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.

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.

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.

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.