Paper Trails

chapter one: train tracks

SHE WANTED to go home.

Not home as in the house she lived in, but home home. The place where she kept her heart.

It had been two months, three days and countless hours since Aurora Riley and her three siblings packed up and moved to Port Ashton, Ontario. Two months, but no matter how many nights she lay her head on her pillow, it still felt wrong.

Moving for the first time was like going on a really long vacation, but that promise of someday returning home wasn't there. She imagined her old house to be barren, with an eerie breeze blowing through the shafts and whispering dust across the hardwood floors. She pictured it as empty, but the truth was, there was a new family living there, and Aurora was stuck in Port Ashton, irrevocably jetlagged.

Rain pattered against the glass, filling the dim room with its ethereal chime. As a sullen little city nestled to a bay on Lake Huron, the town was no stranger to grey skies and thundering clouds. It had been raining for a week straight, and as Aurora sat in her bedroom, staring out the window, she wondered if it would ever let up.

She longed for the sunshine. She missed the rays that would peek through the red curtains of her old home, how the light would reflect and shine off the immaculate floors. But the accident left her here, sitting cross-legged in a bed that wasn't hers.

Aurora sighed.

Just forget it.

She brought her gaze to the sketchbook in her hands. Her doodle of the sky was nearly complete, but Aurora was sick of looking at the clouds. She closed her book and set it on her nightstand before twirling a piece of her hair between her fingers, focusing on her blonde split ends.

Maybe this place would feel more like home if her bedroom wasn't so lame. When Aurora and her siblings moved in with their Uncle Quinton, he hired a design team to create their rooms based on what they liked. Hunter's room was car-themed, Kiara's like the forest, Willa's like the rain.

But no one really asked what Aurora liked—they just assumed that a girl with her name would want the Northern Lights plastered on her walls, that she would enjoy pink paint and icicles and a bed filled with more stuffed animals than she could count. Maybe that was somewhat true, but she could do without the literal aurora on her wall.

An abrupt knock at the door resounded through the room, cutting her thoughts short. Before she could respond, somebody burst inside.

It was her sister, Kiara.

She held a white dress in one hand and a black one in the other. Her dirty-blonde hair was wet and a white bathrobe hung haphazardly over her slim figure, but still, she looked radiant. Aurora was one of three triplets—a few minutes younger than Kiara and Willa—though they didn't look much alike at all.

Kiara's eyebrows remained knotted. "Rory, which one?" She held the dresses in front of her, staring into Aurora's eyes with her mouth in a flat line.

Aurora shifted her weight. "You can't wear those to school..."

Kiara narrowed her blue-gray eyes. "It isn't for school, Rory."

When Aurora tilted her head to the side, Kiara scoffed, propping her hand on her hip.

"Okay, look—I'm going to this party with Jax but you can't tell anyone, not even Willa, got it?"

"But we have school in the morn—"

"I know that." Kiara sighed. "Look, it's a social thing, okay? If you even mention this to Willa, the old man or especially Hunter, you're dead tomorrow. Got it?"

Aurora resisted rolling her eyes. "Fine," she said, snatching her iPhone off the nightstand. When Kiara didn't leave, she raised her eyes from her screen to see her still holding up the two outfits. Aurora mentally groaned, but pointed to the black sequin dress.

"Thanks!" Kiara chimed, falling right back into her sweet, charming façade. She twirled on her heels and exited the room, closing the door behind her.

A party—of course. It was just like Kiara to go out socializing right before school. She was athletic and bubbly—she would certainly be popular at their new school. Willa probably would too. Hunter definitely would. But Aurora was dreary and colourless like the rain, like Port Ashton itself, so she would likely fade into the background as she did at her old school. She would be okay with that; going to school was about preparing for the future, not making friends.

With a huff, Aurora tossed her phone to the side and fell back on the bed. She stared at the white stucco above, creating shapes in the crevices of the ceiling.

It's a social thing.

The sound of Willa's metal music shook the walls, making it hard to focus. Aurora wanted to float away in her mind like a paper boat, but there were too many distractions in that house. She flopped over in her bed, staring at her pink digital clock.

12:03 A.M.

Her older brother, Hunter, had probably passed out and Uncle Quinton was certainly asleep. Willa's music was steadily dying down and Kiara would soon be gone. The maids would finish their duties and retire to their bedrooms on the opposite side of the mansion, leaving the house to fall quiet. Only the pitter-patter of rain on the glass would be there to keep Aurora company.

She shut off her bedside lamp and pulled her duvet over her body, snuggling into the warmth. The darkness enveloped the room, but a pale moonlight seeped through the window. Aurora's head fell to the side, gazing out to the stars to see that the clouds were parting. It had finally stopped raining.

The sound of giggles brought Aurora to her feet. Looking outside, she saw that down below, Kiara was dragging her boyfriend, Jax, by the hand. She rolled her eyes and closed the curtains, laying back down on her bed.

After tossing and turning for what felt like hours, Aurora stood up again; her mind was too awake to simply shut down. First days were never easy and starting at an entirely new school was something she'd been dreading all summer.

She tip-toed from her bedroom and through the hallway, making her way down the curved staircase. Her feet landed on the cold marble tile of the lobby and quietly, she slipped into a pair of flats and a jacket, thinking that if Kiara could go traipsing through the night, then so could she.

The late-Summer air was brisk and tingled her skin as she snuck through the door at the side of the house. She reminded herself that she'd warm up as she walked and continued down the long, winding driveway of the Quinton Riley Estate.

Crickets chirped and in the distance, the faint sound of the occasional car was heard. Quinton, like Aurora, enjoyed solitude; he purchased a home as far away from the bustle of the city as he could while still remaining in the middle of it all. The house had been built in a quiet, rich neighbourhood just up a hill. As she slipped her frame through the bars of the security gate, Aurora mused that she had more in common with the seventy-one-year-old man than any other member of her family, including her two sisters.

The rain had finally stopped, but a cloud of mist still hung over the city, dampening the cool air. Aurora didn't mind—she skipped over piles of wet leaves and hopped over puddles as she continued down the driveway and into the city. She stepped from the rich, forested area and back into civilization, though the streets were unsurprisingly barren.

Enjoying the stillness, she hugged herself and looked upwards. The clouds had opened, leaving a somber crescent moon above her head, illuminating the midnight sky with rings of light. It was a peaceful night.

Visions of the next day lingered in Aurora's mind as she trekked, no longer noticing if she splashed herself with a puddle. She wondered what her new school would be like; as private school students, Aurora and her siblings never had the freedom to wear what they wanted. The others were excited to express themselves, but the thing Aurora liked about the school uniform was that it allowed her to blend in like a splotch of neutral paint.

It was easy to disappear. She was monochrome like everyone else—it was up to people like Willa and Kiara to bring colour to the world.

Aurora's eyes were fixed on the sky. At the feeling of cold metal through the thin fabric of her Keds, she looked down to see a set of train tracks pass beneath her feet.

She lifted her head and spun around. The sidewalk was broken and the tiny, unkempt houses surrounding her were unfamiliar. Lawns littered with trashcans, box-shaped houses with torn-up driveways—Aurora had never seen this area before.

Feeling foolish, she laughed softly to herself and turned around, headed for home. It was getting cold, anyway, and the walk was beginning to tire her out.

It had been a while since Aurora had seen a vehicle pass. From behind her, the bright glow from two headlights brought life to the shadows on the street.

Aurora crossed her arms, keeping her focus on the cracks in the sidewalk. The vehicle was like a hit to the face because snapping back to reality, Aurora saw that she'd been so lost in her head that she didn't even notice she'd lost herself.

Sparks of anxiety crawled through her chest. Music had been blaring from the speakers of the car but dialed down as it stalked her, creeping upon her like a predator to its prey. Aurora increased her pace, her heart palpitating into her throat.

You're just being paranoid, it's only passing by.

But the notion that she wasn't being paranoid made it difficult to breathe. Her chest became tight, her breaths slow and shallow. The headlights were upon her until steadily, the car passed. Aurora didn't dare look up; she kept her eyes glued to her feet, splashing through the mud and water.

The car stopped, and two doors opened.

"Hey, pretty."

The gruff voice ignited chills across Aurora's skin. Her eyes snapped to a large man in his late twenties. A scruffy beard covered his face while his green gaze was dark and worn. Her stare frantically flickered to a younger man, who kept a clean face hidden beneath a baseball hat. They both wore t-shirts and jeans—simple attire—but the way the light hit them made them look like shadows.

Aurora wanted to run. She wanted to disappear into the air like smoke, but when her body moved, a pair of strong arms stopped her.

The younger man picked her up and spun her around, holding her to his chest. He covered her mouth with his hand so she couldn't scream. She trembled and wiggled beneath his grasp, buthis strength around her was like a tidal wave. Just breathing felt like suffocation, like if she took in too much air she would surely swallow water and drown.

Her father's voice echoed in her mind.

"Just breathe. Just breathe."

The older man walked up and observed her, brushing a piece of her hair from her face. She could feel her eyes bulging from her skull as she brokenly breathed through her nose, her heart hammering in her chest.

"Nice clothes." The bearded man ran his hand along her jacket. The stench of cigarettes and cheap beer filled her nose, making her feel sick to her stomach. He played with the hem of her sleeve as the other man forced her still. "Rich girl, huh? This is a brand named coat. Probably cost about four-hundred bucks..." He brought his hand to her chin and gripped it, peering into her eyes, making her feel ill. "Wonder how much you're worth?"

The younger man snickered. "She's clearly someone's little princess."

"I bet we could get big bucks for her, don't y'think?"

Aurora squirmed, but it was fruitless; the man only gripped her tighter. Cold tears escaped her eyes, pouring down her cheeks. She didn't want them to hurt her, she didn't want to die. All she wanted to do by leaving home was get some air—to cleanse her thoughts, not lose them forever.

Her chest was thundering and her head felt like it was going to explode. Her vision was fading into white, and she was certain she would pass out soon if the man didn't let her go. Her blood pressure dropped, and all at once, Aurora felt very cold.

The men were still talking, discussing what to do with her; they didn't notice or care that she was trembling or on the verge of losing consciousness. They didn't know or care that she had health problems, that panic attacks could make her faint, that they were scaring her to the point where she would collapse. All she could hear was their deep, grisly voices and the sound of her own erratic breathing when suddenly, a different noise filled her ears.

It was a familiar sound; wheels reverberating, reminding her of rolling thunder. It made her think of her older brother, Hunter, and that old skateboard he had. He'd try to teach Willa how to ride it, but she was never very coordinated.

A skateboard.

The men stopped talking and listened to the sound of wheels against asphalt.

"Hey!" a new voice shouted as the skateboard sped up, growing nearer. Aurora yelped as her assailant threw her and bolted to the car. Her body slammed against the sidewalk; she nearly smashed her head on the ground, but was able to save herself with her elbows, skidding painfully against the rock.

"What the fuck are you doing, idiot?" the older man questioned. "Grab her!"

"It's not worth it!" the younger one said. "That little prick knows who we are—just get in the car, man!"

Aurora lay on the ground, hurt and trembling with fear. Feebly, she tried to lift herself up, but her pounding heart along with her headache rendered her motionless. She heard two car doors slam shut and the vehicle speed away, before the skateboard came to a halt and footsteps quickly approached her. As she felt herself slipping away, she was gently turned on her back, cradled into the arms of someone benign. The last thing she saw before losing consciousness was a pair of dark brown eyes.

A/N: Hi there! Thanks for reading my story. I primarily use Wattpad so if you'd like to support my work over there, you can find it under the username solacing. On there, I have a bunch of neat pictures and graphics that go along with the story, including a trailer, a cast and some songs. It's a lot more graphically pleasing to read over there, but if you're here just for the writing, then welcome! :D

Constructive criticism is always welcomed and encouraged.