Yumeko and the Nightmare Crashers
One thing no one could deny was that Yumeko was short on dreams. Her own parents must have expected her to have great goals in life as they literally named her dream (Yume-夢) child (ko-子).
She opened the curtains to a bright, shining day. A metaphor for her future as she had obtained a professional job in an elite business. It was so selective that when she googled it, there were no results. That means it’s up and coming and ahead of the curve.
Sure, last night was terrifying and she spent an hour cleaning up after a monster that she would not have believed existed had she not seen it with her own eyes, but she had, and she felt a duty to investigate more. This was the kind of life experience you don’t get in the classroom, and it would lead to great opportunities in the future. Like inventing nightmare monster insurance. Or anti-nightmare monster security systems. She was definitely making the right choice joining this business.
“But what do you actually do?” Haruka asked.
They sat in the school cafeteria eating lunch. Haruka eating her leftover pasta from work last night and Yumeko eating the most affordable meal the cafeteria offered, the stamina meal. It had a bowl of miso soup, bowl of rice, pickled vegetables, and a fish for 300 yen. Very affordable. Another student passed with the 800 yen tonkatsu bowl and her mouth watered.
“Yumecchi?” Haruka called.
“Sorry!” Yumeko turned back to her, laughing. “The smell of fried pork always distracts me.”
“You could make it at home, you know. Pack a lunch?”
“But buying lunch at the cafeteria is so glamorous. And even though this dish reminds me a lot of home, it is fabulous.” She took a mouthful of rice and sighed happily. “Ho goo’...”
“The good news is you are satisfied with anything as long as it’s from here.” Haruka shook her head in amusement. “So tell me more about this job?”
Yumeko had left out the part about the monster and Kurosawa showing up to her house. She laughed it off. “It’s really mostly an office job. Inputting data about dreams and sleep.”
“Still, Sleep Researchers Inc? It doesn’t even have a website or any mention of it on the internet. Same with anyone named Tatsuki Kurosawa.”
“It’s really groundbreaking. I think everyone will know about the company in a few years.”
“Still seems sketchy to me. What kind of hours are eight pm to three am? What are you going to do if you start falling asleep in class?”
“I’ll take a nap between my class ending and before my shift. Then I can get a few more hours when my shift ends.”
“If you’re sure… But if anything weird happens or this Tatsuki Kurosawa gives you any creep vibes, you call me! I've never met him, but I can feel it, he's a total psycho.”
“Of course!” She laughed, if only she knew.
Yumeko had her schedule all worked out and drawn up on her monthly schedule with colour coded blocks and neat handwriting. She always prized herself on her organization skills.
She took a two hour nap precisely and woke up at exactly 7 PM, totally refreshed. She pulled out her chic suit and pulled back her hair back stylishly in the hair clip. She wore new pantyhose and fit all her items in her knockoff brand purse. She slipped into her sensible heels and was ready for her first night as a professional.
The office was twenty minutes by train and a ten minute walk. She took a deep breath and walked up the rickety stairs, which shifted under her feet and she tripped.
“Heh?” She looked down and saw a run in her new pantyhose. No! She just opened these! She checked her watch. She still had five minutes… She just needed to get them off and-
She turned but Kurosawa stood at the bottom of the stairs, drinking milk from a juicebox. They stared at one another for a long moment.
“Watch out for the loose step,” said Kurosawa.
“Uhm, Isn’t it a hazard to leave it like this?” Yumeko asked, trying to keep her face neutral of her annoyance.
“It’s my assistant’s job to fix it.”
“I see.” She blinked. “Wait, do you mean me?”
“You are my assistant right?” He began to climb the stairs and she rushed up to keep out of his way.
“I don’t know how to fix a broken stair.”
“What a coincidence, neither do I.” He opened the door and went inside. “I’m back!”
“Welcome back, Kuro-kun!”
Yumeko had brought her own slippers to use in the office. Kurosawa simply stepped out of his sneakers and walked his wildly mismatched argyle and polka dotted socks into the office. Yumeko quickly straightened both their shoes and followed him in. The office seemed much more lively today with the addition of this other person.
“Good evening, you must be Yumeko Tanaka-san. I’m Kuro-kun’s assistant, Shiro Yamada. Nice to meet you.” He bowed slightly.
“Oh, no, the pleasure is all mine, Yamada-san.” Yumeko bowed back.
He smiled gently and it put Yumeko at ease. The boy before her appeared her age with his baby face and soft features. His brown hair permed in waves that reminded her of clouds and his eyes were bright and full of kindness. He dressed in a sweater vest with a button down shirt and khakis, which gave her a better impression than Kurosawa had given her.
“I looked at the resume you left yesterday. I go to UniO too.” Tanaka said.
“Really? That’s so nice. Are you enjoying your classes so far?” She asked.
“Well, it’s pretty similar to the previous years.”
“Are you not a first year?”
“Oh, no, I’m going into my fifth year.”
“Eh?” She blinked and gasped. “You’re a fifth year?!”
“That’s right. Pre-med. It’s actually why we needed another assistant around here. My classes are becoming a little harder, so I can’t go out as often as I used to with Kuro-kun. So I’m really grateful you’ve come to help him.”
She laughed nervously. “Wow… I feel so grateful to have such an experienced senpai… Ah, can I call you that?”
“Of course, and if you need anything, just leave it up to your senpai.”
“Oiii…” A sleepy voice called from the darkness of the other room. His pale face appeared in the crack of the door. “Is the report for tonight ready?”
“Oh, sorry, Kuro-kun. Almost finished.” Yamada went to the small desk at the back of the room to finish typing on the laptop there.
“Yumeko…” Kurosawa beckoned.
“Yes?” She stood straight giving her full attention.
“Pay attention to Yamada until I fetch you.” He slid the door shut.
“Ok…” Her eye twitched. How was he the boss?
“Tanaka-san?” Yamada called.
“Yes!” She came over.
“Have a seat and I’ll walk you through.”
“Oh, thank you. Honestly, I’m a little nervous. I’m not really sure what we’ll be doing here.”
“Yes, it can be confusing and overwhelming in the beginning. It’s hard to accept the world has a dark underside that we as humans conjure.”
He noticed her look.
“Kuro-kun didn’t explain anything did he?” Yamada asked.
“Not at all.” Yumeko said.
They both sighed.
“But last night you did see a dream demon right?” Yamada asked.
“The furry thing with teeth?” Yumeko asked.
“That’s a level D. Most common. It causes minimal damage. Generally not interested in humans, but loves cats. You don’t have a cat right?”
“Good. They’re drawn to homes with cats.”
“Well last night it seemed pretty interested in attacking me.”
“Sometimes when they come through the shadowscape they become confused, so attacks aren’t uncommon.”
This guy wasn’t exactly helping her understand either. “Shadowscape?”
“It’s a nickname for the space between the place they come from and our world.”
“Where do they come from?”
“That’s somewhat unclear. We’re working on figuring it out.”
Groundbreaking indeed. She looked at his computer screen and saw a mapping system. “And what’s that?”
“This is a special satellite system that locates psychic energy. If there’s an area with a lot of psychic energy then a dream demon is likely to show up. Kuro-kun will patrol these areas and take care of any demons he finds. Our job as assistants is to record the residency and demon type for later research.”
“Wow, we really are doing important work here, huh?”
“You’re taking all of this very well, Tanaka-san.”
“Oh, well, I’m a big fan of sci-fi.”
“Ehh, maybe I should watch some sci-fi movies. I can’t really get used to this.”
“I don’t believe that. You seem to know your stuff!”
“That’s only because Kuro-kun needed me to. Everytime I go into the field I get so scared I can’t move!” Suddenly, his whole body language changed as his shoulders slumped and his eyes widened to some horrible memory. “Level D dream demons are nothing compared to the big ones...” He noticed her staring and perked up. “But it will all be fine! No one in this town has ever dreamt of one!”
“Uh-huh...” Yumeko laughed nervously and jumped at the computer beeping.
“Oh, the area scan is complete.” Yamada printed the paper and laid it out on the coffee table. “Tanaka-san? Let me show you how to read the map.”
“Sure…” She agreed halfheartedly and joined him as he went over the meaning of the numbers and symbols on the printed paper. The paper was clear and fit over an area map he’d already laid out. Yumeko continued to listen and try not to let the weird stuff bother her. She was here for one reason; survival. It was really money, but it sounded a little less materialistic if she called it survival, which wasn’t a lie either as she would not survive there without a job.
At about eleven, Kurosawa’s door slid open and he stepped out looking tired as ever. He had changed into a long jacket and had goggles hanging around his neck. He almost looked like a cool bounty hunter out of a movie.
“It’s time.” He sucked the last of his fruit milk from his milk carton.
Yamada gave Yumeko a number of things she may or may not need on the patrol. It was somewhat on the heavy side and she was seriously regretting the heels and pencil skirt as they walked block after block with nothing to report. They wandered the streets, Kurosawa looking casual in his suspicious wear as Yumeno looked suspicious in her formal wear. He hadn’t said anything for nearly an hour, and she felt self conscious, like any moment a police officer would appear and arrest them for suspicious activity.
She bumped into his back at one point.
“Excuse-” She began and he held up a finger and pointed.
The house was quiet, no lights on. He pulled up his goggles and walked along the fence.
“Uhm… Kurosawa-” She called and he shushed her again.
“It’s right around the corner.” He flipped back his long jacket and revealed some type of pistol strapped to his hip.
“H-Hey-!” She began, but stopped when he held up his hand. He removed the pistol and took a deep breath before turning the corner.
Kurosawa looked back at her and motioned to stay put. Yumeko gave an enthusiastic double thumbs up before he turned, and a ruder gesture when he couldn’t see her.
She debated running. She really did. This wasn’t some glamorous research office job, it was more like an internship with some paranormal wackjob. She looked down at the heavy bag she’d been lugging around all night and knelt down. The only thing she really knew that was in there was the maps, so she figured she’d check it out. There were lots of hard cased boxes and stray metal vials rolling around the bottom of the bag. Some bottles of water. A rosary? A foreign book?
Haruka’s voice kept repeating in Yumeko’s head, but she shook it off. Kurosawa was weird, but Yamada seemed normal. She would give it a week and if it didn’t work out, she would quit. That’s what an adult would do.
Yumeko pulled something new out of the bag. Binoculars? They were definitely going to get arrested. They looked expensive, and even had a switch to turn around the lens. Nighttime binoculars. They were going to be arrested for being perverts.
She looked through them and saw a man down the street. She quickly lowered them and opened her mouth to apologize, but the man wasn’t there. The street wasn’t very dark and he looked only to be two houses down. She brought them up and screamed. The man’s face was horribly lumpy, his eyes sunken and mouth misshapen. His body was short but his limbs long, and his hair frizzled every which way in green tufts.
“Hyuck!” He went and went to hug her.
“No!” She shrieked and ran for dear life the opposite way. She turned the next corner, gasping.
Screw it. Screw Kurosawa. Screw Yamada. Screw the job. She was not getting involved in this. She looked down and saw in her hysterical run, her skirt had ripped up the side. Damn her high knee stride jogging!
She heard it. She was sure she heard it. She lifted shaking hands to check. Left? No. Swift turn. Right? No! Behind? Infront? Around the corner? No, no, no! But she was sure by the raised hairs on the back of her neck that lumpy freak was around.
This time she pinpointed the direction. She looked through the binoculars once more and looked up to see the lumpy demon on the top of the fence behind her.
She shrieked and ran.
“Heeeeeeeeee-yuck!” It shrieked back and she felt a wind around her. She brought the binoculars up again to peek through but couldn’t see him. Still, his deep chuckle surrounded her. “Hyuck! Hyuck! Hyuck!”
Then a vaguely familiar sound. The electric pew pew! She looked back as she turned onto the next street and watched the demon fly backwards and disappear into a wall.
Then she ran into a garbage pickup shed hard enough she bounced and landed flat on her back. Her head pounded in pain as she curled up in a ball of pain. Footsteps approached behind and she moved fast to grab the binoculars and look behind her.
It was Kurosawa.
“You shouldn’t leave company property in the middle of the street.” He dropped the bag next to her. “Come on, we still have six blocks to patrol.” And he walked past. No hand to help her up. No kind word.
She dropped her head back again and huffed into the sky. It was official, she hated him.