“Did you have fun?” I looked up at Adam as he appeared in the doorway leading into the living room.
“I admit scrubbing the floor isn’t the most exciting chore, but seeing the look on your face was well worth the work.” He stuck his tongue out.
“Sometimes I think the kids rub off on you.” I slid over on the couch.
“I’d hope so!” He plopped down and leaned against me. “I can’t be expected to come up with my own material all the time, right?”
I sighed as he grinned and gave him a push. “Then it gets to me too.”
“All part of the fun, El.”
“Fun aside, we have something to discuss.” I placed my hand on his knee.
Adam bowed his head. “I wish I could go one day without that butting in.”
“I know you do, but it’s important that we try to figure it out. Maybe you could feel at least some peace then.”
“I wish it were that easy.” He gripped my hand and laid back. “Trust me, I’ve tried.”
“Things will be different this time. You’ve got me for backup.”
“To be honest I wish you didn’t have to get involved. It’s safer that way. That’s what I want more than anything.”
I shook my head. “No way. I can’t back away from this. It’s a part of who you are and now… a part of me, too.”
“You know how many years I’ve spent wondering why and wishing this away. This- this ability?” He scrubbed his face with his hands. “I just want to be normal, not have to worry about this going against me.”
“No one can ever tell you this is going to be easy, but there has to be a reason. You and I both have a form of this power, so we’re going to figure it out together.” I stood up and offered my hand.
He raised his eyebrows and took it, rising to his feet. “What are we doing?”
“Trial and error. We’re going to see what we can do.”
He paused “You’re serious?”
“Of course. If you want any sense of control, you need to know what you’re dealing with, right?”
“That makes sense. So we’re basically doing target practice now?”
I shrugged. “Sure, I guess you could say that. We’ll take notes and-”
“Woah, notes? You didn’t tell me this was a class, El.”
I grinned. “You bet!” I took off down the hall. “Last one there has to go first!”
He jogged to catch up snatching me up just before I opened the door. “Cheater!” He took the first step inside his room. “Karma catches up fast.”
I huffed and struggled out of his grasp. “Okay, fine. That just means you’re taking notes, so write nicely.”
He groaned and started searching his drawers for spare paper. “No notebooks, no loose leaf? What the heck did I do with that stuff?”
“Don’t play dumb, or I’ll just go get mine.” I peeked over his shoulder. “Or is cleaning also on the list?”
“No, I’m sure we can add cleaning. Can we do that first? You know, make life easier for us?”
“You really just wanna avoid this, huh?”
“Kinda, yeah, but the mess has been driving me nuts for a while. Haven’t gotten around to it and now it’s hard to function.”
“Okay, fine, but we’re starting target practice right after we work through this mess. Got it?”
He saluted. “Yes, ma’am!”
“Don’t be smart. We could always just shove it all out of the way. Kiddie cleaning.”
He chuckled. “I remember that. Okay, hang on a sec…” Adam disappeared down the hall and came back with a vacuum controlled by one hand, garbage bags in the other, and a dust rag over his shoulder.
“Oh, you mean business.”
I took the rag and started wiping down surfaces, gathering lint and dust into a pile for the vacuum. Adam made quick work of that and rearranged canvases so the blank ones took one side of the room and the used ones controlled the other. We set up the garbage bags and played a game of basketball to the rhythm of “keep” and “toss”. After clearing some space in his closet, we moved the most polished work there, keeping the others out to continue later. Adam heaved the bags full of trash, crusty art supplies, and old and tattered clothes out to the garbage bin, and I sank down on the floor notepad and pencil in hand.
Adam walked in with a water bottle in each hand and settled down. “Break time.”
“I guess we earned a quick break. Besides, it gives me time to ask questions.”
Adam moaned and rolled his eyes. “Aw, come on! You said a quick break.”
“Consider questions the easier part.”
He took a swig from the bottle. “Fine, shoot.”
“Who knows about your ability?”
“You mean besides you? Well, my parents do, at least somewhat. They knew something was wrong when I was young, but they never figured out exactly what it was.”
I wrote shorthand to keep up. “You’re saying you’ve suppressed it?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, my parents couldn’t help me. They wouldn’t have understood, right? As a kid, you do whatever it takes to seem as normal as possible so you don’t get called out, you know?” He sat up and fiddled with the bottle cap. “Don’t get me wrong, there were good and bad days.”
“What happened on the bad days?” I tapped the pencil on the page I’d been writing on.
“The same thing that happened when I pushed you too hard during your first practice. Nosebleeds, headaches. Sometimes I’d faint, but the doctors could never find anything wrong.”
“That doesn’t make sense. I mean, it’s not like you could fake those symptoms.”
“After a while, that’s what they seemed to think. Teachers would have me get cleaned up or rest a bit, then try to get back to work.”
I grasped his hand. “Adam, that’s awful! I’m so sorry.”
“It wasn’t easy. Most schools didn’t know what to do with me. My parents moved me around, then they tried an arts school.”
My eyes widened. “What happened there?”
“It was a good outlet for awhile, but I started noticing things were still off. But it was much better than the others, so I tried to make it work.”
“Did anyone else notice anything?” I scrawled notes as he talked. “Did any teachers ever talk to you about it?”
“They were convinced a had a ‘talent’ for art. That someday I could make a living with it, but I don’t remember them ever confronting me about this ability.”
I hummed. “Have you ever thought about it?”
“What, selling my art? A couple times, but I’d always think what would happen if they got too close… like you did.”
I traced my wrists. “Could that happen?”
“I don’t know for sure, but if it happened to you, there’s no reason it couldn’t happen to others, right?” He sighed. “Can we stop this, El? I just wanna get to work.”
My face heated, I nodded. “Yeah, it’s probably better if we learn by doing anyway.” I stood up and faced a blank canvas. “What do you want me to do?”
“Well, we know you don’t always need words to start off, so try something general first.” He paused and gathered a stack of notecards. “Just in case.”
I nodded and closed my eyes, placing my right hand to the surface. Static hissed in my ear, and I cringed, curling my fingers. I grasped at something familiar, anything in the black and white that’d give me leverage. The static buzzed away, and I grabbed a pencil floating in the distance, pushing my energy to my hand. My fingers stretched out again, and I opened my eyes. The pencil stood at the bottom of the canvas under a mass of scribbles in the form of a cartoon thought bubble. I leaned in closer, and the hazy mess crackled in radio static.
Adam looked at me and raised his eyebrows. “What happened?”
I glanced at the drawing then him. “I heard static when I closed my eyes, so I tried to find something familiar. A pencil was the first thing that appeared.”
He nodded. “Makes sense. Maybe I should give you a category to start from.”
“Try that, and let’s see what I can do.”
He tapped the eraser to his chin. “Okay, try thinking of the elements but in a form you can hold.”
“So like a sphere of the natural elements?”
“Sure, if that’s what you think would work, try it.” He pointed to the stack of index cards. “Those are there if you need some help.”
“I’m gonna see how long I can go without them.”
I closed my eyes and imagined an empty sphere. Fire sparked in the middle, bursting and threatening to break the boundaries, but I forced a whirlpool into the sphere to control the flame. Air funneled its way in next, feeding the flame and lending some power to the spinning stream of water. My head pounded as jagged rocks battered their way into the sphere of elements. All at once they started fighting the wall that contained them, trying to spill from their cage.
I clenched my fingers into a fist as I grasped for the energy to overcome the beating from trying to control nature at it’s most territorial form. A white light blinded my mental eye and beamed in from above the elemental ball, swirling rays of silver and gold around it. Darkness bubbled in from underneath, creating streams of its own to hold the elements in their place. My fingers relaxed as nature conformed to space. I hardened the sphere with bars of light and darkness as a fortress and sent the energy to the canvas. I opened my eyes and sank to my knees, letting my hand fall from the creation.
“You okay Ellie?” Adam settled beside me, leaning me on his shoulder. “That one took a lot out of you, huh?”
I hummed as my eyelids drooped. I looked at my hand, focusing on the last stray sparks of energy. “How’s it look?”
“Like an elemental superpower. You did great, El.” He shifted me over and pressed the notepad into my hand. “You deserve a break. I’ll take over.”
“I guess my limit is two, huh?” I scooted away from the campus and blinked away the haze clouding my vision.
“Don’t worry. You’ll work your way up. Maybe we should keep it specific so you don’t have to use so much energy. Or maybe there’s a way to replenish.”
“We have so much to figure out. Let’s take it one step at a time and see what you can do.”
He nodded. “You got it. What do you want me to do?”
I paused, spinning the pencil between my fingers. “I want you to think of home for me.”
He raised his eyebrows, shook his head, and closed his eyes. A stream of water flowed in the bottom of the canvas, then a stone bridge constructed itself stone by stone to arch over it. After it crossed the river and lines rock slabs on each side of the sloping shore, a foundation of stone gathered at the top of a small hill, inviting the logs that built the walls. Rock and wood worked together to construct the natural fortress as the roof and windows paneled themselves in. A forest sprouted from the open land around the new house, bare and bleak. Snow swept in from the right side, overtaking the landscape as Adam started to shake.
I opened my mouth to speak, but no sound came as the home covered itself in a frosty blanket, lighting up from the inside. I squinted and saw the flickers of a fire on the inside as the river fought not to be frozen with the rest of the canvas. Adam took his hand away and gasped, heaving breaths in and out.
“You didn’t have to do so much on your first try.” I stood and helped him settle in next to me. “You said we should take in slow.”
“I know, but I started thinking of my home and what I want our home to be like. It all just sort of rushed in.”
I gazed at the canvas filled with the life of the old and new. “Your home looks like that?”
“Not exactly, I mean, my father did build a cabin, but it wasn’t like that. Part of that was the kind of stuff I’d see in magazines my parents had, things they wish they could do but never got around to changing.”
I stood and touched the flowing river, letting freezing water nip at my fingertips for a moment before drawing them back. I knelt beside him and propped my notepad up with one knee.
“I’d say we had a good start, right? We have a long way to go, but I think we figured out some of the inner workings.”
“Like what?” Adam shifted to rest against the wall, and I settled beside him.
“Well, we know what causes trouble. Having too broad of a topic makes it hard to zero in, so I waste energy on static and trying to come up with something. On the other hand, if we find a picture in our minds with too many details, we use all our energy up fast.”
He nodded. “Okay, so having a broad topic makes us wade through either blank space or tons of details all at once. Coming up with nothing wastes energy, and working with a ton of small details uses it all.”
“Exactly, so we need to be specific, but not too detail oriented.”
He shook his head. “We’re gonna have a hell of a time finding a happy medium.”
“Maybe, but we have notecards as testing grounds. Jotting down something beforehand might help.”
He stared at the stack. “For you maybe, but I think I’m more a visual person.”
I pursed my lips. “What if you looked at some picture then? Magazines or internet photos?” I jotted ideas down.
“That could work.” He clicked his tongue, tracing the notes with his fingers as he read over them. “We have so many questions to answer. What if we can’t do this right and it gets out of control.”
I cupped his face in my hands. “Hey, hey, none of that. We’re in this together. Don’t let fear dictate your life, your power, or any will to create.”
“I can’t just shun fear. It’s natural… I’m afraid I won’t be strong enough for this, that something will go wrong before we can figure this ability out.”
I kissed his forehead. “You said art was an outlet, so we just have to keep it there. I’ll be here to help, I swear. Whatever I can do.”
He hugged me close. “Don’t let that monster control me again. I want to create good things. Our life together, our home, not the demons.”
I clutched his hand and tipped his head, forcing him to look at me. “Those creatures don’t have to be evil. You’ve proven that already. We just have to take it one step a time, okay?”
He squeezed my hand and smiled. “Okay, but let me say one thing.”
“Of course, Adam, anything.”
“Bear with me a bit longer, and I promise I’ll get even stronger. Then you won’t ever have to worry about…him again.” He traced my arms and stared over my shoulder at one of the canvases on the other side of the room.
I followed his gaze and winced at the pool of blood surrounded by shadows. “I’ll be with you every step of the way.” I touched my lips to his. “We’ll figure this out together, always.”
He embraced me again. “Can we call it a day, at least with this stuff?” He swept his arm out to the fresh canvases. “Maybe we can gather raw material and try again another time.”
“Good idea, but just one more thing.”
He groaned and looked at me once more. “What is it?”
“What do we name this ability?”
“Name it? I have no clue, why?”
I smiled. “Names have power, and if we can call this ability by a name, maybe we’ll have a bit more control.”
Adam’s head bobbed. “I guess that makes sense.” He paused, closing his eyes. “How about Energy Flow?”
“I guess that’s how it felt when all those details and images were coming to mind. They sort of flowed through from my head to my hands.”
“How about The Thread? It gives a sense of what we feel, and we can use it in conversation. We can possess it too; plus it keeps us together, you know?”
He nodded and wrote the name in the margin. “It’ll take getting used to, calling this ability by a name, but I think I’ll like it.”
I traced an infinity sign through the name and shut the notepad. “We’ll work on our Thread tomorrow. A new day, a new start, a new strand.”