Okay, it quickly dawned on me that if I phased out of the backseat of the company tour car and went elsewhere, it would confirm whatever it was that the medicine woman had told Johnny about me. Most folks living in Indonesia didn't have phones much less cell phones, but they sure seemed to communicate rather effectively. And from Charlie's unexpected arrival it sure appeared that good old Johnny -- my tour guide who I'd bailed on along with the rest of the tagalong group of Americans in my group -- had informed his brother all about me and sent him over to pick me up at the tourist shack where I'd been left. And naturally it couldn't just be sibling rivalry and a touch of bragging, but rather a full explanation of what I possibly was to Johnny's apparently evil brother. And even though I knew a lot about supernatural creatures I was equally as aware that I didn't know crap about all of them -- especially those in the East. My fingers dug into the thin seat for a second as I gathered my thoughts and then I said in a conversational tone, "So when we collide how far do you think your ass is going to fly once you clear the windshield?" My tone was mildly interested but basically a 'fuck you asshole' voice to anyone with more than two brain cells.
As Charlie had refused to give an inch of the rain-torn road up to an approaching vehicle, I figured he was in the less than two connected brain cells section of humanity. And from his glances at me in the rear view mirror and the lack of emotions playing on his face, I figured he wasn't even as human as he'd first appeared when he'd picked me up. I was pretty sure that he wanted me to phase out for whatever reason to prove something to whatever creature was driving his brain. And just for that I decided to keep my word to Uncle Harry and stay put.
Besides I wasn't totally being rude because he didn't have his seatbelt on and I was perfectly poised to lunge across the bench seat and roll with the bounce. I'd be jostled around a bit, but from my rapid calculations I'd definitely live. Charlie's chances weren't as high since the truck coming up hill was bigger than the tour car and the driver had yet to clear off the road completely. I figured at least we'd get sideswiped if Charlie continued on his current course. The small tour car was no match for the truck.
Something alien rolled over his face and he dropped his gaze from the mirror and looked at the rapidly approaching vehicle through the half-assed windshield wipers attempting to clear the muck and rain from the window. My heart thumped a bit as I watched the tires on the truck shoot mud and debris up in a large wet spray as they spun uselessly in the sloppy dirt, unable to find purchase. The truck driver was frantically battling the wheel and the fishtailing vehicle. I didn't see how Charlie could correct for the other driver's out-of-control driving. Another crack of thunder and a bolt of lightning that lit up the mountainside illuminated the landscape. To my astonishment, I watched another strike of lighting shoot towards us. My skin danced with the electricity crackling in the car as I felt every inch of my body tremble involuntarily.
The blinding bolt of lightning arced sideways then ripped through a large tree, splitting it down the center all the way to the earth. The flaming half of the tree fell soundly onto the approaching truck -- crushing the bed that was filled with brown boxes filled with unknown treasures inside while just missing the cab and the panicking driver. But it served to stop the wild course of the truck dead, and literally pushed it out of our path.
Charlie smiled a tight vicious grin as he never slowed, passing the damaged vehicle with meager inches to spare. I couldn't help but turn in my seat and look back at the wreck. The man was out of the severely broken truck, I could see the half of tree was still on fire in a few spots but the steadily pouring rain was putting the flames slowly out leaving a charred hunk of wood buried in the man's vehicle.
The mystery of his cargo was solved as I saw the winds pick up bits and pieces of fabric from the now smoldering wreck. He'd been hauling some sort of clothing -- probably for sale to tourists given the bright colors whipping around the accident site. And to my amazement the man stood next to the destroyed truck and shook his fist at the sky -- as if calling out to the clouds. He didn't look at us -- a partial cause of his mishap from my angle -- but instead was ranting at the heavens. An odd feeling of detached foreignness washed over me. In the states the driver would have been on his cell phone while blaming Charlie and screaming for a cop. In Indonesia there was a definite fatalistic attitude about such things, which seemed nearly absurd to me.
"Didn't fly through window -- see," Charlie interrupted my thoughts.
I turned back to see his eyes again in the mirror searching for mine. I lifted an eyebrow -- refusing to cower before whatever hell-sent creature controlled Charlie and said dryly, "Works for me."
The rest of our journey was completed in total silence. Charlie didn't see the need to chatter about the sights along the way and I wasn't giving up an inch of information. My desire to leave Indonesia was stronger than before when I'd been in the bizarre temple. Whatever was running Charlie knew that I wasn't the average human, I knew unquestionably. And that strike of lightning was far too convenient and the implications that it had been called down to hit that tree to keep Charlie alive was beyond anything I wanted to explore so far from home. There were things and creatures I found best to ignore.
I felt Uncle Harry's soft, "Emma? You okay?" brush up against my thoughts but I pushed all contact out, not wanting to find out if whatever controlled Charlie could read thoughts. I mulled over the Eastern possibilities and knew I hadn't a clue what lurked in the dark on the other side of my known universe. I hoped that Uncle Harry would realize I would contact him as soon as I was able and shoved that worry aside to watch the green on green scenery fly past the rain-streaked window in silence.
Once back at the hotel, Charlie didn't bother getting out of the car and opening up my door. I was relieved because I didn't want any further attention from whatever inhabited Charlie. The Charlie-meat-puppet watched me go inside with dead eyes. I kept my spine stiff but couldn't resist a little finger wave once I cleared the open door of the entrance and was standing just inside -- wet but at least no longer being pelted with rain. Charlie raced the small engine then tore away from the front of the hotel without slowing for an old man walking just on the edge in the driveway. The large puddle next to the man soon was covering him as Charlie's tires deliberately womped through it. The normal path that people traveled was flooded with rain and the road was set a bit higher. On the drive back there had been quite a few people walking on road that Charlie ignored. The man didn't even bother turning but continued making his way slowly down the road.
My eyes met his as he passed and he winked and grinned widely, with betel-stained lips and gums. He nodded and proceeded slowly down the drive soaked to the bone. His eyes had been happy and I felt somehow reassured by his wink. There had been an aura of piety and structure in his body. He wasn't hell-bound in the least, I concluded.
I slept restlessly that evening. The flight I had to return to Australia wasn't for another week. I'd spent an hour on the phone trying to switch to an earlier flight to no avail. Before I fell asleep, I left Uncle Harry a lengthy message explaining that due to some further unforeseen circumstances I really needed to cut my trip much shorter than I'd thought. I told him about the lovely lightning storm and how careful I'd been to follow the guide's suggestions. I laced as much sarcasm as humanly possible to let him know there was more going on than I was saying. I begged him to use some of his connections to help me switch to an earlier flight. He didn't call me back before I fell asleep, but I was confident he'd do what he could to assist. He knew that I could easily pop out and show up on his doorstep, but I was still trying to color insides the lines of humanity. That alone assured me that Uncle Harry'd help if he could. Admittedly I could have caught Uncle Harry's thoughts and really explained, but I wasn't overly trusting the locals after Charlie's appearance. There was so much unsaid but felt I didn't need to try to find the words for a message that could possibly be overheard either by phone or in my thoughts. Supernaturals had different worries than humans.
I woke and quickly saw that I didn't have any message from Uncle Harry but I decided to treat the morning like any other I'd enjoyed since I'd arrived in Indonesia a few weeks ago. The rains had continued throughout the night but the morning was clear and very humid. The growing sense of unreality kept me on edge, but I dressed casually and headed out of my room tossing my necessary items in the backpack I slung over my shoulder.
Breakfast at the hotel was a long arrangement of buffet tables set up just inside the main lobby. Crisp white linens topped the tables, brushing the ground. Usually there was a hodge-podge of local cuisine, American staples like toast, eggs and sausages made up of undetermined substances, European thick, hearty oatmeal and occasionally various offerings of yogurt and granola. A choice of strong coffee or good tea along with various pureed fruits like mango, papaya or pineapples usually accompanied the foods. Trying to stay focused, I went for a glass of fresh papaya juice, a slice of cold toast and some oatmeal. I wasn't in an experimenting mood and I didn't bother to raise any of the lids covering the dishes. Just the basics worked for me -- I craved the normality of American food.
I walked out to the covered patio where various groups of people ate their breakfasts and headed over to the pathway that went to a secluded spot pretty much out of sight from the rest of hotel guests. I didn't feel like conversations and I'd discovered the place a week prior and ate my breakfast there every day. Since the rains had stopped during the evening the cement path was dappled with shadows from the sun beating down through the trees. I was nearly at the bench when a pastel blue color caught my eyes. As I approached juggling the oatmeal in one hand with the plate with my toast across the top and the juice in my other hand my ever-present backpack slithered down off my shoulder as I read the English words chalked into the cement.
Beneath the rather banal words was a light blue chalked smiley face. The features seemed to mock me while they unsettled me for some reason. I turned on my heel and walked back towards the somewhat full tables deciding not to venture any further off the beaten track. Looking around I saw that there was only one table with one woman with any seating available. The rest of the tables had clusters of two to five people all chatting away in English, French and a smattering of various Asian dialects and the chairs surrounding the tables all were full from what I could see. The woman sitting by herself noticed me looking for a space and waved me towards her with a smile of invitation. I clumsily put my juice on the table, spilling a bit while placing the oatmeal and toast next to it. The woman was petite and fragile-looking and had nearly finished her meal, I saw when I glanced at her plate. And all that she had left was a bit of toast and her half-empty cup of tea. She picked at the bread left and smiled.
"My dear, you look positively peaked. Are you feeling well?" Her concern was nice, but her voice was just slightly louder than a whisper so I strained to catch her words, and yet I could detect a slight British accent. I wondered what I was getting myself into now as I regarded the woman.