Below is the story “The Balloon Adventure” taken from the book “The Odessa Chronicles” which was co-authored by myself and Carolyn Shelton. For more details, please click the book cover in the right column (may have to scroll).
Every year, the Town of Greenwoods hosts a hot-air balloon display. People come from miles around to see all the brightly colored balloons, and some even get to ride in them.
One evening, at Moonbeam Farm, our four friends were spending time together, when the man-servant stood up and announced, “I have an idea for an adventure tomorrow!”
Odessa looked at him. “Well … do we have to ask, or are you going to tell us what it is?”
Jaxon was excited. “What is it, Man-Servant?”
Dewey stretched out and flexed his claws. “Will there be food?”
“Well,” said the man-servant, the Town of Greenwoods is holding its annual hot-air balloon show tomorrow, and I thought that we could all go and perhaps get a ride in one! What do you think?”
Jaxon was jumping up and down. “Oh, I’ve never been in one before, and apart from when Odessa carries me around, I’ve never flown anywhere.”
Odessa tilted her head to one side and stared at the man-servant. “You’re kidding … right?”
“No,” said the man-servant, “absolutely not. I think it would be an exciting experience for all of us.”
Odessa muttered something very quietly as she walked away, but then she turned and faced the man-servant. “Let me see if I understand this correctly. I am a Barn Owl, with a wing span of well over three feet. I can fly very low and very quietly over fields, if I have to. I can also fly at a considerable height and at up to fifty miles per hour, if I wish. My body is quite aerodynamic, so I can swoop, glide, and turn with minimum effort … and you want me to ride in a basket, under a great big balloon, with a fire beneath it heating up the air? What reason could you possibly have to suggest that I would find that fun?”
The man-servant looked at her and shrugged. “Well, you don’t have to come with us if you don’t want to, Odessa.”
Odessa looked around at Dewey, Jaxon, and then back at the man-servant. “You have to be kidding!” she said. “You three in a hot-air balloon? Who knows what will happen? I’ll be with you all right, but I shall be flying alongside the balloon.”
The next day, all four of them made their way over to the field where all the hot-air balloons were. The man-servant liked one that was a really bright orange with yellow circles all over it, and was having an interesting conversation with the owner. “Could me and my friends here go up in it with you?”
The balloon owner looked at Dewey and Jaxon. “Sure!” he said. “Can you get in right now? I am planning on taking her up in a few minutes anyway?”
The man-servant picked up Dewey and then Jaxon, and placed them both on the basket floor. He then climbed in with them. The balloon owner was finishing talking to some other people, after which he started the burner under the balloon, and untied the rope that was holding it down on the ground.
At that moment, Odessa, who had been on the other side of the basket, suddenly spread her large wings and took off. The balloon owner had no idea that she had even been there, and in total surprise, dropped the rope. Odessa was rapidly gaining height, as was the balloon, but the balloon owner was still on the ground, looking up at his balloon as it started to look smaller and smaller the higher it went.
As soon as the basket started moving, Dewey and Jaxon got up, looked over the edge, and saw the ground getting farther and farther away. Jaxon turned to the man-servant. “This is so exciting! What a good idea you had!”
The man-servant looked at them for a moment. “Well, guys … we have a problem. We left the balloon owner on the ground, and I don’t know how to fly this thing!”
Just then, Odessa flew alongside them. “Having fun, are you?”
The man-servant looked at her. “Odessa, you do realize that you startled the balloon owner so much that he is still in the field way down below us?”
“Really?” said Odessa. “I wonder why. I am big enough to be seen.”
The man-servant continued. “Odessa! We need him up here with us in order to fly this thing! I have no idea how it works!”
Odessa turned and landed on the edge of the basket. “You need him here? How would you propose we arrange that? Would you like me to go down and ask him very nicely if he would mind flying up here? Perhaps you would like me to go down and pick him up? Perhaps Jaxon could magic him up here? How about you figure out how to fly this thing? Man-Servant, you are riding in a balloon! How difficult can it be? You have no motor and no wings to worry about, just a big bag of hot-air … and most humans should be familiar with that situation!” She then took off and flew alongside them once again.
The man-servant was not particularly impressed with Odessa’s overview of their situation. “Odessa,” he said, “we are going higher and higher!”
Odessa looked puzzled. “I know you are, Man-Servant. I’ve been keeping up with you. What’s your point?”
“My point,” said the man-servant, “is that the higher we go, the cooler it is going to get, and the more difficult it will be to breathe. I have no idea how high this balloon is likely to go!”
At that moment, Dewey tapped the man-servant’s leg to get his attention. The man-servant turned and looked down. “What is it, Dewey?”
Dewey looked up at him. “Is there any food in here? And by the way, neither Jaxon nor I recognize any of the land below us, so we think that we’re lost!”
The man-servant turned to Odessa. “There’s another thing. I have no idea where the wind has taken us. We’re lost!”
Odessa did not see the problems. “Would you like me to go down and see where you are, so that you’re not lost any more?” she asked.
“What purpose would that serve exactly?” asked the man-servant.
“Well,” said Odessa, “if I must repeat myself … you wouldn’t be lost any more!”
The man-servant was getting a little flustered now. “Think, Odessa! What purpose would be served by knowing where we are, when we are so high in the sky?”
Odessa landed again on the edge of the basket, right in front of the man-servant. “What is your problem? You don’t know where you are, which means that you are lost. I offered to find out where you are, and solve that problem for you, and all you do is get rude and tell me to think. I am thinking, which I suspect is more than you are doing!”
The man-servant was very apologetic. “I am sorry, Odessa. I didn’t mean to be rude, but you are missing the whole point!”
Odessa looked at him. “And the whole point is?”
“Well,” said the man-servant, “knowing where we are is not much use, when we are up in the sky and have no way of getting down.”
Odessa looked at Dewey and Jaxon. “Do either of you know why he cannot communicate?”
The man-servant overheard the comment. “Tell me, Odessa. What part of my communication am I having trouble with?”
Odessa stared at him with her big round eyes. “You are going on about where the wind has or has not taken you. You are concerned about how high this balloon will rise. You are concerned about the falling temperature, and you are concerned about breathing. It seems to me that you are concerned about everything, except what you should be concerned about!”
“Oh, I see,” replied the man-servant. “So tell me, Odessa, what should I be concerned about?”
“How to get this balloon down to the ground!” she said.
The man-servant laughed. “Right! Okay, genius! How do I do that?”
Odessa turned her back to him in disgust, and then said, “Let some heat out of the balloon. Pull the parachute vent cord!”
The man-servant looked around for a cord, and found one that went right up and inside the balloon to the very top. When he pulled on it, he noticed a flap open in the top of the balloon, and he felt the balloon lurch a little. He was then aware of a sensation of slowly going down.
“We’re on our way back down to earth, guys.” Then he turned to Odessa. “How long have you known about the parachute vent cord?”
Odessa shook her head. “You have no idea how much I know about different things, but you have to ask, because I am not a mind reader.”
The man-servant looked thoughtful. “So, all the time that we were out of control, you knew about the parachute vent cord?”
“Yes, of course,” said Odessa.
The man-servant was getting flustered again. “So why did it take you this long to tell me about it?”
Now it was Odessa’s turn to get flustered. “I have had enough of this uncalled for verbal abuse! You kept going on about everything else, so how was I supposed to know that you wanted this balloon to go down? I am going to fly away for a while now to burn off some frustrations, but before I go, you might want to practice using that cord, because you are going to need it when you get closer to the ground. Bye!”
As Odessa took flight, the man-servant called after her, “Why would I need to do that?”
Odessa replied, “You’ll find out!” and then disappeared out of sight below the basket, as she headed for the ground.
The man-servant had some snacks in his pocket, which he shared with Jaxon and Dewey. All three of them looked over the side of the basket, and could see a patchwork quilt of fields. They were losing height quite fast now, and the man-servant was wondering how best to handle the landing. Perhaps they should all jump out immediately before the basket hit the ground, but … what speed would they be doing when they hit the ground? The man-servant thought to himself, How can I slow this balloon down?
He decided to see what would happen if he used the parachute vent cord to close the hole in the top of the balloon, and not too surprisingly, the balloon slowly decreased its rate of descent. It then seemed to be stable for a while before starting to go upwards again. The man-servant soon found that he could control the balloon’s rate of descent, but could do nothing about its speed, which as they were getting closer to the ground, seemed to be quite fast.
Suddenly, Odessa was once again flying alongside them. “Hey, Man-Servant, are you in a race or something?”
The man-servant looked across at Odessa. “I am so glad to see you! How do I slow this thing down?”
Odessa looked at him “I have no idea! But if you guys can all get together in there, and then move around as one, you can influence the direction that this balloon is going. I would suggest that you practice right now, because you’re only about one hundred feet off the ground, and travelling at a good speed. I would suggest that you aim for that haystack ahead of you, and off to your left.”
The man-servant, Jaxon, and Dewey all moved to the left side of the basket. It slowly started turning to the left, but looked as if it was going to hit the ground before the haystack. The man-servant reached over, closed the top vent with the parachute vent cord, and the balloon slowed down its rate of descent. All three of them watched the haystack come ever closer. In a few minutes, they braced themselves for the inevitable collision that was about to happen.
The hot-air balloon basket caught the top of the hay stack and ejected our three adventurers, who fell out onto the hay bales. The balloon then dragged the basket over the haystack, and they watched as it started heading back up into the sky. Within a few minutes, they heard a familiar whoosh-whoosh sound, as Odessa flew over and landed on the hay next to them.
“Well guys,” she said, “did you have a good adventure?”
The man-servant, who was now sitting up, replied, “Yes, thank you, Odessa, but I really don’t think that it’s over yet. We still have to get back to the farm.” Jaxon and Dewey were now both looking at the man-servant.
“Do you have any idea where we are?” Jaxon asked.
The man-servant shook his head. “No idea, Jaxon, but we must find out so we can plan our route back.”
Odessa was hopping around on the top of the haystack. “Isn’t anybody going to ask me?”
The man-servant looked at her. “Sorry, Odessa. Do you happen to know where we are?”
“I know exactly where you are,” said Odessa, and then all went very quiet.
The man-servant shook his head. “Okay, Odessa, can you please tell us where we are? No wait … WOULD you please tell us where we are?”
Odessa replied, “You are on the top of a haystack!”
The man-servant looked her in disbelief. “What?” he asked. “Is that it? We know very well that we are on the top of a haystack!”
Odessa stayed very calm and stared at him. “Well, what else do you want to know?”
Jaxon decided to try to help out and said, “Where is the haystack, Odessa?”
“Beneath you!” said Odessa. “I am surprised that you had to ask!”
Dewey decided to try his best. “Odessa,” he said, “I am hungry and tired. Please tell me where the haystack is located.”
“Oh, that’s easy,” said Odessa. “It’s located at the edge of a field. If you look down over the sides, you will see the field!” Dewey rolled over and went to sleep.
The man-servant was deep in thought, when suddenly he looked directly at Odessa. “Do you know where this field is, relative to the Town of Greenwoods and Moonbeam Farm?”
Odessa rolled her eyes. “Of course, I do. Have you forgotten that I flew here with you?”
“That’s the most intelligent thing you’ve said so far,” said the man-servant. “So where is it?”
“Where is what?” asked Odessa.
“This field!” replied the man-servant rather loudly.
“It’s beneath this haystack!” said Odessa. “Not only are you really slow in catching on to things, but you are also being quite rude to me. Do you want my help, or should I just fly back on my own?”
Jaxon then intervened. “Odessa … what direction do we need to go in order to get back to Moonbeam Farm?”
Odessa pointed with one of her wings. “You see that church spire in the distance? Well, that’s the Town of Greenwoods.”
The sun was dropping below the horizon by the time Dewey, Jaxon, and the man-servant had climbed off the haystack and started walking towards the distant church spire. Soon it would be getting dark, and they had to look for somewhere to sleep. Odessa had been flying overhead, and decided to go down and find out why they had stopped. The man-servant explained that they were all tired and had to sleep.
Suddenly, the man-servant turned to Odessa. “We were flying for quite some time, so how is it that we can still see the church spire in the Town of Greenwoods?”
Odessa looked at him. “That church spire is not as close as you seem to think it is. I could probably get there before it gets dark, but you guys are going to take much longer. You should also know that the wind changed direction while you were ballooning, and you were heading back when you landed in the haystack.”
“Wait a minute,” said the man-servant. “Are you saying that, if we had stayed in the basket, we would have been blown back to the Town of Greenwoods?”
“Yes!” said Odessa.
The man-servant was starting to get upset. “Odessa! Why on earth did you suggest that we crash into the haystack, if you knew that we were heading in the direction of home?”
“Really simple to explain,” she said. “You barely had any control over the balloon, and you were travelling along at a pretty good speed. If you had waited, you may not have had such a convenient place to land. You may have hit the church spire. You may have been blown over the Big Water. You may have simply disappeared beyond the horizon!”
“Okay! Okay!” said the man-servant. “You’ve made your point. So, what do you suggest we do now?”
“Well, Man-Servant,” said Odessa, “you have never slept outside at night around here, have you?”
“No,” said the man-servant. “Why do you ask?”
Odessa looked at Dewey and Jaxon and, turning back to the man-servant, replied, “It’s not safe for these two to be out in the open like this at night. You need to find a shelter somewhere, or perhaps go up into that tree over there.” She pointed to it with one of her wings. “You cannot underestimate the night life around here,” she continued. “Remember that I am nocturnal and know these things. I have seen a number of cats your size, Dewey, being attacked by a pack of coyotes. It’s not pretty, but then cats really should stay indoors at night for their own safety.”
Dewey ran over to the tree and climbed up high into the branches. The man-servant picked up Jaxon and put him in his jacket pocket, and then climbed up the tree as well, wedging himself in a place where two large branches joined the trunk. Jaxon was snuggling down in his pocket when he made a discovery. This was the pocket that had the snacks in it, and there were some left!
Throughout the night Odessa watched, from the top of the tree, for any signs of problems. Dewey was snoring away on his branch, and Jaxon was quietly finishing off the snacks. The man-servant did not think that he would sleep, but he did, and soon it was daylight.
As soon as the rays from the rising sun hit their tree, they all climbed down. “I hope nobody is hungry,” said the man-servant.
“No … I’m not,” said Jaxon.
Dewey looked at him. “Why aren’t you hungry? I’m starving!”
Odessa went over to Dewey. “I have some small rodent pieces left over, which you are welcome to have.”
Dewey looked at her disapprovingly. “I am used to eating much better than that!” he said.
“I have no doubt that you are,” said Odessa. “But … at this moment, you have limited choices.”
Dewey reluctantly accepted Odessa’s offer of food, but Jaxon and the man-servant turned away rather than watch him eat the morsels Odessa provided. The man-servant had already checked his pockets for food, but there was nothing there except a few crumbs!
They were soon once again making their way across the fields, and the church spire started to get closer and closer. Odessa was flying overhead, to keep them company, but then she suddenly turned, swooped really low, and landed directly in front of them. “Man-Servant!” she said. “You have to change direction!”
The man-servant stopped and looked at her. “Why?” he asked.
“Because you are still heading for the church spire!” said Odessa.
“Well, that’s where we want to go,” replied the man-servant.
“Okay,” said Odessa. “But you can’t blame me later!”
The man-servant was puzzled. “What would I blame you for, Odessa? That church spire is the Town of Greenwoods, and that’s where we want to go.”
“Okay,” Odessa said, “if you say so.”
It took them another two hours to reach the edge of the town, and the man-servant recognized some of the houses alongside the road. “I know where we are!” shouted the man-servant. “This is the road that we use in order to get into town.”
Jaxon looked up at him. “I’m tired, Man-Servant. If you know where we are, do you also know how long it will take us to get back to the farm?”
The man-servant looked down at Jaxon. “Yes, Jaxon, it will take us about another thirty minutes.” He then looked around in order to work out which direction to go. “We have to turn around and go back the way we came,” he said quietly.
Jaxon was puzzled. “But if we just came from that direction, why do we have to go back the same way?”
Odessa landed next to Jaxon. “I shall explain, Jaxon. The church spire, being in the Town of Greenwoods, was a natural place to focus on initially; however, what the man-servant seemed to overlook was the fact that your final destination was not the Town of Greenwoods, but rather Moonbeam Farm. I tried to tell him that it was time to change direction, but he would not listen … as usual. It was a shame really, because while flying around watching over you guys, Moonbeam Farm has been visible to me for the past hour!”
The man-servant moved closer. “So, you are saying that we should have turned off this road a long time ago?”
Odessa rolled her eyes. “Man-Servant! That is exactly what I am saying, and before you get rude again, may I remind you that I did say some time ago that you had to change direction! Of course, you being a big human and me being a lowly little Barn Owl … you ignored me as usual!”
A little over thirty minutes later, they were all back at the farm, and having a feast on the rug in front of the fire. The man-servant turned to Odessa, who had been staring at him for quite a few minutes.
“What’s up, Odessa?”
“I think an apology might be appropriate about now,” she said.
The man-servant looked at her. “Okay, Odessa … I guess I am sorry.”
Odessa jumped up and down. “You guess? Man-Servant, your insensitivity never ceases to astound me. There is nothing to guess about, and anyway, it’s not me you should be apologizing to, but Jaxon and Dewey. You made their journey much longer than was necessary!”
The man-servant turned to Jaxon and Dewey. “Odessa is right. I’m sorry, guys!”
Odessa turned slightly and winked at both Jaxon and Dewey. The man-servant didn’t see it.