The Charm – Chapter 15


The van rattles violently when Terry pushes it over 100 kph. He lifts his foot and the vibrations ease to an occasional clatter and creak.

“Ninety’s the limit boys and girls, we’ll get there but.”

He’s smiling, confidently ignoring the ominous noises beneath them. Jemma unpeels her fingers from the door handle in a concerted effort to relax.

“You sure you don’t want fuel money?”

She is still uncomfortable about not paying their share.

“Nah. S’OK. We got a fuel card. It all gets charged back to the company.”

Terry flicks on the air-conditioning. A storm of dust and insects billows from the vents filling the van. Another round of arguing and complaining starts when Traci and Mark find the rear sliding windows are jammed closed. Jemma holds a hand over her mouth until the worst of it clears.

“Looks like nature’s air-con only,” Terry says, laughing.

A few hours down the road Mark tugs a piece of paper from his pocket and examines it intently.

“We turn left here, somewhere.”

They are passing a huge sign advertising Kakadu National Park. Terry clicks his fingers until Mark hands the paper over.

“Nah, that’s not it. It says go past the sign, you retard. And, oh look,  if you turn it round, the track’s on the right, not the left. S’posed to be marked with fluoro tape.”

Terry tosses the paper back over his shoulder. Mark snatches it and squints closely at the markings, turning the sheet around in circles.

“Oh, right.”

He doesn’t sound too sure. Curious, Jemma twists around in her seat.

“What’s that?”

“It’s a map,” he mutters.

“What? A treasure map,” Traci smirks.

“It’s a secret waterhole my brother’s mate found a couple of years ago. Best fishing in the Territory,” Mark shoots back, annoyed.

“Pity you didn’t bring a fishing line then.”

Jemma can’t help herself from adding this extra dig. Mark glares at her, then a slow, knowing smile creeps across his mouth. She turns away with a shiver, regretting her mockery.

Travelling at ninety on an unrestricted road is essentially a road block to drivers of faster vehicles. Cars and trucks collect behind them, tailgating, then passing at high speed on the long straights. Rigs hauling three trailers thunder past in a rush of hot air and blaring horns. Jemma’s stomach clenches when the Charm reminds her of its presence, banging heavily against her sternum.

As a distraction she pulls it out to examine the faint design etched into it.The dull charm suddenly; impossibly; sparkles. Jemma is dazzled before the light redirects itself  at Terry. He wrenches his head away as though physically stuck.

“Holy fuck! My eye!”

He slams a foot on the brake and veers off the road. They come to a skidding halt.

“What the fuck is that thing?”

He points at the Charm, warily averting his face, blinking hard. A tear runs down one cheek. Mortified, Jemma clamps a hand around the now hot charm.

“Christ, you trying to wreck us, man. Hey look! Shit, that’s it, there! Never would have seen that,” Mark says, pointing out his window.

Neither he nor Traci had witnessed the Charm’s assault.

They all look in the direction Mark points. The dust kicked up from their abrupt stop is clearing to reveal a dirt track that disappears into dense scrub. Long grass grows between the tyre tracks. No vehicle has travelled this way recently. He nods at the faded pink knots of survey tape tied to trees either side of the track.

“This must be it.”

The Charm send a pulse into Jemma’s fingers as if in agreement and then settles.

‘How does light reflect off this tarnished surface?’  She wonders and tentatively hides it under her top.

“It doesn’t look very safe and this thing’s not a four-wheel drive,” she says, disliking the lecturing tone of her own voice.

“Nope, it’s better than a four-wheeler. Hire cars can go places no normal car can.”

Terry gives his eye a wipe and reverses, then swings the wheel sharply and barges through the trees, onto the dirt track. The sounds of branches scraping along the sides and grass whispering underneath feeds Jemma’s rising fear.

(Chapter 16)

Published in: on Sunday, 2 November, 2008 at 3:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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