ol' big balloonearliest post first | most recent post first
"You just can't do it with less than five. It's gotta be a star," I told the Captain.
There wasn't any way out of this mess except telling the Captain everything. He had me to rights, but said he'd let it all slide if we could just call up another pumpkin.
"Well then you just get Beans and Mickey and Larissa back here," the Captain said. "And then their parents won't have to get involved either. I suspect they can all make it back by nightfall."
I gave it some thought.
"The only thought you need to give it is how much your pa will tan your hide if I let him know you've been terrorizing ol' Herb."
"Terrorizing ol' Herb? HE'S the one out here you need to be worried about."
"You just show me this pumpkin trick and let me worry about Herb," said the Captain.
Herb knew more than he was letting on.
This had always been the case, with Herb being a mysterious type. But I'd never seen Herb so sure about something. He never seemed to be sure about anything, on top of never willing to trust anyone. Now he was telling me that if one thing were sure, it was that there sure couldn't have been a huge orange pumpkin floating in the sky out near his place.
"It seemed to be related to a cyclone."
"There are cyclones in the rifts. Could it have been the setting sun, rolled up in a cloud of dust?"
"There were some local youths involved."
"And that is your jurisdiction, Captain. I can not be responsible for young people who come out here."
"I know you like to keep to yourself, Herb. And I respect that. But the Bloomspice boy, Natty, has gone missing. So I'm seeking information on what might have gone on out here."
This got Herb's attention.
"The boy could be anywhere in the cracks of the flats," he said. "You should be out looking for him now, wandering in the chocolate dust."
"Do you get these cyclones often, Herb?"
"They come through now and again. But I don't have weather stations in all the rifts. Only what comes through my own small network."
"Can I see this weather data, Herb?"
"I'll get you a download by the next time you come around with the mail, Captain. How does that sound?"
It sounded like enough time to be sure Herb could doctor that weather data as much as he liked.
"You bet, Herb. That sounds great."
An enormous pumpkin? I'm sorry, Frank, I haven't seen such a thing. Sounds rather far fetched, doesn't it? A huge pumpkin, floating in the sky? No Frank, I can't say I've seen anything like that out here past the Flats.
"i don't get it," i tell @Flash McCoy. "what happened to my brother? what happened to that pumpkin head?"
"natty musta drove right through it. popped it like an ol' big balloon!" he says. "he's gotta be off yonder, in the cocoa scrub. probably bent his rover up real good."
"oh no he ain't yonder in the cocoa scrub and you know it." i was gettin tired of flash bein such a knowitall. "natty got sucked into that pumpkin head and then the whole dang thing imploded. i got eyes, same as you."
flash hopped on his rover and meant to leave. "natty can find his own way home. farmer herb's bound to be out here any minute with his sonic shotgun and i don't plan on seein' him."
"you're a coward, flash mccoy," i says.
that's when we both noticed @Capt. Frank Clarence in his airship, parked in the air right behind us.
"And... freeze," I tell my TA. "And zoom in about 200%"
"In this still from @Capt. Frank Clarence's body cam footage of the event," I continue, "I look like a fly crawling over an apricot, don't I?"
The class laughs. People always laugh when I use that line.
"A mere speck!" I add, for more laughs. "If the phenomena known locally as 'pumpkin face' were the sun, I'm merely a tiny black sunspot on its molten, orange surface." I walk up to the screen so it's projecting the orange color on me. "But how is this possible? True, the manifestation of Pumpkin I is large, but remember I was traveling in a small service vehicle called a 'rover,' that had four big tires and a roll bar and a small bed in the back. But in the dimensions of this picture I'm just the smallest dot."
As usual, Adrienne's had shot up first.
"It's because you really were almost a mile away, on account of the time-space distortion generated by Pumpkin I. And Pumpkin I at this point had reached a breadth of almost 3 miles. The bodycam footage was actually looking deep into our reality at the time, not just activity on the skin of its own reality."
"Exactly right, Adrienne. Who else did the reading for today? Anyone?"
A few hands go up, but not very convincingly.
"Alright class. Everybody DO THE READING and next class we'll have a proper discussion on how your very own Mr. Bloomspice learned to navigate the Pumpkin Patch and pass back and forth between the worlds at his leisure. Class dismissed."
i was leanin' as hard as i could, keeping the rover reined in to keep the circle goin' with @Flash McCoy and Larissa an' the rest, when the howlin' started just like flash said and i look up and see it.
i ain't never seen a pumpkin before 'cept in the mind pitchers but that's sure enough what it was. up in the sky, big and ribbed and orange in the moonlight, an' as i whip around it's got this big face on it, and damn if it ain't the likeness of ol' herb, just like in the brochures. but so big... an' orange... an' howlin.
i about lost my shit at that moment. but if i let go the rover it'd all be over so i hung on for dear life.
then omgwtf, it's brother @Natty Bloomspice, screamin' right at us in daddy's rover. oh god this ain't gonna end well. now's not the time natty! oh shit!
Living in the Chocolate Flats sucks. Except for this.
Beans and Mickey and Larissa are up ahead, pushing their rovers to the limit. Hettie's right behind me, in the slipstream between all the chocolate dust I'm kicking up. She's never seen it before. But tonight we're going to make it happen.
It's old Herb's secret. The thing that keeps him going out here. But the Olds are too stiff to believe it. Not enough chocolate in their bones.
Herb's secret is his demon.
Beans and Mickey peel off to the left, their chocolate dust rising in the triple-moon light. Larissa heads off to the right, then pulls her brake and drifts into a smooth 180. She's ready to start the churn. Counterclockwise.
I give it a gun and Hettie follows, taking up our place in the spin.
Pretty soon all five of us land out points on the star. All five equidistant and flooring it in a counter clockwise spin around Farmer Herb's chewcumber patch. Pretty soon we've got max power and we're all drifting, churning up the chocolate dust in a big counterclockwise tornado.
Sure enough, up starts the howling.
I look back at Hettie to take a look at her face as she sees it for the first time. Of course there's too much chocolate dust and Hettie's got her mask and goggles on anyways. So I look up and take it in for myself. It's as terrifying as the first time I saw it.
The giant screaming pumpkin head in Herb's back yard.
The tracks all lead out in Herb's direction, following the rover ruts down into the canyons.
"Whoa, nellie, now that ain't gonna do," I told the Ol' Big Balloon. The gusts on the flats were no joke, and going over the wind was more of a trip than I'd charged her up for.
But following the kids down into the canyons was something we'd had experience with. Before all these settlers showed up, and it was just my family and the geo-survey team out on the Chocolate Flats. No rules back then except don't get yourself out of a scrape you can't get yourself out of with items on hand. And I gained a lot of experience in this very ship scouting out every nook and cranny of the flats. Even out as far as where Herb made his homestead.
There were a lot of reasons everybody tried to talk Herb out of it. The distance, number one, and the energy it would take to keep him looped in as part of the group. Everybody's got to work as a group, or we won't survive. And more times that not, not even then. But Herb staked his claim and there was nothing anybody could do about it. Herb knew the risks.
Well, maybe not all of them. The ones based on data, sure. But I'd seen things out there that the data just couldn't capture.
You've gotta do somethin' about those wild kids, @Capt. Frank Clarence! Them in their souped-up 'rovers, kickin' up the chocolate dust like there's no tomorrow! They got no respect for honest settlers tryin' a make it here on the crack flats, them knockin' over fences and chewin' up the 'rec fields with their racin' and slidin' and the howlin'.
And what's with that howlin, @Capt. Frank Clarence? Whenever those kids really get goin' and they're spinnin' their wheels makin' chocolate dust devils that's when it starts. Most unnerving thing you ever heard. Comes from a distance, like. But then fills the air like it's a tornado and a locomotive all in one.
Ol' Herb must get the worst of it. All the chocolate dirt tracks lead out towards Herb's place. Ain't he callin' in about it? Though I suppose Herb does keep to himself. If there's somethin' out here outta scare those kids it's Herb I reckon.
You get those kids off the flats and back at home where they belong, @Capt. Frank Clarence. Ain't that your job? We don't pay our percent to the company just so you can deliver mail! What this place needs is a bit a law and order, way I see it.
The High Chocolate Flats are incorrectly named. It was an easy thing to call a big blank spot on a map, and from a great distance it does look mighty flat.
But from a few thousand feet, it's not that flat. Chocolate ridges, cracks and cliffs abound. Still plenty of flat between them. Enough for Insta-stations and experimental bio-rec fields and long thin rover ruts through the chocolate dust.
And there seemed to be a bit more dust than usual up ahead.