Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!
Inside the employee entrance, there was an old-fashioned punch clock with broken corners that had been reinforced with duct tape. A card which had the name “Rio Hayashida” handwritten on it was inserted into it.
After a mechanical clank, the clock in time for work was printed. Rio put it back on the shelf, straightened up his back a little, and then proceeded to the changing room.
Rio worked as a contract employee who did line work at a small confectionery factory. He worked for 8 hours, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., with a one-hour break. He was in charge of the final check for the finished products that flowed out from the factory. That meant he checked the boxes for dents, scratches, and stains. He just constantly looked at the boxes of sweets that passed through endlessly, without rest. When he found a defective box, he dropped it into the container he kept at his feet. That was it. He didn’t talk to anyone, and nobody talked to him; he just sat there and kept working.
When morning arrived, he inserted his card into the punch clock once more. After confirming that the clock out time had been printed, Rio walked out through the employee entrance.
It was already bright outside as Rio walked home from work.
On his way home, he went to a 24-hour supermarket and bought a lunch box with a half-price sticker on it. Rather than buying food at a convenience store, where the prices were always expensive, Rio thought that buying at the supermarket would be a little more economical. At the checkout, the cashier asked,
“Do you want chopsticks?”
“…N-no.” Rio’s voice was hoarse because he hadn’t spoken in a long time, so he became embarrassed and coughed deliberately several times. The cashier didn’t care and just gave him the total amount of the purchase, “The total is 452 yen.” He was unconcerned about how Rio’s voice sounded. That’s right, no one was interested in Rio. Rio pulled on the zipper of an old wallet he’d been using for years and paid for his food.
He ate his lunch, and then wrapped the trash in a bag before tossing it. He changed his clothes, brushed his teeth, washed his hands, and turned off the light, retiring for the day. Even after he turned off the light, the room was still bright, but he didn’t really mind because that was always the case.
When he lay down on the bed, he could still see the entrance to this room and a narrow hallway that hardly qualified as a hallway through the cheap plaid curtain. The hallway also had a kitchen, but it only had a single burner stove and the sink was in an unusually low position, so he never felt like cooking.
On rare occasions, he would buy some discounted ingredients before they were discarded and make some kind of preserved food. The door across the kitchen led to a bathroom which had a combined toilet and bath. And currently, Rio was in a Japanese-style room with tanned tatami mats. There was a bed, a small desk, a TV set placed on the tatami as a decoration, a plastic box containing a few clothes, and a small, lidless wooden box filled with small daily necessities. That was everything within Rio’s room.
He used to live in a larger apartment, but that was when he was working as a system engineer at a local IT company. Sometimes, Rio tried to recall those days, but he decided to stop. He tried not to think about anything as he closed his eyes.
What Rio had in front of him was this small room and tomorrow’s work. That was all he needed to know. As he fell asleep, he didn’t wish for tomorrow to be a better day because he knew that tomorrow would be the same as today.
He would continue to repeat these days. Surely, until the day Rio died.
With that mindset, Rio set out for the dream world. He was sure it would be no different from reality.
“I don’t want to be married to a beast, even if it costs my life. So I’ll trade your life for mine.”
Rio just stared at the person in front of him, thinking that he was in a strange dream.
At first, he thought he was looking at a mirror because he saw the exact same face as his in front of him.
But there was something different about him. From the very start, his manner of speech was different, his movements were different, and his expression was too different from Rio. Rio had never seen his face rapidly show so many expressions before.
“Oh, I’m horrified. To think that a beast would try to touch me. What a shameless bastard.”
Rio wondered what he was talking about. It wasn’t that he was the one being reprimanded, but his strong tone of voice made Rio cower involuntarily. However, the man did not care at all about Rio’s reaction and continued to talk to himself, as if he was giving a monologue.
“That’s why I’ll leave that beast to you, the ‘me’ from a different world.”
Even though it was a dream, or was it exactly because it was a dream? There was no context at all to the conversation, and it just made no sense.
Rio just stared blankly at the person before him who resembled him. Someone who looked like him but was completely different. If he spoke confidently like this, would the direction of Rio’s life gone differently?
It was often said that dreams were the expression of one’s desires; perhaps that was exactly what was happening to him.
“You seem unusually calm, don’t you?”
The man muttered as he looked at Rio. Maybe it was because Rio hadn’t reacted at all since a while ago.
He didn’t intend to seem calm, but that was what others would have assumed, based on a quick glance. Although Rio was not intentionally acting restrained in any way, in terms of his actions or words then, he did not say a word or move a single finger. He was just quietly listening to the man who was monologuing.
Even though it was a dream, he wondered if he should shout, “What the hell is going on?” or ask, “What are you talking about?” But Rio’s personality would not let him. He could not interrupt people or ask questions if he was unsure whether it was appropriate to do so.
“Hmm, if you want to survive in the land of beasts, you should have that kind of spirit.”
The man had the exact same face as Rio, but he had a so-called “wicked look” on his face that Rio had never seen before in his life. Rio was terrified by the cold, contemptuous look in his eyes, as well as the way he lifted the corner of his mouth and smirked. Of course, Rio didn’t show that he was frightened. He didn’t even move his eyebrows, and his bangs were long enough to hide his eyes.
“When you open your eyes, you will be the 15th prince of the Dirahangyen Kingdom …But now, you’re just another offering to the Beast Kingdom.”
Rio couldn’t understand the words that were being said so casually to him. A country he had never heard of, a prince, an offering. These were words that had nothing to do with Rio’s life.
“It’s going to be inconvenient, but… Well, you won’t die.”
The words were even more disturbing, and Rio broke out in a cold sweat. Rio blinked slowly, despite the fact that it was a dream. He wished he could wake up from this dream as soon as possible.
“How is your life? I thought I chose a world that looked relatively safe… Your face is a little dull, but it doesn’t seem like you’re having trouble eating.”
The man nodded in satisfaction as he looked at Rio’s face and what he was wearing.
Rio was wearing ordinary loungewear: a slightly thick gray hoodie and sweatpants. The collar was a little crooked, but it wasn’t frayed or torn. He didn’t appear to be a homeless person, but he also didn’t appear to be wealthy.
On the other hand, the man was wearing a dress-like garment made of very luxurious, silky, and comfortable-looking fabric. It seemed like he was wearing trousers of the same fabric underneath, but the jacket he wore was too long to tell. It turned out to be a negligee, not a dress. Of course, Rio, who had never been involved in such things, had no idea.
The man lifted his hand and snapped his finger.
Immediately after that, a small wind started to stir around Rio. Rio closed his eyes involuntarily, but when he opened them again, he saw that the man in front of him was wearing different clothes. A gray hoodie and sweatpants. That’s right, that was what Rio had been wearing until just then. And when he looked down at his own body, and he saw that he was somehow wrapped in the outfit that the man had been wearing.
Even Rio’s eyes widened a little at the magical event.
“Hmm. It’s kind of stiff and not very comfortable… but it’s okay.”
The man seemed to be checking the comfort of Rio’s clothes as he opened and closed his hands and twisted around a bit. He nodded, as if satisfied, and then turned to face Rio.
“It’s time for you to wake up. Well, I’ll never see you again. If you wag your tail at the beast, he’ll love you for it.”
The area began to glow brightly as the man said this. It was as if the sun was completely surrounding them in its early morning light. Rio couldn’t keep his eyes open because it was so bright, so he closed them. But the light was still too intense, so he held his hand in front of his eyes to block it out.
Rio thought to himself. This was the kind of light that could almost blind you.
Meanwhile, the man who had the same face as Rio, but had a completely different personality, disappeared into the light, and Rio’s consciousness started to fade.
Rio was swallowed up by the light like a raging river and then was pushed away. Far, far away, to an unknown place.
And the dream came to an end.
He woke up with a gasp.
He hadn’t opened his eyes properly yet, but he knew that it was daytime. Simply because he could feel the brightness through his eyelids.
The curtains in Rio’s room were the cheapest he could find at a retail store. Of course, they didn’t have a blackout function, so when the sun came up, the room was always bright. He was supposed to wake up in the evening, but he apparently woke up at a very early hour. It was different from the evening light.
He didn’t have to get up yet, but his body wanted to wake up, as if he’d already had a good night’s sleep. Rio’s lashes quivered as he slowly lifted his eyelids. Then, just like any other day, the dim wooden ceiling should have come into view.
Rio opened his eyes to see a high, white ceiling. The gleaming ceiling reflected the sun’s rays, brightening the room.
When he tried to remove the light quilt on his body, he touched a thin but very smooth fabric, which was also different from usual.
Only then did Rio notice something was wrong and hurriedly got up.
At the same time, he heard a strange-sounding voice. It sounded like a combination of words and a beast’s roar, like they were growling as they spoke. He’d never heard any language like that before. No, he didn’t even know if it was a language; it was an indescribable “sound.” Rio gulped as he looked towards the direction of the “sound.”
What were they saying? That wasn’t important at this moment. Rio instantly froze like a stone statue when he saw the being who had made the sound.
Because when Rio turned his head, he saw a tiger dressed in clothes.