I Was Followed By A Golden Balloon And It Taught Me That Small Town Secrets Are Buried For A Reason


I’m not the kind of person you’d typically take advice from. I’m not one of your family members and I’m not one of your friends. I’m just a girl, on the internet, telling a story. The difference is that I don’t want this story to pass through your ears and never be thought of again. I want you to take this story, meditate on it, and take the advice I’m trying to give to you. I don’t want you to end up like me. I wouldn’t wish this fate upon my worst enemies.

If curiosity killed the cat, then in my case, curiosity made me the killer.

We all grow up being told that we shouldn’t wander where we don’t belong. You’re supposed to stay out of the houses marked as private property. You tend to gravitate away from areas marked with restricted access signs. And you certainly never swim in the water that tells you to beware of wildlife. We see certain words and we understand that they’re warnings. But what if the warning isn’t a word at all? In fact, what if there is no warning? Are we still wrong for being curious?

I grew up in a small town in northern Alabama; I guess technically I lived on a farm. Houses were built miles away from each other. Forget about grocery stores, restaurants, and drugstores. If you wanted to make a trip somewhere, you needed to plan it for a specific day and make a list. If you forgot something, hopefully it wasn’t important because there would be no going back until the next planned trip. I lived in the same town until I was seventeen.

When dad announced that we were moving, I didn’t feel particularly sad. I was ready to be somewhere civilized. But I should have known that when my dad said moving, he didn’t mean to a big city. It wasn’t exactly a farm, but there wasn’t anything large in southern Georgia other than the hairstyles. It was the typical small, southern town. There was one church, one high school, and a lot of different cliques. Unfortunately, those cliques weren’t ready to welcome in new members. The move was hard on my family. At least in Alabama we had somewhere to fit in, even if it was just at church on Sunday. Mom spent a lot of her time with wine and shopping television. Dad didn’t really have the time to be lonely- he was always working and perhaps that was for the best. My twin brother, Andy, did end up finding some friends because the stoners would take in anyone offering free weed.

This town’s high school was the place people really tended to gather at. Friday night football games, fall festivals, and school plays drew in most of the town. I avoided these events as much as possible. Not because I didn’t want to attend, but because I never felt welcomed. I moved here my senior year so no one was really opening their arms to the new girl. 

Instead, I spent most of my free time reading and writing. I felt a sense of escape in jumping from tale to tale. It meant I could finally get out of this little town and dream of larger parts of the world; adventures in New York, love stories in California, or mysteries in England. When I wasn’t reading stories, I was creating my own.

I had a tendency to walk around with a beat up, blue, spiral notebook popping out of my backpack. Sometimes kids in my class would take it and toss it around. They’d rip pages up and stories would be lost. It sucked, but what was I going to do? I could stop taking it to school, but it was sort of a safety blanket. When I was forced to sit alone at a lunch table, I wrote. When people moved their chairs closer together to gossip in study hall, I wrote. When I rode in the very front of the school’s dirty, yellow bus, I wrote. You see, I couldn’t just abandon the one thing that made me happy. If it meant the occasional mocking or property damage, I’d take it. They could never really damage my characters.

I remember that day even when I don’t want to. It was a Friday in the middle of October; not too hot, but not exactly cold. I remember this because I wore an oversized, blue and green flannel to school that day and was mocked religiously for apparently trying to be Kurt Cobain. Kids laughed and asked if he was who I was always writing about. Then some jock with spiked hair and a low IQ asked if I wanted him to give me something to write about. I shook my head, but I remember muttering something about how “I’d give them something to write about.” He grabbed the end of my shirt and caused it to rip, before commenting about how much grungier I looked and how happy I should have been.

I pushed past him roughly and hurried towards the bus. I took my usual seat in the front and waited for everyone else to load on before I took my notebook out. As the bus began moving so did my pencil. I was in the middle of writing a murder mystery. I was proud of my story. I mean a “who-did-it” story of a girl killing her younger sister was bound to sell one day. I had just finished my third chapter when the bus stopped – at least, this was the first stop I noticed. We were sitting on Heron Street, meaning we had around five minutes before we reached my stop. I smiled to myself; thankful that the weekend was finally here.

Just as I was about to start writing again, something outside the bus caught my eye. It was something shiny and it was bobbing up and down. It took me a little too long to register that it was a gold balloon. I realized it must have been attached to something. Why else wouldn’t it be floating away? I don’t know why it bothered me so much. It just seemed like an odd place for a balloon to be. I shook my head and blamed my curiosity on my obsession with creating a good story. It was a balloon for God’s sake, nothing special.

But when the bus started moving again, I felt empty. It was like I was suddenly aware of all the loneliness I’d been living with. Part of me wanted to jump off this bus and sit in the ditch forever with the gold balloon. Of course, I didn’t. I stayed seated and let the lonely feeling dwell.

Minutes later, the nearly empty bus made it to Jupiter Street. Not many people lived out here; just me, Andy, and this one kid, Jason, who always wore a football jersey, but never actually played. I wasn’t sure if he was on the team or just some kind of glorified water boy. Either way, he liked to get stoned with my brother so he was always hanging around our house. He never really acknowledged my existence, which was fine with me because in my mind beats the alternative.

The three of us walked down the dirt road towards our houses. They were built so much closer here than in Alabama. Jason and Andy talked about some concert while I was stayed silent. This was pretty typical, but today it wasn’t out of habit as much as distraction. I couldn’t stop thinking about the balloon. I wanted it. I wanted whatever was attached to it. I didn’t know why, but I didn’t care. I made a plan to sneak out after dinner and find it.

I was too wrapped up in my thoughts to realize when we reached our driveway. Jason waved goodbye and continued walking towards his house at the end of the road. When we walked in, mom was laid out on the couch with an empty wine bottle in her hand. The television was on with the volume turned all the way down.

Dad was gone for the weekend, no surprise. It seemed like he was gone a lot since we moved. I guess we’d all started to get used to it.

Around 6 pm, I was called out to dinner – better known as microwave meals placed on paper plates. Mom decided to eat in front of the television, leaving Andy and I in the kitchen. I ate huge scoops, hardly bothering to chew. The anticipation of getting back down to Heron road was driving me to move quickly. I finished within ten minutes and was out the door within fifteen.

Because the sun had already set and we didn’t have many street lights, I had to use my cellphone as a makeshift flashlight. It was doing the best it could to illuminate the walkway, but as you can imagine, it wasn’t much.

Occasionally a car or two would drive by with bright headlights and I would be able to see clearly for a few seconds. Everyone was heading into town for the big game no doubt; it was homecoming and against our rival school one town over. Downtown had been decorated in our school’s colors the past week and half. Apparently, it’s a big deal around here.

Quite a few families lived on Heron so I knew I was getting close when I started seeing more cars turning from one dirt road to the main road. A few seconds later I recognized the green street sign and knew I had made it. I started walking closer to the ditch, shining my flashlight towards the sign in hopes of seeing the gold balloon.

And there it was.

It was a few feet to the left of the sign and deeper in the ditch than I originally thought. I carefully slid my feet down the slope and walked towards the balloon. I had a longing urge to touch it. I stuck my hand out slowly and lightly grazed the gold rubber. Suddenly, I felt very underwhelmed.

It was just a balloon. I had walked all the way out here at night to touch a balloon. What was wrong with me? Feeling embarrassed, I started to turn around, but something shiny reflected off my flashlight.

I looked down at my feet and yelped slightly before falling backwards. My phone flew from my hands and landed with a thud. I crawled on my hands and knees towards the projecting light, reaching it quickly. I grabbed it and pushed myself off the ground. There was definitely something attached to that balloon. I backed away, but I couldn’t stop looking.

The string of the balloon was tied in a bow around the wrist of a girl. I pointed my phone in her direction and let the light wash over her. She was wearing a white, lace dress and had curls cascading around her face. She was small with doll like features. A simple, silver locket was hanging around her neck – no doubt what caused the reflection. I guessed she was probably around five, maybe a little younger.

Though this should have seemed strange, it didn’t. It never occurred to me to worry if the girl was breathing or alert the authorities. No, in my head, it felt like she was there for me to find her. I stepped closer and as if on cue, her eyes popped open revealing bright green irises. I stopped moving as she began looking at her surroundings. She didn’t look scared or surprised or confused. She just looked happy. A smile played on her lips as she slowly sat up. I stepped again and her head snapped in my direction. She tilted her head to the side and looked me over.

“Sweetie, are you okay?” I asked quietly.  I held my hand out as an invitation for her to pull herself up.

She reached for it quickly and sprung off the ground, coming extremely close to me. She was ice cold. I mean, I expected her to be chilled due to the dropping climate and her simple dress, but this wasn’t normal. It finally occurred that nothing about this situation classified as normal. 

Maybe she was a runaway or she’d be separated from her family and was lost. Either way, I knew now was probably the best time to call someone. I began to dial in 911 on my phone when it cut off. I groaned at the thought of a dead battery. Now I wasn’t able to reach anyone and my only source of light was gone.

I glanced back in the direction of the little girl, and my eyes slowly began to adjust to the darkness.

“I’m Sam,” she exclaimed. I lowered myself down to her level. I expected her to be more scared than excited, but she wasn’t. What she did next I still can’t explain. She threw her tiny arms around me and gave me a hug before stepping back.

“Uh..yeah..c-can you tell me where you’re from?” I stammered, still in shock.

She completely ignored the question. At this point, my eyes had fully adjusted to the dim light given off by the moon. I repeated the question, but the little girl simply began to brush her dress off, desperately trying to remove the dead grass that was holding onto the lace. It didn’t take long for her to give up and let the mess remain. When she looked back in my direction, she gasped a little, as if she’d forgotten I’d been standing there.

I decided to speak up again. “Are you lost?”

She looked confused, but shook her head. Before I could process what was going on, she turned and ran in the direction I came from. I started after her, but no matter what direction I looked I didn’t see her. All I could her were the tiny taps of her feet hitting the pavement. She sounded as if she were right in front of me, but I still couldn’t see her.

“C’mon, sissy, c’mon,” she giggled. I stopped dead in my tracks. Had she just called me her sister? She was definitely separated from a family. I had to find her and get her some help. I began running again in what seemed to be the direction of my house.

I finally caught a glimpse of the gold balloon bobbing up and down and began running faster. When I caught up to her, I begged for her to stop or slow down. She giggled again and continued at the same pace. I reached out to grab her arm, but she shot away. I sped up once again, desperately trying not to lose sight of her. At least, if I had an eye on her, I had a better chance of reaching her.

I didn’t realize how long we had been running until we reached Jupiter Street. She took a quick left and continued down the dirt road. I yelled after her again, but she kept going. It was like she was determined to make it to my house.

I knew this was a silly thought. She had no idea where I lived, she just happened to make a correct turn. Nothing shocking there.

But then she took a right down our driveway and just stopped running. She fell to the ground. I sped to her side, trying to catch my own breath.

She shot up and giggled again. “I beat you! I beat you home, sissy,” she yelled excitedly.

This was my chance. If I could get her inside, surely my mother would know what to do with her. She was clearly experiencing some kind of psychological damage due to the loss of her family. I decided to play along.

“Yeah, yeah, you won!” I held out my hand before continuing. “Would you like to go inside for a snack, Sam?”

She nodded, but didn’t reach for my hand. She said she was tired and asked if I could carry her inside. I agreed, despite my better judgement. She stood up and stretched her arms out. I picked her up and placed her on my hip. Even after all that running, she was still ice cold. She snuggled up to me as I began walking towards the front door. I couldn’t help but smile as I continued to push away the balloon that kept hitting me in the face. 

When we reached the front door, I struggled for a few seconds to pull my keys from my back pocket and unlock the door. Once we were inside, I noticed the living room was empty. I feared mom might have gone to her bed to pass out. Still, I called out for her a couple of times. I tried to set Sam down, but she wasn’t moving. I noticed her eyes were closed as if she had fallen asleep again.

Suddenly, I heard screaming coming from the edge of the stairs. Mom stared at me, mouth open, and a blood curtailing scream launching from her throat. I moved closer to her, but she only screamed louder. I yelled for her to stop, to calm down so I could explain what was going on. Before I could do anything, she rushed up to me and yanked Sam from my arms. She began to weep as she pulled her closer to her body. She was clutching her so tightly I feared she might break her. I reached down to pull her away slightly, but she swatted at my hand. She continued to sob, only now she had begun to say ‘my baby’ between cries.

Andy came bounding down the stairs only to drop to his knees when he saw our mom. Tears began to stream down his face. “Sam,” he yelped. I shot him a look. How did he know this child?

Mom’s head snapped towards me and she glared. She began yelling about how I had killed Sam. About how sick I was to hide my dead, younger sister from the family. My head began to spin. I had no idea what she was talking about. I didn’t have a younger sister. It’s just Andy and I, there were no other children in our family. I tried to ask her what she was talking about, but it didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to listen.

She didn’t listen. 

Neither did the cops.

Or my dad.

Or Andy.

I had no say in the events that took place next.

My mom called my dad and the police as Andy clutched Sam. Soon, our house was flooded with cop cars and armed men. They handcuffed me, read me my rights, and shoved me into the back of a car. I protested and cried, pleading with them to tell me what was going on, but they never did.

I’m now on trial for the murder of a sister I didn’t even know I had. The psychiatrist I was assigned said it was normal for people who experience trauma to block situations from their memories. It’s an unhealthy coping mechanism, apparently.

During my trial, I’ve learned a few things. Things that I, supposedly, had internally blocked.

They say, I once had a sister name Sam. When we lived back in Alabama, I decided to take her to a carnival on the weekend of Halloween. The police report from that case says I claimed to turn my back for a minute before someone ran off with Sam. I hadn’t even seen her go missing.

Now they’re questioning what really happened. The biggest piece of evidence they’re using against me?

My blue notebook with a story of an older sister killing her baby sister at a Halloween festival.

I’m not sitting her asking you to believe I didn’t kill her. I can’t convince you of that.

This is the advice I want to get across. Don’t write.

If a great story idea pops into your head, don’t you dare write it down. Because you might just be writing down a memory and some memories should stay buried.