Clyde hurried across the intersection, a harsh sun reddening his neck and baking the blacktop. Stepping up to the curb, he briskly made his way to The Purple Tile diner. As he approached, he noticed two distinct front doors to the establishment - a blue door to his left and a red door to the right. Clyde slowed his pace, looking between the two entrances.
Clyde’s head snapped to the left in search of the sing-song voice. His eyebrows lifted, confusion replacing his surprise.
Several feet from the sidewalk sat a young couple in bright folding chairs. The chairs reminded Clyde of those used by parents at youth soccer games.
“You going in there?” The young woman wore large sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat lined with a chain of daisies.
“Let him be, Daisy. The boy looks hungry.” The man spoke with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. “Isn’t that right?”
While he spoke to Daisy, his eyes remained locked on Clyde with a smile wide and toothy. Clyde had seen that smile in a recent nature documentary - a hyena’s smile.
“Hardly a boy, Jay.” Daisy said it with a wink at Clyde. “What’s your name, sweetie?” Her eyes glittered and Clyde felt his stomach flutter briefly.
Surprised at himself, he volunteered the requested information.
“Ooooh. What a gorgeous name. Clyyyyde.” Daisy leaned forward in her sinking chair and sat with a chin atop wrist. “And do you have a Bonnie, cutie Clyde?”
“Perhaps she’s just over the ocean,” cackled Jay, his shoulders dancing violently as he laughed to himself.
Daisy frowned. A thought passed across her face and she smiled, ruby red lips puffing up. “Go on and get some lunch, Clyde honey. Just don’t eat the fries, sweetie.” She shooed him away with a bejeweled hand. “Go on, now.”
Clyde slowly turned around, wiping sweat from his forehead with a small cloth. He was glad to leave the unnerving couple behind. Without further hesitation, he returned the damp napkin to his pocket and proceeded toward the diner.
Before he’d gone three steps, a figure materialized behind a high desk stationed between the blue and red doors. The balding gentleman wore spectacles and quite a nice suit, far too nice for a host at a diner.
“Good afternoon, sir. Will you be dining with us today?” His was voice saturated with eagerness
Clyde nodded sharply.
“Excellent! Would you prefer blue or red, sir?”
Clyde noted the name tag on the man’s jacket. “Well… Norman… I’m not really sure-“
Norman’s big smile widened further and he puffed his chest enthusiastically. “Not to worry, my boy. We are proud to welcome a newcomer to our eatery. We at here at The Purple Tile pride ourselves on our promise to deliver the most scrumptious burgers you’ve ever tasted. Our section on the left, through that blue door there, has some marvelously comfortable booths, while to the right we boast gloriously comfy stools.”
Clyde searched for a response. “So they’re both comfortable then?”
Norman blinked. “On the left are our marvelously comfortable booths, while on the right-“
“Yes, I heard you Norman.” Irritation laced Clyde’s words. “Is there anything else different?”
“Oh, of course, sir. Yes, yes,” Norman maintained the smile plastered on his face. “In the blue room, we serve carrot fries of a multi-color variety, in equal proportion. There is an exactly equal number of purple, orange, white, and red carrot fries!” Norman rose up onto his toes to emphasize his glee before continuing. “And on the right, sir, we serve every burger with orange carrot fries, all grown here in the land of the USA.”
“A tremendously tasty, yet perfectly healthy alternative form of fry.”
Clyde raised an eyebrow. “Uh huh. Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter then. The blue door, Norman.” Clyde’s stomach rumbled impatiently.
As Norman led him through the blue door, Clyde first noticed the smell. An aromatic mix of beef, grease, and… something. Clyde wrinkled his nose. The scent reminded him of a spa or a hipster, but he couldn’t quite place it.
Norman noted Clyde’s upturned nose and hastily explained. “Each meal here in the blue room is paired with a complimentery glass of essential oil-infused water.” Clyde took a seat at one of the brilliantly blue booths and waved away the essential oils menu that Norman proffered.
He didn’t need to look at the menu. He needed food, it didn’t matter what as long as it came on a plate. “I’ll just take a burger, Norm.” Clyde took a sip of his plain water and remembered the warning of the strange girl outside. “No, fries please.”
Norman’s face tightened and Clyde could have sworn he saw the ever-present smile tremble for just a moment. “Just… just the burger, sir?”
It was only after the room fell silent that Clyde noticed how crowded it was. Now that he surveyed the room, Clyde found every other booth was stuffed with a variety of patrons. Families with young children, young professionals, and a collection of flannel and tie-dye clad college students all munched on multi-colored carrot fries. They had been, that is to say until something about Clyde’s a-la-carte request had evidently disturbed the peace.
“Is that a problem?” asked Clyde.
Norm’s smile visibly shook for a moment and he whispered, despite the obvious attention of the crowd. “People that dine in the blue room enjoy a colorful array of carrot fries with their burgers, sir. Each color is equally present. Twenty-five percent of the fries are blue, twenty-five percent are white, twenty-five percent are-“
“Purple and red, yes I get it, Norman. I’m not an idiot.” The burning gazes of the onlooking crowd set Clyde’s teeth on edge. “What’s the problem?”
Norm opened his mouth to respond, but a screechy voice cut in before he had the chance.
“You got something against colorful carrots, my man?”
Norman’s face fell. “Chaz please, he’s new. He-“
Chaz put a hand up to silence the waiter. “You know the rules Norm. If the boy isn’t willing to allow all colors of the carrot on his plate… well you know we have zero tolerance for intolerance, Norman.”
Chaz wore sweatpants that tapered to mid-calf, leaving plenty of room above his shoes to display socks adorned with green flowers. Across his tie-dye shirt read “Fight the System” in bold lettering paired. Chaz loomed over a stammering Norman.
The waiter fell silent and cast his eyes downward.
Clyde immediately realized that if he remained in this room, things may not end well for both he and Norman. The cult-like cluster of patrons stared murderously at he-who-would-not-eat-the-colors.
“I am so sorry, Chaz, truly I am.” Hurriedly, Clyde exited the booth and towed Norman along a path to the front door. “It seems you’ve made a mistake, Norman. As I said, I’d prefer the red room,” said Clyde loudly.
Norman, not as dull a wit as Clyde had assumed, responded instantly. “That’s right! Terribly sorry for that,” he said.
Norman, obviously fearful now, rushed forward and nearly tripped Clyde in the effort. “Terribly sorry for all the trouble!” He shouted, now essentially shoving Clyde toward the front door.
Chaz watched them all the way to the door. Clyde caught his eye as the blue door closed, a tickle of fear making his hair curl. He shivered despite the sun’s heat beating down from a cloudless sky.
Norman huffed and held a hand to his chest. “My what a fright.”
“What was that?” Asked Clyde.
Norman, the color now returning to his face, gathered himself. “Those folks… take carrot diversity… extremely seriously…” he said between breaths.
Clyde uncomprehendingly shook his head. “Do I want to go into the red room, Norman?”
The host/waiter stared at Clyde for a moment. Instantly, a plastic smile took hold of Norman and he waved Clyde toward the red door.
“Of course, sir. No strange color crazes in here. Only burgers and fries from orange carrots grown right here-
“In the USA,” interrupted Clyde. An insistent grumble from his stomach urged him on. “Yes, thank you, Norman. Let’s see those stools now.”
“Right away, sir!” Exclaimed Norman giddily at the mention of gloriously comfortable stools.
Twenty minutes later a satisfied Clyde munched on the last bite of his burger. Norman shuffled over and gratefully accepted a handful of cash from Clyde. “I hope everything was to your satisfaction, sir.”
“The burger was great, thank you Norman.” A thought struck Clyde suddenly. “Norman, are you the only employee here?”
Norman snorted in laughter. “The only employee? Ha! No no, sir. I could never. We have a boy in the kitchen, wickedly talented. Prepares all the food himself. Just him!”
Clyde nodded, impressed. “I’ll be honest though, I’m really not all that taken with the fries. That orange seemed a bit-
“You have a problem with orange, son?”
Clyde winced and Norman winced in unison.
The inquisitive aggressor waddled toward Clyde’s table with surprising speed. In only a moment, his large belly rolled onto the tabletop as a beer-filled, hot breath urged Clyde to immediately vomit. Swallowing, he noticed Norman had taken several paces back from the table.
The waiter swiftly edged his way to the kitchen door and vanished.
Clyde’s body then froze at the touch of cold metal under his chin. The sour end of a revolver poked at his neck’s soft skin.
“These are the carrots of our nation, boy. Orange and true,” spittle flecked Clyde’s face as the man spoke. “I saw you coming outta that blue door. I know you were over there eating those… colorful carrots.” He said each word slowly, dripping them onto Clyde’s captive face.
The scream came from the front door. Tie-dye clad Chaz came screaming through the front door like a pacifist missile. “NOOO VIOLEEEENCE!!!” Chaz hurled himself at Clyde and his captor.
Every head in the red room ducked at the sound of gunfire. Clyde's unprotected eardrums throbbed.
Mayhem ensued as members of the blue room flooded the red room. Crawling desperately along a floor of black, white, and purple tiles, Clyde made his escape toward the kitchen door. In a moment of panic, he looked back to find Chaz and Captain of the Orange Carrots racing to get to him, murder in both sets of eyes.
Clyde yelped as he was yanked into the kitchen, Norman locking the door with several deadbolts. A series of bangs bludgeoned the door, but it held strong. The waiter helped the shaking young man to his feet. “Steady, sir. We’ll wait it out in here, the three of us.”
Before Clyde could ask, a kid that couldn’t have been older than twenty-one poked his head out of the pantry, an herbal aroma emerging with him.
Clyde was about to respond, but his jaw hit the ground first.
Before the trio sat barrels of potatoes, some already sliced and peeled.
“Where are the carrots?!”
The kid, whose name tag read “Hello My Name Is I’m Harry” coughed up some smoke, but managed to point to the corner of the kitchen. There, beside a vat of fryers and a wall of grills, sat several jars of food coloring, orange in the majority.
“We just dye the potatoes, bruh,” puffed Harry.
Hours later, Daisy and Jay packed up their foldable chairs and gathered fallen cigarette butts. Police car lights bathed the entire blocked in alternating blue and red lights and body bags were carried away from inside the red room. Clyde, a silver emergency blanket wrapped around his shoulders, spoke with a detective.
“Told him not to eat the fries,” said Daisy.
“They never listen,” said Jay.
“They dye them ,y’now.”
“They die alright.”
Together, the young couple walked away from a bloodied and broken Purple Tile, cackling as they went.