Monthly Archives: October 2019

Gateways: “The Game” by Makena Metz. Read by Kat Evans.

This story is written by Makena Metz. Makena writes plays and musicals in the styles of fantasy, sci-fi, or magical realism. She studied Playwriting & Theatre Directing at Columbia College Chicago (class of 17’) and am a proud member of DGA and ASCAP.  This past year, she was chosen as an Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights 2018 Diversity Fellow to have attended The Kennedy Center’s Playwriting Intensive for their annual workshop. This is “The Game”.

Every child in Eritz knew not to jump too high. Some of their parents had even gone so far as to tie them to Ballards: anchors made of bone and mud, attached to ropes that they wrapped around their bodies to weigh them to the ground. This was standard on this planet, named for that so sought after world of paradise from long ago. But on Eritz, there was only room for survival. 

Jak and Cass were twins. Their brown hair and golden coloring weren’t uncommon for this world, but it was their unnerving green eyes that put the others on edge. A King and Queen, in respect, surveying their kingdom of scavengers, on the edge of the dump. 

The dump was where the citizens had dumped things that no longer fit this world; computers and wires, guitars and lyres. Even a book or two sat weathering among the trash, pages yellowing and crumbling under the dusty, muddy sunlight. Jak and Cass surveyed their domain. There were the trio of golden haired siblings, each a few inches shorter than the other. They had gravity belts on- weights to make them heavier, less clunky than ballards. Their parents could afford the belts – bought with freshly minted coin and paid for in threats and bribes. Not every child had the luxury. 

Anton, Lia, and Merik all poked metal sticks into the rubble, searching for something in the glinting debris that they could sell on the black market. Almost as old as Jak and Cass, one was destined to lead the pack eventually. Jak did not like that idea. 

Born to parents who loved and discarded them for Swig – the drink of choice in this world, Jak and Cass were used to being by themselves. But their pack was their true home. Because twins were rare and sometimes thought of as ill luck, Jak and Cass knew that they couldn’t find sanctuary in the schools of the town, or with the children that run in the fields of newly planted grains, or even at the orphanage in the city. 

Jak had heard that some twins ate their other in the womb – and he wondered sometimes why Cass hadn’t devoured him. He was just used to her, he mused. Even the way people called them, their names merging into one: JakandCass. Jak resented that. 

The twins looked over the dump and the emerging scuffle in the dirt between two runts. Cass yawned. “I’m bored” she said, glancing over at him. Checking to make sure he was there, his green eyes fixed on the musty brown horizon. Jak stretched. “We could walk to the other side of the world.” Cass rolled her eyes. Jak was always saying impossible things. “How about we play a game instead?” she said. 

One of the small runts in the trash below them looked up. “A game? Like what?” He was bone thin. Jak wondered what he was going to eat that night. He wondered if the boy would be desperate enough to eat him

“Yes. A game!” Cass smiled. “A game of skill and daring.” A flash of teeth. “A bouncing game.” Silence fell over the group. Lia, twisting her golden hair said, “You can’t be serious.” 

“And why not?” Cass said. “We never do anything fun.” Anton frowned. 

“What’s the prize? You can’t have a game like that without a reward.” Cass bit her lip. 

“How about… whoever bounces the highest… replaces me and Jak as leader.” 

Jak stared at her, his eyes widening. “Cass wa–.” She stepped forward. 

“Alright, everyone. Let’s play.” 

Jak stared at his sister, uncomprehending. She just threw that prize out, threw out their position like it was nothing, like it meant nothing to her. Like he would just agree with her game because they were JakandCass and she knew, she knew that he wouldn’t say no. 

Jak balled his hands into fists, stomach churning. So that’s how it was gonna be? Fine. Then Jak would play

The group cleared a circle in the dump, dragging chunks of metal and clumps of wires out of the way. Once they had a big enough circle, Cass stepped forward. She spread her arms. “Okay so, what are the rules?” 

Merik crossed his arms. “No bouncing out of the dump. I don’t want my parents to see.” Jak flashed hot for a moment. How nice, the luxury of having parents. “Fine,” Jak spit, “then no belts. Only ballards.” He smiled, satisfied. If there were no belts, the golden haired siblings couldn’t compete. 

Cass jumped in “Whoever doesn’t have ballards can just… switch out belts with someone else.” Jak smirked. No one was gonna do that. They were more likely to come down from the jump to find their belts stolen. 

One of the runts stepped forward. Jak didn’t even know where the kids mouth was – he was so dirty. The runt next to him had a black eye, so Jak knew who had won that fight. “H-how about a time limit? O-only three jumps.” Jak felt the growl deep within him. This kid was probably one of the orphans who had found their way into his group. Who let him get so dirty? And why, only today, was Jak noticing? Was it that Cass was undermining him? Or was it that for the first time… Jak was thinking as Jak. not JakandCass

Jak smiled. “That’s a great idea” he said. “Three jumps oughta do it.” He turned to Cass, raising an eyebrow. She frowned. “Fine. Anything else?” 

A small girl hugged her arms around herself. “No cheatin” she in a light voice. “And if somethin’ goes…wrong…we stop.” 

Cass frowned, a vein twitching in her forehead. “Well yeah. We’re not gonna let someone float up forever.” Jak doubted that. Why didn’t she comfort the girl? Why didn’t he know her name? What was a girl who was barely standing without toppling over doing out here? And why was he never curious before? 

For all intents and purposes, Jak felt like he had been blind. And now, he could suddenly see the gleam in his sisters eyes. His eyes. She didn’t care. She didn’t care about any of this. Or any one. She never had. It was all just fun and games to her. 

Another game. This was just another game. Jak’s brows pinched together. Well the prize of leadership, of replacing them…maybe he could replace the them. Maybe this was his one shot. 

Cass looked to the kids in the circle. “Who’s ready?!” She grinned. “I’ll go.” Jak said. Cass turned to him. “What?” He threw back an easy smile. “You never said I couldn’t compete for leadership.” She glared at him. “Get back in the circle.” She hissed. She thought they were a team. She was wrong. 

Jak unrolled his ballard, ropes that were taught across his shoulders unraveling until the line was loose. Already he felt lighter, like a weight had lifted from his chest. He breathed in – and out. He bent his legs. The kids all stepped back, the trio of golden haired siblings glowering. “One…two…three!” They chanted. And Jak jumped. 

He sprung up, up, up into the sky, spreading his arms, enjoying the hot wind on his skin. He could see over the town from up here, over the mountains, over to the ocean on the other side of the world through the shimmering, hot air. Then, down, down, down, as light as a feather. He slowly floated down, touching down without a sound. 

A kid held up his ballard – “Here. You jumped to here.” He pointed to a spot on the rope. It was good, more than half the length of the rope, but not amazing. Jak smiled at Cass. “Don’t I 

get two more?” “Fine. Do what you want.” She grunted. The little girl whispered, “No cheatin,” as she gripped the edge of her dress. 

Jak jumped two more times, each higher than the next. The other kids grumbled that they could beat his height by their thinness – but he reminded himself that jumping high took muscle and strength as well as being light on your feet. Each kid jumped up, one by one, and floated down. But none of them hit the mark on their ballards. And each one re-wrapped them around them slowly, anchoring themselves to the world again. 

After each one had gone and Anton, Lia, and Merik nodded their no’s, clutching their priceless gravity belts at their waists, Jak smiled. No one left to compete with. Well no one but – 

Cass stepped forward. “Forget about me?” She winked at Jak. Only he noticed the hard set of her shoulders and stiff back. Shit. She was his exact height and build. Maybe twins are bad omens, Jak mused, for this was a bad omen indeed. 

Cass unraveled her ballard, the clearing going silent. She jumped. She neared his mark. Jak swore. Anton smirked at him. Cass floated down. She jumped again. Fuck. She had matched his mark. One more, and the momentum would clear her. One more, and Jak would be at whim to his sister’s demands. But maybe he already was. Maybe it was already too late. She floated down. 

The sound hit him as she pushed off for her final jump. Something like wind… but gusting. No not gusting…flapping. A shadow fell over the metal debris. The group looked up, pausing as one. Cass was almost at the apex of her jump, eyes closed, arms out for the world to see. For the world to grab. 

Cass screamed as giant claws grabbed her arms. “Cass!” Anton yelled, running to her ballard in the dirt. He grabbed it, as the leathery beast started to fly her away. Cass sobbed in the sky, bones shrieking as she was pulled between the land and the sky. Blood ran down her arms. Droplets fell on the group; a bloody baptism. 

Jak saw what he had to do, even as his stomach sank. “I’m sorry,” he thought to Cass. And he was. For his sister had taken care of him, helped him form this pack, this family. But she hadn’t taken care of anyone but him. Jak ran to Cass’s ballard, grabbing a piece of sharp metal that cut into his palm. Hissing, he ran to the middle of the line, and cut the rope. The rope snapped. And Cass’s tether to the world, the earth, to Jak frayed away. 

The group watched the beast carry Cass up into the distant horizon. And then they couldn’t hear her at all. She had probably been boiled alive. Maybe that’s why the atmosphere had that layer of heat, maybe it was a way for the natives of this land to cook their food. Unfortunately for the people here now, they were the food. 

Silently, the group turned to Jak. Blood dripped from his palm. He wiped his brow, smearing it across his forehead. Marking him. Remaking him. No longer JakandCass but just Jak. Just him. 

Jak sauntered over to Cass’s shortened ballard, lying on the ground. “There are going to be some changes around here. And if you don’t listen to me… I’ll feed you to the beasts too.” He looked hard at the group, and Anton, Lia, and Merik bowed their heads. Jak’s gaze hardened at the little girl in rags, the bony boys, and the dirt covered kids in front of him. They looked at him opened mouthed. But that little girl smiled at him, as if she had known that he was the better half, that Jak without Cass could take care of them. And he promised himself he would. 

Jak threw the ballard around himself, tying it to his other side. Two ballards, to bind him to this world. To remind himself of what he had given. To make sure he kept his promise. 

And Jak sank. 

Kat Evans has been an actor in Chicago since 2006. She has worked with :City Lit, Black Button Eyes, Promethean, Savoyaires, Hypocrites. Also voices a few podcasts: Our Fair City, Starlight Radio Dreams, Toxic Bag

Gateways: “Fall. Rise. Repeat.” by Bill Goff. Read by Josh Ballard and Jasmin Tomlins

This story is written by Bill Goff. Bill has written a couple of plays, took a play writing class in college and was a part of a play writing group for a couple of years. He is currently working on two plays, a novel, and an autobiography of sorts. He tells us he writes to find the familiar in the fantastical.This is “FALL. RISE. REPEAT”

Fallen queen Cathla sat in her cell as the bars of energy glowed, illuminating her isolation with her regrets and failures. She went over in her head every scenario of the battle and how terribly they lost. The common thread was that her mistakes hadthat cost them everything. The kingdom was now in the hands of her archenemy, again, and there was nothing that she could do now.
It was some time before she noticed someone was watching her. She turned to look, expecting to see a centurion droid. Instead it was an elderly woman, wrapped in ragged grays. She stood there staring at Cathla, eyes full of a mix of emotions. Was there pride there? Sadness? Whatever it was, there was a hint of countless memories that filled those eyes with more life than her body could express. It meant nothing to Cathla, but she was not above showing kindness to anyone.
“You’re back.” She said with a gentle smile.
“Yes. It’s time” the elderly woman said as she turned noncorporeal and stepped through the bars of energy into the cell.
A sad smile graced Cathla’s lips, she knew better than to hope.
“My dear Zaufaine, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you…but let’s face the facts, it won’t matter. She’ll just beat me again and take the throne. It’s hopeless. It’s only been what? A week?”
“6 days. But your kingdom is oppressed. Nothing is being done and Locust is taking all the resources and leaving the rest to starve. I can’t do this alone my Queen. Please…”
The weight of her words sunk her to the bunk as she sat there letting herself fall. She truly had failed her people. “It’s just so easy to let her win…and just sleep away. Sleep and let it all fall”
A deep silence filled the room, even the buzzing of the bars of light could do little to hide it.
“Don’t you dare talk like that. You have the means to return to the throne. Your allies are here in the cells nearby. With their help, you can lead them to victory. If not for yourself but for everyone who still believes in you. Just as I do” Zaufanie laid a hand on Cathla’s shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze. Cathla felt something inside her flicker, for a moment, a surge of life. Could she do this? There were those who believed she could. She just needed…no.
“I’m not sure I can do this”
“That’s ok, my Queen. Because I am not sure either,” the elder said calmly “I know you can”
Such faith…Cathla did not want to let her down, or anyone else. She stood up.
With a nod, the old woman took her hand and they turned to the door. There was a shudder of fear that ran through Cathla but a gentle squeeze from the old one soothed it. It was still there, but it would have to wait till this was over. In an instant, she felt Zaufanie turning noncorporeal where their hands held; establishing a connection to allow them both to phase through the bars. Once on the other side they materialized and began to run, heading down the lower halls to find the other prisoners.
Locust would have put them away in the same prisons as before; specially designed to keep her closest friends and allies, the Constructs. Immortal beings she had created from parts of her inner self, due to the loneliness of being abandoned by her sister, long ago. They served her well…and they were needed now more than ever.
Volon Tee was her aid, left blinded in layers of cement. Amara her fiery warrior was sealed in ice. And Miss Neach, her mouthpiece and advisor, had been gagged and sealed in a howling pool of darkness. Each one cut off from what they were capable of. Cathla came to Volon Tee, not sure what to do, Zaufanie went inside to find Volon Tee and was able to make contact but it wasn’t enough. He needed to hear his Queen. Zaufanie took Cathla’s hand and pulled her inside, closing her eyes to not scream as she went through layers and layers of cement. If she let go, she’d die instantly, screaming in the void of stone. She contacted him. Volon Tee had immense power but needed guidance. Cathla whispered in his ear.
“Turn the Tide”
Light filled the darkness and the stone cracked. A fist shot through A body leapt from the depths, rubble falling off him like snow. A man of silver and iron, he turned to his queen and knelt. Eyes of pure white gave a hint of joy to see her.
Alarms blared and they knew they had to move fast.
They moved to the next lower level where Amara was held, wrapped in sheets and sheets of ice. The cold, biting and merciless around them, Volon punched through each layer, one after the other as Cathla joined him. She was no titan of strength as he was but when they were together, she felt his power within her as well. It was so satisfying to crush the ice that separated her and her fiercest warrior.
The final layer cracked. Cathla called out her friend’s name, within moments there was a warm light and the ice began to thaw. Soon Amara was out, a geyser of fire and heat spilling forth as the woman stood tall and defiant. An amazon in her prime, her strands of hair were wisps of fire and smoke. Her skin, dark coals with red and white lines to define what made her a goddess amongst soldiers. Her eyes were green with heat as she turned to see her Queen. Smiling, she saluted. Cathla simply ran over and hugged her. Amara glowed with a fierceness she once thought lost to her. She asked only one question,
“Where’s the fight?” as the air around them began to hum with the approach of droids and foes attempting to stop them, Cathla and her companions went to free Miss Neach. She’d been left to suffer without sound whilst being forced to hear wails of torment. Chains held her within the pit while she was strapped to the weight. With Volon Tee, Cathla was able to pull her out. Once she was free, they were able to remove the gag and allow her to speak.
“THANK YOU,” she said loudly, “Now let me return the favor.” With that she did what she did best. Neach was a woman of strength and stature. Shorter than Cathla, she had a voice that towered over everyone. White hair looming above her as she stood with a glow of golden light emitting from her neck and eyes. Unleashing her power, sonic resonation that could be heard for miles. She used it to its full extent. She let loose a call to arms, a sound of blaring thunder,. The people must rise and fight with their Queen. It was Time.
Cathla and her friends reunited with Amara who held the onslaught with a wall of fire, till she stood shoulder to shoulder with everyone. Together they fought forward, cutting through each centurion droid and warrior that stood in their way. Fire blazed through the air, melting droids in the sky while Volon struck blow after blow, holding his own, adding power to Amara as well. Miss Neach stood by Cathla as they moved onward, Zaufaine keeping pace. Wave after wave kept coming but Amara and Volon were not willing to back down. Like a blade through grass they managed to cut their way through, out of the prison.
“To the great hall. This ends now.” Cathla said. As they made their way through the halls of her former home. Running by large windows they could see outside the people fighting back, Miss Neach letting loose another note of power through the air as she rallied the people, her voice erupting like a trumpet.
The rebels had finally reached the throne room. It was covered now in a thick heinous ichor. There, sitting on the throne was Cathla’s nemesis, Tyrant Queen Locust Desimuss. Lazily her foe smiled and rolled her eyes as she gestured for her honored guard to take arms and stand before them. Droids filled the air and aimed their weapons upon them, doors to the castle opening as citizens finally made their way in to aid Cathla. The two Queens stared each other down.
“Why bother with this?” Locust asked flatly, “We both know this song and dance. You may win today but I’ll come back to take it from you again. You can’t kill me sister. I’m part of you.”
Cathla walked slowly forward, Amara and Volon keeping pace, Miss Neach held hands with Zaufanie as they watched. Cathla looked over the room that was once hers. This home that was once filled with life and laughter. Locust had sucker punched her and taken it from her, letting her kingdom fall into darkness and decay, rotting slowly away day by day. It had to stop. She would stop it.
“I could ask you the same question Desimuss. You know I’ll keep coming back, each time I’ll rise with those who matter. Because they remind me of what I am and what I fight for.” With that, she turned to each of her companions.
“Amara brings me passion, Volon gives me the will, Neach, hope and dear Zaufaine believes in me. You can’t stop them, or me, You may take the throne one day…but I’ll come back to take it from you. They remind me of something deep inside me that you’ll never have”
Eyes filled with a lackless apathy. Locust Desimuss stood up and brandished her weapon. “And what might that be?” She asked.
Cathla smiled and signaled to her army. Then the two sisters went to war again.
It was days later when Cathla walked down to her former cell, now with a new tenant.
Desimuss glared at Cathla, watching her as she approached, Cathla attempted to leave a tray of food for her, but then she noticed the other trays left by her guards. There was a moment of pity from her, and she considered reaching out to her sister.
Cathla turned to go.
“You never answered my question.” Desimuss said, annoyed.
With a smile Cathla looked back and said, “Courage. When you find it to fight back and change your life, it becomes an infinite force that can help you do anything. It’s like gravity but reversed…see you next week”

Josh Ballard’s work has been seen all over the Chicagoland area for the past 11 years.  From Ren Faires to radio, pantos to photoshoots, he is an actor that can, and will, do anything.  A grad of Columbia College Chicago, Josh is excited to be a part of this unique series with one of the fastest growing theatre companies in Chicago

Jasmin Tomlins has been making noises with her mouth for 32 years, most recently as a determined vintner on the streets of the Bristol Renaissance Faire. She is grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these stories, and to receive the meaning that stories give voices.

Gateways: “The Locked Door” by Molly Southgate. Read by Kate Akerboom, Kat Evans and Alex B. Reynolds

This story is written by Molly Southgate. 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 multiple plays right here at Otherworld Theatre. This is The Locked Door.

“Hey, Mica! Constance! Get over here.” Quinn yelled across the crowded lunchroom and waved her arms. Constance and Mica were sitting side by side chatting. Constance grinned. 

Coming right over!” The two kids picked up their lunches and sped over to their friend. 

Hi! Did you go anywhere for spring break?” Constance asked. 

Quinn looked at her feet. “Not really.” As she said this, Mica noticed a grayish spot on her arm. 

Are you okay?” 

Quinn’s head snapped up. “What? Yes, I’m all right.” Quinn looked down squinting her blue eyes at the gray spot. “It feels like it’s burning. I think I’ve got a rash. But I’m fine, how were your Spring Breaks?” Constance furrowed her brow. Rashes didn’t look like that. She would have to research, but for now she abandoned that train of thought and began talking about her vacation.

Well you guys know I was visiting family in Wisconsin. What about you, Mica?” 

I got grounded for fighting with my brother so I had to stay home the whole week and I got no calls or texts from Quinn over here.” Mica jabbed a finger into Quinn’s side playfully. 

Same here. What were you doing?” Constance wondered. Quinn shut her eyes, revealing the deep purple circles around them. Constance and Mica exchanged concerned glances.

“I’ll tell you when we get back to my place. Mom’s at work so we’d have the house to ourselves.I’ve got something to show you.”

What, like, a toy?” Mica questioned. Quinn chuckled, but her laugh turned into a raspy cough. She reclaimed herself and replied, 

“No, you’ll see.” 

I’ll come but I hope you’re not contagious. My mom will kill me if I get sick.” said Mica. And Constance responded, 

Sounds good, if you’re sure you’re up for it. I’ll text my mom and then we can meet up after school.

They all waded through the monotonous school day until finally they met outside. “Ready for my house?” Quinn asked smiling. Mica and Constance, giving each other questioning looks, noticed that her voice had gained quite a bit of raspiness since they saw her at lunch. “I can’t wait to show it to you.” Quinn said. The trio then walked off towards Quinn’s house without another word.

As they strolled through the winding suburban streets, they came across Quinn’s  house with its navy blue door. While climbing the front steps, Mica’s head tilted to the right. Was it just his imagination or… No. Quinn’s skin had gotten exceedingly pale since the start of break. 

Quinn, are you sure you’re okay? You look sick.” Quinn just shook her head and smiled, 

“I’m fine. You two are always worrying about me. I just need to get inside. I need to show it to you.” They nodded and she took a key out from under her shirt and lined it up with the lock, but before she could turn it, her hand seized up and the key fell to the floor with a clink. Quinn tried to laugh it off, but Constance and Mica’s looks of mingled shock and concern were evident.

Quinn. You’re not okay. You’re being really weird.” Constance said tenderly as she picked up the key and opened the door. 

“I can’t stress this enough with you two. I’m all right,” Quinn insisted. Constance frowned deeply, but willingly followed. They walked into the house with Mica trailing behind them, concern etched across his face.

As they made their way across the kitchen Quinn asked, “Do you guys need anything? I’ve got lemonade and we could make some crackers and peanut butter.” Constance and Mica shook their heads no simultaneously. 

Maybe later, I want to see what this mystery thing is.” Mica replied with excitement in his eyes. They continued until they came upon a locked door. It had a small white box next to it. 

We’re not supposed to go in there.” Constance said. Quinn steamrolled forward however, and continued.

“Before I tell you what’s in there, promise me that you will keep my secret. Please.” Constance nodded and said,

I won’t tell a soul.” Mica then felt honor bound and nodded his curly blonde head along before he replied, 

I’m with you and Constance.” 

“Thank you, guys. We’re not supposed to go in, but I got curious. The room is guarded by a smart lock and only my mom’s fingerprints could get me in. Her workload recently doubled so I was left with nothing to do…until I thought of this. I figured whatever was in that room must be incredible, if she wasn’t showing it to me. So, I lifted her fingerprints on the night before the first day of Spring break. That night, I went up to the room, scanned the prints, and opened the door.”

Wait, how did you get them?” Constance interjected.

“I just waited until Book Club night. They drink a lot of wine at book club. I just had to wait until she went to bed.  I have a Harriet the Spy kit from when I was five and I used it to lift her prints. Never thought that thing would actually come in handy. But anyway, when I got inside it was rather anticlimactic. The light gray room was filled with tools, miscellaneous parts, my mom’s work station, and a small bathroom off to the side. There was a glass enclosure in the center of the room. On the side of the enclosure were large letters that said ‘TTB2’ I figured whatever the exciting and dangerous thing was it had to be inside of the TTB2. So, I opened the door and stepped in. The door shut behind me and the floor of the enclosure started to glow a brilliant white. All of a sudden, my feet started to lift off the ground. I grabbed onto one of the metal handrails along the length of the enclosure by the door as the lower half of my body floated above my head. I screamed and looked around in a panic trying to find a way out, since there was no handle on the door itself. In my frantic search,  I noticed a large, red button to the right of the door and pressed it, hoping that was the way out. Thankfully, it was. I jumped through the door and was so nauseous I ran to the bathroom to throw up. I cleaned myself off and locked up the room. Then snuck up to my bedroom and tried to calm down enough to go to sleep. The next day, I went back in when my mom left for work and, at first, it was the same as last time. The door sealed, the floor lit up, but this time there was more. All the air left my lungs and I started to choke. I floated to the ceiling and flailed around trying to get to the red button while attempting to control my breathing. Luckily, I remembered the handrails, quickly grabbed one, and pulled myself down far enough to hit the button.” Constance and Mica looked stunned and were listening with rapt attention. Quinn continued her story. “The next time was much better. Yes, I went back. I didn’t choke that time. When I floated, I found that I could do tricks. I pretended like I was in a pool. I did flips, cartwheels, and handstands on the ceiling. It’s amazing in there. It’s like gravity, but in reverse. So, this is where I’ve been all spring break.” 

It was crazy, impossible even. Constance and Mica had known Quinn since she was seven. She may be weird, but she’s not a liar. Quinn couldn’t possibly be making this up.
Let’s see it,” said Constance. Mica agreed. 

Quinn beamed and said “Let’s go.”  

Quinn swiped the finger prints and eagerly entered the room. 

When they went inside of the previously locked room it was exactly as Quinn had described it. “I’ll go first.” Quinn said matter-of-factly. “You two should watch and then come in after me. Make sure to observe carefully. And just so you know, I’m going to be in longer than you should be.” With that Quinn stepped into the tank and floated up to the ceiling. Her short brown hair floated out to the sides of her head. She grinned wickedly and after a minute and a half pushed through the air and hit the button. “Your turn.” Quinn opened the door for them and Mica and Constance climbed in. 

They got to the top of the enclosure and Constance began to panic. She started to beat against the walls and grabbed onto Mica. He grabbed her arm and pulled her down to the red button. “That was awful!” Constance shrieked. She ran out of the room and into the bathroom and proceeded to wretch into the toilet bowl. Mica and Quinn ran after her, picking her up off the ground and drying her tears with their sleeves. Mica’s face turned greenish and he vomited, as well.

Why would you go in there?!” Constance wailed through her tears. 

Quinn, that was incredible!” Mica exclaimed. 

“Do you want to go again?” she asked with a gleam in her eye. 

Is it like eating before swimming, don’t you have to wait a while? Besides, I don’t want to barf again.” Mica replied. Quinn shook her head. 

“Nope. You can go in infinitely and you only barf the first time. Remember I did, too.” 

Constance broke into a new round of tears. “Mica, your leg looks gray. Are you okay?” Mica looked down. 

Actually, it’s been feeling like I’m burned.” 

It’s got to be that tank. Please, don’t go in there again. Quinn, your mom said no for a reason.” Mica brushed his fingers through Constance’s messy, red hair. 

“It’s okay. You’re probably just upset from throwing up. You’re not thinking straight.” Quinn agreed as they helped Constance up to her feet. 

Please don’t go back there. It’s hurting you, can’t you tell?” Constance pleaded. Mica and Quinn looked at her blankly before Quinn broke the silence. 

“Let’s go back in.”

The next day during school all Quinn and Mica could talk about was the TTB2.  Constance, against her better judgement, relented to going to Quinn’s house again, but only to watch them so that they didn’t get hurt. Mica had started up a raspy cough and it was relentless throughout the school day. 

When they got to the locked room, Quinn and Mica took turns going into the enclosure while Constance finished up her homework. Before Mica went in the first time Constance couldn’t keep herself from warning her friends. “Please don’t go in there. I researched it last night when I got home. The barfing is completely normal, but the other stuff isn’t. You’re not supposed to have gray patches of skin or coughing fits. Something is wrong with the TTB2.” Mica rolled his eyes as Quinn said, 

“Constance, it’s totally safe. I’ve been doing it since spring break and I look fine.” Constance began to get agitated with Quinn as she scrubbed her eyes and then massaged her forehead. 

No, you don’t! Did your skin turn gray and feel like it was on fire before you went in there?” Quinn and Mica stared at her blankly. “That’s what I thought. I won’t leave, but I sure as heck won’t go in there. It’s your choice.” Mica glanced at Quinn and then looked back at Constance. 

And we choose to go into the enclosure.” he said. 

For the next week, they went every day after school and every day after school Constance begged them to stop. Each day, Quinn just shook her head and swiped the prints. As they entered the room on that Friday, they were startled by the presence of Mrs. Brown, Quinn’s mother, working on the TTB2. She quickly turned around, her white lab coat swooping to the side. Her brown hair was tied in a messy bun atop her head and it bobbed up and down as she spoke. “Why in the hell are you here?! Quinn, what is this?! How did you get in?!” Her anger crackled and fizzed. 

“Hi, mom. Uh…” Quinn started to walk out of the room but Constance stopped her. 

Quinn stole your fingerprints using her Harriet the Spy kit. She’s been coming in here since Spring break and Mica has been coming in since the first day back. I only went in once. I tried to stop them.” 

Mrs. Brown’s face contorted with panic. “That machine is broken. It leeches out chemicals. Quinn, it’s killing you. My grandfather created this, I just found his old blueprints and updated them. His attempt failed and he died. Now I know why. Crap, he died because of the chemicals. Quinn you haven’t had the flu, you’re being poisoned! I should never have made this here. I don’t think it did permanent damage to you, but you cannot go back in.”

Mica bit his lip in shame. “We all barfed the first time, is that normal?” Mrs. Brown nodded. 

“Yes, the first time I was in I puked inside of it. I spent forever trying to get it out of the air using the pockets of my lab coat.” Quinn chuckled and her mother gave her a deadly look. “I’m going to have to dismantle it and get it out of the house, maybe try to work on it at the lab.” Constance looked at her hopefully, 

There is another option. We could all figure it out together.” Constance suggested. Mrs. Brown looked thoughtful, yet hesitant. 

“I’ll get the plans,” she said resignedly before muttering under breathe, “I should never have given her that spy kit.”

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. Kate is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Public History through Southern New Hampshire University. 

Kat Evans has been an actor in Chicago since 2006. She has worked with :City Lit, Black Button Eyes, Promethean, Savoyaires, Hypocrites. Also voices a few podcasts: Our Fair City, Starlight Radio Dreams, Toxic Bag

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

Gateways: “Jupiter Rules for Divorce ” by Jessie McCarty. Read by Jasmin Tomlins

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Jessie McCarty. Jessie is a writer and aspiring power point performer for stage and screen. They were crowned bagel queen of the midwest by montreal playwright Joe Bagel. Jessie is a company member of runways lab theater and BFA of creative writing at SAIC. This is “Jupiter Rules for Divorce”

Step one: marry your husband. Step two: divorce him. Then, as I often forget, is Three: one you might recall as a mis-step. Three years after it happens, be front of the shower. Be naked, be holding a towel. The radio plays Alainis Morrissett and you think: oh shit. I miss being a wife. But you must be wrong. You can’t miss that. How could anyone? Miss a governmental pact to love someone? How is that romantic? You think about how it wasn’t romantic, but you feel hot. You feel heavy.

Flashback to when Jupiter was a sexy planet. The Earth’s seventies disco. You loved disco. And now it’s dead. Do you miss me? Your Jupiter man baby says. You throw your head back, drunk. Laughing. No, the fuck. I don’t miss you. Get off my interstellar lawn. And then he did, and then you missed him.
That’s my problem, you think after the shower. I don’t mourn what I wanted. I just mourn what I want. That’s what regret looks like: gravity but reversed.

There are new steps, to post planetary divorce.

Step one: find a new husband. Step two, keep the regret to a minimum.
At the Love DMV you ask the Jupiter deck clerk: That’s it? That’s all I have to do?
The Jupiter Desk clerk hands you your final form, shrugging. Keep your head down, lady, she says. Regret’s like gravity. But reverse.

What the fuck does that even mean? Asks your new post planetary husband. It’s funny, you think. he actually remembers earth during the disco. This grosses you out, since that means he’s old, and, he’s lived through two different discos. I guess it means I can’t have any more regrets, you say, regretting that. But he doesn’t hear you. God, what a boring husband.

You hate living on Jupiter. It’s also boring. It’s not sexy anymore.
Hey, baby, do you have any bellbottoms that you brought over on the move? You ask, digging through suitcases, in your shiny floating house.
The move where, he asks.
The move to Jupiter, you know, after funk?
Oh. Uh, no. Not really. Bellbottoms aren’t sexy, you know. Don’t let them tell you that.
Who tell me that?
Anyone who thinks bellbottoms are sexy. They are lying to you. And they don’t respect you.
Oh, regret: like gravity. But reverse.

You go to your Jupiter job in your Jupiter car, thinking about Jupiter’s Rules for Divorce. Find a new husband. Keep the regret to a minimum. Find a new husband. Keep the regret to a minimum. Find a new husband. Keep the regret to a minimum. Find a new husband. Keep the regret to a minimum. Does regret flow upward? Can this entire tri-state Jupiter area see it? God, this planet is so boring. How am I supposed to keep the upward flow of a feeling to a minimum? What is the minimum?

You stop, pull the brakes. Jupiter baby is across the way, your ex-husband. Oh man, regret like gravity.

He calls out your name.

Name? he asks you, saying your name. Ping ping goes the upward flow of regret; the opposite of gravity.

Oh, hey. You say. Smoothing your dress out. You don’t even remember parking.
How are you? How have you been?
Oh I’m good, I’m fine, you mumble out.
Oh that’s good. That’s fine!
Yes. I don’t feel regret.
What did you say, sorry I missed it? He asks.

I said: I…do not… feel… a regret.
He’s shifting. Oh. Okay. Well, I should be off.

You want to say, wait come back. Wait come home. Wait come re marry me so I can leave my double lived disco husband who doesn’t want to put on bellbottoms and hates Alainis Morrissette. But you say

Okay. Yes, goodbye.

Everyone on this planet is under the impression that you like them. Everyone here views the nighttime in hues of black. Regret is like gravity reversed. Regret, like gravity, but reversed. You make the executive call to break the rules for divorce by

Making a widow of yourself and knowing
Surely you will regret it.

You soon discover it’s not simple planning space murder.
1st Off: Everyone here is under the impression that you like them.
2nd off: You have never done it.

You think: I would prefer a space death procedure on the cleaner side. Messes leave me queasy. You ask the laundromat what process is best for getting a bloody space steak stain out. They say:

Oh, you’re making steak?
You say, Yes, I am. In honor of disco. Lots of blood.
They say, Well, here are the rules of the space knife:

Sharp and quick. You want meat to slice like a butter bar.

You aren’t sure if that’s true. But as you slide it right into your second Jupiter husband, he says nothing. Because he’s dying.

Never pity your package. You want this meat to be one to remember. Stains will fade. Bleach it if you have to! Enjoy your steak!

So you do. Everyone here, though, even the Love DMV clerk, expects you to pity the death of your space husband. And you do, a bit. His limbs, limping under the space lawn.

You decide to phone the Jupiter Divorce Council:

This is Jupiter Divorce Council, what is your marriage record?
What? Hello? Oh, uhm, I guess, two?
I am scanning for voice recognition, says the Jupiter council of divorce. Two marriages. One divorce. Two files for upward regret. A love credit score of 615, below average.

Yes, I know. I would like to file for widowship.

Widowship file calculating. Of earth space spouse number 2873A2-12?
Yes, that’s him. Dead and gone.

The Jupiter Divorce Council doesn’t answer you quickly.

Scanning for widow ship claim: complete. Your love credit has risen to 630, in good condition. Any more concerns today?

None, thank you.

You hang up. Take a shower. Alainis Morrissette in the background. A ping pang in your chest. What’s the damage? You dry off, dreading, thinking:

God, this planet is so boring. How am I supposed to keep the upward flow of a feeling to a minimum? What’s the minimum? What’s the minimum? What’s the minimum? WHAT’S THE MINIMUM?

Jasmin Tomlins has been making noises with her mouth for 32 years, most recently as a determined vintner on the streets of the Bristol Renaissance Faire. She is grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these stories, and to receive the meaning that stories give voices.

Gateways: “The Lightness and Shimmer” by Ivan Salazar. Read by Rachel Granda-Gluski and Josh Ballard

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Ivan Salazar. Ivan graduated from the UCLA writing program in 2007. He entered into the Comics and Graphic Novel world in 2009. He’d mostly been writing press releases and marketing until, in 2018 he was published alongside Margaret Atwood, and Gerard Way in “The Secret Loves of Geeks” published by Dark Horse Comics. He is currently working on a horror short story collection and a screenplay. This is The Lightness & Shimmer

On the clock, I see we have about 10 minutes before planetary alignment between us, the Moon, Mars, and Anteras – which, like, have you heard of Anteras before I mentioned it? I know I hadn’t until the info just showed up in my head a few months back. We both finish putting on our space suits, sans helmets – which by the way we call them “space suits” but really, they’re just modified fire fighters’ outfits, upgraded to the gills – literally we figured out this filtration system for the low atmosphere planes we were told we might jump into, it takes off some of the strain off the oxygen tan-

Test,” Alex says, his voice comes through my ear piece in a tinny crackle. 

“Test,” I reply, and he nods. His face brightens with a smile. 

I shoot a shy one back and give a shaky “thumbs up” that’s wholly unconvincing, even to me.

He gives me a semi-confused and amused look as if to say, “okaaay.”

The small mountains of tech and wires that now surround every corner and wall of our garage start up their hum. It’s questioning noise ramps up in level and pitch as if to say, “Hmmmm? What now?”

We both find ourselves staring straight at the doorway in the center of the garage. It started as a simple prop doorway, but as the instructions and schematics came flooding into our heads, we transformed it into so much more. We added components from PCs, fridges, TVs. Tubes and hoses of all kinds looped throughout, supplying coolants. We even added a couple dozen Texas Instrument calculators – specifically 1995 era TI graphic & scientific calculators for their interlocking-

 “Suz?” Alex’s voice crackles through the earpiece. “You ok?” I turn to him and he’s pointing to his nose sporting a thin line of blood coming out of the right nostril.

I wipe my bulky hand across my nose and I can see red blood glossy against the black glove.

I look back at Alex wiping his own nose and see him staring at nothing but the garage door on the other side of the pulsing empty frame. The circuits, motors and tubes kick up slowly, increasing their glow through the scrap metal and duct tape casings around the frame. We know that doorway won’t be empty for long.

Could you check the power levels Suz?” He says.

“Yeah, let me check Pringles’ suit first,” I say, and I hear myself add unintentional bite. 

Oh, right. Good call,” he says a little apologetic. “I’ll check the supplies.” He croaks through the earpiece – “ies” drops off, but I know what he means. This reminds me: the tech we got beamed into our heads works, but it’s far from perfect.

There’s a slight drop in my stomach – the image of a roller coaster creeping up a high hill of rickety wooden planks comes to mind. One of those big, whitewashed monstrosities, past its prime and ready for tear down. I see myself strapped into a tiny cart at the head of the train; a flimsy metal bar across my lap, and metronomic clacks ticking away the moments before the big drop.

Alex paws through the “journey pack.” It’s one of those internet-advertised “Never travel with a suitcase ever again, carry up to 200 pounds in just one pack” sort of bags. It’s got tons of pockets and pouches where Alex has stocked tools, first aid materials, protein rich MREs and one or two “human curiosities” – one of his is a rubik’s cube, which Alex swears they’ll get a kick out of. My “curiosity” is the pack itself. I made Alex get the cheetah print one because space exploration shouldn’t be as serious as military style digital camo.

I trot over to the table next to the power cells where Pringles, our cat, is resting in his carrier. I unzip the door. I stare at him. His fuzzy head and whiskers tilt and he beams a nice memory of me holding him while wearing a soft Christmas sweater from three years back that read “Nice, Naughty, & Loves 2 Party!” I smile and run my thumb over the top of his head, massaging it lightly. “That’s right,” I say, inaudible through the building hum all around us, but I know he gets it. 

Pringles has already made this leg of the jump. It wasn’t my idea! But then again, I also didn’t stop myself from figuring out the schematics for a cat-sized space suit with the ability to keep him alive in the climate condition we were told would be in the first jump.

There were a lot of times in the last couple of weird months where I didn’t stop things from progressing. Even when I knew deep down it wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. Really, that could be said for a lot of things between Alex and I. Somewhere in my head, the roller coaster clacks up further.

He almost didn’t come back to us, Pringles I mean. The first time he went through the doorway, we were still figuring out the power source, and honestly, we thought we had it. When the door just blipped off severing the rope. Yeah, ok, I know interplanetary travel should be more sophisticated than just using home depot variety rope. We might’ve gotten too cocky after cracking the secrets to planet jumping. So sue us.

Alex and I yelled Pringles’ name repeatedly into the communicator that linked us. This must’ve looked like the world’s weirdest potato chip commercial. The door came on, then blipped off, turned on, then blipped off; my heart sinking with every time the door went offline. Then it turned on again and held steady. I snatched a bag of treats and shook them into the communicator, piping the tasty rattle directly to Pringles’ helmet. That’s when he jumped back through the doorway on his own. The door blipped off for the last time that day after that.

When Alex tried to justify Pringles’ life vs. first contact space exploration, that’s when I left Alex and “the project.” I holed up in a hotel with Pringles and noticed I could understand him a lot better – not talking exactly but just images and smells. Which was fine most of the time. Pringles has a lot of nice memories of us. It’s just when he needs to poo that things get gross. Alex found the hotel I was staying at and showed up in person to apologize. He told me I was right, that he should’ve listened more to me when I said things were getting weird and dangerous. How he needed me because I was the only one that really understood what we were going through. That he was scared. And that he couldn’t finish without me. That he’d do better to listen and back me going forward. Standing in the doorframe of the hotel room holding Pringles in my arms, I looked at Alex, tears shrink wrapping his eyes and I just wished this conversation had happened before aliens abducted us.

Oh right, did I mention we got abducted by aliens?

It wasn’t that big of a deal. Neither of us can completely remember it. It was a romantic getaway weekend in the mountains where we tried to “figure things out” but mostly spent time in different rooms quietly resenting the waste of time. On the last morning of the failing weekend, we woke up in our cabin bedroom with every electronic in the room perfectly disassembled and immaculately ordered in a grid around the bed. We wrote a sorry note and left 50 bucks in an envelope to the Air BnB person. Thought to mention poltergeists or kinky burglars, but instead we just wrote “Sorry. Found things this way. Didn’t know how to fix.” 

At the time we didn’t really KNOW it was aliens, but a day after coming back we individually started scribbling down schematics, taking apart electronics, and noticed we were already building before even knowing what it was we were building. Then we started getting more messages – Alex in dreams, and me through weird phone calls. It would’ve been scary, but then I found I was communicating so much more with Alex than I had in the last few months, or maybe even years, which was its own kind of scary. Like why did it take alien intervention to pull us out of our bullshit enough to talk to one another?

In any case, it was nice a nice change. It felt like we were working together, being a team again.  Laughing a lot like we used to. We even came up with these in-jokes around “the project,” like having enough know-how to modify a jet ski to take us to Hawaii in a couple of hours. Or how we totally needed to build an escape pod for Pringles, kinda like baby Superman in case the power cells overloaded and he needed to escape the blast radius. Ok maybe that one was less of a funny “ha ha” joke and more like funny “oh shit what are we doing?” joke.

Outside the terror of potentially making our home (and half the city) a crater, it was fun slipping into a routine of talking in bed about the days’ tasks when we woke up. Slapping together the next components at night while sharing some take out sushi and rum.  Exchanging shy smiles as we reached for the same screwdriver or soldering iron. Making fiercely physical and present love and then after holding each other until sleep took us. Aliens communiques aside, it felt like the old us, the us after we got married, the us that could and would do anything for each other and, god help me, I was thankful for every day we had like that.

But listening to Alex’s apologies outside my hotel door, I wondered what our lives would be like once we completed this thing. The project meant so much less to me after we almost lost Pringles, but it was difficult to stop the plans flooding in. Only the building could get rid of them. I tried talking to Alex about it, how it would just invade my every day thoughts until I put driver to screw. I also pleaded with him for us to talk about something, anything that wasn’t “the project.” But then he just sank deeper into the building. Slowly, just like before the abduction, I found myself feeling increasingly alone around Alex. Funny how someone could be laying right next to you, staring directly into your eyes and still feel worlds away.

Suz?” Alex’s voice crackles through the earpiece. “— ok?

“Sorry, what?”

Power cells, ok?” He says and my stomach drops again. The roller coaster image is topping the peak, clacks slowing in anticipation of the drop. I clench my fists at this.

I glance over to the readouts from the power supply status screen. Alien symbols and markers bounce and glitch. I can tell it reads roughly 60% power left, wait, 58% now, I think. I find it odd how Alex was never able to read these symbols and signs. How I had to be the one to explain it to him. “58% give or take.” I say

Should be enough!” He says and I can tell he’s smiling.

I fasten the helmet onto Pringles. He beams mix of “pick me up” and “hold me close” memories at me. So, I do. I’m grateful for this. I take a deep breath. I start to say “Alex, we need to ta-”, but I’m cut off. The doorway switches on. Whenever it does a shimmer bubbles from the doorway. As it expands outward, twinkling in a soft blue white light, everything it touches slightly lifts for a second. Gravity drops out, giving everything a brief weightlessness.

Alex, Pringles and I lift slightly, the balls of my feet never leaving the ground.

That’s it!” Alex, shouts. “We have planetary alignment!” He runs up to me and grips me tight with his bulky suit hands. He kisses me hard and I kiss him back, wanting to believe everything that soft touch promises. “C’mon we got to go through while we still have power. Once this door closes we won’t be able to hit the same set of gates that link the planets,” he says before donning and locking his fishbowl helmet.

“Alex, I need to tell you something.” I say and look at the floor.

Sure, sure, let’s just jump this gate and we can talk on the walk to the others,” he says slinging the cheetah bag over his shoulder and wobbling slightly from the weight. 

“Alex, please” I say just in time to see him give me a salute and walk backwards through the doorway. The shimmer ripples, twinkling along with the throng of electronics all around, and the gravity drops out again. A moment passes. I strain to hear something over the static through the earpiece. 

Test,” he says.

“I’m not going,” I say. And the roller coaster drops.

I tell him everything, all of it, even the things I should’ve said way before Aliens came into our lives. How I loved the promise of change and the return to love the last few months signaled. How I desperately wanted to stay in that promise, even with all the crazy dangerous alien stuff, if it meant we could stay good for each other. But, now I’m afraid that once the project ends it would mean the end of that fantasy and soon after the end of us. And how I might be able to handle that on Earth but there was NO way I could handle on the other side of Anteras.

A long staticky silence drags for eons, then Alex’s voice starts, “Suz, I’m sorry you feel that way bu-”. The doorway blips out. It sends out a final wave of shimmer and lightness. With it goes all the noise both inside my head and outside of it. And in the end, that was our answer.

Rachel Granda Gluski is a chicago based voice actor and movement professional. She currently enjoys working with radio play companies Starlight Radio Dreams and Locked into Vacancy Entertainment. She also performs every summer with the Bristol Renaissance faire. When she’s not performing she enjoys being a huge nerd and hanging out with her cats.

Josh Ballard’s work has been seen all over the Chicagoland area for the past 11 years. From Ren Faires to radio, pantos to photoshoots, he is an actor that can, and will, do anything. A grad of Columbia College Chicago, Josh is excited to be a part of this unique series with one of the fastest growing theatre companies in Chicago!