Monthly Archives: August 2020

Gateways: “Deadend” by Molly Southgate read by Gaby Fernandez



Andy knew she was dead. That still didn’t stop her from jumping when she heard the automated voice saying three words she had never thought she would hear. “Welcome to Heaven.” Although she didn’t believe in life after death, on some strange spiritual level, she had somehow moved on. Where she had moved onto, however, had yet to be determined. 

“Hi there, Andy. Please stand up and make your way through the door,” the gentle robotic voice said. Until the voice pointed it out, she hadn’t realized that she was lying down, or that there was a large white door next to her. The room looked like it could go on forever, just an endless blank space.

“Go on. Stand up. Think of me as your helpful assistant, navigating the afterlife. You can call me ASA,” the voice said. Andy quickly stood and brushed herself off. “How did I die?” Andy asked as her voice quivered with fear. “You were very sick. Since it was such a painful time for you, we erased the memories of your illness.” Immediately, Andy’s hands flew to her face, then her arms, then her legs. However, she couldn’t find any sign of the illness. Asa gave a tinkling laugh and said, “If you’re looking for imperfections you won’t find any. Everyone is perfect here.”

“Did you take anything else?” Andy was skeptical. Her brow furrowed in concern. “Only memories of the pain. Search yourself. You’ll be able to conjure images in your mind of people giving you gifts and staying by your hospital bed. Now please walk through the door.”

Andy tentatively grasped the door handle. It was cold and slick beneath her hand. A startling contrast to the warmth of the room, even with her only wearing a shapeless linen dress. “Asa? What’s on the other side of this door?” She asked cautiously. A silence hung between them for a moment. “The other side of the door has everything you could ever want,” Asa said. 

Intrigued, Andy turned the handle and walked through. When she stepped out of that room what she walked into was far from her version of heaven. Instead of the calming beach she was picturing, it was a carnival. Children were running by screaming at the top of their lungs, the cloying scent of cotton candy was thick in the air. She looked over to see a crowd forming around a group of brightly dressed clowns juggling bowling pins while riding unicycles. “Asa? What is this?” Andy asked, horrified. Andy could hear the smile in Asa’s voice, while Asa answered warmly, “Your first vision of the afterlife. November 22nd, 1995. You were four-years-old. This is younger than most people’s first vision. Most people don’t remember anything before they were five or six.”

“Well, that’s because I remember when my great-grandma died and my Aunt Samantha tried to make me feel better by telling me that when you die you go to the world’s biggest carnival. I’ve always held that memory close,” Andy said. “You’ve imagined the afterlife many different ways throughout your life, and we’re going to visit each one,” Asa said excitedly. Andy grimaced in response. “Oh, God no. I really don’t feel like doing a psychological deep-dive right now. And there’s some embarrassing stuff from my teen years in there.”

“Very well. Maybe at some point, you’ll want to try again,” Asa replied, slightly disappointed. “Please walk through the door.” As she said this, another plain, white door appeared. When Andy stepped through it, her world changed. She was now standing on a beach, her bare feet burning on the hot, white sand. The sun gently warmed her skin as she stared at the jewel-toned waves of the water. “Here we are. Your perfect afterlife. Before you explore I would like to let you know that there are a few rules. Number 1, you must not speak or think ill of another member of this afterlife. Number 2, you must never eat or ask for any apples. Number 3….” Asa droned on and on until somewhere around rule twenty Andy stopped her. “I’m sorry, but, what happens if I break these rules?” 

There was a long pause. “Why, you get sent back, of course. Three strikes and you’re out. Back to Earth to try again. Don’t worry, though. I will warn you, if you are about to get a strike. There are only 150 rules to follow.” 

“Okay?” Andy’s voice wavered slightly. Her chest felt heavy, she wasn’t a perfect person on Earth by any stretch of the imagination. What would she be like here? 

The next day Andy sat up in a soft bed and yawned. The pillowy comforter was olive green, with delicate fleur de lis stitching. The lavender walls were adorned with pictures of Andy at various ages throughout her life. She didn’t know how she had gotten here. That seemed to be happening a lot lately. “Asa?” Andy called out, expectantly. “Where am I?” Asa’s cheerful voice popped back on. “You needed to rest. Transitioning from life to death can be taxing. So, what would you like to do today?”

Andy took a moment to think, “I want to see my family.” A thick silence hung between them before Asa broke it with a chipper voice. “Oh. I’m afraid I can’t do that. You see, each of your family members broke three rules. I was forced to send them back to be reborn. Their lives were completely erased.” Andy faltered, her mind was spinning. “Okay. Who else is here?” 

Asa replied, “Two elderly people, a small child, and you.” 

“That’s it?” Andy was shocked. “For now. Until the next batch of the dead gets sorted into their ideal afterlives.”

“No, that can’t be right. I don’t want to stay here anymore. Send me back.” Andy felt like crying but the tears wouldn’t come. “Why the hell can’t I cry?!” She wailed. Asa’s usually bright voice sounded dismayed. “Most spirits prefer not to cry. I can adjust your setting, though, if you choose that. If you say you want to go back one more time you will get your first strike. That’s breaking rule number seventy-three.”

Something dawned on Andy. “Wait, I can get sent back if I break the rules, right? In that case, Asa, I want to go home.” 

A deep booming voice roared throughout the room.  “Strike one.” It was a perfect plan, Asa would advise her, whether intending to or not, and Andy would break every rule to get her chance at rebirth. “Asa, what is the next rule I can break?” Asa’s voice popped back on. “I am not supposed to advise you. Ask me again and I’ll be forced to give you another strike,” she warned.

“Asa,” Andy started… 

The sadness in Asa’s voice bled through when she interrupted, “Do not ask me again. You are not the only one who will be sent somewhere else.” 

Andy pondered this for a moment. Maybe by doing this she could set them both free? “Asa, what is the next rule I can break?” She asked confidently.

“Strike 2,” The booming voice she had heard earlier blasted out, making her eardrums vibrate.

“Asa? Are you still here?” She tentatively asked. A different voice responded, “I am Asa. Your previous Asa has been deactivated, they were defective. Your strikes have now been reset to zero.”

Two hundred and seven years later: 

The booming voice that always followed a rule break blasted out, “Strike 2.” 

“Asa?” Andy whispered. Yet again, another new voice responded, “I am Asa. Your previous Asa has been deactivated, they were defective. Your strikes have now been reset to zero.”


Gateways: “Anything You Want” by John Harden read by Rob Southgate



TRANSCRIPT: John Harden is a screenwriter and director whose work has screened & garnered awards at top-tier festivals around the world. John’s work is informed by his love of speculative fiction and his background in visual arts, design, journalism and marketing. He is a San Francisco Bay Area native living in Santa Rosa, CA.- johnfilms.com, Twitter handle @giantspecks 

Charlie wondered why it was taking so long to fab the ingredients for his tequila sunrise. The kids would be coming around 10:00 am, and he liked to have a little buzz on. It relaxed him, and made him more fun. And if he was having fun, he rationalized, the kids were having fun, and they were probably learning more, too. His students never seemed to catch on, and there was no one else to answer to since Jane had left. 

Finally the fabricator went “ping” and Charlie opened the door to find a 750-ml bottle of tequila, a jug of orange juice, a glass filled with ice, and a hand grenade. That explained it. “Grenade” was right next to “grenadine” in the list. One errant mouse-click had put him in mortal danger. While Charlie had been waiting for his cocktail, the fabricator had been dutifully cranking away, assembling enough high explosive to blow his head off. Manufacturing those tightly-coiled molecular bonds is what had taken so much time. And energy, which explained why the lights had been flickering. 

For a moment he considered tossing the grenade over the fence into Pinkerman’s backyard. Leaving the pin in, of course: he wasn’t a psychopath. But for all Charlie knew, the thing might have a hair trigger. It might even be rigged to explode when touched. Oh-so gingerly, he closed the fabber door again and pressed the recycle button. 

He could hear power tools. Pinkerman was back at it. Charlie put on shoes. 

Jim Jr. was on the sidewalk, bracing a sheet of corrugated metal while his dad screwed it to their picket fence with his drill. Like the panels next to it, this sheet was eight feet tall, and they’d notched the top edge into a row of triangular points. 

“Hey Jim. Looking pretty Mad Max over here.” 

Pinkerman grunted. “Can’t be too careful.” He crouched, and placed another screw. Charlie could see the gun sticking out from the back of his workbelt. 

“You know, if you’re really worried about security, fabricate some solar panels for your roof. Then you’ll still be able to eat the next time there’s a blackout.” 

No answer. “Hey, I was wondering––“ 

The noise of the drill interrupted him. Charlie waited for him to finish. 

“Is Jim Jr. coming to class today?” 

Jim Jr. had only just turned 12, but he had fuzz sprouting on his upper lip and to Charlie’s eyes was growing visibly beefier by the day. Now, not-so-mini-Jimmy squinted at his dad, looking for guidance. 

The elder Pinkerman fished for another screw. “I don’t know. I don’t go to work anymore. I can’t hardly expect him to go to school.” 

“It’s not the same thing. You don’t want him to be stupid, do you? Send him over.” 

Charlie wondered if he’d offended Pinkerman, or if silence indicated agreement. Anyway, Karen Fisher was over at Charlie’s front gate with her daughter Sophie. Other kids were arriving, too, some on foot, some dropped off from cars. Those parents had found gasoline somewhere, or expended the copious time and electricity needed to fabricate it. 

Mrs. Fisher was her usual jittery self. She’d always been socially awkward, but the past year’s events had really tightened her strings. She thanked Charlie, yet again, for continuing to teach Sophie and all the other kids when he wasn’t even getting paid. He replied with something self- deprecating in a vain attempt to put her at ease. She kept fussing with her purse, saying that she wished she could give Charlie something. 

“Nobody needs anything, Karen. We all have fabricators.” 

“Sure, sure.” 

Charlie could see her purse was stuffed with loose cash. It looked like she’d robbed a convenience store. As soon as fabricators had become commercially available, just about the first thing everyone did with them was to make mountains of twenty-dollar bills. Charlie, no better than anyone else, had done it too. Karen was still at it, bless her heart. Cash transactions had been outlawed for almost a year now. 

Fourteen kids in total showed up. It made the living room pretty crowded. Jim Jr. came, which pleased Charlie more than he’d expected. The rest of the kids mostly were from Charlie’s 6th grade class, the one he’d been teaching in the fall up until the school building was condemned. Deferred maintenance and heavy rains had led to a partial roof collapse. Replacing it was well beyond the abilities of the volunteers, mostly parents, who made up the ad hoc school administration. Supposedly they were still looking around for someone who would do the work. 

Charlie spent an hour on history and another on pre-algebra. While the kids ate lunch in the backyard, he managed to successfully fabricate not one but two tequila sunrises and down them both. After lunch break English class got pretty loosey-goosey, with Charlie riffing on the kids’ creative writing assignments, and a long discursive discussion that Charlie had to cut short when little Sophie asked Charlie why his wife had moved out. Charlie changed the subject and then ran out the clock having the kids read their stories aloud. 

Jim Jr.’s thing was about a grumpy, insulting wizard who would never let his son use the magic wand. If it was a cry for help, it was a pretty well-written one, and surprisingly funny. Somewhere under that subcutaneous fat lay a soul. Charlie praised the story, probably a bit too much, to encourage Jim Jr. and to assuage his own guilt for having underestimated him. 

The kids left around 2:00. Tired and hungry, Charlie plopped down at the PC and found a tasty- looking burrito. It wasn’t TruFab-certified but then again, it was free. It did carry something called the PatternSafe Guarantee, which he Googled and found some conflicting information about. He went ahead and fabbed it anyway. It came out looking just like the picture, it didn’t set off the poison or bio buzzers, and it smelled delicious. He unrolled the tortilla and carefully inspected the contents for foreign objects. By that point he was starving, so he ate it, throwing caution to the wind. 

Caution was getting thrown into that wind pretty much on a daily basis, he mused. But that almost sounded brave. Charlie didn’t feel brave. Just anxious. And lonely. 

Having survived another meal, Charlie spent the rest of the afternoon doing housework and drinking beer. He recycled each empty can in the fabricator as he went. He might be a drunk, but his house was gonna be spotless. No tell-tale pile of empties here. He played music. 

Loudly. “I am an impeccable drunk,” he announced to no one, adopting a high-born British accent. “Impeccable!” Like a train, way up the tunnel, Charlie knew a day was coming for him when he’d admit that Jane was never coming home. Who would he polish the countertops for then? 

The house was dark when Charlie awoke on the couch. He fabbed two aspirin and a glass of water and dragged his ass to his bed. He’d barely settled in when he heard the noise on his front porch. 

Thump. Again. Someone was definitely out there. Still a little buzzed, Charlie got up and moved to the window with all the stealth he could muster. It was dark out there, but he could make out the hunched form of a man on his front steps. Just sitting there. 

Charlie found his phone and dialed 9-1-1. Three rising tones and a lady’s voice told him the number was out of service. 

He skulked to the living room, and in a hissed whisper said “Make me a gun.” The PC’s monitor flicked on. Charlie was dismayed at the smorgasbord of deadly force it was serving up. He scrolled a bit, looking for a smaller, less scary-looking pistol. 

Then he stopped. This was not the kind of guy he was. Pinkerman might call him a pussy all day long, but Charlie wanted to think the best of people. On some level, he felt he’d rather live true to that belief even if it got him killed. You know, rather than live in fear of his fellow man. Charlie got up, went to his door, and asked, “Who’s there?” 

“Sorry, Mr. Pearson.” 

Charlie put on the porch light and opened the door. 

“Jimmy? Jesus. What time is it?” 

Jim Jr. shrugged. “I don’t know, 8:30? Were you sleeping?” 

“Of course not.” 

Jim Jr. had had an argument with his dad. Dad was mad a lot, lately. No one was hiring contractors. 

“These days, if we’re working at all, we’re only doing it because we want to,” Charlie said. “I’m still teaching because I think it’s important. Hey, here’s an idea: ask your dad if he can help us rebuild the school. We can’t pay him. But, he can be the foreman and boss people around. He’ll like that, right?” 

Jim Jr. smiled, and nodded agreement. 

Charlie coughed, and cleared his throat: “I’m dying of thirst. You want something?” 

“What do you got?” 

“‘What do I got?’ I got a fabricator. You can have anything you want.”

 

Rob Southgate is a professional actor in commercials and films, a professional podcaster, and a professional public speaker. He is currently preparing the debut of his first book and busily booking a national tour of the SMG Podcast Marathon. Rob loves sharing ideas with others and creating opportunities for his creative associates. Along with his wife, Martha, Rob started Southgate Media Group as a creative outlet and a way to incorporate all of their interests and their past experiences. SMG is home to over 100 podcasts, blogs, and video channels. If you think Rob has a lot going on, ask him about his amazing daughter, Molly.


Gateways: “Their World, Astral” by Isaac Rathbone ready by Courtney Lynn



Highlights of Isaac Rathbone‘s work include Captain Ferguson’s School For Balloon Warfare (Off-Broadway and remount at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), The Gnome (Barter Theatre), Breakfast For Dinner (NYC Fringe Festival), and Undeclared History (Hofstra University). He is no stranger to speculative drama, as his genre one-acts such as Deb & Joan (about a lovesick android), A Ship of Strong Timber (a space captain goes mad at the on-set of a voyage), Bensonhurst (the Minotaur myth set in South Brooklyn) and Free Space (the ultimate dystopian Bingo game) have been produced throughout the US and UK.

 

Pamela Muller sat comfortably on a D train that was not a sweltering, crowded mess. The coffee in her clean travel mug was excellent. Her husband made it every morning, and as always he had nailed today’s pot. She had a full breakfast but wasn’t feeling sluggish or bloated. Her train buzzed along, without any delays.

A cooling breeze rustled the marigolds that Ralph Harrison had planted along his stone walkway. Ralph got into his Ford Focus and headed to work. His travels zipped him over the small rolling hills and past the family farms that made up the landscape of Southeast Pennsylvania.

Pamela scrolled through her phone, doing some quick brush-up research. Her accounting firm had recently acquired a new tech client with a huge government contract. Pamela’s team had a video conference with the client’s HR department. She still didn’t quite understand what research they were involved in. But she would be working with their administrative office which was located somewhere in Southeast Pennsylvania. 

As Head of Facility and Maintenance at World Astral Technologies, Ralph had to be in a little earlier than usual. The company hired a New York accounting firm to help carry the office workload. HR was using the research division’s conference room to get the ball rolling. Doctor Colson, the head of research had grumbled a bit, but the Wi-Fi was better there than anywhere else in building. Ralph didn’t mind the early start. His job provided a comfortable living, while allowing him to pay the mortgage and save for his three wonderful daughters’ college accounts.

Pamela got off at 59th Street. She was hoping her commute home would be this smooth. She and her husband had reservations at a new Portuguese restaurant and tickets for an advanced screening of a new foreign film. She walked among the crowd of morning commuters but stopped before she headed up to the surface.

Ralph’s oldest daughter was learning to drive and kept re-programming his radio stations. After scanning through the channels, he stopped on a song. One he had not heard in many, many years. A smile grew on his face and his chest began to flutter a little.  He sat parked in the motionless sea of newly applied blacktop and painted white lines of the company lot. Even though he didn’t like his music too loud, he turned up the volume to hear the opening piano chords of David Bowie’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me.”

Underneath the Subway stairs a young man, with a voice that was both dirty and beautiful, sang a song Pamela hadn’t heard in many, many years. An emotion stirred within her that stands at the corner of nostalgia and regret and doesn’t know which street to take. Even though she didn’t like being late for work, she stayed and listened to the young man sing David Bowie’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me.”

Ralph hustled through the hallway of the research wing, trying to figure out how to download a song to his phone. He needed a series of updates before he could make the purchase. His wife was so good with this stuff, but he didn’t want to wait until he got home. A gnawing obsession within needed to be satiated with that song.

Pamela hustled into the office, ignoring her sub-ordinates who were gathering their laptops and legal pads. She couldn’t get the song out her head. After the meeting, she was going to put in her Air Pods, pretend to make a personal call and listen to it. 

The conference room in New York was projected onto a giant white screen. Ralph checked in with the HR folks to make sure that the temperature and the network were good to go. Once he got the thumbs up, he stood outside the door and used the faster Wi-Fi connection to make the upgrade. On the screen, Pamela could be seen taking her seat. She was mouthing the lyrics to the song that Ralph was now humming in the hallway outside.

In Manhattan, Pamela heard a faint popping sound coming from Pennsylvania. Others in the meeting heard it too. Their counterparts, seen on a large monitor, began turning their heads at the commotion. Someone was yelling.

Ralph looked up to see Doctor Colson running passed him. He was hysterical and screaming for everyone to get out of the building. There was a flash.

The screen in New York went bright white. There was a flash inside the conference room.

When the brightness subsided, both conference rooms and hallways were empty.

Pam opened her eyes and found herself on all fours, looking down at an unfamiliar linoleum floor. A tarnished travel mug had fallen and a wide, steaming puddle of coffee was spreading itself out. Her instinct was to grab a handful of paper towels. But when she stood, she couldn’t locate any. She had never been in this kitchen before.

Ralph awoke sitting on the edge of a king-sized bed. He looked around the strange bedroom, trying to figure out where he was. A woman yelled from downstairs. After some clumsy navigation, Pam and Ralph found each other in the kitchen. 

“Ralph? Ralph, is that…” Ralph nodded. They hadn’t seen each other in twenty-seven years. And here they stood. In a strange kitchen. In a strange house. In Morris Plains, New Jersey. 

They were having some kind of shared experience. But not dreaming or hallucinating. Ralph mentioned that there must have been some accident. Needing immediate answers, Ralph fumbled with the unfamiliar cellphone in his pocket. Pam easily unlocked the screen of hers and started figuring out passcodes.

Ralph wandered over to the fridge and saw some school artwork signed with the name “Ollie.” Under a Donald Duck magnet was a picture of Ralph, Pam and a little boy.

“I got it!” yelled Pam. “My parents’ anniversary.”

She searched the phone contacts and joined Ralph at the fridge. Ollie looked nothing like either of them. He had bright blonde hair and deep blue eyes. He had no resemblance to any of Ralph’s daughters either.

“He’s adopted,” said Pam. “See? Contacts in here for some agencies and social workers.” They began to call out the name Ollie but got no answer. After awkwardly touching base with Pam’s mother, they learned that their son was having a grandparent’s weekend. When her mother asked what they had planned for the day, Pam responded that they might take a quick drive to Pennsylvania.

They rode in the Ford Escape that was in the garage. Ralph drove. As they cruised along, they talked. In between the attempts to make sense of their situation, they exchanged some anecdotes. Even laughed a little at each other’s jokes and observations. There was no silence. They treated themselves to some terrible fast food at a drive-thru. They both hadn’t eaten anything like this since they turned forty, but having a survived a dimensional transfer deserved a treat.

Ralph looked in the rearview mirror at the empty car seat. It had been some time since there was one in any of his vehicles. Pam also observed the presence of Ollie. She thought about the Ford they were in. Their big house. Moving back to Jersey closer to her parents. A kid. 

“How did we get here?” she asked. 

Ralph attempted re-hashing the story of Doctor Colson’s accident. She interrupted.

“No Ralph. How did we get here?”

He swallowed hard and asked her to look at the music that might be on her phone. She didn’t have to. She knew. 

 

They had been freshmen at Rutgers. Ralph commuted. Pam lived on campus. But they found each other at the same events. Same parties. Same hangouts. Ralph summoned the courage to ask her out and Pam summoned the courage to say yes. They ate at a chain restaurant and saw a movie. On the way back to Pam’s dorm, in Ralph’s beat-up Ford Tempo, she started poking fun at the CDs in the car. They began to laugh at each other’s music tastes when Pam turned on the classic rock station. “Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me” by David Bowie began to play.

“Are you cool with Bowie?” she asked. He was, in fact, very cool with Bowie. Ralph parked the car in front of the dorm and they listened to the entire song. Ralph turned the radio off before another song or commercial ruined it. They wanted to reach out to each other, but neither made any attempt to. There was a distance between them. After exchanging pleasantries, the distance expanded as Pam left the car and transferred that summer to Boston College.

In the time they were in now, in the world and the life that they shared, Pam and Ralph had kissed each other that night. There was no doubt about it in their minds.

A caravan of cars and trucks pulled into the World Astral Technologies parking lot. Doctor Colson, unshaven and wearing jean cut-off shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, welcomed everyone. He assured these refugees of trans-dimensional displacement, that all would be set right. They staggered into the building, all in various states of confusion and anxiety. 

Behind them all stood Pamela and Ralph Harrison of Morris Plains, New Jersey. The entrance of the building lay just beyond the motionless sea of the parking lot, which needed new asphalt in Ralph’s professional opinion. Their lives, which had fulfillment and joy and support and love, were waiting for them. But they didn’t know if they could make the walk. They delicately took each other by the hand, softly touching in a way that each of them secretly desired for twenty-seven years. Ralph turned his head to Pam and she smiled.

“There’s no one else I’d rather be.”

Courtney Lynn is a Chicagoland area performer and director and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University’s BA Theatre Studies program. She most recently directed “The Centenarians” as part of Otherworld’s PARAGON Sci-Fi + Fantasy Play Festival. Other area credits include performing and directing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, and projects with Hela’s Hand Productions and Fake Geek Girl Productions. When not performing, directing, or toiling away at her day job, Courtney can be found posting pictures of her totes adorbs rescued Corgi, Walter, on Instagram (@wigglebuttwalter), designing and crafting hats and fascinators for her business Say Something Hats, reveling in her love of Disney with Drunkenly Ever After, and creating costumes for cosplays and photoshoots. She is thrilled to be a part of this production and hopes you enjoy the show!


Gateways: “Hearts, Stars and Horseshoes” by Rob McLemore read by Nathan Shelton



TRANSCRIPT: Rob McLemore has been consistently fascinated with sci-fi and fantasy for as long as he can remember and works it into just about everything he writes.  The majority of Rob’s work consists of comedy, both sketch and serial, and can frequently be heard with Locked Into Vacancy Entertainment.

Terry and Jay stood for a while in silence, staring at the sight on the floor in front of them.  Neither was sure exactly what to say.  They repeatedly exchanged glances to confirm that what they were seeing was in fact real and not the remnants of the previous night’s indulgences.  Finally, after an uncomfortably long period of time, Terry broke the silence.  “Should we poke it?”

Jay shot him an immediate look of disbelief.  He was about to object, then paused, realizing he couldn’t actually think of a more appropriate course of action.  He closed his mouth for a moment then added, “Is it alive?”

The pair knelt down to take a look at the small form on the floor.  It looked enough like a person, albeit only a few inches tall.  It had a scraggly beard and wore a red coat, shiny black shoes, and a fancy little hat.  As fascinating as it was to see, the allure was slightly tarnished by the fact that it was sprawled out on the floor with its mouth open and its tongue hanging out.  Upon closer inspection, they discovered a small puddle of drool had formed around its head and that it was, in fact, still breathing.  They glanced at each other once again.  Finally, Jay said what they were both thinking, “Is…that a leprechaun?”

As hard as it was to fathom, Terry couldn’t ignore the coincidence.  They were in Ireland and they were in the presence of what could only be described as very tiny person.  He tried to think back to what had happened the night before for any rational explanation.  What he could remember involved stopping in at a local pub, meeting another group of backpackers, striking up a conversation with some locals, a lot of alcohol, and, eventually, the party making its way back to their room.  All the other details were fuzzy at best.  If it was a practical joke, it was a very well executed one.

A number of questions ran through both of their minds, but before any of them could be spoken, the tiny figure twitched.  They froze, their eyes fixated on the creature.  It twitched again, stretched, then, after letting out a yawn, slowly sat up.  It groggily blinked at the two people staring wide eyed at it.  “Morning,” it said.

The pair screamed.  Not out of any sense of direct fear, as the tiny man was anything but intimidating.  However, more so out of a realization that their grasp on the concrete notions of reality they had spent their entire lives cultivating was suddenly shattered by a night of drinking and a simple greeting.  The leprechaun burst out laughing.  This was something he was quite used to and had come to find absolutely hilarious.  The reactions from both parties eventually died down and the room returned to an incredibly awkward silence.  “Not a particularly talkative bunch, are you?” it asked?

Terry remained motionless, stammering to get a coherent thought out.  Jay, however, acting purely on instinct, grabbed his backpack, and trapped the creature inside of it.  He quickly zipped it shut then pulled his hands back, watching as the bag tumbled around and a string of barely coherent profanities streamed out.

“Why would you do that?!” Terry demanded.  “There is a mythical creature in our hotel room and your first thought is to toss it in a sack?!”

“I panicked,” Jay offered meekly.  “Besides, aren’t you supposed to catch leprechauns?  Isn’t that part of their legends or something?”

Terry stared at him blankly.  “Lucky Charms commercials are not legends.”

“I’m serious,” Jay retorted.  “I remember something about how they’re supposed to give you wishes or good luck or something if you can catch one.”  Jay picked up the wriggling sack and held it at arm’s length.  “Did you hear that in there?  We’ll let you go once you give our three wishes or whatever.”

The bag stopped moving.  A sigh could be heard from inside.  “Do I look like a genie to you?”

Jay turned beet red.  He was about to unzip the bag when Terry grabbed his hand.  He had his phone out and, after scrolling through multiple sites, piped up.  “Actually, it says here that leprechauns are supposed to grant three wishes so long as we promise to let you go.  And what’s more, while they’re known for being tricky, they can’t outright lie to us.  So, leprechaun, do we get some wishes for catching you?”

Another string of curses wafted out as the bag once again began thrashing about.  “Curse you humans and your stupid pocket screens!  Everything was so much easier before you lot could just summon up whatever you wanted to know with a poke of your lousy finger!”  The bag continued to thrash for a while longer, accompanied by more yelling and cursing until, eventually, it wound down.  Panting, the leprechaun relented.  “Fine.  What do you want?”

Jay lay the bag back on the ground as he and Terry pondered for a moment.  This was hardly how they expected their morning to turn out, so they hadn’t put much thought into their greatest earthly desires.  “While we’re thinking on that one,” Terry said, “can we ask you a few questions?  Like why are you in our hotel room?”

“And how come you’re not wearing green?” Jay added.  Terry smacked him on the shoulder.  “What?  I’m curious.”

A chuckle emanated from the bag.  “You two were a right lot of fun at the bar last night.  Wee folk like myself don’t tend to mingle with your kind, but we have to admit, you do know how to have a good time.  When everyone ended up checking out, I figured I’d just spend the night here.  I didn’t imagine either of you would be up before I was on my way.”

“We’re early risers,” Terry replied.

“Apparently so.”  The leprechaun continued.  “And as for your question, slappy, we can wear more than just one color.  Being a leprechaun doesn’t come with a uniform.  Now, make with the wishes so I can get out of here.  Your bag smells like a dried-out cow.”

Terry and Jay huddled up.  The chances of anything like this happening ever again were miniscule, so they wanted to make absolutely sure they didn’t mess it up.  They ran through every wish-making lesson they’d learned from popular culture.

“Wording is crucial,” said Jay.  “We have to be absolutely certain we don’t monkey’s paw our way into some horrible fate because we aren’t specific.  So, like if we wanted an amazing sandwich, we have to detail exactly what makes is amazing and eliminate any possible negative consequences.  We can’t just say ‘I wish for a good sandwich.’”

“That’s one!” the leprechaun cackled.  There was a sudden pop and a relatively appetizing ham and swiss dropped on the floor.  “What else do you have in mind?”

“You idiot!” Terry shouted, shoving Jay.  He snatched up the sack for himself.  “Now we only have two wishes left and…a sandwich.  Let’s just think up what we want then write it down so we don’t accidentally mess things up any further.”  Jay silently nodded.  The pair paced back and forth, trying to figure out exactly what to wish for and how to most appropriately word it.  Terry grabbed a pencil and a notepad and sat, staring at it intensely.  His mind was a complete blank.  After ten silent minutes he blurted out, “I’ve got nothing!  All your life you dream of something like this!  Now, here I am, and I can’t decide on anything!  God, I wish I could think of something!”  Jay looked at him in shock.  He slapped his hands over her mouth, but it was too late.

“Done and done!” the leprechaun gleefully shouted, snapping his finger.  “One left.”

Both of them slumped on the floor.  This was not going as planned.  Jay repeatedly slammed his head into his knees.  Terry, however, shot up.

“Ok, so maybe I screwed up that one, but at least it worked.  I know exactly what to wish for.”  Jay paused his slamming.  “He’s a leprechaun, so he has to have a pot of gold,” he proudly stated.  “Think of it.  We can pay off our loans, keep traveling, basically never worry about money ever again.  How about it?”  Jay pondered for a moment, then nodded in agreement.  Terry picked up the sack.  “Leprechaun, we wish for your pot of gold!  That is a thing, right?”

“It certainly is.  One pot of gold, coming right up!”  The leprechaun clapped and suddenly Terry, Jay, and the stuffed backpack were standing in the middle of a field near the coast.  The scenery was gorgeous, but nothing compared to the giant black pot sitting in front of them, filled to the brim with gold coins.  They dropped the bag and ran over to the pot, looking at the incalculable wealth that was suddenly theirs.  Both of them burst out laughing, hugging each other and tossing coins in the air.  They could have done this for hours, but were interrupted by the leprechaun loudly clearing his throat.

“You got your wishes.  Now, time to live up to your end of the bargain and let me out,” it said.

Jay rushed over and hastily unzipped the bag.  The little man hopped out, dusting himself off.  Terry and Jay were so ecstatic they both picked him up and hugged him.  Then each other again.  Then burst out laughing some more.  The leprechaun watched amused.

“I suppose I’ll be getting on my way,” it said.  “Though, before I go, just one more thing.”  It pulled out a stick and pointed it at the two.  “Empty your pockets!”  They stopped laughing.  “You heard me.  I want everything you got on you.  And those shoes too.  In fact, toss in your shirt and pants too.  Put them the pot and back away!”  Neither did anything.  “I wasn’t asking.” the leprechaun said sternly.  A small fireball shot from the stick and landed between the pair.  They looked back at him in disbelief.

“Are you…mugging us?” Jay stammered.

The leprechaun laughed.  “How else do you think we get all that gold?  I can probably get a few more pieces from what you have.  Oh, and a little tip for next time.  Wishing to get a pot of gold is one thing.  Wishing to keep it is another.”  And with that, it was gone. 

An hour later, Jay and Terry were still sitting by a road in their underwear, hoping a car might come by.  As they waited, they wondered how exactly they had come to this situation.  And, as they did, one thought remained inescapably clear:  Leprechauns suck.

END

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


Gateways: “Choices, or A Lot to Lose” By Cameron Evesque Davis read by Alex B Reynolds



TRANSCRIPT:
Cameron Evesque Davis is a multi-talented artist based in Chicago. They are the owner of the media production company Hela’s Hand Productions, and create a variety of art, like music, stories, and films. They have one published novel, “Blasphemy”, an urban fantasy book about a pantheon of new gods, the end of the world, and the power of belief. They are also a member of Terra Mysterium, a theatre company in Chicago dedicated to mythology, culture, creation, and audience participation.

 

There’s a time in everyone’s life when you reconsider how you got where you are, and how you’ve done things up until then. My moment came about thirty years into a war. 

Now, as everyone knows, War is Hell. The mysterious “they” say that, and “they” are correct. I have seen too much blood, too much death, and too much pain for my liking.

There’s a place called the Orange Trench. It used to be a roadway or a sewer trench or something, I can’t remember. The surrounding area doesn’t look anything like what it used to. Anyway, so the Orange Trench is now filled with some sort of Orange liquid. Said Orange liquid has something to do with the fires that are consistently burning around us, and the constant smell of burnt rubber that we can’t get away from.

The Orange Trench has the Orange City upon one side of it, a conglomerate of three former settlements combined into one larger settlement. I was a member of the Orange City, and the warriors of the Orange City, though I was never sure why we chose to make our home next to the Trench itself. The smell. Oh, the smell.

But there I was, on the edge of town, looking down at the squelching sludge that made its way squilchily down the Trench, the smell of burning almost igniting my nostril hairs, and fumes from the sludge causing my eyes to water. I was stationed in a lookout tower, meant to keep watch to see if our enemies would, for whatever reason, choose to attack over the river of death. 

They never attacked over the river of death. Their home was in the complete opposite direction, but we remained vigilant just in case.

My friend and fellow soldier Amelia called to me from below, “Hey Yacob, you alright up there? Anything to report?”

I called down to her, answering respectively, “No. And guess.”

Amelia, “Figured. Well, come down then, they’ve called a meeting.”

“Another one?”

“Fourth today, I know you keep climbing that ladder over and over again, but just this once more probably. I’ll see if I can get you off watchtower shift.”

I sighed and grabbed my gun, which was propped up next to my chair. I swung it over my shoulders and made my way down the ladder, a rickety obnoxious thing that I hated. It warped and wobbled as I climbed down, and I was certain it would shatter any second every time I had to use it.

Amelia greeted me and we started walking towards the meeting location, our war room in the center of the city. We nodded to some folks as we passed by, all looking at us blearily and sadly, us nodding back with our own brand of melancholy.  We saw the war room building from a distance, a circular hut, made of what metal we could bash together and a thatched roof. Other soldiers were stationed outside it, two flanking the door and a band of four whose job was to walk a perimeter of the small hut for hours on end. I envied that job.

Amelia and I headed inside and were greeted by the familiar large table in the center of the room. Multiple officers were standing around it, looking seriously down into the map that was displayed on top. They were talking amongst themselves in intense but hushed voices, and as we joined the group, General Victor, an older man with white hair and a large white beard, clapped and everyone stopped their talking.

“Ah, Amelia, Yacob, thank you for joining us,” The General said, his tone betraying a sense of worry which he attempted to mask with his joviality.

I nodded, “What’s this about, Victor? Our previous meetings today provided no solutions towards ending the war.”

The General smiled a white-person non-smile at me and nodded to the man next to him, a man in much nicer clothing than I thought even existed anymore. A full suit and tie. Wild.

The nicely dressed man moved into the space that Victor had just occupied and set a briefcase down on the table. He straightened his tie, cleared his throat, and began speaking, “What is in this case will save us. We believe it can win us the war, and we believe you, a lifelong soldier for our cause, should utilize it. We spoke with others in the Orange City, and they agree that you are the most trustworthy of them all, and it could be no one but you to accomplish this task.”

I looked around at all the officers, who were all staring at me. Amelia was looking at me too, although more meekly.

I asked, “What’s in the case, man I don’t know?”

“I’m sorry, I should have introduced myself. I am Herbert, I represent a community of people in this fine city of ours who have been working on a way to end the war once and for all. It has taken us years, but we finally have it, and it’s in this case. You see,” The man said, and then went to the back of the room, pulling down a roll-out chart from the ceiling. On the chart were drawings of members of the enemy force. There was an enlarged portion which showed a detailed look at one of their neural implants. Every one of our enemies had one.

“These implants,” he continued, “Can be exploited. There is a specific connection that they all have between one another, and we’ve developed a device that can jump between these connections and, once in all of them, cull the host.”

I furrowed my brow, “What? You’re talking about genocide, then?”

Herbert looked measurably upset at my implication, as did the officers in the room who started giving me numerous varied definitions of the differences between genocide and what they were planning on having me do. None of them were terribly convincing. I just stared at Herbert, waiting for his actual response.

Eventually Herbert calmed the room down and said, “Look, I know it’s a big ask, but look around you. This is where we live, this absolute shithole which apparently used to be a city. We can’t even see a city anymore, it’s just a ramshackle bunch of huts next to a river of orange sludge which I’m sure is bad for all of us. Once the war is over, we can work on rebuilding, we won’t have to stay here and defend this crap!”

“I understand ending the war is a good thing, Herbert,” I said, “But what you’re asking me to do is horrifying.”

“We have nothing left to lose, Yacob. It’s our last-ditch effort to win the war and finish the fighting.”

“But if we go through with what you’re proposing, we won’t gain anything either.”

Herbert paused and looked at the General. They shared some words quietly with each other. I turned to Amelia, “Did you know their plan?”

Amelia shook her head, “No.”

“Come with me, I have a better one.”

I left the room, even as the General shouted that I hadn’t been dismissed and Herbert’s obnoxious voice called out to me that I was dooming the people of Orange City! Our people were already doomed. But there was still so much further we could sink. So, there was only one option.

I went with Amelia to the place where we stored our vehicles. We didn’t have many, but a few of them still worked from the time before the war. I flashed my badge, which was a modified old-world coin, which allowed me to rent a truck. We climbed inside, and took off into what counted as wilderness, out the front gates and towards where we knew our enemy’s base was.

We drove in silence until we found their city, the Green City. It was almost a facsimile of our city, except instead of an orange glow and a rubber smell, it had a green glow and a smell of sulfur. Multiple guards upon the watchtowers on this side of the town aimed their weapons towards us as we drove up and parked about fifty feet from the front gate. I got out, and Amelia followed, hands up in the air as we walked towards them.

One of the soldiers upon the watchtower to my left shouted down, “What business do you have here?”

I looked up and shouted, “I have news, terrible news, that you need to hear!”

“We do not trust the Oranges,” the soldier shouted, “What kind of news do you have?”

“News that will save your lives.”

This got their attention enough to let Amelia and I inside. They searched us, though I wasn’t carrying a weapon at that point, and led us to their version of a war room. It looked almost identical to ours. I was led inside, and the solder who led us there said, “General, this person from the Oranges says he has information that will save our lives.”

The General, an older man with white hair and a short beard, on their end turned to me, his implant bleeping on the side of his head as it scanned me. I never exactly knew what the implants did, but it was the one distinguishing factor between our two cities. The man waved his hands, indicating me to begin.

I filled him in on Herbert’s plan. As I was describing the idea, every Green in the room touched the sides of their heads where their implants were, either visible or not, and looked at each other worriedly.

“So, what do you suggest?” The General asked me.

“I brought a friend with me, this is Amelia. She is particularly good at negotiating settlements between parties who are in conflict,” I said, gesturing to Amelia, who looked at me like I was insane, “I propose we have you work out terms of peace with her, while I try and calm my side’s blood lust. If we can get ahead of this, we can save the world, and work together towards something better.”

The General looked at me for a second and smiled slightly, “Well. What have we got to lose?”

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


Gateways: “Meske’s Duel about Nothing” By Joe Johnson read by Kim Fukawa



TRANSCRIPT: Joe Johnson is a fourth year resident in the city of Chicago and an original cast member of Improvised Dungeons and Dragons performing at Otherworld. His love for science fiction and fantasy began with Star Wars and Marvel and has grown to include such authors as Timothy Zahn, Ray Bradbury, Ann Leckie, and many more. While writing has always been a passion for Joe, Most of his energy goes to performing comedy or experimenting in the kitchen. He is incredibly honored to be chosen for Gateways reading a second time and hopes you all enjoy his short story: Meske’s Duel About Nothing.

The air above the Grothe’s (Grow-they) courtyard took on a golden hue as the setting sun of Sorthis cast its bronze rays into the dispersed flakes and seeds of the tall Yellow Fe’leonarie (Fey-leo-nar-ee) Maize that grew along the western bank of the property. Dozens of little sparrows and finches flit along the ramparts and towers in search of food, love, and survival from the predatory Fel Dragons; indigenious flying reptiles with flesh-eating saliva and about the size of a domesticated cat. The smaller birds can be heard chirping greetings or squawking warnings while the Fel Dragons release their shrill shriek after catching their kill. Below the birds two figures are seen darting back and forth, close together and then apart; when they close the gap, the snap of wood against metal is carried up to the lightly manned walls. Pairs of bored guards and their apprentices gather to place bets or criticize with an air of unwarranted authority over the potential outcome of the bout. 

Other than the birds, dragons, and guards the only audience members were four six-gun raptors with the Bourgen family crest, a winking lightning bolt, on each tail fin. Each handcrafted warbird painted a deep green with an outline of a bow with an arrow pulled back done in copper paint under each wingtip, while individual markings for the Skies that piloted them were displayed besides the cockpits. The canopies rested shut and shielded the interior from the sticky maize flakes, giving them all a golden chariot look that Meske found irritatingly intoxicating. Ground crews were unusually absent from the courtyard, still off celebrating the end of the Baron’s Games, so the two had no one to interfere in their match. Though the two opponents are now drenched with sweat and panting heavily, both refuse to call the match; much to the joy of the guards who knew better than to report ever seeing the match.

Meske’s (Mess-kah) arms shook from the force of blocking another of her opponent’s attempted strikes to her shoulder, but she gave no ground as her legs were still strong. As she swung her spear to push away the other’s lance, Meske pivoted on her right leg and sent a round kick into her opponent’s ribcage. The kick connected with a spear shaft that got there far too fast, but still had enough power to take them both off balance and the two rolled away while swinging their long spears in swift circles as a shield. A silence descended on the courtyard as the recognition of the technique stilled the two warriors, letting the echoes reverberate into nothing. Two figures with their weight on the back leg, their front knee bent, and their spears held forward towards the other’s head looking for a moment to the two guards as mirror images to each other: one in the lavender and gray of Baron Grothe, the other in the green and copper of the Copper Bow Order.

Questions rebounded within Meske’s mind: Who trained this woman? Why didn’t she fight yesterday? Why can’t I knock that smirk off her face? And the most frustrating: Why am I enjoying this? A toothy grin broke across Meske’s face as she prepared to charge again.

“Oh you do have nice white teeth!” the other woman called out with great glee. “I knew you weren’t a pilot.”

“Because I take good care of my teeth?” Meske shouted back confused and stopped her charge to covere her lips with her teeth.

Meske cursed herself for covering her teeth in shame, but it still took a few moments to relax her lips. The other woman laughed in a high pitched giggle that reminded Meske of the rhythmic chirping of the Baron’s pet birds whenever they get excited. 

“I’ve never heard a pilot laugh like a pair of Dorwynn Finches in heat,” Meske held no pride for her insult, but made a show of smiling wide to reveal her teeth; the other woman barely shook her head in response before she continued.

“Because a plane’s rebreather stains the teeth,” she curled back her lips to show her pristine teeth marred only by the faint blueness of the entire set. 

Meske shrugged, she had wanted to fight the bratty woman since the 3rd day of the Games when she yawned at Meske’s match and Baron Grothe’s new warbird demonstration; so the new insult amounted to kindling upon a fire.. Meske was not yet a pilot, but Society be damned, she thought as she gripped tight her wooden spear; I will best this pilot and prove I have nothing left to learn of the spear. Baron Grothe will have to let me apprentice, then.

“Really I shouldn’t bother continuing with the match,” the other woman continued, letting her speartip droop towards the ground. “Seeing as how there’s no gain for me.”

“You want to quit? While there’s an audience to hear you called coward?,” Meske gestured to the distant tower guards as the lancer stood her spear on her left to lean on with in air of aloofness as if her arms and knees were not shaking and needed rest.

“A Kavdi calling someone a coward?” The burgundy haired woman raised an eyebrow and gestured towards the two dots tattooed below Meske’s right eye to mark her as an Indebted and the Mark of Clout under her left eye to mark her as Kavidi. 

The slur was noticed, but  it was the audacious casualness the other woman treated her lance, a tool of war and a weapon of honor, that bothered Meske. She set her jaw and grew more determined to best this pale dainty aprentice with her disrespect to the Baron’s planes, the Kavidi people, and her spear. She might be an apprentice pilot, judging from her lack of wings on her copper and green scarf; but that did not put her in a different social class. Lancers were lancers, whether they could pilot or not; this match was about pride.

“Coward.”

The word was not so much spoken as it rolled out of Meske’s mouth and tumbled across the several feet separating her from her opponent. The woman’s eyes flared with such loathing that Meske worried the glare would burn through her skull. The pilot uniformed in copper and green charged forward with a feint to the left, followed by a hard swing to Meske’s right sight. Meske barely got her spear back in time to block the strike partway, still managing to catch Meske in her upper right arm. The block to Meske’s left fared little better as her opponent’s follow-up swipe sent vibrations through her entire body. A feint to her knees with the tip of the spear preceded a powerful downward swing towards Meske’s head.

This was Meske’s gamble. She knew the other woman was flashy and had hoped she couldn’t resist this strike, and so Meske raised her spear to redirect the slash by angling her own spear. Riding the momentum of her opponents strike, Meske let her spear slide down until her left hand gripped just behind the speartip. The redirect left her opponent open for just an instant, which was all Meske needed. She stepped forward with her left foot, put her spear into her opponents armored chest and pushed.

Meske knew such thrusts were against most match rules, but Meske knew how not to puncture armor as well as stab right through. The push continued as Meske brought her right foot forward and swung on her hips, pushing her opponent off her feet and onto her backside a few feet back. Meske closed the distance in a single long step, stopping her spear just as it nicked her opponent’s cheek. In the distance, a pair of Fel Dragons caught their evening meals at the same time; Meske gasped at the omen.

“Meske!” the Baron’s voice boomed across the courtyard sending a small flock of pheasants from their hiding spots in the maize. 

Meske leapt backwards and snapped to attention, acutely aware she’d left her helmet near her opponent’s over by the planes as she stared straight ahead. She heard more than saw the Baron approach with Skies Harnots and Jubienne in tow and accompanied by the pilots of Lady Arrigrave’s Copper Bow. Lady Arrigrave, a full head taller than the Baron, stood just inside Meske’s field of vision and frowned when she saw the small trickle of blood on her lancer’s cheek.

“Getting beaten by the help, I see?” The pilot and lady of the Forge Courts could not have sounded more condescending if she had tried. “I’ll leave you to deal with you lancer, Artone (Ar-ton-ee), mine will have much to think upon while journeying home. I’ll send along a knight with the writs absolving your debts. Farewell, Baron. Sky Harnot, Sky Jubienne.”

Lady Arrigrave left without any acknowledgement to Meske’s existence; while the Baron remained quietly seething where he stood. She would get in trouble for this match. Meske had not known that woman was an apprentice to the Lady Arrigrave herself; and that definitely could hurt Meske’s chances of becoming a pilot. Meske felt a painful pit grow in the center of her stomach at the thought of losing her dream while it was just within her grasp. After all, she was the only lancer of the Baron’s to win all her matches. As Meske, the Baron, and his escort waited in silence for Arrigrave’s skies to check their planes with the ground crews that seemed to appear out of nowhere, the apprentice pilot jogged back across the field with Meske’s helmet in hand.

“Here,” she said as she held out Meske’s helmet while wearing a genuine smile. “I want to know that was the most fun I’ve had this whole trip.”

Meske was shocked by the change in tone as she accepted her helmet. Fun?, Meske thought to herself. My arm is growing a welt the size of a baby’s head and my lungs are on fire! While the match was exciting, Meske wondered again who was this woman who called such a grueling duel that she lost: “fun”.

“I know you’re Meske,” The woman paused as if on the edge of telling a terrible secret to a stranger. “I’m Dyonella.”

She kept one hand out to shake Meske’s and as she raised her finger to her lips in a gesture for silence, Meske saw the face through the hair. The hair was a different color and she lacked the makeup from the portraits; Meske’s eyes widened as she realized who this was. With a single handshake and another chirping chuckle, Dyonella rushed back to her waiting squadron and took off with the setting sun lighting the copper so their planes looked like golden raptors in the sky. All the while Meske watched dumbly with a single thought sending icy dread down her spine: Shit. I just cut a princess.

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: “AlphaZip Training Video 1” by Russ Kaminski read by Morgan Fuller



TRANSCRIPT: Russ Kaminski has a degree in film production and has written primarily for short film and theater. He also has written and performed standup comedy. Russ tells us he is most interested in stories of relationships and answering “what if” questions. This is “AlphaZip Training Video 1”.

Hello! Welcome to your first day as a member of the AlphaZip family. My name is Jesse, and I’ll be your virtual tour guide through your training. If you ever have any questions, just say “Hey Jesse.”

AlphaZip was founded with the mission of becoming Earth’s most customer-centered delivery company. A mission we accomplished. Our new mission is to take our philosophy of customer service to the solar system and beyond. Here at AlphaZip, we continually raise the bar of customer service by using our technology to help consumers and businesses find, discover, purchase, and sell anything their hearts desire. And we mean anything – because we have everything.

You have already been through AlphaZip’s rigorous interview process, background check, and genetic sequencing. Congratulations on being accepted into the position of – Customer Support. Facilitator. This role is the cornerstone of our family. You were placed in your role by our algorithms to ensure efficiency and success at every level. You can trust that AlphaZip knows what’s best for its family.

That’s right. Here at AlphaZip we don’t use the word “employee.” You are now a member of the AlphaZip family. Legally speaking. That means you are entitled to the many perks that come with being a family member.

One of these is ZipHealth. We know that many of our newer family members have come to AlphaZip because of the difficult conditions caused by Gamma Plague. Please rest assured that all AlphaZip family members have been screened for Gamma Plague, and no one with Gamma Plague is allowed in corporate offices. In the extremely unlikely chance that you become afflicted with Gamma Plague, ZipHealth will cover part of your healthcare and living costs as long as you have completed 180 days in your current role. For those who need additional financial support due to Gamma Plague, we offer the opportunity to earn extra income as a Fulfillment Technician in one of our many planetary warehouses..

In addition to ZipHealth, AlphaZip offers ZipLife. This life insurance policy will be offered at a discount. In the event of an unforeseen death and dismemberment, your immediate family is entitled to up to sixty percent of the insurance payout. Your AlphaZip family is entitled to the rest. This way, your entire family is taken care of!

We strongly recommend taking advantage of both Zip-Health and Zip-Life. On an unrelated note, you have probably heard of AlphaZip’s popular work-travel opportunities to Mars, the moons of Jupiter, Proxima Centauri, the Gamma Plague Zone, and even Earth. AlphaZip’s delivery service takes our customers’ desires all across the galaxy. When deliveries need to be escorted to their destination in person, that’s when we send a – Customer Service Facilitator. like you. Be aware that assignments are part of your contract and refusal to participate is grounds for termination.

Safety for our family members is our second most important mission after customer service. To ensure the safety of our family, AlphaZip developed ZipSecure. AlphaZip is a progressive company, which is why we have abolished the police within all of our campuses, delivery routes, and colonies. If you have any concerns about safety and security, please contact ZipSecure. Please note that should your family membership be terminated, you will no longer have access to the safety and security provided by ZipSecure.

These are the many perks you will find in your work here at AlphaZip. Oops, did I say “work?’ Here at AlphaZip we don’t say the “w” word. We say “using your gifts.” In your role as – Customer Support. Facilitator. you will be using your gifts to ensure customer satisfaction. Throughout our hiring process we have determined that you have a gift for communication and de-escalation. The feedback you get from our valued customers will be used to make our fulfillment process more successful and efficient. Your analysis of customer needs will help AlphaZip determine which Warehouse Fulfillment Technicians are working in the best interests of AlphaZip.

Please do not attempt to communicate directly with our Warehouse Fulfillment Technicians. Communicating with Warehouse Fulfillment Technicians is grounds for termination. If you are approached by a Warehouse Fulfillment Technician, please contact ZipSecure. Then contact ZipHealth, as many Warehouse Fulfillment Technicians have tested positive for Gamma Plague. Warehouse Fulfillment Technicians have been known to use lies about unionization in order to lure family members into working against their own interests. Unions are dangerous for our family members. Here at AlphaZip, we respect your individual needs. We know your individual needs because we have access to your genome sequence. You can trust that AlphaZip knows what’s best.

You will recognize a Warehouse Fulfillment Technician by noting the “W” tattooed on their forehead. In contrast, by now you have noticed the large “C” tattooed on your own forehead. This tattoo system ensures that you know which family members you are permitted to interact with. Don’t worry about the tattoo being permanent, though. It is very rare for a family member to leave their assigned team, but the tattoo is removable in extenuating circumstances such as promotion, termination, or an affliction with Gamma Plague that would make you unfit to work in corporate offices.

Speaking of teams, it’s not uncommon for friendly rivalries to develop between different teams of family members. These rivalries are healthy and important for forming family cohesion. Be sure to register for the monthly Field Day, in which members of different teams are selected at random to participate in athletic challenges. Failure to register for Field Day is grounds for termination. Here at AlphaZip, we don’t play favorites. But if we did, your team. Customer Support. would be at the top!

Occasionally you will notice that a family member from your team has disappeared and you have no way to communicate with them. This is normal. Attempting to communicate with the missing family member or asking about them is grounds for termination. You can trust that AlphaZip knows what’s best. If after two weeks, a missing family member returns to corporate offices or a housing complex, please contact ZipSecure.

As a member of the AlphaZip family, you will be housemates with one other member of your AlphaZip family. Due to shift scheduling, you two will never be in your housing unit at the same time. You will have access to your housing unit during your scheduled housing hours. We don’t use the term, “curfew,” at AlphaZip. Leaving your housing unit outside of your scheduled housing hours is grounds for termination. If you see anyone in your housing complex outside of housing hours, please contact ZipSecure.

Your housemate is a member of your AlphaZip family. Please do not attempt to meet your housemate in person. Please do not attempt to communicate with your housemate. Communication between housemates is grounds for termination. Communication includes but is not limited to writing, electronic messages, or cryptic messages drawn in food, water, soap, or bodily fluids. If you receive any communication from your housemate, please contact ZipSecure.

You may feel loyalty or even affection to your family members. Please do your best to direct your loyalty and affection towards AlphaZip. Because AlphaZip hires so many wonderful people to be part of the family, it’s not surprising that family members may develop romantic feelings for each other. Romantic liaisons with family members are grounds for termination. If you feel physical urges that you need addressed, please contact ZipSecure.

This completes our introduction. Over the next eleven hours, I will be taking you through the specific training and scenarios related to your new role. Again, congratulations on becoming a member of the AlphaZip family.

AlphaZip – where we have everything, and there is nothing to lose!

Morgan Fuller is a fairly new Chicago-based actor/performer! Her Chicago debut took place in February in the staged reading of Zack Peercy’s Muted in which she played Chelsea. Until it’s safe for theatres to re-open, Morgan can be seen riding her bike around town or doing handstands in the park. You can also find Morgan in the online Zoom classrooms of the Actor’s Gymnasium, where she is a regular.


Gateways: “Fantasy Me” by Lindsay Morris read by Kat Evans



TRANSCRIPT:

**A content note before we begin: this story touches on eating disorders, weight and body image issues. This story will be challenging to some listeners who may wish to skip this episode. **

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”.

Fantasy me is everything. She is the instagram post of people. Filtered, poreless and with an actual butt. Unlike regular me who spent months working out only to lose her tush and her tits.

Every fantasy I’ve ever had always starts out with me, the protagonist, going into hiding. What I mean by that is I am plucked from my everyday existence and given the opportunity to revamp myself away from prying eyes.

On vacation or secluded in a secret underground bunker I can finally figure out how to lose the weight. I’ll be committed to a diet of colorful gruel and spend my days learning mandarin and how to really squeeze my pelvic floor muscles. At that time I won’t speak to anyone. I’ll be a missing person, a ghost to my friends and family.

My own private montage will lead near perfect results of course. My stringent diet and squat training will have me emerge, hairy but healthy. After laser work, a new haircut and highlights, an eyebrow threading, a bikini wax, mani pedi, quick trip to my dermatologist and a set of new clothes I’ll finally be the woman I always wanted to be.

My clothing will be simple yet hip, I’ll wear high rise because it’s cool and not because they are the only jeans that don’t give me a yeast infection. Did I mention my no carb diet will lead to a candida free vagina? No more scratching for me.

Of course when I’m ready I’ll text my friends. Nothing too eager. Lets meet for Dinner and catch up. Perhaps that night I’ll stroll into my favorite coffee shop just on the off chance I run into someone who knows me. A perfect meet cute that will have them absolutely stunned.

“ I heard you were missing, we were all really worried. The police thought you’d been kidnapped. Have you spoken to your mother…. The usual small talk until they finally say, oh my, wow you look fantastic, you lost so much weight”.

“Oh. thanks I’ll say. I just added an extra couple of glasses of water to my diet. It’s amazing what acqua can do to your system”.

Then I will bask in their awe of my willpower, to swim in the sunshine of my after picture.. But then again the new me… I mean the new you didn’t realize your teeth had lost some of their pearly exuberance. So you buy whitestrips and hastily apply them before dinner.

Perfect. Much better than before but then there’s those eye crinkles. God I laughed too much. No more laughing. Is that a zit?

Concealer, blush, eyeliner, lipstick. Now I can make eye contact. They’ll really be shocked now.

For the first time in years you can meet your own eyes in the mirror. You can appreciate what you see. Gone is the chubby, acne riddled teen, gone is the shame of being too big to shop at the cutesy hormonal no tits teen store. You are a fantasy come to life. Oh fuck.. Damit. You feel the dampness in your panties. Your hip jeans are covered in the red sticky residue of your uterine lining.

Perfect Fantasies don’t bleed. You call up your gyno. Better get that IUD. No more periods here I come.

You take vitamins before dinner. Not too many or the nausea will set in. Fantasy/ perfection requires constant upkeep. Multi, E, D, C, Biotin, Fish oil. All cylinders need to fire so you can remember your mandarin Ye Hoi ma.

New pair of pants and even newer you.

You check the temperature. Fuck 27 degrees. It’s winter. Fuck. No cute coat. No perfect entrance. You drink shots of whiskey, if only to insulate your bare arms to the cold. You haven’t eaten for days. Your liver reacts to the fish oil or perhaps the alcohol content. Your barfing into your kitchen sink.

All the better. You can be that much skinner. You might even be able to ingest some carbs if you keep this up. Maybe you should take it up again, shove that toothbrush down deep. So close to your goal weight, of course that ticker keeps sliding. All bodies are beautiful hashtag Love Yourself

You walk into the restaurant. You’re still drunk, your arms raised by goosebumps, your breath like battery acid, your eyes glassy. You look beautiful, you look near perfect, they’ll love you now. But.. They loved me… you before. But that couldn’t have been real. Ugly girls don’t deserve love. That’s what your middle school bully said. That you were covered in fleas and too fat for love.

No fleas, not fat.

The tables are empty. They’ll come. They have to. To remember me from before. To give me the likes I deserve. The likes I need. To heart me in real life.

Please…. I’m so tired….. Please…. Is this enough?

 

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: “Beauty Mark” by Brendon Connelly read by Coco Kasperowicz



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

Once upon a time, there was a great ship called The Zephyrus that travelled across the stars. Every man and woman onboard the ship was fast asleep and even the ship’s Autos were resting as much as they possibly could.

When The Zephyrus was one hundred years from home, and with a thousand years still to go, Cate woke up. She opened her eyes and saw that she was in her glass case on the edge of The Lucus.

Cate opened the door to her case and climbed out before looking around to see who else might be there. She called out, “Hello!” but there came no reply. Apparently, hers was the only glass case to be seen, and there was no one and nothing else in The Lucus but its rows and rows of shrubs and bushes and trees.

However, there was a small house at the edge of the planting ground, which Cate went inside to explore. The house had great golden columns and its walls were embossed with beautiful carvings of flowers and animals, both real and Automatic. Its vaulted ceiling was made of citrus wood and the floor was a dazzling mosaic of jewels and beautiful gems.

Inside the house, a voice spoke to Cate. “Eat and drink,” it said, “for you must be hungry after your one-hundred-year sleep.” There was a table covered in cake, bread and jugs of water and juice, and Cate sat there and ate until she felt better.

“Thank you,” she said, but the voice did not reply.

When she had finished eating, Cate looked further around the small house. Next to the dining room was a sitting room with a shiny silver screen and a grand piano. On top of the piano, Cate found a library slate containing every fable or story from history she could think of and countless more that she had never before imagined. Upstairs in the house, there was a bedroom where the bed was soft and warm and comfortable, and just the right size for Cate.

Cate continued to read stories on the library slate until her eyelids grew heavy and she rested her head on a pillow and slept. It was a deep but gentle sleep, and for the first time in a hundred years, Cate was able a dream. In her mind’s eye, she saw a bush of white roses, but as she tended them, she pricked her finger on a thorn, releasing a drop of blood that turned all the roses red.

Cate was awakened for dinner by the voice of the house. She followed the voice back to the dining room to find that the tables had been cleared and all the food replenished. “Eat and drink,” the voice said. “Enjoy your feast, for in the morning, you will start your work.”

“Won’t you join me for dinner?” she said to the voice, but it didn’t reply.

After a dinner of bread and beans and a cup of nut milk, Cate called out, “Thank you,” to the voice and went back to bed.

In the morning, Cate was awakened in her new bed by the warmth of a sun. The roof of the house was open, and the great sky-glass of The Zephyrus was glowing with starlight. She sat outside the dwelling eating her breakfast. Then, once Cate had returned her plate and glass to the dining room, the voice at last explained why she had been woken up.

“The Lucus is sick,” the voice explained, “and the crop is at risk. The Zephyrus has need of a careful gardener to take care of its plants. If you look in the sitting room, you will find everything you need to accomplish what I want you to do.”

“I was a security programmer, not a gardener,” said Cate who went on to explain that she knew nothing about plants or crops or their sicknesses.

“Unfortunately, there is no gardener aboard The Zephyrus,” the voice said, “but I believe you are more than capable of tending to the crops. Thank you. I hope you will prove to be a great resource for the mission.”

Cate looked in the sitting room where she found, on top of the piano, a sickle used for work in The Lucus, a timepiece on a chain, two torches as well as a small flat key, the shape and colour of a skimming stone. She took all these things and put them in a small satchel, then set off for the planting grounds.

When she arrived, Cate was not sure where to begin. “What should I do?” she asked, but the voice didn’t reply. But Cate was resourceful, so she took her torch and went for a walk among the plants to investigate for herself. She looked at every tree and shrub until she saw something she did not recognise.

“Torch,” she asked, “What’s this?” as she shone the torch’s beam onto a small shrub. The light caught the shrub’s profusion of purple blossoms, each of them as rich and lustrous as the gems in the house’s mosaic floor.

“Purpureus Crataegus,” replied the torch, “the fairest shrub on The Zephyrus. But it’s not growing well. This specimen is diseased.”

“What should I do?” asked Cate, but the torch understood that Cate was really speaking to herself and so it did not make a reply.

After some hours of exploring The Lucus, the timepiece informed Cate that it was time to return to the house for dinner. She went into the dining room and found that the table had been set again and that lute music was playing to welcome her back. “Eat and drink,” said the voice, “for you must be hungry after your day of work.”

“Please won’t you join me?” Cate asked. “I have so many questions about what I’ve seen today.”

“I might not be what you are expecting,” said the voice.

“Don’t worry,” said Cate, “I know that you are an Auto. I’ve never met one of your kind before, but I’m not scared. Please come and join me for dinner and we can talk about the plants.”

A door opened in the wall, its edge hidden among designs of embossed animals and plants. From out of this door came an Auto, stepping cautiously into the light. It was the height and width of a man, and it moved with the gait of a man too. Everything that could make the Auto seem familiar and reassuring had been included, and Cate saw immediately that it posed no threat.

“Hello,” it said.

Cate asked the Auto its name, but it explained that while Autos do not have names, as such, they do have Function Assignations. This one, for example, could be identified as RPC-19, the R-registered Auto in the 19th Plantation Corps.

This was the first night that Cate and RPC-19 met over dinner, but it was certainly not the last. Every evening they would meet, and as Cate would eat, the Auto would sit at the opposite end of the table, playing music and answering her questions. Cate was very glad of the company.

As the weeks went on, Cate worked in The Lucus each day, bringing her torch along to analyse the crops and record the growing signs of disease. When she found a plant that was dying from its sickness, she would take her sickle and cut it down.

Then, in the evenings, Cate would have dinner with RPC-19. She told the Auto all about the work she had done that day and would sometimes ask questions about the Auto’s day and what it had been doing while she was in the garden. She learned that RPC-19 spent its days in the laboratory or studying the sick plants that Cate had cut down. She learned that the Auto was lonely, inasmuch as an Auto could be, and that it also enjoyed the companionship which came from their shared dinners.

One night, soon after returning from a day’s work in The Lucus, Cate went into the sitting room ahead of dinner. She saw immediately that while the piano was still there, the silver screen had gone. She made sure to ask RPC-19 all about this during dinner.

“I needed to remove it for safety’s sake,” the Auto said. “I shall return it once everything has been repaired.”

One week later, Cate noticed that the cameras in the house had been turned off. When she went to wash her face in the bathroom, she no longer had a screen to see herself in, so she asked the Auto about this too. “I needed to turn the cameras off for safety’s sake,” it said, “but I shall turn them on again, once everything has been repaired.”

The next day, Cate was walking through The Lucus. Noticing the torch in her hand, she had an idea. She aimed the torch at her own face and asked, “Torch, what’s this?”

“One-Eight-Four-Seven Cate Earnshaw,” said the Torch, “the only waking soul on The Zephyrus. But she is not growing well. She appears to have been diseased.”

“How do you know this?” she asked the torch.

“There is a purple blemish on her face,” it replied, “a tell-tale mark of poisoning.”

At dinner that night, Cate didn’t tell RPC-19 about her conversation with the torch. Instead, she worded her questions carefully and tried to learn as much as she might without raising the Auto’s suspicions.

“Is there something on my face?” she asked. “I thought I could feel something on my cheek last night when it was pressed against the pillow.”

“There is,” the Auto admitted, “but it’s only very minor.”

Cate was careful to drop some of the food from her plate into her lap. She gathered samples in just this way over the next few nights, wrapping them in a napkin and hiding them in her pocket. On the third night, she had enough, so after dinner she retired to the bedroom where she shone the torch on the samples of food and asked, “Torch, what is this?”

“Bread and beans,” the torch replied, “and concentrated pear juice.”

“Has this specimen been poisoned?” Cate asked.

“I can’t read this specimen accurately,” said the torch. “You can get accurate results by running a tox test in the Blue Lab.”

Cate connected her key to the library slate in order to check which locks it would open. To her disappointment, there was only one door on The Zephyrus for which her key would not work, and that was the door to the Blue Lab.

But Cate knew her way around keys as a security programmer, so she was able, with clever use of the library slate, to make sure her key would work for the Blue Lab too.

And so it was after dinner the next night, while RPC-19 was tidying the dining room, that Cate slipped out of the house and across The Lucus, taking the shortest route to the Blue Lab. The key worked and the door opened, and she stepped inside.

Much to Cate’s surprise, she found five glass cases lined up inside the Blue Lab. Each case glowed with a gentle red light and contained a woman sleeping within. Cate saw that each had a mark upon her face that grew outwards from her cheek like a purple spider’s web.

“Torch,” she asked, “who is this?” as she shone it on the first case.

“One-nine-three-eight Rebecca Winters,” replied the torch. “Her life systems have been suspended. She appears to have been very seriously diseased.”

Approaching the next case, the torch informed Cate that they were looking at “One-nine-six-six Bertha Cosway” and explained that her life systems had also been suspended. “She appears to have been very seriously diseased,” the torch said.

Upon hearing a noise at the door to the Blue Lab, Cate knew that RPC-19 was coming in. She quickly hid behind the furthest glass case, holding her breath as she waited.

The Auto entered the lab and went straight to the first case where Rebecca Winters lay sleeping. It opened the case and, without waking the woman inside, took a fine needle and drew some of her blood.

As Cate watched from her hiding place, the Auto took the blood to a machine at the side of the lab. It inserted the needle and spoke to the machine.

“Please synthesise capsules for human consumption,” said RPC-19. The machine whirred and its lights flashed, and then with a rattling noise, a small handful of yellow pills tumbled from the machine and into a waiting cup.

When she was sure the Auto had left the lab, Cate rushed to Winters’ glass case and opened it. The woman seemed to be sleeping peacefully surrounded by a red glow. Cate put her hand on Winters’ face, feeling the purple mark before touching her own face. She noticed that both had the same softness and were puffy to the touch.

Cate did not realise that there was blood on her finger, from where the needle had pricked Winters skin.

She took her samples of food to the machine at the side of the lab and inserted them, and then she asked the machine, “Please scan for poison.” The machine whirred and its lights flashed, and then it said, “No poison in these samples.”

Cate could not sleep that night. She was haunted by the women she had seen, bathed in the red lights of their glass cases in the Blue Lab, and was puzzled by the results of her test on the samples of food. She knew she must have been poisoned, and so assumed that it had come from her food.

The next day in The Lucus, as she waited for dinner, Cate waited for the next opportunity to visit the Blue Lab again. As soon as her timepiece told her it was time to return home, she complied and, for once, found RPC-19 was already there and waiting.

“Show me your key,” the Auto demanded.

“Why?” asked Cate.

“Because somebody has been in the Blue Lab and I want to know that it was not you.”

“I don’t know where it is,” said Cate, though she knew perfectly well that it was in her satchel – as did RPC-19, which promptly took it from her and looked inside.

“Here it is,” the Auto said. That was when it saw the bloody fingerprint on the key and knew, for sure, that Cate had betrayed it.

“I can explain,” said Cate. “but only if you explain what is happening to me too.”

The two of them sat down at the dinner table. The Auto demanded that Cate tell her story first.

“I discovered this blemish on my face and became fearful that you were poisoning my food,” she said. “I didn’t want to confront you because I was frightened that it might be true.”

“Autos cannot lie or kill,” said RPC-19, to which Cate nodded because she knew it was true. The Auto then went on to say, “I have not been poisoning your food. Indeed, I have been taking great pains to give you the best, most nutritious food available on The Zephyrus.”

“I went to the Blue Lab to test samples of the food, which I now know weren’t poisoned. But I don’t know why you have five other women in there. And I don’t know why their glass cases are red, indicating that they’re sick. And I certainly don’t know why you took blood from one of the women and created pills of the type you have been giving to me.”

Cate waited for the Auto to answer. But no answer came. She waited all through dinner and asked it again and again to respond to her questions, but it still did not say a word. Cate knew the reason why is because an Auto cannot lie.

Eventually, Cate’s patience wore thin. She got up from the table and ran. She ran out of the house and through The Lucus as fast as she could, and she ran all the way to the Blue Lab where she used her key to open the door and rush inside.

There, Cate took her sickle and cut her palm before pressing her bloody hand against the machine.

“Please scan for poison,” she said.

The machine whirred and its lights flashed, and then it said, “Poisonous sample. Botanical origin. Traces of Purpureus Crataegus found.”

The door opened and RPC-19 came in, walking slowly and sadly.

“I think I understand now,” said Cate, “but you’ve misunderstood.”

So Cate and the Auto discussed what the plan had been and why there were five women, all poisoned, sleeping in their glass cases in the Blue Lab.

“All of the plants in the Lucus were diseased,” said RPC-19, “because they would surely all be totally inedible before The Zephyrus reached Our Promised Home, I needed to do something so that your future generations would not starve. I have been looking for an antidote to the poison.”

Cate interrupted, “So all of these women were woken up to work in The Lucus just as I was? And they all got sick like I did?”

The Auto wanted to reassure her, so it went on, “They have all been sent back to sleep, which means they are not getting any sicker now. Once the antidote is in hand, they can all be cured before I wake them again.”

“But what if you don’t find the antidote?” asked Cate, “Does it mean that they got sick for nothing?”

“I must find the antidote or a cure,” said RPC-19. “Your future generations depend upon the fruits of The Lucus, and those depend upon my success.”

The pair talked back and forth about the theories that the Auto had developed and its plan to use the blood of the sick women to formulate a cure. Cate listened and thought, as did the Auto.

But there was something different about Cate that gave her an idea of her own, an idea that RPC-19 could never have had.

“I’m getting sick,” she said, “and soon you will want me to return to sleep in my glass case. But I’m not going to. The one thing you have never tried is letting the poison take hold for longer. You know I might not survive, but you just can’t do it. You can’t kill us, can you, RPC-19?”

“No,” said the Auto. “I can neither lie nor kill. Both of those things are true.”

“Then it’s your time to sleep so I can continue the experiment. I believe that I need blood from later in the disease cycle if I’m going to synthesise a cure.”

The Auto said nothing. It didn’t move an inch.

Cate took her timepiece and connected it to the library slate. She set its program for one hundred years and then, with the interface point on the library slate, jabbed the Auto’s finger. Immediately, the Auto shut down.

From that minute on, Cate was truly alone on The Zephyrus.

She sat there quietly contemplating the weeks ahead. It was going to be a long, hard journey into the darkest night, but she was right. By making this sacrifice, Cate had a chance to save the future of every other human on The Zephyrus.

That night, as Cate lay in bed, she reached up and touched the blemish on her cheek. It felt soft and tender, like hope. “My beauty mark,” she said, and then she closed her eyes to dream.

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: “John Quincy Adams High School Presents “Little Shop of Horrors Junior”!” by Zack Peercy read by Aydan Quinn



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.

First Read-Through 

On the 21st day of the month of September of my Junior year, we met in the auditorium to read through the script of “Little Shop of Horrors Junior”. Everyone formed a circle with the plastic band chairs while Mr. Delaney passed out scripts. In the middle of the circle was an authentic Audrey II puppet that Mr. Delaney had rented. It was used in several regional Broadway productions of Little Shop of Horrors, so we all looked at it with reverence. 

I was cast as Seymour, so I sat on Mr. Delaney’s left. Shea Greene, my long-time crush, was cast as Audrey and sat on Mr. Delaney’s right. As I looked around the circle at the ensemble of actors, I let all of my past roles wash over me: The Second Pig in my fifth grade production of Three Little Pigs, Madame de la Grande Bouche in Beauty and the Beast my freshman year, and Little Red in Into The Woods last year. 

After a transformative summer, it was so validating to my abilities and my identity to see my name next to “Seymour”. But sitting next to Mr. Delaney at the top of the circle with a highlighted script in my hand and a genuine Audrey II puppet staring at me, that felt like something else. That felt like power. I knew we were going to perform the greatest high school production of “Little Shop of Horrors Junior” in the entire state of Delaware. 

Choreography Run 

We were stretching when Mr. Delaney gave us the news. Tommy Pinkus, the freshman cast as Audrey II, had to drop the play due to a family emergency. As the lead actor of the production, I asked if there was anything we could do for Tommy, but Mr. Delaney told us the best thing we could do for him was put on a great show. 

Since Shea Greene and I had most of our choreography together, we spent our breaks speculating about what happened with Tommy Pinkus’s family. She was pretty sure it was a death in the family and we actually had a really deep discussion about death. I told her I thought it’d be cool to be part of the 27 Club because it meant I was like a real artist, but she said I already was a real artist, which was really cool of her. 

We sat on the edge of the stage and watched Jacob Fisk try on the Audrey II costume. He was a football player that was cast in the ensemble, but was now taking over the puppet duties. Considering Audrey II was a perfect fit for little freshman Tommy Pinkus, I had my doubts that linebacker Jacob Fisk was going to be convincing. But the costume fit over him like a glove. Like it had gotten bigger. Like it was a sign from Dionysus that this show was unstoppable. 

Off-Book Date 

I was going over “Suddenly Seymour” with Shea Greene in the band room when Mr. Delaney burst through the doors interrupting our make out session. We had gotten very close with our late night rehearsal sessions, but we were tragically ripped apart when Mr. Delaney announced that Shea Greene would have to step into the role of Aurdey II because Jacob Fisk had a family emergency. As the fall musical Actor Advocate, elected by the John Quincy Adams Drama Society, I tried to set up an appeals meeting with Mr. Delaney on Shea Greene’s behalf, but he didn’t have time because of Parent Teacher conferences. I tried to inquire who would be stepping into the role of Audrey that could match Shea Greene’s range, but Mr. Delaney said I should focus on my range in the Skid Row number. He knew I was sensitive about that part. 

I told myself that this was a blessing in disguise. Seymour had more stage time with Audrey II anyway. But I wouldn’t get to see Shea Greene’s beautiful brown eyes reacting to my nuanced acting. I’d have to stare at the newly sharpened teeth and surprisingly moist felt of a puppet that contained Shea Greene somewhere within. But I knew our passion was more than a showmance. This separation was actually pretty romantic. Like Romeo and Juliet. Or Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett. Or The Phantom and Christine. 

Tech 

On the day of our tech run, Shea Greene wouldn’t speak to me. I know we didn’t have to say our lines while the techies did… whatever they did, but she couldn’t even muster a “Feed Me”. She just sat at the center of that overgrown sweaty puppet, surrounded by new vines, making it look like it was breathing. 

I knew for a fact that I didn’t do anything wrong, so I reasoned that this must be her attempt to help me be Method and hate Audrey II as much as Seymour did. I usually don’t gravitate towards that approach, but it really helped me dig into the character. I made a lot of important discoveries, which was awesome considering it was just a useless tech day. 

Unfortunately I found out at the end of the rehearsal that I was dead wrong. Shea Greene hadn’t even been in the Audrey II puppet. She had to quit the show because of a family emergency. No one had been in the Audrey II puppet all day. That’s when it all clicked for me: Shea Greene didn’t even send me a courtesy text to let me know she had to drop the show! 

Opening Night 

I was warming up alone in the band room when Mr. Delaney found me. I tried to project an air of professionalism, even though I was freaking out that we were ten minutes to curtain and the rest of the cast wasn’t here yet. I told Mr. Delaney I was ready and willing to perform Seymour’s numbers cabaret-style, but he shushed me and told me that I was now cast in the role of Audrey II. I tried to explain how much work I put into Seymour, but Mr. Delaney shushed me again. He told me he wanted to show me something and brought me backstage. 

It was humid behind the curtain and I could hear the audience chatter with anticipation, dying for the show to start. Taking up a majority of the stage and bursting through the sets was the Audrey II puppet. Mr. Delaney beamed and explained that the show would go on. The show would always go on. He complimented my acting ability, which I was grateful for, and offered me the chance to tour the regional stages of the upper-Mid-Atlantic in “Little Shop of Horrors”. I was skeptical because I understand that a career in the arts is never guaranteed, but asked him to explain further. 

He sat me down and explained that this Audrey II puppet fed on high schools to extend the longevity of the success of Little Shop of Horrors. There was no “Little Shop of Horrors Junior”, not really. It was just an excuse to feed so there would be more regional productions. Everyone in the cast, Tommy Pinkus, Jacob Fisk, Shea Greene, and even the stage manager What’s Her Name were all part of the puppet now. And Mr. Delaney was telling me I could be part of the puppet too. It already had enough to go for a long while, but there was always room for another. As the only surviving member of the Student Coalition of Performing Arts Awareness and Inclusion, the decision was mine to make. 

I had to choose between a potential million-to-one shot of Starring Roles or a guaranteed lifetime of Ensemble Work. 

And that is why, with a heavy heart, I had to resign from my role as Seymour from the John Quincy Adams High School production of “Little Shop of Horrors Junior”. My heart goes out to the dedicated cast and crew as they transition to a new plane of existence, but I just couldn’t deprive the world’s stages of my presence.

Aydan Quinn is a Chicago actor, improviser, and traveling Renfaire entertainer. They practice Ving Tsun, yoga, and game (video/table) in their free time. Their personality alignment is chaotic neutral, they are a Slytherdor, and their daemon is a Shade.