Bob was delighted. The yellow ribbons and painted fireworks on his blue, elastic skin were the decoration the parents needed to add to their bouquet of rubber and helium. Weave was there as well. He proudly wore a cake with six blazing candles. Flo was the centerpiece to the show. Multi-colored streamers were tattooed across her chest along with bright blue words screaming “Happy Birthday!”
The three of them bounced through the air as the birthday boy skipped down the city streets. The wind tunneled through the city streets, knocking the balloons together and apart in a chaotic dance. The boy skipped along.
“Well, this is good,” Weave said. “We get to be special to a single little boy. So much better than Bill, Babs, or Phil.”
“What happen to them?” Flo asked.
“Oh, they were painted in solid colors and used in some big ritual a few days ago.” Bob replied. “No one has heard from them since, no doubt they were discarded and trashed like so many others.”
Weave sighed. “One night and gone. Off to the landfill.”
“We are the lucky ones, then. We get to brighten up the special day of one kid,” Flo said.
“We won’t be discarded and trashed for a single momentous celebration,” Bob said.
A strong gust blew the kids hat off of his head. He reached to grab for it, releasing the balloons into the breeze. The kid screamed and his father nearly collided with a light post to reach the helpless balloons. He failed. Bob and his friends climbed into the sky, far away from the kid’s outstretched hand.
“Oh, no,” said Bob. “We are in trouble.”
“You think?” Weave yelled.
They rose above the skyscrapers, their ribbons were tied together at the base, so they wouldn’t lose sight of each other. Bob found some comfort that he would at least be lost with friends.
“Perhaps they will find us when we land,” Weave mused.
“You must be kidding,” retorted Bob. “We are lost. The humans won’t be looking for us.”
Flo’s voice was low, sad. “We have been discarded, we are trash.”
Flo’s vibrant “Happy Birthday!” felt mocking as the trio of balloons floated through the air. They were drifting further from the city and higher. The clouds were their new companions, but the clouds floated with a purpose. They had a cause, a reason. Bob, Flo, and Weave were now only discarded plastic. They were lost in the currents of the air around them, and those currents forced them over the ocean’s great expanse.
The ocean. Bob felt their doom creep up on them. They would be far from any land or civilization. Soon the helium that filled their innards would slowly leak out, then they would begin to sink and come to rest on the surface of the ocean. They would be vulnerable to all of the terrors below its tranquil surface.
They drifted in silence.
Bob never really noticed their slow descent until the first crest dampened their linked ribbons. The sea didn’t look so tranquil now. The swells rolled and the balloons fell deep within the trough. Waves rose around them. They were in a valley of water.
“We’re doomed,” said Weave.
The valley of water rose below them, the canyon walls dropped. The ocean lifted them up. They bounced in the air again. Bob dreamed for hands that could help him climb into the sky. The water dropped again, pulling Bob, Weave, and Flo by their ribbons. Bob couldn’t see through the surface of the deep blue water, its horrible mysteries hidden from view. The three balloons came to rest on the water’s surface. Nothing pulled them below.
“Is it over?” cried Weave.
“Keep it together, Weave,” said Flo. “We can still get through this.”
Flo fell silent.
Bob stayed silent, he had nothing to add. It was over, but his words would bring little comfort to Flo or Weave. They were done.
The water calmed in a few days and the three balloons discovered they had drifted so far out into the ocean that not even their city was visible on the horizon.
“I miss the city,” Weave mused.
His compatriots were silent.
Weave called out to other discarded human creations that floated by, a cushion, a bent plastic toolbox, and several empty oil containers. They were all drifters, broken, and silent. The balloons looked on them with wary eyes. They knew this was their fate.
“Well, this is pretty much the end of us,” Weave said. Like Bob and Flo, he floated on his back watching the clouds pass above them.
“Balloons never come back from this,” agreed Bob. “We are trash.”
“I guess it could be worse,” Weave mused with a wry chuckle.
“We could be wasting in a landfill. What a scene that would be? Being buried, unceremoniously, among other trash, other discards. At least, here I get to look at the clouds and float on the waves until we learn how we will go.”
“I’ll tell you exactly how we are going to go. Haven’t you heard the tales? There are creatures out here that will devour us for no purpose other than that they can!”
Flo’s voice was quiet. “They have nothing to gain from eating us.”
“They will do it nonetheless!” Bob shouted
Weave continued to muse, looking at the moving clouds across the sky. “Maybe they don’t know any better. Maybe it’s just another tragedy, like how we were lost.”
The conversation quieted down and the three balloons only drifted in the sea as the sun set and the cold night set in. Bob felt alone when night set in. He couldn’t see his compatriots, but when they floated into each other, he was briefly reminded that they were all together.
The sun rose on the horizon. The horizon was basked in purple as the sunlight filtered through the clouds blanketing the horizon. Soon, the sun would rise above the clouds and warm the air and water they had drifted in all night.
Bob felt a tug on their entwined ribbons. “Hey guys,” he said, “nice to know you are still there.”
There was a second tug. It pulled him below. Something was dragging them!
“What the hell?” Weave exclaimed.
“Something has us!” shouted Bob
They were released and a creature, born form Bob’s nightmares, rose from the sea. It had an oval or elliptical armored shell. Its head was armored and its powerful jaws were pointed like a parrot beak. Its eyes were large and dull. A mindless eating machine. It had powerful, scaled flippers. It spun in circles between them.
“What the hell is it?” screamed Flo.
It dropped its head below the waves again. It tugged at their ribbons and pulled them through the waves. It shook them violently and then released the ribbons from its jaws of terror. However, the creature had not retreated. Its terrible head surfaced again. It lurched slowly, but purposefully, and bit down on Weave.
Weave, still partially filled with helium, squeezed out of the creature’s grip. But the dumb animal was relentless. It bit down again and Weave squeezed out.
That’s when Bob realized Weave was drifting too far away. His ribbon had been cut!
“We are going to lose him!” Flo cried.
But there was nothing Bob or Flo could do. It’s not like they were created to resemble animals or people with limbs. They were simple, but colorful, oval balloons. Useless.
The creature attacked again. There was a Pop! The creature had ripped a hole in Weave. He deflated quickly, screaming while the creature solidly gripped him in its jaws. It began to devour him with every bite
“Not like this. Not like this.” Weave repeated the desperate mantra.
As Weave was swallowed, Bob heard Weave’s last act of defiance.
“I’ll clog your intestines you sonofabitch! How are you gonna like that, huh?”
The creature disappeared beneath the waves. Flo and Bob drifted alone in the punishing quiet of the open sea for another two days. They said little, they waited for the end.
The sun was high on the third day when they heard the rumble of some new terror. A white, metal beast floated across the sea. The front of the machine crashed through the waves. A symbol was along its side: a white, nondescript bird in flight with dark blue above it and light blue below. It passed them, but Bob noticed that people walked along the rear of the contraption. It was a human machine!
“Are they looking for us?” Flo asked.
“No, they will just drift right by. We are trash now, unimportant.”
But the machine did slow and turn. It passed them and a man with long, dark hair, speckled with gray, reached for them with a hooked pole. The pole was too short and the machine passed them. It made another pass, but again the man failed to catch the balloons.
“He’s not very good at this,” Bob mused
“Shush, he’s trying. Do you think the boy sent them?” Flo asked.
“Screw this!” The man said.
That was it, thought Bob. They were going to continue on their way, leaving Bob and Flo to be devoured by the beasts of the sea. One by one.
The man disappeared inside the great machine, but the machine was making another pass. The man returned with a new pole. The pole had string threaded through small hoops along the pole’s length. More of the string was spooled near the man’s hands. He threw the pole behind him and then cast it Bob’s direction. There was a whirring sound and the string was let loose. A metal hook at the end gleaned in the sunlight. The hook and string splashed into the water near them. The man began to turn a crank attached to the spool.
Bob felt a tug from their ribbons. The hook had snagged? They were being pulled toward the boat. They were saved!
Moments felt like hours and the balloons were soon pulled on to the machine. Other people cheered at the success.
Bob and Flo were given a second chance to be part of a celebration. They were the stars. They were tied to a chair in front of a computer that was used often by several members of the machine’s crew. They were there for weeks as these humans went about their duties on the sea. Bob still couldn’t understand why they would come out into the sea willingly, but he was thrilled they stopped to save them.
© 2017 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.