My feet barely reach the floor beneath me, so I have to settle for tapping the very tips of my toes to the ground. The slight touches echo to fill the entire building, the sound bouncing off the walls, eternally trapped.
As I listen to the taps, I gaze around at the enormous building. I haven’t had many opportunities to do so, so I absorb every detail of the building, holding onto everything I can so I reconstruct it perfectly in my memory later.
The building is humongous, and honestly a masterpiece. In school we learned that the building had been built to relax participants, and I can assure you that the building has done that job well. The walls are a mild yellow, with streaks of white on the roof, that I like to imagine as clouds, floating in a calm sky. There are barely any chairs and desks in the waiting room, where I sit now, to give the room a less cluttered atmosphere and more of an empty one. As a child, it made the room seem haunted to me, as if I was alone in the world, but now I enjoy it. I see it as a way to escape everything on the outside and to focus on what there is now, in this room; nothing.
As I said, very calm.
I relax in my chair and look up to the clouds on the roof, the ones I used to imagine touching as a kid. I still wish to touch them, even now.
As I’m dreaming of riding along the clouds, the sound of a door slamming open shatters the tranquility of the room.
“Andromeda!” I hear someone shriek. I turn around at the sound of my name, and none other than Ryanna is standing there. She waves at me, frantically repeating my name as if the world is burning.
“Andromeda! Come over here!” Even though she beckons me to her, she is already jogging over to where I stand, near the back of the waiting room.
I laugh, already knowing the news she is to deliver. “Ryanna! Stop shouting, you’ll make my ears bleed!” I run over to her, and we meet halfway through the room. She is already out of breath, just from being overly excited.
“Okay,” she pants. “Guess what!”
Even though I already know, and she knows I know, I play along to give her the satisfaction. “Okay, what? Is the world ending?”
She grins, ignoring my sarcastic comment. “My symbol; it didn’t change! I’m still going into the medical field!”
“Oh, great!” I say, smiling at her. I go in for a hug, but she’s too fast, already hugging; practically lifting; me. My toes brush the ground as she spins me around. The white above me spins as well, forming a tornado of clouds above my eyes. I laugh from the absurdity of it all. Finally, she sets me down.
“Oh, I’m so happy,” she says with a smile. It stretches from ear to ear; she is so happy I can imagine her glowing.
“I can tell, don’t worry. I’m happy for you! You’ve always wanted to be a nurse, anyways; it suits you well.” I give her a smile matching hers.
“Yes, yes. Now it’s your turn!” She starts pushing me away from the door she just came from and towards the exit, to the waiting line. I push back on her.
“You know that I still have a while until I’m scheduled, right? I don’t want to go in too early; what if they don’t even have my Key prepared?”
Ryanna shakes away my complaint. “You forced me into coming early, so I am going to do likewise to you. Onward!” She pushes me through the door, and before I know it, I find myself in front of hundreds of people, waiting in line for their Key. They all turn to look at me.
I just smile at them and quietly move to the back of the line to wait my turn. I turn my head to Ryanna to scowl at her, but she has already left to go sit in the waiting room, leaving me behind. I sigh and turn back around to face the line of people I am to wait behind.
I look around, as I always do. Unlike the waiting room, I don’t remember being in this room at all. Of course I was at one point, as a baby, but my parents had carried me through the line, and, being two, I don’t have the greatest recollection of that.
The room is greatly different from the waiting room; instead of gentle colors and designs on the walls, the walls here are splattered with dark and harsh colors in sharp designs that were made to grab your attention. On top of the colors are directions on how to retrieve your Key and proceed to the preparation room, where we are to wait for our turn to go through the Door. I hope it is more calming than this room.
Because I am starting to get a headache from just looking at the walls, I decide to instead grasp the amount of people in line in front of me. Hundreds of people my age stand before me, and some I recognize from school, but most I don’t. I wish I had someone to talk to right now, and I feel a pang of regret for not getting to know my classmates. I guess I had always been comfortable with just Ryanna, but even she had other friends. Why not me? I shake the thought away.
The line moves slowly, and the time it takes to move to the front consists of me avoiding the walls irritating designs and trying to name as many people as I can from school and my neighborhood. I also get to see a few people running away from the line, away from retrieving their Key, away from their future. As I watch at least 3 or 4 people do so, I remember what we had been taught about these people, the rebels. How they would be forced to live their lives being reminded of their grave mistake to not accept what was graciously given to them.
Of course, almost none get away. Most are captured by security or even fellow teenagers, and are taken away. I briefly wonder where they will be taken, but decide I don’t want to know.
One, however, does get away. It is a boy my age, and he sprints towards the huge doors that make for leaving or entering the building faster than anyone else. I imagine he will be captured outside shortly, but I take a moment to admire his endurance, even though I know I shouldn’t.
Finally, I reach the beginning of the line. I am herded toward one of the desks, where an elderly lady sits. She smiles at me kindly once I step in front of her, and I return the smile.
“Hello,” she says. “May I have your name?”
“Andromeda. Andromeda Osborne?”
She clicks a few things on her keyboard, and she finally smiles. “Ah, yes. Okay, and you are 17, correct?”
I clear my throat. “Yes.”
She nods, then stands from her desk and disappears into the dark room behind her. I hear the jingle of keys as she sifts around until she has found what she went in for.
“Okay, here it is. Go to that room and just sit in there. When they call the number on your key, you’ll go through the Door. Okay?” She gives me another calming smile, and I wonder if the people who hand out the keys are trained to relax people like me who are about to go through the Door.
I smile back at her again, as if I haven’t learned what I am supposed to do after retrieving my key multiple times in class. We would be given a regular key and shuffle to the closet as practice, giggling and whispering every step of the way. We thought it wasn’t that serious back then, but it has been drilled into us ever since that is the most important thing you’ll ever do in your life. “Yes, thank you.” I take the key from her frail hands, give her a little nod, and then walk toward the room she directed me towards.
Even though in school we walked up to the closet alone, the teacher making sure we did everything right, solemnly and seriously, now I am joined by a crowd of teenagers doing the same thing as I am; holding their key to their chest with both hands, as if they would protect it with their life. I bet all of us would.
I am jostled and bumped as I walk to the door of the room, and I compare how different this is to the practice we did in class.
Finally, I reach the door, and, with much trouble, search for a seat. There are plenty, but for some reason each one I have my eye on someone sits in right in front of me. Soon, almost all the seats are filled up, and I must take the seat between two boys in the far back, nowhere near the entrance to the Door. I sigh and, in defeat, sit between them.
I squirm a little bit, trying my hardest to not touch either of them. It is a tough challenge, and I am positive my shifting is obvious to the boys. After I am finally comfortable, I look up to each of them and give an apologetic smile, but none of them return it.
I decide to mimic their behavior and just sit still, staring forward and at nothing. It gets boring fast, but I try to stick to it. I realize quickly no one is talking, except for the occasional whisper, an apology for a bump or misstep. I have the nerve to imagine taking a pin and dropping it, just to see if I could hear it bounce on the carpet floor.
It is deadly silent.
As I am staring at the air in front of me, I realize there is a warm breath on my shoulder. I try not to acknowledge it, sure it will go away or was just my imagination. It doesn’t, though, and in fact creeps up to my ear. It tickles, and I have to deny the powerful urge to itch.
After a few seconds, I’ve had enough, and I have to turn to my left, where the hot air is coming from.
“Will you please s-” My words get caught in my throat as I realize I am staring right back into the eyes of the boy to my left. As I look into them, I see specks of brown in a sea of green. They’re beautiful eyes, but I refuse to let myself admit that to myself, let alone him.
“What are you doing?” I angrily whisper to him. He just stares back at me, and I’m about to repeat the question when he answers back.
“I’m going to run. Wanna join me?” he asks.
I’m so taken aback by this question that I simply stare at him. What is he even suggesting? Run? Why? To where? What is he even planning?
“No,” I say, stating the obvious. “And you shouldn’t run, anyway. Why would you?”
“Oh,” he replies sadly. “So you’re one of them.”
At this point I am beyond confused. “One of them? What in the world do you mean?”
He doesn’t answer, just simply stands up. Everyone turns to look at him, but no one does anything. We all just stare at him, unaware of what’s going on.
“Sit down, son. You’ll get your turn soon enough,” a security guard commands the boy. Evidently, he ignores him.
The boy turns to me with sad eyes. “I thought you were different.”
I just stare back at him, irritated. I’m not very fond of things I don’t understand, and this boy was the most confusing thing I had ever seen in my life.
Suddenly, without warning, the boy sprints to the exit. The security guard, armed and ready, turns to him and hits him with a club, obviously trained for this kind of situation. I watch in horror as the boy continues to try and get through the door while the guard continues to hit him, but by then, a swarm of workers have come to stop him, some not even armed. They all overpower him and carry him out of the room.
The boy screams and thrashes, and before I even know what I’m doing, I’m on my feet and running after him. Before I make it out the doorway, a hand latches on to my wrist. I look down, and a girl is sitting there.
She sadly shakes her head. “It will do no good to chase him. You’ll just get clubbed too.”
I just stand there, staring at her, and then look back to where I last saw the boy. I can still hear him screaming, ever so faintly, but by now I can tell there’s nothing I can do.
I slowly turn around, all eyes on me, and sit back down next to the other boy, who stares at me as well. All of their gazes shift, along with mine, to the empty seat to my left.
Afterwards, no one does anything. The silence has returned. No one tries to make a run for it; I doubt any of else will even have the thought of it after seeing that. We all just stare at the floor, lost amid our thoughts, together yet alone.
I think about the event over and over. Why in the world did that boy do that? Is going through the Door really that horrible to him? I try not to think about what will be ordered upon him, but images of him being punished in various ways pop up in my mind.
He will surely be banned from this city, maybe even killed. Just because he denied what we have all grown indifferent to. It’s never been mentioned in school what will happen if you deny the Door, just how great it will be when you obviously don’t. I don’t know what would be worse; not knowing what will happen to him, or knowing. There is no way I could, but I imagine.
The thing that eats me up the most, however, is how I just sat oblivious to what he was planning to do. What else could he have meant by run? How could I have just sat here? I should’ve told him not to, pleaded with him, even physically restrained him from running away. He could be dead because of me.
How could I be responsible for someone’s death?
These thoughts pass the time away, yet it is painful. Luckily, the hours tick away, and before I know it…
“Number 329, for… Andromeda Osborne?”
I snap out of my daze and sit up so fast I almost fall out of my chair. Everyone looks to me, and I stand up as I feel my cheeks heat up.
“That’s me,” I respond.
A woman stands at the front of the room. “C’mon, then. It’s your turn.”
I keep my head down as I pass all of the prying eyes set on me. Maybe they expect me to run to, but how could they? After witnessing what happened as well? I wouldn’t dare to.
I finally reach the woman after nearly tripping over several feet. She takes my elbow and smiles. “I’ll be right back,” she says over her shoulder to the kids still in the room. I can almost still feel their eyes on my back even after she closes the door behind us.
Finally, I look up.
The Door stands in front of me, and if I hadn’t prepared for this my whole life, I might not have recognized it as the Door, only a door.
The Door is obviously deftly carved, with red paint covering its surface. It has a few swirls here and there, but otherwise there is nothing to set it apart from other doors. It sits in the middle of a gray wall a few feet in front of me; almost too plain for it.
Of course, what catches my attention is the doorknob. I have always wondered how the Door could accommodate any key ever, and how what’s behind it will change based on the key. Of course, no one at school tells us, they just claim that part of the Door’s beauty is its mystery, though I would much rather prefer to know. At the moment, the Door’s doorknob is flat; there is no keyhole yet.
I just stare at it, even though I can feel the woman gently pushing on my back, coaxing me to step forward. Finally, I acknowledge her, thank her and then step forward.
I can practically feel the essence of the Door seeping out of the cracks and filling the space in front of it, giving me a strange sensation, as if I have been immersed in water.
My hand quivers as I hold my key to the doorknob. My eyes feel as if they are bulging as I watch the doorknob meld and merge to accommodate my key. As soon as my key reaches the doorknob’s surface, it fits perfectly, and I twist it ever so gently, scared to be too harsh and crack the seemingly fragile keyhole. I feel the door unlock through the key, and I look over my shoulder back at the woman. She smiles and gestures for me to continue, so I do. My hand releases the key and moves to the doorknob, which I curl my fingers around. I push the Door open, and blinding bright light bathes my face.
I breathe in, and step in.