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Up, Up and Away
Securely fastened to the wrist of his new friend, Red floated along side other Balloons high enough above the crowd that he was able to predict when a stroller would bite the ankle of an unsuspecting, flustered tourist who’d about had it with Disneyland.
It was a good day- Red’s skin was tight from being filled with fresh helium only a few hours prior and the Balloons that had been left over from the day before had given him a good description of what to expect. If everything the Balloons had said that morning was accurate, his day would go a little something like this: First, after being inflated, Red would be crowded into a cluster about seventy other Balloons just like him and they would be tied to one person who would probably look like he hated life. Next, he would spend a while watching children and their parents skip, walk, and trudge by- most of whom often looked like they hated life as well. Then, if he was lucky a child would talk his parent into paying the $8.00 for a balloon and Red would get to explore the park with the child and then continue on into the unknown.
“Sofie! Quit messing with the string! I’m not buying another one for you if you lose it!” said the bigger human to Red’s little friend, whose name, he’d learned, was Sofie.
Sofie was a small girl compared to most of the little people Red had been seeing all day, and she clearly couldn’t speak very well which had Red concerned that she was more than capable of accidentally untying him.
“Mommy! Mommy! It, it loosed his-self!”
Mommy turned around, looked at the sky as if she was looking for something and walked over, “Sofie, it didn’t loosen itself, you did. I told you not to mess with it. We need to start walking back to the hotel to meet Daddy and Brother for lunch, ok?”
“NOOOOOOOO!!! I DON’T WANNA LEAVE!”
The sound of her shriek reverberated off Red’s taut skin so fast that he got dizzy. Sofie then proceeded to start flailing her arms and legs all over the place before Mommy had finished re-tying Red to Sofie’s wrist.
Before Sofie or Mommy could react, Red was fifty feet above them and swiftly rising as that fresh helium did its job and flew him into the sky.
“Ohhhh this is so not good,” moaned Red.
“You got that right!”
“What the! Wha- Who was that?!”
“Oh, sorry! I never introduced myself”, replied the string tied to the knot underneath Red, “I’m Ribby, your string… obviously. I hadn’t really planned on talking to you but seeing as we’re in kind of a tight spot, I figured it was necessary.”
“Why didn’t you plan on introdu-? Wait a second that doesn’t matter, what are we supposed to do? Nobody told me that they let you go sometimes! How do we get back? Where are we going!”
With that, both Ribby and Red stopped talking and allowed themselves to wallow in silence and sadness as they continued to fly higher and higher.
Ribby finally broke the silence when he realized what he was looking at.
“Red! Red! Look! Oh get over it Grumpy Pants, we’re stuck either way, but at least look down! It’s amazing!”
Reluctantly, Red looked below him and realized that Ribby was right- it was beautiful. He could see everything that he had seen with Sofie, but from even higher up! It looked so pretty from far away. He could no longer see all of the people who hated life, only the giant castle that now looked so small and the little river that now glistened like the sun.
“You’re right, it is beautiful. But like you said, we’re stuck. The fact that it’s pretty doesn’t exactly change our situation”, said Red.
“You need to relax.”
Red was frustrated. How could he relax when he had no idea what was going on or where he was going? Sure the other Balloons said he would be going somewhere “unknown” but this was definitely not the unknown they were talking about.
Looking down he was starting to notice more, like an even bigger river that looked like it went on forever- it was beautiful. There was so much water that the reflection hurt Red’s eyes yet he couldn’t stop staring. He noticed other things too though; there tons of little things moving all in the same direction, boxes lined up in rows with lines between them with those same little moving things. It was also starting to get colder and the clouds, which had looked like giant pieces of cotton candy from the ground, had now meshed into one and gently bumped into Red and Ribby every now and then. The wind was picking up too, and while Ribby helped to keep them steady because of the weight he had they were still tossed back and forth steadily more the higher they floated. Soon they were hardly going up at all and were instead tossed back and forth, doing little figure eights in the air.
Red decided to take Ribby’s advice and finally allowed himself to relax and enjoy the journey. A flock of birds flew by and participated in some of the figure eights they were doing which was fun, even though the birds’ sharp beaks scared Red pretty badly. The sky began to transform itself from the soft blue of the morning to a yellow, then to orange and lastly to a color very similar to Red’s.
“You have to admit, it’s pretty cool that we get to see this. I mean most strings and balloons only get to see the inside of a car or the wrong end of a pair of scissors, and here we are lookin’ down on the whole world! I’d say we are a lucky pair”, Ribby babbled. Lucky was the farthest word from Red’s mind to describe the situation.
Once the sky had turned completely black, the wind settled down and Red and Ribby began to get sleepy. Red had begun to notice that his latex skin was not quite as a tight as it had been, which of course had him worried, and Ribby had been twisting around so much from trying to see everything that he could hardly move.
“Do you think it’d be ok if we dozed off for a while? I’m afraid that something will happen but I’m exhausted!” asked Red.
“Your only tired because you’ve been complaining all day. Go to sleep, I’ll stay awake and keep an eye out”.
Within moments, Red was out.
“RED! RED! Wake up! Something’s happening!”
The flashes of light blinded Red and the sounds that the clouds were making were loud enough to make Red pop from the pressure! The soft figure eights from earlier in the day gave way to figure eighty-eight patterns that flipped and flopped Red and Ribby in every direction. However, even amidst the craziness, it was became clear to Red that if not for the wind, he may not even be in the air at all. His knot was puckered and soft, and the silk-screened Mickey had shrunk to half its original size. Ribby was pitching himself back and forth trying desperately to get any control of the direction they were going with little progress. If anything Ribby flailing himself only sped up Red’s loss of helium.
“Ribby! Try to stop moving! I think it’s making us fall faster!”, shouted Red.
“I can’t! If I do my body’ll get all tangled up in a knot!” Ribby cried, “I have to keep moving!”
Red was frantic as they continued to roll around in the air, but Ribby remained calm and worked at maintaining a steady movement.
“Red I have an idea!” Ribby shouted, “Now that your knot is loosened I can slip the end of my string out of it pretty easily.”
“What do you mean? Why would you need to do that?”
“Because if I stop moving I’ll get tangled, but if I continue to move we’ll both sink to the ground; if I let myself go, I’ll just float back to the ground and you’ll continue up and hopefully out of this mess!”
Red became distraught at this knowing that as high up as they were and with the wind as violent as it was, there was no such thing as “floating” back down.
“Remember that giant river that you saw earlier? It was like the river at Disneyland but giant and you couldn’t see the other side?” asked Ribby.
“Yes, it was huge! It went on forever!”
“Well I’m sure I’ll float down and land on that beautiful water. And then you’ll float off somewhere else and explore somewhere new and we’ll have explored twice the space in half the time!”
Still Red was reluctant, “I don’t know Ribby, this is risky.”
“We don’t have time for this, everything will be alright; do you trust me?”
“Then let’s cut the mushiness and relax”.
Red didn’t realize just how steady Ribby’s weight had been keeping him until he was gone. He thought he was out of control before? After Ribby cut himself loose, it was impossible for Red to be able to tell left from right or up from down. First he tried pushing all of his helium to the top so that he would continue to rise, but that only made him top heavy and then tumble over. Next he tried pushing it all down so that it would hold him like a weight, but that only made his remaining helium leak faster.
Immediately the violence of the tossing was cut in half and Red could at least tell where up and down were. Slowly the tossing became a rocking, and then he was asleep…
The last thing Red wanted was to wake up to more bright lights, but when he opened his eyes that’s exactly what he saw. As his eyes adjusted however, he became aware that this bright light must be a good thing because he felt warm and the only sounds he could hear were his own.
Balloons of every color and shape floated around him. They were above and below, some were moving quickly and others appeared to be stationary. Behind each one was a glow, and they all had perfectly tight skin and a neat knot. And so did Red! His skin was perfect and he had the perfect shine and shape again. He also had a new string attached to him.
“Hello? String? Do you happen to know Ribby? He’s a string…?”
The string didn’t reply so Red looked around to ask another Balloon if they knew anything. At first he was confused, everyone had the same exact string and they all looked like they connected to the same anchor. Sure enough, Red found it- a large spool of string connected to each and every Balloon.
“Well I’m glad to see that you finally trusted me- and relaxed”.