The child dove down into the icy depths. An unreasonable fear drove him into the blackness of the winter lake after a gumboot, a Christmas present of only that morning. Old welfare clothing made from synthetic stuffing and rayon warmed him moments ago but now would seal his fate as it soaked up weight dragging him further, faster.
Earthly, irrational echos paraded through the boy’s mind, “I am so disappointed in you! You lost your boot on the same day you got it from Santa. How could you have done such a stupid thing?” An angry face shouted at him, blackness before him, fear behind him, driving him further down.
A little heartbeat slowed. Icy cold sapped power and grace from a child versed in the ways of water. Fatigue wound quickly through the rapidly freezing boy. Muffled shouts of panic that somehow resembled a worried brother. Blackness consumed one heartbeat after another. The boot drifted lazily downwards taunting the hunting hands.
Then, it was over. Oblivion was at hand with a black and red rubber prize worth more than the life of the owner firmly clenched in young fingers. Perhaps it was the second irrational fear that drove the boy to the surface. Boot in hand, a new fear warned him that if he didn’t return with an impish smile and both gummies soggily squishing on his feet that he would hear worse than anger.
Self preservation came not from inside but from a mother’s love. Two boys who loved each other, as brothers do, cared so much for the only parent they had that they would risk sacrificing everything to save her from hurt. Yet, adventure somehow took precedence. Prizes befit kings were bestowed upon them that late afternoon. They stole away home with excited confidence.
Mother waited and fussed patiently in the small kitchen, her eyebrow cocked inquisitively with little show of the relieved worry that spun inside her. Two boys’ stories tumbled over each other excitedly in the kind of storytelling that only a parent can ever seem to decipher. Eyes looking only two places, at each other, and at their mother. The grand adventure unfolded as if from a fabled legend. Eyes were aglow with impassioned zeal as every breathtaking moment was revealed.
A chill trembled down the mother’s spine. She looked out into the coal of night. She smiled bravely for her children but unease ruled her heart. The night held a warning. A threat. A promise. Protect your children. Or else. Or else. Or else.
In a distant town a porch light flickered in the night. A father stared out into the inky blackness, watching with strained eyes. He wished that his ears had deceived him. He shrugged off the paramedic again, and again. The attending officer looked on with an ache in her heart that could only be relieved when she called home to check the safety of her own two children. To lose them both in one night, she knew, would end her world. Much the same as it had just ended the world of the father before her.