Tag Archives: relationships

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: “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: “What the Moon Said” by Leah Lopez read by Lauren Davies



TRANSCRIPT: Today’s writer, Leah Lopez is a Chicago writer and the playwright-in-residence at EDGE of Orion Theatre.

“So, it’s magic?” I replied.
“No. And yes,” my uncle returned, pushing his wire-rimmed glasses back up to his nose.
I turned the heavy gold medallion in my hand. It looked like a doubloon.
“You’re not very helpful,” I sighed, avoiding looking at the envelope he had placed in front of me an hour ago. Instead, my hand gripped my coffee mug, no longer hot, and downed it in one gulp with a grimace.
“Science and magic are the same in theory, Jules,” he explained. “A round earth, herbs used by women thought to be witches to cure the sick, potato batteries, sending messages over wires, picking up wifi signals. People say they don’t ‘believe’ in climate change or dinosaurs or the moon landing or vaccinations. What’s the difference in story between the fantasy you write and the science fiction you’re lumped with all the time?” he asked.
“Long hair and elves,” I said, slightly sarcastically.
An hour ago on the day before my 30th birthday, my uncle Fritz showed up at my house with a weathered manila envelope and coffeecake from the day old section of the grocery store. I come from a family of scientists: physicists, geologists, biologists, astronomers. Fritz is an astrophysicist who studies dark matter and was two years older than his sister, my mother. He has two ex-wives, four children (microbiologist, two paleontologists, and a dentist), and dogs he names Charlie. He doesn’t have more than one dog, but just one dog at a time, always named Charlie. A parade of never-ending Charlies. I used this once in a short story and he hung it up in his office. Tore the pages right out of the anthology and stapled the pages in order. He had to buy two to make it work.
I eyed my phone.
“A wiki page on string theory will not make it any easier to understand,” he said with his mouthful of coffeecake.
I sighed again. At least I had some keywords now.
“What is the choice I have to make? You present sentimental history in the form of family letters written to me from when mom and dad died and then a veritable golden ticket to another dimension to maybe see them alive. Were I to write a science fiction story, it definitely wouldn’t make interdimensional travel look so emotional,” I said more to myself than to him.
“It’s more transdimensional than inter,” he said. “And you once said that good science fiction knows how the science works in the story, which is why you chose fantasy, so your version of this story would have a magical gnome bringing you an enchanted acorn,” he said, then laughed at his own joke.
“Stick to astrophysics,” I shot back, taking the letters out of the envelope.
“You don’t have to decide right now,” he said. “It might not work, but we won’t know until you give it a turn. Three turns to be exact. We had plans for other devices that worked differently, but those were lost in the crash with your parents.”
“Great, now I’m in a comic book,” I said, completely sarcastically. “Why does our family have such weird hobbies?”
He gathered his coffee and other papers he brought to explain how it all worked and threw his backpack on over his shoulders. He kissed the top of my head and said, “Jules, you’ll figure it out.” And with that bit of casual advice, he walked outside.
“You suck and I hate you,” I shouted after him from the doorframe. He waved to me over his head, still walking across my overgrown lawn. “And why wait til I’m 30? And why did you make it a stupid doubloon? Next time don’t bring stale cake!”
I walked back in and slumped in my chair.
In all honesty, the letters were more difficult to process than the prospect of seeing my parents alive. They maybe potentially who knows for sure exist in another dimension I could maybe potentially who knows for sure travel to with god damn pirate money. But the letters. The letters were in front of me, real and full of grief. They were tiny ribbons of memory linking me to a time I lived through, but barely remember. Thumbing through them, I could see that they had collected them from around the time my parents died when I was just 5 years old. They were all addressed to me; they were filled with stories of the three of us, of when I was the daughter in a little family and not the orphaned cousin, niece, granddaughter of an only-ever extended family.

Dear Julie, For Little Juliana, To Julie-Bell, Dear Jules.

“One time I babysat you and we ended up at the Art Institute and a burly security guard yelled at me for letting you run around, but you loved the paintings and then we had ice cream. You liked mint chocolate chip.” Uncle Simon, zoologist

“You were the most beautiful baby. Your apgar score was 10 and your dad said your cord fell off at exactly two weeks, right on schedule. I never heard you cry.” Grandpa Gene, doctor

“You loved yellow roses, just like your mother. She had them in their wedding and you had yellow roses painted in your room.” Grandma Stella, botanist

“I’m sorry about your parents. You are very good at writing on the sidewalk with chalk and you like to pretend fairies lived behind your house.” Cousin Ada, mathematician

These were little notes jotted quickly on cards. It must have been during a wake. They were sad and raw and tinged on the sides with grief. Many of them still in present tense, the burden of past tense too heavy. I sucked my breath in as I scanned my memory of all the backyards of all my family. Every single one had yellow rose bushes, tiny threads of remembrance woven into our daily lives.
I ignored all of this for several days. Eventually I avoided the kitchen all together since seeing the letters and the gold medallion strewn across the table made me think about the way my life could go once I made a decision. I had what I wanted, I argued with myself, all I ever wanted. I had a house, books with my name on them, good friends who were there for me, family who loved me. And there sat this tiny coin that could upend everything I knew in my life, everything I held dear, for the chance at something I couldn’t even begin to understand. For the chance to wake up tomorrow and hug my parents, let them see who I grew into.
“You aren’t guaranteed tomorrow either,” my cousin Ada told me another handful of days later as she poured over the cards. “Seriously, Jules, did your parents dying teach you nothing? Every oncoming second has a million strings attached to it depending on which one you pull. I could leave now and be hit by a bus, stay and choke on a cookie, make it home fine and be bored. They’re all weighted the same.”
“Since when did you become a philosopher,” I shot back. “Let me have the arts, ok? You stick to the sciences.”
“I’m just saying that there isn’t a better choice here and so you should go with the obvious one,” she explained as if it were simple. But people who don’t have to make the decision could always boil the emotional parts down to simple and easy and obvious.
“And which one is that,” I asked, avoiding eye contact, because maybe I was overthinking it. Probably not. But maybe.
“Go see them,” she said gently, her hand over mine.
“And if I don’t come back,” I asked her, all the worries rushing into my voice as my throat closed and my chest tightened. All the unspoken fears she could read on my face about meeting two people who reached mythological status in my life, in all our lives, and find that I didn’t measure up. That smashing the past into the future was too much of a decision for any one person.
“Then it was nice knowing you, cuz,” she said, and then she punched me on the arm. “Can I have your house if you don’t come back?”
“Go home and be bored,” I said to her.
“See?” she said, grabbing cookies on her way out, “choose a string and pull it, Juliana. Easy.”
Except it wasn’t easy, I said out loud later that night on the back porch in conversation with the moon. I held the gold coin up, let the light reflect all the decisions. I had everything I wanted in this life save two people who maybe existed in another. Now, with nothing left to gain here, I suddenly found myself with everything to lose if I go there.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and chose a string.

Today’s reader, Lauren Davies is a Podcast host and historical researcher, focusing on the criminal justice experiences of the Suffragette movement. She lives in South Wales.


Gateways: “Their World, Astral” by Isaac Rathbone ready by Courtney Lynn



Highlights of Isaac Rathbone‘s work include Captain Ferguson’s School For Balloon Warfare (Off-Broadway and remount at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), The Gnome (Barter Theatre), Breakfast For Dinner (NYC Fringe Festival), and Undeclared History (Hofstra University). He is no stranger to speculative drama, as his genre one-acts such as Deb & Joan (about a lovesick android), A Ship of Strong Timber (a space captain goes mad at the on-set of a voyage), Bensonhurst (the Minotaur myth set in South Brooklyn) and Free Space (the ultimate dystopian Bingo game) have been produced throughout the US and UK.

 

Pamela Muller sat comfortably on a D train that was not a sweltering, crowded mess. The coffee in her clean travel mug was excellent. Her husband made it every morning, and as always he had nailed today’s pot. She had a full breakfast but wasn’t feeling sluggish or bloated. Her train buzzed along, without any delays.

A cooling breeze rustled the marigolds that Ralph Harrison had planted along his stone walkway. Ralph got into his Ford Focus and headed to work. His travels zipped him over the small rolling hills and past the family farms that made up the landscape of Southeast Pennsylvania.

Pamela scrolled through her phone, doing some quick brush-up research. Her accounting firm had recently acquired a new tech client with a huge government contract. Pamela’s team had a video conference with the client’s HR department. She still didn’t quite understand what research they were involved in. But she would be working with their administrative office which was located somewhere in Southeast Pennsylvania. 

As Head of Facility and Maintenance at World Astral Technologies, Ralph had to be in a little earlier than usual. The company hired a New York accounting firm to help carry the office workload. HR was using the research division’s conference room to get the ball rolling. Doctor Colson, the head of research had grumbled a bit, but the Wi-Fi was better there than anywhere else in building. Ralph didn’t mind the early start. His job provided a comfortable living, while allowing him to pay the mortgage and save for his three wonderful daughters’ college accounts.

Pamela got off at 59th Street. She was hoping her commute home would be this smooth. She and her husband had reservations at a new Portuguese restaurant and tickets for an advanced screening of a new foreign film. She walked among the crowd of morning commuters but stopped before she headed up to the surface.

Ralph’s oldest daughter was learning to drive and kept re-programming his radio stations. After scanning through the channels, he stopped on a song. One he had not heard in many, many years. A smile grew on his face and his chest began to flutter a little.  He sat parked in the motionless sea of newly applied blacktop and painted white lines of the company lot. Even though he didn’t like his music too loud, he turned up the volume to hear the opening piano chords of David Bowie’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me.”

Underneath the Subway stairs a young man, with a voice that was both dirty and beautiful, sang a song Pamela hadn’t heard in many, many years. An emotion stirred within her that stands at the corner of nostalgia and regret and doesn’t know which street to take. Even though she didn’t like being late for work, she stayed and listened to the young man sing David Bowie’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me.”

Ralph hustled through the hallway of the research wing, trying to figure out how to download a song to his phone. He needed a series of updates before he could make the purchase. His wife was so good with this stuff, but he didn’t want to wait until he got home. A gnawing obsession within needed to be satiated with that song.

Pamela hustled into the office, ignoring her sub-ordinates who were gathering their laptops and legal pads. She couldn’t get the song out her head. After the meeting, she was going to put in her Air Pods, pretend to make a personal call and listen to it. 

The conference room in New York was projected onto a giant white screen. Ralph checked in with the HR folks to make sure that the temperature and the network were good to go. Once he got the thumbs up, he stood outside the door and used the faster Wi-Fi connection to make the upgrade. On the screen, Pamela could be seen taking her seat. She was mouthing the lyrics to the song that Ralph was now humming in the hallway outside.

In Manhattan, Pamela heard a faint popping sound coming from Pennsylvania. Others in the meeting heard it too. Their counterparts, seen on a large monitor, began turning their heads at the commotion. Someone was yelling.

Ralph looked up to see Doctor Colson running passed him. He was hysterical and screaming for everyone to get out of the building. There was a flash.

The screen in New York went bright white. There was a flash inside the conference room.

When the brightness subsided, both conference rooms and hallways were empty.

Pam opened her eyes and found herself on all fours, looking down at an unfamiliar linoleum floor. A tarnished travel mug had fallen and a wide, steaming puddle of coffee was spreading itself out. Her instinct was to grab a handful of paper towels. But when she stood, she couldn’t locate any. She had never been in this kitchen before.

Ralph awoke sitting on the edge of a king-sized bed. He looked around the strange bedroom, trying to figure out where he was. A woman yelled from downstairs. After some clumsy navigation, Pam and Ralph found each other in the kitchen. 

“Ralph? Ralph, is that…” Ralph nodded. They hadn’t seen each other in twenty-seven years. And here they stood. In a strange kitchen. In a strange house. In Morris Plains, New Jersey. 

They were having some kind of shared experience. But not dreaming or hallucinating. Ralph mentioned that there must have been some accident. Needing immediate answers, Ralph fumbled with the unfamiliar cellphone in his pocket. Pam easily unlocked the screen of hers and started figuring out passcodes.

Ralph wandered over to the fridge and saw some school artwork signed with the name “Ollie.” Under a Donald Duck magnet was a picture of Ralph, Pam and a little boy.

“I got it!” yelled Pam. “My parents’ anniversary.”

She searched the phone contacts and joined Ralph at the fridge. Ollie looked nothing like either of them. He had bright blonde hair and deep blue eyes. He had no resemblance to any of Ralph’s daughters either.

“He’s adopted,” said Pam. “See? Contacts in here for some agencies and social workers.” They began to call out the name Ollie but got no answer. After awkwardly touching base with Pam’s mother, they learned that their son was having a grandparent’s weekend. When her mother asked what they had planned for the day, Pam responded that they might take a quick drive to Pennsylvania.

They rode in the Ford Escape that was in the garage. Ralph drove. As they cruised along, they talked. In between the attempts to make sense of their situation, they exchanged some anecdotes. Even laughed a little at each other’s jokes and observations. There was no silence. They treated themselves to some terrible fast food at a drive-thru. They both hadn’t eaten anything like this since they turned forty, but having a survived a dimensional transfer deserved a treat.

Ralph looked in the rearview mirror at the empty car seat. It had been some time since there was one in any of his vehicles. Pam also observed the presence of Ollie. She thought about the Ford they were in. Their big house. Moving back to Jersey closer to her parents. A kid. 

“How did we get here?” she asked. 

Ralph attempted re-hashing the story of Doctor Colson’s accident. She interrupted.

“No Ralph. How did we get here?”

He swallowed hard and asked her to look at the music that might be on her phone. She didn’t have to. She knew. 

 

They had been freshmen at Rutgers. Ralph commuted. Pam lived on campus. But they found each other at the same events. Same parties. Same hangouts. Ralph summoned the courage to ask her out and Pam summoned the courage to say yes. They ate at a chain restaurant and saw a movie. On the way back to Pam’s dorm, in Ralph’s beat-up Ford Tempo, she started poking fun at the CDs in the car. They began to laugh at each other’s music tastes when Pam turned on the classic rock station. “Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me” by David Bowie began to play.

“Are you cool with Bowie?” she asked. He was, in fact, very cool with Bowie. Ralph parked the car in front of the dorm and they listened to the entire song. Ralph turned the radio off before another song or commercial ruined it. They wanted to reach out to each other, but neither made any attempt to. There was a distance between them. After exchanging pleasantries, the distance expanded as Pam left the car and transferred that summer to Boston College.

In the time they were in now, in the world and the life that they shared, Pam and Ralph had kissed each other that night. There was no doubt about it in their minds.

A caravan of cars and trucks pulled into the World Astral Technologies parking lot. Doctor Colson, unshaven and wearing jean cut-off shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, welcomed everyone. He assured these refugees of trans-dimensional displacement, that all would be set right. They staggered into the building, all in various states of confusion and anxiety. 

Behind them all stood Pamela and Ralph Harrison of Morris Plains, New Jersey. The entrance of the building lay just beyond the motionless sea of the parking lot, which needed new asphalt in Ralph’s professional opinion. Their lives, which had fulfillment and joy and support and love, were waiting for them. But they didn’t know if they could make the walk. They delicately took each other by the hand, softly touching in a way that each of them secretly desired for twenty-seven years. Ralph turned his head to Pam and she smiled.

“There’s no one else I’d rather be.”

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: “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: “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? 

“Blake?” 

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.” 

“Why?”

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.” 

“Here?” 

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…” 

“What?” 

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 –” 

“And?” 

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

But
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
A
pun?

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
With

(redacted)

Heaven wasn’t made me for
Me
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
wearing
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
And
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

17

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

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

Find Desire?

Yearning for Hire.
Fucking and
Kissing
Stealing boxed wine at the
Walmart
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
In
So
Long.

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
but
She doesn’t know what it is

And
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
Grief
Strife
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

Everything
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