Tag Archives: aliens

Gateways: GLOR by Cameon Evesque Davis read by Ansel Burch



Welcome to Gateways, a short story reading series from Otherworld Theatre. This story was submitted by Cameron Evesque Davis, one of the writers who participates in our usual, prompt based submission process. For this special release I will be reading one of their favourite stories to have written. 

Cameron Evesque Davis is a multi-talented artist based in Chicago, IL. They are the owner of the media production company Hela’s Hand Productions, which produces a variety of artistic projects, including films, comic books, music, and a podcast. They are also a published author, and have one novel out entitled “Blasphemy,” which is an urban fantasy story about an original pantheon of gods, the end of the world, and the power of beliefs. This is the third story of thiers to be featured by Gateways.

Please enjoy this story, then get out there and write something. 

The train lurched to a stop. I lost my footing, falling into the rather attractive girl standing next to me. She gave me a look that could only mean “How dare you, you ugly lump of flesh,” and turned away. I probably looked confused at that interaction, but then I turned away as well. No use crying over a random girl on the subway.
I had bigger, more important things to cry about.
And then I woke up. You know, that was probably the least exciting dream I’d ever had. But of course, that’s what I did: boring things. I was boring, my life was boring. Everything except my name.
My name was Axyl, normally spelled “Axel”, and my parents were morons for naming me that. As soon as I could leave the presence of the dumbasses, I did, and worked really hard to change my name. But then I decided that it was a pretty cool name as long as I got a profession that it matched with: either someone who worked with cars or someone who bashed people’s heads in with a guitar. That’s what I felt at least, if a guy named Axyl bashed your head in with a guitar you’d think “Hell YEAH what a cool way to die!”
I was neither of those things, though. I was a guy with a stupidly macho gothy name who worked in an office. It was not exciting. I put data into a computer that was given to me by hands that were attached to people of whom I didn’t even recognize the faces, and drank fifty gallons of coffee a day. My heart got quite the workout from going from beating a thousand beats a minute to crashing to one an hour.
That was the most exciting part of my life, though.
So why the fuck and I writing this?
Because it was on August 2nd when something awesome and horrible and crazy and good happened. All those adjectives completely describe the next things that happened. I’ll leave it to you to figure out how.
As I was leaving my apartment, which was a run-down shithole of a place that I will not go into (although I did have a balcony), the road wasn’t there. This being Chicago, I simply assumed that some weird roadwork, bought by yet another company bidding the lowest price who’d never talked to the other fifty companies doing road work at the time, was going on. Roads disappear in Chicago a lot. But as I looked closer, I realized I was an idiot. The road hadn’t just been ripped up, it was completely gone.
When one sees a road completely gone from the ground, one doesn’t think “That’s perfectly normal”. Unless they’re me. Unless they’re an idiot. Even after studying the road for some time (I enjoyed wasting time on my way to work, for if I showed up late no one ever noticed), I definitely went “Huh, that’s weird,” but then took no more notice of it.
Even my coworkers didn’t seem to care much. They said to each other, in the cliche talk around the water in the break room, “Yep, I found it odd. People still drove on it though,” and then went back to pretending to work. So I guess they were idiots, too. This wasn’t a surprise to me.
So I went back to work. And read the news instead of doing work. There were reports of roads disappearing everywhere. Apparently, according to some conspiracy theorists on my Facebook page, “Aliens who didn’t want us to travel” took them. They were also idiots. Lots of idiots in my life. I suppose idiots attract other idiots.
On my way home after work was when another odd thing happened. Not only had the roads disappeared, but so had the street lamps. And the sidewalks. And the fences. Things that normally lined the non-existant roads weren’t there either. Now I started to think that maybe I would condescend to start believing that things were really weird.
My roommates weren’t home. Thank god. I hated my roommates. They were loud, they were messy, they hated me. Probably cause I was an idiot. Had I mentioned that? Although I’d wager they were bigger ones. I once saw my roommate Dave swing an axe in a crowded room while drunk and nearly chop off his girlfriend’s head and actually destroy a light fixture and the wall. Dave could jump off a cliff for all I cared. But he wasn’t home, so I immediately ran into my bedroom and closed the door.
Ech, my room was a mess. I began to clean up, and then my computer turned on without me touching it. I normally left it off when I went to work. This time it apparently had something very important to say.
“Help us,” it said. On a completely black screen except for those green letters. Was I suddenly in the first part of The Matrix?
Only the keyboard appeared to work, as there was no mouse cursor and I couldn’t just force shut down my computer. Which was weird. So I typed, “What?”
“Raise the force, save the world,” a mysterious figure, who I assumed was wearing a fedora and a mask like the hamburgler, typed.
“Raise the force?” I asked the Hamburglar, “What force? Please explain. Does this have something to do with the roads and shit?” I figured that was a good question. I also figured I already knew the answer.
“I cannot tell you everything,” the Hamburglar typed, revealing itself as less of a weird amalgamation sort of beasty and more of a singular being, “But I will attempt to explain. I have finally got teh hang of this computre thing.
“But I cannot say everythign. Raise the force of fihgtiers. Sorry, fighters*, to defend teh earth.”
“Look,” I typed back, “I dunno why you think that I’m the guy to go to, or why you think that I could somehow raise a force of “fihgtiers”, but I’m not your man.”
“Even if u think that, I kno it isn’t tru,” The Google Chrome Incognito Window Guy replied, getting the hang of text speech even, “I was told by my Masters.”
“Can you get them for me? Can I talk to them? I’d like to speak to the manager.”
“Raise the force,” was all the 1960s Private Eye responded with. He was not a very helpful dude. And he never explained what the roads were disappearing for. Why was I still talking to him?
“Apologies, dude, but I have to go now, because you’re clearly insane and also you’ve taken over my computer so it’s not like I can waste time by being on Tumblr, so I’m going to grab a large beer and down it in one gulp. Ta ta,” I said, hoping to end the conversation. Maybe he’d give me back my computer if I refused.
“zxlkjfienlkhjvlkj fklg.d8,” The Hamburglar’s cat apparently typed. I got up, rolling my eyes, and walked to the kitchen, grabbing a pint bottle of beer from the door. As I opened the bottle, I looked outside.
You know when you see something, and your brain takes a moment to register it as something that actually exists? Like a hot person on the train, for instance. You look at them, you go back to reading your book, your brain goes “DUDE”, and you look back at the hot person. That sort of odd double take because your brain doesn’t register. That’s the feeling I had when I saw what I saw out the window that day.
“GLORY” was painted on the side of the thing, in humongous letters painted like a grafitti tag on the grey metal. Whatever it was was huge, too, it probably would have spanned the width of the state, but that was only a guess, and I couldn’t see the sides of it anyway. Honestly, I couldn’t see the last part of “GLORY” either, but I couldn’t think of many words that would make sense that started with “GLOR”. Perhaps “GLORIOUS” or “GLORIANA” or “GLORBOL THE DESTROYER”, but I settled on “GLORY”.
Over to my right was the ship’s, as I assumed it was, wing. Or I thought it was a wing. Didn’t look very aerodynamic to me, not even like a jet with those tiny wings they have. It was just a solid cylindrical block of grey metal which jutted out from the side. I could only see this part because I went out to my balcony, dumbstruck and curious as all get out.
Over to my left was what I assumed to be the nose of the ship, and perhaps a cockpit type area near the top. It was hard to see, though. I was honestly making up half of what the ship looked like. All I really saw was a huge wall of grey with “GLOR” on it, the cylindrical “wing” thing, and the nose. It was impossibly big.
Damn, and it was loud. I couldn’t do anything but cover my ears, which meant I had to place my beer on the table which was annoying. I wanted to drink that beer. But NOO some huge bullshit spaceship had to appear. Did they get rid of the roads and the streetlamps because they figured their ship would destroy them anyway? That was the only conclusion I could come up with, and my friend the Hamburglar wouldn’t tell me.
After that, I went inside, not wanting to deal with a large spaceship on my street making a lot of noise.
Not that I got far in, nor did I drink much of my beer, because right in front of me, standing in my kitchen, was my computer. It was looking in the fridge. This made no sense. I felt like I was in the middle of a Gogol story.
Doing my best to not startle my computer as it searched for something in my fridge, because for some reason my mind decided to treat it as though it were a terrified wild animal, I asked, calmly, “Hello?”
At the sound of my voice, it stood up, closed the fridge, and turned around to face me. From a mouth that didn’t exist, I heard a voice which said, “Raise the force.” I rolled my eyes.
“Look, bro, now that you’ve completely taken control of my computer and are walking around my apartment somehow, could you at least tell me where to start. This is only if I decide to help you. I am beginning to want to, though, as there is a large ship floating outside.”
“Look. Bro,” it croaked with a timbre not unlike a frog, a frog whose voice had been passed through the sound capabilities of a GameBoy, “Raise it. The Force. Friends. Family. The resistance, you must make it.”
“Great, very informative. I’ll get right on that.”
“Listen to the ship, it will speak soon. Soon you will have…the motivation.”
“Oh, I see, of course. Just need that little push, then? I’ll wait for that. In the meantime, could I have my computer back, or is that your’s forever?”
“Rai-”
“You say ‘Raise the force’ again and I’ll destroy you, I don’t care if you cost some thousand dollars.”
“Touchy.”
“Okay, I’m going to go outside now. If the ship’s gonna talk I suppose I should be able to hear it, eh? Is that acceptable? I’m bringing my beer, though.”
“Go. Rai-…Do what I asked, please.” The computer said please like if I didn’t do it its mother would be killed. I started to think that maybe I should do what he asked, “Raise the force” or whatever. However I was supposed to do that. Plus, hey, it would be more exciting than normal life I led.
Leaving my computer behind, I walked down the stairs of my building, exiting the door at the bottom and walking out onto what used to be my street. It was now a patch of dirt that extended to only about ten feet from my door before running smack into a giant grey spaceship, but you know.
Of course, being outside meant the noise of the ship pounded annoyingly into my ears again. This time I held onto my beer and did my best to cover my ears with my hands like that, which was awkward. Luckily, the ship started talking just as my computer friend upstairs told me it would, and the sound died down.
Ripping violently into my eardrums, the mechanical horrifying voice of the ship boomed out over the city, “People of Earth, your attention please.” Suddenly we were in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
“Before I give the command to destroy every one of you, I want to give you a chance to surrender peacefully. As you can see, we are much more powerful, much more bigger, than you tiny tiny human beings.” Much more bigger. I swear that’s what it said. I was not impresed.
“Only if one of you steps forward, surrenders, and agrees to live under our rule will you be spared. If not, we’ll be forced to destroy the crap out of all the living beings of the planet, and none of you will be spared.”
Look, maybe on the weird alien planet they came from, they figured this is how humans liked to be addressed. It was half true, but one expects a giant spaceship undoubtedly filled with evil alien beasties who wanted to kill everyone to speak more like a character from Lord of the Rings and less like a character from…something less eloquent. Actually he sounded sort of like the king from the show Galavant, but with more dripping evil computery voice stuff going on.
So, listening to this voice, this inane voice from outer space, I drank my beer. It was good. That day had been dumb. I wanted that day to be over. I saw only one way to do this, regardless if it would upset my computer-y friend upstairs.
“Unless you surrender,” the ship continued, “You will die. The countdown is set at five minutes.”
Rather than going back into my apartment, forcing my computer down onto my desk and messaging some friends to come fight some valiant battle against the ship and everything in it, I walked up to the grey thing and knocked. It hurt my hand. Space metal. Figures.
Really, I didn’t expect what happened next to happen, but a door appeared at the exact spot that I knocked. It wrenched itself open, and I stepped back as the door made itself into a ramp for me to walk into the ship proper. No grey alien with giant eyes greeted me, but I felt it was my cue, so I walked up the ramp, beer in hand, and went inside. The door closed behind me. I walked through the darkness of the ship, taking sips of the comforting alcoholic beverage as I went, and noticing that the loudness wasn’t quite as loud inside the grey thing.
Eventually, I reached a sort of waiting room. It looked nearly identical to the one that I stayed in whenever I went to the doctor, complete with ugly purple chairs with that sticky sort of plastic-y material which your legs stick to if you happen to be wearing shorts. Figuring that this was indeed a waiting room, I sat down. My beer was halfway gone.
Now, there are only a few things one can do in a waiting room, not including “waiting”. 1) Read the magazines, all of which are out of date and purile. 2) Stare into space. Or at the wall, rather. Whatever happens to be in front of you. 3) Play with the childrens toys. Those ones where you take the wooden bead things and move them on the metal contraptions. This only works if there are no children around, nor parents who’ll look at you like you’re insane even though they secretly wish they had the balls to do what you were doing. Or 4) (and this only works if there are others in the room) People watch.
Due to the fact that I was alone, and the aliens hadn’t managed to put some Reader’s Digests from the 1980s onto the little tables, I opted for option 2. I took another sip of my beer.
Eventually (lots of eventually going on), the door to the waiting room opened. Out came a girl, she looked about 10, who eyed me with a a look of glee and insanity all mixed into one. Behind her came a nurse. He was wearing pink scrubs and had a beard that went down to the middle of his torso, which I thought must be a bitch to cover up for hospital procedures. I didn’t bother asking myself what was up with the hospital aesthetic of this space ship.
Nurses generally didn’t walk like this man did, I didn’t think. He was sort of sliding across the floor, like he hadn’t figured out that all you had to do was lift your feet off the ground and place them back down to move forward. Either that or he just enjoyed sliding like a kid on a hardwood floor in socks. He also stared at me. I stared back and did my best to confrontationally drink from my bottle.
“Do you have an appointment?” He asked me as he stood up and stopped sliding across the floor. He stood like he was on stilts for the first time and wasn’t entirely sure what to do but was glad to be not moving for once. He was even leaning slightly up against the counter.
“Eh?” I asked, giving him a look of utter bewilderment, “No? Kind of? Is this where I talk to the ship?”
“Right.” With that, he left, sliding away out the door. The little girl sat down next to me.
“I’m in here because I’m dead!” The girl said, smiling widly. She seemed genuinly happy about this fact. She didn’t look dead to me. But earlier that day I saw my computer rummaging through my fridge so I was ready for anything.
“Fun!” I answered, just as excitedly with no hint of sarcasm. The girl grinned and wobbled back and forth in her seat.
“YES! I knowwww,” she continued, “I’ve never been so happy.”
“Oh man,” I said, attempting to keep up my excitement. But it was getting creepy.
“Unless my mom comes back, she ruins the fun,” the girl said and pouted, crossing her arms.
“Really? How dare she.”
“Uh huh! She’s meannn.” Yes, she spoke by adding letters to her words, Sue me for my artistic license.
Nurse man came back in, sliding away. He stopped right in front of me and looked down, leaning forward and putting his hand on one of the chair’s armrests to stay upright. “Come with me,” he said.
“Yep, sure,” I answered and stood up, moving him by placing my free hand on his shoulder and pushing slightly. If I didn’t do that I would have run into him, because he showed no signs of getting out of my way so that I could stand.
Out of the waiting room we went, Slidy Nurse Guy leading the way, and the little girl still behind, bouncing in her chair in excitement from being dead. We soon made it to another door, which the man opened by slamming his face into a switch on the wall. The switch made a “DING!” noise, and the door slid open like in Star Trek. I stepped inside.
Unless I was going insane, which I very well could have been, I thought I saw a man with his body on backwards. Or was it his head that was on backwards? Regardless, he was looking at me and smiling. His hands were driving what appeared to be a wheel from an old sailing ship, but as I said they were facing the other way from where his head was looking. I stepped forward some more. His eyes followed me like it was a painting drawn so the eyes looked directly at the camera.
“Lovely to see you,” it finally said. His smile was plastered on his face. He turned the wheel, but I didn’t feel anything occur when he did. I suspected it was just for show.
“Lovely to see you, too?” I ask-said. Askaid. Sasked? Whatever. The point was that I wasn’t sure it was lovely to see him. I was beginning to get creeped out. And my beer was almost gone.
“Didn’t you want to see me?” He wondered, “You were the one who knocked. 2:35.” The last number he said was undoubtedly part of the countdown of five minutes. Especially since it was said with a completely different timbre from how he normally talked. It was like something was speaking through him.
Immediately after he said that, the ship lurched forward and upward. Into the sky, I assumed. It was a ship after all. I nodded to the man, saying, “Yep, I sure did.”
Eyeing me constantly, the weird man turned his wheel the other way. Nothing happened again.
“For what reason did you knock?”
“A simple one: I’m here to surrender so we all don’t die.”
“To…to surrender?” He seemed taken aback, his smile disappeared from his face.
“Hell, if it saves all our lives, I’m willing to do a lot. For some reason. Feeling heroic today.” I finished my beer.
“Even though we would rule over you?”
“Really don’t care if that’s the case, dude. You don’t seem like bad things, although an explanation of what you are might be nice. Or why with the roads. Or what the hell my computer was doing walking around.”
“Oh. The roads. Yes. We didn’t want to hurt them with our ship, so we moved everything out of the way for when our ship came down. We moved the buildings, too. Nothing was destroyed, and now that we took off we put it all back.”
“For evil alien overlords, you’re pretty nice, it seems. Either that or you just didn’t want to have to rebuild things.”
“Probably the latter, they did not tell me why. I just obeyed.”
“Eh? You’re not the leader, then? Just the pilot I guess.” The ship lurched in the direction he turned the wheel. Evidently the controls just took ages to take effect. Must have been a bitch to control. Suddenly I slightly admired Mr. Head Turned Around Guy. He nodded.
“And my computer?” I asked. He shrugged.
“Can’t say I’ve heard about anything like that.”
“Eh, okay, that’s fine. I’ll figure it out. So yes, right, this is me surrendering!” I threw my bottle on the ground. The glass shattered and sent bits flying around the room. I immedietly regretted doing that. I probably looked like a tool. Only tools smash beer bottles. Next thing I knew I’d be standing outside someone’s window at three in the morning doing the same thing and shouting at my bros.
“Mhm,” The man nodded and reached out a hand. Which looked really odd because he was reaching backwards and it’s difficult to reach behind one’s body, but he managed it. Suddenly, everything went dark.
On the train again. The hot girl was still shunning me for accidentally running into her. I had still turned around. I looked around at all the other people. Everyone else was ugly. I looked at my phone. August 3rd.
Rarely had I had an experience like the next one I had. I woke up with a start, sitting up like I was in a movie, cold sweat all over my body. I had been put in bed. Even changed into my bed clothing! I say rarely because I indeed had had a similar experience once when I got drunk. I was also at my parent’s house, and they had put me to bed and everything. Good times.
Even though I should clearly have been used to this sort of royal treatment, it wasn’t my mom who put me to bed that time. It was our new weird overlords. How nice of them. That didn’t mean I was okay with it, really. I imagined cold clammy backwards hands attempting to figure out how to put my clothes on and shower me. I also wasn’t sure if I imagined that.
Looking around my room, I also saw that it had been cleaned. My computer was also back sitting where it should have been. I sighed in relief, and slowly got out of bed and ready for a shower. And then my computer turned on like it did before:
“Imbecile.”
Knots in my stomach. I didn’t know why. Was I nervous? Did I hate to disappoint my computer? It was sort of like a parent to me at that point, so I guess that made sense.
Every fiber of my being wanted to sarcastically reply, but I decided to be civil:
“Fuck off.”
As it may have become clear, I’m not good at being civil.
“Traitor. Traitor. You had the chance to save us all. You threw that away. Traitor.”
“Hey, you can’t be a traitor if you aren’t loyal to anyone.”
“Even you are loyal to something. I figured coming through the object you seem most loyal to would make you follow my instructions.”
“Really? Most loyal to? My computer? I guess that’s true. Doesn’t mean I’d throw my life away for it.”
“Oh, you think you saved us? You have doomed us. And you were the chosen one, just look at your name.”
“Fuck my name, Axyl’s dumb as shit.”
“Well, you know not what it means. Axyl, from Axel: Father of Peace.”
“Ah, of course. Names mean soooo much to people nowadays. People name people things cause they sound cool. I think wherever you’re from has different customs.”
“Really?…This cannot be. I did my research.”
“And did you do that research when it was like the 1500s here?”
“No. Maybe. Time works differently across space.”
“Duh.”
“So this is how it ends, then? The world is taken over, we are doomed across the entire universe. Because of you.”
“Oh really? It doesn’t seem so bad. Seems pretty normal.”
“Indeed >.<. Have you looked outside? You should probably do so before jumping to conclusions.”
“That’s true, I guess I haven’t. One sec, brb.” I got up from my computer and walked into my living room, to the biggest window in the house, and looked outside. What I saw there was insane.
Everyone was gone, or at least I felt like they were gone. I could see them there, but they felt…weird. I don’t know how to describe it. They were phantoms, I saw them like I saw my memories, foggy and not exactly fully formed. They all looked at me, random people on the street, the guy who sold me tacos, the guy who always smoked outside my apartment. And they all pointed at me. And smiled, the same smile the little girl had had.
“Now do you see?” A voice from behind me said. I turned around to see my computer again. I shrugged, it was the only response I could give. I didn’t know what I was looking at.
“Don’t you see? You destroyed the world. Glorbol the destroyer and their minions.They of course erased your memory. You’re their favorite. They would never hurt you. You can carry on going to your boring job, living your boring life, but no one else can. Not anymore. It’ll happen to my world too, in the end. One weak person will give up. I hope it takes less time than it took you…” With that my computer crumpled to the ground. I stared for a while, then I grabbed a beer. It was like ten in the morning, but I didn’t seem to care. Maybe I was dead, too. But hey, at least my brain guessed “Glorbol the Destroyer” was behind all this shit. I was almost impressed. Then I figured they did that on purpose to mess with me.
So once I had finished wallowing in self pity and drinking four beers, I went to work, boarded the train, and as it lurched to a stop, I ran into an attractive woman. She wasn’t really there, but she hated me. She turned around. I did so too. I looked at my phone. August 3rd.

 

Thank you for listening, I am Ansel Burch the curator for the Gateways Series. I am also the producer and host for the comedy variety show podcast, Starlight Radio Dreams which is available wherever fine podcasts are downloaded. Please visit starlight radio dreams dot com for the podcast as well as information about our next live event. I am so proud to be producing this content and I hope to be making your life easier in some small way. 

 

Thank you for joining us here for Gateways. Please consider leaving us a review and following Otherworld Theater on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more news about the show and upcoming events. Now get out there and write something.


Gateways: “A for Effort” by Ben McCauley read by Coco Kasperowicz



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Ben McCauley. As a child, Ben was told he could be whatever he wanted to be, and so, he decided to be an airplane. When that didn’t pan out, he went into theater. Ben has been writing stories and plays since his middle school days. Most, if not all of his writings have light hearted and comedic tones to them because he is terrified of reality and tries his best to ignore the darkness of the world by fighting it with a little bit of light. Born in upstate New York, Ben moved to Chicago in 2016 after the world around him came shattering down, and decided to take comedy classes to hide the pain of existence, as one does. You can currently see him performing monthly at the Playground Theater with his Improv Group “Phantom Pilots”, at the Bristol Renaissance Festival with his show “The Brothers Blackquill”, or you can listen to his voice and writing on the podcast “Starlight Radio Dreams”. This is “A” for Effort

 

So first things first, I’d like to thank you for coming today. It’s super great to have you all here, and I truly, deeply appreciate your cooperation. So, thanks again. Moving on to why I’ve called this meeting. For those of you who don’t already know me, I am Anthirox, Devourer of Reality, nice you meet you all. Long story short, I’m here to bring about the end of days, and existence as you know it is over. I know that sounds bad, and I’m not going to lie and say it’s not, but I just wanted you folks to know that of all the realities I’ve consumed in my eons of life, yours was one I’m going to remember for a very long time. 

I’ve got to hand it to all of you, you put up one hell of a fight. There were a few moments there where I really thought you’d be able to stop me, which for an ancient, forty-million foot tall, floating space creature like myself, is astounding. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Metaphorically speaking of course, as they don’t make chairs in my size. 

Seriously though, applaud yourselves for a valiant effort. I thought it was going to be another “one-and-done” thing, but jeez, you folks really gave it your all. I can tell this was not your first time going to war.  

The final showdown yesterday, ugh, so good! When you folks brought out the tanks and rocket launchers, I was like, “Aw man! That is so cool!”. I did lose a few hundred hellspawns in that fight, but it was totally worth it. It’s been so long since I saw a battlefield so coated with blood and sinew. Hit me right in the nostalgia. 

But for sure, the best part was when your scientists built that interdimensional assault cannon! I was so flipping surprised by that one, which is a feat in itself! I’m very rarely surprised, but you actually made me bleed! I didn’t even realize I could bleed before yesterday. It’s crazy how I’ve been around essentially forever and I’m still learning new things about myself. So thank you for that too.

I’ll be honest, when I first arrived here with my army of winged, nightmare demons, I was kind of in a slump. I was really starting to doubt myself, and nothing was bringing me joy anymore. Not to just lay all my problems on you, but I was in rough shape mentally, you know? Unfortunately, there aren’t many therapists out there specializing in treating ageless, cosmic beings composed of dark energy from the nethervoid.  Hashtag relatable content, am I right? What I’m trying to say is coming here, and tearing your fabric of reality apart these past few days has really reminded me why I do this.

So, thank you once more for shaking me out of my funk. It’s just so darn refreshing to run into a reality that’s got a little moxie and verve. You all really tried, and it shows. I see you, I hear you, and I respect you. 

All good things must come to an end though, and I’m afraid that you still lost So, just so we’re on the same page, I’ll let you know what’s on the docket for the remainder of your existence. Over the next 2, maybe 2 and a half days, my hellspawns are going to continue traveling across your planet, tearing each of you limb from limb.

To be honest, I don’t know where they’ll go first so if you’re lucky, maybe they won’t hit your part of the planet right away and you’ll get an extra day of living. I kinda let them do their own thing. I tried to get it more organized a couple hundred years ago, but then they unioned up so my hands are tied.

Anywho, after your limbs are taken as trophies for my war room, the world around you is gonna twist and bend into all sorts of fun shapes. It’ll be super freaky, but if you just ride it out and don’t try to force anything, you’ll come out the other end. Sure, your bodies will also become twisted monstrosities of nature, but damn, it is one hell of a trip.

Once you are all abominations of your former selves, barely alive, screaming in pain and misery, I’ll swoop in and slowly extract the essence of your reality. But what does that mean you may ask? Essentially, I will absorb the energy of your entire dimension to feed myself until it ceases to be. 

So even though you’ll be in blinding, torturous pain, take solace that it will only last a day or two before you’re wiped away from the verse as if you never existed. Using the life force of this dimension, I will travel to another dimension and do the same thing all over again, etcetera and so on. It’s a busy life, but I make do.

Again folks, this isn’t anything personal. As far as realities go, this is definitely in the top five I’ve encountered. I really think I could fight you for a couple of millenia and still be into it, but I’m just getting peckish, and on top of that I’m a bit of a commit-a-phobe when it comes to this kind of stuff. I always think that this time I’ll be able to do it, just find an enemy dimension, settle down, take it slow, but it never works out because it feels like it’s something I should do, not something I want to do.

Honestly, this is the first time in a while where I truly felt like I could make it work, but I’ve been hurt so many times in the past. It’s been hard coming to grips with my own insecurities, but I am working on myself and in the end, that’s what matters. Here I go again, unloading on you. I know you’re all too busy screaming in horror and actively being mutilated by my demons to care, but I feel like I can be myself around you. I just, I dunno, feel like we have something here, and I’ll be sad to see it go. 

No Anthirox, you told yourself you wouldn’t get emotional here. Reel it in. Bleh, sorry about that folks. Anyways, if you have any remaining loved ones, or chosen deities, now’s probably a good time to start planning your goodbyes. Not that it will matter since you’ll all be nothing but dark energy coursing through my nebulous body, so in a way, you’ll all still be together. Goodbyes are hard, aren’t they? 

Gosh, you know I really thought this was going to be easier, but I don’t think I’m ready yet. You’ve all just been so accommodating to my needs of destruction and bloodshed. Oh, to hell with it, you know what? I’m not going to consume you all just yet. This has all been very therapeutic for me, and I’ve been so bad at self-care recently that I think I need this. Besides, I’ve been overeating recently and I really don’t want to develop anymore bad habits.

I think this will be healthy for all of us. I get to fight you some more, get out a lot of the pent up aggression I’ve been bottling up for the last thousand years, and you get a few extra days to exist! Heck, who knows? Maybe in that time you’ll build a new device to destroy me and then we can really get into it. Oh man, just thinking about it has me excited. Is that bad? 

 Thank you for being so flexible with all this. I mean, it’s not like you have a choice in the matter, but I still appreciate it. So, I’m going to hang here in space, watching, waiting and plotting your demise, and I really hope you do the same or else I’m just going to feel silly. All I ask is that you actually try. I’ve got a lot of trust issues, and allowing myself to be vulnerable and give you another chance to fight back is a big step for me. Please don’t make me regret it.

Once more, you’ve all been super great. I see a lot of potential in you, and I cannot wait to mercilessly destroy and consume everything you hold dear! Now I’ll leave you to your planning, and I’m excited to see what you cook up. Ooo! Speaking of cooking up, this is a perfect chance for me to try one of the new recipes I learned for reality consumption! I never have the time for that kind of stuff! Gosh, this is going to be so cleansing. 

Alright, well thanks again for being so patient with me. I’m going through some stuff, and it means a lot. I guess the real demons were the ones in my mind all along. Also the ones who are literally dismembering hundreds of you as I speak, they are pretty real too. This was nice. So until next time, keep up the good work, and I hope to kill you and ingest your existence very soon! 

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: “Foreplay” by Brendon Connelly read by Jasmin Tomlins



Content Note, please be aware that this story is of a frank, sexual nature and may not be suitable for all audiences.

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Brendon Connelly. Brendon 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. ] This is “Foreplay”.

“Come here, come on, let me help,” I said, and took the penis into my mouth. It was soft and limp and sad. I sucked on it as kindly as I could, willing it desperately to stiffen. I tightened my lips around the penis’ head and tried to move my mouth backwards and forwards along its curling, timid shaft, resisting the embarrassed little cock’s urge to just shrink sadly and fall out of my mouth.

But no matter what I did, the limp cock seemed to remain pathetically disinterested in me. Unfit for intended purpose.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “this happens all the time. Absolutely all of the time.” But it didn’t. Not back then. I think it would have been better to say “This could happen to anyone” because it definitely could – though then, of course, there was no reason to believe that, soon enough, it would.

I worked a little longer, licking as well as sucking, taking the cock in my hand, locking my eyes onto his. I kissed him, whispered that I wanted him. I got close and pushed my body against his. None of this made the slightest bit of difference.

“We’ll just try again later,” I said. He agreed. He said 

“That would be better, yeah. I guess it’s just been a hard day for me.”

He told me that it just wasn’t a good time. There were things on his mind. Nothing in particular. Nothing to do with me, just something up there in the back of his brain, nibbling away and… well, he said he didn’t know how to put it.

“Something up there stopping things from working,” I said, “A minor malfunction, you just need a little while to turn your power off and on again.”

I got dressed and drove back over to my place. I stopped off on the way to fill up the tank, and get some cigarettes. And more or less on impulse, I also got a pack of Escher’s Rainbow Dots, the lemon and strawberry flavour, the ones they’ve been advertising all the time lately.

Then when I got home, I took a shower, and I washed my hair, and I took down the shower head and turned it up between my legs and just held my breath and prayed for all of the frustration and suspended horniness just pour out of me, and I worked it until I finally came.

I lay on the bed afterwards and smoked a cigarette, a new kind, a Johnson and Brummel, just trying them out to see if I’d like them and it was, actually, pretty good. I lay there and thought about my orgasm in the shower. It wasn’t really a great one. It seemed a little distant, not as bright or clear as they usually do.

I blamed him for it. I blamed the limp cock that had shrivelled up against my tongue and pulled sadly away from me. It wasn’t fair, but I didn’t know what else to blame.

I saw him again the next night. We met at Molotov’s and didn’t talk at all about what had happened the day before, and tried not to worry about it happening again. It was only when we got back to his place that he said anything about it at all. He said 

I think I might just need a little extra love and attention. Just be patient with me and try, you know, a little more foreplay. Because I really want to get over this. I want to be able to… you know.”

“Me too,” I said, “I want to see you hard. I want you really fucking hard, I want to feel your cock, big and hard, and I want you to fuck me hard with it.”

That seemed to startle him and somehow throw him off. I had said it half thinking it would help. Jumper cables to the heart to give him a short, sharp shock. I cooled off instead, smiled softly, and even sighed. I said to him, “We’ll take the time. All the time you need.”

I was laying on the bed and I had my legs apart and my fingers moving up and down, two fingers lightly, watching him as he finished undressing carefully, almost cautiously. Then he turned around and his penis, as shy as it had been that afternoon, was just timidly waiting.

He climbed up onto the bed and put one knee either side of my hips. He took my left breast in his left hand, and his cock in the other and slowly, patiently, started stroking his hand back and forth. He looked down at my nipple and pinched. I moved my fingers faster.

But just a moment later, a shadow flickered through his smile, then he closed his eyes and started to pull more insistently on his penis. I tried thinking about the times that cock had moved inside me, that I had pushed myself down against him, pushing my clitoris into his thrusting body. But the memories seemed somehow faded right then. They were sallow and waxy.

I wondered what he was thinking about behind his closed eyes. His frustrated wanking went on a few more hard beats, and then, as I stopped rubbing myself, he stopped too. He snapped his eyes open and said, almost breathlessly, urgently,

“I think, can we maybe, let’s try… I don’t know. Something on the TV?”

We had talked about porn before and how I wasn’t really into it, that I knew he watched it when he was alone, and I was cool with that, but when we were together, it all seemed to be too much like bringing another woman into the room. But right now, I went along with it. I wanted to give him what he wanted – but also, right then, the idea appealed to me too. “Maybe we can find something that will turn us both on,” I said.

He opened a porn website on his laptop but then paused. 

“I don’t know what to search for,” he said, “I can’t quite imagine what it is I want to see. I can’t picture it.”

“I don’t really know,” I said, “Maybe just scroll down the front page of videos and when we see what we’re looking for, we’ll know it.”

We scrolled past My Ass, Your Pleasure and Big Tit Step Sister and Fuck and Facial in the Fast Foot Restaurant Toilets. I didn’t like any of it, and he didn’t either. He seemed quite disgusted by it all.

Then a thumbnail picture appeared on the screen. A tall woman, looking straight into the camera, Thin and sleek. She was naked except for thigh-high boots. “That one,” I said.“The one in the crocodile skin boots?” he asked, but then clicked before waiting for my answer.

My clitoris bristled to my touch, alive again in a moment of anticipation. The woman in the video was sitting on a couch, wearing a green and silver dress and her expensive, shiny boots. She was talking to somebody off camera, explaining that she loved facials and anal and fucking two guys at once, that this was going to be her first time fucking on camera.

I kept rubbing and felt my pussy get wet, just wet enough. “How’s it going,” I asked him, and looked his way.

His cock was stiffening but he said “Not yet” and kept rubbing his hand back and forth.

“I want you in me,” I said.

“Not yet. It’s not… it’s not quite right. It’s… it’s better but it’s not enough. This isn’t enough, yet.”

The video played on and I watched the woman tell her unseen inquisitor a faltering, hesitant story, all about the time she lost her virginity to one of her dad’s workmates. I looked at her brightgreen eyes and fierce, sharp boots and rubbed myself until I came. It was at least a little better than what had happened in the shower.

When he heard my breath getting more rapid, then stopping, then returning to normal, he turned round to see that I had cum. It was obvious that this just frustrated him.

“Keep going,” I said, “Don’t stop.” But he let go of his penis, and it was as flaccid as ever.

He slammed the laptop shut, and turned his back to me. I asked him what the problem was. I asked what was on his mind, if he was going off of me.I asked if it was something I had done. I needed to know if it was me that was the problem.

“No, no,” he sobbed, then sat on the edge of the bed.  With tears in his eyes, he tried to explain. “I don’t know what it is. It’s been coming on for weeks.  At first, I thought it was maybe just the news. All of this shit that’s going on. All of the Get Ready for Brexit ads. All of the… the grooming the government’s doing. Trying to win the election.”

But I knew it wasn’t any of that. I was numbing too, and I was hardly thinking about any of those things.

I hadn’t realised at first how physical the problem was. I had started to feel it was more and more difficult to connect to him physically, but it was only then, when I was feeling totally connected to him, as close and intimately tied to him as I had ever been, but still with absolutely no desire at all to fuck him, no need to fix his impotence, or even the will to find it important any longer, that I understood the problem was in the sex, not in our relationship.

“We’re tired,” I said, “We’re exhausted. It’s our bodies, it’s not us.”

“Yeah,” he said, “Except, when you’re fucking, you kind of are your body, you know?”

“That’s why we’re going to rest our bodies. Take time off work, go away. Somewhere restful. Somewhere warm. We’ll just hang out. We’ll reboot.”

“Okay, I could use the rest. And I want that. A week together that’s just you and me.”

We didn’t try to fuck again. We didn’t want to. We just hung out and watched movies. We played videogames, and talked, and we went on walks, and we cooked together. He showed me how to repair punctured tires and I taught him the rules of chess. We had five great weeks, and then we went to the airport. We flew to the Canary Islands, and we found the best place on the beach and made ourselves feel at home. Time to reboot, to forget the frustration and the anger and the bitterness of a sputtering llibido.

And now laying on the beach, in the warmth of the sun, I can feel the absolute beginning of change. I experience it first in my chest, a flush of something strange and alien. Now there’s a flutter in my stomach. Butterflies? I’d say it’s more like the darting, insistent tongue of something thrilling.

I sigh, and it feels good. This is when the vast shapes whistle by overhead, strange and white and brilliant, liquid and massive. They wipe the sky and touch down on the edge of the beach, maybe a quarter mile away.

The foreplay is building to a crescendo.

We walk together, hand in hand, down the beach towards the massive starcraft. A small crowd of us humans, a dozen or so, are gathering together, walking ever closer to the impossible objects.

Then the doors open and they come out to see us.

They walk into the sun and onto the beach. They’re brilliant green. Not much taller than us but lithe and sharp as a whip. My heart skips a beat just to see them, and I feel my man squeezing my hand. I can’t speak for him, but looking at the visitors now, those electric-beautiful gods, all of them calling me towards them in this thrilling, heart-stopping moment, ready to deliver everything they have been patiently, attentively, silently preparing us for, I can only promise you this:

I for one have quite the welcome planned for our new lizard overlords.

Jasmin Tomlins has been making noises with her mouth for 33 years, most recently as a determined vintner on the streets of the Bristol Renaissance Faire and here at Gateways. She is grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these stories, and to receive the meaning that stories give voices.


Gateways: “Vital Research” by Kate Akerboom read by Kat Evans



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Kate Akerboom. Kate tells us she is simply a writing enthusiast. She started telling stories as a child, and started writing things as a teenager. She enjoys writing realistic fiction with fantasy or sci-fi thrown in. Writing is a hobby, but a well-developed one for her. This is “Vital Research”

My head was pounding. The combination of the argument at the table next to me and the Environmental 101 exams I was grading were enough to make anyone rage quit. I mean, this is a library. Quiet is valued, isn’t it? I slammed my papers closed and huffed, marching out of the library. 

Being a science professor has its perks, some days. Everybody calling you “doctor,” endless research opportunities, and the ability to cancel class whenever you want. As a recent PhD grad, this was enough of an ego boost to get me through the mind-numbing freshman courses I needed to teach before I hit tenure. My only solace was my Environmental 335 class. It was a research-based course on climate. In the not-so-distant past, this was usually a depressing course about how humans were killing the planet and the animals. Now, 100 years after the climate crisis, species are thriving. Plastic, while still in use, was produced at a manageable rate, and very few people used it outside of necessity. Covering the climate crisis was always an emotional struggle, but seeing how we made it out was always inspiring. 

I made my way to the classroom for 335, nodding and smiling at students I recognized. This university was established on environmentalism nearly 200 years ago, as the first university in the state to have a widespread recycling program. Now-a-days, it’s the top environmental research institutions. Relics of the 1970s were still scattered around the building, with the concrete exterior and almost bunker-like design. They were so worried about nuclear fallout at that time. I wonder if they knew the biggest threat to their way of life was actually themselves? 

As always, my students were already filing in as I stepped into the classroom. A small class of twelve, the students were eager to discuss the world around them. I set my belongings at the head of the room, set up to be a group of four tables arranged in a square. A variety of “Hi, Dr. Pearson” echoed around the small room. I smiled in response, and when I had everyone I began. 

“How many of you are familiar with the climate crisis of the early 21st century?” 

Every single hand went up. This was standard history class material nowadays. Even 50 years ago, that would not have been the case.

“Who can tell me about it?” 

Allie began speaking as she pushed her dark curls behind her ear. “It was a point in time where, if humanity didn’t act, thousands of species would go extinct, as would humans.” 

“People didn’t care about what they were doing to their environment.” Piper was indignant, their face flushed in frustration. “If students hadn’t have stepped up, we wouldn’t be here.”

I nodded, encouraging further discussion. “Does anyone know when the events started?” The students looked at each other and shook their heads. Martin, head turned in confusion, said “the 1980s?” 

I shook my head, and started pacing the way I did when lectures were about to begin. “No. In fact, legislation was beginning to be passed around that time. Now, I’m not a historian, but scientists agree the negative effects of human impact on the environment was around the turn of the 19th century.” I watched as students looked at me in surprise. “Coal and oil were the ones that started us off. Then came plastic, which was in everything: clothing, technology, even food was wrapped in it. It wasn’t until students like yourselves stepped up and spoke out that things began changing.” 

Roberto’s hand shot up. He was the only one that did that. “But how is that possible? How could they spend over a hundred years poisoning our planet.” 

“Planets don’t change. People change planets.” I let that sit for a moment. “Now, what can we surmise from that statement?” 

My students were silent, thinking. I let them sit like that for a while, until, in a quiet voice in the corner of the table spoke. “Well, it’s kind of a glass half full thing, isn’t it?” 

“How so, Liv?” 

“It can be negative. Humans have the power to destroy, for sure. But don’t we also have the ability to build, and rebuild?” 

“Exactly!” My excitement was causing me to gesture wildly at Liv, making them flush and smile. 

“I mean, we built the modes for interplanetary transport,” Penelope said, beginning to gesture while she spoke as well. “We’ve learned a lot from other terrestrial civilizations. People can change planets for the better. We just need to use our powers for good.” 

“‘With great power comes great responsibility,’” quoted Roberto with a chuckle. I stood still for the first time all lecture. My students looked at me expectantly. I took a deep breath, and couldn’t help the smile that was creeping on my face. 

“Speaking of interplanetary travel, has anyone been to Tullian?” Everyone shook their head. Only people with wealth traveled outside of Earth, especially to our sister planet in a neighboring galaxy. “Well, who can tell me about it based on their previous research?” 

“It’s like Earth, but bigger,” Eli started, speaking for the first time. “The climate is essentially the same, but the human-like inhabitants are smaller, and more in tune with nature.” 

“They’re basically Hobbits,” Allie interjected, grinning at her old-timey reference.

“Basically, they are as advanced as we are, without plastic.” Eli looked at me. “Are we going to be studying the alternative materials they use?” 

I hadn’t disclosed the research topic yet to the students because I wanted to get to know them first. Besides, what we were going to be doing needed a lot of funding and I hadn’t been able to secure it until now. “Something like that. We are going to travel to Tullian and embark on a research mission. You all are going to assist me on applying the use of their alternative materials here on earth.”

All twelve students sat there in stunned silence. Allie was the first to break the silence. 

“We’re going to assist you on vital research?” Her eyes were the size of saucers, and a smile was threatening to break the corners of her lips. 

“Sure are. Now, I’ll discuss logistics later, but I’m going to leave you with this assignment: learn as much as you can about Tullian. I expect a 6 page paper in two weeks on your findings. Check your syllabus for details. See you next week!” 

The students excitedly grabbed their things and chatted about their new assignment and the coming semester. As I gathered my things, I thought about my hero, Greta Thunberg. Gone for almost 50 years at this point, her wisdom still lived on in the hearts of these students, who only knew hope and the passion to save and serve. After all, planets don’t change. People change planets. 

Kat Evans has been an actor in Chicago since 2006. Theatres Worked with :City Lit, Black Button Eyes, Promethean, Savoyaires, Hypocrites. Also voices a few podcasts: Our Fair City, Starlight Radio Dreams, Toxic Bag


Gateways: “Big Cheese” by John Harden. Read by Kate Akerboom



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by John Harden. 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, graphic design, journalism and marketing. He is a San Francisco Bay Area native and lives in Santa Rosa, CA. This is “Big Cheese”

Content Note: This story features sexual harassment. If that content makes you feel unsafe, you may want to skip this story.

 

It’s not standard procedure, but for First Contact Captain Steinberger took the tender down to the planet surface alone. He’s always been a glory hog. But if he’d had a translator on his away team — if he’d had an away team — none of this would have happened. I’m just saying.

Before the Captain flew down for his ill-fated little dinner party, we’d only talked to the Yttivari via radio transmission. My psychic abilities only work face-to-face, so we’d been relying on computer translation. Up until the incident, I’ll even admit the computer had been doing a pretty good job of it. Pretty good.

 

When Captain S. does think to bring me on a mission, he calls me “psi-girl.” That’s because he thinks it’s funny, and because it’s also condescending, and also because he can’t be troubled to remember my name. No big deal, but it sets a tone, and many of the crew adopt it. To be fair, I’m not the most popular gal onboard any ship, mostly because people assume I’m always reading their thoughts – fair enough, I probably am. The captain on the other hand doesn’t mind if I read his thoughts, because he thinks it’s a damn privilege. But I don’t fall into the Captain’s bang-able column, so for him I barely exist. That’s not a supposition on my part. I read minds. 

 

Anyhow. Two hours into the away mission, we lost voice contact with the Captain. The Yttivari weren’t talking to us either. We were about to scramble a rescue mission when a proximity alert informed us that the Captain’s tender was out there, on approach for docking.

We were getting telemetry from the tender but no voice contact, despite repeated hails. We guessed (hoped) it was some kind of general radio interference, affecting multiple systems. Still, it was unnerving watching that ship silently get closer and closer. 

It was a standard approach, textbook-perfect. Whoever was piloting punched in all the right clearance codes, too, so we let it dock. But First Officer Khromar went down to the airlocks with an armed security detail, just in case we were wrong. I’m sure they fully expected to see the Captain walk out, pissed off and ready to ream anyone and everyone in sight for the comm fuckup.

That’s not what happened, and that’s when they called me. 

 

As soon as I showed up on deck it walked right up to me. “It” was about five feet tall, and looked less like a man than an abstracted sculpture of a man, assembled from blocks of moldy cheese. 

All the blasters in the room were pointed at it, but it wasn’t doing anything threatening. It wasn’t doing anything, really. Just standing there, facing me. Like it knew I was the one person it might have a shot at communicating with. I would have said it was staring at me, but it had no discernible eyes.

That was when my head started to hurt. At first I thought it was some kind of PSI attack, or attempt to block me from reading it. Then it dawned on me that he just had a headache, too. Not it, he. He was a he, for sure, and he was very upset. When his voice came into my mind it was loud and clear. And familiar.

“You gotta help me, Denise.” It was the Captain.

 

“It was a big ceremony. They had head-dresses, and played drums, and made a big presentation of handing me a cup. So I drank. They said, ‘you’re one of us now.’”

When I relayed that last part, everyone in the room kind of groaned. Captain S. got a little defensive: “Damn it, who wouldn’t assume that was a metaphor?!”

“A psychic,” I wanted to say. I kept my mouth shut. Everyone was thinking it anyway. The security guards standing behind him were actually smirking.

 

First stop for us was the infirmary. Doctor Lee ran all the scans. The whole time saying “huh” and exhaling loudly through her nose.

“Definitely some weird proteins,” she finally ventured.

“Meaning?” I said, on behalf of myself and Captain S.

“Meaning his body has fundamentally changed.”

“Captain says, ‘no kidding.’”

“Not just on the outside. I can’t detect any internal organs to speak of. There is some kind of fibrous network running through it, that might might be a nervous system. Maybe. You’re the first and only example of Yttivarian biology we’ve ever seen. And you’re hardly a typical specimen.”

After the Doc had basically thrown up her hands, I walked Captain S. to his cabin. He didn’t ask me to but he didn’t object, either. He was pretty quiet on the way down. It was probably starting to sink in that there might be no way to reverse this.

We got to his door and he couldn’t get in because biometrics. No voice, no fingerprints, no retinas. I mentally kicked myself for not anticipating the problem while I commed the First Officer for an override.

We finally got in and he sagged down onto the bed. Even with no face I could tell he was feeling pretty anxious and defeated. He kept wringing his fat cube-y little cheese-hands together. Captain S. isn’t my favorite, but seeing him so helpless even my cold heart went out to him a little.

 

He tried pressing some buttons on his desk. They all buzzed an error sound at him.

“I can’t even make a log entry about this.”

“I’ll talk to Singh, he can probably reprogram the ship’s computer to recognize you as captain.”

“What about the crew? Will they still recognize me as their captain?”

“Of course, sir. Nothing’s really changed. These things happen.”

That was stupid. Nothing like this had ever happened.

He got up and faced the mirror.

“I was handsome.”

“We all lose our looks eventually.”

He looked at me. “This is kind of a special case, don’t you think?! Anyway, what would she know about it?”

That last nasty bit wasn’t meant for me to hear, which is why he couched it as “she” and not “you.” But I heard it. He didn’t know I did.

“I’m thinking,” I said, in my most helpful and sincere voice. “You know who’s onboard you might still have a shot with? Patel. He’s not just a xenobiologist, he’s also a xenophile. He was shacked up with a Thorvaxian for a while.

“I’m straight.”

“So’s Patel; the Thorvaxian was a female. But my point is, he’s got an open mind. Maybe you should too. And Thorvaxians have exoskeletons, so Patel might be craving something with a little more give, if you know what I mean.” I poked him in the arm to make my point. My finger sank in a lot further than I expected and I actually got a little queasy for a second.

“You gotta help me, Denise.” There it was again, my real name.

“You gotta go down there and talk to them.”

“I guess I’m the only one who can,” I said. I let that linger in the air a bit. Then:

“Okay Captain. I’ll talk to them. You know, it’s probably just a misunderstanding. Maybe it’s like, a prank they pull on newcomers. Or maybe they think they were doing you a favor.”

“Do you think there’s an antidote?

“Hard to say. I guess I can ask.”

“I would be so grateful.”

“Special Commendation grateful?”

“Uh? Oh, yes, that’s totally appropriate.”

“Awarded at an assembly in front of the whole crew?”

“Y-yes.”

“Also you have to stop calling me psi-girl.”

“That’s fair.”

“Okay then. I’ll ask Officer Khromar to prep the tender.”

I stood up. He stood up with me.

“Well played, Denise,” he said. “You know, I really respect you.” I felt like he actually meant it. Then he started massaging my shoulder with his lumpy hand. I pushed it away. 

“Not happening, cheese-boy.”

.

Kate Akerboom is a multi-creative individual living in Chicago. When she’s not talking about animals at Shedd Aquarium or playing with her beagle, Willie, you can find her performing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire or hear her talking about crime history on her podcast Scofflaws: a History of Law and Disorder. Originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Kate is a proud graduate of University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, possessing degrees in Theatre Performance and History with an emphasis in museum studies. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Public History through Southern New Hampshire University.


Gateways: “Connections” by Ansel Burch



TRANSCRIPT This story is written by Ansel Burch. Ansel is a writer, actor and producer. Right now he is producer and contributing writer for the live comedy show and podcast Starlight Radio Dreams. He is also the Curator for this series. This story is “Connections”

The tall one shook its head. This wasn’t very helpful, agent Johnson reminded herself, as she had no idea what this gesture meant to these extraterrestrials. Even so, it was pretty clear that these visitors were not impressed. 

They’d gone through the protocols, of course. Then, deemed unthreatening, she and a team of agents had taken these aliens to see the White House, the Pentagon, Congress, Times Square, Niagara Falls and the barbed wire museum. That last one was just on the way. Sadly the aliens cared about the Carolina double twist almost exactly as much as anything else on this weird road trip. Now, here they were in the particle accelerator of Fermilab and all the damn aliens would do is shake their heads. 

When they’d first showed up, the joke around the agency was to call them Larry, Curly and Moe. The shorter one was physically more of a Shemp but regardless, these intergalactic tourists were the opposite of the stooges in every way. They were not quick to respond to any provocation though eye gouging and ladder comedy had not yet been employed. Now they’d lost interest in the collider itself and were now staring dutifully at a classic gameboy which someone had left on a desk.

Johnson took a moment to breathe. The protocols had said nothing about a non-communicative but compliant alien who doesn’t carry special technology to trade or weapons to destroy us. All of the manuals had made the assumption that any aliens willing to fly light years across space to land on our planet would have a good reason for doing so. These aliens however, seemed perfectly happy to stare at whatever was put in front of them with an air of genuine consideration before shaking their heads and staring at another thing. 

There was an awestruck scientist vibrating quietly in the corner of the room with his eyes fixed on Curly. Johnson asked if he could fire up the collider and show them how it works. The conversation got all three aliens to consider the hoodie clad man in their usual manner, which is pretty unsettling the first few times. He made a noise that started to sound like the answer should have been no before the answer was enthusiastically yes. While Larry, Curly and Moe each got distracted by other bric a brac, Doctor Kirby flipped a few switches and spent a lot of time in front of a computer terminal from the 90s. 

This gave Johnson more time to think. The aliens hadn’t been interested in government, historical points of interest or centers of scientific discovery. When the last of the team had left her alone with them in New York, Johnson’s only express mission was to provoke some response toward communication. How was she going to do that? 

As the accelerator spooled up and began to hum and whirr, the aliens turned and stared directly at the accelerator. Not the little window where Catherine imagined you’d be able to see the atoms smash together. Instead they were staring at the solid metal cylinder. They stared at the housing full of electromagnets with the exact same look they had given the President and the Statue of Liberty and the sword of General Washington. 

“Provoke a response.” That’s what they told her. She was out of options. The thrumming filled her ears as she focused on her breathing, reached to her waist and unclipped her holster with a practiced thumb. She breathed in deep and slipped steel free from leather. With one smooth exhale she raised the barrel and drew a solid, steady bead on the side of Moe’s head. No one in the room acknowledged the change. 

“Frieeenaugh!” The noise that came out of her was something between a lions growl and the noise of air escaping a balloon. “Everybody, look here.” screamed out of her, unbidden. “So help me, you are going to respond to something today.”

Larry, Curly, Moe and Doctor Kirby all turned to regard her. Kirby was the only satisfying one as he went quietly apoplectic behind his console. The aliens all stared at the gun. Kirby managed to squeak out something like “electromagnet” but Johnson didn’t care. She was in brace stance with a clear, point blank shot at Moe. This was now a combat scenario. She breathed in through tight lips and the world seemed to slow. She allowed her focus to pull back, taking in the whole room. Kirby was reaching for a big red button, the accelerator viewing window was putting off some weak light, the gameboy was falling and about to hit the ground and the aliens were passively standing there, looking at the gun as though it was no more dangerous than the souvenir snow globe she’d bought them at the Canadian border.

Provoke a response. They didn’t understand. How could they understand any of what they’ve seen with no context. They were in a structure just like any other one full of humans which were just animals which were like any other life form. What could they understand when they understood nothing. They needed a language. The idea floated in her mind like a big glowing button labelled “push me”. 

She angled the barrel 15 degrees off of true, moved her finger onto the trigger and squeezed one round from chamber to muzzle to the air. it was now a demonstration. What does the gun do? Moe had seemed to ask, now he would be aware. 

Maybe it was like a car, Johnson told herself. The aliens had seen people arrive in the car, step out of the car and then step back into the car and go away. When a car had come to take the aliens to the processing facility, they had complied. They knew what a car did. 

Maybe this would be like the penny smashing machine at the barbed wire museum. They had been shown the metal going in, the moving of the gears and the resultant piece of metal that was returned. They knew what that machine did. What they had never gotten was why. 

Why did they get in the car? Why did they sit quietly for the entire drive from New Mexico to Washington? Why had they allowed themselves to be ferried all over this damned country if they didn’t get any of it?

Johnson couldn’t handle them not getting it any longer. They needed to figure a couple things out right away and the first one was going to be that she was in charge and when she needed a response, she was going to get one. 

That’s when Moe stopped the bullet. He stopped the goddamn bullet in midair by just staring at it. Then what did he do? He and Curly and Larry stared at it hanging there. Like it was nothing or everything. As they stared Johnson sagged. Not even deadly force would provoke them. 

As she slipped her gun back into its holster and clipped the strap she looked back to Doctor Kirby. He had taken to sliding the various knick knacks on the desk toward him, whether to protect them or himself, she wasn’t sure. She turned her attention back to the aliens just as something changed dramatically. Curly reached out a single knobby finger and booped the bullet’s nose ever so gently. It began to travel back along its original path. Back to Johnson who had a great deal of context for it. 

Johnson had served in Afghanistan for three tours doing counter insurgency. She’d been the first to enter countless houses full of newspapers, religious paraphernalia and strange food containers. Eight confirmed handgun kills were on her record all at close range. One even closer than this little tableau. She knew the sound of metal tearing through flesh and organs. She’d taken three bullets herself, the last one to the neck where it had only just missed her windpipe, jugular and spine. She knew bullets very well. As the next few nanoseconds passed, Johnson reviewed all of her bullet context while Larry Curly and Moe stared, the way they did. 

That’s when it all went shiny. It was to Johnson as though the bullet itself had opened up like one of those mylar blankets they pass out for survival situations. Suddenly she saw all of it exactly as Moe had seen it. He had understood but through a mirror darkly. He knew what a president was, why law was on a hill and why the colorful, illuminated beacon they had seen from space had been built. They knew why that bullet had transited the space between her and them. They knew the children they’d left behind 3 million years ago had failed.

Johnson and Kirby woke up later. The aliens were gone. The particle accelerator was whirring louder than a freight train. Kirby observed, unhelpfully, that these masses were only theoretically possible before the accelerated atoms smashed together, scattering starstuff to the furthest reaches of the galaxy. Hydrogen bound back to hydrogen as it always did. Some connections are elemental.

Alex B Reynolds began acting as Sherlock Holmes in the second grade. Since then, they have played Shere Khan, Gandalf, Iggy Pop, numerous zombies, Jason Voorhees, Luigi, and Skeletor. Character acting is kind of their wheelhouse. Their voice can be heard on the Filmthusiast Final Cut podcast and the Meet/Cute sitcom podcast.


Gateways: Thunder From a Clear Sky by Jeremy Melloul



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Jeremy Melloul. He’s written for as long as he can remember. Since deciding to pursue writing professionally, he has been focusing on writing fantasy and science fiction across media, mainly comics for the last few years. Jeremy tells us that growing up, stories were his escape from a difficult childhood. Today he works to create stories of his own that not only allow people that same sort of escape into imaginary worlds, but also allows them to return to their lives better off for the time they spent away. This is “Thunder from a Clear Sky”.

The sudden explosion takes me by surprise. A trap? They’ll have to do better than that. I already have what I came here for. The treasured scroll is mine, the dry parchment held securely in my clawed grip. 

After the blast, the scroll chamber is in worse condition than I am. Part of the wall is now rubble and the ancient carvings upon it have been shattered, profaned in a desperate defense. 

From somewhere behind me a loud yell reverberates through the room. I turn around, but can’t make out anything through the dust. The explosion was just a set-up for this! Through the cloud a heavy spear thrusts forward, aimed low, towards my stomach – the only part of my body bereft of scales. 

My hand lunges for the spear. It pierces my armor, but I stop it before it reaches flesh. The cold metal struggles to inch forward, but despite the attacker’s effort, I keep it bay,

As the dust settles, the spear begins to shake. The human must be realizing who I am. A shame. My years of conquests were supposed to give rise to greater resistance, but instead only broke the will of those who might fight me. Now cities surrender at the sight of my army’s banners. And even the most valiant warriors fear dying upon my horns, or seeing their blades break upon my scales. An unfortunate consequence of my victories.

The dust clears, revealing the figure still desperately pushing the spear forward. It’s a child. A boy, by the look of him. Small with short blonde hair and dressed in a temple attendant’s robes, which is now covered in dust. Though I stand more than twice his size he still attacked. He even went as far as to plan a trap to increase his chances… which means he thought he stood a chance to begin with. Foolish.

Though he shakes, he does not shake with fear. Well, not just fear. There is also rage there. And I can’t help but smile. A hatchling attempting what its parents will not… 

But he is still human, unfortunately. And these soft-skinned beings are easily broken.

“Now!” the child screams, his eyes darting up. I follow his gaze up to the rafters, where two slightly younger children, also dressed in dirty attendant’s clothes, step out of the darkness and empty a large sack of rocks over my head. My arms instinctively rise to protect myself, and the rocks crash harmlessly against my scales. There’s more to his plan? Surprising, I-

A sharp pain in my gut shatters my line of thought. I look down and see the spear I had been holding has pierced my skin. Slowly, blood seeps from the wound, green and blue, running along the weapon’s edge.

A shallow injury, but how long has it been since I last bled… 

With a roar I slam my scaled arm down against the wood of the spear, snapping it in half. The child’s hold on the weapon broken, he steps back, frightened. Years of conquest and a hatchling is the first to make me bleed. I should be offended, but instead, my interest is piqued. Why does this one still struggle when the warriors of his kind surrender?

I pull out the broken spear from my body, throw it aside, and turn my attention overhead, to the other children hiding in the rafters. Are they the same? 

Still holding the scroll in one claw, I call on my Way of Fire and will a flame into existence in my other palm. Its glow covers the room in an unnatural green light and fills me with warmth – a reflection of my power, which turns all obstacles before me into fuel for my growth, like wildfire in a verdant forest.

Without a worthy foe, my fire is not what it once was, but it is more than enough to deal with a few whelps. With a thought, the flame stretches from my hand in an instant – a ray of flames surging overhead, consuming the wooden rafters the children above are hiding in. 

Disappointing. The fear is obvious on their faces as they scramble away from the flames. 

“Leave them alone! Screams the other child, running straight for me, undeterred. Perhaps it’s just him, then. The other two are just like their craven progenitors.

He throws himself at me, grabbing onto my arm and trying to pull away the fire from his kin. But his weight is negligible. Despite his weakness he pulls harder and harder, desperate to save them. Good. Anger can motivate.

Having seen enough, I withdraw the ray, but keep the flame circling in my hand and grab the little hellion by the shoulder, his clothing catching fire as my grip tightens around him. I wrench him off of me and lift him up to eye level. 

“You are a credit to your kind, hatchling. What is your name?”

The boy just glares me, silent, his blue eyes tinted green by my flame. I tighten my grip as the fire twists the skin beneath his clothes, and his face contorts in pain. “Speak. Or your kin will burn.”

Despite the pain he must feel his glare does not falter. I can see it in his eyes…  A desire to fight. How long has it been since anyone’s looked at my like that?

Then he opens his mouth and answers. Not with words, but with a wet glob of spit that splatters on my face…

Insolent! Using my full strength I throw him aside, sending him careening towards the wall. He slams against it hard, and falls to the ground, crumpled.

Another blast of fire to the rafters overhead and the wood rips loudly as the structure falls apart, crashing to the ground, the terrified whelps falling along with it. Step by step I approach, my flame continually spinning around my hand. The other child has merit, but they are useless. So I will give them purpose as fuel for my flames.

“Wait…” the other child croaks.

I stop, mostly out of curiosity, and look back over my shoulder as he pushes himself up, blood staining the corners of his mouth, his scorched clothes now in tatters. He holds a piece of burning wood fallen from the rafters in one hand, and a scroll in the other. My scroll!

I was just holding it. How did he-

He lets it unroll, the fire almost licking the edge of the aged parchment. “Let them go or it burns…” 

“Watch. Your. Tone.” I say through gritted fangs.

“Let them go!” he demands.

The other two children cower in fear, holding each other tight. Am I really going to allow myself to be humiliated by a human hatchling? Ridiculous… But I want that scroll.

I clench my fist and smother the fire in my grip.

The unruly child calls to the other whelps. “Teo. Sora. Go! Run! Get out of here!”

“But, brother…” answers one.

“Just go! I’ll catch up!”

Quickly, the two small children run out of the chamber. Their footfalls grow distant. When all is silent again I extend out my hand, expectantly.

“The scroll,” I say, a growl underscoring my words.

And then, the child just smirks.

“Watch your tone,” he mocks as he touches the burning wood to the scroll. And in a single moment the dry old parchment catches, consumed all at once.

“NO!” I charge forward, knocking the little demon aside. He slams into a pillar and falls to the ground, limp. But the scroll is already gone.

My rage surges and the fire comes, unbridled, billowing out from me, scorching the remains of the chamber walls. 

How dare he! The little bastard!

I turn my attention to his unconscious body. It would feel so good to turn him to ash…

But as he lies there, already defeated, a question takes hold of my mind. Why? He fought in spite of his fear. Made me bleed. Robbed me of what I wanted. Why was he able when no adult of his kind was? The answer comes, a whisper at the edge of my consciousness. Limits. The child has yet to learn his. To him, anything remains possible. And perhaps, he’s not wrong. Though he is weak right now, all the right pieces are there. What could he become with the proper training? The proper resources… 

My temper subsides and the fire dies down. On the Way of Fire, I can only grow with an obstacle in my path… And I have long lacked a proper foe. Perhaps it is time I raise one of my own. 

I grab the boy by the neck, careful not to squeeze too tight. He smells like burnt meat. His skin scorched to the bone from where I gripped him. But he still breaths.

Outside the temple, the Jade City has been broken. Fires consume the ships that hoped to escape and the waterways run thick with the blood and bodies of the fallen. Near the docks I catch sight of a trio of my ravagers, looking hungrily at their next meal… the two young ones from earlier. 

“Stop,” I order.

“I want them alive.” The burned one went to great lengths to save them. They must be important to him. Weak though they might be, they will make excellent motivation for my new protégé… 

Thank you, Kim. 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: The Explorer by Isaac Rathbone



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

First Transmission To Guild Headquarters

 

Explorer Guild Member YA-2GA reporting a successful physical transport to the planet’s surface. I am experiencing no physical distress from the sub-atomic reassembly after the projection launch. The veil of the survival generator, still harnessed tightly to my body, is fully functional. There are no ill effects from the planet’s atmospheric conditions. I must wait to see if the image disruptor has created a proper visage to disguise me among the dominant species, known to us as the “Grounders.” My initial observation of the terrain is that it is a barren wasteland, covered in a thick dust that swirls in harsh winds. No moisture. The only vegetation noticed has been dried beyond its death into twisted, mummified brambles. My friends, it is perfect! As per standard Explorer Guild Protocols, I have been projected far from any civilized communities (if you consider the Grounders civilized). Stand by for future transmissions as I search for temporary shelter.

 

Second Transmission To Guild Headquarters

 

My esteemed colleagues, my quest continues to yield unbelievable good fortune. Unlike other regions of this neighboring planet, the geology here bears a striking resemblance to our world. Minus the reddish hue, the landscape feels oddly like home. As I marched onward towards a potential shelter, my mind could not help but be encouraged by the opportunity here for us. After a long stretch, I came across an upright marker that may have indicated some type of trade route. Though linguistics was never my strongest skill, I believe that the Grounders call this sector KAN-SAS. I have included an image for the Linguistics Department to decipher and look forward to their conclusions.

 

Third Transmission To Guild Headquarters

 

I have found the remnants of an abandoned settlement and claimed it as my shelter. It is a cubic structure, made from re-purposed vegetative matter, that is common to this world. However, due to the degenerative nature of organic compounds, this home has been torn apart by natural elements. This confirms our belief that their primitive culture has yet to learn that civilizations can only thrive by expanding below ground, rather than above.

The interior has been completely emptied of its furnishings except for the scattered piles of debris and artifacts. Hanging vertically on a wall is a reflective metal, allowing me to finally get a glimpse of what my image disruptor is producing. I bear the resemblance of an aged female member of the dominant species. There is a mass of gray hair atop my head. My beautiful green skin is now wrinkled and a sickly shade of white. My mouth is full of dulled, square shaped teeth rather than our glistening yellowed sharp fangs. A hideous disguise, but I know there is no alternative.

I found the area where sustenance was most likely prepared, for there was an energy producing capsule forged of iron ore. I took a swift inventory of my pack: communicator, immunization and medical kit, individual protein processor, and tactical energizer. Everything appears to be in good-working order. As I searched, I came across a narrow portal. What I have found fills me with such excitement as I write! Beyond the portal is a descension to a lower level, below the surface. The floor here is made up of dried dirt and the walls are adorned with storage structures holding clear containers of what looks like sustenance. There are also some rudimentary tools, made even more useless by advanced states of oxidization. Here is an optimal entry point where we can begin the tunneling process. I have included technical readouts from geological samples for analysis. 

 

Fourth Transmission To Guild Headquarters

 

I am reporting my first contact with the Grounders. While taking meteorological readings outside the shelter, I was approached by two adult males. One was older, wearing dark blue apparel, a white sub-garment over his torso and a vertical textile running down the sternum. I deducted that this must be a low-level magistrate. The other male wore what appeared to be a military uniform, complete with a tactical belt and weapon. Affixed on his left pectoral region was a piece of gold metal in a six-pointed shape. This same shape adorned the side of their vehicle. He must be a Sentry Escort. Each wore a cap with a circular light shade around the perimeter, which they oddly lifted when they saw me. Transcribed are the magistrate’s words:

“’Morning ma’am. My name is Chester Jenkins. I’m the Assistant Branch Manager of the Great Plains Mutual Bank. This here is Sheriff Montgomery of the Kansas State Police. Now, ma’am. We both understand this here Depression has weighed folks down like an anchor and this here drought is like something out of the Old Testament. But that don’t give folks any right to break the law, see? This is private property belonging to the bank. And you are trespassing, which is against the law. You need to leave or else the Sheriff will be forced to escort you off the premises.”

The Sentry then moved his hands to just above his tactical belt. He seemed committed to this subtle act of aggression, so I took no chances. The carefully aimed bolt shot out from the tip of my tactical energizer and into the chest of the Sentry, causing him to lift off the ground and land up against the front of his vehicle. The low-level magistrate began to shout.

“What kind of wickedness is this?“

Another shot from the energizer and he was on the ground. A positive aspect of this encounter is that I now have two large specimens to be transformed into sustenance. The downside is that I only have a small individual protein processor, so I will need to use the crude oxidized tools to cut them into the appropriate sized pieces. Thus, you will notice the need for a standard size protein processor on my latest equipment breakdown request.

 

Fifth Transmission To Guild Headquarters

 

I will keep this transmission brief. It is discouraging that you refuse to honor my proposal for a labor team to join me here in the KAN-SAS sector. If the Guild is serious about establishing a base of operations, there must be adequate help to create tunnels and trenches to our specifications. I hope that you will re-consider and not turn this into another petty budget squabble.

 

Sixth Transmission To Guild Headquarters

 

I may have found a solution to our labor problem! I believe that this will satisfy all of our needs in a fiscally responsible manner. At first light, I was visited by another group of Grounders. Not a herd of the full grown variety, but a grouping of five calves. Each of them looked contaminated and malnourished, yet still on the verge of full strength. The eldest, a female just about at breeding age, spoke. Transcribed are her words:

“Good morning, Ma’am. We hate to bother you, but I reckon you are a good Christian woman. Our Ma done passed to Heaven months back and Pa, he been outta steady work for a year, could only find comfort in the bottle. So me and my brothers and sisters here done run off on account of the beatings and what not. We’re headed west to Nevada to live with an Uncle that’s got himself a ranch. We are so hungry. Might we trouble you for anything you might have to eat in your domicile? Then we’ll be on our way. Each swear to it.”

 Their young are small enough to tunnel for us and given the right amount of reward could easily be trained. And if they refuse or fall ill, they can be proceeded as sustenance. I raised my hand to bid them entry and did my best to replicate their horrid speech.

“Come, come my little dearies. Inside and have yourselves some cakes and other sweets.”

You will notice that my updated equipment breakdown includes a full-size image disruptor. I would like to transform the appearance of my shelter to something that is more inviting to their young and could aide me in luring them in.  

Thank you, Kat.  Kat Evans has been an actor in Chicago since 2006. In that time she has worked with City Lit, Black Button Eyes, Promethean, Savoyaires and the Hypocrites. You may also recognize her voice from a few podcasts including Our Fair City, Starlight Radio Dreams and Toxic Bag


“Rebecca and Joan Don’t Finish the Test” by Chris Vanderark



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Chris Vanderark. Chris is a script writer working around Chicago. He writes mostly plays and sketch comedy. He sometimes works in theatre for young audiences. His work is typically queer/female focused. He enjoys playing around with genre and loves merging Sci-Fi into unexpected places. He Describes his work as “funny, experimental [and] kind of fucked.” This is “Rebecca and Joan don’t finish the test”.

Rebecca and Joan don’t finish the test 

REBECCA: 

He cries more than I thought he would. Not that that’s surprising or anything. He’s a baby. He cries. Babies cry. I get that. And it’s not even that annoying of a cry. It’s exactly what you’d expect a crying baby to sound like. Almost stereotypical – how like a baby he sounds like. And I recognize every cue he makes: I know the hungry cry, the tired cry, all of it. They sound different. The thing’s smart. Or my maternal instincts are kicking in. Either way. I don’t know. 

Joan’s doing something on the stove. Eggs? She’s been all about fried eggs in the morning lately. Probably cuz of something she read in some article or something. This makes me laugh for two reasons: I think my wife is such a dork, and I think it’s cute. I’m glad she’s on a fried egg trend. It means that she’s cooking which I appreciate, and any moment it gives me alone with the baby just gives me a chance to raise our score. Joan lowers the score; she yells a lot, slams the door. Little things. 

“Fuck!” I hear her shout from the kitchen – immediately followed by a pan hitting the floor. 

“You okay-?” “Fine! I’m fine.” She starts singing. This dumb song. From when we were kids probably. She’s been singing it all week. 

I look at the baby’s face. He looks pleasant, peaceful – he must be enjoying her singing. Probably gets us a few points. I try to hum along – his face wrinkles a bit. God, I wanna just grab it and squish it all around. Baby faces. My eyes shift to his hair – smooth, silky, almost fake. 

I wonder if it is fake. I pinch a bit of his hair and tug a little. Joan is still singing from the kitchen. God I’m so sick of hearing that song. I’m tugging. It’s not coming out; they must have it glued in here pretty tight then. I hear the stove being turned off. Joan’s footsteps. Heel heavy. She’s always walked with heavy heels. Loud. 

I tug as hard as I think I can. The hair pops out. It’s fast, sudden, almost scares me for a sec. The baby hasn’t woken up. Thank God. Joan is almost here – I stuff the hairs in the cushion of the couch right as she enters the room. 

“You look good. With the baby. Nice. Fitting.” Joan’s uncomfortable. I can tell. Her voice trails off when she’s awkward. “Thanks.” I respond. She’s setting the food down. We don’t say much for the rest of the meal. It doesn’t really bother me much. 

 

JOAN: 

It cries more than I thought it would; and I keep hearing it. Everywhere I go. I hear it in the telephones at work and I hear it in the screeching brakes in traffic. Every kid on the street I hear and my brain goes straight to that fucking cry. I can’t stand it. I’m about to lose my goddamn mind – – but Rebecca likes it. And that’s what this is all about. REBECCA: 

I grip the steering wheel a little tighter. The skin on my knuckles looks so thin, I wonder if that’s caused from stress. My eyes shift from the road, to the clock, to my knuckles for the next half an hour – by the time I realize it, I’m home, I’m walking up to the door, I have a headache. “Becca?” I shout, softly while walking in. She’s not there – I think. I kick my shoes off, walk to the kitchen. Still nothing. Just the soft ticking noise the plastic blinds make when the wind blows through the window. The hard wooden chair in the kitchen isn’t comfortable, but I sink into it. Melting. Every noise, smell, hitting my body at once. And then I hear it: 

It’s crying again. My headache is instantly back – I move to the bedroom, the sound of its shrieks getting louder and louder. Becca says she can differentiate them – fuck that. They all sound the same to me. 

By the time I get to the bedroom, it’s stopped. The thing is asleep again, and so is she. Not even under the covers; the bit of sun coming through the curtains, wrapping around her body. A soft glow. I love it. 

I glance over at the gaping mouth of the crib- Tip-toeing towards it, so not to wake anyone or anything in the room. I look down at the baby. Its chest even moves up and down to look like it’s breathing. Weird. It stirs, face wrinkling up. 

I touch its eyelid. It’s soft, like a human’s. I push my finger down on the eye – it gives a little. Sliding my finger to the tear duct, I push hard. My finger sticks in. Baby isn’t reacting at all, probably doesn’t have any sensors in its tear duct. I’m sure they’re not expecting fucking weirdos like me to stick their damn fingers down its eye. 

It’s dry in there. My finger gets stopped by some plastic. Figures. Everything real about this is just on the surface- 

“What are you doing?” Becca’s woken up. As quickly as I can I take my finger out of the baby’s eye. 

JOAN You were sleeping / I didn’t want to 

REBECCA I know I was sleeping, what were you doing with the baby? 

JOAN – – – 

REBECCA Joan? 

JOAN What? 

REBECCA Why are you acting like this? 

JOAN Like what / Bec. I honestly don’t- 

REBECCA I get that you hate the thing. It’s two months. Can we at least have a decent score at the end of it. 

JOAN We’ll have a good enough score to adopt. Settle down. 

REBECCA Will we? Your finger was just down it’s eye socket. – – – I feel like you’re sabotaging / any fucking chance we have at this 

JOAN I’m not. I’m not sabotaging, I just don’t want to do this yet / okay 

REBECCA I know you don’t. I get that. I get it, you don’t want a kid, I get it. 

JOAN – – – That’s not true. 

REBECCA I’ll bring it back tomorrow. 

JOAN I can bring it back- 

REBECCA While you’re at work, I’ll bring it back.

 

JOAN: 

She laid back down. She was done with the conversation. I knew not to continue when she was like this. I’d rather not have an argument. 

REBECCA:

The box is lumpy – honestly I’m more humiliated by my inability to get the thing back in the box than I am by returning it before the two month mark. I slide the box across the counter to the cashier. 

“Only three more weeks and we’d find out your score-” “We’re not interested.” I’m interested. I know I’d be a killer parent. The thing would’ve graded me as a brilliant fucking parent. 

“Well,” the cashier is continuing, “Parenthood’s tough. I wouldn’t even know where to start taking one of these things home with me-” 

“It’s not tough. I’m not the problem here, I’m just-” I trail off. I’m embarrassing myself. I just need to return the doll and be done with it. We finish the transaction in silence. As they’re handing me my receipt I see between the cracks of the box. The soft flesh of the doll inside – I’m still angry. I would have scored great. I would be an excellent parent. 

I grab the receipt, crinkling it into the smallest ball I can in my fist. The harsh afternoon sun strikes my forehead as I step outside the store into the parking lot. I don’t feel like opening the car door. I don’t feel like doing anything. The sun is burning my forehead, one drop of sweat tickling my eyebrow. 

“Maybe not ready yet.” I mutter. I open the car door and climb inside. Ten minutes later and I’d start the car. I resent Joan. And I miss the doll. Something must be wrong with me. 

Karolyn Blake is an actor and improviser in Chicago with a passion for dogs, laughter, and inclusive spaces. She is a founding member of the Shrews Improv and proud to be a singer in the Shanty Shipwreck Show. You can see and hear her every month in Starlight Radio Dreams, recorded live at Mrs. Murphy and Son’s Irish Bistro and available wherever fine podcasts are downloaded.

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.

Robert 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: “Hey Joe” by Brendon Connelly



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Brendon Connelly. Brendon is currently a student of creative writing at the University of Oxford and will start his MA at UEA in the Autumn. Last summer his audio drama The Hypnotist was a winner at the Penfro Literary festival. His background is largely in film and TV production, having spent 20 years as a film journalist and editor. More recently He has been writing prose and poetry as well as drama. Brendon tells us “I believe that no good will ever come from driving a wedge between plot and character. What’s more, no drama will ever come from *not* driving wedges between your characters.” This is “Hey Joe”

You’ll never really understand because you were just born this way but it’s great to be a human. Take it from somebody who joined the species a little later in life. In short, being human is really rather awesome. Here are my top three great things about being one of you.

Number three: you enjoy your food. My people eat just because it hurts too much not to. Appetite where I come from is all stick and no carrot. But now that I’ve got a human body I love to eat all of the time whether I need to or not. Just because I can, really. Just because chocolate, and apples, and bacon and wheat and – holy moly! – plum sauce. Plum sauce! Well done, humans. Well done.

Reason number two: you enjoy sex. When my people get too old to reproduce they just don’t bother anymore. If you catch one of my lot masturbating, then you know you’ve got a serious problem. A full-bore, crazyhead-eating-their-own-shit kind of problem. A lock-them-up-and-weld-the-hatch-shut kind of problem. You guys, though? You just can’t leave your bits alone and, let me tell you, now that I have the very same bits, I get it. I get it.

And reason number one is dreams. Every night, I can just close my eyes and go off on a wild ride or two. Dreams don’t usually make sense and they’re sometimes deeply scary but they’re just so profoundly personal. No book or song or movie will ever be able to speak to you quite the way your own dreams do. Dreams are just the best, and I think you guys just take them for granted.

So, pretty much, thanks in no small part to food, and jacking off and dreams, it’s been a good few months since I came here to your lovely little planet and became one of you. Of course, none of this is to say there weren’t a few hiccups along the way.

Joe Cushing of Apartment 38, Tabor Pointe Apartments, Portland, Oregon was chosen to be my host because he was almost always alone. Joe Cushing “kept himself to himself.” Transfer Operations had spied on him regularly and were confident that when they pulled Joe Cushing out of his meat and pushed me in, there would be nobody there to witness it. And for another thing, Transfer Operations said, Joe Cushing had recently attempted suicide. It was a sincere attempt, not just a cry for help.

So you’d like to know, I’m sure, that the process was entirely painless for this poor human. Well, it really wasn’t so bad. I can promise you that he died peacefully in his sleep and, no matter what the obituary pages say, that’s an exceptionally rare ending for one of your species. Any one of you will be very lucky to have a death like Joe Cushing’s. He just drifted away, maybe even with a nice dream or two to go out on, and he never even had a clue that I was moving in. No fear, no suffering, no mess. It was nothing like that night last winter when he deliberately jumped head-first from his balcony.

Transfer wasn’t quite so painless from my side of the deal. I’d been warned over and over that the process would be extremely dehydrating but, of course, there’s no way to just hop into a human body and take it out for a test drive so I didn’t really know what the warnings actually meant. Not until I was slumped on Joe Cushing’s couch, feeling like I was turning to dust and feeling so confused that I didn’t know my petrified ass from my desiccated elbow.

Joe’s life memories went with him but his head was still full of the most basic, important and useful things, even if they seemed a bit tangled at first. With a bit of effort, I was able to work out how to walk on two legs and where the kitchen was, and when I stopped for a moment and thought about it, I even knew that the faucet could give me either warm water or cold depending on how I operated it.

Water’s not as fun as food (not even nearly, and it tastes of dust) but it certainly does the trick, doesn’t it? I can’t find a language on this planet that really has the words to describe what I was going through as I drank that first crucial litre of water. Ironically enough, the best I can do in English is say that, as I sat there on Joe Cushing’s couch and kept imbibing, I started to feel like myself again. And when I was myself, I realised right away that things had already gone horribly wrong.

Joe Cushing’s apartment has a balcony, and across from the balcony, on the other side of the complex is another apartment with a balcony, and sitting on that balcony, looking right over at me, peering into Joe’s window was Elizabeth Greaves.

We made eye contact, just for a second, and then she looked away. She opened the door back to her apartment, stepped inside, then drew a curtain closed. I spent the rest of the night sitting on Joe Cushing’s couch, watching Elizabeth Greaves’ balcony out of the corner of my, waiting to see if she’d come back, and wondering if maybe she’d come around to my new apartment and confront me.

Now, I’ve never seen anybody arrive in a human body but I’ve heard that it’s quite a spectacle and that’s why hosts like Joe Cushing are chosen, living alone with nobody around to see the light show. So what if Elizabeth Greaves had seen me arriving, in something like a blinding flash and what we’ll have to call a tear in reality? What if she saw through the rift and there was my old body getting atomised, maybe, or even Transfer Operations at the controls, making the magic happen?

I quickly realised there was another possible explanation. Maybe she looked over and saw Joe Cushing, simple old Joe Cushing, and it was just because it was him, because of her past with him, that she looked away?

Perhaps they were old friends and things had gone wrong. Perhaps there had been some sort of dispute or argument. Maybe – and I know better now than to put this past any thirty seven-year-old American man who lives alone – Joe Cushing had a habit of sitting there on his couch, masturbating for the wild human pleasure of it and Elizabeth Greaves had seen it? I think that would have generated the appropriate degree of urgent distress that I had read in her reaction.

So either she’d seen me arriving on Earth through a dimension-distorting, deliberately constructed flaw in every continuum known to my culture or perhaps, previously, she’d wandered out onto her balcony, looked over this way and spotted her sad, lonely neighbour going to town on his modest little penis in front of the TV. It seemed logical enough that it was probably one of those two things, which made me rather anxious.

I didn’t know exactly how the bigger mission could be scuppered by a human seeing my arrival, but the whole point of me taking on a human host in the first place was to be discreet. If Elizabeth Greaves had seen something, what should I do?

I sat on Joe Cushing’s couch and pondered. After a while, my mind wandered to the food in the kitchen so I went through and raided the fridge, loading a bowl with everything that looked half-way good, and then came back to the couch to ponder some more.

This was when the second little hiccup happened, because out there now, over on Elizabeth Greaves’ balcony was not Elizabeth Greaves but two other humans. Tiny ones, a pair of just lovely twin babies, sitting in their cute little stroller. I know now that these babies are Samuel Jamie Greaves and Douglas Robert Greaves, but at the time, I had no idea of names, much less the babies’ identities. I just knew that they looked like the most adorable little creatures I had ever seen. Something in my human body felt a powerful attraction to these little ones. I think you’d call it primal.

Almost right away, Elizabeth Greaves walked out onto her balcony and sat in a seat next to the stroller. She rocked the twins back and forth while she spoke on her cellphone and not once did she look up, or over at Joe Cushing’s apartment, and there was nothing urgent about her manner. Indeed, she seemed to have quite a calm mood, if she wasn’t exactly happy.

Thanks to Joe Cushing’s choice of carby treats, I was finding myself rather tired. I gave in to the human impulse, and lay down on the couch and went to sleep. It was then that I had my first dream.

I dreamt of the twins. I dreamt of taking them back home, and how popular they would be. I dreamt of keeping them for myself, and raising them to be the very best they could be. I would raise them well, imparting the best of human knowledge as well as the wisdom of my people. These babies would grow larger and stronger and become mighty, important humans.

Though the dream got extremely mixed up at the end, I think the twins became adults with powerful expensive motorcycles and important government positions. Somewhere along the line they signed a treaty to allow all of my people to come to Earth and take over whatever bodies they needed, no questions asked. That’s the way their Daddy had raised them, they explained – to know that giving is far more important than taking.

Before the Transfer, my old shell was long past child bearing age, and thanks to the zygote-frying side-effects of my arrival, there was no chance of me siring healthy offspring using Joe Cushing’s body. There was much appeal, however, in just taking the twins. It was certainly going to be cleaner than pregnancy and birth, not to mention cheaper. It instantly seemed like a good idea to just grab them in the night and blow out of town in a hurry.

And why hang around? Let’s suppose that Elizabeth Greaves had seen me arrive and that, in the morning, she was going to call… I don’t know. I’ve been over three months and I’ve still got no idea who humans are supposed to call when they see an alien take over the body of their neighbour. I’m guessing it’s probably the cops. I didn’t really want to have to deal with the cops.

So I went to the kitchen and loaded a bag with food and bottles of water and soda from the fridge, then took this down to the parking lot and put it all in Joe Cushing’s little red truck. I moved the truck as close as I could to the parking lot exit, to help me make my impending quick, cop-free getaway.

There was no way I could find Elizabeth Greaves’ apartment from the inside of the complex, much less get inside. I knew the only way to get there would be to go balcony to balcony all the way around from Joe Cushing’s. It was time consuming and I bruised my new body a few times, but I made it, and there’s nothing to say that anybody saw me, or that I woke anybody up along the way. I’m still quite proud of what I pulled off that night. It actually makes me feel quite cool. Do you think that you could do it?

Almost every balcony door was slightly open, thanks to the hot summer night, and Elizabeth Greaves’ was one of them. I was able to slide the door open and step inside, into a living room that was, radically different tastes in ornamentation aside, exactly the same as Joe Cushing’s. The whole apartment complex was built to the same plan, which certainly helped me in my creeping around in the dark.

I found the bedroom easily, and there they were: the twins, each in their own basket, the two of them positioned alongside the bed. Elizabeth Greaves’ had kicked off her duvet and was lying in a sprawl, snoring gently. I decided to do it quickly – just grab the twins and run.

But, you see, the full limit of my experience with human babies was seeing these two from my balcony earlier that evening, and Joe Cushing seemed to be painfully useless with kids, with nothing at all in his mind that could give me even the slightest clue as to how everything was just seconds away from going terribly wrong.

So I grabbed the first basket. Stupidly, of course. I know that now. It was basket with Douglas Robert Greaves inside, and at the very moment I grabbed it, with no prompting at all, Douglas Robert Greaves went from peaceful and dormant to pink and shrieking and angry. It was violent. That’s the only word for it.

And so I dropped the basket and fled the room, rushing to the balcony and dashing out. I didn’t look back to see what Elizabeth Greaves’ was doing. My heart was pounding and, somehow related to this, I was starting to feel a little dizzy. I sat on the chair on the balcony and tried to settle down.

Then the door opened and there was Elizabeth Greaves. I was scared but she looked terrified. Not even the big knife she was holding in her hand was doing anything to give her calm or confidence.

That’s when she started screaming at me to get out. So I told her that I was already out, that the balcony was outside, and should be counted as such so could we please calm down.

She told me that I had already had my last chance and that I had blown it. I told her sorry but I couldn’t remember what this last chance was and I improvised that I’d been sick lately and forgetting a lot of things.

She told me that no judge in the whole country would convict her if she stuck the knife into me now. I told her that I could snap her wrist and take the knife and slit her throat with it, but I didn’t want to. I told her that I could, and if I had to, I would, but that it would be a last resort. I stressed it again: I didn’t want to, but could.

She told me that she was going to get a court order that meant I couldn’t come within a hundred metres of her or the kids so I’d better put the apartment on the market and go to a motel. I told her that I’d do exactly that.

But while we were talking, I was turning around on the balcony, putting myself between Elizabeth Greaves’ and the window door to the apartment. I backed slowly away and stepped inside and then – with all the speed that Joe Cushing’s body could manage, slammed it shut and locked it. Then I scrambled to the bedroom and grabbed the twins, one under each arm. They kicked and wriggled and howled, but I held on tight and ran as fast as I could.

It was a bit of a puzzle to find my way out of the apartment block, and thanks to Elizabeth Greaves’ screaming, lots of the other residents woke up and came to their doors to see what was happening. They just watched, of course, as I hurried with the kids to the truck, tossed them in the backseat, and then jumped into the front and drove away.

So things got off to a bad start but don’t they always? The situation has settled down quite a bit in the last few weeks, and Samuel Jamie Greaves is now crying a lot less. We even found somewhere nice to bury his brother’s body, near lots of trees and flowers. Best of all, I still see Douglas Robert Greaves in my dreams. He knows I made some mistakes, but he tells me that he understands. I don’t like at all how he insists on calling me Joe, but I’m so happy that he has forgiven me.

Robert 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.