All this in a flash. Then Will flailed into space, with no time to be glad for a tree beneath when it netted him, cut him, but broke his fall with mattress twig, branch and limb. Like a kite he was held face up to the moon where, at his exhausted leisure, he might hear the last Witch lamentations for a wake in progress as the balloon spiralled her away from house, street, town with inhuman mourns.
The balloon smile, the balloon rip was all-encompassing now as it wandered in deliriums to die in the meadows from which it had come, sinking down now beyond all the sleeping, ignorant and unknowing houses.
For a long while Will could not move. Buoyed in the tree branches, afraid he might slip through and kill himself on the black earth below, he waited for the sledgehammer to subside in his head.
The blows of his heart might jar him loose, crash him down but he was glad to hear them, know himself alive.
But then at last, gone calm, he gathered his limbs, most carefully searched for a prayer, and climbed himself down through the tree.
Nothing much else happened, all the rest of that night.
At dawn, a juggernaut of thunder wheeled over the stony heavens in a spark-throwing tumult. Rain fell softly on town cupolas, chuckled from rainspouts, and spoke in strange subterranean tongues beneath the windows where Jim and Will knew fitful dreams, slipping out of one, trying another for size, but finding all cut from the same dark, mouldered cloth.
In the rustling drumbeat, a second thing occurred:
From the sodden carnival grounds, the carousel suddenly spasmed to life. Its calliope fluted up malodorous steams of music.
Perhaps only one person in town heard and guessed that the carousel was working again.
The door to Miss Foley’s house opened and shut; her footsteps hurried away along the street.
Then the rain fell hard as lightning did a crippled dance down the now-totally-revealed, now-vanishing-forever land.
In Jim’s house, in Will’s house, as the rain nuzzled the breakfast windows, there was a lot of quiet talk, some shouting, and more quiet talk again.
At nine-fifteen, Jim shuffled out into the Sunday weather, wearing his raincoat, cap, and rubbers.
He stood gazing at his roof where the giant snail track was washed away. Then he stared at Will’s door to make it open. It did. Will emerged. Ms father’s voice followed: “Want me to come along?” Will shook his head, firmly.
The boys walked solemnly, the sky washing them toward the police station where they would talk, to Miss Foley’s where they would apologize again, but right now they only walked, hands in pockets, thinking of yesterday’s fearful puzzles. At last Jim broke the silence:
“Last night, after we washed off the roof, and I finally got to sleep, I dreamed a funeral. It came right down Main Street, like a visit.”
“That’s it! A thousand people, all dressed in black coats, black hats, black shoes, and a coffin forty feet long!”
“Right! What forty feet long needs to be buried? I thought. And in the dream I ran up and looked in. Don’t laugh.”
“I don’t feel funny, Jim.”
“In the long coffin was a big long wrinkled thing like a prune or a big grape lying in the sun. Like a big skin or a giant’s head, drying.”
“Hey.” Jim stopped. “You must’ve had the same dream! But…balloons can’t die, can they?”
Will was silent.
“And you don’t have funerals for them, do you?”
“Darn balloon laid out like a hippo someone leaked the wind out of — “
“Jim, last night…”
“Black plumes waving, band banging on black velvet-muffled drums with black ivory bones, boy, boy! Then on top of it, have to get up this morning and tell Mom, not everything, but enough so she cried and yelled and cried some more, women sure like to cry, don’t they? and called me her criminal son but — we didn’t do anything bad, did we, Will?”
“Someone almost took a ride on a merry-go-round.”
Jim walked along in the rain. “I don’t think I want any more of that.”