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Friday short story time: "Balloon Debate"

This is a story I managed to write a plan for at 00:30 last Friday, but sadly time pressure (well, mostly the need to go to work that day) prevented me from actually getting it posted on the day.

So here it is at last, although I did post that audio monologue about pigeons on Friday evening to tide you all over anyway. Oh, and I also did a blog post on Tuesday about the use of technology in stories, although that doesn’t apply to this at all.

Balloon Debate

By Nick Bryan

One day, shortly after noon, they came together in the corner of the playground.Casual negotiations had failed to settle their differences, so the three had no choice but to begin the formal process. Which was just how The Arbitrator (or Anthony, but he liked it when younger kids called him “The Arbitrator”) wanted it.

Two years older than them, eons more life experience at the ripe old age of nine, he was ready to settle any difference, get the problems out of the way rather than allow a messy fight to take place, risking the adults getting involved.

He couldn’t believe the other kids let him get away with it, to be honest.

‘So, boys,’ he began, ‘I understand you’re having a disagreement over who gets this helium balloon?’

And with his other hand, he lifted the red balloon a few inches up to indicate which one he meant, and it bobbed next to his shoulder. There was a real temptation to release it and watch most of them scream, but that would be an abuse of power.

Finally, the first kid piped up. ‘Yes. It was the last one left after our class. We all want it.’

Thoughtfully, The Arbitrator nodded. ‘And what do you want it for?’

The tiny boy looked a little bashful. ‘Um, I want to let it fly away.’

And the others sniggered at him, but he continued. ‘I just think it’d be cool. And surely the balloon will be happier?’

‘That’s just a waste!’ The third one, tall and twitchy, was openly laughing at the idea. ‘Don’t give it to him!’

‘Hey,’ Anthony gave him a firm point, ‘you brought me into this, you listen to me. You,’ he continued, ‘middle kid, what do you want the balloon for?’

The second, a little girl sucking her thumb as if she’d die without it, cleared her mouth long enough to say: ‘I want to take it home.’


She shrugged. ‘Because it’s pretty?’

With that, the thumb went back and she fell quiet again. Not even more sniggering from the tall one on the end could rouse a response.

So, with little else to go on, The Arbitrator gave the final kid his say, even though he was tempted to exclude him from the event for being lanky and rude.

‘And why do you want it?’

‘Well,’ he began, obviously louder, ‘I wanna breath in the helium and make my voice go squeaky!’

‘Of course you do.’

‘It’ll be amazing!’


Not wanting to give that one more chance to speak than necessary, he turned away to begin deliberating. The little girl was giving him the wide, pleading eyes, and the two boys were hopping on the spot. The big one was obnoxious and the little boy reminded him of a tiny devil-child.

Still, he had it. ‘Okay, kids,’ he started off, ‘I think I’ve found a way of keeping everyone happy.’

He lifted up the balloon. ‘Ready?’

Huddled together, they nodded excitedly.

‘The winner is…’ He began to pass the balloon forward. ‘You, small girl.’

He passed it to her, and she cracked a big grin, then took the balloon. Even removed the thumb from her mouth long enough to thank him, before skipping away, leaving him with the two boys glaring.

‘That’s rubbish,’ the obnoxious one started up, ‘how is this keeping everyone happy?’

‘One moment please.’

He pointed across the playground at the little girl, dancing along, lolloping along the concrete with increasing glee. Until, finally, she hit a dent in the surface and tripped slightly. She didn’t hurt herself, but her grip on the balloon string was the first thing to go, and before she could do anything, it was flying away.

Thankfully, she didn’t cry or Tony might have felt guilty.

Instead, he merely turned to the tiny staring boy and said: ‘There we go. It’s flying away, just like you wanted.’

He didn’t exactly smile, but seemed satiated for now. He turned and began to meander off, leaving only one annoying loud boy. ‘And what about me? They all got what they wanted, how about…’

And, with a flourish, The Arbitrator took a firm step forward, gripped the kid’s shoulder and kneed him in the testicles, sending his voice squealing out over the playground, a good few octaves higher than usual.

If this wasn’t justice, Anthony thought, he didn’t know what was.

Copyright me, hello, please don’t steal, email me if you want to steal it in an authorised fashion or just, you know, say hello. Someone actually did email me about the last Friday story, that was weird. But in a good way.


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