Undead and Unappreciated Prologue

Prologue 1: Secrets

Once upon a time, the devil was bored, and possessed a not-very-nice pregnant woman, and ran that woman's body for about a year.

The devil still drank and smoked, but only in moderation. The devil was good about taking prenatal pills but grumbled about the inevitable constipation.

And eventually, the devil gave birth to a baby girl.

After a month of diapers, night feedings, colic, laundry, spilled formula (the devil hated to breast-feed), and spit-up, the devil said, "Enough of this," and went back to Hell, which was infinitely preferable to living with a newborn.

The devil's daughter was adopted and grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her name was Laura, and she liked strawberry ice cream, and she never, ever missed church. She was a very nice young lady. But she had a terrible temper.

Prologue 2: Problems

Thunderbird Motel

Bloomington, Minnesota

8:57 p.m.

"Okay, guys, let's set up here... Charley, you okay here? You got light?"

Her cameraman looked up. "It's shitty out here. Should be better inside."

"We won't film out here... we'll go inside the conference room. So, you're sure this is okay?"

The representative, who was smooth and sweatless like an egg, clasped his hands together and nodded slowly. Even his suit seemed to be free of threads or seams. "People need to see that it's not a bunch of chain-smoking losers who are afraid to go outside. There's doctors. There's lawyers. There's"-he stared at her with pale blue eyes, pilot's eyes-"anchorwomen."

Subtle, jerk. "Right, right. And we'll put all that across." She turned away from the AA rep, muttering under her breath. "Fuckin' slow news days... give me a war update anytime... okay! Let's get in there, Chuckles."

Charley knew his stuff, and with the new equipment, setup was not only a breeze, it was relatively quick and quiet. The conference room looked and smelled like a thousand others; sparse and scented of coffee. Interestingly, none of the room's inhabitants looked at them directly. There was a lot of coffee drinking and low chatting, a lot of nibbling on cheese and crackers, a lot of quiet milling and sideways glances.

They looked, the newswoman thought to herself, exactly like the man said. Respectable, settled. Sober. She was amazed they'd agreed to the cameras. Wasn't the second A supposed to be for Anonymous?

"Okay, everyone," the rep said, standing in the front of the room. "Let's get settled and get started. You all remember Channel 9 was coming tonight to help raise awareness... someone watching tonight might see we're not all villains in trench coats and maybe will come down."

"I'll start, and then we've got a new person here tonight..."

Someone the reporter couldn't see protested in a low yet frantic voice, and was ignored-or wasn't heard-by the rep. "I'm James," the rep continued, "and I've been sober for six years, eight months, and nine days."

There was a pause as he stepped down, then a rustle, a muffled, "Oof! Stupid steps." Then a young woman in her mid-twenties was standing behind the small podium. She squinted out at the audience for a moment, as if the fluorescent lighting hurt her eyes, and then said in a completely mesmerizing voice, "Well, hi there. I'm Betsy. I haven't had a drink in three days and four hours."

"Get on her!" the reporter hissed.

"I'm tight," Charley replied, dazzled.

The woman was tall-her head was just below the no smoking on these premises sign-which put her at about six feet. She was dressed in a moss green suit with the kind of suit jacket that buttoned up to her chin and needed no underblouse. The richly colored clothing superbly set off the delicate paleness of her skin and made her green eyes seem huge and dark, like leaves in the middle of the forest. Her hair was golden blond, shoulder length and wavy, with lovely red and gold highlights that framed her face. Her cheekbones were sharp planes in an interesting, even arresting face.

Her teeth were very white and flashed while she spoke.

"Okay, um, like I said, I'm Betsy. And I thought I'd come here... I mean, I saw on the Web that... anyway, I thought maybe you guys would have some tricks or something I could use to stop drinking."

Dead silence. The reporter noticed the audience was as rapt as Charley was. What presence! What clothes! What... Were those Bruno Maglis? The reporter edged closer. They were! What did this woman do for a living? She herself had paid almost three hundred bucks for the pair in her closet.

"It's just... always there. I wake up, and it's all I think about. I go to bed, I'm still thinking about it."

Everyone was nodding. Even Charley was nodding, making the camera wobble.

"It just... takes over. Totally takes over your life. You start to plan events around how you can drink. Like, if I have breakfast here with my friend, I can hit an alley afterward there, while she's going uptown. Or, if I blow another friend off for supper, I can reschedule on him and get my fix instead."

Everyone was nodding harder. A few of the men appeared to have tears in their eyes! Charley, thankfully, had stopped nodding, but was getting in on the woman as tightly as he could.

"Get the suit in the shot," the reporter whispered.

"I'm not used to this," the woman continued. "I mean, I'm used to wanting things, but not like this. I mean, gross."

A ripple of laughter.

"I've tried to stop, but I just made myself sick. And I've talked to some of my friends about it, but they think I should just suck it up. Ha-ha. And my new friends don't see it as a problem at all. I guess they're, what do you call them, enablers." More nods all around. "So here I am. Someone with a problem. A big problem. And... I thought maybe coming here and talking about it would help. That's all." Silence, so she added, "That's really all."

Spontaneous, almost savage, applause. The reporter had Charley pan back, getting the crowd's reaction. She wasn't sure the rep would let all their faces be shown on the ten o'clock news, but she wanted the film in the can, just in case.

She wanted Charley to get the woman walking to the back of the room, but when he panned back, she was gone.

The reporter and her cameraman looked for the gorgeous stranger for ten minutes, with zero luck. Neither of them could figure out how a woman could just disappear out of a small conference room.