Aubrey’s still awake when the creak of a door reaches her ears. She’s sitting, still dressed from the day in her bed, scrolling through her phone. She doesn’t think anything of it, doors creak in their house all the time, but then the floorboards creak, heavy footed steps trying to get covered up in the silence. Her heart catches in her throat, and she realizes that someone is in her home.
She’d turned the light off, not wanting to alert her parents of her being awake, and now she’s cursing herself for it. Maybe if the light had been on they wouldn’t have targeted this house. She sits up, pockets her phone, and stands.
If she can get to her parent’s room, they’ll know what to do. She pads quietly into the hallway, stepping carefully to avoid alerting the strangers in her house that she’s awake. Her hands shake, but she just needs to make it downstairs and to the right and she’ll be at her parent’s room.
She can’t see anything, eyes not adjusted to the darkness. The floorboards creak some more, and she can hear quietly shuffling downstairs, people moving things. She steps forward again and her foot slips.
Her stomach flips as she falls forward and when she cracks her head on the bannister everything goes even darker than before.
When she wakes up it’s to heat and the sound of crackling wood. She blinks, groaning as she sits up, and is immediately met with the sight of flames covering the floor, the walls, all around her.
She lets out an involuntary yell and scrambles backwards. There’s- there were burglars. Why would they set a fire? She can’t think as she stands, trying to avoid getting burned. Her lungs are straining and her eyes water in the smoke. Her head pounds distantly and everything’s a little dizzy, but she’s not been burned yet.
There’s a squeal from behind her and she remembers Dr. Harris Bonkers, trapped in her room. When she turns she finds fire blocking her way, but there’s no way that’s going to stop her.
She runs through it as fast as she can, trying not to let it touch her. The flames lick at her and she bites her lip, but when she enters her room it’s untouched. She grabs her backpack that she’d packed for tomorrow and scoops Dr. Bonkers up in her arms and then stares at the doorway. The fire’s low to the ground there, so if she holds him up he won’t get burned. He’s a little squirmy in her arms, but she holds him tightly and rushes through it again. Her feet burn but she doesn’t stop. A crack sounds from the ceiling and a piece of the wood snaps to the floor behind her.
She can’t stay here, but there’s so much fire between her and the stairs. Dr. Bonkers squeaks in her hold and she takes as deep a breath she can without coughing. Everything is hot and confusing, but she goes forward anyway. The fire bites at her legs and arms and feet and her face feels wet but she runs down the stairs anyway, almost falling off them when they wobble under her, creaking and snapping under the fire. The front door is so close, she can make it, she can make it.
Aubrey finds the door open and runs through it into their driveway. Sirens whine in the distance and she stops and breathes in fresh air, coughing.
“Aubrey!” Her dad runs up to her “Where’s your mom?”
“Wh—,” she tries and then starts coughing again. “What? She’s not out?”
Her dad’s face goes a little shocked, eyes widening, and he turns back to the house. “She went back in to get you! Did you see her?”
“No,” she gravels out, stomach dropping. “No, no, no where’s mom?”
A groan comes from the house and she turns to watch part of the roof collapse, flames coming out the top of it. The sirens get closer until they end at her driveway, but she can’t tear her eyes away from it. Her mom is in there. Oh god, oh god, her mom is in their burning house.
She starts to go forward, back toward the house, but her dad grabs her by the arms and pulls her back.
“No!” She yells. “No! Mom’s still in there!”
Dr. Bonkers squirms in her arms again as she yells, and then there’s firemen and ambulance people all around them. Someone tries to take him from her arms and she can’t think, just yells and jerks away from them.
“Is anyone still inside?” Asks a fireman, and her dad answers that mom’s still in there, and Aubrey can only stare as her house burns up. Two firemen go inside, others start with the hose. It doesn’t do much, just puts out the part of the house that’s already collapsed. It feels like an eternity before they come back out, body held between them.
She knows before she sees it that it’s her mom, limp, burned, unmoving between the two. Her dad lets out a noise beside her, but she’s silent, staring.
Everything moves very fast after that. She gets loaded in the back of an ambulance and has an oxygen mask placed over her face and they rush to the hospital and she doesn’t let anyone take Dr. Harris Bonkers from her. Her backpack stays on her back and her dad sits next to her, head in his hands.
Apparently she has extensive burns on her feet and legs, but she can’t feel most of it. They clean them up and put a burn cream on them and wrap them up, and she’s numb through all of it.
There’s an IV in her hand, water? Fluids? Something she needs. She sits on the bed, pet Dr. Bonkers absently, and waits.
It takes a while for her to register that her mom just died in the fire that burnt their entire house down, and when she does, she holds him close and cries quietly. She can’t cry big in front of her dad. Not right now. Not when he’s out in the hallway trying not to cry in front of her.
They release them after a few hours, or maybe it’s a lot of hours, and they go to her grandma’s house. She takes the extra pair of shoes she’d shoved in her backpack and slips them on, wincing when they press into the burns. Her grandma’s house feels stuffy and suffocating.
“I, uh,” she says, holding Dr. Bonkers close. “I’m gonna go, uh, get my bike.”
“Okay,” her dad says, face wan. His eyes are tired, deep set bags underneath them. She can’t look much better.
“Love you,” she says quietly.
“I love you too,” he says. Her head still feels a little wobbly, but she hoists her rabbit close and readjusts her backpack and walks back to her house.
The charred wood taunts her, police tape surrounding the burnt remains of her house. Her bike sits untouched in the driveway, along with her parent’s cars. She sets Dr. Bonkers in the side car, strapping him into the harness. She doesn’t have her helmet, but she doesn’t care. Her backpack is tight on her back and she has everything else that she needs, so she swings her legs over the seat and turn it on.
The steady rumbling under her legs grounds her and she drives back out of the driveway, not looking at the house. She drives around for a while, winding through the forest road nearby to clear her head some. She should have a helmet on, she should have any kind of protective jacket on, but all of that’s burnt up. All she has is what she packed in her backpack: her laptop, her wallet, her keys, some clothes, hygiene stuff, her magic equipment, and her phone and Dr. Harris Bonkers.
It takes about an hour of driving for her to realize she can’t stomach the thought of going back to her dad. He needs her, probably, and she should need him, but the empty feeling just keeps growing inside of her and she does the only thing she can think of, the thing she was planning on doing today all along.
The open road is terrifying, but she turns up the radio loud and revs her engine and speeds down the interstate, far away from her home and her dad and her dead fucking mom.
It takes three hours for her dad to call her, but she doesn’t answer it. She can’t answer it. She keeps driving and her phone keeps buzzing until it eventually stops, and she breathes out a sigh of relief.
When she stops for dinner even though she isn’t hungry, she finds twelve missed calls and a bucket load of unopened texts. For every call there’s a voicemail, and she hits play.
“Aubrey? Hon, where are you? It’s been hours and I’m worried. I… come back to grandma’s? Please sweetie I need you to come back this time.”
“I know this is bad, this is really goddamn bad right now. But please come back. Or call. I want to know that you’re okay. Just call. Or text. Anything. I need you to do that for me.”
“It’s been five hours and you haven’t said anything. I know you don’t answer things while you’re driving, but please pull over and call me back. Text me. Call grandma. Hell, call one of your friends if you can’t handle talking to me right now. Anything. Anything. Please.”
“Aubrey,” her dad says, and he sounds so drained. “Aubrey I know… I know it’s bad. B-but I need to know that you’re okay.” She hears a horrifying sniffle on his end and when he talks next it’s watery. “I know. I know. But please call back. Give me anything. I can’t lose you too—”
She ends the voicemail with shaky fingers. She doesn’t bother with the texts, just hits the callback button and waits.
He answers after three rings. “Aubrey?”
“Hey,” she whispers into the phone. “I’m okay. I was driving.”
“Where are you? Is everything- well, not okay, but as okay as it can be?”
“I’m… uh, I think I’m down in Radford?”
He’s quiet on the other end of the phone for a while. “You’re not coming back, are you?”
“I don’t think I can,” she says. “I can’t come back, dad. I can’t I know you need me to but I can’t.”
“Okay,” he says. “Okay, okay. Just. Are you coming back for the funeral?”
She lets out a shaky noise and covers her mouth. “N- um, no. No I can’t do that either.”
“Alright,” her dad says, and it’s hollow sounding. There’s nothing in his voice. “Call me, please? Let me know you’re okay.”
“I love you,” she says instead of agreeing. She knows he notes that.
“Love you too, Orb.” She sniffles at her nickname, ending the phone call. She unfastens Dr. Bonkers and goes into the fast food place she’s driven to, ordering something she forgets the name of as soon as it’s left her mouth. She has money, she’s saved up for this exact purpose.
She eats to fill her up and nothing more. The dingy hotel she shacks up in for the night is cheap, and she double checks for bedbugs before placing Dr. Bonkers on the sheets. Her sleep is fitful, but she gets her energy back. She sets out on the road again after buying a cheap helmet at a department store, fastening it under her chin.
Aubrey drives and stops and eats and drives and sleeps and drives some more. She makes sure that Dr. Harris Bonkers is comfortable and eats his food and gets his sleep, makes sure he’s not to uncomfortable in the side car and keeps him healthy and steady.
It’s about a week later that she hits the ocean, sitting up on a cliffside for lunch. Dr. Bonkers hops around, munching on his food and loving the freedom of movement. She sits hunched up, knees to her chin, eating her sandwich.
Mom is gone. Mom is dead. Her mom is dead and her house is gone and every family picture they had is gone and her mom is fucking dead.
She lets out a scream of frustration and sobs into her knees. Dr. Bonkers nuzzles against her thigh as she cries, nasty ugly noises pouring out as she listens to the crash of the ocean.
Once she’s cried herself out, she gathers up her stuff and refastens Dr. Bonkers and drives to the nearest beauty store she can find. She buys a box bleach and two bottles of hair dye and then checks herself into a shitty motel.
Her mom used to bleach her hair for her when she was fifteen, carefully applying with the brush to not get it on her skin, chattering away about her day and about Aubrey’s day. And then she’d rinse it out, applying a heavy layer of conditioner that they’d leave in for five minutes and then rinse out. Once her hair dried her mom would slather on whatever color she wanted that time, blending it in with another complimentary color. Blue and purple, pink and orange, yellow and green.
Now, with music playing from her phone, holding her hands carefully so nothing gets on the motel bathroom counter, she puts the bleach in her undyed hair, scrubbing it into her hair. She never had the patience for the brush, preferring to use her hands to scrub it into her hair and roots. Her mom was always the patient one.
Aubrey’s on her own now. She has to make this work for herself or risk crawling back to her father and his grief and guilt and everything surrounding that. So when she rinses out the bleach she pours the colors into her hands.
Red and orange.
Her stage name is Lady Flame. That won’t change. Now it’s more. She has to push everything down, become her magic persona. She’s not Aubrey Little. She’s the Lady Flame. She does magic and has her rabbit and rides a bike and if anyone asks about family she’ll tastefully brush them off. She’s a magician and she’s fucking good at what she does. Specializes in fire. She knows how to handle flames. She knows how to make it do what she wants.
Birthday gigs are maybe the most popular. She sets up a facebook page, makes a small blog, sets her area as the surrounding states. Puts up some videos of herself doing card tricks and fire snaps and some choice pictures of Dr. Bonkers in a magician hat.
She does pretty well for herself, honestly. Kids love the rabbit, and they’re always interested in her hair. She keeps it in the vicinity of bright orange, mixing some pinks and reds in there sometimes for flair.
Travelling around Virginia and West Virginia and Kentucky and Maryland is an experience, and while she knows the area, she gets to see a whole lot more of it than she ever did before. While she hates driving in the rain, it is really nice just to sit and watch everything get hazy and damp under grey clouds.
She doesn’t think about her mom or her dad or anything she left behind. She doesn’t let herself.
It’s been three years and she’s twenty one and the Kepler happens. Suddenly she’s Aubrey again, but more than that. She’s fighting monsters and she has friends and there’s a cute girl that’s kind of a vampire and that only makes her cuter, in Aubrey’s opinion. Dr. Bonkers likes her, and that’s enough of a go ahead to make friends and maybe try for something a little more than friends.
Then of course, there’s Mama.
Mama is big and strong and has a loud voice and a heavy accent and is exactly nothing like her mother. But that doesn’t stop Aubrey from attaching herself to her. Mama lives up to her name. She’s like a mom and she cares but also she pits them against danger and eggs her on to keep up her magic and rescues her from the police that one time.
She won’t talk to her about it, but it’s there. She reminds her of mom, regardless of how different they are. She gives her a big strong heavy handed hug and Aubrey practically melts into it, breathing in the scent of sweat and pine and gasoline, so different from her mom’s subtle tangerine scent that she always had.
She used to call mom mama when she was younger, and now calling Mama that, it’s a little weird, but it’s okay.
Duck and Ned are fun in a weird, quirky sort of way. Ned’s really into conning people, regardless of whether he needs to or not. He really doesn’t need to con them into liking him because he’s funny and she likes him. Duck’s just all around awkward but he’s nice. She can’t help remember how he’d busted her in the woods a few weeks ago, camping out and practicing her magic with some drinks in the night. No fire in the woods, he reminded her, watching her put all her sparks and gloves away and pouring out her shitty cheap beer before leaving.
The she gets hurt in the fight against the abominations, creaking her head open again and ending herself up in the hospital. They visit her until she’s out, concussion going away.
Mama leaves with only a note left over and Barclay to watch things over, and from the mood Aubrey thinks this must be a regular occurrence.
She didn’t want to latch onto her, refuses to think about her mom. And yet here she is feeling hurt and a little distrustful now that Mama’s gone.
“Is this a regular thing?” She asks Dani, snapping fire between her fingers.
“Oh yeah,” Dani says. “Mama leaves on missions all the time. Usually she comes back pretty soon though. Don’t worry. She’ll be okay.”
Aubrey has no doubt that Mama can take care of herself, but not everyone’s capable of saving themselves from things that should be easy. Aubrey’s anxious but she forces herself to tamp it down. Mama will be fine. Why does she even care? She’s not her mom. Her mom died. Her mom is dead and has been dead for three years.
She hasn’t seen her dad in three years.
She shoves that thought down hard and focuses on the people around her.
Running movie nights with Ned is fun. The movies are always bad horror movies with terrible special effects even for the times. She gets to know the town more, learning their names and telling them hers. It’s odd, she’s so used to keeping herself a secret that this feels weird. But it’s good.
Duck is… interesting. He’s reluctant to use any sort of magic power he’s got, which is such the opposite of her. He’s nice but he seems like he’d silently judge her for… something. She’s got no idea what. Maybe it’s the piercings. Maybe it’s their first meeting. She’s not really sure he likes her. It’s a little unnerving.
She sits in the common room of the Lodge, half staring at Dani. She’s reading, tongue caught in her teeth, eyes concentrated on the book. Duck’s on the couch next to Aubrey, sitting quietly.
“You, uh, you two got something going on?”
The question startles her. Duck rarely asks about people’s personal lives and this question is practically unprompted.
“Um,” she looks for an answer that she’s comfortable with. “I don’t really… kinda? I mean, I wouldn’t hate it if there was something, that’s for sure.”
Duck hums as an answer, resting his head back. She gets the weirdest feeling that somehow this is the wrong answer and tenses up.
“Is that okay with you?” She asks, a little hostile. She’s not interested in trying to make better friends if he’s gonna be rude about her sexuality.
“What?” He asks, raising his head back up, confused. “Why- why does that matter?”
“I just wanna know what you think?” She says as pleasantly as she can.
“Oh geez, no, I’m not trying to like disapprove of that at all. It’s cool. You’re fine. Like, my sister’s pretty gay and I’m not exactly the straightest person in the world, so I really couldn’t give a shit. Wait. That’s not- fuck. Dammit. I care but like, you can do what you want? It shouldn’t matter what I think, that’s for sure.”
She sits, a little shocked, and then she smiles. “Oh. Okay. Thanks.”
He breathes out a sigh of relief and sets his head back into the cushions. “Yeah. Sorry if I gave off that vibe. I really don’t mean to.”
“Nah,” she says. “You’re just kinda awkward, but it’s fine. I like it. Makes you unique.”
“Uh, thanks? I guess?”
“You’re welcome!” She says happily. Dani looks up at her and smiles. Aubrey smile back.
“I think you got a pretty good chance, if you’d really not ‘hate’ anything happening.”
She snorts and elbows him. “God, fine, say you’re rooting for it and get over it.”
“Don’t wanna jinx it.” She can hear the smile in his voice and she smiles to her feet.
They fight the water monster and Mama still isn’t back and then Duck almost dies and she saves his life and then makes sure he’s okay.
“You’re not driving home,” she says firmly.
“Aubrey, c’mon. I’m fine. I got, what, a mild concussion? I don’t die that easy.”
“Yeah, and I’m not having you crash your car and die on me just cause you were to proud to let someone drive you home.”
“Then I’m getting in your car with you and you’re driving me to your house and then I’ll have Barclay pick me up from there.”
“What? No, that’s dangerous—”
“Aha! You admit it. It’s dangerous for me but not for you? How’s that work?”
“Fine,” he says tiredly. “Drive me home. But you can’t take the truck to the Lodge. I need it.”
“Okay, I’ll still have Barclay pick me up then.”
The drive home is quiet and Duck presses his head to the cool glass as Aubrey drives, a little unused to driving a vehicle that isn’t her bike. He gives her almost whispered directions to his apartment, and she appreciates the heavy turn of this vehicle.
When she gets back, Mama comes back and she’s roughed up and passes out and Dani looks pleased and announces that Mama’s home, but Aubrey can’t feel anything but dread. She drops what she’s doing and grabs her shoulder, hefting her up.
“We need to get her to the hospital,” she rushes out. “She looks bad.”
“Aubrey it’s always like this,” Dani says, taking her other shoulder. “She’ll be alright.”
“We need to get her to the hospital!” She repeats, more frantic. There’s blood and it looks like she’d burned in one spot and her stomach roils.
Dani’s quiet for a second, searching her face, and her expression softens. “Alright. Let’s get her to the hospital. Jake! Go grab Barclay!”
They get her admitted to the hospital and the staff looks a little amused and tired at her being admitted, again from what Aubrey can parse out.
She goes home and takes a scalding hot shower, scrubbing off her worries. Mama will be fine, she does this all the time. Mama is going to be okay.
She cries a little bit, arms curled around Dr. Bonkers in bed, lights off.
Then Mama wakes up and everyone acts like nothing has changed. Of course it hasn’t. This is just how everyone is.
Aubrey pulls away from her a little bit, keeps her emotions to herself for the most part. Talking to her about it feels wrong. She’s not her mom. Her mom is dead. Her mom is dead. Why can’t she just fucking accept that and stop projecting all her mom stuff onto Mama and just treat her like a normal goddamn adult?
She briefly thinks about calling her dad but tamps that thought down. It’s been a good year and a half since she talked to him last. She’d have to explain where she is and what she’s doing if she called, and she can’t do that. She can’t tell her dad where she is because maybe he’ll come find her this time and maybe he’ll be tired of her being gone and make her come home and deal with her problems head first.
Then, then, just as she’s shoved all her issues back to the thick layer she keeps them under, she drops the Pizza Hut sign on Duck and loses her whole ass shit.
Duck is fine, of course. Thank god. He’s unhurt and not all that shaken up, and the only one really hurt in this situation is Ned, which fucking suck, but when she finally comes back to herself and realizes that Duck is actually alive, actually in front of her, she maybe loses any cool she had.
The situation is so similar. So goddamn similar to when she lost her mom. She lost control of her magic and people died, or almost died, or she thought they died. Her mom died smoked out and burnt up in her house, and Aubrey comes to the horrifying realization that she set that fire, that she burned their home down, that she killed her mom.
Duck and her get a moment alone and she cries and cries and he gives her an unsure hug and assures her that he’s fine and alive and he has every plan to stay that way.
Mama shows up to wait with them for Ned and it feels weird, but when Jake goes to find who called them, and when Duck finally takes the big obnoxious hint to leave her and Mama alone, she tells her about the fire and her magic and her mom.
Mama gives her a kiss on the head before going out to get Duck.
Then she gets a call from the fucking Mothman and it’s the cherry on her bullshit day cake. She tells them about it when they come back, that apparently Mothman’s going to see them tomorrow, somehow, guess he can see the future or some shit, but whatever. She’s too drained to deal with whatever emotional reaction she should be having to Mothman warning them about stuff.
“I’ll stay here with Ned,” Mama offers. “Make sure he wakes up okay and let y’all know when he does.”
“You sure? Cause I can stay,” Duck offers. Jake had gotten picked up by Barclay a little bit ago.
“Nah. You take Aubrey back to the Lodge. I’ll call you later.”
“Alright,” Duck says, standing. Aubrey stands after a moment, realizing that’s what she should do. He takes her to his truck and loads her up. She’s silent on the ride back.
“I really am okay,” he says on that last curve before the Lodge. “You didn’t hurt me even a little bit.”
“Okay,” she says numbly, not really able to feel anything. She killed her mom, she almost killed Duck, definitely thought she killed Duck, and apparently she’s meeting Mothman tomorrow. It’s a lot to deal with, so she’s not.
“Just,” he says as they pull up. “Take care of yourself. Don’t beat yourself up too bad. I’m gonna see you tomorrow, but make sure you let yourself rest.”
She nods and pauses before getting out. She debates telling him about her mom but decides against it, climbing out of the truck and walking into the Lodge.
Dani’s waiting for her there, Dr. Bonkers in her arms. She looks worried. Barclay is in the room as well, but everyone else seems to be upstairs.
“Are you okay?” She asks, handing her the oversized rabbit. Aubrey takes him silently, dropping her head on Dani’s shoulder. She can feel her tense up before resting a tentative arm on her shoulder.
“Bad fuckin’ day,” she says quietly. “It’s been a really shit awful day, Dani.”
“Do… do you want to talk about it?”
“I thought I killed Duck because I fucked up my magic so much and I lost it a little and I’m pretty sure I actually killed my mom three years ago instead of the fire being just a coincidence and I guess Mothman’s meeting up with us tomorrow, so that’s neat.”
She can’t stop herself from saying it all. It’s just Dani and Barclay. Barclay will hear it from Mama, and Dani won’t tell anyone her business.
“Shit,” she breathes out. “That’s… holy shit, Orb.”
The nickname hits her like a ton of bricks. Dani’s used it before, and it’s always hurts a little bit, hearing what her mom and dad called her. But this time she just starts crying again. She wants her mom. She wants her to play with her hair and smell like tangerines and hug her with soft, gentle arms.
She doesn’t ever get that again because she killed her.
Barclay comes and takes Dr. Bonkers from her and Dani wraps her up in a bigger hug and she cries more. She thought she’d cried herself out at the hospital in front of Duck, but apparently there were more tears hiding in her eyes.
“Do you want anything?” Barclay asks quietly. She shakes her head no and she hears him shift Dr. Bonkers into a better position.
When she stops crying she wipes at her eyes with her sleeve, getting all the gross remains of her tears off her face. “Sorry,” she mumbles, not looking at either of them.
“God, don’t be sorry,” Dani says. “It really has been a shit awful day for you.”
She giggles a bit wrapping her arms around herself.
“Indrid’s okay,” Barclay says, blessedly changing the topic. “He can come off as a lot sometimes, especially with all the premonitions and stuff, but he shouldn’t be too rough on you three.”
She nods and holds out her hands, receiving Dr. Bonkers from him. He nuzzles her face, licking at it.
“I’m gonna, uhm. I think I’m gonna go to bed.”
“Okay,” Dani says, and she sounds sad. “Let me know if you want to talk some more or want to grab some late night hot chocolate or anything like that. I’ll probably be up for a little longer.”
Okay,” she says, making her way upstairs. She dumps Dr. Bonkers on the bed and changes into a loose pair of shorts and a t-shirt, climbing under the covers and flipping the light off.
He brain is running a million miles an hour, but she manages to calm down enough to breathe slowly. She doesn’t think of her mom, brushing her hair back, smiling with slightly crooked teeth, hair pulled back with some loose strands falling out of the bun. She doesn’t think of the comforting scent of tangerines and the way her laugh was quiet at nighttime and loud and obnoxious during the day.
She doesn’t think about the lullaby she used to hum when Aubrey got anxious or scared or too tired to even fall asleep right.
And she definitely doesn’t fall asleep crying into her pillow thinking about all of that to comfort her into a dreamless rest.