didn’t look like things were ever going to pick up.Bookmark here

So, that had been it.Bookmark here

The owners had even offered to pay him his last due paycheck in full, but
Mutsuki had refused. He knew they were going to need every penny they had
even more than him. So he smiled. And he told them not to worry.Bookmark here

He would be ok.Bookmark here

But he wasn’t.Bookmark here

He never really was.Bookmark here

Not a single time when he had said those words had he ever been ok after.Bookmark here

And yet, he kept on saying it.Bookmark here

"A self-fulfilling prophecy", he hoped every time.Bookmark here

But it always ended up turning into a curse.Bookmark here

Ever since he had failed to enter every single one of his college options five
years ago, Mutsuki knew that it would just never happen for him.Bookmark here

That was the end of it.Bookmark here

He would never again have the time, energy and drive to dedicate himself to
studying like he had done before. Like he needed to in order to make it to his
third choice, much less his first.Bookmark here

And doing so would only make him a burden to the rest of his family. And he
would not allow that.Bookmark here

The next day, he moved out of their house.Bookmark here

Ever since, he had lived off from part-time jobs and half-shifts and whatever little
bits of work he had managed to scrounge and bargain for himself. From
convenience stores, to libraries, to overnight security gigs and host bars, to
warehouses and construction sites. Every yen he could live without, he had sent
back home to his mother and sister.Bookmark here

Miyuki had only graduated high school last year.Bookmark here

They would still need his help for a while longer until she could find a steady job.Bookmark here

It was only a matter of time. He trusted in his sister and her skills.Bookmark here

He only had to keep hanging in there.Bookmark here

But he had looked everywhere and talked with everyone he knew and had come
back empty handed.Bookmark here

There were no jobs anywhere.Bookmark here

Money was tight and people would rather take care of their menial or
cumbersome tasks if it meant saving a little cash.Bookmark here

Which meant that he would have to stoop to his last resort.Bookmark here

He would have to go to an actual job interview to try and get an actual job.Bookmark here

The notes of his Baby Blue immediately soured and started coming out all janky
And off-key.Bookmark here

He hated job interviews.Bookmark here

They were cold, transactional meetings all about measuring up and assessing
what skills and talents you had to offer. And he had none.Bookmark here

The more the interviewers asked, the more they realized he had no work
experience whatsoever. He wasn’t particularly good with computers. Only
average. He’d never worked as part of a group of people, big or small.Bookmark here

And sure, he’d had good grades.Bookmark here

No. He’d had great grades. Amazing grades.Bookmark here

“Top of His Class” grades.Bookmark here

So, then, why hadn’t he gone to college? Why didn’t he have a degree?
Why didn’t he have any work experience or references?Bookmark here

Why was he such a failure?Bookmark here

“Well, son… No one in life is aiming to be a failure. Modern society is
anything but perfect and people sadly fall in between the cracks, where
there are no safety nets and some of them never come out. That is why
you need to care, son. You need to care about other people and what
happens to them. Because you never know when it's going to be you
who falls between the cracks.”Bookmark here

Mutsuki could still picture the face of the beggar.Bookmark here

He wasn’t cartoonishly ragged or disheveled. He wasn’t covered head to toe
in grime, nor was he stinky and constantly followed by flies.Bookmark here

He had been a man that had slowly and methodically lost everything he had
and found himself living on the streets, never knowing what the next day
would bring.Bookmark here

And when he had approached Mutsuki and his father that night while they
were out to the grocery store, asking for any help they could give him, his dad
had given him every yen that was left in his wallet and, smiling, he’d put the
money on his hand while wishing him good luck.Bookmark here

It’s not like they didn’t need that money.Bookmark here

They did.Bookmark here

He had never thought of himself and his family as poor.Bookmark here

Not back then.Bookmark here

But he had certainly noticed, when compared to his classmates and friends,
they all tended to live in nicer houses, have much nicer clothes and a lot more
toys and things, as well as driving out in cars, which they didn’t even own.
Driving out to places they never visited.Bookmark here

But while his dad had known that they needed the money, he also knew that
the beggar needed it more than they did.Bookmark here

No one in life ever aims to be a failure.Bookmark here

He certainly wasn’t.Bookmark here

He could still remember having grand ambitions. Making plans and setting
goals for himself.Bookmark here

And yet, there he was.Bookmark here

“Not in Education, Employment or Training”.Bookmark here

That was the dreaded term.Bookmark here

And it fit him to a T.Bookmark here

He started playing again.Bookmark here

Just picking the strings one by one, trying to grab a melody.Bookmark here

He was obviously self-thought.Bookmark here

His family had no money for classes, and he’d only ever had the guitar partly
due to luck and the rest because of sheer stubbornness.Bookmark here

So, he had slowly and awkwardly learned by himself using books, online videos,
chatting with street performers. Whatever he could find. Whatever progress he
could make.Bookmark here

He instinctively went back to that old riff.Bookmark here

It was from a song by a very famous foreign band.Bookmark here

The lead had killed himself long before he had ever been born.Bookmark here

And yet the first time he had ever heard that song, that opening riff had nested
in his head and in his heart and it would not let him go.Bookmark here

It was just four chords. Nothing particularly complicated.Bookmark here

Even someone at his level could grasp it.Bookmark here

But it had never sounded right.Bookmark here

Not like it did back when he first heard it.Bookmark here

The notes were the same.Bookmark here

The rhythm was the same.Bookmark here

But the sound was hollow.Bookmark here

Soulless.Bookmark here

It was clearly missing something.Bookmark here

He was missing something.Bookmark here

The sound of his phone furiously vibrating on the floor was so sudden that
it made him jump in the air and scream, which immediately summoned the
ire of his next-door neighbor, who banged on their shared wall with abandon.Bookmark here

“I’m very sorry, Mr. Miyasako! It won’t happen again!”Bookmark here

The wall banged yet again, but somehow in an upbeat mood?Bookmark here

Having taken care of his neighbor, Mutsuki went back to check on his phone.Bookmark here

It had been a message from Himawari, the daughter of the Sakamotos.Bookmark here

She was close to his sister’s age, so Mutsuki couldn’t help but to chat with
her whenever she would approach him and act a bit like a big brother
around her.Bookmark here

For her part, Himawari was a sweet girl, if a bit spoiled.Bookmark here

She was very prone to weird mood swings. Bubbly and cheery first,
then immediately cold and standoffish. Calling him names and stuff.Bookmark here

But that was teenage girls in a nutshell. And she always came back around,
so he never really took it to heart.Bookmark here

Her message was a link to some social media thing.Bookmark here

“Check this out” was all her message said.Bookmark here

Mutsuki was not very into those sorts of things. He was aware of them.
He even had an account or two. But he just never felt like he had much to say
or show, so he didn’t really post anything and eventually he just stopped logging in altogether.Bookmark here

He tapped the link and it immediately opened to a giant picture of a very nice,
luxurious building downtown he had always seen in the distance, but never
up close.Bookmark here

Lots of happy, smiling people were posing in front of it, making victory signs
and generally just having what seemed to be a grand old time. Bookmark here

“If you think you have what it takes, then TOMORROW is your LUCKY DAY!
We have openings in ALL our departments, and we are searching for
hard-working, self-motivated and goal-oriented individuals who have their eye
on the price and are looking to become part of our team. EVERYONE is
welcome to apply, and NO previous experience is required. JOIN US in
building a stronger today and a better tomorrow. For you! For us! And for
everyone! Don’t miss this ONCE IN A LIFETIME opportunity!”Bookmark here

Right underneath that, the post went into a whole lot of additional information,
all of it in a very small font for some weird reason.Bookmark here

"Man, people are not gonna be able to see all of this..."Bookmark here

Still, Mutsuki could barely believe it.Bookmark here

Everyone could apply!Bookmark here

No experience required!Bookmark here

Certainly, if they had openings in all their department, he was sure there had
to be a job somewhere in there that even he could do. Even if it was just as a
janitor.Bookmark here

In fact, janitor would be the perfect position for him! Bookmark here

He enjoyed cleaning and organizing and had a knack for putting things in
their proper place. And surely a big building like that would need a lot of janitors.Bookmark here

This was too good an opportunity.Bookmark here

Even if he hated the idea of going there and submitting himself yet again to
more ridicule, he had to go and give it his best shot.Bookmark here

Looking at the long list of instructions, he saw that interviews would begin
tomorrow at 10 a.m. sharp.Bookmark here

He would need to upload a copy of his resume to the company’s private
server, along with a picture of himself.Bookmark here

For some reason it also said that it would be best to fast before the interview
and that by assisting to the interview process, you were tacitly approving any
testing, physical or psychological, as well as samples gathering of any kind
the company deemed necessary.Bookmark here

That was a little weird, but not unheard of. Bookmark here

They certainly wouldn’t want to hire anyone on drugs. And psychological
evaluations were commonplace for big companies like these.Bookmark here

Also, he guessed that an empty stomach would be better for people who tended
to get nervous. Wouldn't want to get cramps right before its your turn to go and
impress the interviewer!Bookmark here

There was also a lot of other stuff and notes and recommendations, as well as
what seemed like warnings and disclaimers, but his eyes immediately focused
on the line that said proper attire was expected and required for all applicants.Bookmark here

Mutsuki sighed.Bookmark here

“Of course I’ll need to wear a suit...”Bookmark here

He wasn’t particularly fond of suits.Bookmark here

After all, he'd only ever had the one.Bookmark here

“At least now it should fit... Better wash it and iron it before tomorrow.
Oh! And since I’ll need a resume, I guess I better start calling some people or
else I’ll have nothing to show. I should also thank Himawari-chan for sending
me this.”Bookmark here

Mutsuki was about to go back to the messaging app to text Himawari thanks,
When he realized he hadn’t even checked the name of the company he was
going to apply to.Bookmark here

He felt stupid for not even checking.Bookmark here

He tapped on the account’s avatar and that brought him to their profile page.Bookmark here

There, he could more clearly see the company’s logo, which was this weird
mishmash of geometric shapes that looked more like a wizard’s spell right
out of an RPG than anything else.Bookmark here

“The Uma Corporation? Uh. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of them…"Bookmark here

Bookmarked
You can resume reading from this paragraph.