Above the Chimney Tops

Date Written: 

Why did it have to be me?

Nathan had asked himself that question many, many times, over the past year, and he'd never had an answer for himself. The signs had started when he was a freshman, when his body hair started falling out, bit by bit, until he was completely bare and smooth below the eyelashes. His toned physique faded to soft curves, his clothes started fitting oddly, his underwear kept bunching up if he walked faster than a bare mince. Then came the big swim meet -- swimming was pretty much the only thing Nathan was good at, and this was his time to shine in front of the whole town. But struggle as he might, the water seemed to reject him, his arms and legs found no purchase, and he finished nearly a length behind the leader. Distraught over the loss, he slept in the next morning, got up, stood in front of his full-length mirror, and beheld a nascent Michelin Man. By noon, he'd worked out what was happening to his body. I've got the Curse. Me. A guy. With the Curse. Five sisters, and it had to pick me.

He didn't dare tell anyone, not even his parents. There's no point, anyway. Even for girls there's no cure for the Curse, and I'm the first male to bear it, so what could anyone possibly do for me? That's what he told himself, at least, but deep down he knew the real reason. I'm a fluke, a freak of nature. If anyone finds out about my condition, they'll ship me to a laboratory, present me before doctors and scientists, float me in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. And after all that exposure and humiliation, I'll be right back where I started, a human balloon inflating at the whim of an uncaring universe. No one can ever know.

Senior year was a nightmare of close calls, excuses, and social isolation. Nathan desperately tried to find a way to deflate himself, to no avail. No matter how he squeezed, how he squished, how he pleaded, how many pills he popped, the gas just wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. As the months passed, his shape shifted -- from a sort of low-grade general puffiness at first, he now boasted swollen pecs, a literal bubble butt, and a belly to rival the fake ones they made the girls wear for sex ed. And as his body grew, that... lift... likewise grew stronger every day.

He hadn't gone airborne yet. The lead fishing weights concealed in his shoe soles had made sure of that. But Kansas was flat. Flat meant windy. Wind meant air resistance. And the baggy sweats he wore to conceal his curvy figure weren't exactly aerodynamic. Walking to school and back could be a simple stroll or a Sisyphean struggle. More than once he'd spent his afternoon in the school library, no bigger than a two-car garage, browsing farming manuals and a 30-year-old encyclopedia as he waited for the winds to favor his voyage home.

Thank God today was the last day. This school district is too cheap to hold a graduation ceremony -- they just mail you your diploma. The wind was unusually calm, but Nathan took no chances. He'd worked out a way home that took him largely through dry river beds, providing concealment from curious eyes as well as cover from the currents. It ended at what he imagined might be the only hill in Kansas. A relic of the time this land was a farm, it was a huge pile of leftover topsoil grown grassy over the decades. Cresting the summit, he trudged down towards his home below, careful not to descend faster than gravity could follow him.

Suddenly a gust of wind came sweeping towards him. Nathan was rocked back on his heels, pinwheeling his arms as he fought to right himself. And then the wind blew his sweatshirt up to his armpits, exposing his bloated belly to all the world. They might be looking at me RIGHT NOW!!! In a panic, he yanked the hem back down to his waist --


Nathan's mind was a jumble of thoughts tripping over each other in their struggle to be heard. I just turned my shirt into a parachute surfaced momentarily, then was lost in the throng. I'm sliding back on my heels made a brief appearance before being trampled underfoot. The wind is pushing me back up the hill. Back up. Back. UP. And then he was back up to the top of the hill. And the sensation of grass dragging under his heels gave way to... nothing.

He knew this was going to happen one day. He'd done everything he could to steel his nerves for the eventuality. And now that it was actually happening, all his practice, his mental preparation, went right out the window and sailed away on a summer breeze. Nathan's mind and body were numb, frozen, paralyzed. It could have been seconds, minutes... days... that he drifted through the air. And then something hard slammed into his calves, and he tumbled back ass over teakettle to a sudden stop.

Nathan clutched at the surface as he waited for his heart to stop pounding out of his chest. His mother's embrace had never felt as warm or comforting as those scratchy roof tiles. Gingerly he got to his feet and surveyed the area. To his relief, he found himself atop old man Gunderson's home, only a quarter mile away from his own. From the sounds of ratcheting, hammering, and cursing, he was apparently working on that old Studebaker he kept in the garage. He could wrench that thing for a hundred years and never get it to run. If he sees me come down off of his house, he'll have questions that I'll be hard-pressed to answer. I'll climb up and jump down the other side. Slowly, trying not to make a sound, Nathan tiptoed to the apex of the roof.

The swaying of trees and grass approaching gave him only an instant's warning. When the wind hit the roof, it shunted upward and hit Nathan with full force from below. With another *FWOOOOMP* his shirt again imitated a parachute, and he stifled a scream as he was plucked from his perch and launched a hundred feet in the air. Firmly in the grip of the currents, he began to drift backwards, everything he knew receding away into the distance.

Nathan would have kicked himself if he didn't know he'd just bounce off. If only I'd gotten down the the ground when I could have! But there was nothing to be done now -- he was helpless before the elements, and nothing he could possibly do would make the slightest difference to his current predicament. His only option was to wait for the situation to play itself out. He at least gave thanks that he wasn't quite buoyant; gravity was on his side, and regardless of where the wind took him, he'd eventually get back down to the ground.

But as the minutes passed, the ground didn't seem to be getting any closer -- if anything, he seemed to be rising. After puzzling things over, Nathan figured out what was going on. His weighted feet were acting as pendulums, swinging him back and forth in midair. When he tilted forwards, the force of the wind against him pushed him upwards, like the blade of a windmill. But when he tilted back, the air filled his sweatshirt like a windsock, and he rose for an entirely different reason. Realizing this, he grasped the hem, trying to seal it off, but in vain: the breeze crept in through the tiniest hole. There was nothing for it -- the shirt had to come off, so his swaying cycles would balance out, and gravity could take over. He was planning to stash it under one arm and put it back on once he was securely grounded. But as he pulled his right arm out of the sleeve, yet another gust of wind slammed into him. Nathan gasped as he was twisted around, and then he cursed as the shirt was pulled off his wrist and sent flying over the horizon.

Oh, this is just great! Whoever I run into when I get down is gonna see a lot more of me than either of us would've wanted! At least I'm facing forwards now. Better to see where I'm going than where I've been. But Nathan soon noticed that he wasn't swaying anymore. His upper half was now smooth and aerodynamic, so his baggy pants were catching all the wind, and he was sloped back. And back meant the wind was pushing him continuously upward. Nathan groaned as the realization hit him -- he'd just made his situation worse in every way.

For (what he guessed was) an hour, he floated with the current, gaining altitude by the minute, until one last desperate idea hit him. A gamble, for sure, but things clearly weren't going to work out for Nathan unless he took action. Carefully he pulled off his sweatpants, his knuckles clenched white. He didn't want to lose his last substantial article of clothing (his hips having long since spread wider than his briefs could accommodate), but more importantly, he couldn't afford to lose any more ballast. Tucking them under his chin, he tied off one leg at the ankle. Then he grasped the hem, said a mental prayer to the wind gods, and held his invention out in front of him.

*FWOOOOMP* As he anticipated, the air filled his pants like a windsock. But with one leg shut, the force was unbalanced. And that leg was the top one, so the effect was to tilt the whole thing downwards, and the net force of the wind was down. Finally, the wind's on my side! All I have to do is hold on, and I'll be be on the ground in no time! But the force wasn't only vertical -- it was horizontal as well, and Nathan found himself picking up speed at an alarming rate. There was no speedometer on his person, of course, but a car passed under him as he followed a country road, and it didn't seem to be going much faster than him. And then he gulped as he passed the car. I can't worry about things like that right now. I need to focus on what's in front of me. I'm headed towards the ground. I'm headed towards a house.

I'm... headed towards a weather vane!

Durable cotton snagged on jagged metal. His conveyance was wrenched from his grasp as he was sent into a flat spin, weighted feet against flailing arms. Leaves and branches slapped against his skin, then were snatched away before he could even think to grasp at them. A grain silo loomed ahead, and Nathan had the wind knocked out of him as he bounced off. But the impact had checked his momentum, and he drifted gently back to the building, until it was in his grasp, choking back sobs of relief as he felt the metal sliding beneath his belly and hands.

Sliding... downwards...

Nathan's blood ran cold as comprehension dawned on him. His Curse would be denied no longer -- the buoyancy of his gas was more than his body could balance, and gravity was now his enemy. Desperately he pawed for purchase as he rose. At last his fingers found a seam in the metal, and for a moment his ascent was checked. But he soon tipped back, his rounded rear end rising above his shoulders until he slipped away. And then that fickle wind returned to claim him, carrying him off until he wasn't even a dot against the bright blue sky.

He knew it was a waste of effort. He'd tried it every day for the past three months, in the shower before school. But it wasn't like there were any other demands on his time right now. With all his might he pressed his hands down into his abdomen. His pecs -- screw it, my BREASTS -- swelled up into turgid orbs, threatening to engulf his chin. His butt ballooned, his thighs squeezing together and curling up from the pneumatic force within. When his arms started to go numb, he finally relented, and with a short, sharp hiss, his body instantly returned to the exact same dimensions as when he started.

So that's it, then. All my struggles, all my schemes, all those weights in my shoes, and in the end I'm as helpless as a child's discarded helium balloon. No way to deflate, no way to gain weight, no way to ride the wind. God, I just wish I wasn't rising so SLOWLY. It's almost sundown and I'm still only, what, 500 feet up? At this rate it'll take me forever to reach the upper atmosphere and freeze to death. Maybe I could take off my shoes, but... what if they land on someone? All that lead would leave quite a bump.

Geez, I must be halfway to Colorado by now. It's funny, I've never been on a plane, or even left town. I know dad was going to surprise me with a crop duster ride as a graduation gift. I'd been trying to think of an excuse not to go. Maybe say I was afraid of heights, except of course I've never been up high, so how would I know? And now I know I'm not, and I'm not a good liar--

A siren sounded below, barely audible over the wind whipping about him. Like every Kansan, Nathan recognized a tornado alarm when he heard one. His parents had drilled the procedure into him since he was six: find your sisters, get in the shelter, secure the door, don't stop for ANYTHING -- if the Crown Jewels are on the kitchen table, leave them! But of course he had no power or agency anymore, and the wind would do with him what it willed. All he could do was brace himself as he was pulled inexorably into the twister.

It was like nothing he'd ever experienced, and nothing he'd want to experience again. Winds like battering rams pounded his body as debris tore at his skin. His shoes and socks were ripped from his feet as he flipped end over end. The air was sucked from his lungs, and everything went black.

When he finally came to, Nathan wasn't entirely certain he wasn't dead. His eyes, ears, and mouth were caked with dust and grime, and he felt like he'd been dragged backwards through a thresher. Gingerly prodding himself for broken bones, he found one piece of good news: his body was finally back to normal. All that debris must have punctured me -- at least now I know how to deflate. I should invest in a good, sharp awl. He seemed to be lying on some sort of cobblestone path. As his senses returned, Nathan realized he was stark naked, and someone could come by at any minute. But when he rubbed the dirt from his eyes, he saw that he wasn't lying on stones after all, but bricks.

Yellow bricks.

Author's Note: 

Another story idea that grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let go until I captured it in a Notepad file. I've been trying to come up with a concept for another another male inflation story for years. What kept blocking me is that I didn't want to just perform an arbitrary gender swap -- the guy had to have a fundamentally different reaction to their inflation than a girl would. The Curse slots in nicely for this purpose: women in this universe are prepared for the possibility, but for a male to be afflicted with what's supposed to be a female-only condition adds an additional layer of shame and confusion.

The first concept was to have the protagonist be a college student trying to conceal his inflation from his dorm mates, but then I got to thinking about inflation in popular culture. Most of the common works have been covered ad nauseam, but then I thought of The Wizard of Oz. There's no actual inflation, of course, but Dorothy gets swept up by a cyclone, which is darn close to floating, a common inflation trope. What if instead of a house, the cyclone sucked up an inflated guy? And then the rest came naturally from there.

My writing style for this story was inspired by heliumgirl77. I knew I couldn't replicate her style exactly and it would be foolish to try, but I hope I captured her sense of whimsy and delicacy. I also wanted to experiment with a more horizontal form of floating. Most floaters go up, and up, and up, but the flaw in that concept is that once you're past all possible anchors, there's not much for the inflatee to do. So I had Nathan stay relatively low -- above the chimney tops, but not by much -- so that the ground would stay within plausible reach, while his horizontal drift added a sense of tension; pressuring him to get down before he drifted too far to get back.

I don't have a specific year in mind, but I imagine the story taking place in the late 50s/early 60s. I think that makes this the earliest setting of a "real world" inflation story, not counting the various fantasy-themed stories (and of course ignoring that the protagonist ends up in Oz).

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BlimpImp's picture
A fantastic story. Nathan

A fantastic story. Nathan made for a fantastic blimp. Perhaps in his new surroundings the people around him shall ask "Are you a good blimp, or a bad blimp?" and he can learn to enjoy his cursed condition. If not, I'm sure he'd make a great way to tour a certain country of magic and magical footwear.