an American fish in & out of Estonian waters

The Balloon Poppers: Another Island Tale


Nõiasaar is a magical island. And everyone born there has a magical gift. Long ago – long before anyone can even remember, a Good Witch cast a spell over the island. Her enchantment protects her beloved Nõiasaar from most of the nasty and unpleasant spells launched by the Dark Wizard over on the neighboring island of Pimesaar.

Thanks to the Good Witch’s spell, every child born on Nõiasaar develops one magical talent. And every child discovers their special gift not long after they turn three years old.

Piret and her little sister Tiiu were no different from any of the other children on Nõiasaar – except that they found that their two gifts worked best when they used them together.

Just by making a wish, Piret could create a balloon of any size, shape, or color. After her sister Tiiu was born, Piret would blow up her own balloons and play with them on the sandy beach by their home. Each one of these balloons brought its own special kind of joy.

Piret loved playing with her balloons – up until the day that the first Balloon Popper flew over from Pimesaar. It popped each of her balloons with its needle-sharp nose. POP! POP! POP! Piret cried as each one of her balloons was destroyed.

Ever since that terrible day, a Balloon Popper would fly around Piret wherever she went outside just to pop each one of her new balloons. After a while, Piret stopped making her beautiful balloons because she was tired of seeing them get popped. And so, a couple of years went by without any new balloons.

Soon after her third birthday, Tiiu discovered her magical gift.  One day, when she was out playing with her older sister Piret on the beach by their home, she found an old popped balloon half-hidden in the sand. When Tiiu tried to blow up the balloon, Piret reshaped it and helped her sister tie a knot to keep the air from escaping. When Tiiu let go of the balloon, she found that her breath was lighter than air. Piret watched in amazement as her old balloon floated up into the sky with new life.

Of course, the balloon’s climb was interrupted as soon as a Balloon Popper zoomed in and ruined it with a single loud POP! While Tiiu cried, Piret had a new idea.

Surprised to see one of her old balloons float up so high, Piret made her first new balloon in years and asked Tiiu to blow it up. Which Tiiu did. When they let go of the balloon, it soared up into the sky. Up and up and up it went – until the expected POP! came. When Piret and Tiiu looked around again, they spotted several Balloon Poppers circling overhead.

After lunch, Piret and Tiiu decided to play a new game. They wanted to see if they could get one of their balloons to float past the Balloon Poppers. Maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t be able to POP! every single one of them. Maybe, just maybe, the Balloon Poppers only popped those balloons that they didn’t like. And maybe, just maybe, they would let one of the balloons climb up into the sky.

And so, Piret started thinking up new balloons of every single color of the rainbow: blue, green, yellow, red, and every shade in between. And then Tiiu blew up each one of the balloons with her breath that was lighter than the air. Together, they released the balloons one at a time into the sky. But as soon as each balloon would start to climb towards the clouds, there would come a POP! from one of the grinning Balloon Poppers now swarming up above.

For their next attempts, Piret and Tiiu tried sending up wonderful multi-colored balloons – beautiful creations which shimmered as brightly as flutter-bys or dragonflies in the summer light. But each one of these balloons ended in just the same way – with just the same POP! – as soon as a Balloon Popper flew past. And each time they lost one of their balloons – each time another one fell from the sky, Piret and Tiiu grew sadder and sadder. When they were too sad to go on, the two sisters gave up and went home.

As they sat on the beach the next day, Piret tried to think up new balloons of all different sizes: big, small, huge, tiny, and every other size in between. But as soon as Tiiu blew them up and released them one by one into the sky, it was the same old story: POP! after POP! after POP! There seemed to be more Balloon Poppers than ever flying around them that day. Tiiu’s face soon began to twist into a pout. She was getting very frustrated.

After that, Piret and Tiiu tried sending up balloons of different shapes: long, short, round, oval, and every other shape in between.  But the result was just the same – just one POP! after another. At the end of the day, poor Piret and Tiiu were almost crying when they went home. They left behind hundreds of popped balloons lying all over the sand.

On the third day, Piret and Tiiu brought their neighbor Jaana along with them to the beach. Jaana could use her hands to turn anything that you gave her – wood, clay, wax, stone, or just about anything else – into the shape of an animal. She could even shape balloons. Working together, Piret thought of new balloons, while Tiiu blew them up using her breath which was lighter than air, and then Jaana twisted and turned them into various animal shapes – she made a lion, and then a tiger, and then a bear, and then a moose, and then just about every other animal that you might imagine or may have seen on Noah’s Ark.

And yet the same thing kept happening over and over again. Each of their beautiful animal-balloons would soar up into the sky taking their breaths away – until a Balloon Popper would POP! each one with a grin. Jaana even twisted one of the balloons into the shape of a Balloon Popper but it also went POP! just like the rest of them. Nothing had gotten past the Balloon Poppers. After a while, Jaana was so frustrated that she wanted to cry.

After the three friends sat sadly for a while on the beach, Jaana decided she wanted to go home where she could make animals out of wood and clay and wax and stone and anything else which the Balloon Poppers wouldn’t be able to pop. But Piret asked her to please wait as she had a one more idea that she wanted to try.

What if they released a lot of balloons at once instead of letting them go one by one? Both Tiiu and Jaana liked Piret’s new idea. And so, Piret started thinking up new balloons of every single color, size, and shape. And then Tiiu blew them up while Jaana twisted them into different shapes without letting them go up into the sky. The Balloon Poppers buzzed overhead looking for their next balloon to pop.

Piret, Tiiu, and Jaana tried releasing three balloons at once. But this only ended with a POP! POP! POP! Next, they tried to release four and then five and then six and then seven balloons at once. Everything ended in the same chorus of POPs! as the angry Balloon Poppers flew over their heads. But Piret had noticed that a few of their balloons had managed to go up higher than ever before.

Encouraged by their success, the three girls started making their balloons faster and faster and releasing more and more of them at the same time. First eight, then nine, then ten, then eleven. Each time there was at least one balloon that went higher than any balloon had ever gone before. The Balloon Poppers were having to fly harder and harder just go keep up. And they weren’t grinning any more. It even looked like some of them were getting tired.

And then, Piret, Tiiu, and Jaana released a batch of twelve balloons into the air. They looked up into the sky and started counting each POP! First, they heard one POP! and then a second, and then a third, and then a fourth, a fifth, and a sixth POP! Then came the seventh, eight, ninth, tenth, and even eleventh POP! But they never heard a twelfth. When the three friends looked up carefully, they could see that one of their balloons – shaped like a pink piglet – was floating away just oh so very high in the sky. One of their balloons had finally made it past the Balloon Poppers and was climbing towards the clouds!

The little pink pig kept going up and up until it reached the top of the sky. It was so small then that they could barely even see it. But Piret, Tiiu, and Jaana laughed out loud with joy as they jumped up and down on the beach. They had finally done it! They had gotten a balloon past the Balloon Poppers! One of their balloons had gone higher than even the Balloon Poppers could fly!

And so, the three friends started releasing their balloons by the dozen. Here and there, one and sometimes two or maybe even three balloons would make it past the frantic Balloon Poppers. Their different multi-colored balloon animals would rise and rise until they joined the first pink piglet at the top of the sky. Up there near the clouds – far beyond the reach of any Balloon Popper, their balloons were safe at last.

By the time the three girls went home that evening, the top of the sky was filled with animal balloons of every imaginable color, size, and shape. After dinner, everyone on the island came out to look at the beautiful thing that Piret, Tiiu, and Jaana had made. And everyone marveled at their new creation.

Realizing that they had been defeated, the nasty swarm of Balloon Poppers flew back to their island of Pimesaar and were never heard from – or even seen – again. And that’s why from that day on, there has always been a brightly colored menagerie floating in the shimmering sky over the magical island of Nõiasaar.


Image: Three potentially balloon popping wasps made by an unknown Ukrainian craftsman.

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