Dreams, Don't Die
Chapter 01 - Fantasy
“Give up on your dreams and die like the rest of us.”
Those words may as well been spoken to me on the day I decided my future…
My name is Taiyo Moriyama. The year is 2009. As of this moment, I’m a high schooler. In a few weeks, in early May, I will be graduating. A time of the lives of high school students where they can begin the next stage of their lives, begin to live and be treated as adults. Oh, and more freedom, can't forget about that.
Ah, graduation. A moment of happiness for most people, the chance of a new adventure to begin for others. Happiness...adventure... I won't be able to experience such things after high school, won't I?
Let’s start the story back to January of this year. It was a chilly, cloudy morning, but no sign of snow. School had just resumed from the winter holidays. I had just stepped off from the school bus. The first thing I saw was a crowd of students in the courtyard of the school, happy to see each other. They are linking up and showing off their Christmas gifts, chatting about what they did during the holiday vacation, if they haven’t already the night before or during the break. I, on the other hand, had two things more pressing to think about: 1) getting to the cafeteria in time before the starting school bell rings, and 2) what's going to happen during the new semester.
I was already looking forward to starting the new classes of the semester, my final semester as a high school student. Math, economics, social studies, language arts, and business were on my list of classes to take. More importantly, there is a lot for me to think about, such as university, how to prepare for it, and what I should major in. The final stretch of my high school life, and just now I’m beginning to think about these things. Well, we all have to start somewhere.
When the second half of the semester began, every student taking the business course was required to participate in a business plan contest. ‘Work in groups to compete against each other,’ was what was instructed of us. However…
“I refuse,” I blatantly said to my business teacher, Mrs. Robins.
“Excuse me?” Mrs. Robins had a puzzled look on her face. She has known me ever since I was quiet freshman who always kept his head down or averted eye contact because I was shy.
In fact, I’m still the quiet student that my teachers and peers perceive of me, the quiet student who does his work, doesn’t cause trouble, and often have his nose in a book or manga, or was always writing something. I don’t talk much, except when necessary, but I do have a small group of friends that I do chat with during school. At this specific moment, though, is when I may have had enough of people forcing upon me what they think is better for me. I may be quiet, but dammit I have a voice, and I want it to be heard!
“I refuse. I don’t do group projects for simply because 1) I’m usually the one doing all the work and of the slackers get all the credit." There's bound to be one person who has no idea what's going on, one who says they are committed but does nothing, and one who disappears at the beginning and doesn't reappear until presentation day. "And 2) Whenever there are class projects, I have a vision in mind. I have a vision of how I want to succeed. I want that vision to become reality.”
“Well why not communicate that vision with your team members?” Mrs. Robins was smiling patiently. Her smile usually works on me. In fact, I look up to teachers and hardworking adults. I don’t want to let them down. But…
“Because,” I began. My heart is racing from nervousness, my palms are sweaty. Good thing I digested mom's spaghetti from last night. I am fiddling with my favorite pen between my trembling fingers. “Because they don’t see my vision the way I do. I don’t want to sacrifice my vision or my dreams just because a few people don’t see it. So, I refuse to work in a group for this project.”
There! I said it. The quiet kid stood up for his vision! Maybe this is unheard of because it took Mrs. Robins a while to respond. My heart began to pound more. Pop out of my chest and stick the landing onto the teacher’s desk, why don’t you? My favorite pen moved between my fingers faster.
I wanted to break this silence. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Robins.”
“Don’t apologize, Taiyo. I’m actually surprised.”
Wait, what? “Excuse me?” I barely held in those words.
“In business, it’s always important to work together and to communicate ideas effectively. However, it’s more important to work towards bringing your vision to life, even if you have to do it yourself. You know, I never thought that you of all people would stand up for what you believe in. You’re always so quiet, and you seem to always go with the flow with everything.”
She wasn’t wrong. I always sacrificed my ideas, what could have been, for fear of sounding stupid or being rejected.
“I will grant you permission to work alone for this contest. However, if you feel that you can’t handle it, let me know and I will put you in a group.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Robins.” I smiled, and she returned the smile. I turned around and began to make my way back to my computer desk.
‘Thank you,’ I conversed to myself internally, ‘for looking out for me, but I won’t back down. I will see it through to the end.’
And as soon as I sat down at my desk, I fired away typing up my business plan. With each strike of the letters on the keyboard, the words ‘Weekly FanLit Magazine’ spilled onto the white document. My vision, a weekly online literary magazine where aspiring authors can submit their novel series to be read by people online. It was inspired from a popular magazine called Weekly Shonen Jump Magazine. Every week, I would read the latest chapters, watch the latest anime episodes, buy the latest novel and manga volumes.
Not to be mistaken for an otaku, I have always been more intrigued by the stories contained in anime and manga more than character design the characters themselves. The stories are always so imaginative, and just when I thought that a novel, anime, or manga I have read couldn’t be topped, another creator releases something that is just as imaginative! These authors are following their passions, their dreams. Their visions are becoming reality.
There’s another vision of mine, a passion, a dream. Of all the things I want to become true during my lifetime, making this dream of mine become a reality is in the top five. And that dream is to become an author. Poetry, short stories, a one-shot novel, even an anime series, I long to become an author just as the next person who longs to become the leader of their country.
Ever since I was a toddler, I always imagine to myself going on adventures: discovering new kingdoms, defeating dragons, traversing through enchanted forests, establishing civilizations on Jupiter. There is no limit to my imaginations. Though, being the quiet person I am, I would keep such things to myself. I didn’t know how to communicate these imaginations, and I fear that if anyone were to know about it, I would be thought of as weird. That is, until I entered middle school.
I don’t know why or when, but something had spurred inside me, to write down my inspirations and imaginations, to make them into a story of some sort. I remember watching the anime Slayers and Lost Universe during middle school. The world contained in those anime, the fantasy; the magic and spells and weapons; how the creators brought the characters to life with their personality, interactions, and the inner and outer conflicts; the slapstick humor; and the battles always captivated me, enough that I started writing my own fanfic.
Hey, reader, don’t look at me like that. I was only age thirteen at that time. And it wasn’t just a typical fanfic. I would think to myself ‘What if this happened instead?’ or ‘What if they were to go on this kind of adventure?’ ’ Pair it together with whatever J-Pop music I was into at the time, and that’s how I would create my fanfics.
I would read my fanfics in front of my language arts class and…my classmates didn’t enjoy listening to them, as expected. But, not all of them hated it. I remember my language arts teacher enjoying the adventures, as well as a classmate or two enjoying my writings. Just knowing this encouraged me to write more and more.
At some point I stopped sharing my writings aloud in class. I don’t remember why. Maybe writer’s block, early teenage angst, or whatever. But, I didn’t stop the creative writing endeavor, and I did get back to sharing my stories once I started 9th grade. I became friends with a classmate who also happened to have detention one day. During detention, she noticed I was reading One Piece. It was then that we began sharing each other’s writings and creative thoughts, even going as far as to create our own characters in each other’s respective stories. Unfortunately, one day her mom tore up all of my writings. Definitely a heavy blow. But that didn’t deter me. Oh well, on to the next creative idea.
Whether it be a love poem, ideas, cheesy fanfics, I made it a point to write at least once a week or as much as I could. The friend and I grew apart from each other after our 9th grade year, so I didn’t have much of an audience anymore. But, there’s no rule saying that you can’t be your own audience, as long as you don’t always pat yourself on the back and think you can do no wrong. Maybe someday there’s an audience I can stand in front of again…
Back to the business plan competition. I had completed the details of my business plan that night for homework. The next time in business class that week, we are to present our business plans in front of class to the teacher for both approval, feedback, and a possible grade.
On that day, groups were being called one by one, names of three to four people to a group. Somewhere in the order of the groups being called was my group: Team Me.
“Taiyo, please come and present your business plan.”
I immediately stood to my feet and made my way to the front of the class. My nerves were getting to me again. In my right hand was my pen, twirling around in between my fingers. My palms weren’t sweaty this time, but it didn’t help that I overheard the murmurs.
“Taiyo? Just him?” “He’s in a group by himself?” “He must think he’s too good to work with us.” “He is always quiet. I wonder how well this is going to go.”
The pen fell from my grasp from my shaking fingers. I reached down to pick up my pen, only to almost stumble on my face from a loose shoelace from my left shoe. I caught my balance, but not before grazing my left arm on the projector cart. What a smooth way to introduce my business plan.
“Are the nerves getting the best of you?” Mrs. Robins had asked.
I couldn’t tell if she was joking, concerned, or was trying to help me feel relaxed. But what I did know is that I have something to prove.
“No, I’m okay.” I spoke with a sheepish smile but my voice was so low that it was barely heard from the back of the classroom, and it wasn’t a big classroom to begin with. I straightened myself, pulling my jacket close to me, as if it would help me speak louder.
“Hello everyone. My name is Taiyo. How are all of you today?” I greeted.
“Louder, Taiyo. I can’t hear you.”
As Mrs. Robins said that, a few students snickered, a few others sighed from lack of patience or just not wanting to do this. Whatever it may be the cause, the feeling that began to swell inside was not embarrassment, but determination, determined to let those people put their foot in their own mouths.
“Hello everyone,” I said louder, “My name is Taiyo. Today, I am presenting my business plan for the business ‘Weekly FanLit Magazine’.” The snickering had stopped. I had everyone’s attention. Probably because the name of the magazine is so stupid.
“The purpose of this magazine is to give a space to writers who want their writings to be read and heard. The mission statement: ‘Bringing fantasy to fans’. This can be achieved by establishing our presence online. It’s 2009; as each day passes, online entertainment is growing at a steady pace. The time is now to cement yourself in the online sphere. Years from now, the online entertainment will most likely be very saturated that it will be difficult to break waves, to stand out among the rest. So, why not do it now? Whether it’s manga, comics, fantasy literature, or poetry, my proposed company and its business plan will create this space. With my love for literature and manga, authors and fans alike will be able to cement themselves in the booming online entertainment.”
As I spoke, my passion flared. I don’t think I have ever spoken this much in length in anything before. It is most likely the first time I have ever spoken about my passion in front of a sizeable audience before, an audience that most likely do not share the same interests as me. But it cannot be denied that I felt great. I was happy.
That happiness, though, may be short-lived. My peers and Mrs. Robins are silent. Not a word. Not a cough. Not a clap. Was I weird? Was my vision weird? Or maybe it was stupid. My business plan proposal was nothing like the other groups. Theirs were typical and creative. Mine was different. What are they waiting for? Go ahead, laugh at me!
“Taiyo,” Mrs. Robins began, “I’m quite surprised. In awe even.”
“Eh? Excuse me?”
“First, of all the four years I have been your teacher, this is the first time I have ever heard you speak this much, and the first time I’ve seen your passion.”
“O-oh. Thanks.” I chuckled bashfully. It’s not often I receive praise, so I take it however and whenever.
“Now, as for your business plan proposal…”
That’s right. Just because I received praised doesn’t mean that my proposal was accepted. I’m walking on eggshells again.
“There are some things about your business plan that needs to be more developed, such as how do you plan to appeal to authors to get on board with you, how you plan to get the financing and how the financing will be spent. Who are your competitors and what are they doing that works and how will you be able to compete and sustain your business for years to come, a 5-year plan?”
I gulped to myself, though I’m sure the class heard it. I continued to stand at the front of the class as the nurturing Mrs. Robins rapidly pecked holes into my business plan like a hawk. It’s true, I hadn’t mentioned any of those things. I hadn’t even thought about them. It’s too late to add to it, too late to even mention it. When is that rejection punch going to land across my face?
“It’s wonderful to pursue your passions, but a passion without a sound plan is bound to burn up and explode in your face. So, that’s why, Taiyo and everyone else, your business proposals are all accepted. But, many of you all have a lot of work and planning ahead of you between now and the first week of March. Waste no time and strike while your ideas are hot.”
Internally, I sighed a sigh of relief. Accepted. My business plan was accepted. But the one-man war has only just begun. It’s me against five other groups. I have to come out on top!
“Thank you, Mrs. Robins.” I gently and subtly bowed my head and made my way back to my desk.
Upon sitting down, I glanced towards my left. A few computer desks away from me, was the most beautiful girl in any of my classes this semester. She was just as quiet as me. She was fiddling the ends of her raven black hair between her fingers. Surely, I impressed her, or at least caught her attention somehow. She didn’t look in my direction. I mustn’t stare, or she’ll notice me. Wait, that’s what I want, right? Maybe not in that way. Get it together, Taiyo. You of all people know that - -
The electronic school bell rang throughout the school, signaling the time for a class change. I gathered my books and belongings into my right arm, sliding my favorite pen into my right pocket. I turned around to head to my next class when…
“Hello ~!” A brown-haired classmate cheerfully greeted, right in front of my face.
Umm, personal space much? “H-hello. May…I help you with something?” My voice was quiet, a bit shy. It’s just how I typically speak with people who I don’t know all too well. I took a step back to create space between the classmate and I. The classmate stepped forward. I stepped back. The classmate stepped forward. I stepped back. The classmate stepped…
“You most certainly can help me with something, Taiyo,” the classmate said.
You can help me first by giving me personal space. Besides, who are you again?
“Umm…and what might that be?”
The classmate grabbed both of my hands into hers, resulting in me almost dropping all of my books from between my arm and side. She’s grabbing my hands! What if Athena sees this? I’m not interested in this person who’s holding my hands at all!
The eyes of the brown-haired classmate began to gleam brightly like a pair of stars. She leaned in closer. Maybe a little too close! Get away from me! This isn’t allowed at school!
“Join the Dead Writers’ Society!” the brown-haired classmate asked with beaming enthusiasm.