This story is by Bryan Smith, Pen Name B. Shaun Smith and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
October 5th, Balloon Fiesta Park, Albuquerque New Mexico
“Here we go!” said the pilot. He opened the blast valve on the burner to ignite the propane and air mixture. The turquoise and white checkered hot air balloon lifted off the ground. In a couple of minutes Gavin, Noelle and the pilot, were nearly a hundred feet in the air. About twenty balloons were in the air with them. More were being launched, while others were being inflated on the field below.
“Wow!” Gavin said to Noelle. He gave her hand a light squeeze. The sun was beginning to peek over the Sandia Mountains.
“It beautiful!” She said.
Gavin glanced over at the Rio Grande River and back at her. “Noelle—.” The balloon jolted, picking up speed.
“Hold on.” Said the pilot. He opened the blast valve again.
“Are we supposed to be going this fast?” asked Gavin.
“We’re caught in a wind current. Need to get above those radio towers.” The pilot pointed ahead of them.
Gavin and Noelle watched as three radio towers quickly grew closer. Her hand tightening its grip on his. The pilot continued to try to get the balloon to ascend.
“We’re going to hit!” yelled the pilot.
Gavin and Noelle braced themselves. The nylon envelope made contact first. The basket slammed into one of the radio towers, throwing the pilot out. He screamed as he fell to the ground. With the envelope caught on the radio tower, the balloon began to deflate. The basket hung next to it.
Noelle slumped down in a corner of the basket, checking her right ankle. Gavin knelt next to her.
“I think it’s broken or twisted. Christ! It hurts!” she exclaimed.
Gavin stood up slowly, which caused the basket to jolt a couple of inches closer to the ground.
“Be careful!” Noelle yelled at him.
“Sorry…I was thinking we could try to climb down the radio tower. With your ankle messed up that’s not going to work.”
“How far from the ground are we?”
“Five, six hundred feet.”
Gavin shook his head. He wasn’t going to tell her that he could see blood where the pilots body had hit the ground. His hands shook as he dialed nine-one-one on his smartphone.
“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?” asked a female operator.
“We’re…we’re in a balloon that is —” he was interrupted.
“Stuck on the radio tower. Tell me your name sir.”
“Tell me your name, so I can verify you’re who you say you are. If you are a prank caller, we’ll deal with you later. You’ve got five seconds to tell me your name.”
“Gavin McNeely” he said.
“Ok Gavin. I’m Angela,” the 911 operators voice softened a little. “Help is on the way. Anyone hurt?”
“The pilot fell to the ground when we hit the radio tower.”
“That had not been reported…”
He went on. “My fiancés…uh Noelle’s ankle is either broken or twisted.”
“Ok. Gavin, we’re currently working on a way to get you two down. We do not know how long that balloon will stay in place. You two may need to abandon it.”
“Where? Onto the radio tower?” he became agitated.
“Yes. I understand Noelle is hurt, but that maybe your only option.”
“Isn’t there a fire truck ladder that can reach us?” he growled into the phone.
“None that will reach that height.” Angela said bluntly.
Noelle grabbed his arm. “Pleases stay calm.”
Gavin saw the fear in her eyes.
“What should we do?”
“Don’t panic and try not to move around too much. We’re monitoring the winds. We’ll let you know if they’re going to pick up and if you need to get on the tower.”
“Gavin, I need to step away for a moment. I’ll turn off my mic, but I’ll still be listening. Say my name to get my attention.”
He looked over at Noelle. “They’ll get us down.” His hands shook less.
“When were you going to ask?”
He looked at her confused. “What?”
“You said I was your fiancé. When were you…you going to ask me?” she said in a shaky voice.
“I…I was going to ask you when the sun hit the Rio Grande.” He took the ring from his back pocket. It was on a metal necklace chain. His hands still shook as he put it around her neck.
“I thought it was supposed to go on my finger.” She sniffed back some tears.
“I didn’t want take a chance of losing it over the side of the balloon.” They kissed.
She looked at the pale blue gemstone. “It’s beautiful.”
“Reminded me of your eyes. The stone is Aquamarine. It’s known as a lucky stone.”
“We need all the luck we can get right now.” She began to cry. Gavin held her. Their embrace was interrupted by the sound of an approaching helicopter.
“Shit!” They said at the same time. It was a news helicopter.
“Angela.” Gavin said into his phone.
“Could it be coming to help?” Noelle asked.
“They would’ve told us. ANGELA!” he yelled into the phone.
“Sorry, I’m here.”
“There’s a news helicopter coming toward us.”
“We told them to stay away.” Angela began to bark orders to someone on her end.
The basket swayed from the helicopters downwash. It moved a couple of feet closer to the ground. Gavin and Noelle began to yell at the helicopter. Trying to get it to move away.
Gavin looked around the basket for anything he could throw at the helicopter. He found a flare gun. He checked to see if it was loaded, it was. He cocked and fired it. The helicopter veered away.
“Gavin! You there?”
“Quick thinking with the flare.”
“It’s going to get bumpier.”
“An Air Force Osprey is coming to get you two. It’s less than five minutes out.”
“They were on a training mission. They’ve been rerouted. I need you to listen carefully to this next part.”
“The Osprey is going to lower a crew member down to you. He’ll have two harnesses for you both to strap into. The Osprey will then move away from the radio towers and lower all three of you to the ground.”
“Will the cable hold all of us?”
“The Osprey can lift fifteen thousand pounds. You’ll be fine.”
“Is this the only option?”
“We’d prefer you climb down to meet firefighters on a ladder. With Noelle hurt it’s not an option. This way we can get both of you down at once. That balloon is going to be moving with winds from the downwash of the Osprey. Both of you need to be quick and ready.”
They heard the Osprey as it came into view.
“We see them.”
“Everything will be fine.”
“Good luck.” She disconnected.
Gavin relayed to Noelle, what Angela had told him.
“Help me up.” She said. As Gavin did the basket shifted slightly. It stopped moving when they did.
As the Osprey grew closer, a cable was lowered with a man on the end of it. He was at their basket when the Osprey took up station overhead. The downwash began to shake the basket and the radio towers.
“Howdy folks, I’m Sam.” He wore unmarked desert fatigues and a black ski mask.
“We’re glad to see you.” Gavin said.
“Gavin, Noelle, I need you to do exactly what I say.”
They both nodded. Suddenly the basket shuddered and dropped a foot. Sam produced a rope, tying it around Noelle’s waist.
“What about the harness?” she asked.
“No time,” Sam produced another rope, tying it around Gavin’s waist. “Noelle, we’re going to get close. Put your arms around my neck.” She did, while Sam wrapped his arms around her waist.
“What now?” asked Gavin.
The basket fell out from under them before Sam could answer. It crashed loudly below. Gavin held onto the rope. The Osprey began to drop in altitude as it carried them away. Sam and Noelle held tightly to one another. The rope looped around Gavin’s waist was soon under his armpits.
They had moved about a hundred feet, when Sam called out to Gavin. “Adios.”
Gavin watched as Sam used one hand to pull on a knot at his waist. Gavin fell away from them.
“Noelle!” He screamed as he fell through the air. Gavin hit an inflated fire rescue air cushion. After being swarmed by rescue personnel and checked by Paramedics, he was helped up.
Noelle and Sam were lowered to the ground. They were met by Paramedics with a stretcher. As they wheeled Noelle to an ambulance, Gavin ran to her.
“I love you.” They both said at the same time, then kissed.
When they came up for air, Noelle said “Yes.”
Gavin looked at her confused.
“I never answered. Yes, I’ll marry you.”
They kissed again, smiled at one another and they began to cry.