There was a luminous yellow balloon that carried my family through the happiest days of the hot summer. It smiled above us as we lazily hung over the side of our porch railing and touched the clouds and then licked the sticky marshmallow frosting from the ends of our fingers. At night we would climb on the roof and press our eyes up against the stars and tell each other fantastic stories of what we saw on the other side. We swung over the heavenly expanse on imaginary sailing ships and wooden rockets and slept soundly in our beds at the end of the day filled with purple popsicles and covered in green grass stains. We convinced ourselves we were living in eternity. We would remain forever, there, in the summer world, beneath our balloon. Floating on and on. On and on forever. And we ignored the truth. We willfully turned out faces away from the darkness below the clouds and held our eyes shut in spite of the distant rumbling at night. The throbbing roil of clouds that lay like a blanket beneath the silver moon as if under that great grey cloth lay an angry restless giant. We told ourselves it wasn’t there. But sometimes, while my family was fast asleep, I would sneak out of my bed and step out the front door in my striped pajamas and I would gaze down into the cold dark nothingness. And I would shiver. Because somewhere down below was our destiny. Summer was ending. And we would soon be caught up in the long deep oncoming winter.
I already struggle to hold on to the memories of those bright summer days. The days before we awoke to the sound of quiet wheezing. A whispering hiss. We laughed and searched for the sound, like children. But when we found the source of the noise, we stopped. We stared up at it in shock as our beautiful balloon grew smaller and smaller. And in one gentle motion, our home tilted to the side and began to slowly descend into the haze of winter. Slowly, the horizon flattened itself under the pressure of defeat. Slowly, our couches moved across the room, heaping themselves on the far wall. We descended faster, and faster, spiraling into it, until we were tumbling end over end in the full darkness, crashing through branches of tall ancient trees, struggling to hold each other together in a tight knot amongst the couch cushions. We fell into the darkness of winter.
We awoke in a dank swamp, crushed by the debris of our crumbling home. We clung to each other and struggled to free ourselves of the wreckage. But the winter that had come suddenly had not come alone. A fever sensing our appearance in the woods showed teeth and began winding its way around my family’s ankles, dragging us one by one into the lonely jungles where it would leave us weeping in the fog. I took up a sword and fought my way through the mists to find them. My wife at my side, our exhausted arms hacking at vines as we repeatedly hunted for our children. We would find them rocking back and forth in their half sleeping fevered dreams. Collapsed in exhausted piles of clothes. Coughing themselves to unconsciousness. The nightmare had no end. We convinced ourselves, once again, that this too was eternal.
Our tired minds acted on instinct. We burned what was left of our home for warmth while we built a new home out of the surrounding jungle. My wife foraged for berries in the nearby bogs and we built up high walls to keep the fever out. But still, every night it seeped into our camp and took us. We doubled our efforts. We built the walls higher. We fought the fever like feral creatures. We tore at it, and yelled together at the obscured sky, and built and built and built. Until it stopped. Suddenly. The fever that had haunted our family for weeks (or was it months? Years maybe?) was gone. We rose to our feet, brushing the dirt off our shoulders and looked about at our new home among the trees. We had constructed a fortress.
The following day I packed a bag, I kissed my wife, I cleaned the smudges off my daughters’ cheeks and tickled my son’s belly, and I left in search of a balloon.