Monthly Archives: July 2020

Gateways: “Of The Legumen” by Jim McDoniel read by Ryan Bond



Jim McDoniel is a writer of monsters and mirth, not always in that order. He also writes radio plays. He holds a Masters degree in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University. He is a writer for the podcasts Our Fair City and Unwell. He was a finalist in Deathscribe 10 for his piece, “Monstruos.” and a five time Midnight Audio Theatre Scriptwriting Competition winner. Jim is the author of an amazing novel, An Unattractive Vampire available from Sword and Laser publishing. This is “Cephalophore”

Excerpt of “De Historia Et Omnia” by Celsus Frugi 121 CE

 

Of the Legumen

 

Within the far northern regions of Germania, among the cold peat bogs and the forests, it is said one will find a people known as the Legumen or Siliqua to give their tribal name. These small villages of people mostly subsist on the berries and game provided by the nearby bog as well as domesticated sheep, on whom they depend for both food and clothing. However the most extraordinary fact about the Legumen comes from the fields which they farm, for they do not grow barley or wheat or any ordinary crop. Instead the soil is tilled, sown, and cared for to bring forth the next generation of Siliqua who rise from earth in the form of peapods.

 

The peapods emerge from a single reed stalk—of strange, sinewy texture and tanned-hide coloration—which usually grows four feet high and eight inches thick. At the top the stem splits into separate arms, upraised, as if in praise and at the ends of each appear the pods of new Legumen. These fleshy sacs contain three heads—an upper, a middle, and a lower, each fully conscious and containing the awareness, personality, and knowledge of a grown person. In the fullness of time, these three heads will form the body of a single Siliqua tribesman, however, it is not uncommon for the heads to fall prey to infighting and consume one another. Heads, though grown from the same seed and sprouting from the same plant, do not innately share compatible personalities, and disagreements in such close quarters quickly escalate. Additionally, each head is fully aware of their position within their collective future body and so may attack another in order to improve its station. Less than half of all pods bear the fruit of a full individual. Most heads end up replanted.

 

Each head grows into one part of the Legumen body. The upper head, closest to the stem will become the head of the fully grown person. This bestows it with the ability to remain visible and to engage in the world as would any of us. However this position is also precarious. The upper head never stops growing and in time becomes too heavy to support. It is then in danger of falling from its own shoulders. Many Legumen adorn themselves in heavy metal collars and necklaces to prevent this from happening. 

The middle head forms the body and torso. This is most obvious just after harvest when all parts of the head are clearly visible: the eyes and eyelids create the chest, the nose takes up the abdomen, and the mouth appears as a belly button. Over time, the middle head disguises itself within rolls of fat to prevent the nature of the Leguman from being discovered. To this end, the middle head is almost constantly eating and why the Siliqua are known to herd far more sheep than their neighbors—the wool is used for clothing to disguise the middle head, while the meat is used to feed it.

The lowest head of the pod becomes the genitals and occupies both the worst and possibly the best position. Lower heads are rarely seen and even more rarely see the light of day. Due to their location, they are prone to vertigo and motion sickness—diarrhea is another sign of a potential Leguman. However, should the lower head persevere until such time as two Legumen can mate with each other, it has an opportunity afforded to no other head. During intercourse, one lower head can chew its fellow free at which time they may both retreat into the first’s body. There, the two gestate and grow, feeding off the spacious middle head, until they burst forth—each an individual with only one head. These people are prized among the Siliqua, for they can travel and trade with neighboring tribes without fear of discovery. Such births are quite rare. As it kills the middle head and reduces the upper to being replanted, they are seldom eager to accommodate their lower fellow and most Legumen you find live a celibate lifestyle. 

 

There are many stories within the tribes of Germania of farmers finding Legumen plants growing in their fields or children coming across the arguing peapods in the woods. This is, in actuality, quite rare, as the Legumen are protective of their potential young. When it does occur, it is most often the result of an upper head falling off in the midst of travel. There is one instance of a head being carried off by an eagle and growing up among the reeds of Egypt. The tale of the pods grown from this head, their adventures, and their return to the tribe form the basis of the main epic of the Siliqua people, the name of which roughly translates to “The Headessy.”

Ryan Bond is a life long geek who is very active in Chicago’s genre-based performance and experience community. He currently serves on the Board of Otherworld Theater where he helps to bring high quality stories to life on-stage and on-line.  In the past has served in leadership positions for Wildclaw Theatre, EDGE of Orion Theatre, Hartlife & Our Fair City. Ryan has helped to create Guardians of History (a family friendly voice-activated immersive educational game for Alexa/Google enabled speakers & screens), leads as a Cub Scout Master and Eagle Scout, been an SxSW panelist, appears on podcasts as a gaming/geek expert, an infrequent theater performer, a 3x NaNoWriMo winner, a marketing director for a Firefly-based board game and even opened a geek-themed bar!


Gateways: “Shangri-La” By Isaac Rathbone read by Keenan Odenkirk



TRANSCRIPT: Isaac Rathbone is mostly a playwright and also has a few short films under his belt. He tells us he is always searching for challenging environments for great characters to grow in and is a stickler for creating the right dialogue. His work has been featured at Paragon Fest and you can find examples on newplayexchange.org. This is “Shangri-la”.

They called him “Doc” in the service, but no one knew exactly what branch he served or if he was even a medic. On a flag pole above his trailer flew the black POW-MIA flag. But no stars and stripes. Most days when I went to drop his mail, I’d find him wandering his yard, muttering to old friends and perceived enemies. The term yard may not be the right word for individuals of certain standards. Nestled in the tangles of over grown vegetation sat the shell of an old Pontiac, a rusted out water softener, some TV dinner trays and two long de-commissioned riding mowers. Covering these artifacts of America’s Industrial Spirit grew vines, shrubs, saplings and flowers of exotic appearance. No one had bothered to come identify them as members of the local Horticulture Club rarely made special visits to the Shangri-La Trailer Park. 

Doc’s Daughter gave me a wink and sometimes a delightful wave any time I came to drop off. She was younger than I was, but old enough to know what she was doing. She still keeps that hair shoulder length and blonde. She has the presence of someone you don’t bet against in a donnybrook and the beauty that takes the sting out of a hangover. 

I talked to an Old Letter Carrier about it at The Six-Pointer, a local hunting bar where we enjoyed post-route beers. These summers were harsh on him, as he was sweating more than our chilled bottles. He used to have my route until his transfer. He needed to stay in his truck more as his gout made the walk down and back into the trailer park too much. He knew all about Doc’s Daughter. “You stay away from that girl. She’s the type that’s got trouble tattooed on her backside. Hmmmph. Gonna go piss.” 

I watched him gingerly slide off the bar stool with a wince. His right foot was no doubt on fire. His drinking was killing him, a fact that was causing him to drink more. I watched my future, overweight and empty, hobble through the restroom door labeled “Bucks.” 

The next morning, I parked my truck on the shoulder of Route Twelve. The dirt roadways of a trailer park are not easily navigable by large vehicles. The gravel arteries are pocked with divots, holes and loose stones. Not to mention the roaming stray animals and diaper-clad daredevils cruising around on mini plastic hot-rods. The entrance into the park is a steep slope. My predecessor’s Mount Everest. Walking down and in, I was to deliver the coupon books and catalogues to folks who either didn’t have

the chance or the desire to participate in the free market. But glossy pictures are the best fodder for daydreams here. 

My last delivery was always Doc’s place. It’s tucked in the back of the park and closest to the river that everyone’s Grandpa remembers flooding. This morning, I didn’t see the old man wandering through his maze of shrubbery, rust and cracked rubber tires. Doc sat on his porch, causing the graying particle board to smile between the two cinderblocks. I handed off his bundle and he gave me a smile of his own. A chill shot up along the back of my body. There’s something about a mouth full of gums that sows distrust. Call it prejudice if you will. I turned to make a swift exit, but standing in my way was Doc’s Daughter. Her gaze made me forget all about her father’s orthodontics. The soft breeze delivered her smell of menthol and what I assumed was a fruity shampoo. The flowers and plants seemed to bend and bow to her passing figure. She stood at the doorway and gave me one last wink and a smile that struck me in the chest like a Whaler’s Harpoon. 

That first Saturday was a lazy summer day. The kind where even folks who don’t have steady work feel the need to take a load off. There was no sign of Doc on the premises. Their residence had no proper box, so it was in through the doggie door, which I had never noticed before that day. Nor had I ever seen a dog. I was on all fours slipping the parcels through the flap when the door opened. Doc’s Daughter’s bare ankles stood inches from my face. I climbed skyward, noticing her loose fitting athletic shorts and a bright green tank top on my way up. Her hair was in a rope-like braid and her red lipstick and dark eyeliner were crisp. Perhaps recently applied. I asked about Doc, which was met with a laugh. Her fingertips, ignoring the bundle I held out, smoothed over the wrinkles of my government issued shirt. With the sudden grasp of a predator, she yanked me into the trailer and kissed me with a mouthful of menthol and that fruity scent. The door closed loudly behind me. 

I crouched over the bed frame putting the dusty boots back on my feet. I rose to buckle up my government issued shorts that now wouldn’t itch in this heat. I wandered the inside of the double- wide. A photo hung on the wall, featuring a group of Army officers in front of a drab office building. The structure was surrounded by barbed wire fencing and a sign with Japanese characters. Doc was in the crowd, with a full head of hair and full set of teeth. In front of the television slumped a couch that looked like a large person in a hospital gown who’s numb to the bad news. There was no easy chair. Throughout the inside were more plants and flowers. Quite an array of them, too. Seedlings, aloes, cactuses sat on the sills and counters. Their containers ranged from the standard terra cotta to paint cans and Fast Food cups. Doc’s Daughter stood in the bathroom, re-applying her lipstick in the mirror. After a quick self-inspection, her soft feet delicately tapped the linoleum floor and she opened the door, showing me the way out. 

That way my Saturday ritual. Doc would be out. She let me in. I would forget I was supposed to be on my route. One afternoon looking at the old photo, I swear there were some flowers growing on the barbed wire that now grew outside. But the black and white didn’t help. Each Saturday she showed me out and each Saturday I longed to stay. I stopped drinking at the Six-Pointer. Sitting in a dark room when the sun was out made me sick. I hated being in my mail truck, so I walked as much as I could. Even in the rain. Especially in the rain. I was taking longer showers, but a cold soaking downpour from Mother Nature made me come alive. Almost as much as being with her. It ate at me every time I had to leave. One Saturday morning she opened the door and I asked if there was ever a possibility for us to spend more time together. 

“Soon enough,” was her sweet reply. My last Saturday, she was waiting outside, sitting on the busted seat of one of the old mowers. Her bare legs surged out of a pair of jean cut-offs that were made of more frayed threads then denim. She grabbed my collar and pulled me in close, like always. My fears of being out in front of everyone were gone. The simple desire of putting down roots here with Doc’s Daughter swelled in my stomach. I dropped my mailbag. Letters and magazines fluttered away, with some most likely ending up in that beautiful creek with its raging and pure waters. The longer she kissed me, the more the earth pulled at my feet. She stopped and bent over to gather my un-needed Government issued clothes. All I could think was…soon enough. That was August 22nd, 1987. I’ve grown here in Doc’s Yard for many summers. The hot sun is all I have to gauge time. Grow, wither, freeze and grow again. I haven’t seen my reflection, so I don’t know what genus I am. New carriers have come and gone on my route. Hell, I even saw the old timer sub in once or twice way back. Oh, to shout out to him and say that he was wise. He hobbled right past me in that garden prison. Doc wandered the grounds for many years, chatting it up with those of us outside. This was a method he came up with to hold and move prisoners in wartimes. He says there’s nothing he can do for us. Since the state took away his license, he can’t drive to get us the antidote. So he says. He died some time ago. But she’s still here. She still takes men in. All ages, races, occupations. I recognized the Dog Warden from Hoover county. He’s a few yards away from me, a patch of yellow flowers. Some stay in the house. Others are out here. But here were are. Where we always wanted to be. In this little part of Shangri-La.

Keenan Odenkirk is a Chicago based actor originally from Tucson, AZ. He grew up with a deep love for fantasy and sci-fi, favorites being the Martian Chronicles, Harry Potter, Eragon, Hyperion, and Shakespeare’s more fantastical plays. I am an ensemble member of Quicksilver Shakespeare Co. and most recently appeared in the Valiant Theatre New Works Festival.


Gateways: “Utopia Ain’t What it’s Cut Out To Be” by Hadley Frost read by Rachel Granda-Gluski



Hadley Frost (they/them) is a TTRPG and Visual Story Telling creative writer and producer. He is currently personally studying creative writing. WIth little professional experience, he hopes to grow his portfolio in both a professional setting and novel writing. He is currently developing a visual story tell festival to take place in 2021. Hadley Frost lives in Boise, Idaho.

“Welcome to Eden Sister. Let me show you around, there is so much to see! Once you’re finished, I’ll show you to your new home.”

How did I fall for something so obvious?

I had heard rumors of Eden but never thought it was anything more than a fever dream thought up by Sam down at the pub before he disappeared. I mean, who really believes in a community without problems? No crime? No fear? Maybe in the old days but things have changed. That’s what I had thought until Alice mentioned a new companion she was head over heels for.

Alice babbled on about her new sweetheart who was going to whisk her away to Eden and bring her salvation. When I asked his name, her eyes went wide with excitement. I’d be happy to introduce you! Almost as soon as I’d mentioned him, Alice stood me up and ran me to the old church building. It looked like no one had set foot in it for over a decade. Its decrepit frame barely held the cracked clay tiles that covered the gambrel roof. Stepping inside was like walking into a different universe. Where the exterior of the chapel appears aged and overgrown, the interior stands timeless. The white marble floors unmarked, the stained glass windows immaculate detail maintained, and even the mahogany pews stood. The hall stood empty before Alice and I except for a gentleman sitting quietly amongst the stalls.

He introduced himself as Vizier Anthony “But please, call me Anthony.” Every question I asked him seemed to slide off like a raindrop off a windshield. ‘Who are you’ turned into ‘How can I help’. ‘How’d you meet Alice’ changed to ‘Let me buy you a drink’. We soon left the chapel and returned to the pub, leaving Alice to go home. With a pint in my hand, he started to ask about me. What I wanted, what I dreamed of. Soon all my questions were forgotten to cups as he pried my story out of me as if I was a novel he plucked off a library shelf.

The weeks to follow all seem like a blur. I would bump into Anthony every once in a while. We’d chat and share a smile and maybe invite me out. He took me to the bar, out for walks, just simple things. Quickly, I started to enjoy his company, and soon after that I almost longed for his voice in the silence of the night. Why couldn’t I get him out of my mind?

One evening, I thought I was being clever and I changed the game up. Rather than waiting for Anthony, I went to him. I had assumed he would be back at the chapel where we had met, but Anthony wasn’t anywhere to be seen. A group of people sat in the chapel. When I entered several of them turned to face me with a fever in their eyes. They ran at me with ravings of the apocalypse soon to come. They screamed to forget what we have, soon we’ll be lost. Nervous and unsettled I ran from the steeple and back home. Almost like he knew I would be there, Anthony was waiting.

“It’s time to go, it’s not safe here anymore. Let me take you to Eden.”

Anthony then went on to describe a town with no disease, no crime. It’s the perfect place. “It’s a place I can keep you safe.”

The very next day, we loaded a carriage and began our trek across this new city, Eden. Anthony further described how fruit slipped from the heavens for all to eat and the waters are as pure as diamonds. I told him I’d believe it when I saw it.

But sure enough, just like Anthony described. Boardwalk pathways that lead over crystal clear streams and through the cobblestone streets where horse drawn carriages carried man, mother, and child alike. The building stood tall and strong with a seamless construction of wood and stone fused together in a beautiful chaos. Greek pillars morphed into elegant archways stabled an overhead garden filled with different fruits. It was all like  it was taken out of a dream. “You’ll be free to live as you please without worry here Sister” his words laced with ecstasy. “Come now, I’ll show you your new home.”

Anthony guided me through the winding streets of Eden waving to passers-by and greeting some by name, and on occasion Anthony would introduce me. “This is our newest Sister, I’m helping her get a proper introduction with the city” Each and every meeting was greeted with a smile and a bold Welcome to Eden Sister.

After walking for nearly 30 minutes we came into a new district of Eden. Where the hanging gardens stood in the previous areas, there stood tall statues carved of angelic white marble depicting a variety of people who seemed to invite you into a courtyard before a cathedral-like building. Inside was just as fantastic as the rest of the city. Lavish rugs covered the floor, brilliant paintings decorated the walls, and a mosaic depicting a fruitful vineyard enriched the ceiling. A long, ornate conference table took over most of the space within the entrance hall. “Have a seat. It’s time to add your name to the family.”

As I sat down he placed a large tome in front of me. Gently he opened the book to nearly the end where a large line of names was inscribed. “Simply sign your name in the book and you are the newest Sister to our town” the words almost crawled from Anthony’s lips as he placed an inkwell to my right. Quickly I sign my name below the last name Alice. Excited to know what was next I turned back to Anthony expecting some sort of praise, but no congratulation awaited me.

Where a kind mask sat before, Anthony’s grin was less of an invitation, but more of a demand. “Finally, you’re one of us” he said clamping a metal band around my wrist. Inscribed on the band was the number 503. “There’s just one more thing we have to do.” 

 

Without another word Anthony led me by the wrist past the conference table and deeper into the halls. Confused and worried I questioned what was happening but got no reply and any attempt to pull away was only met with Anthony tightening his grip. Crashing into a dimly lit room he sat me down in a tall strapped chair and buckled me in.

As if to himself, Anthony began to ramble while pulling open drawers looking for something. “You see it now? Soon we’ll all be together. Soon we’ll all be free. I envy you. You get the blessing so soon.” Any questions I asked fell on deff ears as he scrambled around for different materials. After what felt like an eternity he found what he was looking for and turned back to me. He was sewing a doll, one that looked strangely like me. “The last touch, something personal”. As he said this he plucked a single hair from my head and tied it into the yarn hair of the doll. 

“Welcome to Eden Sister” With those words I felt a strong wind blow over me and everything went dark. When I finally came to I wasn’t in the chair anymore, nor was I even in the same room. I was sitting on a shelf somehow, and I couldn’t move. Across the room from me a window showed a glimpse of the outside world where I could see Anthony standing next to someone… Standing next to me.

I’ve been sitting on this shelf long enough I’ve lost track of the days. Occasionally Anthony will walk in with a grin and another doll.

I guess Utopia isn’t what some say it is.

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


Gateways “Stop and Catch” by Patrick B. McLean read by Jacob Bates



Patrick B. McLean is thrilled to be taking part in Gateways this month with his mirco short story, Stop and Catch. Patrick received his BFA in Playwriting while attending The Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago. He is currently an Artistic Associate with The Arc Theatre along with being the Chicago Correspondent for No Proscenium covering immersive theater experiences and events. His work has been performed at the The Arc Theatre, Actor’s Training Center, Chicago Dramatists, Victory Gardens Theatre, The Den Theatre, Western Michigan University, The Theatre School at DePaul University and the Just Off Broadway Theater in Kansas City. A special thank you to Victoria for all her support. You can visit his website at http://patrickbmclean.com/

Hector couldn’t tell if he was still breathing. As the tram began to decelerate for its arrival at Plutus District, his anxiety only heightened the feeling of suffocating. Luckily, cold logic set in, Hector willing himself to take slow, calming breaths. Yet the cumbersome mask strapped to his face functioned as it should, taking its sweet time to filter out the airborne disease providing only a trickle of breathable air. It was enough to keep him alive but far from enough to make him feel safe. 

Hector looked around the tram, seeing if anyone else was struggling to breathe. The tram was nearly empty, as they just left the stop for Star Bound Travel hangers, where most of Mammon Station’s inhabitants were clamoring to book passage anywhere that would get them off the station. Anyone still on the tram was wearing their masks and goggles, their faces hidden like lifeless macabre statues. Their stillness eased Hector only ever so slightly, that the new layer of danger was just within his mind. 

The sudden jolt of the tram stopping snapped Hector back to the task at hand. He disembarked the train and pretended to read the tram system map. Thanks to the map’s reflective surface he was able to see if anyone else was getting off. After an elongated moment, the doors sang their closing doors chime, echoing around the empty platform. No one else had gotten off the tram. 

He was alone. Just as Calista had instructed. Hector headed down the stairs to the street level. While he had been out in the station a few times since The Outbreak, its effect on altering life was no less terrifying to experience. The stores had been shuttered, their emergency pressurized doors enabled to keep contaminated air out. The automated cars, receiving no requests to ferry passengers, sat parked on the roads evenly spread out, a still life display of traffic. 

But it was the fine layer of dust that covered every surface that Hector found most disturbing. The air recyclers hummed loudly, taxed from trying to filter out The Outbreak. With the station’s maintenance crew having abandoned their posts the dirty filters hadn’t been replaced, allowing the thick gray clumps of air particles to be pushed through with ease. 

The paradise they worked to create in Mammon Station was now bellowing its dying breaths. With the repetitious crunch of his boots on the dust, Hector realized he was leaving a footprint trail in his wake. Hector thought that Calista was worried about a digital footprint, since they connected on The Underband so he could illegally acquire supplies from her. Maybe she was equally worried about a physical trail as well. 

But Hector was well prepared. With dressing in gray tones Hector hoped would fool anyone who saw him into believing he was just a maintenance crewman, even if the red lettering on these clothes officially denoting his crewman position was missing. And if any of the station’s security forces stopped to investigate, all the electric billboards would say that Millie Vandergaze had been walking around and not Hector. The code he installed in his goggles was working, displaying a false ocular pattern for the electrics to scan in order to sell Millie beauty products. 

He was relieved that it was only two blocks from the tram station to the janitorial droid hatch which shared a wall with a closed clothing shop. He approached the hatch and easily found the keypad to allow crewmen access. As he punched in the code he’d memorized, attempting to look at ease like he was supposed to be there. 

After what seemed like an interminable minute, the hatch slid open. Hector slipped inside before it was completely open, panicking only for a second when he couldn’t find the keypad to close the hatch from the inside. With the hatch closed he turned on the lights to take stock of the room. Hector had been expecting to see a grouping of the wiry steel blue janitorial droids powered down. The room was totally empty. Well, expect for the large two meter hole in the wall to his left. 

Sounds and voices drifted through the hole drawing him closer. Leaning in, Hector realized he was looking into the clothing store. Or really, the gutted remains as only the racks of clothes piled in the far corner were left suggesting it once had been a clothing store. The rest of the space was occupied by two dozen people, either at computer terminals or sorting food and medical supplies seemingly at random into bags. 

“We haven’t got all day, Hector,” a woman’s voice bellowed towards him. He saw a woman staring at him while leaning against a cluttered table. “There’s no time to waste when the world is ending.” Hector approached her calmly at first but gave that up when he noticed the growing frustration building in her thin lipped frown. As Hector neared, he wondered if the woman’s icy blue eyes had ever known warmth. 

“Calista?” He ventured a guess. “Sure,” she said. A moment of silence settled between them as Hector was unsure how to begin the transaction. 

“You’re not wearing a mask?” Hector asked, his first thought tumbling out through his mouth. “We’re safe enough in here,” Calista said. “If you want, you can take yours off.” Hector touched his hand to his face, or rather, stopped short thanks to the mask. There was no reason not to take it off, but knowing that he was breathing just fine was a crutch he was happy to lean on. “I’m fine,” he said. “I’m heading back out there anyways.” 

“Suit yourself. We were able to get the supplies you requested. Hard stuff to acquire. Luckily we’ve been stockpiling,” She held out her hand, palm up. “Payment?” 

Hector reached into his pocket, pulling out the data chip. It held his banking account information, allowing Calista to get paid by hacking his accounts through The Underband. As soon as he handed it over, Calista grabbed a bag off the table, holding it out to Hector. It wasn’t until he noticed the judgmental smile pressing up against her cheeks how quickly he had snatched the bag from her grasp. Hector was glad for his mask, frowning privately in shame at his selfish desperation to survive. 

“Looks like we’re done here,” Calista said, putting his data chip down on some familiar looking documents. “Pleasure doing-” 

“Wait, you have travel visas?” Hector said, recognizing the documents for what they were. “You’re helping people get off the station?” 

“I wouldn’t stay ‘helping’.” “How much does that cost? I’ll pay. I got the money. That’s not a problem.” Hector couldn’t stop himself, the possibility of escape pouring out of him. “I just need time. I can make it happen.” 

“You’re better off staying on the station,” Calista said with a wave of her hand, dismissing him. “Go home and hunker down.” 

“That can’t be true. I came here, we all came here, because we thought this station was humanity’s solution. That we’d finally perfected life among the stars. It was impossible to screw up.” 

Calista failed to suppress a laugh. “Haven’t you noticed that all we seem to do is screw up everything we do?” 

“But if there’s a chance to-” “Listen Hector, people have been traveling between stations for months. The Council has confirmed it’s an airborne infection. That means what’s happening here has spread to every attempt of paradise we’ve ever created,” While she was blunt in her tone, her blue eyes melted as she went on, a calming weight filling the space between them. “You’re going to be no better off anywhere else. You’re smart in gathering supplies to survive instead of panicking like those people gumming up Star Bound Travels. They want to lie to themselves thinking they can buy their way to safety. But if we couldn’t hack it here on Mammon Station, it’s not going to work anywhere else.” 

Calista put her hands on his shoulders. If it wasn’t for the mask, they would be sharing the same air, back and forth. The warmth of her breath rolled across his cheeks, the heat intense. It was refreshing, invigorating, to not simply know but feel someone being alive during The Outbreak. “You just got to stop and breathe, okay? The longer the breath, the more you’ll be able to think. To survive.” Hector nodded. Calista let her hands drop away as Hector watched her eyes freeze over, any warmth extinguished. “We’re always getting more supplies, so if you run out, you know how to get a hold of us.” Calista turned her back on him, signaling that their transaction was complete. 

It wasn’t until the billboard wanting Millie to buy face cream that Hector realized he was back out on the streets. He was already nearing the tram station to head back home. He looked down at the bag of supplies he was clutching in his hands. It was then he noticed that his footsteps from earlier had disappeared, his previous existence gone under a fresh layer of dust. Hector stopped, looking up at the dust becoming interchangeable with the stars he could see through the station’s glass dome. It was the unfamiliar with the unnatural. The Outbreak suggested that humans were not able to make a paradise for themselves in space. But was the act of failing to reach a livable built paradise goal enough? Regardless of what was happening, he was still alive. 

Hector couldn’t wait to get back home, strip away the mask, and freely breathe on his own.

Jacob Bates is an Artistic Associate of Otherworld Theatre, a native of East Texas, and a lover of stories for as long as he can remember. Catch him in the upcoming LOTR parody “A Taste of Man Flesh” at Otherworld Theatre.


Gateways “The Bluff of Summer Grove” by Daniel Mendoza read by Evin McQuistin



TRANSCRIPT: Daniel Mendoza is an up and coming Latinx storyteller, based in Chicago, Il. Daniel is thrilled to be included in Gateways Story-writing series. He spends the little free time he has writing D&D campaigns and feeding his cat.

People are dying to get into Summer Grove. A diverse, healthy, affordable gated community, where anyone would want to sign a lease to their very own home. Unfortunately for most, Summer Grove is near impossible to get in. You sign up for a lottery system and wait until someone moves out then a person is selected at random and they have 24 hours to respond to the invitation. No amount of money, fame, or connections could secure anyone a spot; it relied on pure luck. 

“You must be Chris and Abigail. I’m James, President of the homeowners association, which doesn’t make me the most popular guy around but sacrifices have to be made. Let me open the gates, and show y’all to your new home.” 

The tall, light skinned man adjusted his thick framed glasses, and drove off on his golf cart, with the young couple behind him driving past the small streets surrounded by specialty shops with incredible smells, a lake that seemed to stretch over the horizon, and a park filled with the laughter of children. They drive until they reach a sky blue house that looks identical to every other but has 217 on the mailbox. With one last congratulations and a smile, James hands our couple the keys, and begins to drive away. 

“Where are my manners, I’m having a little get together at my place. Could serve as a nice meet and greet to introduce you to the neighborhood. It’ll be real casual so don’t bother unpacking your black tie.” James chuckles as he drives off. 

Chris and Abigail spend most of the day unpacking, it’s a trip down memory lane with a quick detour of disbelief that they were actually here. Suddenly a harsh knock. Abigail opens the door to reveal a couple in their 60’s smiling at the door. 

“I’m Ashton, and this is Phil, my husband. We saw James driving off and we knew that must mean new neighbors! We brought over some cookies and wanted to say hi!” Ashton said. 

“Nice to meet you, we were actually getting ready to head over to James’ place for the get together,” Abigail explains. Ashton and Phil’s faces go pale as if they’d seen a ghost. 

“We didn’t hear about a get together, but I suppose perhaps it’s just for newer folks to Summer Grove.” 

Ashton says through a forced smile. 

“I don’t think he gave us his address though so he can’t want us there very much,” Chris jokes. 

“It’s just a walk down the street, the red house, you can’t miss it,” Phil says emotionless “We should let you get going, let James know we said hello,” Phil continues as Ashton and he leave. 

“We shouldn’t have said anything, now James is gonna feel really weird,” Abigail said. “It’s a small get together, I’m sure he invited us as a courtesy,” Chris assures. They arrive at the red house, it is the only red house on the street, and quite possibly the only red house in the entire community. They approach the door and suddenly feel nervous, Chris gives the door a sturdy knock. Every second that passes from this moment on feels like a century, they feel beads of sweat build on their foreheads, they are completely silent. James opens the door and relief fills their universe. 

He has switched out his suit and tie for a hawiian shirt and bermuda shorts as he welcomes them in. They are met with what seems like most of the community. As Chris and 

Abigail mingle with the crowd. James approaches Chris and asks him to help bring in the trays he’s had in the smoker out back. Immediately, almost everyone else volunteers to help. Outside, Chris notices a dog house. 

“I didn’t know you had a dog.” James whips his head and replies, “Yes, the community does allow small pets but they must be kept inside at night to avoid disturbing the neighbors. River is on his night time walk with the community walker. I wish I could walk him but certain sacrifices have to be made.” 

As the night goes on, Chris and Abigail begin to notice the community is incredibly tight knit as they are invited to join the community garden, weekly game nights, book clubs, and to help organize the next block party. Summer Grove is everything it advertised as. 

Time passes and Chris and Abigail settle in. They have friends, they are part of groups, they feel like part of the community. Chris arrives home from the local butcher. 

“Hey, did you know Danny moved?” “No, I thought we scheduled a movie night with him and Maggie,”Abigail responded. “Maybe we can ask around at James’ game thing tonight,” Chris suggested. “Oh, I forgot to tell you, work unloaded a bunch of cases on me tonight. If I don’t jump on them now I’m gonna have to skip fishing tomorrow with everybody,” Abigail said, sounding exhausted already. 

“That’s fine, we don’t have to go,” Chris started before Abigail interrupted with, “No, you should still go, we’re still new here, and James has been so helpful. I’d hate to seem ungrateful.” 

“I’ll make an appearance and say hi to everyone and bring you back a plate, how about that?” 

“Sounds good to me,” Abigail responded. It’s late at night as Abigail works, rubbing the temples of her head with exhaustion. She looks out the window on to the street and sees a shadowy beast-like figure standing in the dark, her naked eyes not being able to make sense of the creature. Right as the street light goes off it vanishes. She grabs her coat and steps out the door, and sees a large, imposing man holding a leash. 

“Have you lost your dog?” She shouts. The man turns to her and assuredly says, “Just visiting some old friends, nothing to worry about. Head back inside.” 

Abigail slowly closes the door as she re-enters the house. She takes one last look out the peephole as the man walks to the edge of the street light and pets the beast-like figure as he pulls a severed arm into the light. “That’s a good boy” 

Abigail covers her mouth as she gasps with terror. She tells Chris everything when he gets back. 

“Gail, everything is alright, the man was probably the walker we haven’t met yet and look at your caseload, of course you’re imagining things like severed arms, it’s all ok. James also wanted to invite us to an evening cookout he’s having next friday, he wanted to let us know early.” 

As the week passes they hear that Phil and Ashton moved out, Abigail runs into James outside of the Butcher. 

“James, what do you know about the walker?” Abigail questions. 

“He’s very trusted, why? Are you getting a dog soon?” James responds 

“Do you know why Danny moved? Or Asthon and Phil?” Abigail continues. “Why are you asking me?” James asks “Something is weird about this place, and you seem to be the leader around here.” James cuts her off. “I don’t know what you mean by leader, I have the authority to ask you to put your trash can away after trash day but that’s all. Danny violated multiple rules, he was forced to leave. Phil and Ashton wanted to be closer to family, that’s why they left. Everything requires sacrifice, I didn’t think I had to publicly announce their business.” 

Abigail feels a bit embarrassed. “Sorry I’ve been so stressed from the precinct, I must’ve brought it home. Should I bring anything tonight?” 

“It’s been cancelled, sorry this week has been hectic, I’ll let you know when I can reschedule,” James says as he walks away. 

That evening, Abigail is just settling in for the evening when she sees she has a voicemail from Chris. 

“Hey, sorry I didn’t have a chance to send a message but I ran into James and promised I would help set up for tonight, I’ll see you when you get here.” 

Suddenly a scratch is at the door followed by heavy panting as Abigail looks out the window of their room to see the dog walker approaching her home. 

“That’s a good boy, River” 

She tries to call Chris but no one responds, She then calls James and is met with the message, “I’m sorry I can’t be everywhere at once, but certain sacrifices must be made. I’ll get to you as soon as I can.” 

It relied on pure luck, no amount of money, fame, or connections could secure anyone a spot. You sign up for a lottery system and wait until someone moves out, then a person is selected at random and they have 24 hours to respond to the invitation. Unfortunately for most, Summer Grove is near impossible to get in. A diverse, healthy, affordable community, anyone would want to sign the lease to their very own home. People are dying to get into Summer Grove.

Evin McQuistin 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.


Gateways: “Community Service” by Zack Peercy read by Jasmin Tomlins



TRANSCRIPT: Zack Peercy is a legally blind playwright based in Chicago. He has a residency at Three Brothers Theatre, where his play That’s Fucked Up premiered in May 2019. His play Kubrickian was recently presented as part of Intrinsic Theatre Company May Play Podcast reading series. He has placed in a few contests you haven’t heard of and was rejected from all the contests you have heard of. He can be found on instagram and twitter @zackpeercy. His plays can be found on NPX.

We knew we wouldn’t like the taste of Henry Joyner just from the smell. 

No one was sure why he volunteered, but now as his sour roasting stench wafted down 

Main Street, we assumed there must have been an underlying sickness. Most of us thought it was a cowardly sacrifice, but all agreed it was a nice respite from the tough flesh of the elderly. The crackle of the fire echoed through our small town, chattering about Henry Joyner in a way we never could. 

We went on with our work day, our noses becoming used to the odor. 

Robert Townsend delivered milk along the stretch of white picket fences. 

Marjorie Green opened the Depot and packed the day’s rations, including an apple pie 

packet for tonight’s special occasion. 

Kasey Skinner mowed the lawns uniformly in neat rows and columns. 

Janice McCormick collected the previous day’s trash and dumped it off the edge of our 

sky-scraping suburb to the surrounding wasteland below. 

We all worked together, every day, to maintain our community. Everyone lent a hand 

without a word because we knew we were all equal. Jealousy, greed, war, and fear were 

emotions of the past. We had moved above them to a place of cooperative bliss. We celebrated our successes, grieved our losses, and when it came time to welcome a new community member, we sacrificed ourselves to keep our population balanced. As the Zimmermans prepared for their child’s arrival, we watched Henry Joyner start to brown in the late-morning sun; the smell becoming tolerable, more familiar. 

Some fundamental community members still thought of it as The Rite of Fire, but most 

of us knew it for what it was: a barbeque. Late last night, after the children were asleep, the town council opened their hands for volunteers and Henry Joyner silently rose from his seat. He was a sizable supply of flesh, but younger than average; sterile, no living relatives left. He was a surprise candidate, but we’ve made tougher choices. Several cycles ago, Phyllis Dewitt’s Daughter volunteered at the age of twelve. Doctor Montgomery had diagnosed her with Particle Lung a few months prior, a rare case even those days, and she wanted to offer herself up to the flames. She didn’t want her body to be thrown to the wasteland. We respected her choice. 

Before the morning sun, Henry Joyner was prepared by Doctor Montgomery. Some of us went to Main Street to clean the fire pit and chop fresh wood. Most of us went home to our families. Janice McCormick made a special pre-dawn trip to the doctor’s office to collect the waste: nails, teeth, blood, hair, and organs not fit for consumption. She threw them off the edge for the unseen scavengers below. Pure silence was briefly interrupted by a far echoed thud, a snarl, and a yip. 

By the time most of us were starting our day of cleaning, domestic repairs, and crafting, 

the body was already on the spit, a fresh fire licking the smooth flesh. 

After another lunchtime of powdered rations, we all strolled down Main Street to get a 

glimpse at the golden brown carcass, savoring the odor, trying to hold it in our nostrils as we went back to our chores and tasks. We thought Henry Joyner was holding up well on the rotisserie. We remembered last cycle when Barbara Townsend’s frail body didn’t last the morning before her meat split from the rod and fell onto the fire. We didn’t notice for half an hour, but a slight char never hurt anyone. We ate well that day and even had enough left for a lasting jerky. 

Our children quietly ran around in the mid-afternoon sun working up an appetite. The 

young ones played on the back lot’s trampoline, fashioned from an old Army parachute we no longer had a use for. We taught them Crack the Egg, where you had to ball yourself up as the other children tried to bounce and crack you, and Sizzle the Bacon, where you laid out as the other children stomped and sizzled you up. The teenagers were more meditative, preferring to bake in the sun and read. The Zimmermans looked over all of them from their porch swing. We knew they were thankful to be part of our community. 

In the late-afternoon, we rang the bell. Everyone snapped into action; we had been 

anticipating this all day. The long wooden table was assembled down Main Street. Kasey 

Skinner went house to house collecting chairs from dining rooms and setting them along the table. Henry Joyner’s auroma was hypnotizing, tantalizing. Our mouths watered, our bodies ached. We took our seats and waited for Marjoirie Green and Doctor Montgomery to carve. 

Our silent anticipation was broken by Phyllis Dewitt. She was now the oldest community member and only made appearances for the ceremony. Since her daughter’s cycle, she has sung for us before every carving. Only a few of us remember what it meant to sing. At 

night the children try to mimic the sounds with their mouths, but barely muster a squeak. The song ended and plates began their passage down the line. 

Main Street was soon filled with the sound of gnashing teeth and saliva slurping; 

mouths full of Henry Joyner. No one made eye contact. He was juicer than Barbara Townsend, but not as tender as Phyllis Dewitt’s Daughter. A portion of the thigh was ground and wrapped for the Zimmermans to mix with their newborn’s rations. 

We ate to our fill and the leftovers were collected to be dried and cured. The table was 

disassembled and stored until the next cycle. Everyone brought their chairs home. We washed our juice-soaked hands and mouths. We laid in our beds. 

As the night crept on and we were alone with our thoughts, we weren’t a community; 

just individuals in bed. Those moments were when our repressed selfishness seeped to the forefront of our minds. We’d never want these doubts to show on our faces, but here in the dark, bellies full and minds free to wander, we questioned. 

When the time came, would we be able to stand up and volunteer? 

Would we be able to eat our own child, if we had to? 

What would they think we smelled like as we roasted over the fire? 

The only answer was our silence.

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: “On Hermit Crabs and Old Boxes” by Connor Andrei read by Martha Southgate



TRANSCRIPT: Connor Andrei primarily writes children’s fantasy and the occasional flash fiction piece for contests and for fun. He has also written a play that was a finalist in the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “Young Playwrights in Progress” contest. He aims to bring engaging and accessible stories to children while feeling like a writer of “Serious Adult Fiction”.  The natural deviation in “humanity” between the individual and the group runs central to everything I write.

The wise man sat in the shade of a small tree on the edge of the beach. The waves lapped slowly onto the pristine white sand. His eyes were closed. He listened to the sounds that washed over him: the gentle waves, the gulls overhead, the constant whir of bugs all around. He wore a contented smile on his face. He had his arm draped over a small wooden box in the sand next to him. It was a good life for the wise man. A life of peace and of wisdom. He waited in the sand, just like he did everyday, for a visitor to arrive and ask the same question that they all asked him. 

Miles away from the white sand beach, Greg sat on a plane. He gazed listlessly out the window into the clouds. His face was rough with stubble. He had no luggage, just a rumpled up suit and a tie pulled loose around his neck. He looked like a man on his way home from a very, very bad day at the office. In fact, he had had a very, very bad day at the office, but he was not on his way home. 

Five days earlier, Greg left the office for the last time. He left with no job, no purpose, no identity. His lonely apartment felt even lonelier as he dragged his feet and a cardboard box full of personal affects closer to its door. So he dropped the box on the curb and kept walking. Maybe someone else would find comfort in the stapler or in the framed diploma that had hung on his office wall. Greg let his feet do all the thinking and his feet thought “we need booze.” 

The next few days were a blur. Bar after bar, liquor store after liquor store – the drinking was all he could remember. Everything else? What he ate, where he slept, who he talked to – that was all lost. He would never remember it, and frankly he was glad. He didn’t want to know. 

The next thing he could remember was waking up in a field 100 miles away from home. He still wore his suit, his tie was even still tightened all the way up to his neck, top button still fastened. If it weren’t for the grass stains and the smell, he would’ve been ready for work. When he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes he smelled the unmistakeable aroma of permanent 

marker. His hands were covered in black words. Written all over was the word why. Just “why”, 

not even a question mark. It was shockingly legible. 

He was undoubtedly drunk when he wrote it, arguably he was still drunk when he read it. But it meant something to him. “Why,” he muttered out loud to himself. He got up off the grass and dusted himself off. He was determined to learn the answer, the reason. He needed to know why, to understand everything. 

Under the palm tree on the white sand beach, the wise man whistled a song. His pursed lips were concealed behind the tangle of brown and gray hair that was his wild beard. With great intensity, he watched a hermit crab on the soft, damp sand by the water. 

The hermit crab pulled itself out of its shell, it’s claws digging into the sand to find purchase. It gained its freedom and scuttled away from its old safety. The wise man stopped whistling as he watched. It occurred to him that though he had seen much in his life, he had never seen a naked hermit crab before. It somehow looked both perfectly normal and horribly obscene. The hermit crab scuttled across the glistening white sand to another, slightly larger shell. From where the wise man sat it looked as though the two shells were exactly identical – 

maybe the second shell was a little larger. But the crab, in its new home, scuttled away happily. 

Perhaps, he thought, it was a distinction known only to a crab. Perhaps the crab could tell that the new shell was roomier, different, but it felt just as safe as the old one. 

“Huh,” said the wise man. 

Greg left the field as soon as he could and began his journey. He started small, asking random passersby if they knew the truth, if they knew the meaning of life. Most people merely shied away from him, crossing the street or holding their hands out while saying, “I don’t know, please leave me alone.” But Greg was nothing if not persistent. 

His persistence awarded him with some answers, though none were satisfying. “To find true love,” one person replied. Another told him that the purpose was “God”. Several people responded by telling him he had to look for “happiness” one added that it “came from within”. Something was gnawing at Greg, telling him that the answer should be deeper than that. 

Greg’s persistence also awarded him a night in jail. He spent the night on a hard wooden bench in a holding cell somewhere in Ohio. He laid back on the bench and stared up at the ceiling. His mind was swimming with questions and he still had no answers. In such a short time he had gone from having his life completely figured out to being completely, hopelessly lost. His whole life he had believed that his purpose was to work hard and lead a normal, respectable life. But with everything stripped away from him so quickly, so thoroughly, he knew that there had to be a greater reason for his life. 

That was when he noticed that there were scratches on the ceiling. Right next to the fluorescent light were shallow scratches, just like the ones on a bathroom wall. Greg was certain that they must say something, so he got up. He stood on the tips of his toes on the bench and ran his finger across the scratches. They were letters. So he read: “Under a tree on a white sand beach…” 

There were more words on the wall beneath the little window. So he crossed the room and read: “There is a man with a box,” it said. Greg scanned the cell quickly, and found more scratches in the corner near the floor. He laid down on his stomach to read the last message. “That box has all the answers.” 

Despite the fact that there must be thousands of trees on white sand beaches, Greg could see this man with his box. And he knew exactly where to find that specific tree on that specific white sand beach. 

In the morning, he was released on his own recognizance. He was told not to leave the state of Ohio. By 11am, however, he was on a plane. That plane took him to another plane, which took him to another plane. He loosened his tie as he sat next to the window, soaring over the Pacific. He ate a bag of pretzels that the flight attendant had given him, savoring every bite. For the first time in days Greg smiled – really, truly, and honestly smiled. 

The wise man looked up to see Greg, disheveled in his filthy black suit, walking slowly up the beach to him. It occurred to him that it had only been a few days since his last visitor, and only a few more days since the visitor before that. Perhaps his visits were getting more frequent, he thought, or perhaps he had never really bothered to keep track. He tapped his hand lovingly on his little wooden box. It didn’t matter how often they came. It only mattered that they did and that they learned. 

Greg knelt in the white sand before the wise man. He didn’t have to kneel – the wise man was no god – but he knelt anyway because it felt right. “I need to know,” he said, his voice hoarse from the dry saltiness of the airline pretzels. 

The wise man merely smiled at him, his wild, thick beard parting to show the curl of his chapped lips. 

Greg continued, “I am no one and I have nothing. I need to know my purpose. Where do I fit?” He spoke like a man who was pleading for his life because perhaps he was. His voice rattled and cracked. There were tears behind them waiting to be shaken loose. 

The wise man said nothing. He simply lifted his arm off the little wooden box and pushed it across the sand to where Greg knelt. 

Greg nodded, a tear welling up in his eye. He slowly, carefully lifted the lid and peered inside with reverent glee. But then his face fell. “It’s empty,” he said, his voice hollow. 

The wise man looked deeply into Greg’s eyes and asked, “What would you put in it?” 

Greg sunk into the pure white sand and fell onto his back. He cried and he laughed. The wise man watched. “Huh,” he said.

Martha Southgate is co-founder and brand manager of Southgate Media Group. She has been podcasting for 7 years and has recorded over 1,000 episodes. She also homeschools her 13 year old daughter, Molly, and works as a volunteer once a week in an elementary school. Martha is an entrepreneur and passionately studies leadership and marketing. She loves supporting and encouraging others by sharing her experiences and is about to release her first solo podcast, Broken to Brave.


Gateways: “Watch Your Back” by Cat McKay read by Devon Elizabeth and Tabitha Burch



TRANSCRIPT: Cat McKay specializes in gays and sci-fi, both as an actor and as a writer. (If it’s not broke …) Favorite roles include Diana Barry in Anne and Diana Were Totally Doing It (FemSlash Fest at Otherworld), Bella in Valkyries: Badasses on Bikes, and Alien in Engage! A Choose Your Own Sci-Fight Adventure! Her play Plaid As Hell is the winner of Babes With Blades’ 2019 Joining Sword and Pen competition and the Margaret Martin Award, and will be produced as part of their 2020-2021 season.

And then she was gone. Inside the box was an ordinary watch, gunmetal black, its face almost as big as the back of my wrist. It looked like it was sized for a man. But when I clicked the strap into place, no links needed to be removed – it fit. It was honestly the gayest piece of jewelry I’d even put on my body. I loved it. 

She had promised to explain everything, and now all I had was this … really cool watch? I didn’t want to think about it too hard. That had clearly been a this-is-over relationship conversation; the watch was just a weird bonus. But if she’d had this all the months we’d been dating, especially when I’d practically been living over at her place, why had I never seen it before? 

Whatever. Cas’s birthday party was in a couple of hours. I had enough time to get cleaned up and find something to wear. 

Fuck. My favorite dress was still at her place. I checked my pocket. Still had her key. Why hadn’t she taken her key back? I texted her, ‘Hey, I’m coming over to get my stuff; hope that’s cool.’ Typing bubbles. ‘Who dis.’ Really? She was going to hit me with that five minutes after breaking up with me on Damen in broad daylight? ‘Your ex girlfriend,’ I sent back, ‘You know, Evie. We’ve been fucking for the last six months.’ ‘Don’t know you,’ she texted back. Wow. Ok. I got on the train and planned a scathing retort for when I reached her apartment. 

“Blake?” I yelled on the stair. “It’s Evie; I’m coming in. I just want to get my stuff.” I unlocked the door and stood there. The apartment was wiped clean. Nothing in it, no furniture, no sign of human habitation. I’d say move-in ready, except a layer of dust covered everything. 

I sat down on the floor. This wasn’t psychotic; this just wasn’t possible. I had woken up in this apartment this morning, and Blake was freakishly neat. Even if she’d had time to clear out, which she didn’t, that didn’t explain the fact that this place looked like it had been abandoned for weeks. And who lets a perfectly good, actually affordable Chicago one-bedroom sit empty like that? 

“Blake?” I moved through the apartment, but there was nothing. I caught a glimpse of color behind the bathroom door. My favorite dress hung on the towel hook. There was a note pinned to it in Blake’s handwriting. “Watch your back – B” 

Just then I heard voices on the stairs. Loud, several men’s voices, searching through the floors below. I heard them kick a door open. “Shit.” I grabbed my dress and beat it for the back stairs. 

I heard them slam into the apartment right behind me and I threw myself down the narrow wooden stairs, hitting the ground and running for the alley. I am not much of a runner but there is nothing like the anger of your girlfriend ditching you in the weirdest of ways combined with the terror of a group of strange men chasing you out of what you thought was her apartment to give you a little extra boost. I felt my wrist vibrate but didn’t slow down. I put on speed as I made it into the street, seeing a car coming around the corner straight towards me. 

The car turned to follow me. I sped up, felt my wrist vibrate again and – the street around me was gone. Or rather, it was the same street – I thought – but utterly dead. Plants grew up through cracks in the concrete. that hadn’t been there a second ago. I stumbled over a spot on the sidewalk where a tree root had pushed up the pavement and fell, skinning my knee. As I stood up, the back of my neck prickled. 

I turned around, slowly. The plants and the roots weren’t the end of what was wrong with the otherwise-familiar block. There was no one. The men who had been chasing me were gone, as was the car, but … there was no one else. No one walking a dog or strolling along the sidewalk or hanging out in their courtyards. I looked around at the windows. Some were broken, all were dark – although it was still daylight, so that wasn’t that unusual … right? 

The hair on the nape of my neck still hadn’t calmed down. Then I saw it, as I completed my circle. A curtain flashed up in the window of the apartment I had just left. Someone was watching me. 

I walked around to the front door, looked up at the front window of her place. Nothing. 

I went to the front door, but before I could get my key back out, the door swung open. Inside, autumn leaves covered the front-hall floor, unswept. It was May. What the fuck was going on? The inner door, too, was broken, so I crept up the stairs as quietly as I could. When I reached her door, though, it was locked. I tried my key; it worked. 

Evie, you came.” I jumped. It was Blake, but there were wrinkles around her eyes and – was that a white hair in her short crop? 

“Blake?” 

Yes, it’s me.” 

“What’s happening?” 

This is five years in the future, Evie.” 

“How -” 

The watch I gave you sends the wearer through time when you reach a 7:30 mile. No offense, but I wasn’t sure you’d make it.” “Ouch.” “Sit. I’ll make some tea.” 

“Wait, wait, wait, you gave me time travelling watch? While breaking up with me? And this is five years in the future and you’re still here, when just a second I was in this apartment and everything was gone? None of this is making any sense, B!” 

I know. I’m sorry. I needed -” I heard a cat meow in the other room. “One sec, Chester’s hungry.” 

“You got a cat? You never let me get a cat!” 

Yes, well, you didn’t technically live here, did you?” 

“Why do you have a cat?” I said as she carried a lean, rough looking tabby into the room. “You’re allergic.”

Chester eats all the vermin that keep coming in here. I can’t really do without him.” 

“Vermin? Why don’t you call the landlord, or an exterminator?” She laughs. It’s not a nice laugh, not a laugh I’ve ever heard from her before. 

There’s no landlord, Ev. I guess you could say I’m squatting.” 

“What happened to your old apartment? Why was it empty when I came?” 

I should probably start from the beginning.” A kettle starts shrieking from the other room. “One second.” She comes back in with two mugs, one with its handle broken off, full of watery tea. I take a sip and spit it out immediately. 

“Wh – oh, god, that is awful, what is that?” 

Willowbark. It’s easy to find and makes decent tea in a pinch.” 

“Define decent.”

Tea is a bit hard to come by these days. Seeing as it doesn’t grow here natively.” 

“You need to start telling me what’s going on, now.” 

Evie. I wasn’t completely honest with you when we were dating. I’m not an EMT. Or rather, I’m not just an EMT.” 

“Okay …” 

I’m part of a group that calls itself the Lavender Menace.” I snort. 

“Wait, what, really? Like, from the 70s?” 

It’s an homage, but the important thing is, we’re time travelers.” 

“Time travelers.” 

Yes. I recruited you.” 

“Why?”

I’m getting to that part.” 

“You’re scaring me.” 

Five years ago, or about a year in your future, there’s going to be a pandemic. I came here to help.” 

“Here?” 

I skipped forward about a year, starting helping in overwhelmed hospitals.” 

“You didn’t get sick?” She shakes her head. 

Got really lucky, I guess.” 

“What was this pandemic like?” 

“It was bad, Ev.” 

“What symptoms?” 

It was basically the flu.” 

“That doesn’t sound so bad.” 

Do you know how many people the flu kills in a normal year?” 

“… No?” 

Ok, well, it wasn’t the flu, is the point. But unlike SARS or MERS or Ebola, not everyone who had it got horribly ill. Not everyone got ill enough to notice, even. Which meant a lot of people were asymptomatic carriers. And even for people who did eventually get sick, symptoms took days to show up. Days they will wandered around, traveled, went to work …” 

“So what happened?”

“It decimated Italy. Germany wasn’t hit so bad. America…” 

“What?” 

America was the worst. The states all took their own approaches.” She breathes out. “It would overwhelm the hospitals in one place, and as it started to calm down, there’d be a new outbreak somewhere else. Just, wave after wave of it. Chicago was hit particularly bad. When the first set of restrictions were lifted, everyone just went crazy –” 

“And?” 

More than six million people died, just in the US. There was never a final count – lots of people died without making it into a hospital, lots of people died without being tested, in a hallway on a stretcher somewhere. Plenty of bodies weren’t claimed. And, like I said, states -” 

“- did their own thing -” 

Right, so it was impossible to get an accurate count.” 

“So why did you recruit me? What do you want me to do?” 

I’m going to send you back.” 

“What? No! Why?” 

Tell people to stay the fuck at home.”

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

Tabitha Burch has been performing since 2003, primarily in outdoor events. She is a makeup artist and character designer whose creations you can follow at operaghostpto1 on instagram. You may also know her as Grace O’Malley at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. All of this is, of course, merely a hobby next to her true calling as a serving maid for her two beautiful cats.