My voice was covered by the explosion of crimson and golden fireworks, and the clamour of the hundreds of ecstatic fans. I drowned in an overwhelming feeling of joy. I turned to my bandmates and I could see their eyes gleaming, even though sweat was dripping from their faces. Every moment of hard work was worth it. We are a boy band of five members. Moon, me, Yujin, Minsu, Sol, and the youngest, Haru. We were closing up the last concert of our first ever tour, and we all felt very proud. I turned to look at Haru. Oh, he seemed a bit uneasy. I walked up to him and nudged him.
"What’s wrong, Haru?"
He was startled.
"Ah, Yujin, you scared me."
"Yeah, I’m just a bit tired, that’s all!"
Backstage, I grabbed a towel and wiped the sweat off my face. The concert was finally over. We were so tired that we only exchanged a smile between us, before retreating to our hotel rooms to wash up and sleep.
Right before collapsing onto the bed, I realised that I forgot my phone at the venue. I sighed, annoyed at myself. Should I just wait and get it tomorrow? No, I should probably go now. I grabbed my keys and got out of my room. The hotel was dark and I quickly walked down the stairs with my footsteps echoing loudly into the empty halls. The venue was right across the street, so I got there shortly. The staff let me in and I looked around for my phone.
Oh, there it is, I thought looking at the little table right next to the door to the stage. When I went there, I glanced at the empty stage, reminiscing the memories we’d made. Suddenly, I caught movement. I squinted my eyes to see a person walking amongst the seats. Did they lose something? I walked closer only to realise that that was Haru. What was he doing there? Just then, a staff called me.
"Yujin! We have to close up now, hurry and go!"
"Oh, okay! Let me just call Haru then," I said.
"Haru? He isn’t here. He was the first one to leave, actually."
"Huh? But he’s right there," I pointed to where I had seen Haru. But he was gone.
"He was just there, I saw him!" It couldn’t have been my imagination.
"Don’t worry, Yujin, you’re probably just tired!" Puzzled, I walked back to the hotel. As much as I was curious, I was very sleepy so I fell asleep right away.
Next morning, I woke up feeling refreshed. I remembered what happened yesterday after the concert, but then brushed it off. I must have been tired, I thought, that’s all. I decided to go for breakfast and I called Moon to join me.
"Hey, Yujin!" he exclaimed when he saw me.
"Hello Moon, I’m starving. Let’s get some food!"
"Did Haru seem weird to you? Since you also share a room with him," I asked while we were eating.
"Haru? No, why?"
"I don’t know.. Yesterday I went back to the venue to get my phone and I saw him walking among the seats. Though the staff told me he had left before everyone else. I must have been seeing things," I said and laughed. But Moon seemed confused.
"Well, Haru couldn’t have been the first to leave. I didn’t see him come in last night. I was too tired to wait for him so I just fell asleep."
"Oh. But this morning you saw him right? Was he alright?"
Moon looked at me awkwardly.
"Actually, I assumed he was sleeping so I didn’t check his room. I didn’t want to wake him up…"
There was silence.
"We’re probably just overthinking, let’s go check up on him after this though,"
We ate while talking about the previous day’s performance. We felt proud because this was actually the biggest venue we’d ever performed in.
A while later, me and Moon walked to the hotel. There was this uneasy feeling that was sending shivers up my spine. Haru had to be there, right? We unlocked the door to the dorm, and I hesitantly grabbed the door handle to Haru’s room. Just then, the door opened from the inside which made me jump.
I let a huge sigh of relief when I realised that Haru was standing at the door. He looked surprised.
"Hey guys," he said.
"Haru! You're here,"
"Of course, where else would I be?"
Yes, I was imagining things. Haru and Moon walked out to go get Minsu and Sol. I was about to shut the door, when I noticed something. I walked inside, and took a piece of paper that was on Haru's bed. The bottom half was ripped and missing. I read the words on the top half.
I know you saw it. The butterfly in the practice room.
What? The butterfly in the practice room? Now that I think about it, Haru did mention a butterfly while they were practicing. He claimed to have seen one, but when we turned to look nothing was there. We just laughed it off saying he was seeing things. Did Haru write this? Where’s the bottom half? I left it on the bed and walked out confused, since the others were calling me.
The five of us ended up having lunch together.
"Yujin, is something wrong? You’ve been awfully quiet today," Sol commented.
"Don’t worry, I’m okay!"
"It’s the last day of our tour guys, we made it. We all did really well!" Minsu said.
"Yeah!" Moon agreed. Minsu then proceeded to show a picture he took during the concert, with the fans in the background.
"It’s really nice!" Sol said. "There were so many fans attending our concert, it felt really great."
"I know right?"
Suddenly, I saw something.
"Minsu, can I have a look at that picture?"
"Um, sure!" I took the phone and looked. There was a sign that caught my eye. I zoomed in on it. Yes, that was it. The one in Haru’s room. There was no doubt. Then I did see Haru by the seats the other day, he probably just left from the other exit.
"Thanks!" I said and returned the phone.
That night, I went back to the venue. I walked towards the place where the person with the sign was sitting. I looked around for a bit, when I found the bottom half of the sign. It was covered in confetti and other trash. I took it and read.
Follow it. Then you can become as good as everyone else.
Huh? What kind of fan writes a message like this to their idol? It was very unsettling. The realisation was starting to kick in. This person knew that Haru saw a butterfly in the practice room. Are they spying on us? What’s going on?
It didn’t make sense. How would following this butterfly make Haru as good as… wait. Did everyone else mean us? Well Haru did train the least amount of years out of all of us, it was obvious to be a bit less experienced. He’s got lots of talent, although he doesn't see that. He’s really hard on himself. Now that I think about it, he was really upset after one of our concerts because he had made a mistake during the choreo. The next day he would refuse to rest or eat anything. He practiced the whole day and night, but during the next concert he was exhausted so he ended up passing out. There must have been a lot of pressure on him. I felt really stupid. What’s wrong with me? I should have known, I should have reassured him. Disheartened, I walked back to my room and fell asleep. The next morning when I woke up, I gave Haru a big hug. He looked surprised.
"Is there something wrong?"
"No, you just did really well. I'm proud of you!"
The next few days went by smoothly. We returned back home from our tour and took a few days off to rest. The day came when we had to return to the studio and get back to our practice. When I walked into the familiar practice room, I felt a sense of comfort.
I greeted Sol who just walked in, and the rest followed shortly after. The instructor showed us a new choreography we had to learn, and we were all excited. We quickly memorised the steps, and decided to try once with the music.
"Stop!" The instructor said mid through the dance. He started pointing out all the mistakes Haru had made. Haru listened silently, but I could tell he was discouraged.
"I’m gonna go get some water," Haru said when the instructor finished. He walked out of the room. I felt bad, but I didn’t really know what to do. The dance session finally ended, but Haru still wasn’t back. Everyone went to grab a snack but I went to look for Haru.
Haru was nowhere to be seen, so I went back to the practice room to get my stuff. Then, I realised Haru was inside.
"Hey, Haru!" I called. But he didn’t seem to hear me. Then I saw it. The butterfly. So it was real after all? I watched as Haru started following the butterfly. That didn’t seem such a good idea…
"Haru!" I called. I ran after him. But I soon realised I was no longer in the practice room. Everything was changing. I felt my footsteps become heavier, as if I was stepping in mud. The space was becoming more and more distorted, filled with moving shapes, pink and green and white. I was bewildered, were my eyes playing tricks on me? I blinked only to see purple flowers drifting, slowly, as if time was paused. A sweet scent was floating in the air, so sweet it could almost put you in a daze. No, I mustn't give in. Then, I heard a soft lullaby. I’m hallucinating, it can’t be. I have to wake up. A pink liquid suddenly started filling the space. I took a step back. In the distance, I saw Haru. He was sinking. I ran into the pink substance, but I began sinking too. It started covering my feet and touching my ankles. I panicked. What’s happening? What should I do? I started running back where I came from. I tripped and fell. I can’t stop, I have to keep going. How do I get out? But when I looked up I realised I was back in the practice room.
I stood up alarmed. My heart was beating rapidly. Was this really a hallucination? I looked down, and fear filled me. There was still pink liquid stuck to my shoes. It was real. I have to find the others. I ran into the cafeteria.
"Moon!" I shouted. He turned around confused.
"Yujin, is everything okay?"
"NO," I said out of breath. "Moon, Minsu, Sol, you have to come quickly."
They stood up concerned. They followed me into the practice room.
"What’s wrong?" Minsu asked.
"There was- there was a weird place. There were shapes and colours, I was sinking-"
Before I could finish, Moon put his hand on my shoulder.
"Yujin… I think you really need to rest,"
"What..? You don’t believe me?"
"Well it’s kind of hard to believe, you understand right?"
I was silent.
Moon turned to leave, but then Sol spoke.
"Huh, there’s a butterfly." My eyes widened.
Moon turned around.
"What? How did it get inside the practice room??"
"Ah! We have to follow the butterfly!" I grabbed Minsu's hand and ran. The other two followed confused. Then I started seeing the weird colours and shapes again. I turned to the others and they seemed dazzled as well. It wasn’t just me. I wasn’t going crazy.
"What’s this place?" Sol asked.
"I don't know! But Haru’s in here."
"Ah, long story…"
We started calling his name, when I heard the soft singing again. I hesitated, before brushing off my fear. I have to find Haru. I ran in that direction. The pink liquid stopped me from going further, but I saw Haru.
"Guys, I found him!" I yelled but everyone was gone.
I was being swallowed by desperation.
"Haru! Haru!" I called. I waved my arms frantically.
"Yujin?" He asked finally turning around. He seemed like he had just woken up from a slumber.
"Haru, you have to get out of there!" I yelled. His body was almost fully submerged under the liquid. He looked at his surroundings. Then he lowered his gaze.
"It… It doesn’t matter."
"What? What doesn’t matter?"
"I’m not good enough, Yujin. I could never be as good as you and the rest. I keep messing up and ruining our performances, I’m sorry."
"Haru... what are you talking about?" I asked in regret. "I’m sorry we haven’t told you this before, and we haven’t been there for you. But it doesn't matter if you can’t dance or sing. You don’t have to be perfect, because regardless we will love you! The group won't be complete without you. Even if people hate our performance it doesn't matter, because all that matters is that the five of us are happy. And as long as we are together, we are happy. So please get out of there!" I shouted desperately. He looked at me, as if he was starting to get a hold of himself again.
"Do you really think that?" He asked.
Haru tried to pull himself out of the pink liquid.
"Yujin, I’m stuck," he said. Uh oh.
I tried to get closer and grab his hand. Pink liquid was filling up my shoes and staining my clothes. Then a laughter echoed from the distance. The atmosphere suddenly got heavy and it became hard to breathe.
"Haru! Take my hand, quickly!" I urged. Haru stretched his arm as far as he could and so did I. But then I felt my foot slip, and I lost my balance. I fell into the pink goo. I tried to stop myself from sinking further, and grabbed Haru’s wrist. His eyes started tearing from the shortness of breath. He desperately gasped for air, but eventually started drifting away.
"No, Haru, not now!" I shouted. I reached and grabbed a vine. I tried pulling us out, but the both of us were too heavy for me to lift alone. I desperately hung onto the vine for dear life, but my thoughts became clouded. What should I do? I couldn’t do anything. Haru passed out and I was barely conscious myself.
Then there was a voice in the distance.
"Yujin! Haru!" Moon yelled. I felt relieved. Maybe we wouldn’t die after all.
"Yujin! Grab my hand!" Moon said.
I reached and took his hand, and when I felt his firm grip I knew it would be okay. Once I was out of the pink goo, Moon pulled out Haru and carried him, leading us out of this cursed place. We ran the way we came, with everything behind us collapsing and dissolving into black ashes. I clenched my fists. How much longer? I couldn’t run anymore. But then I saw the practice room in the distance. I blinked to adjust the light, and just like that I found myself back.
Minsu and Sol surrounded us.
"Yujin! You’re back! We were so worried!"
I took a deep breath.
"What happened to you guys?" I asked.
"After we lost you, we decided to head back. That place was so weird!"
"Moon went to find you though, I’m glad he did. You and Haru don’t seem too well,"
I turned to Haru. He was slowly regaining his senses. He coughed and sat up, realising everyone was staring at him. Moon hugged him.
"Seriously, don’t disappear like that again! You have us worried 24/7, staying up all night to practice or starving yourself. And now this? What were you thinking?"
"I thought maybe... you guys would be better off without me. I'm sorry. I won't be reckless anymore, and I'm sorry Yujin almost got hurt because of me," Haru said on the verge of tears.
"Actually, I think we owe you an apology too," I said putting my arm on his shoulder. "We should have known there was so much pressure on you. But Haru, you don’t have to be perfect. You really don’t have to feel like you have to keep up with all these unrealistic expectations, we won’t ask so much of you,"
"Yes, we’re sorry if we ever made you feel like you’re not good enough!"
"You’re really amazing, Haru!"
Haru looked at us, trying to contain his tears.
"Those better be tears of joy," Sol teased patting him on the back. Moon brought him a napkin and Minsu hugged him. We were really family. Haru laughed relieved.
My voice was covered by the explosion of crimson and golden fireworks, and the clamour of the thousands of ecstatic fans. I drowned in an overwhelming feeling of joy. No matter how many concerts we’ve done, this feeling could never get old. We were closing up the last concert of our fifth tour, and we all felt very proud of how far we've come. I looked at my bandmates and I could see their eyes gleaming, even though sweat was dripping from their faces. I turned to Haru. He seemed overjoyed. He smiled and waved at me. I waved back. Being an idol in this high-pressure industry sure isn’t easy, and there's moments when you just want to give up. But it's worth every moment. We were never really sure what actually happened that day in the practice room, but as long as we are together, we can overcome any obstacle during our training as well as any devils luring us into weird fantasy realms.