Season 2, Episode 019: The Balloon

season 2 of raconteuse radio

Guilliean reads her short story. Stream it and read along with the text!

Music: Horror Atmospheres and Accents from ZapSplat.

“What a pretty balloon,” remarked the lady.

I looked up. It was a plain latex balloon, purple, tied off with two strings, weighed down by yellow, heart-shaped weights.

“Is it yours?” she asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Well, you should take it,” she said. “It suits you.”

I shook my head. Wherever I was going, I didn’t need a balloon. I began to walk. I wasn’t even sure where I was. I wasn’t even sure where I was going. But it was quiet and I knew I wasn’t alone. I felt free if that made sense.

“Ow,” I said, a sharp pain erupting in my right wrist. I looked down at it. It was crooked. And bruised. I shook my arm gently and cried out in pain again. When did I break it? What was the black stuff embedded in my arm?

I saw the balloon again. From the corner of my eye. I turned my head abruptly, refusing its existence. I used my left arm to prop up my damaged wrist so I could continue my journey. I couldn’t quite piece together where I was going.

I was on a road now, and I could see the headlights of the cars going past me. I tried to wave them down, jumping up and down and screaming, and I guess I must’ve landed wrong because my ankle gave way.

I crumpled to the ground, howling in pain. My entire right side was electrified by searing pain. I smelled gasoline. I smelled an acrid scent I couldn’t place. I smelled the summer weeds that reminded me of my childhood driving up and down 132.

I looked up at the balloon that hadn’t left my side. There were headlights headed for me but I had no reflexes left to move. I saw the car stop short of me, crunching on the tempered glass pooled around me.

I blinked. And saw the balloon again. Only it turned to look at me. It had black circles on its face. They were its eyes. It had a yellow-shaped X where its mouth would be. The tuft of white on its head looked like clouds.

“Miss?” said the voice. It was a man. He had kind eyes.

“Oh my god, I think she’s…” said another voice. A woman. I felt the fear in her voice.

“Better call the cops,” the man said.

The balloon came to float beside me. Its heart-shaped hand reached for me. I took it as it helped me stand up. I couldn’t understand why it could hold my weight.

In the brightness of the headlights, in the darkness of that night, I saw the old lady again.

“Grandma Ethel,” I muttered.

I had few memories of her.

“Hello ducky,” she said gently. “Are you ready to go?”

I looked up at the balloon. It turned to smile at me.

“Yes, Grandma, I’m ready to go.”

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Guilliean Pacheco (she/her) is a writer and editor of Filipino heritage and the host of the City of Writers podcast. Her work has appeared in TechTarget, Nevada Humanities, and Helen: A Literary Magazine. She has an M.F.A. in Writing from the University of San Francisco and is an Anaphora Arts poetry fellow. She’s a misplaced California girl who lives in Las Vegas normally, if one could call living there normal, on Southern Paiute land. Follow her on Twitter.

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