Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and violence.
After having seen the Sunshine Coast, the Gold Coast, and the whole blessed extension of seashore in New South Whales, Australia, Jessica was definitely not impressed with the red wasteland hidden in the middle of the island-country. It was impressive, do not think otherwise - however, it was not as delightful and glamorous as drinking mimosas and tanning by the Icebergs in Bondi Beach. She should have stayed longer in the East, and not tried to compress an entire big-ass country as Australia in the limited amount of time she was taking off work and away from her home in Miami, Florida. 'I'm over this dryness', she said out loud, and immediately regreted it as none of her fellow backpackers joined in on her whinging.
They were five tourists sitting together at a Bed & Breakfast venue in a tiny Town in the middle of the desert. Jessica, from the U.S., two younger and more attractive platinated girls from Essex, London, whose accent Jess could not stand in the least, a kind-looking man from Nicaragua or somewhere else in Central America and an enigmatic Brazilian boy who had been very quiet at some occasions and much more of an extrovert at others. Jess had learned Australia was all about that mixture - everywhere she'd gone, she'd found herself inserted in groups of people from different cultures and backgrounds who spoke English as a second language, and she loved that. She could speak Spanish almost fluently, and it was exciting to put it to practice.
'I reckon we'll get some great pics around here', Maddie, one of the Essex girls said to the other, not really responding to Jess' previous commentary but also providing the group with enough information so they knew the American was the only one making complaints. 'They'll get us plenty of likes I reckon.'
Jess rolled her eyes, tired of being constantly reminded of her insignificant number of followers and even more insignificant activity on socials, which happened a lot since those two wouldn't stop talking about Instagram, so she simply added 'I guess...'.The Nicaraguan man nodded his head and smiled broadly as he usually did whenever anyone said anything, which could be a sign he didn't always understand what was being said or that he was just not that interested in what was being said and wanted to move on with the topic of conversation. The rest of the group would never truly know. The Brazilian boy displayed a faint smile and got up to check if his phone, left indoors on the floor near the power outlet, was fully charged, and Jess knew he was happy to walking away from whinging and vain-talk.
Gladly for Jessica, their aussie guide emerged from the dark interior of the Bed & Breakfast inn announcing it was time to go. The heat wasn't as scalding as it had been all day, and the roof over the varanda where they had been lounging around and killing time was no longer able to stop the golden sun beams from washing them out in shades of yellow. 'Golden hour!', the Essex girls screeched as they reached inside their handbags for their iPhones.
'What's the plan again, Lyle?', Jess asked their guide ignoring the giggling girls with their selfies. She had had the impression Lyle did not like her from the start - possibly because she was American - still, he had been polite and good-humored so far. She, on the other hand, had begun to develop some sort of annoyance towards the middle-aged man as the fun trip he had sold them wasn't turning out to be so fun after all.
'Another night on the road?', asked the Brazilian boy, reunited with the group.
'Nope. We'll get to our camping site before dawn, Hugo', Lyle answered and got everybody's eyes gleaming with excitement and expectation.
Hugo - you are pronouncing it like a gringo, sir, thought Jess. She was a fluent Spanish speaker and had learned the proper way of saying his name: Oo-goo (Hugo himself had said she'd been the first English speaker to get it correctly, even though she still thought he sounded way sexier than she did when saying his name).
'Alroight, getchour belongings from inside and lesgetgoin maties! I'll be waiting in the truck.'
The group rushed in for their bags and were back out the next minute, except Jess who was still looking for her brown jacket she had been wearing the night before when they had arrived at the B&B. She looked everywhere in what had been the girls' room and also in the washroom and lockerroom, but could not spot it. Walking out onto the varanda, she could hear Lyle calling out their names to make sure all of his backpackers were there - even though they were only a group of five. How was a quick glance less simple than carrying that useless list everywhere they went?
'Hugo, here...' the aussie bloke looked up and winked at Hugo, 'Claudia and Maddie, here...', then winked at the English girls, lingered there more than necessary and tried (unsuccessfully) to get a glimpse of their silicone boobs without being noticed, 'Marco...', winked, 'here. And where is Jessica?'
'Here!', she called from the wooden varanda, waving both her arms. 'I can't find my brown jacket, be there in a sec!'
'I saw you hang it by the front door when we walked in last night', said Hugo in his melodic accent, the way only Brazilians can say things. And he was right, evrybody was ready to go and soon the six of them were heading North towards the camping site near Uluru, the rock named sacred by the aboriginees located right in the middle of Australia.
They had all decided to sit out on the boot, giving Lyle some much appreciated peace and quiet for the next few hours. They had cleaned up at the B&B, but that part of the country was red and hot and they were sweaty and dusty again in no time. It was always a great relief when the Sun dived behind the horizon and gave them a break, specially out there where there was no protection against the wind. Jess was very happy that she hadn't lost her jacket as the temperature suddenly dropped drastically.
'Thank you again, Oo-goo! My ass would've been freezing by now if it wasn't for you', she said to him after they had been on the road for a while, getting his attention away from the endless red plains of Central Australia.
'No worries,' he answered, aussie-style. Something in his eyes told her there was a lot going on inside his head. He was usually very intense and present when talking to her, but this time she could tell there was something different. Something was off.
'Are you OK?' she checked.
He hesitated for a long instant, then said 'I just haven't had any reception on my phone for... a while now. But, I mean, Lyle said that'd be the case for a couple days.' He then realised Jess was struggling to get the jacket around herself and helped out. 'What's this thing in your pocket?'
She frowned and searched her pockets. They were suppose to be empty - she hadn't had anything in that jacket the night before. 'How weird!' She felt a long hard shape in the depths of the brown jacket's lining and quickly drew the mysterious object out. Now Hugo was frowning as well - even Claudia and Maddie managed to look away from their iPhone screens to sneak a peak of whatever Jessica had in her hands.
'I swear it's not mine!' she yelped. But what was that thing? She had never seen anything like it before.
'I hope not!' the English girls said in unisson.
'Is it... a broken bone?' Hugo guessed.
'Ew!' Claudia and Maddie were in perfect synch now.
'I don't know...' Jess had never owned a piece of bone or whatever that could be, and she had definitely not pocketed that thing when she was last wearing her jacket. It looked like a rudimentary type of weapon, one end was pointy and the other had feathers tied to it. Marco leaned closer to where she was sitting and grabbed those dangling feathers in his hands, felt up the string that held the ornaments together and took it to his nostrils. His eyes opened wide immediately.
'Smells like blood' he said. Nobody seemed interested in testing for themselves, but the look on their faces showed they believed in Marco's judgement.
'So disgusting!' said Maddie. 'If this creepy piece of bone's not yours, d'you think someone put it in your jacket while you were sleeping last night?'
All eyes turned to Jessica, eager for clarification. 'I don't think this is my jacket. I mean, it looks the same, but it's a size smaller, I noticed it felt tighter around my shoulders while I was putting it on...'
'So maybe we should ask Lyle to turn around so we can go back and return it, right?' Hugo suggested.
Lost in thoughts, Jessica could not put herself to make a decision. It was definitely someone's jacket, but who the fuck would have been carrying a sharp piece of bone with adornments in their pocket? Would she want to meet up with the creepy jacket's owner? And would she want this stranger to know that she knows what was in his or her pocket?
'Should I get Lyle's attention?' insisted Hugo. 'I'm sure you'd like to recover your jacket. This one doesn't fit you.'
'Yeah, but Lyle's been driving for almost an hour now. You'll ruin our schedule if you ask him to go back to the B&B' Claudia pointed out. Maddie crossed her arms and gave a short and assertive nod of her head to agree with her friend from Essex. They weren't having it at all. Jess still had her eyes locked on the strange artifact - and she could now see some details that went unnoticed at first. Those were emu feathers, she was able to identify - long and light-brown, but the tips were dark and... crusty. Probably dipped in blood by the looks of it (and smells of it, according to Marco). And the string used to tie those feathers to the bone had been made of wooven hair. Human hair? She couldn't tell, but it was a possibility she couldn't discard now that she had thought about it. Goosebumps trailed her spine and spread out to her arms and legs.
'It was an accident, and it was not her fault. I was the one who assumed the jacket by the entrance was hers, if I hadn't gotten involved she wouldn't have taken the wrong jacket' Hugo was still on the case. Jess wouldn't dare to speak. Evil thoughts were creeping into her mind - crazy theories that in any other occasion wouldn't seem possible, now were real and were there, starting to make her feel like she could go insane at any moment. 'What do you say, Jess?'
'I... think it's best if we turn around' she was able to disguise the frizzle of fear in her voice, but was entirely uncapable of going back to feeling normal. She knew it was native-Australian black magic stuff she had in her hands. She could sense it. And it knew she knew what it was, even though it was just an object.
Hugo gave her a friendly pat on the back and smiled as a way of letting her know that was not an inconvenience, and she was glad for having him around - specially now that she had a feeling she knew of what was going on there. She was thankful there was a kind man around to protect her from whatever was to come, and she knew something was to come. Sooner or later. It was inevitable, and she felt small and powerless and alone and far away from home, and their phones were off and no one would be able to save them from angry natives if it came to that. Calm down, you foolish little girl!, her thoughts yelled back at all of that craziness that was threatening to take over. I don't actually know anything about the natives in here - I don't have to freak out about this - it was not entirely my fault and we are not planning to steal this thing, we are doing the right thing and taking it back to where we found it - just because it's a piece of bone and it smells like blood and there's human hair in it... it doesn't make it voodoo, right? But, then, logical-Jess could not provide an answer to that. Everything is possible in this world, she had always believed. Never say never - all of that shit. So how would she convince herself that native black magic was utter bullshit? If she'd been in a business meeting with her work colleagues downstairs at the internet cafe back home, this situation would not seem scary. She's picked up someone's jacket by mistake, there was a weird object in one of the pockets. This someone was probably into native-Australian culture - this sharp bone thing was merely a souvenir from some tribal village located near the Bed & Breakfast, and she was scared for no goddamned good reason. She must take it back, apologise, and hope she can still get her jacket, which was her size, back in her possession. However, she was far from the internet cafe - that was a distant reality. She'd been going to bed to the sound of a choir of dingos for the past few days. She'd seen unbelievably magical skies and breathed the air of isolation, and she'd met people who lived in the desert and didn't know wi-fi was a thing, but knew how to survive in the dryness of this land she saw as implacable and harsh. Jessica had been seeing things that she had never seen before, which means her mind was getting used to the idea of the impossible being real... and Jessica was starting to get acquainted with impossibilities.
Suddenly, inertia pulled them forward as Lyle abruptly stepped on the break pedal. Red dust surrounded the old truck as it drifted and spinned a little, tires desperately trying to get a grip on the sandy dirt-road. Jess couldn't stop herself from being thrown on top of Hugo and Marco, and Claudia and Maddie had hugged each other for support, but still ended up sliding from their seats. The truck stopped, Lyle jumped out and they heard the door being slammed shut.
'OUT!' their guide sounded very upset. 'NOW, YOU FUCKEN TOURISTS.'
'Wait, what is going on?' Jess asked whoever was able to answer. 'Are you guys okay?'
'What is this about?' Hugo got up as the others reajusted onto their seats. 'Why you mad, bro? Chill, okay?'
'IMMA RAISE MY VOICE IF I WANT TO, YA HEAR ME?' Lyle was still going off, veins protruding from his red neck and temples. 'I SAW YA BONE-THINGY. OUT! NO FUCKEN ABORIGENEE VOODOO-SHIT NEAR ME!'
'But it's not ours!' Claudia protested. 'She stole someone's jacket and that thing was in it. It's not our fault.'
'And she was gonna ask you to drive back to the B&B so she could return it,' Maddie completed. The other backpackers were all in shock due to their formerly kind guide's behaviour, but none of them as aghast as Jessica, who had her fears confirmed by the man. That bone was part of some voodoo-shit after all, ay?
Silence reigned for only about ten seconds, while they awaited for some supernatural forces to strike Lyle with good sense immeadiately, but his answer was 'You, Jess - OUT.'
'You can't be serious, mate' Hugo protested. His tone was becoming strained and rispid as well. 'It was not her fault, dude, I told her to grab that jacket.'
'So you too, OUT!' Lyle spat in all directions when giving his last veredict. Jessica and Hugo were too slow to listen to his commands, so he simply reached out for their t-shirts and pulled them out of the boot, causing them both to fall on their backpacks which were still strapped onto their bodies. There was no time to react, no time to fight back, no time to protest or even agree with him. Just like that, Hugo and Jess were left out in the openness of Central Australia - and twilight was fading into darkness. Soon it would be night time.