Mum had to pull me out of bed that morning. "Rebecca! Come on, we're late already," she yelled.
"Do we really need to go?" I pleaded unsuccessfully. "I mean we didn't actually know her."
When we arrived, Uncle Jack was standing by the door.
"Oh, Rebecca, how long has it been?" he gushed. "And how's everything going? Are you still looking for a job?" His voice dripped with sarcasm.
This is why I didn't want to come to Auntie Lisa's funeral. Seeing these "caring" relatives always made me feel ill.
"Thanks for your concern but I'm now manager of a company," I replied pointedly. Even though the company is owned by me and faces financial difficulties, I was still the manager.
"Really?' he replied, trying to hide his surprise. "Well, it's time we went into the hall," he added, giving me a mysterious smile.
The funeral was very simple: no flowers, no visitors, just a few of my relatives and a picture of an old woman who I presumed was Auntie Lisa. Throughout the ceremony, little emotion registered on the face of any mourner, with the exception of Uncle Jack who kept gazing at the photo with a look full of regret.
The funeral ended with the words "rest in peace". As we were about to leave, a voice asked: "Are you Rebecca?" The sister who had officiated at the ceremony was standing behind me looking rather serious.
"Yes, I am. Can I help you?" I replied formally.
"This is for you, from your aunt." She showed me a very old and dirty book.
"What? I think there has been some misunderstanding. I didn't even know my aunt."
The sister continued as if she hadn't heard me. "The police found this book beside Ms Waldorf's body. A note was attached with your name on it."
Our conversation was interrupted by a call from my assistant; there were yet more problems at the office. Yes, this was what my life was like, full of hurdles and failure.
It wasn't until late at night that I had time to wonder why my aunt had left me such an old book. Didn't people usually leave money or heirlooms?
I settled down in bed, turned the first page and found... it was a diary. This didn't make any sense.
However, as I skipped quickly through the pages, I noticed that the words written on the pages were becoming paler and paler. At first I thought my eyes must be tired but when I returned to the first page I found the words had disappeared.
I closed the book and told myself not to panic. Then the book reopened by itself and, very slowly, a sentence began to appear on the first page.
My hands were shaking as I read the phantom writing. "I just want to help you," it said. I was dumbfounded. But there was more.
"I will show you" were the last words I read before I fainted.
I woke in a strange place - a huge house full of antique ornaments.
"It's so pretty, don't you think?" I turned to find a beautiful little girl holding an equally beautiful ring, its large diamond sparkling in the light.
"Lisa," the little girl said, giving me a curious smile, "this is a magic ring, and it will be yours one day, as long as you overcome the challenge it presents you with. Then you will be blessed with a pleasant life."
Before I could figure out what her smile meant, and why she was calling me Lisa, the scene in front of me changed.
Now the light was dimmer, the room dusty, and all that remained of the spectacular ornaments were a few pieces of old furniture.
An old woman now held the ring and she spoke with terrible sadness. "Lisa, I feel so sorry that your life has been difficult because you didn't get this ring earlier. Although you cannot change your destiny, you can help the next person who receives it."
I was confused. I didn't understand. All I knew was the ring was mine and I didn't want anyone else to have it. I needed it.
"No!" I shouted. "I won't help someone else. I will keep this ring forever. If I can't live happily, then I will curse her with a sorrowful life."
I was heartbroken, despite not knowing why the ring was so important to me.
The scene changed again. I was still in the huge, dilapidated house but now there was a man on his knees, his hands outstretched.
"Please," the man begged, pitifully, "I need this ring to help save my company. Please, help me."
"No, I'm sorry," a woman replied, weakly, "but I must give it to her. She needs it."
Trying to remain unseen, I tiptoed over until she was in view. Her tired and wrinkled face looked familiar - but who was she?
"Why are you so superstitious and obstinate?" the man said, getting up. "I told you I need it." His voice was growing louder.
"I have to give this to her, I won't let anyone experience what I have experienced," the old woman replied resolutely, "that's too ..."
The man stepped closer, his anger becoming clear. "Give it to me, you foolish old woman." He reached out his hand. "Give it to me!"
When she failed to surrender the ring, he pushed her to the floor and wrenched it from her grasp. "I don't want to hurt you but I have to have it."
He walked away quickly and unhappily, leaving the woman sobbing on the floor.
"No ... I must give it to Rebecca," she moaned. "What will I do now?'
Her mention of my name made me cry out. "Me? Why me?" As I spoke, I felt an intense pain in my head. My vision became blurred and the last thing I remember was falling over.
When I opened my eyes again, I was back in my own bedroom holding the book in my hands. I couldn't believe all I had been through.
Finally, I asked the question: "Are you Auntie Lisa?"
Slowly, a sentence appeared on the open page of the book: "Yes. I am here to help you."
"Is my life so full of problems because you haven't given me the ring?" I asked.
There was a long silence.
Finally, a sentence appeared: "I'm sorry. But now you know enough to get it back."
"But who is the man I saw take it?" I asked. "And how shall I find him?"
"Think of his voice, Rebecca. And of what he said."
I tried to think. There was something in my memory, something about one of my relatives who owned a company ... "Of course!" I cried out. "Uncle Jack!"
My mind was racing. "How can I get the ring back from him?" I asked the book.
"You will find a way," was the simple reply.
"What are you doing here?" Uncle Jack asked suspiciously when I called at his house the next evening.
I smiled sweetly. "I want to ask you something, Uncle Jack. You know how much I've always respected you."
"Come on, Rebecca, we all know we don't have a good relationship."
"Please," I pleaded.
"Oh, very well," he huffed impatiently. He led me into his study and sat down behind the desk.
As I took a seat I removed my gloves, revealing a beautiful diamond ring exactly like the one I had seen in my "visions".
Uncle Jack gasped involuntarily, his eyes opening wide in recognition.
"Where did you get that?" he whispered.
"I was given it yesterday," I lied. "After Auntie Lisa's funeral."
"What?" He spluttered, as he reached instinctively for the top drawer of his desk.
"My mum picked it up in a market". In fact I'd bought it earlier that day. "Fifty dollars." This last bit was true. The "diamond" was in fact a cheap crystal.
He looked at me for a moment, then let out a huge sigh of relief. "So, what can I do for you?"
"I'm here to beg for a job."
He laughed, cruelly. "I knew it! When I saw you at the funeral, I knew you were lying when you said you were a manager."
"I'm so sorry, Uncle Jack, I should never have lied to you. Let me take you out for a coffee and we can talk about it?"
Still chuckling, Uncle Jack left the room to get his jacket. Once he had gone, I opened the desk drawer he'd reached for and found the real ring. Quickly exchanging it for my fake, I slipped out the door into the night.
When I got back to my place, I took out Auntie Lisa's book.
"Auntie, I did it! I got the ring!" I was feeling very proud of myself.
But there was no reply. I waited and waited but nothing happened. The pages of the book stayed blank.
I will always wonder why Auntie Lisa did not reply. The book, too, disappeared the very next day. One moment it was there and then it was gone. All I was left with was a ring and the promise of a better future.
This is the fourth finalist in our Winter Writing Competition that has run each holiday since Christmas. Next week, we will publish our winning story. The finalists and winner will receive gift vouchers from Dymocks.