Deep in the harsh and unforgiving Australian Outback lies the sleepy opal mining town of Solace. Frequently bypassed by all but the desperate, there's nothing spectacular about it...on the surface.
Solace is a haven for supernatural outcasts. A witch runs the general store, a vampire cuts and polishes opal, the mechanic is a werewolf, a fae is the local layabout, and an elemental works the mine.
Everyone has a past, and the Exiles of Solace are no exception. But when a curious new arrival appears in town, they'll do whatever it takes to protect their home...and the secrets each of them would die to protect.
Welcome to Solace, Outback Australia, where deep underneath the iconic red earth, lies more than glittering opal.
Outback Spirit is the first book in Australian Supernatural, a magical series set in the red heart of Outback Australia where myth and magic live alongside the harsh and unforgiving land.
Release date: February 5, 2021
Print pages: 348
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Nicole R. Taylor
It was five kilometres outside of a small town in outback Australia, when Eloise Hart’s 2005 Fiat Ducato motorhome broke down.
The engine sputtered, the whole van shuddered—dislodging several piles of clothing and kitchen necessities that spilled out over the floor—then steam began to billow from underneath the bonnet.
Pulling off to the side of the road, she killed the engine. She swore and thumped the steering wheel in frustration. Just her luck.
Overhead, the sky was a brilliant blue without a trace clouds. Either side of the black bitumen was red dirt—the kind of red that reminded her of rust—and patchy green and brown scrub twisted with barbed spinifex grass. The odd squat tree dotted here and there, and a few low hills rose gently from the lonely landscape.
Jumping out the van, she shielded her eyes against the glare of the sun and looked up and down the lonely stretch of highway. There was no sign of life in either direction. No cars, no caravans, no road trains—enormous trucks with three or more trailers that wove up and down the isolated highways.
The only thing that greeted her was the small rectangular slice of shade cast by a large green road sign. It read, ‘Solace - 5kms,’ and underneath that, it said, ‘Lightning Ridge - 224kms’.
Opening the hood, Eloise peered at the engine, which had seemed to stop smoking. She knew how to check the oil, the radiator, the battery, and fill the thingy that squirted water onto the windscreen, but that was it. Whatever was wrong was a frustrating mystery.
It could be worse, she thought. At least there’s life five Ks up the road. But what kind of life was another story entirely.
Eloise slammed the hood closed, the hot metal scalding her palms. She’d have to keep driving, fire or no fire, until she reached Solace. Hopefully, it’d live up to its name.
Before she could turn, a bush rustled, frightening the life out of her, and a kangaroo leapt out of the scrub. It stood up on its legs and peered at her with big brown eyes.
Eloise froze, staring at the animal in fascination. Its scruffy brown fur, big ears, and long tail were iconic, but she never tired of seeing them in the wild. An understanding seemed to pass between them, and her fingers twitched, the simple crossing of paths speaking to the thing she’d hidden inside her.
The spirits knew. They always did.
A long moment passed, then the kangaroo let out a snort. It bounded away, jumping across the red dirt until it disappeared in the distance, leaving Eloise standing beside the road, alone with her steaming van and boatload of problems.
The horizon shimmered, the highway leading into a mirage that sparkled like a rainbow-coloured oil slick on water. It was an omen, but it was the only way open to her.
Piece of shit, she thought, kicking the front tyre for good measure.
Climbing back into the driver’s seat, she turned the key in the ignition and began the slow limp into Solace, outback New South Wales.
* * *
Eloise watched in frustration as the mechanic tinkered under the hood of her van. Swatting away several persistent blowflies, her scowl only deepened as the guy muttered to himself.
The mechanic was a middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair, grease-stained hands, and a fluro yellow polo shirt that’d seen better days…much like the arse crack of a town she now found herself in.
Solace turned out to be nothing but a two-horse town made up of a handful of mismatched buildings and a squat water tower with a matching windmill. There was a pub with cracked and faded tables outside nestled underneath a large gum tree, a general store—named The Outpost—with a lonely red postbox out the front, an opal buyer who had signs outside saying ‘opal bought and sold’, and the garage, with its twin petrol bowers, where she now stood. The whole place was patched with rusted corrugated iron; even the water tank had seen better days. At least the main road was sealed.
There wasn’t much going for it and Eloise knew if her van hadn’t broken down, she would’ve kept driving.
The garage smelled like dirt and oil, but the concrete made the place cooler than standing in the radiant heat outside. Every available space was littered with various tools and spare parts, and the yard outside was in much the same state of disarray. It seemed like they repurposed everything out here, but logic told her that they had to since the town was so remote. It was a long way to go to get some bread and milk.
The man hummed and ahhed, his wrench tapping against various parts of the engine. It seemed like he had all the time in the world.
“Well?” she asked when she couldn’t take it any longer. “Can you fix it?”
“Well…” The man straightened up and wiped his hands on his shirt. “What you have here is a blown head gasket.”
Her eyebrows rose. Was that even a thing?
“That smoke was from leaking coolant,” he went on. “You can drive it, but you won’t get far before the whole thing goes, then it’s one problem after the other. Out here…” He clucked his tongue and shrugged.
The outback was an unforgiving place, and it seemed one turn too many had led Eloise the farthest away from civilisation she’d ever been. Not that it was a bad thing—she liked to avoid people as much as she could—but there was a line and right now, she was on the other side of the ‘do not go’ zone.
“Can you replace it?” she asked, dreading how much it was going to cost. “The gasket?”
The mechanic shrugged. “Na, yeah… It depends.”
“How much time do you have?” He sighed and glanced out of the garage. “These vans aren’t that common out here, you see. They don’t like taking anything other than what was made for ‘em. I’ll have to order the parts from the big smoke. Could take a while.”
Eloise’s heart sank. If she decided to leave and find a mechanic in a bigger town, there was the chance she’d do more damage to the engine or breakdown somewhere even more remote. Being lost in the outback, unprepared, was trouble.
She had no choice. “How much?”
The mechanic screwed up his face, the wrinkles in his forehead deepening. “Oh, it’s probably a good two to three grand.”
Eloise felt her expression fall and grew dizzy, and it wasn’t from the heat. “Two to three…”
“It’s the labour, see,” the man went on. “Sorry to say, replacing a head gasket ain’t easy.”
Her hands began to shake. She didn’t have that kind of money to slap down on repairs. Well, she did, but it was all the money she had in the world. The logistics of waiting who knew how many weeks for the van to be fixed made her head spin.
“Is there somewhere I can park until it comes?” She glanced at the van and wrung her hands. “It’s my home, you see… I was travelling… And… It’s my home.”
The mechanic’s expression softened.
“I’ll pay,” she went on. “I don’t need much. I have solar panels…” Tears threatened, but there was no way she was going to cry in front of a stranger, least of all, a mechanic. They had a reputation for overcharging clueless women, didn’t they? Three thousand might become four if she wasn’t careful.
The man nodded. “There’s a spot out back,” he said. “It won’t hurt to drive her around there.”
The relief Eloise felt in that moment almost made her knees buckle. “Are you sure? How much?”
“Nothing, darlin’. The repairs are going to cost you more than enough.”
She fought back tears and the mechanic pulled out a stained handkerchief. He went to offer it to her but thought better of it and shoved it back where it came from.
“The name’s Wally,” he said. “Wally O’Brian.” Thankfully, he didn’t reach out for a handshake.
He led her outside and pointed to the large yard at the rear of the garage. The ground was nothing but hard red dirt and scrub, but there were several trees that created a bit of natural shade. It was almost big enough for her entire van to fit under.
“You can back up there,” Wally said, pointing to the trees. “There’s a tap here at the back of the garage, but it’s bore water. Good for washing, but not drinking.”
Bore water was ground water pulled from underground water tables through bore holes. It was full of dirt and other impurities, but in the outback, any liquid was precious. She supposed she’d have to get bottled stuff from the store. It was another cost that began to eat away at her already taxed anxiety.
“You settle yourself in, darlin’,” Wally told her. “I’ll come see you when I get that part sorted. Let you know the damage.”
“If you’re looking for some grub, head over to the pub. Most of the locals eat there every night. It’s good tucker.”
Eloise nodded, but she was still thinking about her bank balance.
Wally let her be, and she hopped into her van and started the engine. Head over to the pub? Maybe that wasn’t such a great idea. People, questions, handshakes.
Touching someone was the last thing she wanted to do.
* * *
The tip of Kyne Brady’s pick tinkled against the wall of rock as it struck potch.
Scratching at the wall, he uncovered the first glimpse of the seam of opal he’d been trailing over the past week. It stood out from the claystone layer like shining obsidian. He was on the black for sure this time.
Dropping the pick, he placed his hands on the wall and closed his eyes.
He wasn’t that far underground, but his claim was remote and away from the noise of Solace and the highway beyond. All that lingered out here was him and the spirits.
The Earth spoke to him, whispering its secrets, and he followed the echoes as they led him towards the glittering stone deep within the clay. The opal seam split through the layer and deeper into the wall, spreading out like tree roots. There was colour there, and a lot of it.
Glancing down at his pick, Kyne sighed. He was going to need something bigger.
Heading back down the tunnel, he found the drive and hopped up onto the ladder to the surface. Taking one rung at a time, the wobbly metal bashed against the rock face as he climbed the twenty-four feet back to the surface.
He’d dubbed his claim, Black Hole, not after the space sucking anomalies in outer space but after the rare black opal that Solace was known for. A single ounce was worth thousands in the open market, and the more colour that shone through the black, the more it was worth.
The midday sun was blazing when he reached topside. Six months out of the year it was too hot to mine, but all bets were off during the other six. Today was unseasonably warm, which always meant something was in the air.
For Kyne, that something was opal. Finally.
Casting a wary look around, he double and triple-checked the locks and traps Vera had made him. If he was onto black, then he had to be careful. He secured the grate over the drive and bumped the toe of his steel-capped boot against it. Electricity crackled.
Ratters hadn’t bothered him for quite some time, but he knew they were still out there, waiting and watching. The thieves would come in the middle of the night, break into mines, and dig out any opal they could find, often rendering the places they destroyed dangerous. They’d dig out columns of rock, making the roof unstable, but they didn’t care—all they wanted was the opal.
Miners could go entire seasons without finding any trace, let alone colour, and to have some bastard nick it before it could come out of the wall was a kick in the guts.
Kyne didn’t have to worry. If someone ventured into Black Hole Mine, it’d live up to its name—that’s if they managed to find it in the first place.
He tossed his hard hat into the tray of his ute and jumped into the driver’s seat. Putting on his hat—a dusty, black cowboy number he was rarely without—he revved the engine and peeled away from his claim, leaving a cloud of red dust in his wake.
Solace was just as sleepy as it’d been since he last saw it. Nothing had changed, but it rarely did this far from civilisation.
Pulling up outside the garage, he spotted Wally sitting inside. The old dog had his glasses on, squinting at his ancient, duct-taped laptop. Shaking his head, Kyne got out and went inside.
“Hey, Wally,” he said, tipping the brim of his hat.
Wally lifted his head from his ancient laptop. “G’day, mate. Ain’t you a sight for sore eyes. I almost forgot what your mug looked like.”
“I’ve caught a scent,” he told the old mechanic.
Wally snapped the lid of the laptop closed. “About time. I was starting to think you’d died down that hole.”
Kyne wiped his brow. “Something’s changed. I can hear—”
The mechanic coughed loudly and shook his head. That’s when Kyne noticed the white van parked out behind the shop. He could see it through the window, the sun shining off the exterior.
“Blown head gasket,” Wally said with a shake of his head. “A Fiat. One of them motorhomes.”
Kyne didn’t have to ask. A blown gasket was bad enough, but the nearest Fiat service centre was a thousand kilometres away. At least. It also meant an outsider was here.
“Came in this morning,” Wally explained. “Poor girl. I think she’s living hand-to-mouth out of that thing. The whole van has certainly had its fair share of knocks.”
Kyne wasn’t listening. If there was one thing he disliked more than ratters, it was outsiders.
“It doesn’t matter,” he told Wally. “I’m just stopping by to see if you have a jackhammer. Mine carked it a few days back.”
“Finally broke the old thing, eh?” Wally stood and crossed the garage. “I’ve got one you can use. Glad to lend it now that you’ve got your,” he waved his hands in the air, “mojo back.”
Kyne clapped his hand on the old guy’s shoulder. “I’m on the black, Wally. A good piece, too.”
“You don’t say?” He took off his glasses. “Hardy will be jumping for joy.”
Kyne pressed his finger to his lips. “Not a word.”
Wally snorted and polished his glasses on his greasy shirt. “You going to see Vera before you go?” Kyne’s expression faded into a scowl. “I’ll take that as a no.”
“I’m just here for the jackhammer,” Kyne told him.
“She could do with your help, you know.”
“Nothing happens here. She’s doing just fine.”
Wally glanced at the van out back.
“What?” Kyne asked.
“I’ve got a feeling…”
“A feeling, Kyne.”
He snorted and looked out the window at the motorhome. Whoever this woman was, she was nowhere in sight. If she was something to worry about, Kyne would’ve already felt it, sight unseen.
“Talk to Vera about it,” he told the mechanic. “I’ve got opal to dig.”
“Elementals,” he heard Wally mutter as he went off to find the jackhammer. “More temperamental than a bloody bull ant.”
“No more than an old dog on a full moon.”
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