Tag Archives: Horror

Gateways: “What We Do In The Cosmos” By Alex B Reynolds read by Ryan Bond


Alex B Reynolds has been writing and producing comedic theatre in Chicago for 15 years. They have been a contributing writer for The Flaming Dames burlesque troupe, the Meet/Cute sitcom podcast, and the Paragon short play festival. Full-length plays include Old Hobbits Die Hard, Kings & Thrones & Shit, and The Incredible Hank for New Millennium Theatre Company. They are spending quarantine as dungeon master for a family DnD campaign, as a writer for Gateways, and a sleepless puddle of anxiety. This is “What We Do in the Cosmos”.

It wasn’t long into the 21st century that two things happened almost simultaneously – vampires were outed to humans as real, and space travel became commercialized. Anyone who was alive during that time remembers that it was…pretty rough. People were conditioned by enough natural and man-made disasters by that point in the early 2000s to accept our presence, but people were also scared to death and desperate to leave the planet. After a while, a combination of scientists, conservationalists and capitalists got together and educated the public on the benefits of not only our existence, but our contribution to the human condition. One of these contributions came in the form of space travel. It wasn’t feasible to send a human astronaut on a mission to Jupiter or beyond, because that would be at least a 10-year round trip. Vampire immortality came in handy for exploring the far reaches of space. Within a decade of the Space Vampire program’s inception, Earth was also given confirmation of life on other planets. The reaction of the humans that a Vampire made First Contact was…less than patriotic. And, to be completely honest, the reaction of the hungry Vampires coming across a living being after years in space was less than exemplary, either. But regardless of circumstances, making First Contact legitimized the Space Vampire initiative back on Earth, and suddenly a new class of our species was born. 

Here’s the thing about Space Vampires: I don’t hate them. I envy them. They can be great explorers in the cosmos, not stuck down here in dank, dark castles hunting humans or eating rats. They get to be out in space! Exploring new planets, traversing new galaxies, meeting new alien species and feeding on them. Did you know that the USS Adventurer 2 vampires went to Rigel 7, fed on some of the aliens there, and ended up with flame powers? So cool. And the vampires on the USS Adventurer 4 went all the way to Marklar, fed on the Marklars, and within minutes could manipulate the fabric of time? No wonder most of the Space Vampires never come back – if i could bend time and shoot fire out of my hands, I wouldn’t want to come back to Earth, either. Feeding on humans just gives you, what – nourishment? A blood gut? Boring! And hey, another bonus – Space Vampires are all that much farther away from the Sun. The first Space Vampire mission found out that it’s only the Earth’s Sun that hurts us. It’s like Superman, only the opposite, and terrible. Space Vampires are up there traversing literally every other star in the galaxy and loving it because it’s not searing the flesh off their bones. I don’t understand how one star can do that to us while another star won’t, but that’s probably why I wasn’t a specially-selected NASA Space Vampire…until now. 

Because space travel was so accessible, a person (or vampire) didn’t require a career of training in order to be approved for a mission. NASA never took vampire volunteers, however. Like with most things, we had to be invited. And I was. I received the embroidered invitation in the official government envelope, and even though I wasn’t due at Cape Canaveral for another week, I packed up and left that very evening. My

head was filled with possibilities. I couldn’t stay one more minute in a drab, dusty castle any longer. That being said, Florida is not a great place for Vampires. First of all, it is sunny all the time. That was definitely first on my list in terms of reasons to get off this planet and join the ranks of Space Vampires. So long, Sun. That kept a lot of our kind out of Florida, to be honest, which made the other significant problem the locals. When a person is as pale as we are in Florida, and wearing long sleeves and pants in 90 degree weather, the game is given away pretty quickly that there’s a Vampire walking through town. There was quite a lot of staring, screaming, but only a few slaying attempts. In general, the world had turned its back on the idea of slaying – it was definitely considered cruel and inhumane and akin to any other kind of vigilante justice enacted on humans by other humans. That didn’t stop some people from trying it anyway, but they were usually older and easy enough to put down. All that being the case, though, Florida was the best place on Earth to be right before leaving the planet forever. 

When Orientation Day finally came, I was seated in a large conference room with 5 other Vampires that would be traveling with me on this particular mission. A mission briefing was placed in front of each of us. Apparently, there was a suspiciously rhythmic radar signal coming from a planet called Remulak. I could have sworn I heard the name before. Before I could think too hard about it, I read on: It was presumed that not only was the planet able to support life, but that it was already inhabited by a rich and intelligent culture. This was very exciting. For all the advancements and alien contact that has been made on Space Vampire missions, the statistic is that only 35% of the missions actually result in contacting intelligent life. The rest find remnants of what was once intelligent life, or they find only microbial life, or vegetation. After hearing about all the glorious accomplishments of other Space Vampires, we all secretly laughed behind their backs. More often than not, those Vampires also chose to stay on the new planets they found, too. What were they eating? Were these vegetable planets full of blood carrots or something? That actually didn’t sound so bad. But it didn’t matter, because I was going to Remulak with my team to engage with intelligent life. And feed on them for superpowers. 

Our Orientation was led by a very official-looking member of the federal government. He was there to go over the bureaucratic nonsense involved with the mission, and most of us tuned out. He made us all sign release forms that I don’t think any of us took the time to read, but that ultimately boiled down to us not holding the government responsible for any space-related injury or death — the same kind of thing a person signs before they go horseback riding or bungee-jumping. He called us heroes and told us that our country thanked us for what we were doing, and once he collected the forms from all of us, he left. After a few more minutes, we were ushered out of the room by a Scottish brunette in a lab coat who brought us to a medical wing where we all had our blood drawn and rapid-tested. Whatever they were looking for, they found – or didn’t find – because the next step was fitting us all into our space suits. This whole process seemed to go rather quickly. I was expecting to spend a week or two doing training exercises, floating around in a zero gravity simulator, learning about what all the

buttons do on the space shuttle we would be in, but ultimately the Orientation took about 5 hours with a break for lunch. They had pig blood in little boxes with straws. I thought that was very charming, and I was told there would be more of those on the shuttle to last us the trip. After another speech by another official-looking government human in a suit, we boarded our shuttle: The Adventurer 20. My compatriots and I were strapped into our seats by technicians in overalls, the observation windows were all closed so that the Sun wouldn’t hurt us on the way out of the atmosphere, and soon it was just us and the shuttle. We barely spoke a word to each other before the countdown began. This was it. No more Earth. No more hiding from the Sun, no more humans trying to slay me, no more dark caverns and castles, no more eating rats or getting fined for hunting a human. Our time had finally come. The shuttle shook violently. I was pressed hard against my seat. Liftoff. 

I don’t know how much time passed before things finally returned to normal. My head was throbbing. My muscles ached. I looked around, and the other Space Vampires – because that’s what we were now – were all breathing heavy sighs of relief. We had made it out of the atmosphere. A voice came on over the communication speakers in the cockpit telling us that the craft was traveling fast enough that we had already cleared the Moon. It would be safe for us to move around the shuttle, and even take in the view. We would reach Remulak in approximately six years. I took off my restraints. I wanted to open that observation window and see the stars that I had been avoiding all my life. I wasn’t the only one. One of the other Space Vampires was already at the window, holding the shade and looking at us with a showman’s grin of anticipation. Once we were all gathered around, he lifted the shade. And suddenly, I understood everything. 

I saw three different stars at varying distances from our shuttle, two of them closer than the Sun had ever been. Scattered in open space between us and them floated almost a dozen other shuttles, each in different states of frost and decay, and each marked Adventurer 2, Adventurer 12, Adventurer 17, etc. I understood. Earth still had not made First Contact with an alien life form. Space Vampires never came back because they were here. In space. These other stars had the same effect on us that the Sun did, which meant NASA was, simply put, in the vampire slaying business now. As the fire filled my chest, I suddenly remembered: The Coneheads from Saturday Night Live. They were from Remulak. I laughed. And I burned.

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: “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: “The Vampires of Earth” by Jim McDoniel read by Ansel Burch


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 “The Vampires of Earth”.


When humans left Earth, the vampires could not follow. Journeying into space exposed them to the unrelenting power of the sun and no amount of shielding could keep the solar radiation at bay. Not even the humans had solved this problem but had taken their chances in their haste to get away. The vampires did not have this option and found it…difficult…to deal with on their own. They had always depended on mortals and the ingenuity that went hand in hand with a short existence for such innovations.

And so the undead fell upon what remained. Those humans who had stayed behind—the ones too poor or sick or stubborn to leave—were wiped out in a matter of months. By the time the vampires realized they should conserve or cultivate what they had, they were gone. Cows went next. There were so many of them, big and slow and full of blood. Pigs. Cats. Dogs. Horses. The animals that humans had bred by the millions for their own hunger or amusement fell beneath the fang and were silenced.

A decade was all it took to denude the earth of the large mammals. Another to end most birds and reptiles. By this time, the problem was apparent but unsolvable. Anything that could be caught had to be eaten—even if the sustenance it provided was small. Rodents were barely a snack. Amphibian blood was more often rejected by the body than accepted. Insects and worms were pulped by the thousands for the mere drops of sustenance they contained. The green blood of crustaceans turned out to be deadly, no one had ever resorted to eating a horseshoe crab before. There were a few places, in the far north and south—where large ocean animals still roamed. Whales and seals were kept in small fisheries where they could be tapped without killing them outright. Still their numbers were few and they reproduced slowly. It was far easier to prey upon one’s own. The youngest and weakest were culled.

It was nearly too late before the mistake was recognized. Newer vampires had always been more comfortable with technology. For them it was as natural a part of the ecosystem as trees or rain. If advancements were to be made, it would come from them. The elders scooped them up and pressed them into service. There were barely a hundred left. Few of the young ones had an aptitude for science but they had to make do anyway. 

The middling vampires now found themselves preyed upon starting with a century or more and slowly working their way back. Reprieves were made for the odd centenarian who showed an aptitude for modernity but this was as rare as daywalking. Eras rolled backward one at a time. By the time rockets had been redeveloped, the Renaissance frayed at the edges; by the time the first tentative steps into space were made, it had completely unraveled.

Shielding remained the problem. Vampires who went up came back as ash. New metals and new alloys and new composites; all returned with ash. Finally, they hit upon the idea of filling the capsule’s habitation chamber with water to absorb the sun’s radiation. The first vampire to survive space was Hala of Tyre—chosen especially for the purpose because she was expendably Middle Ages but also her name’s meaning, the light around the moon, represented hope for the undead. 

More vampires journeyed into space. There was no shortage of volunteers—those who took part were reprieved from the menu. Not that this always meant safety. Water was not necessarily conducive to travel—on a trip round the moon, water shorted out all the electronics causing the vehicle to crash into the lunar surface, stranding the occupant forever. Another test subject was simply launched into space with no destination—just a transmitter and fuel for acceleration. The last message received came from somewhere within the Kuiper Belt before all went silent. Still, progress was made. The vampires did not have to worry about air or cold or pressure or G forces. Their only barrier was the sun and once that had been solved, everything fell into place very rapidly.

Two hundred years after the humans had left earth, the predators followed their prey. The remaining vampires—the very young and the very, very old—boarded generation ships and flew off, leaving the earth to the arthropods and rodents too small to have been much use. A dozen vessels, each a kilometer long, filled with vampires and water, scouring the aether in search of human blood. The humans had been aiming for Luyten B, the most likely habitable planet in the stellar neighborhood—only 12.2 light years away. Or put another way, a hundred thousand years. But what was that to an immortal? 

The vampires slept in metal crypts, dreaming of the blood. Unless they didn’t. More than half the ships fell to cannibalism not even a quarter of the way through the trip. Another two experienced decompression and lost all their water. An asteroid struck another’s engine. It drifted off into the deep, unable to alter course.

Lifetimes passed. Millenia and Eons. And then at last, at long last, sensors blipped; lights flashed. The ships began to slow. The young vampires now indistinguishable in age from their near useless forebears went to work checking star charts and readying landing modules. The ships could not themselves descend but small capsules could be crashed onto the planetary surface with groups of twenty or so undead in each. Lots were drawn to determine who would go down with the first launches. Fights broke out and the ancient ones learned they no longer held the physical advantage over their younger kin. Twenty-eight of the oldest, most revered, and most hated vampires gave their blood to sate the hunger of those who had to wait. The lucky chosen boarded the entry crafts and fell to the planet surface.

They emerged, hungry and confused, on the dark side of the new planet. There was life—tough, plant-like corals that glowed luminescent. Worms rose out of the ground like wheat, sucking at pollen on the wind. One of the vampires eagerly tried this new fare only to vomit up its black glowing blood. It was incompatible. They needed to find the humans.

No cities had been visible from above the planet. If the humans were here, they had gone underground. Fortunately, iridescent cheeping lichen led them to large fissures. They descended beyond the opening and found themselves in a large cavern where anchored among the stalagmites were the fleshy, bulbous trunks of scale-topped trees. Scarlet sap oozed from their pores. One of the vampires took a tentative lick and shuddered with ecstasy. This was what they had traveled the interstellar advance for. The vampire ripped hungrily into its pulp. The thing rattled with pain, a sound which echoed through the floor of the cavern, but it did not stop the frenzy as the others joined in. There was not a flow of blood to be found but rather a single reservoir of congealed ooze at its center from whence it could be squeezed through its sponge like body. The undead ripped their way to the central cavities and slathered themselves in the first fresh blood they had tasted in over a hundred thousand years. 

There was more than enough in that one plant for each to have their fill. But it had been so long, so very long. They turned toward the neighboring trunks, each now rattling and puffing with the stench of fear—an aroma almost as intoxicating as the blood itself. The shaking dislodged one from its anchor point and it flopped to the ground, rocking comically back and forth like a turtle on its back. The vampire laughed even as the scale-like fronds at the thing’s head separated and lengthened—first into branches and then into arms. 

A vampire was in its mouth before anyone could move. Muffled screams merged with the sucking sound of the plant creature. The others ran to his aid but only by pulling apart the trunk could they extract their companion and by then it was too late. Suction had already crushed and broken the head and upper shoulders, flaying the skin and crushing the bone into a slurry within its central cavity. It drank everything into it, every molecule extracted for its own nutrition.

The central cavern filled with rattles. The creatures freed themselves from the outcroppings they had cemented themselves to and pushed forward on their snail-like feet. Two more vampires were pulled inside mouths and drained of their substance. The rest fled back up the cavern toward the entrance only to find the light of the rising red sun blocking their way. 

The remains of humanity bore down on their ancient enemy. They had fled without shielding, mutated and changed, forced to modify themselves to endure the solar winds. Generations and generations, living and dying and adapting over a hundred thousand years. And now in this cave, they found those from whom they’d fled, spindly and weak—poorly adapted to this new world. Warbles of joy broke forth as they advanced upon the vampires with hungry anticipation. 

Ansel Burch is the curator for the Gateways series as well as the producer for the comedy variety podcast, Starlight Radio Dreams. He is also mixing drinks with fate on YouTube as “Dungeon Barkeep”. Keep up with his work and all the amazing stuff he’s making at www.indecisionist.com

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

Zack Peercy is a legally blind playwright based in Chicago. He has a residency at Three Brothers Theatre, where his play That’s Fucked Up premiered in May 2019. His play Kubrickian was recently presented as part of Intrinsic Theatre Company May Play Podcast reading series. He has placed in a few contests you haven’t heard of and was rejected from all the contests you have heard of. He can be found on instagram and twitter @zackpeercy. His plays can be found on NPX.

First Read-Through 

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

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

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

Choreography Run 

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

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

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

Off-Book Date 

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

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


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

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

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

Opening Night 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gateways: “Shangri-La” By Isaac Rathbone read by Keenan Odenkirk

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

They called him “Doc” in the service, but no one knew exactly what branch he served or if he was even a medic. On a flag pole above his trailer flew the black POW-MIA flag. But no stars and stripes. Most days when I went to drop his mail, I’d find him wandering his yard, muttering to old friends and perceived enemies. The term yard may not be the right word for individuals of certain standards. Nestled in the tangles of over grown vegetation sat the shell of an old Pontiac, a rusted out water softener, some TV dinner trays and two long de-commissioned riding mowers. Covering these artifacts of America’s Industrial Spirit grew vines, shrubs, saplings and flowers of exotic appearance. No one had bothered to come identify them as members of the local Horticulture Club rarely made special visits to the Shangri-La Trailer Park. 

Doc’s Daughter gave me a wink and sometimes a delightful wave any time I came to drop off. She was younger than I was, but old enough to know what she was doing. She still keeps that hair shoulder length and blonde. She has the presence of someone you don’t bet against in a donnybrook and the beauty that takes the sting out of a hangover. 

I talked to an Old Letter Carrier about it at The Six-Pointer, a local hunting bar where we enjoyed post-route beers. These summers were harsh on him, as he was sweating more than our chilled bottles. He used to have my route until his transfer. He needed to stay in his truck more as his gout made the walk down and back into the trailer park too much. He knew all about Doc’s Daughter. “You stay away from that girl. She’s the type that’s got trouble tattooed on her backside. Hmmmph. Gonna go piss.” 

I watched him gingerly slide off the bar stool with a wince. His right foot was no doubt on fire. His drinking was killing him, a fact that was causing him to drink more. I watched my future, overweight and empty, hobble through the restroom door labeled “Bucks.” 

The next morning, I parked my truck on the shoulder of Route Twelve. The dirt roadways of a trailer park are not easily navigable by large vehicles. The gravel arteries are pocked with divots, holes and loose stones. Not to mention the roaming stray animals and diaper-clad daredevils cruising around on mini plastic hot-rods. The entrance into the park is a steep slope. My predecessor’s Mount Everest. Walking down and in, I was to deliver the coupon books and catalogues to folks who either didn’t have

the chance or the desire to participate in the free market. But glossy pictures are the best fodder for daydreams here. 

My last delivery was always Doc’s place. It’s tucked in the back of the park and closest to the river that everyone’s Grandpa remembers flooding. This morning, I didn’t see the old man wandering through his maze of shrubbery, rust and cracked rubber tires. Doc sat on his porch, causing the graying particle board to smile between the two cinderblocks. I handed off his bundle and he gave me a smile of his own. A chill shot up along the back of my body. There’s something about a mouth full of gums that sows distrust. Call it prejudice if you will. I turned to make a swift exit, but standing in my way was Doc’s Daughter. Her gaze made me forget all about her father’s orthodontics. The soft breeze delivered her smell of menthol and what I assumed was a fruity shampoo. The flowers and plants seemed to bend and bow to her passing figure. She stood at the doorway and gave me one last wink and a smile that struck me in the chest like a Whaler’s Harpoon. 

That first Saturday was a lazy summer day. The kind where even folks who don’t have steady work feel the need to take a load off. There was no sign of Doc on the premises. Their residence had no proper box, so it was in through the doggie door, which I had never noticed before that day. Nor had I ever seen a dog. I was on all fours slipping the parcels through the flap when the door opened. Doc’s Daughter’s bare ankles stood inches from my face. I climbed skyward, noticing her loose fitting athletic shorts and a bright green tank top on my way up. Her hair was in a rope-like braid and her red lipstick and dark eyeliner were crisp. Perhaps recently applied. I asked about Doc, which was met with a laugh. Her fingertips, ignoring the bundle I held out, smoothed over the wrinkles of my government issued shirt. With the sudden grasp of a predator, she yanked me into the trailer and kissed me with a mouthful of menthol and that fruity scent. The door closed loudly behind me. 

I crouched over the bed frame putting the dusty boots back on my feet. I rose to buckle up my government issued shorts that now wouldn’t itch in this heat. I wandered the inside of the double- wide. A photo hung on the wall, featuring a group of Army officers in front of a drab office building. The structure was surrounded by barbed wire fencing and a sign with Japanese characters. Doc was in the crowd, with a full head of hair and full set of teeth. In front of the television slumped a couch that looked like a large person in a hospital gown who’s numb to the bad news. There was no easy chair. Throughout the inside were more plants and flowers. Quite an array of them, too. Seedlings, aloes, cactuses sat on the sills and counters. Their containers ranged from the standard terra cotta to paint cans and Fast Food cups. Doc’s Daughter stood in the bathroom, re-applying her lipstick in the mirror. After a quick self-inspection, her soft feet delicately tapped the linoleum floor and she opened the door, showing me the way out. 

That way my Saturday ritual. Doc would be out. She let me in. I would forget I was supposed to be on my route. One afternoon looking at the old photo, I swear there were some flowers growing on the barbed wire that now grew outside. But the black and white didn’t help. Each Saturday she showed me out and each Saturday I longed to stay. I stopped drinking at the Six-Pointer. Sitting in a dark room when the sun was out made me sick. I hated being in my mail truck, so I walked as much as I could. Even in the rain. Especially in the rain. I was taking longer showers, but a cold soaking downpour from Mother Nature made me come alive. Almost as much as being with her. It ate at me every time I had to leave. One Saturday morning she opened the door and I asked if there was ever a possibility for us to spend more time together. 

“Soon enough,” was her sweet reply. My last Saturday, she was waiting outside, sitting on the busted seat of one of the old mowers. Her bare legs surged out of a pair of jean cut-offs that were made of more frayed threads then denim. She grabbed my collar and pulled me in close, like always. My fears of being out in front of everyone were gone. The simple desire of putting down roots here with Doc’s Daughter swelled in my stomach. I dropped my mailbag. Letters and magazines fluttered away, with some most likely ending up in that beautiful creek with its raging and pure waters. The longer she kissed me, the more the earth pulled at my feet. She stopped and bent over to gather my un-needed Government issued clothes. All I could think was…soon enough. That was August 22nd, 1987. I’ve grown here in Doc’s Yard for many summers. The hot sun is all I have to gauge time. Grow, wither, freeze and grow again. I haven’t seen my reflection, so I don’t know what genus I am. New carriers have come and gone on my route. Hell, I even saw the old timer sub in once or twice way back. Oh, to shout out to him and say that he was wise. He hobbled right past me in that garden prison. Doc wandered the grounds for many years, chatting it up with those of us outside. This was a method he came up with to hold and move prisoners in wartimes. He says there’s nothing he can do for us. Since the state took away his license, he can’t drive to get us the antidote. So he says. He died some time ago. But she’s still here. She still takes men in. All ages, races, occupations. I recognized the Dog Warden from Hoover county. He’s a few yards away from me, a patch of yellow flowers. Some stay in the house. Others are out here. But here were are. Where we always wanted to be. In this little part of Shangri-La.

Keenan Odenkirk is a Chicago based actor originally from Tucson, AZ. He grew up with a deep love for fantasy and sci-fi, favorites being the Martian Chronicles, Harry Potter, Eragon, Hyperion, and Shakespeare’s more fantastical plays. I am an ensemble member of Quicksilver Shakespeare Co. and most recently appeared in the Valiant Theatre New Works Festival.

Gateways: “Utopia Ain’t What it’s Cut Out To Be” by Hadley Frost read by Rachel Granda-Gluski

Hadley Frost (they/them) is a TTRPG and Visual Story Telling creative writer and producer. He is currently personally studying creative writing. WIth little professional experience, he hopes to grow his portfolio in both a professional setting and novel writing. He is currently developing a visual story tell festival to take place in 2021. Hadley Frost lives in Boise, Idaho.

“Welcome to Eden Sister. Let me show you around, there is so much to see! Once you’re finished, I’ll show you to your new home.”

How did I fall for something so obvious?

I had heard rumors of Eden but never thought it was anything more than a fever dream thought up by Sam down at the pub before he disappeared. I mean, who really believes in a community without problems? No crime? No fear? Maybe in the old days but things have changed. That’s what I had thought until Alice mentioned a new companion she was head over heels for.

Alice babbled on about her new sweetheart who was going to whisk her away to Eden and bring her salvation. When I asked his name, her eyes went wide with excitement. I’d be happy to introduce you! Almost as soon as I’d mentioned him, Alice stood me up and ran me to the old church building. It looked like no one had set foot in it for over a decade. Its decrepit frame barely held the cracked clay tiles that covered the gambrel roof. Stepping inside was like walking into a different universe. Where the exterior of the chapel appears aged and overgrown, the interior stands timeless. The white marble floors unmarked, the stained glass windows immaculate detail maintained, and even the mahogany pews stood. The hall stood empty before Alice and I except for a gentleman sitting quietly amongst the stalls.

He introduced himself as Vizier Anthony “But please, call me Anthony.” Every question I asked him seemed to slide off like a raindrop off a windshield. ‘Who are you’ turned into ‘How can I help’. ‘How’d you meet Alice’ changed to ‘Let me buy you a drink’. We soon left the chapel and returned to the pub, leaving Alice to go home. With a pint in my hand, he started to ask about me. What I wanted, what I dreamed of. Soon all my questions were forgotten to cups as he pried my story out of me as if I was a novel he plucked off a library shelf.

The weeks to follow all seem like a blur. I would bump into Anthony every once in a while. We’d chat and share a smile and maybe invite me out. He took me to the bar, out for walks, just simple things. Quickly, I started to enjoy his company, and soon after that I almost longed for his voice in the silence of the night. Why couldn’t I get him out of my mind?

One evening, I thought I was being clever and I changed the game up. Rather than waiting for Anthony, I went to him. I had assumed he would be back at the chapel where we had met, but Anthony wasn’t anywhere to be seen. A group of people sat in the chapel. When I entered several of them turned to face me with a fever in their eyes. They ran at me with ravings of the apocalypse soon to come. They screamed to forget what we have, soon we’ll be lost. Nervous and unsettled I ran from the steeple and back home. Almost like he knew I would be there, Anthony was waiting.

“It’s time to go, it’s not safe here anymore. Let me take you to Eden.”

Anthony then went on to describe a town with no disease, no crime. It’s the perfect place. “It’s a place I can keep you safe.”

The very next day, we loaded a carriage and began our trek across this new city, Eden. Anthony further described how fruit slipped from the heavens for all to eat and the waters are as pure as diamonds. I told him I’d believe it when I saw it.

But sure enough, just like Anthony described. Boardwalk pathways that lead over crystal clear streams and through the cobblestone streets where horse drawn carriages carried man, mother, and child alike. The building stood tall and strong with a seamless construction of wood and stone fused together in a beautiful chaos. Greek pillars morphed into elegant archways stabled an overhead garden filled with different fruits. It was all like  it was taken out of a dream. “You’ll be free to live as you please without worry here Sister” his words laced with ecstasy. “Come now, I’ll show you your new home.”

Anthony guided me through the winding streets of Eden waving to passers-by and greeting some by name, and on occasion Anthony would introduce me. “This is our newest Sister, I’m helping her get a proper introduction with the city” Each and every meeting was greeted with a smile and a bold Welcome to Eden Sister.

After walking for nearly 30 minutes we came into a new district of Eden. Where the hanging gardens stood in the previous areas, there stood tall statues carved of angelic white marble depicting a variety of people who seemed to invite you into a courtyard before a cathedral-like building. Inside was just as fantastic as the rest of the city. Lavish rugs covered the floor, brilliant paintings decorated the walls, and a mosaic depicting a fruitful vineyard enriched the ceiling. A long, ornate conference table took over most of the space within the entrance hall. “Have a seat. It’s time to add your name to the family.”

As I sat down he placed a large tome in front of me. Gently he opened the book to nearly the end where a large line of names was inscribed. “Simply sign your name in the book and you are the newest Sister to our town” the words almost crawled from Anthony’s lips as he placed an inkwell to my right. Quickly I sign my name below the last name Alice. Excited to know what was next I turned back to Anthony expecting some sort of praise, but no congratulation awaited me.

Where a kind mask sat before, Anthony’s grin was less of an invitation, but more of a demand. “Finally, you’re one of us” he said clamping a metal band around my wrist. Inscribed on the band was the number 503. “There’s just one more thing we have to do.” 


Without another word Anthony led me by the wrist past the conference table and deeper into the halls. Confused and worried I questioned what was happening but got no reply and any attempt to pull away was only met with Anthony tightening his grip. Crashing into a dimly lit room he sat me down in a tall strapped chair and buckled me in.

As if to himself, Anthony began to ramble while pulling open drawers looking for something. “You see it now? Soon we’ll all be together. Soon we’ll all be free. I envy you. You get the blessing so soon.” Any questions I asked fell on deff ears as he scrambled around for different materials. After what felt like an eternity he found what he was looking for and turned back to me. He was sewing a doll, one that looked strangely like me. “The last touch, something personal”. As he said this he plucked a single hair from my head and tied it into the yarn hair of the doll. 

“Welcome to Eden Sister” With those words I felt a strong wind blow over me and everything went dark. When I finally came to I wasn’t in the chair anymore, nor was I even in the same room. I was sitting on a shelf somehow, and I couldn’t move. Across the room from me a window showed a glimpse of the outside world where I could see Anthony standing next to someone… Standing next to me.

I’ve been sitting on this shelf long enough I’ve lost track of the days. Occasionally Anthony will walk in with a grin and another doll.

I guess Utopia isn’t what some say it is.

Rachel Granda Gluski is a Chicago based voice actor and movement professional. She currently enjoys working with radio play company Starlight Radio Dreams. She also performs every summer with the Bristol Renaissance faire. When she’s not performing she enjoys being a huge nerd and hanging out with her cats.

Gateways: New Blood by Brendan Connelly read by Alex B. Reynolds

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Brendon Connelly. This story is written by Brendon Connelly. [Brendon Connelly is a scriptwriter from Norwich in the UK. He was a film journalist and blogger for over 20 years, met Kermit the Frog three times – and only fainted one of those times, and graduated from the University of Oxford with a first in Creative Writing. It also happens to be his 47th birthday on the date of recording! This is “New Blood.”

I should start by explaining how the Flavivirus first came into my community. Sure, this is an anecdote and not, you know, hard science, but I guess most people would say the exact same thing about me. Let’s just say, be sceptical about my stories at your peril. 

You can get the Flavivirus through the air, if somebody sneezes on you, or even just breathes on you. You can get it from touching a surface where the virus will live for at least 24 hours. Don’t ever forget to sanitise your hands when you get off the bus. And, of course, you can get it through blood. So take one guess as to exactly how one of my kind first caught it. 

There was this kid called Jasper. He’d only joined us a few years back. He was just a whippersnapper, really. Jasper drank a guy down in the packing district and – whoom! Jasper was sick before the human’s neck had left his lips. 

None of us are doctors, biologists or any kind of expert in disease – we don’t have the resources let alone the knowledge – but just watching what goes down when one of us gets hit with the Flavivirus, it’s immediately obvious that we handle it a whole lot worse than you guys do. Poor little Jasper didn’t even make it through the day. He hit the dirt just before dawn and was nothing but a pile of ashes by sundown. You, however, don’t even show symptoms for days. It must be our metabolism. Remember – we live fast, stay young forever, leave no kind of corpse at all, but our metabolic clocks are in permanent overdrive. 

The irony is, in many ways, my kind should have been in a very good place with this virus. We don’t breathe, it takes a hell of a lot to make us sneeze, and we wouldn’t be caught dead on a bus or train. But of course, we’re completely screwed because, unlike you, we can catch the virus from our food. 

Jasper was dust for only a few hours when the Flavivirus first showed up in your newspapers. I never read your papers, not personally. I don’t need to. I’m not sure if you know why…? 

I lose track of what you know about us and what you don’t. The garlic thing, for example, that’s not quite right. We definitely don’t like garlic. It’s fucking disgusting. But it doesn’t hurt us. And crucifixes? We’re pretty sure that’s just empty propaganda, and not on our behalf. 

But I don’t need to read your papers because, well, they’re boring. That’s mostly it, but also, as long as one of us reads them, we may as well all have. You guys sometimes talk about being on the same wavelength or being in tune with one another, or you say, “Great minds think alike,” though, really, you’ve got no idea. Things leak back and forth between our minds. It never takes long for us to come to a consensus which is really rather convenient. 

Except, of course, when it leads to absolute hysteria. 

We were lucky to be asleep when the virus took hold of Jasper. Had we been awake, we would have all felt his cells catch fire but, by the grace of who can say, he was asleep, and so we just shared his dreams. All I remember are flashes, but it seemed to be the usual stuff of our nightmares. Something ancient, something we never talk about. We dreamt flashes of glowing eyes, narrowing to pin-sharp dots of cruel white in the dark. There was the beating of broken wings. Then a sense of confusion that sank under waves of oily, black hopelessness. After that, just the teeth, sharp and silent, and their tiny punctures, deep into the soul and rotten, changing everything forever in a single bite. 

After this, we all woke up. Except Jasper, poor thing. We will remember him. 

That night we fed hastily, rampant, greedy and fearful. We stalked every shadow across town, hunting and desperate. If we didn’t eat now, we feared, the virus would take hold of you all, and we’d starve. You’d be polluted. You’d be wasted, and then we would die. 

Some of us were scared to feed at all, but most of us were afraid to wait any longer. Majority rules when your ideas and desires tend to run together in one dirty pool, especially when fear gets the upper hand. Thirty four humans vanished that night. We drank them all. We took their bodies down under the ground with us and buried them there. It was our hungriest, most desperate night in a thousand years. It was reckless and dangerous, and I knew that if we did it again, there would be a real chance you’d come looking for us, not even knowing what you were looking for. 

And because I knew it, slowly, everybody knew it. 

We slept well the morning after the feast, all of our hearts feeling fat and sated, but it was obvious that we would have to find another solution fast. As we dreamt, I let my ideas run like blood into water, hoping we would all wake up and look for an answer together. 

We knew that any one of you could be carrying the virus, and there was no way of telling which. Your newspapers and the TV told us that the virus was spreading faster than expected, and unpredictably. We learned that your weakest would easily succumb but also that your strongest would survive. Given time, your healthy immune systems would normally be enough to defeat the virus, and slowly but surely, you’d return to your prime, rich and and alive as if you had never been sick. 

So if we could wait it out, sooner or later, you’d all be safe to drink again. We didn’t know exactly how long we’d have to wait, but thankfully, this was all just a matter of time. I may have only been on this earth for 55 years, but many of us have walked through your night times for millennia. Time is something we are not about to run out of. 

Of course, our knowing this is not the same as feeling it. Patience, you may say, is not one of our virtues. 

Still, we agreed to abstain from feeding. We tried to sleep longer, and to distract ourselves with whatever small business we could make. We read books and watched television and we went on walks underneath the city. We got together like in the old days, to just sit and talk. These meetings were so unlike the slow seeping of ideas from one mind to another, rather more vibrant, much more exciting. Our banter was fast and snappy, and we laughed, and we flirted, and sometimes even fought. I wondered why we hadn’t done more of this, and vowed to keep it up once the virus had gone and everything returned to the old ways. 

And woven through all of us, we were trying hard to wait. But while we tried to look away from our true nature, the hunger kept growing, and creeping closer and, slowly but inevitably, we all started to share the thoughts that we wouldn’t speak out loud. Together, we knew that we could only wait for so long. 

Your papers told us all about your own fears and the plans you were making. Drugs were being developed, if slowly. Plans were being cancelled and large group meetings outlawed. Special quarantine centres were being set up across the land. You were working to slow the virus and protect yourselves, and for once, we found ourselves deeply invested in your safety and success. 

But the virus had given itself a head start. By living silently in your bodies before showing any symptoms, Flavivirus managed to spread itself farther and faster than any of us had expected. And soon, your quarantine centres took on a second, unexpected purpose. 

Because while your people were isolated in those centres, they were safe from the virus. In our local quarantine centre, one of your people became sick and died, and the other 18 people… they didn’t become sick at all. Instead, they simply found themselves walled-off, protected from the spread of virus. The world outside was diseased, but the quarantine centre, against expectation and design, became the safe place. Your plans had turned inside out. 

I woke up the next night with an idea. It came from something I half-remembered from when I had once been alive, and half-learned from another of my kind. I knew that what we needed was clean blood, so if there was a supply of this blood being perfectly protected in the quarantine centres, then we should help ourselves to it. We needed to carry out a heist. 

We met so that I could explain my plan, as well as I could. I explained that, at least the way a heist was usually done, we’d get weapons and storm the quarantine centre. Two small bonuses to our particular situation, I explained, were that a) your video camera security systems were all but blind to us, and that b) the quarantine centre’s security guards were armed with guns, not wooden stakes. We’d undoubtedly leave a hell of a mess, much more than we’d ever allowed ourselves to make in one of your cities, but that would be a small risk to raise if it meant the survival of our kind. 

We agreed that my plan was a good one. There was only one revision – though I forget who suggested it, if it was anybody in particular – that rather than kill the humans living in the quarantine centre, we should keep them alive and drag them back to our sleeping places below the city. This wasn’t the time to raid the dairy for milk. We were going to need to keep our own cows. 

Several of my kind kept guns, some older, some newer but all lovingly maintained. We found them out, loaded them and checked that they worked. Some of us prefer knives, or swords, and so we armed ourselves with those too. Another of us took a crowbar. Anything, we thought, that could help get us inside, and to deal with the security guards as quickly as possible. 

The quarantine centre had been improvised out of a medical centre on the South Side of the city, on a quiet block where every other building was empty all night long. We met there, then cleared our minds and got in sync – and, moving in perfect union, set about ripping into the building as quickly as we could. 

A crowbar through the window. A security guard came running. He was wearing a respirator mask but his eyes were alight with fear. We shot him in the chest. He dropped to his knees, and while the blood was still pumping, some of us stopped to feed. Another security guard hurtled into the room, and sprinted towards the alarm. We shot him too, in the back. Then we made our way further inside. 

We soon found the corridor between the isolation rooms. Another security guard was waiting there for us. I was first through the door, and so I was the target as he unloaded his pistol. Every shot hit me in the body and they hurt – they always do – and they slowed me down, but they weren’t going to make any real difference. His gun started to click, empty and useless and he threw it our way, and he showed us how little he knew about what he was dealing with. 

But while his gun couldn’t make the tiniest bit of difference, we hadn’t reckoned on what he did next. He squeezed a small switch in his hand and a heavy, thick metal door slammed shut, just inches in front of me. It cut us all off from the corridor – and at the same time, opened all of the doors to the isolation rooms. A siren started sounding and the lights went out. Everything was now bathed only in the blood red glow of emergency lights. 

I pulled myself up to the window in the heavy door and watched as the security guard opened another, matching door at the other end of the corridor. Dazed and confused quarantine patients stumbled from their rooms, and the security guard beckoned them his way, explaining that he was leading them to a secure room. 

We kept thrashing angrily at the door that blocked our way. I watched through its window, the crowbar flailing past me, as the security guard led his people to his inner sanctum. He was stealing our survival from right under our nose. 

The security guard managed to get the last of the patients through the door and swing it shut just before we smashed our way into the corridor. I screamed at him, and wailed. Where had he taken all of our blood? We were going to kill him unless he opened the door. 

He was shaking and sweating but he didn’t take his eyes off me. He told me that we’d just have to kill him. He demanded to know what we wanted. He told me, again and again, that he’d die before he’d give us the passcode to the secure room. Without it, he said, we’d never get through three feet of steel. I couldn’t believe this flimsy little man, believing he was some kind of hero. He was willing to put his life on the line for this passcode, to die for this tiny secret… and maybe to kill us all too? 

We started to panic, but I tried to hold us together. We knew that we could certainly overpower this guy but, thinking together, couldn’t we also out-think him? I dug in and tried to centre my mind. I held on tight and, in a moment of peace, we all came to a standstill. 

There are several ways of executing a heist. One of the easiest and certainly the most common is the smash and grab. That, however, had just gone very wrong for us. So what next? 

Well, I thought, what about giving ourselves a little advantage. What if we had an inside man? 

The idea rippled through us like a wave of relief. 

I can remember now just how it went down for the security guard. There were flashes of glowing eyes as they narrowed to pin-sharp dots of red in the dark. There was the beating of broken wings. And then came the sense of confusion, and the drowning in oily, black hopelessness. After that, just the sharp and silent teeth and their tiny punctures, cutting deep into his soul, changing everything forever in a bite. 

It didn’t take long. It never does. And then, finally, we had what we wanted. The four digit passcode trickled slowly out of our newest mind. I typed them into the door, and we all got ready to eat. 

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

Gateways: “Pumpkin Spice” by Mike Danovich, read by Alex B. Reynolds

TRASNSCRIPT: This story is written by Mike Danovich. Mike could not be happier to be returning to Gateways. His previous short stories Just Once More and But There Was Time were both read out loud in front of real people for previous Gateways iterations. Mike is also an actor/playwright/director as well as a company member of Otherworld Theatre. You can currently see in performing in Otherworld’s production of Countess Dracula. This is “Pumpkin Spice”.
Content Note: This story does feature some self harm. If that content makes you feel unsafe, you may want to skip this story.

Tuesday, October 1st
Just when you thought you were safe, it’s your girl Jacque B., coming at you live from the Windy City. It is officially fall and I am LOVING it. Just grabbed my first PSL of the season and, mmm mmm mmm, it was worth the wait. I take it back; it wasn’t worth the wait as Gwarbucks could offer it throughout the entire year instead, but I’ll take what I can get. On today’s episode, we’re going to discuss plans for the season: where to go, what to do, best places to get those sweet discounts on decorations, and as a special treat, we’ll have our list of spoopy films to watch every day in October, getting you in the mood for that day of days: Halloween
This is Good Gourd! With Jacque B.
As you might now know, I’m a local podcaster who loves anything and everything based around fall. I mean, my parents even named me Autumn (ok, it’s my middle name, but still). I’m still up and coming on the podcaster scene, but it could be worse. I make enough to not struggle to pay rent, although my parents still help me out. They’ve been nothing but supportive of me since I moved here. But enough about me, let’s find out where to go and what to do here in Chicago to get you in the mood for Halloween. Folks, I know you have opinions (especially if the internet is any indication). Make sure to call in and let the public where the best spots are. Let’s take a few calls and hit you up with that delicious list. You know the number, listeners.

Friday, October 4th
Can you feel the spirits in the air? Welcome back, faithful listeners, to another episode of Good Gourd! I’m your host Jacque B and let me tell you: you’re in for a real treat today, no tricks. We area wrapping up this week of the list of places to visit that you, our fanbase, submitted. Yesterday’s locale was pretty sweet and hard to beat – The Spirit Realm. Sounds scary, but I promise it’s only a pop up bar over on Goose Island. The name alone is enough to give me goosebumps. We won’t go into details (you can listen to yesterday’s episode for that), so let’s talk about the final spot on our list. Today’s spot is billed as Chicago’s top spot for spooky thrills and autumn chills – Paranormal Snacktivity. Many of you submitted this one stating that it’s your favorite place and you never miss it. They serve candy corn flavored everything; and as gross as that sounds, you don’t want to miss it. I’ll play it safe and go for something like the candy corn flavored pancakes, but I’m heading there this weekend and will give you my thoughts come Monday.

Monday, October 7th
‘K folks, I’m skipping the intro this week and need to talk about my experience from this weekend. I took your advice and hit up Paranormal Snacktivity on Saturday. It. Was. Wonderful. I have never been so spooked while hitting up such a campy spot. The hour-long wait wasn’t terribly exciting, but the atmosphere they set up was brilliant. The restaurant is hidden in an abandoned warehouse near the train yard and the line out the door circles the entire block. They literally hired actors to come scare folks while they waited. One actor walked past us, dressed in a nice black and orange suit, stared at me for a couple minutes (what dedication), and whispered something creepy in my ear while the line slowly moved along. Must have recognized me from the show and made sure I had a lovely time. Also, the pancakes were ridiculously sweet but definitely worth the wait. Ugh, I may have to go back next weekend. It was a great pick. Honestly folks, you’re the real MVPs. I think I’ll open the phone lines once again to get more submissions if you’re going to offer up great spots like that.

Tuesday, October 8th
Oh my god, listeners, we need to chat for a second. Multiple people called in yesterday to tell me that Paranormal Snacktivity doesn’t hire actors to walk the crowds. I guess the man I thought was an actor from this weekend was just some random guy and the police have been notified. I am honestly frightened. If anyone sees him, he’s about six feet tall, white, a little on the older side, and wore a silly black and orange suit. Now that it’s been revealed that this guy was a fraud, I am outraged. Full disclosure: I’ve had a killer headache since Saturday. Part of it is the rage at this man, probably most of it from the sugar special I ingested that day, but I’m not going to let a little throbbin’ in my noggin get in the way of this wonderous season. Enough about my woes, let’s get to today’s agenda: ten straight hours of Purple People Eater. Don’t touch that dial; I know where you live.

Friday, October 11th
Late Tuesday night, I ended up in the emergency room. That headache I had from last week knocked me right out at the conclusion of our song marathon. My parents found me on the floor and rushed me to the hospital. No known cause yet, but I’m going to mark it down in my book as a “sugar crash”. I thought about that guy again. I don’t remember what he said to me, but there’s been a phrase stuck in my head on repeat for days – “Caput A Cucurbita. Quaestiones?” I’ve never heard it before in my life, at least I don’t think I have. I think I need to do a little research.

Monday, October 14th
And I ended up back in the hospital this past weekend. That headache returned with a vengeance. I swear I didn’t go back and get those pancakes this time. I just can’t get that weird guy out of my mind. All I can think about is pumpkins. Hundreds and hundreds of pumpkins. Sitting in a patch, praying to one large pumpkin in the center. All hail the Pumpkin King.
No no no, I have no idea where that came from. That is not me. All right Jacque, back to the show. In today’s segment, we’ll be discussing the perfect candy for trick or treating: pumpkins. Wait. Not pumpkins. The perfect candy is pumpkins. King size pumpkin. The king of pumpkins. All hail the—I’m so sorry. I’m not feeling well. That headache has come back. I need to lie down.

Thursday, October 17th
This week has really tried to test me, faithful listeners. I haven’t felt like myself lately. My head has started to swell up and someone with their head up their own ass at the grocery store this morning made a comment about I looked a little more burnt sienna than usual. Like who tells someone that while they ring up your groceries? It’s true I’ve been at the tanning salon a few more times this month; I needed the relaxation. The episode will probably be a little shorter than normal. It’s taking a lot of energy to record today, so bear with me. On another note, I think I saw that man again. I’m not quite sure if it was him, but it felt like he was watching me. Staring at me with that creepy smile. That smile. No, it was definitely him. Does he know me? Does he know where I live? Oh god, I have some things I need to do.

Wednesday, October 23rd
Even though I may not have been here much lately, you’re still in my heart, listeners. It’s a new day and this headache can’t keep me from sharing updates with you. My head is still ridiculously swollen. It’s now twice its normal size (and my head used to be on the smaller side, thank you). Doctors still don’t know the reason behind it. They considered jaundice for a while, considering my skin has changed color as well, but that doesn’t usually cause swelling in your extremities (and this has been some extreme swelling). To say that I still have some pain in my head would be an understatement. But I have returned and am ready to go. In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss more pumpkins: nothing but pumpkins. Short ones. Fat ones. Silly ones. Dead ones. Kill them. Kill them all. Spread the seeds of…hold on, let me gather my thoughts. That’s not…I didn’t mean to say that. It’s just…he’s always in my head. Staring back at me. Smiling that creepy smile. I can’t shut him out. The pain. It’s too much.

Wednesday, October 30th.
eal talk, listeners, it’s hard to keep going. I can’t feel my face anymore; I feel like I’m about to pop. The images in my head are also making it real hard to see. I don’t know if any of you have ever experienced something like this, but I would not recommend it. The phrase has been playing in my mind nonstop all month – “Caput A Cucurbita. Quaestiones?” I need to make it stop. Make it stop. Make it…huh. I understand it now. He shall be appeased. I shall shape myself in his image. The pain shall be released. In the name of the Pumpkin King, I dedicate my spirit to you. 

Thursday, October 31st
News today as local podcast host Jacque B. was found dead in her recording studio early this morning. Sources state that her head had turned into a pumpkin and she was found, carving knife in hand, with chunks of her own face removed. Listeners were concerned over the past few weeks that she was acting erratic. At this time, foul play is not suspected. This has been a tragic loss for the community and podcast world. Surely, she will be missed. Up next, are your kids safe enough to trick or treat this evening? David, back to you.

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

Gateways: “Emotional Labor” by Rachel A. Schrock, read by Karolyn Blake

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

Content Note: This story features violence, some of which is of a sexual nature; blood and death. If that content makes you feel unsafe, you may want to skip this story.

When I was thirteen years old, I got my first period. As I frantically scrubbed at the blood on my skirt, my head started to ache, and later I found out it wasn’t for the reason I suspected.

From that day on, I was cursed. From that day on, I felt others’ feelings as if they were my own. 

You feel things very strongly when you are thirteen, but only because, at that age, you have never felt anything else. When your parents tell you that you can’t go to the mall with your friends, it feels like the worst thing in the world. Compared to everything you’ve experienced of the world thus far, it is.

This is a gift. Because as you grow, as you are exposed to more and more heartache, every small moment of sadness is a layer of armor against what is to come.

When I was thirteen years old, my older brother was in a car accident. He died instantly. I was sad in the way a thirteen-year-old could be sad. It was the worst thing in my world— a world that did not contain the thrill and fear of pregnancy, the miracle of new life, the sleepless nights, the joys of your baby’s milestones, the bond between parent and child.

My mother’s world did contain those things.

When I was thirteen years old, I felt emotions a thirteen-year-old was never meant to feel.

I am an incredibly average-looking woman. You are an incredibly average-looking man with the confidence of a much more handsome one. Over our appetizers, I tell you about my brother. You stoically recount your best friend’s tragic passing. (Your grief tells me you were never that close to him.) I lean forward, take your hand, say, “I’m sorry that happened to you.” You think you have me wrapped around your finger.

Over dinner, I do not tell you about my mother. You talk about yours. “She never understood me,” you lament. Your anger is petulant, immature. I bat my eyelashes and apologize on her behalf for not believing you could have made the next “Fight Club.”

After dessert, I ask you if you want to walk back to my place. I feel your relief that the evening wasn’t wasted, and your eagerness to get me alone.

I hold your hand because I think you will like it. You don’t care. I hold it anyway.

I always hold their hands.

Cities teem with emotion— giddy excitement from tourists; grating frustration from commuters; desperation from beggars; bursts of joy or sorrow tucked into the private anonymity of a crowd.

I feel it all. I absorb very little.

The sum total of all these emotions is a blunt sort of melancholy. It’s a strong desire to cry, and the complete inability to do so. It’s nothing in the way that hunger is nothing; it is the lack of something. It’s not pleasant, but it never changes.

I like that.

I lead you up the stairs to my apartment. I close the door behind us, and you immediately press me up against it. I let you kiss me for a moment. You’re sure you are a good kisser; you’re okay. 

Your self-satisfaction distracts you enough for me to take out my knife. I get you in the side—enough to hurt, but not to kill— and spin you around, pushing you to the floor behind me. The shock silences you, but I feel your confusion, your fear.

It’s delicious.

“Don’t scream. No one will hear you.”

You scream. No one hears you. I smile as your panic creeps up our veins. We start to cry.

“What do you want? I’ll give it to you. Whatever you want.” You try to stand. I stab your thigh. We cry harder.

I sink to my knees, pinning you at the waist. I kiss you. As I hold your head steady, the knife cuts a thin, red line against your cheek. Our hands shake.

“I won’t tell anyone, I swear, just let me go. Please, please.”

Feelings are never wrong, are they? They are an automatic response to your surroundings; how could they be wrong?


What you need to understand is that feeling is based on belief.

You’re only afraid of bees because you believe they will do you harm. You’re only angry at the waitress who forgot to offer you extra napkins because you believe you are entitled to that courtesy. You only love a certain person because you believe you can (or should) love them.

When you tell someone that their feelings are right, you are telling them that they believe the right things.

I don’t know what I believe anymore.

When I was thirteen years old, I carried a sadness that nearly incapacitated my mother. She stayed in bed for a whole week— she couldn’t even wash her hair for the funeral. And I felt everything else, too— the disgust and irritation at my mother that somehow sat side-by-side with my father’s grief, and the pity from our neighbors, and my classmates’ awkwardness about talking to a dead kid’s sister. It all piled up in my head.

Since then, there’s never been enough room up there for me.

It’s amazing, how many times a person can be stabbed before they die. I can toy with you for hours, if I want to. But I can’t help it— I’m addicted to your fear.

You cry. I cry. I laugh.

Finally, you realize that you won’t make it out of this alive. You’re of no use to me now.

I slit your throat and watch you die.

I feel nothing.

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

Gateways: “The Competition” by Brendan Detzner. Read by Josh Ballard

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Brendan Detzner. Brendan Detzner’s work has appeared in Chizine, Pseudopod, Edge of Propinquity, Ruthless Peoples, Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, and the Book of Dead Things and Exigencies anthologies, as well as elsewhere. Brendan has also been featured at Gumbo Fiction Salon, and Reading Under The Influence, and Twilight Tales reading series in Chicago and runs the Bad Grammar Theater reading series. You can keep track of what he’s up to at brendandetzner.com. This is “The Competition”.

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


“Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming. It is an honor to have you here today.”

It was ten o’clock at night. It had been a journey for Alice to get here. Twenty minutes on the bus to the Metra stop, an hour on a commuter train with dark orange-red plastic on the seats and tinted green windows. Most of the other passengers had been gone by the time the train arrived at Alice’s stop. She’d stepped onto the platform, smiled and thanked the man in the uniform with the blue hat, gotten nervous when he hadn’t smiled back, called a Lyft, gotten more nervous waiting for it to show up, and had tried to relax as she got in and was driven to the O’Connor mansion.

She’d asked to use the rear view mirror to check her makeup, and the driver had been nice enough to let her do it. She reminded herself that she was a doctor. Not Alice. Dr. Caldwell. Dr. Alice Caldwell on her letterhead, Dr. Caldwell in person. She could do this. 

The Lyft car had dropped her off at the gate of the mansion. She’d been early, but apparently not as early as the others. A man the size of a refrigerator in a tuxedo had met her at the gate and escorted through the giant oak front doors of the main house. The giant dining room table she’d seen in pictures had been removed, in favor of seven chairs, arranged in a half-circle facing the fireplace.

She’d been the last person to arrive, and she’d been given a seat on the far left.

“Welcome to my home. You have been invited to join me here because of the great expertise and talent you possess in your various disciplines. You have demonstrated excellence. I respect excellence. I respect knowledge. Finally, and most importantly, I respect daring and endeavor, which you have all demonstrated by choosing to join me tonight to test your skills in the purifying forge of competition.”

Even in person, Martin O’Connor looked remarkably like he did on his Instagram profile. His hair and mustache were as black as coal and reflected the light from the fireplace, and his suit, tailored to wrap around his body like a second skin, had so many little pockets and sharp creases that it would have looked like a costume on a less confident man.

The one thing that was different about Martin O’Connor’s appearance, the thing that immediately attracted the attention of everyone else in the room, was the eighteen-inch piece of steel rebar piercing his skull. The bar entered his head near his left temple and emerged just behind his right ear. Given the size of the object and the angle of penetration, there was no possibility whatsoever that it had not skewered his brain. Either end of the wound had been neatly wrapped in white cotton.

“We have in this room representatives from the mainstream medical community…” 

He gestured at the chairs furthest from Alice.

“Traditional Chinese medicine…” He bowed politely to a woman in the front row in a dark purple robe.

“The storied discipline of Homeopathy…” 

He smiled at Alice.

“…and finally representatives of the magical traditions of Alchemy and Witchcraft.”

He turned back towards the center of the room. In the middle two chairs were a tall, completely bald man whose left ear was overloaded with silver jewelry and a slender woman in black, who Alice could only see enough of to admire her long neck and calm demeanor in the face of what was going on five feet in front of her.

“The contest begins now,” Martin O’Connor said. “I have a headache. Tell me why, and recommend a course of treatment. I will judge the merits of each argument and select a victor. We will begin with you, Dr. Caldwell.”

He waited for Alice to speak. She felt completely frozen in place, and could feel the rush of incoming middle-school feelings of humiliation, but was saved by an interruption from the other side of the room.

One of the doctors stood up.

“Mr. O’Connor, you have a serious, life threatening injury and need to get to a hospital. You’re incredibly fortunate to be alive. I’ll give you a ride to the emergency room myself. We need to go now.”

Martin O’Connor smiled rakishly. “A strong opening, Dr. Smith, but you know the rules. You must wait your turn.” 

A second doctor stood up.

“No one with a soul is going to sit here and have a tea party with you looking like that. You have a piece of metal shish-kababing your brain. Look in a fucking mirror.”

Martin O’Connor kept smiling. “A compelling argument, and not implausible given the recent mishap in the metalworking shop. I’m afraid I’m not presently able to look in the mirror, for fear of releasing spiritual energy related to the topic of a previous symposium. It has a great deal to do with the astral plane and I’d be happy to discuss it over drinks later this evening, after the day’s business has come to an end. For now, I’m forced to remind you that you are also speaking out of turn.”

He turned back towards Alice. Dr. Caldwell, she reminded herself. She was a professional. “They’re right. You are very badly hurt.”

“Let us suppose that you are right,” Martin O’Connor said. “How would you use your skills to address my situation?”

“No, I’m sorry. This goes… no. I could use homeopathic remedies to help facilitate your recovery, but that…” 

The right side of the room stood up, all of them at about the same time. They quietly left, leaving the right side of the room empty.

Alice cleared her throat and tried to keep talking. Nothing came. 

“I… I think… I don’t think…”

“I think you’ve made your point,” Martin O’Connor said. He stood up, and the speed with which Alice lost his attention made her feel like a sinking ship.

“I’m afraid I must ask for a brief intermission while I check on my guests. I’m concerned I may have offended them. Mr. Bellview, please bring those remaining any food or drink they ask for in my absence.”

Martin O’Connor left the room. As soon as the door closed behind him, the bald man with the elaborate ear jewelry stood up and pointed at the servant in the tuxedo.

“You. You’re in the will, aren’t you?” 

The servant in the tuxedo did not react in any way. The bald man turned towards the other guests.

“Look, everyone in the room right now thinks everyone else is crazy or stupid, but we all got into doing what we do so that we could help people. I mean, I didn’t, I got into alchemy mostly to get laid, but even I would feel guilty if I just let that guy walk around with that thing stuck in his head. We’ve got to present a united front. If everyone just refuses to play his game and tells him to go to the hospital, maybe he’ll get a clue. Do we all agree?”

Martin O’Connor walked back into the room.

“It seems as though traditional, western medicine will not be represented at our symposium this evening. No matter.”

The bald man cleared his throat, but Martin O’Connor raised a finger to silence him. “No need for a speech, my dear friend. I heard what you had to say. Do we have a unanimous decision, then? Is this the best course of action any of you can think of, with all of your education and practical experience?”

“Yes,” the bald man said.

“Absolutely,” said the woman in the purple robe.

“Please get help right now,” said the witch.

Something in Alice unfroze. She thought about the way that she’d felt when Martin O’Connor had turned away from her. She thought about all the shit her cousin had had to say when she’d said she was going into Homeopathy, and again when she’d gotten her degree. She thought about the papers she’d stayed up until two o’clock in the morning to finish, the debt she’d be in for years.

“None of these other people know what they’re talking about,” Dr. Alice Caldwell said.

Martin O’Connor turned to her, still smiling. At this point, his expression seemed less like a poker face and more like rictus.

“It will take a long time and require a great deal of expensive personalized attention, but I can fix your headaches. Only me. Everything these other people have to say is a pack of lies meant to take advantage of you.”

Martin O’Connor’s expression didn’t change, but as he regarded Alice, his eyes twinkled.

Mr. Bellview escorted the others from the grounds while Alice followed Martin to the den. It was decorated with hunting trophies. She could feel the black marble eyes of several endangered species watching them as Martin poured two glasses of brandy.

“A toast,” he said. “To the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

They touched glasses. As Martin withdrew his glass, he suddenly froze in place, stiff like the animals around him. His eyes did not blink. 

Alice wondered if he was dead. She wasn’t sure. She took a sip of her drink while she waited to see what would happen next.


Josh Ballard’s work has been seen all over the Chicagoland area for the past 11 years.  From Ren Faires to radio, pantos to photoshoots, he is an actor that can, and will, do anything.  A grad of Columbia College Chicago, Josh is excited to be a part of this unique series with one of the fastest growing theatre companies in Chicago!