“So, what’s the weirdest thing that you believe in?” Her hands were busy sawing through a thick cut of swordfish. After a few rough dates, she figured that she would lead with the question this time. “I’ve got a doozy, but I want to hear your story first.”
“Well.” He put down a forkload of farfalle. “Sometimes, you know… I guess I remember things from my childhood that couldn’t possibly have happened. It's made me wonder if this is actually the universe that I was born into.”
“I’ve had some moments like that,” she hadn’t swallowed yet. “The first time I watched Fight Club, I got weirded out that Meatloaf was in it. I clearly remembered Tom Brokaw declaring that he had died of a heart attack on an airplane several years back, but there he was in the credits.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of things like that.” He shrugged. “This was a little more personal, though.”
“Oh? Go on.”
“Well, I remember going to this indoor playground as a kid, where they had those huge mazes of colorful tunnels that you could crawl through. I remember how gigantic and endless they felt, and how easy they were to wiggle through back when I was that small. I must have been six or seven at the time. And I remember this older kid declaring himself king one day and throwing me into the ball pit.
“That’s where it gets weird. Those pits aren’t supposed to be more than a couple feet deep, right? But I started sinking. The orbs didn’t feel hard and plastic, but smooth and gelatinous. I remember screaming, but they muffled my voice, and I found that I could no longer breathe. The colors stopped being friendly and crayon-like, but murkier and darker, until something more like the bottom of the ocean. Only black and red were left. After about an hour, the orbs became inseparable from the abyss that surrounded them. They seemed to go on forever.
“Eventually I found my bearings. The lack of oxygen wasn’t killing me, and I stopped noticing it once this became clear. I was able to swim, but even if I swam upwards, I was still descending. The more I struggled, the faster I plummeted. There were more directions present in the ball pit than I could perceive, and I couldn’t figure out how to move through what I couldn’t see. I only knew that I needed to move ‘up,’ if only I could figure out what ‘up’ even meant.”
“After a few more hours, I came across this other kid. I wasn’t sure if it was an optical illusion, or if that was what he actually looked like, but he seemd to have hundreds of arms and legs, and at least three smiles. He saw that I was struggling and scared, and he swam towards me. He wasn’t scared like me. Somehow, in this place, he could laugh.
“He grabbed my hands, and started swaying them back and forth, and I felt them start moving in new directions. After a few seconds of doing this, he let go, and I repeated the process, again and again, afraid to stop. It looked like I had a thousand arms then, too. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I kept doing it, and I started to ascend. He said something to me then: ‘we’re all sinking, no matter where we’re going, and that’s okay.’ Then he darted downward into the murk like a squid.
“After what felt like an entire day, I reached the surface again. I gasped for air, and every inch of me was aching. I screamed and my parents pulled me out, sobbing, angrily asking why I had been hiding from them down there all this time. I didn’t know what to tell them, so I repeated what that boy had told me over and over again. ‘We’re all sinking, no matter where we’re going, and that’s okay.’ They didn’t say another word after that. They were visibly shaken, but didn’t seem to know how to handle what they had just experienced. I don’t think that I would know what to do, either.
“Life went on after that like nothing happened at all. Last year, at Christmas, I asked them if they remembered that time I went missing in the ball pit. They had no idea what I was talking about. Now I’m not sure if I do, either.”
“Did you ever see that kid again?” She asked.
“Yeah, actually." He paused. "He ended up going to my high school, and went on to become prom king. He only had one face then, and a single pair of limbs, but I knew it was him. I could never bring myself to talk to him, though. Seeing him there, as part of my everyday life... that’s probably the part that scared me the most. I could never be certain that I made it back to the surface at all, or if I just went sideways. All I know is that I'm still somehow sinking, and that's supposed to be okay.”