ol' big balloon

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Capt. Frank Clarence 3/28/2024 11:53pm

It turned out to be a lot of equipment in ol' Herb's barn.

"How do you move all this around yourself?" I asked. There was plenty of work for Flash and Mickey and Larissa moving it all out.

"I ain't a feeble old man," said Herb.

Flash and his friends hooked their rovers to the equipment and towed it out. It was all on trailers, or built with wheels. A 50 year old radio dish, assorted antenna, transformers, control panels.

"Need that rope," Herb said.

"Beans is coming with the rope, Herb."

The kids got more and more of the stuff towed out and parked to Herb's liking, and we got deeper into the barn moving stuff out.

"That thing there, Herb. What is it?"

It was a big monolith of a thing. On closer inspection there were a pair of them there, in the dark, on extra sturdy trailers.

"Don't you mind that," said Herb, sternly.

Each of them took two rovers, and the kids moved them out real slow, into the light.

The monoliths were... incomprehensible. Big, yes, and black. Carved and polished stone? Or ancient fossils? Whether they were grown or hewn hardly mattered -- it was their... shapes. Intricate, cascading ribs that defied our every day geography and seemed almost in motion. Undulating folds, fluttering, calling you in and down some horrible gullet... It was hard to look away--

"You best look away from them. The kids too," said Herb. "Ought to have them under tarps with bystanders around."

I could barely form words. My mouth was dry, and I'd become nauseous.

"What ARE they?" I managed.

"Dug 'em up. Out on the south pasture. Older than he chocolate dust, they are."

I had to step outside and get some fresh air. But I didn't puke.

Capt. Frank Clarence 12/3/2023 9:43pm

"No not like that!" hollered Herbert Alamak over the roar of rovers. He'd come out of his geodesic hovel and was making his way through the chocolate dust, waving his arms. "You're bound to destroy half the planet! Or worse!"

Seemed like ol' Herb was in the mood to talk. I called the kids on the walkie and had them take a break.

"You don't know what you're dealing with here," said Herb, shaking his head. "There's a reason I've set my camp out this far from town, and it's for your own safety. Everybody's safety. I'm doing dangerous work."

"Seems like it got dangerous for @Natty Bloomspice, didn't it."

"Yes, it did. And through no fault of my own. If it hadn't been for those meddling kids..." Herb looked off into the dust devil the kids and kicked off with their rovers. "But I think I might just know where we can find Natty, figuring he survived, that is."

I didn't like Herb's cavalier tone about the boy. But I needed to know what he was getting at. I just gave Herb a look.

"I got some equipment in the barn. It'll be safe enough. And we're going to need some rope. A lot of rope."

Flash McCoy 8/26/2023 11:42pm

"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.

Capt. Frank Clarence 5/22/2023 11:57pm

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."

Herbert Alamak 2/1/2023 10:06pm

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.

Hettie Bloomspice 11/3/2022 11:22pm

"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.

Natty Bloomspice 8/14/2022 10:23pm

"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.

"Yes Adrienne."

"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."

Hettie Bloomspice 6/2/2022 11:46pm

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!

Flash McCoy 3/7/2022 11:44pm

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.

Capt. Frank Clarence 1/2/2022 11:02pm

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.

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