Monthly Archives: April 2020

Gateways: “Bloodletter” by Leigh Hellman read by the Gateways Cast



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 “Bloodletter”.

[The Free Page Sunday Edition, Ads & Obits Section, July 27th]
Human being seeks companionship, has lots of time to spare. Willing to make a trade for genuine commitments. Please contact Gilda on the local Swaps board; thoughtful responses only.

[Local Swaps Board thread, originally posted at 9:47 AM on August 2nd]
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: looking for gilda from the free page ads
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: they were talking about a trade
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: has anyone heard of them? any leads on a connection?? i’m terminal and a timeflip would be a fucking miracle

USER 1 [REDACTED]: hey…I didn’t see this ad but just a word to the wise…there are a lot of scammers out there who set up trades for timeflips and then never show or even worse they run fake flips…I don’t want to discourage you but you should just be careful everyone’s out here trying to get it for themselves…

USER 2 [REDACTED]: I actually got a good flip a few months ago, so there are decent traders out there. I would recommend always meeting in a public place and then booking a joint appointment at a legit clinic. Some people don’t want to pay the fee, but honestly I think it’s worth it for the peace of mind.

USER 2 [REDACTED]: Oh, and get ready for the kickback. I only had it for a day or two after, but I’ve heard of some people who felt it for weeks. Just make sure you don’t sleep too much because of that, since it drains the flip faster than it’d usually go.

USER 3 [REDACTED]: I think ur talking about GILDIANANGEL

USER 3 [REDACTED]: shes old school like that

USER 3 [REDACTED]: u should message her tho

USER 3 [REDACTED]: I never see her on threads nemore

[Private Message, sent at 3:32 PM on August 2nd]
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: hello, i think your name is gilda? that’s what folks on the boards said anyway. if you aren’t gilda (or you’re not THIS gilda) you can just ignore this message. my name is quinn and i’m terminal. i got the diagnosis about 3 months ago but i’ve been trying to figure out a plan b because i’ve got things left to do. nothing really important—i’m not some big shot out there—but things i’d like to see done before i go, you know? my doctor (well he’s not really my doctor he’s more like my second opinion) told me about timeflips. i’d heard about them before but i thought they were still really restricted after all those lawsuits. but then i saw your ad in the free page, if you’re the right gilda, and i thought “hey, nothing to lose” so that’s why i’m messaging you here. all my commitments are genuine, until my time’s up. i’d be happy for the company while the clock runs down.

[E-mail, sent at 10:04 AM on October 15th]
From the Office of Dr. Ratner, General Internist
PATIENT: Arbore, Gilda

Please be aware that, based on your most recent comprehensive scans, we strongly advise that you not participate in any activities that may further weaken or damage your systems. Your results indicate repetitive Progressive Vital Siphoning or PVS (commonly referred to as “timeflipping”) which has aged your internal organs by approximately 20-30 years. Studies have shown that repeated PVS cycling can have compounded effects, with each cycle increasing the damage to the donor at exponential rates. If you have any questions about these results, or if you need help in managing your health concerns, please feel free to schedule a follow-up appointment during standard business hours.

[Chat log, from January 21st]
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: yeah man it’s crazy
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i still can’t believe it

USER 4 [REDACTED]: u sure it’s not a scam?

ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: nah she just wants attention i guess
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: or like someone to talk to
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i thought it was gonna be something freaky
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: like weird sex stuff
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: but it’s just like getting lunch and going to the movies and shit like that
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: she doesn’t even try to hold my hand

USER 4 [REDACTED]: and how much u gettin?

ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: a month for every session
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i got like 2 years already
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: if anyone’s getting scammed it’s her hahaha

[Timeflippers Anonymous Board, originally posted at 11:19 PM on March 10th]
USER 5 [REDACTED]: EXPERIENCES FROM FLIPPER TO FLIPEE?

I’ve done a few flips with a few different flippers and I’ve had totally different experiences! Some of them are really cool and just do the trade and you can go your separate ways…but some of them get so needy! Like I get that I’m taking like part of their life time from them but…they asked for it! They agreed to it! So it feels like a trick when they get super attached and act like I owe them and should be their new best friend or something afterwards!

IDK…am I being a jerk about this? Has anyone else had this kind of experience, or do I just have bad luck with flippers?

[Private Message, sent at 1:07 PM on May 9th]
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: hey gilda sorry for the late message i just had something come up a family emergency that i gotta go out of the city for so i can’t make our session this afternoon
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i know we did the flip last weekend so i definitely owe you
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: we’ll reschedule once i get back i promise
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: thanks for being so cool, g

[E-mail, sent at 8:35 AM on June 18th]
From the Office of Dr. Ratner, General Internist
PATIENT: Arbore, Gilda

Please be aware that, based on your most recent comprehensive scans, we have upgraded your condition from degenerative to terminal. We do not have the facilities to offer end-of-life care management, and therefore we strongly advise that you begin seeking out a hospice service for your anticipated needs. Our list of recommended providers is available upon request.

As you start your care management transition, we want to remind you that we remain committed to your health and can continue to provide standard services in the interim. If your diagnosis is downgraded in the future, we hope that you will consider returning as our valued customer and patient.

[Chat log, from June 30th]
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: the clinic said that i’m in remission
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: they downgraded me from terminal
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i’m fucking stoked

USER 4 [REDACTED]: thats awesome! u gonna do somethin??

ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: yeah i was thinking about a party like the old days
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: “congrats on telling death to fuck off” hahaha

USER 4 [REDACTED]: u gonna invite the whole crew? what about ur flipper?

ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: hell yeah to the crew
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i don’t know about gilda though
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: it’d be awkward right?
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: everybody would be asking “who’s this?” and i’d have to be like “oh she’s the recluse who sold her time to me for friend dates”
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: and she doesn’t even know any of you guys
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: nah, i don’t want to put her in an uncomfortable position
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i’ll hit her up later for a thank you coffee
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: she’d like that better anyway

[Private Message, sent at 5:59 PM on July 14th]
GILDIANANGEL: I haven’t heard from you in a while, Quinn. How’re you doing?
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: oh man sorry for the radio silence, life’s been nuts and i’ve just been all over the place
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: but i’m doing pretty good
GILDIANANGEL: I’m glad to hear that. Would you want to schedule another session, or maybe just get some food sometime?
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: yeah i’d definitely be up for that sometime but unfortunately i’m just so swamped right now, you know how it is
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i can let you know when i’m free once stuff clears up?
GILDIANANGEL: Sure.
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: cool cool, you’re the best!

[Timeflippers Anonymous Board, originally posted at 2:44 AM on July 23rd]

GILDIANANGEL: WAS IT WORTH IT?

Longtime flipper here, just thinking about priorities. A lot of folks say that they started flipping for money, but it was never about that for me. Back when I started, it felt like I had the conveyer belt of a lifetime churning out in front of me and it didn’t matter if I sliced off a month here or a few weeks there. It felt like I was tapping in to something bigger out there, like I was threading myself into the lives of my fellow humans and they were threading themselves into my life too. It felt like I was weaving myself into a cosmic tapestry so that—even when I was by myself—I’d never really be alone.

I guess I was looking for that “greater than myself”; not sure if I ever found it.

[The Free Page Sunday Edition, Ads & Obits Section, July 27th]
Gilda Arbore—“She’s gone too young,” said everyone who outlived her. 

 

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.

 

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.

 

Gaby Fernandez is the Special Events Manager at Otherworld Theatre. She has been an ensemble member since 2018, and loves creating, performing, and discovering new works with such a diverse and unique company. She has been professionally acting since she arrived in Chicago over 4 years ago, and fell in love with the Chicago storefront theatre scene.

 

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.

 

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. 

 

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

 

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: Powerless by Bryce Read read by Rob Southgate and Ensemble



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Bryce Read. Bryce Read is thrilled to be featured in Gateways! Bryce has been acting, improvising, teaching, and coaching for years, and is now getting back around to one of his first loves– writing! He also likes digging up, and collecting old bottles. How weird is that? You can see other stuff Bryce has written on Medium, and you can see Bryce perform on Sundays at Otherworld Theatre with “Improvised Dungeons and Dragons”. This is Powerless

Content Note: This story may hit close to home for some. It contains a destructive event with an airplane. Please practice self care as you listen to this one.

Three blocks west of Lake Michigan, and forty floors above the streets of Chicago, sat the conference center floor of Piston and Franks, LLP. Seated at a large marble desk facing the elevator banks, and away from a wall of windows with a stunning view, were Maggie and Phil. Maggie was a jovial woman in her fifties. Phil was a semi-scruffy looking man in his thirties. Both were receptionists. And for both of them, this would be their last day. It would be the last day for everyone working at Piston and Franks, LLP.

The roar of a fighter jet ripped past the window behind them. Maggie nearly jumped out of her chair. “Jesus!” she muttered.

“They get you every time, huh?” Phil was bemused.

“Not every time. That one was just loud,” said Maggie. “How’s anybody supposed to work with them practicing like that?”

The two of them swiveled in their chairs to look out over the city, and the lake beyond. It was a stunning view to behold. People reminded them of this fact several times a day. “You know, you two should turn that desk around!” they’d joke. Maggie always laughed. Phil always gritted his teeth.

“Did you see that one?” asked Maggie.

“Nah, I missed it. I’ve been trying to tune that shit out,” replied Phil.

Phil hated the Chicago Air and Water Show, and not just because it was a loud, annual distraction. It was what the whole thing represented. Every year, two million people flocked to the shores of Chicago, to “oo” and “ah” at the flying of the war machines. The fighter jet that had just buzzed by had probably cost the U.S. government around fifty million dollars to build just on its own. What a waste! Not to mention that Maggie was probably right to get rattled by the sound of it. People living in other parts of the world were terrorized by that sound. What amounts to a cool spectacle to most Americans, would be the sight of impending doom for many people in less fortunate parts of the world. And to think that we teach our kids to clap and cheer for these things. Phil found the whole thing disgusting. But he kept these thoughts to himself. He didn’t like to get into it at work, where most people seemed to be delighted by the Air and Water Show. And where most people didn’t give two shits about what the receptionist thought.

“Think you’ll head down this weekend?” asked Maggie.

“I don’t think so.” said Phil.

“Oh! Here they come!” exclaimed, Maggie.

Sure enough, four jets were rapidly approaching from the south, in a diamond formation. Just as Phil and Maggie were taking this in, the lights flickered out behind them. Maggie was the first to notice. She turned and was surprised to see that not only had all the lights gone out, but her computer screen had gone black as well. “Did we just lose power?” she asked. 

Phil turned away from the window just as a scream erupted from a conference room down the hall. “What the…” he started. But that’s all he got out. Maggie’s eyes were huge, and staring past him. Phil turned back to the window to see that the four jets—now much closer—had lost control of their flight pattern. His mouth gaped in horror as one jet drifted into another one. They ricocheted off each other, before one exploded outright, and the other hurdled down into the lake. A third jet seemed to be coasting toward a hard water landing, that didn’t look promising. The last jet was making a sharp turn towards the city…seemingly towards Maggie and Phil.

“Oh my God. Oh my God!” muttered Phil.

“What’s he doing? Is he trying to make it to O’Hare?” screeched Maggie.

“He’s too low, he’ll never make—”

BOOM! The jet crashed into Blue Cross Tower, not two buildings away from them. A fireball. An explosion of glass. A nightmare.

“Jesus!” Maggie exclaimed. She picked up her phone. “Phone’s not working!” she cried.

Phil scrambled for his cell phone. It seemed to have turned off, and would not for the life of him turn back on.

About a dozen frenzied people were pouring out of their conference rooms and into the lobby. Gerry, the conference center manager, blew past all of them in a B-line to Phil and Maggie’s desk. Gerry, who was high-strung under ordinary circumstances, was now in a panic. “Call security!” he yelled.

Phil held up his useless android. “The phones are dead! The computers too. Everything’s dead!”

“Dead?!” squeaked Bob Lopez, an associate who was now looking like a ghost himself.

“No, Bob. Nobody’s dead,” said Gerry.

“Well…” said Maggie, limply gesturing to the carnage out the window.

“Nobody in this building is dead!” Gerry amended.

“I think we should evacuate,” Phil offered. Several people were already making their way towards the elevator bank.

“Wait, wait, wait!” declared, Gerry. “Nobody leave yet! We don’t know if it’s any safer out there!” Everyone stopped to look at him. “Now is anybody’s phone working?” 

Several lawyers, guests, and a few catering employees all fiddled with their phones. One by one, they all muttered that no, nobody’s phones were working. 

“My Rolex has even gone dead!” remarked Douglas Andrews, a long-time partner at the firm. 

“Guess money doesn’t buy everything,” muttered Carol, his secretary.

“If it’s a power outage, it shouldn’t be affecting our phones and watches,” said Maggie.

“Or cause four fucking jets to crash!” yelled Bob Lopez.

Phil had turned away from the group. He surveyed the city below him, his nose practically touching the glass. Out on Lakeshore Drive, the cars had all come to a complete stop. This wasn’t due to traffic. They just seemed to have…stopped. Some people had even gotten out of their cars and were walking around in the middle of the expressway. Phil let his eyes wander down several other streets. It was all the same—cars at a standstill. In fact, Phil couldn’t pinpoint a single moving car in the entire city. He took a deep breath, and turned back toward the others.

“Excuse me. I…I think I know what this is.” All eyes turned toward Phil. It was an odd sensation. He was never the center of focus around here. He’d been at the firm for over three years, and he could pretty much guarantee that most of the lawyers didn’t know his name. But now, everyone was looking at him.

“Well?” asked Douglas Andrews.

“I think…” started Phil, “I think someone might have set off an EMP.”

There was silence in the lobby. Had none of them ever heard of an EMP? Or did they just think he was crazy? “An EMP,” Phil continued, “is an electromagnetic pulse. When an EMP goes off, it destroys the functionality of just about any electrical equipment within its range. A big one could knock out a city, or even a large portion of the country.”

More silence. A few people walked to the window and just stared out it—as if trying to come to the same conclusion he had come to. Finally, Dee from the catering team piped up. 

“So, is this like a solar flare?”

“Well, I mean, a solar flare could have this kind of effect, but on a smaller scale,” replied Phil. “Something this extreme has got to be man-made. My guess…is that a nuclear device has been detonated in the upper atmosphere.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” said Bob Lopez, “are you saying we’ve been nuked?”

“I’m saying we may have been nuked. But if that’s the case, it seems like the blast was far enough away to spare us the worst of the devastation. Still…this is more than bad enough.”

“It’s gotta be the terrorists!” cried Carol.

“I’ll bet it’s the Democrats,” sneered Douglas Andrews.

“Alright, well whatever the case may be, we should all just stay here and wait this out”, said Gerry. “No sense getting caught up in the panic outside.” There were several nods from around the room. 

“Um, counter argument,” said Phil. “There probably is no waiting this out. Every electrical device, at least within several miles, is now useless. And it sure looks like that includes cars, public transit, ambulances, and certainly airplanes.”

Everyone stared at the mass of black smoke pouring out of Blue Cross Tower.

“So, to put it bluntly, there’s no cavalry coming,” said Phil. “Not any time soon. It could be days, weeks, months, maybe even years before things get back to normal. If then. There’s no telephones, TVs, radios, or any other way of communicating outside of face-to-face. Food supply lines have been stopped. So has water treatment. Things are going to get very bad, very quickly. My advice is that if you have loved ones to get to, you should start heading towards them now—and be prepared to walk.”

“I commute from Indiana,” sputtered Maggie.

“My daughter has an insulin pump,” gasped Carol. 

Soon everyone was talking at once.

“Hey. Hey!” Phil interrupted. “It’s going to be dark in three hours. And it’s going to be the darkest dark many of us have ever experienced. With no flashlights. I suggest we all get a move on.”

After much muttered agreement, Gerry spoke up. “Yes. That’s probably for the best.”

Phil nodded. “The stairwell’s this way,” he said. The small crowd of lawyers, secretaries, catering, and conference center staff began to follow him. Maggie pushed up next to him.

“Phil,” she said, “so…are you in charge now?”

“I guess I am,” said Phil. “I guess I am.”

 

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

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

Nathan Shelton is a professional actor, writer, director, and special effects makeup artist living in Chicago.  He has worked on numerous theatrical, tv, and film productions including Above Ground, The Rake, Scum of the Earth’s latest music video: Dance MotherF*&#er, and the Oscar nominated indie film, Winter’s Bone.  His production

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.

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.

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.

Evin McQuistion is an actor/director who reads a lot of Shakespeare and digests a lot of sci-fi. He mostly blames the sci-fi (via Star Trek: The Next Generation) for getting him into the Shakespeare. he’s currently in rehearsals for Quicksilver Shakespeare’s Mercury Hamlet.

 


Gateways: New Blood by Brendan Connelly read by Alex B. Reynolds



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Brendon Connelly. This story is written by Brendon Connelly. [Brendon Connelly 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. It also happens to be his 47th birthday on the date of recording! This is “New Blood.”

I should start by explaining how the Flavivirus first came into my community. Sure, this is an anecdote and not, you know, hard science, but I guess most people would say the exact same thing about me. Let’s just say, be sceptical about my stories at your peril. 

You can get the Flavivirus through the air, if somebody sneezes on you, or even just breathes on you. You can get it from touching a surface where the virus will live for at least 24 hours. Don’t ever forget to sanitise your hands when you get off the bus. And, of course, you can get it through blood. So take one guess as to exactly how one of my kind first caught it. 

There was this kid called Jasper. He’d only joined us a few years back. He was just a whippersnapper, really. Jasper drank a guy down in the packing district and – whoom! Jasper was sick before the human’s neck had left his lips. 

None of us are doctors, biologists or any kind of expert in disease – we don’t have the resources let alone the knowledge – but just watching what goes down when one of us gets hit with the Flavivirus, it’s immediately obvious that we handle it a whole lot worse than you guys do. Poor little Jasper didn’t even make it through the day. He hit the dirt just before dawn and was nothing but a pile of ashes by sundown. You, however, don’t even show symptoms for days. It must be our metabolism. Remember – we live fast, stay young forever, leave no kind of corpse at all, but our metabolic clocks are in permanent overdrive. 

The irony is, in many ways, my kind should have been in a very good place with this virus. We don’t breathe, it takes a hell of a lot to make us sneeze, and we wouldn’t be caught dead on a bus or train. But of course, we’re completely screwed because, unlike you, we can catch the virus from our food. 

Jasper was dust for only a few hours when the Flavivirus first showed up in your newspapers. I never read your papers, not personally. I don’t need to. I’m not sure if you know why…? 

I lose track of what you know about us and what you don’t. The garlic thing, for example, that’s not quite right. We definitely don’t like garlic. It’s fucking disgusting. But it doesn’t hurt us. And crucifixes? We’re pretty sure that’s just empty propaganda, and not on our behalf. 

But I don’t need to read your papers because, well, they’re boring. That’s mostly it, but also, as long as one of us reads them, we may as well all have. You guys sometimes talk about being on the same wavelength or being in tune with one another, or you say, “Great minds think alike,” though, really, you’ve got no idea. Things leak back and forth between our minds. It never takes long for us to come to a consensus which is really rather convenient. 

Except, of course, when it leads to absolute hysteria. 

We were lucky to be asleep when the virus took hold of Jasper. Had we been awake, we would have all felt his cells catch fire but, by the grace of who can say, he was asleep, and so we just shared his dreams. All I remember are flashes, but it seemed to be the usual stuff of our nightmares. Something ancient, something we never talk about. We dreamt flashes of glowing eyes, narrowing to pin-sharp dots of cruel white in the dark. There was the beating of broken wings. Then a sense of confusion that sank under waves of oily, black hopelessness. After that, just the teeth, sharp and silent, and their tiny punctures, deep into the soul and rotten, changing everything forever in a single bite. 

After this, we all woke up. Except Jasper, poor thing. We will remember him. 

That night we fed hastily, rampant, greedy and fearful. We stalked every shadow across town, hunting and desperate. If we didn’t eat now, we feared, the virus would take hold of you all, and we’d starve. You’d be polluted. You’d be wasted, and then we would die. 

Some of us were scared to feed at all, but most of us were afraid to wait any longer. Majority rules when your ideas and desires tend to run together in one dirty pool, especially when fear gets the upper hand. Thirty four humans vanished that night. We drank them all. We took their bodies down under the ground with us and buried them there. It was our hungriest, most desperate night in a thousand years. It was reckless and dangerous, and I knew that if we did it again, there would be a real chance you’d come looking for us, not even knowing what you were looking for. 

And because I knew it, slowly, everybody knew it. 

We slept well the morning after the feast, all of our hearts feeling fat and sated, but it was obvious that we would have to find another solution fast. As we dreamt, I let my ideas run like blood into water, hoping we would all wake up and look for an answer together. 

We knew that any one of you could be carrying the virus, and there was no way of telling which. Your newspapers and the TV told us that the virus was spreading faster than expected, and unpredictably. We learned that your weakest would easily succumb but also that your strongest would survive. Given time, your healthy immune systems would normally be enough to defeat the virus, and slowly but surely, you’d return to your prime, rich and and alive as if you had never been sick. 

So if we could wait it out, sooner or later, you’d all be safe to drink again. We didn’t know exactly how long we’d have to wait, but thankfully, this was all just a matter of time. I may have only been on this earth for 55 years, but many of us have walked through your night times for millennia. Time is something we are not about to run out of. 

Of course, our knowing this is not the same as feeling it. Patience, you may say, is not one of our virtues. 

Still, we agreed to abstain from feeding. We tried to sleep longer, and to distract ourselves with whatever small business we could make. We read books and watched television and we went on walks underneath the city. We got together like in the old days, to just sit and talk. These meetings were so unlike the slow seeping of ideas from one mind to another, rather more vibrant, much more exciting. Our banter was fast and snappy, and we laughed, and we flirted, and sometimes even fought. I wondered why we hadn’t done more of this, and vowed to keep it up once the virus had gone and everything returned to the old ways. 

And woven through all of us, we were trying hard to wait. But while we tried to look away from our true nature, the hunger kept growing, and creeping closer and, slowly but inevitably, we all started to share the thoughts that we wouldn’t speak out loud. Together, we knew that we could only wait for so long. 

Your papers told us all about your own fears and the plans you were making. Drugs were being developed, if slowly. Plans were being cancelled and large group meetings outlawed. Special quarantine centres were being set up across the land. You were working to slow the virus and protect yourselves, and for once, we found ourselves deeply invested in your safety and success. 

But the virus had given itself a head start. By living silently in your bodies before showing any symptoms, Flavivirus managed to spread itself farther and faster than any of us had expected. And soon, your quarantine centres took on a second, unexpected purpose. 

Because while your people were isolated in those centres, they were safe from the virus. In our local quarantine centre, one of your people became sick and died, and the other 18 people… they didn’t become sick at all. Instead, they simply found themselves walled-off, protected from the spread of virus. The world outside was diseased, but the quarantine centre, against expectation and design, became the safe place. Your plans had turned inside out. 

I woke up the next night with an idea. It came from something I half-remembered from when I had once been alive, and half-learned from another of my kind. I knew that what we needed was clean blood, so if there was a supply of this blood being perfectly protected in the quarantine centres, then we should help ourselves to it. We needed to carry out a heist. 

We met so that I could explain my plan, as well as I could. I explained that, at least the way a heist was usually done, we’d get weapons and storm the quarantine centre. Two small bonuses to our particular situation, I explained, were that a) your video camera security systems were all but blind to us, and that b) the quarantine centre’s security guards were armed with guns, not wooden stakes. We’d undoubtedly leave a hell of a mess, much more than we’d ever allowed ourselves to make in one of your cities, but that would be a small risk to raise if it meant the survival of our kind. 

We agreed that my plan was a good one. There was only one revision – though I forget who suggested it, if it was anybody in particular – that rather than kill the humans living in the quarantine centre, we should keep them alive and drag them back to our sleeping places below the city. This wasn’t the time to raid the dairy for milk. We were going to need to keep our own cows. 

Several of my kind kept guns, some older, some newer but all lovingly maintained. We found them out, loaded them and checked that they worked. Some of us prefer knives, or swords, and so we armed ourselves with those too. Another of us took a crowbar. Anything, we thought, that could help get us inside, and to deal with the security guards as quickly as possible. 

The quarantine centre had been improvised out of a medical centre on the South Side of the city, on a quiet block where every other building was empty all night long. We met there, then cleared our minds and got in sync – and, moving in perfect union, set about ripping into the building as quickly as we could. 

A crowbar through the window. A security guard came running. He was wearing a respirator mask but his eyes were alight with fear. We shot him in the chest. He dropped to his knees, and while the blood was still pumping, some of us stopped to feed. Another security guard hurtled into the room, and sprinted towards the alarm. We shot him too, in the back. Then we made our way further inside. 

We soon found the corridor between the isolation rooms. Another security guard was waiting there for us. I was first through the door, and so I was the target as he unloaded his pistol. Every shot hit me in the body and they hurt – they always do – and they slowed me down, but they weren’t going to make any real difference. His gun started to click, empty and useless and he threw it our way, and he showed us how little he knew about what he was dealing with. 

But while his gun couldn’t make the tiniest bit of difference, we hadn’t reckoned on what he did next. He squeezed a small switch in his hand and a heavy, thick metal door slammed shut, just inches in front of me. It cut us all off from the corridor – and at the same time, opened all of the doors to the isolation rooms. A siren started sounding and the lights went out. Everything was now bathed only in the blood red glow of emergency lights. 

I pulled myself up to the window in the heavy door and watched as the security guard opened another, matching door at the other end of the corridor. Dazed and confused quarantine patients stumbled from their rooms, and the security guard beckoned them his way, explaining that he was leading them to a secure room. 

We kept thrashing angrily at the door that blocked our way. I watched through its window, the crowbar flailing past me, as the security guard led his people to his inner sanctum. He was stealing our survival from right under our nose. 

The security guard managed to get the last of the patients through the door and swing it shut just before we smashed our way into the corridor. I screamed at him, and wailed. Where had he taken all of our blood? We were going to kill him unless he opened the door. 

He was shaking and sweating but he didn’t take his eyes off me. He told me that we’d just have to kill him. He demanded to know what we wanted. He told me, again and again, that he’d die before he’d give us the passcode to the secure room. Without it, he said, we’d never get through three feet of steel. I couldn’t believe this flimsy little man, believing he was some kind of hero. He was willing to put his life on the line for this passcode, to die for this tiny secret… and maybe to kill us all too? 

We started to panic, but I tried to hold us together. We knew that we could certainly overpower this guy but, thinking together, couldn’t we also out-think him? I dug in and tried to centre my mind. I held on tight and, in a moment of peace, we all came to a standstill. 

There are several ways of executing a heist. One of the easiest and certainly the most common is the smash and grab. That, however, had just gone very wrong for us. So what next? 

Well, I thought, what about giving ourselves a little advantage. What if we had an inside man? 

The idea rippled through us like a wave of relief. 

I can remember now just how it went down for the security guard. There were flashes of glowing eyes as they narrowed to pin-sharp dots of red in the dark. There was the beating of broken wings. And then came the sense of confusion, and the drowning in oily, black hopelessness. After that, just the sharp and silent teeth and their tiny punctures, cutting deep into his soul, changing everything forever in a bite. 

It didn’t take long. It never does. And then, finally, we had what we wanted. The four digit passcode trickled slowly out of our newest mind. I typed them into the door, and we all got ready to eat. 

ANSEL: Thank you, Alex. 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.


Gateways: “The Dancer’s God” by John Keefe read by John Keefe and Jasmin Tomlins



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

The congregation’s eyes were upon the Dancer, and Korin’s eyes were upon theirs.
They traced the arcs of her firesticks with their faces like sunflowers charting the sun, their eyes full of dark circles from the fireglow. The Dancer eddied like a flame herself, and her firesticks drew glowing paths in the air around her that became red symmetries that hung there. At each corner of the plinth was a staff hung with beads, and the top of each staff was a red crystal, which pulsed in time with the Dancer’s movements light great fireflies. She cast her firesticks skyward and every eye followed them, and Korin could see that the stormclouds that had threatened rain since that morning were breaking. Stars peeked between them. The moon was high and red.
The firesticks were then in the Dancer’s hands, swirling in quick orbits. Somehow, she had dexterity enough to speak:
“There are many gods on this earth,” she said, and those assembled pushed forward against the plinth to better hear her. “There are gods in the sky, and in the clouds, and in the moon, and many gods for the sun too. There are gods on mountains and in each sea, and in each river that feeds the sea. There are gods in empty air, and some gods in the spaces between air. And some gods that are dead and some that will never die.”
She traded her spinning firesticks with one sharp motion, and the crystals glowed more fiercely, like rapid heartbeats. The Dancer spun once in the center of four shadows and the shadows spun with her.
“My god is greater than all of them together,” she said, her voice firm and rising, “and that is because my god is real.”
The crowd jolted backwards as the Dancer speared both firesticks into the plinth at her feet, and the flames belched out like minute, short-lived suns. Korin nearly fell backwards off the plinth from the heat of it. The crystals pulsed rapidly, then softly, and then their light was steady, and it dried up every shadow on the plinth and the faces of the crowd. The sky was cloudless now, and the stars were red too, and even the moon had sheen to it, like a drop of blood smeared on silver.
When every eye found the Dancer again, she was unmoving. Her firesticks were dead. The crystals were fading. Before darkness swallowed her, she said: “Speak to this new god, friends. Speak as best you know how. In a week’s time I will be leaving, and when I return, there will be a house for this god on my rock here. One week, and then I leave, and you build.”
She cut the air with her firesticks. The crystals died. The crowd was silent as the shadowy form of the Dancer hopped nimbly off the plinth and strode back up the hillside to the stone hut she’d been given on the outskirts of the village. A moment later, Korin stood, brushed his pants seated, and collected each of the crystal staves from the corners of the plinth. With many eyes upon him, he hopped from the plinth to follow the Dancer.
***
The Dancer had many needs that night, and Korin attended to each in dumb silence. He fetched her well water, and stoked her fire, and even brushed her hair, mute like a stableboy, while she massaged her wrists and hands by the hearth. When every task was completed he sat cross-legged on the dirt floor while she whispered wordlessly before the hearthfire. And when she was done with that, both of them sat in silence for a long time, and Korin summoned every ounce of willpower to swallow the questions in his throat. His silence was too loud. The Dancer spoke first.
“Tell me about your people,” she said. “Are they simple? Are they industrious? Do they burn witches here, or just scare them off?”
“We have no witches,” said Korin. “None that I know of.”
“I’m sure,” said the Dancer flatly. She raised an arm above her head and Korin heard the shoulder pop.
“We fish,” said Korin. “We fish and sometimes we pick mushrooms in the caves by the seaside. That’s all. We can’t farm here, the ground’s too rocky.”
“I saw goats when I was coming in.”
“Grey ones? Not our goats. Only Tammen keeps goats in the village, and his are all white.”
“Charming,” said the Dancer, and then she yawned. Korin felt deeply uncomfortable seeing this woman at such ease. There was too much familiarity between them, too much smallness in this woman who spun fire faster than the eye could see and spoke to a god that swatted clouds from the sky like cotton puffs. Korin had come every morning for two weeks to tend to her, and for the first time she was not some formal and fierce-eyed alien, too slender and tan to have been born within a hundred miles of the village, whole histories written in the scars on her forearms, the burn mark on her neck, the odd, tight tunic she wore that left her arms bare. Instead she was just a woman, shortish, relaxed in her chair by the fire like a lapcat.
“They’re glowrocks, aren’t they?” said Korin, and the question hung in the air.
“Hmm?” she muttered, her head rolling towards him over one shoulder.
“The crystals. They’re glowrocks, aren’t they? Nighteye, sometimes it’s called I think. A sailor showed me some once. Had a bronze chest full of glowrocks. Taught me all about them. He had a monkey too.”
Korin was babbling. He trailed off and stared at the floor and the only sound was the fire.
“How do you know about glowrocks?” said the Dancer.
“Like I said, a sailor. He let me go on the ship until the captain yelled at him.”
“You don’t have glowrocks around here.”
“Like I said, a sail-”
“Except maybe in those mushroom caves. I should have known that.” Korin blinked and looked up at the Dancer. Her head was a shadow framed by firelight. It was pointed his way.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I won’t speak anymore.”
“It’s good you people aren’t too curious,” she said, giving no sign she’d heard him. “If you push deep enough into those caves you’d probably have your own glowrocks and then I’d be
Fucked.”
Korin Winced. His heart was pounding. Every fiber of his being wished he’d sat in awkward silence again, as he had every evening since being granted to the Dancer.
“Come closer to the fire,” she said.
Korin did not want to come closer to the fire.
“I won’t hurt you,” she said. “You’re choking on questions. Breathe, and then ask some.”
Korin did as he was bid.
“Glowrocks have a brother,” he said. “The sailor told me. When you split a glowrock, it dies. Sometimes only half of it dies. It wakes up again when you bring the pieces back together. Sometimes just when you point the pieces at each other. That’s what the sailor did. He showed me the one half and he pointed the broken face at the other half and the one half glowed. He said sailors sometimes use them to talk over the water. They have this language that’s just the lights going. He said he was going to sell the lot but not to us, somewhere further east, one of
the richer cities.” Korin took a breath. He was lightheaded. He couldn’t stop talking.
“He said he’d seen…”
He swallowed his words.
“Go on,” said the Dancer.
“He said he’d seen a dance the priestesses do on an island by Konovo. They weave little glow-pebbles onto their wands and when they wave them at each other they make the lights
go.”
“I’ve never been to Konovo,” said the Dancer. Korin fell silent again. The Dancer raised her firesticks up to the light. Little gems were inlaid around the wicks at each end.
“What else did you see tonight?” she said, and her voice was pleasant, almost amused. Every instinct told Korin to stand up and leave. He stayed and spoke instead.
“I saw the clouds part. We’ve been threatening rain all day. I don’t know how you part Clouds.”
The Dancer barked a simple laugh, and it was the strangest moment of Korin’s life.
“I don’t part clouds,” said the Dancer. “But I have a reasoned notion of what they’ll do.
The timing was perfect tonight. Most nights they won’t clear until much later. Sometimes not at all.”
“How do you know that?” said Korin, too loudly and too quickly.
The Dancer gestured at a bauble on the window sill, some tarnished silver candle with a glass tube hanging from it. “Mercury suspended in resin and water. Precise amounts and close observation will tell you what each cloud is thinking a day in advance. That’s the thing about tricks. The simplest ones are the best.”
Trick, thought Korin. The word was loud in his head.
“What about my words tonight,” asked the Dancer. “Did they hear any of it?”
“They were lost to you,” he said. “I could tell.”
“That’s good. It will be your job tomorrow to make sure they don’t go slaughtering those goats out of misplaced zeal. Else there’ll be no more village here come winter, and that means
no temple next year.” The Dancer rose from her chair and spread her arms out. She was muscled and tall, and so light on her feet that her footwraps were barely even dirty. She twirled on one foot, silent but for her words.
“My god IS real, Korin. He’ll be real to these people soon enough, if he isn’t already. You’ll need to speak for him when I’m gone. Can you do that?”
“Why?” asked Korin. He rose to his feet. The Dancer stopped spinning. They looked at each other in the firelight. She laughed again. It was less strange this time.
“My god has many names, Korin. Sometimes he’s called Shelter, and sometimes he’s called Wheat and Barley. Sometimes he’s called Bridges, Roads, Sick Houses. Today, he is called Temple. Because that’s what’s needed here, where there’s only mushrooms and stones and fish. You need a god called Temple, because that temple will have heavy stone walls, and a big hearth with a chimney for the winter, and a cache of glowrocks in the cellar that you mustn’t trade because your god thinks they’re precious. Maybe soon you’ll talk to sailors with them. At first, they’ll speak to god.”
Korin nodded.
“Can you do that, Korin? Can you speak for him while I’m not here?”
Korin said, “What should I call him?”
The Dancer yawned. “Something simple. The simplest tricks are the best.”

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: “Metamorphosis” by Ruari McDonnell read by Kim Fukawa and Nathan Shelton



TRANSCRIPT:This story is written by Ruari McDonnell.  Ruari is a recent graduate from DePaul University with a BA in English that is finally being put to use. She narrates shows for the Adler Planetarium and throws axes for Ragnorok Axe Throwing in Chicago among various other strange jobs that support her cat’s instagram modeling career. She loves writing science fiction that is based on real astrophysics and will often consult the astronomers that she works with for her pieces. This is “Metamorphosis”.

There is no higher honor than being named the Philosopher, for our task is sacred: find the Truths of our world. We are advisors that consider all angles of ethics and are consulted for each major decision. The ancient Philosophers discovered the nature of the soul as something immortal, made of one piece, that can never decay or split. My focus is on the method of reincarnation. Imagine the soul as a photon, both existing as a wave and particle, allowing it to travel under any physical circumstances. When we die, that photon is released and travels until it finds a black hole. It falls to the bottom, where another universe waits to accept this soul after its journey to find another life. Unfortunately, this information is applicable to the current dilemma we face.

I sit underground in my study, a small cavern with incandescent bulbs that hang above my desk. They swing as the ships above prepare for the evacuation. The shadows dance across the insect that I am preserving, perhaps as a meditation to distract from the chaos above. Its wings are so fragile with networks of stained glass that allowed this creature the ability of flight. Why the Engineer chose aquatic inspiration for the spacecraft, I will never understand. Though, I also do not understand why they are fleeing when it is already too late. 

Our sun is dying, but we have known this for a very long time. It has been expanding for generations, now finally consuming the sky in a red glow. Our planet used to be a lush garden of black foliage that soaked every bit of sun. We had cities that reached for the sky where we walked the surface without fear. Our culture was based in a celebration of the gifts of our planet instead of the frantic need of escape. We have perhaps days or mere moments until the radiation carves away at our atmosphere, before encasing our planet and then collapsing into a black hole. We should have left a generation before mine, but the constant argument for the perfect plan delayed us until we could no longer bear our red skin turning to scales and exposing the muscle underneath. The surface is ashen and littered with death. And yet, before we thought of leaving, we went underground to continue arguing about what protection we would need from the void of open space.

In my meditation, my door opens suddenly. It is Eryx, the Engineer, a person that is so unfamiliar now, even after raising them for the first ten years of their life. Their long white robes have not protected their skin from the effects of our sun. Their nose is hardly there anymore and their eyes squint as they struggle through the increasing blindness that affects us all now. 

“Ambrosine, where are your bags?” they ask.

“In the closet of my quarters, where they always remain.”

“They should have been packed and in the dock an hour ago. We’re about to depart!”

I can’t bear to look at them. The exposed muscle moving in their jaw as they speak to me is too much.

“I am not going with you. I am staying here to die as I know there is no use running, just as you know as well.” 

“So, you’re just giving up? What about ‘the hope that lives in every inch of the universe’? You don’t see that hope now that death is so close?”  

I extend the tiny wing on my desk and pull it to match its pair. It is a task that must be done slowly and with care as to not rip it from the body.

“You misunderstand me then. For I see hope at the bottom of the black hole that is preparing to open. I see our future in another life, not running from a planet in flames, hoping to find something habitable in the void-“

“But we have! We found a planet only seven hundred light years away-“

“Seven hundred? What makes you think that you can outrun our star to make it to this planet? And what about those already there? There are serious ethical dilemmas assuming you even make it.”

“Why must you always focus on morality and philosophy-“

“I would be a horrible Philosopher for you all if I did not-“

“Just stop!”

Their outburst jolts my hand and creates a tear in the wing. It is disjointed now from the rest, a shatter in the glass. I look up to Eryx, who is flushed purple and wiping tears from their eyes. 

“You always do this! You always look for every flaw in my work, every contrary point just to prove that you’re better. I get it, alright?! I get that we’ll probably not make it outside of the gravitational influence of our sun. I know that we’re all as good as dead, but why not try anyway? The outcome will always remain the same if we don’t even try to change it. You may think that you’re fifteen steps ahead from the rest of us with your ethical meditations, but you’re just giving up.”

Eryx has never spoken to me in such a way, but then again, we’ve hardly spoken since they chose their new guardians. Perhaps I should have been more nurturing, like Diamontus, or gentle like Pyra. But someone had to give them the information necessary to better themselves and that was me. Though, I was surprised that I was selected for guardianship in the first place. It is typical for Philosophers to essentially be hermits until the committees meet. And now I see why in the pain-stricken squint of their eyes.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?! Or are you just going to use your final moments to crawl into yourself and dive into the pool of your subconscious or whatever other trite nonsense you cling to?” 

I look back down to the insect on my table and set my tools down. The lights sway as a rumble begins above us. The ships are preparing to depart and there is not much time left. I go to Eryx and embrace them gently, so I do not tear them, or perhaps because the gesture is alien to me. I hear the frantic flutter of each heart in their chest and the ragged breathing of a deep sadness. I close my eyes and in that moment, I feel as if I can reach out with my soul to theirs.

“I’m sorry.” 

Their body releases into shaking convulsions of tears pent up for years. They are heavy in my arms, so much heavier now that they have grown so strong without me. Their pain resonates with my deepest self and I cry with them. The rumbling above us increases and my study gets warmer. 

“We need to leave now,” they say. They take my hand and move towards the door, but I stay planted. I have already made my choice. They look back at me, eyes frantically searching to find mine with the weight of betrayal hanging as a barrier between us. 

“My soul will find yours in the bottom of a black hole, Eryx.” 

“In the next life, huh?” 

“I promise I will do better.”

There is a long pause that is pregnant with grief. They grimace from the pain seeping out of the last words they say to me.

“I don’t think you will, Ambrosine.” 

And they leave. I am alone again in my warming study, lights and shadows fluttering faster across the soil prison. All my life, I thought myself in the final stages of my evolution. And yet, I have not even left my cocoon. I stand on the cusp of a change and my feet move me forward. There is still time to be better. There is still time to prove Eryx wrong. I run up through the caverns, climbing the rungs out to the surface. The metal door is hot and melts the skin of my hands, but with one animalistic cry, I still make it to where the ships wait. 

There are four metallic fish, swimming off into the sky. The dust around me settles and my skin turns to scales, as if even the sun wants me to join them. The world around me is white against the red of the sky. Flames have begun to consume the bushes and turn all that was once living into ash. The burn continues to peel back skin, even through my white robes. My vision turns black as the world goes red around me. 

This is the part where I dissolve into a photon, waiting for the black hole to open so I can try again.

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

 

Nathan Shelton is a professional actor, writer, director, and special effects makeup artist living in Chicago.  He has worked on numerous theatrical, tv, and film productions including Above Ground, The Rake, Scum of the Earth’s latest music video: Dance MotherF*&#er, and the Oscar nominated indie film, Winter’s Bone.  His production company, ARCANE, is currently working on a multitude of devious dark projects, including a horror radio theatre anthology series called The Frightmare Theatre Podcast.

 


Gateways: “Living Creatures” by Gwen Kelly-Masterton read by Jasmin Tomlins



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 “Living Creatures”

 

The first miracle takes place two weeks after a huge meteor burns up in the sky and leaves the news feeds buzzing with UFO rumors. Footage of the miracle is readily available– what mother, given the opportunity, wouldn’t record her sweet son selflessly donating his ice cream money to a homeless man?

Lila watches the video over her dad’s shoulder. The little boy, his long blond hair pulled back by a green plastic barrette, approaches a ragged man sitting on a piece of cardboard. The little boy hunkers down into a squat, as if coaxing a shy animal, and holds out a crisp ten dollar bill. The man carefully coughs into his elbow, then holds out his hand, and the kid gently places the bill into it. The blond hair flutters in a sudden gust of wind, and a ringing sound grates in the microphone. The kid turns to face the camera, and his little face lights up in an ecstatic grin. “Mommy, look!” he shouts. The image blurs as the camera moves too quickly. There’s a muffled exclamation and a flash of sky before the recording ends.

“That’s it?” says Lila, wondering if she misheard the word “miracle”.

“Hang on,” says her dad. He flicks past a few links and pulls up another video. It’s black and white, even grainier than the footage of the man and the boy– probably a security camera. The homeless man can’t be seen from this angle, but there’s the boy, and that must be his mother. The mother turns– jerkily, the footage lags– as another figure comes into frame toward her. The little boy runs forward and the new figure lifts him up. The mother sinks to her knees.

“That’s her husband,” says Lila’s dad. “The boy’s father.”

“So what?” says Lila.

“So, he died is what! Three weeks ago. In his sleep, must have been a heart thing. Here’s his obit–” he flicks up a page trimmed out in solemn lavender, featuring a head shot of a white man with thinning hair and a goofy smile “– see the date? Bunch of people saw his body, and buried it. No question that he was dead. But now he’s back! The boy did a good deed, and God brought his daddy back to life back to life.”

“Wow, yeah, Dad. God sure is great!” Lila rolls her eyes and goes back to her game. But it seems to be true. Multiple witnesses, including family members and the city coroner, confirm that the man who is now alive was definitely dead.

A week later, a border agent in the desert stops his partner from kicking a migrant woman in the head– then turns around and trips over a suitcase full of cash that cameras confirm had not been there the minute before. Two days after that, a woman on her way home to propose divorce to her surly, uncommunicative wife reaches out and grabs a ragged child by the back of his shirt, preventing him from running in front of a truck. She arrives home to an empty house– and a six page love letter from her wife, apologizing for everything she’d put her through and promising that as soon as she gets home from her first ever therapy appointment, she will tell her everything she’s ever avoided bringing up about her parents, her first marriage, and why she doesn’t like to be called “sugar”. This one is less provable as a miracle, but both women and dozens of their friends make a compelling case that nothing less than divine intervention could have had this effect.

One incident is a fluke, two is a coincidence, but three is a pattern. Religious types have a field day, of course, and the buzz about aliens continues, but as testimony pours in, even the most hardened skeptic eventually has to admit: these days, being kind to someone in need might get you not just karma but cold, hard results. Uplifting the downtrodden quickly becomes a fad, and then a frenzy. Soon, anyone who goes out in public looking poor is quickly mobbed by philanthropists waving money, warm hats, and bottles of artisanal spring water, just in case they’re one of the magic ones. Eventually, even city officials get in on the game. They’ve had proposals for housing and resources for the homeless sitting on their desks for years– wouldn’t now be a great time to take another look? Between the authorities’ change of attitude, and one or two entrepreneurial do-gooders investing a percentage of their more concrete miracles in existing shelters and charity orgs, homeless shelters and migrant camps undergo abrupt and thorough makeovers. After all, it’s reasoned, if $10 can raise the beloved dead, who can say what state of the art steam showers, memory foam mattresses, and a 24-hour gelato bar might do?

Lila, her best friend Kayden, and a few others lean stomach down on the schoolyard swings, and discuss what miracle they would get if they got one. “World peace” is shouted down with derision, but food-related ideas are extensively debated– they have a late lunch period this year, and breakfast was a long time ago. Kayden smiles mysteriously and doesn’t participate, but after school she texts Lila to come over, and asks if she can keep a secret. When Lila says yes, they go down to Kayden’s basement, to the creepy crawl space they used to lock themselves in to practice for the apocalypse. Now, it’s unrecognizable– the lights work, for one thing, and the whole space has been cleaned and retiled. A gauzy canopy overhangs a small but luxurious bed in one corner, and a large screen on the other side plays some old cartoon to a red velvet loveseat; a lady with weird proportions is singing some kind of hymn. Lila walks around to stand by the screen. Curled up on the loveseat is a girl wrapped in a fuzzy blanket. Her eyes are unfocused, and the singing is coming from her, not the big-eyed cartoon lady.

“Hi there, sweetie!” lilts Kayden from the doorway, in a singsong voice as if she’s talking to a dog. “You okay, hon? Can I get you anything?” The teenager ignores both her and Lila, and starts rocking back and forth, still tunelessly singing: we were proud, we were proud, they sent us here for pride. We must learn, we must learn, the truth must be our guide. The fuzzy blanket slips a little, showing bare skin the color of the teething beads Lilah wore as a baby. When she finally looks up and into Lila’s eyes, Lila looks away immediately and tells Kayden she has stuff to do at home. At home, Lila’s dad is sitting at the table, crying. He hands Lila a printout from the veterans’ hospital. “God’s gonna sort this out for us, baby,” he tells her, and Lila tries to believe him, but for weeks she dreams she’s trapped in the crawl space, trying to scream but only singing comes out.

Reports of miracles continue unabated. Soon the newsfeeds are all asking the big question: should such a valuable resource really be squandered on any Joe Schmoe with a sick kid and some inherited debt? Or should it, perhaps, be channeled to those who can use it to solve the really important problems? More and more people who look like they might have a miracle or two up their sleeves are whisked away to lives of supervised luxury in the high-end gated resorts that replace the shelters and camps of pre-miracle times. Most of the resorts allow visitors, for PR reasons, and after considerable wheedling Lila’s dad agrees to take her. It’s a fancy place all right, though not in the way that Lila expected. There’s hardly a wall without a richly painted mural; most of the images show violence and destruction, but the colors are incredible. In one place, men and women are hard at work with shovels and picks, dismantling the outer wall of the compound. “We don’t stifle self expression,” explains their cheerful tour guide, “but of course it will be repaired before the structure is really compromised.” 

Lila is hoping for a chance at a miracle, of course, but guests are kept well away from direct contact with the resort dwellers. Lila can’t catch anyone’s eye except a man in red pants with a patchy bald head, who picks his way across a group of people lying face down in the dirt, naked and singing, and taps on the glass that encloses the guest area. When Lila taps back, the man holds up a sign: Human Dont Belong In Here Get Me Out. The tour guide mutters into her radio, and gives Lila a coupon for the gift shop. Lila buys a jumbo bag of chips and crunches through them all on the way home, blocking out the sound of her dad’s cough. 

The next day, at Kayden’s house, Lila begs to see the girl in the basement again, promising faithfully not to steal Kayden’s miracle. The girl is even thinner now. Her hair is a mess, and she has dark circles around her eyes, like Lila’s dad. Lila starts to cry. 

“Remember, you promised!” chides Kayden, moving between Lila and the girl. Lila steps hard on Kayden’s foot, and Kayden calls her an orphan bitch. Lila shoves Kayden against the wall by the door, forcing her finger onto the lock. It clicks open.

 “Run!” shouts Lila as Kayden struggles and shrieks. The singing stops, and the girl peers around the back of the couch, eyes huge at the sight of the open door. “Get out of here! Go! Be free!” The girl runs, clutching her blanket. Lila knees Kayden between the legs with all her strength and sprints up the stairs after the girl, letting the door swing shut behind her as Kayden collapses. She doesn’t have much time– there will be hell to pay when Kayden’s parents hear Lila attacked their daughter, and Kayden’s probably calling them right now.

At the end of the driveway, the girl from the basement stares up at the sky. She looks taller. Her amber skin glows in the evening light, and the blanket flaps around her like wings. “Wait,” Lila rasps, out of breath. She tries again. “Wait!” It’s a proper yell this time, but the girl doesn’t answer or move. It’s like Lila isn’t there.

Lila’s ears buzz with anger. “I let you out,” she screams. “Don’t you want to repay me? Do it! I freed you, God damn it! You stupid, lazy, ungrateful– Do the miracle! I know you can! You have to save us! You have to save my dad!” 

A gust of wind cools Lila’s tearstained face, and the ringing echo of her scream seems to build instead of fading. The figure at the end of the driveway turns, and drifts back toward Lila, all eyes and fluttering darkness. As a multitude of pupils contract to pins, and ragged wings stretch out to tear at the air around them, Lila understands that expecting salvation from such a creature is nothing but hollow pride.

We were proud… sings the thing, as if it heard her thought. We must learn… Lila closes her eyes; the dimness inside her lids glows with electric warmth. When Kayden’s parents get there, they call her dad, but he hasn’t seen her.

Later, when the resort walls all collapse simultaneously and the chaos begins, the news feeds blither on about aliens. Lila’s dad, alone in his hospital bed, knows they’re wrong– it’s all just proof of the power of God. On his last night alive, he sees a vision: wheels within wheels, interlocked and turning in a vast machine, each wheel covered in slowly blinking eyes and fanning wings. It’s important, he thinks hazily, that the wheels can see. They could choose to fly away. But they remain.

 

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: “Daedalus” by Rachel A Schrock read by Evin McQuistion



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

As a Content Note: this story contains violence and may not be acceptable for all audiences. Thank you for attending to self care in this story. 

 

I was just 13 when they took us to the Maze. I’m not sure how much time has passed since then. We tried to keep track, at first, but it wasn’t long before we realized that time doesn’t matter here; it’s such a fickle, abstract thing, and the monsters around us are very, very real.

I’d grown up, now. I thought. How would one know? If growing up was completing school, or raising a family, or travelling the world, I feared I would never be grown. If growing up was purely a biological process, I’d guess I was nearly there. But if growing up meant bearing the burden of your village’s safety on your back, I was certain I was fully an adult. 

They took us in the dead of night– Mom, Dad, Ari, and me. (I hope they let our cat go. I’d imagine her, sometimes, chasing mice on a farm, somewhere untouched by cruelty.) We joined the crowd they’d gathered. We were the last family, since we lived on the outskirts of town; they’d taken the whole village. They marched us all through cold, impenetrable darkness, until they got us to the Maze. Then they forced us inside and sealed us away.

While we were marching, a baby began to cry. They pried him away from his mother and slit his throat.

I asked Mom, “Why are they doing this to us?”

She told me: “We were in the way.”

The monsters in the Maze were quiet, and they were hungry. We all would have died long ago if we hadn’t stayed together, protecting each other. (Some of us had died, but we were never able to mourn; the monsters were always nearby.)

Every waking moment was spent on guard. I was young, and I was fast, so I usually helped look for food.

Early on in our time at the Maze, Fatima and I decided to take a break during our search. We stretched out in the sun and chatted away, like we used to. I closed my eyes for just a moment. I heard Fatima scream.

She was already halfway down the monster’s throat when I turned around. Its huge, white teeth, now stained with blood, glinted in the sunlight, a stark contrast to its jet-black skin. It was taller than both of us put together, even when it stood on all four of its feet. I leapt out of the way just as its claws crashed down where I’d been reclining seconds before.

I tried to fight back with the clumsy spear I’d made, but I could never take on one of these beasts by myself. If Jordan’s team hadn’t been nearby, I’d have been a goner, too.

Once we were rid of the beast, I joined Jordan and continued the search for food. There was nothing else I could do.

They used to check on us more often. The more they thought they’d broken us, the less they came. 

You might ask why we didn’t do this sooner. What you need to understand is that we would never have put up a fight, before. Back in the village, when I was barely more than a baby, the moment I learned that I could raise my hand in anger, I was taught to hold it out in friendship, instead. 

I guessed they did break us. Just not how they thought.

When the soldiers arrived again, we leapt upon their gargantuan war machine and tore their men limb from limb. Meanwhile, others of us squirrelled away whatever they’d brought with them. The real prize, though, was the machine itself. We hid its parts so that Dodie and I could rebuild it into something no one had ever seen before– not even us.

We had to be cruel. Dodie was concerned that, somehow, they could see us go after their men; we had to scare them off from coming back too soon.

In the chaos, I caught a glimpse of my brother– sweet, timid Ari, who used to mope for days if you killed a spider– peeling the skin off a soldier’s scalp. Tear tracks cut through the blood on his cheeks. 

After dark, Dodie and I surveyed the scraps of metal we’d retrieved. They looked nothing like the tiny clockwork pieces I’d tinkered with back home.

“Can we really do this?” I asked.

“We have to try,” she replied.

Our machine looked almost like a dragon. It had two spindly wings– skin shed from the monsters, stretched over a metal framework. Its hollowed-out back had space for everyone to sit. Dodie would navigate from the front, Jordan and Ari would turn the gears that flapped the wings, and I would be at the back, controlling our course with a long, tail-like rudder. We taught a second team to fly the machine, too– just in case.

I found myself smiling while we helped everyone board the flying machine. I didn’t know my face could still smile. I said to Dodie, “I can’t wait to be home.”

Dodie gave me a strange look. “I thought you knew,” she said. “We’re here because they wanted our land. There’s no home to go back to.”

“Then… Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.” Dodie turned her face towards the sun. “Somewhere safe.”

My heart sank. All I wanted– all I’d ever wanted, since coming to the Maze– was to curl up in my own bed, to go back to school, to return to how it was before. I was a fool, I realized, to think I was grown.

But there was nothing I could do. I had only a moment to be sad before it was time to take flight. I helped push the machine down a long, open stretch of the Maze, while Ari and Jordan turned the cranks to operate the wings. I’d never doubted Dodie, but I’d admit that I felt a measure of surprise when we started to lift. We scrambled aboard just in time to watch the machine break away from its wheels. We cleared the first wall of the Maze. I almost dared to feel safe.

Suddenly, the machine jolted. One of the monsters had leapt into the air, grabbing onto the tail. With its added weight, the machine shook. We all held in for dear life

For just a moment, I chanced a look back at my village. As the multitude of pupils contracted to pins, and the wings tore at the air around us, I knew at once that expecting salvation was utter hubris.

I leapt over the wall of the hull and threw myself at the monster. Immediately, it pierced me with its teeth and claws. I could hardly see from the blood seeping into my eyes, but I didn’t care– I’d done my part. 

Having loosened its grip to attack me, the monster fell off the tail, bringing me along with it.

I was free.

 Evin McQuistion is an actor/director who reads a lot of Shakespeare and digests a lot of sci-fi. He mostly blames the sci-fi (via Star Trek: The Next Generation) for getting him into the Shakespeare. he’s currently in rehearsals for Quicksilver Shakespeare’s Mercury Hamlet.