Chapter 7

Written by: Suraya Dewing

Betina grandly settled back in the Mercedes with its scratched dashboard. She put her finger in a hole in the upholstery and started to worry it with a dirty black tipped finger. Stella impatiently snapped, “What exactly do you think you are doing?”

As if to contain its destructive ways, Betina gripped her hand with the other and sheepishly smiled.

“Whydcha pick me?” she asked, filling the car with the foulest breath Stella had ever witnessed. She lifted the blue silk scarf she wore over her mouth and her long black ponytail shivered against her shoulder.

Seeing Betina's eyes on her, she explained, "to keep the dust out."

Betina nodded mildly and shrugged.

Suddenly she was seized by sharp agitated gasps as she pointed to an eroding hill with red clay scars. “Let me out.”  

Stella pulled over and Betina fell onto the dusty roadside grass, vomiting. 

Unheralded by any sound, her tears came in large, heavy lumps cutting through the grimy face and revealing younger skin than the grime suggested.

She got out of the car and sat beside Betina who lay sprawled out. 

A brisk wind lifted Stella's loose silk shirt revealing burn scars tightly wrapping her stomach. With a sharp intake of breath, Betina stared, as though mesmerised. Self consciously, Stella pulled her shirt  down and turned her head away to hide the tears that came with painful memories.

A disturbance beside her made her look back and she was surprised to see Betina tugging at her patched brown top and layers of old grey camisoles. Eventually, Betina got to her bare skin. Stella stared, confused and perplexed. Betina bore burn scars, identical to her own.

“How?” she asked.

Brutal coughing seized Betina making her ragged brown hair bounce about her thin face.

“Fire,” she croaked. “Why dontcha leave me here?” She crumbled miserably into  herself.

Stella shook her head decisively. “No, I couldn’t do that.”  As she stood she tucked her shirt into the top of her gathered skirt. “Time to leave.”

The hum of a car drifted across to them and she looked across the farmland to see where the sound came from. A trail of dust was kicking up from behind a car. Although the car was out of sight she knew, by an unexpected premonition, that when she saw it she would recognise it.

Sure enough, a red sedan broke through the dust and the shock pulsed through her. She recognised it from before the fire. Her voice crackled thinly as she said, “We have to go down that road.”

Betina dragged herself into the car. As she tried to click her seat belt in, her hand shook violently. 

"Drink?" she desperately slurred.

Stella resolutely shook her head. Betina sulkily slumped back in her seat.

As Stella turned into the road she had seen the car on she realised she knew it. But more than that she could tell from Betina's wildly darting eyes and trembling lips she also knew it.

Comments

From the start I had a feeling that this serial would be one of the best yet. So far every writer's addition has reinforced this feeling.
Suraya, I love the way you have added the suspense of an earlier connection between Stella and Betina. Their chance meeting on the bridge was fated in more ways than one. Betina is no longer just a peripheral character that acts as a base for Stella, but an integral character in the mystery of what has happened to her. And as always your chapter is written with vivid imagery that touches on all the senses. I can't wait for the rest of this story.
This is a masterclass in how to make every one of the 500 words count. It gripped me from the first sentence and I just wanted it to go on. Well done Suraya. Another gem!
Thanks everyone. I had good material to work with!
I liked the bit of comedy at the start of this chapter, setting a lighter mood and then bringing in the shock of burn scars on Betina. It is great to have left the end open too, to be interpreted by next author. Do I need to write, "Excellent Chapter"? :-)