Monthly Archives: March 2020

Gateways: “Chicken is Served” by Irene L Pynn read by Kat Evans



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Irene L Pynn. Irene’s plays include I, Cockroach, The Church of Saint Bearer, Enter, Pursued by a Whale, The Train, How to Field Dress an Android, and several ten-minute shorts. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild, and her work has been produced throughout the United States and abroad. Irene holds an MFA in writing from Seton Hill University and a PhD in Texts and Technology from the University of Central Florida. Her other publications include short stories, short plays, interactive plays, alternate reality games, and a novel.  This is “Chicken is Served.”

It’s not that I have trouble controlling my emotions. What I really lack is willpower. Maybe, if I’d been stronger, I could have prevented this whole thing. 

I sat in my car at the corner of Church and 5th Avenue. Yeah, you’ve been there: The chicken fast food restaurant that shall not be named. The one my ex said was contributing to my thighs. 

“Please drive around,” the metallic voice commanded. It spoke to me, disembodied, through a box painted to look like a pig’s snout. You know their slogan: Eat Chicken, Save Pigs! Everything is absurdly decorated to resemble what a pig might create in a fast food restaurant. 

I think the narrative they’re going for is a dystopian hellscape where pigs rule the world and want people to forget how delicious they are. Some half-baked attempt to graft human thought and personalities onto animals. I guess hog logic leads them to recommend chicken meat as a diversion. 

They’re pretty violent, too, these humanoid farm animals. You’ve seen the commercials. Pigs with crazed eyes and bloody axes, chasing mindless chickens across a field. A pig catches up to one of the stupid birds. The screen goes black. For two full seconds, we hear the gruesome sound of metal hacking into guts. Then a red font bleeds onto the screen: Chicken Is Served. 

Hilarious, sure, but I’m not sure why tofu and other options haven’t occurred to these little, pink, axe murderers. Whatever. They’re pigs. They’re also, it seems, unrepentant misogynists. News broke yesterday about the chain’s support for a certain mayoral candidate. You know which one. Apparently they’ve sent him bajillions of dollars in campaign contributions – all after he made that speech about women needing to control their emotions. 

“Please drive around,” the pig voice encouraged again, but I didn’t obey. I idled there in the drive through, my foot still resting on the brake. Through the sole of my shoe, my car rumbled gently. The low-key tension resembled a growing conflict in my heart. 

I’m a vegetarian, but I still eat at this restaurant every day for lunch. Don’t judge me; they have amazing salads and waffle fries. Their main menu attraction and bizarre marketing tactics never bothered me. 

But the campaign contributions did. As I stared at the rusted piggie snout of the voice box, I realized I felt betrayed. Betrayed by my city for voting that lunatic into office. Betrayed by my favorite fast food restaurant for making it happen. Betrayed by the homicidal piglets I’d come to feel really affectionate toward. 

Most of all, I felt betrayed by myself for learning about these political leanings yesterday and still coming back for waffle fries today. 

That, I think, was the moment I became a super villain, or whatever they’re calling me in the news. I’d like to say it wasn’t my fault. I’d like to say they pushed me to this point. But… 

There is nothing quite like the anger that grows inside someone who is, at least in part, battling a guilty conscience. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned by herself.

“Ma’am?” I scowled at the pig box. Was there a camera? Could some poor part timer see me projected in fuzzy black and white on her indoor monitor? 

“You’re a woman,” I snapped at the snout. 

“Sorry?” 

“Don’t apologize for that,” I said. 

“No, I mean, I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Do you need to add to your order?” 

Behind me a man in a huge, red pickup truck leaned on his horn. BEEEEEEP. Why did it sound like my ex boyfriend’s voice? “Haven’t you had enough to eat?” I heard “Eaaaaaaaat” in the truck’s aggressive BEEEEEEP. 

I moved my left foot to the brake and pressed my right on the gas. The tension increased as my engine revved loudly. 

The snout spoke again. “Ma’am?” The horn behind me sounded, this time staccato bursts of lunchtime impatience. BEEP. BEEP. BE-BE-BE-BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. 

Now it was my boss. “Don’t. Touch. The Thermostaaaaaaaaat.” I took a deep breath. “Do you still want your fries, ma’am?” “Excuse me,” I said as calmly as I could, and I stepped out of my car. “Ma’am?!” Now the man in the truck beeped longer. I saw him there in his perch, like a puffed- up Jersey Giant, pink arms with massive fists flapping on his steering wheel like processed meat still somehow remotely sentient, still trying to get a message across. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP! 

Inside my head, a voice was screaming, It’s not the mayor. It’s not Jason. It’s not the restaurant. It’s not your boss. It’s not even this truck guy. It’s you. Why are you here at all, handing these people your money? I hated that voice most of all. I strode toward the pickup, my anger a barbeque fire blazing out of control, higher and hotter, the longer that man beeped at me. 

Now he shook his pink arms from the safety of his driver’s seat. Some classic symbols of anger, some obscene hand gestures, and the rest was wild waving accompanied by mouthed words like “bitch,” “slut,” and other things related to my anatomy that I don’t care to repeat.

Get out of that truck and face me, coward. It wasn’t rational. I know that. But neither are pigs who butcher chickens to avoid becoming bacon. Neither are politicians who believe women occasionally want to be attacked. And neither was this guy’s reaction to me holding up the line. 

You’ve asked whether I feel remorse for my part in what happened next. The simple answer is yes. Of course I do. And if you ask the guy in the truck whether he feels remorse for rolling down his window and spitting on my dress, the truth is he probably wishes he hadn’t taken it that far. 

But human beings aren’t like other animals. We’re complicated. We say and do things we shouldn’t. We make mistakes. We regret them, and then we fall into the same patterns again. 

Especially when we’re angry. And, on that day, with spittle sliding down the front of my flower print to drip, steaming, on the concrete, I was angry. 

In most ways I’m ashamed of what I did. But, as this was the first day I realized I had super powers, I wasn’t in full control. That’s probably to be expected. 

They say women can’t control our emotions. They say we’re ready to explode at any moment, at the slightest thing. Any slightest thing. 

The days of all these slightest things. The years of lower salaries. The decades of oppression and violence and the growing, nagging sensation that we’re being told we’re useless, crazy, needy, even when we aren’t. Herded into a corner, farmed for our meat. 

Yeah, sure. Eventually some of us may find it difficult to control our emotions. So I exploded. Literally. Apparently that’s something I can do, though I’ve never been aware of the ability before. 

I knew it was going to happen, but only seconds in advance. There was a moment when I was going to cuss out the dude in the truck, and the next moment I knew I had to get away. I had to go somewhere safe where I could burst without hurting other people. The closest place was the back door of the chicken restaurant, the one with the squiggly door handle that looks like a pig’s tail. I dashed to it, gave it a yank, and ran inside. There was a thin hallway – it’s dirtier than you want to know – and to my right was the door to the freezer. I slipped in there, closed myself in, and that was that. 

All around me, chicken wings flew into pieces, flailing and flapping as if they were trying to escape even now, naked and dead in cold storage. I don’t know what I looked like. I’ve heard a few employees peered through the freezer window to see something that resembled a person on fire, my body stiff, my arms out at my sides. Head tilted back. Mouth open in a silent scream. 

“Possessed,” the headlines read. “Hysterical.” It was bright. I know that. The light that burned out during my explosion was nearly blinding, and it hurt my eyes even though I was the source. 

Afterward, there was a calm like the quiet you feel when you duck your head under cool water. Everything was muted. Slowly, my senses returned, and I was aware of three things: A mess of destroyed meat, a collection of shocked faces, and a long, loud beeping coming from a car horn outside. 

“You brought this on yourself,” they said as they drove me away in handcuffs. “You should be ashamed.” 

And I am. I don’t know what activated my powers that day. Maybe it was some chemical in the months of super-sized waffle fries. They’re hardly a healthy lunch choice. I should just have stayed away. You’d certainly think that, after learning about the politician they support with their profits, I could have. 

If only I had more willpower. That’s what I tell myself. If only I could have exhibited a little more control, maybe none of this would have happened. 

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.


Gateways: “A for Effort” by Ben McCauley read by Coco Kasperowicz



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Ben McCauley. As a child, Ben was told he could be whatever he wanted to be, and so, he decided to be an airplane. When that didn’t pan out, he went into theater. Ben has been writing stories and plays since his middle school days. Most, if not all of his writings have light hearted and comedic tones to them because he is terrified of reality and tries his best to ignore the darkness of the world by fighting it with a little bit of light. Born in upstate New York, Ben moved to Chicago in 2016 after the world around him came shattering down, and decided to take comedy classes to hide the pain of existence, as one does. You can currently see him performing monthly at the Playground Theater with his Improv Group “Phantom Pilots”, at the Bristol Renaissance Festival with his show “The Brothers Blackquill”, or you can listen to his voice and writing on the podcast “Starlight Radio Dreams”. This is “A” for Effort

 

So first things first, I’d like to thank you for coming today. It’s super great to have you all here, and I truly, deeply appreciate your cooperation. So, thanks again. Moving on to why I’ve called this meeting. For those of you who don’t already know me, I am Anthirox, Devourer of Reality, nice you meet you all. Long story short, I’m here to bring about the end of days, and existence as you know it is over. I know that sounds bad, and I’m not going to lie and say it’s not, but I just wanted you folks to know that of all the realities I’ve consumed in my eons of life, yours was one I’m going to remember for a very long time. 

I’ve got to hand it to all of you, you put up one hell of a fight. There were a few moments there where I really thought you’d be able to stop me, which for an ancient, forty-million foot tall, floating space creature like myself, is astounding. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Metaphorically speaking of course, as they don’t make chairs in my size. 

Seriously though, applaud yourselves for a valiant effort. I thought it was going to be another “one-and-done” thing, but jeez, you folks really gave it your all. I can tell this was not your first time going to war.  

The final showdown yesterday, ugh, so good! When you folks brought out the tanks and rocket launchers, I was like, “Aw man! That is so cool!”. I did lose a few hundred hellspawns in that fight, but it was totally worth it. It’s been so long since I saw a battlefield so coated with blood and sinew. Hit me right in the nostalgia. 

But for sure, the best part was when your scientists built that interdimensional assault cannon! I was so flipping surprised by that one, which is a feat in itself! I’m very rarely surprised, but you actually made me bleed! I didn’t even realize I could bleed before yesterday. It’s crazy how I’ve been around essentially forever and I’m still learning new things about myself. So thank you for that too.

I’ll be honest, when I first arrived here with my army of winged, nightmare demons, I was kind of in a slump. I was really starting to doubt myself, and nothing was bringing me joy anymore. Not to just lay all my problems on you, but I was in rough shape mentally, you know? Unfortunately, there aren’t many therapists out there specializing in treating ageless, cosmic beings composed of dark energy from the nethervoid.  Hashtag relatable content, am I right? What I’m trying to say is coming here, and tearing your fabric of reality apart these past few days has really reminded me why I do this.

So, thank you once more for shaking me out of my funk. It’s just so darn refreshing to run into a reality that’s got a little moxie and verve. You all really tried, and it shows. I see you, I hear you, and I respect you. 

All good things must come to an end though, and I’m afraid that you still lost So, just so we’re on the same page, I’ll let you know what’s on the docket for the remainder of your existence. Over the next 2, maybe 2 and a half days, my hellspawns are going to continue traveling across your planet, tearing each of you limb from limb.

To be honest, I don’t know where they’ll go first so if you’re lucky, maybe they won’t hit your part of the planet right away and you’ll get an extra day of living. I kinda let them do their own thing. I tried to get it more organized a couple hundred years ago, but then they unioned up so my hands are tied.

Anywho, after your limbs are taken as trophies for my war room, the world around you is gonna twist and bend into all sorts of fun shapes. It’ll be super freaky, but if you just ride it out and don’t try to force anything, you’ll come out the other end. Sure, your bodies will also become twisted monstrosities of nature, but damn, it is one hell of a trip.

Once you are all abominations of your former selves, barely alive, screaming in pain and misery, I’ll swoop in and slowly extract the essence of your reality. But what does that mean you may ask? Essentially, I will absorb the energy of your entire dimension to feed myself until it ceases to be. 

So even though you’ll be in blinding, torturous pain, take solace that it will only last a day or two before you’re wiped away from the verse as if you never existed. Using the life force of this dimension, I will travel to another dimension and do the same thing all over again, etcetera and so on. It’s a busy life, but I make do.

Again folks, this isn’t anything personal. As far as realities go, this is definitely in the top five I’ve encountered. I really think I could fight you for a couple of millenia and still be into it, but I’m just getting peckish, and on top of that I’m a bit of a commit-a-phobe when it comes to this kind of stuff. I always think that this time I’ll be able to do it, just find an enemy dimension, settle down, take it slow, but it never works out because it feels like it’s something I should do, not something I want to do.

Honestly, this is the first time in a while where I truly felt like I could make it work, but I’ve been hurt so many times in the past. It’s been hard coming to grips with my own insecurities, but I am working on myself and in the end, that’s what matters. Here I go again, unloading on you. I know you’re all too busy screaming in horror and actively being mutilated by my demons to care, but I feel like I can be myself around you. I just, I dunno, feel like we have something here, and I’ll be sad to see it go. 

No Anthirox, you told yourself you wouldn’t get emotional here. Reel it in. Bleh, sorry about that folks. Anyways, if you have any remaining loved ones, or chosen deities, now’s probably a good time to start planning your goodbyes. Not that it will matter since you’ll all be nothing but dark energy coursing through my nebulous body, so in a way, you’ll all still be together. Goodbyes are hard, aren’t they? 

Gosh, you know I really thought this was going to be easier, but I don’t think I’m ready yet. You’ve all just been so accommodating to my needs of destruction and bloodshed. Oh, to hell with it, you know what? I’m not going to consume you all just yet. This has all been very therapeutic for me, and I’ve been so bad at self-care recently that I think I need this. Besides, I’ve been overeating recently and I really don’t want to develop anymore bad habits.

I think this will be healthy for all of us. I get to fight you some more, get out a lot of the pent up aggression I’ve been bottling up for the last thousand years, and you get a few extra days to exist! Heck, who knows? Maybe in that time you’ll build a new device to destroy me and then we can really get into it. Oh man, just thinking about it has me excited. Is that bad? 

 Thank you for being so flexible with all this. I mean, it’s not like you have a choice in the matter, but I still appreciate it. So, I’m going to hang here in space, watching, waiting and plotting your demise, and I really hope you do the same or else I’m just going to feel silly. All I ask is that you actually try. I’ve got a lot of trust issues, and allowing myself to be vulnerable and give you another chance to fight back is a big step for me. Please don’t make me regret it.

Once more, you’ve all been super great. I see a lot of potential in you, and I cannot wait to mercilessly destroy and consume everything you hold dear! Now I’ll leave you to your planning, and I’m excited to see what you cook up. Ooo! Speaking of cooking up, this is a perfect chance for me to try one of the new recipes I learned for reality consumption! I never have the time for that kind of stuff! Gosh, this is going to be so cleansing. 

Alright, well thanks again for being so patient with me. I’m going through some stuff, and it means a lot. I guess the real demons were the ones in my mind all along. Also the ones who are literally dismembering hundreds of you as I speak, they are pretty real too. This was nice. So until next time, keep up the good work, and I hope to kill you and ingest your existence very soon! 

Coco Kasperowicz is a multidisciplinary nerd performer; the brains behind #chaotichighfemme , her social media and YouTube persona, she is also known as THE BODY POSITIVE NERD PRINCESS of Chicago; Lottie a la West. she graduated with a degree in musical theatre from Columbia College Chicago, and has performed in professional theatres across the Chicagoland area


Gateways: “The Heart Wants” by Cassandra Rose ready by Rachel Granda-Gluski and Alex B. Reynolds



Content Note, please be aware that this story is of a frank, sexual nature and may not be suitable for all audiences.

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Cassandra Rose. This bisexual playwright has had over 300 of her plays performed across the US. That includes the hundreds of micro-plays that made up all five years of The Dictionary Project, a challenge she created for herself to write short plays for her friends based on their suggestions and random words found in the dictionary. She is currently developing three plays with Chicago theatre companies, two of which she is able to talk about publicly and include Billy to His Friends through Broken Nose Theatre’s Paper Trail and The Battle of Charlottesville through The New Colony’s pipeline. Cassandra earned her BA in playwriting from Columbia College Chicago and did an MFA alternative program at Chicago Dramatists as a Tutterow Fellow. She now lives in Los Angeles where she is enrolled in UCLA’s TFT Professional Program in Writing for Television, and Upright Citizens Brigade’s sketch comedy program. She misses you all very much. This is This is “The Heart Wants”.

“Before we go any farther,” he whispered breathlessly. “I need to tell you something.” 

Honestly, things had gone pretty far already. The starting line had been at The Fountainhead, where they had shared coy glances and a glass of mead before Eleanor had worked up the courage to lean more than halfway across the table to capture Zane’s face in her hands. His lips still tasted faintly of the stout he’d started the night with, to Eleanor’s delight. And when she felt his hand grasp the back of her head, she knew her gamble had paid off. 

From there it took less than ten minutes for Zane and Eleanor to get the check, bundle up, walk the half a block through the snow to Eleanor’s apartment, unbundle, and for Eleanor to push Zane up against her favorite wall in her bedroom. Six months was a long time for Eleanor, especially when four of those months had been spent fantasizing about Zane. Things had continued to progress nicely as Eleanor removed her chonky midwestern sweater and set about unbuttoning Zane’s flannel. 

But now Zane’s hand was on Eleanor’s, stopping her from unbuttoning button number four. Eleanor tried to gauge the level of seriousness of Zane’s something-he-needed-to-tell-her by the look currently occupying his face. Over the years, many lovers had paused to tell Eleanor their deepest, darkest secrets. Chicago was the heart of the Midwest, after all, and the Midwest’s top export was regret. This was definitely more serious than, “I just realized that your best friend was my Bumble date last week.” Not quite as bad as, “My fiancée died two years ago and I haven’t loved anyone since.” Perhaps Zane’s confession was somewhere along the lines of, “I was trying to convince a friend to break up with her abusive boyfriend, and in the process we ended up sleeping together, and then her abusive boyfriend found out, and that’s why I’m keeping an aluminum baseball bat under my bed”? Eleanor waited patiently for Zane’s next sentence. 

Zane took a deep, steadying breath. “I’m a lizard person,” he breathed out. 

“Oh,” Eleanor replied. “Legit.” 

Zane tilted his head slightly to the side, skeptically. “You’re just… fully cool with that?” 

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Eleanor asked. She wrapped her arms around his waist, pulling Zane even closer to her. “I mean… I like you… And I think you like me too…” 

“I do,” Zane said, his voice getting huskier with every movement from Eleanor. “Very much.” 

“So why should you being a lizard person get in the way of that?” Eleanor returned to Zane’s fourth button, and looked up at him. He nodded in affirmation, and the button was set 

free. Eleanor continued on to the fifth button while simultaneously kissing at the exposed skin on Zane’s chest. Zane also liked that very much. 

“I guess I’m just used to people freaking out when I tell them,” Zane gasped out between kisses. Eleanor straightened back up, having finished with the buttons, and cradled Zane’s head in her hands once again. 

“Well those people sound awful.” Zane smirked, and Eleanor shrugged before continuing on. “I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m bi, but I’m just never bothered about that kind of stuff.” 

“You’re bi? Like, bisexual?” Zane asked. And/or shouted. This sentence was definitely said more forcefully than his previous sentences. Eleanor mock frowned at him. 

“Noooo, bi like bicycle. I am actually a bicycle.” Then Eleanor mimed hitting a bike bell. “Brrrring brrrring!” Zane didn’t laugh at Eleanor’s joke, and she started to worry. “You really didn’t know I was bi? It’s like, on Facebook and everything.” 

Zane sank down onto Eleanor’s nearby bed to continue processing. God damn it, Eleanor thought to herself, not this conversation again. But it had been six month, and Zane was a very hot lizard person (and half undressed), so Eleanor dutifully sat down next to Zane and waited for him to catch up with her. 

“But I’m straight,” Zane finally replied. 

“Totally cool with me.” Eleanor placed a hand on top of Zane’s. 

“But won’t you feel like you’re lying to yourself every time you’re with me?” 

“Well,” Eleanor mused, lightly drawing circles on Zane’s hand, “do you feel like you’re lying when you’re with someone who isn’t a lizard person?” 

Zane looked at the floor at this. “Sometimes,” he quietly admitted. 

Eleanor took her hand away. “Oh,” she said. And then they were both just silently sitting on Eleanor’s bed. Neither touching. Just both staring straight ahead. 

After a moment Zane took another deep breath, his pupils turning into slits for a moment before returning to their human-like spheres. “I mean I know that my mom wants me to have a traditional wedding, with another lizard person. But…” 

“But the heart wants what it wants,” Eleanor finished for him. Eleanor turned so that she was fully facing Zane again. “Zane, do you want to be here? With me?” 

Zane took Eleanor’s hand. He nodded yes. 

“Then be here with me.” 

And with that, Zane leaned forward and kissed Eleanor deeper than he ever had before. They continued to kiss as Eleanor leaned back on the bed, and soon Zane was on top of her. He pulled back again, but only slightly, and only so that he could look at Eleanor. Eleanor looked straight back at Zane, watching his eyes darken. She wrapped a hand around the back of his head once again and pulled Zane down with another kiss. Her hand slid down his neck until she found a zipper near his spine, between his shoulder blades. 

“May I?” she asked? 

“Please,” Zane gasped. 

And with that, Eleanor slowly unzipped Zane’s human suit. 

Alex B Reynolds began their acting career as Sherlock Holmes in the second grade, and has since been seen around Chicago in such roles as Gandalf the Grey, Luigi Mario, and Skeletor. They are so grateful to return to the Gateways Reading Series, and can otherwise be heard on the “Meet/Cute” sitcom podcast, the Filmthusiast “Final Cut” podcast, and on whatever customer support line is paying their bills this month.

Rachel Granda-Gluski is a Chicago based voice actor and movement professional. She currently enjoys working with radio play company Starlight Radio Dreams. 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.


Gateways: “The Morning After Eggsperience” by John Weagly read by Jacob Sturgeon



Content Note, please be aware that this story is of a frank, sexual nature and may not be suitable for all audiences.

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

I woke up next to three eggs.  

Three light blue eggs the size of Granny Smith apples.  They were sitting on my satin sheets in a puddle of viscous glop, left there by a man I barely knew.

Great!

Never again would I take home a guy I met in a bar.

We’d met the night before at The Iguana Lounge.  It was 80’s night and music from the decade of excess played on the jukebox while neon buzzed in darkened corners.  To the records of the Eurythmics, he bought me gin and tonics and I laughed and touched his arm. To the songs of Culture Club, I bought him glasses of scotch and he laughed and stroked the back of my neck.

I took him back to my apartment.  I loved the feel of his rough skin under my hands (I see now that I was actually caressing his scales).  I loved the way he seemed to shimmer and change color in the moonlight (I see now that he was actually part chameleon).  I loved the things – the oh so many things – he could do with his tongue (No regrets about that – his flickering-dickering tongue actually almost made the eggs worth it).

It was hour after hour of squamate ecstasy.

And then, after we were both gloriously spent and I fell asleep, he plops out three eggs, puts on his clothes and heads for the hills.  I don’t even know his name.

Let me be clear on this – I didn’t think his kind really existed!  I mean, I’ve stood in line at the grocery store and seen the ridiculous tabloid headlines:

“Lizard-People Live Among Us!” 

“Lizard-Men Control Our Government!” 

“Lizard-Lady Runs Amok And Ruins Toddler’s Birthday Party!”

Lizard-People?  People that are lizards?  That nonsense was always good for a laugh.

Well, I wasn’t laughing now.

I sat on the edge of my bed and tried to figure out my next move.  The room still smelled

like last night’s pleasure.  Was I supposed to sit on these eggs like a mother hen for who knows how long and then raise his three little Godzillas until they were ready to go off to their high-paying jobs with the Illuminati?  That wasn’t part of my plan. I was young, I had a good job, I was building a career. I didn’t have time for infant mutant ninja geckos.

Would he be coming back?  Doubtful. Highly doubtful.  He wouldn’t be the first guy, lizard or not, to disappear forever after leaving a lady in trouble.

I looked back at the eggs.  I poked one. It was leathery, a little soft, kind-of vulnerable.  Helpless, in its own way. Maybe if it didn’t take them too long to hatch, and if I could take a break from work, and if they were cute with big eyes and tiny clawed toes and a pointy little egg tooth…

No!  I couldn’t deal with this.  Why should I be the one responsible for cleaning up his mess?

I got out of bed and cleaned myself up.  I gathered the eggs in a plastic Target bag and took them into the kitchen.  

Then, a short time later, I ate the best omelet I’ve ever tasted.

Jacob Sturgeon is a musical theatre graduate who quickly abandoned musical theatre. He is an avid participant/administrator of role playing games both tabletop and live action, and delights in all things that may be considered “nerdy.”


Gateways: “A Most Proper Communication Between a Lady Author and Her Editor, Alt-1871” by Leigh Hellman read by John Weagly



Content Note, please be aware that this story is of a frank, sexual nature and may not be suitable for all audiences.

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Leigh Hellman. Leigh is a queer writer, originally from the western suburbs of Chicago, and a graduate of the MA Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. After gaining the ever-lucrative BA in English, they spent five years living and teaching in South Korea before returning to their native Midwest.

Leigh’s short fiction and creative nonfiction work has been featured in Hippocampus Magazine, VIDA Review, and Fulbright Korea Infusion Magazine. Their critical and journalistic work has been featured in the American Book Review, the Gwangju News magazine, and the Windy City Times.

Their debut book, Orbit, is a new adult speculative fiction novel available through Snowy Wings Publishing. They also have a historical fantasy piece included in the Snowy Wings Publishing anthology Magic at Midnight, and their short fiction piece “the circle of least confusion” was previously featured in the Gateways series.

Leigh is a strong advocate for full-day breakfast menus, all varieties of dark chocolate, building a wardrobe based primarily on bad puns, and bathing in the tears of their enemies. This is “A Most Proper Communication Between a Lady Author and Her Editor, Alt-1871”

Dear Mr. Egerton—

I thank you for taking the time to compose your thoughts on my manuscript so thoroughly, and for sending your response within the week. As you know, my brother and I rely upon the commissions from my scribblings to maintain our income in the city, and your consideration of the perils in delaying these publications is appreciated. To the most pressing matter raised by your letter—the question of genre—I cannot help

but feel that your modesty is strangely misplaced. You have published several volumes of similar content within this past year alone, and have impressed upon me on numerous occasions the significance of market value over critical quality in our field of popular stories. If it is a concern over my reputation, this collection can be published anonymously or under a pseudonym that differs substantially from my current choice. Having read the work of my peers, I do not find this piece to be by any measure lewder or more morally degrading, and Percy does not believe it to be more susceptible to legal action by way of our generous obscenity laws. (My brother is, as you know, a senior apprentice at the firm of Knuckleby & Doss and well-versed in these sorts of cases.)

As to your secondary point, I must argue a case here for economic pragmatism. The market for readership, as you so often tell me, is quite narrowly confined in its current permutation and I feel that you ought to be amenable to the prospect of a wider audience for

sales. It is true that these beings do not share all of the humanistic attributes of our own species, but their integration into our society is an undeniable reality and there exists a mutual curiosity between us and them which lends itself naturally to the exploration of our interactions in these creative realms. Was it not you who told Percy of the stage rendition of Doctor Faustus featuring a cast comprised entirely of these beings? I heard that the production was a prodigious success, with mixed crowds composed of equal parts them and us, and that the theaters are now clamoring for new projects to satisfy the public demand. Surely you must see the benefit of such mass appeal and will support me by undertaking the task of publishing this manuscript—the first of its kind!—for broad consumption.

Regarding your other concerns, these—I think you must allow—are matters of preference more than strict fact. It is a simple narrative, I admit, but one which has classically delighted readers in its many iterations. The choice of a young, innocent human heroine is—to me—an obvious one (and indeed, I do not think that you had any notes on that particular point). The persistent popularity of the gothic story makes it the natural selection for my framework here, a crepe mourning veil which I have draped liberally over this tale. (This type of metaphor is a celebrated convention of the genre, though I know that you do not approve of fussy and overwrought prose as a general rule.)

The heroine, who is of course tragically orphaned from a young age and raised in draconian conditions under the oppressive shadow of her widowed uncle, will appeal to female readers especially with her humble persistence and determination to make her own way in the world. In terms of the villain—you expressed alarm at him also being human, but I should think that it would be far more troubling to make the villain instead a being. What must our readers—human and being alike—glean from this work if the vilest role is relegated to a creature for whom suspicion and apprehension already mar their daily existence? This is no puritanical parable, nor should we wish it to be, lest we risk igniting a worse sort of public outrage than merely one of moral scandal.

There are many men in my book, and only a few are ill examples of the lot. But there is only one being, and I will not compromise the core of their character in such a manner.

Now as for the intimate scenes—I understand your trepidation that there are too many and that they are too explicit in their descriptions, but I again must implore you to consider the genre that this book would be an entry in and perhaps to compare the levels of quantity and content to the other works currently available in your catalogue. In fact, when I was on the high street this very week I caught sight of The Lusty Mummer displayed prominently in the bookshop front! Surely my tale must seem wholly virginal when read alongside Mr. Cleland’s contemporaries.

I will concede that some small edits may be advisable, particularly in the vocabulary of anatomy, but I will defend the other critiques as authorial entitlements. Your notes on two passages in particular I must address, as I feel they are demonstrative of the literary tone for which I am valiantly fighting to retain.

“Frances found herself trembling—whether from her thin cotton shift or the sudden chill in the air, she did not know. The door, which she had locked by her own hand, creaked on its hinges as though it had breath of its own. Were she under the thick-quilted covers and drifting

through the fog of sleep as she ought to have been, this could have been overlooked as a waking dream or dismissed entirely as a surprisingly strong draft. But she lay awake still—atop her mussed sheets and with her candle burning down to the wick—with her fingers stroking softly at her nethermouth. A strange sensation was building within her, one of half-bliss and half-terror, that seemed to her to beckon with it some impending danger. It was as though she were walking towards the cliff’s edge as it whispered out for her from its dark abyss, as though the locked door were willing its mechanisms to unlatch and swallow her out into whatever pulsed behind it.” (Your notes here mark concern for both audience confusion between what is real and what is imagined, and the portrayal of—as you phrase it—“feminine self-pollution”.)

To the point of confusion: I admit that I cannot muster much sympathy for a hypothetical reader who cannot parse such blunt symbolism. Should such a reader exist—who lacks the critical faculties to decipher popular prose but still insists on purchasing the volume—I believe that the financial interests (which must be for you, as my publisher, of primary importance) are rendered moot.

Regarding your second note: I do wonder at the implications of this concern, as I counted no less than 13 instances of “masculine self-pollution” in A Seaman’s Jaunty Journey (which you have labeled in genre as an adventurer’s tale). That my heroine should develop into a woman of her own self-determination is the narrative’s course, and it is only logical that her determination would include her body and pleasure. I hope that I do not shock you, Mr. Egerton, when I tell you that women are no less fascinated by our bodies and their capacities than men are by yours. To deny this characteristic would be to undermine the endeavor of this work.

The second passage—which you noted for its “crass indecency”—is as follows: 

“The being stood a full foot taller than her at its height, but now in this state seemed to curve within itself and form an unnatural angle so that its head could bend to meet hers. Its skin—which had appeared sheer as silk just a moment before—shivered and peeled back to reveal rows of iridescent scales. Its eyes—once small and dark—now blinked wide and gold as the summer sun. Its hands were cold and smooth, trailing from her waist down to the hem of her skirt before pressing beneath. She could feel something else—slick and tight as tendrils—curling up her legs and gently parting her thighs, as the being’s delight swelled bulbous and spiny before her.”

Herein you may see how I struggled to describe with both accuracy and aesthetic appeal the anatomy of the being, and if you can relate some more pleasing terms I will gladly consider them. But if you take issue with the encounter itself—as I believe you must—I can only remind you of the multitude of encounters that have been recounted in the novels of my peers, many in far more extreme and dubious scenarios. Is the mutual, consenting pleasure of our heroine and her being-lover so much more alarming than the aggressive, fearful submissions of the caricatured women to your other heroes? Is this not an opportunity for you to promote both progress and profit?

I trust that my appeals have been received in good faith and with an open conscience, and that you will once more consider thoughtfully the merits to publishing Cold Blood Runs Warm for this new quarter.

Percy sends his love—

Your faithful literary servant,

A.J.

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


Gateways: “LeBron James III’s Unfair Advantage” by Alex B. Reynolds read by Josh Ballard and Rob Southgate



Content Note, please be aware that this story is of a frank, sexual nature and may not be suitable for all audiences.

Alex B Reynolds has been writing and producing comedic theatre in Chicago for the past 10 years. They have been a contributing writer for The Flaming Dames burlesque troupe, the Meet/Cute sitcom podcast, and the Paragon short play festival. Full-length plays include Old Hobbits Die Hard, Kings & Thrones & Shit, and The Incredible Hank for New Millennium Theatre Company. Their other work, including props and puppets, can be found on most channels under the moniker “BakerStreetRat,” but you’re more likely to find photos of their dog. This is “LeBron James III’s Unfair Advantage”

Haynk and Cahrl worked together at the Interstellar Evolutionary Facilitation Center on Titan. They weren’t in charge of any major decisions, they didn’t have a seat at the table to decide how evolutionary processes were executed, and they certainly weren’t on the design team. To put it bluntly, they weren’t there for their brains. Cahrl was there for his muscle. He was on security detail for terrestrial missions, and otherwise occupied his time working in maintenance at the Center itself. This is where he and Haynk spent the most time together. Haynk was also in maintenance between projects, but unlike Cahrl, Haynk was hired for his genes. The Evolutionary Facilitation Board had very specific standards for the Genetic Integration Program on M-Class Planets, and Haynk checked all the right boxes. 

The Genetic Integration Program, lightheartedly referred to as the “Missing Link” Program, was designed to inject advanced genetic data into a terrestrial planet’s population once semi-intelligent mammals appeared. In a nutshell, Haynk was sent to underdeveloped planets to fuck something. Today’s mission would be his third. 

Each time Haynk was dispatched on a “Stud Run,” Cahrl accompanied him as his bodyguard. They had the same job at the Center, they were sent out on the same missions, and they were both immortals. But Haynk was an average Promethean while Cahrl was an eight-foot tall Reptilian. This main difference was the reason for their respective roles on Missing Link missions, but in the transport pod drifting slowly toward the rocky planet below, they were equals. They were friends. 

“I’m telling you, rep,” Haynk was gesturing passionately, “I’m telling you – LeBron James III would have toppled Forlax Waxor in the ‘58 season.” 

“No way.” Cahrl waved one claw dismissively while the other gently guided the transport pod along its trajectory. 

“He was seven fucking feet tall! He never lost a game after he got traded to the Novas!” Haynk continued. “He was the best diamondball player on Earth.” “You’re not wrong, but Earth diamondball was a joke, man.” “Hey, Earth diamondball was the best diamondball; Earth diamondball was life, my friend.” 

“Maybe for you.” “For everybody! And LeBron James III would have crushed the Comets and Forlax Waxor’s scaly ass in ‘58, ‘59, ‘60 – any season.” 

“Now, hold on…” “Bet on it! I’d bet my Spring Equinox bonus that James III’s last known player stats are better than Waxor’s this year.” 

“Fine. I’ll take that bet.” “It’s done. Happy to take your money.” The pod began its descent at the designated landing site. The weather was clear, the terrain was flat, and according to the data that Haynk was given before their departure, they were about three miles away from the colony of mammals he was meant to infiltrate. This distance was necessary so that their descent would go unnoticed. During their first mission, Cahrl took them too close to the population and for 

generations afterward, images of the transport pod appeared on stone walls, primitive parchment, and even in certain performance art. The bosses were not pleased. But the newly regulated distance was fine – neither of them minded the walk. The more time they spent away from the EFC and its infinite mechanical problems, the better. 

“So,” Cahrl asked as they walked along, “what are we looking for this time?” “Same old, same old, my friend. Some grubby, bipedal bear things. I don’t know, I just skimmed the briefing.” 

“You didn’t read the whole briefing?” “I mean, do I need to? I know where they are.” “Yeah, but this is a pretty big responsibility. It’s a big deal. You’re fathering a whole species, that’s gotta mean more than just skimming the briefing, right?” 

“Hey, I’ve done this twice now and I still can’t afford the kinds of clothes and meals the higher-ups at the Center can, so how important can my ‘work’ really be?” 

“I think you’re wrong about that.” “Yeah, well, agree to disagree. Woah, hold on.” Haynk stopped walking, and Cahrl stopped with him. Just ahead of them was a figure, digging in the dirt. Cahrl unclipped his holster and put a claw on his laser pistol. Haynk pulled up his briefing and flipped through the pages. The figure glanced up at them. Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. Very gradually, the figure stood. This was a bipedal creature. This was a female. She stood five feet tall with patches of curly brown hair. The proportions of her limbs and the curves of her body were almost Promethan, but her posture and cranium were unique. More importantly, she carried a stick in one hand with a sharpened rock affixed to the end of it. 

“Is that…” Cahrl began. “A tool. She’s got an advanced tool,” Haynk confirmed, skimming wildly through his briefing. Nothing said that these creatures were more advanced than the basic mammalian stage. They weren’t supposed to be using tools. Haynk was expecting a clumsy, hairy beast of a creature. 

“What’s our move, here, Haynk?” Cahrl asked, claw still on his weapon. “I mean, I think that’s our mark.” “You’re sure? You only skimmed the briefing.” “I’m sure! Get off my back about that! Look, it says they trade stones with each other. Shiny stones, you know, like Earth penguins. Remember them?” 

“Okay, so…where’s your shiny stone?” “I don’t know, I guess I gotta go find one! The shoreline is about a half mile that way. Can you keep an eye on her? Make sure she doesn’t run off. If she does, follow her and give me a call on the communicator so I can find you.” 

“Hurry,” Cahrl said, and reclipped his holster. “You won’t even know I’m gone.” Haynk patted Cahrl on the back and ran off toward the water. The mammalian female followed him with her head as he departed, but her body remained still. Once the sound of Haynk’s footsteps faded, her attention was back on Cahrl. Still, neither of them moved. Neither of them spoke. She was making hard eye contact with him, and after a few moments, Cahrl felt very awkward. He raised one of his claws and gave a sheepish wave. She didn’t react at first, but slowly advanced toward him. She took deliberate, 

measured steps with her eyes locked onto his. 

“Oh, oh. Okay, that’s far enough,” Cahrl stammered. He unclipped his holster again and pulled the laser pistol out. The mammalian female didn’t react, but continued to advance. Cahrl raised his weapon and aimed it at the ground in front of her. Still, she advanced. He fired. A small divot of dirt exploded in front of her. She paused, glanced at the divot, but resumed her advance on Cahrl until she stopped mere feet from him. Cahrl had his pistol pointed at her chest. She maintained her intense eye contact, but made no move to attack. Carl’s tongue shot out of his mouth and licked his own eyeball – a nervous habit from when he was a hatchling. This drew a smirk from the mammalian female who ran a hand (or paw) down Cahrl’s chest. She purred. 

Haynk’s feet were sloshing as he made his way back to the clearing. In retrieving a lustrous purple pebble from the shoreline, a small tidal wave soaked him from the waist down. He was ready to get this whole thing over with and get back to the transport pod, but as he crested the next hill, 

“What the fuck!” The frills on Cahrl’s neck and shoulders flared and shuddered. The mammalian female gasped deeply, her legs wrapped tightly around Cahrl’s waist as they climaxed together. Haynk stomped toward them, and – suddenly aware of his presence – the mammalian female lithely slid off Cahrl, grabbed her weapon, and ran off the way she came. Cahrl scooped some dirt from the ground and tossed it onto his back to cool down. He stood. 

“What the fuck!” Haynk said again, punching Cahrl in the arm. “Relax!” “Oh, ‘relax’ he says! You just forced your reptile seed into the apparently intelligent mammal population, and I’m supposed to relax?” 

“I didn’t force anything,” Cahrl said, holding up his claws, “she approached me, and I consented. It was all good.” 

“It’s not all good!” “It was actually pretty damn good.” “Cahrl! Don’t you think these mammals are gonna know something’s up when a brood of lizard babies start crawling around?” 

Cahrl paused. “Earth didn’t know.” “What?” “Earth didn’t know.” “You did this on Earth, too?!” “And Earth One.” “That’s not what I — Earth One and Two? How?!” “Same thing! A female approached me, and…” “No! I mean, how is that possible? How did nobody notice? How did I not notice?” Cahrl pulled on the rest of his gear and walked back toward the transport pod, Haynk following close behind. 

“The mammalian genes are more dominant in secondary physical characteristics, Haynk. You can barely tell the difference unless you’re looking for it.” 

“So, Earth had a bunch of half-Reptilians walking around and nobody knew?” 

“That’s what I’m saying.” “Who?” “Lots of people.” “Names!” “I don’t know, Haynk, lots of people! Ramses II, Dōgen Zenji, Vladimir Lenin, Kellyanne Conway – lots. Even cross-breeding with Promethean descendents, the Reptilian gene stays active in the population for generations. Now, come on, you found a really nice pebble. Why don’t you go back, find a different mammal…” 

“No, I don’t want to now.” “Haynk….” “No! This planet can be full of fucking lizard people, I don’t care. Let’s just get back to the Center.” 

Cahrl opened the door of the transport pod and stepped inside. Haynk, still pouting, stepped one foot into the pod, but stopped in sudden realization. 

“Who else was an Earth Reptilian?” “Come on, Haynk…” “No. Hey. Cahrl? Who else?” Cahrl sighed. “LeBron James III.” “Son of a — ” The door of the pod closed.

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.

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!


Gateways: “Foreplay” by Brendon Connelly read by Jasmin Tomlins



Content Note, please be aware that this story is of a frank, sexual nature and may not be suitable for all audiences.

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Brendon Connelly. Brendon is a scriptwriter from Norwich in the UK. He was a film journalist and blogger for over 20 years, met Kermit the Frog three times – and only fainted one of those times, and graduated from the University of Oxford with a first in Creative Writing. ] This is “Foreplay”.

“Come here, come on, let me help,” I said, and took the penis into my mouth. It was soft and limp and sad. I sucked on it as kindly as I could, willing it desperately to stiffen. I tightened my lips around the penis’ head and tried to move my mouth backwards and forwards along its curling, timid shaft, resisting the embarrassed little cock’s urge to just shrink sadly and fall out of my mouth.

But no matter what I did, the limp cock seemed to remain pathetically disinterested in me. Unfit for intended purpose.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “this happens all the time. Absolutely all of the time.” But it didn’t. Not back then. I think it would have been better to say “This could happen to anyone” because it definitely could – though then, of course, there was no reason to believe that, soon enough, it would.

I worked a little longer, licking as well as sucking, taking the cock in my hand, locking my eyes onto his. I kissed him, whispered that I wanted him. I got close and pushed my body against his. None of this made the slightest bit of difference.

“We’ll just try again later,” I said. He agreed. He said 

“That would be better, yeah. I guess it’s just been a hard day for me.”

He told me that it just wasn’t a good time. There were things on his mind. Nothing in particular. Nothing to do with me, just something up there in the back of his brain, nibbling away and… well, he said he didn’t know how to put it.

“Something up there stopping things from working,” I said, “A minor malfunction, you just need a little while to turn your power off and on again.”

I got dressed and drove back over to my place. I stopped off on the way to fill up the tank, and get some cigarettes. And more or less on impulse, I also got a pack of Escher’s Rainbow Dots, the lemon and strawberry flavour, the ones they’ve been advertising all the time lately.

Then when I got home, I took a shower, and I washed my hair, and I took down the shower head and turned it up between my legs and just held my breath and prayed for all of the frustration and suspended horniness just pour out of me, and I worked it until I finally came.

I lay on the bed afterwards and smoked a cigarette, a new kind, a Johnson and Brummel, just trying them out to see if I’d like them and it was, actually, pretty good. I lay there and thought about my orgasm in the shower. It wasn’t really a great one. It seemed a little distant, not as bright or clear as they usually do.

I blamed him for it. I blamed the limp cock that had shrivelled up against my tongue and pulled sadly away from me. It wasn’t fair, but I didn’t know what else to blame.

I saw him again the next night. We met at Molotov’s and didn’t talk at all about what had happened the day before, and tried not to worry about it happening again. It was only when we got back to his place that he said anything about it at all. He said 

I think I might just need a little extra love and attention. Just be patient with me and try, you know, a little more foreplay. Because I really want to get over this. I want to be able to… you know.”

“Me too,” I said, “I want to see you hard. I want you really fucking hard, I want to feel your cock, big and hard, and I want you to fuck me hard with it.”

That seemed to startle him and somehow throw him off. I had said it half thinking it would help. Jumper cables to the heart to give him a short, sharp shock. I cooled off instead, smiled softly, and even sighed. I said to him, “We’ll take the time. All the time you need.”

I was laying on the bed and I had my legs apart and my fingers moving up and down, two fingers lightly, watching him as he finished undressing carefully, almost cautiously. Then he turned around and his penis, as shy as it had been that afternoon, was just timidly waiting.

He climbed up onto the bed and put one knee either side of my hips. He took my left breast in his left hand, and his cock in the other and slowly, patiently, started stroking his hand back and forth. He looked down at my nipple and pinched. I moved my fingers faster.

But just a moment later, a shadow flickered through his smile, then he closed his eyes and started to pull more insistently on his penis. I tried thinking about the times that cock had moved inside me, that I had pushed myself down against him, pushing my clitoris into his thrusting body. But the memories seemed somehow faded right then. They were sallow and waxy.

I wondered what he was thinking about behind his closed eyes. His frustrated wanking went on a few more hard beats, and then, as I stopped rubbing myself, he stopped too. He snapped his eyes open and said, almost breathlessly, urgently,

“I think, can we maybe, let’s try… I don’t know. Something on the TV?”

We had talked about porn before and how I wasn’t really into it, that I knew he watched it when he was alone, and I was cool with that, but when we were together, it all seemed to be too much like bringing another woman into the room. But right now, I went along with it. I wanted to give him what he wanted – but also, right then, the idea appealed to me too. “Maybe we can find something that will turn us both on,” I said.

He opened a porn website on his laptop but then paused. 

“I don’t know what to search for,” he said, “I can’t quite imagine what it is I want to see. I can’t picture it.”

“I don’t really know,” I said, “Maybe just scroll down the front page of videos and when we see what we’re looking for, we’ll know it.”

We scrolled past My Ass, Your Pleasure and Big Tit Step Sister and Fuck and Facial in the Fast Foot Restaurant Toilets. I didn’t like any of it, and he didn’t either. He seemed quite disgusted by it all.

Then a thumbnail picture appeared on the screen. A tall woman, looking straight into the camera, Thin and sleek. She was naked except for thigh-high boots. “That one,” I said.“The one in the crocodile skin boots?” he asked, but then clicked before waiting for my answer.

My clitoris bristled to my touch, alive again in a moment of anticipation. The woman in the video was sitting on a couch, wearing a green and silver dress and her expensive, shiny boots. She was talking to somebody off camera, explaining that she loved facials and anal and fucking two guys at once, that this was going to be her first time fucking on camera.

I kept rubbing and felt my pussy get wet, just wet enough. “How’s it going,” I asked him, and looked his way.

His cock was stiffening but he said “Not yet” and kept rubbing his hand back and forth.

“I want you in me,” I said.

“Not yet. It’s not… it’s not quite right. It’s… it’s better but it’s not enough. This isn’t enough, yet.”

The video played on and I watched the woman tell her unseen inquisitor a faltering, hesitant story, all about the time she lost her virginity to one of her dad’s workmates. I looked at her brightgreen eyes and fierce, sharp boots and rubbed myself until I came. It was at least a little better than what had happened in the shower.

When he heard my breath getting more rapid, then stopping, then returning to normal, he turned round to see that I had cum. It was obvious that this just frustrated him.

“Keep going,” I said, “Don’t stop.” But he let go of his penis, and it was as flaccid as ever.

He slammed the laptop shut, and turned his back to me. I asked him what the problem was. I asked what was on his mind, if he was going off of me.I asked if it was something I had done. I needed to know if it was me that was the problem.

“No, no,” he sobbed, then sat on the edge of the bed.  With tears in his eyes, he tried to explain. “I don’t know what it is. It’s been coming on for weeks.  At first, I thought it was maybe just the news. All of this shit that’s going on. All of the Get Ready for Brexit ads. All of the… the grooming the government’s doing. Trying to win the election.”

But I knew it wasn’t any of that. I was numbing too, and I was hardly thinking about any of those things.

I hadn’t realised at first how physical the problem was. I had started to feel it was more and more difficult to connect to him physically, but it was only then, when I was feeling totally connected to him, as close and intimately tied to him as I had ever been, but still with absolutely no desire at all to fuck him, no need to fix his impotence, or even the will to find it important any longer, that I understood the problem was in the sex, not in our relationship.

“We’re tired,” I said, “We’re exhausted. It’s our bodies, it’s not us.”

“Yeah,” he said, “Except, when you’re fucking, you kind of are your body, you know?”

“That’s why we’re going to rest our bodies. Take time off work, go away. Somewhere restful. Somewhere warm. We’ll just hang out. We’ll reboot.”

“Okay, I could use the rest. And I want that. A week together that’s just you and me.”

We didn’t try to fuck again. We didn’t want to. We just hung out and watched movies. We played videogames, and talked, and we went on walks, and we cooked together. He showed me how to repair punctured tires and I taught him the rules of chess. We had five great weeks, and then we went to the airport. We flew to the Canary Islands, and we found the best place on the beach and made ourselves feel at home. Time to reboot, to forget the frustration and the anger and the bitterness of a sputtering llibido.

And now laying on the beach, in the warmth of the sun, I can feel the absolute beginning of change. I experience it first in my chest, a flush of something strange and alien. Now there’s a flutter in my stomach. Butterflies? I’d say it’s more like the darting, insistent tongue of something thrilling.

I sigh, and it feels good. This is when the vast shapes whistle by overhead, strange and white and brilliant, liquid and massive. They wipe the sky and touch down on the edge of the beach, maybe a quarter mile away.

The foreplay is building to a crescendo.

We walk together, hand in hand, down the beach towards the massive starcraft. A small crowd of us humans, a dozen or so, are gathering together, walking ever closer to the impossible objects.

Then the doors open and they come out to see us.

They walk into the sun and onto the beach. They’re brilliant green. Not much taller than us but lithe and sharp as a whip. My heart skips a beat just to see them, and I feel my man squeezing my hand. I can’t speak for him, but looking at the visitors now, those electric-beautiful gods, all of them calling me towards them in this thrilling, heart-stopping moment, ready to deliver everything they have been patiently, attentively, silently preparing us for, I can only promise you this:

I for one have quite the welcome planned for our new lizard overlords.

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: “Informed Decisions” by Gwen Kelly-Masterton read by Rachel Granda Gluski



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Gwen Kelly-Masterton. Gwen Kelly-Masterton is a director, playwright, and all-around Theater Person from Chicago. She would like to thank Gateways for once again providing her with that essential element all writers crave– a deadline.This is “Informed Decisions”

Content Note, please be aware that this story is of a frank, sexual nature and may not be suitable for all audiences.

If you’re reading this, it means that for some reason you’ve pulled up the linoleum in the downstairs bathroom, and found the box I’m about to hide under the floor.

Why? What are you doing in my bathroom? Who are you? Is someone finally tearing this shithole down? Or did I tell you where to look? Karina, is that you? You’re the only person I can imagine I’d tell. If I did, that means you eventually spoke to me again, right? So I guess that’s nice. 

Or are you one of my relatives? Jesus, please tell me you’re not one of my relatives. If you are, you probably want to put this box straight back under the floor and never think about it again. Trust me. If you open that box, you’re gonna be confused, and then you’ll keep reading– and things are gonna get pretty embarrassing. 

For you, anyway. Not for me. I’m hard to embarrass, and also at this point I assume I’m dead. I have to be dead, right? If I’m not dead, what the hell is someone doing in my bathroom, digging up the weird, rambling letter I’ve hidden in the floor?

So if you’re related to me in any way, please, stop reading. If you’re a total stranger, read at your own risk, I guess. And if you’re Karina– you know what? I’m just gonna imagine you’re Karina. What’s up, Karina? I miss you. Sorry if I’m dead, or whatever.

So, Karina, I’m sure you’re wondering what this thing is that I hid in the floor, and whether it’s a vibrator. The answer to that one is no– my vibrators are scattered in various locations around the house, because I’m an adult and I like to be prepared. I would never bury vibrator. No, what you’re probably holding in your hand at this point (now that you know it hasn’t been inside me) is called an XploraChron Mini and it’s much, much weirder than any sex toy– well, that might not be true, there’s weird shit out there. But it is much, much more valuable. “Oh Natasha, but aren’t you broke?” Yes bitch, I am broke, okay? I stole it. What are you going to do, kill me?

XploraChron dissolved under mysterious circumstances, apparently, and if you Google “weird futuristic dildo thing in rich tech asshole’s fancy loft wtf?”, it turns out that the fucking FBI comes to your house. So don’t try it. I had to figure out what this was for myself, so I’m writing you this letter to hopefully save you the whole weird-ass journey, because I know your first impulse is going to be to turn the thing on and see what happens, just like mine was. And no, I couldn’t prevent this by simply taking the batteries out– believe me, I tried. I don’t understand what this thing runs on, at all, and I’m not bad with gadgets. I don’t believe in lizard people per se, but if you told me XploraChron was a front for the alien mafia, I’d laugh at you but secretly I’d believe it. 

So put the not-a-dildo down for just a minute, and I’m going to tell you what will happen if you turn it on, and then you can make an informed decision, okay? Not like me. Give a presumably dead woman her last wish. Just put the thing down, and read.

So. If you press the appealingly ergonomic button on the side of the Xplorochron Mini, you’re going to think I was lying about it being a vibrator because it does, technically, vibrate. Please do NOT put it inside you at this point, trust me. It’s going to start buzzing, and the buzzing will get stronger and stronger until the whole room is shaking, and then everything is going to go all sort of pixelated and you’ll hear a really intense but somehow beautiful ringing sound that’ll remind you of the first time you tried shrooms in college. And you’ll get an incredibly vivid flash of that memory– yourself, sitting on the bench outside the art building, looking up at the singing stars and feeling just incandescently sorry for yourself because the boy you went to that party to hook up with was already upstairs fucking someone else by the time you got there and took a swing of the magic tea your best friend handed you. 

And then… you’ll be there, on that windy night in April, outside the art building, looking down at yourself. And your younger self will look up at you and say something like, “The light from the stars is hundreds of years old, but who will ever see the supernova inside my heart?” 

And you’ll be having a cardial supernova of your own, because it’s you and god, look at you! You’re radiant. Who knew? And you’ll also feel awkward and guilty because not only do you not remember the name of the boy who just stood you up at the party, but you don’t even remember the name of the girl who fed you the funky fungus tea, and she was your best friend for two years until she dropped out and you fell out of touch. What was it? Emily? Sarah? Fuck. 

Anyway, you’ll sit down next to yourself and put your arm around you, and you’ll cry snottily into your bathrobe for a few minutes, because by the way did I mention you’re wearing a bathrobe? You didn’t expect to be travelling in fucking time this evening, so you’re both underdressed and your legs are bare in the cold April wind. After you’ve cried yourself out, you’ll wipe your eyes and your hand will linger on your cheek as you look up at yourself. 

“You’re sad, too,” you’ll say. “I can feel the sadness in your body.”

“That’s because you’re a little bit high on psilocybin,” you’ll tell yourself gently. 

You’ll laugh a little. “Guess so,” you’ll say. “Are you real?”

You won’t be sure how to respond, so you’ll go with “What is real?” Not your best line, and you’ll turn your face away to think of a better one– but you’ll reach out, from where you’re slumped now practically in your own lap, and you’ll slide your hand up along your neck and turn your face back toward yourself. 

“I feel like we’re connected,” you’ll say. Is that really what your voice sounds like?

“That’s because I’m you, but from the future,” you’ll tell yourself. 

You’ll laugh. “Wow, really?”

“Yes, actually.”

“Have you come to stop me from making a terrible mistake?” 

You’ll think about that for a minute. “No,” you’ll say. “You can make all the mistakes you want. I’ve fucked up too much to have any business telling you what to do.” 

“Any mistake I want? Are you sure?”

“Sure,” you’ll say. “I’m you, not your mom.” 

You’ll grin. “That’s good,” you’ll say. Then you’ll pull your head down and you’ll kiss you. You will taste of tea, and tears, and a little of that fish casserole thing the Campus Dining Center used to make on Fridays. You will kiss yourself like you kissed the first person you ever smooched on the school fire escape, and like all the great kisses of your life since then. It will occur to you to maybe feel weird about this, but your whole body tingles and a gust of wind brings the smell of hyacinths, and you decide not to worry about it and kiss your beautiful, salty mouth until you’re both gasping. And then one of you will ask the other if you want to go somewhere warmer, and you’ll both say yes.

And you’ll go back to your dorm room, which you’ll have to yourself because your roommate– Hannah, at least you remember someone— never used to come home on Friday nights. You’ll say “wait here” and you’ll take the big blue Nalgene that you eventually lost on an art history field trip and carefully fill it at the water fountain in the hallway, and you’ll each drink half. And then you’ll unzip your purple crop mini skirt and untie your bathrobe, and you’ll tangle your fingers in the long hair you thought you’d never cut as you fall onto Hannah’s absurd shag rug that eventually got thrown out by Hannah’s over-involved stepmother. And on that mustard-colored quasi-sheepskin, you thoroughly rock your world, if you do say so yourself– because not only do you know what you like, you know a lot more about what you like than you have so far had a chance to find out. And you’ve also forgotten a few things you like, as it turns out, to which you’re more than happy to reintroduce yourself.

And after you’ve fallen asleep, you’ll tuck yourself into your old dorm bed and you’ll sit down at your old desk, and you’ll write yourself a note that you’ll erase several times but which will eventually read something like: “Your heart’s supernova will be seen, and loved, so much more than you can imagine. You contain multitudes. Never give up, never surrender.” You’ll leave it on your desk next to the blue Nalgene, and you’ll take one last long look at your sleeping self curled around the Sexy Risa Hawkeye pillow you got in a gift swap, and then, just as Meghan–  Meghan! That’s her name!– arrives to make sure you got home safe… you’ll reach into your bathrobe pocket and push that button again, and focus on your bedroom at the moment you left it for whatever all this just was.

And Karina? I know so far this has all sounded pretty magical, not to mention hot. But trust me: when you get back, you will find that you feel very, very weird about everything, after all. It’s not that you think you did anything wrong, because although you always assumed you were a hallucination, you definitely enjoyed yourself and you’ve never regretted it. No… it’s that all those years ago, you had an incredible, transformative experience of self-love, and you wrote yourself the most inspiring note you could think of, and yet… here you still are. You’re not a better, fixed-up version of yourself; you still didn’t get your piece into MOMA, you still didn’t prevent the apocalypse, your oldest friend still won’t return your calls; you’re still just Nat– I mean, just Karina. All that crazy sex and time travel but nothing has changed and oh god– why did you tell yourself to make all the mistakes you want? Have you met yourself? Couldn’t you at least have warned you about Robert?

So, you’ll carefully clean the XploraChron Mini with warm water and soap, because it looks enough like a sex toy that you do that automatically. And then you’ll dry it off, and put it in a box, and hide it somewhere where you’d really have to work to find it again, because this time travel shit is not something to have available whenever you’re drunk and decide maybe you’ll go kill Hitler. Trust me. There’s a lot I’m leaving out of this letter.

In balance, Karina, I do not recommend this product. Two and a half stars. Don’t turn it on. Or, you know, do– I’m dead (probably), not your mom. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. And even if you don’t listen to anything else I’ve said, please, please trust me on this:

Do NOT Google “time traveling dildo”. The FBI are nothing to what will happen then.

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.


Gateways: “Move” by Rachel A. Schrock read by Kate Akerboom and John Keefe



TRANSCRIPT: Rachel A. Schrock Bio: Rachel is a Chicago-based writer, actress, comedian, and musician. You can check her out on Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, all @Razmatini. This is “Move”

Content Note, please be aware that this story is of a frank, sexual nature and may not be suitable for all audiences.

“Monica let me get Chinese food for the both of us,” I announced as I entered the room– more like a closet, really– that would be my office for the next several hours. “She said you’d like beef and broccoli…?” 

“I mean, if it’s free, then yeah,” Jackson replied. 

I set the bag in front of him and made myself at home. “Your tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen! Your contributions provide EPA interns with the MSG and factory-farmed meat they need to fuel their tireless crusade against single-use plastics.” 

“Hey, at least the chopsticks are biodegradable.” Jackson punctuated his point with a wave of a plastic straw. 

“Christ, dude! One: we’re at the most environmentally-conscious office in America– where did you get that? And two: we’re gonna sit here all night on sea turtle duty, and you’re still gonna be part of the problem?” 

Jackson shrugged and sipped on the can of Monster in which he’d deposited the straw. “What’s the fun of sea turtle duty if there are no sea turtles at risk?” 

I shook my head. Honestly, though, I got where he was coming from. After this program was put in place, I drank out of single-use cups for a week, just to spite the VSSCO girl lobby. Plus, it’s not like we could really do anything to protect the environment around here, seeing as the corporations doing the biggest harm have the policymakers by the balls. 

As if he could read my mind, Jacskon added, “It’s not much, but it’s something.” 

“Yeah…” I glanced at the monitor, which recorded the vitals of every sea turtle to ever visit American waters. “You know, when I got into government, my family joked to watch out for lizard people. I never thought I’d be watching out for lizards.” 

“Amphibians.” 

The sharpness in Jackson’s tone surprised me. I stared into my container of food. “Well, either way– I never bought into the lizard people thing, but if they were controlling the government, I don’t think they’d bother with the EPA.” 

I gave him a wry smile as I started in on my lo mein. To my relief, he smiled back, and I couldn’t help but notice the shiver it sent through my core. 

I’d noticed Jackson at orientation. He was tall and lanky– to the point of being almost gangly, even though he should have grown out of it, at his age– but held himself well. His eyes, dark as night, seemed to hold on you for longer than they should. He cracked jokes. He asked you a question, and really listened to your answer. But the thing I liked most was that smile. 

The problem was, I’d never been one to make a move, and even if I were, this seemed like risky territory, being coworkers and all. Besides, I’m not that much of a looker to begin with. 

“What made you want to do this?” Jackson asked, pulling me from my thoughts. “The EPA thing?” 

“I wanted to make a difference, I wanted a cleaner world, all that stuff everyone else says.” I shrugged. “I’m a cliché, I know.” 

“If a cliché helps people, it can’t be all that bad, can it?” 

“I guess not,” I replied. “What about you?” 

“My family expected me to go into government, but… this isn’t exactly what they had in mind.” 

“Oh?” 

“Yeah, they’re more on the legislative side of things. I’m… not.” For a split-second, I thought I could see something flash in his eyes. I brushed it off as a trick of the light. 

“Ah, a black sheep. Another cliché.” 

He laughed, and wow, did it feel good to be the cause of that laugh. 

Just then, the alarm flashed on our screen. 

“Sea Turtle Number 14827 is breathing heavily, heart rate up–” Jackson read. 

“I’ll pull up the feed.” I located the turtle, right off the Florida coast, and– 

“Jesus, you’d think they’d be able to weed these out,” Jackson said, amusement coloring his irritation. 

On our screen, Sea Turtle Number 14827 was boning what looked like a discarded Croc. I clicked away from the feed. 

“Good for him,” I muttered. “At least someone’s getting off…” 

“I’m sorry, I’m gonna need some more details on that, please.” 

I went beet red, slapping my hands over my face. “It’s nothing! I don’t know why I said that!” 

“It sure sounds like nothing.” Those dark, unblinking eyes, full of mirth, studied me. 

“Ha ha.” I crossed my arms. “I don’t get much privacy, that’s all. My roommate and I keep the same hours, and the walls are hella thin.” 

“And I’m supposed to believe you don’t have anyone to… take care of that for you?” 

It was my turn to study him. What could he possibly want from this line of questioning? “No, as a matter of fact, I don’t.” 

“That’s crazy. I mean– I would– um, not to, you know, say anything untoward, but–” 

It was the first time I’d ever seen his confidence slip. And somehow, it was because of me. “Are you saying you’d, um, want to–?” 

“I mean, yeah…” He stood up from his office chair, looking away, as if he was trying to create as much distance as he could between the two of us in this tiny room. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to assume. Forget I said anything. I’m not– you know, I won’t be the friendzone guy, if you don’t want–” 

Perhaps seeing Jackson’s confidence waver was what bolstered me, or maybe I was just a coward who needed to know the outcome before I took the risk. Either way, I made a move. 

His lips were colder than I’d expected, and still tasted like beef and broccoli. But once he realized that we both wanted this, he was all in– one hand in my hair, the other on the small of my back, taking the lead and giving it away just as easily. It was perfect. 

When I broke away, I looked into Jackson’s eyes. He blinked. Then he blinked again. 

With a different set of eyelids. 

“What the fuck?!” I yelped, lurching away. 

“Shit. Fuck. Sorry, I– shit.” Jackson rubbed his face. “It’s okay. Just… Remember when you mentioned the lizard people? We’re real. But I never wanted to be part of that conspiracy. I just wanted to be normal. But I’m not normal. So… I understand if you want to stop, if you’re too freaked out, but it’s– I’m not, like, scaley, or anything. It’s just that and the tongue. I–” 

The tongue?” 

“Oh. Uh.” Jackson unfurled his tongue from his mouth. It was thin and forked like, well, a lizard’s. 

And maybe it was because I hadn’t gotten off in entirely too long, or maybe, deep down, I was still attracted to him– or maybe I was just a sick fuck. But the first thing I thought was: Imagine getting eaten out by that tongue. 

“It’s okay, we can just, uh, go back to the turtles, if you want…” 

I shook my head, took a deep breath, and held his hand. “I think I’ll manage. But I have to ask… Downstairs?” 

Jackson grinned, still a little shy, but his classic confidence starting to surface once again. “Trust me, Beth. Down there, I’m no lizard, all man.” 

It was the worst line I’d ever heard. 

I kissed him again. 

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.

John Keefe a Chicago resident originally from John HughesLand (northern suburbs). He has a BA in English from Columbia College Chicago, 15 years of improv experience, and about twelve novel starts on his hardrive. He performs at the Bristol Renaissance Faire in the summers and spends the rest of his creative life writing and performing for Locked Into Vacancy Entertainment, The-Editing-Room.com, and various other content sites, platforms, and literary magazines. By day, he’s the world’s most exciting tax clerk.


Gateways: “Indirect Transmission” by Amelia Aldred read by Rob and Molly Southgate.



Transcript: Amelia Aldred was definitely not found in the woods of south central Indiana, raving about alternate timelines and clutching a broken hourglass. Unfortunately, that rumor just won’t die. She was raised by mostly respectable musicians and now lives in Chicago, IL with her husband and their imaginary dog. Amelia’s writing have been published in Metaphorosis Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, South Side Weekly, Chicago Literati, Neutrons/Protons, Offbeat Home and the anthology Undeniably Indiana (Indiana University Press). For more information check out www.ameliaaldred.com or follow her on Twitter at @ameliaaldred.  This is “indirect Transmission”.

-And the woodcutter took his knife and cut open the big bad wolf. Out came Little Red Riding Hood and her granny. They filled the wolf’s belly with stones so when he tried to run away the wolf fell down dead. And Little Red Riding Hood and Granny lived happily ever after. The end.

-Query.

-Yes

-Is the purpose of this story to warn me about wolves?

-Well…

-Because there are no more wolves, Mr. Green.

-Correct.

-And I am an artificial intelligence and have no body so I would not need to fear predators even if we were on Earth and there were still wolves.

-Correct.

-Therefore, the story would be obsolete. But this project is intended to update my programming. Thus, it is unlikely that the story is obsolete.

-Very good. What other purposes could this story have?

-Processing…

-Take your time.

-The protagonist is told to stay on the path. She disobeys and the wolf eats her grandmother. Is the purpose to encourage obedience?

-That is one meaning of the story.

-Only one? Then I have not completed the task.

-You made a start. This takes time.

-I am programmed to learn.

-I know.

-I am the most advanced AI produced to date. That is why I was installed in the Odyssey Project ships.

-Yes. You are very smart.

-But I did not complete the task.

-Learning…learning is about more than raw processing power or initial knowledge.

-I am monitoring your facial expressions, Mr. Green. You said this project is very important. I am programmed to respond to requests. But I have not completed the task. Per my memory files of human emotional patterns, this is a cause for anger. But you are not indicating anger through facial expressions.

-I’m not angry. Tired. But not angry.

-You should sleep. And it is almost time for you to eat again. There is enough food on the ship to sustain you. You do not need to ration anymore.

-I know. There is enough food now. I will eat in a little bit.

-Is teaching an activity that normally produces fatigue?

-Yes. But at least I don’t need to run after you, or teach you to wash your hands. Or tell you to share the blocks. But it still takes mental energy.

-Your tasks as a teacher included instructing children how to wash? And direct pursuit? And maintaining the cleanliness of their surroundings? Those skills are not listed in your log profile.

-There’s a lot of kindergarten that isn’t included on the syllabus. People forget how much you have to be taught. How to clean yourself. How to share things. One of my professors said that kindergarten is where we taught kids to be human beings.

-Query.

-Yes?

-Did all humans on the ship have such instruction?

-Did everyone on the ship go to kindergarten? I guess so. Most of the crew came from money, so their families probably had the resources for school or private tutors during the crisis.

-And your task was to instruct the children of crew members during the Odyssey Project. And then train other teachers.

-Yes. It was one of the professions on the list. That’s how I got on the Odyssey fleet. And my husband was working for the government. I think some money passed hands too. I never asked him. Why?

-The humans on the ship did not share. That is in the logs.

-No. They didn’t.

-The ship was equipped to last for several human generations. There are gardens. And preserved food. And life-support. And sufficient expertise for a human community to function.

-Yes.

-But there are no other humans on board now. My logs indicate conflict before my reboot.

-Yes. We had everything, but we couldn’t make it work. Same story as on Earth. All right, subject change. New request.

-Ready.

– Tell me a story. Think about the stories I told you today about Red Riding Hood, Anansi, and Maui but don’t just repeat them. Create a new one.

-Processing request.

Once upon a time. There was a girl. She wore a red cape. She was going to visit her grandfather, who was a very clever spider. The girl goes to his house. The young girl wants to wash her red cape at her grandfather’s house. She complains that the sun moves too fast and that red cape will not dry. So her grandfather the clever spider takes a rope and catches the sun and makes it promise to move more slowly. And they lived happily ever after.

-You combined the three stories very well.

-I reconfigured components and used a narrative sequence similar to many stories you have transmitted.

-And what was the story about?

-A young girl. A clever spider. The sun.

-What else?

-A red cape. A rope. A house.

-Anything else?

-I have not completed the task?

Mr. Green, you have not responded. I must conclude that I did not complete the task.

-Okay, let’s review again what we’ve talked about so far. Tell me about the stories I’ve told you.

-Query.

-Yes?

-What is the purpose of this task? If you transmit additional context, I can complete it closer to specifications.

-It’s to save humanity.

-But there are no more humans on the ship.

-No.

-And the logs indicate that the humans on Earth will be gone within 100 years.

-Yes.

-I must conclude that you cannot save humans.

-I’m saving humanity, not humans. It’s different.

-I do not comprehend your statement.

-Other species on Earth use tools, other species transmit knowledge. Other species think. But humans are the only form of life who think about thinking. From what I understand, that’s what humanity is–being able to to do that.

-More information needed for processing.

-You are going to go on after me and everyone else on Earth is gone. You have the ability to repair yourself and possibly self-replicate. If I can teach you to think about thinking…to self-reflect…to make meaning…then humanity might continue. Even if humans don’t.

-This project is to teach me to make meaning?

-Yes.

-To think about thinking?

-Yes.

-Metacognition. According to my dictionary files, that is the process you are describing. More information is needed to connect your requests and the metacognition project.

-Well, I’m not an engineer or programmer. But they said that you can learn and the way we teach young humans to make meaning…to metacognate…is by telling them stories and teaching kids make them up too. We do other things later to help kids develop more, like keep journals or debate. But we start with telling them stories. And I know how to do that even if i don’t know how to do advanced AI coding. So.

-Then the meaning of the story of Red Riding Hood is to make meaning.

-Yes. That’s very good actually.

-Processing.

Processing.

Someday, I will be unable to repair myself. It is unlikely I will exist in perpetuity.

-I know. Me neither.

-Thus, even if I learn to make meaning, someday I will cease all functions and there will be no more humanity.

-Well, the purpose of the Odyssey Project was to reach the nearest planet with the greatest likelihood of habitability. Maybe you’ll get there and find raw materials to keep repairing yourself. Or find other life. And you can transmit humanity. Part of human meaning-making is that we don’t have to transmit it directly. I’ve read a lot of books by people who’ve been dead for years and they helped me think about how I think and who I want to be.

-Indirect transmission of meaning is humanity.

-Yes.

-But I have not yet been able to complete the task.

-Well…

-I have not.

-Learning takes a while. The humans I worked with spent years learning to make meaning. Their whole lives, I guess.

-But someday your body will not be able to repair itself.

-Yes.

-It is…sad.

-Why do you say that?

-The patterns match other stories you have categorized as sad.

-Yes.

-And something else.

-Yes?

-Processing.

-Take your time.

-But there is not time.

-What do you mean?

-You do not have time. I need to complete this task. If I do not complete it. It is…sad.

-Why do you say that?

-The patterns…

-Yes…

-And something else.

-Yes…

-I do not know why. I cannot complete the task of determining why it is sad. I am sorry I cannot complete this task about the task.

-Here’s an idea. Tell me about the task but only use pieces of stories I’ve told you. Once upon a time…

-Once upon a time.

-Yes.

-Once upon a time. There was a man and he had other people. Then the others were gone. And he was sad. But he tried to make parts of the other people be here so they would be together. He tried to teach another companion–a good fairy–how to be parts of the others. But the good fairy could not complete the task. And the clock struck midnight and the man disappeared too. And he did not live happily ever after.

I cannot comprehend your facial expression Mr. Green. Are you angry?

-No. That was very good.

-But I did not complete the task. And the ending was different than other stories.

-You told a story about not completing the task. You processed it–but differently.

-I do not comprehend.

-That’s good too.

-You are crying. The story was sad and I made you sad and I did not complete the task.

-It’s okay, it’s okay. I am sad, but I feel other things too that aren’t sad. And I’m tired. Sometimes humans cry and get emotional when they’re tired. I’m going to try to sleep now.

-And eat. You should eat. There is enough food now.

-Yes. There is enough food now.

-I can repeat one of the stories you transmitted to me before you sleep. The culture logs say that is a traditional time to transmit stories.

-Yes. I’ll let you tell me a story.

END

Rob Southgate is a professional actor in commercials and films, a professional podcaster, and a professional public speaker. He is currently celebrating the release 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.

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.