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 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.

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 Stranger

by Angela Kempe

The door whipped open and the stranger stepped into the pub as the sky screamed behind him. All some twenty of us stopped our conversations to look up at the two mysterious eyes peering out of his tattered head wrap as he stood by the open door. Heavy boots firmly rooted in a wide stance. The chill of the biting cold seeped into the pub like a disease gnawing at our bones while we winced in agony. I watched the snow settle on the floor. Then the stranger stepped out of the doorway leaving his black print on the wet wood and the door slammed shut.

The room stayed quiet. All of us staring at his strange brown eyes. That’s what gave him away. How we knew he wasn’t from these parts. He walked slowly up to the counter and peeled off his gloves. His hands were black as night and blistered and swollen from his journey. And the skin below his cuticle was starting to look charred. My stomach turned from the ugliness of him. From the nakedness of his flesh and the pain that was obvious.

He searched the thick layers of his wrap for something. Struggled to pull it out. Winced as he revealed a small woven pouch.

“Water,” was the only word he could muster.

The bartender looked him dead in the face. Put down a glass. We all waited silently for his answer.

“Where you from?”

The bartender put his paws down hard on the counter. His claws dug into the wood. He brought his face up close to the stranger and stared coldly into him.

The stranger took a breath. We all listened for his answer. Waited for him to say it. Turned our long ears up towards him so we wouldn’t miss it. Bristled our coarse fur and turned out our claws incase it was one. Sent a low rumble through the room as a warning.

The stranger stood tall. He readied himself to fight. Felt the floor beneath him move like water as he started to faint from fear mingled with exhaustion, but kept himself steady and strong anyway. Forced himself to keep alert and gave his answer.

“Earth.”

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.