Birth Pangs (Flash Fiction)

I think I got everyone.

I count once more and shut the bedroom door. Thirteen kids filled with cake and ice cream. A sugar rush an hour before bedtime. Probably not the most responsible thing in the world, but what could it hurt? So they stay up half the night talking, giggling, and doing whatever it is kids do at that age. They don’t need to know what’s coming.

It’s difficult to remember being that young. April tells me they’re perfectly normal. They all seem so full of life, so far removed from us. We’re the grown-ups now. And we’ll never get a chance to put things right.

Humanity should have stopped before it advanced beyond the simplicity of burning wood to produce steam. Steam is clean power. Not like coal, not like gasoline, not like nuclear power. Wood is a renewable resource, at least it was before civilization stripped the forests and blocked out the sun.

April comes into the room, bringing me a drink. We’ve been saving this bottle for a special occasion.

We bought it on our honeymoon seven years ago, when humanity still owned a piece of the sky. We were in Italy, and we lived on pasta and seafood and wine. We bought this bottle to keep. For someday. Maybe for our daughter’s wedding, though she had only just been conceived. Not that we had known it then. We went overseas as a newlywed couple and returned as a family in the making.

That winter was the most mild on record. I remember wearing a t-shirt and jeans on New Year’s Eve, barbecuing our dinner on the back porch and wondering if we had ever had a more beautiful holiday. April had been six months pregnant by then. She was in full nesting mode and spent her days decorating the nursery and childproofing our home.

When April gave birth, we decided to be more responsible. We were parents, and we wanted a better place for our daughter. We named her Hope, and prayed we could fix things for her before it was too late.

The seasons changed, becoming more turbulent and impossible to predict. Warm winters, stormy springs, sweltering summers, and autumns that came later and later. Until, finally, we didn’t see a frost one year.

We knew something was horribly wrong.

#

I close my eyes and sip the wine. It is sweet, and I smell the hills of the southern region we visited not so long ago. Those hills are gone now. The Mediterranean has swallowed the coastal regions of southern Europe and Northern Africa, just as the oceans have nibbled away at our shores.

“Come outside,” she says. “The stars are out.”

I take her hand and she leads me out the back door. The lights are off in deference to the children who are supposed to be asleep, but we can hear their laughter through the open window. I move to tell them to go to sleep, but April senses what I’m about to say. She turns my face toward hers.

“Let them be.”

“It’s better if they sleep,” I say.

“It won’t matter.”

She’s right of course. It’s our mantra in these final days. Despite all our predictions and warnings, nothing we do matters. Even our advanced civilization can’t begin to halt what is happening to the planet.

We hold ourselves accountable. We protest for change. We try to make those in power pay attention to the consequences of their actions. But in the end, we are little more than children trying to change the rules of a game we can’t win.

The world has finally decided to rid itself of the bacteria that is killing it. Storms and earthquakes attack humanity, like white blood cells attacking an infection. Despite doing our best to repair the damage, we can’t stop the planet from changing, altering.

Humanity’s best scientists finally agree on something. The big one is coming, soon. For the past month, the quakes have gotten stronger and more frequent. Here on the plains it’s relatively quiet, but we feel them too. Cataclysmic volcanic activity might erupt a few days from now. It might be tomorrow. Mother Earth is shrugging off civilization, so the planet can renew and start again.

The ground trembles and April holds on to me for support.

“It’s not the end of the world,” says April. “It’s the birth pangs of a new one.”

I hear a scream of delight coming from Hope’s bedroom, followed by a round of raucous laughter.

“I’m surprised so many parents let their kids stay the night. They must still be in denial.”

“They know,” says April. “About what’s happening. About us. About everything.”

“How could they?” I say, looking over the ridge into the distance.

“I told them,” she says.

I take an involuntary step back, and I look at her confused. “You what?”

“I’m a mother. I had to try. I couldn’t convince everyone, but I convinced a few.”

“That explains so much.” For an observer, I’ve been blind about what is happening around me. The long hugs goodbye when parents dropped off their kids. The big bags of clothes and favorite toys. All for what was purportedly a one-night stay.

We feel a small aftershock rock the yard again. April kisses me, and leads me back inside. We have to leave. We have overstayed our welcome. But we won’t be leaving alone.

Upstairs, the children are enjoying the rush of sugar and adrenaline. They might as well be on a roller coaster. Each quake is just another thrill ride to them. Soon, they will begin their greatest adventure.

This is better than anything.

Kevin Wohler is a copywriter and novelist living in Lawrence, Kansas. During the day, he works at a digital marketing agency in the Kansas City area. When time remains, he likes to tell stories of the weird and bizarre. And sometimes, he writes them down for others to read.

3 Comments

  • Ted Boone says:

    Good story, Kevin. I almost feel like my story is a sequel to yours, of sorts. It’ll be interesting to see if you agree or not, come tomorrow.

  • Ted Boone says:

    Also: you’re clearly hinting at _something_ significant happening at the end of the story. Do you mean for it to be ambiguous? Or am I being obtuse?

    • Kevin Wohler says:

      I would never call you obtuse, Ted. Yes, there’s something significant happening. The world is ending. But you knew that, right? I can’t wait to read your story and compare them.

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