Tag Archives: relationships

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

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

First Read-Through 

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

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

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

Choreography Run 

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

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

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

Off-Book Date 

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

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


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

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

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

Opening Night 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gateways: “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: “Too Many Buttons Never Enough Shoes…” by Jessie McCarty read by Kat Evans

TRANSCRIPT: Jessie McCarty is a writer and aspiring power point performer for stage and screen. They were crowned bagel queen of the midwest by montreal playwright Joe Bagel. Jessie is a company member of runways lab theater and BFA of creative writing at SAIC.

“TOO MANY BUTTONS, NEVER ENOUGH SHOES: a short story of how I, most successful harlot, lost all my marbles”

I’m drowning in your leverage, public rejection.
Did you make the right selection?
Hey, Look, good job, but I’m a loser in sheets.

I don’t mind love less ness the walls are wood my floor fine china
I have to tip toe that’s how fragile living with me is like.
And it’s like,

Pearl textures, phone cases

Tear the copy of the odyssey you’re reading, please and look at me

So, how’s that outside looking from the inside, she asks me and
You pretend I’m dumb

I’m not Dumb

I don’t mind love less ness but sometimes
I get scared of
Rats in the cage
Or moths
In my bathroom Cabinet

Don’t go looking in there, like
Who looks at someone’s prescriptions?
UTI scoundrel.
That’s you’re new name.

Scoundrel Look,
good job. You got me a little
Terrified now.

Of pain
Blood stains
A wimpy kid in sex chains.

Like, why’d you come over anyway?
I’m trying to bruise
And you’re touching me like you
Wanna cuff me (wait

Fuck fuck
I’m so Sorry)

And then Look at my fine china, the ground
Look at my walls

Have you ever been sad?

Or raised your wrists up to the bed stand
Ever been stressed out
Or ran into the movie theater with a
Half jar of French fries
And cola

Holding hands


Heaven wasn’t made me for
And keep your pants on, ok?
Eager Nancy over here, geez

Have you ever been right
Or wrong about
The state
Of things?

When God said “ohh yes issa vibe”
Did he mean
All this

I’m running out of sketch pads and the yearn
For the hung-up life ahead is
I’m close to edges
Revenge is a cold cold pot

And I don’t drink tea like that
When all this is over we’re gonna
Have a whole lot of loving

Aint we
Aren’t we

That’s the headline of the news
I Screw Newest Gay on the Block
After the End of the World and
they don’t love me

Love less energy

The tapestry

A box falls out of the ceiling. We knew this would come.
A roof made of water can’t be frozen for, like, ever.

And in this box
is everything. Every kind of thing.
Beginning and Middle End
Fragments of a little white lie I made at


Haunts me to this day.
Stop being nosy, alright? I can’t tell you

Man, this fucking sucks
What would I want with this?

Find Desire?

Yearning for Hire.
Fucking and
Stealing boxed wine at the
For Hire.

What does all of that have to do with me?
I’m not that good in bed
Excited at best

I’m no fate master
I’m no epiphany.

Everything is in the box and you won’t burn it
Everything is in this box and I haven’t
Felt satin

So so long.

And so long, wind gusts
Wind chills
Global warming is an issue, ya know.

So then Nancy comes over and looks at the box with me
She doesn’t know what it is

So we freeze it

After this
Carrie comes over
Shows me all her shoes and I get jealous and
Call her a catty bitch

Because she has been talking to Nancy
And I don’t’ trust them together
Or what they’re saying
When I’m not there.

Now everyone wants a taste of
The frozen cardboard.

Now im the head honcho.

So when im the head honcho, people come over. And you
Know how antsy I get, To imagine guests like entertainers
Actors so close to C list.

Just one more gig! They keep ringing.
Look. Good job,
But I have everything in this box, and I can’t
Look inside.

Then Nancy comes over one more time then we kiss
And try opening it again.

It’s all there, she says, my
Beautiful chicken.

That’s my fifth grade memory she stares
And I say I know, baby,
It’s everything.

We have to bury it, we agree. So we bury it. And burying up memories and the consumption of everything is not and has ever been, easy.

These are some odes we knew.

Prince is still inside, but he refuses to be set free.
Every copy of Harold Pinter is in this box, sadly, impossible to burn.
3 Photos of my first hair dye in my early 20s
My girlfriends on a rampage to cancel their ex boyfriends on the internet
Reality tv shows where social media is the prize
C list status
1 million dollars
My favorite ice cream flavor

Everything that’s inside, is inside
And I’m a “turmoilistic” lesbian

Too shy to say I’m afraid
Of the ownership of

Because who wants It all
When they finally
have it all.

Carrie’s back. Asks for some wine
And we drink it. I do love Carrie but she rarely talks of revenge
Like me and Nancy.

Revenge is a sour grapefruit
We like to lick, never taste.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gateways: “A Story in Which Nothing Happens” by Michael Jachowicz read by Kate Akerboom

TRANSCRIPT: Michael Jachowicz has written sketches and comedy scripts for podcasts as well as some comic strips. You can hear some of his scripts with Starlight Radio Dreams, a Chicago based comedy podcast. He tells us, “I found a quarter today, and I’m just happy to be here.” 

Content Warning: This story depicts drug use. Please care for yourself while listening to this piece of fiction.

The crowded subway car was a cacophony of life, but Arabella could only hear the sound of her heart beating wildly in her chest. She tugged at the cuffs of the oversized club jacket she had found thrift shopping with Celeste. Celeste had told Arabella that a baggier jacket would look good on her. In fact, the more Arabella thought about it she realized that Celeste had essentially picked out the entirety of her outfit. Even the beat up, old Chuck Taylors she bought back in high school were only to match with Celeste. Arabella was looking forward to seeing Celeste tonight; she was almost shaking. She was going to make tonight count, she was gonna get something out of tonight. No, she was gonna get everything.

Arabella bit the inside of her bottom lip- which she often did whenever she was deep in thought. She thought back over all the years she had known Celeste, playing back the memories in her mind like a movie- well, not really so much like a movie. More like a music video set to some pop punk song she would listen to in jr. high, probably something by My Chemical Romance or some Nightcore remix of a Jimmy Eat World song. The memories of Celeste and her began to flow and shift, one leading to another in no particular order until they landed on a specific memory, the memory.

It was when they were both in highschool theater. Arabella and Celeste went out for the same role and against all odds, Arabella got it. It was one of the proudest moments of her life, but then Celeste cornered her backstage after school. Celeste convinced Arabella to give up the part she wanted and go back to stage crew. Arabella was happy to do it. Celeste’s attention was everything to Arabella.

The subway screeched abruptly to a halt. Arabella was snapped out of her thoughts and into her surroundings. She looked up to see what stop they had pulled into, but it didn’t look like they had even made it to a stop. Outside the window of the subway she only saw the tunnel walls. As she was looking out the window she happened to make fleeting eye contact with the man sitting across from her. He seemed disheveled and panicked which, to be fair, wasn’t all together uncommon for folk in the city. However this guy seemed really shaky, his eyes kept darting to the door next to Arabella. She followed the man’s gaze to the door and as if on cue the door opened. A police android with the Synthetic Taskforce walked in.

The android stood motionless for what felt like an eternity, then it’s electric yellow eyes began to glow bright as it silently and methodically scanned the subway car. Arabella clutched her jacket closed, trying to hide from the imposing officer. She hadn’t done anything wrong, but she couldn’t help herself, something about the police androids unsettled her. Maybe it was how you could see their robotic skeleton underneath their translucent navy blue skin. Watching the false flesh twist and stretch over the artificial man just reminded Arabella how fake they were, no matter how close to real the state tried to make them.

Suddenly the officer’s head jerked towards the man across from Arabella. “Henry Gordolski, you have been charged with possession of illegal substances including narcotics and Stemsplicers with intent to use and or distribute. Come with me.” The android’s voice was calming and had the cadence of human speech, but was distinctly digital, nothing more than an advanced simulation of a human’s voice.

The man sitting across from Arabella was sweating profusely, his eyes whipping frantically around the subway car. Arabella made sure she was staring at the floor, feeling her feet tremble. The man across from Arabella stood up slowly and shuffled towards the police android. As he got close he pushed the artificial officer which caused the blue automaton to stumble back a few steps. The man reached in his pocket with blinding inhuman speed and pulled out a knife. In one fluid motion the man struck at the machine, like a cobra striking its prey.

“GET FUCKED YOU POPO-ROID! YOU STUP-AAUUUGGHH” The man was cut off as the android caught his knife wielding hand midway through the stabbing motion and swiftly broke his hand. Then the android grabbed the man by the neck and squeezed. There was a loud crack then silence.

“Thank you for your cooperation. Have a great rest of the day!” The android spoke genuinely, however it’s words rang hollow as it dragged it’s victim off the train. The doors closed behind it and the subway began to move again.

In recent years the state had really started to crack down on Stemsplicing, it was unpredictable and hard to control. Using Stemsplicers, people could rewrite their DNA to make themselves into anything.

Of course as with anything that powerful, Stemsplicing had major negative consequences with prolonged use. That’s why the state created the Synthetic Taskforce, to combat the Stemsplicer threat. What had just happened to Stemsplicers like Henry Gordolski wasn’t uncommon in the city, in fact it was the new normal, but still… The car was silent for the rest of the ride.

Arabella was so relieved to step off the subway she actually ran to the nearest pillar and hugged it. She took out her phone to see where she was supposed to go to meet up with Celeste.

“It’ll be good to be with friends after all that.” Arabella thought to herself when she heard someone call out to her. She turned to see Celeste waving at her with a big smile on her face. Celeste was standing with a couple that Arabella didn’t recognize, but she hardly noticed. She was drawn to Celeste, her bright blue eyes and her curly blonde hair were so inviting and innocent. Arabella felt a smile force its way onto her face as it pushed past all the shit that happened on the subway. Including digging up the memory from high school.

“It’s in the past,” Arabella thought “None of that matters now.” The two friends embraced in the middle of the near empty subway station. Celeste took Arabella by the hand and brought her to meet the two people she was with. One was just Teph, a burn out Celeste and Arabela went to school with. Arabella said hi to Teph who just kinda widened their eyes at her. Teph was already strung out on something or other. They had always been a pothead, but that turned into a full blown drug habit after high school. Arabella had even heard that Teph dealt Stemsplicers.

The other person Arabella didn’t know. She was tall and thin with strong features. She had white facial tattoos that contrasted elegantly with her ebony skin. Arabella wanted to ask if the tattoos meant anything, but then the woman looked at her and Arabella forgot how to make the words do the word thing with her mouth.

“Is this everyone?” Said the tall woman, her voice low and powerful. Celeste nodded and in her usual bubbly way started talking about how great Arabella was and how she was like a sister to her and that they were family. Arabella couldn’t help but be a little hurt by that description of their relationship. The tall woman held up her hand to signal to Celeste to stop talking, her open palm turned into a finger pointing down the subway tunnel, meaning to head that way.

As they walked Arabella noticed the woman was holding a steel box. She was about to ask what it was, but before she could the woman stopped. They were at their destination, apparently, an abandoned stretch of tunnel. The tall woman set the steel box down and then took out three syringes.

“This is primer. Inject this, then inject the Stemplicer your friend has brought and enjoy yourselves in The Box.” She said handing out the syringes before standing next to the box like a statue.

“What does she mean?” Arabella asked, sheepishly fiddling with the syringe she was given.

“It’s, like, so cool Bella!” Celeste said, her voice ringing like a bell on a spring day as she shot herself up with the primer, “Teph brought some “Shrimp Sauce” Stemsplicer so we take it and we’ll shrink small enough to party in this totally bitchin’ club!”

Before she could say anything Teph and Celeste were putting the Stemsplicer syringe labelled “Shrimp Sauce” into their arms. Teph looked at Arabella, handed her a syringe and said, “Look The Box has everything. Sex, music, drugs. Everything. Shit’s lit.”

Celeste and Teph began to writhe and their veins began to glow. They both doubled over and Celeste fell to her knees. Arabella rushed to her side, but before she could do anything Celeste began to shrink. Arabella’s eyes went wide, she had heard of the wild effects of Stemsplicers, but she had never seen them in person. She watched as her friend’s bodies contorted in unnatural poses as they grew smaller. There was also this horrid stench, like burning hair, from the energy given off during the transformation.

After what felt like both an instant and an hour Arabella was towering over her two friends who were now no taller than a grain of sand. She watched them march like ants into The Box. Arabella looked to the syringes in her hands then to the tall woman who hadn’t moved during all this. She then looked to The Box. The Box which had swallowed Celeste… Arabella wanted, for so long and so badly, to be noticed by Celeste, but this was insane.

Arabella dropped the syringes, her mind flashing back to the ride down here on the train and how much the man who was killed for this shit reminded her of Teph, how Celeste would never notice her… no that wasn’t it. Arabela’s mind flashed back to the memory and for the first time she saw it, really saw it. Celeste had noticed Arabella, she’d noticed her and decided she could use her. Arabella put her hands in the pocket of her jacket and walked off down the train tunnel. She got nothing out of tonight and that was more than enough for 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.

Gateways: ” One Bad Pickup Line” by Ashley Retzlaff read by Coco Kasperowicz

TRANSCRIPT: Ashley Retzlaff is an English and Theatre teacher who writes a lot of poetry. A scrambling enthusiast who owns more half-filled notebooks than any hoarder could, she creates worlds where reality and hope clash. The miniature worlds she creates lie dormant in the notebooks until brought to life by a reader’s voracious eyes and mind. But you have the power to set the stories free! Set them free!

“How about this pickup line?” She scootches closer to me on the couch decreasing the space between us. She crudely points to her crotch and makes a motion with her open hand and suggests in the slimiest tone she can muster, “Hey girl, everything is in this box.” Then she whispers ironically and adds “Everything…”

I push her back to her proper space on the couch and begin to laugh uncontrollably. I tell her how vulgar she is. And that I’d rather focus on our favorite episode of Parks and Rec currently playing on my old box TV: Season 3, Episode 13.

As we let the TV take up the mood she’s created in the room, I begin to wonder why she’d say something like that to me. My mind begins to wander. It seems like I’m wrapped into watching the Parks and Rec crew get wasted on Tom’s almost deadly concoction: snake juice. A mixture of dangerous liquors that somehow tastes like Kahlua. But, my real focus melts away and I find myself thinking of the best friend of nine years sitting next to me.

With the side of my eye, I can see her knees are pulled in close to her chest. The place where she lets out the occasional, guttural laugh. Her laugh is unapologetically genuine; she makes strong guffaws whenever she hears a worthy joke or a cringey one. When she laughs I see her perfectly, imperfect smile. A unique and strange smile made up only of baby teeth because her adult teeth never came in. Someone else may have been embarrassed by this defect and hid her simultaneously small yet encompassing smile. But not Lena.

Her smile allures anyone in her aura, allowing her natural freckles and green eyes to be noticed. She’s a contemporary Merida from Brave without the Scottish accent. One thought wanders to another as I compare how Lena’s outer appearance parallels her personality.

Lena defines herself as a lipstick lesbian: the kind of woman who men are attracted to at the onset – someone who is conventionally pretty enough to pass as straight. Her appearance can fool them easily but Lena is an honest soul who wouldn’t let a guy hit on her to no avail. Just last week when we were out at the bars with work friends Lena was approached by the most basic man anyone of us had seen. He looked like a Calvin Klein model who walked right out of an advertisement and into our local dive bar: Hemmy’s.

He approached the four of us huddling and standing around a circular table because every other chair in the bar was taken. Squeezing himself in between myself and Lena he looked right at her and suggested, “You know, the drink I’m about to buy you would taste much better if you could drink it sitting down.” Then he gestured over to an unoccupied chair at the bar that was protected by other attractive and well groomed men who could only be his cronies.

Lena didn’t want to lead the poor guy on, probably because she could sense he was pretty enough that people rarely weren’t smitten by his perfectly coiffed hair. “Come on” she began “It’s leg day! I’d much rather stretch my legs after a long run while enjoying a drink with my coworkers.” She gestured to all of us with a reassuring look so we’d understand she wasn’t going to leave our conversation. “But,” she interjected, “my friend Cassie would love a seat. Why don’t you offer her a seat and a drink?”

As soon as my name was uttered I immediately turned cherry Twizzlers’ red and looked down at my hands and my half consumed gin and tonic. Lena lit a spark of hope in my chest with the possibility of a guy being interested in me. Instead, he exited our space with a sarcastic “Thanks, but no thanks” as he went back to his general douchery.

I was simultaneously flattered by and upset at Lena. I thought, couldn’t she understand guys were interested in her because she was the typical beautiful redhead but that attraction didn’t extend to her overly-lanky, dishwater blonde haired friend? I felt compelled to announce “Seriously Lean” it was the nickname she allowed only me to use, “don’t you know I’m vying for the plainest single and 30 award?” She frowned when I added this self-deprecating comment. Lena didn’t tolerate other people being hard on themselves. Especially me.

“Hey spacey!” she calls me back to my reality on the couch. “Are you actually watching this or just existing?” she inquires. “I’m here, I’m here,” I retort. I add the following to make her laugh “Do you honestly think I’m going to miss Ron Swanson dancing with a little top hat on his head?” As I ask the rhetorical question my left hand gestures quickly out to the TV and then draws in just as quickly back on the couch. But instead of landing safely by my side it brushes her knee and a wave of panic and excitement surges through me. I look over to see if it’s a feeling Lena feels too because her body starts to give off a different energy than it did before. Instead of crunching herself up she seems more open and inviting.

“Listen” she adds. “If you’re not going to turn up the heat in this place, you cheapskate, at least you can share your blanket with me.” She scoots over closer to me again and I finally realize I’ve been snuggled up under my chocolate colored fleece blanket this whole time. I comply while responding “Oh sure, steal the skinny girl’s warmth. She clearly has enough fat to keep her warm.” I lift the left side of the blanket up so she can scoot in even closer to me.

We’ve been friends for nine years but Lena is not one for much physical affection. I’ve only given her one hug the entire time I’ve known her and that was at her rat’s funeral: a much sadder occasion than reality might suggest. But now she’s close enough that I can smell her coconut scented body spray. She shows me affection by putting her head on my shoulder and inviting “you hold a lot of warmth for a skinny kid, Cass,” using the nickname only I allow her to call me.

My mind searches for a time when Lena and I talked about our differing sexualities: she was unabashedly attracted to females while I expressed if I found out I was anything other than straight, my parents would have my head on a platter.

I’m watching Leslie Knope and Anne Perkins fight drunkenly on my small box TV screen while my best friend of nine years is snuggled under a blanket next to me. I’m fighting my natural urge to kiss her. To kiss Lena. Because it could ruin who I am and everything my parents have taught me to be.

But before I can overthink the situation too much Lena moves her lips up to my cheek and gives me a quick peck. “You’re my Anne Perkins,” she expresses while putting her head back on my shoulder.

Maybe it was the Parks and Rec episode, maybe it was turning 30 soon, or maybe it was self-discovery, but the next thing I know I argue “No, I’m you’re Ben Wyatt.”

For nine years Lena and I have been friends at work, hang out on the weekends, and communicate in our secret language of Parks and Rec. quotes and inside jokes. So Lena knows what I mean when I stake this claim.

I turn to look at her and her green eyes come closer to mine and then close as I have the best kiss of my life. My chest explodes and a happiness I haven’t felt in 30 years opens inside me. A feeling my parents don’t want for me. Realizing my conflicting emotions Lena makes a joke to ease my tension. “I told you, I’ve got everything in this box. Everything.” And this time she doesn’t need to make a vulgar gesture. I can tell she’s just trying to make this easier on me. And somehow, her bad pick-up line….well.
It worked.

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: “Don’t Worry About the Frogs” by Eliza Marley read by Gaby Fernandez

TRANSCRIPT: Eliza Marley lives in Rogers Park and spends her time drinking tea by the lake when it’s not closed and watching old horror movies. She is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago’s creative writing program. She is a writer of magic realism and likes to explore the folds in the fabric of reality and how they become see-through if you hold them up to a light.

Something needed to be done about the croaking. The constant noise from beneath Sandy’s window had been driving her insane for days. Sandy’s apartment was bare, possessions still packaged in cardboard boxes, mattress on the floor in a corner. There was nothing to do but lie in bed, stare at the ceiling, and listen to the croaking. She had closed the window already, but the frogs were still there, calling out to anyone who would listen. Sandy started to look for an empty container. 

She had a soup pot buried somewhere, that would be perfect. Or a cassurel tray. But for now, a shoe box that had held CDs would have to do. The frogs had been eggs when Sandy moved in, a few weeks ago. A small cluster, laid too late into the season right into the stagnant water of the small courtyard pond of her building. Sandy figured they would never hatch. But they did, small tadpoles swimming back and forth through the shallow water. Now they were fully grown, stuck in that pond, wading back and forth with nowhere to go. Sandy started to get nervous. 

Sandy had grown up practically out in the woods, suffocated by the long grasses and overbearingly shady trees. It was too noisy, too spread out. Empty and filled at the same time leaving Sandy with a desire for her own little corner of space to fill. The apartment had been perfect until the frogs started. They croaked all the time. She had ignored it for the last few days, focused on her own bare walls and trying to get up the nerve to unpack. It kept her up at night and enough was enough. 

Sandy took the shoe box down to the courtyard. She padded across the gravel and scooped up the frogs. They didn’t even put up a fight. There were five of them, small, probably not getting enough to eat. In the morning she could find somewhere to take them. They would like a nice park, somewhere with more bugs. It was darker than she remembered. The street lights had come on now. The iron gate at the front of the building was creaking and Marrissa would be home soon. 

Sandy wasn’t sure if Marrissa was her real name. The girl looked about Sandy’s age and always came home at night, long brown hair plastered against her head and tired feet shuffling through the gate. She was a waitress, probably. Marrissa lived in the apartment across the courtyard from Sandy. Their ground floor windows were perfectly aligned. Sandy had watched that first night as Marrissa slammed the gate shut loudly and with clinking keys made her way into her own apartment. Lights on, she had disappeared for a minute, before returning in pajama pants with a toothbrush sticking out of her mouth. Sandy had watched from her own window while Marrissa hopped around her cluttered apartment, dancing to a song Sandy couldn’t hear. Marrissa had made coffee that night and poured it into a mug before going out of view and turning off the light. Sandy had wondered why Marrissa would brush her teeth before making coffee. But that wasn’t the sort of question Sandy wanted to introduce herself with and neither was explaining why she had a wet box of frogs. Sandy hurried back inside, water already leaking through the shoe box and dampening her sweatshirt. She hurried through the apartment, leaving behind a trail of water all the way to the bathroom. She carefully dumped the frogs into her bathtub and ran the water so they had something to swim in. Looking around at her empty bathroom, Sandy floated the lid of the shoe box in the bathtub so they could float on it. The soggy bottom half she left in the sink. The frogs were quiet now, taking in their new surroundings. Now, Sandy could find her soup pot and take them to a park tomorrow morning. 

A loud sound from the window brought Sandy back out from the bathroom. She peered out and watched as the light of Marrissa’s window came on. There were string lights framing the window and lacy, yellow curtains she always kept open. Sandy could see a framed poster of some people dancing and a white cabinet that had a microwave and coffee maker balanced on top of it. Sandy imagined the rest of her apartment was just as brightly decorated. Marrissa put something into the microwave and then walked back out of view. 

It made Sandy think of the house she had left. It had been creaky and colorful, filled with sun from mismatched windows and brightly painted cabinets. There had been plants and art strewn about. It was always filled with the buzz of chatter or flies in the summer. Now, she sat alone in a fold out chair surrounded by long, blank walls. The plainess had calmed her, a quiet buzz of potential that matched the hum of traffic outside her window at night. But it had quickly become overwhelming, too much space and no sense how to fill it. 

The frogs were croaking again from the bathroom. Sandy sighed and stepped away from the window and went to rustle through the fridge. Her sock dragged through the water left behind, soaking it. There seemed to be more water than she thought. Sandy grabbed an apple and went back to the window. The frogs continued. 

Marrissa was back, shuffling back and forth through the apartment. Sandy opened her window and could hear the rustle of wind through the trees that lined their street but could not hear anything from Marrissa’s window. She wished she could know what the other girl was listening to, what sort of music made her want to dance. Sandy finished the apple and moved to check on the frogs. Stepping back, her already damp sock dragged through the wet floor. This was definitely more water than there had been before. There was now a thin stream making its way across her floor, pooling in the middle of her studio. 

Sandy ran back to the bathroom. Had she left the bathtub running? Did one of the frogs manage to start the shower? The croaking inside the bathroom continued. Sandy pushed against the door but it was stuck. She pushed harder and the door opened, ripping through the vines that had grown over it and letting out a torrent of cold, murky water that splashed over her and into the rest of the apartment. 

Sandy took in the sight before her. There was water in her bathroom but it wasn’t coming from anything Sandy could see. It rose above the toilet and a bit below the sink. Sandy rubbed her wet socks against the ground and felt dirt and sediment instead of the off-white tiles of her floor. On top of the water was a thick layer of green algae. Looking in, it seemed like it had always been there. There were lily pads with roots that swayed in the water. Vines crawled up her walls and hung down from her shower. The frogs were there, a couple swimming through the water. A couple more resting on the lilypads. One was sat on the shoe box lid, floating by slowly. The lid had a small sprout growing out of it. The frogs looked at her impassive, still croaking. 

The marsh stayed put after Sandy closed her eyes. She squeezed them shut, counted to ten slowly, and could still see the roots of the lily pads wading in the water. There was a soft buzzing and Sandy watched a frog shoot out its tongue to catch a beetle flying by. Sandy took a step back, closing the bathroom door against the stream of water and moss flowing out. Enough water had gotten into the apartment to make a shallow pool. Minnows were swimming near her kitchen island. Moss was starting to grow up the sides of her fridge. 

Sandy’s moving boxes had gotten wet and soggy, starting to sag and topple into the shallow water. Sandy reached into one and pulled out a mug, small and blue with a chip on the handle. Sandy took another look at her drowned mattress and the dragonflies that were now circling it. She walked to the front door. 

The cattails were starting to pop up now in clumps. Sandy carefully opened the front door and stepped out into the hall. She peeled off her wet socks and tossed them back inside. They sank in the rising water and Sandy spotted her apple core bobbing along the surface. She quickly closed the door before anything could escape. 

Out in the hall, Sandy did the best to squeeze out the water from her leggings and sweatshirt. The fabric was cold and heavy. Sandy wiped down her hair with her sleeves and made her way down the hall with her mug. She figured it was as good a time as any to have some coffee with a neighbor.

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.

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: “Entanglement” By Ruari McDonnell read by Ansel Burch

TRANSCRIPT: Welcome to Gateways, a short story reading series from Otherworld Theatre. Our quest is to give science fiction short stories a place to shine through voice. For this special episode, we are reading a piece from Ruari McDonnell who has contributed to the series before. She is one of her favorite stories to have written and I am thrilled to be reading it for you today.

This story is written by Ruari McDonnell.  Ruari is a recent graduate from DePaul University with a BA in English that is finally being put to use. She narrates shows for the Adler Planetarium and throws axes for Ragnorok Axe Throwing in Chicago among various other strange jobs that support her cat’s instagram modeling career. She loves writing science fiction that is based on real astrophysics and will often consult the astronomers that she works with for her pieces. This is “Entangled”.


Falling into a black hole is always a violent death, but the pain levels vary. The smaller the event horizon, the greater the tidal forces. This means you can feel every bit of yourself being divided into multiples of two until every atom, every quark in your body has been separated. Of course, this is only until you are recombined at the bottom of the warped space time along with all the other unfortunate people, nebulas, and stars that were eaten before you. A larger event horizon will have lower tidal forces, granting you a death by “spaghettification”. Yes, this is a technical term. It was coined by the great astrophysicist Stephen Hawking all the way back in 1988 as a joke, but was adopted after the first witnessing of a person getting sucked into the super massive black hole in the middle of the Milky Way Galaxy in 2384. There are also such things as entangled black holes. In the least technical terms, these are two black holes connected by a worm hole. The events that happen at either end of these black holes are linked despite the large distance between them based on Einstein’s theory of quantum entanglement. We don’t know a lot about the insides black holes, entangled or not, because it is impossible to survive a trip into one, as far as the scientific community knows. Even if one were to survive, it would be impossible to report back. 

So here I am, a disembodied consciousness at the mercy of my new home in an entangled set of black holes, essentially talking to myself with no hopes of escaping. I think it’s amazing I’ve managed to survive in some form. If I wasn’t so bitter about leaving my life on the outside, I think I would enjoy being the first to survive a journey into a black hole. This of course, would be brilliant if the rest of the scientific community had a way of knowing this. I would be immortalized among the likes of Carl Sagan, Brian Cox, and Edwin Hubble. 

I am Dr. Alma Roddena, an astrobiologist with the Virgo Unified Astronomy Commission. My focus, before I fell into a black hole, was on finding intelligent life outside of humanity, which was increasingly difficult as we moved out from our own cluster. There aren’t enough exoplanets that can support life beyond simple bacteria within a travel span of 500,00 light years. My studies focused on combing through the biological factors of every known exoplanet in that radius to determine the likelihood of intelligent life developing if helped through terraforming. It was absolutely thrilling work in concept, but involves extensive math and spectroscopy, which was less thrilling to a civilian. It was also incredibly frustrating to comb through thousands of spectrographs, each with signatures of hydrogen, methane, and water, only to find them completely frozen over or boiled into gas, depending on the proximity to a nearby star. But when I found a trace of bacteria or a virus, it was like a nondenominational winter holiday.

My most recent work brought me to a small research facility on PSO J318.5-22. It is a rouge planet belonging to the Beta Pictoris moving group about 80 light years away from Earth. It glows a faint red from the molten iron covering the surface of the planet. It also glows red from the hundreds of thousands of nightclubs on the planet. With no star near by, it is eternally night, hence why it became a party planet as soon as we had the technology to make it so. The research facility is the oldest structure on this planet, with heat shields that are in constant need of repair, and doors that need a good shove before they open, if they open at all. It is a living hell hole, literally. My team was stationed there because Todd went behind my back and submitted a transfer. He said he was “trying to help us all get a better look at the Beta Pictoris group, seeing as they’re completely written off every list of possible life sustaining exoplanets.” We all know he did it to party all night and get laid. 

Todd is a recent graduate of the Ceres University Astrobiology department. He was a member of two different frats that resented being called that. It’s all really just an argument of semantics. Frat and fraternity are the same thing. Todd was placed on my team by the VUAC because I needed a more qualified spectographer than the one I recently fired. Little did I know that Todd would spend more time gelling his incredibly blonde hair than actually working. By the time I discovered this, it was too late to return him for a full refund. He’s more trouble than he’s worth, so I redefined his prime directive from finding life to sitting out of the way and looking pretty. It wasn’t difficult for him, seeing how classically handsome he is. 

Mark was my other teammate. He’s a really nice guy, but too nerdy for me to talk to outside of research. If it’s not based in fact, it’s useless. Sometimes I wonder if his goal in life was to fulfill the space nerd stereotype. He reminded me of one of the guys from that ancient sitcom The Big Bang Theory. He forced me to watch one of the first episodes and I was greatly disappointed by the lack of actual scientific theory and the horrible misrepresentation of women. Though it was accurate in one respect: the appearance of the classic space nerd. I told him that he looked like the annoying one if I squinted hard enough. He said if I were to compare him to any fictional character based on looks, I should have said a young Nathan Filament from Firefly or whatever. Todd and I had a good laugh with that one.

So, after a particularly hot and long day on PSO J318.5-22, after repairing the heat shields for the umpteenth time and shoving heavy metal doors closed, Todd thought he would bring us out to a local karaoke bar, the Ursa Minor Key, as an apology for marooning us in an ancient research facility. There are several reasons why this was a doomed idea from the start. First of all, Ursa Minor Key makes no sense as a name. Beta Pictoris is clearly by Scorpius-Centarus OB and not anywhere near any of the stars in Ursa Minor. I understand it was word play on minor key, which was common for classical karaoke music, but I resent the cosmic inaccuracy. Secondly, Todd abandoned us as soon as he assessed which girl in that bar was single and drunk enough to fall for one of his pick up lines. And lastly, I didn’t like bars, parties, or nightclubs. My idea of a good time was reading essays on quantum mechanics or Sudoku. I didn’t get invited out, but my guesses are you already came to that conclusion when I was complaining about the faults in the bar’s name. I stuck out immediately as someone completely out of water in this environment, which is funny because there was no water on this planet due to the high temperatures outside. Todd described my outfit as “a librarian who has never been clubbing, but wanted to reinvent herself after her recent divorce and losing custody of her kids.” I was just flattered he thought I looked married at some point. 

The place was like a minimalist architect’s idea of the 2280’s. Everything was white and streamlined. There was a laminated shine off the stools, the tables, the bar itself. The bottles of alcohol on the shelf were also the glue like white, which was concerning, considering they were unlabeled. I’m sure you can see the problem here. The underside of everything was illuminated by strips of different colored neon tubes that actually provided light to the place. There was a microphone stand on the stage under a white disco ball that appeared to have Pepto Bismol dripping off the top. No one else at that bar seemed to be confused by the sights within this bar. They were wearing dark colors with geometric textures to contrast the whiteness around them. All of them were fashionable groovy people, who would all disapprove of my use of the word groovy. 

Mark could tell how uncomfortable I was and decided my drinks were on him. This was contingent of me actually listening to him drone on about how Picard is the best captain on Star Wars Galactica or whatever. So, five shots in, I was gone. I don’t know what those shots were, but I was stumbling in my sturdy heels. That was when this beautiful angel walked up to the bar, clearly intoxicated as well, and ordered a drink. She had dark hair cropped to her chin and eyes like a solar prominence. The red light of the bar lit her skin in a very flattering shade of pink. And though I understand there is no intelligent life besides humans anywhere near PSO J318.5-22, she looked like she was from a different planet, in the best sense. Those five shots began speaking to me and I did my best to introduce myself.  

“Hi, I’m Dr. Alma Rhododendron. I wanna-uh, I want to, you should-lemme see about-Hey…you should a spectrograph of that body,” I slurred. I’m very embarrassed I even said that, or that I’m repeating it now. She looked over to me, with the brightest smile in the galaxy, and laughed at me. 

“And I thought I was drunk. Give me a moment.” She downed her drink in one go, ordered two shots, and took those too. “Oh god. That’s a lot. I hope it kicks in soon.” She took a moment to compose herself, swaying gently to someone screeching into the microphone at karaoke. “I’m Jackie and that pick up line? Was really really bad.” She started laughing and I couldn’t help but laugh with her. “You don’t hit on people that often, do you?” 

“I’m more used to numbers than people. But you’re probably the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen and the alcohol told me I should at least try.” She gripped onto one of my arms for stability. Her hands are tiny, but she has long fingers. They would be excellent for piano or surgery. I wondered which one she was more inclined towards. 

“That was a better line! You should have started with that! But hey, it was a good first try for someone not used to people.” The song ended and she cheered for the person stumbling off the stage. “So, Dr. Alma, what brings you out then? There aren’t any numbers here.” I scanned the bar and found Todd walking up to the microphone. I pointed at him.

“This jerk decided to station us here and take us out tonight,” I slurred. 

“Doesn’t seem like a jerk.”

“He let me leave the research center dressed like this.” Jackie looked me over.

“What an asshole.” Todd began singing completely off key and out of sync with the music. He kept winking and gesturing to a woman at the bar over the cacophony of what sounded like a space craft being crushed by an intense gravitational field. Jackie and I both tried to block out the monstrosity Todd was creating. 

“So, where are you from?” I asked her.

“Trappist-1e. I’m actually a tour guide in that system.” 

“That place is a tourist trappist.” That one made her laugh, but on purpose this time. I wanted to make her laugh until the universe expanded to the point of the Big Freeze. 

“It really is, but the college kids planet hopping for spring break tip really well. It’s a living.” She didn’t seem entirely enthused by the idea.

“What do you want to be doing instead?” I asked. 

“I would be a travel blogger.” She nodded, as if this was the first time she was thinking about it. I nodded with her, just do mimic her. I read somewhere the more you physically mimic someone, the more likely it is that they’ll like you. I really wanted her to like me and needed every trick I could think of.

“You know, blogs are really on the rise in popularity.” Jackie burst into laughter.

“You don’t know what a blog is, do you?”

“No idea. Do you?”

“Nope. It was just the first word that popped into my mind. The second was vampire.” 

“You’d be a vampire?” 

“Why not? If this is all hypothetical.” We lost track of time discussing the theoretical nature of vampires in accordance to gothic literature. She made a very compelling argument based on Carmilla as to how vampirism could be a career choice. Maybe it was actually a really bad argument because I was too distracted by how captivating she was to actually analyze her evidence. 

Todd finally finished his song and music played as a transition in between singers. It sounded like a computer malfunctioning assembling random tones. I’ve never been a fan of contemporary music. From somewhere in the crowd, someone shouted that it was Jackie’s turn. 

“Oh fuck. That’s me!” She stumbled over to the stage and picked up the microphone. The intro music for Drops of Jupiter began playing. I didn’t expect her to choose classical music, especially a super obscure one. “This one goes out to Dr. Alma because I think she’ll know this song seeing as she’s a shut in and I’m going to go back to her research center if she sings this one with me or something.” My heart was racing faster than when I got the research position with VAUC. Todd came over to me and excitedly said something, but I wasn’t listening. I was too focused on this beautiful woman, singing one of my favorite songs with a voice like nails on porcelain, who just said she come back with me if I sang with her. I ordered another shot, took it, and marched over to the stage with a stern determination. I took another microphone offered to me and promptly blacked out. It may have been from all the alcohol I had. It may have been from fear. I don’t remember anything that happened and I wish I did more so than anything else. 

I woke up to the feeling of my body being torn apart, which initially I thought was a hangover. There was loud crunching and a whoosh as the oxygen left the spacecab I assumed I was in. I heard screaming from someone else and hopped for the first time that it wasn’t Jackie. I opened my eyes for the seconds I had left and saw a silent void with a glowing red dot far off in the distance. Then, nothing hurt anymore. I no longer had my physical form. I could think. I could see. I could feel very vaguely. I could feel a pressure pushing me down and a pulling me sideways, which I still don’t understand. At first, I was panicked. I didn’t know what had happened to me and all I could see was incomprehensible. There was light from various parts of the electromagnetic spectrum around me in splotches. I could hear screaming, my screams, from what I assumed was the past, just now catching up to me. It all twisted and untwisted around me as more sounds and lights entered the black hole. They came in from both sides, which is the only way I figured out I was in an entangled black hole. I would liken it to if Jackson Pollock had control over your senses and created art with it in the worst way imaginable. Or if you took LSD and went through a haunted house based on sensory torture. There was nothing in my extensive research that could have prepared me for this. I got my doctorate in astrobiology and nothing in that process could help me decipher all the sensory information I was experiencing. I was overwhelmed in my first introduction to life in a black hole.  

I wasn’t alone when I first got here. There was a space cabbie named Albert that had been the source of the other screams. Apparently, his gravitational sensors weren’t working when he encountered a small entangled black hole outside of PSO J318.5-22. He claimed it was roaming, but I know for a fact that roaming entangled black holes don’t exist. After I told him this, he was quiet and wouldn’t speak for the longest time. I think he died. 

I can’t tell you how long I’ve been here. Time warps in ways that makes it feel like eons one moment and in the next, seconds. I am constantly bombarded with new particles from things that happen across my black holes. Once I got past the emotional shock of what had happened to me and the death of the space cabbie Albert, it has been a wealth of scientific discovery. For example, one day a copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s complete works fell into both ends of the black holes, which supports the theory of quantum entanglement, but also defies all laws of probability. So, that’s been proved by observation. Anyway, this book came in one piece, which was impossible unless the book somehow bypassed the event horizon and just fell in. I got a look at it for a moment before the book began to dissolve within the black hole. The words themselves lifted and warped around until all the letters overlapped into an incomprehensible pile. Then they completely dissolved into individual particles. It was absolutely fascinating. 

That’s a lie. It was only exciting because it was the first anomaly to happen while I was there, bored by my own repeating thoughts and the predictable flashing lights of dying stars. The only reason why I remember it so vividly is because Jackie had a love of gothic literature and she probably liked Poe. I think about her a lot. It’s like my own version of limbo. I replay the memory of making an ass of myself to the most beautiful woman in the world. I go up and take the microphone every time and then it blacks out. I sometimes play the what if game. What if Jackie and I went back to the research lab? What if she didn’t sing I song I knew? What if we had more time to fall in love? 

I used to be plagued with questions of life beyond humanity. Is there intelligent life outside of the 500,000 light year radius we’ve explored? What if the other forms of intelligent life are in other universes? What if black holes are the way to enter the multiverse? What if we could make contact by sending someone through? I would even ask myself what it would be like in a black hole, if I somehow survived. I know that answer now. None of these questions really plague me. All the ones surrounding Jackie do. 

The only science fiction thing I actually liked was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the 2005 film. Mark loaned me his copy for a particularly long flight from Ceres to Betelgeuse. He thought it was funny that one of the characters was from the area we were going to. I had forgotten my usual selection of travel essays, so I took him up on the offer. In that movie, Arthur falls in love with Trillian and the question he asks at the end, the only question that matters to him as his brain is about to be harvested is, “Is she the one?” That’s the scene that plays after the moment I black out at the bar. And that question has never been more relevant to me. Is she the one? Funny enough, that sound bite floated into the black holes one day. Someone flying dangerously close must have had it on speaker to the entire galaxy. Pricks.

I do hear things that are less fun, though all of them seem funny when warped through space time. The pitch is severely warped most of the time along with the speed. I once heard a couple arguing over politics. It sounded heated, but with chipmunk voices that suddenly went backwards, I couldn’t help but laugh. It ended in what sounded like a slap. That made me stop laughing. There was also a distress call that I couldn’t understand. Time had crunched it all together until it was incomprehensible. The screaming of hundreds of people was the only part I could understand. There was a lot of red that came into the black hole. I tell myself that it was the particles of the explosion, even though fiery explosions can’t happen in space due to a lack of oxygen, because I don’t want to believe it’s blood. 

You’re probably wondering why I’m going on and on, particles of matter actually hearing this. One thought I had early on in my eternity here was the phrase, “I think therefore I am” by the philosopher Renee Descartes (I think. I was required to take one philosophy course long ago and I didn’t retain that information. I could be very wrong.). I’m thankful I thought of that earlier on, while comforting myself through flashing lights and the nausea of high speed space warping. If I just keep thinking, keep talking, I will continue to exist. If I stop talking or thinking, like Albert did, I’ll die, most likely, I don’t know. I don’t like thinking about it, but it’s there in the back of my mind. So, I just keep remembering and talking and reliving and retraumatizing and refocusing and collecting data. I’m very good at collecting data. 

Like right now, in this moment, the wormhole is actually fairly dark. There is some light left over radio signatures that are keeping the place from being an eternally dark void of despair. I’m kind of cold actually, even though I don’t have a physical form. It still baffles me. There hasn’t been a wave of plasma in however long it’s been. Time is weird here. I mentioned that didn’t I? The events that happen at either end of these black holes are linked despite the large distance between them based on Einstein’s theory of quantum entanglement. I said that already. Sorry. I’m running out of things to say, things to think. I don’t have a lot of new ideas after what seems like an eternity. 

My favorite color is bright green because that’s the emission line for oxygen. There’s also red and orange, but green usually shows up the brightest. You can tell if a nebula has oxygen in it from what shade of green it is. Normally it’s double ionized, but that doesn’t matter much. Mark preferred the emission lines for mercury because they are more blues and purples. Todd liked sodium because they were just orange and easy to find. I never asked Jackie what her favorite emission lines were, not that she would know what I was talking about. But I obsess over these lines of colors for a living. Now that is taken away, all that’s left to obsess over is Jackie. She’s the most interesting woman in the world and I’ve only met her once and if I just keep focusing on her and the memory of her, maybe I’ll survive. My consciousness will stay right here, just waiting for the day where probability is on my side and she comes across one of these black holes and I won’t be driven to madness by isolation anymore because she’ll be here. Jackie and I will be in this entangled black hole together in the flashing lights of a quantum night club. 

I just need to keep thinking. I’ll start from the beginning again. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve repeated this. Falling into a black hole is always a violent death, but the pain levels vary. And if you’re unfortunate enough to survive, that pain will continue exponentially.


I am Ansel Burch the curator for the Gateways Series. I am also the producer and host for the comedy variety show podcast, Starlight Radio Dreams which is available wherever fine podcasts are downloaded. 

Thank you for joining us here at Gateways. We’re going to keep the stories coming so keep an eye on Otherworld Theatre on social media for all our upcoming digital events and developments.