The Charm – Chapter 22


One wheel spins in the sandy soil. For a heart stopping second they plough straight ahead, towards the water hole. Jemma mashes the throttle down and holds the wheels on full lock until the front tyres bite in, turning them away. She careens over the swags and directly through the fire. Thoughts of embers igniting the fuel tank frighten her slightly less than being caught. The loose ground doesn’t allow the screaming engine to translate its noise into motion. The Charm pulses confidently and they surge forward. The ground firms, transitioning into hard packed clay. Tyres scuff and squeal, then find purchase. Their pace increases.

Jemma makes the mistake of attempting a gear change to placate the over-revving motor. The van slows almost to a stop while she repeatedly shoves the lever down, looking for third or fourth. Gear teeth grind in protest and vibrations shudder down her arm.

“God dammit, NOW I find reverse!”

She swears in frustration and wrenches at the lever in fury. A loud clunk indicates a cog has engaged. Releasing the clutch causes the engine to labour heavily. They chug onwards slowly. Jemma pumps the unresponsive throttle, unwilling to risk another argument with the gearbox just yet.

In her rear vision mirror someone sprints after them, his torch light swiftly arcing back and forth. Angry calls for them to stop reach her ears. Jemma pounds the steering wheel, bruising her fist. Flooring the throttle and slipping the clutch brings the revs up. The van gathers speed at last.

Her pursuer drops away but now the speed gained outstrips her limited view ahead. Flicking on the forgotten headlights helps. She clings to the wheel, grimly ignoring the overworked suspension and scrapes of branches whipping against the van. Without warning, twists and turns are trust upon her. She drives with reckless disregard, reacting to looming tree trunks and deeply shadowed ruts at the last second. The engine howls in protest. It would have to cope until it’s safe enough to attempt another gear change.

A few kilometres down the track Jemma eases off the throttle, much to the racing engine’s relief. She unpeeled her fingers from the steering wheel and pushes sweat-soaked hair away from her face. Switching the headlights to high beam and repositioning the air vents to blow cool air calms her. Although the rough road continues to test her skills she feels more in control.

Chances that the would-be rapists will be able to catch them on foot grow slimmer as the kilometres tick over. Jemma’s concern switches from escape to Traci. The hectic past fifteen minutes hasn’t left much time to consider her passenger. A hurried glance over her shoulder almost causes an accident. Traci remains invisible, somewhere in the darkness.

She’d have to stop to check on her friend. Jemma gathers flagging courage then applies the brakes to pull over.

Remembering the side door’s tendency to stick, she takes care not to open it all the way. Traci is lying very still. As Jemma reaches for her a small container of salt rolls across the floor and drops to the ground. It gives her an idea. She snatches it up and rummages through the rubbish in the back of the van for a bottle of water. Finding one that is partly full she upends the salt into it.

Jemma perches herself on the vans step and moves Traci so she is lying across her lap then dribbles the water into her slack mouth. She swallows by reflex and explodes into a coughing fit when some of it is breathed in. Jemma tilts Traci’s head away before she vomits copiously. Jemma holds Traci’s hair, remembering a rave where Traci had drunk too much. She’d held her hair just like this while fending off a line of aggressive girls wanting to use the toilet.

The heaves weaken enough for Jemma to drag Traci upright. She hugs her blinking friend, crying in relief.

(Chapter 23)

Published in: on Wednesday, 10 December, 2008 at 12:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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