Story by
Cole Webber

“Honey, I’m home!” Phillip beamed boisterously and brought out the bouquet of roses clutched behind his back. Elouise’s electric smile lit up the front porch more than the dingy light did. “Oh sweetie!” She leapt into his arms. “I didn’t know we had made plans tonight?”

“We hadn’t,” Philip said gleefully, “But I wanted to surprise you.”

She closed the door behind her quickly and dabbled to the car on high heels. Its polished baby blue steel reflected the streetlights and warm summer singing leaves, “Before my dad comes around.” She kissed him in the front bench seat, and he rumbled the engine to life.

“Drive in?” She smiled at him knowingly after they had passed the main street strip with the customary burger joints and soda fountains. The Drive In was the only other thing left to do in this Podunk town. She bit her lip, knowing he was looking at the road but hoping he would see out of the corner of his eyes, for they both knew what the drive in really was for. “What’s on tonight?” They both knew it didn’t matter.

“It’s a drive in of a sort,” he giggled to himself, and, stealing a glance away from the road, smiled at her. His burgeoning beard was reflected in their lonesome car headlights. He turned to a structure she had not yet seen before — a large and long metal bridge jettisoning off of the highway like a great gleaming rocket.

Oh this is new, she thought with intrigue and a little bit of fear. Not too much happened in their small tribal town, and so how was this here — and new — without her knowing?

“All new!” He beamed, as if a television pitchman, “Stan in the army told me about. Top secret,” he pointed off of his nose and at her. She giggled and rolled her eyes, fanning herself lightly in her sundress that blew with the car’s air conditioning, and the rushing wind of motion that was all still too warm in the heat haze of a finishing summer day.

The cars rolled on the riveted metal greats. They were not lonesome anymore, but could see a few others drivers, dotting their headlights like a small and steady army of ants off to a picnic.

“Popular?” She said.

“What do you expect? It’s new! Not much else to do here.”

She smiled, and then winced slightly and crossed her legs. There might not be time — or private space — for that. Still, perhaps later. She unwrapped her speckled red and white handkerchief from her hair and let it blow off of her fingertips like a flag on the cramped bridge; it almost hit the side supports as it trailed in the air, now away from the the river. Their tires buzzed like bees in slow rumbles — a whole wasp hive — over the metal grates. They had been marching on for so long. How long was this bridge? How far away was it from…?

“Is this out of the border?” Eloise brought her handkerchief back to her bosom, instinctively, to clutch at it like a feather teddy bear.

“No, no,” Phillip dismissed, but could not tell a lie to his love: “Close, but, we’ll be safe. That’s the whole point.”

He smiled with such vibrant atomic warmth it calmed her like a fireplace even in the car cabin. And soon enough they had finally rolled off of the metal grates, through the thinning trees that demarcated the end of their erected bubble town. Their tires began kicking up dust and desert where the land was not watered and grass gave way to crude native desert. They were perched on a vast mountain, as if, almost, on the edge of the grand canyon, and below them sprawling rivers and the rest stretched for a long ways. Things must move — teemed, even — down there, but they were too small to be even ants. They were microscopic germs.

The rest of the cars — all red, white, and blue, and pastel yellow and coral — were rocking into their places amongst cut-down logs lined up to imitate a parking lot. There were a few military men, almost unmoving, dressed in green and standing like mere shrubs, directing things and watching over. It was much too busy — with much the wrong people — for a deep kiss. But she stole a peck anyway, darting him on the cheek, and once more on his soft lips as he drove into the spot, following the waving military man.

No screen. “What kind of a Drive In is this?” Eloise asked, her soft porcelain doll features forming a seductive pout. The desert winds rolled in, polishing her soft face and making her even hotter.

“Much more exciting.” Phillip reached across her lap, feeling the heat of her thighs and underneath, and unbuttoned the glove compartment. Their eyes lingered on each other. His long hand darted inwards and swiftly brought out two pairs of odd looking glasses. They had tinted lenses like they were meant for those awful and cheap 3D movies. But a screen still had not appeared. He passed one to her. “Put this on, tight.”

They fitted onto her head tight with an elastic, her eyes now bulging unrecognizably behind the domed visor like a fly. She straightened her puffy hair out and over the band, fixing her signature top curl. Phillip smiled at her.

He reached over to his other side, and brought out even more. It must’ve been stashed under his seat the whole time. Champagne, and plastic champagne glasses; he tapped them on the radio, hard, and they didn’t crack, instead letting out the customary plunk of tupperware.

She tried to force his hands down with all the contents, “Phillip! We’re not twenty one! They’ll see,” she was looking frantically, but still half giggling at the men walking around and standing, like little green toy soldiers.

“Nobody cares,” Phillip said, “It’s too big a night not to drink. The whole town is drinking, here or watching through on television at home.”

She darted her eyebrows up into a nest to ask a question without speaking.

“It is a big night, sweetie. Our town will be a whole lot better after this.” He leaned in and kissed her passionately. And just then the floodlights dimmed and the canyon became dark as the sky, the cars all dark and stalking and silent. The show was about to begin. A crackling voice dripped blurry to them over the radio.

“Everybody, goggles on. Ten, nine, eight…” She nestled her head under the crook of his shoulder, placing her hand sensuously in his lap. He leaned his arm over and his hand over still onto her breast. He braced himself, knowing what was coming, and held her tightly and stiffly for the shock, so she could simply enjoy the surprise. “Watch this,” he whispered, giving her nipple a light squeeze. “Seven, six, five, four…” A cool air took grip of the night, as if all the warmth and friendliness of the sky and the birds were gone. An electric ozone glitch parted the atmosphere, bringing the moment of dread any animal — including humans — must feel an instant before an earthquake. Eloise instinctively brought her toes up, clutching herself into a ball. She nestled more and more into his warmth. His body stiffened and stiffened. “Three, two, one…”

It was a moment of pure silence. The sky leapt to light. A wall of sun ripped at them ferociously. The trees behind them shuttered off their dust, and sprung backwards. The cars rumbled. Even at this distance, some of their hoods opened. Not his, not theirs; they could see the view fine. Even with the special glasses, Eloise was forced to shut her eyes hard. A sound like a tsunami filled their ears and all the air upwards in a wall from here to space. Finally the light was gone. The canyon was gone — made even deeper. All the life that must teem within, hostile, was gone. A towering tree of smoke and fire leapt up and up and up into the sky. Warm winds blew over their heads. The group erupted in clapping, laughter, applause, hoots and hollers. Phillip poured from the bottle to their glasses, the liquid still flying into the night sky in small spittles, the canyon still roaring, only slightly softer. He tried to whisper, but needed to near scream right into her ear. “To Manifest Destiny!” They toasted. She drunk the cool liquid, a reprieve from the glorious sunburnt sky, the blistering air and the sticky heat of the leather bench seat as even the dead cow sweated from the pressure. Down deep in the tribal territory, nothing glowed or moved but the slow smoke and fire, beaming straight up a thousand souls to the sky and to space. “A new river will be down there. Great for a pulp mill, fishing.” He explained to her. She sighed happily and warmly. Maybe he would wind up working there. Maybe they would own a small house, a cottage perched on the sea side. Was it big enough to be a sea? The crater was still smoky, and blurry with distance from this height and place. Only time could tell. He kissed her again, held her, stroked her breast as if he had careened her in his arms through their first front door, and was ravaging her on their new couch out of her freshly used and discarded wedding dress. “What a show…” She smiled, knowing all was good, all was okay, all was only more. This land now is your land. 

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