[the Gloobus (or “Gloobus Erubus – Glumpus Erumpus,” in scientific parlance, to be exact) had not returned with Ralph’s children. This concerned him]
His wife had already left for work just as Ralph and his five kids were getting up and ready for school. Ralph was in the kitchen making breakfast. It was a really nice morning, so the children went out on the front lawn early to play. But it was as if the children had sensed something – something coming up the block, waiting out there, something in the shadows, something in the large, puffy clouds – as if they’d been signaled, called telepathically, or called from within by some urge or primal instinct to go outside.
Ralph watched from the kitchen window as he made breakfast (the kitchen was in the front of the house facing the street). Unbeknownst to him a Gloobus was coming up the block, sending out a silent signal to call children to come outside and see the Gloobus, take pleasure in the wonder of its flight, come aboard for a tour of the marvelous Gloobus, to maybe be lucky enough to take a ride in the sky.
And so that’s just what Ralph’s children did – all five ran outside into the glory of the bright, cool morning. Out of the corner of his eye, Ralph caught a glimpse of something – a dark anomaly, a strange shadow slowly spreading over the house and yard like a narrow storm cloud.
The children were running around in wide arcs and circles the way some children do when released from the confines of the night. But slowly, one by one, they stopped and looked up, as if sensing something, as if something heavy and tingling grew in their chests, the long shadow moving over them. They looked around and turned to their house to see the giant hanging above the roof, then slowly descending over them. The children relinquished their breath and moved aside, as if to give the great shape its own recourse as it slowly passed over. They stepped back, away from its descent.
Ralph turned his head, sensing something. He stopped and watched the great shadow, such a slender and odd shape, out of place here in this context and thus noticeable as the most prominent item in view. Ralph gasped and dropped a cereal bowl to the floor as he watched the Gloobus – a giant, bulbous, whale-like thing-beast – slowly sink from the sky. It was the size of a bus, like a miniature zeppelin, but a pale, sick-looking, off-white, almost gray, lumpy, organic, sausage-like misshapen flying beast thing with several sets of small, transparent wings that hummed it along and somehow kept it afloat. Ralph studied it as it sunk to the street – it was the shape of a whale, bulbous and balloon-like, tapering in the back.
Quietly and gradually the great shape turned itself as it hummed over the yard. The sailing beast slowly sank, settling peacefully and comfortably like a giant parade balloon in the grass by the street edge next to the curb and sidewalk.
In wonder and awe the children cautiously gathered around the giant balloon-like thing resting before them. Skin on either side of its protruding, bulbous front slid back and around its sides as if giant eyelids opening, as if hangar doors unfolding, revealing a transparent membrane that looked similar to the transparent glass front of a World War II era bomber plane. The transparent lower front of the bulbous nose revealed an occupiable cavity inside.
The mesmerized children watched as if hypnotized, their mouths agape, their eyes wide and curious, studying the great flying beast. The oldest looked behind himself, searching the distance beyond to see if more parade balloon-like thingies were on their way. Then the oldest looked around the neighborhood to see if others had arrived to join this one. But no, all he saw were the long morning shadows, the dark trees, the glistening dew on the dark green lawns, and the bright morning sun raising over the trees and houses.
A circular aperture swirled open in the side of the translucent front portion of the beast. Ralph felt catatonic as his children shrugged and filed in, the last one, the youngest, the little one, actually leaping inside in anticipation and joy. Ralph’s stomach turned as he watched the youngest stand in the doorway and look around. The circular aperture closed and the beast flapped its tiny transparent wings and slowly rose off the grass.
Ralph was stunned in icy silence, not believing or fully comprehending what was transpiring before him – just frozen in disbelief as if in a trance, as if the Gloobus had held him in place through hypnosis or telekinetic powers. But he snapped out of the trance’s grip when the great, pale, sickly-looking whale-beast slowly began to rise and spin to one side. He raced to the front door.
The beast lethargically ascended into the cool morning air. Ralph burst through the front door and onto the lawn, but it was too late. The Gloobus was already sixty feet in the air, still slowly turning to drift back over the house, its small wings flapping like mad (it had eight pairs of little double wings, one atop the other – four on each side, oval in shape – two sets on either side at the front, one high, one low – and two sets on either side at the rear, again one high and one low set. They hummed as they flapped).
Ralph’s head frantically darted, looking about for his kids on the lawn – eyes bouncing to the other lawns, to the places above the other houses, to the sky, looking for other great floating beasts, searching for other children he may know. But no one was to be found – not in the grass, not on the sidewalk, not on the other lawns, not in the shadows or up on roofs or in the windows peering out of the other houses or up in the sky.
The school bus had not come yet. It was still early. He would have heard it. Ralph looked up and saw the Gloobus high in the atmosphere, turning as it passed over his house, as it headed back from where it came. Ralph thought he caught just a flash, just a quick glimpse of his children inside the transparent front nose, peering out, the littlest one waving down at the houses below in front of them. But the beast turned away. The Gloobus matched the hue of the misty clouds in the distance – light gray, soft pink, off-white – and thus Ralph couldn’t tell if it was his children inside or some other children. The Gloobus was too high, turning too fast to really tell for sure. Maybe they were looking down on him, watching him shrink away, maybe waving in excitement or flailing in terror. He did not know what his children thought, how they felt about what was happening.
The strange floating something rose higher yet, joining the clouds as its wings frantically flapped, whirring it along, slowly disappearing into the morning sunlight, returning into the misty clouds as if it lived up there.
It looked like a blimp, a dirigible, but sort of lumpy and oddly misshapen. Maybe it was a strange kind of balloon or kite. Was it a giant bug? An insect? A worm? A flying worm? A mammal? A bird? A sky fish? A new kind of animal altogether? A mythical beast-creature long thought extinct? A sea monster? A monster from the very depths? Or some kind of mechanical device, some kind of man-made machine – a mechanical floater just made to look organic? Ralph winced as he wondered, trying to locate it in the sky after it had faded into the haze of clouds and brightness of that hazy sun. It didn’t look or seem mechanical. It looked organic – like a kind of moth, like a cross between a moth and a worm, but with wings and lighter, as if it were hollow and light as a butterfly or a leaf. Or did it look more like a whale? It looked like a whale. Whale-shaped? Yeah, a whale. A whale that could sail on the wind like a kite or balloon.
He looked around again, searching for more floaters, for more children, for more clues to the riddle. But he found none. He found no answers, no solace. Are we ever meant to know what goes on or why? He stood out there in the silence of the morning for at least a half hour, searching the sky, not wanting to go in and call the authorities – not wanting to let go of that sky, as if that sky, that one right there, held his children as if they were merely momentarily lost within the rolls of a great blanket and it would only be a moment or so before they were located in a fold, wrinkle, or shadow, only a moment until they popped their heads out, shook themselves loose, found their way out – his eyes darting from huge cloud to bulbous cloud, trying to turn the silky mounds into something else.
But time flashed by – seconds coagulating to minutes, until the strange large floater returned, slowly appearing in the distance, moving north to south way out there. Ralph sucked in air, unable to breathe, unable to move, unable to signal it in any meaningful way. Maybe it was a different one. Maybe there was a whole fleet of them – dozens, maybe hundreds – a floating flotilla luring children in, taking them captive, spiriting them off to some mythical kingdom in the clouds. But then it turned, making its way back over to the house, heading this way. Perhaps they just took a morning ride, just a short little jaunt around the neighborhood on a whim.
The large floater slowly dropped as it approached, sinking, growing closer, the slight hum reappearing, a glorious droning hum, getting closer, lowering until it sailed smoothly over the house, turning in the air and settling back down on the street in front of their house. The circular aperture spun open again and out hopped Ralph’s children, one by one, all five of them, that last one, the littlest, leaping out with glee and enthusiasm. They saw Ralph and began jogging toward him, grinning, happy to see him.
Ralph checked his watch. They would only be a little late, he sighed, looking back up as the big floater lifted again as if in an agonizing struggle, the hum and struggle from the wings indicating an impressive inertia against ascension, yet the Gloobus slowly rose, the wings struggling to lift, a slight breeze created under it from the wings. It spun away, back over the house, and drifted off.
Ralph’s children stopped and watched it. The little one waved up at it and smiled as it rose like a great, long balloon. Then the kids turned and ran to their father, grinning. They had only been gone for what seemed to be a few brief moments, but then he noticed as they leapt over the curb, bounding over the sidewalk to him – how did he not notice before? – they were wearing gold jumpsuits, like crew member flight suits, instead of their school clothes. The youngest was wearing a light blue number with one red sleeve. And they looked . . .
“We were in the sky! . . . In the sky!” the oldest squealed in joy, as if he’d never been anywhere in his life.
“We went all over!” the littlest jumped in delight.
. . . Ralph gasped, his hand shooting to his face to cover his mouth, his knees liquefying, his body numb, flushed of feeling and senses, his knees giving way, lowering him to the grass – why they looked at least a year older than when they left.
Tony Rauch has four books of short stories published – “I’m right here” (spout press), “Laredo” (Eraserhead Press), “Eyeballs growing all over me . . . again” (Eraserhead Press), and “What if I got down on my knees?” (Whistling Shade Press). He has been interviewed by the Prague Post, the Oxford Univ student paper in England, Rain Taxi, and has been reviewed by the University of Cambridge paper, MIT paper, Georgetown University paper, Iowa State paper, and the Savannah College of Art and Design paper, among many other publications. He is looking for a publisher for additional titles he has finished and ready to go. He can be found here.