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.