Chapter 1:

Dreams and Nightmares

Love Explodes Like Fireworks

The way I see it, there are three kinds of dreams.

The first kind is the dreams that are impossible. No matter how hard you try, you will never be Ultr*man, or B*tm*n, or a dinosaur. Children who have these dreams tend to grow out of them very quickly. If they don't, they're in for a rough adulthood.

The second kind is the dreams that are theoretically possible, but extremely difficult. For example, it's possible that you could be part of the soccer team that wins the World Cup. Someone has to be. However, there are only 26 players on a World Cup-winning team, and there are six billion people in the world. Someone's gonna win that trophy...but it most likely won't be you.

The third kind is the dreams that are easily obtainable. Realistic dreams. Say you want to be a scientist when you grow up. With enough hard work, you can become one. You may not be a famous scientist...and you may not be a successful scientist...but if you want to become a scientist, if you work hard enough, you can. It's entirely within your control to make this kind of dream come true. There's no element of luck about it. It's all up to you and how hard you're willing to work for it.

If you ask a young boy what his dreams for the future are, most will reply with one of the first or second kinds. If you wait a few years and then ask him again, when he's in high school, his dream will most likely have changed to one of the third kind. Sure, there are still some optimists that never grow out of it, but around fifteen or sixteen is when a boy realizes that he'll never reach the goal he fantasized about as a child. Then he graduates high school, goes to an ordinary college and gets an ordinary degree, becomes an ordinary, nondescript office worker doing ordinary work, marries a woman whose childhood dreams also never panned out, and then he'll have kids who will restart the cycle all over again.

When I was seven, my second-grade class invited everyone's parents to come and talk about what they did for a living, followed by the kids sharing their goals for the future. Not to brag on myself or anything, but my parents were easily the most popular. Of course they were. They ran Kabura-ya Hontei, the 400-year old inn that was about the only notable thing in the little town I grew up in.

When it was my turn and the teacher asked me to share what my dreams were, I got up in front of the class and said that my goal for the future was to always be with my mom and dad and have lots of fun everyday.

I know what you're thinking. Aww. What a cute kid. That's not what my classmates were thinking. My friends Kazu and Ren made so much fun of me. They said it sounded like something that a girl would wish for.

I wasn't happy about them laughing at me at the time, mainly because Kazu had said he wanted to be a fighter pilot even though his father was a garbage man and his mother was a retail worker and he had three siblings. Fat chance they'd ever have the money to pony up for him to go to flight school. And Ren had said he wanted to play in the NBA but no one in his family was taller than 165 cm. Both of their dreams had no chance of coming true. They'd have better odds tossing their life savings in a shrine and praying.

As I got older, though, I realized where they were coming from.

My childhood dream, if you could even call it that, occupied a different group. These are the kinds of dreams that are easily obtainable. Ones that will come true even if you don't do anything. By middle school, I understood that I had to set the bar higher. I didn't technically have to- I was my parents' only child, which guaranteed that I would one day inherit Kabura-ya Hontei like my father did- but in this country, doing anything less than trying your absolute hardest would disgrace both yourself and your family, and that's not something that I could ever allow to happen to me. I didn't want to be a failure. So I worked hard, just like so many other boys my age, made it into a good high school, graduated in the middle of my class, and entered college in the nearest city. I don't even remember what I was studying. It was probably literature or something useless. Not like it mattered anyway. Once I graduated, I would come back home and become a full-fledged inn manager, waiting for the day that the whole place would be mine.

Life can change in an instant.

My parents probably didn't pay the weather any mind when they got in their car that December afternoon. It's Tohoku- the roads freeze all the time up here. They probably weren't worrying about anything right up until the moment the car spun into the other lane and the truck hit them head-on.

While I had been busy burying my nose in textbooks, the inn wasn't doing well. My parents hadn't told me that they took out loans to pay for my high school, and then for college. I didn't realize any of this until they died and the bank took the inn as payment.

Of course, that meant I didn't have any money left to keep paying my tuition, so I had to drop out. Then came the news that my mother's family in Kyushu didn't want anything to do with me. That's how I, Kou Sakuta, 20, ended up here- stranded in Aomori, with no home to go back to except for a cinderblock apartment the size of a shoe closet, with a convenience store job that pays only enough for me to cover my rent and eat the cheapest discount store food possible.

My dream was so simple. It was the least ambitious dream that I could have possibly had, and it didn't come true.

I wished that I could be with Mom and Dad forever. I didn't even get to see them grow old.

Instead, I'm stuck in this tiny dump of a bug-infested apartment, with only a microwave that takes 10 minutes to heat anything up, a minifridge that can fit maybe three bottles of water if I'm lucky, a pale blue futon with multiple rips where the stuffing's come out, a window that does nothing to stop drafts, and the phone and laptop I've had ever since high school. I have just enough money left over from my trips to the 100-yen store to buy the cheapest data plan possible and hook my laptop up to the mobile hotspot, but if either of them breaks I'm screwed. I don't have the money to replace either of them.

You've probably figured it out by now, but this apartment is a dump.

Before you call me a whiner for complaining about how bad my living conditions are when I'm working for minimum wage at a convenience store, let me tell you that I've tried to apply for better jobs and make money on the side- but restaurants don't want a college dropout that has barely any service experience, and the construction industry doesn't want a weak, scrawny nerd. So it's a few more years at the Kyoudai Mart, at minimum, and then maybe I'll have enough experience to get a job that pays me enough to survive.

Nine months ago, I spent all my meager savings moving into this apartment, and nowhere within walking distance wanted to hire me except for the Kyoudai Mart. I panicked and took the first crappy job available- but I had to make money. After about two weeks, I realized why they were so eager to hire me- because they pay the lowest in this part of town and the job sucks.

I know, I should have saved for situations like this. I’m not smart. Go ahead, laugh at me spending all my money going out to the bars with my circle instead of saving for emergencies and then winding up broke and working at the convenience store.

A few weeks ago, when I was on break, I seriously thought about selling my organs. Humans can live with one kidney. It's not like I'd miss the other one.

I was absentmindedly Googoling quick ways to make money (legal only) when I saw the ad. It was a tiny banner, easy to miss at first glance until my eyes caught sight of the 1,000,000 yen prize. So I clicked on it.

Do you want to break into the light novel industry? Do you have story ideas in your head that are dying to get out? If you do, you're in luck, because N*rou is hosting their 3rd annual New Year's Dash event! Enter your webnovel for a chance to win the grand prize of ¥1000000!

As soon as I read that, my heart leapt.

I was always good at writing in school. I could easily win that prize. Heck, I could probably do better than a lot of the trash that was out there getting published. If some guy could write a story as bad as In Another World With My BlackBerry and not only hit the N*rou top 10, but get published as a full-fledged book, so could I.

I rushed home and spent the next few days spending all my free time writing. When I had a break from work, I would write. After I woke up, I would write. Before I went to bed, I would write. My head was filled with nothing but thoughts of that 1 million yen being mine. Sure, when I published my first few chapters, the view counts were low, but I told myself that I just needed time. My novel, as slap-dash as it was, was just as good as the kind of mediocre WNs that made the front page. It wouldn't be long before it blew up and then I'd win the prize and move out of this hellhole and my life would be easy street from then on because I'd win a contract with a publishing house to crank out lowest-common-denominator isekai garbage that the public would eat up.

That was, until reality slapped me in the face again.

After three straight weeks of writing, all I have to show for it is 134 views.

Pope Evaristus
Steward McOy