Short Stories

Red Balloons

By Allynn Riggs

Sheila watched the balloons float into the air. She could feel the tension from the strangers around her and knew they were waiting for her to speak. She took a deep breath and spoke to the angry crowd.

“Do you see them?” She pointed at the balloons. “Look up and see the newest form of crowd control.” She hoped the breeze would assist her.

Most of them looked at the multicolored supposedly helium filled orbs drifting slowly over the gathering. A voice from near the center called out, “They’re just balloons. She’s bluffing.” Somewhere, someone laughed. The crowd’s eyes shifted back to focus on her.

Sheila sighed then raised her voice—the speaker system blared, “Why would I bluff? I have no reason to lie. You’re the one’s who are lying. Who knows the truth? You don’t.”

The same voice from the center yelled in return, “How do you know?”

She smiled, “I live here. You don’t. You know nothing. You have nothing to be angry about.” The balloons drifted closer.

“Who said we’re angry?”

She pointed at the fists, the angular red faces. “You did.” The balloons were at the edge of the crowd, their formation beginning to resemble a circle. She had to disperse the crowd before they completed the circle—before the red one appeared.Red Balloon 1

Another deep breath preceded her entreaty, “Why don’t you just go home. There’s nothing here to interest you.” She watched the balloons; they were almost set.

“Go home, now.” She put as much power as she could behind the order. Would they disperse?

A few at the rear of the crowd turned away. They moved back down the road outside of the circle of balloons. They would be safe. The rest stayed. They moved forward, closer to the steps. Sheila decided to try pleading. “It won’t be my fault. Just . . . just go . . . go home . . . please.”

“Why should we go?”

“Why not?” she parried. The balloons had spaced themselves evenly about the edge of the crowd. She watched as the lone red balloon moved to the center. She had only seconds to save them.

She pointed, “Leave now, before the red one begins spinning, please. For my sake, just go home. Forget you know about this place. It’s not my fault.”

The red balloon began turning. A few looked up. They watched it rotate. Turning . . . turning . . . a little faster.

Sheila shrugged, it was not her fault. They did not listen. They wouldn’t go home. She turned her back on the crowd and took the steps, one for each revolution of the red balloon. She climbed faster. The balloon spun, red light shot out to touch the other balloons on the edge. They, too, began to turn; multi-colored rays danced above the crowd. A woman raised a hand to shield her eyes from the garish glare.

The woman began to scream.

Sheila slipped through the double doors at the top of the stairs. The soft click of the lock reassured her. A tear slid down her cheek. Sheila hated balloons, especially red ones.

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