Aaron was losing his mind.
It was the only explanation for what was happening inside of him. He should had been ecstatic, or at the very least apprehensive for what he was about to do. But he felt none of those things. In fact, he didn’t feel much of anything. He stared lethargically into nothingness with no care of his surroundings. A prisoner trapped inside his own body, now an empty canvas voided of thought and feeling.
The only thing that shook him out of apathy was a soothing, familiar voice. “Beautiful day, huh?” Sarah said.
The smell of seaweed filled Aaron’s nostrils as he took a breath in. The strange sensation had dissipated, releasing him from his mental jail cell. He was starting to feel like his old self again. “It sure is.” Aaron finally said in his southern drawl.
He couldn’t help but be troubled by what he had just experienced. It was like he was casted by an evil spell that had full reign over him. Aaron decided to brush it off. Whatever it was, he wasn’t about to let it spoil his day. Aaron gazed at the ocean waves crashing against the shoreline. Afternoon sun light glinted off the ocean’s surface. A twenty-foot sailboat was anchored offshore, its fiberglass hull riding the coming tides. The sandy shores of Fort Tilden were deserted except for a flock of seagulls nearby. Fort Tilden Beach was one of Queen’s best-kept secrets. It was for that reason Aaron picked this spot for a low-key yet romantic picnic to commemorate their eight-year anniversary.
Eight years. He couldn’t believe how much time had passed since that fateful night they first met. Aaron and Sarah sat on a white blanket, facing the beachfront. Behind them was an opened picnic basket he prepared himself, with a little input from his best friend and self-proclaimed ‘love guru’ Jason. Their unfinished plates of crab salad and bite-sized strawberries were spread throughout the blanket along with a half drunken bottle of champagne chilled in an ice bucket. Aaron couldn’t have planned this day any better.
He turned to Sarah. She sighed, watching the restless sea. One of the lace straps of her silk, yellow dress slid off her smooth, tanned shoulders. Her long, straight brunette hair would lift up whenever a breeze blew in from the water. Aaron gripped the little black box tucked inside his front pants pocket. He opened his mouth, then quickly shut his lips. Come on, just do it, you fool! He’d rehearsed this exact moment a thousand times in his head. But now the words refused to come out. I should’ve done this a long time ago.
Sarah never pressured him to take their relationship any further. “As long as we’re together, that’s good enough for me.” She always said.
But Aaron knew better. He couldn’t imagine spending the rest of his life with anyone else. That much he was certain. Since moving to New York, between their crazy work schedules and apartment hunting; the timing just never seemed right. These were merely excuses he admitted. When they both graduated from the University of Florida, Sarah was offered a job at a well-known architecture firm in Manhattan. Aaron wasn’t too keen on leaving his family behind in Gainesville, being a small-town boy and all. It was a great opportunity for Sarah and he wasn’t about to let his girl leave to the big city by herself. After moving to New York, they stayed at one of Sarah’s sorority’s sister’s place in Brooklyn for a few months as they looked for an apartment. It was at that time that Aaron landed his columnist job at Newsweek. They only recently settled into their new studio in Midtown. The rent was a bit over their budget. Living in the capitol of the world didn’t come cheap. The seven-hundred and fifty square foot apartment was modest at best but came with a breathtaking view. It was their first home together and they were determined to make it work. Aaron took this trip to the beach as an opportunity for them to escape from their chaotic lives for the afternoon.
Noticing his stare, Sarah turned to Aaron. Her enchanting, blue eyes locked in with his. She smiled with angel-white teeth that could melt icebergs. God she’s beautiful.
“What’s wrong, babe?” She asked.
Aaron mustered the courage to smirk. “Nothing.”
“Come on, what’s going on in there?” She playfully pointed her finger at his forehead.
“Nothing’s wrong.” His grin widened. “Everything’s right.” Aaron leaned in to her face and stole a passionate kiss. He caressed her lower back.
It’s now or never. After a long pause, he cleared his throat. “Hey, I wanna ask you something.”
“What?” She said.
Aaron drew the box from his pocket and held it out to her in the palm of his hand. “It’s a yes or no question.” He opened the box with his free hand to reveal the ring inside. He tried to control the slight tremble of his hand with no luck. The glitter from the 1-karat yellow diamond shined at the center of the plain and smooth silver band. Not bad on a columnist’s salary.
Sarah looked at the ring, then at Aaron. Within a split second, her facial expression changed from puzzlement to sheer joy. Tears rolled down her cheeks like a waterfall.
“Look whatcha did to my mascara. Thanks, jerk!” Sarah wiped the tears from her face.
Aaron let out a nervous snort. “Don’t leave me hanging here.”
Sarah rapidly fanned her face with her hands. Her breathing became shallower. “Hold on, give me a minute.” She took in a deep breath. “Ok, I’m good. I think.” She looked straight into Aaron’s eyes. Smiling from ear to ear, she opened her mouth.
It was at that moment when Aaron realized something was wrong. Sarah’s lips were moving, but he couldn’t hear anything. Had an unforeseeable force pressed the mute button on his girlfriend’s voice? Aaron grabbed her shoulders and tried to speak but his voice was also muted. He rotated his head toward the beach. It was not only their voices that was gone. The sounds of crashing waves, blowing wind, even the cawing of the hungry seagulls; it had all went silent. Everything around him was moving in a slower pace. Time itself seemed to come to a screeching halt.
Electric pulses surged throughout Aaron’s whole body. A feeling of weightlessness washed over him. His ears clogged up, as if he were descending to the bottom of the ocean. He felt a pair of invisible hands pull him away from the beach, away from his love. The warm and sunny scenery was suddenly replaced with something cold and terrifying.
What the hell just happened? That was the only thing echoing in his mind.
Submerged in a blue liquid, Aaron floated nude inside a vertical glass tube. He felt dazed and weak as though he had awakened from a dream he can barely remember. He had the strangest feeling of being someplace else just moments ago. Someplace warm and where there was a lot of water. Aaron could have sworn he was in the middle of a conversation with someone. But with who he had no idea. It was all a complete blur to him.
Two tall figures standing outside the tank peered at him. Aaron couldn’t make out any of their faces as his vision was fuzzy. He breathed beneath the liquid with unexpected ease, like being back in the womb.
What’s happening to me?
Hundreds of bubbles floated toward the top of the tank as he pressed his hand against the glass. The silhouettes of other figures were moving back and forth alongside the tube. There had to been a dozen of them. Aaron panicked. He extended out his arms and pressed both hands against the tube, wanting desperately to be let out. The two figures before him looked at each other. They said something to one another but he couldn’t make it out as the tube muffled all exterior noises. Aaron felt a calmness take a hold of him. His eyes kept getting heavier until he was enveloped in utter darkness.