Tag Archives: Self Sacrifice

Gateways: “Beauty Mark” by Brendon Connelly read by Coco Kasperowicz



TRANSCRIPT: Brendon Connelly is a scriptwriter from Norwich in the UK. He was a film journalist and blogger for over 20 years, met Kermit the Frog three times – and only fainted one of those times, and graduated from the University of Oxford with a first in Creative Writing. 

Once upon a time, there was a great ship called The Zephyrus that travelled across the stars. Every man and woman onboard the ship was fast asleep and even the ship’s Autos were resting as much as they possibly could.

When The Zephyrus was one hundred years from home, and with a thousand years still to go, Cate woke up. She opened her eyes and saw that she was in her glass case on the edge of The Lucus.

Cate opened the door to her case and climbed out before looking around to see who else might be there. She called out, “Hello!” but there came no reply. Apparently, hers was the only glass case to be seen, and there was no one and nothing else in The Lucus but its rows and rows of shrubs and bushes and trees.

However, there was a small house at the edge of the planting ground, which Cate went inside to explore. The house had great golden columns and its walls were embossed with beautiful carvings of flowers and animals, both real and Automatic. Its vaulted ceiling was made of citrus wood and the floor was a dazzling mosaic of jewels and beautiful gems.

Inside the house, a voice spoke to Cate. “Eat and drink,” it said, “for you must be hungry after your one-hundred-year sleep.” There was a table covered in cake, bread and jugs of water and juice, and Cate sat there and ate until she felt better.

“Thank you,” she said, but the voice did not reply.

When she had finished eating, Cate looked further around the small house. Next to the dining room was a sitting room with a shiny silver screen and a grand piano. On top of the piano, Cate found a library slate containing every fable or story from history she could think of and countless more that she had never before imagined. Upstairs in the house, there was a bedroom where the bed was soft and warm and comfortable, and just the right size for Cate.

Cate continued to read stories on the library slate until her eyelids grew heavy and she rested her head on a pillow and slept. It was a deep but gentle sleep, and for the first time in a hundred years, Cate was able a dream. In her mind’s eye, she saw a bush of white roses, but as she tended them, she pricked her finger on a thorn, releasing a drop of blood that turned all the roses red.

Cate was awakened for dinner by the voice of the house. She followed the voice back to the dining room to find that the tables had been cleared and all the food replenished. “Eat and drink,” the voice said. “Enjoy your feast, for in the morning, you will start your work.”

“Won’t you join me for dinner?” she said to the voice, but it didn’t reply.

After a dinner of bread and beans and a cup of nut milk, Cate called out, “Thank you,” to the voice and went back to bed.

In the morning, Cate was awakened in her new bed by the warmth of a sun. The roof of the house was open, and the great sky-glass of The Zephyrus was glowing with starlight. She sat outside the dwelling eating her breakfast. Then, once Cate had returned her plate and glass to the dining room, the voice at last explained why she had been woken up.

“The Lucus is sick,” the voice explained, “and the crop is at risk. The Zephyrus has need of a careful gardener to take care of its plants. If you look in the sitting room, you will find everything you need to accomplish what I want you to do.”

“I was a security programmer, not a gardener,” said Cate who went on to explain that she knew nothing about plants or crops or their sicknesses.

“Unfortunately, there is no gardener aboard The Zephyrus,” the voice said, “but I believe you are more than capable of tending to the crops. Thank you. I hope you will prove to be a great resource for the mission.”

Cate looked in the sitting room where she found, on top of the piano, a sickle used for work in The Lucus, a timepiece on a chain, two torches as well as a small flat key, the shape and colour of a skimming stone. She took all these things and put them in a small satchel, then set off for the planting grounds.

When she arrived, Cate was not sure where to begin. “What should I do?” she asked, but the voice didn’t reply. But Cate was resourceful, so she took her torch and went for a walk among the plants to investigate for herself. She looked at every tree and shrub until she saw something she did not recognise.

“Torch,” she asked, “What’s this?” as she shone the torch’s beam onto a small shrub. The light caught the shrub’s profusion of purple blossoms, each of them as rich and lustrous as the gems in the house’s mosaic floor.

“Purpureus Crataegus,” replied the torch, “the fairest shrub on The Zephyrus. But it’s not growing well. This specimen is diseased.”

“What should I do?” asked Cate, but the torch understood that Cate was really speaking to herself and so it did not make a reply.

After some hours of exploring The Lucus, the timepiece informed Cate that it was time to return to the house for dinner. She went into the dining room and found that the table had been set again and that lute music was playing to welcome her back. “Eat and drink,” said the voice, “for you must be hungry after your day of work.”

“Please won’t you join me?” Cate asked. “I have so many questions about what I’ve seen today.”

“I might not be what you are expecting,” said the voice.

“Don’t worry,” said Cate, “I know that you are an Auto. I’ve never met one of your kind before, but I’m not scared. Please come and join me for dinner and we can talk about the plants.”

A door opened in the wall, its edge hidden among designs of embossed animals and plants. From out of this door came an Auto, stepping cautiously into the light. It was the height and width of a man, and it moved with the gait of a man too. Everything that could make the Auto seem familiar and reassuring had been included, and Cate saw immediately that it posed no threat.

“Hello,” it said.

Cate asked the Auto its name, but it explained that while Autos do not have names, as such, they do have Function Assignations. This one, for example, could be identified as RPC-19, the R-registered Auto in the 19th Plantation Corps.

This was the first night that Cate and RPC-19 met over dinner, but it was certainly not the last. Every evening they would meet, and as Cate would eat, the Auto would sit at the opposite end of the table, playing music and answering her questions. Cate was very glad of the company.

As the weeks went on, Cate worked in The Lucus each day, bringing her torch along to analyse the crops and record the growing signs of disease. When she found a plant that was dying from its sickness, she would take her sickle and cut it down.

Then, in the evenings, Cate would have dinner with RPC-19. She told the Auto all about the work she had done that day and would sometimes ask questions about the Auto’s day and what it had been doing while she was in the garden. She learned that RPC-19 spent its days in the laboratory or studying the sick plants that Cate had cut down. She learned that the Auto was lonely, inasmuch as an Auto could be, and that it also enjoyed the companionship which came from their shared dinners.

One night, soon after returning from a day’s work in The Lucus, Cate went into the sitting room ahead of dinner. She saw immediately that while the piano was still there, the silver screen had gone. She made sure to ask RPC-19 all about this during dinner.

“I needed to remove it for safety’s sake,” the Auto said. “I shall return it once everything has been repaired.”

One week later, Cate noticed that the cameras in the house had been turned off. When she went to wash her face in the bathroom, she no longer had a screen to see herself in, so she asked the Auto about this too. “I needed to turn the cameras off for safety’s sake,” it said, “but I shall turn them on again, once everything has been repaired.”

The next day, Cate was walking through The Lucus. Noticing the torch in her hand, she had an idea. She aimed the torch at her own face and asked, “Torch, what’s this?”

“One-Eight-Four-Seven Cate Earnshaw,” said the Torch, “the only waking soul on The Zephyrus. But she is not growing well. She appears to have been diseased.”

“How do you know this?” she asked the torch.

“There is a purple blemish on her face,” it replied, “a tell-tale mark of poisoning.”

At dinner that night, Cate didn’t tell RPC-19 about her conversation with the torch. Instead, she worded her questions carefully and tried to learn as much as she might without raising the Auto’s suspicions.

“Is there something on my face?” she asked. “I thought I could feel something on my cheek last night when it was pressed against the pillow.”

“There is,” the Auto admitted, “but it’s only very minor.”

Cate was careful to drop some of the food from her plate into her lap. She gathered samples in just this way over the next few nights, wrapping them in a napkin and hiding them in her pocket. On the third night, she had enough, so after dinner she retired to the bedroom where she shone the torch on the samples of food and asked, “Torch, what is this?”

“Bread and beans,” the torch replied, “and concentrated pear juice.”

“Has this specimen been poisoned?” Cate asked.

“I can’t read this specimen accurately,” said the torch. “You can get accurate results by running a tox test in the Blue Lab.”

Cate connected her key to the library slate in order to check which locks it would open. To her disappointment, there was only one door on The Zephyrus for which her key would not work, and that was the door to the Blue Lab.

But Cate knew her way around keys as a security programmer, so she was able, with clever use of the library slate, to make sure her key would work for the Blue Lab too.

And so it was after dinner the next night, while RPC-19 was tidying the dining room, that Cate slipped out of the house and across The Lucus, taking the shortest route to the Blue Lab. The key worked and the door opened, and she stepped inside.

Much to Cate’s surprise, she found five glass cases lined up inside the Blue Lab. Each case glowed with a gentle red light and contained a woman sleeping within. Cate saw that each had a mark upon her face that grew outwards from her cheek like a purple spider’s web.

“Torch,” she asked, “who is this?” as she shone it on the first case.

“One-nine-three-eight Rebecca Winters,” replied the torch. “Her life systems have been suspended. She appears to have been very seriously diseased.”

Approaching the next case, the torch informed Cate that they were looking at “One-nine-six-six Bertha Cosway” and explained that her life systems had also been suspended. “She appears to have been very seriously diseased,” the torch said.

Upon hearing a noise at the door to the Blue Lab, Cate knew that RPC-19 was coming in. She quickly hid behind the furthest glass case, holding her breath as she waited.

The Auto entered the lab and went straight to the first case where Rebecca Winters lay sleeping. It opened the case and, without waking the woman inside, took a fine needle and drew some of her blood.

As Cate watched from her hiding place, the Auto took the blood to a machine at the side of the lab. It inserted the needle and spoke to the machine.

“Please synthesise capsules for human consumption,” said RPC-19. The machine whirred and its lights flashed, and then with a rattling noise, a small handful of yellow pills tumbled from the machine and into a waiting cup.

When she was sure the Auto had left the lab, Cate rushed to Winters’ glass case and opened it. The woman seemed to be sleeping peacefully surrounded by a red glow. Cate put her hand on Winters’ face, feeling the purple mark before touching her own face. She noticed that both had the same softness and were puffy to the touch.

Cate did not realise that there was blood on her finger, from where the needle had pricked Winters skin.

She took her samples of food to the machine at the side of the lab and inserted them, and then she asked the machine, “Please scan for poison.” The machine whirred and its lights flashed, and then it said, “No poison in these samples.”

Cate could not sleep that night. She was haunted by the women she had seen, bathed in the red lights of their glass cases in the Blue Lab, and was puzzled by the results of her test on the samples of food. She knew she must have been poisoned, and so assumed that it had come from her food.

The next day in The Lucus, as she waited for dinner, Cate waited for the next opportunity to visit the Blue Lab again. As soon as her timepiece told her it was time to return home, she complied and, for once, found RPC-19 was already there and waiting.

“Show me your key,” the Auto demanded.

“Why?” asked Cate.

“Because somebody has been in the Blue Lab and I want to know that it was not you.”

“I don’t know where it is,” said Cate, though she knew perfectly well that it was in her satchel – as did RPC-19, which promptly took it from her and looked inside.

“Here it is,” the Auto said. That was when it saw the bloody fingerprint on the key and knew, for sure, that Cate had betrayed it.

“I can explain,” said Cate. “but only if you explain what is happening to me too.”

The two of them sat down at the dinner table. The Auto demanded that Cate tell her story first.

“I discovered this blemish on my face and became fearful that you were poisoning my food,” she said. “I didn’t want to confront you because I was frightened that it might be true.”

“Autos cannot lie or kill,” said RPC-19, to which Cate nodded because she knew it was true. The Auto then went on to say, “I have not been poisoning your food. Indeed, I have been taking great pains to give you the best, most nutritious food available on The Zephyrus.”

“I went to the Blue Lab to test samples of the food, which I now know weren’t poisoned. But I don’t know why you have five other women in there. And I don’t know why their glass cases are red, indicating that they’re sick. And I certainly don’t know why you took blood from one of the women and created pills of the type you have been giving to me.”

Cate waited for the Auto to answer. But no answer came. She waited all through dinner and asked it again and again to respond to her questions, but it still did not say a word. Cate knew the reason why is because an Auto cannot lie.

Eventually, Cate’s patience wore thin. She got up from the table and ran. She ran out of the house and through The Lucus as fast as she could, and she ran all the way to the Blue Lab where she used her key to open the door and rush inside.

There, Cate took her sickle and cut her palm before pressing her bloody hand against the machine.

“Please scan for poison,” she said.

The machine whirred and its lights flashed, and then it said, “Poisonous sample. Botanical origin. Traces of Purpureus Crataegus found.”

The door opened and RPC-19 came in, walking slowly and sadly.

“I think I understand now,” said Cate, “but you’ve misunderstood.”

So Cate and the Auto discussed what the plan had been and why there were five women, all poisoned, sleeping in their glass cases in the Blue Lab.

“All of the plants in the Lucus were diseased,” said RPC-19, “because they would surely all be totally inedible before The Zephyrus reached Our Promised Home, I needed to do something so that your future generations would not starve. I have been looking for an antidote to the poison.”

Cate interrupted, “So all of these women were woken up to work in The Lucus just as I was? And they all got sick like I did?”

The Auto wanted to reassure her, so it went on, “They have all been sent back to sleep, which means they are not getting any sicker now. Once the antidote is in hand, they can all be cured before I wake them again.”

“But what if you don’t find the antidote?” asked Cate, “Does it mean that they got sick for nothing?”

“I must find the antidote or a cure,” said RPC-19. “Your future generations depend upon the fruits of The Lucus, and those depend upon my success.”

The pair talked back and forth about the theories that the Auto had developed and its plan to use the blood of the sick women to formulate a cure. Cate listened and thought, as did the Auto.

But there was something different about Cate that gave her an idea of her own, an idea that RPC-19 could never have had.

“I’m getting sick,” she said, “and soon you will want me to return to sleep in my glass case. But I’m not going to. The one thing you have never tried is letting the poison take hold for longer. You know I might not survive, but you just can’t do it. You can’t kill us, can you, RPC-19?”

“No,” said the Auto. “I can neither lie nor kill. Both of those things are true.”

“Then it’s your time to sleep so I can continue the experiment. I believe that I need blood from later in the disease cycle if I’m going to synthesise a cure.”

The Auto said nothing. It didn’t move an inch.

Cate took her timepiece and connected it to the library slate. She set its program for one hundred years and then, with the interface point on the library slate, jabbed the Auto’s finger. Immediately, the Auto shut down.

From that minute on, Cate was truly alone on The Zephyrus.

She sat there quietly contemplating the weeks ahead. It was going to be a long, hard journey into the darkest night, but she was right. By making this sacrifice, Cate had a chance to save the future of every other human on The Zephyrus.

That night, as Cate lay in bed, she reached up and touched the blemish on her cheek. It felt soft and tender, like hope. “My beauty mark,” she said, and then she closed her eyes to dream.

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: “Community Service” by Zack Peercy read by Jasmin Tomlins



TRANSCRIPT: 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.

We knew we wouldn’t like the taste of Henry Joyner just from the smell. 

No one was sure why he volunteered, but now as his sour roasting stench wafted down 

Main Street, we assumed there must have been an underlying sickness. Most of us thought it was a cowardly sacrifice, but all agreed it was a nice respite from the tough flesh of the elderly. The crackle of the fire echoed through our small town, chattering about Henry Joyner in a way we never could. 

We went on with our work day, our noses becoming used to the odor. 

Robert Townsend delivered milk along the stretch of white picket fences. 

Marjorie Green opened the Depot and packed the day’s rations, including an apple pie 

packet for tonight’s special occasion. 

Kasey Skinner mowed the lawns uniformly in neat rows and columns. 

Janice McCormick collected the previous day’s trash and dumped it off the edge of our 

sky-scraping suburb to the surrounding wasteland below. 

We all worked together, every day, to maintain our community. Everyone lent a hand 

without a word because we knew we were all equal. Jealousy, greed, war, and fear were 

emotions of the past. We had moved above them to a place of cooperative bliss. We celebrated our successes, grieved our losses, and when it came time to welcome a new community member, we sacrificed ourselves to keep our population balanced. As the Zimmermans prepared for their child’s arrival, we watched Henry Joyner start to brown in the late-morning sun; the smell becoming tolerable, more familiar. 

Some fundamental community members still thought of it as The Rite of Fire, but most 

of us knew it for what it was: a barbeque. Late last night, after the children were asleep, the town council opened their hands for volunteers and Henry Joyner silently rose from his seat. He was a sizable supply of flesh, but younger than average; sterile, no living relatives left. He was a surprise candidate, but we’ve made tougher choices. Several cycles ago, Phyllis Dewitt’s Daughter volunteered at the age of twelve. Doctor Montgomery had diagnosed her with Particle Lung a few months prior, a rare case even those days, and she wanted to offer herself up to the flames. She didn’t want her body to be thrown to the wasteland. We respected her choice. 

Before the morning sun, Henry Joyner was prepared by Doctor Montgomery. Some of us went to Main Street to clean the fire pit and chop fresh wood. Most of us went home to our families. Janice McCormick made a special pre-dawn trip to the doctor’s office to collect the waste: nails, teeth, blood, hair, and organs not fit for consumption. She threw them off the edge for the unseen scavengers below. Pure silence was briefly interrupted by a far echoed thud, a snarl, and a yip. 

By the time most of us were starting our day of cleaning, domestic repairs, and crafting, 

the body was already on the spit, a fresh fire licking the smooth flesh. 

After another lunchtime of powdered rations, we all strolled down Main Street to get a 

glimpse at the golden brown carcass, savoring the odor, trying to hold it in our nostrils as we went back to our chores and tasks. We thought Henry Joyner was holding up well on the rotisserie. We remembered last cycle when Barbara Townsend’s frail body didn’t last the morning before her meat split from the rod and fell onto the fire. We didn’t notice for half an hour, but a slight char never hurt anyone. We ate well that day and even had enough left for a lasting jerky. 

Our children quietly ran around in the mid-afternoon sun working up an appetite. The 

young ones played on the back lot’s trampoline, fashioned from an old Army parachute we no longer had a use for. We taught them Crack the Egg, where you had to ball yourself up as the other children tried to bounce and crack you, and Sizzle the Bacon, where you laid out as the other children stomped and sizzled you up. The teenagers were more meditative, preferring to bake in the sun and read. The Zimmermans looked over all of them from their porch swing. We knew they were thankful to be part of our community. 

In the late-afternoon, we rang the bell. Everyone snapped into action; we had been 

anticipating this all day. The long wooden table was assembled down Main Street. Kasey 

Skinner went house to house collecting chairs from dining rooms and setting them along the table. Henry Joyner’s auroma was hypnotizing, tantalizing. Our mouths watered, our bodies ached. We took our seats and waited for Marjoirie Green and Doctor Montgomery to carve. 

Our silent anticipation was broken by Phyllis Dewitt. She was now the oldest community member and only made appearances for the ceremony. Since her daughter’s cycle, she has sung for us before every carving. Only a few of us remember what it meant to sing. At 

night the children try to mimic the sounds with their mouths, but barely muster a squeak. The song ended and plates began their passage down the line. 

Main Street was soon filled with the sound of gnashing teeth and saliva slurping; 

mouths full of Henry Joyner. No one made eye contact. He was juicer than Barbara Townsend, but not as tender as Phyllis Dewitt’s Daughter. A portion of the thigh was ground and wrapped for the Zimmermans to mix with their newborn’s rations. 

We ate to our fill and the leftovers were collected to be dried and cured. The table was 

disassembled and stored until the next cycle. Everyone brought their chairs home. We washed our juice-soaked hands and mouths. We laid in our beds. 

As the night crept on and we were alone with our thoughts, we weren’t a community; 

just individuals in bed. Those moments were when our repressed selfishness seeped to the forefront of our minds. We’d never want these doubts to show on our faces, but here in the dark, bellies full and minds free to wander, we questioned. 

When the time came, would we be able to stand up and volunteer? 

Would we be able to eat our own child, if we had to? 

What would they think we smelled like as we roasted over the fire? 

The only answer was our silence.

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


Gateways: “On Hermit Crabs and Old Boxes” by Connor Andrei read by Martha Southgate



TRANSCRIPT: Connor Andrei primarily writes children’s fantasy and the occasional flash fiction piece for contests and for fun. He has also written a play that was a finalist in the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “Young Playwrights in Progress” contest. He aims to bring engaging and accessible stories to children while feeling like a writer of “Serious Adult Fiction”.  The natural deviation in “humanity” between the individual and the group runs central to everything I write.

The wise man sat in the shade of a small tree on the edge of the beach. The waves lapped slowly onto the pristine white sand. His eyes were closed. He listened to the sounds that washed over him: the gentle waves, the gulls overhead, the constant whir of bugs all around. He wore a contented smile on his face. He had his arm draped over a small wooden box in the sand next to him. It was a good life for the wise man. A life of peace and of wisdom. He waited in the sand, just like he did everyday, for a visitor to arrive and ask the same question that they all asked him. 

Miles away from the white sand beach, Greg sat on a plane. He gazed listlessly out the window into the clouds. His face was rough with stubble. He had no luggage, just a rumpled up suit and a tie pulled loose around his neck. He looked like a man on his way home from a very, very bad day at the office. In fact, he had had a very, very bad day at the office, but he was not on his way home. 

Five days earlier, Greg left the office for the last time. He left with no job, no purpose, no identity. His lonely apartment felt even lonelier as he dragged his feet and a cardboard box full of personal affects closer to its door. So he dropped the box on the curb and kept walking. Maybe someone else would find comfort in the stapler or in the framed diploma that had hung on his office wall. Greg let his feet do all the thinking and his feet thought “we need booze.” 

The next few days were a blur. Bar after bar, liquor store after liquor store – the drinking was all he could remember. Everything else? What he ate, where he slept, who he talked to – that was all lost. He would never remember it, and frankly he was glad. He didn’t want to know. 

The next thing he could remember was waking up in a field 100 miles away from home. He still wore his suit, his tie was even still tightened all the way up to his neck, top button still fastened. If it weren’t for the grass stains and the smell, he would’ve been ready for work. When he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes he smelled the unmistakeable aroma of permanent 

marker. His hands were covered in black words. Written all over was the word why. Just “why”, 

not even a question mark. It was shockingly legible. 

He was undoubtedly drunk when he wrote it, arguably he was still drunk when he read it. But it meant something to him. “Why,” he muttered out loud to himself. He got up off the grass and dusted himself off. He was determined to learn the answer, the reason. He needed to know why, to understand everything. 

Under the palm tree on the white sand beach, the wise man whistled a song. His pursed lips were concealed behind the tangle of brown and gray hair that was his wild beard. With great intensity, he watched a hermit crab on the soft, damp sand by the water. 

The hermit crab pulled itself out of its shell, it’s claws digging into the sand to find purchase. It gained its freedom and scuttled away from its old safety. The wise man stopped whistling as he watched. It occurred to him that though he had seen much in his life, he had never seen a naked hermit crab before. It somehow looked both perfectly normal and horribly obscene. The hermit crab scuttled across the glistening white sand to another, slightly larger shell. From where the wise man sat it looked as though the two shells were exactly identical – 

maybe the second shell was a little larger. But the crab, in its new home, scuttled away happily. 

Perhaps, he thought, it was a distinction known only to a crab. Perhaps the crab could tell that the new shell was roomier, different, but it felt just as safe as the old one. 

“Huh,” said the wise man. 

Greg left the field as soon as he could and began his journey. He started small, asking random passersby if they knew the truth, if they knew the meaning of life. Most people merely shied away from him, crossing the street or holding their hands out while saying, “I don’t know, please leave me alone.” But Greg was nothing if not persistent. 

His persistence awarded him with some answers, though none were satisfying. “To find true love,” one person replied. Another told him that the purpose was “God”. Several people responded by telling him he had to look for “happiness” one added that it “came from within”. Something was gnawing at Greg, telling him that the answer should be deeper than that. 

Greg’s persistence also awarded him a night in jail. He spent the night on a hard wooden bench in a holding cell somewhere in Ohio. He laid back on the bench and stared up at the ceiling. His mind was swimming with questions and he still had no answers. In such a short time he had gone from having his life completely figured out to being completely, hopelessly lost. His whole life he had believed that his purpose was to work hard and lead a normal, respectable life. But with everything stripped away from him so quickly, so thoroughly, he knew that there had to be a greater reason for his life. 

That was when he noticed that there were scratches on the ceiling. Right next to the fluorescent light were shallow scratches, just like the ones on a bathroom wall. Greg was certain that they must say something, so he got up. He stood on the tips of his toes on the bench and ran his finger across the scratches. They were letters. So he read: “Under a tree on a white sand beach…” 

There were more words on the wall beneath the little window. So he crossed the room and read: “There is a man with a box,” it said. Greg scanned the cell quickly, and found more scratches in the corner near the floor. He laid down on his stomach to read the last message. “That box has all the answers.” 

Despite the fact that there must be thousands of trees on white sand beaches, Greg could see this man with his box. And he knew exactly where to find that specific tree on that specific white sand beach. 

In the morning, he was released on his own recognizance. He was told not to leave the state of Ohio. By 11am, however, he was on a plane. That plane took him to another plane, which took him to another plane. He loosened his tie as he sat next to the window, soaring over the Pacific. He ate a bag of pretzels that the flight attendant had given him, savoring every bite. For the first time in days Greg smiled – really, truly, and honestly smiled. 

The wise man looked up to see Greg, disheveled in his filthy black suit, walking slowly up the beach to him. It occurred to him that it had only been a few days since his last visitor, and only a few more days since the visitor before that. Perhaps his visits were getting more frequent, he thought, or perhaps he had never really bothered to keep track. He tapped his hand lovingly on his little wooden box. It didn’t matter how often they came. It only mattered that they did and that they learned. 

Greg knelt in the white sand before the wise man. He didn’t have to kneel – the wise man was no god – but he knelt anyway because it felt right. “I need to know,” he said, his voice hoarse from the dry saltiness of the airline pretzels. 

The wise man merely smiled at him, his wild, thick beard parting to show the curl of his chapped lips. 

Greg continued, “I am no one and I have nothing. I need to know my purpose. Where do I fit?” He spoke like a man who was pleading for his life because perhaps he was. His voice rattled and cracked. There were tears behind them waiting to be shaken loose. 

The wise man said nothing. He simply lifted his arm off the little wooden box and pushed it across the sand to where Greg knelt. 

Greg nodded, a tear welling up in his eye. He slowly, carefully lifted the lid and peered inside with reverent glee. But then his face fell. “It’s empty,” he said, his voice hollow. 

The wise man looked deeply into Greg’s eyes and asked, “What would you put in it?” 

Greg sunk into the pure white sand and fell onto his back. He cried and he laughed. The wise man watched. “Huh,” he said.

Martha Southgate is co-founder and brand manager of Southgate Media Group. She has been podcasting for 7 years and has recorded over 1,000 episodes. She also homeschools her 13 year old daughter, Molly, and works as a volunteer once a week in an elementary school. Martha is an entrepreneur and passionately studies leadership and marketing. She loves supporting and encouraging others by sharing her experiences and is about to release her first solo podcast, Broken to Brave.


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



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

You can find the full text of the story here.

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

This is “Bloodletter”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

USER 3 [REDACTED]: shes old school like that

USER 3 [REDACTED]: u should message her tho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Timeflippers Anonymous Board, originally posted at 11:19 PM on March 10th]
USER 5 [REDACTED]: EXPERIENCES FROM FLIPPER TO FLIPEE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GILDIANANGEL: WAS IT WORTH IT?

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 


Gateways: “Metamorphosis” by Ruari McDonnell read by Kim Fukawa and Nathan Shelton



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

There is no higher honor than being named the Philosopher, for our task is sacred: find the Truths of our world. We are advisors that consider all angles of ethics and are consulted for each major decision. The ancient Philosophers discovered the nature of the soul as something immortal, made of one piece, that can never decay or split. My focus is on the method of reincarnation. Imagine the soul as a photon, both existing as a wave and particle, allowing it to travel under any physical circumstances. When we die, that photon is released and travels until it finds a black hole. It falls to the bottom, where another universe waits to accept this soul after its journey to find another life. Unfortunately, this information is applicable to the current dilemma we face.

I sit underground in my study, a small cavern with incandescent bulbs that hang above my desk. They swing as the ships above prepare for the evacuation. The shadows dance across the insect that I am preserving, perhaps as a meditation to distract from the chaos above. Its wings are so fragile with networks of stained glass that allowed this creature the ability of flight. Why the Engineer chose aquatic inspiration for the spacecraft, I will never understand. Though, I also do not understand why they are fleeing when it is already too late. 

Our sun is dying, but we have known this for a very long time. It has been expanding for generations, now finally consuming the sky in a red glow. Our planet used to be a lush garden of black foliage that soaked every bit of sun. We had cities that reached for the sky where we walked the surface without fear. Our culture was based in a celebration of the gifts of our planet instead of the frantic need of escape. We have perhaps days or mere moments until the radiation carves away at our atmosphere, before encasing our planet and then collapsing into a black hole. We should have left a generation before mine, but the constant argument for the perfect plan delayed us until we could no longer bear our red skin turning to scales and exposing the muscle underneath. The surface is ashen and littered with death. And yet, before we thought of leaving, we went underground to continue arguing about what protection we would need from the void of open space.

In my meditation, my door opens suddenly. It is Eryx, the Engineer, a person that is so unfamiliar now, even after raising them for the first ten years of their life. Their long white robes have not protected their skin from the effects of our sun. Their nose is hardly there anymore and their eyes squint as they struggle through the increasing blindness that affects us all now. 

“Ambrosine, where are your bags?” they ask.

“In the closet of my quarters, where they always remain.”

“They should have been packed and in the dock an hour ago. We’re about to depart!”

I can’t bear to look at them. The exposed muscle moving in their jaw as they speak to me is too much.

“I am not going with you. I am staying here to die as I know there is no use running, just as you know as well.” 

“So, you’re just giving up? What about ‘the hope that lives in every inch of the universe’? You don’t see that hope now that death is so close?”  

I extend the tiny wing on my desk and pull it to match its pair. It is a task that must be done slowly and with care as to not rip it from the body.

“You misunderstand me then. For I see hope at the bottom of the black hole that is preparing to open. I see our future in another life, not running from a planet in flames, hoping to find something habitable in the void-“

“But we have! We found a planet only seven hundred light years away-“

“Seven hundred? What makes you think that you can outrun our star to make it to this planet? And what about those already there? There are serious ethical dilemmas assuming you even make it.”

“Why must you always focus on morality and philosophy-“

“I would be a horrible Philosopher for you all if I did not-“

“Just stop!”

Their outburst jolts my hand and creates a tear in the wing. It is disjointed now from the rest, a shatter in the glass. I look up to Eryx, who is flushed purple and wiping tears from their eyes. 

“You always do this! You always look for every flaw in my work, every contrary point just to prove that you’re better. I get it, alright?! I get that we’ll probably not make it outside of the gravitational influence of our sun. I know that we’re all as good as dead, but why not try anyway? The outcome will always remain the same if we don’t even try to change it. You may think that you’re fifteen steps ahead from the rest of us with your ethical meditations, but you’re just giving up.”

Eryx has never spoken to me in such a way, but then again, we’ve hardly spoken since they chose their new guardians. Perhaps I should have been more nurturing, like Diamontus, or gentle like Pyra. But someone had to give them the information necessary to better themselves and that was me. Though, I was surprised that I was selected for guardianship in the first place. It is typical for Philosophers to essentially be hermits until the committees meet. And now I see why in the pain-stricken squint of their eyes.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?! Or are you just going to use your final moments to crawl into yourself and dive into the pool of your subconscious or whatever other trite nonsense you cling to?” 

I look back down to the insect on my table and set my tools down. The lights sway as a rumble begins above us. The ships are preparing to depart and there is not much time left. I go to Eryx and embrace them gently, so I do not tear them, or perhaps because the gesture is alien to me. I hear the frantic flutter of each heart in their chest and the ragged breathing of a deep sadness. I close my eyes and in that moment, I feel as if I can reach out with my soul to theirs.

“I’m sorry.” 

Their body releases into shaking convulsions of tears pent up for years. They are heavy in my arms, so much heavier now that they have grown so strong without me. Their pain resonates with my deepest self and I cry with them. The rumbling above us increases and my study gets warmer. 

“We need to leave now,” they say. They take my hand and move towards the door, but I stay planted. I have already made my choice. They look back at me, eyes frantically searching to find mine with the weight of betrayal hanging as a barrier between us. 

“My soul will find yours in the bottom of a black hole, Eryx.” 

“In the next life, huh?” 

“I promise I will do better.”

There is a long pause that is pregnant with grief. They grimace from the pain seeping out of the last words they say to me.

“I don’t think you will, Ambrosine.” 

And they leave. I am alone again in my warming study, lights and shadows fluttering faster across the soil prison. All my life, I thought myself in the final stages of my evolution. And yet, I have not even left my cocoon. I stand on the cusp of a change and my feet move me forward. There is still time to be better. There is still time to prove Eryx wrong. I run up through the caverns, climbing the rungs out to the surface. The metal door is hot and melts the skin of my hands, but with one animalistic cry, I still make it to where the ships wait. 

There are four metallic fish, swimming off into the sky. The dust around me settles and my skin turns to scales, as if even the sun wants me to join them. The world around me is white against the red of the sky. Flames have begun to consume the bushes and turn all that was once living into ash. The burn continues to peel back skin, even through my white robes. My vision turns black as the world goes red around me. 

This is the part where I dissolve into a photon, waiting for the black hole to open so I can try again.

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

 

Nathan Shelton is a professional actor, writer, director, and special effects makeup artist living in Chicago.  He has worked on numerous theatrical, tv, and film productions including Above Ground, The Rake, Scum of the Earth’s latest music video: Dance MotherF*&#er, and the Oscar nominated indie film, Winter’s Bone.  His production company, ARCANE, is currently working on a multitude of devious dark projects, including a horror radio theatre anthology series called The Frightmare Theatre Podcast.

 


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



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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

She told me: “We were in the way.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can we really do this?” I asked.

“We have to try,” she replied.

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

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

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

“Then… Where are we going?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was free.

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