In today's story, Up, Up, and Away, two friends take flight before parting for college
The prompt for today's story was inspired by my first ride in a hot air balloon. It was a fun and somewhat surreal experience, and I wanted to capture some its details while they were still fresh. If you have a suggestion for a story prompt, please let me know!
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 69 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Up, Up, and Away.
The prompt for today’s story came from my recent adventure in hot air ballooning. Last weekend, I had an opportunity to take my first ride in a hot air balloon. Honestly, I was a little torn on whether to go… I mean, flying through the air in a wicker basket with open fire overhead doesn’t exactly sound safe!
I went anyways and I’m glad I did. If you want to see a few pictures, check my Instagram. I also plan to blog a little about the trip on my website, so you can visit there later this week, too. Links are in the show notes.
Let’s see where this prompt leads… I suspect it will include a hot air balloon!
And here we go:
Up, Up, and Away
Maisie stood near the cornfield, trying not to bite her nails. Large fans blew air into a massive balloon attached to a wicker basket that rested on its side. She had watched the balloonist pull the basket from his trailer. The wicker had rippled when he tipped the basket onto the grass and Maisie said, “Wow. That’s really wicker.”
She knew hot air balloons were attached to wicker baskets, of course, but there was something about seeing one in person that drove home the reality of the situation. She was about to climb into that wicker basket and fly through the air with an open flame just overhead.
The whole idea seemed a little bit crazy now that it was about to happen. Crazy in a way it hadn’t seemed when she’d looked at pictures of hot air balloons while making their online reservations.
Riding in a hot air balloon had been Maisie’s idea. A way to commemorate the end of summer and the beginning of a new adventure. She and Jesse would be leaving for college in two days. Two different campuses on opposite coasts. The first time they’d be at separate schools since Kindergarten at Star Point Montessori.
They’d been classmates for thirteen years and neighbors their whole lives. Only children in their own homes who had been raised almost like siblings. They’d taken family vacations together, stayed at each other’s houses when their parents were busy, and shared a babysitter when both of their parents went out without them.
They’d learned to ride bikes together and helped each other pass their driving tests. They’d studied together, double-dated, and helped each other through school bullies and broken hearts. They’d applied to colleges together, then realized they wanted different things.
Maisie put that out of her head as she watched the balloon take shape in the open field. Jesse shot her a nervous grin, and they both jumped when the balloonist shot a flame into the open mouth of the balloon.
“We’re really doing this!” Maisie laughed, and Jesse nodded with confidence.
“It’ll be great!”
Maisie wasn’t so sure, but she could do anything with Jesse by her side.
They watched the balloonist and his two helpers tip the basket upright, then shielded their eyes to look up at the balloon’s full height. It was nearing sunset and mountains crowded in the distance.
In minutes, they were clambering into the basket, using the small foot hold to step up and swing in one leg, then the other. The balloonist fussed with fuel tanks and his helpers—the chase team—prepared to release the tethers.
Maisie and Jesse held rope handles inside the rim of the basket. Jesse looked up into the balloon. Maisie looked up at Jesse. And they were off the ground.
When Maisie peered over the basket, she saw the chase team growing smaller as they closed up the trailer and prepared to drive after them. Yet there was no sensation of moving up. Instead, everything on the ground simply seemed to be shrinking.
She and Jesse exchanged excited smiles while the balloonist shared numbers over his radio.
“This is wild!” Jesse said, just before a burst of fire sounded overhead.
Maisie winced at the heat and took a deep breath.
Some kids on the ground stopped their bikes to wave and shout hellos. Maisie and Jesse laughed and waved back. The balloonist lowered their flight, skimming across the treetops, and pointed out a family of deer in a forest clearing.
It was magical in the balloon. Maisie had expected a breeze, despite what Jesse had read online. Instead, it felt as if they were standing in place and while the scenery gentle moved around them.
At one point, the sun was lowering on their right. Some time later, it was on their left, though they had no sense that the balloon had been turning. They continued to drift with the wind, looking down on the treetops, the houses, and the farm animals below.
Jesse looked down into the branches and remembered all the times they’d looked up during forest hikes. It was the same world from the other side. Just as he’d soon be moving to the West Coast. Far from everything he knew, but still near mountains and an ocean. Different but the same.
The balloonist reached between them to shut off one tank and turn on the next, reassuring that the second tank would last longer than the first and there was still a third tank before they’d have to land.
“What if we don’t land?” Maisie asked, and the balloonist laughed.
“What if we stay up here forever?” she persisted. “If we had magic fuel tanks that would never run out? If we didn’t need food or water…?”
“Or sleep?” the balloonist laughed, before releasing more fire and checking his instruments.
“Or a bathroom?” Jesse added, with a look of mock horror.
Maisie laughed but wasn’t ready to let it go.
“We’re following the sunset,” she reminded. “Heading west.”
“Yep, heading west,” the balloonist confirmed, while carefully raising them over a taller stand of trees.
“To California,” Maisie added gently, and Jesse shuffled his feet.
“Now that would be a long trip!” the balloonist laughed, not knowing their situation.
“It’s not that far,” Jesse told him. “I mean, if you take an airplane.”
“Yeah, sure,” the balloonist muttered, turning his attention back to the radio to discuss possible landing sites with the chase crew.
“We don’t know where we’re going to land,” Maisie told Jesse, acknowledging the balloonist’s chatter.
“No, we don’t,” Jesse agreed, ignoring the balloonist completely.
He looked into Maisie’s eyes, sighed, and said, “So I guess we should just enjoy the ride.”
“Yeah,” Maisie agreed wistfully.
They drifted together, following the wind. Maisie imagined they were headed to a fairy land, like the wizard who set off in a balloon and ended up in Oz.
Maybe if they caught the sunset just right it could pull them over the mountains and into an orange and pink world. A magical, mystical place where time stood still. They could step out on the golden clouds, caught in the sunset burn as it moved around the Earth.
Everything in that fairy world would be bathed in pinks and oranges, tinged with deep purples and fiery reds. There would be fairy people there. Glistening creatures swathed in bright peach and orange silks. They’d eat marmalade and strawberry jams as vibrant and shimmering as the sunset’s warm glow.
A burst of flame warmed the top of Maisie’s head, and she closed her eyes, imagining they were gaining on the sunset, finding their way to the golden place where time would stand still. Where she and Jesse could have another adventure before parting ways.
Jesse looked down at Maisie’s closed eyes and wondered what it would be like to face a new school, a new town, a new world without her by his side. They had the internet. Texts. Video chats. But it wouldn’t be the same.
He looked out toward the mountains and saw two hawks circling a patch of trees.
“Maisie, look!” He pointed and they watched the birds fly, chasing each other over the treetops, the distance between them widening then narrowing but following the same swooping path.
They stood shoulder to shoulder and watched the birds with a shared smile. Their flight wasn’t over yet.
Thanks for listening. If you liked today’s story, please share it with your friends. You can also check out past stories, which range from silly to poignant and cross many genres as I write whatever ideas come to mind.
Beyond these short stories, you can learn about my novels on my website: SusanQuilty.com. You can also support me and get some bonus content through Patreon.com/SusanQuilty. Again, links are in the show notes.
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]