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.

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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 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.

Red Roses, Red Roses

by Angela Kempe

Sandy dug her toes into the damp soil of her garden as she bent towards her largest rose. The cool mud mushed between her bare toes and stuck there, heavy and wet. She liked the feel of the earth below her feet and thought it made the day a little more perfect, and the rose a little more special as she reached for its soft edge, gently lifting the rose up towards her nose.

Red roses didn’t have the most fragrant smell, but their smell was still distinct and beautiful. To her, it represented an accomplishment of having cared for her garden all year long. It reminded her of her family and that the most beautiful things in life are often the most simple and overlooked.

The light changed. She turned her neck to see if it was an afternoon storm cloud rolling in. She thought she could hear the crack of thunder and smell something peculiar in the air, like burnt BBQ or a wild fire starting up on the distant hill. She wasn’t sure how to place the smell, it came so quickly. Too hard to classify or make sense of. And then there was darkness as the asteroid struck down hard on her, releasing a shock wave a mile in diameter, melting poor Sandy and all her roses.