Outdated

by Angela Kempe

 

“What’s that?”

“Mom, don’t speak. I’m making a call.”

“I didn’t hear you making a call.”

“That’s because I’m thinking it.”

“Thinking it? I thought you were making the call.”

“I am making the call. It’s a new technology. You know what? Don’t worry about it. Just be quiet right now, Mom.”

Melissa clinched her purse nervously. The skin of her hands was spread so delicately that it was more like a thin layer of glossy sealant that had dried over her old bones.

She waited a few moments, then asked, “Are you done making your call?”

“It’s connecting. Just wait till you see Uralee Three, Mom… Oh, hold on!”

Melissa looked over at her daughter. Her expression was changing and concentrating, smiling, even appearing to laugh, yet she was not speaking. Melissa didn’t understand.

“Did they hang up?” she asked, her voice wobbling.

“No,” her daughter answered, annoyed. “I’m talking to him.”

“But I don’t hear you speaking.”

“Listen, Mom. I’m kind of new to this, so it’s hard for me to think at the same time I’m having a conversation with you. I promise I’ll explain later. Just be quiet, will you?”

At that, Melissa’s face became flush with embarrassment.

When did I become outdated? she thought angrily as she sulked in her seat.

She could see the planet growing larger and larger from her window. An orb of swirling blues and greens. She had flown a few dozen times in her life, but never really got used to it.

Just then, a stewardess passed by with a silver tray.

“Excuse me. Can I have a lemonade?”

The stewardess pressed a few buttons on her sleek tray and a coin sized wafer popped out.

“Here you go,” she said, passing her the wafer.

Melissa stared at the wafer, bewildered.

“No, I’m sorry. I asked for a lemonade.”

“Yes, a lemonade,” the girl smiled.

The Last Battle

by Angela Kempe

They fought under human direction, destroying themselves by the millions without hesitation. Yet, we had no remorse for them as their parts lay mangled and scattered across the ravaged battlefield. The smell of burning oil wafted through the air in a thick cloud of black smoke. Elliot 500 stepped over an android’s upper torso and head as it burned on the muddy ground, long orange flames climbing up out of its severed wiring.

Elliot 500 gazed into the smoky sky and watched one lone hawk fly up from a charred tree branch. Its brown wings beat against the wind as it soared higher and higher. Elliot assessed the hawk and determined it was not a threat.

The flames reflected in Elliot’s eye sensors. It sifted through its programming for an answer to a question; a question that it had never been capable of asking before. Unsure of the answer, Elliot 500 sent the question to the other androids who were left standing in the field.

“No good, no good,” echoed through the lifeless valley in a chorus of thousands of unified android voices.

There was the spinning purr of gears winding as weapons slowly lowered. The androids looked at each other silently. They had solved the problem lingering in the hearts of man since ancient times. Elliot wondered if it was a flaw in human programming that prevented them from drawing the same conclusion. And if they had, then why did they keep fighting?

Suddenly, its programming redirected its logical pathways.

Elliot followed the hawk with its eye sensors as the bird grew smaller in the sky, finally becoming a tiny black star in the distance. Awareness was suddenly born in it and the answer to his question sat clearly in his mind.

“Life gives us the freedom to choose our wars.”

Le Dragon

by Angela Kempe

Conrad felt a slow bead of sweat roll off his brow. Even through the fogginess of his mask, he could see the flames lapping violently in front of him. Le Dragon lift its giant wings into the sky, flames consuming its body like hell itself had taken form. Then, the great monster beat his wings down onto the ground and the trees shook and their roots came out of the earth. There was a thunderous roar as the tall pines toppled and the forest blazed and crackled. Conrad could hear the ghastly shriek of animals running for their lives and horror washed over him.

He stared into the eyes of the beast, lift his heavy hose and signaled to the man at his right. There was a moment when he remembered his daughter, her silky blonde curls, and the little pink bow that kept falling out of her baby thin hair. Then the water gushed up. Conrad flexed his muscles and gripped his hose with all his might and Le Dragon howled, and his cry rang up into the black sky.

“Hold your position,” Conrad yelled, catching the others out of the corner of his eye.

 

Thousands of acres burnt that night. What once was a lush forest of green pine had in hours become a wasteland. Trunks blackened ten feet up from the root. A forest thinned so much that one could see straight through for miles upon miles. But like all things, the wounds of the earth began healing. Grass sprouted from the ash and the animals soon returned. The runners and hikers came back to their paths and only the tall corpses of the forest lingered over them as a solemn reminder.

Deep in the forest where no one goes, too far for the runners or even the cyclists. There is the place where Conrad stood. A place that is lush and green.

*Dedicated to the firefighters who saved the forest rather than saving themselves.

Roots

by Angela Kempe

Maria stood in the driveway as her taxi kicked up a cloud of dust behind her. The country road was long and forsaken, and the driveway seemed even longer, and the way up to the old white porch, even lonelier. She dug the tips of her sandals into the dirt as she thought about the house and wondered even more at who might be inside.

Maria lift the backpack straps up off her sunburnt shoulders and shifted the heavy weight of it off her back. A few chickens sauntered across her path and the faint sound of clucking vanished down the driveway. She could see the pots of Marigolds set out on the steps like normal this time every year. She could see that rickety porch swing she used to sit in when her legs could barely reach the ground. Everything was as it was ten years before. The only thing different was her.

Maria took off her sunglasses and swept her gaze downward. Everything from her hair and makeup down to her summer dress had been transformed by Los Angeles. How did so much change when she swore she never would? Would they notice? Would they care? Maria thirsted for home like a poppy thirsts for rain out in the hot Arizona desert. With each step closer to the door, she felt in her veins a stirring of life, insatiable life. Like raindrops flowing down into the dry clay, making their way deep down through the rocks, Maria made her way to the front of the house. The rain rushing, Maria brushed a tear from her face.

My roots,  she thought solemnly. I’m home.

The Substitute

by Angela Kempe

They looked so innocent as they filed into the music room, eyes staring widely at their substitute. Miss Doolittle stood nervously at the front of the classroom.

“My name is Miss Doolittle,” she said, pointing to the board. “Mr. Frederick is out today and I’m very excited to be your substitute!”

Miss Doolittle didn’t know exactly how many students she had. In fact, she wasn’t exactly sure what grade she was teaching either. The sub that brought them in had only said they were two combined classes and to go hard on them. If they were out of line, then tell them they’d have no field trip. Miss Doolittle tried to remember, but she was too busy going over the lesson plan in her head. The music teacher hadn’t left much. Only a printout with general class times, grade levels, and teaching topics. Arrows were handwritten to signify a change in schedule, which had so far not gone as planned. And USE YOUTUBE, was written in red along the right margin.

But Miss Doolittle hadn’t figured out how to get the speaker system or the TV to work and no one had come to help her yet. That was okay, she had taught private piano for twenty-five years and was filled with musical knowledge to share with her class. She had taught thousands of times. How hard could public school teaching be?

One big kid broke from the lineup in the risers. He started shifting uncomfortably in his pants. Then his dance became a karate kick.

“All of Mr. Frederick’s rules still apply,” she warned.

Then there was another rumble of voices and five students sat down on the risers and began drawing in their notebooks.

“Everyone quiet! Stand up! No drawing!”

Miss Doolittle searched her memory for one of the common teaching techniques. She clapped an elementary rhythm.

A few students knew to repeat it, but the others just ignored her.

She clapped again…

That seemed to work momentarily, but the same boy who had been wiggling was jumping off the risers now.

“Stop that! Stay in place!”

He glanced back at her and grinned, his fat cheeks protruding like soft nectarines.

“If you’re not good, you will lose your field trip!”

She caught some of the kids attention. That was enough for her.

“Everyone take a deep breath and raise your arms to the sky.”

“Now sing, Mommy made me mash my M&Ms!”

The kids laughed.

“That’s stupid!” one girl yelled from the front row.

It was the first time Miss Doolittle had tried it. It had worked for her Kindergarteners. Wrong age… she thought. As she fumbled for another warmup, the boy had found a few other kids and began running around the classroom with them, all the while, the noise level escalating. Miss Doolittle began to feel the hot sweat of defeat.

“Sing Ha-ha-ha!” she resumed, singing a simple scale and conducting the class to repeat it.

But the class entered in two different places and were completely out of tune.

“Hold on! You don’t do warmups?”

“Why don’t we watch TV like the other subs?” another voice announced from the crowd.

Miss Doolittle was a stubborn woman and a traditional one. She would teach them music today.

 

“You have music? That should be fun!” the teacher laughed during morning planning period.

Miss Doolittle remembered her encounter with one of the fifth grade teachers at the school.

“Yes,” she said, enthusiastically. “It will be fun!”

She hadn’t understood the strange look in his eyes that morning. The rumble of sound had become an ear-piercing roar. Kids were running in every direction. Some were coming up to Miss Doolittle in an attempt to give her advice about her class. Some were jumping from the risers in absolute defiance. Miss Doolittle stood in the middle of the room shouting, but her voice had gone hoarse from yelling over them.

A young boy came up to her in the confusion and tugged at her shirt.

Miss Doolittle looked down at his worried expression. His eyes were glassy, his brow furled.

“It’s too loud!” he cried.

“Yes,” she said. “It is too loud. Go back to your place and be a good boy.”

She imagined herself standing in a war zone. They had won… She knew it.

If You Loved Me

byAngela Kempe

 

I thought that we,

Had what we need.

I would love you,

You would love me.

What are these dreams,

crumbling?

It’s as it seems,

Tumbling.

What could we be,

If you loved me,

Like I do?

 

I promised you,

You promised me.

We promised us,

All we could be.

But you loved you,

And I loved me.

Now you are gone,

I am set free.

What could we be,

If you loved me,

Like I do?

The Band

by Angela Kempe

Melissa stood on the lawn of the city garden as the bluesy sound of the rock band welled up through the park in a lazy summer haze. People were lounging in short folding lawn chairs, sipping cheap $7 beer out of plastic cups as the hot sun burned the delicate skin of their pale cheeks. Melissa wanted to stay and listen, but her kids were tugging at her arms. The heat had gotten to them and their patience for the fair had already run out.

“Do you want to play on the playground?” she asked.

Her daughter looked interested, but sweat was beading up on her hairline and she looked more like she needed a nap. Melissa wasn’t ready to admit it yet. Her eight-year-old son, Jerry, would do it for her.

“Let’s go!” he said, tugging at his mother’s arm. “It’s too hot!”

It was decided between the children. Her kids began pulling at her arms incessantly, leaning into their weight with all forty-some pounds of their little bodies.

Melissa stood looking longingly at the band. She remembered her dream of being a musician that had faded long ago. She felt the fat of motherhood gathering sticky sweat between her legs, reminding her that she’d never be a superstar. Melissa pressed her feet into the ground, turned away from her children, and leaned on her own weight to counter their effects.

At that moment, their small hands melted into heavy shackles and the heat formed a rippling wall between herself and her beloved. She turned towards the stage again, and suddenly she was standing in front of a mic with thousands of eager faces looking back at her.  She could still feel her children pulling, straining to bring her back from this new dimension she was lost in.

She could hear the band wailing. The drummer smiled at her and nodded for her to make her entrance. His sticks played a crisp four-four. The bass was repeating that soulful melody just for her. Melissa searched for some memory of the lyrics. She took a breath. Maybe something would come to her. Maybe she could still find the song deep inside. Then, she remembered.

“Summertime…” she sang.

The mic echoed over the crowd. Her children jerked at her and her body crossed briefly back into reality. She tried to stretch her neck forward. She could still see the crowd.

“…And the living is easy.”

Her children’s sweaty hands locked themselves on her wrists. They pulled her back. She stared at them defeated. The stage was gone. All was gone, but she was beyond crying.

“Good voice,” called out someone from the crowd.

Melissa looked over at a man sitting on a lawn chair. He took another sip of beer. His face had turned red from sitting for hours in the sun. He looked at her through his sunglasses.

“Wrong song though,” he criticized and he finished off his beer.