He knew where his fear came from, but awareness didn’t help. He didn’t have a latex allergy of his own; Doctor Preston had tried to make that abundantly clear. No matter what had happened at Jimmy Sippowitz’s 7th birthday party, it was highly unlikely that such an unfortunate, grisly death could be caused by balloons again.
But that didn’t mean they couldn’t.
His only comfort was knowing that his deep, intractable agony at the very thought of balloons left him with a phobia of something that one could easily avoid in their day-to-day life. Afraid of the dark? Eventually the night will come. Afraid of bugs? Eventually, you would have to go outside. With balloons, he could manage. He never went to birthday parties, ever. He also stayed in during New Year’s Eve, just in case. The circus and the fair were out, but who wanted to deal with lines anyway? His first and only “must-have” with his realtor was “It must be more than 50 miles away from the nearest party supply store.” It was a strange request, but he wasn’t about to explain himself any further.
Which only deepened the mystery of what happened the morning he looked in the bathroom mirror but wished he never had.
He yelped when he first saw it, and tried to run back into the bedroom, but he couldn’t. It followed him. He returned to the mirror lightly. When the object continued to follow him, his first, uncontrollable instinct was to swat at it. He stopped nearly an instant later when he realized such an ill-advised action might cause the thing to pop.
But there it was, the bulbous latex of an inflated balloon. It dangled from his shoulder blade, his skin gradually giving way to the inflated red mass. It would be so easy just to pluck the offending protrusion…
Except then it might pop.
Despite a panic attack creeping up on him like an oncoming storm, he changed tacks and got dressed. He took extra care to make sure the offending inflation fit under his shirt, and wasn’t under too much pressure.
The thing would go away on its own. It would have to! Even if it never burst forth—what in God’s name was keeping it inflated, he wondered—the thing would eventually lose interest and whither away.
That thought kept him going through a pointedly terrifying, and not a little bit uncomfortable work day. When he woke up the next day, he had nearly forgotten about the strange balloon that appeared on his person. But when he looked in the mirror, there were two of them. The red one remained. However, a green one had appeared just above his left pectoral.
This was enough to get him to go to the doctor. He didn’t fear the doctor’s office, per se, but it did make him uncomfortable. Visiting the doctor’s office because he had balloons growing out of him would introduce enough anxiety to keep him from leaving the house for weeks. Now it was nothing more than a an unrelenting, numbing state of being.
“So…” the doctor said when he came into the examining room. He hadn’t yet looked up from his clipboard. “You have a couple of balloons stuck… where, now?”
He shook his head and removed his shirt; the red and green globes bounced under the gentle breeze of the air conditioner. It had taken three days for him to get in to see the doctor, and they were now joined by a blue balloon protruding from his rib cage on the right side, and a yellow one completely obscuring his left armpit.
With no answer, the doctor finally looked up from his forms. “Oh,” the doctor said. “Oh!” the doctor moaned. “Oh?” the doctor finally queried, and then exited the examination room with no further information. All in all, this was not the least helpful examination he had ever received from his general practitioner.
The doctor return after a few minutes, now holding a faux-leather bound book in place of the previous clipboard. “Chronic vestigial flexilis with periodic heliastic halitus. I remember hearing about it in medical school, but golly, I never thought I’d see a case first hand…”
With no further discussion, the doctor yelled out into the hallway. “You guys have to come see this! We’ve got an actual case of CVF here!”
The entire medical staff of the clinic—the janitor came, too, claiming, “I’m always into seeing some weird shit”—came to gawk at the balloons.
“When was the last time something like this was diagnosed?” asked one of the interns.
“Not since the Dark Ages, I think,” the receptionist theorized.
“Oh, yeah… What happened to that guy…?”
“What do you think happened to him?” the receptionist replied.
While they stared, he noticed the beginnings of a purple addition to his array of festive buoys.
“What does that mean?” he asked.
“What’s that?” the doctor asked.
“…chronic vestigial flexilis with periodic—“
“Yes. What does it mean?” he repeated. The roaring flame of terror was starting to give way to a dull, sleepy resignation. The janitor wasn’t helping matters.
“It means, my friend, you are turning into a balloon.”
“Yes, yes. I know. You’re afraid of balloons.” Someone in the impromptu operating theater chuckled. He first thought it was the janitor, but it was the kind of thing only someone who spent time in a medical school would find funny. The doctor continued, “but there’s certainly no better way to fight a phobia than to face it head on… And I think it’s safe to say that’s just what you’re doing.”
“But what’s going to happen to me?”
“Oh, that’s quite simple,” the doctor answered. “You’re going to become a balloon.”
The doctor looked around to his colleagues—and the janitor—and then offered him a wan smile.
“Maybe we should talk about that in private.”
TO BE CONCLUDED NEXT WEEK