Trixie pressed her nose against the side passenger window, attempting to penetrate the darkness that blanketed them. "Have you ever seen trees like that before?" she asked, staring at the pale bark of the trees that lined both sides of the road and stretched as far as she could see.

"I'm pretty sure they're just normal trees," Mart teased, nudging her seat from his position in the middle row of the minivan. "We have one or two of them in preserve back home, you know."

"I know they're just trees," Trixie said, not bothering to take her eyes off the scenery long enough to glare at her brother, even though she really, really wanted to. "These are different, though. I'm sure of it! Can't you feel it?"

"Feel what?" Diana asked, her eyes wide.

Trixie shook her head, her short, sandy curls brushing against the cool pane of the window. "I don't know. Dan? Where did you say we are?"

"We're a ways out from Shreveport," he reminded her. She noticed that he seemed to be taking his driving responsibilities more seriously than he had before, and refused to take his eyes off the road.

"Ah, Shreveport," Mart intoned. "the cultural centre of Ark-La-Tex."

"You're making that up, Mart Belden," Honey accused. "I've never heard of such a place!"

Trixie heard Mart drone on about three states meeting, but her attention was arrested by the shadows that seemed even deeper than what the dark night should cause. An involuntary shudder racked her body, and she moved slightly away from the window, running her hands up and down her arms.

"There's a small town coming up," Dan said, interrupting the lengthy explanation that Mart was still giving. "Shall we stop to stretch our legs?"

She felt a flicker of premonition, a slight tightening of her stomach.

"Food!" Mart exclaimed, his lecture forgotten. "By all means, stop!"

"I'm not sureó" Trixie started to say, determined to pay attention to her misgivings, but she was interrupted by Honey's gasp as they entered the town.

"Isn't it charming!" she exclaimed.

And, despite the dread that was now causing her to perspire slightly (or was it from the humidity?), Trixie couldn't help but agree. The town was beautiful, even if it didn't seem to be much bigger than Sleepyside. Old, spacious homes lined the street, their disrepair lending them even more character, in her opinion. And the trees! Massive monuments to the natural, overwhelming forces of nature that seemed to blanket the state.

"There's a restaurant!" Mart exclaimed.

Dan slowed, and they stared at the ramshackle building.

"I think it's more of a bar than a restaurant," Dan said, pointing out the obvious as they looked at the flashing signs advertising different brands of beer.

"Does it matter? We're all of age, and I'm sure they have food, too. Come on!" Mart insisted.

"We could keep looking," Trixie said, not moving from the vehicle. "Surely they have a McDonald's or a Subway or something," she said, reluctant to enter the bar.

"Did you get a good look at the town?" Mart asked incredulously. "This is as good as it's going to get. Come on, already!"

The rest of the Bob-Whites piled out of the vehicle, and Trixie followed reluctantly. Dan joined her, scanning the parking lot as they made the short walk to the bar.

"Keep your eyes open," he warned, taking her elbow.

"You feel it too, don't you?" she whispered.

His gaze flickered from the parked vehicles, to their friends, to the sign over the door reading "Merlotte's", and finally resting on her for a moment before darting away again. A grunt was his only response, but she knew it was an admission that he felt the same sense of... something. Danger? Mystery?

"Come on!" Mart called, waiting for them to catch up. He held the door open for the group, bouncing with impatience as they filed through.

"Welcome to Merlotte's!" A blonde, perky waitress maybe a few years older than Trixie greeted them, her pony tail swinging as she turned to lead them to a table. "Y'all must be new around here. There's no special, but the burgers and onion rings are always good." She placed greasy plastic menus at their table, smiling so widely that Trixie couldn't help wondering if her face hurt by the end of her shift. "If you need anything, just ask for Sookie."

Diana used a napkin to wipe the worst of the grease off her menu, and wrinkled her nose as she read through the limited options. "There aren't any salads," she said, disappointed.

"Di," Mart said in disbelief. "It's ten thirty. At night! You don't want a salad. What you want is the..." He glanced down at the menu. "Fries?"

She sighed heavily, but her reply was interrupted by the sound of raised voices. Two men were arguing loudly, and Trixie leaned forward, trying to figure out what they were fighting about. Her eyes widened in disbelief (they obviously weren't at Wimpy's!) when the verbal jabs became physical, and within moments, almost every male in the bar had joined in.

The action moved closer to their table, and Trixie found herself being pushed roughly to the floor as someone bumped into her. Dan, who was seated beside her, sprang into action, landing a solid punch on the pot-bellied man.

A shot rang out, and everyone froze as a scruffy looking man in his early thirties hopped over the bar, brandishing a shotgun.

"That's enough," he said, his voice quiet and firm. "Settle down, now."

To Trixie's amazement, they did. With almost no protest, people returned to their seats and conversations continued as if they'd never been interrupted. The only person left standing was Dan, who was staring intently at the bartender. And, if Trixie wasn't mistaken, Dan's nose was twitching.

Even more surprising was the bartender staring right back at him. He shook his head slightly, and then looked away. Dan sat down, an uneasy expression on his face.

"Dan?" Trixie whispered, while the other Bob-Whites talked about the fight. "Do you know him?"

He shook his head, his eyes darting back to the bar. "No. But we're all going to soon enough."

And he didn't look at all happy about it.

Authorís Notes

This is a submission for CWE 3, based on picture #28. I've always thought that there was something magical about travelling late at night, through the dark, and this picture really captured that feeling.

True involves the characters from Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels, and the name of the story is based on the HBO series, True Blood, based on the characters from her books. I hope to develop this into a longer story at some point.

Thanks to Dianafan for graphicing and editing, as always. *hugs*

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. Story copyright by Ryl, August 2012. Graphics copyright 2012 by Mary N.

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