They sat on the curb in a row outside the cemetery, first the ghostly form of Hussein, then Jing, Suraya, and Pink each casting three long, thin shadows in the
a swaggering show of courage
Pink could see the ghost shrug, trying to put on a cloak of
bravado he clearly didn’t feel.
Elephants never forget, and I never want to forget you, she’d
Suraya relayed this information to Jing, who pulled out her phone, still dinging
be an obstacle to
It would take your mothers at least four hours to arrive at this place, and that is if there were no traffic to
feeling or expressing pain or sorrow for sins or offenses
Jing’s face was immediately
contrite. “Sorry, Sooz. I didn’t mean it like that.”
giving or marked by complete attention to
The only people in sight were those manning their businesses, and even those were few and far between; the man in the shop proclaiming Photostat, Printing, Binding, Laminating, We Take Passport Photo Also was struggling to bring down the metal shutters and close up, and the aunty presiding behind rows of plump white steamed pau was
engrossed in a telenovela playing on her phone, squinting so she could read the subtitles.
stale and unclean smelling
In the stale,
musty air, her whisper carried like a shout.
threatening or foreshadowing evil or tragic developments
The moon hung round and full and bright in the sky, but its light was often obscured by clouds, which were so billowy and
ominous that they blocked out even the stars.
weighing heavily on the senses or spirit
The air was damp and heavy, that
oppressive heat and humidity that promised a glorious thunderstorm.
admit or acknowledge, often reluctantly
I'll own that it's not an ideal option, he
move hesitatingly, as if about to give way
With every step toward the cemetery, Pink felt Suraya’s footsteps
falter a little more, then a little more still.
They both turned to glare at Jing, who hastily
amended her greeting. “I mean, uh, salutations oh residents of the grave.”
without any attempt at concealment; completely obvious
Suraya gripped the marble in one hand and cleared her throat
ordinariness as a consequence of being average
The witch used to call Kuala Gajah a “stuck” town: “Stuck in time, stuck in customs, stuck in
mediocrity,” she’d snort.
inactivity; showing an unusual lack of energy
It wasn’t a town where young people built a life; it was a town you moved away from while you still could, before it captured you in its web of
lethargy and sucked the energy and ambition from your bones.
having a cheerful, lively, and self-confident air
Even Pink could recognize the familiar,
jaunty little tune.
“What are you staring for?” he said, his voice loud and
look angry or sullen as if to signal disapproval
glowered at them as though he’d have liked to have them disciplined right then and there.
wearing or provided with clothing
Only this time, it was a kind-faced woman, plump as a pau and just as white in the moonlight, and
clad in a worn-out kaftan with fraying bat-wing sleeves, her hair hidden beneath a ghostly knit cap.
easily irritated or annoyed
“It’s these kids,” the uncle-ghost said
peevishly, pointing at them.
pride or congratulate oneself for an achievement
“Saloma?” Suraya squinted at the plump ghost, who
preened at the attention. “Like...the famous singer?”
pronounce with a flutter of the tongue
“A name, dear, give us a name,” Saloma-or-Salmah
characteristic of an enemy or one eager to fight
Suraya’s anger bubbled inside her until it boiled over, seeping into her words, turning them loud and
tear or be torn violently
Then it was impossible not to look back, impossible not to watch as those tiny, monstrous shapes swarmed all over Pink, impossible not to scream as sharp claws began to
rend his skin, as the pointed tips of tiny teeth began to gore his flesh.
a ghostly appearing figure
There they were, rows of not-quite-there
apparitions, bearing thick wooden branches and rocks picked from cemetery dirt in their barely opaque hands, and leading the charge were Saloma and Badrul, who glowered at the interlopers.
someone who intrudes on the privacy or property of another
There they were, rows of not-quite-there apparitions, bearing thick wooden branches and rocks picked from cemetery dirt in their barely opaque hands, and leading the charge were Saloma and Badrul, who glowered at the
a noisy riotous fight
Through the driving rain, Suraya could just make out her long, sharp nails and the menacing grin on her pale face as she swooped down among the ghostly
wet through and through; thoroughly wet
The rain turned their baju kurungs into
sodden, heavy nets that clung to their skin, weighed them down, and caught at their ankles; it seeped deep into the earth, turning it into thick mud that alternately made them slip and slide, or gripped their shoes and refused to let go.
a small cheap ornament, knickknack, or piece of jewelry
Jing ran toward the trees, the toyol hot on her heels, and as she ran she scattered bright colored cheap plastic toys, candy, and coins that they’d cobbled together from their own pockets and from the shelves of the only 24-hour convenience store in town. The
trinkets shone and glimmered in the moonlight.
examine or consider with attention and in detail
“Oooooooh,” they heard him whisper as he sat to
peruse them properly, turning each one over and over lovingly between his fingers.
a wanderer with no established residence or means of support
You just need the blood of a murdered man. And nobody notices one less
vagrant, one less drug addict, one less drain on society.
subtly skillful handling of a situation
But the thing is, while the polong do what they’re told, they have no...finesse. Send them to exact revenge on my enemies and people just wind up dead.
a person without moral scruples
We’re going to go, you and I, before people come looking for you little
willing to carry out the wishes of another without protest
“I knew as soon as your mother told me about you, that you were the sort to obey. A
biddable child, a child who does as she’s told. A child who doesn’t like to make trouble for other people. A good girl.”
incapable of being avoided or prevented
Suraya didn’t know what was going through her friends’ minds, but her own was filled with the cold dread of words like goodbye and gone and forever, and she couldn’t shake the fear that saying anything at all would bring their
inevitable parting even closer.
an innocuous or inert medication
You remember that time you insisted you were sick? You threw such a tantrum when we told you that you were perfectly well, the doctor gave you
placebo pills. You thought that was what the medicine was called, when it actually wasn’t medicine at all. It was fake, a little lie to make you believe you would get better.
an influence working subtly to lighten or modify something
The witch shook her head, the lines on her face
leavened with sadness.
easily irritated or annoyed
“I’m family,” the witch replied
testily. “And what’s more, you never even come to see my grave. Young people today, honestly.”
dignified and somber in manner or character
Slowly, he got up and stood before Suraya’s mother, who seemed not at all surprised to be addressed by this scaled, horned,