​Survival Horror + Balloons (Short story) 

Two words, generated at random by the Idea Machine, and turned into a writing prompt. One of the hardest writing exercises I’ve ever tried. This one is for Halloween. 

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You are four years old, and you are surrounded by kids. It’s your birthday. You just got a giant stuffed cat and you remember releasing balloons into the air and watching them fly away. This is your earliest memory.

Two years later. It’s the first day of school. Your grandma comes over with balloons that morning. She can’t believe how fast you’ve grown.

A hospital, five years later. You’re holding balloons again. They say “get well soon,” and this time you’re bringing them to grandma. This is the second-to-last time you’ll see her. The last time will be a few weeks later, and she’ll be in a casket. You’ll cry a lot.

More balloons. You’re sixteen. You have a pretty dress, and your dad let you wear makeup for the first time. Luke will be there that night, and you wonder if he likes you. The catering hall is more expensive than your parents can afford. They try to hide it from you, but you heard them fighting about a few days ago. You’re not sure what was so sweet about this birthday.

You count 12 other people in the meeting. You can’t focus. You look out of the window and you see a single balloon flying over Central Park. You are in Marketing, trying for a promotion. One day you’ll find mister right, but for now you’re a career woman.

White balloons, tied to the chair backs. It’s your wedding. You’re 32. He’s not mister right, he’s not even taller than you. But he’s in finance, and this makes your parents happy. On the plus side, you don’t see him very often.

Balloons. Pink. It’s a girl. Your second one. He’s trying to convince you to quit your job and focus on the kids. You tell him that you can’t do that because your career is too important. It’s not. You hate your job, but you keep it to spite him.

There is a commercial break on the TV. It’s one of those crap quality local ads. A clown making balloon animals. What were you watching anyway?

You feel anger. Not because he’s terminal. Because you’re too old to enjoy your freedom. There are no balloons today.

There are children around you. They look familiar, but they are afraid of you. The balloons say “Happy Birthday Grandma.” They can only kiss your forehead because of the tubes in your face. You don’t like being kissed on your forehead. 

You are flashes of memory. A boardroom. Your parents are arguing. A packed elevator going up. The laminated conference badge with your name on it. Stairs. Endless stairs. You feel the warmth of someone’s hand holding yours. You are four years old again, letting go of a balloon.