Scar and the Wolf, Chapter 6

May 24, 2021

Read Chapter 5

A Friend Who Looks Like an Enemy

The crowds thickened as Scarlet moved toward the market, and she felt herself squeezed.

“Hey, careful,” she said to the small of a back. “Ow! Watch it!” she told an elbow. “Mmpf. Careful … whoops!” Something tripped Scarlet and she fell.

She looked up. “Who tripped me?”

Something pinched her calf.

A stray arm.

Scarlet grabbed it. “Bad arm! Bad!”

The arm began poking her face. Scarlet leaned back. “Easy there, Pokey,” The arm flexed and flailed, but Scarlet gripped it tight.

She was wondering what to do with the arm when she felt two hands grip her shoulders from behind, lift her to her feet, and set her by the sidewalk.

She turned her head, but all she could see was the back of a man-zombie in a blue-checked workshirt disappearing into the crowd.

*What an ugly shirt,* she thought.

Scarlet felt a pinch at her side. “Stop it, Pokey!” The arm went limp and started to shake.

“Oh,” said Scarlet. “You’re scared.” She held Pokey to her face and whispered to its hand. “Poor thing. It’s going to be okay.”

Sensing its moment, the hand smacked her cheek.

“You little … ” Scarlet was so angry she wasn’t sure how to finish the sentence. “I should just leave you here.”

The hand made an “okay” sign with its fingers.

She set the arm down on the sidewalk.

Then picked it up.

“Argh. I’m not going to just LEAVE you.” She zipped Pokey into her bag.

Scarlet took a quick self-inventory. Torn jacket. Gashed knee. Mud-splatted dress. Hair beggining to wilt. Shoulder bag writhing. She thought about heading home to drop off Pokey and rearrange herself, but decided against it. She didn’t want to give her parents any reason to think she couldn’t handle adulthood.

The Plainfield Sanitary Market loomed in the distance, its mossy facade announcing a palace of wonders.

Long ago, the market had started life as a lonely country store. But as the town of Plainfield grew up, so did the market, making up its architecture as it went along until it became a maze of shops and stalls where both Plainfielders and out-of-town zombies gathered every Saturday.

Scarlet entered the market and beelined it to the Mighty Offal, Mr. Chunk Grissom’s gut shop. A signboard helpfully showed what offal was (animal innards) and what his specialty haggis was (sheep heart, liver, lungs, and brain stuffed into its stomach). You could buy the haggis prepared whole or you could buy it by the piece (“some assembly required”).

Chunk was a short zombie who wore faded yellow overalls and stood atop an overturned crate handing out the haggi as fast as he and his son, Chunk Jr., could wrap them up. Chunk Jr. was a classmate of Scarlet’s. All she knew about him was that he loved helping his dad sell haggi and he liked to explore the woods outside Plainfield. Scarlet noticed he was dressed in faded yellow overalls like his father, only his had been patched and sealed many times.

Chunk Jr.’s face lit up. He waved at Scarlet.

She gave a condescending nod and turned to watch Chunk Sr. sing his customers with the Mighty Offal jingle.

“My offal’s awful … delicious that is.

Everyone knows … how nutritious it is.

But they don’t know … how auspicious it is.

This is what offal … all wishes it is.

It was only when Scarlet rounded a corner that she saw how long the line was. It went on and on, all the way to the back of the market. Her face fell.

There was a hubbub near the front of the line. A grownup zombie named Tom Femur took a staggering step backward after he was shoved by the girl in front of him.

“Stop squishing me!” the girl yelled.

Scarlet’s spirits rose. It was a girl from her class. The weird one who wore bad clothes. What was her name? Scarlet couldn’t remember. She had a nickname. Something “Bear.”

“Hey,” Scarlet called, shuffling toward her. “Hey, Bear … Girl?”

Bear Girl. That was it.

The girl gave a toss of her slimy hair and squinted at Scarlet, slowly chewing a massive wad of bubble cud.

“Hi, uh. How’s it going?” Scarlet ignored the frowns of the zombies in the line. The girl was wearing a pair of cutoff jeans and a faded sweatshirt. The sweatshirt was thin and stained and it looked like someone had hand-painted a bear paw on it, but not very well and a long time ago. She wore a carved wooden bear totem on a cord around her neck. The girl was barefoot. Scarlet noticed her feet were different sizes. The left foot was size six, Scarlet guessed. The right looked like a size nine. *Total hand-me-down,* thought Scarlet. She tried not to stare, but couldn’t help it.

“Are your feet … ”

“Yeah,” said the girl. She blew a massive bubble and let it pop. “So?”

Scarlet glanced at the line. “Nothing. They’re … nice. Hey, I was wondering,” she said loudly, “what you thought of my dress?”


Scarlet nodded. She moved closer and said in a low voice, “Listen, Bear Girl. Can you do me a favor?”

The girl held out a palm. “‘Bear Girl’?”

“Um, yeah. I thought you were called that.” Scarlet shifted nervously.

“I hate that name. That’s what your fash ‘n’ bash friends call me.”

“Oh, they’re not my friends … ” She paused. Weren’t they? No, not really. But she also didn’t want to be lectured by a … a bear freak in a homemade T-shirt. “They … I mean we … we’re called the Threadheads.”


The line moved forward a few steps.

Scarlet stared at the girl, as if seeing her for the first time. “What DO you want to be called?”

“My name.”

“What’s your name?” asked Scarlet.

“LaMort. Moldylocks LaMort!”

Scarlet looked at her dad’s watch, starting to worry, just a little bit, about the time. “Okay. Moldy. Will you give me cuts?”

Moldylocks stared at Scarlet. “No.”

Scarlet had an inspiration. “You like slugs?” She reached into her shoulder bag, avoiding Pokey’s curious fingers, and pulled out the snackin’ slugs. She held the jar out to Moldylocks.

Moldylocks took the jar. She unscrewed the lid and guzzled a mouthful.

Scarlet went to step in front of Moldy, but Moldy stopped her and jerked her thumb behind her. “Backsies,” she said through a mouthful of slugs.

“Deal,” Scarlet smiled.

Scarlet stepped in front of Tom Femur, who immediately turned to the zombie behind him and said, “Save my place.”

Before Scarlet’s smile had faded, she felt two massive hands grip her under the arms and carry her along — past Tso Delicious, past Beyond Be-Leaf, past Phartball’s Phabrics — past stall after stall after stall until they reached the back of the line. Tom Femur set her down. “You seem like a nice girl,” he said. “But the Mighty Offal is a backsies-free zone.” He was laughing as he walked away.

This was the moment when Scarlet could have prevented all the trouble that came later. She could have stayed at the back of the line, flowing slowly toward the haggis counter listening to Chunk Grissom Sr. sing his offal songs, playing out dreams of capes in her noseless head.

She could have and she may have, if Jeminy Stinkpit hadn’t at that moment come walking by.

Everyone has a Jeminy Stinkpit. That one zombie who seems to have been unearthed for the singular purpose of making your undeath as miserable as possible. The one who pushes your buttons — the ones labeled “You’re not smart” and “You’re not talented” and “You’re not enough.”

Jeminy, who never seemed to go anywhere un-possed, was Scarlet’s number-one button-pusher. And today she was flanked by LuAnn Fumarole and Sparkle and Spangle Hallows.

Scarlet edged behind the portly zombie in front of her, hoping the girls hadn’t seen her.

They had.

A smile twisted across Jeminy’s face. “Ooh, look girls. Fashion emergency, aisle 9.” The gaggle of girls giggled as they passed her by.

Drive-by ridicule. Apparently Scarlet wasn’t even worth stopping to make fun of. And to make the shame worse, all four of them looked fabulous.

“Forget this!” she growled and stomped out of line.

She didn’t know where she was going. She just let her feet take her while she cursed everything she could think of to curse. Jeminy. Her parents. Moldylocks. Long lines. Haggis. Pokey. Growing up. She even cursed her Grandma, then immediately felt terrible, and uncursed her.

Scarlet finally got around to cursing herself.

After a while, when she was worn out with cursing, she felt the market start to work its magic on her.

Her senses were beset.

The smell of leather and lacquer from the craft stalls. The clinka-binka and clanga-banga of the jewelsmiths snipping silver and hammering brass. The harangue of shopkeepers and artisans shouting “best deals” or “one of a kind” or “fresh ‘n’ tasty moldin’ oldies.” Buskers and bug mongers. Acrobats and artifacts. Shouts from the limb-menders and brainbakers and bedmat vendors and broom makers. Clouds of cleaning-solvent stenches mixed with the aroma of zombie perfumes. And wafting through it all the smells of fetid fungi, tainted tubers, spoiled sardines, rancid rump steaks, and ripe tripe.

Scarlet lost track of time. She wandered dreamlike through the heart of the day. She listened, watched, tested perfumes, tasted samples, applauded performances, and she inhaled everywhere the musky mist of brains. Brains pickled and poached; blackened and barbecued; pan-fried, deep-fried, and stir-fried; canned and candied; caramelized and tenderized; dipped and whipped; pan-seared and mustard-smeared; marinated, disintegrated; boiled, broiled, and oiled; breaded and braised; baked and basted; grilled and chilled; honey-glazed and mayonaissed; decayed, sautéed, home-made. And raw.

When she came to herself, it was deep in the afternoon and she was standing in front of the dreams-cape.

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