Rubber balloons are the hallmark of birthdays and celebrations, bringing a bit of decorative vibrancy into the celebratory day. For many, balloons signify a sense of childhood joy, reminding them of cake and games and other delights.
Growing up, I was always excited to get balloons for my birthday, particularly helium filled balloons. They way they floated up to the ceiling or bobbed on a string felt like magic — and there was the thrill of having to hold on tight or risk the balloon escaping into the sky. Even popping a balloon contained its own delight, the pin pressing into the rubber and then the sudden POP that sent me into giggles, while my heart raced.
It would would never have occurred to me afraid of balloons (though I have learned that this is a real fear for some, called globophobia). A multitude of books and movies present stories in which balloons act as a symbolic representation of a threat (such as the threatening red balloon in It signifying the presence of Pennywise the Clown). The Homespun Haunts podcast also talks about the concept of haunted balloons as objects being maneuvered by otherworldly spirits or entities.
However, I've discovered a handful of stories in which the balloon themselves have become the danger. In each unique story, these fragile, rubbery, air-filled objects suddenly gain a sense of murderous agency — and are out to annihilate humankind.
And each of these stories has lingered and haunted me long after I read them. I present them here to you in the hopes that they provide you with some wickedly fun holiday frights.
Free Balloons for All Good Children
"It was an odd thing to see, Tom thought, a balloon scudding along at a constant altitude."
In Dirck de Lint's brilliant short story "Free Balloons for All Good Children" (published by PseudoPod), a father brings his overactive toddler out for a stroll in the park, taking advantage of the fresh air and beautifully sunny day. Everything is calm, until he spots a pale blue balloon floating toward them.
I love the way this story unsettles me, the way the presence of a balloon — such an innocuous object — shatters the sense peace and safety of the day. If a simple balloon can turn on you, what else can, too?
"I want to ask if any balloons are swarming close by, but I don’t think I want to know the answer."
"Balloon Season," by Thomas Ha (and also published by PseudoPod), feels like a natural follow up to "Free Balloons for All Good Children." The story offers an apocalyptic vision: balloons have become such a deadly presence that humanity is struggling to survive the onslaught and find themselves barely holding back the tide.
The story raised a number of interesting questions about what kinds of risks we each might be willing to make to support our community as well as just ourselves. There are no right answers, just different ways of fighting to survive.
Junji Ito is a master of the horror genre. His manga novels and stories are beautifully and intricately illustrated with some of the most bone-chilling cosmic horrors that you may ever witness.
"Hanging Blimp" is among my favorite of his tales. Published in his collection of manga stories, Shiver, the story begins with the people of a small town witnessing strange sights. First, a woman is found inexplicably hanged outside her window. Then, people start seeing floating heads that look eerily similar to the people in the town..., floating balloon heads with nooses for strings.
Ito's work tends toward the bleak and nihilistic, and this story is no exception. It's brutal and violent — and it's a story that has continued to linger with me long after I read it.
I've loved Don Hertzfeldt's darkly humorous short films since the early 2000s. Several of his shorts were passed around during that time, including "Billy’s Balloon." The animation — about a toddler suddenly being assaulted by a bright red ballon — features a minimalistic style in terms of art style and audio design. The lack of music draws the viewers focus to the physical presents of the toddler and balloon, making for a delightfully disturbing watch.
I don’t know much about Pokemon, so I only learned about this after sharing this article on social media — and I knew it needed to be added. Apparently, the Drifloon, a ghost-type Pokemon resembling a balloon thathas some terrifying attributes.
The official Pokemon website states:
Perhaps seeking company, it approaches children. However, it often quickly runs away again when the children play too roughly with it.
A description that is adorable, if perhaps a bit melancholy. However, the lore surrounding the Drifloon presents a more haunting story. As the Fandom.com wiki explains:
Drifloon has been given the reputation of being the “signpost for wandering spirits”. It will carry children who are foolish enough grab hold onto its arms into the afterlife.
I never fail to be surprised with with how dark Pokemon can be.
My dearest weirdlings,
I can't believe it has been a year since I last posted here. I have missed you.
If you're anything like me, you might have been existing in a perpetual state of being overwhelmed by life, work, and the universe at large. I personally have been working on shifting my career toward writing for games, which involves learning an entirely different kind of storytelling that melds art, sound, and gameplay. It's been a fascinating learning journey, and I have even completed two tiny games of my own (both of which can played for free online). This is in addition to various other ongoing projects that require my attention.
As a result, Once Upon the Weird slipped back into the background shadows. My apologies for the absence.
I would like to return to these strange woods more regularly. However, I can no longer promise a weekly newsletter of weird horror and other media news. The main thing I would like to preserve from those newsletters is the aspect of sharing cool horror, fantasy, and weird short films that I discover and enjoy, since short films always need more love. Though, I'm still deciding in what format those shorts might be highlighted.
In the meantime, over the next week or so, I'll be sharing some of my favorite media and games from this year. And in the new year, I'll work on sharing essays, reviews, and other bits and bobs on a more regular basis (about which I am being purposefully vague). If there is anything in particular you would love to see from Once Weird, please respond and let me know.
Happy holidays and may your woods be comfortingly dark and deep,