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FICTION
This Is What We've Waited For
Samuel Snoek-Brown

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We’d been planning the hot-air balloon ride for months and my mother said we were going if it was the last thing we did. Everyone else on the block was out in the predawn hours, too, packing their SUVs and hurrying their kids, but we were the first to leave because we hadn’t packed anything.

When we arrived at the field, the big wicker gondola was idle in the frosted grass and the balloon lay deflated beside it. Outside his trailer, the balloon pilot, too, was packing his little Mazda hatchback. He waved us off but my mother insisted, held a fist of dollars in front of him and when he wouldn’t take that, she offered him the keys to our minivan.

He fired up the flame and helped us hoist the huge sail-fabric of the balloon, showed my mother the levers and explained to her about venting the heat, managing the ballast, using the wind. Then he helped me and my sister Elizabeth and my two brothers into the gondola, latched the door after my mother, and went back to the two vehicles, where he began shifting all his gear from his hatchback into our minivan.

Little Dan squatted against the wall of the gondola and cried quietly into his folded arms. Elizabeth leaned against the rail and stared out at the sunrise just breaking the treetops. Somewhere out there, in the city, a soft boom clouded into the morning and a fist of smoke rose from the horizon. The balloon rose with it.

A scattering of birds burst from the treeline between us and the city: crows and wrens and sparrows and jays and hawks and finches all flocking together before spreading like fingers from a hand into their various murmurations. I watched a line of starlings zipper past the balloon.

My mother’s cheek was wet. I put a hand on her shoulder.

“Do we have a place to go? To ride all this out, like everyone else?”

She gripped my arms, turned me, faced me out away from the sunrise. Other spires of smoke, scattered over the landscape like seaweed adrift on an ocean floor.

From behind me, she said, “We are riding it out.” Then she leaned over the railing, fingers at the ropes on a sandbag. I watched it fall; the sandbag shrunk to a grain and then it was gone into the green haze below us. She worked at another rope, and then so did Elizabeth. The gondola tilted a bit, and my mother pointed to the opposite wall. “Go untie those,” she said. “Balance us.”

A flash shone from below and I looked out over the railing but my brother Greg pulled me away, then the shockwave shuddered the gondola as the explosion rocketed upward. I jumped back to the edge but we were over a cornfield now; behind us, an escalator of smoke.

I understood then.

Still leaning over the railing, I undid the knot of another sandbag and watched it plummet into the cornfield. I undid another, and beside me, Greg was working a knot of his own. We all were, now, even Dan. Breadcrumbs that no one could follow. Sandbag by sandbag. The knots unraveling so quickly; the air above us so warm, the wind blowing us in whatever direction remained.


Samuel Snoek-Brown is the author of the novel Hagridden and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin. He also works as production editor for Jersey Devil Press. He lives in the Pacific Northwest, and he hangs out online at snoekbrown.com.