September brings a second summer, but we pray always for rain; a storm which might wash the summer clean and awaken parts of us which we can feel but not quite stir. Restless, Ian locks himself in my bedroom and foxes for things my current life has forgotten, and Ian's life remembers. He tears the fabric of my couch apart, and emerges triumphant with what he says is my journal. Annik's journal.
Of course, the couch is one I summoned from memory and so it must've...
Rapidly, I dress Annik's flat in my mind. The small space is occupied by a bed, a couch, and the regulation kitchen appliances of an apartment, but miniaturized. There is a single window which looks into an alleyway. A lamp with an elephant-print shade, dark blue paint, the anonymous brown floral sofa - I feel Nicholas under it all, like a dark blue ribbon, typing words onto a narrative of my past that I remember the way we all remember while reading the books from our childhood - innocent and dreamlike.
The couch was moved to Rosie's living room just after that. It belonged after that to John, who tossed it into the storage unit from which I stole it again in 2013. Maybe it even belonged once to you, Jack. You know it by sight, or told me once you did. The brown floral velvet, with the wood accents. The roses are orange. Sewn into the back of it, beneath the cushion, there is a seam where Matthew inserts my switchblade.
The journal itself is a fire-blistered violet color, marked with runes for water and protection, burned into the cover. Adam "confiscates" it almost immediately to the lab, where he reasons he has to determine if it's really mine, and if there are traps or hexes which will befall those who attempt to open it. He bravely volunteers himself, but I know it's only to be the first to see it's content. If I was mad, he would volunteer to be my therapist. If I only spoke a fictional language, he would be the first to learn it. If I was a carnivorous plant, he would offer himself only to be the first to know how I masticate.
I realize there is a perception among the Grays that I am the same poison as Matthew. The way the ivy creeps... the way a flame crawls... there are sides of me which are the same weapon of mass destruction as him. That if this delicate construct of the experiment of Gray House were ever able to be destroyed, it would be by one of us, or both. And it's Annik they have elected to be this noxious plant, for all the ivy I have grown over the walls, and all the ghost-ferns I have planted on the surface of the moon.
Adam expects my journal to be coated in the same hallucinogenic botanical oil he assumes seeps from Annik's skin, and when I look for explanations as to why, he ducks his head, nearly embarrassed.
"She has green eyes," he admits, and might as well be saying I am part of the same watery branch of the Gray family tree to which Rosie and Dean belong; the sirens who kill with impunity. Adam has long thought of me as the infection he must endure, but suddenly I am coated with a patina of Matthew's phlgemy evil. Annik is a creature. I long suspected it, but they have become wary of me the same way they are wary of Rosie. Annik is an unknown creature.
Adam closes the door of the lab and we watch over the waves of our connected mental eye. He confirms the meaning of the runes. Water, and protection, burned into it's surface. The color is dark purple. Evelyn, does that mean anything to you?
He asks politely, although he knows it does mean something to me. I lay in my bed, in Ian's arms, and cry over the struggle of a young girl who could never decide on what an Evelyn might've been. Matthew holds tight to my shoulders, because he was there for the struggle, and remembers what every burn mark on the journal means.
Jack, do you think we wed ourselves too early to some element, and let it tell us too much who we are? Do you suppose as children, we might've all chosen fire, and regretted it somehow for it's implications of things which we failed to live down? Do you suppose what an element really is, really at it's soul, is not what those fucking horoscopes would've had you believe?
Apparently, Annik had the same struggle, or was born of it, or I had not quite finished it until this world came to swallow me.
"Burn it," I tell Adam, and Ian's arms tighten around me. "That's my guess."
Adam puts the book on the counter in the lab.
"Are you certain?" he asks me, through the floorboards of our telepathy.
But I should be. Shouldn't I be?
Against my window, the rain begins. I realize I have a single window in this single room, stuffed with a bed and couch, and an elephant-print lamp. I realize I have recreated Annik's flat here, in the Clock, but washed it with pink and ivy enough to make Matthew declare me Venus herself.
Downstairs, we all watch Adam put the book over a Bunsen flame. It burns with purple flame, and he murmurs that it smells of lavender and rotting flesh. The book remains unconsumed by flames, and he sets it in a metal pan to cool. The lock on it's edge remains intact.
"Dump water on it," Ian suggests, and Adam obliges. Lavender steam rises from it, and Adam tumbles to the floor of the lab. The power flickers in the house, and the elephant lamp browns, and hums.
"He got sent to the river," Clyde interrupts our thoughts. "By inhaling the stuff."
A clap of thunder shakes the house.
Rosie and Clyde take up the task of opening the journal, an extra douse of water, and a magical kiss. Neither work, and the journal's cover scars with the words, "You now have three failed password attempts. Your account is suspended until the owner of his journal resets the password."
Eavesdroppers howl with cackles, and Ian's fist grips the fabric of my shirt in anger.
"This is not anyone's business but yours," he hisses in my ear. "They do not respect you or your privacy, and they do not care if your feelings are hurt."
Ian turns to Matthew again on a dime's edge. The world becomes us and them, the House and our room, and how the diseases we become are not safe from the sterilization process of everyone we come in contact with.
"Get the journal back," he insists to me, his tone suggesting we will be allowed to infect one another. "I will show you how it opens. I remember."
I bring it back to my room, the crocodile skin of it cool and smooth and wet from where Clyde covered it with rain. Matthew sits on the floor of my room, his thin legs crossed in his black jeans. His shirt removed, he is starkly illustrated with his 306 tattoos (by Nick's precise account). He is picking his nails with Valentine, my switchblade. He gestures for me to sit beside him, and I put the book on the floor between us.
He says to me, "Fire and water," summarizing the last 16 years in concise practicality. He cuts open my palm, and presses it to the journal, and the locks click open.
The original pages we can see have all been burnt out. It has pages from various places stuffed into the now empty binding, different sizes and textures. Most that I flip through begin with, "Dear Ian." They all smell like campfire smoke and violets.
I read the first letter anxiously, but in the tradition of Gray House, a glass shatters, a scream carries up the stairs. Clyde vomits, Ian seizes, you overdose. The journal is shoved into a corner, and forgotten when Clyde forces his way into our world.