Soft Come the Balloon Girl Dragons

A few years ago, I was introduced to this little publication by a friend who at the time worked with the publishers, a husband-wife team. I thought it looked cool, so I gave it a shot. I was impressed. Very impressed, actually.

Quick Fiction is a literary publication that features flash fiction tales—so dubbed “precious little fictions”—of 500 words or less. It’s published bi-annually in a non-traditional 6×6 paperback, about 50 pages long. And it’s quality stuff.

Being that it’s literary fiction, some stories don’t quite move me. They’re just kind of there, describing a moment in time that doesn’t seem to have anything to say beyond “Here I am, all shiny and pointless.” Then again, maybe I just don’t get it. Who knows. Probably the latter. The stories that work for me are usually of the more fantastical pedigree, magical realism, if you will. And being that each story is so short, I often find myself grabbing an issue off the shelf while I’m cooking, or watching TV…or, you know, flying to some exotic locale in Azeroth, hell-bent on kicking ass.

And so it was, yesterday, that I found myself reacquainted with Angela Jane Fountas and her brilliant story “Balloon Girl” from Quick Fiction 11.

The story is about a girl who lives happily inside a balloon, with red birds nesting on her head, and a selfish prince who wants to know what’s inside. She is summoned to the castle, but the young prince does not get the answer he is looking for. And then, many years later, he becomes King. He ruins the land, drains it of life, and all the starving birds flock to Balloon Girl’s head. The prince who had become king sends forth a message, with a promise to feed the birds, if Balloon Girl will come to him. And he fulfills that promise—at the expense of Balloon Girl’s happiness.

Now, that may sound like some fairy tale schlock, but it is quite profound, to be honest. A tale of the curse of one’s selfish desires over his need, no matter whose world it affects, or destroys. “Balloon Girl” is fantastic.

Yeah, more Dean Koontz.

A while back I picked up a copy of an old Ace Double, one of five Koontz contributed to in his early career, but the only one that features him back-to-back. It has Koontz’s first short story collection, Soft Come the Dragons and the short novel Dark of the Woods.

“Soft Come the Dragons” is the first story in this collection of eight tales; it was Dean’s first published story in the field of science fiction—published in Fantasy and Science Fiction, no less! The story is about the balance between myth and science, fantasy and reality. Without science, we do not advance; without fantasy, we’re soulless. We must embrace both. A great message, and a very good story if a bit predictable. The cover depicts the not-so-traditional dragons from the story.

One thing about Dean’s early work that amazes me, is how bright his potential shines. It’s almost blinding. I hope someday he’ll put these old tales into a new collection.

(And I originally wrote Dead Koontz above, so if Dean dies today…I’m really sorry.)

About K. Allen Wood

K. Allen Wood is the editor/publisher of Shock Totem. For more info, visit his website at
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