The Professor at Lewis Hall

by Angela Kempe

That was rude. I’m not a morning person either, but didn’t have to give a dirty look.

Dr. Gallegos watched the student cross the street and vanish into the distance. She felt a dizzying jolt of pain in her head, regained her balance, and continued toward Lewis Hall for her early class.

Only off in emergencies or if I’m throwing up. That’s the rule! she reminded herself.

She tried to reposition her heavy messenger bag, but the strap still cut into her shoulder, so she hurried down the sidewalk.

“You look horrible,” Jonathon said as she passed through the door.

“Yeah, I’m sick today.”

Dr. Gallegos felt bloated and congested and had a terrible headache. She began searching for her Ibuprofen. She kept a bottle just for occasions like this and if she took 800 mg, there was hope it might start working before class.

Jonathon moved his gaze back toward his phone. The students were always on their phones. She remembered when people used to talk to each other before class. The pain in her head intensified, so she took her pills and closed her eyes.

This is going to be a bad day, she thought, remembering her thirty minute lecture and the three classes that lay ahead.

“Woah! Dr. Gallegos, you look bad today!”

Dr. Gallegos opened her eyes.

“Thank you, Lexi. I can always appreciate your honesty. Hopefully, that will continue during discussion.”

She had meant it to be funny, but her statement came out mean. She struggled to smile to prove it was a joke, but Lexi stomped to her seat and started scrolling through her cell. Dr. Gallegos tried to breathe through the pain. She set her laptop out on the podium, turned the main computer on, and logged into her powerpoint.

“Already 8:27?” she said, reading the computer screen.

She bent down to find the papers she had to return and the pain in her head overwhelmed her, so she gave herself a few minutes to kneel behind the podium and gather back her strength.

You can do it. The semester’s almost over!

“Are you alright Professor?” Jacklyn asked.

Dr. Gallegos had moaned out loud.

“Yes, Jackie. I’m just sick.”

Jacklyn stumbled back with wide eyes. Dr. Gallegos stood up. Those that were looking, recoiled in fear, but the doctor stood in front of them, perplexed. One student tried to start a sentence, but the words wouldn’t come.

“Okay guys!” she laughed. “It’s only a headache!”

“Your face!” Lexi shouted.

Screams rolled through the auditorium. One student ran out the back door. Dr. Gallegos brought her hands up to touch her forehead. Felt a long hard ridge along her brow as students began running out the hall. Their panic infected her. She felt faint. Felt an icy chill spread down her trembling limbs, but continued her hands down her temple to her cheeks where the skin was also lumpy and sharp.

Her eyes welled up with tears as she sifted through all the explanations in her mind with no result. Just then, she noticed Jonathon. He was the only one left in the empty hall. He sat back in his seat and shoved his hands in his sweater pockets.

“You were always my favorite teacher.”

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The Ride

by Angela Kempe

“This is going to be fun!”

“I hate long lines.”

“It’s only seventy minutes.”

Vanessa looked down at the kids.

“Seventy minutes is a long time,” she said, cynically.

The kids were behaving for the moment, but other children were already climbing along the fence, sitting on the railing, and wreaking havoc, and she knew it was only a matter of time before hers joined in.

“Don’t you dare!” she warned.

JJ looked up at his mother and smiled maliciously.

“Just listen to the music,” Kenny said, trying to calm her.

“What is this?”

“This is the happiest place on Earth. It’s dwarf music!”

Vanessa listened to the simple melody shouting against the noise of the crowd. It was giving her a migraine, but she decided to drop the subject. The line slowly winded into a cool cavern, built from cement, but painted and carved to resemble wood. The noise of the crowd washed over her. The kids busied themselves by playing with the game consoles scattered throughout the line. Vanessa could hear the faint sound of screaming filtering through the noisy crowd.

“It must be a scary ride,” she reported.

“Why do you say that?”

“I can hear screaming.”

Kenny tried to listen, but was distracted by a mining game. He tried to match up the jewels on the touch screen and then confessed, “I hope it isn’t much longer. I have to use the bathroom.”

Vanessa peered ahead. The line only bent into darkness.

“I think that time was wrong. It’s been more than an hour and I can’t see the end.”

“I really have to pee!”

Kenny and Vanessa searched for the end of the line.

“Just get out of line.”

“I don’t see an exit. Plus I waited too long. It’s been two hours. I’m going on this ride!”

“Mommy, I’m tired,” Arianna complained, tugging at Vanessa’s shirt.

“Just a little bit longer.”

“Carry me.”

“I can’t carry you. Walk.”

Arianna sat down defiantly.

“Get up.”

“Carry me!”

Vanessa tried lifting her heavy body. Then gave up, exhausted.

“Get up!”

“We’re almost there. Can’t you hear that?”

The screams were getting louder.

The line inched forward. Vanessa left Arianna sitting against the cold wall.

“Bye!”

But the threat didn’t phase her. She nudged herself over to her mother on her bottom.

“Hear that?” a hefty man turned back towards them.

Kenny chimed in.

“I heard this is worth the wait.”

“It’d better be worth the wait,” said the stranger.

“Okay, I have to go.”

He was referring to peeing.

“Just wait a little longer,” Vanessa begged.

“I’m going to pee my pants!”

“You can hold it, please! Don’t let me alone with these kids!”

Kenny stuffed his hands in his jean pockets, defeated.

“Fine.”

The line folded and twisted through the cold cavern, descending deeper and deeper underground. The children began first; complaining, crying. Then the adults in front of them started hollering down the deep tunnel, “Hey, how much longer?”

Kenny and the man decided to take a walk out of line to see how far it actually went. Vanessa waited another hour, carrying Arianna on her back as Jackson trailed behind them angrily. Then finally they returned.

“We gotta get out of here!” Kenny said.

Vanessa recognized fear in his voice, but didn’t understand.

“Why?”

“We walked for an hour. The line doesn’t end! I finally peed in the dwarf creak.”

“What do you mean, doesn’t end?”

Her eyes were already glazed over from exhaust. She was having trouble comprehending.

“Let’s go!” the man instructed his family.

They tried rushing passed them. Then stopped abruptly, as if they had slammed into something. They put their hands up in the air. Vanessa read the terror in their wide horrified eyes. Saw their skin drain of its color.

“What?” she asked.

The man pushed and knocked at something hard.

“There’s a wall here!”

His wife started crying. She dropped to the cold cement like Arianna.

“What?” Vanessa said, trying to pull herself out of the nightmare.

Kenny tried to take JJ, but also crashed into the invisible wall. He tried to see it, but there was nothing there to see.

“We can’t go back. We can move forward, but we can’t go back!”

Desperation sharpened his voice.

He beat against the air, the people behind them oblivious, nudging them forward in a daze.

“Help!” Vanessa screamed.

The kids cried. Panic set in. Everyone was screaming. Propelled by some mysterious force. Trapped in the real ride; A steep winding descent into madness.

Pumpkin Pie

by Angela Kempe

“That looks good!”

“It’s gluten free!”

“I won’t eat it!” Savanah said.

“Come on! I spent hours baking. You have to try!”

Savanah’s mother placed the pie on the table and walked away. Savanah stared at it. It smelled ordinary enough and had an ordinary color. Placed on a fancy white plate at the center of the table between a poinsettia and two white candles. Savanah rest her head on her palms as Grandpa walked by.

“You have to wait,” he smiled.

“I don’t want it!” Savanah sulked.

But Grandpa was already gone.

Just then, the pie wiggled.

“Mommy!” Savanah yelled, staring suspiciously.

There were too many people for her voice to be heard. She got on her tippy toes and leaned towards the pie. Tiny bubbles were forming on the smooth orange surface. Then, the center cracked and split down the middle. Savanah cowered behind the table, but gathered up her courage, leaned in closer and stared unflinchingly as a line of tiny bugs crawled out.

They formed a line like black ants across the table. Crawled all the way up to an inch away from her chin. Savanah squinted hard at the creatures. They looked like tiny men and were trying to say something to her, but she couldn’t understand.

“You better not get into that pie!” said her mother.

“Mommy! Mommy! There’s something in the pie! Aliens! Mommy, Look!”

Her mother laughed. Took up her knife in her hand and pushed passed Savanah.

“Oh, Savvy! Such a wild imagination!”

Savanah searched the table, but the creatures were gone. The pie was smooth as if just out of the oven. Savanah’s eyes were wide as her mother cut through the middle of the pie, cut out a large piece, and put it on a plate.

“Sure you don’t want a piece?”

Savanah cringed.

“No, thank you, Mama.”

“Suit yourself,” she said, and gave it to Grandpa.

The Fading World

by Angela Kempe

Veronica was born different and she was three when she realized it. There was something different as her mother held her up to the mirror.
“Mama, gone!” she said.
“Yes, V, and Mommy comes back again.”
“Peek-a-boo?”
“Peek-a-boo.”

And so, she walked through life. All of her friends fading in and out. Grandpa and Grandma never came back and Mother called it “dead.” Sometimes her friends disappeared for months or even years. Then, after years something else had also faded that she couldn’t quite place. She could barely recognize the edges of their face. Conversations seemed distant. Strained. She’d wait for them to return, but they wouldn’t. So, V made new friends. Each time with the same result.
Mother was always there. Each time her face emerged, like joy born from a thick fog, V rushed in to embrace her.
“Your face has changed, Mother,” she said, feeling her soft worn cheeks.
“And so has yours,” she smiled.

As V sat in her rocking chair, she looked out at her faded world.
Why must I be here if everything fades?
No matter how many years had passed, and she counted ninety-two. She still remained constant in this fading world. And each time a loved one went, her heart felt broken and her eyes wet, but still she remained. Even as her hair turned gray and her skin wrinkled.
V watched a horse from her porch in the pasture weave in and out of existence. She tried to remember its details when it was gone before it formed again minutes later. She rested her head against the rickety chair and enjoyed the brilliant colors of the sunset as it faded away, too.
I’m glad I enjoyed it, she thought, closing her eyes. While it was here.

Seashells

by Angela Kempe

The deafening scream of sirens wailing startled me from the dishes. I wiped my sudsy hands off on my jeans and ran.

“Kids! Kids!”
When I rounded the corner I met their wide eyes. Lifted Monica up into my arms and we started for the door.
“Get out of the house! Hurry!”
I took Adam by the hand and rushed them out. The kids began crying, holding their ears in pain while I searched the sky.
Jenny’s home had gone last Tuesday. Sometimes three or four would be taken in one neighborhood. Sometimes months would pass, but the fear never did. It turned in our stomach like curdled milk. It lingered in our nightmares.
Monica squeezed her little arms around me tightly.
“Mommy!”
There was terror in her voice.
“I see it! Run!”
Adam raced ahead of us.
“Stay with us!” I screamed.
“It’s coming!” he yelled. “It’s coming!”
Suddenly a large hole tore the sky and a long smooth tentacle appeared. The winds whipped into a violent frenzy. The kids stopped crying and just stood there looking up open mouthed as it grew longer, larger, closer, covering the street with its thick dark shadow.
I nudged Adam to go. Tried to carry him, but couldn’t handle his large body, so set him back on the ground.
“Run!” I cried, hysterically.
The tentacle dug into the ground and the pavement began to crack and crumble around it as it scooped up the cement and the earth. We ran behind a parked car as pieces fell around us. Another family was hiding. The father’s eyes met mine. I begged him with my entire being to stay and he understood.
“Who’s house?” I yelled.
The man looked around the edge of the car. The sweat was beading up on his black skin, but he hadn’t let go of his son to wipe his face.
“203, I think.”
He looked back at my stone cold eyes and knew it was mine and again, we shared a solemn moment.

 

 

     “MaKia! MaKia! Look at my shell!”
Nedimiah was glad she went to the beach. She held out her prize for MaKia to see.
“Wow!” MaKia said, wading through space. “Is there a family in it? Be sure to wash it out first.”

The Day the Insects Died

by Angela Kempe

I looked out upon the Redwood forest and remembered a long time ago, when while standing still, I could listen to the low song of the woods. Small birds lifting off branches. Flies and mosquitos dancing next to the bank of the creak bed. A small squirrel scurrying up the Redwood bark. I used to smile to myself. Watch a butterfly flutter off. Try to follow it for a while before it drifted too far from the trail and disappeared into the ferns down the basin.

Then, came February and a slew of scientists. Word was the insects were disappearing. That’s when I began listening even harder, not only for the tiny songs of my friends, but the occasional conversation of the unknowing new visitors who roamed the forest in secret with their cumbersome equipment.

“Did you get that sample?”

“Down 60% from last week.”

And their voices faded away.

A part of me had noticed before, but I hadn’t wanted to see. There weren’t as many squirrels and the trees were looking sick. The birds had gone somewhere else. I thought it strange, but went about my day. And then I was standing there and it couldn’t be ignored any longer. The forest was silent.

I always asked myself the same question.

“Is this the end of them?”

Then I’d sit in the muddy edge of the creak and thumb through the cool earth. Try and find one, I thought. Just one and you’ll know it’s still okay.
It took me longer and it took the scientist longer, too. And months went by, and we were both worried as the loud symphony of the forest diminished. I searched for my butterfly. I walked all day long. And finally as the sun began to set, I knew that she had gone.

So, I climbed to the top of the mountain where the trees still stretched higher. I don’t remember if I cried, but I stood there until I was in the dark. I didn’t care. I wanted to know if the night would make its sweet sound again; That rhythmic song of insects dancing.

Ten years passed and the birds flew off. The lab left a few scientists behind to drink whiskey and smoke and crawl up into their tent with their heavy equipment most days around four o-clock. And here we were all in one place, a generation lost in space, waiting for a murmur or a hum. And sometimes I’d see the flames of their camp, climbing high into the sky, crackling fireworks in the silent PM.

Or I’d meet one on the trail.

“Did you find one?” I’d ask.

But he’d just turn away.

And I wondered if the insects knew. When the forest died, I wondered who. What Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, would let the sound of the forest choke? I joined the scientists and had a smoke.

*Inspired by Don McLean’s “American Pie” and the vanishing insects

Danika

by Angela Kempe

Marlene felt her skin stretch and pain shoot through her stomach into her groin. She shut her eyes and forced another breath before bearing down hard. The distinct feeling of her skin tearing sent her into a panic.

“My skin is tearing! My skin is tearing!”

“Breathe!”

A sudden fog surrounded her. Was it the pain or the lack of oxygen? She wasn’t sure, but she new there was only one way to end this misery.

“Give her oxygen.”

A nurse placed a plastic mask over her face. She struggled to open her eyes. Struggled to sip one last breath before fainting.

“Don’t faint. Breathe, Marlene!”

Feeling someone squeeze her hand, she screamed a horrific cry. A strange hard thing crowned. She imagined its head at the edge of light and could not hear her own voice filling the room any longer. There was only time, paused like a dream. She could see her connection with it like a band of light as it slipped from her body. And all was over.

When Marlene came to, the doctor brought her baby close to her face. She could smell the blood on it. Smell its innocence. She reached to take off her oxygen mask and give the young flesh its first kiss.

Smiling, she touched the fat little arms and kissed her.

“Danika,” she announced.

The doctor repeated, “Danika,” to the nurse who recorded the name as Danika Lee. Then the doctor carried the baby to a large machine and nestled the child tightly in its grasp. Strapped the little arms and legs. Brought down the lid over the baby. Marlene had fought against tears, but her baby’s cries were too much.

Marlene felt her first pang of maternal instinct. She told herself this was necessary as she listened to the shrill sound of a saw blade spinning. Her baby stopped crying. Marlene closed her eyes. This pain was even more intense than the first.

“Body is severed.”

Marlene felt a numbness come over her as she realized it was too late to stop. She waited for an answer and the seconds moved like years. It was too much for her to take, so she struggled herself up from the bed, fighting against the nurses and her husband, and stumbled across the room. The staff held her back as she stood before the machine that held her baby prisoner, tears rolling down her eyes as she waited.

“It’s okay,” her husband said, placing a gentle hand over her arm.

She discovered a new hatred for him. The wait seemed like hours. It was only seconds.

“Spinal connection is successful!” the tech said.

Slowly, the lid opened and there was her baby sleeping soundly.

“Now Danika will lead a healthy life,” the doctor smiled.

Marlene reached into the incubator. The fat little arms were gone. She touched the soft new artificial limbs. It felt similar to the original but lacked of something. Realizing Marlene’s own fingers were in fact not original, she found a new bond between mother and child. Something she would now be able to enjoy for several hundred years.