When Saanvi and Shreya got down in the basement, Kala was already there, blowing up balloons.
“Happy birthday!” they yelled.
“Hi!” Kala jumped up and hugged them. “I missed you!”
Saanvi laughed. “We just saw you at school.”
“To be honest, I don’t remember much of it,” said Shreya. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”
Kala smiled. “I know that. I just love you guys.” She still had her arms around them. “I love you so much…”
Saanvi coughed. “Here’s your present.”
Kala opened her presents. Saanvi noticed that Kala had her hand on Shreya’s hand. Shreya was too busy eating Doritos to notice.
“What else did you get?” asked Shreya. “Did your mom and dad get you something big?”
“Yes! They got me this big helium tank.” She pointed to the corner of the room. “I’ve been playing with it all day.”
Saanvi frowned. “Just a helium tank? Didn’t you get anything else?”
“A crate of ten thousand balloons.”
“Don’t you think that’s kind of weird?”
“I just like balloons.” She picked one off the floor and served it like a volleyball right into Saanvi’s face. That started a balloon fight that lasted past midnight.
Dressed in their pajamas, they drank soda and watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The three of them sat on the couch. Kala had squeezed between them. Every once in a while her head rested on Saanvi’s shoulder. Saanvi gently nudged her off.
She always had a balloon in her hands, or under her shirt. Sometimes she stffed a few under her shirt, but by the end of the movie, the couch was covered in balloons.
“Hey you want to see a trick?” Kala filled a balloon with helium and took a deep breath. “It makes your voice funny! Oh no! I got my head shrunk again!”
Saanvi said, “My mom says you can die from that—“
“Let me try!” said Shreya. “I want to sing the 50 States Song!”
The two of them went back and forth, singing in squeaky voices. Even Saanvi sang after she saw that neither of them died.
“It feels cold going inside,” Saanvi giggled. Hearing her squeaky giggles only made her giggle more.
Shreya took a deep pull off her balloon. “You and me sing should sing something.”
They took deep breaths of helium and sang Shake It Off. Kala watched, hugging one of her balloons. Her eyes were wide just like a little girl’s. By the time Saanvi and Shreya finish the song, Kala hugged her balloon so tight that it burst. She jumped up and grabbed Saanvi. “That was great!”
“Kala, you’re hurting me!”
She kissed Saanvi on the lips.
“Gross!” She pushed Kala away. “Why’d you do that?”
Kala’s looked at the ground. “I…I don’t know.”
“Jeez,” said Shreya. “Why do you have to be so weird all the time?”
Kala didn’t say anything. When it was time to sleep, Kala crawled into her sleeping bag and faced the wall.
Saanvi changed into her pajamas and turned out the light. She crawled inside her sleeping bag, wondering, “What’s wrong with her?”
In the middle of the night Saanvi woke up. Shreya was next to her, snoring strangely. She heard someone moving around, and she felt something weird stuck inside her pajamas.
There was a squeak: someone turned the valve of the helium tank.
“Kala, what are you doing?”
Something felt wrong. Saanvi was stretching. Her belly was round and empty and getting even bigger. Her sleeping bag filled up fast. She tried to reach down and pull whatever-it-was out of her pants. Her belly was in the way. She kicked off her sleeping bag, but she couldn’t sit up anymore. Her hands couldn’t reach. Her thighs were getting so thick that she couldn’t kick again. Her body hissed, getting bigger and bigger.
“Kala! Shreya!” Saanvi sounded squeaky. She was filling up with helium.
“Kala, stop it! Stop it!”
“Shh, it’s alright. Just be quiet.”
“No, no! Stop it, now! Kala, stop—“
Kala slapped a piece of duct tape over her mouth. Saanvi tried to pull it off, but her arms couldn’t bend. They were like big tubes full of air, swelling tightly like balloons.
The hissing stopped. With one squeak the valve closed. The helium was off. Saanvi struggled, but she could only bounce like a basketball. The lights turned on and Kala grabbed Saanvi’s inflated shoulders.
Kala kissed her and squeezed her. This time Saanvi was too swollen and round to resist. Kala was only happy to take advantage. Squeezing Saanvi’s waist made her chest bulge. Kala sat on her chest, and Saanvi’s feet inflated like footballs. Saanvi’s pajamas had stretched tightly over her whole body. Her belly stuck out from under her shirt, rising like a little hill.
Kala pulled the tape off Saanvi’s mouth. “Isn’t this fun?”
“What did you do to me? I…I don’t want to be big!”
“No, no! It’s okay. I won’t hurt you.”
“Get me out of here. I want to go home!”
“No, please! Come on, let’s just have some fun. It’s my birthday, remember?”
“Shreya? Shreya! Kala’s going crazy! Help!”
“I already inflated her.” Kala rolled Saanvi on her side. Shreya was still in her sleeping bag, but she was as round and fat as a walrus. Her face was swollen with helium. The one arm that was sticking out of her sleeping bag was thick and stubby like a fire hydrant.
“Shreya, wake up!”
She just snored. Her snoring was high and squeaky from the helium.
“What?” Her eyes opened. “Why does my voice sound weird?” She saw Kala lying on top of the inflated Saanvi. Shreya closed her eyes. “I’m going back to sleep.”
Kala unzipped Shreya’s sleeping bag and out she bounced. She was twice the size of Saanvi. Her arms spread out like a starfish.
“I feel funny.”
Kala nodded. “I’m surprised that you slept through the whole thing.”
“Kala,” said Saanvi, “If you don’t stop, I’m going to call your mom.”
Kala turned on the gas again. Saanvi’s body stretched again, filling with helium.
“This is crazy!”
Kala opened the valve wider; Saanvi grew faster. Her belly was bigger than a yoga ball and her legs were thick as telephone poles. Her arms stiffened and she couldn’t even move her shoulders. Saanvi’s hands were the size of catchers’ mitts.
“I’ll stop! I’m sorry, I’ll stop.”
“I promise!” Her cheeks puffed up to the size of tennis balls. “Please…”
Slowly Kala closed the valve. Saanvi’s body creaked like a balloon. A button popped off of her pajamas.
Shreya yawned. “This is a weird dream.”
“This isn’t a dream,” screamed Saanvi before Kala put the tape back on her mouth. She pulled the hose out of Saanvi’s pants.
“That’s it,” she told Shreya. “It’s all a dream.”
“Good,” Shreya sighed. Kala rubbed her big, empty belly before flipping her onto her stomach. Shreya was much lighter thanks to all the helium inside her. She squeaked like a balloon as Kala stuffed the hose down her pants.
“It’s okay, I’m just a dream.” She squeezed Shreya’s round, tight butt. It was like two basketballs stuffed in her pants.
Shreya blinked her tired eyes. “Feels kind of good.”
Kala opened the valve again, then laid on top of Saanvi, whose limbs were bulging with helium. She hugged Saanvi like one of her balloons, watching Shreya slowly get bigger.
Shreya moaned, “I don’t think I like this dream.” The basketballs in her butt turned into beach balls. Her stomach was twice as big as those. She balanced on top of her belly like an elephant on a ball. Her arms and legs inflated until they were big cones sticking out of her torso. “I can’t move,” she moaned. “Can we stop so I can wake up?”
Her skin creaked. Her body hissed. Shreya’s hands and feet were ten times their normal size: so big and fat that they couldn’t move. Kala was so happy she cried.
She turned off the gas and kicked Shreya in the butt. She was so round and light that she bounced across the room. Kala jumped on her like a bouncy castle.
“Ugh! Please!” groaned Shreya. “No…more…bouncing! I’m stretching…too much!”
Kala threw Saanvi against Shreya’s round body. Saanvi was just a fat blow-up doll, hitting Shreya’s gut and bouncing on the floor. She tried to push the tape off with her tongue, but her lips were too swollen to let her tongue poke through.
Kala laid on top of Shreya, turning the helium back on and hugging her with her whole body.
“I don’t…want to be bigger.” Shreya’s face was sinking into her body. Her arms were gone. Her legs were gone. Her hands and feet sunk into her body. Now she was a sphere, big as the room, and getting bigger.
Kala sighed. Her back touched the ceiling and Shreya squished all around her. Saanvi watched Shreya’s cheeks set as big as melons. Her whole head was blowing up. Her face stretched across the side of her body, and the only thing that wasn’t round was the long, thick braid of hair that came out of the top of her head.
“I don’t…think…this is…a dream. Ugh,” she moaned. “Please wake up—“
Saanvi was thrown across the room. Kala fell onto the couch. The room was silent except for the hissing helium tank. Kala came to and closed the valve. Of Shreya there was no sign.
Saanvi struggled harder than ever. She had fallen so her arm was under her. Her big, clumsy hand was by her mouth. If she could bend her fingers enough…
Suddenly the basement door opened .
“Kala, my dear, is everything alright?”
Saanvi realized this her chance.
“Nothing’s wrong, Papa.”
“What was that noise?”
Saanvi pinched the tape and turned her head. Slowly it peeled away.
“Kala, what was that noise? Do you hear me?”
“The couch fell over. We…we picked it up to get something and we dropped it.”
“Is it broken?”
“It had better not be.”
Suddenly the tape came off. “Help! Help!” cried Saanvi. “She’s popping us! Mr. Shureshkumar, help!”
“Are you playing with balloons down there?”
“Yes,” said Kala. “We’re having lots of fun.”
Her dad laughed. “Alright, dear. Now, go to sleep. See you girls in the morning.” He closed the door.
Saanvi forgot that her voice was still squeaky.
Kala reattached the hose to Saanvi and she dragged a chest of drawers away from the wall. She put it right next to Saanvi, then turned on the gas.
“Stop it…stop it!” Saanvi felt the pressure building inside her.
Kala tipped over the dresser, grabbing it from behind and lowering it as gently as she could. Her skinny arms struggled to keep the dresser from toppling. She laid them right over Saanvi’s legs. It squished them flat.
Saanvi’s legs were like inner tubes. They didn’t hurt, but as they flattened all the air rushed into her torso. Her arms stuck out like a big letter “T”. Her cheeks were so big that she looked like she was squirreling away softballs for the winter.
The air was still gushing inside her, but Kala was not done. She pulled a bag out from behind the couch and pulled out a belt.
“Kala, I’m your friend!”
She grabbed Saanvi’s waist and squeezed it until the belt fit around it. Saanvi felt painfully thin when Kala cinched the belt just below her rib cage. Still, she wasn’t done. Kala pulled out a rope and wound it around it around Saanvi’s waist. The higher she wound it, the smaller the space for helium. Saanvi’s hands were round like volleyballs. Her head was as big as a tire. Her chest began to deform as the gas squeezed into every cavity she had.
Boomf! Out popped one breast. Boomf! Out popped the other. Kala had squeezed Saanvi’s waist to the width of a broomstick. The coiled rope stretched six feet and at the end was a pair of ballooning breasts. They were four feet across and bouncing against each other as they got bigger. Saanvi’s hands flopped about like whale flukes. Her eyes were as big as volleyballs. She had ears as big as fans and a nose like an elephant. She couldn’t speak because her lips were so big that they couldn’t open.
Kala had tied Saanvi’s waist just tight enough to squeeze the air out, but kept it loose enough for helium to flow through it. She turned the flow down low and buried herself between Saanvi’s squeaking breasts. “I love you.”
A small whine escaped from Saanvi’s lips. She was enveloping Kala, and Kala just hugged her tight. The gas kept flowing. The harder Kala hugged, the more Saanvi’s eyes grew. Her breasts squeaked and swelled, getting bigger than Kala, tightening Saanvi’s skin, stretching her thin until the tiniest bit of pressure made her—
Kala’s arms were empty. She was alone. Everything had gotten out of hand, and quite spectacularly. There was only one thing left to do.
She kept her hand on the valve, letting in a slow trickle when she wanted to savor her expansion, then turning it up to get a rush. She grew a huge belly, pacing herself to draw out the pleasure. Once her hands were the size of hotdogs, she opened the valve while she had just enough strength in her fingers. It was just enough to grow slow, but still feel the stretch of her skin.
Her arms quickly grew thick and stubby. Her belly was taut and full. Her butt was filling up her pajamas and peeking out over her waistband. Her fat, stiff hands roamed all over her growing body. She wanted to grab and pinch herself, but her fingers wouldn’t move. Soon, her elbows wouldn’t move. She stood like a kid wearing half a dozen snow suits. Her arms got fatter and shorter. Her pajamas were getting tight. The cloth creaked and her sleeves cut into her arms. The first tears appeared in her clothes, and by that time she was six feet tall.
“That’s it, be big.” Her legs gave out and she bounced on the floor. She couldn’t move anything now. She had no waist to bend, no elbows, wrists, or knees. Even her neck was disappearing, and her head was getting plump. She could barely see anything beneath her round body. She felt the carpet beneath her giant butt, and the air rushing into her body. She heard her pajamas tearing and her own squeaky gasps.
“Come on, baby. Come on…”
Suddenly, her skin wasn’t stretching anymore. She felt soft. Kala heard the tank hiss and felt the air gushing through the hose but she wasn’t rising anymore. She was sinking.
“No! No, no, no, please don’t do this!” Her belly was getting soft and the ceiling was drifting away. Suddenly she heard it: a second hiss. She turned her head but her neck was still too thick. Only out of the corner of her eyes could she see the leak in her shoulder. Helium hissed out faster than it was going in. She reached for the valve to turn it up, but her hand wasn’t getting smaller. It was just getting soft. She padded at the valve but all it did was sink into her deflating hand.
“Stop it!” She covered her shoulder, but the gas just squeaked out through the sides. Kala tried all she could, but her fingers were flat and limp. One of her fingers caught the hole and accidentally tore it wider. Her bottom was flat against the floor. Smaller and smaller, lower and lower: her limbs were flaps of skin. There wasn’t enough helium to keep her voice squeaky.
“Dad…help…” She could only talk slowly: a side-effect of her face losing shape. “…me… I’m…shrinking. Patch…me…” She was turning into a round pile of skin. She was little more than a mole-hill, struggling like a woman trying to keep her head above water.
The last of the helium eked out of her body
The tank was empty.
She lay among the shreds of her clothes, flat as a pancake. Everything was quiet.