Image credit Shimelle Laine
Something Came Over Our Farm Town And Now Everyone Has Disappeared Except For Me
It appeared on the horizon early one morning, at the very far edge of my neighbor Caleb’s field. It was just a blip at first, but as it gently wafted closer to my property, it became large enough to blot out the sun. My son Henry was captivated. He’d never seen a hot air balloon in person before. He watched it drift closer and closer, then ran out on the porch in his dinosaur onesie, and watched it creeping even closer. As I drank my coffee, I could hear the sputters of the fire keeping the colorful thing afloat. It would stop and start periodically, bursting to life in a geyser of flames. My son waved excitedly, but his excitement waned as the hot air balloon drew nearer.
“Mommy, there’s no one in the basket,” he said.
I heard the burner puttering.
“What do you mean, honey?” I asked through the open window.
I stretched down and peered up at the object in the sky. Henry was right; there was no one manning the hot air balloon. Weird, I thought.Must have gotten loose. There hadn’t been much wind that morning, but if whoever the balloon belonged to hadn’t tied it down properly, it could have drifted off on its own. Out of curiosity, I grabbed my keys, buckled my son in the back seat of the truck, and took off after it.
The balloon ran out of fuel and landed on the outskirts of my field, where I finally caught up to it. Caleb was already there, sitting on his four-wheeler and scrutinizing it with a perplexed expression on his face.
“Morning Grace,” he said, never looking away from the object as the envelope slowly lost its circular shape and fanned to the ground like curtains in the breeze.
“Howdy Caleb. Any idea what this straggler’s doing here?” I asked.
I opened the back door to let Henry out. My excitable son jumped out of the truck and bolted towards the hot air balloon. Thankfully, Caleb grabbed him by the shoulders and held him back.
“No, son. It’s not safe. Might catch fire. Best to keep your distance,” He told Henry. His gaze then fell on me. “Mmm, not sure.”
“I reckon it’s a runaway tourist attraction from a few towns over,” I theorized.
He rubbed his bushy chin, “Mmm. Yeah. That’s probably it.”
Henry squirmed in Caleb’s firm grip. “Mom, I wanna go look!”
The last of the fabric fell and draped over a patch of soil.
“Should be safe now,” said Caleb, jerking his head towards my son.
I nodded back, and he let Henry go. My boy squealed and ran towards the basket.
“Careful not to touch the burner, honey. It’s still hot,” I called out, hands on my hips.
Caleb followed him at a much slower pace. “It’s quiet this morning,” he murmured, “Did you notice?”
I shook my head, “It’s never quiet with Henry around.”
I picked up the pace as Henry pulled himself aboard. Though I knew it was impossible, a small part of me was afraid the balloon would inflate and my son would fly off into the sky, never to be seen or heard from again. Just one of the many ridiculous automatic thoughts you get when you’re a parent; everything has the potential to be dangerous, even when it’s not. Thankfully, the hot air balloon stayed right where it was, and Henry ran around in the basket like it was the best toy he’d ever seen.
“Now don’t you break anything Henry,” I said, leaning over the side of the basket.
Caleb knelt down, lifted the fabric, and inspected it curiously. “Everything looks intact. Best not leave it out here, though.”
“Help me put it in the back of my truck. I’ll store it in the barn until its owner shows up,” I answered.
It probably cost a pretty penny. Someone was bound to come claim it sooner or later. Maybe I’d convince them to take us up for a ride as a thank you.
I shooed Henry out of the basket and told him to go sit in the truck while Caleb and I unhooked the fabric, rolled it, and tossed it in the back. We then grabbed the basket and hoisted it up.
“Shit,” I whispered, straining to lift it, “Heavier than it looks.”
Beads of sweat were rolling down Caleb’s face. “Probably because of the burner.”
It wasn’t easy, but we managed to force it in the truck. Caleb helped me tie it down while Henry watched eagerly from the back seat.
“Phew,” I mumbled, wiping my brow.
I was definitely having second thoughts about bringing it into the barn. Maybe I’d just throw a tarp on it once I got home and call it a day.
Caleb wiped his hands on his jeans. “I best be headed back. The wife’ll want to know what all the excitement was about.” He hopped on his four-wheeler and gave me a wave.
“Thanks Caleb. Y’all take care,” I answered.
We both took off in opposite directions. Henry watched as Caleb disappeared on the horizon, and then stared at our rows of corn the rest of the way home.
As we pulled into the driveway, Henry said, “Mr. Scarecrow’s doing a good job today.”
He pointed to the field. “Look.”
I followed his gaze to the scarecrow. For the first time in years, there were no crows cawing around it, or anywhere else on the property. Stupid thing never worked before. Don’t know why it was working now.
“Well, I’ll be damned.”
Caleb was right. Without the incessant bird calls, and with most of the animals still asleep, it was rather quiet out. So quiet, in fact, that I could hear a low atmospheric hum droning on in the background. The kind of sound you only notice when everything else goes away. It was neither peaceful nor annoying; it was just a constant, low sound easily drowned out by my son’s babbling.
Spencer, our farm hand, arrived late that morning. I was already washing the dishes from breakfast when I saw him driving up the road. He had a bad habit of being tardy, so I wasn’t exactly surprised when he came running through the door, huffing, puffing, and apologizing.
“Sorry ma’am. This is the last time, I swear,” he said.
I stared at him, unimpressed.
“D’you hear what happened?” he asked.
“The hot air balloon? Yeah. I was there. And I still managed to make it back here on time to feed the livestock.”
He lowered his head in shame. “Sorry ma’am.”
I sighed. “It’s fine. Just get to work, all right?”
He nodded. Just as he was about to step out the door, however, we heard a booming noise off in the distance.
“What in tarnation was that?” he asked, peering out towards the field.
“Transformer exploded?” I suggested.
“Too loud for that,” he replied.
We stepped onto the porch and scanned the area, until we spotted a wisp of smoke in the distance.
“Looks like it’s coming from the Burns’ field,” he said.
“Probably just their tractor. Mr. Burns has been meaning to replace that old thing for years now. Guess the engine finally gave out,” I replied, and then shoved him lightly. “Come on, enough procrastinating. You’ve got work to do.”
His eyes stayed locked on the small column of smoke for a moment, but he eventually nodded. “R-right. Sorry ma’am.”