The Heartbreaking Heavy-Metal Ballad of Balloon Boy

In 2009, 6-year-old Falcon Heene became known to the world as "Balloon Boy" and made his family instantly famous—then infamous—for a flight that never was. Now 11, he is the frontman of the Heene Boyz, a.k.a. the world's youngest metal band, literally singing for his and his family's supper as they desperately seek a 16th minute of fame.

Page 2: Top photographs, clockwise from top left: courtesy of Newscom (2); AP; Getty Images.

"Welcome to the crossroads of time and space-ace!" 11-year-old Falcon Heene screams at an unnervingly high pitch over and over into the sprawling living room of a ranch house in western Florida. Barefoot and in all black on a balmy early-April day, his rope of black hair reaching his waist and his head dwarfed by earphones, Falcon clenches his body and shuts his eyes to hit the notes. He looks increasingly spent after each take, but his father, Richard, keeps wanting "more attack."

"'WEL-come to the CROSS-roads,'" Richard says, demonstrating the proper emphasis. "More energy! You need more Coke?" He proffers the can Falcon's been sipping from.

A morning spent recording "Time and Space," a track off the Heene Boyz' third self-produced heavy-metal album, has stretched into early afternoon in this makeshift studio. Bradford, the 14-year-old guitarist, and Ryo, the 13-year-old drummer, wait on the couch, which has been pushed back to the kitchen island to make space. Industrial cables crisscross the floor, and guitars, mics, amps, drums, and a 16-track mixing deck line the walls. A roll of linoleum covered in duct tape blacks out the picture window. "That was our green screen for videos," Richard explains, "until all that stuff broke."

These days, money is tight for the family, who live largely off Heene Boyz earnings, and a lot of things here are out of commission or gimcrack: their Yamaha keyboard. The dampers for the drum kit. The 16-track (so the boys have to record their parts separately). And, as the afternoon wears on, Falcon's voice: The lead vocalist and bassist, he's intense and passionate, barely recognizable as Balloon Boy, whose brief disappearance at age 6 made the Heenes America's most famous family. He keeps giving it his all, hoping each take will be the last, so he can get outside to his new pet, a rabbit foundling.

Page 2: Top photographs, clockwise from top left: courtesy of Newscom (2); AP; Getty Images.

"You're growling, Falc," Bradford says. "Use your inhaler." The sweet, uncannily adult Bradford knows his baby brother's asthma makes his voice raspy, but Falcon conserves the medicine. "Our health insurance only covers his inhaler for 15 days a month," Richard later explains.

"He sounds like ass," says Ryo, who wants Falcon to "finally friggin' nail it" so he can go light fireworks outside before they have to spend the afternoon rehearsing. "Enough!" Richard says. He has to say it only once.

"Falcon's hitting the 'COME' hard—it's 'wel-COME,'" their mother, Mayumi, says from her ad hoc recording-engineer station. A former video editor, the 50-year-old, raised two hours north of Tokyo, is now the band's roadie, assistant manager, and sound mixer. She points to the readout on her computer's Soundtrack Pro software. "Perfect pitch, though!"

Two hours and a dozen takes later, I've begun to acclimate to the very odd crossroads here in Spring Hill, 40 miles north of Tampa. It's not of time and space, though it's hard to say what it is. The WORLD'S YOUNGEST METAL BAND, as the logo on Ryo's bass drum proclaims, seem like surreal anime art as the boys rehearse: clad head-to-toe in black, whipping their long dark-brown hair in unison—all the kids to varying degrees get their looks from their Japanese mother.

Especially Falcon. At four feet three and 64 pounds, he's an otherworldly and harrowed-looking child. His harrowed affect is most pronounced when he sings "Chasing Tornadoes," the second number of tomorrow's gig across the state in DeLand. These kids can rock and are especially tight after three years of doing this song at bars and street fairs from Florida to New York. It starts as a slow power-chord drone, accompanied by Falcon's raised fists, blank-eyed stare, and dramatic rendition of the opening lines that's more Kabuki than metal:

*Chasing tornadoes tomorrow

In the field of pain and sorrow . . .

If it doesn't bleed, it will not read . . .

Milk the event, sleep in a tent*

"I love that line," Richard says, beaming. A 52-year-old with boundless energy, opinions, and theories, he is prone to alarmingly sudden mood swings, which can make him hard to keep up with. He wears pastel cargo shorts, a tank top, and flip-flops and has his hair in a ponytail—a look the lifelong mad scientist, self-confessed rage-aholic, and storm chaser will stick with all weekend. For a time, Richard was known as the Worst Dad in America, but he still doesn't know why. "I've always included my sons in everything I do. Heck, they even grew up sleeping in their clothes," he says, ready to chase a storm at a moment's notice. "This one storm on the Montana-Wyoming border—we were chasing it for 27 miles when this power pole, maybe 100, 150 feet behind us, just, like, vaporized."

Richard repeatedly makes it clear that the Heene Boyz write and arrange their own songs and are their own entity. Yet the Heene Boyz often seem like Richard's latest science project.

Photos and studies of tornadoes and blueprints and prototypes of his many inventions occupy much of the space in the house not devoted to the band. The sunroom is piled four feet deep with samples of his many million-dollar schemes: a device to shake the last drops of ketchup out of bottles; Bear Scratch, a three-foot-long post finished in tree bark, sold online for $19.99, that enables one to scratch one's own back; a tool kit for laying floor tile that cuts the work in half; the HEENEDUTY Truck TransFormer, a portable robot that extends, retracts, or converts into a toolbox, loading dock, scaffolding, dolly, etc.; and lots and lots of rockets. They were designed to be fitted with sensors and shot up into the eyes of storm systems to document what Richard calls their "H" factor, the "H" for Heene. "Swirling storms," he explains, "create the 'H' factor, an electromagnetic field stronger than the earth's local gravitational pull." Divining that field's strength, enabling mankind to predict a storm's force and movement, has been Richard's great quest.

"He's a self-taught, autodidact genius," says Steven C. Barber, a documentarian who has filmed the Heenes on and off for a decade. "He didn't study past high school, and still he invents something new every other month. Someday one of his schemes is going to make millions, though that check will probably arrive the day he dies of exhaustion. The guy's a human tornado."

Particularly when the media is involved. The real crossroads here, I begin to suspect, is the point where the 16th minute of fame becomes monetizable—that strange junction of notoriety and public humiliation in which families who have far less intelligence, talent, and charisma than the Heenes become reality-TV millionaires. "I've tried to sell this family to reality TV," Barber says. "And I'm talking A-list, Ryan Seacrest people. Richard's a lovely man who really loves his family. The problem is that everybody fucking hates him."

While housewives and people with duck calls and bad manners become rich, the Heenes have remained the struggling subjects of "Where Are They Now?" segments for the four and a half years since they became America's most famous family.

For four and a half hours.

Page 2: Top photographs, clockwise from top left: courtesy of Newscom (2); AP; Getty Images.

KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL: Mayumi, Bradford, and Ryo wait for Richard to finish serving their spaghetti while baby brother Falcon starts on dinner. It's a simple affair at the Heene household, where money is tight—the family largely subsists on the band's earnings, which consist mostly of tips collected at "pay-to-play" festivals.

• • •

Page 2: Top photographs, clockwise from top left: courtesy of Newscom (2); AP; Getty Images.

CRASH AND BURN: Clockwise, from top left: The Heenes at home in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 2009, with Richard's foil flying saucer—a.k.a. the balloon—which he designed to be a floating commuter vehicle; networks cut away from scheduled programming to air nonstop coverage of the saucer's two-and-a-half-hour flight and fall to earth; Mayumi and Richard address the media swarm with Falcon after he emerges from his hiding place in the garage attic; Richard and Mayumi leaving their sentencing hearing—the legal repercussions for the hoax included jail sentences for both parents, probation, and a $36,000 fine.

At 11:22 A.M. on October 15, 2009, Mayumi put in a frantic 911 call, approximately 20 minutes after Richard's 20-foot helium-filled flying saucer broke free of its moorings in the family's back yard in Fort Collins, Colorado. A typical Richard Heene invention—a drop cloth framed by pine sticks and covered in aluminum foil reinforced with duct tape—the saucer was designed to be a "low-altitude vehicle," enabling commuters to soar 50 feet above traffic. "It was only supposed to rise the 10 feet of rope securing it for a first test," Richard tells me, "but, obviously, it got away."

Far away—in the 20 minutes between becoming untethered and Mayumi's 911 call, the craft had vanished, eventually rising as high as 7,000 feet and flying some 70 miles. Six-year-old Falcon, nowhere to be found, was presumed to be stuck inside.

Thus began the Balloon Boy Hoax, a nationwide rubberneck of an accident that never happened. Once a TV-news helicopter got sight of the runaway craft, cable-news and national networks rarely broke from the freaky footage of what looked like a 20-foot-wide Jiffy Pop bag moving swiftly above the mountain prairie northeast of Denver International Airport, where flights were delayed or rerouted. The National Guard and search-and-rescue teams were called in. The saucer finally ran out of helium after two and a half hours aloft, landing softly in a patch of farmland as a CNN broadcaster told viewers, "If you are predisposed to do so and you want to say a little prayer, you might as well do so now." By then, the heart-wrenching tale of Balloon Boy, the day's No. 1 Google hit, had doubled Nielsen ratings and networks were no longer breaking, even for commercials. When the craft was found to be empty, authorities prepared to marshal search crews to comb the 70-mile flight path.

Then, a little before 4 P.M., little Falcon emerged from his hiding place in the garage's attic.

The media army that had assembled outside the Heene house was informed—first by Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden, then by the family. "I yelled at him," Richard said weepily as he held a shaken-looking Falcon, who said he'd been frightened by his father's shouting when the balloon broke loose. "I'm really sorry I yelled at him."

The family appeared on Larry King Live that night. Asked by Wolf Blitzer, hosting in King's place, why he'd hidden so long, Falcon, sitting beside his dad, said: "You guys said, um, that we did this for the show." The next morning, when Falcon was asked to clarify his meaning on Good Morning America, he said, "Mom, I feel like I'm going to vomit," then was heard gagging offscreen. When Meredith Vieira put the same question to Richard on the Today show, Falcon vomited again—this time on national TV.

Sheriff Alderden announced it had been a publicity stunt to generate interest in a reality show. The Heenes had appeared twice on Wife Swap, and Richard was pitching his own series, Psyience Detectives. Footage of his rages on Wife Swap now flooded the airwaves, as did a homemade video of his tirade at Mayumi after the balloon escaped.

Overnight, the Heenes became the object of late-night-talk-show jokes, parody, scorn, memes, and Halloween costumes. Richard was even immortalized as an action figure wearing an i'm with stupid T-shirt with the arrow pointing up at the figure's head. And there was the criminal investigation. Two months later, Richard was sentenced to 90 days in jail for attempting to influence a public servant—the first calls after the saucer escaped had been to the FAA and a local TV station. Mayumi got 20 days for filing a false report—she admitted the hoax after failing a lie-detector test. Ordered to pay $36,000 for the search-and-rescue costs, the family left Colorado under police escort.

The Heenes were priced out of moving to their desired destination: Southern California. Richard and Mayumi had met in a Hollywood acting school, and Richard had undertaken experiments in the state: one spreading boric acid across fields in the Grapevine, north of Los Angeles, to alter the land's pH balance and "influence local storm systems"; another involving the "sailing stones" of Racetrack Playa that mysteriously slide across the desert midway between Edwards Air Force Base and Nevada's Area 51. In addition to storms, the Heenes chase aliens, whom both parents claim to be descended from.

The Heenes discussed relocating to Arizona and Utah with their parole officers. "And then we fell in love with this house when we saw the rental listing online," Richard says as we step into the Florida sunshine. "Not a lot of storm chasing here, but we still do a fair amount of alien hunting."

The house is surrounded by wildflowers and loquat trees and is set back discreetly on a full acre. "There was a small army of photographers outside when we first got here in 2010," Richard says. "It was like we couldn't get away from that dumb day."

Richard and Mayumi decided to homeschool the kids, who soon formed a rock band (they'd dabbled in rap while living in Colorado). The idea to play heavy metal came from Mayumi. "I saw her doing 'Breaking the Law,' the Judas Priest song, when she was filming Wife Swap," Bradford says.

Two magnolias draped in Spanish moss flank the driveway, where a six-foot-long wagon will soon be packed for the drive to DeLandapalooza, one of the "pay-to-play" festivals favored by small Florida cities.

"The bands pay $35 to play," Richard explains. "But we're so popular, they only charge us $25." That can often make the difference. Prohibited from profiting off the Balloon Boy Hoax, Richard put the craft up for auction in 2011, its projected million-dollar proceeds to go to the Japanese-tsunami victims. They extended bidding a week, then dropped the asking price to $100,000; eventually the balloon went to a sports-card shop in Aurora, Colorado, for $2,502.

Richard has picked up odd jobs in their four years in Florida. Other than that, he says, "me and Mayumi now devote ourselves 100 percent to the Heene Boyz." They sell merchandise and CDs at shows, and though Richard cites a few bars that pay $200 a night, the bulk of their income is from tips. "We cleared over $1,100 New Year's Eve at Daytona Beach last month, and $700 of that was tips."

"And we had Chinese food!" Bradford adds. The family's normal on-tour fare had been "dollar burgers and burritos," Richard tells me, "until one night, like, three in the morning and we hadn't eaten. Stopped at a 7-11, and lo and behold, they had a great pizza pie for $5.55!" Concert nights tend to go long, with the last few dollars and, often, leads for the next gig coming from intoxicated patrons and proprietors.

Page 2: Top photographs, clockwise from top left: courtesy of Newscom (2); AP; Getty Images.

IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER: Richard and Falcon, the Heene Boyz' lead singer, in the recording studio they've set up in the family's Spring Hill, Florida, home. Richard, a mad scientist and an inventor, says he and his wife, Mayumi, "now devote ourselves 100 percent" to their sons' heavy-metal career.

Outside the family home, the remains of birdhouses cling to each magnolia. One drew a red owl last year, but the eggs were destroyed by one of the boys' friends. This friend, whom I'll never meet, is the target of constant blame, ridicule, and unanswered texts. Because of their home-schooling, the kids have little interaction beyond the family and, after four years in Spring Hill, can count their friends on one hand. "That's the reason they're so friggin' creative," Richard says. "No school junk cluttering their heads. I'm a creative guy, obviously, but nothing like them."

The fallen remains of the second birdhouse have become a lean-to for the tiniest bunny I've ever seen. Its "bedding" is a piece of white bread, "so if he wakes up at night, he can eat it if he's hungry," Falcon explains. "Wouldn't it be cool if our beds were bread?" he asks Ryo. In the brothers' bedroom, off the kitchen, are three mattresses jammed side by side. "No need for sheets," Bradford explains. "We've slept in clothes our whole lives." They never knew when they'd be awoken to chase a storm.

"Those chases are why the boys are so fearless and where I first saw Falcon's musical genius," Richard explains. "We're chasing near a town called Last Chance, Colorado, and he's looking out the window, singing. Three years old, so it's gibberish, but, man, he could hit some high notes."

I ask how he came to name his youngest son Falcon. "When he was born," he explains, "his first cry was loud and shrill, like a falcon's."

"I was born dead," Bradford brags.

"Man, that's the angriest I ever got. Like, throwing-people-into-walls angry," Richard says. "They'd shot Mayumi full of Demerol." Richard explains that his rages are really reactions to insulin shock from his type 1 diabetes. "I didn't even realize that until I was in my thirties."

As he frequently does, Falcon has drifted unseen from the conversation. He's with the bunny. "If it's a boy, I'll call him Ninja," he says. "If it's a girl, it'll be Sushi."

"He's obsessed with this rabbit," Richard says with a laugh. "We've gotta kill this friggin' bunny." Getting no reaction, he taunts Falcon about killing the rabbit until Ryo joins in, at which time Richard sternly tells him, "Enough."

• • •

When I return the next morning, both the lean-to and the bunny are nowhere to be seen, and the Heenes are all loading the family's Toyota Tundra and trailer for DeLandapalooza. Except Falcon. He was running a 101-degree fever last night and is still in the shower.

"Where did that rabbit go?" he asks half an hour later as he struggles to put on his socks. He's such an unusual, preternaturally poised kid, it's easy to forget how young he is.

"I think he's okay," I tell him. "He's a strong little bunny."

"His mom came back last night," Falcon decides. "He told her, 'Hey, these humans are feeding us friggin' food.' He'll be back."

The truck's GPS is busted, and Richard has rigged a brace for a laptop between the front seats to navigate to DeLand, 103 miles northeast. "If we break down," he explains, "I don't wanna be stuck on some back road."

I take his point. Every third or fourth block seems to be marked by a family memory of a breakdown. Richard's brow darkens at the last intersection in town. "I had to check in there once a month for probation," he says, nodding toward a mini mall. Richard is still paying off the $36,000 for the Balloon Boy Hoax and still fuming about the four years of probation and 100 hours of community service he's finally completed and having to take a drug test back in Colorado. "You know they charge $10 each time you take a piss test? Turns out, a guy involved in that probation owns that lab. I'm the one running the hoax?"

Richard really dislikes hearing the words hoax and balloon—or any term that relegates his flying saucer to amateur status. "It generated a million volts on its outer skin," he says. "The foil was cut to create a path of least resistance for the vehicle. See, it's all about electromagnetics."

Falcon chimes in from the backseat. What he's saying is unintelligible, however. He's suffering the day's first asthma attack, and his little face is engulfed in the mask of a vaporizer powered by the cigarette lighter. He takes it off to repeat: "How much did that balloon cost?"

Richard glowers at Falcon in the rearview mirror. He really doesn't like the word balloon. "Seven hundred bucks," he says. "Five hundred for the helium." Richard insists the family's fame derives from Wife Swap and not from the hoax and also insists he will not talk about that day. But the $500 worth of lost helium gets him going: "After years of getting stuck in traffic in L.A., I realized, Why not use the clouds' electromagnetic fields to power a commuter vehicle? So I took apart a stun gun, rigged its charge to step it to a million volts with a kitchen egg timer going off every five minutes. When that charge shoots out"—he jabs a fist in my direction—"this way, what's the vehicle going to do?" I confess that I don't know.

"It's going to go the other way! Path of least resistance!"

"But if the wind picks up and takes you the wrong way?" I ask.

"I was going to get all that taken care of. That day was just a test. It was tethered to a base of one-by-twos, and she"—Richard nods toward Mayumi, who's squeezed into the Tundra's way-back—"swears she made real knots. But I'm sure they were, like, shoelace knots."

"Why didn't you call 911 right away?" I ask. "Why the local news?"

"The local news was Mayumi. Her first language being Japanese, when I said we had to 'get choppers up,' she thought I meant the local news helicopter. She's why we took the plea, too, so she wouldn't get deported."

"Aren't you married?"

"Yeah, 17 years, but Mayumi's still green-card." He'll later confide that the reason for that is the $680 application fee for citizenship.

This is how things work with the Heenes, which is why it's possible to believe parts of their implausible Balloon Boy narrative. However unlikely it seems, many people intimate with the family lean that way. One Fort Collins neighbor said he saw Bradford and Ryo on the Heenes' roof staring at the sky, wondering if Falcon was aboard. By every account, Bradford was the first to suggest that his brother had taken flight.

"That whole thing was really just one of Richard's insulin shocks run amok," Barber says. "I was with him two days into it, and he was still reeling from the circus it had become. A lot of that was the media itself: revenge on this reality-TV wannabe who'd made a fool of them."

"The balloon incident happened a few months after our Wife Swap episode," recalls Sheree Silver, the second wife the Heenes swapped with. "The producers don't let you talk to the press afterward, so I was wondering if Richard had gotten desperate and this was all a hoax. Thing is, one of my chores when I lived with the Heenes was cleaning out that flying saucer, and Falcon was always playing in it, hiding in it. He was always hiding. Can you imagine growing up around Richard's energy?"

When I ask Mayumi why she confessed to the hoax, Richard answers for her, smiling. "Can you believe that? When she got home and looked in a dictionary, it was only then she realized hoax didn't mean spectacle."

"Why did Falcon say you did it 'for the show'?" I ask. "That's when it all became a hoax."

"Exactly! That was some Japanese TV crew," Richard says. "They pointed this big camera at him, to show how he got up in the attic. That's what he meant by show. Can you believe it?"

• • •

Page 2: Top photographs, clockwise from top left: courtesy of Newscom (2); AP; Getty Images.

CHILD'S PLAY: Falcon, Ryo, and Bradford—together a combined 38 years old—make up the World's Youngest Metal Band, as the Heene Boyz call themselves. The brothers got turned on to heavy metal after hearing their mother belt out Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law" while filming an episode of Wife Swap.

When we arrive in DeLand, Richard backs the tundra and trailer into a parking lot and the boys start changing for the first part of today's work: Handing out flyers to the crowd gathering in the three square blocks that've been roped off for DeLandapalooza. One of Florida's bigger pay-to-play festivals, it consists of 150 bands performing over the course of 12 hours on 27 stages.

The Heene Boyz have the 6:10 P.M. slot on 15, in the parking lot of Issues, the most hard-core of downtown DeLand's redneck bars. Then they have a 9:30 set inside the bar as well.

Thanks to mad-scientist navigation, it's taken us four hours to get here, and the boys have less than an hour to hand out flyers before they have to get ready to play. They're slow getting started. "What the hell's going on?" Richard demands.

Ryo is refusing to put on his black leather vest. "It's friggin' blazin' hot," he says.

"You're gonna pay," Richard says. "No ice cream for a month, Ryo. You tell me: If you pay to see clowns and they show up in regular clothes, what're you going to think?"

Richard's temper, which he's been careful to keep under control, is starting to rise. "Better check my insulin," he says, ducking into the truck. When he emerges, he tells me about passing out in a Burger King bathroom. "That's when I learned that insulin shock caused all these rages. That's also when I realized my real parents were aliens. I went into a grand mal seizure on the floor and saw them."

I follow the boys into the crowd, a significant percentage of whom are already inebriated. Few of the people I ask have any inkling Falcon was Balloon Boy. Several have seen the Heene Boyz before, though. "Man, I saw you kids in Gainesville," says a profusely sweating man with a red mullet and a Black Flag T-shirt. "Kick-ass motherfucking show!"

As they hand out flyers, it's impossible not to notice the pull Falcon has on the more attractive women, whom he homes in on with unerring instinct. Bradford and Ryo hover a few paces back, until the swooning over Falcon reaches a pitch they've come to recognize. "If he can get them asking him to sign boobies, we can sign too!" Bradford tells me.

"Or motorboat 'em!" Ryo adds, shaking his head to imitate the motion.

"Usually don't get to see their nipples," Falcon says. "Only if it's really late and they're drunk enough."

I ask the boys what the goals for the band are.

"Stay in a hotel that has a swimming pool!" Bradford says.

"Crowd-surf?" says Falcon absently, having spotted a Brazilian woman in a pink tank top and a black skirt. She'll remain Falcon's groupie throughout the night, stroking his face, braiding his hair, and, after the second gig, draping a silver necklace around his neck. "You made my fucking night!" she'll say, blushing bright red after he plants a kiss on her lips.

"It never fails," Richard says, beaming, as he catches up before the first show. "Kid's a friggin' rock star. Gets the prettiest girl, the boys follow her, then the other girls follow the boys."

By the time Falcon screams out the opening "WEL-come to the CROSS-roads of time and space!" the crowd at stage 15 has swelled to more than 200. Halfway through the set, Falcon descends the stage to rock out among them—bumping fists and exchanging devil horns, then exhorting a metalhead in his mid-fifties with a cane, a purple mohawk, an alcoholics unanimous T-shirt, and an NJoy e-cigarette to "Rise!" He does, slowly on his cane, then joins Falcon's headbanging.

It's difficult to know how to react to this "show." Call child-protective services? Or call Atlantic Records? Clearly, however, the boys seem to love it. What tweens wouldn't want to stay up till all hours, sleep in their clothes, spend days setting off fireworks, rocking out, and signing breasts?

When the second show gets delayed until 11, prudence—and Falcon's rising temperature—would seem to dictate heading home. It's never a thought: Richard's compulsion to work the crowd and the boys is unending. By the time their show inside the bar finally starts, 13 hours after they set out, the bartender is cleaning vomit out of the men's room adjoining the stage and the band's equipment is breaking down—Richard spends the show onstage, rewiring. Falcon's asthma has become severe. Between verses, he turns his back to the audience to inhale his medicine. After a very long drum solo from Ryo—needed when a string breaks on Bradford's guitar—Falcon starts his bass solo, slapping notes with the inhaler. The crowd—down to a few dozen headbangers—loves that. "I don't even know what song this is anymore!" Falcon screams. "Can you say, 'Ay, Ay, Ay'?!"

An hour later, Bradford, Ryo, and Mayumi are loading the trailer while Richard works a drunken man who says he can get the band into a festival the following week. I ask where Falcon is, and Bradford nods toward the Tundra. I find him in the driver's seat, his face enveloped by the vaporizer, blasting the radio and puzzling out a bass part with his little fingers. "The AC in here helps," Falcon says, removing the mask. "You think the bunny is back?"

"Maybe tomorrow," I say. It feels a bit cruel interviewing an 11-year-old on a vaporizer, but something about Falcon's mien in the driver's seat encourages me. Between chasing storms and touring, he's spent a significant portion of his life in this vehicle, and he seems at home here in his chosen hiding place. I ask, "Falcon, what was it like up in that attic?"

"I kept hearing rats. There weren't any," he says, correcting himself, "but I was up there so long, I guess I just imagined them."

"How long were you up there?"

"Forever? Seemed like forever. I was really hungry."

"Did you hide because your dad was screaming when the balloon escaped?"

He nods. "It was so big and cool-looking. I crawled into it that morning."

"Did you hear them calling your name?"

"Bunch of times."

"Why didn't you come down?"

Falcon gets quiet and looks at me with a strange expression—I can't tell whether it's guilt or confusion or something else. And when he speaks, I'm not sure if it's a revelation of his emotional damage or simply an 11-year-old boy remembering what he's supposed to say.

"I was really scared."

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