It took a few moments for David to notice anything after waking up. The first thing he noticed was his stomach growling, like he hadn’t eaten in days. He was laying on something soft, patches of his pyjamas worn almost through and the fabric rough against his skin. Sunshine pressed against his eyelids. He didn’t open them. No need. The door was closed. The nearest moving person was downstairs. There was someone else in this room, though. Breathing, but still. Small, female. Allison. He smiled. He really wasn’t sure why.
Still with his eyes closed, David reduced himself to fog. Mist seeped out of his pyjamas and down through the floorboards.
In the kitchens, Therese Fletcher heard a pop as she sullenly worked the stove, followed by the tell-tale rustle of paper and plastic. She turned, and caught only the briefest snatch of a boy, quite naked, eyes sparkling with mischief as he dug through the drawer where the sweets were stored. Before she had a chance to say a word, however, there was another pop, and the boy vanished in a puff of fog, leaving a half empty packet of tim tams in his wake.
“… Maelstrom?” she asked absently. No. That couldn’t have been him. Maelstrom would’ve broken down and wept if he’d been caught in the treat cupboard. Probably even if Lawrence had sent him. And those eyes were the wrong colour.
Back in the darkened room, Allison Kinsey felt something cold splash against her cheek, and opened one bleary eye to Maelstrom dumping a jug’s worth of water on her head.
It took Allison a moment to recognize his song. It sounded like someone had figured out how to play hot-jazz with verrilion. Then Allison realised the songs were back and nothing else mattered in the world.
“C’mon,” said the strange boy, his eyes milky green like the edges of waves in moonlight. “I want to play.”
Allison blinked up at the friend she didn’t know. Then she grinned, the hazel of her eyes got lost in the green, and the world was a flood. David ran out of his father’s room, pursued by the ghost of Allison, her vaporous fingers reaching out to grab him.
As he ran, David savoured the way his legs moved. His whole body felt new and strange, like a toy just out of the box. The air was odd, too, thin and light around his limbs.
Allison gained on David, tickling his skin. He turned and made a sharp stop, letting her fog smash into his now icy chest.
Allison coalesced behind him, pouting. “No fair!”
Flesh and blood again, David turned and shrugged, grinning all the while. “It’d need rules to be fair!” His body collapsed into water, soaking into the carpet till he was gone.
Allison growled and followed suit.
David had never realized how porous the big house was. All the little nooks and crannies were like doors for him. Why hadn’t he thought of it before?
He dripped down towards the second floor, the droplets that were him evaporating into steam before they could hit the ground. Allison followed him, their mists intermingling in a deeply confused hug.
Once they had figured out whose water molecules were whom, they noticed Arnold leaning against a door, anxiously clawing at the wood as he zapped a ball into the air, over and over.
That confused Allison. They had their powers back. What was there to be miserable about?
David, for his part, simply saw someone being unhappy. The boy tried to think of what would make Arnold happy.
Then he remembered Linus’ song.
He materialized in front of the other child, and before he could say anything, gave him a kiss. It wasn’t a long one, but Arnold went pale before the end, nonetheless.
“It’s alright, you know.”
“M-Mael?” he asked, eyes widening as David and Allison ran laughing like mad towards the bannister, leaping over the wooden railing with no hesitation.
On the first floor landing, splinters of ice reassembled themselves like a child attempting a jigsaw-puzzle.
Allison clutched David’s hands, bouncing on her heels. “What do you wanna do now?”
He grinned. “I wanna go outside.”
The pair burst out the front door, bounding down the veranda and into the lawn. Left unattended in the chaos of the blackout, the grass blades now stabbed towards the sky like so many spears.
David savoured the warmth on his skin. The rays of the sun and the dirt under his feet were distant, pleasant memories, suddenly made real and vivid again. And he felt so fast. Like he could run to Perth and back without breaking a sweat.
He wanted water. Luckily the rising summer had yet to burn all the green from the world. Blades of grass, ants, and flies alike exploded, the moisture inside them pursuing David as he ran past. It didn’t matter. Their water was his.
The water clung to David’s hands. First like beads of sweat, then clear, glittering gloves, and finally crystal spheres bigger than his head. Without breaking his stride, he turned to face Allison, poking his tongue out.
Lashes of water slapped the girl in the face. Sputtering and fuming, she tried to to close the growing gap between her and David.
A red and blue diamond, split down the middle.
Nothing. Stupid Żywie, making her be weak.
Allison looked toward the ribbon of blue in the distance. All that water…
A great finger of water rose from the river, dwarfing the trees along its banks. Like a serpent, it reared over the grounds of the Institute, dragging its tail out the river and into the air, until its shadow was over Allison.
She let go of David’s song.
The entire mass lunged down onto the girl. The next second, she was fifty yards in front of David, glowing like the moon and frosted with ice.
Allison smirked. “I thought you said there weren’t any rules?”
David roared. The thousands of gallons of snow and ice-water rose behind him, and flew towards his friend.
The blizzard hit a dam of fire, hissing as it melted for the ground to drink, the steam lost in the air.
David’s song would always be Allison’s favourite, hands down. But who ever listened only to their favourite song?
Arm in arm, the two children laughed. It was a good day. Then, David quirked his head.
“There’s a lot of people ‘round the dorm.”
“Yeah,” said Allison. “Like, halfa’ everyone.”
David grinned. “Wanna check it out?”
Mabel was sitting on the dormitory steps, her face flushed and threaded with tears, her breath heaving softly. Basilisk and Melusine were sitting either side of her, united in purpose. Children milled about uncomfortably, while Lawrence and Mrs. Gillespie comforted a weeping Żywie.
“Shush, shush, shush” the old woman whispered. “There’s nothing you could’ve done.”
“What’s going on?” David asked, recondensing after misting through the crowd.
Lawrence glared at the boy. “Maelstrom, this is completely inappropriate.”
For some reason, the voice itched at David. Made him want to hit something. He pushed the feeling from his mind, and asked again.
“What happened?” He frowned. “And why were we in Basilisk’s bed?”
Mabel was staring at him. “Why are you two so happy?” She pronounced the last word like it was the most dire accusation.
“Why shouldn’t we be?” David snapped, digging his heels into the ground.
All around them, children shuffled their feet and tried not to look at the water-sprite.
He stared at Lawrence. “Did you make Mabel cry?”
The old man looked like he was about to explode, and for a moment, David’s eyes flared arsenic green, but Melusine raised a hand. “David,” she said gently. “Adam passed away last night.”
Her son wilted slightly. “What?”
“She means he’s dead!” Mabel shouted.
David’s eyes were wide. “How?”
“An aneurysm,” Lawrence said. “There was a fault in the Quiet Room. It made you all lose your powers, but it gave poor Adam a brain bleed.” Tears began to escape him. “At least it was painless.”
David looked toward the crowd being parted by Allison’s elbows. “Allie?”
When she reached the front of the children, the girl looked back at him. “I—I can’t hear him anymore.”
Lawrence stepped towards David, putting a hand on his shoulder. “David, it’s time for you to go back inside.”
“But Adam’s dead.”
Only a few of those watching were really surprised when Lawrence struck David, the back of his hand snapping the boy’s head to the side. He’d been impudent. It was a foregone conclusion.
“Your behaviour in the wake of this tragedy has been vulgar and childish, Maelstrom,” he said, his voice hard. “I should hope you’d know better.”
He swung his hand again, but all it did was disturb the mist left by David’s passing. The boy reformed as quickly as he had vanished. He met the old man’s glare not with anger, but contempt.
“Jesus,” Haunt whispered to Britomart. “What’s Mealy on?”
“Don’t know,” she replied, regarding the boy. “I think I like it?”
Françoise blinked. “David,” she said. “Where were you?”
Her father’s eyes stared back at her.
“I don’t know. But it was great.”