Monthly Archives: September 2019

Gateways: “Connections” by Ansel Burch

TRANSCRIPT This story is written by Ansel Burch. Ansel is a writer, actor and producer. Right now he is producer and contributing writer for the live comedy show and podcast Starlight Radio Dreams. He is also the Curator for this series. This story is “Connections”

The tall one shook its head. This wasn’t very helpful, agent Johnson reminded herself, as she had no idea what this gesture meant to these extraterrestrials. Even so, it was pretty clear that these visitors were not impressed. 

They’d gone through the protocols, of course. Then, deemed unthreatening, she and a team of agents had taken these aliens to see the White House, the Pentagon, Congress, Times Square, Niagara Falls and the barbed wire museum. That last one was just on the way. Sadly the aliens cared about the Carolina double twist almost exactly as much as anything else on this weird road trip. Now, here they were in the particle accelerator of Fermilab and all the damn aliens would do is shake their heads. 

When they’d first showed up, the joke around the agency was to call them Larry, Curly and Moe. The shorter one was physically more of a Shemp but regardless, these intergalactic tourists were the opposite of the stooges in every way. They were not quick to respond to any provocation though eye gouging and ladder comedy had not yet been employed. Now they’d lost interest in the collider itself and were now staring dutifully at a classic gameboy which someone had left on a desk.

Johnson took a moment to breathe. The protocols had said nothing about a non-communicative but compliant alien who doesn’t carry special technology to trade or weapons to destroy us. All of the manuals had made the assumption that any aliens willing to fly light years across space to land on our planet would have a good reason for doing so. These aliens however, seemed perfectly happy to stare at whatever was put in front of them with an air of genuine consideration before shaking their heads and staring at another thing. 

There was an awestruck scientist vibrating quietly in the corner of the room with his eyes fixed on Curly. Johnson asked if he could fire up the collider and show them how it works. The conversation got all three aliens to consider the hoodie clad man in their usual manner, which is pretty unsettling the first few times. He made a noise that started to sound like the answer should have been no before the answer was enthusiastically yes. While Larry, Curly and Moe each got distracted by other bric a brac, Doctor Kirby flipped a few switches and spent a lot of time in front of a computer terminal from the 90s. 

This gave Johnson more time to think. The aliens hadn’t been interested in government, historical points of interest or centers of scientific discovery. When the last of the team had left her alone with them in New York, Johnson’s only express mission was to provoke some response toward communication. How was she going to do that? 

As the accelerator spooled up and began to hum and whirr, the aliens turned and stared directly at the accelerator. Not the little window where Catherine imagined you’d be able to see the atoms smash together. Instead they were staring at the solid metal cylinder. They stared at the housing full of electromagnets with the exact same look they had given the President and the Statue of Liberty and the sword of General Washington. 

“Provoke a response.” That’s what they told her. She was out of options. The thrumming filled her ears as she focused on her breathing, reached to her waist and unclipped her holster with a practiced thumb. She breathed in deep and slipped steel free from leather. With one smooth exhale she raised the barrel and drew a solid, steady bead on the side of Moe’s head. No one in the room acknowledged the change. 

“Frieeenaugh!” The noise that came out of her was something between a lions growl and the noise of air escaping a balloon. “Everybody, look here.” screamed out of her, unbidden. “So help me, you are going to respond to something today.”

Larry, Curly, Moe and Doctor Kirby all turned to regard her. Kirby was the only satisfying one as he went quietly apoplectic behind his console. The aliens all stared at the gun. Kirby managed to squeak out something like “electromagnet” but Johnson didn’t care. She was in brace stance with a clear, point blank shot at Moe. This was now a combat scenario. She breathed in through tight lips and the world seemed to slow. She allowed her focus to pull back, taking in the whole room. Kirby was reaching for a big red button, the accelerator viewing window was putting off some weak light, the gameboy was falling and about to hit the ground and the aliens were passively standing there, looking at the gun as though it was no more dangerous than the souvenir snow globe she’d bought them at the Canadian border.

Provoke a response. They didn’t understand. How could they understand any of what they’ve seen with no context. They were in a structure just like any other one full of humans which were just animals which were like any other life form. What could they understand when they understood nothing. They needed a language. The idea floated in her mind like a big glowing button labelled “push me”. 

She angled the barrel 15 degrees off of true, moved her finger onto the trigger and squeezed one round from chamber to muzzle to the air. it was now a demonstration. What does the gun do? Moe had seemed to ask, now he would be aware. 

Maybe it was like a car, Johnson told herself. The aliens had seen people arrive in the car, step out of the car and then step back into the car and go away. When a car had come to take the aliens to the processing facility, they had complied. They knew what a car did. 

Maybe this would be like the penny smashing machine at the barbed wire museum. They had been shown the metal going in, the moving of the gears and the resultant piece of metal that was returned. They knew what that machine did. What they had never gotten was why. 

Why did they get in the car? Why did they sit quietly for the entire drive from New Mexico to Washington? Why had they allowed themselves to be ferried all over this damned country if they didn’t get any of it?

Johnson couldn’t handle them not getting it any longer. They needed to figure a couple things out right away and the first one was going to be that she was in charge and when she needed a response, she was going to get one. 

That’s when Moe stopped the bullet. He stopped the goddamn bullet in midair by just staring at it. Then what did he do? He and Curly and Larry stared at it hanging there. Like it was nothing or everything. As they stared Johnson sagged. Not even deadly force would provoke them. 

As she slipped her gun back into its holster and clipped the strap she looked back to Doctor Kirby. He had taken to sliding the various knick knacks on the desk toward him, whether to protect them or himself, she wasn’t sure. She turned her attention back to the aliens just as something changed dramatically. Curly reached out a single knobby finger and booped the bullet’s nose ever so gently. It began to travel back along its original path. Back to Johnson who had a great deal of context for it. 

Johnson had served in Afghanistan for three tours doing counter insurgency. She’d been the first to enter countless houses full of newspapers, religious paraphernalia and strange food containers. Eight confirmed handgun kills were on her record all at close range. One even closer than this little tableau. She knew the sound of metal tearing through flesh and organs. She’d taken three bullets herself, the last one to the neck where it had only just missed her windpipe, jugular and spine. She knew bullets very well. As the next few nanoseconds passed, Johnson reviewed all of her bullet context while Larry Curly and Moe stared, the way they did. 

That’s when it all went shiny. It was to Johnson as though the bullet itself had opened up like one of those mylar blankets they pass out for survival situations. Suddenly she saw all of it exactly as Moe had seen it. He had understood but through a mirror darkly. He knew what a president was, why law was on a hill and why the colorful, illuminated beacon they had seen from space had been built. They knew why that bullet had transited the space between her and them. They knew the children they’d left behind 3 million years ago had failed.

Johnson and Kirby woke up later. The aliens were gone. The particle accelerator was whirring louder than a freight train. Kirby observed, unhelpfully, that these masses were only theoretically possible before the accelerated atoms smashed together, scattering starstuff to the furthest reaches of the galaxy. Hydrogen bound back to hydrogen as it always did. Some connections are elemental.

Alex B Reynolds began acting as Sherlock Holmes in the second grade. Since then, they have played Shere Khan, Gandalf, Iggy Pop, numerous zombies, Jason Voorhees, Luigi, and Skeletor. Character acting is kind of their wheelhouse. Their voice can be heard on the Filmthusiast Final Cut podcast and the Meet/Cute sitcom podcast.

Gateways: “No Coffee Today” by Ashley Retzlaff

TRANSCRIPT This story is written by Ashley Retzlaff. Ashley is an English and Theatre teacher who writes a lot of poetry. A scrambling enthusiast who owns more half-filled notebooks than any hoarder could, she creates worlds where reality and hope clash. The miniature worlds she creates lie dormant in the notebooks until brought to life by a reader’s voracious eyes and mind. But you have the power to set the stories free! Set them free! This is “No Coffee Today.”

My whiskey dinner the night before gave me a sound night of sleep, but left an acidic taste in my mouth. Eager to dispel this early morning flavor, I groggily flipped the on switch of the small black machine and pushed the glowing red button. It was 12:01pm, my usual time to wake, but I didn’t notice the button which normally read “Brew” on my Generation One Keurig now said “Push Me.” I also didn’t notice the button was glowing with a pulsing red light rather than its usual innocuous white. And somehow, I also didn’t notice the small doorbell ring that sounded when I pushed the button.

Really, it had been a while since I really noticed anything in my life. I walked through life like a smelly ghost that viewed clean clothes as more of a luxury than a necessity. Ever since being “let go” from the Schnaboskywoksy (shnaa-bahsky-wak-ski) and Smith’s Law firm for having an affair with Mr. Schnaboskywosky (shnaa-bahsky-wak-ski) himself, I failed to see a meaning in life. And who could blame me? I missed that mustachioed man who snorted when he laughed and talked to dogs like they were people. He was a funny lawyer with a heart and he wanted me! How he could desire a portly, soft-around- the- edges paralegal -who was always five minutes late despite always trying to be on time – confused me. Wallowing in my child’s pool of self-deprecation, I looked down at what looked like fresh defecation on my blue Backstreet Boys shirt.

“What the fuuu…” spurted out of my mouth just as I heard a miniscule voice coming from the red button I’d pushed on my Keurig. The mixture of the odd brown stain on my shirt with the strange voice made me sense I was still asleep.

“What in the sweet Lemony Snicket flubber-wisping way of tarnation’s fingertips do you want? You only need to ring the doorbell once! Twice, maybe if the being is coming slowly to the door. But, three times?! How terrible impatient can you be?”

Like an exaggerated character in every Disney channel TV show, my mouth started to hinge open and my eyes grew twice in diameter. I was witnessing the red button of my Keurig swing open as a miniature man about the size of a chapstick container yelled at me with every ounce of his meager being. He wore comically large round glasses that he had to have known were too large for his face. He wore a shabby, brownish suit that looked like it had come from the high fashion rack at Goodwill.

Dumfounded, I was unable to answer so he admonished me again.

“You! Dirty woman! What do you want? At least have the zip zilliky decency to speak to someone after you punched their doorbell an inordinate amount of times!” I felt idiotic talking to this Chapstick-sized man, but his strong convictions and anger forced me to respond.

“I-uhhhhh. I’m just trying to make some coffee…why. Are you….? Is this thing broken?” I started shaking the sides of the black machine, but stopped when the man began screaming again. His sharp voice pierced my ears.

“So you can ring my doorbell! Wake me at a ungoshingly early time! And now you’re shaking my home! Where does the madness stop! Cut it out you overgrown oaf!” I stopped and helped the small man who know was hanging from the red button of the Keurig as if an earthquake had struck his home and it was the only stable object in sight.

This is when I noticed what lay behind the entrance the man came out of – previously known as the brew button for my Keurig. It was a bright world with a small sun peeking through the early morning sky. Gardens, flowers, and colors that looked like they belonged in a Lisa Frank sticker book delighted my eyes. I crept down to see closer into this Viewfinder my Keurig had become.

The miniature man who had invaded my kitchen crawled back into his doorway and quickly shut the door with a loud harrumph.

Was I shocked? Sure! Weirded out? Oh yeah…and still recovering from a Whiskey dinner headache that could only be cured by caffeine….. Shit….Yes.

This entire morning seemed quite surreal, but perhaps what was even more odd is instead of trying to solve this mini-man invasion, I began tearing through my cupboards to find any semblance of coffee beans. Knocking down box after box of stale snacks, I came up with four chocolate covered espresso beans masquerading as bugs in the corner of a cupboard. Once I realized they weren’t creepy crawlies, I crammed them in my mouth and chewed them quickly.

Like most things in life, I should have looked more closely, one of the beans was actually a beetle. Effing gross.

My interior monologue started running as I spit the brown sludge into the kitchen sink. You know, what? No! I told myself. That living Duplo guy, he’s the one who should apologize! He’s the one in your kitchen! Keeping you from YOUR coffee. Do the Keurig, Karen. Woman up. Make some COFFEE!

Against any use of proper judgment I pushed the button again. The doorbell pingned and the man arrived promptly, but his anger subsided.

“You’re really not goshdarning going away are you?” he asked dejectedly. “Please, just tell me what you want devil woman.”

“Devil woman!” I responded. “So misogyny’s real even in the unreal! Why don’t we start with names first! Me, I’m Karen. Let’s stick with first names because I don’t trust you mini-man.

“Mini-man!” he shrieked! “Oh look at this sizeist!”
Would you like to flibbing inform me why my door now opens up to your sad world?”

“My sad world?! You know what, I’m just trying to make some coffee to get on with my day, mini-man. I didn’t ask for you to barge through my Keurig!” I sad exasperated.

The Chapstick man stopped and stared at me with his enlarged brown eyes. I could tell he meant what he said next from the sound of his voice. “You mean to tell me it’s happened again? Oh no. Oh my gorb. Oh my GORB!”

“What are you talking about?” I questioned in a frustrated tone. “And why are you keeping my coffee from me?”

He snapped back. “Listen, name is Ollie. I am a garden gnome. It seems our worlds have intersected. We need to fix this, you and me.”

“What? How? Please just let me go back to sleep. This day has gone to shit anyway.” I started to turn away but stopped when I heard a deep booming voice.

“KAREN. MORTAL. IN THE NAME OF GORB. FIX WHAT YOU HAVE STARTED!” The sound was coming from the garden gnome, Ollie, although it sounded nothing like him.

“How?” I asked half confused and half fearing for my life. There was something about this tiny tyrannical man that scared me.

“Karen, listen. For the sake of your world and mine, close the door. Then put this Keurig machine in the recycling. They will know what to do from there,” Ollie explained calmly.

“And you’ll be okay?” I inquired.

“Yes. All will be well. You’ll get your coffee, our worlds will sever, and you’ll put some flagbagging life together!” Ollie explained.

So I followed his directions. I unplugged my beloved Keurig. Closed his door. And put my much needed coffee maker in the recycling bin.

I took a shower and went back to bed, no longer feeling the need for coffee. But I reached for the last clean shirt on my bedroom dresser, promising myself I’d do laundry. Tomorrow. Well, not tomorrow. Later today.

Kim Fukawa has been seen all around Chicago. Most recently she has worked with The House Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, and Babes With Blades Theatre Company. She is an artistic affiliate and occasional fight choreographer with Babes With Blades.

Gateways: “Once Upon a Golden Rotation” by Leah Lopez

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Leah Lopez. Leah is a Chicago playwright, screenwriter, and script editor. She’s adapted books and stories for Chicago theater companies, namely EDGE Theatre, NFP where she is the playwright-in-residence, including The Odyssey, Robin Hood, and a series of Sherlock Holmes plays. Her plays have been performed at various Chicago area theater venues, including Raven Theatre, Pendulum Space, The Edge Theater on Broadway, and Devonshire Playhouse. Leah is also a poet, having appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, and co-hosts “Beacons”, a weekly podcast about writing with her long-time writing partner and friend, Kat Ogden. This is “Once Upon A Golden Rotation”

I didn’t mean to end up in the escape pod, but when the tiny white droid sped by me and Dinah at breakfast, it was only the only logical conclusion to follow it. Dinah thought the droid came with the new supplies shipment, but then why would the droid be going to the escape pods? And why, I asked curiously as I generously buttered a biscuit, would the droid be bleating about how late it was? Dinah couldn’t answer because she was suddenly too busy downloading her daily task list from System Administrator. ‘Mhmm,” I said, which Dinah would later translate as “how convenient you couldn’t respond to my observation.” She’d have time to formulate a witty comeback by then, but I’d made my point.

Now, I’d been in an escape pod before, naturally. All children had to be trained in how to enter and operate one, except the babies because that would be ridiculous, but I’d known how to operate an escape pod for years, you know. Mary Ann couldn’t figure it out until this year and I’m terribly glad I’m not nearly as dim as Mary Ann. But still, Dinah reminded me as she hovered over my shoulder that while we could operate an escape pod to land on the planet below in case of emergency, how would we get back? And what if we ended up on the moon, Dinah bobbed about, suddenly overtaken with protocols she felt the need to recite to me. 

“We’d think about that later,” I responded decidedly because I knew that I could maybe try to pilot the escape pod back to the docking bay. I knew it was possible and could figure it out when the time came. Administrators always said that we definitely needed be able to think on our feet while living on a space station and how glad they were that I could make decisions quickly. I reminded Dinah by looking at her and raising one eyebrow. It felt like the authoritative thing to do.

At this point, Dinah stopped reciting protocols and settled into silently flashing her red warning light. I shood her away to hover behind me and eased the escape pod out of the docking bay. I held my breath, worried it wouldn’t work, but of course it worked and I was able to pilot the escape pod to follow the one little white droid’s pod. And to Dinah’s horror, the little white droid was headed for the moon. At least the planet below would have adults to send us back, after strongly worded lectures I suppose, but the moon was merely an outpost and who knew what manner of people were stationed there. Mary Ann told me stories once about how her sister’s cousin went there and it was full of empty buildings and ghosts, but I knew that was just a story to scare Mary Ann and it apparently worked. I was much too grown up to fall for those kinds of scary stories, and I told Mary Ann she was being preternatural. It is trying to be friends with someone so gullible, but she shares her tarts with me and doesn’t tell anyone when I fall asleep during Morning Lessons. 

We landed on the rickety docking bay with a thunk and I reminded Dinah to have a message sent to the System Administrator about maintenance because that’s the kind of thing a grown up would do. I felt very responsible, but then very cross when I realized that the little white droid had flown away from its escape pod to a tiny Docking Office. Quickly, Dinah and I followed, but inside we found a tiny room with a tiny console and no little white droid. We moved around the room until Dinah found a little door at the floor. I had to lay down to peer through it, which I was not happy about as no one had dusted for quite some time. Maybe a message about that, too.

“Oh, Dinah! There’s an oxygen factory in there! With a tiny table for tea! Can you imagine? A tea party in an oxygen factory? How very curious,” I said and Dinah only replied with warnings. I stood up and looked around the operating board, but there was no instructions on how to get a person size body through a tiny droid size door. Just buttons of various sizes and suddenly I felt my face crumble and I started to cry even though that was not a very sensible thing to do when you needed to solve a problem even if it did make you feel better. The tiny tea party was the most lovely thing I’d ever seen in my life that I could enjoy all to myself and here I was stuck in this dusty room with Dinah flashing every light she could. I cried and I cried and Dinah said I was going to flood the entire room.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Dinah,” I sniffed at her. “That only happens in fairy tale stories.” I sighed heavily, feeling like it was an impossible thing to do to find a way through the door. I thought this must be what Mary Ann feels like all the time and I wondered suddenly why I was being to mean about Mary Ann who had the best singing voice I ever heard in my whole life and operating an escape pod wasn’t the mark of intelligence, after all, and then I felt very gracious because I do so like my friend Mary Ann. Buttons aren’t toys our Instructor would tell us, but they can open doors. And these buttons weren’t just buttons, I realized upon further inspection. I pressed one and the door grew and grew and then slide open, right into the oxygen factory.

“What do you mean what did I do,” I snapped at Dinah. “The glowing button read ‘Push me.’ How could I resist? Do you expect me to weigh all the variables before pressing? Ridiculous” I said, having made a very grown up decision and made my way through the door. It shut quickly and Dinah was trapped behind the door, sadly beeping.

“I’ll only be a moment,” I promised, turning back around and scanning the clearing for the tiny droid. There was no little white droid, but there was an old station datapad set up on the table, covered in moss and twigs. I pushed it, wondering if it would work at all, but it just sat there, silent. I looked around and sat myself at the head of the table and wondered if I could risk the tea. Obviously it was for the Docking Office Attendant as the tea and cakes were still hot.

“Do you often do that?” said a voice and I straightened my back and looked around.

“Do you often sit yourself down at the prized seat and make yourself comfortable without an invitation,” said the datapad as it started blinking.

“I didn’t realize I needed an invitation,” I shot back. “Dinah, she’s my protocol droid, probably could tell you that an invitation isn’t necessary for an empty table.” I tilted my head and huffed. The nerve of the datapad.  

“Protocol droid!” came a small scream and out of the teapot came mouse-droid, the kinds little kids use as pets.

“You stole a seat and scared the mouse. We never mention P-Ds here, you know, that’s just manners,” lectured the datapad. 

“Well,” I said, considering the scared mouse-droid, “I wouldn’t want to frighten anyone, so I am sorry about Dinah, my pr. . .protector and advisor.” I explained, calmly. “My name is Alice. Pleased to meet you. May I pour the tea?” 

“May you pour the tea,” mocked the datapad and the mouse-droid dissolved into giggles.  Well, as dissolved as two neglected bucket of bolts could get.

“Fine,” I huffed. “Have you seen a little white droid pass by then?”

“Twinkle, twinkle, little brat, how I wonder, would you splat? Sitting on the moon so high, plummet down so I can watch,” the mouse-droid sang and then sank back into the teapot.

“That didn’t even rhyme,” I declared, standing up and smoothing down my blue suit. “How do you do,” I said as I nodded my head regally as I plucked the little white droid from under the table where it was hovering. “I have what I came for and so I leave you to your mad tea party.”

Turning on my heel with droid in hand, I went back to the door, motioning for Dinah to push the button and let me through.

“Yes, Dinah, we are quite finished,” I said as calmly as I could. “I’ve done seven impossible things before rotation. Mary Ann will think twice before setting up this scavenge again. Curiouser indeed.”

Kate Akerboom is a multi-creative individual living in Chicago. When she’s not talking about animals at Shedd Aquarium or playing with her beagle, Willie, you can find her performing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire or hear her talking about crime history on her podcast Scofflaws: a History of Law and Disorder. Originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Kate is a proud graduate of University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, possessing degrees in Theatre Performance and History with an emphasis in museum studies. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Public History through Southern New Hampshire University.

Gateways: “Two’s Company” by Cat McKay

Content Note: This story features frank sexual themes. If you are sensitive to such material, this may be a good episode to skip or listen to with support.

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Cat McKay. Cat  specializes in gays and sci-fi, both as an actor and as a writer. (If it’s not broke …) Favorite roles include Diana Barry in Anne and Diana Were Totally Doing It (FemSlash Fest at Otherworld), Bella in Valkyries: Badasses on Bikes, and Alien in Engage! A Choose Your Own Sci-Fight Adventure! Her play Plaid As Hell is the winner of Babes With Blades’ 2019 Joining Sword and Pen competition and the Margaret Martin Award, and will be produced as part of their 2020-2021 season. This is “Two’s Company”.

The glowing red button said “Push Me.” How could I resist? 

Yes, I know from years of research as an archival librarian of Old Earth, watching ancient and predictable 2D movies as part of my thesis, that pressing the big red button is likely to get lots of lots of people killed. But. I’m a Gryfindor. Endangering other people’s lives because I’m curious is kind of my thing. 

I pushed the button. Nothing happened. Bummer. I went back to fiddling with the microfilm reader. It needed a cleaning, but I was almost done for the day. 

Someone strode into my cleanroom, slamming the door behind them. 

“FUCK me!” 

“Well, that’s certainly an option.” 

I whipped around to face an exact replica of myself. So that’s what that button does. 

“Look, I have two rules when it comes to sex. No homewrecking, and I only fuck myself in the masturbatory sense.” 

“How willing are you to bend that second one?” 

“What is this, a Chuck Tingle story?!” 

“Could be.” 

“How did you get here?” 

“Fuck if I know. I opened my eyes a few seconds ago right outside that door and I spotted a familiar face.” 

“Great. Can I send you back?” 

“That’s rude. You could at least ask me if I want to grab a coffee or something.” 

“Hard pass. I talk to myself enough as it is.” 

“Well, I don’t know how to ‘go back where I came from.’ Why didn’t you think of that before you summoned me, genius?” 

“I just wanted to push the button!” 

“God, we are so predictable.” 

“Hey, are you me from right now, or from the future?” 

“I don’t think I’m you ‘from’ anywhere; I’ve got no memories other than walking through that door about fifteen seconds ago.” 

“But you can walk, you can talk …” 

“Beats me too, bitch, but here I am. Now, we might as well have some fun.” 

“Jesus, you are horny. Are you are on your period?” 

“Are you?” 


“Then I’m not either. Wait,” she/me looks up for a second. “No wait. Yes I am. Sorry I lied.” 

“Strange code of ethics you have. You’re ok with us fucking, but lying, now that really crosses a line?” 

“Honestly, who are we harming? What is the difference between that and touching yourself? We’re two consenting adults who just happen to be the same person.” 

“We could create a singularity, for one, and two, THIS IS A CLEANROOM.” 

“Christ. You are so uptight for me.” 

“Get out of my cleanroom!” 

“Fine. Take a walk with me.” 

“Uh-uh. You need to go back to wherever you came from.” 

“Channeling that mid-teens fascist circus peanut, are we?” 

“How are you making cultural references right now?” 

“I dunno. What you know, I know. I think. I can’t explain how else I’m doing any of this right now. But just think about the implications … ” 

“Twice as much lab work done in the same amount of time …” 

“… in bed.” 

“Alright, that’s it.” I slam the button again. Nothing. Spectacular. 

A rapid knocking on the door, and then she bursts into the cleanroom without waiting for a response. I hate myself. 

“What’s up, bitches!” 

“This is a cleanroom!” 

“How was I supposed to know that?” 

“It’s on the door.” 

“Weird; must’ve missed that. Anywho, what’s happening, us? Mes? What is our plural now? Are we doing the collective ‘they’?” 

“You are BOTH going back!” 

“Well, we’re going to have to re-engineer that button, then. Seems to be a one-way street right now.” That’s the first extra me. Second me out of three. Whatever. 

“Can you do that?” I ask. 


“Why did you not mention that five minutes ago?!” 

“It was fun to watch you struggle.” First replica turns her attention to the newcomer. “Hey, cutie. Do you want to get a coffee?” 

“Just coffee?” 

“Well, I was thinking coffee, and then we could see where it goes from there.” 

“Oh, there’s a lot of places it could go.” 

First me raises her eyebrows at me, like ‘Was that so hard?’ and the two of them stride out of my cleanroom to wreak as-yet unknown quantities of havoc on my professional and personal life. 


Kat Evans has been an actor in Chicago since 2006. In that time she has worked with City Lit, Black Button Eyes, Promethean, Savoyaires and the Hypocrites. You may also recognize her voice from a few podcasts including Our Fair City, Starlight Radio Dreams and Toxic Bag

Gateways: “Buttons” by Jim McDoniel

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Jim McDoniel. He writes radio plays and novels with horror and humor, often at the same time. His radio plays have been produced by the Midnight Audio Theatre, Whiskey Radio Hour, WildClaw Theatre, and HartLife NFP. Currently he writes for the podcast Unwell: A Midwestern Gothic Mystery. This is “Buttons”

Therapist: When did it start?

Darrin: Two weeks ago. I was…I was at a bar. Not drinking. You told me I should get out more so…this was me getting out more. I went to a bar. One with trivia. You know, so I could focus on the trivia rather than talking to people. I know I should have tried talking to people but…I mean, I was out. That’s good, right?

It was fun. The trivia. I enjoyed it.

Anyway, I went up to turn in my sheet for one of the questions. It was about sports which everyone else seemed to know but I didn’t. I gave my answer to the host and it was there. I mean, I know. I know it wasn’t there. And I knew then that it wasn’t there. Not really…I’m saying I saw it. There in the middle of her forehead. A glowing red button.

Therapist: What did you do?

Darrin: I left. I went home. Straight home. And I took my medication.

Therapist: Had you been off it?

Darrin: No. I’ve been taking it. I mean…not every day. But almost every day. Most days.

Therapist: You need to take your medication every day for it to be effective.

Darrin: I know. I just…forget sometimes. But I take it. I always take it when I remember. And I’ve been taking it ever since. But…it’s not helping.

The next day, I went to get lunch from the hot dog shop across the street from my apartment. I saw it again. On people’s foreheads. On everyone’s forehead. A jogger. A guy in a car. The cashier. The cooks. They all had buttons. All the same glowing red button.

Therapist: The night before, when you saw it the first time, you only saw it on the trivia host?

Darrin: Yes but…I just kind of…ran. I wasn’t looking. It…it could have been there, on everyone. Or maybe not. I don’t know. But now, yeah. It’s everywhere.

Therapist: Do you see it now? On me.

Darrin: …yes. 

Therapist: And when you look at yourself in the mirror?

Darrin: It’s there. Here. Right…here. I can’t make it out without a mirror but I see the glow. Especially when it’s dark. It’s not like a flashlight or anything but it’s noticeable. And when I close my eyes, behind my eyelids is dull red not black.

Therapist: You haven’t touched it?

Darrin: No! I mean, no. I haven’t. I don’t want to. It doesn’t matter right. Because I know it’s not there. Not really.

Therapist: Well if it’s not there, there’s no danger in touching it, is there?

Darrin: I guess…

…but here’s no danger in not touching it either, right?

Therapist: What do you think would happen if you touched it?

Darrin: …

Something bad.

Therapist: Like what?

Darrin: …

Like I would die.

Therapist: You feel like if you push the button you would die.

Darrin: Yes. 

Therapist: Do you feel like you want to die?

Darrin: No. No. That’s why I don’t want to touch the button.

Therapist: Why do you think you feel like touching the button would result in you dying?

Darrin: …

Therapist: Darrin?

Darrin: …

I touched a dog.

Therapist: A dog had a button.

Darrin: Yes. 

Therapist: And the dog died?

Darrin: …

Therapist: Can you tell me what happened?

Darrin: …


Therapist: Take your time.

Darrin: …

I…I knew touching the button would be bad. I just…I KNEW. But…I also knew…know…I know it’s not real. And I wanted to prove…to myself…that it isn’t…wasn’t real. So I went out. And I found a dog. 

I didn’t want to do it nearby in case…well just in case. So I walked around, for like an hour, and I found a friendly dog who was alone. Just loose in the yard behind a fence. It was a yellow lab. A big happy yellow lab with a big happy smile and its tongue hanging out and a glowing red button on its forehead. 

I’d…bought some treats. And I gave him the treats and while he was eating them I pushed the button. And…


Therapist: It died.

Darrin: Yes.

Therapist: Just like that.

Darrin: No. Not just like that. It…


Therapist: Exploded?

Darrin: Not like…no…that’s the wrong word…it…

…it burst.

It burst…and its insides spilled out of its stomach and the skin flipped back and folded over on itself…like…like turning a sock inside out until…

…it was just blood and organs and meat…twitching…on the ground. I could…see the heart beating. And the lungs going up and down. It…gurgled like it was trying to howl or whimper or something but it couldn’t. It couldn’t…not all turned out like that.

Therapist: And what did you do when you saw this?

Darrin: I ran. I ran until I tripped and fell and nearly hit my head on the sidewalk. Nearly hit my button on the sidewalk. Then I walked. All the way home.

Therapist: And the dog?

Darrin: I don’t know. I figured there would be a report about it on the news or in the papers. Some psycho would-be serial killer going around skinning dogs or something. But there wasn’t. Maybe…maybe they thought he got hit by a car and then dragged himself back to their yard.

Therapist: You believe you killed the dog by pushing the button on its forehead?

Darrin: …

No. No, that’s impossible. But…but what if I hurt the dog? What if when I thought I was pushing the button I was cutting it open with a knife.

Therapist: Did you have a knife with you?

Darrin: No but…I could have…and not known it…maybe.

Therapist: How long have you been dealing with schizoaffective disorder?

Darrin: Since I was like 14. Or 13. But 14 when I started seeing doctors.

Therapist: And have your visual hallucinations ever caused you to be violent? Toward the hallucinations or other people?

Darrin: No but…

Therapist: No…and even as you have these experiences with these buttons you are seeing, you are specifically going out of your way not to push them because you’re afraid of hurting people.

Darrin: But the dog…

Therapist: You mentioned that you didn’t see anything in the papers or the news. 

Darrin: Yeah.

Therapist: And what other possibility didn’t you mention that might explain that?

Darrin: …

The dog could have been a hallucination.

Therapist: It’s possible. Look, Darrin. Obviously this is a setback. But it’s not terrible. Probably we just need to adjust your medication. Maybe try a new one. I think you should check into a hospital for a little while. Long enough for your new prescription to take effect, wait for these symptoms to die back down…

Darrin: But what if they don’t? What if it doesn’t work? I don’t want to be seeing this. I don’t want this.

Therapist: I understand. It’s frustrating. But mental health…it’s just like regular health. You can be fine for a long time and wham…you get a sinus infection. Or break your leg. Maybe you get a cold and it seems like you’ve got a runny nose for the whole winter. This is no different. I don’t mean to diminish what you’re going through. I know it’s tough. But I want you to think of what you’re seeing as something like a runny nose. It’s bad. And it’s annoying. But it’s not some insurmountable monster. It’s a symptom of a disease. And with the right medication, it’ll pass.

Darrin: Like…a kidney stone.

Therapist: Sure…a kidney stone.

You’re still not convinced. Here. Look at me. You said I’ve got a button on my forehead?

Darrin: Yeah.

Therapist: Where is it? Here.

Darrin: Yeah.

Therapist: What do you think would happen if I pressed it?

Darrin: I don’t…DON’T!

Therapist: …

See. Nothing. I didn’t explode. I didn’t turn inside out.

Darrin: No…

Therapist: But?

Darrin: You can’t see the buttons. 

Therapist: Okay. Then you push it.  Push the button on my forehead. I give you permission.

Darrin: I…I don’t want to.

Therapist: That’s okay. You don’t have to if it makes you uncomfortable. But I think if you did, it would help you see what is real and what is just this mental kidney stone.

Darrin: …


Therapist: Go ahead. When you’re ready.

Darrin: Okay.

Here I go.

Therapist: (Gurgling, gushing noises)

Darrin: No. NO! I’m sorry. I…I didn’t mean to…It wasn’t supposed to happen. Oh God! No! I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Therapist: (Continues to slosh and flap and spasm until it finally, mercifully, comes to an end.) 

John Weagley has been heard as the voice of HarperCollins/HarperKids Publishers, Wendella Sightseeing and on multiple podcasts including High Country Drama and Lumpy & Sasquatch. Some of his favorite stage roles include Stefano in THE TEMPEST, Brother Matthew in MONASTERIES, Curley in OF MICE AND MEN, Marlowe in FORGET HIM and touring with Authorized Personnel: A Comedy & Improv Team.  He can be heard in the upcoming animated film WOULD YOU RATHER I WAS DEAD?

Alex B Reynolds began acting as Sherlock Holmes in the second grade. Since then, they have played Shere Khan, Gandalf, Iggy Pop, numerous zombies, Jason Voorhees, Luigi, and Skeletor. Character acting is kind of their wheelhouse. Their voice can be heard on the Filmthusiast Final Cut podcast and the Meet/Cute sitcom podcast.

Gateways: “An Iteration” by John Keefe

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by John Keefe. John has written comedy for several years for sites such as, Cracked, and Chicago Literati. He also writes radio serials for Locked Into Vacancy Entertainment. He describes himself as “Excruciatingly imaginative”. This is “An Iteration”.

Connor died briefly when his oxygen recycler failed. For thirty-five seconds, Connor’s
overworked heart stopped beating for the first time in forty-eight years. For seventeen of those
seconds, Connor’s brain received almost no oxygen on even the smallest molecular level. For six seconds, the innermost core systems of Connor’s brain ceased to operate, and contained within those six seconds was eternity.
Then the medical apparatus to which Connor was strapped injected him with a strong
adrenaline solution and exposed him to 250 joules of electrical charge. Seized by blinding and incredible awakeness, he grabbed blindly for the emergency release lever and found it. The lever pulled easily, and the doors to the medical coffin popped open with a pneumatic bang that blew out one of Connor’s eardrums. He slumped forward in his straps, focused on nothing but breathing, rocking his head gently against the pain and the whining of his deafened ear.
He detached his harness and thumped to the ground, and the pain in his skull felt like it
belonged to someone else. His vision starred, then darkened. Connor rocked his head against the steel and fell unconscious, and when he awoke, there was a stream of sunlight arcing before him, refracted by the shattered porthole windows. It was cold. He shivered some life back into himself, and then began pulling himself across the floor by as flinging his hands forwards and yanking them in, like grapnels. Dust and bits of charred metal rattled against him and clung to his ruined clothes.
Minutes later, Connor swayed shakily on two bare feet, with the display screen upon the medical pod telling him it was worse than it looked.
Connor bandaged himself as best he could. He wasted a roll of medical tape shrink-wrapping his torso, and an entire jar of burn cream coating his shoulder. Gingerly, he pulled a burn sleeve over his right arm, and he clutched the limb at the wrist and rocked side to side as he waited for the analgesic spray to alleviate the pain. He coughed again. A tooth fell out. He stepped over it as he climbed out of the medical bay and into the ruined hallway, unlit and cave-like save for the gentle sparking of severed wires, popping off like fireflies in the acrid gloom.
At the end of the hallway was a door, and Connor grasped the emergency release handle and covered his good ear with his good hand. The door popped off its tracks with the sound of a gunshot and drummed upon the steel floor when it landed. There were still emergency lights inside the server room, red utility bulbs oscillating slowly, sketching shadows of ruined server towers upon the walls.
It was this sight that introduced Connor, once again, to despair. For in the center of the charred and pulverized server towers sat four steel crates, and each of them was welded shut by such unreckonable gouts of heat that they resembled melted dice. Their keypads both electric and mechanical were charred into hieroglyphics, unusable. The steel of the lids had joined the bodies, entombing their contents until at least the invention of the diamond-tipped industrial drill. The heat- ablative coating had likely protected the contents – many hundreds of solar-powered touch screens, so intuitive that even monkeys and dogs and rats had been able to use them. And thousands of drives and disks, each color-coded, scented, and wrapped in uniquely textured plastic, and each with a small speaker that projected a noise in conjunction with the touch screens, such that even the basest sapient creature might understand that good things would happen if the two items were joined together.
Useless, now. These crates would fossilize beneath the topsoil for a billion years.
Hours, then. That’s all the time Connor had to deliver the completeness of human knowledge to whatever sapient creature was nearby. His mind began to race, outpacing his despair but only just. Forget Harry, he thought. Forget Tina, forget Williams, forget Garcia, forget Mei. They’re dead. Just like everyone else. Just like you were, half an hour ago. Remember?
He tried to remember. He spooled back the film of his memory, back to the months of space travel, budgeting fuel by each precious atom, timing bursts carefully, first to achieve lightspeed and then to surpass it. Back to the weeks of panic as the mission drew to a close, of worsening morale, of endless cycles of bitter fights and tear-soaked hugs. Of dwindling food stocks, of reconstituted protein gel harvested from the septic tank and flavored with packets of dust. Back to the hours upon hours of tedious, silent spacewalks, replacing solar panels perforated by meteors the size of sand grains, or antennae baked by radiation, replaced and then re-replaced and then finally returned to their original outlets when there were no replacements worth using.
Back to the final days. The days where there was no more RNR, no more sleep. Days where the survival of the entire craft relied on seven people performing complex tasks at peak efficiency for hours at a time, where any mistake by any companion would blink them all out of existence so quickly that none among them would have a word for the others.
Connor did not know who made the final mistake. He knew the portside airlock decompressed with the force of ten howitzers, killing two astronauts in an instant and dragging a third out into space a moment later. Twelve hours ago, Mei died in an emergency spacewalk when an exterior exhaust valve became loose and passed through her helmet at many thousands of miles per hour. Connor saw her heartbeat monitor go black with his own eyes in the medical bay. Her last words were “Re-attaching starboard panel G6” and then she was unreachable to anyone.
This is it, thought Connor. This is what it came down to.
Inside an hour, Connor was leaning upon some ancient mutation of a pine tree, as big in girth as the ship smashed to smoldering pieces in the crater before it. He panted heavily, taking in deep gulps of the freshest air he had ever enjoyed. It was an impossibly heady bouquet of scents, so ripe and fierce they could almost be tasted. Each gust of wind told a story, of rotting trees and the patterns of birds and even the murmurs of insects expressed as subtle notes barely apparent to his nose.
And now, from upwind, the scent of human sweat.
It was evening, and the slanted red sunlight fell upon human forms, creeping between the trees and scrub, silent as panthers, with clubs, spears, and lances raised on their shoulders in attitudes of readiness.
You’re the ones, thought Connor. The ones who came to look. That’s all I needed. Someone to come see…

He slumped against the tree and raised one arm to show them the blood. Slowly, the early men gathered around him, and a moment later, the women too. They eyed him warily, snorting the air with their odd noses. Connor slid to the ground and sat with his back to the tree and his audience rose their implements in one motion and then lowered them slowly. No kind of threat.
“Hello,” said Connor, and his witnesses grumbled at each other and cast side-eyes and bared their teeth.
“I had more to show you,” he said. “So much more. We’ve had an odd time of it. Us. You all and me.”
He rocked his head against the bark and felt the sun upon his cheek.
“We went up there,” he said, and he pointed with one finger, and after a few long moments, some of his peers cast their gaze from the finger itself to what it indicated – the crescent moon, hanging early in the darkening blue of the sky.
“We went further too. We went fast. So fast. Like this.”
His hands, the good one and ruined one alike, made strange patterns in the air before him, odd
circles and weird displays of dexterity. And at cue, he shot both hands forward and made a noise with his mouth and the men before him raised their tools at the suddenness of it, and even when they relaxed no eye was not upon him.
“We went so fast we went through time. That’s how life escapes. That’s how you beat entropy. It’s the only thing worth beating. It’s about getting closer each time.”
His hands rose again, and then fell in a welcoming gesture, open-palmed. And between the outstretched arms was a pyramid of dry wood in a circle of stones, the structure resinous and scented of pine.
“This is all I have to show you. Call it a head start.”
Hours later, and the strange man had died. The women each came forward to touch his
forehead,and then the men did too, so that they might know him. And each of them seized a handle of wood which had at its far end an angry ball of flame that the man had birthed from stones. They waved them nervously in the air and drew pictures with trails of flame that could never be seen again.
And in the days that came, they performed as the strange man had, clapping rocks at odd piles of wood, and trying to find in their own hands the artful motions he had shown them.

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: “Lifting Water” by KJ Snyder- Reposted-

Release Note: This is a re-post of our first story as the first two episodes were not showing in some Podcatchers. Hopefully this will solve the problem as well as treating you to these excellent stories a second time.

Transcript: This story is by KJ Snyder. They told us “I don’t want to be a famous writer – I want to be an honest writer.” KJ is a member of the Writers Guild of America East for journalistic writing. Now they writing sketch comedy right here in Chicago. This piece is “Lifting Water”. 

Dr. Kelper’s hologram held his chin, scrutinizing me. “You know you can’t take a vacation, Leah.” He said. “We can’t.” “I’m not on vacation.” I said. “A different environment helps to-” “We’re ten years away from total annihilation. NASA says every hour we don’t set something in motion, our options become more and more limited.” He said.

“Do you honestly believe I’m not working as hard as I can to find something that-” Dr. Kelper interrupted me. “But this isn’t on you. This is on us.” “I believe I will be able to work better with some isolation.” Dr. Kelper interrupted me. “This is a team effort to stop the twins.” “Again, I am doing this because it will help the group,” I said. “I’m sorry, Leah,” Dr. Kelper interrupted. “I know that much of the blame the twins has been laid on you – that was a PR mistake we made – but I’m getting a lot of pressure to have something we can tell people we’re working toward. It’s mass panic.”

“Dr. Kelper, this meeting is a waste of time. I’ll be back on base in a week. I’m only here because it could help. If I determine that it doesn’t, then I’ll come back sooner.”

“The rest of the team is worried that you’re about to quit.” “If I’m not able to work on a solution, then I will. I’m singing off.” I removed my headset, and looked around my bedroom – the old wooden desk, the peeling canary wallpaper, an overly-full closet of the scientific journals I wrote in my adolescence.

I did need a vacation, but this wasn’t it. Eight years ago, my theory of co-orbital black hole configuration led me to discovering the twins, two black holes spinning around each other, propelling through space. I’ve worked toward finding something that could save us from them.

It was a desperate move to come back to my childhood home, but this is where I became a scientist, where my curiosity sparked. Here could be the inspiration for a solution on two black holes, hurtling toward our solar system.

In the kitchen, my mother sat in front of a bucket, plucking feathers from a dead chicken. “So, we killed Sandy?” I said. “Yep. Tomorrow, I want your help killing Carla. They’ve gotten too aggressive.” She said, not looking up. “Are you hungry?”

“I don’t need you to make me anything.” I said. I opened the refrigerator. On it still, my mother pinned two articles on me from the Lafayette Daily, Lafayette Teen Wins Prestigious MIT Scholarship from 2018, and Lafayette Native Given Research Grant with NASA from 2021. I had taken down the third article, Lafayette-born Scientist Discovers Threat to Humankind. I disagreed with that title. The twins weren’t a threat to humankind. They threatened everything.

“I was just watching the news.” My mother said. “How did that go?” I said. My mother didn’t usually talk to me about news. She prefers the rustic life. She makes her own bread, jars her own jams.

“She says she not hungry and starts making a sandwich,” my mother said, plucking feathers. “But, I was watching the news and the Catholic Church doesn’t think you’re lying anymore. The new pope says that when the twins lift everyone up, it will be into the arms of God.”

“We won’t get ‘lifted up.’ Once the twins get close, our atmosphere will-” “You’ve told me before, Leah.” She said. “I just thought you’d want to know.” “Well, I’m figuring out how to stop the twins. So, tell the new pope sorry for not letting everyone get wrapped up in God.”

“I thought you liked keeping up with the news.” She said, returning to her plucking. “The last time I opened my news portal, I saw there’s a mural of me, naked with the twin black holes as my boobs. I don’t need any more news, I need focus.”

My mother laughed and dropped a fistful of feathers into the bucket. “That’s kinder than some images people have made of you. Speaking of, since you got home, I have barely seen you. If you want to spend the rest of your days hiding in your room getting yelled at by Kelper, that’s your decision. I don’t understand it, but I won’t stop you. What I won’t accept is why you don’t let me make you a better lunch than a PB&J.”

“Doctor Kelper. And this is brain food, not lunch. It’s just to keep me going.” I said. “Let’s both take a break.” My mother heaved the bald chicken on the counter. “Can we go for a swim?”

We have a lake outside our house. It’s more of a watering hole – a crowded ecosystem of water spiders, frogs, germinating algae, turtles, snakes, and water flora. The lake, deceivingly small, introduced me to scientific observation. As a child, I stuck a metal pole into its mud to measure the water’s rise and fall. My mother encouraged collection of butterflies, but I went on to track butterfly population, their prefered conditions for reproduction and metamorphosis.

Despite my fascination with the lake, I avoided swimming in it as a child. It felt like a violation to enter its waters, an unnecessary disturbance to the ecosystem. I felt protective of it.

I stood on the dock, applying sunscreen. My mother treaded water. “What, Leah, afraid of melanoma?” She said. The Louisiana sun had never bothered her. “You said we were taking a break.” I said. “We are!” She waded toward the center of the lake. Across the water, I saw the metal pole from long ago. The water had risen higher than any notches from that first summer of scientific discovery. Even as far away as the twins were, their gravity was affecting the water on Earth, tugging at already rising sea levels. I didn’t want to think about the chaos of the coastal cities, the death tolls.

I lowered myself into the water.. “I remember you had a project for this lake.” My mother said. “Which one?” I said. “I have all my journals in my closet.” “This one was recent. Do you remember? A few days ago – maybe it was a joke to you – you said you wanted to study – what was it? Pupa of the butterflies? Something about gravity?”

“Just a passing thought.”

A little after midnight, I sat at my desk, pouring over theoretical models. Hours of wearing my headset had given me a headache. We still didn’t understand the basics of the twins. How could a black hole move? What stopped one from cannibalizing the other?

I took off the headset, slumped over and pressed my burning head to the desk’s cool wood. An impossible thought struck me, that if I could somehow keep my head pressed to the desk, I could make it through tomorrow morning’s conference with Dr. Kelper. He would again ask me what progress I had made, and again I would have to grind through the impossibility of a black hole, particularly two that had been somehow sent spinning through the cosmos, vacuuming up celestial bodies.

I needed some air. I looked out of my window, down at the lake.

Outside, the crickets hummed unaware of the inevitable end. Our chickens were asleep and quiet in their coop. I floated on my back in the water, gazing at the night sky.

What if an alligator ate me tonight? I thought. What would that headline be? Since the news of the twins broke, journalists who had hoped to achieve glory and prestige had given up mid-career to find other, more rewarding callings like birdwatching, mountaineering, or storytelling. The few journalists who remained felt held to their profession by a sense of duty to the public, or else were raving lunatics with nowhere else to go.

There would be two headlines. I thought. ‘Scientist who Discovered Twins Black Holes Dies from Alligator Attack,’ or; ‘Lying-Leah Eaten by Christ-sent Alligators, Thank God.’

Tears formed in my eyes. I wanted to talk to the lake. “I’m sorry, lake. I wish everyone would get lifted up. The twins can take all us humans. We’ve had enough time here. But it should leave you, your water spiders, your mud.”

I tracked mud into my room, and swung down the bucket my mother had used to collect feathers. I put on the VR headset and powered it on. Once it signed me in with a scan of my retina, I was ready to leave Dr. Kelper a hologram memo.

“Dr. Kelper, there is no earthly power that could knock the twins off their course. I’m not going to be available tomorrow morning, or any other morning. I’ll be killing a chicken, or starting a study on pupal butterfly development under nonnormative gravity. I’m ceasing communication and tendering my resignation. Find someone else to steal work from.”

I set the chicken bucket in front me, broke my headset in two, and let the pieces fall.

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: “Personal Void” By Conor McShane -Reposted-

Release Note: This is a re-post of our first story as the first two episodes were not showing in some Podcatchers. Hopefully this will solve the problem as well as treating you to these excellent stories a second time.

Transcript: Our first story is “Personal Void” By Conor McShane. Originally a Michigander, you may recognize his name from performances and staged readings in the Chicagoland area. He also writes reviews of Chicago theatre productions for PerformInk, and publishes literary and pop culture analysis on a couple different blogs. [beat] Some of us may really relate with his great success is (on the third attempt) completing the word count during National Novel Writing Month in 2016.

When the black hole appeared in Aaron’s chest, he didn’t feel much of anything. A tiny burning sensation, like someone touched him with a hot needle, woke him up out of another whiskey-induced sleep. He scratched at it irritably, feeling a small indentation in the center of his sternum. The spot seemed to pull at his fingertip, urging it inward like some strange magnetism. He sat up in bed, his eyes adjusting to the dim half-light of early dawn. He slid his legs up and over the sleeping form of his cat, Reginald, who opened a wary eye at him, setting his feet on the cool wood floor. He padded off to the bathroom, stepping over discarded clothes and beer bottles, and turned on the light.

He stood in front of the mirror, examining the small indentation in his baggy sleep shirt. Taking it off, he felt that pulling sensation again, holding the fabric over the hole like a piece of paper over a drain. He examined the spot in the mirror; it was small, no bigger than a pinky finger, with the skin curled around it in a perfect circle. There was no blood, no flaps of ruined flesh, no sign of trauma at all. Apart from that needling feeling that had awoken him, he felt no pain. The inside of the circle was impossibly dark, seeming to absorb all the light in the glaringly white bathroom. Aaron poked at it warily with his finger, then cautiously inserted it into the hole. Expecting to feel an organ or bit of bone, he was surprised to feel only emptiness. The hole tugged at his finger, as if a hand from inside had curled around it and was gently pulling. Aaron slapped a band aid over it and went back to bed, taking a glug from the bourbon bottle on his nightstand.

When he awoke again, the band aid was gone, and the hole had grown. The indent in his shirt bowed in, bowl-like, over a fist-sized chasm. Aaron cautiously touched at the edges, his heart beating heavily. He got up abruptly and ran to the bathroom, unconcerned by the grumbling of the irritated Reginald, and pulled off his shirt again. The hole stared back at him through the mirror, its immense blackness even more profound. He leaned into the mirror, trying to see inside, but nothing was visible. He went back out to the bedroom and grabbed his phone, turning on its bright white flashlight and returning to the bathroom. He held the light up to the hole, but even then couldn’t see anything. It was as if the light itself were being consumed by the vast darkness.

Aaron set the phone down and inserted his whole hand into the cavern. He felt around, spreading his fingers in all directions, but felt nothing. Where his lungs should be, his heart, his ribcage, it all seemed hollow. He reached further into the cavity until he was in up to his elbow. He expected to feel at least the back of his torso, the bumpy ridge of spine, but there was only more empty space.

Everything told him there was no way this could be happening, but there it was. He slapped himself in case this was some kind of unusually vivid dream, something brought on by the alcohol and the ugly thoughts, but he didn’t wake up.

He leaned on the counter and turned on the tap, hoping a splash of cold water to the face would rouse him. The stream of water from the tap seemed to bow outward, as if drawn to the hollow, before gravity pulled it back to its downward course. Curious, he leaned forward, inching towards the stream, until the water bent at a right angle and drained straight into his chest. As it flowed sideways in defiance of gravity, Aaron again felt nothing.

He could hear his ex-girlfriend’s words in his head. What is wrong with you? There’s a gaping fucking hole in your chest that disobeys the laws of physics. Go see a doctor, for fuck’s sake. But he was never very good at listening to her advice, and besides, the doctors wouldn’t know what to do any more than he did. He opened his medicine cabinet and pulled out an ACE bandage, wrapping it carefully around his torso, and left the bathroom, heading to his closet. He had to be to work pretty soon anyway.

He arrived at work an hour later, a large open-plan office space, rows of long desks with hundreds of computers, each one manned by a different body, all oblivious to their surroundings. He found his work station, identical to the others, and sat down, setting the cup of coffee he’d collected on the table next to him. In a few minutes he was lost in his work, unaware of the way the objects on the desk seemed to move towards him. A pen rolled slowly but determinedly towards his chest, a post-it note stuck to the monitor flapped as if caught in a stiff breeze, and the coffee cup slid towards the edge of the desk. Absently he reached for it, not expecting it to be as close to him as it now was, and the cup tipped forward. The contents, urged by this sudden motion, made a direct line for his chest, passing through his shirt and into the cavern beneath. A warm, wet, perfectly circular stain remained on Aaron’s shirt.

Aaron made it through the rest of the day, returning immediately home and pouring himself a full glass of bourbon. He downed it in one go, then poured himself another. He took off his shirt and unwrapped the bandage, staring down at the blankness in his chest. Had it gotten bigger? As the whiskey began to do its work, a thought came to him. Maybe something useful could come of this. He stood up unsteadily and opened the door to his storage closet. He’d tucked a box of his ex’s things in here a couple months ago. She hadn’t reached out to ask for them back, and he didn’t expect that she would. He pulled out the box and opened it. It was all odds and ends, things she probably forgot existed. Taking a big swig of whiskey, he began to pull things out of the box and, one by one, feed them into the chasm. It accepted everything readily. After the box was completely emptied, Aaron stumbled into his bedroom and fell on the bed, passed out. He didn’t awake until early the following morning, when he was startled by an immediate, pressing suffocating feeling, as if his clothes and blankets were trying to squeeze the life out of him. His shirt was stretched taught across his back and shoulders, the excess fabric pulled into the yawning crater, which now reached from his collarbone to the bottom of where his rib cage should have been. The blankets and sheets were piled up on top of him, and Reginald lay atop the pile at an odd angle, letting out a low and lengthy growl. Aaron pushed the fabric off of him, surprised at the effort it took, and ran into the bathroom. He clawed at his

shirt, finally tearing it away from him, and stared wide-eyed into the hole. It kept its perfect circular shape, its immense, all consuming darkness, which now engulfed his whole chest. He stared into it, breathing hard, his head swimming with a delirious mix of adrenaline, sleep, and the last vestiges of the whiskey.

All at once, the objects on the bathroom counter began to slip the grip of gravity and fly directly into the pit. First the toothbrush holder, then the soap dispenser, disappeared in the blackness. Then the medicine cabinet door flew open and its contents bombarded him: a pack of dental floss, a three-bladed razor, a bottle of Vicodin left over from an old injury that he’d been saving for a special occasion. As each item disappeared forever into the abyss, Aaron felt his fear being replaced with a numbness, a weary acceptance. Nothing he could do would fill it, it would continue to grow, continue to consume, until there was nothing left of him. It even seemed to exert its force on him, pulling his shoulders down and curving his spine inward, as if he could fold into himself and disappear. He was starting to hope that he would.

He stepped out of the bathroom and into the bedroom, his shirt still on the counter. Everything in his cramped room seemed to lean towards him, and small objects hurled themselves at him: keys, papers, beer bottles, socks, a 4 by 5 photo of him and his ex, all disappeared into the void. Aaron accepted it all with resignation, spreading his hands wide like a wizard bestowing life on the inanimate objects around him. He walked around the room, hoovering up anything that wasn’t nailed down. He opened his closet, and the clothes tore themselves from their hangers. He barely even reacted as the comforter lifted off the bed and funnelled into his chest, bringing the terrified Reginald with it. Aaron grabbed for him, but he wasn’t quick enough, and Reginald slipped into the darkness along with everything else.

Before long, the room was practically bare, the only things left were too big or too heavy to be pulled in. Aaron stood in the middle of the devastation, looking blankly at the room where he had spent so many nights, all evidence of his loneliness, his self-loathing, pulled like a tractor beam into nothingness. The realization gave him some comfort; when it was all over, when the void overtook him completely, there would be nothing left behind. Slowly, he walked out into the living room, not flinching as things flew at him from their resting places, and went straight out the front door, down the stairs, and onto the sidewalk.

It was early morning, and the world was just starting to wake. A few people were shuffling down the street, either heading to work for the early shift or returning home from the late shift. He stood on the sidewalk watching the life passing by, feeling even the air and the growing sunlight itself pouring into his chest. A garbage truck passed by, its exhaust pipe billowing smoke, which turned its course downward and flowed into him. A woman was jogging up the street, her ponytail swaying back and forth, and the gravity in his chest pulled her into him at she passed.

“Watch it, asshole!” she shouted, jogging on. He walked down the sidewalk, away from his ruined apartment, his arms outstretched, the trash on the street rising up to join him, the only sensation the cool tingle of the morning air as it rushed into him, disappearing forever.

Ben McCauley is a Chicago based writer, actor and improvisor. He is a contributing writer and performer with Starlight Radio Dreams, recorded live at Mrs. Murphy and Son’s Irish Bistro and available wherever fine podcasts are downloaded.

Gateways: Desperate Times by Cassandra Rose

Content Note: This episode features characters struggling with AIDS and death. If you are sensitive to these topics, this might be a good episode to skip or to listen to with support.

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Cassandra Rose. This bisexual playwright has had over 300 of her plays performed in Chicago and beyond. Her longer plays include The Amen Trilogy, The Battle of Charlottesville, Billy to his Friends, and The Volunteer. She earned her BA in playwriting from Columbia College Chicago, and she is a Tutterow Fellow Alumna. This fall she will start in UCLA’s Professional Program in Writing for Television. She tells us “My work is upsettling, mythic, and queer. Let’s get weird.” This is “Desperate Times”.

His hand was so small in mine. Taking up barely any space at all. In fact, his whole body seemed to barely make an indent in the hospital bed he was occupying. The nurse had warned me not to get too close to Robbie, as they still couldn’t figure out how or why he had gotten sick. But certain things were worth the risk. I took his hand with both of mine. This caused him to stir a little, and finally open his eyes.
“Marilyn,” he whispered. Half a question, have a statement.
“Yeah,” I replied. “It’s me. I’m here, Robbie.”
I heard someone shift in a nearby bed. The someone was obscured by a curtain, but even so I could tell they were alone. The ward was completely full of similar beds filled with similarly dying skeletons. Most of the other skeletons were alone at this point. Either because they had been disowned by their families, or because they were the last ones left of their tribe. I made a mental note to raise my voice slightly, so that the others could better eavesdrop.
“I’m going to miss you,” Robbie rasped.
“Don’t you go soft on me now,” I mocked back. I squeezed his hand, but didn’t get a squeeze back. Instead all I got back was his glassy stare.
“Promise me that you’ll be all right without me?”
“I promise,” I nodded, which instantly sent tears careening down my cheeks.
“No. I mean it. Promise me that’ll you’re going to be all right.” Robbie tried to take a deep breath in, but the liquid in his lungs was making that almost impossible now. “I worry about you, Marilyn. I worry about what will happen to you when I’m gone.”
“Well,” I replied, “If you’re so worried, then maybe you should stick around a little while longer. I mean. Have you thought about not dying?” Robbie smiled at me one last time. “Time is the best medicine, Marilyn.”

And just like that Robbie was gone. It was so quiet, so simple, his leaving. Just a slight drifting of the eyes as a sudden feeling of emptiness filled the room. I couldn’t move. I just kept clinging to his hollow hand. I knew a nurse would be along shortly to chide me. I wondered how much I would have to pay her to get Robbie out of the hospital. I’d heard about people in other hospitals being told by funeral homes that they couldn’t take their loved ones without a death certificate, and that the hospital refused to print a death certificate without a cause of death. But I needn’t have worried. For just earlier that week, the medical community had finally settled on a name for the mystery disease that was killing young men in droves all across the city: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
Time is the best medicine, Marilyn.
Fuck that. Fuck them. Robbie was dead. He wasn’t the first, but maybe with my help he could be the last. Let’s build a time machine instead.

Time travel isn’t really as difficult as everyone makes it out to be. Everyone spends so much time worrying about where they’d like to go with it that they forget about what the real problem is. How to break down an object into its atomic structure to transmogrify it to a different place entirely. The simpler the item you wanted to transport, the better. One or two misplaced cells in a living creature could very easily turn them into a dead creature. But if you were to, say, transmit something that was already dead, that didn’t take up that much space at all, and that relied on no internal mechanisms, then there would be significantly less room for error. And after all, I didn’t need to transport myself forwards and backwards. All I really needed was a list of instructions from the future on how to create a cure myself. Yes. I didn’t need a mode of transportation as much as I needed a telegram. I did the remaining calculations in my head as I snagged the toaster from the kitchen countertop and into my bedroom for me to tinker with for the rest of the night.

“Is this why you weren’t at the funeral today?”
I awoke with a start. I looked around my workshop, bleary-eyes and bedraggled, trying to find the source of the noise. I finally found Charlie, standing just a few paces away, dangerously close to touching one of the circuit boards I had been working on all week. I carefully snatched it away from under his nose. “I was busy.”
“Robbie would have wanted you to be there, Marilyn.”
“He probably would have preferred not dying at all.”
This gave Charlie pause. Charlie loved to pause. It was how he distinguished himself from the rest of our boisterous group of New York ne’er-do-wells. While most of us reveled in our biting wit and shining repartee while we were pressed up against each other in the corner booth at the back of the bar, Charlie could bring a queen to her knees with a well placed pause and a shared glance. Now he was sitting down next to me and putting his hand on my shoulder.
“Come on, Marilyn.” He paused again as he noticed the electrodes splayed before me on my desk. “You’ve had your fun, but I think it’s time to move on to something else.”
“Fun?” I echoed back as I stood up. I wobbled slightly in the process. Clearly I was a little more exhausted than I was giving myself credit for. “You think this is fun? Watching Robbie die was fun? Attending four funerals last month was fun? Well I’m done with fun. I’d rather do something real. I’m trying to do something real here, Charlie!”
“What, kill yourself?”
I blinked. Charlie continued. “When was the last time you went outside? Or showered?
Or ate something?”
“I’ll eat something when I’m done,” I mumbled.
“Which will be when?” Charlie asked, crossing his arms.
“Hopefully before you die too.”
Charlie paused for the longest time I’d ever seen him pause. Then he nodded. He stood back up. He looked at me once more, a shining glance that was growing dim around the edges.
“Let me know when you succeed.”
And then I was alone again.

It was almost four AM when I completed the machine. My hands were shaking slightly, which I chalked up to exhaustion and hunger more than the nerves. If I did this right, then we’d all finally get to sleep. No more waking up in the middle of the night to frantic phone calls detailing another part of the gang who was gone too soon. When I’d first met Robbie and Charlie and the rest of the gang, they had all thought I was such a novelty. “Look honeys!” Robbie had proclaimed. “Guess who went and got herself a real-life dyke. You simply must check her out. They’re all the rage right now…” Now I was becoming a novelty for an entirely different reason.
As the designated survivor.
All I needed now was paper and a pen. I grabbed the nearest clean sheet and thought hard about what to put down. I’d set the time machine to 50 years in the future. They should have a cure by then, I thought. And unlike H.G. Welles, I wouldn’t have to worry about the future being full of strange humanoids that no longer spoke our language, let alone knew how to respond to a letter. I began to write.

To whom it may concern,
You probably don’t know me, but I need your help. In my time, there is a disease called AIDS that is currently running rampant. If you have a moment, could you take a moment to look up how to treat and/or cure this disease? My friends are counting on you.
Sincerely, Marilyn Krazinsky
PS: No need to rush! The more complete your answer, the better. No matter when you feed your answer into the machine, the answer will immediately appear on my end.

Having finished the letter, I folded it cleanly and placed it into the top of the toaster. I pressed the level down, and it immediately began to hum and shake. I watched my invention mambo across my desk for a few moments until it finally stopped. Out popped another piece of paper from the other toaster slot. Gingerly, I opened the letter to see what it said.

Dearest Marilyn,
I wish I could give you what you ask for. But I’m afraid I cannot. You’ll understand better when you are my age.
Sincerely, Marilyn Krinsky
PS: Please go and visit Robbie’s grave. The sooner the better.

“It’s a nice spot. Robbie would have liked it.” Charlie nodded next to me. How long he’d already been at Robbie’s grave, I don’t know. I looked down at the cane Charlie was now leaning on, but I didn’t say anything.
“Did you do it? Did you succeed at your mission?”
I shook my head no. “I tried,” I said.
“I know you did.” Charlie took my hand in his. It was warm and strong and held me just
so. We simply stood there, pausing together, for as long as we could

Kat evans has been acting in Chicago since 2006. She has worked with :City Lit, Black Button Eyes, Promethean, Savoyaires and the Hypocrites. She also lends her voice to the podcasts Our Fair City, Starlight Radio Dreams and Toxic Bag

Gateways: The Circle of Least Confusion by Leigh Hellman

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Leigh Hellman. Leigh is a queer/asexual and genderqueer writer originally from the western suburbs of Chicago. They are 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 my 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 first novel, Orbit, is a new adult sci-fi story now available through Snowy Wings Publishing. They also have a historical fantasy piece included in the SWP anthology, Magic at Midnight. This is “The Circle of Least Confusion”.

“You sure?” Hyungbae’s hands—fingers thick and lined with nicks and slices that’d long since scarred over—twitched at the strap buckles. “That it has to be like This?”

He wasn’t looking Frances in the eye, wasn’t asking them because he already knew the answer. The room was stuffy and damp, naked concrete slabs prickled with sweat like slices of microwaved meat gone cold on a counter. No windows, no barriers, nothing extraneous left to get in their way. Just Hyungbae and his team, dripping through their thin shirts against the hot whir of the machine.

The one door in the whole place creaked open, then lurched shut. Hyungbae glanced up at it. Frances watched a drop trail down from his hairline; it curved around his eyebrows and under his glasses and ran smooth down a bare, blotchy cheek until it hooked under his jaw and disappeared.

Frances reached up and secured the double-latches at their shoulders themself.

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

Then it was a snap-surge of heat and light—a million flashbulbs exploding in a broom closet—that caught Frances by the throat and ripped them out of time.

It’d been raining that day, Frances remembered. Muggy like lukewarm cream-of- something soup and it’d left the world soggy in its wake. They’d brought an umbrella—stamped with some corporate brand they’d collected from a forgotten promotional event—but the rain sheared off it. No wind, no breeze. Just wet and muck, like waddling through the bottom of a marshy lake.

They hadn’t meant to be there. They’d missed their first bus and stuffed their way onto the next one, already behind on where they were supposed to be. They couldn’t hear the driver, couldn’t make out the pitchy automated voice that kept a polite tally of their stops. Thought it was Schiller but actually it was Schubert and by the time they’d elbowed their way off it was too late.

The rain seemed heavier this time around, like it’d been compressed in the time stretch. Everything smelled fresh and sour all at once; Frances ducked under the faded awning of a closed cafe to get out of the storm.

No umbrella this time. Frances shook themself off like an under-groomed dog. Damn.

Not that it’d matter if they were soaked. That’d probably make it easier, in the End.

A bus was coming—would be there soon—and they had to beat it.

The park wasn’t even really a park, more like an overgrown corner where the prairie had wheedled its way back up through cracks in the cement sidewalks. Frances wondered if it was crowded, usually—especially on shiny summer days when the schools were off and the trees blotted out the harshest slats of sunlight. Maybe it was filled with noise then: gleeful shrieks and barks and music and laughs, bodies running and chasing and falling and getting up again. They’d come back once—the two of them—on another rainy day when the October air found its bite, and maybe Frances had asked then, too.

Maybe it always rains here, Frances had joked while curling their fingers Together.

Maybe it just rains for us, she’d poked back with a loose, fluttering smile.

Frances shook themself again, full-body from neck to ankles and out through their knuckles. It didn’t matter, didn’t change anything. Time—the past, the future, the in-between and back again—wasn’t some cancerous corpse laid out for excisions and extractions; it was a graphite slate coated in chalk smudges, illegible but still there. The dusts of memory wafting up into the sinuses to make sure you don’t forget, even after you don’t remember.

It’s gotta be like this, Frances wiped the rain from their eyes. There’s no other Way.

They circled the block, ignored the stares and tried not to come off as reportably suspicious. Ticked off the details—date, time, location—and choked down the panic that someone had hit the wrong key somewhere along the way. Maybe this wasn’t the right day—hell, maybe this wasn’t the right year. Maybe the software was buggy or the algorithms had typos or maybe it was just a fluke, just a one-in-a-trillion bad shot,


Oh, never mind. There she was.


Sandrine? Frances had sounded it out the first time, like chewing through a pine Cone.

It’s French, she’d said, tucking a few curly sprigs into her silk head wrap. We speak French in Haiti too, you know.

Frances hadn’t known, but didn’t let that stop them.

It was a different head wrap today—thicker like cotton and patterned in neon paisley swirls—and Frances couldn’t remember it. Probably hadn’t really been paying attention to it then, because why would they? You don’t know what’s gonna matter until it all matters.

They remembered the greasy puddles, the potted flowers wilting in the humidity, the lone bike rider cutting between bumpers on the slick asphalt like they had nothing left to lose. They remembered the cling of wet fabric against Sandrine’s arms, the splotches of mascara around her eyes, the slap of their own plastic sandals as they darted out to catch her before she fell.

But most of all, Frances remembered the way Sandrine looked after. Staring at their hand around her wrist like it was some clever vine abracadabra-ed to life. Blinking up with bright, sharp eyes that hit Frances like a sock full of silver dollars. It was over already—Frances knew that in the rewind—then and there.

Folks that say things like to say: it only takes an instant. Maybe that’s true; but it’s all the rest of the instants that prove it. Sandrine and Frances had had a lot of them—a lifetime of instants, short as it was—but it still wasn’t enough. It still ended, crashed and burned or sputtered out or got hacked off by the world’s meat cleaver. Ended and there was no going back.

Only there was.

She was close now. A few more strides and they’d crash into each other, thirty seconds and thirty feet too soon. Frances could hear the bus brakes squeal as it veered towards the curb.

They angled their shoulders like they were going to slip past her, then jutted out at the last second. It surprised Sandrine—threw her off balance and spun her around so her back was to the street.

“What the hell?” she shouted over the rain and it landed like a slap across Frances’ face.

Frances swallowed back an apology; it went down bitter. They wanted to spin around and spew out all the apologies they’d never said for all the mistakes they’d never admit to, take back all the lies they’d thought wouldn’t matter, fill up all the silences they’d let spool out because they thought it’d be for the best. But time wasn’t like that.

No other way.

So Frances turned—to hurl an insult or scoff or do something else that would seal this bad second-first impression—but missed the railing around the little garden instead. Their legs tangled in the chains and the rest of their body followed; they landed sprawled out in a bed of bent coneflowers.

“Oh no!” It was a soft lament for the plants, who hadn’t done anything to deserve this, out of Frances’ mouth before they could stop it. That was one mistake. The other was looking up, hearing the sound and following it to Sandrine’s lips as they spread out into a giggling smile.

Behind her, the bus lurched and another Frances tumbled out of the exit doors. They fumbled a bit, like there was something they were supposed to be waiting for, but Sandrine wasn’t there to be caught. After a couple of bewildered turns the other Frances started trudging away to the next stop, sandals flapping heavy as they went.

“Are you okay?” Sandrine offered a firm hand. 

Eyes—sharp and bright—blinked down at Frances.

Damn, they ground their molars and hissed through their front teeth. Damn, damn, damn.

Frances double-tapped the screen on their wrist navigator and it all jerked silent and still. Or rather, still enough at this time speed. Like a shutter run backwards from its quickest exposure; so fast that it was slow again.

“Objective unsuccessful.” Frances’ mouth felt like it was full of syrup, but they chewed out each syllable crisp and clear. “Reset and wind back, two minutes before the last stretch.”

The stillness sucked away and everything reeled impossibly forward and Frances was gone—already days and years and ages on—but somehow they could still feel

Sandrine’s gaze crackling in their bones.

Frances landed feet-first on the other side of the lab door, dry as a stale loaf of bread. It took a minute for the force to drain from their skin, but once it did they punched in the security code and waited for the buzz-in.

The room was stuffy and damp—too many bodies in a windowless space—and Hyungbae glanced up as the door creaked open.

“You sure?” Sweat collected in his beard, clung to it like rain on the edges of leaves. “That it has to be like this?”

Frances sighed, sat down and strapped themself in. “Yeah, I’m sure.”


Rob Southgate is the co-founder of Southgate Media Group, home to over 100 podcasts, blogs, and video channels.  He 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 that is self-published, 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 SMG as a creative outlet and a way to incorporate all of their interests and their past experiences. If you think Rob has a lot going on, ask him about his amazing daughter, Molly. Rob is an entrepreneur with two Bachelors degrees in business and an MBA in Marketing.