The Man and His Balloon

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
Some people know how to separate fantasy from reality. Others... don't. Citizens of Los Angeles, meet Doctor Artemus Phileas Naudin and his fantastic flying machine, the ninth wonder of the unknown world: a hot air balloon.

Submitted: October 27, 2011

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 27, 2011




The hot-air balloon landed with a splash of sand, interrupting the sun-bathers and the sandcastle builders, not to mention the sunscreen appliers. They all stared at it with the same expression on their faces, that classic mixture of emotions that can really be boiled down to a single question: “What the fuck?”

They didn’t have to wait long for an answer. The sand had barely settled stickily to their skin when a man popped up from the bottom of the basket- and nobody was surprised to see that this was one of the more eccentric people to ever appear on Venice Beach. He was dressed in clothing that had become outdated about a hundred years ago, complete with a bowler hat and a fob watch- though it looked like it was just a digital watch glued to a chain. His hair was theatrically windswept, and he moved with the frenzied energy of the stereotypical inventor from movies set in the nineteenth century. He almost pulled it all off.

“Greetings, heathens!” he shouted with joy at the amassed crowd. They all stared at him, dumbfounded; the many stoners there immediately vowed to cut back. A few people took out phones and started to record the scene for posterity. “I am Doctor Artemus Phileas Naudin, a traveler from a distant land called the United States of America, from the great state of Idaho. It is a very different place than this...” He trailed off, gazing around at the wide beach brimming with tourists and ringed with the bustling boardwalk and the dried-up coastal mountains.

“Dude, you’re still in the U.S.,” someone muttered. The man didn’t seem to hear.

“But ‘tis no matter,” he continued grandly. “I am an explorer, and do not shrink from distant lands and strange peoples. So I offer you my greetings, Oh wondrous peoples of-” he peered at the sign enthusiastically directing tourists to the purportedly world-famous Cow’s End Creamery- “of the magnificent land of Cowsend Cremerie. I can tell you with utmost sincerity, it is a spectacular, albeit strange and mysterious land. But come, I bring gifts to prove my worth, and to introduce you to the wonder that is modern civilization!”

The crowd inched forward in interest as he ducked down into the depths of his basket. From the sound of crashing, shattering, and cursing, it appeared he had a hoarder’s entire treasure trove of golden crap down there. Several members of the crowd tittered.

“All right, what’s going on here?” Cue the police. The mounted police. This whole scenario kept getting more and more interesting.

A few people peeled off from the crowd uneasily. The rest stuck around, hoping that the mounted cop would shoot someone, or trample something with his vicious steed, or maybe there might be a long exciting chase involving the wacko in the balloon dangling off a rope as the balloon hurtled through the sky and the cop galloped beneath, shooting wildly at the sky. Or at least an arrest.

The man jumped back up from the bottom of his basket, his arms brimming with strange odds and ends that all together looked like the nicest gift of junk ever given to the L.A. heathens. At the sight of the cop, his face lit up like a car’s high-beam headlights shining into oncoming traffic. “Aha! A warrior!” he exclaimed, juggling the junk so that he could open the basket gate and step onto the sand. “Allow me to introduce myself: I am Doctor Naudin, of the far-off land of the U.S.A, and the great state of Idaho, and this is my wondrous flying machine, that they call the ninth wonder of the unknown world! Please accept these gifts as an indication of my goodwill towards your people.” He thrust his armful at the cop, who didn’t seem to know what to make of the whole situation. He stared at Doctor Naudin without taking the junk; balloon-man’s face fell ever so slightly before he turned to the woman standing next to the cop. “Please, accept these gifts,” Naudin said earnestly.

The woman looked around the crowd for support. Some people shrugged at her, some laughed, and most continued recording the incident to post and get millions of views on YouTube. She turned back to balloon-man and held out her hands slowly. With a great burst of enthusiasm, he dumped the pile of old toys, broken clocks, a withered corsage, and a VHS into her arms. She staggered slightly, and some scraps of burnt paper and a slinky fell onto the sand.

“Oh, what a gracious ambassador!” Naudin exclaimed. “What is your name, my dear, that I might take note and spread word of your kind heart throughout the civilized world?”

She looked around again. Even the cop was just staring blankly at balloon-man. No help from that quarter. She cleared her throat. “Um, Diane Smith,” she said.

“So tell me, Diane Smith, what manner of place is this? What tribe are you from, how do you live?” He looked sincerely interested.

“Um... It’s L.A.”

“The tribe of Elay, you say. But what kind of existence do you have?”

“A... normal one?”

Balloon-man laughed, the kind of big belly laugh that Santa Claus probably owns the rights to. “Oh, Diane Smith, that you think that a life like this is ‘normal.’ How quaint! If only you could see the rest of the world, and understand how primitive your strange little tribe is!” He laughed again. Somebody in the crowd started laughing along with him, though they were more likely laughing at him. Naudin wiped tears away from his eyes, then straightened excitedly. “But how novel! What say you, Diane Smith, to an offer of a tour around the world? To explore the great unknown, see other cultures, other places, perhaps other times-” he winked- “and to boldly go where no Elay tribeswoman has gone before?”

She was taken aback. “Oh... Um...”

At the enthusiastic offer, the cop finally snapped out of his stupor. “Hold on a second there, buddy,” he said. The crowd sharpened its attention. Here it comes passed through the thoughts of at least three-quarters of the witnesses. The other quarter wondered how much battery was left in their phone, or just stared with no thoughts whatsoever.  Diane herself was half concerned with the proposition and half with the unidentified piece of plastic digging into her arm. She thought it might be the missing leg from the ragged Barbie doll protruding out of the pile.

“Yes, oh mighty warrior?”

“Do you have a permit for this... vehicle?”

Any second now... the crowd thought.

Balloon-man spread his arms grandly. “Does one need a permit to float amongst the clouds? To feel the wind upon his face, and see the smiles of that flighty temptress, Adventure herself?”

Wait for it...

“No, but you need a permit to bring a vehicle onto this beach, and hot-air balloons fall under that category.” The cop took out his pad and a pen. “I’m going to have to write you a ticket, and then impound your balloon until we can get this all sorted out-”

“What! Take away my magnificent balloon!” Naudin exclaimed, outraged. “Never!”

There it is!

The next second, the crowd’s excitement evaporated completely. Somebody screamed as Naudin’s hand flashed inside his coat and brought out a gun, pointed straight at the cop.

The cop responded cooly, putting his hands up slowly. “Okay, now think about this,” he said. “You’ve got a crowd of people here, and several more police not far away.”

“Nobody can take away my balloon, fiend!” balloon-man shouted. “No man could have a better friend, nor a more trustworthy guide in the heavens!”

“I’m not going to take it permanently. You’ll get it back.”

“Knave! How can I trust that, when you have already betrayed me? I came here in peace, but ‘tis true what they say, that violence is the only thing heathens truly understand!”

The crowd was frozen. Someone being held at gunpoint was not as much fun as the movies made it seem. Someone in Hollywood deserved to be sued for that.

“All right, just calm down,” the cop said. His hands lowered slightly toward his own weapon.

Naudin saw it. With a shout, he pushed Diane to the ground out of harm’s way and fired- not at the cop, but at the horse.

The shot was spot-on. The horse whinnied and fell to the ground, trapping the cop beneath it.

Naudin whirled back to the balloon and began tossing things over the edge of the basket in a frenzy. The basket groaned as the balloon took more and more of its weight.

Suddenly, Naudin paused and looked around. “You. Diane Smith,” he said, pointing to the woman he’d pushed to the ground. His other hand still held the gun. She met his eyes in shock. The crowd saw their lives pass before its eyes. “The offer still stands for you to come, oh ambassador of Elay. Come, see the world, and forget about what you think is ‘normal!’”

Diane stood and looked around. Once again, the crowd was less than helpful: they were all frozen, some still holding the record button out of some sort of muscular paralysis. The cop was still struggling to get out from under his horse, his face twisted in pain- though on the bright side, it looked like his mount was now and forever beyond feeling any kind of pain.

What the hell. Diane brushed the sand from her blouse, took a last, wistful look at the now putrefying horse and the cop struggling beneath it, and stepped into the hot-air balloon.

© Copyright 2018 Sara Howland. All rights reserved.

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