The perspective is third person like television show or how you imagine the narrator’s eyes in such novels. It’s the tale of a small group of boys in a Faulknerian but alternative-history South, early twentieth century. A little bit steampunk, a little bit magical realism. The boys are fascinated by tales of some one-man traveling carnival that’s passing through their town. They hear about magic tricks and fantastic beasts and feats of strength. When they find him and his cart on the outskirts of town, it turns out to be little more than one cruel old bastard with a self-styled freakshow — he’s subdued, captured, and drugged a pair of escaped slaves with disfiguring mutations and now he parades them around the towns in the county, hocking ganders for two bits.
The boys have mixed reactions but the youngest cannot help himself. He’s overwhelmed by his curiosity for a closer look. And besides, there’s this huge hot air-filled balloon in the middle of the wagon. He crawls around behind, climbs inside the balloon, and cuts it loose. The balloon sends him up into the air — the cruel carnival master below shrieking futile threats and insults. Hundreds of feet up, the boy goes on and on, hanging on for his life and trying to figure out how he might get himself down. Eventually, he figures out how to let some of the air from the balloon, slowing his ascent and then even dropping somewhat.
By now he’s miles from home and the balloon has lost altitude sending him into the trees. The balloon snags on one of the branches and all of the air goes rushing out. He grips the canvas as tightly as he can, even as it rips from his grip. He clutches and branches and anything else he can get his fingers on, trying to slow his hundreds-of-feet fall enough not to be terminal.