The girl screamed, waking up from the throes of yet another horrible nightmare. She wanted to rip her eyes out, wanted to drown herself so that she didn't have to face this again, every night, over and over again…she wanted the dreams to go away.
But they never did, never left her alone, and all she could do was watch them with a vivid kind of horrified expectancy because she knew when it was a nightmare and she could not run away, no matter how much she wished she could do that. Her dreams never left her alone. How many nights had she prayed, trying to stay awake so that she wouldn't have to go to sleep and be plagued by an inescapable nightmare? But she always succumbed to sleep in the end. Because she was weak, and deep down she was nothing but a scared little girl who was still scared of noises in the dark.
The dream tonight was a familiar one. It was so familiar that she had expected it to come to her tonight and yet despite this expectancy, its horror never failed to shock her. It never failed to make her cry and whimper and finally wake up screaming – never failed to make her react the way nightmares made everyone react. Make her scared. This particular nightmare had been about her parents' deaths. She thought she would have gotten over the trauma by now. It had been eight entire years after all – but no, she was still scarred. She wondered if the scarring would ever go away, if she would ever have peace of mind. She didn't think so, not when she could remember oh so clearly – the looks of resignation, the mangled corpses, the burning wreckage, the blood…the blood.
And last night…last night's nightmare had been about her uncle. This one was another familiar, recurring old dream. One she really wished would go away and leave her alone. At least in the one with her parents dying, she got to see her parents again, even if it was for only a fleeting moment, even if they ended up…dead. For her uncle…she never wanted to see him again. She knew she would never have to see him again, but she saw him again in her nightmares and that was more than bad enough. Dreaming about him made her feel like she had been cast into an abyss, and that she had no way to claw out of it no matter how hard she tried. She was forever stuck there with nothing but fear.
She was huddled up in her bed, rocking back and forth. Her chin was on her knees, her arms over her head – trying to hide and become a small ball, so that maybe the nightmares wouldn't notice her and would just leave her alone. But she knew that was just an empty wish, and it wouldn't work. They always found her, no matter how hard she tried. "Go away, go away, leave me alone," her voice was a soft whimper, and she sounded like she was going to cry. She hated that – hated crying. The tears started to roll down her cheeks, and normally she would have tried to brush them away, but was there really a point anymore? "Why won't you just leave me alone?" her voice was a gasp.
She hated this feeling of being alone, because she had never felt so truly alone before. Ever since Mikuo went away to study – he went to this prestigious university in the other town, and he left her alone – she had been so…alone. So lonely, and without him, there was no one to comfort her anymore when she woke up from a bad dream. No one to reassure her that everything was fine, and that it was nothing more than a dream – that at the end of the day he would always be there for her and there was absolutely nothing for her to be afraid of. Mikuo was gone too. Her parents were gone. Everyone was gone, and she was left all alone. She hated being alone in this big and empty house. It felt like there were too many spaces for the nightmares to hide in. Was that why they came to her every night – because the empty house gave them room to stay…
Why won't the bad dreams just go away?
The baku smirked, knowing that someone was in need of his services. He could smell it, taste it – the smell of fear in the air. Someone is having a nightmare, isn't she? I can always sense the presence of a good, juicy nightmare. Ah, but they're the best – a good nightmare is the most adrenaline filled, the best dessert of all…if they don't want it, I do.
Cane in hand and wide-brimmed straw hat perched neatly on his blond hair, the baku decided that perhaps it would be ethical for him to pop in and give the dreamer a visit. He was curious, after all – curious to see who could be giving off such strong waves of terror in so peaceful a night. In fact, peaceful was a stretch – he would go so far as to say that the night was being rather boring. The most entertaining thing he had seen in the two hours he roamed around the dark neighbourhood was two cats fighting over a catnip plant growing in a crack in the pavement. He had moved on – it interested him little. Animals didn't have the wide capacity to dream that humans did…
He located the house from which the waves of terror were emanating. They were so strong to him. Just like a beacon in the darkness, showing him the way. He followed the scent of fear to one of the windows and, effortlessly, sprang up to swing himself into the room. Careless girl, leaving her window open like that. Someone could just come in and take her away, and she would never know. The carelessness of humans amused him sometimes. It made for better entertainment than anything his brethren was able to offer him, at any rate. Sometimes, he wondered if he would be better off making his residence in the mortal world permanent – but then he would be missed by the others.
He landed in the room, his footsteps light as a feather – but the girl noticed him, and she immediately withdrew from him, huddling into the bed. "Who are you?" she whispered, her green eyes wide in the darkness. Her hands were laced together, and he knew she was nervous – saw it in the way those fingers clenched and unclenched. But he knew that she had been frightened even before he entered her room – she had been scared the whole night…scared of falling asleep. He wondered what sort of delicious nightmare she was having such that she was terrified of sleeping – oh, he was most curious. That was a weakness of his, of course – curiosity. Not that he liked admitting his weaknesses.
"Who I am…it isn't important, miss," he bowed slightly to her, the very image of formality. He tipped his hat while he spoke, using it to hide his face from her – he doubted she could see him clearly in the darkness of the night anyway. The moon was hidden behind the clouds tonight. He found that sad – it made the night duller than usual. But perhaps this girl could change that. "I'm here to offer you a deal."
"What sort of deal?" the girl asked, her green eyes filling up with suspicion. She was a pretty girl, he was realising, now that he bothered to look at her and not just the fear that surrounded her. He wondered how she was taking all this so calmly – other humans he had observed would have threatened to call the police on him by now, yet here she was, still talking to the suspicious boy so peacefully, so calmly. She was even carrying on the conversation with him. He tilted his head, experimenting – he took one step closer, and she did nothing, continuing to watch him with suspicion in her pretty green eyes.
And then he realised. Ah…she thinks that I'm nothing but another dream. And she's not afraid since I'm not one of the nightmares that she's used to. That made more sense. He continued looking into her eyes, and decided that he quite liked her eyes – he had never seen such green eyes before, though in the darkness of the room they looked almost black. He decided, there and then, that he liked this human enough to stay around for a while and see what she wanted. He knew she would want something from him – and even better, he knew exactly the perfect thing to offer her, to tempt her and lure her in.
''Do you want me to take away your nightmares?'' he crooned at her, stepping yet closer to her bed. She stared at him, suspicion never leaving those forest-green eyes. He found that rather entertaining, and waited with a faint smile on his lips – though of course, the smile was not genuine. He could not smile, after all. Everything is a farce, the familiar thought whispered, but he pushed that aside for now – he wanted to concentrate on the little girl sitting on the bed, just staring at him and waiting for his proposition. "I can take all the scary nightmares away. I can give you nothing but bliss and sweet dreams," he whispered, his voice smooth and alluring. She was listening closely, he was aware.
"But how can you do that?" her voice was a mix of disbelief and curiosity – and underneath all that there was hope. She was hoping that he would really be able to fulfil what he said he could do. Rest assured, young one, that when I say I can do that, I can do it. But for a price. Everything in the world came with a price. In the baku world, that held true, and he supposed it was no different in the mortal world. No one would ever do anything for nothing, of course. Creatures were all born to be self-serving.
"I'm a dream eating baku, miss. I have the power to eat away your nightmares. They're my sustenance. And in exchange, I can give you the sweet dreams you so desire," he explained, wondering whether she would believe him – for, even in a dream, he was aware that this sounded preposterous. "Not that I would normally give one sweet dreams, of course. That's the job of the nice bakus, isn't it? Not really what I like to do," he shrugged, looking away from her, conveying boredom – he hoped she was hooked.
"So you're…not a nice baku?" she asked, sounding curious and rather wary of him. But that wasn't unexpected. If he was in her position, he would have been wary of himself as well. After all, he had come into her room in the middle of the night, entirely uninvited, then out of nowhere he offered her a deal and now he was telling her that he was not nice. No one in their right mind would do that kind of thing – but then, he wasn't a mortal, was he? And he didn't have to follow conventional mortal rules and behaviours. He was a baku, and he could therefore behave in any way he wanted to behave.
"Well, that depends on your definition of nice now, doesn't it, miss?" the baku drawled. "Does the simple act of giving someone sweet dreams make you nice, hmm? I'm not too sure about that. I like to give people nightmares – does that make me evil? I don't think so too. It really depends on what I like to give to people – and if you want me to give you sweet dreams, then I suppose that I can do that," he finished, sounding rather bored. She pursed her lips, and he was aware that she was taking his proposal very, very seriously. She was a lot more careful than other mortals he had dealt with in the past and that made things different. That made things slightly more exciting than before.
''Well, then do you like to give sweet dreams?'' she finally asked, as if that was a question of utmost importance. Perhaps it was important to her. Not so much to him. But he answered her anyway, knowing that if he did not answer she would not have peace of mind and would therefore not agree to entering his deal – and he wanted this deal. He had never seen someone with such vividly intense nightmares, and he really wished that he could have one taste, just one taste, of those lovely bad dreams…
He winked in response to her question. "I won't say that I like to give out dreams, miss. Not at all. I'd rather eat dreams, especially nightmares," his voice dropped to a low, sensuous whisper. ''Don't you think that nightmares are the most delicious dreams? The fear, the panic, the adrenaline…it's all just so sinful, isn't it? Makes me long for a lot more than I know I should take," he leant close to her, his tone conspiratorial, as though he was sharing some really important secret with her. Perhaps he was, she didn't know.
Miku blinked as the baku's cool breath washed over her face – they were now so close that she could feel his presence, feel his breath. His breath was more than just cool – his breath was icy cold, frigid like a harsh, biting winter wind. It reminded her of ice and frost, minty and crisp. It reminded her of the darkness of her mind, the fear in her dreams, the blindness that came with being stuck in a nightmare and being unable to claw her way out. It reminded her of everything she didn't like – yet, she found that she did not have the urge to back away from him. He was…somehow mesmerising.
I wonder, though. Shouldn't such cold wake me up from the dream by now? I have yet to awaken. Perhaps…perhaps this nightmare eater is not a dream after all? Is he real? But that can't be – there are no such things as bakus. They're nothing but myths, made to entertain little children. My mother told me about them. Bedtime stories, she said.
"I don't want to have any more nightmares," she finally said, her voice trembling – oh, how she wished this was possible, how much she hoped that this baku could really take all the bad dreams away, the way he said he could. He sounded so confident about himself – surely he wouldn't be lying to her? "Can you take them away? You say you like to eat nightmares, don't you? Can you take my nightmares away?" she sounded almost pleading. He wondered if she was begging him. Was she really that desperate? He would never understand why humans didn't like nightmares – they were so wonderful, they were so exciting compared to the boring little sweet dreams they desired so greatly.
The baku's dark blue eyes glinted with some kind of dark promise. In the moonlight, his eyes seemed almost black; the midnight blue was so dark. His eyes were as dark as the outside night. "Of course I can, Miku Hatsune,'' he crooned, ''but we must have some kind of deal. We all have to pay a price for hiring services, don't we, even cleaning services…" His voice was lilting, and she was hesitant – the way he spoke made her feel like she was missing the main point of the whole bargain, but she had no idea what she was missing here. She was so scared to enter a deal with this enigma, with this dream, but if there was any way for her to escape from her bad dreams then she would grab at that chance. Hadn't she been hoping for a way for her nightmares to leave, just earlier? Here was her chance – she would be stupid not to take it, even if it was just a dream…
"What's the deal then?" she whispered hesitantly, almost afraid of the answer. She was, to be honest, more frightened of the baku than of her nightmares. At least her nightmares were familiar – whereas this nightmare eater…she knew nothing about him at all. He was just someone who had mysteriously appeared in her room and offered her an extremely tempting bargain, one that no doubt came with hidden strings attached. But the offer was so alluring – she really, really just wanted to take it up, no matter what the price it was that she had to pay. But she knew better than to just blindly agree – for what if she agreed to give him something that she could not afford to give up?
The baku, this dream she had somehow, mysteriously conjured up, was dangerously handsome. His blond hair was tied up in a loose ponytail that hung low on the nape of his neck, and his dressing reminded her of a young gentleman – even his mannerisms made her think of a bygone age of courtesy and elegance. She had never seen someone who was quite as handsome as this baku – there was something about his already flawless features that made you want to stare – and not just stare, but outright gawk, and wish to reach out and touch and caress…just to see if he was real, or a figment of the imagination. It made her even more certain he was a dream – he looked too perfect to be real, and she didn't believe that such a boy could ever exist in reality…
But despite his good looks, the baku exuded an air of lethality and mystery. He was a strange mix of maliciousness and politeness, a conundrum, a puzzle she couldn't figure out. She knew he was malicious. She could sense it underneath his seemingly polite words, the undercurrent of antagonism that made her so wary of him. It was what convinced her that he had some kind of hidden agenda, though outwardly the boy seemed to be offering her an amazing bargain she would be a fool to pass. But she didn't want to fall prey to any traps he might have devised – though, why would he trick her when he didn't even know who she was, and vice-versa? What was the point to all this?
"I'll think about the deal and what you have to give me in return. But what I ask of you then, you must agree to, absolutely no questioning or refusal," his full lips tilted up. He always seemed to be smiling, but the smile didn't reassure her at all. Not one bit. It was the smile a wolf might give before it devoured you completely, leaving behind no evidence that you had ever even existed. It was a predatory kind of smile which wasn't meant to comfort, but meant to frighten. And it was having its desired effect upon her.
"That's unreasonable," she protested at once. What kind of deal was this? He said he would be allowed to decide what he wanted, as he wanted – that was extremely unfair, and even in her current sleepy state she was perfectly aware of the unjustness of it all. "I mean, if we're going to deal, you should set out the premises of the agreement now, before I actually say yes to anything. That's how things work," she tried to defend her point. The look the baku shot her showed her how little he cared about fairness.
He rose from the mattress – when had he sat next to her? She hadn't noticed – and stretched. He was so much taller than her, she realised now, when he was standing so close to her – when he was right by her side. ''Well, that's the way bakus work, miss, and I'm sorry if that doesn't meet your expectations. We go by our laws when we make deals with humans. Take it or leave it…I don't have all night," the last sentence was spoken in a cautionary tone, and she was thrust into immense conflict. On one hand, she wanted her nightmares to be gone. But on the other hand…allowing this was dangerous.
She hesitated. But in the end, this is all just a dream, right? So it doesn't matter what I agree to, then. Her thoughts surfaced, and she found herself nodding in agreement. Yes, that made sense. So finally, in a low voice, she agreed to the deal. His smirk returned, and she didn't think she had ever seen someone looking so triumphant before. He looked…what was the expression for it? He looked so satisfied – yes, he looked like a cat which had just spotted a saucer full of cream, and was now preparing to devour it.
"Incidentally, if you ever renege on your word, miss, I'll return you every single one of your nightmares, and more. You'll be lucky if you aren't sent to a mental ward after that.'' He tapped the side of his head under his wide-brimmed hat. ''Padded rooms, straitjackets...you wouldn't like that now, would you?" his words were spoken casually, but there was again that undercurrent of danger that she hated, that she already didn't like despite talking to him for only a few short minutes. She knew that his casual tone of voice masked a truly dangerous warning, and she found herself wondering what she had gotten herself into – ah, but don't forget. Ultimately this is all just a dream…
She nodded, showing her understanding. The baku smiled, and somehow she felt this faintest sense of relief – that finally, finally there was a possibility that her nightmares would no longer plague her – that he would remove them and replace them with sweet dreams, the way he said he would. She wondered if she would regret this in the morning, especially seeing how she still did not trust him and the danger he exuded, but decided that at this point she really couldn't care less about the consequences of what she had just agreed to. "So…is that all? Are we in an agreement already?" she asked.
"No, not yet…first with have to seal it with something, you see," he pursed his lips, obviously thinking hard. Finally, he smiled – it was a slightly more genuine smile this time but it did absolutely nothing to soothe her nerves – and held out a hand, his pinkie outstretched. "Pinkie promise?'' he asked, sounding as innocent and carefree as a child, and hesitantly Miku hooked her pinkie together with his. He patted her head and yawned, suddenly seeming a lot more tired now that everything was over. ''Good girl.''
Walking over to her window, he turned back to look at her once more as she struggled to fight back waves of sudden drowsiness. "You'll have no nightmares tonight, miss, only good dreams. And you know who to thank for that," she saw him wink at her playfully, but she couldn't be too sure – her eyes were struggling to remain open, and she couldn't be sure if anything she saw really happened anymore. Why am I suddenly so tired in my dream…is it his doing? Is the dream eater sending me to sleep already? She didn't want to sleep – was so used to fighting waves of drowsiness every night – but this time, it seemed so strangely…irresistible. Something about this drowsiness that she couldn't fight off, no matter how hard she tried, how greatly she struggled…
The very last thing Miku saw before finally succumbing to the alluring pull of sleep was the baku jumping out of her window.