Elizabeth: Up Up and Away

Just like last month, after reading Nancy’s Accountability Thread and Jeanne’s Progress Report posts this week I was feeling like quite the slacker and felt compelled to buckle down and finish writing something.

Fortunately I just happened to have a variety of random words to work with, along with a set of characters from my March Short Story just waiting to be put to good use.  So, without further ado, here’s what happened to Ben and Emma when they went on a simple balloon ride.


Up, Up, and Away

The sun was still nestled below the horizon as our van approached the launch site.  The crew members were already there, connecting a large wicker basket to a vinyl puddle of what I presumed was the balloon, via a complex network of hooks and ropes.

Emma shivered in the cool morning air as we stepped out of the van and slipped her hands into the pockets of her fleece jacket.

“Don’t worry,” a bushy haired man who looked like a cross between Santa Claus and the Old Man of the Sea said.  “It’s kind of chilly now, but once you’re in flight the burners tend to keep the basket nice and warm.”  He introduced himself as Captain Meyers and then handed us off to a perky young woman balancing a clipboard and a steaming cup of coffee.  “Maryanne here will walk you through the safety briefing while we get everything ready to launch.”

A fan began to blow air into the balloon, which we learned was called the “envelope”, as Maryanne explained the take-off and landing process as well as where to position ourselves inside the basket.

By the time she finished talking, the sun was just barely peaking over the horizon and the gas burners had ignited, heating the air in the balloon, which gradually rose to an upright position.  What had looked like a murky puddle earlier turned out to be a kaleidoscope of brightly colored stripes, with a company logo emblazoned in the middle.

As a reporter for the local tourist office, I often got the chance to be the first to experience activities from companies just starting out.  I decided not to mention to Emma that this was the maiden voyage for this particular company though, since our last “new” activity didn’t turn out quite as expected.

Fifteen minutes after our arrival at the site, everything was set and ready for take-off.  “Good thing I’ve been working out,” Emma said as she clambered into the waste-high basket beneath the balloon.  Once we were inside, the ground crew released the balloon, the pilot fired a steady flame from the burner, and we slowly lifted off the ground, just in time to watch the sunrise wash across the landscape below.

I took a few photographs for the article I’d be writing later, before putting my camera away.  This was the kind of activity I wanted experience real-time rather than from behind the lens.  A few tendrils of fog swirled around as we ascended, but they soon dissipated, leaving the view clear for miles.

“Better than being trapped in the Escape Room last week?” I asked as Emma ooh’d and ahh’d over the scenery.

“Definitely better,” she laughed.  “And no worries about doors that won’t open or needing to be rescued by the fire department.”

The hour-long ride seemed to fly by (no pun intended).  It felt like we had just taken off when the pilot pulled the lever that opened the parachute vent and began releasing some of the hot air to make the balloon descend.

“Time to land already?” Emma asked with a look of disappointment.

The pilot pointed behind us where a mass of summer storm clouds had accumulated while we were enjoying the forward view.  “Sorry to cut this trip a little short, but we need to land before that storm catches us.”

The wind kicked up as we slowly descended, the bright sunlight darkened, and the clear blue skies filled with clumps of clouds.  “We’ll be landing in that flat open field right down there,” the pilot indicated as the ground got closer and closer.  Just then a gust of wind caught the balloon and propelled it past the field he was aiming for and right into a stand of Coast Live Oak trees surrounding an ancient looking red barn.

There was a smack as the basket hit the tree trunks, then a mass of confusion as the balloon and ropes were ensnared in the branches.  Once everything stopped moving, We were well and truly stuck in the trees, with the basket at a drunken angle, twenty feet or so off the ground.

A group of curious goats with their crazy eyes briefly looked our way before turning their attention back to the ground cover they were razing like a group of furry lawn mowers.

The pilot radioed his ground crew and gave them our position.  “Not to worry folks,” he said.  “We’ll be out of here in no time.”

“Are you okay?” I asked, looking over at Emma.

She felt around to make sure nothing was broken.  “I’m fine.  That landing was a little more exciting than Maryanne’s explanation.  I guess I should have expected something like this though,” she said with a laugh.  “Considering our history.”

“What was that about not needing a fire department rescue?” I asked as I tried to find a more comfortable position.

“Obviously I spoke too soon.”

“Rescue can’t be too soon for me.  I’m starved.”  In case any confirmation was needed, my stomach let out a growl just then.  “Too bad the champagne brunch is after the flight, not before.  I don’t suppose you have any of those “emergency oatmeal cookies” in your purse.”

Emma reached into the outside pocket of her purse and pulled out a small plastic bag with 2 cookies.  “I figured I better be prepared,” she said as she handed me one of the cookies.   “Just in case.”

It wasn’t long before we saw the crew van approaching across the field, along with the hook & ladder truck from the local fire department.

“Oh, hell,” Emma said as the truck reached us and the firemen disembarked.

I tried to suppress a laugh.  “Tell me that’s not Frank again.”

“Would that I could,” she said slumping back against the side of the basket.

A gangly dark-haired fireman with a surprised look on his face walked toward us.  “What are you doing here?”

“Having a picnic,” she said with a glare.  “Can you just get us out of here . . . please.”

The firemen positioned the ladder in place and helped us safely climb to the ground, then the crew went to work disengaging the basket and ropes before attempting to untangle the balloon from the branches of the tree.

Emma turned toward me.  “I know I told your sister I was looking for writing inspiration for my novel, but this isn’t quite what I had in mind.”

“Stick with me and you’ll have one inspiring adventure after another,” I said as we waited for the crew van.  “I’m trying out a cooking class over at the Black Dog Winery next Friday evening.  Want to join me?”

“Hmm, knives, a stove, and plenty of alcohol . . . what could possibly go wrong there?”

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