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 Dream

by Angela Kempe

When the dream came into existence. When it sprouted from the mind like a sprawling vine, unwinding from one small seed, one thought. No longer the whimsical fantasy placed in a secret place. Like on a dusty shelf, left to fade away as life envelopes us with its pertinence. When those furtive thoughts weaved themselves from the silky strands of emptiness floating in dimensions beyond harm’s reach. When they wound together, binding and glinting with consciousness. When they drew that first breath and stretched and flexed and became strong. The dream became real to him, settled in the pit of his stomach like a heavy brick, and he unwrapped his hands from her flaccid throat.

Kites

by Angela Kempe

Some loves are lost,

 Like kites in the wind.

You see colors fading,

And know it will end.

 

You pull the string tighter,

 But still it unwinds.

You try to hold on,

But the wind is unkind.

 

The kite bends,

And tail streamers swirl.

It circles around,

In a perilous twirl.

 

You hold the line tight,

Yet it comes to its end,

The kite becomes heavy,

And starts to descend.

 

So you let it loose.

Letting go felt so natural.

It was what the wind wanted.

The idea seemed admirable.

 

The kite tumbles downhill,

Slamming against dirt and grass,

Cracking at the spine.

You run to it,

Your hair trailing behind.

 

Is it still beautiful?

Will it fly?

Can it ever be what once was?

 

When you find it,

The kite is mangled.

Love is lost,

 Broken,

Pieces that fit poorly in the trash.

 

So you call it a friendship,

And refrain from all that was.

Passion, color, beauty, love.

All the things that come with that simple memory

of flight.

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.

The Challenger Deep

by Angela Kempe

The day James lost Suzy to cancer was the day he gave up on life. But he hadn’t given up on his dreams of exploration. He vowed to go back to The Challenger Deep before he died and solve the great mystery of the abyss. It was the deepest part of the ocean; seven miles deep. More than the height of Mt. Everest turned upside down with an equivalent of three SUVs of pressure squeezing every square inch of his submarine. James’ final adventure would be to go back to that dark place and find what every explorer dreamed of: New life.

James plunged his green submarine down into the abyss and waited hour after hour for the first sign of the ocean floor. At three thousand feet there was no light left from the sun. He sat in his black cap and shirt, balled up in a sphere that was his only safety from the extreme pressures of the sea.

“Suzy,” he whispered as he brushed his fingers over the wrinkled portrait of his beloved.

Before, he had reason to fight for his life in the deep, but now everything on the surface seemed trivial. Kids were grown and had seemingly forgotten about him. The ex-wives hated his guts. No, today he would push his submarine to its limit.

As he descended to five thousand feet, he saw a school of amphipods swim passed the lights of his camera. Their bodies glowed neon pink as they passed the submarine. He observed the occasional deep sea fish whose bioluminescent bodies glowed in the dark distance. But as he fell deeper, so did every sign of life vanish one by one until he was finally truly alone.

Suddenly, the controls began to flash. It was nothing new to him. He examined the alarms. An oil leak brought him up early before. The oil looked good this time, but he could hear the creaking of the sub walls as they began to crush like an aluminum can. He started tapping his fingers in his lap nervously, reminding himself to breathe. Breathe. Just breathe.

Then the submarine grazed the bottom of the sea floor. He brought it down ever so gently, knowing that if he landed too hard, it would surely kick up a storm of loose sediment that would fog up the sea around him like thick milk.

“I’ve reached the bottom,” he said over the radio.

“Roger that.”

He looked earnestly at the camera, the repetitive sound of alarms pinging in his ears.

“I don’t see much of anything yet. Just the same things as last time.”

He scanned the sea floor for life, but the bottom of The Challenger Deep was as desolate as the surface of the moon. The light of the submarine gave off a hazy blue glow. He missed Suzy’s voice on the radio. He could have used it right about now.

Hours passed and still nothing. Then, that same cloud of oil came up from the side of the sub. This was the end. He hadn’t any time left.

“I’ve detected an oil leak. I’m going to have to ascend soon.”

“Roger that.”

The voice of the marine was monotone and casual. Just a soldier doing his job, not Suzy, who would have been excited or worried for him.

“I’m going to bring her around one more time before I go.”

James brought his sub around and pointed the camera into the dark behind him. That same underwater desert he knew so well stretched before him. He took some last soil samples and pressed a few buttons to begin his ascent.

Then, he noticed a glimmer of light in the distance. James perked up in his sphere. He tried to move his legs that had gone numb hours ago and were aching horribly, but he couldn’t move them enough to ease the pain. Didn’t help that he was seventy-years-old.

“What was that?”

A few minutes later he saw another flash of light. He read the sonar anxiously. He couldn’t believe it. What he thought was a large rock formation was something hiding against the steep wall of the trench, and as it came towards him it flashed a yellow light in the water.

James didn’t have time to think. He stuttered at the radio in horror. If his instruments were right, that creature was five times larger than his submarine. He tried to gather himself as the creature swam towards him.

“I see something. It’s big…” he gasped.

Sweat began to drip from his hat down into the white of his trimmed beard. His hands were clammy with fear. The creature came into the light of the camera. Its body became a wall of flesh in front of him.

“Dear Lord,” he mumbled.

Suddenly, the animal flashed another light. This time the light was so blinding that James had to squeeze his eyes shut in pain.

All that was left in the end was the deep lonely ocean, and another mystery of the great Challenger Deep.