Adam lifted my in his arms and spun me before setting me down and turning toward the room. I watched his head turn, sweeping the room when he stepped into it and grabbed a cloth covering a group of his paintings.
“You may not want to look at some of these.”
“Show me everything you have. I don’t scare easily.”
He sighed and lifted the cloth from the group of canvases, revealing paintings of monsters, demons, vicious animals, even hands reaching out from shadows.
For a moment I stared at the dark creations, backing away from the horrid, misshapen forms. The demons wore fanged grins dripping with blood and saliva. Some of them resembled skulls, others looked like nothing from this planet. Creatures with wings, horns, gaping maws, all plastered with different forms of the same unsettling smirk.
The animals bared their teeth in saliva slicked snarls; some stood over dead prey bleeding out. All the creatures stared outward, and their eyes, their faces, and their grins bore into me. Adam came beside me and wrapped his arm around my shoulders, as if he could shield me from the darkness.
I pried my eyes away from all the horrid creatures and settled on the hands reaching from the shadows. I stepped forward and reached toward the painting, but Adam held my arm and shook his head.
“Not that one.”
“It can’t be any worse than the others.” I swept my arm over the group of painted creatures. “What’s so bad about this one?”
“That’s the creator.”
I shrugged his arm away and turn to him. “I thought you painted these.”
“I did. I also said my mind wouldn’t let me stop.”
“I don’t understand.”
He stepped in front of me, using his body as a wall between me and the painting. “He’s the person I become when my mind forces me to create paintings this dark. It’s a side of me I hope you never have to meet.”
I gripped his hand, and he faced me with his eyes cast down, refusing to meet mine. I tilted his head up. “It’s still a part of you. It just needs some taming.”
He shook his head and gripped my shoulders. “There is no taming that monster.”
“Any part of you is no monster.”
“What would you call it then? What would you call someone whose mind is only made to create horror through creatures like these?”
My eyes swept over all the creatures, the demons, the monsters, and all the sickening grins. “I’d call it a lost mind with no control.”
He ripped his hands away from my shoulders, backing away. “You think I’m crazy… I knew it.” He brushed past me and stalked out of the room, leaving me behind.
I rushed to keep up with him as he headed for the door. “That’s not what I meant!”
He refused to acknowledge me as he slipped his shoes on and opened the door. I grabbed his arm, but he yanked it away and bolted.
I stared from the doorway, watching as his silhouette shrank. I swung the door shut and sank down against it. I leaned on the door for a moment, then dragged myself up and turned to face the hallway. I wandered down and reached to shut the door to Adam’s room when I caught a glimpse of the shadowed hands.
They reached out from nothing but darkness. Their palms faced inward as the pale fingers splayed out in a white light, as if they’d once begged for help.
I stepped into the room and inched closer to the painting, unable to take my eyes from the frail forms veiled in darkness. I reached forward, and my fingers met those in the painting. Cold to the touch, I placed my hands on the canvas to cover the painted ones.
My skin cooled and chills crawled up my spine. I pulled away from the canvas, when the shadow veiled hands grabbed my wrists. I screamed and yanked back, but they held and pulled, receding further into the shadows as they dragged me with them. I struggled and thrashed against them as they drew me in, and my body melded with the canvas, sinking further into the painting. I jerked back with the weight of my body and cried out as I felt nails tear flesh. Blood dripped into the white light of the painting and I could no longer see the painted hands, only my own limbs disappearing into the shadows.
My body sunk into the painting and I turned my head back, seeing the room, as if the painting was a window looking out into it. The room shrank as the shadows overwhelmed me, the frigid nothingness enveloping my entire form.
A voice rang out, echoing from the darkness, surrounding me. “I warned you, didn’t I, Ellie?” The voice lilted in the frigid shadows, deepening into a hoarse, tired ghost of a sound.
Fingers uncurled themselves from my wrists, and I wrapped my bloodied arms around myself.
“Adam, you can fight this. You can learn to control this.” I whirled around in the shadows, my eyes darting in different directions to detect any sign of the cruel painted figures.
“There is no taming the monster.” The statement echoed and boomed and in every direction, turning Adam’s feeble statement into a deafening roar as it rose and shook with a demonic cackle.
“Listen to me. These are all your creations, and you can learn to find the beauty in them.”
“You see beauty in these hideous creatures?”
Paintings of the demons and monsters surrounded me, shining in pale light. Their eyes bore into the depths of my soul, threatening to rip it from me. I stared back at them, minding only their ferocious power, their overwhelming sense of devotion in their set task of inflicting horror.
“I see strength and commitment. They have their own unmatched power and nothing will deter them from their task.”
Laughter spilled from the walls of nothingness and shredded the visions of the paintings. “Their tasks are merely to inflict terror upon all those who see them.”
“That’s what they do now, but they can be changed.”
The pale, bony hands lashed out and grasped my neck. “You are no more than a distraction, and I have no use for you.” The words flowed out in a frail ghost of Adam’s voice.
I gripped the painted fingers as they squeezed the life out of me, forcing a chill to seep within the depths of my body. My eyes clouded in their own darkness as I felt my form weaken and sink in the darkness of the painted void.
A moment before the last breath left me, I heard the roar of animalistic creatures, snarling, hissing, screaming as it mixed with pained shrieks. The painted fingers ripped away from my throat in a flash of pale light, only to be met a splash of crimson blood. The creatures appeared around me, covered in the blood of my attacker, the monstrous, controlling part of Adam’s mind, crippled in its only visible painted form, while the rest lay somewhere shrouded in the shadows.
I felt life flow back into my half sunken body as it lightened and lifted from the black abyss of nothing. I felt a gentle hand grasp at mine and saw it shone in the white light.
“Ellie!” Adam’s voice echoed from behind me.
I turned to the sound and saw Adam in his room, his arm stretched into the painting. I gazed back at the group of bloodied creatures. Their features softened, and their deformities and cruelty melted away, drifting in a haze until darkness swallowed darkness alike.
Adam lead me away from the blackness. I stumbled out of the painting and into his arms, and they wrapped around me. I buried my head in his shoulder as he held me.
“I told you that side of me is a monster.” He flipped my arms in his hands, staring at the gashes. “I wanted to keep you from it, from me.”
“You did better than that. You protected me. All those creatures you created, they saved my life.”
“I heard myself; I heard what you said to me; I heard everything inside my head. I thought I’d gone insane.”
“Adam, you’re not crazy-”
“I know, I know you didn’t mean that. You were right. I had lost control of my own mind, but I won’t run from it again, not after seeing what it almost cost me.”
I cupped his face in my hands. “You never have to do this alone. I’ll help you.”
“Even after all that’s happened? You still want to help me?”
“Of course. I promised you that you wouldn’t do it alone, and I’ve always known you’d keep me safe.”
He lifted my to my feet and lead me to the back room to clean my bloody arms. “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you, and I came too close to put you in danger again.” He ran the hot water and rinsed the blood away, scrubbing the wounds clean.
I held my arms over the sink as he dressed the gashes. “You’ve never put me in danger.” I grasped his shoulders as he finished. “And it isn’t your choice to make.”
“No, Adam, we’re in this together. I told you no matter what happened I’d be safe with you, and I am.”
He pulled me into his embrace once more. “Promise me you’ll at least be more careful.”
“I think I can manage that.”
Adam lifted me into his arms and carried me to the living room. “Good, then I’d say one close call is enough for a day.”