This sample is from The Ring of Lost Souls, available now from Amazon. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Isobel cracked an eyelid and looked skyward. The blue above her was dazzling. She squinted until her sight adjusted. The bird was gone. Opening her other eye, she stood up slowly.
It had come out of nowhere, the damn magpie. Swooping down, Isobel ducked instinctively when she first heard the beating of wings. It was the wrong time of year for nesting birds who were overly sensitive to the protection of their nest and eggs. The cawing sound must belong to some sort of out-of-season crazy bird, she decided.
She was surprised she couldn’t see the psycho bird somewhere above, peering down manically from the tree tops. It had to be there, somewhere. Isobel cautiously set off. She turned left and headed away from the large gum trees the magpies so frequently preferred. By turning this way, she was heading closer to a row of pine trees not so popular to the native birds.
Starting slowly, she set her pace. She started jogging not so long ago, after she was made redundant from her job. For five years she worked in the finance industry, hating every second of it. It was a job she fell into, a friend of a friend was looking for trainee money market staff. Isobel thought it would be something interesting to try. Surely it would beat the hell out of waitressing, she figured. She worked hard, even if she didn’t get along with the other staff. It paid well enough that she hung in for longer than she should have.
However, that all changed when computers took over her job. She was no longer required to type up all the warrant cheques. Instead, a computer automatically generated them. They did not even need to be printed and delivered, it was all done wirelessly.
Not that losing her job was such a great disappointment to her, she just couldn’t work out what to do with the rest of her life. Since she had a decent redundancy package though, she didn’t have to worry about it for a few more months.
Her mother thought she was a fool for using her pay out to live on, rather than saving it and going back to waitressing, but Isobel wasn’t so concerned with listening to her mother. After all, this was the same woman who thought she was aiming too high after she accepted the money market position.
“We are common stock, Isobel, don’t you forget that. Never aim too high, that way you’ll never be disappointed when they turn you down,” she touted regularly to her two daughters.
It was inspirational stuff. So were the beatings.
On some level, her mother must have expected more from her daughters. Isobel had, after all, been christened with the mouthful of a name, Isobel Claudette Smith. Her mother justified it by announcing she needed a name that would distinguish her from the multitude of Smith’s already in the world. Her sister’s name was Margarite Magdalene.
Isobel had finished up with the world of banking just over two weeks ago. When she thought back to her last week there, it was all a blur. She could remember a party though on the last day: a going away party. There was a red cake. Red was her favourite colour. She vividly remembered balloons and screeches as they popped.
She had run every morning since.
She like running. Not in a million years had she expected that. She had taken the sport up as a way to keep herself motivated, knowing how quickly people slumped in a heap with no job. Exercise was great for maintaining a positive outlook, or so someone had once told her. Secondly, she had discovered that her hometown of Bundoora was a lot more interesting than she could ever imagine.
Take where she was standing right now.
Most people who lived in the area had heard of it. It went by many different names: Larundel, Gresswell, Plenty Hospital, Bundoora Repatriation Hospital. But all of these names fell under the one collective title of Mont Park.
The whole compound was once a psychiatric hospital. It not only housed mentally ill patients, but people who were considered criminally insane. Some parts were also considered rehabilitation centres. The whole place now, however, lay in ruins. It was closed in the nineties when it was trendy to rehouse the mentally ill back into mainstream society. Nowadays this idea was starting to reverse. Society realised that while a lot of people could cope quite well in the outside world, there was still a need for places which could help those who could not. While this place would never be open again as a working hospital, there were others currently being built to accommodate them.
Many people thought Larundel was haunted. Isobel was unsure. If these people lived here in such horrible circumstances, why would they want to hang around there after they had died, she figured. Surely they would want to move onto greener pastures?
Isobel hadn’t come across a single noise that couldn’t be explained away by the wind. Sure, she had heard doors slamming and weird voices, but each time, there had been gusts blowing, whipping doors shut and bringing in voices from across the hill.
A stitch was forming. It was time for a rest. Isobel slowed to a walking pace for a few metres and then sat in the ruins of the administration building. Now only the foundations stood. She breathed slowly and shallowly, trying not to aggravate her sore side.
She stared at the sky, nothing but blue peered back at her. It was a glorious day, until the damn magpie returned.
Isobel ducked again, but not before she realised she wasn’t being swooped by a magpie at all. Instead, it was a raven. Isobel’s brow furrowed as she covered her head and watched the ants scurrying around in the rubble at her feet. Ravens don’t swoop, do they?
Isobel felt her hair part as the raven got close to her scalp. She waited a second and looked up at the sky tentatively. There was nothing to see, for a second anyway. A smudge of black blotted out the sun. Isobel ducked again. This time she felt claws as they briefly tangled in her hair. There was a tug and a sharp pain as a couple of hairs were removed when the raven took off skyward bound again.
Isobel took her chance and ran.
She took off across the gravel drive. A row of pine trees came back into view, the same ones she had just jogged past. Once she cleared the row, she turned left and ducked under a covered walkway. There was an alcove of a doorway there. She wedged herself into it and waited.
Nothing happened for the longest time.
She was aware of the brick wall behind her, cold and rough. The red bricks with the distinct Tudor style white woodwork. She ran her hand out along the window ledge at her side.
Her hand found something small and cold. It shifted as she touched it, knocking along the ledge and tumbling over the edge. A metallic tinkling sound and then it hit the concrete below and bounced across the path. The noise stopped as it fell into the grass and weeds that were once manicured garden beds.
Isobel was intrigued.
Leaning over, she forgot the threat of the swooping bird and reached down to where she had heard the last tinkling noise. Getting down on her hands and knees, she scrounged around in the grass; nothing there.
Standing up, Isobel tugged at a blonde curl that had worked itself loose from her pony tail. It had to be here, she reasoned, whatever it was. Sounding metallic, it was probably a nail, she reasoned. A nail that had come loose from the window frame probably, she had simply knocked it off as she reached out and touched it.
Except she had caught sight of something golden as it fell. Something round.
Something that looked suspiciously like a wedding band.
The Ring of Lost Souls is available now from Amazon.