Red Balloon – Jon Weswick [Fiction]

You know how this goes. A child delights in a helium balloon on a crisp, fall day when trees burn with life’s passing. Distracted by a Labrador Retriever chasing swirling leaves, tiny fingers let go and joy floats off faster than little arms can reach because the laws of physics turn deaf ears to voices protesting the unfairness of it all.


Meanwhile in seat 13A of an airplane bound for Paris, Luanne Miller fingers her wedding band. It’s white gold and she can hardly believe that after a whirlwind romance she and Ned, who proved his devotion by taking the middle seat, are on their honeymoon. She has the next seven days planned in detail: The Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Jim Morrison’s grave at the Père Lachaise Cemetery, breakfasts of baguettes and café au lait, and evenings savoring her ripe womanhood. Ned doesn’t know it yet but she plans to ride his body so hard that he won’t be able to climb stairs for a month.

The plane’s hungry engines inhale two tons of air per second. For an intake that can drag a runway worker into its deadly maw, devouring a helium balloon is child’s play, which is exactly what happens. The gay ribbon tangles turbine blades composed of ceramics and super alloys to withstand extreme temperatures and forces. Unfortunately, their manufacturer Hentai Machine Works’ admission of substandard parts had not made it to the airline’s maintenance department before takeoff. The extra stress provided by the ribbon widens microscopic fissures that wouldn’t have been there if the company had manufactured its product according to spec. Blades fracture. The turbine’s ten-thousand-RPM spin flings them radially outward, puncturing the plane’s thin, aluminum skin. The sudden, cabin decompression triggers orange, oxygen masks to drop from overhead but Luanne never reaches for hers. Shrapnel has severed her carotid artery, causing a gusher of blood to coat the fuselage’s interior like some deranged Jackson Pollack project of gore.

Captain Dusty McDermott wrestles the controls to maintain course and glances at the burning engine to his left. He recalls that flying consists of hours of boredom broken up by seconds of terror. Captain McDermott could sure use some boredom about now.

The child, who lost the balloon, points to the flaming jet, trailing cartwheeling toward a daycare center in the distance. Intent on a Xanax and glass of Merlot, his mother straps him into a car seat without looking up at trail of black smoke in the sky. She’s had enough of his whining and will give him a long time out once they get home.


By Jon Weswick

  • Jon Weswick has authored novels, the story collection Arugula, and the poetry collection Words of Power, Dances of Freedom. He is an editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual. Jon has published almost a hundred short stories in journals such as The Berkeley Fiction Review, Space and Time, Zahir, and Tales of the Talisman. The editors of Knot Literary Magazine nominated one for a Pushcart Prize. He has also published over three hundred poems in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Pearl, and Slipstream. One poem received the Editor’s Choice award in the 2016 Spirit First contest and another won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists contest. John has a Ph.D. in physics and is longtime student of Buddhism and the martial arts.

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