Disclaimer: Do I really have to keep doing these?
CATverse A/N: If, for some reason, you feel the urge to need to know where this goes in CATverse canon, go to www. freewebs. com/ catverse (for ease, I would suggest looking at the Story Arc Listing rather than the muddled timeline table, I'm just sayin'); this goes after my story War Games and really kicks off the Devil's Due arc. Enjoy. Oh, and P.S. the lyrics are gleefully snerched from David Allen Coe.
"We're out of gas."
"Yes, thank you, Al. Thank you for stating the blatantly obvious for those of us who were unable to decipher the clues at hand." Techie glared at her companion and gestured around. "The fact that the Classic refuses to budge and makes little 'ung-ung-ung-ung' noises when we turn the key didn't tip us off at all."
"It's the Deathcoaster," the Captain reminded, which earned her an even fiercer glare from the irate henchgirl.
"You can call it the Ashmobile for all I care, it still won't start because someone forgot to put gas in it! And the gas can's empty!"
"Hey, you're the one who insisted on this little out of the blue road trip to Louisiana--which you still haven't explained the reasoning for, by the way--we all just assumed you must have had a plan."
Jonathan Crane watched this entire exchange with a look of detached indifference, his head resting in his hand, elbow on his knee, sitting in the driver's seat with his feet on the dirt road they found themselves on. The entire road trip had been one small disaster after another, almost as if some higher power was trying to keep them from their destination. Not that he believed in such utter nonsense, of course, but when one's destination was located in the heart of the bayou, one could never tell…
"We can't be that far from a gas station," Al said reasonably, stepping in between the Captain and the rapidly reddening Techie, "One of us is just going to have to start walking."
"In which direction, genius?" Techie snapped, irrationally irritated. "We're smack dab in the middle of nowhere! We're so in the middle of nowhere, the streets don't even have the decency to have pavement on them!"
She kicked up a cloud of dust to illustrate her point.
The Captain waved her arm, clearing the dust out of her immediate field of vision. "What the hell is the matter with you, anyways?"
"We're in Tennessee!" Techie exclaimed with a vague flail, as if that explained everything. "There's probably a troop white trash relatives just waiting to pop out at me from the weeds!"
"Oh, is that all you're worried about?"
"I'd be more concerned with mountain lions," Crane remarked, putting his two cents into the conversation for the first time since the car had broken down.
Techie turned a delightful shade of ashen. "Mountain…lions?"
He smiled pleasantly. "Or cougars, if you prefer. Take your pick. Either way, it all translates to large man eating cat."
"Great," Techie flopped down on the ground, looking sick. "Great. Next there'll be phantom banjo music coming from the woods and I'm going to have to really panic."
Al rolled her eyes. "Yankee."
Techie looked up at Al, this time without a glare. "Yes! I am! I am a damn dirty Yankee city girl. I like concrete. I like it when trees have designated areas where they're supposed to grow and they're pruned regularly. Excuse me for growing up in a place where the people outnumber the cows!"
"You're from Wisconsin," Al replied, shaking her head. "I'm going to start walking thattaway." She jerked her thumb behind herself. "If I don't find anything, or I don't find somebody to hitchhike with in half an hour, I'll just walk back and we'll try the other direction."
She made her way to the car and rifled around in the backseat for something heavy enough to use as a bludgeoning weapon and found it in the shape of a Louisville Slugger that wasn't too badly bloodstained. She laid its comforting weight on her shoulder and started down the road, looking as casual as if she were strolling down fifth avenue and gave a little wave to her cohorts.
She hadn't gone ten feet, however, when the roar of an engine coming from behind her made her turn, shading her eyes against the sun. An antique Cadillac convertible was barreling down the dirt road, heading directly for the spot where the Enterprise/Classic/Deathcoaster (they never had properly christened it; nobody had been able to find an appropriately ironic brand of champagne) currently sat and Al started back the way she'd come.
Her stopping in front of the others coincided perfectly with the Caddy pulling up. The driver was a blonde--somewhere in her early twenties--with a ring in her nose and a tattoo at the corner of her eye, a tiny, simple star. The car was filled with luggage of all sizes, the passenger seat being the only part of the car that was unoccupied.
"Y'all run outta gas?" she asked brightly.
Al didn't miss the way Techie's eye twitched in response to the distinctly Tennessean accent that turned the driver's statement into "Y'aul run ahyutta gayus?"
"Yeah, we did," the Captain said, elbowing Techie in the ribs to remind her that correcting someone else's English wasn't polite, no matter how badly the mispronunciation may have burned.
"Well, hell, y'all ain't that far from Crossville," the woman behind the wheel said. "I can fit one of y'all in here with me, get you to a gas station and bring you back."
Techie twitched again. The Caddy driver's accent had mangled the words so badly it came out as: "Weyull, heyull, y'all ayun't thayut fair frem Craawsville, I can fit one of y'all in heyere with me, getcha ta a gayus stashun and bring ya bayuk." and the toll it was taking on her Midwestern ears was an obvious strain.
Al slipped directly into Southern Belle mode, which was a rarely used--but very useful--part of her personality repertoire. "We'd be much obliged."
In a moment of strange collective fogginess, the idea of just killing the Caddy driver and taking her car never occurred to the four, and Al retrieved the empty bright red gas can from the trunk of the Enterprise, plopping into the passenger seat of the Cadillac, her baseball bat forgotten at the side of the road at Crane's feet.
"I'm Al," she said in an uncharacteristically friendly manner, searching for a seatbelt and finding that the ancient machine didn't have one.
"Y'all can call me Star," the driver replied, pulling away from the side of the road and adjusting her rearview mirror in the process. "You can turn on the radio on, if you like, Al. I hate drivin' in silence, dyaknow what I mean?"
"I don't usually have the radio on unless I'm driving alone." Al shrugged and reached for the dial--an old fashioned turn-and-pray-you-get-something-other-than-static type--and started adjusting it, looking for a signal.
There was a lot of static. An unnatural amount of static, almost. It took quite a bit of fiddling, but she finally got the crackly sounds of something country. A guitar, some drums, a keyboard…it started loud, but leveled out to something a bit more mournful.
(I was thumbin' from Montgomery, had my guitar on my back…)
Al smiled. "It's a good thing I'm the one who took you up on your offer for a ride…one of my friends would be tearing her hair out with this music on."
(When a stranger stopped beside me in an antique Cadillac.)
"Well, it ain't like there's anything else to be heard around these parts," Star said with a smile. "Where y'all headed, anyhow?"
(He was dressed like nineteen-fifty, half drunk and hollow eyed)
"Louisiana," Al replied automatically, noting that the sun was starting to dip in the sky. "We're going to New Orleans."
(He said 'It's a long walk to Nashville, would you like a ride?')
Star glanced over at Al, the sunset highlighting her features warmly and catching the spun gold quality of her hair. A halo of "New Orleans? Funny time of year for it…most people head out there for Mardi Gras."
(Then I sat down in the front seat, turned on the radio)
"We've got other business there," Al said simply, the suspicion section of her brain finally kicking into gear--albeit somewhat sluggishly.
(And them sad old songs comin' out of them speakers was solid country gold)
"Y'all oughtta be careful down thereabouts. All sorts of funny things happen in the Bayou. I hear tell of voodoo priestesses…you know, that kind of nonsense."
(Then I noticed the stranger was ghost white pale when he asked me for a light)
Al nodded vacantly, looking out the windshield and suddenly becoming aware of the ominous clouds gathering on the horizon. The sun had fallen even further in the sky. An unnaturally quick descent, it seemed. "Looks like there's a storm coming."
(And I knew there was somethin' strange about this ride)
"You have no idea," Star said, turning the wheel sharply as a streak of lightning cracked the sky in half, highlighting her features in an entirely different way than the sunset had. The car screeched to a halt and the radio cut out without any warning, leaving the two women in silence. No thunder boomed, the engine didn't purr.
Unnatural, unnerving silence.
"You're…" Al shook her head, breathing quickened despite her best efforts to keep it from doing otherwise. "Something's wrong."
Star leaned in towards Al, her voice nothing more than a whisper, "This is where you get off, drifter."
Al didn't have to be told twice. She scrambled for the door handle, clumsily sliding out of the Cadillac, landing hard on her knees on the pavement. The car started up immediately, leaving a cloud of noxious fumes in its wake, but though he eyes watered and she coughed, Al watched the taillights fade into the darkness, her eyes glued to the license plate: MORNING
Feeling entirely like she had toed the line between the real world and that of the twilight zone, Al got to her feet and turned around to head back towards her friends.
Daylight greeted her. The sun was still high, her baseball bat was still resting on her shoulder, and she had the gas can--which was quite a bit heavier than when she'd started out--in her other hand.
She hadn't even traveled thirty feet from the Captain, Techie and Jonathan. They were all looking at her funny.
She looked behind herself, the dirt road as undisturbed as it had ever been. "What happened to the Cadillac?"
Techie and the Captain shared a look. "What Cadillac?"
"The…" She started for her friends and when she was within range, lifted the gas can and shook it. The sloshing sound it made seemed real enough. "Do you hear that?"
There were confused looks all around. "But…it was empty."
Al nodded emphatically and then turned an accusing look on Techie. "I think we need to have a talk about why we're all suddenly going to New Orleans on a 'whim'."
Techie turned an entirely different shade of pale than the one she'd turned at the mention of mountain lions. "Oh. He…uh…you too?"
"Yes. Now, explain."
Techie let out a sigh and leaned against the car heavily, defeated, explanation coming out on a rush of breath. "I think somebody wants a favor from us. I figured, you know…Lavoux might be able to help us find an out."
Jonathan stared at her suspiciously. "Define somebody."
She looked at him and cleared her throat, dead serious. "Ever read Faust?"