The Charm – Chapter 9


Jemma is about to flee when the mad old woman runs at her, gripping her hands.

She would have her say.

“I’m so sorry you saw me child. Forgive me.”

She deliberately presses her palm against the disc, pushing it hard into Jemma’s sternum. There is a  high-voltage crackle and awisp of smoke seeps between the woman’s fingers, though she does not let go. The parchment-like skin on her face shrivels further, folding in on itself and stretching her mouth in a rictus of pain.  Her eyes hold Jemma’s until the tired life-spark deep within dims. She sags: totally drained.

Traci chooses this moment to bound up the stairwell, white with fear and gasping for breath. She stops dead seeing Jemma taking the old lady’s arms to lower her to the floor.

“Shit! Is she all right? What’s going on?”

“I’m not sure. She gave me a necklace, then she just…fell,” Jemma hears herself still speaking rapidly in Thai. She leans down and forces herself to touch the woman’s paper-thin skin, feeling for a pulse.

“Hey, I didn’t know you could speak Thai,” Traci calls across the room, then slits her eyes, appalled. “You’re not making fun of their lingo are you?” she stage whispers.

Jemma concentrates before speaking again in English.

“No, idiot, it just came out. I must have picked up a few words …”

Convincing herself this could be true is more important than convincing Traci. Her hot, pressurised mind buzzes. What had the woman been telling her? Something bad? She rubs the tightness in her temples again. Traci gives Jemma a queer look then moves towards her friend in concern. The floor creaks and pops loudly.

“Don’t move. Go back,” Jemma yells, feeling the floorboards shift under her. Traci quickly returns to the concrete pad of the stair well. Jemma remains crouched over the old woman, deep in thought. Wasn’t there something else? Whatever it was skitters away and hides from her searching mind. She lifts the Charm again and shrugs at its dull inactivity. What made her think it should do anything?  Her skin tingles pleasantly when she drops it between her breasts.

“I think she’s dead.”

She says this unemotionally, not knowing how to deal with the immensity of the moment.

Traci’s eyes grew wide and wet.

“Let’s get out of here. We’ll send someone to help her.”

Jemma leaves the shrunken body and tiptoes towards Traci. As if waiting for her departure a joist gives up its struggle to hold her weight. Wood split and cracks. The entire floor begins to break up from the weakened point. Jemma rushes the last few metres to the concrete landing as the bearers snap in quick succession. Huge chunks of flooring disappear, creating an ever widening hole. The floor below disintergrates under the onslaught of falling timber until the destruction and extra load causes it to collapse as well. The basement landing fills the air with a billowing cloud of dust and splinters. Concrete chunks and roof tiles continue to rain down. The old woman’s remains are nowhere to be seen.

“Run,” screams Traci, feeling the building shudder in its death throes. She runs down the first flight of stairs, totally forgetting the missing ones below. Jemma remembers.

“Look out! The hole!”

Traci squeals with fright but clears the gap without pause, somehow stumbling down the remaining stairs without falling. Jemma runs too, but an artificial calm helps cap the rising panic. She feels her body lose its unweildy mass and floats across the same gap in a nimble leap. Safely on ground level her solidity returns and she almost trips on the uneven pavement.

They are a spectacle of high-pitched screaming amongst the racket a crumbling building can make. Traci reaches the other side of the road first and looks back. Pulverised plaster explodes in dense white clouds from every broken window as the entire building falls in on itself. Sseconds later only a mound of rubble remains in a cloudy sea of spreading dust.

The disc around Jemma’s neck has found its way out from under her top. She looks down, wondering at its heat and the building pressure in her head.

“What’s going ont? Oh…my head.”

Traci and Jemma’s eyes are drawn to the disc. Their thoughts blank as the disc sparkles with a thousand soft rays of light. They stand transfixed for brief seconds. Their eyelids slip closed in unison then flutter open, reawakening them from a dream.

“Glad we weren’t in there,” said Traci sleepily, squinting into the dust a hot wind blows over them.

“We were…I think,” Jemma says uncertainly. “I found this, didn’t I?”

“Oh yeah, I turn my back for a second and you disappear into a mouldy hole.”

“People are looking at us. We’d better go.”

They start to walk away.  A gathering group of Thai men, women and children are exclaiming loudly about the destroyed building. The few who’d seen the girls enter and leave before its collapse point at them. Several men become agitated and shout after them. Jemma walks faster and Traci hurries to catch up, her face screwed up in concentration.

“I think…  someone else was in there, wasn’t there.  I can’t remember.”

“My brain hurts. I can’t think straight.”

Jemma shakes her head slowly, trying to penetrate the fog. A shout from the crowd makes them look back. A man runs in the opposite direction. Jemma knows he’ll be fetching the police. She breaks into a jog. For once Traci doesn’t argue or complain.

(Chapter 10)

Published in: on Wednesday, 29 October, 2008 at 8:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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