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Aurora has always known that something was off about her sister's supposed suicide. But in Pacifico Beach, where everyone is quick to judge and the truth is hard to come by, she's left feeling helpless and alone. That is, until piercing howls and a black wolf outside her window start haunting her every night, and she realizes that the woods surrounding the town hold secrets darker than anyone could have imagined. As the storm brews and the lines between reality and dreams blur, Aurora is forced to confront the supernatural forces that lurk in the shadows. With the help of a mysterious Irishman and a boy who keeps his distance, she delves deep into the mysteries of Pacifico Beach. But as she unearths the town's darkest secrets, she realizes that her own past may hold the key to unlocking the truth about her sister's death. As Aurora fights to survive in a brutal world where nothing is as it seems, she must confront her own demons and find the strength to become the person she needs to be. But as she struggles to uncover the truth, she realizes that the cost of uncovering the town's secrets may be more than she bargained for. Will she be able to survive the horrors that lie ahead, or will she become just another victim of Pacifico Beach's dark history?
Death is in the air, like how the rope is getting deeper and deeper into her skin.
A body. Her body. My sister... I wait until she blinks silently. I wait for her to come down from the railing and tell me it's all a joke. A prank.
She never does.
My eyes met hers. Wide forever, and stuck in a panicked state.
From my chest to my mouth to her, my hand moves. She is swinging back and forth, getting smaller and smaller with each swing, just like my breaths get louder the longer I look at her.
I close my eyes and let out all the air in my lungs as I fall to the ground.
Before four hours...
"Kaida, can you and Aurora drop Rylan off at home?" When Rylan's mom pulls her phone out of the aux cable, the speaker makes a loud pop. When she sees them standing together, she smiles at both of them.
Rylan and my sister look great together. She is tall and blonde, and he looks like a high school football player. They look like they came straight out of Vogue and landed in our quiet town of Siargao.
Calix pulls on my cardigan and says, "My nail broke."
When I open my bag and hand him a roll of bandage, I say, "Yuck." I pulled off the nail on my little toe while practicing at home last night. Workplace risk, or a sign that I need to change the way I stand on my points.
"Don't make fun of me! Who else can I tell if I can't tell my dance partner these things?" His nail looks like it hurts. We both hiss under our breath as he takes off his last sock. "Aurora!"
Kaida says with a laugh, "Stop whining." She kneels down and begins to put a bandage on his toe. "After doing this for so long, you'd think you two would have gotten over-"
"Kaida, you don't get over stubbed toes."
She gives Calix his sock and tells Rylan's mom, "Miss Mac, we'll bring him home after dinner."
"Great! Have fun, you guys!"
Rylan puts his arms around Kaida's waist as soon as his mom leaves the studio room. He has bright blue eyes that are like my sister's and deep red cheeks. But she's thinking again, or she's interested in something in the forest outside.
Calix stands up as Kaida pushes Rylan away and says, "I'm going to leave you to deal with...whatever that is."
I tell him, "Thanks," give him a quick hug, and then tell him, "Text me when you get home, Goose."
"Yes, Mav, you're right."
The car ride home is strange. Rylan has moved to the back. I sat up front with Kaida, who hasn't said a word since we left my rehearsal. Where her fingers touch the wheel, they look white. I look down to make sure she's still wearing her seatbelt.
"Hm?" She looks at me and says, "Aurora, did you say something?"
I stammer. I hadn't said that at all. "Are you good to go? You don't look like you're listening."
She says, "I'm fine," but her stiff smile tells a different story.
I look at Rylan, and he does the same. He gives me a frustrated shrug and then leans back in his chair. This is going to be a great dinner.
But none of this was new. This is what happened when my sister and I were together not long ago. She was as happy as ever one minute. Then the next... it was like talking to her underwater.
My sister has changed. I know that much. I know that it has gotten worse since we came back from summer break and started our Senior year.
Strange things have always been interesting to my sister. She and her theater friends do their own version of white magic, which I've always thought was something hippies did to be rebellious or to mess with Mother Nature. But it hasn't ever been an issue. Kaida and her friends are both good people. I know about it.
I don't know why she changed, which gave me the courage to sneak into her room and look through her things. I don't know why she changed from being my brave and outgoing sister to being more shy and quiet than me. Rylan has been her boyfriend since we were kids, so I don't know why she doesn't want to be with him.
I don't know how we went from being best friends who were always together to sisters who hardly talk to each other. Kaida stopped talking to me, but I don't know when. She has.
In a normal family, siblings can tell each other secrets and no one gives it much thought. But we're not like most families. Our father works hard to keep his business going, and our mother worships the ground he walks on. Because they cared about the Earth as a couple, Kaida and I were born. They've always cared more about each other than about us.
I whispered, "Mom is making arroz con habichuelas," after I read our dad's text message.
As Kaida drives down our long gravel driveway, she says, "Thanks to God."
She says, "Thanks, Mom." I laughed as I told her, "Primera-Mama." “Segundo-Dios."
"Cuidado ahora," She gives him a playful slap on the wrist and tells him, "If you keep talking like that, you'll get in trouble."
From the back of the room, Rylan speaks up "Please, ladies. Let's let everyone in."
"I am so sorry, Rylan. We were just talking about what our family thinks is most important."
"Oh, so work," he says as a joke, but I see Kaida's jaw get tight.
No one else's childhood was like ours. When Kaida and I were in elementary school, our father's sailing business had already started to grow. We never went hungry, which is something I've been grateful for my whole life. But our parents knew what was most important to them and made it clear that the business always came first.
Our parents went out of the country more often than they slept in the same room with us when we were growing up. The other half of our family lives in South Carolina. Half of our family lives in Puerto Rico. We've been together since the beginning. We both found ways to have fun, and by some miracle, neither of us turned out to be bad. Our parents didn't always tell us what to do, so we could mostly do whatever we wanted. But we make it work.
I chose to do dance. My sister started learning to play the piano. Since she has always been much more outgoing than I have, it makes sense that her happy place is the high school theater group. Kaida and I look and act a lot alike, but we aren't exactly the same.
As soon as Kaida turns off the Jeep, Rylan gets out and says, "Okay, I'm hungry." He takes two steps at a time up the front stairs while my sister and I sit quietly.
She is once more looking into the woods. What does she have her eyes on?
She has always been friendly and hard-working, and she has a lot of friends at school. She is the talkative one in the family, while I am the quiet one. The quiet, shy girl. The one who didn't like to be in the spotlight unless she was on a stage wearing ballet shoes. I've always been happy with just a few close friends, like my sister, Rylan, and my dance partner.
"Hm?" She can't stop looking at the path that leads from our yard into the woods. "I am so sorry, Auroralie. Let's go inside."
"Everything all right?" It started with little things, like how she was too busy daydreaming to listen to any of our conversations. Then she started making up reasons why she couldn't hang out. She doesn't try to explain herself anymore. "You make me worry, Kaida. Did...did something happen to you?"
"I..." She puckers up her lips and shakes her head, "Auroralie, don't worry about it. I've been thinking about what will happen when I finish school. You probably will be accepted into a dance company. The best chance I have is to join a theater group in my area."
"I thought you'd know better than to lie to me after all these years."
"Kaida, I can always tell when you are lying. So stop talking and tell me what's up!"
We have more in common than differences. Kaida was born ten months before I was, so she has been in the same grade as me since we were both in kindergarten. Like twins, we can tell things about each other.
She is looking at the forest behind her. Something in there scares or makes her nervous. I try to see what she is looking at, but I can't. It's getting dark, so I can only see the faint shapes of the pines and bushes.
"I just...sometimes I wonder if this is all there is..." She leans on the steering wheel and looks up at our house. From her bedroom window, she can see the drive way. She forgot to shut her window again, and it's probably raining, so her curtains are probably wet. "It gets better..."
I take her hand and tell her, "There is, of course. Kaida, we'll leave this place. After we finish high school, we'll go on a trip, to college, or do something else. If I join a dance company, you can always come with me. I will never leave you."
She has her eyes on me. She looks sad, even though her lips are up. I want to cry when she smiles, but she won't let me. She puts her hands on my face and wipes away my tears.
"I know you don't mean to, Auroralie, but there's more for you out there. I can't think of anything to say about the future."
Again, the lies. She knows something that scares her a lot, but she won't tell me what it is. I've been afraid that something bad is going to happen for months. But it got worse tonight after Kaida and I got out of the car.
"What's that? It looks like Kaida wrote it, right?" Rylan gave me a cup of tea. I'm sitting at the kitchen counter and reading through the strange-looking journal I found under her bed.
"Yeah. It's her notes from English class... Some parts I didn't read." Foreboding isn't so much a feeling as a gut feeling that something bad is about to happen.
"Go get your sister for dinner, nena," I wake up when I hear my mom's voice. I blink, and again, with a sigh, she says, "Go get your sister."
I'm sorry, but I have to leave the kitchen and the smell of my mom's empanadillas.
I take the journal with me as I run up the stairs. I'm going to talk to her about the weird things she wrote in it. From moon phases to crystals and gods to a few passages on protective herbs like mugwort, it seems to me that my sister is starting a new religion. I want to know if this is the reason for her sudden withdrawal into solitude.
I trip and fall forward just as I'm about to step over the top step. I stop myself with my hands spread out, but not before my head hits the door frame of Kaida's bedroom.
"Ouch," I say as I hold my head and tears start to form in my eyes. That was a dumb thing to do.
"Aurora! Are you okay?" My dad is calling from the living room, even though it sounds like he hasn't moved from the couch.
I said, "Yes, I just fell down." When I see my mom's head around the corner, I start to stand up. "It's nothing at all! I'm not even bleeding."
"We'll put some ice on it," She laughs and says, "From down here, it sounded like an elephant was trying to tiptoe over gravel."
Both of us are still thinking about what was said. My mom's eyes get tight just as I turn to go to Kaida's door. She is not the type to ignore someone who is hurt, no matter how quiet she is. She should have been the first to come check on me.
I turn the knob on the door and put my head in.
"Kaida? Kaida, are you—"
Chapter 1: DEATH
I wait outside the police station for my parents until they come out. In my pocket is a small pack of tissues. People buy this when they are sick and don't want to carry a big box of tissues around. I also had a big box of tissues with me. It's in the back seat of Dad's car. In Kaida's place.
On the small lot, only the SUV that my family owns is parked. I would think that any police station would be busy, but it looks like there isn't much crime in Siargao. My town, Pacifico Beach, is surrounded by a safe city with no crime. Then, sadly, my sister died.
The police are looking into how she died, but they could have just let it go. Everyone is sure that the person killed themselves. Still, the police say they have to follow the rules, so they called my parents in to make sure of a few things before letting her body go.
When the glass door opens, my mother storms out of the house. I go get the box of tissues. She wipes her eyes with my hands.
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