Shifting Elements (camp NNW novel) excerpt

With me talking about it so much, I thought I should post an excerpt. I pared it down a little for length and rhythm. Not really editing, since I’m leaving the trimmed paragraphs in the novel and they’re just fine, but I just didn’t want to post 700 or 800 words. Besides, it’s lazy to just copy-paste.

From Chapter Three:

Ghislaine got off the bus a few blocks away, then adjusted her clothes and make-up. That was another change from the costuming department. Make-up. “Am I a doll or a tart?” she asked her reflection in a shop window.

“I think you’re a doll, but that sounds silly out loud.”

She jumped, then spun on her unwieldy heels to see a young man leaning against a bicycle post outside the shop. He wore a spattered apron and a broad smile, and had a mop of brown hair that put her in mind of a rabbit. He was also immensely tall and thin, like a rail in a high fence.

Rather than blush and thank him, she let some of her leftover irritation show through. “It does sound silly.”

“You’re the one who said it.” The young man held out a hand. His palm was wide and calloused, the skin a slightly lighter brown than the rest of his arm. “My name is Mohinder Jones.” He inclined his head to the shop sign above their heads and added, “I’m the butcher’s assistant. Are you new in town?”

Ghislaine shook Mohinder’s hand. it was warm, but not slippery with sweat or any of the humours she would have expected to come with his job. “Yes, I’ve just relocated here. Trying to get a job done, but it doesn’t seem to want to be done.”

He smiled, but there was a vacancy in it, as though he wanted to sympathise but could not. “At least you can still get complimented by strangers.”

“I thought I was the one who called myself a doll.”

“Only when it wasn’t a compliment.” He winked. “Why are you worrying about it, anyway?”

She thought about it for a second, and then decided it didn’t matter what he knew. Waving a hand at her made-up face, she said, “This… stuff. I don’t wear it normally.”

“Really? Well, you don’t look like a clown.”

Her first instinct was to get angry, but a moment of contemplation assured her that an insult had been avoided, not delivered. Even so, she said, “I’m not sure if I should thank you or punch you.”

Mohinder held up his hands in mock surrender. His bloodied apron made him look like he’d been caught at a murder that had been staged for a joke. “You wouldn’t hit a pacifist, would you?”

“Can a butcher be a pacifist?”

“….good point. Huh.” He laughed, and for a moment she thought that he sounded very much like Jay, until she realised that Jay was laughing in her head as well. “All right, truce. I did mean it as a compliment. The er, not a clown thing. My sister puts on make-up like it’ll save her soul, and she hasn’t got a clue how to do it.”

A crowd of mother and children passed by, forcing Ghislaine to either follow them and shout a goodbye, or move closer to the butcher shop window. She moved closer to the window. “Hasn’t got a clue, you say. But you do, is that it?”

“Oh no, I don’t know anything about make-up. I can’t swim either, but I can point out a drowning man when I see him.”

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