The Ring

The Ring

Julian starts his night shift expecting many things including a boring night. As it turns out, his night is anything but boring.


Paranormal fiction / Magic realism


Ica Iova (Australia)

The Ring

Another boring night, Julian thought, as he pulled his cab out of the parking lot. When you have spent ten years of your life driving a cab as Julian had, you will know a boring night when you saw one.

It seemed colder than expected for an early fall, and a layer of thin frost had already covered the ground. Julian shivered.

Forty-five minutes had passed and not a single call. Nights like this made him mad. It was the time of not being home that truly gnawed at him. Not being out in the garage or on his computer. But like everyone else, he relied on every penny he made.

His CB radio startled him when the dispatcher’s voice boomed through the silence. “I need a car at the train station.”

Julian reached for the microphone. “201. I am a few blocks away.”

“Pull in front of the station. They are waiting for you.”

“10/4,” he said, and then placed the microphone back in its holder.
He eased his car into the parking, and his gaze combed the sea of people who went in all directions. No one seemed interested in a cab. Julian picked up the microphone and called dispatch. “I don’t see them.”

“Hold on.” There was a muffling, a scratching, and then silence, then the dispatcher came back on the line. “They’re probably gone.”

“Of course they are,” Julian muttered.

“Go to 2117 David Drive. It’s just down the street from where you are.”

Julian acknowledged and turned onto the poorly illuminated one-way street when the dispatcher’s voice rumbled again. “201, David Drive cancelled.”

“What? You kidding me?”

“Wish I was. Sorry about that,” the dispatcher's voice scratched through the silence.

What is wrong with people? Jeez! He shook his head and pulled over to the side of the road then turned off the engine. Close to midnight, the usual city buzz that stroke fear into even the most seasoned drivers was almost non-existent. That was one thing Julian loved most about night shifts. He wasn’t always a pro. He had come from a village with gravel roads, two-way streets and one working traffic light. A few job applications later, he had found himself holding the keys to a company van with Coroner stickers on it. For eleven years he had worked for the coroner’s office, but carrying dead bodies... A dog’s bark interrupted Julian’s thoughts and the otherwise complete silence.

More time passed without a single call. Julian decided to move to the main road. A woman emerged from the nearby cemetery and flagged the approaching cab. She seemed young – dark brown, possibly black hair, immaculately dressed. Quite attractive. The whitest skin Julian had ever seen.
Rather a strange girl. Probably one of those supermodels, people read about—doesn’t want to be seen in public.

“Good evening. River Road please,” she said, while settling into the passenger’s seat.
A foul smell had entered the cab when the woman opened the door, and Julian grimaced.

“What number?” he asked throwing the car into gear.

She seemed puzzled, by Julian’s question. “Pardon me?”

“The number… on River Road?”

“Oh… um… I’ll show you when we get there.”

She turned her face toward the window—a clear sign that she wasn’t interested in making small talk.

Julian opened his window a little to get rid of the familiar stench. Though he had been in close contact with dead bodies for eleven years, he could never grow accustomed to the stench. It had lingered on him long after he had left work. Fortunately, tonight there were no bodies. The smell must have come from the nearby new canal that already smelled like a sewer.

“Sorry, I hope my window doesn’t bother you. Probably some dead animal that had drowned in the canal.”

The young woman nodded but did not turn her face away from the window, and remained silent for the rest of the drive.
“You can drop me over there,” she said pointing to an empty parking lot.

Julian cocked an eyebrow, knowing that the factory had closed a while ago. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she replied, searching for something in her purse.

“Do you want me to wait for you?”

“No, I’ll be fine,” she said, still searching inside her purse. “I think I lost my wallet… I don’t have any money, but I have my wedding ring." She pulled the ring off her finger. "Here, take it, and I’ll pay you tomorrow,” she said, holding out her ring.

“I-I can’t take your ring.”

“Sure you can.” She searched her purse again and pulling out a piece of paper and a pen, she scribbled something. “Here is my address.”

Julian shook his head, “No.”

“Please. Take it and bring it back tomorrow when you come to collect the money.”

“Alright then. I guess, I’ll see you tomorrow. Have a good night.”

She nodded, stepped out of the cab.
Is she ill? Julian wondered. What is she doing here in the middle of the night?
He felt his dinner rising in his throat and swallowed repeatedly, fighting to keep it down. He shook his head as if trying to dislodge the lingering stench.

As the young woman walked away distancing herself from the cab, an almost indistinguishable glowing light surrounded her. Julian thought there was something unusual about her, but he didn’t dwell on it for long. He had seen worse.

He made a U-turn and headed back to his company.

The rest of the night was quiet, just as Julian had predicted.
In the morning on his way home, Julian decided to return the young woman’s ring and collect his money.
He pulled in front of a house and proceeded down the narrow walkway that led to the front door. He knocked on the door, then turned his head and looked around. Although the houses in the neighbourhood varied in size, shape and style, they were all painted and repainted with the same shade of grey that gave it a somber look.
A young man probably in his thirties, still in his pajamas, answered.

“Hi, may I help you?” he asked.

Julian realized that he didn’t know the woman’s name. “Um...”

“May I help you?” the man asked again.

“I am looking for a young woman... long black hair... in her twenties—”

“I think you have the wrong address.”

“Is this 2117 David Drive?” A jolt of anger struck Julian when he realized that this was the same address that had cancelled his order the night before.

“Yup, but I live alone. Maybe you just wrote the address wrong.”

“The woman… Um… I am a cab driver—” Julian stuttered. “Did you call for a cab and then cancelled the order last night?” Julian could not stop his curiosity mixed with anger.

“No, I was at work until this morning. Why?”

“It’s just weird, now that I think about it. The whole thing is messed up.”

“Look, man; I’m tired, and I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said the young man, turning to go back inside.

“No. Wait. I’ll explain. Someone from your house placed an order for a cab, then cancelled it. As I returned to the main road, a young woman flagged me down, and I gave her a ride, but she seemed to have lost her wallet. She insisted that I take her ring and return it today when she would pay me,” Julian said, revealing the ring.

The young man looked at the ring in Julian’s palm and took a quick step back as if something slimy just ran over his feet. His face became white, his body trembled, and the next time he spoke, his voice seemed obstructed.

“W-where did you get that ring?”

“I just told you—”

“That’s impossible,” he interrupted. “That is my wife’s ring… my ring!”

“Look. I didn’t mean to create any problems—” Julian started to say, surprised by the young man’s reaction.

He paced back and forth. “No. You don’t understand. My wife died a year ago. She wore my ring when she died and was buried with it.”

“Say what?” Julian could swear his hearing played tricks on him.

“My wife died a year ago in that stupid factory.”

“Man, stop playing with me. I just wanted to return her ring and get my money.” The words crawling upward from the depth of his throat sounded more like a growl. “Look. If you don’t want to pay, that’s fine. Here is her ring,” said Julian, handing him the ring.

“I am not… playing with you! She died in that accident. They closed the factory after that.”

Instantly, Julian felt sick. A buzzing sound vibrated in his ears. He opened his mouth, but no words came out. The world shook and then went deathly still as he crumpled forward.

Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1


Read Reviews

Review 1:

Compelling hook?


Strong characters?


Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals and conflicts were clearly conveyed.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a difficult balancing act. Are you sure all the material is relevant to the plot, setting and atmosphere? Make sure each sentence makes sense to the reader, and each paragraph moves their experience forward.
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot. A truly absorbing story!
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The build-up was intriguing and I felt the tension mounting with each word.
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.

Review 2:

Compelling hook?


Strong characters?


Attention to mechanics
  • The grammar, typography, sentence structure and punctuation would benefit from a further round of editing to avoid distracting from the quality of the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • The protagonist didn’t always respond believably against the backdrop of the story. Ask yourself if people would really answer to a situation in that way. Think about whether the characters’ voices could be more convincing for their age, background, gender, time period, genre, gender and ethnicity. Dialogue should be natural and consistent throughout the story.
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
  • Make sure your characters are multidimensional. Do they have strengths and weaknesses? Mere mortals make the most interesting stories because they are like you and me and we are able to empathize with their journey. That’s how the connection with a character is formed.
Main character
  • Connect us to your main protagonist with a deeper characterization. Could your protagonist have a few more distinguishing character traits?
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Opening line, paragraph and hook
  • Great stories, nowadays, start with a powerful opening line and compelling hook in order to keep the reader engaged. Have you baited the reader enough?