Tag Archives: Conspiracy

Gateways: “Star Sucker” by Amber Palmer read by Jasmin Tomlins and Coco Kasperowicz

TRANSCRIPT: Amber Palmer’s plays have been seen across the US, including at Activate Midwest, Flint Repertory Theatre, Bristol Valley Theatre, and Tipping Point Theatre. A monologue from their play “It’s a Small World (or The Robot Play)” is published in Best Men’s Monologues of 2019. Awards and publications include Best Men’s Monologues of 2019, City Theatre’s National Award for Short Playwriting (finalist, 2019), Tipping Point Theatre’s Sandbox Play Festival (2nd place, 2019) and Gary Garrison 10 Minute Play Award (Region 3 finalist, 2018). They were Artist-in-Resident at The Mitten Lab in 2019 and resident playwright at Queer Theatre Kalamazoo in the 2019-2020 season. MFA Western Michigan University. This is “Star Sucker”.


There’s nothing like the feeling of harvesting starlight. It’s a moment of piercing,  insurmountable heat, and then, all at once, cool darkness. People go into star harvesting to feel  the raw power of the universe in their hands, but I often think I do it for that flash of heat. That  brief moment where you watch something end and something else begin.  

Okay. That’s a lie. I got into star harvesting because I got dumped.  

And this wasn’t one of those “everything was mutual. We’ve changed as people” break ups. This  was a blindsided, “it’s not me, it actually is you” kick to the face. After something like that, the  idea of sucking the energy out of stars to feed your friends and neighbors sounds like a sweet  gig. Best case scenario, everyone likes you for doing a dangerous, but necessary job. Worst case  scenario, you fall into a star and disintegrate, and honestly, that’d be fine.  

It’s the one day off that was always the hardest. It’s easy to forget that we’re a displaced  population when you’re traveling all the time, but being confined to a communal ship, even for a  day, brings all those feelings back. The small bedroom I’m allotted is a prison with just a simple  bed and a screen to receive my next assignments. Lying here, I can still hear the sound of them  drilling into the soil of our home planet. It was only one or two probes at first, but after they  found that the soil could support their life, it was a constant hum on my planet. We shouldn’t  have been surprised when they pretended our relationship was symbiotic until they got what they  wanted. It was in their nature after all. 

A ping rips through the hums. Another assignment. Some mercy. But even looking at the  message, it feels like an impossibility.  

“Extraction: Earth’s Sun. Please leave immediately and with discretion.” 

I quickly type “are you sure?”. Up until now, I hadn’t fully considered who was giving me my  assignments. It was all very disconnected, which has always been fine by me, but now. This is a  strategic move. There are so many other stars. Another ping. Another simple message. 

“Yes. Please leave immediately and with discretion.” 

I grabbed my work bag and hurried to my excavator. There’s something about knowing a secret  that makes you completely forget how to function around other people. Did I used to wave or  smile at my neighbors? I have no idea, but running to the excavator, I was waving and smiling  like a one-person parade. We’ll call that discrete. It’s fine. 

I hold my breath until the excavator door closes behind me, and all at once, I’m moving and  there’s no looking back. It’s all preprogrammed. All of this would be automated if our scientists  could discover how exactly to replicate our ability to extract energy from stars. They still haven’t  gotten it right, and honestly, I’m hoping they never do.

I couldn’t help but think about Shelby in the hours between my home ship and Earth’s Sun. How  appropriate is it to tell your ex that you’ve been tasked with essentially destroying their home  planet? Would she even believe me? If she did believe me, would she try to stop me? But as the  hours ticked down, I knew I at least had to warn her. At a courtesy.  

A gentle ping signaled that I arrived. Mentally, I created excuses for my supervisor as to why I  needed to use the escape pod. I’m sure they’d believe it was an accident, and woops, I just  happened to accidentally bring an Earth vampire with me. Yeah. This will be fine, I kept  assuring myself as I climbed into the escape pod and put in the coordinates for the park near  Shelby’s apartment. My mind is consumed with logistics. Could we rob a blood bank for her? Or  should we buy a bunch of hamsters? Would I even be able to go home after this? 

Even as I landed back in Elver’s park, I didn’t have time to reminisce on important locations. All  of the long night rambling strolls in the moonlight. Instead, I was building a case. This was the  most logical decision. No emotions involved. It’s just a courtesy.  

“What are you doing here?” her voice rang through the quiet night. One look at Shelby’s face  told me that I overestimated how happy she’d be to see me. 

“Hey,” I managed. “Taking a walk through the park I guess?” 


I could kill her. I might actually kill her. We had an agreement. I got Earth. She got the colonies.  I got the dog. She got… well she didn’t really want anything.  

“You’re so full of shit,” I said. I know I’m being cruel, but I can’t help it. My friends all warned me when we started dating to not date a star sucker.  

“Okay, yeah. I need you to listen to me though. I know it’s going to sound totally insane, but you  have to leave with me. To go back to the colonies,” something was wrong. She was panicked.  

“Not a chance.” 

“But if you hear why—” 

“Even if the world was ending, I wouldn’t—” 

“Are you sure about that?” 

I am pretty sure about that. I think.  

“This is sad, Scarlett. Even for you.” 


The silence grew deeper between us. It was a kind of silence I actually missed sometimes, but  not a lot. 

“Can I walk with you then? Just for a little while?” she asked. She couldn’t even look at me. 

“Sure,” I hardly said. Walks in Elver’s park had become a necessity for feeding, but this wasn’t a  desperate night. And there was something about Scarlett’s company that felt appropriate, maybe  something about the moonlight hitting just right. It’s hard to say. But we walked in a comfortable  silence, and in that silence, the pieces started coming together. 

“You’re here for the—” 

“Why’d you dump me?” 

“What? …You’re not here to destroy the sun out of spite for me, right?” 

“No! If I was, I wouldn’t have warned you.” 

It’d be okay if that was the reason. Even if it wasn’t her reason, it’d be okay if that was the  colonies’ reasoning. It’s hard to argue with it. The star suckers hate us for good reason.  

“You should go. Do your job, and get out of here,” I said. “Do not try to convince me to go with  you again.” 

“You’re being really stupid. I’m offering you a way out—” 

“It’s not a way out though. I’d be alive, but I’d be on those ships. That’s not a life. It’s prison,  and I’m not going there.” 


It felt the same. All of it felt the same, and it was the same argument. 

“How many times do we have to have the same fight before you get it?” 

“But what if I stay?” 


Any minute, there would be a new excavator here. They probably were pinging the ship, trying  to remind me of my secret mission. Instead, I was sitting near a lake, enjoying the last moments  of the dark before Shelby would have to retreat into her apartment.  

She had spent half of the night reminding me that this didn’t mean we were back together. That it  wasn’t too late to change my mind. That I was being stubborn and stupid, and that I should go  back to my life on the colonies. And for once, I didn’t say anything back.  

There is something beautiful about Earth that reminds me of home. I can’t remember the last  time I heard anything outside of the mechanical noise of the colonies, except maybe the stunning  silence outside of the excavator.  

We both know the sun should have risen by now, but the lake is too beautiful and the air too  crisp, for a small detail like that to ruin this moment. 


Jasmin Tomlins has been making noises with her mouth for 33 years, as a determined vintner on the streets of the Bristol Renaissance Faire, reading all of Shakespeare online with the 14th Night Players, and—of course—here at Gateways. She is grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these stories, and to receive the meaning that stories give voices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashton says through a forced smile. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s a good boy, River” 

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

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

Evin McQuistin is an actor/director who reads a lot of Shakespeare and digests a lot of sci-fi. He mostly blames the sci-fi (via Star Trek: The Next Generation) for getting him into the Shakespeare.

Gateways: “Move” by Rachel A. Schrock read by Kate Akerboom and John Keefe

TRANSCRIPT: Rachel A. Schrock Bio: Rachel is a Chicago-based writer, actress, comedian, and musician. You can check her out on Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, all @Razmatini. This is “Move”

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

“Monica let me get Chinese food for the both of us,” I announced as I entered the room– more like a closet, really– that would be my office for the next several hours. “She said you’d like beef and broccoli…?” 

“I mean, if it’s free, then yeah,” Jackson replied. 

I set the bag in front of him and made myself at home. “Your tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen! Your contributions provide EPA interns with the MSG and factory-farmed meat they need to fuel their tireless crusade against single-use plastics.” 

“Hey, at least the chopsticks are biodegradable.” Jackson punctuated his point with a wave of a plastic straw. 

“Christ, dude! One: we’re at the most environmentally-conscious office in America– where did you get that? And two: we’re gonna sit here all night on sea turtle duty, and you’re still gonna be part of the problem?” 

Jackson shrugged and sipped on the can of Monster in which he’d deposited the straw. “What’s the fun of sea turtle duty if there are no sea turtles at risk?” 

I shook my head. Honestly, though, I got where he was coming from. After this program was put in place, I drank out of single-use cups for a week, just to spite the VSSCO girl lobby. Plus, it’s not like we could really do anything to protect the environment around here, seeing as the corporations doing the biggest harm have the policymakers by the balls. 

As if he could read my mind, Jacskon added, “It’s not much, but it’s something.” 

“Yeah…” I glanced at the monitor, which recorded the vitals of every sea turtle to ever visit American waters. “You know, when I got into government, my family joked to watch out for lizard people. I never thought I’d be watching out for lizards.” 


The sharpness in Jackson’s tone surprised me. I stared into my container of food. “Well, either way– I never bought into the lizard people thing, but if they were controlling the government, I don’t think they’d bother with the EPA.” 

I gave him a wry smile as I started in on my lo mein. To my relief, he smiled back, and I couldn’t help but notice the shiver it sent through my core. 

I’d noticed Jackson at orientation. He was tall and lanky– to the point of being almost gangly, even though he should have grown out of it, at his age– but held himself well. His eyes, dark as night, seemed to hold on you for longer than they should. He cracked jokes. He asked you a question, and really listened to your answer. But the thing I liked most was that smile. 

The problem was, I’d never been one to make a move, and even if I were, this seemed like risky territory, being coworkers and all. Besides, I’m not that much of a looker to begin with. 

“What made you want to do this?” Jackson asked, pulling me from my thoughts. “The EPA thing?” 

“I wanted to make a difference, I wanted a cleaner world, all that stuff everyone else says.” I shrugged. “I’m a cliché, I know.” 

“If a cliché helps people, it can’t be all that bad, can it?” 

“I guess not,” I replied. “What about you?” 

“My family expected me to go into government, but… this isn’t exactly what they had in mind.” 


“Yeah, they’re more on the legislative side of things. I’m… not.” For a split-second, I thought I could see something flash in his eyes. I brushed it off as a trick of the light. 

“Ah, a black sheep. Another cliché.” 

He laughed, and wow, did it feel good to be the cause of that laugh. 

Just then, the alarm flashed on our screen. 

“Sea Turtle Number 14827 is breathing heavily, heart rate up–” Jackson read. 

“I’ll pull up the feed.” I located the turtle, right off the Florida coast, and– 

“Jesus, you’d think they’d be able to weed these out,” Jackson said, amusement coloring his irritation. 

On our screen, Sea Turtle Number 14827 was boning what looked like a discarded Croc. I clicked away from the feed. 

“Good for him,” I muttered. “At least someone’s getting off…” 

“I’m sorry, I’m gonna need some more details on that, please.” 

I went beet red, slapping my hands over my face. “It’s nothing! I don’t know why I said that!” 

“It sure sounds like nothing.” Those dark, unblinking eyes, full of mirth, studied me. 

“Ha ha.” I crossed my arms. “I don’t get much privacy, that’s all. My roommate and I keep the same hours, and the walls are hella thin.” 

“And I’m supposed to believe you don’t have anyone to… take care of that for you?” 

It was my turn to study him. What could he possibly want from this line of questioning? “No, as a matter of fact, I don’t.” 

“That’s crazy. I mean– I would– um, not to, you know, say anything untoward, but–” 

It was the first time I’d ever seen his confidence slip. And somehow, it was because of me. “Are you saying you’d, um, want to–?” 

“I mean, yeah…” He stood up from his office chair, looking away, as if he was trying to create as much distance as he could between the two of us in this tiny room. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to assume. Forget I said anything. I’m not– you know, I won’t be the friendzone guy, if you don’t want–” 

Perhaps seeing Jackson’s confidence waver was what bolstered me, or maybe I was just a coward who needed to know the outcome before I took the risk. Either way, I made a move. 

His lips were colder than I’d expected, and still tasted like beef and broccoli. But once he realized that we both wanted this, he was all in– one hand in my hair, the other on the small of my back, taking the lead and giving it away just as easily. It was perfect. 

When I broke away, I looked into Jackson’s eyes. He blinked. Then he blinked again. 

With a different set of eyelids. 

“What the fuck?!” I yelped, lurching away. 

“Shit. Fuck. Sorry, I– shit.” Jackson rubbed his face. “It’s okay. Just… Remember when you mentioned the lizard people? We’re real. But I never wanted to be part of that conspiracy. I just wanted to be normal. But I’m not normal. So… I understand if you want to stop, if you’re too freaked out, but it’s– I’m not, like, scaley, or anything. It’s just that and the tongue. I–” 

The tongue?” 

“Oh. Uh.” Jackson unfurled his tongue from his mouth. It was thin and forked like, well, a lizard’s. 

And maybe it was because I hadn’t gotten off in entirely too long, or maybe, deep down, I was still attracted to him– or maybe I was just a sick fuck. But the first thing I thought was: Imagine getting eaten out by that tongue. 

“It’s okay, we can just, uh, go back to the turtles, if you want…” 

I shook my head, took a deep breath, and held his hand. “I think I’ll manage. But I have to ask… Downstairs?” 

Jackson grinned, still a little shy, but his classic confidence starting to surface once again. “Trust me, Beth. Down there, I’m no lizard, all man.” 

It was the worst line I’d ever heard. 

I kissed him again. 

Kate Akerboom is a multi-creative individual living in Chicago. She loves telling stories, especially about the past, and considers it an honor to tell new ones that people come up with. By day, she talks about animals at Shedd aquarium. By night she creates as much as she can. Kate is a proud graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay holding degrees in Theatre Performance and History.

John Keefe a Chicago resident originally from John HughesLand (northern suburbs). He has a BA in English from Columbia College Chicago, 15 years of improv experience, and about twelve novel starts on his hardrive. He performs at the Bristol Renaissance Faire in the summers and spends the rest of his creative life writing and performing for Locked Into Vacancy Entertainment, The-Editing-Room.com, and various other content sites, platforms, and literary magazines. By day, he’s the world’s most exciting tax clerk.