Dancers and Instructors at Harvey Zumbathon in Round Rock, TX

The Zumbathon for Harvey

I wrote this Pantoum-mime poem in honor of the many people inside and outside of Texas who have given any aid to the victims of Hurricane Harvey. by R. L. Copple - 9/4/2017 The call goes...

R. L. Copple's Blog

The Balloon Ark

Here is October’s free fiction. This month is an unusual story. I tried, for the first time, one of Dean Wesley Smith’s tricks. He unusually, to figure out what short story to write, and sometimes novels, pulls together random half-titles to form a new title, and use that as his prompt. Since I don’t have a list of half titles, I strolled over to Fox News website and looked at current headlines. From two different headlines, I pulled “balloon” and “evacuation.” I threw them together to come up with the title “Balloon Evacuation.” That created in my mind the following story. After finishing it, I changed the title to more closely match the story.

With that back story in place, sit back, relax, and enjoy this month’s free fiction. A 4000 word near-future science fiction treat.

——————

Joe fingered the fragment of paper he’d found months ago in his mother’s belongings. He read it again for the umpteenth time.

And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. And this is how thou shalt make it…

Why did it have to stop there? If this was a message from God, why leave it up to his imagination how to create this ark? Yet the inhabitants of Behyadel grew more violent, so surely this God would destroy them. Finding the fragment was certainly a warning from this God to save his family.

A tug on his pants pulled Joe from his thoughts. His son, Joshua, stared at him. He held up a short pole, pointed on one end, and dangling a flag. “I made it, Dad. For the ark. It goes on top.” An emblem of a red balloon against a blue background hung limply from the pole.

Joe smiled, hoisted the six-year-old onto his lap, and received the flag. “Very nice and sturdy. I’ll put it on tonight.” Joe leaned the flag against the chair. “What did you learn in school today?”

A smile sprang to his face. “About wind before the covering. Dad, is it true such a thing existed? How can you feel it if you can’t see it?”

It did sound like a myth. The history books recorded such a thing before radiation filled the land and the covering protected them. The hand of God, some called it. Perhaps this God would destroy Behyadel by removing his hand and allowing the radiation in.

“Dad, will we find wind with the ark?”

Joe shrugged. “According to your mom we will.”

“I heard that,” Mary said from the kitchen.

Joshua giggled.

Joe tousled his son’s hair. “Maybe we’ll find out tomorrow.”

Joshua grinned. “Are we leaving tomorrow?”

“Just as soon as you eat your dinner and get a good night’s sleep.”

Joshua leaped from his dad’s lap. “I’m eating now, then.” He dashed into the kitchen to engage his mother.

Joe glanced out the window at the ark sitting in the lot next door. He’d made it of wood, though hard to find. Nothing called gopher wood, but he hoped what they had was sufficient. Sealed in pitch. Attached to the hull lay a deflated balloon. Joshua’s idea.

“Make it fly like a balloon,” he’d said.

Made sense. If God released radiation under the cover, they’d need a means to fly over it. Research provided concepts for a giant balloon filled with hydrogen that would raise it into the air. They could live in it until the radiation left. He hoped.

Tomorrow they’d lift off. Joe rose from his seat and grabbed Joshua’s flag. “Mary, I’m going to start the balloon to filling. It’ll take all night.”

“Okay, honey. Don’t stay gone too long or your supper will grow cold.”

“Will do.” He opened the door and left the house.

——————

The rust-red balloon towered over the surrounding houses. Ropes held the balloon to a rectangular, windowless, wooden house. The ends of the balloon hovered over the houses on either end.

Joe scanned down to see neighbors already gathered around it. He’d told them he was building a house. The huge balloon gave away that this was perhaps more than a house.

Joshua yanked on his dad’s pants. “I don’t see the flag.”

“You can’t see the top from here. The balloon is too big, but it is up there. I assure you.”

Joshua nodded. “I’m ready.”

Joe glanced at Mary. “What about you?”

She swallowed. “You moved the last of the supplies in last night, right?”

Joe winked at her. “Including your makeup.”

She smiled, but immediately grew serious. “Are you sure? About…” She nodded her head toward the balloon.

Joe rubbed his forehead. Of course he had his doubts. Could he had interpreted the fragment wrong? Maybe it was mere chance he’d come across it, and not a message from God. But he couldn’t back down now.

“Mary, I feel strongly this is God’s will. But if nothing happens to destroy the world while we’re up there, it will simply be an unusual vacation and we’ll be back home in a few days.”

She bowed her head and nodded.

Joe rubbed her back. “It’ll be fun.”

She straightened up and let out a deep breath. “I’m sure it will be. Let’s go.” She headed across the street to the towering balloon.

Joshua skipped behind her and bounced ahead.

Joe smiled while lifting the two suitcases of clothing they’d packed and followed behind them.

Henry, a balding man with a gut to match saw Joe coming. “Neighbor! Seems you added a new set of floors to your house last night.”

Joe smiled weakly. “I suppose you could say that.”

Henry pointed at one end of it. “That part is sort of hanging over my house. We’re you planning on spying on me or can you cut that part off?”

“Well, Henry, I’ll do you one better than that. I’ll remove it within the hour.”

Henry suppressed a laugh. “Whata you going to do? Fly the whole thing out of here?

Joe moved past him and headed toward their new home. “Something like that.” Joe glanced back. Henry stared at him as if saying, “What did you say?” No doubt they would create quite the news in the community.

“Joe Lumbar?”

Joe turned. A police officer approached him. “Yes, I’m Joe.”

He pointed at the balloon. “You know this violates at least six city ordinances. We’re going to have to ask you to tear it down.”

Joe sucked in a breathe. “Yes, officer. I’ll get right on it.”

“Why are you taking personal items into it?”

“I’ve got to get my wife and kid out first.”

The officer glanced at the creation. “Okay, but I’d better not return and find you living here.”

Joe smiled. “You won’t even know we’ve been here.”

The officer signed a paper, ripped it off and handed it to Joe. “Just in case, here’s your warning. Next one will be a citation if I don’t see progress.” He stuffed it in Joe’s hand. “Good day, sir.” Then he spun on his heel and headed down the street.

Joe laughed and stuffed it in his pocket. He gazed into the sky. The same waves of light rolled over the sky as it always had. Occasionally a small dark spot sliced through them. Then Joe saw a rather large dark spot, bigger than any he’d seen before. It worked its way across the sky.

Joe breathed deep. That was surely a sign if anything was. Time to launch. The cover might fail at any time and flood them with radiation. He stepped inside the door, placed the suitcases on the floor, and turned to close the door.

The neighbors continued to gawk at his house. He resisted an urge to give a speech. Instead, he waved goodbye and shut the door. He hoped for their sake that he was wrong about the coming destruction.

He carted the suitcases into their bedroom. Then he waved Joshua over. “Come with me to the control room.” Joe headed up a spiral staircase. Joshua followed close behind.

Mary scurried behind them. “I’m not staying down here alone when you launch this thing.”

Joe entered the upper loft he’d labeled the control room. The upper third story of the house, being half the floor space of the other two stories, it rested on top like small box stacked on a larger one. This room contained the only room in the house with windows, to minimize any radiation exposure—he hoped.

The front window displayed the nose of the balloon stretching out over his neighbor’s house. In front of the window rested a wheel-less bicycle bolted to the floor. Two levers, one on each side of the bike, awaited his commands. They adjusted the rotation of the two propellers to forward or reverse, to turn or move one direction. To the right of the bike, against the wall, rested two more levers. One to release the tie-downs to take off. The other to expel hydrogen from the balloon for landing.

Mary sat in a chair against the back wall. Joe climbed on the bike and placed his feet on the pedals. “Joshua, would you like to launch us?”

A smile beamed over his face. “Really? I can do that?”

Joe pointed. “Just pull down on the far, right lever.”

Joshua dashed to the lever, placed his hands firmly around it, then paused. He looked back, a grin indicating his excitement. “Ready?”

Joe gave him a thumbs up. Mary said, “Let’s get this over with.”

Joshua returned his attention to the lever. “Here we go!” He yanked on the lever. It barely grunted an inch. Joshua pulled harder. The lever resisted, but slowly gave way and landed with a loud thud against the stop.

The floor under them lurched upwards. Boards creaked in protest. Joshua fell against the wood floor with a grunt. Screams echoed from outside. The horizon bobbed up and down. Joe feared the house might fall apart. But it didn’t. The bobbing slowed to a shallow wobble. The horizon sank beneath the edge of the house.

Joshua lifted himself up and then stared out the window. “We did it, Dad! We’re flying.”

Mary wobbled from her chair to stand by Joshua. “You have a design flaw. You can’t see the ground. How are you going to land?”

Joe pointed at a door. “That leads onto the roof. There is a line one can hook to so you can lean over the side and direct the driver.”

“Me!” She swung to face Joe. “You expect me to lead over the edge?”

“It’s perfectly safe.”

She stared at the ceiling and huffed. “Ever hear of mirrors?”

Joe smiled sheepishly. “Ah. Good idea wife.”

She headed for the stairs. “Guess I’d better see what’s left of the house, straighten up, and fix lunch. Then I’ll do some exercise to be ready to repel down the side of our flying home.” She stomped down the steps, mumbling.

Joe hopped off the bike and pulled out from the left, front wall a crank handle. He turned it clockwise. Mirrors rose from the front and both sides. The front mirror displayed a wider view. Already the houses below had shrunk to postage-stamp size.

Joshua stared at the front mirror. “When you telling Mom about this.”

Joe grinned. “After I see if she will really lean over the side.”

Joshua shook his head. “You’re going to get it something awful.”

——————

The three sat around the dinning room table, holding hands. Joe had moved the table over after dinner the night before. He had wanted something familiar to ground themselves in.

Joe bowed his head. “Lord, we than you for your gifts of food and protection. May your love accompany us on our journey and your mercy be with them below. Amen.”

Joshua grabbed a sandwich. “How high up are we, Dad?”

“Can’t say for sure. Last I looked, I couldn’t make out specific houses anymore.”

Mary smirked. “Leaned over the edge yourself, did you?”

Joe smiled. “Yeah. At least we should be safe from the radiation up here.” He hoped.

“And from all our neighbors as well.”

Joe grinned. “I would have liked to have seen the looks on their faces when our house took off.”

“It’s probably all over town by now. Maybe on Behyadel news.”

Joshua swallowed his bite. “Dad, will we feel the wind now?”

Joe held out his hand. “Listen.”

All three remained motionless. An occasional creak of the house broke the silence.”

“I don’t hear anything.” Joshua stared at his father.

“Exactly. I’m told you can hear the wind if it is going fast enough.”

A loud crash echoed through the house. All the furniture leaped upward and bounced back down, throwing sandwiches into the air and all three onto the floor. A loud screeching sound flooded the room.

Joe crawled to the stairs as the floor rocked violently, and worked his way up them, holding onto the railing. By the time he entered the control room, the rocking had died off some. He wobbled to the crank and lowered the mirrors for a better view in front of them.

Mary and Joshua bounced into the room. They stared out the window. Past the nose of the balloon, a glass-like surface disappeared into the distance.

“What happened?” Mary asked.

Joe shook his head. “Not sure, but we’ve hit something.”

“The cover.” Joshua pointed at the surface above the balloon. “We’ve hit the top of the sky.”

Joe waved his hand. “Listen.”

Over the creaking of the house, the sound of cracking met their ears.

“Honey, what’s that noise?”

Joe headed for the door. “I’ll go find out.”

“Be careful.”

“I will.”

Joshua ran to his father. “Can I come?”

“No!” they both said at the same time.

Joshua hung his head.

Joe knelt on one knee. “Look, son. It may be dangerous out there. Promise me if I don’t come back, you’ll look after your mother.”

“Dad—”

“Joseph Naza!” Mary put her hands on her hips. “How dare you lay that on him. He’s just a boy. You come back or I swear I’ll kill you.”

Joe nodded with a half-smile. “You’re right. I will be back, but for now, we’ll only risk one of us going.” He hugged Joshua and Mary before heading to the door.

Being on the other side of the wall knowing many feet lay between him and the ground, did give him a sense of unease. He grabbed the rope and tied it around his waist. He tugged on the end of the rope around a post to ensure it was secure and checked the safety latch.

Joe scanned the sky. The shadows appeared much bigger now. Light waves rolled across the surface, but more cracking sounds shattered the quiet. He’d have to climb to the top of the balloon to see what they’d hit.

Joe grabbed the first rung of the rope ladder that led to the top of the balloon. He’d gone several rungs when he stopped. He rubbed his fingers together. Wetness? Why would the rope be wet? He examined the rope closely. A trickle of water ran down the rope. Drops cascaded off the ladder higher up at the curve of the balloon.

A surge of water swished over his hands. The water came from above and was growing by the second. More loud cracking sounds echoed across his ears. He turned to see cracks extending past the balloon. Whatever the covering was, it was breaking apart. Joshua’s flag pole on top of the balloon must have punctured the cover. And water was on the other side. Not radiation.

Joe headed back down as fast as he dared. Sheets of water began to pour over his head. The flow increased quickly. A loud popping sound shattered the air. A large piece of thick glass bobbed over the balloon and fell toward the ground. Behind it a surge of water raced to catch it.

Water swept over Joe. He gasped for air as it pushed him onto the roof of the house. He struggled to get to his feet but the flow of water shoved him back down and scooted him closer to the edge of the house.

Mary and Joshua stared at him from the window.

Joe yelled, “Reel in the rope!”

Mary and Joshua glanced at each other. She shrugged her shoulders.

Two more loud pops. More water careened over the balloon. The wave of water shoved Joe toward the edge. Joe pointed at the rope reel and demonstrated the motions of cranking. Mary and Joshua stared back in horror.

The water flooded over him anew, and he slid along the roof. He could find nothing to grab as the edge grew closer. He couldn’t stop it. He slipped over the edge as water shot over the roof and away from the wall.

His heart raced as he fell. Patches of land and cities dotted the land below. A stream of water fell toward his old home. His neighbors. The citizens of Behyadel. They would all drown because of his ark. As might himself. He’d doomed them all. Not the radiation.

He grimaced as the rope around his waist tightened and broke his fall. He swung under the house, then back toward the sheets of water flowing off the roof. Thankfully he’d not gone too far up the balloon, and the safety had engaged. Otherwise, he could be many feet below the house. As he gained his air back, he pulled himself up now that the water didn’t hit him directly.

As he approached the bottom of the house, he spied the front door. He could swing to it. He positioned himself alongside the house and then began swinging on the rope. Each pass he drew closer until he grabbed the door knob. He pulled himself over and held onto the doorpost. He turned the knob. The door flung open.

Joe grabbed the inside door knob with his other hand. The door pushed him into the edge of the water streaming from the roof. Joe shoved his body weight toward the house. The door shifted toward the house. He let go of the outside door knob and snagged the inside of the doorpost. With a grunt, he shoved himself into the house.

Joe lay on the floor, trying to catch his breath. Several pops rang from above, and the whole house jumped upward and shook. No time to catch a breath. Their house was about to break through the covering. He pushed himself up, closed the front door, then trudged up the stairs as fast as his body allowed him.

The sight of Mary hugging Joshua, both crying, greeted him.

“Anyone call for a plumber?”

Mary and Joshua spun around.

“Dad!” He ran and hugged his father’s legs.

Mary embraced him. “I thought you were gone.”

“Hey, I promised I’d be back.”

The house jerked upward again, sending them collapsing to the floor. Joe scanned the covering. Between the streams of water, the cracking cover was visible.

Joe pulled himself onto the bike. “You two had better sit in the chairs. They’re bolted to the floor, so should keep you from rolling around on the floor.”

Joshua landed in a seat. “What’s happening?”

“If I’m not mistaken, we’re about to break through the covering. Apparently there is water on the other side.”

Shards of glass followed by heavier streams of water fell below them. The cracks in the distance let more liquid through, and chunks of covering fell, leaving holes for the invader to enter.

The house fell, then bobbed back up. Then fell again. The flow of water had grown strong enough to push the balloon down, but it kept pushing back up. Then, within thirty minutes, the house started to sink and not go back up. The balloon was deflating. No doubt shards of the covering had punctured it.

The speed of descent increased. They’d likely smash into the ground. He hadn’t saved his family by building an ark. He’d condemned them and all of Behyadel with them. He must have misunderstood God big time.

The house slammed into something. Mary and Joshua screamed. Water flew away from the house, which bobbed back and forth. Endless horizon of water met Joe’s eyes. The pitch. He’d followed what little instructions he’d had. The pitch was to keep the water out. The ark wasn’t a balloon, it was a water vessel. Something the Behyadelsians had no need of.

The balloon listed to the right side of the ark, leaving a clear view of the sky. Giant sprouts of water poured into Behyadel. The water carried their house back toward the covering. Water flowing from the biggest hole, where the balloon had pierced it, pushed them away. The house floated around, pulled by eddies and pushed by streams of water.

The house bumped the covering, and scraped against it as the rising water forced them up to the top of the dome. As the house moved closer to the broken area of the covering, the water rose over the house. They would soon be submerged. Could the sealed house withstand it? And for how long? One way or another, they’d soon find out.

Joe’s ears popped. A small stream of water entered around the door. “Joshua, in the closet is some pitch. Go get it, spread it around the door downstairs and this one up here.

“Yes, sir.” He bolted down the stairs.

“That won’t do much, will it? I mean, doesn’t it have to set?” Mary asked.

“Yes, but it will give him something to do, and it might help.”

Joshua soon appeared with a bucket in hand and a spatula. “It doesn’t seem to be doing much.”

Joe nodded. “Give it a try anyway.”

Joshua knelt and started trying to spread the pitch between the door jam and the door. It did seem to slow the water flow some.

Joe pointed out the window. “We’re clearing the covering.” A hole approached among the fractured glass. “Joshua, get in your seat and hold on.”

Joshua slammed the lid on the bucket down and returned to his seat. “Here we go!”

The front of the house pulled upwards over the edge of the glass. Joe held fast to the bike as the bucket of pitch slid to the back wall with a thud. The house jerked, then raced upwards. Five minutes passed, and his ears popped again. Water sloshed against the back wall, soaking Mary and Joshua’s feet.

Light grew brighter. Joe’s eyes began to hurt. Another surface raced toward them. Joe gripped the bike hard. “Hold on. Looks like we’re about to hit another glass wall.”

The light continued to increase in intensity. Joe squinted, not wanting to miss the final moments of his life. The new surface approached fast. Joe braced.

The new surface gave way without a fight. The front of the ark broke into fresh air, paused above the water as if standing on its rear, then splashed back down to float on a new surface.

All three sat in stunned silence. Both recovering from the shock of not dying and the shock of this new world. A solid blue sky held puffs of white floating lazily along. Why they didn’t fall, Joe had no idea.

“Listen,” Joshua said.

Joe listened. An irregular howling sound rang in his ears.

Joshua raced from his chair to the door. “Wind!”

“Wait!” both of them yelled.

Joshua flung the door open. An invisible force pushed his hair back and vibrated his collar.

When Joe reached the door, the wind caressed his wet face. All three stood in the open door. An endless sky. An endless body of water. An invisible force. What more could this new world surprise them with?

Mary held up a scrap of paper. “This makes more sense now.”

Joe took it. Another fragment of his mother’s. He read it.

The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

——————

Recorded in old history books—which most Behyadelians of Joshua’s time considered myths—is a story of possible nuclear war. A prototype dome, designed to filter radiation out but allow the transference of air and carbon dioxide, was constructed in Utah, USA in hopes of sheltering large numbers of people. Before testing could be completed, the feared war started. While the dome performed as expected, the tectonic plates shifted from the explosions, resulting in Utah once again being covered in water.

Though not designed to work under water, due to the shallow distance to the surface, the dome held, keeping the water out while filtering in breathable air. However, the unplanned pressure on the dome weakened it after several generations. Eventually it would have collapsed on its own, but Joseph’s balloon ark, puncturing it with Joshua’s flag pole, hastened its demise.

The future of humanity now rests in the small family of three, Joseph, Mary, and Joshua, surviving and prospering in this new world, and writing a new history of mankind.

Written from then on in the sacred text, God is recorded as saying, “I only promised not to cover the whole world in water again. I didn’t say anything about radiation.”

The Balloon Ark

Joe fingered the fragment of paper he’d found months ago in his mother’s belongings. He read it again for the umpteenth time.

And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. And this is how thou shalt make it…

Why did it have to stop there? If this was a message from God, why leave it up to his imagination how to create this ark? Yet the inhabitants of Behyadel grew more violent, so surely this God would destroy them. Finding the fragment was certainly a warning from this God to save his family.

A tug on his pants pulled Joe from his thoughts. His son, Joshua, stared at him. He held up a short pole, pointed on one end, and dangling a flag. “I made it, Dad. For the ark. It goes on top.” An emblem of a red balloon against a blue background hung limply from the pole.

Joe smiled, hoisted the six-year-old onto his lap, and received the flag. “Very nice and sturdy. I’ll put it on tonight.” Joe leaned the flag against the chair. “What did you learn in school today?”

A smile sprang to his face. “About wind before the covering. Daddy, is it true such a thing existed? How can you feel it if you can’t see it?”

It did sound like a myth. The history books recorded such a thing before radiation filled the land and the covering protected them. The hand of God, some called it. Perhaps this God would destroy Behyadel by removing his hand and allowing the radiation in.

“Daddy, will we find wind with the ark?”

Joe shrugged. “According to your mom we will.”

“I heard that,” Mary said from the kitchen.

Joshua giggled.

Joe tousled his son’s hair. “Maybe we’ll find out tomorrow.”

Joshua grinned. “Are we leaving tomorrow?”

“Just as soon as you eat your dinner and get a good night’s sleep.”

Joshua leaped from his dad’s lap. “I’m eating now, then.” He dashed into the kitchen to engage his mother.

Joe glanced out the window at the ark sitting in the lot next door. He’d made it of wood, though hard to find. Nothing called gopher wood, but he hoped what they had was sufficient. Sealed in pitch. Attached to the hull lay a deflated balloon. Joshua’s idea.

“Make it fly like a balloon,” he’d said.

Made sense. If God released radiation under the cover, they’d need a means to fly over it. Research provided concepts for a giant balloon filled with hydrogen that would raise it into the air. They could live in it until the radiation left. He hoped.

Tomorrow they’d lift off. Joe rose from his seat and grabbed Joshua’s flag. “Mary, I’m going to start the balloon to filling. It’ll take all night.”

“Okay, honey. Don’t stay gone too long or your supper will grow cold.”

“Will do.” He opened the door and left the house.

——————

The rust-red balloon towered over the surrounding houses. Ropes held the balloon to a rectangular, windowless, wooden house. The ends of the balloon hovered over the houses on either end.

Joe scanned down to see neighbors already gathered around it. He’d told them he was building a house. The huge balloon gave away that this was perhaps more than a house.

Joshua yanked on his dad’s pants. “I don’t see the flag.”

“You can’t see the top from here. The balloon is too big, but it is up there. I assure you.”

Joshua nodded. “I’m ready.”

Joe glanced at Mary. “What about you?”

She swallowed. “You moved the last of the supplies in last night, right?”

Joe winked at her. “Including your makeup.”

She smiled, but immediately grew serious. “Are you sure? About…” She nodded her head toward the balloon.

Joe rubbed his forehead. Of course he had his doubts. Could he had interpreted the fragment wrong? Maybe it was mere chance he’d come across it, and not a message from God. But he couldn’t back down now.

“Mary, I feel strongly this is God’s will. But if nothing happens to destroy the world while we’re up there, it will simply be an unusual vacation and we’ll be back home in a few days.”

She bowed her head and nodded.

Joe rubbed her back. “It’ll be fun.”

She straightened up and let out a deep breath. “I’m sure it will be. Let’s go.” She headed across the street to the towering balloon.

Joshua skipped behind her and bounced ahead.

Joe smiled while lifting the two suitcases of clothing they’d packed and followed behind them.

Henry, a balding man with a gut to match saw Joe coming. “Neighbor! Seems you added a new set of floors to your house last night.”

Joe smiled weakly. “I suppose you could say that.”

Henry pointed at one end of it. “That part is sort of hanging over my house. We’re you planning on spying on me or can you cut that part off?”

“Well, Henry, I’ll do you one better than that. I’ll remove it within the hour.”

Henry suppressed a laugh. “Whata you going to do? Fly the whole thing out of here?

Joe moved past him and headed toward their new home. “Something like that.” Joe glanced back. Henry stared at him as if saying, “What did you say?” No doubt they would create quite the news in the community.

“Joe Lumbar?”

Joe turned. A police officer approached him. “Yes, I’m Joe.”

He pointed at the balloon. “You know this violates at least six city ordinances. We’re going to have to ask you to tear it down.”

Joe sucked in a breathe. “Yes, officer. I’ll get right on it.”

“Why are you taking personal items into it?”

“I’ve got to get my wife and kid out first.”

The officer glanced at the creation. “Okay, but I’d better not return and find you living here.”

Joe smiled. “You won’t even know we’ve been here.”

The officer signed a paper, ripped it off and handed it to Joe. “Just in case, here’s your warning. Next one will be a citation if I don’t see progress.” He stuffed it in Joe’s hand. “Good day, sir.” Then he spun on his heel and headed down the street.

Joe laughed and stuffed it in his pocket. He gazed into the sky. The same waves of light rolled over the sky as it always had. Occasionally a small dark spot sliced through them. Then Joe saw a rather large dark spot, bigger than any he’d seen before. It worked its way across the sky.

Joe breathed deep. That was surely a sign if anything was. Time to launch. The cover might fail at any time and flood them with radiation. He stepped inside the door, placed the suitcases on the floor, and turned to close the door.

The neighbors continued to gawk at his house. He resisted an urge to give a speech. Instead, he waved goodbye and shut the door. He hoped for their sake that he was wrong about the coming destruction.

He carted the suitcases into their bedroom. Then he waved Joshua over. “Come with me to the control room.” Joe headed up a spiral staircase. Joshua followed close behind.

Mary scurried behind them. “I’m not staying down here alone when you launch this thing.”

Joe entered the upper loft he’d labeled the control room. The upper third story of the house, being half the floor space of the other two stories, it rested on top like small box stacked on a larger one. This room contained the only room in the house with windows, to minimize any radiation exposure—he hoped.

The front window displayed the nose of the balloon stretching out over his neighbor’s house. In front of the window rested a wheel-less bicycle bolted to the floor. Two levers, one on each side of the bike, awaited his commands. They adjusted the rotation of the two propellers to forward or reverse, to turn or move one direction. To the right of the bike, against the wall, rested two more levers. One to release the tie-downs to take off. The other to expel hydrogen from the balloon for landing.

Mary sat in a chair against the back wall. Joe climbed on the bike and placed his feet on the pedals. “Joshua, would you like to launch us?”

A smile beamed over his face. “Really? I can do that?”

Joe pointed. “Just pull down on the far, right lever.”

Joshua dashed to the lever, placed his hands firmly around it, then paused. He looked back, a grin indicating his excitement. “Ready?”

Joe gave him a thumbs up. Mary said, “Let’s get this over with.”

Joshua returned his attention to the lever. “Here we go!” He yanked on the lever. It barely grunted an inch. Joshua pulled harder. The lever resisted, but slowly gave way and landed with a loud thud against the stop.

The floor under them lurched upwards. Boards creaked in protest. Joshua fell against the wood floor with a grunt. Screams echoed from outside. The horizon bobbed up and down. Joe feared the house might fall apart. But it didn’t. The bobbing slowed to a shallow wobble. The horizon sank beneath the edge of the house.

Joshua lifted himself up and then stared out the window. “We did it, Dad! We’re flying.”

Mary wobbled from her chair to stand by Joshua. “You have a design flaw. You can’t see the ground. How are you going to land?”

Joe pointed at a door. “That leads onto the roof. There is a line one can hook to so you can lean over the side and direct the driver.”

“Me!” She swung to face Joe. “You expect me to lead over the edge?”

“It’s perfectly safe.”

She stared at the ceiling and huffed. “Ever hear of mirrors?”

Joe smiled sheepishly. “Ah. Good idea wife.”

She headed for the stairs. “Guess I’d better see what’s left of the house, straighten up, and fix lunch. Then I’ll do some exercise to be ready to repel down the side of our flying home.” She stomped down the steps, mumbling.

Joe hopped off the bike and pulled out from the left, front wall a crank handle. He turned it clockwise. Mirrors rose from the front and both sides. The front mirror displayed a wider view. Already the houses below had shrunk to postage-stamp size.

Joshua stared at the front mirror. “When you telling Mom about this.”

Joe grinned. “After I see if she will really lean over the side.”

Joshua shook his head. “You’re going to get it something awful.”

——————

The three sat around the dinning room table, holding hands. Joe had moved the table over after dinner the night before. He wanted something familiar to ground themselves in.

Joe bowed his head. “Lord, we than you for your gifts of food and protection. May your love accompany us on our journey and your mercy be with them below. Amen.”

Joshua grabbed a sandwich. “How high up are we, Dad?”

“Can’t say for sure. Last I looked, I couldn’t make out specific houses anymore.”

Mary smirked. “Leaned over the edge yourself, did you?”

Joe smiled. “Yeah. At least we should be safe from the radiation up here.” He hoped.

“And from all our neighbors as well.”

Joe grinned. “I would have liked to have seen the looks on their faces when our house took off.”

“It’s probably all over town by now. Maybe on Behyadel news.”

Joshua swallowed his bite. “Dad, will we feel the wind now?”

Joe held out his hand. “Listen.”

All three remained motionless. An occasional creak of the house broke the silence.”

“I don’t hear anything.” Joshua stared at his father.

“Exactly. I’m told you can hear the wind if it is going fast enough.”

A loud crash echoed through the house. All the furniture leaped upward and bounced back down, throwing sandwiches into the air and all three onto the floor. A loud screeching sound flooded the room.

Joe crawled to the stairs as the floor rocked violently, and worked his way up them, holding onto the railing. By the time he entered the control room, the rocking had died off some. He wobbled to the crank and lowered the mirrors for a better view in front of them.

Mary and Joshua bounced into the room. They stared out the window. Past the nose of the balloon, a glass-like surface disappeared into the distance.

“What happened?” Mary asked.

Joe shook his head. “Not sure, but we’ve hit something.”

“The cover.” Joshua pointed at the surface above the balloon. “We’ve hit the top of the sky.”

Joe waved his hand. “Listen.”

Over the creaking of the house, the sound of cracking met their ears.

“Honey, what’s that noise?”

Joe headed for the door. “I’ll go find out.”

“Be careful.”

“I will.”

Joshua ran to his father. “Can I come?”

“No!” they both said at the same time.

Joshua hung his head.

Joe knelt on one knee. “Look, son. It may be dangerous out there. Promise me if I don’t come back, you’ll look after your mother.”

“Dad—”

“Joseph Naza!” Mary put her hands on her hips. “How dare you lay that on him. He’s just a boy. You come back or I swear I’ll kill you.”

Joe nodded with a half-smile. “You’re right. I will be back, but for now, we’ll only risk one of us going.” He hugged Joshua and Mary before heading to the door.

Being on the other side of the wall knowing many feet lay between him and the ground, did give him a sense of unease. He grabbed the rope and tied it around his waist. He tugged on the end of the rope around a post to ensure it was secure and checked the safety latch.

Joe scanned the sky. The shadows appeared much bigger now. Light waves rolled across the surface, but more cracking sounds shattered the quiet. He’d have to climb to the top of the balloon to see what they’d hit.

Joe grabbed the first rung of the rope ladder that led to the top of the balloon. He’d gone several rungs when he stopped. He rubbed his fingers together. Wetness? Why would the rope be wet? He examined the rope closely. A trickle of water ran down the rope. Drops cascaded off the ladder higher up at the curve of the balloon.

A surge of water swished over his hands. The water came from above and was growing by the second. More loud cracking sounds echoed across his ears. He turned to see cracks extending past the balloon. Whatever the covering was, it was breaking apart. Joshua’s flag pole on top of the balloon must have punctured the cover. And water was on the other side. Not radiation.

Joe headed back down as fast as he dared. Sheets of water began to pour over his head. The flow increased quickly. A loud popping sound shattered the air. A large piece of thick glass bobbed over the balloon and fell toward the ground. Behind it a surge of water raced to catch it.

Water swept over Joe. He gasped for air as it pushed him onto the roof of the house. He struggled to get to his feet but the flow of water shoved him back down and scooted him closer to the edge of the house.

Mary and Joshua stared at him from the window.

Joe yelled, “Reel in the rope!”

Mary and Joshua glanced at each other. She shrugged her shoulders.

Two more loud pops. More water careened over the balloon. The wave of water shoved Joe toward the edge. Joe pointed at the rope reel and demonstrated the motions of cranking. Mary and Joshua stared back in horror.

The water flooded over him anew, and he slid along the roof. He could find nothing to grab as the edge grew closer. He couldn’t stop it. He slipped over the edge as water shot over the roof and away from the wall.

His heart raced as he fell. Patches of land and cities dotted the land below. A stream of water fell toward his old home. His neighbors. The citizens of Behyadel. They would all drown because of his ark. As might himself. He’d doomed them all. Not the radiation.

He grimaced as the rope around his waist tightened and broke his fall. He swung under the house, then back toward the sheets of water flowing off the roof. Thankfully he’d not gone too far up the balloon, and the safety had engaged. Otherwise, he could be many feet below the house. As he gained his air back, he pulled himself up now that the water didn’t hit him directly.

As he approached the bottom of the house, he spied the front door. He could swing to it. He positioned himself alongside the house and then began swinging on the rope. Each pass he drew closer until he grabbed the door knob. He pulled himself over and held onto the doorpost. He turned the knob. The door flung open.

Joe grabbed the inside door knob with his other hand. The door pushed him into the edge of the water streaming from the roof. Joe shoved his body weight toward the house. The door shifted toward the house. He let go of the outside door knob and snagged the inside of the doorpost. With a grunt, he shoved himself into the house.

Joe lay on the floor, trying to catch his breath. Several pops rang from above, and the whole house jumped upward and shook. No time to catch a breath. Their house was about to break through the covering. He pushed himself up, closed the front door, then trudged up the stairs as fast as his body allowed him.

The sight of Mary hugging Joshua, both crying, greeted him.

“Anyone call for a plumber?”

Mary and Joshua spun around.

“Dad!” He ran and hugged his father’s legs.

Mary embraced him. “I thought you were gone.”

“Hey, I promised I’d be back.”

The house jerked upward again, sending them collapsing to the floor. Joe scanned the covering. Between the streams of water, the cracking cover was visible.

Joe pulled himself onto the bike. “You two had better sit in the chairs. They’re bolted to the floor, so should keep you from rolling around on the floor.”

Joshua landed in a seat. “What’s happening?”

“If I’m not mistaken, we’re about to break through the covering. Apparently there is water on the other side.”

Shards of glass followed by heavier streams of water fell below them. The cracks in the distance let more liquid through, and chunks of covering fell, leaving holes for the invader to enter.

The house fell, then bobbed back up. Then fell again. The flow of water had grown strong enough to push the balloon down, but it kept pushing back up. Then, within thirty minutes, the house started to sink and not go back up. The balloon was deflating. No doubt shards of the covering had punctured it.

The speed of descent increased. They’d likely smash into the ground. He hadn’t saved his family by building an ark. He’d condemned them and all of Behyadel with them. He must have misunderstood God big time.

The house slammed into something. Mary and Joshua screamed. Water flew away from the house, which bobbed back and forth. Endless horizon of water met Joe’s eyes. The pitch. He’d followed what little instructions he’d had. The pitch was to keep the water out. The ark wasn’t a balloon, it was a water vessel. Something the Behyadelsians had no need of.

The balloon listed to the right side of the ark, leaving a clear view of the sky. Giant sprouts of water poured into Behyadel. The water carried their house back toward the covering. Water flowing from the biggest hole, where the balloon had pierced it, pushed them away. The house floated around, pulled by eddies and pushed by streams of water.

The house bumped the covering, and scraped against it as the rising water forced them up to the top of the dome. As the house moved closer to the broken area of the covering, the water rose over the house. They would soon be submerged. Could the sealed house withstand it? And for how long? One way or another, they’d soon find out.

Joe’s ears popped. A small stream of water entered around the door. “Joshua, in the closet is some pitch. Go get it, spread it around the door downstairs and this one up here.

“Yes, sir.” He bolted down the stairs.

“That won’t do much, will it? I mean, doesn’t it have to set?” Mary asked.

“Yes, but it will give him something to do, and it might help.”

Joshua soon appeared with a bucket in hand and a spatula. “It doesn’t seem to be doing much.”

Joe nodded. “Give it a try anyway.”

Joshua knelt and started trying to spread the pitch between the door jam and the door. It did seem to slow the water flow some.

Joe pointed out the window. “We’re clearing the covering.” A hole approached among the fractured glass. “Joshua, get in your seat and hold on.”

Joshua slammed the lid on the bucket down and returned to his seat. “Here we go!”

The front of the house pulled upwards over the edge of the glass. Joe held fast to the bike as the bucket of pitch slid to the back wall with a thud. The house jerked, then raced upwards. Five minutes passed, and his ears popped again. Water sloshed against the back wall, soaking Mary and Joshua’s feet.

Light grew brighter. Joe’s eyes began to hurt. Another surface raced toward them. Joe gripped the bike hard. “Hold on. Looks like we’re about to hit another glass wall.”

The light continued to increase in intensity. Joe squinted, not wanting to miss the final moments of his life. The new surface approached fast. Joe braced.

The new surface gave way without a fight. The front of the ark broke into fresh air, paused above the water as if standing on its rear, then splashed back down to float on a new surface.

All three sat in stunned silence. Both recovering from the shock of not dying and the shock of this new world. A solid blue sky held puffs of white floating lazily along. Why they didn’t fall, Joe had no idea.

“Listen,” Joshua said.

Joe listened. An irregular howling sound rang in his ears.

Joshua raced from his chair to the door. “Wind!”

“Wait!” both of them yelled.

Joshua flung the door open. An invisible force pushed his hair back and vibrated his collar.

When Joe reached the door, the wind caressed his wet face. All three stood in the open door. An endless sky. An endless body of water. An invisible force. What more could this new world surprise them with?

Mary held up a scrap of paper. “This makes more sense now.”

Joe took it. Another fragment of his mother’s. He read it.

The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

——————

Recorded in old history books—which most Behyadelians of Joshua’s time considered myths—is a story of possible nuclear war. A prototype dome, designed to filter radiation out but allow the transference of air and carbon dioxide, was constructed in Utah, USA in hopes of sheltering large numbers of people. Before testing could be completed, the feared war started. While the dome performed as expected, the tectonic plates shifted from the explosions, resulting in Utah once again being covered in water.

Though not designed to work under water, due to the shallow distance to the surface, the dome held, keeping the water out while filtering in breathable air. However, the unplanned pressure on the dome weakened it after several generations. Eventually it would have collapsed on its own, but Joseph’s balloon ark, puncturing it with Joshua’s flag pole, hastened its demise.

The future of humanity now rests in the small family of three, Joseph, Mary, and Joshua, surviving and prospering in this new world, and writing a new history of mankind.

Written from then on in the sacred text, God is recorded as saying, “I only promised not to cover the whole world in water again. I didn’t say anything about radiation.”

About R. L. Copple
R. L. Copple enjoys a good cup of coffee and a fun story. These two realities and inspiration from the likes of Lester Del Ray, J. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, among others, caused him to write his own science fiction and fantasy stories to increase the fun in the world and to share his fresh perspective.
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