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It started at 9pm, always 9:00 for days now, every house, every street.
The first time, the clocks that were slightly fast all clicked back to 9:00, all the clocks that were slow clicked forwards, so everyone is in sync now, all the white houses lined up in rows, stacked like sardines in the tiny town, ticking simultaneously. It's gotten to the point now that you itch for the next tick, to turn over yet another second, caught in a never ending loop of expectancy.
Jacob had been sleeping on the sofa and hadn’t looked at the time when the first message, "Are you ready?" blinked onto the screen, followed by the President clearing his throat and delivering the same speech that has played every single time since, waking him abruptly from his slumber. "We have introduced this system designed to keep everyone in the loop, keeping you up to date with the news; to inform and educate."
It must have been 9pm, because then it began… the information.
Footage of bombing, cars being flipped over in a street that looks identical to the one outside Jacob’s window, and the flood of emotion had been visible on his face, the red flush of confusion as to why the TV was playing when it was obviously switched off before, then the pale panic took over, at the footage he swore was of the street outside his door.
Littered with rubbish cans and people screaming, shaking the TV on its stand; begging to be let out of that eternal prison of war.
It didn't turn off til 11 and all that time Jacob had been staring, his eyes and ears hungry for more relentless fighting, disaster after disaster on the streets and he was sure he recognised them, but there had been no disturbance outside his window. Finally a message popped up on the screen saying "have sweet dreams", it switched itself off after a moment of static and Jacob lay on the couch, instantly falling asleep.
Of course, it was time to sleep.
The next morning Jacob had woken up, physically recoiled at being so disturbed by his night dream as he set about to get ready. He had walked out onto the all too peaceful street, life ticking on as usual, people behaving properly, going through the daily routine. No one dared to mention anything about the night before so it must have been- was it but a dream?
Vans with TV's stacked high, men walking robotically up the Canterfield's driveway, ringing the doorbell and walking straight in, without, it looked like, so much as a word. Vans were lining up, with men marching into other houses, giving away free TV’s? Jacob’s brain had finally clicked over and was able to process what he saw sown onto the sides of the men's shirts. The flag of the United States.
Night ticked over, and Jacob had all the lights on in the lounge, it must have been 9pm, because the cycle restarted. This time the lights flicked off as soon as the TV switched on and instantly the new message had him fixated on the screen, rattling his spine to the core.
"Did you dream of something nice?"
He doesn't remember the second day, but now in a camp outside the city that seemed to shut down at 9pm until it restarted at about 8, he remembered all the tests he eventually did, and all the notes he had stacked in his brown leather bag about what actually was going on. He had managed to get out, pure luck by getting caught by the team he is in now.
The TV switched on at 9pm, played disaster footage, doctored by someone, and switched off at 11pm. You couldn't turn it back on until 5am, and if you watched the whole thing, you didn't wake up before 8.
The lights turned off at 9pm, not turning on until 8am, giving the false impression you'd dreamt it all, sleeping with the lights on.
The footage was of his street, and of every street around him, created by the government. He'd heard from the other people in his team that had family living in the town, that they heard their family's screams. Pleading, yelling for release.
The streets that were now bare and deserted; the labyrinth of the city that has become far more dangerous than anyone could imagine, or maybe it’s because people can’t imagine anymore.
The messages sometimes varied, creepily because when Jacob had nights that were fitful and he woke up every 4 hours only to be overcome with sleep again almost instantly, the next message would say "Didn't have a very restful sleep last night did you?"
Other messages had been recorded. "Are you ready" and "Have sweet dreams" were recorded over and over. But they had seen other messages. "Time is almost up" and "Don't try running away". The creepiest, the latter appearing the night that Lucy had planned to leave, and she became transfixed, remembering the haunting message that appeared at the end. "That's better".
Everyone had a TV now, even the abandoned houses had TV's and lights that switched off at 9pm.
People weren’t feeling anymore. Robots that they could control.
A few other teams were around, like the one he was in, a few had been caught, being packed into the TV vans that seemed to roam the streets at exactly 2:30pm, and wandered for 30 minutes.
The vans hadn't been seen except for on those journeys.
Behaviour within the town was constantly recorded, people staying inside, routine taking over their day.
But apparently, educated and informed. They had TV’s now.
A step-by-step plan had been created, to get to the government house, by marching around the outskirts of the town, trying to get more information as to what the purpose was, and what the effect was. Three people left and they know too much.
The screen was watching them too and it was 9pm.