Havok Publishing

The Dream Eater

By J. L. Ender

“Baku-san, come eat my dreams.” Woozy with exhaustion, I laid my head back on the clean white pillow to wait. But not to sleep. I could never sleep until the mission was over.

Outside the window of the tiny hotel room, a neon sign flickered in the endless city lights of Tokyo. It was never dark here. Perhaps Baku—mythical eater of dreams—wouldn’t venture this far into the urban jungle.

Wishful thinking. There had been sightings, even reports of a man losing all his hopes and desires. That almost sounds peaceful.

The Baku was here—the only question was how we would capture it on film and then drive it away.

I settled in to watch the ceiling fan and listen to the distant noise of the city.

Sleep didn’t come, but I’d been expecting that. Sleep is an intelligent prey. It never comes when you’re hunting for it.

“Maybe I should be the one in the bed.” Elena, my partner in crime and photography, looked at me from her chair, eyebrows lifted in concern. She held an iron-bladed machete in both hands, ready for Baku’s arrival.

“We’ll see,” I said stubbornly, though she was probably right. Baku wouldn’t want anything to do with an insomniac.

“Maybe you don’t have anything to feed the Baku, Jake.”

I sat up a little and shrugged. “Maybe not.”

“It could eat your wishes instead.” Elena’s hands tightened on the machete hilt.

“Well, nobody said cryptid photography would be easy.” I sipped from a glass of water by the bed.

“We should probably trade places.” Elena made a face. “That’d be more tempting though if you offered hazard pay. Do you ever wonder if we’re”—she frowned, twisting her fingers on the machete—“if we’re making a mistake?”

“A mistake?” I thumped my head back onto the pillow.

Elena shook her head. “We could be photographing weddings and cute babies. You know, normal stuff.”

“You doubting our mandate? You know why I’m in this fight.” The screams of my fourth-grade class filled the back of my head, but I pushed them down. I’d seen what these monsters could do unchecked.

“No… I just think sometimes about normal people. Normal life.”

“Hey, we’re in Tokyo. Last week we were in Bavaria. We wouldn’t get to do any of that if we were living a normal life.”

She nodded, and we fell silent. I watched the ceiling fan rotate. I was almost sleepy. Maybe in another hour…

I glanced over and realized Elena was dozing. Head tilted back, dark curls drifting against apple-red cheeks. The naked machete had fallen tip-first into thin hotel carpeting.

The floral wallpaper behind her rippled like a pool of water. I gaped, my heart hammering. The surface of the wall shivered again, and an elephantine trunk poked through. Tusks followed, then tiger claws as the Baku pulled itself into the room. About the size of a St. Bernard, he shook a bearlike body, then turned to Elena. She slept on, oblivious.

She’s not supposed to be the bait!

I reached for my camera on the nightstand. Despite what she’d said about normal life, I knew Elena would kill me if I rescued her before taking a photo.

The Baku sniffed at Elena with his trunk. She stirred slightly, but didn’t wake. I hefted my ancient Kodak and took three quick photos. The shutter sounded like a gunshot, but the Baku didn’t react.

Now, the hard part.

I slowly set the camera down. It slipped, clattering against that glass of water. The Baku froze, eyes turning to me.

Then its trunk slammed onto Elena’s ear. Her eyes opened wide, mouth gaping in a silent scream.


I threw myself across the room and swept up the machete, swinging it in a tight grip. It sliced through the Baku. The two halves floated away from each other, then resealed. And the monster hadn’t let go.

Raising the machete again, I chopped through the trunk this time.

The monster disengaged. The trunk wiggled in midair for a moment, then popped back onto Baku’s body. The beast rounded on me, glaring with slitted feline eyes that shone softly in the faded neon glow. That’s trouble.

It dug a paw into the air, then shot toward me with a burst of speed. I swung hard, but missed, slicing the air above Baku’s head. He darted left and slapped his trunk to my ear. I felt a strange wet, sliding sensation that made the roof of my mouth buzz.

Life suddenly felt meaningless. All the color drained from the world…

Elena threw a silver net over the creature, and the trunk fell away. I felt a sudden gratitude for life, and my partner—my hope returning. We stared at each other for a moment, breathing hard. Hands on her knees, Elena broke out laughing. I followed a moment later, though I wasn’t sure what was funny.

We peered down at the creature glaring balefully up at us from the silver net.

“Tell me you got a photo,” Elena said breathlessly.

I smirked. “I got three.”

“What are we going to do with him?”

My smirk curved into a wicked grin. “I’ve got a plan for that.”

The lights of the rental SUV illuminated trees swaying in the darkness. We’d reached the depths of a forest called Aokigahara.

Elena at my side, I opened the back hatch to reveal Baku, still glaring.

“Stop sulking,” I said. “We’ve got a mission for you. People come here to commit… the unthinkable. Your job is to take those bad dreams away, and free their troubled souls.”

I pulled the net away. The beast floated into the air. Elena raised her machete defensively, but it didn’t attack. Instead, it spun and drifted into the trees, vanishing into darkness.

I yawned. “Another mission complete.”

“Excellent.” Elena grinned. “We did some good, didn’t we? Now let’s get some breakfast.”

“Are you kidding? I’m going back to bed.”

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J. L. Ender is the author of the superhero series Steel Fox Investigations and mecha vs kaiju mayhem The Cold Below, as well as a number of other novels and short stories. Ender has worked as a dishwasher, a beef jerky labeler, a warehouse worker, a shelf stocker, a greeter, a traveling technician, a laser engraver, a package handler, a copywriter, a graphic designer, a librarian, an editor, a dispatcher, a phone operator, a hotel clerk, and hopefully someday soon as a novelist… He lives in Ohio with his wife and fellow writer SCE Ender.

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