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.

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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

Under the Bed

by Angela Kempe

David climbed out of bed and swung his door wide open, standing defiantly in the bright light of the hall in his cotton Pokemon pjs.

“Go back to bed!” his mother shouted from the living room.

David was sure his mommy had a superhero ability to see through walls. He turned apprehensively toward his room. His duvet was jumbled into a mess at the foot of the bed and the folds were casting menacing shadows resembling long monster faces. David had stuffed his dirty clothes and some toys under the bed in a mad rush to watch TV and some of their colors and edges were poking out of the darkness in unsettling shapes. It was hard to make out what they were, but he knew not to be afraid. So, he watched the shapes closely as he inched himself back into the dark.

Standing at his mattress, his thoughts drifted momentarily to drawing pictures on the floor, when suddenly he felt something grab at his foot. David screamed, falling back in horror.

“Mommy! Mommy!” he said, running to the living room.

Tears streamed down his red face.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?”

She wiped the wet hair away from his sweaty brow.

“There’s a monster under my bed!”

At that, she laughed and squeezed him tight.

“Don’t worry, baby! There’s no such thing as monsters.”

She picked his small body up and he tangled his arms around her neck as they walked back to his room. Then, she lay him in his bed and pulled the covers up snug to his neck.

“See,” she said, gazing into his glassy eyes. “Everything is safe.”

David wanted to tell her otherwise, but was lulled by the full tones of her voice and the soft touch of her fingers combing through his hair. He let her walk out the door, but not a minute later, remembered he was alone again in the dark. So, he shook away his sleepiness and kicked off the covers, sitting cross-legged on his mattress.

David peered over the edge of the bed. Everything was eerie quiet. A gentle moonlight cast a dim light across the room, but the floor lay in deep shadows. The space under his bed was hard to see from above. So, David jumped off and got down on his hands and knees, peering into the dark. He could see his ball and the edge of a dirty shirt. Maybe the monster was hiding. He pressed his cheek against the cold hard wood. He choked down his fear and stretched his hand under the bed.

When David could see through to the other side, he began feeling a little more at ease. Then, suddenly the ground shook. David screamed and pressed his body against the floor. He tried to grip as it shook, but he couldn’t get his small hands to stop himself and hit his back against the steel bed frame.

When the house stopped shaking, David began to sob. But, just as he was about to run to his mother, he was stopped by a strange movement above the mattress. He held his breath and squeezed his eyes shut. He listened to the door swing open once again. He listened to his heart pounding in his ears and held his breath until he felt faint. Then, he listened to the steps coming towards him.

David fought with himself until he decided to look. Decide that he was still alive. He opened his eyes and began to analyze the strange white toes, small and delicate, wiggling before him. Curious, he reached out to touch the small feet, brushing his hand across cotton Pokemon pajama bottoms.

The Dead Book

by Angela Kempe

The first time I foresaw someone’s death was in 30022. It was my Grandpa Bennett’s death and I didn’t know the exact date, but knew when. I foresaw the exact celestial events that aligned themselves. I saw my life and his life and their lives converging like an intersection on a brick road out in the vast plains of Talunda. And when our lives came together, I knew he’d soon depart.

When I got word from my family he was gone, I recalled my premonition, and its curse etched death into my skin like thick black ink. There was a sense of relief it had finally come to pass. And as my family mourned, I found myself a little more at ease. I read at his funeral. I tossed the golden wheat into the fire that spewed up his remains into a billowing cloud of smoke. And life continued.

The next time someone died in my immediate circle, I was a little better at knowing. I bought a leather bound book and wrote his name at the top of its blank page. Then waited for time to pass. Waiting is the hardest part. Sometimes I think it’s a curse to know. But when I got the call he had suddenly died in a crash with his new Mazura 500, I have to say I felt a little relieved. I wrote the date of his death next to his name and consoled my suffering friends.

Thirteen names were written in the pages of the Dead Book over the years and thirteen dates of their unfortunate deaths were penned solemnly beside them. Over the years, I faced each event more confidently as fate unfolded itself inevitably and assuredly. And so it went like this and many years passed. And my talent focused to a small point, so even as I walked through life, I could see death written on each stranger as easily as the color of their skin. Until I was not more than seventy-eight and looking back on the pages of my book. Pages filled with loved ones. Only one name to be written that never was. A name I dreaded but knew must one day be; my own.

I enclosed myself in the holy prayer room and lit a candle for each loved one I had lost. I focused my heart on the great energy that flowed through my body and asked if it could really be true. Then in the flickering light it became clear. Like a loud voice shouting in my ears. Like a feeling of knowing as sure as my existence. The voice said, “You have always had the power to wield death, Salina. Now in your hands is your own. It is only for you to believe and it will be done.”

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.