Monthly Archives: September 2019

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: “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: 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. 

Gateways: Just Once More by

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Mike Danovitch. Mike’s other works have been seen at Chicago Theatre Marathon, Ghostlight Ensemble Theatre, and Gorilla Tango Theater. As an actor, he has performed around Chicago with Otherworld Theatre Company, Brown Paper Box Co, Apollo Theater, First Folio Theater, Theatre at the Center, and Kokandy Productions. He is a proud graduate of Columbia College Chicago. This is “Just Once More”.

I lean over her sleeping body. Perfect; how does she always look so perfect? I’m sure if she ever watched me while I slept, I would have had hair sticking out of my mouth, tank top
dangling off one shoulder, with seventeen pillows between my legs. But her, she’s always been perfect. She stirs. “Good morning, love,” I say. Mumbling something incoherent, I’ve never understood it, she kisses my cheek and heads down the hallway – her usual routine. The smell of caffeine wafts back into the bedroom. I want to lay down and sleep forever, but I can’t. Not Today.
She yells from the kitchen. “Karen, would you like some breakfast?” Dragging myself off the bed, I stumble down the hall. A large mug is waiting for me; I don’t even hear the sizzling of
the bacon in the pan, I’m too busy sucking down coffee. Pop! She quickly recoils her hand away from the stovetop. Rolling my eyes, “I tell you to wear gloves but—” She smiles. “I never
listen…I know.” Her smile wins me over every single time. The bacon has burned, but it smells amazing. She was never a great cook, but between the two of us, she was Bobby Flay. She steals
a piece directly from the pan and places it gently between her teeth. I take a bite when she offers me some, but I’m not hungry. The coffee will do for now.
Victoria grabs my mug and begins to clean up after breakfast. I try to tell her that it can wait until tomorrow, but she never listens. Once she has made up her mind, there’s no convincing her otherwise. Might as well let her do it; it’ll be faster that way. I swear, she never sat still. Still, I could watch her for hours. She’s got the television on. She always has the television on. “For background noise,” she always says, but I know it’s because she never liked to be alone with her thoughts. To her, silence was the worst. There’s a commercial playing that I can barely hear. “Small enough to fit in your pocket. Take it on the go and see the world.” I don’t think I’ve ever caught that before. Ugh, she’s using the disgusting sponge that’s been in the sink for weeks. I should have changed it.
“Karen, are you listening?” Of course not, I never am. I’m always thinking about her standing there, washing those damn dishes. “Of course, I was.” I lie. “Well? Any ideas?” Even when I’m being rude, she never leans into it. She’s so pure; I never deserved her. “No, that all sounds good, Vickie. I’m good for doing whatever you like.” Stupid, stupid me. I never call her Vickie; she doesn’t like that. I see it in her face: the pain. The struggle. Trying not to correct me, but she knows better. Her mother caused this, always calling her Vickie never Victoria. It slipped out, but the damage has already been done. I’ll remember to not do that again. “Karen, I love you, but I can tell when you’re not listening.” I gently take her soapy hands into mine and gaze into those beautiful, brown eyes. “I’m sorry. I spaced out for a moment, but I promise that I’m entirely focused on you. Whatever you would like to do today; I am yours.” She smiles and she’s won me over again. “Good; you’re driving.” She’s already rushed to the bedroom to change before I can respond.
Top down, radio drowning out the sounds of the Corvette’s engine, we drive toward the coast. I meant to take the car in to get it looked at, but never took the time. It always ran well enough, so it wasn’t a problem, even if the engine shook like a baby’s rattle on amphetamines. I glance over at Victoria, singing along to the radio. Some classic from the 80’s I don’t know the lyrics to. I was never able to hold a pitch, but hers is the voice of an angel. I can barely hear her voice over the engine, but I know she’s singing every word. She begs me to join in, but I never do. I’d rather watch. Hanging her head outside the car like a dog, belting as loud as she can, I think about the times we talked about getting a pet. She begged and pleaded, but I was adamant. Even picked out the most adorable puppy she found on some rescue’s website: this giant, fuzzball German Shepherd mix named Mary Puppins. Stupid cute dog. It’s one of the few times I was ever able to say no to her. Maybe if I had only given in and allowed her to adopt one.
We’ve reached our destination: the beach. Our favorite parking spot is open; I know this route so well by now. Shift the gear into Park, put the top back up, leave the windows cracked a bit (don’t want it to get too warm in there), grab the bag from the trunk, actions so routine that I don’t even think about them; I still watch her as she practically skips down the walkway leading toward the sea. She’s in her element. Pisces. Loves the water. If mermaids were real, she would have left me a long time ago and spent her life searching for Atlantis. By the time I get down to the shore, she’s already in the water, neck deep. I’m not one for taking a dip, but today isn’t about me. I drop our stuff down, take of my shirt, and wade into the water. Cold. So cold. It’s nearly one hundred degrees out; how is it always this cold? I only get up to my thighs before I start to head back to the comfort of warm, dry land. Give me a soft towel, some sunscreen, and a good book and I’ll lay on the beach all day; she can have the water if I can have the earth. Finally done swimming, she starts to head back in my direction and I swear it’s just like ascene from that one James Bond film. She’s Ursula Andress looking like a sea goddess with water flowing off her body. I’m Sean Connery: broad-shouldered, wearing my baby blue swimsuit, mouth agape at a loss for words. I weakly hand her a towel so that she can dry off. In a few moments, a man selling lemonade will walk by and I can quench my thirst. I order two and we sit on the sand, staring out into the ocean. A plane whizzes by overhead dragging an advertisement behind it: “ChronoMax: Only the best!” I always found those ads kind of tacky, attempting to catch people at the beach, but now…
It’s getting later in the day and we need to keep moving. I pack our stuff in the car and coerce her to leave the beach. She’s adamant about wanting to stay, but I promise that we can come back tomorrow. I don’t mean to lie to her. Technically, I’m not, but she doesn’t have to know that. I drive away. Immediately she can tell that we’re not going home. We’re taking a detour to her favorite restaurant. When someone mentions their favorite restaurant, what do you imagine? Five-star cuisine? The finest cuisine known to man that costs as much as the mortgage on your house?
That was never Victoria’s style. We turn the corner and I see her shift in her seat. She’s ecstatic.
The neon sign illuminates the entire street: Minnie’s Diner. Before I can park the car in the tiny parking lot out front, she’s scrambling to get out. Imagine the gaudiest 50’s era diner, complete
with servers that do not want to be there and greasy food that will clog your body up for days – that’s Minnie’s Diner. I’m convinced the Health Department gave up years ago on making sure this place was edible, but Victoria doesn’t care. For her, it’s paradise. We grab a booth by one of the front windows and she doesn’t even have to grab a menu; she always orders the same thing: two eggs over-easy, sausage, three pancakes (heavy on the syrup), milk, and orange juice. I’ve never understood wanting breakfast for dinner, always seemed weird to me. I also never knew how she could fit so much food into her body. I can barely finish the cheeseburger I ordered; then again, I’m still not hungry. I check my watch and see that it’s nearly 9:15. It’s almost time. I turn my gaze toward the lights on the street. This is the hardest part. I’m not ready.
We’re in the parking lot heading back to the car when it hits. Victoria clutches her chest, falling to the ground. Time slows to a crawl. I can’t move. Someone inside the Diner rushes out to check on her. They yell something at me, but I don’t hear it. I’m focusing on the sirens echoing in the background. I’ve watched this scene play out countless times. The ambulance arriving. Taking her away. Speeding to the hospital. Holding her hand the entire time. Watching as they cannot save her. Hearing that monitor and its deafening tone. It’s her heart, they tell me. It simply puttered out. Something else her mother gave her. I hate that woman with every fiber in my being, but right now, it doesn’t matter. She never makes it past 9:30. The ambulance takes her away to the hospital again, but this time I’m not with her. I stand in the parking lot alone. I can’t stomach watching her die over and over, knowing I can’t change a thing.
I collect myself and take out the small, silver tablet from my pocket. Etched on the back in weird, block lettering is a name: ChronoMax. I laughed the first time I saw one. I couldn’t imagine wanting to revisit the past twenty-four hours, but now I could never imagine being without her. There was a rumor once that the technology would get better, but I guess I’ll never find out. I revisit this day over and over, spending the best and worst day of our lives together. It’s better than the alternative. I power on the tablet, take a deep breath, and hit the button.
I’m back in our bedroom, sitting over her sleeping body. Perfect; how does she always look perfect? She stirs. I whisper, “Good morning, love.” Mumbling something incoherent, she kisses my cheek and heads down the hall. I watch her leave and my heart is full. Someone a long time ago once said: “Time heals all wounds.” But I just don’t have the time. I’d much rather spend an eternity here.

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: Dear Alex by Alex B Reynolds

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Alex B Reynolds. After majoring in television writing and producing at Columbia College, they have worked primarily with New Millennium Theatre Company on parodies and pop-culture mashups, in addition to a Halloween-themed burlesque show for the Flaming Dames LLC. Most recently, Alex had a reading of a fantasy one-act called NPCs at Otherworld Theatre’s Paragon festival. Alex tells us they have a strong penchant for satire and comedy. They’re the only things Alex takes seriously. This story is called, “Dear Alex”

Every year on my birthday, I write my future self a birthday card. I started doing it as a teenager: “Dear 15-year-old Alex: I hope high school is going great. Are you still into Final Fantasy? I hope David and Brandon leave you alone this year, and I hope that you’re still close with Megan and Phil. Happy Birthday! From, 14-year-old Alex.” It was cute. Every card was like a photograph of who I was when I wrote it: “Dear 17-year-old Alex: I’m so jealous that you’re only two months away from seeing The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Just in case no one else says it today, you are super cool, and I hope you have a happy birthday. Cheers; 16-year-old Alex.” It was a form of self-care. It forced me to be nice to myself, if only for the length of a card. “Happy birthday, 20-year-old Alex! Wow, 20. Two decades. Your teens were an awesome adventure, and you should be proud of all you’ve been through. I wish you the very best this year. 19-year-old Alex.”

At first, I tucked the card away in my closet and dug it out on my next birthday. Then I started mailing them. They would always come back a week later, so I still had to tuck them away for almost a year. But I liked the ritual of sealing, addressing and stamping the envelope and taking it to the mailbox. I made more of an effort for myself that way, and that made it more special. Before long, I started putting money in the cards like I was my own grandmother. “Hey, 24-year-old Alex. Happy Birthday. I hope you’re well, and I hope Lost had a great ending. Anyway, I can only assume you found a better job by now, but even so, here’s $20. I hope it helps. Love, 23-year-old Alex.” That was the one. The card I wrote when I was 23. That was the first one that got a reply.

A week after my 23rd birthday, I got a card in the mail. It wasn’t my card to my future self; the envelope was different. I thought it was just a late arrival from a relative, but then I read it: “Dear 23-year-old Alex: Don’t get your hopes up about Lost. The Constant will always be the best episode.Thank you for the $20. I do have a better job than you (barely) but I also have a prescription for Zoloft, so, there’s that. Anyway, happy belated birthday; Love, 24-year-old Alex.” It had to be a joke. The mail carrier read my card and decided to mess with me. But why? We barely knew each other. More importantly, the card was in my handwriting. Was this really from future Alex? Was I going to crack time travel this year? Was I living the movie The Lake House as both
Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves?

For months, I was obsessed with the card. My family didn’t understand. My friends thought I was playing a prank. I became isolated. I was too distracted at work and was fired. Thankfully, a friend hooked me up at a company with health benefits – a better job, like the card said. But it meant that I could finally afford a therapist. After a quick recap of childhood trauma, I told them all about the birthday card from the future. I asked what I should do with it – should I try to mail it back to the past? Would that create a paradox, or would sending a new one create the paradox? I was diagnosed with anxiety. I got a prescription for Zoloft. And to top it all off, the last season of Lost wasn’t all that great. Everything in the card had come true. But how did it happen? I certainly
didn’t crack time travel at 23 – I was a poor art school graduate. I just assumed that someone else in 2010 was going to open a portal or a doorway to the past where people can throw birthday cards to themselves, but no. No portal. No doorway. No explanation for any of it. So, I took my Zoloft. I went to work. I started dating someone. And when my 24th birthday came around, I did what I always do: I wrote a birthday card to my future self.

“Happy Birthday, 25-year-old Alex! Congratulations on a quarter-century. I hope you figured out the mystery of the time traveling card by now and got the chance to clear your head. Are you still dating Kris? I hope that’s going well. And listen. Just in case you do write back, can you share some winning lottery numbers with me or something? I still sleep on a futon. Also, here’s $20. Love, 24-year-old Alex.” I put the card in the envelope. I addressed it, stamped it, and put it in the mailbox, exactly like the year before. Every day, I ran to see if a reply came. I waded through stacks of bills, credit card offers, insurance offers, ALDI coupons, and student loan overdue payment notices. Finally, exactly one week after my birthday, an envelope arrived with my Handwriting: “Dear 24-year-old Alex: Don’t get your hopes up about Kris. Thank you as always for the $20. I really need the money right now. And don’t knock the futon, it’s still in great shape. Anyway, I hope you had a happy birthday. Make good choices. Best Wishes, 25-year-old Alex. P.S. The winning numbers are 6 10 28 33 67 14.”

I checked the other side of the card. I checked the back of the card. I checked inside the envelope again. Nowhere did it say when those numbers would be pulled, or for which Lottery game they were. Was I just being a smartass with me? Or was I actually trying to stop myself from “really needing” $20 in a year? I decided to give myself the benefit of the doubt and checked the paper: Mega Millions drawing tonight, PowerBall tomorrow, State Lotto the next day. Maybe this was my birthday present to me. I ran to the corner store and bought tickets for all three games using the numbers from the future. By the end of the week, I had lost three times. Future me was taunting myself. Well, I wasn’t going to let a birthday card from the future ruin my life a second time. This time, I was going to make sure that nothing in the card came true. I moved in with Kris, cementing our commitment and cutting my rent in half. We shared a bed, so I gave the futon to my little sister to take to college. I sabotaged everything that card said – except for the lottery. Every week, I still played the numbers. Every week, I lost. I started playing in different states, too. Before long, I spent half the week in the car. I played the numbers in Minnesota, I played the numbers in Idaho, I played the numbers in New York, and I just kept losing. Kris wanted us to spend more time together, but I couldn’t really explain why that wasn’t an option. Between work and playing the lottery all over the country, I had little time for anything else. We broke up. I was kicked out. My rent doubled in a studio apartment with no furniture. Worst of all, the cost of gas and lottery tickets took its toll. By my 25th birthday, I was $10,000 in debt. But my little sister bought a bed, so she gave my futon back. Everything from the birthday card came true. Again.

“Dear 26-year-old alternate dimension time-witch Alex: Winning numbers our ass! My heart is in pieces, I’m worse than broke, and I’m more alone than ever because of you. Us. Whatever. I don’t see how things can get much worse. Help me out. Help yourself out. Tell me who wins the Superbowl. Warn me about an impending tragedy. Don’t just shoot the shit with me about Dexter. We can get it right this time. I really, really hope you’re having a good birthday. Warmest regards, 25-year-old Alex.”

Envelope. Address. Stamp. Mailbox. I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep. I waited. I didn’t want to do a thing until I knew what my future self had to tell me. This time, we would get it right. This time, we would change everything. But a week went by, and nothing came. Two weeks went by, and still nothing. A month after my birthday, it was pretty obvious I wasn’t getting a reply. Maybe the whole thing was a joke after all. Or, maybe, 26-year-old Alex didn’t write a reply because there was no 26-year-old Alex. Everything started getting worse after that first card, so maybe this was the year it all came to a head. This was the year I was finally electrocuted or hit by a bus or poisoned in a gas leak. Why else wouldn’t I write back? Only one thing was certain: something terrible was going to happen to me. For six months, I only left my apartment to go to work. I wore a
bike helmet everywhere. I didn’t talk to anyone. They shut off my power. It didn’t matter. I was ever vigilant against the thousand ways I could die every day. Then, on my half birthday, the flood of bills and overdue notices was interrupted by an envelope – with my handwriting. My heart nearly exploded as I tore it open like a starving opossum and read the card inside:

“Dear 25-year-old Alex: Don’t get your hopes up about Dexter. Anyway, happy belated birthday. I would have written sooner, but I’ve been pretty busy. As for the Superbowl, I’m sorry, but I don’t really follow sports. Love, 26-year-old Alex.” And that was it. It was the most casual, boring, least helpful birthday card from the future yet. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in all my life. It snapped me back to reality. I had spent three years so obsessed with what was going to happen that I completely ignored what was actually happening. I lost my job, my friends, my relationship, way too much money, and – very nearly – my own sanity. I spent the next three years working harder than ever just to recover from all the damage I caused myself. It took that long to buy another birthday card. So, if you take anything away from all of this, let it be to just live your life. The more you try to control the future, the less you’re going to enjoy it when it gets here. Anyway, I hope you get this card. I hope it makes a difference. And here’s $20. I hope it helps. Happy 10th birthday, Alex. Love, 30-year-old Alex.

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: The Gift of the Nephil by Terry Galvan

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Terry Galvan.They have been writing SFF “on the side” for 18 years, including a fantasy trilogy and many short stories. After some years in academia, a Fulbright grant, and a corporate job, they decided to pursue SFF writing professionally. Terry has been a monthly flash fiction contributor to Unreal Chicago since 2016, and most recently appeared at Volumes Bookcafe’s reading series Deep Dish and Meekling Press’ showcase “How to Not”. SFF is Terry’s “natural element” and most of their work centers on intersectional feminism. Their protagonists are the mothers, midwives, curanderas, and priestesses often taken for granted in the genre; their plots follow the complex decisions they make as they create, negotiate, and dismantle power systems, magical or otherwise. This is The Gift of the Nephil

“So, how long til you can fight again?”
The angel looked down at the wispy remnants of his body suspended in the asphodel bath. The pink liquid smelled pleasantly of hydrangea and juniper as it lapped at his cells knitting themselves back together. Reconstitution was a long and painful process; each atom dragged against time and gravity and he called them back one by one.

“Oh, seven years, give or take,” he told his son, who peered over the side of the sarcophagus-shaped tank.
“Seven years!” his son exclaimed.
“Oh come now. That’ll give you plenty of time to study, and to train—”
“But what about Mom?”
The angel shifted the feathery outline of a wing in the bath. “Your mother…will be fine. As she always has been.”
“But Dad! The demons! We were still there fighting when you—the demons got her, Dad!We have to go back for her!”

The angel shuddered. Yes, the woman he loved—illicitly loved—would suffer, and it was his fault. He had ill-advisedly taken his family with him on his most recent mission, to retrieve
some long-lost relics from a mountain tomb, when a horde of demons ambushed them. Seven well-aimed thrusts of their black adamantine blades was too much for the angel to sustain, and
the particles of his consciousness hurtled to opposite ends of the realm. It left him just enough energy to whisk his son to their home, but not enough for his mortal wife. His son’s brow furrowed. “Why don’t I just—“
“Absolutely not!” The angel’s voice boomed with Heavenly authority. “If you use your powers again, they’ll know you’re nephilim for sure. They’ll find you, and they’ll kill you.”
Heaven feared nephilim more than Satan himself. The illegitimate offspring of humans and angels had strange, unpredictable powers, which threatened Heaven’s careful regulation of life, the universe, love, and time. Therefore, Heaven made a point of tracking down and executing all nephilim careless enough to reveal themselves. This angel had kept his family a secret. He knew his fall from grace was imminent; it was a mortal sin for an angel to love anything of Earth more than God. Even so, he was starting to understand why things were they way they were. His own rambunctious nephil teenager, with some very clever coding, could manipulate the shape and size of time itself—a prospect he found absolutely terrifying.
“Dad. You said decades pass in the blink of an eye for an angel. Seven years—they wouldn’t even notice—”
“No, son. I won’t lose both of you.”
The nephil stormed out, back to his bedroom of amethyst pillars and opal screens. Snow-covered craggy peaks surrounded his father’s aerie for miles and miles, hidden from
humans and angels alike. He couldn’t understand why his father was so unconcerned about his leaving his mother at the mercy of demons. Rebellion thundered in his half-mortal mind. His thoughts were too fast—faster than humans, faster than angels, faster than the machines built by both. That, he figured, was why it was so easy for him to hack the servers in Heaven that regulated the time- space continuum. Tweaking a few things in the API—the speed of light, for example—allowed him to move to whatever point in time or space he desired.
And yet, speed alone wasn’t enough. His sixteen short years, sheltered by his parents, meant he barely knew his enemy. He had little idea about how Heaven reacted once they realized they’d been hacked. He’d already been caught three times, and Dad had gotten him out of trouble each time, but he couldn’t rely on that now.
Thus the nephil seethed. He lacked his father’s millennia of hindsight and his mother’s mortal pragmatism. He suffered the full emotional range of a human, but had the powers of an angel. He was not going to let Mom go. So he hacked. The nephil easily guessed his father’s password—angels were very predictable—and used his own denatured blood to bypass the two-factor authentication. He lifted admin credentials left open by a lazy Heavenly programmer, and soon the backend of Heaven’s timeservers spread in ticking, glittering glory across the opal screens.
He used to spend hours just reading the programs, fascinated by the nuanced controls Heaven placed around the laws of physics and of love. But today, he rushed to find the tags he assigned to his own family ages ago. Once he found his mother’s location and timespeed, he injected his own program into the interface, strapped his own adamantine sword to his belt, took a deep breath, and hit the return key.
Needless to say, the nephil was surprised when the program dropped him into the hallway of his mother’s office building. Crouched and brandishing his sword, the nephil looked gravely out of place. Clean two-toned walls, shiny teak floors, and the buzz of conversation rose around him. A placard on the orange door before him announced his mother’s title: Senior Vice President of Development and Security. He tiptoed forward and pushed the door open. There was his mother, resplendent in her blue suit, chewing on the green straw of an iced Starbucks as she squinted at her computer Screen.
She whirled around in her chair, almost dropping the coffee. “Oh, honey!” She jumped to her feet and embraced him.
“Mom—you’re all right.” He hugged her back, her steady human heartbeat and earthen musk soothing him.
“Honey, how did you get here so fast?” She held his shoulders, amber eyes burning.
“You didn’t—“
“I came as fast as I could! I thought the demons got you.”
“Oh, no, baby,” she shook her head. “I can handle demons much better than you or Dad.”
Her son blinked.
“Demons are businessfolk, sweetie. They’d much rather strike a deal than fight a duel. If your father had any sense, he’d know that.”
“Are you saying—you made a deal with them?”
“Not really. I just took advantage of your father’s…departure…to have a chat with them.”
“Mom. What did you say to them?”
She sighed. “I told them they could have my soul after I die, so long as they protect you
from Heaven for the rest of your life.”
The nephil stumbled back against the door. “Mom!”
“Sh, honey. I made that decision ages ago—back when I decided to go through with the whole giving-birth-to-a-half-angel thing. Couldn’t just leave you vulnerable after I was gone, and
obviously your dad’s pretty useless.”
“Mom! You can’t—“
“Hush. It’s my soul and I’ll do what I want with it.” She crossed her arms like she did to scold him when he ate too many hyacinth pastries and ruined his appetite for dinner. “But now
you’ve gone and time-traveled again, haven’t you? Did you use Dad’s VPN? I told you, they’re heavily monitoring it—“ Both of their smartwatches blared alarms and flashed red. She scowled at her wrist. “And now they’re coming. Did you even cover your tracks? Have I taught you nothing?”
The nephil’s brain shriveled with shame. “Mom—agh, I’m sorry, I—“ he paced the room, cursing his own rashness.
“The demons will come if I call them,” she gestured at her watch. “It would be messy. But there’s an alternative.”
She put her hands on the table, the same hands that had placed his own on the keyboard, the hands that taught him to code, taught him to hack, taught him to think for himself, regardless of what Heaven wanted. “Unlike me, and unlike Dad—you can use your powers to hurt, or to heal. To do, or to undo.”
“What do you mean?”
“You can hack the timeserver again.” She gestured at her empty chair. “Go back. Make it so your father never met me.”
The nephil’s stomach turned to ice. “You want me to undo our family?”
“Our family’s illegal, baby. There’s no place in Heaven, Earth, or Hell for us, and I’ve made you both suffer so much already—“
“Mom, no.” The nephil gripped the back of the chair. “Mom, you’re a goddamn saint. And you—“ He sat down abruptly and began to type. He had left a backdoor open—sort of on purpose, sort of on accident. It was probably how he got caught so fast, but he even as Heaven rushed down to slaughter him, they had failed to patch it. He injected a much simpler redirect between a couple of lines. “We’re going forward, not backward.”
“Our family’s not illegal. We’re a family. Just because there wasn’t a place in the past doesn’t mean there’s not one in the future.” His fingers flew with an angel’s speed and a mortal’s skill, checking his work this time, sealing off pathways and leaving false trails to beguile any Heavenly programmers who came after them. “And if there isn’t, I’ll make one.” The glass in the office window began to crack. Silver-heeled boots banged sharply on the teak in the hall. The stringent floral scent of angels on the warpath burned in the air. “Dad can’t die, so, we’ll just catch up with him. In seven years, he said.”
The woman who had damned herself for love swallowed. Remembering her husband’s choice to fall from grace to stay with her and their child, she nodded. “Would you like to do the honors?” Her son pulled out the chair for her. She sat down and skimmed her son’s new code. He had fixed his old mistakes, and by her reckoning, built a sound boat for them to travel across time in. She smiled, took her son’s hand, and hit the return key. With a resounding clack, they disappeared.

Molly Southgate is 12 years old. According to her IMDB page, she has performed in 5 films, 1 industrial documentary, 9 Chicago plays, 4 Chicago stage readings, an Iron & Wine music video, multiple commercials, and she has hosted or guested on over 500 podcast episodes. Molly is also a food blogger on Instagram and has Somehow found the time to act in Super Richard World III right here at Otherworld Theatre.

Gateways: Reclaiming by Zoe Mikel-Stites

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Zoe Mikel-Stites. She wrote for Gateways this past fall, and in general writes short stories that are sci fi/fantasy in nature. She also writes articles and website copy. The majority of her writing lives on her website and patreon page. Her non fiction writing can also be found on, the most recent being the article “What is bisexual culture” As a writer Zoe is interested in the way that humanity deals with itself, from an outside lens. By looking at humanity through its cracks and through a fantastical mirror, she gets to investigate our pitfalls and triumphs, both personal and as a society. This is “Reclaiming”.

When the microwave hit the pavement in the alley fifteen stories below my apartment window, the sound of metal and glass confirmed the conclusion of my other experiments in the ongoing research of “how many of Sam’s belongings will fly when tossed out our (now my) apartment window?” It had joined the commemorative plates from the holiday trip last year, several framed photos from our first few dates, two external hard drives, and a collection of insanely ugly angel figurines in the pursuit of science. Izzy poked their head out of the walk in closet in the bedroom.

“What was that?”

“Microwave.” I said, leaning out the window slightly to observe the wreckage below.
“I’d say it got an 8 on style, but a 2 on the landing.”

Izzy snorted, then disappeared back into the closet. A few seconds later a wave of Sam’s button down shirts came flying past the open bedroom door, accompanied by a bellowed “BEGONE SATAN!” I chuckled. Izzy appeared again and marched triumphantly up to the counter where they grabbed a bottle of water and draped themselves over the granite. “Okay, that’s all Sam’s shit out of the closet. Did you get everything else out here?” “Yeah” I said “Thanks. And thank you for watching Scud next week and for taking all this – “ I gestured to small mountain of detritus that belonged to my now ex “-to wherever you’re taking it.” I rubbed my face and sighed. “Hey it’s no problem. Besides, I love Scud and I haven’t gotten one on one puppy time in a while. Plus this trip is going to be good for you.” I nodded. Calling the time travel agency to cancel our “romantic couples trip across the ages” had stung, especially when I found out it was non refundable. I almost burst out crying on the video call when the agent had told me that. But he had informed me I could change it to an upgraded, one person, long term travel contract where I could travel anywhere and anywhen I wanted, with no blackout dates and no wait time. Excessive? Sure. Did I care? Nah. It had all been on Sam’s credit card.

Two days after my microwave experiments I was sitting in a painfully white waiting room with stylishly pre-formed white plastic chairs that made me miss the comfort of concrete benches. Finally, some time after the left side of my ass had to sleep, the wall flashed my name in friendly blue letters above the doorway as a previously hidden panel slid aside to reveal a softly lit hallway and an automated voice invited me to go to intake room four, where I would meet my travel companion momentarily. I was still trying to figure out what exactly “companion” meant when I opened the door to a carpeted, comfortable room decorated in deep reds and blacks, with overstuffed chairs. Sitting in the left hand chair was one of the most attractive men I’ve ever seen. He beamed at me and stood gracefully, holding out his hand. I’m sure I said something smooth and charming like “Hi” and he invited me to sit with him. His name was Calitrex Version8902, or Cal, and he was my personal lifetime guide through time and space. It took me a moment to realize that he himself was the time machine. Technology, man. One day we’re trying to not get spliced with flies, the next we have James Bond as a personal escort to the history of the world.

Cal was half a head taller than me, with hair so perfectly mussed that it had to be intentional, and blue-grey eyes that were brought out perfectly by the deep blue three piece suit he wore.Maybe this trip wasn’t going to be so bad afterall. Then he asked me where I was going. I knew this was a formality since the itinerary was already set, and the question was most likely included in his program to make him seem more human. I rattled off the list of places and times that Sam had planned. Renaissance in Italy and France, early 21st century England for a concert, Hawaii at any time that there wasn’t a volcano exploding, and a few others. “So,” he asked, “where do you want to start?”

I told him and he nodded, then asked me to close my eyes and hold out my hands. This seemed a little odd, but I knew that the machine interfaces often worked through fingerprinting identification, and physical contact was required for continuity of transit. His fingers closed gently over mine. Just as I had closed my eyes there was a rushing sound, and suddenly I was falling backwards, out of my chair, for what felt like forever. My chest was tight and I couldn’t pull in a breath, and I was suddenly very sure that this was how I died. Then suddenly I wasn’t falling any more. I gasped in warm air and my eyes flew open. I was standing on a street corner with Cal still holding my hands, surrounded by sunshine and Italy.

“Renaissance. Florence, Italy.” He said with a smile. My jaw fell open. It was beautiful. The street and scenery were overwhelming, everyone moved around us, their clothes just so, their — wait, their clothes. I glanced down at my jeans and band t-shirt.

“Uh, question. Won’t they notice that we’re dressed a little. . . . differently?” I asked. “As long as you keep interaction to a minimum, which I’ll remind you are required to do in order to preserve the integrity of the timeline, then no. People are very good at ignoring the extraordinary.” He adeed. Then he held out his arm and I hooked my hand through the crook of his elbow and we began to walk. Florence was undeniably stunning. So was france. England was charming, and America was interesting, but around every corner, in every alley, in every bite of food, in the undertones of every painting-worthy vista, was the reminder that this was all Sam’s idea. Sam’s favorite cities, favorite historical event, painter, meal. Sam was everywhere across time and space. After the last stop on our list – a Spicegirls concert in the late 20th century – Cal finally asked me a question over coffee and overpriced pastries.

“All of these places, why did you choose them?”
I blinked at him. “I didn’t.” I responded flatly. “Sam did.”
“But Sam — “
“Is my ex, I know.” I said with a sigh. He smiled politely. “I was going to say is not here.” We sipped and ate in silence for a while. When we had paid, he held out his hands across the table and I let him hold mine. I closed my eyes and waited expectantly. When nothing happened, I cracked an eyelid open to find Cal looking down at our fingers. “May I make a suggestion?” He asked “Uh, sure.” “The next time you take a trip, select ‘customized itinerary’ from my menu.” He ran his thumb along the back of my knuckles. It was a kind, gentle and surprisingly human motion. I nodded, then said “oh-okay. Thank you for the suggestion.” He nodded, still not looking up. “Close your eyes please.”


A couple of months later I took another trip, but this time I followed Cal’s suggestion and let his computer system select our itinerary. I waited in the same too hard white chair and met him in the same comfortable intake room with overstuffed furniture. He smiled when he saw me. So did I, but only with my mouth.

“Ready?” He asked, holding out his hands. “Not at all.” I responded as I took them and closed my eyes. There was the now familiar rush and falling sensation. When I opened my eyes I was standing in front of a tall brick building that was covered in ivy. There was a chill in the air, and the breeze carried the smell of rose blossoms and damp earth. It wasn’t until I saw the stained glass window high above the massive oak doors that I realized it was the library that I had wanted to visit since I had first heard about it in college. My jaw dropped open and Cal smiled again. “This is at its peak, when it held more volumes of scientific and theological texts than anywhere else in the world.” He said. My heart didn’t know which direction to jump. Over the next few hours I wandered through the library’s stacks, trailing my fingers over book spines and inhaling history that wafted off of real paper and ink pages, not flashing letters on tablet screens. It felt like coming home to somewhere I’d never been. Then Cal said it was time to go and we fell through time again, this time landing on a beach with crystal clear water. I immediately knew where we were. I had learned to surf here, had discovered meditation, and more than a few drugs. I lay on the sand and soaked myself in the sun that had brought me so close to myself. Our next stop was shakespeare performing at the Globe Theater in a time when ruff collars were still in style, then the discovery of the polio vaccine, and the list went on. When we finally landed in the overstuffed chairs again, I stayed, eyes closed, not letting go of Cal’s hands. I really hoped I was imagining the feeling of tears running down my face. He ran his thumb softly across the back of my hand.

“All of those places” I said, eyes still closed. “How?”
“When the initial reservation was made, both parties were asked for a list of times and locations they wished to visit. Later, the itinerary was altered and a large number of choices removed. I thought you may want to see some of the places on your list.” I opened my eyes, vision blurry. He looked up at me, and then back down. “I’m sorry if I upset you. I shouldn’t have asserted my independent planning protocol.” “No, no no. It’s not that. Those places, they all meant so much to me. I’d forgotten how much. Thank you.” He squeezed my hands. “You’re welcome.” On my way home I stopped by the library and picked up a book at random, not even bothering to check the title. It was something I used to love to do that had gotten me out of more than a few reading ruts, but had stopped doing because Sam – I froze mid stride. This was the first time since the beginning of my trip that I had thought about Sam. I glanced at the spine of the book under my arm. “Ancient Mayan Life”. That could be a fun adventure. Sam would have hated it. I grinned and added a new stop to the itinerary for my next trip with Cal.

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