I shifted in bed, gripping the covers closer to my body as I inched closer to Adam’s side. When my body rolled, I hit nothing but his echo, and my eyes popped open. I sat up and blinked the night haze away, groaning as the draft seeped into my skin. I gazed over at the corner of the room to find a silhouette facing a canvas.
“Adam?” I crawled out of bed to my feet, stepping my way toward him. “The Thread can wait ‘til morning, baby, come back to bed.”
“Don’t come any closer.” He held his hand steady to the canvas as his voice lilted with heavy darkness.
I shivered, reaching for his shoulder. “Come on, we’ll work on this tomorrow. Let’s get some sleep.”
His head whipped toward me, and he shoved me away. “Can’t you see? Adam works when I tell him to, and he’s going to my world this time.”
I shook my head, gripping his hand. “No, Adam. The Thread doesn’t control you. Keep trying, and you’ll get stronger.”
“It’s too late for that. Look at what I’ve done.” He let his arm drop and yanked me toward the painting.
Bare-boned trees clawed the sky with talons as the moonlight trickled in from the cloak of clouds. The ground sprouted thorns instead of grass, and blood ran into a creek next to the forest path. I cringed and turned away as Adam’s breath prickled at the back of my neck.
“How do you like my newest creation?”
I backed away, colliding with Adam’s body. He held me steady, pushing my back to the canvas.
“You can do better.”
He chuckled, and I bristled as he gripped my shoulders. “What, not good enough for you? I suppose you could just put it with the rest of the pile, huh?” He shoved me into the canvas. “Then again, it won’t be enough to save you from them.”
I sunk into the black paint and hit the ground of thorns, crying out as they sliced my legs. I scrambled up and reached out as Adam’s face loomed over me in the back of the painting. He grinned, waved, and disappeared, leaving the starless sky in his place.
“Adam, please, just help me out of here, and we’ll figure this out. I’ll stay up all night and we’ll work with the Thread together.”
When no response came, I hung my head. I wiped blood away from my legs and checked my bare feet. I gritted my teeth as I stood on the thorns, shivering at the sight of the trail of blood leading to the creek. I ran toward the stream of water, screaming as nature’s daggers hacked at my feet and my legs. I waded into the creek, rinsing the blood and bits of thorns in my skin. I picked the tips from my feet, flicking them away as the moon beamed streaks of light through the taloned trees.
“Adam? Please, are you there? Can you hear me?” My head whipped around as I stood in the water, clutching my arms to myself.
Low moans echoed in the far off void of darkness. The moonlight flickered and brightened as the clouds shifted away from it, illuminating a clear path from the creek. The wind whispered my name as it beckoned me away from the bloody stream.
“Ellie… help me…”
The breeze carried muffled sobs and echoed cries away from the stream, and I followed the dirt path.
“Adam, tell me where you are. I’m here, just let me help you.”
“Help me escape, I don’t wanna be here anymore.”
I ran toward the sound of his voice as it cracked with the weight of choked sobs. Howling wind and snarling growls suffocated the messages, and crimson eyes appeared in the void ahead. I froze as a silhouette materialized in the last grasp of moonlight. The silver of its own fur reflected in the light as the wolf stepped closer.
“It’s you again. Come here, I won’t hurt you.” I stretched my arms out.
It snarled, snapping when my hands got too close to his face. I snatched them back, taking a step away.
“Come on, now. You remember me, don’t you?”
The wolf bristled and bolted toward me, launching his body at mine. He knocked me to the ground, looming over me as mouth dripped with saliva. I gripped his neck and pushed him away as he tried to snap at mine.
“You thought you tamed a wild beast, but he’d just as soon rip your throat out.” The throaty voice gave way to a cackle as the wolf snapped his jaws over and over.
My arms ached with his full weight on them, and I stared into the once-silver eyes turned red yet again. I gave him one last shove and rolled away, clawing back to my feet. I raised my arms as I back away from the creature, stepping closer to the blood-filled creek.
“Look at me, remember me. You’re not evil.”
The moonlight flickered as his eyes faltered into silver-ringed crimson orbs. He closed his dripping maw, stiffening his posture.
“That’s it, come on. Keep fighting.” I stretched one arm out. “Adam, you can fight this, change it.”
The wolf closed the gap and jumped on top of me again, standing his weight on my shoulders as he opened his jaws.
An echoed sliced through the darkness, catching the creature’s attention. “You’re naive to think a wild beast isn’t evil. Just rip her to shreds already.”
The wolf turned back toward me, leaning down with his fangs ready to tear into my throat. Saliva dripped onto my neck, and I trembled as I reached around his midsection, throwing my weight sideways. He toppled off and landed in the waves of blood thrashing beyond the shore. The wolf yelped as the current overtook him.
“Useless mut, drown then. There are plenty more obedient ones to take your place.” Adam’s corrupted voice cracked and warped in the void.
“What are you doing? How can you just kill something you created?” My head whipped toward the stream as it widened into a river, strengthening its thrashing waves.
“I just wanna get rid of the evil…” The cry warred with the evil warped echo of a voice from the void.
I opened my mouth to answer, but I turned toward a whimpering yelp as the wolf struggled in the currents of blood. I rushed into the river, reaching out to the flailing creature as the current pushed me along as well. I hooked my arm around his ribs, hauling his weight up above the surface and keeping it there. The wolf thrashed in my grip as I kicked to the side. I shoved him closer to the shore, and he finished the work, clawing his way back up. I heaved myself half onto land and dragged my burning legs out of the river. I looked back at the soaked wolf, and his eyes gleamed silver in the full light of the moon.
He stepped closer, sniffing at my blood-stained clothes before he sunk his fangs into the neck of my shirt, dragging my body onto the dirt path. He let go and laid beside me as I steadied my breathing.
I slung my arm over him. “Good boy. No way you’re evil if Adam created you.”
He whimpered as nuzzled his head near my cheek, shaking.
“Uh uh, not the dark part, the real Adam. The one you met before.”
His eyes perked and he stood, nodding his head down the clear path. I picked myself up and followed him as he led the way into the darkness. Creatures called from the void, retreating as the moonlight seeped past the boundaries of the gentle path. Some of them took their last chance for a swooping attack, clawing and tearing at us as they passed into the light.
“Hurry, El! I don’t know how long I can keep this up.”
I bolted down the path as the wolf followed at my heels. The light flickered and disappeared, plunging the entirety of the painted world into a void of blackness.
“No, no, no! You’re not gonna hurt her again!”
I froze at the sound of Adam’s cry. “Where are you? Let me help you!”
A speck of light shone at an end of the void, and I sprinted toward it. I reached out and touched it, dropping to my knees. I closed my eyes, holding my hand over the only thing left in the void. I willed every ounce of energy I had into an image to take over the void. For a moment thorns poked through the darkness, sticking into my limbs.
I pressed forward, opening my eyes and they sank away, growing grass in their place. The chorus of the river waves came back into the world, no longer gurgling the dark tar of blood. The snarling echoes faded into the whispers of the breeze, and the flickering moon gave way to the rising sun of dawn. The rest of the void drifting into fleeting shadows as I let myself drop the soft ground of changed world.
Echoes of Adam loomed over me as the grew closer, but I couldn’t bring myself to go to them. Still, my name lifted from his lips, and a presence settled beside me.
“El, you did it.”
I turned my head to see him, and I reached out to take his hand. “Help me escape. I can’t do it on my own!” My fingers grasped his hand, intertwining with his. “I’m not strong enough…”
My eyes shut, and my body lifted, held steady as I rested. My mind filled with blurs of blood draining from my clothes, thorns dropping from wounds that healed. Then came a softer darkness, light with the call of sleep. My body gave in, and I drifted away.
Warmth seeped into me as sunlight bathed my body into waking. I shifted in the grass, rolling into the sleeping wolf. I scrambled up, heaving breaths when a hand landed on my arm.
“It’s okay, you changed him, remember?”
I turned to face Adam, throwing my arms around him as we sunk back down into the grass.
“Where were you? I heard you, but I never saw you.”
“I was stuck in my own head. Not a good place to be sometimes.”
I paused, touching his hands, his face. “You’re real, but this is—”
“A painting, yeah.”
“Are we both in it then?”
Adam nodded. “I came into it after I saw the wolf attack the first time, but I was stuck somewhere else.”
“Everything was so warped, even your voice.” I shuddered.
He tightened his hold, pulling me into his lap. “That happens when the evil takes over.”
“And when I saw you at home, you were making the land before this one.”
He hung his head. “I told you that happens It forces me to do that.”
“We can change that, fight it.”
“How? I don’t even know what to call it. I mean, it’s part of me, but it’s almost like another version of me.”
“One step at a time, Adam. First, we need to find out how to get back home.”
He nodded, staring at the sky. “That’s true. I don’t even know where the exit is.”
“There has to be one, right? We can’t stay here forever.”
He let himself fall back on the grass. “If it was like this all the time, I wouldn’t mind. Imagine that, a world we could just change whenever we wanted.”
I took in my surrounding, sweeping my eyes along the river. I drew circles in a patch of dirt next to the wolf. “I wish, but we have to go home sometime.” I stood up, stretching my aching legs, but no blood dripped from the wounds I had. “Adam, look, I healed.”
He nodded, standing at my side. “Another one of your tricks from last night.”
“I thought I was dreaming.”
He shook his head. “Nope. You and he got fixed up like everything else.”
“Is that why I’m so drained?”
“Probably. That had to take a lot out of you.” He crouched down. “Hop on. I’ll carry you for awhile.”
“Are you sure? We can rest longer if you need to.”
“I wanna get going before something else happens. Don’t need Patch over there going feral again before we find the way out.”
I climbed onto Adam’s back. “Patch? I like it, finally giving him a name.”
“Names have power. That’s what you said. Besides, we could use a pet.” He winked.
I rested my chin on his shoulder. “Very funny. Now come on, who knows how much time we’ve lost here.”
“Good point. Where do we start?”