Fly High

We gathered together at the town square just around sunset. The newspaper called it the "Official Fly-High Festival", in reference to the local personality we'd come to celebrate and his odd passion. To us, it was a little less formal than that.

The man loved hot-air balloons. Morris Kildaire, that is. Though his name would seem to conjure up the image of some strapping young adventure hero, cutting his way through the Amazon in search of treasure, the truth was a bit less dazzling.

Morris was about seventy years old, though he still had his health and vigor. He was the town Doctor for most of his life, starting at the age of twenty if you can believe it. He was operating on farmers' smashed limbs and diagnosing infectious diseases before he could legally drink alcohol!

The town loved Morris, so when he set off in his balloon two counties over and promised to meet everyone in the square… well, people damned well made sure to show up. If you were absent, you could expect a volley of questions from all the gossips.

I stood among the chattering crowd, cider in hand, and looked up into the night sky. It was clear… beautiful… space itself looked like some tremendous dome specifically built to shelter the Earth and keep it safe. The twinkling beacons up there seemed to be placed specifically to delight us.

The sound of roaring fire was all around us. Many folks had brought their own balloons to exhibit, everyone from hobbyists to professional teams. There were giant fish, cartoon characters, even a couple dragons. The balloons that had no particular theme were just as amazing with their vivid colors and amazingly detailed patterns.

It felt surreal. Beautifully surreal.

I watched as a few people gathered on the church steps, along with the Pastor. He was the second most popular man in town, and was also a good friend of the man of the hour, Morris.

I tilted my head to pick out a sound amongst the din of fire and chit-chat. It was a little girl's voice. She was excited and screaming out into the night.

"Look! Look!"

I searched the crowd a bit until I set eyes on the girl. An older woman at her side, probably her mother, remained motionless. She stared toward whatever the overjoyed little girl was referencing.

"He's here!"

I turned to look as well, and just as my eyes were cast toward the Heavens, I saw the dark silhouette of a balloon against the glow of the moon. It drifted toward the square slowly… peacefully.

"I'll be damned, it is…" I whispered in awe.

The balloon slowly came into view as more and more of the crowd began to fall silent and stare upward. The dark shape of the floating vessel was clearer, now. We could easily see the heavily weathered basket. Several holes were punched straight through the balloon material, though it somehow remained completely inflated.

Most disturbing of all, the flame filling that balloon burnt with a pale blue color. It was the color of an arctic glacier, and somehow I knew it must be cold to the touch.

The balloon took out the church steeple, sending a hail of debris onto the onlookers below. We all tried to call out… to scream for them to get out of the way… but the thought had arrived moments too late.

Citizens dove left and right as the balloon raced downward and its basket dragged along the ground. A deep groove of exposed red clay trailed behind the awful sight.

Only when the balloon finally came to a stop did we notice Morris Kildaire standing stoically within. His skin had turned obsidian, creating a startling contrast with his snow white hair and perfectly groomed beard.

Morris Kildaire, who set off on his trip fifty two years ago and never returned. The man we gathered to celebrate every year, at the exact moment he was supposed to return.

Behind his eyes, there raged the blinding light of a supernova.

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