The Girl With the Blue Balloon

The Girl With the Blue Balloon

A Story by J.S.R. Rayburn

A photographer comes across a little girl standing at an old abandoned train station, holding a blue balloon.


Under the moonlight of a waxing crescent, a little girl stood at a long abandoned train station, with a blue balloon in her hands. By all appearances, she was waiting for something or someone.

I came across her just standing there and approached her carefully.

"Hey," I said, "Where's your mom or dad?"

She turned to look at me briefly. Her hazel eyes were slightly too big for her small face. "They'll be here any minute."

I noticed that she had been looking at the tracks, as if she was expecting a train to come through any second. I sincerely hoped that that wasn't the case. The train hadn't run through this station in decades.

"What's that?" she asked, pointing at me.

It took me a second for me to realize she was pointing at the camera around my neck. I'd gotten so used to it being there that half the time I don't even realize I have it. "Oh. This is my camera."

"You like to take pictures?" she asked me.

"I do," I said. "In fact, is it all right if I take your picture right now?" I figured that it would be best to have picture of her just in case she ran off or something. Then I could give it to the police in case she was a missing or runaway child.

She nodded her head.

I lifted up the camera and snapped a picture. She barely blinked at the intense flashing of the camera. She didn't smile or even attempt to make a funny face. She kept her same stoic facial expression.

"Can I see it?" she asked.

"Sorry," I said. "This isn't a digital camera. It uses film. I won't know what the photos look like until I get the film developed."

I couldn't tell her if her next facial expression was one of disappointment or confusion, but it was one of those two. Regardless she pressed the matter no further.

I tried to find a way to make small talk so as for there to not be an awkward silence. And while I didn't feel right leaving this little girl all by herself, I also knew better than to ask her if I could stay with her until her parents arrived. So, I said, "You know, that's a really cute balloon."

The little girl looked up at it. "Yes, it is," was all she said.

"Where'd you get it?"

"The grocery store."

"You like balloons?"

She shrugged. "Not really. They're alright."

I tried not to let the bafflement show on my face. "Then why are you holding the balloon?"

"Because my parents told me that was how they would find me. They told me that as long as I was holding a blue balloon, that they would be able to find me so that I could go home with them."

I frowned. This was very strange. What kind of a parent would tell their kid to wait in an abandoned train station this late at night, and told them that they'd find her simply because she was holding a blue balloon? Something wasn't sitting right with me about this at all.

I surreptitiously reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone. I knew that this was probably the time to get the police involved, but I also didn't want to scare the girl. So, I turned my back ever so slightly to her, so that she couldn't see, and I was about to phone the police when I noticed that there was no signal. Which wasn't a surprise considering we were quite far outside the city limits.

I turned back towards her, planning on telling her that I would be right back and needed to make an important private call, but when I did, the little girl, and the balloon had vanished completely.

My first thought was panic, but then the realization fully hit me. I had only turned my back on her for two or three seconds. How on Earth had she managed to disappear so quickly without making a lick of noise? I rubbed my eyes vigorously, wondering if what I had just seen was some kind of vivid hallucination.

I fruitlessly searched the nearby area for about 10 minutes without finding a single, solitary trace that the girl had ever been there.

I immediately headed back and had the film developed that night. To my surprise, the one I had taken of the little girl had come out beautifully. I couldn't tell you if I was relieved at this, or if I was even more shaken up.

I took the photos down to the station and explained my story. There were skeptical, not surprisingly, but I did give them the photos they asked for. They told me thanks and that they'd contact me if there were any developments.

The only call I got from the police was them calling and asking a few days later if I wanted my photos back. I said that I did. When I asked them where they were in finding out what had happened, they simply said they were still looking. I haven't heard back from them since.

This incident happened several months ago. I periodically checked the Internet to see if there were any developments in the story, but none ever did. In fact, the story didn't seem to gain any significant traction at all. Nobody, at least not anyone credible, ever came forward with the little girl's identity, or claiming to be the girl's family, or even another sighting.

Eventually, I gave up looking. I had lost hope that I would ever find out who she was, what had happened to her parents, and what had happened to her.

It was only when I was flipping through those photos on a whim a few days ago that I noticed something different. On one photo that I had taken a few minutes before my encounter with the little girl, I realized that in the photo, you could see a section of the train track far in the distance. Only I just now noticed that there appeared to be a shadow of what looked like a train sitting atop the track.

I turned to the very next photo taken about 15 seconds later of the same angle. The shadowy outline of a train was not as easily distinguishable this time, due to the photo quality not being as great, but I could still make it out. Only this time, the train was not in the same spot as it had been in the previous photo. 

The train had moved forward.

© 2020 J.S.R. Rayburn

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Not bad bit it needs tightening and dome rethinking.

• I came across her just standing there and approached her carefully.

The line before just reported this person’s observation of the girl, so this is redundant, And since the reader sees no reason to approach “carefully,” why mention it?

• She turned to look at me briefly.

Based on the text she didn’t look away because she doesn’t refocus on the protagonist before speaking. So drop “briefly.” But more than that, if she speaks to the protagonist doesn’t that tell us that she’s paying attention to him/her and responding? So since looking is either implied or irrelevant, drop the explanation and just give her response. Anything else serves only to slow the narrative and lower impact of the action.

• I noticed that she had been looking at the tracks,

You can’t “notice” what she HAD been doing. And stated that way it takes us out of the protagonist’s viewpoint and into the narrator’s. But since the narrator and the people in the scene live at different times it’s a POV break, even if you use first person. Just state it as, “She’d been looking at the tracks…”

• I sincerely hoped that that wasn't the case.

The antecedent for “the case” is a train coming through, not that she was looking. But that makes no sense.

• "What's that?" she asked, pointing at me.

She’s not pointing “at” the character. We have to assume that our protagonist is observant enough to notice what part of the body is being indicated.

• It took me a second for me to realize she was pointing at the camera around my neck.

Okay, I read this and said, “ trains for years, a girl alone looking for one, and, she doesn’t recognize the camera as a camera. Obviously, the girl is a ghost, or something like it.

That aside, why waste words to tell where the camera is? That’s irrelevant to the action. Every unnecessary word you can remove speeds the read. And the faster the read the more impact on the reader.

Next, any girl old enough to be at the station alone, who doesn’t recognize that a device with a lens on the front is some kind of a camera, isn’t real. (and don't forget that there will be decades worth of growth on the very rusty tracks. So either she sees the problem with expecting a train, or the protagonist notices that there is none, and that the rails are shiny. You must have one of the other. Your reader will notice.

And, the brownie box camera was introduced in 1900, but our narrator didn’t mention her clothes being unusual or archaic, and she's not surprised to learn that it's a camera. Any girl born “decades before,” when trains did run wouldn’t ask to see the picture because the camera wouldn’t look like a Polaroid camera, or be from before Polaroids were popular. And if she was from the future, and that young she wouldn’t know what developing film is and would ask—plus, no trains run there, right, so being from the future makes no sense. So, right here you have a major plot hole to address.

• "You like to take pictures?" she asked me.

So it’s her turn to talk, and her sentence ends in a question mark. Why explain that she asked a question? Use tags only when the speaker is in doubt or, explanation is needed.

As a minor point, she should append "a gender reference like "mister, so we know a bit about the protagonist's frame of reference for the child probably is.

• She nodded her head.

What else can you nod but your head? Drop the last two words.

• She barely blinked at the intense flashing of the camera.

What purpose does “intense” serve? The reader knows how bright a flash is, and she doesn't reacty. And in general a camera flashes once, so “flashing” seems odd.

• She kept her same stoic facial expression.

Didn’t the previous line just say this?

• I tried to find a way to make small talk so as for there to not be an awkward silence.

So… you’re out at night for unspecified reasons and find a child on an abandoned railroad station's platform. You make “small talk” and don’t ask her why she’s there, where she lives, why she’s alone, or…” Naaa... Here, you’re having the plot dictate the action, because if the protagonist asks that the story won’t work. But that means you need to change the situation, not order the actors to become stupid for plot purposes.

Place yourself into the each character’s viewpoint as you envision their actions/reactions. Take into account ther perception of the situation, plus their needs and objectives, And if the situation doesn’t make them WANT to act as the plot needs, you have to change the situation or their personality. And if you can’t do either the story doesn’t work.

Remember, readers aren't looking for a record of what happens, they want you to make them BECOME the protagonist and experience the story on an emotional level, not read a report. But in this, the protagonist doesn’t react to the situation, does no analysis, and uses no sense other than sight and hearing.

• "The grocery store."

The grocery store sells helium balloons twenty years or more before the setting date, which we take to be today? Doesn’t seem likely. And I’ve not seen any sold there in my area.

• "Because my parents told me that was how they would find me.

Okay, right here you’re forcing the action to the plot. No parent is going to have problems identifying their child by sight. It may be that you envision the girl being from another dimension, or something on that order, but the reader doesn’t share your intent, so as they read it, the necessary baloon makes no sense. And the fact that the protagonist notices, finds it odd, and wants to call the police, but-doesn’t-ask-her, makes no sense. Nor does hiding the phone from her, as if it would frighten her, when people use them all the time, everywhere. He’s given her no reason to think he’s going to call the police, and hasn’t acted suspiciously, so what would he be afraid she’d do? Run?

I see what you’re trying to do, but this, and her vanishing as soon as his back is turned for a moment is far too convenient a coincidence, making it a plot device that a reader will clearly recognize as being one. Coincidence is NOT a writer’s friend.

For me, here is where the plot derailed, so I stopped. In any case, my goal was to show where the prose can be tightened, not edit the piece.

Overall, you’re writing well—better than most. But you need to get into your protagonist’s head as you write more fully, and squeeze out the fat. Do that and most of what I pointed out will become obvious to you as your write.

Sorry my news wasn’t better.

Jay Greenstein

Posted 2 Weeks Ago

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1 Review
Added on May 12, 2020
Last Updated on May 12, 2020
Tags: horror, supernatural