The Charm – Chapter 11


Time ticks by too slowly for Traci’s short attention span to remain on one thing. Her eyes flick from the magazine in her lap, to the window, to the passengers sitting around them. She sighs melodramatically then begins loudly rating the men walking past.

“Too fat. Too dorky. Too many kids. Pants in armpits. Hey, they don’t look too bad!”

Traci’s words coincide with a quiet chime from Jemma’s new necklace, jerking her awareness to high alert from an uneasy semi-doze. Unwilling to be drawn into Traci’s game Jemma gropes at the disc and stares at its strangely undulating surface, becoming lost in it.

Traci’s doesn’t notice. Her attention is fully engaged on two well-tanned, sloppily dressed men in their mid-twenties. They see her boldly eyeing them and saunter over to chat.

“Hello ladies, I’m Terry, this is Mark. Jeez, looks like Bangkok’s been giving one of you a hard time.”

Jemma snaps back to the present and  groans inwardly, acutely feeling the dirt and and sweat on her. She cringes under the combined gaze of her three spectators and slides lower in the seat, wishing she’d cleaned herself up when Traci had.

“Yeah. We had to run. Traffic jam,” she says self-consciously.

She scowls at Traci’s assured beauty beside her, resenting the way it makes her look worse.

Mark gives their breasts a cursory glance before diverting his nervy eyes to scan the lounge.

Jemma hopes they aren’t expecting a boisterous group of mates who might contribute to her humiliation.

She studies Terry’s rough-edged good looks and decides against the petty retaliation of mentioning his puffy eyes and wrinkled clothes.

“Me and Mark got motorbike taxi’s right to the door. Heaps quicker. Where’re yous going?”

“Back to Adelaide.”

“How bout that? We’re driving a Bongo van down there from Darwin, aren’t we Mark? Must be fate, meeting two Aussie chicks in Bangkok. Maybe we could look you up when we get there? That’s unless your boyfriends wouldn’t mind you taking an extra day to drive down with us instead.”

Jemma laughs, warming to his mild flirting. She sobers when Traci enthusiastically jumps in to accept the offer.

“She doesn’t have a boyfriend, neither do I.”

She favours Mark with a coy smile.

“Maybe we could change planes. Our flight’s been delayed. Whatcha reckon Jem?”

Anything to put off the final confrontation at home.

“He’s just kidding,” Jemma says forcing mildness into her voice while inwardly fuming at Traci’s big mouth. “Anyway we gotta get back home. Remember why?”

The cord around her neck writhes like a living thing. A clear note chimes, resonating through her bones, almost causing her to moan out loud from the energy rush.

Time crystallises. A tearing sensation forcefully wrenches Jemma’s bodily controls from her. Unable to move she cannot even scream as dark feelers arc from her chest. They reach out to caress and enfold Traci and her new friends who stand transfixed. Jemma watches in fearful awe at their slowed reactions while the dark probes exert their influence. Traci’s pursed lips fall open, slackening her signature ‘I’m not happy’ expression brought on by Jemma’s unsubtle hint. Terry pinches his nose in slow motion, wincing at a sudden pain. Mark’s frown slips and his face muscles relax letting his mouth hang open in a dullard’s gape.

A moment later the feelers are sucked into her chest and the world accelerates  to normal speed.

Jemma crashes back into her skin. She rubs goose-bumps from her arms while her brain untwists. The other three are displaying similar symptoms.

“Huh? Ummm … yeah, that’s a good idea. Plenty of room. You need to come with us,” Terry continues haltingly, strangely emphasizing  his last words.

Mark wipes a shaky hand down his face and gives his mate an unmistakable ‘what the hell are you doing’ look.

Jemma misses the exchange. She is staring at Terry, shivering in a cold sweat and watching the peculiar blankness thaw from his face.

Ignoring Traci’s hinting elbow that jabs her ribs, she distracts her by pointing at the flight information board that begins to loudly flick over. The letters and number flutter rapidly in time with her rapid pulse, finishing with the word she dreads. CANCELLED. Jemma’s eyesight blurs and an electric current jangles her unsettled nerves. Saliva fills her mouth and a slow stomach roll is unmistakably the onset of vomiting.

“I don’t feel well,” she whispers, then sprints for the toilets. Traci’s lame joke about ‘Bangkok Belly’ and the men’s nervous laughter follows her. She bangs open a cubicle door just in time and throws up. The reaction is so violent she expects to see blood splatter the bowl though her streaming eyes see nothing but rice and clear fluid when she opens them. She lets out a long groan of embarrassment at the way she had run in here. The Charm tinkles with a thousand tiny bells in response to her distress.

Empty and totally drained of energy Jemma gets off the toilet floor and walks limply to the sink. A ghastly white dirt-smudged face with dark-circled eyes stares back at her despondently. The the mirror shimmers, merging the image of a wizened old woman in place of her own. She flinches away and blinks hard. The scared reflection is hers again.

More mind tricks? Did she get a knock on the head when that house fell in?

Shaken, Jemma ducks her head to splash cold water on her face and arms, then scrubs with liquid soap, avoiding the mirror’s trickery. When she is ready to leave she grips the bowl and braves the  reflection again. This time the mirror remains solid. Only her tired features stare back defensively, as if waiting for a slap.

Cleaner, and purged, she pulls the ragged edges of her scattered mind together. The bone-deep weariness lifts slightly as she exits the toilets and makes her way to their airlines information desk.

The busy clerk is rude and dismissive of her questions. Fuming at his attitude she returns with the bad news that their plane has suffered ‘maintenance issues’ and they are stranded until further notice.

(Chapter 12)

Published in: on Thursday, 30 October, 2008 at 3:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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