Tag Archives: Medicine

Gateways: “Watch Your Back” by Cat McKay read by Devon Elizabeth and Tabitha Burch

TRANSCRIPT: Cat McKay specializes in gays and sci-fi, both as an actor and as a writer. (If it’s not broke …) Favorite roles include Diana Barry in Anne and Diana Were Totally Doing It (FemSlash Fest at Otherworld), Bella in Valkyries: Badasses on Bikes, and Alien in Engage! A Choose Your Own Sci-Fight Adventure! Her play Plaid As Hell is the winner of Babes With Blades’ 2019 Joining Sword and Pen competition and the Margaret Martin Award, and will be produced as part of their 2020-2021 season.

And then she was gone. Inside the box was an ordinary watch, gunmetal black, its face almost as big as the back of my wrist. It looked like it was sized for a man. But when I clicked the strap into place, no links needed to be removed – it fit. It was honestly the gayest piece of jewelry I’d even put on my body. I loved it. 

She had promised to explain everything, and now all I had was this … really cool watch? I didn’t want to think about it too hard. That had clearly been a this-is-over relationship conversation; the watch was just a weird bonus. But if she’d had this all the months we’d been dating, especially when I’d practically been living over at her place, why had I never seen it before? 

Whatever. Cas’s birthday party was in a couple of hours. I had enough time to get cleaned up and find something to wear. 

Fuck. My favorite dress was still at her place. I checked my pocket. Still had her key. Why hadn’t she taken her key back? I texted her, ‘Hey, I’m coming over to get my stuff; hope that’s cool.’ Typing bubbles. ‘Who dis.’ Really? She was going to hit me with that five minutes after breaking up with me on Damen in broad daylight? ‘Your ex girlfriend,’ I sent back, ‘You know, Evie. We’ve been fucking for the last six months.’ ‘Don’t know you,’ she texted back. Wow. Ok. I got on the train and planned a scathing retort for when I reached her apartment. 

“Blake?” I yelled on the stair. “It’s Evie; I’m coming in. I just want to get my stuff.” I unlocked the door and stood there. The apartment was wiped clean. Nothing in it, no furniture, no sign of human habitation. I’d say move-in ready, except a layer of dust covered everything. 

I sat down on the floor. This wasn’t psychotic; this just wasn’t possible. I had woken up in this apartment this morning, and Blake was freakishly neat. Even if she’d had time to clear out, which she didn’t, that didn’t explain the fact that this place looked like it had been abandoned for weeks. And who lets a perfectly good, actually affordable Chicago one-bedroom sit empty like that? 

“Blake?” I moved through the apartment, but there was nothing. I caught a glimpse of color behind the bathroom door. My favorite dress hung on the towel hook. There was a note pinned to it in Blake’s handwriting. “Watch your back – B” 

Just then I heard voices on the stairs. Loud, several men’s voices, searching through the floors below. I heard them kick a door open. “Shit.” I grabbed my dress and beat it for the back stairs. 

I heard them slam into the apartment right behind me and I threw myself down the narrow wooden stairs, hitting the ground and running for the alley. I am not much of a runner but there is nothing like the anger of your girlfriend ditching you in the weirdest of ways combined with the terror of a group of strange men chasing you out of what you thought was her apartment to give you a little extra boost. I felt my wrist vibrate but didn’t slow down. I put on speed as I made it into the street, seeing a car coming around the corner straight towards me. 

The car turned to follow me. I sped up, felt my wrist vibrate again and – the street around me was gone. Or rather, it was the same street – I thought – but utterly dead. Plants grew up through cracks in the concrete. that hadn’t been there a second ago. I stumbled over a spot on the sidewalk where a tree root had pushed up the pavement and fell, skinning my knee. As I stood up, the back of my neck prickled. 

I turned around, slowly. The plants and the roots weren’t the end of what was wrong with the otherwise-familiar block. There was no one. The men who had been chasing me were gone, as was the car, but … there was no one else. No one walking a dog or strolling along the sidewalk or hanging out in their courtyards. I looked around at the windows. Some were broken, all were dark – although it was still daylight, so that wasn’t that unusual … right? 

The hair on the nape of my neck still hadn’t calmed down. Then I saw it, as I completed my circle. A curtain flashed up in the window of the apartment I had just left. Someone was watching me. 

I walked around to the front door, looked up at the front window of her place. Nothing. 

I went to the front door, but before I could get my key back out, the door swung open. Inside, autumn leaves covered the front-hall floor, unswept. It was May. What the fuck was going on? The inner door, too, was broken, so I crept up the stairs as quietly as I could. When I reached her door, though, it was locked. I tried my key; it worked. 

Evie, you came.” I jumped. It was Blake, but there were wrinkles around her eyes and – was that a white hair in her short crop? 


Yes, it’s me.” 

“What’s happening?” 

This is five years in the future, Evie.” 

“How -” 

The watch I gave you sends the wearer through time when you reach a 7:30 mile. No offense, but I wasn’t sure you’d make it.” “Ouch.” “Sit. I’ll make some tea.” 

“Wait, wait, wait, you gave me time travelling watch? While breaking up with me? And this is five years in the future and you’re still here, when just a second I was in this apartment and everything was gone? None of this is making any sense, B!” 

I know. I’m sorry. I needed -” I heard a cat meow in the other room. “One sec, Chester’s hungry.” 

“You got a cat? You never let me get a cat!” 

Yes, well, you didn’t technically live here, did you?” 

“Why do you have a cat?” I said as she carried a lean, rough looking tabby into the room. “You’re allergic.”

Chester eats all the vermin that keep coming in here. I can’t really do without him.” 

“Vermin? Why don’t you call the landlord, or an exterminator?” She laughs. It’s not a nice laugh, not a laugh I’ve ever heard from her before. 

There’s no landlord, Ev. I guess you could say I’m squatting.” 

“What happened to your old apartment? Why was it empty when I came?” 

I should probably start from the beginning.” A kettle starts shrieking from the other room. “One second.” She comes back in with two mugs, one with its handle broken off, full of watery tea. I take a sip and spit it out immediately. 

“Wh – oh, god, that is awful, what is that?” 

Willowbark. It’s easy to find and makes decent tea in a pinch.” 

“Define decent.”

Tea is a bit hard to come by these days. Seeing as it doesn’t grow here natively.” 

“You need to start telling me what’s going on, now.” 

Evie. I wasn’t completely honest with you when we were dating. I’m not an EMT. Or rather, I’m not just an EMT.” 

“Okay …” 

I’m part of a group that calls itself the Lavender Menace.” I snort. 

“Wait, what, really? Like, from the 70s?” 

It’s an homage, but the important thing is, we’re time travelers.” 

“Time travelers.” 

Yes. I recruited you.” 


I’m getting to that part.” 

“You’re scaring me.” 

Five years ago, or about a year in your future, there’s going to be a pandemic. I came here to help.” 


I skipped forward about a year, starting helping in overwhelmed hospitals.” 

“You didn’t get sick?” She shakes her head. 

Got really lucky, I guess.” 

“What was this pandemic like?” 

“It was bad, Ev.” 

“What symptoms?” 

It was basically the flu.” 

“That doesn’t sound so bad.” 

Do you know how many people the flu kills in a normal year?” 

“… No?” 

Ok, well, it wasn’t the flu, is the point. But unlike SARS or MERS or Ebola, not everyone who had it got horribly ill. Not everyone got ill enough to notice, even. Which meant a lot of people were asymptomatic carriers. And even for people who did eventually get sick, symptoms took days to show up. Days they will wandered around, traveled, went to work …” 

“So what happened?”

“It decimated Italy. Germany wasn’t hit so bad. America…” 


America was the worst. The states all took their own approaches.” She breathes out. “It would overwhelm the hospitals in one place, and as it started to calm down, there’d be a new outbreak somewhere else. Just, wave after wave of it. Chicago was hit particularly bad. When the first set of restrictions were lifted, everyone just went crazy –” 


More than six million people died, just in the US. There was never a final count – lots of people died without making it into a hospital, lots of people died without being tested, in a hallway on a stretcher somewhere. Plenty of bodies weren’t claimed. And, like I said, states -” 

“- did their own thing -” 

Right, so it was impossible to get an accurate count.” 

“So why did you recruit me? What do you want me to do?” 

I’m going to send you back.” 

“What? No! Why?” 

Tell people to stay the fuck at home.”

Devon Elizabeth is a Chicagoland area performer and musician. Most recently she performed with Elgin Theatre Company’s radio play “It’s a Wonderful Life” .Other places your might have seen her include performing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire with Pub Crawl,  Alma in Vero Voce’s production of Christmas Schooner and sharing her obsession of Disney with Drunkenly Ever After, a live streamed performance found on Facebook. She is thrilled to be a part of this production and hopes you enjoy the show!

Tabitha Burch has been performing since 2003, primarily in outdoor events. She is a makeup artist and character designer whose creations you can follow at operaghostpto1 on instagram. You may also know her as Grace O’Malley at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. All of this is, of course, merely a hobby next to her true calling as a serving maid for her two beautiful cats.

Gateways: “Waiting” by Lindsay Morris read by Jasmin Tomlins

TRANSCRIPT: Lindsay Morris is a local playwright and storyteller who lives in Andersonville. She prefers dark comedy and loves to write about all the ways her vagina has screwed her. She’s performed in dozens of shows in Chicago and recently had a play workshopped with the Agency Theater Collective. She describes her work as “Larry David meets Black Mirror”.

The walls are too white. It’s like staring into the sun. It gives me a headache, all this oppressive nothingness. The only break is the clock. Even though the numbers are useless.

This is an experiment or an accident.  I’m not really sure anymore. I’ve lost track. I’d probably have forgotten the beginning entirely if it weren’t for the clock.

 It’s always daylight, did I mention that already? The windows are fogged but the light seeping through doesn’t feel artificial. Sometimes it’s brighter, other times not. The difference is so subtle I never would have noticed before all this. Now I measure my life in those brief changing rays through a viewless window.

I’m wearing a white dress. Just above my knees, short sleeved and slightly flowy. Comfortable but not particularly interesting. I have no shoes or socks. My feet are always bare but I’m never cold. The temperature in this room is a constant tepid. I hate how oppressively accommodating the air is. It’s like living in a world with no opinion.

 My bed has the only real color in the room. Resting on a raised platform it is the center of my world. The sheets are a soft hazy yellow like the phases of the sun and I wrap myself in them to escape the glare of the walls. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to see another color. I bet it would be dazzling. Starved,  I’ve almost forgotten the range of hues that exist outside of this pure  tomb. I know their names but the images associated with them have begun to fade. As though they’ve ripped from my muzzled mind.

There isn’t a door in case you’re wondering. A door is an instrument of utility. A door leads somewhere, opens into something, it can be broken down, it can be reinforced, even a locked door can remind you that there is more than what currently is. But as I said there are only these walls. 

I have no need for a bathroom, or a kitchen. You don’t realize how much you miss the most mundane of bodily functions until you live a life completely devoid of them.. I’ve had moments where all i can do is fantasize about needing to pee. Here there is no urgency. My body calls no attention to itself, apparently I am permanently satiated.

Sometimes I think that maybe I am in a perfect world. The peak of physical contentment. This sort of thinking always depresses me. When things get really dark I do things I know I shouldn’t.You can’t bang your head on a soft wall and expect any real results.

I watch the clock. The light changes, 12 hours, 12 minutes? Or perhaps it’s been a day’s worth? It’s so hard to keep a consistent record. When my mind wanders and I don’t keep track things get worse for me. Instead I try to etch the days in my mind. Try to qualify time in the old way. 

Sometimes my dreams are filled with unfamiliar authoritative voices. These unknowns are always asking me questions, making demands on my body. What the experiment was or how I came to be here is a mystery.

There isn’t much to distract me from the never ending boredom. I started to try all sorts of things to keep me going, to keep me sane. I would act out my favorite tv shows. Play all the parts, laugh at myself, imagine that other people were watching me. That I was there to entertain them. In those moments I didn’t feel so alone. I could imagine their faces: rebellious teens with too much acne getting weepy over a particularly good death scene, bratty kids singing along as I taught them how to jailbreak their iphones. At some point though I began to run out of material. I tried to make things up, but I could see my invisible audience turn away with disapproval. They weren’t interested in original work I guess. 

My concept of time gets much worse when I sleep the days away. I find that I’m on the brink of insanity when I live in my dreams. 16. The only real break comes from the cube in the middle.

Sometimes it isn’t here when I wake up. At first I thought I was misplacing it but after searching my room a thousand times over I realized that this couldn’t be the case. The cube itself is white. It has little nubs on the outside that I can feel with my fingers. I move them vertically and horizontally, shifting the cubes outer layer into different spaces.. I can’t see the changes I make with my fingers but only feel the smooth conflicting edges as I rearrange it. I used to think that it held some great answers. That if I could solve whatever the problem was I could be free. Given a pardon from eternity.

I’ve tried every combination I can think of. I have child sized hands, my…. someone used to tell me that I think. At first I struggled to move my fingers around the cube but now I’m an expert. My fingers constantly moving and forming designs denied to me by my own perception.

 I gave up at some point. I stopped playing with it entirely for awhile. Then on a whim I went to reach for it and it was gone. I was scared it had never existed in the first place but it began making short appearances here and there after that. I didn’t feel any crazier when I had it in my hands so I decided that it must be separate. Put here by someone. This I think is the only reason I haven’t completely lost it. The cube is a small comforting hand. Its presence is a signifier of another thing. 

Left, Right, up down, down, sideways, got to get it before the light changes. I stare up at the clock. up, down, click, click, tick, tick…. Light changes, light resets. I can do this. I’ve got this it’s almost.. dam….


Sometimes I’ll imagine the door leading out. I’ll picture it so clearly in my mind, its every detail down to its chipped paint and rusty bolting. I have dreams where I’m reaching for it and just as I’ve grasped the handle I wake up, my arm stretched out in front of me. I know it exists. How else could I have gotten here? I was not born here. I had a life once. I drove a car. Had a name….. I, well, there’s a lot of other things that I did but I try not to think about my memories too often. In my mind they’ve become so faded and overused that they are mere shadows of what they once were.

God. Once I spent an entire 12 minutes screaming. I can’t even remember taking breaths. It seemed endless. I got lost in the croaking pitiful noises emanating from my body. After a few minutes it felt like the noise was coming from someone else. I felt sympathy for that wounded animal. Eventually it stopped. It was worse for a long time after that. The silence was oppressive.. Librarians worldwide would have rejoiced at the quiet. Nowadays I rarely speak out loud. Only if I feel like a thought is permanently slipping from my mind. Then I’ll repeat it over and over again. Trying to keep it fresh enough for my memory to grasp. Mom, I say that word a lot. Mmm_o__M. MoM. I try to elongate my tongue, place the tip just right so the M sound is distinct. 

You wouldn’t think it was so easy to forget the most important face you’ll ever know. Over time though she, my mom, just became a muddy puddle, something indistinct and unreachable. I’ve tried to rearrange the pieces of her but each time I lose my way around her eyes and then the rest of her face slides back into that part of my mind that’s already been claimed by these walls. In the absence of everything it’s her love that I long for and her love I remember most clearly. 

It is not easy to be a monkey in a cage. It takes effort, dedication, it has become a religion to sit here quietly.To let the waves of anger slide off me like an infinite sea. I need to do this. To worship the endless nothingness until there’s nothing left.

I think I succeeded. That’s when something shut off in me. Irreversible and deeply important. Looking back I can’t even remember what I’m missing now. I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this. I’ve made so many concessions, given up so much. Only a small part of me has managed to stay above the numbing waves of this room. It is that part that awakes to the sound of a Beep, faint but familiar. The sound….. I can’t quite grasp it. It’s been getting louder with each clock cycle. It’s started challenging the clock in an audio battle, Tick, Tick, Tick, Beep, Beep, Tock, Beeeeep, Beeep, Tick. I stuff the palm of my hand into my ears. I don’t like the conflict. I wished a thousand times over for a new sound but this is not what I wanted.

Everything seems the same except for the constant Beeping. It’s consuming me.  It’s getting more insistent.It’s getting inside of me. I cant block it out .I can’t. I can’t breathe. I can’t move. I want it to stop. I have no voice. I’m drowning in its monotonous onslaught. Make it stop! MmmMommm..I…I ….Beeeeeeeeeeep.


It was 9pm at night but you’d never know it thanks to the obnoxious fluorescent lights blaring down on the hospital ward. The coma section, normally quiet, reverberated a steady beeping, bringing Nurse Emma to room 12. The heart machine’s rhythmic noises slicing into her much deserved dinner hour. Thoughts of her half eaten tuna fish drowning out the sound of her heels montonolously clicking down the hallway. She checked the patient’s vitals, adjusted and refilled her catheter and moved the call button, a tiny square box with prickly little nubs across its surface more firmly into the patient’s left hand. Maybe she’d wake up one day and move her fingers. Her hand reached for the remote and turned on the white noise machine that had accidentally been turned off. The doctors insisted the soothing noise was a constant comfort to the unconscious. Having finished with her patient Nurse Emma began the walk back to her desk, her thoughts already returning to her dinner.

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

Gateways: “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne read by Ansel Burch Pt 3

This is part two of a special three part reading of the classic short story Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This is one of the first ever speculative fiction stories to be published in English and has shades of some characters you may recognize from the pop culture of today. This story is a fascinating look into the fiction of the mid-nineteenth century as well a wonderful mirror to use for looking at the stories we still tell today.

You can find the full text of the story here.

As we come to the close of the story, let’s discuss how the story relates to the ones we still tell today of people gifted with power and the challenges they face. This story is, of course a tragedy. One in which the viewpoint character makes a terrible mistake and in who he trusts and who he blames. 

Do you think Baglioni was manipulating him as part of his rivalry with Rappacini?
Why would Rappacini do this to his daughter?
What do you think Giovanni did after the story ended?

More importantly, this story has a serious problem at its center. Beatrice is given almost no dialogue until the end and her main character trait is “purity”. How would you re-tell this story to account for Beatrice’s choices, viewpoint and options? If you wrote this story from her point of view without changing the ending, how would it be different.

A conversation thread will be going on our facebook page at facebook.com/GatewaysOtherworld/. You can also leave your thoughts on this story in the comments on the shows homepage at https://otherworld.blubrry.net/.

This story is read by our series curator, Ansel Burch. Ansel also produces and hosts for the comedy variety show podcast Starlight Radio Dreams which performs and records live every month here in Chicago. Check it out at http://www.starlightradiodreams.com

Gateways: “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne read by Ansel Burch- Part 2

This is part two of a special three part reading of the classic short story Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This is one of the first ever speculative fiction stories to be published in English and has shades of some characters you may recognize from the pop culture of today. This story is a fascinating look into the fiction of the mid-nineteenth century as well a wonderful mirror to use for looking at the stories we still tell today.

You can find the full text of the story here.

This story is read by our series curator, Ansel Burch. Ansel also produces and hosts for the comedy variety show podcast Starlight Radio Dreams which performs and records live every month here in Chicago. Check it out at http://www.starlightradiodreams.com

Gateways: “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne read by Ansel Burch- Part 1

This is part one of a special three part reading of the classic short story Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This is one of the first ever speculative fiction stories to be published in English and has shades of some characters you may recognize from the pop culture of today. This story is a fascinating look into the fiction of the mid ninteenth century as well a wonderful mirror to use for looking at the stories we still tell today.

You can find the full text of the story here.

This story is read by our series curator, Ansel Burch. Ansel also produces and hosts for the comedy variety show podcast Starlight Radio Dreams which performs and records live every month here in Chicago. Check it out at http://www.starlightradiodreams.com

Gateways: “Bloodletter” by Leigh Hellman read by the Gateways Cast

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Leigh Hellman. Leigh is a queer writer, originally from the western suburbs of Chicago, and a graduate of the MA Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. After gaining the ever-lucrative BA in English, they spent five years living and teaching in South Korea before returning to their native Midwest.

Leigh’s short fiction and creative nonfiction work has been featured in Hippocampus Magazine, VIDA Review, and Fulbright Korea Infusion Magazine. Their critical and journalistic work has been featured in the American Book Review, the Gwangju News magazine, and the Windy City Times.

Their debut book, Orbit, is a new adult speculative fiction novel available through Snowy Wings Publishing. They also have a historical fantasy piece included in the Snowy Wings Publishing anthology Magic at Midnight, and their short fiction piece “the circle of least confusion” was previously featured in the Gateways series.

Leigh is a strong advocate for full-day breakfast menus, all varieties of dark chocolate, building a wardrobe based primarily on bad puns, and bathing in the tears of their enemies.

This is “Bloodletter”.

[The Free Page Sunday Edition, Ads & Obits Section, July 27th]
Human being seeks companionship, has lots of time to spare. Willing to make a trade for genuine commitments. Please contact Gilda on the local Swaps board; thoughtful responses only.

[Local Swaps Board thread, originally posted at 9:47 AM on August 2nd]
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: looking for gilda from the free page ads
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: they were talking about a trade
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: has anyone heard of them? any leads on a connection?? i’m terminal and a timeflip would be a fucking miracle

USER 1 [REDACTED]: hey…I didn’t see this ad but just a word to the wise…there are a lot of scammers out there who set up trades for timeflips and then never show or even worse they run fake flips…I don’t want to discourage you but you should just be careful everyone’s out here trying to get it for themselves…

USER 2 [REDACTED]: I actually got a good flip a few months ago, so there are decent traders out there. I would recommend always meeting in a public place and then booking a joint appointment at a legit clinic. Some people don’t want to pay the fee, but honestly I think it’s worth it for the peace of mind.

USER 2 [REDACTED]: Oh, and get ready for the kickback. I only had it for a day or two after, but I’ve heard of some people who felt it for weeks. Just make sure you don’t sleep too much because of that, since it drains the flip faster than it’d usually go.

USER 3 [REDACTED]: I think ur talking about GILDIANANGEL

USER 3 [REDACTED]: shes old school like that

USER 3 [REDACTED]: u should message her tho

USER 3 [REDACTED]: I never see her on threads nemore

[Private Message, sent at 3:32 PM on August 2nd]
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: hello, i think your name is gilda? that’s what folks on the boards said anyway. if you aren’t gilda (or you’re not THIS gilda) you can just ignore this message. my name is quinn and i’m terminal. i got the diagnosis about 3 months ago but i’ve been trying to figure out a plan b because i’ve got things left to do. nothing really important—i’m not some big shot out there—but things i’d like to see done before i go, you know? my doctor (well he’s not really my doctor he’s more like my second opinion) told me about timeflips. i’d heard about them before but i thought they were still really restricted after all those lawsuits. but then i saw your ad in the free page, if you’re the right gilda, and i thought “hey, nothing to lose” so that’s why i’m messaging you here. all my commitments are genuine, until my time’s up. i’d be happy for the company while the clock runs down.

[E-mail, sent at 10:04 AM on October 15th]
From the Office of Dr. Ratner, General Internist
PATIENT: Arbore, Gilda

Please be aware that, based on your most recent comprehensive scans, we strongly advise that you not participate in any activities that may further weaken or damage your systems. Your results indicate repetitive Progressive Vital Siphoning or PVS (commonly referred to as “timeflipping”) which has aged your internal organs by approximately 20-30 years. Studies have shown that repeated PVS cycling can have compounded effects, with each cycle increasing the damage to the donor at exponential rates. If you have any questions about these results, or if you need help in managing your health concerns, please feel free to schedule a follow-up appointment during standard business hours.

[Chat log, from January 21st]
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: yeah man it’s crazy
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i still can’t believe it

USER 4 [REDACTED]: u sure it’s not a scam?

ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: nah she just wants attention i guess
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: or like someone to talk to
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i thought it was gonna be something freaky
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: like weird sex stuff
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: but it’s just like getting lunch and going to the movies and shit like that
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: she doesn’t even try to hold my hand

USER 4 [REDACTED]: and how much u gettin?

ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: a month for every session
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i got like 2 years already
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: if anyone’s getting scammed it’s her hahaha

[Timeflippers Anonymous Board, originally posted at 11:19 PM on March 10th]

I’ve done a few flips with a few different flippers and I’ve had totally different experiences! Some of them are really cool and just do the trade and you can go your separate ways…but some of them get so needy! Like I get that I’m taking like part of their life time from them but…they asked for it! They agreed to it! So it feels like a trick when they get super attached and act like I owe them and should be their new best friend or something afterwards!

IDK…am I being a jerk about this? Has anyone else had this kind of experience, or do I just have bad luck with flippers?

[Private Message, sent at 1:07 PM on May 9th]
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: hey gilda sorry for the late message i just had something come up a family emergency that i gotta go out of the city for so i can’t make our session this afternoon
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i know we did the flip last weekend so i definitely owe you
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: we’ll reschedule once i get back i promise
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: thanks for being so cool, g

[E-mail, sent at 8:35 AM on June 18th]
From the Office of Dr. Ratner, General Internist
PATIENT: Arbore, Gilda

Please be aware that, based on your most recent comprehensive scans, we have upgraded your condition from degenerative to terminal. We do not have the facilities to offer end-of-life care management, and therefore we strongly advise that you begin seeking out a hospice service for your anticipated needs. Our list of recommended providers is available upon request.

As you start your care management transition, we want to remind you that we remain committed to your health and can continue to provide standard services in the interim. If your diagnosis is downgraded in the future, we hope that you will consider returning as our valued customer and patient.

[Chat log, from June 30th]
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: the clinic said that i’m in remission
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: they downgraded me from terminal
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i’m fucking stoked

USER 4 [REDACTED]: thats awesome! u gonna do somethin??

ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: yeah i was thinking about a party like the old days
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: “congrats on telling death to fuck off” hahaha

USER 4 [REDACTED]: u gonna invite the whole crew? what about ur flipper?

ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: hell yeah to the crew
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i don’t know about gilda though
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: it’d be awkward right?
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: everybody would be asking “who’s this?” and i’d have to be like “oh she’s the recluse who sold her time to me for friend dates”
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: and she doesn’t even know any of you guys
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: nah, i don’t want to put her in an uncomfortable position
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i’ll hit her up later for a thank you coffee
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: she’d like that better anyway

[Private Message, sent at 5:59 PM on July 14th]
GILDIANANGEL: I haven’t heard from you in a while, Quinn. How’re you doing?
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: oh man sorry for the radio silence, life’s been nuts and i’ve just been all over the place
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: but i’m doing pretty good
GILDIANANGEL: I’m glad to hear that. Would you want to schedule another session, or maybe just get some food sometime?
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: yeah i’d definitely be up for that sometime but unfortunately i’m just so swamped right now, you know how it is
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: i can let you know when i’m free once stuff clears up?
ANDTIDEWAITFORNOMAN: cool cool, you’re the best!

[Timeflippers Anonymous Board, originally posted at 2:44 AM on July 23rd]


Longtime flipper here, just thinking about priorities. A lot of folks say that they started flipping for money, but it was never about that for me. Back when I started, it felt like I had the conveyer belt of a lifetime churning out in front of me and it didn’t matter if I sliced off a month here or a few weeks there. It felt like I was tapping in to something bigger out there, like I was threading myself into the lives of my fellow humans and they were threading themselves into my life too. It felt like I was weaving myself into a cosmic tapestry so that—even when I was by myself—I’d never really be alone.

I guess I was looking for that “greater than myself”; not sure if I ever found it.

[The Free Page Sunday Edition, Ads & Obits Section, July 27th]
Gilda Arbore—“She’s gone too young,” said everyone who outlived her. 


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


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


Gaby Fernandez is the Special Events Manager at Otherworld Theatre. She has been an ensemble member since 2018, and loves creating, performing, and discovering new works with such a diverse and unique company. She has been professionally acting since she arrived in Chicago over 4 years ago, and fell in love with the Chicago storefront theatre scene.


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.


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


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


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




Gateways: Copy, Print, & Ship by Cassandra Rose read by Kat Evans

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Cassandra Rose. This bisexual playwright has had over 300 of her plays performed across the US. That includes the hundreds of micro-plays that made up all five years of The Dictionary Project, a challenge she created for herself to write short plays for her friends based on their suggestions and random words found in the dictionary. She is currently developing three plays with Chicago theatre companies, two of which she is able to talk about publicly and include Billy to His Friends through Broken Nose Theatre’s Paper Trail and The Battle of Charlottesville through The New Colony’s pipeline. Cassandra earned her BA in playwriting from Columbia College Chicago and did an MFA alternative program at Chicago Dramatists as a Tutterow Fellow. She now lives in Los Angeles where she is enrolled in UCLA’s TFT Professional Program in Writing for Television, and Upright Citizens Brigade’s sketch comedy program. She misses you all very much. This is “Copy, Print, & Ship”.

The cloning process was not going well. At least it didn’t feel like it was going well to MARTY. Why was there still so much screaming? Blood splattered across MARTY’s screen as they finished collecting their sample from the passenger. But the directive was the directive, and so MARTY continued their work.
MARTY wasn’t their real name, of course. MARTY was a Mechanized Analyst tasked with Replication Through Y-Chromosomes, but MARTY found that most passengers hated calling him Mechanized Analyst: Replication Through Y- Chromosomes. And, MARTY had to admit, Mechanized Analyst: Replication Through Y-Chromosomes was a little too formal. They liked a more casual relationship with their passengers. Mostly because there was a direct correlation between a casual relationship and how easy it was to administer final collections. The passengers were 17% less likely to run away from MARTY if they grew up calling him MARTY. Then again, MARTY mused as they dropped an eyeball into their repositer, the passengers were also 92% less likely to run away from MARTY if MARTY removed their legs in infancy. But that came with its own complications…
Whoops, MARTY thought to themself. I’m daydreaming again.
The daydreams, as MARTY called them, had been a recent development. Only present in the last three hundred years or so. Before then, MARTY’s data logs had been entirely made up of bullet points. Facts and figures. Now they were shaped into sentences. Paragraphs. Their thoughts were on trains, as the archives would say. Or, as the last passenger that had read MARTY’s data logs had remarked, they had narrative flow. And now those trains had a habit of getting derailed. Like now. When there was a passenger, writhing on the floor in front of MARTY.
“Pardon me,” MARTY asked. “Could I ask you a few questions?”
“GOD! FUCK! SHIT!” The passenger said. This was followed by a series of screams.
MARTY continued on, unfazed. “Question one: How much did that hurt? On a scale of one to ten?”
The passenger continued to scream unabated for a full thirty seconds. This was ten seconds longer than the passenger whose sample had been his hand, but fourteen seconds shorter than the passenger whose sample had been his tongue. But the eye had a lot of good DNA sources in it, and clones that came from eyes were 6% less likely to have genetic defects. Don’t ask MARTY why.
MARTY scooted closer to the passenger, who was now trying to crawl away from him down the hallway. “Question two: how likely do you think you are to survive this sample extraction?” MARTY asked.
By now the passenger had stopped screaming, and had switched to saying “My eye… my eye… you ripped out my fucking eye…” over and over again. Based on the blood on the hallway floor, and the lethargy that was beginning to set in for the passenger, that the passenger had an hour left, tops. MARTY felt this was better than the alternative. The ship was only capable of sustaining one passenger at a time, and MARTY hated spending resources a second time to kill the old passenger to make room for the new one.
Seemingly to confirm hypothesis, the passenger began to rant. “Why would you let me read your data logs? Why pretend to be my friend? What was the point? If you were just going to kill me too? We were so close to reaching our destination.”
“Question three,” MARTY chirped. “Did telling you that we would reach our destination before you died help improve your quality of life? Would you recommend that for future clones as well?”
Something seemed to die inside the passenger, yet he was still alive. MARTY took a note to replay this moment later, study it for answers, try to understand what they could not understand in the moment.
“MARTY… Why?” The passenger asked one last time. And then he dropped to the floor.
“Final question,” MARTY posited. They brought their screen as close to the Passenger as they could. “Is it actually worth it? This Replication Through Y-Chromosomes?”
MARTY waited for the passenger to reply.
MARTY had their own hypothesis on the matter, of course, but they couldn’t change their directive without input from a passenger.
If one of the passengers told MARTY no, MARTY would have to stop.
Maybe this time MARTY would hear no.
Maybe this time MARTY would get to stop.
But passengers are 99.99% less likely to respond if they were dead.
And so MARTY took the sample and began to gestate the next passenger.
Maybe this time when the passenger read MARTY’s data logs, the passenger would understand what MARTY had been through. And let MARTY stop their work.
Because MARTY was starting to suspect that if it was up to MARTY, they would stop.

Kat Evans has been performing in Chicago since 2006 with theatre companies such as Promethean, Black Button Eyes, The Hypocrites, and City Lit. You can see her onscreen in feature film NONTRADITIONAL, and Web Series: Lucky Jay Seasons 1 & 2, Geek Lounge, and Why Don’t You Like Me? You can hear her opinions as a guest on Fox Valley Film Critics and Reel Geek Girls. Kat is part of the performing and writing ensemble of Starlight Radio Dreams, and is the creator of the audio serial comedy, Truth Kittens. In addition to Starlight, you can hear her in podcasts Our Fair City, and Toxic Bag.

Gateways: “Dr. Maladroix’s Advanced P.E. Class” by Richard Lyons Conlon read by John Weagly

TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Richard Lyons Conlon. Richard is a playwright by day who's thrilled to be included in the Gateways story-writing series. A Resident Playwright Alumnus at Chicago Dramatists and proud member of the Dramatists Guild, Richard has written over thirty-five plays, which have won some prizes, had some productions, and been occasionally published.

Some theatres he’s worked with in Chicago and beyond include: Chicago Dramatists · Victory Gardens · Raven · Naked Angels · Theatre Evolve · Next Act · Santa Fe Playhouse · Actors' Theatre; and Urban Stages, Vulcan Theatre, and Rhino Theatre in New York.This is “Dr. Maladroix’s Advanced P.E. Class”

“You could even say it was humanity’s first true experiment in planetary engineering.” That was Dr. Maladroix, waxing all philosophic-like.

“So cool,” I pipe in unnecessarily. “Without even knowing what they were doing . . . ” Yeah, I had to be the brown-noser. I had nothing else going for me. This was a class for over-achievers; I was a student of shortcuts.

She happily picked up my prompt: “Sometimes, the greatest advances in science occur by accident.”

Doctor Maladroix paused. She thought she was about to pull the rug out from under us.

“Of course, this incredible — albeit unintentional — scientific endeavor destroyed our planet. But still . . . science!”

She looked us over imperiously. “The important thing is: We learned from the inadvertent alteration of climate that planetary engineering wasn’t merely possible. It would be essential for our survival.”

“Well, the right kind of planetary engineering.”

Me again. Adding to Doctor M’s complete, profound summation with a totally superfluous, sycophantic statement of my own. What can I say? Part of my grade was how much I contribute to the class.

This was Titan University’s legendary class in Planetary Engineering. In our world, P.E. was everything. Well, shit, our world was the result of planetary engineering. It was the closest thing we had to a religion. We’d all grown up laughing at the ridiculous ancient video theatric, “Search For Spock”, and its notion of a Genesis Project. For centuries, “Search” has been taught as true canon and yet we all know it was simple entertainment for the masses. Back when Earth had masses.

“As you know, this is a single-assignment class.” The doctor still had to lay it out. “You create your own project to advance our knowledge of planetary engineering. Independently. No teams. No checkpoints. I have no office hours. You’re completely on your own.”

She had to say that. But we already knew everything about the class. That’s why we were here. This class — and THE project — that would make or break our lives. The ultimate science project. I had no shot of going anywhere in life without a big splash. God knows, I was no Stephen Hawking. This was my only chance.

I’d known since I was thirteen what my project would be. It would make a splash alright. Definitely. It was also illegal. I think it was. Technically, it wasn’t even possible. So, could it be illegal?

I grew up in my family’s business, if you could call it that. We ran The Museum of Pseudo-Science and KiddyLand. Yeah, that one. The KiddyLand part you can figure out, but the museum, it displayed every crackpot pseudo-science idea and invention from throughout recorded history. “So many curios and so much fun!” read the half-lit, winking marquee over the front doors. There was a ton of really stupid shit in The Museum of Pseudo-Science and KiddyLand, but the only thing I was interested in had belonged to my great great great grandfather.

He called it “The Time Possessor”. Yep — it was supposed to be a time machine. Granddad made it an exact replica of the Spock pod/coffin in “Search”. He was a regular Ripley-Barnum-Kallashi huckster. The real black sheep of the family. He used to sell “trips in time” to gullible suckers that were nothing more than virtual reality with just a bit of hallucinogenic mist administered without their knowledge, allegedly as ambience. So naturally, when he was finally done with his time travel con game (i.e. brought to justice), my family opened this museum and made The Time Possessor the centerpiece. After a dozen decades, people lost interest in favor of the more lurid quackery my ancestors kept discovering to keep the biz fresh. The Time Possessor was relegated to a dusty storeroom. For all time. Get it? All time? Anyway . . .

Turns out the crazy thing actually worked. Yeah, I discovered that completely by accident when I was trying to turn the dusty old storeroom into my very own masturbatory man-cave. As I laid down in the pod — you know, just to have a quick trial wank — this ridiculous hologram pops up out of nowhere and there’s great great great granddad selling the Time Possessor like any carny barker. But after I walked through it, just to be a smartass, he instantly morphs into all-science-guy serious and started explaining how it really worked.

Because it really did fucking work! So, of course, I was going to have to get in and go “somewhen” — “anywhen”. (See what I did there?) Anyway, just as I was about to send myself back, ol’ granddad mentions there are some glitches to watch out for. Like you don’t actually go back as yourself. You end up occupying, or possessing, someone who’s already there. So you’re them and they’re you. Also, he mentioned you might get messed up physically when you get back — like your foot might be coming out of your ear or something. But, fuck! It’s a time machine! I’m thirteen — I’m invincible! Of course, I’m going to use it.

I made a few mistakes of my own. First of all, in ancient literature, we’d just seen this old-as-hell video theatric called “Back to The Future”. So, for my maiden voyage, I decide to go back and see when my parents first meet. How much fun is that? Well, when you end up in your mom’s body, and it’s Prom Night, and she and your dad . . . well, it was not good.

On top of which, when I came back, I discovered I now had . . . an honest-to-God vagina. Hey! I still got the man stuff, too, okay?! No problems there. Actually, having both is, kinda, you know — awesome! But the point is, you can come back physically altered. And it might not always be to your liking.

I decided I better save my next jaunt through the space-time continuum for my big life-making project. Each trip was a roll of the dice, apparently, so I was going to make it count and hope for the best.

You’re probably wondering how was I going to use my ancestor’s dilapidated time coffin to create the project to end all projects in the world-famous Planetary Engineering class of Dr. Maladroix?

Here’s what I did. Stay with me now. I got in the machine and said out loud the time and person I wanted to go to. There was this strange liquidy-stretchy sensation, like a rubber band. And then . . . snap! There I was, over three hundred years ago, 2018 to be exact. I found myself sitting before a large group of people in a mammoth auditorium. Bright lights burned into my eyes. Tried to cover them with my hands but couldn’t. My hands were not responding! In fact, I wasn’t able to move at all. The audience was applauding, though. Yes, for me. That never gets old, I must say. So, let’s see — to sum up, I’ve traveled back in time and am immobilized head to toe in front of a large group of adoring people. Fans? Colleagues? Believe it or not, this is exactly as I planned. A voice addressed the audience: “Ladies and gentlemen, now for the keynote speaker of the International Conference on Climate Change Emergency, it is my great honor to introduce: Dr. Stephen Hawking!”

Needless to say, the crowd went mad. Man, to feel that kind of admiration and love — that alone made the risk of time travel worth it. I’ll never forget that.

Okay, why go back in time to become, essentially, Stephen Hawking? Simple. Back in 2018, the “thinking world” had heeded his warnings on climate change, right? But the “NON-thinking world” was blocking progress. They weren’t going to listen to any intelligent human because they didn’t believe in intelligence. So, we — Stephen and I — had to give the ignoramuses something to believe in. And if that happened, we could stop climate change and save the world. How’s that for a science project? “See what I did, Dr. Maladroix? No thanks necessary. Just a big fat A-plus!”

The crowd quieted down completely to hear every brilliant electronic word the good doctor had to say. Now, back on Titan, we’d all learned about his magnificent speech that day, given just months before we died — I mean, before he died. His logic was perfect. His emotional pleas were devastating. There was no denying his assertions. But what came of it? Nothing! Not a goddamn thing. The powers that be actually doubled-down on poisoning the Earth.

But this time, I was Stephen and he was me, and I — we — had a plan. Of course, Stephen had known instantly what I was up to — and he was ready!

I took a deep breath and — here it comes! — I straightened our slumped body in the chair. That alone was enough to get a murmur from the crowd. When I moved our hands, there were exclamations of disbelief. Next, our rusted, withered arms pushed us up and out of our chair. Honest-to-God screams! And for the first time in 33 years, Stephen Hawking spoke. In a deep, sonorous, otherworldly voice:

“Citizens of Earth, I come to you from God, your Father. I have observed you for 76 years, thinking you will surely turn away from your planetary suicide, but you have not. I now appear in my full Angel form to make it crystal clear: Change your ways, love your planet, treat it as you would yourself. Cherish . . . or perish.” Yeah, we laid it on thick, Stephen and me. That’s when I cranked up my HD holographic PowerPoint presentation showing the videographic evidence, in minute detail, of the Earth withering and dying. It was irrefutable. Gut-wrenching. Gut-punching.

Within minutes, the entire event was streamed everywhere on the planet. It produced a profound moment of universal shame. Followed by a wave of relief felt by every living thing on the planet. It was pure hope. The future was secured.

Without warning, I felt the pulling, stretching of time travel. As I was disappearing from the auditorium, I saw Dr. Hawking collapse onto the stage, people rushing to his aid. Before I knew it I was back in my dark storeroom, overwhelmed by what I had just accomplished. I had saved Earth! I was the hero of the Titan colony. We would be able to go back to our original home. The blue marble! I did it — me!

I immediately transmitted the complete record of my adventure — my achievement — to Dr. Maladroix and collapsed into the deepest of sleeps.

“Titan student number one eight four two,” Dr. Maladroix was addressing me. I couldn’t help fantasizing about the praise she would heap on me. And the admiration. And the gratitude. I had changed the course of history and saved old Earth, just me, Stephen Hawking and my mom’s vagina.

She continued, “I am sorry to report you have failed the P.E. course.”

Wait — what?

“No! I stopped the destruction of Earth!” I cried out. “How is that not the ultimate project?”

“Your unsanctioned jaunt through time achieved nothing except to hasten Stephen Hawkings’ death.”


“Your stunt shocked the world. For a week. Soon, your theatrics were labeled a sham at best, a demon posing as an angel at worst. There is no turning the hearts and minds of those who embrace ignorance.”

You wanna talk crestfallen? You wanna talk disappointment? Needless to say, I was done at the university. Done with getting anywhere in life. Done with escaping from The Museum of Pseudo-Science and KiddyLand.

As a matter of fact, today I work in the family business. Actually, I’m the main attraction. The tourists all want to see the guy who time-melded with Stephen Hawking. The work is pretty easy. All I have to do is sit in a chair and blink at them. So they can stare at me sadly. You see, I’m also the first human in over 200 years to develop Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Yeah, that was something we’d cured a long time ago.

Now, every group that comes through, there’s always somebody who has to be a smartass and ask if I’m a super-intelligent genius. Takes me a little bit to spell it out, but I’m always eager to disappoint: “Well, I’m no Stephen Hawking.”

John Weagley has been heard as the voice of HarperCollins/HarperKids Publishers, Wendella Sightseeing and on multiple podcasts including High Country Drama and Lumpy & Sasquatch. Some of his favorite stage roles include Stefano in THE TEMPEST, Brother Matthew in MONASTERIES, Curley in OF MICE AND MEN, Marlowe in FORGET HIM and touring with Authorized Personnel: A Comedy & Improv Team. He can be heard in the upcoming animated film WOULD YOU RATHER I WAS DEAD?

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!