Chapter One: The Red Balloon
You must login to vote
Rufus slammed the door. "Lilah?" he called. "LIIILAH!"
Lilah came running, her white-blonde hair flowing out behind her. "What is it, Rufus?" she asked, ever eager.
Rufus put on his widest smile and brandished a small, rectangular piece of plastic. "Iíve got it!"
"Yes!" Lilah punched the air and did a little dance, her dirty bare feet slapping against the wooden floor. "Your pilotís license!"
His pilotís license. What heíd waited for since birth. Never mind that it had taken him much effort to get it...people didnít take kindly to him in this town. But they didnít matter. All that mattered was--
"We can leave now!" Lilah finished his thoughts. Címon, letís go, while itís still light!" She was jumping with excitement.
"Right behind you, Lilah," Rufus said, trying to keep the weariness out of his voice. After all, Lilah was all he had in life--Lilah and the balloon.
A few moments later he was sitting in the basket of his beautiful balloon, which Lilah had named The Red Warrior. It was his most prized material possession, because heíd started building it with his father, when he was nine. He was now sixteen, and balloon represented half of a lifetimeís hard work. It was packed and ready with food to last them for a month, extra clothing, all the money theyíd been saving for months now, and everything else they could think of that theyíd need on the journey. They had been ready for this day for almost a year now.
Rufus quickly adjusted all the gas levers to their proper positions, secured his safety harness, and opened the main gas valve. The gas flowed to the main burner and a stream of bright flame shot up into the balloonís red silk envelope, Rufus and Lilah clapped their hands and yelled as The Red Warrior began to rise.
Lilah shouted in excitement. The last time she had been flying was with her father, more than a year ago. Now they were going on an adventure, just she and Rufus. The Red Warrior took to the air easily, and soon the currents carried it away from their old house and into the clean, wonderful air.
They rose very high, until all Lilah could see of her neighborhood were tiny dots of brown cottages, green circular hoverpads, and the narrow, jagged blue ribbon of Scar Creek. Lilah leaned over the side of the basket to get a better view, and laughed as a gust of wind hit her face. "This is great!" she declared, and did not speak for quite some time, so deep was her fascination.
Rufus, meanwhile, was carefully paying attention to the gas levels and current patterns. All in all, it was a perfect day for flying, and he couldnít be happier. He was born to fly, to leave the ground behind, and to explore greater heights than anyone else. And they would. Just he and Lilah. A year ago Father would have been along as well, but he couldnít think about that. It only raised difficult, unsettling questions about Fatherís disappearance. Questions that did not have answers.
Fortunately, Lilah picked that time to ask, "Tell me about Mrs. Milton and her balloon."
"That old story again?" Rufus said. Lilah nodded fervently.
"All right," he obliged, as he always did. "Mrs. Milton wasnít the brightest of people, and one day she went flying in her balloon and went out of hover platform range. Now, everyone knows that once youíre out of platform range the currents get stronger. And thereís nothing to catch you if you fall. And, lo and behold, Mrs. Milton, who was not the best flyer, ended up in a strong current. The current knocked her this way and that, and she couldnít keep her balance and fell!"
"Oh, no!" Lilah cried. "What happened then?" she asked, even though sheíd heard the story more times than Rufus could count.
"Well," he replied, with a dramatic pause, "Luckily, Father was nearby, flying his balloon. He saw Mrs. Milton in danger, and even though he knew he would risk falling, he flew his balloon, fast as he could, all the way out of range and caught Mrs. Milton just in time. Then he fought the vicious currents all the way back to the safety of the town and put Mrs. Milton on her own two feet again, safe and sound."
"And what happened to Mrs. Miltonís balloon?"
"Well, it was too big to save. It fell down, down, into darkness, and was never seen again."
Lilahís eyes widened. "Fought the vicious currents. Thatís my favorite part."
"Mine too," Rufus agreed. "Dad was a real hero--"
But the rest of his sentence remained unsaid, interrupted by a sudden, strong gust of wind that rocked the balloon violently.
"What was that?" Lilah asked sharply.
"I donít know," said Rufus, checking his current readings. "The air currents are going haywire! I donít understand it!" Another gust jarred the basket, followed by more and more. The currents were totally random, not following any natural pattern.
"Lilah, put your safety harness on," Rufus ordered.
"Umm," Lilah mumbled.
"Put it on!" he cried as he strapped his own on.
"I sort of...forgot it at home," she said.
"Oh, Lilah, youíre not serious!" Rufus had to scream, the wind was so strong.
"Iím sorry!" she shrieked back. Another gale sent her flying to the other side.
"Come here, use mine, weíre way out of platform range!" he said, pulling her to him against the wind. Just as she was about to reach him, the wind changed directions, and she pitched forward, hitting her head hard on the gas tank and falling.
"Lilah!" Rufus yelled. But she was out cold at the bottom of the basket, and he could not reach her. Suddenly, the wind became so strong that it tipped the basket completely upside down. Rufus cried out in the sudden tug of gravity, as the world inverted itself before his eyes. His safety harness held him inside, but Lilah dropped limply from the basket and fell down, down into nothing.
"Lilah!" he screamed desperately. But she was gone.