A Mother’s Love
By David Eccles
A weak, wintry sun rose above the horizon, illuminating at an oblique angle row upon row of mangled, twisted metal and melted glass—the last remnants of the immense structures that once were home and office to countless millions. Once, they were shining examples of man’s ingenuity in the fields of engineering and construction; now they were mere silver splinters embedded in the skin of the Earth, and the hustle and bustle of those countless millions had been silenced millennia ago by warfare, famine and disease.
The only sounds to be heard now were of waves breaking on the shoreline, whistling winds that tore through what was left of the long-dead city and a horrible gurgling sound: the sound of a child fighting for breath.
Rina cradled her son in her arms, pushing back the stray lock of hair that had fallen over his left eye. Even his hair felt different now, she noticed. Caressing his cheek, she leaned forward and kissed his forehead. It won’t be long now, she thought. Kyle’s breathing eased a little, his chest rising and falling more slowly, and Rina knew that her son had fallen into a deep sleep. Relaxing her hold on him, she lay Kyle down on the sandy beach, made sure that his head was supported adequately, covered him with a thick blanket from her backpack then snuggled up close to him, her eyes closing as consciousness drifted away.
Cutting, icy blasts drove sand into Rina’s face, waking her and causing her to spit out the small grains of quartz that had found their way into her mouth. Instinctively, she reached out, hoping to find her son still there beside her. Feeling his slight form under her groping hand, she relaxed, reassured by the knowledge that he had not woken and wandered off without her. Kyle slept, but his gurgling, laboured breathing was once more apparent, and she knew that he would soon be awake. Blinking, she looked up at the sun while shielding her eyes with her hand, calculating the time to be approximately midday.
Rina leaned over and shook Kyle, who groaned at his mother’s touch before opening his eyes, and then he sat up, threw off the blanket and brushed sand from his clothes. He looked at Rina and smiled warmly. “Good morning, mom.”
Rina returned both the smile and the salutation, ruffling Kyle’s hair as she did so. He threw his arms around her, hugging her tightly, his head pressed against her breasts. “I love you, mom.”
“I love you too, Kyle.”
Nothing more was said for a while; mother and son simply stood on the beach, arms around each other in a loving embrace for what seemed to them like a lifetime—until the storm came—without warning, as it always did, and coming not from the sea, but from the central land mass. Lashing rain and 200mph winds slammed into Rina from behind. Thousands of glass shards and metal splinters from the ruined skyscrapers sliced into every part of her body, lifting her off the ground and tearing her to shreds before she could even say goodbye to her son; before she even had time to scream, though in the final few milliseconds of her life she found comfort in the knowledge that Kyle would suffer no more.
Rina screamed and sat bolt upright, her eyes wide in terror, her body soaked in a sheen of sweat. Her heart pounded and her chest heaved. Blinking rapidly, she turned her head towards Kyle, her eyes slowly focusing on his sleeping form. He had not been disturbed in the slightest by his mother’s nightmare. Realising that it had been just a horrible dream, Rina relaxed slightly, and then stiffened once more as she considered the possibility that her dream might have been a premonition.
A storm similar to the one in Rina’s nightmare had claimed the life of Kyle’s father just days before Kyle’s second birthday. He had been out hunting for food and had not returned. More than ten years had passed since that day, and Rina had had to raise her son single-handedly.
They had been fortunate enough to be able to find safe harbour every time a storm had developed, but Rina knew that one day their luck would run out: the storms in recent times had become more frequent, ferocious and worst of all, random. The thought of Kyle suffering a similar fate to that of his father terrified Rina. She would not allow her son to be taken from her in that manner.
A few minutes later, Kyle woke, coughing. Clear viscous fluid spilled from his mouth with each hacking cough, yet Rina showed no sign of distress or worry in either her body language or her face. Instead, she remained in a state of absolute calm, for she knew what must be done, and it must be done today. The onset of winter, the deadly, unpredictable storms, the increasing scarcity of food, water and shelter, Kyle’s breathing difficulties and finally the nightmare had all forced Rina to accept the inevitable: time had run out.
“Kyle! Come with me.” Rina’s tone indicated that this was not a request; it was an order, and one that was to be obeyed instantly. “There’s something I need to show you, but for me to show you what it is, you have to walk into the water with me.”
Rina got up and began the short walk down to the water’s edge with her arm outstretched, her hand open and a smile on her lips. Kyle hurried to his mother, taking her hand gently. She noticed the weakness of his grip, heard the bubbling noises he made with each intake of breath, and it pained her to see just how much effort it took for him to remain on his feet. Rina was not an especially strong person, not when compared to a man, so she felt relieved that in his weakened condition her task would be made so much easier; at least physically. Kyle would not put up much of a struggle.
Turning to face her son and taking his other hand in hers, Rina walked backwards into the sea. Kyle followed his mother’s lead, and although Winter was very nearly upon them, neither Rina or Kyle seemed to notice the coldness of the water, nor did they seem concerned that they were both still fully clothed.
Rina pointed toward the beach and made a sweeping gesture from right to left. She inhaled deeply, and then spoke once more, her voice matter-of-fact. “There is nothing left, Kyle; nothing more to be had out there. Your father and I knew that this day would come, and it was to have been up to him to do what I must now do, but, things don’t always go to plan. I’ve always looked after you, Kyle, from the day that you were born. I’ve shown you nothing but love; it’s what mothers do. Now I have to show you what comes next. I hope that you’re ready.”
Kyle had always listened to every word his mother had spoken and, for the most part, he had understood without her having to repeat herself, yet now he was confused, and as he turned to Rina his confusion showed in his face. That look of confusion remained, deepened even, as he felt his mother’s hands on his shoulders, pushing him under the swell. His confused state rapidly transformed into one of alarm, and his eyes widened as he struggled to break free from his mother’s tightening grip, but it was no use; the more he fought, the tighter Rina’s grip became. He opened his mouth to scream, and saltwater poured down his throat, choking him. His diaphragm spasmed and more water entered his lungs. Kyle’s flailing arms beat at his mother’s face and chest, making it hard for Rina to keep her son submerged, and she felt the sting of saltwater entering the wounds his clawing fingernails left on her cheeks and on the backs of her hands, yet still she held on, drawing in huge gulps of air, her chest heaving from the exertion of wrestling with her son’s thrashing form until finally, Kyle ceased to struggle and his body went limp.
Rina’s shoulders slumped, her last reserves of energy spent, and she stood waist-deep in the water, unable to move, her eyes closed.
A hand rose suddenly from the sea to touch her cheek, a hand that was not her own.
“So we’re not human?”
“Oh, we’re more than human, Kyle,” his mother replied. “Those of us that are left have retained our humanity, but we’ve been gifted with a little extra, something that makes us special.”
Rina marvelled at the smoothness of Kyle’s transition. Had it only been a day since he had taken his first breath underwater? Rina herself had experienced an identical transition when she was Kyle’s age; a process that had been engineered at a genetic level into selected breeding stock by teams of scientists in an age long forgotten, as they worked desperately in an attempt to save mankind, to give the human race a chance at a new beginning in a world that would be forever changed by the nuclear devastation they prophesied.
Now amphibious in nature, this new species of man managed to breathe underwater by absorbing oxygen through a viscous liquid that covered the total surface of their pulmonary alveoli, vastly improving gas exchange and thereby enhancing physical performance. Changes in dental composition made their teeth microporous, so that they were able to filter nutrients and feed as they swam, though they could still chew normally if they chose to do so. Their sebaceous glands produced extra oil, effectively waterproofing them while they were submerged, and their eyes compensated for the change in light refraction, allowing them to see clearly underwater. Kyle did not understand the science behind any of his recent physical changes; he simply accepted those changes, understanding them to be a necessary part of growing up.
A puzzled look appeared on Kyle’s face. “I know you saved my life when you held me under the water, mother, but how did you have the strength to do what you did? The mental strength, I mean.”
Caressing her son’s cheek then drawing him into her arms and kissing the top of his head, she heaved a sigh.
“I’m not sure I know how to explain it to you, Kyle.” Rina pondered for a moment. “I guess I drew on the strength of my love for you, because there’s nothing stronger than a mother’s love for her child.”
Kyle hugged his mother tightly, more than satisfied with her answer.