June 5

Hot-Air Apocalypse (part 2)

 

[…continued from June 4 entry…]

 

“Does anybody know how to fly this thing?”

In occasionally recurring nightmares, you voiced this concern to fellow passengers on an airplane.  You never expected to repeat the words in real life…on a hot-air balloon, no less.

Like you, the dozen passengers are all terrified.  The guide/pilot has jumped overboard.  Heat roars from the air burner, its flame blasting hard enough to singe your eyebrows, expanding the multi-colored cloth hanging above, urging the balloon ever higher.

It’s hard to estimate how fast the craft is rising, but it’s definitely not the leisurely, scenic pace promised in the tourism brochure.

“The guide yanked this control bar,” you shout over the roar.  But the lever seems welded in place when you try to move it.  A larger passenger pushes you aside, grunts and sweats.  He can’t budge it either.

Another unexpected lurch and tilt, and several people fall to one side of the hanging basket.  The toddler who earlier had been riding his father’s shoulders gets lost in the tight crowd, and you worry the boy might be crushed.

You  look over the edge, trying to catch a glimpse of the guide.  A parachute rises over a diminishing speck, slowing the man’s descent.

But beside you, around you in the valley…

Other hot-air balloons, rising too fast, their ejecting pilots drifting to the valley below.

It was a busy tourist day.  There are so many runaway balloons, and you’re too dizzy to count them.

You have no idea how far up your balloon will travel, or what might happen when you reach a certain strata in the atmosphere.  Once the fuel and flame run out, will the balloon drop to Earth in a terrifying crash?

Your mind drifts, and you think more about balloons. Balloons twisted by clowns at a birthday party, assuming sword or animal shapes; colorful helium balloons at the carnival, floating at the end of a string.

Balloons that pop if you stick them with a pin.  Or ones that scream and bob and shrink with the slow release of air.

And you know a hot air balloon is different, but as people scream around you or gather in small groups of hopeless prayer, you wish for a small puncture in the inflated structure above you; a peaceful deflation; a slow, bobbing descent.

You glance over the edge of basket.  The other passengers huddle towards the center, so it’s your best opportunity for an unobstructed view of the landscape below.

The balloon has risen much higher than you thought. Below, the landscape has a rounded curve to it, and you imagine the Earth itself as a kind of colorful balloon, its thin surface awaiting a large pin, the entire planet punctured in a sudden, spectacular burst.