“Get in! They won’t even miss it,” Jeff shouted.

Brandon looked at his friend. “I think many inmates have said those words.”

“Honestly, I know the owner. He won’t mind, as long as he can’t tell it was used.”

Kate smiled at Brandon. “I’ll go if you go,” she said.

Brandon ran down the hill, tripped, and slid down the rest. His jeans were smeared with mud and grass.

Kate took her time and when she got to the bottom and saw Brandon, she giggled.

Brandon turned bright red.

Jeff was already in the basket and threw the rope ladder over the side.

“But how will we get the balloon back?” Brandon asked.

“I’ll call my brother. He recently bought a used Chevy with some hauling power. He’s willing to do it for the beer I brewed last summer.”

Brandon knew Jeff’s older brother. It was a miracle he graduated high school and now he was having success selling used cars.

Brandon helped Kate into the basket and followed after.

Jeff turned up the propane and lit the fire. The flames shot toward the balloon. He looked like he knew what he was doing, but Jeff always looked like he knew what he was doing. The basket jolted towards the sky. “Help me release the cables,” Jeff said. Brandon reached for the anchor and tried not to think about the consequences.

CLIP…WOOSH

They ascended into the air.

Following along on one of Jeff’s adventures was always a thrill. There was something about him the world couldn’t hold down. Most of us are rooted to the earth by gravity, but Jeff had a lightness. Wherever he went, the winds blew favorably.

They rose above the treetops and met a gentle breeze that blew them out of the field and across the woods.

“Anytime we want to land, we let off some heat like this.” Jeff pulled a rope coiled near a suspension cable and the balloon descended. “Frank Losson taught me all about this balloon last summer. If we want to shift course, we can find higher altitude winds that will take us where we want to go.”

The balloon found the train tracks and began to follow them. Being pushed by the breeze, hundreds of feet in the air, felt like a dream. There was the ocean in the distance and the old lighthouse jutting from Sandy Point.

“We’ll have to set this balloon down if we get too close to the water,” Jeff said.

The sun was sinking lower in the sky as a crosswind blew in their direction and they shifted course. They were moving back across the woods in the direction they came.

“We might not need your brother,” Brandon said. Soon the balloon was moving across an adjacent field from their launch site. There were two cars parked at the far end, an old bronco and a mercury cougar.

“Isn’t that Mr. Turnbow’s car?” Brandon asked.

“You’re right; it is,” Kate whispered. “He’s supposed to be coaching soccer practice.”

BAAANG. BAAANG. BAAANG.

“That’s gunfire. 9MM I’d say,” Jeff said.

Mr. Turnbow stepped out from behind his car. He couldn’t miss the 7-story balloon that was 300 feet above him. The teenagers ducked inside the basket.

BAAANG. BAAANG. BAAANG.

“He’s shooting at us!” Kate screamed.

Hiss. Pshhhh.

“We’ve been hit.” Brandon shouted. “Did he see us?”

“We’re like sitting ducks,” Jeff said. But wait, the balloon is moving. We’re sinking towards the tree line. Be prepared to run.”

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