1. Release the balloons
2. A pinch of cayenne
3. Templeton & Sons


So there I was sitting in the back seat of my uncle’s 1985 Ford sedan and wondering what in the hell I’d signed up for. My Uncle Dan always had something interesting going on, but most of the time his projects were not something I wanted to take on.

This time, though, he’d come seeking me out to fill in for my cousin Keith, claiming I was the only one who could help because I was a blood relative. That right there might have made me shy away, but behind his thick glasses I could see excitement and a bit of worry in his greyish eyes.

“Come on, Billy,” he said as he hustled me into the car before the light of day. “You’re the only chance we’ve got. It won’t take but a few hours, and it’s an experience you probably won’t ever get again. I signed us up as Templeton and Sons, but the bigwigs said you could fill in for that no-good Keith this one time.” He took his place in the driver’s seat and motioned for me to secure the seat belt.

No-good Keith was the younger of Uncle Dan’s two boys, about twenty-five, I guess, at that time. His whole life, as far back as I could remember, was spent devising ways to get out of anything his dad wanted him to do. There wasn’t any real animosity between the two. Keith just didn’t think much of the kind of activities Uncle Dan wanted him to share and found a lot of reasons to beg off at the last minute. I guess Keith was what you might call an underachiever when it came to family stuff.

I reached forward between the seats and tapped my cousin John on the shoulder. He looked back at me, probably so he could hear better over the noise of that old car.

“You got any idea what this is all about?” I asked him. “Uncle Dan won’t tell me straight up.”

John laughed. “You know what he’s like. Once he gets involved in something he thinks everyone else is on the same page. Don’t worry, it’s legit and fun, unless you have an aversion to heights.”

I sat back and considered. I didn’t much care for the idea of standing at the roof edge of a burning 40-story building, but I generally handled Ferris wheels pretty well. I figured I could always pull a Keith and walk if the whole thing turned out to be something I didn’t like.

Just about then, we made a sharp turn to the left that skirted some brush-covered foothills; after a few minutes’ drive down that road we suddenly came upon what looked like gigantic caterpillars in a hundred different colors.

“This is it!” Dan shouted.

“This is what?”

“Hot air balloons! Just wait until they get them inflated. You won’t believe the colors when they release the balloons!”

Oh, I could believe it, all right. Even with the silky bodies of the things spread out on the ground, I could see jewel colors, ocean blue and green, bright reds and purples, with lumps here and there to define the baskets in the early morning light. We stopped the car next to a balloon with the colors of a plate of enchiladas: Cheesy yellow, saucy red-orange, and just a pinch of cayenne for accent.

“This one’s ours,” John told me.


I missed the meeting again today, since the broken leg was not being cooperative, but I spotted the prompts in