Monthly Archives: June 2020

Gateways: “Waiting” by Lindsay Morris read by Jasmin Tomlins

TRANSCRIPT: Lindsay Morris is a local playwright and storyteller who lives in Andersonville. She prefers dark comedy and loves to write about all the ways her vagina has screwed her. She’s performed in dozens of shows in Chicago and recently had a play workshopped with the Agency Theater Collective. She describes her work as “Larry David meets Black Mirror”.

The walls are too white. It’s like staring into the sun. It gives me a headache, all this oppressive nothingness. The only break is the clock. Even though the numbers are useless.

This is an experiment or an accident.  I’m not really sure anymore. I’ve lost track. I’d probably have forgotten the beginning entirely if it weren’t for the clock.

 It’s always daylight, did I mention that already? The windows are fogged but the light seeping through doesn’t feel artificial. Sometimes it’s brighter, other times not. The difference is so subtle I never would have noticed before all this. Now I measure my life in those brief changing rays through a viewless window.

I’m wearing a white dress. Just above my knees, short sleeved and slightly flowy. Comfortable but not particularly interesting. I have no shoes or socks. My feet are always bare but I’m never cold. The temperature in this room is a constant tepid. I hate how oppressively accommodating the air is. It’s like living in a world with no opinion.

 My bed has the only real color in the room. Resting on a raised platform it is the center of my world. The sheets are a soft hazy yellow like the phases of the sun and I wrap myself in them to escape the glare of the walls. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to see another color. I bet it would be dazzling. Starved,  I’ve almost forgotten the range of hues that exist outside of this pure  tomb. I know their names but the images associated with them have begun to fade. As though they’ve ripped from my muzzled mind.

There isn’t a door in case you’re wondering. A door is an instrument of utility. A door leads somewhere, opens into something, it can be broken down, it can be reinforced, even a locked door can remind you that there is more than what currently is. But as I said there are only these walls. 

I have no need for a bathroom, or a kitchen. You don’t realize how much you miss the most mundane of bodily functions until you live a life completely devoid of them.. I’ve had moments where all i can do is fantasize about needing to pee. Here there is no urgency. My body calls no attention to itself, apparently I am permanently satiated.

Sometimes I think that maybe I am in a perfect world. The peak of physical contentment. This sort of thinking always depresses me. When things get really dark I do things I know I shouldn’t.You can’t bang your head on a soft wall and expect any real results.

I watch the clock. The light changes, 12 hours, 12 minutes? Or perhaps it’s been a day’s worth? It’s so hard to keep a consistent record. When my mind wanders and I don’t keep track things get worse for me. Instead I try to etch the days in my mind. Try to qualify time in the old way. 

Sometimes my dreams are filled with unfamiliar authoritative voices. These unknowns are always asking me questions, making demands on my body. What the experiment was or how I came to be here is a mystery.

There isn’t much to distract me from the never ending boredom. I started to try all sorts of things to keep me going, to keep me sane. I would act out my favorite tv shows. Play all the parts, laugh at myself, imagine that other people were watching me. That I was there to entertain them. In those moments I didn’t feel so alone. I could imagine their faces: rebellious teens with too much acne getting weepy over a particularly good death scene, bratty kids singing along as I taught them how to jailbreak their iphones. At some point though I began to run out of material. I tried to make things up, but I could see my invisible audience turn away with disapproval. They weren’t interested in original work I guess. 

My concept of time gets much worse when I sleep the days away. I find that I’m on the brink of insanity when I live in my dreams. 16. The only real break comes from the cube in the middle.

Sometimes it isn’t here when I wake up. At first I thought I was misplacing it but after searching my room a thousand times over I realized that this couldn’t be the case. The cube itself is white. It has little nubs on the outside that I can feel with my fingers. I move them vertically and horizontally, shifting the cubes outer layer into different spaces.. I can’t see the changes I make with my fingers but only feel the smooth conflicting edges as I rearrange it. I used to think that it held some great answers. That if I could solve whatever the problem was I could be free. Given a pardon from eternity.

I’ve tried every combination I can think of. I have child sized hands, my…. someone used to tell me that I think. At first I struggled to move my fingers around the cube but now I’m an expert. My fingers constantly moving and forming designs denied to me by my own perception.

 I gave up at some point. I stopped playing with it entirely for awhile. Then on a whim I went to reach for it and it was gone. I was scared it had never existed in the first place but it began making short appearances here and there after that. I didn’t feel any crazier when I had it in my hands so I decided that it must be separate. Put here by someone. This I think is the only reason I haven’t completely lost it. The cube is a small comforting hand. Its presence is a signifier of another thing. 

Left, Right, up down, down, sideways, got to get it before the light changes. I stare up at the clock. up, down, click, click, tick, tick…. Light changes, light resets. I can do this. I’ve got this it’s almost.. dam….


Sometimes I’ll imagine the door leading out. I’ll picture it so clearly in my mind, its every detail down to its chipped paint and rusty bolting. I have dreams where I’m reaching for it and just as I’ve grasped the handle I wake up, my arm stretched out in front of me. I know it exists. How else could I have gotten here? I was not born here. I had a life once. I drove a car. Had a name….. I, well, there’s a lot of other things that I did but I try not to think about my memories too often. In my mind they’ve become so faded and overused that they are mere shadows of what they once were.

God. Once I spent an entire 12 minutes screaming. I can’t even remember taking breaths. It seemed endless. I got lost in the croaking pitiful noises emanating from my body. After a few minutes it felt like the noise was coming from someone else. I felt sympathy for that wounded animal. Eventually it stopped. It was worse for a long time after that. The silence was oppressive.. Librarians worldwide would have rejoiced at the quiet. Nowadays I rarely speak out loud. Only if I feel like a thought is permanently slipping from my mind. Then I’ll repeat it over and over again. Trying to keep it fresh enough for my memory to grasp. Mom, I say that word a lot. Mmm_o__M. MoM. I try to elongate my tongue, place the tip just right so the M sound is distinct. 

You wouldn’t think it was so easy to forget the most important face you’ll ever know. Over time though she, my mom, just became a muddy puddle, something indistinct and unreachable. I’ve tried to rearrange the pieces of her but each time I lose my way around her eyes and then the rest of her face slides back into that part of my mind that’s already been claimed by these walls. In the absence of everything it’s her love that I long for and her love I remember most clearly. 

It is not easy to be a monkey in a cage. It takes effort, dedication, it has become a religion to sit here quietly.To let the waves of anger slide off me like an infinite sea. I need to do this. To worship the endless nothingness until there’s nothing left.

I think I succeeded. That’s when something shut off in me. Irreversible and deeply important. Looking back I can’t even remember what I’m missing now. I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this. I’ve made so many concessions, given up so much. Only a small part of me has managed to stay above the numbing waves of this room. It is that part that awakes to the sound of a Beep, faint but familiar. The sound….. I can’t quite grasp it. It’s been getting louder with each clock cycle. It’s started challenging the clock in an audio battle, Tick, Tick, Tick, Beep, Beep, Tock, Beeeeep, Beeep, Tick. I stuff the palm of my hand into my ears. I don’t like the conflict. I wished a thousand times over for a new sound but this is not what I wanted.

Everything seems the same except for the constant Beeping. It’s consuming me.  It’s getting more insistent.It’s getting inside of me. I cant block it out .I can’t. I can’t breathe. I can’t move. I want it to stop. I have no voice. I’m drowning in its monotonous onslaught. Make it stop! MmmMommm..I…I ….Beeeeeeeeeeep.


It was 9pm at night but you’d never know it thanks to the obnoxious fluorescent lights blaring down on the hospital ward. The coma section, normally quiet, reverberated a steady beeping, bringing Nurse Emma to room 12. The heart machine’s rhythmic noises slicing into her much deserved dinner hour. Thoughts of her half eaten tuna fish drowning out the sound of her heels montonolously clicking down the hallway. She checked the patient’s vitals, adjusted and refilled her catheter and moved the call button, a tiny square box with prickly little nubs across its surface more firmly into the patient’s left hand. Maybe she’d wake up one day and move her fingers. Her hand reached for the remote and turned on the white noise machine that had accidentally been turned off. The doctors insisted the soothing noise was a constant comfort to the unconscious. Having finished with her patient Nurse Emma began the walk back to her desk, her thoughts already returning to her dinner.

Jasmin Tomlins has been making noises with her mouth for 33 years, as a determined vintner on the streets of the Bristol Renaissance Faire, reading all of Shakespeare online with the 14th Night Players, and—of course—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: “Too Many Buttons Never Enough Shoes…” by Jessie McCarty read by Kat Evans

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

“TOO MANY BUTTONS, NEVER ENOUGH SHOES: a short story of how I, most successful harlot, lost all my marbles”

I’m drowning in your leverage, public rejection.
Did you make the right selection?
Hey, Look, good job, but I’m a loser in sheets.

I don’t mind love less ness the walls are wood my floor fine china
I have to tip toe that’s how fragile living with me is like.
And it’s like,

Pearl textures, phone cases

Tear the copy of the odyssey you’re reading, please and look at me

So, how’s that outside looking from the inside, she asks me and
You pretend I’m dumb

I’m not Dumb

I don’t mind love less ness but sometimes
I get scared of
Rats in the cage
Or moths
In my bathroom Cabinet

Don’t go looking in there, like
Who looks at someone’s prescriptions?
UTI scoundrel.
That’s you’re new name.

Scoundrel Look,
good job. You got me a little
Terrified now.

Of pain
Blood stains
A wimpy kid in sex chains.

Like, why’d you come over anyway?
I’m trying to bruise
And you’re touching me like you
Wanna cuff me (wait

Fuck fuck
I’m so Sorry)

And then Look at my fine china, the ground
Look at my walls

Have you ever been sad?

Or raised your wrists up to the bed stand
Ever been stressed out
Or ran into the movie theater with a
Half jar of French fries
And cola

Holding hands


Heaven wasn’t made me for
And keep your pants on, ok?
Eager Nancy over here, geez

Have you ever been right
Or wrong about
The state
Of things?

When God said “ohh yes issa vibe”
Did he mean
All this

I’m running out of sketch pads and the yearn
For the hung-up life ahead is
I’m close to edges
Revenge is a cold cold pot

And I don’t drink tea like that
When all this is over we’re gonna
Have a whole lot of loving

Aint we
Aren’t we

That’s the headline of the news
I Screw Newest Gay on the Block
After the End of the World and
they don’t love me

Love less energy

The tapestry

A box falls out of the ceiling. We knew this would come.
A roof made of water can’t be frozen for, like, ever.

And in this box
is everything. Every kind of thing.
Beginning and Middle End
Fragments of a little white lie I made at


Haunts me to this day.
Stop being nosy, alright? I can’t tell you

Man, this fucking sucks
What would I want with this?

Find Desire?

Yearning for Hire.
Fucking and
Stealing boxed wine at the
For Hire.

What does all of that have to do with me?
I’m not that good in bed
Excited at best

I’m no fate master
I’m no epiphany.

Everything is in the box and you won’t burn it
Everything is in this box and I haven’t
Felt satin

So so long.

And so long, wind gusts
Wind chills
Global warming is an issue, ya know.

So then Nancy comes over and looks at the box with me
She doesn’t know what it is

So we freeze it

After this
Carrie comes over
Shows me all her shoes and I get jealous and
Call her a catty bitch

Because she has been talking to Nancy
And I don’t’ trust them together
Or what they’re saying
When I’m not there.

Now everyone wants a taste of
The frozen cardboard.

Now im the head honcho.

So when im the head honcho, people come over. And you
Know how antsy I get, To imagine guests like entertainers
Actors so close to C list.

Just one more gig! They keep ringing.
Look. Good job,
But I have everything in this box, and I can’t
Look inside.

Then Nancy comes over one more time then we kiss
And try opening it again.

It’s all there, she says, my
Beautiful chicken.

That’s my fifth grade memory she stares
And I say I know, baby,
It’s everything.

We have to bury it, we agree. So we bury it. And burying up memories and the consumption of everything is not and has ever been, easy.

These are some odes we knew.

Prince is still inside, but he refuses to be set free.
Every copy of Harold Pinter is in this box, sadly, impossible to burn.
3 Photos of my first hair dye in my early 20s
My girlfriends on a rampage to cancel their ex boyfriends on the internet
Reality tv shows where social media is the prize
C list status
1 million dollars
My favorite ice cream flavor

Everything that’s inside, is inside
And I’m a “turmoilistic” lesbian

Too shy to say I’m afraid
Of the ownership of

Because who wants It all
When they finally
have it all.

Carrie’s back. Asks for some wine
And we drink it. I do love Carrie but she rarely talks of revenge
Like me and Nancy.

Revenge is a sour grapefruit
We like to lick, never taste.

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: “The Greenwood Knight” by Jeff Harris read by Rob Southgate

Jeff Harris is the properties artisan at the Goodman Theatre, and a longtime collaborator with Otherworld Theatre building props, costumes, and masks. But once, in the long-long-ago, he was a writer and director, and is all too happy for the opportunity to put on is old suit of armor. As well as writing a short story for the Gateways Writing Series, he directed a short play for Otherworld Theatre’s Paragon Festival last fall.

There were three of them, Sir Dullahan and his two brothers. Each set out from home in search of glory. Each were clad in blue armor, each atop white horses, and each in their own direction. They ventured forth at the behest of their father who bid them not to return until their names had become rich with honor and fame. 

Upon his travels, Sir Dullahan accomplished many feats, slayed many beasts, and served many people. Yet somehow, with every new realm he came upon, there were none who knew of him. And so, Sir Dullahan pressed further into the world in pursuit of reputation. 

One day, the blue knight came upon a tree within which many other knights were hanging from its branches, swinging by the neck. Some looked to have been killed mere hours ago; others were nothing but bone wrapped in mail. He questioned the nearby villagers, and the townsfolk told him the dead knights were those who had challenged their master, the Greenwood Knight of Glyn Gildrew Castle, for his treasure. What that treasure was, they could only speculate, for they had heard many different stories from many different people. But, if any of the stories were true, then Glyn Gildrew Castle was worth finding and the challenge worth pursuing. The castle rested in the deepest reaches of the northern forests, and most who sought it disappeared. Yet, there were those that succeeded in finding the keep, merely to end up in the tree. 

Sir Dullahan believed this quest was a bold one, worthy of repute, and asked the villagers how to find the woodland keep. He was told to enter the forest with the sun always at his back. He would then find a post that stood alone in a glade ahead of the castle. There would hang a great gilded horn. He need only to blow the horn, and the Greenwood Knight would ride out to meet his challenge. 

The knight passed into the forest, and for days he braved the monsters that lurked within the woods, until at last he crested a hill and saw below him in a dale was the castle. Riding further, Sir Dullahan found the post with the horn, and without hesitation he gave it a mighty blow which echoed through the forest. He did not wait long before the Greenwood Knight appeared. 

He was a fearsome fellow atop a great shire horse. His tunic bore a white stag, and his armor was painted green. In one hand was a lance, the other a kite shield, and at his side was the finest of arming swords. As the Greenwood Knight came close, he raised his visor to reveal a long white beard and mustache. He saluted Sir Dullahan and spoke in a deep voice, “Who is it that would challenge me?” 

“It is I, Sir Dullahan of Alymere, son of Sir Bertilak!” Sir Dullahan replied. 

“Son of Sir Bertilak? Then you are a Lord?” inquired the Greenwood Knight. Sir Dullahan bowed in response, and the Greenwood Knight continued. “Where is your squire? Your servants? Have you no train to accompany you?” 

“I have not, sir,” Sir Dullahan answered. “I have only what you see here. My horse, my armor, and my sword.” 

The Greenwood Knight accepted the challenge, and the two knights rode deeper into the woods. He brought Sir Dullahan to the base of a hill upon which sat the keep. There, a tent was set, along with a rack of weapons and a large, ornate gold chest. The Greenwood Knight referred to the chest. “Here is your prize,” he said, “should you defeat me.” 

Sir Dullahan explained the many stories he had heard, and inquired what was in the chest, wanting to know for what he was fighting. The Greenwood Knight would only answer cryptically. “Everything,” the deep voice grumbled. “Everything that I have, everything that I am.” 

Sir Dullahan then asked what would happen to him should he fall, to which the Greenwood Knight confirmed that he would be hung from the tree in shame until his estate could pay the ransom for his body. 

The Greenwood Knight offered Sir Dullahan the lance or the sword. Sir Dullahan preferred the lance, but had lost his in battle just weeks before. The white bearded knight presented a lance of his own from the rack, and Sir Dullahan graciously accepted. The terms agreed upon, each man took his place and faced one another. 

At once they rode towards each other with fury. Sir Dullahan was an expert with the lance, and lowered the point precisely, striking the Greenwood Knight in the head. But the lance shattered, being made of weak timber. The Greenwood Knight met the blow with his own, hurling Sir Dullahan to the ground. The Greenwood Knight turned his great horse, intent on trampling the blue knight to death. Unbeknownst to the villain, Sir Dullahan had not lost consciousness, and just as the Greenwood Knight was upon him, he rose, swinging his sword and striking. The Greenwood Knight fell from his steed, but managed to draw his own sword before Sir Dullahan could reach him. A great melee ensued. For three days the two men battled, and the clash of steal rang throughout the trees relentlessly. Not once did they rest, and Sir Dullahan suspected the elder knight’s stamina was aided with sorcery. Angered by the mendacious nature of his adversary, the blue knight found the strength to press on until he delivered a mortal blow and slew the Greenwood Knight, the master of Glyn Gildrew. 

Sir Dullahan, exhausted, returned to the chest and opened it, only to find it empty. The Greenwood Knight had deceived him one final time. Infuriated, he rode to the castle, and demanded entry with sword drawn. But the soldiers there opened the gates, and, with uncommon obedience, they took him to see the Lady of the Greenwood Knight. 

In a great hall bedecked with antlers, a beautiful woman greeted him. She, too, was dressed in green, and had long braided black hair. She was much younger that Sir Dullahan expected the wife of the Greenwood Knight to be, and he also thought she would be angry, or tearful. But, at the sight of him she smiled, and calmly asked if her husband was dead. 

“I have done the deed, my Lady, and nobly so. I am here to demand my prize.” 

The Lady raised her hands. “This,” she softly spoke, “this is your prize. The castle of Glyn Gildrew and everything it has to offer are now yours. Its vast wilderness and its farmland; the crops the peasants yield, and game within these lands are yours to distribute as you deem fit.” She continued speaking. “Its knights are yours, as are the soldiers and servants. Its gold and jewels are yours, its food and drink, its fires and beds. Even its Lady.” She knelt before him and kissed his hand and addressed him as Lord. The people in the hall followed suit. 

He bid her to rise, and asked if he broke the curse of the gilded horn, or if he were to assume the role of his predecessor. She affirmed that the obligation to answer the horn was the price for unlimited comforts. Each time he was victorious in combat, his wealth would grow. She offered him a chalice. If he drank from it, he would be honor bound to be Glyn Gildrew’s champion and master, under pain of death, for the chalice was enchanted to end the life of those who broke their oaths. Everyone who dwelt within the castle drank from the cup, all of whom pledged to serve the keep in their own way, thus never wanting. Even she, whose oath was to be the Lady of the Greenwood Knight, and attend his every desire. Sir Dullahan queried about how many husbands there were in her life. 

“Seven,” she admitted. “You will be my eighth, and, God willing, my last.” She went on to tell him that he need not drink from it. Sir Dullahan was free to refuse the glory, riches, and renown the woodland castle promised, just as any knight was free to sound the horn in challenge. 

Sir Dullahan took the chalice. “If I drink from this,” he said, “I shall fight with righteousness. I will not deceive my opponents as your husband did. I will treat my foes with deference, and hang them not from a damned tree. The people will have my blessings, and my justice, and I will bring honor to my father’s name.” She bowed, telling him that as master the realm was his to rule as he wished, and she would be joyful that he would do so with such pride and grace. 

And so, Sir Dullahan drank from the chalice, and all in the hall rejoiced. He was bathed and given the Greenwood Knight’s armor and tunic. That evening, there was feast the likes of which he had never seen. The tables were laden with game and fruits from the world over. Four and twenty barrels of mead were emptied as the finest musicians played through the night. Sir Dullahan rejoiced at his good fortune, and counted his blessings. Indeed, that night he went to his chamber, and knew is wife well. 

At dawn Sir Dullahan arose to a magnificent breakfast and was surprised to learn that his wife had arranged a hunting party for him, that he might explore the woodlands and learn to tame them with his men. But, no sooner had she related this to him, than the horn did sound. Instantly, he was surrounded with squires who fitted his armor with tremendous haste. Sir Dullahan took to his horse, but before he could exit the gates, his wife begged him to carry a potion. 

“It will give you unordinary spirit to defeat any who stand before you,” the Lady pleaded. But, Sir Dullahan reminded her of his pledge to fight with honor. She insisted he bring it with him, if only to put her mind at ease. Reluctantly, he took the vial, but again vowed he would not use it. With that, Sir Dullahan, as the Greenwood Knight, rode the path to meet his challenger. 

Upon reaching the glade he found not one, but two knights. Sir Dullahan’s heart broke, for he recognized them. Both were clad in blue armor and both sat atop white horses. Sorrowful thoughts flooded his mind, which turned into shameful ones as he gripped the vial. But then he thought of all he had won; his wife, his wealth, his lands, their influence and their glory. Like the white bearded knight he had slain before, the shameful thoughts were fleeting, and so too was brotherly love. Thus, as Sir Dullahan approached, he raised his visor but a little, and tasted the potion the Lady of the Greenwood Knight had given him.

Rob Southgate is a professional actor in commercials and films, a professional podcaster, and a professional public speaker. He recently released his first book and is 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.

Gateways: “The Pearl Box” by Michael Strange read by Rachel Granda-Gluski

TRANSCRIPT: Michael Strange was born a storyteller. His strength is in telling a story verbally and he has risen to the challenge of translating his skill to the page. Tonight, we are thrilled to take his writing and give it back to voice. 

When I got first meal after learning she was gone, I overheard Thirty-three say that the plastic-ones take wrinkled numbers to the world outside, where there are no boxes. Thirty-three says the wrinkled numbers become the flat ones we see on our wall screens. He says out there they get to have beds, radios, and microwave dinners, but Thirty-three is young and stupid. I used to be like that. 

I didn’t like Nine, but she did know things. She was the one that told me the flat ones don’t live. They’re just echoes, she said, dreams from some other time before the plastic-ones and their boxes. That’s why the flat ones don’t answer us when we beg them to take us away to their green world; it’s why they do and say the same things over and over again, never learning or remembering what happened before. Nine said the flat-ones are ghosts–ghosts who teach us but also distract us and keep us peacelike until our faces get wrinkles and we’re taken away. Nine knew that nothing exists outside the boxes. The green world of the flat ones now belongs to the plastic men.

I asked Nine once why they keep us at all, but she couldn’t tell me for sure. She thought maybe they liked to watch us, like we like to watch the flat ones, but that never made sense to me. If the other numbers were anything like the flat ones, I would talk to them more, but they’re not. Most numbers are stupid, like Thirty-three was stupid; they’re full of tears with nothing interesting to say. I think that’s why we all avoid each other and keep to our own boxes. Other numbers just remind us that we don’t live in the green world we see on the wall screen.  

It’s really only the rutters that go to the big room to talk to the other numbers. But they only do that for the chance to push against each other and give the females big bellies. I know that’s how it happens, even though most numbers say the plastic men give us the babies. I’ve watched the flat ones talk about the green world, with all its buffalo, rhinoceroses, and wild cats. I’ve watched them rutting on the savannah.

I hate babies the most, even more than I hate most numbers. Babies scream all the time and make their mothers cry. It’s why I don’t leave my box at night, not to rut or even to use the toilet. I don’t want anything to do with babies: their noises nor the misery they bring. I only leave my box to get my meals–when the plastic men bring them–or sometimes to wash when they open the showers. I don’t wash as much though, because numbers rut in the showers too, and it makes me sick to hear. 

I keep to my box, because my box is mine and no one can come in. Even the rutters can’t break that rule–one number per box–else the plastic men come with electric sticks. Children don’t count, because they don’t have marks on their wrists to tell them which box is theirs. They just stay with their mothers, crying and stinking, until they’re old enough to get marks and boxes of their own.         

Nine said my mother was a bitch, but if she was, it was probably because she hated numbers too. I remember watching flat ones say that we are often like our mothers because we come from their bodies. It’s like when you cut a piece of bread; it’s just two pieces of the same thing. I wish I remembered her so I could know for sure. Even if she was a bitch, it would be nice to know someone like me, someone that understood. All I remember of my mother was that she let me watch the neighbor man on her wall screen while she slept. I still watch the neighbor man, even though I know what he’ll say before he says it. I feel good when I see him. I like his red sweater, and his voice makes me think of my mother. I only change the screen when he brings on his puppets. Even as a baby I never liked those. Their smooth faces remind me too much of the plastic men, so I hate them. 

With Nine gone, I’ve been thinking more about the flat ones and their world–why it doesn’t exist. It makes me sad not knowing why the plastic men keep us in the boxes, why they feed us and allow us to watch the wall screens. They don’t come like mothers do when the children cry, and they don’t care when the food makes us sick. The plastic-men don’t force us to rut or even to shower. They just keep us alive and alone in our boxes.  

There was a time when I stopped watching the neighbor man and started to explore everything else I could find on the wall screen. Later, they became my favorite times when the flat people would talk about their green world and I could see it. That’s where I learned about rutting, where I learned about the blue space that hung above the green world, that there were once things called buffalos and rhinoceroses and pearls. 

I think the flat ones really liked pearls. There was a time when a woman with bright teeth and a blue jacket talked about giving pearl jewelry away to anyone who called her, but she said you had to call very soon. I called her, called out to the wall screen, because I wanted pearls too. That was when I was dumb and thought the wall screens could hear me. 

I know now that pearls are only for ghosts to wear. 

They made the pearls. Well, oysters did, but the flat ones put the seeds inside. That’s what the man said on the green-world time. He said they put little round bits of metal in the oysters, deep down in the pink flesh, and over time the oysters make pearls from them. The metal doesn’t kill the oysters; it just makes them unhappy. To make themselves happy again, the oysters cover the bits in pretty white. When the bits are completely covered, the oysters forget they were once heavy and hard and not really a part of them, but it’s just a trick the flat ones play. The oysters don’t get to stay happy, because one day the flat ones come to cut them open and take the pearls anyway.

The flat ones keep oysters in big nets, just like the plastic men keep us in boxes.

I’ve seen babies before they got their own boxes and after. I know that when they’re taken away they come back with their box marks and a scar on the sides of their heads. All numbers have this same scar. Even though we look the same, I think we’re more like oysters then we are like the flat ones. I think the plastic men put something inside us, something heavy and cold. I think that’s why numbers are all so unhappy. Just like the oysters, we spend all our happiness trying to cover that bit up. I think the plastic men know we’ll make it pretty and white. The wrinkled numbers have no more happiness to give, so one day they’re taken.

I think now I’ll spend more time squinting my eyes. The more I blink and bend my face, the faster I’ll get my wrinkles and the closer I’ll come to knowing. I don’t really care if there’s no outside or that I won’t join the flat ones in their green world when they take me. I don’t care that I’ll lose my box, the only thing that’s mine. I just don’t want to be unhappy anymore. I want whatever they put inside me taken out. They can have my pearl.  

Rachel Granda-Gluski is a Chicago based voice actor and movement professional. She currently enjoys working with radio play companies Starlight Radio Dreams, available wherever fine podcasts are downloaded. 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.
I won’t miss Nine. During the silent hours the plastic men finally came and took her away. I didn’t hear them, though I’ve tried hard to listen for when it would happen. We all knew her time was coming. Nine had gotten wrinkles near the corners of her eyes, and lined faces don’t stay long in the boxes.

Gateways: “Moving Day” by Kate Akerboom read by Kim Fukawa

TRANSCRIPT: Kate Akerboom is a multi-creative individual living in Chicago. As a Certified Interpretive Guide, she tells stories for a living but cherishes every opportunity she has to write them down. You can interact with her on social media as @hestionfire on Instagram, @katie_akerboom on twitter, and listen to her voice reading Shakespeare as Managing Director at 14th Night Players on Discord. 

The sun had been dying for centuries. Everyone knew that. However, suns don’t just disappear out of thin air. But lo and behold, that’s what happened.

It was like the lights just…went out. In the middle of the day. It was the brightest and sunniest day of the year, and then it was pitch black. And had been that way for the last 50 years. Scientists had been baffled the entire time. In all other respects, the earth had been operating normally. This day, though, was radically different.

It started with a sudden drop. A sensation that could only be described later as being in the Tower of Terror at Disneyworld, but without a seat to strap you in. Humans around the world were startled, and confused. Throughout this entire time, there had been no difference in how the world had turned aside from the lack of light and occasional gentle movements.

The looks of confusion of the top scientists in the world rippled through the surveillance room at the Pentagon. Since the eternal darkness — that’s what the public called it nowadays — the Pentagon in Washington DC transformed into a station to monitor the world. NASA could no longer launch rockets into space. Something blocked them just as they began leaving the atmosphere, and many lives were lost trying to break through that invisible barrier. The stars had gone out too, not just the sun. All things previously comforting to the average person about the night sky were gone, leaving nothing but perpetual darkness. Luckily, the moon was still there, but dark now, without a sun to reflect light from.

Another marked difference was the lack of movement. The earth was still turning, but there was a sway that had developed over the last fifty years that had suddenly stopped. People all over the earth were regaining their balance. Elderly people began weeping as the earth stopped its sway for the first time since their youth. Younger generations were relearning to walk, feeling uneasy and unsure.

Just as everyone began to regain their footing, there was a harsh shove that sent people flying into buildings, trees, walls, and each other. And then…nothing. Artificial power was restored. The Pentagon leaders struggled to find answers, blaming the events on everything from a change in the atmosphere to climate change. Humans adjusted and kept on living. Those that survived the drop and the shove continued to go about their daily lives, sometimes staring at the blank sky and wondering what more could be out there that they just weren’t seeing.
“Where would you like me to place this?”
A gesture from the home’s owner indicated to the corner of the large, white room. The box was set down, none too gently, and the mover turned to leave. The owner of the home, displeased with the handling of the box, stood.
“Careful with that,” she griped, striding over to the large box. “Those items are very delicate.”
The mover looked the graceful woman up and down, and shoved the box over with his foot, where it hit the wall with a gentle thud.
“I didn’t hear anything break. Should be fine.” He sauntered out of the home, which was cluttered with elegant furniture and boxes, leaving the woman to turn this new dwelling into her home. She located the hearth, lit a fire, and began sorting through boxes.
The darkness on Earth lightened, ever so gently. Darkness remained, sure, but it was softer somehow. More gentle. Things began to feel safer for the humans, and they began to relax. However, only a few days after the fall and shove, there was a surprise no one expected. There was a loud crack, like the sound of thunder or something breaking through the atmosphere, and then the whole world was washed in light. People screamed, not expecting the brightness and the pain of light searing their eyes.

NASA began searching for a sun, and could not find one. It’s like they were in the middle of a clear, cloudless day but there was no ball of light, just…brightness. After several days of constant brightness, the swaying began again. This time, though, it was gentler, like being cradled by a mother. The lightness was receding, almost like a sunset but not quite. More like moving away from the lightsource on a horizontal plane. All humans were outside, staring at the sky as, for the first time in most of their lives, the stars began appearing one by one. The moon began to glow, and all of NASA, and the scientists in the Pentagon, cheered and sobbed and hugged one another as the night sky of movies and fairy tales was returned to them. Alone, a woman in a lone cabin smiled knowingly, nodding to the sky, and returned to her reading.

“Welcome, Grandmother,” the woman said, stepping aside as an equally beautiful woman entered her new home. It was in less dissary than it was on moving day, however boxes were still scattered about, half emptied or broken down and leaning against the stone walls. The hearth filled the room with an ethereal and warm light in the darkening night.

The woman addressed as “grandmother” did not look the part. Dressed in green, the statuesque woman looked timeless, with a matronly way about her that was reassuring but powerful. Her bare feet made no sound as she crossed to the box in the corner that was so rudely dropped the week before. In the week since, the homeowner had opened the lid but did little else, knowing she could not move the contents without the help of her grandmother.

“Everything is in this box then?” The grandmother asked, peeking in with a small smile on her face.
“Yes, everything,” her granddaughter replied, standing only a few paces away.
Shorter than her grandmother, this woman was veiled, but not in the way her single statue represented. She had a scarf tied tightly around her head, keeping her dark curls out of her face (even as some spilled out of the sides), and her red dress was loose and long. Her feet were also bare, and she had an air about her that simply reminded one of home.

“Good.” The elder woman reached into the box, and gently cradled the sphere in her arms. She stroked it ever so softly, hearing the murmurs below that no other deity could hear. She moved across the stone floor to a balcony outside, where a pedestal was waiting empty.
“Grandmother Gaia, why did they need to be moved?” Hestia asked, crossing her arms against the night chill. Gaia simply placed the earth above the pedestal, and smiled at the sounds emanating from the small globe.
“Because, my darling, their own sun was crashing around them. Very few of us notice them any more. I feel it is our job to take care of them.” She nodded slightly near the boot-like formation on the glove, and turned to wave at Helios as he began moving the humans’ new sun. “This one shall keep them safe for a nice long time. And when it fades, we will take them, and begin 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.

Gateways: “A Story in Which Nothing Happens” by Michael Jachowicz read by Kate Akerboom

TRANSCRIPT: Michael Jachowicz has written sketches and comedy scripts for podcasts as well as some comic strips. You can hear some of his scripts with Starlight Radio Dreams, a Chicago based comedy podcast. He tells us, “I found a quarter today, and I’m just happy to be here.” 

Content Warning: This story depicts drug use. Please care for yourself while listening to this piece of fiction.

The crowded subway car was a cacophony of life, but Arabella could only hear the sound of her heart beating wildly in her chest. She tugged at the cuffs of the oversized club jacket she had found thrift shopping with Celeste. Celeste had told Arabella that a baggier jacket would look good on her. In fact, the more Arabella thought about it she realized that Celeste had essentially picked out the entirety of her outfit. Even the beat up, old Chuck Taylors she bought back in high school were only to match with Celeste. Arabella was looking forward to seeing Celeste tonight; she was almost shaking. She was going to make tonight count, she was gonna get something out of tonight. No, she was gonna get everything.

Arabella bit the inside of her bottom lip- which she often did whenever she was deep in thought. She thought back over all the years she had known Celeste, playing back the memories in her mind like a movie- well, not really so much like a movie. More like a music video set to some pop punk song she would listen to in jr. high, probably something by My Chemical Romance or some Nightcore remix of a Jimmy Eat World song. The memories of Celeste and her began to flow and shift, one leading to another in no particular order until they landed on a specific memory, the memory.

It was when they were both in highschool theater. Arabella and Celeste went out for the same role and against all odds, Arabella got it. It was one of the proudest moments of her life, but then Celeste cornered her backstage after school. Celeste convinced Arabella to give up the part she wanted and go back to stage crew. Arabella was happy to do it. Celeste’s attention was everything to Arabella.

The subway screeched abruptly to a halt. Arabella was snapped out of her thoughts and into her surroundings. She looked up to see what stop they had pulled into, but it didn’t look like they had even made it to a stop. Outside the window of the subway she only saw the tunnel walls. As she was looking out the window she happened to make fleeting eye contact with the man sitting across from her. He seemed disheveled and panicked which, to be fair, wasn’t all together uncommon for folk in the city. However this guy seemed really shaky, his eyes kept darting to the door next to Arabella. She followed the man’s gaze to the door and as if on cue the door opened. A police android with the Synthetic Taskforce walked in.

The android stood motionless for what felt like an eternity, then it’s electric yellow eyes began to glow bright as it silently and methodically scanned the subway car. Arabella clutched her jacket closed, trying to hide from the imposing officer. She hadn’t done anything wrong, but she couldn’t help herself, something about the police androids unsettled her. Maybe it was how you could see their robotic skeleton underneath their translucent navy blue skin. Watching the false flesh twist and stretch over the artificial man just reminded Arabella how fake they were, no matter how close to real the state tried to make them.

Suddenly the officer’s head jerked towards the man across from Arabella. “Henry Gordolski, you have been charged with possession of illegal substances including narcotics and Stemsplicers with intent to use and or distribute. Come with me.” The android’s voice was calming and had the cadence of human speech, but was distinctly digital, nothing more than an advanced simulation of a human’s voice.

The man sitting across from Arabella was sweating profusely, his eyes whipping frantically around the subway car. Arabella made sure she was staring at the floor, feeling her feet tremble. The man across from Arabella stood up slowly and shuffled towards the police android. As he got close he pushed the artificial officer which caused the blue automaton to stumble back a few steps. The man reached in his pocket with blinding inhuman speed and pulled out a knife. In one fluid motion the man struck at the machine, like a cobra striking its prey.

“GET FUCKED YOU POPO-ROID! YOU STUP-AAUUUGGHH” The man was cut off as the android caught his knife wielding hand midway through the stabbing motion and swiftly broke his hand. Then the android grabbed the man by the neck and squeezed. There was a loud crack then silence.

“Thank you for your cooperation. Have a great rest of the day!” The android spoke genuinely, however it’s words rang hollow as it dragged it’s victim off the train. The doors closed behind it and the subway began to move again.

In recent years the state had really started to crack down on Stemsplicing, it was unpredictable and hard to control. Using Stemsplicers, people could rewrite their DNA to make themselves into anything.

Of course as with anything that powerful, Stemsplicing had major negative consequences with prolonged use. That’s why the state created the Synthetic Taskforce, to combat the Stemsplicer threat. What had just happened to Stemsplicers like Henry Gordolski wasn’t uncommon in the city, in fact it was the new normal, but still… The car was silent for the rest of the ride.

Arabella was so relieved to step off the subway she actually ran to the nearest pillar and hugged it. She took out her phone to see where she was supposed to go to meet up with Celeste.

“It’ll be good to be with friends after all that.” Arabella thought to herself when she heard someone call out to her. She turned to see Celeste waving at her with a big smile on her face. Celeste was standing with a couple that Arabella didn’t recognize, but she hardly noticed. She was drawn to Celeste, her bright blue eyes and her curly blonde hair were so inviting and innocent. Arabella felt a smile force its way onto her face as it pushed past all the shit that happened on the subway. Including digging up the memory from high school.

“It’s in the past,” Arabella thought “None of that matters now.” The two friends embraced in the middle of the near empty subway station. Celeste took Arabella by the hand and brought her to meet the two people she was with. One was just Teph, a burn out Celeste and Arabela went to school with. Arabella said hi to Teph who just kinda widened their eyes at her. Teph was already strung out on something or other. They had always been a pothead, but that turned into a full blown drug habit after high school. Arabella had even heard that Teph dealt Stemsplicers.

The other person Arabella didn’t know. She was tall and thin with strong features. She had white facial tattoos that contrasted elegantly with her ebony skin. Arabella wanted to ask if the tattoos meant anything, but then the woman looked at her and Arabella forgot how to make the words do the word thing with her mouth.

“Is this everyone?” Said the tall woman, her voice low and powerful. Celeste nodded and in her usual bubbly way started talking about how great Arabella was and how she was like a sister to her and that they were family. Arabella couldn’t help but be a little hurt by that description of their relationship. The tall woman held up her hand to signal to Celeste to stop talking, her open palm turned into a finger pointing down the subway tunnel, meaning to head that way.

As they walked Arabella noticed the woman was holding a steel box. She was about to ask what it was, but before she could the woman stopped. They were at their destination, apparently, an abandoned stretch of tunnel. The tall woman set the steel box down and then took out three syringes.

“This is primer. Inject this, then inject the Stemplicer your friend has brought and enjoy yourselves in The Box.” She said handing out the syringes before standing next to the box like a statue.

“What does she mean?” Arabella asked, sheepishly fiddling with the syringe she was given.

“It’s, like, so cool Bella!” Celeste said, her voice ringing like a bell on a spring day as she shot herself up with the primer, “Teph brought some “Shrimp Sauce” Stemsplicer so we take it and we’ll shrink small enough to party in this totally bitchin’ club!”

Before she could say anything Teph and Celeste were putting the Stemsplicer syringe labelled “Shrimp Sauce” into their arms. Teph looked at Arabella, handed her a syringe and said, “Look The Box has everything. Sex, music, drugs. Everything. Shit’s lit.”

Celeste and Teph began to writhe and their veins began to glow. They both doubled over and Celeste fell to her knees. Arabella rushed to her side, but before she could do anything Celeste began to shrink. Arabella’s eyes went wide, she had heard of the wild effects of Stemsplicers, but she had never seen them in person. She watched as her friend’s bodies contorted in unnatural poses as they grew smaller. There was also this horrid stench, like burning hair, from the energy given off during the transformation.

After what felt like both an instant and an hour Arabella was towering over her two friends who were now no taller than a grain of sand. She watched them march like ants into The Box. Arabella looked to the syringes in her hands then to the tall woman who hadn’t moved during all this. She then looked to The Box. The Box which had swallowed Celeste… Arabella wanted, for so long and so badly, to be noticed by Celeste, but this was insane.

Arabella dropped the syringes, her mind flashing back to the ride down here on the train and how much the man who was killed for this shit reminded her of Teph, how Celeste would never notice her… no that wasn’t it. Arabela’s mind flashed back to the memory and for the first time she saw it, really saw it. Celeste had noticed Arabella, she’d noticed her and decided she could use her. Arabella put her hands in the pocket of her jacket and walked off down the train tunnel. She got nothing out of tonight and that was more than enough for 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.

Gateways: ” One Bad Pickup Line” by Ashley Retzlaff read by Coco Kasperowicz

TRANSCRIPT: Ashley Retzlaff is an English and Theatre teacher who writes a lot of poetry. A scrambling enthusiast who owns more half-filled notebooks than any hoarder could, she creates worlds where reality and hope clash. The miniature worlds she creates lie dormant in the notebooks until brought to life by a reader’s voracious eyes and mind. But you have the power to set the stories free! Set them free!

“How about this pickup line?” She scootches closer to me on the couch decreasing the space between us. She crudely points to her crotch and makes a motion with her open hand and suggests in the slimiest tone she can muster, “Hey girl, everything is in this box.” Then she whispers ironically and adds “Everything…”

I push her back to her proper space on the couch and begin to laugh uncontrollably. I tell her how vulgar she is. And that I’d rather focus on our favorite episode of Parks and Rec currently playing on my old box TV: Season 3, Episode 13.

As we let the TV take up the mood she’s created in the room, I begin to wonder why she’d say something like that to me. My mind begins to wander. It seems like I’m wrapped into watching the Parks and Rec crew get wasted on Tom’s almost deadly concoction: snake juice. A mixture of dangerous liquors that somehow tastes like Kahlua. But, my real focus melts away and I find myself thinking of the best friend of nine years sitting next to me.

With the side of my eye, I can see her knees are pulled in close to her chest. The place where she lets out the occasional, guttural laugh. Her laugh is unapologetically genuine; she makes strong guffaws whenever she hears a worthy joke or a cringey one. When she laughs I see her perfectly, imperfect smile. A unique and strange smile made up only of baby teeth because her adult teeth never came in. Someone else may have been embarrassed by this defect and hid her simultaneously small yet encompassing smile. But not Lena.

Her smile allures anyone in her aura, allowing her natural freckles and green eyes to be noticed. She’s a contemporary Merida from Brave without the Scottish accent. One thought wanders to another as I compare how Lena’s outer appearance parallels her personality.

Lena defines herself as a lipstick lesbian: the kind of woman who men are attracted to at the onset – someone who is conventionally pretty enough to pass as straight. Her appearance can fool them easily but Lena is an honest soul who wouldn’t let a guy hit on her to no avail. Just last week when we were out at the bars with work friends Lena was approached by the most basic man anyone of us had seen. He looked like a Calvin Klein model who walked right out of an advertisement and into our local dive bar: Hemmy’s.

He approached the four of us huddling and standing around a circular table because every other chair in the bar was taken. Squeezing himself in between myself and Lena he looked right at her and suggested, “You know, the drink I’m about to buy you would taste much better if you could drink it sitting down.” Then he gestured over to an unoccupied chair at the bar that was protected by other attractive and well groomed men who could only be his cronies.

Lena didn’t want to lead the poor guy on, probably because she could sense he was pretty enough that people rarely weren’t smitten by his perfectly coiffed hair. “Come on” she began “It’s leg day! I’d much rather stretch my legs after a long run while enjoying a drink with my coworkers.” She gestured to all of us with a reassuring look so we’d understand she wasn’t going to leave our conversation. “But,” she interjected, “my friend Cassie would love a seat. Why don’t you offer her a seat and a drink?”

As soon as my name was uttered I immediately turned cherry Twizzlers’ red and looked down at my hands and my half consumed gin and tonic. Lena lit a spark of hope in my chest with the possibility of a guy being interested in me. Instead, he exited our space with a sarcastic “Thanks, but no thanks” as he went back to his general douchery.

I was simultaneously flattered by and upset at Lena. I thought, couldn’t she understand guys were interested in her because she was the typical beautiful redhead but that attraction didn’t extend to her overly-lanky, dishwater blonde haired friend? I felt compelled to announce “Seriously Lean” it was the nickname she allowed only me to use, “don’t you know I’m vying for the plainest single and 30 award?” She frowned when I added this self-deprecating comment. Lena didn’t tolerate other people being hard on themselves. Especially me.

“Hey spacey!” she calls me back to my reality on the couch. “Are you actually watching this or just existing?” she inquires. “I’m here, I’m here,” I retort. I add the following to make her laugh “Do you honestly think I’m going to miss Ron Swanson dancing with a little top hat on his head?” As I ask the rhetorical question my left hand gestures quickly out to the TV and then draws in just as quickly back on the couch. But instead of landing safely by my side it brushes her knee and a wave of panic and excitement surges through me. I look over to see if it’s a feeling Lena feels too because her body starts to give off a different energy than it did before. Instead of crunching herself up she seems more open and inviting.

“Listen” she adds. “If you’re not going to turn up the heat in this place, you cheapskate, at least you can share your blanket with me.” She scoots over closer to me again and I finally realize I’ve been snuggled up under my chocolate colored fleece blanket this whole time. I comply while responding “Oh sure, steal the skinny girl’s warmth. She clearly has enough fat to keep her warm.” I lift the left side of the blanket up so she can scoot in even closer to me.

We’ve been friends for nine years but Lena is not one for much physical affection. I’ve only given her one hug the entire time I’ve known her and that was at her rat’s funeral: a much sadder occasion than reality might suggest. But now she’s close enough that I can smell her coconut scented body spray. She shows me affection by putting her head on my shoulder and inviting “you hold a lot of warmth for a skinny kid, Cass,” using the nickname only I allow her to call me.

My mind searches for a time when Lena and I talked about our differing sexualities: she was unabashedly attracted to females while I expressed if I found out I was anything other than straight, my parents would have my head on a platter.

I’m watching Leslie Knope and Anne Perkins fight drunkenly on my small box TV screen while my best friend of nine years is snuggled under a blanket next to me. I’m fighting my natural urge to kiss her. To kiss Lena. Because it could ruin who I am and everything my parents have taught me to be.

But before I can overthink the situation too much Lena moves her lips up to my cheek and gives me a quick peck. “You’re my Anne Perkins,” she expresses while putting her head back on my shoulder.

Maybe it was the Parks and Rec episode, maybe it was turning 30 soon, or maybe it was self-discovery, but the next thing I know I argue “No, I’m you’re Ben Wyatt.”

For nine years Lena and I have been friends at work, hang out on the weekends, and communicate in our secret language of Parks and Rec. quotes and inside jokes. So Lena knows what I mean when I stake this claim.

I turn to look at her and her green eyes come closer to mine and then close as I have the best kiss of my life. My chest explodes and a happiness I haven’t felt in 30 years opens inside me. A feeling my parents don’t want for me. Realizing my conflicting emotions Lena makes a joke to ease my tension. “I told you, I’ve got everything in this box. Everything.” And this time she doesn’t need to make a vulgar gesture. I can tell she’s just trying to make this easier on me. And somehow, her bad pick-up line….well.
It worked.

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: “Don’t Worry About the Frogs” by Eliza Marley read by Gaby Fernandez

TRANSCRIPT: Eliza Marley lives in Rogers Park and spends her time drinking tea by the lake when it’s not closed and watching old horror movies. She is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago’s creative writing program. She is a writer of magic realism and likes to explore the folds in the fabric of reality and how they become see-through if you hold them up to a light.

Something needed to be done about the croaking. The constant noise from beneath Sandy’s window had been driving her insane for days. Sandy’s apartment was bare, possessions still packaged in cardboard boxes, mattress on the floor in a corner. There was nothing to do but lie in bed, stare at the ceiling, and listen to the croaking. She had closed the window already, but the frogs were still there, calling out to anyone who would listen. Sandy started to look for an empty container. 

She had a soup pot buried somewhere, that would be perfect. Or a cassurel tray. But for now, a shoe box that had held CDs would have to do. The frogs had been eggs when Sandy moved in, a few weeks ago. A small cluster, laid too late into the season right into the stagnant water of the small courtyard pond of her building. Sandy figured they would never hatch. But they did, small tadpoles swimming back and forth through the shallow water. Now they were fully grown, stuck in that pond, wading back and forth with nowhere to go. Sandy started to get nervous. 

Sandy had grown up practically out in the woods, suffocated by the long grasses and overbearingly shady trees. It was too noisy, too spread out. Empty and filled at the same time leaving Sandy with a desire for her own little corner of space to fill. The apartment had been perfect until the frogs started. They croaked all the time. She had ignored it for the last few days, focused on her own bare walls and trying to get up the nerve to unpack. It kept her up at night and enough was enough. 

Sandy took the shoe box down to the courtyard. She padded across the gravel and scooped up the frogs. They didn’t even put up a fight. There were five of them, small, probably not getting enough to eat. In the morning she could find somewhere to take them. They would like a nice park, somewhere with more bugs. It was darker than she remembered. The street lights had come on now. The iron gate at the front of the building was creaking and Marrissa would be home soon. 

Sandy wasn’t sure if Marrissa was her real name. The girl looked about Sandy’s age and always came home at night, long brown hair plastered against her head and tired feet shuffling through the gate. She was a waitress, probably. Marrissa lived in the apartment across the courtyard from Sandy. Their ground floor windows were perfectly aligned. Sandy had watched that first night as Marrissa slammed the gate shut loudly and with clinking keys made her way into her own apartment. Lights on, she had disappeared for a minute, before returning in pajama pants with a toothbrush sticking out of her mouth. Sandy had watched from her own window while Marrissa hopped around her cluttered apartment, dancing to a song Sandy couldn’t hear. Marrissa had made coffee that night and poured it into a mug before going out of view and turning off the light. Sandy had wondered why Marrissa would brush her teeth before making coffee. But that wasn’t the sort of question Sandy wanted to introduce herself with and neither was explaining why she had a wet box of frogs. Sandy hurried back inside, water already leaking through the shoe box and dampening her sweatshirt. She hurried through the apartment, leaving behind a trail of water all the way to the bathroom. She carefully dumped the frogs into her bathtub and ran the water so they had something to swim in. Looking around at her empty bathroom, Sandy floated the lid of the shoe box in the bathtub so they could float on it. The soggy bottom half she left in the sink. The frogs were quiet now, taking in their new surroundings. Now, Sandy could find her soup pot and take them to a park tomorrow morning. 

A loud sound from the window brought Sandy back out from the bathroom. She peered out and watched as the light of Marrissa’s window came on. There were string lights framing the window and lacy, yellow curtains she always kept open. Sandy could see a framed poster of some people dancing and a white cabinet that had a microwave and coffee maker balanced on top of it. Sandy imagined the rest of her apartment was just as brightly decorated. Marrissa put something into the microwave and then walked back out of view. 

It made Sandy think of the house she had left. It had been creaky and colorful, filled with sun from mismatched windows and brightly painted cabinets. There had been plants and art strewn about. It was always filled with the buzz of chatter or flies in the summer. Now, she sat alone in a fold out chair surrounded by long, blank walls. The plainess had calmed her, a quiet buzz of potential that matched the hum of traffic outside her window at night. But it had quickly become overwhelming, too much space and no sense how to fill it. 

The frogs were croaking again from the bathroom. Sandy sighed and stepped away from the window and went to rustle through the fridge. Her sock dragged through the water left behind, soaking it. There seemed to be more water than she thought. Sandy grabbed an apple and went back to the window. The frogs continued. 

Marrissa was back, shuffling back and forth through the apartment. Sandy opened her window and could hear the rustle of wind through the trees that lined their street but could not hear anything from Marrissa’s window. She wished she could know what the other girl was listening to, what sort of music made her want to dance. Sandy finished the apple and moved to check on the frogs. Stepping back, her already damp sock dragged through the wet floor. This was definitely more water than there had been before. There was now a thin stream making its way across her floor, pooling in the middle of her studio. 

Sandy ran back to the bathroom. Had she left the bathtub running? Did one of the frogs manage to start the shower? The croaking inside the bathroom continued. Sandy pushed against the door but it was stuck. She pushed harder and the door opened, ripping through the vines that had grown over it and letting out a torrent of cold, murky water that splashed over her and into the rest of the apartment. 

Sandy took in the sight before her. There was water in her bathroom but it wasn’t coming from anything Sandy could see. It rose above the toilet and a bit below the sink. Sandy rubbed her wet socks against the ground and felt dirt and sediment instead of the off-white tiles of her floor. On top of the water was a thick layer of green algae. Looking in, it seemed like it had always been there. There were lily pads with roots that swayed in the water. Vines crawled up her walls and hung down from her shower. The frogs were there, a couple swimming through the water. A couple more resting on the lilypads. One was sat on the shoe box lid, floating by slowly. The lid had a small sprout growing out of it. The frogs looked at her impassive, still croaking. 

The marsh stayed put after Sandy closed her eyes. She squeezed them shut, counted to ten slowly, and could still see the roots of the lily pads wading in the water. There was a soft buzzing and Sandy watched a frog shoot out its tongue to catch a beetle flying by. Sandy took a step back, closing the bathroom door against the stream of water and moss flowing out. Enough water had gotten into the apartment to make a shallow pool. Minnows were swimming near her kitchen island. Moss was starting to grow up the sides of her fridge. 

Sandy’s moving boxes had gotten wet and soggy, starting to sag and topple into the shallow water. Sandy reached into one and pulled out a mug, small and blue with a chip on the handle. Sandy took another look at her drowned mattress and the dragonflies that were now circling it. She walked to the front door. 

The cattails were starting to pop up now in clumps. Sandy carefully opened the front door and stepped out into the hall. She peeled off her wet socks and tossed them back inside. They sank in the rising water and Sandy spotted her apple core bobbing along the surface. She quickly closed the door before anything could escape. 

Out in the hall, Sandy did the best to squeeze out the water from her leggings and sweatshirt. The fabric was cold and heavy. Sandy wiped down her hair with her sleeves and made her way down the hall with her mug. She figured it was as good a time as any to have some coffee with a neighbor.

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.