“The Red Balloons” by Taylor Young

It had been raining for days. The streets of Derry had been flooded for hours, the over poured water draining into the sewers, drenching the one thing that Derry was trying to forget.

Underneath the pavement he sat. Grimacing, pouting, planning, and scheming within the polluted waters. The taste of copper frequently touching his tongue as he remembered his late night snack. This wasn’t new. He had been chasing down and using children as his feast for many years, for decades, and he was about to climb out of hibernation. Derry thought that he came from aliens, but oh – they were very wrong.

Decades ago, it was another rainy night. The air was slightly frigid. Enough to make the hair on your arms stand up if the wind caught you off guard. He was just a child. He couldn’t have been more than twelve years old. That didn’t matter to his parents, though. They were out on the rainy night, as a family, trying to get people to pay attention to them. To see them as more than a freak show act. As real people, with a funny alter ego. Some families loved them. Other families ignored them. But the one family that stuck out the most – they had the one child who turned him down. He laughed in his face, called him every name in the juvenile book, and when on about his night. He, dressed up in his act, made sure his eyes followed the kid back to his home.

A few days passed, a few weeks passed, but he never forgot the one kid who made him feel like a disgrace. Who made him feel like he was a problem and not an act. His family had let it go, but not him. And as long as he had to remember it, the kid was going to remember it as well.

Months passed. He learned his name. Jimmy Danson. The kind of kid that would later bully you in high school? Yeah, that was Jim Danson. He learned everything about him. His routine. The path he walked everyday. The path he walked on the weekends. The bus he took when it was raining outside. He watched him and he learned. He waited. He learned.

As time went by, he began to leave red balloons at each important stop of his routine. His doorstep. His bedroom window. The bus stop. His school locker. Everywhere. Which was easy, because Jim Danson didn’t know who he was without his freak show costume. Jim was scared of the balloons at first, because they were legitimately following him around. But then Jim  just had enough, popping each one that came onto his path.

He sat outside of his bedroom window one day, waiting for Jim  to take a glance. Slowly, he raised a red balloon from the tall grass, having it sit right above his head. He waited until he knew that Jim saw it. The red latex becoming a routine fragrance around him. Jim  walked out of his house, petrified of what he just saw, but he and the red balloon were gone.

Red balloons stopped appearing in public, and started appearing in Jim’s  lonely quarters. His preferred bathroom held red balloons on a weekly basis, and then every morning,  he’d wake up to a new balloon. These balloons had specific messages written on them, though.

“Float with me, Jim.” 

“You’d be nicer if you weren’t such a clown.” 

“Am I giving you a taste of your own medicine?” 

“Better sleep on your stomach so you won’t see me standing over you tonight.” 

Jim knew exactly who was haunting him, now. The kid from the rain.

Years passed, Jim got older, and as he got older, the balloons stopped. He tried to put them behind him, mentally and physically. The balloons were just balloons. He couldn’t let it control his life. But the summer that Jim graduated high school, that’s where everything changed. The balloons came back. This time in bigger quantities. They would be in his shower. In his car. Tied to his bedroom doorknob. At his typical burger joint. At the drive-in. Everywhere. But when he would ask, no one else saw the balloons. Not one single person. Just Jim. He was the only one who could see them and hold them. Everyone else thought he was delirious because the balloons weren’t there at all.

It was the night before Jimmy was supposed to leave for college. He had seen the red balloons multiple times, but said nothing because apparently it didn’t matter. Jim was heading to the library to return his last books of the summer, and that’s when he heard it.

“Pssssst! This is for you.”

A chill crawled up his spine like a spider creating a new web. He looked down at the sewage drain, and there he was. Dead eyes. Face paint and all. The kid from the freak show. Holding a red balloon.

“You’re not there,” Jim said, backing away from the drain.

He stuck his claw like fingers through the holes and moved it aside as he climbed out, “of course I am, silly.”

Once Jim got a look at him, the most bone-chilling laugh came out of the freak show kid’s mouth. Except he wasn’t a kid anymore. He was big. Terrifying. Your face would turn to stone if you even dared to look in his eyes.

“This balloon is for you. Take it,” he said in his best characterized voice, reaching out to give Jim the one thing he’s been haunted by for years.

“I don’t want it…” Jim said, still backing up.

The man dressed in a tacky colored suit and old face paint stepped closer, “take. It. I’ve been wanting you to take it for years, Jimmy boy.”

Jim’s eyes closed immediately out of fear. The balloons weren’t real. This wasn’t real.

“What? Don’t you remember me?” He asked, stepping closer. The stench of the sewer was beyond pungent on his clothes.

Jim kept his eyes closed. If he just believed that this wasn’t real, he would go away. If he could just run, it would all go away.

“C’mon, Jimmy! I have a surprise for you…” He said, grabbing Jim’s arm in the process.

Jim’s eyes shot open, and he was closer than he had originally assumed. He, the freak show kid, was pulling Jim down the drain sooner than he could process. His body was frozen with fear. The stench of Derry’s sewer cloaked him. This still wasn’t real. None of it was. Jim convinced himself that he was asleep. That this was a lucid dreaming episode. That none of this was real or possible. But as they walked through tunnels, the smell of rotting flesh was also apparent. There were carcasses from unidentifiable creatures. There were bugs beyond words and rats the size of submarine tanks. None of this was real. Right? The freak show reject looked up and smiled. His rotted teeth poked out in every direction. His makeup cracking and creasing as he smiled.

“Know what that is, Jimmy Jam?” he asked, pointing up.

“I don’t…” Jim said, utterly confused.

“That! That is your bathroom. The balloons you found in your house? All from yours truly! All from the same drain. I sent them to float, and they did just that. Just for yoooouuu. Aren’t you something special?”

Jim didn’t know how to respond, so he just didn’t.

“Jimmy. Would you like a balloon?” he asked, seeing the petrifying fear in his face as he watched a red substance fall from the drain.

“What… What did you do?” Jim asked, once again backing up in disbelief.

“Oh. The parents there at the house? Yeah. I got to them before you, buddy. Now you’re here with me! Isn’t that an honor?”

Jim covered his mouth with his hand. He was about to be sick. “You… My parents…”

He shrugged, “they were there, too. Mocking me and my family. They had to go. Just like you do.”

Jim’s eyes widened with fright. The overwhelming heat of fear taking over his body, the tingle of not being able to breathe was now apparent in his throat. His palms began to clam up. His knees buckling with anxiety. All while he, the psycho, smiled on, his rotted teeth apparent as he watched the merlot colored blood drip from the drain.

“Who… Are… You.?” Jim asked, squatting before he fell over.

“Why, I’m Pennywise! The dancing clown! Don’t you remember, Jimmy? I came up to you. You pushed me and said that clowns weren’t real. Do you believe in them now, Jim?”

Derry didn’t notice that Jim Danson and his family disappeared. Derry didn’t acknowledge the fact that kids began to go missing ever so often. When it was brought to their attention, they concluded with the fact that a Jim Danson never existed. But Pennywise the clown did. The youngest of the traveling clown family who spent every summer in Derry. That was until their youngest, Benjamin, went missing after he  claimed that a boy named Jimmy was teasing him. Jimmy was never seen, and Benjamin was never found.

~ Taylor Young


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