Late last night I drifted around New Orlean’s French Quarter, the Vieux Carre. I wandered down to Bourbon Street in all its neon sound and fury, but found myself drawn—compelled almost—to the deserted side alleys. It was a moonless night, and the dim light of sputtering torch lamps served only to deepen the shadows. As I walked I gazed through shop windows rippled with age at a cacophony of antiques—tarnished silver platters, ancient hourglasses, cracked porcelain jester masks, filmy brass mirrors. As I continued on, the streets became darker and more desolate, if that was possible. A slight breeze picked up and the sickly sweet smell of death and wisteria wafted over me. It was accompanied by the faint wail of a saxophone from some corner street performer plying his trade. The sound reminded me of the bluesman who made a pact with the devil in exchange for his talent. The story goes that a down-on-his-luck musician went out walking at about midnight and came to a crossroads, where a stranger was waiting and promised him unending talent in exchange for his soul. The musician took the deal and sure-enough could play anything he wished, but his songs were all laced with sorrow. That was the music I heard now on the breeze, a gutterflower telling a story of heartbreak and despair. I lingered a moment, considering following the haunting notes back to the man to drop a dollar in his hat or saxophone case or whatever. Instead I kept walking. I could see now that I was coming to a crossroads of my own, where my street met up with a churchyard square. A statue of the crucifix stood at its center, lit up by a faint spotlight and casting a giant shadow of the cross on the façade behind it. I stood staring at the image for quite some time, when suddenly I heard a man’s raspy voice speaking in Latin: “Memento mori.” I don’t know if the voice belonged to a homeless man or a tarot reader or a priest or what; I had turned and fled without looking back.