“Listen to your heart; listen to your brain,
Look in the mirror for the growth you have gained!”
“Time is important and isn’t it strange?
How time can make your appearance change!”
“Harry…Robin…wake up…you’ve got to wake up…please…”
“My clothes are strangling me…I can’t breathe…”
There was blood all over the kitchen floor as Harry’s spaghetti hair quickly melted into a pool of red. Robin played with his loose eyeball and sprinkled it with bright glitters. Manny started breaking all the mirrors in the house that he could find. He wanted to deny the fact that time is taking away their happiness and that creativity is making them insane.
His child-sized denim jumper could no longer encapsulate his progressed body and he could feel like all eyes were watching over him.
And at the very last moment, he exits the house through the door and the outside garden turns to a cliff. As he finally jumped to end the madness, he could still hear the echoing of the clock and the notepad:
“IT’S TIME TO GET CREATIVE!!!”
“Tch…another horrible nightmare…” Manny looked at his digital clock. It’s 3 in the morning.
“It’s been 9 days already…what the hell…” he scratched his long, cerulean hair. Getting off the bed, he turned to the kitchen for a glass of cold water, but his nightmares seem to have been following him.
He could hear strange British voices within the room.
“…this is nuts. I should go see a psychiatrist tomorrow.”
The next day, he walked along the streets of his hometown towards the block where the psychiatrist lives. Unfortunately, the office was closed for an unknown reason.
Feeling sober, Manny then resorted to spending his whole afternoon practicing with his electric guitar on his messy apartment. He fixed some detuned strings and replaced old ones with some new twangers he bought from a store nearby.
“This oughta do it…finally some peace from all that crap last night…”
Out of nowhere, Manny subconsciously plays something he knew he never played before, but was somehow familiar.
“What’s your favourite idea? Mine is being creative…”
He played on the guitar as if someone was controlling his fingers. He, for sure, didn’t know the song but was somehow able to sing the lyrics.
“…what the…is that a children’s song?” Manny wondered. “Maybe it’s from my childhood days…I can’t remember well…”
“Tch…whatever. I’ll just play another song…”
Later that night, Manny went to a local club he used to play on weeks ago, when their band wasn’t disbanded yet.
“Damn…I wonder if those guys are still here…maybe they’d reconsider the band or something…”
But instead of his former bandmates, he saw familiar faces.
“Hey, it’s Manny!”
“Who’re you gu—OH! It’s Harry and Robin! Wazzup, guys!?”
The childhood friends did a group hug inside that noisy club.
“How’s it going, Manny? We heard you used to be a guitarist for a band here…” Robin, the green-haired man in a suit, said.
“Well…” Manny scratched his head. “It’s a long story…I’ll tell ‘ya later. So Harry…I had no idea you’d end up working here! That’s cool, man!”
“Well, yeah.” Harry tossed his long, scarlet spaghetti-like hair. “Got kicked out of a lot of clubs, actually, because they thought I was a boring guy. Not my fault, they were being too demanding and it got on my nerves…”
“Oh, sorry to hear that, but hey, welcome to Club Soberia! Totally gonna come here every night now that I know you guys are here!”
And so, the trio of best buddies caught up with what they’ve missed from their childhood. But later on, the mood changed when Manny talked about the nightmares.
“You know, Manny…” Robin wiped his glasses. “Actually, I’ve been haunted by similar nightmares, too. Even more because I stay up late for my managerial stuff…I hear weird voices from the clocks…the post-it-notes…it’s creepy, man.”
“Same here…” Harry interrupted while wiping a cocktail glass. “It’s another reason why I quit some of my jobs…either arriving late or accidentally breaking drinking glasses due to my nervousness.”
Manny then remembered something else that was unusual.
“Hey, do you guys know this song?”
And Manny sings them the strange song that came out of his lips by accident this afternoon.
“I think that song’s…pretty familiar…where’d you learn it?” Harry asked.
“Dunno…” Manny shrugged his head and facepalmed. “It sort of just…came out of my brain for no reason at all…
“Ssh…guys!” Robin pointed to the stage. “The performers are about to start!”
“I hope it’s not my ex-bandmates…” Manny worried.
“Nah…they’re out, I heard.” Harry patted his blue-haired friend’s head and smiled.
The curtains opened, revealing a couple holding a microphone each. The man had blue face paint and wore a Dracula-esque coat, and the woman had pastel-colored hair that looked like a wig and wore a balloon dress with fancy scribbles on the skirt part.
“Ladies and gentlemen…” the announcer started the call. “Tony and Paige!”
“Late that night I park my car”
“Stake my place in the singles' bar”
“Face to face, toe to toe”
“Heart to heart as we hit the floor”
“These two…” Manny looked at the stage couple closely. “They remind me of some people…from our childhood…”
“You know…they do seem familiar.” Robin commented.
“Where have I heard those accents…?” Harry exclaimed. “They sound like those from the dreams and the delusions…”
“Lumber up, limbo down”
“The locked embrace, the stumble round”
“I say go,”
“and I say yes”
“Dim the lights, you can guess the rest”
The audience cheered at the singing couple with every move they make and every sparkle of their outfits. Meanwhile, Manny, Harry and Robin were still puzzled.
After the dance number, a staff member of the club called the trio of friends to the backstage area. There, they meet Tony and Paige.
“Why hello there, Manny, Harry and Robin. Long time no see!” Paige greeted them cheerfully.
“We’re your childhood buddies, remember!” Tony shook their hands.
In that instant, Manny, Harry and Robin remembered things from their childhood…horrible things…which is to say…
“Those nightmares….were real!?” Manny was shocked.
“Why of course, dearie!” Paige smiled. “It looks like our holoprograms for the kids are affecting you guys, too…”
“This is why we’ve come here to meet you,” Tony explained. “…so we can brighten up things. I know you think this is all a delusion, but it’s real.”
“W-what…are you guys…!? Monsters? Ghosts? Aliens?” Manny was starting to have a break down. Harry helped him.
“Well…we don’t know.” Paige said. “All we know is that we’re tasked by a secret organization to help raise good children to become better citizens of this world…”
“But it looks like…” Tony shrugged. “…things did not go the way we expected it. We’re objects who were given human life, to be omnipresent to every kid in the world, but because we have to serve a lot of children, our bosses gave us holoprograms – clones of ourselves to appear in every child’s environment as if we were there…”
“However…the holoprograms are getting out of hand…and you were victims as well.” Paige patted Manny’s hair covered in styling gel.
“Back then, we could gain access to them, but now, our bosses have controlled them fully, and have inserted wacko ideologies like ‘green is not a creative color’…” Paige closed her eyes, dripping with black ink tears.
Harry, while trying to calm down Manny in his arms, said, “then why don’t you guys quit your bosses and become free spirits or something?”
“That’s the sad fact – we can’t.” Tony picked up his pocket watch and stared at its hands. “Without our bosses, it would be impossible for us to keep living freely. We’ll cease to exist as living beings if we defy our creators. This day just happened to be our paid vacation, so we took this opportunity to meet you guys.”
“B-but why us?” Manny’s tearful face turned back to the couple.
“Because you went through an awful lot from the holoprograms, and yet you still faintly remember us.” Tony said. “Normal adults who’ve gone through them have already been completely brainwashed by the manipulative content. They only perceive us as objects…”
“Wow…that’s cruel.” Robin sighed. “Maybe we’re lucky…but what can we do?”
“If you have kids in your house, watch over them at all times.” Paige warned them. “If you hear creepy voices, then that’s the signal that the holoprograms are messing with them.”
“Contact us using these charms,” Tony said as he gave the group a small pocket watch and a notepad. “Tear off one of the pages and press the top button on the clock, and we’ll come running to where you are.”
With that, the two ‘agents’ vanished in a ray of light.
“T-that’s…rather unusual…” Harry looked at his two friends, who’re still shorter than him, despite the years that have gone by.