Chapter 1:

Money and Monsters

Yumeko and the Nightmare Crashers

Yumeko often had strange dreams. No, to be specific, she saw strange creatures in her dreams. Cake with pointed teeth. Snakes made of jelly. Peaches of an unusual size. Bowls of soba with a katana.
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Or maybe it was just that she went to bed hungry too often. Especially recently, since she moved out of the safety of her family home to attend her dream university in the big city. She came from Shinjo, the smallest village in Okayama prefecture with less than 1,000 people. In middle school, she took a trip to Osaka and from there decided her destiny was to live in the fast-paced, heavily-populated, technological city with more than 2 million people! Not to mention that it had some of the best cafes and restaurants to visit.Bookmark here

Everyday on her way to school, she left a little early to walk down ‘Good Eats Street,’ a side street that was filled with cafes serving the tallest parfaits, food trucks with the cutest crepes, and restaurants with delicious plates of savory dishes. Her mouth salivated just thinking of it.Bookmark here

Unfortunately her wallet was starving too.Bookmark here

On her first week here, Yumeko had indulged in every food craving. She ate the tallest parfait of cream and berries. She munched the crispiest crepe filled with ice cream and chocolate. She slurped up bowls of warm noodles. To top it off, she bought boxes and boxes of mochi shaped like anime characters to photograph on the app, InstaSnap, so she could share her love of food with the world. She had come from a town where mochi was the main export, but nothing compared to the explorative world of big city mochi. Bookmark here

She sat on her favorite bench in the park where she ate many sweets and scrolled through her feed, remembering happier times. She let out a heavy sigh. Bookmark here

Why is living so expensive? She kicked her legs in frustration and cursed at the sky before grabbing the local employment magazine. This week she was dedicated to finding a part time job to feed her food addiction.Bookmark here

“Yumecchi!” Bookmark here

Yumeko looked up to see Haruka, her friend from school. Bookmark here

“Haru-chan! Good morning!” Yumeko waved. “You sure are up early for a weekend.”Bookmark here

“I have a shift at work.” Haruka sat next to her.Bookmark here

“What a coincidence.” Yumeko held up her magazine.Bookmark here

“Oh come on, you don’t need to look at that thing. Just come work with me at the restaurant.”Bookmark here

“But what are the benefits?”Bookmark here

“Benefits?” She turned her head questioningly.Bookmark here

“Like, do I get to take food home?”Bookmark here

“Oh, yes, of course! Before or after your shift you get fifty percent off your bill on a meal. I usually get pasta and have it for lunch the next day.” Bookmark here

“How thrifty.”Bookmark here

“I know. And the hours are very flexible. They don’t interfere with school activities. And sometimes I get to wait on really good looking boys.” Bookmark here

“Thanks, but I think I’ll try this first.”Bookmark here

“Oh come on, Yumecchi. The only people who list jobs in this are corporate robots and pervs.”Bookmark here

“If the perv pays enough, it’s ok.” Bookmark here

“Yumecchi!” She stomped her feet and pouted. “You need to take life seriously. It’s because of this attitude that you spent all your savings the first week here!” She checked her watch. “Damn! I’m going to be late!” She stood and grabbed Yumeko’s face, pinching her cheeks so her glasses became askew. “Promise you won’t go anywhere weird! I’m going to tell my manager that you’re interested and to expect you, ok? See you later!” She ran off waving and smiling, nearly knocking over a preschooler on a bike.Bookmark here

“That girl…” Yumeko straightened her glasses and went back to her magazine. She had circled all the jobs with open interviews and the available time slots. It was getting to be the first interview time, so she headed out into her beloved big city.Bookmark here

In the countryside, she worked in her parents' small rice ball shop. Everyday, it was mix the rice, pat the rice, wrap the rice, and sell the rice. She had to make and sell hundreds everyday to the workers in the mochi factory. This gave her the skills to become an expert rice ball maker, but really, how could that help her in the big city? Bookmark here

She had to be smart and fashionable, and would definitely not allow anyone to think she was a small-town bumpkin to be taken advantage of! Last year, when she came to interview and take the university exam, she had bought a chic outfit that played on the side of a working professional and gave her boney frame a mature look. She also bought sensible heels that she practiced walking in every night. She bought a 300 yen hair clip to pull back her long, raven hair, and made sure her bangs were cut evenly. Her last attempt at social maturity was her rectangle shaped glasses. Her whole life, she bought big round glasses that made her look like a certain boy wizard, but everyone knew serious women wore delicate, rectangle glasses. They were bought from a department store, so the prescription was slightly off, but it was a sacrifice to make. Bookmark here

Her first interview was with a man who looked like a bald fox. He needed a receptionist for his delivery company. He seemed to have a cold, but Yumeko would forgive him, as this was the highest paying job. However, when he sneezed without covering his mouth and green gunk landed on the desk, she thanked him and ran out. She needed money, but she had a weak immune system and could not risk getting sick.Bookmark here

The second interview was at a telephone service agency with a woman who looked like a movie star. She was beauty and grace with a voice that could make router installation instructions exciting. She was what Yumeko wanted to be.Bookmark here

“Well, we don’t mind taking on a girl with little experience. Sometimes it’s an asset. And you have such a cute little voice,” said the interviewer, Aihara.Bookmark here

“Thank you very much.” Yumeko smiled. “I was just wondering about the hours. There’s only night time slots?”Bookmark here

“Mhm, that’s right. There are lots of people who work at night and request us to call in and remind them to do things like take pills, or for wake up calls, or whatever.”Bookmark here

“Wow, it seems like you get to talk to lots of interesting people.”Bookmark here

“We do.”Bookmark here

The phone rang.Bookmark here

“Oh, I thought the phones don’t do incoming calls?” Yumeko asked.Bookmark here

“This is probably one of our VIP customers. Special order. This will be a good example for you.” Aihara lifted up the phone. “Hello, you’ve reached Angel.”Bookmark here

Angel?  Yumeko questioned as she continued to smile.Bookmark here

“Oh, yes, let me get your bedtime story.” She opened a drawer in her desk and Yumeko took one look at the explicit cover, and ran out.Bookmark here

Her luck did not get any better. One interview was only for men. One required her to put on a bear suit and hand out flyers. One she was nearly run over on the highway directing traffic at a worksite. It was one disaster after the next. Maybe she should just work with Haruka. At least she had experience waiting tables and working a cash register. Her arms had turned to jelly with all this hard labor at another interview where she needed to move around fifty pound boxes. Bookmark here

She had one interview left. It was in an unfamiliar neighborhood on the edge of the shopping district where most shops had apartments overhead for the owners to live in. That’s the same type of house Yumeko grew up in. Bookmark here

Yumeko had originally missed this ad as it was small, maybe one tenth of the page. All it said was: ‘Sleep Researchers Inc. Assistant wanted.’ with the address. When she reached the building, it was a small café. She went inside, but the man inside told her that the business she was looking for was on the second floor, and only accessible through the stairs in the back. He was annoyed at the question, like he’d been answering it all day. She thanked him and went back outside. Bookmark here

It was getting dark and her feet were aching, but she was determined to have a job by the end of the day, so she put on a smile and went around back to the staircase. It was a little rickety. Next to the door was a small sign on the nameplate. She pushed the call button and waited. No answer. She knocked on the door and it opened slowly with a long creak. Bookmark here

“Excuse me? The door was unlocked...” She called. She stepped inside. “I’m here for an interview?” She stepped into the small, dark entrance way. The only thing in the room was a shoe cabinet with a money cat on the top. She removed her shoes and left them next to a pair of sneakers. There were two doors, one on her left and one on her right. The one to her left was slightly ajar and when she looked down, she was sure she could see a small furry face of a dog looking up at her. Bookmark here

A hand dropped on her shoulder from behind and she jumped in surprise, turning and letting out a loud squeal at the ghoulish, pale face behind her. He stood motionless. Bookmark here

His face was thin and pale, with dark eyes blackened by heavy eye bags, his ghoulish face framed by a shaggy haircut in need of a good trim. He dressed quite casual in a baggy sweater and jeans, and mismatched socks. As her scream died down, his tired expression did not change, and he held out a business card and waited patiently for her to calm down.Bookmark here

As her voice died in her throat, her face reddened in embarrassment. “Sorry.”Bookmark here

He shrugs, “Happens all the time. I am Tatsuki Kurosawa, nice to meet you.”Bookmark here

“Yumeko Tanaka.” She took his business card with both hands and bowed slightly.Bookmark here

“Yumeko… Nice name… Shall we step into my office?” He turned into the dark room behind him.Bookmark here

She stared after him, Haruka’s words echoing in her mind. She saw the door behind her had shut sometime during her screaming, the dog must have shut itself in. She sighed and followed him. The space was meant to be an apartment, as there was a kitchen area and a large room with a table in the center that was surrounded by mismatched chairs and a lumpy couch. The whole back wall was crammed with books, binders, and papers. All the furniture looked like it came from secondhand shops. There was a single certification hung crooked on the wall that claimed that Sleep Researchers Inc. was a legitimate company. Bookmark here

“Please have a seat.” Kurosawa nodded as he walked by her from the kitchen with two cups. He placed one on the table and sat on the couch to drink his.Bookmark here

“Thank you.” She sat on the rickety chair and took a sip of what she thought was milk tea, but was actually chocolate milk. She eyed the young man, pegging him a bit older than her. His manners and drink choice, however, would seem more appropriate for a middle schooler. Bookmark here

“So… What exactly is Sleep Researchers Inc?” She smiled, trying her best to be professional.Bookmark here

“Our business objective is to look into the mysteries of the human mind and research the creatures that come from it.” He answered.Bookmark here

She stared and he stared back.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry, but what do you mean by that?” She asked.Bookmark here

“Let’s get to the interview, shall we?” He picked up a clipboard.Bookmark here

“Please.” Her smile twitched fiercely. Bookmark here

“Do you believe in the supernatural?” He asked.Bookmark here

“Sorry?”Bookmark here

“You know. Ghosts, ghouls, demons, monsters, creatures of legends… Even hell?”Bookmark here

“I mean, there must be some sort of afterlife, I guess.. But that other stuff… No.”Bookmark here

He scribbled on his clipboard.Bookmark here

“Have you ever seen a ghost, ghoul, demon, monster, or creature of legend?”Bookmark here

Long stare. “No.”Bookmark here

He scribbled on his clipboard.Bookmark here

“Have you ever dreamed about ghosts, ghouls, demons, monsters, or creatures of legends?”Bookmark here

“No.”Bookmark here

He scribbled on his clipboard.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry, but what exactly is this job?”Bookmark here

“It’s an assistant position. It includes going to sites, following me, and public relations… Pretty standard. How do you handle watching a scary movie?”Bookmark here

“I don’t watch scary movies.”Bookmark here

“Ah, that explains the screaming. Would you say you suffer from night terrors?”Bookmark here

“Not particularly.”Bookmark here

“Do you ever dream about strange creatures?”Bookmark here

She thought of the jelly snakes and sword wielding soba. “No.”Bookmark here

“Do you ever think you see strange creatures in public from your dreams?”Bookmark here

“You know, I think I am late to meet my boyfriend.”Bookmark here

“No, you’re not.”Bookmark here

“Yes, I am.”Bookmark here

“What’s his name?”Bookmark here

“Keanu.” Dammit. Why did she have a Matrix marathon last night?Bookmark here

“Oh, a foreigner. Does he suffer from night terrors?”Bookmark here

“No! And he gets really mad when I’m late.”Bookmark here

“Doesn’t sound like a good boyfriend if he doesn’t allow boundaries like that.”Bookmark here

“Thank you for your time.”Bookmark here

“Just keep my card handy should you or Keanu-san have any nightmares tonight.”Bookmark here

She got out of there fast. What a fruitcake. She definitely needed to research places before going to them.Bookmark here

*Bookmark here

Yumeko sat in her one room apartment with a single candle to light it, as she was trying to save money on the energy bill. After a long, unsuccessful day of job hunting, she broke open a new bag of instant noodles that she bought on sale. She never appreciated sales until she moved to the city. She thought sales were only for thrifty moms who had to feed their kids. Now she was a kid who had to act like a mom. She missed her mom, but also didn’t want to call until she had a job secured because her mom would urge her to work with Haruka, and she really wanted a respectful job. A job with meaning. A job where people go, ‘wow, already working in an office at your age? While maintaining classes at UniO?’  Maybe she dreamed too big. Maybe she was meant to be a country girl selling rice balls forever.Bookmark here

The rice balls mocked her as they danced around her head. Bookmark here

“Ah, I’m dreaming.” She told herself as she realized she had fallen asleep. She sat up on the floor and watched the rice balls hum and dance, and trip over each other in the darkness. She reached over for the candle and put it on the floor. The rice balls clapped and murmured their excitement as they did the bonfire dance. One rice ball sat alone on the edge sadly.Bookmark here

“Poor thing. You’re all alone. Just like me.” She picked it up. She bit it and its little seaweed arms and legs moved in panic. “Hey, at least you have a purpose!” She exclaimed. It shrugged and allowed her to eat it. Bookmark here

Another thing about her dreams , which Haruka told her was unusual, was that she always knew she was dreaming. For as long as she could remember, Yumeko would fall asleep and know she was asleep. She could control what happened, which was also known as lucid dreams apparently. It was why she never had bad dreams, like what that weirdo Kurosawa was trying to get her to talk about. Nothing she didn’t know about ever happened in her dream world-Bookmark here

There was a loud munching next to her. She looked over and saw a giant furball with scaly arms and clawed fingers. It stood as tall as she sat, and had two big, cat-like eyes and a big mouth of pointed teeth. It turned to her and continued to eat the frightened rice balls.Bookmark here

“Who the hell are you?” Yumeko asked.Bookmark here

It picked up another rice ball and opened its mouth to eat it, but Yumeko snatched it away. Bookmark here

“No, no. These are mine. You go now. Shoo.” She told the creature. Bookmark here

It tried to grab another, but she snatched it first. It reached again, and she reached first. The process repeated until her arms were full of rice balls. Bookmark here

“See? There’s nothing for you. Go on.” She ushered again. She could always control everything in her subconscious. This was very strange indeed. Bookmark here

It began to cry, its mouth opening until it extended to be half the size of its body. It jumped at Yumeko, who screamed and woke up in fright. Bookmark here

She sat there, out of breath, her heart hammering in her chest. She never experienced a nightmare before. In her dream world, if she wanted something gone, it left. To add to her anxiety, her candle already went out. She took her lighter and reignited it. Bookmark here

There was a sniffling behind her.Bookmark here

She turned slowly and saw the creature from her dream standing behind her. Bookmark here

“Do you ever think you see strange creatures in public from your dreams?”Bookmark here

Tatsuki Kurosawa’s question echoed in her mind as the creature’s mouth extended open again. Bookmark here

She jumped as quickly as she could as the creature lunged to bite her. She scurried in the dark room and snatched her purse, ducking at the creature and sending it sailing over her head. It crashed on her kitchen counter and sent her clean dishes everywhere. She threw open her bathroom door and slammed it shut, but the creature’s fingers caught in the door and it howled terribly. It retreated its fingers, and she closed it again properly and locked it. Bookmark here

The creature battered at her door and rattled the handle. Yumeko dumped out her purse with one hand as she searched for  Kurosawa's business card and her phone. She dialed in a panic, not knowing what else to do.Bookmark here

A sleepy voice answered, “Yes?”Bookmark here

“It’s Tanaka. We met today?” Yumeko answered.Bookmark here

“Tanaka? I don’t believe I met such a person today…” Kurosawa pondered aloud.Bookmark here

“Yumeko Tanaka!” Bookmark here

“Ahhhh, Yumeko… How are you?”Bookmark here

“You cursed me or something!”Bookmark here

“No, I’m not much in the business of curses.”Bookmark here

“Well you must have because you asked all those weird questions and then this happened! This thing- A monster or demon or I don’t know what! It was in my dream and when I woke up, it was there!”Bookmark here

“Oh, I see. Tell me, is it aggravated? Or more like a playful pup?”Bookmark here

“It tried to bite my head off!”Bookmark here

“Interesting… Alright, I will be right over then.”Bookmark here

“You don’t know where I live!” No answer. “Kurosawa-san? Kurosawa-san!” She cried and dropped her phone to grab the rattling handle with both hands. Of all the places she wanted to die, it was not in her bathroom. But the bright side was she would at least die in her big city bathroom.Bookmark here

The rattling stopped. The creature growled. Bookmark here

A male voice was heard through the door. “Now, what should I do with you?” Bookmark here

The creature whimpered and there was a strange sound. Like an electric pew pew! She heard the sounds of  the creature crying and scampering away, knocking things over. Bookmark here

Yumeko opened the door after a moment of silence. She saw a light from the open fridge, and a young man in black standing in front of it. Bookmark here

“Your milk is expired.” Kurosawa said.Bookmark here

“You!” Yumeko pointed.Bookmark here

He made himself at home and poured a glass of the expired milk. “People think you can’t drink after the expiry date, but a couple days should be ok.”Bookmark here

“Where’s the creature? How’d you get in? What did you do to me?” She took the glass. “Don’t come into other people’s homes and drink their expired milk!”Bookmark here

“You should probably throw that away after all.” He cringed and rubbed his stomach. “Can I use your washroom?”Bookmark here

“Answer my questions first!”Bookmark here

“Ah, let’s see…” He began opening cupboards as he spoke. “I used my spirit blaster to scare off the creature. I used my key kit to come in through the front door. I did nothing to you. It was just a latent psychic ability in you that awoke when you stepped into my business.”Bookmark here

“That answers nothing.”Bookmark here

“Yes, it’s quite complicated. I’ll explain it better in the morning when you come to work.” He began picking up the dishes from the floor.Bookmark here

“Who says I want to work for you? I had six interviews yesterday and you were the third worst, but number one weirdest!”Bookmark here

“Only third worst? That’s not bad.”Bookmark here

“Are you finished? I have to get up early tomorrow for more interviews.”Bookmark here

“That depends, are you sure you don’t want to work for me?”Bookmark here

“Positive.”Bookmark here

“I’ll give you my bill then.” He handed her a paper.Bookmark here

“Bill?” She took it and saw a long list of services she didn’t understand with expensive prices. “What the hell is this? You were here for five minute!”Bookmark here

“Oh, no, that’s just the general fee sheet. Each job is different, depending on resources and time. We generally have two to four jobs a night with varying degrees of prices. If you worked for me, you would get a percentage of it.”Bookmark here

Her interest peaked. “Really? How much of a percentage?”Bookmark here

“I guess a fourth since my team already has three people.”Bookmark here

“Seriously!”Bookmark here

“But if you aren’t interested-” He held out his hand.Bookmark here

She held onto the fee sheet. “I never actually said that.”Bookmark here

He put his hands in his pocket. “So, I’ll see you tomorrow then?”Bookmark here

Yumeko didn’t know what had happened to her tonight. She didn’t really get what the job entailed. And she definitely thought this guy was strange beyond reason.Bookmark here

Still, she agreed. “See you in the morning, boss.” Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.