by Alexes Snow
Air rushed into Metro’s lungs at the same time he flung his eyes open, instantly flinching at the brightness. He repeatedly blinked as he took a moment to adjust to the room’s light. Once his eyes focused, he scanned the area around him.
“Where am I?” He asked himself.
He had woken up on the floor of a very large room; it was as big as a parking garage floor, or the floor of an office building. However, aside from its sheer size, it did not resemble the floor of either a parking garage or an office. In fact, it didn’t resemble any kind of place he knew. In fact, it looked more so like a box than a room; from floor to ceiling it was nothing except white, and upon inspection, noticed that there were no marks or seams along the walls that would have indicated any kind of error during the building process or even wear and tear over time.
There were no windows to let any light in which confused Metro considering the room was beyond bright, and there didn’t seem to be any other light sources that he could see.
The only pop of color in the room were a few trees scattered about, Metro counted three, and piles of dead leaves littered the floor; the orange, red, and yellow hues of the leaves added a touch of vibrancy to the space. He stood up, walking to the tree closest to him and noticing how loudly his footsteps echoed off the walls.
As he approached the tree, he noticed shapes suspended in the air; it was the leaves. Metro’s brows drew together as he tried to understand how this was possible. It seemed like an anomaly, though this entire place seemed to be an anomaly of its own.
It’s as if all time has stopped.
Reaching up, Metro plucked one of the leaves from the air. It crunched and fell to pieces when he crumpled it in his hand.
“I thought it would be fake.” He muttered to himself.
There’s no way this tree could be real, it wasn’t even growing out of the ground; it seemed like it was just placed there. There were no cracks along the floor where the tree’s roots should have burrowed. Metro grabbed and crunched up another leaf, letting the pieces fall to the ground.
A creaking sound like that of an old chair came from behind Metro, startling him. He spun around to find a wooden picnic table settled ahead in the middle of the room with multiple people sat around it. From a short distance it seemed that they were all moving and talking, yet not a sound came from them. After the initial creak which Metro assumed came from the table, the room had gone deafeningly silent once again.
He decided to approach the table; maybe he could ask them where he was.
His footsteps echoed at a steady pace, but as he drew closer, he realized the people looked familiar. He started running towards them, only stopping when he came to the head of the table, his eyes wide.
He was right, he did know these people; it was his family.
There were six in total; his mom, dad, grandmother, grandfather, uncle, and little brother. There was an empty seat in front of him, right at the head of the table. Metro assumed it was for him.
He preferred to stand.
The scene before him was a cheerful one; everyone was laughing, talking, and smiling with one another. At one point his grandmother let out what seemed like a billowing laugh, slamming her hand on the table, tears pricking the corner of her eyes. Metro’s face softened and the corner of his lips turned upward for just a moment at seeing his grandmother enjoy the family’s company for once. He wished he could have heard it.
In his peripheral something caught Metro’s eye. This place seemed to have a habit of new things popping up because suddenly against one wall was a large double door that hadn’t been there before. It stood out, although Metro guessed anything would stand out against the stark white of the room.
He left the table and approached the door which was about three times his own height. It looked almost medieval with its arched shape that came together at a point, and heavy iron knockers on either door. Two torches clung to the wall on either side, but their flames seemed to have been extinguished.
Looking over his shoulder towards the table, he noted that his family still sat absorbed into whatever conversation they were having that wasn’t audible. They didn’t seem to notice the door that came from nowhere, or if they did, they were not paying it any mind.
Turning back to the door, Metro looked it over. It looked pretty solid.
He placed his hands on either side, positioning his one foot behind him to use as an anchor. Bending his knees slightly and utilizing his entire body weight, he gave a hearty push. He was expecting the door to be heavy, so when it opened effortlessly, Metro fell headfirst onto the floor of the next room.
“Ow…” He grumbled while getting to his feet and dusting himself off, “I’m getting real tired of this damn place…” He paused for a second, “Wherever this place is…”
Entering this room had been underwhelming as it was just as empty as the last one. It was significantly smaller, only a fraction of the size of the last one, but the ceilings were much taller. In the middle of the room was a slightly raised platform; a podium stood on it, like a stage of sorts. Everything, including the stage and podium, was still coated in white. And in this room, there were no trees or leaves spread sporadically about the place. In fact, the only pop of color was a second, yet identical door immediately to his left. The only difference with this one was the fact that the torches on either side of the door had a flickering flame that spat and sputtered.
Walking towards the door with the lit torches, Metro’s footsteps continued to echo. A loud thud sounded, and he realized the door he entered had shut on its own, closing him in this new space. Stepping up to the door with the lit torches, he repeated the pattern of placing his hands on the wood; this time, however, he only pushed slightly as he was not keen on falling into whatever room lay beyond this one like he had before.
He tried again, with a little more force this time, but again the door refused to budge.
“Maybe this one is actually as heavy as it looks.” He said to himself.
Once more he positioned himself, this time with his shoulder against the door, and he let out a grunt as he applied his full body weight against it, confident that he wouldn’t go flying forward this time around.
“You’re not going to be able to open that one just yet.” Metro jumped, startled by the deep voice that came from behind him, and turned around. Where the platform had been empty just a moment ago, there stood an incredibly large man behind the podium. Retracing his steps back to the front of the room, it was obvious as to just how big the man stood considering Metro only came to about the top of his knee. No wonder the ceilings in here were so high.
A velvet robe hung down, covering the tops of his large feet; it was a deep, rich purple with intricate patterns lacing the entirety of the fabric. It looked incredibly heavy, like stage presence, except more beautiful and it gave the impression that this person was of royalty or at least of some importance. Metro looked up to see the man’s face, but there was no face to look up at; high above him, a thick layer of fog hung in the air around where the man’s head should have beem. Metro mentally noted how this place kept getting weirder and weirder by the minute.
“Um,” Metro started, not quite sure where to begin, “What do you mean I can’t open it yet?”
There was a moment of silence before the man answered him, “I mean exactly that; at this point you cannot exit through that door. Later, however? You might be able to.”
Metro started to feel frustrated. It’s an exit? And what’s coming later? He felt like he was ending up with more questions than answers.
Pushing aside his annoyance, Metro tried again, “Okay, so where are we? Where is this place? Is this a dream?” He motioned to the space around them.
“I cannot tell you.”.
Metro sighed. Third times the charm.
“Alright, so where is another exit that I can leave through so that I can go home or…maybe, wake up?”
“There isn’t one.”
Both individuals stayed silent as they stared at each other, or rather, Metro locked eyes onto the fog that covered the person’s face and assumed that this person was looking down at him as well.
“So let me get this straight,” Metro’s patience was thinning, “You can’t tell me where we are. I can’t go through that door over there.” Metro pointed at the door to his left, its torches still flickering, “And there’s no other exit for me to leave out of?”
“That is correct.” The foggy-faced man replied.
When he didn’t say anything further, Metro pinched the bridge of his nose, drawing his brows together.
“So, what can you do for me?” he asked.
“I can offer you a choice.”
Metro raised an eyebrow; he was glaring now, hoping that the frustration in his eyes pierced through the fog so that this man knew he was getting on Metro’s last nerve.
“A choice?” He questioned.
“Yes. A choice.” The man confirmed, “Would you like to hear what it is?”
What other option did he have? Should he push, bang, and kick against the heavy door until he finally got it open, if he got it open? Or perhaps he could go back into the room he started in and sit with his family as they silently converse with one another, staying there until he lost his mind from the deafening quiet that naturally inhabited this place.
Metro relented, “Sure. I’ll hear the choice you have for me.”
The man held up two fingers, “I can give you two options.” He pointed towards the door which wouldn’t open, “You can either go through that exit and experience what is on the other side.” He then motioned towards the door behind Metro, the one that led to the other room, “Or you can go back through that door and be with your family. However, if you go through the exit, you must go alone, and I cannot tell you what is on the other side; it will be either better or worse than the life you live now, but that is all I can tell you. If you choose to go back into the room you came from you will never know, no matter how much you wonder or ask, what lies behind this door.”
Metro was silent as he contemplated what the man told him.
“So, if I choose the exit, I can’t take my family with me?”
“No, you cannot. You will also never see them again if that is what you choose.”
“If I choose them… will I get to go back home? To my world?”
“I cannot tell you.”
Metro’s frustration has faded into something more…hollow. He couldn’t quite say how he was feeling at the moment, he just knew he wasn’t as upset anymore. He thought about asking the man why he was even in this place and why he was being given these choices to begin with, but Metro had a feeling he either didn’t have the answer or wasn’t going to give it.
Metro opened his mouth to speak, “Am I allowed to think on it?”
“You may take as much time as you need.” The man responded.
“Can I…” Metro started, but he hesitiated for a moment before continuing, “Can I go sit with my family before I make my decision?”
“Of course” Was all the man said.
Metro uttered a “thanks” under his breath as he turned around, walking towards the door leading to the other room. It wasn’t until he put his hand on the door’s large, iron handle that he stopped to turn around once more, “Who are you?” He asked the man with no face, and even though he couldn’t tell for sure, Metro could have sworn he felt the man’s eyes on him.
Silence hung between them for a moment too long.
“I cannot tell you.”
Metro said nothing, only nodding as he pulled on the door’s handle; it opened just as easily as it had before.
Metro let the door shut behind him as dragged his feet back to the picnic table where his family sat. Nothing seemed to have changed while he was gone. The trees still stood around the room. The leaves were still suspended in the air while others still littered the floor. His family still laughed and chattered about while making no noise. Approaching the head of the table, Metro could tell that his family knew he was there. A couple times he noticed how his younger brother glanced at him without saying anything.
He imagined his family stopping their conversations with each other and turning to him, inviting him to sit down and join them. When that didn’t happen, Metro pulled out the chair from the head of the table and invited himself to a seat.
He sat back and surveyed the unfamiliarity of the scene; his dad said something to his mom, causing her to playfully poke at his arm, an interaction that Metro had never seen between them. On the other side of the table, Metro’s grandmother was talking to his younger brother; he didn’t know what the conversation consisted of, but they seemed happy nonetheless. Lastly, he noted how his grandfather and uncle seemed to be having a pleasant talk as well. They weren’t laughing but they had small smiles on their faces that told Metro that they were at least content.
Sitting there, it hit Metro just how unfamiliar this scene was to him. Have they ever been able to be in a room together like this while enjoying each other’s company?
Metro was so used to compartmentalizing the time he spent with his family. He would only be able to see everyone within their own space because getting everyone together was just an argument waiting to happen. In fact, a part of Metro half expected a fight to break out at any time, despite the currently cheerful atmosphere.
His eyes lowered and locked onto a leaf that lay on the table.
“I only have two choices. I’ve never cared about the life or the family I have, I’ve always wanted something different, but…” He silently thought.
He looked around the table. What if this was the start of things changing? What if they were able to get along from here on out? He never thought he’d be offered the choice, but now that he has been… He wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to do.
He caught his little brother glancing at him again; this time, however, his eyes lingered on Metro’s for a little longer than before.
What about his brother? A feeling like an overcast had suddenly invaded his mind and body. He loved his brother deeply and he remembered helping his mother take care of him when he was a baby, could he really just abandon him so easily?
His eyes, once again, became glued to the leaf on the table. He stayed like that for a while, letting his mind fog over, not thinking about anything at all.
Metro’s head snapped up, his family had all stopped talking to each other and they were now looking at him; their expressions were warm and inviting, not like how he typically knew them to be. Metro was surprised he could hear them.
“Um, hey.” He responded.
His mom tilted her head to the side, if only slightly, “You okay? You’re spacing out a little.”
“Yeah. Sorry, didn’t mean to, I’m just… thinking.”
This time his uncle spoke up, “Are you having a good time? Are you happy?”
Metro didn’t know what to say to that; he wasn’t necessarily enjoying his time here, wherever here was. He was more confused than anything. He felt like he was at a loss. But they were all so content and they were enjoying being a family. They were never a family, so who was he to ruin this?
Metro forced a smile, “Yeah, I’m having a good time.”
“Good.” His grandfather said with a nod.
“You deserve happiness, Metro.” His dad chimed in.
Everyone around the table nodded in agreement. Metro’s head seemed a little less foggy, “Yeah, thanks guys.” This time when he smiled, it wasn’t forced. Tears even threatened to collect in his eyes, but Metro had never cried in front of his family before and no matter the circumstances, he was not about to start now.
He saw his grandmother’s hand resting on the top of the table and he reached for it. Suddenly, everyone’s heads snapped to look at him, each of their expressions eerily blank, but their eyes stared so intently that it felt like they bore holes through Metro. He yanked his hand back, clutching it close to his chest.
“So you’re choosing us, Metro?” His mother said next to him, her voice seeming deeper and more menacing than he knew it to be.
“Wh-What?” He stammered in shock.
“Does this mean you’re staying with us?” His uncle asked with wide, unblinking eyes.
“N-no, I haven’t made my choice yet.” He choked out.
At that, they all went back to their conversations; the silence ensued, and Metro was left at the head of the table.
He sat in his chair, saying nothing. Is that how he chooses them? He has to touch them? He allowed himself to calm down as he took in the sight before him, the unfamiliarity of it all; his family was together, and despite that brief unnatural moment, they were happy. There was no screaming, no fighting, no insults thrown at each other.
Would it be so bad to stay like this? This is what he’s always wanted. It’s what they’ve always wanted, and right now they have it. Could he really stay here? Will this even last?
Metro didn’t know the answer, so instead he accepted that as fact and chose not to decide right then. Sinking deeper into his chair, he released the muscles that he didn’t realize he was tensing as he took in the pleasant atmosphere. It was almost relaxing, and he stayed that way for a while; minutes, hours, maybe even days. Metro didn’t keep track of time because he didn’t see any need to. The man with the foggy face said he could take as much time as he needed anyway so he chose to bask in the unity of having his family together for the first and last time.
Eventually, Metro stood from his seat, his family still chatting away silently. They didn’t even bother to look his way as he walked back towards the door that led to the other room; he didn’t mind, he was just happy that he had been able to sit with them.
The door once again opened easily, but Metro noticed when he entered the room that the man was gone. There was a feeling in Metro’s gut that he wouldn’t see him again. He turned around, looking through the door frame at his family one last time. They stayed where he left them, no one turned around to wave at him, to say goodbye, to talk him out of what he was about to do, they just sat there enveloped in their conversations. Metro was just happy he could leave them like this, in a state of togetherness. He let the door slowly close, his eyes not leaving them until the sliver of space between the door and the frame got smaller and smaller. Click. The door shut, and they were gone.
Metro’s feet stayed planted where they were. He could go back, he could stay with them at least a little longer, but no, Metro’s dad was right; he deserved happiness too. Once again, he listened to the echo of his footsteps as he trekked over to the door to the left of the room. The torches were still lit, the light offering nothing to the already brightly lit room. He put his hands on the door, hesitating. He turned around and checked for the foggy faced man, but he didn’t appear. Perhaps Metro wanted him there to talk him out of this decision, perhaps he just wanted him there, but it didn’t matter because he wasn’t.
Metro pushed slightly on the doors but stopped when they started to open. It had been nearly impossible the last time he tried, but now he knew they would open effortlessly. He took a deep breath, holding onto it for a moment before releasing it. He pushed again, but this time he let the doors swing open all the way. A light blinded him; he tried to let his eyes adjust but it was too much and he couldn’t. He didn’t know what was on the other side, he was scared to find out, but he felt like he had to know. He took one step forward, then another. He kept walking into the light, letting the doors softly shut behind him.