Prologue–Chapter 6

In this novel that draws on Malaysian folklore, Suraya's grandmother gives her a "pelesit" — a ghost or spirit — named Pink. But Suraya finds it difficult to control Pink's dark side.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. gaunt
    very thin especially from disease or hunger or cold
    He stared at her now as she lay on the narrow bed, gray and gaunt in the light of the full moon, her breath rasping and shallow.
  2. vitality
    a healthy capacity for vigorous activity
    Watching her teeter slowly toward the end was a bit like watching a grape slowly become a raisin: the years had sucked the life and vitality out of her until she was nothing but a wrinkled shell of her former self.
  3. frivolous
    not serious in content, attitude, or behavior
    It seemed frivolous, but after all, he still needed to eat, whether or not his master lay dying.
  4. impending
    close in time; about to occur
    Now all he tasted was the stale tang of age, the sour notes that came with impending death, and a bitter aftertaste he couldn’t quite place.
  5. unassuming
    not arrogant
    There was a sort of dark pleasure in going about a village in his other form—that of a tiny, unassuming grasshopper—bringing bad luck wherever he went...
  6. petty
    preoccupied with unimportant matters in a spiteful way
    There was a steady stream of customers at the witch’s door, and if they weren’t asking for a way to undo her handiwork, they were asking for the same petty meanness, the same tiny bad magics as all the others: a curse on this business, a pox on that house, an impossible-to-remove wart on that one’s nose.
  7. adamant
    insistent; unwilling to change one's mind or opinion
    On the one hand, the witch had been adamant: a pelesit must have a master to control his appetite for destruction, his craving for chaos.
  8. shanty
    a rhythmical work song originally sung by sailors
    The witch’s song had been rough and raucous, and it swept you up the way a pirate shanty does, or the musical howls of drunkards stumbling home.
  9. intoxicating
    extremely exciting
    But the child’s song wrapped the ghost in a tender weave of comfort and belonging and glorious wonder, sweet and innocent and intoxicating.
  10. cavernous
    being or suggesting a large dark enclosed space
    And as he watched her, he felt strange new sensations welling up from deep within the cavernous recesses of his chest, a mix of pride and an overwhelming sense that this was a child bound for greatness.
  11. recess
    a small concavity
    And as he watched her, he felt strange new sensations welling up from deep within the cavernous recesses of his chest, a mix of pride and an overwhelming sense that this was a child bound for greatness.
  12. precipice
    a very steep cliff
    There it was again—the sense that he was in the presence of greatness, that he was teetering on the precipice of something bigger than both of them.
  13. reverent
    feeling or showing profound respect or veneration
    Carefully, almost reverently, he picked up the girl’s plump hand and nipped at her tiny little finger—just a little nip—and drank exactly three drops of the bright red blood that dripped from the cut, sealing it quickly when he was done.
  14. precariously
    in a manner affording no ease or reassurance
    He’d already stopped a stray dog from biting her as she’d tried to ruffle its fur, pulled her back from falling into a storm drain, and swatted wasps away from her face as she craned her neck to get a closer look at their nest, all the while clinging precariously to a swaying tree branch.
  15. liberal
    given or giving freely
    The most he knew was that she was a teacher, which explained her stiff bearing, the chalk dust that clung to her clothing like white shadows, the sharp, acrid smell of the Tiger Balm ointment that she applied liberally to her aching shoulders and back after a long day in the classroom.
  16. terse
    brief and to the point
    Those times didn’t come by often, but they happened enough to make the ghost wonder about the woman and the witch and their story, about those letters and the way her handwriting looped and swirled to form that one final terse sentence (Do not contact us again).
  17. brandish
    move or swing back and forth
    “Look, Mama!” she said proudly, brandishing the crumpled paper.
  18. whimsical
    indulging in or influenced by the imagination
    “She wouldn’t like this at all. She doesn’t like ‘magic and fairy tales and other whimsical nonsense.’”
  19. disdainfully
    without respect
    I am not a mere playmate, he said disdainfully.
  20. indignant
    angered at something unjust or wrong
    Fairy godmothers! She wouldn’t want one of those if she really knew fairies, he thought, with an indignant sniff.
  21. nebulous
    lacking definite form or limits
    Names, he knew, existed to give shape to the nebulous, ground the unknown in a comforting reality.
  22. stifle
    smother or suppress
    Suraya giggled, then quickly stifled it before her mother heard.
  23. mull
    reflect deeply on a subject
    Suraya mulled this over quietly, wincing as Mama’s nimble fingers pulled at her hair, sending tiny needles of pain shooting into her scalp.
  24. clamber
    climb awkwardly, as if by scrambling
    What are you drawing now? Pink asked, clambering to the edge of Suraya’s notebook to try and take a peek.
  25. ruddy
    of a red color at the end of the color spectrum
    Suraya was eight now, tall and thin, with skin tanned a ruddy brown from constantly being out in the sun, and a wide, ready smile.
  26. obscure
    make unclear or less visible
    Her dark hair obscured the pages of her notebook as she hunched over it on the bed, her pen moving quickly.
  27. deft
    skillful in physical movements; especially of the hands
    So caught up was Suraya in the movement of her pen, the deft strokes bringing to life an undersea world of swirling waters and the curve of a mermaid’s shimmering tail, that it took a while to register the sounds wafting in through her open window.
  28. camaraderie
    the quality of affording easy familiarity and sociability
    She saw these kids every day, sat with them in the classroom, knew their names and their families and the scabs on their knees—but when she was around, there was none of this camaraderie, this easy companionship they shared, Kiran’s head bent close to Ariana’s, David’s arm looped easily over Faris’s shoulders, Aiman cracking jokes to make all of them giggle.
  29. welt
    a raised mark on the skin
    He flicked his antennae, and just as suddenly as they appeared, the mosquitoes were gone again, leaving the children bewildered, sobbing, and covered in bright red hives and welts.
  30. fleeting
    lasting for a markedly brief time
    For just one fleeting moment, Suraya let herself imagine the satisfaction of revenge, of being able to get back at every kid who had ever ignored her, taunted her, pushed her aside.
  31. tentatively
    in a hesitant manner
    Then she thought about the way Kiran’s eyes crinkled at the corners when she smiled, and the way Faris’s hand had felt when it tentatively brushed against hers, and her mouth went dry.
  32. splay
    widen or spread apart
    “Only forty minutes,” Suraya muttered darkly now, splayed on the kitchen floor.
  33. hapless
    unfortunate and deserving pity
    On the ceiling, they were watching two cicaks warily circle each other in a complicated dance, their little lizard eyes darting from each other to a hapless bug crawling in the space between them.
  34. loll
    hang loosely or laxly
    When he tired of staring at their lolling heads or glazed eyes, he looked out of the streaky windowpane instead, as the landscape changed from rolling green to brick buildings, and the world changed from the darkness of early morning to the light of day.
  35. sprawling
    spreading out in different directions
    The school was a sprawling old building with graceful arches for windows and an overwhelming air of gentle decay.
  36. ostensibly
    from appearances alone
    When Suraya was younger, her mother had sometimes brought home back issues of an ostensibly educational children’s magazine the school subscribed to, and one of Suraya’s favorite sections had been the Spot the Difference page, her brow furrowed as she concentrated furiously on marking all the ways the two given pictures didn’t match: a missing tree branch here, an extra flower petal there.
  37. writhe
    move in a twisting or contorted motion
    Except then you looked closer and you realized the terrible truth: that every lunch box on the table was so full of worms and maggots that if you stayed quiet enough, you could hear the sticky squelch of them writhing and wriggling through noodles and fried rice and porridge and cake and whatever else those unsuspecting mothers had so lovingly put in them this morning.
  38. meager
    deficient in amount or quality or extent
    Suraya pushed her own container with its meager lunch way, way back onto the table.
  39. insolence
    an offensive disrespectful impudent act
    He tried to maintain a defiant pose, sticking up his little grasshopper chin, but to do so to his master felt like insolence.
  40. sullenly
    in a manner showing a brooding ill humor
    I hear you, he said sullenly.
Created on November 27, 2020 (updated December 3, 2020)

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