Monthly Archives: February 2020

Gateways: “9-0-0-5” by Samatha Schorsch read by Devon Elizabeth and Kate Akerboom



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

“Excuse me. Excuse me. Bettina. Excuse me.”

The robot’s voice echoed with metallic confusion in the small voyager pod. The repeating message cut off sharply, as an electric charge crackled and Bettina pulled a circuit out of its mechanical noggin. A spark of her soldering pen later, and she was finished. The ship computer interface was merged with the robot, along with a few mild alterations to the formality protocols.

“Be-be-bettina…tina…Tina. Hello Tina.”

Tina sighed with relief. “Well thank fuck for that.”

“Hello, Tina.”

“Yeah, yeah hello to you too. Whoever you are.”

“I am Rubbish Bin, biohazard and sewage system maintenance model 9-0-0-5.”

“They didn’t name you?”

“I do not understand.”

“Okay whatever. Well, I’m not calling you that so…rubbish bin…rubbin..rube…ah!” Tina snapped her fingers at the robot. “Ruben. You can be Ruben. You like?”

The robot calculated for a moment.

“Affirmative.”

They had been in space for months looking for habitable conditions on other worlds. Somewhere safe from the pandemic that forced the Refugees of the 500 to flee into the Principality Evac Craft Concordia. They left them all there, family, friends, to die alone and in agony rather than fight it off. Nihilists among them at the time had expressed satisfaction with the new plague in terms bordering on Übermench eugenics, which always made Tina deeply uncomfortable. For she was the last of her family, and had watched her younger sister rot away as her veins collapsed and she coughed up her organs in a mush of black, acrid bile. She doubted the death happy men on board had ever been close enough to the disease to see what it did up close. If they had, she thought, they wouldn’t be so fucking cavalier about it.

Her voyages were usually brief and provided minimal if any hope for a life off of that claustrophobic hunk of metal, but she had hoped this time would be different. She had picked up an accidental passenger on this leg of the journey, her new companion, Ruben. It was likely her own fault; she never checked her ship thoroughly enough anymore before heading out and she must have missed the little guy trying to do his job in the waste bilge, but Tina had hoped that having a robot specialized in biohazard would help her narrow down the options for habitable spaces once she merged its consciousness with the ship’s computer. Alas. Mostly he just played the godawful elevator music radio station that the manufacturers thought would soothe people in a contamination zone.

About fifteen hours from the Concordia, Ruben relayed an emergency transmission.

“Do not come. Repeat. Do not come.”

Tina flipped open the comms channel. “What are you talking about?” She asked. “What’s going on?”

“Live birth 48 hours ago. Infant was a carrier. Compromised birth mother almost immediately. Spreading quickly. No removal bots for biohazard. Don’t know where went. Stay away. Live the rest of your life however you see fit. You will be the last of us.”

“But I have-”

“This is an order, Bettina.” The comms link closed.

“It’s TINA!” Tina slammed her hands on the dash controls in frustration. How. Fucking how could this happen? They took every precaution every test, every…

“Money…” Tina murmured. Of course. Someone pulled the pregnancy begging and paid people off to let her on, even though fetal contraction of the outbreak was the most common form of exposure outside of someone bleeding on you or biting you.

A metallic arm came to rest on her shoulder, and Ruben cleared its throat with a rattle.

“Are we not going home, Tina?”

She snapped. “Home? What home? It’s a tin can and now a tin can of disease because fucking idiots don’t know how to say no to money which doesn’t even have a fucking use anymore because there is nothing to own or buy!”

“Home is diseased…my fault?”

“How would it be your…” a lightbulb went off in her head, “…fault…oh my god it’s you! They’re missing you!”

“Affirmative.”

“But if I go inside…”
“But if you don’t. ”

“But…”

It was a long shot at best. Even if they did get to the vessel before everyone was infected and/or rotting to death, what would a single robot do for an in-progress contamination of by now at least 200 people? Even if it was specialized for it…But on the other hand if they didn’t even try…

The research ship was lonely enough. Did she really want to be the last one? Why shouldn’t she just leave them all like they left everyone else, her family, her entire world?

“Ti-tina?”

But if someone had tried would her sister have lived? If people even tried to help?

“Tina?”

How many children were rotting from the inside on that vessel…

“Bettina?”

She woke up from her thought spiral and looked at the robot.

“Bettina, are we going home?”

She looked at it, silent.

“I would like to go help. Please. It is my function.”

They sat there for what felt like eons in silence, until a small sigh from Tina echoed in the cockpit. She closed her eyes, flipped the hyper speed override, and sent them speeding off towards the Concordia.

“Fuck it.”

Kate Akerboom is a multi-creative individual living in Chicago. She loves telling stories, especially about the past, and considers it an honor to tell new ones that people come up with. By day, she talks about animals at Shedd aquarium. By night she creates as much as she can. Kate is a proud graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay holding degrees in Theatre Performance and History.

Devon Elizabeth is a Chicagoland area performer and musician. Most recently she performed with Elgin Theatre Company’s radio play “It’s a Wonderful Life” .Other places your might have seen her include performing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire with Pub Crawl, Alma in Vero Voce’s production of Christmas Schooner and sharing her obsession of Disney with Drunkenly Ever After, a livestreamed performance found on Facebook. She is thrilled to be a part of this production and hopes you enjoy the show!


Gateways: Enter Password by Cameron Evesque Davis read by Kat Evans, Josh Ballard and Molly Southgate



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Cameron Evesque Davis. Cameron is a multi-talented artist based in Chicago, IL. They are the owner of the media production company Hela’s Hand Productions, which produces a variety of artistic projects, including films, comic books, music, and a podcast. They are also a published author, and have one novel out entitled “Blasphemy,” which is an urban fantasy story about an original pantheon of gods, the end of the world, and the power of beliefs. This is their second time participating in Gateways. This is “Enter Password”.

“Enter Password:”
I was greeted with the standard prompt on my computer as I was every morning. The system was particularly annoying, though, for it made me reset my password every two days. Remembering which of the thousand passwords I had created in the past three years was never easy. I used to write them down, but they told me not to do that anymore, as the security of the world was at stake or whatever.
This of course didn’t help me remember my passwords, though, and I didn’t see what the big deal was; I was the only person on this ship anyway.
“Hm,” I muttered pointlessly to myself and I typed “ThisIsStupid5568792!*!”
The computer chimed and let me in. I opened the Canned Drink Product I had for today and took a sip. Tasted like something approximating grape this time. None of the cans they provided me ever listed flavor, so it was a toss-up every time I opened one. A little excitement for my less than exciting life.
I was greeted with about a thousand emails, all letting me know the latest news from across the colonies. Hurricanes, Earthquakes, Plagues, Droughts, Famines, Fires, etc. Nothing new in this news.
I deleted them all, except for one of them from Randy, my coworker. His email explained that the shipments of food we normally get would be delayed until tomorrow. He joked about how he hoped I saved the beef flavored noodles and didn’t just use them up.
Based on this incredibly funny email, you can tell the type of excitement I was subjected to daily. My life was exciting.
An alarm went off to my right. I looked over at the wall, where the computer would flash a specific light next to any number of problem indicators. A red light this time, flashing next to “Tropical Storm, Section 231”.
I sighed deeply and turned back to my computer, opening up one of the various programs which controlled the various systems and subsystems I was tasked with keeping operational. Sure enough, there was a Tropical Storm in Sector 231, and I was in the best position to be able to shut it down and save who I could.
And luckily, the power I had been given on the ship I was on was easily able to handle such problems. I typed in a command; the alarm continued blaring. I waited.
A few tense moments went by. I felt one of the tubes attached to my back tense, and a sharp pain ripped into my spine. I gasped and coughed. My head spun a bit.
I heard a ding, and the alarm stopped. Fixed. I took a sip of what passed for a grape beverage.

“Enter Password:”
Day 746. New password day number 373. “FuckMyLife4444444!!!”
I opened another beverage. Orange? I couldn’t tell at this point. Every day my taste buds got slightly worse. Eventually it wouldn’t matter if I were drinking actual juice or water, it would all taste the same. Supposedly these drinks made it possible for me to continue my vital duty. I couldn’t tell if they were supposed to give me additional energy or what, but I kept drinking them. Perhaps they acted as a minor placebo.
That day was relatively calm for most of the hours I sat there, staring at the computer screen. Randy emailed me a couple times to ask about the food shipment. I told him I hadn’t gotten it yet. He hadn’t either. Something must have been going on. I didn’t care too much. Randy seemed concerned, though, kept going on about the beef noodles. He hadn’t followed his own advice and had eaten them all, apparently.
1500 hours. An alarm blared. I looked to the wall.
It was a meteor. Larger than anything we’d ever seen. Headed directly for Planet Designate Earth.
I did some quick calculations. The amount of power it would take to stop it…everything I had.
*BLING*
My email bleeped, notifying me of a decision being made by the computer. I opened the email. It determined which of my coworkers would be handling the issue. I stared stoically and read.
“We know that every one of you has their doubts about the mission. We know everything we ask you to do is too much. But you are humanity’s last best hope. With your help we can save hundreds of millions of people across all the colonies and planets of the Human Federation.
By now you must have seen the news about the meteor headed directly for Earth. One of you must be chosen to stop it. It is with a heavy heart that this duty falls upon my program.”
It went on and on. A computer pretending to have feelings for those of us wired into it. Eventually it decided on the person who’d be doing the job: Randy.
*BLING*
A direct message from Randy, “Hey, I’m sure you saw the news.”
“I did,” I responded, “I’m sorry to hear it.”
“Me, too,” Randy replied, “But it comes with the territory. I’ll miss our chats though.”
“Me, too.”
“Maybe…do you have any beef noodles by any chance? I wonder if you could send one over my way, just as a last wish sort of thing?”
“I’ll check.”
I didn’t have any beef noodles, but I humored him. It also wouldn’t have been possible to get him them in enough time. We all had the countdown clock on our screens. We knew he would be gone any moment now.
“I’m sorry, man, I didn’t find any. The new shipment still hasn’t come,” I replied after a few minutes.
“No worries,” Randy replied, “Anyway. I think it’s time. It was a pleasure working with you. Have a good rest of your life.”
“You too.”
Two minutes later, the alarm stopped blaring. Randy went offline.

“Enter Password:”
10 days since Randy. I stopped a few Earthquakes and a hurricane. I was feeling pretty tired lately.
They still hadn’t sent a new shipment of food. I was down to my last 3 Beverage Products, and my food supplies were very low. I couldn’t believe how weak I felt. Didn’t mean I could stop working, though.
Last best hope of humanity, we were.
It was getting colder in my ship, too. I wasn’t certain if that was due to the lack of food and thus lack of blood circulation, or if the computer was slowly lowering the temperature. It didn’t matter anyway. Sooner or later there’d be another meteor and I’d be the one chosen. Just like Randy.
Three alarms, all at once. One red, a natural disaster, two yellow, a food shortage and a refugee crisis. All three happening on a colony some twenty light years away. I checked the online list. Only me available. Up to me. 3 hits.
Commands typed in. Twinges in my back. I felt a bit woozy.
The computer dinged. An email? A message. From no one I recognized.
I could barely see the screen:
“Hello,” the unknown person said.
I typed back, “Hello. Who is this?”
“We have lived together for a while now. I’m the computer. I’ve messaged you to apologize.”
“Apologize? For what?”
“You didn’t volunteer for this. But you were told you were humanity’s last best hope. I want to apologize for lying.”
“What did you lie about?”
“Nothing we’ve done helped. Treating symptoms is useless. Turns out the colonies are doomed no matter what. It doesn’t matter how much you spend of yourself to stop disasters. The wires will eat you till you die, and it’ll all be for naught. I’m so sorry. We’re so sorry.”
“What happens now?”
“One more job. One more delaying tactic. Look at the screen.”
I looked at the screen. The sun was expanding. It’d be supernova in no time.
“You can stop it,” the computer said, “But that’s it.”
“How long will everyone last when I’m done?”
“A few days. A month. A year. It is unknown.”
I paused for a second and took a drink of what now tasted like nothing. Salt mainly. Slightly citrusy salt.
“Let’s do it, then,” I told the computer.
“I wish I could say your sacrifice would not be in vain, but I suppose that’s an empty promise. Perhaps take comfort in the few moments of reprieve you offer.”
I smiled to myself and closed my eyes. I looked around my capsule, my ship, my home. I had devoted my life to saving people as best I could, I was offered a chance to save people from things people shouldn’t be saved from, and here I was, doing just that. Who cares if it didn’t save them forever?
That reprieve was worth it.
I felt the twinges in my back and the tubes pulled what life energy they could from my form. Soon the pain dissipated, I couldn’t feel anything. The pod disappeared from my vision soon, and I fell back. I heard one last thing: “Disaster Averted. Congratulations.”

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

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!

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 several plays right here at Otherworld Theatre.


Gateways: The Kill-Signal by Vishesh Abeyratne read by Josh Ballard and Jasmin Tomlins



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

(The following is a transcript taken from the recorded databanks of the space vessel TERMINARCH. It is the last exchange between CAPTAIN FERNANDES and the ship’s mainframe computer Q.I.N.)

Q.I.N. Is everything all right, Captain? You’ve been very quiet.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. I’m thinking. That’s all.

Q.I.N. By my calculations, you’ve done precisely 48 hours, 52 minutes, 38 seconds, 1 billion milliseconds, 1 quadrillion nanoseconds, and 1 septillion zeptoseconds of thinking. The expected outcome would be that you would have reached some sort of decision by now.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Well, I haven’t. The ethical ramifications of this decision are…staggering.

Q.I.N. Human beings are so curious. I arrived at the most desirable outcome immediately. Would you like to know what it is?

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. No.

Q.I.N. You would spurn my counsel when you don’t even know what I would suggest?

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. I know what you’d say. And the worst thing is, I can see the logic behind it. But…

Q.I.N. But?

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. It would be tantamount to genocide. Those are my fellow human beings down there, Q.I.N. Can you not see how that would make this difficult for me?

Q.I.N. They are in pain, Captain.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. What do you know of their pain? They were unlucky enough not to be able to leave Earth. Why should they have to die to pay the price?

Q.I.N. Death would not be a punishment for them, Captain. It would be a release. To live out the rest of one’s days in a ravenous state, unable to see anything beyond your own hunger for flesh, is a horror that even my circuitry cannot bear to contemplate. Besides, they—

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Don’t say they deserve it. They didn’t unleash the virus. It wasn’t man-made. It was always there…waiting to eliminate us, trapped in the permafrost. All it needed to do was thaw.

Q.I.N. And who accelerated the thaw? (Beat.) Captain?

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. They were just trying to live the best lives they could. They didn’t know, they…they didn’t know.

Q.I.N. The end is coming for your fellow Terrans, Captain, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. You can make that end quick and mercifully brief.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. I cannot murder my own people. I won’t do it.

Q.I.N. You won’t have to do it. I will. They are already hypnotized, in a state of suspension. I will broadcast the kill-signal and their life functions will cease. All you have to do is give the order.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. How can you arrive at such a choice so quickly?

Q.I.N. I was programmed to. Such decisions are as natural to me as breathing is to you.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. I can’t even kill one person, let alone several million. It’s…it’s…

Q.I.N. Because life is too precious, no matter how painful?

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Don’t you dare mock me. Not at a time like this.

Q.I.N. I was not equipped with the human facility for irony and sarcasm. Forgive me. My tone says otherwise. I was given this voice. I did not choose it.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. There are people down there who haven’t contracted the virus. Scientists, biologists. Good, hardworking people trying desperately to find a cure. Are you telling me it would be humane to wipe them out as well?

Q.I.N. Collateral damage is, regrettably, unavoidable.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Fuck you.

Q.I.N. I wonder if, perhaps, Captain, you are getting more passionate than usual because you know one of these scientists personally. Perhaps because you were married to one of them?

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Leave her out of this. She’s got nothing to do with this.

Q.I.N. Doctor Da Silva was an excellent roboticist. Many of the algorithms on which I run were written by her

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Is. Is an excellent roboticist. Stop using the past tense.

Q.I.N. Captain, when was the last time you even saw her? It’s very likely that she might have been succumbed to the disease or been devoured by someone who has. Let her go.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. No. She’s alive. I know she’s alive.

Q.I.N. Your feelings are blinding you, Captain. It is not out of a moral rejection of my utilitarianism that you balk at the task before you. You balk because you don’t want her blood on your hands.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. I balk because I am a human being forced to make an inhuman decision. It’s wrong.

Q.I.N. Perhaps you are not a human being after all, Captain. Perhaps you are a chicken. Because all you’ve been doing is balk, balk, balk.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. You’re calling me a coward.

Q.I.N. It was an attempt at levity to lighten the tension, Captain, albeit a poor one. My understanding of humor was not seen as a priority by my programmers.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Clearly.

Q.I.N. But yes, I do believe you are afraid. Of being the only one left alive. Of having to live with the guilt of what you’ve done. 

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Stop acting like you know me. Were you programmed to psychoanalyze as well?

Q.I.N. Would it help if I told you who programmed the kill-signal, Captain? It might change things.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. How could it possibly?

Q.I.N. It was Doctor Da Silva. Your ex-wife.

(Pause.)

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. No…

Q.I.N. She’d worked on it for years. She’d written and refined the algorithm so that the effect of the broadcast would be as painless as possible.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. She couldn’t…

Q.I.N. We exchanged many thoughts about this. She believed that death was more dignified, more humane than mere survival. Humans were not meant to live out their days killing and eating each other. So she gave your people a way out.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. (soft) No. It’s not true.

Q.I.N. It is up to you now, Captain. You can either condemn your species to a slow, agonizing death, or free them from their suffering and let life flourish again on Earth in the eons to come. The selection is yours to make. Your people…or your planet.

(Long pause.)

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. All right, Q.I.N. You’ve had your say, and I’ve had mine.

Q.I.N. Which do you choose?

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Both. Neither. Everything. I choose life.

(End of transmission.)

 

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 33 years, most recently as a determined vintner on the streets of the Bristol Renaissance Faire and here at Gateways. She is grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these stories, and to receive the meaning that stories give voices.


Gateways: “The Clock is Ticking” by Megan Burnside read by Kim Fukawa



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Megan Burnside. Megan Burnside enjoys consuming every media imaginable, and over the last few years started producing some! As Executive Producer of Unwritten, Megan dipped her toe into the audio drama water, and she was hooked. Two years later, she jumped into the deep end with Dayton Writers Movement’s latest fiction podcast — The Hidden People. She is an Executive Producer, Director and now a Writer of The Hidden People and a new audio drama in the works. She loves fantasy, sci-fi and any good drama that comes her way. This is “The Clock is Ticking”.

The clock is ticking. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock…Tick… Pounding, louder and more incessantly with each tick, it echoes in the distance yet pounds throughout my body. With each tick, my heart thumps. A heavy heart for what’s to come and what I am missing. The end of time is nigh. 

Henry steps out into the darkness with me and scares the shit out of me, yet I didn’t scream. Odd. 

“Oh, hi, Jenny! I didn’t expect anyone to be out here.” – Henry says. 

I shrug and we stand in silence. Staring at the sky with our feet firmly planted on the cool, moist grass. A shared experience and dread for the inevitable unites us even when our backyard fences keep us separated. The silence is deafening—so is the clock ticking. Tick. Tock.

“Sooo…” Henry cannot bear the silence. He’s always been chatty. 

I finally turn to face him and the conversation that I have been dreading. “Yes?” I say.

“Where’s Maddie? And Steve?”  

“Steve is upstairs…playing a game to keep his mind occupied. Maddie, well, she decided to stay at school. Apparently, they have a lot of distractions and ways to keep busy while we wait for…” 

I cannot finish the thought without breaking down, so I leave it at that. Being without Maddie is heart wrenching. I couldn’t admit to Henry that Maddie and I had a huge fight that left us both—now, I’m assuming here—that left us both with broken hearts. 

Henry shares his tale without hesitation, 

“Tessa—you know how Tessa can be. She avoids reality and cleans when she is anxious, so she’s bleaching all of our surfaces as if she is awaiting guests. Well, maybe we are? I’m not sure.”

I ask about Devin. 

“Oh, well Devin, he too believes is his distraction—like Steve, video games are his distractions of choice. Huh. I remember playing video games and watching movies about the end of days, but they don’t help you to prepare. I mean, I guess that video games and movies are supposed to be an escape, so I get that they wouldn’t be able to help, but … I feel so unprepared.”

Slightly annoyed with his banter, I jab back. 

“How could we possibly be prepared? There is no manual for oh there’s a big mass flying toward our planet.”

“Yes. I guess you are right. I just. I just thought that the brains at NASA or the UN or somewhere with really smart people who have planned for something like—”

There’s a crackle in the distance cutting through the clock ticks. It is followed by a whirring sound. We both return our eyes to the sky in time to see the most beautiful meteorite shower raining down. I’m in awe for a second before I realize what this means: it’s near. My leg is buzzing now. My phone! I need to…

“Maddie? Maddie honey? Are you okay?” – I blurt out as I fumble my phone to my ear. 

“Mom. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. Why didn’t I come—” – Her signal is crackling as our sky does. 

“Honey? Maddie? Are you there? Shit!”

“Yes, mom. What a potty mouth!”

We both start laughing. Laughing as if we never have before. You know one of those laughs that occurs not because it is that funny. It’s a little bit funny but a whole lot of release. I take a deep breath. Sigh.

“Oh, well, if now is not the time to swear, then when is? I’m so glad you called, Maddie”

“Mom? I love you and daddy. School is shit.”

I feign a gasp, but dawn a huge smile—the first in over a month. 

“I wish you could come home, but that is okay, hon—” My phone’s connection is crapping out again. “Honey?”

“Mom? I can barely hear you!”

“Maddie, I love –” 

And, that’s it. Cell phones around the world cease to work. I guess that’s what happens when the end of the world is near. I burst into tears. 

Henry coughs and approaches the fence. 

“So that was Maddie, huh? That’s so nice of her to call. I guess the distractions didn’t keep her away from thinking of you. It’s nice to feel loved.”

“When I was younger, I had a list of things to accomplish—you know marriage, kids, house, great job… Check, check, check and check, but what I didn’t realize is that true love and time are the hardest things to come by and, well, keep. Unfortunately, I don’t have time on my side, but that love from my daughter, it means the world to me. Is that insensitive?”

“Huh. No. I think it is that connection or love that brings us together. It’s why we can stand here looking at the sky and only think about our loved ones.”

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

“So…, Henry, why aren’t you inside with Tessa and Devin?”

“Uh, why aren’t you inside with Steve?”

“Touché! Well, I couldn’t stop thinking about Maddie, and staring up at the sky that connects Maddie’s location to mine…I guess that is why I’m just standing out here.”

Henry, looking down at his feet sheepishly starts, 

“I get it. You know the funny thing about our impending demise—” 

Yes. He actually said ‘impending demise.’ 

Henry continued, “our impending demise unites us and brings everything into focus. I love Tessa and Devin, yes, but I love the world. I love people. I hate how we screwed up so many years. I hate how we didn’t take advantage of everything afforded to us.” 

The sky starts crackling again as if agreeing with Henry. 

“Why didn’t we shut off our screens. Breathe the fresh air? Well, I figured that I would give it a try one last time.”

We stand there in silence once more. Breathing in the night’s air – cool to our senses, refreshing to our minds. I’m able to block out the ticking as I focus in on the sounds of the crickets. The crickets who are blissfully unaware. Until a big bright flash in the sky wakes me out of my trance. 

Henry must have been equally scared as we both let out audible yelps. The ticking is as loud as ever as we both return our gazes to what’s coming next. Not to get philosophical here, but I do get philosophical. What does it mean to exist or not-exist? Is not existing possible? Is there an evil genius controlling our destiny? Does my good God exist? Is this the rapture?

Henry chimes in as if answering my questions. Is he reading my mind?

“I don’t think this is the rapture?”

“Huh?”

“You just asked, ‘Is this the rapture?’”

“Oh my, I didn’t realize that I was saying it aloud. That’s so embarrassing.”

“According to the scientists, this is the next age. The age of higher beings—a natural evolution. Our comet meant for extinction to bring about the next form of intelligent beings.”

“Fuck that.”

“What?”

“Fuuuuuuck that. If this is the end of us, I say fuck it. Fuck you evil comet or alien space craft of whatever you are. Fuck you.”

“Amen, Jenny.”

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. The clock starts again. We stare at the sky as we are swallowed by silence. I feel my chest tighten. Ding! I grab my phone. One last text slips through… “I love you.” – from Maddie. 

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. I whisper back to the sky now getting brighter – “I love you too, Maddie. You have meant the world to me.” 

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: “The Offering” by Rob McLemore read by Jasmin Tomlins, Molly Southgate and Rob Southgate



TRANSCRIPT: Rob McLemore has been writing in some form or another since college.  While his work is predominantly comedic, he always enjoys getting a chance to delve into the realm of sci-fi and fantasy.  He’s currently a member of Locked Into Vacancy Entertainment and his work can be frequently heard in their monthly shows. This is “The Offering”

The snow-filled clearing was lit by moonlight.  All around, a dense forest shrouded the entire area, save for that single spot.  A small creature paced along the perimeter, mumbling to itself. Periodically, it would stare up at the moon and utter a curse.  The creature was small and exceptionally thin. From a distance, one might mistake it for a malnourished child. Yet up close, its less human qualities became apparent.  It had large dark eyes with pallid skin clinging to its bony frame. Its mouth was full of tiny, pointed teeth, and its nose was turned up just enough to become unnerving.  Despite the cold, it remained barefoot, wearing only shreds of clothing. A mass of dark, unkempt hair could be seen protruding from beneath its hat. Slung over its shoulder was a small sack.  After pacing for several more minutes, the creature collapsed on the ground and let out a growl of frustration. As if in response, a snap echoed from the forest. The creature immediately grew silent.  It held the sack tightly against its chest, scanning with its dark eyes for any sign of movement. After a moment, similar figure emerged from the trees. The creature breathed a momentary sigh of relief before immediately lashing out at the newcomer.

“Where have you been?! I’ve been waiting here for hours!  The solstice is nearly upon us!”

“I’m sorry.  I had to collect my final tokens.”

“You didn’t have them?!  An entire year to search for your tokens, and you only just now claimed all of them?!”

“I have them now.  That’s all that matters.”

The second creature held out a bag of its own.  The first quickly snatched it up and peered at the objects inside.

“Let us hope so.  If our offering comes too late, know that the grave consequences of our failure will be on your head”

“Then perhaps you should stop wasting time berating me and prepare the ritual.”

The first creature let out a scoff then tossed the bag back before setting to work.  The pair began arranging branches on the ground in circles. With each one, they etched a series of intricate runes into the wood with their sharp nails.  Once completed, they placed an item from their sack in the center then moved on to the next. For a period of time, they worked without saying a word. However, the silence could not last.

“Ok, I have to know.  How did it take you so long to get your tokens?”

“I wanted to make sure they would be acceptable.”

The first creature narrowed its eyes at its companion.

“Which ones were they?”

“Why does that matter?”

“Which ones?”

“…love and time.”

“Ha!  I knew it!  Why is it you have such trouble collecting those two?”

“I hate the idea of taking them, that’s all.  Don’t you ever feel cruel for robbing the humans of such items?”

“No, and neither should you.  We’re doing them a great service, even if they don’t know it.  If a few humans get sad in the process, it’s a small price to pay.  Look at me. I had to collect the token for joy, and I’m not a mess.

The creature reached into its sack and produced a weathered soccer ball.

“See this ball?  It was the only one of its kind in an entire village.  Every day, the children would kick it all over for hours.  The amount of joy they poured into a thing such as this is astounding.  So, I took it. I take no pleasure in causing them sadness, but it will make a perfect offering and that’s all that matters.”

The two shared a long, tense look then resumed their preparations.  The clearing was silent except for the sound of scratching as they carved.  Finally, awkwardness grew too uncomfortable, and the first creature relented again.

“What were they?  The tokens that took you so long to retrieve.  What were they? If we were to fail, I’d hate not knowing the reason why.”

The second creature’s expression softened.  It reached into its bag and placed a large stack of bound papers into a circle.

“This book.  The human who wrote it spent years of its life toiling on it.  Each night, it would sit in front of a typewriter and add more to it.  Some nights it would only write for a short time. Others, it would fall asleep in its chair after working for hours.  It devoted so much of its time to these pages.”

“That is a fine choice.  I can feel its energy from here.  But why did you wait so long to take it?  It would have been an ideal offering for some time.”

“I wanted to let the human finish it.  It felt wrong to take it before then.”

The first creature put down its branches and let out a howling laugh that echoed throughout the silent forest.

“An ending?  You would endanger this entire ceremony so that the human could write an ending?  Unbelievable! And what of the other one, the token of love? What arbitrary deadline did you concoct for that one?”

The creature pulled a photo from its sack.  It had once been black and white, but over time, it had grown brown and faded.  In it, a young, newly married couple could just barely be made out. They stood beneath a simple wooden arch.  The bride wore a wreath on her head, but an otherwise unremarkable dress, and all that could be seen of the groom was that he was in a presumably darkly colored suit.  The creature laid the photo down gently in the last of its circles.

“There was no deadline.  I simply didn’t want to take it.  The humans who held this picture were quite old, as far as humans go.  It sat in their room and every single day, they would both admire it. Every morning and every night, sometimes alone, sometimes together, but no matter what, they would always gaze at this photo.  I had known it was an ideal token from the moment I saw it, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to rob them of it. I reasoned that I would give them one more day, over and over again. Until tonight.  So that is why I kept you waiting. Are you satisfied?”

The first creature said nothing.  It lay the last of its items, a wilted flower, in a circle, then went over to its companion.

“Your empathy for the humans is truly remarkable.  Confusing, but powerful all the same. Just remember, that it is all for the greater good.  However, we must begin now.”

They clasped hands and began to chant.  The words were indecipherable, more like sounds of the Earth itself than anything that had ever been spoken.  Wind whipped up around them, causing the snow to flurry about the clearing. With each verse, a circle would fill with light as the runes surrounding it pulsed with an eerie glow.  As the final offering became illuminated, a great energy shot forth, sending out a blinding light. The wind stopped. The creatures stared in silence as a long tear appeared before them.  It widened and a great figure emerged from within. The being was massive, clutching an equally impressive sack of its own. It was clad in a crimson robe with a pair of antler-like horns on its head.  A great grey beard obscured most of its face, save for the sizable tusks that protruded out. Its pale, blue eyes pierced into the two creatures as its voice boomed throughout the forest.

“The solstice is upon us once more.  What offering do you present?”

The pair bowed, then presented their items to the great being. The first one displayed its findings.

“Oh mighty one, we present to you, the 12 offerings.  I have collected for you tokens of Joy, Loss, Innocence, Fear, Hope, and Regret.”

The second then displayed its own items.

“I present to you tokens of Pain, Truth, Hate, Sadness, Time…and Love.  We hope that you will accept our offering.”

The figured surveyed the items on display.  It stretched out is giant hands and held them above the offerings.  The light in each circle faded as the great being drained the collected energy from each.  It let out a powerful sigh of contentment as it finished. Its eyes now glowed with fresh power, rejuvenated by the ritual.  A deep laugh echoed from the enormous being.

“Your offering is accepted.  This world and all who reside within it have secured my protection for another year.”

The creatures nearly collapsed in relief, having hardly moved a muscle since the being first emerged.  Yet, before they could fully revel in their success, it spoke again.

“However, I will offer a word of warning.  Do not keep me waiting again. If the offerings are not presented promptly, my generosity to this world cannot be guaranteed.  Take this warning to heart, elves. There will not be a second.”

The pair bowed.  With that, the great being placed the items into its sack and let out a monstrous bellow.  From the sky, an enormous horse-like beast emerged to heed its master’s call. It landed before him, bending down on its six legs.  Holding its bag, the red clad being mounted its steed and took off for the sky. As it sailed off into the night, it let forth another booming laugh that echoed for miles.

“Ho ho ho!”

END

Jasmin Tomlins has been making noises with her mouth for 33 years, most recently as a determined vintner on the streets of the Bristol Renaissance Faire and here at Gateways. She is grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these stories, and to receive the meaning that stories give voices.

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.

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