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Threshold

Ryan Amato


The man woke suddenly with his face pressed against cool tile. After a moment, he drew in a sharp breath and threw himself backwards into a seated position, looking wildly around the room. Every wall was painted white, and the room wasn’t furnished except for a simple bed with white sheets and a desk off to the side. A mirror hung on the wall across from him, and he scrambled to his feet to look at it. His reflection showed someone with fair skin and dark hair, thick eyebrows, and a set jaw. The man didn’t recognize any of these features, but yet his face was somehow familiar. There was a door on the opposite wall, and he quickly moved to peer out the single, square window.


The door led to a larger square room, painted completely in a deep purple and empty except for the collection of picnic tables at the center. A handful of people dressed in identical purple—the man looked down, and he was wearing the same—were seated or standing by the tables, chatting quietly. Around the perimeter of the room were doors like the one the man was staring out of. Steely, purple-suited men and women adorned with earpieces lined the walls between doors and watched the people at the center with casual indifference.


He backed slowly away from the door, trying to steady his breathing. He had no idea how he ended up here, but more unsettling, he didn’t know his own name. As if summoned, a screen above the door blinked to life with a single message: Hello, Evan.


The man stared at the glowing words for several moments before turning away. Was this a trick? He stole another glance. Hello, Evan. That must be his name. He said it aloud, testing the sound on his tongue. It sounded foreign.


The sound of laughter from outside his room caught his attention. There were others; surely they knew what was happening. He took a deep breath and opened the door.


Most of the people gathered at the center of the purple-colored room turned and looked in his direction. Evan felt his ears grow hot as he trudged forward. People began to turn their attention away, disinterested, but others still kept their eyes trained on him. Stationed outside the smaller rooms were more tall men wearing purple suits. They watched Evan intently. Sweat coated his hands, and he did everything to shake it off.


As Evan reached the center, a man with dark brown skin stepped away from the group and held out a hand, smiling warmly. “Hello, Evan,” he said. “I’m Adam. Welcome to the Purple Room.”


Evan tentatively took Adam’s firm handshake and quickly glanced over his shoulder. The people in suits watched him but didn’t move a muscle. He turned back to Adam and the group. “Where am I?” he blurted out. “What is this?”


The corner of Adam’s lips twitched. “Why don’t we sit down?” When they took a seat at one of the picnic tables, Adam continued, “I know you must have lots of questions, but the best any of us can tell you is that you’re now a resident of the Purple Room. Everybody here”—he gestured vaguely around the room—“lives together as a sort of family. We take care of each other, and you’ll find that we all have a lot in common with each other.”


“How?” The question felt stupid leaving Evan’s lips.


“All of us are here together, for one,” chimed in a pale woman with curly red hair. She sat at the next table, and her leg bounced impatiently. “We’d do anything to help our fellow residents. That’s not good enough for you?”


Evan was about to throw out a retort but Adam smiled tightly and turned to the woman. “Judy, that’s enough. The guy’s new here, just cut him some slack.”


“Just wanted to let him know that we’ve got to stick together.” Judy gave Evan what could be interpreted as a smile. He stared back. “I just don’t want him thinking he can go and end up like Gwen.” Venom dripped from her emphasis.


Adam cleared his throat and turned towards Evan. “Well, like I was saying, Evan, we—”


“Who’s Gwen?” Evan felt himself ask before he could catch his words.


A wave of tension rippled through the group. The other residents—who had been minding their own business, or so Evan thought—shot uncomfortable glances in his direction. Evan looked at Adam, whose expression was unreadable. Judy’s lips were curled up into a smile, but it looked more like a snarl.


Adam cleared his throat. “Gwen is—”


“A traitor,” Judy offered.


Another resident,” Adam finished harshly. He smiled. “She likes to stay in her room most of the time. Takes her meals there, too. She socialized at the beginning, but it seemed like she didn’t agree with some of our conversations. She made no threats to leave, but now she makes sure she never sees us.” He pointed to a room in the corner of the Purple Room, just two rooms away from Evan’s. The door was closed, but through the small square window he could make out a figure sitting at a desk.


A scoff came from the other table. “She’s just embarrassed by us,” Judy huffed, folding her arms. A few heads around her nodded. “She didn’t like how much we all like being here and not in the—”


Judy.” A cool silence blanketed the room as Adam threw up a hand. A few nervous glances were shot in the direction of the suited guards. Nobody moved, and all that could be felt was the phantom heartbeat of the tension in the room. More quietly, he added, “That’s enough.” Evan expected another retort, but Judy clamped her mouth shut and stared intently at the table. “We are a family here, and you will treat Gwen with respect. And you will certainly not be tainting Evan’s opinions of anybody. He wears purple, does he not?” When Judy didn’t answer, he continued, “He is one of us, and we will allow him to think what he wants.” He paused, the ghost of a smile on his lips. “Within reason.”


Evan nodded absently. His gaze drifted from Adam to the purple tile at their feet. He looked up. “So, the Purple Room,” he said slowly, trying to catch the eye of the other residents. “What exactly do we do here?”


“We live,” Adam replied, though his voice carried the weight of a grimace. “And that part should be fairly easy. You may do as you like while you’re here without repercussions, as there aren’t many rules around here.”


At the word rules, Evan snapped his attention to Adam. “There are rules?” He stole a glance at the mannequin-like people in suits.


Adam chuckled. “Just one. So, it shouldn’t be hard to remember.” He directed Evan’s attention to the wall behind him, and at the center was a door he hadn’t noticed that seemed to lead to a hallway of some sort. Several signs were plastered around the doorway, and they all read the same thing.


Don’t cross the threshold.


Evan read it to himself silently. The hair on the back of his neck stood up in nervous excitement. That door meant there were other places to go. How many others? Did they also have a color theme? There were so many questions he needed answered, but when he turned back to Adam, only one fell out of his mouth: “Where does it lead?”


A cloud passed over Adam’s face, but it was gone as quickly as it came. “It leads to another room.”


Another room. So there was somewhere else. Images started flashing in Evan’s mind of what it looked like. He scanned the room, the faces of the people wearing purple. No one was paying Evan much attention, and none of them seemed as excited as he was about a potential second room. “If there’s another room here, then why aren’t we allowed to go there?”


Heads turned in his direction, expressions ranging from sympathy to annoyance. Whispers rippled through the throng. Even Adam seemed tense. The various reactions to his honest questioning left Evan in a state of bewilderment.


But, before Adam could answer, Judy appeared at his side. She had a wild look in her eyes. “The reason we don’t go over there, Evan, is that we don’t want to go over there. You’re here in the Purple Room with the rest of us, so there’s no point in wanting to go over there and visit the—”


“Judy—”


“—the Yellow Room,” Judy finished, glaring at Adam. “If he’s gonna be in here, he’s got to know how the rest of us feel, and how dangerous it is to even talk about them.” Adam looked tired; he sighed but didn’t try to stop her. Judy turned her attention back to Evan. “Listen, there’s a reason the threshold exists. There’s us, and then there’s them. You ended up here with us, and we’re going to do everything we can to keep you safe. And part of that means staying away from the Yellow Room and every resident who lives there.”


Her words were a lot to digest. There was another room, that much was confirmed; that also meant there were other people besides the residents here in the Purple Room. There were others. Had anybody ever tried to reach them? He shot a glance over his shoulder at the threshold. Its many warning signs plastered around the entrance glared back at him. An itch began under his feet, tugging him towards the door.


Evan slid out of his seat and stepped towards the threshold. The crowd behind him fell deathly silent. A thought crossed his mind, and he directed it at Adam. “If you’re not allowed to leave here, then how do you know the Yellow Room is as bad as it is?”


Adam’s eyebrows shot upwards. Judy looked like she had been slapped in the face. She stomped her foot and threw hair out of her face. “That’s not the point! All of us have been here a lot longer than you have. If we say that the Yellow Room is full of a bunch of ignorant, insensitive brutes, then you just need to take our word for it!”


There was a murmur of agreement from the group. One man stood up.


“If I saw any one of those yellow assholes, I’d make sure they could never see color ever again!”


Most heads around him were nodding in approval. A few people clapped.


“They’re just a bunch of savages!” another woman called out.


The clapping grew stronger. Adam remained silent. Judy beamed.


“Has anyone actually talked to someone from the Yellow Room?”


The raucous cheering abruptly stopped. Every head turned to Evan, who was unfazed by the sudden attention. The constant need to question was beginning to become exhausting. The answers he craved seemed just out of reach, as if opening a door just revealed a smaller door underneath. Eventually, there wouldn’t be any more space to go, but the doors had to lead somewhere.


Whispers broke out as Judy approached Evan. There was fire in her eyes. “Are you suggesting that you would actually want to talk to one of those, those—”


“Heathens!” someone offered.


“Insolents!”


“Monsters!”


“All of the above!” Judy sneered. She turned back to Evan. “So? You want to go over there, try and talk to the Yellow Room? Have some tea, maybe?” A few people behind her snickered.


Frustrated, Evan stomped towards Judy and stared her in the eyes. “Are you going to stop me if I do?”


The red-haired woman seemed taken aback. The flames in her eyes reignited; she got as close as she could to Evan’s face and began shouting. “You might be as dumb as I thought you were! If you really want to fraternize with those yellow-wearing bullies, then you’re definitely not welcome here!”


Adam appeared at her side and touched her elbow. Judy yanked her arm away. “You’re turning your back on us,” she spat at Evan. “You’re no better than them.”


Evan held her gaze evenly. Then, carefully, he turned around and began marching towards the threshold. Several people gasped behind him, others whispered angrily. He kept a close eye on the people in suits guarding the doors in the room. They watched him intently, but none of them tried to step in his way. In a few strides he reached the door, a long hallway visible through the small window. He placed a hand firmly on the handle.


“Evan.”


Adam was standing just feet away with his arms folded across his chest, his expression still unreadable. “Are you sure this is what you want to do?” His question wasn’t saturated with a warning; it was just offered to Evan, a simple acknowledgement.


Evan dropped his hand from the door handle and glanced at the people in purple watching tensely from the center of the room. He turned back to Adam. “Haven’t you thought, just once, that the Yellow Room could be full of intelligent and reasonable people?”


“The people here are intelligent and reasonable,” Adam replied, not exactly an answer.

Evan sighed, and, as he reached for the handle, the room erupted into chaos. The residents of the Purple Room began violently calling out to Evan, cursing him and throwing insults as far as they could reach. Judy climbed onto a table and yelled until she was red in the face. People stomped, clapped, gesticulated with a fury. Somebody made a movement to chase after Evan, and soon an entire mob rushed towards the threshold.


Drawing in a sharp breath, he pulled the door open as the signs screamed in his face.


Don’t cross the threshold.

Don’t cross the threshold.

Don’t cross the threshold.


He flung himself into the narrow hallway.


Judy threw out a hand, reaching for his arm. “I’m gonna make sure you never—”


The door clanged shut.


Purple flashed through the window as the mob fought to peer through and continue shouting insults, but the sounds were muffled behind the thick metal. Evan’s ragged breathing filled the air around him. His hands shook by his sides, and he did everything to steady them.


Turning his back on the Purple Room, he moved slowly down the hallway. Dim lights hug above him, casting a weak golden glow around him with every step. He strained his eyes to see where the hallway led, and in the far distance he could see a pinprick of light.


The Yellow Room.


The idea of seeing the people hated so viciously by the Purple Room sent a wave of uncomfortable excitement up his spine. It pooled at the base of his neck, its electric warmth propelling his feet farther down the hall.


Several windowless doors dotted the sides of the hallway, where they led a mystery. None of them had handles. Evan wondered if one of these doors would lead far away from this place. He pushed on, keeping his chin up.


The farther he moved down the hallway, the more he realized that something was coming towards him. It started as a pea-shaped blur until it got close enough that Evan could make out human characteristics. His blood ran cold, and his heart jumped into his throat. Was this someone here to punish him for crossing the threshold? He stopped in his tracks, paralyzed. For a single, volcanic heartbeat, Evan strained his eyes to see down the dimly lit corridor, but he couldn’t make anything out. He pushed forward again, faster and faster until slowly he was able to make out a tinge of yellow. There was almost no denying it—whoever was ahead of him was definitely a resident from the Yellow Room. Evan couldn’t explain the feeling of fear rooted in the back of his throat. He had no reason to fear; all those stories were made up by the residents of the Purple Room. This person, they were in the same predicament as Evan was: they were crossing the threshold. It was this thought that brought him great comfort and a new surge of confidence.


“Hello,” Evan called, offering a wave. The figure ahead made no movement but continued its advance. “I know I probably shouldn’t be here,” Evan continued as they grew closer. “Well, we probably shouldn’t be here, but I just had so many questions about—”


He stopped so abruptly that he almost tripped.


The person in yellow was him. Or, someone who looked like him. The same fair skin, the dark hair, the thick eyebrows, the set jaw. It was the same face he had seen in the mirror upon his waking in this place. This was him, Evan, but not.


As quickly as the realization hit, it was gone. The doppelgänger sped by him, pursuing the other end of the hallway without so much as a glance behind him. Evan stepped after him, then held back in confused silence. He watched as the other Evan grew smaller and smaller until it was impossible to make him out again. Left alone in the quiet hallway, Evan had no choice but to keep moving forward.


At long last, he reached the door at the end of the hallway. It resembled the door through which he had come, thick metal and a small glass window. He peered inside, overcome by wary curiosity.


The Yellow Room looked exactly like the one Evan began in. It was completely square in shape, doors lining each wall, tables set up in the center, and people milled about. The only difference was that instead of a deep violet painted across every surface, every piece of clothing, it was a bright golden color. Evan looked down at his own clothes, the purple stark against the lightness of the yellow ahead. Doubt crept up his spine until it spidered down his arms and into his head.


As he thought to turn back, he remembered seeing himself in the hallway mere minutes ago. He went to the window again and scanned the faces that he could make out. Sure enough, there was Adam, looking placid with his arms crossed, dressed in yellow. There was Judy, caught in a bellowing laugh, red hair jumping everywhere. A few other familiar faces popped up in the crowd.


His hand hovered over the door handle. Temptation pulled at his fingers, gnawed at his chest. Questions scorched the back of his throat, the only sensation he had felt since waking up. Seeing the people he met hundreds of feet in the opposite direction teased an answer in front of him that he could not understand.


He pushed against the door and swung it open.


Every head swung in his direction. A heavy silence unrolled on top of the room until he was suffocating. Eyes pierced through him, each expression frighteningly unreadable. The Adam in yellow apprehended him with a sympathetic furrow of his brow. Others whispered inaudibly and threw glances his way.


Judy stood up at the edge of the crowd, her canary torso bright. Crossing her arms, she sneered, “Too chicken to actually go over there?”


People snickered nervously. Evan cocked his head, unable to find an answer. He looked down at himself.


The clothes on his body were no longer a deep violet, and instead yellow fabric gleamed back at him. His mouth went dry with more questions as he grasped at his shirt. None of it made sense. The doppelgänger in the hallway flashed before his eyes. What had he done? Something went amiss when they passed each other, and Evan was too baffled to notice. That had to be the answer.


When he looked up, Judy was approaching him with several others trailing behind her like hyenas. There was a glint in her eye that flamed as bright as her hair.


Evan turned to run to the threshold, but somebody grabbed his arms from behind and held them firmly in place. He struggled wildly against the grip as Judy stopped in front of him.


“What did I tell you before you left?” she asked teasingly.


Evan cast a desperate glance at the row of suited people along the walls. “Please,” he called out, but not one looked in his direction. He whipped back to Judy, tears brimming his eyes as he struggled against the iron grip. “I don’t understand. I tried. I don’t—”


Judy held up a finger, and Evan fell to a quiet whimper.


She curled her hand into a fist and smiled darkly. “Welcome home, Evan.”

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