The Magic Trick

Sam places his hand lovingly on my shoulder, then whisks it away, tasseling my blonde curls.

“Hey Babe, you look beautiful.”

“Thanks Sam!”

“Look, there was something wrong with the box, so I borrowed an old one from my friend. I checked it out and it’s all good. It works exactly the same. Do you think you’ll be okay?”

“Sure Sam.”

“That’s a girl!”

I fix my hair and look over my body as he walks away. I’m only wearing a bikini with fishnet stockings and high heels and it’s cold behind stage. Normally, I get a coat to wear, but this gig is cheap. Only special treatment for Sam. The rest of us have to share an old dressing room with one measly bathroom that has rat traps laying around the toilet bowl. The rest of us are just pretty faces. But I think Sam’s the pretty face. Us girls are the ones who do the real work.

I can hear the audience rustling before the show. Then they get quiet and I know it’s about to begin. Now it’s only a waiting game. The other girls usher me to my position. Music starts playing and the stage manager gives me a thumbs up, so I flash him a smile. I walk on stage with the girls. Sam is juggling his blue rings. I ready myself to catch one and he tosses it at me. My position is set perfectly. My smile is set. Everything about me is perfectly polished and the audience thinks I’m a natural beauty. But reality is I’m completely staged and it actually hurts standing like this.

Finally, the trick is over. I walk off stage and wait for my next cue. It seems to take forever, but I’m not one to leave the back of the stage once the show begins. I like listening to the audience laugh. Like listening to Sam’s voice. I kind of like him. I think I would date him if we weren’t working together. But if we weren’t working together, I’d be nothing to him. Just another pretty face. And Sam wouldn’t settle down anyway.

The music dies down again and I listen for Sam’s voice. The stage manager is whispering something to my friend, Jenny. I get that jealous feeling, but try to shove it down and get my smile ready. Jenny walks onto the stage. I wait.

“And now for my beautiful assistant!”

That’s my cue. I walk on stage. Perfect smile again. Everything about my body is steady and gentle, but my heart is racing madly.

“In a moment, I’m going to ask my gorgeous assistant to climb into this box. As you can see, it is completely solid.”

Jenny and Suzanne are helping him roll the box around for the audience to look at while I stand waiting. My feet are getting sore standing in my heels. He gives me the cue to climb into the box. Now is the first time I’m really getting a look at the box. It’s a different color, metal plating on the outside, but that isn’t a concern to me. The real concern is on the inside. I climb into the box, large enough for me to lie on my side with my legs bent, and flash a smile at the audience. They get silent. I can’t see them beyond the hot stage lights, but I know they’re searching the stage for the trick. It’s up to me to make them believe.

Sam closes the box. I struggle to get the velvet covered trap door on the bottom open and push my legs under it like a sleeping bag. Take my first relieved breath while he talks to the captivate audience and push the rest of my upper body into a spandex side. I know Jenny is standing on the outside obstructing the view just encase someone is looking too carefully.

The audience rolls with a series of oo’s and awes. He opens the box as I hide and the loudest gasps come and music is still playing. Everyone is waiting. I’m waiting in my position with the other spandex wall against my face now. I can smell that it’s a bit mildewed. I can’t wait for him to shut the box again, so I can position myself back inside more comfortably.

“And wala!”

The audience gasps again. I’m not sure if I should wait any longer. Somehow the timing is off. I get that panicked feeling in my heart again. I press my hand on the spandex. I know Sam is looking for me.

I can feel them turn the box round again. This isn’t part of the plan. Jenny and Suzanne close up the box. The music has run out, but they aren’t beginning the next cue. I want to cry, but I’m still hopeful that the show isn’t lost. I just hope I don’t get fired over this.

“Okay,” Sam says to the audience. “It looks like our assistant might have really disappeared!”

Everyone laughs. He has a way to settle even me. I like him so much. I press my hand to try and remove the second wall but it seems to be stuck. They open the box up again, but it’s still empty. I can tell that the mood has changed. The stage manager isn’t sure what to do. The audience rustles in their seats uncomfortably. Sam looks inside the box now. I can feel the fear spreading in the room. I decide to reveal the secret. It’s done. The trick was messed up. I try to push hard on the wall. It seems to be stuck.

“Jenny,” Sam whispers. “She’s not in there.”

This time I start freaking out.

“Sam!” I say. “I’m here. Let me out!”

They don’t seem to hear me. My heart is racing. I can’t breathe. The spandex on my face is suffocating. I scream again.

“Sam!”

“Close the curtains,” he says.

The audience grows louder. Music begins playing again and a voice comes on the speaker to calm the audience down. I’m not listening to them though. I’m listening to the panicked voices of my friends gathered around me. They can’t seem to hear me. They can’t seem to see.

“Guys! I’m right here. I’m in here. Let me out. It’s stuck.”

No use. I can feel the box moving. Listen to their conversations. Other people come to look at the box. I can feel it move again.

“She’s not there,” someone concludes.

“Where did she go?”

“I don’t know, but I think we need to call the cops.”

“Call her house first. Call her cell. Maybe she left.”

I begin crying.

“I’m right here!”

My tears flow down my cheeks. I scream. I scream until my throat hurts. I cry until the spandex is sopping wet.

Hours later the stage is empty. There are only three voices now. I know the voice of Sam and the owner of the hall. The other is a cop.

“You say she just disappeared?” the cop questions. “Can you show me the box?”

I can feel the box moving. I begin to shout again at the top of my lungs. I beat my hands against the spandex. It’s moving, stretching. They should be able to see me. They don’t.

They all have a long conversation about me. I hate the smell of mildew. Then the conversation becomes distant. I want to scream even louder, but my voice has started to go. I lean my head against the fabric. I can hear the loud lights turning off. I can hear the stage doors closing and the voices disappearing leaving me alone, screaming in the dark.

NASA Official Statement

On August 29th, 2032 at precisely 22:16:43 EST, an unidentified object was detected in the Northeastern sky of Tampa, Florida and observed crossing the horizon towards the Northwest at a speed of 16,508 km/h. Witnesses of this event reported a series of unexplainable yellow lights that expanded and contracted for a period of approximately 12 minutes. The number of witnesses counted were 568. Within a twelve hour period after initial sighting, 112 people ranging in ages from 6 through 77, were selected for observation. Initial symptoms at onset included disorientation, nausea, and digestive issues. Persons observed demonstrated migraines and rash after seven hours. It is reported by the Florida Department of Health that within 24 hours of the sighting 1019 unexplained deaths occurred. Investigations by FBI, Florida Department of Health, Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, and NASA conclude that the events of August 29, 2032 are that of an acute plague caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis which mutated and has since failed to thrive. NASA and its affiliate organizations believe there is no cause for concern at this time and maintain the possibility of an alien presence is uncorroborated.

The Dream

by Angela Kempe

When the dream came into existence. When it sprouted from the mind like a sprawling vine, unwinding from one small seed, one thought. No longer the whimsical fantasy placed in a secret place. Like on a dusty shelf, left to fade away as life envelopes us with its pertinence. When those furtive thoughts weaved themselves from the silky strands of emptiness floating in dimensions beyond harm’s reach. When they wound together, binding and glinting with consciousness. When they drew that first breath and stretched and flexed and became strong. The dream became real to him, settled in the pit of his stomach like a heavy brick, and he unwrapped his hands from her flaccid throat.

Red Roses, Red Roses

by Angela Kempe

Sandy dug her toes into the damp soil of her garden as she bent towards her largest rose. The cool mud mushed between her bare toes and stuck there, heavy and wet. She liked the feel of the earth below her feet and thought it made the day a little more perfect, and the rose a little more special as she reached for its soft edge, gently lifting the rose up towards her nose.

Red roses didn’t have the most fragrant smell, but their smell was still distinct and beautiful. To her, it represented an accomplishment of having cared for her garden all year long. It reminded her of her family and that the most beautiful things in life are often the most simple and overlooked.

The light changed. She turned her neck to see if it was an afternoon storm cloud rolling in. She thought she could hear the crack of thunder and smell something peculiar in the air, like burnt BBQ or a wild fire starting up on the distant hill. She wasn’t sure how to place the smell, it came so quickly. Too hard to classify or make sense of. And then there was darkness as the asteroid struck down hard on her, releasing a shock wave a mile in diameter, melting poor Sandy and all her roses.

Level 2G

by Angela Kempe

Melinda got out of her beige sedan and pressed the remote button, sending a sharp high-pitched beep echoing through the half empty garage. Then, she turned to her friend Debbie.

“After we go to Macy’s, wanna go to Coldstone?”

“Sure,” Debbie replied, fixing her purse strap over her shoulder. “Remember where we parked.”

The underground parking lot had an empty yellow glow to it. Cement pillars formed rows along the cool structure and white lines were painted to signify each spot. A few cars were scattered throughout the garage and that was that. Not a person stirred other than Melinda and Debbie and not a sound rattled other than their own footsteps.

They walked to the elevator and Melinda took a mental note of the blue painted sign that read, LEVEL 2G. Several hours later with parking validation in hand and a stomach full of Mint Chocolate Chip, Melinda and Debbie made their way back down to their car.

When the elevator reached the floor, it gave off a light ping and the doors opened, but to Melinda, something seemed different.

“Did you notice a fence before?” she asked.

“Are we on the right level?”

“2G.”

They both looked around confused. There were a great many more cars and some were caged off within another locked fence.

“I don’t think this is our level.”

“I remember, 2G.”

Debbie walked back towards the elevator and called it down again. For a moment her heart panicked as she waited, wondering if it would come, but then the door opened and Debbie felt relieved.

“Where are you going?” asked Melinda.

“This isn’t our level,” Debbie replied, getting into the elevator.

Melinda followed her friend and Debbie pressed the button for 2G, but the elevator only closed and opened its doors in place. So, Debbie pressed the button to go back up to Level 1. The doors closed.

They stood their for a few moments waiting.

Nothing.

Melinda looked at Debbie. They read the fear in each others eyes.

“Did you press the button?”

“You saw me press the button!”

She began pressing all the buttons frantically, trying to keep her heart steady, when the elevator began to move.

“What did you press?”

“I don’t know. All of them. I just want out of here!”

The elevator opened and Debbie jumped out.

“At least it’s some place different,” she said, whisking her long brown hair away from her eyes.

“Debbie…”

Debbie didn’t pay any attention to her friend. Just kept walking, looking for their car.

“Debbie…”

“What?”

She turned around.

Painted in blue was written plainly, Level 2G.

Melinda let out a worried moan.

“Help us!” she yelled and started jogging through the aisles of cars.

“There’s no one around.”

They both searched up and down the aisles frantically, the yellow glow of the garage lights fading and blurring. Cars sparkling with that dreamy quality of night.

Melinda could feel tears welling up in her eyes as she turned back to her friend.

“Try the stairs,” she said.

She couldn’t tell if it was her panic or if it was really happening, but it seemed like the parking lot had become a maze, and she wasn’t sure anymore if it was slanting up or down or staying level. Or if they were still on 2G or if they were making any progress walking towards the far end of the parking garage. And the eery silence made her even more uneasy. And the cold that oozed from the cement made her feel a chill that tickled her arms and raised the little hairs on the top of her head.

Suddenly, there was the sound of footsteps walking.

They stopped happily, both with the same idea as they turned around.

“Finally someone to ask for help!” Debbie exclaimed.

But Melinda had not spoken. Instead she stood eyes wide, jaw dropped. Debbie stared at her friend’s pale face in horror. She knew by her expression that it was something horrible. She almost didn’t look, but the curious urge took over her almost instinctively, and before she knew it she had turned as well.

Debbie and Melinda stared at their spitting image and the copies stared back at them with the same terror in their own eyes.

Melinda tried to muster up words, but at first try the breath only came out and she forgot to speak. She calmed herself and forced herself to ask, “Where are you from?”

The second Melinda and Debbie walked slowly towards them. The second Melinda came up close to the first, almost so that they touched, although neither of them dared.

“2G,” the copy said, quietly.

And then they all knew. And the pit of their stomachs got that hard knot of knowing. And their heads panged with that piercing pain of knowing. All at the same time they knew. And the elevator chimed.

Kites

by Angela Kempe

Some loves are lost,

 Like kites in the wind.

You see colors fading,

And know it will end.

 

You pull the string tighter,

 But still it unwinds.

You try to hold on,

But the wind is unkind.

 

The kite bends,

And tail streamers swirl.

It circles around,

In a perilous twirl.

 

You hold the line tight,

Yet it comes to its end,

The kite becomes heavy,

And starts to descend.

 

So you let it loose.

Letting go felt so natural.

It was what the wind wanted.

The idea seemed admirable.

 

The kite tumbles downhill,

Slamming against dirt and grass,

Cracking at the spine.

You run to it,

Your hair trailing behind.

 

Is it still beautiful?

Will it fly?

Can it ever be what once was?

 

When you find it,

The kite is mangled.

Love is lost,

 Broken,

Pieces that fit poorly in the trash.

 

So you call it a friendship,

And refrain from all that was.

Passion, color, beauty, love.

All the things that come with that simple memory

of flight.

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.