Disclaimer: This time, I do own these characters. I didn't think this story really belonged here due to its conspicuous lack of Bat-characters, but Techie wanted it posted. So if you like it, thank her. And if you don't like it, blame her. 'Cause I'm not taking any responsibility for this; I only wrote it.

But seriously, this is part of the CATverse (wwwdotcatversedotcom) and if you're a fan of the series, you should read it. And if you're not, I won't be holdin' any grudges if you skip it.

Cover image by adabsurdum.


Cross Roads Blues

The world was a funny old place. There was no getting around that.

For a couple of women sometimes known as Al and the Captain, life had just gotten a bit weirder than usual. This kind of thing happened every time they traveled—every time they ventured outside their nice, safe house in Druid City for any reason, for any length of time. But when Al got it into her head to spend a weekend with her family, it wasn't a good idea to try to stop her. So the Captain made her excuses to the boss, Al threw a few things in the back of her Bat-Blazer, and the folks up north got a visit from their daughter and their "other daughter."

Come Monday, they didn't much feel like going home. So the Captain made more excuses to the boss, and they drove a little farther north, across the Tennessee border, to pay a surprise visit to the Captain's aunt and uncle in a little town just south of Nashville, in a little house with Christmas lights in all the windows and sunflowers nine feet tall in the front yard.

The Captain knew her family, of course, though she hadn't seen them in years, but she chose to let Al be surprised by the fact that this was a family of bluegrass musicians—Mama on fiddle, Daddy and Brother Eli on mandolin, and Hallelujah on banjo. Hallie—onto whom the Captain had grafted the unfortunate nickname "Red"—was a normal enough kid, a sunny personality intermixed with the kind of moodiness one had to expect from a fifteen-year-old girl. But Eli was startling—dorky twelve-year-old by day, musical prodigy by night. His sister had the technical skill of a child with a lifetime of practice, but he ate, slept, and breathed music. His first act on meeting Al was to drag her off to his room to teach her to play the mandolin.

The Captain and Little Red spent the rest of the day giggling about Brother Eli's painfully obvious crush, until Al told them to knock it off. Her intention was to let him down gently, but she only ended up making it worse.

Thus was Al's deep, dark secret revealed—no matter how hard she tried not to be, she was great with kids.

By the end of the visit, the Captain had reverted to an older nickname (Chickadee), Al was as adept on the mandolin as she was on the piano and the saxophone, and their new best friends were heartbroken at the thought of their leaving.

None of this was the weird part. The weird part hadn't even been hinted at yet.

On the final day of the visit, Al, the Captain, and the kids all drove out to the local cemetery.

Why not the cemetery? It was a peaceful place on this crisp December afternoon, dead leaves and bare tree limbs notwithstanding. It was Little Red's favorite place to take her sketchbook to work uninterrupted, and Brother Eli needed a place to run off his energy where he wouldn't disturb anyone.

There was a reason why the boy's mother limited his sugar intake. But his cousin and his new friend were too amused by the results to follow Sadie's rules.

So, in the old cemetery on Montevallo Road one chilly afternoon, Eli did his best to catch a squirrel with his bare hands without straying too far from Al, who was investigating some of the more unusual gravestones (including one shaped like a motorcycle, which…certainly said something about the person buried underneath it.) Red was sitting under a tree, doing some serious work with colored pencils. And the Captain was climbing that tree, although climbing soon turned to hanging by her knees from a tree branch as she checked the messages on her phone.

She hardly ever used the thing to talk to people, but she did use it for handy internet access. And she was quite satisfied to find a friend online. Within moments, the texting began in earnest.

captaintwinings: -poke-

bitemetechie: Mon Capitan!

captaintwinings: Guess where I am.

bitemetechie: Somewhere near Nashville?

captaintwinings: …how did you do that?

bitemetechie: …

bitemetechie: You mean I was right?

captaintwinings: I'm hanging out in a cemetery, watching Number One ride a big stone motorcycle.

"Hey, Number One, have some respect for the dead, will you?" she called.

"But it's a comfy seat."

"Yeah, well, you break it, you buy it."

When she looked back at her phone, a sudden grin spread across her face.

bitemetechie: You're kidding. I know that place.

bitemetechie: I can't be more than ten minutes away from you.

captaintwinings: OPS!

captaintwinings: -flail-

captaintwinings: Come play with me!

bitemetechie: Ok!

bitemetechie: -also flails-

captaintwinings: You can meet my cousins!

And, a split second later—

bitemetechie: You can meet my cousins!

The Captain closed her phone.

"Number One…you're not going to believe this."

#

Techie, or Ops, or Lydia (though these three were much chummier than a mere first name basis) was the best friend they'd never had.

Red looked confused.

They'd never met, but they talked all the time.

A blank stare.

On the internet.

More staring.

She lived far away.

This brought about a cautious nod.

And she had family in the area, who she was visiting now, so they were finally going to get together in person.

Al and the Captain gave up on trying to explain the mechanics of a friendship not based in reality. Instead, they focused on the odd coincidence of all three of them being in the same place at the same time with no prior planning.

It was almost as if some cosmic force were scheming to get the three of them together for some dark, generally unhealthy purpose that would only come clear some time down the line.

Or else it was just a coincidence. Those had been known to happen, too, on occasion. And maybe it was inevitable that they would have met, sooner or later.

Red had just finished her picture, with Al looking over her shoulder, when Techie and her cousins arrived at the cemetery. There was a moment of awkwardness as they all stared each other down, real names hovering on the tips of their tongues.

Then Techie said, "I'm Ops."

"Number One," said Al.

And the Captain said, "Captain."

Within an hour, the groups were integrated.

No one was quite sure how it happened—especially Techie—but when they split up at the end of the day, the terrible trio squeezed into the back of the Bat-Blazer together, which wasn't an ideal situation since it left Little Red in the driver's seat. But for someone who had only had her learner's permit a very short time, she really wasn't too terrifying.

Getting Techie to agree to come home with them had been surprisingly easy.

The Captain said, "spare room."

Al said, "Christmas party."

The Captain said, "Scarecrow—maybe. Probably not. But maybe."

Al said, with a smile, "Eddie Nygma is the single most adorable man you'll ever meet. And this year he's bringing key lime pie, unless we've gotten the riddle completely wrong. You'll love him."

And Techie said yes, simple as that.

So they took the kids home in the late afternoon, eager to get back to T-town by dark.

The parting of Al and Brother Eli was adorably heartrending. He made her promise to come back and visit soon. He even played her one final song.

Techie joined the Captain in teasing Al about her boyfriend. Al ignored them both.

Red clung to her cousin, bemoaning the fact that the normal people were going away. The Captain winced and gently asked the kid to reevaluate certain words in her vocabulary.

She said goodbye to her aunt and uncle, accepted a Christmas present in a long, unwieldy box, and then they were gone.

Off on some grand adventure, probably.

Although a cup of tea and something mindless on the TV sounded much more appealing. Things had been getting hectic lately. This seemed like as good a time as any to relax.

#

Three and a half hours later, no one was relaxed. The sun was just dipping below the horizon; they should have been just about home.

But they weren't.

They were hopelessly (yes, hopelessly!) lost.

Al pulled over on the side of the road. Like that was going to do any good. They were in the middle of nowhere, not a street sign in sight. As far as they knew, they hadn't even crossed any state lines. They had no idea what towns or cities might be nearby. They were lost.

Techie insisted on pointing out, with a meaningful glance at the setting sun, that Evil Dead had been filmed in Tennessee.

The Captain responded, very uncomfortably, that there were no demon-filled woods nearby, no haunted cabin, no cellar deathtrap, no toolshed with a handy chainsaw—

"Mmm, chainsaw," said Al.

The Captain took a moment to nod her agreement before continuing—no perilous gorge, no twisted remains of a rickety bridge—

"Get on with it!"

"Sorry," she sighed. "And no Necromonicon Ex Mortis—that we can see. Just one dirt road, and another dull-as-dirt road, going nowhere in four directions, and if there's anything sinister about two straight lines crossing at right angles, I've never heard it. Other angles, sure; I've studied my Lovecraft. But right angles are safe. Do you think roads count as lines or line segments?"

"You're babbling," said Al.

"What do you expect? We're lost in Kanderian demon territory, you stopped at a crossroads, the geometry is out to get us, and there's nothing around—not for miles—there will be no one to hear us scream."

"You're babbling," Al repeated. "And you're mixing genres."

"Hey, at least I haven't mentioned Deliverance—oh, hell."

Al's natural response was to slam her forehead against the steering wheel. The horn blared. They all jumped.

"All right, let's get out of here." She turned the key in the ignition.

The engine made a sound like an asthmatic horse.

"I didn't do it," the Captain said. "I didn't touch anything. You both saw."

Al tried the key again. The asthmatic horse became an angry asthmatic horse.

"You touched something," Al accused.

"Your baby's getting on in years," the Captain said tactfully. "It's only natural…"

"The Bat-Blazer has never broken down," Al snapped as she popped the hood.

"What about all those times the brakes went out?"

"That was Bat-Blazer Mark One. Mark Two has never given me any trouble."

"What about the time the transmission exploded?"

"It didn't—Captain, you're not helping! Just…come on and don't touch anything."

They all got out.

The Captain stared at the engine in the fading light.

"You know, I'm going to have to touch it if you want me to fix it."

Having listened to all this banter with a level of timidity that was utterly foreign to her, Techie concluded that the bickering was friendlier than it seemed, and that she could step in without making things any worse.

"I can fix it."

Another person might have gotten angry. The Captain said, "Oh, thank God. If I touch anything in there, it's going to explode, and I'm already jumpy enough. You fix it. I'll be over here, away from the battery."

Techie stuck her head under the hood. Al ducked in after her.

"Captain's really not too bad as Miss Fix-It," she said. "It's just that she and electricity don't mix." She hesitated. "So…what are we looking for?"

The Captain, easily bored, left her companions to their greasy bonding and pulled her Christmas present out of the backseat.

Like she was really going to wait until Christmas.

The card was typically snarky, which made her smile. If there was one thing she hated, it was holiday sappiness, although she always made the best of it when it was upon her. And the card wasn't from Hallmark.

The cards could never be from Hallmark.

The blood feud went back three generations. If the Captain ever had children, it would be passed on to the fourth.

And it was best to leave it at that.

Tucked in with the non-Hallmark Christmas card was a folded up piece of paper that proved to be the picture Red had been working on at the cemetery.

It felt crackly.

That wasn't a word the Captain used often, because she liked to pretend she was too sophisticated to believe in what it signified. But she had made a few records, in picture form and prose, and once in the form of a moderately ambitious symphony, after waking from a certain kind of dream. And those things all felt, not tingly, as most supernatural things felt to her, but crackly.

There was a tendency on both sides of the Captain's family to be a little "spooky." On her mother's side, there was the bayou tradition. And on her father's…she didn't know what it was, but it cropped up every once in a great long while to distinguish a special case from the more respectable relatives, and it manifested itself in dreams that had scared the hell out of her as a child, until she learned to understand them.

And she had long suspected her Little Red of having the same kind of dreams.

So…the imagery had stuck in the kid's mind strongly enough to force her to put it down on paper. And something had prompted the girl to pass the message to her cousin. Was it a warning, or a cry for help?

The Captain shivered. Hallie's colored pencils had captured the mood of the scene perfectly, despite the fact that she was still imitating her mother's intensely surrealistic style. The sky—swirls of silver and blacker-than-black, indicating a raging, shattering, murderous storm. The ground—scrubby grass around a pair of dirt roads, a crossroads not unlike the one they were stalled at now, swirls of dry dirt blowing upwards in a fierce wind—the storm had not yet broken, though a flash of lightning lit the scene with eerie starkness, somehow emphasizing that this was no dream scene, but something all too real.

(It represented reality, she reminded herself. It was no more than pigments on paper. This was no Gothic horror story, with a picture ready to spring to life.)

The image was dominated by the figure of a man—nothing sinister about an old black man in a tattered suit, and yet she found herself shivering with more than cold.

His face was completely hidden, thrown into shadow by a wide-brimmed hat, but, though he stood as straight and tall as any proud man could hope to do, she could guess at great age by his gnarled brown hands. Arthritis would have twisted once-strong fingers into this monstrous shape, twisted and swollen and painfully useless. The hands were the focus. The hands said everything. They told the story of the old man's bitterness, how he had lost his heart's desire.

And it was all too clear that the old man needed his hands—loved them—because across his chest was a thick black strap holding a cloth guitar case to his back.

He was not a large man, not powerful. He didn't look strong enough to be toting around a bulky musical instrument that would be too painful to play, unless he loved it.

And he wasn't a rich man, traveling on foot so far all alone. His suit was old, wrinkled and torn. He was the kind of man who would take a meal and a warm place to sleep when he could get them, and otherwise do without, carrying himself like a king all the while. A guitar that was useless to him would have been sold—unless he loved it.

And so he carried it with him, his love and his pain, so much a part of him that he could never leave it in the hands of another—until the time was right.

(And where did that thought come from, she wondered.)

She wouldn't have thought too much of the little old man, even so, but the way his clothes seemed to move—following the patterns in the clouds and the swirling dust, suggesting that he had some kind of power over the storm itself. She looked at the darkness under his hat, caught the suggestion of a twinkle in his eye, and shivered.

Thunder cracked like cannon fire all around them, causing Al to yelp and knock her head against the underside of the Bat-Blazer's hood.

"Oh, that's just great," Techie said. "Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse. We're lost, we're out in the middle of nowhere, I can't fix the car 'cause I can't find what's wrong with it, and now—this. 'It could always be worse, Techie.' 'How? How could it be worse?' Cue lightning." On cue, lightning flickered lazily in the distance. "Great. And what's crackly over there?"

"Crackly?" the Captain repeated. "I don't think you want to know." She folded up the paper and put it back in the envelope with the card. Al wandered over and sat down next to her in the grass, while Techie leaned against the Blazer.

"So, what'd you get?" Al asked, her subtle way of urging the Captain to tear the paper off her loot in a frenzied rush that would make the Tasmanian Devil look like Ms. Manners.

The Captain picked the tape off slowly.

"Now what?" Techie asked. "We just wait for someone to come along? I haven't seen anyone on this road since before it turned dirt."

"I'd suggest sending one of us to the nearest town for help, but we wouldn't even know which way to go, and—Captain, will you open your present, you're driving me crazy—I don't think any of us should be wandering around out here alone."

Tired now of teasing her first mate, the Captain ripped the wrapping paper off her gift, and gasped.

"Oh…she remembered."

"Remembered what?"

The Captain showed them her present, an antique mountain dulcimer, beautifully restored to a state that was better than new.

"When my sister was a little girl, we took dulcimer lessons together. It was the first time we ever really bonded. I started that week an only child." She ran her fingers lovingly over the strings, savoring the soft drone. "But I never thought of myself that way again."

Al looked up at the sky and decided the rain wouldn't be falling for a while yet.

"Play me something, Captain."

"Oh, I don't know. It's been a while." She plucked out a simple blues rhythm on the third string.

She still remembered how to do it, but her fingers had long since lost their calluses. Fretting was more strenuous on a dulcimer than on a guitar; she didn't relish the thought of bleeding all over her lovely new instrument. Then again, what was the point of music, if not to cut deep, painful grooves that made her want to cry?

So what if the grooves were in her fingertips, instead of her soul?

She played the opening to "Dueling Banjos."

"Not that!" Al objected. "What if you get a response?"

"Then we're screwed," the Captain said brightly. But, obligingly, she changed her tune.

The dulcimer, with its ability to slide between notes, is an instrument better suited than most for playing "Amazing Grace." Anyone who has not heard that particular combination of song and instrument should seek out a skilled player immediately and demand a show.

The Captain was not a skilled player. She had only practiced for a relatively short time, less than a third of what she had spent on the saxophone. And, as with all skills, this one had grown rusty after years of neglect. But she remembered just enough, and even in her hands, there was something amazing about "Amazing Grace."

"Hang on," Techie murmured, and opened the car door. After a moment of rummaging through her bag, she came out with a harmonica.

Techie's harmonica provided a haunting counterpoint to the Captain's melody. The notes echoed back to them, eerily beautiful. Al could only sigh.

"I wish I had something to play."

"Drum," the Captain suggested as the last faint notes died away. She flexed her left hand, the fingers already marked by the strings. "Keep the beat, unless you'd rather sing." She started to hum "The Banks of the Ohio"—a beautiful ballad of a murder/suicide, with lots of lovely corpsey bits—and falteringly attempted to fit the melody to the strings.

What she came up with was something very different. It was an obscure song she had never before tried to play, although in high school she had listened to it with an interest that bordered on obsession. It was faster than "The Banks of the Ohio," more aggressive, more filk than folk, and far more suited to the twangy mandolin than the lyrical dulcimer.

She had to blame the change on Al's percussion. She certainly couldn't blame the content of "Chickasaw Mountain."

(Whoever has wisdom can guess what lies unsaid.)

Just because the song happened to concern a deal between a mortal musician and something entirely other

(The cost of the gift to the living and the dead.)

And just because they happened to be at a crossroads, where such things had been known to happen…

(Still, if you feel you'll gain by the deal, you'll play with the old Morning Star.)

And just because she happened to have a picture drawn by a potentially Gifted youngster crackling in the back of her mind…

(No need to travel far.)

A blast of hot air slammed them all in the face, as if someone had suddenly thrown open the door to a furnace.

(Don't just count on Chickasaw Mountain. If there's a deal meant for you…)

It was followed by an icy breeze carrying the faint smell of sulfur, and a loud clap of thunder.

(Any wild place on earth will do.)

They all simultaneously came to the decision that the music wasn't helping anything.

"It's getting dark," the Captain said over the echoes. She put her hand over the strings to still them.

"It does that at night." Techie's voice was unnaturally loud.

Al was silent until a clap of thunder sent her yelping and falling into the Captain's lap.

At first, the Captain thought her friend was just suffering from a perfectly natural and well established fear of storms. That was before another flash of lightning illuminated the old man in the distance, making his way toward them slowly, painfully, but inexorably, step by halting step.

Thunder boomed. Al flinched.

The Captain stood.

"I…don't think we should keep musical instruments out in the rain."

"I don't think we should keep ourselves out in the rain," Techie added hastily.

Lightning again. The distance between the Bat-Blazer and the old man in the tattered suit was only half what it should have been, given the speed he seemed to be moving.

The sound the Captain made was somewhere between the piratical "Aye!" and the feminine-hysterical "AIEEE!"

The next crash of thunder rattled the Bat-Blazer's—well, every part of it that could be rattled was. She dropped her dulcimer; fortunately, it didn't have far to fall.

"Hey, there." (They, her mind spelled it. She focused hard on the accent. They.)

The Captain froze. And she didn't have to look to know that her friends weren't dancing any jigs behind her.

There was nothing specifically wrong with that voice, or the words it uttered. It was the voice of an old man with the distinctive accent of the Mississippi Delta, a civil voice—the voice of a gentleman.

There are two kinds of men in the south—the gentleman and the redneck. These distinctions have nothing to do with race, money, education, or the tendency to fire off shotgun blasts into the air. It's just there, a natural distinction, obvious to any true southerner, and incomprehensible to anyone from the outside world.

Redneck is not a comprehensive term, of course. There are many different subsets of that other category, and just as bluegrass isn't country and big band isn't jazz, no one in the know would go looking for a hillbilly at a NASCAR race or a good ol' boy at a crawdad boil. But there is no universally recognized word for a man who is fundamentally southern but not a southern gentleman, and because the redneck was the predominant form in the Captain's current home, that was the term she used.

Gentleman, though, that's universal. And this man was a gentleman.

He also wasn't human. He looked human, but he wasn't, and everyone present knew it.

Still, he smiled as if he didn't know they knew it.

"Havin' car trouble?" At any other time, the Captain would have been fascinated by the way he spoke, the words so turbulent, under such a smooth surface. His accent was the voice of the river. That and the guitar slung across his back marked him as a blues man.

Techie found her voice first.

"We're…lost."

The old man grinned.

"Memphis is thataway," he said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder to indicate the direction from which he had come.

"Memphis? How—that's not even close to where we should be!"

Al and Techie looked at each other in a way that suggested they would like to spend the next few minutes arguing over how to read a map, but weren't comfortable doing it in front of the old man.

The Captain continued to stare at him.

He grinned.

"Thinkin' awful hard, little lady," he said, his tones all round and soft like the breeze coming in over those muddy waters.

"Yes, sir," the Captain replied, because you always call an old Southern gentleman sir, even if you suspect he's something other than human and bears you no good will. "I always think hard. It's the only way to keep from goin' soft." Her accent was slipping, straight through the Magic City twang and into the old New Orleans drawl. The old man heard it and smiled. For a moment, his strikingly white teeth looked just a little sharper than natural teeth should be.

"Cain't forget your past, can you, girl?"

"No, sir. I guess you might say it follows me—like a crummy boyfriend."

He laughed then, a dry-sticks sound that was oddly comforting in its unnatural friendliness.

But even more of a relief was when he turned his attention to Al.

"And you? What might you be hiding behind that brightly painted shell?" Al flinched.

"I am not hiding!"

The Captain had to smile. The way Al had pulled back was reminiscent of Sir Artemidorus, the late, lamented hermit crab who had been so curious, so clever, and yet just as likely as any other crab to withdraw into his shell when faced with a threat or a simple annoyance. Whatever the old man's game was, he was good.

"'Course you ain't," he said with just enough mockery in his tone to put Al at ease, if she had been in the mood to allow it. "And you, Yankee girl? You got any deep, dark secrets?"

"None of your damn business." He didn't lose his smile.

"Naw, that's all my damn business. Don't you know where you is, girl? There here's the same crossroads where old Bobby Johnson sold his soul to the devil. Got him a young man's hands, made him the greatest blues man ever lived. Famous 'til the end of his days."

"And not a moment more," the Captain added.

"Heard of him?"

"I know the story."

The old man shrugged creakily.

"Well, that don't matter none," he said, letting his voice turn easy. Lightning flickered distantly. "Not a one of you come here to sell your soul for blues fame." The thunder was a slow rumble. "But maybe they's somethin' else y'all want."

Techie looked at the Captain. The Captain looked at Al.

"We shouldn't," said Al. "We can't just go around selling our souls. What if we need them later?"

"But what is the soul, other than a philosophical construct representing that which is—"

"Is it even valid to bargain for the soul of a nonbeliever?"

"-Je pense, donc je suis," the Captain finished, as if she had never been interrupted.

They all looked at the old man, who was waiting patiently.

"Sorry," the Captain hazarded. "We don't believe in Old Nick."

The smile officially became a smirk.

"Oh, you believe, all right. You believe in what you see before you. You know how to make a deal, and you've got somethin' you want." Another flash of lightning. "So let's talk."

#

The Captain woke at dawn. She hated that. Dawn was not a time for waking up. Dawn was her signal to go to sleep.

She and the first mate had long since abandoned any hope of establishing normal sleeping patterns, but functioning nocturnally was better than not functioning at all.

So it was utterly wrong for her to be opening eyes to morning's first light.

Not to mention the fact that she was lying in the grass by the side of the road, with her head pillowed on something smooth, flat, and wooden.

The Captain sat up with a wince. That was a hell of a crick in her neck. And she was cold. How long had she been lying on the ground, and why?

She blinked, feeling stupid. Where the hell was she? Why had she and Al gone to sleep outside the Bat-Blazer? What was Techie doing with them? And whose guitar had she been using as a pillow?

"Um…guys?" She nudged Al, who stirred, opened her eyes slowly, blinked—and was on her feet in an instant, looking around wildly for some kind of threat.

There was none to be seen.

"What happened?" she demanded. The Captain shrugged. "But…where are we? Why are we outside? What's wrong with the Bat-Blazer? Why is Techie here? Whose guitar is that?"

"I don't know," the Captain said. "Last thing I remember, we were going to the cemetery. You think the kids slipped something into our Kool-Aid?"

"Would they?" Al asked, alarmed. The Captain laughed.

"Probably not. Besides, I didn't drink the Kool-Aid." She nudged Techie.

Amazingly, Techie went through exactly the same routine, from the sleepy stirring to the obvious itch for a fight, from "What's going on?" to "Whose guitar is that?"

"We don't know," Al said calmly. "Let's try to find the nearest IHOP. Pancakes will make everything better."

She got into the driver's seat and started the car. The engine sounded a little…funny. They would have to take it in for a tune up when they got home. But all the Captain cared about just then was that the heater was working.

"I can't help feeling like we've done something incredibly, phenomenally, profoundly stupid," she said, watching in fascination as the dirt road widened into two lanes of asphalt and a weatherbeaten sign announced their proximity to the interstate that would lead them back to where they needed to be. "I just wish I could remember what."

"Time will tell," Techie said. But she didn't sound as if she really believed it.

The Captain softly strummed the strings of the lovely black guitar. Unlike the one she'd fiddled with as a child, this one was perfectly in tune, and seemed likely to hold itself that way. And yet, there was something odd, almost discordant about the reverberations of the notes. She shivered and put it aside.

"I…used to know someone," she said hesitantly. "She's not…around, anymore, but I think there might be people who would remember her. We might be able to find someone to talk to about…whatever this was."

"Someone who knows what she's talking about?"

The Captain nodded decisively.

"Yes. I think…first chance we get after the Christmas party, we should take a tip to New Orleans."

Techie looked interested; Al was disturbed. The Captain, feeling oddly nostalgic, smiled to herself as the Bat-Blazer brought them back to civilization, merging with the early morning commuters, a hundred rumbling engines with places to go and not enough time to get there.

But by the time they reached the house in Tuscaloosa, something inscrutable had blanketed the entire experience in a fog of "who cares." They never even noticed when new memories grew up like dandelions to replace what had been lost. And, although the faintest urge to visit New Orleans remained, it was easily ignored, put off for months, and when they finally got around to it, they hadn't the foggiest notion what they were looking for.

But the Big Easy had its own agenda, and fate converged in ways that would have been unexpected even if the girls hadn't been in the dark about their true purpose there.

But that's another story.


Captain's note: This contradicts a later story, which was written earlier. I know, and I don't care. False memories spring up like dandelions, I say. They're not meant to remember the deal they made until the time comes to pay up.

What deal did they make? Well, that's not for you to know...yet. But don't worry, they didn't sign away their souls. They, and their associate, were interested in something a little less routine.

So...did you like it? Think the girls made a mistake? Think Old Nick made a mistake? Got an idea about the deal you think they made? Talk to me. I want reader input. And a sandwich. Reader input and a sandwich.

I'll take care of the sandwich. The rest is up to YOU!

And, by the way, the story continues with "Posterity."