I tore the page out of my journal and shifted out of bed, tip-toeing toward the painted candle in the corner of the room. I held the page up to the flame and watched my words billow in smoke. As the fire ate away at the page, ink dripped down from the ashes, pooling at the candle’s base.
I stepped back as the flame kissed the last corner to death, and smoke down poured black ink. It drowned the flame and spattered the candle wax. I shook my head and placed my hand on the canvas, closing my eyes to imagine the liquid raining to an inkwell.
Instead, the ink hissing and bubbled, boiling and melting the last of the candle wax. I recoiled as it died down, backing away from the canvas. The ink gathered in a pool once more, mixing with the wax underneath the skeleton of the candle, then the black blood stilled.
“Adam?” My voice cracked as I neared him, reaching for his shoulder.
He moaned and turned over on his stomach, burying his face in the pillow. “Just a little longer, El.”
I grabbed his shoulder and shook him. “Something happened, the candle-”
“What about it?” He turned his head, squinting into my eyes.
“Just go look, please.” I pulled him upright.
He stood, turning on the light as he rubbed his eyes. Adam closed the gap to the painting in a few steps, staring at it.
“I don’t see what’s wrong.” He reached out to touch the canvas.
“No, don’t!” I sprang to my feet and snatched his hand away. “The ink, it was boiling.”
His eyebrows knitted and he shifted his gaze to the painting again. “There’s no- Oh, there’s a jar full. Did you do that?”
I took one more look at the canvas, and I saw the inkwell in the corner. The candle stood tall, waving at me with its flame. I dropped to my knees, gripping my arms around myself.
“I swear, the ink, it ruined everything.”
Adam sunk down beside me, wrapping his arm around my shoulder. “I believe you, but everything’s okay now.” He loosened my grip on my arms and took one of my hands in his. “Why don’t we talk over breakfast? It’ll make you feel better. I’ll cook this time.”
I nodded and pulled myself to my feet. Adam sat me down at the table as he gathered ingredients. My eyes wandered to the window, darting around from clouds to birds to swaying trees. They fluttered to the lull of kitchen sounds as wood scraped against metal and the smell of cinnamon filled the air. I started awake when glass bowls met the table, greeting me with steam. I dug into sweet cement before Adam could speak, struggling to swallow as he poured two glasses of milk. I thinned the oatmeal out when he handed my glass over, spilling milk on the table. He wiped it with the towel hanging from the oven door and folded it into a makeshift coaster.
“Do you wanna tell me what happened?”
My hands shook as I brought a spoonful to my lips, and I set it back in the bowl. “I just wanted to burn another page. I don’t know what went wrong.”
“Don’t worry, you saw everything went back to normal.” He placed his hand over my clenched fist. “Is there something you need to tell me?”
I pulled away, turning the ring on my finger back and forth. “Is this really what you want? With me?”
“Of course it is. Why are you looking at me that way?”
“I just, I’m afraid maybe we don’t know each other well enough to take this step. What if you find something out about me that you can’t stand?”
I wrung my hands. “I forget, sometimes all I can think about is writing, I miss meals, I’m a fidgeter, I don’t always respond to messages right away, I’ll spend hours in a store just looking-”
“Woah, woah, do I need a notebook?”
“I’m serious? What if something comes up?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I want to spend my life with you, and that’s not gonna change.” He pried my fingers apart, gripping my hand. “We’ll have plenty of time to learn how to handle each other’s quirks.”
My lips turned up to return his grin, and we finished breakfast without another word, holding hands instead. We washed dishes and returned to the bedroom, checking the candle once more.
“See? All good.”
“Not yet, there’s something we should do.”
“Tell your parents what’s going on. Don’t turn away. They deserve to know.”
“And what happens when they think we’re freaks, huh? Where did this even come from anyway?”
I put my hands up. “I’ve been thinking about it for awhile now. It’s been on my mind since I found out.”
“So what we’re just gonna drop by, ‘Hey mom, hey dad, guess what? We can make paintings come to life’ is that it?”
“We have to tell someone. What if something happens to us? No one would know how to help.” I put my hands on his shoulders. “We can’t keep this a secret forever, Adam.”
He shook me away. “Don’t you think I know that? But it was hard enough telling you, and now you just wanna spring it on my parents?”
“You said they knew something was wrong. Is there any way they could know already?”
“I- I don’t know. If they do they sure as hell never said anything about it. Maybe they were hoping it’d go away.”
I grasped his arms. “We both know this isn’t going away, and it’s time they knew the truth.”
“And what if they take so kindly to our abilities?”
“They’re your family. They’ll accept you for who you are.”
He heaved a sigh and turned around. “I wish I had as much faith as you do.”
I embraced him. “It’ll rub off, plenty of time for it.”
We cleaned ourselves up, taking turns in the shower and as the other gathered everything from a spare white canvas to the notepad to the skeleton key. We stepped into our shoes and I dangled the keys in front of Adam’s face.
“I got shotgun.” I took the supplies under my arm.
We settled the in the front seats with the pile sitting in my lap. Adam tucked the key away in the breast pocket on the inside of his jacket and started the drive. At first, we rode in heavy silence until I reached for the stereo knob and turned the radio on. Static greeted us first, but I scrolled through channels, bouncing from one unknown to the next. Adam flicked it off when I landed on more static and placed his hand on my knee.
“No noise for now, okay?”
I nodded and leaned back in the seat as he drove. I watched trees and grass blur into a green mass as we sped along the highway. I closed my eyes, and the inkwell shattered in my mind’s eye. I hissed as I rubbed my temples, and Adam squeezed my thigh.
“El, you alright? Do I need to pull over?”
I opened my eyes and my vision blurred in the harsh sunlight. I hung my head and gripped his hand.
“I just have a headache. Keep going.”
He nodded, running his thumb back and forth over my knee. I closed my eyes again, and the pain dulled. Black blood-covered glass shards rose from the pool of ink and wax, slicing through the canvas, plunging into my hands. I yelped as I dropped to my knees, covering my head. Liquid dripped onto my clasped fingers and I pulled away, gasping as the world disappeared in a flash, and hands gripped my shoulders.
“Wake up, El. We’re here.”
I started awake, catching Adam’s stare as I checked my hands. My eyes darted around, and I found the front door as well as the supplies piled at my feet.
“Just a dream…”
“It was the inkwell again. It shattered and the glass sliced through the canvas. It got to my hands.”
“It’s over now. Everything’s fine. How do you feel?”
I shook the last of the haze and touched my temples. “Better now I think.”
“We don’t have to do this, you know.”
“Yes, we do. I’m fine, really.” I gathered the pile to my chest, sliding out of the passenger’s seat with Adam close behind.
He knocked on the door, jumping at the sound of echoing barks.
“Door’s open. Don’t let the mut scare you, my boy.”
Adam ushered me and two arms wrapped around me before I could speak a word.
“Let the young lady breathe, Dana.”
Adam’s mother released me and I smiled back at her. Adam shook hands with his father as a mound of fur barreled into me. She pulled the dog away as he licked my face.
“Really, Vincent, you said you trained this dog. I’m sorry about that.”
“Can’t blame him for being excited, can you? Come on, Bear, down.”
Vincent pet the dog, pushing him away from us so we could step away from the doorway. They led us into the living room and sat us down. Adam leaned the blank canvas on the far wall and sat beside me as his parents settled in the recliners across from u with Bear laying at Vincent’s feet.
“What brings you two here? I wasn’t expecting to have my portrait done.” Vincent grinned as his wife rolled her eyes.
“Actually, about that. We have something we need to talk about.”
“I hope it’s about that ring on Ellie’s finger. I think you have it on the wrong side, though.”
Adam shook his head and Dana gasped.
“You mean you two-”
“Congratulations, Adam. I was wondering how long it’d take.”
“What? I knew. The moment I saw the way he looked at her. Just like I look at you.”
Dana smiled, blushing and shaking her head. “Is this about the wedding then because-”
“No, Mom. We have something…else to tell you.” His eyes shifted to the canvas, and he got up. “Hang on, it’d be easier to just show you.”
He motioned for his parents to follow, and they huddled around the blank canvas with us. Adam and I placed our hands to the canvas, closing our eyes. His parents gasped, and my mind took control, shattering my resolve. Adam’s hand squeezed mine, and I breathed. An empty hourglass appeared, cracked at the top. The glass crackled, and I opened my eyes before I could see the creature behind the hiss. Dana took hold of me as my knees buckled, and Vincent sat Adam on the floor.
I rubbed my temples as my vision blurred. Adam’s parents stared back at us, and I drifted to the side, slumping on Adam’s shoulder. Voices floated around me as Adam wrapped his arm around my shoulders.
“Is that what it was all those years?”
“We’ve been trying to control it, but we can’t do it by ourselves.”
“She just found out. It hasn’t been long for Ellie.”
“What can we do?”
I blinked the haze away and tried to sit up, but Adam held me down on the couch.
“Don’t move, El. Just sit for a minute, okay. You left us for a moment.”
“I fainted?” I turned my head to see his parents around us.
“Almost right after you and Adam finished that painting. He explained what’s been happening with the two of you.” Dana dabbed a cool cloth to my forehead. “Has this happened before?”
“No, just today. It started this morning when she tried to work with one of the paintings. Maybe we should stop for a few days, give you some time to rest, El.”
I bolted upright. “We can’t. We have to work until we can control this. Please, Adam, I want this to stop happening.” My head spun, Dana laid me back down. “I don’t want to have to worry anymore.”
“Sweetheart, you have to give yourself time. Forcing everything at once will only make things worse.” Vincent took Dana’s place beside me. “If you make yourself sick over it, you could get yourself into real trouble.”
“We’ll talk more about this later, but El, you need to rest. I’ll get a blanket, and you can stay right there.” Adam disappeared down the hall before I could protest.
He returned and draped the fleece over me. I shifted so he could settle in next to me, but he shook his head.
“I’m gonna take a chair. We’ll all be here when you wake up.” He smiled and ushered Bear near the couch. “He’ll keep watch.”
My lips quirked as my eyelids fluttered shut. Voices drifted in the darkness, and the echo of my gurgling blood replaced them.