The Family in the Hot Air Balloon by David Henson

Still half asleep, I look to see if I need to fill the bird feeders before going to work and am shocked at the sight of a huge hot air balloon in the backyard. I get dressed, hurry outside and find a man, woman, boy, and girl in the basket.

“What’s going on? Everything OK?”

“We needed to come down long enough to refresh and restock is all,” the woman says. “You don’t mind do you? You look like a nice man.”

I notice four rolled sleeping bags at the side of the basket. “Did you folks sleep in there?”

“Sleep, eat, laugh, sing, home school,” the man says. “We live here.”

“No kidding? You writing a book? Magazine assignment?”

“No, Niceman” the woman says. “This is our home. Several years now. Got tired of living for the weekend so we sold everything, bought Rainbow, and have lived in her ever since. I’m Kendra. My husband, Peter. Johnny and Janey.”

Jane, Mom,” the girl says.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Rick. I live here.”

“I’m sure you do, Rick,” Peter says.

“Well, I –“

“OK, off you go,” Kendra says. “Johnny you take the west side. Jane — east side. Be sure to get fresh fruit.”

“Why do I always have to do the west side?” Johnny says.

Children,” Jane says, shaking her head. The two pull on backpacks, and before I can blink are out of the basket and heading toward the street.

“Rick, my man,” Peter says. “I could use a shower. You mind?” He nods toward the house.

“Uh, I’ve got to leave for work before much longer.”

“Ugh, Monday mornings. Don’t miss those,” Peter says.

“Yeah, I don’t like them either, but –” 

“Won’t take five minutes.” He reaches over and tickles Kendra in the ribs. “Join me, Beautiful?”

“Try and stop me, Sexy,” Kendra says, and before I even realize it the two are gliding hand in hand to the house….

I sip a coffee. After a few minutes I hear giggles then groans coming from the shower. I’m on my second cup when Peter and Kendra finally stroll into the kitchen.

“Thanks, my man. I needed that,” Peter says.

“You know what, Sexy?” Kendra says, placing both hands gently on her belly. “I think we might have made a little magic.”

“That’s wonderful,” Peter says. He turns toward me. “You have a magical shower, my man.”

“Fine, fine,” I say. “I need to be leaving. So if you could just get back in your balloon and–“

“First I have a riddle,” Kendra says. “What’s cheap, but lasts forever?”

“Really, I don’t have time–“

“Canned goods, Niceman,” Kendra says. “Is that a pantry?” She points, and I  hear a faint sound like something vibrating on a shelf as a car throttles by outside. 

“Never mind,” I say. “You have to leave.” I wing out my arms and kind of herd them from the kitchen and through the back door.

“You’re not being magical, my man,” Peter says.

We go to the balloon. Johnny and Jane are back in the basket. Johnny is chewing on a candy bar. I notice the wrapper is in my yard. Jane is brushing her damp hair.

“Look what I got,” Johnny says. He throws his half-eaten candy on the floor of the basket, goes to his backpack, and pulls out a smart phone.

“We’ll have to be quick about it,” Kendra says.

“Just go, launch, lift off, whatever you call it,” I say.

Peter climbs into the basket; he reaches toward a long cord, and a flap closes over an opening in the top of the balloon. Then he reaches toward the burner, and the flame begins to roar.

Meanwhile Kendra goes to thick ropes tied to stakes in the ground around the basket. The knots loosen at her touch, and she hops in. “Thanks for the shower, Niceman,” she says. “You can keep the stakes as a souvenir — maybe.” She winks, and I swear one of the spikes wiggles ever so slightly.

The balloon begins to rise. “Don’t know how you stand it,” Peter yells. “No walls up here, my man.”

“Yeah, well I don’t have to worry about power lines in my living room,” I shout,  wincing at how stupid it sounds.

The balloon gradually shrinks to a dot and blinks out. I continue looking up a few moments imagining a life in the sky…then fill the bird feeders, drag myself to work, and wonder all day whether the stakes will be there when I get back home.

# # #

David Henson lives in Peoria, Illinois with his wife and their dog. His work has appeared in Literally Stories, 365 Tomorrows, Intrinsick, The Fable Online, Pikestaff, and The Eunoia Review, among others.

Photo credit: Marijke Owen-Wahl

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