Excerpt – a description

So, one off day turned into a couple. I’ll write another post about that later, but I’ve been promising an excerpt. What follows is about 700 words from the prologue of the current work-in-progress, tentatively titled “The Breach Wars”.

Not much set-up is needed. It’s set on Earth, in contemporary America. Emilia is a girl of about 7 or 8. Her brother, Salovaar, just under a year old, is uncannily advanced for his age and shows some frightening abilities. Their parents have sought help in dealing with Sal from some people called Gantra. This is Emilia’s first encounter with one of the Gantra.

My main questions about this passage involve the description of the Gantra: is it clear what it looks like? Is the setting and the movement of the characters clear? Is there too much description? Does it distract from the flow of the action? As I’ve said, please be specific about what words or phrases spark your reactions. Your feedback is much appreciated!

By dinner time, Emilia was full of questions, but her father shut her down immediately: “I’m sorry, Em. We don’t know the answers ourselves.”

Salovaar watched them in silence from his high chair, turning his head to watch whoever was speaking.

“It’s ’cause he’s special, and I’m not.”

Her father shut his eyes and shook his head. “No, it’s not like that. But he is… different.” He opened his eyes and looked into hers. “Look, I know you just want to help, but this is something beyond any of us.”

She nodded, and none of them spoke at all for the rest of dinner. Nor much more after: nothing but the commands to clean up and get ready for bed. She shut her eyes dutifully when they tucked her in, and pretended to be fast asleep when they checked on her ten minutes later. But then she sat up and waited for the front door to open. Almost an hour passed, and then it was the back door, not the front, that she heard. She couldn’t make out words, but her parents had a very polite tone of voice, and the person they brought in had a melodic baritone, almost as if he were singing rather than speaking. They walked by her door, her parents’ footsteps followed by soft padding steps that nonetheless made the floorboards creak. Perhaps the guest was barefoot, but very heavy? A moment later, she heard the creak of someone sitting in the large wooden chair, and formed the image of someone huge, maybe a troll, in her mind. She hadn’t known what kind of visitor to expect, but she had expected someone human.

She put her hand on the doorframe as she turned the knob to try to muffle the click of the latch, and held the door open just a crack for a moment. Her parents were offering the guest something to drink, and made no indication that they’d heard anything. So she slipped down the hall till she could just see the corner of the sofa, then she dropped to her belly and crawled forward, keeping as close to the wall as she could till she came even with the opening to the living room.

It was not a troll, unless trolls were covered with brown, silky fur like her neighbor’s longhair cat. The hair on his head and around his shoulders hung longer, like a mane. Though most of its hair hung freely, several strands were braided neatly and bound with jade beads. She could not quite see its whole profile, but its face and chest were bare, showing skin the color of roasted almonds. Its posture reminded her of pictures of early hominids she’d seen in museums—though he was clean, and better groomed than those pictures. And its large, slightly pointed ears stood out slightly from its head and twitched, like a monkey’s. It wore a necklace woven of pale green ribbon, but no other clothing that she could see. Certainly no shoes.

She crawled forward a couple more inches, hoping for a better view. The visitor’s right ear snapped toward her, and she froze. The ear hesitated for a moment, then slowly turned back toward her parents.

Her mother sat on the sofa across from the guest, holding Salovaar in her lap. Salovaar’s eyes were wide, fixed on the stranger. Her father brought a mixing bowl full of steaming coffee to the guest, and as soon as he placed it in those hands Emilia saw that even their largest mug would be lost in its palms. Even sitting, the guest was taller than her father. It probably had to stoop over when standing upright.

“The child,” said the visitor, with that melodic accent, unlike anything she’d heard before. “You believe he is the malanadha?”

Her father sat down next to her mother. “He shows all the signs.”

Or he’s just weird, Emilia thought. But she rolled the unfamiliar word silently on in her mouth. Malanadha. Could be the name of a disease. Maybe her brother’s weirdness had a name.

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