Tag Archives: Short Fiction

Gateways: “Choices, or A Lot to Lose” By Cameron Evesque Davis read by Alex B Reynolds



TRANSCRIPT:
Cameron Evesque Davis is a multi-talented artist based in Chicago. They are the owner of the media production company Hela’s Hand Productions, and create a variety of art, like music, stories, and films. They have one published novel, “Blasphemy”, an urban fantasy book about a pantheon of new gods, the end of the world, and the power of belief. They are also a member of Terra Mysterium, a theatre company in Chicago dedicated to mythology, culture, creation, and audience participation.

 

There’s a time in everyone’s life when you reconsider how you got where you are, and how you’ve done things up until then. My moment came about thirty years into a war. 

Now, as everyone knows, War is Hell. The mysterious “they” say that, and “they” are correct. I have seen too much blood, too much death, and too much pain for my liking.

There’s a place called the Orange Trench. It used to be a roadway or a sewer trench or something, I can’t remember. The surrounding area doesn’t look anything like what it used to. Anyway, so the Orange Trench is now filled with some sort of Orange liquid. Said Orange liquid has something to do with the fires that are consistently burning around us, and the constant smell of burnt rubber that we can’t get away from.

The Orange Trench has the Orange City upon one side of it, a conglomerate of three former settlements combined into one larger settlement. I was a member of the Orange City, and the warriors of the Orange City, though I was never sure why we chose to make our home next to the Trench itself. The smell. Oh, the smell.

But there I was, on the edge of town, looking down at the squelching sludge that made its way squilchily down the Trench, the smell of burning almost igniting my nostril hairs, and fumes from the sludge causing my eyes to water. I was stationed in a lookout tower, meant to keep watch to see if our enemies would, for whatever reason, choose to attack over the river of death. 

They never attacked over the river of death. Their home was in the complete opposite direction, but we remained vigilant just in case.

My friend and fellow soldier Amelia called to me from below, “Hey Yacob, you alright up there? Anything to report?”

I called down to her, answering respectively, “No. And guess.”

Amelia, “Figured. Well, come down then, they’ve called a meeting.”

“Another one?”

“Fourth today, I know you keep climbing that ladder over and over again, but just this once more probably. I’ll see if I can get you off watchtower shift.”

I sighed and grabbed my gun, which was propped up next to my chair. I swung it over my shoulders and made my way down the ladder, a rickety obnoxious thing that I hated. It warped and wobbled as I climbed down, and I was certain it would shatter any second every time I had to use it.

Amelia greeted me and we started walking towards the meeting location, our war room in the center of the city. We nodded to some folks as we passed by, all looking at us blearily and sadly, us nodding back with our own brand of melancholy.  We saw the war room building from a distance, a circular hut, made of what metal we could bash together and a thatched roof. Other soldiers were stationed outside it, two flanking the door and a band of four whose job was to walk a perimeter of the small hut for hours on end. I envied that job.

Amelia and I headed inside and were greeted by the familiar large table in the center of the room. Multiple officers were standing around it, looking seriously down into the map that was displayed on top. They were talking amongst themselves in intense but hushed voices, and as we joined the group, General Victor, an older man with white hair and a large white beard, clapped and everyone stopped their talking.

“Ah, Amelia, Yacob, thank you for joining us,” The General said, his tone betraying a sense of worry which he attempted to mask with his joviality.

I nodded, “What’s this about, Victor? Our previous meetings today provided no solutions towards ending the war.”

The General smiled a white-person non-smile at me and nodded to the man next to him, a man in much nicer clothing than I thought even existed anymore. A full suit and tie. Wild.

The nicely dressed man moved into the space that Victor had just occupied and set a briefcase down on the table. He straightened his tie, cleared his throat, and began speaking, “What is in this case will save us. We believe it can win us the war, and we believe you, a lifelong soldier for our cause, should utilize it. We spoke with others in the Orange City, and they agree that you are the most trustworthy of them all, and it could be no one but you to accomplish this task.”

I looked around at all the officers, who were all staring at me. Amelia was looking at me too, although more meekly.

I asked, “What’s in the case, man I don’t know?”

“I’m sorry, I should have introduced myself. I am Herbert, I represent a community of people in this fine city of ours who have been working on a way to end the war once and for all. It has taken us years, but we finally have it, and it’s in this case. You see,” The man said, and then went to the back of the room, pulling down a roll-out chart from the ceiling. On the chart were drawings of members of the enemy force. There was an enlarged portion which showed a detailed look at one of their neural implants. Every one of our enemies had one.

“These implants,” he continued, “Can be exploited. There is a specific connection that they all have between one another, and we’ve developed a device that can jump between these connections and, once in all of them, cull the host.”

I furrowed my brow, “What? You’re talking about genocide, then?”

Herbert looked measurably upset at my implication, as did the officers in the room who started giving me numerous varied definitions of the differences between genocide and what they were planning on having me do. None of them were terribly convincing. I just stared at Herbert, waiting for his actual response.

Eventually Herbert calmed the room down and said, “Look, I know it’s a big ask, but look around you. This is where we live, this absolute shithole which apparently used to be a city. We can’t even see a city anymore, it’s just a ramshackle bunch of huts next to a river of orange sludge which I’m sure is bad for all of us. Once the war is over, we can work on rebuilding, we won’t have to stay here and defend this crap!”

“I understand ending the war is a good thing, Herbert,” I said, “But what you’re asking me to do is horrifying.”

“We have nothing left to lose, Yacob. It’s our last-ditch effort to win the war and finish the fighting.”

“But if we go through with what you’re proposing, we won’t gain anything either.”

Herbert paused and looked at the General. They shared some words quietly with each other. I turned to Amelia, “Did you know their plan?”

Amelia shook her head, “No.”

“Come with me, I have a better one.”

I left the room, even as the General shouted that I hadn’t been dismissed and Herbert’s obnoxious voice called out to me that I was dooming the people of Orange City! Our people were already doomed. But there was still so much further we could sink. So, there was only one option.

I went with Amelia to the place where we stored our vehicles. We didn’t have many, but a few of them still worked from the time before the war. I flashed my badge, which was a modified old-world coin, which allowed me to rent a truck. We climbed inside, and took off into what counted as wilderness, out the front gates and towards where we knew our enemy’s base was.

We drove in silence until we found their city, the Green City. It was almost a facsimile of our city, except instead of an orange glow and a rubber smell, it had a green glow and a smell of sulfur. Multiple guards upon the watchtowers on this side of the town aimed their weapons towards us as we drove up and parked about fifty feet from the front gate. I got out, and Amelia followed, hands up in the air as we walked towards them.

One of the soldiers upon the watchtower to my left shouted down, “What business do you have here?”

I looked up and shouted, “I have news, terrible news, that you need to hear!”

“We do not trust the Oranges,” the soldier shouted, “What kind of news do you have?”

“News that will save your lives.”

This got their attention enough to let Amelia and I inside. They searched us, though I wasn’t carrying a weapon at that point, and led us to their version of a war room. It looked almost identical to ours. I was led inside, and the solder who led us there said, “General, this person from the Oranges says he has information that will save our lives.”

The General, an older man with white hair and a short beard, on their end turned to me, his implant bleeping on the side of his head as it scanned me. I never exactly knew what the implants did, but it was the one distinguishing factor between our two cities. The man waved his hands, indicating me to begin.

I filled him in on Herbert’s plan. As I was describing the idea, every Green in the room touched the sides of their heads where their implants were, either visible or not, and looked at each other worriedly.

“So, what do you suggest?” The General asked me.

“I brought a friend with me, this is Amelia. She is particularly good at negotiating settlements between parties who are in conflict,” I said, gesturing to Amelia, who looked at me like I was insane, “I propose we have you work out terms of peace with her, while I try and calm my side’s blood lust. If we can get ahead of this, we can save the world, and work together towards something better.”

The General looked at me for a second and smiled slightly, “Well. What have we got to lose?”

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


Gateways: “Meske’s Duel about Nothing” By Joe Johnson read by Kim Fukawa



TRANSCRIPT: Joe Johnson is a fourth year resident in the city of Chicago and an original cast member of Improvised Dungeons and Dragons performing at Otherworld. His love for science fiction and fantasy began with Star Wars and Marvel and has grown to include such authors as Timothy Zahn, Ray Bradbury, Ann Leckie, and many more. While writing has always been a passion for Joe, Most of his energy goes to performing comedy or experimenting in the kitchen. He is incredibly honored to be chosen for Gateways reading a second time and hopes you all enjoy his short story: Meske’s Duel About Nothing.

The air above the Grothe’s (Grow-they) courtyard took on a golden hue as the setting sun of Sorthis cast its bronze rays into the dispersed flakes and seeds of the tall Yellow Fe’leonarie (Fey-leo-nar-ee) Maize that grew along the western bank of the property. Dozens of little sparrows and finches flit along the ramparts and towers in search of food, love, and survival from the predatory Fel Dragons; indigenious flying reptiles with flesh-eating saliva and about the size of a domesticated cat. The smaller birds can be heard chirping greetings or squawking warnings while the Fel Dragons release their shrill shriek after catching their kill. Below the birds two figures are seen darting back and forth, close together and then apart; when they close the gap, the snap of wood against metal is carried up to the lightly manned walls. Pairs of bored guards and their apprentices gather to place bets or criticize with an air of unwarranted authority over the potential outcome of the bout. 

Other than the birds, dragons, and guards the only audience members were four six-gun raptors with the Bourgen family crest, a winking lightning bolt, on each tail fin. Each handcrafted warbird painted a deep green with an outline of a bow with an arrow pulled back done in copper paint under each wingtip, while individual markings for the Skies that piloted them were displayed besides the cockpits. The canopies rested shut and shielded the interior from the sticky maize flakes, giving them all a golden chariot look that Meske found irritatingly intoxicating. Ground crews were unusually absent from the courtyard, still off celebrating the end of the Baron’s Games, so the two had no one to interfere in their match. Though the two opponents are now drenched with sweat and panting heavily, both refuse to call the match; much to the joy of the guards who knew better than to report ever seeing the match.

Meske’s (Mess-kah) arms shook from the force of blocking another of her opponent’s attempted strikes to her shoulder, but she gave no ground as her legs were still strong. As she swung her spear to push away the other’s lance, Meske pivoted on her right leg and sent a round kick into her opponent’s ribcage. The kick connected with a spear shaft that got there far too fast, but still had enough power to take them both off balance and the two rolled away while swinging their long spears in swift circles as a shield. A silence descended on the courtyard as the recognition of the technique stilled the two warriors, letting the echoes reverberate into nothing. Two figures with their weight on the back leg, their front knee bent, and their spears held forward towards the other’s head looking for a moment to the two guards as mirror images to each other: one in the lavender and gray of Baron Grothe, the other in the green and copper of the Copper Bow Order.

Questions rebounded within Meske’s mind: Who trained this woman? Why didn’t she fight yesterday? Why can’t I knock that smirk off her face? And the most frustrating: Why am I enjoying this? A toothy grin broke across Meske’s face as she prepared to charge again.

“Oh you do have nice white teeth!” the other woman called out with great glee. “I knew you weren’t a pilot.”

“Because I take good care of my teeth?” Meske shouted back confused and stopped her charge to covere her lips with her teeth.

Meske cursed herself for covering her teeth in shame, but it still took a few moments to relax her lips. The other woman laughed in a high pitched giggle that reminded Meske of the rhythmic chirping of the Baron’s pet birds whenever they get excited. 

“I’ve never heard a pilot laugh like a pair of Dorwynn Finches in heat,” Meske held no pride for her insult, but made a show of smiling wide to reveal her teeth; the other woman barely shook her head in response before she continued.

“Because a plane’s rebreather stains the teeth,” she curled back her lips to show her pristine teeth marred only by the faint blueness of the entire set. 

Meske shrugged, she had wanted to fight the bratty woman since the 3rd day of the Games when she yawned at Meske’s match and Baron Grothe’s new warbird demonstration; so the new insult amounted to kindling upon a fire.. Meske was not yet a pilot, but Society be damned, she thought as she gripped tight her wooden spear; I will best this pilot and prove I have nothing left to learn of the spear. Baron Grothe will have to let me apprentice, then.

“Really I shouldn’t bother continuing with the match,” the other woman continued, letting her speartip droop towards the ground. “Seeing as how there’s no gain for me.”

“You want to quit? While there’s an audience to hear you called coward?,” Meske gestured to the distant tower guards as the lancer stood her spear on her left to lean on with in air of aloofness as if her arms and knees were not shaking and needed rest.

“A Kavdi calling someone a coward?” The burgundy haired woman raised an eyebrow and gestured towards the two dots tattooed below Meske’s right eye to mark her as an Indebted and the Mark of Clout under her left eye to mark her as Kavidi. 

The slur was noticed, but  it was the audacious casualness the other woman treated her lance, a tool of war and a weapon of honor, that bothered Meske. She set her jaw and grew more determined to best this pale dainty aprentice with her disrespect to the Baron’s planes, the Kavidi people, and her spear. She might be an apprentice pilot, judging from her lack of wings on her copper and green scarf; but that did not put her in a different social class. Lancers were lancers, whether they could pilot or not; this match was about pride.

“Coward.”

The word was not so much spoken as it rolled out of Meske’s mouth and tumbled across the several feet separating her from her opponent. The woman’s eyes flared with such loathing that Meske worried the glare would burn through her skull. The pilot uniformed in copper and green charged forward with a feint to the left, followed by a hard swing to Meske’s right sight. Meske barely got her spear back in time to block the strike partway, still managing to catch Meske in her upper right arm. The block to Meske’s left fared little better as her opponent’s follow-up swipe sent vibrations through her entire body. A feint to her knees with the tip of the spear preceded a powerful downward swing towards Meske’s head.

This was Meske’s gamble. She knew the other woman was flashy and had hoped she couldn’t resist this strike, and so Meske raised her spear to redirect the slash by angling her own spear. Riding the momentum of her opponents strike, Meske let her spear slide down until her left hand gripped just behind the speartip. The redirect left her opponent open for just an instant, which was all Meske needed. She stepped forward with her left foot, put her spear into her opponents armored chest and pushed.

Meske knew such thrusts were against most match rules, but Meske knew how not to puncture armor as well as stab right through. The push continued as Meske brought her right foot forward and swung on her hips, pushing her opponent off her feet and onto her backside a few feet back. Meske closed the distance in a single long step, stopping her spear just as it nicked her opponent’s cheek. In the distance, a pair of Fel Dragons caught their evening meals at the same time; Meske gasped at the omen.

“Meske!” the Baron’s voice boomed across the courtyard sending a small flock of pheasants from their hiding spots in the maize. 

Meske leapt backwards and snapped to attention, acutely aware she’d left her helmet near her opponent’s over by the planes as she stared straight ahead. She heard more than saw the Baron approach with Skies Harnots and Jubienne in tow and accompanied by the pilots of Lady Arrigrave’s Copper Bow. Lady Arrigrave, a full head taller than the Baron, stood just inside Meske’s field of vision and frowned when she saw the small trickle of blood on her lancer’s cheek.

“Getting beaten by the help, I see?” The pilot and lady of the Forge Courts could not have sounded more condescending if she had tried. “I’ll leave you to deal with you lancer, Artone (Ar-ton-ee), mine will have much to think upon while journeying home. I’ll send along a knight with the writs absolving your debts. Farewell, Baron. Sky Harnot, Sky Jubienne.”

Lady Arrigrave left without any acknowledgement to Meske’s existence; while the Baron remained quietly seething where he stood. She would get in trouble for this match. Meske had not known that woman was an apprentice to the Lady Arrigrave herself; and that definitely could hurt Meske’s chances of becoming a pilot. Meske felt a painful pit grow in the center of her stomach at the thought of losing her dream while it was just within her grasp. After all, she was the only lancer of the Baron’s to win all her matches. As Meske, the Baron, and his escort waited in silence for Arrigrave’s skies to check their planes with the ground crews that seemed to appear out of nowhere, the apprentice pilot jogged back across the field with Meske’s helmet in hand.

“Here,” she said as she held out Meske’s helmet while wearing a genuine smile. “I want to know that was the most fun I’ve had this whole trip.”

Meske was shocked by the change in tone as she accepted her helmet. Fun?, Meske thought to herself. My arm is growing a welt the size of a baby’s head and my lungs are on fire! While the match was exciting, Meske wondered again who was this woman who called such a grueling duel that she lost: “fun”.

“I know you’re Meske,” The woman paused as if on the edge of telling a terrible secret to a stranger. “I’m Dyonella.”

She kept one hand out to shake Meske’s and as she raised her finger to her lips in a gesture for silence, Meske saw the face through the hair. The hair was a different color and she lacked the makeup from the portraits; Meske’s eyes widened as she realized who this was. With a single handshake and another chirping chuckle, Dyonella rushed back to her waiting squadron and took off with the setting sun lighting the copper so their planes looked like golden raptors in the sky. All the while Meske watched dumbly with a single thought sending icy dread down her spine: Shit. I just cut a princess.

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.


Gateways: “AlphaZip Training Video 1” by Russ Kaminski read by Morgan Fuller



TRANSCRIPT: Russ Kaminski has a degree in film production and has written primarily for short film and theater. He also has written and performed standup comedy. Russ tells us he is most interested in stories of relationships and answering “what if” questions. This is “AlphaZip Training Video 1”.

Hello! Welcome to your first day as a member of the AlphaZip family. My name is Jesse, and I’ll be your virtual tour guide through your training. If you ever have any questions, just say “Hey Jesse.”

AlphaZip was founded with the mission of becoming Earth’s most customer-centered delivery company. A mission we accomplished. Our new mission is to take our philosophy of customer service to the solar system and beyond. Here at AlphaZip, we continually raise the bar of customer service by using our technology to help consumers and businesses find, discover, purchase, and sell anything their hearts desire. And we mean anything – because we have everything.

You have already been through AlphaZip’s rigorous interview process, background check, and genetic sequencing. Congratulations on being accepted into the position of – Customer Support. Facilitator. This role is the cornerstone of our family. You were placed in your role by our algorithms to ensure efficiency and success at every level. You can trust that AlphaZip knows what’s best for its family.

That’s right. Here at AlphaZip we don’t use the word “employee.” You are now a member of the AlphaZip family. Legally speaking. That means you are entitled to the many perks that come with being a family member.

One of these is ZipHealth. We know that many of our newer family members have come to AlphaZip because of the difficult conditions caused by Gamma Plague. Please rest assured that all AlphaZip family members have been screened for Gamma Plague, and no one with Gamma Plague is allowed in corporate offices. In the extremely unlikely chance that you become afflicted with Gamma Plague, ZipHealth will cover part of your healthcare and living costs as long as you have completed 180 days in your current role. For those who need additional financial support due to Gamma Plague, we offer the opportunity to earn extra income as a Fulfillment Technician in one of our many planetary warehouses..

In addition to ZipHealth, AlphaZip offers ZipLife. This life insurance policy will be offered at a discount. In the event of an unforeseen death and dismemberment, your immediate family is entitled to up to sixty percent of the insurance payout. Your AlphaZip family is entitled to the rest. This way, your entire family is taken care of!

We strongly recommend taking advantage of both Zip-Health and Zip-Life. On an unrelated note, you have probably heard of AlphaZip’s popular work-travel opportunities to Mars, the moons of Jupiter, Proxima Centauri, the Gamma Plague Zone, and even Earth. AlphaZip’s delivery service takes our customers’ desires all across the galaxy. When deliveries need to be escorted to their destination in person, that’s when we send a – Customer Service Facilitator. like you. Be aware that assignments are part of your contract and refusal to participate is grounds for termination.

Safety for our family members is our second most important mission after customer service. To ensure the safety of our family, AlphaZip developed ZipSecure. AlphaZip is a progressive company, which is why we have abolished the police within all of our campuses, delivery routes, and colonies. If you have any concerns about safety and security, please contact ZipSecure. Please note that should your family membership be terminated, you will no longer have access to the safety and security provided by ZipSecure.

These are the many perks you will find in your work here at AlphaZip. Oops, did I say “work?’ Here at AlphaZip we don’t say the “w” word. We say “using your gifts.” In your role as – Customer Support. Facilitator. you will be using your gifts to ensure customer satisfaction. Throughout our hiring process we have determined that you have a gift for communication and de-escalation. The feedback you get from our valued customers will be used to make our fulfillment process more successful and efficient. Your analysis of customer needs will help AlphaZip determine which Warehouse Fulfillment Technicians are working in the best interests of AlphaZip.

Please do not attempt to communicate directly with our Warehouse Fulfillment Technicians. Communicating with Warehouse Fulfillment Technicians is grounds for termination. If you are approached by a Warehouse Fulfillment Technician, please contact ZipSecure. Then contact ZipHealth, as many Warehouse Fulfillment Technicians have tested positive for Gamma Plague. Warehouse Fulfillment Technicians have been known to use lies about unionization in order to lure family members into working against their own interests. Unions are dangerous for our family members. Here at AlphaZip, we respect your individual needs. We know your individual needs because we have access to your genome sequence. You can trust that AlphaZip knows what’s best.

You will recognize a Warehouse Fulfillment Technician by noting the “W” tattooed on their forehead. In contrast, by now you have noticed the large “C” tattooed on your own forehead. This tattoo system ensures that you know which family members you are permitted to interact with. Don’t worry about the tattoo being permanent, though. It is very rare for a family member to leave their assigned team, but the tattoo is removable in extenuating circumstances such as promotion, termination, or an affliction with Gamma Plague that would make you unfit to work in corporate offices.

Speaking of teams, it’s not uncommon for friendly rivalries to develop between different teams of family members. These rivalries are healthy and important for forming family cohesion. Be sure to register for the monthly Field Day, in which members of different teams are selected at random to participate in athletic challenges. Failure to register for Field Day is grounds for termination. Here at AlphaZip, we don’t play favorites. But if we did, your team. Customer Support. would be at the top!

Occasionally you will notice that a family member from your team has disappeared and you have no way to communicate with them. This is normal. Attempting to communicate with the missing family member or asking about them is grounds for termination. You can trust that AlphaZip knows what’s best. If after two weeks, a missing family member returns to corporate offices or a housing complex, please contact ZipSecure.

As a member of the AlphaZip family, you will be housemates with one other member of your AlphaZip family. Due to shift scheduling, you two will never be in your housing unit at the same time. You will have access to your housing unit during your scheduled housing hours. We don’t use the term, “curfew,” at AlphaZip. Leaving your housing unit outside of your scheduled housing hours is grounds for termination. If you see anyone in your housing complex outside of housing hours, please contact ZipSecure.

Your housemate is a member of your AlphaZip family. Please do not attempt to meet your housemate in person. Please do not attempt to communicate with your housemate. Communication between housemates is grounds for termination. Communication includes but is not limited to writing, electronic messages, or cryptic messages drawn in food, water, soap, or bodily fluids. If you receive any communication from your housemate, please contact ZipSecure.

You may feel loyalty or even affection to your family members. Please do your best to direct your loyalty and affection towards AlphaZip. Because AlphaZip hires so many wonderful people to be part of the family, it’s not surprising that family members may develop romantic feelings for each other. Romantic liaisons with family members are grounds for termination. If you feel physical urges that you need addressed, please contact ZipSecure.

This completes our introduction. Over the next eleven hours, I will be taking you through the specific training and scenarios related to your new role. Again, congratulations on becoming a member of the AlphaZip family.

AlphaZip – where we have everything, and there is nothing to lose!

Morgan Fuller is a fairly new Chicago-based actor/performer! Her Chicago debut took place in February in the staged reading of Zack Peercy’s Muted in which she played Chelsea. Until it’s safe for theatres to re-open, Morgan can be seen riding her bike around town or doing handstands in the park. You can also find Morgan in the online Zoom classrooms of the Actor’s Gymnasium, where she is a regular.


Gateways: “Fantasy Me” by Lindsay Morris read by Kat Evans



TRANSCRIPT:

**A content note before we begin: this story touches on eating disorders, weight and body image issues. This story will be challenging to some listeners who may wish to skip this episode. **

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

Fantasy me is everything. She is the instagram post of people. Filtered, poreless and with an actual butt. Unlike regular me who spent months working out only to lose her tush and her tits.

Every fantasy I’ve ever had always starts out with me, the protagonist, going into hiding. What I mean by that is I am plucked from my everyday existence and given the opportunity to revamp myself away from prying eyes.

On vacation or secluded in a secret underground bunker I can finally figure out how to lose the weight. I’ll be committed to a diet of colorful gruel and spend my days learning mandarin and how to really squeeze my pelvic floor muscles. At that time I won’t speak to anyone. I’ll be a missing person, a ghost to my friends and family.

My own private montage will lead near perfect results of course. My stringent diet and squat training will have me emerge, hairy but healthy. After laser work, a new haircut and highlights, an eyebrow threading, a bikini wax, mani pedi, quick trip to my dermatologist and a set of new clothes I’ll finally be the woman I always wanted to be.

My clothing will be simple yet hip, I’ll wear high rise because it’s cool and not because they are the only jeans that don’t give me a yeast infection. Did I mention my no carb diet will lead to a candida free vagina? No more scratching for me.

Of course when I’m ready I’ll text my friends. Nothing too eager. Lets meet for Dinner and catch up. Perhaps that night I’ll stroll into my favorite coffee shop just on the off chance I run into someone who knows me. A perfect meet cute that will have them absolutely stunned.

“ I heard you were missing, we were all really worried. The police thought you’d been kidnapped. Have you spoken to your mother…. The usual small talk until they finally say, oh my, wow you look fantastic, you lost so much weight”.

“Oh. thanks I’ll say. I just added an extra couple of glasses of water to my diet. It’s amazing what acqua can do to your system”.

Then I will bask in their awe of my willpower, to swim in the sunshine of my after picture.. But then again the new me… I mean the new you didn’t realize your teeth had lost some of their pearly exuberance. So you buy whitestrips and hastily apply them before dinner.

Perfect. Much better than before but then there’s those eye crinkles. God I laughed too much. No more laughing. Is that a zit?

Concealer, blush, eyeliner, lipstick. Now I can make eye contact. They’ll really be shocked now.

For the first time in years you can meet your own eyes in the mirror. You can appreciate what you see. Gone is the chubby, acne riddled teen, gone is the shame of being too big to shop at the cutesy hormonal no tits teen store. You are a fantasy come to life. Oh fuck.. Damit. You feel the dampness in your panties. Your hip jeans are covered in the red sticky residue of your uterine lining.

Perfect Fantasies don’t bleed. You call up your gyno. Better get that IUD. No more periods here I come.

You take vitamins before dinner. Not too many or the nausea will set in. Fantasy/ perfection requires constant upkeep. Multi, E, D, C, Biotin, Fish oil. All cylinders need to fire so you can remember your mandarin Ye Hoi ma.

New pair of pants and even newer you.

You check the temperature. Fuck 27 degrees. It’s winter. Fuck. No cute coat. No perfect entrance. You drink shots of whiskey, if only to insulate your bare arms to the cold. You haven’t eaten for days. Your liver reacts to the fish oil or perhaps the alcohol content. Your barfing into your kitchen sink.

All the better. You can be that much skinner. You might even be able to ingest some carbs if you keep this up. Maybe you should take it up again, shove that toothbrush down deep. So close to your goal weight, of course that ticker keeps sliding. All bodies are beautiful hashtag Love Yourself

You walk into the restaurant. You’re still drunk, your arms raised by goosebumps, your breath like battery acid, your eyes glassy. You look beautiful, you look near perfect, they’ll love you now. But.. They loved me… you before. But that couldn’t have been real. Ugly girls don’t deserve love. That’s what your middle school bully said. That you were covered in fleas and too fat for love.

No fleas, not fat.

The tables are empty. They’ll come. They have to. To remember me from before. To give me the likes I deserve. The likes I need. To heart me in real life.

Please…. I’m so tired….. Please…. Is this enough?

 

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: “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: “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: “Of The Legumen” by Jim McDoniel read by Ryan Bond



Jim McDoniel is a writer of monsters and mirth, not always in that order. He also writes radio plays. He holds a Masters degree in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University. He is a writer for the podcasts Our Fair City and Unwell. He was a finalist in Deathscribe 10 for his piece, “Monstruos.” and a five time Midnight Audio Theatre Scriptwriting Competition winner. Jim is the author of an amazing novel, An Unattractive Vampire available from Sword and Laser publishing. This is “Cephalophore”

Excerpt of “De Historia Et Omnia” by Celsus Frugi 121 CE

 

Of the Legumen

 

Within the far northern regions of Germania, among the cold peat bogs and the forests, it is said one will find a people known as the Legumen or Siliqua to give their tribal name. These small villages of people mostly subsist on the berries and game provided by the nearby bog as well as domesticated sheep, on whom they depend for both food and clothing. However the most extraordinary fact about the Legumen comes from the fields which they farm, for they do not grow barley or wheat or any ordinary crop. Instead the soil is tilled, sown, and cared for to bring forth the next generation of Siliqua who rise from earth in the form of peapods.

 

The peapods emerge from a single reed stalk—of strange, sinewy texture and tanned-hide coloration—which usually grows four feet high and eight inches thick. At the top the stem splits into separate arms, upraised, as if in praise and at the ends of each appear the pods of new Legumen. These fleshy sacs contain three heads—an upper, a middle, and a lower, each fully conscious and containing the awareness, personality, and knowledge of a grown person. In the fullness of time, these three heads will form the body of a single Siliqua tribesman, however, it is not uncommon for the heads to fall prey to infighting and consume one another. Heads, though grown from the same seed and sprouting from the same plant, do not innately share compatible personalities, and disagreements in such close quarters quickly escalate. Additionally, each head is fully aware of their position within their collective future body and so may attack another in order to improve its station. Less than half of all pods bear the fruit of a full individual. Most heads end up replanted.

 

Each head grows into one part of the Legumen body. The upper head, closest to the stem will become the head of the fully grown person. This bestows it with the ability to remain visible and to engage in the world as would any of us. However this position is also precarious. The upper head never stops growing and in time becomes too heavy to support. It is then in danger of falling from its own shoulders. Many Legumen adorn themselves in heavy metal collars and necklaces to prevent this from happening. 

The middle head forms the body and torso. This is most obvious just after harvest when all parts of the head are clearly visible: the eyes and eyelids create the chest, the nose takes up the abdomen, and the mouth appears as a belly button. Over time, the middle head disguises itself within rolls of fat to prevent the nature of the Leguman from being discovered. To this end, the middle head is almost constantly eating and why the Siliqua are known to herd far more sheep than their neighbors—the wool is used for clothing to disguise the middle head, while the meat is used to feed it.

The lowest head of the pod becomes the genitals and occupies both the worst and possibly the best position. Lower heads are rarely seen and even more rarely see the light of day. Due to their location, they are prone to vertigo and motion sickness—diarrhea is another sign of a potential Leguman. However, should the lower head persevere until such time as two Legumen can mate with each other, it has an opportunity afforded to no other head. During intercourse, one lower head can chew its fellow free at which time they may both retreat into the first’s body. There, the two gestate and grow, feeding off the spacious middle head, until they burst forth—each an individual with only one head. These people are prized among the Siliqua, for they can travel and trade with neighboring tribes without fear of discovery. Such births are quite rare. As it kills the middle head and reduces the upper to being replanted, they are seldom eager to accommodate their lower fellow and most Legumen you find live a celibate lifestyle. 

 

There are many stories within the tribes of Germania of farmers finding Legumen plants growing in their fields or children coming across the arguing peapods in the woods. This is, in actuality, quite rare, as the Legumen are protective of their potential young. When it does occur, it is most often the result of an upper head falling off in the midst of travel. There is one instance of a head being carried off by an eagle and growing up among the reeds of Egypt. The tale of the pods grown from this head, their adventures, and their return to the tribe form the basis of the main epic of the Siliqua people, the name of which roughly translates to “The Headessy.”

Ryan Bond is a life long geek who is very active in Chicago’s genre-based performance and experience community. He currently serves on the Board of Otherworld Theater where he helps to bring high quality stories to life on-stage and on-line.  In the past has served in leadership positions for Wildclaw Theatre, EDGE of Orion Theatre, Hartlife & Our Fair City. Ryan has helped to create Guardians of History (a family friendly voice-activated immersive educational game for Alexa/Google enabled speakers & screens), leads as a Cub Scout Master and Eagle Scout, been an SxSW panelist, appears on podcasts as a gaming/geek expert, an infrequent theater performer, a 3x NaNoWriMo winner, a marketing director for a Firefly-based board game and even opened a geek-themed bar!


Gateways: “Shangri-La” By Isaac Rathbone read by Keenan Odenkirk



TRANSCRIPT: Isaac Rathbone is mostly a playwright and also has a few short films under his belt. He tells us he is always searching for challenging environments for great characters to grow in and is a stickler for creating the right dialogue. His work has been featured at Paragon Fest and you can find examples on newplayexchange.org. This is “Shangri-la”.

They called him “Doc” in the service, but no one knew exactly what branch he served or if he was even a medic. On a flag pole above his trailer flew the black POW-MIA flag. But no stars and stripes. Most days when I went to drop his mail, I’d find him wandering his yard, muttering to old friends and perceived enemies. The term yard may not be the right word for individuals of certain standards. Nestled in the tangles of over grown vegetation sat the shell of an old Pontiac, a rusted out water softener, some TV dinner trays and two long de-commissioned riding mowers. Covering these artifacts of America’s Industrial Spirit grew vines, shrubs, saplings and flowers of exotic appearance. No one had bothered to come identify them as members of the local Horticulture Club rarely made special visits to the Shangri-La Trailer Park. 

Doc’s Daughter gave me a wink and sometimes a delightful wave any time I came to drop off. She was younger than I was, but old enough to know what she was doing. She still keeps that hair shoulder length and blonde. She has the presence of someone you don’t bet against in a donnybrook and the beauty that takes the sting out of a hangover. 

I talked to an Old Letter Carrier about it at The Six-Pointer, a local hunting bar where we enjoyed post-route beers. These summers were harsh on him, as he was sweating more than our chilled bottles. He used to have my route until his transfer. He needed to stay in his truck more as his gout made the walk down and back into the trailer park too much. He knew all about Doc’s Daughter. “You stay away from that girl. She’s the type that’s got trouble tattooed on her backside. Hmmmph. Gonna go piss.” 

I watched him gingerly slide off the bar stool with a wince. His right foot was no doubt on fire. His drinking was killing him, a fact that was causing him to drink more. I watched my future, overweight and empty, hobble through the restroom door labeled “Bucks.” 

The next morning, I parked my truck on the shoulder of Route Twelve. The dirt roadways of a trailer park are not easily navigable by large vehicles. The gravel arteries are pocked with divots, holes and loose stones. Not to mention the roaming stray animals and diaper-clad daredevils cruising around on mini plastic hot-rods. The entrance into the park is a steep slope. My predecessor’s Mount Everest. Walking down and in, I was to deliver the coupon books and catalogues to folks who either didn’t have

the chance or the desire to participate in the free market. But glossy pictures are the best fodder for daydreams here. 

My last delivery was always Doc’s place. It’s tucked in the back of the park and closest to the river that everyone’s Grandpa remembers flooding. This morning, I didn’t see the old man wandering through his maze of shrubbery, rust and cracked rubber tires. Doc sat on his porch, causing the graying particle board to smile between the two cinderblocks. I handed off his bundle and he gave me a smile of his own. A chill shot up along the back of my body. There’s something about a mouth full of gums that sows distrust. Call it prejudice if you will. I turned to make a swift exit, but standing in my way was Doc’s Daughter. Her gaze made me forget all about her father’s orthodontics. The soft breeze delivered her smell of menthol and what I assumed was a fruity shampoo. The flowers and plants seemed to bend and bow to her passing figure. She stood at the doorway and gave me one last wink and a smile that struck me in the chest like a Whaler’s Harpoon. 

That first Saturday was a lazy summer day. The kind where even folks who don’t have steady work feel the need to take a load off. There was no sign of Doc on the premises. Their residence had no proper box, so it was in through the doggie door, which I had never noticed before that day. Nor had I ever seen a dog. I was on all fours slipping the parcels through the flap when the door opened. Doc’s Daughter’s bare ankles stood inches from my face. I climbed skyward, noticing her loose fitting athletic shorts and a bright green tank top on my way up. Her hair was in a rope-like braid and her red lipstick and dark eyeliner were crisp. Perhaps recently applied. I asked about Doc, which was met with a laugh. Her fingertips, ignoring the bundle I held out, smoothed over the wrinkles of my government issued shirt. With the sudden grasp of a predator, she yanked me into the trailer and kissed me with a mouthful of menthol and that fruity scent. The door closed loudly behind me. 

I crouched over the bed frame putting the dusty boots back on my feet. I rose to buckle up my government issued shorts that now wouldn’t itch in this heat. I wandered the inside of the double- wide. A photo hung on the wall, featuring a group of Army officers in front of a drab office building. The structure was surrounded by barbed wire fencing and a sign with Japanese characters. Doc was in the crowd, with a full head of hair and full set of teeth. In front of the television slumped a couch that looked like a large person in a hospital gown who’s numb to the bad news. There was no easy chair. Throughout the inside were more plants and flowers. Quite an array of them, too. Seedlings, aloes, cactuses sat on the sills and counters. Their containers ranged from the standard terra cotta to paint cans and Fast Food cups. Doc’s Daughter stood in the bathroom, re-applying her lipstick in the mirror. After a quick self-inspection, her soft feet delicately tapped the linoleum floor and she opened the door, showing me the way out. 

That way my Saturday ritual. Doc would be out. She let me in. I would forget I was supposed to be on my route. One afternoon looking at the old photo, I swear there were some flowers growing on the barbed wire that now grew outside. But the black and white didn’t help. Each Saturday she showed me out and each Saturday I longed to stay. I stopped drinking at the Six-Pointer. Sitting in a dark room when the sun was out made me sick. I hated being in my mail truck, so I walked as much as I could. Even in the rain. Especially in the rain. I was taking longer showers, but a cold soaking downpour from Mother Nature made me come alive. Almost as much as being with her. It ate at me every time I had to leave. One Saturday morning she opened the door and I asked if there was ever a possibility for us to spend more time together. 

“Soon enough,” was her sweet reply. My last Saturday, she was waiting outside, sitting on the busted seat of one of the old mowers. Her bare legs surged out of a pair of jean cut-offs that were made of more frayed threads then denim. She grabbed my collar and pulled me in close, like always. My fears of being out in front of everyone were gone. The simple desire of putting down roots here with Doc’s Daughter swelled in my stomach. I dropped my mailbag. Letters and magazines fluttered away, with some most likely ending up in that beautiful creek with its raging and pure waters. The longer she kissed me, the more the earth pulled at my feet. She stopped and bent over to gather my un-needed Government issued clothes. All I could think was…soon enough. That was August 22nd, 1987. I’ve grown here in Doc’s Yard for many summers. The hot sun is all I have to gauge time. Grow, wither, freeze and grow again. I haven’t seen my reflection, so I don’t know what genus I am. New carriers have come and gone on my route. Hell, I even saw the old timer sub in once or twice way back. Oh, to shout out to him and say that he was wise. He hobbled right past me in that garden prison. Doc wandered the grounds for many years, chatting it up with those of us outside. This was a method he came up with to hold and move prisoners in wartimes. He says there’s nothing he can do for us. Since the state took away his license, he can’t drive to get us the antidote. So he says. He died some time ago. But she’s still here. She still takes men in. All ages, races, occupations. I recognized the Dog Warden from Hoover county. He’s a few yards away from me, a patch of yellow flowers. Some stay in the house. Others are out here. But here were are. Where we always wanted to be. In this little part of Shangri-La.

Keenan Odenkirk is a Chicago based actor originally from Tucson, AZ. He grew up with a deep love for fantasy and sci-fi, favorites being the Martian Chronicles, Harry Potter, Eragon, Hyperion, and Shakespeare’s more fantastical plays. I am an ensemble member of Quicksilver Shakespeare Co. and most recently appeared in the Valiant Theatre New Works Festival.


Gateways: “Utopia Ain’t What it’s Cut Out To Be” by Hadley Frost read by Rachel Granda-Gluski



Hadley Frost (they/them) is a TTRPG and Visual Story Telling creative writer and producer. He is currently personally studying creative writing. WIth little professional experience, he hopes to grow his portfolio in both a professional setting and novel writing. He is currently developing a visual story tell festival to take place in 2021. Hadley Frost lives in Boise, Idaho.

“Welcome to Eden Sister. Let me show you around, there is so much to see! Once you’re finished, I’ll show you to your new home.”

How did I fall for something so obvious?

I had heard rumors of Eden but never thought it was anything more than a fever dream thought up by Sam down at the pub before he disappeared. I mean, who really believes in a community without problems? No crime? No fear? Maybe in the old days but things have changed. That’s what I had thought until Alice mentioned a new companion she was head over heels for.

Alice babbled on about her new sweetheart who was going to whisk her away to Eden and bring her salvation. When I asked his name, her eyes went wide with excitement. I’d be happy to introduce you! Almost as soon as I’d mentioned him, Alice stood me up and ran me to the old church building. It looked like no one had set foot in it for over a decade. Its decrepit frame barely held the cracked clay tiles that covered the gambrel roof. Stepping inside was like walking into a different universe. Where the exterior of the chapel appears aged and overgrown, the interior stands timeless. The white marble floors unmarked, the stained glass windows immaculate detail maintained, and even the mahogany pews stood. The hall stood empty before Alice and I except for a gentleman sitting quietly amongst the stalls.

He introduced himself as Vizier Anthony “But please, call me Anthony.” Every question I asked him seemed to slide off like a raindrop off a windshield. ‘Who are you’ turned into ‘How can I help’. ‘How’d you meet Alice’ changed to ‘Let me buy you a drink’. We soon left the chapel and returned to the pub, leaving Alice to go home. With a pint in my hand, he started to ask about me. What I wanted, what I dreamed of. Soon all my questions were forgotten to cups as he pried my story out of me as if I was a novel he plucked off a library shelf.

The weeks to follow all seem like a blur. I would bump into Anthony every once in a while. We’d chat and share a smile and maybe invite me out. He took me to the bar, out for walks, just simple things. Quickly, I started to enjoy his company, and soon after that I almost longed for his voice in the silence of the night. Why couldn’t I get him out of my mind?

One evening, I thought I was being clever and I changed the game up. Rather than waiting for Anthony, I went to him. I had assumed he would be back at the chapel where we had met, but Anthony wasn’t anywhere to be seen. A group of people sat in the chapel. When I entered several of them turned to face me with a fever in their eyes. They ran at me with ravings of the apocalypse soon to come. They screamed to forget what we have, soon we’ll be lost. Nervous and unsettled I ran from the steeple and back home. Almost like he knew I would be there, Anthony was waiting.

“It’s time to go, it’s not safe here anymore. Let me take you to Eden.”

Anthony then went on to describe a town with no disease, no crime. It’s the perfect place. “It’s a place I can keep you safe.”

The very next day, we loaded a carriage and began our trek across this new city, Eden. Anthony further described how fruit slipped from the heavens for all to eat and the waters are as pure as diamonds. I told him I’d believe it when I saw it.

But sure enough, just like Anthony described. Boardwalk pathways that lead over crystal clear streams and through the cobblestone streets where horse drawn carriages carried man, mother, and child alike. The building stood tall and strong with a seamless construction of wood and stone fused together in a beautiful chaos. Greek pillars morphed into elegant archways stabled an overhead garden filled with different fruits. It was all like  it was taken out of a dream. “You’ll be free to live as you please without worry here Sister” his words laced with ecstasy. “Come now, I’ll show you your new home.”

Anthony guided me through the winding streets of Eden waving to passers-by and greeting some by name, and on occasion Anthony would introduce me. “This is our newest Sister, I’m helping her get a proper introduction with the city” Each and every meeting was greeted with a smile and a bold Welcome to Eden Sister.

After walking for nearly 30 minutes we came into a new district of Eden. Where the hanging gardens stood in the previous areas, there stood tall statues carved of angelic white marble depicting a variety of people who seemed to invite you into a courtyard before a cathedral-like building. Inside was just as fantastic as the rest of the city. Lavish rugs covered the floor, brilliant paintings decorated the walls, and a mosaic depicting a fruitful vineyard enriched the ceiling. A long, ornate conference table took over most of the space within the entrance hall. “Have a seat. It’s time to add your name to the family.”

As I sat down he placed a large tome in front of me. Gently he opened the book to nearly the end where a large line of names was inscribed. “Simply sign your name in the book and you are the newest Sister to our town” the words almost crawled from Anthony’s lips as he placed an inkwell to my right. Quickly I sign my name below the last name Alice. Excited to know what was next I turned back to Anthony expecting some sort of praise, but no congratulation awaited me.

Where a kind mask sat before, Anthony’s grin was less of an invitation, but more of a demand. “Finally, you’re one of us” he said clamping a metal band around my wrist. Inscribed on the band was the number 503. “There’s just one more thing we have to do.” 

 

Without another word Anthony led me by the wrist past the conference table and deeper into the halls. Confused and worried I questioned what was happening but got no reply and any attempt to pull away was only met with Anthony tightening his grip. Crashing into a dimly lit room he sat me down in a tall strapped chair and buckled me in.

As if to himself, Anthony began to ramble while pulling open drawers looking for something. “You see it now? Soon we’ll all be together. Soon we’ll all be free. I envy you. You get the blessing so soon.” Any questions I asked fell on deff ears as he scrambled around for different materials. After what felt like an eternity he found what he was looking for and turned back to me. He was sewing a doll, one that looked strangely like me. “The last touch, something personal”. As he said this he plucked a single hair from my head and tied it into the yarn hair of the doll. 

“Welcome to Eden Sister” With those words I felt a strong wind blow over me and everything went dark. When I finally came to I wasn’t in the chair anymore, nor was I even in the same room. I was sitting on a shelf somehow, and I couldn’t move. Across the room from me a window showed a glimpse of the outside world where I could see Anthony standing next to someone… Standing next to me.

I’ve been sitting on this shelf long enough I’ve lost track of the days. Occasionally Anthony will walk in with a grin and another doll.

I guess Utopia isn’t what some say it is.

Rachel Granda Gluski is a Chicago based voice actor and movement professional. She currently enjoys working with radio play company Starlight Radio Dreams. She also performs every summer with the Bristol Renaissance faire. When she’s not performing she enjoys being a huge nerd and hanging out with her cats.


Gateways “The Bluff of Summer Grove” by Daniel Mendoza read by Evin McQuistin



TRANSCRIPT: Daniel Mendoza is an up and coming Latinx storyteller, based in Chicago, Il. Daniel is thrilled to be included in Gateways Story-writing series. He spends the little free time he has writing D&D campaigns and feeding his cat.

People are dying to get into Summer Grove. A diverse, healthy, affordable gated community, where anyone would want to sign a lease to their very own home. Unfortunately for most, Summer Grove is near impossible to get in. You sign up for a lottery system and wait until someone moves out then a person is selected at random and they have 24 hours to respond to the invitation. No amount of money, fame, or connections could secure anyone a spot; it relied on pure luck. 

“You must be Chris and Abigail. I’m James, President of the homeowners association, which doesn’t make me the most popular guy around but sacrifices have to be made. Let me open the gates, and show y’all to your new home.” 

The tall, light skinned man adjusted his thick framed glasses, and drove off on his golf cart, with the young couple behind him driving past the small streets surrounded by specialty shops with incredible smells, a lake that seemed to stretch over the horizon, and a park filled with the laughter of children. They drive until they reach a sky blue house that looks identical to every other but has 217 on the mailbox. With one last congratulations and a smile, James hands our couple the keys, and begins to drive away. 

“Where are my manners, I’m having a little get together at my place. Could serve as a nice meet and greet to introduce you to the neighborhood. It’ll be real casual so don’t bother unpacking your black tie.” James chuckles as he drives off. 

Chris and Abigail spend most of the day unpacking, it’s a trip down memory lane with a quick detour of disbelief that they were actually here. Suddenly a harsh knock. Abigail opens the door to reveal a couple in their 60’s smiling at the door. 

“I’m Ashton, and this is Phil, my husband. We saw James driving off and we knew that must mean new neighbors! We brought over some cookies and wanted to say hi!” Ashton said. 

“Nice to meet you, we were actually getting ready to head over to James’ place for the get together,” Abigail explains. Ashton and Phil’s faces go pale as if they’d seen a ghost. 

“We didn’t hear about a get together, but I suppose perhaps it’s just for newer folks to Summer Grove.” 

Ashton says through a forced smile. 

“I don’t think he gave us his address though so he can’t want us there very much,” Chris jokes. 

“It’s just a walk down the street, the red house, you can’t miss it,” Phil says emotionless “We should let you get going, let James know we said hello,” Phil continues as Ashton and he leave. 

“We shouldn’t have said anything, now James is gonna feel really weird,” Abigail said. “It’s a small get together, I’m sure he invited us as a courtesy,” Chris assures. They arrive at the red house, it is the only red house on the street, and quite possibly the only red house in the entire community. They approach the door and suddenly feel nervous, Chris gives the door a sturdy knock. Every second that passes from this moment on feels like a century, they feel beads of sweat build on their foreheads, they are completely silent. James opens the door and relief fills their universe. 

He has switched out his suit and tie for a hawiian shirt and bermuda shorts as he welcomes them in. They are met with what seems like most of the community. As Chris and 

Abigail mingle with the crowd. James approaches Chris and asks him to help bring in the trays he’s had in the smoker out back. Immediately, almost everyone else volunteers to help. Outside, Chris notices a dog house. 

“I didn’t know you had a dog.” James whips his head and replies, “Yes, the community does allow small pets but they must be kept inside at night to avoid disturbing the neighbors. River is on his night time walk with the community walker. I wish I could walk him but certain sacrifices have to be made.” 

As the night goes on, Chris and Abigail begin to notice the community is incredibly tight knit as they are invited to join the community garden, weekly game nights, book clubs, and to help organize the next block party. Summer Grove is everything it advertised as. 

Time passes and Chris and Abigail settle in. They have friends, they are part of groups, they feel like part of the community. Chris arrives home from the local butcher. 

“Hey, did you know Danny moved?” “No, I thought we scheduled a movie night with him and Maggie,”Abigail responded. “Maybe we can ask around at James’ game thing tonight,” Chris suggested. “Oh, I forgot to tell you, work unloaded a bunch of cases on me tonight. If I don’t jump on them now I’m gonna have to skip fishing tomorrow with everybody,” Abigail said, sounding exhausted already. 

“That’s fine, we don’t have to go,” Chris started before Abigail interrupted with, “No, you should still go, we’re still new here, and James has been so helpful. I’d hate to seem ungrateful.” 

“I’ll make an appearance and say hi to everyone and bring you back a plate, how about that?” 

“Sounds good to me,” Abigail responded. It’s late at night as Abigail works, rubbing the temples of her head with exhaustion. She looks out the window on to the street and sees a shadowy beast-like figure standing in the dark, her naked eyes not being able to make sense of the creature. Right as the street light goes off it vanishes. She grabs her coat and steps out the door, and sees a large, imposing man holding a leash. 

“Have you lost your dog?” She shouts. The man turns to her and assuredly says, “Just visiting some old friends, nothing to worry about. Head back inside.” 

Abigail slowly closes the door as she re-enters the house. She takes one last look out the peephole as the man walks to the edge of the street light and pets the beast-like figure as he pulls a severed arm into the light. “That’s a good boy” 

Abigail covers her mouth as she gasps with terror. She tells Chris everything when he gets back. 

“Gail, everything is alright, the man was probably the walker we haven’t met yet and look at your caseload, of course you’re imagining things like severed arms, it’s all ok. James also wanted to invite us to an evening cookout he’s having next friday, he wanted to let us know early.” 

As the week passes they hear that Phil and Ashton moved out, Abigail runs into James outside of the Butcher. 

“James, what do you know about the walker?” Abigail questions. 

“He’s very trusted, why? Are you getting a dog soon?” James responds 

“Do you know why Danny moved? Or Asthon and Phil?” Abigail continues. “Why are you asking me?” James asks “Something is weird about this place, and you seem to be the leader around here.” James cuts her off. “I don’t know what you mean by leader, I have the authority to ask you to put your trash can away after trash day but that’s all. Danny violated multiple rules, he was forced to leave. Phil and Ashton wanted to be closer to family, that’s why they left. Everything requires sacrifice, I didn’t think I had to publicly announce their business.” 

Abigail feels a bit embarrassed. “Sorry I’ve been so stressed from the precinct, I must’ve brought it home. Should I bring anything tonight?” 

“It’s been cancelled, sorry this week has been hectic, I’ll let you know when I can reschedule,” James says as he walks away. 

That evening, Abigail is just settling in for the evening when she sees she has a voicemail from Chris. 

“Hey, sorry I didn’t have a chance to send a message but I ran into James and promised I would help set up for tonight, I’ll see you when you get here.” 

Suddenly a scratch is at the door followed by heavy panting as Abigail looks out the window of their room to see the dog walker approaching her home. 

“That’s a good boy, River” 

She tries to call Chris but no one responds, She then calls James and is met with the message, “I’m sorry I can’t be everywhere at once, but certain sacrifices must be made. I’ll get to you as soon as I can.” 

It relied on pure luck, no amount of money, fame, or connections could secure anyone a spot. You sign up for a lottery system and wait until someone moves out, then a person is selected at random and they have 24 hours to respond to the invitation. Unfortunately for most, Summer Grove is near impossible to get in. A diverse, healthy, affordable community, anyone would want to sign the lease to their very own home. People are dying to get into Summer Grove.

Evin McQuistin 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.