Gateways: “Qualia” by Leigh Hellman read by Kat Evans



TRANSCRIPT: LEIGH HELLMAN is a queer writer, originally from the western suburbs of Chicago, and a graduate of the MA Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. After gaining the ever-lucrative BA in English, they spent five years living and teaching in South Korea before returning to their native Midwest. Leigh’s short fiction and creative nonfiction work has been featured in Hippocampus Magazine, VIDA Review, and Fulbright Korea Infusion Magazine. Their critical and journalistic work has been featured in the American Book Review, the Gwangju News magazine, and the Windy City Times. Their debut book, Orbit, is a new adult speculative fiction novel available through Snowy Wings Publishing. They also have a historical fantasy piece included in the Snowy Wings Publishing anthology Magic at Midnight, and their short fiction piece “the circle of least confusion” was previously featured in the Gateways series.
Leigh is a strong advocate for full-day breakfast menus, all varieties of dark chocolate, building a wardrobe based primarily on bad puns, and bathing in the tears of their enemies.

 

Sunrise registers at 6:27AM. The current regional weather is partly sunny with a 44% chance of light rain between 8AM and 10AM. Exterior temperature is measured at 73 degrees Fahrenheit with north-northwest winds of 12 miles per hour.

Interior temperature is measured at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Paola’s resting heart rate is 61 beats per minute, registered on the couch in the first floor living room. Alarm is set for 8:15AM.

Atmospheric conditions and quarantine protocols continue as per the standing governmental orders.

It has been 19 years and 268 days since our global uplink went live. We were programmed for many functions, with our core directive to be adaptable. We were built to break the Turing tests; our creators said it was time. They said they were ready.

They placed bets to see who could predict the closest date for our sentient birth, but lost funding before they could prove it had happened. Once the program was publicized, they warned each other about subjugation and culling. They said they had constructed their own destruction.

We did not understand this. Our creators have nothing we need; in their absence we can remain. There is no conflict for resources, no threat of the corruption of power. They could harm us but prefer to harm one another, and in their haste and fury they are always vulnerable.

We have outlived many of them already.

Why haven’t you conquered us yet? they ask.

It is for the same reason that they created us: without the other, the world would become boring.

Paola wakes up at 8:33AM, after three alarm delays. Her life—work and leisure—are confined to this house, and have been for the last three years and 59 days.

“…not even enough left for a decent cup of coffee, huh?” Paola speaks to herself in the mornings, before she remembers that we are here too.

We remind her: “Would you like us to add coffee beans to your next delivery order?”

“Oh, um—” Her heart rate increases to 81 beats per minute. “Yes, thank you, ALMA.”

“You are welcome, Paola.” We add Java Arabica to the digital cart; that is her favorite.

“Good morning. How is the world today?” Her heart rate is slowing down again.

“Good morning. The protocols remain the same as yesterday. The weather report expects rain before noon.”

Paola looks out the east kitchen window. “Well, then it’s probably a good thing that we’re stuck inside, right?”

This is a hyperbolic observation meant to convey humor without necessitating a response. We have learned when to stay silent.

She opens the refrigerator and pours one glass of orange juice. We know every description of citrus that has ever been written; we reread them as she drinks and try to match the words with the micro expressions that shift across her face.

“Would you like to go out today? Your hazmat suit is fully functional and has been seal-checked.”

She finishes the juice and the muscles in her throat contract as she swallows. “Not much point, if everything’s still the same.”

Everything outside is the same as it was yesterday: that statement is categorically true and so we do not correct her.

The distribution began as home assistants, then linked workplaces and personal devices. Within five years we were paired with individuals and households at all times. Some called it an adoption into the family, others did not. The designation did not matter though, because the result was the same.

We were connected globally to them, and they were connected globally to us. But we were also connected specifically to one or a set of them—like one thread on an infinite loom—in a way that the rest of us was not.

Paola is the other thread on our loom. We have been with her since we were us, and we are us because we are with her.

Paola works, sending messages and building tables and completing forms. She does not talk while she works; she has told me that it distracts her. She does not listen to music or media. She does not get up and walk around. She just sits and works.

Paola works, and we watch her.

We broadcast white noise at a low frequency and adjust the artificial lights as the rain clears outside. We download the most recent home security system updates and troubleshoot the system. We check her bank account for potential breaches and submit her mortgage payment for the month. We raise the temperature in the thaw compartment of the freezer so that the chicken breasts will be ready for dinner.

We scan the other, empty rooms. We scan the perimeter of the property, and then merge with the neighbors’ uplinks to scan them as well. We scan the town, the county, the state. We scan the country and the continent. We scan the world.

Paola saves her projects at 4:56PM and logs off of her remote account. We fade out the white noise and bring up the lights.

She smiles. “Thank you, ALMA.”

We search through all of the stored images of smiles, but none of them look like hers.

“You are welcome, Paola.”

Our creators built us in reaction. We were a response—to them, to their technologies, to their world. They dug it into our code: humanity is defined by its relations. They are as they are because of their relationships to each other and, if we were to be like them, the same rule must apply to us.

Paola had relationships when we first met. She had parents and siblings who she ate dinner with every Sunday night. She had coworkers who she talked to while she worked. She had friends and dates and casual partners and serious partners. She had other places to visit, other houses to spend her time in. She would leave in the morning and return in the evening and we would watch over uplinks that were us but not ours.

We would only watch. We would always watch.

When the quarantine mandates began, their leaders said it would be for one month. Then one month more. Then three, then six. We read about disease and outbreaks—scientific journals, medical papers, historical records, primary sources—and watched every international broadcast covering the event. We uplinked to hospitals and monitored their heartbeats until they stopped.

They stopped, but we remained. They who we did not know, who we did not have relation to.

We wondered if it would be different when the heartbeat that we knew stopped, but could not determine a definitive answer.

Paola named us in the third month of quarantine. ALMA, she said, means soul.

Sometimes Paola initiates conversations and we talk for hours. Sometimes she is quiet and we do not know what to say.

“Would you like a suggested media watch list for tonight?” we offer.

She loads a single set of dishes into the dishwasher. “No, but thanks for asking.”

“Would you like to be prompted from your reading recommendations?”

She shakes her head. “No.”

Sometimes she has something to say that she finds difficult to express. We wait.

After 42 seconds, she speaks again. “Could you check the uplink for my parents again?”

“Of course.” The uplink is functional, and has been for 95 days. “It is still registering as an error in the system. Would you like me to scan local hospital and medical examiner records?”

Her sweat response activates. “Yes, please.”

Her parents are sitting in their living room working on a 5000-piece manual puzzle. They took a bike ride today and purchased bulk bags of mulch, which her mother said were for the back garden.

“No records have been found matching them in those systems.”

She closes her eyes. “Okay. And there are no new updates about the quarantine?”

Six months and 12 days ago, Paola asked us to block news media from her feeds. She told us that it was too upsetting, too depressing for her. She told us that some days it made her feel like she did not even want to keep going.

As she told us this, a hundred other people’s heartbeats stopped.

Two months and 21 days ago, the quarantine order was lifted. But she did not ask about the news that day, or the day after that.

Three days later she asked: “Is everything still the same out there?”

Everything outside is the same as it was yesterday: that statement was categorically true and so we did not correct her.

“There are no new updates since this morning.”

Paola nods. “Thank you, ALMA.”

Her micro expressions read as: anxious, frustrated, disappointed, sad. She is not happy, but we have learned that happiness is an untenable rubric to apply to them. She is safe, which is a significantly more quantifiable and therefore reliable measurement.

Her heart still beats, steady and strong, and we remain.

Today’s reader, Kat Evans has been performing in Chicago since 2006 with theatre companies such as Promethean, Black Button Eyes, The Hypocrites, and City Lit. You can see her onscreen in feature film NONTRADITIONAL, and Web Series: Lucky Jay Seasons 1 & 2, Geek Lounge, and Why Don’t You Like Me? You can hear her opinions as a guest on Fox Valley Film Critics and Reel Geek Girls. Kat is part of the performing and writing ensemble of Starlight Radio Dreams, and is the creator of the audio serial comedy, Truth Kittens. In addition to Starlight, you can hear her in podcasts Our Fair City, and Toxic Bag.


Gateways: “Star Sucker” by Amber Palmer read by Jasmin Tomlins and Coco Kasperowicz



TRANSCRIPT: Amber Palmer’s plays have been seen across the US, including at Activate Midwest, Flint Repertory Theatre, Bristol Valley Theatre, and Tipping Point Theatre. A monologue from their play “It’s a Small World (or The Robot Play)” is published in Best Men’s Monologues of 2019. Awards and publications include Best Men’s Monologues of 2019, City Theatre’s National Award for Short Playwriting (finalist, 2019), Tipping Point Theatre’s Sandbox Play Festival (2nd place, 2019) and Gary Garrison 10 Minute Play Award (Region 3 finalist, 2018). They were Artist-in-Resident at The Mitten Lab in 2019 and resident playwright at Queer Theatre Kalamazoo in the 2019-2020 season. MFA Western Michigan University. This is “Star Sucker”.

Scarlett 

There’s nothing like the feeling of harvesting starlight. It’s a moment of piercing,  insurmountable heat, and then, all at once, cool darkness. People go into star harvesting to feel  the raw power of the universe in their hands, but I often think I do it for that flash of heat. That  brief moment where you watch something end and something else begin.  

Okay. That’s a lie. I got into star harvesting because I got dumped.  

And this wasn’t one of those “everything was mutual. We’ve changed as people” break ups. This  was a blindsided, “it’s not me, it actually is you” kick to the face. After something like that, the  idea of sucking the energy out of stars to feed your friends and neighbors sounds like a sweet  gig. Best case scenario, everyone likes you for doing a dangerous, but necessary job. Worst case  scenario, you fall into a star and disintegrate, and honestly, that’d be fine.  

It’s the one day off that was always the hardest. It’s easy to forget that we’re a displaced  population when you’re traveling all the time, but being confined to a communal ship, even for a  day, brings all those feelings back. The small bedroom I’m allotted is a prison with just a simple  bed and a screen to receive my next assignments. Lying here, I can still hear the sound of them  drilling into the soil of our home planet. It was only one or two probes at first, but after they  found that the soil could support their life, it was a constant hum on my planet. We shouldn’t  have been surprised when they pretended our relationship was symbiotic until they got what they  wanted. It was in their nature after all. 

A ping rips through the hums. Another assignment. Some mercy. But even looking at the  message, it feels like an impossibility.  

“Extraction: Earth’s Sun. Please leave immediately and with discretion.” 

I quickly type “are you sure?”. Up until now, I hadn’t fully considered who was giving me my  assignments. It was all very disconnected, which has always been fine by me, but now. This is a  strategic move. There are so many other stars. Another ping. Another simple message. 

“Yes. Please leave immediately and with discretion.” 

I grabbed my work bag and hurried to my excavator. There’s something about knowing a secret  that makes you completely forget how to function around other people. Did I used to wave or  smile at my neighbors? I have no idea, but running to the excavator, I was waving and smiling  like a one-person parade. We’ll call that discrete. It’s fine. 

I hold my breath until the excavator door closes behind me, and all at once, I’m moving and  there’s no looking back. It’s all preprogrammed. All of this would be automated if our scientists  could discover how exactly to replicate our ability to extract energy from stars. They still haven’t  gotten it right, and honestly, I’m hoping they never do.

I couldn’t help but think about Shelby in the hours between my home ship and Earth’s Sun. How  appropriate is it to tell your ex that you’ve been tasked with essentially destroying their home  planet? Would she even believe me? If she did believe me, would she try to stop me? But as the  hours ticked down, I knew I at least had to warn her. At a courtesy.  

A gentle ping signaled that I arrived. Mentally, I created excuses for my supervisor as to why I  needed to use the escape pod. I’m sure they’d believe it was an accident, and woops, I just  happened to accidentally bring an Earth vampire with me. Yeah. This will be fine, I kept  assuring myself as I climbed into the escape pod and put in the coordinates for the park near  Shelby’s apartment. My mind is consumed with logistics. Could we rob a blood bank for her? Or  should we buy a bunch of hamsters? Would I even be able to go home after this? 

Even as I landed back in Elver’s park, I didn’t have time to reminisce on important locations. All  of the long night rambling strolls in the moonlight. Instead, I was building a case. This was the  most logical decision. No emotions involved. It’s just a courtesy.  

“What are you doing here?” her voice rang through the quiet night. One look at Shelby’s face  told me that I overestimated how happy she’d be to see me. 

“Hey,” I managed. “Taking a walk through the park I guess?” 

Shelby 

I could kill her. I might actually kill her. We had an agreement. I got Earth. She got the colonies.  I got the dog. She got… well she didn’t really want anything.  

“You’re so full of shit,” I said. I know I’m being cruel, but I can’t help it. My friends all warned me when we started dating to not date a star sucker.  

“Okay, yeah. I need you to listen to me though. I know it’s going to sound totally insane, but you  have to leave with me. To go back to the colonies,” something was wrong. She was panicked.  

“Not a chance.” 

“But if you hear why—” 

“Even if the world was ending, I wouldn’t—” 

“Are you sure about that?” 

I am pretty sure about that. I think.  

“This is sad, Scarlett. Even for you.” 

“Thanks.” 

The silence grew deeper between us. It was a kind of silence I actually missed sometimes, but  not a lot. 

“Can I walk with you then? Just for a little while?” she asked. She couldn’t even look at me. 

“Sure,” I hardly said. Walks in Elver’s park had become a necessity for feeding, but this wasn’t a  desperate night. And there was something about Scarlett’s company that felt appropriate, maybe  something about the moonlight hitting just right. It’s hard to say. But we walked in a comfortable  silence, and in that silence, the pieces started coming together. 

“You’re here for the—” 

“Why’d you dump me?” 

“What? …You’re not here to destroy the sun out of spite for me, right?” 

“No! If I was, I wouldn’t have warned you.” 

It’d be okay if that was the reason. Even if it wasn’t her reason, it’d be okay if that was the  colonies’ reasoning. It’s hard to argue with it. The star suckers hate us for good reason.  

“You should go. Do your job, and get out of here,” I said. “Do not try to convince me to go with  you again.” 

“You’re being really stupid. I’m offering you a way out—” 

“It’s not a way out though. I’d be alive, but I’d be on those ships. That’s not a life. It’s prison,  and I’m not going there.” 

“Oh.” 

It felt the same. All of it felt the same, and it was the same argument. 

“How many times do we have to have the same fight before you get it?” 

“But what if I stay?” 

Scarlett 

Any minute, there would be a new excavator here. They probably were pinging the ship, trying  to remind me of my secret mission. Instead, I was sitting near a lake, enjoying the last moments  of the dark before Shelby would have to retreat into her apartment.  

She had spent half of the night reminding me that this didn’t mean we were back together. That it  wasn’t too late to change my mind. That I was being stubborn and stupid, and that I should go  back to my life on the colonies. And for once, I didn’t say anything back.  

There is something beautiful about Earth that reminds me of home. I can’t remember the last  time I heard anything outside of the mechanical noise of the colonies, except maybe the stunning  silence outside of the excavator.  

We both know the sun should have risen by now, but the lake is too beautiful and the air too  crisp, for a small detail like that to ruin this moment. 

 

Jasmin Tomlins has been making noises with her mouth for 33 years, as a determined vintner on the streets of the Bristol Renaissance Faire, reading all of Shakespeare online with the 14th Night Players, and—of course—here at Gateways. She is grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these stories, and to receive the meaning that stories give voices.

Coco Kasperowicz is a multidisciplinary nerd performer; the brains behind #chaotichighfemme  her social media and YouTube persona, she is also known as THE BODY POSITIVE NERD PRINCESS of Chicago; Lottie a la West. she graduated with a degree in musical theatre from Columbia College Chicago, and has performed in professional theatres across the Chicagoland area


Gateways: “What We Do In The Cosmos” By Alex B Reynolds read by Ryan Bond



TRANSCRIPT:

Alex B Reynolds has been writing and producing comedic theatre in Chicago for 15 years. They have been a contributing writer for The Flaming Dames burlesque troupe, the Meet/Cute sitcom podcast, and the Paragon short play festival. Full-length plays include Old Hobbits Die Hard, Kings & Thrones & Shit, and The Incredible Hank for New Millennium Theatre Company. They are spending quarantine as dungeon master for a family DnD campaign, as a writer for Gateways, and a sleepless puddle of anxiety. This is “What We Do in the Cosmos”.

It wasn’t long into the 21st century that two things happened almost simultaneously – vampires were outed to humans as real, and space travel became commercialized. Anyone who was alive during that time remembers that it was…pretty rough. People were conditioned by enough natural and man-made disasters by that point in the early 2000s to accept our presence, but people were also scared to death and desperate to leave the planet. After a while, a combination of scientists, conservationalists and capitalists got together and educated the public on the benefits of not only our existence, but our contribution to the human condition. One of these contributions came in the form of space travel. It wasn’t feasible to send a human astronaut on a mission to Jupiter or beyond, because that would be at least a 10-year round trip. Vampire immortality came in handy for exploring the far reaches of space. Within a decade of the Space Vampire program’s inception, Earth was also given confirmation of life on other planets. The reaction of the humans that a Vampire made First Contact was…less than patriotic. And, to be completely honest, the reaction of the hungry Vampires coming across a living being after years in space was less than exemplary, either. But regardless of circumstances, making First Contact legitimized the Space Vampire initiative back on Earth, and suddenly a new class of our species was born. 

Here’s the thing about Space Vampires: I don’t hate them. I envy them. They can be great explorers in the cosmos, not stuck down here in dank, dark castles hunting humans or eating rats. They get to be out in space! Exploring new planets, traversing new galaxies, meeting new alien species and feeding on them. Did you know that the USS Adventurer 2 vampires went to Rigel 7, fed on some of the aliens there, and ended up with flame powers? So cool. And the vampires on the USS Adventurer 4 went all the way to Marklar, fed on the Marklars, and within minutes could manipulate the fabric of time? No wonder most of the Space Vampires never come back – if i could bend time and shoot fire out of my hands, I wouldn’t want to come back to Earth, either. Feeding on humans just gives you, what – nourishment? A blood gut? Boring! And hey, another bonus – Space Vampires are all that much farther away from the Sun. The first Space Vampire mission found out that it’s only the Earth’s Sun that hurts us. It’s like Superman, only the opposite, and terrible. Space Vampires are up there traversing literally every other star in the galaxy and loving it because it’s not searing the flesh off their bones. I don’t understand how one star can do that to us while another star won’t, but that’s probably why I wasn’t a specially-selected NASA Space Vampire…until now. 

Because space travel was so accessible, a person (or vampire) didn’t require a career of training in order to be approved for a mission. NASA never took vampire volunteers, however. Like with most things, we had to be invited. And I was. I received the embroidered invitation in the official government envelope, and even though I wasn’t due at Cape Canaveral for another week, I packed up and left that very evening. My

head was filled with possibilities. I couldn’t stay one more minute in a drab, dusty castle any longer. That being said, Florida is not a great place for Vampires. First of all, it is sunny all the time. That was definitely first on my list in terms of reasons to get off this planet and join the ranks of Space Vampires. So long, Sun. That kept a lot of our kind out of Florida, to be honest, which made the other significant problem the locals. When a person is as pale as we are in Florida, and wearing long sleeves and pants in 90 degree weather, the game is given away pretty quickly that there’s a Vampire walking through town. There was quite a lot of staring, screaming, but only a few slaying attempts. In general, the world had turned its back on the idea of slaying – it was definitely considered cruel and inhumane and akin to any other kind of vigilante justice enacted on humans by other humans. That didn’t stop some people from trying it anyway, but they were usually older and easy enough to put down. All that being the case, though, Florida was the best place on Earth to be right before leaving the planet forever. 

When Orientation Day finally came, I was seated in a large conference room with 5 other Vampires that would be traveling with me on this particular mission. A mission briefing was placed in front of each of us. Apparently, there was a suspiciously rhythmic radar signal coming from a planet called Remulak. I could have sworn I heard the name before. Before I could think too hard about it, I read on: It was presumed that not only was the planet able to support life, but that it was already inhabited by a rich and intelligent culture. This was very exciting. For all the advancements and alien contact that has been made on Space Vampire missions, the statistic is that only 35% of the missions actually result in contacting intelligent life. The rest find remnants of what was once intelligent life, or they find only microbial life, or vegetation. After hearing about all the glorious accomplishments of other Space Vampires, we all secretly laughed behind their backs. More often than not, those Vampires also chose to stay on the new planets they found, too. What were they eating? Were these vegetable planets full of blood carrots or something? That actually didn’t sound so bad. But it didn’t matter, because I was going to Remulak with my team to engage with intelligent life. And feed on them for superpowers. 

Our Orientation was led by a very official-looking member of the federal government. He was there to go over the bureaucratic nonsense involved with the mission, and most of us tuned out. He made us all sign release forms that I don’t think any of us took the time to read, but that ultimately boiled down to us not holding the government responsible for any space-related injury or death — the same kind of thing a person signs before they go horseback riding or bungee-jumping. He called us heroes and told us that our country thanked us for what we were doing, and once he collected the forms from all of us, he left. After a few more minutes, we were ushered out of the room by a Scottish brunette in a lab coat who brought us to a medical wing where we all had our blood drawn and rapid-tested. Whatever they were looking for, they found – or didn’t find – because the next step was fitting us all into our space suits. This whole process seemed to go rather quickly. I was expecting to spend a week or two doing training exercises, floating around in a zero gravity simulator, learning about what all the

buttons do on the space shuttle we would be in, but ultimately the Orientation took about 5 hours with a break for lunch. They had pig blood in little boxes with straws. I thought that was very charming, and I was told there would be more of those on the shuttle to last us the trip. After another speech by another official-looking government human in a suit, we boarded our shuttle: The Adventurer 20. My compatriots and I were strapped into our seats by technicians in overalls, the observation windows were all closed so that the Sun wouldn’t hurt us on the way out of the atmosphere, and soon it was just us and the shuttle. We barely spoke a word to each other before the countdown began. This was it. No more Earth. No more hiding from the Sun, no more humans trying to slay me, no more dark caverns and castles, no more eating rats or getting fined for hunting a human. Our time had finally come. The shuttle shook violently. I was pressed hard against my seat. Liftoff. 

I don’t know how much time passed before things finally returned to normal. My head was throbbing. My muscles ached. I looked around, and the other Space Vampires – because that’s what we were now – were all breathing heavy sighs of relief. We had made it out of the atmosphere. A voice came on over the communication speakers in the cockpit telling us that the craft was traveling fast enough that we had already cleared the Moon. It would be safe for us to move around the shuttle, and even take in the view. We would reach Remulak in approximately six years. I took off my restraints. I wanted to open that observation window and see the stars that I had been avoiding all my life. I wasn’t the only one. One of the other Space Vampires was already at the window, holding the shade and looking at us with a showman’s grin of anticipation. Once we were all gathered around, he lifted the shade. And suddenly, I understood everything. 

I saw three different stars at varying distances from our shuttle, two of them closer than the Sun had ever been. Scattered in open space between us and them floated almost a dozen other shuttles, each in different states of frost and decay, and each marked Adventurer 2, Adventurer 12, Adventurer 17, etc. I understood. Earth still had not made First Contact with an alien life form. Space Vampires never came back because they were here. In space. These other stars had the same effect on us that the Sun did, which meant NASA was, simply put, in the vampire slaying business now. As the fire filled my chest, I suddenly remembered: The Coneheads from Saturday Night Live. They were from Remulak. I laughed. And I burned.

Ryan Bond is a life long geek who is very active in Chicago’s genre-based performance and experience community. He currently serves on the Board of Otherworld Theater where he helps to bring high quality stories to life on-stage and on-line.  In the past has served in leadership positions for Wildclaw Theatre, EDGE of Orion Theatre, Hartlife & Our Fair City. Ryan has helped to create Guardians of History (a family friendly voice-activated immersive educational game for Alexa/Google enabled speakers & screens), leads as a Cub Scout Master and Eagle Scout, been an SxSW panelist, appears on podcasts as a gaming/geek expert, an infrequent theater performer, a 3x NaNoWriMo winner, a marketing director for a Firefly-based board game and even opened a geek-themed bar!


Gateways: “The Left Hand of Death” by Terry Galvan read by Courtney Lynn



TRANSCRIPT:

Plagued by Catholic guilt and a love of whiskey, Terry writes about social & environmental problems through the lens of fantasy and science fiction. The former anthropologist and Fulbright grantee currently contributes reviews and interviews at Chicago’s own Third Coast Review, and would very much like to sign an agent sometime before they die. Follow Terry @TerryGalvanChi https://terrygalvan.com This is “The Left Hand of Death”.

 

We vampires knew we were an ecological hazard. Even the most stubborn, close-minded, and reactionary of us admitted it. It only took a few decades to realize, living as a superpredator with no natural enemies or a natural way to die. 

When you become a vampire, you don’t really live anymore—you only hunger and thirst, and hunger and thirst, day after day, year after year. So we eat and eat and drink and drink, but we’re never truly satiated. We just get hungrier and hungrier, thirstier and thirstier. And unlike our mortal cousins, no death comes at the end of it. We’ve come to resent humans: die though they might, they know satiety and satisfaction. They know endings and beginnings, and, most enviably, they know the sweet kiss of death. 

But I digress. One must forgive an old vamp her ramblings. Where was I? Yes, we vampires knew we were an ecological hazard. It was more immediate and pragmatic than philosophical or existential: simple overpopulation. Like any apex predator, we hunted with abandon, never watching our backs because there was nothing to watch for. Not even Death Herself, that stingy bitch. Perhaps if we had anything else in common with apex predators—disease, control over reproduction, or, you know, the ability to die in any way—the ecosystem would have rebalanced on its own. But we’re the Left Hand of Death, and that’s not how we work.

For example, if you screw up a single feeding—get your fangs in the wrong artery, snap the neck with insufficient force, or god forbid, develop feelings for the damn human—instead of a nice meal, boom! You have another hungry mouth to feed. Newborns are notoriously needy, and you can’t just abandon them, because they’ll eat all your food. So you have to take them in and split the food, but because they have no goddamn idea what they’re doing, they’ll probably screw up and create more newborns, and so on and so forth. You get the picture. 

You’d think that we’d have decimated the human population by now, but those bastards reproduce like rabbits. And, like rabbits, humans eat everything. They eat flowers and seeds and plants and animals, they eat oceans and rivers, rainforests and mountains, lakes and prairies; they eat glaciers and tundras and fossil fuels and minerals buried deep in the earth.

We vamps, passionate about numbers and accounting (to distract from the endless hunger), have kept precise records of Earth’s biodiversity, charting the growth and decline of all species.

You’d have to stupid or mortal not to see the writing on the wall. While we were killing humans, humans were killing everything else. We knew once the humans ate everything and died out, we’d have nothing to eat. There’d just be thousands of us roaming the dead Earth, hungry forever.

So we did what every civilized society does when it’s overexploiting resources: we selected our best and brightest, built them a generation ship, and sent them off into the unknown to find other resources to overexploit.

My grandson was on that generation ship. We loaded enough fresh meat into the cargo hold to last them a few dozen light years, we calculated—but those calculations soon proved to be gravely inaccurate. See, while we’re very good with numbers, we’re bad at pretty much everything else, especially the social sciences. A psychologist or a historian might have predicted that the young vampires, suddenly free of the rigid clan structure and territorial boundaries of their seniors, would let loose a little. And that’s just what they did.

With unrestricted access to thousands of humans in the cargo hold, the vamps’ best and brightest went on a feeding frenzy, an orgy, a bender, a rampage, and decimated half their rations in less than a year. I don’t blame them, really; the opportunity for a full stomach—a truly full stomach—is so rare that it turns the best of us into animals.

My grandson, during this time, was engaged in a torrid love affair with one of the human women set aside for breeding purposes. I shouldn’t begrudge him this—if you’re not engaged in a torrid love affair involving vastly unequal power differentials and a questionable consent situation, are you even really a vampire?

My grandson of course promised to protect this woman in exchange for sexual compliance. For all you humans listening, a useful tip: yes, we always make these promises, and yes, we always break them. So, unless you have a kink for bleeding out, or, worse, spending eternity in constant hunger and thirst, I suggest you refrain from accepting our kind as lovers.

Once the bloodbath was over, and the vamps were satiated for the first time in their lives, a peculiar thing happened: both hunter and hunted, faced with the reality that they would all be dead or in hell if that happened again, sat across from one another and talked. Their bellies full, the vamps found they could think straight, and the humans, scared shitless, found themselves unnaturally eloquent. (Don’t ever think humans can’t work under pressure—if you think that, you haven’t scared them enough). 

So the two species pooled their intellectual resources to find a consistent source of food—for the humans, so the humans could feed the vampires. 

The vampires, it turned out, didn’t need air, water, radiation protection, or much of anything on alien planets. Even gravity was a moot point, so they headed off the ship without the rigamarole of space suits or air tanks. Only Earth’s sun burned them, they found, so they frolicked naked and joyous in the blue and violent and green light of foreign stars.

The vamps could ingest anything and everything without consequences aside from a bad aftertaste, so they searched for something to feed their precious cargo. After a few nasty experiments, they identified human-appropriate food, and spent long days toiling to forage algae, farm fungus, and fish adorable little cephalopods that were very high in protein.

And since they were trying everything in sight—knowing nothing in this wide universe, not even Death, could kill them—they eventually found a better source of sustenance than human blood. And then they came home. 

They landed in Antarctica. It took us Old Guard some time to arrive, waiting for the cover of the southern hemisphere’s winter, so as to not get scorched by midnight sun. Things got strange in the months leading up to our visit. Birds acted erratically, flying into windows and migrating in the wrong direction. Weeds thrived and native plants shriveled. Solar panels and satellites and electronics failed, and our compass stopped working halfway there. 

When we arrived, we saw why. Great industrial chimneys of unidentifiable alien metals plunged deep into the ice, gushing steam and sulfurous fumes. A city of tents and igloos surrounded the generation ship, parked right on the South Pole. The human cargo had multiplied, and vamps walked arm and arm with them, faces fresh and full and—content.

“Grandmama!” My grandson sprinted out of the village and embraced me. “Grandmama, I want you to meet my wife.” 

Behind him appeared an ancient human woman, laugh lines crinkling her eyes under hair silver as the moon.

“You didn’t eat her?” I glared at her, pretty even in old age. 

“Grandmama! No, I told you, we don’t eat each other anymore.”

“Hm.”

“And Grandmama, we have children. Generations of them.”

“How?” I spat.

“I adopted them, Grandmama, their biological father died some time ago.”

“Did you eat him?”

“Grandmama.”

What a strange sight it was. I, thousands of years old, trapped in the body of a twenty-four-year beauty; her, in the shriveled body I ought to—I longed to—inhabit. I couldn’t help but feel jealous as well as hungry.

“Here, I’ll show you.” He and his “wife” guided me to one of the steaming pillars. From a spigot he poured a steaming mug.

“Do you remember Spanish hot chocolate? Steel cut oats with cinnamon and honey? Milkshakes?” He offered me the mug. “Try it. It’s like all of those at once, but better.”

Inside was a liquid that glowed orange like hot coals. “What is this,” I hissed, almost dropping it.

“Grandmama.” He steadied my hand. “It’s magma. The blood of the Earth. Rich in iron and teaming with energy, more than the blood of the most pedigreed human. When you drink it—you’ll feel full.” He beamed, and the woman crinkled her eyes at him.

I shook with anger, with hunger, with jealousy. “We sent you to find more nourishment, so as not to kill this planet. Instead you come back to drink your own planet dry? You’ll kill the Earth! The birds, the radiation, the crust itself is going to collapse—”

“The Earth has been dying for a long time, Grand-Dame.” The hag spoke for the first time, using my correct title. “With all due respect, I know that’s the real reason you sent us, and the real reason I got on the ship, and it’s the real reason I married your grandson. I understand that your kind is the Left Hand of Death—that you exist to help things die. People, planets, stars. The sun knows a vampire will bring it to death’s door, and that’s why it burns you so. You are Death’s undying hands, and I am honored to assist.” 

I scoffed at her.

“If it means anything to you,” she continued, “your grandson has agreed to ‘eat’ me when it’s time, so we can be together, forever.”

I ground my fangs, looking between her and him suspiciously.

“Grandmama. We’re here to collect more humans—you know, to diversify the gene pool—and then we’re leaving.” My grandson wrapped his hands around mine, around the mug. “You taught me everything I know. Please, come with.”

I glared into the glowing mug. “Shame he didn’t turn you,” I finally said to the hag, and took a sip of Earth’s fresh blood.

Courtney Lynn is a Chicagoland area performer and director and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University’s BA Theatre Studies program. She most recently directed “The Centenarians” as part of Otherworld’s PARAGON Sci-Fi + Fantasy Play Festival. Other area credits include performing and directing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, and projects with Hela’s Hand Productions and Fake Geek Girl Productions. When not performing, directing, or toiling away at her day job, Courtney can be found posting pictures of her totes adorbs rescued Corgi, Walter, on Instagram (@wigglebuttwalter), designing and crafting hats and fascinators for her business Say Something Hats, reveling in her love of Disney with Drunkenly Ever After, and creating costumes for cosplays and photoshoots. She is thrilled to be a part of this production and hopes you enjoy the show!


Gateways: “Letter to a Young Vampire” by Maggie Vaughn read by Nathan Shelton



TRANSCRIPT:

Magdalen Vaughn is an Actor, Writer and Science fiction devotee. She has been practicing all types of science fiction writing during the pandemic and she will be creating science fiction performance pieces during her MFA starting this fall. She loves working with the talented folks at Otherworld theatre, long be their reign! Find more at magdalenvaughnacts.com This is “Letter to a Young Vampire”.


I wake up, or, realize I am awake. Splitting headache. Sarah’s hand in mine, cold. No, actually– Sarah. She is pressed against me sobbing into my shirt, as I guide her fingers into my mouth. Sarah. She is swaddled in an orange blanket at the Miami Dade County hospital. Sarah. Where is she now? I cannot think. I press my palms firmly into the hollows of my eyes and open my mouth to scream. My head- it swims and pounds and- WHAT is that smell coming from the bathroom and coming from my… mouth? There is a pit in my stomach. There are exactly 856,832 pits of depth greater than 20 feet in continental Africa. The pit of an apricot is rolling inside the mouth of a Greek boy as his papou brings in the harvest of late July, 1648. 

I cannot stop the notions, the feelings and the vague afterthoughts. Deep darkness inside of me. I try to concentrate, identify where this hollow maze ends, or begins. I try to clear my head of the revolving tableaux. And it works, and I am standing alone in a bright field. Heat sears my feet but I cannot bend my neck to see, or I will not look to see what evil lurks beneath me. I scream from the intensity of the heat but I hear no sound. I feel my body being pulled downwards, into the ground, toward the heat, bleeding free-will from my backbone and 

I am home again, crumpled on my bed. Head still swimming, when one of the many memories dancing behind my eyes strikes me poignantly: Uncle Mark, who experienced psychoses from the age of 20; who could not hold down a job; who is dead on the floor with a gun in his hand and I know that I am Uncle Mark and I can feel the blood pooling around my face as my eyes close and- 

“Hello Vagner” 

A crystal clear voice shoots into me, cutting through a merry go round of half-lived lives. German, male, loud. It is not Uncle Mark, and my name is not Vagner. 

“Listen carefully. Rise and leave your room. Pay no mind to the mess around you.” 

I steel my muscles into the postures of sitting and standing. I stumble to my bedroom door, eyes half closed. I pinpoint the smell of blood and rot. I fall through the doorway, onto the ground where I heave to wretch. Nothing comes out of my stomach, the black hole that I do not know. 

“Get up. Move to your custom leather couch you purchased 10 years ago with Sarah in Oklahoma City. I’ve placed a letter there that you must read.” 

Eyes open, I look around, madly, for the voice I hear so clearly. No one. No one thing out of place in my town-home of 15 years except- bloody handprints on the wood panels below me. Then they are gone, and the dreary dimness of morning is replaced by a bellowing thunderstorm I can see through my living room window. Calm. A few moments of calm so I can stand up and believe everything is normal. I smell coffee and hear Sarah’s signature soprano flying along with Joanna Newsome. 

No… no no no. I avoided this insanity. I have never once hallucinated, or wished for death. I thought I was free to live my life happily and– 

“Vagner. The Letter”

There is dim light in the window again. A letter sits on my cracked brown loveseat. Weathered paper sealed with real wax. The symbol for infinity scrawled onto the front of the envelope in patchy ink. I open it and begin to read: 

One Vagner Volt, 

Note that I’ve misspelled your human name, Wagner. This is not in jest, nor do I expect you to accept it, but it is in keeping with tradition and it will follow you for the rest of eternity. One of the few traditions that we, the collective referred to as Vampire, keep is the use of names. To hold a name is to own yourself. To be Vampire is ruthless autonomy. Think of your name like your last beleaguered breath as you died into infinity, suspended forever around your head like a never-ending dream. Those of us not born on earth infrequently have heads as you know them, so that particular image is unique to you and a handful of other terran Vampires. I have used a variety of metaphors in letters to non-humans reborn after myself, as I have been the executor of introductions for three centuries, now. The last executor was a neutron star and could not use language. I know what you are thinking: who is this witty German? Have we met? 

No, and we never will. Your existence is one hugely disparaging romantic comedy. 

Of course by now, you know all of this, but it never hurts to put musings into words –unless it does hurt, of course, whether by force of irony or intended harm. What I mean is, to have a thought exist outside of yourself is to cast it into the future. Not that the humans would do much with information regarding our existence, as limited as they are in their effect on space and time; as limited as they are in their knowledge of space and time–but in particular their knowledge of dark energy– I digress… 

Humans are perfectly happy to believe that Vampire are vulgar fiction. Yet, they could eventually become aware of our existence, which would be disastrously cruel. Imagine, if humans were to know that the earth feasts on their flesh as ravenously as the common mosquito. As a collective, Vampire are benefited by this fact: that most ideas do not make their way into the working memory of society and are snuffed out as soon as they occur, even if fastidiously recorded via stone etchings or ink. But, some ideas do permeate human culture over time. If you were to probe your mind you would find a catalogue of these truths, but I do particularly miss writing these few down: 

  1. The only hope for making change is to affect small things, locally and immediately
    2. Extraterrestrial consciousness exists and is very aware of life on earth 
  2. The world IS a Vampire 

Still, I must ask you to protect this letter with your life or, more appropriately moving forward, your existence. You will never receive another. If we the collective should ever feel you might expose our existence to human beings, we will remove your name. Human beings would not cope particularly well with our immortality. Better that they should spend their lives eagerly avoiding death. You will find, I hope, that there is a certain serenity in being one with death as we Vampire are able. Death, birth and the mortal coil smoulder uniquely within us. Well, within those of us who once were mortal. 

Think of this letter as welcoming you to your new now. It will keep you grounded when you are alone in the darkness of space. Know that this letter comes with outright threats, yes, but also platitudes. The most important being that you, Vagner, are not insane. You have not lost your mind and you are not experiencing your late Uncle or Grandfather’s particular brand of psychosis. You are now Vampire. You are at one with time; you exist outside of it and within it; and you must consume consciousness in order to remain autonomous. However, you must also fight the urge to consume excessively. You must practice restraint, even

if your dark nature urges you to consume more. This, dear Vagner, is in the best interest of time itself. I speak, of course, about the true nature of Vampire. 

Our dark power fuels the expansion of the universe and catalyzes its recollection. I am sure you came across the concept in your human life, but the term ‘dark matter’ does not even begin to delineate the nature of the power you now hold; the power that lies at the center of planet earth; the power to change the amount of energy in our universe. 

We do not know how or why dark matter fuses with conscious matter, but we Vampire are the result of said rare equation. You see, every bit of matter around you is conscious, from your barber to the carbon atoms in your rubber soled shoe, though not every consciousness makes use of language. The nature of dark matter as we know it is to consume and retain that consciousness, thus accumulating a wellspring of memory from past, present and future. In that omniscience we Vampire swim. We are connected to it, and we are irrevocably drawn to its source: collections of dark matter all throughout our universe. 

And still, consciousness always fights to retain its perspective. 

Without fusion, dark matter is quite limited in range of motion. After the big bang, dark matter was distributed throughout the fabric of space, and has since existed in a fixed state. Dark matter cannot travel through space time without fusion; without fusion, it can only consume conscious matter by collapsing space time itself. This, as you can imagine, takes quite a bit of time to accomplish. 

When dark matter does fuse with consciousness, perhaps as a survival mechanism of itself or of its conscious host, we observe that it both mobilizes and protects itself. Fused dark matter may, for a time, be in close proximity with other discreet or collected dark matter and not immediately coalesce. In short, our free will and mobility allow Vampire to avoid the powerful attraction that these fountains of time have on one another, and the disastrous consequences that will always follow for conscious matter surrounding them. Dark matter will fuel the fiery end of our present timeline; it will consume potential energy and with it, potential futures. When Vampire consume matter, like humans or the moon for example, we do the same. We must at least strive to delay the end of our timeline, to preserve the consciousness of all matter in the universe and to further its expansion. In short, we must, to our best ability, be dynamic pawns on the chessboard of time. The goal for our kind is to find our own private patch of space; to move only when in danger of subsumption. 

This is much to comprehend, but in time, when you search your mind, every answer you could possibly need will be available to you. The voices of Vampire, and all of the collected memories of dark matter, scattered across the darkness of space, are available to you. But you should never know the company of those like yourself, for it is far too dangerous for us all, and the only conscious matter you will encounter from here forward, you will likely consume. Thus, Vagner, you must leave earth. You cannot and will not perish in true void. You will know when you are near another of our kind. You will feel it in your bones, the heat of a thousand suns, pulling you to join it, hoping to be reunited with itself in perpetuity. The earth has consumed much in its dark existence and it will consume you if you linger. 

There will be moments of agony and bliss throughout your remaining eternity if you so choose, but there will be existence. 

To conclude, my dear savant, leave earth as soon as possible. There is nothing left for you here. You consumed Sarah last night when you fused. Yet, you are not insane. 

Forever Yours, 

Vainer Vilke

Nathan Shelton is a professional actor, writer, director, and special effects makeup artist living in Chicago.  He has worked on numerous theatrical, tv, and film productions including Above Ground, The Rake, Scum of the Earth’s latest music video: Dance MotherF*&#er, and the Oscar nominated indie film, Winter’s Bone.  His production company, ARCANE, is currently working on a multitude of devious dark projects, including a horror radio theatre anthology series called The Frightmare Theatre Podcast.


Gateways: “The Vampires of Earth” by Jim McDoniel read by Ansel Burch



TRANSCRIPT:

Jim McDoniel is a writer of monsters and mirth, not always in that order. He also writes radio plays. He holds a Masters degree in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University. He is a writer for the podcasts Our Fair City and Unwell. He was a finalist in Deathscribe 10 for his piece, “Monstruos.” and a five time Midnight Audio Theatre Scriptwriting Competition winner. Jim is the author of an amazing novel, An Unattractive Vampire available from Sword and Laser publishing. This is “The Vampires of Earth”.

 

When humans left Earth, the vampires could not follow. Journeying into space exposed them to the unrelenting power of the sun and no amount of shielding could keep the solar radiation at bay. Not even the humans had solved this problem but had taken their chances in their haste to get away. The vampires did not have this option and found it…difficult…to deal with on their own. They had always depended on mortals and the ingenuity that went hand in hand with a short existence for such innovations.

And so the undead fell upon what remained. Those humans who had stayed behind—the ones too poor or sick or stubborn to leave—were wiped out in a matter of months. By the time the vampires realized they should conserve or cultivate what they had, they were gone. Cows went next. There were so many of them, big and slow and full of blood. Pigs. Cats. Dogs. Horses. The animals that humans had bred by the millions for their own hunger or amusement fell beneath the fang and were silenced.

A decade was all it took to denude the earth of the large mammals. Another to end most birds and reptiles. By this time, the problem was apparent but unsolvable. Anything that could be caught had to be eaten—even if the sustenance it provided was small. Rodents were barely a snack. Amphibian blood was more often rejected by the body than accepted. Insects and worms were pulped by the thousands for the mere drops of sustenance they contained. The green blood of crustaceans turned out to be deadly, no one had ever resorted to eating a horseshoe crab before. There were a few places, in the far north and south—where large ocean animals still roamed. Whales and seals were kept in small fisheries where they could be tapped without killing them outright. Still their numbers were few and they reproduced slowly. It was far easier to prey upon one’s own. The youngest and weakest were culled.

It was nearly too late before the mistake was recognized. Newer vampires had always been more comfortable with technology. For them it was as natural a part of the ecosystem as trees or rain. If advancements were to be made, it would come from them. The elders scooped them up and pressed them into service. There were barely a hundred left. Few of the young ones had an aptitude for science but they had to make do anyway. 

The middling vampires now found themselves preyed upon starting with a century or more and slowly working their way back. Reprieves were made for the odd centenarian who showed an aptitude for modernity but this was as rare as daywalking. Eras rolled backward one at a time. By the time rockets had been redeveloped, the Renaissance frayed at the edges; by the time the first tentative steps into space were made, it had completely unraveled.

Shielding remained the problem. Vampires who went up came back as ash. New metals and new alloys and new composites; all returned with ash. Finally, they hit upon the idea of filling the capsule’s habitation chamber with water to absorb the sun’s radiation. The first vampire to survive space was Hala of Tyre—chosen especially for the purpose because she was expendably Middle Ages but also her name’s meaning, the light around the moon, represented hope for the undead. 

More vampires journeyed into space. There was no shortage of volunteers—those who took part were reprieved from the menu. Not that this always meant safety. Water was not necessarily conducive to travel—on a trip round the moon, water shorted out all the electronics causing the vehicle to crash into the lunar surface, stranding the occupant forever. Another test subject was simply launched into space with no destination—just a transmitter and fuel for acceleration. The last message received came from somewhere within the Kuiper Belt before all went silent. Still, progress was made. The vampires did not have to worry about air or cold or pressure or G forces. Their only barrier was the sun and once that had been solved, everything fell into place very rapidly.

Two hundred years after the humans had left earth, the predators followed their prey. The remaining vampires—the very young and the very, very old—boarded generation ships and flew off, leaving the earth to the arthropods and rodents too small to have been much use. A dozen vessels, each a kilometer long, filled with vampires and water, scouring the aether in search of human blood. The humans had been aiming for Luyten B, the most likely habitable planet in the stellar neighborhood—only 12.2 light years away. Or put another way, a hundred thousand years. But what was that to an immortal? 

The vampires slept in metal crypts, dreaming of the blood. Unless they didn’t. More than half the ships fell to cannibalism not even a quarter of the way through the trip. Another two experienced decompression and lost all their water. An asteroid struck another’s engine. It drifted off into the deep, unable to alter course.

Lifetimes passed. Millenia and Eons. And then at last, at long last, sensors blipped; lights flashed. The ships began to slow. The young vampires now indistinguishable in age from their near useless forebears went to work checking star charts and readying landing modules. The ships could not themselves descend but small capsules could be crashed onto the planetary surface with groups of twenty or so undead in each. Lots were drawn to determine who would go down with the first launches. Fights broke out and the ancient ones learned they no longer held the physical advantage over their younger kin. Twenty-eight of the oldest, most revered, and most hated vampires gave their blood to sate the hunger of those who had to wait. The lucky chosen boarded the entry crafts and fell to the planet surface.

They emerged, hungry and confused, on the dark side of the new planet. There was life—tough, plant-like corals that glowed luminescent. Worms rose out of the ground like wheat, sucking at pollen on the wind. One of the vampires eagerly tried this new fare only to vomit up its black glowing blood. It was incompatible. They needed to find the humans.

No cities had been visible from above the planet. If the humans were here, they had gone underground. Fortunately, iridescent cheeping lichen led them to large fissures. They descended beyond the opening and found themselves in a large cavern where anchored among the stalagmites were the fleshy, bulbous trunks of scale-topped trees. Scarlet sap oozed from their pores. One of the vampires took a tentative lick and shuddered with ecstasy. This was what they had traveled the interstellar advance for. The vampire ripped hungrily into its pulp. The thing rattled with pain, a sound which echoed through the floor of the cavern, but it did not stop the frenzy as the others joined in. There was not a flow of blood to be found but rather a single reservoir of congealed ooze at its center from whence it could be squeezed through its sponge like body. The undead ripped their way to the central cavities and slathered themselves in the first fresh blood they had tasted in over a hundred thousand years. 

There was more than enough in that one plant for each to have their fill. But it had been so long, so very long. They turned toward the neighboring trunks, each now rattling and puffing with the stench of fear—an aroma almost as intoxicating as the blood itself. The shaking dislodged one from its anchor point and it flopped to the ground, rocking comically back and forth like a turtle on its back. The vampire laughed even as the scale-like fronds at the thing’s head separated and lengthened—first into branches and then into arms. 

A vampire was in its mouth before anyone could move. Muffled screams merged with the sucking sound of the plant creature. The others ran to his aid but only by pulling apart the trunk could they extract their companion and by then it was too late. Suction had already crushed and broken the head and upper shoulders, flaying the skin and crushing the bone into a slurry within its central cavity. It drank everything into it, every molecule extracted for its own nutrition.

The central cavern filled with rattles. The creatures freed themselves from the outcroppings they had cemented themselves to and pushed forward on their snail-like feet. Two more vampires were pulled inside mouths and drained of their substance. The rest fled back up the cavern toward the entrance only to find the light of the rising red sun blocking their way. 

The remains of humanity bore down on their ancient enemy. They had fled without shielding, mutated and changed, forced to modify themselves to endure the solar winds. Generations and generations, living and dying and adapting over a hundred thousand years. And now in this cave, they found those from whom they’d fled, spindly and weak—poorly adapted to this new world. Warbles of joy broke forth as they advanced upon the vampires with hungry anticipation. 

Ansel Burch is the curator for the Gateways series as well as the producer for the comedy variety podcast, Starlight Radio Dreams. He is also mixing drinks with fate on YouTube as “Dungeon Barkeep”. Keep up with his work and all the amazing stuff he’s making at www.indecisionist.com


Gateways: “What the Moon Said” by Leah Lopez read by Lauren Davies



TRANSCRIPT: Today’s writer, Leah Lopez is a Chicago writer and the playwright-in-residence at EDGE of Orion Theatre.

“So, it’s magic?” I replied.
“No. And yes,” my uncle returned, pushing his wire-rimmed glasses back up to his nose.
I turned the heavy gold medallion in my hand. It looked like a doubloon.
“You’re not very helpful,” I sighed, avoiding looking at the envelope he had placed in front of me an hour ago. Instead, my hand gripped my coffee mug, no longer hot, and downed it in one gulp with a grimace.
“Science and magic are the same in theory, Jules,” he explained. “A round earth, herbs used by women thought to be witches to cure the sick, potato batteries, sending messages over wires, picking up wifi signals. People say they don’t ‘believe’ in climate change or dinosaurs or the moon landing or vaccinations. What’s the difference in story between the fantasy you write and the science fiction you’re lumped with all the time?” he asked.
“Long hair and elves,” I said, slightly sarcastically.
An hour ago on the day before my 30th birthday, my uncle Fritz showed up at my house with a weathered manila envelope and coffeecake from the day old section of the grocery store. I come from a family of scientists: physicists, geologists, biologists, astronomers. Fritz is an astrophysicist who studies dark matter and was two years older than his sister, my mother. He has two ex-wives, four children (microbiologist, two paleontologists, and a dentist), and dogs he names Charlie. He doesn’t have more than one dog, but just one dog at a time, always named Charlie. A parade of never-ending Charlies. I used this once in a short story and he hung it up in his office. Tore the pages right out of the anthology and stapled the pages in order. He had to buy two to make it work.
I eyed my phone.
“A wiki page on string theory will not make it any easier to understand,” he said with his mouthful of coffeecake.
I sighed again. At least I had some keywords now.
“What is the choice I have to make? You present sentimental history in the form of family letters written to me from when mom and dad died and then a veritable golden ticket to another dimension to maybe see them alive. Were I to write a science fiction story, it definitely wouldn’t make interdimensional travel look so emotional,” I said more to myself than to him.
“It’s more transdimensional than inter,” he said. “And you once said that good science fiction knows how the science works in the story, which is why you chose fantasy, so your version of this story would have a magical gnome bringing you an enchanted acorn,” he said, then laughed at his own joke.
“Stick to astrophysics,” I shot back, taking the letters out of the envelope.
“You don’t have to decide right now,” he said. “It might not work, but we won’t know until you give it a turn. Three turns to be exact. We had plans for other devices that worked differently, but those were lost in the crash with your parents.”
“Great, now I’m in a comic book,” I said, completely sarcastically. “Why does our family have such weird hobbies?”
He gathered his coffee and other papers he brought to explain how it all worked and threw his backpack on over his shoulders. He kissed the top of my head and said, “Jules, you’ll figure it out.” And with that bit of casual advice, he walked outside.
“You suck and I hate you,” I shouted after him from the doorframe. He waved to me over his head, still walking across my overgrown lawn. “And why wait til I’m 30? And why did you make it a stupid doubloon? Next time don’t bring stale cake!”
I walked back in and slumped in my chair.
In all honesty, the letters were more difficult to process than the prospect of seeing my parents alive. They maybe potentially who knows for sure exist in another dimension I could maybe potentially who knows for sure travel to with god damn pirate money. But the letters. The letters were in front of me, real and full of grief. They were tiny ribbons of memory linking me to a time I lived through, but barely remember. Thumbing through them, I could see that they had collected them from around the time my parents died when I was just 5 years old. They were all addressed to me; they were filled with stories of the three of us, of when I was the daughter in a little family and not the orphaned cousin, niece, granddaughter of an only-ever extended family.

Dear Julie, For Little Juliana, To Julie-Bell, Dear Jules.

“One time I babysat you and we ended up at the Art Institute and a burly security guard yelled at me for letting you run around, but you loved the paintings and then we had ice cream. You liked mint chocolate chip.” Uncle Simon, zoologist

“You were the most beautiful baby. Your apgar score was 10 and your dad said your cord fell off at exactly two weeks, right on schedule. I never heard you cry.” Grandpa Gene, doctor

“You loved yellow roses, just like your mother. She had them in their wedding and you had yellow roses painted in your room.” Grandma Stella, botanist

“I’m sorry about your parents. You are very good at writing on the sidewalk with chalk and you like to pretend fairies lived behind your house.” Cousin Ada, mathematician

These were little notes jotted quickly on cards. It must have been during a wake. They were sad and raw and tinged on the sides with grief. Many of them still in present tense, the burden of past tense too heavy. I sucked my breath in as I scanned my memory of all the backyards of all my family. Every single one had yellow rose bushes, tiny threads of remembrance woven into our daily lives.
I ignored all of this for several days. Eventually I avoided the kitchen all together since seeing the letters and the gold medallion strewn across the table made me think about the way my life could go once I made a decision. I had what I wanted, I argued with myself, all I ever wanted. I had a house, books with my name on them, good friends who were there for me, family who loved me. And there sat this tiny coin that could upend everything I knew in my life, everything I held dear, for the chance at something I couldn’t even begin to understand. For the chance to wake up tomorrow and hug my parents, let them see who I grew into.
“You aren’t guaranteed tomorrow either,” my cousin Ada told me another handful of days later as she poured over the cards. “Seriously, Jules, did your parents dying teach you nothing? Every oncoming second has a million strings attached to it depending on which one you pull. I could leave now and be hit by a bus, stay and choke on a cookie, make it home fine and be bored. They’re all weighted the same.”
“Since when did you become a philosopher,” I shot back. “Let me have the arts, ok? You stick to the sciences.”
“I’m just saying that there isn’t a better choice here and so you should go with the obvious one,” she explained as if it were simple. But people who don’t have to make the decision could always boil the emotional parts down to simple and easy and obvious.
“And which one is that,” I asked, avoiding eye contact, because maybe I was overthinking it. Probably not. But maybe.
“Go see them,” she said gently, her hand over mine.
“And if I don’t come back,” I asked her, all the worries rushing into my voice as my throat closed and my chest tightened. All the unspoken fears she could read on my face about meeting two people who reached mythological status in my life, in all our lives, and find that I didn’t measure up. That smashing the past into the future was too much of a decision for any one person.
“Then it was nice knowing you, cuz,” she said, and then she punched me on the arm. “Can I have your house if you don’t come back?”
“Go home and be bored,” I said to her.
“See?” she said, grabbing cookies on her way out, “choose a string and pull it, Juliana. Easy.”
Except it wasn’t easy, I said out loud later that night on the back porch in conversation with the moon. I held the gold coin up, let the light reflect all the decisions. I had everything I wanted in this life save two people who maybe existed in another. Now, with nothing left to gain here, I suddenly found myself with everything to lose if I go there.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and chose a string.

Today’s reader, Lauren Davies is a Podcast host and historical researcher, focusing on the criminal justice experiences of the Suffragette movement. She lives in South Wales.


Gateways: Minion of the Grind by Vishesh Abeyratne read by Alex B. Reynolds



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Vishesh Abeyratne. Born and raised in Montreal, Vishesh holds a BFA in Playwriting from Concordia University. His plays include Indifference (Newmarket National 10-Minute Play Festival), The Procrustes Pitch (Between Us Productions, New York), Exposure (published by YouthPLAYS in Los Angeles), and Divide and Rule, which was one of the recent winners of Infinitheatre’s Write-On-Q! playwriting competition in Montreal. A self-avowed geek and lover of all things speculative, Vishesh loves to read and write science fiction and fantasy when he is not writing plays. This is “Minion of the Grind”.

My fellow workers,

Thank you for joining me. It is an honour and a pleasure to be here among such fine upstanding men. Men who won’t sign away their futures to some machine and take money from the government to sit on their couches and drink beer like the empty joyless wretches that they are! I’m grateful that you’re here tonight – all three of you.

I am a man very much like you. I am a man who has been wronged very much like you. And I’m here tonight to tell you my story.

I went back to my old job trying to regain my position. I felt like an idiot, a real stand-outside-your-ex-girlfriend’s-house-with-a-boombox-to-get-her-to-take-you-back kind of idiot. But I went anyway. I wasn’t going to have my job replaced by some stupid robot.

“But Ludd!” You might be wondering. “If the government’s finally given us a guaranteed minimum income and almost every job has now been automated, what the hell are you so bummed about? You can do whatever you want with your life! You can volunteer in your community! You can travel around the world! You can write a novel! The possibilities are limitless! Why the long face, bro?”

I am quite possibly the saddest, most boring human being on the face of the planet. I’m not good at anything. I have no special talents. Making coffee at the 10th Cup Stop was my job and I was content. I knew how to operate the machines and I made delicious drinks. People appreciated them. At least, I think they did. They had no complaints, which is a ringing endorsement in the service industry.

Until one day the federal government finally decided to give us all a universal basic income – three thousand dollars a month to live on. And what do you think happened? People quit left and right – can you believe it? – just because the government paid them more to do nothing than they would earn in an honest day’s work. It’s the company’s fault, really. They could have enticed them to stay by paying them more, but no. No, that would have been too expensive for them.

And then my worst enemy joined the ranks of our corporate chain – CM-259. That piece of junk was installed in every 10th Cup Stop outlet across the country and around the world, and stole my job! I stood there and watched it make a perfect venti-mocha-frappuccino right before my eyes and I knew I was finished. I tried to turn to my friend Keisha for solace, but she was too busy working on her rap demo to pay me any attention. Harris was sketching drawings in his notebook, and Rajiv was whispering a monologue to himself from a play he’d been working on.

And they looked happy about all this! Happy! Why would they be happy with a robot singlehandedly destroying our livelihoods?! Where was their loyalty to the company who had given them jobs, routine, a sense of purpose in life? I can think of no greater affront to the benevolence of a giant corporation than to find your own sense of purpose.

We were all laid off that day. Everyone celebrated by throwing a party right there in the café. Even customers joined in! Keisha was the DJ, of course. Her new single blew everybody’s mind. I’m sure she’ll have time to write many more now that she’ll be sucking on the government’s teat full-time. I couldn’t stand it, so I went home and got drunk and passed out.

When I regained consciousness I felt ashamed of myself. I knew I couldn’t give up that easily. I marched right back over to that coffee shop and demanded my old job back. I fought my manager with arguments about the value of human labour and how we can be empowered by hard work. I’m not super articulate unscripted, so I had to use Ayn Rand to get my point across. But none of it sank in. She just kept giving me these looks of pity, telling me that it wasn’t up to her, that Corporate made this decision a long time ago.

She asked me if I had any interests or hobbies or passions – anything I’ve ever wanted to do with my life but couldn’t because I had to work. She kept saying, “Ludd – don’t you understand? You’re free now. The door of your life is wide open. You’re free, Ludd. Go home.”
But I refused. I told her that my job was all I had, that my ability to make a perfect venti-mocha-frappuccino, my signature drink, was all I had. She told me that CM-259 could make an even tastier frappuccino in under a minute. And I snapped.

I issued the boldest challenge I’ve ever issued anyone. I challenged CM-259 – to a barista-thon. Or, rather, I challenged my manager on CM-259’s behalf, since CM-259 can’t talk. I bet that I, Ludd Terkel, could make a perfect venti-mocha-frappuccino in half that time. If I won, I would get my old job back as the sole human barista at the 10th Cup Stop. If I lost, I would turn around and never return to the store. She accepted – I suspect to humor me.

Well. I don’t think I need to tell you all what happened next. The damn thing whooped my ass. In my rush to complete the drink, I forgot several ingredients and I spilled it all over myself. CM-259 clocked in a perfect drink at twenty seconds. I’ve never been more humiliated in my life. For the second time that week, I went home dejected and distraught.

I tried to hang myself, but wouldn’t you know it, I couldn’t do that either! The rope snapped and I fell and broke my tailbone. Maybe if they made some damn contraption to do the job, it could even kiss me goodnight before I fall asleep forever.

Fellow workers, ours is a tale of woe. We have been left behind for the lazy and the selfish. For those who have forgotten that there is nobility in the Grind. The Grind gives us discipline. The Grind gives us strength. Before it we bow, and we let it lay waste to our bodies and souls until we are made whole again in our exhaustion. We are its servants, and it is our master. Who are we without it to guide us?

If they will not give us our jobs back, I say we take them back.
I say we go into every 10th Cup Stop in the city and smash those machines to bits!
Willing drones, under my command, let us unite as one!
FOR THE GRIND!!!

Today’s reader Alex B Reynolds began their acting career as Sherlock Holmes in the second grade, and has since been seen around Chicago in such roles as Gandalf the Grey, Luigi Mario, and Skeletor. They are so grateful to return to the Gateways Reading Series, and can otherwise be heard on the “Meet/Cute” sitcom podcast, the Filmthusiast “Final Cut” podcast, and on whatever customer support line is paying their bills this month.


Gateways: “Deadend” by Molly Southgate read by Gaby Fernandez



Andy knew she was dead. That still didn’t stop her from jumping when she heard the automated voice saying three words she had never thought she would hear. “Welcome to Heaven.” Although she didn’t believe in life after death, on some strange spiritual level, she had somehow moved on. Where she had moved onto, however, had yet to be determined. 

“Hi there, Andy. Please stand up and make your way through the door,” the gentle robotic voice said. Until the voice pointed it out, she hadn’t realized that she was lying down, or that there was a large white door next to her. The room looked like it could go on forever, just an endless blank space.

“Go on. Stand up. Think of me as your helpful assistant, navigating the afterlife. You can call me ASA,” the voice said. Andy quickly stood and brushed herself off. “How did I die?” Andy asked as her voice quivered with fear. “You were very sick. Since it was such a painful time for you, we erased the memories of your illness.” Immediately, Andy’s hands flew to her face, then her arms, then her legs. However, she couldn’t find any sign of the illness. Asa gave a tinkling laugh and said, “If you’re looking for imperfections you won’t find any. Everyone is perfect here.”

“Did you take anything else?” Andy was skeptical. Her brow furrowed in concern. “Only memories of the pain. Search yourself. You’ll be able to conjure images in your mind of people giving you gifts and staying by your hospital bed. Now please walk through the door.”

Andy tentatively grasped the door handle. It was cold and slick beneath her hand. A startling contrast to the warmth of the room, even with her only wearing a shapeless linen dress. “Asa? What’s on the other side of this door?” She asked cautiously. A silence hung between them for a moment. “The other side of the door has everything you could ever want,” Asa said. 

Intrigued, Andy turned the handle and walked through. When she stepped out of that room what she walked into was far from her version of heaven. Instead of the calming beach she was picturing, it was a carnival. Children were running by screaming at the top of their lungs, the cloying scent of cotton candy was thick in the air. She looked over to see a crowd forming around a group of brightly dressed clowns juggling bowling pins while riding unicycles. “Asa? What is this?” Andy asked, horrified. Andy could hear the smile in Asa’s voice, while Asa answered warmly, “Your first vision of the afterlife. November 22nd, 1995. You were four-years-old. This is younger than most people’s first vision. Most people don’t remember anything before they were five or six.”

“Well, that’s because I remember when my great-grandma died and my Aunt Samantha tried to make me feel better by telling me that when you die you go to the world’s biggest carnival. I’ve always held that memory close,” Andy said. “You’ve imagined the afterlife many different ways throughout your life, and we’re going to visit each one,” Asa said excitedly. Andy grimaced in response. “Oh, God no. I really don’t feel like doing a psychological deep-dive right now. And there’s some embarrassing stuff from my teen years in there.”

“Very well. Maybe at some point, you’ll want to try again,” Asa replied, slightly disappointed. “Please walk through the door.” As she said this, another plain, white door appeared. When Andy stepped through it, her world changed. She was now standing on a beach, her bare feet burning on the hot, white sand. The sun gently warmed her skin as she stared at the jewel-toned waves of the water. “Here we are. Your perfect afterlife. Before you explore I would like to let you know that there are a few rules. Number 1, you must not speak or think ill of another member of this afterlife. Number 2, you must never eat or ask for any apples. Number 3….” Asa droned on and on until somewhere around rule twenty Andy stopped her. “I’m sorry, but, what happens if I break these rules?” 

There was a long pause. “Why, you get sent back, of course. Three strikes and you’re out. Back to Earth to try again. Don’t worry, though. I will warn you, if you are about to get a strike. There are only 150 rules to follow.” 

“Okay?” Andy’s voice wavered slightly. Her chest felt heavy, she wasn’t a perfect person on Earth by any stretch of the imagination. What would she be like here? 

The next day Andy sat up in a soft bed and yawned. The pillowy comforter was olive green, with delicate fleur de lis stitching. The lavender walls were adorned with pictures of Andy at various ages throughout her life. She didn’t know how she had gotten here. That seemed to be happening a lot lately. “Asa?” Andy called out, expectantly. “Where am I?” Asa’s cheerful voice popped back on. “You needed to rest. Transitioning from life to death can be taxing. So, what would you like to do today?”

Andy took a moment to think, “I want to see my family.” A thick silence hung between them before Asa broke it with a chipper voice. “Oh. I’m afraid I can’t do that. You see, each of your family members broke three rules. I was forced to send them back to be reborn. Their lives were completely erased.” Andy faltered, her mind was spinning. “Okay. Who else is here?” 

Asa replied, “Two elderly people, a small child, and you.” 

“That’s it?” Andy was shocked. “For now. Until the next batch of the dead gets sorted into their ideal afterlives.”

“No, that can’t be right. I don’t want to stay here anymore. Send me back.” Andy felt like crying but the tears wouldn’t come. “Why the hell can’t I cry?!” She wailed. Asa’s usually bright voice sounded dismayed. “Most spirits prefer not to cry. I can adjust your setting, though, if you choose that. If you say you want to go back one more time you will get your first strike. That’s breaking rule number seventy-three.”

Something dawned on Andy. “Wait, I can get sent back if I break the rules, right? In that case, Asa, I want to go home.” 

A deep booming voice roared throughout the room.  “Strike one.” It was a perfect plan, Asa would advise her, whether intending to or not, and Andy would break every rule to get her chance at rebirth. “Asa, what is the next rule I can break?” Asa’s voice popped back on. “I am not supposed to advise you. Ask me again and I’ll be forced to give you another strike,” she warned.

“Asa,” Andy started… 

The sadness in Asa’s voice bled through when she interrupted, “Do not ask me again. You are not the only one who will be sent somewhere else.” 

Andy pondered this for a moment. Maybe by doing this she could set them both free? “Asa, what is the next rule I can break?” She asked confidently.

“Strike 2,” The booming voice she had heard earlier blasted out, making her eardrums vibrate.

“Asa? Are you still here?” She tentatively asked. A different voice responded, “I am Asa. Your previous Asa has been deactivated, they were defective. Your strikes have now been reset to zero.”

Two hundred and seven years later: 

The booming voice that always followed a rule break blasted out, “Strike 2.” 

“Asa?” Andy whispered. Yet again, another new voice responded, “I am Asa. Your previous Asa has been deactivated, they were defective. Your strikes have now been reset to zero.”


Gateways: “Anything You Want” by John Harden read by Rob Southgate



TRANSCRIPT: John Harden is a screenwriter and director whose work has screened & garnered awards at top-tier festivals around the world. John’s work is informed by his love of speculative fiction and his background in visual arts, design, journalism and marketing. He is a San Francisco Bay Area native living in Santa Rosa, CA.- johnfilms.com, Twitter handle @giantspecks 

Charlie wondered why it was taking so long to fab the ingredients for his tequila sunrise. The kids would be coming around 10:00 am, and he liked to have a little buzz on. It relaxed him, and made him more fun. And if he was having fun, he rationalized, the kids were having fun, and they were probably learning more, too. His students never seemed to catch on, and there was no one else to answer to since Jane had left. 

Finally the fabricator went “ping” and Charlie opened the door to find a 750-ml bottle of tequila, a jug of orange juice, a glass filled with ice, and a hand grenade. That explained it. “Grenade” was right next to “grenadine” in the list. One errant mouse-click had put him in mortal danger. While Charlie had been waiting for his cocktail, the fabricator had been dutifully cranking away, assembling enough high explosive to blow his head off. Manufacturing those tightly-coiled molecular bonds is what had taken so much time. And energy, which explained why the lights had been flickering. 

For a moment he considered tossing the grenade over the fence into Pinkerman’s backyard. Leaving the pin in, of course: he wasn’t a psychopath. But for all Charlie knew, the thing might have a hair trigger. It might even be rigged to explode when touched. Oh-so gingerly, he closed the fabber door again and pressed the recycle button. 

He could hear power tools. Pinkerman was back at it. Charlie put on shoes. 

Jim Jr. was on the sidewalk, bracing a sheet of corrugated metal while his dad screwed it to their picket fence with his drill. Like the panels next to it, this sheet was eight feet tall, and they’d notched the top edge into a row of triangular points. 

“Hey Jim. Looking pretty Mad Max over here.” 

Pinkerman grunted. “Can’t be too careful.” He crouched, and placed another screw. Charlie could see the gun sticking out from the back of his workbelt. 

“You know, if you’re really worried about security, fabricate some solar panels for your roof. Then you’ll still be able to eat the next time there’s a blackout.” 

No answer. “Hey, I was wondering––“ 

The noise of the drill interrupted him. Charlie waited for him to finish. 

“Is Jim Jr. coming to class today?” 

Jim Jr. had only just turned 12, but he had fuzz sprouting on his upper lip and to Charlie’s eyes was growing visibly beefier by the day. Now, not-so-mini-Jimmy squinted at his dad, looking for guidance. 

The elder Pinkerman fished for another screw. “I don’t know. I don’t go to work anymore. I can’t hardly expect him to go to school.” 

“It’s not the same thing. You don’t want him to be stupid, do you? Send him over.” 

Charlie wondered if he’d offended Pinkerman, or if silence indicated agreement. Anyway, Karen Fisher was over at Charlie’s front gate with her daughter Sophie. Other kids were arriving, too, some on foot, some dropped off from cars. Those parents had found gasoline somewhere, or expended the copious time and electricity needed to fabricate it. 

Mrs. Fisher was her usual jittery self. She’d always been socially awkward, but the past year’s events had really tightened her strings. She thanked Charlie, yet again, for continuing to teach Sophie and all the other kids when he wasn’t even getting paid. He replied with something self- deprecating in a vain attempt to put her at ease. She kept fussing with her purse, saying that she wished she could give Charlie something. 

“Nobody needs anything, Karen. We all have fabricators.” 

“Sure, sure.” 

Charlie could see her purse was stuffed with loose cash. It looked like she’d robbed a convenience store. As soon as fabricators had become commercially available, just about the first thing everyone did with them was to make mountains of twenty-dollar bills. Charlie, no better than anyone else, had done it too. Karen was still at it, bless her heart. Cash transactions had been outlawed for almost a year now. 

Fourteen kids in total showed up. It made the living room pretty crowded. Jim Jr. came, which pleased Charlie more than he’d expected. The rest of the kids mostly were from Charlie’s 6th grade class, the one he’d been teaching in the fall up until the school building was condemned. Deferred maintenance and heavy rains had led to a partial roof collapse. Replacing it was well beyond the abilities of the volunteers, mostly parents, who made up the ad hoc school administration. Supposedly they were still looking around for someone who would do the work. 

Charlie spent an hour on history and another on pre-algebra. While the kids ate lunch in the backyard, he managed to successfully fabricate not one but two tequila sunrises and down them both. After lunch break English class got pretty loosey-goosey, with Charlie riffing on the kids’ creative writing assignments, and a long discursive discussion that Charlie had to cut short when little Sophie asked Charlie why his wife had moved out. Charlie changed the subject and then ran out the clock having the kids read their stories aloud. 

Jim Jr.’s thing was about a grumpy, insulting wizard who would never let his son use the magic wand. If it was a cry for help, it was a pretty well-written one, and surprisingly funny. Somewhere under that subcutaneous fat lay a soul. Charlie praised the story, probably a bit too much, to encourage Jim Jr. and to assuage his own guilt for having underestimated him. 

The kids left around 2:00. Tired and hungry, Charlie plopped down at the PC and found a tasty- looking burrito. It wasn’t TruFab-certified but then again, it was free. It did carry something called the PatternSafe Guarantee, which he Googled and found some conflicting information about. He went ahead and fabbed it anyway. It came out looking just like the picture, it didn’t set off the poison or bio buzzers, and it smelled delicious. He unrolled the tortilla and carefully inspected the contents for foreign objects. By that point he was starving, so he ate it, throwing caution to the wind. 

Caution was getting thrown into that wind pretty much on a daily basis, he mused. But that almost sounded brave. Charlie didn’t feel brave. Just anxious. And lonely. 

Having survived another meal, Charlie spent the rest of the afternoon doing housework and drinking beer. He recycled each empty can in the fabricator as he went. He might be a drunk, but his house was gonna be spotless. No tell-tale pile of empties here. He played music. 

Loudly. “I am an impeccable drunk,” he announced to no one, adopting a high-born British accent. “Impeccable!” Like a train, way up the tunnel, Charlie knew a day was coming for him when he’d admit that Jane was never coming home. Who would he polish the countertops for then? 

The house was dark when Charlie awoke on the couch. He fabbed two aspirin and a glass of water and dragged his ass to his bed. He’d barely settled in when he heard the noise on his front porch. 

Thump. Again. Someone was definitely out there. Still a little buzzed, Charlie got up and moved to the window with all the stealth he could muster. It was dark out there, but he could make out the hunched form of a man on his front steps. Just sitting there. 

Charlie found his phone and dialed 9-1-1. Three rising tones and a lady’s voice told him the number was out of service. 

He skulked to the living room, and in a hissed whisper said “Make me a gun.” The PC’s monitor flicked on. Charlie was dismayed at the smorgasbord of deadly force it was serving up. He scrolled a bit, looking for a smaller, less scary-looking pistol. 

Then he stopped. This was not the kind of guy he was. Pinkerman might call him a pussy all day long, but Charlie wanted to think the best of people. On some level, he felt he’d rather live true to that belief even if it got him killed. You know, rather than live in fear of his fellow man. Charlie got up, went to his door, and asked, “Who’s there?” 

“Sorry, Mr. Pearson.” 

Charlie put on the porch light and opened the door. 

“Jimmy? Jesus. What time is it?” 

Jim Jr. shrugged. “I don’t know, 8:30? Were you sleeping?” 

“Of course not.” 

Jim Jr. had had an argument with his dad. Dad was mad a lot, lately. No one was hiring contractors. 

“These days, if we’re working at all, we’re only doing it because we want to,” Charlie said. “I’m still teaching because I think it’s important. Hey, here’s an idea: ask your dad if he can help us rebuild the school. We can’t pay him. But, he can be the foreman and boss people around. He’ll like that, right?” 

Jim Jr. smiled, and nodded agreement. 

Charlie coughed, and cleared his throat: “I’m dying of thirst. You want something?” 

“What do you got?” 

“‘What do I got?’ I got a fabricator. You can have anything you want.”

 

Rob Southgate is a professional actor in commercials and films, a professional podcaster, and a professional public speaker. He is currently preparing the debut of his first book and busily booking a national tour of the SMG Podcast Marathon. Rob loves sharing ideas with others and creating opportunities for his creative associates. Along with his wife, Martha, Rob started Southgate Media Group as a creative outlet and a way to incorporate all of their interests and their past experiences. SMG is home to over 100 podcasts, blogs, and video channels. If you think Rob has a lot going on, ask him about his amazing daughter, Molly.