Ryan Wheaton is an aspiring fiction writer and graphic novelist. He’s been trying to grow a beard too. So there’s that.
(This piece was written in response to the prompt “Write about a lost balloon.”)
Fiona was only 4 years old when she first met Grandfather Lawst. When her mother pulled her out of the car seat and set her on the parking lot gravel, she was immediately concerned that maybe they had arrived at an abandoned brick factory, or perhaps a textile warehouse. Certainly, a balloon factory would be more cheerful, brighter, made of rubbery spires and bouncy drawbridges. But, having only just learned to read, she labored through the flaking chiseled banner’s words and mouthed to herself in confusion.
“Mommy, what’s a Last Allin Elteedee,” she asked.
“Sorry, honey, what? Oh, no dear, that says Lawst Balloon,” she replied.
Fiona hadn’t experienced much in the way of disappointment in the 4 short years she’d been alive, but when it came to balloons, there was a specific expectation she had come to rely on.
“But, why is it like this?” she asked.
“Like what?” her mother asked, crouching down.
“Well, um. Why is it old?” she asked.
“Papa’s family has had this balloon factory for over 6 generations,” her mother said as she unrolled her fingers to count. “And when you have something for a long, long time, it changes. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s not as fun.” Her mother smiled.
Fiona puffed her cheeks up in protest; without a bouncing drawbridge there’d be no way to get inside. She might’ve been taught the realities of a balloon factory before they had turned down the dirt road some miles back, and even before they had left the house, but she wasn’t ready to accept them and assumed that her stubbornness had some sway. “But…” she paused. She let go of her mother’s hands and turned to face Last Allin. It was gray. Very gray. Even the sun that shone behind her seemed to sink from a vibrant yellow to a flat gray, very gray, as it neared the factory. There was no way it housed balloons. No monolith of apathy so dusted, no facade distraught with shattered glass eyes and rusted, broken-teeth gates could keep an iota of the summer-blue sky caged. It was outright paradoxical, this notion that such happy creatures were birthed within the belly of this brooding behemoth. Then again, Fiona was only 4 and her understanding of the principles underlying the conception of balloons had not yet fully formed.
“It’s scary,” she said.
“Come on now, Fiona, Grandfather has been waiting long enough. I’m sure he already knows we’re here. We don’t want to be rude.”
Fiona struggled against the tide of her mother’s pace, but a quick glance unfastened her knees. She dropped her eyes to her feet and watched as the dust rose and fell with each defeated kick of her toe. The daisies on her dress had already started to fade as they neared the double steel doors of the Lawst Balloon Factory. If she had ever before seen the frown of a child that had just been given a gray balloon, she wouldn’t have to wonder how sad she looked at that very moment.