The Black Balloons

“Balloon!” Janie shouted, pointing out the window.

Angie and I ignored her. We were arguing with Adrián, the hotel owner.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t see your reservation here,” he repeated.

“Typical,” I muttered. “God damn typical.”

I’d spent a year getting this vacation planned out. Angie’s wanted to go to Costa Rica since she was a little girl and saw a documentary about the rainforest. It was our third anniversary. I was hoping it would be a special trip. The start was inauspicious.

“Balloon!” Janie yelled again, giggling and tugging my pant leg. I glanced over my shoulder through the picture windows overlooking the forest below.

“There’s no balloons, sweetheart,” I informed her, and turned back to the hotel owner.

“Look, I have the online confirmation right here. That’s the name of the hotel, yes? And that’s the address? And there, where it says ‘confirmed?’ Can that possibly mean anything else?”

“I’m sorry, sir, but you’re just not in our system. If you and your family would like to go out on the patio and rest for a little while, I will see what I can do. I’ll send over a couple glasses of wine and some fruit juice for your beautiful little girl, okay? Just give me a little time.”

“It’s already been almost a half hour,” I said under my breath. Angie took over and agreed to his proposal. Adrián beckoned to an employee and said something to him in Spanish. It sounded like “bring them outside” but there was a word in there I didn’t recognize. It was probably “assholes.”

We stepped out of the lobby onto the expansive patio at the rear of the hotel. There were a few other couples there, sitting in their own little areas and minding their own business. The employee brought us to a table at the edge, next to the waist-high glass wall. I peered over.

The view really was spectacular. The Costa Rican rainforest sprawled below us. I’d never seen such bright foliage. The sounds of countless birds and other animals filled our ears, and, as our beverages were delivered, I found myself starting to relax.

“Balloon, Daddy!” Janie shouted again. I picked her up and put her on my shoulders.

“Honey, I’ll get you some balloons later on, okay? Let’s just stay here for a little while.”

Janie squirmed and fidgeted. She obviously wasn’t in the mood to be held. I sighed and lowered her back onto the patio. She took off, running around and introducing herself to the other vacationers.

“You want me to go get her?” Angie asked.

“No, she’s fine.”

“I don’t want her to annoy those folks.”

“So call her back, then.”

“Hey Janie, don’t bother those nice people!” Ang called.

“She’s no bother!” an older woman replied, smiling. “She reminds me of my granddaughter.”

“Okay, just feel free to send her back to us if you want some privacy.”

“Sure thing!”

Angie turned back to me and picked up her wine.

“So what do you think?”

“I think they need to either kick someone else out of their room or give us a voucher for a free stay at another hotel.”

“You know they probably won’t do that, right?”

“Yeah.” I took a swig of my wine and washed it down with Janie’s juice.

I glanced away from the colorful birds in the trees below and looked toward the sky. It was clouding up. It would probably rain soon.

“Balloon!” Janie said again.

“Man, she really wants a balloon,” I remarked to Angie.


I watched the clouds and heard Janie’s little feet stomping around the patio. I guess she’d gotten tired of the old lady. Or vice versa.


Something near the treetops caught my eye. It was hazy and black, lazily drifting in the breeze. I looked around. There were more of them.

“What is that?” I asked Angie, pointing.

She stared at the things with me.

“Looks like a mass of gnats or flies or something.”

“Gross,” I replied, laughing. “But I guess that’s part of the charm of a rainforest, right?”

“Yeah. I wonder if that’s what Janie’s been yelling about.”

On cue, Janie giggled “balloon” again.

I turned around. “Hey Janie, stop saying balloon, oka–”

My words were cut off when I saw Janie standing on the other side of the patio. A mass of the same things we’d seen near the trees was hovering right in front of her. It was twice her size.

“Janie!” Angie shrieked, and I took off running toward her.

“Balloon!” Janie laughed, and stepped into it with her arms outstretched.

Her laughter stopped as the black haze enveloped her. She started screaming. Everyone on the patio gasped as they saw our little girl get covered from head to toe in a seething, black cloud.

I reached her seconds later and realized what was on her. “Oh my God!” I cried.

Janie’s entire body was crawling with tiny, black spiders. They crept through her hair and eyelashes and poured in and out of her nose and mouth. She fell on the patio, shrieking and sobbing, rolling around and trying to get them off.

I leapt at her and attempted to brush them away. They were biting. Hard. I felt blood trickling down my wrists and arms. While some got brushed onto my hands and the patio, others remained stuck to my daughter like glue. I could see her face starting to swell.

“Help!” I bellowed. “Help us!”

I felt spiders moving up my biceps and into my shirt. They bit and bit and bit. I ignored the pain as I stared with horror at my daughter. Her tongue protruded from her mouth like a purple sausage. It, too, seethed with the creatures.

Angie and I stripped Janie’s clothes and used them to crush or push away the bulk of the spiders. Her breathing was shallow and her eyes were slits in her swollen face.

I felt strong hands pushing me away and hotel workers converged on Janie. They doused her with water. Clumps of spiders fell to the ground. Another employee jabbed her in the thigh with what looked like an Epipen. Seconds later, Angie and I were injected with our own.

“Stay calm,” the hotel manager was repeating. “Stay calm. Help is on the way.”

We heard sirens in the distance. Angie held Janie against her chest. I could see the swelling already starting to go down.

“What the fuck,” I choked out, feeling scratchiness in my throat. I still had at least a hundred of the things on me.

“I’m sorry, sir. I’m sorry. They balloon at this time of the year. Our exterminators assured us they’d sprayed and it would keep them away. I’m terribly sorry.”

I scratched and danced in place, trying to squash the last of them.

“And sir, if it helps, I was able to get your family a room. It’s a suite. Great views of the whole rainforest.”

I felt a mass of spiders crawling up my thigh and settling behind my testicles.

“That’s great, Adrián,” I replied, slapping myself in the crotch. “That’s just great.”


2 Replies to “The Black Balloons”

  1. I am currently vacationing in Costa Rica as I read this!!! Thankfully, we are on the beach and not in the rainforest. Great story!

  2. Ex Machina says:

    Booking dot yeah.
    Booking dot hell no.

    Wonder what the trivago guy would say about this.

    Really makes a Netflix binge staycation sound awesome.

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