Tag Archives: Fantasy

Gateways: “Letter to a Young Vampire” by Maggie Vaughn read by Nathan Shelton


Magdalen Vaughn is an Actor, Writer and Science fiction devotee. She has been practicing all types of science fiction writing during the pandemic and she will be creating science fiction performance pieces during her MFA starting this fall. She loves working with the talented folks at Otherworld theatre, long be their reign! Find more at magdalenvaughnacts.com This is “Letter to a Young Vampire”.

I wake up, or, realize I am awake. Splitting headache. Sarah’s hand in mine, cold. No, actually– Sarah. She is pressed against me sobbing into my shirt, as I guide her fingers into my mouth. Sarah. She is swaddled in an orange blanket at the Miami Dade County hospital. Sarah. Where is she now? I cannot think. I press my palms firmly into the hollows of my eyes and open my mouth to scream. My head- it swims and pounds and- WHAT is that smell coming from the bathroom and coming from my… mouth? There is a pit in my stomach. There are exactly 856,832 pits of depth greater than 20 feet in continental Africa. The pit of an apricot is rolling inside the mouth of a Greek boy as his papou brings in the harvest of late July, 1648. 

I cannot stop the notions, the feelings and the vague afterthoughts. Deep darkness inside of me. I try to concentrate, identify where this hollow maze ends, or begins. I try to clear my head of the revolving tableaux. And it works, and I am standing alone in a bright field. Heat sears my feet but I cannot bend my neck to see, or I will not look to see what evil lurks beneath me. I scream from the intensity of the heat but I hear no sound. I feel my body being pulled downwards, into the ground, toward the heat, bleeding free-will from my backbone and 

I am home again, crumpled on my bed. Head still swimming, when one of the many memories dancing behind my eyes strikes me poignantly: Uncle Mark, who experienced psychoses from the age of 20; who could not hold down a job; who is dead on the floor with a gun in his hand and I know that I am Uncle Mark and I can feel the blood pooling around my face as my eyes close and- 

“Hello Vagner” 

A crystal clear voice shoots into me, cutting through a merry go round of half-lived lives. German, male, loud. It is not Uncle Mark, and my name is not Vagner. 

“Listen carefully. Rise and leave your room. Pay no mind to the mess around you.” 

I steel my muscles into the postures of sitting and standing. I stumble to my bedroom door, eyes half closed. I pinpoint the smell of blood and rot. I fall through the doorway, onto the ground where I heave to wretch. Nothing comes out of my stomach, the black hole that I do not know. 

“Get up. Move to your custom leather couch you purchased 10 years ago with Sarah in Oklahoma City. I’ve placed a letter there that you must read.” 

Eyes open, I look around, madly, for the voice I hear so clearly. No one. No one thing out of place in my town-home of 15 years except- bloody handprints on the wood panels below me. Then they are gone, and the dreary dimness of morning is replaced by a bellowing thunderstorm I can see through my living room window. Calm. A few moments of calm so I can stand up and believe everything is normal. I smell coffee and hear Sarah’s signature soprano flying along with Joanna Newsome. 

No… no no no. I avoided this insanity. I have never once hallucinated, or wished for death. I thought I was free to live my life happily and– 

“Vagner. The Letter”

There is dim light in the window again. A letter sits on my cracked brown loveseat. Weathered paper sealed with real wax. The symbol for infinity scrawled onto the front of the envelope in patchy ink. I open it and begin to read: 

One Vagner Volt, 

Note that I’ve misspelled your human name, Wagner. This is not in jest, nor do I expect you to accept it, but it is in keeping with tradition and it will follow you for the rest of eternity. One of the few traditions that we, the collective referred to as Vampire, keep is the use of names. To hold a name is to own yourself. To be Vampire is ruthless autonomy. Think of your name like your last beleaguered breath as you died into infinity, suspended forever around your head like a never-ending dream. Those of us not born on earth infrequently have heads as you know them, so that particular image is unique to you and a handful of other terran Vampires. I have used a variety of metaphors in letters to non-humans reborn after myself, as I have been the executor of introductions for three centuries, now. The last executor was a neutron star and could not use language. I know what you are thinking: who is this witty German? Have we met? 

No, and we never will. Your existence is one hugely disparaging romantic comedy. 

Of course by now, you know all of this, but it never hurts to put musings into words –unless it does hurt, of course, whether by force of irony or intended harm. What I mean is, to have a thought exist outside of yourself is to cast it into the future. Not that the humans would do much with information regarding our existence, as limited as they are in their effect on space and time; as limited as they are in their knowledge of space and time–but in particular their knowledge of dark energy– I digress… 

Humans are perfectly happy to believe that Vampire are vulgar fiction. Yet, they could eventually become aware of our existence, which would be disastrously cruel. Imagine, if humans were to know that the earth feasts on their flesh as ravenously as the common mosquito. As a collective, Vampire are benefited by this fact: that most ideas do not make their way into the working memory of society and are snuffed out as soon as they occur, even if fastidiously recorded via stone etchings or ink. But, some ideas do permeate human culture over time. If you were to probe your mind you would find a catalogue of these truths, but I do particularly miss writing these few down: 

  1. The only hope for making change is to affect small things, locally and immediately
    2. Extraterrestrial consciousness exists and is very aware of life on earth 
  2. The world IS a Vampire 

Still, I must ask you to protect this letter with your life or, more appropriately moving forward, your existence. You will never receive another. If we the collective should ever feel you might expose our existence to human beings, we will remove your name. Human beings would not cope particularly well with our immortality. Better that they should spend their lives eagerly avoiding death. You will find, I hope, that there is a certain serenity in being one with death as we Vampire are able. Death, birth and the mortal coil smoulder uniquely within us. Well, within those of us who once were mortal. 

Think of this letter as welcoming you to your new now. It will keep you grounded when you are alone in the darkness of space. Know that this letter comes with outright threats, yes, but also platitudes. The most important being that you, Vagner, are not insane. You have not lost your mind and you are not experiencing your late Uncle or Grandfather’s particular brand of psychosis. You are now Vampire. You are at one with time; you exist outside of it and within it; and you must consume consciousness in order to remain autonomous. However, you must also fight the urge to consume excessively. You must practice restraint, even

if your dark nature urges you to consume more. This, dear Vagner, is in the best interest of time itself. I speak, of course, about the true nature of Vampire. 

Our dark power fuels the expansion of the universe and catalyzes its recollection. I am sure you came across the concept in your human life, but the term ‘dark matter’ does not even begin to delineate the nature of the power you now hold; the power that lies at the center of planet earth; the power to change the amount of energy in our universe. 

We do not know how or why dark matter fuses with conscious matter, but we Vampire are the result of said rare equation. You see, every bit of matter around you is conscious, from your barber to the carbon atoms in your rubber soled shoe, though not every consciousness makes use of language. The nature of dark matter as we know it is to consume and retain that consciousness, thus accumulating a wellspring of memory from past, present and future. In that omniscience we Vampire swim. We are connected to it, and we are irrevocably drawn to its source: collections of dark matter all throughout our universe. 

And still, consciousness always fights to retain its perspective. 

Without fusion, dark matter is quite limited in range of motion. After the big bang, dark matter was distributed throughout the fabric of space, and has since existed in a fixed state. Dark matter cannot travel through space time without fusion; without fusion, it can only consume conscious matter by collapsing space time itself. This, as you can imagine, takes quite a bit of time to accomplish. 

When dark matter does fuse with consciousness, perhaps as a survival mechanism of itself or of its conscious host, we observe that it both mobilizes and protects itself. Fused dark matter may, for a time, be in close proximity with other discreet or collected dark matter and not immediately coalesce. In short, our free will and mobility allow Vampire to avoid the powerful attraction that these fountains of time have on one another, and the disastrous consequences that will always follow for conscious matter surrounding them. Dark matter will fuel the fiery end of our present timeline; it will consume potential energy and with it, potential futures. When Vampire consume matter, like humans or the moon for example, we do the same. We must at least strive to delay the end of our timeline, to preserve the consciousness of all matter in the universe and to further its expansion. In short, we must, to our best ability, be dynamic pawns on the chessboard of time. The goal for our kind is to find our own private patch of space; to move only when in danger of subsumption. 

This is much to comprehend, but in time, when you search your mind, every answer you could possibly need will be available to you. The voices of Vampire, and all of the collected memories of dark matter, scattered across the darkness of space, are available to you. But you should never know the company of those like yourself, for it is far too dangerous for us all, and the only conscious matter you will encounter from here forward, you will likely consume. Thus, Vagner, you must leave earth. You cannot and will not perish in true void. You will know when you are near another of our kind. You will feel it in your bones, the heat of a thousand suns, pulling you to join it, hoping to be reunited with itself in perpetuity. The earth has consumed much in its dark existence and it will consume you if you linger. 

There will be moments of agony and bliss throughout your remaining eternity if you so choose, but there will be existence. 

To conclude, my dear savant, leave earth as soon as possible. There is nothing left for you here. You consumed Sarah last night when you fused. Yet, you are not insane. 

Forever Yours, 

Vainer Vilke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Asa,” Andy started… 

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

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

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

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

Two hundred and seven years later: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re early risers,” Terry replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you…mugging us?” Jay stammered.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim Fukawa has been seen all around Chicago. Most recently she has worked with The House Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, and Babes With Blades Theatre Company. She is an artistic affiliate and occasional fight choreographer with Babes With Blades.

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

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

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


Of the Legumen


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

Gateways: “The Greenwood Knight” by Jeff Harris read by Rob Southgate

Jeff Harris is the properties artisan at the Goodman Theatre, and a longtime collaborator with Otherworld Theatre building props, costumes, and masks. But once, in the long-long-ago, he was a writer and director, and is all too happy for the opportunity to put on is old suit of armor. As well as writing a short story for the Gateways Writing Series, he directed a short play for Otherworld Theatre’s Paragon Festival last fall.

There were three of them, Sir Dullahan and his two brothers. Each set out from home in search of glory. Each were clad in blue armor, each atop white horses, and each in their own direction. They ventured forth at the behest of their father who bid them not to return until their names had become rich with honor and fame. 

Upon his travels, Sir Dullahan accomplished many feats, slayed many beasts, and served many people. Yet somehow, with every new realm he came upon, there were none who knew of him. And so, Sir Dullahan pressed further into the world in pursuit of reputation. 

One day, the blue knight came upon a tree within which many other knights were hanging from its branches, swinging by the neck. Some looked to have been killed mere hours ago; others were nothing but bone wrapped in mail. He questioned the nearby villagers, and the townsfolk told him the dead knights were those who had challenged their master, the Greenwood Knight of Glyn Gildrew Castle, for his treasure. What that treasure was, they could only speculate, for they had heard many different stories from many different people. But, if any of the stories were true, then Glyn Gildrew Castle was worth finding and the challenge worth pursuing. The castle rested in the deepest reaches of the northern forests, and most who sought it disappeared. Yet, there were those that succeeded in finding the keep, merely to end up in the tree. 

Sir Dullahan believed this quest was a bold one, worthy of repute, and asked the villagers how to find the woodland keep. He was told to enter the forest with the sun always at his back. He would then find a post that stood alone in a glade ahead of the castle. There would hang a great gilded horn. He need only to blow the horn, and the Greenwood Knight would ride out to meet his challenge. 

The knight passed into the forest, and for days he braved the monsters that lurked within the woods, until at last he crested a hill and saw below him in a dale was the castle. Riding further, Sir Dullahan found the post with the horn, and without hesitation he gave it a mighty blow which echoed through the forest. He did not wait long before the Greenwood Knight appeared. 

He was a fearsome fellow atop a great shire horse. His tunic bore a white stag, and his armor was painted green. In one hand was a lance, the other a kite shield, and at his side was the finest of arming swords. As the Greenwood Knight came close, he raised his visor to reveal a long white beard and mustache. He saluted Sir Dullahan and spoke in a deep voice, “Who is it that would challenge me?” 

“It is I, Sir Dullahan of Alymere, son of Sir Bertilak!” Sir Dullahan replied. 

“Son of Sir Bertilak? Then you are a Lord?” inquired the Greenwood Knight. Sir Dullahan bowed in response, and the Greenwood Knight continued. “Where is your squire? Your servants? Have you no train to accompany you?” 

“I have not, sir,” Sir Dullahan answered. “I have only what you see here. My horse, my armor, and my sword.” 

The Greenwood Knight accepted the challenge, and the two knights rode deeper into the woods. He brought Sir Dullahan to the base of a hill upon which sat the keep. There, a tent was set, along with a rack of weapons and a large, ornate gold chest. The Greenwood Knight referred to the chest. “Here is your prize,” he said, “should you defeat me.” 

Sir Dullahan explained the many stories he had heard, and inquired what was in the chest, wanting to know for what he was fighting. The Greenwood Knight would only answer cryptically. “Everything,” the deep voice grumbled. “Everything that I have, everything that I am.” 

Sir Dullahan then asked what would happen to him should he fall, to which the Greenwood Knight confirmed that he would be hung from the tree in shame until his estate could pay the ransom for his body. 

The Greenwood Knight offered Sir Dullahan the lance or the sword. Sir Dullahan preferred the lance, but had lost his in battle just weeks before. The white bearded knight presented a lance of his own from the rack, and Sir Dullahan graciously accepted. The terms agreed upon, each man took his place and faced one another. 

At once they rode towards each other with fury. Sir Dullahan was an expert with the lance, and lowered the point precisely, striking the Greenwood Knight in the head. But the lance shattered, being made of weak timber. The Greenwood Knight met the blow with his own, hurling Sir Dullahan to the ground. The Greenwood Knight turned his great horse, intent on trampling the blue knight to death. Unbeknownst to the villain, Sir Dullahan had not lost consciousness, and just as the Greenwood Knight was upon him, he rose, swinging his sword and striking. The Greenwood Knight fell from his steed, but managed to draw his own sword before Sir Dullahan could reach him. A great melee ensued. For three days the two men battled, and the clash of steal rang throughout the trees relentlessly. Not once did they rest, and Sir Dullahan suspected the elder knight’s stamina was aided with sorcery. Angered by the mendacious nature of his adversary, the blue knight found the strength to press on until he delivered a mortal blow and slew the Greenwood Knight, the master of Glyn Gildrew. 

Sir Dullahan, exhausted, returned to the chest and opened it, only to find it empty. The Greenwood Knight had deceived him one final time. Infuriated, he rode to the castle, and demanded entry with sword drawn. But the soldiers there opened the gates, and, with uncommon obedience, they took him to see the Lady of the Greenwood Knight. 

In a great hall bedecked with antlers, a beautiful woman greeted him. She, too, was dressed in green, and had long braided black hair. She was much younger that Sir Dullahan expected the wife of the Greenwood Knight to be, and he also thought she would be angry, or tearful. But, at the sight of him she smiled, and calmly asked if her husband was dead. 

“I have done the deed, my Lady, and nobly so. I am here to demand my prize.” 

The Lady raised her hands. “This,” she softly spoke, “this is your prize. The castle of Glyn Gildrew and everything it has to offer are now yours. Its vast wilderness and its farmland; the crops the peasants yield, and game within these lands are yours to distribute as you deem fit.” She continued speaking. “Its knights are yours, as are the soldiers and servants. Its gold and jewels are yours, its food and drink, its fires and beds. Even its Lady.” She knelt before him and kissed his hand and addressed him as Lord. The people in the hall followed suit. 

He bid her to rise, and asked if he broke the curse of the gilded horn, or if he were to assume the role of his predecessor. She affirmed that the obligation to answer the horn was the price for unlimited comforts. Each time he was victorious in combat, his wealth would grow. She offered him a chalice. If he drank from it, he would be honor bound to be Glyn Gildrew’s champion and master, under pain of death, for the chalice was enchanted to end the life of those who broke their oaths. Everyone who dwelt within the castle drank from the cup, all of whom pledged to serve the keep in their own way, thus never wanting. Even she, whose oath was to be the Lady of the Greenwood Knight, and attend his every desire. Sir Dullahan queried about how many husbands there were in her life. 

“Seven,” she admitted. “You will be my eighth, and, God willing, my last.” She went on to tell him that he need not drink from it. Sir Dullahan was free to refuse the glory, riches, and renown the woodland castle promised, just as any knight was free to sound the horn in challenge. 

Sir Dullahan took the chalice. “If I drink from this,” he said, “I shall fight with righteousness. I will not deceive my opponents as your husband did. I will treat my foes with deference, and hang them not from a damned tree. The people will have my blessings, and my justice, and I will bring honor to my father’s name.” She bowed, telling him that as master the realm was his to rule as he wished, and she would be joyful that he would do so with such pride and grace. 

And so, Sir Dullahan drank from the chalice, and all in the hall rejoiced. He was bathed and given the Greenwood Knight’s armor and tunic. That evening, there was feast the likes of which he had never seen. The tables were laden with game and fruits from the world over. Four and twenty barrels of mead were emptied as the finest musicians played through the night. Sir Dullahan rejoiced at his good fortune, and counted his blessings. Indeed, that night he went to his chamber, and knew is wife well. 

At dawn Sir Dullahan arose to a magnificent breakfast and was surprised to learn that his wife had arranged a hunting party for him, that he might explore the woodlands and learn to tame them with his men. But, no sooner had she related this to him, than the horn did sound. Instantly, he was surrounded with squires who fitted his armor with tremendous haste. Sir Dullahan took to his horse, but before he could exit the gates, his wife begged him to carry a potion. 

“It will give you unordinary spirit to defeat any who stand before you,” the Lady pleaded. But, Sir Dullahan reminded her of his pledge to fight with honor. She insisted he bring it with him, if only to put her mind at ease. Reluctantly, he took the vial, but again vowed he would not use it. With that, Sir Dullahan, as the Greenwood Knight, rode the path to meet his challenger. 

Upon reaching the glade he found not one, but two knights. Sir Dullahan’s heart broke, for he recognized them. Both were clad in blue armor and both sat atop white horses. Sorrowful thoughts flooded his mind, which turned into shameful ones as he gripped the vial. But then he thought of all he had won; his wife, his wealth, his lands, their influence and their glory. Like the white bearded knight he had slain before, the shameful thoughts were fleeting, and so too was brotherly love. Thus, as Sir Dullahan approached, he raised his visor but a little, and tasted the potion the Lady of the Greenwood Knight had given him.

Rob Southgate is a professional actor in commercials and films, a professional podcaster, and a professional public speaker. He recently released his first book and is 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: “The Dancer’s God” by John Keefe read by John Keefe and Jasmin Tomlins

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by John Keefe. John has written comedy for several years for sites such as The-Editing-Room.com, Cracked, and Chicago Literati. He also writes radio serials for Locked Into Vacancy Entertainment. He describes himself as “Excruciatingly imaginative”. This is “An Iteration”. This is The Dancer’s God

The congregation’s eyes were upon the Dancer, and Korin’s eyes were upon theirs.
They traced the arcs of her firesticks with their faces like sunflowers charting the sun, their eyes full of dark circles from the fireglow. The Dancer eddied like a flame herself, and her firesticks drew glowing paths in the air around her that became red symmetries that hung there. At each corner of the plinth was a staff hung with beads, and the top of each staff was a red crystal, which pulsed in time with the Dancer’s movements light great fireflies. She cast her firesticks skyward and every eye followed them, and Korin could see that the stormclouds that had threatened rain since that morning were breaking. Stars peeked between them. The moon was high and red.
The firesticks were then in the Dancer’s hands, swirling in quick orbits. Somehow, she had dexterity enough to speak:
“There are many gods on this earth,” she said, and those assembled pushed forward against the plinth to better hear her. “There are gods in the sky, and in the clouds, and in the moon, and many gods for the sun too. There are gods on mountains and in each sea, and in each river that feeds the sea. There are gods in empty air, and some gods in the spaces between air. And some gods that are dead and some that will never die.”
She traded her spinning firesticks with one sharp motion, and the crystals glowed more fiercely, like rapid heartbeats. The Dancer spun once in the center of four shadows and the shadows spun with her.
“My god is greater than all of them together,” she said, her voice firm and rising, “and that is because my god is real.”
The crowd jolted backwards as the Dancer speared both firesticks into the plinth at her feet, and the flames belched out like minute, short-lived suns. Korin nearly fell backwards off the plinth from the heat of it. The crystals pulsed rapidly, then softly, and then their light was steady, and it dried up every shadow on the plinth and the faces of the crowd. The sky was cloudless now, and the stars were red too, and even the moon had sheen to it, like a drop of blood smeared on silver.
When every eye found the Dancer again, she was unmoving. Her firesticks were dead. The crystals were fading. Before darkness swallowed her, she said: “Speak to this new god, friends. Speak as best you know how. In a week’s time I will be leaving, and when I return, there will be a house for this god on my rock here. One week, and then I leave, and you build.”
She cut the air with her firesticks. The crystals died. The crowd was silent as the shadowy form of the Dancer hopped nimbly off the plinth and strode back up the hillside to the stone hut she’d been given on the outskirts of the village. A moment later, Korin stood, brushed his pants seated, and collected each of the crystal staves from the corners of the plinth. With many eyes upon him, he hopped from the plinth to follow the Dancer.
The Dancer had many needs that night, and Korin attended to each in dumb silence. He fetched her well water, and stoked her fire, and even brushed her hair, mute like a stableboy, while she massaged her wrists and hands by the hearth. When every task was completed he sat cross-legged on the dirt floor while she whispered wordlessly before the hearthfire. And when she was done with that, both of them sat in silence for a long time, and Korin summoned every ounce of willpower to swallow the questions in his throat. His silence was too loud. The Dancer spoke first.
“Tell me about your people,” she said. “Are they simple? Are they industrious? Do they burn witches here, or just scare them off?”
“We have no witches,” said Korin. “None that I know of.”
“I’m sure,” said the Dancer flatly. She raised an arm above her head and Korin heard the shoulder pop.
“We fish,” said Korin. “We fish and sometimes we pick mushrooms in the caves by the seaside. That’s all. We can’t farm here, the ground’s too rocky.”
“I saw goats when I was coming in.”
“Grey ones? Not our goats. Only Tammen keeps goats in the village, and his are all white.”
“Charming,” said the Dancer, and then she yawned. Korin felt deeply uncomfortable seeing this woman at such ease. There was too much familiarity between them, too much smallness in this woman who spun fire faster than the eye could see and spoke to a god that swatted clouds from the sky like cotton puffs. Korin had come every morning for two weeks to tend to her, and for the first time she was not some formal and fierce-eyed alien, too slender and tan to have been born within a hundred miles of the village, whole histories written in the scars on her forearms, the burn mark on her neck, the odd, tight tunic she wore that left her arms bare. Instead she was just a woman, shortish, relaxed in her chair by the fire like a lapcat.
“They’re glowrocks, aren’t they?” said Korin, and the question hung in the air.
“Hmm?” she muttered, her head rolling towards him over one shoulder.
“The crystals. They’re glowrocks, aren’t they? Nighteye, sometimes it’s called I think. A sailor showed me some once. Had a bronze chest full of glowrocks. Taught me all about them. He had a monkey too.”
Korin was babbling. He trailed off and stared at the floor and the only sound was the fire.
“How do you know about glowrocks?” said the Dancer.
“Like I said, a sailor. He let me go on the ship until the captain yelled at him.”
“You don’t have glowrocks around here.”
“Like I said, a sail-”
“Except maybe in those mushroom caves. I should have known that.” Korin blinked and looked up at the Dancer. Her head was a shadow framed by firelight. It was pointed his way.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I won’t speak anymore.”
“It’s good you people aren’t too curious,” she said, giving no sign she’d heard him. “If you push deep enough into those caves you’d probably have your own glowrocks and then I’d be
Korin Winced. His heart was pounding. Every fiber of his being wished he’d sat in awkward silence again, as he had every evening since being granted to the Dancer.
“Come closer to the fire,” she said.
Korin did not want to come closer to the fire.
“I won’t hurt you,” she said. “You’re choking on questions. Breathe, and then ask some.”
Korin did as he was bid.
“Glowrocks have a brother,” he said. “The sailor told me. When you split a glowrock, it dies. Sometimes only half of it dies. It wakes up again when you bring the pieces back together. Sometimes just when you point the pieces at each other. That’s what the sailor did. He showed me the one half and he pointed the broken face at the other half and the one half glowed. He said sailors sometimes use them to talk over the water. They have this language that’s just the lights going. He said he was going to sell the lot but not to us, somewhere further east, one of
the richer cities.” Korin took a breath. He was lightheaded. He couldn’t stop talking.
“He said he’d seen…”
He swallowed his words.
“Go on,” said the Dancer.
“He said he’d seen a dance the priestesses do on an island by Konovo. They weave little glow-pebbles onto their wands and when they wave them at each other they make the lights
“I’ve never been to Konovo,” said the Dancer. Korin fell silent again. The Dancer raised her firesticks up to the light. Little gems were inlaid around the wicks at each end.
“What else did you see tonight?” she said, and her voice was pleasant, almost amused. Every instinct told Korin to stand up and leave. He stayed and spoke instead.
“I saw the clouds part. We’ve been threatening rain all day. I don’t know how you part Clouds.”
The Dancer barked a simple laugh, and it was the strangest moment of Korin’s life.
“I don’t part clouds,” said the Dancer. “But I have a reasoned notion of what they’ll do.
The timing was perfect tonight. Most nights they won’t clear until much later. Sometimes not at all.”
“How do you know that?” said Korin, too loudly and too quickly.
The Dancer gestured at a bauble on the window sill, some tarnished silver candle with a glass tube hanging from it. “Mercury suspended in resin and water. Precise amounts and close observation will tell you what each cloud is thinking a day in advance. That’s the thing about tricks. The simplest ones are the best.”
Trick, thought Korin. The word was loud in his head.
“What about my words tonight,” asked the Dancer. “Did they hear any of it?”
“They were lost to you,” he said. “I could tell.”
“That’s good. It will be your job tomorrow to make sure they don’t go slaughtering those goats out of misplaced zeal. Else there’ll be no more village here come winter, and that means
no temple next year.” The Dancer rose from her chair and spread her arms out. She was muscled and tall, and so light on her feet that her footwraps were barely even dirty. She twirled on one foot, silent but for her words.
“My god IS real, Korin. He’ll be real to these people soon enough, if he isn’t already. You’ll need to speak for him when I’m gone. Can you do that?”
“Why?” asked Korin. He rose to his feet. The Dancer stopped spinning. They looked at each other in the firelight. She laughed again. It was less strange this time.
“My god has many names, Korin. Sometimes he’s called Shelter, and sometimes he’s called Wheat and Barley. Sometimes he’s called Bridges, Roads, Sick Houses. Today, he is called Temple. Because that’s what’s needed here, where there’s only mushrooms and stones and fish. You need a god called Temple, because that temple will have heavy stone walls, and a big hearth with a chimney for the winter, and a cache of glowrocks in the cellar that you mustn’t trade because your god thinks they’re precious. Maybe soon you’ll talk to sailors with them. At first, they’ll speak to god.”
Korin nodded.
“Can you do that, Korin? Can you speak for him while I’m not here?”
Korin said, “What should I call him?”
The Dancer yawned. “Something simple. The simplest tricks are the best.”

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: “The Offering” by Rob McLemore read by Jasmin Tomlins, Molly Southgate and Rob Southgate

TRANSCRIPT: Rob McLemore has been writing in some form or another since college.  While his work is predominantly comedic, he always enjoys getting a chance to delve into the realm of sci-fi and fantasy.  He’s currently a member of Locked Into Vacancy Entertainment and his work can be frequently heard in their monthly shows. This is “The Offering”

The snow-filled clearing was lit by moonlight.  All around, a dense forest shrouded the entire area, save for that single spot.  A small creature paced along the perimeter, mumbling to itself. Periodically, it would stare up at the moon and utter a curse.  The creature was small and exceptionally thin. From a distance, one might mistake it for a malnourished child. Yet up close, its less human qualities became apparent.  It had large dark eyes with pallid skin clinging to its bony frame. Its mouth was full of tiny, pointed teeth, and its nose was turned up just enough to become unnerving.  Despite the cold, it remained barefoot, wearing only shreds of clothing. A mass of dark, unkempt hair could be seen protruding from beneath its hat. Slung over its shoulder was a small sack.  After pacing for several more minutes, the creature collapsed on the ground and let out a growl of frustration. As if in response, a snap echoed from the forest. The creature immediately grew silent.  It held the sack tightly against its chest, scanning with its dark eyes for any sign of movement. After a moment, similar figure emerged from the trees. The creature breathed a momentary sigh of relief before immediately lashing out at the newcomer.

“Where have you been?! I’ve been waiting here for hours!  The solstice is nearly upon us!”

“I’m sorry.  I had to collect my final tokens.”

“You didn’t have them?!  An entire year to search for your tokens, and you only just now claimed all of them?!”

“I have them now.  That’s all that matters.”

The second creature held out a bag of its own.  The first quickly snatched it up and peered at the objects inside.

“Let us hope so.  If our offering comes too late, know that the grave consequences of our failure will be on your head”

“Then perhaps you should stop wasting time berating me and prepare the ritual.”

The first creature let out a scoff then tossed the bag back before setting to work.  The pair began arranging branches on the ground in circles. With each one, they etched a series of intricate runes into the wood with their sharp nails.  Once completed, they placed an item from their sack in the center then moved on to the next. For a period of time, they worked without saying a word. However, the silence could not last.

“Ok, I have to know.  How did it take you so long to get your tokens?”

“I wanted to make sure they would be acceptable.”

The first creature narrowed its eyes at its companion.

“Which ones were they?”

“Why does that matter?”

“Which ones?”

“…love and time.”

“Ha!  I knew it!  Why is it you have such trouble collecting those two?”

“I hate the idea of taking them, that’s all.  Don’t you ever feel cruel for robbing the humans of such items?”

“No, and neither should you.  We’re doing them a great service, even if they don’t know it.  If a few humans get sad in the process, it’s a small price to pay.  Look at me. I had to collect the token for joy, and I’m not a mess.

The creature reached into its sack and produced a weathered soccer ball.

“See this ball?  It was the only one of its kind in an entire village.  Every day, the children would kick it all over for hours.  The amount of joy they poured into a thing such as this is astounding.  So, I took it. I take no pleasure in causing them sadness, but it will make a perfect offering and that’s all that matters.”

The two shared a long, tense look then resumed their preparations.  The clearing was silent except for the sound of scratching as they carved.  Finally, awkwardness grew too uncomfortable, and the first creature relented again.

“What were they?  The tokens that took you so long to retrieve.  What were they? If we were to fail, I’d hate not knowing the reason why.”

The second creature’s expression softened.  It reached into its bag and placed a large stack of bound papers into a circle.

“This book.  The human who wrote it spent years of its life toiling on it.  Each night, it would sit in front of a typewriter and add more to it.  Some nights it would only write for a short time. Others, it would fall asleep in its chair after working for hours.  It devoted so much of its time to these pages.”

“That is a fine choice.  I can feel its energy from here.  But why did you wait so long to take it?  It would have been an ideal offering for some time.”

“I wanted to let the human finish it.  It felt wrong to take it before then.”

The first creature put down its branches and let out a howling laugh that echoed throughout the silent forest.

“An ending?  You would endanger this entire ceremony so that the human could write an ending?  Unbelievable! And what of the other one, the token of love? What arbitrary deadline did you concoct for that one?”

The creature pulled a photo from its sack.  It had once been black and white, but over time, it had grown brown and faded.  In it, a young, newly married couple could just barely be made out. They stood beneath a simple wooden arch.  The bride wore a wreath on her head, but an otherwise unremarkable dress, and all that could be seen of the groom was that he was in a presumably darkly colored suit.  The creature laid the photo down gently in the last of its circles.

“There was no deadline.  I simply didn’t want to take it.  The humans who held this picture were quite old, as far as humans go.  It sat in their room and every single day, they would both admire it. Every morning and every night, sometimes alone, sometimes together, but no matter what, they would always gaze at this photo.  I had known it was an ideal token from the moment I saw it, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to rob them of it. I reasoned that I would give them one more day, over and over again. Until tonight.  So that is why I kept you waiting. Are you satisfied?”

The first creature said nothing.  It lay the last of its items, a wilted flower, in a circle, then went over to its companion.

“Your empathy for the humans is truly remarkable.  Confusing, but powerful all the same. Just remember, that it is all for the greater good.  However, we must begin now.”

They clasped hands and began to chant.  The words were indecipherable, more like sounds of the Earth itself than anything that had ever been spoken.  Wind whipped up around them, causing the snow to flurry about the clearing. With each verse, a circle would fill with light as the runes surrounding it pulsed with an eerie glow.  As the final offering became illuminated, a great energy shot forth, sending out a blinding light. The wind stopped. The creatures stared in silence as a long tear appeared before them.  It widened and a great figure emerged from within. The being was massive, clutching an equally impressive sack of its own. It was clad in a crimson robe with a pair of antler-like horns on its head.  A great grey beard obscured most of its face, save for the sizable tusks that protruded out. Its pale, blue eyes pierced into the two creatures as its voice boomed throughout the forest.

“The solstice is upon us once more.  What offering do you present?”

The pair bowed, then presented their items to the great being. The first one displayed its findings.

“Oh mighty one, we present to you, the 12 offerings.  I have collected for you tokens of Joy, Loss, Innocence, Fear, Hope, and Regret.”

The second then displayed its own items.

“I present to you tokens of Pain, Truth, Hate, Sadness, Time…and Love.  We hope that you will accept our offering.”

The figured surveyed the items on display.  It stretched out is giant hands and held them above the offerings.  The light in each circle faded as the great being drained the collected energy from each.  It let out a powerful sigh of contentment as it finished. Its eyes now glowed with fresh power, rejuvenated by the ritual.  A deep laugh echoed from the enormous being.

“Your offering is accepted.  This world and all who reside within it have secured my protection for another year.”

The creatures nearly collapsed in relief, having hardly moved a muscle since the being first emerged.  Yet, before they could fully revel in their success, it spoke again.

“However, I will offer a word of warning.  Do not keep me waiting again. If the offerings are not presented promptly, my generosity to this world cannot be guaranteed.  Take this warning to heart, elves. There will not be a second.”

The pair bowed.  With that, the great being placed the items into its sack and let out a monstrous bellow.  From the sky, an enormous horse-like beast emerged to heed its master’s call. It landed before him, bending down on its six legs.  Holding its bag, the red clad being mounted its steed and took off for the sky. As it sailed off into the night, it let forth another booming laugh that echoed for miles.

“Ho ho ho!”


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.

Molly Southgate is 12 years old. According to her IMDB page, she has performed in 5 films, 1 industrial documentary, 9 Chicago plays, 4 Chicago stage readings, an Iron & Wine music video, multiple commercials, and she has hosted or guested on over 500 podcast episodes. Molly is also a food blogger on Instagram and has Somehow found the time to act in Super Richard World III right here at Otherworld Theatre.

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

Gateways: “The Recipe” by Mike Danovich read by Kim Fukawa and Jasmin Tomlins

TRANSCRIPT:  Mike Danovich could not be happier to be submitting to Gateways again. His other works have been seen at Chicago Theatre Marathon, Ghostlight Ensemble Theatre, and Gorilla Tango Theater. As an actor, he has performed around Chicago with Otherworld Theatre Company, Brown Paper Box Co, Apollo Theater, First Folio Theater, Theatre at the Center, and Kokandy Productions. He is a proud graduate of Columbia College Chicago. This is “The Recipe”.

“Double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble…” Bah. Say this phrase
once in front of someone, even in jest, and they label you a witch for life. But it’s much more
than that. Being a witch is a lifestyle. It’s not always making potions, placing hexes, eating small
children…only sometimes, not always.
I’m sure many people would ask: who even cares about the label of ‘witch’ these days?
It’s only a word; a name for something that most people can’t even comprehend. If only they
knew the power in a name. It’s been years since our kind has been able to show our faces.
Decades since we last visited a small town or village. I wouldn’t be able to tell you the last time I
saw a face other than Sharlee.
“It is time, sister,” she cries. I groan, sitting up, and call back to her from inside our hut.
“What’s the point if we make this today or tomorrow? It hasn’t helped over the past sixty years.”
Optimistically, she pokes her head in. “Ah, but today is a different day.” Her normally wrinkled
face looks younger than it has in a long time; it’s amazing what a new attitude can do to your
body. Sunlight eeks into the shack behind her, slightly blinding me. “You need to get up and do
your share.” She stares me down until I begin to slowly get up. She knows me too well. I tend to
stay in bed until she watches me get up; a poor habit stemming from my youth. “Fine, I’ll get
up,” I retort, “but I won’t be happy about it.” She smiles. “Cass, when have you ever been
happy?” She exits the hut once again and I hear her practically skip back over to the fire, ‘skip’
being a relative term for our age. She’s not wrong; I can’t recall the last time I would consider
myself to be ‘happy’.
Moaning and groaning, I roll myself out of bed, giving as quick a stretch as I can without
breaking anything. At my age, it’s a miracle that I can accomplish anything without snapping
like spaghetti. No sense in changing into my dress robes for this; haven’t needed those since the
late 1800’s. The world has become more dramatic over the last century: hotter hots, colder colds.
The fabrics of old won’t help anymore. These days you either let your skin flaps hang out from
the heat or bundle up so tightly nothing can escape. Today is on the crispier side: long sleeves
and something to cover your legs from the chill. Luckily there’s no snow on the ground at the
moment, but the leaves changed color a few weeks ago. Slowly, I step into my warm,
comfortable jeans and wrap myself in my nice-ish shawl. Another day; another attempt.
I step out into the late autumn air and watch Sharlee hovering over the campfire.
Occasionally giggling to herself, I make my way over to stand opposite her. Holding a small frog
in each hand, her gaze is enthralled by the flame. Clearing my throat ever so obnoxiously, I
attempt to catch her attention. Her stare moves from the flame to my eyes, glaring deep into my
soul. Highly unnerving. “Coffee?” she asks, breaking the tension. I’m stunned. I never know
how her brain works; how she can stand there with two frogs in hand thinking about coffee, but
I’m not going to turn it down. “Yes, of course, I’ll take some coffee, but first,” taking the
slippery lumps from her grasp, “I’ll take these.” Muttering something about how she can never
have any fun, she drudges over to the small pile of tin cans next to the hut. Picking up one of the
cans, she lifts the plastic lid up to sniff the contents. It doesn’t smell too pleasant, whatever it
might be. “Hold on, I can fix that,” she says, placing the lid back on top. Shake, shake, shake.
The contents of the can rattle around. A slight pause. Shake, shake…shake. She raises the lid
once more and takes a whiff. “There we are. Notes of cinnamon, tobacco, whiskey, and coconut;
my favorite.” I’ve told her time and time again that if it’s warm and wakes me up, I don’t care
how it tastes.

Coffee brewing over the open flame, Sharlee takes a seat. “Today, we’re attempting
something new.” Oh? It’s been so long since we’ve found new magicks. “Late last night, during
the solstice, I stumbled upon a book I’ve never seen before. No title, but the cover is nice.” She
pulls the book out of the satchel draped across her bony shoulder. It’s a smallish book covered in
what looks like some red leather/yellow leather combination. “I almost tossed it aside after
finding it, but near the back of the book, I came across something rather interesting. It’s easier if
you read it for yourself.” Cautiously, I take the book from her feeble hand. It’s lighter in my
hand than I thought. I flip through the book, page after blank page. For a moment, I assume
Sharlee is pulling my leg, when I flip right past it. I go back to the section she talked about and

Recipe for Happiness

On the morning of the Solstice, you must find:
The hue of Helios, born on a fruit’s rind,
What lands on the feet of a bird once lain,
Do not forget to grab the grain,
Upon the back of hogs, you see
A prize most tasteful, be swift or they’ll flee,
Together all these materials bring,
Smash, sear, knead, present, and sing,
To the Gods above your mortal plight,
This recipe you create tonight.
The last few items will be the worst,
Be glad you gathered the others first.
One element you hunt and seek:
You will know the feeling with no need to speak.
You feel it deep within your heart,
It’s even worse when you’re apart.
The last of these is quite sublime;
I’ve wasted enough, so forgive the rhyme.
Upon a face, you’ll wind three hands
Or in a glass you find the sands.
Go, get along, run, search, make haste;
Do not let this recipe go to waste.

New magick, indeed. No frogs’ legs, no eyeballs, nothing we have in storage in spades.
Items we must travel to find. “This could take all day,” I cry. “No need to fret, Cass; I have
already gathered most of the items.” I’m floored. “Then why would you wake me up? I could
have enjoyed the day in the shack.” She smiles. “But then we would not have enjoyed the day
together.” I hate how right she is. The smugness of her smile is what’s truly infuriating. I enjoy
spending my days with her and I know she enjoys being with me, but to elbow me in the gut with
that smirk? “Alright then, sassy pants, pour me some of that coffee and bring me up to speed.”
The warmth from the coffee hurts as I drink it down, but it’s nice to not feel completely
chilled to the bone. She takes a long sip as well. “While you were asleep, I gathered most of the
items. Honestly, they were pretty easy to find.” There it is; that smugness once again. “Well,

huntress supreme, where are they?” “I have hidden them for later this evening. You read the
recipe; we must wait for this evening before preparing it.” Fine. She’s right; she’s always right.
“All right, what else do we need?” She hesitates (that’s never a good sign). “Well, that is why I
need your assistance. We still need the last two items. I have no idea what they are or how to get
them.” Oh no. She’s the brains, I’m the brawn, and when the brains are stumped, we don’t really
get much done. “The only reference we have is what was given in the recipe, so for now, I say
we start with something solid from the text.” I look back down at the book, reading over the lines
when something catches my eye. “Sharlee, how many instances of three hands have you heard in
your life?” Pondering for a moment, nothing comes to mind. I give that same smirk she always
gives to me; this time, I’m the brains. “How does it feel? To not know the answer when I do?”
She can’t hold back her contempt. “Yeah yeah yeah, what is it then? Out with it.” “Why spoil the
fun? We can walk there from here.” I rise, taking her by the hand and drag her along with me
further into the wood.
We walk for almost an hour when we reach the edge of the wood. “Enough, Cass.
Enough. I am tired from my hike this morning. Tell me where we’re going.” All right, my fun
has come to an end. I turn and point to the village sitting beneath us. In the center of the village,
a tall spire keeps a large clock suspended in the air. “Why would we come to the clock tower?
What does that have to do with—” She answers her own question in silence. All clocks have
three hands: hours, minutes, and seconds, as well as faces. Whatever we’re looking for lies there.
I gently take her hand in mine and we head toward the tower.
After some awful stares and glares from folks as we pass by, we reach the foot of the
clock tower. A small child stands in front of us, agog at the magnificence of the tower. Sharlee
steps up to approach the child. “Excuse me, youngling, might a little old lady ask you a riddle?” I
make a quick confused look in her direction. She whispers back “Children are excellent at
riddles. They have no barriers restricting their thoughts. Any answer makes sense in their eyes.”
The small child turns around; a young girl no more than six by the look of it. She is not scared by
our sight. Ah, the innocence of a child. Sharlee leans in. “Upon a face, you’ll wind three hands
or in a glass you’ll find the sands. What am I?” The tiny creature frowns her eyebrows for a
moment, thinking much too hard for someone her age, then decides her answer. “Time.” Sharlee
and I are astounded; it took this young child no effort at all to think of an answer. “Three hands
and a face; a clock. Glass with sand; an hourglass. Both keep track of time.” Clever girl. I
approach the young one as well. “I also have a riddle for you, dearie. You will know the feeling
with no need to speak. You feel it deep within your heart, It’s even worse when you’re apart.”
Giggling, the creature no taller than my hip answers. “That one was much easier. It’s love. The
heart gave that one away.”
The two of us breath a sigh of relief. The puzzle is solved. The recipe was correct; those
two are a little harder to find, but Sharlee and I have collected each of those tenfold. I couldn’t
imagine living a single day without her. “Well Sharlee, I believe we have our answers.” She
nods. “I believe so, Cass. Now I believe that we have a meal to start preparing for this evening.
Let’s take our prize and we’ll be off.” I take her hand once again in mine and pat the child on the
head. “Thank you, young one.” It smiles. “Glad to help. Do you need anything else?” A smirk
appears on my face. Sharlee’s does the same. “Oh my, yes. We have something in mine.” In a
flash, I take the young child’s hand and the three of us disappear into the æther, ready to enjoy
our newfound recipe alongside our surprise dessert. What can I say? It’s a lifestyle.

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.

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: “It’s About Time” by John R. Greenwood read by Gaby Fernandez

TRANSCRIPT: John R. Greenwood is a newcomer to published fiction, though he’s been writing and telling stories since he had lips to speak and fingers to scribble. He earned a bachelors in literature and a masters in writing oh so long ago, and appreciates a chance to put them to good use. This will be his world-premiere and he is thankful to the fine editors, actors, and staff of Gateways and Otherworld Theatre for this opportunity. This is “It’s About Time.”

I’ve been watching the young man in sweat pants through his studio apartment window for 45 minutes now and am having trouble staying awake. My watch buzzes telling me the sun will be up in just two hours. I don’t have time for this. How long does it take to eat a pack of Chicken McNuggets? I’m cramped into the darkest corner of the stairs leading to his garden apartment hoping he doesn’t glance my way. I don’t know his name; only his description, his address, and that he has the thing that can save Daniel. Mr. Cerberus promised.

A November gust from the Lake digs down my neck and I pull my coat closer. He picks up another nugget while staring at the tv—it hovers in the air a second—now he’s putting it back in the pile. Jesus! I stifle a yawn. How long has it been since I slept a full night? Probably not since Daniel was taken to St. Jude. First the fever, then the shakes, then his tiny body started wasting away. He grew smaller and smaller as the machines attached to him grew bigger and bigger. They say it’s “unconventional and accelerated failure to thrive,” whatever that means. All I know is my boy’s life is leaking away and the doctors can’t help. I peek at my watch and grind my teeth. I have everything else, I just need him to fall asleep. I just need more time!

After another episode of “24”, the man nods and falls asleep. I wait 12 excruciating minutes to be sure he’s completely out. Crossing carefully to his door, I insert the key Mr. Cerberus gave me. It clicks. I don’t stop to think as I step inside and close the door behind me. The studio is sparse and mostly unfurnished. The young man in the sweats has an old couch, probably from the curb; a mattress in the corner with a loose sheet, his tv and a cable box. He doesn’t have much. I don’t think about it. He’s snoring.

I unfold Mr. Cerberus’ note and take out “the ingredients,” as he called them, from my backpack. He’d been explicit in his instructions. It’s a bizarre collection: burned cigarettes; nubby pencils; used tampons; an empty pen; spent batteries. All junk I found lying around my house and in the building’s garbage. In his slightly high pitched whine, Mr. Cerberus had said, “Find those ingredients which you have worn with the passage of your life. Those flotsam you have consumed in their fullness.” I didn’t know what he meant, and I didn’t care. Daniel is the only important thing.

I set all the stuff in a circle around the man. Should I put them on the couch? The note doesn’t say, so I decide against it. I drop the last nubby pencil and step back. He’s still snoring, thank God. Taking the note in hand, I start whispering the crisply printed words. Mr. Cerberus’s script is in all caps, like a draftsman. The words are gibberish and mean nothing to me but I speak them as slowly and phonetically as I can. Several short words and a final long phrase. My tongue buzzes oddly and I can suddenly taste cinnamon. With the last word, I place a peach pit on the man’s stomach.

Nothing happens. He just keeps breathing the deep sleep of slumber. A minute passes.

Nothing. I chew my fingernail and watch. Another minute. He startles in his sleep and lets out a soft moan. The peach pit shakes and flips over. There’s something on the underside. Is that peach flesh? More peach appears around the pit. It quickly reforms on his stomach like a highspeed rot in reverse. All around the circle, the junk is reforming. The pencils lengthen and grow like corn. Cigarettes smolder with embers, but burn up instead of out. The tampons whiten and plump. I almost gasp, but cover my mouth with both hands.

He’s growing a beard. I watch it ooze from his cheeks. It’s brown for a few inches and then grows out white and down onto his chest. The skin on his skull tightens and draws back. Blue veins wriggle beneath the flesh at his temples and age spots sprout on his forehead like a ripening banana. His hands wizen and contract, the tendons standing out. His eyes open in shock and they’re milky cataracts. His jaw gapes in a soundless “O” showing teeth turning brown. Then, the peach rolls off his stomach and hits the floor. Everything stops. The man, now ancient, twitches and closes his eyes. His skin is thin and bleached. His hands are arthritic gnarls. 

My body can’t move. I have to move. I have no time. I step forward once, twice; and grab the peach. The old man coughs, and start snoring again. His shriveled body is draped in the too- baggy clothing of man twice his weight and half his age. I rush from the studio, leaving the door open behind me.

The night is waning. It will soon be morning. I’m driving through red lights to get back to the alley behind the Indian Palace restaurant where I first met Mr. Cerberus. The peach is in my coat pocket. I can feel its warmth through my shirt. It doesn’t matter. I have what I need.

I pull into the alley and Mr. Cerberus is waiting for me, leaned against a dumpster. His body is revealed by inches in my headlamps as I idle forward. He’s wearing an umber and grey pinstripe suit with a wide brimmed grey fedorah tipped down. Even in my headlights, his face is shadowed. He holds up a hand, palm out—it’s covered in a lady’s opera glove the colour of burnt pumpkin. I stop the car and kill the engine. The alley returns to darkness.

Not waiting for my eyes to adjust, I throw open the door and rush to him. He smells faintly of lemon-grass. My words slur and stammer as I tell him what happened and ask what the hell is going on and if Daniel will be alright and if we still have time and who was that guy and what have I done and can he still save Daniel? 

Mr. Cerberus holds up his hand, now palm up. My mouth snaps shut. I place the peach in his open fist. He wraps his long fingers around the flesh coloured fruit.

“Ah yes, this is perfect. You have drawn the right time, my dear.” His voice pitches higher and buzzes slightly, like a locust summer. Listening now, I can’t tell why ever I thought it was a man’s voice, or a woman’s. Mr. Cerberus squeezes the peach once, twice and then pops it into a jacket pocket. It turns toward me and a lighter patch appears part way down the darkness under its hat. Is it smiling? “And now, for the last piece. Your last piece. The hardest piece.” Mr. Cerberus’ voice crackles.

The weight of all the sleep I have been missing crashes down on me. First the diagnosis, then all the tests, then the “I’m sorry” from the doctors. Now, these last few hours and that horrible face of the old man in sweat pants. I sit down hard on the ground and hold my head in my hands. A knot tightens in my throat. I’m not stupid, I know what’s coming. I swallow the bile and ask what I have to do. I have a gun, pills, a rope. I know how this goes. I ask where I have to sign.

“Oh merciful Yama, no! What sort of specter do you see in me, my dear,” Mr. Cerberus croons. “Blood and bile are a realm all their own, and I find parchments insecure and signatures unreliable.” It pitches its head back and belts out a cough. Perhaps, it’s a laugh. Within the sound I hear the bells of St. Peter chime softly. But, those are all the way across town.

“Nothing of that sort, my dear. However, Sun soon comes, and we have but a sliver of night left to finish your deed. You brought half of what you need, but have you the fortitude to find the other? Will you give all for Daniel?”

I have no idea what Mr. Cerberus is talking about. I think back to my boy shivering alone in the hospital wrapped in those blue, scratchy blankets. His ribs strain with every breath and his little stomach spasms. In my aching head, I see tubes sinking into his chest, arms, and down his throat. His eyes squeeze shut as his tiny fists beat the air. He’s not making a sound.

I nod and acquiesce. Of course, whatever it is. There’s nothing I won’t do. The tightness in my throat is gone and my cheeks no longer feel hot. I stand and look Mr. Cerberus in its darkened face.

It places a hand on my shoulder. The burden is surprisingly light. “Very well, my dear. Then, walk away. Step into your car, drive onto the street, and away from the City. Never look behind, never think back, never return. That is the last ingredient. All that you would have given him in his life, give it to him now. All of it. Give Daniel all your love, and he will meet Sun and Moon and all their kin to come.”

The hand tightens on my shoulder, “Yet know, my dear. Should you return, should you glance behind to see and find, it is undone. All will fall. Do you understand? Do you offer this last?”

The question hangs between us a moment. I hear a second chime from St. Peter’s church. Time and blood course in my heart, and I understand. A third chime and I see Daniel in my head thrashing against the tubes in his throat. I find myself turning for the car clawing the keys from my purse. The Camry sputters to life and roars down the alley, jumping the curb and racking the suspension with a thunderous crack. I swerve around early morning traffic, earning horns and screams, but I don’t care. I need to get out before sunrise. I hear a fourth chime. Swerving around a Ford stopped at the on-ramp to the highway, I floor it into westbound traffic. Sunlight is just reaching the eastern edge of the Lake and I hear a fifth chime. My eyes are locked forward as the car picks up speed. Behind me, lampposts start winking out and the tallest skyscraper is just reaching into the morning. Ahead, I can see the city limit sign beckoning. The sixth chime strikes; there’s only one more.

I have just enough time for the last piece. I can see Daniel in my head. I see him through all the years all the birthdays and skinned knees and crying fits. The odometer hits 85. I see him through college and a divorce. In the hospital he’s taking an easier breath and relaxes his arms. I see him having his own child and I bounce that girl in my arms. His breathing slows and steadies and the blood stops pulsing at his temple. I see him at my bedside in the hospital where I am the one plugged into machines. His hands unclench and the little fingers flex and ease. I see him one last time as my eyes close and my breath stops and my hand grows cold on top of his. His breathing is easy and he falls into a comfortable sleep.

As I hear the seventh chime, I reach up and tear the rearview mirror from the windshield. The plastic shrieks. Morning streams through my back window and I drive hard into the west.