The Charm – Chapter 13


Their flight boards on time. All four jostle the other passengers to be first in the queue, keen to put Bangkok behind them. The hard knot in Jemma’s stomach begins to unravel when the plane lifts from Thai soil. By the time it reaches cruising altitude her hands unclench. She rubs the half moon cuts fingernails have left in her palms.

Traci shows no symptoms of stress. Before the seat belt lights blink off she asks Jemma to trade seats with Mark. Jemma agrees, getting her to promise to change back in case Terry turns out to be weird.

Jemma resettled herself in the seat Mark vacates. Terry doesn’t appear well. He’s sweating and jittery. To help put him at ease Jemma tells him about the house that fell down while they’d been in it. It’s almost as though she’s hearing it for the first time herself. Terry opens up a bit and relates a few immature risks he and Mark got up to.

After a meal Terry succumbs to the sleep he’d denied his body for the last week. Jemma’s own weariness catches up with her too and she drifts off, her head lolling against Terry’s shoulder. Dark dreams conspire to undo sleep’s restorative powers.

Minor turbulence pulls her from a dream of crumbling masonry and pain-wracked screams. On the feathered edge of consciousness she strains to hear the cracked voice of an old woman’s shouted warning. The moment is lost when a sudden dip in altitude wrenches her fully awake. The plane continues to shake and rattle as she blearily raises her head from Terry shoulder and looks around. He’ has already woken and watches her intently. Jemma rubs a neck made stiff from her sleeping position.

“Mmm, sorry about that. I was leaning on you.”

“Could of been worse. Coulda had Mark snoring and drooling on me.”

“I don’t snore. Or drool,” Jemma says hotly. She wipes her lips, just in case.

“You were having a bad dream. What’s with the amulet thing?”

“What do you mean?”

She looks down. The cord has stretched again. It hangs between her breasts again. She frowns, thinking it is unusually heavy

“It’s a nice trick. The way it glows then fades to that dull finish. How do you set it in time with your breathing?”

“You were looking down my shirt?”

“Couldn’t help it. And I couldn’t reach my book with you lying on me.”

She smiles faintly, accepting his liberties as payment for using him as a pillow. They talk and read for a few hours until the captain’s announcement prepares them for landing. He promises the passenger a soggy Darwin welcome of ninety per cent humidity.

Jemma hopes they don’t have to hang around in the city for long. She’s had enough insane tropical heat for this lifetime.

Mark and Terry only have carry-on luggage.  Mark grabs his bag and Terry’s then pushes into the scrum leaving the plane.

“We’ll get a taxi,” Terry mutters to Jemma before joining his mate. The girls exchange cross looks, wondering what they had done to deserve the rude abandonment. They wait  impatiently for the aisle to empty enough to jump up and retrieve their own carry on items.

Traci’s back pack is the very last piece of luggage to hit the carousel. She whines continuously that it’s lost for sure until it appears. Her happy change of heart lasts until she sees the lengthy customs queue and the complaints start again. She snatches the last trolley in the rack and dumps her back pack on it, leaving a family with three small children to forlornly consider their five large suitcases.

“If I never have to carry this thing again it’ll be too soon.”

Jemma shrugs at Traci manners and throws her bag on the trolley. They select the ‘nothing to declare’ line but Customs are having a blitz. Both lines creep. Almost everyone is being thoroughly searched. Mark looks down the line and gives Traci a scowl in return for her wave of recognition. He turns away to swiftly repacked his stuff alongside Terry.

The girls surge forward as a tour group is allowed through without a search. The man in front of Jemma is ushered to a vacant table and they watch as his bag is systematically disassembled.

Jemma is resigned to having her underwear strewn around for all to see when her turn comes.

“Anything to declare?”

“No. I bought some clothes. You want me to dump everything out?”

The Charm vibrates loud enough to make the customs officer blink hard, twice.

“Nah. Off you go. You too.”

He waves Traci through. The couple behind are about to follow, thinking they are included.

“Not you two. Open your bags please. Everything out.”

Traci can’t help smirking at their annoyance.

The Northern Territory’s famous ‘build up’ wet heat slaps the faces of southern tourists as they step outside.

“God, it’s worse than Bangkok.”

“I’m melting.”

Terry and Mark are anxiously waiting in line for a taxi. Their expressions change rapidly from worried to suspicious to extremely happy as the girls exit.

“Great! You got through OK. Didn’t ya get searched? They were doing everyone.”

“Not us. We must have honest faces or something. It’s lucky we weren’t. Traci’s got enough cosmetics to open a shop. Should see all the junk she’s bought.” Jemma said, smiling sweetly at Traci’s poked out tongue.

“We might be here for a while. Not many taxis.”

Even before he finishes speaking Jemma feels the Charm boom through her like a gong. She can see a wave rippling through the sweltering air. Five taxis drive into the rank.

Terry frowns.

“Did you hear that noise? S’like it’s echoing inside my head.”

“Nothing else is in there so that doesn’t surprise me,” mark says with a grin.

The men abuse each other in a good natured way and the occurrence is forgotten. Jemma dwells on it longer than the rest of them, unwilling to mention that she thought the sound had come from her necklace pendant.

She did feel a twinge of unease. What exactly does this slim metallic disc had inside it? Some clever Japanese electronics maybe?

Mark throws the girl’s bags into the next available taxi’s boot. Both men are still joking around, relaxed and confident. Jemma wishes her own tiredness could be so easily shed.

(Chapter 14)

Published in: on Friday, 31 October, 2008 at 7:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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