On the Fifth of July at a quarter ‘til six in the morning, my fiancee and I tossed the yoga mats in my Ford Ranger’s bed alongside the fishing poles. We stowed our backpacks and my laundry in the cab. My desk and ringing telephone would be waiting at eight o’clock in Emporia, about an hour away from her parents’ house in Wichita. Two grumbly K-cups and two adults-to-be rolled away in a twenty-year-old’s care.
Dad told me if I didn’t put anymore low octane gas in the tank, then she would quit “pinging.” I didn’t believe him until I followed his advice. He said that her rear could go at any time. He didn’t mean the truck’s girlish figure, but rather the suspension on the back wheels. Dad told me, when he first handed me the keys, that she would have to work really hard to go faster than 75 miles per hour. The guy who sold her left a nice stereo, but I don’t bother to pay for a subscription to satellite radio. I tuned to a local station, one relatively new to the Wichita airwaves, and then brought it to a quiet hum, while my co-pilot glanced at a map on her phone.
“You’re going to want to head toward El Dorado,” she said, “and follow the signs from there.”
We rode, boldly rode. We skimmed north of our childhood through a small town with a familiar name where we had never had reason to visit. Despite the claims of skeptics, the earth sits comfortably flat around Wichita, Kansas. As we approached the city of myth, I tipped my head, braised my tastebuds, and swallowed my coffee. The risen sun floated next to my rear view mirror. A corner of the sky turned gold like a lamp in a dark house or an unlocked chest with a glowing treasure.
Then I heard angry voices. I turned up the sound.
I’ll bet that only Steve Jocz’s mother loves Sum 41’s “Fat Lip” the way I do. The opening riff gripped me. I burned through the toll gate, ticket in hand, as the snares kicked in. The ultimate pump up song, from an era – for me – rife with Coca-Cola and Sour Straws.
The prairie sank. The truck left the ground. All around us, the cars began to climb. We dodged in and out of orange cones until everything around us dissolved into gray mist. The sun had disappeared in the labyrinth of clouds that surrounded us. Except for their tail lights, the cars in front of me disappeared.
Snare drum rim shots pierced through the aura like the trees that burst through the surface of the man-made lake below us. Switchfoot’s “Oh! Gravity.” sounds like controlled chaos. The vocalist, the guitarist and the drummer pound away like they can’t hear each other in the noise. Yet, they left space for each other to punch through into my ears until we got to the bridge, after which point it all became one mass.
Then, the tail lights faded out. The radio coughed out static. I turned the radio down. The speedometer began to drop, and our vessel with it.
“Don’t. You have to keep going or you’ll crash.”
She’s the real pilot, of course, and knows her physics better than me.
The static blared. I sped up, but I slipped a relic into the CD player. Tom DeLonge, UFO expert and former lead guitarist from blink-182, recorded an album once called Boxcar Racer. I rescued a copy from a Seven Nation Army thrift store and I try to keep it nice except for special occasions. In the echoing chords, the clouds became firm. Our top speed rose. We approached Warp, and with it, the sun.
The clouds turned golden – that’s how close we had got. Light filled the cockpit, and for mile and after eternal mile, she and I soared above the earth. We were not Icaruses because Ford pickup trucks aren’t made of wax and also, we still make the trip up there sometimes, in quiet moments.
We took the highway for our runway, near Emporia, just as we approached the toll gate. She and I paid our fare and the roller coaster dropped us off on a city street not far from my apartment.
“Was that real?” she asked. “Was I dreaming?”
I kissed her goodbye and left for the library where I worked, where the serial numbers of non-fiction books waited for me to preserve them forever in our computer system.
Aaron Heil lives in the Flint Hills of Kansas and spends most of his time in a basement underneath a university. He has contributed to Mad Scientist Journal, Memoir Mixtapes, Cold Creek Review, and others. He reviews science fiction books for The Game of Nerds.