Monthly Archives: July 2019

Gateways: A Story By Michael Jachowicz

Transcript: This story is written by Michael Jachowicz. He has written sketches and comedy scripts for podcasts as well as some comic strips. You can hear some of his scripts with Starlight Radio Dreams, a Chicago based comedy podcast. He tells us, “I write whatever interests me. I enjoy improving a story or a character then writing it down and seeing where it takes me.” This is Michael’s submission.

General Xarzez stood as a statue looking out his window into the inky black of space. Outside of his command ship, he watched his ships fly in their tight formations, well regimented, all souls hardened by the cruel and shattering reality of war. Xarzez let out a deep sigh as he contemplated all the decisions he made to reach this point. All the impossible choices between life and death, and how easily some of those choices came, he found that it was that easiness that haunted him the most. How the business of murder and war had become almost second nature. He brought a shaking hand to his mouth to stifle a weak audible cry, the guilt becoming to much.
Steeling himself, Xarzez turned away from the window and headed to the war room.He walked into the hall to his daughter Princess Demlara and his advisor Zelknin.
“General!” Zelknin greeted. Too enthusiastically, Xarzez felt, given the dire task that lie ahead of them both. “The war council awaits you, though I feel I must again make you aware of my trepidations of our new… addition.”
“Yes, father and I are quite aware, Zelknin,” Demlora interjected. “We’ve all been hard pressed to get you to speak of anything else!”
“Well, Princess-” Zelknin spat before managing to regain his composure. “Some of us had to fight through countless battles before we were granted a seat on the War Council.”
“Yes and some of us are actually skilled warriors and not opportunistic worms.” Demlara retorted not missing a beat.
Xarzez couldn’t help but be proud of the strong woman his daughter had grown up to be. He could see bits of her mother in her. Not just in her skin’s particular shade of deep cerulean , but also in the way she held herself with such poise and playfulness.
“Enough, both of you.” Xarzez spoke with authority ringing in his deep voice. They proceeded through the long metal hallway in silence until they reached the large onyx doors of the war room. Zelknin hurried to open them for his master. Xarzez couldn’t help but be visibly sickened by his advisor’s vigor, his lust for the kind of riches and promotions that onlywar could afford him, but he managed to compose himself before Zelknin saw.
The war room was made of ebony lit by ruby flame. There was no ceiling in sight. The room seemed to expand into space itself. There were two staircases on either side of the door which led to a section of seats that overlooked the room; this was were the lower ranked members of the war council sat to have an equal view of the war table.
The table was a giant octagon that would display holograms made of hard light to simulate the topography of whatever planet was being invaded. It included the positions of ships in orbit and, if the need arose, other planets in the solar system. It was one of Xarzez’s greatest tools in his campaign against the Elguisief Confederacy; a dreadful farse of a confederacy, made of pirates and marauders who refused to join one of the three Intergalactic States.
Xarzez had finally found a way to reach one of the capitol planets and now only needed to mount an invasion to seize the means of manufacturing the E.C.’s interstellar drive engines. Without them, their forces would be unable to send support between solar systems and victory would be all but assured for Xarzez. All of this however was nothing more than a pipe dream unless Xarzez could plan a successful attack. Luckily he had employed what he believed to be the greatest mind in military tactics in any galaxy: Tyler.
Tyler was standing on the war table with some of the ship models in his hands, he was flying them around making engine noises with his mouth. Tyler was dressed in denim pants and a shit decorated with a mighty creature devouring a hot disc covered in what appeared to be blood and guts, displayed on his chest with the words “Dinosaurs and pizza are AWESOME” underneath. Truly Tyler was a being of pure awe. He was already so mighty despite being a child of his species. His skin was a shade of sand like tan, not unlike the sands of the harsh Kule Desert on Xarzez’s home planet. Tyler had strands of keratin growing from his head in black curls and his eyes were an alien shade of green and brown.
Tyler had not noticed that anyone had entered the war room and continued playing with the models as Xarzez, Zelknin and Demlara approached the war table.
“Council member Tyler.” Xarzez spoke softly, Tyler was loudly smacking the model LOF-13 Starship into a model Oberon Class Command ship.
“Council member Tyler!” Xarzez said sharper this time.
Tyler looked up from the models with a big grin on his face, “Hi!”
“Hello, Tyler,” Xarzez said his tone returning to its usual calm, but firm. “Have you come up with any strategies for our attack against the Elguisief Confederacy?”
“Oh yeah!” Tyler exclaimed excitedly. He grabbed the model of the Oberon Class Command ship and ran to the far end of the war table.
Zelknin rolled his eyes letting out an audible sigh as he tapped his foot impatiently, his arms crossed dismissively.
Tyler then threw the model across the war table before shouting
“WE’LL BLOW THEM UP REAL FAST LIKE BOOM!” He then proceeded to make explosion noises and pantomime what in fact an explosion would look like.
At this, Zelknin could hold his tongue no longer. “General Xarzez surely now you see how foolish it was to use this creature to-”
“Zelknin have you no faith in my father’s choice in expert?” Demlara spoke out, as she approached the war table. She input coordinates to the point in space that the command ship that Tyler threw passed over the E.C.’s interstellar drive base. “His plan is nothing short of genius. Our enemy has advanced sensory and anti-air defensive capabilities, however it is known to us that their ray shields can only deflect plasma based weaponry.” The image on the war table shifted and changed to highlight the places Demlara was talking about in real time all the while Tyler was rolling around with the starship models making strange sounds. “Council member Tyler, unlike some other council members,” she continued while cutting Zelknin a smug glance, “remembered that the Oberon Class of command ships are equipped with ballistic strike capabilities. A ballistic strike from orbit would slip past their ray shields completely neutralizing their anti-air defenses.”
Zelknin’s mouth hung open, dumfounded. He fumed in silence racking his brain for a strategy that could top that of Tyler’s before stammering out, “W-w-what of the sensors! Oberon Class vessels are too large to avoid detection, we’ll be blown from orbit before we can launch the orbital strike!”
“Not if we move with the predicted meteor shower that will occur directly over the enemy’s factory. The meteor’s dense iron make up and varying sizes will be perfect cover,” Demlara pointed out coyly, “which Council Member Tyler had so succinctly demonstrated by throwing the model at high speeds over the factory. Honestly Zelknin, were you even paying attention?”
Zelknin was enraged, but still trying to maintain some poise as he stomped over to the War table and smashed in the coordinates to pull up a map of the Elguiseif Confederacy’s near orbital defenses. They had set automated senterys which had rectangular propulsion systems attached to bowl shape plasma disc cannons.
“Well while hiding in a meteor shower maaaay work for dispatching of the defenses planetside we still need to contend with the defenses in space. I propose that we-”
“What if, uhm,” Tyler butted in tugging on the sleeve of Zelknin’s Advisor robes
“Not now Tyler! I propo-”
“But, uhm, do you know that uhm this-”
“Council member Tyler please-”
“But but it, did you know it looks like toilets?”
Murmurs spread like a wildfire throughout the rest of the war council. Tyler didn’t seemed phased however, instead the child burst into laughter and started repeating Zelknin’s outburst in a distinctly goofy tone. Xarzez was about to speak up to discipline his advisor, but Demlara beat him to it.
“Zelknin! You are supposed to be one of the most distinguished members of the War Council!”
“I- I apologize I don’t know what came over me-”
“You don’t know what came over you? Are you insinuating you don’t have control over your faculties? If that is the case you should be stripped of rank and title!”
“No! Princess, puh-puh-please!”
While Demlara was taking Zelknin to task in front of all of his peers, Xarzez watched as Tyler was scattering the infantry models over the table making laser gun noises. The intellect of this astounding creature was beyond Xarzez’s comprehension. Not moments after he planned the perfect opening attack he was already plotting out flawless troop movement to take the factory and avoid the mine fields that they had only just learned about that morning.
Xarzez turned to address the War Council, he held a single fist aloft. The whole of the war room fell silent except for the “pewpewpewpew-BANG BANG!” noises Tyler was making while playing with the models.
“Distinguished members of the war council, I know there have been doubts about my new addition to our esteemed ranks,” Xarzez looked to Tyler who was now putting the models in his mouth, “But I believe after the victory Tyler the Destroyer earned us on the Moons of Gedd and this unshakeable plan for taking the interstellar drive engine factory… I believe I can say with the utmost confidence that this human child is indomitable, I think we’ll keep him.”

Karolyn Blake is an actor and improviser in Chicago with a passion for dogs, laughter, and inclusive spaces. She is a founding member of the Shrews Improv and proud to be a singer in the Shanty Shipwreck Show. You can see and hear her every month in Starlight Radio Dreams, recorded live at Mrs. Murphy and Son’s Irish Bistro and available wherever fine podcasts are downloaded.

Gateways: “Tuesday” by Mariah Noel

TRANSCRIPT This story is written by Mariah Noel. She has created a variety of written work from poetry, short stories and plays to grant forms. Talking animals and black comedy are her two most recurring staples. She tells us her protagonists are most often anti-heroines that come in two flavors: happy-go-lucky dumbasses, or quiet warriors just trying have some soup. This is “Tuesday”

Captain’s Log.
Tuesday, I think? We lost all power onboard, and nobody back at headquarters would allow me to bring paper alternatives onboard because “papercuts in a zero gravity environment would be devastating.” So, if you have gained access to this somehow, Sharon, thanks for nothing.
Author’s note: I am not Captain Laplander. Captain Shelly Laplander was eaten by a comet shark (a newly discovered species (newly discovered here meaning that we were floating in an asteroid field when a shark with a firey tail whizzed straight for Captain Laplander and devoured her in a single stroke and continued forth without stopping)). The following entry has been recorded by Star Zenith, janitor on the crew of the now-former ship Starburst.
Currently in the custody of the Yardlings of the Quarter cluster of the Dvorzak Galaxy. Am recording this log on an antiquated device and family heirloom once known as the ‘palm pilot’. Brought it along for the trip for my own personal amusement and now has proven handy. Yardlings appear to be of humanoid form. They have many of the same body parts of humans, but arranged much differently. My current guard has both arms in the place of a head, noses for fingers on its hands, and the mouth is in an unspeakable location. Am quite missing the eye washing station of the lab, for there is no privacy in this place and the guard relieved himself in plain view yesterday. I now keep my gaze to the floor or the wall.
Trial was held two days ago to determine the fates of myself and the remaining members of the Starburst. The Yardlings, though sharing physical traits and likely ancestors with homo sapiens sapiens sapiens, regard us with adoration in much the way that Earthlings respond in cooing tones to baby animals such as kittens or puppies. Rather than lawyers, the Yardlings arranged the room by having each member present arise and state their opinion, no matter how long it took. I fell asleep for my full eight hours, and when I awoke, they were still discussing. One hovered over me in a protective manner and declared, “These human children are adorable! Let us keep them!”, referring to herself and her wife, who was simply a pair of legs with big blue eyes on the torso in place of a belly button. I am 78 years old, but did not find it prudent to speak out and correct her when the following Yardling, with the exact same physiology of homo sapiens sapiens sapiens, save that he had giant ears for arms and arms in place of his ears, pulled out a recipe book and brightly listed every recipe in which human meat could be substituted.
The Yardling who declared us adorable has been approved to adopt us. She will be arriving tomorrow, as she declared she needed the day to ‘child proof’ her home. It has not been made clear if she considers human children to be treated as offspring or as pets. I am tired now and will continue tomorrow.

Captain’s Log
Monday. Apparently, yesterday was Sunday, not Tuesday, as previously thought.
The Yardling who has taken us in as her adopted children is called Fanwick, and her wife is called Legs. Every attempt to speak to her and request a ship so that we may return to our mission (cleaning the asteroid field of garbage), has resulted in a scolding and time out. Though these beings possess knowledge of our most common human languages and bear similarity in regards to individual body parts, they do not have much knowledge of humanity itself. We have hypothesized that they either have very poor eyesight, or are unable to gauge human ages, as Fanwick pinched my cheeks with her toefingers and handed me a lollypop, although I had been two months from retirement prior to this predicament. The youngest of us is Sasha Lee, a 38 year old who is seen as an infant. She has been most humiliated by being forcibly placed in a pram by Legs, forced to eat with her hands in a highchair (the ‘airplane’ method of being fed has yet to be used, as Sasha has eaten everything no matter how disgusting lest Fanwick be aware that such methods are used on human infants of Earth).
There are seven of us in all. Six of us have been provided with bunkbeds. Fanwick has us sleeping in the same room, save Sasha. Sasha has been taken to a separate bedroom, where she is forced to sleep in a crib under the watch of a baby monitor. Our room has been painted blue and yellow with spaceships and princesses, though the princesses have the same Picasso-anatomy of the Yardlings. An hour after Fanwick and Legs put us to bed with a bedtime story, we knew they were asleep, as Fanwick snores rather loudly. Iyo, our vacuum specialist, told us the following:
“There is a vehicle of some kind in the back of the house. Legs used it to fly somewhere earlier in the day, meaning it probably has an energy source of some kind. Given that the Yardlings are four times our size, and the vehicle itself appears to be made to seat four Yardlings, we should all fit inside.”
“What about keys?” Tahno, the recycler, pointed out.
“No keys,” Iyo confirmed, “But it is kept chained until one of them decides to use it.”
“There’s some kind of giant scissors in the kitchen we can use as bolt cutters,” Saami chimed in. It was agreed we would split into two groups of three. Three to carry the bolt cutters to the back yard, and the other three to rescue Sasha from the baby crib. It is now time to act. This may be my final entry, should we fail.

Captain’s Log
Tuesday (for real this time)

Saami, Iyo, and Tahno had little trouble retrieving the bolt cutters from the kitchen. Myself, Isbel, and Timmy, were less lucky in retrieval of our unfortunate infantilized crew member. The door to Sasha’s room was quite large and heavy, and the door knob quite high. Timmy took the bottom, whilst Isbel stood on his shoulders, and I on hers. It took several minutes to completely turn the knob, itself as large as my head. Sasha easily escaped from the crib and the lot of us ran to the backyard.
The bolt cutters, easily four feet in length, required all of us to pool our collective strength. On the final cut, the doors burst open and Fanwick and Legs stampeded toward us. Tahno and Saami grabbed what remained of the chain, pulling it across the way. The two Yardlings helpfully proved our theory of poor eyesight as they failed to slow down and tripped. Tahno and Saami were smart enough to let go immediately, as the chain ripped through the air. Fanwick and Legs flew for quite a ways away. The vehicle easily fit all of us. Sasha took the drivers spot, while Timmy and Isbel operated the brakes and gas each, so large was the interior of the vehicle.
We are now on the opposite end of the planet and have sent a signal to Earth. The vehicle we abandoned around two hours ago, after it ran out of fuel. It shall be noted for future Earthlings that while the Yardlings appear to be relatively harmless and odd-looking beings, their emotions in regards to homo sapiens sapiens possess a strength we have not seen before in non-terrestrial humanoids.
In a stroke of odd luck, we came across a strange carcass. There was a line across the stomach, and investigation showed that something had cut its way out. There, a few dunes away, we found our beloved Captain Shelley Laplander alive and mostly well. Our beloved captain was desperately in need of a bath.
This is the final entry of Star Zenith, janitor to the former ship Starburst. I will shortly turn over this device to the captain herself, that she may continue her captain’s log and fill in her own history of the week. It is not yet determined if any ship from Earth will come to retrieve. It will be nice to sit down for dinner as a team, free once more. I only wish I had some salt for the shark meat.

Gaby Fernandez is the Special Events Manager at Otherworld Theatre. She has been an ensemble member since 2018, and loves creating, performing, and discovering new works with such a diverse and unique company. She has been professionally acting since she arrived in Chicago over 4 years ago, and fell in love with the Chicago storefront theatre scene.

Gateways: “Zo and the River Monsters” by Russ Kaminski

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Russ Kaminski. He has a degree in film production and has written primarily for short film and theater. He also has written and performed standup comedy. Russ tells us he is most interested in stories of relationships and answering “what if” questions. This is “Zo and the River Monsters”.

Zo found himself constricted by a slimy tentacle as wide as a man’s neck. It was pale and covered with a green film, which smelled most similar to an onion dipped in the intestines of a dead rabbit. 

“This is how I die,” Zo thought. “Serves me right.”

Big River marked the easternmost edge of the Peoples’ hunting and foraging grounds. Zo’s uncles and cousins were out hunting, while he, being small, weak, and overall useless, had been put in charge of foraging. Zo went near the Big River, though. Those who did usually wound up missing or dead, according to the stories. 

Zo had been at the top of the cliff overlooking the river when he noticed the raspberry bushes that were red and heavy with fruit, a rarity this late in the season. Zo saw an opportunity to: one, carry a basket of fruit home and prove that he was not overall useless; and two, fill his belly with fresh berries. He realized that he had become one of those stupid people parents tell their children about as soon as he felt the green slime touch his skin. 

There were two monsters, and it was the smaller one who had Zo prisoner. Aside from their four tentacles – which they used to swim or shuffle along the river bank – they resembled big slugs. Zo’s People called them bigslugs. 

The bigslugs communicated in a low, almost musical, rumble, as if thunder was trying to sing. Zo knew that anyone who heard a bigslug’s song rarely lived to hear it twice. 

If Zo had understood them, he would have heard the smaller one say, “Human children are adorable! Let’s keep him!”

“Now, now,” said the larger one in his thunder song, “If you touch it, its mother won’t let it return to the nest.”

“That’s a myth,” said the small one, bringing Zo closer to its body. The monster’s song vibrated through the monster’s body, and therefore Zo’s body. 

“Myth or not, it’s feral. We don’t even have a tank at home,” said the larger one.

“Oh, fine,” said the smaller one. It gently released Zo so that he plopped back-first on the river’s edge. “But I want to pick one from the shelter for my birthday.”

Zo was certain that he had faced death and lived. 


“No. Not in my home,” Mother said. The large bigslug was right. Mother blocked the door to their wood-and-caribou-skin hut, brandishing a wooden ladle. 

“I know it smells, but won’t it be fine once I wash it off?”

Whoosh. The ladle flew past Zo’s nose. Not close enough to hurt him, but close enough to remind him who was in charge. Mother said, “No questions. It’s a curse, and curses don’t wash off. We’re going to the Priest.”

The People lived in a clearing in the woods. To call it a village would be generous. It was a cluster of huts, built roughly in the same spot every winter and then relocated in the summer, when the caribou herds went up into the mountains. 

His cousins watched him as he was escorted, whispering. Of course, every child in the village was his cousin. Every member of the People was his family, and everyone who wasn’t his family was an enemy who would likely try to kill him. He knew that his cousins were saying he was small, weak, and overall useless. Most of his People were bigger, stronger, and overall more useful than him, even some of his younger cousins, which Zo didn’t think was fair. 

With Zo waiting outside, Mother went into the Priest’s hut, and told her what had happened. 


“Zo, you will carry the tribute to the Murder People this year,” said the Priest, leaning on her walking stick. Mother’s face sank, but the Priest was the oldest and therefore wisest member of the People. She was not to be questioned. 

Zo would have liked to ask questions. Like “What’s the point of surviving death once just to be sentenced to death again?” Everyone knew that the Murder People were murderers. They demanded tribute from other villages, and always tried to kill the messenger who brought it. 

Zo’s eldest brother had brought the tribute two years prior, and had returned with a slash across his chest. “I killed three of them before I could escape,” he had said. And so, he had been declared a brave warrior. Big, strong, and overall useful. Zo knew he could not control whether his body was big or strong, but he could do his best to be useful. 

“If it will help our People, I agree to take the tribute,” he said, thinking he too was brave.

The Priest sighed. “Yes, that is what I just told you. No one asked you too agree.” And Zo felt useless again. 

That night Zo slept out in the open, where the bigslug’s cursed slime would ruin only the dirt and grass. The next morning, he set out with the tribute – a wooden cart packed with clay pots full of dried beans, woven baskets, dried meat, caribou skins, and a club. The club was for Zo. Pieces of metal were embedded into the side,giving it a slicing edge. Although he was small, weak, and overall useless, the Priest wanted him to stand a chance. He could also add the valuable club to the tribute, if necessary. Chunks of metal found in streams and under dirt was rare, and often rusted. He hauled the cart down a dirt path through the woods.


After two days of travel, Zo stood at the edge of the South River. It was different than the Big River in that it was not as big, and therefore bigslugs did not swim in it. It was still dangerous, as the Murder People lived on the other side. He camped at the edge for a night and a day, taking some of the dried meat of the tribute for himself. “Who will know?” he asked himself. 

It was midday when he saw a girl. She looked like any of the girl in his village. She might have been his same age, or slightly older. She was bigger and stronger looking than him. He stood straight and acted brave, and kept one hand on his club. 

“Who are you and what do you want?” She said, in Zo’s own language.

“My name is Zo. I am here to offer tribute from the People. We want our gifts to bring peace to the valley,” Zo said as he had been told. 

“I am Kina, of the Stone Village. Bring it here, and go away,” the girl said. 

The water was shallow enough to cross with the cart, but Zo sensed a trap. “Why don’t you come over here?”

The girl paused. “Why, so you can launch an ambush?”

“It’s just me. They only sent one person, same as every year,” Zo said.

“I am not here to die. If you do not want to bring the tribute to our side of the river, then take it back to where you came.”

Zo knew that wasn’t an option. You couldn’t take back a tribute. You also couldn’t go back home without at least a few scars to show you fought.

Zo thought for a moment. “Will you kill me if I come over?”

“Only if you attack first, like the others.”

“Like the others? Every year we bring a tribute to stop you from killing us and you attack our messengers anyway.

“No,” Kina said, “you kill us. Every year you bring gifts and then try to kill whoever receives them.”

“How does that make sense?” Zo said.

“It doesn’t,” said Kina, “But you’re the first person I’ve met from your village who has asked that.”

Zo looked at Kina. Kina looked at Zo. He believed her. He believed that no one from his village had ever stopped to think about the tributes. Maybe the Priest had, and maybe the elders had, but the people who brought the tributes cared so much about appearing big, strong, and useful that they had fought and died for no reason. 

Zo put his club aside. “Would you like to meet my village?” he asked. “When was the last time our people asked each other questions?”

The trees behind Kina stirred. A dozen other members of her tribe emerged, wielding wooden shields and metal-tipped spears. Zo was sure he was about to die. Again. 

Kina looked to an older man, dressed in a fur vest. He nodded. 


As the two returned to Zo’s village, Zo still kept his club at the ready and Kina never let go of her spear, but otherwise the mood got less tense. Kina asked Zo questions about the People. She was confused that Zo just called his people, “The People” and called Kina’s people “Murder People.” Zo hoped Kina would bring this up at a village meeting. He realized it was also likely that they would refuse to respond to her questions and attack her violently. He hoped they wouldn’t. 

When they got to the village, it was empty. Through the rustling of the trees, Zo thought he heard a familiar voice. He stopped. 

          “Hello?” he shouted. “I returned from the tribute! I wasn’t murdered!”

The wind calmed and Zo heard it more clearly. Kina heard it too. A low song. 

“It sounds like an animal in pain,” Kina said, “Your People must be on a hunt. Let’s find them.” She took off towards the sound. 

Zo followed her, partly to tell her she was wrong, and partly hoping she wasn’t. 

The song was strongest at the edge of the river. There Kina and Zo joined with the rest of his village. 

“I have returned!” Zo, shouted, but he was ignored. They stood entranced, staring at the river. He found his mother and grabbed her arm. A tentacle grabbed the other. 

The bigslug emerged from the water slowly. It was already dragging a victim towards its face. Zo’s young cousin. To eat him? It inspected him with its large black eyes. Not to eat him, only to look at him. 

With a rear tentacle, it lifted from the water a large orb. It was clear like a bubble, but Zo had never seen one so large, and seemingly solid. The river water dripped off of its sides.

The bigslug lifted the boy as if to smack him against the bubble. But at the touch of the bigslugs’s tentacle, a hole opened, like a mouth, and the bigslug deposited the boy inside. A cage. A clear cage. 

The monster did the same to Mother. She screamed and hit as she too was placed in the bubble cage. The hole closed as soon as she was inside. 

By now panic had struck the group. Out of the monster’s trance, they scrambled up the riverbank into the safety of the woods. The monster scrambled too. Realizing its opportunity was closing, it grabbed three more victims within its reach, Kina included. It placed them one at a time into the bubble cage, which was becoming crowded with panicked bodies. The victims banged on the walls. Kiva slammed her spear against the bubble. It did not pop. 

Zo gripped his club, with the metal in its edge. He waved it at the bigslug.

“Me too!” Zo shouted, “Bring me-” he was cut off as a tentacle wrapped around his neck and shoulders. His arm, however, was free. 

With his strongest swing – which wasn’t very strong, but strong enough –  he lifted his club and slammed its sharpened edge into the monster’s tentacle. 

The monster rumbled and flailed. If Zo had understood Bigslug, he would have known it had said “Oh no, and that one just grew back, too.”

The tentacle’s grip loosened, and Zo and tentacle splashed in the water. Zo stood waist deep in the river and felt the current pushing him towards the cage. He doubted he could smash the bubble cage, but he did see the monster use its tentacle to open it. The same tentacle Zo now had draped over his shoulders. With a grunt, he heaved the tentacle at the bubble cage.

It worked. Where the tentacle hit the side of the bubble cage, the hole opened up, and immediately began to fill with water. 

The bigslug ignored Zo and its missing limb, and attempted to right the situation. It twisted the bubble cage to empty out the water, but its prisoners found their way out as well. The bigslug, missing one tentacle and all of its prizes, hurled the bubble cage away in frustration and crawled back into the deep water in the center of the river. 

If Zo had understood the Bigslug, he would have heard the monster mutter to itself, “Why bother. No one adopts the mean ones anyway.”

Zo and Kina helped Mother to the shore, where she sat on a rock and wringed out her clothes.

“Cursed!” Yelled a gravelly voice from the woods. It was the Priest. She waved her walking stick at Zo, accusingly. “You have brought the monsters to our land! Cursed, I say. Useless! Banished!”

“How could we banish Zo?” said Mother. “He saved us and drove the monster away!”

“Are you questioning me?” said Priest.

Mother stood up. “Yes.”

Zo cleared his throat. They both glared at him. Hero or not, he was  butting into an adult argument. Kina walked over to his side. He felt strong next to her. 

“As long as we’re asking questions,” he said, “I have some I’d like to ask too.”

Thank you, I am Ansel Burch, you can hear my voice and writing every month on Starlight Radio Dreams, a podcast recorded live right here in Chicago. You may also know my voice from the podcast, Our Fair City. I am the curator for the Gateways Short Story series and your master of ceremonies tonight.

Gateways: “The Starry Floor” by Michael Strange

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Michael Strange. Michael was born a storyteller. His strength is in telling a story verbally and he has risen to the challenge of translating his skill to the page. Tonight, we are thrilled to take his writing and give it back to voice. This is “The Starry Floor”

Ilya had calculated the odds a hundred times. The ship shouldn’t be there. It shouldn’t be anywhere near them. The Universe was infinite—so wide and so vast that even their vaulted consciousness couldn’t fathom of the whole of it. But there it was on the huge C.R.C. screen: an Abromic ship. It hovered almost directly beneath the ringed planet the computer records indicated as LR81-16. Without magnification it only registered as a tiny metallic dot pulsing in the doleful light of the system’s Red Dwarf.

It was a little more than an heap of metal and a handful of life-support systems, but Ilya could feel them—all twenty thousand unaltered humans living in squalor aboard the ship. Those beings, like all of their particular faith, had refused the Mandates of Vega. Instead of doing what was sensible, their ancestors had fled old Earth on generation ships many thousands of years ago in one massive migration. Their prophets promised them a new Eden—a docile planet somewhere in the dark of space to replace the one they had murdered.

All sorcerers across the colonies knew that only 16 planets in all of Creation were destined to bear life that would bloom with higher consciousness. Humans had murdered their cradle planet, and matricide was not a sin the Universe would soon forgive. After the death of old Earth, no planet in any galaxy would give them further succor, nor any moon bear the weight of their civilization. Space was now a prison for mankind. The Mandates of Vega relegated colonies to the voids—the dark spaces between systems—and banned humans from exploration.
The computers of the Jiàn Liù detected damage to the Abromic ship. It had been hit by debris, its water tanks punctured. That was the only reason they risked coming so close to the shadow of the planet. Those twenty thousand souls were dying, would be dead in less than a week without the ice mined from the rings of LR81-16.  

The crew of the Jiàn Liù had come for ice too. Their mining vessels had been collecting ice chunks for months. Within another six, they would melt the stuff, scrub the water, and bring it back to the colonies at Shiu and Porgol. 

The Jiàn Liù had nothing to fear from the planet’s shadow. They were not humans; none of the crew was. The ship was comprised of 300 INOgana—artificial beings built from boron fibers and engineered souls—and although they had their own sort of consciousness, the INOgana were more extensions of the ship than anything else.

Ilya was the only thing aboard the Jiàn Liù of living tissue, but they were Many-Gendered—a perfect being. Their DNA and consciousness had been rendered on Vega by the most inspired artists and dreamers, their bodies perfected in virtual systems by genetic sculptors long before ever being printed. The Many-Gendered could seemingly pass as human, but they were as different as night and day. The curses of the Universe could not touch them, nor should they.

Jiàn Liù, please initiate commands 86-12, 86-13, and 97-60, Ilya intoned. Immediately the ship went to work closing the cargo hold and preparing for travel. 

Ilya then took four precious tallow candles from their metal tubes and placed them at the cardinal points along the bone-chalk circle they had drawn on the core deck. Each was worth a small fortune. There were only a few colonies that had enough resources to raise bees or cattle. Most animal protein came from V.A.T.s or was printed, yet the celestial sorceries required the candles be made of natural products, just as it was with the wine. 

Taking the castlyn bottle in hand, Ilya used a long glass pipette to draw the wine out, spilling seven precious drops onto the floor of the deck as a sacrifice to the Volg. Ilya placed the last drop on their tongue. They let the sweet, dark red wine spread and roll over every fold and surface of their mouth. It tasted like nothing else in the Universe—a spicy, complex flavor that was impossible to print.

Ilya took their place at the center of the chalk circle, immediately falling into a rhythmic breathing that would silence the mind and turn their perception inward. Then, with a clear, calm voice they invoked the names of the Volg, and with each syllable they felt the fabric of spacetime vibrate and begin to pulse. The four candles set upon the circle caught fire, their wicks shimmering with pure black flames—this was the sign that the Volg had heeded their words. In the presence of these benevolent, higher-dimensional beings, Ilya made the gestures.  They drew out the symbols in long, graceful motions, the tips of their fingers leaving traces of light in their wake.

To Ilya the path to the Starry Floor was like a song they had sung a thousand times, but now in the face of the planet’s shadow, it had become strange and unfamiliar. The proximity of the Abromic ship had awakened something sinister in LR81-16, a wrath all planets held for humankind. In lower-dimensional embeddings, the attack would seem subtle:  life systems would fail, communications would cut out. Mass delusions would take over, causing paranoia and chaos among the crew of the Abromic ship.

With celestial power, Ilya’s robes began to radiate, bleeding hues of pink, then ruby, and finally coming to rest in Stygian black. As the higher dimensions opened before them, Ilya uttered the final words of the incantation, and spacetime began to tessellate and fall in on itself.

The vacuum of the Universe and all it contained was repeated endlessly in every direction. This was an illusion, the husks of the lower dimensions peeling away, forewarning that they were quickly approaching the Mirrored Hall, the event horizon, the barrier between the infinite and those layers of reality that still bent to the forward flow of time. 

Urgently Ilya let go, their soul expanding outside of their body. Time, pain, joy, life, death, all of their opposites disappeared, frozen in the moment of their becoming. Memories and sensations reticulated and spun on white-hot atoms, whirling into a blurried frenzy before blowing apart and careening off into the furthest corners of the Universe.

To be nothing is to be everything. There was some truth to the philosophies of the Saejick Buddhists. Ilya felt these thoughts sputter and dance across the void that was opening inside them. Knowing is pain. Knowledge is the origin of pain. Nothingness is the cessation of pain. Oblivion is the path toward the cessation of pain.

A gulf within their consciousness bloomed, and Ilya’s perfected soul lifted the Jiàn Liù from the Mirrored Hall into the Starry Floor. Far below them in the lower dimensions, the Jiàn Liù rattled. The many tessellating ships, the countless copies of the Jiàn Liù swimming in a sea of infinity, began to bloat, their outlines becoming unclear and their steely hulls darkening, smearing into the shimmering purple and blue celestial light that hummed about them.

The Starry Floor took form around Ilya and the ship, a cube of indistinguishable, immeasurable distance. The Temple Masters had once told them this place was at once boundless and infinitesimal; the sum of the Universe contained within its smallest constituent part. On all sides of the cube, stars fell endlessly, flowing from edge to edge as if each plane were a waterfall of suns.

With a blast of phosphorescent green light, one side of the Starry Floor parted, and the shadow of LR81-16 arose from the lower dimensions. Beneath the pressure of the planet’s great wrath, Ilya’s strength began to ebb. It was monstrous—a colossal shadow of impossible tentacles that swirled and pushed against the folds of space. With each shove, the shadow squeezed more of its labyrinthine body through the breach in the Starry Floor.

Outside of time, Ilya’s perception covered every detail of the thing’s body, counting every wet, shimmering scale. They became lost in and devoured by its magnitude, a golden speck in a sea of black.  

In the lower dimensions Ilya could hear the ship ordering all INOgana personnel to report to the nearest maglock. Whatever was happening there required the crew to follow immediate emergency protocols. 

Move the ship, they felt their spirit plead. The command was given so serenely, yet Ilya could feel the weight of the rite beginning to form pressure cracks along the length of their consciousness. Move the ship to Vega. Do what we were trained to do.

Ilya willed themselves into action and reached out towards the wall of the Starry Floor that stood parallel to the shadow of the planet. They would need to breach the surface to reach Vega. Ordinarily this would be a simple extension of their consciousness, but the pull of the shadow was causing the floor to churn. The milky glass of a million star systems rolled and swayed within the tremendous gravity of the raging planet as Ilya reached out to connect with the edge of the Starry Floor, drawing a piece of it open. A tiny hole appeared and they sent their perception though. 

The wrong quadrant. An vacant system, devoid of life. A dying sun. Again and again, they opened breaches in the flowing wall of stars to send their mind through, each time finding another unfamiliar part of space.

Behind them, the planet roared. The sound was so loud and so terrible that it made the edges of the cube darken and momentarily blink out. 

Ilya turned back toward the wall, and with all of their resolve punctured a hundred keyholes in the Starry Floor, more than they had ever thought possible. One by one the keyholes burst open, black quasars tangled amidst the webs of undiscovered constellations. 

Then, with their strength almost depleted and as they neared the point of exhaustion, Vega’s familiar flashing red lights appeared through one of the rips in the wall. 

It is here, Ilya whispered, coalescing their focus to allow the other gates to collapse. In a fraction of a second, the other keyholes blinked out of existence. We are…moving us…now, Ilya struggled to intone as they pulled the Jiàn Liù across the vastness of the Starry Floor, lowering the ship into the reality surrounding Vega, a hundred trillion miles from LR81-16.

Karolyn Blake is an actor and improviser in Chicago with a passion for dogs, laughter, and inclusive spaces. She is a founding member of the Shrews Improv and proud to be a singer in the Shanty Shipwreck Show. You can see and hear her every month in Starlight Radio Dreams, recorded live at Mrs. Murphy and Son’s Irish Bistro and available wherever fine podcasts are downloaded.

Gateways: “Both are Infinite” by Irene L. Pynn

TRANSCRIPT: This next story is from Irene L. Pynn whose publications include plays, short stories, short plays, interactive plays, alternate reality games, and a novel. Her plays include I, Cockroach, The Church of Saint Bearer, and How to Field Dress an Android. You may even have heard her writing right here at Otherworld Theatre. This is “Both are Infinite”

The human body can’t survive long enough to comprehend the truths of a collapsing star, but as I stretch ever closer to one, I remember a mad theory that it can erase my past. What would that mean? 

My legacy, such as it is, would vanish. I suppose there’s no one to leave a legacy for, anyway. 

I served on the last official Earth expedition. It failed. The day our team set off, you kissed me goodbye and told me to keep my expectations low. “Everything ends,” you told me.  

Death doesn’t end, I said. If we let the Earth die, that’s permanent. 

You rolled your eyes. Semantics.  

I know you can’t hear me, by the way. No one’s comms survived the blast. But you know how I am. I want to remember the moments when we still had hope. Memory is one of the greatest things about sentience. It’s our innate ability to bend time. Something may be long past, but I can almost see it right now. I can even imagine it differently – better, if I want. Memory is magic. 

Yeah, there I go, again. Humor me today. 

We already knew it was dire, even then. The air grew noxious, the trees withered, and teams of humans raced out across the globe in all directions for hope. One by one, they returned with none. But I’ve never been good at reconciling myself to that type of news.  

So I joined the final expedition, the foolish one. The Hail Mary. 

“Onward I go,” I said as you shook your head. 

Armed with a copy of Herodotus, who once described the youthful skin of those who bathed in mythical waters, we set off for a fairy tale. Water – any at all – was precious by then. Perhaps, if we could locate the source of that ancient spring, recognize its power somehow, maybe the harsh sunlight would turn to ripples of rainbows on its miraculous surface… If we could direct such a healing force back into Mother Earth… If we believed in magic… 

I’ve just noticed there’s something wrong with my oxygen supply, but I can’t tell what. 

Closer to a black hole, spacetime behaves differently than we’re used to. At home, we’re born, we grow up, we fall in love, we invent ways to destroy our planet, and we die. In space, the rules play tricks on us. What we think we know about permanence gets sucked into oblivion. 

But at home, you were right. Everything ended, as everything does. Years ago, cities with false fountains of youth featured tours: Come take a sip from Ponce de Leon’s spring of eternal life! Then enjoy this ghost tour of local graveyards. 

We, too, were unsuccessful, though I never agreed to give up. My team dragged me home even as I insisted we hadn’t looked hard enough. Somewhere, hidden under the dusty remains of everything we’d destroyed, swelled a liquid more valuable than gold, with the power to turn back time and restore life. A bounty as boundless as the sea. 

But, of course, that wasn’t true. We had searched thoroughly. The fountain of youth doesn’t exist because magic isn’t real. 

So the last humans of Earth boarded our ships, and we left. 

Goodbye to the park where I had my first kiss. Goodbye to the birds that nested in our roof. Goodbye to my grandfather’s headstone. 

“This is what love feels like,” you told me. “It exists only because everything ends.” 

That can’t be true, I said, but you stroked my back in that soothing way a parent comforts a grieving child. 

Now I’m getting a notification that my primary life support system has switched to the secondary. I don’t know why. The explosion must have done something to – it hardly matters. I’ll be dead in minutes, either way. 

For the past few moments as I have been babbling to you about the past, I’ve caught something strange out of the corner of my eye. It’s distant and can’t really be there. Some kind of hallucination. 

The Earth ended. Then, after years of space wandering, even our ships couldn’t last. Faulty wiring, user error. Who knows what? Everyone on board had just enough time to help each other into our suits before the explosion. And then we shot out in all directions with no tethers, no plans, and no futures. 

Everything ends, you whispered seconds before we parted forever. 

Death doesn’t. 

It seems fitting that the blast shot me toward a black hole, the source of nearly every excuse for magic in science fiction. Anything is possible here. You can find foolish hope in the math for a collapsed star if you look hard enough. 

There it is again. That hallucination in the distance. I wish you were here so you could tell me whether you see it, too. I just wish you were here. 

I wonder what you are seeing right now. I hope it’s as beautiful and colorful as my strange vision. You’re probably calm and resolute, as always. I miss you. 

Love is hope. Love is memory. Love stops time and holds on to the best moments forever. It lets go of the worst. 

The theory that this sucking space event can stop time and erase my past suggests that the closer I come to death, the farther I get from our sad reality. Perhaps, when I arrive, I’ll find that we didn’t destroy our planet. We didn’t escape on aging ships. I didn’t hurtle, alone, toward the darkest point of the universe. 

It seems there’s something wrong with my secondary oxygen supply. I’ve looked for a way to repair the pack, but I’m spinning, and my body stretches uncomfortably into nothing, and what’s the point, anyway?  

In the distance, closer to the event horizon than I can survive, I swear I see something. Golden, rippling. 

Yes, I know. Light can’t escape a black hole. Nothing can. 

And yet, it can’t be imaginary. Something is there

All the time, even on land, we’re hurtling toward an end. I hear your voice in my memory reminding me that we cling to things we love because we know we can’t keep them forever. 

But, forgive me, my dear. I’m going to disagree with you again. Stubborn to the end.  

Love is infinite. And so is hope. 

Onward I go. 

Sandra Howard is an actor, combatant and generally incredible human being. She’s done several shows with Cave Painting Theater and you can find her at the  Bristol Renaissance Faire this summer. She’s also one of the most wonderful people I know. And I’m on the record with that now.

Gateways: “The Void Machine” by Samantha Schorsch

TRASNSCRIPT: This story is written by Samantha Schorsch. She grew up telling campfire stories at Girl Scout events. When writing short stories, horror and science fiction have been her preferred genre for the past six years. She strives to use her unique perspective on being a woman and person with mental illness in her work to broaden public thought on said subjects and experiences. This is “The Void Machine”.

“Stop! Stop saying that! You don’t mean it!”

“Mean what? That I don’t want you to die? That I don’t want you turned into spaghetti in the fucking event horizon?”

Cole and Sonya stared at each other in heated silence. Both of their eyelids were swollen, so red you would think they got the world’s most unlikely sunburn, and another three-hour fight’s worth of tears stained their cheeks. Through the wide window of their slowly rotating motel room, the vacuum of space they had grown up in and learned to love felt suffocating. 

“I thought this would make you happy,” Cole muttered. “Better than the alternative right? Better than going home and having to clean up my brains off of the wall, or cut me down off of a rope someday once I really can’t take it anymore.”

“Why the fuck would it make me happy?” Sonya shouted. “You alive would make me happy! You going back and getting help would make me happy!”

“We tried that-”

“No, you gave up and ghosted your therapist after barely a month.”

“It was stupid anyway, I’m not worth the trouble and it was never going to work. Besides, you deserve better than me. I’m a loser. I’m pathetic. I belong out there.”


But he was already out the door, the hatch sliding shut behind him, the heels of his boots clanging on the steel hallway floor.

The uncertainty of floating into a black hole terrified him of course, but after how many years of panic attacks, lost jobs, and delirium, continued existence almost scared him more. Finally, after a month straight of him contemplating throwing himself out into the void with their weekly trash and walking in on Sonya crying to herself in the bedroom brought them out there to the last motel, to the end of everything. She had hoped some time away would do them both some good, some time together, no distractions. “Just think about the stars outside and the stars in our eyes,” she had said. “And in a little while maybe you’ll be able to think more clearly. You’ll change your mind, you’ll see.” He wished so badly that she could be right, but their time was drawing to a close and if anything, he felt worse than before. “I love you” felt hollow, making love felt numbing, the touch of her skin and her scent made him recoil in shame and fear. She deserved better, he thought, so much better. He had decided as much months ago, when he dumped all his meds down the pipes in their apartment in a manic fit while she was away on a business trip. Soon after, he saw new billboards popping up in the sky; neon monoliths advertising one-way trips into black holes, a new form of assisted suicide, no cleanup required. It was highly experimental, there was no way of knowing if the candidates really died or if they were spit out into a new dimension or plane somewhere or somewhen else, but the willing didn’t seem to acknowledge or mind either outcome.

“As long as I don’t have to be a bother or a burden to anyone anymore,” Cole told the project consultant during their meeting. “As long as I’m not a roadblock in her life anymore.”

Sonya had told him countless times over the past six years that he was anything but, but he never listened. Maybe his mind wouldn’t let him, or maybe wallowing in his self-loathing became so comfortable that moving past it scared him. Maybe a bit of both. She even went to the consultation clinic and tried to get his application rejected. The advertisements all specified terminal illness, the few cancers left, the new diseases that cropped up as people explored further and further into the universe. However, while all of the medical professionals Cole had seen over the years were adamant that he could live a fulfilling and mostly healthy life if he stuck to his treatment and stayed consistent with getting help, there they were nonetheless, in a shitty motel, the emptying of a private savings account and money reaching several high level pockets later, with two weeks left for Cole to change his mind.

“You have to understand though sweetheart,” the motel owner said to Sonya upon their arrival. “You being here, this whole thing, is mostly a formality; a chance for you to tie up loose ends with your partner and say goodbye. I won’t tell you not to hope, but I’ve owned this place since before the Void Machine project when people drove themselves into that thing on their own in the middle of the night. No one ever changes their mind. No one ever comes back.”

“Not even one…” Sonya murmured.


At this, Sonya’s shoulders started heaving and the woman wrapped her muscular arms around her. “I’m sorry girl,” the woman said. “This is no place to spend your last days with anyone even under good circumstances, if I’m being honest. Faces like yours here, they break my heart. Just know I’ll be behind the front desk or just a button push away if you ever need anything at all, at any time. Poor girl…”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Sonya whispered through tears.

“Elsie, sweet pea, you can call me Elsie okay?”

Sonya nodded. Elsie gently kissed the top of her head, brushing down the matted mess of hair caused by lack of sleep and misery, before disappearing behind the front desk. A key jingled in a lock and a moment later, after making sure Cole was far down the hallway, she held out a small flask which Sonya eagerly accepted, taking a larger swig than perhaps she anticipated. 

“See, hon,” Elsie cooed. “I’m here for you okay?”

Two weeks later, Sonya’s finger hovered over the call button for the last time, but she didn’t need to press it. A heavy hand was already on her shoulder, the glint of the flask in the periphery of her eyes. 

“I saw him go this morning. I thought you could use someone.” Sonya nodded. “Did he even say goodbye?” Sonya shook her head. Elsie sighed and twisted the cap open. “They never do.” 

Cole sat in his single-occupancy pod and waited for the door to open. He felt almost naked without a proper space suit and a relatively flimsy helmet, but he guessed there was no need to throw out the more expensive equipment. The slow flight out took almost twenty minutes, and in his solitude he wondered a lot of things. What would it look like inside? Would he even be alive long enough to see? Would it hurt? Would he fall unconscious first like people who lived on gravity planets and jumped off of tall buildings? Then the pod stopped moving and a cold, automatic voice addressed him. “Patient, please state ‘yes’ for the blindfold screen in your visor to be activated. Please state ‘no’ to decline.” Cole, beginning to tremble, stuttered out an affirmative. A countdown initiated, Cole was ejected out of the pod, and before entering the void his visor was tinted black, but Cole still saw.

As his body stretched and contorted, he saw himself and Sonya at their university. He saw her beautiful, crooked smile, he saw himself cry in his dorm room the first night he decided he was unworthy. He saw her hold him and read him the stack of love letters they’d written each other. He saw them staring at a vast, deep sea, the only time he remembered feeling any peace at all. He saw Sonya in the motel, sobbing in Elsie’s arms, the empty flask discarded on the floor, Sonya holding one of his abandoned shirts to her chest. 

“Sonya…” he croaked, as he lost control of his muscles and his voice.

He saw her in an inpatient facility, in a circle of people going through their stories of PTSD and emotional trauma. He saw her struggling to clean out the memories from the apartment that used to be theirs. Long dead flowers. A hidden cabinet with a little velvet box. A white dress he never knew she had. The shiny pair of objects within the box itself.

Droplets of water were collecting in the compressing visor. He could no longer tell if it was moisture from the cheap air hose or the tears flowing freely out of his expanding eyes.

“I’m so sorry…”

Thank you, Sandra. Sandra Howard is an actor, combatant and generally incredible human being. She’s done several shows with Cave Painting Theater and you can find her at the Bristol Renaissance Faire this summer. She’s also one of the most wonderful people I know. And I’m on the record with that now.