The Charm – Chapter 16


“Don’t worry. They’re not gunna notice a bit more damage,” Terry says easily as a branch bashes Jemma’s side mirror, making her flinch. She wound the window up a bit further.

“I thought we were going straight to Adelaide?”

She tried not to let nervousness come through in her voice.

“We are. But it’ll be dark soon. Camping saves shelling out for a motel. You girls can have the van and we’ll crash out in the swags.” Terry threw her a lingering look. “Don’t worry so much. Beer o’clock Mark?”

“Hell yeah! Girls?”

Mark takes a dripping green can from the esky and passes it forward. Terry cracks the can and takes a gulp then burps freely.

“No thanks. Bit early for me,” said Traci primly.

Jemma shakes her head too, not liking the implications of going bush with two strangers who are now about to get drunk.

After half an hour of fairly slow progress along a rutted track Mark pulls out a plastic bag of fragrant marijuana. He packs a stubby pipe. Jemma coldly remembers the ‘other’ supplies Terry had asked him to get.

If she wasn’t so wrung out and distracted Jemma might have picked up on that cryptic request earlier. It’s not prudishness that fuels her alarm. Any girl would be concerned about her safety. Her mind monotonously mutters obvious dangers, reminding her neither of their parents have no idea where they are right now. The short note she’d left had said. ‘Too much stress here, taking Traci for a holiday. Back in a few days.’

She’d thought it was amusing at the time. Everyone would be so surprised and jealous when they heard the girls had flown halfway across the world and back for an extended weekend.

Now she felt stupid. And scared.

“You wanna toke?”

“I’ll try,” said Traci, the eager experimenter. She shows no signs of discomfort about the situation.

Jemma gives her a warning with her eyes and gets a mischievous look in return. Traci in a playful mood was impossible to deal with. The van fills with smoke, coughing and laughter. Jemma wound her window all the way down to get some fresh air, grimly putting up with the leaves and twigs falling inside as they scrape their way along the tight track.

Inside, tension twisted her guts. Everyone seemed happy enough. These men were just average boys. Why did she always have to be the odd one out? Why did she always have to be Miss Stick-in-the-mud?

A few minutes later Terry stops the van.

“All change,” he calls, getting out.

They trade places, Mark taking the wheel, Traci sitting up front. Being stoned makes Mark drive slowly and concentrate fixedly on the road. Jemma’s tension mounts anyway. He negotiates washouts and sandy sections at the same speed as the flat sections. She’s convinced he had no real connection with what he was doing.

The van’s creaking suspension works hard and the scraping sounds when it bottoms out only makes the boys laugh. Jemma clings to a window frame and grits her teeth.

Increasingly isolated and angry, she doesn’t stop to think when Terry holds a packed pipe out to her. She grabs it from him. Surprised, Terry hands her the lighter. The harsh smoke makes her cough but she takes a full breath in before handing the glowing dregs to Terry.

Traci cheers; happy her friend is loosening up. Jemma smiles self-consciously, feeling the drug jump on her stress with both feet. A pleasant feeling of detachment loosens tight muscles. Her neck loses its ability to support her head properly. She lets it loll and watches the passing scrub with rapt fascination. The van’s lurching, grinding gait reminds her of a large animal bulling its way through the bush, with her in its stomach. The idea amused her. She giggles to herself.

Occasionally other tracks fork away in different directions. Mark checks his drawing and chooses different ones seemingly at random. Terry leaves him to it.

A tyre blows. The loud bang, squeals, swearing and sudden halt brings Jemma partially out of fantasy land. The drama of working out how to release the spare and find the jack dredges up a speck of worry. She’d never be able to fully shake her anxious nature.

“Are we going back?”

“Nah, it’s getting late and we’re almost there.”

“Doesn’t it make more sense to head towards the highway? If we have another flat it won’t be as far to walk to get help.”

“We won’t get another flat.”

“Oh, well that’s all right then. These are the impervious tyres, are they? Should have put em on in Darwin and saved you boys the bother of changing that dud one.”

“Imprer-vrous? What’s that?”

The men laugh at her pretentious word, then argue about how to get the wheel off. Replacing it with the bald, spongy spare takes many more minutes.

The girls stand under a tree and watch with disinterest.

(Chapter 17)

Published in: on Monday, 3 November, 2008 at 1:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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