Chapter 1: Hi, I’m Aubrey Chase, and SURPRISE! I’m Not As Dead As You Thought I Was
When you’re a child, your parents raise you on stories of princes and princesses in lands far, far, away. They lead you to believe that one day you will fall deeply, madly in love with your own prince or princess. That true love is the only way to live, and that any other kind of life is riddled with sadness and other heavy burdens.
“-and they lived happily, ever, after. The end.” They would read you tales of far away peoples, where wolves dressed up like grandmas and blew down the houses of piglets with subpar building skills. That there was always a bad guy, and a good guy, and that the good guy always won over the bad guy.
Granted, I was raised in a series of orphanages, each as dismal and boring as the last. I met kids who truly believed their parents would be coming for them within the week, and teenagers fearful of what a future outside of the system held for them. No one person completely trusted the kid next to them, willing to rat one another out at the slightest hint of getting something they wanted.
Not all of the kids were like that, obviously, but my nature, like so many other ‘troublesome’ kids, is naturally pessimistic at best, and nihilistic at worst. Something that had scared off many of the kids that had tried their best to befriend me. There was also the fact that those kids said I had smoky eyes, something that had never really made since to me. If anything, they were a dull grey, resembling a nickel or maybe even fog more than it resembled anything else.
But these children, raised on fairytales and love used to infuriate me. I could never understand why they needed these stories, why they clung to words written years and years and years ago. That was, until I met my cousins, whose lives were myths long ago written in primitive ink.
My name is apparently Aubrey Chase, but I go by Ana.
You may have heard of my cousins, Annabeth and Magnus Chase. Two demigods who have saved the world more times than any teenager dead or alive, should have to. That both of them were heroes in their own rights. You may have also heard that I died.
Well, let me just explain to you how I’m not dead, and how I came to find my cousins.
I’d like to believe it all started on a street corner. I was with another kid who lived at my orphanage and she’d promised me half of whatever we raised if I’d go with her. We were wearing cheerleading outfits because she thought it’d help us raise more money.
I don’t know if I believed that, but we ended up with $100 each, probably because we stayed on the nicer part of town. There was also the fact that she was playing the ‘I’m an orphan and need help raising money for my deaf friend who needs hearing aids’. I was the deaf friend in question, and I did need new hearing aids. The one’s I’d received from the state were shit at the best of times and didn’t work the rest of the time.
At that point I’d been saving up money for months to get a new pair, and I almost had enough to get a pair on the cheaper end. Did I want a cheaper pair? No, but if my hearing aids kept giving out like they had for the past couple of weeks, then I really wouldn’t have a choice in the matter.
She’d given me my half in a diner, saying that she hoped we’d meet again in better circumstances. Her 18th birthday was in a couple of days and she planned on starting college that fall. For the first time since knowing her, I saw her smile at me like I’d helped her achieve her life-long goal.
I told her I hoped we wouldn’t meet ever again and left.
Was that a dick move? Probably, but the sentiment was true. Why should I care if I meet someone who only wanted to use me, again? Before that day I think we’d only said a handful of words to one another and I remember her using a couple of words to insult me.
Besides, it’s not like I refused to help her. All she wanted to do was go to college, and apparently, she had the grades to do that. Just not the money. And unfortunately, I could relate to needing money to get where I needed to go.
I hurried down the street and didn’t look back. I didn’t want to face an angry almost-eighteen-year-old with too much to lose.
Despite the busier time of day, the streets were mostly empty. I only passed a few people on their phones and one woman who was jogging like her life depended on it. No one gave me a second glance, something I was used to by now. As long as you looked like you belonged, no one tended to question your presence.
I ran into someone I hadn’t originally noticed. The person had on an extremely dark bee keeper hat, the kind with the netting falling all the way down to their shoulders. I couldn’t actually see the person’s face, since the netting was so dark, but I could see their outfit. Which was surprisingly fashionable.
I think, I wasn’t very good at fashion. Instead I would subject the people around me to the strange but comfortable outfits I would pick out.
We stood a few inches apart, just staring at one another for much longer than should’ve been normal. I couldn’t help but want to pick up the netting and stare this person down.
I’d always been told that my eyes looked like smoke. So, I’d used it to my advantage.
Whenever people looked at me like I was fragile or something to be cautiously handled, I’d glare at them. Furrowing my brows and never breaking eye contact until they did so. It didn’t always work, being a small, blonde, Asian girl didn’t always get me the fear I attempted to inspire in others.
“Sorry.” I signed before backing up and turning back on my heel. My saunter quickened into a jog as I rounded the corner. Despite the Headmistress’s instructions that I get out more and become a more ‘sociable young lady’ (aka more compliant and less loud) she despised not having all of her ‘ducks in a row’ by dinner time.
After another ten minutes of walking I arrived at my current orphanage. It used to be some kind of factory or store, meaning the building was mostly brick while the inside was a culmination of years and years of work.
Each room was decorated at a different time period, the earliest being the 50s, and the most recent being a quite normal looking room they finished a couple of weeks ago. They spanned the entire two top floors of the building, whilst the ground floor was comprised mostly of the bathrooms, a kitchen, and the ‘playrooms’.
Those were the rooms where the kids and adults hoping to adopt, would meet. As far as I was aware, they were always loud, with each child trying to get the adults’ attention and cause mischief whenever possible.
I wanted to go straight upstairs, but saw the Headmistress speaking with a couple I didn’t recognize. They were in one of the playrooms used for the younger kids, several of them running around and one sitting at a table coloring.
Deciding that I should announce my prescence I entered the playroom and got the Headmistress’s attention with a little waving. The couple to her left were examining me like I was a shirt they were interested in. One of them whispered into the Headmistress’s ear and she waved me over.
“How was your walk?” She signed, confusing the couple to her left. The Headmistress was one of the only orphanage directors that had made an effort to learn sign language for me. It wasn’t that I couldn’t hear anything, but I could never hear enough for everything to make sense without assumptions.
“Long.” I responded glancing over at the couple again. “Adopting?” She smiled and nodded down at me.
The couple next to her was younger than I would’ve guessed would be adopting. The girl couldn’t have been much older than I was, her long curly red hair tied up in a bun that looked ready to burst. She was wearing a pantsuit that didn’t look comfortable, but she still wore like it was her favorite pair of sweatpants.
The man looked like he’d climbed out of a history book. His long unruly beard had been combed into something resembling neat and he was wearing a blazer that was bigger than I was. Both of them were staring down at me like I was the most interesting thing in the entire room. Which was definitely not true.
Despite their claims of wanting to adopt, neither of them looked remotely comfortable as Sara, a 6-year-old that deserved so much more than she had, offered them a coloring book.
“They’re strange.” She signed frowning at the newcomers. She wasn’t deaf but hadn’t talked once since coming to the orphanage. In an attempt to help her out I offered to teach her sign language. It took a couple of weeks, but soon the two of us were closer than I’d ever imagined getting with someone else.
I couldn’t imagine having a younger sister, well I could, but I tried not to. Because when I did, she tended to have dark brown eyes, unruly red hair and a metric ton of freckles. And the likelihood of both of us getting adopted by the same people? Nonexistent. So, I hid it away, and kept learning new words.
“They are.” I replied sitting down next to her as a pair of twins took the couple’s attention away from me. She gave me a dark orange crayon that she knew was my favorite color. I thanked her and accepted the coloring book she’d offered to the couple. We were halfway through filling in a teddy bear when someone tapped on my shoulder.
I turned around to see the Headmistress looming over me, a look akin to pity on her face as she began to sign something to me. I knew it must’ve been important if she wasn’t speaking for everyone else’s sake. At that moment Sara jumped in her seat and the Headmistress’s head spun around so fast that I was sure she would get whiplash. I leaned to try and see around the Headmistress but was only greeted with the edge of her skirt.
I heard the rumbling that I interrupted to mean that the man was talking, not that I could really hear him. Judging by the way Sara was reacting to him however, I guessed that whatever he was saying had something to do with cuss words and interesting things to shove in anatomical places. My immediate thought was to get Sara out of there.
I only had a handful of experiences with loud noises, most of them including honking semitrucks and the others were back when I could hear more than every other word people were saying with my hearing aids. But the few times that I could remember hearing loud noises, Sara always reacted badly to them, turning away and instinctively throwing her arms up to shield her head.
So, deciding that the Headmistress could talk to me later, I picked up our coloring books and signaled to Sara that we were leaving. The Headmistress moved towards the loud noise as Sara and I retreated towards my room.
When we arrived, she pulled out a beanbag chair I’d gotten her for when she wanted to hang out in my room, it was frayed at the seams and every couple of weeks I had to buy new beans to stuff it with.
I handed her back the coloring book, and we began coloring again.
Chapter 2: Emotions Suck. Cargo Pants Don’t.
I didn’t pity her. She had dreams, it wasn’t her fault that reality is a dick.
As I predicted, the Headmistress interrupted Sara and I’s quiet time sooner than either of us would’ve liked. She told Sara to leave with soft words that I couldn’t hear, and Sara got up and left. Sending me a hopeful look that meant she was asking if she could come by after dinner, I nodded in agreement.
The Headmistress rubbed her eyes as Sara closed the door behind her. Even though I couldn’t hear it, I saw her sigh or groan before moving to sit on the edge of my bed. I closed my eyes for a second allowing her for a moment to prepare herself before she lectured me.
I opened my eyes again when she reached out and shook my shin. Despite the out I’d given her she still looked as frazzled and upset as she had when I’d closed my eyes.
“Ana, did you recognize the Ericson’s?” She asked her hands moving as slowly as her words did.
Most people believed if they overenunciated their words and took a long time to speak that I would be able to hear them better. This was far from the truth, if anything I was more confused when you acted like you were trying to teach a dog how to speak English. Did I sometimes need people to speak slower? Yes, and did I sometimes need them to be clearer with their words? Yes, but that didn’t mean you needed to act stupid about it.
“No, did you recognize the Ericson’s?” I cocked an eyebrow at her and she seemed to deflate under my gaze. And just like that I could picture her as the sociology student I knew she’d been, thinking she could help all the people she wanted to help and stay a sane human who slept the recommended eight hours a night even as she volunteered at an orphanage made out of an old department store.
I didn’t pity her. She had dreams, it wasn’t her fault that reality is a dick.
I on the other hand, did not have dreams. Dreams were just as dangerous as hope was. Fooling yourself into believing that life won’t suck is like making a deal that you know you won’t win. It’s signing away your soul to the devil and thinking you’ll actually get it back if you work hard enough.
Besides, what was the point of having dreams if you didn’t have anyone to share them with?
“They- they say they know you. When you were a kid.” My heart was pounding in my chest like the rain pounding against the window when I was a kid. I could still feel the IV’s in my arm keeping me just out of death’s reach. The cold hands of nurses and doctors who came in much too often to check in on me through the first couple days. The muffled noises and constantly changing-
“Ana? Anastasia? Are you okay?” She shook my shoulders and I was back in the now. Mere weeks away from my 18th birthday and the freedom and terrifying possibilities that came with getting out of the system.
“How do they know me?” I asked, my hands shaking too badly to sign. The Headmistress’s eyes shot down and looked at my hands. I could tell she regretted bringing the issue up with me, just as much as I could tell that whatever jumble of emotions that were building up in my stomach weren’t entirely good ones.
“They said they lived across the street from you and your parents, Ana, does the name Aubrey Chase mean-” Ice ran through my veins and I felt like throwing up. In the back of my mind something was telling me to stop whatever I was doing, to stop, Stop, STOP, because I wasn’t supposed to know about this. I wasn’t to be privy to whoever Aubrey Chase was or is or would be. She was the Sun, and I was Icarus flying too high.
Here’s the thing. I’ve had several people claim that they knew me over the years. They’d say I was someone’s sister or granddaughter or cousin and then they’d come in and ask about my past. What I remembered (nothing), who I recognized from their group (no one), and if this name rang any bells (they never did).
Never before had a name struck such a chord in me like it did in that moment.
Why hadn’t they struck a chord like that before now? I could really only think of one reason why that would be true.
“Ana, Ana! You need to breathe, please!” Her eyes were wide and locked onto mine. Squeezing my shoulders, the tremor from her own body shaking mine. It was then I realized that I definitely wasn’t breathing, and it was something I should probably do before I passed out.
I let out a gasping breathe, and then another, and then another, three breaths turned into a sob and suddenly I was crying like I was a little kid who’d scraped her knee. I couldn’t tell if it was the Headmistress who was shaking or if it was my own emotions moving the earth underneath us.
I couldn’t tell you how long I’d cried. But by the time I stopped the Headmistress had been called away to deal with an apparent disaster that’d taken place in the kitchen. I found myself clutching my pillow to my chest and for a second, I could physically feel it. All the pain I’d hidden away and locked with a thousand locks, to never touch or think about again. All of it weighed down on my shoulders and I couldn’t feel my arms or my legs.
I stood on legs like jelly and made my way to the kitchen to grab something to eat before I went to bed. As the emotions in my chest slowed from a roller coaster to a bike’s pace I wondered what all of that meant. I’d never had that kind of reaction before, to anything.
So, what was it about that name that triggered it?
Was I Aubrey Chase? Or maybe I used to know her? Could that be it? That I used to know this girl that they thought I was?
I nearly ran into the kitchen door as it swung open in front of me. The only thing that saved me was my slight tendency to walk with one arm out in front of me like a mummy. I’d had the habit since I was a kid and could never figure out what had caused it.
My hand caught the door but didn’t manage to catch the child who sprinted past me. I didn’t recognize them despite the Headmistress’s habit of pairing me with the children who found themselves afraid in this place. Though I guessed I should’ve been able to identify them, I mean, how many kids were taller than me, with bright green hair?
I’ll answer that question for you, not many.
The woman the Headmistress paid to cook for us ran after the kid, yelling something I couldn’t, and didn’t want to, hear. Instead of offering to help, I just watched the two of them run down the hallway and entered the kitchen on my own. Was it bad that my mind went back to that bad Spiderman trilogy where Peter Parker indirectly caused the death of Uncle Ben? Maybe, but I doubted the green-haired kid had anything to kill anyone with.
I trailed my hand across the stainless-steel countertop before pulling out a drawer I knew would have the key to the refrigerator in it. It took a couple of seconds of digging before I finally found the familiar copper key, the name of an old key making company that no one could even read anymore labeled on the top of it.
I held it in my hands for a few seconds before reminding myself that the cook would be back any minute and would probably report me for attempting to ‘steal’ the food. Again.
I set the lock down on the counter and hurried through the fridge. Grabbing stuff that’d be easy to pass off if someone spotted me in the hallway. A cheese stick hidden up my sleeve, an entire jar of peanut butter and a plastic spoon hidden away in my cargo pants. I loved my pants for that and many other reasons.
Glancing behind me I noticed the hall light had been turned on and I shut and locked the fridge as fast as I could. I hoped I wasn’t making too much noise but knew I wasn’t.
It’d taken months of trial and error before I’d figured out the almost perfect way to get food and get out without getting caught. Of course, that meant that now the cook had a raging hatred for me and took any chance he could to make my life a living hell, but that was to be expected.
Besides, it’s not like he even needed to do much to make my life miserable.
I hid the key further down than I normally would and left the kitchen before the cook came back with the green-haired kid in tow. Walking through the hallways tended to confuse most people (and myself when it rained, when the sound bounced off the walls like mimicking the ping pong balls in my brain) but it was a pretty simple layout once you’d been there long enough.
Then again, I’d been told that the constant noise bouncing off all the walls was a bit distracting. Not that I’d really know.
I got into my room with minor incident (there was no where to hide when one of the younger ones was out of his room to find the bathroom) and sat down on my bed for the first time since- well, you’re fully aware of what happened.
Luckily, I didn’t descend into a full-on emotional break down like I had earlier. Were there tears? Yes, yes there were. None of it lasted for too long though, for reason it was really easy to fall asleep that night. I don’t even remember making the decision to go to sleep. But suddenly I was asleep and dreaming of the people I affectionately called the twins.
I probably shouldn’t name two people who look like me that appear in my dreams, but at the time I was lonely, and the name just stuck. They were both younger than me, though not by much, and they had the same blond hair and grey eyes that I had.
The girl had curlier hair than I did, and vaguely resembled a queen. She was smart and confident in her abilities but tended to be overconfident in those same abilities and harsh in her judgements. I could never tell what she was thinking even as she went on her adventures, despite the fact it was obvious she cared about the people she was with. And she never really acknowledged me, even though she was someone I created in my mind.
The boy on the other hand was more like me. He looked a surprisingly a lot like Kurt Cobain which I couldn’t figure out because I really didn’t like Kurt Cobain that much. Oh well, he tended to be kinder than the girl, more accepting of the people he met and willing to risk his life to save them. Unfortunately, he had a habit of speaking before he thought things through, somehow, he wasn’t dead yet, though due to the adventures he went on in my head one could argue that he was dead.
He tended to think of me more than the girl did, but it wasn’t the exact same thing, not really. Neither of them spoke to me like I’d speak at them.
This time was a little different than the other ones were, I was standing in a room with people surrounding me. They were all seated at tables, each one on a different level like in a stadium, filled to the brim with weapons and people of different times. I could tell the room quieted down almost immediately because the little noise I could hear completely filtered out. Something that didn’t really happen in my dreams that often, more often than not my dreams were completely silent, something I very much enjoyed.
I was on the ground floor, surrounded by a few tables, one was mostly empty, and another had someone who looked suspiciously like Davy Crockett sitting next to a lot of people I didn’t recognize. The table on the other side of me only had two people, one dressed up like Ingrid from How To Train Your Dragon and the other who looked like she’d just walked out of a boarding school.
Everyone was starring at me like I was interrupting something important. Then someone’s voice boomed through the room, or it could’ve been lawnmower, I’d made that mistake too many times before. Though it was pretty good bet that there wasn’t a lawnmower in this room.
I turned to my left and I saw a tall man wearing a green stripe pin suit that I would call tacky if it wasn’t for the fact I distracted by his ginormous beard. Why would anyone want a beard that long? Especially when you were so tall? Maybe he wanted to hide away his chin?
It wasn’t until he made a sweeping gesture with his arms that my attention was drawn up to his face, and instinctively I watched his mouth to see if I could decipher what he was saying to me. And like most of the people I knew with long unruly beard, I couldn’t, so I signed, hoping he would take the hint.
“I have no clue what you’re saying.” I didn’t want to speak up, too unsure of my surroundings to give up any information that would lead towards conversations I didn’t want to have. He blinked at me a few times before making a motion I knew meant for me to repeat what I’d just signed, so I did. “I have no clue what you’re saying.”
He still gave me a blank stare until one of the other people at his table (the one sitting next to the man who I’d decided to just call Davy Crockett) said something that I somewhat understood.
“She… hand language… chase isn’t… elf knows… call…” Was all I actually understood, but Holy Shit You Need To Tame Your Beard apparently understood what he was saying and called out a name and pointed into the stadium of people. I followed his pointed finger and saw a table that was freaking out more than the others were.
The table consisted of four people. One who looked like he’d just walked out of a tornado of overly excited little kids playing with hair. Another who sat right next to him who looked more like Merida than anyone else I’d ever seen in my entire life (not that I was complaining about that fact) and was glaring at me like she was ready to murder me on the spot (again, not that I was complaining about that). Next to her was the boy who looked like he’d walked out of a period piece about the Civil War that I stopped paying attention to halfway through (I’d never been a big fan of period pieces).
Wrapping up their table was a tall man so pale that I was surprised he didn’t have any little blue lines trailing up and down his body like a piece of notebook paper. His clothes only washed out his complexion by being dark, dark, dark. The part that separated him from the rest of his group was the fact that he was standing and had begun to walk down towards me.
I assumed the room had gone silent. That seemed like the right thing that would be happening right now. Except that the Pale as Shit Guy, who I elected to refer to as PSG in my mind, didn’t change his expression whatsoever as he walked down to me.
My gaze flickered around the room and I felt the urge to run, Run, RUN, away from this entire situation. But my only exits were blocked by tables and people who looked like they would be delighted to kill me. There was also the fact that there were women with giant staffs who were intimidating as hell.
When he arrived, he stood several feet in front of me and quickly signed something I didn’t understand. It took a couple of seconds before I recognized it as ASL and asked him to repeat what he’d said.
“Who are you?” He asked, I interpreted his signing and hoped that my interpretation was how he’d actually speak.
“A-N-A-S-T-A-S-I-A D-O-E,” I signed, “Who are you?” He blinked at my question like he hadn’t expected it. Yet, he still answered it.
“H-E-A-R-T-H-S-T-O-N-E, do you know where you are?” I shook my head no and was about to ask where I was when something from the stadium caught my eye. Though, it apparently caught everyone’s attention as they all turned their heads with me.
There he was, the twin boy, though now his hair was much shorter, and he was flanked by two people. One who I vaguely recognized from somewhere, and the other who had the same green hair I’d seen running away from the cook. All three of them looked incredibly upset and took several seconds before they noticed PSG and me standing as the center of attention.
The boy and I locked eyes, and he opened and shut his mouth several times. I didn’t look away and was rewarded with the pale man in front of me waving his arms. His movements were urgent despite the fact that his expression had only slightly shifted from its stone-ish appearance from earlier.
“Do you recognize him?” He asked. I nodded, this time having the time to sign back another question.
“He’s the boy from my dreams. Where are we right now?” He didn’t answer me at first, instead glancing back at the boy at the top of the stairs who looked ready to pass out. It was then I realized that most of the time I wasn’t very prevalent in my own dreams. I was there yes, and spoke yes, but it was always the twins who were the center of it all. Saving the world from monsters and gods and other misguided humans.
I was always a commentator, and even then, my thoughts were never out loud. Not to mention the fact that this dream wasn’t silent like the others were. And why was that? Did this have something to do with the name? With Aubrey Chase?
Without wasting any time, I asked the man in front of me. “Do you know who A-U-B-R-E-Y C-H-A-S-E is?” His face actually shifted this time, from something stoic to utterly bewildered. His eyes nearly widening to the size of dinner plates.
Which meant he had to know who Aubrey Chase was, right? Right?
He raised his hands to answer my question, and in that moment, I woke up.