We’re in shop class. I’m pretending to weld a thin piece of metal to another strip of metal, but really I’m just heating up a small piece of scrap brass with the blow torch. I plan on getting it good and hot, then dropping it down the back of Rickabaugh’s shirt to watch him perform a spirited little jig as the boiling chunk tumbles down his back.

The piece is getting good and hot. Rickabaugh is goofing around with the air gun. He’s got the compressor really pumping. He’s shooting air at people through the hose with the metal nozzle, blowing their hair and shirt around and all that.

I look down. The piece is just about ready. You can’t wait too long with this sort of thing. I set the torch down, turn it off, pick up the tongs, then look up to locate Rickabaugh. I look around, but can’t find him. Two dudes grab me from behind and spin me around (Bankstrom and someone else, I can’t tell). Rickabaugh appears at my side. “Planning to ‘hot back’ me, eh,” he grins, then shoves the air gun into my mouth.

“Auuughh auughh,” I muffle a strained yell as a torrent of air is forced into me. I trash about, but it is of no use, for they have me constrained. I move my head around, but to no avail. Someone has me in a headlock.

I feel myself swell, just a little at first, but then it is as if my body knows just what to do, as if my organs slosh out of the way, creating extra room, extra space, extra cavities with which to accommodate the extra air. I feel myself filling, then blowing up, my skin tightening. “Aaaaauuugggggghhhhh,” I muffle as they wrap me in duct tape, securing the metal nozzle of the air hose to my mouth. Then they seal off my nose and ears.

I look down and see my arms puff, my skin tightening to a glistening shine, like a balloon. “Aaauuugggghhhh,” I cry as a jet of air is forced into me. It feels like I’m being filled with really heavy water, water just gushing in, but it is not water and is by no means heavy at all. The noise inside my body is deafening, like rushing water or a helicopter starting up, as I fill with air.

I begin to rise.

I’m moving up, off the floor. One of my arms moves above my head. I try to move it back down, but it does not respond. I feel my legs lift as well. I am now off the floor, my body flopping over so my head is facing the floor in the “Superman” position. I am suspended in the room. I look around. I can barely move my head, only just my eyes now as I see my cheeks puffing, my arms inflating, feel my skin tightening, tightening, stretching, expanding, my body growing lighter, as if I don’t have any weight at all, like I don’t even exist any longer. I feel all tingly inside and light as a breath of air.

The thunderous noise stops. My ears ring. They have turned off the compressor. I bob in the air, the hose now acting as a sort of stem, keeping me in place. Someone touches my shoulder and I drift to the side a little.

“Get him outside,” I hear someone say, “Just to see what happens.”

“Nnnoooooo,” I muffle a strained cry.

Several big sweaty, meaty hands grip my face. The nozzle is slowly pulled from my mouth, with hands covering my face so as to not let any air out. My mouth is re-secured with more tape. I feel some wisps of air leaking from my eyes. I am huge now, not what I was before. I am something different now. How does this make me feel? I don’t know just yet. I think I’m afraid, but more numb, as if in a state of shock.

I feel someone push me, pushing my feet, and I begin to move to the door, but I am too inflated to get through. I try to move my arms, but they only twitch at my sides, too filled with air, too bloated to move.

“The window,” someone points.

They turn me, pushing me ever so slightly to the windows. I hear a gasp and someone drop a tool with a clank of metal against the concrete floor.

“Oh, my,” another gasps.

Some guys rush ahead and open two of the windows, then work to remove the center mullion. The opening is big, like eight-feet-high-by-twelve-feet-wide big.

“Hold ‘im,” someone directs, “We don’t want to lose ‘im.”

They slowly work me out. For some reason it’s a tight squeeze.

“Pump him up some more,” someone giggles, “See if he’ll get bigger.”

“Yeah. I bet he’ll stretch more. A lot more.”

“No,” I plead, “No…I’m big enough…I’m too big…too big.” But my cheeks barely move. My voice is just a deep muffle, more of a growling groan. I don’t know if they understand me or can hear me through the tape and puffy cheeks.

“What if he pops?” someone asks.

“What? What do you mean?”

“I mean, what if he inflates so much that he explodes, like an over-inflated tire.”

“I doubt that’ll happen.”

“Somebody get a pin.”

“No!” I huff behind the tight duct tape, “No! No! No! Don’t pop me! Don’t pop me!” I plead.

I’m hovering just above the ground, about six feet in the air, but feel so light, the gravity pulling me upward. It feels like I could just float off. Someone grasps my belt, holding me down. I strain to try to see who, but my body is now puffing so much that my clothes and flesh are in the way.

Someone pushes the nozzle in again and I feel the rush of wind in my mind, the whoooosh of air streaming in like a jet. My skin tightens. My body tingles. I feel even lighter, dizzy, groggy. I lift, a gust takes me away from them. I spin around and around, into the air on a sudden wave of wind.

“Wwwhhhhoooooooaaaaaaaa,” I cry, then am jerked back, just as fast, the hose of the air compressor tightening and snapping me back down, the world a blur of streaming colors as I whip about.

They reel me in, working the line like a rope. They grab me again. They pull the metal nozzle out and reseal my mouth.

“Hold him. Hold him.”

“He’s huge.”

“This is better than I ever could have hoped for. My greatest masterpiece.”

Slowly I turn to the side, bobbing in the air. I see the long glass windows of the shop are now filled with students, their mouths agape in awe, looking out, gawking at me.

I feel the air inside, trying to find a way out, the restless air trying to pull me up, tug me away, struggling to rip me from all I had known, forcing it all apart. It feels as though I may burst at any moment, like those minutes before the end of school, those hanging, tragic minutes.

“No. No. No,” I huff in frustration, my voice now but a weak, thin wheeze.

A wind hits me, catches me, shooting me higher. I spin out of control like a balloon, the world spinning below me. I catch the several students below who were holding me. They are jumping and reaching in vain. Surprised, disappointed looks adorn their straining faces.

The wind pushes me higher. I spin and then slow as I reach a stagnant patch of air. I wobble around. I seem to be about 80 feet up, then I begin to slowly drop, catching a slight current. The trees are puffy below, the grass green, the roofs of all the small houses look the same; all gray, all the same steep angles. The world looks different from up here; smaller, toy-like, more fragile, breakable.

I seem to be the size of a small house. I can’t rightly tell. It just feels that way.

I sink until I’m about 40 feet off the ground. I just hover there, gently rocking back and forth like a boat in the water. I spin slowly. I’m across the street from the front of the school now. I feel like I’m a giant balloon passing over the city, and the balloon is in the shape of my body (like one of those giant parade balloons in the form of a beloved cartoon character of yesteryear). I’m all puffy and bloated, just hanging in the air. But I’m sure you can still recognize my face and know that it’s me.

As I drift there for a moment, I wonder what will happen to me. I wonder if I’ll just float away, never to be seen again. I wonder if I’ll just pop and then I will be no more, the leftover scraps of me just flapping to drift in the wind and be forgotten entirely. I start to feel like nothing I ever did had any weight or consequence to it, like nothing I did ever really mattered, like I made no difference to this world at all, contributing nothing significant, like all the time I put in at school, all the time I had sacrificed suddenly was all for nothing, like my whole life went to waste. And if I make it out of here, if I ever make it back down, would anything I ever do ever really make a difference, ever really matter much, ever really amount to anything anyway? These must be the final considerations of a person, the last thoughts, the last of it all, all that is left.

I float a slow, hypnotizing dirge over the road, back to the school, but more to the other side of the building this time, not the side the shop class is on. When I get to the schoolyard, I look down and see my friends playing. This pleases me. Maybe it’s just a wave of recognition flashing through me, or maybe a wave of normalcy, a comforting point of reference in the face of a sudden and unexpected perspective and change. I smile down at them, a big goofy grin on my face. My huge, heavy shadow slowly covers the playground, gradually getting the attention of my schoolmates. One by one the kids look up at me as they are covered in my darkness. One by one their heads pop up to me. I just barely manage to budge my heavy, bloated, stubby little arm just a twitch in order to try to wave a tight shaking wave down at them as a greeting. They all look up to me in awe, their mouths hanging open, their eyes mere black-dot stares.

One of them reaches down and retrieves something from the ground. It’s that Milton kid, the one who’s always sitting in the corner reading operating and maintenance manuals of various appliances and machinery all by his lonesome. He looks up at me, then rears back and chucks something at me. It bounces off my belly. I think it was a rock. Or, well, I assume it was a rock. I say, “Hey,” as if slightly annoyed, but more surprised that he would do something like that, that he would even consider trying to deflate me. He just watches me slowly meandering above. One by one my other schoolmates reach down and secure whatever happens to be at hand and begin whipping projectiles up at me (I’m floating pretty low, just drifting ever so gently on the thin breeze). The objects bounce off me, several boinging off my puffy cheeks. Most are sharp stones, but some are coins and washers and bolts. “Hey, no bottle caps or batteries. Geez,” I wheeze in disappointment. They just stare blankly up at me, like they’ve never seen a giant parade balloon slowly, gradually passing overhead before.

I hear my best friend, Phin, yell: “Aim for the eyes!” Why would he yell that? “Not my eyes,” I cry out, both hurt and confused that they would want to do that, that it would ever occur to them to even try. They all reach down and secure more projectiles, then wind back and let fling. “Hey! Hey! Hey!” I scold as the sharp, stinging objects bounce off me, “That hurts. That hurts. Knock that off.” Someone runs out with a wrist-rocket (a fancy type of sling-shot with an extra-long rubber flinger) and launches something at me. It whizzes past my ear, splitting the air with a sharp zing sound. I think it was a piece of glass. “Oohhhh Oohhhhh,” I moan as I watch several kids drop to their hands and knees, searching for more shards of broken glass. They have excited smiles on their faces in anticipation of seeing what will happen if they pop me. Maybe I’ll shoot all over, zipping around like a real balloon.

“Eeemmmm Eeemmmmph,” I bear down and grunt, trying to force myself to drift faster, trying to push myself past the playground. I try to kick and move my arms as if to swim in the air, but my now tiny extremities barely move. Slowly, painfully, ever so gradually I agonizingly inch across the sky, finally moving over the school, just above the back parking lot.

I look down and see the kids running into the street to clear a better angle. Some of the children whip things at me again, but I am too far off for their little arms. But the bigger kid with the wrist-rocket is smiling a strange smirk. He has already let loose. It is only a matter of a moment now. I close my big goofy eyes, then feel a sharp snap, a prick of pain, as if a tiny snapping turtle has bit my big toe. I lean my head to look down, to see underneath myself, to see if I have been hit, injured, am bleeding, only to discover that I am, in fact, completely naked. I had puffed up to the point of ripping all my clothing away from myself. I had not noticed or felt this. I am floating nude over the city, all swollen and puffy. I see my big toe has a rip in it and my foot is slowly deflating. I feel the air slowly leak out of me, escaping from my toe. The back portion of me dips lower and begins wrinkling and twisting to the side. Slowly I spin sideways, and begin to drop, but the spinning increases. I list to the left, moving over the street, my feet raising upward, the air evacuating acting as a push engine, forcing my legs upward and my head and chest to dip down.

My deflating leg flutters and sputters as air wheezes out. My head dips down and I see the children running from around the corner of the school, cheering, running up the block to me with glee. I’ve never seen anyone that excited before, much less an entire batch of people that excited, as if they were about to catch some exotic butterfly or something.

Slowly I spin around, the air now rushing though the wound in my toe, my toe sputtering air, my legs slowly deflating, then my arms. I feel the air rush out of me. I feel my cheeks deflating, my neck, my arms, my chest emptying out as I drop. I feel myself pelted by many many rocks. The thumping hurts my feelings, as if each thump is someone not liking me. It’s all thump thump thump thump thump as I descend (it’s another birthday party I’m not invited to, another girl that won’t talk to me, another word I can’t spell, another math problem I get wrong, another word I don’t know or can’t pronounce, another secret kept from me, another table I’m excluded from). And then they are under me. As I spin around to face them, the air from my toe pushing me around, propelling me, the guys from the shop class are cutting across the lawn, yelling and whooping it up in victory.

The kids jump and try to grab me. Finally, one gets a hold of my deflated arm which is now flapping like a banner, all flattened out in the wind. My body has been stretched-out. I am not getting much smaller; a little smaller, but not the same size as I was, not the same size I should be. They pull me down. For some reason, they begin stomping on me, as if I were some strange bug that had been attacking the school.

My chest and head are still pretty big, maybe half the size they had been when I was up in the sky, but still huge, now maybe the size of a small garage. My head and chest hit the street and bounce up like a balloon. The other children stomp on my legs, forcing more air from me (I don’t know if this is a good thing or not. I can’t tell). I feel the air slamming against the inside of my face, pushing against my cheeks in my mouth, pressure forced inside my eyeballs with each stomp, each blow. But my mouth is sealed, so the air has nowhere to go but to bounce back and out the other direction.

I hear the guys from the shop running. One of them yells, “Tape him up. Send him up again.”

“Patch the leak!”

“Get the compressor!”

“I want to go up with him,” someone calls, “Tie me to him. I want to ride him.”

“No, I want to,” someone joins in.

“Let’s take turns.”

“Get a basket.”

“Bring out some rope.”