The sky was the dusty pink of a baby's fingernails; clean, quiet, yet vibrant. The ballooniers were preparing themselves for the Horizon Ball which was taking place on that very eve, 12/12/12. Some of the merry-makers wore pins to commemorate the late Ravi Shankar, who had passed only that afternoon. Ravi himself was loosely affiliated with the colorful band of balloning gypsies who filled the sky on important days. He would often play his sitar for them as they sipped tea on colorful rugs after a long battle. The gypsies referred to themselves as sky pirates and were fiercely competitive when they did battle, often times shooting down balloons high enough off the ground to seriously injure or kill their opponents. It was not a crime amongst them to do so, so long as all the rules of battle had been properly observed. They kept no official calender, rather they met each other at one of three meeting places when it 'felt right', hoping that the others would also have deemed the date significant and already be waiting there to do battle. This date, 12/12/12 seemed an obvious choice for a meeting, but it was by no means uncommon for a pirate to be wrong and wait all afternoon for naught. Today the pirates' guesses had been correct and all three of the battlefields were filled with balloon baskets and gear, cannons, large tents patterned in stripes and flowers and animals of all sorts, with the exception only of those cold weather beasts who would fare poorly in the Albuquerque heat.
The albatross, Jean-Phillip was taking a smoke break when his master approached him. She put a hand on his back and another on her hip. Letting out a sigh she spoke, 'You ready for today my respected companion?'
'Respectfully at your service' said the albatross with a heavily Frenched accent. And with a sly look to the woman, 'provided of course, you have zee baguette for me? Just zee crust! of coursssssssssssse... You know how I work on an empty stomach.' He looked up at her with birdie little eyes that could have passed for a puppy’s. The woman tapped at her bag a few times signaling that his dinner was at hand. She slipped down a pair of shiny green goggles from her forehead and began walking toward her basket. Jean-Phillip flapped up to her shoulder and they began to prepare their balloon.
Companion animals like Jean-Phillip were sometimes offered as payment from gypsies to other gypsies who had bested them in battle. There was some shame involved in offering up a companion animal payment, as they were more often than not a gypsy's closest companion. It was a clear giveaway that you were on your last few dimes and could not make payment in gold, silver or trinkets. The woman, Marie had inherited Jean when he was just 14. Now he was 52 and they had become very close friends, a feat that was not necessarily easy with an albatross such as Jean-Phillip. He was moody, required endless cigarette breaks and French bread crusts, complained at length about the heat of the desert and insisted on being shown the highest levels of respect at all times. Marie was easygoing and happy to oblige Jean-Phillip’s eccentricities. In return, he was fiercely loyal to her and they had won many battles together. He would scout out the balloons’ locations and defensive structures of their fire cages as Marie readied the water canons to shoot their fires out. It was much easier with a scout, although Marie had a deadly aim. Today the pirates would not be firing to shoot each other down and win trinkets, but rather to celebrate the coming of the new era.
Ladies wore nylon gowns and embroidered boots and the gentlemen wore vests adorned in porcupine quills, beads and leatherwork. Tonight they would all light up their balloons and dance them around one another, ushering in a new age. After the sun had long set, they would all land their balloons safely, dance and drink around blazing fires and learn to play the sitar; they would, after all need new players in the new era. And Jean-Phillip would of course have zee French baguette.