The Threshold

Step not out beyond the Threshold, for beyond is danger. In the distant Before, it was those who stepped out of Safety brought down the Crash.
                                                                                           – The Testament of the Rules

As I scrambled over the last rise I saw the edge of Safety come into view, saw the wall of light and five figures stepping towards it. I pushed my legs to run faster, panting with exertion as the first figure, a familiar one, stepped into the wall of light and then through. The others followed suit, and as I finally reached the glowing barrier, I forced myself to call out.

“It’s not safe!”

My shout was loud, and should have echoed away across the night, but it did not. Instead, it fell dully in the air, all traces of the sound beside the shout itself absorbed by the Threshold. The wall of dull orange light glowed faintly, and within it dust motes drifted and swirled.

Jackson and his friends turned back to look at me through the Threshold, and he smiled.

“Maybe not, Alex. But we’ve done all we can in Safety, I can tell you that. Our future lies beyond.”

“But you… You can’t!”

So even then, at the breaking point, our friendship still followed the same old pattern; Jackson leading any who would follow down a path of folly, and my voice crying out the familiar, futile denial. It had always been the same.


Jackson and I were the same age, were in the same class in school. But Jackson was popular, and I… Wasn’t. I can’t even claim to have been one of the geeky kids who finds other geeky kids to align with, I was just a loner. Not even unpopular, just… Unnoticed. The odd one out, who listened a little too hard to the teachers, followed the Rules a little too precisely.

But then, what was the point of having the Rules if we didn’t follow them? Surely we had to learn some lessons from the Crash? The world had cracked open and burned and drowned because of us, and if we wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again, we needed to be careful. As the Testament of the Rules stated, ‘In the distant Before, it was those who stepped out of Safety brought down the Crash.’

No one had ever been able to give a clear answer on just what had happened in the Crash, or what precisely had caused it, beyond human folly. It was so long ago now, ten generations at least, and now there was no one living to remember. But the Rules had been written shortly after mankind had discovered the Threshold and established Safety, and following them had kept us safe enough, it seemed.

I’d been raised by my aunt, who was kind and caring, but a fanatical believer in the Rules and drilled me in them daily, so perhaps my vehemence could be explained. Most of the children at the school whispered stories of her being a secretly a witch, so perhaps that also explained my solitude in childhood too.

My first proper encounter with Jackson had come when I was around seven years old, at the small park nearby my aunt’s house. ‘Park’ is perhaps an overstatement, but it was a patch of ground that had at least some grass, with some benches scattered about and a small stand of trees nearby. My aunt had settled herself with her book on her favourite bench and instructed me to go and play. I had wandered toward the trees, idly thinking of perhaps climbing one, but as I drew close I heard voices arguing.

“That’s stupid, you’d die!”

“Says who?”

“Says everyone!”

I recognised some of the voices, and I slowed, crouching low and moving slowly forward. Soon enough I caught sight of a group of children whom I recognised from school. At their head was Jackson, holding a stick which he waved as he spoke again, emphasising his point.

“Says everyone cos that’s what they’ve been told! But I reckon it’d be alright. The air’s fine out there, the Threshold doesn’t stop that.”

A boy to Jackson’s right, who I definitely recognised, snatched the stick out of Jackson’s hand and snorted.

“It’s not just about air, doofus. There’s nothing out there, which is why we’re in here.”

The speaker, who’s name was Travis, stabbed at the ground and I realise Jackson had drawn a picture to illustrate his point. Slowly I stood up, trying to see, and made out a very crude sketch of Safety, humanity’s stronghold, and the border with the world beyond. The Threshold, the barrier that kept us safe, had been marked but someone, presumably Jackson, had drawn an arrow through it, point outward.

“There might be something,” Jackson said, snatching back his stick. “Who’s to know, if someone doesn’t go and find out?”

The realisation of what Jackson was suggesting shocked me into betraying my presence. I stepped forward out of the trees, and spoke loudly.

“But you can’t!”

Everyone turned to face me, and I quailed under the gaze of the group. I recognised all of them, and whilst most had never spared me a word or glance, Travis had seen fit to make me the brunt of a joke or harsh word every now and again. Now he and the others looked at me with surprise and annoyance.

“What do you want, witch’s boy?”

The only person who didn’t look annoyed was Jackson; instead, his face was openly curious, and he raised a questioning eyebrow.

“I just, um…” Some of the others sniggered, but Jackson just smiled at me and waited. So I screwed up my courage, and spoke. “It’s not about whether or it’s too dangerous beyond the Threshold. It’s about whether or not we are too dangerous to go beyond the Threshold. Humanity, I mean.”

“He’s a nutcase,” Travis said, and a few others laughed, but Jackson shook his head.

“No, he’s got a point.” This silenced them all, and they looked at Jackson, surprised. “We caused the Crash, after all. But maybe we could go out, if we’re careful. That’s all I’m saying.” He stood and moved towards me, and I fought my usual instinct to back away. “It’s Alex, isn’t it?” Unable to hide my surprise, I nodded, and Jackson grinned. “You want to sit down?”


That was how our friendship had started. I never got on so well with the others in the group, but they tolerated me because of Jackson; he was a natural leader, even then. You followed him, because it just made sense.

The years passed, we grew up, and fell into a pattern of my being the occasional member of the group, there because Jackson wanted me. He’d lead the others on silly schemes, and I would often watch and warn him against it, without effect. But always he kept coming back to the same idea, of setting out to see the world beyond the Threshold.

And then it became more than just an idea, it became a plan. He and some of the others gathered supplies in secret, and were going to set out in the middle of the night, cross the Threshold and see what lay beyond. I wasn’t part of the group, Jackson hadn’t asked me because he knew I wouldn’t go, but I’d worked out his plan all the same. The night they planned to leave, I’d lain on my bed staring at the ceiling, the opening of the Testament of the Rules running over and over in my head.

Step not out beyond the Threshold, for beyond is danger. In the distant Before, it was those who stepped out of Safety brought down the Crash.

They were fools to follow him. He was a fool to lead them. But… He was my friend. And so I’d dressed quickly and snuck out of my aunt’s house, heading to the place I knew they planned to cross over…


So there I stood, on one side of the Threshold, Jackson and his companions on the other.

“Go home, witch’s boy,” Travis said, falling back on the old insult. Jackson put a hand on Travis’ shoulder and shook his head. Travis shrugged and turned away.

“You always could work things out, Alex. Don’t tell anyone, okay? But thanks for coming to say goodbye.”

“You can’t go,” I said.

Jackson opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again. He looked at me for a long time, and then the familiar grin spread over his face.

“Come with us.”

That caused a stir, I can tell you.


“Jackson, what are you–?”

Jackson waved the others to silence and moved back towards me.

“Don’t get left behind, this time. Come with us. Please?”

I stepped up to the Threshold, the faint glow colouring my pale skin. The barrier had no smell, gave off no sound, there was only the light and the swirling of particles caught within it.

“It doesn’t hurt, Alex.” Jackson had moved to stand before me, close to the barrier. His voice was low, for my ears only. “I didn’t feel anything when I stepped through.”

I looked at my friend. He stood just in front of me, that same cocky smile on his face. With one step forward I could be standing at his side. With one step forward I could cross the Threshold. I clenched my fists, straightened my shoulders. That’s all it would take, to join my friend, to not be left behind again. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and willed my feet to move forward. One single step…

Slowly I let the breath out and opened my eyes. The orange glow of the Threshold before me, my friends hopeful face beyond it.

“I can’t, Jackson.” Sorrow filled every word, and I could see in his eyes that Jackson heard it. “I wish I could, but…”

Then he smiled again, but not the cocky smile I knew so well. This was a smile of sadness, and regret, but also of understanding.

“That’s okay. I guess someone needs to stay behind, to remember us.”

“And wait for your return.”

His smile dropped then, and for the first time in a very long time, I saw uncertainty on Jackson’s face. But in a flash the cocky smile was back.

“Exactly. Well, Alex, you take care, alright?”

“You too, Jackson.” I raised my voice, looking at the others where they stood watching us. “All of you. I know we’ve never really… But take care, everyone. Good luck.”

Some of them smirked, but most looked genuinely grateful, and Travis even murmured a reply.

“Thanks, Alex.”

Jackson stepped backward, nodding at me and smiling. Then he turned to his companions, and without another word they turned their backs to the Threshold and began to walk. I watched them go, but very quickly they were all but lost in the darkness. At the final moment someone, I think it was Jackson but I still can’t be sure, turned and waved a final farewell. I waved back, and then the small group vanished into the night beyond the Threshold.

“I’ll remember, Jackson. And I will wait.”

So I stood on the edge of Safety and looked out through the barrier I could not cross, no matter how much I wished to, wondering if I would ever see my friend again.