Outdated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When did I become outdated?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.”

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.

Antique

by Angela Kempe

Michaela was rummaging through the bins of a Sunday yard sale when she spotted it; a vintage handheld mirror. The reflection of light first caught her eye, but it was the intricately carved solid wood handle that made her stop what she was doing to study the old mirror. She wiped the dust off the glass and gazed softly into it, astonished by what she saw: Her reflection looking back at her in more detail than she had ever seen it.

“Is that the way I look?” she asked her friend Judy.

Judy looked up casually from the clothes bin.

“Yep,” she said and held up a pair of jeans. “Do you think I should buy these? Only two dollars. Good brand.”

Michaela whisked her away with her hand.

“Yeah, yeah. Get it.”

She took out a five dollar bill from her jacket pocket and un-crumpled it.

“I’ll take this.”

“Dollar fifty,” said the lady.

The lady took the money and searched for the change in her metal box.

“That’s a good one. It was my grandma’s.”

“Looks old,” Michaela smiled.

She handed her the change.

“Take care of it well.”

On the way back from the sale, Michaela found herself captivated by her reflection in the mirror.

“I didn’t know I had this much gray,” Michaela said,  picking at the small hairs on her scalp.

Judy was driving.

“Maybe I should start dying my hair.”

“You don’t have any gray!”

“Right!” she said and leaned against the car window with the mirror.

Two weeks passed. Michaela barely ate. All she could see in the mirror was fat. She stopped calling her friend Judy. She just lay on her bed with the mirror. Sometimes she cried as she watched the wrinkles forming on her face. She lay in her bed searching for the girl she once was. Months passed. She stopped taking phone calls. Finally, her friend called Michaela’s parents and had them let her into the house.

Judy knocked on the door.

“I’m doing something! Go away, mom!” Michaela hollered.

“It’s me!” Judy said and opened the door.

Michaela looked up at Judy with tears in her eyes.

“I’m so old! How come you never told me how old I was?”

Judy’s eyes welled up with tears. She stepped towards her friend.

“Michaela, you are only sixteen.”

Abu

by Angela Kempe

Abu opened her eyes and lazily shook off the last bit of sleep from her green feathers. Her mood was slightly melancholy as she flexed her sharp claws to grip the branch beneath her. She felt something on her mind today. Abu searched for the memory unsuccessfully. She knew it had been something important, like a beloved thing that was lost. But, its reality had faded too far from consciousness and slipped into a dimension far beyond her reach.

Morning cast a mild light on the fuscia sky. Abu watched as the sky formed dark shapes which melted and contorted before disappearing into the pink. There was a pattering that she thought might be a storm brewing behind the shadowy conformations. And every so often a large sound would thunder and rumble and the sky lost its brilliance.

Abu dipped her head remorsefully. The thing that she had lost pressed against her heart like a dull pain. Unable to remember, she fluttered towards the giant grey trees that climbed high in the sky and draped over her with a menacing strength. She perched herself on one and searched the hazy pink. A tinge of warmth on her face may have reminded her of that beloved thing, but it was too soon overcome by a cold darkness that surrounded her like a thick sticky syrup.

Suddenly, Abu gasped at a deafening rattle of thunder that rolled across the sky. She fluttered back to her favorite branch frantically and listened in horror as the sky roared, drawing strange dark lines and shapes which moved across the bright like ghostly creatures. If only she could remember that thing that was so treasured. The memory flickered in front of her. She let out a small scream as the sky became blindingly bright.

When the brightness settled around her and the images became clear, Abu stood tall on her branch. She puffed up her breast and raised her wings, stretching the long green feathers out in a giant fan. Abu remembered. She looked unflinchingly into the eyes of the great being standing in front of her. Today, she would not forget the sweet memory that dripped like honey from her soul. Freedom; It was so easily lost, but it would never be forgotten.

Mother

by Angela Kempe

Jan and Melissa reclined back on the leather sofa and crossed their legs casually. I bent to sip my Frappuccino when Jan’s toddler snatched Faren’s plastic dinosaur from her. Faren let out a high pitched shriek and tears started gushing from her eyes like geysers.

“Mine!” Faren yelled, stomping her feet on the ground.

“Faren share!” warned her mother, Melissa.

Melissa flashed an embarrassed smile.

“Give that toy back!” Jan ordered her son.

Jan’s son looked down at his dinosaur, snot dripping from his nose into his mouth in a continuous stream of clear boogers. He was already sad because although he was two, he was old enough to know the outcome; Give it back or Mommy would take it back. Either way was bad news for him, so he slurped up his boogers and threw it on the ground, running towards the blocks.

I looked at my daughter. She was playing contentedly with the giant legos.

“You’re so lucky, Cindy.”

Jan took a sip of her latte.

“Your little girl is always good. I never see you have any problems with the kids. And look at you. You are like perfect looking.”

Melissa stole a quick look at my flat stomach, enviously. Then, cast her eyes back towards my face and smiled.

“How’s potty training going?” Melissa asked me.

My kids had potty trained themselves. Wasn’t that normal?

“Good,” I said. “I haven’t had any problems.”

“Isn’t Freddie in kindergarten now?” Melissa interrogated. “How’s that going? Must be hard getting him ready for school. Does he throw any temper tantrums?”

“Um,” I said, sipping uncomfortably. “It’s good. I mean, I don’t have any problems really.”

“See!” Jan yelled. “You are the perfect mom. Too perfect! Gain some weight or something. There must be some issue with the kids. I mean, nobody has a perfect time raising their children. You don’t really enjoy motherhood that much, do you?”

“Well…”

They both shot up from their seats and were staring at me with fake smiles. I didn’t know what to say.

“I’ll tell you what, I’ll think about it and get back to you.”

Everyone laughed.

“I’m sorry, but I have to go, girls.”

I stood up and began cleaning up the big legos.

“So soon?”

“I forgot I have to do groceries before Ted gets home. Let’s do this again next week, okay?”

I couldn’t wait to get home. I put my daughter in her carseat and spiraled down the mountain road towards our house playing the conversation in my mind over and over again hysterically. I decided to try my husband at work. I commanded the car to dial Ted Johnson.

“Hello?”

“Teddy.”

“Yup.”

“Something happened at coffee today. I think we’ve been found out.”

“Why’d you think that?”

“Because I was talking with Jan and Melissa over a Frappuccino and we were just watching the kids play. You know, like usual. When Jan started saying how perfect I am. I did a horrible job acting human. We are going to have to leave as soon as possible.”

“We have another ten years left on Earth.”

“They are going to find us out! I can’t do this, Teddy.”

“So, you’re under confident about your ability to be a normal mother?”

“Yes. I’m not home yet, but I’ll start packing.”

“Cindy, I think you’re more human than you think.”

The Keeper

by Angela Kempe

The Keeper struck her spear hard against the rocks three times, lifting her magic compass into the sky as the hot waves crashed against the cliffside. The old wise mystic gazed out at the ocean seething and blustering before her, and gave thanks to the three moons of Roon which stood like giant jewels in the sky and to the great planet of Vela whose gravitational pull kept their moon in place.

The wind blew through her long gray hair as she stood on that high mountaintop. Roon’s highest peak; a sacred memorial to the days long passed which had since dried and cracked and succumbed to the raging sea. It was a world ruined by the greed and hatred of her people.

In the distance, she could see Vela’s hot gases collecting into a white halo around the planet. And she could just make out Roon’s twin cities floating in the water in a hazy fog. Those cities, bustling with life that were the last civilization of Roon, incased in bubbles of Methiesium to protect them from the harsh storms that daily ravaged the city walls.

The Keeper recalled her youth five hundred years before, when the land had once sprawled out in endless waves of lush rippling mountains. It seemed that only yesterday, her people inhabited the green hills in numbers as sundry as the stars. But now, standing on the sacred mountain was a testament to itself; the highest and most holy act of courage which could only be performed by the holy Keeper.

She lift her head up to the sky and muttered her prayer to the universe:

As they feel the wind, may they remember God.

As they take a step, may they remember home.

As they look upon the world, may they dream of their future.

As they listen to life, may they hear their children.

And may they never diminish the power of the universe to restore its balance,

When balance does not bend to our whim.

It is the prayer of this Keeper that they listen,

To the dust,

To the wind,

To life,

To the world,

And that they may make peace.

Then, the Keeper closed her eyes and found quiet in her own soul.

And in her silence she heard the soft murmuring of a song.