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Hal Kempka
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Lost Love


Hal Kempka




Arlen’s mother stood over his bed, crying as she’d done at least once a week for as long as he could remember. Since he’d just turned twenty, he figured she had shed a lot of tears.


She stroked his flushed cheek, and brushed his hair away from his face.


“My boy, my poor little boy,” she said. “Why did God do this to you?”


He stared up at her, expressionless but wanting to scream, “Damn it, Ma! Do you think I wanted to be born without the ability to speak, or move my limbs, and bowels on my own?”


“Oh, my little Arlen,” she said. “I’m so sorry I brought you into this world to live your life suffering.”


Arlen had heard those words so many times that if he could move, he would stick his finger down his throat and gag himself. Of course, he wondered why she didn’t as she had ample opportunities before he was born.


He once overheard her tell their next-door neighbor Mrs. Goginski, that when she was three months pregnant ,the doctor said Arlen would most likely be born with serious health problems. If she was considering terminating the pregnancy, that was the time.


Mrs. Goginski was probably the closest thing Arlen felt he would ever have to a normal relationship. She sat with him whenever his mom wanted to go out. Mrs. Goginski would bathe him, and kiss him, and tell him what a good lover he probably would have been.



As Arlen’s mother continued to weep, he glanced up at her. He wanted to hold her and tell her everything was all right, and that it wasn’t her fault.


“My baby boy,” she said between sobs, “I have always loved you and I always will. Please, don’t hate me. We’ll be together again someday.”


She then kissed his forehead, and unplugged his life support equipment.


Arlen’s brain screamed out for oxygen. As the light in the room faded into darkness, Arlen wondered how pissed Mrs. Goginski would be upon discovering her lover was gone.




Art by Kevin Duncan 2012

Homeward Bound

by Hal Kempka

Maureen pulled into the driveway of the vacant, farm-style house. Although the siding had weathered and faded, the caretakers she hired kept the lawn up and deterred vandals from destroying the place during the ten years she was away.


She cast a wistful glance toward the upstairs nursery window, and guilt over her daughter Mia’s disappearance surfaced once again. After all, Maureen thought, she had allowed her husband to turn off the baby monitor while they made love without any distractions.


“Mia will be fine,” Mickey assured her. “We need some alone time.”


The following morning she found the door to Mia’s room open and the crib empty. She screamed for Mickey, and they frantically searched the house before calling 911.


Throughout the investigation, Maureen greeted every day with the optimism Mia would be returned safely. Every night, she cried herself to sleep when searches and leads turned up empty.


Blaming Mickey led to heated recriminations and a nasty divorce.  She kept the house as part of the settlement, though the painful memories forced her to move to the city.


The night before leaving, Maureen slept in the bed she kept next to the crib, clutching a porcelain doll that had been an anonymous shower gift to her chest. In the months preceding Mia’s birth, Maureen had practiced breast-feeding by cradling the doll in her arms and pretended it was Mia.


That night, however, the doll’s cold porcelain finish freaked her out. She threw it into a box of baby clothes being donated to the Salvation Army. The doll moved its arms mechanically and emitted a muffled, “Ma-ma” as Maureen taped the box shut.



Now, Maureen returned at home at her therapist’s urging.


“You and Mia will always be connected,” he said, “But, it’s been ten years. Confront your pain, Maureen, acknowledge it, and expunge it. Let your mourning run its course and then move on to regain control of your life.”

          Dust-covered furniture sheets and silvery cobwebs greeted Maureen when she stepped through the front door.  After bringing in the suitcases, she realized there were no groceries in the house. She returned to town, stopping at the store and then wandering through several quaint shops.


Inside a secondhand store, Maureen walked the aisles, picking through the knickknacks. Midway down the children’s section, a faded, dusty doll fell from the shelf and landed at her feet. She picked it up, and recalling the one she gave away, gently stroked the spiderweb of threadlike cracks on its graying cheeks.


The doll’s faded eyes fluttered and the arms jerked upward mechanically, startling her. Maureen set it back on the shelf and hurried out of the store.


Returning home, she shelved groceries in the pantry. Two dusty bottles of wine lay tucked toward the back of a bottom shelf. She opened one, figuring a glass or two would help calm her nerves. The unpacking could wait a day, she thought.


Maureen lit the fireplace, and flopped onto the couch, exhausted. Leaning back, she closed her eyes, wishing the past ten years had all been a bad dream.


After draining the wine bottle, she cast a glassy-eyed stare up the steps.


“Well, this isn’t going to get any easier,” she muttered.

          She climbed the stairs, and reflected on her therapist’s counsel that unrealized expectations might further complicate healing.


Upon reaching the top step, a faint thud echoed from the end of the hall. Maureen switched on the light, but found the hallway empty.


She continued to Mia’s bedroom, suddenly trembling with anticipation. The downy hairs on her arm prickled as she turned the doorknob. As she stepped through the door, the faint aroma of what had been Mia’s essence still lingered.


When Maureen spotted the small, dust-covered musical mobile that still hung over the crib, she lost her composure and rushed across the room.


“Mia, baby, Mommy’s here! I’m coming for you.”

          She reached into the crib, which lay dusty and empty. Maureen fell back onto the bed, sobbing. Finally, emotionally spent, she fell asleep.


Several hours later, she awakened naked and shivering beneath the covers. Something cold pressed against her body, and Maureen slowly pulled back the covers.


The porcelain doll, looking tattered and soiled, lay snuggled against her. Tiny, blackened fingernails suddenly dug into her skin and clamored into her arms.


Tears streamed down Maureen’s face as she drew the doll to her breast.


“Oh, my baby, my precious, precious baby,” she whispered, offering it her breast. 


Maureen winced, and clenched her jaws, fighting the pain as serrated teeth eagerly sought her nipple. Bright crimson trickled down her breast and onto the sheets. The doll’s chalky, half-open eyes fluttered and its lips curled in a faint, sinister smile.  





Hal Kempka is a former Marine, and Vietnam Veteran. His short stories have been published in Yellow Mama, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, Flashes in the Dark, Thrillers Killers and Chillers, Ascent Aspirations, and Night to Dawn among numerous others. Anthologies include Post Mortem Press: Shadow Play, Pill Hill Press: Rotting Tales, and Blood bound Books: Seasons in the Abyss. He is a FlashXer flash fiction workshop member and lives in Southern California. His email address is

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