Friday, December 11, 2009

Letdown Doomsday by Neil Maneck

Our parents had it so good. Thermonuclear war between two superpowers is a catastrophe you can be proud of. Now we're legitimately afraid that SUVs will end the world.

Only This and Nothing More by Neil Maneck

I wander through my apartment, a few degrees brighter than perfect black. My headphones are loud, a failed play at subtlety like a whispering drunk, but my roommates are snoring corpses and notice nothing. I stare out the window, expectant. For what? A movement of moonlight to direct me, perhaps. I slump into a couch, exhausted yet anxious, hungry for salvation from aimlessness.

Rocking Horse by Neil Maneck

I ride this rocking horse through a mirror maze in search of my lost pen. Somewhere, it is bleeding split, spilt ink onto silk, reminding me of a Rorschach card, reminding me of my thoughts, reminding me of a Rorschach card. I can move in any direction but forward, and if I could get my bearings straight, maybe I could get somewhere jerking sideways. In the mirror to the right, do you see the shorter me, strangled and blinded by the ash-white python? His pen isn't just hard to find, the snake ate the damn thing! I ride on, compelled by an ancient prophesy I just invented: if I can find words in madness, then I can find them anywhere.

Vanishing Point by Jonathan Bridge

“You sometimes snore at night, and it disturbs my sleep,” she began.
“And you sometimes toss and turn, which wakes me in the middle of the night,” he added.
“So this new arrangement is the sensible thing to do,” she concluded.
“And pragmatic,” he said.
“We both work long hours, and need lots of rest.”
“And we can sleep together on weekends still.”
“Oh yeah, of course,” she reassured.
That was their justification for sleeping in different rooms. They both knew deep down that there was much more to this, but they stayed away from that dangerous topic. Allowing themselves to reason this out rationally meant that they did not want to deal with it emotionally. Focus on the practical side of things. As time passed, this more pragmatic weekday arrangement spilled over into weekends.
As David crawled into his bed and rolled around in his sheets to form a makeshift cocoon, he thought about Eliza, and how they used to be in the beginning. Before the marriage, the engagement, even the first official date. Back when he had long shaggy blond hair hanging over black sunglasses, and she let her long brown hair flow freely in the air, matching her beautiful brown eyes. Back when Eliza’s father had outlawed her from dating any guys, period. He was the warden, sheriff, and deputy when it came to his “baby angel”. But you can only keep the long-sleeve plaid button-up, hair combed over Romeo from the sun-dress, double pig-tailed Juilet for so long. Eventually they were sneaking around together behind her father’s back, which only added more excitement to the arrangement. At first they were content to see each other once or twice a week when her father went to bed early. But their relationship developed, and they needed more. They enjoyed spending time together, not just making out on the swing sets in the park, and by the monkey bars, in the slide, and under the jungle gym. Eventually Eliza joined the non-existent Community Service club at school, which met frequently on the weekends. David joined too.
He thought back to their first kiss, the first time they had sex, their official first date with her dad’s approval, and yes, they occurred in that order. But soon these thoughts faded, dimmed, and were slowly pushed out of his mind to make room for television. It was his brain’s way of protecting itself. Just focus on the detective show, it was telling him, worry about Eliza another time. And sure enough, David was fast asleep with the TV still running, snoring only slightly.
******
The alarm clock did what alarm clocks are supposed to do, and David rolled out of bed, revving himself up for another day at work. Shuffling straight for the shower, David looked around and noticed something was different. He wasn’t in the bathroom at all, but instead in the guest room, which was separated from his bedroom by the bathroom. It was no big deal though, as his sleepy eyes weren’t fully adjusted to the light yet, and he must have overstepped the route to the bathroom. But as he stepped out of his room, he realized that the door next to the guest room was not to bathroom, but in fact his bedroom door.
What the hell? David thought to himself. He tried opening and closing all the doors again, took a look around to orient himself, then tried it again.
Fully awake now, he realized that in fact his bathroom was gone, like Houdini, if it had been a lavatory instead of a person. David did what any normal person does when faced with something unexplainable: call in someone else to make sure you are not crazy.
“Eliza, are you up?” he called out as his voice trailed off, leaving a lingering feeling of uncertainty.
“Something wrong?”
She approached him cautiously, studying his expression for clues. She followed his eyes to the opened doors of his bedroom and guest room.
“Where is the bathroom?” she asked.
“I have absolutely no idea,” he replied, “but thank God.”
“Why thank God?”
“Because for a minute there, I thought you were going to have to call in a couple of buff men to put me in a white jacket, toss me in a comfy room, and throw away the key.”
“They wouldn’t need to be buff,” Eliza chimed in.
Following in David’s footsteps, Eliza went into both rooms, checked the doors and walls, and came back to the hallway.
“Is this some trick?” she asked as she stepped in and out of both rooms, double-checking to make sure for herself.
“The weirdest thing is that neither the guest room nor your room looks extended,” she said ignoring his sarcasm, “how is this possible? Pinch me.”
After they traded pinches, David on the butt and Eliza a little extra hard on the arm, they stood in the hallway, not sure of what to do next. They tried going into opposite rooms and knocking on the walls. Even though they both clearly heard knocks from the other side, David wanted to drill a hole through the wall, just to be sure.
“David, I just painted these walls.”
“If a man’s got tools, honey, he needs to use them.”
“Well you do look rugged with that tool belt on, Mr. Handy-man.”
After the hole, perfectly drilled David would add, confirmed that the bathroom had vanished, Eliza went to turn on the TV to see if they were not alone in this unexplainable phenomena. It was all over the news. The headline at the bottom of the screen read: Unexplainable Phenomena: Items or Entire Rooms Gone Missing. David turned up the volume to hear about a reporter discussing how his garage had vanished. Flipping through the channels, he realized that it was on every channel. The only channel not covering the phenomena had a marathon of Without a Trace reruns.
Everything came to a standstill, as if the world was stuck at a red light. Everyone found themselves tuning into whatever media form suited them to see if someone, somewhere, had an explanation. A variety of different people were being interviewed on different networks, from scientists, priests, politicians, to acclaimed psychics. Scientists were dumbfounded, unable to cite any past events that shared any resemblance to this. Priests were talking about how God was angry at how materialistic we had become, and He was punishing us. Politicians were saying not to panic. The psychics were saying they felt something like this coming. David switched to his favorite local news team, Daily-Low-Down, where renowned news reporter Jimmy McMaster was in mid-interview with a psychic from the local Tarot shop.
“Did you know that this is vanishing was going to happen?”
“Oh yes, yes, my dear. It was all in the cards.”
“And what did the cards say?”
“They told me that a great evil was going to fall upon us all.”
“Can you tell us why this is happening, or if it is going to stop?”
“It is different for everyone, Jimmy. But if you out there would like to know your own future, you can call me at 1-800-FORTUNE, and for a small fee, I can show you the cards that lay out your destiny.”
“You heard it straight from the source. This is Jimmy McMaster signing off. Remember, keep your heads up, and we’ll give you the low down.”
Eventually the news was no longer new, and David turned off the TV after listening to another politician telling the public not to be alarmed, and that it was best to remain calm, and that everything would be “alright”. It was late in the evening, and he looked over at his wife who was curled up in her favorite spot on the couch, with one leg stretched out on the futon and the other one curled in to support her salad bowl. He found himself half zoning out and half staring at her, and after a few seconds she felt his gaze upon her.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I was just thinking…”
“About what?”
“About this whole vanishing business,” he stated, “I wonder if it will happen again tomorrow.”
“Who knows,” she said in a tone as comforting as she could manage, “I want to think that it was just a onetime thing, but something inside me says that this is far from over.”
“I have that same feeling.”
“David…I’m scared.”
“It will be alright,” he began, but then realized that he wasn’t a politician. There was no reason for him to try to protect her. Sure he was the man and by society’s norms the protector of the house, but she was a woman, not a child. “We have each other,” he concluded as he walked over, leaned awkwardly over the couch, around the salad bowl, and gave her a light kiss on the forehead.
“Good night.”
“Night.”
*****
In the morning the alarm clock in David’s room did not go off. Well, it may or may not have gone off, but David would never know. When David eventually awoke, he found that his entire dresser was missing. He looked at where it had been the night before, but once again, there was no sign that it had ever existed. No indentions in the carpet where the base had placed all of the weight of the dresser, no clean area on the carpet where the dresser had prevented stains and dust from accumulating, no outlet on the wall behind the dresser where the alarm clock had been plugged into.
“David, I have searched the house and nothing seems to be missing!”
“Don’t get too excited,” David said. “Come in here and tell me what you see, or rather, don’t see.”
Noticing its absence, she looked at the blank area as if the dresser were still there, then to her husband, then back to the blank spot. Watching his wife look back and forth reminded him of when he used to pretend to throw the tennis ball with his dog, only to amuse himself as the dog looked out into the field, back at him, and then back to the field. I guess it’s only funny from one side, he thought to himself.
“Anything new on the news?” David asked.
The networks didn’t have much to report. ABC and CNN were both down because some of the essential equipment needed to broadcast had disappeared overnight. What they did say, however, was that witnesses reported from all over saying they saw different objects disappear right before their eyes. The Local-Low-Down had Jimmy McMaster back on, urging people to go onto a new website created by brilliant scientists, whathaveyoulostandwhatdoyoustillhave.com, to list what you know you have lost, and what you still have, in hopes that they can determine some kind of pattern to this randomness. “If there is a pattern, we’ll find it!” they exclaimed. Jimmy was demonstrating how to do it from a network computer. He was listing all the things that had vanished, and he was doing it with his head up.
David and Eliza decided that they, like Jimmy, should go into work, to take their minds off what was happening. Yet as they drove off, they both knew their offices would be closed. It may have been partly intuition, but mostly from the fact that everything along the way, even the 24-7 convenience stores and food markets, were closed. For some reason, however, they both decided to drive all the way to their work, just to make sure, before turning back.
That night, as David turned off the TV in his room and snuggled under his covers, he thought about the situation. As he laid there, he mind drifted and a picture of Eliza emerged.. It was her, the day before their wedding, in a pair of sweats and a tank top. Most would describe what she was wearing as nothing special. But to David, he remembered thinking how naturally beautiful she was, and this image of her ousted the one of her in a wedding dress every time. He couldn’t even explain to himself why this was, and never really tried to. He almost got up to go check on Eliza, make sure she was okay, maybe even keep her company. He flipped off the covers, but that was as far as he got. She is probably already asleep, he told himself, I wouldn’t want to wake her.
****
Two days later, and two rooms smaller, David awoke not to the backup alarm clock, but instead from the sun shining directly into his eyes. His room had been the mystery’s latest victim. The bed and sheets were there, but it was as if he had put a bed in his front yard. The unfamiliar sight of waking up to the sunrise, combined with the notion that he would never figure this out, caused David to fly into a rage. It wasn’t terrible timing, however, as the only things in his front yard were his bed frame, mattress, sheets, and pillows. The pillows, sheets, and mattress were soft enough to do very little damage as he threw them violently through the street, and the frame was heavy and bulky enough to prevent him from doing anything more than simply tipping it on its side and back. If he had not been swearing loudly to himself, or to God as some of his phrases suggested, he wouldn’t have even woken up Eliza.
“David! Come inside the house right this instant!” Eliza demanded from the doorway.
“That was actually very therapeutic,” David replied as he dropped the mattress, “you can use my bed and pillows to relieve tension if your bed is next.”
“I don’t think that is going to be happening anytime soon. Come inside and check out the news. Scientists have found some things out.”
Dr. J.M.Richards was on two different channels, which was impressive, as only three stations were still broadcasting. David stayed with Local-Low-Down, even though they were just taking the feed from a national network. He claimed that after much research on what people lost first and what people still had, he had discovered that beds are always the last thing to go. Upon a more in depth analysis, once again he discovered that if you fall asleep touching something, it will be much less likely for that thing to go missing. His main evidence was that no beds, sheets, or pillows that were in use had reportedly gone missing. He also stated that the vanishing always occurred sometime between sunset and sunrise. He closed by thanking everyone that went onto whathaveyoulostandwhatdoyoustillhave.com and posted their own lists, and that this website had the most up to date findings and discoveries.
***
Two weeks had gone by, and while scientists had not yet figured out the how, why, or where objects were disappearing to, they pursued the predicament persistently. Many had begun to support the “reverse big bang theory”, others working diligently to refute that, and others searching for even more abstract theories. Some priests were saying to pray and ask God for forgiveness and you would be saved. Others were saying that this was a modern day flooding, and like Noah and his family, God would save those that were good and smite the sinners into nothingness. Politicians asked the public for ideas and possible solutions, no matter how crazy, as they were just humble servants doing the people’s will. Psychics were foreseeing good and bad omens, depending on the particular client’s nonverbal signals.
The sun set quickly, reaching the horizon and leaving just enough light to show rows and rows of beds where houses used to be. Left with only two beds and their essentials, David and Eliza tried to create a plan of action. They decided that it would be better for them to each sleep in their own bed, so it would take longer for all their things to vanish. Each evening before the sun set, one of them would throw something off their bed, essentially giving that item a vanishing sentence. Eliza still held onto hope, clinging to it and making herself believe that this predicament was something that she could “ride out”. David had given up on the scientists, priests, politicians, and psychics when the Local-Low-Down channel went down, and was instead wondering about where all this stuff was vanishing to. He imagined a giant junkyard in heaven, or at least in the clouds, where all this stuff was piling up to form a great mountain. It was kind of like Olympus, if it had been made out of shopping carts, refrigerators, and toys. David had not become obsessed with the vanishing as most people had, as no human had reportedly vanished. Yet he hated thinking about this, as if even thinking about could cause this phenomenon to realize its mistake and start taking people too. He knocked on wood, even though superstition was not in his nature.
**
The next morning David almost felt guilty when he found out that the Goodfellows down the street had supposedly vanished in the middle of the night. Yet he knew he wasn’t to blame for all of this. At least that is what he hoped.
“Maybe they decided to run away,” Eliza said not wanting to believe it.
“Why would they do that?” David interjected, playing devil’s advocate, “Richard said that people with a lot more stuff just lost it at a faster pace than someone with less stuff. It is likely that Bill Gates and the Queen of freaking England are sitting outside on beds like we are right now.”
The argument was put to rest when a young man came down the street, wearing dark pants, a white button up, and a Bible in hand. Since David and Eliza were on the corner, he came up to them first.
“Hello brother and sister,” he began, “I come to you in this time of peril to give you relief, as God is watching over all of us. The Lord only asks that you repent your sins, and His love and mercy will save your soul, as our life on this Earth is limited, as you can see from the vanishing that is occurring all over the world.”
“Isn’t God the reason for all of this?” David retorted cynically.
“We do not understand God’s intention, that is our flaw as humans, not His. We must always remember, however, that when God closes a door, he always opens a window.”
“What if a guy is crippled?” David replied. “A crippled could roll out of an open doorway, but I doubt he could manage to get his body up and out of a window. And even if he did, he would still be without his wheel-chair, stuck outside and forced to crawl.”
“It is a metaphor, sir. It symbolizes God’s compassion for us, all of us.”
“What if he is metaphorically crippled?”
The priest in training was too flustered to even attempt a comeback, and so he mentally labeled them as “sinners” and walked to the neighbor’s beds. David found the argument, which he viewed as a win, to be very therapeutic. Eliza did not share this view. She didn’t say anything however, but instead got under her covers and laid there like a mummy, silent, still, and stoic.
As the last rays of light gleamed over the horizon, Eliza began to whimper. Her tears rolled down across her cheeks, falling softly onto the pillow. At first David did not hear her light sobs, but just before darkness engulfed him he looked over at his wife, tucked in under the sheets with watery eyes. Beautiful, brown, watery eyes. At that moment David really looked at his wife. He saw more than just a pirouette, curled up under covers. He saw her as his companion, the one with whom he had shared the greatest experiences of his life. Even though she was crying, without make-up or a shower, and covered from the neck down by a navy sheet, David saw the beauty that was radiating from the other bed. He couldn’t explain how he saw it, just like he could not explain how she looked more beautiful to him in sweats than in a wedding dress, but he saw it. Her beauty had been there the entire time, he had just been missing it, slowly letting it slip through his fingers. Now he had to grab it back before it completely slipped away.
Getting up from his bed, David began to walk over to Eliza’s bed across the front yard.
“What are you doing David? The sun will set any second now and you’re out of your bed!”
“I don’t care about the bed. It can go ahead and disappear right now for all I care.”
Getting into Eliza’s bed for the first time in weeks, David ripped off the sheets, began kissing her and caressing her like he did back in high school. He began ripping off her clothes and she returned the favor, as if the same passion had been bottled up inside of her this entire time too. David didn’t care about the bed, the family heirlooms, or the “valuables” across the yard. He did not care about vanishing or dying, or if there was even a difference, as long as in the time he had left, he shared it with Eliza.
*

Hats For Sale by Nina Malanga

The Great Balloon Magician by Jonathan Bridge

When people asked him why he chose his profession, he would tell them it’s because he loves kids. That wasn’t really the answer, it’s just what he was told to say during training. He was told to say a lot of things that weren’t true, but it was what the customers wanted to hear, and the customer is always first. He was by no means fulfilling his childhood aspirations by becoming a balloon artist, but at the same time not cynical about it either. The job fulfilled the purpose of what a job was supposed to do, and that was enough for him. He felt the disappointment of falling short of childhood aspirations and dreams, but only slightly. Overall it wasn’t a big deal, because with this job there were no strict deadlines, no reports to hand in first thing Monday morning, no shirts to button up and no ties to tie, no rush hour traffic jams, no phone conferences with corporate, and definitely no cubicles trying to consume his soul every day from nine to five. But for now let’s just say he did it for the kids.
*****
It was a typical Saturday afternoon and he had a gig at a little boy’s birthday party. Upon arrival, he rang the doorbell and entered, as if the doorbell served to announce his arrival rather than ask for permission to enter.. Letting his feet lethargically drag him in, he didn’t even look around, as it was always the same thing: balloons hanging from chairs, ribbons coming down from the ceiling, party hats everywhere, oversized presents stacked arbitrarily on the table out front, and a giant HAPPY BIRTHDAY sign hanging in an easily visible spot.
Mrs. Wilkins came over to him, showed him where to set up, and handed him the check for $75, all while maintaining that smile people force in an attempt to always make a good first impression. The balloon artist reciprocated a similar facial expression, obviously. As he sat down and began pulling out balloons, a few kids timidly stood their distance, close enough to satisfy their curiosity but far enough away to quench their apprehension. A small boy with light blond hair and a collared shirt hidden by a sweater vest shuffled his feet over a little close than the others. The boy didn’t look happy, simply standing in front of him pouting. The balloon artist couldn’t really blame the boy though, as he would have been pissed too if he had to wear that stupid sweater vest in the middle of May.
“What kind of balloon animal would you like little fella? How about a dog, or maybe a bear?”
No answer. He just stood in front of the balloon artist, with a look on his face like he had been told a week ago that Santa was not real, and just figured out that the Tooth Fairy must be fake as well. Finally he just shrugged his shoulders.
“Well a dog it is then!”
Blowing up the necessary balloons in advance, he looked at the boy’s face to see if there was any improvement, any sign of happiness. None. It didn’t really bother him though. In fact he felt just the smallest smidgeon of envy that this boy was able to show how he really felt with no apprehension, while he had to sit here with this phony grin on his face. It was if a camera man was saying “cheese” every second he was on the job. A smile on your face puts a smile on their face was the line in bold print on page two of his training manual.
He tied the balloons together to make the body and head. Then he moved onto the legs, no problem. Now all that was left was the tail. Just as he finished tying the tail to the body, he realized that it was no longer a balloon dog. There was no tail, no head, no legs, and no body. Instead, it was a balloon bicycle! It had balloon wheels, balloon handle-bars and all. Struck with awe, the balloon artist just sat there with a bicycle in his hands. Yet he was quickly snatched back into reality when the little boy grabbed the bicycle from him with a giant grin on his face.
“Wow a bike! Thanks a lot this is rocks!”
As the little boy got on his bike and pretended to ride around, the balloon artist was left there flabbergasted, looking around the room this way and that, straining his neck left and right to see if anyone else saw his balloon bear turn into a bike. No one noticed.
The next kid in line stepped up and announced, “I want a spaceship!”
“Sorry, little fella. But I don’t know how to make a spaceship.”
Dejected, the little kid turned to walk away, but was stopped by the forceful hand of a mother. She pulled him aside by the arm, whispered what must have been stern words about being polite to adults, and firmly pushed him back in the balloon artist’s direction. The kid’s confusion was understandable, as it must have been difficult to take a man dressed up in rainbow colors and sporting a silly hat seriously as an adult? Nevertheless, the kid walked back over and asked him for an animal. Whatever he knew how to make, to be specific. So the balloon artist began to make a giraffe, with long yellow balloons and a few short brown ones. Upon making the long neck and attaching it to the body and head, he began to finish it off with the four balloon legs. Yet once again, just as he thought he was about to produce a finished balloon giraffe, he realized that in his hands was nothing short of a balloon spaceship! This time however, the balloon spaceship has colors that he didn’t even use. There were also realistic looking decals on it, such as NASA and USA.
“Whoa a spaceship! Now I can fly to the moon, and to Mars…where I can shoot aliens!”
As the balloon artist watched him turn his fingers into pretend lasers as he ran around shooting the adults he saw as Martians, he strained his neck a little less to see if anyone detected something out of the ordinary. Once again no one noticed, and now he began feeling confident. He felt like he was on a hot streak in a Casino: the roulette ball was landing on his lucky number 33 like it was a magnet, the slots were coming up with three gold bars every time, and the river card was always completing his flush. By no means could he even begin to fathom how, or why this was happening. On the inside it could have looked like the monkeys escaped from the zoo, but on the outside he stayed cool and confident, as if he had been expecting it the entire time.
The game was fast-paced and able to change quickly though, as this time a woman approacheed. He noticed that she was the mom who had pulled the boy aside. She was very attractive, with blonde hair that stopped just past her shoulders and beautiful green eyes that would make any blue-eyed girl jealous. As he took in her gorgeous body like a sponge, he could not but have helped to notice that there was no ring on her finger.
“Wow you are rather impressive. It seems like you can make just about anything.”
“I am just here for the kids, doing whatever it takes to make them happy Miss…”
“Williams, but please, call me Mindy.”
“Well, Mindy, would you like a balloon animal too?”
“Sure…surprise me.”
He began to make his newest creation, a teddy bear holding a heart in his hands, hoping that this magical hot streak would not fail him now. After making the bear and beginning the heart, he looked at his progress and became upset with how it was turning out. The bear was not deformed, but it looked more like a brown alien than a bear. Nevertheless, he was banking on this magic to continue. And just as he finished putting the heart in between the two balloon paws, he realized that it was not a teddy bear holding a heart, but instead a bouquet of flowers. A bouquet of daisies, to be more precise. And not a balloon bouquet either, but real daisies!
“Oh my, daisies are my absolute favorite! How in the world did you do that? I didn’t know you were a magician too.”
Instead of trying to answer this time, he just smiled, winked, pulled out a daisy, broke off most of the stem, and gently put it in her hair behind an ear. And with that, she picked up a napkin, kissed it, leaving bright red lipstick on it, and wrote her number with that same lipstick. Once again he reeled in the winnings with that cool and confident look on my face. Feeding off the excitement of the crowd like a jet being fueled before take-off, he fully embraced this “ability” and accepted it. He still had no reason as to the how or why, but these questions must have slowly faded away to make room for the fact that he was turning into the life of the party. He seemed set on riding the curtails of this magic all the way to the end. No more questions asked, no more neck straining, He was all in.
By the time Mindy left to go put the daisies in water, everybody had stopped what they were doing as if it were a fire drill. The video games were left playing on without anyone handling the controllers, the cake knife was left halfway in the ice-cream cake, and the face paints were left out to dry as the last girl ran inside with a half painted butterfly on her cheek. Even the adults circled around and sometimes “accidentally” pushed in front of kids to watch what one girl called “the Great Balloon Magician”. The fitting title instantly stuck.
Another woman was the first to speak up.
“If you can make daisies magically appear, can you do the same with roses?”
“You will just have to wait and see Ma’am. Now let’s see what the Great Balloon Magician can do”.
He started making a funny balloon hat that a lot of kids love. Just as he was about to tie the last balloon in place, he realized that once again he no longer had in his hands what he had set out to make. This time, however, his hands slipped as he could not hold the weight of this newest creation. It was not a bouquet of roses, but instead a strange man. This stranger, who looked like he had jumped right off the Ralph Lauren magazine on the coffee table, got up from the floor where he had been dropped. Even though he looked nothing like the great balloon magician, their facial expressions of utter confusion and astonishment were identical. The silence that had just engulfed the room was violently broken with cheers and applause, as this man was the woman’s pool boy.
Everybody praised the great balloon magician, as they assumed the pool boy and he had been in cahoots the entire time. Yet the cheers quickly died as the pool boy walked over to his employer and starts making out with her. The passion and intensity they exhibited seemed almost unreal, like they were characters in an over the top romance novel. As the great balloon magician sat their dumbfounded, he must have noticed a ring on the woman’s finger. Alarms went blaring off in his head, as his facial expression revealed that he realized that what she wanted most was not a bouquet of roses, not her husband, but instead the pool boy.
Before the great balloon magician even got a chance to step back and let the angel and devil on his shoulders plead their cases, a man pushed a little boy up to the front.
“Make something for my son Joey now. It is his birthday party.”
It was an order, not a request, so the great balloon magician decided to let this magic continue on as he began to make a basic bunny. Everyone watched on as he blew up the pink and blue balloons, twisting and tying them together. The crowd was as quiet as a church during silent prayer, but filled with more anticipation than a group at the top of a rollercoaster, waiting for that first plummet. The great balloon magician was a little more uneasy, as he wasn’t sure if this rollercoaster was safe, as he had no idea if the track was intact, if the seatbelts were securely fastened, or even who was controlling the ride. He could have only sat back and wondered: what did Joey want most at this exact moment? Just as the great balloon magician was about to finish attaching the pink ears to the blue body, his hands slipped once again as he could no longer hold the weight in his hands.
The crowd’s first thought was that it was another man, very similar to pool boy. This time, however, the body hit the floor and didn’t get up. This guy, who looked nothing like a model from a Ralph Lauren magazine, wasn’t moving or breathing. The great balloon magician had never seen a person die before, so a part of him wanted to believe that this man was going to get up. But deep down he became vulnerable to the truth that was about to plague the rest of the room: this man was dead.
As the great balloon magician sat there frozen, the kids started clapping and laughing as the plague had not reached their innocent and na├»ve hearts. To them, one man was still “the Great Balloon Magician” and the other was another member of the supporting cast. To them the great balloon magician could do no wrong. But the claps slowly stopped as the parents hushed their children, and turn them away. One man becomes the shepherd and moved all the children to another room, trying to protect them from whatever had just occurred.
Once the children were gone, all chaos broke out. If the children were the innocent sheep being herded away, then the adults could only be a pack of wolves.
“Murderer!”
“Don’t think your hands are clean of this death! We know it was you!”
“Why in front of the children? You heartless bastard!”
“I’m calling the cops right now!”
“Murderer!”
As the great balloon magician took on the barrage of threats and accusations, he slowly realized that another bull’s-eye had been placed on another man’s chest.
“I know you were in on it too!” a member of the crowd blurted out, pushing Joey’s father with his index finger.
“Yeah, you are the one with the motive here,” another man chimed in.
“I had nothing to do with this!” Joey’s father replied forcefully, knocking the man’s index finger away.
“You hated his guts for what he did to you!” the man that jumped in retorted.
“I won’t deny that, but I could never kill him. You have to believe me!”
Based on what little else the great balloon magician could pick up over the shouting and brawl that almost erupted in the living room, he found out that the man dead at his feet was Joey’s father’s former partner. The word former was used not because he was now dead, but because he somehow cut Joey’s father out of some business and left him with almost nothing.
Enough was enough. The great balloon magician jumped out of his seat and made a break for the door. He anticipated that some of the men would run after him, but underestimated how intimidating he came off as. Who would chase a man that may have just killed a guy out of thin air, with balloons as his weapon of choice?
Running past his car and down the street, he didn’t stop until he found himself deep in the woods and out of sight. Alone, he pulled out some balloons.
“I am not going to jail,” he stated authoritatively to himself, or maybe the woods. “If I make a balloon animal for myself, then I should get whatever I want most.”
So he began making a dog, because it was the quickest to make. Just as he was about to tie the tail to the rest of the body, he paused.
“No time to quit now,” he told himself trying to gather the courage to make that leap. It was only a moment’s hesitation, a slight exhale, before he tied the balloons together to complete what should have been just a simple balloon dog.
*****
That was the last that was ever seen of the great balloon magician. Through the woods the police followed his trail, only to find his tracks come to a dead stop at a small balloon dog lying on its side. Stumped, as it appeared that he vanished from this spot, they called in for the best search dogs and trackers in the area. The reinforcements did no good, however, as the dogs never picked up a scent and the trackers were dumbfounded. The police checked with the company that employed him to find that his name was William Bryant. They put out a warrant for his arrest, created fliers with his name and face on it, but no one ever responded. Upon doing a thorough search of William’s entire life, they only found out that he had unpaid parking tickets, lived in a one bedroom apartment that contained nothing unusual, and worked as a balloon artist. Nothing to suggest that he was a murderer of any sort, much less a skilled hit man. Furthermore, they could find no correlation between William and the victim. It appeared that had never met, and did not have one mutual friend. They interviewed every person at the party, but took special interest in the pool boy’s story. He claimed that he had been taking a nap during the day at his house. He thought everything was part of his dream, all the way from hitting the floor at the great balloon magician’s feet to kissing his employer. It was not until later that he realized he was “not in Kansas” as he stated in the police report.
All of the other testimonies were the same. Each in their own way explained how the great balloon magician could make your wish come true, whether you told him what you wanted or not. Even Joey’s father admitted that he may have subconsciously wished for his former partner to drop dead. Since wishing alone was not a crime, Joey’s father was shortly released from custody. As for William Bryant, the police did not know what to do, as there was no protocol to follow for a situation such as this. Lacking motive, a murder weapon, and a cause of death, as the autopsy indicated that the otherwise healthy middle-aged victim died of natural causes, the police were forced to close the case. They were already overloaded with case files anyway, and it was not long before they let this mystery fade into the back of their minds, some unconsciously, others consciously, until it was almost completely forgotten. Almost being the key word there, as each time they saw another balloon artist, or a piece of his work tenderly held in a young child’s arm, they were forced to think back to the great balloon magician and wonder: what did he wish for?

Kanchanamango by Nina Malanga