Tag Archives: Monsters

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



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

Scarlett 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes. Please leave immediately and with discretion.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shelby 

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

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

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

“Not a chance.” 

“But if you hear why—” 

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

“Are you sure about that?” 

I am pretty sure about that. I think.  

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

“Thanks.” 

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

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

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

“You’re here for the—” 

“Why’d you dump me?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh.” 

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

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

“But what if I stay?” 

Scarlett 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Coco Kasperowicz is a multidisciplinary nerd performer; the brains behind #chaotichighfemme  her social media and YouTube persona, she is also known as THE BODY POSITIVE NERD PRINCESS of Chicago; Lottie a la West. she graduated with a degree in musical theatre from Columbia College Chicago, and has performed in professional theatres across the Chicagoland area


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



TRANSCRIPT:

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: “The Left Hand of Death” by Terry Galvan read by Courtney Lynn



TRANSCRIPT:

Plagued by Catholic guilt and a love of whiskey, Terry writes about social & environmental problems through the lens of fantasy and science fiction. The former anthropologist and Fulbright grantee currently contributes reviews and interviews at Chicago’s own Third Coast Review, and would very much like to sign an agent sometime before they die. Follow Terry @TerryGalvanChi https://terrygalvan.com This is “The Left Hand of Death”.

 

We vampires knew we were an ecological hazard. Even the most stubborn, close-minded, and reactionary of us admitted it. It only took a few decades to realize, living as a superpredator with no natural enemies or a natural way to die. 

When you become a vampire, you don’t really live anymore—you only hunger and thirst, and hunger and thirst, day after day, year after year. So we eat and eat and drink and drink, but we’re never truly satiated. We just get hungrier and hungrier, thirstier and thirstier. And unlike our mortal cousins, no death comes at the end of it. We’ve come to resent humans: die though they might, they know satiety and satisfaction. They know endings and beginnings, and, most enviably, they know the sweet kiss of death. 

But I digress. One must forgive an old vamp her ramblings. Where was I? Yes, we vampires knew we were an ecological hazard. It was more immediate and pragmatic than philosophical or existential: simple overpopulation. Like any apex predator, we hunted with abandon, never watching our backs because there was nothing to watch for. Not even Death Herself, that stingy bitch. Perhaps if we had anything else in common with apex predators—disease, control over reproduction, or, you know, the ability to die in any way—the ecosystem would have rebalanced on its own. But we’re the Left Hand of Death, and that’s not how we work.

For example, if you screw up a single feeding—get your fangs in the wrong artery, snap the neck with insufficient force, or god forbid, develop feelings for the damn human—instead of a nice meal, boom! You have another hungry mouth to feed. Newborns are notoriously needy, and you can’t just abandon them, because they’ll eat all your food. So you have to take them in and split the food, but because they have no goddamn idea what they’re doing, they’ll probably screw up and create more newborns, and so on and so forth. You get the picture. 

You’d think that we’d have decimated the human population by now, but those bastards reproduce like rabbits. And, like rabbits, humans eat everything. They eat flowers and seeds and plants and animals, they eat oceans and rivers, rainforests and mountains, lakes and prairies; they eat glaciers and tundras and fossil fuels and minerals buried deep in the earth.

We vamps, passionate about numbers and accounting (to distract from the endless hunger), have kept precise records of Earth’s biodiversity, charting the growth and decline of all species.

You’d have to stupid or mortal not to see the writing on the wall. While we were killing humans, humans were killing everything else. We knew once the humans ate everything and died out, we’d have nothing to eat. There’d just be thousands of us roaming the dead Earth, hungry forever.

So we did what every civilized society does when it’s overexploiting resources: we selected our best and brightest, built them a generation ship, and sent them off into the unknown to find other resources to overexploit.

My grandson was on that generation ship. We loaded enough fresh meat into the cargo hold to last them a few dozen light years, we calculated—but those calculations soon proved to be gravely inaccurate. See, while we’re very good with numbers, we’re bad at pretty much everything else, especially the social sciences. A psychologist or a historian might have predicted that the young vampires, suddenly free of the rigid clan structure and territorial boundaries of their seniors, would let loose a little. And that’s just what they did.

With unrestricted access to thousands of humans in the cargo hold, the vamps’ best and brightest went on a feeding frenzy, an orgy, a bender, a rampage, and decimated half their rations in less than a year. I don’t blame them, really; the opportunity for a full stomach—a truly full stomach—is so rare that it turns the best of us into animals.

My grandson, during this time, was engaged in a torrid love affair with one of the human women set aside for breeding purposes. I shouldn’t begrudge him this—if you’re not engaged in a torrid love affair involving vastly unequal power differentials and a questionable consent situation, are you even really a vampire?

My grandson of course promised to protect this woman in exchange for sexual compliance. For all you humans listening, a useful tip: yes, we always make these promises, and yes, we always break them. So, unless you have a kink for bleeding out, or, worse, spending eternity in constant hunger and thirst, I suggest you refrain from accepting our kind as lovers.

Once the bloodbath was over, and the vamps were satiated for the first time in their lives, a peculiar thing happened: both hunter and hunted, faced with the reality that they would all be dead or in hell if that happened again, sat across from one another and talked. Their bellies full, the vamps found they could think straight, and the humans, scared shitless, found themselves unnaturally eloquent. (Don’t ever think humans can’t work under pressure—if you think that, you haven’t scared them enough). 

So the two species pooled their intellectual resources to find a consistent source of food—for the humans, so the humans could feed the vampires. 

The vampires, it turned out, didn’t need air, water, radiation protection, or much of anything on alien planets. Even gravity was a moot point, so they headed off the ship without the rigamarole of space suits or air tanks. Only Earth’s sun burned them, they found, so they frolicked naked and joyous in the blue and violent and green light of foreign stars.

The vamps could ingest anything and everything without consequences aside from a bad aftertaste, so they searched for something to feed their precious cargo. After a few nasty experiments, they identified human-appropriate food, and spent long days toiling to forage algae, farm fungus, and fish adorable little cephalopods that were very high in protein.

And since they were trying everything in sight—knowing nothing in this wide universe, not even Death, could kill them—they eventually found a better source of sustenance than human blood. And then they came home. 

They landed in Antarctica. It took us Old Guard some time to arrive, waiting for the cover of the southern hemisphere’s winter, so as to not get scorched by midnight sun. Things got strange in the months leading up to our visit. Birds acted erratically, flying into windows and migrating in the wrong direction. Weeds thrived and native plants shriveled. Solar panels and satellites and electronics failed, and our compass stopped working halfway there. 

When we arrived, we saw why. Great industrial chimneys of unidentifiable alien metals plunged deep into the ice, gushing steam and sulfurous fumes. A city of tents and igloos surrounded the generation ship, parked right on the South Pole. The human cargo had multiplied, and vamps walked arm and arm with them, faces fresh and full and—content.

“Grandmama!” My grandson sprinted out of the village and embraced me. “Grandmama, I want you to meet my wife.” 

Behind him appeared an ancient human woman, laugh lines crinkling her eyes under hair silver as the moon.

“You didn’t eat her?” I glared at her, pretty even in old age. 

“Grandmama! No, I told you, we don’t eat each other anymore.”

“Hm.”

“And Grandmama, we have children. Generations of them.”

“How?” I spat.

“I adopted them, Grandmama, their biological father died some time ago.”

“Did you eat him?”

“Grandmama.”

What a strange sight it was. I, thousands of years old, trapped in the body of a twenty-four-year beauty; her, in the shriveled body I ought to—I longed to—inhabit. I couldn’t help but feel jealous as well as hungry.

“Here, I’ll show you.” He and his “wife” guided me to one of the steaming pillars. From a spigot he poured a steaming mug.

“Do you remember Spanish hot chocolate? Steel cut oats with cinnamon and honey? Milkshakes?” He offered me the mug. “Try it. It’s like all of those at once, but better.”

Inside was a liquid that glowed orange like hot coals. “What is this,” I hissed, almost dropping it.

“Grandmama.” He steadied my hand. “It’s magma. The blood of the Earth. Rich in iron and teaming with energy, more than the blood of the most pedigreed human. When you drink it—you’ll feel full.” He beamed, and the woman crinkled her eyes at him.

I shook with anger, with hunger, with jealousy. “We sent you to find more nourishment, so as not to kill this planet. Instead you come back to drink your own planet dry? You’ll kill the Earth! The birds, the radiation, the crust itself is going to collapse—”

“The Earth has been dying for a long time, Grand-Dame.” The hag spoke for the first time, using my correct title. “With all due respect, I know that’s the real reason you sent us, and the real reason I got on the ship, and it’s the real reason I married your grandson. I understand that your kind is the Left Hand of Death—that you exist to help things die. People, planets, stars. The sun knows a vampire will bring it to death’s door, and that’s why it burns you so. You are Death’s undying hands, and I am honored to assist.” 

I scoffed at her.

“If it means anything to you,” she continued, “your grandson has agreed to ‘eat’ me when it’s time, so we can be together, forever.”

I ground my fangs, looking between her and him suspiciously.

“Grandmama. We’re here to collect more humans—you know, to diversify the gene pool—and then we’re leaving.” My grandson wrapped his hands around mine, around the mug. “You taught me everything I know. Please, come with.”

I glared into the glowing mug. “Shame he didn’t turn you,” I finally said to the hag, and took a sip of Earth’s fresh blood.

Courtney Lynn is a Chicagoland area performer and director and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University’s BA Theatre Studies program. She most recently directed “The Centenarians” as part of Otherworld’s PARAGON Sci-Fi + Fantasy Play Festival. Other area credits include performing and directing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, and projects with Hela’s Hand Productions and Fake Geek Girl Productions. When not performing, directing, or toiling away at her day job, Courtney can be found posting pictures of her totes adorbs rescued Corgi, Walter, on Instagram (@wigglebuttwalter), designing and crafting hats and fascinators for her business Say Something Hats, reveling in her love of Disney with Drunkenly Ever After, and creating costumes for cosplays and photoshoots. She is thrilled to be a part of this production and hopes you enjoy the show!


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



TRANSCRIPT:

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



TRANSCRIPT:

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. 

Tech 

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: 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: “Daedalus” by Rachel A Schrock read by Evin McQuistion



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 “Daedalus”.

As a Content Note: this story contains violence and may not be acceptable for all audiences. Thank you for attending to self care in this story. 

 

I was just 13 when they took us to the Maze. I’m not sure how much time has passed since then. We tried to keep track, at first, but it wasn’t long before we realized that time doesn’t matter here; it’s such a fickle, abstract thing, and the monsters around us are very, very real.

I’d grown up, now. I thought. How would one know? If growing up was completing school, or raising a family, or travelling the world, I feared I would never be grown. If growing up was purely a biological process, I’d guess I was nearly there. But if growing up meant bearing the burden of your village’s safety on your back, I was certain I was fully an adult. 

They took us in the dead of night– Mom, Dad, Ari, and me. (I hope they let our cat go. I’d imagine her, sometimes, chasing mice on a farm, somewhere untouched by cruelty.) We joined the crowd they’d gathered. We were the last family, since we lived on the outskirts of town; they’d taken the whole village. They marched us all through cold, impenetrable darkness, until they got us to the Maze. Then they forced us inside and sealed us away.

While we were marching, a baby began to cry. They pried him away from his mother and slit his throat.

I asked Mom, “Why are they doing this to us?”

She told me: “We were in the way.”

The monsters in the Maze were quiet, and they were hungry. We all would have died long ago if we hadn’t stayed together, protecting each other. (Some of us had died, but we were never able to mourn; the monsters were always nearby.)

Every waking moment was spent on guard. I was young, and I was fast, so I usually helped look for food.

Early on in our time at the Maze, Fatima and I decided to take a break during our search. We stretched out in the sun and chatted away, like we used to. I closed my eyes for just a moment. I heard Fatima scream.

She was already halfway down the monster’s throat when I turned around. Its huge, white teeth, now stained with blood, glinted in the sunlight, a stark contrast to its jet-black skin. It was taller than both of us put together, even when it stood on all four of its feet. I leapt out of the way just as its claws crashed down where I’d been reclining seconds before.

I tried to fight back with the clumsy spear I’d made, but I could never take on one of these beasts by myself. If Jordan’s team hadn’t been nearby, I’d have been a goner, too.

Once we were rid of the beast, I joined Jordan and continued the search for food. There was nothing else I could do.

They used to check on us more often. The more they thought they’d broken us, the less they came. 

You might ask why we didn’t do this sooner. What you need to understand is that we would never have put up a fight, before. Back in the village, when I was barely more than a baby, the moment I learned that I could raise my hand in anger, I was taught to hold it out in friendship, instead. 

I guessed they did break us. Just not how they thought.

When the soldiers arrived again, we leapt upon their gargantuan war machine and tore their men limb from limb. Meanwhile, others of us squirrelled away whatever they’d brought with them. The real prize, though, was the machine itself. We hid its parts so that Dodie and I could rebuild it into something no one had ever seen before– not even us.

We had to be cruel. Dodie was concerned that, somehow, they could see us go after their men; we had to scare them off from coming back too soon.

In the chaos, I caught a glimpse of my brother– sweet, timid Ari, who used to mope for days if you killed a spider– peeling the skin off a soldier’s scalp. Tear tracks cut through the blood on his cheeks. 

After dark, Dodie and I surveyed the scraps of metal we’d retrieved. They looked nothing like the tiny clockwork pieces I’d tinkered with back home.

“Can we really do this?” I asked.

“We have to try,” she replied.

Our machine looked almost like a dragon. It had two spindly wings– skin shed from the monsters, stretched over a metal framework. Its hollowed-out back had space for everyone to sit. Dodie would navigate from the front, Jordan and Ari would turn the gears that flapped the wings, and I would be at the back, controlling our course with a long, tail-like rudder. We taught a second team to fly the machine, too– just in case.

I found myself smiling while we helped everyone board the flying machine. I didn’t know my face could still smile. I said to Dodie, “I can’t wait to be home.”

Dodie gave me a strange look. “I thought you knew,” she said. “We’re here because they wanted our land. There’s no home to go back to.”

“Then… Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.” Dodie turned her face towards the sun. “Somewhere safe.”

My heart sank. All I wanted– all I’d ever wanted, since coming to the Maze– was to curl up in my own bed, to go back to school, to return to how it was before. I was a fool, I realized, to think I was grown.

But there was nothing I could do. I had only a moment to be sad before it was time to take flight. I helped push the machine down a long, open stretch of the Maze, while Ari and Jordan turned the cranks to operate the wings. I’d never doubted Dodie, but I’d admit that I felt a measure of surprise when we started to lift. We scrambled aboard just in time to watch the machine break away from its wheels. We cleared the first wall of the Maze. I almost dared to feel safe.

Suddenly, the machine jolted. One of the monsters had leapt into the air, grabbing onto the tail. With its added weight, the machine shook. We all held in for dear life

For just a moment, I chanced a look back at my village. As the multitude of pupils contracted to pins, and the wings tore at the air around us, I knew at once that expecting salvation was utter hubris.

I leapt over the wall of the hull and threw myself at the monster. Immediately, it pierced me with its teeth and claws. I could hardly see from the blood seeping into my eyes, but I didn’t care– I’d done my part. 

Having loosened its grip to attack me, the monster fell off the tail, bringing me along with it.

I was free.

 Evin McQuistion is an actor/director who reads a lot of Shakespeare and digests a lot of sci-fi. He mostly blames the sci-fi (via Star Trek: The Next Generation) for getting him into the Shakespeare. he’s currently in rehearsals for Quicksilver Shakespeare’s Mercury Hamlet.