The Helium Balloon Massacre of 1979
Tommy realizes he’s on the Moon now. He wanders aimlessly, wondering what he’s supposed to do. He thinks he might be dead since he left his body on Earth in the big field that belongs to the city of Mayfield Heights now. He doesn’t leave footprints, but as he moves he sees how the fine lunar sand rises off of the surface and reaches for him like spectral fingers. He thinks maybe this happens because he has a lot of static electricity. Tommy wonders if ghosts are negatively charged.
In the distance, a figure at the foot of a high hill waves to him. He moves closer, and he sees that it’s Karen – Karen as he remembers her from the first day of Kindergarten at Saint Gregory’s. She’s wearing a pink dress, her hair is done up in pigtails, and her eyes are big and green.
She motions for Tommy to follow, then runs up the side of the hill. For a moment, she blinks out of existence, then reappears all the way at the top. Tommy hurries after her, and when he catches up, he sees she is the young woman he remembers right before they left for college. Her to Cornell, and him to Wisconsin. She’s wearing a white tank top and jeans. Her hair is styled in a short pixie cut now, but her eyes are still green like peridot. Tommy thinks she looks like a rockstar.
They lean in to kiss, and a little jolt of static electricity sparks when their lips touch. A millisecond later, Tommy’s consciousness is annihilated in a violent burst of energy that pulses outward in a blue flash.
Now Tommy is only aware of darkness. It is quiet and still. The nothingness is so profound it seems to have substance. Gradually, the nothingness begins to disintegrate. Tommy feels tingling in his fingers and toes. He thinks he can hear sounds. It sounds like the slobbery, labored breathing of a bulldog on a July afternoon. He smells something weird. He thinks it might be barbecue potato chips and coffee. Now he’s sure it’s barbecue potato chips and coffee, but he’s not sure if he’s smelling it or tasting it.
Tommy opens his eyes. A wild animal is trying to eat his face. It’s hairy – maybe a bear, or a Yeti. He thinks he must be in Hell. A surge of panic courses through his being and he shoves the beast off of him and scrambles to his feet. Tommy sees that it’s not a wild animal, after all. It’s Eric, the security guard. Pee Pee Head Eric from Saint Greg’s Elementary.
“What’s your problem, man?” Tommy says as he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.
“I was doing rescue breathing,” Eric wheezes. “Just take it easy and lay back down. You might have internal bleeding or a spinal injury. We need to call an ambulance.”
“I don’t need a god damn ambulance. I don’t even have health insurance right now.”
“We fell from like twenty feet. I fell right on top of you. You were dead for three or four minutes.”
“You’re just security guard, Eric. You’re not qualified to make that diagnosis,” Tommy says.
“I just saved your life. You’re welcome,” Eric says.
“You’re an imbecile,” Tommy screams. “You’re the lunatic who made us fall in the first place.”
“I was just doin’ my job,” Eric screams back.
Some time passes in silence. “Are you gonna call the cops?” Tommy finally says.
“No. Anyway my cell phone’s busted. Are you gonna try to sue me?” Eric says.
“No. I hate lawyers,” Tommy says.
“Me too. Can you help me with this ladder?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
Tommy and Eric strap the ladder to the top of the golf cart and pause to examine the branch that was sheared off in the melee.
“That’s pretty big,” Tommy says.
“Yeah,” Eric says.
They both look up to where the branch had been, then back down, then up again.
“You said it was like three or four minutes?” Tommy asks.
“At least. Your face was blue, man,” Eric tells him. “Your eyes were rolled back in your head. I’m telling you, you were dead.”
“That sounds about right.”
“What was it like?” Eric asks.
“God spoke to me.”
“What did He say?”
“He wanted me to deliver a very important message to you.”
“To me?” Eric says as he makes the sign of the cross. “What? What’s the message?”
“God said that you’re not foolin’ anyone with that ridiculous comb-over, and you should just shave your head.”
“You’re such an idiot,” Eric says.
“Takes one to know one,” Tommy says.
They shake hands, and Tommy starts to walk home. It’s just after five, but a pallid Sun is already low in the sky. Long shadows are scrawled across the busy streets and the busy sidewalks – caricatures of the people who cast them. “Or is it the other way around?” Tommy wonders.